Category: eggplant

A fairy tale of eggplant proportions.

Magical trees.

Funny thing, memories are. When I was a wee little tot, there was a tulip tree on my property that had a hole in the bottom. It was one of the original trees from when the house was built, so by the time I was a kid it was already not only over 30-something years old, but massive. Right where the trunk met the grass, the roots grew in such a way that made it look like there was a doorway leading into the tree. A little cave, or “fairy house.” It intrigued me so much, that little door. I used to imagine that little creatures lived in there, and had a whole little tree house with furniture made of twigs & carpets made of woven grass. Maybe fairies, maybe gnomes, maybe even mice or squirrels. Preferably the kind that wear little vests & glasses.

Sadly, I grew up… & the tree was removed because it got too big.

Keeping that in mind, think of what went through my mind when I saw this recipe for “Pickled fairy tale eggplant” over at Food in Jars. It immediately conjured up images of fairies & that little door in the tree. It brought back memories that had absolutely nothing to do with eggplant. So of course, I had to make it. However- I do not like eggplant. In the past, I’ve made things like melanzane sott’olio & passed ‘em along to my mother. So I figured why not do that again… who could turn down a pretty pinkish jar of something called fairy tale eggplant?

(I know, I’ve been stalking Food in Jars lately. I can’t help it)

Sicilian eggplant. Close enough to "fairy tale" eggplant for a jar of pickles, right?

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Hey melanzane, melanzane sott’olio.*

I first saw a recipe for this last summer on a blog, & I thought: wow, that’s interesting. Coming from a decidedly non-Italian family, I myself never ate eggplant in oil. I never had it in my house. However, I will say I never remember it being a staple in any homes I went to, either. Even the Italian ones. I had an Italian uncle by marriage, and I went to him & my aunt’s home for many dinners that he cooked: pasta fagioli, homemade pizzas, lasagne, etc. I also had many Italian friends with big old school Italian families & crazy huge Sunday dinners, and I never once saw a jar of eggplant in oil. I can’t say I really paid attention to something like that though, especially as a child. But apparently regardless of my total unobservance,  it is quite popular, as both a condiment and side dish.

I actually never ate eggplant as a child or young adult.

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I didn’t eat an eggplant myself until I was almost 27 years old.

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I know you’re probably thinking I’m insane. I’m not, I assure you. We can skip discussing my strange food phobias/quirks for now, okay? Let’s just stick to the topic at hand, which is eggplant in oil.

Let me give you the full background here: Last summer we were hit with Hurricane Irene (which thankfully was Category 1 as it got closer, but more like Tropical Storm Irene by the time it actually hit here) and she was a bitch. New York is never hit with hurricanes; by never I mean there have only been about 84 of them since the 17th century. And most of them- only if they hit directly and at their full power- have been, if not devastating, then massively destructive. Probably because it takes a monster of a storm to wind it’s way all the way up here keeping that strength the whole time. So Irene hits, & we were incredibly lucky to still have had a home, a car and power by the time she left, because many people here didn’t. But after that whatever veggies were on the vine before it hit pretty much weren’t anymore. I knew this would be the case ahead of time, so I just pulled all the vegetables that were growing (and were a decent/useable size) right off the plants. That meant that my eggplant wasn’t exactly large, it definitely wouldn’t have fed a family with an abundant eggplant parmigiana, which was my original plan. It was small and not very mature. After reading the aforementioned blog post about “melanzane sott’olio”, I sliced it up into thin slices just I like I saw on that blog and put it in a jar with some garlic, olive oil & oregano for my mother.

Not for me. Like I said above, it took me almost 30 years for me to even deign to try an eggplant. And I did, and I came to this realization: I am not a big eggplant fan. Unless it’s fried beyond recognition in seasoned bread crumbs & oil until crispy, and then slathered with melted mozzarella cheese & a delicious tomato sauce. And even then? I’d much rather have something else. Like the Local Kitchen said, it’s the slimy factor that gets me, I get the icks from slimy food (that explains why I don’t like oysters, either). The frying makes it crispy and kind of disguises the sliminess. Although at my friend Samantha’s wedding, I had a delish veggie casserole type-thing with a pastry topping & ricotta cheese, kinda like a veggie version of a pot pie, and it was loaded with eggplant. Not fried. But I still ate that shit like it was going out of style. That’s a rarity with me. However I know my mother loves eggplant, so I thought maybe she’d want some melanzane sott’olio for her sandwiches.

And whattaya know? It was a success! The tiny little 8 oz. jar I made for her didn’t last very long. I vowed to her I’d make another (larger) jar once I got my hands on fresh eggplant next summer (which would be this summer).

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But I didn’t grow any eggplant this summer. And time got away from me; I swear I don’t know where the summer went! I actually forgot ALL about the eggplants in oil until I saw that white eggplant at the market. It was sitting with a bunch of other white eggplants, and right next to it a bunch of equally lovely but skinnier lavender eggplants. All locally grown. All absolutely lovely. And I thought to myself, “I think it’s time for some melanzane sott’olio.” They were so pretty and plump, and for the most part unblemished. I figured I’d buy one of the bigger white ones and make a jar of pickled eggplants for my mother.

I’m such a good daughter.

Eggplant can be tricky for a lot of people. Most people complain it’s bitter, so they use the salting method to remove the bitterness. But the trouble is most of them either don’t let it “sweat” long enough or they don’t rinse all the salt off properly, so then it’s either still too bitter or it’s too salty. I’m quite sure that many an eggplant dish, all over the world, has been tossed in the garbage due to this mistake. But if you rinse it well, and then cook it in the vinegar mixture and squeeze it well, then you’ll be just fine. Also, if you’re using the white eggplant, it’s much less bitter than it’s darker counterparts, so this step is skip-able. I didn’t bother doing it, and everyone agreed there was no bitterness. Though if you’re a worry wart it won’t hurt you to do it. Just make sure you rinse all that salt off!

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It’s a very simple process. My directions that follow are for making ONE pint of this, using ONE eggplant. Adjust as necessary. Other than your eggplant, you’ll need:

  • salt
  • a container of olive oil (I used extra virgin, decent quality but not a very expensive one since it will just absorb the other flavors anyway)
  • oregano
  • hot pepper flakes
  • some red or white wine vinegar (depending on your taste), or even just plain old white vinegar if that’s all you’ve got.

If you want to add some thinly sliced garlic, basil leaves or other herbs that’s up to you. You’ll also need a pint jar. It’s fine to use one that isn’t a canning jar because there’s no canning involved, so make use of your old cleaned-out sauce jars or whatever.

Wash the eggplant and cut off the ends. If you prefer it peeled, then do that. I left the skin on mine, but you can’t tell since it’s white. There’s nothing wrong with the skin, it’s perfectly edible, so leave it on if it doesn’t bother you. If you use a purple eggplant it’ll add a nice color to the jar. Slice the eggplant fairly thin into about 1/4″ rounds, or if you prefer, slice it into strips. Using a colander over a large bowl, place a layer of eggplant in the colander then salt it. Repeat this process until all the eggplant is in the colander and salted. Place a plate on top of the eggplant and then weigh it down. I like to use a bag of sugar or flour if I have it around. Leave it like this for 8-12 hours. All the bitterness and moisture in the eggplant will leech out because of the salt. Now you can rinse it thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly. If you want to do it one more time, you can, but you don’t have to. And if you do, don’t leave it another 12 hours- I think 2 would suffice for a second round. Place the rinsed off eggplant on a plate covered with paper towels (or a clean, thin dish towel), making sure the paper towels hang over the sides of the plate. Raise the sides of the paper towels to form a “bag” holding the eggplant and gently squeeze the remaining moisture out. Now you’re ready to cook.

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In a medium saucepan, combine roughly 1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar with 1 1/2 cups water. Bring it to a boil and add the eggplant. Cook the eggplant for about 2-3 minutes, making sure it’s all submerged by pressing down with a wooden spoon occasionally. If you’d prefer to cook the eggplant in small batches, then you only need 1/2 cup of each. Place the cooked eggplant on another plate covered with paper towels and let dry for 20 minutes, or pat and squeeze dry once it’s cool enough to touch. I like to keep the eggplant hot before I add it to the jar, so I squeeze it and pat it dry (or as dry as I can get it). Add the cooked pickled eggplant to a clean jar in layers: first adding a few slices of eggplant, then some oregano, a few more slices of eggplant, then some hot pepper flakes, and so on, covering each layer with olive oil. Do this until your jar is full. I used dried oregano from my garden last summer, but fresh is okay too. You can add some chopped or thinly sliced garlic, like I mentioned above, if you wish, or even some basil. Maybe even a sliced fresh Bell pepper, if you want to get really wild & crazy. Close the lid and once the jar is cooled (if you filled it with hot eggplant, that is), pop that bad boy in the fridge. The olive oil will congeal, but if you remove it from the fridge and place it in a warm spot in the kitchen for 15-20 minutes before eating, it’ll re-liquify.

Some say to let it sit for a week or so to let the flavors fuse. My mom eats hers as soon as I give it to her. Do as you like.

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Some ideas for eating it? Well, for one it’s good right out of the (room temperature) jar. Also, it’s excellent on sandwiches, pretty much any kind. My most recent utilization (when I’m cooking for other people, people who enjoy eggplant much far than I) is to add some of it to hot pasta, with or without sauce. Just sprinkle a little cheese on top to finish it off and you’re good to go.

I have heard/seen people who leave the jars out on the counter for weeks (some say months) at a time. They have never died of botulism, nor did their ancestors who did things this way for centuries. There are also people who process the jars of eggplant in oil using a waterbath canner to seal them for shelf-storage. I’ve done this with peppers, myself, although they never really lasted long enough to pose a health risk either way (and were refrigerated once opened). However, I can’t in good conscience tell you to do this, because… well.. this is where I have to do the USDA/FDA public service announcement:

Herbs and oils are both low-acid and together could support the growth of the disease-causing Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Oils may be flavored with herbs if they are made up for fresh use, stored in the refrigerator and used within 2 to 3 days. There are no canning recommendations. Fresh herbs must be washed well and dried completely before storing in the oil. The very best sanitation and personal hygiene practices must be used. Pesto is an uncooked seasoning mixture of herbs, usually including fresh basil, and some oil. It may be frozen for long term storage; there are no home canning recommendations.

Preserving in oil is currently not recommended. Oil may protect botulism organisms trapped in a water droplet. Furthermore, oil may have a deleterious effect on lid gaskets and the at least one manufacturer of home canning lids recommends against it.

-USDA National Center for Home Food Preservation

I have to be responsible and make you aware of any dangers that keeping this out unrefrigerated presents. That said, you’re all adults and you can make your own decisions. If you can make the decision to buy cigarettes, buy a 2-liter of Coke or get behind the wheel of your car after you’ve had a few beers, then you can decide for yourself whether or not this is a risk you want to take. I spoke briefly during my Canning for Dummies post about safely canning foods, and oils can’t be safely canned (even in a pressure canner). Therefore, it’s only recommended for use immediately or to store in the fridge. But again… you’re all adults. And you’re going to do what you want either way. I just don’t have to be responsible for it! I did say, “I told you so.”

And if you enjoy this idea, why not try some shrimp this way?

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*Sung to the tune of ‘Mambo Italiano,’ of course.

The un-snooty, un-pretentious, unconventional & totally awesome gardener is back!

That would be me, of course. If you follow the website, you know every summer I have a vegetable & herb garden. I call it my little Victory Garden. Some years it’s larger than others & what I grow varies, but always at least a little something. It started off as just herbs and then I branched out into tomatoes, then peppers too, then the rest is history. I don’t consider myself a microfarmer or a sustainable gardener or anything, I do it for fun and enjoyment and because I genuinely enjoy gardening and I like literally enjoying the fruits of my labor. Not so I can preach the evils of McDonald’s or non-organic produce. I don’t do that. However this year I’ve decided to pare down a lot; there’s a lot going on with me & I don’t know if I have the time nor the ability to 100% invest in a large amount of stuff. Not financially, mind you, but physically. It takes a lot to keep a garden going, you know, even if it is “just a container garden.” Which by the way- there is no such thing as “just a” anything in gardening. Anything you have, even if it’s one tomato plant, takes a bit of effort to keep going. So anyway, this year I’m keeping it small. Not sure yet exactly how small, but because of this extraordinarily warm winter, which was actually the 4th warmest winter on record, my perennial herbs have made their appearance at least a month and a half early: chives, two types of oregano (variegated & regular) and parsley. Re: that warm winter, this is the absolute earliest I’ve ever posted about my garden, by the way. So my mint seems to have died, but it wasn’t doing too well by the end of the season last year so I’m not surprised. It was about 4 years old, it might have just run it’s course. So I think I’ll buy some basil, rosemary & maybe some more mint & definitely cilantro. Then I’ll see how many veggies I want to do (or can do). Maybe I’ll just keep it at herbs this year. I don’t know.

I’m no expert. I never took a horticulture or agriculture class. I’ve just always loved to garden. My mother used to plant every year & ever since I was able to hold myself up and dig, I helped her. But a couple of years ago I expanded from my usual flowers into herbs. After having a ton of success with them for two years straight & providing friends/family with tons of fresh basil, I jumped into getting a tomato plant. I was probably just thinking about fresh Caprese salads, but it was a great experience. Then the next year (2010) I decided to do a full-on container garden: peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, etc. I only had one total failure & it was zucchini. Look up zucchini abortion, you’ll see why. And so last year I continued with my garden but things turned upside down when my Nana died, so admittedly I let a lot go by the wayside & was a bit neglectful. I still got a lot of beautiful tomatoes & peppers, etc. So, like I said, this year there is a lot going on in my “personal life” (what does that even mean, anyway? Isn’t your entire life personal?) and I don’t know really what I’ll end up doing garden-wise this summer.

What I do know is that as usual, I’ll keep you all updated along the way. I do that in the hopes that I encourage others to grow something! It’s so much fun & you really gain an appreciation for the earth. If you didn’t already have one, that is. Gardening is a great excuse to do something good for not only yourself, but Mama Earth. So you plant a tomato plant & that way you buy less from the supermarket. It’s a win-win. And it’s fun! Especially if you have kids. It’s also a teachable moment, you can use it to teach kids just about anything- farming, what chlorophyll is, how plants provide oxygen, organic foods, etc.

Here’s a little sample, just a bit of my last years’ vegetable growth, in case you’ve missed it or just recently started reading. It’s all done in containers! If you’re interested in seeing the full posts from my past years’ gardens that are full of pictures as well as gardening tips & advice, then here they are: 2010 (1, 2, 3) & 2011 (1, 2).

Habanero peppers. These are crazy prolific, I must have gotten at least 24 hab’s off this one plant!

Roma tomatoes, not finished growing, obviously..

Bell pepper. I have a little trouble with these, but I manage to get at least one or two.

Eggplant! I only ever get one off a plant, but it’s usually huge. This is mid-season so it’s not anywhere hear being done. I always get one massive eggplant!

It doesn’t matter if you have two feet or two acres to work with, you can grow something & enjoy the benefits of having fresh veggies and/or herbs right outside your door. If you’re interested in container gardening, here’s a great link with information from Taste of Home. And not only that- but gardening reduces stress, promotes good health by getting you outdoors & active, and it’s a constructive & productive thing to do. And if you don’t have outdoor space, you definitely have a window. And if you can’t have a windowbox, then you can at least grow some herbs in your kitchen.

Anyway, stay tuned for this summer’s garden! And as always, I love hearing about what you’re planting/growing, so do tell…

The call of nature.

  “Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.” - William Wordsworth

My trusty gardening shoes; falling apart Chuck Taylor’s I’ve had since 8th grade, the laces have been replaced 4 times

The Victory Garden is back in full effect, and of course I’m going to show it all to you! Some people show photos of their children, I show photos of my vegetables, herbs, pets and cupcakes. As far as the garden goes, things are going really well so far. No tragedies, like last year’s zucchini “abortions.” *knocks on wood* I mentioned a few posts back that I bought a blueberry bush, so that’ my newest addition, although I’m well aware I’ll see no fruit this season. I’ve been using my herbs to cook with almost every night, which is so nice. Plus, the smell of the fresh basil, cilantro, dill & rosemary is so awesome, when I’m sitting on my patio on a hot day & the breeze blows, you get such a whiff of it. I can’t stress enough the convenience & enjoyment there is in my garden. It’s also like therapy, cheap therapy, relatively. I can go out there and lose myself in the dirt, all the weeding & trimming & picking and planting (and photographing). I recommend it highly. Same reason I recommend having a pet- taking care of something dependent on you is crucial to remembering the world is bigger than just you & your selfish bullshit. You can’t spend all day in bed when you have a pet to feed, or a garden to take care of, etc. It saves you from yourself. There’s a quote by an unknown author that goes something like “You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt.” Unlike blogging, which just inflates your self-indulgence & self-importance to levels beyond all comprehension & has the tendency of blowing everything out of proportion, right into the stratosphere of insanity (if you let it). I know this firsthand. Everyone’s important on the internet, right? In that same vein, I’m no expert when it comes to gardening, or “micro-farming” or anything. I just enjoy it.

I’ve always enjoyed gardening, ever since my mom taught me how to dig a hole & “tuck the baby plant” into the soil, safe & sound. Then in a few weeks, it’d be twice the size! Ever since then I was hooked. Just me, the sunshine, & a bit of water, making beautiful things grow.

Some things never change.

The past few weeks for me have been so hard, my only consolation in all of it has been losing myself in this garden, and in my baking & cooking & jarring. It helps so much, really. My grandma loved to come see my garden, and talk about the vegetables, and she loved to eat a fresh tomato… just cut off the vine, with salt & pepper. So I know she’s happy when I’m out there doing my thing, but my heart is still heavy. Very, very heavy. Everything reminds me of her. She used to call me ‘Rosie the Riveter,’ referring to my ‘Victory Garden’ and all my from-scratch baking, cooking, canning, etc. She’d say how amazing I was, say how did I know how to do all of this. And I miss her saying all those things, and asking questions about each plant, how big will it get, etc. I miss that desperately. But life goes on, and she’d be the first one to tell me that.

And nowhere is the phrase “Life goes on” more clear than in nature. Buds on a plant die, the rest still stretch to meet the suns rays. The wind damages half a tomato vine, yet the rest of it tries desperately to cling to life. And when one entire plant turns brown, from disease or bugs or just nature itself… and it can’t hang on anymore, and it dies… the sun still comes up the next day to greet the rest of the plants. Life continues. The cycle keeps going. My garden is the closest I get to believing in a God. I don’t, but by being outside & watching things grow, I feel like I understand why people do. It doesn’t change my beliefs, as I’m a believer in nature not God. But I get it. I see why it’s such a popular notion. And sometimes I wish that the thought of a God comforted me or that I did really believe in it. But I don’t, and that’s okay. I’m happy with my belief in nature. The Bible has (very) few decent quotes in it that I can get behind, one of them being “You were made from soil, and you will become soil again.”

Everyone who has a few feet of space can have a container garden, and if you only have a flower box you can certainly grow some herbs, so I encourage you all to do so. It’s not too late; go buy some big pots, potting soil & some herbs & veggies at Home Depot, Lowe’s or a garden center. I had to stop myself at Home Depot around the middle of July, I saw three tomato varieties I wanted to buy; German Queen, a purple & a yellow … but I had no more big pots! And then I’d have to buy three new pots, a couple of bags of potting soil… and on and on we go. I get so excited about it, I can’t help it. Especially when I see some blooms starting! Whatever is left at this point might be a bit run-down, but I’m a firm believer that with a little TLC you can coax some beauty out of anything before the season is over. I check my garden everyday, mainly for bugs/mites/disease, but also to see the progress. Of course, I take photos of the progress to share with you (and also for my own edification). I love this kind of thing, and I have this silly idea some people out there reading this might too. It may even encourage people to grow their own food. Be self-sufficient & self-reliant as much as you can. But never make it a chore. It should always be enjoyable, never like work. The day I’m no longer excited about my garden is the day I stop doing it; same goes for baking or cooking or anything else. Why do something if it’s not gratifying and fun?

Most of my little container garden outside the porch (taken a while back in late June, before things really grew like crazy)

So many things have changed, it seems like forever ago that I first posted about my garden this season, although it’s only 2 months ago. People might scoff at container gardening, they might say there’s no way you can achieve results this way like you can by growing in the ground. I say they’re wrong. I have proof. Last year my harvests were tiny, really, but this year already things are growing twice as big with twice as many (in some cases three times as many) buds/fruits. I may have only gotten a few peppers/one eggplant/4 or 5 tomatoes from each plant last summer, but this year I already have 6 buds on my eggplant, and at least 20+ buds and about 8 or 9 growing fruits on each of my tomatoes, not to mention my insane peppers. Okay, well, let’s start with those peppers. I was so excited to get some Habanero’s & make some hot sauce, since those were the first of my peppers to “bloom” I had already planned what I was going to do with them. But then I saw how many there were & I realized I can only eat so much hot sauce! So many people are anti-hot anything, and won’t use hot peppers. You may not realize it, but there are so many health benefits in hot peppers (just be sure to wear gloves when cutting them)! Plus, hot peppers can increase metabolism.

  • All chili peppers contain phytochemicals substances called capsaicinoids that produce capsicum. The capsicum is the ingredient that gives heat intensity when habanero chili peppers are ingested or applied topically.
  • When habanero chile is consumed, it binds with the mouth and throat which are the pain receptors of the heat. Once it is transmitted to the brain, it responds to this burning sensation by increasing heart rate perspiration and releasing body’s natural endorphin.
  • Researches have shown that habanero chiles may have some beneficial properties as an anticoagulant. Small amounts of capsicum may help prevent heart attacks or strokes caused by blood clot.
  • In cases of cardiovascular diseases, some doctors recommend a bit of habanero chiles in dairy dishes because bad cholesterol could resist oxidation for a longer period of time and delay the development of a major risk.
  • Habanero chili peppers can provide symptomatic relief from rhinitis and possibly bronchitis by clearing mucus from stuffed noses or congested lungs.
  • Some studies in mice show that capsicum products in particular as could help people suffering from obesity to lose weight, even though this is not proved yet with human beings.
  • Capsicum peppers or Capsaicin in general are also a good substance for diabetes control by creating new cells that start producing insulin again.
  • In some countries, chilis are used in salves due to their slight anti-inflammatory and anesthetic effect. Some researches have proved in rats that capsicum products can block pain without causing temporary paralysis.
  • Habanero chiles consumption does not cause stomach aches or cancer even though people usually used to associate them. It has been proved there is not any relationship between them unless capsicum peppers have been adulterated with Sudan I, II, III, IV, para-Red and other illegal carcinogenic substances as aflatoxins and N-nitroso.
  • Several studies confirm that capsicum varieties could have an anti-ulcer protective effect on stomachs infected with H. pylori
  • Jalapeño and habanero chili peppers are a good source of vitamins as well as they are very high in potassium, magnesium and iron, which in turn, may be effective in protecting against cancer. They contain 357% more vitamin C than an orange: green habanero has twice as much as citrus fruit and red ones have three times more, plus an important amount of provitamin A. Moreover, they are a good source of most B vitamins in particular vitamin B6.
  • All kind of chili pepper powder and fresh habanero chiles may help control food contamination in countries where there is a minimal or even no refrigeration.

-(source)

As pretty as they are, I’m actually kind of scared to cut those guys, haha. I’ve been burned (literally) by peppers before. I am really excited to make some hot sauce & Habanero jelly, though. Anyway, the second to start blooming were my Red Bell peppers. Last year I only got one really nice one, between storms & a little animal that hangs around here (no names mentioned *ahem*THUMPER*ahem*), so I have high hopes this year. I’ve promised stuffed peppers to some very important people. So far, so good. Red peppers are so good for you…

Compared to green peppers, red peppers have more vitamins and nutrients and contain the antioxidant lycopene. The level of carotene, like lycopene, is nine times higher in red peppers. Red peppers have twice the vitamin C content of green peppers.[5] Also, one large red bell pepper contains 209 mg of vitamin C, which is almost three times the 70 mg of an average orange.

-(source Wikipedia)

 

My Cowhorn’s were the last to bloom. Slow little guy, huh? Ironically, though, while he was the last to bloom, he was the first to actually grow what resembled a “pepper” and the first ones that I actually cut & used (more about that later this week).

I cut those babies off before they were even matured and made this with them! Insane. My dad used some of them (& the basil) in his spaghetti sauce & said smoke came out of his ears. Bwahahahaha

That one… right there in the middle… he may look benign sitting on his little shelf, but he’ll burn your hair right off your head.

I felt the need to label it appropriately.

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I think it’s amazing to see the growth in just a few days of each bud. Nature never fails to just floor me. It’s fucking beautiful. I know, I sound like such a hippie (which I AM NOT), but it’s true. If you can’t find beauty in a little seedling that grows to be a large, glossy green plant, bloom little flowers & then, from the ruins of those flowers, grow big shiny fruit or vegetables that we can eat, save the seeds from, and continue the cycle… then you’re just plain crazy. CRAZY, I say.

My romaine is getting quite large too. I love Romaine, it’s my favorite lettuce (I like Iceberg too, though). Romaine is full of antioxidants, which, like other leafy greens, are known to help prevent cancer. Also, it’s low in saturated fat and sodium, and very low in cholesterol, as well as being a good source of riboflavin, Vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, and a very good source of dietary fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, thiamine, folate, iron, potassium and manganese. On top of that, it’s mildly anti-inflammatory. Ya get all that?

All that in this little guy, who  actually grew like seven times this size before he was eaten.

And of course, true to form, basil is getting huge. I used some of it in that jar up there with the Cowhorn’s. Basil, like most things that grow in the ground, also has health benefits.

Recently, there has been much research into the health benefits conferred by the essential oils found in basil. Scientific studies in vitro have established that compounds in basil oil have potent antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties, and potential for use in treating cancer.[8][9][10][11] In addition, basil has been shown to decrease the occurrence of platelet aggregation and experimental thrombus in mice.[12] It is traditionally used for supplementary treatment of stress, asthma and diabetes in India.

-(source Wikipedia)


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Variegated oregano, from last summer, is doing amazing. Since this photo, it’s tripled in size (so has the basil).

 

And of course, my tomatoes! Two out of the three (Roma & Better Boy) I have are well on the way to giving me lots of beautiful fruits. The third, Beefsteak, is plodding along… quite slowly, I must say. It’s my first time with all three, so I have no experience with them. But the Better Boy seems like the winner when it comes to the amount of tomatoes! I’m thinking that I’ll use a few of the Beefsteak to make some fried green tomatoes. Tomatoes are good for you too:

Their consumption is believed to benefit the heart, among other organs. They contain the carotene lycopene, one of the most powerful natural antioxidants. In some studies, lycopene, especially in cooked tomatoes, has been found to help prevent prostate cancer,[21] but other research contradicts this claim.[22] Lycopene has also been shown to improve the skin’s ability to protect against harmful UV rays.[23] Natural genetic variation in tomatoes and their wild relatives has given a genetic plethora of genes that produce lycopene, carotene, anthocyanin, and other antioxidants. Tomato varieties are available with double the normal vitamin C (Doublerich), 40 times normal vitamin A (97L97), high levels of anthocyanin (resulting in blue tomatoes), and two to four times the normal amount of lycopene (numerous available cultivars with the high crimson gene).

-(source Wikipedia)

And of course, here are pics of the tomatoes that are budding so far.

Better Boy is budding, and… we have tons of tomatoes!! That’s oregano at the bottom… here are 2 more views of more fruits growing:

So cute.

Beefsteak is a little slow going, I’ve got buds but tiny ones. Sadly when I transplanted it, I knocked off a branch that had buds on it so the little guy had to start over. But he’ll catch up!

I apologize for the varying photo quality… but mother nature doesn’t care about anyone’s photography needs, so when the sun ain’t out- it ain’t out

 

My Black Beauty eggplant has just started to get some buds going too. This excites me, last year my eggplant only gave me two, one of which was knocked off the vine prematurely, the other of which was delicious in eggplant parmigiana. Like I said above, nature is beautiful, but can also be cruel. And so can I, when I want to smother you in bread crumbs, fry your ass up and serve you with homemade tomato sauce. But I’m already ahead of the game this time around, ’cause I’ve got tons of buds.

Eggplant’s fiber content is high, which helps our digestive process and also acts against coronary heart disease. Eggplants not only feature a number of vitamins, proteins and minerals but also contain important phytonutrients. These phytonutrients are known to act as antioxidant. In phytonutrients found in eggplants, there are phenolic compounds, such as caffeic and chlorogenic acid, and flavonoids, like nasunin. Potassium in eggplants brings a balance in salt intake and maintains a nice level of hydration. It also plays a role in regulating blood pressure. Eggplants also contain folate, magnesium and niacin as well as copper, manganese and thiamine (vitamin B1).

-(source)


As far as my cucumber (Burpless Hybrid), he was the second the latest bloomer I have, no pun intended. But finally, there were signs of little teeny cukes! Cucumbers also can be beneficial to your diet/health:

  • Very low in calories; provides just 15 calories per 100 g. Contains no saturated fats or cholesterol. Cucumber peel is a good source of dietary fiber that helps reduce constipation and offers some protection against colon cancers.
  • It is a very good source of potassium, an important intra-cellular electrolyte. Potassium is a heart friendly electrolyte; helps reduce blood pressure and heart rates by countering effects of sodium.
  • It contains unique anti-oxidants in good ratios such as ß-carotene and a-carotene, vitamin-C, vitamin-A, zea-xanthin and lutein. These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease process.
  • Cucumbers have mild diuretic property probably due to their high water content, which helps in checking weight gain and high blood pressure.
  • Cucumbers surprisingly have high amount of vitamin K, provides about 17 mcg of this vitamin per 100 g. Vitamin-K has been found to have potential role in bone strength by promoting osteotrophic (bone mass building) activity. It also has established role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in their brain.

-(source)

 

I can’t wait to pickle these guys!

Popular for it mild taste, Burpless Hybrid matures early for fresh cukes, fast. The fruit is straight, cylindrical, and excellent sliced, though it’s also good for pickling. Burpless varieties contain less curcurbitacin, a naturally occuring chemical that causes some cuke eaters to burp.

- source

So that’s what’s happening around here. Of course, by the time this posts, these will be even bigger & there will be even more of them… considering at this point is when they grow like weeds (pun intended, ha) and just take off.

And the absolute best part of growing my own food? NO PESTICIDES. Pesticides have known health effects on humans & animals, you can read a bit about some of the registered ones here at the EPA website. I never use any kind of bug spray at all, not even the “super safe organic non-toxic” kinds. All I use is a mixture of Murphy’s Oil Soap and water or dish soap and water. Of course, I usually never spray the vegetable or fruit itself, just the plant, and I probably wouldn’t unless there are significant bugs on the fruit itself (which I’ve never had, honestly). And when it comes to herbs, make sure you wash them (and dry them) thoroughly before using. This Peppermint Castile soap spray sounds like an excellent idea too. The concept is that the soap dehydrates the insects & drowns it, it doesn’t poison. This website has a great resource for alternative methods to the soap/water bug spray.

My dill & cilantro went to seed and in turn are now brown & no longer growing. My rosemary, Italian oregano & parsley are all doing great, though. My chives are the craziest! I’ve cut them down 2 times so far, and they’re still massive. My parsley is getting there in size too, and considering it was a weakling when I transplanted it that’s saying something. I love having these fresh herbs right outside my door. But really, I’m just excited to start canning some more pickles with my own cucumbers & some tomato sauce/tomato jam with my tomatoes.

I love my garden. I’m only sorry that this year my grandma didn’t get a chance to taste my tomatoes, or eggplant, or peppers. I know life goes on… it’s just hard right now. Please excuse my temporary insanity. I know things will get easier with time.

The last garden update of the season… maybe.

Well I’ve gotten a lot of use out of my garden this summer, and it seems to be continuing. I think until at least October I’ll have some more veggies, and the herbs will last until the weather gets too cold. Which makes me sad, because even though autumn is my favorite time of year, and Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday, I have to say summer is awesome. The mere idea that there will be no more beach days for another 8-10 months makes me really, really sad. And the thought that winter (& my archnemesis- snow) is right around that corner makes me even sadder. Winter is a long time, and it feels longer thanks to the never-ending blizzards that usually hit the East Coast. But that’s life, right? It goes in cycles, and you have to take the good with the bad, the rain with the rainbow, etc. All those other platitudes & cliches. But at any rate there’s plenty to look forward to and plenty to keep me busy until next spring & summer rolls around.

Before I get to my garden though… I wanna talk about something. Every year I mention this and this year is no different. As a matter of fact, The Great American Dine-Out is as old as this blog is, which means this is it’s third year. The Great American Dine-Out is an event that stretches over the course of a few days every year. Hundreds and thousands of restaurants all across the country participate, and simply by eating at (or having take out) from one of these restaurants during a certain week in September, you can help to end childhood hunger in America.

Every 6 seconds in this world, an infant dies of starvation. That’s terrible, and it shouldn’t be that way. As a matter of fact, in the time it took me to write this blog post, something like 50+ babies died because they didn’t have food to eat. However, in struggling countries with poor education, poor resources, and poor medical care, it might not be as much of a shock to you. But how about this statistic: in America, for 1 in 6 Americans, hunger is a way of life. Many children, seniors even adults who can’t make ends meet go days without meals. In this country especially, one of the richest in the world, there is no excuse. Right here on our own soil, babies are going hungry.

Every week on this blog I talk about and make delicious recipes, and show pictures of beautiful food, and for example today I’ll be posting pictures of gorgeous fresh vegetables from my garden, etc. And to think that there are something like 50 million Americans who aren’t eating dinner tonight, or maybe haven’t had anything all day to eat, it makes me very sad.

According to Feeding America:

Hunger Statistics on Food Insecurity and Very Low Food Security

  • In 2008, 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 32.4 million adults and 16.7 million children.
  • In 2008, 14.6% percent of households (17.1 million households) were food insecure, an increase from 11.1 percent (13.0 million households) in 2007.
  • In 2008, 5.7 percent of households (6.7 million households) experienced very low food security, an increase from 4.1 percent in 2007.
  • In 2008, households with children reported food insecurity at almost double the rate for those without children, 21.0 percent compared to 11.3 percent.
  • In 2008, households that were more likely to experience food insecurity were households with children (21.0 percent), households with children headed by single women (37.2 percent) or single men (27.6 percent), households with incomes below the poverty line (42.2 percent), Black non-Hispanic households (25.7 percent) and Hispanic households (26.9 percent).
  • In 2008, 8.1 percent of households with seniors (2.3 million households) were food insecure

How can we help? Easy.

Go to the website and find a participating restaurant. Then, during the week of September 19 – 25, eat dinner at one of those restaurants. Or, if you’re a restaurant owner, go to the website and enroll your restaurant. No donations, no checks, no nothing. It’s that easy. Seriously. Just by eating out, you can help. Although, if you’re feeling generous, you can also make a donation. We can stop this, and then move to ending worldwide hunger. We can and we should. For more info, you can follow them on Twitter at @Dine_Out and go to the Share Our Strength Facebook page. And if you want to help out with ending world hunger, take a look at the One.org website, or click the banner on the top left of this page.

Now, I’m off my soapbox. Let’s get back to our regular programming. The first thing I harvested and used was my Cubanelle pepper. It grew two beautiful peppers which promptly were cut down and went into homemade fajitas. Mmm. After I cut these two down, I noticed a bunch of new buds, and as we speak there are two new peppers growing, and more on the way. All from one teeny little plant!

….

I have a bunch of sweet red peppers growing as we speak, speaking of peppers. These first two pictures were about a week/week and a half apart. I’m still undecided what to do with these. I’m thinking of using them when I make pickles next time (real pickles, not the 24-hour ones I made before), just putting one in each jar as an added flavor. There are 5 fully grown ones, and there are about 6 or 7 buds.

And here’s the bell pepper. It’s starting to change color a bit. Sadly, the other pepper that was growing on this plant was lost in a bad storm. This plant is the only one that stayed very small, and compact. My tomatoes went crazy and took over!

Here’s my cucumber! It finally grew! The pictures are all a day apart, except the last one which is obviously the cucumber after it was done growing (and right before it became pickles). This dude totally snuck up on me. So long I went without seeing any signs of cukes and then bam! Here he was. Then right after he started, a bunch of others came out of nowehere. Two whole garden posts and no cucumbers… then all of a sudden they decide to join the party. Nice of them to come around… I heard the pickles were great. Muahahahaha! If you’re interested in the pickle recipe I used, it’s here. Keep in mind, this is ONE pickle’s progress… since then I’ve harvested two more and there are crazy amounts of cukes left on the vine still growing. I cut this one off a bit early, because the best kind of cucumbers to use when making pickles are ones with little to no seeds, meaning “younger.” The darker they are and the more mature seeds they have, the worse they are for pickling.

Cucumbers always look dirty & obscene, don’t they? Haha.

And remember this guy? My patio tomato. This first picture is the last one you saw of him, from my last garden post. The next few are his progress since then, and the final picture is him, in my hand, totally perfect and gorgeous… and about to be sliced and eaten fresh with salt & pepper. Keep in mind, this is a little tomato, not a regular sized one!

That little tomato (and his buddy that was harvested two days later) was super delicious. Thankfully, there are 4 or 5 more just like him on his vine, plus more buds.

My eggplant FINALLY decided to join the party too! After losing two previous buds to wind/rain, I got a few that started and stuck with me. Then we had another torrential rainstorm, and I was terrified I’d lose them, but they were still here. I kind of forgot about him for a while… so the first picture and the second one are kinda far apart, I can’t remember how long. The third is about four or five days after the second, the fourth is a few days after that and the fifth picture is a close up of one of the other 4 eggplant blossoms also growing on the same vine. Four eggplants, maybe more. Not bad for one little plant in a pot, eh?

I’m really pleased with all of my veggies! And it just goes to show you, you don’t need a large plot of land dedicated to a big garden to grow your own vegetables. For every single one of these, I used big pots to grow them in. And they did just fine, in fact, they thrived. Although I admit, after reading this blog I sort of love the idea of living on a farm. Imagine having your own eggs, your own milk, your own everything- right at your front door? No pesticides, no chemicals, no antibiotics, no unnatural hormones, etc. It really is amazing. I’m in no way downplaying the amount of work that goes into being a farmer, not at all. I just think that the pros (and rewards) must out-weigh the cons. Would I be able to slaughter a chicken? Probably not. I’m a puss-cake, I admit. However a vegetable/herb farm or one with cows for fresh milk sounds heavenly. I know, I must sound like Marie Antoinette with her “Le Petit Trianon “; a self-proclaimed city girl wanting to traipse around in the mud and muck & live a “simpler life.” But it’s true. That’s very appealing to me. Although if I didn’t live within a certain distance from a big  museum, shopping area or restaurants, I’d probably lose my mind. However after seeing Food, Inc I’m even more against chemically processed food than before. I’d love to have my own sustainable farm and never have to depend on any company for the majority of my nutrition ever again.

Next year I think I’ll expand to some more things; I’ll continue with the tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, peppers, etc. But I’ll also try some new things. I don’t know what yet, but I’m excited to have something to look forward to and prepare for. I’d like to get more than one of each next time… have a whole row of each. I’d also like to expand my herbs. Get some thyme, etc. And try catnip again, since mine didn’t fare well. Who knows. Maybe by then I’ll build a coop and get some chickens. Haha. Kidding.

I was very excited about my tomatoes! They were amazing. Here are the Celebrity tomatoes (each picture a day apart):

 

And Big Boy:

There will most likely be another update before the cold weather fully sets in. I can’t wait to make homemade eggplant parmigiana with my own eggplants and use my tomatoes for the sauce. I cut down my rosemary and used it to season a roast chicken last week and I plan on making rosemary lavender olive oil hand scrub with whatever is left once the weather gets cool. I’ve been cutting down the parsley and basil and lavender religiously and drying them for use over the winter, and I have plans for the chives this week (I’m thinking a re-do of these might be in order). Depending on how many more tomatoes I get before the cold weather, I might make some sauce to store up or I might give them away. I know one of my eggplants is already taken (Jay’s mom) and a cucumber as well, so I’m sure the tomatoes will be in demand. The fresh flavor of a vegetable cut right off the vine and eaten is amazing. You can’t get that unless you grow it yourself, or walk next door to someone who does.

Before you go… remember there are 10 days left to enter the Cupcake Rehab 3rd birthday giveaway.