Category: garden

Garden’s last hurrah: nectarine basil preserves (+ a salsa).

It’s September, and the weather is changing. My little herb garden is still growing, but it’s struggling. I know it’s short-lived: the temperatures are dipping down into the 50′s at night, and they’re starting to show the signs that it’s too cold for them. So I’m using every last bit that I can. Making sauces & throwing in extra basil, making cilantro rice, and making rosemary-herbed chicken. Because before I know it, I’ll be drying them all for use over the winter.

When I was a kid, this time of year used to depress me. Back at school for weeks already, time in the pool getting cut drastically short (or disappearing altogether), the weather changing, etc. As an adult I find it doesn’t anymore… sure, I miss the summer. But after long, swelteringly hot days where my face feels like it’s melting off, I look forward to the coolness of the fall. The quietness. The changing leaves. The awesome fall TV lineup. The ability to bake a cake & not have it be too hot to breathe or have the frosting form nothing but a sad, pathetic puddle of sugary mush.

I definitely always miss my garden once the fall weather moves in. Using dried herbs just isn’t the same. And I miss all the fresh produce, too.

But right now… it’s still just warm enough, and it’s all still fresh.

Beautiful, fresh Washington State nectarines.I mean, come on… really now… they’re insanely beautiful!

I made the following recipes after receiving a second massive box from the Washington State Stone Fruit Commission. You might remember that the last time it was a huge box of beautiful peaches. This time, it was half ‘Sweet Dream’ peaches, half ‘Honey Royale’ nectarines (shown above); grown in an orchard right outside Yakima, Washington. They were so stunningly picture perfect, I couldn’t help but snap some photos before they were gobbled up. The nectarines were so big & perfect they almost looked like apples! Just gorgeous. I swear, I have never seen such beautiful fruit before. Not even at farmer’s markets, or gourmet food stores. The fruits I’ve received from them have been some of the best produce I’ve ever had.

So of course, after I took photos… a few of them got eaten fresh. And my parents took some. Gave a few to lucky neighbors.

And the piles of fruit that were left were all for me to play around with!

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Freshly minted.

Fresh mint! Turn it into jelly in less than 15 minutes!

One of the best parts of having a garden in the summer is the fresh herbs. I use my cilantro in tacos, salsa, guacamole & jasmine rice while the green coriander seeds go into pickles, I use the basil & oregano on fresh pizza, Caprese salad or in tomato sauce as well as drying some, the dill goes into pickles & gets dried for winter soups & sauces, the tarragon goes into flavored vinegar & gets dried, same goes for the sage, etc. Everything gets used, ultimately, whether it gets used fresh… or dried.

Mint is excellent when used fresh. It’s awesome in water or lemonade, or as a garnish on ice creams/sorbets. But if you’re growing mint & not making homemade mint jelly, you’re seriously missing out. Even if you don’t like it you probably know someone who loves to smear it on lamb chops or a leg of lamb, so gift it to them.

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Scenes from the garden, 2013.

My grandpa's 60+ year old rose.

Typically, I update about my little container “Victory garden” a few times during the summer. But because I’ve been so busy this year, I really had to pare down. I didn’t grow anything other than the usual herbs; a few of mine come back every year (chives, oregano, mint) and I bought a few more, like dill, tarragon, rosemary, etc. You all saw my garlic already. So I was going to stick to just herbs, my little garlic shoots & my flowers, but then I bought a cherry tomato plant at the last minute because it felt kinda naked without any veggies. But I swear, I’m stopping at that!  I have way too much going on this summer to have a massive garden.

Anyway, I was inspired by my visit to the Queens County Farm Museum & I thought I’d share some photos with you of my garden, & what I’m growing this year. Even if it’s not a lot of stuff, it’s still beautiful, because nature is always beautiful & interesting. That rose pictured above is from a plant that’s over 60 years old. It was one of the first ones my grandpa planted when he moved out to Long Island from the Bronx, and it’s still the most beautiful rose I have.

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Grow your own garlic- inside!

Wow.. it’s been a while since I posted an actual recipe or how-to kinda post, or rather any post without links to other places. I apologize. I’ve been really busy; Jay was on vacation this past week, we got engaged, etc, etc. You know how it is.

Anyway, any reader of the blog that’s been a reader for longer than a few months will know I love to putter around in the dirt & have a garden. In addition to flowers (especially lilies & roses) which I love to grow, I’ve grown my own food. Eggplant, cucumber, zucchini squash, Romaine lettuce, tomatoes (both heirloom & not), peppers of all kinds, and one of just about every herb available. It’s been a dream of mine to someday have a massive garden where I grow at least one of everything I love- including carrots & broccoli, and to expand into more exotic herbs such as purple basil, etc. I’d also like to buy some berry bushes, since I tried one once (blueberry) and failed.

However, I haven’t gotten into growing onions, garlic or any kind of edible bulb-thingy until now.

How to grow your own garlic indoors!

I stumbled upon quite a few how-to’s on regrowing kitchen scraps like garlic, and then I saw this one. It just so happened that not only did I have some coffee cans left from that cake, but I had a few old cloves of garlic that were starting to sprout. I thought I’d combine them with a few other cloves and see if I could grow my own garlic indoors.

One can never have too much garlic around. Especially since it seems I make more pickles & Italian dishes (like pizza with homemade sauce) that require fresh garlic than anything! And even better if I can do it inside, on my windowsill.

In a coffee can.

It's easy to grow your own garlic... even inside!Four days after planting!

Here’s what I did:

  • Using a hammer & nail, I poked holes in the bottom of a coffee can*. I didn’t want to use a can opener, because I had no extra screen or cheesecloth laying around to cover the holes to prevent the soil from washing out. I decided 5-6 holes per 13 oz. can was plenty. If you’re using a larger size can then obviously more holes are needed. If you use a coffee can, keep the plastic lids and use them as water-catchers under the cans.
  • I filled the cans up with a sandy soil**, then I watered them until the water came out of the bottom. I let it sit, until all the water was out and it didn’t drip when I lifted it.
  • While the water was draining, I separated my garlic cloves. You want to keep as much of the skin or papery stuff on as possible, so don’t peel them! If you’ve got cloves that are sprouting already, then obviously use those. Otherwise you can use any garlic cloves as long as they’re fresh, not preserved or from a jar and they aren’t peeled. I decided to put 6-7 cloves in each can, assuming some might not grow.
  • I pushed the cloves into the soil, flat side down/pointy side up, a few inches in. The garlic can be close to other cloves, but just don’t cram them in so much that they’re touching. A far as depth, I’d say you want (at least) anywhere from 1/2″ – 1″ of soil covering the garlic.
  • Cover them with soil and pat it down gently. Place them in a sunny spot, like a kitchen window that gets a lot of morning light. Water often & keep soil moist but not soaked.
  • As soon as you get green shoots that are a couple of inches high, you can snip them off (leave 1″). They can be used just like chives, as a topping on salads or in other dishes; the flavor is a very light, delicate garlic taste.
*you can also use a large tomato can or just a flowerpot.
**I mixed a few tablespoons of sand into my soil before filling the cans, but if you live in an area where the soil is already naturally sandy then you can skip this step.

How to grow your own garlic, indoors... in a coffee can!

Garlic likes sandy loamy soil, so a good potting mixture with some sand mixed in is your best bet. Also, they like compost fertilizer. So if you have a compost heap that would be the best stuff to use. Other than that, a good ol’ fashioned blood meal works. That said… if you’re keeping them indoors in a small can, I don’t know if this will matter. Especially if you use a fertilized potting soil like Miracle-Gro.

Or you can just do nothing & use regular soil. If my original cloves started to sprout in my house without the benefit of soil, sun or fertilizer, I bet you really don’t need to do much once they’re planted. Those pictures were taken- I kid you not- four days after planting my cloves! FOUR DAYS. I literally had these shoots after just four days. This next photo was after six days.

Once I planted these babies, they literally exploded.

Grow your own garlic... on your windowsill!

They might turn out to be crowded in there, so I might transplant some to a larger container, possibly move them outdoors. We’ll see how it goes. I started this in late May and as you can see below, tons of things have changed since the above photos. I still have no idea where this is going, though!  I’m not fully sure if I’ll grow more bulbs this way or just scapes, but I would assume that eventually I’ll get garlic bulbs.

Garlic scapes are the long, winding, almost blue green shoot that hardneck garlic varieties put out in the spring. Scapes have a fresh, mild garlic taste and make the best pesto I have ever had. They can also be used to glorify mashed potatoes, salads, roasted vegetables or stir-fries.

Harvest scapes when they are young and tender. Once they have curled around in a circle, they are ready for picking. Picking the scape not only is not only good for cooking, it will actually help your garlic grow bigger and better – up to 35%.

- about.com

I want to try this with onions as well… especially since I have a tendency to just throw away onions when they sprout (I know, shame on me) & possibly with leeks or green onions too. It’s amazing what you can grow from things you’d normally toss. I’m even growing a pineapple from the top of a fresh one I used!

Growing your own garlic in coffee cans!They just keep on growin’!

Note: some people will say not to use store-bought garlic, just to use garlic you buy at a nursery, etc. These are the same people who tell you not to buy Heinz ketchup because of the high fructose corn syrup. And I get it, I do. I’m just not that insane about things… I’m too laid back for that. I like having fun, experimenting, & doing things randomly at 2 a.m. which doesn’t always afford me extra time to go looking for the right garlic bulb for planting. So if that means using some cloves of garlic I have in my kitchen instead of hunting down a specific variety, then so be it. Do as you will.

Garlic grown in coffee cans!

And of course I’ll keep everyone updated with the status of my (not so) little garlic babies.

A time to plant, a time to sow.

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Yes, I know, you’re all in “fall-mode” already. Me too. It’s hard not to be when Halloween has infiltrated every store & every blog (or Pinterest page) is pushing pumpkin desserts! And I’ve got those coming for you, too. But first there’s still some wrapping up to do when it comes to summer. Namely the garden.

Every year at this time, I start to dry my herbs. They continue growing until mid to late October, usually, unless it gets very cold at night very quickly. As do the peppers, sometimes. But the herbs usually get so large midway through the summer, that I end up cutting them back in late July and using most of them fresh (or freezing them). The rest I dry and add to my dried herb jars. Then I cut them back again in September. Drying fresh herbs is one of the easiest things to do, as is freezing them, and if you grow your own herbs I strongly suggest you do it! For cilantro, I suggest freezing it in olive oil. Basil is also good that way, as well as rosemary. You can freeze them in water, too, if you prefer. As far as drying them, there are, of course, quite a few different ways to do it… but this is what I do. I bought little jars from Ikea to store them in, but small Ball jars work too, as do cleaned out baby food jars. All you have to do is cut your herbs and give them a good shake outside to evict any unwanted tenants. Not cilantro, though, dried cilantro tastes nothing like fresh and it’s not really worth it. You’re better off freezing that. Anyhow, cut ‘em down and give ‘em a a shake or two… then give them a good rinse and let them dry overnight on a paper towel or clean dish towel. The next morning, tie the ends of each herb together to create a bunch, and tie with soft twine (or use a small rubber band). Place them in a brown paper lunch bag that you already labeled and “hang” them in it, gathering the top of the bag together around the bottom of the stems and tying it. Then hang the bags or place them in a cool, dry place for 2 weeks. After 2 weeks, you’ll have dried herbs (if not, let them hang another week, there shouldn’t be any moisture left in them). Take them out of the bags and gently tug, pull or scrape the leaves of the herbs off the stems with your fingers. You can crumble the basil, oregano & parsley at this point, if you wish. Place them in your jars and label. Or, if you have non-edible lavender, use it in a sachet. All done!

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Anyway… as you might have guessed, this is the last garden post of the season. Sad, yes. But each year it comes whether we like it or not. The good things far outweigh the bad: the fresh veggies that start to come in record numbers, the fresh herbs that grow like crazy, and the delicious meals, sauces & salsas that can come of them all.

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Except this year.

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This year I was lucky to get 8 Cajun Belle peppers, 4 SuperTasty Hybrid tomatoes and 1 Green Zebra tomato. That’s it. Of course, my herbs were huge and I got tons of use out of them all season, not to mention the pesto I’ll be making & freezing because my basil is taking over a small country. But my vegetables were not at all what they have been in the past. Why? I don’t know. The weather, maybe? I know the country is having the worst drought in two decades. But here in NY, it was a pretty wet summer (wetter than usual), but that flip-flopped from very very hot to very very wet almost constantly. The plants barely had time to dry out and recover from one storm by the time another one hit. Though really, I’m not sure. Maybe it was the crazy wind with all those severe thunderstorms (& tornadoes! WHAT?), maybe it was the really bad heat in between all that, maybe it was just me. My mind has been other places this summer, and I haven’t been as anal-retentive about keeping up with the gardening. I noticed some funky curly leaves on the tomatoes and I never even did anything about it. I haven’t weeded or used any fertilizer/plant food at all either. And maybe it was the fact that I chose heirloom tomatoes, not hardier disease-resistant ones this season. But regardless, no matter what the reason, that’s all I got so far. The “mystery plant” died sometime in mid-August, so I guess I’ll never know what it was (glad we weren’t taking bets!). Now my peppers & tomatoes will probably keep growing for a few more weeks, or at least until it gets too cold at night, but I doubt I’ll get much more out of them. Of course, if I end up with anything else, you’ll all read about it for sure. But basically, that was my bounty of 2012, and I was lucky to get it.

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But it was still worth it. Each tomato or pepper is one more tomato or pepper I didn’t have to buy.

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I cut those last three peppers off before they matured, because I wanted to use a variety of peppery heat in a dish I was making. The green tomato took forever to finish growing, it wasn’t done until last week. And the SuperTasty’s? Ugh. They were a struggle all season. Like I said, I could probably take some of the blame, if not most- I wasn’t 100% invested this year. But the weather was downright bizarre, so I’m just going to use that as my excuse. In all my years of having a veggie/herb garden, this is the first year my bounty was pathetic, so I guess I should be thankful. And the best part? Using fresh tomato slices from my own plant, and fresh oregano to make a fantastic light hot weather dinner: a tomato feta open-face sandwich, using one of my SuperTasty hybrid tomatoes & both kinds of fresh oregano.

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I feel almost silly for writing up the recipe for this, it’s so easy, but epicurious.com did too, so I’m in good company. This is a good way to enjoy the fruits of your garden on a really hot, sticky late summer night. Or a slightly warm early fall evening.

TOMATO-FETA OPEN FACE SANDWICH (from epicurious.com)

Ingredients:

  • Thick slices of white bread (Pullman loaf is ideal)
  • Olive oil (good quality oil meant for eating)
  • Tomato slices
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Slabs or crumbles of feta
  • Fresh oregano

Directions:

  1. Lightly toast thick slices of white bread, then drizzle with olive oil.
  2. Add tomato slices, salt and freshly ground black pepper, slabs of feta, fresh oregano, and more oil.
  3. Eat!

I bet this sandwich would look delightful with different colored heirloom tomatoes, and it would probably be amazing with blue cheese or Gorgonzola crumbles too. Noms.

Everybody loves a picnic!

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
-James Henry

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I love picnics. I don’t have them often, of course, but I’ve had a few over the course of my life & they’ve always been fun. When I was a kid, my mom used to have “backyard picnics” where we just set up a simple little picnic on the grass in the yard. It wasn’t anything crazy, usually a few sandwiches with the crusts cut off (mine was always either peanut butter or potato chip; yes I ate potato chip sandwiches) and some soda or sparkling water and some snacks. Once or twice on a rainy day we even had an indoor picnic on the floor and had pizza or Chinese food. It was so much fun.

And then you grow up and your sense of fun changes. You forget to do little fun things every now and then, “just because.”;

Taking a cue from that, I decided to have one now. As a “grown-up.” I have these two vintage picnic baskets sitting around that I never used. Plus I’ve been working really hard, on a variety of things (like the new Recipe Index!). I figured, why do I have to actually go somewhere to have a picnic when I can have one right here?! You can have a picnic anywhere- even inside, like I said. Martha Stewart recently did a segment on the Today show about how to prepare a picnic entirely in jars! There are tons of ways to do a picnic, from traditional to un-traditional. Bring cold foods, hot foods, room-temperature foods, salads, wine & cheese. Whatever you like.

The first usage of the word ‘picnic’ is traced to the 1692 edition of Tony Willis, Origines de la Langue Française, which mentions pique-nique as being of recent origin; it marks the first appearance of the word in print. The term was used to describe a group of people dining in a restaurant who brought their own wine. The concept of a picnic long retained the connotation of a meal to which everyone contributed something. Whether picnic is actually based on the verb piquer which means ‘pick’ or ‘peck’ with the rhyming nique meaning “thing of little importance” is doubted; the Oxford English Dictionary says it is of unknown provenance. The word predates lynching in the United States; claims that it is derived from a shortening of ‘pick a n—-r’ are untrue.[2]

The word ‘picnic’ first appeared in English in a letter of the Gallicized Lord Chesterfield in 1748 (OED), who associates it with card-playing, drinking and conversation, and may have entered the English language from this French word.[3] The practice of an elegant meal eaten out-of-doors, rather than a harvester worker’s dinner in the harvest field, was connected with respite from hunting from the Middle Ages; the excuse for the pleasurable outing of 1723 in François Lemoyne‘s painting Hunt Picnic is still offered in the context of a hunt.

After the French Revolution in 1789, royal parks became open to the public for the first time. Picnicking in the parks became a popular activity amongst the newly enfranchised citizens.

Early in the 19th century, a fashionable group of Londoners (including Edwin Young) formed the ‘Picnic Society‘. Members met in the Pantheon on Oxford Street. Each member was expected to provide a share of the entertainment and of the refreshments with no one particular host. Interest in the society waned in the 1850s as the founders died.[4]

From the 1830s, Romantic American landscape painting of spectacular scenery often included a group of picnickers in the foreground. An early American illustration of the picnic is Thomas Cole‘s The Pic-Nic of 1846 (Brooklyn Museum of Art).[5] In it, a guitarist serenades the genteel social group in the Hudson River Valley with the Catskills visible in the distance. Cole’s well-dressed young picnickers having finished their repast, served from splint baskets on blue-and-white china, stroll about in the woodland and boat on the lake.

The image of picnics as a peaceful social activity can be utilised for political protest, too. In this context, a picnic functions as a temporary occupation of significant public territory. A famous example of this is the Pan-European Picnic held on both sides of the Hungarian/Austrian border on the 19 August 1989 as part of the struggle towards German reunification.

In 2000, a 600-mile-long picnic took place from coast to coast in France to celebrate the first Bastille Day of the new Millennium. In the United States, likewise, the 4 July celebration of American independence is a popular day for a picnic. In Italy, the favorite picnic day is Easter Monday.

-Wikipedia

I decided to try my hand at a new recipe for a healthier macaroni salad to serve at my little picnic. It’s got basically 3/4 the calories of regular macaroni salad, and it’s got something like 1/3 the fat. Not that these things bother me particularly, because I don’t eat macaroni salad & don’t really count calories anyway, but you can’t have a picnic without some kind of mayo-based or carb-based salad, and I thought it’d be an interesting thing to try. Everyone is looking to cut down on fat nowadays. Not me. I like fat.


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Eh. Let’s just call this a new twist on macaroni salad. From what I hear it’s too delicious to be considered “low fat” or anything. And about my “I like fat” comment above; I really do like it. But that doesn’t mean you have to. I’m just being an asshole. Obviously, if you have dietary restrictions or health issues, lower fat diets are important. It’s just that I don’t. So I like fat. And I can’t really apologize for that.

‘Kay, now that that’s settled.. on to the salad!

CREAMY MACARONI SALAD

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound macaroni (I used small shells)
  • 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 hard-boiled large eggs, whites roughly chopped, yolks left whole
  • 2 dill pickle spears, chopped
  • 1/2 a medium red onion, chopped
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons chives for topping (optional)

Directions:

  1. Cook pasta according to the package directions in salted boiling water. Drain and return to the pot it was cooked in.
  2. Meanwhile, mash the two egg yolks in a large bowl with a fork. Add the yogurt, mayonnaise, and the lemon juice; stir together until creamy & smooth.
  3. Add pasta to mayonnaise mixture, and using a silicone spatula, flip and stir the pasta until evenly coated in the mayo mix. Add the egg whites, red onions and chopped pickles and mix well.
  4. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Sprinkle with chives just before serving.

This salad can be stored in the fridge an airtight container for up to three days. If it’s too dry after taking it out of the fridge, you can add a tablespoon more yogurt (or mayo, whatever). Just do yourself a favor and don’t accidentally buy vanilla yogurt. You’ll gross yourself out big time if you use that…

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The cool thing about macaroni salads (& potato salads) is that you can add pretty much anything you like, within reason. You can add radishes, celery, sliced Bell peppers, dill, slivered carrots, exchange the lemon juice for vinegar, etc. Take out stuff you don’t like, add stuff you do. This other macaroni salad I made is a great example of that. You can personalize it 100% and yet it’s always guaranteed to be delicious.

As far as a picnic goes- it’s easy. You don’t even need anything crazy. Some bread (mine was a French baguette), cheese (I had some provolone & goat’s milk brie), macaroni or potato salad, fried chicken if you’re really ambitious, maybe some cold cuts or cold leftover chicken, some fresh fruit (& whipped cream if you like- I had strawberries, cherries, oranges & nectarines), maybe some warm-weather friendly cupcakes, a jar or two of pickles (I brought red wine vinegar/red onion pickles & dilly beans), maybe some sliced cucumbers & yogurt, baby carrots & ranch dressing, a refreshing drink or two (maybe even some wine- not pictured) and some cutlery and napkins… that’s it. You’re ready to go! Lucky for you, I took some photos of my little picnic before digging in.

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Today might be a rainy/thunderstorm-y day here in New York & a bunch of other places on the East Coast, but when are you having your summer picnic?

Playing in the dirt.

I thought I’d do a quick little update on the garden while things were a bit slow around here due to today’s excessive heat & sunshine that’ll blind you.

(Alright, I’m lying. It’s not that slow around here, nor is it that hot – it’s around 91° F, which compared to our 101° temps last week is nothing. I just wanted to do a garden update. Whatever.)

And so I’ll begin this written portion of the program by saying that while every other woman in the country (seemingly) is squealing in excitement for the final film installment of The Twilight Saga and/or reading Fifty Shades of Grey, I’ve been gardening, cooking, baking, canning, beaching, grilling, strolling, sunbathing, and generally enjoying the outdoors. Not that there’s anything wrong with the aforementioned activities. I’m just saying. Summer goes by quickly, folks. Enjoy it while it’s here! The winter is loooong.

But right now, it’s pretty much hotter than hell most days. That sun I photographed above beats down relentlessly (when it’s not pouring rain & thundering, oh the joys of high humidity!) on everything making the sidewalk so hot I could fry my peppers outdoors. This poor little guy was one of the (probably many) casualties of the heat. I call him The Jesus Lizard, because a few weeks prior, I found a lizard laying in quite the same position, and assumed him dead. Yet when I went to brush him off the walkway into the flowerbed (I don’t know why, my version of a lizard burial I suppose) he flipped over and scooted away. This time… however… he was 100% definitely dead. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is that very same lizard. So of course, what else would I call him but the Jesus Lizard? Somewhere, many other lizards are awaiting his second coming. Until then, rest in peace little dude.

The heat is no joke. This is why they tell you to check on the elderly & young’ns and make sure your pets have plenty of cold fresh water. Anyway… let’s get back to something pleasant: my container garden! Prepare for lots of photos.

Cajun Belle pepper

Green Zebra heirloom tomato

SuperTasty Hybrid tomato

Herbs; dill, cilantro, rosemary

Oregano

Variegated oregano

Mint

Rosemary

Lavender (not edible)

Basil

The “Mystery Plant”

So yeah. That’s pretty much that.

The interesting thing is that “Mystery Plant” there. Whatever it is, it’s a plant from last year that I thought was just dead wood. However, I failed to remove it from the pot at the end of the season in October, and the tag that told me what it was went missing over the winter. So I was surprised to see that there was green life coming from the dead-looking brown stalk a month ago, and I decided to leave it and see what came of it. It’s gotten bigger, with more green growing, but I’m not 100% sure what it is. It’s possible it’s my Habanero plant, or it could be a Bell pepper. It’s definitely not a tomato, and I doubt it’s an eggplant. But I guess we’ll see, right?! Whatever it is, it’s a pleasant surprise, and a testament to life and nature. It’s so true what my grandma used to say: where there’s life- there’s hope! Except for Jesus Lizard, that is.

I did have one little casualty. A Cajun Belle fell off the vine prematurely. It was so cute, and so perfectly formed… but so tiny! So I tossed it into the grass for the local bunnies or my friendly raccoon family to nibble on.

My mint is struggling to come back full force, which kinda sucks- I have a feeling by the time it’s huge the season will be over and it’ll be time for me to cut it down and dry it. It’s turning brown slightly on the edges. Blah. I’ll update again once more things start to come around. Basil? For a while it wasn’t doing too well- it seemed to be shrinking. But now it’s better. My cilantro took a nose dive, though. My tomatoes are taking an extra long time, trying my patience, for sure. I lost two buds (one from each) in a bad thunderstorm that lasted over 12+ hours and it took forever for the other teeny buds to catch up. Ugh. Hurry up tomatoes!

At least I hope they get here before Breaking Dawn pt. 2.

Kidding.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

My name is a derivative of Mary, did you know that? It’s an old English form of the name. Fancier than Mary, but still the same name & the meaning (of the original Hebrew root name, Miryam, that is) ranges from bitter/bitterness, salty to rebellion, obstinacy. I’d like to think I’m not bitter, but salty… yes. I can be a bit salty at times. And rebellious? Totally. I’ll even admit to obstinate.

That doesn’t really have anything to do with gardening. Does explain the title of this post, though. And it explains partially why my grandmother used to call me ‘Rosie the Riveter.’ I grow my own veggies & herbs in the spring/summer, bake, cook, can my own pickles/jams/jellies/sauces/etc. I can sew. I am the modern Rosie the Riveter, I guess. I can fix anything, I can paint, I can repair almost anything or install almost anything. I think it’s important to be independent. Women who are the “damsels in distress” make me want to vomit. There’s a balance though. Yes, I like doors held open for me and I like things done for me. Yes, I like to be protected and feel safe. Yes, it’s nice when a man shovels the snow for me, carries the groceries or offers to climb the ladder to fix XYZ, etc. Of course I like that. But do I need a man (or another human for that matter) to help me do things? Not most of the time. I can handle pretty much anything you throw at me. And I think that there are a lot of women who agree with me, but there are also a lot who don’t, surprisingly. They need a man to change a lightbulb or hang a picture. It’s ridiculous. Get up off your ass and learn to do something. I just hate whiny little wussy women who don’t know how to do anything. I remember when I was 17 I had to tell my then boyfriend which was the transmission fluid in his car and which was the oil. And I didn’t even own a car myself at the time- nor did I drive!

Anyway. I digress. I definitely scaled back the garden this year. I’ve got the same amount of herbs that I usually do, but I only got two tomatoes and one pepper. I didn’t grow from seed, I bought baby plants instead to lighten my load, so to speak. And also because I missed the seed-planting boat. But like I mentioned last time, I wasn’t sure how much time I’d have to invest in it this year, so I did want to scale back. But half the herbs were already growing (chives, both oregano, mint & parsley) so honestly, how scaled back could it be? Not only that, but my freakin’ chives could’ve taken over a small country… let alone my oregano. I mistakenly didn’t prune them back last fall so this year they were ridiculous. Scale back? Right. In for a penny, in for a pound, so I bought a few veggie plants and called it a day.

And no. I don’t care if you think that it’s cheating that I didn’t grow them from seeds. I’ve got so much else going on, and I do this for fun. I can’t be Wonder Woman. Well, not all the time. So save your preaching & crap for a blogger who cares & who buys into it. I’m not sustaining my entire family to get through the summer. I’m just doing this because I enjoy it.

So, the tally this year is:

  1. Green Zebra Heirloom tomato
  2. Cajun Belle pepper
  3. SuperTasty Hybrid tomato
  4. Rosemary
  5. Chives
  6. Variegated oregano
  7. Oregano
  8. Mint (small, but still trying to come back!)
  9. Italian parsley
  10. Sweet basil
  11. Lavender
  12. Cilantro
  13. Dill

I wanted to grow an heirloom tomato for a while, so I went with the Green Zebra because it was different. The other tomato? Well I got it because I wanted a regular old red tomato as well. The pepper is supposedly sweet but hot, which has a nice sound. After the Habanero’s last year, I needed a break from the super hot peppers. I ended up with 800 Hab’s and I had no idea what to do with them all! I might break down & buy another small vegetable at the nursery before the season is over, because I’m crazy like that. I’m like the crazy cat lady but with plants. Remember my half-dead blueberry bush from last year? It died, by the way. Didn’t make it through the winter. But I can’t help myself, I go into a nursery and I see all those little plants looking all lonely…

At any rate, here’s some photos from when I first planted & cleaned up my little container garden. The two tomatoes first (Green Zebra left and Super Tasty right), then the pepper (close up) then the herbs- the first photo of those two has the two different types of oregano/cilantro/dill/rosemary and the Cajun pepper (while it was still just flowering), the last photo has the basil and lavender. Things have changed since then, so scroll on down and see!

I’m slightly concerned that I’ve read the Green Zebra tomato isn’t very disease resistant & also that aphids seem to love it. I hate to think that it’ll die or be a waste, but even if I get one or two tomatoes from it I’ll be appeased. Aphids love my roses too, for some strange reason more so my Intrigue & Queen Elizabeth, but so far this year I haven’t seen any. Here’s hoping they stay away! Yeah. I know. I’m dreaming.

As the last thing for this post, here are some of my flowers so far. They’re absolutely beautiful; clockwise from top left… Pansy, Rose, Dianthus and Petunia.

A bevy of blossoms brings beautiful vinegar.

It’s been a busy few weeks. No matter how busy the weeks get I try and continue to incorporate blogging into my life. I try not to let all the craziness of life cause me to ignore the blog, or let it sit for more than a few days without a post. It’s just my way of keeping myself disciplined. But really, it has been busier than usual: Mother’s Day, tons of birthdays, a wedding, old friends coming up to New York (from all over the damn world it seems; but really just Hawaii & Texas) and now Memorial Day. All of that meant lots of late nights, lots of food- particularly fried (Chip Shop!)… and lots of beer. I kind of need to recover from it all a bit before Monday. And I think the best way to do that is spend some time outside, in the sun, getting fresh air while I prepare for Memorial Day, and watering plants & gardening. Oh, and drinking water. Gallons of water.

I’ve seen chive blossom vinegar in many places all over the internet for a few years now, this year being no exception. It intrigued me, but never enough to try it. I kept wondering what the hell I’d use it for. Plus, my chives never gave me more than three or four, maybe five or six blossoms a season. But this year? It exploded! Hundreds (okay well not really hundreds, but a lot) of pretty purple blossoms burst onto the scene in early April, much to my surprise.

Our extremely mild winter caused my chives to come back from their hibernation far earlier, and also this year they’re larger than ever. And the blossoms are so pretty, I usually just like looking at them in the garden until they die and I cut ‘em off. But honestly, what’s life without a little experimentation? So being that I had so many, and a few extra jars laying around, I thought why not try it. Plus, I’ve been more into infusions lately. I was planning on some rosemary-garlic infused olive oil, so why not make some infused vinegar too.

You don’t have to use the blossoms in vinegar. You can cook with them too, or use them in salads. Just do a Google and you’ll see. The Kitchn has a great piece on using them, too. However, I chose to use roughly half of my blossoms in a vinegar infusion. The other half ended up in my kitchen in a jar of water, as if they were a bouquet. Kept the chive part fresh and close at hand, too.

Chive vinegar is regular white vinegar, or white wine vinegar, that’s infused with chive blossoms. Technically, you could use whatever vinegar you wanted, but I think (and apparently this is the general consensus among chive vinegar makers) using a clear vinegar is aesthetically best. That way you can see the true pink color that comes from the blossoms, and also the jar looks pretty while it’s “infusing.” But really, to each his own. To make it, here’s what you do: You cut the blossoms off your chives. Rinse them thoroughly in cool water, making sure any grit, dirt, sand or unwanted little tenants clear out. It’s best, I find, to fill a large bowl with cool water and put them in there, swirling them around gently, rather than just rinsing them. Dry them either in a salad spinner, or air dry them on paper towels. Place the blossoms in a jar or bottle about ½ to ¾ full. Pour in your vinegar to fill the container. Then let it sit in a dark/cool place for two weeks, then strain it, removing the flowers. What you end up with is a beautiful pink vinegar that’s mildly onion-y in flavor. It’s perfect in vinaigrettes & salads, great in macaroni or potato salad, and it’d probably make fairly interesting refrigerator pickles.

Chives, posing with chives! Brilliant!

I made this on May 13th, and here’s a little photo quadrangle of its journey from then ’til the day I made the potato salad. I was pretty amazed at how in just a matter of less than 12 hours, the vinegar was already obviously pink. And then it just got pinker & pinker! It’s so pretty, really. It reminds me of those bottles of day-glo highlighter liquid teenagers used to make years ago to use under blacklight (am I showing my age?), except prettier, edible & much more useful. And totally less ’90′s.

Day eight was a rainy, miserable day, so the picture sucks. Of course, the two weeks is the recommended time, but you can use it even after a few days. It won’t be as strong, but you’ll definitely get a chive flavor. I used mine after about 8 or 9 days and it was plenty strong. I also dried the blossoms I removed from the vinegar and saved them in another jar to use in egg salad. But that’s a whole ‘nother post for another day. Anyway, speaking of salad… I was so inspired by the beautiful jar of pink vinegar, that I decided to use it to make some chive-y potato salad. And then, I thought, why not share it on the blog? ‘Cause I’m awesome, that’s why. And also because Monday here in the good ol’ U. S. of A. is Memorial Day, which is a big barbecue day which pretty much kicks off the summer and potato salad is a barbecue/summer staple. Memorial Day means way more than just that, of course, but like 4th of July, Americans don’t like holidays they can’t get a day off for or drink to celebrate. In terms of the salad: keep in mind, if you’re not using chive vinegar, the flavor will be different. I’d substitute by using white wine vinegar & add a sliced shallot and an extra tablespoon of chopped chives. Or, you can just make your own chive blossom vinegar. Or… if you have no chive blossoms but you have some chives, just cut some chives up and put them in a jar of vinegar for a week or so. The vinegar will definitely end up with a chive flavor, though perhaps not the same as with the blossoms and definitely not pink.

Honestly- potato salad (and macaroni salad) is so easy to make, why go and buy it at a deli or supermarket? You’ve probably got most of the necessary ingredients right at hand, and what you don’t have you can always substitute other things for. Or omit them totally. Do yo’ thaaaang.

CHIVE BLOSSOM VINEGAR POTATO SALAD

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds russet potatoes, boiled (& peeled, if desired) and cubed (equals roughly 8 medium-sized potatoes)
  • 4-5 tablespoons chive blossom vinegar, depending on taste
  • 2 cups mayonnaise
  • 3 chopped hard-boiled eggs
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ cup chopped celery (I omitted this)
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon mustard (I used Gulden’s spicy brown, you can use any you like)
  • washed chive blossoms, either fresh or dried (for garnish, if desired, the blossoms are edible)

Directions:

  1. Toss the potatoes with 2 tablespoons chive vinegar and ½ teaspoon salt in a large bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix the mayo, chives, mustard, remaining tablespoons vinegar, and sugar thoroughly.
  3. Add to the potato mixture. Chill until cool. Garnish with whole or torn apart chive blossoms, if you want.

This salad was inhaled. INHALED. Disappeared from the bowl like David Blaine was here. People from all over New York swarmed to my house to taste it. Alright. So… that’s a lie, but I wasn’t lying about it being inhaled. You’d have thought I invented the wheel the way people raved about it. And I find that the more things you make yourself, the more impressed people are with it, and the better your food tastes to them. Once I said I not only grew the chives, but used the blossoms to make infused vinegar and then in turn used that vinegar to make the salad, I was practically crowned the new Martha Stewart. No shit.

This recipe makes a very creamy potato salad, if you prefer a more vinegar-y one, then just alter it to suit your needs by lessening the amount of mayo. Potato salad is a super easy thing to change around. It’s all about taste & preference, there is no wrong. Use any kind of potatoes- from baby reds to Yukon Gold, any kind of mustard (or none), any amount of hard-boiled eggs (or none), any kind of vinegar, etc. So easy! Take out the chives, add dill, add a chopped pickle, whatever. It’s 100% customizable. Same thing with macaroni salad. Just taste it as you go and change things up. There are tons of base recipes on the internet if you’re scared.

Back to the chive vinegar: I think it’s great to have a jar of this around, especially if you’re into making your own salad dressings or vinaigrettes. I’m going to work on a pickle recipe using some of this vinegar as well. My mother wants some to marinate steaks in; she likes vinegar marinated steak. And she probably just wants a jar of pink vinegar to put out on the counter, too, ’cause it’s pretty to look at. And yes, the blossoms themselves are edible too. Try one.