Category: tomato

Saying goodbye to summer with tomato jam.

Wow. Hey there, end of summer.

You snuck up on me, as you usually do. But this time I feel like I really haven’t been expecting you at all. By this time in years’ past I have already thought about you once or twice, usually around my birthday. I have perhaps even dwelled upon you, sadly, as I acknowledge the days already getting a smidgen shorter, & the cicadas song plays the finale. But this year? You got me good. Suddenly, it’s the unofficial end of summer: Labor Day.

A delicious tomato jam; try it with goat cheese on toasted bread for a different spin on bruschetta!

I feel like I haven’t made a whole lot of things I wanted to this summer. Having a blog makes you a bit crazy, see. I wanted to make all these awesome things over the summer & then blog about them. I wanted to take some tomato canning classes at The Brooklyn Kitchen. I had big plans for recipes- Miemo’s mama’s eggrolls, paella. Things like that. Things that were new to me (kitchen-wise), things that I never made before. I did make one-pan pasta & homemade butter, though, both of which are things I’d never done. But the other, more complicated things? Nope. I got caught up in the enjoyment of summer… the corn on the cob, the cookouts, the lazy sticky days & humid starry nights roasting marshmallows, drinking frozen alcoholic drinks, the soaking in of the sun, eating fresh fish after a day at the beach, the making of pickles & jams, the cutting of herbs, the inhaling of said herbs (frequently heard around here: “OH MY GOD that fresh basil/cilantro/oregano/rosemary smells AMAZING!”). Then I was tricked by the unseasonably cool weather (not a day over 90 degrees in August) & I was lulled into having the windows open with cool air blowing in. But I still forgot all about the end of summer. Basically, I got distracted living life.

There are worse things.

Stepping away from the internet is a good thing. Anyway… I got distracted & forgot that summer was about to end. Summer is weird that way; it starts to end the minute it begins and before you know it you’re catching up, trying to squeeze in the last bits of it any way you can. Now, suddenly, it’s tomato time.

Fresh grape tomatoes... about to be turned into tomato jam.

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Deep dish “pizza in a cake pan.”

Deep dish cake pan pizza! So easy!

If there’s one thing you take away from this post, it’s this: pizza is good.

There are people who will tell you it isn’t. There are folks who demonize it, bitch about the cheese or the amount of carbs. There are people who claim it’s greasy & unhealthy or who say things like “Wow, look, a heart attack on a plate.” Those people aren’t your friend. Sure, they disguise themselves as “friends.” But really, anyone who tries to tell you that pizza is bad is a horrible person.

Pizza isn’t bad. Pizza isn’t at fault.

People who eat pizza four times a day, every day, and eat themselves obese? They’re at fault. Those people who don’t get any exercise, eat crappy diets & then get sick & blame cheeseburgers or pizza? It still doesn’t make pizza- or burgers- the bad guy. Pizza isn’t an every day, all day meal. Neither are cupcakes. Or ice cream. Or cheeseburgers. And if you can’t understand that, and you’re blaming food, then honestly you need to sit down & re-examine your life. STOP BLAMING FOOD. STOP LABELING THINGS LIKE BREAD AS “BAD.” BREAD IS NOT BAD. You are bad for food shaming people. YOU are the asshole. By telling people to stop eating carbs or fats or sugar altogether you aren’t educating them in a good diet, you’re making them feel bad. Not to mention spreading false nutritional information, because since when has one or two slices of pizza- or even a whole pie, really- made anyone fat? Never, that’s when.

And let me just say this: one of the things that totally drive me nuts/insane/bananas/bonkers/pick a word about having a food blog that isn’t loaded down with quinoa or gluten-free fad diet stuff are the questions. Ohhh, the questions. Such as…

“Oh mah gah, like how do you NOT weigh 1,000 pounds!?”

“Holy crap if I ate like this I’d be a freakin’ WHALE! How do you stay so skinny?”

“Where do you put all this food??? You’re so thin!”

“Marilla, seriously, how are you able to eat all of this?”

“No really… how is it possible your house is full of delicious treats and you don’t eat them all?”

Have you ever heard of self-control? Moderation? COMMON SENSE? Do you HONESTLY think I eat nothing but cupcakes & pizza four times a day every single day? What planet do you come from? I eat a shit-ton of salads & vegetables, but who the hell wants to read about that? I certainly don’t. Salads are boring. Delicious, yes, but not interesting. Trained monkeys can figure out how to make a good salad, let’s face it, it’s not that hard. Also… these people asking these questions are clearly not food bloggers. Because if they were they’d realize that by the time the food is prepared, cooked & done, the photos are set-up & taken & every one else has eaten, we’re too damn tired to eat or to do anything but nap.

Deep dish cake pan pizza: how to make deep dish pizza the easy way, from the dough up. NO MIXER REQUIRED!Side note: isn’t it funny I posted ice cream and pizza within a few days of one another? I think so. Junk food done right!

Okay now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into the good, positive pizza talk. ‘Cause everybody loves pizza! Well, unless you’re one of those buzzkills I mentioned above, anyway… but who cares about them? 

Being from New York, I especially love pizza. I’m partial to New York pizza, of course, but I do love me some deep dish. Thick, oiled crust, gooey cheese. Oh man. It’s some good stuff. I could live on pizza, really. Although like I said- that’s not exactly feasible… either way, I love it. I also love making my own pizza, as is evidenced by the four or five different recipes I have posted on this blog alone! Making your own dough is not as hard as you think it is, even if you don’t have a stand mixer with a dough hook you can make your own awesome pizza dough.

EASY PIZZA DOUGH RECIPE

Makes two 8″ deep dish cake pan pizzas, one 9″x13″ pizza or 3-4 free form thin crust pizzas

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons active dry yeast (not instant)
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 cups lukewarm water

Directions:

  1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the yeast, then make a well in the center.
  2. Add the olive oil and the 2 cups lukewarm water.
  3. Mix until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for 5 minutes.
  4. Set aside in an oiled bowl and cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel.

 Deep dish cake pan pizza with easy homemade dough.

How good does that look? Drool-worthy. And EASY. I promise you, it’s very, very easy.

DEEP DISH CAKE PAN PIZZA

Ingredients:

  • 1 batch homemade pizza dough (if using frozen or refrigerated, thaw & let it come to room temp)
  • 2 cups marinara sauce or sauce of your liking, homemade or store-bought (this sauce works well), or, two large tomatoes sliced & patted dry
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated or sliced
  • shredded or finely grated parmesan cheese (I used a combination of both)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • sliced pepperoni, crumbled ground beef, or any toppings of your choice

To make the pizza:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425° F and get two 8″ cake pans ready.
  2. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons minced garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon each of dried basil & oregano in a small saucepan. Heat gently until it smells like it’s ready. Turn off the heat & brush the cake pans with it fairly liberally.
  3. Divide the dough in half. Press each ball into it’s own cake pan. If it springs back too much, let it rest for 5 minutes and try again. Punch & press it into the pan, pushing & pulling the “crust” over the top of the pans by roughly 1/2″.
  4. Brush the crust part with the olive oil mixture and sprinkled a handful of shredded parmesan and a 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese over the bottom of each of the pizza crusts. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes.
  5. Remove the pizzas and add the sauce or sliced tomatoes and then the remaining mozzarella cheese, as well as any toppings you might want to add. Sprinkle with more parmesan (I used grated for the tops), add a basil leaf (if desired) and put back into the oven for 15-20 minutes or until sauce is bubbly & crust is golden.
  6. Remove from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes before cutting. This dough also works when made in a single 9″ x 12″ baking dish or pan for a “Sicilian”-styled pizza. Cooking directions for that pan size can be found here.

I’d avoid using fresh mozzarella for this as it can be too watery and make your pizza too soupy. If you do use it, make sure it’s drained thoroughly & patted dry as much as possible. Also, if you make your own sauce for it, try using fire-roasted tomatoes. I guarantee you you’ll never want to use a regular can of tomatoes again. And be sure to use fresh tomatoes that have been patted dry of all liquid as well, if you aren’t using sauce & you’re taking the fresh tomato option.

Serve with more cheese, preferably while singing “That’s Amore.” Red gingham tablecloth & bottle of chianti with the straw bottom optional.

Deep dish cake pan pizza!

P.S. the tiki mug giveaway ends TONIGHT at 11:59 p.m. EST! Don’t miss out!

Bell pepper salad & warm(er) weather!

The weather here is finally getting warmer. FINALLY. Last year at this time, it was already warm. As a matter of fact, my herbs began growing in March of last year when we had a streak of 70° degree weather. I think it even hit 80° a few times. And by mid-April, my chives were huge. So huge, in fact, I was using chives on every dish… and I had chive blossoms everywhere: I was making egg salad with them & chive blossom vinegar with them, and I had jars of them on my counters like they were flowers until late June. This year? They’re tiny little green shoots still, no sign of blooms. So I’ve been waiting patiently for things to get a bit warmer, or at least for the snow & sleet to finally stop… and the fact that it’s been in the 50′s lately (except for a few days) and relatively nice out, save for some rain & very cold nights, makes me really happy. And tomorrow it’s going to be around 66°!

Hey, it’s the little things. Like the weather getting warmer, or the flavor of a bright red pepper that means summer is coming.

(This photo is from last summer)

And at least in 50°-60° weather you can start to garden, or go for long walks and get some fresh air. And- even though it might be too cold to eat outdoors- you can maybe cook outdoors! Which is where today’s recipe comes in. It’s a fresh & easy side dish (or burger topping, or salad topping, or hell- even a hot dog topping) that takes no time at all to make. It’s great on sandwiches or with sandwiches.

When choosing your peppers, choose ones that feel heavy for their size. Avoid ones with wrinkles, cracks or blemishes; pick ones with taut, firm skin.

TANGY FOUR-COLOR BELL PEPPER SALAD

Makes about 3 pints

Ingredients:

  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 large orange bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 2/3 cup white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons fresh basil (or 2 teaspoons dried)
  • 4 teaspoons fresh oregano (or 2 teaspoons dried)

Directions:

  1. Place peppers and tomatoes in a large glass jar with lid, or mix them together in a large mixing bowl. Shake or stir to combine; set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, basil, and oregano, whisking well. If using a jar to mix, pour mixture over peppers, then close lid and shake well to coat. If using a bowl, scoop the pepper mix into the jar(s) and then pour the liquid over them, equally if using more than one jar. Add more vinegar & oil in equal parts if desired (to fill jars with more liquid, if needed). The liquid should be at least halfway up the jar.
  3. Serve slaw from jar if desired, immediately, or store covered in the refrigerator. Salad is best when made a day before serving, so all the flavors can meld together.


The dressing itself is awesome, and once the peppers are gone I recommend keeping it to use as a salad dressing. The peppers impart their flavor into it after sitting in it for a while, so it makes a great peppery Italian-like salad dressing.

I served it a little over 24 hours after making it alongside & on top of big ol’ fresh green salads that included romaine, iceberg, red cabbage, carrots and baby arugula.

But like I said- it’s excellent with just about anything. Here are some other serving ideas:

  • Just like that open-face tomato & feta sandwich I made last year with my garden fixin’s, this is a great dish to make on a really hot day. And, also like that sandwich, it’d be fantastic eaten just as it is as a light summer picnic meal, maybe with a little feta crumbled on top.
  • This would be really good with the Southern pickled shrimp I posted last year, too, maybe on a bed of greens. (Those pickled shrimp aren’t what you think, by the way. They’re like ceviche de camarones- just shrimp in an herby seasoned olive oil/lemon juice mixture. No vinegar. Don’t be afraid!)
  • Speaking of greens, like I said above, it’s awesome on top of a regular ol’ lettuce salad, too. The peppers are perfect additions to any salad, and the vinagrette that’s already in the jar is an amazing salad dressing in and of itself.
  • Oh, wait- here’s another GENIUS idea: mix it with some cold pasta & fresh grated parmesan as a pasta salad- with or without a 1/4 cup of mayo.
  • As a hamburger topping. The tang of the vinegary peppers with a thick, juicy burger is perfect!
  • Alternatively, this would be delicious as the filling of a wrap. Maybe with some grilled chicken, or shrimp, or even with avocado, sliced portobello mushrooms or black beans if you’re a vegetarian.

Mmm. Oh man- now I’m getting hungry.

And it takes literally, like, five minutes to pull together. Store it in pint jars in the fridge for a quick fix- just pull one out an hour or so before you want to use it to let the oil come back to it’s normal consistency and you’re good to go. I actually made one quart jar (above) and a pint jar… I mean, if you really want to, make 6 half-pint jars. It doesn’t matter. Whatever.

For an even more colorful salad, you can use small different colored heirloom tomatoes such as Black Cherry, Blondkopfchen, Snow White, Hartman’s Yellow Gooseberry or Sun Gold. And if you can find a purple Bell pepper, or a chocolate Bell pepper, then add them too! Last but not least: you can also add a head of cabbage, thinly sliced, to this. Then it would become a kind of “slaw” I suppose… but boy would that give it some heft. Not to mention make a massive portion! You can also add a chopped red onion to it, or celery. Experiment! Try adding cilantro instead of basil & oregano for a different flavor. Use rice vinegar instead of white wine vinegar & sesame oil instead of olive oil for an Asian spin. Shake things up.

Literally. I mean, shake the jar to mix it up.

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.

Beers & barbecues.

It’s that time of year again. When everyone starts to grill their meats, when the sun sets later and when corn on the cob becomes the staple side dish. It’s been an unusually warm winter and an early spring, despite the temperatures dropping quite low at night lately (which has threatened crops that started to grow far too early when it was 80° degrees in March), it is indeed only a few weeks from the unofficial start of summer: Memorial Day.

I saw this recipe at The Black Peppercorn and I knew I’d have to make it myself. I’ve made Guinness cupcakes, Guinness jelly, even put Guinness in macaroni & cheese. Why not Guinness barbecue sauce? Beer & barbecues go together like… rama lama lama ke ding a de dinga a dong. Or peanut butter & jelly. I love me a good beer. Don’t you?

This was my first attempt at a barbecue sauce. I was a bit nervous, actually, but I think it all worked out just fine in the end.

GUINNESS BARBECUE SAUCE (adapted slightly from The Black Peppercorn)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 onions, minced (I used one very large white onion)
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1 cup Guinness beer
  • ½ cup white distilled 5% vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3 “shakes” Tabasco sauce
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 18-oz. can tomato paste

Directions:

  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the onion, and garlic to the saucepan and saute until they are tender and beginning to caramelize, about 8 minutes.
  2. Add the molasses, beer, brown sugar, both vinegars, salt, pepper and cayenne . Bring to a boil. Let it cook with a low rolling boil for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the saucepan.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste & Tabasco and lower the heat. Let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every few minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and let the sauce cool slightly. Puree, I did so right in the pot using an immersion blender.
  5. For shelf-stable sauce: pour into hot sterilized jars to within ½” from the top. Process in a waterbath for 20 minutes for pint jars, 15 for half-pints. Allow to cool overnight, then check the seals. As always, if the top pops up and down, the seal is damaged and you have to put it in your refrigerator and use right away. If you’re using the sauce immediately or don’t want to make it shelf-stable, you can pour into any container and either use right away or put it in the fridge.

There’s no end to the possibilities for this sauce. You can make it hotter, make it sweeter, do whatever you want. You could even totally alter it and use some Jack Daniel’s or Jameson, or a lighter beer. Play with it, tinker with it. Come up with your own sauce! And the best part? It doesn’t have to be a “canned” recipe. You can use it right away or put half in the fridge in a Tupperware. But if you do decide to jar it up, just know I got 5 half-pint jars and I would’ve had enough for a 4 oz. jar as well. And also know that in order to “can” it, the acidity has to be of a certain percent, so do your research before you tinker with it!

So how did it taste?

Right before I put it on the grill!

e…

Delicious. I had it on a steak and it was just great. Not too sweet, not too tangy, not too overpowering. It’s a subtle taste, and you could taste the actual steak, not just the sauce like can happen with some sauces. And it actually mellowed more in the jar, after processing. Initially it was a bit tangier, after a day or two it was much mellower. I can’t wait to try it on chicken next. Actually, I can’t wait to try my hand at making more barbecue sauces & dipping sauces in the future. Thai hot & sweet dipping sauce, anyone!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roma tomatoes, not finished growing, obviously..

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

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

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

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

Rah, rah, ah-ah-ah, Roma, roma-ma.

That’s seriously all I heard in my head over & over as I canned my tomatoes. No joke. Why? Because three of them were Roma’s. Lady Gaga, you’ve done it again… you’ve managed to associate an average everyday mundane household task with a fantasically catchy earworm of a song. Just like I sang the chorus to ‘Telephone’ every time my phone rang for months, how I sang “Mah mah mah pokuh face mah mah pokuh faaaace” at the mere mention of a card game, or how I changed the words to ‘Paparazzi’ from “I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me, papa, papa-razzi” to “I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you hug me, puppa, puppa Indy” & chased the poor dog around the house singing it. *sigh*

It all makes sense though. Sort of. Tomatoes à la Lady Gaga. Right?

Maybe. Has a certain ring to it.

By the way, did you know she went to a Catholic high school that has the same name as the one I went to, that’s also in NY? Betcha didn’t.

Lady Gaga probably wouldn’t think so. And although she herself might be Italian, and I might be talking about Roma tomatoes, but this is really not an old fashioned Italian recipe at all. It’s more Russian or Romanian, as pickled tomatoes are really big over there. Roma tomatoes are known as the best tomatoes to use for canning sauces & for sauce in general, really. They have the most ‘meat’ on them, the least skin, and far less water content; meaning they make a thicker sauce with less work. This was my first year growing Roma’s, and I wasn’t really sure when I planted them what I was going to do with them, but once I started to get into canning I knew that I’d probably can ‘em up right away. Although I had prepared to jar them up as a sauce originally, what I ended up doing was pretty different: pickled green & red tomatoes, inspired by a Liana Krissoff recipe. And not just Roma’s, Better Boy’s too. Better Boy’s are juicy yet meaty tomatoes that are larger than Roma’s (yet really aren’t all that large) and the plants yield quite a large amount of fruit each season. There’s no song that immediately comes to mind when I hear “Better Boy”, however.

Better Boy’s (top left & two green’s) and Roma’s (bottom)

I picked two Better Boy tomatoes while they were green, and two that were turning red/orange, also three Roma’s. I ended up with three half-pint jars of pickled tomato goodness. Of course, I adjusted the recipe to utilize the amount of tomatoes I had. If you have more, then by all means use them- but just adjust the recipe for your own needs. I have more tomatoes growing, but I thought a few jars of these were plenty. I don’t like to put up huge batches of things, I not only don’t have the room but I’m not a fan of monotony. I do this for fun, not to survive over a long winter… & canning 20 jars of the same thing gets tedious and boring. I like to mix it up.

Tomatoes, and their iffy acid levels are on the borderline of “what can be safely canned using a water bath process.” Many people will tell you not to can your own tomato sauce or whole tomatoes without a pressure canner. I think that’s silly, considering the addition of lemon juice or citric acid solves the acid dilemma right off the bat, and processing them for a good 20+ minutes definitely kills the bad guys that are in there anyway. Not to mention the fact I know plenty of people who make ancient (well, not quite ancient) family sauce recipes & jar them every year and none of them have ever died. With these, though, there’s not much of a chance for anything gross to even survive from the get go. The use of lemon juice ups the acid and the vinegar/salt & water bath do the rest. Of course, I’m not saying go out & can up some beef stew in a water bath… that’s a bit different. But tomatoes, tomatoes are okay, especially with the right acid level. So don’t let people make you feel bad for canning your own tomato sauce with that age old family recipe: you will not single-handedly kill your entire family. Unless you’re an idiot who shouldn’t be canning, period. But anyway… if the thought of it still scares you, try these to use up your tomatoes. They’re surprising. Very easy, very delicious & very unique.

I say green & red tomatoes, but really none of mine were 100% mature or fully red. They were more orangey, some with yellow. They look red in the jars, though, so there ya go.

PICKLED GREEN & RED TOMATOES

Makes 3 half-pint jars

First you get:

  • 2 pounds smallish green & red tomatoes, different varieties are okay just so long as they’re all in varying degrees of maturity, but none too soft, ripe or too small/large (make sure that when sliced, they fit in the jars nicely); or about 6-7 small/medium tomatoes
  • 2 cups distilled 5% acidity white vinegar
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 rounded tablespoons pickling salt
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • pinch of dried sage
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • one medium sweet onion, sliced (optional)

Then you get your pickle on this way:

  1. Wash the tomatoes thoroughly, remove the stem & “core” at the tops and slice them into ¼” -to- ½” thick round slices. Soak the sliced tomatoes in the lemon juice in a medium bowl for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sanitize your jars & lids, keeping them hot.
  2. Combine the vinegar, sugar, celery seeds, mustard seeds, sage and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Place the tomato mixture in the hot jars, stacking them nicely and also making sure they’re packed as tight as possible (you can also add sliced sweet onion in between tomato layers at this point if you like). Ladle in the liquid, pausing to remove air bubbles & air pockets with a small rubber spatula or chopstick as you go. Fill the jars with the liquid, leaving ¼” headspace. Discard any extra liquid.
  3. Wipe rims and place lids & bands on. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Remove to cool, dark area & do not disturb for 12 hours. Check for seal after one hour, and if it hasn’t sealed, refrigerate and use immediately. Refrigerate all jars right before opening & using, they just taste better chilled.

This would also work with different kinds of heirloom tomatoes. The jars would look gorgeous piled high with different colored tomatoes- dark red, purpleish, yellow, green, red, orange, etc. Can you imagine how these would look? Phenomenal. Or these. But either way, plain ol’ tomatoes did the job just right. If you don’t have pickling salt, Kosher salt is fine. Regular Iodized salt will cause a cloudy liquid, however, so I’d avoid it for aesthetic reasons. You can certainly use all red tomatoes too, so if you’re getting bored with sauce or traditional canned tomatoes, maybe give a jar or two of these a try. I didn’t use the onion, myself, but Liana says it’s another option.

I highly recommend these on a sandwich; roast chicken with mayonnaise & freshly ground black pepper. Equally good on a sandwich also made with some sliced Bell peppers in oil, or even on a grilled cheese made with Monterey Jack cheese on sourdough bread, and apparently even delicious right out of the jar. So do as you wish as far as that goes. I won’t tell anyone if you eat them by themselves. It’ll be our secret. Wanna know one of my secrets? I like turtles.

With this batch of tomatoes, I really wanted to jar up some sauce. But in the meantime, damn, I’m glad I pickled these.

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.