Compost can be an essential part to your garden. It provides nutrients for the plants and costs you nothing (it helps if you eat organic produce which contains no pesticides but this is not a requirement). The only drawback is that it takes time. As a society which demands instant gratification this can be a major setback since compost will take its time. You can speed it up a little with environmental factors like heat and moisture and the proper balance of green and brown composting materials but it will need time to break down and produce what is known as “black gold”. This is the wonderfully, dark, rich and crumbly, nutritious dirt-like matter that ends up at the bottom of a compost pile at the end of a season and can be used to make your plants look fabulous. All you need to do is save most of your leftover scraps from the kitchen. Any vegetable scraps or food wastes that don’t include meat, fish, fats or bones should go into your compost pile. You can compost these things but they have a tendency to overheat your compost, make it stink and attract animals. You may not want additional wildlife in your yard at night looking through your compost, so avoid them. These kitchen by-products along with grass clippings, coffee grounds, and other garden waste are considered green compost and are high in nitrogen. Brown compost, which is high in carbon, should also be added to your pile and includes newspaper, untreated wood by-products, cardboard, leaves, pine needles, peanut shells and fruit waste. A good compost pile includes all of these things which most people throw into the trash and can cut your contribution to the local landfill by 2/3! So start collecting your compost. Put it in an enclosed area in your yard which is surrounded by a wood, plastic or wire mesh bin and save the environment and your plants by simply separating your trash!
I have been wanting to make potato-leek soup for a few weeks now. Leeks are abundant in the produce section this time of year and their green wide fan of leaves above a solid white stalk is very appealing to the eye. Wild leeks should also be in season now. I have not seen any here yet but I am living in a somewhat metropolitan area now, only 15 km from downtown Cologne. My eyes are on the lookout for them, though. Back at home in the States they should be poking their broad green leaves out of the tired ground about now. The leaves are not what is coveted from this plant, though. It is the underlying root which when pulled from the ground yields an earthy garlic overtone that can not be mistaken for a simple wild onion. Wild leeks, or “ramps” as they are called in the south, are much smaller than the typical garden-variety leek. You need to harvest many more than the common leek to get the same volume and they have a much more distinct flavor. It is a cross between garlic and onion and something wild that is inexplicable and delicious, you just have to taste it to know. The first time I had a wild leek was when I was 19. Some friends invited me to their home to participate in a wild edible plant hunt with a wild forager who would guide us through their yard for the ingredients to make our dinner. It was one of the most interesting days I have ever had. We hunted in the large yard at a typical farmhouse in upstate NY to find all sorts of wild edibles which we gathered, took back to the house, prepared as a group in the kitchen and then enjoyed an entirely free meal from our findings. It was a great experience and one that I would like to repeat if only I was brave enough. Identifying some of the things that are edible from what is not edible can be tricky and a little dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. But there is no fear when it comes to the wild leek. As far as I know, there is no imitator of the wild leek which when eaten will make you sick and it is commonly known that any wild plant in the onion family is safe for consumption. So if you are around when the wild leek is in season and happen to see those tender green leaves in a cluster on the forest floor or if they happen to be encroaching on your well-kept lawn, get harvesting! But make sure to leave some in the ground so there will be plenty for next year.
Potato Leek Soup
by Laura Valetutto
2 large leeks (or several wild leeks)
2 quarts low-sodium chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 large onion
5 or 6 russet potatoes
1/2 cup heavy cream or light cream
2-3 tablespoons butter
*Note: I would be using my own recipe to make this soup but since I can’t eat the last two ingredients I will be using a dairy-free version from the Cooks Illustrated magazine called “Creamy Leek-Potato soup” from the March/April 2010 edition. Instead of butter I will use a butter substitute and I found that this is a good vegan alternative to my recipe.*
Clean and chop into 1/4 inch pieces all the whites and most of the way up the green leaves of the leeks . Dice the onion then saute the onion and leeks in butter in a 6-8 quart soup pot or dutch oven. Add the potatoes which have been peeled and diced and pour the stock over top. If there is not enough liquid to cover the potatoes add additional stock or water until they are covered. Simmer for one hour or until the potatoes have broken down and are soft and malleable. Turn off the heat and with a potato masher mash the potatoes until the soup is of a creamy consistency. If you don’t have a masher you can use the back of a wooden spoon against the side of the pot (it just takes longer and the soup won’t be as smooth). I don’t use a food processor because I like pieces of leek in my soup. While the heat is off add the cream. I always do this by eye and taste so if 1/2 cup seems like too much you can use less. If not enough add more, of course. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Then Guten Appetit!