Sweet Potato Fries
Sweet Potato Fries
Now that spring - no, summer - is here, I have been shopping and shopping for plants.

On Thursday I was at the garden center in Chaska that my daughter, Amanda, manages. I filled a cart with annuals, herbs and close-out perennials.

This stop was on my way home after attending my granddaughter, Sylvie's, Mother's Day tea at her preschool. This was a dear sweet event where we ate dainty cucumber sandwiches, chocolate-dipped strawberries and jam-filled cookies. The tiny pre-schoolers donned aprons and served the moms and other family members.

After losing my way there following a detour, I was relieved to arrive before the program began.

On Friday, before heading out of town, I stopped at the high school and got a couple boxes of annuals potted in four-inch pots. FFAers had started them from plugs and grew them in the school's green house.

On Saturday, now in northern Wisconsin, I drove to a rural garden center that we have been passing by, again and again over the past year since we purchased our lake home. The weather was whipping wind and chilly, but inside the greenhouses, it was warm and smelled wonderful. I made trips back and forth to the checkout hut, setting herbs, annuals and houseplants on the counter, until I was handed a plastic tray to take along with me.

Over the three days I had picked up a wonderful selection of herbs to replace those that had died during our long, killing winter. I even found a bay leaf plant that will become a houseplant during the winter months.

The perennials were marked 70 percent off, and it gave me a reason to pick out ferns, hostas, lilies and heuchera (coral bells) to fill in an area in our back yard, opened up when lower branches were removed from aging spruces. Truthfully, I didn't actually have planned spots for any of them, I just figured I would find places at one of our houses.

Up north, it is so shaded that ferns and hostas are pretty much the rule. At home, I have sort of become a collector of interesting specimens. Sometimes unique perennials I pick up don't survive until the next year - but one can always hope.

At home, I have been using the finally warmer or somewhat warmer days to dig out some perennials I have had for years, always in the same spot. Several of the same type were together taking up space. Now I want more room to plant herbs, so out come the big clumps of Siberian iris and a small type of Stella de Ora day lilies, planted in trios.

As the days have progressed, I work a small area, digging out the old, replacing with bags of topsoil and compost, then replanting. It's one of those projects that if I really had known how much work it would take, well, I might not have started. But I approach big projects in smaller pieces. That way I can feel like I've accomplished something even when there's still hours and hours of work yet to come.

I step back and admire that small portion I have completed, focusing on and enjoying what I just completed.

Tonight I needed to write and I needed to cook up a batch of sweet potato fries for my column. Seeing that it is finally warm, I can't miss out on an entire evening of gardening just to write or cook so I did both and hope I can get this done and sent before bedtime.

The sweet potatoes are now cooked and cooling so I can taste test them.

I photographed them with a sweet potato I had cut two months ago, then propped with toothpicks into a cup of water. Now, a whole group of young sweet potato plants have developed on the tuber and are ready to be planted outside, if the heat we had today holds for a while.

Last year my son Logan grew sweet potatoes that he had started on my windowsill. This year, I decided to help out and filled the entire length of the windowsill with sprouting sweet potatoes. Back when it was still snowy, and very cold outside, this gave me a sense of having a bit of spring inside the house.

After we had consumed all the sweet potatoes he had raised, he purchased more for eating from a winter farmers market. Wow, what a sweet treat!

I have never cared for mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallow halves melted on the top. In fact I never really liked sweet potatoes before I ate sweet potatoes fries - the first time they were deep fat fried at the Minnesota State Fair.

Then I tried the oven-baked version without the saturating fat and found I liked those too, and actually I prefer them that way.

Baked in a hot oven they can form a burned-looking crunchy crust; lower heats give a soggier, unburned fry. The roasting brings out the natural sugars. A bit of chili powder gives them a little heat, along with the lightly salted flavor.

They are easy to make and don't take a long time to prepare. Try some for yourself.

Sweet Potato Fries

A pound of sweet potatoes

Olive oil

Sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

Chili powder

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Cut skin from cleaned sweet potatoes. Cut long sweet potatoes in halves or thirds lengthwise. Halve lengthwise, then cut into thick lengths about a half inch thick. Lay them out on a baking sheet so they aren't touching each other. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, freshly grind pepper over fries and lightly sprinkle with chili powder.

Bake for about 15 minutes, remove from oven and flip the fries over with a turner, brush lightly with a little more olive oil, add more salt, pepper and chili powder to taste. Put pan back into the oven and bake for about 10 minutes more.

Serve hot, perhaps with dipping sauce, if preferred