Eating Virtuously: Swiss Chard Goma-ae

062014_chardfaceLet’s hear it for Swiss chard. Each year, Plants On Deck makes a vow to plant enough of something, anything, to enjoy a real, substantial yield. Tomatoes, beans, peppers and cucumbers have all had their shots — to varying success.  This year, POD set expectations shockingly low and let Swiss chard have a run at the title.

And it’s working. Two 24″ pots, and a couple dozen plants easily feeds a family of three that likes to eat. Chard is a pretty versatile beast — think spinach with a kick — and can be prepared any number of ways. (Oh, hey, and it’s crazy healthy. It’s good for hair, eyes, has vitamins K, A, and C, and it’s a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, and fiber. Yup, it cures cancer, too. Eh, probably not, but it’s all anti-oxidant and stuff.)

This is at least the fourth cutting (fresh seedlings are in the works), so the stalks are pretty tough and the leaves have a clear bite to them, but this preparation, lovingly honed by the Endurer, covers a multitude of sins.

72614_chardmolehillSwiss Chard Goma-ae
makes 1-2 c.

20-30 oz Swiss chard (or spinach), tough stem removed
2tbs sesame seeds, toasted
2tsp raw sugar
2tsp soy sauce

Blanch chard for a few minutes in a big pot of unsalted water. The leaves should be bright and tender. Meanwhile, using a mortar and pestle, grind the toasted sesame seeds and sugar together. Whisk in soy sauce. Drain the chard, wring it out in a kitchen towel, chop it up a little bit, mix in the goma-ae (sesame sauce). Eat virtuously.

Here’s a couple more Swiss chard recipes from the POD archives:

Swiss chard and preserved lemons
Garlicky chard pasta



July 2014

plants out front July 2014platns on deck 2014

This Can’t Be Good

61514buuuuugsIt’s ugly, spiky, and mean-looking. And sitting on a leaf.

But wait. Don’t squish it. Like, you know, someone did. Because it’s a good bug! A lady bug!

Future bug killers, visit BugGuide first. Or, perhaps, Plants on Deck. Oops.

Patience, Little Hurricane


Amma! A baby pepper! Can I eat it right now? Right now!



Honey Buns and Cukes

honey bun canteloupe blossomThe cucurbits are looking good, my friends. Although POD still needs to get a few bright blossoms on deck to attract pollinators, decorate the mulch with aluminum foil to repel aphids, spritz with POD’s special sauce to ward off mildews and bugs, and snip a tomato cage to turn it into a cucumber trellis. Soon.

June 2014

62114plantsondeckLooking good…Just in time for a nice long vacation.


Paltry Peas

6_16_14punypeasOh, how we love English shell peas. This year was going to be the year that that an honest-to-goodness yield would be enjoyed. Approximately 15 of the 20 peas ‘n a pot plants germinated, but the plants were so teeny tiny (they rose to the dizzying height of 3-4″ — which is puny, even for a dwarf) that each produced one one or two pods, with 2-5 peas each. Which means we harvested about a 1/4 cup of peas.

Boo. Here’s the thing: if you can believe it, they may have been, GASP, over-watered. Excessive hydration is rarely a probably for POD, but the Hurricane helper happens to love hoses and water. So you know, things happen. For future reference, though, here’s a handy how-to from the University of Minnesota.

6_16_14peaharvestThese little guys were planted in mid-April and harvested this week. Which, thankfully, lined up perfectly with the bag o’ peas from Greensgrow’s CSA. Which mean’s the Endurer enjoyed a lovely Father’s Day dinner of seared scallops with uber locally-grown herbs, peas with fresh-picked mint, and lemon strawberry bars for dessert.

POD loves me. POD loves me not.

To thin or not to thin? File this under “not complaining,” but all five (that’s five apiece) General Lee, Speedy Green, and Supremo cucumbers and Honey Bun cantaloupe seeds germinated. They’ve already been brutally culled to two per pot, but is further thinning called for?52814 Cucumber


In part, this post is serving as a self-imposed “do it right” mandate. You see, it kills this gardener to off perfectly good plants. But history (and horticultural extension after extension) suggests limiting tomatoes, cantaloupe and cucumbers to one per 5-gallon bucket.

And, um, POD’s 2014 cucumbers aren’t tame, container-friendly bush varieties; they’re everything-resistant hybrids with fun names.

The General Lee pictured here is housed in a 5- or 6-gallon pot. Cousins Coy, Vance, and Daisy have already bit it and when 3-5 true leaves are in evidence (one can be seen budding here), Luke will join them. Leaving Bo behind the wheel, where he belongs.

Thinning tip: never pull a cucurbit from the ground — its fragile root systems may be damaged — but instead, use your fingernails to snip the stem just below the soil line.

(The Honey Bun gets a little pass: two seeds will remain in the 20-gallon Rubbermaid bin.)

May 2014

52614_plantsondeck 52614_plantsoutfrontReally, there’s a lot more on the little blue deck than was hoped for.

Watering plants out front is a considerably more enjoyable undertaking (especially with the Hurricane’s “help” — she likes to get watered, too, and the basement hose provides a pretty fantastic impromptu sprayground.)

On the other hand, hauling gallons of water up the sladder isn’t a recipe for fun or for safety, but somehow that gorgeous baby maple became a gigantic maple tree. Which is nice and all, really nice, but the hours of midday shade probably aren’t so great for tomatoes and cucumbers. (Although come late July and August, Tree’s shade may provide said tomatoes and cucumbers a welcome respite from the heat.) So instead of a crazy, low-maintenance, street-side Pennsport garden jungle, as this gardener had imagined, containers have been steadily migrating back to the deck.

Everything has germinated, though, and once a few pollinator-attracting flowers have been added, we wait, water, and see.

Lean Out

51814_radishharvestLast weekend the Michigan set of parents (the Endurer’s in-laws, the Hurricane’s Nana and Bappa) arrived for a long weekend. Which was great, because the kid loves her grandparents and doesn’t see them nearly enough. But tough, because the crew had only just returned from a trip to Kentucky the weekend before to visit the North Carolina set of parents (POD’s in-laws, the Hurricane’s Nana and Gramps) and the cupboards were bare and the season’s first share was scant.

After a lovely dinner at Industry and a less lovely dinner at Tun Tavern (because what does this family do after driving 12 hours? Get in the car and drive another hour — or two and a half if taking the scenic route through New Jersey in a monsoon — to the shore) everyone was hungry for some home-cookin’.

But as noted, the cupboards were bare. However, the pots out front were blissfully brimming with herbs. And ample herbs equal a couple of saffron noodle cakes and a nice pot of tomato gravy and a radish-heavy salad for the following night.

Saffron Noodle Cake
from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

2 tbs olive oil
2 pinches saffron threads
1 roasted red pepper [POD's must-do addition]
8 ounces saffron pasta, linguine, or spaghettini [or Korean noodles, if your pantry looks like POD's]
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago [or Romano]
1 bunch scallions, including an inch of the greens, finely sliced
1/2 c. chopped parsley
1/3 c finely chopped basil [which is where POD came in handy] or marjoram
2 tbs butter, olive oil, or a mixture of butter and oil

Herbed Saffron Noodle Cake
from POD, with thanks to Deborah Madison

2 tbs olive oil
2 pinches saffron threads
8 ounces saffron pasta, linguine, or spaghettini [or Korean noodles, if your pantry looks like POD's]
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. tarragon, thyme, rosemary, and parsley [thanks, POD!]
2 tablespoons butter

Warm the oil in a small metal measuring cup, add the saffron, and set aside. [If making two cakes, use 1/2 of the infused oil for the first and 1/2 for the second.] Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente, then drain. Rinse under cold water and shake dry. Combine it with the saffron oil, eggs, and herbs [add scallions, cheese and the roasted red peppers for the original version] and mix well — your hands will be the best tool. Season with salt and plenty of pepper.

Heat 1 tbs butter in an 8- 10-inch nonstick skillet. Add the pasta, pat it down and even the edges. Cook over medium[high] heat until golden on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Turn the cake out onto a plate, add 1 tbs butter to the pan, slide the cake back in, and cook until the second side is crisp and golden. Cut into wedges and serve.