Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sowing Seeds for Spring


 Friday was a gorgeous day fit for gardening and cupcakes - so that's what we did. I dusted off my tools from the shed, ran my fingers through some good dirt, and enjoyed a dozen cupcakes with my friends. Warm days in winter always have this effect on me. I am thrilled to shave my legs and wear shorts, I want to plant things, and I want to be outside all day from the moment the sun comes up - it's suddenly so easy to forget the frigid days of winter that will probably return any day.

I have high hopes for a fertile spring garden this year, so I'm getting a jump on things. I've begun first with my herb garden including Mint, Spearmint, Chamomile, English Thyme, Cilantro, and Rosemary. Oh and little catnip for Charlemagne.

  For now I'm using some egg cartons as transplant trays, and I'll let you know how that works out. I found them for free, and I imagine they'll be great as long as I don't leave them out in the rain and they don't disintegrate before I am ready to transplant.
We also planted two saplings - an Oak Tree and a Redbud. These came as "swag" from the Green Life Expo in Athens a couple weeks ago, so they may be two dried out by now, but I have hope for some big trees one day!
 Here are a couple bonuses from my Organic Agriculture class. After winter pruning, a bunch of raspberry cuttings - Anne and Heritage varieties - were being thrown away or taken home by my classmates. Again, I wasn't super prompt about planting them, but I hope they can still become adjusted to a new home and produce lovely berries for the summer. On the right is a sugar gum log inoculated with shittake mushroom spawn. Each inch in diameter means one year of  production, so I'll have about four Falls of fresh shittake mushrooms. It's a wonder more people don't grow their own mushrooms really.

Now that I think about it, this post is less about anticipation for spring and more about my inability to get things planted in a timely fashion...which brings me to the daffodil bulbs I purchased in the fall. For Georgia's planting zone, these ought to have been planted from October to December. I planted a row of 7 just in case, along with an Aloe plant. Don't you love the color of Aloe plants? It's such a fresh light mint. But beware, these plants have many sharp and unfriendly edges. Now that I think about it, they look almost extraterrestrial.



 
Finally, it's important to keep the momentum of your garden going all year long by maintaining a compost bin and thinking about establishing a cover crop to facilitate Nitrogen fixation in the soil after a season of production. I put together a very simple compost box out of 4 pallets attached with nails and wire. By turning the mix every couple weeks and keeping it slightly moist, the decomposition rate ought to be about 3-6 months.
 
Out in the garden bed, I've removed all the remaining crops and planted Crimson Clover as a cover crop. Tiny plants are beginning to germinate that will grow for about 4 weeks. These should then be dug out and turned under before they go to seed. If allowed to decompose for another 4 weeks, the Nitrogen fixated during their growth will be reincorporated back into the soil.





Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pizza

Homemade pizza is one of those things that always serves your deepest craving. Not only is it delicious and generally much better than pizza you'd buy, it's a great way to use up vegetables left in your fridge, it's easy and fun to do with friends, and it allows for endless creativity.

I want to share some of my past pizza concoctions while reminding you that honestly, the sky is the limit when it comes to homemade pizza. I can't really imagine any combination of ingredients that would not work out based on any reason besides personal distaste.

First, the crust - thanks to grocery stores like Trader Joe's and Publix, it is as simple as a quick drive to the store and a couple of bucks to obtain ready-to-bake pizza dough. This is a great option when you're in a hurry. One time I even used an Irish Soda Bread mix as a dough. Of course, if you have time to make dough from scratch there are many options that require varying lengths of time to rise, such as this one, this one and this one, just to throw out a few. Everyone has a favorite recipe, so I encourage experimentation to find the best for you. Personally, I like the taste of homemade dough better than premade, possibly due to the use of bread flour or maybe just because it's rewarding to make your own. Keep in mind that homemade dough can be kept in the fridge about 3 days and in the freezer for up to 3 months. Be sure to defrost overnight in the fridge or on the counter for a few hours before rolling out and cooking.

The following dough recipe is one I used based on positive reviews, quick rise time and the inclusion of bread flour instead of all-purpose.

Quick Homemade Pizza Dough
Yield: 1 large crust

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast (Be sure to get Active Dry and not Instant!)
1 cup warm water (About 110 degrees F or about 2 minutes in the microwave)
2 1/2 cups bread flour, plus more to knead in if too sticky
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons white sugar











Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, stir to dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a food processor with a dough blade or a in a large bowl, combine 2 1/2 cups bread flour, olive oil, salt, white sugar and the yeast mixture. Beat or stir well until a stiff dough has formed. Cover and rise until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350F.
  3. Turn dough out onto a well floured surface. Form dough into a round and roll out into a pizza crust shape. Add flour as needed to keep from sticking. 
  4. Cover with your favorite sauce and toppings and bake in preheated oven until golden brown, about 20 minutes. 
And now, what you've all been waiting for, here are some of my favorite pizzas of the past. Remember, beyond toppings, you are welcome to experiment with cheeses and sauces. Mozzarella, shredded Italian cheese mixes (Asiago and Parmesan, for instance) and feta are always good for cheese. For sauce the options are boundless: regular store bought pizza sauce, plain canned tomato sauce, alfredo sauce, just olive oil and no sauce, pesto, or any homemade concoction. And for me, the addition of minced garlic, caramelized onions or mushrooms is never a bad idea, as well as seasoning with various spices such as basil or oregano.

1. Broccoli, garlic, feta, shredded mozzarella, and pesto
2. Olive oil (no sauce), mozzarella discs, basil and fresh or sun-dried tomatoes
3. Roasted sweet potatoes cut into discs with a bit of brown sugar, caramelized onions, garlic, no sauce, and shredded mozzarella
4. Mushrooms, sliced bell peppers, red onion, Mozzarella or Italian shredded cheeses, and pizza sauce
5. Spinach, mushrooms, pizza sauce, and garlic

Don't forget calzones!
6. Tomato sauce, thinly sliced ham, pineapple chunks, and Italian shredded cheeses

7. Nutella, marshmallow fluff, Bing cherries, and bananas

 

 
Emily and Charlie passed out from how good pizza is!

What are some good pizzas you've made?