bake

Potatoes Are Popping!

My potatoes are nestled all snug in their beds…

potatoes nestled in hay

Bursting with joy as spring finally arrives! They’re gorgeous, aren’t they?

white and red potatoes

And quite content. After surviving a few frosts, the girls are popping. This is a mix of white and red potatoes and will be ready in another few weeks. I could harvest them now and walk away with “new potatoes” for my next meal, but I prefer to wait. There’s nothing better than fresh from the garden potatoes. They’re buttery and creamy and unlike anything you’ll get at the grocery store.

rosemary potatoes and parmesean

I might roast them with fresh rosemary or bake them with cabbage. (Recipes for both can be found in my recipe section!)

potatoes and cabbage steaming hot out of the oven

Either way, garden potatoes are a treat. And no issues with my 2016 crop–woohoo!

Harvesting Sweets for Thanksgiving!

Oh, what a fabulous day when the sweet potatoes are ready! Now mind you, we could have harvested these babies a few weeks back, but it’s oh-so-much more fun to harvest them in time for the holidays. Sweet potatoes are a staple on our Thanksgiving table. Actually, in our house these potatoes make a year round appearance because not only are they delicious, they’re healthy.

Wonderful! We do love healthy. But now is the time when sweet potatoes are actually “in season” in Central Florida. So, with this in mind, we scooped away the dirt and voilá ~ potatoes!

Kids LOVE this part. Harvesting potatoes is commonly referred to as “swimming” for potatoes and once you let that cat out of the bag, the kids come running. Really puts a nick in my child’s playover when their friends want to garden (ugh-moan) instead of kick the soccer ball around. But gardening is that much fun.

Now, when digging for these guys, one must be careful. An aggressive scrape from your shovel WILL leave a mark on that potato you don’t see until you hit it. Gashes detract from your potato’s storage ability so do be aware.

swimming for sweet potatoes

Best tactic is to don the gloves and get to fingering your way through the dirt.  Most potatoes will be collected under the main root system, however, don’t be surprised if you find potatoes on extended vines several feet away. In our case, we actually found some beneath my lovely black-papered walkways!

our school harvest sweet treats

It’s an adventure. Anyhoo, once you’ve gathered a basket full, gently rinse the dirt from their bodies and set in a cool, dry place to store. Anxious to cook them? Thought you would be. Why not try this Deep Dish Casserole? It has an orange twist to it and is absolutely divine on the tastebuds.  Sweet Potato French Fries are also delightful and of course, Sweet Potato Pie proves a huge hit with everyone. No matter how you slice these golden girls you’ll be pleased with the outcome. And remember, sweet potatoes are healthy. Loaded with vitamins A and C, these are superfoods when it comes to anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory power. Enjoy!

Homemade Sun-dried Tomatoes, Peppers and More!

Ever wondered how to sun dry a tomato? I mean, the flavor of sun-dried tomatoes is exquisitely intense, wonderfully versatile–and I learned–the perfect addition to any raw diet.  It makes an awesome base for tomato sauce.

tomato sauce

But I digress. Personally I never wondered about sun-dried tomatoes and how they were created. I figured the name said it all, right?  I imagined them splayed out across specialty terra-cotta baking stones in Italy or California, sunning until they reached crispy, crunchy chewy perfection (depending on how you like them!).

It wasn’t until I witnessed Mother Nature’s first sun-dried tomatoes in my garden last spring that it dawned on me.  Actually, it was the scorch of summer and my lack of attention that did it, not to mention the horrid red paper experiment, but who’s keeping tabs?  These gorgeous Romas dried on the vine last spring and did so again this spring, all by themselves.  Don’t you love an independent vegetable?

tomatoes sun-dried on vine

Nothing I like better than a vegetable that will grow itself or a child that will do his or her own laundry. It’s heaven!  But seriously, are these not feats to be coveted? At least respected, admired?  In my house they are and when my tomatoes began to sun dry themselves well, I celebrated.  Hip-hip-hooray!  We have sun-dried tomatoes!

For all of you cringing right now thinking, please no, tell me you didn’t actually eat those rotten things.  Rest assured, I didn’t. Who knows what may have tainted those shriveled beauties? Not me and I don’t eat anything from my garden without full certainty of its “wholesome goodness” prior to ingestion.  I have kids watching my every move.  Never know which “moves” they may wish to emulate and trust me–rushing them to the ER is not on my list of things to do!

So how does one sun-dry tomatoes?

Easy. Same way you dry those herbs in your garden–set the oven to low (150-200) and bake them for about 4-5 hours, depending on the size of your tomatoes and the heat strength of your oven.  Cut them into quarters and push the seeds out (or not).

fresh tomatoes

These are a mix of Roma style and regular.  (Is there such a thing as regular tomatoes?)  Next, spread them across a baking sheet.  I used this vented one for more even “drying.”

dry tomatoes in oven

At this point, your best course of action is to monitor them throughout the process, turning when necessary. If this seems like too much work, you can always lay them out in the sunshine for a hot couple of days.  Mother Nature does know what she’s doing!

After about 4 hours, my small batch was ready; crispy-crunchy-ready.

sun-dried tomatoes in oven

I imagine if I immerse these in olive oil they’ll return to a more palatable texture (I like mine chewy), but these would still be great as a salad sprinkle.  The raw diet recipes we used during our challenge called for soaking the sun-dried tomatoes in water prior to use.  Good idea.  Tasty, toasty and easy, you won’t want to stop here.  Why not “sun-dry” green peppers?  Would make for a nice intense flavor addition to any salad.

arrange chili peppers on baking sheet

And you can use this same process for making red pepper flakes, the kind you love to sprinkle over pizza.  Oh yes, simply lay them out whole (I used parchment paper so as not to lose any of the spicy seeds) and then slide them into the oven.

chili peppers

Once dry and crispy, pull them out, break off the stems, then gently crush until you have a pile of…

sun-dried peppers

Your very own flakes of red pepper!  Drying herbs works much the same way so get moving and put those babies to work in the kitchen!  (In my house, that means the kids. :))

Color THIS!

Kids went back to school this week and will be back in the school garden next week. Yahoo!  Anyone else as excited as I am?

It’s a great day to be in the garden I tell you, and this year, we’re involving the kindergarteners a lot more than we did previous.  They’ve proved themselves.  They’re weed warriors, happy harvesters…  Why, they’re downright garden extraordinaires!  And what kindergartener doesn’t like to color?

None I know.  So I’ve whipped up a few coloring pages for the kids, complete with fill-in the blank veggie names.  Next I’ll put together some word finds and connect the dots pages and then come the quizzes.  (I’m sorry but these kids are SMART.)  There’s no reason we can’t throw a few quizzes into the mix for fun, is there?  I mean, quizzes are fun. 

Ask my elementary kids–they’ll tell you. F-U-N spells fun. Yessiree Bob I can see we’re going to have a GREAT year in the garden.  And what will we plant to begin?   Well, after the weeding and amending of soil, we’re going to plant pumpkins.  Three “hip-hip-hoorays” and a twirl and a jump–these kids are going to grow their own pumpkins!

 And then they’ll carving them, bake them, and save their seeds.  Sounds fun, doesn’t it

Sure does.  So how about you join us?  You’ll find everything you need right here.  Then stay tuned!  School garden resumes next week. 🙂  In the meantime, for those of you who want a head start on the coloring deal, check the Kid Buzz section of my blog. 

Enjoy!