Friday, April 20, 2018

R - Recipes

R is for Recipes.

The major part of my spring planting is for the edible harvest come summertime.  I don't depend on my garden for food, I grow it for my own enjoyment, and I eat a lot healthier when vegetables are right outside my door!  Many pea pods don't make it to the house, and on a hot summer day I'll quench my thirst by sucking the juice out of a tomato or three.

Some of my home-grown produce does make it to the table, or the canner, and I'd like to share a few of the recipes I use.  Other recipes can be found on this blog under "recipes."


When the recipes ask for finely chopped herbs, such as rosemary or thyme, strip the leaves off the stems first. You can keep the stems in a zipper bag in the freezer to toss into stews and casseroles.  If you don't have the herb listed, use what you do have.  It'll taste just as good!   

clockwise from upper left (11:00 position!) - onion chives, English thyme, French tarragon, rosemary

Fresh Herb Dip
8 oz. cream cheese
4 oz. sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
2 TBS finely chopped thyme (regular garden thyme, or English thyme)
1 TBS finely chopped lemon thyme
1 TBS finely chopped parsley

Blend all ingredients together, chill, and serve with crackers, French bread chunks, and vegetable sticks.
Note:  Experiment with other herbs.  Try adding some chopped oregano or chives.I think I'd like chives with crackers!


Chive Cheese Scones - makes 12
2 1/2 - 3 cups flour
1 TBS + 2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 oz. softened cream cheese
4 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives (your choice of onion or garlic)
1 cup milk
1 egg

Combine 2 1/2 cups flour, baking powder and salt.  Add cream cheese and cheddar.  Use fork to combine.  Add chives.
Fold in egg mixed with milk, don't over-mix.  If dough is sticky you can add up to 1/2 cup more flour, but dough will be soft.
Divide into two pieces, pat each on a flour coated board into a 6" circle about 1" thick.  Cut into 6 wedges.  Bake on parchment paper about 20 minutes or until browned.


Lemon Chicken - serves 4

1/2 cup lemon juice
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 TBS finely chopped lemon thyme
2 tsp. finely chopped rosemary
1/2 tsp. finely chopped French tarragon (or 1 tsp. dried)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or your favorite chicken parts)

Mix all but the chicken together.  Use as a marinade for the chicken, letting it sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
Drain (save marinate to baste chicken) chicken and put on a greased baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees, basting every 10 minutes. Turn at 30 minutes, and cook until no longer pink when cut.



All pumpkin recipes can be made with any type of winter squash, like acorn squash.  You can even use sweet potatoes!  The texture will be a bit different, but the taste will be the same.

Pumpkin Muffins - makes 8-10 or 12 small muffins
1 stick softened butter or margarine
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1 cup cooked pumpkin, mashed
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Grease muffin pans (muffins work better with greasing than with cupcake liners), or spray with cooking spray on bottoms only. Muffins need to "climb the sides."
Combine butter, brown sugar and molasses, beat until creamy.  Add the pumpkin and egg, mix well.  It will look curdled, but that's normal!
Add the dry ingredients (you can stir them together separately and stir them in, but I add them right to the wet mixture, stirring in the flour last).  Do not over-mix, muffins get tough if over-mixed.
The batter will be very thick.
Spoon into muffin pans, each about 2/3 full, smooth with wet fingers.  Sprinkle tops with granulated sugar if desired, it looks pretty.
Bake about 15 minutes, check with the toothpick trick (don't know that one?  Stick a toothpick into the center of a muffin, if it comes out clean they are done.  This works for cakes too, with brownies you want it to be a bit sticky still for chewy brownies.)
Remove from pan immediately.  Serve warm.  Mmmm... these are so good!


Pumpkin Bread - makes one loaf with a few extra for muffins
1 cup pumpkin
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup softened butter or margarine
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
walnuts (optional, about 1/2 - 3/4 cup chopped)

Cream wet ingredients together, fold in dry. Add nuts. 
Grease a loaf pan.  If you have a small loaf pan you will also need to grease 4-6 muffin tins.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 - 55 minutes (use the toothpick test), muffins sooner.
Remove from pan to cool.  (The muffins from the leftover batter here are not the same as the ones in the previous recipe.)


Pumpkin Cake with Lemon Glaze (super easy because it starts with a mix!)
1 package yellow cake mix (the kind that uses water on the directions)
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin, mashed well

lemon glaze (1 cup powdered sugar mixed with some lemon juice and milk to taste, a bit runny)

In a large bowl mix cake mix and spices.  Add in eggs and water as on package, but substitute pumpkin for 1/3 of the water.  Stir in nuts if desired.  Pour into greased or sprayed Bundt or tube pan, or 9 cup capacity baking dish.  Bake 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until that toothpick comes out clean.
Cool 10 minutes, remove from pan.  When cool drizzle with lemon glaze.


DESSERT RECIPES  (can be served for breakfast too!)

Berry Patch Shortcake  
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
1/2 cup butter or margarine
2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
dash ground nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs, separate the yolk from white
sugar to sprinkle
fresh strawberries
whipping cream

Rub a 9" cake or pie pan with  1 TBS of the butter or margarine.

Sift the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl.  Cut in remaining butter until it resembles coarse meal.  Blend the milk and egg yolks in a cup, and add to dry with a fork.  Don't over-mix!
Pat into prepared pan, moistening fingers with leftover egg white.  Brush surface with the egg white, and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake for only 10 - 12 minutes, or until golden brown.  It bakes quickly!  Serve in wedges with berries and whipped cream.


Fruit Cobbler
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 TBS baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract (use almond if desired)
fruit, peeled and sliced (peaches, apples, blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries, etc.)  If using soft fruit, such as peaches, pears, or berries, you can use them uncooked.  Apples will need some precooking until soft, as the baking time isn't long enough to do it. You'll need about 2 or 3 cups of fruit.  Don't let the fact you have less stop you though, it will still be delicious!

Put fruit in bottom of greased casserole dish.
Cut butter into dry ingredients.  Add milk and vanilla.  Pour on top of fruit.  Bake at 350 degrees until topping is browned.


Applesauce Swirl Cake (another super easy starting with a mix cake)
1 package yellow cake mix
1/4 cup corn starch
1 cup applesauce
1/2 cup oil
4 eggs
1/2 cup raisins (optional, my son hates them)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup sugar mixed with 1 tsp. cinnamon
powder sugar to dust top

Combine cake mix, cornstarch, applesauce, oil and eggs. Beat 2 minutes.  Stir in raisins and vanilla.  Pour into greased pan.
Sprinkle top with sugar/cinnamon mixture.  Cut through with a knife.
Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes, or until toothpick is clean when tested.
Cool 10 minutes, loosen edges, remove from pan and cool on rack.
Sprinkle with powered sugar before serving.


R was  Recipes, S is just as "sweet!"

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Two Cautionary Tales

While we say, "I hate to say 'I told you so,'" I really believe we really like the satisfaction of saying it!  It means we were right all along!  Well, I have two "I told you so" cautionary tales, because I did "tell you so," in previous blog posts!

1 - don't plant before your last frost date. 

Those dates are there for a reason, even if you think the weather will stay warm! 

This was the scene a few days ago...

HAIL!  I had to cover the newly transplanted winter sown seedlings with empty cups and milk jug bottoms until it was over.  I've had hail storms in June, which caused a lot of damage, but the plants were large enough to mostly bounce back.  If I'd taken the risk and planted out my tomatoes when the weather got warm a few weeks ago they'd be done for. 

2 - keep mints (and relatives like balms) in containers due to their invasive nature.

I have many mints in containers, and some in the ground in areas where it doesn't matter if they get overgrown, in fact, I'd welcome it.  Here's what has happened with  my lemon balm and woolly apple mint...

I have a lemon balm growing in the barked area in my far back yard.  It was a volunteer from a seed from my original lemon balm growing in a container.  A week or so ago, I noticed what looked like weeds have grown into dozens, if not hundreds, of baby lemon balm plants!  I'll leave them be, no harm done where they are and lemon balm really is a very pretty plant.  

The woolly apple mint was originally planted in the herb garden in 2012.  It was planted in a less than ideal location for a mint (too hot and dry), yet every year it strives to take over.  It belongs in the herb garden, next to the English thyme on the left (right of the pot), and below the oregano clumps (this is the only time of year you can tell there are two types of oregano).  As you can see, it sends out underground runners going wherever it wants!  

It's a bit hard to see, but in the photo below it's crawled under the oregano, under the wallflower, under the stepping stone to pop up in the path!  I already took up the nearer stepping stone (yes, just a flat piece of concrete!) to pull out a long, long runner!  It was at least 5' long! 

I pull out some, but others can stay.  The bees really love woolly apple mint.  

 It's really very pretty, in bloom or not...

... and is literally "woolly!"

So, heed my warnings, my cautionary tales, as it were.  I wouldn't want the satisfaction of saying, "I hate to say it, but..."   

Q - Quit

Q is for Quit... that is, knowing when to!

Like anyone else, I've had a few failures in the garden department.  Both in growing things, and in just being fed up and tired of the plants.  Some people might have kept plugging away, adding fertilizer, babying the plants, getting them to produce.  Some people would feel the benefits of lovely homegrown berries far outweighed the trouble from pests and their (the berries, not the gardener) own troublesome nature.

Not me!  I quit when the going gets tough! 
First were the fall sown crops.  I tried one fall, quit.

In September 2012 I planted broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, 6 each.

By October, I had this:

Cabbage lopper damage (the larvae, caterpillars) of the pretty Cabbage White butterfly! They are pollinators doing no harm in my summer garden.

December brought a head of broccoli:


Yep, that was as big as it got.  I never did get any Brussels sprouts or cauliflower.  It was time to quit.

Other big quits on my part were berries.  Strawberries, raspberries, and boysenberries.  I love berries, so why quit on them?

I was getting a lot of berries from the 4x8 cedar bed.

But, something was getting them before me.  I would find pill bugs curled up inside little holes every morning.  More pill bugs, and sow bugs, and earwigs than I could handle.  Diatomaceous earth could get them by the hundreds, but the berries weren't faring any better.  Oh, they tasted wonderful and smelled just like strawberry jam, but it didn't leave much berry per berry after cutting out the damage.  And it just had an "ick" factor.  Quitting time for strawberries.  (Although I am planning a new bed and will try to be more vigilant and diligent.)

Raspberries?  Nothing is as tasty as a ripe raspberry eaten as soon as it's plucked.  But, raspberries too easily get out of control.   What started as one lone Meeker soon became 12 Meeker babies, planted in a 4x8 cinder block bed.

That's when they took over...


They weren't content to remain in their bed, they began escaping, popping up in the paths, and through the cracks in the concrete blocks.

Worse, these were one harvest raspberries, meaning you have to cut the season's fruiting canes to ground level, leaving the new canes (pruning to a decent length) for next year.  In that mess?  Meeker aren't particularly thorny, but they aren't thorn-less either.  Too much work.  I expected a 4x8 bed to produce a lot more berries than I was getting.  

So, last summer, I just quit watering them.  It worked!  They died, and when it came time to remove them, they pulled out easily.

Which give me a clean slate for something new!

I quit on my first fruit tree, a Braeburn apple named Dale.  He was a pretty little thing.  And a magnet for all the apple problems.

Borers. I carved them out as best I could, until too much of the small trunk was infested.

Coddling moth larvae.

I even hand wrapped each tiny little apple in a special "sock" with twist-ties to keep the coddling moth from laying eggs in the blossoms.  Didn't work.  the moths got in somehow, and the larvae just chewed right through the "sock" to freedom.  Time to quit.

I don't take it as failing when I quit.  I don't have the soil, climate, knowledge, etc. to grow everything well.  I also don't have the money to rectify some problems (hire someone to prune the brambles for instance!).  I tried and some things didn't work.  I'm glad I tried, now I know what works for me and what doesn't.  I think we all should learn when to say "enough's enough," and quit!

Did that boysenberry pie photo whet your appetite, just a little?  Don't Q for Quit, stay tuned for R

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

P - Perlite vs Vermiculite

P is for Perlite vs Vermiculite.

Perlite or vermiculite... which is which?  You've seen one or the other, possibly both, in your bagged potting soil.  They're the little grayish or white pieces in the mix.  The ones new gardeners mistake for Styrofoam!

potting soil with perlite - this isn't an expensive mix, hence the larger pieces of what look to be uncomposted bark

What is their purpose?  Is one better than the other as far as gardening? 

There are similarities between the two. Both are formed from natural sources.  Both are used as a soil additive.  Both are made by expanding ("puffing" if you will!) mined minerals.  Both aerate the soil.  Neither will rot nor get moldy. 

There are differences as well.  One was originally volcanic glass, the other a mica-type mineral.  One retains moisture better than the other.  One would be better for starting seeds, the other for rooting.  One is considerably more expensive!

But, just what are they?  Where do they come from? 

Perlite is made from a volcanic glass, called... wait for it... perlite!  Since it contains water, when it heats it puffs up, not unlike the way popcorn kernels pop!  In this puffed form it can retain water on its surface, leaving air in the spaces between the puffs.  It is a better soil aerator than vermiculite.  Potting soils may be 25% perlite.

Vermiculite begins life as a mica-type (flakes apart) rock.  It too is heated until it's puffy and fluffy.  Vermiculite is fire resistant, and since it's also fluffy puffy, it is used as insulation.  In older homes it can be contaminated with asbestos, so if you have it in your attic call a professional.  Don't move it to the garden!  Vermiculite is no longer mined near asbestos. 

Vermiculite is better at retaining water than perlite, and holds it longer.  It will absorb up to 4 times its volume, making for a heavy container!  It will also raise the pH of your soil just a bit.   Many gardeners prefer vermiculite over perlite for seed starting.  Plants that like it on the moist side will do best with a bit of vermiculite tossed in their soil mix.  Vermiculite is one of the three ingredients in Mel's Mix, the Square Foot Garden soil mix.  Perlite is not a substitute even though it is considerably cheaper to buy!

The short of it is this:  Perlite will add drainage to the soil mix (use it for plants that want to dry out between waterings). Vermiculite will mix with the soil and retain water (for plants that like it moist, for seed starting, and in Mel's Mix).

Oh, a fun fact about vermiculite?  It's from the Latin word "vermicular" which means "to breed worms!"

P was for Perlite vs Vermiculite.   Up next is the never popular, ever puzzling letter Q.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

O - Origami

O is for Origami. 

Here's a really cute and easy way to fold a simple paper square into a secure packet for your leftover seeds!  Or, make up a gift seed packet for friends and relations!  This origami packet takes only five, yes five, simple folds!

Start with a square.  What's the simplest way to get a square from a rectangular piece of printer paper?  Just fold up one corner like shown below and cut off the long rectangular strip. 

Now for the 5 folds:

1 - fold the bottom corner up to meet the top, forming a triangle.

2 - fold one of the sides over to the other side, keeping the top part level, so the tip part is nice straight triangle.

3 - fold the other side in to the opposite side. 

4 - there are now two triangles on top, take the front one and fold it down...

... tucking it in the front triangle's opening. 

5 - fill the pocket, then tuck the remaining triangle down into the same opening to secure the contents. 

Cute, huh?  Here's the "back" as I think of it, the folded part.

The "front" to me is the blank unfolded side you can write on, or affix a sticker. 

Here's a view of the open pocket. 

There are other origami seed packet folds out there in Internet-land, but this design is foolproof.  Not just in its 5 simple folds, but once it's done there are no mistakes as where to put the seeds.  I tried out a few other folds and they had flaws that would allow seeds to fall through if you put them in wrong.
This one can be secured shut without tape or glue, using just that fifth fold.   Plus, I think the finished product is just adorable! 

O for Origami.  Up next the letter P

Monday, April 16, 2018

N - Nicotine

N is for Nicotine.

I'm not about to embark on a public service announcement, we all know smoking is not a healthy habit.  But, did you know that nicotine is unhealthy for your plants as well as yourself?

It's true!

Plants are able to take in nicotine from cigarette smoke, as well as through roots in contaminated soil (nicotine can be an ingredient in insecticides!).  The smoke also clogs up the stomata (pores on the leaves through which plants "breathe") with tar, similar to the yellowish coating on walls and ceilings in your home (the previous owners of my home must have smoked in the bathroom a lot, over time it still forms spots of sticky yellow).

Plus, smoking can spread a disease called tobacco mosaic virus to your precious tomatoes!  Just handling your tomato plants after smoking can transmit the virus!  The disease can also spread to marigolds, petunias, and zinnias! 

Nicotine is naturally present in tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, and tobacco, related species.  The nicotine levels are much lower in the vegetables than tobacco, but high enough in potato and tomato stems and leaves to be toxic to smaller animals, like dogs.

So, don't smoke in your garden, and wash your hands before touching your tomatoes!  Or, for good health all around, quit smoking everywhere!

N was Nicotine.  O is something for family fun!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Asparagus Beef Stir Fry

The amount of asparagus I've been getting is ridiculous!  We are honestly getting tired of it!  My daughter cooked herself some frozen broccoli last night to avoid asparagus!  I have no idea what caused this increase, I didn't do anything different to the bed than in previous years.  Cut the dead fronds back to soil level, layered on a bag of steer manure, and let it be.  The beds producing quite a few small stalks now, so the harvest may be petering off.  Just leave the small ones to mature and die back on their own.

So, last night I was going to make pepper steak for dinner (the stir fry with bell peppers and strips of beef, in sauce over rice), but I substituted asparagus for the peppers. It was good (unless, like my daughter, you were sick to death of asparagus).

 It's a really easy recipe, using asparagus or peppers.

* thinly sliced beef steak (I used three of those little eye of round steaks, 30% off sale - that was more than enough for three people)
* oil
* bell peppers (any color, I use green), one is plenty, thinly sliced, or asparagus (as much as you         want!)
* garlic (either a squashed clover or a sprinkle of garlic powder)
* onion powder (just a sprinkle)
* 3 cups beef broth
* 2 TBS soy sauce
* 4 TBS corn starch (you may need more, but wait)
* cooked rice

Whisk the broth, soy sauce, and corn starch together well, and set aside.

If using peppers, stir fry the beef in the oil until brown.  Add the peppers and garlic (or powder) and slightly cook.  Add the broth mixture, simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally.

If using asparagus, stir fry the asparagus in the oil until slightly browned in places, but still a bit crisp.  Remove from pan.  Add a bit more oil and brown the beef.  Return the asparagus to the pan and add the broth mixture, simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally.

Serve over rice.

If you use low sodium broth and low sodium soy sauce, this recipe will need to be salted, or fake salted if you're on a low sodium diet.

If the sauce isn't as thick as you'd like, poor a little into a bowl and whisk in more corn starch and add to the pan.  Don't ever just try to stir corn starch into liquid, it will lump up and never be smooth! 

That's it.  Like I said, it's a very easy recipe.  Fast too.  Plus, it stretches a small quantity of meat to make a family meal!  It also uses up a lot of asparagus...