What’s cuter than a cabbage patch doll?

Why a cabbage patch, of course!    (They do look a bit like the doll, don’t they?)    I mean, from my limited recall, anyway.   Never one for dolls, I do remember the cabbage patch doll craze.  Passing them by in the store – after the holidays, as you couldn’t get NEAR one during shopping season – I wondered what all the fuss was about.   They were unique, which I fully appreciate, and endearing, in a “vegetable” sort of way, but why on earth would you wait in line for one?  And pay top dollar?

Oh, but that was before I became a gardener!  The world looks entirely different from my crouch between the rows!   I see the appeal now.  Cabbages are indeed GORGEOUS.   Round and full – plump, really, with a smooth complexion in the palest of green and framed by a full head of “waves.”   Perfection in the making – that’s what I see in MY cabbage patch these days.

We cut our first one yesterday and it was exciting!  I wasn’t real sure if it was time, but it seemed to resemble the heads of cabbage I buy at the store, so I figured, why not?  The kids were enthused and that’s half the battle – I mean, appeal.  (Did I say battle?  No.  There’s no battle going on around here.  Ever.)  So with the help of a large knife, we whacked the head off and toted our trophy home.  Okay, up the hill and to the kitchen, but it sounds more theatrical the other way and my kids LOVE theater.   Because it’s fun, and kids love fun.

So slice it, toss it into the pan with some butter, onions, salt and pepper, and you have for one delicious meal.  Or side, depending on how heartily your group eats!  My kids love it.  Probably because they eat it on camping trips — “dads only” trips — hence, the allure may be more associative than actual,  but either way it’s a veggie in their belly, so you won’t hear me complain!

Excuse me?

While watching television the other night with the family, my daughter asked, “Mom, is that a poppy?”

Absorbed in a novel I paid no attention (to be a writer, one must be an avid reader, multi-tasking screen versus print, notwithstanding).   Her father, seated next to her, was watching the same program.  He could answer. 

But he didn’t.   And apparently, this was a girl who wanted to know so once again, a little louder this time, “Hey, garden whiz.  What kind of flower is that?”

I flipped my gaze from book to daughter.   Garden whiz?   My husband and I exchanged glances and shared a private chuckle.   Garden whiz?  Really?   She’s nine.   Where do they come up with this stuff at this age?

To his credit, my husband was first to respond.   “Garden whiz?” he asked her, giving none of his amusement away.

“Well,” she surmised, putting forth her best authoritarian air.   “She knows everything about plants.”

“Vegetables,” I corrected, still amused by the maturity she revealed.   It’s constant, really.   You have to keep on your toes around these kids, I’m telling you.   “I know all about vegetables.”   As far as you know, anyway.

“Whatever,” she replied, unimpressed by the distinction.   “Do you know what kind of flower it is?”

Twelve, I groaned inwardly.   I thought I had until she was twelve before this attitude started!   But indulging her, I glanced toward the television screen and speculated – guessed, really – as to the identity of the orange-red flower with the black center.   “I think it’s a poppy.”

“Oh,” she replied, unenthused.   That — after her initial persistence.  Go figure

Curious now, I began to wonder about the flower.   Was I correct?   Images formed in my mind’s eye of where I last saw this particular species and suddenly, I realized I was thinking of the “drug” flower — as in opium.   Fields of it floated within the breeze of my imagination as the images swirled in my head.

Images I quickly extinguished.   I flashed to my daughter.   She is an innocent, granted, dipping perilously close to adolescence, but I reassured myself that a poppy is a common flower, and doesn’t necessarily denote anything more than beauty. 

But ever the creative one, my mind continued to conjure up image after image of all kinds of sordid things; bad seeds growing bad weeds, kids whacked out on drugs—

Stop.   Breathe, darn it.   Breathe.   It’s just your motherly instincts breaking out of their pen, trampling the beautiful green pasture you’ve created so meticulously with loving care.   Nothing to worry about here.   All is well.

Anxiety attack securely behind me, I checked my internet resources and discovered I was right.   Don’t ask me how I knew.   Remember, I grow vegetables, not poppies.   Must be the news, I concluded.  I watch too much news. 

Tucking my daughter in that evening, I kissed her forehead and took in the sweet scent of her hair, her skin.   Lingering, it occurred to me; kids can amaze you.   From out of nowhere, for no reason, can appear the rarest of moments, the clearest of glimpses into their hearts and minds — and you as a parent —  simply must keep up.  Some days, this feat is harder than others.  

But most days, I’m good.   And fortunate, because it’s my job to stop and smell the roses, savoring each and every moment along the way.   Sometimes more is required, sometimes less, but it’s always fresh and new.

And always worthwhile.

Thanks Africanaussie!

“This is one blogger who I really feel everyone needs to have a look at: a lot of variety in this blog – but I especially enjoy her writing style.   Not a lot of photographs, but I enjoy her stories.   She gardens in a similar climate to me.”
Thanks, Africanaussie.   It’s heartening to know you are out there in the gardening world, and share the joy of gardening with me!  I appreciate the kind words and look forward to your visits.  Likewise, you can find Africanaussie here:  http://africanaussie.blogspot.com

Use it or lose it

From muscle tone to precious resources, you can view this old favorite from several different perspectives.  In light of the upcoming Climate Conference in Copenhagen, let’s focus on the latter.  While I’m no advocate for the global warming crisis – because I believe it’s a bit presumptive of us to make such vast predictions based on the tiny window of time we humans have inhabited this earth – scientific “models” are just that: “models” – I think we can all agree there’s no sense in waste.  From frugal consumption to garbage disposal, we should all practice clean living habits, and be good stewards of our environment.  I mean, even a dog knows better than to soil his living space, shouldn’t we humans?

Call me a waste-not-want-not kinda gal, but this is a motto I can live by, starting with my morning java.  You’re already dispatching your leftover veggie omelette to the compost pile, how about your coffee?  Used coffee grounds are in high demand around my garden so once I’ve had my fill, the used grounds are scattered among the blueberries, raspberries, azaleas and gardenias – don’t fight kids, there’s enough for all of you! – and my rose bushes, too (you all can thank me later with a bounty of produce). 

stores easily under your cabinet

I even save the old coffee and dilute it with water, to make a spray for insects.  I recently read in an organic gardening magazine one woman had good results keeping the white files from her tomato and basil by doing so.  Granted, it’s not a scientific fact – remember, I tend to question these things – I figure if it worked for her it can work for me!  If it’s easy, the questions become less frequent.  And why not pour some around the base of your potatoes, while you’re at it.  They love acid, they should love coffee, right?

And don’t forget that newspaper you’re reading.  When you’re finished, use it as mulch along your walking rows to keep the weeds at bay.  I’d place mine (if I still took my news the un-green way) beneath the hay so I don’t ruin that lovely “welcome to the garden” feeling I get every time I gaze at my neatly lined rows of straw.  It’s the little things that please me most.  (Big smile, here.)  That, and productivity.  Don’t forget, there’s a reason I’m saving the earth via my garden:  I have mouths to feed and years to enjoy.

But don’t stop there!  After school, what water the kids don’t drink, dump the remainder of their thermos into your houseplants – not down the drain.  Same goes for juices, etc.  I use these in the compost pile, though liquid in the bin does add to the mess factor on the way out — kids are working to fine tune their balancing skills for this amazing feat — another positive side effect. 

However you manage it, I’m a believer in wasting nothing.  Not because science dictates such, but because it makes sense.  Common sense; something we strive for everyday in our household. Without it, momma goes insane!

How do you spell easy?

O-K-R-A.   When you think of “easy,” think okra.   Not only is this vegetable easy to grow, it’s easy to maintain, harvest, pair with others, rotate year round.   Why, it literally gets along with everyone!   Low water needs, low nutrient desire, you can’t miss with this one.   Keep in mind that while it’s easy, it does tend toward the slimy and seedy (we’re talking plants here, not people), but to a very low degree, especially when ingested fresh. 

Speaking of easy, the Big Easy loves this baby, packing it into everything from gumbo to etouffe and all things Creole, while southerners have long favored the fried version.   Southerners like most things fried — I know this, because my mother grew up on Georgia cooking and we ate everything from fried chicken to fried plantains (odd, yes, but the family transplanted to Miami as did her culinary preferences).  Fried okra ranks as an old favorite.

My son is a big fan of okra — only lets my mother fry it for him — while my daughter…   She needed a bit of coaxing.   “C’mon, honey.  You can’t crinkle your nose.  You haven’t even tried it, yet!”   Once I convinced her it tastes best fresh from the vine (it’s actually a branch, but it sounds better when you say vine) she agreed, sort of.  I think she was more enthralled with the idea of eating it right from the plant than anything, but as a mother, my motto is:  whatever works

Another reason to include okra in your garden — it’s good for you.  Okra has wonderful health benefits, including vitamin C, calcium and potassium.   But even better, it contains glutathione, an antioxidant and cancer fighter which attacks carcinogens and ushers them away from cells, into the urine, and eventually out of the body.  Studies have shown encouraging signs for the role of glutathione in preventing the development of oral and throat cancers, too.   For more information on the natural health benefits of food in general, check out the book, The Doctors Book of Food Remedies written by Selene Yeager and the editors of Prevention magazine – another favorite of mine.

So this spring, try a round of okra (don’t bother until then, because okra likes it hot) and you’ll be glad you did.   Trust me! 

P.S.  If anyone who resembles the likes of an okra plant tells you to “trust them” – run!

Women’s fiction

This section will pertain to writing – specifically my stories, lengths ranging from novellas to complete novels.   Themes will span the spectrum of women’s issues — many with strong romantic elements — and address the challenges touching our lives.

Check out my author website: Dianne Venetta

Look for the first to debut in winter 2011!

An experiment in neglect

I’m a busy lady with two small children, volunteer activities, after school sports and an up and coming career in writing.  Neglect is no stretch of the imagination for me which made my experiment all the more enticing.  Easier — considering the fact that overhauling my summer garden drained me to the bone.

And so it happened.  One afternoon, after a full day of tilling and mound shoveling, I spied my leftover watermelon rows and thought, there’s no way.  The tiller is due back at the rental store, my back is aching, and my husband is staring at me, the question clear in his eyes, Are we through here?

Yes.  We’re through here.  I have no desire to weed and till another inch let alone a ten by seventy patch of garden!  Besides, I’ve nothing to plant in these last rows, so why bother excavating when all it will mean is more maintenance?  Come spring, if I want to expand, we can scrape these weeds clean with the tractor – a much easier prospect.  So it was settled.  I’d ignore this end of the garden until spring.

Over the next week, tiny shoots of watermelon broke through the ground.  Admittedly my first thought was more grunt than anything, but I quickly put the annoyance aside and admired the little cuties, reminding myself I was NOT weeding that section.  No problem.

Next thing you know, the vine is meandering into my peanuts, flowering, and out pops a miniature watermelon!  The kids noticed it first, with hoots of excitement (apparently, they find this sweet and delectable fruit more enticing than the cabbage and broccoli we were currently planting).  Not wanting to spoil their fun, I joined in and exclaimed my admiration, “Look at those beautiful stripes of green!”

It wasn’t until my son’s family birthday party when the real excitement broke out.  Everyone was in attendance, kids running wild in the backyard – we have plenty of them, ages five to fifteen – whereby my little “authority on everything,” intent on extolling his knowledge and know how to the others, led them to the garden.  Much to his delight — success!  Not only were they amazed he knew the name of each plant, bean and herb, he was also growing watermelon.  Watermelon!

Well, grab the basket and run tell your parents, this kid’s got his own watermelon patch!  Unbelievable!  Indulging the children’s enthusiasm, the adults trailed after to see what all the fuss was about and sure enough, my son had already clipped and claimed a pretty good-sized watermelon for the harvest basket.

Everyone oooohed and aaaahed over the specimen, and a nephew asked me for instruction on how to clip basil.  Pleased by his interest though surprised by his choice, I began to explain – until suddenly, my heart stopped.  From the corner of my eye, I caught sight of another nephew leaping over rows as if he were running an obstacle track!

I hollered at him, “Stop!” while at the same time, my niece called out for permission to cut another melon.  My attention duly divided, I couldn’t respond until — thankfully — my son took over the job of teaching his cousin how to correctly traverse the rows.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I turned to see her ripping the fruit from the vine.  “Take it,” I murmured.  It’s yours, now.

Returning to the task at hand, I showed him how to pinch the basil, the only part he wanted.  To our left, kids were swimming for sweet potatoes and to our right, they were snipping okra.  It was an amazing scramble of activity.

“Can I have this green pepper?” asked my sister-in-law.


“Sissy, what’s this?”

I looked up to see her holding an eggplant.  Glancing up from the basil, my nephew ventured, “May I have a watermelon, too?”

Pleased everyone was enjoying the harvest, I replied, “Of course.”  But I can’t make any promises as to quality.  By the warm pleasure that swamped his expression, I’m not sure it mattered.

He doesn’t know it isn’t watermelon season!

Beans, beans and more beans!

Limas and black beans are bursting full and more fun for a boy to pick than was anyone’s guess.   And I thought swimming for potatoes was the key to a good time.   No, no!   Boys love their beans, from harvest to table.   Talk about a project to keep them busy!  While my daughter has no use for beans whatsoever, her brother has become an expert.   He’s an expert on most things, but that’s a “gene” thing, not to be confused with “bean” thing.   Set a basket of beans in front of the lad with privileges to wield a small safety knife and he’ll go to town!  After one brief lesson, of course.

boys and beans

Setting up a “bean station” next to the kitchen sink, his compost bin nearby in the sink, he snipped away the ends, peeled the string down the side and tossed the beans  into the awaiting cup, the skins into the awaiting bin.  Thankful not to be included, his sister kept unusually quiet and used the remainder of our mashed pumpkin to bake some bread – delicious bread.   For recipes, check out pickyourown.org and learn more than one way to cook a pumpkin!

We blanch our lima beans, then dunk them in ice water, followed by a “quick dry,” whereby we store them in the freezer, sealed in a plastic baggie.  I’d love to know an alternative method for storing veggies in the freezer that doesn’t require a plastic bag — anybody have a suggestion?

Once you cook your first batch, I have to say, you suddenly realize what these beans are supposed to taste like – butter fresh and delightful – with nothing more than a dash of butter, seasoned by salt and pepper.

Thank Heaven for seed and feeds!

Onions are in, onions are in!  And not a moment too soon – yahoo!

This is big excitement for me, cause I have tried to sprout my sweet onion seeds – repeatedly — but to no avail.  Zip.  Nada.  Nothing.  The nice fellow at my local feed and seed said, “Might be too early.”  I nodded, declining to inform him that my seed plant date data sheet clearly states I could start “trying” in August.

But okay.  I’ll go with it.  A simple case of “operator error.”  It isn’t the first time for me and won’t be the last, of this I can be sure, but perhaps the true culprit was distance.  They were too far from my sight – as in, the garden – and were allowed to get too dry.  Listing says, these isty bitsy guys need consistent moisture.  Alrighty, then —  on to plan B!

So I started the next batch on my back patio, you know, so I could see them, and remember to water them — much like I do with my fragile broccoli sprouts.  But nope, this didn’t work either (temperamental little things).  So not only can I NOT claim an advance toward my goal of self-sustainability — this failure is ruining coveted visions of giving my sprouts that “hair trim” so cutely illustrated in the book!

Whatever.  Some times, you just have to let go.

September was blowing in and I was still onion-less, so I trotted down to my local seed store.  Now mind you, my local seed store is a Godsend.   They patiently answer all my questions – my very basic questions – most probably thinking:  Should you be gardening?  But ever the professionals, they never let on, though it does remind me of my school days.  I was that kid up front asking so many questions, my fellow students would snicker, dunce.  While I never actually heard them utter the word, I know they were thinking it.  Want to ask who got an A on the test come Friday?

You guessed it (me, for the slow kids in the back).   And that’s the point.  If you keep at it, you will succeed – with the help of your local seed and feed store.   It’s an invaluable resource, not to mention a great place to buy your hay, compost, organic fertilizers and the like.  For those high on excitement but short on time, many stores offer ready to go veggie plants making it super EASY to get your garden growing! transplants

But pssssst…  Don’t let on you’re interested in sustainable gardening and seed preservation procedures —  kinda puts a damper on their seed sales, if you know what I mean.   And trust me, you don’t want them to set out the unwelcome mat for you cause you’re gonna need them when those seeds you’ve been drying get mistaken for crumbs, or knocked off the counter by an overzealous Labrador.  Sometimes, you drop them on your way out to the garden.   Get the picture?

Visit your seed store early and often and you’ll enjoy a row of sprouts like these beauties – though they do resemble a bad hair transplant a bit, don’t they?

Got Pumpkins?

Make pumpkin pie!  And yes, I’m talking about those pumpkins from your front porch step.  In our effort to become less “environmentally wasteful,” the kids and I carved out our pumpkins, tossed the stringy mess into the compost pile, saved the seeds for roasting and/or next year’s crop and commenced to cookin!  We found this great recipe online from www.pickyourown.org and it worked like a charm.  And it’s a heck of a lot easier than I would have imagined!

pumpkin pies

Once you completely carve the pumpkin, you cook it.  We steamed ours stove top, but they have instructions for microwave and oven, too.  Because we didn’t have a steamer big enough, I put a metal colander inside one of my biggest pots, cut the pumpkin into large pieces, then covered it with tin foil.  Twenty minutes later – cooked, squishy pumpkin!  It peels off the skin with little or no effort, then you place it into a big mixing bowl and add sugar (we used organic, purchased from our grocer), spices, evaporated milk and eggs.  The recipe is enough for two pies, unless they’re both deep dish.

Tip: use a hand blender or mixer.  We didn’t, and ended up with cooked egg whites “floating” in our pies.  While it didn’t affect the taste, it did detract from the appearance so be forewarned — in case you’re gifting your pies.   We did cut corners a bit and used the store-bought prepared pie pastry, covering the edges with foil so they didn’t burn, which means we can’t officially say it’s from scratch – but pretty close.  And really, shouldn’t we let those who have perfected the business of pastry get credit?  (But if you’re a die hard scratch cook, go for it.)  We then placed them in the oven for about an hour and they were delicious!  Check my recipe page for full details.

As to next year’s crop, keep in mind you’ll have to plant in June if you want pumpkins by Halloween, as it takes 3-4 months to reach maturity, and beware the rainy season.  Pumpkins are susceptible to fungus and mold.  For more details on growing pumpkins in Florida, go to UF’s solutions for your life.  It’s a wonderful resource for real life gardening.