Monday, June 29, 2009

Anniversary

My husband and I celebrated our two year anniversary tonight by grilling out - for the first time - EVER. I'm happy to report that everything was edible, and in fact, quite tasty, even for amateur grillers such as ourselves.


We threw on a couple of our favorite veg snausages from Field Roast - "Smoked Apple Sage" and "Italian". Both were fantastic (even though I'll admit they don't look that appetizing in the picture). I much prefer wheat-based veg products such as seitan over soy-based veg products.

In addition to the snausages, we grilled a cornucopia of veggies: purple onions, sweet red peppers, zucchini, asparagus, and shiitake and cremini mushrooms. I whisked up a quick marinade with lemon juice, olive oil, dijon mustard, fresh oregano and thyme, and salt and pepper.


Our 18" Weber grill is the perfect size for two people. We definitely learned a few things, but all told, it was much easier than I imagined.


So Happy Anniverary to us - I love you babe!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Come and Get It!

Saturday mornings are the only time of the week that I'm able to treat us to a nice homemade breakfast. This morning I was inspired by the Fine Verde Basil that's been flourishing these first days of summer. In past years, I've always grown traditional basil with the big fat leaves. This year is a bit of a departure for me - my heirloom basil is loaded with tons of fine sweet little anisey leaves that look almost like thyme:


For breakfast, first I scrambled some eggs with fresh basil and black pepper. Then I sauteed some cremini mushrooms and red onion until nice and browned. Quartered cherry tomatoes and more fresh basil topped it off:


Deee-licious! I can't wait until I'm able to use fresh tomatoes from MY garden instead of the store.

Speaking of the garden, things are still coming along nicely. Whatever was nipping at my tomato blossoms seems to have stopped and I'm seeing lots of shy little green tomatoes peeking out from under their fuzzy caps. The peppers have started taking off, too - plenty of little green ones out there.

I'm seeing something very interesting going on with the Fish Pepper. I have three plants growing, and two are fairly uniformly green, but the third is a variegated white and green. This holds true for both the leaves AND the first little pepper I saw this morning:


Curious to me how there could be such differences within the same variety of plant - maybe this is due to the fact that they're heirloom? It's gorgeous and I can't wait to see how hot (or not hot) a Fish Pepper is.

I had been noticing a strange beetle lurking around my squash, zucchini, and melon plants over the past few weeks. It's about the size of a grain of rice and has yellow and black stripes. From what I can tell, it appears to be a Cucumber Beetle and he has been feasting on my cucurbits. The leaves are spotty and lacy and one of my melon plants even wilted up and died. I'm hoping that the beetles will just go away as the plants get bigger and stronger and the leaves aren't as tender. So far I've managed to stay completely organic this year and I'd like to keep it that way.

The Cucumber Beetles got me thinking about how odd it is that you never seem to have the same pest problems two years in a row. Last year I had major aphid problems but nothing else. This year the aphids were very minimal but I'm dealing with these cucurbit monsters. I guess Mother Nature likes to keep us on our toes - wouldn't want us gardeners to get too complacent, now would she?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Carrots

This morning I felt it was time - time to pull my first carrots.

I have been secretly poking at my carrots for the past few weeks, checking for done-ness, if you will. I pulled 3-4 each of both varieties that were planted this spring: Cosmic Purple and St. Valery. For some reason I didn't really think I'd ever be able to grow PURPLE carrots, like there must be some sort of secret trick to it, but lo-and-behold...



The St. Valery was orange and had more of that classic carrot taste. The Cosmic Purple was a berry-stained maroon and sweeter and more mild. Both very good, very crunchy. The carrots seemed to have more root and less foliage than last year - I guess that's why I'm pulling them earlier. I'm so proud!

In other news, my eggplant has sent out its first bloom of the season - Yeah!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Baby Veggies

In the past week it's finally become evident that I'm actually going to have peppers, tomatoes, and other goodies this summer. It's a miracle that never fails to astonish.

Here's my first pepper - it's a sweet Red Marconi:


And here's my first tomatoes, the Gold Nugget:


And lastly here's my first EVER melon - Minnesota Midget:


The melon plants are loaded with baby melons - I've read that it's best to let a few healthy fruits grow and pinch off all others. This seems so cruel, just like thinning out seedlings. I'll see how many actually start plumping up.

I've noticed that something (most likely a STARLING) has been enjoying my tomato plants. Specifically, something has been snipping off the Pink Brandywine blossoms - I'm having flashbacks to last year's Starling Trouble. I'm fairly helpless in this situation, unless I decide to put up some ugly netting - the neighbors would love that. Hopefully this is just a passing fancy...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Stokes Berry Farm

This morning I trekked up to Wilmington to visit Stokes Berry Farm.


My goal was to pick enough strawberries to make a batch or two of strawberry-rhubarb jam. This was my first time picking strawberries since my Grandparents closed their patch, and when I turned the bend in the gravel road and spotted the rows of plants and straw, tears welled up in my eyes as I recalled so many tender memories from my childhood.


Everyone at Stokes is extremely friendly. I was amazed by the variety of people picking at 9:30 on a Sunday morning: a Latino couple, several Indian families, a caravan of young Japanese families, a group of soccer moms, and little ol' me. The woman at the counter told me that all of their berries are "All Star" variety - a type that my grandparents grew and I'm familiar with.

Picking was pretty good - not a free-for-all, but steady. The berries were medium to small sized, but as any seasoned canner knows, the smaller and sweeter the berry, the better jam they make.

I quickly filled my tray with the intoxicating crimson beauties. I only wish I could bottle the smell of warm sun-drenched strawberries - the aroma is flowery, fruity...quintessentially STRAWBERRY.


After picking more than enough strawberries (it was really hard for me to stop myself), I noticed that yesterday was Stokes first day picking red raspberries. I was warned that picking was slow, but what the heck, I was having such a good time. The morning was dewy, there was a slight breeze, birds were whizzing through the air and singing, and bees were orbiting fruit blossoms in a drunken stupor.


I found the red raspberry patch and while there wasn't a boatload of fruit to be had, I managed to pick a very rounded quart. As far as I'm concerned, I lucked-out that there were even raspberries in season. I've always liked red raspberries better than black raspberries; I'll be back in a month or so to pick some blacks.





When I got home, I commenced to cannin'. First up was the strawberry-rhubarb jam - I had decided to do a double batch (some for us and some for gifts). Mind you, I've never made jam before, so I'm putting my faith in the Ball Blue Book and my mother's seasoned advice. Wash berries, chop rhubarb (bought at Findlay Market yesterday), heat with lemon juice, sugar, and pectin, wash jars and lids, pour in the goodness, screw on the lids, and boil in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.


Next up was the serendipitous red raspberry jam. Just a single batch this time. Same procedure as before, only no pectin or lemon juice. By the time I was finished the windows in the kitchen were completely fogged over. Canning is not for those who have a problem with sweating over a hot stove.

Final count:
  • Strawberry Rhubarb Jam - 17 half pints
  • Red Raspberry Jam - 6 half pints
Isn't nature amazing? Two completely different shades of red and all 100% natural:


All 23 jars clicked giving me 100% sealage - nice! The final test will be tomorrow morning when I have some jam on some homemade bread. I'll be able to see how well the jam set up.

I have to say, I'm pooped, but satisfied (and, dare I say it, pretty proud). Knowing that I can carry on two family traditions - picking strawberries and canning summer's harvest - makes me appreciate and love my roots that much more.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

June's Blooms

The garden is full of blooms right now. We've had several weeks of hot weather with several good soaks of rain and the plants are loving it:

Orange Hawaii Marigold:


Pink Brandywine:


Gold Nugget:


Red Marconi Pepper:


While many plants in the garden are growing like weeds, some seem to be lagging a little bit compared to last year. I'm not sure if this is a function of growing from seed, or if it's just one of those years. My Red Marconi Pepper doesn't seem to want to get any taller, while it's cousin the Fish Pepper is reaching for the sky. My Gold Nugget and Pink Brandywine tomatoes are getting bushy and putting out blooms, while the Green Zebra, Black Krim, and Black Cherry are stubbornly refusing to grow and even getting a few krispy leaves.

I finally decided to pull the beets that were clinging to life - the kohlrabi were starving them for space and sunlight. Didn't I learn my lesson with sun deprivation last year? I'll sorely miss having beets this year, but I guess I can just hit up the local farmer's market. I also finally gave in and pulled my zucchini and yellow squash plants. They were blooming, but not healthy. I forced them to start too early and should have known better. New seeds have been planted and hopefully they'll get off to a better start this time. I take the blame on this one.

Other than a few errant nibbles from neighborhood bunnies, things are looking nice. I had a nice conversation with one of our neighbors about the garden - she was eyeing all the pots in our yard and probably wondering what the hell I was up to. I'll have to make sure the yard is in tip-top shape the next few weeks - apparently the house two doors down is being taped for DIY Network's Desperate Landscapes show. I don't want to make a bad showing if they happen to meander down our way...