Wednesday, October 29, 2014

From The Archives: Name That Weed

While scrolling through some photos on my phone this afternoon, I came across this one that I took back in August:

This is a weed I pulled from the garden when I was working my way through the backlog of chores awaiting me upon my return from Costa Rica. As you can see, it is shallow-rooted but quite tall, with a sturdy (but not woody stem). It looks like a small tree, especially with its broad leaves: 

But it's obviously not a tree, given the soft stem and shallow root system. It also has some white flowers that look like morning glories and smell very sweet, like a vanilla honeysuckle:

They were closed when I pulled the weed in the afternoon, but you could still smell their strong perfume.

But weirdest of all is the fruit:

That thing is a killer! I had to wear gloves to pick it off the plant and handle it (and I never wear gloves). Those spines are for real.

Fruit might not quite be the right word. Maybe it's more a seed pod, since I can't imagine any creature being tempted to eat this. The inside is loaded with tiny seeds:

I'm assuming that this green pod was not yet ripe when I pulled the weed.

I had meant to research this weed much earlier, and was wondering if this was maybe some kind of delicious native fruit or something. 

Well, today I finally found out, and the answer is a resounding NO on that score.

Turns out this is jimson weed, which is also known as devils' snare, hell's bells, devil's trumpet, devil weed, stinkweed, locoweed, and devil's cucumber.

And if those names aren't enough to keep you from tasting it, research revealed that it's totally poisonous. Animals won't go near it, and only dumb kids looking to get high will try it. It's a pretty powerful hallucinogen.

Hopefully the poisonous compounds break down in the composting process, because that is where this ended up, tossed there before I knew how crazy toxic this stuff is. Finger crossed! 

By the way, if you ever need to identify an unknown weed, the University of Wisconsin at Madison has a great online weed identification tool. Just keep the state set for Wisconsin and it should work well for you (even if you are actually in Massachusetts).

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Trim The Fat Tuesday: The Cereal

For the last entry in this month's grocery series, the kids are going to take another one for the team. They might not notice, though, since all we're planning to do is

Swap out expensive cereals for their generic counterparts. 

This, then, is our last box of Cheerios for awhile. They will be replaced by Market Basket Tasteeos, which taste pretty much exactly the same and have all the same nutritional stats.

Speaking of nutrition, the part of the cereal maneuver that the kids are likely to notice is the part where we stop buying them sugary cereals. We usually provide them things like Frosted Mini-Wheats and Special K Red Berries, and that shit is expensive. And they go through it like it's nothing, scarfing it down for every breakfast as well as an after school snack.

Well, no more. We're thinking that if they only have (fake) Cheerios, they'll be bored enough to eat something else for their snacks. Like, um, vegetables from the garden, maybe. Or at least apples or yogurt or something.

On to the money. The big box of Cheerios at Market Basket is normally $3.99, while the same size box of Tasteeos  is just $2.50. Since we usually go through (at least) two boxes of cereal each week, that means we will save $2.98 per week. I think that's a low-ball figure when compared to smaller boxes of fancier cereals that have been known to grace our pantry, but whatever.

Savings per month: $12

Total Savings for October: $1600 (this month's savings plus the savings already in place from previous months!) 

Total Savings in 2014: $7723

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Easy Sunday Supper

Sometimes, Sundays are about slow roasting meats and veggies and hanging around the house, enjoying the aroma.

And sometimes Sundays are about running half-marathons and going to baby showers and playing with the neighbor kids until the sun goes down.

This kind of Sunday is fun, too, but it doesn't leave much room for a big, beautiful dinner. Enter tarts:

I've sung their praises before, because they work in the summer and they work in the fall, they work with veggies and they work with fruit. They are like fast food for gardeners, and tonight they helped us use up a lot of extra Swiss chard that we had to cut to make room for our greenhouse tunnels earlier this week. (They also helped us not blow our entertainment money on junk food when we didn't much feel like cooking.)

For our quick dinner, Kirk made two tarts: the Red and Blue beet tart we've had before, but the Swiss chard and feta one is new. To make it, he steamed about a dozen chard leaves until they were wilted, then chopped them fine, along with a couple cloves of raw garlic. Then he folded in some crumbled feta and seasoned the mixture with a pinch of salt and a couple dashes of black pepper. This all gets spread on a base of puff pastry and baked according to the directions on the package (because an easy dinner does not involve making puff pastry from scratch).

All of the strong flavors in these tarts (chard, beets, and the pungent cheeses) are well-complemented by some sweet honeyed peaches from our winter stores. Sometimes a fruit side dish is so much better than a veggie one, and I love peaches with just about anything.

Easy cooking, easy clean-up, easy evening.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Brownies To Beet The Band

There's nothing quite like coming home to a house full of good baking smells--especially after a day as dreary and raw as the ones we've been having this week. While lately I've come to expect the warm deliciousness of homemade bread, today I walked into something different.

Really different.

Yes, it's a brownie. But not just any old brownie.

That there is a beet brownie.

We're no strangers to the mingling of chocolate and beets. It's a surprisingly good favor combination, as the beets add a complexity and texture to the chocolate that is really interesting.

Kirk got this idea from his favorite gardening cook, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The original Chocolate and Beetroot Brownie recipe is from River Cottage, but Kirk ended up modifying it to make the beet more prominent.

Because Kirk loves beets, and we've got about a zillion giant ones to use up.

Here's Kirk's version of beet brownies. You should make some, because we won't have any left to share.

Beet Brownies

2 sticks of butter, cut into pieces
4 oz. dark chocolate, also cut into pieces (Kirk used Ghirardelli, and it was awesome)
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
a pinch of salt
8 ounces of prepped beets: roasted, peeled, cooled, and grated (this was about 1 1/2 big beets)

1. Get ready: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put butter and chocolate in an ovenproof bowl and place in oven to melt while oven heats up. Stir together once when half melted and again when completely melted. While keeping an eye on all the melting, grease and flour a 9x9 brownie pan.

2. In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugar together, then add the melted chocolate mixture and stir until smooth.

3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Gently fold dry ingredients into chocolate, then fold in the grated beets.

4. Pour batter into the pan and bake 20-25 minutes, until a knife comes out clean. Cool on a rack before attempting to cut it, or you will have a mess.

These brownies are fluffy and tender, and the flavor is excellent. If you didn't know the secret ingredient was beets, you might have a hard time guessing what the extra flavor dimension was. Our kids really like them, so you can believe that it's not an overtly vegetal taste. The grated beet doesn't quite break down all the way, so the texture is also a bit like carrot cake. But you know, with beets.

And chocolate.