Category Archives: Gardening

Zucchini Bread

Meet our new overlords. They are green. Very green.

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It’s my first year growing zucchini and I limited myself to two plants. That’ll be the perfect amount, I told myself. Enough that I can have a few stirfries and try out some breads. Well, those two plants have produced veggies about as fast as our resident rabbits have produced bunnies and I am officially zucchini-ed out.

The problem with many zucchini bread recipes is that they don’t use enough of the vegetable! When you’re growing it– and trying to use it up– one zucchini does not make a dent. So this recipe makes two loaves with about twice the zucchini called for many recipes. BUT HOW? you ask.

Remove the extra moisture. Ta-Da! You end up with succulent bread with a nice crumb, but not too much water. Plus, these freeze great! (Wrap them in foil then plastic wrap or a plastic bag for longest lasting freshness.) I know that in the cold October months when I’m sick of pumpkin muffins, I will want a different squash-y bread option and glad I froze a few of these summery loaves.

Zucchini Bread for Zucchini Growers

(adapted from Eating Well)

Makes 2 loaves

 

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups of milk
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup of canola oil
  • 2 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 3 large or 4-5 medium zucchini
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups of whole wheat flour
  • 4 tsp of baking powder
  • 2 tsp of ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 cup of chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Prepare zucchini. First, wash zucchini and slice off ends. Then, shred. I use a box shredder, but I’m sure you could use a food processer if you do so without completely liquefying the zucchini. Take shredded zucchini and put on top of a clean cheesecloth or dish towel. Wring out excess moisture (this will keep your bread moist without making it soggy). Put zucchini aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray two loaf pans with cooking spray.
  3. Mix first four ingredients in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in shredded zucchini.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the flours, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Add dry mixture to wet mixture by stirring carefully until few lumps remain. Finally, incorporate chocolate chips.
  5. Pour half of the batter into each loaf pan and bake in preheated oven for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  6. Allow to cool in pan for about an hour. Freezes well for up to three months, or lasts in the fridge for a week.
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Deserving

I don’t deserve the day I had today. The weather: 70 degrees and sunny. Light breeze. The plans: fun small-town events, gardening, playing with kids, and finishing my grading for the semester, grilling, running around until everyone was exhausted, and then tucking the kids into bed with sweet, cuddly stories. I know I don’t deserve it, but I’ll soak it in.

All this goodness can feel bittersweet. These pink flowers were a gift today from our local greenhouse. We’ve been going there for years and wimg_8296e always get our Christmas tree from them in the winter. Lately, I heard rumors that they were closing after this season. I bought the first plants in my first home just before the birth of my first child there. Now, kids in the stroller, the woman at the counter hands my daughter these pink daisies I was eyeing. “Are they perennials?” I had asked the woman earlier in the visit.

“Annuals. Beautiful ones, though,” she said.

When she tucked them in my daughter’s hands, she rubbed her toddler nose deep into the center of the flowers. When she pulled back, it was pollen-covered like yellow powdered sugar. I planted them in a pot in the backyard after we got home.

And so I know that it’s okay that beautiful things don’t always last as long as we hope they will. I won’t get to enjoy these flowers again next year– no guarantees. This greenhouse, in fact, is closing after this summer. Retirement meets realities of modern agriculture– it just wasn’t sustainable any more. This won’t be my greenhouse again, but I’m enjoying it this season.

Not every day is a good day. We’ve had some hard ones lately, but I’ll take the good when it comes, even when I don’t feel deserving.

 

Plant Potatoes on Good Friday

There’s an old wives tale that the gardening season officially begins on Good Friday, that this day, set from the church calendar, is the day to plant potatoes. Tomorrow is absolutely booked up– and scheduled to be rainy– so I started a day early.

Potatoes are odd plants, and last year was the first time I tried them in my garden. I admit that the experiment was spurred by my reading of The Martian last year. I dare you to read 200 plus pages about tubers in space and not come away with a respect for the plant. I have a few favorite potato recipes that you must check out, if you doubt my love (here and here).

Yesterday I cut old potatoes with one or two eyes per segment and let them sit. This morning, I dug trenches and put them a distance apart. You need the space because, like prairie dogs, potatoes burrow underground. One of the joys of potatoes is discovering them, finger deep, as you root around the base of the plant. My father told me you can “steal” potatoes as the season goes on– taking baby potatoes early in the season for the tenderest and sweetest and letting some mature to tide you through the fall. If you’ve never planted potatoes before, I highly recommend it.

The peat pellets and my pretty potential peppers- A spring tongue twister

I return to gardening every year for more than the harvest. Gardening is an education in itself. I can feel the accumulation of my successes and failures like tree rings, and it seems foolish not to keep experimenting year after year. Potatoes were my experiment last year, and this year it is seed starting. I bought one of the domed kits from the hardware store and started a few of my veggies from seed. I’m trying peppers, bush cucumbers, and basil this way, so we will see if anything comes from it. Any tips from you who have done this?

This year will be the first season that my son, aged four, can really participate in the gardening process. He helped me pick out the seeds from the seed store (TURNIPS, he exclaimed with glee, as if he actually ate them). My daughter, aged two, is at the reckless but fascinated stage. Both of them enjoyed our annual trip to the farm supply store to gaze at the chicks. God help me if that isn’t my experiment next year….

 

My daughter and the chicks

 

What have you planted so far?

A Winter Update

I don’t usually post during the non-growing season, but I thought I would update with a question and a quick recipe—

Question first: How in the world do you take care of succulents?

I’m become a succulent mom very suddenly (it was a Christmas gift) and I think I’m doing it all wrong. Advice on soil mixture? Care and watering suggestions?

So now that you’ve earned your keep, a quick recipe to tide you over (and the perfect potluck recipe for football fun):

Julia’s Orzo Salad

I should note that my name is not Julia. Julia is the person who perfected the amazing additions to this salad, and who is bugged– constantly– to bring this to gatherings. Much love and adoration to Julia, for this and many other reasons!

Ingredients:

  • 1 (16 oz) box of orzo pasta
  • 1/2 small head of broccoli, cut into small florets
  • 1 cup of red pepper, diced
  • 4 oz crumbled feta
  • 4 oz of pepperoni, diced
  • 1- 2.4 oz can of sliced black olives, drained and rinsed
  • 1 packet of ranch dressing mix
  • 4 T of red wine vinegar
  • 3 T of olive oil
  • 2 T of white sugar (1 T if using splenda)
  • 1 tsp of dried basil leaves
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Pardon the blurry picture. I was too eager to eat this to take a better one!

Instructions:

  1. Make orzo according to box instructions.* During last minute of cooking time, add broccoli florets to boiling water. Drain broccoli and orzo in a colander and rinse with cold water.
  2. In a small bowl or lidded jar, mix last five ingredients.
  3. Put orzo and broccoli in a large mixing bowl and combine with remaining ingredients, mixing well with vinaigrette.
  4. Let salad rest in refrigerator for at least one hour. Can be made a day ahead. If it seems dry, rewet with 1 tsp of each red wine vinegar and olive oil.

*Orzo expands like crazy, so make sure you cook it in a large pot with plenty of water.

French-Kissing Onion Soup

It’s been a rough summer, mainly due to Japanese beetles. Japanese beetles on my raspberries. Japanese beetles eating my baby apple tree. Japanese beetles in my sleep.

You know one thing Japanese beetles don’t like? Onions.

Continue reading French-Kissing Onion Soup

Weeds, weeds, and more weeds

The old cliche “kids grow like weeds” only gets more true the more kids I have and the bigger my garden gets. My kids now grow out of clothing every few months and are both old enough to alternatively shove and hug eachother. Kids, thus, are cute, at least in the non-shoving moments.

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Weeds. Are. Not. Cute.

A few hints to newbie gardeners for eradicating — or better yet, preventing– weeds (chemical free) in the garden.

  1. Grass clippings (or shredded newspaper). After a good lawn mowing, spread the clippings around your already planted garden plot. Like the more expensive options below, the clippings will form a layer which heats the ground beneath it (to kill seedlings) and also gives less space for weeds to grow than open ground. I love grass clippings because they add extra nutrients to the soil, as well!

Unfortunately, my husband let some of the grass go to seed and so the most recent spread of mulch caused a little lawn to appear in my garden… so….

2. Landscaper’s cloth. Held in by metal landscaping staples (or biodegradable staples), this cloth works even more fully to provide the heat because of its reflective black surface. It’s not pretty, but it does the job. I cut “x”s in the material to make room for my plants which I WANT to be there and picked most of the weeds and grass before I laid it down.

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My tomatoes, kohlrabi, and peppers surrounded by grass seeds and weeds.

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Landscaper’s cloth before it’s fully tacked down… still, much better!
A caveat here: unless you use the biodegradable staples, you’ll have to dig around for the metal later in the season when you clean up the garden. For me, the little bit of effort on the back end is worth the time saved on this side.

3. Burlap. Another option, which my sister-in-law uses is burlap material between her plant rows. On many websites you can purchase old coffee bags and cut them into sizes useful to you in the garden. Unlike the artificial-looking black landscaping cloth, burlap softens in color to a natural-looking gray as the season progresses and works quite well to reduce weed growth.

There are many chemicals out there– we’re lucky to live in an age of agricultural wonder– but one of the pleasures of growing my own food is the simplicity of the process. Just like I like food with simple ingredients I can pronounce, I like that take on gardening, too.

A general garden update:

Perennials: Asparagus, Chives, Dill (just barely), Raspberries (but no flowers yet)

Annual Vegetables: sugar snap peas, “seed” potatoes, onion sets, green beans (one row, with another to follow next week), two blocks of sweet corn (with one more to follow next week), zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant, banana and sweet peppers

 

Chives plus World’s Best Potatoes

The garden is coming up, and one item in particular is ready and has been for weeks: chives. If you grow chives, you know that they grow as heartily as dandelions and they are reliably ready early in the season. Chives are a great addition if you’re looking for a perennial, since they’re edible and they make pretty purple flowers (which my three year old likes to gather into onion-y bouquets). Chives can be good additions to garden salads, but I like them especially as a finisher to my favorite potato dish. This recipe, adapted from America’s Test Kitchen, gives you soft potatoes with a crunchy, buttery shell. They take a bit of babysitting (especially near the end), but the payoff is worth it. I like to serve these alongside a roast chicken, since so many ingredients (lemon, thyme) overlap.

 

  World’s Best Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs small red potatoes (similarly sized, if possible)
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into single tbsp
  • 3 peeled garlic cloves
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh chives
  1. Scrub potatoes and halve them, but do not peel or pierce them. Place the potatoes facedown in a single layer, covering the bottom of a 12-inch nonstick skillet. The potatoes should fit snugly along the bottom. Add water, butter segments, garlic, thyme sprigs, and salt and bring to a simmer over medium/high heat. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes (or until potatoes are just tender).
  2. After fifteen minutes have elapsed, remove the cover and take out the sprigs of thyme and cloves of garlic. Discard the thyme, but keep the garlic and allow to cool. Mash garlic and combine with lemon juice and pepper. Set mixture aside.
  3. Increase the heat on the potatoes to medium/high once more and, with lid still off, simmer until the water has evaporated– about fifteen minutes. The butter will start to sizzle (you’ll smell and hear it, at this point).
  4. At this point, babysit your potatoes very closely, moving them gently to allow the cut sides to remain down but not stick to any one spot in the pan. The goal is to get spotty, browned cut sides (about 5 minutes). If you aren’t vigiliant, the best parts may stick to the pan.
  5. Once browned, remove the potatoes from pan and toss with garlic/lemon mixture. Add chives just before serving, and enjoy!
    While this recipe claims to serve 4-6, my husband and I routinely polish it off with just a little help from our two kiddos. A recipe simple enough for weeknight dinner, but tasty enough to impress a dinner guest or two (if you’re generous enough to share).

A Preview of Things to Come

This blog is an annual tradition of mine from plotting the garden to the final harvest, so I’m back again this season for another round of garden talk, memories, and recipes.

This year, I’m scrapping some of my traditional plants: no cucumbers or squash this year… or at least, not at draft one of the garden plan. Instead, I’m going to try potatoes and sweet corn, two additions that even my father never planted. More on that as the experiment progresses.

I brought my young daughter to the local farm supply store to pick out seeds and stopped by the baby chick display. Some year, though not this one, I’ll head home myself with one of those small, cheeping cardboard boxes that I see others leaving with. I’ve got chick envy; I’ll admit it.

Today my husband tilled. This is his annual contribution to the effort and one I’m grateful for. I could barely wait until the tiller was back in the shed to go out and dig my hands in the dirt. I planted two rows of carrots (Nantes variety) and about forty yellow onion sets. Tomorrow, if the ground is soft, I’m putting in the snow peas and I’ve got the potatoes ready to pop in the ground on Tuesday.

I’m building a trellis system for our raspberry bushes this year, and hopefully this summer I’ll have some good raspberry recipes to share.

Since I’ve got nothing fresh to share a recipe on today, I’ll share a research item instead. As I map my garden plot each year I like to look at compatible plants to put nearby. I don’t want my plants bullying each other, after all. This resource from the Farmer’s Almanac helps me cross check to ensure a healthy environment for my little sprouts.

Are you planting anything new this year?

Tomato-Related Public Service Announcement!

Save your Easter eggs—

Or at least their shells! Popping out of my hibernation for a timely reminder that though tomato season is (sadly) months away, you can invest in your tomato plant future by saving egg shells.  I usually start right around Easter every year.  First I grind them in batches and keep them in a plastic bag in the freezer.

To use them, crush them into a fine powder and place some of that powder in the hole that in which you transfer your baby tomato plant.

Why?  The calcium in the eggshells can help prevent blossom end rot!

So keep those colorful eggshells (and the not so colorful ones, too) and sprinkle a handful of pulverized shells when planting your tomatoes this year.

Potato Salad…. on the Go

I have a wandering (and wondering?) (and wonderful) toddler.  The above picture was taken on a recent outing to the park, where, luckily, he has little trouble to get into if he scurries a bit out of reach.  More troubling is when he gets loose at the gym while I’m trying to wrangle his sister into the car seat, and he runs into the gym where some boys are trying to play a game of basketball. Or most frighteningly of all, when he took his little hand out of mine in the parking lot and started to run towards the car. We had a big talk after that one. The truth about all of these runnings is that he knows he’s not supposed to run too far ahead of us. He looks back at us and gives us a devilish smile as if to say, “Come and get me!” It makes it hard to get mad at the situation for too long.

In our back yard, his favorite game is to go to the only place I tell him to keep out of: my garden. Just like Peter Rabbit.  Once he shimmies down the back stairs, he’s off and running to the edge of my garden, which wouldn’t matter except that I mulch the entire bed with grass clippings and he’s likely to roll around in it if not watched… His dad does the vacuuming and doesn’t appreciate these escapades.  Soon, he’ll be old enough to help me dig and pick, but this summer is all about damage control.  I can’t wait until he understands how his food comes from these plants.

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Potatoes boiling!

One plant currently overgrown in our garden is the dill, which is so fragrant that if the wind blows you can catch a whiff from the other side of the lawn. Dill belongs in potato salad, in my opinion, and so we’ve been chowing down on this recipe all summer. Don’t leave out the relish! It makes it something special.

 

Amazing Dill and Relish Potato Salad

Base Ingredients

  • 3 large yellow potatoes, cubed and peeled (though I didn’t peel this time)
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

Dressing

  • 2 heaping tablespoons sweet pickle relish, with liquid
  • 1/2 cup Miracle Whip (mine was the low-fat, olive oil version)
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill (or more, to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • Salt (to taste)

Directions

Boil cubed potatoes until they are tender, about ten minutes. Transfer to a colander and rinse with cold water. In a large bowl add celery, onion, eggs, and cooled potatoes.

In a separate bowl, mix dressing ingredients. Add dressing to base, and let potato salad chill for at least 2 hours. Salt to taste before serving.

Dill flower
Dill flower