Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Brave Pumpkins

Just wanted to give a quick update on my unripe pumpkin. Two weeks ago, I had to clean up my dying squash vines and harvested all remaining fruit. This brave little guy (pictured above) wasn't yet ripe. So I placed him in a sunny, warm location and look at his progress:

It's my hunch that this will work with winter squash in general, so long as the fruit has reached a certain level of development (pretty much full size and just waiting to ripen) before it's separated from the vine.

All in all, my little volunteer pumpkin plant produced well for me this year. And although they are not ideal eating pumpkins--they are a variety sold for carving as Halloween decor--I shall toast the seeds and cook the rest down into puree to keep in freezer for use this winter.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Goodbye Summer Garden

bee balm
One last post for September before the crazy but exciting days of VeganMoFo III start a frenzy of posting (or at least that is my intention). It just sort of struck me today that summer 09 is indeed over...and while I love October (my favorite month), I still feel a bit nostalgic for the lovely summer days and evenings in the garden.

Aside from vegetables, my garden is a disorganized collection of various and sundry. It's topsy-turvy, jumbley-bumbley, and we like it. I love being in the garden any time of year--and there is still a lot of autumn gardening to do--but I wanted to stop and remember some some of the fellows who only hang out there during the fine months:

german camomile



cheery snap dragons
(They remind me of "Animal" from The Muppet Show.)

And, speaking of dragons...

dragon fly

sweet pea & anise hyssop

apple blossom petunias

chocolate cosmos and coreopsis

When I was a child, I thought common morning glory was the most beautiful flower I had ever seen. I thought it must be the sort of thing that angels wear in their hair. I was upset when I found out that people curse it as an invasive weed. Well, if you have clay soil, it is...but it's still beautiful and I let it grow in the wild parts of my garden:

And now for the mystery flower...can anyone identify this one for me? I don't have a clue what it is:

Oh, and I think there's room for one last cheeky little viola:

Actually, I think I'll do one last post for September, quite appropriately, tomorrow...the ripening pumpkin...stay tuned.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Simple Lentil Stew

Lentils over Kamut pasta with Japanese sweet potato and zucchini

Simple Lentil Stew

1 cup celery, thinly chopped
1 cup carrot, large dice
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons oregano
1 large bay leaf
1/4 -1/2 teaspoon cumin (optional)
pinch of red chili flakes to taste
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1 1/2 cups French green lentils, dry
2 cups diced tomatoes
2 cups veggie broth of choice
salt and pepper to taste

French Green Lentils

Sweat off the celery, carrots, onion, garlic and herbs (don't add the parsley yet) in the olive oil. When the veggies are beginning to soften and a lovely aroma of onion and garlic emerge, rinse the lentils inwater and toss them into the mixture. Stir for a minute or so to combine all the flavors. Add the tomatoes and veggie broth, bring to a simmer, reduce heat and allow to cook for ~ 1 hour until lentils are tender. About halfway through cooking, toss in the parsley. I usually take out the bay leaf at this time too, because I don't like a really strong bay flavor. Salt and pepper to taste.

This gets better the longer it cooks, and even better the next day. I add the cumin to give it a "meaty" dimension that my husband likes (or at least that's how he interprets it). If you are going to cook this down for a while, a nice slosh of red wine tossed in towards the end wouldn't go astray.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Squash and Pickles

This weekend I had to do some garden clean up. The cucumber and squash vines were dying back pretty severely and several leaves had powdery mildew. So, I harvested all remaining fruits on those vines. Above, you can see the cucumbers. The white one is perfectly solid and good to eat; it just didn't turn green because it was growing so deep inside the vine, it never got any sunlight.

I was pretty happy with my delicata squash harvest. I like delicata, as I like pretty much all vegetables, but it's not my favorite winter squash. I grew it because I thought it had a better chance of ripening in the shorter growing season of the Pacific Northwest than say, a typically larger squash, like butternut. But now, I think that's immaterial...these delicata were set and ripening all the way back in July. They could have grown a lot bigger; they just didn't for some reason, maybe the variety (they were a bushing variety). Next year, I'll try a different kind of winter squash.

green pumpkin to ripen indoors (hopefully)
And then of course, there was my brave volunteer pumpkin vine, from which I already harvested quite a large specimen a while back. I had to cut this guy off the vine and am trying to ripen him in my sun room...we'll see how that goes.

crock pickle fixins
I decided to try some crock pickles with the fat cucumbers from my garden. I remember going to a German deli with my mom when I was kid and being fascinated by a large barrel of enormous pickles floating in an eerie brine. I always had to have one, and my mom would always oblige. I assume these pickles that I remember were crock pickles, soured in a salt brine.

I followed this recipe on Planted at Home blog. I just had to try a recipe from a lady who also likes to devour peanut butter and dill pickle sandwiches! The likes of which, I think I took for lunch every single day of my grade school career.

cucumbers in jars, along with dill weed, garlic, and hot peppers

Here they are in the brine; they should be fully sour in 3 weeks (fingers crossed) :

And then, with some pickling cucumbers from the farmers' market, I made a small batch of bread and butter pickles. Again, a childhood favorite. By the way, have I mentioned that I like pickles?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Homemade Ginger Ale

I never buy any canned sodas, but sometimes a fizzy drink hits the spot on a warm day. Soda is easy to make at home, by just mixing any kind of syrup you like with sparkling water. I love ginger, so today, with the warm sunny weather returning to the Pacific Northwest, I decided to make some ginger ale.

Ginger Syrup

1 cup water
2/3 cup agave nectar ( I used an organic amber one)
generous 1/2 cup ginger, thinly sliced
15 peppercorns
20 cardamom pods
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lime juice

To make the syrup, combine all ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to a simmer and let it cook gently for 20 - 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the syrup steep while cooling. When cool, strain out the ginger, peppercorns, and cardamom. Add in lemon and lime juice and store in the fridge until use. To make the ginger ale, mix 2 parts syrup with 4 parts sparkling water, or adjust to taste.

ginger syrup mixture

This turned out with a nice gingery and slightly spicy flavor. The ginger is not super strong. The next time I make it I think I'll add more ginger and more pepper, or maybe a different type of pepper, to give it a real bite. Also, this turned out pretty sweet with the agave, so next time, I might lower the amount to 1/2 cup.

This would also make a great mixer for a spicy cocktail.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Saving Seeds: Coriander

I tried to harvest all my spring-crop cilantro before the weather got really warm this summer, but some of it managed to send up seed stalks before I could get to it. No worries, when a crop goes to seed before you can harvest it, there's an opportunity for seed saving. In general, I try to save some seeds from non-hybrid varieties that I especially like and/or do well in my garden. In this case, I wasn't planning on saving seeds, but got some anyway.

Dried seed stalks:

When the seeds were fully formed and beginning to dry, I pulled out the stalks and let them dry in our sun room...they've been drying in there for the past week or so.

In British English, the fresh herb and the seed are both called coriander... but here in the US, we tend to call the fresh herb cilantro, while the dried seed is called coriander. I can't remember whether this particular crop was a hybrid variety or not, so I'll just use the seeds in cooking.

I'm not sure why, but it seems like I always have several packets of cilantro, basil, and carrot seeds in my seed box, even though I never remember buying them. Anyway, I've planted more cilantro for an autumn harvest....these little guys will probably be ready to harvest sometime in October:

Coriandrum sativum

And finally, here's my cat, Cheeky. She is really funny, and can always make me laugh. She's in the neighbor's tree that looks right into our sun room. She looks kind of crazed, but she's really ok. She is in the middle of a "meow" in this photo, calling out a little "hello" when she saw me through the sun room window.

Cheekiandrum Funnivum

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Green Gazpacho

This cold soup is a green version of gazpacho, with avocado in place of tomatoes. In Spain, they use bread as a thickener for the traditional gazpacho, but that’s not needed with this recipe because the avocado does that for you.

My husband (not a fan of cold soups) kindly refers to this as runny guacamole. That’s sort of what it is, but I think it tastes better than that moniker makes it sound. If you want, you can reduce or leave out the avocado and go for a more traditional style soup, adding a bit of olive oil, and bread or even blanched almonds to round it out. Green pepper would be a nice addition too.

You'll probably want to de-seed the cucumbers for this. I think it depends on the type of cucumber you’re using. The cucumbers from my garden this year have tender, mild-tasting seeds, and they blended in just fine… but if you use cucumbers with tough or strong-tasting seeds, you’ll probably want to take them out.

As usual with my recipes, this is a general guideline. This is what I used, but you may want to change the amounts or the ingredients to your tastes.

Serves 4-6

2 medium-large cucumbers, peeled and de-seeded
2 large avocados
1 medium-size, sweet onion (roughly 1 cup chopped)
2 cloves garlic
½ cup cilantro, chopped
¼ cup lemon juice
1 cup veggie broth (cold or at room temperature)
Splash of Tabasco, Frank’s Red Hot, or similar
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in blender. Serve chilled, topped with minced peppers, cucumbers, or other veggie of your choice. I like to drizzle oil and vinegar over the top of mine.

I also think it would be cute served in pretty bistro glasses.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Garden Update

Today's harvest:

Still getting lots of tomatoes, zucchini of course, and I have more cucumbers than I can use. I'm letting the cucumbers sit on the vine as long as possible as I gradually harvest them. I don't think cucumbers store very well long-term once they're picked.

I thought of pickling some, but my mom thought that was a bad idea, because they are not a pickling cucumber variety. The variety is Babylon Hybrid; they're a small-medium slicing cucumber, and are very prolific. They have a mild, sweet flavor, the seeds are smallish and tender. All in all, I would grow these again.

The little red peppers in the top of the photo are miniature red bell peppers, and they are indeed miniature. Again the plants are really prolific. It would be nice if they grew a little bigger, but I'm not complaining; they taste good regardless of size.

The greens are the first harvests from my Autumn plantings. Hopefully, I'll have lots of chard, kale, perpetual spinach, lettuce, cilantro, and cabbage in another month or so. These are all still small plants now, but they are all cool weather crops and should grow fine throughout September.

Cute little lettuce and cilantro babies:

Chard and kale starts:

Still waiting for my delicata squash to ripen:

And another big pumpkin is on the way...

I forgot to take a photo, but I also have some heirloom carrots planted; they're about 5 inches tall now...keeping my fingers crossed for some carrots!
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