Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Produce from the Farmers' Market and What I am Doing With It

This past week our town opened up its Farmers' Market for the season.  The city government has set up this market in our new Urban Farm Park, where there are shady spots for picnics, the Community Vegetable Garden (which I joined this year), a large chicken run and coop with lots of chickens, a rooster or two and a guinea, and areas for community activities.  The Farmers' Market was great -- it's on Thursday evenings from 5 to 7:30, which means it will be a little bit cooler on the hot days, and the time frame makes it great for the whole family to go, which we did.  They had lots of vendors selling local produce, fresh baked breads, local honey, local meats, etc., along with food trucks so you can eat an easy dinner there, live music, folks hooping, chickens clucking.  A wonderful atmosphere.  I think we'll be going every Thursday night -- maybe pack a picnic dinner this week.

Above is my haul from last Thursday:  a huge bunch of beets, an incredible purple cauliflower, yellow squash and zucchini, and some sweet potatoes - purchased from a grower near Senatobia, MS who grows in a greenhouse through the winter, hence the early summer veggies.

What I have made with this stuff:

1.  A roasted cauliflower and chard salad (I still have a lot of chard and winter greens in my garden, but trying to use it up fast as this hot weather will make it all bolt and go pretty bitter).  The beets had tops on them and if I didn't have my own fresher greens I could have used the beet tops.

2.  Roasted (see a trend here?) sweet potato, chicken, and chard salad with chick peas and an herbed balsamic vinegar dressing.  This was last night's dinner and I ate yummy leftovers for lunch.

3.  For tonight, the plan is grilled zucchini and summer squash planks with herbs and parmesan, fried eggs (from my chickens), and sweet potato biscuits with butter and Amaretto Pecan Creamed Honey from Wolf River Honey that my husband could not leave the Farmers Market without.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Red Clover

Almost every spring portions of our front yard are covered with red clover.  The clover blooms about the same time as the milkweed plants start growing, and until recent years large numbers of monarch butterflies on one of their migration routes up from Mexico, would descend on the yard to feast on the clover nectar and lay eggs on the milkweed.

This year, the red clover bloomed, the milkweed grew -- but I haven't seen a single monarch.  Every year over the past ten or so years they have been fewer and fewer.  The honey bees are fewer and fewer also.  Last year I had to hand pollinate most of my vegetable garden plants to get a fruit set.  When I see the lawn spray trucks all over the neighborhood I just want to scream!

Now the clover has all set seed, and I'm harvesting the seed for next year.

I cut whole seed heads and plunk them in a paper sack, that I will fold over and staple and label.  Some time between November and February, on a nice day where rain is expected later that day or the next, I strew them out all over the yard, walking over where they fall so they make some contact with the soil. And maybe next spring there will be monarchs.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Making Violet Syrup - Part 3 of Eat Your Weeds

I can't believe I've left so many weeks slip by without blogging.  In my defense, we have had many days of heavy rains and a record late freeze that have left my garden bedraggled and gasping and not very photogenic.  And on the days when the weather has been good and the garden inviting -- well, I've been working hard playing catch up on all the garden jobs, trying to get the creeping charlie under control (grr), and getting the vegetable garden in, while trying to control my Annual Spring Horrid Rash that I get every year (chickweed poultices and washes with chamomile tea seem to work about as well as anything the doctor has ever prescribed -- I don't know if any treatments actually ever work, or if the Horrid Rash simply runs its course each time and eventually recedes).

With our crazy spring weather and the total lack of a spring garden, I have been relying on the "weeds" in our yard (along with the remnants of my very successful winter garden -- swiss chard is still going strong, although the kale and collards all bolted and played out, as did the winter lettuce).   One weed I like to use a lot in salads is violet -- which grows profusely in the shady areas of our yard.  Both the leaves and flowers are a great addition to salads.

Here are some snips from around my yard that I add to salads:  red veined sorrel (a perennial), chives, chive blossoms, pansies, lemon balm, red and pink clover, and some violets are in there, too.

A few weeks ago I made violet syrup with the violets in the first picture.

Fill a mason jar about half way with violets, then fill the jar half way with warm water and let steep over night in the fridge, to make a violet "tea" or infusion.

Strain out the violet blossoms.  You can see below that the "tea" has a little bit of color to it.

Boil the violet water (this was about 1 cup) with one cup of sugar to make a syrup.

For dinner I made oat and apple pancakes, garnished with flowers, and served with dried tomato chicken sausages.   The syrup was wonderful with it.

Violets are a good source of vitamin C, and pure violet syrup makes a healthy (as in healthier than artificial pancake syrup) and economical alternative to pure maple syrup.

linked to various blog hops, including Sunny Simple Monday

Monday, April 8, 2013

Dandelion Cookies -- Part 2 of Eat Your Weeds

Last week I posted about making Chickweed Pesto out of common chickweed you can find growing in your yard.  This weekend my 5 year old grandson Aydan came over and we harvested dandelions from the yard and made Dandelion Cookies (thus, Part 2 of Eat Your Weeds).

We had to look all over the yard, in many nooks and crannies to pick a half cup of dandelion flowers.  Our neighbor's front yard is full of dandelions, but since they have used a yard service for many years (which sure doesn't seem to do much good!), I had to explain to Aydan that we can't eat those flowers, only ones that are in our yard that we know are safe.

This one was actually in a garden bed, snuggling up with some collards.

our neighbor's front yard

part of MY front yard
After we collected about 1/2 cup of dandelion flowers, Aydan helped me pull out the yellow petals, throwing the green calix parts into the compost bucket.  Then we mixed them in with 1/2 cup of oil and 1/2 cup of honey, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and 2 eggs.

We poured this wet mixture into the dry ingredients (1 cup of whole wheat flour, 1 cup of regular oats, and a pinch of salt) and Aydan stirred it all up.  We dolloped tablespoons of the cookie batter on to a greased cookie sheet.

Into the preheated 375 degree oven for about 12 minutes.

Perfect for a little picnic outside on our first warm, sunny Saturday in many a month!

Simple ingredients, using what we have in the pantry and the yard.

Linking to Tuesday Garden Party

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Chickweed Pesto (more growing food without a garden)

notice there are only 5 petals, but they are deeply split, making it look more daisy-like

What a cold and wet spring we have had here so far!  I've barely been able to do anything in the garden.  Our March temperatures have averaged 20 degrees colder than last year's March.  Last March was too warm by 5-10 degrees, but you'd think we could have some "normal" more moderate weather!

My collards and pak choy that have grown so well and keeping me in greens through the winter are
bolting (evidently the bolting has more to do with longer days than warmer temperatures).  The cold and wet have kept me from planting much in the garden for spring, and I'm afraid now it may be too late for a good spring harvest of radishes, sugar snaps, and lettuce before we hit the hot summer temperatures.

Since I haven't dug much in the garden yet, nor emptied pots around the yard from last season, I have a good bit of chickweed growing everywhere.  Chickweed loves to grow in cultivated ground -- garden beds and pots.  It is also easily found growing in a lawn that is not sprayed.   It's easy to pull out, and of course the chickens LOVE it -- but it is also a pretty tasty edible that you can add to salads or use as a sandwich topping like lettuce or sprouts.

The other day I went out to the yard and just snipped some plants off from the base and brought them in and made a pesto spread.  We don't spray any of our yard with pesticides or herbicides, and we live on a residential street so I feel we don't need to worry about too much pollution from cars affecting the plants.  A couple of snips yielded about 2 or 3 cups, which I cut up with scissors in the bowl so the long stems would not tangle in my food processor blade.

Into the food processor, with 4 cloves of minced garlic (because I like lots of garlic), 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1/4 cup of parmesan, a tablespoon of lemon juice and some lemon balm I found growing in the herb garden, a dash of salt, some pepper, and a handful of walnuts.

Chickweed Pesto!  We used it on crackers and with chips.  It had a fresh lemon-y flavor and kept its color over the several days it lasted.  I used the remainder then in a pesto-bean-syrian (thinly sliced red onions, roasted mini-peppers, tomatoes, green beans, olives and feta with the pesto mixed in a lemony oregano vinaigrette) kind of salad to go with the Vegetable Pastitsio I made for Easter dinner.

I love to eat my weeds!

Joining Tuesday Garden Party; Backyard Farming Connection Blog Hop; Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop

Friday, March 29, 2013

"Old Lady Gardening". Really? (and some Altered Book art)

Sometimes, more than I like to admit, I like to torture myself by looking at the stats on this blog.  I'm pretty sure it's one of those "no-no's", like tracking the stock market on a daily basis.  You can get yourself all in a state with the ups and downs.

Anyhew, there with the stats is a thing that shows "traffic sources", and it will show the google searches people have made that lead to your blog, with the key words they use.

"old lady gardening"


Of course, one of my goals is to be one of those spritely "old ladies" always in the yard, with sticks and seeds in my stylishly ultra short steel gray or snow white hair (think Judy Dench), stooping down conversing with the fairies that live near my frog pond.  I didn't think I was quite there yet, though.  At least my hair is pretty much the same old boring brown, with some gray mixed in, that it's been for a number of years.  But I do often have sticks and leaves and seeds stuck on me.  And sometimes I find a chicken egg forgotten in my coat pocket from the last time I went outside.

Well, enough of that.

This was my spread for the March meeting of the Altered Book group I belong to.  The theme of this book is "Good Fortune" (as in fortune cookies).  The fortune at the bottom says "One dreamed of becoming somebody.  Another remained awake and became."

And further up on the page I wrote with pencil that existential observation "Things in the mirror may appear closer than they are".  I spent a lot of time on my recent trip to Austin looking at that phrase imprinted on the side mirror of the car I rode in (what should have been an 11 hour drive took 14 hours due to interstate construction).

Another member of the Altered Book group (the owner of the "Good Fortune" book as a matter of fact -- come on, Cindy!  I dare you to post a comment! -- I don't even have those weird unreadable letters and numbers to trip would-be commenters up ;-), brought these to show -- they are made from toilet paper tubes.  I think it would be cool to make a chess set out of them.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Welcome Kemper!

Today we welcomed our newest grandchild to the world, Loren's (our #2 daughter) and Jonathan's first child, and our third grandchild!  Presenting Kemper Lizbeth:

She's a big ole juicy baby -- 10.6 pounds!  Mother and baby are doing great, and even though Loren and Jonathan and Kemper are far far away in Austin, TX -- the wonders of technology and the web made it almost like we were there.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Snacking from the Winter Garden

Sometimes you just want that salty crunchy thing for a snack!

Baked Kale Chips

Some Kale leaves from the garden (note, I should have stripped out the large center stems)

drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with coarse salt, bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 5 to 8 minutes.

Salty and crunchy, tasty, just like chips -- but so much better for you!  Eat your greens.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Grilled Beets and Mashed Turnips

Last week I paid a visit up to our town's community communal garden where Jef the Farm Dude invited me and my friend to harvest as much red cabbage, turnips and beets as we wanted, as they had tons and he is planning to turn over the bed in the next week or two.  So I have a fridge full now.

Last night I made a Turnip and Pear Mash, which was delicious (chunked turnips and pears, boiled until soft, mashed with butter, salt, pepper and thyme).

Tonight we had Grilled Beets, on greens, drizzled with honey and topped with chopped walnuts and feta cheese.  It was way too cold to grill outside, so I peeled and sliced the beets, brushed them with olive oil and salt and peppered them, and put them under the broiler for about 30 minutes until tender, then set them on fresh greens from the garden, drizzled honey on them and sprinkled them with the walnuts and feta.

Now I need to figure out something to do with the red cabbage.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Starting a Garden - The EASY Way

As we start having a few warmer days in February and March, it's tempting to get out there and start gardening!  But if you haven't gardened before and starting from scratch seems a bit overwhelming, or if your main garden is just too wet and mucky to start planting, potting up a few containers that you can place in your sunniest, warmest parts of your yard are a quick and easy way to get some veggies going right away.
asian stir fry mix

If you are in an area where some alternating freezes and thaws may still be likely (like here in Zone 7B southwest Tennessee where we go from highs around 70 for several days, to plunges into the 20's and even snow in February and early March), do not use ceramic containers as the freezing and thawing can cause them to crack.  Stick with plastic or resin composite containers for your early spring February plantings.

Radishes, lettuces, swiss chard, and other leafy greens can all be seeded in pots very easily.  Even peas (sugar snaps and snow peas are especially easy and do well here in the midsouth) can be seeded in containers.  Most veggies, such as these mentioned, only need about 8 inches of soil to grow well, so the containers needn't be especially deep.  Good drainage is important, so be sure your container has good drainage holes.  If the container is large and deep, be sure you put a layer of broken crock (maybe you have assorted broken clay pots scattered around the yard where you forgot to empty them and bring them in for the winter, like I do -- don't throw them away, use the pieces for drainage), packing peanuts, or something to create a layer for water to drain through.  I've used inverted small plastic pots in the bottoms of large pots to create a drainage area.

kale and petunias

Germination of the seeds can be speeded by covering the pots with a blanket or piece of plastic to hold in some warmth, but once these plants have germinated they can handle cold temperatures close to freezing.  If below freezing temps are expected, it's easy to throw something over a group of pots to protect them.

With any luck, you will be pulling up some radishes and harvesting some lettuce leaves in about 30 days, followed by some sugar snap peas and other leafy greens about when you are beginning to get your main garden planted.

discarded recycling bin and window boxes in a cold frame

Since our temperatures here in the midsouth rise so quickly in May, it's important to get an early start on the so-called cool season crops.  If you wait to plant them until late March or April they are likely to turn bitter and bolt before they can even be harvested.

notice the fun painted pots - they're plastic!  This is a community/school garden in Seaside, FL
 Growing organic veggies does not have to be a big production!  You can get started almost any time of year with some containers -- any size, seeds or plants, and some bags of good potting mix.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Gardening WITHOUT a Garden! Growing Sprouts

There is something about harvesting delicious veggies straight from one's own garden and eating it the same day!

But for some, time, space, and even health constraints may make planting and caring for even the smallest garden seem a bit overwhelming.

Growing sprouts can catapult the would be gardener beyond all of those hurtles!  It is the easiest!  Requires only the simplest equipment, found in any household, no soil, no pots, no outdoor space at all!

All you need are some sprouting seeds (buy seeds suitable for sprouting and eating -- conventional seeds for planting may not be the freshest and may even be treated with anti-fungal agents);  a quart size jar of some sort, and something to put over the top of the jar that you can drain water through when you rinse the sprouts (or a cover that can breath, at least, like cheesecloth or a paper towel -- then you will need to drain and rinse the sprouts through a strainer or colander and replace back in the jar, rather than rinse and drain directly in the jar); a counter where you can keep the jar so you see it and won't forget about it; and maybe some indirect sun from a window to green the sprouts up on the last day in the jar.

And talk about economical!  I do believe sprouting must be the most economical form of home gardening there is, with the highest return on one's investment.  I calculated that my investment in a $4.99 8oz packet of "salad mix - alfalfa, radish, and broccoli" sprouting seeds will yield the equivalent of $54.00 worth of sprouts purchased from a grocery in my area.  Add to that the economy of being able to sprout what one needs -- so that hopefully one is not left with half a plastic clamshell of sorry dilapidated uneaten sprouts, it is very economical indeed.

And I can tell you that the quality and flavor, the juiciness and crunch, of sprouts that you have grown yourself, eaten within days of their first sprouting, is far superior to anything you can buy at a store, where it's been shipped and held who knows how long.  And growing it oneself avoids the problems with contamination that commercially grown sprouts have suffered from in the past year or so.

Here is how I grow a quart of sprouts:

Buy seeds (I found mine at Whole Foods).

Measure out 2 teaspoons, and soak them in warm water for a few hours in a quart jar.  I have a set of plastic lids with holes in them that I got way back in the 70's when sprouting was required for any self-respecting reader of Mother Earth News.  These lids fit any wide mouth quart jar.

Drain the seeds, and prop the jar so that any excess water can drain out.  You want the seeds to stay moist, but not swimming.

Now, at least 2 times a day (morning and night) -- 3, if you can remember -- pour some fresh water on to the seeds, swish them gently, rinsing them, then drain the water out.

On the third day maybe scooch the jar a little nearer to a window (not in full sun! they would cook then), so the light will green them up a bit.  On the third or fourth day they are ready to eat!  Keep your uneaten sprouts in container in the fridge.  Easy Peasy.  Growing your own food just doesn't get any simpler.

And here's my lunch that very day (bought and soaked the seeds on Sunday, lunch on Wednesday.

As usual, my photos do not do it justice, but here is my sandwich -- whole wheat bread, spread on one side with mayo with a bit of pesto mixed in, and on the other with a bit of leftover chickpea puree from the previous dinner, and for the filling:  bacon, cucumber slices, sun dried tomatoes (much better than so-called "fresh" tomatoes in the winter time!), sliced avocado, and fresh sprouts.

It was so good, I had the same thing for lunch on Thursday!

Linking to The Backyard Farming Connection Blog Hop; Sunny Simple Sunday; Tuesday Garden Party

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Free Garden Dream Guidebook download!

I have been working on a some big projects over the past couple of months!  Since I have been doing some garden coaching for a few people,  I decided to both stretch my computer know-how and develop that business a little more formally, by creating a business website apart from this blog.

To celebrate, I pushed my computer know how against the envelope and created the Garden Dream Guidebook, a downloadable 20 page ebook full of dreamsheets (I won't call them worksheets!) and exercises designed to help a prospective gardener focus in on her dream garden and where and how to begin a garden that is just right for her and her family!  And, I must say, they are pretty to look at and fun to play with -- even if you are an experienced gardener.

I hope you will follow the link here to my new website and fill out the form and request a copy of my Garden Dream Guidebook.  That will also get you on my newsletter list, so you will be the first to know when I have new offerings.  I have plans for a number of short ebooks over the next year, as well as topical garden/urban farming-focused newsletters upon occasion.

(I also made my first video EVER, which can be viewed on the homepage of the website).

Monday, February 4, 2013

Quesadillas with pork and sweet and salty glazed onions

Oh this was yummy!  So yummy I forgot to take a picture of it plated up and I'm trying to refrain from posting pictures of half-eaten food.

Quesadillas made with left-over pork, and my most favorite condiment or "relish" -- sweet and salty glazed onions.

It all began yesterday, when to celebrate Downton Abbey Sunday, I made some barbecue boneless country style ribs, along with roasted carrots and potatoes and an especially nice salad with Asian stir fry greens from my winter garden, topped with clementine orange slices, cucumber slices, and avocado, dressed with a citrus dressing of equal parts olive oil and lime juice, salt, pepper, and minced red onion, sprinkled with lightly toasted sunflower seeds.

A special dinner for a special Sunday.  I heard that there was some sports show on another channel last night, but I don't really know anything about that ;-)

But the dinner I made tonight with the leftover pork -- sublime!  And simple.

1.  cube up leftover pork (theoretically you are supposed to shred these things, but shredding was not happening).

2.  fix up a batch of Sweet and Salty Glazed Onions (3 or 4 onions, sliced, sauteed in olive oil for 10 minutes or so until softened, stir in 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar and 2 T red wine (I didn't have wine, so I used balsamic vinegar and a good red wine vinegar), 3 T sugar, 1 t salt, 1/2 t freshly ground pepper -- and let all of this cook on low for about 20 or 30 minutes until thick and syrupy.

3.  Make a quesadilla using cheese (provolone or a smoky cheese is especially good), the pork, and the onions.

yum yum.  It was one of those meals you just want to keep eating even after you are full (so best just make one per person so you won't be tempted!)

I've also been busy with other matters.

Found some sprouting seeds at Whole Foods, so I dug out my c. 1976 sprouting lids and did up some seeds.  This is a 3 seed salad mix, with alfalfa, radish, and broccoli seeds.  Should be ready in 4 or 5 days.

super scientific hygienic seed sprouting method

I also replaced some pictures over the couch in our family room with some panels I found on sale at Pier One for less than $10.00 each!

Here is the wall with its tired old pictures and arrangements -- I had bought those pictures at an auction in Hernando, Mississippi over 20 years ago for around $1.50 each and they've been hanging there for 15 years!

Time for a change -- here are the new ones (our family room is rather dark, it only has one window which looks out onto our screened porch).

Much improved.  I think it really freshens up the room.

The picture on the left actually covers up a huge hole in the wall where the stupid non-functioning 1970's coppertone colored intercom/radio went that we ripped out -- which thus dictates all the furniture placement.  I guess one day we will have to deal with the hole in a more reasonable way.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Spring, where are you?

Well, I guess some parts of the country would consider our 40-50 degree highs spring like, but I DON'T!  I'm done with it!  I want some real Spring!

I went out searching in the yard.  Harvested a big bunch of lettuce that had been covered against lows as low as 22 degrees the other night.  So far I haven't had to buy any lettuce this winter.

Anyhoo -- I found these harkenings of springtide:

The hellebores (lenten roses) are blooming.  Of course, no surprise that -- they're supposed to bloom in January!

But this . . . the first daffodil of the season!  Used to, I could count on the first daffodil to bloom about the second week of February.  But this year, and last year also -- blooming on January 30.  If we have several sunny days (we've had over 9 inches of rain in January!), then I'll be bringing bunches into the house by the middle of this coming week.

I have not been successful in taking good pictures of the birds at my feeders outside the kitchen window -- but every day we are seeing flocks of goldfinches, purple finches, some red-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice, chickadees, downy woodpeckers, cardinals, and two bluebird pairs!  And the little Carolina wrens are flitting around beginning to build nests in whatever little corners they can find.