To Feed the Family

| June 6, 2017 | 0 Comments

Craig Madden instructs his audience on growing a plentiful harvest.

We were told to bring our appetites, so we did. Craig Madden spoke at the Mission Hills Garden Club’s March meeting. And, yes, we did get to eat. However, first we heard how he came to his current philosophy and lifestyle concerning food.

Four and a half years ago, Madden’s baby girl was ready for solid food. Madden, a chef at Terra in the College area, steamed a bunch of fresh spinach and puréed it with an avocado for her first venture into real food. Madden spooned his creation into his daughter’s mouth only to be rewarded by a face full of green purée. Apparently she wasn’t crazy about it. The next day, Madden read that the market from which he had purchased the spinach was recalling it; a nasty bacteria was making people very ill. Thus Madden vowed he would grow as much of her food as he could to know exactly what his daughter was eating.

Taking wooden pallets like those laden with cartons at stores, Madden created a series of
raised gardens. He cut three pallets in half and left one whole. Each became the base for his raised beds. Using garden cloth to prevent weeds from invading his plots, Madden constructed three-foot high boxes around each base. These he filled about a third of the way with rich soil. He topped this with a few inches of clean sand from Home Depot.

The final layer was more dirt. Thus he had six beds two by four feet and one four by four. The three-foot depth and the sand would encourage the plants’ roots to dig more deeply into the soil. To further encourage this, he made established plants wait a day or two longer for water, sending the roots deeper to find moisture.

His new project took about a year to create a sustainable garden. However, today he has an excess of food. He grows a bit of everything, and he trades with his neighbors to augment the variety. His kale has been so plentiful that neighbors begged him to stop growing it.

To keep critters from helping themselves to a free meal, Madden leaves no empty space for standing or sitting. With nowhere to stand, raccoons are less likely to destroy his garden. He has no drip system; he prefers to water by hand. He did not want to buy his landlord a watering system. He and his daughter have their special time together watering and ascertaining everything is as it should be. Seeing the vegetables grow makes her eager to eat them.

Madden immediately cleans the produce he harvests. Once washed, the vegetables are placed on a damp paper towel. Sealed in plastic bags, the vegetables and leafy greens will keep for a week; the neighbors get what he cannot use. The rest of the produce he cuts and stores in plastic bags, which he stacks in the freezer for use all year long.

Although Madden is a professional chef, his family eats simply prepared foods. Madden’s knife-skills allow more family time so he does most of the food preparation. He can chops an onion far more quickly than his wife can.

Madden also keeps entertaining simple. He wants people to feel relaxed about eating his food or feeding him. When people see him eating a pizza he just purchased, they realize he isn’t that different from them.

Madden shared a few tricks. He makes his own crostini (little pieces of toast used for appetizers). The crostini are made from one or two day-old baguettes sliced and laid on a cookie sheet, brushed with avocado oil (his favorite oil as it has a very high boiling place but a very mild flavor), covered with fresh herbs and a little salt, and baked 15 minutes in a 300 degree oven.

To assemble his hors d’oeuvres, he may put a slice of fresh mozzarella cheese with a bit of tomato (or another savory) jam on it. Sometimes he adds very thin slices of fresh tomato. He may garnish it with a tiny basil leaf. Often he puts a few tiny jalapeño peppers on the tray of appetizers for those who would prefer a hotter flavor.

We learned other tricks from him. With an excess of lemons, Madden makes salad dressing by quartering them and letting them sit in jars of lemon juice flavored with salt, pepper and cinnamon. Herbs stay fresh like leafy vegetables do: they are laid flat on a damp paper towel and sealed in a baggie. Basil and parsley stay fresh in a glass of water. With a plethora of herbs, he lays them on a cookie sheet to dry in a 150-degree oven. Then he crumbles them and stores them in small jars.

For broccolini Madden recommends harvesting the broccoli head, leaving the stem and roots in the ground. Delicious little shoots of broccoli will appear on the part left in the ground.
Are you tired of kale salad and sautéed kale? Toss the leaves in avocado oil, spread them on a cookie sheet, and salt them. Dry them in a 200-degree oven until they are crisp chips. Madden divides sautéed kale in meal sized portions and freezes it in bags. He also makes pesto with kale.

Madden plants onions in the fall because, harvested in early spring, they are much sweeter. He does this with carrots and garlic as well. He says you just stick the garlic in the ground; it will grow.

As a chef, Madden knows organization and planning ahead are the most important aspects of meal preparation. If you process your foods upon harvest, you will be able to come home from work, open the freezer, haul out a few vegetables to thaw and heat, grill some fish, and you are ready to eat with almost no effort.

The Garden Club will not meet until September, which is also when memberships need to be renewed. Meanwhile, enjoy your garden.

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Category: Health & Fitness, Local News

About the Author ()

Barbara Strona is a native Californian who grew up in the Mid-West and Los Angeles. She and her architect husband, Carl, came to San Diego in 1968 and have lived in Mission Hills since early 1971. Barbara received a Bachelor of Arts from Scripps College with a major in English, and a minor in Art. She attended UCLA graduate school and received a General Secondary Credential. She taught English in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, and at Point Loma High School. She has been a Realtor specializing in residential sales since 1984. Her passions include her job, reading, writing, foreign languages and foreign countries, animals (feathered or furry), theatre, and her family: husband, two adult children and two grandsons.