The Urban Bystander

Mary Ann or Ginger?

Carolyn Evans-Dean head shotMany magazines have been asking their readers to choose between Mary Ann and Ginger for almost 50 years, since the first episode of the television show Gilligan’s Island aired in 1964. (Whew! Just the thought that the show is nearly 50 years old is enough to make me feel a bit creaky in the joints!) In quite the sexist fashion, those publications only pose the question to men. I’ve decided to address this age old question in today’s blog post.

My vote goes to Ginger, and I don’t care who knows it! Ginger is a wonderfully easy plant to grow and can be used to flavor all types of recipes.  If the passengers on that fateful three-hour cruise had brought along my kind of ginger, then they could have made ginger beer instead of relying on nothing but coconut milk as the only beverage offered at mealtimes. If you are a fan of ginger ale, then its hotter and spicier cousin may be just the thing for you!Ginger Rhizome from the Grocery Store

While the regular dried ginger that most people have in their spice racks will produce a tasty beverage, the best kind is produced by using freshly grated ginger. If you think that you’ve never seen whole ginger at your grocery store, you are probably mistaken.  Ginger is a rhizome, so it more closely resembles an odd-shaped alien root rather than herbal greenery. It also makes for a beautiful, low-maintenance houseplant.

In an effort to be self-sufficient about my ginger beer cravings, I grow my own plants from the rhizomes at the supermarket. Having given my last plant away a while ago, I started two new pots about 6 weeks ago. There was no fuss to the planting process. I simply filled pots with soil and buried the rhizomes about two inches deep. Placing them in soil in a sunny window, I watered them occasionally and left them alone.

 Young Ginger Shoot

With one tropical plant up and doing well, I was feeling quite pleased…until I looked in the other pot. There was nothing visible!  Being an impatient gardener, I took it upon myself to dig the other rhizome up. Right on the edge, I discovered a tell-tale greenish bulge. The bulge indicates that the plant will soon sprout forth and will be playing catch up with the other pot. If I hadn’t seen signs of life in it, I probably would have washed it and proceeded with making ginger beer. Very little goes to waste around here!

Ginger Rhizome with New Growth

Some would say that my recipe for ginger beer is not authentic because I don’t use champagne yeast to make it. However, I don’t make champagne at home, so champagne yeast wouldn’t be a good multi-purpose ingredient to keep around.

Homemade Ginger Beer 

Add to a soup pot, 3 ounces of powdered ginger 

1/2 an ounce of cream of tartar 

Juice of two lemons 

1 1/2 lbs of sugar  

1 gallon of water

Allow mixture to simmer over low heat for half an hour.

Let cool. 

When nearly room temperature, stir in 1 tablespoon of baking or brewing yeast.

Pour into glass bottles and then seal them with a bottle sealer. 

(Don’t take chances with corks as the fermentation process will cause the corks to take off like bottle rockets, spraying much of the finished product around your kitchen on day 2 or 3!)

Let sit for 3 days before opening.

Do not refrigerate until after 3 days has passed to allow the flavors to develop and the yeast to create the bubbly carbonated effect that is desirable in soda. 

There is a slight alcoholic content to ginger beer due to the fermentation process. However, I’ve never noticed any intoxicating effects. For the most part, this recipe produces a tasty homemade soda that can be manifactured at home without all of the unpronounceable chemical additives. While I tend to drink a lot of iced tea year round, it is so nice to have something bubbly from time to time!

So...Mary Ann or Ginger? Definitely Ginger!

Has Spring Really Sprung?

Miniature Daffodils in Mid March 

In years past, I would still be mired in the garden planning process during the month of March. This year? Not so much. I don’t consider myself to be a planting expert. I’m more of a bumbling garden dabbler, approaching each new agricultural season with zeal. Carefully mapping out each organic planting area and armed with the best of intentions, orders are placed for interesting seed collections and little-known heirloom vegetables.

Each year, I carefully till, mulch, water and fight the usual garden pests while dreaming of the first harvest from every plant species. And then life intervenes. The annual slug fest begins. The mosquitoes chase me out of the garden and the weeds win the race to the top, blocking the sunlight from the tender young shoots. I always go back to defend the garden’s sullied honor, but the harvest is never as grand as I imagined it during the planning and planting stages.

This year, the weather has wrought an interesting challenge. It has been unseasonably warm and though local wisdom says not to plant a garden prior to Memorial Day, I have found myself inexplicably drawn to dig in the dirt. The signs of spring are everywhere! We have grape hyacinths and miniature daffodills in full bloom. The trees have starting to flower and even the grass needs to be mowed. I want to plant all of my garden beds now in the hope Mother Nature will continue to smile down on us and gift us with a bountiful harvest. So far, the urge has been kept (mostly) under wraps. Limiting myself to cold tolerant crops like peas and lettuce, I worry that the rising temperatures will actually cause lettuce and peas to bolt! This week, we’ve had temperatures in the high 70’s and there’s still no sign of a typical NY winter.

 Unseasonably Early Grape Hyacinths

Aside from the cold-tolerant seedlings, we have had our first garden harvest of the 2012 season: Chives. They never seem to disappoint me. They grow in clumps in the garden, in pots on the porch and even volunteer each year in the yard. Like most herbs, they thrive in well-drained soil. Never finicky, the plants thrive in either full sun or partial shade, but do prefer a bit of moisture. As they are perennials, there is no need to replant them.

Regular Onion Flavored Chives

We have both garlic chives and regular onion-flavored chives growing all over the place. It may only be March, but it is a sure sign that we’ve been gifted with an early spring. (Don’t tell Mother Nature…She may decide to send a late season blizzard our way!)