Saturday, June 29, 2013

My Dream Garden

As you know, I have really been into my new garden since my summer break has begun.  It started out as such a simple thing, but has exploded into something I am very excited about.  Here is a reminder of where it started.

Here is where it is today.

And a shot from the backside looking up the driveway with my 4 x 4 garden and lemon tree in the foreground.

Apparently this is just the tip of the iceberg, because in my evening down time I have made a plan using a garden planner from Mother Earth News.

It's bigger, yes, but when I made a list of the things I would like to grow it just made sense to expand.  Besides, I am pretty sure it is going to look fabulous and be a place that our frequent visitors will love to explore.  First let me show you the inspiration for the fence that will go around the garden.  Take away the fancy dodads on the posts and this is about perfect to keep out the bunnies.

And I would love a pallet table for a work (or spring lunch or dinner al fresco) space under the arbor area where there is a gate and a water barrel and water spigot.

And just to the left of that arbor I would like to have this (wider at 4 feet to run the entire side) to put a collection of pots for forcing and to keep my soil additives.  Cute, right?

I really want this to be attractive since it is at the top of my driveway and highly visible.  This is why I want to add so much architectural interest.  If it was going to be hidden in my backyard behind a 6 foot fence I may not care, but it's not.  So on with the cuteness.  Here is what I would love to have for the Squash Family Trellis (cucumbers, gourds, squash, and zucchini).  Great for climbing vines, but a wonderful focal point at the back of the garden.  The location on the north end also means it won't make shade on the rest of the garden.

The style of the arbor will match the larger one I want over the work area.  These pictures are not EXACTLY what I want (way too bulky looking), but you get the idea.  I would also like to add a gutter or two to collect rain water for the barrel I want to put there.

The Legume Trellis Garden will be much deeper that the others, which are made of 6 inch wide planks, to accommodate the carrots, potatoes, and peanuts I might like to try to grow.  I'm thinking 12 to 16 inches deep.  Why not?  Here is the trellis I would like there.

At this point you may be wondering what I will plant.  Below are charts I have compiled with the indoor forcing dates in blue, outdoor sowing dates in green, and the harvest dates in orange.  As you see, I should be able to keep things rotating all year if I want to.  Click the charts below to make them bigger and easier to read.

Squash Family Garden

Vegetable Garden

Legume and Trellis Garden

Herb Garden

So there are my best laid plans.  We shall see how it goes.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Summer Salad Luncheon

Had a friend over for lunch yesterday.  White wine and salads.

It's hot, so I sliced up some orange, lemon, and cucumber to sit in a pitcher of cold water in the refrigerator to drink.  It was so nice.  I could sip on that all summer.

I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite of the two salads I made, one having meat and the other not.  This  Crunchy Oriental Chicken Salad was easy to whip up and had great texture with lots of crunchy goodies in it.  I followed the recipe with minor alterations.  I used broccoli slaw mix instead of cabbage slaw, and I used pumpkin and sunflower seeds, soy and small peanuts (the ramen season packet is plenty salty, so the nuts are all unsalted) from a trail mix I had here at the house.  Use what you have, right?  Anyway, I made everything up in advance, but after mixing the dressing with the slaw and chicken, I kept the nuts and ramen separate to add at the last minute so they would keep their crunch.  I'll save this recipe for our Friday Luncheons at work (maybe adding 1/8 tsp of red pepper flake to the dressing).

I finally got the recipe just the way I like it for my Quinoa Salad with lots of fresh vegetables.  It might just be my favorite go-to salad.  I used 1/2 cup (uncooked measurement) of quinoa cooked and cooled mixed with lots of fresh vegetables.  I cook by color, so I started with halved red and orange tomatoes, yellow corn, green bell peppers, green onions and crumbled feta cheese, but adjusted the amounts until it "looked" balanced.  Does that make sense?  This is a great recipe for left overs.  The next day, if you need to stretch it, just add more veggies.  The dressing is simple as well:  3 Tbls olive oil, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, and 1/2 tsp each of oregano, garlic powder, pepper, basil, salt, dijon mustard (not the powder), and onion powder.  I shake mine in a small mason jar.  Note the only salt in here is the 1/2 tsp in the dressing and the feta.  If you don't use feta, you may want to salt your quinoa.

And like I told you in an earlier post, I wanted to try and make the Blueberry Coffee Cake I made for breakfast this past weekend into smaller sizes, so I did.  One recipe made 3-6" cakes.  We had one for dessert, one for the freezer, and I sent my friend home with one as well.  It's the perfect size for 2.  I did not adjust the temperature for baking, but changed the time to 33 minutes and baked them together on a cookie sheet.  Also, I tossed the blueberries in a little flour to coat before mixing them into the batter.  This made a big difference.  The berries held their shape and didn't ooze juice into the cake.  The taste is the same, but the aesthetic is much better.

Such a wonderful pleasure to share a meal with a friend.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sweet! Pickle Relish.

I may have a lot of hobbies (cooking, quilting, photography, gardening, hiking, blogging . . . should I go on?), but they run in streaks.  After spending hours on end in the garden, I now seem to be on a roll in the kitchen.  After making cinnamon rolls, blueberry coffee cake, and bread and butter pickles, I was back at it this morning canning sweet pickle relish.

The little glass jars look so cute in my pantry.

We will crack a jar open in a few weeks to see how the flavor develops.  If we like it, the recipe will definitely make my list of go to cucumber recipes for my fall crop.

Sweet Pickle Relish
  • 10 pickling cucumbers
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1 whole green bell pepper
  • 1 large white onion
  • 1/4 cup pickling salt
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp brown mustard seed
  • 1 tsp celery seed
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar
Chop vegetables into very small dice and place in a large ceramic bowl.  Sprinkle with salt and toss to distribute with 1 cup of cold water.  Cover and refrigerate over night.  In the morning, pour off accumulated liquid and rinse the vegetables in a colander.  Put the colander in a bowl and put it back in the refrigerator to drain.  After an hour or so, remove the bowl, rinse again, and squeeze as much moisture as you can from the vegetables.

Make a brine by mixing vinegar, cornstarch, sugar, and spices in a pot.  Bring to a gentle boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Add the vegetables and bring back to a boil.  Simmer for 10 minutes uncovered.  Can following water bath steps leaving 1/2 inch of head space and processing for 10 minutes.  Makes 4 half pints.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bluebonnet Seed Harvest

Way back in April the bluebonnets were past their prime and going to seed.  Before mowing down the old plants I clipped several stems with seed pods (Bluebonnet Seeds and Critters), put them in an old pillow case, and brought them in the house to dry.  Since then I have done nothing with them.  I actually kinda forgot I had them.  Today, though I found them and decided it was time to harvest seeds.

It was nice to just sit at the table and pop open the pods.

I didn't come close to filling my little jar, but there were still plenty of seeds.  Next year I will gather more.

I'll pop this jar in the back of my refrigerator until the first of October when it will be time to plant them.

I won't keep these for myself, I have plenty of bluebonnets that come up in the yard.  These I will give away.

With instructions on planting, of course.  One weird trick to planting bluebonnets is to put the seeds in the freezer over night, remove them, pour boiling water over them and let them soak for a few hours before spreading in the yard or garden.  Strange, but this scarifies the very hard coating on the seeds so they will germinate.  Much easier that the other two methods:  rubbing with sandpaper or scratching with a knife.  For more on bluebonnet seeds click here.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Who Doesn't Like Coffee Cake? Rhetorical. Everyone Does.

What a weekend.  Lots of people I love and care about, but that I don't get to see very often from New York, Boston, Dallas, and Austin joined us.  

There was Stanley Cup hockey on TV, a Dairy Queen Blizzard run (ice cream doesn't travel well, by the way), laser tag, bowling, horseshoes, and lots of card games.  (Have you ever played flux?)  But there was also food.  A house full of mostly veggie eaters meant lots of fresh food:  roasted new potatoes with pesto, zucchini with wild rice and quinoa, ramen broccoli slaw with tomatoes and yellow peppers, zucchini boats with mozzarella, garlic, and toasted panko, and of course breakfast.  We broke out the Vanilla Cinnamon Rolls that I had put into the freezer in May (Cinnamon Rolls.  Yep.  Cinnamon Rolls.) with cantaloupe and blueberries one morning and a Blueberry Coffee Cake the other.

I love this recipe.  The streusel topping really makes it.  So does the moist cake and juicy blueberries.  It's all pretty wonderful.

Yummy.  I followed the recipe pretty closely, but I did add an entire pint of blueberries.  I saved back about a 1/4 cup and sprinkled them on top of the batter in the pan before putting the streudel on the cake.  You can see a couple of the little guys peeking through.  I also made my own buttermilk with lemon juice and 2% milk since I didn't have buttermilk in the refrigerator.

Next time I will toss the berries in a small amount of reserved flour before blending them into the batter.

This was great for a crowd, but I want to try and make it with my little 6" spring form pans so I can freeze them for when it's just Breck and I.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

My Bread N' Butter

Pickles.  I have been thinking about pickles for months.  Looking forward to making pickles for months, Searched the internet for recipe combinations for months.  After a successful trip to the farmer's market and tons of research I was ready to get in the kitchen (and out of my garden which was all consuming for awhile there) and make my own.

Pickles are simple, really.   Just cucumbers and the right balance of sweet (sugar) and sour(vinegar) and spices to give it oomph.  

The big stress is that you don't really know how a recipe will turn out until weeks after your labor went in.  Not true of refrigerator pickles that you can eat right away with wild abandon (I like pickles).  Canned takes a little longer to really develop the flavors.  Don't get me wrong, I like refrigerator pickles as well.  Especially as a good relish on a grilled all beef hot dog in the summer with some watermelon, potato salad, broccoli slaw . . .  sorry, you lost me for a moment there.

I plan to make several different pickles once I get a crop of my own cucumbers in the fall (cross your fingers here, nothing is a given), but I had to start somewhere.  I went with  Bread and Butter Pickles from Simply Recipes.  I liked it because it had red pepper flakes in it and I knew it wouldn't be just another sweet pickle.

Now getting back to the hot dog relish.  I have 10 pickling cucumbers on my counter that I think will be perfect.  Looks like I have a plan for my day.

Friday, June 21, 2013

While I Wait On My Garden

My neighbor Lucy's garden is inspiring.

Everything she has planted this year looks amazing.  From her snake beans . . .

(are they huge or what?)

to her big beefy tomatoes just ripening . . .

and those that have a little ways to go.  The number of tomatoes she has on just one plant makes me drool.

She will have fresh watermelons this year as well.

And hot peppers for her spicy taste in food.

Until my garden gets going, I need to settle for what I can get at our local farmer's market.

They always have great local produce.

I got plenty.

For $20 I got 2 yellow bell peppers, 4 green bell peppers, 8 red potatoes, 20 pickling cucumbers, 3 carrots, 4 yellow squash, 1 zucchini, 2 onions and 1 cantaloupe.

Score.  Now to make some pickles.