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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Do I have a lasagna thumb?

OK, for the third year in a row, I’m going to try vegetable gardening. For the past two years, I’ve made it to the planting stage, and that’s as far as it went. I can blame the bad soil or the weather or my job or whatever, but the fact remains that I never once attempted to keep that garden weeded. In both instances, the weeds outgrew the crops at such an alarming rate that I just couldn’t (didn’t even try to) keep up.

This year will be different! (I know I say that every year.) But this one really will be! I may not have a green thumb, but I’m hoping this year I have a lasagna thumb.

Huh? I learned about “lasagna gardening” from a friend and thought I’d give it a shot. While you can certainly plant tomatoes, oregano, basil, onions, etc. (perfect for any Italian dinner!) in your garden, the term “lasagna gardening” refers to the method of layering materials – your “greens” and “browns” – in order to create a nutrient-rich foundation in which to plant.

I don’t profess to be an expert about this. I Googled it. These are the articles I used (overview and specific), but I’m sure there are hundreds of others that would be helpful!

I probably should have started this months ago to allow ample time for the layers to break down, but I’m hoping this will still work for planting a month or so from now. Courtney helped me with my first couple layers (cardboard/newspaper, then grass/weeds, then leaves and shredded paper). I put it directly over all the weeds and didn’t even have to work the soil! I then had to think quickly to keep the paper shreds from drying and blowing all over the yard (Keith would have LOVED that), so I covered the whole garden with a screen (some sites say to used plastic for the first few weeks). I’m saving veggie peels and coffee grounds now for the next layer.

I really hope this is as easy and foolproof as the articles make it seem. I’ll keep you posted!

Has anyone tried this? I’d love some tips and anecdotes!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Plenty of uses for your homegrown bounty!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I dress my salad in skinny jeans.

I deep-fried last weekend (does deep-fried have a hyphen? That's how little I know about it!). It was the first time I've ever done it, and I'm still reeling. We had my parents and their friends in town and Keith wanted to treat them to a traditional Southern meal of fried chicken and mashed "taters." Then his flight was delayed and I had to fry. Me! My saving grace was that this month's cover recipe on Bon Appetit magazine was fried chicken. It was meant to be! It turned out good, but was it worth the effort and fat? Not to me!

So anyway, this brings me to three points. One, I need to eat some salads now to make up for that meal. Two, I have leftover buttermilk in the fridge. And three, spring is coming -- which rounds out this plan nicely.

Spring makes me think of sitting at a sidewalk cafĂ© with a crisp green salad and a big glass of white wine. I love a good chicken Caesar or anything with goat cheese (as I’m sure you know by now). It also makes me think of the skimpier clothes I’ll have to put on in just another month or so. Yikes!

I got out the buttermilk and the camera (I know I’m weird) and got to mixing. I raided the fridge and the spice cabinet until I had a really nice, tangy, light dressing. With only 30 calories in 2 tablespoons, feel free to drizzle (dump!) it on. This is the skinny jeans of salad dressings. In fact, you could eat half a cup (8 tbsp!) for fewer calories than, say, a SINGLE serving (2 tbsp) of ranch or blue cheese.

Which brings me to another point. Restaurant salads. Just bowls of meat, cheese and way too much fatty dressing! I know I don’t need to say it again, do I? Just read here. Or here. Then make my salad dressing and save your calories for the wine!

Tangy Tarragon Buttermilk Dressing
Makes about 6 servings

1 cup light buttermilk (1.5% milkfat)
2 tbsp light sour cream
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dill weed
1 tbsp dried tarragon

I like to put this in a tall glass or mason jar and hit it a few times with the immersion blender to really get that garlic blended nicely. Enjoy!

Oh, and I won't be frying chicken again anytime soon. I tend to overdo it, so it took me an hour and a half to fry up roughly 30 pieces of chicken (for 8 of us...too much!). Frying needs tending. And turning. And the grease splatters. Way too high maintenance! Plus, we don't need to be eating that anyway. Not when we have delicious and healthy fare that won't have you missing the fat. Bon appetit!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available on my website. (And by the way, most of the cookbook recipes are NOT available on the blog.)