Friday, September 13, 2013


The weather has been all over the place so I decided to pick as many tomatoes as I could today, ripe and unripe. This was today's haul. Oh boy. What a night I have ahead of me. I have already canned on five different days and by the look of these I will canning for several more as the fruit ripens at different stages. I know I'll be glad for the crop come February but right now all I feel like is... be careful what you wish for.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Fall Garden

Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, chard, beets and tomatillos remain the features. A new crop of romaine, cauliflower, radish and beets are in.

On the other side of the yard the cucumbers are finally ready for harvest. It's been the tastiest crop of cucumbers ever. They were slow coming on, but worth the wait. Sweet, crisp and juicy.

I lost all of my squash and pumpkin to the vine borer. But the tomatoes and raspberries still won't quit. I have made five pots of tomato sauce to can. We've eaten eight jars already. There are twenty-two more to store for the winter so far, and still I'm not done.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Tomatillo Harvest

All good things come to those who wait, the saying goes. Boy oh boy, was it hard to wait on these goodies.

I find tomatillos hard to resist and pluck them off the vine for little veggie snacks throughout the season. This year I've held back and allowed them grow to full size. And what a marvellous crop I am getting. There will be fresh salsa verde and chips for movie night tonight.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Japanese Eggplant

The eggplant harvest continues to provide. Today I try my hand at making Indian Eggplant Bharta.

There's a great little Indian cooking channel on the Roku box (if you use that technology.) Puts you right inside the kitchen of Indian cooks. It's all on the web too.

As per usual, I will take the nuts and bolts of their cooking method then tweak the recipe to use what I have on hand or to what my taste preference dictates (fewer chilli peppers for instance, due to sensitive tummy).

I really think this is the secret to all cooking. See what works in broad strokes, then adapt for your table. Recipes, although based on chemistry and the alchemy of the properties of foods, should not be held to as hard and fast rules. They are guidelines. No oven holds heat at the same temperature. Few pots and pans have similar bottoms and shapes. Gas or electric stovetops change everything. And if you get a "celebrity" chef's recipe from their book that you hope to emulate, you can't expect it to turn out just like the dish you ordered in their restaurant. The reason? They often leave out a few secret ingredients in the printed recipe. (I got that tidbit direct from a celebrity chef's mouth.)

So, making the dish your own is always the goal. And also the adventure.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Things That Happen When You Have Canned Goods On Hand

Spontaneous cooking occurs. Like this cheesy goodness. Homemade lasagna from last night's canning extravaganza. Boy 'o boy, is it tasty!

Bottom layer is yellow tomato sauce. Followed by lasagna noodles. If I don't make my noodles fresh I use Molisana Regina, imported from Italy. No need to pre-cook their noodles. 35 minutes of cooking time in the oven.

Second layer is a mix of minced Italian sausage (seasoned pork) and minced hamburger which I pre-cooked in a skillet with olive oil and onions and some of the red tomato sauce. The next layer is a nice thick slab of ricotta. Another layer of red tomato sauce. Noodles. Topped with yellow tomato sauce and shredded mozarella. Final topping, shaved parmesan. And a good helping of it. Into a 390 degree oven for 35 minutes. I turn it down to 375 half way through the cooking.

This is a rich, cheesy lasagne perfect for home canned sauce. Vegetarians, use your meat substitutes.

You'll need:
2 pints of tomato sauce - 1 red, 1 yellow
Chopped onion
Seasoned minced Italian sausage
Hamburger meat
Lasagne noodles (I prefer Molisana Regina - because you don't have to precook them)
Tub of ricotta (or make your own - super easy - heat milk, add vinegar, drain off the whey)
Shredded mozzarella
Shaved parmesan

Wing the amounts to your taste and pan size. More tomato sauce for larger pans.

THE LAYERS (top to bottom):
Shaved Parmesan
Shredded Mozzarella
Yellow Tomato Sauce
Lasagna Noodles
Thin layer of red tomato sauce atop...
Thick layer of ricotta cheese
Lasagna noodles
Seasoned minced Italian sausage and hamburger meat sauteed with onions and red tomato sauce
Lasagne Noodles
Yellow Tomato Sauce

390 degree oven for 35 minutes (turn down to 375 halfway through)
Middle rack of oven. Ensure you have a pan on bottom rack to catch drips.

Who knows, you might have leftovers if there are only two of you. But don't count on it.

The Days of Reckoning

It's so much fun to sow the seeds. Exciting to watch them sprout and grow. You leap with joy as the first fruits are harvested... but there's always the inevitable day of reckoning when you have to start canning. I have more tomatoes than I need and my neighbors and friends have had their fill. Time to put up.

My favorite part is the knowledge that every single ingredient was picked the day it was canned. And it is all from my own garden (ok, except for the Port wine and olive oil that I added.) The garlic, onion, basil, marjoram, parsley, peppers, celery and the tomatoes were all grown in my backyard organically. 

It's a long, steamy exasperating day. But there are moments. Like when the aroma from the sauteed onion and garlic fills the room.

Or that first chef's sip of the tomato sauce and you realize this is a thousand times better than anything you've ever been served in a restaurant. That's when the magic begins. 

You tweak your recipe and sterilize your jars and know you are about to put up part of the summer that will wow you in the winter.

I made two batches of tomato sauce with the first wave of the harvest - yellow and red. I love the yellow tomato sauce in lentil soups. The red sauce I'll save for lasagna, creamed rose pastas or pizzas.

Can't wait to open a jar.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Stinging Nettle Treatment

Seems I get stung at least once every year now. Can you spot the stinging nettle in my lettuce patch? It's right in the center of this photo. Nailed me good. Every finger on the left hand. And boy does it sting.

Thought I'd pass along my treatment. You'll often find dock growing nearby nettle. I did find some of the weed on the ground nearby and rubbed it on the sting. Then I leapt to the fridge for some cider vinegar. I always keep cider vinegar in the fridge to treat minor burns. It is great at dulling the pain and sometimes eliminating it altogether. My other instrument of relief is the crevice tool on my vacuum cleaner. Vinegar helps take away the sting but the crevice tool helps dislodge any nettles still hanging out in the flesh.

  1. Dock
  2. Vinegar
  3. Vacuum cleaner crevice tool.

A winning combination. (Note: You can also use tape to help remove any lurking nettles.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Blossom End Rot

I've had blossom end rot (BER) on virtually every San Marzano (Roma style) tomato in both my community garden and my home garden. The scourge has not struck any of the other tomato varieties. Apparently paste tomatoes are more prone. I wondered at first if it was my seed, but two other urban gardeners to whom I gifted some of my seedlings, have not encountered such problems. I realized it must be the soil and a lack of calcium.

As a quickie measure I crushed up some of my calcium vitamins and sprinkled them over the soil around the San Marzanos a week ago. The results have been remarkable. Take a look at the these four tomatoes. You can almost see the tomatoes in four stages of healing themselves. The first on the left is full blown BER. The next has survived a little further. The third bulged out a new section of growth from where it had begun to rot and the forth has survived.

It's been a drag losing so many paste tomatoes to BER. I've been cutting the end rot away and making sauce, adding in some yellow tomatoes to fill out the pan.

I have plenty of yellow tomatoes to spare.

With the addition of the calcium I have hope to harvest more paste tomato sauce for my winter storage.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Black Russian Heirloom Tomato

I've had some big tomatoes before, but none like the Black Russian.

These delicious heirlooms darken and offer a unique, slightly lemony flavor. Here they are in their three stages of ripening.

Great slicing tomatoes and a wonderful addition to a salad because of their interesting color, which carries through to the interior of the fruit.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Chicory Harvest

Today I'm harvesting some chicory for a sauté. I have a lot of gigantic garlic to enjoy and thought I'd put these two to use.


A quick boil of the chicory to reduce bitterness, then a sauté in a cast iron pan with olive oil and garlic and later a drizzle of balsamic vingear. What could be simpler.

I really have a need to start using up some veggies since the daily harvest has started to get the better of me. I've been giving away food left and right.

Heirloom Tomatoes, Pole Beans, Radicchio, Tomatillos, Pickling Cukes

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Mint Chutney

My project for the fall is to learn how to cook my favorite Indian dishes. You used to be able to get great Indian food at fairly reasonable prices. Not anymore. So it's high time I added new dishes to my repertoire. My eggplants are plumping up fast, and that was much of the inspiration for this decision. I'm looking forward to some bharta.

Yesterday I harvested some mint, cilantro, garlic and shallots and whipped up some mint chutney to dip pappadam in.

Searching recipes online I discovered that there are endless recipes for mint chutney. Here's mine.


bunch of mint
bunch of cilantro
6 fresh garlic cloves
2 shallots
3 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lime juice
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of ice water
1/2 tsp cumin

it all goes in a blender to emulsify

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Vegetable Decor

The thing about harvesting from three different gardens, which I am doing at present, is that sometimes produce tends to get waylaid in the process. Frequently I find snap peas in my purse, beans in my pockets and occasionally, a turnip in my car's console, like today. Wayward produce is usually a little limp and often mocked by my friends. Like this turnip which ended up getting a face, the name "Herbie" and was strung up on my rearview mirror by my passenger while I was driving.

Poor Herbie. After a day swinging back and forth on the road he ended up in a salad. And I felt kinda bad about that.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

First Russet Potato Harvest

I've started digging up some russets from my community garden. Harvesting about two months earlier than I planned, but I noticed some spade marks on potatoes I had hand dug out, which means some pilfering has begun. This is expected in a garden that resides in a public park and is not fenced. I seem considerably less annoyed about the food theft than the other gardeners, maybe because I counted on it from the start. Plus, I generally share some of my bounty with others, so I'm thinking my produce brought joy to a few households in the neighborhood.

These russets are smaller than I wanted, but I'd rather get a harvest of small potatoes than none at all. I've left half of the bush to continue on. I'm planning on preserving these in bottles.

I'll be using a pressure cooker to bottle them because of the low acidity of potatoes. You need higher temperatures for proper preservation.

You know, it's really sad how the words "pressure cooker" now bring up horrible images after the Boston bombing. I used to always think of my aunt and uncle's farm when I heard those two words. Now, the pot has a negative connotation. I hope to help transform that experience today, as the kitchen steams up.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Cherry Plums

I've been trimming a rather rangy bush located right off my deck. Its long thorns have been tearing at my market umbrella. While hacking it down, I suddenly noticed tiny yellow cherry-sized fruits dangling from the branches. After looking the unfamiliar bush up online I discovered it was a cherry plum.

This explains why the birds keep visiting the tree. I plucked a few cherries and yum! They taste exactly like a delicious yellow plum. A lovely discovery. Apparently cherry plum is an ingredient in Bach's Rescue Remedy. Hm, I'll be trimming more carefully now.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Gardeners start your ovens!

One day you're planting and before you know it you're in full on harvest mode and the produce starts backing up on you. This morning I kicked into gear with more cooking/baking/grilling action. 

Fresh beets. Saute the leaves in oil and garlic or add fresh to a salad.
Baked beets - Prick & sprinkle with coarse salt.
425 degrees for 50 minutes in foil. 
After baking, slide skins off. Slice and drizzle with Balsamic.

Fresh picked rhubarb
Rhubarb crumble - recipe here.

Fresh basil. Great for pizza toppings, tomato sauce
and of course, pesto! Recipe here.

The eggplants are coming. The eggplants are coming!
I'm currently gathering new Indian recipes for bharta.
Love bharta! I welcome your recipes.
A fairytale pumpkin is born.
Hoping this will be big enough to display come Halloween.
Don't know how my tomatoes will fare this season. A fierce wind flattened the whole tomato hedge, as I've been calling it. They are propped up now, but don't know if the bent stalks have done permanent damage.

Need to hit the community garden today to see how those bushes did.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


It's that time of the season when you're making decisions about what to plant more of next year. Kohlrabi is on my list.


I've been eating it raw mostly. Delicious! I have a wicked sweet tooth and find that eating veggies moments after picking is like eating healthy green candy. Home grown veggies are actually sweeter than store bought because the vegetables' natural sugars turn to starch over time, and time is exactly what it takes to get veggies to market.

In the hope of getting another crop in this season, I picked up more Kohlrabi seeds yesterday. Taking a quick glance at the planting instructions (which honestly, I seldom do) I was surprised by the stern warning to not plant Kohlrabi next to tomatoes.

Look where I planted the Kohlrabi in my kitchen garden. See that tomato leaf caressing the kohlrabi? They may be strange bedfellows, but thankfully everyone survived unscathed.

I admit to being quite undisciplined about planting instructions. I ignore depth, spacing, companion planting, etc. Instead I just cram everything in wherever it'll fit and hope for the best.

The Kitchen Garden on the 4th of July
I'm sure I could do better, but it's worked for me so far. (The exception, potatoes are never planted in the same bed successively.)

For me, getting too anal about gardening complicates the simplicity of growing food. I also enjoy learning lessons organically from Mother Nature.  I know, it doesn't make sense, but frankly I've had few failures and a lot of great food has graced my table. Here are a few pics of the action in my little plot of earth.

Pinot Noir Peppers
Home-grown Romaine and Garlic
Tomatillos Reaching for the Sun
Brussels Sprouts Preparing to Grow a Stalk
Red Cabbage Starting to Heart Up
Buttercup Squash Full of Blossoms
San Marzano Tomatoes Tiny and Green
The microclimate in my community garden plot is a whole other thing. Even though the garden is a mere mile from my house, the veggies are far more advanced. The garden field is quite open and has no shade whatsoever. I've harvested numerous cabbages, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, spinach, carrots and Russet potatoes from that garden, but all the lettuces bolted. Here is a pic taken a month ago. (It is far more lush today.)

Russet Potato Plants
Green Cabbage
Made some tasty coleslaw from those cabbages. Sweet!

This community garden is in its pilot stage. We hope to have raised beds next season, and some of us are lobbying for bark chipped paths.

The Community Garden in Early June