WANING DAYS OF SPRING

beans1There’s something powerful in eating locally grown vegetables, either from our own garden or the farmer’s market. It makes me want to eat much healthier in all ways when the main pieces of a meal showcase homegrown bounty.

Something about the mountain air and my husband’s green thumb has bombarded our garden beds this spring, and now that his hard work is done, he spends his mornings and early evenings picking his ‘fruits.’ He likes to pick vegetables when the sun is not beating down upon them. He says the cooler times of the day are better because all the ‘energy’ of the plant are in the fruit. When the sun is out that energy is transferred to the roots. Using his philosophy, the root crops are best picked during peak sun times. Others say the morning while still fresh with dew is the best for capturing the most moisture.

All I do is say “Grilling salmon tonight. Make sure we have some green to go with it.” And right now magically when I go to cook dinner, the crisper is filled with rich goodness.

Right now, at the end of May, we are eating the last of the lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, and radishes. But the broccoli, beans, and peas are coming on strong.

What are you enjoying in your area?

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.

#Garden – Pea Time

June Garden 2014

June Garden 2014

I decided to take a break from my job today to give a brief update on the garden now that we’ve moved into summer here in western Pennsylvania.

The spinach has gone to seed, but we put up a few bags and ate quite a few meals of the fresh stuff. The raspberry bushes are alive with small white berries and the bees are buzzing around the blossoms. I watch daily for the first sign of red. I’m ready to pick and preserve–and of course, slip a few in my mouth.

The news this week involves peas. We’d been snacking on peas for the past week. I put some in a tuna macaroni salad, and we’ve been eating them raw. Late yesterday, Robert went out to pick and he came back in with a grocery bag packed with them plus enough for us to have large servings for our supper–we’d had a late lunch, so we made peas our evening meal. Tonight I’ll be blanching and freezing. Mid June Peas 2014

Peas should be blanched in boiling water for two minutes and then submerged in ice cold water for another two minutes. They should be a wonderful bright green and ready for putting in freezer bags for winter consumption. Peas hold up well for freezing, perhaps the best vegetable of all for preserving this way.

So it’s back to work. I’m in the process of getting three books ready for publication. I participated in a Romance in a Month class and really did finish a draft of a book. It’s shorter than my previous novels so I should be able to publish Behind the Altar by September. 64

NATIVE_WEBNative Lands is next in my Florida Fiction Series. I started this novel in 2006, and then left it for a few years. I’ve been working on it since 2013 and it heads to my editor in July. I hope to have it published by October.

And finally, the third book, Odyssey to Myself, is a collection of travel essays I’ve been working on in my spare time for the past year. It covers a decade in my life when my world tilted. As I struggled to adjust, I traveled: Morocco, Italy, Panama, and Chile. There was a trip down Route 66 in between. Most of the essays were already written and published in various places. I’m just writing the transitions and pulling into one cohesive whole. I hope to publish this one before summer ends.NewKindleJune5

I’ve been busy. I imagine things to pick up with the garden with the ripening of twenty tomato plants. I’m excited to make Italian sauce and salsa since we didn’t make any last year, partly because the tomatoes didn’t perform as well and partially because I wasn’t performing at all.

What a difference a year makes. I’ve never felt better, and when I look out at the garden, it reflects my feeling of health and well-being. We’re eating broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce almost every night. Thanks, Robert, for a job well done!

What’s growing in your area right now? I haven’t been out to a Farmer’s Market yet, but I bet they’re bursting with local food.

#Gardening – Spring Means #Spinach

Spinach ready to pick

Spinach ready to pick

This warm and wet spring weather means lots of big leaves on the spinach plants. It also means we’ll have it longer before it goes to seed, if the heat of summer stays away for a few weeks.

Robert picks the spinach after it’s been watered or after a good rain. . .after it’s had time to dry. He then puts it into dry plastic bags and stores in the refrigerator until I can find the time to start cleaning, blanching, and freezing. He actually does the washing part while I chop, blanch, and bag. The other night we managed to put up eighteen bags containing two servings each.

spinach1

blanch for two minutes

We’ve been eating it every other day in various forms: raw in wraps and salads, sauteed briefly in olive oil, garlic, and silvered almonds, in lasagna, omelets and just plain steamed.

Medical News Today reports the breakdown of what is contained in one cup of raw spinach: It “contains 27 calories, 0.86 grams of protein, 30 milligrams of calcium, 0.81 grams of iron, 24 milligrams of magnesium, 167 milligrams of potassium, 2813 IUs of Vitamin A and 58 micrograms of folate.”

bags ready for freezer

bags ready for freezer

We might get one more big picking before it’s done. But that’s thirty-eight meals of spinach for the winter and a few more meals with fresh spinach before the season ends. Then we’ll start on the peas, which are now climbing their chicken wire fence and reaching for the sun.

I’d love to hear from you on what’s going on in your garden or what you’re eating from the local farmer’s markets. Ours, filled with lots of local food grown in western Pennsylvania, are just opening for the season.

 

Click on cover to purchase

Click on cover to purchase

Our book From Seed to Table provides lots of gardening tips and recipes. Here are the steps I follow for blanching and freezing bags of spinach (in two-serving bags):

Blanching and freezing spinach

Note: The blanching steps below may be followed for most vegetables with variation in the time the vegetable is in the boiling water. The recipe below preserves as much of the vitamins and taste as possible. Our frozen spinach is green and tastes “almost” like we’d just picked it.

  • Wash the leaves – Put the leaves in a sink of cold water and carefully wash off all dirt and grass. Put in colander to drain.
  • Chop the leaves – I didn’t do this last year, and I was sorry. While the spinach tasted great, it was a bit stringy. I chopped them into about 1-inch squares.
  • Blanch – Bring a big pot of water to boil and place one colander full of leaves into the water for two minutes.
  • Ice water bath – Submerge in ice water for another two minutes.
  • Place in colander in a large bowl or pot and let drain for a few minutes.
  • Put into freezer bag that is labeled and dated.

One colander full equals two servings and fits perfectly into a freezer sandwich bag. It’s fine if some water is in the bag – it’s probably better for the spinach.


 

Asparagus – First Vegetable of Spring

 

First Asparagus of 2014 Season

First Asparagus of 2014 Season

We had a real treat last night. We ate the most delicious steamed asparagus–picked fresh from our garden only moments before.

Robert planted the asparagus crowns in a bed at the end of our garden two years ago.

Asparagus 2013

Asparagus 2013

This makes its third season and the first one for harvesting. For the best results, it’s good not to harvest until the third year. Also, be sure to plant them with forethought because asparagus is a perennial, and the same planting can last for twenty years or more without doing much but covering them with straw over the winter.

Purple asparagus

Purple asparagus

Asparagus is rich in all the B vitamins, Vitamin C, calcium, and iron. It’s also chock full of anti-oxidants and provides digestive support. What’s not to love? I thought I loved everything about asparagus until I ate it the other night fresh from the garden. As with all vegetables, nothing beats a newly harvested crop. There’s none of the bitterness that sometimes comes with older asparagus. Ours actually tasted sweet.

Here’s the one problem as I see it. It will produce more and more each week for about six to seven weeks. That means we need to eat it often, and I need to become proficient in finding and making different recipes. Steamed is great, but perhaps it will lose its novelty after the fifth night in a row. I’ve yet to find a good way to preserve it as I can do with the spinach about to be picked as I write this post.

Spinach ready to pick

Spinach ready to pick

However, I will search for preserving techniques for asparagus and welcome suggestions from you. One of my friends told me about asparagus guacamole–I actually thought she had her “a” vegetables confused. I looked it up online, and it’s the same recipe as with avocados, except substituting asparagus that’s put through a food processor. That will probably be one of the first recipes I’ll try.

What about it? Any ideas to share about the harvesting and preparing of asparagus? This is my first season with this vegetable, and I’m a little giddy to think of having so much to eat for the next few weeks.

Click on cover for Amazon page

Click on cover for Amazon page

 

From Seed to Table – Growing, Harvesting, Cooking, and Preserving Food  provides lots of tips and recipes for vegetable gardening.

 

 

Slow Start to Garden

It’s been a slow start here in western Pennsylvania after a tough winter. My husband has been preparing the soil and raised beds for a few weeks. The seedlings are growing under grow lights. He puts the trays outside each day for a few hours of sun, if possible.

Peas under cover

Peas under cover

This weekend, he finally put the peas in the ground. And spinach seedlings will be put in the raised bed next to the peas later this afternoon.

Two years ago we put in raspberry plants and asparagus. My husband spent a few hours this weekend pulling the raspberry roots that invaded the asparagus bed. So far, we can’t see any asparagus coming up. Let’s hope the raspberries didn’t invade too far. We didn’t realized how invasive raspberries can be, but perhaps this is why most folks put their raspberries in a separate garden.

Where's the asparagus?

Where’s the asparagus?

 

 

 

 

 

How’s your garden growing?

Click on cover

Click on cover

 

Here’s an excerpt from From Seed to Garden on raised bed gardening.

Raised Beds
Robert has been gardening using the raised bed method for several decades. I’ve come to appreciate its benefits as well. He rakes the soil into eight-inch mounds in three- to four-foot wide rows. He forms the raised bed from soil raked into a mound. The space left forms the paths between the raised beds and is an excellent place for mulch application.

raised beds

raised beds

The mulch we place on the garden serves as its own compost bin. We use straw from a local farm—we buy six-eight bales total in summer and fall. They cost approximately $7 each. I use them as decorative items in the yard until Robert’s ready to pull them apart for use as mulch. We also use mushroom manure, grass clippings from our lawn, leaves from our trees, compost from the bin, plants that have bolted, remains of vegetables, such as cornhusks, pea pods, or bean ends and strings. This material goes into the valleys between the raised beds to form a path between rows. It’s very easy to reach all the plants in our garden from the mulched paths.

When we first married, I was cautious about going into Robert’s sanctuary because I didn’t want to do something wrong or step on anything. After the first year of working with him in the garden, I realized his way of laying out the garden made it extremely friendly for me to go out and pick vegetables. Also, with the heavy layers of mulch between the rows, there’s very little weeding to do in the garden.
Raised bed gardening provides several benefits over regular garden beds. Because the plants are above the ground, drainage from the beds is very good. It also helps in aeration of the soil and the plant’s roots. It increases the depth of the bed. And my personal favorite, it provides excellent demarcation of the plants and the walking paths.

#Gardening Update

photo (1)

Tomatoes

Things are moving slowly here in the Zick gardening world. Robert has gone out and covered some of the raised rows so they won’t get too wet to work. The seedlings are straining in the grow lights, but he was able to put them outside yesterday for a few hours of sunlight. I walked around the yard this morning and saw little signs of spring from the buds on the lilac bushes to the tulips and daffodils peeping up out of the ground. The plants are yearning as much as we are to burst out into the sun, but we’re all hesitant in case it snows again. It’s going to be a slow spring.

Broccoli

Broccoli

Spinach

Spinach

Spinach is usually in the ground by now. In 2012, we were blanching and putting away in the freezer by the first of May. Last year was another slow spring, and the spinach didn’t produce as well. Fortunately, I’m hoarding six more bags of frozen spinach from 2013.

What’s going on in your garden?

 

Click on cover

Click on cover

#Love and #Gardening Go Together

DSC03106Here’s our yard in February 2014. It’s hard to be excited about gardening, but my husband usually manages to bring a little spring into our home every winter. However, this year he’s had a  few rough months, starting with our trip to Mexico in October. Finally, now in the first week of March, he’s showing signs of improvement after the final diagnosis of chronic diffused sinusitis and asthma.

His lack of energy, weight loss, and nagging cough worried me. But nothing worried me more than the day Robert looked at me after a particularly bad bout of coughing.

“I don’t think I can put a garden in this year,” he said. His shoulders drooped, and life seemed to have fled his eyes.

That one statement scared me more than anything else. My husband has never not had a garden. He grew up working with his father in his garden, and since he’s lived on his own, he’s always grown food. For him to give up gardening is to give up on living.

Robert's garden 2013

Robert’s garden 2013

The next few weeks saw little improvement as I hovered and continued to push him back to life. Then slowly it began to happen two weeks ago. He perked up and ordered a few seeds  from the dozens of catalogs arriving daily. He read about grafted tomato plants that resisted disease and asked me to order a few of them for delivery in April. I held my breath, until yesterday, when I knew we’d turned a corner. At brunch, I ordered an omelet stuffed with spinach. I said it tasted fresh but not quite as fresh as his straight from the garden.

“I need to get spinach seeds started this week,” he said. “We need to get those in the ground this month.”

“Welcome back,” I said as I reached for his hand.the leaves

Here’s one of my favorite winter recipes, using our tomato sauce and spinach we froze the previous spring.

Meatless Lasagna

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We enjoy this meal in the winter, using our canned tomato sauce and frozen spinach. You can do any variation you’d like, such as adding more vegetables or meat. I’ve developed this recipe over many years until I’ve finally found the right formula for having lasagna that is tasty and not liquidy when pulled out of the pan. One of the keys is to make the lasagna with raw noodles.

Ingredients – Gather all ingredients together before layering

7-8 cups tomato sauce

Lasagna noodles, raw (doesn’t use an entire box, but about 2/3)

l lb. mozzarella cheese

¾ cup of parmesan cheese

Filling – mix together the following ingredients

2 ½ cups cottage cheese (you can use ricotta, but I prefer cottage)

2 cups chopped and cooked spinach (frozen or fresh; this amount is for spinach cooked)

2 eggs

salt, pepper to taste

dash of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a 13” x 9” x 2”, begin layering as follows:

Small layer of sauce on bottom of pan

Raw noodles

½ of filling

1/3 of sauce

½ of mozzarella cheese

Raw noodles

Rest of filling

Another 1/3 of sauce

Rest of mozzarella cheese

Raw noodles

Rest of sauce

Parmesan (or Romano works as well)

Cover and bake 60 minutes. Uncover and bake for additional 10 minutes. Take out of oven and allow to set for 15 minutes before serving. Freezes exceptionally well, and it’s even better as leftovers the next day.

This recipe and many more can be found in our book From Seed to Table, available both on Kindle and in paperback.

Click here

Click here

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.

Garden Loves June

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

We shelled peas on Saturday night. Then I blanched them for two minutes before putting away in nine freezer bags. I love those peas on a cold winter night. We’re not halfway through the pea season. Last year, our peas didn’t produce very well. My husband believes he put mushroom manure to close to the seedlings and they were overwhelmed with fertilizer. He didn’t do it this year, and we have a fantastic crop.DSC02585Tonight we picked our very first zucchini. We have to watch those plants because when they hide, we end up with bats. I’m going to grill these small beautiful wonders.

The spinach is done for the year. I managed to freeze twenty-one bags. I’m going to steam the last of the leaves tonight and make Greek pizza. The recipe is included in From Seed to Table, but here it is just for you.

Greek Pizza

Ingredients

Phyllo dough – use half of a box

2 cups of cooked spinach

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 cup fresh basil leaves

¼ pound feta cheese, crumbled

1 cup cottage cheese

1 ½ cups of mozzarella cheese, grated

2 TBSP butter, melted

Spray oil (olive or canola)

Saute the onion, garlic and basil in olive oil. Prepare the phyllo dough, following the instructions on the box. Layer half the sheets of dough on a cookie sheet, spraying each layer with oil. Layer the ingredients: saute mix, spinach, feta and cottage cheeses (mixed together), and top with mozzarella cheese. Layer the remaining sheets of dough on top, spraying each layer. Brush the top sheets with melted butter.

Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes, depending on your oven. The dough should be a golden color.???????????????????????????????I hope your garden is producing. If you’re not gardening, I hope you’re able to enjoy some of summer’s bounty from your region. I bought five or six quarts of local strawberries and froze three gallon-sized freezer bags full. I’ve eaten my fair share. I can’t wait for blueberries. We do have raspberries but they seem to be slow to ripen. We bought some very think Remay to cover the tops so birds can’t eat those luscious beauties before us.

I look forward to hearing what’s happening in your local food department.

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