Friday, August 27, 2010

Garden to Table Challenge - week 2

I was so pleased to find delicious inspiration (and garden inspiration too!) in the posts of the bloggers who joined the first weekly Garden to Table Challenge. I look forward to all that is to to come with late summer's cornucopia!


Eggplants have been difficult for me to grow in my own garden. Who ever knew there was such a thing as a flea beetle? But plant some eggplants and the proof will be literally pinpointed in the leaves.

Fortunately, my dad - with more garden experience, time, space, sun, water, and quality soil - is able to grow eggplants (along with everything else) like gangbusters - despite a few bites from the little nuisances.

Below, you see the long, thin Japanese eggplants on the right, favored over globe eggplants for their thinner skins, fewer seeds, and more delicate flavor.

Here's a side dish my mom made that I couldn't believe was so simple and delicious. It was another one we finished before dinner was ready. I've learned that pretending to be helpful in the kitchen allows plenty of opportunities to pass by the kitchen counter and sneak bites (my parents make good food, not well-mannered children).

  • Steam the whole eggplants upright until tender. Cut in half lengthwise and cut/tear apart with fork. You're not trying to mash it up, just tear it a bit so it's able to hold the sauce.
  • Mix up a sauce of: 3-4 chopped garlic cloves, about 1 teaspoon sesame oil, about 1/3 cup or so of light soy sauce, and a splash of red wine vinegar. Play around with the proportions to suit your taste (we rarely ever measure anything).


Your turn - how are you eating or preserving your harvests this week? Tell me about it on this weekly Garden to Table Challenge day!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

WYG and pepper jelly

Lush and happy ferns welcome visitors to Fern Valley. Unfortunately, visitors are stopped in their tracks just a few feet up since there are many downed trees from recent storms. No matter, a spring visit awaits.

The National Arboretum's wide open spaces.

Another steamy day of weed-pulling at the National Arboretum's Washington Youth Garden. Unfortunately,I don't have photos to show you of all the cool vegetables the families are harvesting right now - gourds, chard, squash, peppers. One thing I love about the National Arboretum is the expanse of it all. There are little concentrated areas to visit, such as the WYG, the peaceful, shady Fern Valley just across from it, and the perfect bonsai and penjing collection just to name a few, but all the separate areas sit on 446 acres in the middle of DC. Once you enter the National Arboretum, you just want to take deep breaths in and out and enjoy the wide open space. The photo below shows what I mean. Your company? Garden visitors, walkers, joggers, bikers, children, dogs, workers, volunteers, and a billion butterflies!

Undeveloped acres at the National Arboretum.

This summer, I've been volunteering at the WYG and I love how the energetic and passionate coordinators invite speakers to discuss and demonstrate different topics. Saturday's topic - my current obsession, food preservation. I got to listen in while weeding the arugula bed.


Below, a beautiful jelly I canned last week. I love how it looks like little pieces of confetti suspended in the translucent gold jelly. What's inside: apricots, habanero peppers, jalapenos, red bell peppers, and red onion. The perfect balance of spicy and sweet. My daily after school snack all week: bread or crackers, brie, and this delicious jelly. I've also been reminiscing about a sandwich I used to have at an amazing Rhode Island deli I worked at when I was in college a lifetime ago: pepper jelly, cream cheese, lettuce, and black forest ham on pumpernickel. Yuuuummmm, a visit to the supermarket must fit into the day's agenda.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Garden to Table Challenge - week 1

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes... What are you all doing with your tomatoes? I want to know about it! See, I'm looking for creative ways to use my harvest. Maybe you are too? Blog about what you're cooking this week and link on this post each and every Saturday. I'm going to show you what I'm doing every week nonetheless, but a party of 1 for dinner is never too fun. Read more about the Garden to Table Challenge here.


On the menu this week at the Greenish Thumb house of natural cobwebs: tarts, turnovers, and other treats. A bit of puff pastry makes everything a little more elegant, don't you think? In the first photo: puff pastry is topped with sliced tomato, fresh oregano, and a drizzle of olive oil. It tastes light yet decadent. You can really appreciate the flavor of every fresh ingredient in this simple tart. Notice my baking mat? I think this is the most important tool in any kitchen - everything bakes perfectly and evenly on this magical mat.

Above - these are filled with cheese and figs that are ripe and falling off trees as we speak. My friend Samantha had something similar at a tapas place with honey drizzled on top. That would have made an amazing addition to this richly flavorful snack. Below - these are filled with Asian pear and carrots, then topped with pearl sugar. I saved the extra filling to top our pancakes in the morning.

Below: My little one cut out hearts with the extra puff pastry and made palmier-type cookies. In the background, my triple berry jam, canned during the height of strawberry season.

* Just a few quick hints if you're new to working with puff pastry:
1) Be sure the edges of filled turnovers are sealed or you'll lose your filling.
2) An egg wash brushed over the top will give your pastries a glossy golden brown color (like in the second photo).
3) For something fairly flat like the tomato tart or the palmier, it's important to prick the pastry with a fork because you want it to puff, not blow up into a blimp.
OK folks, YOUR TURN!!!

PS - don't forget - fabulous prizes are involved (if the opportunity to show off your harvest and cooking are not enough!).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Natural cobwebs"

Welcome to my home...

It's necessary to bust through cobwebs to enter or exit. Below, a mailbox the postal carrier approaches with care.

Below, a scene that comes alive (literally and figuratively) at night.

A young child is disturbed by what she sees.

A porch that invites no neighbor to call.

You might not have needed so many pictures to get the picture. Now if you know me, you know I'm an independent woman, but the idea of any insect or arachnid's "sac" falling on my head and breaking into a billion babies brings me to ask the hubby to sweep the cobwebs. Now, this is a man who creates a lot of frustration for me as he typically makes half-assed attempts to capture gigantic spiders to relocate to the outdoors. I'm usually left angrily standing on the couch while he remarks, "Awwww, sooorrry. He's too fast". I don't know if he's just being lazy about it, slow about it, or is trying to emulate the Addams Family philosophy of design.

So when I pushed him to sweep the cobwebs THIS WEEKEND (damn it!), he convinced the kids to believe they were "natural cobwebs" and necessary for an authentic Halloween. In the end, I got my cobwebs swept, but ended up being the bad guy - the person cruel enough to destroy the "natural cobwebs" and possibly even the holiday they represent. He and the kids also insisted that beginning in September, any cobwebs need to stay until at least after Halloween. Have you ever heard of such a thing?!


BY THE WAY...Don't forget the first weekly Garden to Table Challenge begins this Saturday! I hope you're ready with your post! I'll be posting even if I'm the only one, but what fun would that be for anyone? I want to know what YOU'RE eating this week! You know it's fantastic and delicious and fresh from your garden, now brag about it!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Garden to Table Challenge (are you up for it?)

What do I need to do?

1) Ideally, grow your own fruits and vegetables (if you have a legit reason for not growing your own, you may use what your farmer's market is offering right now - what's seasonal is the key).
2) Brag on your blog about the journey of your fruits or vegetables from GARDEN TO TABLE by featuring a photo and recipe.
3) Starting this Saturday, and then every subsequent Saturday, link your post, and see what I and others have been harvesting and eating.

But wait, I harvest and cook all the time anyway, what's the challenge?

IF you want an extra challenge, cyber nods for: food that involves lots of seasonal ingredients (particularly if you've grown your own), creativity, originality, and food photography that makes our mouths water. BUT...I know I would also appreciate ideas for fresh food that can be tossed together on a Monday night, so I want simple recipes too! IF, you're not able to harvest or don't feel like cooking one week, I'll even welcome posts about a great seasonal meal you enjoyed at your favorite bistro. Lots of options.

What else you got?

There's more... just to make it more fun. You might be a food-loving, gardening nerd excited about this Garden to Table Challenge, but if you're not TOTALLY pumped yet, as an extra incentive for participating (like food-loving, gardening nerds REALLY need incentives!), at the end of the season (around November), I will randomly award 3 people with fabulous prizes (to be determined later). 1 contest entry per week for every post you link here beginning THIS Saturday.

It can be as simple as what you see below. So what say you? You in???

Panzanella - a summer favorite that even my tomato-hating kids enjoy (and even ask for!). I've seen a few different variations, but I just use the ingredients I love most. No need for exact measurements, just saute the bread in oil and garlic, then put the rest together to taste! Ingredients: my own Japanese black trifele tomatoes, my own basil (snipped with scissors into ribbons), my own ajo rojo garlic, thinly sliced red onion, a crusty/hard bread, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. The bread will soak up the juices from the tomato and the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This makes a delicious light summer lunch!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

GBBD August 2010

The tough blooms below have survived not only my typical neglect, but the summer's earthquakes, thunderstorms, flash floods, and record breaking heat. This IS Maryland though, and as much I'd like to say I'm being melodramatic, it has been a rough few weeks!

The Gaura 'whirling butterflies' (in the foreground) have been wonderful (and aptly named). It's really sprawled out - perhaps from the excess rain, but I like the look. The flowers open each morning and close as it gets hot in the afternoon. It's been blooming for weeks and weeks. I'd say this perennial is a must have.

Strawberry fields gomphrena and oregano in bloom.

Alstroemeria 'sweet Laura'

Old reliable below, attracting a family of goldfinches lately.

I'm a hosta lover, but must admit I like to hurry the blooms along and snip them off. They're usually just such a mess and often detract from such beautiful foliage. BUT...the fragrance of this new hosta (must have been from some bargain bag I bought in the fall) almost knocked me over. I swear it's as close to jasmine as I'll ever grow in my zone 6/7 garden. I'm in love with it.

Can you guess the plant that these cute little yellow blooms below belong to?

Didn't get your fix of blooms on this Garden Blogger's Bloom Day? See May Dreams Gardens for more.
P.S. If you've been following the saga of my seasonal battle with
mosquitoes, I'll give you an update. Mosquitoes 27, me zero. I
thought I was being smarter than the mosquitoes by tucking my pant legs in my
socks and even tucking my shirt in my pants. Totally. Tucked.
In. I was wearing regular jersey knit pants and when I was
bent over weeding, the mosquitoes must have been able to feast on my butt
through the stretched out fabric. Sounds crazy, but I can't think of any
other way I could have gotten 27 mother freaking bites on my butt, and nowhere
else. I'm using Benadryl like body lotion.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The juice was worth the squeeze

...literally. Yay for our new juicer! Wow, juicers have come a long way. Our new Breville comes with just a few dish-washable pieces that a child could put together. I remember as a kid, the rare times my mom would break out the juicer, it'd be an all night affair - cutting up the fruit into little pieces and forcing them through with the pusher thingy. This new gazillion-horsepowered baby sucks down and pulverizes a whole apple in one second flat.

Below, a concoction I personally found really nice for our first try - grapefruit, my funny carrots, and apples. I'm attempting to ease the kids into fresh juice and will try more complicated recipes later on. Unfortunately, they weren't too keen on the grapefruit. The sip the little one is taking is just about all she had.

The following week, the juice was a huge hit. The orange, carrot, and beet combination was not only sweet and delicious, but the most gorgeous shade of bright PINK - something that always sweetens the deal for the little one.

If you're a juicer - please pass along some good-tasting recipes!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Vaca photos - the low country

Please indulge me by allowing me to share some vacation photos! I'll start with my only gripe. Not much bothers me about our perfect little island oasis near Charleston, SC - except for what you see below...little landscaped patches of dense grass. The purpose of this strip of green, typical on the properties of island homeowners, I do not understand. See all the sprinklers? This was early in the day. Come mid-afternoon, when the temperatures are at their highest, the sprinklers come on and stay on - much to my chagrin, often through each late afternoon thunderstorm! Humpf. I wouldn't consider myself an anti-lawn Nazi, but this sprinkler behavior really irks me.

Below, sweetgrass roses sold on the streets of Charleston, South Carolina. The groomsmen of my father in law's mate's son (I tried a few times to describe this relationship!) will wear these in their lapels at the February wedding.

View from the deck...

View from the beach...

Scenes from the island...

Last year, I posted about a story of Spanish moss, as well as the Angel Oak, a gigantic oak near where we stay. I think the scene below looks prehistoric.

At the marina boardwalk, near one of many serene low country marshes in SC. Here you see my adorable niece, who obviously has a unique way of taking it all in, and her adoring DaDa - as always, camera ready!

Bye Sun, see you tomorrow!

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