Saturday, August 25, 2012

Brewing Comfrey Tea

Have you heard of Alys Fowler? To me, this young, pretty, hip British television star is to gardening what Jamie Oliver is to cooking in the UK. She makes it fun, fashionable and interesting with her shows and books set in picturesque, lovely locales. 

Watch her show "The Edible Garden" here - I'm in love with the way she makes her urban Victorian backyard both beautiful and delicious! A few years ago, I happened to purchase her book Garden Anywhere, and was captivated by her description of comfrey tea, a liquid fertilizer you can make at home from the leaves of the comfrey plant.

Alys writes, "Once [comfrey] is established, you may never need to buy commercially made plant food... Comfrey is a deep-rooted, hardy perennial... Its leaves are high in potash, a source of potassium important for cell division, and also have good levels of nitrogen and phosphate".

Due to her glowing description, comfrey was the first plant I chose for my backyard when we landscaped, and it has done extremely well. Though I have trimmed it down several times, it is still huge and overshadows the rhubarb and chives it borders.

Large-leafed and hardy, comfrey has pretty purple blossoms when it flowers, though they have dried up at the moment, here in August.

The leaves are supposed to "kick start" compost bins, so I had added them to ours, but hadn't yet attempted to ferment the tea. She recommended putting the leaves in a plastic bucket, covering it, and allowing them to decompose for 10 days at least, then using the liquid to fertilize. Alys notes that the comfrey tea smelled bad. I have smelled some bad smells in my time (like a bad composting attempt when the smell of dead bodies permeated our apartment), so I was curious what level of "stink" I'd be dealing with after the 10-day mark.

The finished compost tea was a murky brownish liquid, which I ladled with a bowl over all the plants in my backyard. The scent was like a baby diaper left to sit for several days- unpleasant to be sure, but not unbearable. My plants look healthy and strong, with some new blooms on some of my vegetables when I thought they were finishing up.  It's a project I would do again.

Note: It's important to keep the bucket covered to avoid attracting flies, as the moment the lid was off, they were all over that bucket. Also, Alys doesn't recommend using the comfrey tea on houseplants due to the smell.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Best Black Bean Tacos

Summer is starting to reward us with wonderful things. Like a variety of tomatoes:

And melons, yes, melons! Tiger and Charentais, to be exact:

And finally, a wonderful recipe that I got from the book The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with your Kids One Meal at a Time. While I don't have kids myself yet, I love the idea of meals as a form of community. This book had lots of environmentally-friendly, fuss-free recipe ideas as well.

Always on the lookout for new ways to go meatless, I knew I needed to make "Gary's T-Night Tacos", a dish one dad makes every Tuesday for his family. (I am also kind of fascinated by the idea of always eating the same meal on a certain night of the week. It wasn't a tradition in my own family, but it sounds like it could be a lifesaver for busy moms.)

I just LOVED the straight-forward black bean filling, which was quick to make, slightly sweet, but savory at the same time. I couldn't get enough for it, and counted down the minutes till lunch the next day when I could re-heat the leftovers and enjoy them all over again. Bless you Gary, whoever and wherever you are!

Gary’s T-Night Tacos
From The Family Night Dinner

For the Tacos:
Canola oil
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
2 15-ounce cans of black beans, lightly drained (or 4 1/2 cups home-cooked beans)
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon tamari soy sauce
2 tablespoons maple syrup
12 corn tortillas

For the Toppings:
1 1/2 cups cheese
1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
Chopped avocado
Chopped tomatoes
Chopped lettuce

Heat a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat and drizzle the bottom with canola oil. Sauté the onions until they start to soften, then add the beans, spices, tamari, and maple syrup. Reduce the heat to medium low and let everything gently cook for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, wrap the tortillas in foil and warm for 10 minutes in a 250-degree oven.

Serve the tortillas with bowls of beans and toppings on the side.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Last Summer Trip to San Francisco

One thing I adore about San Francisco: Every trip there is unique, with new discoveries... and usually a few beloved things to which I'm irresistibly attached. Case in point: Primavera's Chilaquiles for breakfast at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market:

Summer is a glorious time to walk the market. There is so much beauty and color and flavor bursting from every corner and each stand. The sight of these vibrant peppers, for example, made me swoon and convinced me that life would not be complete without a basket of sweet Italian peppers for roasting.

Golden Gate Park was our next destination, the Botanical Garden specifically. We were amazed how the air could feel so still and quiet in the middle of a huge bustling city. Also stunning were the hundreds of varieties of trees, plants, and flowers. Towering redwoods like these, for example, always make me feel small- but in a good way. A humbling way. A comforting way.

The fact that poppies were in bloom simply made my day. Poppies are my favorite flower, red ones in particular, which I fell in love with last year in Vancouver.

Just a short walk from the Botanical Garden, we ate the best Chinese food I have ever had at San Tung. I've lived in China and eaten tons of Chinese food in my time, and I can honestly say that this place was legit. At 2pm in the afternoon, it was still jam-packed with Chinese families, which I usually take as a good omen for the food to come.

Despite the loud level and the distinct impression that they want to get you in and out of your seat ASAP, how can you argue with green beans so good you'd swear they're laced with illicit goodness of some kind? We literally could not stop eating these:

And if they can can make vegetables taste good, try their "dry-fried chicken". Best chicken ever. I can say no more. You have been informed.