Gourmet Veggie Mama

Category Archives: Gardening

Garden Update: Tomatoes… and Early Blight

We’ve had a rainy spring around here. While that’s lovely — and has resulted in a very happy, thriving garden — it has also led to what I am pretty sure is early blight on my tomato plants.

I was pleased as punch when the early tomatoes started rolling in — and they are beautiful and still coming — but the bushes themselves are not doing well. Leaves and branches started yellowing and dying, even as the tomatoes were still growing and thriving.

tomatoes 3 tomatoes copy

That’s when I pulled out my gardening books and realized that the moist soil resulting from our wet spring had probably led to a fungus, AKA early blight. Bummer. We removed the affected branches (as well as any leaves and branches within a foot of the soil) and have sprayed with an organic fungicide several times, but I’m not sure if it will be enough. Since I’ve never dealt with this before — years of gardening in California have made me soft, apparently — I waited until too late to start to treat it. Hopefully we’ll be able to save some of the plants, but I don’t know. Only time will tell.

Any tricks out there (above and beyond fungicide and trimming) from experienced gardeners? I’m all ears. Otherwise there will be no tomato canning this summer, and that just makes me sad.

I have a messy house

I have something to admit: My house is messy. I just thought you should know.

My darling neighbors were over playing with Nora yesterday, and, in that frantic space in the five minutes before dinner where everything is coming together and everyone wants your attention, I dropped something out of one of my cabinets. The four-year-old, being a four-year-old, pointed out that I had dropped it, and I, being a little short of patience right at that moment, might have responded a bit curtly.

“It’s okay,” she said. “It’s a messy house.”


The thing is, I spend a lot of time cooking, and running after a two-year-old (who doubles as a wrecking ball). But really, those are just excuses. I’d like to have a clean house — really, I would — but I like more to sit down for a few precious minutes at night before I crash in bed.

This has been making the rounds, and it is truth:

Pick Two

(I wish I knew where it originally came from, so I could give proper credit, but I pulled this from Momcom Life’s Facebook page.)

But, the thing is, it bothers me. Because I try to keep a clean house, but life gets in the way. I even have a cleaning schedule, for goodness’ sake! So, for a neighbor kid to catch me at the very messiest moment of the week and make a cutting observation… well, I won’t lie. It hurt. Even if she didn’t mean anything by it, it did.

I am going to take a moment to pat myself on the back, though. I am a good mom. I have a brilliant, sweet, beautiful daughter who gives me hugs and kisses (sometimes), has her alphabet down pat, is fully potty-trained and happy as a clam (usually). I make nutritious and delicious meals for my family nearly every night. I am starting a new career in a tough field and making a go of it (my first honest-to-goodness article in a print magazine is coming out soon!), and I have a wonderful, supportive husband with whom I am madly in love. But yeah, I am stretched a little thin at times.

I’m not perfect. I hope I never put forth the pretension that I am. I’d hate for anyone to think this is one of those glossy “lifestyle” blogs designed to make you feel bad about yourself. I really just like to write, I like to cook and I get a kick out of sharing recipes and stories with you lovely people. That’s it. And I have a messy house. Just thought you ought to know.

As your reward for reading my little sob story (that is, if you haven’t just skipped straight to the goods), please accept this delightful recipe for a fresh-from-the-garden early spring pasta.


I had spinach fettuccine in my pantry, plenty of chard and delicate broccoli crowns in my garden, and even a few baby leeks to add to the mix. I whipped up a quick creamy sauce to tie it all together, and voila! Just ignore the mess in my kitchen, please.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Spring Garden Fettuccine
Recipe type: pasta
Serves: 4
  • 8 oz spinach fettuccine
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • ½ cup broccoli crowns
  • 2-3 baby leeks (or 1 regular leek), sliced thinly (white and light green parts only)
  • 1 bunch chard, stems removed and reserved for another use*, roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1 cup cream or whole milk
  • ½ cup parmesan, grated, plus additional for serving
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup of the pasta water.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the leek and broccoli and stir for a couple of minutes, until beginning to soften. Add the chard to the pan and saute until wilted. Add a splash of the pasta water if the pan seems dry. Set aside.
  3. Melt the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan, and then add the flour, stirring until bubbly. Gradually add in the milk, stirring well to remove any lumps.
  4. Allow the mixture to simmer until it thickens slightly, and then turn off the heat and stir in the cheese. Add the garlic powder and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Toss the pasta with the cream sauce and the chard-broccoli mixture, adding splashes of pasta water if needed. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve topped with additional parmesan, if desired.
* I usually freeze mine and use them in a batch of vegetable stock. Hate to let all those good nutrients go to waste!


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The Peaceful Mom

Meyer Lemon Margaritas

Did you know February 22 is National Margarita Day? Well, it is, at least according to a Facebook rumor, and that’s all the evidence I need to try out a tasty new margarita recipe!

What’s in season now, you ask? Citrus of course… which makes it perfectly reasonable that the margarita, while usually considered a summery drink, has its day in the sun in February.

So, shake up a traditional margarita tomorrow, but make sure it’s an ultimate one. Or go for a grapefruit margarita, or a pomegranate margarita, if you want something seasonal but not too citrus-y…. or try my new favorite, a Meyer Lemon Margarita.

Meyer lemon margarita

I can’t wait until our Meyer lemon tree starts fruiting. Next year, maybe I won’t have to buy Meyer lemons to make this delicious drink. If only I can get the caterpillars to stop munching on its delectable leaves….

Meyer Lemon Margarita
Recipe type: Cocktail
Serves: 4
  • 2-3 Meyer lemons (depending on size)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 Tbs Grand Marnier (or Cointreau)
  1. Halve the lemons and juice them, retaining the rinds. You should end up with roughly ¾ oz of juice. Roughly chop half of the rinds, and cut a few twists from the other rinds for garnish.
  2. Stir the sugar and water together in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and then add the chopped lemon rind. Return to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat, cover and cool. Strain out the rind and measure ¼ cup of the syrup, retaining any unused simple syrup for a future use.
  3. Measure ¾ oz of the lemon juice into a shaker filled with ice. Add the ¼ cup of infused simple syrup and the Grand Marnier. Stir and taste for sweetness; add additional simple syrup to taste.
  4. Shake well and strain into salt-rimmed glasses (if desired). Garnish with a Meyer lemon twist.


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The Slow Roasted Italian

Honey-Glazed Carrots

I love growing carrots. It’s like a fun little surprise every time I pull one up! Especially since we planted tri-color carrots, I never know what color one is going to be until it’s out of the ground. Plus they look so pretty I can hardly believe I grew them, especially since my gardening strategy this fall and winter has been one of benign neglect.


I mean, check these out!

I can only eat so many carrots raw, though, and I really wanted to showcase these beauties in a dish of their own. When I came across CSA for Three’s recipe for Honey Glazed Carrots, I knew I had to try it out.

honey glazed carrots


I peeled the carrots, but I should have just scrubbed them instead, since the purple carrots look so much prettier with their peel still on. If you have pretty carrots and want to savor them in all their glory with a touch of sweetness, I highly recommend this recipe!

Honey-Glazed Carrots
Recipe type: Side dish
  • 1 lb young carrots, scrubbed well and greens removed
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and whole
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp honey
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  1. Slice any carrots thicker than your thumb in half. Arrange the carrots and garlic cloves in a large sauté pan with a lid and add water just to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and simmer, covered, until the carrots are just fork-tender, about 10 minutes.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and remove the carrots and garlic with a slotted spoon. Drain the water and add the olive oil, honey and rosemary to the pan. Bring the mixture to a bubbly-simmer over medium heat.
  3. Add the carrots and cook until all the liquid has evaporated, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the rosemary and season with a little salt to taste. Serve warm.


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Of Tomatoes, Broccoli and First Freezes

Although it seems very odd to be writing about this now, with our windows thrown open to let in the breezy mid-60s weather, we recently had our first freeze here in Central Texas. For two straight nights, the mercury dipped below 32, and, though we did our best to cover them with blankets and shield them from the worst of it, all of our tomato plants bit the dust, their much-anticipated second wind in fall cruelly cut short.

dead tomatoes

That’s really sad.

I salvaged all the near-ripe tomatoes I could (yep, weather really swings that quickly here), but it’s finally time to rip out those plants and turn over the soil.

In every ending, though, there is a new beginning. I peeked into the leafy interior of my broccoli plants, “babies” I planted as seeds back in September, in the next bed over. They have spent the past three months growing tall and strong and leafing out, with no actual broccoli in sight… but look what I spied!

baby broccoli

Baby broccoli!

How had I managed not to notice these babies making their appearance? A couple of them were already ready for harvesting! So, of course, they had to make it onto our dinner table in some form that evening. Since I was short on time (and, let’s face it, creativity), I threw them into a stir fry with some carrots, crispy tofu and some other odds and ends.

As fresh as can be.

Fresh and easy.

I’m sure it was no more delicious than any other random weeknight stir fry I’ve thrown together over the past year or so, but knowing our very own home-grown broccoli was in there sure did make it feel that way!

Sorrel Mojito

As the weather changes (two steps forward, one step back around here, it seems) and our fall garden flourishes, I have a bunch of fun new ingredients to play with. So, in addition to hearing about new and inventive ways to use kale and chard, you lucky readers also get to hear about a cocktail straight from the garden today!

We never would have planted sorrel in our fall garden if we hadn’t taken a vacation to Iceland a few years ago. Weird, I know, but there it is.

Leihujukur lava field and geothermal area

Gratuitous Iceland photo post.

Our hands-down favorite dining experience in the country was in the northern city of Akuryeri* at a restaurant called Fridrik V. Our multi-course meal was sumptuous, but the part that really stuck with me was our pre-dinner drink. We asked the host to bring us something quintessentially Icelandic, and he made us sorrel mojitos. Sorrel, being a cold-weather crop, apparently grows during the summer in Iceland, and since we were there right on the cusp of the season, the leaves were tiny, but tasty.

* Pronounced roughly eye-kur-ee — Took me a while to get that one down!

We loved this fresh, interesting take on a traditional drink, so when we saw a sorrel seedling at the garden store, we grabbed it. So yeah, we basically added this plant to our garden in order to make a drink with it. I’m sure we will come up with other uses as well, but this one was lovely.

Sorrel mojito


The leaves on our plant are decidedly not tiny, so it made the muddling a bit easier (although I did use a few more, knowing they’d be less flavorful than new, tiny leaves.

Finally, the sping-y goodness of a traditional mint mojito has a fall counterpart! The tart, refreshing flavor of the sorrel is a great stand-in for mint, while still being different enough for this drink to stand on its own. It’s perfect for sipping on the back porch while enjoying the beautiful weather and contemplating whether you should go grab a fleece. Enjoy it while it lasts!

Sorrel Mojito
Serves: 1
  • 2 oz light rum
  • 2 Tbs lime juice
  • 1 Tbs + 1 tsp sugar*
  • 6 sorrel leaves (or more, depending on size), roughly torn apart, plus one more for garnish
  • club soda
  1. Mix the rum, lime juice, sugar, and torn sorrel leaves in a shaker with ice.
  2. Shake until very cold and strain into a glass over plenty of ice. Add the ice cubes from the shaker for extra tastiness.
  3. Top off with just a splash of club soda — don’t overdo it! Garnish with the remaining sorrel leaf.
* I use Baker’s sugar because it is quick-dissolving and great for making drinks, but regular granulated sugar should work fine.


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Tomatoes in October!

Yep, that’s right — I’ve got tomatoes growing! Despite my initial plan to rip out my non-producing plants late in the summer, I am a softie. On the advice of a gardener friend, I just kept watering them, thinking they might spring back to life in the fall, once overnight temps cooled off. And they did! Finally, all of those blossoms are turning into little green tomato buds. Hooray!

The little plant that could!

Since it will be getting into the 80s and occasionally 90s here for a while, I think I have a good shot at getting some nice, ripe tomatoes out of those babies. I’ll cross my fingers that a least a few of the Cherokee Purples make it.

Of course, at the same time, I found a healthy crop of tomato hornworms invading my plants, but at least they had just gotten to the leaves. I picked them off and sprayed with Bt, which hopefully should keep them at bay.

The Sun Gold plant has never really quit — it just slowed down during the really hot part of August, and all of a sudden it is back, baby.

With a vengeance.

I picked all of those beauties this weekend, and there are still tons of ripening tomatoes on the plant.

Tomatoes in October! In Texas! I am a happy camper. Just think of all the fun summer/fall hybrid dishes I’ll be able to cook up!

Time to plan the fall garden!

I spent the holiday weekend laboring in a different way than usual — working in the yard and planning my fall garden. I have been mowing our lawn for a while now, as my Sunday cross-training.* As we recently got rid of our bi-weekly lawn service as a budget-cutting measure, I’ve also started edging and trimming, too. My triceps were so sore yesterday! It’s a workout, I’m telling you.

* That works, right? Sure.

Besides the boring yard work (which I’m hoping will lessen significantly once we xeriscape the front yard), we also got a start on our fall garden. I’ve decided to let my tomato plants go for a little bit to see if I can get a second harvest out of them this fall (probably foolhardy, but they are huge with tons of flowers just waiting for cooler overnight temps to turn into beautiful tomatoes), so it was time for another space for cool-weather crops.

Grow, babies, grow!

The hubby and I spent the last couple of weekends building, installing, and filling a second 8 x 4 garden box in our back yard, and now comes the fun part: Choosing what to grow and planting it!

We took a trip down to the fantabulous Natural Gardener this morning to pick up seeds, plant starts, and a few other odds and ends. Lucky for us, my mom met us there, and, even luckier, they have plenty of things to occupy a toddler, including little red wagons, a tree swing, chickens, goats, and donkeys, and even a flock of fantastic lawn ornamentation to play with.

Fun times.

We came home with a wee fig tree, a couple of herb starts, and a selection of seeds for cool-weather veggies, including lacinato kale, rainbow chard, tri-color carrots, and a few salad greens for good measure.

Soon to be my new plant babies!

I can’t wait to get these babies in the ground and see how they grow this fall! So… what’s in your fall garden? Anything you’re particularly excited about this year? I still have some space!

Also, on a business-y note, email subscriptions should be fixed now. If you are still not receiving your subscription, please note me a note here, via email, or on Facebook, and I’ll see if I can get it fixed. Thanks for bearing with me through this transition!

Lessons on growing tomatoes in Texas… and tomato pie!

As I contemplate ripping out all but one of my tomato plants (and yes, it pains me greatly, which is why I haven’t pulled the trigger yet), I’m also reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned in my first summer growing season in Texas. I read in my Neil Sperry’s that most people assume Texas has one really long growing season, due to the warm weather here, but, as it turns out, we really have two growing seasons, punctuated by a period of a few weeks in late summer when it’s just too darn hot to grow much of anything. Yep, that’s where we are right now.

My peppers are happy, and the basil is going insane, but the tomato plants (other than the Sun Golds, which are doing great, and the plants in the other Earth Box, which got attacked by mites and leaf-footed bugs) are big and bushy, but not producing any more tomatoes. All the blossoms are dropping because it’s just not getting cool enough at night for fruit to form.

Next year, I’ll plant earlier, fertilize at planting (beyond just mixing compost into the soil), and be diligent about watering deeply right from the start. I’ll also be choosier about my varietals, since the Sun Golds are still going like gangbusters, but everything else has crapped out. I hear Romas do well in hot regions, so I may have a plant a few of those, especially since they’re great for saucing. I’ll still try with the other heirloom varieties, but hope and prepare for an earlier harvest and call it a day once July is in full swing.

But, for all my talk about how tomato season is coming to an end here, I did manage to score some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes the other day. I went back and forth on what to do with them, since this may be my last shot this summer (*sniff*), and I landed on making a simple tomato pie.

Dinner is served.

Agrigirl’s blog inspired me: it seemed easy and delicious, plus I had a pie crust in the freezer,* so why not?

Good decision.

* Yes, I am one of those people with pie crust issues. Just because I can make a successful pie crust (sometimes) doesn’t mean I usually do.

It was a rich, delicious use of these beautiful tomatoes. Plus, I got an excuse to go out to our herb garden and pick a beautiful bouquet, which always makes me feel good about myself as a gardener.

Beautifully delicious.

Don’t judge us, but Pat and I polished off the entire pie between us at dinner! It was just that good.

Tomato Pie
Adapted from Agrigirl’s recipe

One unbaked pie crust
1 tsp Dijon or whole grain mustard
2-3 large ripe tomatoes
1 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs chopped fresh herbs, such as chives, thyme, and parsley
6 oz goat cheese, crumbled or sliced into rounds
Good-quality balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 425°. If you’re using a frozen pie crust, line it with foil, distribute pie weights or pennies in the bottom, and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and pie weights. If you are making fresh dough, simply press it into and up the sides of a pie plate or tart pan without pre-baking it.

Brush the bottom and sides of the crust with the mustard and let it sit for a few minutes. Slice the tomatoes thickly and lay them out in the bottom of the crust. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with the chopped herbs, reserving a small amount to finish the dish. Distribute the goat cheese evenly in the pan and finish with the reserved herbs. Drizzle lightly with balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake the pie for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the dough is cooked, the tomatoes are tender, and the cheese is nicely browned. Let the pie cool on a rack for a few minutes before serving.

Tomato talk

This spring, I planted nine tomato plants. I have eight survivors so far. I’m not quite sure what the ninth plant succumbed to, but it just wasn’t looking good, so I took it out of the ground. Early blight maybe? The leaves were just shriveling up.

When I planted this spring, we decided to conduct a bit of an experiment and plant three of the tomato seedlings in Earth Boxes, and the remaining six in a raised garden bed. The Earth Boxes are moveable, so I figured we could get a better feel for how much sun is ideal in this climate before we decide on a location for a second raised bed.

Three months later, the tomatoes (and peppers) in the Earth Boxes are flourishing, while those in the garden bed are doing only okay. While the actual sun exposure of each has been similar up until this point, the main differences I’ve identified are: (1) watering method, (2) ground covering, and (3) fertilizer.

You fill a tray at the bottom of the Earth Box with water so that the plant soaks it up from beneath. This is meant to prevent over-watering, and it seems to work really well as long as we refill the tray every day. Since the soil in our garden bed is very well-draining (which, of course, is a good thing), we spend a good 15 to 20 minutes hand-watering the plants each evening to make sure they get enough. I’m not sure watering method has made a difference in how the plants are growing, but it is definitely having an impact on how much water we’re using to get the same (or in this case, superior) results.

Results like this. Ka-POW!

As for ground covering, the Earth Boxes come with a reversible covering — black for cooler weather, and white for hotter weather. I chose white (duh), and I do think the heat-reflection has made a difference in how well the plants are doing. I mulched with a couple of inches of cedar in the bed, and while I’m sure that helps retain moisture, I don’t think it does the bang-up job that the Earth Box’s covering does on keeping the soil cooler.

Fertilizer, I think, is the real difference, though. I made a rookie when I planted the raised bed: I used garden soil mixed with compost and trusted that it would be enough to feed my babies. If I could go back and do it again, I’d fertilize at planting with something like liquid seaweed, and keep feeding the plants until they got a good start. The Earth Boxes, on the other hand, are planted with a strip of fertilizer in the soil that supposedly continuously feeds the plants — easy-peasy.

As it was, the plants in the box took a little while to really get growing, and I’m afraid the weather is just getting too hot for them to produce many more tomatoes. I tried to remedy the situation by starting to fertilize weekly, alternating between liquid seaweed and blood meal,* which did help their growth a lot, and I am starting to see more flowers on them, but I’m worried that overnight temperatures just won’t drop low enough to allow those flowers to turn into tomatoes.

C’mon, tomatoes!!

* Is it okay for a vegetarian gardener to use animal by-products in the interest of organic gardening? Discuss.

As it is, I have already witnessed some “blossom drop” on several of my plants, which is a new phenomenon for me.

That’s what this is… right?

The only problem the Earth Box tomatoes seem to have had are caterpillars. I caught a big brown-and-black dude eating one of my tomatoes, and some of the leaves appear to have been munched, too. I picked him off and threw him in the compost file along with the tomato he was eating, and I’ve been carefully inspecting the plants ever since, but I haven’t located any of his friends yet. If I do, I have a bottle of Bt at the ready, which I understand will kill the caterpillars eating my plants without killing everything else, too. Hopefully it won’t come to that, but if it does, I am ready to wage war.

The overall verdict, though, may be that the Earth Boxes are just the best way to grow tomatoes around here. We have three of them, which will support six tomato plants, so I may just stick with that plan for next spring and plant hardier crops in the beds.

For next year, a friend of mine turned me on to an enzyme she makes for her plants that I am absolutely going to attempt. It’s supposed to ferment for a few months, and it works gradually over time, so it’s too late for this year, but next winter I’ll get cookin’. It’s fruit peels, water, and black sugar (3:1:10 ratio), and it both works as an organic fertilizer and produces O3 as it works, which repels caterpillars and suffocates their eggs. Sweet. Apparently soapy water sprayed on the leaves will suffocate any eggs laid there, too. So I have a plan of action!

And, of course, thanks to my Earth Boxes, I’ll also have plenty of tomatoes this year, too. I’m still holding out hope for my garden box tomato babies, too!

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