After the rainiest June in Chicago, everything green basically exploded in my garden, though that did present a challenge for my tomatoes. This picture is actually 3 weeks old at this point, but it’s still quite a change from my the last one I shared from the beginning of June! I’ll update with a photo of the garden currently tonight.
On the spectrum of grills and grilling, this is how I view things:
Charcoal grill > Any grill > No grill
A few years ago, I moved into my first apartment with a porch and my first must-do was learn how to grill. Happily, I got a little cast iron Lodge hibachi grill as a housewarming gift (you know what’s really smart? giving a person who likes to cook stuff to cook with because they will often use it to cook for you).
For four years, I used the hell out of that thing. It’s just the right size to cook for one or two people, but I easily had enough space to grill a whole pizza or a few burgers when I needed to. It was fast to heat up, holds just enough charcoal for one meal (with enough left over to melt a few marshmallows), and took briquette (the kind most grocery stores sell in summer) and lump (the kind that looks like chunks of burnt wood) charcoal. I can guarantee there were weeks in summer I did not touch my stove in favor of cooking on my porch (yes, breakfast too–do you know how good grilled bacon is?).
As much as I love that grill, it has a few drawbacks. The lack of a lid is the biggest one, making it a challenge to cook larger pieces of meat for longer periods of time. Foil or a pot lid worked to melt cheese on a burger, but not so well for cooking, say, a whole chicken, or smoking anything. A little Weber or tabletop/tailgating grill would have solved this, but I really like how the cast iron maintained heat. That’s why my housewarming gift to myself with my new place (after I made sure there were no rules about grilling, and yes, being able to grill was one of my “must-haves” when I was looking to buy) was a small ceramic grill, a Kamado Joe Jr.
I love my new baby for a lot of reasons but it came with a bit of a learning curve. The biggest selling point for me: it’s easy to get temperatures really low (180º F), really high (900º F), and everything in between and hold that temperature steady for a very long time–the whole thing is essentially a brick oven with grill grates. The lid and the steady temperatures also mean I can cook larger things like chicken; smoke salmon, or even bake (some people get excited about a pulled pork on the grill, I’m excited about baking cobbler. Ok, and the pork too.).
Compared to my cast iron grill, the ceramic needs a little more attention and takes a little longer to get the hang of. It’s slower to heat up than my cast iron, and only uses lump charcoal. Also, with the cast iron I could see my food as it cooked and so was quicker to figure out how much charcoal to use, how to set my hot and cool spots, when to turn or otherwise fuss with the food. With the ceramic, the cooking is mostly hidden under the lid, so I’ve had to learn a bit more by trial and error (and a few overdone burgers). But as I figure it out, I realize how much I will be able do–baking pizzas at near-professional pizza-oven temperatures and smoking my own bacon, for instance.
The difference between my two grills is essentially the difference between having a stovetop and having a full stove with an oven. I can cook nearly everything with just the first, but having the flexibility of the second gives me so many more options that it’s worth dealing with the learning curve.
If I had a porch big enough to have both grills out at the same time, I would, but for now I’m defaulting to my ceramic. My next place though…both grills.
Summer officially ends in a few hours, which made me realize I haven’t really talked about my garden since June. I’m calling this my “practice year”–for having no clue what I was doing, my garden did pretty well in its first year. Next year I’ll remember to fertilize much more often, be a little more on top of the weeds, and not be afraid to thin things out. The folks at Peterson Garden Project also deserve a lot of thanks for answering a ton of questions and saving my tomatoes!
How did your garden do?
Successes Continue reading
As my kitchen (really my entire apartment) is currently in a state of utter disarray, has been for the past few weeks, and will be for another few, my cooking of late has pretty much consisted of salad (and often take-out salad at that). I’ll explain in a minute, but for now, an update on the garden, which is so far blowing my expectations away. Here are a few highlights:
As for the reason for the kitchen chaos? I’m moving! Today I’m officially a first-time homeowner in Chicago.
I did say I wanted a change and I think this counts. I wasn’t planning to leave the ranks of the apartment-dwelling when I started looking for a new place in April, but everything seemed fated to make this happen. I’ve never been one to take the view that renting is throwing money away, it definitely has its perks and benefits, but I’m really excited about this step–and my new porch! Kitchen! My own laundry! I can’t wait to start cooking and sharing projects from my new space soon.
One of the best parts about the new place though? It’s closer to my garden! Here are some more pictures, including my plot layout and how the view has changed since mid-May: Continue reading
I have a garden! If you follow me on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, you probably know this already, but I’m so, so excited that this will be my first year growing more than a little pot of lettuce and some flowers on my porch.
I learned about Chicago’s Peterson Garden Project and their pop-up victory gardens last year, but finally joined after urging from a friend who’s gardened with them in the past. For $75, I get a 4×8 plot with organic soil that’s all mine from April through October. Most people with a garden this size use the square foot gardening method (I’ll share more about that in another post), so I’m following suit for now. It’s definitely different than what I remember from my dad’s garden growing up and its orderly rows of beans and carrots and lettuce and corn.
So far I’ve planted seeds for:
- Lettuce: Freckles, Marvel of Four Seasons, Red Sails
- Radishes: Plum Purple, Breakfast, Watermelon
- Blue Lake bush beans
- Sugar Snap pole peas
- Mixed swiss chard
- Borage (recommended to attract bees)
I also bought baby plants of:
- Tomatoes: Mortgage Lifter (slicing), Mexico Midget (cherry), Blondkopfchen (cherry)
- Tomatillo de Milpa (purple tomatillo)
- Basil: Purple, Lemon
- Tolli’s Sweet Italian red pepper
- Diamond eggplant
- Onions (not sure what kind)
Other plants I still need to buy are:
- Cucumbers (I hope I can find a baby cucumber to use for making cornichons!)
- Herbs: Genovese basil, parsley, thyme, chives/garlic chives, oregano, mint (only in a pot)
- Hot pepper
The history of victory gardens goes back to World War II and, reassuringly, I learned that people back then knew about as much as I do about having a vegetable garden than I do (which is pretty much nil, but luckily I have plenty of green thumb-ed friends and family as guides)! The Peterson Garden Project is a lot more recent, but is doing great work in a lot of areas I’m passionate about: eating locally, making good food accessible to under-served communities, helping people (like me!) learn to grow their own food, putting neglected urban spaces to good use, and building strong communities around Chicago. They’re doing much more than that, which I’ll talk about in another post, but for now I’ll direct you to their website if you want to learn more.
I’m positively giddy to see how this experiment goes and how different this view looks come July!
(P.S. I don’t have any association with PGP other than thinking what they do is worth sharing.)
Fall always seems to catch me off guard. I feel it coming weeks ahead so I make pies, I eat apples, I can things in jars…and then it’s 40 degrees and my brain freezes and all I can think to cook are pork chops and potatoes and eggs–not all at the same time, mind you, but I’m in withdrawal from fresh greens and raw vegetables and dinners that take under 20 minutes to put together and eat while it’s still light outside. I’m struggling with my usual fall cooking inspiration, trying to figure out what my body wants other than to simply start hibernating. In the meantime, though, I found another really cool art project. Maybe I’ll actually hang some of the art I’ve made this summer soon!
While I’m dealing with the change to fall, every store I walk into seems hellbent on insisting that Christmas is right around the corner. I will fight them until December 1, but if you’re the type to think that far ahead, this project would make a great Christmas gift–it’s easy to make very personal but it’s also inexpensive if you want to make several to give to friends and family.
I think the idea of “making art” is intimidating to a lot of people—myself included, as I’ve said before. But I just couldn’t take looking at the big, bare wall in my living room any longer, and I am too cheap to spend the exorbitant amount that it would cost to buy a piece to fill the space. And so, necessity, invention, etc.