salad

My BEST Gift This Season

Santa doesn’t visit me much anymore. Not because I’m naughty or anything, but because I’m older, wiser. And I buy a lot of my own stuff these days. So… Not a lot of boxes under the tree with my name on them. No worries. I don’t need anything come end of December. If I need it, I buy it. If I don’t, I set it back on the shelf. Need vs. want. It’s a lesson I tend to harp on with my kids.

However, this year I had a brainstorm. It’s lettuce season in Central Florida which means I’m making several trips to the garden per week collecting lettuce leaves, washing and drying them and of course, devouring them. I mentioned this to my daughter, along with a hint that I could really use a salad spinner.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“An automatic lettuce dryer.”

You can imagine the disgruntled look on her face. “Seriously? You want me to buy you a lettuce dryer for Christmas?”

I nodded. “I do.”

Being the good daughter that she is, she obliged her crazy mother’s request. And can I tell you? It’s the best-gift-EVER. Really!

It looks simple enough–can be found in most any homeware department–but the results?

AMAZING. Wash, deposit, press, spin, pluck and voila! You have yourself freshly dried lettuce from the garden!

Warning: Please do not skimp on the washing step. There’s nothing that wrankles a husband’s nose quicker than crunching down on gritty lettuce.

Exactly. Lettuce isn’t supposed to be gritty. It’s supposed to be crisp, yes. Gritty, no. And lettuce fresh from the garden tends to collect dirt. Lots of dirt. So take a word from the wise and wash your lettuce thoroughly. I usually rinse mine in the garden, using the overflow to water my plants as opposed to allowing it to run down the sink drain.

I will give it another quick rinse in the kitchen–but a very quick rinse–then I deposit it into the spinner bin (I actually collect my leaves from the garden using the spinner bin). Push down on the center “spin” button and away we go! Can you see the droplets of water collected on the inside bowl?

Fabulous. Less than a minute later, I pluck freshly dried lettuce from the bin and transfer it to my salad bowl. Genius.

Now I realize the holidays have passed, but perhaps you have a birthday fast-approaching? Special anniversary? Aw heck, why not go out and spoil yourself with a surprise purchase. You’ll be glad you did!

And if you harvested too much lettuce for one serving, refer to my terrific storage tips. Click here for full details on how to store your lettuce for days (although pass over the tedious drying methods used in my example. It’s needs an update!!).

Tomato Update

They made it!! My tomatoes endured the torrential November downpours and gusty winds, the chilly cold fronts and the spindly trellis system I concocted to support them. Despite my incompetence and Mother Nature’s testy moods, my tomatoes have survived. It’s a good day in the garden.

tomatoes made it through

To celebrate, I enjoyed the first harvest in my salad this afternoon–a salad fully clipped from my garden–and both were divine. Mind you, my tomatoes are not picture-perfect gorgeous. How could they be? After the struggle and strife they suffered, it’s amazing they’re still attached to the vine!! But I don’t mind a few scruffy edges. Not when the flesh is sweet and delicious.

tomatoes in December

It really was. I should have taken a picture of my salad but my stomach took action before my brain.

Next time. Next time I’ll remember the camera. Perhaps over dinner this evening…? I’m serving sautéed chicken with a chopped tomato-Parmesan topping. In addition to a side of sautéed garlic and kale. YUM.

Lettuce for Lunch, Anyone?

It’s my staple foodstuff for the midday meal. I eat a salad every day, varying the additions to my bowl of lettuce. Some days it’s avocado, chickpeas and feta or goat cheese. Other days I’ll add a can of wild caught salmon and strawberries. Most days it includes spinach, and always olive oil and balsamic–glaze or vinegar. Add a little pepper and you have a feast!

fresh lettuce

Really, if you add the right ingredients, you can get FULL on your salad. And for those of you in the warmer climates, NOW is the time to eat lettuce fresh from the garden. Here in Central Florida it’s simply too hot for this tender-leafed veggie to grow. You can grow it on your patio, but I tend to have a problem with plants that rely on ME for their water. A timed sprinkler system? No problem. Me and my memory and schedule? No way. I’d starve if I had to live off a patio garden.

 arugula bed

Unless of course, I went with hydroponics. Now that’s a self-watering, self-nourishing kind of system if I’ve ever seen one. And it might be exactly what my northern friends need to continue consuming their fresh greens. You can grow your greens in towers like these or in bins. Your choice. But either way, it’s worth taking a look-see.

 salad-wall

But I digress. For Southern gardeners, now is the time to grow your lettuce and I, for one, am celebrating. Once again, no worries when it comes to growing too much. I have the PERFECT way to keep it stored and tasting fresh for days. Check this earlier post for how you can, too. Enjoy!

Get Out and Get Your Berries!

It’s that time of year again, when the strawberries are calling your name.  From Plant City, Florida to your local grocery store, the filed up the road or the guy on the corner making your purchase all the more convenient, it’s time to get your strawberries.  And here in Central Florida, it’s a beautiful time to get outside and get pickin’…

We go to our area strawberry farm, Oak Haven.  They have plenty of u-pick hours for the kids to race down the rows (only kidding–they prefer you don’t run :)), a country kitchen open on the weekends, serving up the best strawberry shakes and now, strawberry wine.  Ah….  Fun for the whole family!

Out back, they also have a playground and zip line (of sorts).  Definitely a place to check out if you’re looking for something fun to do.  And speaking of great country fun, the Plant City Strawberry Festival is opening its doors THIS week.  From February 28 – March 10, stop by and enjoy fresh strawberries, strawberry shortcake, petting zoo, garden shows and live music from some of the hottest names in country!

 So if you’re not growing strawberries in your garden this year, don’t dismay.  There’s plenty to choose from out there.  For a strawberry farm in your area, check the website Pick Your Own.  This is a GREAT resource for everything fruits and vegetables.  It’s a BloominThyme favorite!  For recipes to highlight your bounty, how about a little Strawberry Goat Cheese SaladJuicing? Maybe the kids would like to give their favorite teacher a sweet giftStrawberry cupcakes always sound good around my household. 

But no matter how you like your strawberries, get outdoors and enjoy the season.  Blueberry pickin’ will be here before you know it!!

Maintain Vigilance

One thing to keep in mind about gardening is maintenance.  Not only do things go “bump in the night,” they go chomp in the garden.

Tami’s lettuce have gone to flower, now taller than her okra, and the bugs are in hog heaven–sans the swine.  Ick.  At this point, Tami need only remove the plants and put them in the compost pile–her new compost pile!  Yep, she’s decided to join the organic ranks and start her own compost pile, beginning with the pile of oak leaves she recently raked up.  Smart.  Very smart.  Best of all, it’s mere feet from her garden.

The okra are growing gangbusters and spitting out “cobs” all over the place.  One thing to keep in mind when you’re growing okra, is these guys are fast operators.  Once they begin producing, you’ll want to visit every day.  This will ensure you harvest your okra at its most tender because trust me, large cobs of okra are tough and NOT delicious.  Great for seed saving though!

Always a silver lining (if you know where to look).  Moving right a long… Tami has her first watermelon.  Isn’t it adorable?

Won’t be long before this little guy is burgeoning from the vine.  Note on watermelon harvest:  in Florida, these babies have a tendency to explode during hot summer days, so while you’re visiting each and every day, keep an eye on the melons.  Give em’ a tap and when you hear the nice dull “thump” sound, pull that rascal from the vine and haul it onto the picnic table.  Another good indicator is to check the curly tendrils.  Light green = not ready.  Brown and dry = thump it baby, thump it!

Another technique is to press your thumb nail into the skin.  If it makes an indentation, not ready.  No mark, you should be good to pull.  Tomatoes are a much easier fruit when it comes to harvest detection.  Red, they’re ripe.  Green they’re not–unless you’re a Southerner and like your tomatoes green.  Tami’s are looking mighty fine.

Her basil could use a little pinching.  I prefer to pinch the budding blossoms from mine before they reach 1/2 inch, then toss them into my lunch salad.  Mmmm…  Aromatic and delicious.  Did you know that basil eases digestion?  Wunderbar.  Nothing like making my roughage go down “easier.” 🙂

Have you seen the recipe for my favorite summer salad?  Strawberry and goat cheese and oh-so-delicious!  Add basil for an added delight.

And since we’re speaking of maintenance, these squash need some attention.  Fungus.  Very hard to rid the Florida garden squash of fungus, what with all our rain and humidity, but we must. 

This plant wants to survive and produce more squash.  It simply needs a helping hand.  So Tami will remove the diseased leaves and allow the center healthy green ones to thrive.   Remember, your plants want to produce and sustain you.  They just need a little help sometimes!

Warning for Edible Garden Growers

If you decide to incorporate an edible garden into your landscape, be sure you’re not the only one who knows about your new endeavor.  If you are, you may emerge from your home with the same great disappointment as I did today.  The lawn fellow sprayed my bright tender greens with insecticide.

Shudder, chills, mutter, groan–the horror!

But yes.  Alas, it’s true.  My sweet wonderful landscaper put an end to my glorious edible salad bed landscape, shown here in the foreground of my rosemary hedge.  It’s not his fault. I didn’t label it as edible landscape. I didn’t advise him I was cultivating foodstuff around the house. I merely amended my soil with compost and worm poop and assumed (yes–I know what that stands for!) that he would know that it was new growth.

Yet he mis-identified my tender green sprouts as weeds.  But with nothing else to do–you can see my lawn is a barren wasteland of frost damaged grass–he decided to spray the perimeter for weeds. Under normal circumstances I’d be celebrating, but today?

Not so much.  So please, take a word of advice from a woman who knows:  communicate with the man (or woman) whose job it is to care for your grounds. You’ll be glad you did.

As for me? Next time I’ll be sticking big, broad, conspicuous white plant labels in my newly planted edible landscape! No sense in risking it, right?

Not a chance.

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?