Category: parsley

Pseudo-Dutch potato salad.

Pseudo-Dutch potato salad recipe.

It just so happens, I am part Dutch. Not Pennsylvania Dutch, just Dutch. From the Netherlands. Land of the wooden shoes. I’m many things actually- but yes, Dutch is one of them. However I’m not a big fan of potato salad (Dutch or otherwise). I come from a family who LOVES all kinds of mayonnaise-dressed carbohydrate salads; macaroni, potato, etc. And coleslaw too. I did not inherit the love.

But ’tis the season to have barbecues, picnics and eat outside in general. And those usually include a type of salad; be it made with lettuces & greens or potatoes, macaroni or eggs.

Continue reading

A time to plant, a time to sow.

;

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!

;

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.

;

Except this year.

;

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.

;

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

;

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.

;

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.

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.

What da dilly, yo?

Busta Rhymes & dilly beans. A natural combination, no?

So yeah. Dilly beans. As a native New Yorker, where most of my young-adult time was spent pounding pavement in Manhattan, either uptown by the Met or downtown in Chelsea & the Fashion District, not quite growing my own vegetables/living in a rural area/reading up about canning, I hadn’t a friggin’ clue what the hell a dilly bean was. I’d heard of them, sure, on the internet & blogging circles. But I was totally not sure what exactly they were. Turns out, they’re just preserved green beans! Go figure!

Dilly beans or pickled green beans, are a means of preserving this summer legume. Often flavored with dill, hence the name, they may also contain garlic, Tabasco sauce, and red pepper. Best kept in glass jars for safekeeping over the winter months, they can be served on their own as a snack or alongside a main dish or in salad. While they are made in kitchens all over the United States, they are particularly common in Vermont, where the overabundance of green beans produced during the short summer needs to be preserved for enjoyment during the long winter.

Dilly beans were developed as a commercial product in 1958 by Sonya Hagna and Jacquelyn Park, who made them the subject of a well-known radio advertising campaign.[1]

Wikipedia

Ahhh so it’s a VERMONT thing, eh? I see. It just sounds so old-timey to me, I find them sorta fascinating.

Turns out they’re pretty popular. After Tracie, a Facebook fan of Cupcake Rehab, mentioned awhile back that they were her favorite thing to “can” (and also explained what they were, thanks Tracie), I thought they’d be an easy pickling project. Especially since my local grocer was selling fresh green beans for super cheap & my family was asking me for even more pickled items (word to the wise: the pickles are never enough). Even though I went canning crazy last month when my grandma died (that still sucks to write, by the way), practically all my pickles are gone and whatevers left is fought over.

I design/print/make my own labels… I just love them..


PICKLED GREEN BEANS AKA “DILLY BEANS” (directly from Food in Jars /adapted from So Easy to Preserve)

Ingredients for gettin’ dilly with it:

  • 2 pounds green beans, trimmed to fit your jars
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like it hot)
  • 4 teaspoons dill seed (not dill weed)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 ½ cups white vinegar (5%)
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • ¼ cup pickling salt (use a bit more if you’ve only got Kosher)

Directions on how to get yo’ dilly on:

  1. Prep your canning pot by inserting a rack to keep your jars off the bottom of the pot, place pint jars in (wide-mouth pints work best here. A 12-ounce jelly jar is also nice, as it’s a bit taller than a standard pint and makes for less trimming) and fill it with water. Bring to a boil to sterilize while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.
  2. Wash and trim your beans so that they fit in your jar. If you have particularly long beans, your best bet is to cut them in half, although by doing so, you do lose the visual appeal of having all the beans standing at attending.
  3. Combine vinegar, water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. While it’s heating up, pack your beans into the jars, leaving ½ inch headspace (distance between the tops of the beans and the rim of the jar). To each jar, add ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 clove of garlic and 1 teaspoon dill seeds.
  4. Pour the boiling brine over the beans, making sure to leave that ½ inch headspace. Use a plastic knife to remove air bubbles from jar by running it around the interior of the jar. Wipe the rims and apply the lids (which have been sitting in a small saucepan of water at a mere simmer for at least ten minutes in order to soften the sealing compound) and rings.
  5. Process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath (remember that you don’t start timing until the pot has come to a rolling boil).

As she said: “These beans want to hang out for a least two weeks before eating, to thoroughly develop their flavor.” This recipe, as it is written above, makes 4 jars of dilly beans. I did not use wide mouth pints, I used 2 regular pint jars. Why 2? Well I halved the recipe, really because I bought only a pound of beans. I would’ve bought more but I forgot what the recipe said when I went to buy ‘em, so I only bought one pound. Why I don’t know, because I clearly could’ve JARRED whatever extra I had. Oh well. I’m still thinking like someone who doesn’t can/jar, i.e. “I don’t want to waste it!” Duh. What an idiot, right? Anyway because these were gifts, or rather “orders”, I did not go crazy with the cayenne. I used just a ¼ teaspoon in each jar and it was too hot for these people! Crazy. If it were for me, I might have used the ½ teaspoon. But remember, these people are lame-o’s who don’t like “hot” stuff. So there we go. Who knew ¼ teaspoon of cayenne was too much? I guess these are some hardcore gangsta spicy dilly “Gettin’ silly wit my 9-milly, what da dilly yo?” beans.

Also, it’s true. Wide-mouth pints would work better. I used regular ones & it kinda sucked cramming them in. Pfft.

As summer is starting to come to a close, I’m trying to get in all the summer-y things I can. I had a pretty shitty summer, but while it’s still warm I’m trying to hang on to what’s left of it. Potato salad is one of those summertime staples. Every barbecue or picnic has either potato salad, macaroni salad, or both. My grandma made an awesome potato salad. So awesome, everyone who ate it said it was the best ever. Unfortunately, she wrote nothing down. And my mother never noted any of what she put into it, neither did I. It was always a dash of this, a little of that, etc. And as she got older, she made these awesome things less & less, and left the cooking to us; first my mom, then myself. So her recipes belong to the ages, along with her. However, last month’s issue of Bon Appétit has an entire article on canning, and it features a recipe for Dilly Bean Potato Salad. So I thought I’d give it a shot. And while it’s probably not quite as good as Nana’s, it’s something new & different. It’s also pretty damn amazing in it’s own right, to be fair. Maybe a new family recipe?

Dilly bean sighting!

DILLY BEAN POTATO SALAD (from Bon Appétit, August 2011)

Ingredients:

  • 2 shallots, halved lengthwise, very thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or more, to taste)
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 lb. potatoes*
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup mayonnaise (or more, to taste)
  • 1 large pinch smoked paprika
  • 3 cups trimmed watercress, purslane or wild arugula, coarsely chopped**
  • 1 cup Dilly beans, cut crosswise into 2″ pieces
  • 2-3 large hard boiled eggs, peeled, quartered
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley or celery leaves

Directions:

  1. Place shallots in a small bowl. Stir in the red wine vinegar, and a large pinch of salt; set aside.
  2. Cook potatoes in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, about 30 minutes. Drain potatoes well; transfer to a large bowl. Lightly crush potatoes with the back of a large spoon.
  3. Add shallot-vinegar mixture to hot potatoes and toss to incorporate. Season with salt & pepper.
  4. Whisk  mayonnaise and smoked paprika in a small bowl; add to potatoes and toss to combine. Fold in watercress, beans, add eggs and season to taste with salt, pepper and more vinegar or mayonnaise if desired. Garnish with parsley.
*the original recipe calls for baby Yukon gold, I just used unpeeled quartered Russets, that’s what my Nana did.
**I omitted that & just added a handful of chopped chives from my garden.
 
 Nana would be proud, second & third servings were requested.

 This can be made one day ahead of time. Cover and chill, return to room temperature before serving, and stir in extra mayonnaise if it’s too dry. Although the next day nobody needed extra mayo; it seemed to stay nice & creamy. It would also knock it out of the park without the dilly beans; just add a little extra egg.

OH one more thing about the beans; remember what I said about the peaches floating? Dilly beans float too, apparently. I also did not have to trim many of my beans, sure I had to trim some but not a lot. Although now in retrospect, I probably could’ve gotten away with not trimming them at all, because I clearly had a lot of leeway, judging by the bottom of the jars there. I’m really bad at taking photos before I fill the jars, or during the process of filling the jars, etc.  I promise I’ll change. I’ll be better. I know people want to see the process. I’ll deliver, my friends, I’ll deliver.

And I swear on my dilly’s that there will be some baked goods soon. In the meantime, why not make some of this for one of those ‘last days of summer’ barbecues?

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.

..

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)


….
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.

Grow time, 2011.

You might remember my garden posts from last year. In case you don’t, long story short: I had a little Victory Garden that I adored. I had 3 tomato varieties (Celebrity, Big Boy & a little patio tomato), 3 peppers (Cubanelle, red sweet pepper & Big Bertha), an eggplant (Black Beauty), Elite zucchini & Marketmore cucumber… plus all the herbs you can imagine; rosemary, cilantro, sweet basil, variegated oregano, mint, Italian parsley, fringed lavender and chives. I was all about using my fresh herbs & veggies to cook with last year, and I was pretty much totally bummed when the season ended. I ended up drying all my herbs that could be dried and jarring them for use throughout the fall/winter. I still couldn’t wait to start digging in the dirt again, smelling the sunshine & eating my own vegetables I grew myself right outside my back door.

So of course as soon as the weather was nice, I cleaned out all my pots & containers & got them all ready for a new season. My chives were already crazy, they were huge with their little purple chive-y flowers on top, and my variegated oregano had come back along with my mint. I basically decided I’d skip the zucchini this year (last year I did not have luck with that, Google the terrible phrase ‘zucchini flower abortion’ and you’ll see why) and that I’d skip the catnip too (same results as the zucchini, oddly), but that I’d get pretty much the same stuff as last year. Last year was the first year I expanded past herbs (& my roses which I’ve been into for years) into vegetables, and I had a pretty nice crop so I figured why not stick with what works? So I bought three tomatoes again, this time Beefsteak, Better Boy & a Roma (my fave!). I also got another eggplant, another cucumber (Burpless Hybrid, some of which I plan on picking at a smaller size to pickle) and three peppers: one Cowhorn, one Habanero (oh yes, I went there) and one red Bell pepper. Then I went herb crazy! Cilantro, dill, rosemary, flat Italian parsley, oregano, more mint, sweet basil- oh my. I don’t have any lavender yet, but I might buy a small plant if I see one. Alot of my plants this year are from Bonnie. Last year I had one & it grew amazing, so since I was running a bit late with my planting I decided to go with some fully grown plants from them. They’ve been around since 1918 & have an excellent reputation, so if you’re too impatient (or too late) to grow from seeds- go buy Bonnie!

It may sound dumb and obvious, but I strongly recommend tomato cages with the larger varieties. Last summer I only had one cage & ended up tying my other tomatoes to large wooden stakes & praying in heavy wind & rain that they’d be okay. I got lucky, but better to be safe than sorry, right? I did lose an eggplant to a bad storm, though. That couldn’t have been helped anyway, the vine just snapped.

Here’s my romaine. I can’t wait to start eating this, romaine is one of my favorite lettuces!

And here’s that variegated oregano from last year. I love it.

Here are some of my other herbs. Don’t worry, I won’t show you everything, because there’s nothing exciting yet in terms of growth. Once I start getting buds on the tomatoes & peppers, etc I’ll get picture-crazy again.

Basil, chive & my skinny little parsley. If it’s anything like last year, it’ll end up 3 ft tall!

….

Cilantro is another of my favorite herbs, ever

Great with chicken!


Look- some buds on my Cowhorn pepper! Looks like those’ll be the first to have a taste-test.

And finally… my most favoritest of the vegetables this year… the one tomato I really hope grows huge… my Roma!


….

That’s basically it for now. Hopefully in another few weeks I’ll have more interesting shots to share. I’m also really excited for the Cowhorn pepper; all my peppers last year were sweet or mild. This one is supposedly much hotter, which I like. I can’t wait to make some pico de gallo & salsa & summer tomato sauce with my OWN veggies! I already made a cilantro-lime Jasmine rice with my cilantro, which was amazingly delicious. And easy- just snip off some cilantro, pull off the leaves and put them in with Jasmine rice as it cooks. When it’s almost ready, squirt in some lime juice & sprinkle some salt. Ta-da! And I think I’ll make some hot sauce or some hot salsa with my habanero’s. Beware, all ye who dine at my house *smile* You never know when I might get my peppers mixed up. Mwahahaha.

If you’re interested in container gardening, or totally new to it & wanna learn more, here’s a great resource, and here’s another. It’s really easy & fun to do, not to mention extremely gratifying. If you’re scared, start off small with herbs. I know Gina told me she’s a bit scared because, in her words, “how do I grow a thumb? as in any one, mine isn’t even black, its non-existent!” You might remember her from Cooking the Books, but she’s got a new venture now: The Sweet Life Center. If you’re a mom or mommy-to-be and you live in the LI/NYC area, you might wanna check it out! And you can follow it on Twitter too @yoursweetliving to find out more. Anyway, Gina says she’s scared to start a garden, but it really is easy! I promise. Start off by buying a few fully grown herb plants. If they last through the summer, try growing them from seeds the next spring. Then if that works, buy some fully grown vegetable plans (and LARGE pots, if you’re not planting them in the ground) and see if you can go without killing them. If you succeed, try growing them from seeds the next spring. There are tons of online resources you can access, including answers to just about any question you have.

While I was planting, I remembered a funny story. Back when I was little, maybe 10, I wanted to grow vegetables. I don’t really know why, at the time I didn’t eat any of ‘em! But I loved to plant & garden so I guess I just wanted to grow stuff. I went with my mom & bought tomato seeds & planted them. A few weeks later, a large plant was coming up! It was green with big leaves so I staked it up and went and got a tomato cage and some fertilizer. I diligently fertilized my tomato plant, pruning dead leaves off and weeding the soil. A few weeks later, it was huge! At least 4 ft. tall …but no buds. I wasn’t too concerned, but my parents kept saying, “Where are the tomatoes!?” I guess I was just so excited about growing something, I didn’t even realize it hadn’t fruited. Nearing the end of the season, my aunt Marilyn & uncle Pat (who you may remember passed away recently) came over for a barbecue & I was all excited to show my uncle my tomato plant. I dragged him over to it and said “Here it is! My tomato!” And he looked at it, squinted at it, bent over, felt it, squinted some more, then straightened up and turned to me. He said, chuckling, “That is not a tomato. That’s a weed.”

Yep. I caged & fertilized a weed for 3 months. Needless to say, I’ve gotten considerably better over the last 20 years. Maybe uncle Pat will be lookin’ over my garden this summer, keeping things in line for me celestially.