March Madness and Signs of Spring

It’s gray and rainy again this morning—not much of a day for gardening. Maybe I’m getting a little soft, but I’d rather stay inside the cottage and make something delicious to slow-roast in the oven. It is the first of March, and everyone is tired of winter. People get itchy at this time of year. My family and friends up north have had over 100 inches of snow this season. Or was that just in the month of February? That’s a bit much even if you love snow. I think we must have had almost that much rain, and there are deep mud puddles in the driveway. The dogs love them. Lucy chases Cleo around and around the house, splashing through the puddles, both of them grinning from ear-to-ear, stopping to shake themselves dry every now and then. They don’t care if the sun isn’t shining!

Herbs 3-1-2015 1-52-53 PM

I trudge out to my garden in my slippers and sweats to pick herbs for the lamb shanks and white beans I am making for dinner. I find bay leaves and thyme and rosemary. The parsley is bright green, and I inhale its lush scent. If you’re ever feeling a little down, chop up some parsley fresh-picked from the garden. It’s the best aromatherapy ever.

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I’m surprised to see the fava beans blooming like crazy. Each orchid-like blossom is the start of a pod of beans that are one of our first spring crops. They have thrived in spite of several arctic blasts or polar vortexes. After the first blast of icy air, I cut back the tall stems that had blackened from frost, and the plants are now full and bushy, bursting with buds. The potatoes that I planted a couple of weeks ago are already peeking through the damp soil, and the rich red leaves of radicchio are starting to curl around one another, tight little heads that we love to grill with olive oil and sea salt and a splash of lemon juice.

I feel a little better knowing my garden keeps on growing in spite of the chilly, rainy weather. Back in the kitchen, I quickly prep a rustic dish of lamb shanks and white beans that I bought at the farmers market. By the time I slip the dish into the hot oven, the sun is peeking through the clouds.  I grab my paintbrush to spread a fresh coat of paint on the kitchen door. I’ll pick some daffodils for the dinner table. Spring is well on its way. What do you see in your garden today?

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Oven-Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Main Course
: Mediterranean
Serves: 4
  • 1 package dry white beans
  • 4 (1-pound) lamb shanks
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 bunch cipollini onions, trimmed and peeled
  • 1-2 fennel bulbs, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  1. Place beans in medium bowl. Add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches. Let soak overnight.
  2. Drain beans and place in large saucepan. Add fresh water to cover. Bring to boil over high heat for five minutes.
  3. Reduce heat to medium. Simmer beans 30 minutes, occasionally skimming foam from top of water. Drain beans well.
  4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  5. Place lamb shanks in a Dutch oven or deep roasting pan. Coat each shank with 1 teaspoon oil and sprinkle all sides with salt and pepper. Roast 15 minutes. Turn lamb over and roast 15 minutes longer. Using tongs, transfer lamb to a plate.
  6. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. To the Dutch oven, add drained beans, onion, fennel, carrot, broth, wine, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaves, rosemary, salt and pepper to baking dish. Stir gently to blend.
  7. Return lamb to dish, spooning vegetables and liquids over. Cover and roast lamb and beans for 1 hour. Mix thyme into beans, turn lamb over.
  8. Cover dish again and bake until lamb and beans are very tender, about 35 minutes longer.
  9. Season beans with additional salt and pepper if desired and serve.
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