(Vegetarian, Gluten-free option)
Simon gave me worms for my birthday.
Before you start calling him slimy, you should know this: worms are my friends. I still get made fun of by some who have known me for a long time because, when I was young and underpaid, I’d periodically declare, “When I get paid, I’m buying some worms!”
So last week, to ease me into the idea of yet another birthday, Simon presented me with about 200 Eisenia fetida. Wrapped ‘em up in birthday paper and everything. What’s really exciting about this though is that these worms came with a house to live in.
I’d wanted one for a long time, a proper worm high rise, but could never quite make myself buy one. After all, it’s possible (they say) to make a worm bin out of Rubbermaid containers, junk wood and a hammer and a nail. Could be, but year after year, right around, well, mid-July, the red wrigglers in my homemade worm bin would end up… returning to the earth from which they came. In a less animated state than when they arrived. Post-humusly, you could say.
But now I’ve got a fool-proof Wormtopia, and my food-waste eating friends are moving on up in the world. Their sole concerns on this planet rotate between eating, sleeping, reproducing and pooping. Pooping especially.
Skip this part if you’re just here to eat:
Despite the book with the title that declares that they do, worms don’t exactly eat garbage. They’re toothless, for one thing. Rather, they gum along on fungi, protozoa, algae and bacteria. They are only able to ingest organic plant matter when the growth has stopped and the cells begin to separate (decomposition). Then the worms and the resident bacteria go to work together, the worms munching on the areas that are broken down by bacteria, then excreting what they take in. Their castings further increase the surface area that the bacteria and fungi can work on, which expands the amount of stuff the worms can munch. So it’s a circular, symbiotic relationship.
Here’s something funny. European gardeners poisoned earthworms with ash and salt up until the 19th century, because they mistook them for snakes (this isn’t the funny part). It wasn’t until Charles Darwin came along that this attitude shifted. He studied them closely, and even ran a series of tests to see if worms could distinguish between the sound of an oboe and that of a whistle. He was disappointed in their musical acumen, but moved on to other obsessions when he discovered their ability to transform organic waste into compost.
It’s notable that earthworms can reduce soil toxins, like PCBs, by 80%. Plus, study after study has shown that tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and other garden vegetables grow better, succumb less, and produce much more when cultivated in soil that contains worm castings.
Amazing little creatures, these friends of mine.
And no, you can’t have any for fishing bait.
So you can see how they ended up on my birthday wish list. And just so that “Simon got me worms” wouldn’t be the end of the story, he also got me an iPhone. I’ve been hunting the iTunes app store for a vermicomposting application. I sure am happy about those worms…
In a week, they’ve gone through their weight in food, forming burrows and leaving me with piles of their greenish-black gold. And, today when I went to feed them, I pulled an avocado sprout from the bin. The fact of winter makes growing a productive tree here impossible, but it will be fun to watch what it does until then. It’s happy in a pot at the moment, next to the blood orange tree.
It made me hungry for avocado, so here’s a recipe:
It’s still cucumber season in our backyard. I’ve been harvesting Early Fortune Cucumbers, which were grown from seed I got via Seed Saver’s Exchange. The melons are sweet and juicy with not too many seeds, and so far I’m not leaving them on people’s doorsteps and running. I’m about to start leaving dill though – the stuff is taking over the garden. So this was worked into the recipe too.
Sushi was sort of the inspiration here. Cukes and Avocado make my favorite virgin sushi roll, so I thought I’d expand upon this combo, sans the nori. This salad, meant to be served cold, combines creamy, crispy, cool, and citrus flavors.
The creaminess of this salad calls for a bean with that is decidedly sturdy and nutty. Since we just did the bean tasting last week, I happened to know for certain that Lina Cisco Bird Egg was just the one. One of the first to be given to Seed Saver’s Exchange, it was carried to Missouri by the grandmother of one of SSE’s six original members. The striking flavor and plump, firm texture make this a tasty snacking bean. It’s walnut-y, rich, and a touch mealy. It’s also one of those beans with a long finish, so pay attention to how it changes in your mouth as after you’ve swallowed.
A quick word about Bacon Salt (a review will follow later). The company, bearing a slogan that declares “everything should taste like bacon,” has set about to make that possible. They offer three flavors of a vegetarian, kosher flavored salt that, well, reminds one of bacon. In this recipe, I used a dash of their natural flavor Bacon Salt in the dressing. In combination with the also vegetarian Morningstar strips I used here, there was a decidedly smoky, pork-like quality in the finish of each mouthful.
And wine. Hot summer days call for a cool glass of crisp white. This salad would pair well with a pinot blanc or a pinot grigio, something acidic and minerally and a touch floral. We went with a D’arenberg Viogner, the Hermit Crab. This actually worked very well. The wine is reminiscent, somehow, of the sea — minerally and fresh and full of energy.
Chilled Avocado Cucumber Salad with Lina Cisco Bird Egg Beans
3 slices Morningstar vegetarian bacon (facon)*
9 celery ribs, finely sliced
1 cucumber, sliced
1 cup Lina Cisco Bird Egg beans (or tepary or pinto beans)
the bulbs from 3 spring onions, or ¼ cup thinly sliced red onion
3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
I ripe avocado, sliced
Juice of one lemon
½ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pinch ancho or cayenne pepper
1 dash red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon Bacon Salt (optional)
In a skillet, fry the facon until crisp. Set aside.
In a bowl, combine chopped celery, cucumber, onion, dill and beans. Cut the avocado in half, then slice it into strips. Remove the skin from each strip and douse the pieces with the lemon juice. Add these to the bowl.
To make the dressing, in a bowl combine the sour cream, yogurt, olive oil, ancho, red pepper and BaconSalt (if using). Stir or shake well. If you prefer a thinner dressing, add another tablespoon of olive oil. This version will give your salad a coleslaw consistency.
Chill the salad until you are ready to dish up. Just before serving, crumble the facon over the top of the salad. Add dressing, toss lightly and serve.
*Note: Morningstar strips are not gluten-free, so omit those or, though it pains me to suggest it, use the real thing if you can’t take in gluten.