Thursday, September 30, 2010

Red Powder Puffs

The powder puffs in the back yard are blooming now.  They will show off their pretty flowers until next spring, unless a hard freeze burns them to the ground, like one did last winter.  I thought for sure we had lost all our bushes, but a few months later, they re-emerged from their roots and are looking as pretty as ever.

 The bees and butterflies love red powder puffs...
 I had some trouble shooting this one because it wouldn't cooperate and stop fluttering its wings!  It flew from one flower to another.  I think it drank from every single blossom before moving on.

Red Powder Puffs along the garden path

I just read that red powder puffs are easy to propagate, either by seed or cutting.  I think  I will collect some  seeds and cuttings to plant some more and give them away as presents.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dinner from my Garden

Once in a while, I read of people who are producing all or most of their vegetables.  I am in awe of them.  Tonight, I think I managed to make dinner with most of the vegetables coming from our garden - sweet potatoes, eggplant, and basil.

Remember our sweet potato harvest?  Well, last Saturday, Don harvested some more.  I also picked four pounds of eggplant, and basil - enough for two batches of Eggplant Parmesan.  The eggs were from our chickens too!

I thought sweet potatoes for dinner would go well with my Easy Eggplant Parmesan, and they did.  I baked them in a 450 degree oven, wrapped in foil, for about 45 mintues.  We split them open and put butter and extre-sharp cheddar cheese.  I'd never eaten them like that before.  They were wonderful, and the combination of Eggplant Parmesan and sweet potato was a nice discovery.

I've made Eggplant Parmesan several times before, but it has been slow and tedious.  So, this time I decided to experiment and simplify.  I was worried until I tried the results and heard the good reviews from the rest of the family. I can't believe I went through all that trouble in the past - salting, draining, slicing...  Here's the fast and easy way.

Eggplant Parmesan - Fast & Easy

2 medium eggplant (about 1 pound)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large egg
1cup panko bread crumbs
1 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
2 jars of your choice spaguetti sauce - I used Newman's Own
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil 
1 cup shredded provolone or mozzarella cheese

Cut eggplant into 1/2 inch dice. Place flour in shallow dish. Beat egg in second shallow dish. Combine bread crumbs, 1⁄2 cup Parmesan, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, and 1⁄2 teaspoon pepper in third shal- low dish. Coat eggplant  lightly with flour, dip them in egg, and dredge in bread-crumb mixture, pressing to adhere.

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Heat 1⁄2 cup oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook eggplant in three batches until lightly browned. Add more oil between batches, as needed. Transfer to 9x13 baking dish and bake until eggplant is tender and deep golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.

Heat the sauce and add chopped basil.  Combine remaining Parmesan and provolone or mozzarella in medium bowl. Top browned eggplant with spaguetti sauce, then cheese mixture, and bake until cheese is melted.  Enjoy!

Wordless Wednesday - Fall Mushrooms

A fallen branch in the back yard...

Linking with Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Last Weeks' Harvest

We had a nice harvest week last week.  Our foot-long beans are growing and in need of support.  I made some soup with them, and they were outstanding!  I am definitely planting lots of these in the spring.  Okra is still producing well - 4 lbs. in all last week.  Eggplant is back - 3 lbs., which meant a double batch of eggplant parmesan for Sunday dinner.  We are now getting an egg a day from the spring chickens, so I think we have two laying at the moment.  We also have been getting about one ripe fig per day from the fig tree we planted last year.  We have been digging sweet potatoes out, and there are still lots more to be had from the third bed.  We have copious amounts of basil.  Cook's Country had an issue this summer with several recipes calling for lots of basil - Minestrone Soup, Eggplant Parmesan, and Pizza...  I've made all but the soup, which I have planned for tomorrow!

Linking with:
Monday Mosaic
Harvest Monday
Tuesday Harvest Party

Friday, September 24, 2010

Beasties on my Okra!

 So, I went out early this morning to harvest the okra bed, and I found this plant's flower buds covered with aphids...  I quickly got a bucket of soapy water to spray the plants down with.  I'm hoping this will do the trick.  They appeared to be on only one of the plants.

... and I've learned that where there are aphids and ants, there are lizards.  If only they would eat all the aphids off my plants. 

The garden is really suffering under the onslaught of bugs right now.  I'll be out there this evening spraying with Neem oil and making some of my organic pesticide to spray in the morning.

I saw that disapproving look Mr. Lizard; it is time to move on!

Linking with Fertilizer Friday!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Full Moon

We went out to check on things this evening.  The full moon lit our way; it was so bright we could see our shadows as we walked to the chicken coops. 

This morning, I heard on the radio that Jupiter is unusually close to us, and that was the bright light we could see shinning just under to the Moon.

The big spring chickens were all up on their roosts, except the few that like to crowd up over the nest boxes.  Such silly girls...

Linking with Friendly Friday Follow and Friday blog hop!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Signs of Fall in Florida

Michael announced this morning that it's the first day of fall today. As I was out doing my morning chores, I decided to look around and see if I could find any sign of seasonal change. 

Spanish needle seeds
  The first thing I noticed was that the wildflowers are busy scattering their seeds for next year's plants, which reminds me of my wildflower meadow project, and that we are now in wildflower planting season. 
Blanket flower and seed pods
The blanket flowers I passed by along the way to my garden are also loaded with seed pods.  I will be saving some of them.  I saw many carpenter bees feasting on these during the summer months.

Black Seeded Yard Long Pole Bean - blossom
 I love these beans.  They are a variety that comes from subtropical Asia and are proliferous.  I am already envisioning a minestrone soup this evening with some more of my blueberry muffins.  I almost posted the recipe, but I resisted the temptation because I know that Chai needs a break from all my foodie posts... he, he.  Bean blossoms are a sure sign of fall in our garden.

Ordinary flat-leafed parsley (and snail...)
  I never would have guessed it, but parsley is growing in my garden on this first day of fall.  My Florida gardening books all say to plant seeds in September-October, but my parsley plants knew better.  They came up a couple of weeks ago from seeds that scattered last spring.  I allowed my spring parsley plants to go to seed because the bees loved the blossoms and then the swallowtails wanted what was left of the leaves for their caterpillars.  Their gift to me was this nice surprise, early fall parsley.

Little Finger Eggplant - Blossom
With a little TLC, this plant survived the summer heat.  It stopped producing in late June, and now it is loaded with blossoms and little baby eggplants.  I think it likes the slightly cooler evening and morning temperatures of the beginning of fall.

I have the hardest time getting pictures of purple things to show true to color. 

I think the eggplant bush is a good example of what would look good as edible landscaping in a neighborhood that doesn't allow you to have a vegetable garden.  The leaves are large and green, the purple flowers are very pretty, and so are the growing eggplant.  There are many varieties of heirlooms out there in different colors and sizes too.

Beauty Berry
The beauty berry bush is surely one of Florida's signs of fall.  The berries of this Florida native ripen by mid-September, just in time for some for the first bird migrations.  They stay ripe on the bush for months, ready for the birds to land on their long, stiff stems and eat away. 

Brown Turkey Figs
The fig's flowers are actually inside the fruit, so we never actually see them on the tree.  We get a spring crop from our trees, and a main fall crop.  They are so sweet and full of nutrition, a great source of calcium and antioxidants.  I think the reason we don't see more figs at the grocery stores is because their shelf life isn't that long, and they are soft so must not ship well...  They really are best eaten right off the tree.  One of my projects is to propagate our own plants.  Our fig trees are planted around the house, they are another good candidate for edible landscaping. 

The signs of fall in Florida are subtle, but they are there.  We don't have the spectacular fall colors we've see up on the Blue  Ridge Parkway.  Though I would love to see them in my back yard, I think having the promise of another garden crop is a nice consolation.

Linking with Tuesday Garden Party and Bloomin' Tuesday,  Simple Lives, and You Capture: Flowers!


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Streusel Blueberry Muffins

Best blueberry muffins, ever

I think the picture doesn't do those muffins justice, but it's all I could do with fading light. 

I love blueberries, and blueberry muffins are one of my favorites.  So, I decided to do a little research and come up with a recipe that would work for me.  I've had every bad thing happen in my attempts at baking blueberry muffins, so I read all about why those things happen.  Too much baking soda is a no, no because it turns the blueberries green - acid/base chemistry in action.  If you don't flour the frozen blueberries before mixing them in, they drop to the bottom and you get moist, gooey, muffin bottoms, and they end up looking flat.  But the most important thing I discovered was that having all the ingredients at room temperature is the key to success.

After his first bite, Michael said, "Wow, this is good!"

Streussel Blueberry Muffins
Adapted from Cook’s Country

Makes 9 to 10 standard muffins

5 tablespoons unsalted butter , softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 1/2 cups  all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon  baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon  salt
3/4 cup blueberries, frozen

Streusel - optional

1 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a muffin tin with 10 paper liners or spray each cup with a nonstick spray.
Combine flour, sugars, cinnamon, and salt in bowl. Drizzle with melted butter and toss with fork until evenly moistened and mixture forms large chunks with some pea-sized pieces throughout.

Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well, then yogurt and zest. Put flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a sifter and sift half of dry ingredients over batter. Mix until combined. Sift remaining dry ingredients into batter and mix just until the flour disappears. Gently fold in your blueberries. The dough will be quite thick (and even thicker, if you used a full-fat Greek-style yogurt), closer to a cookie dough, which is why an ice cream scoop is a great tool to fill your muffin cups. You’re looking for them to be about 3/4 full, nothing more, so you might only need 9 instead of 10 cups. Top batter in muffin tin ]with streusel. Bake until light golden brown and toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out with few dry crumbs attached,  for 25 to 30 minutes.  Let cool on rack (ha!)

Happily linking with Hearth and Soul, Tempt My Tummy Tuesday, and Tasty Tuesday!

Tempt my Tummy TuesdaysH‘nSFCC

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sweet Potato Harvest

Sweet Potato Harvest (9/20/10)
Don and Michael harvested one of our three sweet potato beds this weekend - 30lbs. 3 oz.  We had some for dinner yesterday, they were so good. It's amazing how much better fresh food from the garden tastes. 

"The BIG one" 3lbs.+
That big one can feed our family!  The kids actually named some of them...
"The Heart of Davy Jones"
We have two more beds, but we'll let those stay in the ground while I put up the rest in cans and the freezer. 

This definitely motivates me to get out there and garden some more.  I did manage to squeeze in some planting this weekend - lettuce, kale, and celery seeds went in the ground Saturday evening!

I just heard they saw a "cuuute" snake living in the sweet potato vines... I knew there was something living in those vines.  "It's perfectly harmless," they say...


Happily linking with Harvest Monday!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Soothing Ginger Tea

I must have over-done it this week, because this afternoon I felt a bit off-kilter.  I have the tell-tale signs of a cold coming on - a sore throat, lack of energy...  At our house, we've learned to reach for ginger, lemon, and honey - faithful remedies for many common ailments. 

Remedy for an off-kilter afternoon
 As I sit here typing, I have in front of me a warm cup of freshly made ginger tea. 

I'm already starting to feel better, the effect is amazingly quick, and using honey is key because sugar will actually make the sore throat worse.  From what I've read about ginger, it has been used to treat colds and the flu, as well as nausea, and even motion sickness.

I buy ginger as a staple for my kitchen now.  My kids are growing up with it and have learned how to make their own tea.  It's the first thing they reach for when they don't feel well.

One of these days, I will plant one of the roots, I've heard they are very easy to grow.

Ginger Tea
(2 cups)

1 inch piece of ginger, chopped
2 cups water

Peel the ginger root and slice it into thin slices. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Once it is boiling, add the ginger. Cover it and reduce to a simmer for 5-10 minutes. Strain the tea. Add honey and lemon to taste.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fall Garden Flash Back

In Florida, we have the great advantage of two garden seasons; but for some reason, it is difficult for me to get motivated to plant the fall garden.  I know the reasons - heat and humidity during planting time and the beginning of school draws my attention and energy away from gardening.
Baby bok choy
 I decided to go through some of my old fall garden pictures and try to draw some inspiration from them.  Just looking at those fresh vegetables that grew in our own garden and how good they tasted...  it really does help.  Bok Choy was so easy to grow, and it grew in profusion.  I'll definitely plant some this evening - between dinner, small group meeting, getting girls settled for a sleep over/camping in our backyard? 
Leaf lettuce
 But look at that leaf lettuce, doesn't it look appetizing?  I can do it... this weekend, I must!
broccoli, lettuce, carrots, basil
Yes, and fresh cut broccoli...  unforgettable.  I still remember the kids saying it was the best they'd ever had. 

I love a flash back in old pictures.  They are energizing, refresh my memory, and motivate me to rearrange my priorities.

Happily linking with Flashback Friday and Fertilizer Friday!

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