In the Garden


The truth: I haven’t been cooking much lately (for my family, anyway).  May, I always forget, is one of those months where I just can’t be relied upon to do anything responsible inside the house or to get anywhere on time.  You’ll find me in the yard, in the berry patch maybe, sprinkling cayenne pepper round the blueberries, or training my hardy kiwi vines up the trellis posts, or just plain weed-pulling in the vegetable beds.  I’m truly obsessed, or to express it more gently, enamored.

Because I’m a chef and oh-so-persnickety about what I and my family eats, I feel oh-so-guilty about my lousy meal planning this time of year.  Perhaps, if you’re a gardener too (and maybe food-careful), you can relate.  So I’ve come up with a plan, which I think can work any time of year actually, however busy you are.   I’ve pulled together a smallish mental list of simple and swift dishes  that our family loves and just rotate through them rather than the usual kitchen experimenting or sometimes elaborate suppers that happen too often.  Our list is dominated by pasta dishes, such as carbonara with peas or pasta with chickpeas, but we also like just plain pan-fried fish fillets (with olive oil, salt, and pepper) with steamed vegetables.

Find those things you and your family love, and just rotate through ’em. You’ll find yourself much more at ease and without worry over what to make and how to find the time.   Maybe you do this sort of thing anyway, but usually when someone tells me this is their ritual it is normally expressed with regret and that it is rut-like.  I don’t know, I think this plan sound fantastic, especially because I have a child, and it’s nice to be able to fall back on the foods I know she’ll devour (melon, tomatoes, cheese, fish, and most of the time, broccoli).

I’ve had a few folks request from me lately a seasonal eating chart.  Go to

At the market (mine is Mississippi Market Co-op in St. Paul), I’ve noticed a few local goodies you should consider taking home.  From Harmony Valley Farm there is a delicious bagged salad mix, bagged baby spinach, ramps (on their way out), and nettles.  As well, the much-anticipated local asparagus has piled the shelves.  So, with my quick and simple pan-fried fish from above we might just steam some asparagus to go alongside and dollop a bit of refrigerator mayo mixed with chives and lemon.  Truly a fast, delicious, and seasonal supper…oh, and more time for me to linger in the garden.

Speaking more of being outside, my daughter, Riley, and I have made it down to the St. Paul Farmers Market a few times now and have been so blissed out.  I adore the St. Paul market, it’s my favorite.  I bought hanging red impatiens baskets, some tomato and pepper transplants for the garden, a messy egg and swiss breakfast sandwich (which I shared with Riley), and a few indulgences from Heartland Deli on the corner, such as strawberry and ginger pickles. Most importantly though, because each visit to the market was accompanied by monsoon-like weather, we traveled via covered-horse-and-wagon to our car with our goodies. Riley couldn’t be more impressed.

Seriously, get outside, whatever you do.  Here’s a seasonal recipe for you, straight from my time in Ireland:

Irish Nettle Soup

Serves 6

3 tablespoons butter; 10 ounces (about 2 cups) potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes; 1 medium onion, chopped; 1 medium leek, chopped; salt and pepper; 1 quart chicken stock; 5 ounces young nettle leaves, washed and chopped; 2/3 cup cream

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan.  When it foams, add the potatoes, onion and leek, tossing in the butter until well-coated.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cover with a paper lid (to keep in the steam) and the saucepan lid, and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft but not colored.  Discard the paper lid, add the stock, and boil until the vegetables are just cooked.  Add the nettle leaves.  Simmer uncovered for just 2-3 minutes.  Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose their flavor.  Add the cream or creamy milk and puree.  Taste and correct seasoning if necessary.  Serve hot.