Fall Gardening – Converted Cold Frame Pulls Double Duty for Seedlings


Fall gardening, for me this year, means keeping it easy.

Mostly because the squirrels and sun aren’t on our side come late September.  I’ve started cabbages and kale and lovingly transplanted them to well-prepared containers up and down our stairs in autumns past, only to have squirrels dig them up daily until the sun lost itself behind the neighbor’s house.

Never again.

This year I have my magical cold frame I converted to a squirrel-free grow box – I simply swapped out the glass lid for a hardware-cloth (wire mesh) lid.  Anything I plant outside of this box will be on a whim and left to its own devices on the squirrel front.

Inside the box, we took our freshly emptied summer pots, seeds leftover from spring, and planted mesclun mix, turnips, radishes and a few onion seeds.

With heavy rains forecast for the following few days, the kiddo and I dragged out an old shower curtain, tucked it under the lid’s edges, and weighed it down with scrap wood for good measure.  These rains would be remnants of Hurricane Isaac, and all summer has been either no rain or crazy-windy-big-storm rain, so might as well add the wood.

The kiddo, B, who had methodically pinched the tiny seeds from my palm and less methodically sewed them, was very into storm proofing the cold frame. She’s three now and loves a good project, especially a short one she can get her helping little hands on.

The next day we got nearly 4 inches of rain in two hours.

I didn’t touch anything for two more days.

Today, SEEDLINGS!!!  Tiny sprouts!!!  No washout from the rain!  Not wanting to further starve them for light, we set the scrap wood cover aside but kept the shower curtain.  The weatherman says we’re still at risk for all-or-nothing rain the next few days.

Let’s see if we can squeeze a few beet, spinach and kale seeds into the squirrel-free, rain-shuttered box in a few days.

DC State Fair – Even You Can Enter the Fermented Vegetable Contest

Our fridge: filled with delicious things in glass jars


Our own DC State Fair celebrates the growers, the makers, the brewers, the bakers and the fermenters.

Fermenting vegetables?

It’s not just for the Germans, Koreans and bachelors who never clean their fridge.

You can do it – do it this weekend.

You don’t have to grow your own veggies to ferment, just bebop yourself down to your farmers market, buy some stuff to ferment and get to it.

It does take a little planning. Get details below, but you will need non-iodized salt (such as sea or Kosher), an acceptable vessel (a clean glass jar with a lid or a crock) and some recipes call for non-chlorinated water.  You don’t need full-blown canning supplies. See how easy it really is:

  • Dr. Ben Kim: He wants you to buy stuff from him, so block those pop-ups, but his How to Make Kim Chi gives step-by-step pictures and cheer leading.

Once you’ve filled a few jars of fermented, locally grown, organic, hand-picked, biked-it-home epicurean treasure, you’re ready to register for the DC State Fair Fermented Vegetable Contest(Note: Your veggies do not need to be organic, local or transported by bike to be eligible to compete.  DC State Fair suggests reading over these researched recipes for fermenting success.  Only 50 entries can be accepted so get busy and register, $5 per entry.)

If your drunk roommate tosses your kimchi at 4:00 a.m. thinking it’s an appropriate time to clean the fridge, you should still join the 2012 DC State Fair fun Saturday, September 22nd, 2012.  As part of the Barracks Row Fall Festival along 8th Street SE on Capitol Hill, there will be a little something for everyone.

Even your hungover roommate.

Fall Gardening – Double Up and Catch Up


Fall gardening.

Fall gardening frustrates me. We don’t have deer coming through our DC neighborhood but the squirrels pick up the slack for garden carnage. Fresh pots of soil read as “First Month Free” on a U-Store It for squirrels.

We also loose the midday sun behind the neighbor’s house way before first frost sets in, abruptly turning our full-sun back yard into a shade garden.

As a glutton for punishment, I’ll slide in under the wire this weekend with a scaled-back agenda of spinach, mesclun mix and radishes.

The fall gardening opportunity for some crops has passed, but check the following resources for your zone to feed that fall gardening bug:

  • Southern Exposure Seed Exchange: Growing Guides & Library (excellent info for everyone but planting dates are for the Southeast and mid-Atlantic)
  • Washington Gardener Magazine: The August Enews gardening checklist can’t be beat for the mid-Atlantic
  • Johnny’s Selected Seeds – Growing Guides (some of the tools are spreadsheets, but good info)
  • D. Landreth Seed Co – No “when to plant” look-ups, but sit and watch their home page as images of what you should be planting now rotate through and you’ll get excited for fall gardening.  Since 1784… Landreth has been around.

If you’re kind of done with gardening for a few months – you enjoy it but don’t really want to talk about what happened over the summer – don’t sweat it.  Fall harvest festivals abound with pick your own apples, pumpkins corn and ready-to-buy jams and pickles.

If you’re hard-core, you stopped reading this post at about the second line, you already have most of your fall seeds in the ground.

But do you have your bulbs ordered?

Kitchen – Chicken to the Garlic with Farm Fresh Tomatoes for #SundaySupper

Whether your tomato plants are going gang busters or you just can’t help but get that extra basket of heirlooms at the farmers market, you might be running out of fresh ideas for fresh tomatoes here at the end of August.

Earlier this week I had a package of chicken thighs, market tomatoes that needed using and no recipe that really called to me. I dug out my Le Creuset covered deep covered saute pan (a very appreciated gift via a family member working at Sur la Table last year) and riffed on a few recipes I’ve cooked over the summer.

I served the creation over Trader Joe’s brown Jasmine rice and we each had a fresh ear of buttered Jersey corn. The velvety cooked tomatoes, tender chicken and juicy fresh corn made the perfect late-summer dish. Sunny flavors but comforting with the breeze outside blowing a little cooler from the north. Fall is heading our way.

Neal loved it, fondly saying it reminded him of one of his dinners in Spain, Pollo al Ahillo, and the awkward but accurate English translation on that long-ago menu: Chicken to the Garlic.

So, with that, and a thanks to Family Foodie bringing back #SundaySupper, I present:

Chicken to the Garlic with Farm Fresh Tomatoes

Serves 2 – 4, depending on appetites and side dishes. Recipe easily doubles.


– 4 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs

– 1 or 2 TBS olive oil

– 1.5 – 2 cups chopped fresh heirloom or garden tomatoes (grape or cherry tomatoes are great, slice in half) you can mix your favorite size/shape/variety of tomatoes

– 1/3 cup shallot, minced

– 1 head garlic, cloves peeled and chopped

– 1/2 tsp ground cumin

– 1/2 to 1 tsp fresh thyme

– salt (sea or kosher) and ground pepper

– 1/2 cup water

– 1 TBS salted and roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) optional

Salt and pepper the chicken thighs and set aside while prepping the other items.

Toss tomatoes and shallots with a few pinches salt and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Let sit while prepping the garlic. This gives the salt a little time to release the tomato flavor.

In a heavy-bottomed pot with a well-fitting lid (a dutch oven is ideal), heat 1 – 2 TBS olive oil over medium-high heat and brown the chicken thighs, 4 – 7 minutes per side. Remove the thighs to a plate and reduce heat to medium low. Add the garlic and cumin, stir until fragrant – about a minute.

Add the tomato and shallot mix, stirring to deglaze the pot to get that rich chicken flavor. Add the water, stir, then nestle the browned chicken thighs down into the mix. It’s alright if they aren’t covered by the tomatoes.

Sprinkle the thyme over the thighs, cover and simmer on medium-low until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes.

When the chicken is nearly cooked through, if the mixture seems too watery, finish cooking uncovered, spooning the liquid and tomatoes over the thighs every few minutes. Adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer and let it thicken slightly. Do not let the pot cook dry – you want the tomato garlic mixture to remain very moist, easily filling a spoon with liquid alone. Add more water if your chicken isn’t cooked through but the tomato mixture is no longer juicy.

Serve over your favorite rice or shaped pasta, generously spooning on the tomatoes, garlic and lovely juices. Sprinkle the pepitas over top. Pairs wonderfully with fresh corn.

A Few Notes:

– You can easily substitute drum-sticks for chicken thighs. Whichever you use, you only want a single layer of them in your pot. (Or brown in batches and, later, switch top layer with bottom layer halfway through cooking with the tomatoes so they cook evenly.)

– The chicken’s bones and skin, cooked at a medium-low heat with the lid on, give the tomatoes, shallots and garlic a velvety texture. Using boneless/skinless cuts will change the dish.

– Do not use chicken stock or broth. By only adding water you let those fresh, local tomatoes shine! Browning the chicken first, setting it aside, then making the dish in the same pot will carry plenty of great chicken flavor.

– The leftovers reheat fantastically the next day!

– I take the worst food pictures on the planet. I mixed yellow and red tomatoes to beautiful effect, you can too!

– A tried-and-true Pollo al Ajillo recipe is here if my version with fresh tomatoes seems a little fast and loose.



County and State Fairs – Scratch that Competitive Itch

Runner-up beans at the 2012 Montgomery County Fair

Do you love the county fair?  Did your parents ever take you to the state fair because there was more fair there?

Remember wrist-band day?  It was caution-to-the-wind as your parents said, “Meet me back here at the grandstand at 6:00.  Sharp.”

You – two bags of cotton candy.  Your best friend – dares you to ride the Gravatron for the fifth time.

We were just at the Montgomery County Fair in  Gaithersburg, MD yesterday.  I’ve been to many fairs and this one blows me away.  Aside from the delightful animal barns with their wooden stalls and open-air construction that encourage you to admire the livestock, the farm, garden and flower contest entries will make any gardener flush with envy.  Tomatoes beckon like seed catalog illustrations and impossibly plump pole beans lay alongside sun flowers that cast shadows.

The Montgomery County Fair just happened to fall on the week following the 2012 Summer Olympics.  I can’t help but wonder if the non-ribbon-winning contestants for Corn – Feed Grade feel it’s an honor just to compete, or, if like McKayla Maroney, they are not impressed with the category’s blue ribbon winner.

What about us in the city?  Can we podium with the spoils of our summer labor on our balconies, tiny front yards and sidewalk tree boxes?  County fairs have strict rules that competition entrants be raised or grown within the county, likewise for state fairs.

Our own DC State Fair answers that call to celebrate – and compete – in agriculture and craft of the urbanite.

If 80 percent of success is showing up, then the 2012 DC State Fair’s broad spectrum of twenty+ contests has a little something for everyone – pick one and show up.

From homebrewing to photography, kid’s art & poetry to beekeeper honey, pie baking to cupcake-ing, knit & crochet & sewing contests to bike accessory making, home pickling & fermenting to vegetable growing – pick your favorite hobby (or learn a new one!) and see how easy it is to register to compete.

Some contests have limited registration capacity, others will accept entries the day of, but plan ahead and envision what you’ll do with that blue ribbon.  (Can you say Instagram gold?)

If your main hobby is socializing, join the fun and cheer on the ag-athletes!  The 2012 DC State Fair will be held Saturday, September 22nd, as part of the Barracks Row Fall Festival along 8th Street SE on Capitol Hill.

Do you live nowhere near DC but want to get in on the grow-your-own and make-it-yourself competitive spirit?  Find your state agricultural fair here or simply Google your county fair for dates and location.

Get the kids involved, or cultivate your own blue ribbon wishes, the fair is for everyone.

Blue ribbons for days at the Montgomery County Fair

Travels – Tennessee Stole My Heart


No phone picture taken from the backseat while heading to go boating on Norris Lake north of Knoxville can really convey the beauty.

However, winding through those woods and hills, seeing old barns with fresh hay stacked for the cows grazing along the road, following fences around the bend, driving through the dense shadows and into warm golden sunshine – conveyed to me the quietly incredible Tennessee that breaks the bustle of the East Coast and uplifts the sturdy endurance of the Midwest.

Oh, Knoxville, you might be my new favorite thing.

Travels – In Athens Thinking About Sassafras

Our trip has become a gardener meet-up and I love it. Yesterday Mia and I had a whirlwind and excellent coffee break in Atlanta, today Toni Senory hosted us at The 5&10 in Athens, GA.

Considering Toni’s twitter name, I realized I wouldn’t recognize a sassafras tree if it walked up and bought me a drink. Turns out, they grow all over the US east of the Mississippi and have quite the story to tell.

To bad we aren’t passing through Owensboro, KY.