Monday, October 03, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Friday, September 09, 2011

Moon Flower

Few things make me excited about the garden this time of year. It feels like it's been taken over by weeds. Everything has already bloomed at least once. I've had my fill of BLT's and the preserving is making me hot and tired. But this - this gets me excited!

It seems to take forever for the moon flowers to open, but once they do, all the waiting is totally worthwhile! The faintly pearlescent hand-sized blossoms with an incredible sweet scent open at night and only last a day. I wish my bedroom window was on the sunny side of the house so I could grow these by my window and drift off to the lovely sweet smell every night in September.

I wish you had smell-o-vision ....

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

State Fair Fun

Stacey and Kristin on the giant slide:

Stacey and April on the giant slingshot (it was great! I'd totally do it again!):

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I've been eating lots of eggplant lately. I bought some at the Farmer's Market and then realized that I had 3 at home in the garden that were ready to eat (I forgot about one of the plants and "rediscovered" it after fighting my way through the tomato vines). In addition to baba ghanouj, this is my favorite way to cook it.

Here's what you need:
A couple of eggplant (Italian/Japanese - I use whatever is around and just cut them into chunks approximately the same size - and inch or so). I don't usually do the salting/rinsing/squeezing thing that is usually recommended for cooking eggplant. These are young and fresh from the garden, so it just seems like an unnecessary step. Stir fry these with a couple tablespoons oil over very high heat for about 7-8 minutes until they are brown and cooked through.

While you're stir frying the eggplant, make the sauce:
2T mirin
2T soy sauce
lots of fresh ginger (about a 1" chunk - I usually use a microplane and don't even bother to peel)
2 (or more) cloves garlic (also microplaned because it's already handy from ginger)
A couple dashes of red pepper flakes
1T sesame seeds

After the eggplant are browned and cooked through, add the sauce and continue stir frying for about a minute until you get a lovely little glaze going.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Blooming in the Last Few Weeks

I discovered this Candy Lily hiding behind some seriously overgrown Black-eyed Susans. I wish I had dozens of them! 
Overwintered glads (I've been too lazy to dig them up in the fall given their rather inconvenient location, but they seem to be just fine, if a little small.
Nigra hollyhocks - I ended up pulling them up because they were completely destroyed by rust. ;(
These were quite impressive - almost 7 feet tall!
Sweet little moss roses in the rock garden.
I'm guessing someone in this neighborhood had a big stand of these at one point. So big that they gave them away - to every house in the neighborhood! They're at every house in the area. But they provide an excellent pop of color and are virtually care-free. I have lots to share - let me know if you want some.
Another lily that came from the friend of a friend's yard. I ended up with 4 or 5 different ones - yellow, white, dark pink, light pink, and one that didn't bloom this year.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Japanese Beetles

They're everywhere! And they haven't just confined themselves to my roses - I've seen them on the zinnias, too!

Monday, August 08, 2011

Tonight's Dinner

Straight from the garden ...

The produce is far more beautiful than my broken birdbath. ;(

At 6:00 are some awesome black cherry tomatoes that are like candy. There's also one Principe Borghese tomato there, too (I think that's the first one to make it in the house - I usually just eat them in the garden!). At Noon are a couple of sweet cherry peppers and a few more ground cherries.  And there are two different kinds of cucumbers there, too.

There are a couple of gorgeous looking eggplant out there, too, but they'll have to wait for a different dinner.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Ground Cherries

I'm growing ground cherries for the first time this year, and so far, I'm in love with them! Their slightly funky, tropical taste puts a smile on my face every time I pop one in my mouth. I remember eating these in Hawai'i - they're known as Poha berries there. Poha berry jam is awesome, so I'm hoping to get enough this year to make up a batch of my own.

You can tell the ones that were just picked today - the husks are still slightly green. They seem to have excellent shelf life, much like tomatillos.

In addition to jam, I'm thinking: ice cream, in place of blueberries in bread/muffins, salsa, frozen in drinks ...

Friday, August 05, 2011

DIY Earring Organizer

I finally finished a little project that's been rolling around in my head for about two years. My earrings were spilling all over the place - they were in my bedroom, in the bathroom, in the living room - basically where ever I happened to be standing when I realized that my earrings were driving me nuts and needed to be taken out!

My mom was getting rid of this picture frame at a garage sale and I snatched it up thinking it would be perfect for this project. The pictures don't really do it justice - it's hanging in the bathroom and I just can't get enough decent light in there.

The project is super simple: all you need is a picture frame, some window screening, a pretty piece of fabric, a glue gun and a staple gun.

Cut the screen to fit the in the inside lip of the opening and use your glue gun to keep the screen in place. And then stretch a piece of fabric to the back of the frame and staple in place. Done. And totally functional. No more earrings in the living room!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Better Living Through Chemistry: Sauerkraut (and pickles and beets)!

The mad scientist in me came out in full-force on Friday. I had been doing extensive reading on fermented foods: sauerkraut, pickles, beans, beets, etc and decided that I must give it a try!

My grandparents made gallons of sauerkraut every year - seriously - I think they had a 5 gallon crock (of course, I can't remember what I had for breakfast, so remembering back 30 years is really a stretch). In any case, to my pre-teen brain, it seemed like gallons and gallons of the stuff were put up for the winter. And I loved every minute of the process. Sometimes I dream about Grandma with her hands on top of mine, showing me the proper way to punch down the salty cabbage to extract all of the juices. It seemed so simple and magical then - cabbage, salt, and a couple weeks' time was all you needed to have delicious sauerkraut. It's a wonder I haven't tried to make it sooner.

But I didn't try to make it sooner because once I started reading about it, it freaked me out. Food safety is my profession and fermenting foods at room temperature goes against everything I've been taught. Silly, really ... people have survived for thousands of years eating fermented foods. In fact, they were probably much healthier for it. I eat fermented foods all the time: bread, yogurt, soy sauce, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, beer, wine, pickles, kefir, olives, vinegar ... the list goes on and on. I make my own yogurt and vinegar, so pickled veggies seemed like a logical step. And given what I know about fermentation and food spoilage, I figured the food would surely look/smell "off" if it was really dangerous! ;)

Friday's fermenting adventures started with a trip to the farmer's market. My cabbage was pillaged by bettles, slugs, squirrels, and who knows what else. I got two gorgous heads for $2. Bargain. So much so in fact, that I might not even bother trying to grow it anymore - although I do think it's one of the prettiest veggies in the garden and looks wonderful right next to the coneflowers and day lilies. I also picked up a bunch of beets. I have cucumbers growing at home and knew that before long I would have them coming out my ears, so I didn't feel the need to buy any (besides, they were all too big for pickling, in my opinion).

I cored the cabbage, quartered it, and sliced it thinly. As each shredded quarter went into the big bowl (glass or plastic only), I sprinkled on a hearty pinch of kosher salt (honestly, I didn't measure, but it was probably just shy of a teaspoon).  And then I started packing it tightly into the 1.5 gallon jar. The jar to the left is filled with one head of shredded, salted cabbage. I put both heads of shredded cabbage into the jar - and think I could probably fit 4 heads in this jar (as it starts to release some juice, you can pack it down tighter and tighter and it really does become quite compact). Anyway, every hour or so, I went by and packed it down a little tighter with a wooden mallet (I think we used to use our knuckles at Grandma's house). After 4-5 hours, I had enough juice extracted that it completely covered the top of the shredded cabbage (I have read that sometimes older cabbages are dryer and it can take as long as 24 hours before enough liquid is extracted to completely submerge the shredded cabbage).

It's critical that all of the cabbage be submerged below the liquid line. There are lots of methods for doing this, but I took the easy way out and partially filled a Ziplock gallon storage bag with water and put it in the jar on top of the cabbage. And then I set the cover loosely on the jar. The bag holds the cabbage down under the brine line, and also forms a nice seal so that there's no way for the air to get to the brine and cause spoilage. CAUTION: if you're doing this in a jar, set your jar on a plate with a substantial lip - as the fermentation begins, it will bubble over the top of the jar and on to your counter - or plate.

And now the Cliff Claven in me is showing: if you want a comprehensive resource on fermented foods found worldwide, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN has a lengthy bulletin describing fermented foods and the science behind making them. You'll find everything from sauerkraut and dill pickles to banana beer and fermented tea leaves. It's really quite fascinating. Of course, I'm a total nerd, so take that into consideration before reading the book and then droning on to me about how boring it is!

There is also Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning if you're looking for something more along the lines of a recipe book. I find this book is more a collection of "this-is-how-my-mother-did-it" type of recipes rather than strict measures and instructions. This book includes some really interesting ideas - without all of the pesky science background - that I'd love to try out some day.

More on how the kraut is tasting - and reports on the beets and pickles next time ...

UPDATED: Just in case you want a "real" recipe for making sauerkraut, you can find several here (in addition to the info in the FAO publication):
Wild Fermentation
Mother Earth News
UMN Extension

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Let There Be Pickles!

I left town for a day or two and when I came back, the cucumbers had actually started producing! I'm hoping for enough cukes to attempt some lacto-fermented pickles next week.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


The measly harvest so far:

Oodles of herbs (except for dill which was pillaged by slugs)
6 green beans
5 pea pods
3 celery sticks

It's kind of depressing.
Cucumbers and zucchini are blooming, but so far, no fruit. A handful of tomatoes have been struck down with blossom end rot.

On the other hand, the coneflowers, lilies and dahlias are going gangbusters.

It's been too hot to be in the garden. I fear that by the time things cool down, everything will have fallen victim to powdery mildew or mold or some other wet-heat-loving-fungus-like disease.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Korean Style Potato Salad

I did a little bit of cooking this past weekend, and it seemed only fitting to have potato salad on the 4th of July. I'm not a big fan of the mustardy-yellow potato salad that seems to be all to common around these parts. But I do love it when I go out for Korean food and the banchan includes potato salad. Actually, my all-time favorite Korean potato salad is from Yummy Korean BBQ in Hawai'i. This isn't their version, but it's quite tasty!

1 bag "teeny tiny potatoes" from TJs - steam or boil them until tender (I like to steam them with the skins on them). Let cool a little bit and then roughly mash with a big fork.

1 small cucumber, sliced thinly
Pinch salt
Pinch sugar
2-3 T rice vinegar
Mix these together and let sit for about 10 minutes. Drain (but consider saving a little of the brine to add to the mayo in the next step).

1 c mayo
1/4 c finely chopped celery (I usually use some of the leaves, too)
Handful of chopped herbs: parsley and chives
1/2 finely diced jalapeno
Mix these together. I like to add some of the vinegary brine from the cucumbers to this.

Handful of shredded carrots

Mix everything together. Add more mayo if it's not creamy enough. Salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Blooming Leeks!

I was reading some things about leeks last night and learned that they form something called "leek pearls" - basically little bulblets that look like garlic cloves near the roots. They can be eaten or planted to form new plants. Or just left in the ground, I suppose, for another crop next year?

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Excuse the bad cell phone pic, but I was so excited to see multiple clusters of tomatoes on the "Principe Borghese", I just had to take a picture.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Blooming This Week

Variegated loosestrife (this picture is about a week old - it's not being obscured by the crazy overwintered kale).
Principe Borghese blossoms (I was out there this morning and there are two tiny little tomatoes on this plant!)
Sweet Cherry Peppers
Mexican Midget
The overwintered leeks are going to bloom! I'm excited to see what they look like.
A single Icelandic Poppy blossom

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Blooming This Week

Spiderwort: it's going gangbusters this year - I think it's about a foot taller than it's ever been.

The last of the irises.

The first of the many unknown lilies have opened.

The orange poppies finally opened. The thing is loaded with HUGE blossoms. I wish I had about a dozen of them!
I got a few more things in the ground this week, including a "Nelly Moser" clematis. I've got three more clematis to plant, but haven't quite figured out the trellis part yet. I suppose I could just plant them and do the trellis later? That sounds like it would involve some extra work, but that's usually the way my gardening goes, so I don't know why I'm over thinking it. ;)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Holy Peony! (Guest Blogger)

Holy Peony!
On Friday, ictero and I made the trek to Howard Lake to visit Swenson Gardens Peony Farm. It was one of the “to do” items that never got crossed off the list last year and I’m glad we were able to make it happen this year. The peony field had rows and rows of one-, two-, three- and four-year old plants and made a stunning sight in whole.

There was an amazing variety of colors (the standard classifications of pink, red, white, yellow or coral often didn’t seem to be enough), sizes, shapes and smells. Laura Dessert was definitely the sweetest smelling peony in bloom when we visited and there were a number that either had no scent whatsoever or smelled less than desirable (some of the descriptions we had written down included “rotting roses” and “smells like tobacco”). The Swensons grow all of their peonies without any chemical fertilizers or herbicides and even a brief conversation with Mr. Swenson makes it clear that this is truly a labor of love.

Nearly all of the peonies are available for sale on their website, now to find a place in the yard! The visit was definitely worth the drive to Howard Lake. I think we should make this a recurring item on the gardening “to do” list every year.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Veggie Tales

The over-wintered kale has bolted. It's sort of alien looking right now, but I'd like to collect seed, so I've let quite a bit of it go. The yellow flowers are kind of pretty. And if I end up with a whole bed full of  kale next year, I don't think I'll be complaining. ;)

This relatively ugly brown patch is a "three sisters" planting (ignore the rest of the ugliness back here - I've got plans for it, but it's going to take me another year or so before I get things under control). I put the corn in over the weekend and am waiting to see something sprouting. Squash and beans will go on once the corn pops up (hopefully the corn pops up!). I'm sure there are more productive ways to get a crop, but it sounded like an interesting experiment and I had the space for it.

The first buds are just barely visible on the "Principe Borghese" tomato.