5 Food Tips from a Gardener

My husband and I had the rare treat of a kid-free weekend this past weekend and went to visit the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. Holy gorgeousness! 

Great Smoky Mountains

As anyone with kids knows, finding the time and the childcare to connect as adults out of town for even a night can be no small task. My biggest thanks go out to my parents, who ran "Camp Grandparent" for my three kiddos this past weekend. This was a much needed getaway. 

a two hour hike was the highlight of the weekend

My husband and I hiked in the woods, visited beautiful gardens and had the pleasure of taking a cooking class where we got great advice from a seasoned gardener. Here's what I learned: 

1. Nasturtiums are edible, and they're part of the watercress family. And they're beautiful! This colorful salad, with just-picked lettuces, fresh sheep's cheese, roasted golden beets, chickpea flour johnnycake and an apple cider vinaigrette was perfectly adorned with edible nasturtiums. 

salad with nasturtiums

2. Desserts and fruits can be absolutely divine with the simple addition of freshly ground black pepper. Our gardener-cooking teacher made pineapple granita using fresh pineapple, simple syrup that had been infused with lemon verbena and freshly ground black pepper and it was out of this world. 

3. Lettuce is perfect right now. I always thought of lettuce as a summer crop, because salads reign supreme here in the summer. But they're actually a cool season crop, best in spring and fall. Look at the bounty in this garden! 

lettuce is a cool season crop

4. Have you ever tried the leaves from the sweet potato plant? I hadn't either. Wow, what a treat! These were tender like spinach and sautéed in a snap to make for a wonderful side dish. Our gardener-teacher told us that these can be found in giant bags at specialty grocery markets but I have never seen them here in NYC. Definitely keeping my eyes peeled for these... 

5. Those Johnnycakes are a snap to make. Combine 1 cup of milk with 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup stock. Bring to almost a boil in a sauce pan and slowly add 1 cup of chick pea flour and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and fresh cracked pepper. Stir until ingredients are completely combined and until it reaches a delightfully creamy level. Spread evenly on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and cool. Use a cookie cutter to cut out desired shape. Heat a frying pan with olive oil and fry for about 1-2 minutes per side.