A Whole New World


There are many times when I feel like we’re on the same page here. Maybe we chat about the change of seasons, or really good chocolate, or a book I’m reading that you’ve also heard of.  Maybe we talk about summer travel plans, or cherry blossom trees, or how to balance work and life in a relatively sane way. But I have a hunch that we’re not on the same page with what I want to talk about here today. I’m willing to guess that, for most of you, you’re far beyond me on this one. It’s true: unbeknownst to me, I’ve been left terribly behind. This thing I speak of? Gardening. Or the backyard in general. Really, let’s be honest: I’m talking about plain and simple yard work.

Herbs
For most of my adult life, I’ve lived in city apartments. Whether it was in downtown Boston, little-bit more suburban Brookline, San Francisco, or Denver, I haven’t had much space to stretch out my gardening limbs and give it a go. Here in Seattle, we have a pretty sizeable backyard and outside of all the major grocery stores and nurseries, there are edible plant sales, gardening tools and wheelbarrows on display. Clearly, it’s time to stock up! Well, as I soon discovered, this is easier said than done. I decided to check out the nursery on a random weekday last week so I wouldn’t be fighting the super efficient, clog-wearing, slightly intimidating weekend gardening crowd. I got a cup of coffee on the way, the sun was out — I was feeling good. This feeling lasted all of 9.2 seconds until I stepped into the nursery and realized I had no idea what to buy. No clue. I started taking photos of tools and sending them to my mom: Is this what people use to weed things?


Instead of texting back, she called immediately. Were you not paying attention all those years I was outside in the yard? Apparently not. It became clear to us both pretty quickly that it wasn’t so much that I didn’t know anything about gardening, I didn’t know much about the yard. Period. Soil baffled me. Compost confused me. I ended up buying a hoe, a lopper (my new favorite word), a watering can, some potting soil, a trowel (basically a hand shovel, for all you city non-gardening folks), some grass seed, and a big shovel. I was set. I came home and got to work, putting on my old Converse and pouring a big glass of fizzy water to take out to the yard with me. I was going to whip it into shape, surely, in a matter of hours with all of these great tools. Well it turns out it takes much longer than a few hours. It turns out it can be kind of lonely, discouraging work (I’m going to try music next time. And much more fizzy water. Maybe a cookie or two as well). When I put a few hours into something, whether it be writing, baking, running–whatever, it’s nice to see something in return. I don’t feel like this whole new world I’ve entered into is keeping up its end of the bargain. The Yard Waste bin fills up too fast, I notice some weeds missing for sure, but our yard looks pretty much the same.


But, hey. Our lawn is mowed, I’ve planted herbs and they’re sitting on top of this great outdoor table I found at Goodwill for $9.25. That’s the start right there, yes? We have big plans to build some raised beds in the next two weeks and I really want to grow kale and carrots (do carrots grow here? Anyone? Anyone?). I’ve reserved a few gardening books at the library and am trying not to get prematurely discouraged by talks of zones, perennial-ness, and rain cycles. It’s a whole new world, for sure. I’m trying my very hardest to put my conquer-it-in-one-day, first child mentality aside here and think of this more like a marathon than a sprint. This one’s going to take awhile. Our yard might not look like our neighbor’s yard for quite some time. If you’re one of the many friends planning a visit this summer, you may want to bring your hiking boots to navigate your way around back there. Or at the very least, maybe bring your trowel and I’ll put you to work.

Baked Ricotta
I wish I could tell you that I used our own herbs for this recipe, but I didn’t. Although I’m most confident in a few weeks time, I’ll be able to. This recipe I’m sharing with you today is a fantastic lunch recipe. I popped it in the oven around noon the other day, made Heidi’s Tuscan Kale Salad, heated up some bread and we had a pretty fine lunch for a Wednesday. This is the first recipe I’ve made from An Everlasting Meal and I’m eager to try a few more (the Thai-fried rice is up next, I’m thinking). I’ve mentioned Tamar Adler’s book here before; her recipes are more narrative than prescriptive and rely on a more intuitive, stress-less approach to cooking. She encourages using up what you have laying around the kitchen and teaching yourself around the kitchen by doing and relying on what you already know. Trusting yourself more. So this recipe is appropriate for today as it’s very much in the spirit of the backyard project: we’re working with what we’ve got, and learning as we go. Much easier when fueled with hot, herbed cheese, I guarantee you.

 

Baked Herbed Ricotta

Baked Herbed Ricotta

  • Yield: 6-8 servings
  • Prep time: 5 mins
  • Cook time: 35 mins
  • Total time: 40 mins

For this recipe, I added more herbs than Tamar Adler calls for and decided to throw in a handful of capers at the very end. Serve with big hunks of bread and salad. Or use as a dip with your favorite crackers or chip

Adapted from: An Everlasting Meal

Ingredients

30 ounces ricotta
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup roughly chopped herbs (parsley, chives, rosemary, oregano or thyme are great)
2 tablespoons capers
salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

Heat the oven to 425 F.

Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Add salt until it tastes a little less seasoned than you’d like: A lot of water will evaporate when this bakes, so you don’t want to over season it ahead of time. Spread the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate and bake it in the middle of the oven for 35-38 minutes. The top will develop a toasted brown skin and inflate slightly and then deflate when you take it out.

Serve warm with crusty bread and salad. It’s also great served cold or room temperature and will keep, if covered and refrigerated, for a good 2 days after it’s made.

Comments

  1. shanna

    Megan. I AM WITH YOU! So on the same page, as is evidenced by my almost-dying-but-maybe-I-can-still-save-it plant on the front porch. Let's not even talk about the basil seeds that sprouted only to disappear a few days later. So much to learn.

  2. emmycooks

    Yes, carrots grow here! But you are supposed to sift the soil deeply to let them grow straight, which seems like too much work to me. And kale grows, and any kind of greens. And cherry tomatoes, and maybe even real tomatoes if you have enough sun. Radishes are a satisfying thing you can put in now and eat in a few weeks. Plant peas & zucchini! And you should be able to grow a nice herb garden. It depends on your location and amount of sun, but basically I focus on things that grow quickly, as I haven't had much luck ripening long-growing or hot-weather crops (e.g., watermelons!). If you want to email me I'd be happy to chat more on the phone or over coffee about what has worked for me in my Seattle backyard! At the very least, you'll be able to make this delicious-looking recipe from home-grown herbs with very little effort. :)

    1. megang

      Hooray for carrots! Great. And interesting about the soil -- I guess that makes sense since they're obviously a root vegetable. I will plant peas and zucchini and love the idea of radishes. I hadn't thought of that. Thank you for the email/chat offer ... I think I'll take you up on that. You sound very much in control of this gardening situation! Hope you're having a nice week so far (Sun!) ~m

  3. Anna

    Herbs are a great thing to start with! There is a lot to learn, but for the most part plants want to grow and as long as they have enough sun and water they should do okay. The one thing I always recommend is that you get the soil tested to make sure there is no lead (which is really common in urban areas) but it shouldn't be much of a problem if you are using pots and raised beds. If things don't go perfectly this year, don't give up! It is definitely a slow process since, unlike cooking which usually happens in a matter of hours, plants need months to grow. You're lucky you have space to grow things and I hope you have fun with it.

    1. megang

      Thanks so much for the tips, Anna. I hadn't considered getting the soil tested but maybe you're right: since I"m not planting directly into the ground just yet, we're probably o.k. for the time being. And I like your encouragement that "plants want to grow." Here's hoping so!

  4. Jacqui

    If all goes as planned, I'll have a backyard very soon, as well. I'm already dreaming up the vegetable garden that I don't know how to start (or keep alive, for that matter). Fortunately, I think a green thumb is something that can be acquired through time. I hope.

  5. Ryan

    Carrots and kale grow very well here, as do asparagus (if you can wait a year or two to harvest) and rhubarb. Peas are great, make sure they get a lot of sun and keep an eye on your zuchini, they can get untastily big very quickly.

    Oh and when you want to take the plunge and grow your own tomatoes; it can be done, it takes a lot of forethought and planning. There are a bunch of blog posts, news paper articles and family secrets on the matter.

    Good luck on your first year taming your yard and gardening. :) ryan

    1. megang

      Thanks, Ryan! Oh man do I want rhubarb, but I just don't know if we'll be in the same place for three years, you know? Good call on the zucchini. No one wants untastily big summer vegetables-- that's for sure. I was flirting with taking a tomato class at Tilth to help kick me into gear ...

  6. Kim K

    Yes, carrots grow in the Pacific Northwest but it is too late to plant kale. Kale likes cold/cool weather and with summer approaching, it will just bolt (flower and go straight to seed) in warm weather. Beets grow here as well. Cylindra beets are a favourite. If you want to plant greens such as kale, spinach, arugula, etc. you'd be better starting them in mid-August. If it doesnt frost too hard your kale will continue to produce well into winter.

  7. Christa

    Lovely post, Megan and happy gardening to you! I'm doing this for my eleventh year, so please give a call if you need any pointers. A simple way around sifting the soil for carrots may be to use peat moss near the base of the hole you dig, allowing for straight carrots.

    We have a small yard here and manage to fit a nice variety in. It may take time, but it's so rewarding.

    1. megang

      Thanks for the great tips, Christa. Good idea on the carrots. When we get the boxes up and going. I'll try that. And wow: 11 years! You guys rent too, right? Do you find you're always a teeny bit hesitant to really put a lot of work/money into the yard/garden seeing that you're renting? I've been thinking about that, too...hope you guys are doing well. xox

  8. Marissa | Pinch and Swirl

    Let's see a photo or two - it would be fun to watch your progress. :) I won't offer any gardening advice since I only seem to grow herbs well.
    I'm midway through An Everlasting Meal - what a read. I find that I'm looking at what I used to consider 'trash' (cooking liquid, stems...) with brand new eyes.

    1. megang

      I agree about An Everlasting Meal, Marissa. Never before, I'll admit, did I use cilantro and parsley stems and now I do. It's made me uber-aware of what we're throwing out and how to use leftovers in more inspired ways. All good things. I'll post a photo of the herb garden soon. Promise!

  9. Eileen

    Wait, your mom gardened and you weren't forced to help weed and drag mulch around for days upon days of your precious summer vacation?

    Of course, now that I'm an adult, I think gardening is awesome. You can totally do it! Half of gardening is just going outside and messing around in the dirt anyway. Yay plants!

    1. megang

      Hah! Yay plants -- that's how I'm feeling (today), too. No I was totally not forced to lug and mulch and weed, and I kind of wish that I was. I did house-sit once summer and vividly recall managing to kill all of the potted plants in the house. I'm definitely hoping my own this summer will have a much different outcome. Thanks for the encouragement, Eileen!

  10. kickpleat

    Can I tell you that gardening scares the crap out of me? I have a huge balcony and an assortment of rock hard soil packed into unloved pots with dried things sticking out that used to be plants. I feel hopeless so I'm glad I'm not the only one out there that is a bit clueless about these things. I'm more into cookies tucked into pockets and fizzy water to save the day. And this ricotta looks like something I can manage.

  11. Ashley

    I spent a few summers gardening with my MIL, who lived about sixty miles south of Seattle, so I'll share my experience. We never had much luck with carrots - they grew but they were always very small. Zucchini, yellow squash, radishes, cilantro, sugar snap peas, beets, and kohl rabi did well (the first five especially). She always started her garden in the spring (March/April) from seeds, so that's something to keep in mind. Plants from the nursery might be a better choice at this point (McLendon's was our favorite).

    Soil is also important. Our best year in the garden came when we added new soil and mushroom compost to our raised beds.

    Oh, and if you ever get the opportunity, plant blueberry bushes. Hers thrived and they were better then anything I've ever had from the store. Good luck!

    1. megang

      Oh my! Thank you so, so much for this great advice, Ashley. I've heard from a few people here that zucchini and radishes are the way to go, so I'm going to try those. I actually planted a little pot of cilantro today, so we'll see! I have definitely been buying starters at the nursery; thanks for the advice on the mushroom compost (and blueberries) . I'll look into it. Maybe I'll even post a picture or two. Thank you for taking the time to stop in and offer your tips -- much, much appreciated. Hope you're having a nice week, ~m

  12. Kasey

    I am in the category of people that know nothing about gardening, soil, and compost. I recently attended my friend's baby's birthday party and was shocked to find out she put food scraps (?!?!) in a pot in her backyard so it would create compost for healthier plants. One day, when (if?) I ever move out of my city apartment, you just might be getting text messages from me...

  13. momgordon

    Moms just wait for revelations like this! Yes, that is what I was doing out there in the baggy pants and big hat :) This recipe looks amazing, this will be tomorrow's lunch. Miss you!

  14. ileana

    Good luck! This is on my list, too. My bf and I are about to move to a more rural area, and are thinking we may end up with a backyard and some room to try our hand at gardening. Keep us updated on how it's going!

  15. Rachael

    GO GIRL GO! I am so excited! Don't forget that your sister is close, and knows a LOT about gardening ;)

  16. Jill W.

    Yes, a project that looks like an hour turns out to be four. But it can be very rewarding, patience. After two weeks of on and off rain in the northeast I was so happy this morning to see that my grass was finally growing. (Water, water) Now, on to the next gardening project. Have fun with your new adventures. You make them sound like so much fun. I think I need to bring out some sparkling water as I work.

    1. megang

      Thanks, Aunt Jill! Yes, luckily we've had so much rain that things are certainly growing ... so that's not a problem. And sparkling water helps with most things I find. In the evenings it's more like sparkling water + gin. Hope you're having a great week! ~m

  17. Darcee

    Long time lurker, first time commenting. I completely understand your lack of gardening prowess. I grew up in the Midwest, smack in the middle of corn country. EVERYONE gardened, and I do mean everyone. It seemed like an innate thing, knowing what to do to grow your own food. Except I didn't get that gene I guess. I could never even keep a plant alive in my house. Then I lived in Vegas for five years, where you can't grow a thing, not one.single.thing. And that's when I actually wanted to try. I had hit my 30's, and was starting to cook more. As I learned more about food, my interest in growing it grew. Flash forward, I've lived in the SF Bay area for nearly 2 years. I have a cute little back yard. And have finally been able to keep a few plants alive in the house. So two months ago, after my daughter pleaded with me, we bought some lily bulbs to plant in this sorry looking planter out my front door. And they sat.....and sat....and sat for a month, until she finally convinced me to plant them. Except the soil in the planter hadn't been used in who knew how long, and was all dry and old looking. What did I do? I called my mom. Moms know everything (yes, I'm one as well, of 3 kids, but I don't know everything:)) She advised me to go to a nursery and get new soil. I got there, and something just happened inside of me when I saw all of those starter vegetable plants. A small voice in my head whispered "you can do this!!". I walked out of there with soil for our planter plus some, pansies to plant (my daughter loves flowers), 6 kinds of vegetable starters, a strawberry plant, containers to grow them in, and gardening gloves for us both. I damn near walked out of there with a fig plant, I was so motivated. We came home, and worked ourselves silly planting everything. It was extremely satisfying. Now, we have all of these gorgeous plants growing, and it is wonderful. My little girl goes out everyday and checks to see if they need watering. Even my two boys have gotten interested as they've watched us tending to them, and see them grow. It's thrilling to think that I may just have my own veggies this summer.

    I know that was lengthy, but felt you needed an encouraging word, from someone who's been in the same dirty Converse as you:) Don't give up. Trial and error. If it doesn't work out, learn from it. There's always next year. Oh, and ignore those clog-wearing-home-gardening pros. Walk in there and act like you know what you're doing. If all else fails, ask the friendly looking grandma that works there for advice like I did.

    1. megang

      Wow, Darcee! Thank you SO MUCH for your most thoughtful comment and gardening advice. I love, love, love this. Your comment made my entire week. I completely understand what you mean about everyone gardening as if it was as simple or ingrained as making a sandwich for lunch. It's so odd -- I find myself actually observing people while they're doing it as I walk by them to see if I can pick up tips. Mom's pretty much do know most things, don't they (and I bet your kids think you do)? Basically what I've gathered is that you just kind of have to get out there and do it -- and it sounds like you came to the same conclusion. It is so nice to hear that everything you planted is doing well. My one fear is that I'm going to put so much time and money into the yard/garden and manage to kill everything off. So I'm going to be a little more positive and hopeful here. So glad you're settled into the Bay Area -- and I'm impressed you have space for a garden. Good luck with the summer plants (hooray, strawberries!) and thank you once again for your sweet encouragement. Have a great weekend! ~m

  18. Emilia

    Just found your blog today. I have to just leave a comment and say that I looks gorgeous! I love it!

    1. megang

      Thanks, Emilia!! Have a wonderful weekend. ~m

  19. Barbara

    Oh, it is certainly NOT a sprint in terms of the garden. Labor intensive doesn't even come close to covering it. I used to have a farmer for a neighbor and he devoted his life to gardening for his own family. He mostly used our land, arrant he called it, and he plowed it with two old mules. He wouldn't pick anything past its prime and made me feel guilty every time he was out there and I wasn't... but even the inexperienced can reap a semblance of harvest... thank goodness! I always appreciate how wonderfully real your insights are.

    1. megang

      Hi, Barbara. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. Phew, mules huh? There are definitely not mules over here ... but it is a good reminder of the slow, steady, repetitiveness of the whole thing isn't, it? The guilty thing cracked me up b/c I'll notice our neighbors out in the yard getting good work done and I can relate to feeling a tinge of guilt. As if I couldn't possibly relax and read a book if they're out weeding. Anyhow, hope you have a wonderful weekend and thanks for stopping in here ~m

  20. Barbara

    oops... not arrant... arable.

  21. Valerie

    I garden in Portland, which is a little warmer than Seattle, a little less rain. Its never too late to plant kale in my experience. My plants went through the summer and fall and lived through the winter, and I see that everywhere. It is too late for peas, but next year those are my favorite garden thing to grow. I like wilderness gardening--by this I mean, I let my garden be a jungle. I've never had luck with tomatoes, but last year we discovered a small variety of tomatillos. They grew like weeds, and we made amazing green salsa. I've never in my life had luck with carrots, (the seeds are so little!), but I love planting potatoes. They are so good out of the ground. Have fun!

  22. Tv Food and Drink

    Thanks for the recipe. That screams summer. I do the same "text-photo-is-this-what-I-need" tactic with my boyfriend. I also do the "text-photo-I'm-in-the-dressing-room-do-these-pants-look-good-on-me?" bit. Both work well. He always saves me from big mistakes.

    I miss Seattle enormously!

    Gary

  23. Staci

    I, too, would like to tip-toe into the world of gardening. I have *no* idea how to start, but it's fun to think that you and I, across the country from one another--might be endeavoring together (in all kinds of ways!). :)

  24. Jessica

    Looks delicious! I, too, am not very adept at the garden. Someday!

  25. Evi

    I just started reading this book and I cannot put it down! I think it's my small goal in life this year to try to do more of what's in our fridge- enjoying what we have in the season, etc. She write beautifully and when I read it right before going to bed, I just want to be in the kitchen!

    1. megang

      Yes, Evi. I completely agree. There are actually parts where I chuckled out loud, too. She's witty and clever. Good stuff (she has a cool website with videos of her preparing certain dishes and shopping for produce if you're interested).

  26. Anne Zimmerman

    Don't worry. There's always me: behind on post reading, writing, and wayyyy behind on gardening. Become an expert quickly and give me some lessons!

    1. megang

      Now we just need to get you on Instagram, Anne!

  27. Barbara

    Hi Megan,
    I live in upstate NY, a bit similar to Boston weather wise... we just put in some corn last weekend (we, being my more-than-me-A-type husband) ...and the kale, spinach, and lettuce are taking off ( I swear I pushed some dirt around them before I realized I had the wrong pants on and by the time I changed he was done, darnit)!
    Everything is green around here, the way you have it most of the time. I absolutely love California, but I am sad to report I haven't been out in years.
    Your blog makes me want to start one of my own... pics of vegan dishes and all, in all that 'spare' time I have, of course.
    Look for the kid's book Good Times on Grandfather Mountain... try to find that if you can... nothing about cooking, just really, really living. I cry every time I read it, but in a good way.
    Thanks for your follow up comment!

  28. Dana

    I have longed wished that I could be a gardener. Think of being able to go in your backyard and pull vegetables! But I am at peace with the fact that it is just not me. I have a beautiful yard and absolutely nothing to do with that fact. Can't wait to see what you do back there!

  29. Aly

    Fellow Seattle-area person here! :) Still trying to figure out gardening here. :( It's super different from Maryland (just moved here last year). Different varieties of plants, different weather (duh!), no yard for me...I had to make do with some plants in the kitchen window, but they haven't been super happy with so many cloudy days. I've still had to buy herbs myself.

    But! This looks super tasty :)

    1. megang

      Hi Aly! Thanks for stopping in and saying hello. Yes, my new theory is that we need a full year (at least) to figure out the gardening thing here. I've decided to be verrrry gentle with myself on this one! Have a wonderful week, ~m

  30. KAREN

    i actually use this on top of my homemade marinara and pasta (1 teaspoonful or 1 tablespoon)

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