As a first-time gardener, it's been fun watching our yard transform over the year. In the spirit of one of those trashy but oh-so-addictive makeover shows, I thought I'd share some before, during, and after photos.

I took this photo right after one of our big snowstorms, pre-garden. To make room for the raised bed, we pulled up the nearly-dead rhododendron, moved the holly bush (lower right corner, next to the tree) to another location in the yard, and then moved the other bushy bush where the holly was previously.

snowy garden.JPG
I took this photo right after Haven and our neighbor John constructed the raised bed, right around Memorial Day weekend:

garden complete.JPG
And I took this one just a few minutes ago. Up at the top of the bed you can see the sprawling leaves of a cucumber plant. Sadly, this one didn't generate any edible cukes, though a couple of plants located in another spot gave us plenty. Right next to it is a potted mini eggplant, but our resident squirrels got to the eggplants before they were ready for human consumption. The mass of green at the top of the bed is a bunch of different chilis: jalapenos, habaneros, hungarian wax, and cherry. Below that we've got some carrots and swiss chard, and earlier in the summer we also had arugula and several different types of lettuce. The yellow flowers around the perimeter are marigolds, a natural pest repellent we were told, but we didn't realize when we planted them that they were GIANT marigolds -- about 2 feet tall! -- and they've kind of taken over the garden at this point!

We also have a couple of other planters with tomatoes, and these plants have produced some of the most delicious tomato specimens I've ever had. Check out these gorgeous yellow and purple heirlooms -- yum! And the juicy, sweet cherry toms have become a staple in my morning eggs. From on-the-plant to in-my-stomach in less than 15 minutes! This is eating locally at its best.


Way back in March, we signed up for Outstanding in the Field's Boston dinner.  The purpose of this event?  To "celebrate food at the source." Last night, all the waiting was finally over!

The event was hosted by Allandale Farm, which is wedged between suburban Brookline homes, a golf course, a cemetery, and a school.  It's Boston's last working farm and has been family owned since the French and Indian wars.  (In addition to regular farming operations, Allandale farm has a seasonal retail store and a kid's summer program. Check 'em out.)

Arriving at the farm was a strange experience. One minute we were stressed out by Boston rush hour traffic, and the next minute we were standing here:

Immediately, we could see that the Outstanding in the Field (OITF) program is aptly named: All of the guests were out standing in one of Allandale's many fields.

Fortunately, there was plenty of food and wine to keep us entertained as we stood in the field.  The folks from Island Creek Oysters shucked some freshly caught bivalves, while folks from Harvest restaurant in Harvard Square served goat cheese, herb, and tomato canapes... 

and a bevy of pickled fruit and vegetables.  (The jalapenos were crazy hot and the peaches were savory -- not sweet!)

After the appetizers, OITF's founder Jim Denevan (pictured) gave us a brief history of the program and then Jim and John, two of Allandale's farmers, gave us a tour of the farm.  (You'll notice a couple of people holding plates in the photo below -- apparently this called The Tradition of the Plates. From an OITF email: "We find that this is a wonderful way for each guest to contribute something of their own to the community meal and to create a unique setting for the dining experience.")

After the tour, it was off to a long dining table, set of course in the middle of a field, where we discovered the evening's menu.

The watercress, fig, goat cheese, and pine nut salad was fabulous!

The blur below is Mary Dumont, chef at Harvest, working furiously to finish plating wild striped bass (the last of the season), grilled romaine, braised radish, zucchini, leeks, and orange saffron beurre blanc.

Unfortunately, Haven was feeling a bit under the weather, so we had to leave before the dessert: twig farm tomme with marinated olives and membrillo (quince paste) plus sweet corn creme brulee with gingersnap cookies.

Back in February I signed up for the Growing Challenge -- but because of my insane travel schedule and lingering cold Boston weather, it's been slow going. Fortunately, the long Memorial Day weekend brought both time at home and warm weather, and so we were finally able to finish our raised garden bed.  (Admission: Haven and our downstairs neighbor John did all the heavy lifting.)

Step 1: Buy some wood.  We could have purchased prefab raised beds, but the ones we saw online were expensive (between $80 - $150) and we figured this would be pretty easy construction.  We bought two untreated 2" x 12"s that were 14' long and had Home Depot cut each one into two pieces, 8' and 5'.  We also bought one 2" x 3", had it cut into four 18" pieces, then used a jigsaw at home to shape the lower 6" into a spike.  The total cost of the wood was around $35, and Home Depot did the cutting for free.

wood.JPGStep two: Assemble the wood. Haven and John attached everything together with screws.  This took about 90 minutes, most of it thinking time.

box.JPGStep 3: Dig a hole.  Our lot was originally zoned for business -- and we've got the dirt to show it.  We've found everything from pipes to chunks of asphalt buried below the surface and several seemingly healthy plants have died for no apparent reason.  So... we weren't exactly crazy about the idea of eating plants grown in our dirt.  To provide as big a buffer as possible between our yard and our veggies, we decided to dig a 6" trench underneath the bed.  This was definitely the hardest part -- John and Haven took turns over a few evenings.

hole.JPGStep 4: Get some dirt.  We ordered composted soil from Cambridge Bark & Loam, which cost about $125 including delivery.  To save on the shoveling, we had them dump most of it right into the bed.  (We also had them deliver new mulch for the yard at the same time.)

dirt.JPGStep 5: Add a worm.  Ok, this step is optional, but we found two FAT worms while we were replanting a couple of bushes to make room for the bed.  It only made sense to put them in the garden.

worm.JPGStep 6: Add plants. This is where we're at right now.  We've picked out some veggies we like (Boston lettuce, Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, and a bunch of different hot peppers) and have them all ready for transplant.  We're coordinating our plantings with our neighbors, though, so we'll get all the plants in the bed one evening this week.

lettuce cabbage.JPGStep 7: Step back and admire all the hard work!

garden complete.JPG
If you're a regular Wicked Flavory reader, you may have been wondering where the heck I've been for the past month.  Between travel for work and vacation, I was gone for nearly all of April. 

Travel can be tough on the old stomach.  I've had more crappy airport food and room service meals than I care to recall.  But travel can also provide an opportunity to explore local cuisine. 

I just got back from a week in the Bahamas, where every restaurant serves some variation of  locally caught conch, grouper, or snapper and every bar serves 73 variations of rum drinks, like the Bahama Mama.  Earlier in April , I had an amazing meal at Craft restaurant in Los Angeles, where there were plenty of local ingredients on the menu.  (Eating locally and seasonally is so damn easy in California.)  Before that, I had walleyed pike, Minnesota's state fish, paired with Brussels sprouts at the Minneapolis Westin.

walleye.jpgHopefully the bulk of my travel is behind me for a while...  And now that it's May, there's so much seasonal food to be planted, harvested, purchased at farmer's markets, and cooked in all of our favorite warm weather ways.  Look out for lots of new Wicked Flavory posts!

I have a confession: I am a sparkling water junkie.  Yup, I've been downing the stuff for years, plastic bottle after plastic bottle.  My preferred brand, Poland Spring, comes from Maine (not so far away) and I do recycle the bottles...  But this fizzy habit is really hard to justify -- and it's been nagging at me for years.

At long last, I've found a solution that makes both my brain and my taste buds happy: home made sparkling water made from Somerville's finest tap water (filtered through our fridge).  How?  With a counter-top device from Soda Club.

We just screw in one of the reusable 1-liter plastic bottles:

soda club screw.JPGAnd hit a button that pumps in the CO2:

soda club fizz.JPGWe haven't yet exhausted our first CO2 canister, but the Soda Club folks say that one is good for about about 110 1-liter bottles.  And the taste?  We're picky about our fizzy water, and we really like it.  We also got some orange and lemon/lime "natural" flavors to add in, but to be honest, they scare me a little -- so I'm sticking with the plain stuff.

Pancakes & VT maple syrup

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One of the things I love about living in New England is getting local maple syrup.  Right now we've got a jug of Grade B (my personal fave) from Butternut Mountain Farm in Morristown, VT.  We picked it up at Whole Foods, but what I really love is heading up to VT and buying it directly from the farm.  (If you're keen, the VT Maple Festival is April 25 - 27.)

blueberry pancakes.JPGGreat maple syrup deserves great pancakes -- and I've found the best pancake recipe in (where else?) the Best Recipe cookbook.  It's so amazing, you'll never even consider making pancakes from a mix again.

2 cups buttermilk (seriously, this is worth a trip to the store)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (we use 1 cup all-purpose, 1 cup whole wheat)
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil

  1. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl to combine.
  2. Whisk the egg and melted butter into the milk until combined. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients in the bowl; pour in the milk mixture and whisk very gently until just combined (a few lumps should remain). Do not overmix.
  3. Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes; add 1 teaspoon oil and brush to coat the skillet bottom evenly. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto 3 spots on the skillet.  Cook the pancakes until large bubbles begin to appear, 1 1/2 - 2 minutes.  Using a thin, wide spatula, flip the pancakes and cook until golden brown on the second side, 1 1/2 - 2 minutes longer.  Serve immediately.  Repeat with the remaining batter, using the remaining vegetable oil only if necessary.

We've found that a combo of maple syrup + fruit is the ideal pancake topping.  Since fresh berries aren't in season yet, we pop a bag of frozen fruit (like cherries, raspberries, strawberries, or blueberries) out of the freezer when we start mixing and dip them in a bowl of warm water.  By the time the first pancakes are browning, the fruit has lost its frost.

Today a friend from California tipped me off to an organization called Outstanding in the Field that puts on rather extravagant farm dinners.  "Outstanding in the Field events feature a leisurely tour of the hosting farm followed by a five course, farm-style dinner at our long table set in a scenic spot. Dinner is accompanied by a wine paired with each course. Diners are joined at the table by the farmer, food producers, a winemaker and other local artisans associated with the meal."

Many of the dinners are in California, but we New Englanders are fortunate to have one in Boston on September 5, exact farm location TBD. (I'm guessing that the pic below, which I poached from the OitF website, is of the 2007 Boston dinner.)

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The price is a whopping $200 per seat -- and while I don't think that it should cost an arm and a leg to "celebrate food at the source" (as the OitF folks put it), my foodie friend assures me that this is one experience worth paying a premium for.

If you want to join us (yes I ponied up the cash), act soon.  Eleven of the 27 2008 dinner dates are already sold out.

Putney Pasta

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Directions for the easiest local dinner ever:

Step 1) Pull a package of Putney Pasta's butternut squash and maple syrup ravioli (made in Putney, VT, of course) from your freezer.  Cook and drain per the package directions.

Step 2) Melt a tablespoon or so of butter in a pan and throw in some sage.  When the butter turns light brown and the sage gets crisp, toss it with the pasta and top with your favorite local cheese.  (Ok, I cheated and used some imported Parmigiano Reggiano that I had laying around.)


Winter veg coleslaw

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Here's a great coleslaw recipe that's in season during the winter, but will have you feeling like summer's right around the corner. We nabbed this recipe from the new Food Network show Jamie at Home, but apparently the show's producers only permit 2 recipes per episode to be posted on (dinosaurs) and this one didn't make the cut. Honestly, this dish is so easy that you hardly even need a recipe, but I thought a few words would round out the pictorial.

Get some of these veggies:
Red cabbage
White cabbage
Beets (yellow, so they don't stain the rest of the veggies)

How much of each? Oh, use your judgment. The idea is to have roughly equal parts of the cabbage and the other veggies. Keep in mind that the slaw will only keep a few days once dressed, so it's probably better to make two smaller batches than to make one huge one.

Put the slicer attachment on your food processor and slice up the red cabbage, white cabbage, shallots, and fennel. Now put the fine grater attachment on and grate the beets, turnips, carrots, and radishes.

Chop some herbs (like chervil, fennel, mint, and/or parsley) and add them to the veggies.

Add plain yogurt (just enough to cover the veggies), salt and pepper to taste, the juice from 1 and half lemons, 4 - 5 tablespoons of olive oil, and a tablespoon or so of whole grain mustard.

Now mix it all up with your clean hands and serve it with, oh, say, some grilled ribs.

I paired some of the leftover slaw with shredded cheddar in a whole wheat pita for lunch the next day.  Yum!

We first found quarts of Crescent Ridge chocolate milk at the Whole Foods on Prospect Street in Cambridge.  Then that store started carrying quarts of 1% (and probably 2% and whole, but we didn't really notice).  Now the Whole Foods on River Street in Cambridge is carrying 1/2 gallons of skim, 1%, 2%, and whole mile.  Crescent Ridge is taking over Boston!

crescent ridge.jpgPeople of Boston, unless you've got a couple of milking cows hanging out around the back of your brownstone, this is the closest you're going to get to local milk.

We were originally excited by the glass bottles, which are recyclable and/or returnable and/or reusable -- but come on, how many flower vases can one household really accommodate?

Good news: Whole Foods is charging $1.50 as a deposit on each bottle, which you get back in the form of a WF coupon when you return it to the store.  Now go get your local milk!


Wicked Flavory