garden

Where Garden Meets Kitchen

Summer gardening is a challenge in Florida.  Okay, who am I kidding?  Between scorching drought and rising floods, a sprinkler system run amuck and intermittent vacations, I’m not gardening a whole heck of a lot this summer (though I am solarizing a host of underground beasts hiding out in my beds).  Instead, I’m creating delicacies in the kitchen with my spring produce.  Yes!  Doesn’t that sound marvelous?

Now that the sun is shining and my spirits have recovered from a rainy beach vacation, I’m turning my attention to crafty ways to use my herbs–those that survived the downpour post-drought, that is.  Yep.  You guessed it.  We’re talking rosemary, the feisty old gal.  Hard to kill this beauty (another point in the “I love you” column!) which is why I have two of these babes.  They grow like weeds with or without my help, so this week when the kids and I cut them back, we decided to pack them with butter and lemon juice.

I saw this in a magazine once, where they mixed fresh herbs and froze them–or did they refrigerate them?  I don’t recall exactly, but what I do remember is how simple a process it seemed and how handy to have these cubes on hand when I need to whip up a fancy dinner for hubby and the kids.  Fresh fish with herb butter anyone?  How about a little rosemary lemon drizzle on that pasta?  Mix it up with olive oil and we’re talking salad dressing galore.

And pre-prepared–the key behind the project.  Because I assure you, if I had to collect fresh herbs, chop them finely and mix with lemon juice and olive oil just to eat a salad?  It wouldn’t happen.  Nope.  Nada.  Never.  I simply don’t have that kind of time OR forethought.  *sigh*  It’s a curse.

Any-hoo, let’s not bother with all that–let’s make it a craft for the kids!  C’mon guys, think of it:  you can pop a rosemary lemon ice-cube into your lemonade any time you want for instant rosemary lemonade!  Yay!  Simply steep your rosemary according to my recipe, grab an ice tray, mix the herb liquid with lemon juice (we used concentrate) and fill your tray.  Freeze them for individual ice cubes that you can pop into a beverage, at your leisure.  Psst…they go great with vodka, too.  Five o’clock, summer style. 🙂

While you have the rosemary out, chop it very fine, mix with softened butter and do the same in a separate ice-cube tray.  Or heck, mix and match in the same tray.  That’s what we did.   I do love a multi-tasker!  No rosemary?  Try basil with butter, chives, even parsley.  Maybe a combination of your favorites?

And while you have your thinking cap on, try freezing a little cilantro and lime juice for an easy addition to homemade salsa, or mango smoothies.  My kids are big on smoothies.  Seems to be the most appealing way for them to eat their fruit.  Me?  I say, whatever works.  Then it hits me.  Why stop there? 

Hey kids, how about making mom a little mango sorbet with your ice cream maker, and throw in a cilantro/lime cube while you’re at it?  Fresh mint and vanilla ice cream?  Mmmm….  Don’t forget the chocolate chips!

The possibilities are endless.  Just be sure to cover your trays with plastic wrap so they don’t absorb any undelightful odors from your freezer.  If you’re only working with butter, the refrigerator will work.  Also, when the butter hardens, individually wrap your squares for easy use. 

Easy-peasy-lemony-squeezy!  Told you I was all sunshine and spirit today…  So rather than cry over the heat and humidity, use what herbs you have now and save some for later.

How to Make the Most of your Garden with the Kids

Please welcome Laura Clarke to my blog today!  She’s a keen blogger and loves making the most of the garden, especially when it comes to the kids.  Currently, she’s working on behalf of Tiger Sheds, a company out of the UK.  If you’re “in the area” why not stop by the website and take a look see?  Something for everyone there… 🙂

How to Make the Most of your Garden with the Kids

Kids love to be outside at this time of year and there are plenty of things that need to be done in the garden that the kids can help you with and enjoy! Whether it’s sowing seeds, picking out the weeds or watering the plants there are plenty of activities that will keep your kids entertained and also keep your garden looking great at the same time.

Grow some vegetables

No space is too small to grow your own vegetables, fruit or herbs and kids will love watching the plants grow to have edible produce that they can enjoy. Tomatoes are favourites with children as they can easily grow in a grow bag in a warm garden shed or greenhouse. Strawberries can also be grown in hanging baskets and herbs in small pots. Cooking with their own produce will give children a new-found appreciation for the lengths it takes to get food to the table.

Let them plant your pots

Show them how to fill your pots with soil and how to sow the seeds and bulbs and then get them to water them. They might not be the cleanest gardeners, so beware of soil scattering everywhere, you could even get them to sweep up the mess they made. Teach them how from tiny seeds or bulbs big plants will grow and how they have to be looked after by giving them plenty of water to drink and sitting them in a nice sunny spot.

Get them to weed your flower beds

Weeding can be a chore at the best of times so by having some little helpers on hand could save you precious time. Kids gardening kits are easily available and are great for little hands. As we all know kids love digging and playing “grownups” so they will really enjoy doing this. (Just make sure you brief them fully as to what constitutes a weed–we don’t want any plants uprooting!)

Give them the task of watering the plants

Giving children jobs to do in the house in return for their pocket-money is nothing new, so why not extend the jobs into the garden and have them water the flowers. Filling up a watering can and watering the garden can be a great game–they will forget it’s a job.  Receiving their pocket-money at the end of the week will be so much more fulfilling.

Create a child’s garden

Depending on how big your garden is depends on how much space you can give to the kids. If you have a small garden, give them a large window box to look after or for large patches, why not give them a flower bed? Tell them it is their responsibility to make sure their patch looks as good as the rest of the garden and show them how to keep it tidy. They will be very happy once their flowers bloom and they see their hard work pay off.

Getting your kids involved in garden maintenance means they’ll be less likely to dig up your favourite plants, plus they’ll feel pride in looking after their very own. So get outside and let’s start gardening as a family!

Humor for the Summer Heat

I bet you’re loving the weather this time of year, what with the snow melted, the sun shining and the seeds screaming to be sown.  In Florida, much of our gardening season is coming to an end.  My potatoes have been dug up, roasted, mashed and skillet-fried.  My sweet onions have been hauled out of the ground, slapped on the grill, sliced into salads… 

You get the idea.  So round about this time, my mind starts to wander…to crazy places, faraway places, places most people would fear!  Okay, just kidding.  But seriously, have you ever wondered:  if kids were vegetables/fruits, which one would yours be? 

Carrot – These boys and girls are bunches of fun and pure gold, inside and out.  At times they may appear feather-minded or flippant, but not to worry—they usually hop to their senses in short order!  For them, life is joyful.  Who can argue with that?

Corn – All sunshine and candy this child is as sweet and happy as they come, complete with flaxen hair and slender frame, though not all are blonde.  Ever heard of Indian corn?  Browns, reds, these kids come in all colors and flavors!  Occasionally blown off-balance by life, these little ones can prove susceptible to sudden surprise.  But who isn’t?   

Watermelon – Is it summertime, yet?  That’s the question spittin’ from these kids, cause they’re all about outdoor play, picnics and swim parties.  Don’t look for these rosy-cheeks anywhere near a computer game when the sun is shining but by golly Miss Molly when they’re finished—they move on quick, leaving a “scatter” of evidence behind. 

Onion – While these little ones spend more time in tears than many of their peers, despair not—they sweeten as they mature, especially when kept close to home.  Once fully-grown, these boys and girls realize how versatile they truly are and find themselves in high demand and welcome most everywhere.

Strawberry – Bright and cheerful, these spring babies are a real treat.  They love the sun, love to shine…they simply love life.  But caution:  prone to a sweet tooth these kids will wallow in crème and sugar if you let them, with a tendency to plump!  And while plump can be perfect, TOO plump is not. Encourage these sweeties to keep it fresh and minimize the sugary add-ons.

Cabbage – These cherubs are as quiet as they are cute.  No trouble, no talkback, they’re good-natured and easy to mix.  Invited to parties year-round, they blend easily with any crowd and in the rare event they turn sour, don’t fret.  Simply run a hand over their soft heads, hush them to sleep and they’ll be lulled back to good sense in no time!

Chili Pepper – These kids will keep you hopping, skipping AND jumping!  Firecrackers for sure, these kiddos are sharp-minded and rambunctious—a definite hand-full that adds zing to your life.  Many a day you may question your sanity, but never your luck.  While spicy and hard to handle, you wouldn’t trade them for the world.  Not for a second.

Pole Beans – Fresh outdoorsy types, these kids love to climb and see the world.  Tall and slim, they’re forever exploring yet easy to manage.  Need something?  Ask these sweet babies.  They’re quick to produce and don’t disappoint.

Pumpkin – As the name entails, these kids are cuter than pumpkins, round and merry and oh-so-ready for fall.  Apple pie and haystacks are what lure these kids (not to mention a great goblin costume).  But watch your back!  These mischievous critters are practical jokesters, known to spook a time or two.

Weeds – Wouldn’t be fair to overlook these little fellas.  Can’t because they’re everywhere!  Underfoot, out the door, around the corner!  And they’re quick, too.  Staying on top of these kids will take constant supervision and planning ahead.  They need freedom to roam and room to move and if you’re smart—you’ll allot them a space all their own.  No can do?  Ruh, roh.  These resourceful kids will make it happen.

 As part of the Summer Splash Blog Hop, I’m giving away a garden goody basket!  Giveaway includes custom seed packet holder, set of 10 seed saving packets for your harvest, pair of kids’ garden gloves and your choice of garden-inspired T-shirt — bloomin’ sprout or bloomin’ beauty, caption on the back reads: “A child (girl) will bloom in time; their (her) own sweet time!”

How do you win?  Simply leave a comment here and you’ll be entered to win.  Want to increase your odds?  Like my facebook page and follow me on twitter!  Three easy ways to win. 🙂  Now get hopping–you’ve got a ton more sites to visit.

Whipping Up Some Potatoes

Okay, maybe not whipped per se, but definitely a whirlwind of yum in the kitchen.  Last week we harvested potatoes, this week we eat them! Gosh, I love gardening, don’t you?

And these were easy to make.  A little olive oil, fresh chopped rosemary, salt and pepper and this time, we added a bit of Parmesan to the mix in lieu of sweet onions.  Delicious.  From kindergarten to middle school these potatoes were a hit.  Next!  Recipe can be found here.

In the garden this week, the kids pulled out the remaining potato plants, squash, and corn in preparation for crop rotation.

Now you’re probably wondering, corn?  I don’t recall seeing any corn.  Well, they weren’t much to see unfortunately.  I mean, they were exciting for the kids, but not much when it comes to cobs.

Perhaps we didn’t feed them enough.  Corn are pigs in the garden and maybe our eyes were smaller than their appetites.  They’re cute, but should be twice the size. We’ll work on it.

Moving right along, peanuts will fill our beds over the summer.  As part of our crop rotation, these guys are awesome because they fix the soil with nitrogen–especially important after the hogs wiped it clean of any and all nutrients.  Yes, I’m talking about corn and squash, even potatoes.  Peanuts love the heat, too and will take near about the entire summer break to grow and mature, about 3-4 months.  Remember: plants like soft beds of dirt–especially peanuts.  The plants drop pegs or “stems” into the ground and that’s where the peanuts form.  If the soil is too hard, the peanuts will have a hard time of it. So make it easy and loosen that soil!

We won’t follow our row of black beans with peanuts, because they’re part of the same rotation family.  Instead, will “close” that row off and wait until fall, maybe plant some broccoli or cabbage, both of whom love nitrogen.  Why?  Because they’re “leaves” and leaves love nitrogen.  Sing it with me kids:  beans, leaves, roots and fruits! (It’s our preferred order for crop rotation.)  Beans, leaves, roots and fruits!

Seed Sale begins on Monday which means the kids have furiously cutting and gluing their seed packets together and filling them with seed.  We have a wagon-full of black beans and pole beans to sell, plus some squash, sunflower and even tomato (some of which will have to be handed out the week after as you can’t rush Mother Nature!).  Cucumber didn’t fare so well, but we won’t give up on them.  There’s always fall! 🙂

Not only will we raise money for the garden, but the students will reap the rewards of independence knowing they are FULLY sustainable.  From seed to harvest to dish, glove to tool to feed and mulch, they’ll take pride in the fact it all stemmed from their effort.  The way I see it, self-reliance breeds self-respect.  And that’s a good thing.

How To Harvest Chive Seeds

So my chive plant is ready for harvest and how do I know? 

Passing by them on my way to the cilantro this gorgeous April Florida day, the sunshine high and bright, the breeze a bit brisk, I noticed the flowers had some dark seed-looking things were perched within them.  Now the chive flowers have long since lost their bloom which is a good sign we’re on our way to seed production.  Happens that way with so many of my vegetables, I figured why not?  But with a double-take, I peered at these easily visible babies and thought:  no way.  It can’t be that easy. 

But ever the optimist, I plucked those old buds right off the stem and headed indoors.  Shaking the black dots off the petals, I gathered them into a pile on my desk, right next to my computer screen.  A quick search of the internet should provide me with some photos and sure enough, a few keystrokes later I was grinning.  It absolutely was that easy!!  Small black bean-shaped seeds, it read.  Yep, that’s exactly what I had in my hot little hands!  But they’re actually flat.  At least to my aging eyes it appears that they’re flat. 

Well I marched right back outside to harvest the rest of them!  Excited gardeners are full of energy and exuberance–and we don’t wait for nuthin’!  As I pushed through the screen door–my herb garden is now conveniently located just outside my patio–the wind kicked my hair to and fro, this way and that.  Seems even in April we get “cold fronts” here in Central Florida and mine is howling today.  And don’t you know, one of the instructions noted “it’s best to harvest chive seeds on days with minimal wind.”  Of course it did. (Mother Nature and I have somewhat of a contentious relationship.  She’s contentious and I do my best to smile.  Sugar and flies and honey and bees, you know!) 

Undaunted, I snipped the rest of the dried buds from the plant and plopped them directly into my awaiting Mason jar.  Under the circumstances, I decided it was the only way to ensure minimal loss since I wasn’t working under minimal wind conditions.  It’s a living. 🙂

Let’s Celebrate Earth Day!

This Sunday I will be joining my friends over at WindHorse Wellness Center in Eustis, Florida to celebrate Earth Day.  Festivities will range from yoga to folk dancing, solar cooking to growing your groceries plus a whole lot more.  Fun begins at 9:00am.  For a full schedule of events, click here: Events schedule Celebration Earth 2012.

As for me, you know I’ll be entertaining the kids with some take home sprout cups and pine cone bird feeders ~~ always the popular attraction and fun for the whole family!  Be sure to stop by and say hello and while you’re there, grab a sample of my rosemary lemonade.  Not only is this a new twist on an old favorite, but it’s delicious!

And if you’re not in the area?  No worries.  We can celebrate together in spirit.  How about using the day to start a compost pile?  Create a worm bin?  Make your own pine cone bird feeders at home—you can do all this and more to pay homage to this beautiful planet on which we live.  If we each take a moment to think about ways we can reduce our negative impact on the earth, we’ll all live in a happier world. 🙂  I LOVE happy!

So what are you waiting for?  Get hopping and be happy ~ it’s spring!

Pullin’ Carrots…

So my son and I weeded the carrot and beet section this weekend and next thing I know, we’re harvesting.  “Hey, Mom!  Look at the size of this carrot!”

I turned from the row of squash and sure enough, there was huge carrot in his hand.  “Wow.  I guess the carrots are ready…”  At this point I could have reminded him that he was supposed to be weeding and not harvesting, but as any experienced gardener knows, there’s no greater excitement than harvest time—with the exception perhaps of the fresh burst of sprouts—especially when it comes to kids.  When it comes to the garden, these little ones are all about action.

But before I could utter another word, he’d already pulled out a second.  “Look at this one!”

It was a beauty, I had to admit, albeit a malformed one—shoots poking out every which way.  The next one he pulled took the cake (carrot cake). Rather than one interesting shape, it was more an interesting intertwine, like two carrots growing simultaneously out of one.  Guess a gal could look at this as a nice pair of legs! 🙂

Silly wabbit.  Tricks are for Mother Nature!  Not only will she swirl carrots together like this but I’ve seen her do much the same with tomatoes and onions!  Crazy old broad…

But stay on her good side—if you know what’s good for you—because she can make a gardener’s life downright miserable if she so chooses.  Which is why I try to obey her rules at all times.  Take companion planting, for example:  my beets and carrots are planted together because they work in harmony with one another AND the glory of nature. 

And don’t you think my son left any beets in the ground, either.  Oh no, they came out right along with their carrot friends—filled a whole wagon full!  Now I know what to do with carrots.  What I’m not making into the fluffiest carrot cake you’ll ever want to taste, I layer them in damp sand for long-term storage.  But beets? I usually save those for my Dad.

Would have cooked them up for Easter supper too, had I an ounce of energy to do so.  But lagging behind after spring break with the kids and playing catch-up on work and laundry, “no could do.”  They’ll simply have to sit in the refrigerator a few days more until I can come up with some edible concoction to serve the family. Any ideas?

I’m all ears!

How’s YOUR Garden Growing?

Mine is growing GREAT.  Take a look-see for yourself? I have carrots. Popping up as we speak!

And you remember my tomatoes, dressed in red and soaking up the rays.

And my sweet onions. As they brown at the tips, the bulbs are rounding, plumping with juicy goodness.

Garlic look almost identical, just not as full right now. They have a way to go. But more than veggies, I have flowers.  Gerber daisies, to be exact!  New mulch, old mulch…you can tell what I’ve been up to this spring. 🙂

And I transplanted Bird of Paradise.  Along with a few zinnias…

My herb garden is in full bloom (those are my Hungarian Wax pepper sprout trays in the background).

Love my herb garden. Steps outside my door it’s the perfect location for cooking use.

When my pepper sprouts are ready, they’ll head out to the garden.  Interestingly enough, some of my trays had tomato sprouts popping in, which meant my organic compost was a bit too young.  Oops!  Excitement can do that to a gal!

 

 

Cocktail Concoctions

Are we still talking gardening?  Oh yes we are—garden style!  And why not?  We drink herbs with our tea, veggies with our dinner, why not in our drinks?

Aromatic and flavorful, herbs and veggies make the perfect accompaniment to happy hour.  Mojitios are the first example that come to mind (probably because the heroine in my current “work-in-progress” loves them).  Made with fresh mint and rum, this drink has gained in recent popularity.  A contemporary step up from the Mint Julep, perhaps?  And of course Bloody Mary’s have been utilizing the celery stick for eons.  Why not throw in a few sprigs of cilantro to the mix?  Give it a sassy salsa kick!

Speaking of sassy twists, how about an adult version of my Rosemary Lemonade?  A little vodka, anyone?  Would make for a lovely summer afternoon treat, if you ask me.  One of my new favorites is cinnamon basil.  Add it to a vodka martini and suddenly you have a unique and fragrant twist!  Olives are SO yesterday.  If you miss the sword, add a cinnamon stick! I’m just sayin’

It seems to be a trend.  One restaurant in NYC combines ruby-red grapefruit juice and Thai basil.  But basil would be perfectly comfortable in and around most summer libations.  It’s light, sweet and richly perfumed.  Now I might be talking crazy here, but what about a little cilantro in that Margarita?  Works for me! 

For delicate taste buds consider cucumber and chamomile.  Maybe a little ginger to help your belly in the process?  And if you’re growing raspberries this summer?  Plop those babies into a glass of champagne.  I think I’m relaxing already….aahh…. 🙂

Speaking of vodka, this is the absolute most flexible alcohol for mixing with your garden.  I mean, you can infuse this crystal clear liquid with most anything creating your own custom-made elixir.  Simply add your freshly washed herb/veggie of choice to unflavored vodka, seal, shake and store.  Ta-da!  Now key here is to allow the concoction to sit for a few days.  Taste as you go until it’s just right.  Hmm…  I’m thinking rosemary and lavender, sweet stevia and blueberry, strawberry—even hot pepper for another round of Bloody Mary’s! (Oops.  Did I miss the first one?)

Anyway, it’s always a good idea to keep our minds open and try new things in this wonderful life of ours.  Don’t want to grow old and stale.  Ewe.  Definitely not.  I thought I’d  toss a few of these ideas out there and let them fly.  What do you think?  Are you game?

Woo-hoo–spring is practically here!

Already?  Great beets alive, pull your heads out of the sand and get busy!  There are seeds to buy, ground to prep, compost to turn—

Oops—did we forget to start the compost pile?  Can’t find it under all the snow?  Well, leave it be then, there are plenty of other things to keep us busy.  Like gather the tools, plan for location, check the water supply…  Now where did that sprinkler go? 

So many things to think about could scare a gal clear out of the garden, but hold on to your tool belt, because we’re going to make this easy!  As pie.  (Because we all have time to bake pie, right?)

No, we don’t, but we DO have time for a garden.  Whether you prefer flowers or vegetables, it all works the same.  First we peruse the glorious pages of our seed and bulb catalogs, indulging in visions of beautifully lined walkways and patios bursting with bloom.  Remember:  edible landscape is all the rage now.  Next we imagine the luxury of plucking fresh produce from our very own garden, our very own salad buffet just outside our front door, organic and healthy, host to a fiesta of ladybugs and bees.

Perfect.  These babies love to mix and mingle with the butterflies and dragonflies hovering nearby.  Are you with me?  Can you feel the excitement, the powerful rejuvenation after a long and cold winter?  It’s true.  Springtime is the season of renewal. From the soft grass underfoot to the blossoms at our fingertips and the vegetables in our basket, spring is when we take heart in nature and plan for another harmonious year ahead. 

A wonderful outlook to be sure, so don’t ruin it with angst or reluctance.  And to keep your restless mind from wandering, here’s your short list for things to do:

1 – Figure out where you want (have space) to plant your flowers/vegetables.

2 – If this space is overgrown, cut everything back.  “Hey, a little room here?  We need room here!”

3 – Not enough seed catalogues?  Break out the search engines type the keywords of your heart’s desire!

4 – Educate yourself on companion planting, ie. who likes who, who can’t be in the same row as who.  (You know what I’m talking about.  Sometimes plants can be so difficult.)

5 – Sharpen your tools.  Or find them.  Whichever works best.  I suggest 3 to start:  weeder, cultivator and hoe – if you’re serious about this, that is. Otherwise, ditch the hoe. It’s a back-breaker.  Check my Prize Picks section for some of my favorites!

6 – Dirt check.  Not all dirt is created equally so a soil test would be a good start.  Give you an idea of how much work this garden thing will really entail.

7 – Gather your mulch.  Newspapers, pine bark, old dead leaves…  They’re all members of the organic mulch building blocks association and the make for the perfect weed prevention/fertilizer.

8 – Don’t forget to locate your hose.  Plants won’t grow if you don’t water them.  Genius!

9 – Buy a wind chime.  Some birds need scaring and you need relaxing.  Makes for nice ambiance, too.  We do want to visit our garden, don’t we?  Daily visits are one of the secrets to successful gardening.  (Just ask Jax from my novel, Jennifer’s Garden —  the man knows his business!)

10- Dream.  Wistfully daydream and contemplate about the wonder your garden will become.

Once spring ever gets here, that is.