Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Harvest Update

I've been trying to be diligent about weighing nearly everything that we've harvested from our yard this year.  I'm curious to know just how productive our efforts are.  I haven't weighed the herbs and a couple of times I've skipped the mesclun, but for the most part, I've gotten it all (except, of course, for the occasional nibble that didn't make it back to the house!).  At first I was weighing an entire day's picking together, but now I'm separating it out by item.

Here's what we've gotten so far since we started picking back in April.  All produce is cleaned before weighing. 

Radish and lettuce thinnings (combined weight) - 3.625 ounces
Radishes - 1.8 pounds
Lettuce - 1.64 pounds
Strawberries - 10.25 pounds
Spinach - 1.25 pounds
Green onions - 1.13 ounces
Peas - 1.7 pounds
Potatoes - 3 pounds

Total harvest to date:  20.3 pounds.

I also harvested some baby fennel but I totally forgot to weigh it.  It wasn't more than half a pound, I'm sure. 

I am absolutely thrilled with the amount of food we're getting this year.  I've just about stopped buying vegetables at the store, though I have been picking up some things at the farmer's market that we don't grow.  Since my daughter wants to be outside all.the.time, I'm spending a lot more time weeding and tending to things, so it's not getting overgrown and out of control like it has in past years.  I'm also putting more of an effort into figuring out ways to creatively use what we have, too.  It's been fun and I'm looking forward to seeing how we land at the end of the season!

This week's menu plan...

Can be found here.  Not very exciting, I'm afraid.  But a menu plan, nonetheless!

Sunday, June 27, 2010


I grew up in a house where the canning kettle came out every summer.  I have fond memories of Mom's canned cherries, peaches, pears and, yes, even prunes, which honestly were my favorite.  I enjoy canning myself, and have put up an assortment of jams, jellies, and fruit over the years.  Just fruits, though - I've never ventured into the wild world of pressure canning (mainly because the price of pressure canners makes me choke a little). 

My husband and I used to can apple pie filling every year, until we found out that, actually, our apple pie filling recipe wasn't safe for canning.  Oops, and thank you God for making sure we didn't get botulism!  It's been a few years since I've stood over the kettle, though, and this year I was itching to get back to it. 

Saturday my daughter and I ventured out to the farmer's market (I'm trying to go at least twice a month this season), and I picked up a half-flat of strawberries while we were there.  I got them home, and the fun began! 

Usually, jam requires a phenomenal amount of sugar.  Something like a 1:1 fruit to sugar ratio - it's truly ridiculous.  So this year I decided to try out a low-sugar recipe.  I picked up some "no sugar needed" pectin (I used the Ball brand, but I know there are others out there) and some fruit juice and decided to give it a whirl.  It calls for apple juice and up to three cups of sugar, but also provides instructions for using artificial sweeteners or honey.  I stuck with the sugar because I can't stand artificial sweeteners, and I thought our honey would have too strong a flavor and overpower the strawberries. 

I had forgotten how simple it is, really to make jam.  Wash and crush the berries, add a cup of juice (I used apple-berry blend), stir in the pectin, and boil it for a while.  Add the sugar (I used two and a half cups, about half of a normal recipe, but I could have gotten away with even less), boil some more, jar and process.  Easy as pie. 

And, from a half-flat of strawberries, we got a dozen half-pints of gorgeous (in color and flavor) jam, plus an extra pint to put in the fridge for now (because I didn't get enough jars out of the attic and didn't want to go get more, LOL!).  It's like summer in a jar.  Delicious!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Homemade Croutons

Homemade croutons are AWESOME.  There's really no comparison to the store-bought kind, and they really do a great job of topping off a salad.  They're super simple, too, so no excuses for not making them!

2 cups 1/2 inch bread cubes (I like using whole grain baguettes)
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 t. Italian seasoning
1/2 t. garlic powder

Put bread cubes in a bowl and drizzle olive oil over.  Stir to coat.  Sprinkle Italian seasoning and garlic powder over, stirring to combine.  Spread on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 25 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Kool-Aid Dying

I've been reading about playsilks a lot lately.  I'm all about toys that fuel imagination and don't require batteries, so I decided to get some for my daughter.  Then I read a blog post that pointed me here, where I read all about dying them with Kool-Aid.  Perfect!  I thought.  A craft that I might actually have time to accomplish!  So I ordered a bunch of scarves in various shapes and sizes from Dharma Trading Company, where they were uber-cheap (also made in China, unfortunately, but that's a rant for another day). 

I've had them for a few weeks, but last Thursday I was seriously procrastinating about cleaning the house, so I decided to give it a shot.  I started with grape, and dyed a couple of them purple. 

First, I got them really wet and decided how I wanted to color them.  The one on the left is a square, and I twisted and rubber banded it in tie-dye fashion.  The one on the right is oblong and I just left loose. 

Next, I sprinkled the Kool-Aid powder over the top of both scarves and squished it around until I got the level of color I wanted.  Then I stuck them each in a Ziploc bag and mostly sealed it, leaving a corner open to let the steam out.  I microwaved each one for two minutes, then took them out and left them in the bag to cool.

Once they were cool, I took them out of the bags, removed the rubber band from the square one, and rinsed.  Not a drop of color came out - the heat completely sealed them.  Finally, I hung them up to dry.  The next morning, there they were, just waiting for Caitlyn to play with!

Can't wait to try this again - I think next time I'll do solid color, and mix the Kool-Aid with some water first to make it more like real dye. 

Oh, and one word of warning - if you try this, wear gloves.  Otherwise you, too, may wind up with grape-flavored hands!  :-)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Garden update

For weeks I've been meaning to post a list of everything I've planted in the garden this year. So far, I'm really happy with the specific selections I've made, so I want to remember for next year!

I buy the majority of my seeds from Territorial Seed. Their shipping is outrageous (this year I ordered with my sister-in-law so we could split the cost), but their seeds are magnificent.

This year, I've planted

From Territorial:

Beans: Jade and Soleil (don't know how these will do, but they sprouted just fine)
Carrots: Napa (I plant these every year - LOVE THEM!!!), and Meridia. Meridia is an overwintering carrot that you plant in the fall and harvest in the spring. Can't wait to try them out and see how they do!
Cucumber: Rocky
Lettuce: Summertime (planted this last year, too - hubby only wants to eat head lettuce and this is really good!)
Fennel: Perfection (never grown fennel before. Never eaten it before. Not sure what I'm going to do with it, but it's growing really well!)
Onions: Candy and Tropeana Lunga
Parsley: Italian
Peas: Super Sugar Snap
Pumpkins: Small sugar (I planted these last year, too, and they are REALLY good in muffins!)
Radishes: French Breakfast (not sure I'll get these again - they're a little too mild for my taste)
Swiss Chard: Golden
Zucchini: Black Beauty
Basil: Aroma 1 (not doing well at all, but I think this is more due to all the rain we've been having than the seeds themselves)
Tomatoes: San Marzano Gigante (can't wait to see how big these will get!)

From other seed brands:


From plants purchased at nurseries:

Blueberries: Sunshine Blue
Raspberries: Fall Gold (and I had an Autumn Bliss but it died so I need to take it back and get another)
Mesclun salad mix
A whole host of herbs - tarragon, oregano, sage, thyme, savory (what the heck am I going to do with savory?), chamomile, curry plant (what the heck am I going to do with that, too???), rosemary, etc., etc., etc. I love my herb garden.

I also started potatoes from some organic French potatoes that I bought at the grocery store. So far they're going great guns and I'm looking forward to harvesting them!

I still need to pick up some pepper plants, hopefully this weekend. I usually grow jalapenos and a couple of sweet peppers. The garden's getting pretty full, though, so we'll see what we end up with!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

New Blog!

I've started a second blog - My Make Ahead Meals. I wanted a spot where I could keep our weeknight dinner ideas separate from the rest of my blogging stuff (not that I've been blogging that much lately, I know!). My menus will probably be posted over there now. This blog will still have recipes that don't fit my "make ahead" criteria, gardening stuff, and whatever life musings happen to occur to me.

Feel free to check it out if you're interested!

Easy low-fat white sauce

Once upon a time, I had an awesome fat-free white sauce recipe that I found in a Weight Watchers magazine. It involved toasted flour, chicken broth, and skim milk. That recipe disappeared eons ago. Well, actually, it was probably in that HUGE box of magazine clippings that my mom recently found in her basement - I told her to recycle them as quickly as possible because I didn't want to know what was in there!

Since then, I've been making my white sauce the old fashioned way - with tons of butter. Yum. Awesome for the taste buds, not so good for the waistline.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was making my Creamy Chicken Enchiladas for dinner when it suddenly hit me that the sauce, minus the chiles, is actually a super-simple, low fat (or fat free if you choose) white sauce recipe! Duh!

Here you go:

Easy Low-Fat White Sauce

1 cup chicken broth (or 1 cup water and 1 tsp. bouillon)
1/4 cup flour
1 cup evaporated milk

In a small pot, bring chicken broth to a boil. Meanwhile, whisk the flour into the milk, eliminating any lumps. Once the chicken broth boils, SLOWLY whisk in the milk and flour mixture, stirring constantly. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly. Season to taste with salt and pepper (or whatever your recipe requires).

If you're not so worried about calories, you can also use whole milk and it will come out just fine.