In my garden

A Perfect Afternoon; or, Why Activities Are Bad; or Spaghetti Zucchini Carbonara: Yum!

Did I say it was a perfect afternoon? It was a perfect afternoon.

All children were successfully picked up after what must have been a successful day at school. Wyatt needed a few minutes of snuggling, which no other child objected to my granting. Music Teacher extraordinaire arrived, and music commenced. Homework was voluntarily embarked on. There was some bickering over the homework table, where the children without homework were doing mazes, loudly and competitively, because some children can do anything loudly and competitively. I explained to Sam why if you had a square foot to be filled with 6 inch square tiles, you would need 4 tiles, not two.

And then it was time to contemplate dinner. Dinner was planned. Dinner was on the iCal: Spaghetti Carbonara. With home-made noodles, because later this week, I’ll be bringing ravioli to Lily’s classroom for her “unique week” and although I have filling in the freezer, I needed to make the dough, and so why not make extra for dinner?

But Spaghetti Carbonara, while delicious and a perfect use for the three pieces of bacon I had in the fridge, seemed a little lacking in green stuff. And while I’d planned a salad, I found myself uninspired. I thought about raiding the garden for cherry tomatoes for Spaghetti Tomato Carbonara, but we’ve eaten a mighty lot of cherry tomatoes lately. But thinking of the garden led me, as it does many gardeners this time of year, to think of zucchini. Heck, zucchini is an honest italian veggie. At first, I thought I’d sauté it up and serve it next to the Carbonara, but that seemed so uninteresting. And so Spaghetti Zucchini Carbonara was born. Clearly you could call it Zucchini Spaghetti Carbonara, or Spaghetti Carbonara Zucchini. I’m flexible. Whatever you call it, it was delicious, and if you have a few zucchini around the house (and if you don’t, ask a gardening neighbor and you soon will), I highly recommend it. Yes, I martha stewarded my own noodles, but you needn’t. It would be just as delicious without. I suggest fusili.

Chopped bacon, diced zucchini: I was going for the same general size.

First, I chopped the zucchini and the bacon into bite sized pieces (keeping in mind that I could expect major shrinkage from the bacon). I used only one zucchini. Next time I’ll use two, as zucchini turns out to do some major shrinking here, too.

Floury pasta sheets. My dough was a little sticky.

Well, no, actually first I made pasta dough and rolled it out, which you can, if you really want to, see in more detail here. But we’ve already agreed that you’re using fusili. Next week, I’m using fusili.

I cooked it on low, because my burners run way too hot.

First I cooked up the bacon about half way to crisp. It let out lots of good bacon fat, perfect for when I added the zucchini. I cook it on low–burning it would taint the whole thing, and I am an impatient cook who often burns bacon. Not today! Probably on a regular stove, as opposed to an insane fire-breathing behemoth with burners that send flames shooting out to get you, medium would be about right.

By the way I really need a stove repair person.

I love the microplane for grating garlic.

I dumped in the zucchini–again, next time I’ll use twice as much–and let’s don’t kid ourselves, that stuff fried right up. “Sauté” my ass. I grated in two big cloves of garlic and, when the bacon and zucchini looked delicious, deglazed the lot with about 1/3 cup of wine. I did not measure the wine. Think a couple good glugs. Certainly not more than half a cup and I think a little less.

First time for this big boy job with the grater "which could really cut a tomato in half really it could."

Pros. WIth a stepstool.

Meanwhile my sous chefs grated cheese and put the pasta through the spaghetti cutter. It’s the first time I’ve pretty much left them to it, and it mostly worked out. Some of it was kinda stuck together, and some of it was on the floor for a bit, but hey, it gets boiled. In nice salty water, btw. That’s true of the fusili too. Really really salty water.

After the whisking.

Next, I cracked one egg into a pyrex and whisked it up with a cup or a little less of grated parmesan cheese.. I let the bacon/wine/zucchini/garlic cool a little, and then I whisked it into the egg/parmesan. The idea is that it cooks the egg up into a creamy sauce. You don’t want to add the egg to the pan, though, or you will have zucchini bacon wine garlic scrambled egg. If you do it in a cool pyrex (or any bowl, including your serving bowl–less dishes!) you’ll be fine. You won’t, however, be able to take a picture while you do it. Unless you have three arms, in which case you really should take a picture of that. I have to say it doesn’t look nearly as good as it tasted.

Actually I forgot the parmesan and added after, but that’s how I usually do it. Or you could add it after. This methodology is all courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated, btw, although it’s years since I actually looked at the recipe.

Serve with bread and butter and more cheese. And maybe a salad, but I didn't.


This was really so, so good, and it wasn’t because of the pasta–in fact, a more rugged pasta would actually be better in many ways. And everyone ate it, although two customers did pick out their zucchini, and a third picked his out, and then ate it that way–but no one actually objected to it, and I’ll bet after I make it a few dozen more times they’ll eat the whole thing. I loved it.

KJA Perfect Afternoon; or, Why Activities Are Bad; or Spaghetti Zucchini Carbonara: Yum!
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In the Garden

I love to grow food.

I’m pretty indifferent about flowers. I mean, flowers are nice. I like it when there ARE flowers. But there’s a limit to how much time and effort I will invest in flowers, and I generally reach it about the moment when I get to the farm stand, note the huge selection and decide to go get a coffee. (Good thing the farm stand has coffee!)

But growing food–whole meals so local we are talking steps to the backyard? An entire summer of nearly no substantial grocery shopping beyond milk and, well, chips? Just the fun of saying “we grew this whole salad?” I’m into that. Sam, Lily, Wyatt, Rory–they’re into it too, at least kind of. They’re into the fun part. The work part? Not so much. And much as I enjoy the Little House on the Prairie family work ideal (Laura! Mary! Plant those peas or we will all starve this winter!) I don’t think any child who’s actually been to the grocery store is going to buy into the urgency. So it becomes more of a question of how much is gardening a chore, and how much is it a pleasure, and how much do I force it on the kids?

This weekend, this was the chore in question:

That's me, hunched down on the side.

Note that on the paths, we are growing a substantial quantity of grass. That’s not so bad now, but in a month, it will be an thicket of grass and weeds, unpleasant to walk through and blowing its seeds right up into the bed. I’ve tried a series of mellower weed-staunching ideas out on these paths. There was the newspaper the paths over the winter, mulch them in the spring idea. The let’s-just-weedwhacker-the-grass idea. The straw-down-over-last-year’s mulch idea. None worked, although the small chunk where I used cardboard boxes that wintered down into the ground and then mulched over those came close. Mostly, though, I had this really nice raised-bed garden with awful weedy paths. And it bugs me.

I think you could make an argument for weeding the paths before you put down the weedpaper, but I didn't.

So I decided I’d lay down weedpaper, staple it to the beds and then put mulch down over THAT. This took some time.

Look, in this bed we're already growing a hefty crop of ... weeds.

Sam: "The weeds don't stand a CHANCE."

I did enlist Sam for some help. He stapled one row. With, as you can see, great enthusiasm. It is a good thing I ran out of weedpaper at the same time I ran out of staples and had to get more of both.

But then Sam got sick of it. The weeds in the path meant little to him, and the satisfaction of a job well done was apparently just as elusive. The plants will grow just the same whether there are weeds in the path or not. It was a long, tedious chore. I made him finish the row he’d started, and then I let him go, and when I picked the work up again later, I didn’t bring him out, except to take pictures for me (I now have 50 identical, slightly blurry pictures of me crouched down stapling paths. You got to see the only one that isn’t of my butt.)

Wyatt spread some mulch, as did Lily. Wyatt and Rory also both put in some weeding and cleared, between them, most of a bed (spring is a GREAT time to have kids weed–because it’s all weeds! Go to it!). Actually, now that I think of it, they really did help, but not much, and not past the point where they lost interest, and not until it was done, which is the moment that you earn. But I was unconvinced that they’d really feel it if they didn’t care that much in the first place.

Here’s the result:

Ahh...I really hope this works.

Just looking at it makes me feel soothed and calm, which is just the way I want to feel in the garden. I will not feel that way if the dandelions spring up through it all—but I keep telling myself none of them had gone to seed, so they should just die. (DIE! DIE! DIE, WEEDS, DIE!) I need a few more bags of mulch (and it would probably be even more calming if i had bought all the same KIND of mulch, but they were low on the cheap stuff and I didn’t want to wait), but the stapling and papering is done. A little weeding, and we are ready to plant. That, the kids want in on.

So I don’t think we built much character today. I did keep thinking, you know, should I be making Sam and Lily, at least, slog through this? But I’m telling myself there will be plenty of time to sweat in the garden later (and there will).

KJIn the Garden
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Look out! I’ve got a hoe!

Actually, I’ve got two. And yes, I find it hard to use the word “hoe” with a straight face….

Today at the garden store, purchasing what I think has turned out to be far too much compost, I also invested in a pair of hoes–a little one, for any of my small garden assistants, and one for me. We have three biggish beds that are pretty solid weeds at the moment, and are destined for pumpkins, squash and corn, and I had a vague idea that a hoe was something one used in weeding.

Driving home, I realized…I have no idea how to actually use a hoe. Do you? I envisioned sort of digging the weed out with it, like a mini shovel, but a closer look and a little thought made it plain that wasn’t going to work. So I did what any modern gardener would do: I googled it. Not surprisingly, a number of the results I got were .uk, but I’ve read my share of Angela Thirkell and had no trouble translating “allotment” and “sterling”, but still found myself at a loss–there was much information about when to hoe, and how often, and even how to space one’s plants to allow for easy hoeing, but nothing truly definitive until I found this:

Use the garden hoe to slice into the soil around weeds. Raise the garden hoe up, so that the blade is out away from your body (either to your left or right side) and approximately at shoulder-height. Then swing the blade down towards the ground and slightly back towards your body, striking the ground at approximately a 45-degree angle. Ideally, you’ll penetrate the soil deeply enough to get under the roots and lift out the whole weed, roots and all.

So I’m to swing the hoe down, decapitate the weeds, avoid hitting my ankle, remove weed tops, repeat. I have to admit I have my doubts about this. If you leave the roots, won’t the clover, grass and dandelions just pop right back up?

KJLook out! I’ve got a hoe!
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