Happy Spring – Building a Garden

 

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Cherohala Parkway – A frost in March that lingered

Living here in the Smoky Mountains during the winter made for some easy living. If it snowed, the sun shone the next day. If the temperatures dipped one day, we were in shorts the next. It’s been a lovely winter in our new home.

 

But now spring gradually spreads itself over us, and Robert has turned all of his attention to building a garden in the front yard of our mountain home. The first day we saw this cabin in May 2015, he jumped out of the realtors vehicle with his phone in hand with the compass app ready to go. He declared the side of the driveway (of course, on a hillside) to be perfect for a garden site as it faced south and receives the best of the summer sun.

DSC03586Onion seedlings ready to go in the ground. As usual,  he began his seeds several months ago, and now the onion plants are yearning to go into the ground. So are the other plants. Over the past two weeks, along with the help of some great folks, he’s been working every day to build beds and create a soil able to sustain vegetables during the growing season. It’s not cheap to build a garden from scratch in soil that is mostly clay, but it’s a one-time expense that will pay for itself within a few years of healthy harvesting of vegetables.The chosen spot for the garden before the heavy equipment arrived contained tree stumps we attempted to burn out to no avail. Let the excavation begin!

 

 

 

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Next post – the building of the beds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saying Good-bye

MaplehurstIt took me by surprise when I shut the garage door and prepared to leave the house for the last time. I sat in the driveway, crying. I called my husband, but he was in a meeting. So I sat and cried. We loved this home where we’d lived for the past five years. With our wedding in the backyard less than a month after we moved in, we began our marriage in the large house with a flat yard for my husband’s garden.ceremony

Love and produce blossomed and bloomed in this house. We didn’t sell the house because we hated living there; we sold it because the time had come for it to be used by a family big enough to fill its spaces.

And so this week after months of preparation and packing, the place stood empty, but not vacant. The walls echoed with the sound of our laughter and waited to embrace the young couple who bought it.

I cried again at the closing. Not tears of sadness, but of happiness for the family about to make it theirs. Two young folks with a five- and two-year old and another baby on the way in September, excitedly signed the papers turning it over to them. Their young sons played on the floor behind us, unaware of the momentous event occurring for their parents who were buying their first home.

“You know why we bought this house that was far too big for us?” I asked the couple as we signed papers. “It had a flat yard for the garden.”

“That’s my favorite part, too,” the woman said.

June 8, 2013

I wish them abundance, laughter, and love in this home that embraced us in its loving arms.

We left green tomatoes on the vine, peas bursting from pods, and onions peeking up from the earth. It feels good to walk away knowing we nurtured the land and left it better than we found it.

We move forward in a cabin that is much, much smaller and with no flat land. We’ve packed the pick-ax and boards for terracing a mountainside garden. Wish us luck!

 

I gave the couple an autographed copy of From Seed to Table and two of my novels written in this house. This home proved fruitful for both vegetables and words.

Click on cover for Amazon page

Click on cover for Amazon page

THE RITES AND RIGHTS OF SPRING

Tomato and pepper plants wait for warmer soil

Tomato plants wait for warmer soil.

It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

It’s a rite of spring around our house that my husband begins preparing the soil and putting in the ground onion seedlings and pea sprouts.

Onions are in the ground.

Onions are in the ground.

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Spinach babies seeking the sun.

Spinach plants come out from under the grow lights and into the sunlight of warmer spring days. Tomato and pepper plants begin peeping out of the soil in their pots and when tall enough transferred to larger pots, waiting for that day in May when the ground and air temperatures are warm enough for them to stretch their roots into the soil of the raised beds.

Alas, this year hubby promised he’d go easy. After all, our house is for sale with hopes for a spring or early summer buyer and move. Hubby’s had a heck of a year health-wise, with the doctors no closer to a solution than they were a year and a half ago. A very large blood clot in his leg that broke off and moved to his lungs put him on the disabled list this past week. That didn’t stop him. The doctors at the hospital said he could do some planting, but they didn’t know that my husband believes the rite of spring planting is his right of life no matter his state. Sunday found him in his garden planting two rows–each fifteen feet–of pea seeds he’d sprouted during the past two weeks.

Rows of peas are planted in raised beds.

Rows of peas are planted in raised beds.

Monday found him in bad shape and a severe lecture from our family doctor has taken not only his right of spring to plant, but his rite of the season is squashed for now.

As we left the doctor’s office, he said, “There’s nothing more to plant for a while anyway.”

The pansies are my offering to brighten up the yard.

The pansies are my offering to brighten up the yard.

Thank goodness or we’d be right back where we started.

As the days warm and the daffodils bloom and tulips push forward, we also hope for answers for my stubborn husband with the green thumb.

How’s your garden growing this spring?

Don’t forget to download or get your paperback copy of From Seed to Table.

Winter Gardening Blues and Greens

???????????????????????????????Usually by this time of year, hubby happily starts a multitude of seedlings and places them under grow lights in anticipation of planting time. It’s different this year. He’s planted a few seedlings–onions, greens–but nothing like in years past because this year our house and, of course, our garden are for sale. We don’t know if we’ll be here in the spring. We certainly hope we’re not here in the summer.

He couldn’t help himself though. When I asked him why he started the onion seedlings, he said he wanted to plant them, so the new owners would be able to enjoy them in the summer.  I’ve joked that we should sell him with the house. Not that I want to leave my sweetie behind, but he could maintain the garden and share half of the produce with the new owners. After all, after five seasons of living here, he has the soil just where he wants it. Besides, it would make finding our new smaller digs easier. Try finding flat and sunny plots of land in western Pennsylvania. It’s not an easy task. In fact, it’s one reason we bought this house much too large for two people. But we have a wonderful side yard–flat and sunny.

The seed catalogs arrive daily now, and I’m proud that he’s showing restraint. The magazines arrive, but so far no subsequent delivery of seed packets. Unless, he’s shipping to his work address.

I added a few recipes to my guide on gardening, From Seed to Tableand gave the book a face lift for spring. Here’s one of my favorites for a cold winter night.

Drunken Butternut Squash Bisque

1 butternut squash, roasted – cut into several pieces (seeded). Dribble olive oil and maple syrup over the top. Roast in 350 oven until done. Roasting times vary by squash, but it usually takes from 45 minutes to an hour.

1 TBSP olive oil

1 TBSP butter

1 onion, chopped

¾ cup celery, chopped

½ tsp ginger (if you have freshly grated, it’s always better)

Cubed pieces of cooked butternut squash

½ cup Bourbon

2 TBSP maple syrup

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 ½ tsp vanilla

Salt and pepper to taste

Ground nutmeg to taste

½ cup heavy cream (optional – I rarely use it and the bisque is still wonderful!)

Heat oil and butter in large pot. Add onion, ginger, and celery and cook until onions and celery are soft. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the cream) and cook together for 15 minutes, until flavors are well blended.

In a food processor or blender, puree until smooth. Return to heat and stir in cream, if using. Heat thoroughly, but do not bring to boil. Serve hot.

Yummy.

Click on cover for Amazon page

Click on cover for Amazon page

 

Where Did Summer Go?

Potato Leaf Tomato

Potato Leaf Tomato

I haven’t forgotten you, Living Lightly blog. In fact, I think of you often, and then something comes along to interrupt so I don’t end up writing the post. I’m sorry.

Now that I’ve apologized, it’s time to move on–right into autumn. Now that I think about it, I know exactly where summer went. It went into enjoying the heat and preserving all the vegetables Robert carried from his overflowing garden to my waiting kitchen. Our freezers (we have three of various sizes) are filled, and I know that I have to spend an hour one day organizing so I can find food during the winter.

The tomato crop this year was the best one since we moved to our home here in western Pennsylvania. In fact, my own personal gardener tells me it’s the best year he’s ever had in more than forty years of gardening.

We canned more than forty quarts of Italian sauce and salsa. There are untold numbers of whole tomatoes frozen, waiting for me to make fresh sauce when the winter winds blow. Then when I said I’d done as much as I could with canning and freezing, we started giving away. We put a box out one Sunday afternoon in front of our house with the sign “Free tomatoes.” Within an hour, it was empty. We refilled it. I looked out at one point and a man was taking the whole box. I opened the front door, and yelled, “Do you want more?”

He smiled and ran to my door where I gave him an additional box. A few weeks ago when I was out trimming flowers, a man pulled into the drive and asked what kind of tomatoes did we grow. I answered that my husband grew a variety of types. He said, “They were the huge ones.” Potato leaf, that’s what they were, and they were huge and red and absolutely delicious.

Writing this post makes me long for those tomato sandwiches of summer.

So tell me, how did your tomatoes grow this year?

From Seed to Table S2T-5

Pasta Sauce from Frozen Tomatoes

10 frozen whole tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

1 chopped onion

several chopped peppers – I use both sweet and hot peppers

fresh or dried herbs in any combination and to taste: basil, oregano, thyme, fennel, tarragon

salt and pepper

Remove tomatoes from freezer and put in refrigerator for 4-5 hours. Rinse under hot water for a few second until skins peel off easily. Let skinned tomatoes sit for an hour or until core can be cut out easily.

In the meantime, sauté onions, garlic, peppers (or anything else you’d like to add such as mushrooms, carrots, or olives) and herbs.

Chop tomatoes, even if they’re still partially frozen, throw pieces into pan with sautéed mix.

Bring to boil then put on low for several hours, stirring occasionally. When sauce is reduced enough, it’s time to use sauce in your favorite Italian dish.???????????????????????????????

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread & Sauce

photoSunday afternoon fun. I raided the freezer and found a bag of shredded zucchini and a bag of fresh-frozen tomatoes.

Baking bread and cooking sauce smells soon permeated the airwaves of our house.

Eating it wasn’t so bad either. photo (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recipes from From Seed to Table:

Walnut Date Zucchini Bread

4 eggs

3 cups flour

½ cup maple syrup

2 cups buttermilk (use regular milk and add 1 tsp vinegar)

¾ cup chopped walnuts

¾ cup chopped dates

¼ cup melted butter

3 cups shredded zucchini, drained

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp baking soda

¾ tsp baking powder

cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice to your taste

1 tsp salt

Mix together all ingredients until blended. Place in two greased loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until brown on top and toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Pasta Sauce from Frozen Tomatoes

10 frozen whole tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

1 chopped onion

several chopped peppers – I use both sweet and hot peppers

fresh or dried herbs in any combination and to taste: basil, oregano, thyme, fennel, tarragon

salt and pepper

Remove tomatoes from freezer and put in refrigerator for 4-5 hours. Rinse under hot water for a few second until skins peel off easily. Let skinned tomatoes sit for an hour or until core can be cut out easily.

In the meantime, sauté onions, garlic, peppers (or anything else you’d like to add such as mushrooms, carrots, or olives) and herbs.

Chop tomatoes, even if they’re still partially frozen, throw pieces into pan with sautéed mix.

Bring to boil then put on low for several hours, stirring occasionally. When sauce is reduced enough, it’s time to use sauce in your favorite Italian dish.

photo (1)

What’s cooking at your house these days?

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From Seed to Table is now available in paperback for $5.39.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside, But Summer Produce is Hot!

It’s that time of year when it’s difficult to imagine the green of a lush garden as we look at the winter vistas outside the window. The seed catalogs arriving daily give us hope that the frozen tundra of our landscape in a few short months will turn into loose dirt ready for planting.

At our house, the onions are becoming seedlings under grow lights. Some of the onion seeds my husband ordered are on back order so we searched out local sources of seeds yesterday. Neither of the stores we checked that usually have packets of seeds near the check out had them. With the temperatures dipping to ten below degrees, maybe they’re finding it difficult to imagine anyone growing anything.

Even though we’re not venturing very far from home these days, we’re enjoying the products from the past year’s garden.

Peas, corn, spinach, or zucchini, frozen during the summer, grace our plates almost every night.  We also are eating winter squash frequently. We have butternut and a new variety my husband planted last summer. It’s called Heirloom Queensland Blue Squash.

Butternut and Heirloom Queensland squash

Butternut and Heirloom Queensland squash

It does have a bluish tinge to it, and it look as if the Jolly Green Giant stepped on it. But it is a sweet and lovely squash growing to 10 pounds or more. I boiled cut up pieces of one the other day and it made ten cups of pureed squash.

I used it to make a “pumpkin” pie, which means I used a pumpkin pie recipe substituting two cups of pureed Queensland Blue instead of pumpkin. My husband and I thought it tasted better than pumpkin, but then anything that reeks of freshness in these days of arctic frigidness ranks very high on our taste-bud list.

I hope you’re staying warm. I just checked the outdoor temperature, and it’s already down to one degree at 4 p.m. They predict wind chills to be thirty below. How is that even possible?

Back to dreaming of the summer to come – here’s a photo to help us remember that somewhere sometime in the not too distant future, we will once again thaw out and see green everywhere.

Let me know about your garden dreams and realities. Perhaps the weather isn’t as frightful where you live.cropped-dsc01306.jpg

 

From Seed to Table is now available in paperback.