Monday, August 31, 2009

Yes, I'm still here. A summer update...

Based on some of the comments, people are wondering what happened to me. Well, nothing but summer! Here's an update....


Alas, I wish all was good there. I had huge bumper harvests of tomatoes very early this year. Did well on chinese red noodle beans and certainly for squash. But then the bountiful rains caught up with me and things took a real nosedive by the first of August.

I got some sort of virus on my tomatoes as well as a more recent attack of stinkbugs. I've had to chuck more than 100 lbs of tomatoes...a full third of my expected harvest over the last few weeks.

Those stinkbug holes really irritate me!

The cooler summer meant that the cabbage moths lasted until a few weeks ago. I can honestly say that it can't have been more than two weeks since I last sighted one. That seriously affected all the cole crops.

Peppers likewise took a growth hit without the heat, though they are now catching up and I've had a great harvest of the Patio Marconi I got from Baker Creek seeds.

But, on the upside, I've definitely canned a good harvest of tomatoes for the winter. Picked up and canned some truly magnificent organic heirloom corn from a local grower. We had a long and fruitful season for berries and I have enough to satisfy that urge for a good berry all winter long. And, of course, the tomatoes were delicious and continue to grace my BLTs with their rich purplish hues.

I've read on some of your blogs out there that many have had similar problems, so I guess that is just this year.


My sister is due anytime now. The due date moved up due to the chunky nature of my soon to be niece. As a halfway selfish gift, I gave her one of those fancy high def ultrasounds. It was great to see her so clearly. She looks so much like my sister and my other two nieces but in different ways and has the cutest nose (like our other sister) but yet is so totally herself!

She's feisty for sure. After trying unsuccessfully to stick her whole hand in her mouth, she tried both hands and then finally gave her all in getting her foot in there. She makes the greatest faces when you bother her too. :)

On a sad note, my sister's friend Beth passed on and she was doing the baby shower with me. We soldiered on and I was very wrapped up in that. It's been decades since I did one so I was nervous and made more work than I needed to.

I got the cake designed by Chef DeLong and it was spectacular. When I get copies of the pictures from my sister's camera I'll post one. It was a masterpiece. I'm still not a fan of buttercreme; it is just too sweet; but her cake is to die for. I'll definitely be ordering the couching (natal) cake from her and we've already figured out some of the design.

Of course, I got so excited I completely overbought. But seriously, when you buy baby things after so long, how do you NOT get carried away? She's going to be the best dressed fat newborn you've ever seen.

On that note, Beth had everything very well planned (we should all take a lesson there) except one thing: her psychotic cat.

With only one relative there was really no one who would take her. I couldn't bear to think of the one thing she had always worried over happening. If Bernice would have gone to the pound she'd be put down for sure. So, what do you suppose happened? Yes, I have a new and psychotic cat.

She acts feral though she's been a housecat her whole life. She's grossly obese and sheds like I have never seen a cat shed. I call her Bernie the Bruiser. We're making great progress and she now will lay in my lap, belly up, drooling, making muffins in the air and purring while I rub her belly. But only after a half hour of slowly working up to it. Most of the time she's under the bed.

Oh...and I saw her promising the dog through the gate that she would, in fact, be murdering said dog at the first opportunity. Lots of work there.


Lots to do around here, but not much is actually off my list. We've had several major rain events that caused flooding. Nothing up to the house, but I did have to swim across the flooded street on one of them. It's made a horrid mess of things and I'm looking out at yet more rain right now.

I've done lots of re-organizing and stuff in the house and yes, more experimental cooking. I've gotten a new cookbook recently. A cookie cookbook! Oh yeah...1001 recipe of cookie goodness. It's out of print but I found it at a dealer and was rewarded finally for my diligent searching. It has got to be the best cookie book out there.

Over time, I hope to be able to get through all of them.

Since I'm home today for Boscoe's disgusting bowel upset from eating something atrocious outside (probably) and his meds haven't quite kicked in yet, I'm now forced to cut this short. I must keep an urgent appointment to stand out in the rain while he fills the air up with an unendurable stench for 5 minutes. Wanna join me?

Miss everyone and I'm so sorry that summer got the best of me!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Dehydrating Squash for Winter

Last year when I discovered that dehydrated squash and zucchini made the ultimate in dog cookie, I've not had to worry about having extra. In fact, I wish I had more! Aside from being the supreme tool for dog obedience in my house, dehydrated squash and zukes rehydrate wonderfully and maintain their summer flavor far better than frozen do. They seem to work best for me in cheesy squash casseroles or soups and stews after rehydration. If anyone knows how to make them so they are good for frying or saute'ing, I'd be grateful!

Harvest of the 27th, the smallest is a 1/2 lb saucer squash.

I also got myself my ultimate toy for dehydration this year. It is the Excalibur 3900! A very pricey but extraordinarily highly reviewed and American made dehydrator for those with very large gardens. It is a 9 tray model. I was anxious to try it.

My Long awaited Excalibur 3900

Controls are easy, but precise

Loaded with all the squash above except the saucer

Unfortunately, after a few hours on, I went to check and realized the unit wasn't producing heat. You have no idea how upset I was! I did all the checks recommended when it arrived and after disassembly, I saw nothing that shouldn't be there or anything undone. It was simply faulty. And, on top of that, the company is closed for a week for the holiday!

Now, Excalibur is just a pedestal

And so, I had to pull out my cheapo Nesco from walmart, reload and take 2 loads to do what I had already cut. Most annoying.

Now, I don't want to cut any company down since they have an almost universally wonderful reputation. But I do think the increase in home food production may have affected their quality control just like it did for so many seed companies that experienced the increase in sales. I sure hope they make it right without requiring me to perform electrical repairs myself! I'll let you know.

Boscoe and the Man Cat say Hello to you all!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Harvests are picking up!

Gathering Lunch

Well, obviously that is more than lunch and since I'm grilling for dinner I can see a very satisfying meal in my future! Tomatoes pictured are Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Constoluto Genovese (my favorite for canning), Green Zebra, Goliath and Mortgage Lifter. There are more on the vines, but they are hidden enough to not be in danger from the birds (who are bedeviling me) if I leave them on to ripen more fully for a day or two.

Mostly I'm canning them. And shockingly, as many as I planted I need to double my planting next year to get truly full canner loads at one shot. For example, the 12 pounds below only came out to 7 pints, never mind quarts. And doing that every 3 or 4 days but not getting 7 quarts isn't very energy efficient.

Nonetheless, I'm very pleased with what is coming so far and the yields just pick up from here!

My harvest from the 27th and 28th made only 7 pints out of 12 pounds of tomatoes
Question for you all on canning tomatoes: I've always heard that Romas do best, but I'm finding they don't have the kind of texture or color or powerful flavor of others. Do you can Romas or do you like others instead?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pretty and Tasty!

Not much to say today. I'm super busy at work and coming home to be super busy working at home. I'm just itching to know how the weather is treating everyone's garden though.
The way a windowsill should look in summer

Harvest for 20 June...way early! what?
At this point I'm lost in the corn growing process. My climbing beans grew faster than the corn so it is a tangled mess in there. The corn is getting the tops but not quite as tall as I am yet. I'm not sure what to do to it now to try to get things to go right now. I suppose I just wait for the experiment to unfold?

A hundred, two hundred...oh, I give up!

My winter bed looking sloppy.

But it has hidden treasures in it. :)

My acorn squash in the winter bed (which is just a small bed in the area near my house that has extended spring and slightly less devastatingly hot conditions in high summer) is producing and the amount this is growing in a day is shocking. The squash get visibly bigger from morning to evening. Weird. This was on the 20th and now it is more than double that size. I've thinned off some to be sure I have space between fruits and a limited number on a plant. I adore acorn squash so I'm drooling over this fall's hearty dishes when the weather cools.
Best to all! I've been reading on my iphone all of your blogs while waiting or between meetings, but commenting is difficult on that thing so just know I'm still with you!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Recipe - Lonely Squash Boogie

There is a time in the garden when summer harvests are just beginning and spring harvests are winding down when there just doesn't seem to be enough of any one thing to do much with.

Maybe there's not enough to can or dehydrate or even to make a decent sized pan of whatever your favorite dish is of any one veggie. If you're at all like me, you get terribly tired of sauteed veggie medley after a while.

This dish is a delightful surprise when you're in that bind. It is easy, fast, hearty but not heavy and with a simple flavor profile that doesn't require a lot of brain power after a hard day to enjoy.


Equal parts sliced zucchini, yellow squash and scallop squash
For each set of one each of the squashes inlude:
1 sliced carrot
1/2 chopped chicken breast without skin or bones
1 immature leek and/or early onion
Enough olive oil to coat
1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used 4 cheese blend)
1/4 cup italian bread crumbs
Fresh cracked pepper and sea salt to taste


Slice up the squash, carrots, onions (leeks) and chicken and toss with olive oil in glass oven proof pan to coat. I used approximately 1.5 tbsp of olive oil but I like it light. Then further toss it with the shredded cheese and bread crumbs. Bake in 350 deg F oven for about 30 minutes. Veggies should be nice and firm still, but cooked enough for flavor to release.

Monday, June 15, 2009

State of the Garden - 14 June 2009

And now for the garden update with loads of pictures, a few weird questions and some interesting tidbits. I hope your garden is also doing fabulous and you're getting ready for the bounty!

Wall of tomatoes - now 7 feet high

Tomato Walls from the side

Ripening tomatoes - Oh, the anticipation

Some of the Romas are ripening also

I've always heard that Romas, being determinate sauce tomatoes, sort of come ripe all at once or in a shorter period of time. This is the second year in a row that doesn't appear to be true. They sort of produce a few at a time in the beginning, a couple of really big flushes, then smaller amounts for the rest of the season. Do you all have this? Is that really what that means, just a couple of main flushes but smaller amounts all season?

Some are just huge. These show on a sling at over a pound each, but that is a swag and may not be accurate entirely since they are still on the vine.

If you peek in there, there are a dozen or more just in this one photo and all of them full sized. Why aren't they ripe yet!!!

This is one of my twinned tomatoes. It produced 17 blossoms on the branchlet, 14 tomatoes and now has 11 since I thinned 3 off for frying.

Of course, those heirlooms give their flaky shapes. Brandywine.

Some of them really weird. Mortgage lifter.

And some of them shaped downright scary. Constoluto Genovese here.

The squash patch is a bit large at this time. I'd say bordering on Jurassic.

Is it okay that some of them fall on their side? Will they continue to grow fine or should I wrestle them back upright?

Peek down there, do you see my zukes? Marrow here.

Onions look so pretty and clean at first. Then we get this. Looks like a big knot, doesn't it.

One of my herbs that went to seed this year. I lost the marker but I think it is Oregano. I think these buds look nifty.

My peppers aren't really doing great this year. I think it hasn't been hot enough yet for long enough. They really do like the heat. The Patio Marconi is producing though, so I'm happy.

My Nasturtiums are now 9 feet long and taking up the whole path between beds. Can I cut these back so they'll grow new vines?

Borage is blooming profusely and I adore these flowers. They work on mood wonderfully. If you freeze the blooms into ice cubes, you can have mood lifters for PMS'ing teenagers all winter long. :)

The pupperonskis had a bath today. They were very good but you could tell that it scared poor Boscolator. He is such a sweet old man and he smells better now.

As you can see, they got a little excited because I had squash cookies in my hand.

Thanks for visiting! Hope you can help me with my questions because I'm completely confused about some things and could use the expertise out there that I know you all have. Till next time!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

How do I harvest Parsnip seeds?

I left a few parsnips from last year in the ground over winter in order to get seeds from them this year. Now, the time is either here or fast approaching and I've got no clue. I know, sad. But still true.!

Parsnip stalks approximately 6 feet tall

Central Stalk - Are those seeds ready?

Surrounding stalks - still blooming and more flowers coming.

I saw on a short video online here, that this woman waited until the stalks and seeds were all dry and then cut them and shook them in a pillowslip. I probably would have done that. But then I saw other articles that said the home seed saver can get better seeds by babying the seed heads.

Basically, I gather that I should cut the flower heads when they become seeds and dry them indoors and collect them that way. But how do I know when? I mean, is that central head ready to harvest for seed? Do I just leave the others and harvest the heads as they get ready like the central head?

Anyone who knows and can offer advice, I'd be so very appreciative.

And my apologies to you all! I've not kept up with all your posts like I should with the growing season well in force and household projects that can't be put off anymore taking precedence. I'll try to visit you all, the ones I've missed, very soon to see what's up and I'll try to post more often too. :)

Garden update should post tomorrow. Wait till you see....

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Great Recipe for those who never know what to do with Cabbage!

Sorry there aren't photos, but it was gone too fast. Maybe next time. :)

Those who know my cooking style know I'm terribly picky with recipes. I never use a recipe as-is. I tweak and alter until it may or may not even resemble the original. This is no exception.

This is styled after an Ethiopian cabbage recipe, though I've changed it some. This will give a family of 5 a full meal of veggies. It needs no meat really.

It is also timely in that most of these things are available as spring winds down and we harvest our cabbages and carrots, pull out early onions to thin the ranks and harvest those early potatoes. And even if you're still shopping the markets, these are all in season and create a very frugal, yet hearty, meal.

The main ingredients:

-1 head of cabbage, medium, shredded (just cut on the bias)
-About 1/2 lb of carrots, sliced nice and thin
-1 medium onion in nice thin slices
-About 1/4 cup of olive oil to cook it in depending on how big all of the above turned out to be
-About a half teaspoon salt (some people like more, but my olive oil brings out salt flavor so I go with a half tsp)
-One and a half pounds of nice small yellow or white potatoes cut into dices of about 1 inch. I peel mine so the skin doesn't flap off and look bad in the dish since it gets stirred so often.
*Spices (options below)

Over medium heat, cook up the onions and carrots for about 5 minutes or until onions are clearing nicely. Then add spices (see below) and salt, as well as the cabbage. Cook for another 10 minutes or so until the cabbage is almost, but not quite, done. Then add the potatoes, cover, reduce heat slightly and let cook, tossing often, for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are just right.

Spices: You have so many options! The strictly Ethiopian recipe would call for a teaspoon each of tumeric and ground cumin and pepper. If you are at all like me, that much tumeric will give a bitter flavor that isn't totally pleasant.

A good substitution is to decrease tumeric to 1/4 tsp and put in a teaspoon of curry powder (which has a bit of tumeric too). Instead of ground cumin, which tastes different once it has been ground for a while in the cupboard, smash up your own cumin seeds (still 1 tsp). Add a few saffron stamen for another layer of flavor. And use fresh coursely ground pepper to give it a pop.

Certainly, the above combo gives a more Indian flair (it is still very slight in my book) but the beauty of this dish is the ease with which you can nationalize it in flavors you like.

The cabbage suits itself to you rather than you to it. To me, this is a much under-rated veggie, so comfortable and accomodating, yet bursting with nutrition, texture and flavor.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Good and Delicious

When the garden finally starts really producing, I'm always taken by surprise. Now, I don't mean those dribs and drabs of a few early things. I don't mean lettuce or other early treasures like small and sweet peas or tiny bright carrots.

I mean the kind of production that has you looking at your basket and wondering exactly how you're going to eat all of this. When you're nowhere close to having your canning season started yet here you are, carrying a full hod of beets.

Fried Green Tomatoes

As I've shown on a couple of previous photos, I've got no shortage of tomatoes growing. The most I have on a plant right now is 30, which is too many in my opinion. I'm probably wrong but I've always thought that when I have too good of a start on the plants and they get overwhelmed with full sized fruit too early, that they wear out for the delights later in the season.

So, with so many on some, I pruned off a few of the nice ones and had myself some fried green tomatoes! They are delicious but they make such a mess of splatters on the stove. My most prolifice plant still has 27 on it with about half a dozen at full size and ready to go red any time.

Roasted Vegetable Mixture

With a big load of chiogga beets, my personal favorite, some early potatoes, peas, carrots and onions, I made a roasted vegetable mix that is as rustically delicious as it is colorful. Toss the chopped veggies in some olive oil with thyme, minced garlic, a splash of balsamic vinegar and white wine. I added some chickpeas for protein but that really isn't for everyone as it changes the texture some. If you add tiny fresh peas or snap peas like I did, toss those in during the last five minutes. Roast at 400F for 20-30 minutes depending on your veggies. It really is a very satisfying and simple dish that can easily make a meal on its own.

What are you harvesting now and what yummies are you making with it?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

State of the Garden - 27 to 30 May 2009

Okay, so I'm late. I actually loaded all this up on the 27th but not posting until the 30th. I just get so busy!

But enough of that. Want a tour?

Me Holding a Lettuce...yes, Lettuce, before I stripped the good leaves and composted it.

My Nasturtiums are now over 6 feet long

So many tomatoes, I expect ripe ones by next weekend

Some tomatoes are huge

Purple cauliflower that is ready to harvest today, the 30th (see Mr. Dead Cabbage Worm there to the left?)

My Onions are way taller than last year. This is just below my chest level.

And this is what a patch of onions looks like from above. What a mess!

I'm harvesting peas daily. They are super sweet and yummy.

All my lettuce is huge. Not bolted though. Still tender and sweet. I'm pulling them all now though since it is only a matter of days at this point.

All my squash are blooming nicely. This is marrow.

And here is me while almost mended from Strep (so I look like doodoo) visiting the garden. Note I'm completely covered because of the antibiotics making me burn in the sun. What a dork!

More tomatoes...(this one has 17 tomatoes growing on this little branchlet)

And more tomatoes. This is my Super Fantastic from saved seeds. I think it will be ripe first.

Blueberries coming on (and birds getting more than me!)

My second year parsnips in bloom for seed saving.

Corn and beans.

And a view of the jungle. It doesn't look quite so pretty, just very large.
Things are moving along! When I look back at last year, this is far and away a totally different experience. Tomatoes are several weeks ahead and everything is much, MUCH, bigger than last year. I'm not sure what I did, but the plants are just huge and overly abundant. I actually pruned some of the larger green tomatoes off and had some fried green tomatoes. It just didn't seem right to have 30 tomatoes on one plant so early.