Thursday, April 26, 2012

Kale and White Bean Pasta

It's that time of year where I'm getting really sick of kale. Here in Texas we can grow greens like kale, chard, collards, and mustard all winter. At the beginning of winter it's nice, but by spring I'm really eager for the first green beans, tomatoes, squash, and peppers of the year. You know, something different for a change!

But here's a little recipe I came up with by combining a bunch of other kale recipes I found online. It's vegetarian and uses a lot of kale in addition to any garlic, dried tomatoes, and beans you might have stored from growing them last year, or from your CSA, bought at the grocery store. My beans were from the grocery store, but the tomatoes and garlic were homegrown. The kale is from my CSA.

Kale and White Bean Pasta


  • Kale - a great big bunch (you want to cram in as much as you can in your skillet because it shrinks a lot when it cooks), or rapini, Swiss chard, or any other hearty winter green or combination of greens
  • Garlic - about 2-4 cloves (I actually used garlic I had dried from the last time I got a good crop of garlic, but fresh would be better.)
  • Olive Oil
  • White Wine
  • Elbow Macaroni - about 1 cup when uncooked (or penne, rotini, or other short pasta)
  • Cooked or Canned White Beans - about 1 can or 2 cups if you cooked them yourself
  • Dried Tomatoes - 1/2 cup, snipped into small pieces
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Parmesan Cheese

  • Start your pasta going so it will be ready when everything else is. Set the timer for the minimum amount of time it says on the package. You want the pasta to be slightly underdone, because it will cook the rest of the way when you mix it with the other stuff.
  • Put your dried tomatoes in a small bowl and put in just enough hot water to cover them. Let them sit and rehydrate. Remove tough midribs from kale and chop.
  • Warm olive oil in a skillet and add chopped garlic. When garlic starts to get golden, add chopped kale.

You should cram in enough kale so the pan is just about overflowing, because it shrinks so much as it cooks.

See? I told you!

  •  Saute the kale until it just starts to wilt and turn darker green. DO NOT OVERCOOK! You do not want the greens to get all mushy and turn from bright green to olive green. Yuck! When they look like the above picture, and are still bright and still pretty al dente, proceed to the next step.
  • Add cooked beans (and maybe leave some of the liquid in the beans when you add them), soaked tomatoes along with the soaking water (which will also be full of tomato goodness), and a splash of wine. By now your macaroni should be done, so drain that and add it in.
  • Stir it around just a little bit longer until the wine has reduced down a bit and the liquids have thickened, and everything is all mixed together, but again, be very careful not to overcook the greens or let the macaroni get mushy!

  • Salt and pepper to taste, and serve with plenty of Parmesan cheese, and maybe some more of that wine and some garlic bread.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Poison Ivy

Since our yard, especially in the back, was mostly left wild by the previous occupants, we're finding quite a variety of native plants coming up back there, including a big healthy patch of Toxicodendron radicans in the eastern corner. I've never gotten a reaction to poison ivy before, so I'm either not allergic or only mildly so, but my husband is very sensitive to it, so it's going to have to go. Fortunately the plants are still small and haven't developed into the big woody vines I've seen in some natural areas, but there's a lot of little plants coming up. Even though I vastly prefer organic methods, I might have to resort to Roundup for this. I could try wearing gloves and pulling the plants up one by one, but there's just so many of them!

Here's a close up of one of the plants. Poison ivy is actually an attractive plant, in my opinion. The gloss on the leaves is the irritating oil of the plant, and the stems are red in many specimens (but not all). I've heard that deer and goats both love to eat it, and the berries are enjoyed by songbirds (who then disperse the seeds). So it does have its place in nature, but not in the yard of someone who's highly allergic to it!

Unfortunately there's also some Virginia Creeper growing in among the poison ivy, which might get killed if I end up using herbicide. This is a different vine that is often mistaken for poison ivy, but it has five leaflets instead of three, and is in the grape family, while poison ivy is in the sumac family. In the above picture, the Virginia creeper is to the left, and the poison ivy is to the right. The hairy, woody vines growing up trees are very hard to tell apart, especially in the winter when they lose their leaves, so if you see a vine like that on a tree, it's best to just not touch it to be on the safe side.

I've already caught the cats walking through the poison ivy, so there's a danger that they could spread the oil to my husband if they get some on them, then come in and snuggle on him. The poison ivy is going to have to go!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Grackle Moon (and Easter!)

Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, and this year that full moon happened to fall on Good Friday. It's been warm lately, in the low 80's, and we had such a mild winter, that lots of action is happening out in the garden. Easter is the holiday where we Texans enjoy the outdoors for one last time before it starts to get too hot to be comfortable outside anymore.

The roses are really taking off now. To the left is the big red rose bush, which now has 8 or 9 blooms on it. To the right is the smaller rose bush that was here, which has just revealed itself to be a yellow rose.

My in-laws gave us a couple of Shrimp Plants to plant in the front flowerbed, which is rather shady under some large oak trees. Shrimp Plant is a native to southern Mexico and Guatemala, but does very well here, and the hummingbirds love it.
The hummingbirds also like the Texas Lantana that's starting to bloom in the back yard.

And they love my Pineapple Sage. The most common hummingbird we have here is the Black-chinned hummingbird. They look just like a Ruby-throated hummingbird (which is the most common hummingbird east of here), but they have a purple throat instead of a red one (which looks black at certain angles). I wish I could get you a picture of them, but they're just too fast.

 Even the plain old Common Sage is blooming, with lavender flowers.

We got two cubic yards of compost from GardenVille to put in the vegetable garden. That seemed like a lot, but I've already used up about half of it. It says it has stable bedding in it, and it smells slightly of ammonia, so I hope that means it's rich in nitrogen.

The garlic that I transplanted from the old house is doing even better than I thought it would. It's already growing back new leaves. On some varieties you can hardly even tell anything happened to them.

The peppers are all in. Here you can see Basil checking on them.

The tomatoes are all in too. These are the ones I planted first, and they're already about twice as big as when I put them in.

I can already tell this is going to be a bad bug year. We had a mild winter, and then lots of rain. There are tons of mosquitoes, but also caterpillars. Some unknown caterpillars have already been eating up my tomatoes AND peppers. At first I thought it was the work of tomato hornworms, but when I found some of the caterpillars, they don't look like hornworms at all. They don't have the horns on their butts, and have dark stripes going down the sides. I went ahead and sprayed the plants with Bt since some of them have been almost completely defoliated.

Another bug in abundance are these strange looking creatures. They're EVERYWHERE. They're kind of scary looking too, shiny black with six legs in front, and big pincher-like jaws. There are also lots of these metallic green beetles that run quickly around. Well, some Internet searching, and searching through The Texas Bug Book, revealed that the green beetles are called Caterpillar Hunters, and the strange black creatures are their larvae (I thought they bore some resemblance to large ladybug larvae!). The good news is both the adult beetles and the larvae have voracious appetites for caterpillars! So from now on every time one of the larvae wander into the house or garage (and they seem to do that a lot!), I catch it and put it out in the garden. I've already seen two of them viciously attacking caterpillars several times their size in various parts of the yard. They are certainly aptly named.

Well, that's about it. Happy Easter from Basil and me!