July 31, 2009

When to pick, when to pick?

"St. Valery" heirloom carrots.

When do you start digging carrots, or potatoes? When do you harvest the Brussels sprouts, and do you pull up the whole plant or try to wrench yourself around the tree-like stem and pluck off the individual mini cabbages?

"Long Island Improved" heirloom Brussels sprouts.

I think if you asked these questions to 20 experienced gardeners, you'd get 20 different answers. Part of that is because so much of it is up to personal preference. Do you like huge, sturdy carrots, or do you prefer them tender so they can be roasted to perfect sweetness? Are you going to eat the veggie right away or freeze or can it for later? Fortunately, most vegetables are good and useful at early and later stages in their development, and when you have just the two of you eating from the garden for the most part, it's nice to start harvesting early and enjoy the baby flavors, and then gradually eat through the ready crop as you need it. In this case, we'll be roasting these carrots and Brussels sprouts Jamie Oliver style.

Then there's always the plant that decides for you when it's time to harvest - like the famous zucchini plants. No joke, I think they're capable of doubling in size overnight! It's as if they love to mock you - ha, ha, you should have picked me yesterday sucker! Last Sunday at church, someone reminded me a of longstanding summer joke - don't leave your car doors unlocked in the church parking lot, or you may just find that some "thoughtful" person has left a zucchini in your back seat!

July 29, 2009

BLT Bliss

There's not too much more that can be said beyond this photo is there?! Oh...it's just one of the best parts of summer around here. This blisswich was made with organic peasant bread, organic/no nitrate bacon, our amazing "Rocky Top" lettuce that just keeps on keepin' on, and our luscious heirloom "Italian" tomatoes. Truth time - after taking this photo, I added another layer of tomatoes to this sandwich, since I just can't have too many tomatoes. I did the second layer with our other early ripe tomato, called "Bloody Butcher". Of all the things you could have named a tomato, huh?

Leeks, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and onions are all coming out of the garden now. Potato leek soup made it onto the recipe page so far. Click the "Garden of Recipes" tab to check it out. And there is hope for the eggplant yet, little babies are finally developing out there!

July 28, 2009

Purple Passion

The first red cabbage has been picked! A big two pounder, and you have to wonder why it's called "red" when it's this gorgeous deep purple color. It's just a wonderful sight, right down to the purple veining in the leaves. We've done a lot of things other than cook with red cabbage over the years too - everything from dying Easter eggs with the boiled leaves, which gives the most gorgeous blue color, to using the chopped leaves as part of an acid/base chemistry test while we were homeschooling. With this big beauty though, we made one of our long time favorites - sweet and sour red cabbage. Click on the "Garden of Recipes" tab above to find the recipe.

And speaking of purple beauty, how is your hyacinth bean vine doing? You can see that ours has fared quite well again this year. It's even spreading out to both sides instead of just one like last year. You can see the spires still stretching up and around, trying very hard to attach to the patriotic bunting. I talked DH into leaving that up until the end of the month and I think it will come down none too soon!
I'm still crazy about these purple orchid-like flowers! Do you have pictures to share? Send them!!

July 25, 2009

Dinner in the Garden

There was no actual dining IN the garden - bugs, snakes, you know - but a dinner menu FROM the garden. We had guests for dinner last night and it was my goal to have as many garden ingredients incorporated into the menu as possible - and as much organic as possible. They enjoy that challenge at their home too. It's gratifying to eat what you grow!
Here's the garden view from our back door - looking pretty cleaned up for now!

This is a wonderful time of year when lots of things roll out of the garden at the same time. What seemed like a doable amount of cabbage suddenly becomes a challenge - but a good one! Below is a shot of what we brought inside from one 10 minute evening stroll around the garden. Never go out there without a bag and something to use for cutting!

Last week we brought in broccoli, cucumbers, zucchini, a jalapeno, cabbage, Swiss chard, tatsoi, and lettuce.

Which one is more beautiful?!!

Besides our roses and tomatoes, here's what we had on the table - an appetizer that was basically a homemade boursin cheese spread with fresh basil, served on top of our cucumber slices; shish kabobs which included our zucchini (plus herbs that were in the meat marinade); another round of cranberry pecan coleslaw with our cabbage; pickles that I canned last fall; and rolls served with our apple butter. Our guests had rhubarb in their garden and brought a delicious rhubarb cream pie for dessert - old fashioned and fantastic! The recipe page has two new recipes from last night - citrus chicken shish kabobs and the cucumber appetizers. The coleslaw recipe is there too. Click the tab above for "Garden of Recipes" and enjoy!

July 21, 2009

A New Look for the Garden

Welcome to the new home of Eating from the Garden! If you've been here before, you can see we've made significant changes to the blog. As you navigate around, please let us know if you have any problems getting things to work properly. We've worked very hard to make sure that everything functions as it should, but there's a lot of new content, and undoubtedly we missed a few things here and there. You can send an email (see the sidebar), or just leave a comment to tell us what you found, or ask questions about various functions.

Maybe the most important thing to note is that you can be automatically notified about a new blog post or a new posted recipe, by clicking the links in the sidebars on any of the pages - the links that say "Don't Miss a Post" and "Don't Miss a Recipe" - where you'll be instructed to enter your email. Then each time I post, you'll get a heads up! Be sure to sign-up once for blog posts, and once for recipe posts, if you want both notifications. And, you only need to do this on one page, you don't have to do the sign-up on each page of the blog. Also, if you prefer the bookmarks route, that function is available in the sidebar too. If you don't even know what a bookmark function is, don't sweat it, just click the links and plug in your email!

Check out the Garden of Recipes by clicking on the tab above. There's a great feature in the sidebar that let's you find recipes by type - appetizer, main dish, etc. It should help you out if you're having a "what should we have?" kind of day! I plan to add many, many more recipes here and I know there are people to whom I've promised a recipe and I never followed through - bad girl. So, again, leave a comment or send an email and I'll try to add the requested recipe as soon as I can.

There is another tab with Gardening Books we recommend, and a General Store tab where you can purchase items that we use and love around here. Both of these pages utilize my Amazon affiliation, which pays dividends (barely), and you'll be entering Amazon via my site's code. Now, I'm not allowed to ask you to do your purchases this way, but I'm simply letting you know how it works! It's all about being above board you know!

I love the new look and it's been a great creative outlet! I can't thank my husband and my brother enough for all the hard work they put into this for me. Love you guys!

July 20, 2009

Bodacious Corn

This is what an Iowa garden corn crop looks like. This is NOT our corn.

This is my uncle's corn.

This is Penny, their sweet cat who helps to keep the critters out of my uncle's corn.

This is what my uncle's corn looked like, just before he and my aunt generously picked some for us to take home.

This is what we ate for dinner that same night. Bodacious variety corn, the first ears of the year, and it was an experience to remember for sure. Thank you, thank you, and thank you again!

Our corn??? It may still happen but who knows. The first year we planted corn, the raccoons destroyed it, last year it was good, this year not so good. Oh well, like I've said before, gardeners are always looking to the next season and besides, we are GOING to have tomatoes this year - oh yes we are! Lord willing it's going to be an extra special tomato year.

July 18, 2009

Our Saturday Evening Entertainment

O.K. fine...they're cute. The twins are cute and they're chasing each other around and yes, that's cute. Here they're both looking back over their shoulders at Momma to make sure all is well. So I'll concede cuteness, and stop disdaining the deer population in Iowa for the evening. This is the third year we've had twins in the yard. No wonder we're so overrun with the varmints!

July 15, 2009

Exciting Finds in the Garden

Look what we're beginning to find in the garden - Ripe Iowa Tomatoes!! These little cherry tomatoes, and...

...this big beauty, an Italian Heirloom. It's not an Italian in the plum tomato category, but simply called Italian. We ate this baby a few days after I took the picture, and it was just as mind blowing as the first tomato of the season should be. I have a picture in the sidebar of this blog that has the caption - "There's just something about an Iowa tomato." - and people, people, it's true. They say it's the dirt here. I can remember craving them as a kid and eating them at my grandmothers' homes until my mouth was practically raw. In recent years, my dear aunt in southwestern Iowa, packed a shoebox full of their garden tomatoes for me, and sent them on the plane with my husband when he came back to Maine from a job interview in Iowa. Fellow Iowans understand the addiction for sure! When they ripen in full force, you can't stop yourself from eating them with all three meals - or just give in and make that your meal! Maybe you wrap a little bread and butter around them, or maybe you just slice a pile on your plate and use your fork to stab anyone who comes near and tries to swipe a bite - get your own!! One of the very best parts of summer without a doubt.

We also found that we had indeed grown potatoes successfully! We indulged in a few new potatoes, but decided to leave the rest for a bit longer. These are the heirloom variety "German Butterball".

And now for the prizewinning find in another garden...
Whoo, hoo!!! Our Maine gardening friends keep bees, and have been having some interesting adventures with them this summer. Look what was waiting for them among the snow peas one morning! You can see a bit of the branch that the bees actually attached to, and that was what our friends picked up and moved to try and relocate them to a new hive. Apparently some of them were back in the same garden spot the next day, so it took some doing for the bees to get the idea. I think keeping bees is beyond our reach, since one of the multiple weird things about me, is how creeped out I get at "clusters" of anything. And DH would have to admit that he is a bit of a girl when it comes to stinging, flying critters! We'd be useless as beekeepers. But, we do know from lovely experience that our friends' honey is primo and worth the work! And another thing - look at those gorgeous snow peas and vines! I am thoroughly jealous since our snow peas were total junk this year! But I absolutely will not complain for long since a recent update from the Mainers tells us that because of all the rainy, weird weather there this year, lots of people have lost their entire gardens. Very sad. So, enjoy whatever is exciting in your garden and be grateful!

July 13, 2009

Green Bean Machine

So Uncle J's green bean bushes were loaded down and needed relief, therefore we "selflessly" volunteered to help pick them! We have pole beans planted, but they are not producing yet - story for another day let's say. Of course my uncle and aunt sent us home with a big bunch of the gorgeous beans and we became a well coordinated machine to get them into the freezer and on to the table - so good!

Right away we used a pound of them to make these delicious sweet and sour green beans. The recipe is on the recipe page here. We had another version of these at my aunt's house and the recipe that I found online had a whole chopped onion that had been sauteed with bacon. You could make rocks taste good by adding sauteed onion and bacon! These were hot and delicious and the steam kept fogging up my camera lens - such a problem to endure - hot food!

The leftovers made a perfect three bean salad the next day. There was some sweet and sour sauce left in the beans, so I just added a little more vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper along with a can of red kidney beans and a can of garbanzo beans. It was wonderful too. I think a little chopped green pepper would have been good in this. Click here to go to the recipe page for the official recipe!

Next came the task of freezing the rest. I started by snapping the beans into smaller pieces and culling out the less desirable beans. You do have to be picky when you're freezing produce and be sure to use only unblemished pieces so that they don't deteriorate in the freezer, or worse become a source of bacteria. The snapped beans were rinsed and then dropped into a large pot of boiling water and blanched for 3 minutes. You start counting the 3 minutes as soon as you put them in the water - don't wait for the water to start boiling again before you begin your timer, or your beans will be overdone. This step breaks down enzymes in the beans that would deteriorate them in your freezer if you skipped this step.

When the three minutes is up, you pull them out of the hot water and plunge them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Leave them in the ice water for 3 minutes as well. The scoop that is in this photo came from an Asian market and it was a perfect tool for this job.

After the three minutes, take them out of the ice water and let them drain on a clean kitchen towel. We did this process in four batches, and each time we allowed the hot water to return to a boil before adding more beans, and each time we added more ice to the cold water, or changed it out all together to make sure it was cold enough.

Load them into freezer bags and into the freezer they go. We ended up with 7 beautiful quart bags full of green beans. We will think of Uncle J's garden with every serving. Thank you again!!

July 8, 2009

Garden Roll Call

Here's a list of what has actually made it from our garden to our table this season:
  • radishes
  • lettuce
  • spinach
  • tatsoi
  • pak choy
  • beets and greens
  • chard
  • broccoli
  • snow peas
  • English peas
  • cabbage
  • zucchini
  • red bunching onions
  • assorted herbs
Here are photos of a few of the most recent pickings. So far I haven't been cooking anything terribly photogenic with these good things, but I think the raw veggies in this case are worthy of a picture by themselves!

This cabbage is an heirloom variety called Early Jersey Wakefield. I love the conical shape of it, and it was just perfect when I cut into it.

This is a summer squash variety, which many of us call zucchini. This too is an heirloom and is called Striata D'Itlalia, which even a non-linguist can translate to striped Italian. This is one of the mildest squashes we've ever grown. We've made a point out of picking it smaller this year too. Makes a big difference. Last night we grilled it with along with some scallops and it held up very well. And oh yeah, the scallops happened to be wrapped in bacon and brushed with a maple syrup, BBQ glaze - my, my. Makes the bugs, heat, and humidity of summer a little more bearable! It was the 25th anniversary of our first meeting yesterday, ergo the celebratory meal. And if you're curious, the meeting was a blind date set up by mutual friends - thanks pals!

These heirloom bunching onions are a variety called Crimson Forest, and I think that they're a lot milder than a white bunching onion. These poor babies made it to the table against all odds. They were planted next to the chard row, and every single time I harvested the chard, I trampled the poor little grassy stems of onion trying to survive. Duh, we could have just strung a piece of string over the row to remind us to go around! I think the early summer heat fried our brains a bit this year. But just like every other year we've gardened, things have a way of surviving in spite of us, and we are privileged to enjoy the wonderful results.

July 6, 2009

A Family-Filled Holiday Weekend

I love this shot taken at my cousin's farm on the 4th of July! It's a tradition at their house to hang this lighted flag every year, and a tradition to invite family and friends for an all-day BBQ with home-style fireworks after dark. The now famous "quote of the event" was courtesy of my uncle and cousins as they lit fireworks out in the dark bean field. All the way up the hill we heard - "Get out of there, run, run!!!" Fortunately there were no injuries - this year anyway! And the play-by-play that was relayed to my aunt from my uncle's cell phone kept us laughing hysterically. What a great time we had. And the bonus this year was that it was also a surprise 65th birthday party for my aunt and uncle. And they were VERY surprised! There were many unexpected guests arriving all day long, and I know my aunt and uncle will have wonderful memories for many years. Good job to my cousin who proved herself a wonderful event planner and a gracious hostess once again.

On the way home the next morning, we stopped to see my 99-year-old grandmother and found her in wonderful spirits, not to mention bright as a new penny. Our DD made some delicious blueberry tarts for my grandmother and her sweet roommate, and both ladies were so tickled to get them. We've learned that it doesn't take much to make a nursing home resident happy - just a little gift and someone new to talk with. The weather was perfect and we sat outdoors to talk, making for a very enjoyable visit. It's hard to say goodbye every time, and Grandma is never ready for you to go!

The final stop of weekend was right here in town at my other aunt and uncle's home. They were having a birthday BBQ lunch for my cousin, who was truly "Born on the 4th of July"! We were treated to garden green beans, as well as potatoes and peas, and cucumbers from their garden, as accompaniments to the BBQ - it was wonderful! Our own girl had yet another group of friends to see last evening before she headed back up to school, so we couldn't stay too long at my aunt and uncle's house, but it was a very pleasant Sunday afternoon. DH and I discussed the fact that even though it had been a long weekend of traveling and visiting, it was more than anything a very emotionally nourishing weekend. We really felt "filled up" when we got home.

Then comes the hard part of the weekend - saying goodbye to DH as she heads back up to the college and back to work. This is her care package, which looks a little different in the summer! It's full of just picked lettuce (washed and wrapped in paper towel to get crisp), just picked broccoli, a few extra ingredients just in case she wants to make that yummy broccoli salad with nuts and raisins, and a little bouquet of flowers from the yard. It was as always, wonderful to have her around. It's harder every time to say goodbye. Even over the summer she's experienced some new passages, and each one reminds us that it won't be long before things are never the same again - actually, if I was honest with myself, I'd admit that we're already there - but don't push me, o.k.? I'm a slow processor! And truthfully, the future looks very bright.

July 3, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

Our founding fathers knew that our country and it's freedoms were a God-given gift. Do we still acknowledge that? Take a look at just a little of what they had to say about this country and God's guiding hand.

Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776
"The reformation was preceded by the discovery of America, as if the Almighty graciously meant to open a sanctuary to the persecuted in future years, when home should afford neither friendship nor safety."

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 18, 1781
"And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever."

James Madison, Federalist No. 37, January 11, 1788
"It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it [the Constitution] a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution."

George Washington, First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789
"No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men, more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency."

John Adams, Letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 28, 1813
The general principles upon which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity…I will avow that I believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and the attributes of God.”

And now for a little 4th of July trivia - Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4th, 1826, within a few hours of each other. It just happened to be the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Talk about Patriots!

July 1, 2009

Still Living in the Wild Kingdom!

So serene looking eh? But what a critter-filled, creepy, crawly day we had! It all started when a spider landed on my arm before I had even crawled out of bed. That did it for me, I was up in a flash!

Last year I blogged about our little piece of Wild Kingdom here in Iowa, and today the saga continued. After my rude awakening, it was out to the garden to do a little honest labor. Weeding, watering and then SCREAMING - that part happened when the snake slithered along the foundation of the house underneath the water spigot. I am petrified of snakes, and please don't waste your breath telling me that it's just a garter snake, or that they're a good thing to have in your yard - PUH LEASE! Therefore, in all likelihood I will never be visiting that water spigot again, for as long as we may live here. I'll just have to get water from the kitchen sink I guess!

My poor darling daughter was the next victim. She's home for a week to visit, and volunteer at a local camp, and celebrate the 4th of July with church gatherings and family parties. Today she was "convinced" to finish up the mowing that DH had started last evening. We didn't tell her that we just had the lawn mower fixed because there was a mouse nest up inside the engine compartment. We didn't think she needed that knowledge since she doesn't like going into the storage shed to get the lawn mower anyway! Plus the fact that in the past few days, she had twice been flipped out by our two huge toads that live in the front flower beds and under the front porch - she loathes them since they have a way of lurching as you go past them! So, she was already on edge we'll say. Back to mowing - the two of us are such girls that it took us a while to get the padlock on the shed to open, and once inside she was confronted first with wasps, and then with a stinking mouse scurrying across the back of the shed - dang! She came tearing back into the house, and then I had to go out there with her, fly swatter in hand for the wasps and beating on the walls of the shed to make sure all four footed critters were scared away. We finally got her into the seat of the mower and out to the yard, but what an ordeal! Between these little events and the fact that DH mistakenly thought to tell her about the snakes and mice he's recently run over while mowing, I have no doubt this girl will never go near that mower again!

During these various adventures, we had of course consulted with DH by phone, because you know he has nothing else to do all day at the office but bail us out of our little pickles - right. And as usual, DH did the guy thing on the way home, and arrived with snake repellent and mouse "food" in hand. Riding to the rescue of his girls as always. Our very own animal tamer in the Wild Kingdom!