Category: rosemary

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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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.

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.

Got an excess of pickled items? Well then read on…

I’m guessing that around this time of year most people who like to preserve foods or “can” end up with a plethora (or a bunch) of jars of pickled & preserved goodness. Now if your family is anything like mine, you end up with quite a few open jars in your fridge any given time. Everyone wants to taste everything at once!

“Ohh what are those? Pickled carrots?! I need to try them…”
“Mmm those habanero pickles look good, I think I’ll try one!”
“Holy crap- you made dilly beans?! I haven’t had one of those in years… lemme get one…”
“Wow lemon marmalade. Is it good? Can I try some?”

And then all the jars sit in the fridge getting picked at here and there, taking up space. Except for the regular cucumber pickles; the pickles go like hotcakes. I can barely keep a jar for longer than a week or two tops. So after the successful potato salad I made with dilly beans, I brainstormed this macaroni salad to incorporate and use up some of the pickled goodies sitting open in my fridge. I had some pickled carrots, dilly beans, peppers in oil & regular dill pickles, so that’s what I used. Of course, you can definitely substitute plain slivered carrots, chopped fresh Bell peppers and some chopped fresh green beans too… but it’ll be a totally different taste & flavor profile.

Keep in mind also that pretty much anything could be added: pickled zucchini, cauliflower, etc. Whatever you have open & whatever tickles your pickle (pun intended). Just chop it up & toss it on in there. You can adapt it to suit you in any way, including removing the mustard or removing the red wine vinegar & using all white, etc. Also, you can adjust the ratio of vinegar to mayonnaise as you like it.

Everyone loved it. LOVED IT. It was requested for lunch quite a bit that week.

The pickled carrots come from Molly Wizenberg‘s book, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table. I mentioned that lately I’d been reading through it again a few posts back, well I also saw the pickled carrots while re-reading it & became intrigued. They took no time to make, seeing as how they were really a form of “refigerator pickles” & were a welcome addition to not only this salad, but my refrigerator. I subbed fresh sprigs of rosemary for the thyme because my mother has an allergy to thyme, so I try to avoid using it in anything she’ll be eating. Now I understand that if you already have an excess of pickled vegetables, you might not want to add to it by making pickled carrots. And I really do understand. But in case you’re intrigued like I was, or you’d like to make them for your salad, I’m including Molly’s exact recipe. Mine differs slightly; I used rosemary instead of thyme, omitted the peppercorns & mustard seed but added freshly ground black pepper, and didn’t add the red pepper flakes either. But that’s something you can figure out for yourself. Same goes for the amount, I made one pint jar by adjusting the ingredients to accommodate it, which is certainly something you can do. If you used a variety of different colored heirloom carrots, it’d make an even more beautiful jar. Next time, that’s what I’ll do.

By the way, this is in the gluten-free category for the pickled carrots, not the macaroni salad, although you could definitely use gluten-free pasta. Same goes for whole wheat pasta or any kind you’d prefer. I like the tri-color because it adds to the prettiness, but that’s just a purely aesthetic reason.

They look gorgeous in the jar.

SPICY PICKLED CARROTS WITH GARLIC & THYME (from A Homemade Life)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar, plus more off topping jars
  • 2 cups water, plus more for topping jars
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 6 (5-to 6-inch) sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 5 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons black peppercorns, cracked
  • 1 ½ teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • Heaping 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • Heaping 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
  • 1 ½ pounds small (finger sized) carrots, or standard or baby sized carrots cut into sticks about ½” inch wide and 3 inches long

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine 1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, garlic, thyme, black peppercorns, red pepper flakes, salt & mustard seeds. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer & cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and let cool for 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining ½ cup vinegar.
  2. Put the carrots in a large, heatproof bowl, and pour the warm brine over them. Cool to room temperature. While they cool, wash 2 quart-sized canning jars and their lids in warm, soapy water.
  3. When the carrots & brine are cooled, distribute the carrots evenly among the jars, arranging them snugly. (Hands & fingers work best for this; tongs make a mess). Using a ladle, ladle the brine evenly among the jars. The carrots should be covered completely. If not, add a mixture of 2 parts vinegar and 1 part water to cover.
  4. Seal firmly & refrigerate for at least 3 days, or preferably a week. Carrots are dense & take time to absorb the brine. Carrots will last indefinitely (in theory) but try to eat them within a month or two (unless you give them a 10-minute waterbath, then they’ll probably last longer*).
* That’s my 2 cents.

PICKLED & PRESERVED MULTICOLOR MACARONI SALAD

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound tri-color pasta, cooked
  • 1 ½ cups mayonnaise
  • 5 teaspoons spicy brown mustard
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup slivered pickled carrots (or regular baby carrots)
  • ¼ cup chopped dilly beans
  • 4 or 5 sweet Bell peppers in oil, chopped
  • 1 pickle spear, cut into ¼” pieces
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • 3 hardboiled eggs, sliced then quartered
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Mix shallot and vinegars together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  2. Combine the mustard, mayonnaise, salt, pepper and paprika thoroughly in another medium bowl. In a third and larger bowl, add the cooked pasta and mayonnaise mixture together. Mix completely.
  3. Add the vinegar mixture and pickled vegetables and again mix thoroughly. Finally, add the eggs and gently toss.
  4. Place in refrigerator until chilled. Add more mayonnaise or vinegar right before serving if too dry.

Yeah. That’s one colorful, bright & happy macaroni salad. How could you not smile while eating that?

Holy Habaneros!

WOW. It’s September!? Where did the time go?

I never imagined back in February when I first read Molly Wizenberg’s book, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, that in just a few months I’d relate to it so deeply. Literally, about 5 months after finishing it, my life was turned into a chapter from the book. Of course, in the book, Molly chronicles the loss of her father, and I lost my grandmother. But to me it doesn’t matter. When you lose someone who is such a big part of your life, then you can’t possibly be bothered with labels or monikers or anything. It transcends a word like ‘mother’ or ‘father’ and becomes an emotion. A piece of you. A part of your life that’s so much more than just an ambiguous noun or description such as “grandmother.”

So it wasn’t long ago when I spotted the book on my shelf & , remembering what it was about, opened it up again. I started re-reading it, in sporadic blips, a little bit each day. Laughing along with her at some parts, and tearing up (okay, fine- even crying a little bit) with her at others. I wanted to high five her when she wrote:

When your father dies, especially if he is older, people like to say things such as, “He was lucky. He lived a long, full life.” It’s hard to know what to say to that. What often comes to mind is, “Yes, you’re right. He was seventy-three, so I guess it was his time. But did you know him? Did you see how he was? He bought wine futures seven months before he died. He saw patients the afternoon he was diagnosed. He wasn’t finished.

Needless to say, you get that even more when it’s a grandparent, not to mention one who’s over 90. I mean, I have friends who lost parents who were 30+ years younger than that, so I realize she did indeed live a very long life. And yes, she was lucky to have been healthy. And sure, I’m aware of the cycle of life & that this is the ultimate result of everyone’s life. But in reality, those who knew my grandmother knew she was not ready to go. She had no intentions of dying. She was not sick. She wasn’t tired of living. She had a lot to live for. She wasn’t one of these old ladies or men who said “God please take me now.” Nuh uh. Not her. She was present in the here & now. She watched Lady Gaga on American Idol (& loved it). She read about Beyoncé in the July issue of W magazine. Every fashion magazine I subscribe to, I’d pass on to her when I was finished & she’d read them. Speaking of, she read books, magazines & the newspaper every day. She was planning outfits she was going to wear in the winter & fall. She was polishing the lock on her Louis Vuitton bag a few days before she died, because God forbid she went out somewhere & someone thought she looked like “a rag bag.” She wasn’t finished. She was probably just as angry that she had to leave us as we were. What happened to her was a random, unfair, terrible thing that could happen to anyone, at any time, at any age; a fast moving intracerebral brain hemorrhage. It was not related to her health, or lifestyle, or medicine, or anything else. It was not expected. And the fact that she was 93 & “lived a long life” means nothing to me & is of no comfort in terms of her being taken from me so quickly. I took care of her, spent my entire life with her, was with her practically since I was born. I made sure she took pills when she started to forget, took her to the doctor and made sure she was happy & comfortable & had the best quality of life a 93-year-old could possibly have. She was my godmother, my grandmother, my friend, my biggest supporter (other than my parents, of course), my ally, my defender, and the list goes on. The loss of her presence in my life goes beyond losing a grandparent.

I’d been keeping busy, my hands & my mind working overtime in the kitchen. Pickles, jams, jellies, sauces, salsas, canned peppers, the list goes on. I was a lunatic for making things. I couldn’t stop. Slowly, things got a little better. I slowed down a little. With the coming of the fall, baking started again, and I finally got into the groove of cooking normal sized dinners. I allowed myself to relax. I’m trying to let myself be excited about Halloween, my favorite holiday, since all the stores are full of the decorations & candy already. But really, the sadness remains. It’s going to be a year of firsts for me, and each one is going to be rough. I let myself be sad, and I let myself have a good cry, but I’m really trying to be positive & enjoy life like she did. However, I still can’t sit down for a few minutes with nothing to do, unless it’s to write an e-mail or a blog post, or watch a TV show or movie, or sew, or read something I’m really into… because if my brain isn’t working it starts to slowly go there. And there is the place I don’t want it to go. So instead of that… I make things like Habanero jelly. Not that I’m avoiding my grief, but I’m trying to avoid the melancholy that accompanies remembering she’s not here. I’d rather think of her in happy times & not be so sad. It’s difficult- and it hasn’t even been two months.

So yes. Clearly, this post is about my crazy need to create things & those super-hot little fiery orange peppers that were hangin’ around in my garden this year- Habaneros. Habanero’s are pretty prolific, so of course I ended up with a lot of them. I wound up making three different recipes to use up all those little balls of fire I harvested. While none of the following three recipes are from Molly’s book, they’re all equally excellent. And easy.

The habanero chilli (play /ˌhɑːbəˈnɛər/; Spanish: [aβaˈneɾo]; Capsicum chinense) is one of the more intensely piquant species of chili peppers of the Capsicum genus. It is sometimes misspelled (and mispronounced) habañero—the diacritical mark being added as a hyperforeignism.[1][2] Unripe habaneros are green, and they color as they mature. Common colors are orange and red, but white, brown, and pink are also seen. Typically a ripe habanero is 2–6 centimetres (0.8–2.4 in) long. Habanero chili peppers are rated 100,000–350,000 on the Scoville scale.[3]

The exact origins of the pepper are unknown, but some speculate that it originated in South America and migrated north to Mexico and the Caribbean via Colombia; an intact fruit of a small domesticated Habanero was found in Pre-ceramic levels in Guitarrero Cave in the Peruvian highlands and was dated to 6500 B.C.[4] Upon its discovery by Spaniards, it was rapidly disseminated to other adequate climate areas of the world, to the point that 18th-century taxonomists mistook China for its place of origin and called it “Capsicum chinense”—the Chinese pepper.[5][6][7]

The Habanero is often mistakenly referred to as the hottest pepper in the world; that honor currently belongs to the “Butch T” cultivar of Trinidad Scorpion.

Colombia and parts of the United States including Texas, Idaho, and California. While Mexico is the largest consumer of this spicy ingredient, its flavor and aroma have become increasingly popular all over the world.

Habaneros are an integral part of Yucatecan food. Habanero chilies accompany most dishes in Yucatán, either in solid or purée/salsa form.

The Scotch bonnet is often compared to the habanero since they are two varieties of the same species but have different pod types. Both the Scotch bonnet and the habanero have the characteristic thin, waxy flesh. They have a similar heat level and flavor. Although both varieties average around the same level of heat, the actual degree of “heat” varies greatly from one fruit to another with genetics, growing methods, climate, and plant stress.

The habanero’s heat, its fruity, citrus-like flavor, and its floral aroma have made it a popular ingredient in hot sauces and spicy foods. Habaneros are sometime placed in tequila or mezcal bottles, particularly in Mexico, for a period ranging from several days to several weeks, to make a spiced version of the drink.

- Wikipedia

Okay so now let’s get down to brass tacks. I LOVE hot sauce. Tapatio, Cholula, Tabasco, Frank’s Red Hot; you name it, I love it. I put it on french fries, chicken fingers, sometimes burgers or corn on the cob or even pizza. I make hot chicken subs with it (coating fried chicken cutlets with plenty of hot sauce, then putting them on toasted hoagie rolls, covering them with mozzarella & broiling them for a few minutes… yum). I love Buffalo wings. I love salsa or barbecue sauce with a little kick. I like Cajun spicy shrimp & chicken. I’m definitely one of those people who likes some heat, unlike Jay who is hot sauce phobic. He won’t admit it, but he really doesn’t like things that are too hot (except for me- HAHA… kidding) or spicy. He has a more sensitive palate to it I guess, because things that I find somewhat mild he finds pretty hot. He likes mild Buffalo wings or hot sauce, nothing too crazy. Whereas I’m willing to try just about anything with a kick and most of the time I’ll love it. So sadly, I’m the only one around here who really likes the hotter side of things.

The first harvest of 4 Hab’s… the next week gave me 6 more!

..

When I bought my Habanero pepper plant, which was totally on a whim, I brought it home & planted it and then thought, “What am I going to do with this thing!?” It’s not really the kind of pepper most people want to happen upon in their salsa. Habanero’s rate as one of hottest peppers on the Scoville scale at a whopping 100,000–350,000! Just to put that in perspective, a Jalapeno is about 2,500 – 8,000. Habanero’s are pretty intense. There are only 5 things hotter on the Scoville, one of them being 100% pure capsaicin (the element that makes peppers hot) and another is law enforcement grade pepper spray. Think about that for a second. Yeah. Exactly.

Funny thing is, they’re unassuming little things. Small, cute little orange peppers that all but beg you to try them. Even a little backyard creature around here was fooled- one was bitten off the plant and then tossed aside right near it with one teeny little bite mark. I feel bad for that poor rabbit or squirrel. I hope they had some sour cream or whole milk laying around to soothe the burn!

So basically, I was at a loss as to what to do with my Habanero’s. And as they grew & grew, I started to think more about them, and when I realized I’d get way more than one or two this season, I started to really think. There are tons of hot sauce recipes out there, and they’re all awesome sounding. Especially one by Rick Bayless. But I wanted more than just a hot sauce recipe that would make 8 jars of super hot sauce that only I would eat. Plus, isn’t that what everyone would do with hab’s? So cliched. But then… then I found out about this Habanero jelly from the meaning of pie. Habanero jelly, made with sugar. Hot & sweet? Sounds good to me. Not too much crazy mouth-burning heat? Sounds even better, as I can give it as gifts. I quartered this recipe and used quilted 8 oz. jelly jars, which gave me a total of two jars (or 16 ounces). Don’t ask about the math or how that worked out like that. It just did.

Upside down jars..

Right side up jars!

All labeled & ready to go…

HABANERO JELLY (courtesy of the meaning of pie)

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup habanero pepper, seeds and stems removed (please wear gloves while doing this!)*
  • 1 apple, peeled and cut up**
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1-½ packets Certo liquid pectin (6 oz.)
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

Directions:

  1. In a large pot of simmering water, sterilize six 8 oz. jars. Leave the jars in the water until you are ready to use them. You will need tongs or other long grabbing device to remove them from the hot water.
  2. Place the habanero peppers and apple in a food processor. Add the vinegar and process until fine.
  3. In a heavy, non-aluminum saucepan, combine the processed peppers and apples, water and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook for one minute (it takes about 15 minutes to get it to simmering and an additional minute to get it to boiling on my stove). Take abundant care at this stage. You need to be present to adjust your stove as the syrup bubbles. It can quickly boil over which is not only exceptionally dangerous, but very messy.
  4. Meanwhile, pour boiling water over the lids and screw bands in a small bowl. Leave them in the hot water until you are ready to use them.
  5. After the syrup has boiled for one minute, remove it from heat and stir in the pectin. Then, return to heat and boil one minute longer.
  6. Remove the mixture from heat and let it sit for 5 minutes. Using a wooden spatula or other tool, skim off any foam or white film that accumulates on top. Use a light hand when doing this, as a large proportion of the peppers tries to get stuck in the foam. Removing too much of the pepper bits will reduce the heat of the jelly. Stir in chopped rosemary.
  7. Ladle the jelly into sterilized jars. Wipe the rims of the jars and dry the lids and screw bands. Seal the jars. Place sealed jars upside down on a towel. Leave them inverted for approximately 20 minutes and then turn them upright. To distribute the peppers and rosemary equally, turn the jars occasionally until the jelly sets.
*I quartered the recipe, so I used about 2 habaneros, the full recipe would need 8-9.
**With the apple, I literally peeled it, cored it, halved & then halved it again and used one quarter of it.
 
 
 
 

The coolest thing was that the peppers & the rosemary both came from my own garden (yes, the photo up there is my hab plant, and those perfect little habanero’s are actually mine!). What a feeling of accomplishment that is.

After making that jelly, I brainstormed another. I ended up with 6 more hab’s not long after and I needed to use them up. I decided to make something even sweeter, a little tangy-er, a little more like a salsa/jelly hybrid. I decided after doing some research to use pineapple. Pineapple & habanero is a fantastic combination. Of course, the pineapple did not come from my garden, it came from Dole. I’m not giving that recipe because it needs a little work & a little tweaking. It was delicious, but needs something else. But if you’re a habanero fan who likes to make jellies, you can probably figure out how to make it without my instructions. Anyway I still had a habanero (actually two) left over, so I made some hot pickle chips, except I didn’t make them into chips, just halves. What can I say? I had to. I had to make pickles. One jar I cut off the ends, the other I left them on. I’m curious to see the difference in texture, since I’ve always read that the blossom ends left on make a mushy pickle. Hmm. We shall see!

Marc’s spicy pickle chips recipe can be found here!

One little phrase of valuable advice: when cutting hot peppers, wear gloves. Thick gloves. Do not cut hot peppers without gloves on. And if you’re really sensitive, wear goggles. No shit. I also recommend you have unflavored vodka nearby just in case you get any pepper on your body. Alcohol dissolves the capsaicin (so do fats, like high-fat sour cream & whole milk, which you could also use). Regular hand soap will not help you. Trust me on this one. If you do happen to get it on your hands or arms, soak ‘em in vodka or milk for a while, rinse, repeat, and then wash them. You shouldn’t smell the pepper smell or sense a ‘burning’ anymore. Also, thoroughly clean your blender/food processor. The last thing you want is to make a smoothie or grind up some almonds & get a nasty surprise.

I haven’t tried the rosemary Habanero jelly yet, but supposedly spread on a Triscuit with cream cheese, it’s divine. My mother tells me the pineapple-habanero one is terrific with tortilla chips; surprisingly sweet as well as hot.

As far as the pickles.. well… They’re really hot (and aren’t mushy, either). Tears came to my dads eyes. So unless you really love hot stuff, it might be a bit much. Maybe use half a hab in each jar? The sugar really balances the other two of these recipes out, so give them a shot with all those Habanero’s you probably have ready to go in your garden! I promise, you won’t need to drink a half-gallon of milk afterwards.

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)


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

 

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

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

-(source Wikipedia)

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

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

So cute.

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

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

 

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

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

-(source)


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

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

-(source)

 

I can’t wait to pickle these guys!

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

- source

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

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

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

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

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!

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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!


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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.

Rosemary’s baby.

Wasn’t that a freaky movie? I remember seeing it as a kid (yes, as a kid… movies were never censored for me) and getting totally freaked out. I haven’t seen it in a while, ever since then, so it might be time to put it on the Netflix queue! Side note: Mia Farrow’s haircut was super cute in that movie.

Anyway, this post isn’t about horror movies. It’s actually about bread; but because it’s made with rosemary, I immediately thought of Rosemary’s Baby. That might say something about me, but I digress. Remember that awesome levain, or sourdough bread I made a while back? Well I decided to make it again & do a little experiment. I wanted to make one with rosemary & olive oil. Maybe a little parmesan. I was drooling at the very thought of it actually. The only thing that worried me was that I didn’t have any more fresh yeast in the house, and I had just fed my starter the night before, so I really wanted to use it. But I decided that since you really don’t need yeast when using a starter (because the starter is yeast) that I’d ignore the worrywart in me & just go for it. And this is the brainchild of that scheming- aka, rosemary’s baby. See how I tied that in there?

First off, you’ll need a starter. Starter’s are really easy, so don’t be scared. If it’s your first time making one, keep reading. I’ll explain the best I can how you can make one & keep it successfully alive. Sort of like Rosemary & her baby… but tastier & far less evil.

SOURDOUGH STARTER

Ingredients:

  • 3 packages active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water ( 105-115 degrees F)

Starter feed:

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons instant potatoes
  • 1 cup warm water (again, 105-115 degrees F)

Directions:

  1. To make the starter, mix the yeast and warm water in a small bowl. Put into a plastic container, seal, and refrigerate for 3-5 days.
  2. To make the starter feed, combine the sugar, potatoes, and water in a small bowl and stir into the starter. Cover loosely (to allow some of the pressure to escape as the gases build) and let stand at room temperature for 5-12 hours. The mixture will be bubbly.
  3. When ready, take out 1 cup to make bread and loosely cover the starter and return to the refrigerator. Feed again after 3-5 days. If not making bread after feeding the starter, take out 1 cup and discard it to avoid depleting the starter. NOTE: do not put the lid on tight.

So that’s pretty much self-explanatory, right? Yes. Although I do have a few notes. I prefer to use a glass jar. I have one that used to have spaghetti sauce in it that I cleaned out thoroughly, soaked in bleach to get any stains & odor out, and then cleaned out thoroughly again using organic non-toxic cleaner and scalding hot water. Once it was completely cleaned, and had no smell, I used it. I used it for the yeast & water mix, covered it with the lid, and then when I fed it I threw the lid away and instead I covered it with a piece of plastic wrap held on with a rubber band, and then using a fork, I poked holes in it. That works best for me. You can also use a ball jar if you prefer, also the first time I made this starter I used a large plastic tupperware. However I found it difficult for the plastic wrap to stay on, so I had to use the lid, and the lid can’t be on tightly or it’ll explode (and it really will- trust me) so it made it hard having a half-open tupperware in my fridge. And it wouldn’t have smelled so nice had it toppled over. Well actually it would have, seeing as how it smells like beer, and I like that smell… but I don’t want my entire fridge & everything in it smelling like beer.

I’ve found you can feed it on the 6th day and it will be fine, and you don’t have to use it right away. You can throw out one cup and then make bread the next day or the day after… although I must tell you, my bread doesn’t come out nearly as good using the starter in between feedings as it does when using the starter 12 hours after feeding. Maybe that’s just me, maybe I’m insane, but it’s true. It does work, mind you, but the flavor and ‘chew’ of the bread isn’t quite the same. If your starter dies, adding a bit of yeast should awaken it. If it ever has a smell other than the smell of “beer”, or gets moldy, throw it away immediately. It’s easy enough to start again! If you don’t want to use this starter, there are many options. Here’s a website that has a lot of information.

And now… on to the bread itself.

PARMESAN, ROSEMARY & OLIVE OIL SOURDOUGH BREAD (adapted from a recipe by Cookbook Chronicles)

yields 1 large loaf

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup starter (see above)
  • ¾ cups water
  • ¼ cup rosemary leaves
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese, divided
  • 3 ½ cups bread flour, plus ¼ cup for flouring baking sheet
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus 1 tbsp for greasing the bowl

Directions:

  1. A few hours before, combine the rosemary with the ¼ cup olive oil in a glass. Allow to sit for anywhere from a half hour to overnight before using so the flavor gets infused together. If letting it sit overnight, cover the glass with plastic wrap.
  2. In a the bowl of a stand mixer, using a dough hook, stir together the starter, water, olive oil/rosemary mix and bread flour. On medium speed, beat the dough for 7-8 minutes until elastic. Beat in the salt. At this point, the dough should clear the sides and bottom of the bowl, and climb up the hook. It should not be too sticky when you press it with your finger, and should pass the windowpane test when stretched. If it’s too sticky, add a bit more flour.
  3. Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly oiled with 1 tbsp olive oil. Rub the olive oil over the entire surface. Cover the bowl with a towel, and allow it to proof until doubled. (This will take anywhere from a few hours to overnight, depending on how warm your house is.)
  4. When your dough has doubled, punch it down. Lift the dough, and stretch lightly with your fingers–you can hold it up on one side in the air and just let gravity stretch the dough for you. Fold the dough in half. Shape the dough into a round ball.
  5. Generously flour a baking sheet with ¼ cup of flour. Transfer the ball of dough on top of the flour, and with a sharp knife, make four slashes across the top. Then sprinkle some of the flour over the entire surface of the dough.
  6. Cover with a towel, and allow the dough to rise for 2-3 hours. At this point, the dough should be nicely puffed but not quite doubled in size. Spritz the top lightly with water and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan.
  7. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place a pan of water on the bottom rack. (If using baking stone, let it warm up in the oven.)
  8. Bake the bread directly on the baking sheet for about 50 minutes, (Or if using, transfer the dough to a baking stone.)  After 50 minutes, the crust should be browned and crisp. When you pick up the loaf, give it a light thump on the bottom. It should sound hollow.
  9. Allow the bread to cool before slicing.

I hope this encourages you to experiment with recipes! I already have other plans for altering this recipe using other herbs & ingredients. It lends itself well to so many different flavors. Try it- see what happens.

USE GOOD QUALITY OLIVE OIL. That’s my only rule for you with this bread. You want to really taste it, and why would you want to taste crappy olive oil? This bread is fantasmagorically wonderful. It would be amazing as an open-face grilled cheese sandwich with some provolone or mozzarella. What I did was, I poured some really good extra virgin olive oil in a little plate with some minced garlic, parmesan & Italian seasonings. Then I dipped the bread into the flavored olive oil. UNF. That’s all I can say. Unf.

The last garden update of the season… maybe.

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

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

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

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

According to Feeding America:

Hunger Statistics on Food Insecurity and Very Low Food Security

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

How can we help? Easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

And Big Boy:

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

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