Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Growing Black Beans

Boy, oh boy - the photo of my homegrown black beans in my last post has caused quite the stir so I thought I would share the very little I know about growing black beans with you.

Dried beans seem to be one of those things that nobody really thinks about growing. You head to the store or the co-op and buy them bagged or in bulk, take them home, clean through them, soak, and cook. It's pretty simple that way, really, but when I saw the packet of black beans for sale at my local gardening spot, I had to grab them.

GROW my own black beans? The hell you say. Really. I didn't know what to expect. The back of the package gave the usual spacing and depth instructions along with watering and light recommendations, but as any gardener knows, the packet tells so little.

I set them to seed in trays with the rest of my plants and then set them in the ground when it was time. The first surprise I had was the plant itself. It looks exactly like a blue lake bush bean and I had to be very careful about labeling so I would know which were which. Bush beans are one of the first successful vegetables I had ever grown and I look forward to them each year. No matter what else I'm growing, I must have green beans in the garden. The difference is, and I found this out quickly, black beans are like pole beans because they climb. I jabbed stakes into the ground and let them wind their way up.

I watered as I did my green beans, not too much, not too little. I set them in a sunny, but not too sunny, spot (vague enough for you?) and watched them grow.

The second surprise was the flower. Again, they look exactly like bush beans, but PURPLE! The first sight of one of those flowers was a truly breathtaking moment. As soon as I caught my breath I said, "Of course! Black beans have purple flowers!" Because, in reality, black beans aren't really black, they are a very deep purple. This can be seen any time they are soaked.

Then came the pods, which - again - looked like bush beans. Ever so slowly, though, they changed color and nearly looked like they were rotting. I was concerned. What if they were too done? WHEN were they done? Did I need to dry them once they were picked? Of course, I knew where the answer was: Google.

Sure enough I found that black beans are not ever really "fresh" because they are left on the plant to fully dry and darken. I popped open a pod and to my horror the beans within were snow white except at the very edge, where they were beginning to turn purple. Aha! They TURN black as they dry!

Those pods aren't rotten, they're purple!

Black beans in the pod.

So, I mustered up all the patience I could and let them alone. Sure enough, before I knew it each pod was full of hard black beans. Wow. Just wow. Now I have bushes full of drying black bean pods and once I harvest them and cook up something splendid I'll be sure and post it!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Garden Interlude

I'm taking a moment today to share photos from my garden. These range in date from first planting in May to today. This isn't everything we have growing, just some of the photos I wanted to show you. Enjoy!

Catnip flowers - very pretty and something you'd miss if you didn't look closely enough.

Black beans have purple flowers! How very pretty.

Once the beans are fully grown, they are left on the plant to dry. Check occasionally to see if the beans have turned black. Once they have, they are done.

Black beans in the pod.

Wild mint - my favorite type. I also have spearmint but don't like it nearly as much.

Johnny Jump-Up that belongs to my oldest daughter.

Basil ready to flower.

Forget-Me-Nots This is my second year with them. The seed was from last year's crop.

Cilantro Flowers.

Whenever I see these mimosa blossoms I think of Horton Hears a Who!

Nemesis - Japanese Beetle. He was far flung right after the shot was snapped.


Soon-to-be tomatoes.

Grape tomatoes ripe for the picking.

Better Boys coming along nicely.

Zucchini blossom.

Cosmos - one I grow each year.

Can't recall what these are, but we had them planted with small purple flowers and the effect was very pretty.

French Lavender.

Pumpkin vine curl.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Yes, but What do You Really Use?

In each person's personal life there comes a time (or two or three) when others bring your profession into play by asking for advice. For me, it's always welcome. I love to share with others and if I can help someone in their food life it makes me happy. Often I'm asked about brands and types of foods that I purchase for my own use. Mostly I redirect everyone to my usual stomping grounds, ALDI and leave it there.

As much as I love ALDI (and love is so small a word for my feelings there), I can't always get what I'm looking for and I sometimes have to turn elsewhere to fulfill my needs. It's not cheating, I swear.

There are brands I purchase elsewhere or simply prefer elsewhere. I'd like to share a few here. This is NOT a review in any way, shape or form. These are products I really use on a day-to-day basis with no compensation or otherwise thrown in there.

Olive Oil - I am not brand loyal with this. I stand in the aisle of any given grocery and find clear bottles of extra virgin olive oil to peruse. I hold them up to the light and the clearest and greenest of them wins. I shy away from green bottles because I can't see what I'm getting. This isn't the way you're 'supposed' to buy olive oil (not like sniffing melons or squeezing avocados), it's just the way I do it and I am never dissatisfied with the oil I get.

That being said, when I was in NYC with my cousin, we stopped by O & Co. and I purchased a rather expensive bottle of olive oil there - Il Fornacino, peppery finish and lovely flavor - I can only seem to find it on the UK website now. I absolutely love that oil and wish I could afford it all the time. I am also very partial to Sorelle Paradiso olive oils. They are the smoothest and most flavorful oils I've tasted - really.

Guacamole - When I'm not making my own, I can eat Wholly Guacamole by the bucketful. I can't get enough of that stuff. Just the right amount of garlic and perfect little chunks of avocado throughout. I wish I had some on hand right now.

Pasta Sauce - I make my own absolutely killer version of marinara that is to-die-for. It starts with a base of carrot, celery, onion and bacon and builds with smoked ham hock, garlic and just the right amount of herbs. When I don't have time for that bad-boy, I honestly adore ALDI's Mama Cozi meat sauce. It's got just the right amount of sweetness, nice chunks of tomato and perfect seasoning. I would go out of my way to buy it - I love it that much. I know - I said I was sharing things I can't get at ALDI, but I can't leave this one out!

Flour - For all-purpose, again, I buy the ALDI brand, but my very favorite flours are the King Arthur brand. The bread flour is awesome and I love the white whole wheat. Some day soon I'll order up a batch of French bread flour and let you know what I think of that. You really do get different results with KA flours, trust me on this one!

Parmesan Cheese - Just like any other busy mom, I routinely purchase round paperboard containers of pre-grated Parmesan for every day use, but I don't prefer or even recommend it. For the real deal I am partial to BelGioioso. I can find it in chunks, grated or shredded (my favorite) and the flavor is just over the top for a mass-produced cheese.

Yogurt - For the kids I purchase whichever yogurt has the least food coloring and sugar, which is almost always Stonyfield. For myself, and I do mean myself because I hate to share this - it's Fage. Simple ingredients, thick and rich and the flavor is like eating something you really shouldn't have. Yes, it's that good!

Salt - Diamond Crystal Kosher or Morton Coarse Kosher in a pinch. Sea salt from anywhere - I'm not picky about that.

Herbs and Spices - Well, this is a toss-up. I like the large boxes I can find at Wegmans very affordably (the Original Bulk Packed Spice Company), but I also love Penzey's. I use fresh herbs whenever possible and whole spices when available. I can also find bulk herbs, spices, grains and nuts at Elias Market in Bethlehem. One thing I buy without fail at least once a month is Mrs. Dash Garlic & Herb. I can NOT live without that stuff! So good - really. I also am smitten with Amazing Taste packets (which I've written about here and here) and pick up several a month.

Soy Sauce - This may not be a staple anywhere else, but it sure is here. I buy, without fail, Kikkoman. I buy it in large tins which are half a gallon each. Brewed soy sauce is completely different than the nearly-synthetic type you can buy. The aroma and flavor are smooth and full and it's something you don't want to skimp on. Once I started using real brewed soy sauce, my dishes changed completely. It really isn't worth it to buy the other.

Hot Sauce - Well, this one is varied depending on who is buying it. For me, Sriracha all the way! Not just hot sauce, garlicky deep flavored hot sauce like no other. You can literally eat this on just about anything. Scrambled eggs and ketchup? No way - try them with Sriracha and see if it doesn't convert you.

Want to know about anything else? What do I wash my dishes with, or what pans do I like? Feel free to ask!