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Birds and Beans


All the snow we’ve had recently brought many more birds to the feeders outside our kitchen window. A lone starling was joined by sparrows, house finches, downy woodpeckers, seven cardinals, goldfinches (which are beginning to show faint yellow feathers as they lose their winter plumage), mourning doves and the occasional Cooper’s hawk (which sends the small birds scattering). It’s a good time to be indoors cooking and sowing seeds of tomato and pepper plants. As soon as the snow melts, I’ll get my soil thermometer and when the top inch of soil reaches to 52 F or so, I’ll begin sowing kale seeds. Kale is the current darling of foodies and cooks. It’s rich in nutrients, it provides fiber and it’s tasty. ‘Red Russian’ has smooth red leaves and you can harvest them in about 25 days. I like the curly varieties such as ‘Redbor’, ‘Toscano’ (the “dinosaur” type) and curly ‘Scotch’ or ‘Dwarf Blue Curled Vates’ with their blue leaves. Kale is a member of the Brassica (cabbage) family, but even if you don’t like cabbage, you may enjoy this leafy green, which can be steamed, sauteed, used in omelets and in soup.

Here’s a winter kale recipe that’s easy to make.

Kale with Cannellini Beans

2 pounds of curly kale (2-3 large bunches)*
Salt and pepper
1 medium onion, diced
1 1/2 T olive oil (I like basil-infused oil, but you can use any good olive oil)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup dry white wine
15 oz can of cooked cannellini beans, rinsed well
Freshly grated Parmesan or Parmigiano reggiano cheese
*4 cups of finely chopped raw kale will wilt in cooking to about 1 cup.

Mature curly leaved kales have tough ribs and stems. Fold the leaves in half and remove the entire stem/rib before cooking. Baby-size kale leaves can be cooked stem and all.

Put a quart of water in a deep pan and add 1 tsp salt. Bring to a simmer and add the kale. Simmer for about 10 minutes until tender. Drain the kale and reserve the water for another use — you can drink it or add it to soup. Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the onion, garlic, red pepper flakes and rosemary and saute for about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the wine and continue cooking for another 4 minutes. Chop the kale into small pieces. Add the beans and kale and cook a few more minutes to heat. Place in a bowl and sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top. Good as a side dish or enjoy as a warm salad with some fresh French or pumpernickel bread.

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questions

Our Russian sage (Perovskia) is full and bountiful but will not stay upright. Is there anything we can do? Is there a way to split some off when it has outgrown its space? Should it be trimmed back in fall or spring?

I received a beautiful flowering azalea plant during the holidays. I would like to continue growing it over winter. Will I be able to bring it into bloom next year?

What is the largest tree that one can plant? We are trying to replace some 7- to 8-foot trees that were recently destroyed.

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