Tuesday, March 6, 2012

garden planning: vegetables + fruits

In true Mitsy McPlanner fashion, I've scoured heirloom seed sources and already selected the vegetables and fruits (and herbs and ground covers and wildflowers, oy) I wish to grow in our future half-acre garden. This list will no doubt change somewhat as I over-analyze what we will need, but it's fun to figure out what we should grow to satisfy our individual appetites and tastes.

In selecting our future garden bounty, I found it helpful to really evaluate what we enjoy eating regularly that's easy to prepare and quick to clean up. Our breakfast and lunch routines tend to differ (although we both agree that I make a mean biscuits and gravy) and we usually either just eat leftovers or fend for ourselves in that regard, so I'm going to focus on what we like for dinner since I enjoy cooking, especially when accompanied by a few glass of wine, a couple shots of whiskey, or ice-cold Coronas in the summer (or all three). Suffice to say, the dog loves cleaning up after me.

I tend to make a lot of wrap/burrito/gordita/taco-type meals, which oftentimes includes a cabbage variety, meat, onions, perhaps julienned carrots, some sort of nut (pine nuts are a fave but are freaking expensive), and a crumbly cheese (usually feta or cotija), all tossed together with a homemade vinaigrette (extremely spicy - we like it hot) and wrapped up in a flour tortilla. This quick meal works great for us because Jay can omit the cheese and nuts if he prefers, he gets lots of meat, I get lots of vegetables, it's crunchy and fresh, and it's relatively easy to clean up (one pan for cooking the meat and one large bowl for mixing everything together).

I make a lot of stir-fry that generally includes thinly sliced chicken or beef, a sauce that I throw together (from oil, vinegar, mustard, mirin, honey, garlic, fruit juice, and whatever leftover store-bought sauce is sitting in the door of the fridge, if any), white rice, and any vegetables I have on hand. I usually like a garnish of some slivered almonds and/or sesame seeds.

Mitsy's chard-alicious stir-fry.

Pasta is another regular on our menu, and we oftentimes eat spaghetti once a week. or more We love penne with pesto, especially when I make it from the chard or kale that is threatening to take over the garden. I love aglio olio (garlic and olive oil) linguine or fettucine with sauteed sundried-tomatoes, pine nuts, onions, bacon, broccoli, and parmesan.

You can make pesto out of any savory green
(a splash of vinegar when mixing it all in the food
processor makes it even better). Take that, basil!

I enjoy having lots of greens handy for garden salads and really can't get enough red leaf, green leaf, romaine, and butter lettuce. Jay will usually eat a salad with whatever other dinner fixings I've prepared but really likes it when I make a vinaigrette-based coleslaw (we both think mayonnaise is the devil). My favorite main course salad combination is one recipe pilfered from a friend that includes whatever salad greens you have on hand, avocado, mandarin oranges, black olives, red onions, grape tomatoes, apples, and walnuts, with a simple vinaigrette. For a dinner side salad, however, we prefer just some red onions, pine nuts, and feta over red leaf lettuce.

I like making savory pies, like shepherd's pie, pot pie, and polenta tamale pie, all of which can use peas, potatoes, carrots, garlic, onions, corn, celery, and beans, but generally steer clear of anything cheesy or creamy because Jay will flee the kitchen entirely when I make something like that (better for my waistline anyway).

Jay will generally eat anything that involves a non-creamy sauce and meat and will tolerate vegetables as long as they're cut up small enough and/or incorporated into a smooth sauce (like pesto). Meat definitely dominates our dinner table, but I usually try to prepare some sort of side vegetable and/or salad if it's just a hunk of meat and not incorporated into something else. but not always, and sometimes we eat just skirt steak or tri-tip for dinner, and i'm ok with that because the bloody mary marinade from our local market is da BOMB

Chicken with black pepper maple sauce, wild rice, and sauteed carrots.
He ate the chicken and rice but avoided the carrots like the plague.

I can't wait until this is pork tenderloin from OUR pigs.
He ate the mashed potatoes, but the peas were given the middle finger.

I enjoy making vegetarian dinners as well, like my famous chimichangas made with TVP and some other secret ingredients that I got die-hard meat-eaters to think was ground beef and scarfed down without hesitation. Other veg options include homemade flatbread pizza and greek feta croutes.

I make a lot of soup in winter, which makes it real easy to make a meal out of whatever you have on hand. I make killer french onion soup, minestrone, and beef stew (I get my mad soup making skillz from my Ma).

All that being said, I figure our biggest food costs in the long term (i.e., after we establish our meat and potentially dairy animals) will come from nuts, specialty dairy items (like cheddar and mozzarella cheese; I plan to make feta from our sheeps' milk, although I'm not totally sure I want to be tied down to milking any animals yet so I might try to source this locally), flour for bread and pasta making, spices, and wet ingredients like vinegars, oils (I have a weak spot for gourmet varieties), honey, nut butters, and hot sauces (although I plan to grow a variety of hot peppers, including the jolokia!).

Oh yea, and booze. We do love our liquor.

I think I've become pretty adept at preparing simple meals with homemade sauces in short order - I rarely consult a cookbook anymore, although I do go through waves of recipe hunting when I need new inspiration or get bored in the kitchen. Most recipes are just variations of something else, it seems.

So now that you are (probably uncomfortably) familiar with what we like to stuff our faces with, here are my vegetable selections:

Larger version here.

And here are the garden fruits we plan to grow:

Larger version here.

What can I say, we love tomatoes (helloooo marinara sauce, salsa, caprese salad, bloody marys, BLTs, sun-dried tomatoes... need I go on?) and hot peppers (we've lost count of how many bottles of Dave's Insanity Sauce we've consumed). Jay wants pickles (mmmm, Chicago dogs). I like broccoli, asparagus, and beets, which he has little interest in (although he did like my beet candy, so as long as I make them not taste like dirt). We both love artichokes, especially when I stuff 'em with seasoned croutons. I love potatoes and corn, and he'll certainly eat them if put in front of him. Onions are pretty important for cooking in general. But garlic is absolutely mandatory. I use it in just about everything (hence, the three varieties of garlic).

That's right, beet candy. You heard it here first, friends.
(I highly recommend including the whiskey.)

It makes me happy to see a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits in my garden and refrigerator (plus they say that's the best way to eat healthy: with myriad colors and textures), and if I have any hope of making a honor farm stand a viable future income source (albeit probably very small), I figure I should grow things that are visually appealing in addition to being delicious and nutritious.

What are you growing or plan to grow that I haven't included in my future garden arsenal?

~ Mitsy

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