Potato salad.

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It’s officially summer here in Vancouver, and all I wanna do is eat cold food outside on a hot day. I’m looking forward to a pretty much endless feast of watermelon and pink wine from now until October, and I will not be deterred.

Now is not the time for dainty salads or leafy greens.

Now is the time for cold potatoes and mayonnaise and hard boiled eggs and pickles and all those radishes that just exploded in the garden. Potato salad. You can make it ahead, stick it in a container, and tote it to the beach and it never wilts or weeps or sucks to eat. Potato salad is one of the greatest culinary inventions of our time, because it is simultaneously a salad and a vegetable side dish, and nobody dislikes it, and it’s got pickles in it.

Who doesn’t want a hot dog and some potato salad? Nobody, that’s who.

This is a pretty straightforward potato salad, the version my mom and everyone else’s mom and grandma makes. It makes a big bowl, enough to serve eight or so as a side dish, and it’s even better the second day. Make sure you make it while the potatoes are still a bit warm; there is a lot of sauce, and when the potatoes are warm they suck the dressing into them as they cool.

I make this with homemade mayonnaise because I’m too cheap to buy it in a jar considering how much we go through, so if you’re using store-bought mayo you may find you need to adjust the salt or acidity a bit to taste; keep in mind though that the dressing¬†should be a bit saltier and a bit more acidic than you’d normally prefer as those flavours will tone down once the dressing is on the salad and it’s served cold. Please, please do not use Miracle Whip for this. I will know somehow that you’ve done it and feel really sad.

Potato Salad

  • 3 lb. white or red waxy potatoes (not Russets), cubed and boiled until tender and cooled slightly
  • 6 scallions, white and light green part only, sliced
  • 4 to 6 radishes, sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped dill pickles
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tbsp. dill pickle brine
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. yellow curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Salt, to taste
  • Fresh dill, chopped

In a large bowl, combine potatoes, scallions, radishes, celery, eggs, and pickle bits. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, pickle brine, lemon juice and zest, mustard, sugar, curry powder, paprika, pepper, cayenne pepper, and dill. Whisk together. Taste, adjusting salt and acidity as needed.

Pour the dressing over the potato mixture and toss to coat. I use my hands to gently mix the dressing into the potatoes – you should too. Clean hands are the best kitchen tool there is.

Top with a sprinkle of additional dill, and some more radishes and green onion, if desired. Chill, and serve cold.

Bok choi with mushrooms.

bokchoi

I always think I am going to have so much time, and then I commit to a million things and am surprised when I can’t do any of them well. Well, no more! (That is probably untrue – just ask me to do something.) This summer has seen a shift in my priorities; I want to do a lot of things better, and, I hope, a few things pretty well. I want to make pickles and play outside and write books and blog posts and can homemade baby food for my friend who isn’t doing so well at the moment, and I want to do all of this without feeling like I’m letting anyone/everyone down.

So, with no small amount of despair, I let go of our community garden plot – we simply weren’t able to keep up with it. To be honest, I’m sure that we would have been kicked out eventually anyway – we hadn’t been showing up anywhere near often enough.

The community garden is a 15-minute drive to a spot we used to be able to walk to, and when we moved in December it was to a place across the street from a friend who has abundant garden space that she let us have access to. This new spot isn’t as pretty as our last place, though it is a lot bigger. Last night to make a salad I just hopped the fence across the street and thinned some of the beets, pulled a couple of radishes, and snipped some leaves off one of the heads of lettuce. We were no longer a part of the community in our other spot; here, we are neighbours.

The back part of the garden

The nice thing about our new space being so close is that I can walk by and plan dinner around what’s currently thriving; recently, it was the bok choi. Whenever I buy bok choi, it’s in heads like thick leaf lettuce, or tiny little bunches of the baby variety. I guess we’re growing a different kind, because ours is growing in the way chard does – long stalks off a middle stem with big, soft, droopy leaves. Whatever variety it is, it’s delicious.

In the spirit of saving time (because who even has any?!), here’s a quick dish of greens and mushrooms; you can use chard, or kale, or bok choi or whatever you’re growing or have bought. It makes enough for two large side dishes, or four small ones. It takes ten minutes if you’re a fast chopper.

I hope you like – and have the time – for this one.

Bok choi and mushrooms with trout

Bok Choi with Mushrooms

  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 onion, halved and sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 lb. bok choi, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce

In a skillet, heat sesame oil and butter over medium-high heat until the butter begins to sizzle.

Add onion, and cook for one minute.

Add ginger and garlic, and both kinds of pepper.

Cook for two minutes, until everything is soft and translucent and fragrant. Add mushrooms, then bok choi, then the soy sauce, and toss the whole thing together. Cover, drop heat to medium, and cook for three minutes.

Serve with fish or barbecued meats; it would also be good with fried tofu.

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It’s not so dark.

I take back what I said about these being dark times.

Overrun.

A perfect picnic spot.

We found our way back to the garden yesterday and this evening, and were surprised to find it bursting with life and weeds and chard.

Chard.

We came by in February, and everything was looking brown and dead, but the chard limped on. I didn’t plan to plant chard this year, because we had so much of it last year that I got kind of tired of it, but this is a plant with determination and I have to respect that. It lives. Its centre stalks are the thickness of table legs, and its leaves at the bottom look almost prehistoric in their size and curious colouring. But it lives, and we let it live on.

Garden cat. There is a cat now. This pleases us all.

Garden cat, sunlit.

Purple shed.

Toddler and purple shed.

A friend of mine lives across the street from us now, and she’s got a lot of garden space for us in addition to our community garden plot, so in this spot I’m focusing on growing things I can pickle. Plus chard. But mostly things that pickle, like beets, and hopefully some pickling cucumbers – from this point in the gardening season, I don’t think you can ever have too many of those. (Remind me of this when I am complaining in August.)

Digging it.

Beets.

What have you planted, and what are you looking forward to?

Purple sprouting broccoli.

One of the things we pulled out of the garden was some purple sprouting broccoli, which grew where the regular broccoli we planted was supposed to be. It was ripe and ready, and it is so pretty it deserves a special dish. What would you do with it?

Dirty boy.

I am really looking forward to the gardening season, you guys.

You CAN have too many giant turnips.

Every year I plant turnips because in late May and early June, I love (LOVE!) turnips. I think about sweet little baby turnips, steamed and tossed with fresh greens and maple vinaigrette, or cool fall evenings with turnips mashed with carrots and so much butter to accompany Bratwurst and grainy mustard. But I never remember to anticipate this.

I am a prolific grower of turnips. Maybe the picture doesn’t do her justice, but this pretty lady’s a D-cup. And she’s not the only one. There are probably 12 or 14 more of these, and I don’t know what to do. I love turnips. I don’t want to not love turnips. And I definitely don’t want to waste turnips, but I suspect very few of my neighbours want to walk out to find enormous turnips on their doorsteps – for some people, one turnip is too many turnips.

Do you have a creative use for turnips and (or) their greens? I’ve made them into gratins and mashes and gnocchi, but I’m running out of ideas. Help me. HELP ME.

Unrelated aside: if you have a minute, stop by and visit The Thirties Grind, where I’m featured as this week’s first REAL Real Housewife of Vancouver. Melissa’s blog is fantastic – her “Absurd Vancouver Property of the Week” feature regularly makes me laugh-sob and question my unhealthy relationship with this city.

But seriously. Tell me what you do with the turnips.

New soil to till.

I was tossing sizzling olives, garlic, and chilies in a hot pan at the stove when the phone rang last night. Nick handed it to me, and I jabbered on for a few minutes, squealing intermittently and so excitedly that Nick and his brother-in-law, Nathan, were certain something amazing must have happened.

“Did they offer you that job?” Nathan asked, as I had an interview recently that I thought went not too badly.

“Did we get into that co-op?” Nick asked, as we were told we’d have an interview for a place in Chinatown that’d cost half what we’re currently paying for rent each month.

“No,” I said, “and no. We DID get a community garden plot, though, over on sixth – aren’t you so excited?!”

And I was very excited, and while they both claimed to be very happy for me, I think they underestimated how riled up I can get, especially about little things like a plot of dirt beside an abandoned train track. They ought to know by now I’d be downright screechy about the job or the co-op – the subtle difference between sound-effects is very important.

Anyway. Last summer, the lady who gave us a spot in her yard let us know she’d be moving, and so we’d be losing our plot. I never got to see my butternut squash mature, as she moved away before the last harvest of the fall. I had gotten us on a waiting list for a few community gardens, but was told there would likely be no spaces in 2012 and so had fallen into a bit of a sulk, as one does.

And then, just like that, someone gave up his space, and this morning I signed a contract and promised not to be negligent and abandon my plot to the weeds. So we have a garden – and it is beautiful in the way I imagined The Secret Garden was when I read the book as a child – and there will be picnics there. There are communal lettuces, berries, rhubarb, and flowers, and birdhouses containing chickadees and bushtits (which made me laugh through my nose because I am, like, nine). Our plot is in need of some work, but all the tools are there for us and it’s already been given its allotment of fresh compost.

Now we just have to figure out what we’ll grow. Of course we will have radishes, and as many as possible. But what else? What seeds would you suggest to a pair of would-be gardeners on the west coast who want a high probability of success and do not desire a challenge?

Nature hates me, and the feeling might be mutual.

“Oh, shit,” Nick said, pushing his way through the overgrown ferns and thorny outstretched branches of the rose bush. “This is going to suck.”

And suck it did.

Between all our weekends of busyness and the rain and mist and sporadic bursts of sunshine over the past month, the garden went from a meager plot filled with potential to an unwieldy mess of weeds and despair.

The last time we’d been by to weed, the garlic was going strong and radishes had just begun to sprout, and there were early signs of turnips and maybe chard. In not long at all, the radishes went to seed and turned out to be inedible, and the only things that survived are the turnips, the garlic, three purple kholrabi plants, and two struggling carrots. There might be a beet or two sprouting, but it doesn’t look good.

Nick said his best swears as he yanked unidentifiable greenery out from among our withering crops, and I made him promise we’d come back next Friday with seeds and maybe a few pepper or tomato plants and try to recoup some of our losses. He grunted something incoherent and asked for the bottle of water I’d just finished. It’s not too late to try again, is it?

This gardening stuff does not get easier just because you have a year of it behind you. Sure, we planted deep enough and far enough apart, and early enough in the season. There’s more to it, apparently, like regular supervision and a lot of bending over and pulling. I assume that by next year we’ll be experts, as it turns out we’ve still got a whole bunch of that pain-in-the-ass learning to do.

Next year.

Right.

 

Winter in the garden.

We’ve neglected our garden over the past couple of months, as snow fell in November and it rains a lot here and it’s dark when we get home from work so there’s never an opportune time to check in with it and see how things are going, and if anything there is still growing. We planted some turnips and kholrabi just as summer was ending, which according to the seed packets ought to have been ready for harvest three months ago, but our chances to go back were few and far between.

Also, I wanted to plant garlic, which takes nine months to grow.

Odd to see it now, after so many months, looking so spindly and decayed. Approaching our little plot, I was certain that everything would be dead by now.

For the most part, our plot is full of weeds and rot. But on closer inspection, that wasn’t all there was.

Our little turnips, which we’d given up on, had grown to the size of golf balls, pink and purple and white. We thought we hadn’t planted them deep enough – we hadn’t – and assumed when we last visited that they probably wouldn’t grow. Because we took a whole lot of chard out of there at the same time, we elected to leave them in place on the off chance that they’d survive a little longer – I planned to go back for them and harvest the greens.

A few carrots survived the cold and the snow and the rain and the rot – I pulled them out from beside the kholrabi, which didn’t make it.

I thought about turning them into something on the stove or in the oven, but the joy of eating something so red and earthy practically fresh from the ground (I brought them home and washed them first) in January was too good to pass up. I ate a few of them whole, still wet from the tap. It was like Christmas, but without the bloat.

We pulled some weeds and cleared a spot for the garlic, and we might have actually dug deep enough for it to grow properly.

Then we planted a row of individual cloves of the stuff. A worm showed up to say hello.

And then Nick buried them all, and we skipped home gleefully. Well, at least I did.

So there you go. The soil is soft, and the garden is still alive, and there are happy little worms there prepping the ground for us for spring. And in the meantime? This.

Garden report: Just imagine excited shrieking and jumping up and down.

This has just been one of those weeks, already, and I know I say that a lot but the contest last weekend made it so my sleep patterns are all wonky and since I have to do regular-person things now, like get up and feed the cat and go to work, it’s meant becoming really tired and regressing arthritically, which I am hoping I’ll be able to quell with tonight’s powerfully good sleep.

The contest and general chaos of our lives has also meant it’s been awhile since we were at the garden. You know what? I think gardening somewhere other than where you live is maybe the best way to do it, because every time you go it’s a surprise. A thrilling one, because every time we go now we’re pulling food out of the ground and taking it home, and today’s delights included carrots, a few beets, and my first two lemon cucumbers, which I am as proud of as if they were spiky little children.

Now, I know the carrot doesn’t look like much, and they all sort of look like that, but the thing is we didn’t follow the directions on the back of the seed packets because we were all, “WHATEVER! We know better. Pour them all into this short row here! Yay we’re gardening!” So a lot of our stuff is stunted due to growing around, under, or on top of its neighbours. Nick thinned the carrots out, and I did the same with the beets, so we’re going to let the remaining veggies go a little longer and see if they do better now that they’re not so crowded.

The cucumbers are the things I’m most excited about. They taste just like regular cucumbers, which is to their advantage, but they look really cool. I am currently eating them sprinkled with coarse salt and they are everything I hoped they would be.

I think my favourite thing about this summer has been this garden, and the joy will just keep on going now that we’ve planted root vegetables and celery that promise to mature sometime this winter.

I think I’ll ease off these run-downs on the progress of our muddy plot for awhile, as even Nick gets tired of my enthusiasm sometimes. But as we get more and more things, I’ll be sure to tell you all about what we’ve done with them. There will be exclamation points. And maybe some sentences in all-caps.

Garden report: We have so much chard, and the threat of too many cucumbers.


Finally, thunder and lightning! I thought the air pressure had changed, because I’ve had a few bad nights in a row now where I’ve woken up terrified, haunted by bad dreams of the worst kind. The cat is screwy too, and her schedule is off and now she’s madly in love with me at all the wrong hours of the night and early morning, and there is no telling her she’s wrong when she announces with claws that it’s time to wake up and play.

The neighbourhood dogs are barking more, there have been car accidents outside my window, and the power’s been failing in spots all over the city. We had a full moon, which maybe means something.

But anyway, there are big noises outside, and piercing light every so often, and we’re at home with a hoard of chard and the garden is getting summer storm water and all is right with the world. We planted more chard, and played in the dirt, and my cucumbers have begun to flower and are taking over everything and what are we going to do with it all when the plant bears fruit?!

I ended up sticking a whole bunch of chard in the freezer, because there’s just so much of it right now, but the rest I chopped into soup with white beans, some fresh from the ground little carrots, celery, and red Okanagan field tomatoes. And herbs, rosemary and parsley. Did you know if you sprinkle a few tablespoons of cornmeal into a soup, it thickens it just slightly which makes the whole soup seem even heartier? Definitely more stew-like, which is excellent if you don’t have a long time to let a pot of soup boil and reduce.

Anyway. This is shaping up to be a terrible garden report, and I haven’t even squealed or abused an exclamation point yet.

In case you were wondering, because it sort of seems that way, Nick does seem to do most of the labour-intensive garden work, while I stand around taking pictures.

I had never seen a chard root before, but isn’t this cool?

I don’t know why he lets me get away with all this slacking off, but I do have dirt under my fingernails and I did make the soup, so maybe it evens out in the end. So, there you go! You’re all caught up, and isn’t it exciting? Have a happy Friday!