This One’s for You, Mom

Today I planned to post another chapter in the lives of my students and their school garden, including the addition of a few photos from my homegrown blueberry patch, perhaps a few analogies between kids and plants…

But then my daughter surprised me with an early Mother’s Day gift.

Kids.  They really are the only gift a mother needs on yet another Sunday in a busy calendar year…  Of course they’re not satisfied with merely existing.  Oh, no–they need to be noticed and fussed over, coddled and loved; they’re basically miniature adults in this regard.  And like adults who need to be loved, they also need to love, and share.  As she did with me today.

Now, not to take away from her delivery, but when my child walks up to me and prefaces the bestowing of a gift with an “I need you to pay attention” — as if I don’t ALWAYS pay attention when she’s bearing gifts!–I get a little nervous.  My evening news was over (a definite pre-requisite in our household, because it’s the only time “I” get to watch television), and it was me who called her out to the living room for the specific purpose of her gift-giving — per her request — I must admit, I was somewhat wary. 

“Pay attention?” I replied.  “Why wouldn’t I pay attention?  You’re giving me prizes!”

Grinning, hiding my gift behind her back, she wanted to be sure.  “Okay.  Are you ready?”

I glanced around the empty, quiet room.  “Yes, I think so…”

Unable to contain herself, she whipped out the cards and handed them to me.  “I made you these at school.”

Watercolor renditions of a garden.  A compilation of all the beautiful flowers that surround our home.  I do love flowers.  There were four in total; one large and three smaller.  “They’re beautiful, honey.  Thank you!”

Her smile took total control of her face then as she was clearly pleased by my response.  But they are beautiful.  The largest one had a hand-written note inside about how wonderful I am (thank you for finally noticing!) while the other three were custom note cards for my personal use (her teacher reduced her original painting which she showcased against bright orange paper).  “They’re perfect.”

She proceeded to explain to me how I was to use them, then remained seated next to me, steeped in my admiration.

Looking at her, an unrestrained bundle of joy and innocence, elation and pride, I was reminded once again how precious children are and how lucky I am to be a mother.  This child is golden, through and through.  Sure she bickers with her brother, snips at me most mornings and complains about my dinner selection–who doesn’t?  Though in her card, she was kind enough to mention I was a good cook.

But that’s real life.  You get the good with the bad, the fun with the not-so-fun, the green with the brown (that’s garden lingo).  You get it all. 

If you’re lucky.  I don’t know about you, but I haven’t quite evolved to that place where I could live in la-la happy land all the time and be happy.  I need contrast.  I need lessons.  I need growth.  Reminders like today aid me in that path and I’m thankful, each and every day.

This weekend it’s Mother’s Day and we’ll focus on mom, but in reality, everyday is mother’s day–and father’s day, children’s day, grandparents day…  With the right attitude, every day is ours, and one to be celebrated.

To all my fellow moms, have a happy Mother’s Day and enjoy!  They’re prepared to please

Watch Out for Squash Bugs!

Ashley has some beautiful squash growing in her garden.  Actually, she has a lot of beautiful EVERYTHING growing in her garden–just look at this overflow of flourishing foliage!

But she must be vigilant, because squash bugs can devastate a squash plant in no time.  I should know–look what they’ve done to my compost squash!  Before:

And now for the horrible ruins left in their aftermath:

Do you think they’ve moved on since eating me out of compost and squash?  Of course not.  For those of you who have never seen a squash bug and wouldn’t know how to spot one if he were crawling along your planter, take a good long gander…

Ugly.  Plain and simple.  These bugs are not pretty and they’re ruthless in their attack.  (Apparently summer squash is one of their favorites.)  They also lay eggs.  Check the undersides of your leaves for these telltale signs you might have a problem.

 Yes, I realize I’ve scared some of you clear out of the garden with these photos, but organic gardening requires vigilance and stiff spines.  Sure it would be easier to spray these marauders, but then you’d be forced to consume toxic chemicals–and you don’t want to consume poison.  I mean, isn’t eating healthy part of the gardening process? 

It is.  But gardening is also fun, so ask one of your kids to handle the duty of bug dispatch (squash em, Danno).  They enjoy it far more than you do!  Just be sure they’re wearing gloves.  You can also try planting marigold nearby, as squash bugs tend to keep their distance from these golden glories. 

On to a more postitive note (though still dealing with squash), Julie’s garden is thriving as well!  Yes, that’s squash AND zucchini in her garden.  Vigilance…  Vigilance…

Though she has a bit of explaining to do. 

“Julie?”  I mean, I’m all about garden decoration, but antlers? 

Seems our theme is a bit off…

Engaging Kids in the Garden

And by this I mean both verb and noun.  Kids are a hoot in the garden.  Not only do they come up with some of the most amazing theories about nature at work, but they delight in the simplest of discoveries (a joy for any parent to watch).

But how do you get kids INTO the garden?  In general, kids tend to avoid chores like homework.  Sure, they understand it’s part of the deal, but if they can shortcut the process somehow…

…then by all means, they’re shorting!  However, if the garden presents adventure and discovery, you won’t be able to keep them out.  Bugs, rare finds, lost coins, worms, butterflies, animal poop–having your own garden equates to big time excitement!  And then of course there’s harvest time.  What kid doesn’t like to eat yummy food?

Stop laughing.  I’m serious! Vegetables can be yummy for kids, so long as they’re “staged” in the proper fashion.  (Note to parents of daughters:  while I don’t literally mean fashion, you can use this angle to get your girls in the garden.  How?  My daughter plays with her Polly’s among the branches and trellis’ and has quite the time of it, creative little thing that she is!).   But truthfully, lure them with the promise of baking healthy french fries and potato chips together.  

Packing carrots with the greens intact makes for amazing bragging rights (wonderful cupcakes, too).  Even broccoli snapped from the stalk seems a whole lot more alluring to kids than the shrink-wrapped store-bought kind.  I mean, what lucky person had the right to break all those “trees” from the stalks?

Not your kids.  Trust me–they want their chance.  It’s fun to harvest vegetables!  Pulling carrots from their hiding places, swimming for buried treasure–er, potatoes.  It’s a blast!  And the sheer pride they derive from planting seeds, watching them grow… 

It’s truly a wonderful experience.  Have them grow their own herbs, too, and then dry them in oven.  They’re perfect for sprinkling on pizza, pasta–you name it!  Not to mention they make great gifts for friends and family, and dare I mention…teachers?  End of the school year is approaching fast, but don’t worry if your child doesn’t have their own garden yet–they can practice with fresh fruits and vegetables from the grocery store!  My kids and I recently went strawberry picking and ended up with flats of excess berries.  What did we do?

Made our own homemade preserves.  (It’s easier than you think.)  Check my recipe section for complete how-to instructions and don’t forget Mom!  With Mother’s Day on the horizon, your kids will enjoy giving her the gift of nature with satchels of lavender and rosemary, or painting a planter pot at the local paint and glaze shop. We have an awesome one in our area.  Check your local listings for one near you. 

While we’re talking rosemary, try using some to make rosemary lemonade!  Or how about making homemade aromatherapy oils?  Hmmm…  Moms love that kind of stuff.  I should know–I am one!

For those who “know how to sew,” how about creating a garden apron?  Worked to get my daughter excited about the garden…  And it’s too cute to pass.  For those rebel do-it-yourselfers, I’ve included the “apron-construction-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” patternI do love a challenge.

Now that we’re all dressed up, how about hosting a harvest party?  Better yet, invite your childs’ friends over for a potato swim or carrot dig!  They will surely be the hit of the neighborhood.  And there are some awfully cute garden-style invitations to choose from out there.   I couldn’t resist.

And when they finish with their first season, encourage sustainability with custom-designed seed saving packets. Instructions are right here under the Kid Buzz section of this website and they are way cool.

No matter which path you choose, gardening with kids is tons of fun and a true joy.  Plant seeds of love together, and watch your relationship grow.

Cooking with Kids

And I do mean cooking!  We were back in the kitchen this week, enjoying fresh potatoes, sweet onions and delectable rosemary–all from our garden.  In fact, the potatoes were harvested over the last several days, to the delight of all involved.  In fact, I’m not sure who was more excited, the lower elementary kids or the middle school students!

All learned how to swim for potatoes and agreed: it’s a lot like digging for buried treasure.  (Like I always say, having your own garden is way cool.)  It’s a dirty job, but definitely a fun one.

 

The younger crowd even found some the middle schoolers missed.  A feat that may not go unmentioned.  And what happens if we accidentally leave some in the ground?

Mother Nature will take care of them (hopefully reward us with an unexpected harvest come fall!).  That would be awesome, because if I’ve learned one thing from this school garden experience, it’s that we didn’t plant near enough to satisfy these kids.  From carrots to scallions, broccoli to strawberries, these kids were always ready for more.  A good thing, in my book!

With our baskets full and our bellies empty, we cooked up trays for sampling.  Throughout the afternoon, the kids floated on air, much like the scent of roasting vegetables and rosemary. 

Okay, that’s not exactly true.  They were wiggling, giggling, holding their nose, pushing for a view–just as you’d expect when presented with the opportunity to learn how to prepare their very own vegetables!  It is exciting.  Nothing better than eating what you grew. 

So as the adult in charge, I bumped up my tolerance level to “extremely patient” and off we went.  I showed them how to clean their potatoes, chop them into pieces, coat them with olive oil, tossing in some sweet onions and fresh garden rosemary.  Mmmmm….  We roasted them and devoured them, all in the space of one fun-filled hour in school.

Does it get any better?

Bounty of Spring Squash

Would you look at Ashley’s squash?  They’re fabulous!

“Time for dinner, kids!”  And while she’s at it, she’ll throw a little fresh salad together.  Why not?  She has plenty! (Sure they look a tad peaked, but it was hot today!  Not to worry, they’ll clean up fine.)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen potato plants this big.  These things are monsters!

And despite conventional wisdom (and space restriction on our part), they DO get along with squash.  Like old friends these two, wouldn’t you agree?

See, we can get along, without any trouble at all.  Though her cucumber needs some assistance.  This baby is sprawling–like she owns the place–antics for which we simply have no room.  Like a good mother, Ashley will guide her to the fence and encourage some good climbing behavior. 

Speaking of good mothers (with sensitive spots), Julie’s garden is doing well, though she hasn’t the heart to remove this stray melon. 

While it may seem fun right now, this fellow has no business mingling with those carrots.  It’s Julie’s job to remove the wayward lad–before he gets unruly.  Which he will.  He’s a melon and talk about wandering!  Don’t get me started.  He’s only going to get bigger.  Sorry, but the boy needs to go. 

Her tomatoes are doing well, even sporting little tomato sprouts.  However, they’re also sporting squiggly white lines. 

Do you know what that means?  (I didn’t either until I looked it up.  Never posed a problem at my house.)  Anyhoo, these lines indicate she has leaf miners.  Not good.  Granted the damage is mostly cosmetic, unless of course a large number of leaves are affected.  If so, the overall vigor of her plant could be significantly reduced.  If left intact, the tunnels–those lines are actually tunnels–can allow fungus and bacteria to enter.  

Best thing she can do at this point is to remove the damaged leaves, water well and keep it healthy.  Beneficial wasps are natural predators for leaf miners, so sending an invitation to her neighborhood wasp center could prove helpful.  Otherwise, her tomato plant is healthy and robust should recover from the trauma.  Good work, Julie!

Cooking up a Spring Harvest

I do love harvest time.  Not only do I find it more enjoyable than weeding (and a lot easier than tilling), it means it’s time to EAT!  And who doesn’t love to eat fresh veggies from the garden?

Nobody I know.  Especially when a basket full of potatoes and sweet onions are involved.  These are a mix of Yukon Gold, Red Cloud and a batch I planted from an organic potato purchase from my local grocery store. (Yes, you CAN do that–but don’t tell anyone I told you so.  Master gardeners tend to frown upon this sort of corner-cutting.)

Add a few sprigs of rosemary the herb garden, a little olive oil and next thing you know you have all the makings for an excellent side dish to dinner!  Roasted potatoes anyone? 

A bit of minced garlic would be the perfect mix-in for this dish.  Which I also just happened to harvest this weekend!

Very yummy.  And for those leftovers:  reheat them, crack an egg in a skillet and cook until it’s sunny side up, then scoop it over top of the potatoes for a hearty breakfast.  But whatever you do, don’t let the original chef know you squirted out a dollop of ketchup to go with them.  They were once a gourmet dinner side.

Like I said, for me, harvest is all about eating, though there is a “fun-factor” involved.  One of the students at school sent me a picture of her home garden harvest and there were more exclamation points in one paragraph than I have seen in quite some time! 

But can you blame her?  Look at the size of those zucchini!  Beans…and a tomato, too.  She’s AWESOME!

Harvest time is a wonderful time.  Especially in spring, because this is the only time I have fresh sweet onions and garlic–veritable staples in the Italian diet.  Remember:  I’m after the perfect sauce.  Just as soon as those tomatoes of mine are ready, I’m all over it!

P.S. For those of you reading this thinking I could never grow vegetables like those–think again.  If these black beans don’t prove it to you, I don’t know what will.  Sure, I put the cage around them–but only AFTER I noticed they were blooming completely on their own.

Roma tomatoes, too.  These babies are twice the size of my garden tomatoes.

So please, if my compost pile of dead leaves can grow these black beans and Roma tomatoes without a lick of help from me, than so can you.  Trust me.  Mother Nature WILL help you.  She wants you to grow and grow to your heart’s content!  (Less work for her.)

P.S.S. One more reason to start that compost pile!  As if you needed another…

Spring Bounty for the Kids

After all their hard work, the kids are sliding down the home stretch.  First they pulled their sweet onions and next week?

Potato mania!  The kids can’t wait to roast them with their leftover sweet onions and rosemary.  Mmmmm….  Until then, they had to maintain.  Let the weeding begin! 

Promising them a bit of the fluffiest-carrot-cake-ever ( the remainder of Monday’s post) proved an excellent motivator.  Totally unfair of me, I know–but totally effective!  Those weeds didn’t stand a chance against these guys!

While weeding, we noticed our black beans are forming pods.  When they darken to purple, that’s our sign to harvest.

We trained our cucumbers to climb the fence, as we expect a full wall of bounty come May.

And of course our tomatoes are gorgeous.  Something about the dirt on this school ground puts my home garden to shame.  Would you look at these?

Mine at home are not even half the size (and I loaned the kids some of MY tomato sprouts!).  Go figure.  At that, I’ll leave you with their black eye peas.

They too are flourishing.  Unfortunately, I don’t know too many recipes for fresh black eye peas which means I’ll have to rely on tradition.  Now if only I can find that ham hock I bought for New Year’s…

The Gals are Making Progress

And couldn’t be more excited.  Can you blame them?  Not with one look at Ashley’s spectacular home garden!

It is lovely, isn’t it?  Lean in closer, and you’ll notice this little gem. 

Squash for everyone!  Not only is Ashley is the generous sort, but it seems to be a natural fit–when you have bounty, you feel like a party.  Forget that the menu will be filled with your favorites–you won’t have to cook!  Instead, eat them fresh from the vine.  Easy and healthier.

Julie is sprouting right along.  Why just look at these carrots. Yes, that’s a dropped squash seed in their midst. It happens. 

Her herb garden is making nice progress.  If you kneel beside the kiddy pool and dip your head near into the dirt, you can see the tiny beginnings on her basil.

And her tomatoes?  Growing strong and full–though don’t forget to pinch!  Those small growths between the main stems are known as suckers, and if you “pinch” them off before they get too big (like this one), your tomato plant will have more energy to direct to the major branches, wasting less on extraneous ones.

Don’t have your own home garden?  How about starting one in celebration of Earth Day.  Can’t think of a better way to pay homage.

Fluffiest Carrot Cake Ever!

My kids enjoy fresh carrots from the garden, but carrot cake? 

They like this one!  Sweet and delicious, it’s the perfect finish to any spring meal.  Unlike most dark and dense carrot cakes, this recipe whips up a light and fluffy yet oh-so-flavorful-batter earning the approval of even the fussiest of kids. 

With a basket of fresh carrots in hand a sweet tooth aching for satisfaction, we scoured through recipes in search of the perfect carrot cake.  Most are too heavy and rich for our liking, so we devised this version that showcases our garden produce AND pleases our discriminating palates.  It’s also a dessert where we can all pitch in to help; a good thing. 

First, my daughter harvested a basket of fresh carrots.  My son then peeled and grated them. 

While he was busy at work, I asked my daughter if she would make some carrots as decorations for our cake, to which she replied a resounding yes!  Then quickly got down to the business of decorating–with fondant, of course.  She’s a budding cake artist and decided our carrot cake needed some bunnies, too. 

Have at it, girl–let’s make it a party!

Pouring her creative juices into the assignment, she rolled and formed, squished and scrapped  until everything was precisely the way she wanted (I had no idea artists were such perfectionists). 

After due diligence, she settled carrots and greens and her sweet little fella (I use the term “little” lightly, mind you) square in the center of the cake, among an egg-littered meadow. 

Cute, isn’t he? 

Upon seeing the creation, my husband remarked, “What’s he doing?”

“What do you think he’s doing? He’s sitting.”

He raised a brow.  “I’ve never seen a bunny situated quite like that before.  Looks like he’s about to take the car for a drive.”

I shook my head.  Hmph.  (You can see who isn’t the creative one in the family.)  “Well I think he’s adorable.”  And proceeded to take pictures to share.

Afterward, we used the carrot tops for a bit of floral decoration.  We’re thrifty.  Why not use every part of our produce? And when they pass their peak, we’ll continue to utilize them–on the compost pile.

Baking is fun, getting creative is fun…tying them all together with a bounty of garden harvest makes them even more fun. 

And delicious.  Care for some carrot cake?  Check my recipe section and make some today.  You’ll be glad you did!

Sweet and Savory Baked Onions

“How sweet it is” doesn’t begin to describe these delicacies!  The kids devoured the onions they pulled from their school garden this week, followed by howls for seconds.  And I do mean howls.  It’s Friday and these kids were energized, to say the least!

But so long as they’re behaving we don’t mind a bit of energy, right?  Nah.  Besides, who can blame them?  Eating what you grow is way too exciting.

We began our harvest party with a sampling of raw onion slices served with a choice of either ranch or honey mustard dressing–for dipping, of course.  Upon first bite, many of the kids were surprised how well the onions tasted!  Some thought them too “spicy” while others thought they tasted like water.  What?!  Water! How can you say such a thing?

They remained firm in their opinion.

Hmph.  Water?  Well… 

They were picked fresh from our garden, and as vegetables go, onions do consist mostly of water…  Could be an accurate description.  How about we go with “sugar water,” to be precise. 🙂

It was an easy sell.  Next it was time to sample our baked onions–which won the taste competition hands down.  Why? 

Perhaps it was the scent of sweet onions baking in the oven that tickled their bellies (sure worked a number on the teachers!).  Maybe it was the brown sugar and melted cheese that cinched the win (both well-known favorites of children).  But either way, the baked version definitely became the preferred dish of the afternoon, warranting seconds, thirds–as much as I would give them!

Which is heartwarming for a parent.  Connecting kids to what they grow in a tangible way really makes an impression between their garden and their food supply.  Taking time to slice the onions, grate the cheese, witness their entry into the oven followed by the ogling of golden beauty said it all.  Sure they were delicious, but so are a lot of things these kids consume. 

One thing for certain:  these students will remember these onions, no doubt about it!  If you’d like to sample some these gems for yourself, check my recipe section for full details on how you can make them at home.