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.
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 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:
(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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I decided to dip my toe into the world of fermented foods a couple weeks ago.
With a million tri-color carrots cropping up in our garden and heads upon heads of cabbage rolling in from our CSA, I decided to try my hand at pickled carrots and sauerkraut, both done in the old-school way (meaning pickled in their own brine instead of vinegar, and not heat-processed).
Why? I keep hearing about the benefits of fermented foods, and the lamented fact that they’re not a part of our diet like they once were. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics, and the fermentation process can actually increase the vitamin content of many foods. (Here’s a great rundown of the benefits of fermentation from Homemade Mommy).
It just so happens, too, that fermentation is a delicious way to preserve your food! Although fermented foods do need to be refrigerated and won’t last as long as heat-processed canned goods, you still get a good couple of months out of them, and that’s all I really need — especially with summer’s bounty just around the corner. You can add the step of heat-processing these carrots (or other fermented foods) to make them shelf-stable, but that does have the drawback of destroying all the lovely probiotics you just added to your foods through the fermentation process.
The pickled carrots went over like gangbusters. They were easy to make, and they are tangy, salty and crunchy straight from the fridge.
The sauerkraut… not so much. Let’s just say there was mold involved, but the compost pile was happy to take care of the failed product for us. So, onward and upward! I may try again soon, but for now I’ll stick with pickled carrots. This is such a great way to preserve carrots (especially when you have a million to use up at one time) and even add some nutritional benefit to them. Win-win!
Split any carrots larger than your little finger in half or quarters lengthwise.
Combine the salt, water, bay leaves and chili in a large pot and bring to a boil. Boil for a minute or so, then remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
Pack the carrots and the thyme sprig into a clean quart-size Mason jar and pour the cooled brine over them (you will have leftover brine).
Pour the leftover brine into a plastic bag and seal it or tie it off. Push the bag into the jar so that the carrots are completely submerged in the brine. (This prevents the veggies from contacting air while fermenting, which will result in mold.)
Put the jar into a cool, dark place for at least 3 days, and up to 2 weeks, depending on how tangy you want your carrots to be.*
After fermentation is complete, remove the bag from the pickling jar. Screw the cap on the jar and store your new carrot pickles in the fridge.** Kept in the fridge, these pickles will last up to 6 months.
*I let mine ferment for 5 days, which I think is good for starters. Next time I might experiment with letting them go for longer, for tangier flavors, but I was too worried about treading the fine line between fermented and spoiled on this first attempt! **If you plan to heat-process the pickles, pour the brine into a clean pot and boil it. When it is cool, pour it back into the jar with the carrots and seal it, and then process it in a boiling-water canner for at least 15 minutes.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
I love “kitchen sink” recipes — you know, the kind of recipe that you can just throw whatever veggies you have in the fridge into. A stir fry is classic, but when you have lots of root vegetables, as I tend to in the winter, a vegetable gratin-soufflé is my go-to. Even better, it’s super-easy to put together with ingredients I always have on hand, like milk, cheese and eggs.
This all started when I decided to pull a carrot from our backyard garden this weekend. I planted tri-color carrots from seed this fall, and I’m always hesitant to harvest carrots, since you never really know how they’re doing down there. Of course, there’s only one way to tell: pull one up and see.
I was gleeful at the results. What a beautiful, straight, maroon carrot! How cool is that? I had to run around to the front yard, where the hubby was playing with Nora, to show them. My neighbors all think I’m crazy, I’m sure. But look how pretty!
In addition to the carrots, I roasted a parsnip, a couple of baby beets and small head of romanesco cauliflower to toss in. Of course, the whole dish turned pink (as is usually the case when beets are involved), but it was tasty! We ate the gratin-soufflé with a side of wilted kale from the garden* dressed with a little balsamic and topped with a sprinkle of parmesan.
Dinner is served.
* How much do I love eating all these food from our very own garden? Lots!
Author: Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
3 cups vegetables, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ small onion, chopped
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
3 Tbsp butter, divided
1 cup milk
½ cup grated Gruyère or other cheese
2 eggs, separated
Preheat the oven to 375°. Grease an 8- x 10-inch gratin dish or other shallow ovenproof dish of similar size.
Toss the vegetables with the olive oil and salt and pepper in a large bowl and spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 10-15 minutes, tossing once to ensure even browning. Remove from the oven when fork tender and set aside.
Meanwhile, melt 1 Tbsp of the butter in a skillet and sauté the onion until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Combine the onion and the roasted vegetables in a large bowl.
In the same skillet, melt the remaining 2 Tbsp butter and brown the breadcrumbs. Stir in the milk and heat until bubbly and warm. Add the breadcrumb mixture to the bowl and stir in along with the cheese and egg yolks. Season with salt and pepper and add the nutmeg.
In a stand mixer using the whisk attachment (or by hand if you're looking for a workout), beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the vegetable mixture. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until puffed and browned, about 25 minutes. Serve immediately.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Sometimes the best culinary experiments are born out of necessity. The other day, I wasn’t able to run by the grocery store as planned, so I needed to make something for dinner out of what I had on hand. When you have good raw ingredients (thank you, backyard garden!) and a little inventiveness, I think that happens to be the best way to cook.
How could you resist?
Our rainbow chard is growing like gangbusters right now. We’ve already harvested twice, and it just doesn’t stop. Caramelized onion makes anything taste good, so it’s my secret weapon. Add a creamy sauce and you’ve got yourself a deal.
Chard and Caramelized Onion Pasta Bake
1 bunch chard
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 lb farfalle or other small pasta
1 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs butter, divided
2 Tbs flour
2 cups milk
1 cup parmesan, grated
1 cup mozzarella, grated
Remove the stems from the chard and finely chop them. Roughly chop the leaves. Heat the olive oil and 1 Tbs of the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, then turn the heat down, add the chard stems, and continue cooking until the onion is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic and the chard leaves, turn the heat up to medium high, and sauté until wilted. Remove from heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350º.
While pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour and stir over medium heat until light brown and bubbly. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly. Bring just to a simmer, stirring, and allow to cook until thickened slightly. Remove from the heat and stir in the grated parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Toss the pasta with the chard and caramelized onion mixture and the cream sauce and spread in a casserole dish. Top with the shredded mozzarella and bake until bubbly and starting to brown on top, about 20-30 minutes.
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!
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.
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!
I’m a recovering lawyer-turned-freelance writer, aspiring domestic goddess, and mom to a spunky and demanding preschooler and a tiny and demanding baby girl. I love all things food and drink, and I’ve rediscovered a love for cooking now that I’m not spending most of my days locked in the office, but I often have to improvise, since having ankle-biters around makes it more challenging!