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Learning to Love Kale

July 26th, 2011

The first time I grew kale in the garden was 3 years ago. I planted some ‘Red Russian’ kale in my winter garden after reading Four-Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman. It overwintered beautifully, seeded down, and I’ve had an abundance of kale in my garden ever since. (seed source for Red Russian Kale: Baker Creek)

This year I also added ‘Lacinato’ Kale to my garden (seed source: Southern Exposure). The only problem is – I’m not a big fan of cooked kale. I don’t mind a few handfuls thrown into soup, but in general I have never been a big fan of cooked greens, something about the texture. I love cabbage and other brassicas, but kale has always been at the bottom of the list. I’ll keep trying different ways of cooking it.I am determined, however, to not let my dislike of specific things hold me back from eating things that are healthy and good for me. So I keep growing kale, and I keep trying different cooking methods.

Kale is a member of the brassica family along with: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, arugula, rutabaga, radish and mustard. Along with other brassicas, kale is a powerhouse vegetable. It provides more nutritional value per calorie than almost any other food around. It contains over 45 different flavanoids, vitamins A, K, C, magnesium, copper, calcium, vitamin B6, potassium, and many more. It also contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, macronutrients, and cancer-preventive nutrients called glucosinolates. Cooked kale is healthier than raw kale, so it’s important to cook it lightly and with some fat to make the vitamins more available and more easily absorbed. Here’s a great article on the health benefits of kale if you’d like to learn more. Kale is also easy to grow in the garden, especially here in NE Ohio where our summers can be fickle and can easily cause broccoli and cauliflower to bolt before them produce heads. Kale seems not to mind the warm weather, although it’s flavor is mellowed by frost and cool weather. Kale overwinters beautifully without any protection at all. I have had Red Russian kale growing in my front flowerbed for the past three years. It survives the winter, flowers in spring, seeds itself down and I have a nice crop for harvesting throughout fall, winter and spring.

Last week we had kale braised in bacon grease with garlic with eggs poached on top. It was pretty good, not my favorite food, but that’s OK – sometimes eating is about nourishing yourself and not about loving what you eat. I hope that someday I will love kale, but I’m not sure that will happen. Another way I’ve discovered that’s pretty good is to make a very garlicky chicken stock and throw lots of kale in about 5 minutes before you’re going to serve it. I’ve also got a batch of kale kimchi brewing at the moment and we’ll see if we like that as much as cabbage kimchi.

How do you feel about cooked greens? Any great recipes to share? Do you grow anything in your garden that you’re not particularly fond of eating?

Getting Ready for Fall/Winter Crops

July 25th, 2011

Now’s the time to start thinking about your fall/winter garden. I have tiny seedlings of: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, and leeks in my basement seed starting area. They will be moved out into the garden in August. Hopefully by then the weather will have cooled down a bit.

I’ve also started a flat of zucchini and cucumbers to plant for a late summer/early fall harvest. Often plants like zucchini and cucumbers will languish in the summer heat and quit producing. If you want a long season of these vegetables it’s wise to replant in July. If we don’t have an early cold snap I’ll be eating zucchini into early October.

In a few weeks I’ll also plant peas in my mom’s garden in the location the potatoes will be harvested from. Our spring pea harvest didn’t do very well, the overly wet spring did them in. We only managed to eek a few cups of peas out of our 4 short rows. Hopefully we’ll get a good fall harvest so we can fill our freezers with tender green peas for winter soups and stews. I’ll also be seeding a lot of beets, lettuce, spinach and other quick greens the first week of September for overwintering. Each and every year I try to experiment with more cold season gardening. One of these years I’ll finally get the hang of it and we’ll be able to eat homegrown vegetables all year long.

Are you already planning for the upcoming seasons? Any fall/winter gardening?

Quote of the Day: Dr. Joyce Brothers

July 24th, 2011

“When you come right down to it,
the secret to having it all
is loving it all.”

Dr Joyce Brothers

Earlier this week, Mr Chiots and I were talking about how blessed we feel. That’s not to say our lives are easy, that we don’t have difficulties and that we have everything figured out. I think it’s more a matter of being content with what you do have and the situation that you’re in. It comes from living within your means and having clearly defined goals to work toward. Sure it would be great to have extra money, be able to work fewer hours, cultivate a larger garden, and many other things – but in reality we have food on our table, a little plot of soil to grow things in, a roof over our heads and we have each other. We could spend our time longing for more – but that would only take the joy from what we do have.

The older we get, the more we strive to simplify our lives by getting rid of the unnecessary. We have learned to love simple food, our small home, our jobs and our community. The more I try to cultivate the simple life, the more fulfillment I find in my life, even in those simple mundane tasks like cooking or cleaning. Perhaps it’s because I’m finally figuring out what things bring me true joy, or maybe it’s about learning to be satisfied with what I do have. Learning to be content no matter what our circumstances are truly makes life more enjoyable.

What things in your life are you blessed to have at the moment?

Another Reason to Have a Garden Pond

July 23rd, 2011

Last year we installed a small garden pond. It used to reside in my parent’s garden until they replaced it with a 350 gallon livestock tank. I’ve talked about how great it is to increase biodiversity in your garden and installing a water feature is a great way to do this. You’ll create a little niche for water loving things like fish, frogs, toads, water beetles and wildlife. It also allows you to incorporate water plants. I was lucky enough to get a water lily from my parents, which I planted in the pond not long after it was installed.

Last year the water lily put up some leaves and this year it’s been doing much better. My mom’s started blooming quite a while ago, so I wasn’t expecting mine to bloom until next year, figuring it would take another year to get established

Then, this past Wednesday I noticed a bud right under the water. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to emerge and open up. Happily, Thursday morning I noticed it was out of the water. Then later Thursday morning it opened up. I’m so happy I was around to see the bloom and it didn’t wait until I went on vacation!

No doubt I will have a few more blooms this summer. Water lily blooms are definitely one of the many reasons to incorporate a small pond in your garden.

Any great water plants in your garden pond?

Friday Favorite: Homemade Stock

July 22nd, 2011

There’s really nothing better than homemade bone broth or stock. It has a depth of flavor that can’t be touched by what you’ll find in a store, even in the expensive organic brands. Bone broths are a deeply nourishing food. They’re also incredibly inexpensive and easy to make yourself at home. If you’re not already making your own broth at home I’d encourage you to start. If you’d like to know more about the history and health benefits of stock read: Broth is Beautiful.

Homemade broth is rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulphur, silicon and other trace minerals in a form that is easily absorbed by the body. Fish stocks contains iodine and thyroid strengthening substances. Your stock will be even more healthful if you add a little acid to the water as this helps extract the minerals from the bones, apple cider vinegar or whey is what we use. Homemade broths also contain glucosamine and chondroiton – which are thought to help mitigate the effects of arthritis and joint pain. It also contain collagen and gelatin which help nourish you skin, joints, tendons and other connective tissues (which means fewer wrinkles, cellulite, arthritis, tendonitis, etc). Why shell out big bucks for wrinkle cream, joint supplements, cellulite cream and vitamin pills when you can simply include bone broths in your diet?

Bone broths are very inexpensive to make compared to the price of what you’ll pay for lesser quality items at the store. You can use bones from roasted chickens or buy pastured bones at local farms and markets. I purchase pastured beef bones from my local farm for $1/pound. These get made into stock for us to eat and the really meaty ones get fed to the dog. I’ve heard that some folks can find bones from their local butcher for free since most people do not want them. Chicken feet and heads are also very inexpensive if you can find a local source. These make the most nutritious chicken broth if you can find them, you can add 3 or 4 chicken feet along with each chicken when you’re making stock.
If you’ve never made broth it’s really quite simple. To make the simplest broth you’ll need bones, water and an acid (like apple cider vinegar, whey, lemon juice, or even leftover pickle juice). To make more deeply flavored broths you can add vegetables and herbs. I like to add a few pieces of astragulus root for it’s immune boosting effect. Here’s some information on the health benefits of astragulus if you’ve never heard about it.

4 to 5 pounds of bone with lots of marrow and preferable a knuckle as well
(use beef, chicken, lamb, duck, pork, fish, or whatever kind of broth you want)
1/2 to 1 pound of stew meat (I usually choose meaty bones like shanks, ribs, oxtails then I don’t need to add the stew meat)
2 carrots cut into 2 inch segments
1 large onion peeled and quartered
2 or 3 cloves of garlic peeled
1 6-10 inch piece of seaweed
olive oil
2-3 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon of whole peppercorns
a few stalks of celery with leaves
a handful thyme and parsley
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar or whey
6-8 quarts of cold filtered water
Optional: a piece or two of astragulus root (I get mine from Mt Rose Herbs)

If you want a dark stock roast, toss bones, onions, garlic and carrots with olive oil and roast in a 400 degree oven, turning once, for about 30 minutes or until browned.

Transfer roasted bones and vegetables to large stock pot or enameled cast iron pan. Use some water to deglaze roasting pan to make sure you get all the flavor and add this water to the pot. Add remaining ingredients to pot and cover bones with filtered water. Bring to a low simmer, reduce heat and simmer (between 180 and 200 degrees, which means a bubble coming up every now and then). As scum rises to the top carefully skim it off, it is said that these are the impurities and they cloud the broth.

The general rule is that larger the animal the longer you cook the stock, fish stock need only be cooked for 4 hours, larger animals overnight or for up to 72 hours. There are some people that have a perpetual stock pot which is always simmering on the back of the stove, they add bones as they get them and once a month they fish out all the solids. The stock is then used as needed while cooking. I’m considering starting to do this here at Chiot’s Run.

Fish out bones, removed any meat and marrow and set aside (you can use this for sandwiches or in soups – the marrow is delicious and healthy). Ladle stock through strainer and put in containers. Chill in refrigerator then freeze.

Some recipes say to skim fat, I do not do this. Animal fat from pastured animals is very healthy and will add wonderful flavor and texture to the dishes you use your stock in. If you do skim it make sure you save it and use it in other recipes. Fat is important for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K. Fat also helps us absorb the nutrients in the stock, it boosts our immune system and it helps us build and maintain strong bones and teeth. If you’re a little leery of the health of saturated animals fats read The Skinny on Fats.

I like to reduce my broth to double strength and freeze in wide mount pint jars. This way they take up less room in the freezer. I use a pint of stock and a pint of filtered water to make one quart of broth. You can also freeze it in ice cube trays so that you have small amounts for braising vegetables and sauces.

Once you start reading about the health benefits of bone broths you’ll be trying to add some to your diet every single day. It’s not a coincidence that soup is what has been fed to the sick throughout the ages. By using broth instead of water in many recipes you’ll be upping the nutrition of your food and making your food more digestible. Use stock to make gravy, for braising vegetables, in soups and stews, add some to spaghetti sauce, use it instead of water when making rice and other grains, or even drink it plain. Learn to make a variety of soups and you’ll be able to easily incorporate more stock into your diet. No doubt when you do you’ll start noticing the benefits, glowing skin, less cellulite, fewer colds, stronger teeth and bones, less join pain and greater overall health. I believe adding bone broths to your diet is one of the most important health moves you can make.

Do you make your own stocks and broths? What’s your favorite kind?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.