Garden Tomato Pizza Sauce

Put those tomatoes to work–make a pizza sauce!  I did.  Fresh ripe ruby-red tomatoes make the most delicious sauce and don’t worry if yours aren’t ruby-red ripe (mine weren’t either).  They still taste divine.  Add a few of your garden garlic, half a sweet onion, some dried oregano and my garden goal has been achieved:  tomato sauce made entirely from my garden!

Except for that olive oil you bartered for with your cousin Vinny from Italy.  But that’s okay.  I’m at somewhat of a disadvantage–not an olive tree in sight here in Central Florida.  There aren’t any bay leaf trees, either (but I’m not looking for any).

And if my family knows what’s good for them, they won’t point the fact out.  Best to leave mom to her fantasy world.

Speaking of my family, my daughter prepared the homemade pizza dough all by herself and put the pizza together.  She’s an awesome chef.  Sweet!

As to my sauce, it was easy.  Simply de-stemmed the tomatoes, cut them in half, pushed the seeds out and tossed the tomato flesh into my Cuisinart and pressed ON.  Beautiful!  Next, I poured the tomatoes into a pan and added the fresh garlic, half a sweet onion, dried oregano.

–and yes, a bit of salt (you’d be amazed by how much salt is pre-added to canned tomatoes) and allowed the mixture to simmer for several hours prior to spreading onto the dough.

Bake for about 15 minutes and you have ooey-gooey-golden-dinner-delight!  Pepperoni side for the boys, cheese for the girls–a feat to be proud of, for sure.

Put an End to Blossom-End Rot

Finally!  The solution to blossom-end rot.  No longer will you have to suffer through unsightly spots.  No more will you find yourself spraying a problem that already exists.

Absolutely not.  We have discovered the secret.  Having endured the ugliness of blossom-end rot one too many times, I planted my tomatoes this spring with great care and foresight.  You know what I’m talking about.  After nurturing these tiny little beings from their tender beginnings, you refused to set them out in the harsh sun too soon. 

You watered and fed them on the patio waiting for that perfect opportunity, the moment they were ready to be hardened off.  Sounds so cruel when you put it that way but alas, it’s a fact of life.  Tomatoes want to be outside soaking in the full glory of Mother Nature’s sunshine.  But in transplanting them you must–absolutely must–include a dose of eggshells and Epsom salts

Yep. Because blossom-end rot is due to a calcium deficiency.  Magnesium too (I think) and these two ingredients are the secret weapon in the battle of blossom-end rot.  My tomatoes are here to prove it.  Just sprinkle a little bit of Epsom salts in the well around your plant, crumble in a few washed and dried eggshells and voila!  These babies were green and gorgeous as they developed and their skin remained this supple, smooth and unmarred all the way to maturity.

Sure we had other issues like cracking and worms, a few even “sun-dried” on the vine (I was busy on vacation) but we didn’t have blossom-end rot!  🙂  Lesson learned, mission accomplished. 

Of course, my compost tomatoes didn’t have this problem either, but I’ll be the first to admit:  I’m no match for Mother Nature when it comes to gardening.  She wins, no contest (though I do enjoy a good challenge).  The only other comment I have is regarding variety.  Now no offense, but this Pantano variety (mixed above with Romas) is not my favorite.  They’re horribly unattractive and thus unappealing to my palate.  Does that make me a bad person?

Besides, they were no where as easy to grow as my Romas.  And since my goal is sauce, I think I’ll stick with the Romas.  I also grew a San Marzano variety this spring, but they didn’t fare as well.  I think it was a water issue, as in, my sprinkler was malfunctioning (unbeknownst to me!).  Never good–especially with the heat wave we’ve been experiencing.

Live and learn.  And love those tomatoes!

Summer Heat in the Garden

While I love a good old-fashioned sun-shiny day, I don’t enjoy heat stroke–which is what you’ll end up with in Florida these days, if you’re not careful.  Now granted I’m not known for being real careful and I do tend toward action before planning, but even I know to stay out of this heat!  If only our plants could be so wise.  Or fortunate.

Look at this poor thing.  Drooping, withering, begging to be let into the patio.  Reminds me of my dog (though he’s not satisfied with merely being on the patio, oh no!).  He wants to be in the house, on the tile, never mind he’s wet from his recent dip in the pool. 🙂

Silly boy.  Sad plant.  This is Ashley’s topsy-turvy experimental tomato plant and looks a lot like the tomatoes in my garden (which BTW have no blossom end rot, thank you very much).  Only my compost pile tomatoes seem to be enjoying the weather. 

While this fellow was having a good run there for a while, he’s no longer enjoying the ride.  So like any warm-hearted gardener, she’ll take this poor baby inside and place him on a sunny corner of her porch. She’ll water him and feed him and nurse him back to health and hope he responds. 

Which he will.  Given the proper care and feeding he can thrive once again.  It only takes effort.  Why, one only has to look at her lettuce to know this woman has basketfuls of effort! 

Whoever heard of lettuce growing outdoors in the heat of Florida?  Not me.  Mine are long since burnt, I’ve the plastic store-bought bags of lettuce to prove it.  We’re fresh out of greens at my house!  And carrots.

But Ashley’s harvesting those, too.  Sure this little guy is a tad on the slender side, but he’s golden and gorgeous and he’ll taste just the same. 

Guess there is a silver  (icy and refreshing) lining to an otherwise scorching day:  Gardeners can achieve success, despite the heat.  Save for those leggy basil of hers.

Didn’t stand a chance really, because basil will do that to you.  If you don’t diligently pinch their buds they will quickly grow legs that can outrun Twiggy! 

“What? You don’t know who Twiggy is?”

Hmph.  Fine.  When I think of her contemporary, I’ll get back to you.  Until then, enjoy your summer garden! 

Or what’s left of it.

p.s.  Julie’s still recovering from vacation.

And the Raw Results Are In!

Our raw challenge has come to an end and the results?  Well, to be honest, they’re mixed. Except for this chocolate mousse.  No question, this pudding was delicious!

In the beginning, going raw was exciting.  New and fresh, the kids and I had a great time perusing the aisles of our Whole Foods store, searching for the “never heard of” ingredients for the gourmet impersonations we were concocting, from our chocolate mousse and lemony cheesecake to our Italian pastas and Asian broccoli dishes.  Eating tons of fruit, we created some wonderful smoothies, too–one of the easiest way for my kids to go raw.

But by mid-week however, the excitement was wearing thin.  The kids were whining for cheeseburgers and my husband…  Well, let’s just say it’s never a good sign when you pick up the scent of meat on your husband’s collar during raw week.  (Oh, the horror!)  Makes me suspect he might have been having a cheeseburger “fling.”  Given the opportunity, the kids most definitely would have “flung” a few burgers into their mouths as well.  Unfortunately for them, they’re under my watch 24/7 whereas my husband is not and alas, I must confess, I think my husband cheated.  Only a little bit.  Only out of necessity, driving all day long, no fast food restaurants willing to ply him with raw delicacies and fresh bliss.  What about salads?

Seems they pose more hazard than sustenance, what with the risk of dressing on the chin, driplets staining his tie, smudged across the steering wheel…  Better he chance the sneak of an easy-to-eat burger than face his business customers with a slew of salad and sauce all over him!

Speaking of non-raw, I think my most coveted (craved) food this past week was bread .  Bread for my pasta, bread for our peppers, sandwiches, pancakes–bread is a major staple in our diet, albeit not a good one.  From gluten to migraines, extra carbs to extra pounds, bread doesn’t promote a healthy lifestyle.  But it tastes so good!  Cookies and cakes, crackers and crusts–I think I’ve found my problem!  I LOVE breadstuff.

What else have I learned?

When making ceviche, be sure to cut your fish into 1/2 inch pieces else your dinner may not be ready come dinner time.  And be adventurous!  Octopus makes for really interesting presentation.

My son can juice a mean dozen lemons in no time flat, all the while craving a plate full of eggs and bacon, Reuben to follow with a healthy cheeseburger for dinner. Kids.  But he loves yogurt and berries.  Eats them most every day.  He simply doesn’t want them for every meal.

Hmph.  Salads and soups will only take your husband so far as well.  At some point, apparently he needs something more “meaty” to fill his belly. Go figure.  And he’s the one who needs to eat healthy!  Me?  I’m fit as a feline and every so finicky–I mean, feisty.  Feisty is what I am.  After all, I am the gardenfrisk! 🙂

On an important note:  When using a blender, do NOT stick your spoon inside while it’s blending to “help things along.”  Yes, you’re sure you have it under control, you know the length of your spoon, you can gauge the distance quite well, thank you but don’t do it.  And don’t–especially don’t–decide to school your daughter in the finer points of blending safety, advising her against doing what you’re doing, because of what “could” happen.  Guess what.  It does.

All over the kitchen. Last thing I wanted to do at that moment was clean a gooey mess.  Not when I was so looking forward to this Lemony Cheesecake my daughter was preparing, nor when I wanted to retire to the sofa.  Nope.  But life throws curve balls at you that way (or sprays them across your countertops, your clothing, your floor).  Then of course, there’s the husband, standing there, staring at you with that barely suppressed grin of his that says, “that’s what you get for making me eat this stuff.” 

To his credit he laughed, made light of it with the kids–all at my expense, of course.  Lucky for him I’m a good-natured sort of gal or he’d have a heap of trouble on his hands!  The nerve of him.  And to think he implied he was counting the days until our raw challenge was over.  Like father like son…

Some of our successes?  (You mean, besides the 5 pounds I lost?) Our red sauce was excellent as was the Alfredo. 

The zucchini pasta needed to be spiraled for the illusion to be complete, though this passes for Pappardelle quite well, if you ask me.  Gazpacho made for a delightful summer soup.  Combined with a salad, it was definitely enough to satisfy my appetite. 

And this Asian style broccoli was another unexpected winner.  My daughter is a broccoli fan and chose to make this dish one night for dinner and the sauce was really good.  Had a nice spice to it.  We skipped the parsnip “rice” and enjoyed it as a side.

All in all would we do it again?  For a whole week?

Maybe not every dish, every day, but we did learn how easy it is to incorporate raw dishes into our normal diet for a healthy living lifestyle.  And healthy we do want to be!

The Sweet Smell of Dirt

Is there anything sweeter than the smell of dirt? I don’t mean the dirt in my garden, or the dirt and dust of outdoor living. No, I’m talking about the sweet scent of dirt that clings to my son on a daily basis, the aroma that hovers about him, follows him as he runs through the house at top speed, leaps over sofas in a single bound, jumps, twists in mid-air as he pushes off from an armrest managing a karate chop and kick before landing on his feet.

My son is amazing.  He smells like dirt and a myriad of other things I (thankfully) cannot identify, nor do I want to know their origin.  He dots the house on a regular basis with his tale-tell markings, adding to my list of things to clean.  But it all becomes irrelevant when he careens through the room, throws himself onto the seat beside me and wraps his skinny little arms around my neck. The boy can hug like the coziest of bears!  He snuggles close, wedges his toes between my legs (to become at one with me, I think), flashes that brilliant toothless smile and says, “Hi, Mommy.”

Warm ripples of love shoot straight out from my heart.  Short and sweet, he gets right to the point.  I’d expect nothing less from my little man-in-training (his father’s not big on love talk, either). Full of life, packed with love, he wants nothing more than to be with his mother–at the moment.

The minute Dad walks in it will be game over for Mom.  Like boys and bikes, fishing and skateboards, I don’t stand a chance when it comes to him and his dad. 

But that’s okay.  I’m a realist. I accept the realities of male-bonding and sashay right around them.  After all, he’s helpful in the garden and helpful in the kitchen–after the friendly reminder to wash his hands.

Bright and energetic, boys are quick and sharp and they do love their mothers.  After all, it’s my name he calls out in the middle of the night.  It’s my side of the bed he seeks during the pre-dawn light.  It’s my cheerful face he searches for in pick up line after school. 

So each night, as he scrambles from my lap en route for his father, I let him go.  Good practice for later.  For one day he will love another woman, cherish and adore her (and call his mother once a week, if he knows what’s good for him!) and I will no longer be the center of his universe. 

But until then, I’ll happily remain the love of his life.  And the feeling is mutual, dirt devils and dust bunnies, my boy is decidedly adorable–stink and all!

Vacations and Gardens

They sometimes don’t mix.  Unless you plan accordingly, vacations can wreak havoc on a garden.  Shoot, even when you do plan accordingly they can shower your garden with weeds and bugs, slugs and grubs.  The mere thought of leaving my garden for a week at a time gives me the heebie-jeebies. But hey, I’ve got to live, don’t I? 

Yes.  More than live for my garden, I’ve got to traipse across the wilderness, scour new horizons in search of greener grass and bluer skies and drag my kids alongside me.  My heart soars at the sheer whisper of exotic destinations and far off places. 

Until they introduced those intrusive body scanners, anyway.  Ick.  Unfortunately, body scanners and groping TSA agents are not the only things capable of making one mutter, “ick.”  No.  Vacations away from your fabulous and fertile garden can make you turn away in horror, too.  Just look at what happened to Julie’s gorgeous greens. 

She wasn’t gone for long.  It all happened so fast… 

It’s enough to make a girl want to up and quit this whole garden experiment, toss the newfound joy aside like an uncomfortable pair of heels.  They’re scuffed.  It will take effort to refurbish them to their original shine.  Is it worth it?

Chin up, ladies–of course it’s worth it!  You’re a gardener now.  You must understand that Mother Nature likes to toy with a gal, test her fortitude and make sure she’s worth those glorious tomatoes she’s perfected over the centuries. After all, once she’s entrusted you with her precious commodities of fruits and vegetables, she’ll expect you to perform in turn. 

And perform you will.  As Julie has proved with these lovely near ripe tomatoes.

Just look at these budding beauties.  Kinda makes it all worthwhile, doesn’t it?

P.S.  Remember:  Mother Nature does this all day long, all by herself.  You’re included in the growing process at her whim.  If she wants your garden to grow, it will.  If not, oh well.  One only has to consider my compost pile tomatoes to be sure this woman knows how to garden. (Yep.  This plant is growing completely unaided in my compost pile.)

Then look at my corn.  Granted this shot includes only a few stalks flattened by wind–but trust me–there were more.  My husband claims I need to plant more rows, shorter rows, insisting a denser planting formation will protect the interior stalks leaving only the outer corn susceptible to annihilation.  (Apparently men from Ohio know a little something about growing corn.)  Fine. I’ll take it under my cap and consider it.


Next season.  For now, I suggest you take this as a warning–in case you had any doubts about the ferocity of Mother Nature’s temper.  Not sure what I did to deserve this, but don’t think I didn’t fight back and right those stalks at once!

I can be impossible, too. 🙂

One Week, All Raw — Ready, Set, Go!

Today we begin our week-long raw challenge.  Woohoo!  For our first day, we’re keeping it simple, gradual; fruit for breakfast, salad/greens for lunch, ceviche for dinner.  A gentle entre into our new venture is needed, because after a vacation eating everything and anything (like Pringles, beef jerky, cheeseburgers… you get the picture) we don’t want to shock the system. 

The kids are somewhat leery of our new adventure while my husband is plain skeptical–though he promised to order salads while out and about during his work day.  On the bright side, we have a wonderful harvest with which we can work wonders:  corn, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, okra,  peppers. 

Could we ask for a better menu? Gazpacho, marinated Italian peppers, zucchini pasta…  Bet you wish you were dining at our house this week, don’t you?

I can feel it already;  our skin is going to glow, our energy is going to burst, our minds will clear, our moods will soar…  Raw living will definitely provide a wholesome cleansing and a healthy turn, putting our bodies on the road to well-being.  How about you.  “Ready for a good cleansing?”

Abundant Harvest

Oh the joy!  You have gobs of cobs and tubs of spuds–another banner year in the garden.  Pull out the picnic basket and call on the neighbors, it’s time to celebrate!

But wait–

Uh, oh.  It’s all coming back to you.  Last year was a banner year, too.  And after you filled your bellies and those of your neighbors, packed your freezer and stacked your cellar, you STILL had food to spare.  Oh, despair!  What shall we do?

Fun and games, sing-song tone aside, food that goes to waste is something of a despair–but one that can be avoided.  But how?  You’ve given your excess produce to everyone you know.  There’s no place else to turn, no hands left open to give.

While that may be the case, you do have another place to turn.  With the help of an organization called Ample, you can now locate a fresh food pantry near you and donate your excess harvest to them.  Better yet, don’t wait until you have excess–donate some of what you have in your basket today!

With a network of pantries that spans clear across the United States, chances are good you’ll find one in your neighborhood.  And if you can’t, then by golly you need to start one.  It makes sense to do what we can, lend a helping hand to a neighbor in need.  And we gardeners know that fresh is always better–beats canned every day of the week.

So how about checking in with Ample Harvest and see how you can make a difference?  Talk about reaping what you sow–I have to believe there will be some good karma following you home after your fresh food pantry delivery.

Spring Garden Harvest Equals Big Fun

The garden gals are harvesting up a storm–spaghetti squash, zucchini–you name it, they’re harvesting it!  (Well, so long as it made it into the planter box… )

Just look at the size of those beasts!  And let me tell you, with the success these ladies are having, I think it’s safe to say BOTH will continue in their garden adventure.  As will their family.  While he may not know it (yet), I think Ashley’s husband is going to build her a second planter box.  🙂   How great is that?

Julie may be expanding as well.  I mean, she’s totally involved the kids in her new venture–of course they’ll insist she continue!  It’s too much fun not to, especially when it becomes a focal point of interest for their friends. Boy oh boy, do moms know how to produce or what–these kids are loving life!

Granted there still exist a few minor hurdles.  Ashley has ants in her conch peas while Julie has a few lingering yellowed leaves, but I ask you:  In the greater scheme of life, does it really matter?

I’ve long since given up on perfection in my garden.  We still have weeds here and there, despite the fact you won’t usually see them in our photos.  Sort of like a messy house.  When company comes over, you straighten up real quick. 

Oh, you don’t bother with all that pretense?  Well then, think of those flawless models on the covers of stylish magazines (they don’t normally look like that in real life, you know).  It’s a photo shoot:  perfection in pictures.

For me and my kids, gardening is centered on getting back to basics, enjoying the fruits of our labor, reaping joy from our success and spending good old-fashioned quality time together.

What can I say?  It works. (Just don’t ask my son about weeding.  He’s a bit melodramatic.)

That’s a Heckuva Garden Hat!

Wherever did you find it?

Now that’s a smart gal asking after a great hat.  While sometimes overlooked, hats are an essential part of the gardener’s wardrobe.  Not only do they keep the sun off your delicate skin (which gets more delicate as you grow older so where your hat–while you’re young ladies!), they keep critters out of your hair, off your shoulders…

You get the picture.  Gardening entails wildlife–the kind you don’t want crawling through your gorgeous lockes. 

I know it’s not a pretty picture I’m painting, but I’d rather you be prepared (else you run from your new gardening adventure before reaping your reward at harvest time!).  And with so many beautiful garden hats to choose from, why wouldn’t you wear one?  Other than the fact it flattens a girl’s “do.”  But where do you have to be?  You’re gardening, not gallavanting!

When buying a garden hat, I have one word of advice:  chin strap.

I’ve gone through a lot of garden hats in the course of my adventure and have found the hats with chin straps are my keepers.  Just think about it:  there you are, tucked between your rows, minding your business when all of a sudden a gust of wind sneaks up on you and blows your lovely hat clear from your head.  After you shriek and curse that blasted Mother Nature for her mischeif, you rise to gather your hat, only to find it…dirty.

Yep.  So make sure whichever hat you choose includes a strap.  Especially if it’s pretty.  My first choice is straw.  I like the look and find it holds up well. Also, most wide brimmed hats seemed to be woven in nature and wide-brimmed is good–keeps the sun off your skin and out of your eyes!  But wait, you’re wearing your protective eyegear, aren’t you?  This one shown is available through Mast General Store, an outfit out of North Carolina.

For a smaller “headprint” and lightweight option, how about the hat you wear out on the boat, when you’re fishing? 

What? You don’t fish?”  Oh mercy are you missing out on some big fun!  But not to worry–your garden will provide you with all the fun you need.  Outside of fishing, that is.  This booney-style hat will work both out on the boat and in the garden (note chin strap) and is washable.  Straw is not.  Brushable, but not washable.

And with a name like Sun Goddess, how could you go wrong?

Yeehaw–there’s always a cowgirl hat!  Chin strap, straw made, this one’s for you.  From high atop your tractor to crouched between your rows of corn, you’ll feel right at home in this one and ready for a quick change for a night on the town.

I do love a good country line dance, now and again. Mostly to watch since my coordination (and memory) lacks to keep up! 

Oh well, there’s always the garden…always something exciting going on in there.

Which brings me to a good point.  Hats are practical but should also be fun.  They’re a reflection of you.  Like your gloves, your glasses, your shoes, your shorts–hats are an expression of your personality.  Make it bold but make it useful!

And don’t forget the chin strap.

p.s.  There’s one more option.  If you’re willing to forgo the chin strap (simply not a breeze in sight in your neck of the woods), check this cute paisley hat from Women’s Work.  It will match your cute paisley gloves.  And who doesn’t like to coordinate accessories?