A little insurance…


“Like a good neighbor…” tonight it wasn’t State Farm, but my garden that was there.

I had planned to make a salad using leftovers, including a giant bag of pre-washed, pre-cut kale.  I’ve resorted to these resource-guzzling bags of greens trucked in from who-knows-where in an effort to keep up our healthy greens intake during the off-season.  I’m so glad THAT is coming to an end.  And hopeful I won’t resort to this next year.

As I poured the kale into the salad bowl I discovered that much of it was rotten and moldy.  Ugh!  Such a waste.  And worse–it was the main feature of my dinner for the night.

Realizing there was nothing to salvage in that bag, I took the whole thing out to the compost and tossed it in.  While out there I glanced over to some lettuce I had put in on a whim last month.  It looked good!  I pulled it out.  Then, I went in the house for a few supplies and came back out to find other things for the salad.

I ended up with a delicious combination of romaine lettuce, baby kale (2 kinds), arugula, chives, radishes and pea tendrils.  This mix was so far superior in flavor and freshness to that sad bag of kale that I immediately realized (once again) how amazing a garden can be.  This was actual green food.  Not some trucked-in greenish food that was picked three weeks ago and put in plastic.

Chives and French breakfast radishes

Chives and French breakfast radishes

(From left to right)  Red Russian kale, Lacinato kale, arugula, pea tendrils, chives, romaine lettuce

(From left to right) Red Russian kale, Lacinato kale, arugula, pea tendrils, chives, romaine lettuce

Because I had a garden, my family ate better tonight than if I had not had one.  Because I had a garden, I did not have to leave my house to go to a store and purchase a new bag of kale.  Because I had a garden, I stopped for an extra moment–outdoors, in the rain no less–and thanked God for the food he was providing.  I’m so thankful to have a garden.

Now, take a look at tonight’s dinner!

The beautiful blend of greens!

The beautiful blend of greens!

Salad with chicken, chickpeas, chives and radishes added.  To the side you can see the homemade ranch dressing.

Salad with chicken, chickpeas, chives and radishes added. To the side you can see the homemade ranch dressing.

You didn’t think I’d forget dessert did you?  I went out in the light drizzle of rain today and happily harvested some rhubarb to make the pie my six year-old had requested.

Rhubarb pie, a perfect sweet-tart end to my garden inspired meal.

Rhubarb pie, a perfect sweet-tart end to my garden inspired meal.

There were a few things I wanted to share regarding tonight’s meal.  The first, is that my kids wanted to play a game in which I told them to look for a certain thing and they would find it and eat it.  So I would say, “Find the arugula!” and they would find one and excitedly hold it up to show me.  They got the idea to do this because I told them there were seven things from the garden in the salad, they wanted to find each one.  For once they were happy that I let them “play” with their food.

Second, the ranch dressing we had tonight was leftover from my son’s first birthday party this past weekend.  It went over BIG TIME with the crowd, so I thought I’d share a link to the recipe with readers in case you were looking for something new to try.

Ina Garten’s Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

There’s even a video of her making the dressing.  Check it out!

And finally, I just want to encourage anyone who may be reading this to try planting  a little something.  You don’t need to have seven things available to go in a salad in order to grow your own food.  One thing in a pot is good too!  In this day and age when we don’t know who grew our food or where it was grown, there truly is insurance in knowing that you grew something–anything.  It’s good practice to plant something if you can.  So, give it a try this season.  And may God bless your garden!

Photos from the first week of May.


Peas... I crowded them in there on purpose so we could snack on the pea tendrils.

Peas… I crowded them in there on purpose so we could snack on the pea tendrils.

Tomato seedlings, first day outdoors.

Tomato seedlings, first day outdoors.

Chives are in and we've been eating them.

Chives are in and we’ve been eating them.

Herb garden in foreground and veggies in the back.

Herb garden in foreground and veggies in the back.

This raised bed is planted with strawberries, walking onions, red onions, leeks, fennel, three kinds of kale and nasturtiums--so far!  Much more to come.

This raised bed is planted with strawberries, walking onions, red onions, leeks, fennel, three kinds of kale and nasturtiums–so far! Much more to come.

Raspberries on their way up.

Raspberries on their way up.

The raspberries have filled in their spot nicely this year.

The raspberries have filled in their spot nicely this year.

Mint is starting to grow back.  I was able to harvest some for my Derby Day mint julep.

Mint is starting to grow back. I was able to harvest some for my Derby Day mint julep.

Close up of the mint.

Close up of the mint.

Radishes and swiss chard.

Radishes and swiss chard.

Celeriac (celery root).

Celeriac (celery root).

Here is the garlic.  It seems to me that several cloves did not grow.

Here is the garlic. It seems to me that several cloves did not grow.

A new development involving some buckets.  I'll keep you posted!

A new development involving some buckets. I’ll keep you posted!

Rhubarb is filling in.

Rhubarb is filling in.

I love the color of the rhubarb stalks.

I love the color of the rhubarb stalks.

The dwarf meyer lemon tree is doing better than ever and sporting several lemons.  I didn't even count them, there were so many!

The dwarf meyer lemon tree is doing better than ever and sporting several lemons. I didn’t even count them, there were so many!

Robins have returned to my honeysuckle trellis and here are their eggs!

Robins have returned to my honeysuckle trellis and here are their eggs!

 

Please note: I realize all of these photos have a smudge on them.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it until it was too late.  This is what happens when you let your kids use the camera!  I should also mention that some of the photos at the time of publishing appear to be the wrong way.  I’m working on it, and it may be that as you view it they will already be corrected… I’m not sure what is wrong on my end since all looks to be right.

Leaves & Shoots: A tale of basement gardening success.


It may not be the coldest March on record, but it’s starting to feel like the longest.  At least here in Wisconsin, where I haven’t seen the grass since February.  And the sun, haven’t seen much of that either.

But I can’t complain too much.  You see, despite frightful cold and lingering snow, I’ve been gardening.  Not outside like last year, when record warmth allowed peas and radishes to go in the ground in March.  No, this year I’ve got a basement garden up and running.

I started it back in January so that I could grow wheatgrass for juicing.  That was so successful that I thought I might expand into lettuces.  Success again!  And now that it’s March I have my garden starts growing under the lights too.

This is the only grass to be found at my house.

This is the only grass to be found at my house.

Has wheatgrass been the key to staying healthy this winter?  Hmmm...

Has wheatgrass been the key to staying healthy this winter? Hmmm…

I’m having so much fun experimenting with this.  My setup is simple–two grow lights hung from the rafters and heat mats below.   The lights are on a timer system, so they come on and shut off automatically.  I just have to make sure everything has enough water.

Basement gardening.  Our basement is typically 55 degrees in the winter, but the heat mats and lights make it warm enough for germination.

Basement gardening. Our basement is typically 55 degrees in the winter, but the heat mats and lights make it warm enough for germination.

You should know that I have no idea what I’m doing, I’ve never done this before and I did basically no research before setting it up.  But it’s working!  And I’m pretty excited about it.

Last week I enjoyed my first salad from the basement and today I had another for my dinner.  Because I planted a whole tray of “cut and come again” leaf lettuce, I’ll get to enjoy 3 or 4 more salads at least.  And by the time I eat the last salad, I should be able to do some potted lettuces outside.  In fact, the spinach that I overwintered will likely be producing by then.  (Fingers crossed!)

Lettuces under the lights.

Lettuces under the lights.

The lights stay on for 12 hours a day.

The lights stay on for 12 hours a day.

I brought the lettuce up to a sunny spot today before cutting for dinner.

I brought the lettuce up to a sunny spot today before cutting for dinner.

This is probably enough light to keep them up here... if only we had sun like this every day.

This is probably enough light to keep them up here… if only we had sun like this every day.

Tray after cutting of lettuce.  Now it will return to the basement or sit next to the patio door and grow more lettuce leaves.

Tray after cutting of lettuce. Now it will return to the basement or sit next to the patio door and grow more lettuce leaves.

Lettuce ready to be dressed for dinner.

Lettuce ready to be dressed for dinner.

Tomatoes and other veggie starts easily germinate under these ideal conditions.

Tomatoes and other veggie starts easily germinate under these ideal conditions.

I have also started some herbs with the intent of growing them in a pot in the house.  In addition to that, my kids planted some peas in take out containers so that we can add pea shoots to our salads.

I’m not going to let this miserably cold weather stop me from enjoying my hobby.  I’ve just had to find different ways to grow while I wait out winter.

Pickled Beets


This post is part of my REWIND series!  Pretend it’s July and enjoy.  🙂

It’s been 99 in the shade here all week.  So much heat and humidity has caused the garden to either accelerate growth (as in bolting lettuces) or decelerate growth (like the leeks that would prefer cooler temps).

Beets fresh from the garden and ready for the royal treatment.

Beets fresh from the garden and ready for the royal treatment.

I had noticed that my beets were just the right size for harvesting, and since the heat was doing them no good I pulled them out yesterday and did some pickling. It might seem counter intuitive to boil a huge vat of water on a 99 degree day, but  when the produce is ready it’s time to can–regardless of the weather.  It’s on days like this that I’m thankful for central air!  I’m not sure how our ancestors processed all their food in this heat.

I used a recipe from an older canning book, it didn’t tell me how many pounds of beets I would need or how long to boil the syrup.  Hopefully I guessed correctly!

I used this old recipe and it turned out to be delicious.

I used this old recipe and it turned out to be delicious.

The beets needed to be boiled then peeled.  Most I kept whole, although there were some larger ones that I cut in half before placing into jars.

Cooked and peeled beets.

Cooked and peeled beets.

I truly enjoy food projects.  Working with food makes me happy and I love to think about the time when we will open up the jar and enjoy those beets in the future.  I feel like I’m really participating in the feeding of my family in a completely hands-on way.

As I worked with the beets I admired their deep red color.  So much nutrition packed into those jewel-toned beauties.  Growing beets has been a fun and easy, gratifying experience.

This was an easy and rewarding project.

This was an easy and rewarding project.

[And now a word from present day me, January 2013.]  The final product was enjoyed with a few meals and shared with a special friend.  These beets had that old-fashioned taste I had hoped for, and the spices gave them a bit of a holiday flair.  I only wish I had more than four jars because they are already gone!  I will definitely be canning beets again this year.

Jars of pickled beets all ready for storage and gifting.

Jars of pickled beets all ready for storage and gifting.

REWIND: Posts I wrote but never published!


It’s time to back up the bus and take a trip back into 2012.  It was a year in which I had my third baby in March and spent a significant amount of time tending to my family’s needs.  I was often pulled away from the computer.  There were so many posts I started writing and was never able to finish.

Well, January 2013 is here and with it comes a (few) spare minutes for blogging.  It helps that my baby now takes a nice nap during the day and doesn’t need to be nursed around the clock as has been the case for the last 10 months.

There were so many unpublished gems last year.  I’m just going to finish them up and post them as I have time.  So you may be reading about the heat of summer while it’s snowing outside… but hey–that might be a good thing!

Video

Favorite Garden Photos


I was inspired to create this video while looking back through my garden photos from the past three years. Set to “How Great Thou Art” and “In the Garden”, here are most of my favorite photos I’ve taken in my garden. Compiled this way, it’s amazing to see the color, texture and beauty of God’s creation. And this is just one little back yard.

Christmas Leeks


christmas8

Just because it’s December doesn’t mean gardening season is completely shut down.  At this very moment there are leeks in my garden awaiting their most honorable duty of becoming part of our annual ravioli tradition.

When we started a family six years ago, my husband and I wanted to establish some traditions of our own.  He had the great idea of making homemade ravioli on Christmas Eve.  I took the idea and ran with it!  I had never made pasta before, so this seemed like a great challenge.  I’m happy to say that in six years I’ve become a competent pasta maker, and we’ve successfully established this tradition in our home.  It’s something we all look forward to each year.

I’ve found that Lidia Bastianich’s recipe works well for us, so that has become our “official” Christmas Eve recipe.  It’s a basic fresh egg pasta dough with a leek-spinach-ricotta filling.  This fits the bill, because the days that follow Christmas Eve are filled with indulgent foods.  The Christmas Eve ravioli feels light and appropriate just before a major feasting season.

Planning for the ravioli begins in March when I plant leek seeds.  It’s at this time that I choose a location for them, some place they can take root and hang out for  nearly 10 months.  As the season rolls along, I harvest the smaller leeks leaving the best for Christmas.  When the weather is mild, they can stay in all the way until the day I make the filling.  This year they’ve made it the whole year!

Leeks started back in March are ready for their Christmas harvest.  We've had a mild November and December so they've stayed green and happy.

Leeks started back in March are ready for their Christmas harvest. We’ve had a mild November and December so they’ve stayed green and happy.

In September I also plant spinach with the intention of using it in the ravioli as well.  This year it has worked out.  I may supplement with some store-bought spinach as well, but the garden will provide at least some of the required amount.

My daughter watering our spinach on December 15th.  We are still harvesting a few things even this late in the season.

My daughter watering our spinach on December 15th. We are still harvesting a few things even this late in the season.

The tomato sauce for our Christmas ravioli will also feature rosemary from my potted plant.  When temperatures are warm and the sun is out, I take my rosemary outside to sunbathe.  When the “weather outside is frightful” the rosemary huddles near the window in the house.  We may not have a real Christmas tree, but we can enjoy the scent of our rosemary plant during these darker months.

How rewarding to sit down to Christmas Eve dinner and see the fruits (or veggies and herbs?) of my labor before me.  There is so much to be thankful for, but at mealtime I’m most thankful for the abundance which God provides in so many ways.  Our table is always full.

This Christmas I’m thanking God for the many blessings He’s provided through our garden, but also through my husband’s job, our friends and family, and the many other channels He uses.  I’m continually amazed at how our needs our met, and thankful.  Praise God for earthly and heavenly blessings this holiday!  And praise God for leeks, planted in March which grace our December table.


Angela's Gracious Garden

“Wake up now, look alive, for here is a day off work just to praise Creation: the turkey, the squash, and the corn, these things that ate and drank sunshine, grass, mud and rain, and then in the shortening days laid down their lives for our welfare and onward resolve. There’s the miracle for you, the absolute sacrifice that still holds back seeds: a germ of promise to do the whole thing again, another time.”

Barbara Kingslover,  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Thanksgiving celebrates the bounty of the growing season and provides a special day to offer thanks for the many other blessings in our lives.  What a perfect combination:  food from the garden and thankful hearts!

No matter where our food came from–the grocery store shelves or the organic farm, or perhaps our own backyard–Thanksgiving is the perfect time to pause and reflect on the growing season from start to end. …

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Hello October


One look at the farmer’s market this past week and you know that harvest time is upon us.  Besides the crowds of people who have suddenly descended upon the market (where are these people in June?), there are truckloads and tables full of the colorful produce of fall.  Here are some things I picked up this week at the farmer’s market:

Farmer’s market fare.

My own garden continues to provide us with fresh food.  Lettuce is back thanks to cooler temperatures.  Herbs continue to grow.  Leeks, potatoes, fennel, radicchio, swiss chard, kale and tomatoes have been gracing our table recently.

My kids have been out picking each raspberry as it ripens.  Every day they charge out the door shouting about who is going to eat the raspberries.  It will be nice next year when the plant is bigger and there will be more berries!

I’ve taken some photos during the last several weeks.  Here they are.

Here is some of the radicchio I grew this year. This was grilled and served with an anchovy dressing. Those little oily fishes are good for you!

Washing leeks. These leeks were used in homemade ravioli with a swiss chard and leek filling.

Spotted from our garden: a bright and beautiful remind of God’s love for us! This rainbow was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Look carefully and you’ll see the double rainbow above it.

My mother-in-law made basil jelly, which didn’t quite set right and was more like basil syrup. Turns out basil syrup makes a fantastic mojito!

I’m trying a new source for garlic this year. Seems more and more people are growing garlic lately–the first two sources I tried were sold out. Green Mountain had a nice variety.

Here is the garlic I will be planting in two weeks.

Yes, this is the little lemon tree that could! We were ready to send this thing to the compost earlier this year when it once again dropped all it’s leaves and blossoms and looked generally unhealthy. Instead we parked it on this spot and ignored it all summer. Lo and behold it prefers neglect. Healthier than ever. Now if we could only get it to grow a lemon…

Big bowl of kale chips. Our kale continues to be very productive. Thank goodness, because my kids (and husband) love these crunchy, salty kale chips. We’ve also used kale recently in soup and pizza.

Prepping for Pesto


For many years I’ve wanted to purchase the BIG olive oil.  But I could never really justify it.  Until now!

With five family members and a garden full of green stuff, it’s finally time for the big olive oil at our house.  This week I bought it in anticipation of making pesto.  While the basil in my garden isn’t quite ready to be picked yet, the arugula is going gangbusters and with the upcoming hot forecast it’s destined to bolt soon.

Since I was prepped for pesto-making, it was easy to throw together some arugula walnut pesto for my freezer this morning in between other household chores.

I’m at a point where I don’t use a recipe, but if you are looking for a starting point here are some measurements:

4 cups packed arugula leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Start food processor and drop in garlic cloves.  Once chopped, turn off processor, add arugula, walnuts, salt and pepper.  Process a bit, then while leaving processor on, stream in olive oil slowly.  Continue processing until it reaches a nice saucy consistency.

I do not put cheese in pesto I intend to freeze.  It’s nicer to add the cheese later when using the pesto.  That way the cheese is fresh and I can customize the amount depending on how I’m using the pesto.

Pesto freezes nicely in small serving size containers.

Many sources will tell you to freeze pesto in ice-cube trays.   If this works for you, fine.  But I find that it’s hard to remove them from the trays and it makes my ice-cube trays smell like pesto.  Not good when I need to chill my lemonade.  The serving size containers are so much easier to work with.  They sell small and even very small sizes of these containers, perfect for pesto.  I will never go back to the ice-cube tray method again.  (Just thought you’d like to know!)

Pesto can be pricey.  To save money it’s possible to substitute a more affordable nut, as I did with my arugula pesto.  The traditional pesto nut is a pine nut.  These are delicious and I do use them, especially with a basil pesto.  But it’s fun to experiment with other nuts and the results are almost always delicious.

I also save money by adding cheese later.  Sometimes I don’t even add cheese since it’s yummy without.  Or I will just put cheese over a dish made with pesto, such as sprinkled over pasta or a pizza made with pesto sauce.  Don’t try to save money by using the green can of Parmesan in pesto.  Always use a real wedge of cheese (domestic is fine, imported is divine) and grate it yourself.

And of course, the number one money-saver idea I can offer is to grow your ingredients yourself.  Basil (and arugula) are very easy to grow in a backyard garden or in pots.  You can grow a large amount and really stock up the freezer for the winter.  Parsley, mint and cilantro can also be used for making pesto…. each has its own unique flavor.