Saturday, November 8, 2014

Garlic Planting Guide and Discovering a Garlic Zombie!

I always thought garlic was used to ward off vampires and zombies. 
This season I learned garlic could attract a kind of garlic zombie as well.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, let’s get right to the important news: tips on planting your own homegrown garlic. After all, there’s not a moment to lose.
The window for planting garlic here on the US east coast is closing all too soon. 
But there is still time.  Climate change can be your friend…

We thrill to our homegrown garlic – sharing it as a gift and enjoying the taste and health benefits of garlic.  (See the Garlic “Fun Facts” below.)
I love to smash a garlic clove and add it to a savory breakfast or lunch of Mother’s weekly, fresh-baked bread - lightly toasted, doused with avocado or extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and fresh avocado. 
Sometimes I add fresh-made ricotta cheese.
Sometimes I also add anchovies with red pepper. 
At a recent WNYC Lopate & Locavore event, How to Write a Cookbook the NY Times food writer and cookbook author Melissa Clark, (@goodappetite ) who I adore -and refer to as “Culinary Cutie,” noted a shared love of anchovies and says she uses them in most every recipe when she can.  Me too.
Melissa is so irrepressible – when I told her I refer to her as a "Culinary Cutie" – she squealed delight in her signature high- pitched, super-energy style, saying, “I love that!  I’m gonna’ put that on my business card!” 
More Culinary Cutie love...  

One of the garlic varieties we enjoyed last year was sweet and juicy Music.
Another was Duganski.  And then there was the exotic, cinema-sounding “Indochine.”
This year we planted Inchelium Red Garlic. German Red Garlic and Russian Red Garlic.  

The texture of homegrown garlic is akin to a water chestnut -- its shared characteristics are crunchy, juicy, light and flavorful. 
Homegrown garlic is nothing like the overbearing, petulant garlic that most are accustomed to -- and that lingers on the breath and the clothes far too long.
Not so with fresh-from-the-garden garlic. 

Soil Prep

My husband Bill – a passionate and dedicated master cook and gardener --had already taken the soil from this year’s “Compost Cabanas” and transferred it to the farm-ette – spreading the rich, organic “black gold” as a top dressing.  

We got a bit more than usual this year because we must have the house foundation rebuilt before we do the second half of our home’s renovation – and the compost bins had to be broken down and removed for the work to be done.   
(Don’t you just hate spending all that money on infrastructure when it could go directly to a beautiful, glamorous tub or fireplace?? Sigh…I’m having fun teasing friends, saying, “No one ever says, “I just love your foundation.”  

But let me refocus.
The farm-ette benefited from the extra layer of black gold soil there is no doubt.

Bill measured off three garlic beds marked by string; each bed is nine inches by 12 inches, for a total planting bed that is 18 feet long and 3 feet wide.  

We planted the garlic cloves about a foot or so apart.  


And labeled them.  
We plan to yield about 100 garlic bulbs next harvest.

Not to be overlooked is the beauty of the garlic plant.  Who couldn’t help love the graceful, globe-shaped sphere of the allium flowers in the spring? A happy lavender color – in fact it’s a glamorous Pantone Color of the Year 2014 Radiant Orchid.

And we love eating the garlic scapes in late spring.

We order our garlic – and potatoes from the The Maine Potato Lady – a certified organic grower and handler. I highly recommend them.

The Garlic Zombie

Ok, the zombie the reference might be a smidge too dramatic but it’s a fun way to refer to a situation that is one of those bizarre “only in the garden” tales.
Let me set the stage.

One of my dearest garden clients is a celebrated family who live together in the best way possible: extended, multi-generational - with the kids all the way to the great uncle -- as in their grandfather’s brother. “Great” is not just a moniker. But in the end – he is truly better than ‘Great.” I cite him as inspiration in my book, The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook."

The cultural, cerebral, adored uncle has been oh-so-unfairly anointed with a progressive movement disorder.  I only bring this up with great discretion and respect as it figures into the garlic caper.
See, the medical situation gave rise to the need for an in-residence/on-site medical professional to assist with nutrition, physical therapy and consequently, a kind of  “Jeeves & Wooster” errand and adventure, about -town kind of dynamic.
All good.

With regard to the garlic planning, the story’s first chapter opened like this:
Last year about this time, I’d asked one of my Duchess Designs team members – the master gardener, Dennis – to plant some of our Russian Red garlic that I’d gifted to Uncle B.
This Russia element would come to play perhaps a critical character role in the garlic saga…
See, the good doctor is from Georgia – not the state that embraces Atlanta and all things peachy – but the country of Georgia.
And when Dennis attempted to plant the Russian Red garlic, the good doctor stridently halted any notion of garlic planting.  In fact, he took the garlic and put it in the refrigerator.  No planting till spring, he declared.
Being the respectful, client-focused team member, Dennis backed off and didn’t argue.
Later, when he told me, I thought it was a fantasy.  Surely it was a misunderstanding.

It was only after an early frost (precursor to last winter’s crushing frost that area nurseries told me led to heartbreaking plant loss.  One respected nursery owner described the scramble to water spray to heat the plants and move as much as possible to the greenhouses.  To no avail… it was too much cold; too fast, too “unexpected.”
In this case, Climate Change – was decidedly not our friend.

Once that frost occurred there was no going back. 
We lost our window of opportunity to plant the garlic.
Nevertheless, like incredulous, bereft, caregivers, Uncle B and me found ourselves at the refrigerator door.  We couldn’t help but peer inside, staring down the garlic.
It was perched there like bad kids in detention – knowing that once the fridge door closed they’d be getting away with something – they knew they didn’t belong there.
It was as if we were willing them to get out of there into their rightful place in the garden.
The garlic seemed to thumb their nose at us – it was to be a winter garden party of sorts for them – all snug inside and not working to root in anything as their job required.
All aided by the good doctor.
My unconfirmed psychic-babble suggested that perhaps in Russia it is far too cold to plant garlic in the autumn. Perhaps the ground freezes way too much and so they plant garlic in the spring.
I meant to research this but because in our situation it was of no consequence – I didn’t pursue it.
Woe to those who are unprepared …

Harvest Time 2014

This autumn, Bill and I harvested a bountiful crop of that same, spicy, flavorful garlic. 
Uncle B’s? Not so much.  In fact after a spring planting there was just a whisper of garlic to be had – slivers  - not worth a smear, a roast, or even a taste. 
It was like Scarlett O’Hara seeing the crummy carrot in Tara’s fields when she passionately rips the tuber from the ground swearing, “As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”
Well this garlic was like that. No one was going to eat it; much less enjoy it. 

So it was almost with a small sense of logical smugness that I thought we would never encounter any kind of garlic contretemps this year. After seeing the non-harvest tweezer-sized harvest, who could disagree that fall planting was the way to go.
I was wrong.

What happened next is too hilarious – but trust me—all true.

This year, I asked my Mother, Virginia, to deliver the Red Russian garlic to Darin – another superlative Master Gardener I’m privileged to have working on the Duchess Designs team. 
Darin was constructing an extended edible garden bed with borders from the wood we had left over after building the tiered corner “beach” garden beds. 
I’ll write about this design concept and construction shortly.

As it was, we laid out the extended edible garden, secured the extraordinary super soil for maximum benefit, eager to plant our client’s edible garden.

Later the next week, I asked Darin via text how the new garden bed construction and garlic planting went.
Confirming the garden bed was “all good,” he wrote that the garlic was taken before planting.
I couldn’t understand  - who took it and why.

So here is the incredible, can’t make this up sequence of why the garlic wasn’t planted  -- and how my Duchess Design team – aka Garden CSI – and Uncle B surreptitiously coordinated in order to get the garlic planted.

It seems the good doctor must have been monitoring the new garden bed construction.
Is he a “Garlic Whisperer?” A “Garlic Zombie?!” 
How did he know we’d be planting the garlic?  Was he monitoring our moves?

In any event – it turns out it was indeed the good doctor who saw Darin planting the garlic. 
At the point he came out to hijack the garlic! 
Despite the no-yield harvest and subtle suggestions about the best time to plant garlic here, the good doctor was unyielding.
I was mystified about what had transpired, (not being on-site that day) and had written to Uncle B to ask about shedding some light on the situation.
I learned from great, good, uncle that in fact, he had to intervene. He took the garlic from the good doctor, telling me, "We were about to face the problem again so I confiscated the garlic and waited for your response. Let's plant the garlic in a place different from the beds (handled by the good doctor) and show him the results in the spring. He is unreasonable on this subject. He does his job tending to physical arrangements for me… Attempting to persuade him on the garlic planting is a waste of time…”

The Garlic Plot Thickens.

Alas, not the plating kind of plot! 
The next chapter in the garlic saga was me and Uncle B emailing about how the Duchess Design team would secure the garlic from him and secretly plant it in the front yard – far from suspecting and suspicious eyes that might yet again thwart the garlic growth.

After the clandestine planting, Dennis wrote, “He (Uncle B) stealthily handed off the garlic goods to me. I surreptitiously planted seven cloves of Russian Red out front. I placed a small flag to denote the location. Hoping the garlic zombie is not on to me.)

Fingers crossed our secret garlic planting is a) not discovered and b) Mother Nature favors us with a bountiful garlic harvest next year.

Lest anyone think there is no intrigue or mystery in our home gardens, this homegrown tale is sure to bring a smile and badge of hope to all your armchair garden friends this winter who think the drama of King Louis XIV and his Versailles and Nicolas Fouquet and his Vaux-le-Vicomte and their garden battle of the wills contest from a long-ago era doesn’t happen here.  Look no further.

We managed to triumph this year and look forward to a good garlic harvest.
This was just an incredible series of garden dramas that will surely be an authentic, fun story to pass on under the banner of "you can't make this stuff up!"

Plants incite passion!

Garlic Fun Facts -- Did you know that?

  ·          Garlic can ward off vampires!

  ·          Garlic is rich in antioxidants which help destroy free radicals

  ·         Garlic is used to prevent heart disease, including atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and boosts the immune system.

  ·         Garlic may also protect against cancer

  ·         Garlic may help prevent the common cold

  ·         Gravediggers in 18th Century France drank crushed garlic in wine, believing it would protect them from the plague.

  ·        World War I & II soldiers were given garlic to prevent gangrene.

  ·        China is the world’s largest producer of garlic, followed by India

  ·        Egyptians fed it to the workers as they built the pyramids

  ·        Alliums are beautiful plants with puffy hairdo heads on a slender tall reed

  ·         The word garlic comes from Old English: garleac which means Spear Leek

But in the end – it’s all about the taste.  And homegrown garlic is unrivaled in its flavor.  So get out and plant your garlic. Even if it’s in your containers. 

You will thank me next year.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Honoring The Farms' Homegrown KK Haspel

KK Haspel, at The Farm

It was last week while reading Lindsay Morris’s Instagram notice that I first learned the surprising and sad news that KK Haspel had died.

KK was the quintessential Mother Nature archetype and her legion of devoted fans included chefs, bakers, the sustainable, organic and biodynamic growers, edible schoolyard growers and students, farm-to-table enthusiasts, parents, backyard gardeners, cooks.  And me. 

KK is a featured grower in my book: The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook.  And Lindsay is the over the top photographer who contributed those luscious, food narrative images to the book.
As fans of the Homegrown Cookbook know, I asked each locavore chef, “Who inspires you most?” and then wrote a profile of the chef and the grower or maker who’s delicious ingredients ignited a culinary creation.  From oyster growers to vintners to honey makers to tomato growers, the bounty of Long Island fostered a growing culinary renaissance.
Truth was, KK was selected by more than one chef as inspiration.
It’s no wonder.

Just interviewing her was kinetic.  Her passion and energy nearly sparked the handset.  Words, descriptions, organic practices, and successes that transformed her life came tumbling out like molten lava bent on changing the landscape. 
I almost couldn’t take notes fast enough.
At one point while explaining how she douses with her plants, she paused, saying, “You must think I’m a little nuts, talking to my plants.” 
As a gardener and confirmed plant person, I thought she was joking. Silence. When I could sense a reply was needed on the table, I recovered and reassured her, “You are preaching to the choir!  I am in complete simpatico: I understand and agree!”
We continued.

But here’s the thing – KK did so much more than “just talk” to her plants.  She had a full-on frontal relationship with them. 

While on the Homegrown Cookbook’s photo shoot at The Farm with Lindsay, KK, chef Robby Beaver from the Frisky Oyster, and KK’s husband, Ira, we were all enthralled by KK and her exuberance and garden power – and elegance. She was in her element. She was fairly waltzing with the plants: barefoot!

Lindsay Morris in boots, captures KK barefoot! 

KK not only walked her raised beds magic garden with us she also showed us her labyrinth-like maze where we watched her walk her fascinating and somewhat mystical creation. 

Lindsay & KK walk the maze

KK bookended by me (L) and Lindsay 

I love this image of the three of us in Shadow Art

I wanted the Homegrown Cookbook’s images to suggest the special and enduring relationship a chef has with his or her grower and in addition, the grower’s relationship to the land or the sea from where they harvest. 
Of course Lindsay captured all that horticultural, culinary respect – and more. 

This photo is just about my favorite one showing that mutual respect - I've used it often in news stories: 

Separate from the work for the book, on more than one occasion that afternoon, I watched Ira as he basked in his wife’s beauty, spirit, and ability to almost cast a spell on all of us. 
Ira & KK Haspel with their homegrown edible

I couldn’t but say, “You are so lucky. She’s so incredible and beautiful” Without taking his eyes from KK, he said, “I know.”
So I had to ask, “How’d you meet?” 
He went on to describe how he was bewitched by her beauty and charm the first time he laid eyes on her.
But he said she was a bit too young for him at that time, so with patience and devotion, he waited for her to grow up…

She may have clicked off pages on a calendar but clearly she’d kept that child-like curiosity and unbridled enthusiasm.
It too was an enduring love affair all those married years later as one could easily see just watching Ira watching KK.

All that magic and mystery was only enhanced as she later demonstrated her dousing prowess with what looked like two sorcerer’s wands.

Then, some real hocus-pocus was evident when she showed us a photo of her using the ancient art of dowsing her plants.  It was abundantly clear to see a rainbow of color effect that was readily visible in the image. It revealed the plant's communication energies, telling her where and when to plant. “This is not altered or retouched,” KK exclaimed. 

Now we could see her “Technicolor vision,” too.

After we concluded the photo shoot on that warm, late June afternoon - we all sat under the big tree in she and Ira’s backyard, drinking her homemade Kombucha.

Heaven on earth. 

The only way I could think to pay some tribute to this extraordinary woman is to tell her story. 
Below is the draft of KK’s profile before it was edited down to fit into the Homegrown Long Island Cookbook.

I hope you enjoy reading it.  And I hope you can carry on the good gardening and farming practices KK espoused and demonstrated. 

KK Haspel
KK’s “The Farm” draft from The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook

KK or Kathy Keller was destined to be a biodynamic farmer. 
She gushes giddy enthusiam recalling when she and her architect husband advanced the long driveway to what is now The Farm.  

They had been looking for more than a year for a getaway, second home on the North Fork.  All they wanted was a barn, a hammock, and no phone.  But nothing they’d seen until then met the expectations of the couple.

Like an impassioned lover, she couldn’t see the optics as they were: sagging, abandoned barns leaning back towards their 1700’s heyday and abandoned fallow fields. 
KK had what she refers to as her “Technicolor Vision.” She “saw” zinnias and sunflowers and wildflowers.  Before she could hatch a plan to convince her husband about the Wizard of Oz-like color transformation magic of this place, she heard Ira telling the real estate agent, “We’ll take it.” 
It wouldn’t be the last time KK heard unexpected “voices.” 

There was no mistaking the immediate, kinetic connection to the land: like a mother to a child, KK couldn’t wait to plant on their 5-acre Brigadoon.

The flowers were indeed inspired. Following local tradition for the bounty of the harvest, she put out the “extras” on a stand at the end of the driveway.  

People loved her flowers and extra vegetables. “They’d tell me --those were great vegetables -- how about some more. “  At the same time, she was getting more seduced by the need for organics and soon enrolled in a two-day intensive organic course in West Hampton at  “The Nature Lyceum.  “The class changed my life.” She learned about organics and biodynamics – the first step on the way to the Zen of farming.

KK’s plants paid her back in spades.  The cosmic soil responded.  

According to KK, biodynamics can transform and restore the planet. “Every day, people used to eat some of their own soil - it was the natural probiotic.” KK points out.”  The unspoken implication is it should be the healthiest soil available. She says biodynamics can grow inches of topsoil in a few years, helps the produce last longer by two to three weeks and imbues the food with more nutrition. The microbiotics in the soil make for a unique and powerful food source. Everything at the Farm is grown in 50 -70 tons of biodynamic compost--all in raised beds.  KK is very intense with her planting.  

KK also does a lot of dowsing. She talks to her plants.  They talk back. 
“The plants tell me what they need.  They know what their purpose is – they want to give you the best food and seeds,” explains KK.  “Biodynamics helps mediate that conversation.” 
The Homegrown photo shoot stars

KK has a devoted chef following.
Chef Gerry Hayden, James Beard nominee, co-owner and executive chef of nearby The North Fork Table & Inn restaurant, was the first to put KK’s name on the menu, which in turn, further attracted a loyal food-worshiping cohort.

Emblamatic of KK’s Relationship to chefs is that of Robby Beaver, The Frisky Oyster. Robby first visited KK because it was near his father in law.   “The chefs are true artists,” says KK explaining their sensual connection to food and farm.  “They see color and texture; experience taste. Chef Robby frequents the farm tasting this and that, drawing his inspiration walking the field together with KK.  She says she learns what creative chefs like Robby and Gerry like and what they can use and then plants it.

KK likes to grow what’s easy; standards like garlic and tomatoes. She also likes growing “new” things. Like okra and collard greens.  But to KK, the new things are a little like going home. In fact, she took to growing them, as she wanted to grow some things from her mother’s native area: New Orleans.  Her parents met when her father was quartered at her mother’s boarding house during WW II. After the war, the couple moved north where she grew up with her two brothers in Oak Beach in Rockville Center. 

KK recalled she started working with the area’s homegrown chefs when the North Fork Table’s Gerry Hayden and Claudia Fleming were opening up.  KK fondly remembers a food moment when chef Claudia presented she and Ira with one of her James Beard award-winning desserts, saying, “Let me show you what we can do with your stuff.” A memorable blackberry tart was forthcoming. "They waited on us on hand and foot!”

The Farm grows everything from seeds. KK saves her seeds, almost admonishing, “They become your own seeds.” She lovingly described her garlic. It’s been nourished by KK, taking in nature's energy, acclimating and accommodating its own special terroir.
KK, along with Ira were soon managing half a dozen interns at various times in a season.  They gave workshops and talked about the importance of biodynamic farming and eating local.

KK was a force of nature and will be truly missed in this world.  She was only 63 and cancer was the kidnapper. KK died October 4, 2014.

I can’t help shake the feeling that like the true garden sprite as was revealed to us, she is really Mother Nature herself – a beautiful, nourishing soul who visited with us awhile in order to teach us and help renew our commitment to sustainability, respect for the environment, and taste. 
As noted at The Farms: Healthy Soil = Healthy Plants = Healthy People.

Bless you, KK. It was an honor to know you.  I’m forever grateful that The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook can pay homage to your indomitable spirit.


Link over to Lindsay's "musical maze" tribute to KK at Edible East End