Monday, July 30, 2012

Six Ways to Make Your Outdoor Space Sparkly and Magical!

My garden is a magical place.  There are always new surprises, and children and neighbors in our subdivision make a point to take walks along our street to see what new magic there might be.

6 ways you can bring magic to your garden:

1.  Bring movement into your garden with items that catch the "merry little breezes"* -- like a colorful flag or banner, ribbons, or prayer flags.

Scatter wind chimes around the trees,

Place chimes around the house.

And garden spinners.  Placing flags, chimes, and spinners where they can be seen or heard from indoors -- close to a window or door, will bring outdoor delights even when you are sitting in your house.

2.  Spruce up your entrance with a colorful welcome mat.

3.  Paint your mailbox.

Glue a ceramic bird on it.

4.  Glue jewels on the sidewalk or place some in a beautiful bowl or clay saucer near the sidewalk and listen to little children tell their mothers about the jewels when they pass by.

A garden cat always brings some sparkle.

5.  Hang a whimsical birdhouse or bird feeder just for looks.

6.  And of course hang a functional bird feeder, especially a hummingbird feeder, and invite the magic of living creatures into your garden.

Pick one small thing to do this week, whether it is in the backyard for your personal enjoyment, or the front yard so your neighbors can experience some magic, and invite the faeries into your outdoor space.  It will bring you outdoors more often, too, even if it's just to take a turn about the garden while holding a refreshing drink during our summer heat.

*"the merry little breezes" are the children of Old Mother West Wind that like to play in The Green Meadows in the animal stories written by Thornton W. Burgess, first published in 1910.

Linking to Tuesday Garden Party

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fresh Fig, Caramelized Onion, and Salami Pizza

The quest for ways to make use of my bumper crop of huge fresh figs continues . . . .  Let's see, I've done Spicy Fig Jam, made Fig Newtons (of a sort, basically a shortbread cookie bottom and top with a Fig and Blueberry Jam kind of concoction in between), and now:

TA DAAHH!  Fresh Fig Pizza! (and looky, up there at the top of the photo, yet MORE figs -- every time I go outside there are another couple of figs ready to pick from my NOT VERY LARGE fig tree -- I can't even imagine what it will be like when this tree is bigger -- I guess I'll be hanging bags of figs on the mailbox).

This turned out really yummy, and made two 9x13 pizzas.  I made enough crust for two pizzas, and pre-baked in 9x13 glass pans with cornmeal in the pans, at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes.  I use the glass pans because it's easy and we are not particularly picky about pizza crust -- a true connoisseur may prefer to use a pizza stone or other favorite pizza crust technique.

Essentially I made up a batch of slow cooked caramelized onions (with just a bit of balsamic vinegar added towards the end), then sautéed chopped figs and salami (in retrospect I think just placing sliced figs on the crust and giving the salami a quick sauté would have worked, but sautéing it all together created a kind of salty sweet juicy melange that will be yummy as a bread topping -- which is indeed what was talked about on The Splendid Table on Sunday, which is where I got the idea).  Any kind of salty meat would work instead of salami -- ham, bacon, prosciutto, or whatever -- and indeed, I think other fruits would work instead of the figs.

SOOO, I sprinkled some goat cheese and some mozzarella (because I didn't have much goat cheese) on the baked crusts.  Layered on some caramelized onions, the fig and salami sautee, and some halved olives (I think artichoke hearts would be good in lieu of olives), and sprinkled some parmesan on top.  This went back in the 425 oven for another 15 minutes.  We let it cool about 5-10 minutes.  I have to say it was not the kids' favorite pizza -- but I thought it was really really good.  It would be very good at room temperature, and like I said, the fig and salami topping would be delish on a sturdy bread that cook soak up the juices.

Salt, sweet, fat, and bread -- that's like the four food groups, right?

Linking to Tuesday Garden PartySunny Simple Sunday

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Easy Meal: oven-cooked Egg Foo Young for a crowd

Although I like cooking, I do not like cooking individually prepared servings for more than, hmm, two people (like pancakes, omelets, etc).  Standing over the stove while everybody else eats everything is not my idea of a fun time -- and since ours was a family of 6 until just the past few years when these kids started growing up and moving out -- I have a number of recipes and strategies to deal with cooking for larger numbers (like I make pancakes on a big griddle that can cook 8 at one time, and I do bacon in the oven on a cookie sheet with a rack on it so I can cook a whole package at one time).  I make frittatas instead of omelets.  Then I modified the frittata recipes to cook in the oven in a 9x13 pan.

Anyhoo, I decided to experiment with Egg Foo Young style recipes and see if I couldn't do Egg Foo Young in a 9x13 pan in the oven like the frittatas.

Score!  Easy, uses up a lot of miscellaneous bits hanging around in the fridge, cooks itself in the oven, veggies held up crunchy, tasted good hot or room temperature, and leftovers heated up well the next day.

We finished dinner before I thought to take a picture, but here is what was left, along with the side bowl of Egg Foo Young sauce.  It reheated perfectly for lunch the next day.

I chopped up some small onions from our CSA, some sweet peppers, chard greens and the stems from the chard from my garden (the chopped stems take the place of celery very nicely in recipes, and the leaves take the place of spinach or other greens), and added some sliced mushrooms.  I stir fried all of this very briefly in a sauté pan -- mostly to shrink up the chard, and put it all in a 9x13 baking dish (spray or spread a bit of oil in the pan so things don't stick).  You can use anything you have on hand, including some cooked meat.  Some bean sprouts would have been great, but I didn't have any.

Then I beat 12 eggs (I could have just used 6-8 eggs, but they are from my own chickens and are "medium" in size and I had about 3 dozen in the fridge at the time and really wanted to use some up and free up some space!), along with 1/4 cup of milk (could have used water).  I poured the egg on top of the veggies in the pan and put it all in a preheated 375 oven to cook for about 20 minutes.  It came out great, with the veggies still crunchy but not "raw".

I made up some Egg Foo Young sauce to serve on the side.  This is basically a Chinese brown sauce:  stock or water, with soy sauce, a bit of rice wine or rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar, I added in some Chinese oyster sauce I had in the pantry, a little bit of sugar or honey if it needs a bit of depth, thickened with cornstarch.  You can find a lot of variations of the sauce in Chinese cookbooks or online.

linking to The Country Homemaker Blog HopSunny Simple Sunday

Saturday, July 14, 2012

It's Fig-licious!

Is there anything that signifies decadent garden abundance more than fresh figs?  My figs have been ripening over the past two weeks, so abundantly ripe they about pull themselves from the tree's branches, their skins veining and splitting with rapid growth each day.  When the sun is out, the yard smells of fresh fig.  I can't believe how huge they are!

You can get an idea of their size from the butter knife placed on the bow.  That is a serving bowl, not a cereal bowl.  I can make a pound with about five of the figs.  I'm picking about 8 a day.  Since fresh figs only stay good 2 days at most, I decided to turn about two pounds of figs into Sticky Fig Jam.  It's a very easy recipe that I got from the cookbook "Put 'em Up".

I stemmed and quartered the figs and put them in a large non-reactive saucepan, along with 1 cup of water.  Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes to soften the figs and then mash and crush them up with a potato masher.  Add a cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar, and 1/4 cup of lemon juice and return to boil (one could add some pectin at this step if you want to stack your odds of jamming).

  Reduce heat and simmer for 20-40 minutes until thick and jammy, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes, then ladle into jars.  You can refrigerate up to 3 weeks or put through a canner.  I put one jar in the fridge and the rest in the freezer instead of canning.

5 half pints out of the 2 pounds of figs.

Today I took 4 pounds of figs (5 figs to each container) to the farmer's market where I pick up my CSA, and sold them all at $5.00 per pound or $1.00 per fig.  Not bad.

Linking to Farmgirl FridaySunny Simple SundayPrudent Pantry ProjectsTuesday Garden PartyHome and Garden Thursday

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Extreme Weather?

Do we have to have extreme weather and record breakers of one sort or another every single week of the year?

The triple digits left this week, with the onset of some much needed rain and resulting overcast skies and cooler temperatures, but really -- do we really have to have 2.5 inches in under an hour?

What happened to the curb?  The sidewalks?

All under water.  There were even whitecaps in the street!  Of a sort.

The view across the street -- water almost up to their front door.  Our yard used to flood that badly when we first moved in, but all of my extensive and mostly native plant beds in the front have helped substantially with the drainage -- their deep root structure help aerate our clay soil helping the water to percolate through rather than just sit on the clay or run off, and the plants soak up the water after it rains.  When we first moved into this house 14 years ago, we had a gullywasher about 3 months after we moved in, which flooded our downstairs, damaging our new carpet, cabinets, etc. -- none of which was covered by insurance.  We've had some close calls several times since then, but our system of "rain gardening" along with strategic levees we have built up around the backyard have kept the floods at bay.

But water came down our driveway from our side and back neighbors, rushing into the screen porch. I ended up putting towels along the doors and walls of our kitchen and den in case it were to make it all the way across.  Fortunately the rain let up, allowing it to drain off before it reached the walls to our house.

And this is what was happening next door.  Their irrigation system, in full throttle.  Notice the flood waters coming from the rear there.  Their nozzles also swing 360 degrees, soaking sidewalk, street, and our yard (which I really couldn't complain about when it was so dry and hot -- saved me some watering).

This was all on Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday have also brought showers and temperatures in the 80's. Our rain barrels are full again.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

3 Reasons Memphis is Better Than Death Valley

1.  Memphis is not as hot as Death Valley in the summer -- umm, maybe most years but not this year.  On numerous days this past week the hottest place in the United States was . . . not Death Valley . . . but SMYRNA, TENNESSEE (I know, that's not Memphis -- but it is Tennessee, and it's been and IS about as hot here!)

2.  Memphis gets more rain than Death Valley.  Nope, not this year (well, maybe it is more -- but we are waaaay below normal).  We are more than 14 inches below normal rainfall right now.  Except for one gullywasher in June we've had nary a rain drop.  We did get a sprinkle last night for the first time in weeks, but not enough to even wet the ground under the trees.

3.  We can grow better vegetable gardens in Memphis than in Death Valley.  Or maybe we just THINK we can.

It is so dry here, so hot.  Maybe relief will come in a few days.  Maybe not.  Everything is drying up.  This, I tell people, is why the south was given over to large scale cotton and soybean farming, why vegetable farming did not thrive here, why everyone that could headed west to California and Oregon beginning with the Oregon Trail in the 1840's, in the aftermath of the Civil War, and during The Depression.  Too hot.  Too dry.  Our mild winters, pleasant springs and autumns tantalize, but then comes the reality of July, August, September.  And that reality began in mid June this year.

I spent Thursday morning erecting shade cloths over my vegetable garden, to hopefully protect them from the scalding solstice-high sun combined with triple digit temps.  The leaves are literally burning, and the birds peck at the moisture contained in the vegetables.

The cloth is draped over arbors and tomato stakes, clipped with these handy clips I got at Dollar Tree.

I have one honest to goodness section of shade cloth and the rest is actually quilted row cover that protects against frost.

A disgarded Japanese paper umbrella helps also.

I also strung a trellis and planted rattlesnake pole beans under it.  They only take 60 or so days to mature, and are real troopers in the heat once they get going.  They can be eaten as green beans or as shell beans.  I bought a handful at Hall's Feed Store (where I get my chicken feed).  They sell seeds by the scoop or handful.  I have some Kentucky Wonder Pole beans on another trellis, which have a lot of nice leaf growth but have not been very productive.  A friend whose family has gardened here for generations recommended the rattlesnake beans.

Here is my other bean trellis -- over on the right side of the picture.

I am also trying a new tomato trellising system.  I have the tomato cages, anchored with poles, and I simply laid bamboo poles across the rings of the tomato cages, creating a criss cross affair that can help support the tomatoes, as I have found cages and poles too wimpy to support the plants.

Last night our puny rain came in with some pretty gusty winds that blew my shade covers away from the supports.

We have more chances of possible rain and thunderstorms over the next few days so I though about just leaving it all to flap, but as the thermometer rose this morning to 98 degrees and the sun was full out, I ended up going out and fixing it all back up since it's a stronger chance of no rain.

Ophelia the Garden Cat was of no help at all.

So is Memphis better than Death Valley?  Hard to say in July.

linking to Farmgirl FridayTuesday Garden Party

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th!

It's a hot one here -- expected to be around 100 degrees!  Will likely be around 90 around fireworks time at 9:00.  We'll be having barbecue sandwiches, cole slaw, potato salad, and then heading up to the park for the fireworks.  With a few exceptions when we would go to downtown Memphis to see the fireworks at the river (The River), I have been going to the fireworks in our suburban town my whole life -- as a child with my family (when each one was set off one by one, with lengthy pauses between as Doc Posey, who ran the drug store, and other members of the volunteer fire department would get each rocket ready), and through high school, meeting up with my friends, hanging out, walking and talking, then full circle as a parent with our kids.  This year our last 2 kids at home will both be meeting up with friends and hanging out with them.

Monday, July 2, 2012

July Calendar

In June I was sooooo behind!  Going to the beach for a week in late May, then unexpectedly having to care for the two grandchildren for about 2 weeks took its toll on my getting much done, as well as traveling for college orientation for our third daughter, so my June calendar pages were created late, and filled in rather scantily.  In fact, about all I could say/remember for some days was a generic "catching up".  Here is June, completed:

But, for July I am just about on time!  I have been participating in the monthly calendar challenge (create a calendar page for each month as it comes and note something about each day) with Kate Crane at The Kathryn Wheel.  There you can find links to everybody else's creations for the month.

Since I was determined to get July ready by the 1st or 2d (and since I, as usual, didn't begin until the last minute), I began with a piece I had done for Traci Bautista's free workshop on doodles something on the Stathmore Paper website.

I made some copies on my printer (which unfortunately was low on ink so the colors did not copy very true, but were ok.  I just glued them onto the notebook I am using for my calendar.

I stamped butterflies with a stamp and gesso for the days, and outlined the butterflies with a black "writing" paint bottle -- which outlined fatter than I wanted, but oh well.  You can see by the right hand page I finally got the hang of making a thinner line.  hmm.  Maybe that's why people say to "practice" first -- maybe one day I'll give that "practicing" on a scratch piece a try with something.  There are some glittery swirls I made with gold stickles, but they don't show up in the photo.  The pages have kind of a glittery magical look in person.  It's been so hot here (100-103 degrees every day for the past week, and for all this week!), I think I wanted a little bit cooler palette than one usually thinks of for July -- cooler than my June.  Must be wishful thinking.  It's so hot the bees and butterflies aren't flying and so dry our trees are dropping leaves as if it is fall.