martedì 22 marzo 2011
How not to keep puppies out of the garden
It’s time to start thinking about planting the garden. Actually, it was time to think about planting the garden many many less-than-large fullest moons-in-the-world ago. In an ideal world (ours decidedly isn’t), a lot of stuff would already be planted. A friend came by a few weeks ago, and roto-tilled it, and it’s been long enough ago that bits of green (weeds, that is – not delicate baby lettuces) are already appearing.
Our excuse for not having planted the peas, the favas, the garlic? Well, we’ll blame it on the weather, or perhaps call it hubris, since I somewhat smugly remarked, upon the completion of the tilling, that we were ahead of our Green Thumb Neighbor who hadn’t, at last sight, tilled his plot.
This Green Thumb Neighbor, besides being the locus of great jealousy on our part, is actually a very nice man. His garden is much smaller than ours. It is tidy, and things grow in it, which is what’s supposed to happen in a garden. His tomatoes are always red when ours are full of stinker bugs (does he spray? we have wondered). A low-fronted rustic stone wall fronts his two-storey casa colonica (farm house); terracotta pots filled with flowers of vibrant hues are a pleasure to look at while driving by and so, too, are the little purple flowers growing through those stones in that wall which come tumbling out. Green Thumb Neighbor has pruned his wisteria to almost bonsai artistry; his roses seem to blaze far longer than ours do. Our wisteria: beautiful, unshaped, unpruned. Our roses? Up in the air given the presence of these three Puppers.
We kind of hate him – Green Thumb Neighbor, that is.
We have a Banks rose crowning the wall just outside our kitchen door. It should bloom magnificently if we can keep The Puppers out of it. Next to it was one of many varieties of lavender plants we have; “was” is the operative word here. Next to that is jasmine, which still has a chance in hell. This part of the terrace forms an “L,” and on the other end, myrtle covered the ground, and crept up the wall. Do please note the use of the past tense in many cases. Scads of terracotta pots filled with herbs and various illegally-imported hot pepper seeds that’d sprung into plants lined that wall. The Puppers, at a tender age, enjoyed eating the stalks of the peppers (I know, I know: what were they doing there, anyway? Why hadn’t we properly cleaned and closed our garden and terrace last fall?). Many of the pots cracked or were broken during heated pup chases; one pup – Buster, it must be pointed out – enjoyed prancing from pot to pot without his fat little paws hitting the ground.
Why is it that puppies go exactly where you don’t want them to go? For example, above you see Buster happily terracotta-ly ensconced in the remains of the mixed Japanese greens, which he and his sisters had joyously excavated while our backs were turned for oh, about 2.5 seconds.
Let the record show that the flower beds on the terrace are fenced. The daffodil bed’s wiring needed to be raised, as The Puppers delighted in prancing through them just as they were at their peak. The bed with the Banks rose, jasmine etc. is also fenced but, apparently, not high enough. Easy to leap over, trash the lavender, and dig a hole, all at the same time.
The internet provided a modicum of sage advice. Googling “Keeping dogs out of gardens” revealed the following. www.associated.com suggested red pepper solution, as well as “How About a Charming White Picket Fence?” The author continues: “I ended up using chicken wire to keep my dog from eating the tomatoes in my gardens. The green chicken wire blended in well with the surroundings, and it was tall enough to keep my dog out but short enough to allow me to step over.”
Unfortunately, making the chicken wire/green mesh high enough to keep The Puppers out also keeps us out because it must be so high. Associated.com also suggested creating a Designated Digging Box, putting some of their toys in it, and encouraging them to dig. We shall try that but since they eschew most of their toys in favor of books (especially Bronzino exhibition catalogue covers and cookbooks by Jane Grigson, cell phones, socks, sponges, wood for the stove), it wouldn’t work. Unless, of course, we ply the sand/digging box with electronic equipment, Ferragamo shoes thrown in just for the beauty of it, and limited edition prints.
This brings me ‘round to sorrel, our really only true Garden Success Story.
At this point, it continues to thrive, even with this cold snap we’re having. Or maybe because of it. This classic Florentine primo is typically made with spinach; mixing in some sorrel gives it a lemony kick.
The recipe comes from Mirta, Florentine sister, lawyer and phenomenal cook.
Perhaps I should invite Green Thumb Neighbor over for an aperitivo so he can admire our sorrel?
Crespelle alla fiorentina/Florentine pancakes stuffed with ricotta
1¼ lb. spinach (fresh or frozen)
½ lb. fresh ricotta, preferably sheep’s milk
2 c.flour + 3 T.
7 eggs, preferably organic
4 c. milk + 3 T., divided
12 T. butter, melted
2 heaping T. tomato paste (triple if you’re lucky enough, double if less so, regular if luckless) diluted in ¼ c. of your already-made bechamel
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 c.)
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Stem and trim the spinach, place it in a steamer over boiling water. When it’s cooked through (in a couple of minutes), remove and let cool. While you wait for the spinach to cool, put the ricotta in a sieve over a bowl, and let it drain. When the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze all the liquid out of it, and chop.
Place the spinach in a large mixing bowl, add the drained ricotta, four eggs, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Be generous with the spices. Mix well.
Make the crespelle: Combine the flour, 12 T. melted butter, flour, 1 c. milk, and salt. Stir to combine.
Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat, drop in a 1 T. olive oil and 1 T. butter. When sufficiently heated, using a ¼ c. measuring cup, drop large dollops of the crespelle mix into it. Pick up the pan and roll the batter around: you want it as large and thin as possible. Cook on one side ‘til you can easily flip it with a spatula (about a minute, or less), and flip. You want it cooked through, but only barely, as these go into a very hot oven. Continue cooking until all the batter has been used up.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly butter a 13” x 9” casserole dish.
Make the béchamel by melting the butter in a small sauce pan, adding the flour, remaining 3 c. milk. Taste for seasoning, and add salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Again, remember to be generous.
Assemble the crespelle placing the ricotta/spinach stuffing on one half of the circle, leaving some room around the edges. Fold over the other half (you will have half moons on hand), and gently tamp the edges. Place in the lightly-buttered casserole dish, gently overlapping them, and continue stuffing the crespelle until either the stuffing’s all gone or the pancakes are.
Take the 2 T. tomato paste, diluted with ¼ c. of the béchamel, mix thoroughly, and pour into the remaining bechamel. Pour over the crespelle, and cover that with 1 c. of freshly-grated Parmesan cheese. Give the dish a couple more gratings of nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
Bake in the oven ‘til lightly browned and bubbling – about 20 minutes.
BOBO suggests pairing Crespelle alla Fiorentina with La Porta di Vertine rosato igt 2008.