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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Wicked Garden Project

It has been mulled over, fantasized about, dreamed about, discussed and wanted for a long, long time. Things that constantly held me back were (1) the cost to begin, (2) my inherent lack of gardening skills - I kill plastic plants, (3) space constrictions, and (4) craptastic Florida soil and weather - I hate heat. But there are lots of positives that really outweigh the negatives. The health benefits, the long term cost savings, the family time putting it together...and the list continues to grow.

I love using fresh herbs in just about everything.  All I can envision in my chef's minds-eye is the ultimate herb garden 20 feet from the kitchen where I can go snip whatever I feel like using. You may have your Brad Pitt / Tom Cruise / Celebrity Hunk-o-the-Month dreams....I have my herb garden dreams. Strange, I know. But it's who I am.
Well, it's happening now and there's nothing I can (or want to) do to stop it. Here we go! We're starting a food garden.

The main reason that I want to start this project is health. Papa Bear and Granma need to seriously watch what they eat now. Papa Bear needs to control his cholesterol and lose weight, and Granma needs to watch her salt intake and lose weight. They have been medically 'warned' to do these things. I need them around for a lot longer, so I need to do what I can to help.  By growing our own herbs, veggies and fruits, we can somewhat control the freshness/organic-ness of the food we eat, save money by not having to pay through the nose for some of these items at the grocery store, and teach ourselves and the kids about the whole growing your own food process, while sneaking in mild exercise.

Just because I have not been formally advised by a doctor to watch my cholesterol, salt intake or loose 5,000 pounds does not mean I don't need to follow suit and do the same - I do need to. So this endeavor will not only benefit the two who need to be healthier, but it will be good for everyone in the house.

Here is the portion of the yard where the magic will happen:

This is the eastern corner of the back yard. It gets the most full sun during the day. I figured this would be the optimal spot to build, since most of the food I plan on growing requires full sun.  Papa Bear will be building a greenhouse of sorts, or really more of a shelter for most of the garden, as the back yard is Grand Central Station for squirrels, possum and a wide variety of feathered friends.

Granma was generous enough to offer not only a huge chunk of her back yard, but to purchase the lumber and nails for the structure last weekend, so we are all set there.  Last night, Papa Bear sprayed weed and grass killer and began cutting the lumber for construction. He is projecting a completed structure by the end of this weekend.  I have purchased several varieties of seeds and two of those Jiffy Greenhouse things with the peat moss pellets. Little Lawyer and I spent yesterday afternoon planting 144 seeds....

There are 72 peat pellets in each tray, with 12 rows of 6 pellets.  I decided to pick 24 different seeds and plant 6 of each.  Here is what has been planted (and is currently germinating on the porch):

Tray #1 (7-14 day germination)                          Tray #2 (10-28 day germination)
     Tendergreen Bush Beans                                            Mustard Greens
     White Silver Queen Sweet Corn                                 Leeks
     Icicle Radishes                                                           Scallions
     Red Radishes                                                             Lavender
     Swiss Chard                                                              Flat Leaf Parsley
     Cherry Tomatoes                                                       Cayenne Peppers
     Grape Tomatoes                                                        Serrano Peppers
     Carrots                                                                      Tarragon
     Thyme                                                                        Rosemary
     Sweet Basil                                                                Banana Peppers
     Cilantro                                                                      Mammoth Dill
     Bouquet Dill                                                               Eggplant

I have also ordered (but have not gotten yet) other types of herbs, as well as some saplings for blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, two varieties of tomato plants and a dwarf banana tree.  I am also considering other varieties of dwarf fruit trees to add, such as lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit and avocado.

I thought it might be fun to document the progress, including the disasters and failures (in my world, there is bound to be an abundance of those!) as well as the successes and fruits of our labor. If anyone out there has ideas, tips, suggestions or just wants to tell me that I have bitten off way more than I can chew, then step up and say something!

Last night we celebrated the beginning of The Wicked Garden Project with a dish that can (and will) use tons of fresh herbs and veggies when they're ready...

Chicken Tandoori

8 skin-on bone-in chicken thighs
Juice of one lemon
Kosher salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp plain yogurt
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and rough chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1-3/4 tsp plus 1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp sour cream
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped

Early in the day, make small shallow cuts in the chicken thighs with a sharp knife. Toss the chicken with the lemon juice and about 2 teaspoons of salt in a large bowl. Let stand while you get the rest of the prep done.

Pulse 2 tablespoons of yogurt, olive oil, red onion, garlic, ginger, tomato paste, coriander, cumin, 1-3/4 teaspoon paprika and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a food processor to form a paste. Smear this fragrant concoction over the chicken in the bowl, making sure it's slathered everywhere. Cover and refrigerate. Marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes.  I like to marinate this longer if possible.  If I make this early enough in the day, I will let in soak in the flavors until dinner. You can also do the marinade the night before and let it go all night.

Combine the remaining 1/2 cup yogurt with 1/4 teaspoon paprika, cilantro, sour cream and a pinch of salt in medium bowl. Store in fridge until ready to serve.

Preheat oven to 450. Heat a large, well oiled (2 tbsps of olive or vegetable oil will work) cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add chicken skin side down and cook until skin browns, about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the marinade to pan. Turn the chicken over and cook another 5 minutes. Place skillet in preheated oven and cook 30-35 minutes.

Plate the chicken and top with your premade yogurt sauce in the fridge. I like to serve with jasmine rice and a veggie.

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