Friday, July 30, 2010

What a Haul!

I harvested my first watermelon yesterday...unfortunately, it was not ripe when I cut into it.  How do I know when they are done?  It was close, it was turning red on the inside, but a lot was still white.  I guess I am going to have to let the vine dry up more before I pick them.

I also did my first tomato harvest.  We were gone near Chicago for 4 days, and I had no red tomatoes, with the exception of a few cherry tomatoes before we left.  When I came home, I found several large red tomatoes.  You can see some of them are quite big.  I think these are brandywine and cherokee purple.  I pick mine if they are more than halfway ripe, and let them finish inside, because if I leave them on the vine, it never fails, some bug eats them, or I get busy and then they rot. 

These are the la roma II hybrids that I got from my friend Erin.  I didn't know they were going to be so stripey and attractive.  They are extremely meaty. 

I love this view down into the basket.  It is so beautiful seeing all the shapes and colors of tomatoes.  Dh laughs at me for thinking produce is so lovely. 

More tomatoes, onions, a couple peppers and more monster zucchini.  I have a whole day of zucchini shredding ahead of me I think. 

While I was gone, my cucumber vines got so heavy that they pulled down the entire trellis.  I had to stand it back up and hammer these black stakes into the ground to hold it up.  I hope all these vines make lots of cucumbers! 

Is your garden producing like you hoped this summer?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Our Day at the Zoo

A note- Some of these pictures were taken by my son...some contain my son...see if you can tell which ones my son took. Also, there is a warning about one of the shots...we didn't realize certain parts of animal anatomy would be so 'obvious' when we brought the pictures up on the computer. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Garden Update - Full-On Summer

Well, I know it is full-on summer here in Iowa. One reason I know this is because the hibiscus are in bloom!  Hardy hibiscus is my favorite perennial.  To me, no other plant blooms so long, so big, so beautifully as this.  You can see that I have several.  I am planning a post soon just about hibiscus.  I was surprised to see that the pink blooms are actually the size of dinner plates!

The plants are HUGE this year, and they got moved in April.  I can't imagine what they will be like next year after having a whole year to get settled in. 

Many other flowers and vegetables are taking, cucumbers, green beans, and pattypan squash are bursting out of their beds.

Another blessing, and a problem, are the tomatoes.  I have a little rat maze tunnel that I follow around in there to get to all the tomato plants.  Only the cherry tomatoes are turning red now so far, with the exception of a couple volunteer tomatoes.  The plants are all almost as tall as me, and it is a little intimidating to be in there sometimes.  The squash has gone totally nuts, and it is trying to grow through the tomatoes, which is dragging them down.  I am torn between wanting to have lots of pumpkins and needing my tomatoes to be vertical so I can get in between them.  I have been cutting pieces out here and there just so I can keep a path open.

The lilies continue to bloom...they have been blooming straight since early June.

Soon I will have spaghetti squash to eat.  I have at least 10 of these little squash babies growing along the fence.  I will be lucky if the fence isn't dragged down the to the ground by the weight of all of them.

Here is another adorable pumpkin, about the size of a football.  I don't actually remember which kind this is.

I love this view into the garden on the spring end.  The lacinto kale looks lovely with the setting sun behind it.

The view from the northeast corner. I am kind of learning to love the messy, natural, wildness of it all.

This is the best year I have ever had for zinnias.  Sometimes I go out and look at each individual flower.  Each one is unique and stunning.  They have been attracting tons of hummingbirds and monarch butterflies every day. 

This is my latest project...putting wine bottles around my new lily section in the front yard.  The hardest part is getting the labels off the bottles.  I swear, I didn't drink all that wine all at once!  I will have to start drinking more wine, however, so I can do this border in other parts of my yard. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Stuffed Bell Peppers

I decided to make stuffed peppers for dinner, even though I knew it probably meant a battle with my 7 year old.  He eats a great variety of food, but he really doesn't like the texture of many cooked vegetables.  He will eat raw onions and bell peppers, spinach even, but cook any of those and he turns up his nose.  Still, I keep trying, because most people don't care for raw stuffed bell peppers and cooked veggies are delicious!  I did several colors to try and catch his interest.  I knew he wouldn't like the green ones.  I cut off the tops and removed the membranes, then set them to cook until tender in boiling water.  I love the steamy look. 

This isn't the greatest picture, but this shows the finished filling.  I start my rice first, because I don't do instant rice anymore. The rice cooker takes a while, so it is first on the list.  Then I browned lean ground beef in the skillet.  I mixed in a large can of plain tomato sauce, some oregano and salt to taste, and several large shakes of Wahoo chili seasoning from tastefully simple.  Then I got out a jar of pasta sauce, I used a garlic tomato sauce, and mixed about a third in with the rice and meat. 

I took the cooked peppers out with tongs, and placed them in the baking dish, on top of another third of  the jar of sauce.  I used a spoon to fill each of the peppers with the stuffing.  I sprinkle each pepper with shredded mozzarella cheese and top with the last of the sauce.  The peppers go into the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling.  Cool and serve!

This makes fantastic leftovers if you don't eat them all the first night.  As predicted, my son did not care for the pepper taste.  He did like the filling, and ate most of it.  I convinced him to eat some of the pepper because he wouldn't get his dessert if he didn't.  ;)

Digging through my cheese drawer for the appropriate cheese, I just thought it would be fun to share.  I never had a fridge with a cheese drawer before, and you can see that we do like cheese.  I have not had any problem filling this part of my fridge. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese

While watching wedding shows the other day, I saw the most fantastic preparation of roasted beets and goat cheese...looking at it made my mouth water.  Now, I have never been a beet person...but the beets I have had are the ones that came in cans from the store.  No wonder I didn't like them.  After trying this recipe, I don't think I will ever make beets any other way than by roasting them.  I started out by scrubbing the beets and cutting the greens and bottom tip off.   I used chioggia beets, but any kind will work.  I laid a piece of foil down on a cookie sheet, and poured a little olive oil onto it. 

I put the clean beets into the oil, rolled them around a little bit, and then covered them with another piece of foil.  Then I scrunched the edges together like this.  I put them in the oven at 350 degrees.  I let them roast for about an hour and fifteen minutes. 

I made sure they were done by sticking a knife into the center of each one.  If it went in easily, I knew they were ready to go.  I could hear the beets sizzling in the oil the whole time they cooked, and the smell was fantastic!

I let them cool a little bit, then pulled the skins off.  After roasting, their jackets just peel right off easily.  I cut them into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices and set to the side.  In a skillet, I mixed 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar.  You could also use rice wine vinegar.  I stirred the mixture and heated until it was bubbling nicely.  I put the beet slices in and cooked them for a couple of minutes on each side at a low simmer.  I took them out and put them on a paper towel to soak up the extra liquid. 

I didn't get a good picture of the next step.  My intention was to cut the goat cheese into circular slices and stack them with the beets.  However, the cheese I got was too soft to slice, it must have been more the spreading kind.  I made it work, but if you want to try pretty stacks, get a somewhat more solid goat cheese.  Mine turned out to be little chunks, but I heated them for a little bit in a skillet with just a touch of olive oil.  You could grill them lightly if you had slices.  I put the beets on a plate, and topped with the just melting goat cheese chunks. 

I sprinkled a little bit of chunky salt over the top and then finished with some baby greens.  I used gala mache, but any kind would work. Then it was done, and I ate the whole thing.  You could roast many more beets if you were making this dish to share...I only made a few because I was eating it by myself as my lunch.  I couldn't convince my son to try this, but he doesn't like a lot of cheese.  I am going to try and get him to eat the beets on their own with dinner sometime.  Whether this was stacked or not, it was absolutely delicious!  I bet it would have been great with a glass of red wine.

On a side note, this is my latest kitchen purchase.  This kitchen scale will weigh up to 22 lbs.  I am looking forward to weighing the produce that comes out of my garden from now on.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Tale of Two Birthdays, Some Slippin' and Slidin'

All of our three combined children have their birthdays in the span of two months.  Two of them are within two weeks of each other.  We usually have the family party for my son and stepdaughter at the same time.  This year, my son wanted to do SpongeBob for a theme. 

For some reason, I have a tradition of making at least one flag item for the party.  I guess it is probably because their birthdays straddle the fourth of July.  Usually it is a dessert, but this year I made a flag taco salad. 

All the kids flocked to the strawberries first, of course, which I guess is a good thing. They love fruit and veggies. 

My stepdaughter got the entire Twilight series as her main present.  Her response was "Woooooooh!"

Here my son is showing off his gladiator style foam sticks.  I expect he will be beating the heck out of his stepbrother on a regular basis. 

One of my son's presents was a slip and slide.  The day after the party, it was hot, so we hooked it up for the kids to try it out. 

After they tired of sliding down the slip and slide, they got out their squirters and proceeded to wage war.

I just had to keep them from squirting me with the camera!

Here is a video of the kids running and doing their best slides.  I remember slip and slides being torture devices when I was a kid.  It seems a little better now, but it still looks painful to me. They seem to be having fun though. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Month of Extremes

This month has been a hard month for gardening.  The first 3 weeks of the month it rained 6 days out of every 7.  There was so much rain it was very hard for me to get out and do much in the yard.  No matter, I was incredibly busy. School ended, my dad came to visit for the better part of a week, and I taught vacation bible school for a week.  The last week of the month there were 90 degree temps and no rain for almost a whole week.  Unfortunately, this was the time that dh and I took off for a vacation in Indianapolis with our police car club.  The neighbor kindly helped me out by watering my containers a few times, but I really should have been watering every single day.  I am lucky that they helped me so things didn't completely die.  You can see only 1 of the nasturtiums in the bottom of my brugmansia is doing well.  2 died completely, and one is marginal. 

Here are some nasturtiums in the tippy pot planters.  They are doing okay, in spite of the dry weather, but they've got a long way to go before they are spilling out all over the place.  I am going to try fertilizing this week and see if that helps. 

The spitfires that I put in front of the gate are doing well, but they are having trouble competing with the ornamental kale that I planted in front of them.  Where is the gate, you may ask?  Well, it is sitting right next to the flower bed, the person who gave it to me suddenly decided they wanted it back, even though all they are going to do is dump it in a corner and do nothing with it.  Ask me how I feel about THAT.... Moving on, I was hoping the nasturtium would feel inspired to climb up this trellis instead. 

To help it along, I yanked out the back leaves of the kale, so the spitfire could get some more sunlight.

You can see the extreme heat after the excessive rain really made some stuff explode while I was gone.  This bed is cucumbers, green beans, and scallop squash in the back section.  With a few sunflowers, it is looking pretty lush.  I am going to have to tame some of the cucumbers and squash so it doesn't try to spread out into the flowers.

I am impressed with how well these cucumbers are doing. If it fruits out as well as it is flowering, I am going to have tons of cucumbers.

One of my special, locally hybridized lilies bloomed.  It looked just stunning, even dripping with the rain we had all day today. 

I guess I am guilty of nasticide.  These are some leftover nasties I spitfire, these are 2 of the other kinds...I hadn't done anything with them yet.  I guess they didn't get watered much while I was gone, they are mostly beyond help. 

In my front planter I have my first spitfire blooms.  I love the color, it is so vibrant.  This plant needs a little fertilizer as well, it is a little sparse yet.

These are some of the starts I got at the master gardener sale.  You can see it has many little yellow flowers...and something has been picking at it, but it is sending little snakes out all over the place.  In spite of the mini-drought, it doesn't look too bad. 

I have a birthday party to plan, a wedding shower to plan, a wedding to be in (not mine), but other than that, this month should have more time for cooking and gardening.  I am looking forward to eating some delicious nasturtium recipes during the month of July.  Have you had much experience with fertilizing nasturtiums?  I really want my foliage to fill out, so I am going to try it.  I would like to hear about your experiences. 

"I'm growing Nasturtium "Spitfire" for the GROW project. Thanks, to Renee's Garden for the seeds."
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