Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fresh Summer Ideas

I haven't had many opportunities to update this blog the past few weeks, I've been busy canning, preserving, cooking and baking. I can NOT imagine needing to do this to feed the family through the winter... I fall into bed each night exhausted and I'm NO WHERE near where i'd need to be for storage of food!

I was gifted four cucumers the other day - For whatever reason mine didn't do well, so these ones were a real treat. There's nothing better than fresh cucumbers in salad, soup or sauces to make it taste "fresh" and "vibrant". So tonight's dinner is grilled chicken breast with Tzatziki and Orzo Salad with Chickpeas, Dill & Lemon. There's no better summer meal!

Orzo Salad with Chickpeas, Dill & Lemon
1 cup uncooked orzo
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1 19-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 T fresh lemon juice
1.5 T olive oil
1 T cold water
1/2 t salt1 clove crushed garlic

Cook pasta according to package and rinse with cold water and drain. Combine pasta, onions, cheese, dill and chickpeas in a large bowl, tossing gently to combine. Combine juice and remaining ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle over pasta mixture, toss gently to coat. Yields 4 servings - May be served warm or cool! (Recipe From Cooking Light)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gardeners Combat Global Warming

It's no surprise that in michigan we've had a VERY strange (and cool) growing season in our gardens. For me that meant that my cool weather crops did very well, far into the growing season. It's been said that this is due to global warming - I'm not sure spending most of the summer in the 70's is "warm"...

Plants across the nation are affected by global warming - We have seen that many plants in your backyard are blooming earlier. Global warming will mean that many native and iconic plants may no longer find suitable climate conditions in major portions of their historic range. We, as gardeners can help combat this.

I found this download from The National Wildlife Federation - It's your's free to download!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Easy Summer "Marina"

I have a REALLY easy "pasta sauce" or marinara I create when the tomatoes start ripening. Really it's less of a recipe than an experiment of using your summer bounty in the crock-pot, however open a jar of this summer in a jar in the midst of the coldest January chill and you will understand WHY I create this dish!

To make it is really simple:

1) Wash your tomatoes the cut them into chunks and drop them into a crock pot. I leave the skin on and use several varieties including cherry/grape tomatoes. You COULD parboil them and drop them into an ice-bath to remove the skin however.

2) Add other garden veggies including green peppers, onions, shallots, or garlic - As much or as little as you may like!

3) Add Italian seasoning (from your pantry). I probably use 2 Tablespoons per large crock-pot.

4) Cook on high overnight with the top off to evaporate as much water as possible.

5) The next morning blend all of the cooked down vegetables - I use a stick blender however you could throw it all in a food processor or blender. the skins will blend down really well!!!

You can either can the pasta sauce or throw it into jars/baggies or plastic containers to freeze for several months! I promise that your family will love you when you open this jar and pour it over your choice of pasta!

There is no real measuring involved, however if you are adverse to seasonings, then add the Italian seasoning the next morning after blending the sauce. Also if you prefer a sweeter sauce, add a bit of sugar to taste!


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Frenzied Blackberry Fool

I (and the family) have been spending a significant amount of time this year foraging for things to eat in mother nature - Maple Syrup, black raspberries, mulberries, asparagus, mushrooms and most recently blackberries. Luckily I have found a friend as a result of my foraging requests, that has allowed me to ramble around on his property looking for mother nature's edibles.

Last week however, I received a message from my friend telling me that he thought he saw me on the property the day before. The thing was, he didn't see me pull up or even see where I parked my car, so he pulled out his spyglass to check it out and saw a woman with long-hair instead.

He thought that was odd, so he got on his tractor and rode out there to see what was up. Apparently the woman parked in the nearby cemetary and walked across another piece of private property to get to his blackberries. She said "Oh is this your place?" and "Where do you live?" (You can SEE the house from the back of his field, and you could plainly see where he came from on the tractor, so she must have been playing dumb.)

What I found very odd was that, there is in NO WAY that she could have SEEN the berries, or even followed the berry patch across the other property, as there were NO berry plants back there. In other words she must have previously KNOWN about the patch and trespassed into his property to get to it! Ordinarily I wouldn't say anything, except my friend is nice and told her he supposed it was OK that she was there - since she was ALREADY there picking. (He's much too nice in my opinion, i would have said to get lost - He didn't want the berries to go to waste though!)

Several days later I was out there picking again when suddenly another car drove back to the patch (It's at the very back of the property). I mean com'mon, once you get caught, shouldn't you just STOP with the pilfering? The woman pulled up and said "Hi mind if i join you?" I asked if Steve knew (my "provider") and she said Yes (which he really didn't "know" she was there that day) so I begrudgingly said, "I guess not."

I mean REALLY, what would you say to that? "Yea, com'mon over and pick where I am picking since you have already trespassed and KNOW that this field was here." Or "My berries are your berries, i'll just pick less today..." My friend even mowed around the bushes for the kids and I to better pick, which was also evident, so it's not like she couldn't have guessed that SOMEONE was already picking the prepped field!

Now I'm a pretty aggressive person when it comes to sportsmanship - My husband will tell you out-right to stand back because when I get into competitive mode it's a scary thing to see... So image this woman pulling up in her white truck and asking me "Do you mind company?"

I immediately jump into the super-speed mode, mowing around the blackberry plants like some frenzied fool - Pplucking ALL of the ripest, juiciest berries of the bunch and leaving the undesirable shriveled ones... I even plucked some that could have used another day in the sun, I was so competitive!

I'm sure she though "some nut-job", but I didn't like that this woman, who for all purposes DID NOT GET permission BEFORE she started picking, was back for more... That being said, it isn't my property, so I shouldn't feel this sort of entitlement, but I at LEAST had permission to be there!

So what does one do when a competitor moves into the field? Throw a curve-ball, spit-ball or other nastiness? Do you jump into the juiciest berries and leave nothing behind? I'm sure if you were nearby that day you would have hear the giant sucking noise as I went into vacuum mode - I can't believe the number of berries I picked that day. I even came back MUCH more often than I may have otherwise, just to thwart the pilferer.

I'd feel ashamed to admit this I suppose...

A few days ago I was chatting with a good friend about this encounter and mentioned the woman's name. My girlfriend said "Wait what was the name?" I told her again and she sounded rather puzzled. She asked again where my friend Steve lived, then asked about they type of car the woman drove, "Was it a white trailblazer?" "Oh I dunno, it was a white truck!"

My friend told me that her mother-in-law has been known to pick MANY berries, and in fact had a freezer filled with something liek 400 cups - YES 400 CUPS of berries!!! AND that was the general vacinity of where her mother-in-law MAY have been picking. My friend just couldn't understand why the woman introduced herself the way she had. A few days later, she asked her mother-in-law later if she had been "caught" (Although she is BY FAR much more PC than I!) and after a 30 minute conversation had her Mother-in-law admit that YES it was HER!

So my pilferer, the woman who trespassed and then played dumb, was none other than a very good friends mother-in-law!!! I laughed my butt off... What gets me though is that this woman felt there was nothing wrong with what she did in trespassing onto someone's property. Which brings me back to my original questions:

So what does one do when a competitor moves into the field? When another "forager" shows up what is the proper etticate? I know from shroom hunting that you simply don't walk into the area of the other 'shroom hunter, but in this case we were on PRIVATE PROPERTY! What should I, or could I have said?

Sometimes life just comes full-circle doesn't it?

Monday, August 3, 2009

How To Harvest Summers Garden Yield!

I read this article at the Lowes website and thought it is information was worth passing on, especially considering the weekend yield I plucked from the garden. So enjoy the excerpt or read the entire article at the Lowes website before heading to the garden ~ Enjoy all the baking, canning and cooking to come, I know I will!

Warm Season Crops: Plant-by-Plant Guide to Harvest

CornCorn—Start examining kernels after silks turn brown. Kernels should be plump and run milky when pierced with a fingernail. The milky color signifies that sugars have developed. Clear juices indicate not-so-sweet corn—if you find clear liquid, you may need to wait up to a whole week to pick. Check ears in three to four days. Sweetness starts to diminish the moment ears are picked. For best flavor, cook corn the same day you pick it. If you must store it for a day or two, don’t remove husks and keep ears cold.

Cucumbers—Pick fruit as soon as they appear fully formed and filled out. Cucumbers don’t always pull easily from the vine; carry kitchen or garden shears to snip stems. Plants produce more steadily when fruit is consistently picked. Avoid allowing early cucumbers to grow too large or the vine will yield fewer fruits overall. Use cucumbers within 7-10 days of picking. If you’re inundated with fruits, make some pickles.

Green beans—Once bean bushes and vines start blooming, check plants daily for ripe fruit. Pick beans when pods are small—about the thickness of a No. 2 pencil. French filet beans, however, yield thinner pods. Thicker pods, where the bean bumps are visible, can be chewy and woody. The more you pick beans, the more vines produce. Gather early beans as soon as they’re ready; if they’re allowed to ripen to maturity on plants, the crop will stop. Pull beans from vines with your fingers. Store beans in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and use within two weeks.

Herbs—For most herbs, flowering signals the end of the harvest. This is especially true of basil and oregano. Keep blooms snipped from plants to ensure flavorful leaves. Gather herbs by the leaf or stem. Strip leaves from woody stems of herbs like rosemary, basil, or thyme.

Sweet peppers—Pick green peppers as soon as they’re fully colored, shiny, and full size. Most peppers will continue coloring and turn shades of yellow, orange, or red. To harvest peppers, use a sharp knife or shears to snip stems. Leave a piece of stem attached to peppers, which helps them to last longer. Store peppers in the refrigerator, and use within three to five days. Harvest peppers before frost. Use any that get frosted immediately—they won’t store well.

Tomatoes—Ripe tomatoes don’t need to be fully colored—pick them when colored at least halfway. Tomatoes should feel heavy for their size and come easily off the plant. Ripen picked tomatoes on a counter or windowsill. Don’t refrigerate tomatoes, as they lose their flavor within two hours in the fridge. Avoid leaving tomatoes on the vine too long. Fully ripe tomatoes only keep two to three days on the vine.

WatermelonWatermelon—Determining watermelon ripeness is almost more art than science. Watch several items to gauge ripeness. The visible rind should change colors, from bright to dull green. The part of the skin touching the soil shifts from greenish white to cream. Tendrils nearest the melon shrivel and turn brown. Rapping on the melon should yield a hollow, low-pitched sound. Test some unripe ones to train your ear for the wrong sound. Uncut watermelons can store up to two weeks in the refrigerator, but it’s best to eat them at the peak of ripeness.

Zucchini—Pick fast-growing zucchini when fruits are 4-5 inches long. As soon as squash starts to form, check plants daily, looking beneath all leaves. Zucchini grows rapidly, and a fruit can easily grow to baseball bat size if it’s hidden under foliage. If you pick faithfully, zucchini vines will produce for about a month. For true zucchini lovers, sow a second set of seeds about a month after the first one to extend the harvest season.

Creative Commons License / photo credits: Lowes