In our kitchen, we’ve been feasting mostly on winter fare — rich braised dishes, beets, cabbage, and potatoes. But this morning I woke up with garden fever. I know my garden is lying deep beneath feet of snow and temperatures are still below zero, but all the possibilities of new summer beds and new summer varietals are in my head. It must be the extra sunlight.
Or maybe it’s the Northwest Flower and Garden Show taking place now in Seattle.
Although many Alaskans attend, I can’t go. I am too busy with dog mushing season at our lodge. I’m always busy this time of year but I mark my calendar in hope that I might magically find my way there. At the show, there are intricate display gardens with trees, flower beds, pathways, water gardens, you name it — perhaps 20 or so — set up across the Convention Center floor. The gardens have whimsical themes such as “A Day Well Spent” or “Alice’s Labyrinth.” The gardens offer design inspiration.
In my own garden, I focus mostly on edibles these days. Right out the kitchen window we have a sweet little curving rock bordered “river” of mint plants that we use all summer long. We throw mint in with our salad greens, use it as a flavoring in homemade ice cream, and we make tea year-round with fresh and dried mint. A couple of favorite varieties are chocolate, apple, and pineapple mints. We toss chocolate mint into our lodge brownie recipe. To make mint tea, we put a handful of mint leaves into a glass, then pour in hot green tea, and add in sweetener.
Near the mint, we have a hedge of black currants. The bushes are close to 15 years old now. I use the berries for savory and sweet dishes, jams, jellies and pastries. The leaves are aromatic and add a deep berry undertone when added to tea.
Next there is the “golden” bed — golden oregano, lemon thyme, and golden sage. I love the shimmery colors against the sea of green they are surrounded by.
I can’t begin a summer garden without planting a big bed of Italian parsley, rows of edible flowers, and chives that will bloom a rich shade of lavender. I always have a few potato plots and I personally think the carrots we grow in Alaska are the best in the world. But mostly I have beds of lettuces and quick-growing greens.
In the summer, making a salad, when the garden is in its glory, is not just preparing another dish. It’s an adventure into the garden to forage for the day’s best herbs, greens, and aromatics.
For now, we have to be content to buy our greens at the local market. Keep an eye out for interesting seed packets that will begin to show up. Catch garden fever. Begin to plan a little — or big — garden. Summer will be here soon.
Here is how I make a salad:
First, buy a good salad spinner if you don’t already own one. I like Oxo brand because it has a little button that acts as a brake on the lid. I recommend purchasing a big spinner even if you make single-serving salads. There’s just more volume to soak the greens in. Put your salad greens (I use about 1 cup of greens per person or serving) into the salad spinner. The spinner should be a bowl (usually plastic) fitted with a strainer insert and a lid with a spinning apparatus. Soak the greens in very cold water for at least fifteen minutes or until the leaves have plumped up nicely. Lift the strainer and the greens out of the water, drain the water from the bowl, return the strainer to the bowl, put the lid on, and spin away. I usually hit the spinner button (or crank or whatever) about a dozen times. Pull the strainer up and discard any water from the bowl. I roll the nicely dried greens into a tea towel and put them into the fridge until ready to dress.
I put about one large handful (about a cup) of greens per person into a large wide mixing bowl. Next, I drizzle over the greens just enough grapeseed oil to lightly coat the greens and I toss them in the oil using my hands. Grapeseed oil doesn’t add any flavor to the greens but it allows everything else we use to cling to them. I then add in a small amount (perhaps a teaspoon for every two cups of greens) of nut oil; walnut, hazelnut, or any other aromatic oil you prefer. I almost always prefer walnut oil. Toss again. Next goes in a splash of apple cider vinegar. I recommend buying vinegar in glass bottles rather than plastic. I think the plastic imparts an off flavor into the vinegar. Next, I sprinkle liberally with nice crunchy sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
After the salad is dressed, I pile a handful of greens high right in the center of a nice roomy plate. I want to make sure diners can eat their salad without spilling it onto the table.
Once the greens are situated, I adorn them with fresh berries if I have them, dried berries in the winter, nuts, sometimes cheese. I love Shropshire blue cheese from England. We often make our own lemon cheese in our kitchen.
- 1 quart whole milk
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 small bunch fresh lemon thyme
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 pint fresh raspberries
- 10 ounces balsamic vinegar
- Line a colander with moistened cheesecloth.
- In a large double boiler, heat the milk to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Add in the lemon juice and stir.
- Let the milk sit for about 15 minutes until the cheese curdles and firms up.
- Pour the curds into a colander and wrap in the cheesecloth. Hang the cheesecloth to drip for about one hour.
- Take the cheese out of the cheesecloth and press into a rounded shape.
- Press the thyme into the cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Makes about 6 ounces of cheese.
- Place the balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan. Bring the vinegar to a boil and add in the raspberries.
- Turn the mixture down to a simmer and reduce the mixture until it is a thick syrup consistency, about 20 minutes.
- Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer.
- Makes about ¼ cup.