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Glorious Summer With Veggies

Glorious Summer With Veggies

Are you just reveling in S U M M M E R right about now? We keep switching between the signature Atlanta weather profiles: hot and muggy with a side of steamy OR breezy, blue and utterly blissful.  With an afternoon shower of course. Sixties in the morning, nineties (in the shade) in the afternoon, but heck, it’s July so I’ll take them both. I stay in Atlanta for the seasons and they rarely disappoint.

The garden is producing like crazy and we are knee deep (ok, I exaggerate but backyard farmers are like fishermen; always out to impress) in cherry tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash. Aren’t these colors gorgeous?

tomato basket 7.2014

 

I planted over a dozen tomato plants this year because I was tired of having just a few tomatoes rolling in piecemeal over the summer and the plan is working.  We harvest huge handfuls of cherry tomatoes (Super Sweet 100) every day (not including the sun-warmed ones we steal from the vines) and now the big fruits are starting to ripen.  The yellow variety is Lemon Boy and the lighter orange is Early Girl.  Although I’m not a huge Early Girl fan, they were they only reliable tomatoes to produce last year so I had to have at least one plant!  The small bright red tomato (upper right of basket) is a plum tomato and the vines are filled with these.  I have visions of one small jar of tomato paste dancing in my head …  Finally, those medium reds are Parks Whopper, which I find amusing since they are distinctly un-whopper in size.  The small purple green cherry tomatoes are an heirloom, possibly Cherokee Purple, but my tag is missing.

Naturally, the question is “what do you do with all those tomatoes?”.  Eat them, of course!  Tomato sandwiches, tomato tarts, tomato jam, oven-dried tomatoes, the possibilities are endless.  I rarely use a recipe and even more rarely have a plan for what to make.  I think you just have to look at the tomatoes and let them silently suggest a dish.  Hmmm, I like the idea of tomato meditation … a quiet communication with nature … Now that I ponder it, I silently admire them each morning as I water, letting the hose sprinkle them for exactly one Hail Mary per plant before I move on to the next one.  It’s pretty easy to pray the Rosary when the birds are singing, the sky is brightening, the water is gently streaming, and you are surrounded by the sheer beauty of the ordinary.  So many blessings right in front of us if we only open our eyes, but I digress.

One summer several years back, I made fantastic tomato marmalade from a huge harvest of tiny yellow pear tomatoes but I have never again either found that variety or gotten it to grow.  I’m wondering if I can turn my tiny red jewels into something similar  … hmmm … I can still taste that tart, sweet, addictive, weird goodness!  I’ll keep you posted.  And as a caution, if you are canning, please ALWAYS use a recipe!  Botulism is bad.

squash 7.2014

Aren’t the squash pretty?  I’ve been picking them small because we’ve got a lot of birds, rabbits, and caterpillars who would love to make a meal of these (and everything else of course).  We cut these up, tossed them with olive oil, soy sauce, garlic and salt then roasted them with sliced red onions in a grill pan on the grill for five minutes. Right off the grill I added a splash sesame oil and  second splash of soy.  You don’t need protein when you’ve got veggies that good!

One more photo of my meager bucket for the day …Remember every little bit of green adds up!

cukes & cauliflower 7.2014

What you can see (clockwise top to bottom):

  • homegrown cucumber peels & stem ends (a daily snack or salad component)
  • core & outer leaves of a cauliflower
  • banana peel hiding underneath

Less in the bucket means more on the plate, right?  I pan roasted some wild Keta salmon and paired it with oven roasted cauliflower with lemon & salt, plus baked sweet potatoes.  Normally, since we don’t drench the potatoes with anything rodent-attracting I compost those skins, but my dogs were acting like human compost machines yesterday.  They enjoyed both the salmon AND sweet potato skins.  Either way, no extra green waste hit the landfill!

Soon, I’ll post some photos of the compost pile.  It’s looking surprisingly like soil for the lack of effort I’ve been putting into it!  I’m feeling great things for the fall…

 

 

 

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How Sweet It Is

Last night we used up the remainder of the teeny, tiny, amazing locally grown sweet potatoes.  I had an entire small basket full, most no wider than a banana, and many much smaller.  Obviously too small to bake, I peeled and simmered these in salted water then mashed them with just a hint of real maple syrup.  Yum.  They were the centerpiece of supper.  Like eating dessert first!

Of course, all that sweet needs some personality and greens always fit the bill for bitter.  I had two final farm share bunches of kale and swiss chard, so chopped those & quickly sautéed in olive oil with a bit of garlic and splashed with apple cider vinegar.

The least exciting item on the plate was a garlic and sage crusted roast pork tenderloin.  Eh.  It was conventionally raised and we are so used to grass-fed and/or pastured meats that this was just fine.  Protein on the plate.  We ate it and throughly enjoyed the veggies.  It made me realize why we gave up meat for year.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat if my girl (and I suspect my active boys) didn’t need maximum iron.  (And please no comments on how meat is not necessary for optimum health.  My girl was severely iron depleted and I did not even know it.  Plus, I’ve been a carnivore, vegetarian, and short-term vegan and realize every person (family) needs to make their own personal diet choices.)

Anyway, here’s my daily bucket … Image

What you can see (clockwise from the top):

  • eggshells (scrambled eggs for breakfast again)
  • banana peel (smoothies too)
  • lemon half (my morning brew of lemon, hot water, apple cider vinegar & local honey)
  • garlic paper
  • sage stems
  • sweet potato peels (lots hiding underneath too)
  • kale stems
  • swiss chard stems
  • clementine peels (snacks)

Now, what’s for dinner tonight?  And Christmas is right around the corner … need to make plans NOW!

 

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Easy, Lazy, No Turn* Compost

For a while now, artisan, no-knead bread has been popular among foodie-types, myself included.  I particularly like the “even lazier” version of no-knead bread, which minimizes mess and hands-on time.  Last week while I was whipping up a batch of no-knead sandwich bread, it dawned on me that my version of making compost is just about the same: minimal fuss, minimal tools, basic ingredients, heat and time.

So, without wasting more valuable time, here’s a step by step guide to Easy, Lazy, No Turn* Compost:

1.  Keep a container for scraps handy in your kitchen.  There are all kinds and I have this fancy one with a filter, but I prefer to use these plastic berry picking buckets.  Each season I get a few new ones & recycle the old yucky ones.  I keep my bucket on the sink & everyone know to toss food scraps in there.

bucket on counter

2. Empty your bucket regularly.  If you are too lazy, it starts to smell … and attract fruit flies and ants… Yuck.  We typically fill a bucket every day or two & take it out to this compost pile.  The “active” compost pile is where I pile the daily scraps.  (Note: We’ll spread the remaining aged compost in a few weeks over my fall veggie bed when my plants are more established.)

compost pile fall 10.4.13

3.  Dig a shallow hole in your active compost pile.  We keep a pitchfork at the ready beside the pile so that this takes just a moment.  It’s kind of hard to see, but here is a close-up of what the pile looks with the hole prepped:

compost pile hole 10.4.13

4.  Add your kitchen scraps to the hole.  Colorful!  The discerning eye might spot two paper towels.  We don’t use many of them, preferring cloth dish towels & fabric napkins, BUT I do line every bucket with a half sheet of paper towel, otherwise clean-up can be gross.  Decomposition starts immediately, even in the bucket.

compost in pile 10.4.13

5.  Cover scraps with lawn waste.  Using your pitchfork, completely cover the scraps with grass clippings, brown leaves, etc.  My son had just cut the lawn & leaves were falling, so this is a nice blend of clippings and chopped leaves.

coompost pile covered 10.4.13

5.  Repeat the process every few days.  The more kitchen scraps you add, the more compost you will have at the end of the season.  I’ve mentioned this before, but organic in, means organic out.  If you eat mostly organic, non-gmo produce and don’t use chemicals on your lawn, you’ll be producing rich compost for a fraction of the cost you can buy.  WITH PRACTICALLY NO EFFORT ON YOUR PART.

compost fall closeup 9.16.13

6.  So, walk away and let nature work!  Rain, sunshine, heat and cold, lots of naturally occurring bugs and microorganisms work to decompose your potato skins, banana peels, and coffee grinds into black compost gold.  You can put that back into your veggie beds, annual or perennial beds, or even around your trees and shrubs for happy, healthy plants.

* No-Turn … every compost pile requires some turning to mix the rotting scraps and the fresh additions.  We turn the entire pile two or three times during a six-month season.  Sometimes more, sometimes less.  Mix more if you want to speed up the compost process.  Mix less if you are satisfied with a a six-month process.

Happy composting!

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2013 in Compost How To, Gardening

 

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Aside

Over the summer my girl was diagnosed with vitamin D and iron deficiencies.  This came as relief because she had been feeling tired, no – exhausted, for weeks with no explainable reason.  When a 13-year old walks to the pool and is too tired to swim because of the walk you know something is definitely up.  When it happens repeatedly, you visit the pediatrician.

He prescribed 9,000 IU’s of vitamin D and 45 mg of iron daily and they he questioned our diet.  Up until that point I had been pretty proud of the fact that we were nearly vegetarian diet, leaning toward vegan (except we all love dairy so that was never going to happen).  My kids have never been completely fond of red meat so it was easy to drift to the land of grains and fruits and veggies.  It tasted clean and it felt socially virtuous.  I invented veggie cookies so, naturally, we should be vegetarians, right?

“Make sure she eats red meat,” said the doctor.  Um, okay?  That was a speeding curve ball and I’m not a baseball fan.  Other than grilling the occasional steak or burger I couldn’t even pull any meat centered menus from my brain.  Spicy Chickpeas with Broccoli?  Check.  Sauteed Kale and Baked Sweet Potatoes?  Yum.  And my daughter was momentarily horrified.  Sweet cows with big eyes provide red meat you know?  But we were on a mission.  Excellent health.

It was a process, but you know what?  It was kind of like riding a bike and we easily hopped back on the trail.  Funny how when you pair all those veggies and grains with meat (or chicken or fish) meals are appealing and satisfying and yummy.  Today, after three months of getting back to a basically “traditional” diet”, my girl has her energy back, her cheeks are pink, and she’s a happy little meat eater … at least a few days a week.  It’s actually a lot easier to plan what’s for dinner each night and everyone seems to be generally more satisfied overall.

The key is stay unprocessed!  We are blessed to be able to afford quality food, so we have focused on local grass-fed meat, pastured chicken, raw dairy and as many organic veggies and fruits as we can enjoy.

That said, here are two buckets from the last two days.  First up:  BLT Pasta or Bacon Meatballs, Kale & Orcchiette Bucket.  I’m including the recipe because it was pretty awesome if you love grass-fed beef and amazing bacon!  My kids actually preferred this pasta minus the “B” components … we are a work in progress!

bacon meatballs 9.18.13

What you can see (clockwise top to bottom):

  • tough lacinto kale stems
  • banana peel
  • old sugar snap peas (Toss-It Tuesday!)
  • eggshells
  • yellowed kale leaf
  • very yucky old honeydew pushed to back of fridge (Toss-It Tuesday)
  • shallot skin & ends

The second bucket is the basis for a pretty classic American meal: Mashed Potatoes and Pot Roast


mashed potatoes & pot roast 9.19.13

A computer snafu means you only see half of this, sorry! (clockwise top to bottom):

  • espresso grounds
  • tangelo peel
  • peels from six russet potatoes
  • garlic skins
  • spent marigolds from window herb box
  • mushy tangerine

What you can’t see:  All the items from the bucket above.

A final note:  Meat is actually good for you, but not for your compost pile!  Not only is it the source of potential pathogens, will it turn rancid, smell horrible and attract all sorts of animal pests and flies.  Do yourself a favor.  Eat the meat.  Compost the veggies.

Eat More … Meat?

 

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The Latest Dirt!

What happens when you pile bucket upon bucket of kitchen scraps into an open bin, add grass clippings and yard waste, and let the sun beat down and the rain pour in all summer? This is what you get:

Image

Rich, black gorgeous compost!  Here’s a close up of the dirt we (actually my ever-willing husband) dug out:

Image

We figured that this pile of compost represents roughly six months of “work,” which breaks down to approximately:

  • 1,000 hours of sunshine
  • 38.64 inches of rain 
  • a whole lot of earthworms (naturally occurring)
  • lots of other beneficial bugs and microbes
  • 120 buckets of kitchen scraps which could include:
    • over 100 eggshells
    • likely 100 tea bags (no string, tag or staple)
    • scrapings from about 100 carrots
    • scrapings from about 100 potatoes
    • at least 75 onion skins
    • probably 75 banana peels
    • most likely 75 lemon, lime, and/or orange peels
    • corn husks from at least 60 ears of corn (but no cobs)
    • core/stem ends of about 30 heads of lettuce
    • skin from at least 25 avocados (not pits)
    • grounds from at least 25 pots of espresso
    • peels from about 25 cucumbers
    • tough stems from about 20 bunches of kale
    • rinds from at least 12 whole watermelons
    • rings from at least 12 cantaloupes/honeydews
    • countless odds and ends from berries, tomatoes, hot & sweet peppers, broccoli stems, brussels sprouts, celery, garlic, and more
    • a variety of past-its-prime fruit, veggies, and/or herbs from my Toss-It Tuesday fridge clean-up
  • Plus:
  • 100 lawnmower bags of grass clippings (not all used)
  • assorted hedge & veggie garden trimmings
  • at least 1,000 spent rose petals & leaves
  • lots of spent spring annuals (pansies)

Phew!  Life is complicated enough without worrying about strict combinations of “greens” and “browns” or carbon/nitrogen ratios.  Like life, compost is a balancing act.  You provide the raw materials, Mother Nature provides the sun and rain, and by the end of the season, you’ve got compost to … start all over again.  If we can find time to do, you can too.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2013 in Compost How To

 

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Nearly Fall Garden Y’all!

There’s been a breath of cool air in my neck of the woods!   So … we’ve spent the last two weekends pulling summer veggies, tilling the beds, adding compost, and prepping for the fall garden.  Exhausting and exciting and exhilarating work.  But here’s the end result for the first two of my five beds:

Image

Isn’t a garden pretty when you first plant the seedlings?  Even though it was nearly eighty degrees when I dug them in, the temps have been dropping into the low sixties in the evening and the plants seem pretty happy.  They have been in the ground about ten days now and have doubled in size.  I’ve finally learned my lesson to plant at the end of the summer and not wait until it’s cool!  Every year I have done that my plants are struggling to gain size before the cold hits.  So, this year I have high hopes for cruciferous veggies all around.

The left bed is half broccoli and half brussels sprouts.  The right bed is all collard greens, with room for swiss chard (once I make pesto out of that last remaining basil plant – already have eight jars in the freezer).   Notice the repurposed triangular tomato cages acting as mesh holders.  Very effective way to keep the bunnies from munching.

This weekend I’ll be adding swiss chard and arugula seedlings, as well as potatoes.  Seeds include two kinds of carrots and beets, plus lettuce varieties.   Hopefully my favorite helper will find a new spot once I’ve tucked the seeds in!

Image

This is Lily and she definitely has a dog’s life!  (She’s curled up in the summer black eyed pea bed.)

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2013 in Gardening

 

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College Essay Buckets

Hard to believe my middle boy is on the brink of college, but he’s turning 18 soon and is in the midst of college app stress.  School visits … early action deadlines … the dreaded essays … self reported grades … SAT and ACT scores … common app … writing supplements … if you’ve been there you know the variables.  It’s practically an algebraic equation.  And once you hit send on your life’s body of work, the waiting game begins.  Essentially, it’s a year of of craziness.  And it is WAY better than junior year (but that’s another story entirely).

What’s a mom to do?  Edit, proofread, and equally important, prepare healthy, nutritious meals for both physical and emotional sustenance.  (That sounds like it came from the nonexistent “Handbook for Parenting Your College Age Child ” or “How To Help Your Child Succeed WIthout Him Realizing It” but I digress.)  Scanning the fridge and pantry I made Potato Corn Chowder:

potato corn chowder 9.11.13

Then, Pasta with Bolognese Sauce (grass-fed beef too!)

bolognese bucket 9.13

And, even a preferred summer staple meal, Roasted Vegetables with DIjon Vinaigrette over Rice

roasted veggies & rice 9.17.13

 

Apparently, none of these meals was quite what my generally healthy guys was craving.  Maybe it’s because he’s a sugar fiend (yes), maybe it’s because he’s stressed (yes, and me too), maybe it’s because a shiny new showplace store opened up on the way home from school (oh my), or maybe it’s because it’s Friday the 13th (that too).  Whatever the possible cause, according to my son, THIS is the perfect college essay food:

krispy kreme bucket 9.12

 

He even left one in the box for me.  Gosh, I am going to miss him when he’s not around.  (And a side note to his grad school brother: we’ve been missing you for years too.)  Hugs all around!

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2013 in Musings, The Daily Bucket

 

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