10/9/14

The Pumpkin Tree

This photo is for those who think milk comes from a supermarket... a pumpkin tree, ready for harvest! I spotted this unusual sight at an apple farm in New England two weeks ago.


8/17/14

Fiesta Black-Bean Salsa

This is a good summer harvest appetizer, served with corn chips, which I derived from different salsa recipes my friends have made. The proportions are not critical, and you can mix it with different veggies than those on my list. My ingredients make it very colorful, in addition to being really tasty, thus the name. Of course you can use fresh corn and/or your own cooked beans where I've suggested canned. Adjust the "heat" to your taste.
Ingredients
  • 1 14-oz can of black beans
  • 1 15-oz can of organic corn (or 1-3/4 c of fresh cooked corn kernels)
  • 1/2 c chopped red onions
  • 1/2 fresh jalapeno, including seeds
  • 1 cup of loosely packed cilantro leaves
  • one roma tomato
  • 1 cup of chopped sweet peppers (all one variety or a mixture of colors)
  • juice of one lime
  • 2 T rice vinegar
  • 1/2 t ground cumin
  • 1/2 t salt (omit if your beans have salt)
  • 1/2 t hot jalapeno powder *
* I dehydrate and grind my home-grown red jalapenos into a fine powder, but you could use chili powder or hot pepper drops instead.

Directions
Rinse and drain the black beans and the corn, and put them into a mixing bowl. Chop the jalapeno (carefully) and add. Chop the cilantro and other veggies. Add them and all the other ingredients, and stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving so the flavors can blend. Nice served with corn chips.
 

Keep in mind that much of the corn (and available garden corn seeds) grown in the US are now genetically-modified (GMO). Not only are there potential health and environmental problems from GMO crops, but the ability to save and replant seeds is denied by these Monsanto-produced seeds. Growing your own corn from heirloom seeds or buying organically grown corn and corn products can help you avoid GMO corn.

6/22/14

Easy Yummy Nut Cookies and Biscotti - A Theme and Variations

My friend Diane gave me a simple recipe for a Peanut Butter Cookie she had made for a gathering of friends. "Only 4 ingredients," she noted, and it makes for a delicious, easy dessert. After tasting one, I got her recipe. If you ever need a baking project with children, I'd recommend these cookies… fun and yummy! The original cookie recipe is at the top of this post, followed by recipes based on the original which I've created. The biscotti variation is my claim to fame, however - Rick judged them the best biscotti I've ever made (and I've made many)! These are all gluten-free too. (NOTE: Ingredients in red type are detailed on my "ingredients" page.)


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Peanut n’ Honey Cookies (makes a dozen 2-1/2" cookies or 20 small cookies)
- original recipe from: 7 Secrets Cookbook by Neva and Jim Brackett, called Peanut Butter N Honey Cookies

2 cups dry roasted peanuts (lightly salted; if not salted add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt) *
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats (or one cup of flour)
1/2 cup honey (warmed in microwave - this is a critical step; it needs to pour like water and if too little the mix will be dry and if too much the cookies will be tough.)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place peanuts and oats in food processor and whiz for 1 minute until they are the texture of fine bread crumbs. Pour into bowl and add salt if using. Mix in honey and vanilla. Stir together and then mix with your hands. Dough should hold together nicely. If dry and crumbly add a bit of water; if too wet add a bit of flour (gluten-free flour, if GF is a concern for you).

Make walnut size balls and flatten on parchment-lined cookie sheet, then use fork to press down (use a cup of water to dip the fork into). The cookies don't spread while cooking, so they can be fairly close on the cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Putting them on the top rack of the oven helps keep the bottoms from browning too fast. Watch them and remove from oven when they are just beginning to brown on the edges. You can take them out before they look like they are done. They over-brown quickly. Cool on a wire rack.


* Check the ingredients on your purchase of roasted peanuts. I assumed the ingredients would be just peanuts, salt, and perhaps some oil… but then I detected a sweet taste. Not only did the jar I had used include sugar AND corn syrup, but it even had added monosodium glutamate. Yuck! My next trip to the store revealed there is such a thing as a jar of roasted peanuts which only includes peanuts, so that's the one I stick with now.

 JUDY'S VARIATIONS:
1) Mix chocolate or carob morsels or broken pieces of hazelnut candy into the batter before baking and flatten the ball of dough with your hand, not a fork. Bake.
2) Make Thumbprint Peanut Butter and Jelly cookies: Instead of flattening and pressing the raw dough with a fork, press your thumb into the unbaked round dough ball, just enough to make a well while flattening the ball (not so deep that you go to the cookie sheet). Bake cookies as directed above for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and fill the well with 1/2 to 1 tsp of your favorite jam. Return to the oven to finish baking.
3) Add chopped dried banana chips to the dough before baking
4) Flatten unbaked dough ball with your palm before baking, then press a chocolate candy kiss onto each cookie as soon as you remove them from the oven
Be creative and make your own version!

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Judy's Almond Gingersnap Cookies (makes a dozen 2-1/2" cookies or 20 small cookies)

2 cups raw or unsalted roasted almonds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats (or one cup of flour)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 c molasses or sorghum syrup
1 teaspoon ground ginger root
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
optional: 1 tablespoon dried fine orange peel; 1/2 cup currants, raisins, or chopped dried plums

Place nuts and oats in food processor and whiz for 1 minute until they are the texture of fine bread crumbs. Pour into bowl and add salt and spices. Mix the maple syrup and molasses and warm them in a microwave - this is a critical step; it needs to pour like water and if too little the mix will be dry and if too much the cookies will be tough. Mix maple syrup, molasses, and vanilla into the dry ingredients. Stir together and then mix with your hands. Dough should hold together nicely. If dry and crumbly add a bit of water; if too wet add a bit of flour.

Make walnut size balls and flatten on parchment-lined cookie sheet, then press down to flatten the ball slightly. The cookies don't spread while cooking, so they can be fairly close on the cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Putting them on the top rack of the oven helps keep the bottoms from browning too fast. Watch them and remove from oven when they are just beginning to brown on the edges. You can take them out before they look like they are done. They over-brown quickly. Cool on a wire rack.

====== 

Judy's Peanut Butter and Jelly Biscotti

2 cups dry roasted peanuts* (lightly salted; if not salted add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt)
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup honey (warmed in microwave- this is a critical step; it needs to pour like water and if too little the mix will be dry and if too much the cookies will be tough.)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup jam (I used St. Dalfour's Red Raspberry, which is sweetened with grape juice, not refined sugar)

Place peanuts and flour or oats in food processor and whiz for 1 minute until crumbly. Pour into bowl and add salt if using. Mix in honey and vanilla. Stir together and then mix with your hands. Dough should hold together nicely. If dry and crumbly add a bit of water; if too wet add a bit of flour.

Separate the dough in 2 pieces. Working on a piece of parchment or waxed paper, shape one piece into a log about 2-3" in diameter, then flatten it to about 1/4" thick. Spread the jam to within 1/4" of the edges. Roll from the long side, making a log again. Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Move each log to the parchment covered baking sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Cut the logs on a diagonal into 1/2 inch thick slices. Return slices to the baking sheet, on their sides, and bake again for 10-15 minutes or until desired crispness. They over-brown quickly so watch them for doneness. Cool completely on a rack.

6/4/14

Life is but a bowl of cherries!

Not to be outdone by my strawberry harvest, my lone sour cherry tree is heavy with ripe fruit. The photo is this morning's harvest (minus those I ate while picking) and I've picked that much previously. The tree is a montmorency tart cherry. It's the only one of 4 cherry trees we tried to grow which survived. This one was planted about 8 years ago, and it's the only dwarf fruit tree which stayed short for us… the apples, pears, and peaches all grew 20+ feet. Without ever doing any drastic pruning, the cherry tree stands about six feet tall. At that height, it's very easy for me to trim, spray, check, and pick! I've read that sour cherries are easier for home orchards than sweet cherries, and my little tree has had no serious pests or diseases.

Montmorency is the most popular sour cherry variety for pies and preserves. I hand pit the cherries, which produce so much juice it looks like a scene from the opening credits of "Dexter!" If someone has a good cherry pitting tool, please let me know - I expect my harvest will grow in future years, so it will be worth investing in one. Once pitted, I either freeze the cherries in zipper pint bags, or use them fresh on granola or in smoothies. For a little sweetness, I use a combo of my own stevia extract (made from organic stevia leaves I grow) with a touch of maple syrup… wonderful mixed into Greek yogurt, our used in a pie. Cherries are high in nutrients and particularly good for sufferers of gout.

I've read recently about a cherry shrub called Nanking cherry, which I'm tempted to buy and plant. I've only found them online, not at any nurseries. If you are interested in sharing an order with me, just let me know!

5/29/14

Strawberries and Garlic

Don't worry, this isn't a post with a recipe using those two ingredients. It's a gardening update!

This has been a great year for growing strawberries in my edible front yard garden. The bounty I picked this morning is shown in the photo. Do you grow strawberries? If not, you should. They grow from Florida (February harvest time) to New Hampshire (July harvests) as perennials. Here in Tennessee, the month of May is my banner season for these juicy sweet berries.

My second favorite berry to grow, strawberries take just a bit more care than my favorite, blueberries. I find the biggest challenge is to keep the beds from getting too crowded with all the "baby" plants which the mature strawberry plants send out to root. When the weather is not too rainy, as has been the case here recently, the berries ripen without getting moldy or soft or dirty.

Here are ten of the many reasons I love growing my own strawberries:
  1. freshly picked strawberries have much more flavor than store-bought
  2. when you grow your own, you can wait to harvest them when they are fully ripened on the plants; those you buy are usually harvest a bit early, before the full flavor develops
  3. they are great to eat plain, added to fruit or veggie salads, topped with Greek yogurt, chopped and added to breakfast granola, chopped and used over a pie crust with a cream filling OR on shortcakes and topped with whipped cream (I did a variation on brownies last week), baked into quick bread, muffins, or pie.
  4. strawberries freeze well (wash, dry, and remove the stem end), either whole or sliced
  5. frozen or fresh strawberries are delicious in smoothies
  6. harvesting is spread over several weeks, so it's not overwhelming
  7. new baby plants are constantly produced, so you can start new beds, and - after a few years - replace the mature plants… free!
  8. non-organic commercially grown strawberries are highly likely to have pesticide residue (strawberries are the most chemically intensive crop grown in California) 
  9. in my garden, organically grown strawberry plants are not prone to diseases or insect infestations
  10. nutritionally, strawberries have high levels of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins
There's nothing quite like biting into a just-picked bright red strawberry still warm from the sun! By the way, if you live near me or will be visiting and you want to start your own strawberry patch, please let me know and I'll share my plants with you - that's the fun of gardening! Plant some between now and fall, and you can start harvesting some next spring.

And from the garlic patch….

My fall planting of garlic cloves has resulted in a patch of greenery. Plants of the hardneck varieties are sending up the tall, curled garlic "scape." Gourmet cooks cut off this top stem when it first begins to grow and is most tender, adding it to stir-fries and other dishes for garlic flavor with a unique decorative touch. Some garlic growers cut the scape off, so the plant will put its energy into the root. I love to cut them and use 3 or 5 in a flower arrangement, adding an unusual accent. Others use the scape as a ripeness indicator - when it unfurls and stands up straight, the garlic is said to be ready to harvest. Left on the plant, the scape will mature to form small garlic bulbs. These can be dried and planted, but will take more than a year to grow into a whole clove. My garlic is generally ready to harvest in June-July. Good thing, because I am nearly out of all the garlic I dried, froze, and otherwise preserved from last year's harvest. Garlic is even easier to grow than strawberries, so find a garden patch and plan to plant garlic this fall.

By the way, sorry for my lack of posts recently on this blog. My "day job" (commercial artist/designer) has been keeping me so busy, along with my many other interests and pursuits. I hardly have time to garden or cook, not to mention writing about it!

4/16/14

No Garden This Year

I've witnessed some expressions of shock when I tell friends I am not planting a vegetable garden this year! The key word here is "vegetable" - I have plenty of gardens outside of the 20' x 40' plot we've dedicated to annual veggies for several years. In fact, I've been working for the last 3 months cleaning up winter leaves and old growth from my "other" gardens! (One reason why I haven't posted here in so long.)

The vegetable garden is not being planted because it is being renourished this year. Since I've been doing year-round gardening for several years, we suspected its nutrients had been depleted and got a soil test done by the cooperative extension service. My 2013 veggie garden was disappointing (for many reasons, but weak soil is likely one). If you are a recent follower to this blog, you can look at the 2011 archives - during that year I posted my vegetable garden activity month-by-month for all 12 months. With stuff planted all the time, it's a challenge to find time for a good work-over. That's why we made the tough decision to keep the vegetable garden empty for a while.
Mushroom compost delivery

So we dumped a 10 ton load of compost from the local mushroom factory on the vegetable garden in December, spreading the mulch to cover the garden area, and then rota-tilled it in. Then I spread buckets of chicken manure, from my friend Susan's gorgeous egg-layers… a great source of nitrogen. Both the mushroom compost and chicken manure are too "hot" and strong until they have time to compost into the existing soil.

Some of Susan's lovely hens who contributed manure!
The next layer was dried leaves from the huge variety of hardwoods I raked off my other gardens, which will compost and decay, adding more nutrients. Once the weather warms up, we'll do a "soil solarization," covering the garden with clear plastic for 30+ days to help kill off blight and other soil-borne pathogens. I am also planning to add some worms and do some "green" manure planting… a crop which will add nitrogen and good stuff back into the soil, instead of depleting its nutrients. Hopefully, this will all result in a great vegetable garden next year.

Meanwhile, my cold frame has produced oodles of kale, lettuce, spinach and parsley through the cold season. Onions and garlic planted in the fall are green and healthy. The wild chickweed was abundant this winter - a great addition to salads and smoothies. My other recent garden activities have included planting a new asparagus bed in my edible front yard, transplanting additional wildflowers to the trailside wildflower garden I started on our "Darla Trail" last year, cleaning/pruning/feeding and other tasks on the many many perennial flowers, herbs, berries, fruit trees, and other plants I have going strong. I love springtime and gardening gives me a great excuse to use some of my "free time" in the beautiful outdoors. Go plant something yourself!

The edible front yard is growing fabulously - strawberries and blueberries are now flowering!

2/24/14

Back-To-School - Gardening School, That Is!

If you live anywhere within travelling distance to Asheville NC and you have an interest in
  • organic gardening
  • homesteading
  • permaculture
  • healthy soil
  • sustainability
  • raising poultry/goats/swine/rabbits
  • beekeeping
  • herbs
  • livestock
  • alternative energy
  • orchards
  • perennials
  • and even cooking
...it's not too late!

Sign up now for the Organic Growers School's 21st Annual Spring Conference, March 8 & 9. Two days packed with terrific workshops, hands-on projects, usable information, and excellent instructors. And it's cheap: $45 on Sat, $40 on Sunday. There is also an intensive Poultry course for those who want to attend on Fri, for $45. Courses are offered for beginners, advanced, and even commercial growers.

In addition, there is a seed & plant swap, an ongoing trade show (seed companies, garden suppliers, nurseries) silent auction, hands-on half-day workshops, nutritious food served for lunch/snacks, and lots of networking opportunities with other attendees.

This sounds like an advertisement, but I speak from experience. I attended the conference last year and took workshops on edible wild plants, medicinal herbals, growing garlic, and other interesting topics. I learned great new recipes and tricks in a Gluten-Free baking class. I found the instructors to be knowledgeable and organized, and I got good information from every class I attended. 'Wish I could go again this year, but overnight trips with our puppy are not on the agenda right now!

The Organic Growers School is a very active organization in North Carolina. The conference is held at the University of NC at Asheville. Link for more info:

http://organicgrowersschool.org/annual-spring-conference/