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10 August 2009


lettuce from our garden

Poor lettuce. It gets such a bum rap.

Make a list of your favorite foods in your head, right now. (I'll wait while you think of them.) Honestly, how far did you have to go before you reached lettuce? 31? 157? Or not on the list at all?

Mention lettuce to people and ask for the associations that zoom up in the mind. (Leave the Rorschach drawings at home, though. You might start scaring people.) Bunny rabbit food. What models eat. Iceberg, watery and without taste. And for us gluten-free folks — wraps for sandwiches instead of bread.

After we grew lettuce in our garden for the first time, however, I think of lettuce as one of the most peaceful meals of the summer.

My dear friend Molly (whom many of you think of as Orangette), came to the island in late June for some girl time. Danny was away for the evening, so Molly and I had the house to ourselves, along with Little Bean. We sat on the couch, our feet tucked under us, watching Little Bean grip my knee as she learned to stand on her feet, or sit in front of the bookshelf, a copy of Team of Rivals open on the floor before her. Molly and I talked, slowly, the kind of conversation that loops lazily when you know you have nowhere to go for hours. I think there was lemonade, perhaps with fresh rosemary. Or cold water in Mason jars. Something like that.

We were both tired. Little Bean wasn't sleeping much those days. And Molly was in the midst of the hard, hard work of opening a restaurant with Brandon. (Delancey has its first official day on Wednesday. Molly and Brandon are probably too busy to celebrate yet, but the rest of us are letting out our breath for them. There's a chance, sometime in the future, that Brandon will be sliding gluten-free pizzas into the Italian oven, as well.) We both felt relieved to sit on the couch and not move, much.

Little Bean went to bed, without fighting. There was a nice surprise.

Molly and I wandered out to the garden. Everything was lush and green. The herbs I had planted poked high above the lips of the pots where they lived. The first roses were blushing on the big bush by the bathroom window. The grass was wet beneath our feet from recent rain.

And the bed of lettuces and greens I had put into the earth six weeks before were flourishing. Every morning, for weeks, I had gone out to the garden in my pajamas, a cup of coffee in my hand, to check on the growth of the lettuces. Forellenschuss lettuce, a couple of endives, butter lettuce, red lettuce, and some black kale as well. That evening with Molly, they were just big enough to cut. I grabbed a little of each and asked Molly to hold them while I took pictures.

The first lettuce you ever grow successfully deserves a little documentation.

We went into the house and tore up the lettuce with our hands and then spun up the pieces. Molly volunteered to dry each piece by hand. "The first lettuce you eat should be dry, don't you think?" I stirred up a champagne vinaigrette and ducked into the cupboard to find sunflower seeds. We found a beat-up bowl and tossed them all together, with a pinch of sea salt and pepper.

And then we sat on the front steps, the baby monitor plugged in behind me, and sat side by side, eating our salad. I sat with my friend, eating simple food, feeling at peace.

We both agreed. Lettuce from the garden has a taste. It's not watery, a place holder, a joke of a food. Lettuce pulled right from the dirt tastes like all those mornings of waiting, condensed. It's rich and green and lovely.

Now, Molly is up to her hands in work to do, making salads and pastries for Delancey. She probably doesn't have much time to contemplate the taste of anything, much less a humble piece of lettuce. I won't be seeing her on the island any time soon. (I'll see her in Seattle, when we go, of course.) She's a world away.

Our garden is overgrown now. It has not rained since those June days. The grass is dry. The herbs are panting for water. The lettuce has all bolted. Tomorrow, I'm going to dig up the entire bed and start planting vegetables for fall.

But the taste of that salad, and this photo, will always stay with me.

summerfest badge

Today's post is part of the continuing celebration called Summer Fest 2009. Danny and I are honored to be part of this four-week cross-blog event, co-created last year by Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden, Matt Armendariz of Mattbites, Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen, and Todd and Diane of White on Rice Couple. This year, they've asked a couple of new folks to join in, including Simmer Till Done’s Marilyn Pollack Naron and Paige Smith Orloff of The Sister Project. Oh, and Danny and me.

And you.

Some of the other offerings this week:

Jaden at Steamy Kitchen offers a savory Chinese Broccoli, Beef and Noodle Stir-Fry

Diane and Todd of White on Rice Couple get creative (and frugal) with all those greens that are really “tops” of garden vegetables;

The lovely Margaret Roach offers tips on growing greens, as well as a greens frittata;

and Matt Armendariz of Mattbites, with Sauteed Beet Greens with Pancetta and Sundried Tomatoes.


* Tuesday, July 28: HERBS. Any and all.

* Tuesday, August 4: FRUITS FROM TREES

* Tuesday, August 11: BEANS-AND-GREENS WEEK

* Tuesday, August 18: TOMATO WEEK.


Leave a comment here, sharing your tips with lettuce. Or your favorite greens. Or beans. We'd love to learn what you do.

And then go visit the other blogs, to read their ideas and leave comments with them. Soon, this will feel like a huge party, focused on greens and beans. (And next week, we'll do the same with tomatoes.)


At 11:19 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

My favorite thing to do with my abundance of midsummer chard only requires a few simple ingredients.

A big bunch of chard (any variety will do)
2 shallots or a medium red onion, diced
a handful of raisins
a swirl of olive oil
salt and pepper

Swirl the olive oil in a large skillet, and heat to medium temp. Add shallots or onion and saute until just softened, 5 minutes.
Add raisins and chard, salt and pepper to taste. If you are feeling adventurous, add a dash or two of your favorite seasoning. I like Muchi Curry, because it deflates any bitterness in the chard, and contrasts wonderfully with the sweetness of the onions and raisins. Continue to saute until the greens reach your favorite consistency. I like mine with just a bit of crunch left in them. Enjoy!

At 1:21 AM, Blogger TC said...

We ate the first potatoes grown in our London garden, in a bucket, last night. There is something really special about eating something you have grown yourself from a seed, and nurtured through the growing process!

At 1:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, just plain lettuce might not make my list of fav foods, but rocket lettuce, or arugula, absolutely does! I love the nutty, peppery taste. I've been trying to grow it in our green house here in New Zealand, but some little insect keeps nibbling at it -- leaving all other lettuces alone. Seems the bugs have it on their favorite food list too..

At 1:46 AM, Anonymous a fan in the Middle East said...

Ah, I love that you grew your own lettuce. :) Just wanted to thank you for your sincere and lighthearted writing. Lighthearted in that everything you write emits a great positive energy and makes me feel very lighthearted. Which is a huge mood booster during these economically challenged times. Thx again!

At 4:23 AM, Anonymous julia said...

This may sound a little ick, but bear with me. I like to toss a generous handful of long crunchy slivers of iceberg lettuce into my ramen noodles and broth, just as I take it off the heat. It's delish, so please don't knock it unless you've tried it!

At 5:41 AM, Blogger sweetpea said...

Mache, herb grilled grape tomatoes, grilled Juusto baked cheese tossed with a simple oil and vinegar dressing. We have this salad almost everyday all summer long. The mache is a brilliant green and so tender, the grape tomatoes are sweet and quintessential summer. However, it is the Juusto baked cheese that we grill that puts this salad mix over the top, hot salty goodness that squeaks when you bite. Simple, easy, succulent and it will surprise!

At 6:13 AM, Anonymous Kristina said...

I can't wait until we can plant lettuce again. It's so hot that it wouldn't even sprout right now. And I completely agree - once you've grown your own lettuce or had lettuce straight from the farm, you can never be satisfied with grocery store lettuce again. Plus, it's gorgeous!

Here's my entry for this week:

At 6:19 AM, Blogger The Messy Baker said...

That photo is gorgeous and really shows off the variety of greens.

You're right, lettuce doesn't come to mind as a favourite vegetable. I hate iceberg lettuce and that's what I grew up on. I now tend to buy mesclin mix and baby spinach, but see there's a world of leafy greens I've yet to explore.

My contribution to this week's Summer Fest is zucchini bisque.

At 6:42 AM, Blogger I Am Gluten Free said...

I've always loved lettuce. Nothing like a good salad! But my challenge in the last year has been to learn to love other greens, like kale and collards and swiss chard. And I have to say that I've had luck changing my perception. From using them in soups to eating them raw to adding them to smoothies, I can safely say that I love all kinds of greens!

At 7:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so glad you're part of summerfest! we are on such a different gardening schedule here in texas. i'm pining away for some homegrown lettuce, the likes of which we haven't seen in about 3 months. believe it or not, we are planting seeds for the fall garden!

here is my (somewhat different) take on this week's summerfest offering:

At 7:30 AM, Blogger Danielle said...

Oh, how lovely! I've always taken some flak for being a fan of salads (rabbit food I've heard countless times), so it's nice to read such an ode to lettuce.

My summerfest post is less of a recipe and more a suggestion, with eggs and spinach:

(Also, oh my goodness, am I first?)

At 7:35 AM, Blogger Chef Gwen said...

Shauna, that's a lovely memory, sharing a simple salad picked moments before. Thanks for sharing.

I did an Asian-inspired post on green beans:

I didn't grow my own beans (I have a black thumb except when it comes to herbs that don't need lots of attention.)

At 7:39 AM, Blogger Cate said...

shauna, what a lovely post! makes me feel like floating down a lazy river. i hope you and danny and the bean are staying cool!

At 7:52 AM, Blogger shari said...

this is such a lovely post. garden grown lettuce is such a treat. i love the photo too.

At 8:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh to grown my own lettuce! Must add move out of the city to my to-do list! I like to roast young carrots and toss them with mixed greens and avocado and then a lemon truffle dressing.

At 8:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

there are so many things to be grateful for living in san francisco: the amazing, local food, year round, incredible farmers markets, lots of gf choices in grocery stores, and restaurants/servers that know what gluten is and never fail to guide me to a delicious meal without it.... but oh, what i wouldn't give for a little patch of my own garden, the surprise of finding cucumbers under those big leaves and fresh lettuces...

At 9:12 AM, Blogger The Veggie Queen said...

Ah ha, lettuce and other greens are right near the top of my list. I am pretty sure that I couldn't exist without them.

Not sure what kind of beans you are referring to but I make a salad, White Beans with Tomatoes and Herbs (maybe I am getting a week ahead here) that is served on greens.

Here's the recipe: (I last made it with giant white beans, and wow, it looked as impressive as it tasted.)

Mediterranean Bean, Herb and Tomato Salad
Serves 4
There is nothing like summer salads to give “fresh” a new meaning.

6 cups young greens, washed and dried
1 cup white beans, presoaked or 2 cups cooked or canned beans
3-4 sprigs thyme, savory or other fresh herbs
1 ½ pounds ripe heirloom or other tomatoes of any variety
1 cup sliced cucumber, cut into half moon shapes
12 pitted Kalamata olives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
½ teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Put the greens in the refrigerator to chill.
Cook the beans with the thyme, savory or other herb sprigs until they are cooked through and still firm. Cannellini beans take 30-40 minutes to cook, while white or Great Northern cook in about 1 hour. Or pressure cook for 5 to 8 minutes at high pressure with a natural pressure release. When the beans are cooked, put them in a bowl. If using canned beans, cut the herbs and mix with the lemon marinade below.

While the beans are cooking, cut the tomatoes into wedges. Combine the lemon zest and juice, oil, salt and pepper and pour over the cooked beans. Let this mixture marinate for at least 25 minutes and then add the chopped basil, oregano and parsley to the beans, along with the olives.

Arrange the greens on individual plates. Place one fourth of the bean mixture on the top of greens. Divide cucumbers, olives and tomatoes evenly and place on top of the greens and beans.

From The Veggie Queen™: Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment cookbook, Jill Nussinow, ©2007

At 9:13 AM, Anonymous La Niña said...

So many things to grow. So little space. That's a city garden for you. Finding room for lettuces and huge squash plants is not possible, especially with my monstrous black plum tomatoes that are almost six feet tall.

But this year, I grew Italian black kale in the strawberry bed, as the strawberries didn't do well with all the snow last winter. Kale in a cassoulet is my favorite dish. (with my scarlet runner beans, mushrooms, shallots, and savory sausage or bacon.)

I buy gorgeous freckled lettuce from the island farmer's market. Homemade Caesar dressing will become the backdrop to highlight what you add- whether it is smoked salmon chunks- or grilled chicken. Here is my modified recipe that came from my waitress days in college when I had to make these salads at the tables.

Caesar Dressing
(portions are inexact)
A couple tablespoons olive oil
A tablespoon or so of red wine vinegar
1 large clove garlic
A big squirt of anchovy paste- or whole anchovy
A small lemon juiced
About a teaspoon of Dijon mustard
About 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese (Locatelli)

You can do this by hand, by mashing the garlic and anchovy in a wooden bowl with wooden spoon, and then gradually adding the other ingredients to blend... BUT I don't have time for that anymore, so I just put it all in a small food processor and whir it up. It keeps in the fridge, so if you want to make more, just increase amounts.

Yummy lemony sharp cheesy rich addition to crisp, crunchy fresh lettuce. Bon appetit!

At 9:13 AM, Anonymous Jennifer said...

Thanks for sharing your lovely memory---provided a welcome pause of reflection in my workday. When I had a spot in a community garden, I scattered a few rows of "mixed greens" seeds. Although tomatoes, sunflowers, squash, cucumbers and chives flourished, it wasn't until those seeds sprouted that I felt a true sense of accomplishment. The varied crop was delicate at first and seemed easily swayed toward wilting. I was wrong. A sturdy disposition supported those gentle leaves to full growth and the taste was just as rewarding as you mention. A minimal dressing is needed when the leaves are hearty and flavored with earth and care.

At 9:27 AM, Blogger tiny myths said...

I loooove kale on pizza

At 9:58 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Ya know what's really, really good? Toss a big bunch of fresh kale leaves (mid rib removed) with 1 T of olive oil in which you've sauteed a bit of garlic (your discretion as to how much). Put the now lightly glistening kale leaves on a foil-wrapped cookie sheet and roast in a 375F. oven for 5 minutes. Flip Kale with tongs and roast for another 5-7 minutes until the kale is crispy and almost translucent. Little brown bits are a bonus!!! Serve at once with flaky sea salt. I like to add a handful of raisins to the kale when I'm roasting it for that final sweet/salty dancing on my tongue thing!!!
Under the SUMMERFEST BEAN category, go to read what I'm up to with my 'Lazy Housewife' green beans - I just had to plant something called 'Lazy Housewife'!!!

At 10:13 AM, Blogger Kelsey said...

This looks amazing, I love the store of you and Molly poking around the garden. Here is my recipe for this week, Green Beans tossed w/ toasted walnuts, olive oil and sea salt.

At 10:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fresh, sweet lettuce (just plain) is one of the first foods I get hungry for when I've gotten over an accidental run-in with gluten. It soothes my stomach back to being more alkaline. Sounds like you two girls enjoyed the evening.

At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Michelle @ said...

Back in February, when I was drowning in the fog of San Francisco, I made a hearty Dried Fava Bean Stew with Arugula and Meyer Lemon (Beans AND Greens!). It was so simple, yet perfectly satisfying. You can see the post here:

At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Diana said...

So true! I had never had fresh lettuce until our CSA this year. It tastes so different and like it has a story behind it. Plus there's something so natural about having to wash the dirt and bugs off and knowing how fresh it really is.
I've been trying all kinds of greens that I've never had before through our CSA. Our first week we got 4 shopping bags full of 8 different greens and I was a little overwhelmed. I began playing with dressings and came up with a tasty buttermilk dressing and some beautiful lacy parmesan bowls.
But my absolute favorite new recipe for greens is swiss chard and goat cheese soup. I've been making it by the gallon and freezing it for winter!

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Lila said...

I love greens and lettuce but my favorite is by far arugula. I put it on EVERYTHING. Lately my favorite lunch has been a rice cake with spicy mustard and arugula. It's spicy,simple,fresh and filling!

I also enjoy the fact that lettuce is a bunny food-it's so nice to sit outside with my little rabbit on my lap and both of us are nibbling on lettuce or other treats from the garden. It's not a lettuce but my favorite from the garden treat is our little pickling cucumbers. They're so sweet and crunchy without the seeds of the bigger ones. I just slice them up in salads or eat them by themselves on hot days.

At 1:19 PM, Blogger caroline said...

I'm actually a fan of iceberg. It is crisp, it is refreshing, it is versatile, it holds up to the heaviest of dressings, and it has a long shelf life in the fridge. For salads that I bring to work I prefer iceberg because other lettuces get beat up and wilted in transit.

I have to confess that I enjoy those pub salads where they simply give you a wedge of iceberg with some dressing drizzled over it-- I just love the casualness of it and the way the dressing drips its way into all the layers and crevices.

Our favorite appetizer at our favorite Pho restaurant is vegetable rolls, which consist of iceberg lettuce, julienned carrots, and thin slices of tempura tofu rolled in a rice wrapper with peanut dipping sauce on the side. It is fantastically crunchy and refreshing. Once I found rice wrappers in the grocery store and got the hang of using them (they are finicky) I discovered how easy and fun it is to make at home.

At 3:22 PM, Anonymous Gavan, 'The Healthy Irishman' said...

We're growing some simple lettuce varieties in our backyard this year and you've got to love the simplicity of it. Walking outside to pick our own salad is super.
We grow a lot of herbs too so here's what I ended up doing this week.

At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Meghan (Making Love In The Kitchen) said...

Greens make me happy. All shapes, sizes and flavours. Lately sorrel is taking up most of the room in my green loving heart.

At 6:18 PM, Blogger Melissa Ramos said...

One of my favourite green dishes is my Sexy Green Connection. It combines kale (which is my favourite), avocados, pecans, sunflower seeds, apple, goat cheese,and garlic. I love it and serve it up with a good piece of meat or white fish. It's super tasty and satiating. Plus, unlike gluten, greens don't weigh me down. They're great for the summer when it's hot out, since they're a cooling food in Chinese Medicine. Awesome blood purifier and goes straight to the liver meridian. What more could you ask for?

Melissa Ramos
Sexy Food Therapy: Sexy Green Connection Recipe

At 11:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even though its winter here, we are blessed to have a fairly mild climate so my lettuces in the garden are just about ready to start picking with the lovely sunny weather we've had lately they've really taken off.

I love drizzled with good olive oil and home grown lemons. Mmm.

At 1:27 AM, Blogger Rosy said...

That's such a lovely piece! You have definitely made me smile and feel a little more peaceful this miserable Wednesday morning in London. I totally agree - home grown lettuces are great. We did have some success growing them in our little garden until something sat on them. They haven't recovered from the trauma! Is it too late to plant more?? Here's my contribution for this week Rosy

At 7:27 AM, Blogger Olivia said...

Some people mentioned not having enough room to grow lettuce. I have a round container approximately 16" high and 22" in diameter in which I planted both lettuce and spinach. In addition to supplying my own needs on a daily basis, I have also supplied friends and a son who is a professional chef and I still can't keep up with it all! I have 2 more of these containers, one containing carrots and radishes and another cherry tomatoes. I also have 2 window sill size containers with beans - both green and yellow. I have a lot of land but my husband was away this spring during plowing time so I did not get the garden tilled up. However, these 5 containers, plus several pots of herbs, have done an admirable job of supplying my needs for fresh veggies.

At 11:33 AM, Anonymous yasmin said...

hi! you have a great blog and i loved the 'eggs for dinner' episode.

i finally have a current recipe that's in-line with a summer fest theme so i'm posting it here.
i just put up a post this week singing the praises of wild arugula. but any arugula will work in this recipe:
arugula, celery and chevre salad

At 11:47 AM, Anonymous No Gluten Eaten said...

Watercress, even though it is a member of the cabbage family and not technically a lettuce, is my favorite uncooked green. My sister Ciel had it growing in an abandoned cistern on her farm that bubbled with water from a natural source. Watercress grown in water is especially peppery! It is highly nutritious and versatile. I love to eat it in omelets and fritatta. Watercress is pretty easy to grow and does not need to be grown in a stream or running water, although it does require regular watering. It is crisp and peppery and adds a lovely texture and flavor to any salad. Thank you so much for your lovely post on lettuce growing, you, Danny and Bean are an inspiration! Have a beautiful day!

At 12:19 PM, Blogger j.cro said...

My favorite thing to eat this summer is also salad, mostly of lettuces and a few cherry or grape tomatoes thrown in for good measure. Sprinkle it all with a little bit of pepper, a turn or two of salt and some olive oil. That's it. So simple and delicious.

At 8:19 AM, Anonymous Sho said...


I am not sure my tips would be considered tips, but here goes. I love arugula. I love something sweet (for contrast) in the salad, like raisins, orange chunks, or apple chunks. Call me crazy, but I love fruit with my lettuce.

Beans! I will say one thing. The best humus I have ever eaten is made by Sabra (or Sabre) Salads. They put some mayo in it, and it makes it so creamy. I have spoken to many people who are not Jewish and they love Sabra Salad humus.

I am looking for a good three bean salad recipe with lima beans. I recently read how healthy lima beans are. Heck, I will take any recipe with lima beans.

A tip for staying cool in the summer is to marinate a good cucumber and onion salad in vinegar and sugar. We try to use the stove and oven less in the summer.


At 5:20 AM, Anonymous Tony Wildish said...

I've had quite a lot of success with lettuce and chard (among other things) in tubs on my terrace. It's quite timely, our local organic store doesn't have good lettuce or chard in summer, and I've been able to keep us supplied.

I plant them close and cut leaves here and there as we need them. That thins them out enough to stop them overcrowding. It works a treat, I get a good yield from a small space!


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