Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Fall Garden

It's been a while since I posted, I guess we've been busy lately. We've actually taken the first tentative steps towards the home-buying process. I don't know how anyone can concentrate on life when your mind is buzzing with such a huge decision. Hopefully we'll find something before next spring so I can still plant a garden next year.

This year's garden is definitely winding down. Here are some of the last fruits of the year.

Banana peppers, turning a nice cherry red in anticipation of the fiery fall leaves:

Green onions, completely showing up their performance from this spring:

Radish peeking through the dirt:

Sad looking eggplant with his last two fruits (the birds love to use these bare branches as a perch):

My orphan tomato plant, finally producing a few stunted tomatoes:

It's been a great year, all things considered. I learned a lot from my adventures in the garden. I'm even more excited to try some new varieties next year. For now I'm just going to have to be patient until this house thing pans out. That will determine whether or not I'm planting in containers again, or if I will finally be able to till up some soil and get serious.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Apple Butter

Lately it seems like this blog has become more focused on canning than on the garden - I assure you that the garden is doing very well. I guess they sort of go hand-in-hand, anyways, right? I just finished canning a batch of apple butter - giving fall a friendly little nudge. The house still smells homey and cozy: sweet apples, spicy cinnamon and cloves...

...WAIT - jar #7 just clicked. That's 7 down and 5 more to go. I've been keeping track of the click each jar makes as it seals. There goes #8!

The extra-fun part is that my husband and I went to a local fruit farm yesterday to hand-pick the apples. Iron's Fruit Farm in Lebanon, OH is a blast from the past, as both of us at some point went there on a field trip in elementary school. It's pretty much as I remember it: roving roosters and hens, a friendly farm cat, a plump potbelly pig, a floppy-eared bunny, a pair of iridescent peacocks, and of course, a rambly and gorgeous orchard. We picked Johnathan and Golden Delicious apples for the apple butter. It's going to taste that much better knowing that it was made with local apples.

As I speak we're in the midst of the most powerful wind storm I've ever seen. The aftermath of Hurricane Ike is wreaking havoc on the garden. I can seem some cherry tomatoes and peppers rolling around on the balcony already, I hope my eggplants don't go flying through the air next...

...there goes jar #9!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Solo Canning

The canning bug bit me again last weekend. How could I resist the two flats of sun-kissed tomatoes that needed a good home? I borrowed my mom's canning gear and made out like a bandit, this time doing everything on my own. I ended up canning 16 pints of fresh tomatoes.

The tomatoes just blanched for about 30 seconds in hot water.

I couldn't fit them whole into the jars so I chunked them.

There was nothing more to it. These guys will be great to use for chili and sauces in the middle of winter when my only alternative is something far less superior from the grocery store shelves.

Canning is one of those things that sound intimidating but once you understand the basic principles, it's much easier. Beyond the technique, the only variables are ingredients and cooking time. The possibilities are endless!

I have to say, after the pickled beets, marinara sauce, and the fresh tomatoes, I'm having more and more of a hankering to experiment and put more things away. I'm also interested in purchasing some canning gear of my own - a starter-kit of sorts. I've been researching local orchards with pick-ur-own options and I think that my next project is going to be a batch of apple butter. What a great way to welcome fall!

The garden seems to have recovered from the mid-summer lull and is now looking pretty perky. I have 3 eggplants developing, tons of peppers, some errant cherry tomatoes, and an abundance of herbs. The fall seedlings are well on their way as well - radish, beets, and onions are all growing quite happily.

One thing that has been amazing to me is the onions. I planted onion in two separate containers - one used to house the dill and one used to house the peas. It's my understanding that peas help pull nitrogen back into the soil. Well, the onions in the old pea-soil are about twice as tall and healthy as the onions in the old dill-soil. My lesson here is that I need to find a way to get more nitrogen in my containers next year. Some research is merited, methinks...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Feelin' a Little Snaucy

This past weekend I canned a batch of marinara sauce with my mom. The recipe has been handed down from my grandma on my mom's side - a canning aficionado if ever there was one. I have to admit I made a few alterations to accommodate my love of a spicy, garlicky, robust sauce. Even still, it can't get much simpler:
  • fresh tomatoes (from grandma's garden)
  • onion
  • garlic
  • jalapeno, red pepper and cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • sugar
  • olive oil

This sauce is very versatile - you can use it on anything from spaghetti to pizza, to dipping. Our batch made exactly 8 pints, so that's a little less that one pint per month until next summer, right? I'll see if we can ration it out and make it last.

This was my second adventure into the world of canning and I feel pretty confident in my own ability to "put up" something unsupervised. My grandma's garden is going to have a lot more tomatoes before the season ends, so I'm giving serious thought to picking a half bushel or so and canning some whole tomatoes. I always feel guilty buying canned tomatoes at the store when I know that they could be so much better if I just made a little effort.

My radish that I planted this past Saturday are already up, and it's only been 3 days! I've never seen a seed germinate so fast. The onion are still growing well and I'll be damned if I don't think we're going to have more eggplant on the way.

My fingers are crossed for rain tonight, and I'm sure the garden is crossing its leaves. Things are starting to look a little crispy around here...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Little Fall Planting

I finally did it - I've been sulking and putting it off - I pulled my cukes, squash, and zucchini plants today. They were done, shot, crispy, ready to throw in the towel. I would say that all three were a success for a first time grower, but it was time to make room for some fall planting.

So, having freed up some nice space, I decided to revisit some of my favorite seeds from the spring. I was really pleased with everything I tried, but the beets and radish stuck out in my mind the most. Firstly I sowed my French Breakfast radish seeds in the container that the cucumber used to be in. Next I sowed my Cylindra beet seeds in the container that used to hold the zucchini and squash. I love seeing each nubby seed nestled in his new bed in the soft, warm soil.

The other weekend when I pulled the pea and dill plants, I had planted some more green onion seeds, which are now up and looking quite plucky, to my great delight. I was rather disappointed with them this spring, but I attributed that to various reasons that I've rectified this time around. I'm very sensitive to how much water I give them, as I think I was over-watering before. The plants seem to get fairly strong if I can just keep the seedlings from dampening-off.

After planting, I did some general pruning, cleaning, and fertilizing. Lastly I decided to mix things up a bit and rearrange the containers on the balcony. The herbs have always been in the middle in a cluster - that didn't change.

I did move the tomatoes to the left side so they could chill with the peppers and eggplant, which is still hanging on and blooming like a fool.

This then freed up the right side for the "seed nursery" - beet, radish, and onion.

It's like rearranging the furniture in your house every now and then; a new perspective on something you see every day can make it feel like a brand new garden.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Fall, Just Around the Corner

I feel like I've been neglecting the garden lately - a weekend out of town, house-sitting for the inlaws - it's been a busy past couple of weeks.

My eggplant, zucchini, and squash plants have been looking a little crispy lately - I'm not sure if it's overwatering, the container's I'm growing them in, or just the end of their productive season, but it's slightly depressing. I think I'm going to hold-off on watering for a little bit and see if things turn around. The main problem is that they've been dropping a lot of leaves. They're all still blooming, though. Hey, I said this year was going to be a learning year, right?

On a good note, though, my pepper plants have been producing an overabundance of red and green peppers. I've deliberately left a few jalapeno and banana peppers on the vine to turn red.

Tonight I harvested a nice mix of green and red peppers and made some cheese quesadillas with fresh salsa and guacamole. I layered the quesadillas with cheddar, monterey jack, diced jalapeno/banana peppers, and some cilantro. The salsa was a quick slurry of garden tomatoes, diced vidalia onion, diced jalapeno/banana peppers, a clove of garlic, and more cilantro. The guacamole was a mash of avocado (duh), lime juice, more vidalia onion, another clove of garlic (gotta love that garlic), and salt and pepper. I have to say, it was a YUMMY dinner. Salsa made from scratch is so much better than the jarred mushy stuff you buy in the store. If it's summer, make your own damn salsa!

I've been thinking about my plans for the fall garden. Some things are obviously going to remain in their containers until frost, such as the herbs, peppers, and tomatoes. The things that will be replaced include the peas, dill, cucumbers, and probably the eggplant, zucchini, and squash (if they don't shape up in the very near future).

Tonight I went ahead and pulled the pea and dill plants as they were brown and clearly dead. Just for the hell of it, since I didn't give them a fair shot this spring, I planted some green onions in both pots. I'll see if I can't get a better return this time around now that the onions won't be competing with lettuce for sunlight.

As much as I'd like to order some fun new seeds for this fall, I'm going to hold off until next spring to do more experimenting in the garden. My theme for next spring is going to be "heirloom." More on that later. So what that means for this fall is that I'll be sticking with the seeds that produced well earlier this spring, like the beets, radish, and possibly lettuce or carrots.

I finally got some time at home to just putter (as much as you can putter on a small balcony) in the garden and do some cleaning up. As much as I'd like to just chuck the brown leaves and branches over the railing, it really doesn't look that nice in the yard and I'm sure the neighbors wouldn't appreciate it - I ended up with a nice sack full of clippings and dead leaves.
There's something about "making the rounds" and tidying things up that make you feel calm and at one with the earth. My brain may be racing and dizzyingly anxious with my first step outside, but I quickly find that after losing myself in the first 10 or 15 minutes of patient tending, my mind has become remarkably clear and quiet. It's like losing yourself in a great book - 2 hours can go by and it may only feel like 10 minutes. Zen, no?

I am really starting to feel fall just around the corner. Something in the air, something in the way the insects sound at night, something in the sunrise and sunset. The approach of this fall is carrying mixed feelings for me. While fall is my most favorite season, it was last fall, last Labor Day, that I has my first episode with panic and anxiety.

For some reason I very closely associate memories with the time of year that they occurred. Specifically, events that occurred at this time last year are most fresh in my mind. I'm not necessarily scared to face those memories, but they're not something that I am particularly nostalgic about.

I can most painfully remember the walks I would take last fall at my old job. My mind would be so dizzied, so stunned by anxiety and worry; my stomach would be in knots; my vision would be bleary; my heart would beat to a terrifying rhythm; it felt like a 50lb weight was pressing down on my chest...I felt like crawling out of my skin. Knowing that I couldn't just leave, my last desperate resort would be taking a walk at Hauck Gardens, a small urban park sandwiched in the middle of Clifton. The juxtaposition of huge, centuries old trees and greenery with the nauseating, panicked feeling in my heart is something that I will never forget.

I'm grateful for where I am now with my life - it's miles away from last year. I'm grateful that I'm not stuck in my house, scared to drive and be around people. I'm grateful that I had the strength to get a new job and leave my old comfortable, yet unhealthy job behind. I'm grateful that I am surrounded by a small yet amazing group of people who care about me and love me unconditionally. As scary as last fall was, this "anniversary" of sorts will be proof to myself that I have the strength to overcome and learn from almost anything.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Canning 101

Last weekend I spent the day canning pickled beets with my mom.

As far back as I can remember my family has canned and frozen produce from the garden every summer. Everything from tomatoes, green beans, peas, lima beans, corn, beets, relish, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries - I could go on an on. No wonder I have to wipe away the drool whenever I get near a homegrown fruit or veggie.

While we always used to help my mom with the canning and freezing, I've never actually had a "lesson" into the finer details. My mom and I both agreed that it's been long overdue, and what better time to learn than with a freshly pulled batch of Detroit Reds?

We used the "hot pack" canning method. The pickle was simple, taken directly from the Ball Blue Book - cider vinegar, water, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and allspice berries. What is it that's so satisfying about sliding the skins off of warm beets? It's a little unsettling, though, when you have a bowl full of skinned beets - they glisten like some sort of organ - a kidney or heart. Not very appetizing, I know, the end product is deLISH. My beet hoard in the pantry has just grown by 10 more jars. I'm stocked for the next year!

Next up on the canning list is tomatoes in three weeks. The tomato plants in my Grandma's garden are just starting to turn like crazy, so we'll be stocked with fresh 'maters for the rest of the summer. I think we're going to do up a batch of her great pizza sauce...I can smell some of my husband's homemade pizzas now....baby, are you reading this? (hint hint)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Whoa...dude..........take a look at this mouse......

In the absence of catnip this year, I recently decided to sow some catMINT seeds. Seeing as how my husband and I are obviously getting lots of enjoyment out of the garden, I figured it was only fair to give our two cats a little garden fun as well. I got a late start on planting the seeds, which would have liked to be in the ground earlier this spring, but they seem to have sprouted very well and are developing their true leaves.

The seedlings were finally big enough today that I decided to pluck one and give it a whirl - I have never heard of catmint before and was a bit skeptical that it would be the feline wonderdrug that catnip is. I let both Cal and Ming do some sniffing and drooling and rolling around and this is what was happened:

Fact: Catmint is indeed every bit as intoxicating as catnip.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ruby Reds

Tonight I feel like devoting an entire segment to (what should be) the centerpiece of any garden: the tomato!

My two Sweet 100 plants have started turning the past couple weeks with this hot, hot weather. I don't think this year has been as good as last year in terms of tomatoes - last year was absolutely sweltering every single day with very little rain. Still, I've been able to cull progressively larger handfuls of little red gems from my plants as the days go by. Nothing says summer like the sugary pop of a warm, sun-drenched tomato.

Several weekends ago I acquired yet another tomato plant to fill the void in one of my containers. I'm one of those people who sees a lonely orphan plant in a greenhouse and just has to give it a home. It's actually going to be a bit of a guessing game because the variety was not labeled, so I have no idea what to expect from this little guy. I can tell it will be a larger tomato, but have no idea beyond that. He's still getting over the shock of being transplanted and he'll probably start blooming here in a little bit.

I'm waiting patiently for our favorite tomato grower at Findlay Market to set up shop for the summer. All they do is tomatoes - they sell some of the juiciest, sweetest tomatoes at the market. Their yellow cherry tomatoes are absolutely sinful.

The more I read about heirloom tomatoes the more I want to give it a whirl next year. I've shied away from growing larger tomatoes on the balcony because they just aren't as happy in the constraints of a container. I wish I had some ground space so they could spread their roots and really produce, but alas, this is what I have to work with. I'm still curious about heirlooms though, as trendy as they seem to be right now. Hell, half of the veggies I planted this year were an experiment, I'm going to have to take some different risks next year. My mind will be busy planning this winter.

Oh, the possibilities!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Feeling a Little Buggy

This week I spotted some friendly transients in the garden. Strangely enough, both of them were hanging out around the cucumber.

1.) Stinkbug, basking in the evening sun's glow:

2.) Baby praying mantis, vigilant for a tasty morning snack:

My personal favorite snack lately has been a small bowl of sliced baby cucs along with cherry tomatoes, all sprinkled with just a little salt and black pepper.

I tried yet another recipe this weekend using some homegrown zucchini and eggplant. My yellow squash weren't quite ready yet, so I reluctantly purchased some. The recipe for Mediterranean Pressed Picnic Sandwiches out of Vegetarian Times was quite a hit: grilled eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash layered with roasted red peppers and fresh mozzarella cheese, sandwiched in between olive tapenade and pesto on ciabatta.



We packed those puppies up and headed out for a day at a local vineyard, Harmony Hill, located in Bethel, OH. I'm ashamed to say this was our first trip to a vineyard, as much as we love our wine. Harmony Hill is snugged into a hilly homegrown nook east of Cincinnati. Peach, apple, and pear trees dotted the grounds while a few lazy donkeys eyed the visitors from near the grape fields. The owners were extremely accommodating, beaming with pride and that good old small town Midwest hospitality. It's hard for me to not envision myself living on a farm like this. I can only hope and plan for a plot of my own some day.

It was a sweltering 90+ degrees outside - not the best conditions to be drinking a fair amount of wine. Needless to say, we walked away with several bottles of both red and white which we'll save for the future.
Quite a tasty and inspiring little day trip!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Groovin' in the Kitchen

Cooking is therapy.

I can be an artist - creative- and as an added bonus, at the end of the day, my belly is full. What is it about cooking for yourself that is so satisfying? Is it a link to our more primal identities, back when humans had to hunt and prepare every single thing they ate? Is it that you're doing something good for yourself, treating yourself after a long day or week? Every now and then you can't beat some good carry-out, but in all honesty, I'd much rather take an extra 15-20 minutes and make myself something healthy, fresh, and fulfilling.

I'm so tired of the state of this nation's diet and health. Fast food, Taco Bell's "fourth meal", Doritos, margarine, Splenda, trans fat, turduckens, I'm sick of it all. Give me food that is pure and real - food you've prepared from start to finish. The renewed interest in gardening and fresh eating, not to mention the emphasis on eating less meat, has really spoken to me. Granted, it takes an enormous amount of time (and $$$) to eat a truthful diet, and I'm just as guilty of eating processed foods, but it's empowering to have a culinary identity.

I have a cozy habit of making a nice dinner on Sunday nights. Not sure where I picked this up, but I find that it's nice to have at least one good meal a night to look forward to and plan for. Some weekends I cook more than others, and this weekend saw me in the kitchen for several hours.

Saturday night I made my previously-mentioned Red Beet Salad with Orange Vinaigrette, in addition to a Fusilli, Zucchini, Corn, and Pesto dish. I wanted to use my first zucchini from the garden. This is a perfect classy summer entree - I'd definitely make it for guests:

Tonight I made another new dish: Middle Eastern Couscous Salad with Feta and Mint. Another refreshing dish that combines many of the wonderful tastes of summer. Think mint, cumin, coriander, jalapeno, garlic, tomatoes, edamame, olives, and lemon...

I spotted the first two crookedneck yellow squash this morning. It looks like they'll both be blooming in the next day or two...exciting!

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Little Bit O'This, A Little Bit O'That

It seems like every day there's something new a-popping.

Over the weekend I picked and cooked up the first eggplant, and boy was he a beaut':

I made my previously-mentioned eggplant parmesean hoagies - YUM. I can't say that I make fried food that often, but that one-or-so time per year is totally worth it, even if the apartment does smell like a greasy-spoon diner for the next week.

I also gleaned the first handful of cherry tomatoes today. The pinnacle of my garden every year is that first juicy sweet pop of a sun-drenched tomato. I can't believe how many little greenies there are on the vine...we're going to be eating tomatoes for the next couple months (not that I have ANY problem with that). It's a good thing I caged the plants this year - they're having enough trouble already just trying to stay upright under all that weight.

The jalapenos are finally big enough to pick - time to really start heating things up in the kitchen:

There are about 10 baby cucs on the cucumber plants. Lastly, I spotted my first zucchini today after weeks of vigilance:

I feel like a bee with all the pollinating I've been doing. It's not that I don't trust the bees, butterflies, and other bugs out there to get the job done, but I'd be crestfallen if, after all this anticipation, the little guys dried up and fell off just because there wasn't any pollinating going on. I'm just an anxious mama I guess - yet another reason there are no kids in our future. I worry enough about everything else in my life, having an actual human being to worry about would kill me.

I'll stick to my husband, the cats, and my garden, thank you very much - they're enough of a handful as it is.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Anatomy Lesson

Tonight I feel like a real city slicker - I just found out where cucumbers, zucchini, and squash come from. Of course I know that they grow on viney rambly plants. I didn't, however, know the difference between male and female plants.

My zucchini plants have been blooming for the past week and half, and I was beginning to get concerned because every single blossom has had its day in the sun, shriveled, and promptly dropped off the vine.

Well, I had been meaning to do some research on pollinating cucurbits, seeing as how I'm pretty sure that there is a definite lack of pollinators up here on the balcony. Tonight I was tapping around on the computer and suddenly, EVERYTHING MADE SENSE - the reason my zucchini flowers were dropping like flies was because they were MALE. I rushed from the computer to the garden and gave my plants a closer look.

Yup, there were two distinct types of flowers on both my zucchini and my cucumbers, which have just started to bloom in the past day or so. The male flowers looked like a normal flower...

...but the female flowers had the beginnings of a fruit behind the bloom...

The cucumbers have about 10 "men" and only one "woman" - how's that for a ratio! I took one of my small paintbrushes and made sure that she was pollinated really well. Hopefully the plants will put out some more females to even things out a bit.

The zucchini "men" are a bit premature, I'm afraid to say - they have been blooming while the "women" are still small and not ready to blossom yet. I guess the plant world imitates the human world more than we know.

The crookedneck yellow squash are on the verge of blooming - I'm interested to see how those flowers compare to the other two.

Soooooooo, this whole time, my zucchini flowers were SUPPOSED to be blooming and dropping. Those poor guys were just looking for a nice girl to take to the dance. Another couple of days and there's going to be a real shin-dig going on!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Reaping What You Sow

Lots of things happening in the garden this week.

I harvested the first of the sweet banana peppers - we made eggs this morning with basil and diced peppers. Every year I am inundated with peppers, and this year is no different. The jalapenos are running a little bit behind the bananas, but they're coming along just fine.

Since the carrots have finished for the season I decided to plant a couple zucchinis in their spot, right next to the yellow crookedneck squash. They're all in one huge pot together - I hope I don't have much trouble with cross-pollination. The zucchini has bloomed already. I'm amazed how short-lived the blooms are - within the timeframe of a few hours the yolk-colored flowers open and then close for good. I was lucky enough to snap this beauty this morning; the hues look too rich to be real:

My eggplants continue to steal the show. The grandpappy keeps swelling day by day - I'm smelling some eggplant parmesan in the next week or two. There are two other babies, and four or five buds waiting to bloom.

I found a Japanese Beetle munching on my basil the other day - that's a problem I definitely want to nip in the bud. I remember my mom's rosebushes would be covered with these iridescent crawlies back when I was a kid - I won't stand for it! It's amazing how a garden attracts so many different organisms, from insects to birds to mammals and of course diseases. Just when I feel like I've got everything back on track, a new threat pops up.

Generally things have been on auto pilot, though. I water once, sometimes twice a day, fertilize with Espoma Plant Tone about once a month, and that's about it. We've had some stormy weather the past few weeks, so I'd have to say my biggest problem is making sure the pots don't blow over in the wind. The tomatoes have taken several hard falls because of their height.

Things have finally grown so much that they are very visible from the street below. I'm sure the neighbors think I'm a kook when they see me tending to my plants - they probably wonder what the hell I have growing up here. At least I won't have to worry about them running off with a tomato or pepper!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


It just wouldn't be summer in Cincinnati without these noisy plump little guys.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What's Up, Doc?

Right on the heels of the beets last weekend, today I pulled a batch of carrots!

These guys have by far been the sneakiest vegs in the garden. For weeks I had left them alone because I didn't see any round root tops poking through the dirt - I just figured they still needed time to mature. All along I have restrained myself from impatiently poking around in the dirt too much - a habit that I'm told I've inherited from my grandfather. My grandma said that every spring he would be out in the dirt poking around to see if the peas were sprouting.

When I first planted the seeds this spring I did way too much poking around, so I've tried to hold myself back lately. But today after work for some reason I decided to give things a quick look-see just for the hell of it. Good think I did - those sneaky little carrots were just nestled down farther than I thought! I poked through a small bit of dirt and struck orange gold! I felt like Bugs Bunny walking through the apartment with a bunch of carrots in my hand - tops and all. I'm amazed by how TALL the greens are - probably about 10 times the actual length of the carrot itself!

In the interest of wanting to taste the carrot, the whole carrot, and nothing but the carrot, I just snipped off the ends and ate them raw as a snack. They still had that characteristic almost bitter celery-ish taste, but there was this prevailing sweetness as well. By far the best carrots I've ever tasted, and so cute too!

(my favorite is the fat squatty one at the bottom)

I've also been playing hide-and-go-seek with another veg the past few days...I see you hiding in there Mr. Eggplant!

I'm so pleased that everything has actually produced this year. I thought for sure I'd get stung on something, being such a novice with most of this stuff. Tomatoes, herbs, peppers, no problem. But eggplant? I counted about 8 or 9 other buds on the plant as well. Sounds like I'm going to need a few more recipes than I thought...

The new job this week has been going as good as can be expected - it's a new job, I'm the new kid on the block, I stick out like a sore thumb. Other than my own self-consciousness, I feel pretty good about it. It's different than my old job, for better and for worse. I think all things considered that it was a good decision to move.

I'm ashamed to admit that I miss my old job though - or maybe I just miss the comfort of it. I am a creature of habit; I'm terrified of change. At least I'm not having panic attacks and stuck in my bed every day. The worst case scenario has not happened, so that is proof to me that I CAN do this.

I just need to remember to take care of myself, to admit that I'm human and things will not always go perfectly and THAT'S OK - living in the moment rather than worrying and "awful-izing" about future events that haven't happened and probably won't ever happen.

It all boils down to the word "Om" in yoga:



Sunday, June 15, 2008

Moving On

This weekend I harvested the beets, as promised. After taking a trip to Findlay Market earlier in the morning on Saturday, I decided it was time. Just seeing all of the veggies and herbs at the farmer's market really inspires me to keep gardening. I can't wait until the time when I have a bigger plot of land - then I'll really be able to produce enough veggies to keep us stocked throughout the summer months.

The variety of beets that I grew this year was Cylindra. They're not the standard roundish beet that I'm used to. They are oblong, almost like a fingerling potato. In my case, about half of each beet ended up growing above ground - odd? Here's the freshly pulled bunch:

Since I knew that I was only going to be reaping one batch worth of beets, I had done some research to find a new, refreshing recipe. Up until now I have only eaten them pickled, with thanks to my mother. I happened upon a recipe for Red Beet Salad with Orange Vinaigrette. It was pretty darn simple:
  • Cook the beets for about 30 minutes and then sluff the skins off. Slice them into small rounds.
  • For the vinaigrette, whisk together diced shallots, olive oil, cider vinegar, fresh orange juice, ground cloves, salt, and pepper.
  • Arrange a bed of peppery greens, such as arugula. Next arrange the beets on the plate intermingled with slices of fresh orange. Crumble fresh goat cheese on top, drizzle with vinaigrette, and snip some chives over everything as a garnish.
I was quite pleased with the results - both refreshing and colorful. I'm definitely deeming the beets a success this year.

Since the big radish/beet/carrot container is now empty except for the carrots, I've decided to experiment with yet another veggie during the hotter summer months. At Findlay Market this weekend I picked up three yellow crookedneck summer squash plants. For now I've got them planted opposite the carrots. I'm just going to have to keep an eye on them and make sure they don't start crowding the carrots - I've heard that squash have a tendency to take over spaces. I think the carrots have just a few more weeks to go, so once I've pulled them, the squash should be able to "let it all hang out" over the whole container. They should be a nice counterpart to my cucumbers, which are also doing extremely well. I put a cage up in their container today in the hopes that I'll be able to train them - we'll see. Here is a picture of one of the new squash babies:

The rest of the garden also continues to grow by leaps and bounds daily. This HOT HOT weather is just what it needed. The jalapeno and hungarian wax peppers are in full bloom, and I spotted the first baby peppers on the hungarian wax the other day. I'll be interested to see how hot vs. mild they are. They were labeled as sweet, but I've been reading that they actually have some heat to them - bring it on!

The herbs are really taking off as well finally. I made a "down home country breakfast" this weekend with hashbrowns and eggs, both of which were liberally herbed - basil in the eggs and thyme/rosemary in the hashbrowns. I'm looking forward to jazzing up my vegetarian biscuits 'n gravy with some fresh herbs and peppers. I get a big kick out of cooking certain "country" meals that my grandmother or great-grandmother may have cooked. It's fun to update old-timey recipes with new ingredients or fresh herbs - it's also a great way to be creative when it comes to substituting non-meat products for the old standbys like bacon, lard, and sausage.

I start my new job tomorrow - the fact that my anxiety hasn't flared up is a sign that the decision to move was a good one. It's also a sign that I've learned ways to help myself from getting overwhelmed by a job in the first place.

I'm proud of myself for all that I've done so far towards overcoming this condition - it sure as hell hasn't been easy. I cringe when I think back to that first weekend in September 2007 and the subsequent terrified visits to the ER, doctor, and therapist. After a week, when I was able to even entertain the idea of going back to work, those days in the office were so long and so scary. I felt like every day I had a pitbull by my side - this powerful force that could turn on my at any unexpected moment and attack me to the point of dizziness, nausea, searing stomach pains, racing heart, and panic attacks. It is impossible to explain something like severe anxiety to someone who hasn't experienced it - it just ends up sounding like I'm exaggerating or blowing things out of proportion. In reality, it's so much more than being "nervous" about something.

The sheer terror that I lived in for months was unbearable. I'm not even sure how I got through most of those days. I know that I spent many hours trying to distract myself with the positive things in my life - things like my husband, my cats, and of course, my garden.

The other thing that helped so very much was the yoga class that I started going to. Yoga is one of those things that I've always been curious about, but was never confident or motivated enough to just go out and DO. Well, there is no better motivator when your sanity is on the line and something presents the possibility of relief. Shine Yoga Center has become a haven for me - it's helped me to re-train my brain on how to relax. It's more than just exercise or becoming flexible or being trendy - it really is one of the best forms of therapy that I've found. The particular vein of yoga that Shine espouses is Anusara, which is focused more on love and acceptance of yourself, no matter what you individual limitations may be. That's exactly the kind of energy that I need to be around - keep on preachin', brother.

It's not often that I like to accept compliments or praise, especially from myself (anyone's harshest critic), but after years of self-doubt, I am learning to love myself.

Here's to turning a new page...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Surprise, Surprise...

OK, so I'm going to boast a little bit here. Look at this beauty...

Once again, my inexperience in growing most of these veggies has led to a wonderful surprise. A few posts ago I had given a picture of what I thought was an eggplant bloom. Little did I know, but that fuzzy little green nugget was only the beginning.

I came home from work today and immediately headed out to the balcony. Doing my normal rounds, the eggplant is one of the last plants I come to. I think I did some cartoonish double-take *blink blink* move, because I couldn't believe what my eggplant bloom had done overnight. The crinkly looking little nub was gone - it had been replaced by a delicate, lavender colored blossom. The yellow, purple and green, along with the shape of the flower, remind me of a young girl's easter dress, or something equally girly and feminine.

In a way, it's almost better not knowing what to expect because the element of surprise is so much stronger.

I'm gearing up to start a new job this coming Monday. I won't lie, my current job has been the main source of most of the stress and anxiety in my life. I have been there for three years, and I'm finally ready to move on. More like I'm forcing myself to move on. It almost feels like I'm finally getting the strength to move on from an abusive relationship. I'll spare the details; let's just say I work for an unethical sociopath.

Ever since I gave notice, which was about three weeks ago, I have felt immeasurably better - physically, mentally, emotionally. It's bittersweet for me to move on, but I know it's been my stumbling block all along. Hell, I pretty much feel like my old self most days now - wait, even BETTER than my old self. Now, I have better tools in place to keep myself from losing touch with myself and what I need out of life. If nothing else, I have that much to thank the anxiety for.

This garden is a manifestation of the growth I'm experiencing personally. In nurturing it, I nurture myself.

Forgive me for waxing philosophical, but that's one of the goals of a blog, right?

Monday, June 9, 2008

One Little Onion

I did it yesterday - I pulled my only green onion that made it to full size:

I must say, while I didn't have great success growing green onions from seed, the one that made it into my salad last night had great taste and crunch. I know that I didn't plant the seeds in the best conditions. They didn't have enough space and they didn't get enough sun because the lettuce was overshadowing them most of the time. All lessons learned for next year!

Yesterday I pulled what was left of my lettuce as well. Most of the plants had aphid problems, and I'm not sure about you, but I really wasn't feeling like eating any aphid-ey lettuce in the near future. That's alright, I got about a month of lettuce out of it, so I'm pleased. I do think I'll be growing a different variety next year, though. Bibb was nice, but I'd like to try something that is more interesting texturally.

After my little pulling rampage the container that held the lettuce and onion was empty. SO, I decided to plant yet another round of radish and see how well it fares in the heat. I've had such good luck with them so far this year and I have so many seeds left over that I really don't have much to lose. Not to mention they grow like weeds! Radish Round #2 is just now getting ready for harvest, so we'll see how Round #3 does.

The garden has really been popping lately. I just finished up the last of the peas, which produced well given their space constraints. I'd grow them again next year, definitely. While they're short-lived, they are the princesses of the garden. The peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant are all blooming their little hearts out. The cucumber seedlings have put up several sets of true leaves and are looking plucky. The carrots are getting close to harvest, but still need a couple weeks. I'm thinking the beets might be about ready, though. I have plans for them this weekend!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Say Hello to my Little Friend

I was out playing mother hen in the garden this afternoon and look who I found:

Looks like I'm not the only one with aphids on the brain - this little ladybug must be having a field day feasting on my smorgasbord of aphids. I've seen one or two before, but this little guy is the first one I've been fast enough to catch on camera. It's amazing how nature has a way of taking its course, regardless of the roadblocks humans try to put up. My balcony is fairly high off of the ground - maybe the scent of aphids was wafting in the air one breezy day and that's what drew the ladybug near? I'm still fighting the aphid battle, even though they are not as bad as they were earlier. I'll take all the help I can get!

On another note, Ladies and Gentleman, I present to you the first tomato of the season:

This warm muggy weather lately has really caused the tomatoes to start fruiting. I now have a few of the "clusters" that are characteristic of Sweet 100 plants. I'm so excited!

Also, today I picked the first batch of peas. It was only 6 or 7 pods worth, but that's a tasty sweet snack after a long day sitting in front of a computer - quite a contrast in worlds. Sweet peas from the garden can't even compare to those frozen green pebbles you buy in the store. I remember eating so many raw peas a kid that I'd get sick - maybe it's a good thing we don't have a whole mess of peas to eat this year. It's hard to stop when they're so good.

One of my favorite noises is that muted "pop" each pod makes when you split it:

I was telling a friend about my green ambitions this year. He joked, saying I was "going Walden". With the way this world goes sometimes, I'm not sure that's all too bad of an idea.