- The peppers are in full swing, especially the Anaheim, Gypsy, and jalapeño. Same for the oriental eggplants.
- Cherry and Roma tomatoes are starting to make guest appearances in salads, bruschetta, and on nachos. Larger tomatoes are still green.
- Thai and Italian basil are almost a nuisance.
- Cucumbers and Butternut squash are threatening to take over the garden (they remind me of kudzu).
- After a first heavy flush the bush green beans are giving it another go.
- Volunteer mustard, kale, chard, and lettuce are popping up in unexpected places.
- I harvested enough garlic for a year’s supply for four families.
And the sturdy and dependable chard is still keeping us in greens. At the height of summer it can get bitter, so I blanch it first, rinse, squeeze out the water, chop and then sauté with olive oil, garlic, and onion. Last night we had chard and black bean enchiladas with green sauce. Tuesday we’ll be having curried creamed chard with basmati rice and this curried eggplant. I’ll make another chard and green chili strata for Thursday’s dinner.
Mike and I discussed what we want to do for our winter garden. We’ve decided to let half of it (one of the two hoop houses) go fallow. But not really fallow, because we are going to grow some cover crops and let the chickens visit it on the weekends. For cover crops I plan on using some of my excess saved seed – kale, Chinese cabbage, mustard, arugula, and lettuce. Such lucky chickens – to be feasting on organic microgreens in January!
Last week Mike built this fence to replace a section that was about to fall down. Isn’t it gorgeous?
Photo credit: Aric Nelson, 2012
Mike and Eleanor and I attended the Oklahoma Craft Beer Festival last Friday night at the Cox Center in OKC. Although I am a lightweight when it comes to beer*, it was fun and satisfying to see so many good Oklahoma beers being brewed. Coop had a huge selection, as did Norman’s own 405 Brewing Company. Prairie Artisan had a five brews, including their Bomb! There were also out-of-state breweries like Left Hand, Tallgrass, Founders, Great Divide etc. Mike had a grand ole time, especially talking to the new startups. Just last week the Oklahoma legislature passed a law that will really help Oklahoma craft breweries, and encourage even more to stake their claim. Cost of living is cheap in Oklahoma y’all, and the OKC metro is booming. Get on over here!
*I’m not a fan of IPAs and other hoppy beers. I love the smell of these beers, but not the bitterness. And I do not like Belgians and sours. (I tried a sip of farmhouse ale and immediately spit it out – what the hell was that?!) To each his own. I prefer unfiltered wheats, blondes, and mild brown ales. My picks from Friday night were:
…in our garden. This year we got a great crop of sweet cherries (first time ever!) but not a single apricot. We had a decent batch of early Santa Rosa type plums, but only a few early peaches. Last year we were drowning in plums and peaches. This year the pear and apple trees bloomed forever, and are loaded down (another first). Our strawberry crop has been about average, but lasting a long time. And here it is the middle of June, and some of my dependable volunteers have yet to make an appearance – Thai basil, hyacinth bean – probably because of the cool spring we’ve had. So this is why it is a good thing to plant a variety of fruits and vegetables, because you never know what is going to boom/bloom or bust. (Except for kale, mustard, and arugula. You can’t seem to stop them, no matter what.)
Early June is a relatively quiet time in my vegetable garden. The spring greens, spinach and lettuce are all done, and the summer crops aren’t ready. There are a few plums each day, and we will have a deluge of peaches to deal with soon. But pretty much the only big producer right now is Swiss chard. Here in Oklahoma Swiss chard is a much better bet than spinach. It will produce year round if you give it enough room, pick it frequently, and cover it in the winter (in a cold frame or hoop house). This week I’m cooking the following:
Curried Chard and Lentils: Cook 1/2 cup of green lentils in 1 cup of water. Sauté 4 cups of chopped chard in a little olive oil until limp. Combine the (hot) lentils and chard with 1 large minced clove of garlic, 2 tsp of Madras curry powder, and 2 oz of cream cheese. Stir until cream cheese is melted throughout. Serve with brown rice.
Chard and green chili breakfast strata: Butter, oil, or spray a casserole dish. Cover bottom with crushed/broken/stale tortilla chips. Sprinkle with chopped green chilis or other hot peppers. Cover with shredded cheese (Monterrey Jack is good), then cover with chopped and sautéed chard. Top with cubed white bread. Beat up eggs with milk, as you would for French toast, and pour over the top (it doesn’t need to cover the bread). Let it sit for a while – overnight also works – then cook at 350 until the eggs are just set and the bread is golden toasty. You don’t need to add salt because the bread, cheese, and tortilla chips all have salt.
Massaged chard salad: Use the smaller and more tender leaves for this. Chop or tear the chard leaves into large pieces. (I also like to add chopped Italian parsley or mint.) Massage with olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, and a bit of sea salt. Top with chopped walnuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, and grated hard cheese. NOTE: The raw garlic can sometimes be hot/aggressive, so you might want to sauté it a wee bit in olive oil first. Also, this massaged chard is also really good as a pizza topping. Put it on last, and watch to see that it doesn’t burn too much.
I love, love, love autumn – it’s definitely my favorite season! This year I would like to celebrate my garden volunteers, those serendipitous, happy random accidents (I’m talking about plants, not my children ;-)) that keep me in veggies and flowers until frost.
Pictured here are two of this year’s volunteers – okra and cosmos. The cosmos are not a big surprise, they reseed every year and bloom from July to November, attracting monarchs, butterflies, honeybees and bumble bees. The okra though, is unexpected. I’m not sure where the seed came from – I didn’t plant okra in the garden this year – but I noticed it coming up in my pebble/stone/chat patio at the end of July. Sometime I wonder why I even bother to make compost, when so many things seem to grow just fine in this pebble patio.
Other volunteers coming into production are several tomato plants, red mustard, and arugula. With volunteer tomatoes you never know what you will get. Sometimes they are productive, and sometimes they are just not worth keeping around (Hmmm… sort of like some human volunteers I’ve worked with.) I guess I got lucky this year, ’cause it seems all my volunteer tomatoes have done well.
The fall/winter garden is coming along nicely, although I’ve had to replant my lettuce several times (probably too hot and dry when I planted). That’s not a problem, since i have oodles of saved seed from this last June. Arugula, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, and mustard greens are doing well. I’ve transplanted lots of garlic, and the Lacinato kale should be up in the next day or two. And now i think the temperatures have fallen enough that I can start planting spinach.
Before the torrential rains…
The sun is shining! – yea!!!
There’s no standing water in the yard – wow!
It got above 70 degrees today – awesome!
We are just ending the wettest month EVER in Oklahoma. And it appears we may be in for a much cooler summer than normal – which is better than a much warmer summer. But still…
I finally started my cucumbers and basil in pots indoors because my first two attempts failed from too much water and the cold temperatures. The tomatoes are doing fine – I even picked some ripe ones yesterday – but the peppers and beans are just hanging out, waiting for some sun and warmer days.
Last weekend (Memorial Day) we stayed at home and did home repair and cooking. We needed to stay here so we could take action if the basement flooded (again). One of the things I cooked up was a small batch of jam, made from various fruits that either needed to be cooked or given to the chickens. I did this last month with some past-their-prime seedless grapes mixed with frozen fresh cranberries. This recipe makes about 3 cups of jam:
- 1 slightly shriveled apple, with skin, diced
- 1 lemon carcass, minced (zest and juice used for something else)
- 1/2 cup pitted sweet cherries (We finally get cherries off our tree, but they’re split from too much water!)
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup frozen fresh cranberries
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup grapefruit or orange juice (I found this poor old grapefruit in a corner of the fridge)
Cook all on low heat until most all the cranberries have popped. Cool and store in the refrigerator, or process/can as for jams.
Served on homemade potato bread
The “trick” to this jam is using cranberries, which have a lot of pectin in them. They also provide a tanginess that might be lacking in less-than-fresh fruit. The grape-cranberry combo I made tastes like a good Concord grape jam. I really love the taste of citrus in this mix, and although I don’t usually eat a lot of jam or jelly, this is sure good on some homemade bread, or stirred into Greek yogurt!
To celebrate Mother’s Day I am posting! Woo-hoo!
1. Fresh strawberry tarts: It’s May, and every day we have bowls of strawberries to deal with. I made these little tartlets with stuff I had sitting around and they turned out great. This makes about 18 muffin sized tarts.
- 1.5 cups vanilla wafer crumbs
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons melter butter
- 1 package sugar-free strawberry jello
- 3/4 cup boiling water
- 1 8-0unce block of cream cheese
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 cup fresh strawberries (for glaze)
- 3 to 4 cups small whole fresh strawberries
- Mix the vanilla wafer crumbs, powdered sugar, and melted butter. Press about 1 tablespoon into the bottom of each lined muffin tin. Bake at 350 for 5 minutes.
- Dissolve the gelatin in 3/4 cup boiling water. Beat cream cheese until smooth, gradually adding the dissolved gelatin. The mixture will be runny. Set this in the refrigerator while you prepare the whole strawberries.
- Put a heaping tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture on top of the crumb crust. You may need to use your spoon to spread it around. Set back into the refrigerator while you make the glaze.
- Combine sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and 1 cup strawberries in a small saucepan. Mash the strawberries up, then heat the mixture and cook on medium heat, stirring. Let it come to a boil for 2 minutes.
- Place several strawberries in each tart, then spoon the warm glaze over the berries. Refrigerate.
I bet these would be good with fresh peaches too.
2. I’ve been experimenting with microwave cooking this year. I know a couple of my children consider this blasphemous (I’m talking to you, Matt and Aric), but I have my reasons:
- Our house is not air conditioned. And we live in Oklahoma.
- There are only two of us to cook for now.
- It is fast.
- It is actually more “green” than using our gas stove, since our electricity is renewable (wind generated).
The mug cake recipe was a big hit when I visited the grandkids in Nashville. Everyone can add their own mix-ins, and you don’t have any leftovers: 3 Tbsp cake mix, 2 Tbsp water, 1 minute in the microwave.
This week I found several recipes for mac and cheese in a mug. They are all pretty much the same, but I add one ingredient that most do not: a teaspoon of cornstarch, which makes it extra creamy. This recipe makes one serving, and keeps you from over-indulging. Use a large mug to avoid the liquids boiling over.
1. Cook for approximately 2 minutes on high.
- 1/3 cup dry macaroni
- 1/3 cup water
2. Add to mug, stir, and cook another 2 to 3 minutes.
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1 tsp cornstarch
3. Stir into mug until cheese melts. Eat.
- 1/3 cup shredded cheese
- salt and black pepper
- 1 tsp butter (optional, I don’t do this)