Pollinator Week: The Workhorse Wasp

Maybe this dude isn’t pollinating 15 floors up in the rain, but in the garden, yes. Wasps of all sizes are the main pollinators I see in my vegetable garden. I have my fair share of bees, butterflies, and moths as well, but wasps do double duty in the garden. Not only are they pollinators, but Braconid wasps will lay their eggs on hornworms and when they hatch, the larvae feed on the worm killing it. Instant pest control. And that is just one example of the over 200 possible pests that parasitic wasps control in a garden. Boom.

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Meatless Monday & Friends with Benefits

Tonight, I made a simple meatless meal–an open-faced egg sandwich. Yes, it was absolutely delicious, but the best part about it was that almost all of it was created with handmade products from friends. I’ve scored big time with homegrown/made gifts in the last couple of weeks. The season of giving apparently started early and I took full advantage of those benefits tonight.

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The bread is what my friends and I like call “tail bread” because one time an otherwise rustic-round loaf my friend made had a small, protruding piece that looked like a tail. I don’t know how she does it, but this bread is always spot-on with the flavor, crust, and crumb. I like to toast it on my cast iron griddle with a butter and olive oil combo.

Once the slices were toasted, I topped them with thin layer of Duke’s Mayo and then the most scrumptious zucchini relish ever. This relish and the dill pickle spear were made by another friend who grew the zucchini and cucumbers. Whenever I get my hands on a jar of this relish, I eat it every single day until it is gone. It pairs perfectly with the bread and over easy eggs, which I put on top with a handful of sliced, cherry tomatoes from my fall garden, a sprinkling of pecorino cheese, and then another friend-crafted delight–pickled jalapeños. The heat from the peppers she grew herself is balanced by a tiny hint of sweet from a dash of sugar in the pickling recipe. Absolutely delectable.

Again, this was a very simple meatless meal, but the fact that my friends shared their hard work and talent with me made it so much tastier than any ol’ regular egg sandwich. I have some seriously talented friends and I’m lucky to have them in my life. Not only do I enjoy the fruits of their labors–from breads and honey to vanilla extract and candles–but I also like to learn from them and share what I am able. My lovely friends with benefits.

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Although this was a meatless meal, it was enjoyed with the scent of bacon in the air. Another crafty friend sent me an all natural, soy-based Bacon-scented candle! It smells heavenly.

Today may be Meatless Monday, but I’m already thinking about my next baking adventure. I’m thinking it’s going to be a meat pie. MEAT PIE, Y’ALL.

Hawk Moths, Eggshells, and a Super Harvest Moon

I slept. I actually slept until 8:34 this morning. This is a fall miracle. The weather broke yesterday and I was able to open the windows and let the cool night air engulf my room last night. Fresh air and the sounds of nature in the night lulled me into the best rest I’ve had in months. Finally.

I woke up to the usual lovefest from my girls, Ruby and Frita. They start every morning giving and getting attention before we get out of bed. It’s their way of saying, “good morning, ma!” and I have to admit there’s no way to begin the day without a smile because of their routine. Once up, I made some coffee and went out to the back deck for some garden contemplation time. Today was my first day of seed planting, so I needed to have some sort of plan in my mind for the layout before getting started.

The coolness of the night was lingering and the hawk moths were everywhere. Flitting from flower to flower, faux hummingbirds of the insect world, they drank from the pink pentas, purple buddleia, and blue salvia alongside the Zebra Longwings and Giant Swallowtails. Big bumblebees zoomed in and sampled from the zinnias and horsemint on the breakfast buffet. The garden was teeming with activity and I was roused by it.

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With my first stack of seeds to plant, I was ready with a plan based on soil and sun exposure. Then I actually took the time to read the planting directions on the seed packets and realized I needed to soak the beet and chard for best performance, so I started those to soaking in some Moo Poo Tea. The radishes and carrots would be planted in the lower part of the yard where the sun is strong most of the day and the soil is rich and evenly moist. As root crops, I thought those would be the best conditions for their growth and flavor. The kale would do fine up at the top of the garden with a little less sun.

I set to work taking back that portion of the garden from the summer weeds that had taken over. As it usually happens when weeding, I just kept going and ended up cleaning out a much larger area than I needed for today’s planting. I also decided to move a few perennials while I was at it and before I knew it, I had completely forgotten my original task.

wpid-wp-1443300084948.jpgWorking my way around, I noticed that a few of the cabbages I planted the previous week had holes in their leaves. Chew holes. CABBAGE WORMS. They found it already? Dammit.

Luckily, I have been saving eggshells and was ready for this nonsense. I decided to take a break and prepare my organic cabbage worm (or maybe slug) defense–crushed eggshells. Not only are the sharp eggshells brutal on the soft bodies of worms and slugs, they do double duty as a beneficial nutrient by adding calcium to the soil.wpid-wp-1443300092215.jpg

A few quick pulses in the food processor and I had my organic, coarsely-ground pest death. I bagged it up and went back out to heavy hand it around the starter plants. I went ahead and encircled the broccoli plants as well. Even though they did not have any chew holes yet, I knew they were on the list of delectable delights that those pests liked.

Broccoli and cabbage plants surrounded in safety, it was time to get back to the seed beds. First, I lightly hand-tilled some mushroom compost into the top layer of loosened soil. Then I spread the seeds, sprinkled more of the eggshell bits on top, and covered with a thin layer of pine straw–just enough to protect the soil from washing away when watering or in the rain. Watered everything in and put a few pruned rose branches around the seeds to keep critters out. Once I see those little seeds sprout, I will hit them with Moo Poo Tea to get their root systems going strong.

With the weeds eradicated, perennials relocated, and seed beds planted, it was time to relax on the back deck once again and appreciate the changed view. In the weekends ahead, I will be adding more and more. Remember, I went a bit overboard when buying seeds this year, so I still have a lot of work ahead of me. Some of the areas will have to wait until my fall tomatoes are done and other spots will open up as perennials and larger deciduous plants lose their leaves, allowing the sun in. I will also do subsequent rounds of the root crops so they aren’t all ready at the same time.

Overall, it was a productive day in the garden and my timing could not have been more perfect. We are supposed to be getting a few days of rain coming up and nothing is better than rain for those transplants and seeds. Also, I have done some research on gardening by the phases of the moon and with tomorrow night’s super harvest moon and total eclipse, I am interested to see how this round does compared to the ones I will plant in the next few weeks/months. I’m keeping notes this year.

Let me know your experiences with gardening by the phases of the moon and don’t forget to go outside and look up tomorrow night if you have clear skies!

 

 

Painting, Pressuring, and Pulling: A Laborious Weekend

Whew. The weekend is over and I’m almost looking forward to going back to work to get a physical break. Instead of heading to the beach or mountains or just relaxing in town, I somehow thought it would be a great idea to take on multiple home projects all at once. Brilliant.

Last weekend I started painting the bedrooms in my house. I’ve had the same grey throughout all of the house for about four years now. The color was an attempt to neutralize and unify the house after a rough patch in life. It worked well, but lately I’ve been ready to reinvigorate my surroundings to bring on more creativity. It was time to put color back on the palette.

Painting, like pie making, is another activity on my therapeutic list. There’s just something about covering over a past decision with something vibrant and new, but knowing that old decision is still under there as a base for your present.

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For one of the rooms, I wanted a purple. I’ve always adored the different shades of this royal color found in vegetables and flowers, but finding one for the walls is a different story. Purples can be difficult. They tend to either end up looking like you splattered Grimace on your walls or they dull out to a hideous mauve, reminiscent of polyester suits and rose perfume–brutal. This purple is neither. It is a plum with just enough brown in it to not be child’s play, but not too much to be old lady. The effect is at the same time relaxing and refreshing.

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For the guest room, which is really more of my library, I wanted
blue. Again, blues can be tricky. There are so many moods of blues. I didn’t want the beach-theme blue nor the cornflower boringness found alongside rooms of burgundy and emerald greens. I wanted something with depth and, again, to rouse the creativity beast inside me. Found it and it’s a perfectly dark, bluish-green that creates a cozy nook, but also gives an expansive feeling like looking out at the Blue Ridge mountains at twilight.

I realized after moving artwork back into both rooms, that the color choices may have already been made for me. Everything is fitting back in naturally and with a renewed beauty.

Next up for the weekend was pressure washing the massive deck. Well, decks, but I only got to one this weekend. The front deck runs the length of my house and is half as wide. My house being quite small, this is the compensation. A big deck. Yep.

So anyway, my big ol’ deck had become a hazard–a veritable adult slip-n-slide. Or maybe more like unexpected ice skating. Either way, it had to be rectified. After hours of work, and even some enlisted help, it still wasn’t finished. As with most things I get involved in, there was a hitch. By the time the hitch was fixed, I was caput. The difference on what was accomplished is shocking though and it is actually safe to walk on now. Pro=tip:  don’t wait two years in Florida to pressure wash your decks.

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Before. During. After.

Then there was the garden. While my unpaid labor worked on the deck, I took on the yard. Cut the grass and then doused myself in bug spray and ventured into the vegetable garden that was overgrown with summer weeds, basil gone to seed, six-foot eggplant plants, and ‘Black & Blue’ salvia slowing marching ahead consuming everything in its path. I got out my tools–hand shovel, hand weeder, clippers–and proceeded to use none of them. Instead I used my glove free hands, as usual. I have to admit loving the feel of dirt under my nails. I will never have nice fingernails and I’m good with that.

11891182_10153520472232310_7267114819877121211_nScooting along in the dirt, I wrangled that garden back into shape and it’s now ready for fall seed planting next weekend. I will also be adding broccolis, cabbages, spinach, and herbs from starter plants in another few weeks. Violas, snapdragons, calendula, and nasturtiums will be included as edible flowers and to attract more pollinators.

Finally, the weekend of chores had come to a halt. I was sweat and dirt covered, stinking of bug spray, and ready to just sit back and look at all my hard work. Although a long weekend at the beach would have been glorious, even with an achy back and numb hands, I feel really good about the labors of accomplishing so much and seeing the results.

And now I’m going to wrap this Labor Day night up with a cup of chamomile, a fresh out of the oven cookie, a comfy chair, and the words of Jeanette Winterson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not. Even. Once. …instant eggplant addiction happens.

Pretty sure I just accidentally cooked meth…with eggplant and bacon and goat cheese. And some other stuffs too. We’ve all seen the commercial and I think it just happened in my kitchen. Here’s what happened–

I was starving. This is how these things always start. Scavenged through my fridge and garden and pulled together a grouping that looked nice together. Yes, I do put together foods like other people put together outfits.

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The color combo pleased me, but I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do with what I had in front of me. I thought about ditching the bread because I didn’t want a sandwich for dinner, but I hadn’t had a good baguette in so long, I decided to work it in somehow. Going through a few options in my head, I started with chopping up the eggplant and bacon, tossing them in olive oil, and roasting them. While those were cooking, I bit off the butt of the bread and decided I’d do an open-faced type sandwich after all. I sliced up the red pepper along with white onion and caramelized them on my cast iron griddle with some of the now rendered bacon grease from the roasting sheet poured on top.

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If you think you don’t like eggplant, roast it on a pan with bacon. You’ll change your mind. The eggplant soaks up all that smokey, salty flavor and gets crispy on the outside while staying soft on the inside. The bacon turns into morsels of perfection.

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While all of that worked itself into what would become the meat of the meal, I mixed together the goat cheese with some olive oil and fresh English thyme, making a spread for the bread slices. When the red pepper and onions were almost done, I threw on some chunky pieces of one big garlic clove until it was ever so slightly browned. Moving that to a bowl, I used the leftover bacon grease and flavors on the griddle to toast the baguette slices.

Cooking is much easier for me than baking. I can time everything and this meal came together all at once, just like it needed to. The bread was heavily slathered with the goat cheese spread, covered with the eggplant and bacon, topped with the onions and peppers, and garnished with sliced fresh basil and scallions. The deep purple skin of the eggplant with the bold red of the pepper, the bright green of the herbs, and the cream of the cheese all came together into a thing of beauty. It was stunning. It was like the “whatever is a high-end brand of clothing” of the dinner plate world.

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I mean, really? Yes.

And then I took a bite and realized it was, in fact, crack. Worse. I had cooked meth. I wanted this meal every damn day. The flavors, the textures, the colors…I couldn’t handle it. I’m telling you, if you think you don’t like eggplant, you’re wrong. This meal right here will become an instant eggplant addiction for you. I’m warning you though, like the commercials, if you don’t want to spiral into a world of fiending for your next eggplant fix…NOT. EVEN. ONCE. Close out of this page right now and never look back. Or stay and try it and cry on your shower floor this winter because eggplant isn’t in season anymore. Either way.

Ingredients and such:

one medium eggplant, chopped with skin left on

3 slices of uncured bacon, chopped

half a large red pepper sliced

half a white onion sliced

one large garlic clove cut thick

1-2 ounces goat cheese

olive oil

about a tablespoon each of fresh thyme, basil, scallions

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Toss the eggplant and bacon with about one tablespoon of olive oil and roast on the middle rack at 425 for a total of 25 mins. turning about every 7-10 mins.

Slice the pepper and onions and use some of the poured off bacon grease from the roasting pan to caramelize them. Add the chunky garlic near the end.

Mix the goat cheese with a tablespoon of olive oil and the fresh thyme until it is easily spreadable.

Toast the bread on the griddle with the leftover bacon grease.

Slice the basil and scallions as a garnish.

Stack and serve immediately. This is one you’ll need to time right so nothing gets mushy.

Tomato-mania

My yearly tomato craze has begun.

tomatoes and succulents

Yesterday, my favorite local nursery, Native Nurseries, posted on their Facebook page that their first round of tomatoes were in. So, of course, I had to go as soon as possible.

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Blue Berries and Solar Flair seedlings

I have already started two new varieties (Blue Berries and Solar Flair) from seed and they are coming along nicely.  After discussing all the details of the new types with Lilly, I chose to bring home one each of Pink Berkeley Tie Dye, Sweet Solano, and Haley’s Purple Comet. All of these along are from Wild Boar Farms collection.

I also had to get one of the most productive and delicious tomatoes, the Juan Flamme. A French heirloom, this one delivers loads of bright orange, apricot-sized, crack resistant fruits that have the perfect fruity/tangy flavor for salads or just fresh sliced with a little salt and pepper. This will be the fourth year I’ve grown this variety and I highly recommend it!

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I can’t wait to see how these new ones perform both in the garden and in my kitchen. As I was leaving with my tomato selections and a few succulents I couldn’t pass up, Lilly informed me that they will have even more new varieties next week. Guess who will be going back…TOMATO-MANIA!

Click on the names below to see a picture of these beautiful fruits. My garden is going to be so gorgeous this year! Descriptions from Wild Boar Farms and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Pink Berkeley Tie Dye — Beautiful, early, and very sweet rich flavor. 10 out of 10 people liked it better then Cherokee Purple in a farmers market taste off. Port wine colored beefsteak with metallic green stripes. Excellent sweet, rich dark tomato flavor.  Fabulous.

Sweet Solano — Very attractive yellow with green stripes turning deep orange color with gold stripes. Stays firm, very sweet with a hint of tropical fruit.

Haley’s Purple Comet — Wonderful large cherry tomato. Sweet, productive with rich “dark tomato” flavor. Originally from Cherokee Purple.

Blue Berries — Very dark purple color, which means it’s super-rich in anthocyanins. Unripe, the fruits are a glowing amethyst purple. At maturity they turn deep red where the fruit was shaded; the areas that received intense sunshine are a purple so deep it’s almost black! The flavor is intensely fruity, and sugar-sweet.

Solar Flair —  This 6-10 ounce beefsteak is red with gold stripes and has very meaty flesh with luscious sweet red tomato flavor. Bradley Gates describes it as one of his “work horses.”

Juan Flame