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Home gardening in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains is occasionally a joy, but more often a frustration. While gardening is surely those things everywhere, with about 16 inches of precipitation per year in our area (let’s compare it to Williamsburg, Virginia with 48 inches), it’s not only hard to grow anything, it’s sometimes impossible. Very little grows without irrigation and by the time you add sprinkler systems and pay for water, it’s surely easier and certainly less expensive to simply buy what you need.

Fed-Ex Food is what we call that and we’re glad to get it. Add to all of those things a notoriously short growing season (we’re in the midst of a snow storm now in the last days of April and often have snow in August),  rocky soil (this is, after all, the Rocky Mountains), an abundant local wildlife population, and it would appear our growing attempts were doomed. Many people refuse to garden as the deer enjoy “the buffet” long before we harvest anything. I’ve spent a lot of time chasing the young does out of my garden. They mostly ignore me.

That said, in Colorado Springs there are microclimates–though not up here on the mesa– which somehow enable certain areas to produce more than others, albeit spending a pretty penny on your water bill to accomplish it. Other places in Colorado also can have better luck than do I. Denver home gardeners, at a lower altitude and with warmer temperatures, have lusher produce. Last weekend, I picked myriad mint for my berry salad in my sister and brother-in-law’s back yard. My mint hasn’t even peeped. The vegetables grown in northern Colorado, such as at Grant Farms (north of Ft. Collins) are those in our CSAs and are trucked down I-25 to us. South and west of the Springs, we have some irrigated orchards and, of course, chiles! (I’ll admit I often buy New Mexican Hatch chiles as they can be milder than any of the Pueblo chile varieties grown in Colorado.)

Grilled Cheese Peppers from the blog

Way south near the New Mexico border, there are lovely potatoes, wheat, barley, broccoli and more in the San Luis Valley, grown at 7,500 feet! Western slope celebrates their famous peaches which are irrigated, too. But right here, just east of the mountains and in the foothills an hour south of Denver, gardening is at best often a crap shoot. We have so little water that we save our pasta and vegetable water for our plants.

And, just as an aside, if you’re an aging woman who’s particularly proud of her pretty skin, you wouldn’t want to live here. I own stock in facial cream, the little good it does. We go nowhere without hand cream in our purses or cars and lip saver in our pockets. Sunscreen is a year round necessity at 6,500 feet. When I visit Florida, within two days, I’m ten years younger and my hands are again baby-soft. Sigh.

One story will illustrate my gardening life.  There was a year I planted Big Boys in late May; after Labor Day is assumed to be safe, but I’ve seen snow in every month of the year. By October 23, they still weren’t ripe.  I brought them in to ripen on my window sill on that day because on October 24 we were forecasted to receive 33 inches of snow. Now 33 inches of snow isn’t common in Colorado Springs given our 16 inches of precipitation yearly, but it’s a good story and gives you an idea of why we often drive to the store for our produce. We did, by the way, get the 33 inches on the northern end of town, where we lived at the time. I think those two pots of tomatoes cost me about $50 to plant including the pots, dirt, plants, and fertilizer. We may have eaten three or four. And they weren’t good.  Did I tell you I’m from Illinois where my dad grew the best tomatoes on earth?  Ok, you’re from Jersey and say the same…. But you get the idea.

My quick herb bucket outside the front door. From the top right, going counter-clockwise: sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, chives

So you can see why I celebrate the things that do grow and definitely those that are harvestable first. In my backyard herb garden, there are several perennial herbs and annual ones as well. (I’ll plant those in a month or so.)  As in many gardens everywhere, gently onion-like chives are the first fruits along with thyme–my favorite herb-– coming in at a fast second. When they’re ready for picking, I’m itching to cook with them. Just to be like cooks everywhere who can run out and pick something for the pot. Just to save the four bucks fresh herbs can garner at the grocery.  Just…because. And if I have too many for cooking, I chop them up to add to the salad; there’s little better than greens layered and tarted up with fresh herbs. Check your garden, your first herbs are probably ready for harvest or have long-since been. Our local asparagus won’t be ready until sometime in May; yours may be ripe now.

I include potatoes here, but leave them out and sub greens if you’d like. If you’re a single, go ahead and make this; you’ll have enough left for another satisfying meal or two. Whichever, it’s time to try this and enjoy spring wherever you are:

Above: Here it all is cooking together merrily in the 5-quart sauté pan. Scroll down for more on that shoo-in for the favorite pan contest.

ONE-PAN SALMON ON POTATOES AND ASPARAGUS WITH CHIVES AND THYME

2 servings

Start by par-boiling or microwaving your potatoes for a quicker cook-time. You should have vegetables leftover for lunches if you’re cooking for 2.  Want four servings? Add another 2 pieces of salmon to the pan; you should still have enough vegetables.

  • Olive oil
  • 1 – 1  1/4 pounds new potatoes, first par-boiled or microwaved covered for 10 minutes on high with a little water, drain well and pat with paper towels*
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed
  • Crushed red pepper, optional
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
  • 2 salmon fillets, about 4 ounces each
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 tablespoons minced fresh chives

Heat a 5-quart sauté pan or deep, 12-inch skillet over medium high flame with 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Add the pre-cooked potatoes, sprinkle very generously with salt and pepper; let cook, stirring a few minutes until they begin to brown. Push potatoes to one side of the pan leaving in one layer for browning. Add the asparagus to the empty space; drizzle and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and a pinch of crushed red pepper, if using. Stir the garlic into the potatoes. (It may burn a bit; I like it that way. If you don’t, wait and add it for the last minute or so.)

Lay salmon fillets on the vegetables and sprinkle fish with salt and pepper.  Place thyme, spaced evenly, on top of the vegetables and fish. Lower heat to medium or medium-low, cover, and cook for about 6 minutes OR until fish is opaque and firm.*

Divide vegetables and fish between two warm plates and garnish salmon with chives.

*Cook’s Notes: FDA safe temperature for fish is 145 degrees F. Many people like their salmon a little less done and take it off at 125 degrees F, but there are also on-going warnings about salmon with parasitic worms. Fish that has been immediately frozen for four days and/or thoroughly cooked will present no problems, according to what I’ve read. I eat my salmon cooked medium.

Need a quick sauce? Stir up some sour cream  with a little hot sauce and salt and pepper–maybe some very finely minced garlic.  Chives and black pepper on top of the sour cream would be awesome.

About warm plates:  Place plates in an oven preheated to 200 degrees F for 10 minutes and that will do the trick. You can also, in a pinch, fill them with hot water. (I use plates with large rims, more like bowls.)  Empty and dry just before plating.  Some dishwashers have a warming element. I have a Swedish model that doesn’t include that feature, but yours may. At altitude, our food becomes cold very quickly; we’re big on warm plates and bowls in Colorado.

{printable recipe}

Wine: Syrah from California or an Australian Shiraz

About the 5-quart sauté pan: One of my favorite pieces of cookware, this pan can beat a skillet all to hell and back as it truly will cook a whole meal. It differs from a skillet in that it has 1. deep straight sides rather than shallow, sloped ones, which creates more surface area for searing,  2. has a tightly fitting lid, and 3. often features handles on both sides of the pan.  I might cook in it more than any other pan, though I’m crazy about my stove top grill pan, as my students know. Below is a Calphalon model and it’s in the medium-priced range, about $60. A Scan Pan (comes with a good guarantee that I know works) will run you close to $200 (upper price range) and you might find a T-Fal at the grocery for $30.  Take your pick, but make your excellent investment if you don’t own one already.  I’ve worn one out, now have two, one stainless and one non-stick, and often use them both at the same time. Get a non-stick model if possible. You’ll eat at home more often if you own this pan and start using it. Betcha.

                          above photo courtesy amazon.com

If you liked this, you might like my

Sheet Pan Dijon Salmon with Garlicky Green Beans and Mushrooms (leftover directions included for salmon tacos)

Message me or email to register for the upcoming sheet pan class. Can’t wait to cook with you!

Cook spring,

Alyce