Florida Winter

November 19, 2011 § 3 Comments

Florida doesn’t have four seasons.  We have a “cool”  season (70’s to 80’s) from late October to February with a few unpredictable cold snaps, and then, we have blazing, swimming-through-the-air-it’s-so-humid weather the rest of the year. Doesn’t that sound lovely?

There is an upside, though: for most of the country, the winter’s too cold to grow anything, but here, the cold(ish) months are, in my opinion, the best time to grow vegetables.  There are less bugs, less fungus (from so much moisture), less sweatiness, and therefore more of a desire to be outside to actually TEND the garden!

Having said ALL of that (deep breath), here it is, November 19th, and our garden, after a summer of fungus, aphids, and, weeds on performance enhancing drugs, looks like this:

Yes, we’ve let it go for a few months. I keep trying to convince myself we are doing something good for the soil. You know, letting it lie fallow or something?  But, no. We’ve just been busy and unmotivated and sulking from all the meanness of a summer garden without pesticides in Florida.

But, last week, my girls, being so much more optimistic and hopeful than I will ever be, began the cool weather garden for us.  I vaguely remember them asking me if they could plant some seeds and me giving permission, advising them to use the compost as potting soil, and then telling them to plant what they wanted, but to, please, plant some lettuce seeds.  I also remember thinking they would do it wrong, that the plants wouldn’t grow, that it was mostly a fun, but, ultimately, fruitless way for them to spend 30 minutes.  Well, guess, what?  We have seedlings. And, yes, I’m a jerk.

We don’t know all of what was planted in that  short session due to a very vague (but SO cute) labeling system, but I know from looking at them that there are some peas, red leaf lettuce, and marigolds shooting up already.  So precious.  The shoots and the girls.

I was inspired by my girls’ venture and by those little seeds just shooting up, like they’d never heard of  my pessimism.  Or the fall of man.  Or the bugs that long to destroy them.  So, I decided to start seeds today.  And I’m feeling optimistic about their potential and about this Florida winter, with all it’s benefits.  May I keep the eyes to see.

A Beginning

August 18, 2011 § 7 Comments

Today was the first day of school  for my kids. Well, three of them.  It was the first first for my son.  After waiting an extra year b/c I was sure he wasn’t ready for all that, he finally got out of the car and waltzed (well, sort of raced his sisters so they wouldn’t be showing him where his classroom was. He KNEW!) into school.  Kindergarten. I spent a lot of the day praying (truly) that there wouldn’t be a bathroom accident (otherwise known as peeing in his pants). There wasn’t (he didn’t). In fact, he came home jazzed to tell me about the class room signal for needing to go to the bathroom (crossing one’s fingers in the air).  He was full of tales and excitement, loved his day, said he “think(s) it’s fun in kindergarten”, and at dinner, asked if he could say the prayer, then thanked God that he was able to go to kindergarten. Oh my goodness. I love him.

These are pictures of the messenger bags I made them.  I know it’s hard to see detail, but it was all I was able to snap in our rush out the door this morning.  Henry: stripes. June: horses (oh my, that fabric.  But she loves horses, so…). And Aiden: floral.  I’m pretty happy with them, but probably happiest that I made them using only materials I already had.  Oh, the satisfaction.  I figure I probably  only have a couple more years, if that, where  they want me to make their bags for school, so I’m reveling in it.

I modified the pattern found here.

Other things:

  • I find this very inspiring.
  • My sister-in-law, Elena,  turned me on to soaking oatmeal and I’m into it.  I can do it at night, warm it in the morning, serve my kids something warming and healthy for breakfast, and still be on time for school. Excellent.
  • I found a “squirrel lady” to rehab Scotty (yes, that’s our pet squirrel).  Apparently she will raise him to squirrel adulthood and then let him go.  I’m for it. I’m pretty sure the best time to keep a wild animal is in its infancy.
  • Read this book and really liked it.  Currently reading this one and I’m intrigued, but not sure yet.

Simple Tomato Soup

June 3, 2011 § 4 Comments

It’s tomato season around here, and while we are finally getting some fruit on our own plants,  a lot of the tomatoes you see here are part of my friend Angie’s crop. She gave me some gorgeous ones.  After eating some raw with oil, goat cheese, and herbs (mmmm) I decided to satisfy another summer craving and use them in tomato soup.

There are tons of recipes out there for tomato soup.  I looked at this  recipe (and want to try it), and other sort of straight up tomato style soups.  I wasn’t sure how well that many VISIBLE tomatoes would be received, though. The kids like tomato soup, but not tomatoes. Make’s a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

I ended up with this one from Tyler Florence because it called for ingredients I had on hand and it asks you to roast the tomatoes with some onion and garlic first. The promise of that smell alone was enough to make me want to make this one. It’s to die for (dahhhling). An added bonus?  You can do some extra “no slurping your soup” manners training with your kids (or yourself)!

Roasted Tomato Soup

adapted from a recipe by Tyler Florence

This recipe originally called for much more olive oil at the beginning as well a fair amount (1/2 cup) of heavy cream at the end.  I really didn’t think it needed it. I love to really taste the roasted flavor of the tomatoes, but it was great with a little cream swirled into each bowl. I served it with parmesan toasts made from a leftover loaf and a spinach salad.

  • 2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes (mix of plum, cherry, beefsteak, whatever)
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 small yellow onions, sliced
  • 4 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 quart vegetable stock (broth)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, optional, but really good
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream, optional

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Wash, core and cut the tomatoes into halves. Spread the tomatoes, garlic cloves and onions in a baking tray.  Drizzle olive oil over the top, and season everything with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, or until caramelized (you should see some browning).

Remove roasted tomatoes, garlic and onion from the oven and transfer to a large pot . Add 3/4 of the chicken stock, bay leaves, and butter. Bring that mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid is reduced to 1/3 its original volume.  Remove bay leaves.

Wash and dry basil leaves, if using, and add to the pot. Use an immersion blender  or regular blender to puree the soup until smooth (be careful not to fill blender too full). Return soup to low heat, and adjust consistency with remaining chicken stock, if necessary. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Top each bowl with a splash of heavy cream (about a teaspoon) and fresh basil leaves, if you’ve got them.

Garden Update

April 18, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’m Letting the spring lettuces go to seed so I can collect them for the next planting. This pod is filled with arugula seeds.  I feel like a (somewhat) real gardener when I do this…

The first bits of oregano growing…the first time we’ve grown it.  I’m collecting recipes and smelling it a lot.

The first few tomatoes have come out. I’m already battling the aphids/tomato plant murderers.  Fish oil is keeping them in check at this point. I’m hoping to not have to bring out the synthetic chemicals on them. But I will.  They are ruthless.

The herb garden (a raised bed Vince built for me; love that guy) is so pleasing.  I love having all those different tastes at my disposal. I just send a kid out with some scissors (I’ve had a little “this is how you cut ____” talk with all of them already) when I need it.  Cilantro, basil, thyme, and chives (going clockwise) are all producing well, so I’m looking forward to some serious flavoring this summer. Hopefully I’ll be brave and be more adventurous in what I combine with them.

It’s so fun, and….I know I sound hokey and like I have some soothing flute music playing in the background when I say it, but…it’s truly a privilege to watch.

Beets: part two

February 24, 2011 § 3 Comments

Today: A very tasty way to eat beet “bodies”.  No, I’m serious. They’re actually good. As in, you might LIKE them, and not just eat them for the nutritional value (high in iron and fiber), or b/c your mother said you should. Beets can be a hard sell to people who have only tasted canned beets.  Slimy, purple, smooshy, and with that metallic, canned taste.  Blech. Well, these beets may convert the haters.

The fact that these beets are roasted instead of boiled gives them a head start on the canned variety.  They leave old canny, the beet, in the dust, however, when they are dressed in a warm, toasted garlic/walnut/orange juice dressing. The dressing is kind of haunting me. I’m mentally noting that toasted walnuts and cooked garlic make a tangy, nutty, sweet combination. Yum. I think, thinned out with more oil or juice,  it would be great on any salad, and with less liquid, it would be a great dip for vegetables. I’m making it again, for sure.  Join me!

mmm, purple

Beets with Garlic Walnut Dressing adapted from “The Minimalist”

2 pounds red beets, about 4 large, trimmed of greens

1/4 cup olive oil

6 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole

1/2 cup walnuts

2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash beets well. While still wet, wrap them individually in foil and place on a cookie sheet or roasting pan. Bake, undisturbed, until a thin-bladed knife pierces each with little resistance. They will cook at different rates; remove each one when it is done. Peel the beets. (You can peel then  easily with your fingers after they are cooked. Use gloves, or enjoy your pink hands.)  Chop into bite-size pieces.

Meanwhile, put oil in a skillet over medium heat. When it is warm, add garlic and cook until fragrant and beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add  the walnuts and cook until they begin to brown, another 3 minutes or so. Take the skillet off the heat and let the mixture cool slightly.  Transfer walnuts, garlic and oil to a small food processor (or a blender?)  Process until you have a relatively smooth paste. Add orange juice until you like the consistency. Add salt and pepper.

Toss dressing with chopped beets and serve.

**You can add chopped parsley for color, but it’s optional.

Makes 4 servings

Beets: part one

February 23, 2011 § 4 Comments

I pulled some beets out of the garden yesterday. Hooray!  Tomorrow, I will cook the beet “bodies” (based on the recipe from this article).  Tonight, however,I used the greens (the tops that show above ground).  With a quick saute, some bacon, a little smashed garlic, parmesan, and some gifted pappardelle noodles from Susan, dinner was served.

Reasons for me to like this dish:

  • used garden produce (cheap me likes this)
  • used a part of the plant that is often tossed (waste hating me likes this)
  • tasted rich from the bacon and parmesan (luxurious me likes this)
  • beet greens are high in vitamin C (me who hates being sick likes this)

Pappardelle with Beet Greens, Bacon, and Parmesan

4 pieces bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

Greens from 6 beets, cut roughly into 2-inch pieces

2 cloves garlic, smashed

80z dried pappardelle pasta (I used Trader Joe’s version, but any kind will do)

Grated parmesan cheese

Start water for the pasta.  When the water boils, add salt and pasta to the water.  Cook according to the package directions.

In the mean time, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium high heat. When browned nicely, remove the bacon from the pan and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Pour off all but one tablespoon of bacon grease and return the skillet to the stove.

Add  beet greens to the pan and saute, again, over medium high heat, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Add garlic to the pan and continue to saute until fragrant. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add cooked pasta to the pan just to coat the pasta.

Sprinkle grated parmesan and serve.

Makes 4 medium-sized portions.

Planting for Summer

February 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Is that not the funniest picture? I said, “Hold the seeds up so I can take a picture of what we’re planting.”  This is what she did. She’s such a unique, little person, with so much going on her head. I really have a sense of wonder at her. Who displays something by hanging it from their mouth? I love it!  She’s so funny, so different from me.  I admire her creativity (not just in showing seeds…she’s always doing things differently like this), I love that I get to know her so well.

Anyway…we had some more garden work to do this weekend.  Dad and two kids were at soccer, and we stayed home, too sick for soccer, but not too sick for planting.

We planted eggplant (hanging from June’s mouth above), baby limas, basil, parsley, oregano, sunflowers (attract bees for pollination), marigolds (supposed to help with aphids), long beans, and tomatoes.

Love the dirt on her fingers…

and the shoe-lessness…yes, it IS that warm here!

It was a good way to spend the morning.  Now we get to wait and look for the magic to happen.

Also, any Lakelanders that are into gardening: check out Peterson’s Nursery (it’s where we got the seeds this morning) on Lakeland Highlands Blvd.  The ladies in there are so helpful, they know their stuff and will tell you what you need and what you don’t.  This morning I got a lesson on what chemicals in the soil help with foliage, which help for flowering fruit, and which help plants lay down roots. It was so helpful in knowing what to add to the soil. I really like learning about the whole process, so I was appreciative. They’re a good resource.

‘Til next time…

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