kids

Sweet and Savory Baked Onions

“How sweet it is” doesn’t begin to describe these delicacies!  The kids devoured the onions they pulled from their school garden this week, followed by howls for seconds.  And I do mean howls.  It’s Friday and these kids were energized, to say the least!

But so long as they’re behaving we don’t mind a bit of energy, right?  Nah.  Besides, who can blame them?  Eating what you grow is way too exciting.

We began our harvest party with a sampling of raw onion slices served with a choice of either ranch or honey mustard dressing–for dipping, of course.  Upon first bite, many of the kids were surprised how well the onions tasted!  Some thought them too “spicy” while others thought they tasted like water.  What?!  Water! How can you say such a thing?

They remained firm in their opinion.

Hmph.  Water?  Well… 

They were picked fresh from our garden, and as vegetables go, onions do consist mostly of water…  Could be an accurate description.  How about we go with “sugar water,” to be precise. :)

It was an easy sell.  Next it was time to sample our baked onions–which won the taste competition hands down.  Why? 

Perhaps it was the scent of sweet onions baking in the oven that tickled their bellies (sure worked a number on the teachers!).  Maybe it was the brown sugar and melted cheese that cinched the win (both well-known favorites of children).  But either way, the baked version definitely became the preferred dish of the afternoon, warranting seconds, thirds–as much as I would give them!

Which is heartwarming for a parent.  Connecting kids to what they grow in a tangible way really makes an impression between their garden and their food supply.  Taking time to slice the onions, grate the cheese, witness their entry into the oven followed by the ogling of golden beauty said it all.  Sure they were delicious, but so are a lot of things these kids consume. 

One thing for certain:  these students will remember these onions, no doubt about it!  If you’d like to sample some these gems for yourself, check my recipe section for full details on how you can make them at home.

Motorcross in the Garden?

This weekend was my big spring start to the season!  While exciting and invigorating, it was down right  exhausting.  Weeding and tilling three rows in one day (the old-fashioned way with hoe and woman-power) reminded me of why I normally “stagger” this kind of garden duty.  Talk about good exercise!  No wonder you don’t see very many obese farmers.  It’s not because they eat only the fruits and vegetables they grow (remember: Mama makes great pies), it’s because they do hard labor!  Ugh.

Which is why I devised my own personal shortcut to tilling.  I refer to it as “tilling as you go.”  Basically, as I plant each row, I sit (more comfortable on my old body) and use my hand cultivator (check Prize Picks section of my website for details) and till only the area where I’m planting my seeds.  I mean, the seeds don’t care if the five feet of dirt around them is tilled, do they?  

I say no.  They only care about having fresh, soft dirt, amended with compost where they reside, preparing to germinate.   Sure, I realize it’s cheating.  But sometimes….   It’s just plain easier.  Besides, as time passes, I make it a habit to aerate the soil within my beds and around my plants, stimulating root growth which means eventually, the entire bed will be tilled.   

After my daughter finished burying the beans with our compost, I gazed down to the newly expanded area of my garden and sighed.  Unfortunately, I have no energy for that section today. 

As luck would have it, my husband walked by on his way to his “man castle” (tractor shed) and the alarms sounded:  ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!  Tractor, tiller attachment, new section needs tilling…. 

Are you with me?  “Oh, honey!”

Ten minutes later with a breath of fresh attitude, I watched with deep gratitude as my husband mechanically tilled the last three rows for me.  Yes, I”ll still have to form the beds and replace my walkway ground cover, but it will be so much easier now that he’s done the hard part.  If only ALL my rows could be done with the benefit of technology. 

But they can’t.  Unless I invest in a small hand-driven tiller that won’t disrupt my neatly formed walkways covered with hay.  Which still sounds like manual labor.

“Hey, Dad!”

I turned to find my son, bicycle in hand, helmut on head. 

“Can you build me a jump so I can catch some air?”

Excuse me?  I glanced at my husband who, to my surprise, nodded. 

“Make it high and pointed.”

Watching the two construct the jump with the dirt piled next to my garden (the excess from the original expansion process), I thought, well here’s an injury waiting to happen–to my son AND my garden!

Sure enough, once the mound was formed to his satisfaction, my son rode his bike up and over the jump.  Eventually–with air!

Kids.  Go figure.  Give em a pile of dirt and they can play all day.  But if he knows what’s good for him, he’ll steer clear of my freshly tilled rows.

Custom Seed Packet & Holder Giveaway!

Attention savvy gardeners!  Visit us on Facebook and hit “like” for your chance to earn one of these adorable seed packet holders. 

Your choice of design, as well as a set of 15 custom seed saving packets, compliments of BloominThyme – http://www.facebook.com/bloominthyme

Don’t save seeds?  No problem.  Use these containers to hold paper napkins or plastic utensils on the picnic table, or perhaps envelopes on your desk.  How about the perfect unique gift for that gardener friend?  Or win one for the kids!  These holders are a great way to get the youngsters excited about gardening. 

Already “like” us?  Thanks!  You’ll be automatically entered to win.  When we reach 75 likes, one random winner will be drawn.  At a 100, a second will be chosen.  So enter early and increase your chances of winning.

Then, stay-tuned for more giveaways as well as gardening made easy – BloominThyme…your “cliff” notes to gardening!

Kids Planting and Progressing

For the kids, this was a week of “seed fun.”  

With the warm wave of weather here in Florida, we’re taking our chances and planting now–to ensure our crops are ready before graduation.  We do have our priorities, you know and the harvest party is top of the list! 

To begin, we toured the garden to check on our plants’ progress.  The cilantro is turning coriander.  No longer content to remain in its original form, this plant is now shooting  toward the sky, sporting lovely white blooms.  Soon, these flowers will produce coriander seeds–which of course we will harvest.  I know there’s some parent out there ready and waiting with the perfect recipe.  And if not, the kids and I will find something to do with them.  (BTW, we’re open to suggestion.)

Our baby carrots are tender and sweet.  No, they’re nowhere near ready, but their greenery is quite delicate.

And just look at those potatoes.  The kids can almost taste those healthy potato chips and fries now.  

“Wipe off the drool, kids.  We still have a while to go.  And for increased production, cover those babies with dirt!”

And production we need if we expect to have enough potatoes for a party’s worth of chips!  Healthy of course, lightly coated with olive oil and herbs and baked to golden perfection.  (Food talk keeps the kids motivated.) 

Yet more fascinating than food are our beans.  Personally, I find the early stages of bean development to be the most visual examples of Mother Nature in action than most anything else.  More than leaves sprouting and stems growing, this life cycle literally unfurls before your very eyes. 

Why, just look at them!

You can almost feel the energy as it opens from the seed, erupting in a burst…

…exploding in green bloom.  Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?

Magnificent.  Not into beans?  We also planted cucumber and corn seeds, as well as transplanted tomatoes.

The kids learned tomatoes are best planted deep, covering the bottom two “leaves” as they bury the base.  By doing so, they’ll encourage stronger root growth and development for their small tomato sprout.  Important–as we anticipate big strong tomatoes come spring!  And on our way back to class, we spotted this early gem.

Delectable little devil, isn’t it?  Can’t wait to make preserves out of that little pumpkin!  Oh, didn’t I mention?  We’re going to learn how to can!  Berries, tomatoes…

It’s the simple things in life.

Too Many Strawberries?

 

What!  How could you have too many strawberries?

Oh.  You took the kids strawberry picking this weekend.  Yes, I understand.  They do grab berries at alarming rates, don’t they…

And now you’ve had your fill of strawberry shortcake, strawberry smoothies, strawberries and cream, strawberries on your corn flakes.   What else could you possibly do with a strawberry?

How about tossing some in your salad?  When combined with a mix of velvety soft buttercrunch and crispy firm spinach leaves from the garden — they make for the most delectable lunch. 

Looks good, doesn’t it?  It is.  The secret to this salad’s appeal is the striking  contrast between fresh tangy berry and sweet mild goat cheese.  It’s melt in your mouth good.  Check my recipe section for details!

First time I realized strawberries made a wonderful addition to salads was dinner at my cousin Nancy’s home.  She added nuts along with a variety of fresh ingredients, but for me, the strawberries were the main attraction. 

Of course, the joy of picking them ourselves added to the pleasure!  This little guy just looks like he’s having fun, doesn’t he?

He was, we were…  Picking your own fruits and veggies is great fun for the entire family.  To find a u-pick farm near you–check this great website

Then you too, may find yourself in the midst of a sea of berries.   Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Strawberry Season Means Strawberry Picking!

At least when you have kids, it does!   Okay, with my kids, it does.  And grandma.  Don’t forget her.  Exciting outings are usually her idea, anyway.

December through April is strawberry season in Florida and in our area, this is code for BIG FUN.  From the Plant City Strawberry Festival to our local Strawberry Farm, we love this time of year! 

Sweetens school lunches.  ”Peanut butter and jelly, Mom and make it fresh strawberry!”

And afternoon snack time.  “Can we make strawberry smoothies?  Pleeeeeease.”

Of course we can!   If that’s how I get fresh strawberries in your belly then that’s how we do it.   Beats the ice cream alternative.

We in the gardenfrisk household grow our own strawberries, though for some reason, they never turn out quite as large and luscious as the ones at the farm.   Pesticides?   Maybe.  Commercial strength fertilizer?  Could be.   But since I don’t know for sure, let’s just say the kids and I have some work to do this season to compete with Farmer Jones down the road.

Pine needle mulch is the first key.  As for food, I hope they like fish emulsion.  Stinky, but it seems effective.  So long as we don’t drench them in the stuff while the fruit is blossoming we should be good to go, right?  For a complete review on the subject of growing strawberries, the Florida Strawberry Growers Association provides a fantastic educational download for kids and adults alike.

These gems were saved from last year.  Half of the plants went into our school garden while the other half went to our home garden.   No fruit yet, but we’re patient.   Do we have a choice?

Besides, to get our strawberry fill, we simply run to the strawberry fields and pick to our heart’s content!

If you’d like to find a farm near you (this is an international source, mind you), check this link.   In addition to strawberries, you’ll be able to locate blueberry farms, pumpkin patches–all kinds of stuff!  And speaking of blueberries, just look at these buds.

Aren’t they amazing?    While they don’t seem like much now — a tad scraggly, actually — soon the leaves will start sprouting…the blossoms will start blooming…the bees will come buzzing…the birds will come biting–

Hmph.    There’s a great way to ruin a blueberry growin’ girl’s day.  The birds.  

I plan to keep them out this year and WITHOUT the horrible netting business.   What a fiasco of unintended consequences!  Netting works well to keep the birds out, but it also keeps the bees out.  Not good.  I’m sure you remember the story about the birds and the bees…

But let’s not linger in last year’s loss, no-no!  2011 is a brand new year with brand new buds and whole host of optimism.   Remember:  what you lack in skill you will make up for with enthusiasm.  Important tip for novices like me.

Butterscotch Cookies, Anyone?

Now that the brownies have vanished (okay vanished isn’t quite true — I mean, we know where they went), my daughter has moved on to cookies.   Sweet of her, isn’t it?  She’s actually baking in preparation for a family get together this weekend.   No special occasion, no particular reason, we’re simply getting together because we haven’t seen each other in a while.

Odd, when you live in a small town.   But it happens, doesn’t it?   We get so busy with our own lives, doing our thing, we forget to make the time for those we care about the most.   It’s almost as though we “assume” their presence in our lives until next thing you know, it’s been three months since you’ve seen one another! 

One of my best girlfriends pointed out this sad fact to me years ago.  Living only 30 minutes apart, we barely had time to visit, what between her three kids and my two.  Add a couple of husbands, a few jobs…next thing you know, months have passed without so much as a lunch date!   When she moved to Tallahassee, I was heartbroken.   “Now I’ll never see you.”   

She looked at me and stated quite bluntly, “You never see me now.”

While my first reaction was hurt, I couldn’t argue.   She was right. 

Thankfully, our family has a resident Woman-in-Charge-of-Family-Gatherings who coordinates such events — my beautiful stepmother.  Realizing it had been a while since our last gathering, considering the fact that my international pilot brother was in town, my cross roads trucker brother was on hand, my sister and I both without events, she scheduled dinner.  Casual, easy, a let’s-just-hang-out-together kind of evening.  The resident Woman-in-Charge-of-Everything-Else (my illustrious mom) will be there, too.  Odder still, what goes on in small towns!  

It’s actually very nice to be able to include everyone at the dinner table, and we do so, blending adult children and offspring, grandparents and friends, the new traditions continues;  my daughter is baking for said event.   Which means I’m tasting.  Well, I am Resident-Chief-Taste-Officer-of-all-Things-She-Bakes!  Where do you think her sweet tooth came from–the tooth fairy?  

Nope.   She inherited it from me, and I inherited mine from my dad (her second favorite person to bake for — after her daddy, of course).   Nibbling into the first morsel, the cookie melted in my mouth, drenching my palate with sheer glory.  The girl has outdone herself.   Using a recipe she found in Cuisine at home cooking magazine, she made butterscotch cookies and I’m here to tell you, these cookies are fantastic!   Who knew you could pack so much flavor into a simple cookie? 

I’m talking real flavor;  a mix of ginger and brown sugar, butterscotch and confectioner’s.  If you like cookies, you need to try these.  You’ll find the recipe on my blog as it’s not available online.  Plopping the remainder of the sample in my mouth, I gazed up at my girl from my spot on the couch, my shirt shamelessly covered with sweet white powder and swallowed.   “May I have another?”

She grinned.   “You like them?”

“Like them?  I love them.”

Rule number one:  if you want seconds, you’d better compliment the chef.  Cooking may be her passion, but positive reinforcement is her natural desire.   And you don’t want to be dropped from the invite list when it comes to her dessert table

Rule number two:   try to keep your cookie consumption to a minimum.   There are others waiting for the cookie dish so please move aside.   Chagrin.   Snag.  Thank you, come again!

The good news is we can always make more.   And with Valentine’s Day drawing near, you may find yourself wanting to ply your way into the heart of someone special — and these cookies will certainly do the trick!   Unless your sweetheart is allergic to butterscotch whereby I’d try a different course.   Chocolate does make for a handy backup plan, though, and comes in all shapes and sizes.

Just a friendly reminder.   Family, friends and love…isn’t that what living is all about?

Co-op Garden? But that’s MY plant!

Try and explain to a five-year-old that the vegetable plants belong to everyone.

“But that’s MY plant!”

“Yes, you planted that one, but it belongs to everyone.  We all helped.”

She points.  “That one’s mine.”

Still working on the concept of co-op gardening, I attempted to explain further,  “It’s a co-op garden which means, we all share in the vegetable planting AND the vegetable eating.”

Met by a hard-nosed glare, I decided it was best to let go of the subject.  A wise gardener knows when to let go of the vine. 

For now, we’ll simply enjoy the fruits of our labors and if that means each child is enjoying a particular plant, than so be it.  At least we’re all enjoying the garden, right?

And speaking of enjoying the garden, one of the best ways to do so is to use our sense of smell.  Take these herbs, basil and rosemary. 

Not only beautiful, you can almost smell them, can’t you? 

Can’t wait to start clipping!  And rather than rotate these lovely herbs, we can leave them in as long as they’ll continue producing — which means the rosemary will stay for an indeterminate amount of time while the basil will succumb to the freeze.

In addition to our glorious herbs, we now have strawberries, thanks to our kindergarteners.  These kids KNOW how to garden and weeded this bed in no time flat.

Once the weeds were out, we transplanted small Quinault strawberries. 

 This variety is wonderful, because it will produce numerous berries and do so well into May/June.  They’ll also spread out and fill this bed quite nicely.

Rounding out our fully planted garden is kale.  As babies, these plants can easily be mistaken for beets, but they are quite different.  Large and leafy, these small cherubs will grow to produce large nutrient-rich leaves.  YUM.

Can’t wait until harvest!  Which at the rate these kids are growing — don’t blink! – will happen before you know it.  Take these upper elementary kids.  Savvy and sweet, thinning the corn and pumpkin, they decided a little corn/pumpkin dressing might be nice around the monument built in honor of their lost tomato plant, to sort of spruce things up a bit.

Clever, aren’t they?  And the good news?  They only grow more clever with each passing year…  Yes, I DO mean middle school.  Can’t wait!

In the meanwhile, I think it’s best to simply enjoy their enthusiasm.  I mean, doesn’t matter if it’s weeds or seeds, these kids take to a task like white on rice –

– and get the job done, tout de suite!  And remember the jungle tangle of black beans?  Well, it’s a jungle no more after these kids whipped through it, pulling excess bean plants as they went.

No one ever wants to pull perfectly healthy plants, unless of course they’re inhibiting one another’s growth.  But then, what’s a gardener to do?

P.S.  What I said was kale isn’t — it’s Swiss Chard.  Oops!  My apologies — but it is just as healthy and delightful!

Kids Say the Darndest Things

My kids have completely different styles when it comes to weeding the garden.  My daughter gets in, gets out — quick as she can.  The girl means business when it comes to weeds and she doesn’t like to waste her valuable free-time dawdling among the weeds!

My son, on the other hand, lingers.  He daydreams. 

Dawdles.  It’s not his thing, he says. 

Mine either.

He doesn’t prefer to weed.

Me neither.

So while in the garden recently, my daughter long gone, the dog uninterested in sitting with us out in the full heat of the sun (spoiled boy decided a swim in the pool would be a better use of his time!), I once again noticed my son idling amongst the rows.  He wasn’t pulling anything free from the ground.  Translated:  he wasn’t weeding.

Pausing from my task of planting garlic bulbs, I calmly asked him, “What are you doing?”

“Enjoying life.”

I raised a brow.   Really, now.   “Enjoying life, are you?”

“Yes.  I’m building an arena.”

Wondering if I heard him correctly, I repeated, ”Building an arena?”

“Yep.  And these are my lights.”   He looked over at me with clear invitation in his eyes.    ”Wanna see?”

Of course I did, so I rose from my spot and joined him along his row. 

“See.  There’s the arena and here’s my light.”   He bent a twig-like hay strand with his fingers to simulate a street light.   ”This is the light part and this is its post.”

“Ah….”   Peering down into his creation, I said, “Looks good.  Who’s it for?”

“Ants.”

I chuckled.  “Do ants enjoy going to the arena?”

“Oh, sure.  And here’s their door where they enter.” 

Sure enough, there was a hole opening in the ground forming a tunnel for the ants to enter.  I nodded.  “Perfect.”

And it was.  Creative and wonderful, it was an awesome rendition of his current priority:  sports.  Returning to my row, I pondered over his imagination.  Never short on ideas, I thought, kids sure can create anything out of nothing.  Which is a good thing.  Even better, I liked that he thought to consider a break from his chores to simply ”enjoy life.”  I think it says a lot about his state of mind, his outlook and for that, I’m proud of him.

A little while later, I noticed he still had yet to weed.  Almost finished with my business in the garden, I knew he wasn’t going to take kindly to sitting out in the garden alone – weeding –  so I nudged him a bit.   ”How are you doing?”

“Not great.”

“No?  What happened to enjoying life?”

“I still have to weed.”

“Yes, you do, but it’s not that much.  You can manage.”

He tossed a hay twig to the ground.  “It’s not fair.  You try to enjoy life, but it comes right back at you!”

I laughed.  Such observation from a seven-year-old!  ”You’re right.  It does, doesn’t it?”  I shook my head at his wisdom.  When it comes to the “weeds” of life, it most certainly seems to — until you fully adjust your attitude cap;  a feat he’s still working to master.

“What the heck–why even try to enjoy it then?”

“It’s all about attitude.  Enjoy what you’re doing, whatever it is.”

He huffed in disagreement.  “I’m gonna go throw the football with Dad.”

“Yes you are – right after you finish weeding.”

And such goes life.  Despite his every effort to the contrary, my son learned it’s not all fun and games.  There are parts of life that feel like work, no matter how hard you try to make them feel like play.  But we push through.  We persevere. 

As a mother, it’s reassuring to know we’re not only growing vegetables out here in the garden, but building character to boot.

Growing by Leaps and Bounds!

We’re talking both kids AND plants — these students have energy to share!  And share they do; their tools, their seeds, their worm poop.

Well, some things are easier to share than others, but from what I’ve seen, these gardeners are all about sharing the adventure of gardening.  Especially these little ones.

Our kindergarten students were in charge of planting black beans.  First they amended the soil (threw black dirt and formed two rows).  “Can I use my hands?”

“Yes, if you’re wearing gloves.”

Next they dug holes in two neat lines (carved them as they saw fit).   “Are these too close?”

Spying the holes side by side, I suggested they might want to stretch them out just a wee bit further.

Then they planted seeds in an orderly fashion (wildly orderly fashion!) and pointed at their handiwork.   ”Is this good?”

“Remember:  only one or two per hole!”   Not handfuls.

Ensuring a good start, they sprinkled them with fertilizer (covered them with worm poop) until finally they tucked them in for a nice fall harvest (patted them down with their shovels).

Voila –  we have our bed of black beans!  At the rate these kids planted, jungle of black beans may prove more accurate. 

But if need be, we can “thin” the growth.  At least this way, we will be certain to have a superb “bean to sprout” ratio!

Sort of like our corn.  We’re going to have a bumper crop, for sure! 

Lower elementary planted sweet peas along the fence. 

When I asked who likes peas, only one boy claimed he didn’t. 

A response to which I duly smiled.  “You’ll LOVE these peas.  Plucked fresh from the vine, they taste like sugar.”

He returned a skeptical look. 

“Really,” I assured him.  “Vegetables never tasted so sweet until you grew them yourself!”

Another child piped in, “You can eat them right from the plant?”

“Yes sir, so long as you wash them first.  You never know what night visitors you may have had or what they may have been doing.”

Ewe.  But true.

And don’t forget the herbs! 

These girls worked like the three amigos, dropping their dirt and scattering their seeds like master gardeners — all this before running off to work on their kinetic challenge!

It’s all in a day’s work for these kids.  And just look at their progress!  

The “Brownie” beans are flourishing.  These were planted first and are really doing well.

The tomatoes are thriving.

The carrots are poking free.

Why, it’s beginning to look like a real garden out there –  thanks, gardeners! 

Until next time…