Let's Get Dirty
A gardening blog for adults who still love to play in the dirt.
Send stories and pictures of your horticultural adventures to email@example.com.
By Penny Stine
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Everybody knows you can’t garden without good tools. This year, I added a basic pitchfork to my arsenal of shovels, hoes and other weapons of grass destruction. The pitchfork’s great for turning compost, which is a necessity for the kitchen gardener. However, I have really come to appreciate another gardening implement that’s made my life easier this summer: the salad spinner.
I know. At first glance a salad spinner doesn’t seem like a great garden tool, and I suppose it wouldn’t be if I had tons of time, drying racks or didn’t want to eat almost everything I grow. Since I don’t use pesticides or herbicides on my garden, I don’t need to worry about washing that off my produce, but I use irrigation water. My veggies, especially those with an edible leaf, tend to be coated with a fine film of your basic Colorado River silt.
A spinner, for those not acquainted with this high-tech gadget, is an indispensible piece of equipment. Put the dirty leaves in the colander. Rinse thoroughly under running water. Put the colander in the bowl and add the top piece.
Give it a couple good whacks to make the colander spin and in a matter of seconds, your greens are silt-free. Not only does the spinner get rid of the excess dirt and water, it also separates the earwigs and other bugs from the produce. How cool is that?
I’ve used my spinner all summer long for spinach, Swiss chard, basil, lettuce, kale and other assorted herbs that tend to get waterlogged after rinsing. Plus, the basic bowl is big enough for gathering strawberries, squash, corn, tomatoes, broccoli, tomatillos, beans or anything else that requires a simple rinse rather than a soak and a spin.
Of course, it lives on the counter all summer long, which adds to the look of chaotic disorder that is the hallmark of my summertime kitchen, but whaddya going to do?
By Carol Clark
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
We're getting ready! We are drying herbs, canning and planting cool weather crops for fall. With only 60 days until the average first frost in the valley, it is time to plant lettuce, carrots, beets, radishes and spinach.
Yesterday, we prepared sun-dried tomatoes. Those little cans you buy in the store are exorbitantly priced! You can make your own at home for almost nothing.
Use fresh Roma or Italian Plum tomatoes and simply cut them in half, scoop out the seeds, and lay them on a cookie sheet. You may want to cut bigger tomatoes in slices about 1/4 inch thick. For real sun-dried tomatoes, lay them on an oven rack lined with cheese cloth, set another piece of cheese cloth over the top of the tomatoes and set them in the sun for a couple of days. Make sure you will be having hot sunny days and bring them in at night to avoid morning dew.
You can also use your oven. Place them in the oven at 200 degrees for around eight hours. Tomatoes are done when they are dry and leathery, but not crispy and not sticky - like a raisin.
This year we used our dehydrator. We brushed the tomato halves lightly with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, fresh oregano, parsley and basil and dried them for around 15 hours. We froze them separately on racks, filled a freezer bag full and popped them in the freezer for winter.
Some Italian free-thinkers store their tomatoes in a jar of extra virgin olive oil in their pantry. They say it keeps indefinitely, but with the advent of botulism, I play it safe and freeze them.
Eat these luscious babies on pizza, pasta sauces, sandwiches and on crisp Italian bread. MmmmMmm.
"All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better." — Ralph Waldo Emerson.
By Laurena Mayne Davis
Sunday, August 22, 2010
This is what we’ve worked for, gardeners.
I bow to my intrinsic, agrarian rhythms. In March they compelled me to plant when I would have preferred to ski the last few runs. In June I weeded when I would have liked to have hopped on my single-speed cruiser, instead.
But this is the bounty of August — the gardening reward, and not only the reward, but a brief, indulgent respite.
The weeds have slowed, plants are sturdy, monsoonal rains are helping water, and my agrarian rhythms are telling me to leisurely grill the sweet corn and slather Brandywine tomatoes with mayo on a BLT.
This is the in-between, calm and grateful gardening season — time to examine flowers. Time to lie in the hammock. I don’t even care if squash bugs eat the zucchini; we’ve had our fill.
It will pass. In a few weeks I’ll feel antsy again and will start canning, freezing and dehydrating everything that’s left, squirreling away for the winter. But for now … pass the mayo.
By Penny Stine
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Depending on your perspective, the amount of space in your herb garden and your taste buds, mint can either be the greatest herb in the history of food or it can be regarded as just one step above an invasive weed.
Personally, I kind of like it simply because it smells good when you walk by and survives neglect, infrequent watering and no fertilization. That’s not to say I haven’t pulled lots of mint out of my various flower and herb beds, since mint is only slightly less tenacious than bindweed and will take over any herb or flower bed in one or two seasons, merely that I have lots of room and mint lets me be a lazy gardener.
Mint in the process of taking over my front flower bed
However, I’m not crazy about mint in my iced tea, and don’t want to don’t want to get in the habit of drinking mojitos several times a day to reduce my supply of mint, so I’m always looking for ways to use it in cooking.
I found an interesting recipe for cantaloupe mint soup, which I didn’t follow, but turned out rather good anyway. I’m listing my alterations rather than the original recipe, but will warn when I strayed.
Cantaloupe Mint Dessert
6 C chunked cantaloupe (or one medium melon)
3 – 4 sprigs fresh mint (the recipe said to use peppermint extract, but that eliminated the need for fresh mint, which was the whole point in googling weird recipes)
juice and zest of 1 lime
2 tbsp honey (recipe called for powdered sugar)
1 container low-fat yogurt (recipe called for vanilla, which I didn’t have. I used key lime pie, since the dessert already had lime juice in it.)
2 tbsp sour cream
Place melon, mint, lime zest and juice and honey in a food processor and process until fairly smooth, but not totally liquidized. Mix yogurt and sour cream in a bowl. Stir in cantaloupe mixture. Freeze for three or four hours before eating.
If you don’t want to freeze it, you can eat it as a soup, which is what the original recipe said to do. After four hours in the freezer, it was more like sorbet. Surprisingly good, especially for those who are trying to cut down on sugar, fat or traditional dairy products, although the yogurt and sour cream are no-nos for those who are totally lactose intolerant.
The green flecks of mint in the pale orange cantaloupe concoction add a confetti-like look to the dessert, which is always good if you like desserts made out of paper products.
By Carol Clark
Sunday, August 15, 2010
"August... the month when everybody drives with their windows up for fear someone will sneak a zucchini in" — Amy Stewart,"From the Ground Up"
The word "holiday" actually derives from the words "Holy Day's" — days to mark special religious celebrations. Well, as Americans, we will use any excuse to celebrate. Did you know there's a national holiday for zucchini? August 8th was "National Sneak Some Zucchini On Your Neighbor's Porch Night." I knew I was forgetting something.
Truth be known, I actually don't grow zucchini. Not because I don't like it, but because we're always given so much. I have already received enough zucchini this summer to make four loaves of zucchini bread and I have frozen shredded zucchini to bake several more for winter. Why should I go to all the trouble and take up precious space in my garden to grow something I know I am going to get anyway?
I appreciate all of you zucchini benefactors out there and would like to share my favorite zucchini bread recipe with you. What's your favorite way to use zucchini? (Email the Let's Get Dirty bloggers at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Oh, anybody need summer squash?
Carol's Zucchini Bread
3/4 C vegetable oil (you can substitute half of the oil with applesauce)
1 2/3 cups brown sugar
2 cups grated zucchini
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
3 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup coconut
Beat eggs, add oil, sugar, zucchini and vanilla, stir. Blend in flour, cinnamon, baking powder, soda and salt. Stir in nuts and coconut. Pour into two greased loaf pans and bake at 325 for one hour.