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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Second Year Onions

I don't know much about onions, but I do know that they really aren't supposed to be biennial.  Nonetheless, as you might remember, last year I pitched a gardener's fit when most of my onion starts declined to...well, start!  I dug up the entire crop and got only a few paltry small onions, and a whole bunch of onion sets that looked almost exactly the same as they did when I put them in the ground four months prior, even though they had given me lovely onion tops that had browned and died, supposedly the signal for mature onions.  I threw them all back in the field, mulched over them, and left them for the winter.

So, they started to grow by March, and I have been harvesting medium sized mature onions since almost the beginning of the summer season.  I thought you might like a look at these oddities.

As you can see, each onion I pull really looks like two entities.  On the right is a hard stalk that comes down next to an onion bulb.  The stalk is very woody, but it is very onion-y.  If you are cooking something for several hours, like a stew, these have no problem softening up.  However, I have been taking the easy way out and just throwing the "bulb" part of them into the stock bucket in the freezer.  If I don't wind up with more meat bones and chicken gizzards soon, I'll be making onion stock rather than meat stock!

On the left, you see an onion bulb.  It looks and tastes just like any other "normal" onion, except it has a smaller hard stalk or core inside.  I pop that core out and send it to compost, then dice up my onion as usual.  The onions are sweet and tender, and you would have no idea their rather circuitous path into the world.

Lesson?  It just goes to show that gardening isn't always predictable.  We can read almanacs; calculate germination rates; buy heating pads and potting mix; and chart the phases of the moon, but sometimes you plant things and they don't work.  Or they work in unexpected ways.  But every little bit helps, and the randomness is part of the fun.  I'll be chuckling all summer as I cruise past the onions in the store and back home to my odd little second year onions.
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Friday, July 27, 2012

Egg Tea

When I was a kid, my parents spent a summer having our back patio enclosed as a porch.  Of course, I fell in love with the idea.  They let me fill it with plants, each of which I gave a name.  Some of those names are still penciled on the sides of clay pots that I used today.  And every day, I would go out and water my plants, wash their leaves when they were dirty, and fertilize them with natural methods I read about.  One of these is egg tea.

It is very simple:  The next time you crack some eggs, put those egg shells in some water to soak for a day or two, then use that water to water your plants.  Put the eggshells into the compost after.  The plants will love the extra burst of nutrition, especially if they are in containers.  Right now, even my garden-based tomatoes love the little extra shot of fertilizer.

And thanks, Mom and Dad, for letting me take over your new enclosed porch with a bunch of plants and vats of egg tea.  You had no idea what you were starting, did you?
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Monday, July 23, 2012

Zucchini Corn Chowder

OK, it is a little hot for soup these days, but I was super-excited to develop a chowder recipe that seemed to really make great use of the veggies coming in from the garden right now.

Zucchini Corn Chowder


1 T. organic butter
1 med. onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1 med. zucchini, shredded
1 pint canned corn, drained (or equivalent off the cob)
Approx. 1 cup diced potatoes
1 T. dried sage, or to taste
1 c. stock
12 oz. evaporated milk or half and half

In a 3 quart pan, melt butter and saute onion and garlic until soft.  Add stock, corn, and potatoes, and cook until potatoes are soft.  Add zucchini and sage and cook until zucchini looks integrated into soup.

Add evaporated milk or half and half and cook until hot; the potatoes will thicken things up a bit.  Serve with cracked black pepper on top to taste.

We served ours with a side of shredded carrots.  Fresh-baked bread would have been great here too! Makes four servings.

Fast:  This was quick enough from fresh ingredients, but I think the real speed advantage will be later on.  I plan to pressure can all of the ingredients except the milk together in pint jars and label them with a note that they are "soup base."  The addition of milk will make chowder, and extra stock will make a great noodle soup broth or the beginnings of cheesy corn soup.

Cheap:  Everything here came from my garden or pantry except the milk and butter.  I am still using up canned corn from last season, hence the "canned corn" notation.  Feel free to add more potatoes if your garden is producing well and you've brought in a good handful that you want to use -- it will only thicken the soup base further.

Good:  Although a little warm for July, I am really pleased with this recipe.
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Monday, July 16, 2012

PB&J Cobbler

When I was a kid, my mother struggled to find a breakfast I would eat.  I remember her going to the book store and getting a book of breakfast recipes and trying to get me interested in something that I would eat at 6 a.m. that would allow me to get through a whole morning of school.  It was an uphill battle, because I can only really eat when I'm hungry, and I rarely am hungry that early.

Finally, she declared that there was no difference between blueberry cobbler and blueberry pancakes, and that if the latter was a breakfast food, so was the former.  Cobbler, I could eat.

I thought of that episode this weekend when browsing through a new cookbook for inspiration.  (Note:  I rarely make recipes as written, and I never share them with you without attribution unless they are my own.  I got only the most general idea for this recipe from a book.)  With a lot of experimenting, I came up with PB&J cobbler, certainly something I would have eaten for breakfast or any time as a child.  I like this recipe because it makes use of the berries in season right now, and it can be sugar-free if you choose to make it so. It was great warm out of the oven, and I can't wait to have some of the leftovers today!

PB&J Cobbler


2 pints mixed berries, in season (I used blackberries and blueberries)
1/2 c. sugar (optional)

3 T. organic butter
1 c. natural peanut butter (no sugar added)
1 c. rolled oats
1/2 c. flour

In a glass baking dish with a lid (like a casserole dish), crush the berries slightly and add sugar if you wish.  Your berries will sweeten on their own as they bake, but the sugar will make them somewhat sweeter and draw more of the juice out.  I didn't add the sugar, and it was fine; you can always sprinkle with sugar later if you wish, and that lets you control the sugar for different dietary needs.

Meanwhile, melt butter and combine with remaining ingredients.  You can sprinkle over the top like a streusel topping, or I rolled mine into balls to better control how many "servings" of topping each person got.  Your call.  My inner child kind of wanted PB balls on my cobbler; they break up and mix in to the berries fine when it is time to eat.

Bake covered at 350 for 40-45 minutes until juicy and hot!

The Analysis


Fast:  This takes maybe an hour to make, most of which is baking time.

Cheap:  Farmers' market berries are not cheap, but they are plentiful right now.  I paid $10 for 2 pints of berries, and I was happy to do so.

Good:  This was very, very good.
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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Zucchini Toll House Cookies

Permit me for a moment to poke a little good-natured fun at "city folk" who like to "help" you with your "zucchini problem."

"I have so many zucchini," you say, half terrified and half boastful.
"Oh, then you need the recipe for the chocolate zucchini cake," they say.  "I'll send it to you."

The infamous chocolate zucchini cake, whose recipe I have received, it seems, from at least a half dozen well-meaning acquaintances, is a recipe designed to "use up" zucchini if your entire supply consists of three zucchini that a gardener-neighbor gave you.  It takes absolutely forever -- including the cooked frosting for the recipe I have -- and it uses up one, measley, tiny, medium-sized zucchini.

Guys, when I say I have zucchini, I have zucchini!  I have a pyramid of them on the counter, and they need to go into every baked good and starchy dish I make every single day.  I love the chocolate zucchini cake, but I simply don't have the time or the caloric expenditure to make a homemade chocolate cake every time I bring in a zucchini; I'd be making about three cakes a day and I'd have to quit my job and dig a potato furrow five miles long to burn off all that cake.

So, in addition to zucchini pie, zucchini orzo, and zucchini-roni for dinner, I put zucchini into baked goods that take very little time to make.  One of the best ideas is Toll House cookies.

Now, this idea will still only use up a medium sized zucchini, but cookies just don't take that long to make.  If you alter the recipe as I did here -- with pasture eggs, pasture butter, turbinado sugar, and maybe a bit of whole wheat flour -- you have a fairly healthy cookie once you add a shredded zucchini.  Also, the zucchini adds additional moisture, so you will have to increase your flour (from 2 1/4 cups to about 3 cups) and will consequently make more cookies in the process.  The cookies stay moist, too, having an almost cake-like quality that hangs in there for days.  I would eat these for breakfast -- I think they are just as healthy or healthier than many breakfast foods.

Now, where else can I hide a shredded zucchini?
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Monday, July 9, 2012

How Much Does a Garden Grow: June

Finally!  June is here, and we are finally bringing in some actual harvests!  Yeah!

Big on this list this month was blueberries; even though I only harvested a few ounces from my two bushes, it was a definite savings.  Organic blueberries in season at Trader Joe's came in at $0.50 an ounce, so it is worth it to have your own supply.

Potatoes were another crop that started coming in this month.  The ones you see at the right were my volunteers; we didn't grow fingerlings this year, but we got a few surprise hills that came up on their own, likely from potatoes missed during digging last year.  Organic potatoes are relatively inexpensive to buy, but again, they made a wonderful treat.

The big "cash crop" of the month was the start of the zucchini harvest.  Organic zucchini at Trader Joe's is $2.99 a pound, and I started bringing in over a pound a day.  That means I recouped my seed costs pretty much the first day, and everything else has been profit.  I just love zucchini, and I love it even more because I don't think I ever would have tried it if I didn't decide to grow it some years ago.  I put it in absolutely everything, and right now we have both pasta and bread with zucchini in it.

Rounding out the month were some onion and carrot harvests, with more on the way.  All told, I harvested 7.75 pounds of produce in June.  There were no expenditures.  I expect July and August to be the real break-out months.

2012 Tally to Date
7.75 lbs. total harvested
$27.26 value of harvest for June
$34.30 value of harvest for 2012
$185.39 expenditures for 2012
-$151.09 loss to date
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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Zucchini-Roni

Hey, it's zucchini time again!  It's always feast or famine in the zucchini patch around here.  I typically plant more than I need, because about half of the time I will wind up with a few plants that just refuse to produce, so having some redundancy is necessary.  (Take that, everyone who has commented, "A family of two only needs one zucchini plant.")

This year, I have nine plants, and about four of them are in full production, which is plenty. So I have a recipe that will hide some of that zucchini, plus a lesson in the analysis about why it is so important to grow/make your own.

Zucchini-Roni


3 cups stock
1 1/2 cups rice (I used cheap white rice, but it would be better with brown.)
1 package hot dogs, sliced  (Do yourself a favor and get the kosher kind, for quality reasons.)
1 medium zucchini, shredded
2 large carrots or about 6 smaller ones, cut into small cubes
1/2 t. dried marjoram
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. turmeric (adds flavor and gives it that nice yellow color)

Place rice, stock, marjoram, oregano, and carrots in saute pan and cook over medium heat until the rice and carrots start to soften.  Add sliced hot dogs, zucchini, and turmeric, and continue cooking until rice is cooked through, carrots are soft, and hot dogs are heated through.  This takes about 25-30 minutes total.

Makes about 5 servings.

The Analysis


Fast:  This is definitely one of those thrown-together-from-the fridge meals.  I made this at 9 p.m. last night with what I had on hand.

Cheap:  Here's your takeaway:  sustainable living makes this super-cheap.  I made my own stock from freezer scraps (ham, chicken, and beef bones, plus onion trimmings), so that was free.  Zucchini, carrots, marjoram, and oregano are already accounted for in the gardening budget, so they are essentially free too.  That leaves some inexpensive rice, a package of expensive kosher hot dogs, and a small amount of turmeric.  All told, this recipe probably came in under $7 for me, and most of that was hot dog costs.  You could substitute any cooked meat you had in the fridge, like pre-cooked sausage or leftover roast chicken, although you will want to add some salt if you use a salt-free meat.

If I had to buy these ingredients, I probably wouldn't make this recipe.  Organic stock is around $4 a quart, and organic zucchini is $2.99 a pound around here.  Let's say that buying the additional ingredients would add another $7 to the cost.  This recipe is pretty yummy, and it is still a pretty good deal to get five servings for $14, but it isn't the huge benefit to the budget that it is when you are making so many of your own ingredients on the cheap.

Good:  The homemade stock and fresh veggies really added a lot of flavor to the dish.  Since I do have so many of these ingredients on hand for virtually free, I will continue to make this yummy dish.
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