Raw Diet–the Possibilites are Endless!

Time to free that body of yours from processed junk and rid your diet of enzyme destruction — yes, the raw challenge is here!  (Well, the menu suggestions are going up.) Challenge begins in 2 weeks.  Are you ready?

How about, “Why bother?”

Theory holds that heating foods to temperatures over 115 – 118 degrees Fahrenheit destroys enzymes necessary for a multitude of chemical processes that keep your body healthy. In fact, humans are the only animals that eat cooked foods.  Duh.  Who let Captain Obvious into the conversation? 

Theory goes further to distinguish between alkalizing foods (leafy green vegetables and fruits) and acidic foods (animal proteins, dairy, processed food and white flour and sugar).  Raw food purists believe that a raw diet keeps the body more alkaline, which allows blood to absorb more oxygen.  We’ll delve deeper into the differences between alkaline and acid foods on Friday’s post, but for now, we’re simply talking raw–for which there is a another difference–vegan (no meat or dairy) and simply raw (uncooked).

Me?  I’m no vegan.  I adore sushi and feel nothing goes better with yogurt than blueberries, so this menu of mine will include fish and dairy options.  Can anyone say ceviche?  One of my favorite words.  Besides, according to the dictionary, raw is defined as uncooked, not refined or processed.  I’d say we’re good to go!

Okay, now that you’re excited and your appetite’s tuned in, what else are we going to eat, besides glorious bowlfulls of sashimi and ceviche?  

Ah…  You’ve come to the right place.  The following is a sample menu offering suggestions for a full week’s worth of meals.  These are all gourmet delicacies in some form or fashion–or someone’s opinion, I should say–and have one thing in common:  they’re delicious!  Taste was an absolute pre-requisite for this undertaking set forth (in stone) by my husband.  And we do want to keep him happy, so after a thorough search of the internet, here’s the list:

Shall we start with dessert?  Always my first choice.  I don’t know about you, but calculating how much room you need to leave for dessert allows for efficient meal management at my house.

Nudie Foodie offers this decadent recipe for Chocolate Mousse and with your eyes closed, you’d never know the difference between this and traditionally made.  She makes a mean Coconut Cream Pie, too.  Uncooking 101 has a list of gorgeous dessert items, like this Swiss Apricot Tart and Caramel Fudge Brownies.  Prefer cookies?  How about taking a look at this Chocolate Chip recipe–it’s totally vegan.  Lemony Cheesecake anyone?  Simple fresh berries and whipped cream are always nice–just keep your cream organic and as natural as possible. 

For dinner, your options are equally tasty.  For easy solutions, salads are obviously your best bet.  No prep, no time, 100% healthy and raw.  But what if your family demands more?  (After you give them the “eye” and mini-lecture about all you do for them), offer some of these delicious alternatives:

Lasagna, Zucchini Alfredo, Eggplant Ravioli, Spinach Manicotti  — Of course I started with Italian because I’m a Venettacci.  While these are somewhat involved, an easier method for achieving the coveted Italian flavor would be to Julienne your zucchini/squash (aka “raw” pasta) and smother it with a combination of crushed tomato, minced garlic, chopped onion, basil and olive oil. 

Tired of same old-same old?  How about some garden variety pesto?  Traditional pesto is made by combining (grounding to smithereens) basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic cloves, Parmesan and olive oil, but Southern Living magazine offers some wonderful spins on this classic–excellent alternatives for your “pasta” dishes. 

Not a fan of pasta?  Check out these recipes for Meatloaf, Chili and BBQ over at Awesome to be Rawesome!  In addition to these “meat” plates, they have a ton more recipes to choose from.  I do like a smorgasboard of options, don’t you?

Cold soups and salsa are a delightful way to consume your food raw, from my simple cucumber soup to this fancy gazpacho, you’ll enjoy every spoonful.  In fact, I plan to use my Cuisinart every day of this challenge to create carrot soup flavored with turmeric & ginger (discovered my kids like this combination), homemade humus and a spicy red pepper drizzle for my ceviche, compete with fresh avocado sides.   Mmmm…  Add a little black bean & mango salsa and lo and behold–it’s Carribbean night!  Pineapple, papaya…both would make wonderful variations.

I’ll bet you can’t WAIT to begin.  Well  hold on to your hat straps because we haven’t even discussed breakfast–the most important meal of the day!  Which is a tough one for me.  Unfortunately, my children do not eat anything remotely resembling fresh, raw and healthy for breakfast.  While I won’t go into the (embarrassing) details, let’s just put it this way:  this will be a tough sell in my household. 

However, smoothies of all flavors make for the perfect solution.  Blending berries, bananas and yogurt together will provide a healthy start for my kids and I’ve since learned, a great way to hide spinach.  Oh, yes…  If you opt for the darker shade of blueberries, the little ones will scarcely notice the color difference when blended together.  For more morning options, you might be interested in perusing the menu over at The Best of Raw Food.   As for my breakfast, I’ll stick with berries and yogurt topped with a bit of raw granola.

So there you have it.  With a plethora of choice at your keyboard fingertips, there’s NO excuse not to give the raw diet a whirl.  While we’ve offered a few suggestions, the websites above contain so many more delicious and nutritious recipes, you’ll eat to your heart’s content.  You’ll feel magnificent, look magnificent and who knows?  You might even go raw for good. 

Challenge begins June 13th, so get those shopping lists together and scour your local health food stores.  As you may have noticed, some of the “secret” ingredients to divine raw dining may not be available at your regular supermarket. 

Remember:  we want to hear about your experiences as we go raw together–so please, stop back and DO share! 🙂

School Garden Fundraiser

Well, it’s that time of year for us when the teachers breathe a sigh of relief and the kids jump up and shout for joy–school’s out for summer break!  I know it’s a bit early for many, but then again, we start earlier than most.  But days are days, right?  Funny thing is, most of these kids think they’re pulling a fast one on the their area school counterparts. 

“Ha, ha–they have to go to school longer!”

Far be it from me to ruin their fantasy. Life’s too short not to nurture every last one.  And once the grand finale picnic was over, the carrot cupcakes long since devoured, we contemplate the summer…garden

“Summer garden?”  Blank expressions stare back.  “But we’ll be gone.  Who’s going to take care of all those plants?”

I’m glad you asked.  While most students will be off frolicking about summer camps and family vacations, others (mine included) will be scampering about the school playground, struggling for control of the tether ball, clamoring for more snacks, running from kids with “cooties” (translated: the opposite gender) and… 

…tending the garden!  Lucky pumpkins.  Yep.  We’ll keep watch over our summer crop and make sure all is well.  Yes, peanuts and sweets are fairly independent critters, but we want to make double-sure they’re okay and doing well.  Besides, the kids really enjoy their time in the kitchen and any lost produce come fall semester will NOT be appreciated.

In addition to caring for our summer crop, we’ll be thinking of ways to expand.  I mean, what child doesn’t want to grow his own pumpkin?  Sheesh.  Not any that I know!  But with expansion comes cost.  How will we make ends meet?

Fundraising.  Of course. But we’re not talking your ordinary fundraising here, complete with gift wrap, candles and candy bars–no sir!  We’re talking seeds, as in selling them. Seed Savers Exchange is an organization committed to the practice of sustainability.  They’ve also devised an ingenious way to raise money for schools; sell heirloom seeds!  They’re practical, inexpensive and a wonderful way to give back to Mother Earth, not to mention your very own family.

What a perfect way to get kids involved at all levels.  Raise the money for your garden, prepare the ground, sow the seeds, nurture them, watch them grow and *pow* reap your harvest!  Time to eat, kids and eat healthy at that. 

Wow.  I do love a win-win situation.  It may work for your school, too.  But for now, the kids and I bid you farewell.  We’ll continue to post on our progress, though it will be infrequent at best.  (I do have vacation to think about AND two kids at home!).  Enjoy your summer and see you back here in August!

Hornworms and Fungus (& other fun stuff)

Ashley has been busy!  Doing what, you ask?  Harvesting, of course!

One of the more glorious times in the garden, she is reaping what she sowed (is that a word?).  Anyhoo, she is happy as a lark with her first bounty of potatoes, zucchini and beans.  You know this by how CLEAN they are!  I assure you these babies didn’t look like this when she dug them out of that inky black dirt.  Way to grow, Ashley!

And while you may not be aware, she was privately battling a topsy-turvy experiment gone wrong (one stiff breeze whacked the entire contraption from her tree) but is happy to report:  success!

Isn’t it beautiful?  You’d never know the trauma this poor thing endured by looking at it, would you?  And quite lush now that it’s comfortably (and safely) secured in a real planter with real support. Not that I have anything against topsy-turvy, mind you.  In fact, I’ve heard of several that have done fine, just not this one.

Off to Julie’s and lo and behold, we discover this unfortunate sight.

Yep, those white spots are fungus (or mildew) and are not good.  Most probably a result of humid conditions (surprise — it’s Central Florida!) and/or leaf watering, but if these leaves aren’t removed and quick, this nasty stuff will spread.  Some might attempt to spray it with a mix of antibacterial soap and water, allowing the mixture to dry before rinsing it off with a hose, but me, I’d remove them and move on.  Because I don’t have time to spray, dry, rinse and repeat.   Of course…my kids are home on summer break…  Why, there may be all sorts of things I suddenly “have time” for! Division of labor works wonders on a schedule. 🙂

Another more gruesome discovery were these piles of frass (poop).

“Oh, hey–thanks for sharing!” 🙁

Sorry, but I had to show this photo.  It’s important you learn how to spot signs of hornworm invasion–other than the more obvious stems-without-leaves syndrome!

These are common pests and quite the pigs, I might add.  Found one myself this morning during my daily garden visit.  The beast was so big and fat I thought he’d explode at my mere touch!  Of course he was dispatched immediately.

Prevention would be most opportune in combating these fiends, specifically Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis).  Purported to be organic and safe to everything but hornworms, this may be the answer.  One thing for sure, I’m going to check into this magic potion because I absolutely dread the “hornworm search.”  Unless they’re HUGE, I have a hard time seeing them (don’t usually wear my glasses to the garden) and HUGE hornworms can down a plant in a matter of days so by the time they reach this size, I am so-out-of-luck.

I’ll keep you posted!

Blueberries are Going Fast!

Here in Florida we have a very narrow window for blueberry picking.  April and May are basically it when it comes to harvest so grab your buckets and get out there!  Before they’re gone for good.  At least until next year…

And make sure you drag the kids along (or will they be dragging you?, because they can do some damage in a blueberry field.  The good kind, as in picking more blueberries than you can possible eat!  Good thing they freeze well and make great smoothie additions…  We went to a local field in our area called Blue Bayou Farms and picked over 5 lbs. worth of berries, then headed next door to the Yalaha Bakery (a German deli and bakery) for some good food, good music, and some unexpected entertainment!  If you’re in the area, be sure to stop by for a visit.  You won’t be disappointed.

Kids do love to dance, don’t they?  (Or is he running?  Finnicky little dance partner…)  Both were a hoot to watch.  As for my blueberries didn’t fare as well this year.  I started out with some gorgeous blooms, but to my disappointment, they didn’t bloom to fruition.

Not sure exactly why, but I suspect it had something to do with water, as in, not enough.  It’s been hot and dry in Central Florida and I’ve been busy–which means my watering schedule suffered.  Basically, I forgot to water them.  🙁   A few did produce which my lovely daughter promptly used to make some blueberry pancakes for me on Mother’s Day (sweet child).  But I have no bounty to speak of.  Sad.  Very sad.  Thank goodness for pick your own blueberry farms. 

For a farm near you, Pick Your Own is a super resource and can be found on my list of Favorite links under U-Pick farms.  You’ll also find instructions there on how to make blueberry jam, jelly and preserves!  They’re simple to make, much like the strawberry preserves the kids and I made for a teacher’s gift (details in our Kid Buzz section) and oh so tasty.

Summer Peanuts and Sweet Potatoes

With the school year winding down, the kids have harvested and cleared their black eye peas and black beans, then tilled the area to soft perfection. 

Harvested the green peppers and remaining cucumbers.

Yanked out the scallions and carrots, too.  (Something they’ve been aching to do.) 

Can you blame them?  Those carrot cupcakes were delicious and will make the perfect accompaniment to their year-end picnic party!  Found this exciting fellow in the bunch, though we’re not exactly sure what happened. Freak of nature? 

Hit an underlying root and split growing direction? As promised, the kids planted their sweet potato slips and gave them a good start in hopes of a fall harvest.  These sweets take a while, 100-120 days at least.  I say at least, because I’ve learned if I allow them to grow longer (forget they were in the ground), they can reach impressive sizes.

And because we are avid gardeners and will only be away from our garden for a few months, we decided to add peanuts to the mix!  They’ll make great snacks at school…

And with 4-5 nuts per shell, we did the math and realized whoa–we’re going to reap a lot of peanuts upon our return!  You will, so long as your tilling was deep and thorough. 

As a reward, we celebrated with cucumber soup made from their very own cucumbers, onions a few leaves from my homegrown stevia plant. 

Man, life is good!  Check the recipe section for full details.

Garden Ties that Bind

There’s a reason some ingenious gardener came up with the idea of using pantyhose for tying tomatoes to a trellis–they’re soft and don’t injure the plant.

This tie has outgrown its use, or rather the tomato plant has outgrown it.  Doesn’t it just look painful?  Ouch.  It’s also the reason green garden tape was invented. 

Only a guess (as I wasn’t the mastermind behind this million-dollar-invention) but it’s a smart one and my first choice when it comes to tying tomatoes.  Easy to use, easily expands…  Simply a great product for the garden and available in most garden centers.

Speaking of ties that bind, look at this fella.  He’s grabbed hold of his zucchini neighbor and then some!  One of the downsides to planter box gardening…when there’s no way to grow up, they will grow out–spreading all over the place!  The perfect solution is to have them organized for such sprawling.

Which Julie does.  Lined her babies right along the border, save for the one above.  Makes for more exciting gardening when you mix it up!

And mix it up we do–with companion planting!  Peas and carrots are doing well together and so are Ashley’s beans.  She’s added this lovely new trellis for them which just goes to show, tall, short and most places in between, trellis’ come in all sizes!  More important–they all work.

Ashley has also been expanding her gardening repertoire…by adding this rosemary plant next to her back door.

Edible landscape, here we come!  The only thing her garden needs at the moment is a bit of detective work.  Her basil leaves are yellowing which could be a sign of not enough sun and/or water.  Perhaps pests or disease are at play.  Could be a combination, but by the looks of those brown spots, I’d start there; invasion!

Removing damaged leaves will go a long way to helping your plants recover and heal as well as checking your water supply. I’ve noticed that when my plants start looking shabby, I double-check the sprinkler system to be sure it’s functioning properly.  Nine times out of ten–that’s the culprit.

And don’t forget to pinch!  Pinching those center clusters of white blooms on your basil will encourage thicker growth–a must when you have pesto on the menu.  “Honey…Wha’t for dinner?”

It’s almost like that Italian husband of mine could hear me write the word!  Do love him so

Jennifer’s Garden

When I’m not in the garden or busy with my kids, I write women’s fiction with strong romantic elements.

It started years ago, characters popping into my brain, clamoring for attention until finally demanding to be set free onto the page!  What’s a gal to do but oblige? (Besides all that, it’s just plain fun.)

My first release is Jennifer’s Garden which epitomizes the showdown between a career woman’s criteria for the perfect husband and what true love means. 

In a race against time, cardiologist Jennifer Hamilton is caught between her mother’s dying wish and taking the risk of a lifetime with Jackson Montgomery. He’s the man hired to complete the landscaping for her new home; the venue for her upcoming wedding. He’s everything she never wanted in a man, but as the job progresses, his lure pulls strong. It’s an attraction she cannot deny.

And one that puts her career on the line. Does she choose the man who proves compatible with her lifestyle, or the one that fits her true nature? It’s a question more and more women must answer as they assume the role of chief breadwinner. Which will it be?

Which would you choose?

rosemary lemonade

While you’re out in the garden reading, how about a glass of Rosemary Lemonade?  Not only delightfully refreshing, this fresh twist on an old favorite will surprise you.  It’s really good!

And best of all, it’s easy to make.  The recipe can be found right here on blog.  All you need are a few sprigs of rosemary and a gallon of pre-sweetened lemonade.   For you industrious types, I know you’ll prefer to make your own gallon of homemade lemonade.  (It’s a gift!)

Either way you slice it, I hope you’ll enjoy both. 🙂  For a complete list of my novels, visit my author website.

Learning How to Save Seeds

Okay–we all know a child’s favorite time in the garden is harvest time. 

Of course it is.  Shoot, it’s MY favorite time in the garden, who are we kidding?  After all the weeding and feeding, pruning and plucking–I’m plum ready for some bounty!  Aren’t you?

And with our bounty comes the business of seed saving.  In our school garden we’re working on self-sustainability.  Granted, we must first work on defining what this big word means, though I’m proud to say, many of the lower elementary kids knew the answer, albeit their description was somewhat conceptual in nature.

Which is fine with me.  These kids are learning hands-on practical gardening and I’d rather they understand the concept than memorize the details. 

Now mind you, these kids understand that if there were no gardeners around to harvest the seeds, plants would still grow and reproduce.  (It’s just more fun when gardeners are in involved!)  So to begin, we examined our peas and beans in various stages of growth.  Black eye peas are green or tan and can be eaten fresh.  Not black beans.  Their pod begins green, gradually becomes lavender before finally turning completely purple (eggplant, to be exact).  And you don’t eat them from the vine.  Bad belly cramps.  Very bad.

When they reach the deep dark color, we know they’ve fully matured.  At this point, we can pick them, dry them, eat them (after soaking) or save them for planting next season. 

 What happens if we don’t pick them in time?  They dry themselves on the vine, ultimately spitting out onto the ground when their pod shrivels.  A fascinating process, to be sure. 

More fascinating than harvest was finding this little gal.  Cute, isn’t she? 

“Can I take her home?”

“No, sweetheart.”  I glanced at a group of envious expressions.  “Does anyone know why?”

“Ladybugs are beneficials!”

I nodded, pleased by their quick response.  “That’s right!”

This week our task was to harvest and collect the beans and peas so we can plant them in our fall semester crop.  Not only did we grow the bean plant, we will now use our very own seeds to grow the next one! Very cool.  (This thrill cannot be emphasized enough.)  For kids and adults alike! 

While beans are easy to harvest and save (simply remove them from their pod and allow them to dry) our tomatoes, cucumbers and corn will require a bit more effort. And our carrots, broccoli and onions?  Better have a special seed section assigned, because these plants need time to produce flowers and ultimately seeds—an experiment I’m working on in my home garden.

But until I master the “art” of seed saving, I can only encourage kids to work with the easy veggies—like beans, peas and cucumbers!  Not only did they harvest plenty for practice, we’ve got ourselves enough for whole meal!  Now if only I had a yummy kid-friendly recipe for cucumbers….

 Any suggestions? I’m preparing these for a Monday feast but need some good ideas on how to serve them — kid-friendly, of course!

Wanna save seeds at home?  Start with your very own custom-made seed saving packets!  Check the Kid Buzz section for complete instructions.

Stake Those Tomatoes

They’re heavy and need the support.  One look at Julie’s prize reds and it’s easy to understand why they must be staked.  There are so many!  (Yay, Julie!)

 

You can also use a trellis for support and attaching the vines with soft green tape (this avoids injury which can be an invitation to disease/bacteria).  I’ve gone with a modified version for my tomatoes, running a type of garden wire through posts, accentuating the support system with bamboo. 

 

I used to rely solely on bamboo until I realized my plants were too heavy and the wind too strong.  Add a little rain and my stakes were sagging. 

You don’t want sagging stakes.  Not only do they look pitiful, they provide no support.  And for anyone considering the use of pantyhose in lieu of ties because of its soft texture—think twice.  I tried that last year and it only led to mildew and ick. 

Then, when it was time to clear the stakes for next season’s crop, I couldn’t get the darn things off my bamboo!  They don’t cut well with scissors.  Best to avoid it altogether if you ask me.  Now, meandering further into Julie’s garden, I noticed this contraption. 

Yes, that’s a watermelon housed within a tomato cage.  On the one hand, this is smart logic.  Watermelons are vines that will climb if given the opportunity, and their fruit is heavy…

 But this is a “no-no!” 🙂  A wire cage will do nothing (but get in her way!) for her watermelons.  Perhaps one of the children snuck into the garden on a whim of helpful elf-like behavior and mistook it for a tomato?

 Never know.  What I do know, is that placing her squash, zucchini and watermelon near the edge of her planter box is SO smart.  Talk about best use of space, this is it! 

  

With limited dirt area, she’s allowing her vines to sprawl out onto the grass where they will blossom and grow; a feat that does not require dirt.  Ashley has done much the same with her zucchini.  As you can see, this one is quite content hanging out on the ground outside its planter box.

 

She’s added some lovely wooden trellis support for her cucumber and beans.  Though I have some doubts as to the identity of this particular fellow.  What is that thing?

Reminds me of the zucchini I grew last fall that dwarfed into a pumpkin.  Must have been another case of “seed escapees,” or in my case, amending my soil with “not quite ripe” compost.  Hmph.  Sometimes you simply cannot overcome the excitement factor.

 

Keep up the green growing, girls—you’re on a roll!

A Bounty of Baskets

Baskets are an essential part of gardening, especially during harvest.   But with so many baskets to choose from, where does one begin?

Longaberger Basket Spring & Summer Wish List Collection

Simple.  Think about how you plan to use your basket.  Workload matters.  Once you’ve decided on size and weight, how about style and functionality?  Many woven baskets start out well, but don’t tend to last. 

Waterproof baskets are a must in our garden.  Not only because there are kids involved, but because we must wash our vegetables prior to eating.  Never know who has been lurking in your garden…  For a general rundown on the selection process, check the Prize Picks section this month for a nice variety of baskets, ranging in both size and job description–and prepare for harvest!