Monday, May 31, 2010

SPRINGTIME GARDENING AND CREAMY BUTTERFLIES & ASPARAGUS

GARDEN DIARY DAY 3
Memorial Day weekend is the traditional garden planting time for as long as I can recall.  Grandpa and my Uncles always waited until this weekend to ensure that they wouldn't loose any crops due to frost.  Although this year I've been told that we should have been able to plant a couple of weeks ago, things got underway full throttle throughout the garden over the holiday weekend. Yesterday was a day off for Cathy and I since Cathy went to visit her family in Cleveland and I stayed home to mow my own lawn and have my family over for hot dogs on the grill.

So we were back at it today in earnest.  Cathy and I got our first soaking in the garden getting caught in the rain when a thunderstorm rolled overhead. It’s been so hot, working in the rain actually felt pretty good for a while. The down side is that the pathways aren’t all mulched yet so things got pretty muddy trudging back and forth.

Getting things in the ground is a lot harder that we’d imagined and it’s taken us 2 days to get two of the units populated with our little green fledglings. We’re trying to figure out if it’s cheating if we borrow or rent a tiller to turn the last unit over since we’ve discovered that by far that is the hardest part of this process.

Tomatoes, peppers (ranging from spicy hot to sweet), kale, colorful swiss chard, bok choy, parsley, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and sweet basil all are ready for some sunshine to make them grow.

Hopefully this will move forward faster from here on out as we’re learning to work together on this sort of physical project. It’s certainly easy to see that Cathy is the mover and carrier (the more physical of the work) and I’m the planter and the bossy one. 

Maybe by the end of the summer I'll also be stronger and more weatherised.  I’m counting on this garden to help me exercise a bit more and get off my butt. Getting onto the ground is no problem for me...I managed to topple over a couple of times.  It's the getting up from the ground that's the issue!  For now I'm blaming my bum knee, but I'm pretty sure it's actually my big bum that's the cause of that.  Sure am happy I'm the one with the camera around there, I wouldn't want anyone capturing my efforts to dislodge myself from the muddy ground today. 

After only two days of hard labor we've learned some valuable lessons:  (1) bring plenty of water to drink because it's hot out here; (2) horse manure doesn't weigh very much once it's composted and while it's not stinky, you still want to clean your fingernails thoroughly before coming home and digging into making dinner; and (3) mulch makes everything prettier. 

Pre-mulched tomato plot                                                                            











Post mulch (much prettier!)











POST GARDENING LUNCH FOR THE WET, HUNGRY OLD BIDDY

By the time I got home it was time to peel of all the muddy clothes, get into the shower and get all the wet, dirty clothes into the laundry.  At this point I was pretty hungry and had very little energy so a quick glance into the pantry gave me an idea for a great,easy lunch. 
 
Pasta has to be one of the BEST ways of making a simple meal for one. Like dried beans, dried pasta can be kept on the pantry shelf for weeks or months and still be ready and willing to yield to a pot of boiling water at a moments notice.

I have many shapes of pasta in my pantry and find that it’s just as much fun as an adult to eat choo-choo wheels as it was when I was a kid. Come to think of it though, I cannot recall ever having choo-choo wheels as a kid. Hmm…Of course realistically the only pasta we ever ate was the occasional spaghetti and meatballs or macaroni and cheese. As a product of a farm family, my mother seldom had pasta on the table and I cannot ever recall eating pasta or macaroni at Grandma’s table. Anyway…I digress.  Let's just stick with it's fun to eat choo-choo wheels no matter HOW old you are!  Everyone should have a box of some sort of fun pasta to make everyone smile when it hits the table.

One of my favorite pasta shapes are the Farfalle that look like little butterflies or bow-ties. They’re fun to eat and have just enough nooks and crannies in the folds to hold a simple pasta sauce. I grabbed the box from the pantry and headed to the fridge.  I rummaged around and discovered a frew stalks left from a batch of asparagus still hanging around and a couple pieces of sliced ham in the meat drawer. No doubt better cooks than I would have had proscuitto in the refrigerator, but hungry last minute eaters will eat what’s available. I grabbed those and put on a pot of water on the stove to boil. A quick trip out to the herb pot for a sprig of basil and dinner was 15 minutes away.

SPRINGTIME CREAMY BUTTERFLIES & ASPARAGUS

4 stalks of asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
handful of dried pasta (about ½ cup)
3 slices of sandwich ham, cut into bit sized pieces
1 Tbls. cream cheese
1 Tbls. mascarpone cheese
Sprinkle of  hot pepper flakes
leftover pasta water – enough to make a creamy sauce
Sprinkle of fresh basil

In a pot of boiling, salted water, cook the asparagus and pasta to al dente (about 12-15 minutes). Meanwhile, in a small non-stick skillet heat a teaspoon of olive oil and saut√© the ham pieces till they brown up a bit. When the pasta and asparagus are done, use a slotted spoon to transfer to the hot skillet. Add the cream cheese and mascarpone and stir to melt. Add some pasta water to the skillet if you need to help the cheese melt smoothly. When it’s all creamy, transfer to a warm bowl, top with the basil and eat.

This dish can take many forms and flavors, change out the asparagus for peas and carrots (which is what Giada used), or maybe some sugar snap peas sliced up.  Leave out the ham altogether or change it to chicken (I always seem to have leftover chicken in the fridge from restaurant meals), either would be delicious.  Change out the herb from basil to parsely or thyme or oregano.  The possibilities are endless with a simple pasta and sauce. 

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