Growing Organic Potatoes

Growing Organic PotatoesI don’t have a green thumb, but thankfully when it comes to things like growing organic potatoes and tons of other produce, my mother, sister and brother-in-law do.

Two weekends ago it was time to start digging up the potatoes in the big garden on the homestead. My mom’s a seed-saver, which means she carefully keeps seeds from the produce she’s grown (mostly heirloom and all organic) to use for planting the next season’s crops.

Digging up organic potatoes by hand

In this case, all the potatoes in these rows are from just a few russet, white and red potatoes she kept and planted. There are various machines you can use to unearth the potatoes (which ideally grow just a couple inches under the soil), but my mom pulls hers out by hand – or by pitchfork.

Voles eating organic potatoesMy urban farmer sister, Josie, happened to be visiting from Brooklyn this weekend, so she was giving some of the odd-looking potatoes a once-over.

Some had a greenish hue, which means they grew exposed to light. You don’t want to eat those – they become toxic and can give you an upset tummy.

Other potatoes had been chewed on. Yes. CHEWED. The spuds with bite marks were completely underground (a little deeper than the un-gnawed ones), which means whatever was eating them also had to live underground. The culprits? Well, we don’t know for sure, but my sister believes them to be voles, which are little mouse-like rodents.

The good news is, when you have inedibles pulled from our garden, they don’t go to waste. Some scraps head to be composted, but many get delivered to the chickens – which they LOVE.

Chickens eating organic potatoesConvenient, right?

My mom planted only a handful of potatoes. When all’s said and done, and each row was unearthed, we ended up with a bounty that weighed in at over 100 pounds. ONE HUNDRED POUNDS! Just from a few organic potatoes.

I love sustainability.

We’re Moving to The Farm

Wagon Ride at the Farm

This summer we’re leaving Frederick.

I KNOW.

I’ve had people tell me when they think of Frederick, they think of me. It’s funny, I didn’t grow up here, but I’ve certainly planted roots since moving to Frederick in 2001. Our kids were born here. My husband grew up here.

All good things come to an end, and so our next chapter starts.

We’re moving to The Farm.

You  know, the place where my parents live, raise chickens and have huge, beautiful organic gardens? And also the place where Josie and Shawn started Truffula Seed Produce, before moving on to other farm adventures? That farm.

Chickens at the Farm

Truth be told, it’s not really a “farm” in the traditional sense, so I feel like I’m misspeaking when I call it that. It’s more of a farmette – five acres with about an acre devoted to the gardens, chickens and a big high tunnel. We’ve all just called it “The Farm” since my parents moved there from the DC suburbs 10 years ago, and the name stuck.

The rest of the land is filled with my parents’ house (the original farmhouse, built in the late-1800s), a summer kitchen adjacent to the farmhouse that was converted to a one-bedroom apartment (my paternal grandfather lives there), a three-bedroom house that was built in 2009 (my maternal grandmother lives there), and a cute log cabin.

Log Cabin at the Farm

The log cabin will likely be where a lot of my blog’s food photos will be captured – the light is stunning, and you can’t beat the exposed log walls! It’s where I filmed my video for the casting of “America’s Best Cook” on Food Network.

Liza Filming the Casting Call Video for "America's Best Cook" on Food Network

But, we won’t be living in the cabin. Don’t think our family of four would manage well in a one-bedroom space, even if it’s horribly cute!

My grandmother is moving to an assisted living home, which means her house will be empty. When they all moved out there, the idea was that it would remain a family property, a homestead, a compound of sorts. Compound sounds a little creepy, but you know – embracing the whole “it takes a village” concept. Working together as a family to keep things running.

It’s a good thing we get along so well with my parents. We’re lucky!

Kids in the Trees

Which also means on-site childcare in the form of my parents. {It’s okay to be jealous.}

You’ll be seeing a lot more farm-to-table style posts from me one we’re out there, which I’m totally excited about! My goal is to still keep my life easy to relate to even though our situation will be unique.

I still work full-time and I’m not leaving my day job. I’ll only be about 30 minutes from my current office, which makes the commute (on country roads!) manageable.

We’ll have access to the gardens and all the produce my mom grows (she still works full-time too, by the way), but I’m also going to keep my delivery from Hometown Harvest. Mmmm….

Maybe I’ll try my hand at gardening too. Or harvesting.

Raspberries on the Farm

Or maybe I’ll just stick to cooking.

The times they are a changin’.

Vegetarian Kale Salad

Vegetarian Kale Salad

Kale. It’s a leafy green whose preparation seems to stump so many people! And yet, it’s so freakin’ versatile.

My sister uses kale regularly, and she offered to share her very favorite vegetarian kale salad with me. Yay! We’ve received kale in our last two small bag deliveries from Hometown Harvest, so I’m in need of some great go-to recipes myself. This one fits the bill.

Before we get into recipe specifics, let’s take a look at some notes Josie sent me with the recipe:

We make this salad at least once a week in our house. It’s the best because it’s good right after you make it and really good the next day (as opposed to salad made with tender greens which is gross the next day). Sometimes I eat enough of it to make an entire meal but it’s also good along with other main dishes like mac and cheese, lentil soup, or a hummus sandwich.

Vegetarian Kale Salad

After you make this salad once, you will easily make it your own. Prefer walnuts or pine nuts instead of pecans? Like sweeter dressing? Like more fruit? It’s really easy to customize since the ingredients are so simple. Bonus: the lemon dressing I use keeps the apples or pears from browning!

Mmmm…. I love fruit and nuts in just about any salad, especially those made with spinach, kale or chard!

Vegetarian Kale Salad

I need more kale details.

When can I buy kale, and what makes this salad awesome?

Kale is in season pretty much year round in the Mid-Atlantic. For us, the biggest variable in this salad is what fruit is in season. This time of year we use apples and pears because they can be stored and one of the farmers at our farmers’ market brings them for most of the winter. But winter is also known for Florida citrus and this salad is great with ripe orange, grapefruit, clementine, or blood orange slices. In the spring it’s great with strawberries, summer with peaches or nectarines – you get it, it’s really good with whatever fruit is in season.

What about the kale though? What kind works best for a salad? How many different kinds are there?

You can use any kale for this recipe. I’ve made it with curly kale, ‘dinosaur kale’ (pictured), and red russian kale (which is a flat leaf kind). Dinosaur kale is the most tender and you can sometimes get away with eating the stems. Curly kale and red russian kale both have extreme tough stems but the leaves are delicious. If you come across purple kale, it can make a beautiful mix along with the green leaves and color of the fruit.

And now, the recipe!

My vegetarian sister, Josie Johnson, is the lead farmer at Battery Urban Farm in NYC. She also makes handmade soaps, lip balm, bags and knits in her Brooklyn apartment – you can find those for sale in her Paper and Plow Etsy shop.

Vegetarian Kale Salad
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped into thin strips
  • 2 lemons (if they are small, if they are large 1 should be enough)
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • ½ tsp salt (plus more to taste)
  • ½ tsp pepper (plus more to taste)
  • ¼ olive oil
  • 1 large apple, cubed (skin on for us)
  • 1 cup raw pecans, chopped
Instructions
  1. Put prepared kale into a large bowl. Juice one of the lemons over the kale. Toss the kale until thoroughly coated and set aside. It's important that the kale sit a while in the lemon juice, it helps tenderize the leaves.
  2. In a liquid measuring cup, juice the other lemon. Your looking for ⅛ - ¼ of a cup of juice - doesn't need to be exact. Add the honey, salt, and pepper and stir until emulsified. Taste the dressing and add more of what it needs. It should be slightly less tart than you want it to be since there is already lemon juice on the kale.
  3. In a dry pan toast the pecans over medium heat until they are browned. Stir somewhat frequently until they start to sizzle a little and smell really nutty and delicious. Keep an eye on them, once they start to brown they pick up pace and can burn quickly. But to be honest, we kind of like the 'toastier' ones in our house.
  4. Add the apple and pecans to the kale, pour on the dressing and toss. I like to let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes in the dressing before eating.

 

Vegetarian Meatball Sub

Vegetarian Meatball Sub

My sister is a unique type of vegetarian. Before she made the switch (about six-and-a-half years ago) she enjoyed eating meat. Loved it, really.

Yes, very true. Loved is a better term.

We used to live next door to each other before she started farming, and it was a really cool set-up. We’d cook together a few times a week, and most many of the meals contained things like, bacon, bacon and more BACON.

We liked bacon. I still like bacon. SHE liked bacon when she decided to make the switch. And fried chicken. In fact, she still drools over both of them. No grossed out feelings when she watches me, or anyone else, eat meat.

So, why then, would my sister decide to become a vegetarian?

Well, the actual answer is that I started by eating meat only when I knew where it came from, and how it was raised. That got expensive and hard-ish to find. And I stopped for a while. I realized that I felt really great, plenty of energy, etc. And then I simply felt like I couldn’t justify eating an animal only because I liked the way it tastes. I still feel that way. Which sucks cause you can’t really make excuses for that one. LOL

One vegetarian decision doesn’t beget another, friends. Interesting, right?

My sister and I were chatting the other day and she mentioned making meatball subs over the weekend, based on a recipe from “The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebrations,” by Kim O’Donnel. Meatball subs. Clearly I had to know more, so I quickly shot her a message asking her to photograph EVERYTHING and to follow up by sending me a recipe. I had to know how a vegetarian meatball sub turned out.

Luckily, she’s okay with entertaining my bizarre, last minute requests, starting with a shot of the cooked lentils and garlic cooling her windowsill.

Vegetarian Meatball Sub

Followed by a shot of the meatball mixture: lentils, rice, breadcrumbs, oregano, salt, pepper and egg.

Vegetarian Meatball Sub

Next up: a shot of the rolled meatballs, and after this photo she chilled them for a while.

Vegetarian Meatball Sub

Then, FRYING! She pan-fried the meatballs on all four sides. Or, whatever you call the “sides” of a sphere shape.

Vegetarian Meatball Sub

And lots of mozzarella with a toasty bun?  Sure!

Vegetarian Meatball Sub

And, of course, sauce…and…more…CHEESE.

Vegetarian Meatball Sub

PSSStttt…. Here’s the book:

Vegetarian Meatball Sub

So, wanna know the recipe? It’s pretty close to the original, but she did make a few changes. Enjoy!

My vegetarian sister, Josie Johnson, is the lead farmer at Battery Urban Farm in NYC. She also makes handmade soaps, lip balm, bags and knits in her Brooklyn apartment – you can find those for sale in her Paper and Plow Etsy shop.
 
Vegetarian Meatball Sub
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 6 cups water
  • ½ cup cooked long-grain brown rice, cooled
  • 1 cup dried brown or green lentils
  • 5 garlic cloves: 2 whole, 3 minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus ½ cup for panfrying
  • 1 medium sized onion, grated
  • 3 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 23-28oz can of tomato puree
  • ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ cup unseasoned bread crumbs or panko
  • 1 egg, beaten lightly
  • 6 6-inch sub rolls, toasted
  • Fresh mozzarella for topping
Instructions
  1. Place the lentils in a large saucepan along with the 2 whole garlic cloves and the water. Bring it to a boil, and then reduce the heat to keep it at a simmer for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Drain the lentils thoroughly and then spread them out on a sheet pan to cool completely.
  2. While the lentils are cooking, prepare the marinara sauce. Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add ¼ cup of onion and the 3 minced garlic cloves, and continue cooking until they're softened - about 3 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of the dried oregano, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the tomato puree, stirring to combine, and then bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat, and let the sauce simmer (covered) for 20 minutes. Then keep it warm until you're ready to make the sandwiches.
  4. Place the cooled lentils and garlic into a food processor and pulse until they're mashed. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl, add the rice, remaining onion, oregano, grated cheese, egg, salt, pepper and bread crumbs. Use a wooden spoon (or your hands!) to mix everything together well.
  5. Using a ¼ measure or an ice cream scoop, shape into balls and place them on a cookie sheet.They'll be sticky! Refrigerate them for 20 minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  7. Over medium-high heat, heat ¼ cup of olive oil in a 12-inch skillet until the oil shimmers. Gently lower the balls into the oil, cooking for about 2 minutes on each of 4 sides - until they're browned. Cook them in batches, making sure not to crowd the pan, and lower the heat to medium after the first batch is done.
  8. Transfer the first batch to a baking sheet to finish cooking for 5 minutes. Lower the oven to 225°F to keep them warm.
  9. Put the vegetarian meatball subs together with the marinara and plenty of mozzarella - you'll want to broil the subs to make the cheese all melty and gooey. Makes enough for 6 subs, so freeze any of the meatballs you don't plan to use right away.
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