organic

Homemade Hummus From The Garden

One of best things about having a garden is the ability to create healthy dishes using ingredients you KNOW. You know where they came from, how they were handled, what’s in them, etc.  I don’t know about you, but this is a definite plus, for me. And my kids, though I don’t think they can totally appreciate this aspect, yet!

Homemade Hummus

But they can appreciate a good meal, and both adore hummus. And what’s not to love about hummus? It’s easy to snack on, delicious and healthy–perfect on pretzels or simple crackers. We added roasted red pepper to this recipe because we have peppers in our garden and happen to love the taste. We also grow chickpeas, garlic and lemons, a few other important ingredients in this recipe.

chickpea blossom

The key to success in making hummus is using a food processor. It blends the ingredients together until oh-so-smooth and creamy. No way I could make this recipe without this kitchen appliance.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

2 whole red peppers, sliced with seeds removed

2 cups fresh chickpeas, cooked (1 – 15 oz, can chickpeas)

1/4 cup tahini

1 large lemon, juiced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 TBSP olive oil

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup bean liquid or water

Roast red peppers until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool. In a food processor, combine tahini and lemon juice and blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. You can use the entire lemon, peel and all (without seeds), though the result will be a strong lemony flavor. Your choice!

Next, add peppers, garlic, olive oil, cumin and salt and process 30 seconds. Scrape sides and process 30 seconds longer or until fully blended. Add chickpeas and process until smooth, 1-2 minutes. You might want to alternately stop and scrape sides throughout this process.

process hummus until creamy smooth

If hummus is thicker than you prefer, add your reserved bean liquid/water accordingly. We prefer our hummus on the creamy side and added only a TBSP of liquid. Remove hummus from processor and enjoy!

yield 3 cups hummus

Yield about 3 cups.

For a delicious twist, use pesto instead of roasted red peppers. Better yet, how about sautéing the chickpeas in olive oil, garlic and cumin until aromatic prior to adding to the food processor. Yum. Curry would be a delightful addition, as well. Only your imagination limits your options with this recipe!

How to Grow Okra

It’s summer which means okra around these parts. This veggie loves warm weather and is the perfect plant to grow in Florida. From March through September, you’ll find okra in my garden. I start these plants from seed. in ground. about 1/2 – 3/4” deep, then stand back and watch them grow. It’s almost that easy.

clemson spineless okra

In about a week or so you’ll see the first leaves popping up through the soil. Okra cab grow several feet in height so be sure to give them plenty of space when planting, about 12-18” apart. More

Planting Pineapples

It’s that time of year when I dream of tropical getaways and long to bury my feet in the sand. It’s also that time of year when whole pineapples are plentiful on the grocer’s shelves. Sweet, juicy and delicious, pineapples are wonderful in smoothies, casseroles or simply fresh from the core. As a gardener, I’m always interested in how to plant the fruits and veggies that I love, and pineapples are no different.

And now I know how! Thanks to a friend, I’ve learned just how easy it is to grow pineapples at home. I mean, this fellow is no gardener. He’s just a guy who enjoys his pineapple and decided he’d try to grow some for himself. And he did!

pineapple

How? He simply cut the crown from his recently devoured pineapple, allowed it to dry for several days, then dug a hole out by his pool and planted it. That’s it. He didn’t water or fertilize it to speak of. He just let it grow. And grow it did.

Now I’m a bit fussier when it comes to my garden and I like to think I have something to do with how prosperous my fruits and vegetables grow. This means I must also take the blame when they don’t do well…like some of my okra this year. Some fared better than others. But not one to dwell on my mistakes, I keep looking forward and on to the next growing season–or challenge, in the case of my new pineapple venture.

My new pineapple

So there it is. A beautiful albeit lonely pineapple waiting for Mother Nature to shower it with her sunshine and thunderstorms. It will be watered twice weekly by my herb garden misters AND I will be adding some fish emulsion organic fertilizer–eventually. But until then, I’m content to allow it to take root and watch it grow. I figure if this fellow can do it, I can do it. :)

My Very First…

Red peppers. I’ve never been able to grow them in my garden. Not sure why, but for some reason, my green peppers tend to rot on the vine before they make it to “red” status. Green peppers are easy to grow and easy to freeze and save. But red?

my first red pepper

This is my first ever. And I’m thrilled! I wish I could tell you my secret, but I don’t have one. On a different note, my tomatoes are thriving and I know exactly why–dust for worms, weave for support and–ta da!–tons of tomatoes.

bounty of tomatoes

They are producing more tomatoes than I can eat, though it’s not for lack of trying! I pluck them from the vine in varying stages of ripening to be sure I get them before any varmints. So long as they have the first hints of red, you can pick them and they will turn a beautiful red in your kitchen window.

And while these were harvested from some pretty spindly-looking plants, the Organic Life magazine (shown in the pepper photo above) reminded me that organic homegrown tomatoes don’t have to look perfect to be perfect. They have cracks (from moisture variations) and the occasional blemish, but slice those off and you have the delicious beginnings for bruschetta.

bruschetta

Other than the fresh mozzarella and bread, these gems were made 100% from my garden ingredients: tomatoes, garlic, and basil. Delicious!

Sweetest Tears You’ll Never Cry

Something about homegrown sweet onions doesn’t make you cry. You leap for joy, you eat your heart out, but you don’t cry–not when you’re cutting them you don’t. I only cry when I run out for the season!

fresh sweet onions

And they taste sweeter than any onion I’ve ever purchased from the store. Yep, they’re that good and very easy to grow. In fact, the only problem I can find with sweet onions is waiting for the harvest!

sweet onions almost ready

They don’t require a lot of attention or bug spray, only water, which is why I make a point to heavily mulch my onions. Makes sense when you consider their body is made up of mostly water. And when they’re ready, they’ll die back so you know when to harvest. More

Third Time’s A Charm

My daughter and I have been playing around in our test kitchen again and have come up with a delicious new cookie!  Test kitchen is just a fancy way of saying we’ve been cooking and concocting and this time, our mouths watered at the results. Oatmeal-Carrot Cookies that literally melt in your mouth with sweet delicious flavors that will have you tossing carrot seeds in the ground so fast your head will spin!

Oatmeal Carrot Cookies

Sure, you can buy carrots from your local market but where’s the fun in that?  I love to go to my supermarket and wander the aisles (I’m particularly excited by the weekly buy-one-get-one deals), but I really love harvesting vegetables from my organic garden, then proceeding directly to the kitchen for consumption of the same. Awesome feeling.

Anyway, with a bounty of freshly harvested carrots, I thought, “I need a new way to eat these babies.” My Fluffiest Carrot Cake is divine but way too fattening to eat on a regular basis. I mean, it’s too easy to eat three slices in a sitting. Too easy and bad for the hips. Very bad. So I decided to make a healthy cookie, instead. Unfortunately, healthy cookies are kinda hard to make, hence the title of this blog post. Our first two attempts failed. We sweetened the dough with honey which made the final cookies too “liquidy.” For the next batch we cut down on the honey but the cookies still didn’t have enough substance to them. Answer? More

Wish I’d Known This A Few Years Back…

Not really sure how I missed it, actually. It’s simple, easy and completely efficient. I mean, if the resorts can do it, why can’t I, right? That’s what I finally decided, anyway. If stringing lines over pools and outdoor restaurants can keep unwanted birds out of the guests’ hair and food, they should certainly be able to keep the birds out of my blueberries.

delectable blueberries

And it does. It totally does! Bird netting is the old standby and works, but it’s cumbersome and traps the bees inside. Bad. Very bad. Garlic sprays and the like don’t work especially well, because the birds don’t seem to mind the stench and I do. Ewe. But string? It’s a no-brainer. At least, once the idea popped into my brilliant mind, it was a no-brainer. Duh. More

My Contribution to Earth Day

For those concerned about the human impact on climate, this article might be your motivation to get that backyard garden (or rooftop!) started. According to the OCA, large-scale farming is a key driver in the generation of greenhouse gases (GHGs). From commercial fertilizers to pesticides, the heavy machinery needed to work the land, and the gas consumed by truckers and airplanes to get the harvest to your local grocery store are only some of the events that can affect our environment.

OCA_small_scale

Makes this gal feel good knowing she can trot on out to her garden and grab some squash and onions for dinner, a handful of blueberries for her breakfast yogurt, fresh lettuce for her lunch salad. It’s the epitome of “localvore” lifestyle. Couple of cows and hens, and I’d have my very own compost-makers and egg suppliers! Unfortunately, hubby says no…that’s too much for his little farmer. But not for you. Why not make this Earth Day the day you decide to get outside and get growing?

It’s easier than you think. I’m proof-positive! I have a gorgeous 4000 sq. ft. garden in my backyard that requires no more than an hour a day during prime-time growing season, much less the remaining months of the year. Granted, I don’t worry about every little weed I see but I don’t have to–weeds are part of nature, too (one I can’t get around), so I live with them, pulling only the most egregious from my beds. And the payoff is HUGE. One of my greatest pleasures is to stroll outdoors and pluck fresh produce from my garden. It tastes better, feels better, and gives me a sense of gratification that a trip to the grocery store does not.

Even if you don’t decide to start a garden, the story is worth a read. :) Happy Earth Day!

 

Have You Exercised Your Soil Lately?

Soil is key to healthy plants.  Duh. But with spring upon us, it’s an important concept to keep in mind. Healthy soil = healthy plants. What makes a healthy soil? Fertilizer? Water? While these two ingredients certainly help, to have truly healthy soil, you need to aerate. Aerate basically means to turn your soil, or add “air” into the compacted ground by redistributing the soil, making for better decomposition. However, one must take caution when aerating established garden soil, because you don’t want to disturb the microorganisms and/or beneficials (good creatures) living beneath the surface. Think worms. You want these little guys to remain happy in your garden and poking them with the sharp blade of a tiller or spade will not make them happy.

gorgeous-worms

How do you aerate your soil in a compassionate manner? Depends on the current condition of your soil. If you’re preparing an area for the first time, your best bet is to go full speed ahead using a push tiller.

rent the tiller

Your goal is to turn up the soil, introduce air, loosening the dirt several inches deep. You can also use a spade for this process. Stab the blade in, dig up the soil, turn it over–stab, dig, turn–over and over. It’s a tedious process but provides great exercise. Hah.

stab shovel both sides

For established gardens, avoid the push tiller and opt for a spade or a hand tool. For example, between planting seasons — I have two here in Central Florida, fall and spring — I turn and till as I work through established beds using a hand fork or shovel, whichever is handy. As I do so, I’ll add compost to increase beneficial organisms into the soil which in turn aids decomposition, aka, more organic compost! Additionally, throughout a single growing season, I’ll poke around my plants with a hand tiller/fork to ensure they’re not becoming compacted by say, heavy rains and the like. We do tend to get torrential downpours.

my beds are formed

Aerating soil not only facilitates the decomposition process of healthy soil, it also ensures light, fluffy beds for your plants. And remember, plants prefer light fluffy beds of dirt because it enables their roots to grow and spread freely. It also allows them to soak up those nutrients you’re “folding” or “tilling” into the soil in the form of organic fertilizer.

loosen and till as you go

Caveat to aeration? You’re turning up weed seeds embedded deep in your soil. Not good, because you’re basically replanting them, encouraging/enabling them to sprout. Ugh. But as every gardener knows, weeds are part of the deal. Some of us are meticulous when it comes to weed removal in and around their plants. Others (like me) have accepted that a few weeds around the garden don’t hurt that bad. They merely look bad. Which brings to mind an old saying along the lines…an immaculate house means a dull life. Loosely translated: I have other more exciting things to do than weed!

Now that you have that spring in your step, head outside! The sun is shining, the temps are warming (or will be soon), and there’s no place you’d rather be than outdoors.

Easter Dessert

Looking for the perfect dessert this Easter? This carrot cake is perfect and differs from most in that it’s light, fluffy and kid-friendly—from the making to the eating! Not only can they help by harvesting and shredding the carrots, they’ll love to decorate this spring treat (bunnies, anyone?).

bunny cake

While this recipe calls for cream cheese frosting, a bit tangy for some youngsters, it would also be great with a creamy white/vanilla frosting, too.

Fluffiest Carrot Cake

2 cups self-rising flour

2 tsp cinnamon

1 ½ cups vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

3 cups freshly grated carrots

½ cup raisins (optional)

½ cup walnuts, finely chopped (optional)

pre-made fondant for decorations

Preheat oven to 350°F. 

Grease or butter 9 x 13 or 2 8-inch round pans. In a large bowl, combine oil, eggs and sugar and beat well. In a separate bowl, combine flour and cinnamon and mix together until creamy smooth. Add dry ingredients to wet and blend well. Fold in grated carrots, followed by any optional items of your liking!

Pour batter into pan and bake for about 35-45 minutes or until knife inserted into center comes out clean. Serve with cream cheese frosting (even plain, this cake is so good).

Approximately 1 large or 2 8-inch cakes.

light and fluffy slice

 Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese, refrigerated

2 TBSP unsalted butter, softened (at room temperature)

1 ½ – 2 cups powdered sugar (depending on how thick you like your frosting!)

1 tsp vanilla extract

dash of grated orange zest (optional)

Combine cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract and blend until smooth. Add sugar gradually, 1/2 cup at a time, beating until blended. Stop when you have reached your desired consistency. For stiffer frosting, use more sugar. For creamy frosting, use less. Stir in optional flavorings at end. Spread (or drizzle) frosting over cake and enjoy!

You can purchase packages of pre-made fondant at most major craft stores (Joann’s Fabrics, Michael’s…) and forming your figures is easy. We used a tube of green cake decorating color for the greens on our carrots—for a more feathery effect. Don’t forget the pre-made flowers and sprinkles—talk about EASY! You’ll have a stylin’ cake in no time!