Friday, July 31, 2015

Signs of Change 7.31.15

All around New Haven there are signs of change, real signs… 

The Yale campus is dotted with signs proclaiming “Urban Meadow” – patches of landscape, planted with wildflower seeds and sparsely tended. The unkempt appearance of some of these plots may be a little tough to get used to, but this “Meadow” (about a mile from downtown New Haven) is a wonder to behold — a sea of Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) in full bloom. 

Rudbeckia hirta, a plant native to all the lower 48 states, is a member of the aster family. It can tolerate a wide range of soils and temperatures, and has no major insect or disease pests. You can read more about Rudbeckia hirta on this USDA factsheet

Its flowers attract nectar seeking bees, butterflies, and insects. Its seeds attract birds, as the poop-covered sign above attests. The companion website to the movie Queen of the Sun: What are the bees telling us? recommends planting a large volume of the same type of bee-friendly flowers  in your garden or yard to provide bees with forage. One of the suggestions is Rudbeckia hirta.

These plants bloom from June to October. Note that they do tend to crowd out other flowers growing near them. But if you love Black-Eyed Susans, have lots of sun and plenty of space, and don’t have time to weed, Rudbeckia hirta is the plant for you. 

This particular Urban Meadow is located on upper Prospect Street near the northern border of Yale’s main campus, in front of the planetarium, nestled between Farnam Gardens and Betts House.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Meatless Monday: Farro Salad

Summer is for salads, especially now that cucumbers, lettuce, and tomatoes are in plentiful supply at the farmers’ markets. At the end of a long, hot day like today, a salad in the fridge is a welcome sight indeed. 

All it takes to make this happen is a little advance planning when you hear the forecast for a stretch of hot weather.

One option is to prepare extra servings any time you cook a grain and to marinate the leftovers in the refrigerator. Simply add a scoop or two of the marinated grain to your favorite salad, and you will have a satisfying meal. See this past post for some ideas. 

Another option is to prepare a grain salad that you can serve atop a bed of mixed greens. For a  potluck contribution to a Memorial Day picnic, I made this beautiful (and very easy) farro salad  based on a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis found online at the Food Network site.

Farro Salad

  • 4 cups water
  • 10 ounces farro (about 1 1/2 cups) [I used a bag of Trader Joe’s 10 Minute Farro.]
  • Salt to taste [or a vegetable bouillon cube]
  • 1 pound plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped 
  • 1/2 sweet Vidalia onion chopped
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  • Combine the water and farro in a medium saucepan. 
  • Add salt or bouillon. 
  • Bring to a boil over high heat. 
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the farro is tender, about 30 minutes for conventional farro, less for the Trader Joe’s. 
  • Drain well, and then transfer to a large bowl to cool.
  • Add the tomatoes, onion, chives, and parsley to the farro, and toss to combine.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil. 
  • Add the vinaigrette to the salad and toss to coat.

The salad can be refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving.

It is delicious served on top of salad greens. With additions such as chopped celery, cucumbers, kalamata olives, or crumbled feta, farro salad can easily become a complete meal. 

If you don’t have any farro on hand, you can substitute orzo or small bowtie pasta, but you will miss out on some nutritional benefits. One serving of farro has 10 grams of protein, 2% of the recommended daily value of calcium, and 19% of the daily value of fiber vs. 7 grams of protein and 8% of fiber for conventional pasta.

Get creative. And enjoy your time outside the kitchen.

Happy Summer! Happy Meatless Monday.

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What Have I Been Doing? Where Have I Been?

Nauset Beach Orleans, Massachusetts
I admit that my posts have been a bit sparse so far this year. Last week I had a legitimate excuse. I was away from my desk, relaxing on Cape Cod in a quiet cottage colony on the shores of a kettle pond. While we were there, the sky was mostly blue, it rained mainly at night, and the ocean water was invigorating.

Our arrival in Chatham coincided with the tagging of the first great white shark off its shores, as it has for the last few years. Great whites love to dine on seals, and Chatham has plenty of them.

When the sharks arrive the media is close behind…
Seagulls love the fish pier, too.
Since 1972, seals have been protected by the Marine Mammal Protection ActAround 2005 the population really took off, and with that growth came the sharks. According to one report, there were an estimated 16,000 gray seals on Cape Cod and the islands in 2013, and one marine scientist opined that the population grows some 20% a year. Once a novelty confined to the waters of the fishing pier or lounging on the rocks in the harbor, seals can be spotted swimming off Nauset Beach on most days. As for the sharks, in 2014, 56 individual sharks were identified by shark researcher Greg Skomal

Still, with the exception of the tagging being done by the marine biologists, there have been few close encounters between human and shark in Cape Cod waters. The lifeguards now have a purple flag they can raise to warn of dangerous marine mammals, but we did not see it fly. So far the commonsensical warnings to avoid swimming at dawn and dusk and never with the seals seem to be working.

The town of Chatham decided to celebrate the sharks’ yearly return with signage, t-shirts, screenings of Jaws at the local theater, and Sharks in the Park, an auction sponsored by the Chatham Merchants Association.

Humans checking out the sharks in the park
The week flew by. We explored Chatham and the nearby towns of Harwichport and Brewster, braved the chilly ocean waters in Orleans, read books, played cards and Scrabble, enjoyed many meals on the screened porch while watching birds, and ate onion rings and homemade hermits on the beach. FYI, the hermits did improve with age, but how long they would keep getting better we will never know as this batch is long gone. We even went to a movie in the newly-restored Orpheum Theater — “Inside Out!” [I loved it, but it made me cry.] 

Focaccia transformed
Before we knew it, it was time to think about the trip home. That meant serious late in the week menu planning focused on how to use up the groceries already on hand without buying too much more. Our inventory included red wine, goat cheese, and an excess of bread, in particular a local focaccia purchased at the Chatham farmer’s market. We had olive oil and an excellent cast iron pan. My husband Don thought of creating crunchy sticks by slicing the focaccia into one inch widths and then lengthwise into thirds, which he then toasted over medium heat in the well oiled pan. 

These crisp fingers of bread were delicious and the perfect vehicle for the remaining soft cheese. In fact, they were so good that we brought home the last of the bread and prepared it the same way on Sunday night. For a spread we used some tomato pesto I had stored in the freezer—a little taste of our vacation as we prepared for our first day back.

So here I am, rested, refreshed [at least so far], and ready to blog once more. This is my new mantra.

Look for me again soon. Until then, get out there and enjoy your summer, wherever you are!