December 27, 2012

Christmas Cabbage (and Cabbageworms)

On the first day of Christmas my garden gave to me, a cabbage for Caldo Verde.

On December 24th we harvested this beauty from the brassica bed along with some kale, sliced up a chorizo, and transformed it all into a traditional Portugese soup. Because it was a red cabbage, the Caldo Verde turned out more like a Caldo Verde y Rojo, but no matter.

Ruby ball cabbage

Caldo Verde--"green broth" in Portugese--is often made with collard greens, but many people substitute kale. Potatoes are another main ingredient. The soup is commonly served at Portugese celebrations, and given that Mr. English has some Portugese roots, it was a fitting Christmas Eve meal for our family. We served it with roasted garlic and dry jack toasts, for a hearty and filling night-before-Christmas dinner. The next day it made a perfect Christmas Day lunch.

The chickens got a Christmas present as well this week. For reasons I can't understand, given that I haven't seen a live cabbage butterfly in the yard for at least two months, there are still loads of cabbage butterfly worms on my cabbage plants. Those eggs must have a long shelf life! Even with the near-freezing nighttime temperatures we've been having, these worms somehow survive tucked up against the ribs of the cabbage leaves.

Cabbage worm on a cabbage leaf in late December

I collected a nice handful for the chickens, who are always eager to snap them up. The chickens have been confined to their run more than usual lately with all the downpours we've had, and they haven't had much foraging time, so I'm sure they really enjoyed the "verme verde".

Chicken snacks


It's quiet in the garden this time of year. That's a good thing, not only because the rain makes me want to stay inside with a cuppa hot cocoa and a bowl of buttered popcorn, but also because I started working part-time in the classroom last month. I haven't had as much time to work in the yard (or write about it!) as I get a handle on my new responsibilities and get to know my students. By the time I'm really settled in next month, it will be perfect timing to think about starting seeds for next year's veggies.

In the meantime, kale and spinach are ready to harvest as needed, carrots and lettuce are growing slowly, garlic and onions are coming along, red clover is doing its job covering otherwise resting beds and providing greens for the chickens, and a bounty of shelling peas are in the forecast for spring. All that means I can take a worry-free break from the garden this week, enjoy time with family and friends, and make plans for the New Year.

Happy holidays, and I hope you're getting some rest this winter season, too!

December 1, 2012

Banyan Café: Curried Butternut Squash & Apple Soup

Butternut squash is plentiful and cheap this month and is the perfect veggie to make into a quick, frugal and cozy soup during this cold, rainy weather. Farmers markets are full of winter squash and if you're in Davis, Nugget Market has organic, local butternut on sale this week for $0.75 per pound. Better yet, you might already have a harvest basket full of butternuts in storage, in which case your main ingredient is free.

Butternut squash from the garden

Growing our own squash (and onions and garlic) means this soup costs us just pennies per serving. The grocery store supplied the chicken stock, cream, butter, celery, apple and spices (under $2 if you portion it out.) Once our newly-planted apple trees start producing, I'll have the apples on hand, too. For stock, I buy organic Better than Bouillon at Costco, which means the 4 cups called for in this recipe cost a total of about 30 cents. The most expensive thing in the soup is the cream, and you can leave that out if you're allergic to dairy or want a lighter soup.


1 yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 T butter
1 T curry powder
1 clove garlic, minced
1 two-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded & cubed (save seeds for roasting)
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped
4 to 4 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Put it together:

Melt the butter in a large soup pot on medium heat and saute the onion and celery until soft (don't brown), about 10 minutes. Add curry and garlic and saute for 1-2 more minutes. Add the squash, apples and 4 cups of stock to the pot; bring to a boil and then turn the heat to low/med-low, cover and simmer until squash and apples are soft (about 20 minutes).

Turn off the heat and use a stick blender to blend the soup in the pot (or carefully transfer small amounts to a blender and blend, returning to a large bowl or pot.) Add cream and stir. Adjust the thickness as desired by adding 1/4 cup more of broth at a time. Salt and pepper to taste. Makes about six dinner servings, more as a first course.

Curried butternut squash and apple soup