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Wrightfood green salad & garden

You know what is funny? My original plan was to do this post because I needed something fast to blog about this week. I know, I know, phoning it in… Times have been rather busy in the Wrightfood household – work is a bit nuts right now, so I wanted something fast.

This post has quite possibly taken longer than almost any other to photograph and write! Almost as long as the food photography post I did a week or two ago.

So yeah… a week and a half with no post, and all I give you is some green stuff on a plate and dressing. No fish. No cured meat. Just rabbit food.

Well, I should explain. I have for a rather long time now been trying to perfect my perfect green salad. I’m not talking about a salad with a kazillion ingredients in. Nor a salad that consists entirely of iceberg lettuce core. This is the kind of salad you eat with dinner. You pack it into a box to go along with your cheese and charcuterie for lunch. I can honestly say I most likely eat this salad four or five times a week, and have yet to get bored with with it. Want to know the best thing? Most of the ingredients for this have come from our garden.

Yep, like almost everyone else here in Seattle, we have started a small vegetable garden. Some of you might remember my twitterings (I still cannot bring myself to say “tweets”, that is just too social media for me..) about wanting to offload a bunch of vegetable garden soil we had left over… Yes we 3x over-ordered on the amount of soil we needed. OPPS.

Seattle has just exploded with small vegetable gardens this year. Course, you wouldn’t think it given the amount of time it took to offload the soil onto our neighbors and friends.. but yes – everywhere you look people are building raised beds and planting their greens. It is truly an inspirational thing to see.

I remember seeing a lot of the old (beautifully designed) WW1 and WW2 posters in England convincing everyone to “dig for victory” and so forth, and somewhat wishing I could have seen those times where almost everyone in the country dug up ornamental beds and planted veggies. Course, that is about all from that time I would have wanted to see… oh, that and Winston Churchill.

So yes, we decided to plant a vegetable garden this year. The idea was to start small, with one raised bed, and see how we go. The delivery of soil pretty much ended that. Pretty soon we went out and bought some animal feed troughs and barrels, drilled holes in them, and filled them with soil. We then took our list of stuff we wanted to grow to the local nursery and showed it to one of the gardeners there. We got the “yeah, you are pretty much smoking crack” look from her, so we scaled it down.

Then, when she walked away, we scaled it back up.

My parents have had a vegetable and fruit garden for as long as I can remember back in England, but either Danika or myself don’t have a green thumb. We have just one rule when trying to grow anything: “don’t name anything. If we name it, it will die“. We have lost way too many “Bob the houseplant”, and didn’t want the same thing to happen to our vegetables.

So out came the ornamental flowers. Out came the stuff that looked like you really wouldn’t want to eat it. It all got transplanted to either neighbors, or our front yard – which is now looking a bit pikey to say the least. Up went some raised beds, some pots, some cool feeding troughs being used as planters, and a long weekend of moving soil and gravel around. In went some starts and some seeds, and we watered like mad.

Did I mention we have no idea at all what we are doing? Well, we don’t. None. We just stuck stuff in the ground, water it, and check on it most likely far too often. Our two year old son has become addicted to going out and seeing the garden. His friends come over, and he HAS to go out and point out the carrots, the beans and the tomatoes to them. He walks around, rubs his hands on the herbs and sniffs. Sniffs, and then says “ohh lemon verbena”, every herb to him right now is lemon verbena, even if it is thyme.

He helped sow seed. He helped plant, he helps water, and he helps dig stuff up. He loves it. We love it, and we wish we had done this years ago.

So what are we growing? Well, we wanted to do small amounts of a variety of stuff – to see what grows well in our garden, what we want to grow to save money, and what is fun for the lad…

I can tell you know, we are doing FAR too many beets and leeks. But that is OK, they are our favorite vegetables. So, here is the list:

FRUITS: Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, tomatoes

HERBS: Lovage (out of control right now), lemon verbena, thyme, chives, tarragon, dill, summer savory, rosemary, sage. I wanted parsley and basil, but honestly I use so much of both that we just wouldn’t have the space to plant all we need.

VEG: Red leaf lettuce, frisee, bibb (butter) lettuce, broccoli rabe (rapinni), carrots, golden beets, red beets, bok choy, fennel. The rapinni and bok choy are going to flower.. Apprently that is bad, but it sure looks great!

BACK TO THE SALAD.

As mentioned, this is a small salad to either start a meal with, or serve along side. It is a lovely blend of textures, flavors and color. The most wonderful soft butter lettuce forms the basis of the salad. This is jazzed up with the texturally rich and bitter frisee leaves. A little punch is added from some finely sliced shallot. Roasted hazelnuts go in for a little crunch and density. Then come the herbs….

I am a huge fan of the french herb mix called Fines Herbs. This can vary a bit, but is really just a lovely fragrant, delicate mix of soft herbs. The kind of herb that it is a joy to chew through, even when the leaves are big. I vary a bit every time I make it – it really depends what I can cut up in the garden, and what I have in the fridge. Parsley and chervil form a great base to the mix. Flat leaf parsley should always be used here – curly parsley is a little more bitter, and the texture is way to prickly for the fines herbs mix. Now come the accent herbs. Tarragon, dill and chives form lovely accents in it. A light hand should be used with tarragon though, its pungency can easily overpower this delicate mix.

When making fines herbs I use a very coarse chop. Sometimes I just pick off the leaves and soft stalks, and just tear them up a little bit. Small leaves go in whole. We don’t want a fine chop here – you want to see the herbs, get excited about them – you want to feel their different textures. I love being able to see different herbs sticking off my fork – creates a basic level of culinary and taste excitement with each bite.

The next thing is seasoning. This might not be PC in a “salt is evil” world, but a good green salad needs good seasoning. Freshly ground black pepper is a must. The coarser the better. Break out that great sea salt you have too. You know, the stuff that is harvested by a 1000 year old man on the Brittany coast, and dried in the hands a fair French maiden. A good helping of great salt adds 500% to a green salad.

Finally there is the dressing. My personal preference is to go with a basic dijon mustard, olive oil and red wine vinegar vinaigrette. I love the sharpness in the dressing, I love the spice from the mustard, and creaminess from the olive oil. I do find a little dressing goes a long way here though, another light hand is needed.. It is easy to add more, but a pain in the arse to try and take some out!

There we are. My favorite salad, and our little vegetable garden.

Just gonna end this one on a request… Any keen gardeners out there that want to offer advice or suggestions? go ahead. When I say we don’t know what we are doing, I honestly mean it. I had to look up what “bolting lettuce” meant the other day. Yep, its new to us, and incredibly exciting.

Wrightfood Green Salad Recipe

1 head of bibb lettuce

1 small head of frisee lettuce

1 handful of fresh flat leaf parsley – coarse stems removed

1 small handful of chervil – coarse stems removed

any leaves of the following: chives, tarragon, dill

salt and pepper

1 large shallot, finely sliced

2 handfuls of roasted (and cooled) hazelnuts

1 tablespoon of dijon mustard

3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar

9 tablespoons of olive oil

Slice any large leaves of the lettuce. Remove any tough stalks that don’t look good eats. I find that the smaller shoots of frisee have a better texture. If you have larger, remove any tough looking core, and just use the softer outer sections of the leaves. Roughly chop the herbs if you wish, otherwise just use whole with the soft stalks.

In a large bowl gently toss together the bibb, frisee, parsley, chervil, chives, tarragon, dill, salt and pepper, shallot and hazelnuts.

In a small bowl mix together the mustard and vinegar. Slowly add in the olive oil, and whisk briskly to combine. Keep whisking until the mixture forms a smooth well combined vinaigrette. Pour a little of the vinaigrette around the edges of the salad bowl, and gently toss to combine. You want each leaf to have a light coating. Taste, and adjust seasoning at your will.

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23 Responses to “Wrightfood green salad & garden”

  1. Judy says:

    Your garden looks great Matt. I love how you’ve done ever thing in separate containers! Advice…I have none. My garden this winter (FL) was such a fail. Great big huge mutt likes eating things from there too much.

  2. cindy says:

    ohmy. your garden is amazing! my mother (an excellent gardener) swears that talking to your plants makes them happy…maybe a little crazy, but the woman lives in the middle of a desert and is still able to grow some pretty happy plants. one day i will have a garden like yours matt…one day. kudos to you and your lovely lady on all that hard yardwork…and what a great helper your little guy must be!

  3. Ashley says:

    Must be something in the air because I have been talking about and dreaming of a salad just as this. So lovely. Your garden looks stunning as well!!

  4. L says:

    It really is a beautiful garden! What’s growing up the trellis? Beans?

    -L

  5. lovely photographs…everything is so lusciuous in the Pacific NW!

  6. I’ve been gardening a long time (like since my kids were babies and the oldest is now closing in on 40!) and here’s my advice. Just keep on doing what you are doing. Your garden is thriving. Your little boy is learning the joys of being outdoors and mixing it up with nature. And you are enjoying the fruits (and vegetables and herbs) of your labor. Good for you! Way to go.

    – Marie

  7. Y says:

    How wonderful that your little boy is growing up becoming familiar with a garden (even if he thinks everything is lemon verbena at the moment :D ). I dream about a garden as big and as well stocked as that. For now, my balcony will have to do.

  8. Peter G says:

    I’m so jealous! How lovely to grow your own greens and enjoy the fruits f your manual labour (ok..that was a little cheesy!). I too belong to the fan club of vinaigrette made with dijon. And I agree. Butter lettuce is the perfect base “leaf” ingredient. Thanks for giving us a tour of your veggie patch Matt.

  9. Kairu says:

    Your garden looks wonderful! Living in a seventh-floor condo the best I can manage is a basil plant on my windowsill, so it’s farmer’s markets for me (and friends who trade flowers for baked goods). Even that salad looks enticing, despite my life-long fear and loathing of salad and raw vegetables in general.

  10. ah matt your rabbit food looks delicious. hey, which old man do you buy from? mine turned out just to be a wrinkled chain smoker, and the maiden a cross dresser.

    i love the angle depth of field on the shot with your house in the back–and the aerial with the spork and spoon in it is brilliant! when you open the restaurant and photo studio you have to promise to hire me as apprentice and dishwasher :P

  11. Hélène says:

    You’re doing so well. I always had a garden (veggies) but since we moved here did not start one. I usually did it into the ground instead of a raised one. Every year I would add more earth and always sheep sh.. (won’t spell the full name). It helps grows veggies.

    Love your salad. My vinaigrette is similar and I add a dash of real maple syrup. It’s really good. Have fun gardening :)

  12. Bravo!! I think you guys know exactly what you’re doing! Look at those gorgeous, happy and healthy vegetables. They lucky to have found home in the Mattika garden.
    Keep em growing guys and before you know it, you’ll be ripping out the lawns for your other veggie plots.
    Great photographs, gives us lots of garden envy now! Time to go grow more stuff!

  13. Dana says:

    The photos in this post are absolutely breathtaking. I love them all. I have a lot of herbs growing in my yard and the pleasure they bring me is immeasurable. I need to plant some veggies next year.

  14. redmenace says:

    Your garden looks fantastic! I’m also working on mine, but it pales in comparison. You’re an inspiration!

  15. Jessamyn says:

    I’m with you on the vinaigrette. I do pretty much the same thing, except I usually just shake everything up in a little mustard jar.

    I’ve been growing vegetables and herbs in a sort of laidback way my whole life, but making room for them is a constant struggle since I’m also addicted to ornamentals. I do lots in containers as well, since my deck is the only place that gets much sun. I use the one sunny spot in the back yard to grow garlic, which is wildly rewarding. It’s almost time to harvest the scapes!

  16. Alice says:

    Looks like you’re off to a great start! When you get around to fertilizing, check out the DIY mix as described here: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/2007-04-01/How-to-Make-Easy-Homemade-Organic-Fertilizer.aspx

    It’s easy, cheap, organic and works really well.

  17. Marta says:

    Wow Matt you’ve got a good garden going there!!! I’ve never had a yard, but it’s my dream to plant a garden one day… also, to have some chickens that I can feed myself and get amazing organic eggs from. But apparently it’s illegal to have chickens in the city!
    This salad looks like a lovely use of your fresh, home-grown produce!

  18. Rachael says:

    That really is a beautiful garden! Bravo! I know the soil where you live must be amazing. (Though, I hope you had it tested. You did, right? It’s all nice and organic and lead free?)

    My biggest suggestion is to enjoy…and to read up a bit about companion planting. For instance…fennel roots kill other plants…and corn/beans/squash all grow together beautifully, but you want to keep tomatoes away from them. (Plus, be aware of overcrowding!) That sort of thing. It also helps with your soil when you companion plant. And set up a compost area! It’s so rewarding.

    Have fun and enjoy! xoxo Rachael

  19. Rachael says:

    Oh…and did you get two cultivars of blueberries? They need to cross pollinate if you want fruit. :-)

  20. mattwright says:

    Thanks for all the amazing comments guys. We really are learning when it comes to this garden lark!

    Marta: what city? I know you can have them in Seattle.

    Alice: thanks, I will check out that link! we are starting to think about fert.

    Rachael: we brought in all new organic dirt to the garden. We have two blueberry plants! that is about all we know :)

  21. Rachael says:

    Matt – You get larger berries and more of them if you have two different cultivars to cross pollinate. Makes all the difference…

  22. Alice says:

    Here in the SF Bay Area, I get my soybean or alfalfa meal at a feed store out in the boonies a bit, and the agricultural lime and such from a turf products store (seems to supply mostly golf courses) – you shouldn’t have any problem finding these things in Seattle.

  23. Rhiannon says:

    Matt – this looks great! Oh – I’d love to have a garden. We have some dodgy rosemary, raspberries and random herbs. But living in a condo doesn’t really help.. But it’s so good to see people using their land for good stuff like veggies! Yum!