Cooking when your kitchen looks like a farmers’ market

One of the sad facts of growing a garden is that inevitably everything is ripe at the same time.  And when you’re expecting to get wiped out by a hurricane, you tend to hasten the harvesting just a little.

So it’s critical to find a recipe that uses a lot of vegetables.  Enter Rachael Ray’s grilled ratatouille boats.  (Making ratatouille always reminds me of the Disney cartoon of the same name, which is what inspired a burning desire in me to go to Paris.  Go figure – I based a vacation on a cartoon mouse.)  Anyway, the recipe:

2 zucchini, halved lengthwise
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1 eggplant, cubed
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup parsley
Salt & pepper
1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (although I prefer Asiago for the bite)

Cut zucchinis in half lenthwise:

Scoop out some of the seeds, the scoop balls of flesh from the center of the zucchini to create the boats (a melon baller works well, but I just uses a teaspoon, since I don’t have a melon baller.  Psst, mom – Christmas gift idea!)  Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the onion & cook for 5 minutes, then the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add remaining olive oil (2 tbsp, if you’ve not been keeping track) the eggplant and zucchini balls, and cover & cook 8 minutes.  Add in the tomatoes and cook, stirring, until the mixture is thick, about 5 minutes.  Add parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Fill the zucchini shells with the ratatouille mixture, sprinkle with cheese and grill, covered, over medium-high until the cheese is melted and the shells are slightly softened.

So that’s Rachael’s version.  I used parsley and basil, swapped the mozzarella for asiago and added fresh peas because they were loitering in the basket and there weren’t enough for a meal. Which is how I got from this:

Pretend those cucumbers are zucchini

 To this:

It’s enormously satisfying to sit down to a dinner where pretty much everything in it came out of your garden.

Irene 1, tomatoes -1

So, the hurricane has come and gone, and we appear to have gotten off with a few downed small branches, a ton of leaves, and a semi-flooded garden.  Irene did get a tomato, though.

Right there in the middle, on the left of the fence post

Which is not a terrible thing, frankly.  Stella Caroline has a tree down on her deck.  Midway through the storm J went out to look at the corn – apparently about a dozen stalks were down at that point.  We expected heavy losses from the garden, so we picked anything that looked vaguely ripe on Saturday.  There was a lot of stuff:

We picked two huge bowls of early girl and brandywine tomatoes, three boxes of sungolds, peas, eggplants, lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, summer squash, strawberries (take that, chipmunk!) and parsley and basil.  Then I spent an hour washing produce.  Because so many of the tomatoes aren’t ripe, we put them in a single layer in cardboard boxes with a banana in each box to help ripen them.  (Fruit gives off a gas that causes produce to ripen faster, which is why you should never keep the two together in the veggie drawer in your fridge.  J found the banana trick on the internet, and we thought, why not?  What do we have to lose, other than a lot of underripe tomatoes?)  We dragged everything out of our yard, off our deck and front porch, and tied the tomato cages to each other and the fence.  We staked the eggplants and peppers (which are producing nicely) and crossed our fingers. 

That evening, our favorite garden supervisor came to visit us, but we thought he went home (he has 24-hour access to the basement through a window at his house) until we looked out the front windows Sunday morning and saw him huddled on our front porch in the rain, yowling.  Because we’re saps, we let him in, and he happily snoozed on our sunporch most of Sunday, after being toweled off and given a lap to sit in and an ear scratch for the indignities of Irene:

Basil makes me sleepy.

He is totally trying to move in.  We’re resisting, particularly since he doesn’t do anything to pull his weight.


The drink, not the monster storm bearing down on us outside:

1 oz white rum
1 oz Jamaican dark rum
1 oz Bacardi 151 rum
3 oz orange juice
3 oz unsweetened pineapple juice
1/2 oz grenadine syrup
crushed ice

Combine all ingredients, mix well by shaking.  Pour over crushed ice in hurricane glass. Or a travel mug.  Or any cylindrical vessel that will convey the delicious drink to your lips, with or without a straw.  (In times of crisis it is important to be flexible.)  Enjoy while watching all the coverage of the storm on television, wondering why all the fuss about the weather.

Weather Armageddon

I don’t remember meteorologists and reporters being so amped up about the weather when I was a kid.  Or maybe they were, but because I didn’t actually own any property that could be damaged, I wasn’t paying attention.

This has been our best year yet for the garden, but Irene is on her way.

Thar she blows!

The projected path for 8 PM Sunday shows it going right over us.  I am incredibly grateful we live nowhere near the coast, but the rainfall predictions and wind gusts do have me a bit worried about what the garden will look like in the morning.  Perhaps we’ll learn at what wind speed tomatoes become airborn.  It will solve the problem about what to do with all of our tomatoes, anyway, and doesn’t involve me making sauce.

It’s quite a pickle

I went to my cousin J’s house on Saturday because she was putting up some of her pickling cucumbers and I had a bunch as well.

I promised last time I would try to document how it’s done.  This time, J set me up to do my own, and now I’m more confident about the process.  Here’s what I did:

1.  Cut the cucumbers into spears.  Be observed closely by your 6-year-old cousin A, who will inform you that your spears are too long.  Discover she is right. Suggest maybe mommy could go relax with a glass of sangria and she could just teach you, which she will agree with.

2.  Add one clove of garlic (two if they are small) 1 tsp of dill seed and 1/2 tsp. of mustard seed:

3.  Pack jar with cucumber spears.  Add another teaspoon of dill seed on top:

4. Cover cucumbers with brine (2 cups of of cider vinegar, 3 cups of water & 5 tablespoons of canning salt, brought to a low boil, then kept warm.) 

5.  Cover jars with lids and bands, and seal as tightly as possible.  Put jars in the canner, and boil for 10 minutes, before removing and allowing to cool.  Do not allow hot jars to bump into each other while cooling.  Leave this part of the process to your cousin J, and head home to dinner with your husband.

6.  While canning, watch out for cousin’s smallest son, M, who will roll himself across the floor in his walker and repeatedly slam himself into your ankles, and then smile at you.

We’ll let the pickles cure for about 2 – 4 months before we open them.  I now have 7 pints and 5 quarts of these pickles.  Next week we will probably be doing bread and butter pickles.  Or maybe I’ll just pick A up and she can teach me while her mom relaxes.

And since I have lately been taking photos of other people’s gardens:

A John Deere fan also lives here

Thanks to my cousin A, who took all the photos.  After she teaches me how to make bread and butter pickles, maybe I can get her to start updating the blog.

Mid-August Update

Now that we are well and truly past mid-August, here’s where things stand in the yard:

Main garden

Eggplants and peppers

Carrots, lettuce, potatoes, shallots

Corn – slow going, but it’s coming along
Pumpkins, watermelons and in the rear, the corn again

Our main garden and raised beds are doing well.  This week I noticed that the potato plants are starting to die off, which means I should be harvesting them soon.  (CRF did share that tidbit over tea.)  The back forty patch has not done as well as we would have liked, but that area was so wet right through June it is nothing short of amazing that anything is growing there.  The watermelons are pretty much toast – nibbled by some bug, they barely grew.  Two of the five mounds still have some greenery, but that’s it.  The pumpkins are growing, and so far we have eight small green Orange Smoothie pumpkins, and two Jack-Be-Littles.  It seems unlikely that the Howden or Lumina vines will produce pumpkins for fall.  (The Luminas got eaten by the same bugs that went after the watermelons, we think.)  And while I’m disappointed that I will not have white pumpkins for my porch (think of the color contrast between white pumpkins and orange flames, when J lights them up on Halloween!), our only expectation was that we would get the garden in back there this year – the area needed heavy brush-cutting, mowing, plowing and tilling.  Now that we’ve established an area, next year we can improve it and overall crop health.

What we’ve learned so far:

1.) It is gong to be possible to grow two crops of certain types of vegetables, such as beans and peas, in our hardiness zone.  (With our occasionally late frosts – we sometimes have them as late as the 2nd weekend in May – we thought it was only safe to plant after Memorial Day.)  Our goal next year will be to do two plantings of peas, and three of beans.

2.) Fertilizer – it makes all the difference in the world in the growing season in central New England.  We’re partial to Neptune’s Harvest, an organic liquid fertilizer you mix with water.  Expensive, but worth it for how it works and the fact that it’s organic.

3.) Squash plants – six of each (summer squash and zucchini) is too many.  Four each is more than enough.  When we try to plant six each again next year, someone remind me we don’t need that many.

4.) You really can have too many sungold tomato plants.  (Even for me.)  They don’t freeze well, so we have to consume vast quantities of them or give them away.  Part of me doesn’t mind putting the sungolds into berry boxes and distributing them, but a (tiny, little) selfish part of me dies a little death every time I hand over a box of them.  Next year we’re going to reduce the number and try some other tomatoes, like plum, so I can make sauce.

5.) Those strawberries are just for the chipmunk.  He will outsmart every trick you have to keep him away.  Just give up, and leave a tiny napkin next to the plants so he can wipe his mouth on the way out of the garden bed.

6.) The hammock is much more useful when properly installed.  Maybe someday I will actually get to sit in it for more than 10 minutes:

The view from the main garden – it looks so inviting when working in the hot sun!

And now for something completely different

We spent the last week in NY visiting my FIL (my MIL is in Denmark, visiting her siblings and their children) which means I’ve spent some time on someone else’s garden instead of my own.

Starting on the left, there is curly and flat leaf parsley, swiss chard and radishes.  My FIL is also growing four types of tomatoes (plum, Early Girl, cherry & sungold – I have not been denied my beloved sungolds while in NY!), pickling cucumbers, summer squash and rhubarb.  I am most fascinated by the radishes.

These radishes are ENORMOUS:

                                      That is my thumb next to the radish.  I do not have tiny fingers, either.

My FIL tells me that they are German radishes, so apparently in addition to making excellent cars, the Germans also excel at engineering radishes.  We’re going to take a few home with us, as my FIL tells me that they are very mild and add an excellent crunch to sandwiches.  (I have always been partial to potato chips, but they lack in nutritional value, so we’ll give the radishes a shot.)  I think I will be checking with the incomparable Stella Caroline for ideas on dishes that include radishes.

It wasn’t all gardening and home repair projects back in NY – two posts ago I mentioned my NY cousins.  We went to the Bronx Zoo one day with my cousin J (yes, another cousin J) her two boys S & C, and her sister, my other cousin M.  (We were at M’s wedding last month.)  The zoo is really fun with two two-year-olds:

I’m sure my FIL has some radishes are nearly the size of those boys.

I say potato, you say get me a magnifying glass

When I put the potatoes and shallots in this year (totally an impulse buy) I had no real sense about how to grow them.  I was marginally concerned that I had no idea what I was doing, nor did I know anyone who was growing potatoes. Well, except the parents of my Crazy Russian Friend (CRF) who grow potatoes in….Russia. (Imagine that.)  CRF insists that the climate in his hometown is the same as here, so I asked some advice about how to grow them. 

You plant them in the ground,” he told me, stirring his tea.  (Er, thanks dude, figured that part out.) 

“What about mounding the soil around the plants, like I’ve read?”

Yes, you should do that to keep the potatoes from popping out of the ground.  How many acres of potatoes do you have?

“I have six plants.”

You will not get very many potatoes.”

“Any potatoes at all, really, will be a victory.”

It is good that you have low standards for potato production.

So other than being an entertaining lunch companion, CRF was not particularly enlightening with tips for growing potatoes.  (And those of you who know CRF are no doubt laughing, knowing exactly the tone of voice he used and the fact that I always tell his parts of stories with a thick Russian accent.)  By that point, they were already in the ground so I had lost nothing in the venture. 

A few weeks ago the plants developed what looked like potato beetles.  Internet research taught me that you can’t actually chemically eradicate potato beetles because they’re immune to all but the most hazardous pesticides.  Since we’re pretty much an organic garden anyway, the preferred method of removal, by hand, seemed like a great alternative.  (A recent Facebook post also taught me that you can sprinkle bran around the potatoes, which potato beetles will eat.  They then drink water, which causes the bran to expand and the beetles to allegedly explode.  I have no independed verification of bran-consuming exploding beetles, but the idea of it delights me, as does imaging what exploding beetles sound like.  Guess who raided her husband’s cereal this morning to go sprinkle around the potatoes?)

The hand removal of the beetles has been going well, as you can see below:

I check the plants every few days.  While out poking around in the garden, I noticed what looked like a very brown rock poking out from under one of the plants.  Upon closer inspection, I discovered it was actually a potato:

So there are apparently potatoes growing under all that leafy beetle-infested plant life after all.  Hopefully they will be considerably larger by harvest, or I won’t be sharing.  Not even with CRF.

More peas, please

I would like to tell you that we have been so busy in the garden that I haven’t had a minute to post.  The truth of the matter is, I have time to post at least one evening a week but then I get distracted by something else – American Pickers or True Blood on t.v., usually.  Sometimes I’m busy baking or pickling.  Such sorry excuses for why the blog has been dormant for a whole month, right at our busiest time of year.

And boy, have we been busy.  Right after we got home from our recent trip, the garden started exploding.  One Friday afternoon, J picked all this:

Which I immediately divided up and shuttled out to the neighbors:

Two days later we had an equal amount.  I am so happy that the local food pantry where I volunteer takes fresh produce to distribute to clients.  Otherwise my life would be a never ending series of canning adventures.

Speaking of canning, I did take a huge bunch of our pickling cucumbers over to my cousin J’s house (she of the three children) about two weeks ago to make dill pickles.  The recipe has been in the family for three generations (if you count us) and the pickles need to ferment for about two to four months.  I made 5 quarts of dill pickles.  Well, I helped make 5 quarts of dill pickles – J did a lot of measuring for the spices and the more dangerous part of sterilizing the jars and then boiling them to seal them up.  Really, I am not sure how it could have been any easier for me, except if maybe I didn’t have to cut up the cucumbers. I didn’t take photos of the process because I forgot my camera.  But she’s at it on a regular basis, so I hope to get some photos in the next few weeks.

One of our experiments this year has been growing peas.  We chose a variety called “Mr. Big Pea” which is an English pea.  (The name also reminded me of Sex in the City‘s Mr. Big.  I am sure people have stranger reasons to pick a variety of something, but those people don’t blog.)  We put them directly into the ground Memorial Day weekend with no expectations.  When they bloomed, we were pleasantly surprised.  And then we got peapods:

Which turned into actual peas:

The peas are enormous – the size of my pinky fingernail, at least.  We’ve gotten two meals out of the pods we’ve picked (we have 26 plants) and plan to at least double the amount we plant next year, in addition to planting in two batches to extend the harvest.

The only drawback is that this is not a sweet pea, so the pods are tough and can’t be used in things like stir fries.  But we might try a second variety next year that has edible pods.

Last night I said to my NY cousins that although the title of the blog is “Cocktail Farmers” I had been posting very little in the way of drink recipes.  I will have to remedy that, although mixed drinks are more of a fall/winter/spring thing around our house.  Usually if we have a drink in the summer, we just open up some wine.

Perhaps we should plant grapevines?