Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Discovering a Hidden Treasure

I have recently returned from some quality time in the wilds of northeastern Vermont.  The air smells so fresh, the trees are a vivid green, and the loon calls are still haunting.  I love living out here in Cali, but I must say there really is nothing like New England in the late summer.  It is gorgeous.

My family has a little house on a lake in the middle of nowhere surrounded by woods.  As a kid, I used to point out all the crab apple trees around the place and lament that they were inedible.  However, I don't know where I got the idea that they are crab apples.  In fact, I am pretty sure I just made it up one day after looking at the trees and deciding they didn't look big enough to be proper apples.  It turns out I was completely wrong.

We often refer to the house on the lake as "the farmhouse."  I think I used to assume that was because it's barn red.  But nope.  It's because it actually was a farmhouse before my grandparents bought it fifty-odd years ago, complete with a wooden barn that finally succumbed to the harsh New England winter a few years back.  But do you know what else that farmhouse has? 

Apple trees.  Lots and lots and lots of apple trees.

Those were not crab apples, they were just immature apples growing on wily, untended trees!  For the last several years, my Dad has been out there trying to prune those things into some semblance of order and he seems to be succeeding (despite his mother's admonitions that "you don't prune apple trees in the summer for heaven's sake!").  There's only so much time you can spend in an uninsulated farmhouse during proper apple-pruning season, Gramma. 

When I was up there in August, the fruits looked so good that I lamented the fact that I couldn't return during harvest season to have a grand applesauce-making party.  That's when my Dad laid this little bombshell on me: "You know there's an apple orchard out there in the woods, don't you?"  To which I said, "No, I most certainly do not know there is an apple orchard out there in the woods!"  An apple orchard!  We have an apple orchard!  At the house in Vermont I have visited every year of my life!  Apparently, tucked back in the woods, between the farmhouse and the state road behind it, lies an orchard of about 80 apple trees.  It is so enclosed by native forest (which has this thing about remaining wild and reclaiming land) that you can't see the trees from the road or the house and I went thirty years with no inkling of their existence.

So next year, there is a clear goal for the annual summer trek to the woods.  There will be some serious apple orchard investigating.  We will need to carve a path through the woods and mow/chop/cut/trim all the brush around the trees.  There will be pruning and cutting and more pruning.  But maybe, just maybe, we can bring this apple orchard back from the mists of time and those apples can once again find their way onto the table.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Green Bean Overload

An abundance of Maxibel green beans.
I count at least 17 in this picture alone...

Wow.  And then there were bushels of green beans.  It is truly amazing how much can be produced from a few seeds planted in early summer.  I am literally gathering handfuls of green beans every day now.  This is the first year that I have used drip irrigation (rather than hand watering) and it shows in the bean harvest.  Never before have I been so inundated and it is awesome.  Now I understand why people came up with Dilly Beans - I just never had the volume to preserve before this season.

But what to do with all this bounty?  The easiest thing to do with green beans is steam them and then saute them in butter and lemon juice.  So simple and so tasty.  However, this year I also intend to try grilling them a la DigginFood and to whip up some Frijole Mole as described in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  I must also recreate the dish that was the big hit of last Thanksgiving- garlicky green beans with thyme.  What is even more satisfying about this dish (than the fact that it's delicious) is that I grew the green beans, thyme, lemon and garlic so the only non-MKG ingredients are salt, pepper and olive oil. 

Few things are more satisfying than that.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day August 2011

I have a new favorite plant: California fuchsia.  This lovely low-lying shrub started blooming last month and it is still going gangbusters.  It looks like the flowers just appeared; they really have incredible longevity.  But beyond the fact that they are gorgeous and long-lasting is the fact that three different times last week I glanced out the kitchen window and saw a hummingbird flitting around and partaking of the fuchsia nectar.  Now tell me that's not a great way to start the day: "Oh, good morning, again, little hummingbird!"  Awesome.

In the veggie garden we have the usual suspects lined up: squash, cucumbers, beans, eggplants, peppers, strawberries, tomatoes and artichokes! It's really looking good out there.


Sugar Baby watermelon
Guarded by semi-feral-jungle-housecat

Roc d'Or yellow wax beans

A fabulous cluster of future Sungolds

More roses

Peace rose

Fuchsia, buckwheat, flax and green heads of Sedum Autumn Joy fixin' to bloom

California fuchsia- the botanical hummingbird feeder

Friday, August 12, 2011

Vacation Veggies

Do you ever notice how the garden seems to kick into gear just when you're planning to go out of town?  What do you do about that?

A couple years ago, I decided the harvest needed to join me when I went to visit friends and family back east.  I got one of those soft-sided cooler bags, packed it full of ice in ziplocs, tossed in homemade baba ganoush (one of my favorite eggplant preparations), an assortment of tomatoes, a painted serpent cucumber and I don't even remember what else.  And then a very shocking thing happened... they let me through security!  I definitely thought they would confiscate the ice cubes at least, but they actually let me and my harvest onto the plane without a fuss.  A rare moment of sanity from the good people of the TSA.

This year I plan to leave most of the harvest behind either by stuffing it in my face before I leave, giving it to the pet-sitters, or finding a way to preserve it.  That means blanching and freezing green beans, shredding and freezing zucchini and hoping the eggplants can hang on the plant until I get back.  I am also planning to do a monster zucchini bread mission- it will make a great gift for the pet-sitters and it will travel well with me as I head back east once again.  And you know, it's always nice to have a loaf of zucchini bread kicking around your cabin in the woods.  You never when you'll want a little taste of home.  I was planning.  Now that I need to pack and clean the house and blah blah blah, that zucchini is all going to the pet-sitters.  Thanks, guys, and I hope you're hungry!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Zucchini Love

You may have noticed a lot of mention of zucchini and squash around here.  That's because it's summer time, and few vegetables are as prolific as the humble zuke.  I would definitely recommend zucchini as a starter veggie gardener plant- they tend to just explode with little gardener assistance.  So naturally, those of us with several coming in off the vines each day need to find things to do with them (besides overload all the neighbors and officemates, though that works well).

One of my favorite easy preparations is Zucchini Carpaccio.  It is a salad of raw, marinated zucchini that really lets the zucchini shine.  It makes a wonderful side salad or a great addition to a picnic.  The key is to use small, tender zucchini or squash (easy to do if you grow your own).  That is when they are at their peak of flavor and texture for this dish.  It can also be very pretty if you use a combination of zucchini and yellow squash.

I found the recipe from Martha Stewart several years ago when I first grew my own veggies.  It is super easy and super delicious, just what I am after in a summer recipe.  I haven't looked at that original recipe in years, so here is my go-to take on the original.

Zucchini Carpaccio
Serves 4
adapted from Martha Stewart

4-6 small zucchini or summer squash
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
sea salt
1/4 cup shaved Parmigiano Reggiano

Slice the zucchini into thin rounds (one of these days I will invest in a mandoline) and place in a bowl.  Sprinkle thyme leaves over zucchini.  Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice.  Add salt and toss.  Allow salad to marinate for at least 30 minutes.  Add Parmigiano Reggiano.  Toss and serve.

*Full disclosure - I never measure anything that goes into this salad.  If I were you, I'd take the list of ingredients and just wing it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Green beans, ahoy!

The first Maixbel bean harvest

Yippee!  Not only are the rest of the Sungold cherry tomatoes starting to show some color other than green, but the green beans are here!  They have been flowering for a few weeks but now they are turning into lovely long strings of yum.  Maxibel, a variety of haricot verts, are the first green beans to come in.  They really are long and lovely, kind of like the 90's waify supermodel of the bean family.  The other varieties of beans I planted aren't ready for eating, but judging by the explosion of flowers, they will be soon!

I always get a little intimidated by the season's first harvest of something; I want to be sure I do it justice and make it tasty.  I think these little dudes are destined for a quick blanch and a saute with butter and lemon juice.  Maybe I'll be a little crazy and throw in some garlic and thyme, too, but maybe I'll save that for the next round. 

Man I love eating from the garden.

As an aside, if you happen to go out into your garden in your bathrobe to pick vegetables as I do, you will find that green bean leaves have some sort of magnetic attraction to bathrobes.  They just grab at the sleeves and hang on.  Apparently no harm comes to them if you just gently peel the leaves back off your sleeve, but I must say one could get mighty tangled up in the beans when picking like that.  Note to self- wear a t-shirt next time you dig through the plants for hiding, camouflaged green beans.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I just realized that the Mighty Kitchen Garden Blog has been up and running for 6 months as of today!  I think that calls for a celebration... like a photo of a crazy Aussie art installation. 


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

July 2011 MKG Harvest

Saturday harvest- strawberries, Sungold cherry tomato, Hungarian wax and
Padron peppers, Black Spineless, Cocozelle and Sunburst zucchini

This summer is taking its sweet time getting under way!  Zucchini have appeared on the menu around here, but we're still waiting on the tomatoes (Okay, there has been ONE teeny little Sungold cherry tomato but come on!).  Plenty of little green orbs of future yumminess, they just won't ripen!  My gardener's patience is being tested this year.  At least they have set, they will ripen eventually.

The strawberries have continued to trickle in, a few at a time, along with the first blueberries!  Not enough to make anything from, but it's still nice to pick them in my yard.  The only other times I've picked blueberries are the wild ones up in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.  The raspberries and blackberries seem to want to grow a bit bigger before providing a crop.

The artichoke season has come to an end.  It finally heated up and they started turning into lovely flowers.  I'll be sure to post a picture of them for Bloom Day.  We got a great harvest out of them, though, and they were delicious.

The chard is still going strong (anyone who is hungry should plant chard... this plant won't quit!).  No wonder it's always available at the Farmer's Market.  Unfortunately, the lettuce seeds I planted earlier aren't interested in sprouting.  I'll try again in the fall.

Here is what came out of the Mighty Kitchen Garden in July 2011:

- one bunch chard
- 4 artichokes
- 11 Black Spineless zucchini
- 3 Cocozelle zucchini
- 3 Sunburst squash
- 2 Zephyr squash
- 3 Squash blossoms
- 2 Hungarian yellow wax peppers
- 1 Padron pepper
- 1 Sungold cherry tomato
- 17 strawberries
- 10 blueberries
- 13 Ruby Red Pluots
- a couple Pineapple Guava petals
- 5 lemons
- 37 heads garlic
- plus what the cat-sitters harvested (zucchini/squash, chard and onions)

And how we ate it:

- Zucchini carpaccio
- Zucchini basil flatbread
- Garlic scape pesto
- Sauteed chard with garlic and red pepper flakes
- Grilled marinated zucchini
- Roasted zucchini
- Sauteed squash blossoms stuffed with basil and feta

I hope that your gardens are going strong wherever they are, and you are avoiding the Summer of the Green Tomato that is currently gripping us here in northern California.
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