big green squashI’m not sure what’s going on with my winter squash. They look weird.

I planted four kinds of winter squash this year: butternut, delicata (the queen of squash), tahitian (supposed to be a long-necked butternut) and a couple seeds called “Cool Old Squash” (in Anishinaabe: Gete-okosomin) from the White Earth Reservation Seed Collection. I picked up a few of the seeds at a seed swap in February. Here is a link to a radio program with Winona LaDuke speaking about how the seed was found, what the squash looks like, and a recipe: baked squash canoes filled with wild rice and maple syrup!

I think I also planted a hill of pumpkin seeds, though they were a few years old. All the seeds except the White Earth seed (um, and maybe the pumpkins?) were purchased from seed companies, so I had high expectations of their quality (i.e., no cross-breeding). I planted them in a few hills in my ample new raised beds. The germination rate was uneven, but I did end up with several good looking plants that are vining away. I even started a couple inside (delicata and butternut) and moved them out into the beds.

They started flowering early and then some fruits appeared. Not butternut. Not long-necked. Definitely not delicata. Two kinds: this big green squash that doesn’t look like it’s going to suddenly turn into a butternut squash (above), and this other funny yellow one. I fear the big green squash might be from my own pumpkin seeds and have crossed with butternut.

cool old squash 7-20-14The yellow one looks like a banana squash, and that is good. The Gete-okosomin is a banana squash, yellow and orange with green at the end. And they are supposed to get big (8-30 lbs/ 2 1/2 feet?), which it seems like these are going to do.

There are other flowers on other plants. So I could still get some butternut squash or Tahitian or even delicata. But if worst comes to worst, I believe I will eat well on cool old squash all winter…

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My Beautiful Failures

syrupy jamsI should be kicked off the internets. Really. Yesterday I grossly misrepresented myself with a status update and photo of some gorgeous jars purporting to be blueberry-rhubarb jam and raspberry jam. People “liked” them so much. Someone even offered to pay money for one of them.

But this morning I sat there shifting the jars back and forth and realizing that, while the blueberry-rhubarb jam was sort of passable, the raspberry jam is definitely syrup. Not set.

I was much better at making jam when I didn’t know how to do it. Back then I was forced to follow a recipe. And I consulted it many, many times during the making of the jam.

This time, I used a recipe on my own blog!! So, you see, it gets worse. I not only misrepresented, I have also grossly misled people. And I was feeling really good about myself, too, because the photo on the original post of the blueberry-rhubarb jam is my one photo that got picked up on Pinterest. And it is all over Pinterest. It rules the blueberry-rhubarb jam category on Pinterest. And that batch really was good.

img_6245But going back this morning to the Ball canning recipe, I see that one should not do as I instructed and after boiling the fruit and sugar for one full minute take off the heat and add the pectin then put in jars. One should add the pectin and then bring to a full boil while stirring constantly for one minute. Doesn’t that make more sense? And the people at Ball (who made the jars so must know what they’re talking about) also cook the fruit and lemon juice down first, then add the sugar all at once, incorporate, and add the pectin when it gets to a full boil, stir for one minute, then put in the canning jars. Everything about that makes sense.

berriesIn the final analysis, these jars are full of berries I picked myself at the peak of ripeness and on the same day mixed with sugar, lemon juice, and 1/2 Tbs of butter, then put in jars and boiled until they sealed. The contents will be delicious on pancakes and on ice cream and oatmeal and on yogurt. It can even be drizzled onto Popovers and on English muffins. Last night I spread some of the remnant blueberry-rhubarb stuff on a graham cracker with cream cheese on it. The stuff that dripped off, I just licked up with my finger. Problem solved.

blueberry syrup drink


Oh, and this afternoon, I was simmering some wonderful blueberry-thyme syrup and while it was going, I decided to just do a quick walk around the garden. Nothing big. Didn’t even take a bucket.

Got distracted and harvested most of the onions (55, so total of roughly 75 this season).

When I came back, it was more like jam than syrup. I dutifully strained it and put it in a fancy bottle that used to have vinegar in it. When I mixed it in my seltzer for a taste, it sank straight to the bottom. Enough stirring, though, and it cooperated. And with a sprig of thyme in it, it looks so fancy.

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Salmon and Peas in Cream Sauce


One of the best things about summer, when there’s so much produce, is sitting around with an ingredient in mind and figuring out what I want to do with it and then how to make it happen. It might be that when you’re only likely to get 2-3 cups of peas for the summer, it feels all the more special to figure out how to prepare them.

IMG_8528I had a second almost-cup of shell peas on Saturday, and also wanted to make something special for my husband’s birthday. I took out some salmon to thaw and also just couldn’t get past the idea of pasta and cream sauce. And dill. Lemon-dill maybe. I have a forest of dill. But definitely cream sauce, peas, and salmon.

Putting these three ingredients into the epicurious.com recipe generator wasn’t getting me where I wanted to be. But The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook I bought in the spring had the beginnings: “Sweet Peas and Shells Alfredo.” What I love about Deb Perelman’s recipes is that she makes great stuff but also knows how to keep it simple. There’s no flour in her Alfredo, no stirring until the butter is brown, etc. In fact, she does the whole thing in one pot.

IMG_8532More searching turned up a simple marinade for the salmon, which I could then grill. It’s from Betty Crocker, so that made me kind of nervous, since I’m becoming that kind of snob, but it looked good and had no packaged ingredients. It turned out to be a great marinade that kept the fish moist. In fact, I even came up with a “technique”! I never come up with techniques, but I really wanted to cook the salmon without flipping it over. When I close the grill cover everything in the grill immediately catches on fire and the temp shoots up to 800 degrees and, well, that is usually why I just flip things over. Instead, I tented (love that verb) some foil over the fish on the grill. I had to weigh down the foil with little rocks, but it worked great! (Then I sent out my husband to get the salmon and saw him flipping over one of the filets. “Nobody told you to flip them! Just bring them inside!” I felt like Jackie Chiles watching Kramer use a balm. Seinfeld™.)

IMG_8531Let me just say, dinner was lovely. (I only wish there had been more peas!) For dessert, we had some angel food cake with the first ever raspberries harvested from my garden. I added some thawed strawberries (that I picked a week ago) with sugar and it was good the way it can only be when the berries come from your own backyard.

Grilled Salmon with Creamy Pasta and Peas

Salmon marinade:
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill weed
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon garlic-pepper blend
1 lb salmon fillets, cut into pieces

Marinade the salmon in the fridge for 20 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.
Grill it over medium heat (with grill cover closed or tented foil) for 10 minutes.

Creamy Pasta with Peas
1/2 pound pasta of your choice: rotini, orecchiette, shells, linguine, etc.
1 cup shelled peas
1 cup half and half
3 Tbs butter
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-2 shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (more for topping the dish)
1/2 cup finely grated Gruyere cheese
2 Tbs fresh dill, chopped
1 Tbs chopped fresh parsley

Cook the pasta in a boiling pot of water per package instructions. Add the peas in the last 30 seconds and drain them together. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Clean out pot (or use a different one if you want to do it all simultaneously. But a pot, not a skillet, is best for making the sauce.)

Pour the half/half in the pot and bring to a simmer. Cook until slightly reduced, about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the butter and stir until it has melted. Generously season with pepper; add pinch of salt and lemon zest as well. Add the Parmesan and at this point I also added the shallots. Mix until smooth, then add the Gruyere and mix until smooth. Toss in the drained pasta, peas, lemon juice and dill and cook about 2 minutes. Add the pasta water if needed to loosen up the sauce. Serve in pasta bowls topped with salmon filet, parsley and more Parmesan!

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July Garden Tour

peas on vinesI keep hearing how everything is late this year, but you couldn’t tell by me. Everything this summer has crept up on me. I wasn’t ready for my birthday in June. July 4 went by like a blur. And in the garden, I keep feeling like everything is early, even though it is the Feast of St. Benedict, mid-July, and so there is no denying it is summer.

In the early morning hours, a storm did all my watering for today, while I lay awake incanting “no hail, no hail, no hail.” Not only was there no hail, the tomato cages didn’t even blow over.

green arrow peas in podI do believe this is the best year I’ve ever had in the garden. I can state that unequivocally because, well, there are peas! There are never peas! I’ve struggled heartily to plant them at the right time, in the right place, starting them inside and out, in what little shade I have or in sun. They have either not grown at all or they have plumped too quickly and been hard and dry. But this year I’ve had a good run on snow peas and now have big, beautiful, plump shell peas hanging on their vines. The green arrow peas look just like the pictures in the catalogs, snug in their pods in long rows, emerald necklaces, green pearls. Last night, I harvested a whole cup and made pea pesto. I’m not sure if this helped, as I think it’s really about the fact that we had a cool June, but I planted them in the “shade” of the asparagus plants, which seems to have worked.

bean vines 7-11-14I’ve also been a little haphazard in my green bean planting. But this year I’ve got vine and bush varieties, and the bush plants are already putting out tender, long beans, while the vines are full of blossoms. (The red blossoms are scarlet runner beans for delicious, giant shell beans.)

I’m watching the zucchini and yellow summer squash, sometimes checking them in the morning and picking them in the evening as they grow to just big enough.

blue potato vines 7-11-14The potato bags are really not thriving, except for the blue variety, which has gorgeous purplish vines and had great blue flowers. (Good thing I also have a giant bed of potatoes.) The other night I rooted my hand around in one of the yukon plants in a raised bed and plucked out three golf-ball sized potatoes to put in that night’s medley. With shallots, basil and thyme, the sautéed vegetables just come together by themselves. I can afford now to be a purist, nothing from the produce section but lemons, limes and ginger for the rest of the season!

IMG_8504I’m letting the cilantro go to seed, which will be coriander that I can grind. I’m also letting some lettuce go to seed for fall planting.

I usually don’t plant anything in July, but I’m tempted to replace the beet bed as soon as I finish harvesting it. For one thing, I got one kohlrabi (another is ripening) and would like some more for slaw! And I neglected to grow chard and would like to have some for the fall. And I might try as an experiment to plant the fall beets a little earlier.

zucchini 7-11-14Meanwhile, another plant I’ve had trouble growing, eggplant, has blossoms, and the tomatillos are like Chinese lanterns on beautiful plants.

No doubt fall will be along soon enough and catch me by surprise as well. Steve mentioned that the air has felt particularly like August the past few days, dry and a little hazy. And yesterday afternoon a red tint to the air…

tomatillos 7-11-14

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Two Beet Salads

fistfull of radishes and beetsRoots are really fun to grow. It’s very satisfying when it’s time to start pulling up beets and radishes by the fistful. When a tall, thick carrot comes out of the ground, it’s a miracle. We’ve been making do with the carrot tops and the beet greens, and even radish greens to round out a salad, but now with the real deal in hand, the greens mostly go onto the compost pile. (Well, not the carrot greens… I’m making and freezing the pesto!)

We’re still a few weeks away from carrots, and really, a couple of these beets could have been left in the ground a week longer, but I couldn’t wait! And some of them were pushing themselves mostly out of the ground, which means they’ve kind of done all they’re going to do. (Don’t worry. There’s still plenty.)

Rather than jump right into another pesto, I started off by just roasting them and eating them with a little olive oil and feta. I have to remind myself each year that I really do like beets, after only eating them pickled for most of my life.

IMG_8485Then I went looking on the internet and my recipe books at beet salads, and many of them involved the combination of beets and oranges. I guess beets, as a root storage vegetable, also grown in fall, are considered a winter veggie. Oranges are NOT in season, and I really don’t like to buy produce at this time of year, but I went ahead and bought a less-than-inspiring orange (and a couple small cans of Mandarin oranges) and a head of fennel for a recipe I really wanted to try. It was a beet, fennel and orange salad I’d saved from Epicurious.com mostly because it was attached to a salmon recipe.

I also found (again, with salmon) a recipe for an Asian beet salad. (Truth is, the night before I made salmon and was just too tired to make either of these, so made asparagus instead. Then the next night I made BOTH beet salads and no meat. ‘Cause that’s where we are.)

IMG_8475The first, Mediterranean salad, used roasted beets. To the recipe I added a can of garbanzo beans and lime juice, and consoled myself with the fact that I wasn’t just using orange, fennel and feta, but also from the garden I used shallots, mint, and parsley. I didn’t have hazelnuts, which was in the original recipe, but I had plenty of pine nuts in my anticipation of pesto season, so I toasted those. The second time I made it (tonight) I used toasted walnuts instead (you could also use walnut oil in place of the olive oil).

TIMG_8484he second, Asian approach, was a slaw and used raw beets. It was also very good, just different. And really, you shouldn’t eat both these salads on the same night, but, you know, it was beet night! I bought oranges! Dang those peeled beets are gorgeous. As with most things that have a dressing of soy sauce and sesame oil, the natural flavors of the veggies were pretty altered. Also, I didn’t have cabbage (I was not about to buy a cabbage with four growing in the garden) so I just put the rest of the ingredients on a bed of rubbed kale. That’s why I’m calling it a salad instead of a slaw.

I had my very first ever homegrown kohlrabi. (Why didn’t I plant more of them?? I’m starting some more right away…) I sliced it into the slaw, and two carrots from the co-op, as I’m being patient and waiting for mine to grow up. I agree it would be best to do it right, as a slaw with cabbage, but that would also take away some from the beets, which are my stars right now.

In any event, it was all delicious, and there were no leftovers. I doubled the first recipe tonight when I made it again, with the second half of the fennel bulb and Mandarin oranges only, and again, no leftovers. The herbs give it a really fresh taste and the beets are definitely in a starring role. And it’s vegan.

Beet, Orange and Fennel Salad with Feta

for the original recipe, click here

4-6 beets, depending on size, mix of golden and red is nice
2 oranges or 1/2 small can of Mandarin oranges
1 small fennel bulb cored and sliced into thin strips
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup roasted pine nuts or walnuts
1-2 shallots, thinly sliced and chopped
1/2 lime
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs olive oil (or walnut oil)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Roast the beets wrapped in foil in a 350 degree oven until tender (about 50 minutes). Slip them from their skins, slice them and put them in a bowl.

Peel and section the orange into slices, or do yourself a favor and just use ones in a jar. Add them to the salad. Add the fennel, chopped herbs and walnuts.  Mix in the balsamic vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and either lime juice, orange juice (if using real oranges) or combination of both. It really does need juice to make it moist.

Mix the salad before adding the feta cheese to keep it from getting too pink from the beets. You can even add feta to the bowls/plates at the table.

The Asian slaw recipe can be found here. But I’ve copied it below verbatim. To this recipe I added thinly sliced kohlrabi and thinly sliced radishes. I’m sure it’s better with cabbage as a slaw than how I made it, as a glorified kale salad. A friend recommended red pepper flakes, which also would be a great addition. The dressing is very good, and the honey gives it that slaw sweetness.

Asian Beet Slaw

1½ tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
1 cup julienned beets (If you don’t have a julienne peeler, slice a beet in half and then use a vegetable peeler to shave the beet into half moons. Next slice the half moons into very thin strips.)
1 cup shredded carrots
3 cups finely chopped green cabbage
1 navel orange, peeled, segmented and chopped
4 scallions, finely chopped (whites and light green parts only)
1½ tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 clove garlic, minced


  1. First, you need to toast the sesame seeds. Heat a small pan over medium heat. When hot, add the sesame seeds and toast for about 1 minute until they are golden brown.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the beets, carrots, cabbage, oranges and scallions.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar, lime juice, honey, ginger and garlic.
  4. Pour dressing over the beet slaw and toss to coat. Serve room temperature or chilled.



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The Berry is Always Sweeter…

IMG_8443Lucky for me, the strawberries also waited for me to get back from Chicago. Today I went out to Produce Acres to pick my year’s share!

Picking strawberries definitely reveals one’s outlook on life. Me? I was convinced right away that my row was a loser. First, as Russ and I were walking to it, a little boy picking berries with his mom shouted, “Mom, I’m picking all the big ones!” Russ said softly, “You’re supposed to pick ALL the ripe berries.” His mom followed up by saying it was good she was going behind him.

I got the row next to this duo. And on his way out, I heard Russ say, “Did you want to pick two rows? No? Well, then, this is your row.”

Sure enough, as I started picking, all my berries were tiny, and sparse. I kept catching the sight of bigger berries in the next row over, and even in the row the woman and her son were picking. I felt free to pick theirs, since they had already been through. I was discouraged. It was going to be a lot of cutting out tops from tiny berries… but they were mighty sweet.

I was pretty alone in my spot. No one to overhear as I made my way down the row, just time to think. And so I wondered about managing a U-Pick operation. What row and where do you start people so they will not be discouraged and give up or leave disparaging your operation? About halfway through I hit larger berries and more plentiful plants. Russ walked by again and said: “You’re getting into the motherlode there.”

IMG_8444Yes, yes I was! And that pushed me to keep picking, getting all those great berries, piling them on top of the layer of little berries. I picked even more than I’d planned, six pounds. Who could stop in the middle of a motherlode?

In the end, Russ’s strategy struck me as smart. Make people work for it at first, so you get those little berries picked. Then have them come upon the larger, more plentiful plants, just as they’re starting to lag, where they’ll feel renewed and rewarded.

And yes, there will be jam.

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Back in the Garden

IMG_8438I was gone a week. A full week. Before I left I watered everything as much as I could, typed out instructions labeled: watering, weeding, harvesting, and prayed for rain.

When I left there were tiny beets in the ground and the beginning of the four broccoli heads, and the very first few snow peas. My biggest fear was missing the entire pea season. I’ve had such bad luck with peas every year, and if they didn’t get picked or there was lots of heat and no water, they might put out stunted, plumped, bad-tasting peas.

IMG_8439Hooray Sophia! My niece who lives on the farm did her job, namely harvesting. She picked the peas and even cut the four broccoli heads, leaving the stalks where a few side shoots are starting to emerge. I had instructed her on distribution (one head for her family, one for Amy and Kevin, and two heads for me).

What didn’t happen was rain or watering (yes, I know, too much to hope for, really, for the tired landscaper to turn on a hose on a timer!!)

IMG_8440Still, nothing actually died, although the already struggling potato bags may actually fail after such neglect.  Oh well, there are potatoes planted everywhere. There will be potatoes. And he did poison the gopher twice, just as it was advancing on the beds of beans, onions and potatoes.

IMG_8441And I did not miss the pea season. In fact, the Green Arrow peas are still plumping in their pods. Water (which I am now providing) will help with that.

The first evening home I made a gigantic salad. There was still just a bit more lettuce, and there were radishes, broccoli, snow peas, beet greens, spring onions, and a wonderful salad dressing of yogurt, sour cream, lemon juice, dill, and garlic scapes all mashed up in the blender. YUM.

Last night, chicken, herb rice, and roasted beets with feta.

Tonight, a stir-fry with pork, snow peas, broccoli, radishes, onions, basil, scapes AND four very tiny zucchini I couldn’t help but pick and chop up, especially seeing all the other flowers and beginnings of squash on the vines.

It was a lovely week in Chicago. And it’s good to be home!


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