September 29, 2010


Our house has smelled like an apple orchard for the last two days - applesauce and apple butter - wonderful! Apples are just part of what's been rolling in lately.

Last week, in one day, this mass of produce and plants came into the house. We are so incredibly blessed to have the outlets, resources, and opportunities to get these wonderful things. Pictured here are apples for eating and apples for applesauce; gourds, squash, Indian corn, pumpkins, and mums for decorating the house inside and out; and in the little yellow bag are 5 root starts for the peony called "Shirley Temple White". About half of this windfall came from our food co-op, and the other from my favorite grocery store.

Another windfall, these two blueberry plants. We'd been searching at every nursery we came across, hoping to find another couple of blueberry bushes to plant this fall and maybe, maybe have a few blueberries next season. Who would have guessed that WalMart would have just what we wanted, and more amazingly that they would be marked down to $5 each!!!! It just seems like every plant on our wish list has practically jumped into our cart this fall - it's been a kick!

This basil plant was waiting there for us too. If you've read this blog for a while, you'll know that this purchase is evidence that I'm an incurable optimist! With a double loss this summer in our attempts to grow basil, we'll try it inside this winter and see what happens. We use it in so many things and it's ridiculously expensive to buy it in the grocery store. It's worth a go.

This is one of two beautiful yellow squash that came from LaVentosa Ranch in Clemons, IA. Usually we get amazing free-range chicken from this farm, but she's offered some great veggies lately too. I made some fantastic squash fritters with this one, and put the recipe on the recipe page.
These were fabulously good. We had them with our steaks and then the next morning they were great with over-easy eggs!

We also got another seedless watermelon from our last food co-op run. Like most of the ones we've tried this season, they were o.k., but not great. The general consensus is that the rainy summer has rendered the melons rather mild or even tasteless. If you get a mild melon or any number of other fruits, here's a cure for it - a lime and honey dressing. Just mix two parts honey to one part lime juice and you have a whole new ballgame! I have found that two tablespoons of honey to one tablespoon of lime juice is enough for a large bowl of fruit.

We've enjoyed this windfall in every way, including making the porch look festive. It will be even more colorful as the mums bloom. Hope you're enjoying this season as much as we do!

September 23, 2010

Backing into a Strawberry Bed

Or, maybe I should call this post - "An unconventional (wrong) way to start a strawberry bed!" 1st - gracefully accept the huge box of free strawberry plants dug from a co-workers garden, which you did say you wanted, but weren't prepared to plant when they arrived at the office without warning -whoops.

2nd - bring them home and leave them in the garage until it's almost too late, then finally plop the mostly dead looking bunch of plants in a large planter because your wife has bugged you relentlessly to plant them and just see what happens.

3rd - be pleasantly surprised to see new growth in the spring, and let them sit on your porch in the same planter all summer long, and watch the poor neglected plant as it valiantly produces four juicy, perfect strawberries!

4th - in the fall when your peppers have stopped producing, pick all of the beautiful peppers, and pull up the plants to make room for your new strawberry bed.

5th - take the long suffering planter and plants out to a square-foot plot and plant. There are now enough runners from the original plants to literally fill up the whole bed - cause that was the plan all along OF COURSE.

6th - stand back and admire your handiwork, and dream of berries next summer - and pray that the currently falling, torrential autumn rain doesn't foil your hard work on this perfectly engineered strawberry bed.

I'm an optimist and my plan is to start looking for cute jars and lids for all that homemade strawberry rhubarb jam coming our way next season, hopefully with our own berries this time!

September 19, 2010

Cozying Up to Fall

What a perfectly cozy weekend it's been here. Cool, rainy, foggy, misting. Makes us even more grateful for a warm, comfortable home. We both love this time of year when we can be outdoors without so much heat, and we have much more energy too! The garden out front is just overflowing with color. There is so much to appreciate and so many plants thriving that have been given to us as gifts. It's quite a memory maker out there!

Out back, our compost bin is overflowing too! Every year that we've used this bin (thanks to my Uncle J), we've had volunteers growing forth. This year the last bin is stuffed with tomato plants, watermelon vines, and a large pumpkin vine is out and over the bin.

And look at the beautiful gift hiding underneath all that vine! We had a lot of rain this weekend (nearly two inches here), and there is a beautiful pool of it on top of this pumpkin. I adore this pumpkin. It's called a Cinderella Pumpkin because it resembles the pumpkin that turned into Cinderella's coach - my favorite childhood movie! Not the Disney version mind you - the 1965, Lesley Ann Warren as Cinderella version, which was a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical made for T.V. We own it on VHS cassette and it's the only movie that I had to forbid my daughter from loaning out!

Here's another tangle out back in the garden. What are the odds that this will become a proper asparagus bed by next spring?? We have some research to do on this matter. There seem to be many opinions about how to handle a newly forming bed. We love asparagus and hope to make this work!

What better thing than a warm meal to end a fall weekend. These Delicious apples, which originated in our county, pair up incredibly well with a couple of good Iowa chops! These chops came from a farm in Ankeny, IA called Griffieon Family Farm - antibiotic-free, no-hormones-added pork. The apples actually came from our local "gas and go"! Our next order of apples won't be in until Thursday, and our local grocery store is closed on Sundays, so on the off chance that they would have some sliced snacking apples, my DH popped into the store and there were two beautiful, fresh apples! I posted a while back about the surprising retail finds I've discovered in a town where we've lived for four years with our eyes closed apparently!

I used a good pair of kitchen shears to help make a nice pocket in these chops and then filled them up with the stuffing.

They were truly delicious. You can find the recipe here, on the recipe page.

Yep, my old spark is returning, and I'm back to seasonal "mantlescapes". I lost my enthusiasm for several reasons this past year, but I'm happy to be back to the fun of it. Now the only thing missing from this cozy home scene - our DD. Miss you honey. xoxoxoxo

September 14, 2010

Autumn Hodgepodge

The tiny fawns we've watched around our house this summer are getting bigger all the time. Wonder if their moms told them about the winter that's coming? Wonder how many of them will burrow down in our side yard and make snow beds after we've gone to sleep on cold nights? This little one is eating the wildflowers that grow around one of the many pieces of vent/septic/unknown-to-me equipment that sit alongside the house. Funny how cute the deer seem when they're not munching landscape and garden plants.

Rain is picking up again and we recently installed a gauge. I can see from inside that we had a half inch from the storm that day. We've been here for 4 years and have never really known our rain totals - which is kind of lame for people who have a big garden. Just another little tweak we've done since deciding to stay.

This is the farm field that connects to the back of our property. Each year we've been here, this farmer has grown either corn or soy. It's always interesting to watch his harvest and for the first time since we've been here, this field was done in hay. In this first shot, he's working up the cut hay into long piles along the length of the field - and there is probably a more suitable 'farmy' word for these piles - anyone? **This just in from my Dad and former farm boy - the rows of hay are called windrows!
Next the John Deere hay baler comes along and pulls the hay up into the machine, and when it's full...

... it plops a big round bale out the back. Reminds me a little of a digestive system! This was a great show to watch from our deck. This is the same farm that occasionally has a llama running around up there and where the runaway duck lives - he's the one who ended up in our backyard after he ran away over the hill during an ice storm and couldn't figure out how to get back home. We tracked down the phone number for this farm, and after several days, they came down with their duck-wrangling terriers and took ducky home - good entertainment from these folks!

It's also apple time here -yeah! These are Lurared Apples, from Berry Patch Farm, which we purchased through our food coop. I had never heard of this variety, or some of the others offered like Red Free and Chieftan.

As we normally do in the fall, we made some applesauce with these beautiful apples. I did a longish post about this process a couple of years ago, and you can see the step-by-step here.

I put my applesauce in freezer containers rather than processing it. As I've mentioned, I have a thing for new containers, and these were a great size for two or three servings of applesauce. I was happy to see that the label said these were "non-BPA" plastic containers. Anyone else mightily confused over these plastic issues? Should I lay awake at night and wonder what these evil plastic containers might be leeching into this homemade applesauce? I think I'd rather not, and instead I'm going to choose to drift off to sleep knowing that we've been blessed by another apple harvest.

"Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field." Exodus 23:16

September 10, 2010

What's Growing on an Iowa Acreage?

I mentioned in my last post that we had decided not to move from our acreage, and that DH had put in some fall crops for the sheer pleasure of it. Pictured below is a nice crop of heirloom lettuce, and if you click on the picture to enlarge it, you'll just be able to see that a second crop is coming up too. We finally made a point of doing some succession planting!

In this shot, the succession planting is easier to see. This is tatsoi, a leafy green that grew beautifully for us last year and has done so again!

Here's the first picking/thinning of tatsoi that came into the kitchen. I think it's just a beautiful vegetable as well as tasting great and being so good for you. Like most leafy greens, these are high in beta-carotene, plus vitamins A, C, and K. Throw in a good concentration of calcium, phosphorous, iron, and potassium and you have a winner.

My first use of this nice leafy green was to simply wilt it into a pork stir-fry. It's not really worth posting the recipe since I did cheat and use a bottle of Kung Pao sauce! I browned some pork, onion, and our wonderful elephant garlic from food coop. Then I added shiitake mushrooms, frozen garden green beans, some peanuts, and the sauce. Wilting the greens on top at the last minute is as simple as placing them on top and covering your pan for a couple of minutes, then stir them in and serve right away. Obviously this could be done with any sort of stir-fry. Last year we made some great Chinese soup with tatsoi greens - this will be on this weekend's menu too!

Some other kinds of growing are going on around here too. We recently hit three fall clearance sales at different local nurseries, and added some fantastic plants to our landscape. Most of them are in place, but I'll wait to take photos when it's all in. This is a wonderful time of year to put in new plants and you just can't beat the deals. The only down side is that you may be forgoing a warranty if it's on clearance, but you have to weigh the pros and cons and consider your skill in planting - as in "What are the odds that this plant will live after I'm done wrestling it into the ground?" Pictured here are a couple of beautiful varieties of daylilies and a flat of pansies. We have one daylily plopped out front already, and it will be moved to form a trio with these two. The pansies will last throughout the fall and I'll pair those up with some mums, pumpkins, and hay bales on the porch.

We wanted three new foundation plants (the ones that get planted near the foundation of your home so that it ties into your lawn), and we had some lively discussions about what could go in there, since I'm not a fan of many of the evergreen varieties and how they would look as a backdrop to my perennials. Our daydream was that it could be holly bushes, but we never imagined we could find them. Lo and behold, there were three lovely, large bushes just waiting for us at the second nursery we visited, and they were half price - fantastic!

This next lovely bush is called a beautyberry - Early Amethyst variety. I saw one of these a couple of years ago and just fell in love with it. These purple berries just knock me out and they appear in the fall. Again, imagine my surprise to spot some of these on sale!! We placed it out front in a grouping with a smaller variegated bush and a stand of lavender from my aunt and uncle's home. The lavender was established in another location out front, and is one of many, many plants that DH has been moving around. Now that we're staying here, we are a little more picky about the overall scheme out there!

And last, but certainly not least - my hyacinth bean vine is growing!! I didn't plant it this year because DH had just re-painted the porch railings and we didn't want the plant to mess it up, plus of course - we thought we were moving. But this is a determined plant and it came up on it's own and is thriving as always. It's only been up for about 6 weeks now, but looks like it's had all summer to flourish. We'll see if it sets on any beans - may be too late for that, but I'm enjoying it anyway.

Growing on this Iowa acreage is a blessing and a joy. We are content.

September 5, 2010

Summer Goodies Continued

Another nice vegetable from our food coop was this Japanese eggplant. In past years we've grown this very successfully and enjoyed using it in Eggplant Parmesan especially. I made some wonderful eggplant curry with this batch and unfortunately forgot to take a photo! But I will recommend this book - "Indian Recipes for a Healthy Heart". I've never been a bit disappointed in any recipe I've tried from this book.

These are eggplant roll-ups, for which there are a number of recipes on the internet. I decided to simply saute my seasoned eggplant slices in olive oil, drain them on paper towel, then spread on some lemon-basil goat cheese from Northern Prairie Chevre in Woodward, IA. I popped them in a 350 degree oven to warm them through just a little more. I loved them, husband not so much, but I'm the eggplant fan in the house!

Organic cucumbers and Red Sangre potatoes were also part of our last order - yes we got a lot of veggies last round!

I made another version of a cucumber tomato salad with feta cheese and put the recipe on the recipe page.

And we also had a side dish of potato, red onion, green peppers and a little bacon to go with our pork burgers with ground pork from a local farmer - Crooked Gap Farm. You can see a little of our homemade pesto peeking out from under the bun. What a great thing to put on a burger!

Just as I'm feeling the withdrawal from fresh summer veggies coming on, we have a few things coming up in our own garden. We have decided that we aren't going to leave our acreage after all, and in a sort of celebration of that, DH put in a couple of fall crops. Pictures to come!

September 1, 2010

More Summer Bounty

Another couple of lovely things we got from our food coop last week were these Mars red onions and Chesnok red garlic. Both come from Sunrise farm in Woodward, IA. I've blogged about the elephant garlic from Sunrise, and these were just as perfect and tasty as the elephant garlic.

I used my mandolin cutter to slice these Mars onions for hamburgers and other recipes. Just beautiful!

One of the recipes using the thin sliced red onions was a simple crock-pot beef dish. I peeled and sliced a couple of pounds of tomatoes (given to us by a generous co-worker of DH), added a whole, sliced red onion, and a half dozen sprigs of fresh oregano to the crock-pot. (I tied the oregano sprigs together for easier retrieval at the end.) I gently stirred in one package of taco seasoning mix, and added a three pound beef chuck roast. I set the crock-pot to low and cooked it for about 9 hours. You can check your own resources to see what the minimum cooking time may be if you don't want to wait 9 hours! I took the meat out and shredded it with two forks and it was ready for soft tacos. I used a hand blender to smooth out the cooked tomatoes and onions for a sauce in which to moisten the meat. Good stuff!

Another beautiful purchase is this wonderfully fresh basil. This too came from the Divine Word Farm. This one is called "Super Sweet Chen". I purposely ordered enough to make pesto. Our efforts to grow it in a pot on the deck were disastrous but I am determined to grow my own basil again next year!

Using this basil and the garlic pictured above, I made pesto with a recipe from "Tasty Kitchen" called, Simple Pesto. I really liked the straightforward recipe and the way the author mentioned several alternatives to make this more flexible. One notable thing is that this does not require the toasting of the nuts before they are ground up. If that's an important flavor component for you, then don't forget to do it! Also pictured here are my new favorite containers - seems like I'm always finding another one! As you can see these are Ball freezer jars. These are nice and sturdy and the plastic lids screw on neatly - great little product.

We're still cooking and having fun - more to come!