It Only Took Four Years

Now that we've had a break from the rain, things are really starting to happen.

I didn't really understand before that a vegetable garden needs a balance of water and time to dry out.  Our plants were soaked--first by us with our best intentions and then by sequential days of dripping skies. When the leaves of our grape tomato plant began to curl and slightly brown, I started to worry. I even called my mom, hoping her infinite gardening wisdom may be able to salvage any damage we were causing. Sensing my stress, she suggested we go to a local garden center with a trimming of the affected tomato plant and ask them.

The very kind woman at Marvin's Organic Gardens took one look at our leaves and said, "It could be sick but it's more likely you're overwatering."  Oh. We walked back to our car, slightly embarrassed.  Its true. We knew it.  And helplessly we watched it rain for the next several days without much break. 

Finally there is a clear blue sky over my head. I'm typing this on our patio because it's too beautiful to be indoors. Or daisies, a gift dug up from a friend of a friend of a friend's yard (gifting plants is how gardeners say hello to each other), have finally unfurled its white petals to show its yellow faces.

Many of the plants are growing so quickly that they are escaping the cedar box and making their way into the yard.  There are a few new tiny butternut squash on the vine that are getting a little larger each day.  I'm already thinking about butternut squash risotto.

Perhaps the sweetest thing growing is the watermelon, which seems to be thriving and finally has a little mini fruit.   It appears to be getting slightly bigger every day, starting out the size of a dime and now almost as large as a half dollar. It feels especially good to see this plant thrive since I so wanted to grow one last summer.

And the "Tasty Slicer" cucumber is looking better, too. It has had mini cucumbers on it for a week or two now but they seemed premature and unlikely to progress. And yet this morning, when i pulshed aside the leaves to examine the fruit, a few were noticeably greener and bigger. It's a very good indication that the garden is recovering from the drenching.

The almost-red tomatoes are now a deep, orangey-red and sitting on the kitchen table.  Tim high-fived me last night when I picked them. He was practically reading my mind when he said, "It only took four years, but now we can say we grew something." 


Monday Link Love: Breakfast

I love breakfast.  I mean it--I really love breakfast.  On Saturdays, my mom would often make pancakes from a recipe out of our worn red and white plaid cookbook.  Or she would cut shapes in our toast in order to fry an egg in the middle of them.  If it was a Sunday, we were more likely to have a big breakfast casserole, assembled the day before, and baked as soon as we returned from church.  To satisfy a five member family, half of the casserole was cheese-only and the other half had diced ham or crumbled sausage. 

Even after moving to Cincinnati, I have continued to love this morning meal.  It doesn't have to be complicated, but it's easy to see if something has been prepared with care.  I've selected some recipes from blogosphere that you should check out, and keep them in mind when you're planning your next special breakfast.

Tracy from Shutterbean wrote about this twist on an Egg-in-a-Hole--she cracks the egg into a circular slice of red bell pepper. This is a great option for someone cutting back on their bread intake or upping their veggies. 

Eating something quick for breakfast doesn't mean you have to sacrifice on flavor.  Bree posted a step-by-step recipe for Strawberry Spoon Jam which would be incredible on a scone or biscuit. Dare I say you could even eat this on your morning commute? 

A fellow Panera Bread lover, Amber has a recipe for Ham & Swiss Baked Egg Souffles.  I'm partial to Amber's blog name as well because my father-in-law, a San Antonio resident, loves the blue bonnets, too.

Joy the Baker is known for her sinful sweet treats, but it's okay to indulge at breakfast, too, right?  (I think Joy would say--emphatically--yes.)  I'm definitely making this Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread SOON

Skip the Eggo WafflesMolly has two waffle recipes in one post on Orangette--and one is an adaptation of the Waffle Of Insane Greatness.  How can you pass that up?

I've already told you I'm a sucker for a runny egg, and it's in it's best form poached and perched atop a crispy english muffin.  And then drenched in hollandaise sauce? Amazing.  Josh, half of Two Peas and Their Pod, made the quintessential Eggs Benedict for his wife, Maria.  This breakfast is one I could never get sick of and is easily modified for more modern versions. 

Happy Monday to all of you! 


Garden Update: 3 Weeks

Nearly every day when Tim gets home from work he walks in the front door, gives me a kiss, and then heads straight through the house, out the back door.  He leans over the pumpkin plant and looks closely, turning to me to ask, "Does this leaf look bigger today?"  I always say yes, because I've already inspected each plant two or three times. 

I'm learning new things, too.  The stalk of the tomato plant smells like tomatoes.  The flowers on the white eggplant are purple.  The leaves of the cucumber and the butternut squash plants look very similar, and if they weren't side by side in the garden I'm not sure I could tell them apart. The broccoli leaves are so waxy that raindrops puddle and then roll right off. 

I've also learned that not every plant will thrive, no matter how much we want it to.  A few days ago, Tim yanked a stunted tomato plant out of the garden to make more room for the vines of the butternut squash.  And we've held out hope (perhaps too long) for a bell pepper plant that is failing to thrive.  It's hard to say why its not growing--maybe it's been overwatered or underwatered or it perhaps it is just an unhealthy plant.  If there is no improvement over the next week, this pepper will likely be discarded to give more room to the others. 

It is more difficult than it should be to let go of that hope. 






We Dug a Hole

We made a decision.  It was not without some serious consideration, though.  In fact, Tim was ready to jump and I made him keep his feet on the ground for a few days while I mulled it over.  I had to be sure that it was the right choice.

We dug a hole.  In our backyard.  We notified the community garden coordinators that we would not be participating this year and we dug a hole.  When you dig a hole--in your backyard--it's semi-permanent.  You can plant grass seed there, but it will take a long while for it blend in, and until that happens there will be a reminder that you dug a hole.

As I said, this was all Tim's idea.  A very good idea, I admit.  He knows that I truly enjoy gardening and fussing over our plants so he suggested that instead of commuting back and forth to the community garden, why don't we just plant here?  I didn't have any major objections except natural hesitation about digging up the healthy grass.  The purpose, it seems, of many community gardens is a place to plant for those who don't have the space to do it at home.  And while we completely appreciate the opportunity Mason was offering us, I couldn't deny that it would be easier to care for and water our plants at home.

I attempted to assist as Tim assembled the cedar box, but I'm not much help when it comes to power tools.  The dogs seemed to think we were building a playground for them, jumping in and out of the boxes and sniffing the perimeter. 

The really hard work was digging the hole--which, thankfully, Tim handled.  I brought him iced tea, distracted the dogs (somewhat unsuccessfully), and cheered him on from the patio.  After the hole was complete, we filled it with really great soil.  We mixed together humus and top soil to create the ideal garden bed for our plants. 

Because our garden was facing east-to-west, we needed to arrange taller plants (like tomatoes) towards the northwestern side of the boxes and the shorter plants (like cabbage) to the south-eastern side of the boxes. Next we laid down a recycled fabric that will will prevent weeds from being able to grow around the plants.  Then we mulched around the plants to maximize the moisture retention of the soil and reinforce the weed prevention.

We ended up planting a handful of tomatoes, a few different types of peppers, two eggplants, two cucumbers (at Melissa's request), a butternut squash, a watermelon, a broccoli, a red cabbage, and a pumpkin (that already has big blossoms).  Yes, it's ambitious, but I'm excited.

I have a good feeling about the garden this year.  I can't think of what we else we could have done to set ourselves up for a better harvest, and I'm proud of us for trying again after a disappointing experience last summer.  Overall, I'm optimistic that we are going to have a great summer filled with canning, freezing, drying, and consuming what we grow. 


Scenes from a Weekend Getaway

We packed up the dogs and Melissa and headed to Pigeon Forge for Memorial Day Weekend.  Three days of fresh air, mountain skylines, sunshine, adventures (indoor skydiving!), and family was exactly what I needed. 

In case anyone is considering a trip to the Gatlinburg area, we stayed with Aardvark Cabin Rentals and were pleased with our stay.


Podcasts for Foodies

I got an Iphone a few months ago.  It has caused a bit of tension in our home--Tim is a Droid user.  Need I say  more? We are at an impasse on the discussion of which phone is better so we've decided to keep our marriage happy and agree to disagree.

But I am really enjoying the things that come along with having an Iphone including Angry Birds, the Instagr.am photo editing application, and particularly having access to Itunes.  I've never even owned an Ipod so this phone has opened up an entire world of media that I hardly knew I wanted.

Podcasts have gotten me through hours upon hours of commuting for job.  I generally download a handful over the weekend and create a playlist for my next trip.  My downloaded podcasts include the usual story-driven suspects--This American Life, Radio Lab, and The Moth Podcast--but I've also recently started stocking up on podcasts related to cooking, dining, entertaining, and food politics.

A coworker recently pointed out to me that it's a bit ironic to be listening to radio shows about food when you can't see the food, smell the aromas, or taste the flavors. The host has to be creative in describing the topic so that the listener can actually visualize and experience the food.  Not everyone can do this, and I've downloaded a show or two that I've disliked for the sole reason that I never felt connected to the host or that the host cared about my listening experience.

This list that I've compiled are shows that I listen to regularly.  Some of the shows update on a regular basis and some of them more sporadically.  I've equally enjoyed listening through the archives as I have listening to new episodes.  I hope you get as many hours of enjoyment out of these as I do.

Seven Podcasts for Foodies
(in no particular order)

Spilled Milk
Molly Wizenberg and Matthew Amster-Burton are writer-bloggers who brave taste testing different recipes and ingredients while taunting their listeners with the sounds of them licking their lips and mmmmmm-ing about their favorites.  It's comedy, it's educational, it's biased (neither of them love mac & cheese--the horror!) and non-scientific, and it's very fun.  The topic of each podcast is generally focused an ingredient like ham or chiles or a common food staple like burgers and salad dressing.  Molly and Matthew muse about their experiences with the food and then taste test and compare.  You'll laugh, you'll learn, and you'll come back for seconds. 

The Splendid Table
As an avid NPR listener, I have loved this show for many years.  Lynne Rossetto Casper, with her sultry, raspy voice, describes food in a way that I can practically smell and taste it.  I particularly enjoy her discussions with guests on world cuisine, food trends, and hot topics in the industry.  There is always something for the gardener, the baker, the cook, and the diner-outer in the show archives.  (And don't miss her Thanksgiving Day call-in show where she often talks panicked hosts down from the ledge with thoughtful and helpful ideas on saving or improving this year's meal!)

Earth Eats Podcast
Produced in Bloomington, this is a new favorite program of mine.  Largely focused on midwestern, seasonal foods, you will hear an array of topics ranging from foraging for ingredients like ramps to making the perfect vegan taco.  Host Annie Corrigan narrates you through cooking in the kitchen with Chef Daniel Orr as well as interviews in the field and in studio with people holding unique food perspectives. 

Eat Feed
While not produced as consistently now as in the past, listening through the archives and the occasional new shows of this Chicago-based podcast will engage you in topics ranging from food history, interesting ingredients, persons in the food world, and seasonal eating.  Host Anne Bramley guides the podcasts as a teacher would a class allowing the listener to absorb everything from varying points of view, and as a listener you will come away continuing to ponder what you just heard. It's a highly respected show that is really as good as the hype.

Food Programme
This BBC program hosted by Sheila Dillon has given me a new insight into European food.  Did you know that frozen foods are a growing trend in France?  Have you considered how climate change may be affecting our farms and gardens? What is the effect of the mafia's influence on food in Sicily?  Who wouldn't want to learn about this stuff?  Each show is presented in a satisfyingly investigative manner and the information is equally provactive and memorable.

KCRW's Good Food
While this program is focused on regional food and news in Southern California, it's still very enjoyable.  You can expect recipe ideas for seasonal foods, interviews with locals about farming and gardening in California, short pieces about the science of food, and local dining ideas with insight into new and interesting cuisine.  Since we all benefit from the California bounty, I like to be kept abreast of what is happening.  It helps that the host, Evan Kleiman, has a warm, friendly tone to her voice that makes you feel like the podcast is a conversation between her and her listeners. 

Wine For Normal People
If you've read my About page, you'll know I enjoy wine.  But what you may not know is that my first professional job out of college was as a wine sales representative for a local distributor.  My life was immersed in wine for nearly two years, and it's one of the first common interests shared by Tim and me.  Even having lived and breathed wine as a job, there is still so so so much to learn.  The duo of hosts have their own set of strengths concerning the industry: Elizabeth is an excellent educator and Rick thinks of wine from a consumer's point of view.  You will learn about growing grapes (particularly the where and why), what goes into making wines, how to get the most out of wine tastings, choosing a wine for different occasions (with meal, with cheese, giving gifts, just because, etc), wine equipment,and why drinking wine is not just for the wine snobs (dare I say like me?).

Of course, this is just a list of my personal favoritesPlease feel free to share your own favorites--from this list or not--in the comments.  If it's not on this list, tell me and other readers why you like it and maybe we will all discover something new.