Monday, July 5, 2010

Mutt Monday

What? It's hot.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Might As Well

I just want to start off by letting you all know that I am sacrificing time that I could be folding laundry in order to write this post for you. That's right, be grateful for the lengths I go for you.

Anyways, I thought I might as well post my zucchini bread recipe, because I've already made dozens of dozens of mini muffins and loaves so far this season. And no, I have not actually harvested any zucchini yet--this all came from a nearby friend (thanks again, Debbie!).

I've already declared my love for yogurt in baked goods, and this recipe is another beautiful example. Now, lest anyone try to fool themselves by thinking that zucchini bread is somehow healthy, trust me, it's not. Zukes are not very high up on the nutrient-dense ladder of vegetables, and most quick bread recipes are laden with fat and sugar. Basically cake, really.

BUT, you know me. I've modified this recipe enough to boost the nutrients while keeping a yummy taste, plus the mini-muffin package keeps the portions in check.

Some tips:
-Most normal recipes call for 1 cup of grated zucchini, but if you're using the big, bloated, only-good-for-baking zukes, one squash will yield at least 2-3 cups. My recipe will use one of these bad boys.
-I sub honey for sugar. It's more natural, less processed, and can help your allergies! I do this for most recipes these days and you can do cup for cup, because sugar is technically treated as a liquid in baking.
-Make things easy on yourself and use the same measuring cup for the vegetable oil and honey. Leave a tiny bit of oil in the cup before measuring the honey, and it will all slip out easily without being a sticky, slow mess.
-In this recipe, you can use nonfat, plain yogurt and add a few tsps of vanilla extract OR use vanilla, low-fat yogurt and cut some of the vegetable oil.
-You can throw in "accessories" like walnuts, raisins, chocolate chips, etc. I've done all of these, and I think next time I'll shave in some coconut. Which is totally local to Oklahoma. In my dreams.
-I always use a mix of whole wheat flour and unbleached, all-purpose white flour. It adds a nutty, hint of crunch, fiber, and heart-healthy goodness.


-1 medium zucchini, grated
-1 cup vegetable oil
-1.5 cups honey
-1 cup yogurt (see above hints)
-2 tsps vanilla extract (which I use regardless of the yogurt flavor cuz I love it)

Mix these wet ingredients together, then ADD 4 eggs and blend. Try not to overbeat the eggs so the batter stays light and airy. Next, combine:

-4 cups flour (I use 1.5 cups whole wheat, 2.5 cups white)
-1 tsp baking soda
-1 tsp baking powder
-1 tsp salt

Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until combined. Fold in any additions like nuts or chocolate.

At Christmas, I bought myself the greatest baking investment ever:

Yes, my pride and joy. The 24-mini-muffin pan. Two dozen tasty little beauties all at once. This recipe will yield two panfuls, or FOUR delightful dozens of muffins. I bake them at 350 degrees for around 25-30ish minutes. Honestly, I'm not really sure. I bake by smell and when a cake tester poked in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

These babies freeze REALLY well and we usually keep a ziploc bag full of these handy in the freezer. Joe doesn't wait for them to thaw before he starts devouring.

Okay, neither do I.

Monday, June 28, 2010

How We Spent Our Summer Vacation, Part 1

At the end of May, my baby sister--my only sibling--got married. She looked amazing. The bridal "glow" is such a real phenomenon. All in all, the day was a warm, joyful celebration of love and family, and I only wish the weekend lasted longer.

The professional photographs were recently posted online, so I thought I'd steal a few to share with readers of this blog.

Lovely. Now, I knew going into this wedding that I was going to be a bit emotional because I love my little sister and I know how excited she was to marry Sean, who had been in her life since they were freshmen in college. I didn't know the photographer was going to catch my sobfest, but I spent pretty much the entire ceremony like this:

There are several others like this. I was a big, snotty mess. Fortunately, Sean's big sister was the bridesmaid next to me and she was also experiencing a big-sis-breakdown, so we just shared tissues and held hands, reflecting on our wisdom to not stuff our little siblings in a box and mail them to Siberia as we had been tempted to do so many times in our youth.

My sister was good enough to include my son as her ring bearer, which meant we got to wrestle him into a little monkey suit and let him loose on her otherwise orderly day.

These are the few photos he didn't ruin by screaming, kicking apart bouquets, or trying to hurtle himself like a crowd surfer.

The ceremony, though punctuated by occasional sobs and nose-blowing, was beautiful.

Those two are going to make me some adorable nieces and nephews someday, if my kid hasn't convinced them otherwise.

One of the biggest benefits to attending the wedding of a sibling is seeing your own extended family and, in many cases, good friends. I'm so lucky that my sister has embraced my best friends as her surrogate big sisters and brothers. So, for me, it was like repeating some of the best moments of my own wedding, only without worrying about someone stepping on my big white dress. It was great.

April, 2007:

May, 2010:

We know how to have fun, no doubt.

Congratulations, Shirlea & Sean! It was a long time coming, and a true blessing to witness your special day.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Eyes on the Prize

I've taken the same attitude towards this blog as I have towards my garden in recent weeks: I want to do more than I have time for, so I'll just put it off until all of our trips are over.

I have some downtime tonight, however, so here's a little update. We literally have travelled every other weekend, so in the off weekends when we are home, we've spent time with friends. I wrote about the day I spend making lasagna. Since then, I've tried to add to my freezer stash by doubling batches of dinner and putting up garden harvests as they come in.

So far I've made up the lasagnas, soups, sauce, meatballs, chicken pot pie, and pizza doughs. Is there anything more comforting than a freezer full of ready-to-cook food?

Recently I dug up half of the potatoes and mashed them for the freezer:

It was my first time trying this, and I froze them in muffin tins before sealing them with my FoodSaver. I see a future filled with pork chops, mashed taters, and rotating fresh veg from the garden. Come ON tomatoes!

The other half of the potatoes I'll mash and use in several batches of shepherd's pie, along with a few of our TONS of onions and these:

Bill and I pulled these up last night, and again, I have to admit, MUCH better than last year's yield. I haven't been keeping track well, but we've already harvested enough carrots to use fresh for a few dinner and make up a couple of chicken pot pies. I'm not really a fan of canned carrots, so I'm trying to cook and freeze them in meals as much as possible. I think I have enough for 4 or 5 shepherd's pies and a few more quarts of chicken soup. Surprisingly, the swiss chard stems worked really well in the soup, so I will definitely be using them again--especially since they're still growing!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mutt (Rabbit) Monday (Thursday)

Look, if I took pics of the mutts for the past few Mondays (if I were even here) they would all be the same: hot dogs lying on porch. Occasionally they will lumber briefly off the porch to see if it's any cooler in the yard, but it never is.

So. I will give you rabbits instead. Ridiculous, mammoth, Godzilla-like rabbits that have nearly outgrown their hutch.

They actually do a lot of lying around, being hot, too.

These may be the most spoiled bunnies on the planet, because not only do they get daily afternoon bowls of ice cubes to help them cool down in the 95+ heat, they actually have AC.

It's a simple box fan that we "installed" just outside the cage, but I think it really makes a difference for them. I felt really guilty 2 weeks ago when we left them for my sister's wedding and the temps were over 100. I think the fan is a good guilt-suppressant, and I think Durham agrees with me.

I know when I'm not looking, they press their faces up against it and do their best Phil Collins impressions.

Bring It On Summer, Part 3

Okay, okay, what is actually SUCCEEDING in our summer garden? Other than our hugely successful pea harvest and respectable carrot, onion, and potato harvests, our attention is now focused mostly on the contents of Quads 3 & 4.

In between weeds, we have lots of winter squash and beans coming up. Beyond that towards the upper right corner we have tomatoes, garlic, summer squash, okra, and peppers.

I can't wait for these little peps to get big!

That said, there are plenty of surprises going on. Back up in Quad 1, where just about everything is kaput, I am surprised at the red malabar "spinach."

It's not a true spinach, but it is very similar in taste and nutrition. It took FOREVER to germinate, which makes sense because this is definitely a hot weather plant. Yum!

Bill apparently looked up the seed pods coming out all over our neglected radishes, and apparently they are edible, like beans:

I've mentioned the onions flowering, which is a shame because they can't be stored as long. However, they are pretty:

The biggest surprise has been in the strawberry patch. We left for my sister's wedding and it looked like a normal patch of strawberry plants, but when we came up, we found this:

An entire corner completely taken over by cantaloupe! Now, it's not a mystery how these plants located themselves here, as this is where they were planted last year. It's just crazy how well the plants reseeded and stuck around through the winter. I debated moving them over to where I've planted more cantaloupe, but decided against it because they are so mature and thriving. I'm just directing them away from the strawberry plants.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bring It On Summer, Part 2

Summer brings not only harvest, but also death.

This is what just a few days of not watering will do to my lovely flowers. They all look like this. I'm glad I got pictures while they were pretty.

Also, the peas are pooped.

I'm not sad to see them die, though, because we got a great harvest from them and I'm a little sick of spending every single evening shelling peas. When we're back from our next vacation jaunt, we'll mow these down and turn the roots under. They are busy fixing nitrogen in the soil right now, so this area will be prime for replanting other foods for the fall. I'm envisioning an entire quad of cauliflower.

Another casualty, so-to-speak, of the heat is the lettuces:

They have officially gone to seed, though they look rather pretty like this. I have to admit that while the romaine was the first to bolt, the red flame lettuce took it's time. I will definitely plant more of that.

What IS still thriving, you ask? Um, can you say WEEDS?

Yeah. See any actual vegetables in that thicket? I almost wish I could turn the bunnies loose in here and let them eat everything down, but I know they'd either go straight for the carrots or the hole in the fence.

I know this was a pretty bleak post, but there are lots of successes still to be had. Yeah...I decided to make this more than 2 parts, so stay tuned.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Rainbow of Possibilities

I feel like every post I write these days starts off with "things are really crazy right now," but they are. We are smack dab in the middle of lots of summer travels, which means that my days are filled with trying to catch up with/get ahead of work so I can enjoy our trips with nothing hanging over my head. This, of course, means that the garden is chock full of weeds, the flowers are dead, and if I'm not careful, we'll be eating a lot of short-cut foods.

So this weekend I decided to get ahead of the game and make a bunch of freezer dinners that I can just pull out and warm up and not feel guilty about what I'm feeding my family. I made 18.5 quarts of "the sauce", complete with enough meatballs and sausage for at least 6 dinners. It felt really good to use homegrown onions. We have a bunch of Swiss chard in the garden that is standing up very well to the sweltering heat, so we picked a bunch of it and used it in 2 different dishes for the freezer.

For those who are unfamiliar with chard (as I was before I planted it), it is a green with a yummy buttery flavor and the highest vitamin A content of any vegetable on the planet. We've had it sauteed with a touch of butter and I've been able to freeze some of it for later. It works well in place of spinach, which is what I did in the first dish:

I made 4 lasagnas with whole wheat pasta, organic lamb sausage, homemade sauce, local cheeses, and swiss chard leaves. I probably could have made 5, but I kept tasting the flavor combos to make sure they worked...and...well...they did.

The firm, brightly colored stems leftover after the lasagnas took the place of celery in some homemade chicken noodle soup:

I chopped these down, added stock, homegrown carrots, onions, fresh herbs, and whole wheat egg noodles. The result was a hearty, low-calorie, SUPER vitamin-packed soup:

I'll definitely be eating this to mitigate the effects of eating an entire pan of lasagna by myself.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Bring It On Summer (Part 1)

In order to make up for my lack of blogging, I've come up with a 2-part post (maybe more) to catch you up on the garden activities of late.

Part 1 is about our recent harvests. We've steadily been picking snow peas and shelling peas for just about a month. Snow peas have petered out and shelling peas probably only have 1 more small picking session left. Want to see how we've done this year?

We started picking peas every night before dinner (recall this post) and Bill and I would shell or destring as necessary, blanch, and tray freeze batches of them after Joe went to bed.

Now to compare, last year we harvested exactly these many shelling peas from the garden:

That is approximately HALF of 1/2 cup of peas. Yes, 1/4 cup of peas. Barely a Joe-sized fistful.

We did a little better this year:

Two full gallons, and we're not quite finished yet, though the 100+ temps have mostly halted pea production for good. Now, considering how fast we go through peas--the one vegetable Joe will ALWAYS eat--this will probably last us maybe a month, if I'm lucky. But it still feels nice to have homegrown veggies in the freezer. And speaking of freezer...

This, my friends, is an entire freezer shelf full of snow peas, packaged by the pound and quarter-pound. We hauled in a grand total of 9lbs of snow peas from ONE 25-foot row. This doesn't include what we ate fresh from the garden, either. I think if we had done another row and hadn't gone on vacation in the middle of the harvest, we might have been able to freeze enough to last until winter. Crazy.

While we're in the freezer, might as well show you the first of the carrot harvest:

Just a pint-sized bag of carrot coins, but more than we got last year by a long shot. There are still tons of carrots out in the garden waiting to be picked, but this is what we got while thinning them out.

Next up are taters & onions:

Not a lot of potatoes, considering I dug up 6 plants to get these. The plants were nowhere near mature, but we're in the midst of a full-on war with the potato beetles, and it was either dig or nothing. These I'll mash up and throw on top of a shepherd's pie this weekend.

The onions above are much more exciting. These represent a tiny fraction of what is still waiting out in the garden, and they are nice, large bulbs. Some I will cure and store in the root cellar/storm shelter and some I will chop up and freeze.

All of this is a fairly upbeat and optimistic view of what's going on out there, but trust me, the whole picture ain't pretty. I've mentioned the extreme heat and vacation; both of these resulted in almost all of my flowers dying, hot-weather weeds dominating the garden, and no more lettuce. Those pics are to come in the next part.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mommy Miracle

I know I've been a horrible blogger lately, and I fully blame summertime fun, new local friends, and busyness in the garden for that. I also know that I will probably jinx myself with this post, but I must commemorate this giant achievement before it passes. 

About a month ago, we made friends with a new-to-the-area family with a little boy just about Joe's age. It has been wonderful to see both boys play together and develop a little toddler friendship. It's even better that I now have someone to trade babysitting with, even though it has been relatively (knock-on-wood) easy to watch both boys at once because they keep each other occupied.

Right now, at this moment, BOTH boys are napping. I know. Insane. Two toddlers down at the same time? Also, they've been napping for over an hour so I have actually gotten WORK DONE. Crazy.

I know as soon as I hit publish they will both wake up, but I feel such a ridiculous sense of accomplishment at having gotten them both down.