There’s Always Next Year

Ever catch yourself saying this as you stand and gaze upon your garden?

I have.  Am, I should say.  My garden is going through some “growing pains” at the moment.  Most horribly, our frost “bite” right before Christmas.  Weather man modified his forecast AFTER I was able to prepare.  (Aaagh!)  Watching the news one evening, I found myself gaping at the television screen.  Hard frost?  Freeze, north of us?  Oh no…

Yep.  I have three forty-foot rows that look just like this one.  We salvaged what tomatoes we could, pulled the plants and still have these to clean up.  Tomorrow.  There’s always tomorrow.  Same fate befell my wax peppers, forcing us to clean, cut and can Christmas eve and Christmas day.  (Like I had time for that?!?!) More

We’ve Got Pumpkins!

And you will never see more excitement in the garden than kids discovering their first recognizable pumpkins.  Except in the case of worms and frogs.  Those are WAY exciting.

Granted we missed Halloween, but these are sugar pumpkins and we intend to cook them into pumpkin pie.  YUM! :)  Next up, our first tomato. More

Interesting Tidbits from the Garden

Did you know that parsley is a natural breath freshener?  Yep.  A couple of chomps on this distinctive green and you’ll feel minty fresh and ready to converse.  So next time you see that little gem on your dinner plate, pluck a few leaves off and plop them in your mouth.  Your table companions will thank you. :)

Basil?  This one is just pain delicious with a scent rivaling the rose–IMHO–but guess what?  It’s also good for digestion.  And you probably know that chamomile has calming abilities, but how about lavender?  I don’t know about you, but every time I catch the scent of lavender I’m instantly transformed into a relaxing machine!

But lavender does double-duty.  Not only is it perfect for bath time before bed, this plant is said to repel fleas.  *gee* Does it get any better?  Plant it everywhere–inside, outside, you name it!

Talk about two-timing duties, did you know that cilantro and coriander come from the same plant?  Yes, ma’am!  The first leaves are used as cilantro (think salsa), but if you let it continue to grow and flower, you’ll find yourself with a whole host of coriander seeds.  Awesome.  Just awesome.

One of my all-time favorite herbs is rosemary.  Not only does it make for a great hedge around the house, but this one provides a natural mental boost.  Simply brush your hands through its leaves and inhale.  Ahhh…….  Better yet, it prevents forgetfulness. Woo hoo!  I mean, who doesn’t need that?

And your kids will love this one:  how about growing your own sugar?  Well, in so many words, that is.  Stevia is a plant that produces naturally sweet leaves–leaves you can use to sweeten almost anything.  The kids and I made a lovely cucumber soup sweetened with stevia, and it was delightful.  (They ate it, anyway.)  But how about lemonade?  Pull a few lemons from that tree and juice them up, add a few leaves of stevia and blend.  Voila!  Instant homemade lemonade to die for.  Add a cup of steeped rosemary per gallon of lemonade and now you have yourself a REAL treat.  For this recipe and others, check out my garden blog Bloominthyme!

Caution:  if you love both basil and rosemary, be aware that planting basil near rosemary can KILL your rosemary plant.  Who knew?

Got ants?   No problem.  Plant mint–peppermint, spearmint, plain mint–they’re all good not to mention they make wonderful borders along walkways and flower beds.  Last but not least is my beloved aloe plant.  You may have heard this one is good for burns and you heard right.  Anytime I burn myself slaving away over a hot stove or oven (the things I do for my family), I immediately cut a spiked aloe leaf and rub the gooey salve directly on the fresh wound.  I’ll warn you, it’s stinky (and stains), but doing so will eliminate any scar you may otherwise have suffered.  LOVE it!

So what do you say?  Know of any special herbs or plants in the garden with outstanding qualities that I missed?

Feeling a little Sassy, Saucy?

Me, too.  Or have been lately.  But I’m sure it’s just Valentine’s and all the excitement, hoopla and romance of the week.  Phew –  not sure I can take another minute of all this loving!  (You do know the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, don’t you?)  And good old-fashioned home cooking takes time.  It takes effort.  And we’ve haven’t even begun to tackle the dishes, yet.  But you know what?  When you try a recipe for the first time, and the result is a delicious meal…

It’s all worth it.  This week I made chimichurri sauce for the first time.  Originally from Miami, you may be surprised to hear I haven’t mastered this baby yet, but what can I say?  I’ve been preoccupied with paella and plantanos, picadillo, black beans and rice.  I went to restaurants for chimichurri—I didn’t make it at home.

Ah…but I do now! It was easy and yummy and healthy. If you ask me, these are the keys to success.  Now I’ll warn any vegetarians right now:  I served this in traditional fashion with flank steak and rice.  Yes, I had black beans and plantanos, but this sauce served over medium rare meat is amazing.  But if you don’t eat meat, don’t despair.  Try it over salad, over veggies.  It’s that good.

The main ingredients are parsley, oregano and garlic—all of which I grow in my home garden.  And remember those olive trees Mandy planted?  Well hurry up and get your “grow” on girls—I need some olives to…to…  What exactly do you do to olives to make oil?  Press them?  Puree them?

Sheesh, I still have a lot to learn.  Okay.  So I’ll barter for the olive oil.  I do want to maintain my “self-sustaining” status when I cook, but honestly, it can be a challenge.  Especially when it comes to the white wine vinegar needed for this recipe, though my husband assures me we can grow our own grapes and make our own wine.  Hmph.  This, coming from “tractor” man.  What the heck does he know about “growing” anything?  He’s a grinder (of soil).  I’m the grower around here.

Anyhoo, here’s what I did:  finely chopped the parsley and oregano, minced the garlic and mixed it with white wine vinegar and olive oil.  I’m no fan of salt, but you can add this and black pepper to your liking.  I used a mezzaluna knife—one of my favorites for chopping herbs—but you can also do this in a food processor.  And that’s it.  Pretty easy, right?  Now I snagged the original recipe from Williams-Sonoma, but after checking out a slew of others, changed it to suit my taste.  For full details, check the recipe section of my website.

Whether you’re a fan of Latin inspired dishes or not, this one is worth a try.  I think of it as the Latin version of tabouli–only oregano instead of mint.  Alright, alright—and none of the tomato, cucumber and bulgur.  Call it a wacky comparison at the dinner table, but that’s how it struck me. :)  (Some things there’s no explainin’!)

It was good.  “Hey Mikey!  Try it, you’ll like it!”

Options for Edible Borders

Mandy’s garden is really beginning to take shape.  The front planter is brimming with rosemary, cabbage and bok choy among others while her rosemary transplants are surviving.  (Sometimes, that’s all we can ask!)  She’s been busy adding herbs to her walkway as well, tucking them in between the Vs of each paver–which stopped me in my merry photo shoot tracks. 

AGH–you put them where?  I stared at them in alarm, then I turned to face her.  Bright-eyed and proud, she stood awaiting my reply.  How was I going to break this gently?  I mean, disappointing enthusiastic gardeners was not on the top of my list of things to do.  But she had to be told. 

“Um, Mandy…these oregano are going to spread quite wide and far and–”

“Oh, I know!” she chirped (she’s very happy that way).  “But those radish will clear out pretty quickly so I’m planning on having the oregano fill in the space.”

I smiled.  Well I do like a knowledgable garden gal!  She’d already planned for near catastrophe–or more specifically–how to avoid it.  “Perfect,” I replied and resumed the business of snapping pictures.

Not only does she have oregano in place, but parsley, thyme, chives, basil–the works!  And while some of these will grow to be a tad crowded, it’s nothing she can’t manage with a little clipping.  Besides, this woman plans to USE these herbs, not just gaze at them in admiration!

But we did notice a wee bit of a bug problem with the cabbage.  Seems someone is chewing holes in her leaves.  Solution?

Follow your nose!  And the stinkier the better when it comes to organic pest control.  By that I mean garlic, coffee, compost, manure, mint…really depends on what beast you’re after for which method you choose.  Check the Garden Elements section of my website for full details, but with some experimenting on Mandy’s part, I’m sure she’ll find just the right concoction to rid her garden of pests.  Let’s hope for some windy days ahead, too.  Will help minimize the front porch stench.

No worries!  We’d rather be temporarily inconvenienced by the all-natural aromas than permanently poisoned by toxic alternatives. :)


Mandy’s Companions in the Garden

Companion planting is a key to organic gardening. It helps reduce the need for pesticides, weeding and even fertilizing!  How so?  Well take corn and beans–neither of which Mandy is planting at the moment, but it makes for a great case in point. 

Beans fix nitrogen into the soil, while corn uses lots of nitrogen!  It’s a heavy feeder you know.  So you could plant beans and corn next to one another.  Add a line of squash around their base and voila!  You have weed protection.  The wide leaves of the squash will shade the ground thereby reducing the ability of weeds to grow!  In fact, this is a technique used by Native American Indians years before the invention of fertilizer sprays and such.

In Mandy’s case, she’s planting cabbage and rosemary together, carrots and beets in the row just below them.  Rosemary makes a wonderful companion for cabbage and carrots because it repels cabbage moths and carrot flies.  Carrots and beets are great friends too, so lining them in the same bed makes perfect sense.  I mingle beets with my garlic as the garlic helps to improve the flavor of the beets.  And beets could use a little help in this department if you know what I mean.

The only words of advice in companion planting are the obvious:  make sure they are indeed companions and second:  each plant has enough room to grow and mature without being overtaken by its pal.  Otherwise, the friendship may suffer. :)  You see, these red cabbage may have been planted too close to the struggling rosemary transplants, but only time will tell.  Stay-tuned and happy gardening!


Florida’s Sea Garden

The family and I went scalloping this last week and reaped quite the bounty–and not only scallops, but starfish, blue crabs, fish–the works!  Easy, fun, this was a great trip.  For full details on our adventure, check out my blog here.

While out on the boat scavenging for scallops, we ate well.  No, not fresh veggies (though we did have fruit).  Boiled peanuts are the preferred diet for scallop hunting and while I’d like to lay claim to them as my own, I cannot.  Mine are slated as “football peanuts” and won’t be ready until August/September.  These gems came from one of our farm-friendly families and were boiled on site to perfection in their handy-dandy boiler.  Have large pot, will travel!

And let me tell you, they were good.  If you’ve never enjoyed boiled peanuts, you’re in for a treat.  Easy to make, you simply soak your green peanuts in salted water and cook like you would a roast in a crock pot.  Monitor as they simmer and add water as needed, since the peanuts will soak up the water in your pot. Usually takes a few hours before they’re ready, but when soft–serve warm! 

Another treat for your large pot is crabs.  The kids had a ball catching these little guys and of course they wanted to eat them so Mom tossed them into a pot of boiling water and ta-da!  Crabs for dinner.

Which go very well with scallops.  These were soaked in butter, wine and garlic and served over pasta.  Makes for a nice vacation dinner, don’t you think?

And we do like to eat on vacation!


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.

Cooking up a Spring Harvest

I do love harvest time.  Not only do I find it more enjoyable than weeding (and a lot easier than tilling), it means it’s time to EAT!  And who doesn’t love to eat fresh veggies from the garden?

Nobody I know.  Especially when a basket full of potatoes and sweet onions are involved.  These are a mix of Yukon Gold, Red Cloud and a batch I planted from an organic potato purchase from my local grocery store. (Yes, you CAN do that–but don’t tell anyone I told you so.  Master gardeners tend to frown upon this sort of corner-cutting.)

Add a few sprigs of rosemary the herb garden, a little olive oil and next thing you know you have all the makings for an excellent side dish to dinner!  Roasted potatoes anyone? 

A bit of minced garlic would be the perfect mix-in for this dish.  Which I also just happened to harvest this weekend!

Very yummy.  And for those leftovers:  reheat them, crack an egg in a skillet and cook until it’s sunny side up, then scoop it over top of the potatoes for a hearty breakfast.  But whatever you do, don’t let the original chef know you squirted out a dollop of ketchup to go with them.  They were once a gourmet dinner side.

Like I said, for me, harvest is all about eating, though there is a “fun-factor” involved.  One of the students at school sent me a picture of her home garden harvest and there were more exclamation points in one paragraph than I have seen in quite some time! 

But can you blame her?  Look at the size of those zucchini!  Beans…and a tomato, too.  She’s AWESOME!

Harvest time is a wonderful time.  Especially in spring, because this is the only time I have fresh sweet onions and garlic–veritable staples in the Italian diet.  Remember:  I’m after the perfect sauce.  Just as soon as those tomatoes of mine are ready, I’m all over it!

P.S. For those of you reading this thinking I could never grow vegetables like those–think again.  If these black beans don’t prove it to you, I don’t know what will.  Sure, I put the cage around them–but only AFTER I noticed they were blooming completely on their own.

Roma tomatoes, too.  These babies are twice the size of my garden tomatoes.

So please, if my compost pile of dead leaves can grow these black beans and Roma tomatoes without a lick of help from me, than so can you.  Trust me.  Mother Nature WILL help you.  She wants you to grow and grow to your heart’s content!  (Less work for her.)

P.S.S. One more reason to start that compost pile!  As if you needed another…

Growing Garlic!

The garlic is ready!  FINALLY.  Talk about delayed gratification.  I mean, we only planted it last fall.   But these babies are worth waiting for.  Look at them!

Don’t they look scrumptous?  Not quite as clean as the store-bought garlic (don’t know how they get those bulbs so sparkly white), but just as delicious and tons more healthy. 

These are Shilla.   I think.  One may be Sonoran or an unspecified type I purchased from my local supplier–lost track when I moved them from their curing stage to the kitchen! 

Oh, well.  Garlic is garlic, right?  I bought several varieites from an online organic supplier.  Shilla are supposed to be garlicky/Dijon in flavor.  As if I could tell.  I’m no connoisseur.  All I know is they taste wonderful!  And the smell of fresh garlic in the kitchen is one of my favorites.  Second, that is, to sautéed garlic and onions.   Yum.

Garlic are ready when their greens die back.  (Not a pretty sight, is it?)  To be sure, you can check their progress by gently digging away the dirt–it’s soft, because your beds are tilled to perfection–and inspecting the bulb.  If it’s still oval-shaped, cover them back up and wait.  If it has the bulgy appearance you’re accustomed to seeing, they’re good to go. 

Unearth them and lay them out on a screen in an open, airy location until the “skin is dry and necks are tight” — this is straight from my vegetable bible by Ed Smith.  Highly recommend the book.  Other sources recommend you braid them, or cure them much like you would with onions.  This is done to prepare them for storage, though you can eat them fresh, if you prefer.  And who doesn’t prefer fresh garlic?

For total sustainability, you’ll want to save the largest cloves for replanting in fall.  And do, because this is a very easy crop to grow.  Doesn’t require a too much fuss, suitable for warm or cool regions — though hardnecks tend to do better in northern regions while softnecks and early season hardnecks are better adapted for warmer areas.  The one fuss factor:  garlic don’t like it too dry or too moist, but an occasional finger poke into the soil is all you need to manage them.

My advice?  Try your hand at garlic.  Wonderful cooked or raw, it’s one of the most versatile vegetables you can grow!