Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tarzan Hot!

Hi Everyone!

We've returned back to the Pacific Northwest from our vacation to be greeted by scalding hot, Tarzan worthy temperatures. It was 108 on Monday. That's 1-0-8. It was 108 yesterday. Again, let me clarify, 1-0-8. Today, it is supposed to be even hotter. Did I ever mention that we don't have central air conditioning? Oh, we have a little window unit that's been chugging it's little heart out, but there are repeated power outages due to the heat. Mother Nature doesn't cool off at night either. It was 98 degrees at 10:30 pm on Monday, and 88 degrees at 11:30 last night. To follow the temperature along with me, check out the Weather widget on the right side bar of my blog. It's half-way down the page, right above the clock widget. I love the word widget. Say it with me. Isn't it a fun word? (ahem)

Anywhoooo ... depending on where you are at (if you are in North America, that is), you are either soggy with rain or sweltering in the heat. Either way, I bid you personal comfort.

I'll not be posting this week, as it's just a) too hot, and b) we are keeping all electronics turned off to save both on energy and heat. I look forward to getting caught up on everyone's blogs next week when weather sanity will hopefully return.

Miss you all! Remember me!


AMENDED 6:25 pm: It's 116 degrees right now and my air conditioner died. Sweat city here we come!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Garden Tuesday – The good, the bad, and the ugly!

The title of today’s post says it all. Maintaining a pesticide free, chemical free, organic garden means facing challenges along the way. Your efforts will reward you with some magnificent produce, some downright failures, and lots of stuff in-between. It’s an interesting trifecta for sure.

My garden has become my fourth child. I nurture it, I talk to it, I try to keep it from harm, and I let it run its paces. Unlike the picture perfect produce gracing the pages of gardening magazines, my produce is what I refer to as Practically Perfect. Some of the bounty is blemish free, a few have been covertly nibbled upon by creatures, and some unfortunate souls are failing to thrive. All three conditions, however, are welcome in my novice garden.Here’s why. In much the same way as observing your kids to know what’s going on with them, my plants are teaching me what they need. I started off with excellent soil and a willingness to learn. My hands-on education has taught me that different veggies need different things out of the soil. For example, I’ve learned that some veggie varieties like to be planted near other varieties. Native Americans knew this and practiced complementary growing for centuries. With the delightful practice of growing “the three sisters”, they would plant corn, beans, and squash together. Working like a fine tuned team, those three plants compliment each other’s needs as well as the needs of the soil. The beans climb up the corn stalk for support while the squash spreads out lower to the ground suppressing weeds. Isn’t that brilliant? Nutritionally, these items work well together, too, providing essential amino acids, vitamins, fiber and fat. YUM! I’d like to give this growing method a try in the future.In my present day garden, I continue to learn what’s working and what isn’t. It’s really not rocket science, just good sense. In much the same way that certain people just “click” together, some plants do, too.

The reverse of that is true, also. Some plants varieties do not get along. Of course, I learned that too late this year. One small section of my beets are planted right next to my peas. I read about that unfortunate fopaux after the little darlings were well established. Oops. They seem to be okay, but I’ll refrain from planting them together again. Also to consider is crop rotation. Of course, my garden is waaaayyyy toooo smallll to even be considered a “crop”, but I’ll be sure to pay attention to where I plant what next season.

Here’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of It’s All Gouda’s Garden:

The Good.
Thankfully, the majority of the garden is doing swimmingly. Due to the nature of a square foot garden, weeds are pretty rare. I've had more this year than last, but there is very little open space for them to grow.

Some items in the garden are picture pefect.My version of Beanie Babies. Just look at these green beans. Mmm, I can already taste how wonderful these will be on my plate. Grow, babies, grow!How about this baby pea? These are just starting to show up. My youngest is impatient for them to fill her tummy. She likes to pick them, shell them, and pop them right in her mouth. Um, she learned that from her mother. heheThis particular cucumber plant has been a wonderful surprise this year. It is already sporting multiple little cukes, as well as many new flowers. I love how prickly fresh cucumbers are.This is part of what's left of my favorite parsley plant. It was an amazing producer, and survived the winter and being transplanted, but took an almost mortal blow after an unfortunate incident between my hubby and the plant that broke it’s main stem right off. *sigh* It’s still alive, but I let it flower in hopes of replanting a new generation. It’s at the end of its life cycle now, and I want to save its seed. This is what’s left after it flowered. Does anyone know how to save this seed to replant?

The Bad.

My cilantro plants immediately bolted this year. I don’t get it. I mean, seriously, they grew like they were on steroids and then the whole thing burst into flowers. I felt like I was watching a movie in fast-forward. I’m really disappointed.
Bugs are part of nature. I’ve accepted it. *shiver* In a weird way, knowing that a bug will survive after nibbling around in my garden, I get the green light that the produce is safe for me to eat, too. Luckily, I don’t have too, too many pests to deal with. Some bugs are welcome in the garden. The lady bugs will always find the welcome mat rolled out for them. Thankfully, I had way more bees and bumblebees this year than last year. I hope to see more next year. I’ve also had some yellow jackets hanging around, but mercifully they haven’t been bothersome at all. The butterflies have been a hoot to watch. They mostly just flit around. I’ve got some daddy long legs that are keeping the other bugs at bay.This little winged-bugger is unknown to me. What is this thing? A week or so ago there were lots of them around, but not so much anymore. Any idea what this is?

One pest that I really, really, REALLY detest is slugs. I’ve seen their slimy slug trails, but thankfully they actually haven’t been too bad. Their activity really declined when I put down the coffee grounds. Coincidence? I think not.

The Ugly.
One thing that just baffles me is “disease”. Some plants just seem to tank overnight. Of course, that’s most likely not the case here. It was probably weakened to begin with. Still, every plant in a small garden is important.One of my cucumber plants is really stuggling. Now for those of you with enormous gardens, you may not sweat the loss of a plant. For me, though, with only two cucumber mounds, I’m concerned. Bless its proverbial heart, the little guy just keeps hanging on despite some serious damage to it’s leaves.It is now sporting healthy, large leaves on top, several of them actually, but I don’t know what this is or what caused it to begin with. Is it an irreparable condition? Will these good leaves go bad, too? Is this something it “caught” in the garden? Is it common to this type of plant? All questions that I don’t know the answer to. Thankfully, the other plant is the picture of health. I’ll be saving seeds from the healthy one.

To summarize, overall, the garden is just doing fantastic. The garbage can potatoes are almost ready to harvest. I snuck a sneak peak into the soil, and it’s just loaded with gorgeous, healthy potatoes. I think I found my calling in growing lettuce. I’m soooo spoiled picking fresh lettuce EVERY day for sandwiches and salads.

For future consideration.
One thing that I want to do is start keeping a garden notebook/log book. I first heard about this from Nita at Throwback at Trapper Creek, and I’ve read about doing so on other blogs, too. Nothing fancy, just a method of keeping track what was planted when and where, as well as problems and triumphs. Especially with a little garden, it will help me figure out crop rotation as well as soil amendments. Who would have thought that a city girl like myself, with a major spider phobia, would take to gardening! My hubbyman, who pretty much leaves the gardening to me, sure likes showing off the garden and is saying stuff like, “Next year you should plant this or that.” Sure babe (eyeroll), bring it on.

Sooo, do you have any good, bad, and ugly garden stories to share? :-)

NOTE: The Gouda crew is going on vacation! I’ll be out of commission until the last week in July. Remember to come back and visit me! (Yep, I have someone taking care of the garden, cats, and house.) See you in about 2 weeks!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Eggstra , Eggstra – Scrambled Egg Egg-Salad (Yep, It’s Gluten Free, too)

Do you ever have left over scrambled eggs? Ah, what a sad state of affairs. A lonely little portion left all alone in the frying pan just wondering what’s its fate will be.Oh, such circumstances make me shudder. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t eat all of their portion? We’re taking EGGS! Especially these gorgeous ones with their dark yolks. Mmmmm!

Well, such blasphamy occasionally occurs in my household as my children don’t always eat all of their breakfast. Let me clarify, they most definitely DO eat breakfast. Just sometimes not all of it.

I found myself with a portion of left over scrambled eggs yesterday, but didn’t want to toss them. No, no, no! So guess what I did instead? Guess! Huh, huh, huh? Come on, guess! I made scrambed egg egg-salad! Ha! (Hey, its acronym is a palindrome! S.E.E.S!!! Yeah, I'm a few yolks off when it comes to "word" issues!)

I’ve done this before, and the results are just wonderful. In fact, when you are crunched for time, and the clock shouts at you that you don’t have enough minutes to allow for the hardboiling/cooling/shelling ritual, this method works beautifully.

Here’s what I did. It’s so simple, I wonder why I even bother with the boiling method. Anywhooo ... take your left over scrambled eggs (or scramble them on purpose just for this) and break them apart with a fork into bits.If not already cool, they will be quickly. Now, transfer them to a mixing bowl and proceed as you would for regular egg salad.I added just mayo as my scrambled eggs were already seasoned. Go ahead and add whatever your little tastebuds cry out for.Then, assemble your sandwich or stuff your tomato or scoop it on a plate and serve. I opted to use it as a sandwich filling along with some wee red tomatoes and my gorgeous garden lettuce. (NOTE: This is a wheat free bread we are trying for my gluten free daughter. So far, so good. It does have “sprouted wheat”, but doesn’t contain traditional flour. I really like it. What’s more, it allows her to enjoy a sandwich every now and then.)The scrambled egg egg-salad was terrific. The texture was very similar to traditional egg salad, yet it took just minutes to make. I made yummy noises as I took the first bite. Then again when I took a second bite. Then again. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?

So do you think you would like to give this a try? What do you do with your left over eggs?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Summer Stuffed Zucchini (it’s gluten free, too!)

Did anyone besides me get a kick out of Wednesday's numerical date: 07/08/09? My kids were telling me the corny joke: Why did number 6 fear number 7? Because 7 "ate" 9. Yeah, I know. It did make me laugh though.

Any-who, movin' on ... I’m getting a jump-start on the plethora of zucchini soon to be making it’s annual summertime appearance. I love zucchini. My favorites are the baby or small sized green goodies; however, I’m not picky at all when it come to the preparation method. I’ll eat it sauteed with garlic and cheese; I’ll eat it au gratin if you please. I would eat it in my house, I would eat it with my spouse. I would eat it with green eggs and ham; I would eat it with Sam I Am! Uh, I’m hoping you are all familiar with Dr. Seuss ... you know ... green eggs ... ham ... Sam.Just look at that golden crisp top! I bet every Dr. Seuss character would love love this. This recipe is a keeper for sure. Its origins are Northern Italian, and I got it out of a cookbook by Biba Caggiano years ago. You may recall that I’m Southern Italian. There is a big difference between those two regions; however, I love all Italian food and this recipe is no exception.

I’ve tweaked the original recipe to be gluten free. It’s easy. It uses regular ingredients. And it’s very filling. You will love it. Love. It. This baby is *company-serving-worthy*, too. Your guests will love it, and will love you for making it! Love. You. Yep, lots of love in this recipe. This recipe is easily doubled, tripled, quadrupled, etc.

Let’s begin!

2 small zucchini
Alfredo sauce – see below
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
½ cup cooked ham, chopped (don’t use a sweet ham)
½ cup rice or corn Chex, crushed fine (corn Chex are now gluten free, too!)
NOTE: You can substitute fresh breadcrumbs for the Chex.
Seasoned Salt
Ground Pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese

Alfredo Sauce (Makes more than you need)
1 stick butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup 2% milk
1 cup cream
¼ teaspoon white pepper
½ cup parmesan cheese
¾ cup Mozzerella cheese, freshly shredded

Make the sauce first. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the minced garlic, and swirl around in the butter for about 20 seconds. Add the milk, cream, and white pepper all at once, stir, and bring to a low simmer. Add the parm cheese. Stir. When it is incorporated, add the Mozz cheese. Turn heat to low and simmer for about 7-8 minutes or until thickened. It will thicken even more as it sits.

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a baking dish. Prepare zucchini by washing it. Fill a large pan 2/3rds full with salted water and bring it to a boil. Add zucchini. Cook for about 5 minutes for really small zucchini, or a couple minutes longer if your zucc’s are medium sized. The zucchini should be barely tender. Rinse under cold water, then pat dry. Trim ends off zucchini and slice zucchini in half lengthwise.Scoop out the pulp using a melon baller or small spoon, and place the zucchini cut side down on paper towels to drain. Place the pulp in a mixing bowl, and roughly mash the pulp with a fork or two knives. Stir in the chopped ham.How are your chopping skills? I give myself a B+. I’m pretty good with this particular knife, but I’m not going to enter a chopping competition. Now, if we were talking about shredding or peeling ... I’m your girl. I can peel carrots and potatoes at the speed of light, and dispense pounds of shredded cheese in mere minutes. Um, sorry ... let’s get back to the recipe. After you add your ham, add the parsley, Chex, seasoned salt, and pepper. Fold in about ¼ cup of sauce.Filling should be the consistency of a bread stuffing. Taste and adjust seasoning. My youngest loved the filling right out of the bowl. Fill the zucchini shells with the mixture – really mound it high. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Put the stuffed zucc’s in a buttered baking dish.Bake 20 minutes, crank up the broiler and broil for about 5 minutes or until the top is golden brown.Mmm, mmm, good! These are deceptively filling, and are the main dish – definitely not a side dish. It pairs perfectly with a summer green salad tossed with a light vinaigrette. Just look at how great these are!The ham is so delicate in the filling, but definitely is an important component of the overall dish. The alfredo sauce made with just one garlic clove is the perfect binder for the filling. The Chex perform outstandingly as they provide great body in the filling.So, when your garden is overflowing with zucch’s, give this recipe a try. What’s your favorite way to prepare this green goody?

PS: Follow the link to Mediterranean Kiwi's blog titled Organically Cooked -- she's posted a great zucchini recipe (dated 07/08/09) served with veal! YUM!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Garden Tuesday – The Babies are Here!

Cucumber tendril

Well, after a few days of glorious sunshine and slathering the children in sunscreen, we are back to overcast skies and cool temperatures. *sigh* I was hoping to say goodbye to my Casper look. Come back, sun, I need you! So does the garden!

The wee garden really flourished with both the heat and sun last week, and, as a result, we’ve got lots of baby veggies making their first appearances.

Baby Cherry Tomatoes. This is the first time I’ve grown the cherry variety, and I’m hoping to get a bumper crop.

Green Pepper buds. My little green pepper plants are just that. Little. I don’t quite know what’s going on here. I talk to them. I encourage them. I water them. They look healthy, but just are not growing. They are easily the smallest plants in the garden. Still, it looks like there will be a couple peppers ... although they will probably be the size of marbles.

I’ve got two cucumber mounds. This one is sporting several baby cuke’s. My oldest gal will be thrilled. She would survive on cucumbers alone if I’d let her.
I just love how the cucumbers send out these tendrils. Isn’t it cool how they curl around the trellis? Don't they kind of remind you of telephone cords? Does anyone remember what telephone cords look like? Hmm, I wonder if my kids know what a telephone cord is!

Speaking of curling, check out how Mother Nature drives these beanies to climb up this trellis!

Lots little baby beans bouncing around in the garden, too.

Any babies showing up in your gardens?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Crunchy-licious Waldorf Salad!

Yeah! It’s Friday! Even better, my husband has the day off (or so he says). My husband works very looooong hours, but thankfully we still recognize each other when we see each other. It will be nice to tackle some of the chores waiting in the queue to finally get done, as well as get in some quality play time. Now, before you go thinking that I tax him with chores on his day off, the main thing that needs to get done is building the shed that HE wants.

After working in the hot sun that has at long last arrived in our neck of the woods, he’ll need a cool refreshing salad to go along with his lunch. Enter in the Waldorf Salad! Have you ever had a Waldorf Salad? Ooooh, you are in for a real treat with this one. There are many, many versions of this salad floating around including making some with mayo, using grapes, adding onion, etc. I like something much different, and this one with it’s cool sour cream and honey dressing is my all time favorite.

It’s so simple, yet is always a bit hit. This recipe prepares two servings, and is very easily multiplied to serve more. Talk about easy to prepare .... it’s a total snap!

Waldorf Salad (Makes 2 servings but is easily doubled, tripled, quadrupled, etc.!)

1 large crisp apple, chopped or sliced into bite sized pieces. Leave the skin on. (I used a Fugi, but use whatever you’ve got)
¼ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon, heaping of honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ - 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1/3 cup sliced celeryIn a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the sour cream, honey, lemon juice, and zest. Stir in the apple, walnuts, and celery. Serve immediately, or put in the fridge for up to two days. You can, if you’d like, stir in some raisins, craisins, or slice grapes. I prefer to add either raisins or craisins, as I like the contrast of the crunchy apple with chewiness of the raisins/craisins. Oh, and of course, this is gluten free!

On another note, my hubby celebrated his 48th birthday this week.Isn’t this gift box a total hoot? It’s a pop up box that you place the gift inside, and then seal it up. The recipient has pull tabs that they use to open the box. It’s from Hallmark and we loved it!My kids always make cards. I love what they put together. What about you? Do you like homemade cards or store bought ones? Some of the store bought ones are a hysterical!, but I love the stuff the kidlin’s make, too. For the cake, my husband said he wanted a chocolate cake, and so my youngest daughter really, really, REALLY wanted to decorate his cake. Did I mention that she wanted to decorate his cake? REALLY wanted to? This was her first time decorating (beyond spreading frosting), and I gave her free reign to do whatever she wanted. I showed her how to use the frosting tip to write with, and then left her alone.She called for me a short time later, her face fallen, moaning that her lettering looked bad, that she didn’t like how it turned out, and how could we fix it. I took one look at her cake and told her that I absolutely loved it and so would her daddy. Assuring her that her cake with its homemade look would mean wayyyyy more to her dad than anything that a store bought baker could produce, her frown turned upside down, and we set out the cake. When her dad came home and saw the cake, he made a big deal out of how much it meant to him that she decorated it herself. Ah, times like that make me remember why I fell in love with that man!

Happy Fourth of July wishes to you all, and best wishes that you all have a lovely and safe holiday weekend!