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The Garden as Scrapbook

 Pitchfork Diaries


When I refer to our microfarm, I am talking about just over five thousand square feet of heirloom gardening spaces, that my husband and I have carved out, cared for, slowly added to and greatly benefitted from for the last almost decade.  Our home sits on a very rural, mostly wooded, forty-five acres, so anytime we felt like we could handle a little more weeding, or heard from enough friends what a thrill it was to dig up potatoes in the fall—in went another sizeable garden space.  Until we are now left with our own personal work camp in the Catskills.

Collectively, this year is the largest to date.  Two summers ago I was well into my pregnancy, and not so agile in the bending-digging-weeding routine.  Last summer we had a seven month old son who cut our two-person-powered time to bend-dig-weed exactly in half, needing to be nursed or held or kept out of the fierce sun by one of us almost at all times.  Each season we vow to go easy on ourselves.  Each season we do just a little more than what would be considered sane.

Compared to previous years, we felt like we had it wholly together this time, and are planted to capacity—despite the fact that the plan had been to leave our oldest and largest space empty for a season to sensibly replenish.  But I once again fell victim to the gorgeous seed catalogues, web sites, and that plant pusher, Trina, at the incomparable Silver Heights Farm, and can not cut myself off once my palms get sweaty and pulse quickens.

Because in the end it is about food!  Food I remember from some meal, food I can’t easily buy around these rural parts, food I can’t get until this time of year, food I have been dying to try to cook with, and more than anything, food I am picturing laying out on a giant rustic white platter and presenting to a dozen or so dear friends seated around the table made of antique barn wood on our porch.  How can I possibly expect to limit myself?

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Utterly Chard-ming


First, yes, it is a terrible pun.  But in all honesty, I had a dream about writing this post, and that is the title I watched myself type in the dream.  So who am I to interfere with subconscious inspiration/intervention?

Moving on...

Our garden is still loaded with beautiful food.  But as is the case when September shows up, the plants are not looking quite as robust as they did a few weeks ago.  There is definitely a sign that it is the end of the season and these plants are tired.  However, our gorgeous Five Color Silverbeet Chard, that was looking a little peaked in the hottest days of August, has started to really perk up in this last week, with it's cool evenings.

I first started growing this heirloom variety of chard, after reading Barbara Kingsolver's glowing endorsement of it in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life:
"If I could only save one of my seed packets from the deluge, the heirloom vegetable I’d probably grab is five-color silverbeet.  It is not silver (silverbeet is Australian for Swiss chard), but has broad stems and leaf ribs vividly colored red, yellow, orange, white or pink.  Each plant has one stem color, but all five colors persist in a balanced mix in this beloved variety.  It was the first seed variety I learned to save, and if in my dotage I end up in an old-folks’ home where they let me grow one vegetable in the yard, it will be this one."

Chard is a wonderful culinary green, loaded with iron and antioxidants.  It stands up well in soups, and sautés, as well tarts and fillings.  It is a great alternative to spinach and kale, and unlike either, comes up early in the garden season and lasts through early frosts.

With it too warm to have spinach in the garden lately, I substituted chard recently in Spanakopita-inspired phyllo purses.  These little bundles are impressive and loaded with summer flavor.  The filling is also equally good folded into larger phyllo pockets for a great lunch or vegetable dish.



CHARD, DILL, AND FETA BUNDLES
by Catie
makes approximately 30 hors d'oeuvres bundles, or 10 large pockets.

2 TBS Olive Oil
1 small Sweet Onion, diced small
Large bunch of Chard, about 1 lb, tough stems removed and roughly chopped
1 TBS fresh Dill, chopped, or 1 tsp dried Dill
2 TBS fresh Parsley, chopped
4 oz Feta Cheese, finely crumbled
1 egg, slightly beaten
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1/2 pkg of Phyllo Dough (8 oz)
melted butter

Heat the oven to 350° F.

Heat the oil in a large pan.  Add the diced onion and gently saute until fragrant and translucent.   Add the chopped chard, in large handfuls, as it starts to wilt down.   Saute for a minute more until just cooked, adding the dill and parsley about 30 seconds before removing from heat.

Using either a spoon on the edge of the pan, or pouring the mixture into cheesecloth, squeeze out and drain as much liquid as you can from the vegetables.

Add the feta cheese to the chard mixture and evenly combine.  Taste the mixture at this point before seasoning. Feta is salty and you may only need to add pepper.  Once you are happy with the seasoning, add the egg and mix well.

Unwrap the phyllo dough, and keep flat under a damp towel or paper towels.   On a counter or cutting board, place one sheet of dough.   Brush dough lightly, but evenly, with melted butter, and top with another sheet of dough.   Repeat so you have a stack that is three sheets thick.  With a large knife or pizza cutter, cut sheets into 6 pieces (down the middle the long way, and then in thirds in the other direction).   Place about a tablespoon of chard mixture in the center of one of the phyllo rectangles, gather up corners, and twist slightly in one direction.   Place on a cookie sheet.   Repeat with remaining mixture and dough sheets.

Alternatively, you can cut the stack of three sheets in half, lenghwise, put about 1/3 of a cup of mixture in the lower right corner, and then fold in triangles, as you would fold a flag.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until dough is golden brown.  Bakelightly longer for the larger triangles.



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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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