Archive for the ‘garden’ Category

It’s July-hot here in central Illinois on this Memorial Day weekend with a hot breeze. Hot. As in it’s-90-degrees-at-noon hot, with at least 6 more degrees to go. I did the garden tasks early (watering & weeding, plus replanting of sunflowers and cucumbers because we have a slug/squirrel problem) while I had my (hot) coffee and now I’m holed up in our air-conditioned indoors, watching a replay of Lilly’s soccer game from yesterday. The grocery store is my next victim. I feel wholly unproductive, but will soldier on and buy groceries and make pesto for dinner, even though it’s May.

Fun: My friend and former co-worker Millicent Souris, with whom I recently reconnected, is coming from Brooklyn to visit. She’s hitting the road in a couple of weeks to promote her new book, which is about pie, and will be all over the place. Here’s the book:

Hopefully we’ll be setting something up locally for her, but she is also coming to help me learn how to poach eggs perfectly every time and maybe we’ll make biscuits like the ones she demonstrates in this video. And probably a pie crust. I’m really excited about this because, well, I had no idea that Millicent was working in food – was kicking ass in food, actually – and could be that person who could tell me, in a most no-nonsense way, what to do with a leg of lamb. This is actually a real question I have: What do I do with this leg of lamb that Cathe from Seven Sisters Farm made me take that one time I was there for IMBY? She’ll be here in mid-June.

Here are some recent photos that are sort of descriptive of life around here for the last few days, taken with my phone and with a DSLR.

Calendula about to bloom, taken with a new (to me) lens.

Drawn by a young woman at the farmers market who was frustrated at having to wait in the heat to perform on her ukulele. All the market’s performer slots were taken.

Lettuce in my garden.

Last year’s pea/greens bed is fallow this season, but a volunteer persists. I think zinnias are going in here after the pea vine is done.

Local artists Deathtram slaying the audience at the first-ever CU Flea yesterday. Our pals Millie and Cole are the founders of CU Flea and it was slamming.


94 degrees now. Welcome, summer 2012.


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I don’t know how I did it, but one of the eggs of the three I poached this morning is perfect. Unfortunately, I just ate the last, most photogenic bite, wrapped up in sauteed spinach from the garden and green garlic from the farmers market. This is what I did:

Brought water to a boil. Cracked three eggs into little bowl. Turned heat way, way down.

Swirled water rapidly to create a vortex and slid eggs in. Covered eggs.

Let them sit for about 3-4 minutes. Harvested spinach & chopped green garlic during this time and sauteed it in a little butter.

Turned off heat.

Put spinach and garlic into a bowl and slid the eggs on top. Ate breakfast. (The other two eggs, by the way, were good, but they were not perfect.)


Radio is still being made. Since the beginning of 2012, I’ve done segments about making mustard and food swaps, homemade mozzarella cheese, sheep shearing, Slow Money, backyard foraging, and the relationship between food and weather and insects. Forthcoming segments will include stories about the origin and history of the Horseshoe Sandwich in Central Illinois, gardening with found objects, a produce pedaler (I spelled it right), thinking about winter holidays during the summer, and probably a bunch more stuff I haven’t dreamed up yet. You can listen to each segment on your own time from the website, you can listen as a podcast, and you can listen on the air if you’re local. Speaking of local airings, it seems that in addition to my usual air time of the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of the month at around 2:20 PM, IMBY is also airing the following morning during Morning Edition while people are getting ready for work or school or are getting their days going. Kind of cool. Oh, yeah. I suppose I should mention that I found out a couple of months ago that I won an Illinois Associated Press Award along with the gent who produces my work at WILL, Dave Dickey, which was totally unexpected and quite motivating in terms of continuing to create interesting segments. I still feel like I’m having trouble finding my voice because of the schedule I’m on, but I’m getting there. After (almost) two years I think I’m getting there.

Oh, and the other funny thing that happened recently with regards to media and me was Smile Politely choosing my Instagram feed as the best in C-U, for some reason. Again, completely unexpected and very cool.

I don’t know, all this stuff is kind of embarrassing, but I figured I’d let readers, if there are any left, know.

Speaking of photos, here are a few personal faves from the last month or so:

This poster has been slowly deteriorating in downtown Urbana.

I saw this swarm of honeybees getting organized a couple weeks ago and checked on them a couple hours later where I thought they might be. And there they were, in perfect shape. They now have a new, safer (for all) home.

Driveway cherries. Thanks, Jill!

Cody surprised me for Mother’s Day. I freaked out when he walked in.

We had a few people over to send off some friends moving to VT. Then all these excellent people showed up and it turned into a full-on party. Then everyone went home at about 12:30 AM and this is what was left.

I’m back on my market-season schedule of having Mondays off if I worked Saturday, which I did, and it was great. So here’s my list for today – it’s not everything, but it’s a start:

Must get cracking.

Off I go.

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One would think I’d be able to cobble together a blog entry more than once a month. Not, like, every day or anything. Maybe twice a month, like the IMBY series I do for the radio, is a more realistic goal.

Well, anyway. We went on vacation and just came back.

Wooden ship.

It was also almost a vacation didn’t happen. As it turns out, it’s kind of hard to rent a suitable (and remotely affordable) place on Anna Maria Island at the last minute for dates in March. Jim performed a miracle and found one. A great one.

We read, ate, had coffee, dried things, and generally lounged here.

The weather was phenomenal – into the 80s and sunny every day. The water temperature was almost 80 degrees, practically unheard of for this time of year. That’s the Gulf of Mexico there on the horizon.

Siblings at sunset.

Our kids got to hang out together, something that very rarely happens anymore. They conversed, just the two of them, down by the water. It’s something they’ve done since they were quite small.

Through the mangroves at Robinson Preserve.

My love for the water sports was completely reaffirmed on this trip. While kayaking alone in the Gulf, I saw a manatee about 30 feet away – this was something I put on my pre-trip wish list, and lo – one just sort of appeared before me, snout popping out of the water almost in greeting. I freaked out, a little, because those things aren’t small creatures. Anyway, I wanted to paddleboard, but it was too windy on the day I planned to go. We kayaked as a group and we swam and swam. I think my mid-life crisis might look like a Sea-Doo.

An amazing place.

After Anna Maria, we headed to central FL to see my dad and then to the east coast to visit one of my favorite beaches in the entire world – the Canaveral National Seashore. We flew some kites. We got tossed around by the surf. Eventually we had to leave.

Until next year.

My personal journal entries from the days leading up to our departure reveal an extremely stressed-out and slightly crazy lady; it’s evident that getting away was crucial. I certainly could have used more “away”, but it was also hilarious to come home and discover that spring had completely, unreservedly sprung in our absence. In eight days the trees had flowered and/or leafed out, the tulips came up, the greens I planted were growing strong, the asparagus was 5 feet high, and the garden was past unruly and into ridiculous territory. I spent a few hours back there yesterday dealing with the asparagus patch and weeding the greens and cutting dead growth. It was no trip to the beach, but it felt fabulous.

IMBY segments coming up – this week you should be hearing/seeing a piece about sheep-shearing. It was researched that last quite chilly weekend we had early this month – I thought maybe the sheep would be too cold. Next week (or maybe the next), a piece about the Slow Money concept and an interview I did in February with its founder, Woody Tasch, will air on the radio and online.

For now, I’m enjoying my last day off before heading back to work tomorrow. There’s a farmers market that needs putting together, but I don’t want to think about it until I need to. Over and out.

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Graffiti on back door of Parasol Records - Urbana, IL

It’s Leap Day. The extra day means I can’t say that March has come in like a lion, but… come on. It totally has. When I woke up at 6:15 and checked my phone for the weather, the weather app cheerfully told me it was a balmy 60 degrees. In Urbana, Illinois, not on my beloved Anna Maria Island, whose weather I also check every morning. There were terrible storms a few hours south of here early this morning (O, southern Illinois, you really deserve a break) and the wind has been ferocious all day. But we’ve had other Marches start off this way – people forget the weather has been “weird” for years now. Tornadoes in March, freezes in April, 30 degrees to 80 degrees in a matter of hours. Maybe even in the same year.

In my inbox today, I received an email informing me that someone wants to bring a class of youngsters over to my house sometime during the growing season to, you know, check out my backyard, given the radio segments. It’s really to just show kids a garden that actually feeds people to some degree in action, which is very exciting, but I immediately overthought it; my mind went instantly to the yard and the mess back there and all the work that needs to be done.  To say that I would be mortified if anyone other than my neighbors saw the garden right now would be an understatement. I feel some guilt because a) I was a terrible steward late last year and so I have a lot of work ahead of me and b) I’m not starting many seeds (our vacation, plus other bad timing = I’m buying tomato and other starts from my friends Cathe and Joan) . Oh, and c) I’m not doing any seed ordering. My inventory is massive. I think Jim would hurt himself rolling his eyes if I did a seed order this year.

This all feels very 2006. That was the spring I was about to start working full-time for the first time in 8 years and everything was in a bit of disarray. 6 years later, everything’s cool, but… in a bit of disarray. Which, I have learned, is how it is for everyone much of the time. And 2006 was a great year.

For those of you interested in the actual things I do on the radio (and I very much appreciate your interest), my hiatus officially ended on February 9 with the airing of the 2012 growing curve piece, and the mustard potluck piece aired February 23.  I’ll have a piece about making cheese in your home kitchen on March 8, and March 22 … well, I haven’t decided yet between the two topics, but either way it’s going to rule. IMBY pieces are always available on the web for people everywhere, but… locals? These segments are still airing Thursday afternoons during the ag programming, but they’re ALSO airing Friday mornings during Morning Edition on Illinois Public Media (AM 580) and maybe even on Saturdays sometimes. I had to quit being so damn wordy in order for that to happen, by the way. The response has been fantastic – maybe it really IS better when I talk less!

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Photo a day #16: Morning


Poached eggs are THE BEST, especially when done right (which is, chez B-K, like capturing lightning in a bottle). Three things matter: the egg, the temperature of the water, and the cooking time. I always have great eggs on hand, but the other two criteria are not always met. I do, however, always follow Joy of Cooking‘s recommendation to create a “swirling vortex” (that’s probably not the term they used, but it’s the one I like saying in my head in the morning when I make the eggs) in the just-below-the-boil water. Then I close the lid and, usually, lose track of time.

I love eggs, so screwing up the poaching isn’t a big deal. They’re still so good. This morning’s slightly messed-up eggs were eaten with spinach from one of the farms I’m visiting today and a tiny bit of grated Parmesan and some fresh-ground pepper. It’s January and the spinach is sublime.


I need to spend some time dumping audio onto my laptop, taking some test shots with the DSLR (woefully underused due to my fascination with Instagram, plus I only have one lens and could really use another), and prepare some questions for later today, but my mind is wandering to the garden, and what I’d like to plant this year, and the fact that this year is the year I can finally eat the asparagus I planted, and all the things I’d like to preserve this year, and all the things that went to waste last year. From there I wonder what home season extension in our part of the Midwest would look like, real season extension for home gardeners. From there my mind wanders to the pruning and espaliering of the apple trees against our garage that has to happen, the mess in our garage, this project, which would allow me to successfully start onions inside (I don’t think it’ll get made in time for this season), the condition of my garden tools (not critical, but getting there), what the garden/yard will look like when we have our Annual Dessert Potluck in July, host a dinner in August, and have the 2nd Annual Cornhole Tournament in September. Will it look good? Will I have kept up with things? Will Jim & I have made any new trellises? Will there be pollinators? How about rain? Too much? Too little?

Best for now to dump audio/take test shots/prepare. Chop wood, carry water.

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[Listen to this piece on WILL. It aired May 12, 2011. May isn’t done yet, but asparagus almost is…]

My husband doesn’t like asparagus very much. That’s putting it mildly, actually. In fact, this is his reaction whenever someone asks him if he likes it. He makes this horrified face, and then says:

“UGH… have you SEEN the way it grows out of the ground????”

He says it looks like an alien, trapped underground, trying to escape, its purple or green tentacles perennially reaching through the earth every spring. Needless to say, he was not thrilled when I, an asparagus-lover, announced last year that I was dedicating a large bed in the corner of our backyard to asparagus… his most-feared vegetable.

He’s not TOO wrong about it, really. Asparagus is pretty weird from start to finish. It grows from crowns, and when you buy them at the garden store or get them in the mail, you’ll notice they look like big wads of spaghetti. Or little baby squid. You have to dig a trench a foot deep for them and plant them with some extra compost, so they’re a little more labor intensive than, say, tossing some lettuce seeds into the ground. Then, I’ve been told you’re not supposed to eat what comes up for two years, in order to establish the plants. Instead, you let them grow until they “fern out” – they turn into ferns more than 6 feet tall, and these ferns provide food for the crowns below as opposed to providing food for you. Asparagus also doesn’t like weeds. It also likes to be fed.         Asparagus is a process.

Not only that. Asparagus is the first crown jewel of the new growing season, but its own season is pretty short. I noticed some action in our neighbor’s very-established asparagus patch in early April. It grows visibly over a period of several hours under the right conditions, so for several weeks these wonderfully generous neighbors offered up a bonanza of extra asparagus. It’s now the second week of May and the patch is – regrettably – slowing down, and while you’ll see asparagus at local farmers markets for a few more weeks… when it’s over at the end of the month or in early June? There are no regrets, no remember-whens, no strays popping up here and there. Not for asparagus. When it’s over, it’s over.   If you decide to grow it, you should let those last stalks grow into those ferns I mentioned above so they can provide food for the crowns, and enjoy it as fancy-looking landscaping for the rest of the summer and into the fall. Plant accordingly.

So asparagus is a little bit high maintenance and it has a pretty short season and it has a weird growing habit. But… it’s yummy. Oh, it’s so yummy. Whether you cut it fresh from someone’s yard or buy it at a local farmers market or if you’re lucky enough to happen upon some growing wild along railroad tracks or gravel roads out in the country, it needs practically nothing to dress it up.

An impromptu Facebook poll of my friends revealed a myriad of ways to eat it. I personally love eating it scrambled with eggs. Some like to roast it with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, maybe adding some lemon juice. It’s good roasted over whole wheat penne pasta with a little Parmesan cheese, says another friend. Another friend told me that some of her asparagus had gone missing. It took her most of the week to figure out that her young children were picking it and eating it before she could get to it. Finally, and this was my favorite because it’s totally true, another friend told me that she and her family eat it all ways – “binge on it” was actually how she put it – for the entire season, and just when they might be sort of be starting to get a little tired of asparagus all those ways, the season is over and they move on to something else. Eating seasonally is like that. No regrets. No remember-whens.

Of course, you can find asparagus year-round at your local grocery stores, if you want it. But besides being way more flavorful, the appearance of Illinois-grown asparagus is a sign. It’s a real sign of spring, that the sun is heading back in the right direction after all, that in the time between when the first tentacles – I mean, spears – start showing through the earth and when those last stalks are allowed to get big and blowsy and ferny…. Spring’s flowering trees will have come and gone. The tulips and daffodils will have bloomed. The farmers market will have started. Urbana-Champaign will have returned, for a couple of months, to being a sleepy little college town. And asparagus will have yielded to the next seasonal superstar… strawberries.

Best be getting your shortcake recipes ready – strawberry season will be here sooner than you think.

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I pay attention during conference calls, but when the conversation drifts, I make lists.

Email Beth.

Actually, there are two Beths I need to email – a close friend I’ve adored for almost 20 years (!!), and my massage therapist.

Betty Fussell.

She’s a bit of a goddess in the food writing world. She also has great style. I have a photo of her on my bulletin board at my office.

New skates.

My last pair of skates gave me terrible blisters just underneath my outside ankle bone on both sides, something I couldn’t have predicted from wearing them in the store while trying them on. I have tried running, I have tried treadmill dancing, I have tried walking, and while all of them are enjoyable to a degree, skating is what I crave: intense + zoomy + daredevilish + excellent workout. I need recommendations for good skates, though. Help. The internet is a confusing place. Until I find some I’m going to be forced to wrap both feet and ankles in Ace bandages.

One day at a time.

Order new glasses.

I wear them to read and work on the computer. The cheap ones I bought from Zenni were great, and they were cheap at a time I needed them to be cheap, but the plastic is peeling and they’re better suited to pajama time.

Get posters framed.

I have a couple fantastic posters made by my friends Brett and Bonnie that I’ve been wanting to frame for a long time, since before they moved away to Denmark. One is for their bathouse project, which I investigated for the radio. The other is food-related, of course. Here’s a photo:

Day before/day of logistics.

Many things are changing at work this season; I’m realizing that in order to really pull this off, entirely new internal structure is needed for me and my staff. While it’s kind of fun to doodle that stuff out, I’m nervous. It’s going to involve delegation and me not trying to control everything. Could be complicated some days, I reckon.


Today at work I was part of a meeting with some consultants who are helping the City of Urbana with its signage and wayfinding. My favorite part of the meeting was their timeline and phasing graphic – a really simple calendar that demonstrated when each deliverable would be, uh, delivered. I need to do that. Linear thinking is not my forte, though. Maybe I’ll stick to lists.

Small rituals = anchors.

Hot water and lemon in the morning. Fifteen minutes of thinking before diving into work at the office. Friday afternoon pastry at Mirabelle. First asparagus, even if it’s not local. Cutting fruit for my daughter’s breakfast, even though she’s way – way! – past the age of being able to do it herself. Breakfast at Prairie Fruits Farm every Saturday morning – sometimes alone, sometimes with friends – in the eight weeks between first cheese and our farmers market opening. Putting my cold feet on my husband’s very warm legs when he gets into bed.

Bottom up. Never top down.

Sounds rather naughty! Erm. Really, my thinking here is about change, particularly with regards to the food system and politics. We have something important to vote on in Urbana on Tuesday, and residents of the town right next door have a Mayor to elect (we are pro-this guy chez B-K; I wish we could vote in their election). National elections are important, but people MUST! vote where they live. The only way to change things is to start where you hang yr hat.

So many meals in one seed.

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