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Showing posts from July, 2012

Easy Summer Lunch: Panzanella Caprese Salad

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This is my all-time favorite thing to eat  in the summer:


It's a super-easy salad with fresh tomatoes (here I have yellow and red cherry tomatoes cut in half, but any great tomato will work), fresh basil, chunks of mozzarella, and chunks of sort-of-stale French bread. It's best if everything is cut or torn into bite-sized pieces. Stir it together and drizzle some olive oil on top, then finish with a dash of salt and pepper.
It takes about five whole minutes to make, and is so, so good. I would eat this every day if we didn't keep running out of bread and mozzarella. Those things are summer staples for us, but everyone still keeps eating it up, especially now that the kids are old enough to hit the kitchen and put together their own lunches.

Easy Summer Dinner: Veggie Frittata

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We had a lot of catching up to do outside in the garden this weekend. It was hard to get motivated to get outside and pull weeds after a week of vacation, another week of intense work on renovating our screened-in porch, and a weekend of cloudy, rainy weather. It was also hard to get off of the couch where we have camped out to watch the Olympics.

Still, Sunday night we got a late start in the afternoon harvesting cherry tomatoes, cabbage, zucchini, some more cucumbers, beans, and herbs. We also began some fall plantings of broccoli, kale, cabbage, and our last sowing of annual herbs like cilantro, basil, dill, and fennel.

After all that, it was late, but we had a lot of good food on hand to make into a quick dinner. Kirk made a frittata filled with tomato, zucchini, and potato from the garden:


All those things are so flavorful that the only other thing he added was salt and pepper. Here's the basic recipe, but we just changed the filling ingredients to the veggies we had on hand…

Robin Rescue

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So today when I looked out at the strawberry patch from the (newly renovated and now-comfortable) screened-in porch, I saw the netting moving. I figured a chipmunk had gotten under the netting to grab a strawberry and went out for a closer look (and, truth be told, to throw something at it). What I saw, though, was a very frightened robin caught in the netting, trying to disentangle its wing and leg.

Aw, crap.

I don't have any photos of this, because we moved pretty quickly into rescue mode. I think it was a female robin, though, because it looked like this:


Except wide-eyed and terrified. And flopping around on the ground under the netting.
Full disclosure: It crossed my mind, briefly, that since it was under the netting next to a strawberry that was picked off the plant, that perhaps this bird deserved what it got here. But it was mostly sad, so we helped it anyway.
I got a scissors and Kirk put on some gardening gloves to protect his hands. The bird was trying to bite him, but…

The Melon Report

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Not all of our plants are struggling with the dry weather we've been having. Heat-loving melons are taking advantage:

These are the leaves and a few blossoms of one of our cantaloupe plants. I took this photo the day we got back from New Jersey. I was inspired to grab the camera because all the leaves were ringed with tiny, perfect raindrops. We had never seen anything like it — it was really beautiful. These plants took off in the heat we had while we were on vacation, and we came back to much bigger vines and tons of small, yellow blossoms. We also spied our first melon: 

It gets bigger every day, but it's still green. This is our first time out with cantaloupe, so I'm not sure how much longer we still have to go. 
The watermelons also really spread out while we were away:

Before we left, these were still fairly compact, but now they are vining and have blossoms as well. Yesterday afternoon I spotted our first watermelon:

It is about the size of an egg right now, so I&#…

Plus Pickles

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Now we have everything, plus pickles.

That's a saying at our house; a marriage idiom. It dates back to when we were first married, or maybe when we were living together in North Carolina. Either way, we were poor. We did the grocery shopping together, with a list and a calculator. When we hit the max on the weekly budget, we'd figure out what we could live without and put it back on the shelf. One day, though, we managed to get everything on our list, and were even able to pick up a jar of pickles as a bonus. 
The phrase stuck, and it's grown to signify general contentment or delight in abundance.
Today, it is literally as well as figuratively true, because last night we processed our first cucumber harvest:

These are just the pickling cukes (which is why some of the them are such funny shapes). We trellised one 12-foot row of pickling cucumbers and another 12-foot row of slicers. The pickling ones are kicking butt, and last night we had enough to do something with. 

Canni…

Tomatoes!

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It's been a long wait (three years since we picked the last ones at the Red House), but we finally have tomatoes!

It feels like it took forever, but our cherry tomatoes are turning orange (Sungold) and red (the rest) at a rate of (at last!) more than one per day now, and (as you can see in the photo above) the rest of the tomatoes are starting to turn as well. Finally!
I know that in the past, tomatoes really didn't happen until close to August, and I guess that's still true here in Newburyport. I don't know about you, but pretty much everything takes longer than it says it will on the seed packet. 75 days my ass.
The waiting has been a little frustrating. Not only have chipmunks picked off some cherry tomatoes, but we lost a bunch of our vining types to blossom-end rot:

This is a great example of the tricky ones. They look nice and red from a distance, but when you pick them you see that the whole bottom has rotted out. Then they end up on the compost pile. Blossom-e…

Harvesting Mustard Seed

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Before we left for vacation last week, the mustard plants looked like this:

A bunch of it was ready to harvest, but not quite all. We had already eaten a lot of the leaves back when they were nice and green, but this time around our harvest is about the seeds. The little yellow flowers you see at the very top of the plant end up producing long pods of tiny, brown mustard seeds. When the plant's leaves start to die back and the pods dry out, the seed is ready to harvest:

If you look closely at the pods above, you can see that a few are split open. The pods do that naturally after they dry out, so it's important to time your harvest so you cut them when most of the pods are dry and ready, but it's not so far gone that they shatter and you lose all the seeds. I cut a bunch before we left for vacation, but left many stalks that were still green.
We aren't the only ones trying to get at the mustard seeds. Birds like them too:

All the broken pods on the ground here were lef…

Harvesting Mustard Seed

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Before we left for vacation last week, the mustard plants looked like this:

A bunch of it was ready to harvest, but not quite all. We had already eaten a lot of the leaves back when they were nice and green, but this time around our harvest is about the seeds. The little yellow flowers you see at the very top of the plant end up producing long pods of tiny, brown mustard seeds. When the plant's leaves start to die back and the pods dry out, the seed is ready to harvest:

If you look closely at the pods above, you can see that a few are split open. The pods do that naturally after they dry out, so it's important to time your harvest so you cut them when most of the pods are dry and ready, but it's not so far gone that they shatter and you lose all the seeds. I cut a bunch before we left for vacation, but left many stalks that were still green.
We aren't the only ones trying to get at the mustard seeds. Birds like them too:

All the broken pods on the ground here were lef…

Mandatory Water Restriction

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In addition to the hawk sighting, another bit of news we got from our (wonderful, chicken-sitting) neighbors is that Newburyport is under a water restriction now.

It has been a very dry July, and that is combined with a snow-free winter, so I guess it was just a matter of time before we had to tighten our belts. So we are only supposed to water on even days (because we live on the even side of the street), and only early in the morning or later in the evening.
That's not going to be a big deal, since I only water twice a week anyway, and only if we have had less than a half inch of rain since the previous watering. 
Too bad our rain barrels didn't arrive until after all the rain we had in June:

Also, they would work better if we hooked them up. We just haven't had the chance between our porch renovation and travels. At least we don't feel like we've missed out on collecting massive quantities of water since it has barely rained at all this month. Even so, we'r…

Chicken Hawk!

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After a great vacation down the Jersey Shore, we woke up yesterday morning to see this guy on our back fence:


We were all quiet and careful, creeping closer to end of the brick path to get our pictures. The whole yard was quiet: not a peep from any of the chipmunks and squirrels who snack on our fruit, and nary a bird around. No wonder — that's a big hawk!

Turns out that being so careful not to scare it wasn't necessary at all, though. All of a sudden, it took off from the fence post and went right for the chicken coop! Amid all the terrified clucking of our little flock, that hawk was certain to show us that it thinks we are the interlopers here:


Whoa.

So after some research, we learned that this is most likely a juvenile, female Cooper's Hawk. The very first phrase of the description calls it "the 'chicken hawk' of colonial America."

Uh-oh.

Eventually it took a big crap in our yard and flew away. But we heard it screaming all day, and our neighbors sai…

Lavender Honey Ice Cream

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I neglected to mention that because each share of last night's apricot tart was so small, we served it with a scoop of homemade lavender honey ice cream:

This is thanks to my anniversary present, this kick-ass ice cream maker:

After whipping up a batch of vanilla, we were ready to try putting some of our garden produce to work as a dessert. And the first one was lavender, of which we picked a bowlful in no time:

This actually turned out to be more than I needed for the ice cream, but lavender has lots of other purposes and dries nicely to save and use later. 
We struck out on our own a bit with this recipe, since we are from Pennsylvania. We wanted a recipe that was "Philadelphia Style," which means no eggs. That's like the difference between the bright white of Breyer's vanilla and a yellow French vanilla you might get in a restaurant. Eggy ice creams take too long to make, and they taste like eggs. So no thanks.
Anyway, most recipes I found had somewhere betwe…

One Small Apricot

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After all our workto savethe apricots, the squirrels overran the orchard and got almost all of them. 
All save one:

This is the one small apricot that was left, the one that we swaddled in netting to try to save. 
It worked, and today it shouted out bright orange on the tree, and was a little soft under pressure when we gave it a squeeze. It smelled good, too.
As you can see by the pale greenish-yellow bands, it's a little underripe. We picked it anyway, though, because we were worried that it would be overripe — or worse, missing — by the time we get back from vacation next week.

It's hard to split an apricot the size of a silver dollar four ways, so we sliced it up into a tart:


So we're a little obsessed with the puff pastry + everything from our garden + cheese = delicious goodness formula right now. It's hard to argue with that kind of sure-fire success in the kitchen.
Anyway, it's super easy. Slice up your teeny tiny apricot thinly and spread it over a square…

Beet It!

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Another crop coming into its own this week: beets!

This is a couple four-foot rows' worth, but we also remembered that we had more back in our cold frame bed. Those are old and big, but we added them to the mix anyway. The big ones just got cut down into manageable pieces for roasting:

I have to admit, I'm not the world's biggest beet fan, but I did have a bite of one of these raw, and it was very, very sweet, and not too earthy. Kirk roasted this batch up in the oven at 375 degrees for about an hour. He put them in a pan with a bit of water and covered it with foil. The water helps to avoid char beets and gets gorgeous results like this:

What to do with them now that they are ready? We turned them into a light, summer supper with more puff pastry magic:

We're calling this a Red and Blue Tart: the beets are the red; the blue is crumbles of blue cheese on top. I love anything as a vehicle for blue cheese, but Kirk found it a little strong for the beets (he really, real…

Zucchini Supper

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Zucchini has arrived!

The one on the left is a tad overgrown — a day earlier it looked perfect like the one on the right. This is hardly the biggest zuke we've ever harvested, though. A great way to use ones that might be a little tough because they got out of hand (or were hidden under a big leaf and went unnoticed) is to make zucchini pancakes:

This is another one of Kirk's eyeballed recipes. You grate the zucchini (we used the big one), and you can add some grated carrot, onion and garlic (or any combination of those) to the zukes. Beat 2 eggs in a bowl. Add a heaping half cup of flour and 3/4 tsp. of baking soda. Pour that mixture into the zucchini; stir it all together. Then you scoop it into a frying pan with hot oil and fry them until they look crispy and brown on the outside. 
You don't have to top them with sour cream, but you'd be missing out. We ate ours with some green bean and feta salad to celebrate our first green beans of the summer. Who needs meat whe…

A Day's Labor: Harvesting and Preserving

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Our garden is pretty big, and I try to keep the maintenance doable by working on one section each day of the week. That way everything gets done on a weekly basis, but in smaller pieces. Today I worked on the quadrant by the workshop and chicken coop.

A typical day's work in one section of the garden includes weeding, thinning seedlings, deadheading, and harvesting. In addition to that, I had to pull out the spent row of pea plants and hill up the potatoes again, so this section took longer than usual. There was also a lot to harvest, including two rows of beets and a bunch of herbs that were starting to flower.

Here's what the kitchen looked like when I was done:


From left to right, there is Greek oregano, beets, a couple new potatoes, radishes, Italian oregano, curly parsley, and mint. There was also a spinner full of salad greens, but that went straight into the fridge. I also brought in two zucchini and a bowl of beans for supper, but they were from a different quadrant.

Culling Cabbage

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Our cabbage is (finally) looking good enough to eat!

And if you look closely, you will see that we've cut the biggest one for dinner. Some other ingredients that have grown over the past week:

Here's a bell pepper. This one is still a bit too small, but the one we picked was bigger. Also included in our dish:

We've got a jalapeño or two as well! Again, this one is smaller than the one we ate.
When you put it all together you get ...   

Cole slaw! It's soooooo much better fresh than from the deli case at the grocery store or as a side dish at a diner. Fresh cole slaw is much crisper, and you can taste the individual flavors of each ingredient. 
Kirk made this slaw with about half the head of cabbage (shredded), plus the bell pepper and jalapeño (chopped fine). The dressing is just some mayonnaise and cider vinegar. 
There's also a carrot (shredded). I must admit, this is one of the last veggies left in the house from the grocery store. Our carrots took a hit from t…