Tag 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.

 

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

 

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

Freezing Tomatoes

If you’re like me, you hate grocery store tomatoes.  Anemic.  Pale pink.  Pathetic.  They just don’t taste as good. I don’t even like to used canned tomatoes, if I can avoid them because of the metallic taste that you can’t get rid of.  Boxed tomatoes are tasty, but expensive.  I’m still slightly intimidated by canning, but I like to preserve my food.  So, if you’re cheap, have an extra hour, and have access to a farmer’s market or a tomato plant of your own, freezing tomatoes can be a great option to enjoy that tomato flavor through the winter. 

This was my project today, and the little guy even helped (or at least watched with fascination.)

 

Materials needed:

Ripe tomatoes (larger varieties work best; don’t try to do this with cherries or you will drive yourself crazy!)

Large Pot

Paring knife

Several Large Bowls

Mesh Strainer

Quart freezer bags

Kitchen scale (optional)

Tomatoes, ripe and ready
Tomatoes, ripe and ready
  1. First, collect ripe tomatoes (though not over ripe or they may be difficult to work with) and wash them gently.  Don’t worry if their skins aren’t perfect since soon you’re going to get these tomatoes naked.  Scandalous!
  2. Prepare your work area, since you’ll need a lot of bowls for this project.  Place a large pot of water to boil and prepare a bowl of ice water near by.  Lay out another clean bowl next to that and finally, place your strainer over a final bowl.
  3. Make a tiny “x” on the bottom of each tomato, just deep enough to pierce the skin but not so deep as to cut into the seeds.  Working in batches, blanch the tomatoes for two minutes.  Place the blanched tomatoes in a bin of ice water. Once iced, the skins should slide easily from the tomatoes.
  4. With your paring knife (or a strawberry huller), remove the stem area from the tomato and seed.  Don’t be afraid to squish and squeeze the tomatoes a bit to get the seeds out.  Place the seeded and stemmed tomatoes in the mesh strainer to drain into a bowl.
  5. If desired, measure out preset quantities of your tomatoes for easy kitchen work.  I always do 1 lb bags for simplicity’s sake.  Press out all of the air and freeze flat for easy stacking.  The tomatoes should last at least three months, and for most freezers, could last much more than that without any loss of flavor. 
  6. Remember that bowl you were straining into?  Fresh tomato juice! Feel free to pass it though the strainer one more time for good measure.
  7. Ready for Bloody Marys!
    Ready for Bloody Marys!

Stuffed Peppers

It’s pepper season, and around here there is much rejoicing.  Last year my peppers received too much moisture and had a blight, but this year I’m so pepper-hungry that I can’t even wait to let them ripen to a sweet red before picking them.  That can only mean one thing:  Stuffed peppers.

Baby Green Peppers Continue reading Stuffed Peppers

Garden Wonderland/Disaster

Some days beg to be enjoyed outside, like the strangely cool late July day we’ve been having here in the Midwest.  Days like this one seem choreographed to bring a smile to my face.  The woodpecker landed at the suet feeder just as I step outside.  Six butternut squash were waiting to be picked in the garden, and my sunflowers are getting close to flowering.

Daylilies

I know flowers are part of the life cycle of the plants, just external reproductive systems, but it seems like such a gift to be able to enjoy their ephemeral beauty.  Even things like green beans and eggplant get the cutest little flowers on them. Continue reading Garden Wonderland/Disaster

Snapdragons

 

I’m a fairly new gardener, and until this year I’ve focused primarily on the edibles.  If I can slice it, roast it, can it, or cover it with tomato sauce, I’m probably attempting to grow it.  I’ve always been slightly put off by the idea of tending to flowers, however.

My husband and I bought our house two years ago with all intentions of beautifying the place.  The woman who had lived in it before was elderly, and the landscaping had slumped a bit in the past few years.  Luckily, time provided excuses to keep me from making the attempt.  The first growing season was past by the time we moved in, and the second growing season our attentions were on a newborn.  I barely managed to weed my vegetable garden, let alone think of uttering the word “mulch”.  This year, though, I swore I would make in-roads.  I’ve been battling the long-time resident weeds and laying down landscaper’s plastic like it was going out of style (which indeed it may be.)  I also had the chance to plant my first flowers from seed. Continue reading Snapdragons