Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What to Do With Those Beets? Borscht!

My daughter-in-law- to- be is a food blogger in New York city and I have found it amusing that whenever I visit with her and my son and we go out to eat, we can't eat our meals until she has taken a photo of our plates because it might be featured on her blog. But now I have a new understanding of how she feels, because so many times I regret not taking a picture of a plant, a vegetable or especially some dish I made with the veggies I harvested so that I can write about it! So with that in mind, I remembered to get a shot of the latest batch of Borscht I made with the beets I pulled earlier in the week.

 This is a family favorite. My husband's grandparents were from the Ukraine and Poland and he introduced me to this very slavic soup! My version is vegetarian, because D is also one of those! The recipe makes a pretty large batch of soup, so we freeze what is left for quick suppers in winter. We pair the soup with pierogis (not homemade, which are pretty labor-intensive) for a fast and easy supper.
This was part of my lunch the other day. You see the grilled cheese sandwich? Look closely and you'll notice some of that Brandywine tomato I picked and showed for Harvest Monday. The third best way to sample a new garden tomato! The first is plain, straight from the garden. I've already done that one. The second is in a BLT! But unfortunately, I didn't have any B. So I opted for the third best way, the grilled cheese and tomato sandwich. Yum! Lunch fit for a king. Or queen, as the case may be. Here is my recipe for vegetarian borscht:
                          7-8 medium beets, cooked, peeled and diced (I cook mine by roasting them in the oven. Just wash, trim, wrap them all in a tin-foil packet and bake about 45 minutes. When cool, the skins slip right off. Of course, you'll look like an extra in a slasher movie for a bit, but think of it as fun!)
                           2 tablespoons oil
                           1 large onion, diced
                           1/2 pound sliced mushrooms
                           4 cups of vegetarian broth (I use water plus a large cube of pretend
                           chicken or vegetable bouillon)
                           2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
                           1 medium parsnip, peeled and sliced
                           1 small green cabbage, cored and shredded
                           1 and a half pound potato, diced (with or without peel)
                           small amount chopped celery leaf
                           3 cloves minced garlic
                           3 tablespoons tomato paste
                           small bunch of chopped dill (you can use dried too)
                           1/4 cup sugar
                           1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
                           2 tsps. kosher salt
                           ground black pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large kettle and cook the onions and mushrooms for a few minutes until soft. Add all the rest of the ingredients and simmer for about an hour. That's it! Serve traditionally with a dollop of sour cream on top.
If you are not concerned about the soup being vegetarian, use chicken broth as the liquid base instead of the water/bouillion that I use. Either way it tastes delicious!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Harvest Monday

It's Harvest Monday over at Daphne's Dandelions where fellow gardeners are sharing their harvest successes. Go on over and be inspired!
This has been a week of catching up for me since my week abroad. The first flush of spring harvest is long over and now the heat loving crops are coming into their own. Green beans has been the big one of late but I didn't get any photos of them this week. In fact, I was pretty bad about taking pictures of everything!
 We got our very first slicing tomato, a beautiful and delicious Red Brandywine! The tomatoes are very slow ripening and the plants are battling disease so I fear the total harvest this year will be pretty low. I have close to twenty varieties growing.
 Eggplants on the other hand are doing terrific, as are the green peppers. My favorite variety of eggplant is pictured above. It is called Swallow and I got the seed from Fedco seeds. It is an asian type that produces prolifically and early, which is ideal for northern climates. I have a few other varieties, but they have yet to give me a harvest. Unfortunately I didn't take a picture of the peppers. I have six varieties growing, all sweet because I'm not into hot, although someday I may have to grow some mildly hot ones to try making homemade salsa. Someday. Maybe.
 Carrots are still small but getting there. I am still pulling thinnings and they are tasty in salads. I just planted a third bed of them for the fall.
The few little tomatoes we've been getting so far. I'm very bad, because I'm not sure what varieties these are. I believe the two biggest are the Fourth of July earlies and I know the light orange ones are Sungold. There are some Sweet One Hundreds too. All very tasty but I wish there were more of them!
Zucchinis and yellow squash is still coming in but they are definitely slowing down. I have been hit hard by squash beetles and am diligently battling them. I have a second planting of these that are getting big and healthy so they will hopefully be producing very soon. Oh, and I forgot to mention my potatoes, that had an entire post of their own a few days ago; 20 pounds of them! And cucumbers. Last year we were inundated with cukes and this year they are doing well, but I think will not be as productive. Still, I picked quite a few this week and hope soon to be making the refrigerator pickles we love around here. I also picked most of the remaining beets. I have a second planting but it remains to be seen whether they will bulb up or not. I don't usually have much success with the later-sown beets but I keep trying.
Looks like today will be a good gardening day. We've had two days of rain and now it is sunny and temperate. Time to get in some of the fall plantings!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I Got Potatoes!

I was not expecting much from my potatoes this year. It's only the second year I've ever grown them and the plants looked pretty bad all summer. Last year's potato plants were large and healthy and blossomed profusely, while this year's had hardly a blossom and succumbed to disease early on.
 Since the plants were dead I decided to dig the spuds and see what the results were. Awesome! I dug 19 and a quarter pounds of potatoes compared to last year's 16 and a quarter. Better still, last year quite a few of my potatoes had scab and NONE of this year's did. I found a few that were vole-eaten, so the final weigh in would have been even better.
Here they are drying out in my cellar. I grew Red Norland and Yukon Gold. My grandfather used to grow hundreds of pounds of potatoes for family use and to feed his chickens. I remember him boiling up a large 5 gallon can full of potatoes every day that he gave the chickens after they'd cooled. That's a lot of potatoes! I know I'll never grow that many, but maybe I'll try to do a few more next year.
Anyway, this was a nice and unexpected surprise. I had a few for supper the other night and they tasted wonderful.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


I'm not sure I even know where to begin telling you about my trip to Haiti. It was quite an experience and difficult to put into words. I went there with a small mission called Hope Mission International. Our group of nine were escorted by two male Haitian translators and a young Haitian woman who cooked for us, so we were a group of twelve. We arrived in Port-au-Prince Saturday only to be caught up in the mother of all traffic jams. It took us seven hours to cover ten  miles! An exhausting day, but fortunately it didn't daunt our spirits. The photo above is in Port-au-Prince at the end of the week and depicts a girl's orphanage overseen by another ministry. We stopped there to donate supplies of fabric and sewing notions because the girls are being taught to sew. But the first half of the week we drove six hours to a little village called Duchity on the western peninsula of Haiti in the province of Pestel.
 The scenery there was amazing, mountainous and beautiful. We took a road that was out of a National Geographic story, unpaved, winding, bumpy, full of potholes and switchback bends up and down mountains. We crossed a river without a bridge where only three weeks ago a bus full of passengers headed to where we were going got swept away and 19 people died! People live there by subsistance farming. Above you see a pepper plant! In Haiti they are perrenials, not annuals like here, so you can see the wooden stalk on a very sprawling plant!
 The children were beautiful too, very sweet and very needy. Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere and the conditions these children live in break your heart. The kids were very friendly and very curious about us. We did a vacation Bible school for them which included a daily sandwich and treats. Believe me, they would not leave without that sandwich! In the country they are so much better off than those in the city, but hunger is a constant. One little boy tried to sneak back through the line to get another sandwich, claiming he hadn't got one. His peers quickly ratted him out, because when everyone is in need, they will not let such a thing pass. It was so sad.
 Hope mission asked the evangelical pastor of Duchity and other members of the community what they would like to be done for them and they asked for a library. So a library was built! It is a very basic cement building and we spent our time making benches for meetings and bookshelves as well. Electricity is by generator and intermittant at best, but they are having computer classes at the library and we are slowly collecting books for it. We slept and ate in the library during our stay at Duchity.
 As a gardener, I was fascinated by the flora and the vegetables growing all over. It was neat to see bananas growing on the trees all around. I got to visit the garden of one of the residents of Duchity, which is where I spied the pepper plants. Yams are a staple there and they are nothing like the sweet potatoes we call yams. I saw beans growing all over too. The neat thing was that the garden I visited had raised beds very much like the ones in my own garden!
 That is me with some of the children at the library in Duchity. You can't not love those kids! Hope has a child sponsorship program and I met the sponsored children of a number of my friends. I don't sponsor a child there yet, but I'm pretty sure I will soon. There is such a waiting list of kids and they are very aware of the help the sponsored kids are getting for their education. That was perhaps the hardest part of the trip for me. Our last day in Duchity we had a party for the sponsored kids; a time to update their information, take updated pictures of them and messages for their sponsors in the States. They got a special meal of rice and beans, treats and gifts. Lots of the non-sponsored kids were crowding round the doors watching and even trying to sneak in to join in the fun and it about broke my heart.
That huge tree in the photo above is a mango tree! Having eaten Haitian mangos, freshly picked I am spoiled now. No mango here even compares! We also enjoyed the national dish which is a soup made from squash with veggies and a bit of meat in it. It was delicious! Plantains featured in many of the meals too and I have to say, I really enjoyed the food a lot. Well...except the goat that was killed especially for us one day. We'd been hearing him bleating all day and some of us even made friends with him (not me, and thank goodness, since we had no idea he was going to be supper!) I'm not that squeamish, but I've never eaten something I heard alive just hours before. And the meat was not my favorite, though I am very open minded about food.
Late in the week we returned to Port-au-Prince which was much hotter. Although our living conditions were far less primitive (we had a shower and not a bucket bath), it was uncomfortably stuffy and hot. The city is still a disaster and we were not allowed to walk around very freely because of fear of gangs that prey on visitors. We visited a number of the charities that are working hard to help there. One was the orphanage I showed above and one was an ob/gyn clinic. Just about all pregnancies in Haiti are considered high risk. The American couple that run that clinic have been there for 22 years. I really admire their willingness to serve by living in such uncomfortable conditions.
All the work of all the charity groups in Haiti seem to be like a drop in the ocean compared to all the misery in that country. Yet the Haitians are a proud and generally cheerful people. You should hear the singing! We were privileged to hear the people of Duchity singing in evening worship services and it is singing that is full of joy and life. I come home humbled by those who have dedicated their lives to helping the poor and with a new appreciation for how I have been blessed here in America. I wish everyone could make a trip like I did, especially our young people who take for granted so very much.
Well, it's been back in the garden this week for me. The weeds have grown huge since I left and the harvest is coming in. When I get me some winter squash I'm going to make some Haitian soup to remember my trip by!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Harvest Monday: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

 I'm back from my week in Haiti and trying to get back to normal routine in the home and garden. The trip was one of the amazing experiences of my life and I will post a little about it later in the week. Meanwhile, it's Harvest Monday at Daphne's Dandelions so I'll talk about the good, the bad and the ugly this week! Don't forget to check out all the other great harvests there.
Let's start with The Good: My husband took great care of the garden, harvesting, watering and even some weeding! He blanched and froze veggies for the winter! What a guy! He kept a record of weights too so I would have no gaps in my log.
 Things are coming in like gangbusters. We are experiencing the zucchini glut!!! Yes, we are! I've had more than enough to freeze and I'm scrambling for more recipes to use it in.
 Green beans are coming in strong. My main variety is called Fresh Pick, from Johnny's Selected Seeds. What I like about it is I get a great harvest now, and when it stops, just wait about 2 weeks and a second blossoming begins and I will get another good sized harvest. We love green beans so it is good to have lots to put up.
 Carrots are sizing up, but very slowly. My second planting of broccoli is producing and I am actually able to put some in the freezer. This is a first and very welcome since broccoli is by far our favorite veggie.
And then, my first pattypan squash ever. I imagine you prepare it like any other summer squash and I look forward to trying it out tonight. In the photo at the top of this page you can see my first eggplants of the year and my first Sungold tomatoes along with some peppers. Bring on the fruits of summer!
OK. Now I have to go on the The Bad and The Ugly. I hate this, but it's the reality of gardening. The Bad: An awful lot of my plants, most notably my tomatoes, are exhibiting disease. The tomatoes are loaded with green tomatoes so I hope I can keep them going til they ripen. I prune the diseased leaves agressively and that seems to help slow things down a bit.
But I'm far less concerned about that than about The Ugly: I noticed the carrot tops seemed to be munched on and saw that a number of my melon plants had been denuded. Roh-roh! Then I found it. Or them...two huge holes dug deep and under the fence, irrefutible evidence that a groundhog has found its way into my garden. I filled the holes with dirt, but that won't stop it. I have to do something pretty drastic and I dread going down there today to find more damage. I'm still recovering from a pretty exhausting trip and have to dredge up the energy to deal with things, but I'm sure I will very soon.
All in all I'm very happy with things, despite the negatives. It's hard to leave a garden at the height of the season. My first day back I harvested over 21 pounds of produce and spent the whole afternoon putting it up for winter. This week I'll spend my time getting back to normal and reflecting on how much we have here after seeing first hand how little the people of Haiti have. I am so blessed and need to be grateful despite The Bad and The Ugly which by comparison to the sufferings of so many people in the world are nothing!
Have a great gardening week and enjoy the fruits of your labors with gratitude!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

It's Here!

 To me, it's beautiful!!! The first tomato of the season! It wasn't terribly big, more a salad size, and it wasn't the most flavorful in the world, but it was waaaay better than any tomato I could buy in the store! And you can see, I have two more coming in. Can't wait til the really tasty varieties start to ripen.
This variety is a Burpee Fourth of July. I don't really recommend it on the basis of flavor and will be on the hunt for a different "early", but I bought the seed two years ago on a half price rack and it does live up to its name more or less in that I get the first one early in July. Last year my first one was July 13 and this year it was July 10. It was sliced up and eaten as part of a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich for lunch yesterday.
I will be away from the blog for the next week and a half because on Saturday I'm leaving on a mission trip to Haiti. It promises to be quite an adventure. I'm travelling with a group to a small village in the mountains where we will be working on a library and conducting a vacation Bible school for children there. The mission I'm working with has been very involved in the village we're going to; in fact it was co-founded by a man who grew up there, so they are quite used to people coming in and working there. I'm excited to go and my only concern is leaving my garden! Well, I know I can trust D to take care of it well and it'll be interesting to see how much growth there is in a week.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Harvest Monday

Here it is Monday again and I'll be sharing my harvest along with many others at Daphne's Dandelions. Go on over an be inspired by your fellow gardeners!
It's been a good week again for harvesting. My zucchinis and yellow squash are the best I've ever grown and coming in fast and furious!
 I picked my second batch of bok choy, the variety is Joi Choi and it will make a terrific stir fry tonight or tomorrow.
Four varieties of kale. These were processed for the freezer. I have a great kale recipe I'll share one of these days!
 Swiss chard for steaming. My chard is suffering from some sort of disease this year. Many of the leaves are developing brown speckles all over. Chard is usually the one foolproof thing I grow in the garden, so this development is a bit upsetting. I've never needed more than one planting of chard as it lasts all summer and well into fall, but this year may be different. Beets and carrots are starting to fill out and I picked some, but no photos. I'll wait til they are sizeable. Also have begun to pull the hardneck garlic.
And what's this? A tiny new Red Norland potato. I wonder if there're any others out there. Unfortunately my potatoes also are not doing too well. The plants look sick and there are no blossoms. Last year was my first real try at potatoes and the plants were hale and hearty and bloomed like crazy. Time will tell if I get anything at all.
My green beans are late! They are blooming profusely and I expect them to com in next week, which is a shame because I won't be here next week. I am going to Haiti on a mission trip next Saturday. My husband will man the garden for me, so he will likely be picking the first batch of beans. For some reason, after I planted my bean patch, they all sprouted, then disappeared. Birds, maybe? I don't know, but out of the whole large patch only ten plants remained, so I had to re-plant the entire thing a second time. The second time they made it, which is a good thing, because green beans is my other "never-fail" crop. Gardening does keep you humble, doesn't it? Happy harvest everybody!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Going Through the Storage Onions

It was too hot and muggy to spend much time in the garden today, so after a brief time of harvesting and tending my second carrot bed, I decided to stick to indoor garden-related jobs. Specifically, to go through what's left of my storage onions and get rid of the bad ones.
Yes, we are still eating the onions I grew last summer! I grew four varieties, three of which were for long storage and they've done great. For short term, I grew Ailsa Craig. They only store well for about three months, so we used them first. For the long term I grew Redwing, Copra and Prince and all three held up beautifully. They only started sprouting in the spring and so far only a few have been complete losses. Since my new onions won't be ready for awhile yet, I decided to make the best of what I have left.
First, I sorted through the onions and pulled out the ones that have not sprouted yet and still felt relatively firm. Those went back into storage in the basement. They filled a medium sized bowl. Then the few with minimal sprouting that were good sized and still firm I peeled and put in the refrigerator for use in salads over the next few weeks. And finally, the ones with significant sprouting and parts that were going soft I peeled, cut up all the usable onion and threw them into the food processor to be chopped and then frozen. I froze 7 half cup packets of chopped onion that I can throw into a recipe.
I think this should keep us til the end of July and have high hopes to begin using this years onions then. We'll see. Last year I had a problem of voles eating my onions. Although I grew plenty to last the year, voles ate at least fifty of them before I harvested. In fact, I harvested a little earlier than I wanted to, because every day another onion was missing! So far this year those little varmints have laid low, but I keep expecting them to rear their ugly little heads.

Friday, July 6, 2012


This is huge. This is really huge! Look at those beautiful zucchinis I picked today! Five zukes and one yellow squash
 Why would I get so excited over the lowly zucchini, that squash that everyone complains about getting inundated by and jokes about leaving them on neighbors' doorsteps and running? Well...because. I never do well with summer squash. Never. Last year I got only one zucchini all summer. Did slightly better with the yellows, but not much. I had a few more the year before, but not many at all. The zukes in the photo above were just the right size, not too big and not to small. I've already harvested a few others earlier in the week. So, to celebrate my zucchinis, I decided to make one of our favorite summertime suppers, zucchini pancakes.
 I'll post the recipe if you are interested. What you see in the bowl above is my recipe quadrupled. Makes a good batch of pancakes. Serve with sour cream, like you would potato latkes and it is one easy and delicious supper!
Zucchini Pancakes:
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1 and 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
1 egg
2 Tablespoons chopped onion
2 Tablespoons mayonaise (I use light and it works fine)
Mix all the ingredients together and fry up in olive oil, or whatever oil you prefer.
Serve hot with sour cream
I make a bunch and after draining them on paper towel, put them in a pie plate or shallow casserole in the oven to keep warm til they are all made then serve.
Hope you are all enjoying your zucchinis as much as I am! By the by, the varieties I planted were Jackpot and Raven.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July!

I took a walk this morning down to the state highway to watch our town's annual July fourth parade. It's such an old-fashioned parade and so appropriate to our little rural town that I thought I'd show a few pictures of our celebration.

 The town next to ours has the home of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, so they were represented.
 It was nice to have a little music by the bagpipe band from another neighboring town.
 There were children on bikes with their little floats as well as motorcyclists, all waving the red, white and blue.
 Of course the fire department was there! In fact, so were engines from two other towns.
 There were plenty of tractors! I did say this was a farm town!
 The historical society had a little float.
 Now there's a monster ag machine you don't often see around here!
So, hurray for the red, white and blue! Happy Birthday America! I hope all of you across the country enjoy the day and take pride in this beautiful country of ours!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Walking the Domain

Oh Blogger. I have spent the last hour trying to write this post and move my photos around into the correct position. Then when I finally got it semi-right and went to preview it, I somehow accidentally hit a button that lost the whole dang thing. Big sigh here. Big, BIG, sigh.
Well, here we go again. I'll see if I can get it right this time. Someday my younger son will be home to visit and I will get him to teach me how to do these things right!
I thought I'd show a bit of our "domain" today, a way to show Langela why I have a wee bit of envy for her wide open Iowa spaces. We live in what was once a farming community in the eastern part of the state. Although most of the farming is gone, there are still a number of dairy farms in town. It is rural and pleasant, a typical small town New England place and we love it here. Our property is about 6 wooded acres of what used to be my husband's grandfather's farm. The majority of that farm, over a hundred acres are still intact and undeveloped along side our place. So, let's take a walk.
Here is our front yard. It's on top of a hill and the house we built ourselves, quite literally, when we were in our twenties.
 Walking down the driveway, which is s-shaped, you can see my garden on the right. See all those trees? When we first moved here, the weren't there! What you see was a meadow covered in juniper bushes, on which at times horses were grazed. All this has grown up over 30 years, and that, despite the fact that we heat with wood and have often cut trees down. Nature is a powerful force!
 Keep on walking toward the road. You can see a tiny piece of it in the center of the picture. It's like walking through a tunnel.
 Now we'll turn around and walk back up towards the house. There's my garden again, now it's to our left. And oh yes, trees. This is why I fret so much about my veggies not getting enough sunlight.
 Still walking up the hill towards the house, which will be on the right when we turn the bend.
 But we'll keep walking around to the back yard. As you can see, the house needs paint. We started an addition to the house four years ago. It is finished now, but still has to be painted to match the rest of the house. Being far from the road makes it easier to procrastinate with that job.
 My husband is the landscaper and he does a spectacular job. The pictures don't show it, but he has beautiful flower plantings and herbs all over. He's also in charge of our berries and fruit. Here's his small kitchen garden where he grows his favorites, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and often peas and beans. He's also growing ground cherries this year. Sunlight is an issue for him too, as you can see.
 Looking at the back. Our plastic greenhouse, to be replaced eventually with a real one we hope. And, of course, more trees. We're surrounded!
 D's blueberry bushes. We have eight large bushes which generally ripen berries in late July. Last year D planted eight more small bushes, because you can never have enough blueberries, especially if you haven't netted them to keep the birds away!We also have, not pictured, a herb garden, plantings of red currant, black currant, gooseberry, blackberry and raspberry. Some are older and producing and some are new and yet to show us a harvest. So there you have it! We do love our home and I feel very blessed to have all that land. But I would not mind at all having a lumberjack take down some of those darned trees!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Harvest Monday

We've had a week of record heat and the garden has really taken off. We've also had some fierce thunderstorms which were quite damaging in some parts of the state that got large hail (thankfully we avoided that!) Unfortunately heat and humidity bring the beginnings of various plant diseases and I'm already seeing that with some of my vegetables. But this is Harvest Monday and I am going to focus on the bounty of the harvest, not the worries of what's to come. First of all, I am so excited to find that my June harvest totalled over 94 pounds! Last year for June I harvested 56 pounds of vegetables and that was the best I'd ever done, so I'm pretty stoked about how this spring has gone.                                           
You can see here some carrot thinnings, cabbages and a basket of kale.
 Below, I have mizuna, kohlrabi, some little beets and a broccoli...
 Some better looking beets, another cabbage, broccoli, zucchini and yellow squash and some garlic...
 From earlier in the week, my cauliflower. It was delicious, though all my seven heads were the equivalent of one large head you'd purchase at the store. Still, I'll be trying them again in the fall.
 And yet another bushel of lettuce. Mostly romaine, all of it getting slightly bitter, but we don't mind that too much and the summer lettuce is still tiny so we'll take what we can get!
And that's it for the harvest this week! The peas are done and I'll soon be pulling out the plants. Go on over to Daphne's Dandelions to enjoy everyone else's harvest and be inspired!