Roasted Rosemary Sweet Potatoes

Every Saturday morning, my husband, the dog and I head over to Richland Farmers Market, a happening and energetic place to shop in Nashville for organic vegetables and locally made food products. I am drawn to this market by both the variety of vegetables offered and the enthusiastic farmers, bakers, butchers, beekeepers, and fromagers who show up every weekend.

Last week, while visiting Corner Spring Farm’s booth, owner Marianne Cameron suggested I try the Japanese sweet potatoes she and her husband had grown. She told me they had a creamy and moist interior when cooked. The potatoes are oblong and have smudgy-red skin and white flesh.

I roasted them with an equal amount of regular sweet potatoes, chopped rosemary, salt, garlic pepper, and olive oil. Marianne was right, the interior of the Japanese potatoes was soooo creamy and delicious. I couldn’t get over the texture. I served them for dinner with Mom’s Meatloaf and blanched thick and meaty green beans — my favorite kind of dinner.

Yield: 6-8 servings

1 pound sweet potatoes, unpeeled
1 pound Japanese sweet potatoes, unpeeled
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon McCormick’s California Style Garlic Pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 425º

Scrub potatoes. Do not peel. Cut into 1½-in chunks. Arrange on a parchment-lined rimmed, sheet pan. Strip rosemary leaves from stems and chop. Sprinkle over potatoes. Add olive oil, salt, and garlic pepper. Toss ingredients together until well blended. Roast for 45 minutes on the middle rack of oven.

The Japanese sweet potatoes were so yummy, I went to Whole Foods to look for another popular variety I had been reading about, Stokes Purple Sweet Potatoes. I thought, together, the color combo would be exciting. Stokes Purples look like Japanese sweet potatoes on the outside, but the interior is solid purple. I cooked them using the same recipe as above. The colors were beautiful.

Sadly, I wasn’t as wild about the flavor of the roasted Stokes Purples. With the remaining three pounds of purple potatoes I had bought, I had another idea: make mashed purple sweet potatoes!

They were delicious. I used my recipe for Old-Fashioned Mashed Potatoes, substituting the Stokes Purples for the all-purpose potatoes. The mashed sweet potatoes were sweet, buttery, creamy, and eye-poppingly colorful and would sure look different on the Thanksgiving Day table! Speaking of which, Thanksgiving is eleven days away. Take a look at the list of recipes I’ve put together here!

Today is the fourth anniversary of Judy’s Chickens! It all started here!

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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Putting Your Garden to Bed with a Blanket of Cover Crops

The number one gardening question I’ve been asked lately by Instagram followers is, What cover crops are you growing? The short answer is buckwheat, crimson clover, and a brassica such as daikon radishes or turnips. The buckwheat will die off with the first frost, the brassica will wither away in the winter, and the crimson clover can be cut down in the spring.

The next question is, Why plant cover crops? Cover crops take up elements from the dirt, air, and rain and use them to nourish microorganisms in the soil. In the process, they prevent topsoil erosion, suppress weeds, and improve the availability of water in the soil. Vegetable garden soil should never be naked.

Look how pretty this cover crop, crimson clover, looks in the spring. The red flowers have the added bonus of attracting pollinators to the garden when there is not much else around to draw them in. This is especially important if you plan to plant peas on Valentine’s Day (Patriot’s Day if you live in the North). You will want pollinators around when the pea plants start to flower. Same goes for strawberries which flower around the same time.

A few weeks ago my husband and I attended the Southeast Biodynamic Regional Conference at Jeff Poppen’s farm in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. (Jeff is the host of Nashville Public Television’s The Barefoot Farmer.) It was a memorable weekend of education, community, and delicious field-to-table-meals. It was the kind of conference where twelve people officially register to attend and 150 show up … and it’s not a problem. The food, prepared by Chef Paulino Solorzano, never quit coming. The pulled pork, made from a pig that was raised on a farm that practiced biodynamic farming was divine. I am almost positive I can get my husband to attend again next year. [My husband just edited this post and mumbled, “Definitely going back.”]

This is a photo of Jeff Poppen, our leader and host, doing Jeff things like inoculating a compost heap with one of the biodynamic preparations he created on his farm. Farmers who practice biodynamic farming do so to bring health to the land and vitality to the food system or as Jeff puts it: to grow food of the highest quality.

Jeff has one of the oldest and largest organic farms in Tennessee. I read that on his website. If you asked Jeff, he would humbly say he “works with Nature instead of being at war with it.”

This is a photo of one of Jeff’s vegetable fields where he grows food for his CSA customers. He does not irrigate, add fertilizers, or use herbicides (“herbicides kill enzymes so biological processes can’t happen”). He also says things like, “insects are nature’s house cleaners and are our teachers — they tell us what issues we need to address in the soil.” The types of weeds that grow in our gardens also tell us about soil deficiencies.

Jeff grows produce that looks like this without irrigation or chemicals.

His soil is so rich and airy, it crumbles in your fingers like pie dough when you first mix the flour and fat together. It is so loose, even his weeds have long, flowing roots.

This is one of Jeff’s fields that have been put to bed for the winter. Guess what is growing? Buckwheat, crimson clover, and daikon radish. Jeff is the one who inspired me to start planting cover crops this fall when he repeatedly said, “your spring and summer crops are made before you ever plant them.” 

My biggest take away from Jeff, the one thing I could start doing in my small backyard farm right away, was to plant cover crops and never leave vegetable beds naked between harvestable crops again. With that in mind, I got busy.

My husband helped me clean up this summer vegetable bed the afternoon we returned home.

We cut the plants down and put them in the compost pile. We left their roots in the ground. We used a broad fork to jiggle the soil so air could get into the ground. Note to readers: my husband is wearing shoes:-)

I mixed clover, buckwheat, and daikon radish seeds and broadcast them in the beds. This is buckwheat. When you use buckwheat as a cover crop during the summer, be sure to cut it back before it goes to seed, unless you want lots of seedlings. I heard a great tip at an Herb Society of Nashville meeting: plant buckwheat between tomato plants. It attracts beneficial insects that eat aphids off of tomato leaves.

Here is an “after” picture of the garden.

This is the garden one week later. The buckwheat seeds sprouted in three days.

Here is a photo from yesterday. So much prettier than naked raised beds. The chickens love it, too.

Related Posts
Family Dirt
Morning Rounds in the Garden, April
Eulogy for a Chicken
Winter Floral Arrangements Using Greenery from the Yard
The Volunteer Gardener An episode of Nashville Public Television filmed in my yard

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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Group Project: A Shibori Dyed Quilt

I love learning a new word and suddenly having it pop up all over the place, either in the spoken or written form. It makes me wonder about all the words I simply gloss over in life. Shibori is one of those words. It comes from the Japanese word “to wring, squeeze, or press.” Also known as resist-dyeing, shibori is a design technique for creating patterns on fabric. The idea of bunching fabric tightly with ties to resist the penetration of color when it is dunked in indigo is a technique that has been around for centuries. Many of us know it as tie-dyeing.

Japanese artists raised the art form to a high level. From the book, Shibori, the Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing by Wada, Rice and Barton: “Here [Japan], it has been expanded into a whole family of traditional resist techniques, involving first shaping the cloth by plucking, pinching, twisting, stitching, folding, pleating, and wrapping it, and then securing the shapes thus made by binding, looping, knotting, clamping, and the like. The entire family of techniques is called shibori.

In May, the staff of The Nashville Food Project, a non-profit close to my heart, came up with the idea of making a shibori print quilt as a group wedding gift for beloved TNFP Meals Director, Christa Bentley. It was to be a surprise. The Executive Director of TNFP,  Tallu Quinn, has a degree in art (in addition to her MDiv) and learned the technique in college. She wrote the instructions for the project, sent them to the participants, and provided pre-cut 12-inch squares of muslin fabric for staff and volunteers to create tied designs. Here is a partial collection of what they created.

The How-To
The first step was to tie the fabric to create a design. I used marbles, corks, and rubber bands to create patterns on the two squares I contributed.

This is how they looked after I tied them,

and when they were dyed,

and then after they were dipped and untied.

Here is another set of pre and post photos.

I wish I had taken more photos of the before and afters. It was exciting to see how each manipulation affected the final design. The design below was made by folding a cloth many times and using bull clips to hold the folds together. I think it is my favorite.

Although, I do love this one.

I thought this technique was interesting, too. The white area is where the fabric resisted penetration of the dye due to compression by a block.

Actually, I love them all, as I imagine Christa must since they were each made in the spirit of love and friendship.

D-Day: The Day We Dyed the Squares of Cloth.
Tallu prepared the dye vat using an all-natural indigo powder she ordered online. She invited me and another volunteer, Paiden Hite, to come over and help dye the squares.

This is the dye vat.

She prepped the tied cloths by soaking them in plain, warm water.

One at a time, we submerged the cloth bundles gently into the vat being careful not to add extra oxygen (in the form of air bubbles or drips) into the liquid. It’s a chemistry thing. I wrote a story all about it, Seeing Blue, Indigo Blue.

As we pulled each tied cloth out of the dye vat, we watched it transform in color from a yellow-green to a green-blue, to a deep indigo blue. This transition in color seems magical each time I see it happen.

Here are the squares after their first dipping. A few were dipped twice to intensify the color. Color is added in layers, by a redipping process, not by letting textiles soak for a longer period of time in the vat.

After the squares dried and were ironed, TNFP staff members sewed them together, backed the quilt, and then began the task of hand sewing the quilt layers together.

The quilt was presented, in a semi-finished form, to the delighted couple, Christa and Todd, at a wedding shower given for them by the ever thoughtful and generous TNFP staff.

Here’s a gorgeous photo of the newlyweds on their wedding day. Like for many who work at TNFP, the Bentleys are growing their own food using sustainable practices, but for this couple, farming is the family business. They are living the dream of owning their own farm, Sweeter Days Farm, complete with a muster of peacocks. They sell their food and flowers at farmers markets and through CSA shares. You can follow their peacocks, vegetable, and flower-growing pursuits at @sweeterdaysfarm on Instagram. This is my favorite photo from their wedding because it expresses hope and love within the beauty of nature.

I love projects worked on in community, in the spirit of caring and fun, whether it be craft-making, cooking, or planting seeds in a garden. Visiting while creating something that is as pretty as it is useful is a satisfying way to spend a day. For me, it is a way of experiencing and expressing love and joy. Perhaps that is why this picture of the Bentleys makes me smile so much; it expresses both. Soon, Christa and Todd will have the finished quilt to wrap themselves up in. Hand-quilting takes time!

TNFP is in the middle of a capital campaign for the construction of a new headquarters with a commercial kitchen. They would be honored to accept any donation here.

Related Posts
Seeing Blue, Indigo Blue.
Making Homemade Plant-Based Dyes
Morning Rounds in the Garden, July
To Dye For: Making Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs

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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Not a Pretty Sight: The Splash Guard of a Garbage Disposer

A conversation with friends while cooking in a kitchen went like this:

Me: Do you all clean the rubber splash guard of the garbage disposer in your kitchen sink?
Friend 1: I put ours in the dishwasher once a week.
Friend 2: I do it once a month.
Friend 3: Clean what?
Me: How come I never knew about this? Yesterday, I put my hand in the disposer to pull out a hunk of chicken fat that was mucking up the system and out popped the disposer’s rubber splash guard. It was all slime and gunk.

The photo below is about two week’s worth of disposer slime. I know it is gross.

Since I hardly ever used the disposer, I never thought about cleaning it. Now, I clean the splash guard with a scrub brush and hot soapy water and run it through the dishwasher about once a week.

Ahh, like new.

To end on a happier note, this is how I keep the soil clean in my vegetable garden: I plant crimson clover, buckwheat, and turnips as cover crops. These crops are only 10-days old and already look like the lawn of the Emerald City.

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Remember to always check this website for updated versions of a recipe.  

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.