7.06.2014

Our Garden at the Beginning of July


It's time to get out the harvesting knives!  The warm season crops are just starting to roll in our vegetable garden as the cool season crops are starting to bolt and go bitter.  This is the short stretch of time where we gleefully harvest the first tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini before we have more than we could possibly eat fresh and have to go into preservation mode breaking out the canners, dehydrators and freezer bags.

Our spring greens this year are:
In front is the Gourmet lettuce mix, behind that is Cordier spinach
and then Rubarb Red Swiss chard and Pot of Gold Swiss Chard.  

We've been eating salads with every meal for the last month or more, but our Gourmet lettuce mix from High Mowing Organic Seeds is starting getting tough and bitter as the warm weather encourages it to shoot up flower stalks.  The 12 square-feet we grew from one seed pack provided more than the two of us could eat together.  Junebug, now two-years-old, will tolerate lettuce on her plate, but only for decoration.

I had poor germination, less than 50%, of the Cordier spinach.  We ate it some while it was small, but since our second baby was due the third week of June, I missed the window for blanching and freezing the mature leaves.   Now all the spinach is stretched out and flowering.  I guess I'll have to try again this fall.  I'm counting on the chard to take the heat and provide greens for us into through the summer.


Did you catch that little bit of information?  We've got a new baby!  He was supposed to be born on the summer solstice, but held out until June 26th.  Despite missing the longest day of the year to make his appearance he's going to be known as Sunny on the blog.  So far he has been much easier than his sister, labor was quick and natural, he sleeps in long blocks and so far he hasn't spit-up more than a couple times.

Adding a new baby to the mix is always bit crazy, but Jeff has the summer off as the professor equivalent of paternity leave.  I did not work this summer so the two of us as stay at home parents keep things from getting too crazy.

There's your quick introduction to the baby, now back to the garden.

The 'Blue Adirondack' potatoes are doing great.  We haven't mounded them or put straw down.  I'm hoping I don't regret that choice. We'll see if we have a bunch of green-shouldered potatoes come harvest time.


Speaking of shoulders check out these onions! We put in 12 square-feet of anonymous red onions from the hardware store and 12 square-feet of 'Candy' white onions I bought from a local farmer.  I'm excited about the Candies.  They are looking mighty fine.  I can't wait until their tops start flopping over and browning, signaling harvest time.

Some day I want to dedicate a hundred square-feet to onions or if I'm feeling super ambitious 365 square-feet so we could grow all our onions for the year.  I can just see all the onions hanging from the rafters in the garage to cure and then in our future root-cellar built into the corner of the stone basement.  


The basil is a little behind this year.  My first seeding yielded only one plant; the big one you can see in the upper left hand corner of the photo above.  I thought my seeds must be bad so I threw all the remaining ones into a thick row figuring I might get a couple more to germinate and then I wouldn't have be saving half a package of bum seeds.  Of course all of the seeds came up.  The dozens were thinned down to just 16 and they seem to be doing well.  Some bug has been nibbling on them a bit, but I foresee another bumper crop of basil and lots of pesto to be put up in August.  

Also in the herb section are five robust dill plants and a row of cilantro.  The dill is starting to flower, but with no cucumbers ready to pickle, I've been cutting off the heads to encourage more blooms and keep seeds from forming.  The cilantro has just reached a harvest-able size and we've enjoyed it in our breakfast burritos and with enchiladas.  Unfortunately, it is already starting to bolt.  I should have started the cilantro earlier.  


I chose 'Northern Pickling' cucumbers to try this year.  They promised a small vine with abundant cukes that are good both for eating and canning.  Between the two plants there are probably a hundred little cucumbers forming.  Although they have been holding at about an inch long for weeks now.  I just spotted the first one to make it to thumb size when I was out taking these photos.  Garden fresh cucumbers are one of my favorite garden eats.  I am impatiently waiting to start harvesting.



After getting tired of acorn squash last year, this year I only planted butternut squash.  We've got a couple little fruits on the vine.  I just looked up that we should get 4-5 squash per vine and we only put in two vines.  I'll probably wish we had more, but I chose the variety 'Metro' because it was powdery mildew resistant as we lost several of plants to it last year.  I'll add more winter squash hills to my wish list for when we expand the garden.


Another powdery mildew resistant squash I chose this year was 'YellowFin' zucchini.  We just ate our first one and it was so much better than the sponges I've been buying at the grocery store.  I much prefer the yellow summer squash to the green if for no other reason than they stand out from the green leaves and won't get overlooked until they reach the size of a baseball bat the way the green ones sometimes do.


On the tomato front our 18 plants are coming along.  The red cherry 'Jaspar' are way out in front as I had new seed and all of them germinated.  The 'Sun Gold' yellow cherry tomatoes and 'San Marzano' paste tomatoes were last year's seed and germination was slower and spottier.  Luckily some friends had extra 'San Marzano' seeds so we got enough plants to fill all the spots.

Almost all of the tomatoes are flowering and the 'Jasper' have set some tiny, green, marbles of fruit.  Since we direct sow our seeds the plants are a little behind where they could be.  We know folks who are already harvesting because they started their seeds indoors.  I plan on acquiring some row covers this fall, so perhaps we'll be able to start out tomatoes earlier next spring.


The last thing to show you in the veggie garden is the bean teepee.  The 'Red Noodle' beans are up and growing.  I'm not sure if these twine by the stems wrapping around or if they will tendril.  Some bug has been munching on their leaves, but it looks like they are growing fast enough to outpace the damage.

Each pole has 3-5 bean plants and that should be plenty to cover and create a little shelter for Junebug to play in.  Right now she is into digging in the loose, dry dirt next to the house.  She basically takes a dust bath every time she's outside.  Perhaps she would enjoy a little sandbox under her teepee.

That's it for the vegetable garden.  Hopefully I'll be able to put up some new recipes soon and some tutorials for preserving the harvest.  In the mean time here are a couple summer time favorites from the archives:

6.02.2014

Our Garden at the Beginning of June


It's the second of June!  This time last year we had just put in the seeds and all there was to look at was dirt.  That was mostly because cutting the sod and digging out the garden beds takes more time than you would think.  It's three beds totaling 264 square feet.

This Spirng I got in early veggies in the far left bed.  They were all planted between April 18-21.
  • Red onion (unknown variety from local hardware store) 12 square feet
  • 'Candy' white onion (from Fingerles) 12 square feet
  • 'Adirondack Blue' potatoes (from Johnny's Selected Seeds) 44 square feet
  • 'Rhubarb Red' Swiss chard (from Seed Savers Exchange) 4 square feet
  • Yellow Swiss chard (Charley Creek Seed Exchange) 4 square feet
  • Gourmet lettuce mix (from High Mowing Organic Seeds) 8 square feet
  • 'Cordier' spinach (from High Mowing Organic Seeds) 8 square feet
We just harvested our first dinner salads this week; a combination of lettuce, spinach and baby chard.  

In the middle bed are the vine crops and herbs:
  • 'Metro' butternut squash (Johnny's Selected Seeds) 2 hills - 24 square feet
  • 'Northern Pickling' cucumber (Johnny's Selected Seeds) 2 hills - 24 square feet 
  • 'Slow Bolt' cilantro (Renee's Garden Seeds)
  • 'Dukat' dill (Renee's Garden Seeds)
  • 'Genovese' Basil (Johnny's Selected Seeds) 
The bed to the far right is mostly tomatoes with a couple summer squash thrown in:
  • 'Yellow Fin' zucchini (Johnny's Selected Seeds) 4 plants - 16 square feet
  • 'Jaspar' red cherry tomato (Johnny's Selected Seeds) 4 plants - 16 square feet
  • 'Sun Gold' yellow cherry tomato (Johnny's Selected Seeds)  4 plants - 16 square feet
  • 'San Marzano' red paste tomato (Johnny's Selected Seeds) 10 plants - 40 square feet

Our new addition to the annual veggie garden for this year is the bean teepee.  It was one of my five goals for this year and thanks to my resourceful husband it was put together and planted in one evening.  I'm thinking until the beans get going, I might throw a flat sheet over it and secure with clothes pins for Junebug to play in.  



I also found these fun Red Noodle pole beans to try growing up our teepee.  They look pretty and I love the promise of super long (16-20 inch) tender beans!  The instructions say to plant five beans per pole so that's what I did. It seems like that could be a little crowded to me.  I guess we'll find out.


We planted four blueberry bushes last spring and they lived through that horrible long winter.  With the addition of some soil acidifier the leaves are nice and green.  And look, fruit!  If the birds don't get them first, we will have a couple mouth fulls of blueberries this summer.  


Around the corner the rhubarb is lush.  We didn't expect it be this big in its second year.  Our plan was to let it grow and wait to start harvesting until next year when it has been in the ground three years.  However, I bet we could sneak a couple stalks.  The only problem is rhubarb needs a lot of sugar to be palatable and I'm still gestational diabetic for another month.  What's the rule of thumb?  Stop harvesting by the 4th of July.  I might get at least one crisp or crumble in before then.  


This is the back of our little yellow Victorian house.  All of the fuzzy green planted under the peaked roof is our asparagus patch.  We had a very successful overwintering.  I do believer all 45 crowns made it.


Here's another view of our patch.  We piled lots of leaves over the whole area last fall, which I think really helped them through the winter, however we had to carefully go in and uncover the emerging asparagus shoots to help them up and out.  Maple leaves create a very dense mat.  Since this is also the second spring for the asparagus we didn't do any harvesting.  Next year is going to be so good!

I've been thinking a lot about the back of the house and how their aren't any windows.  Typical of the time our house was built.  Victorian homes commonly don't have windows on the north side since windows weren't very efficient and the coldest wind comes from the north.  What about a trellis of clematis or some other perennial bloomer?  Especially if the trellis was more of a work of art in its own right so it could be enjoyed year round.  I'll have to mention that idea to my artist husband.  I bet we could come up with something really eye catching.


The peach and cherry tree also came through their first winter.  The cherry fared better than the peach although neither flowered this spring.  


On the front side of the house which is also the side of the house with no water spigot, we now have a rain barrel.  My mom sent it as a birthday gift.  I was pretty excited when Jeff installed it mid May.  Unfortunately it has a slow leak where the hose attaches at the bottom.  Jeff has some ideas on how to fix it.  Hopefully it doesn't take too much to get it holding water and doing what it should.


This is the patio sandwiched between the side of the house and the garage.  And honestly it's where I spend most of my outdoor time these days.  Let's face it, I'm 37 weeks pregnant and I'm not very interested in kneeling in the garden and pulling weeds over my gigantic baby bump.


Instead most of my out door time is spent with Junebug playing in the pool and me sitting in the lawn chair.  I have also found soaking my swollen feet in the kiddie pool to be an excellent afternoon activity.

I was going to end with a full baby belly selfie, but it started raining and then got dark, so maybe next time. 

4.24.2014

My Go To Everyday Salad with Pecans, Dried Cranberries and Feta - Recipe

Go To Everyday Salad - Recipe www.FoyUpdate.blogspot.com


This is one of my back pocket recipes.   The one I turn to if we have a guest drop by and dinner needs to stretch a little farther or I didn't plan lunch or I realize dinner has zero green veggies.  If I have lettuce on hand than I probably have everything else.  It's a nice option for a side salad with dinner or make it a little larger for lunch.  The best part for me right now, is it is diabetic friendly with just 21 carbohydrates in the lunch sized serving. (The full nutritional information is with the recipe.)

That's right with my second pregnancy now in the third trimester(!) I have officially been diagnosed as gestational diabetic.  I failed the one-hour glucose screen just barely with a score of 138 mg/dL.  The cut off is 140 mg/dL, but I asked to be tested early.  Since I've had it before, I'm ready to be diagnosed.

Gestational diabetes will just get harder to control as the baby and placenta get bigger, releasing more hormones making my body more and more insulin resistant.  I've got just under two-months to go and if I'm lucky by controlling my diet and exercise I won't need medication.

I was diagnosed at 33-weeks pregnant when it is still very moderate for me.  I have some time to monitor my blood sugar and figure out how many carbs I can eat and when.  I should able to make small adjustments and keep myself and baby #2 a good weight or if I can't manage with diet and exercise alone, I'll know right away and my doctor can prescribe medication.

I've done gestational diabetes all before when I was carrying Junebug.  If you want the really detailed account of my first round with gestational diabetes you can find it here:  Gestational Diabetes - My Story and Recipes.
Spring Spinach - www.FoyUpdate.blogspot.com
Spinach growing under row cover at Hawkins Family Farm.  Photo credit: Hawkins Farm Instagram

In other news: It's spring, ya'll!  The local farm I volunteer with has lovely lettuce and spinach growing under row covers.  These early harvests are so tender and sweet since there hasn't been any hot weather to make them bitter or tough.  For the last couple weeks I've been eating lots of salads.  It makes me happy after a long winter of frozen greens and cabbage.

However, not much besides the lettuce and spinach are ready to harvest.  The toppings for the salad still need to come from the pantry.  I love the combination of something nutty, something sweet and something salty.  Of the random combinations of these that have come out of my cupboards, my favorite has been pecans with dried cranberries and feta cheese.  Actually, goat cheese has been my favorite, but we don't always have goat cheese on hand; we almost always have feta.  Then I make a simple balsamic vinaigrette dressing.  Also an anytime favorite as we always have balsamic vinegar, olive oil and garlic on hand.



This salad is wonderful as a side for pizza, or pasta, or meatloaf or really any dense main dish that needs a little something light and acidic to complement it.  Or use it as a base and serve a  hunk of meat like steak or a pork chop on top.

As the spring goes forward and moves into summer cherry tomatoes will replace the cranberries and we'll , add in grilled asparagus or leeks and later sauteed zucchini or winter squash.  

I must be hungry, despite just having eaten lunch, I want to eat all of those things right now.

I'm going to make the recipe below for the lunch-sized portion since that's what is in the photos.  If you want to make a side dish out of this reduce all the ingredients by a third.

Salad with Pecans, Dried Cranberries, Feta and Balsamic Vinaigrette 


Yields 2 lunch sized servings
Balsamic Vinaigrette - Nutritional information
from Spark People Recipe Calculator

6 cups of greens (baby, mixed, lettuce or spinach are all tasty)
1/4 cup toasted, chopped pecans
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 ounces feta cheese

For the Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing


Yields 1 cup, or 8 servings (2 tablespoons each)

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (if you have cheep vinegar, add a teaspoon brown sugar or molasses)
3/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Directions

  1. Whisk up the dressing.  I like to use a jelly jar for this recipe because you can easily shake-up the dressing to mix the oil and vinegar together just before drizzling over the salad.  First add the balsamic vinegar to your jar.  If you use inexpensive balsamic vinegar that has a sharp flavor, mellow it out a bit with 1 teaspoon of molasses or 2 teaspoons of brown sugar.  Trust me, it makes a difference.  
  2. Salad without Dressing Nutrition Information
    from Spark People Recipe Calculator
    Mince the garlic with a chef's knife.  Make the garlic into a little pile on the cutting board.  Then sprinkle the 1/2 teaspoon salt over top.  Using the side of the knife blade squish the salt into the garlic.  By pulling the garlic through the salt you are using the sharp crystal form of salt to mush the garlic thus releasing all its garlic oil flavor.  This also prevents any chunks of garlic making a surprise appearance in your salad.  
  3. Add the salt-garlic paste to the vinegar along with the black pepper.  Put the lid on the jar and shake the whole mixture together or you can use a whisk.  Let the vinaigrette's flavors come together while you make the salad.  
  4. Clean your greens and chop them roughly until they are a nice forking size.  Did you know you aren't supposed to cut salad with a knife during dinner, you must only use your fork to fold the greens into manageable bites?  It's true; it's an etiquette thing.  As the cook you should make your salads fork-able.  Also as the dish washer you should be interested in the less dishes to wash aspect of no knives. 
  5. Divide the greens into the serving bowls or plates, whichever you fancy. Top with the pecans, feta and cranberries.  Drizzle two tablespoons of the vinaigrette on the top.
Any leftover balsamic vinaigrette can be refrigerated until the next salad.

P.S.  It also makes excellent bread dipping oil if you aren't a gestational diabetic. I love dipping my pizza crusts in the leftover dressing when the salad is done.  

3.31.2014

The Best Ever Banana Muffins - Recipe


One of the first recipes I put up on this blog was my grandma's banana bread recipe.  That was four years ago and it is still a favorite.  In the last year or so I started to make the same recipe as banana muffins.  The main benefit is they bake faster.  Start to finish these muffins take just half an hour, making them excellent for breakfast.  I like to make some scrambled eggs when they are just about done baking.  Add a cup of coffee and I'm a happy mama.

The Best Ever Banana Muffins

Yields 12 regular sized muffins

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar (I prefer evaporated cane juice sugar)
2 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cup unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed ripe banana (two bananas)
1/4 cup walnuts or pecans (optional)
1/2 tablespoon buttermilk*

*If you don’t have buttermilk on hand add a couple drops of lemon juice or vinegar to milk or use sour cream in the same amount.

  1. Start by setting out the butter and eggs. Bringing them up to room temperature will make the batter better. Let them sit for at least an hour at room temperature. If you are in a hurry, microwave the butter for 10 seconds and stir it to distribute the heat. Try not to liquefy the butter, the goal is soft, but solid. And in the end cold eggs, won’t make bad bread.
     
  2. In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg, vanilla and buttermilk and mix it until smooth.
     
  3. In a large bowl mix together all the dry ingredients.
     
  4. Add the dry mixture and the banana to the butter mixture, adding a little at a time and mix after each addition. Stir in the nuts. Ideally you will mix just until all the ingredients are moist, there should still be lots of lumps. Over mixing will react all the baking powder and soda. This makes the texture of the bread dense and heavy. So less work equals better bread. That’s the way it should be.
     
  5. Pour the batter into greased or lined muffin tin. Bake at 425 degrees for 18 minutes or until a sharp knife poked in, comes out clean.
     
  6. Remove the bread from the pan immediately to avoid soggy crust. Let the muffins cool on a rack for at least five minutes before serving. When cool, cover and store.

3.27.2014

Planning to Preserve 2014


Over the last four years my cooking and food goals have evolved.   First, I worked out how to eat healthy on a budget.  Next, I wanted to put by part of our yearly food supply.  At the start, I couldn't grow it myself  because we lived in an apartment the first three years in Indiana.  Instead, I took home extra from the vegetable garden which was part of the arboretum I worked for, as well as, the farmer's market.  I look back at those blog posts and see my early attempts at canning, dehydrating and foraging.  There was a learning curve.  The first couple years I did small batches without ever putting enough by for the winter.

Remember when I used to think this was a lot of tomatoes in 2010?


This is about a third of what I put up last year:



I left my arboretum job a couple years later when my husband got a position as a professor and we moved to our current small town in northeast Indiana.  Before we moved I contacted a couple farms and gardens nearby and asked if I could volunteer.  Hawkin's Family Farm let me come out and work for food that first fall in 2011.  That was also the first year I put up a significant amount of food and I decided the next year I needed a plan for putting food by.

During the winter of 2012, when I was pregnant with June Bug, I created a full blown plan to preserve.  I had spread sheets and calculations of how many canning jars, pounds of tomatoes and how many batches of pesto so we wouldn't have to buy any for the two, soon to be three of us, for a year.  I needed that kind of intensive planning to know what it would take to reach my goals.

My first plan to preserve post can be found here.  This is the calendar I kept on the fridge that summer to remind me how much I wanted, of what and when:



Last year, 2013, I was a little lax.  I looked at my previous year's plan and aimed for a similar amount of food put by with some small adjustments.  It is March of 2014 and we are running out of things; a little more planning could have made the difference.  This year I am back on the saddle making another full blown plan to preserve.

I started by looking back over my notes from the last three years.  I have a notebook with lists of what I was canning, freezing and preserving over the summer and fall for each year.  I put those in a spread sheet and made notes; which foods were enough, too much, when we ran out that type of thing.  I also added a section of things I would like to try.  I'd love to put up more frozen fruit and make my own hot sauces.  I'd also like to get into cool, dry storage for root crops and winter squash.

I looked back at my list and figured out which produce we would grow, which I could get from the CSA and which ones I could buy at the farmers market or from other local farmers.


Our home garden is still fairly small, just three beds equaling 263-square feet.  If I wasn't due with our second baby in June, I would have pushed for expanding as we have used maybe a sixth of the potential space in our side yard.  The large sunny side yard was a selling point for this house!



This year I plan to grow in our home annual vegetable garden:
  • Winter squash (dry cool storage)
  • Cucumbers (pickles)
  • Blue Potatoes (dry cool storage)
  • Onions (dry cool storage)
  • Cherry and paste tomatoes (dehydrate and can)
  • Basil (frozen as pesto)
  • Zucchini (frozen)
  • Lettuce (only for fresh eating)
  • Spinach (frozen)
  • Broccoli (only for fresh eating, I'm not putting that much in)
Some vegetables I will be able to get from Hawkin's Family Farm CSA.  When crops are plentiful I often get the option to pick as much as I am able and then split it with the farm.  From the last couple of years I know I can count on green beans, beets, chard, peppers, more tomatoes and grapes.  

Last year I harvest two 5-gallon buckets of grapes and split the juice with family who grew the grapes.

It is also important to be flexible.  Sometimes there is an unexpected bumper crop and I have to be willing to take advantage when possible.  Last year I passed up a bunch of bell peppers because we were doing a lot of hosting and I just didn't feel like I had to the time to process them.  I still regret that a little. The year before I cashed in and we had frozen chopped pepper on hand all winter.  This year I did take advantage of the grapes at Hawkins Farm.  They didn't have time to pick or process them so I made a couple batches of jelly and juice and split it with the family.

Do you want to see it?  I've boiled down my plan into one spread sheet.  Here it is (click chart to enlarge):