Category Archives: Garden

Mid-summer 2016 inventory

July 10th

  • 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!

new fenceLast week Mike built this fence to replace a section that was about to fall down. Isn’t it gorgeous?

 

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Every year is different…

sweet cherries …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.)

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The chard before the storm

Swiss chardEarly 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.

 

 

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This’n that jam

White roses

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. 1 slightly shriveled apple, with skin, diced
  2. 1 lemon carcass, minced (zest and juice used for something else)
  3. 1/2 cup pitted sweet cherries (We finally get cherries off our tree, but they’re split from too much water!)
  4. 1/2 to 3/4 cup frozen fresh cranberries
  5. 1 cup white sugar
  6. 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.

Mixed fruit jam

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!

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Savory lentil and rice pancakes – oothappams

DSC_0329Also oothapams, uthappams, uthapams, uttappa, or a dozen other spellings…

  • Daughter of the bread-like idli, and half-sister to a dosa, which is more crepe-like.
  • Gluten free – not important to me, but about half of the world is demanding this.
  • Vegan – ibid
  • Naturally fermented – not exactly sure how this happens, but it’s cool!
  • Versatile – you can make idli, dosas, and oothappams all from the same batter.

WARNING: This is not a spur-of-the-moment recipe. You don’t just whip up some oothappams in 30 minutes.

DSC_0331So Mike was organizing the pantry a couple of weeks ago.

Mike: Do you know you have two unopened bags of something called urad gota? What is this stuff? A grain, or a legume?
Me: I think it’s white lentils.
Mike: It doesn’t look like lentils.
Me: See here, it says matpe beans?
Mike: OK, whatever. Are you going to do anything with them, or should I feed them to the chickens?

Well thank Tim Berners-Lee for the Internet, you can find anything if you can read, are persistent, and have one or two keywords to search. (Does anyone really use an analog cookbook anymore?) White lentils – which are actually black lentils with the outer layer removed – can be cooked like regular lentils, but they are often used to make bread type foods. Probably because they are white and look more appetizing? IDK, just a hypothesis.

Here are the recipes I referenced (I never follow a recipe exactly):

Yesterday morning I soaked 1 cup of urad gota/matpe bean/white lentils, and 2 cups of white rice separately in water. I didn’t have basmati rice, so I just used a combination of short-grained and jasmine rice. (You may notice that I used a 1:2 ratio of lentils to rice, and most other recipes call for a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio.) Then last night I ground them up in my blender to a smooth batter, mixed them together, added 1 tsp salt, covered the bowl with plastic wrap and left it on the counter. (This morning I -oops!- quickly put the bowl into a much larger bowl because the fermentation had the batter about to overflow.)

For lunch today I minced some green chili, green onion, garlic, and shredded a carrot. Mixed these with some of the batter (which was too thick and fluffy, so I watered it down a bit), and fried little pancakes in a non-stick skillet with a tsp of oil. I used my little bitty egg pan, so they were really easy to flip over, and came out perfectly round. I ate them with some tomato jam mixed with cranberry chutney.


My Garden and other stuff

This spring was busy – my day job, teaching adjunct at UCO, developing material for a grant, a new granddaughter in Nashville, and Matt & Erin’s wedding shindig in Georgia. And through it all, of course, keeping up with the garden.

We had an abnormally cold winter here, which was good for reducing the insects that overwinter, but not so good for our fig trees. The little one died back to the ground. The large one is coming back strong from the base, and strangely enough, about 10′ up on several branches. So far the early summer has been mild – even chilly some mornings – which is giving the tomatoes, peppers, green beans, and cucumbers some time to get established before the heat kicks in. We will start eating our earliest peaches this week, and once again it seems that we have almost no insect damage. I have to think it’s because we feed and water the birds (mostly sparrows and wrens) all winter.

Every year the garden changes – something doesn’t do well while another plant flourishes. In my flower beds this will be the year of verbena bonariensi and threadleaf coreopsis. These newcomers reseeded like crazy, and I’m not complaining. The gaura in the front reseeded, and somehow found its way into the backyard. Of course the corn poppies and larkspur have already finished their glorious explosion, and I’ve been pulling the orange cosmos out by the handfuls to give away (they are deceptively sturdy).

On the food front, I’ve been cooking with gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), making not-quite-authentic “Korean inspired” stews. I really want to make jajangmyeon, but I’ll have to visit a Korean market in Moore to find the right kind of black bean paste.

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Keeping up with putting up

We’re just about at then end of our “What do we do with all these green tomatoes?” phase. The answer, this year, is green sauce. I’m not going to waste my time trying to coax them into ripening, which never works anyway.  Here is my basic recipe, which is great as a dip, salsa, or an enchilada sauce.

  • 1 diced onion
  • 1 large clove minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 6 – 8 cups chopped green tomatoes
  • 1 – 2 cups diced green chili, poblano, jalapeno, serrano etc…
    • leave the seeds in if you want to experience numb lips for several hours after eating
    • be careful not to touch your face while working with the peppers!
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1/2 to 1 cup chopped cilantro (stems also)

Saute the garlic and onions briefly in the olive oil. Add tomatoes, peppers, cumin, salt, and water, and then simmer, covered, till tomatoes are soft. Puree in a blender or food processor, adding the lime juice and cilantro. Let cool and pour into labelled ziplock freezer bags (I recommend the pint size), and freeze flat. I made some stacked beef enchiladas with this green sauce yesterday. I like making stacked enchiladas because you don’t have to fry the tortillas in oil to soften them up for rolling. I know lots of recipes have you fry the tortillas even for stacked enchiladas, but I just oil my baking dish lightly, and then put a spoonful of sauce on the bottom – sort of like making lasagna.

We’re got our first really hard freeze last week (weather.com said 19 F, but I’m pretty sure we were about 10 warmer) so

windowsill basil

I’m going to see if I can keep this basil alive this winter.

the plastic is on the hoop houses and all our houseplants are inside.There is a good stand of arugula going, and I found broccoli and cabbage starts last month and planted those. Leeks are flourishing, pak choi is unstoppable, and there are a few turnips, radishes, and chard. We need to be vigilant for about two week on our nightly “slug patrol” to make sure we get some lettuce to come up and survive.

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Peachy dilemma

So our last peach tree is ready for harvesting, and we’re trying to figure out what to do with them. They aren’t as tasty as they’ve been in the past, and they don’t live up to their huge, juicy, intensely flavored predecessors  this year. Why not?

I guess we should have thinned these out...

I guess we should have thinned these out…

I think that the main factor is that the tree is way too overloaded. We tend to let nature do the thinning –  windstorms, hailstorms, microbursts, squirrels, etc. But this summer none of those weather events happened, and there are very few squirrels in the neighborhood (maybe because Mississippi Kites have taken up residence?). Somehow this tree held on to every fruit up until the bitter end.

Also, we’ve had a somewhat cooler than normal spring and summer. All the fruit and veggies are about two to three weeks behind schedule. I’m not complaining about this at all, by-the-way!

Anyway, here we have scads of mediocre peaches on our hands. (Mediocre is a relative term. Compared to grocery store peaches these are just fine.) This morning I cut one up and sprinkled it generously with sugar – which we usually avoid – then waited a few minutes. Ahhh… that did the trick. They will do just fine in peach leather, peach gelee, spiced peach butter, and canned in a rum syrup. And of course I can always make more peach chutney and peach salsa.

Oh, and the same as last year, we’ve had virtually no insect damage on our peaches this year. Yeah for sparrows at the bird feeders!

You knew there was a reason you'd been hoarding those bottle caps!

You knew there was a reason you’d been hoarding those bottle caps!

Last weekend was our 35th wedding anniversary (Good grief, we must be getting old!), and we stayed at Pecan Valley Inn B&B near Davis, Oklahoma. What an awesome job Janet Charalampous has done with restoring this historic mansion!

Hmmm, this cart looks familiar...

Hmmm, this cart looks familiar…

On the drive down and  back we stopped at antique stores in Purcell, Paul’s Valley,  Davis, and Duncan. We bought a few “treasures” but mostly marveled at how much of this stuff we already have. We visited the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center which was fun, and something I’d love to do with our granddaughter some day.

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