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July in the Garden and Kitchen

Vermonters are basking in a string of sunny summery days after many many (many) days of rain.  The change in weather means I can finally deal with the grass and weeds that have been happily growing in our lawn and garden.  I’ve also been able to enjoy the best part of summer in VT: after-work swims in Lake Champlain.

Lake in July

Over the past several weeks I realized I’d posted blogs in previous years about many of the seasonal tasks I was busy with in the kitchen and garden.  I’ve included a recap and links below, in addition to a delicious nourishing shortcake recipe we’ve been enjoying with our freshly picked strawberries and whipped cream.  Enjoy!

Nourishing Strawberry Shortcake: This recipe involves soaking the flour in yogurt 24 hours before baking.  To learn more about how this makes flour products more nourishing and digestible, check out this article and video.  (recipe adapted from Nourishing Traditions)

Ingredients: 2 cups white flour, 1.5 cups whole wheat flour, 1 cup yogurt/buttermilk/kefir, 4 tablespoons melted butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 3 tablespoons maple syrup.

  1. Mix yogurt and flour.  It will be a very stiff dough, don’t worry.  Cover and leave at room temperature for 12-24 hours.
  2. Melt butter.  Mix butter and maple syrup into dough.  In a small dish, mix baking soda and salt, breaking up any little balls of baking soda.  Sprinkle dry mixture onto dough and mix, just until ingredients are barely combined.
  3. Divide dough into apx. 12 balls and place on baking sheet.  They will spread a bit while baking.
  4. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown.
  5. Enjoy with fresh strawberries and whipped cream!

biscuits

strawberriesStrawberry Season in VT: This year’s strawberry season was admittedly rain-drenched.  Luckily I was able to sneak in a few mornings of before-work picking.  We’ve been enjoying plenty of fresh berries in all our meals, and froze several gallons for the winter.  Check out this blog post to learn how to quickly freeze berries so that they stay delicious and easy to use in the future.

Other Firsts from the Garden: The last several weeks have brought the first crunchy harvests.  We’ve been enjoying kohlrabi and sugar snap peas in addition to plentiful lettuce, spinach, chard, and herbs.  And just a few days ago we picked the first handful of raspberries from our bushes.  It’s really starting to feel like July!

Crunchy first harvest

And Speaking of HerbsI’ve been enjoying going out to the field and garden each morning to gather leaves for my pregnancy tea blend (also gentle and delicious for other people): nettles, raspberry leaf, and mint.  ‘Tis the season to harvest herbs you’d like to freeze or dry.  Harvest most herbs now – they’re best when young and tender.  Check out this blog post to learn about harvesting and preserving herbs.

Tea Leaves

Garden Pests: Many flying garden pests are busy laying eggs at this time of year.  If you monitor your plants closely, squishing mating pairs of insects and any eggs they’ve laid (often on the undersides of leaves), you can prevent their population from booming in your garden.  This post has more information about pest control in the garden.

squash bugs

Granola: In the summer I find myself wanting something cool and fruity for breakfast – a big swing from my savory broth, soaked oats, and egg-based breakfasts of winter.  Unfortunately store-bought cold cereals and pasteurized milk are a pretty tough way to start the day for my digestive system.  Plus, they are often loaded with crazy ingredients and sugar and leave me craving more.  Thank goodness for my favorite nourishing homemade granola, homemade kefir or yogurt, freshly picked berries, and local raw milk!  Note to self – next year make a lot of granola early in the spring when the oven heat is appreciated in the kitchen.

Homemade Granola

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Home Gardens Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To School Gardens Uncategorized

Trellising and Suckers (aka Keeping Tomato Plants Under Control)

Caged Tomato

By the end of June, most gardens are fully planted and have had several weeks to settle in and start to grow.  If your rows were fully weeded when you planted, you’ve probably had a few weeks of vacation from this ongoing garden chore.  Pests can start to be a nuisance, praying on small vulnerable leaves and stems (read more about pest control here).

Right about now is a great time to get ahead of the game and create a plan to sucker, trellis, or stake any plant that will likely grow tall and may become top-heavy with fruit.  In our garden, I tie pepper plants to stakes; make sure beans, peas, and cucumbers have a trellis to climb on; and sucker and cage my tomato plants.  Most of this makes sense to the average person, except: what the heck is suckering?!

tomato sucker

Plants that are naturally bushy and sprawling, like tomatoes and tomatillos, grow new “heads” (or “suckers”) at every point where a leaf grows from the main stem.  When I worked in school gardens, I would tell the kids that suckers grow out of the armpits of the plants.  If you want a huge sprawling bush, that’s great!  BUT, if you want to be able to find all your mature fruits, keep the plant from sprawling all over the row and plant neighbors, and want to keep it off the ground to avoid disease, you’ll need to take action.

caged tomatoes

There are many trellising techniques for tomatoes.  What you choose should be based on the amount of space you have, the number of plants you want to grow, and how many extra supplies you’ll need to invest in.  Feel free to let me know if you want my thoughts on your specific circumstance!  In general, I recommend starting with a large tomato cage, and suckering your plant to keep it airy, growing up, and focused on producing fruit off its main stem.

Now that my tomato plants are over a foot high, they’ve started to grow suckers.  At this age, I can simply pinch them off with my fingers.  If suckers get very large, you’ll want to use snippers or scissors so you don’t rip the main stalk of the plant.  By removing suckers when they are small, I encourage the plant to focus on growing up rather than out.  In August, this will result in a more orderly tomato row with plants that are (mostly) growing within their cages.  This makes for easy harvesting, less spread of disease (which usually happens when rain splashes dirt up onto your plant or when leaves are densely packed together), and less breakage if there are high winds.

Suckering tomato copy

Suckering is an ongoing chore throughout the season, but is quick and easy, and fits into walks through the garden when you can also keep an eye out for maturing fruit, find new pests before they cause much damage, and take a moment to pluck a few weeds.

IMG_6824Want to get creative?  Let a few suckers grow in a strategic way.  Tomato espalier anyone?  Last year in my garden I planted a single plant at the base of a trellis.  I let one sucker grow up each wire, and then removed the rest.  I used string to periodically tie each branch to it’s assigned wire – tomatoes don’t send out tendrils or curl around wires like peas, beans, and cucumbers. My yield per plant was very high because I was essentially growing multiple “trunks” from one plant.

Happy Gardening!

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Let the Foraging & Gardening Begin!

April from Philo

Our landscape is greening more and more every day.  Buds swell and flower, new birds arrive daily, and early greens are emerging.

Pussy Willows

The first cold hardy seeds and seedlings are planted in our garden.  Whenever it is dry enough, I try to get into the garden to stay ahead of weeding and garden bed preparation.  It’s best to work the soil when it’s not too wet, which can be tricky at this time of year!  By having several garden beds ready to go, there’s always space when I’m ready to plant the next thing.  Seeds and seedlings I plant in April include: peas, spinach, arugula, lettuce, kale, chard, cilantro, beets, radishes, and onions.  I’ve started most of our brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts) inside – they will be the next to go out.  Carrots and parsnips are also on my list to plant in the next few weeks.

nettles-growing

Stinging nettles and dandelion greens have emerged and are young, tender, and delicious at this time of year.  They also happen to be loaded with nutrients and are exactly what our bodies need as they awake for spring.  I love this post by Urban Moonshine about harvesting dandelions in early spring.   Dandelions’ bitter qualities are what make them health-giving but can also turn people off from foraging and eating wild plants.  Nettles, on the other hand, are quite mild and can be used instead of spinach when cooking.  Here is a post with harvesting instructions and numerous ideas for using nettles in your meals.  Check out this post if you’re interested in other yummy plants to forage in the early spring.

dandelion-familyHappy foraging, happy gardening, happy spring!

P.S. Our naturally dyed deviled eggs came out great!  This year’s notes: my green is in need of improvement, and I learned to be cautious when playing with salt, baking soda and vinegar for my blue dye…avoiding blue volcanos in the kitchen is generally a good idea 🙂

Natural Easter Eggs

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Indoor Kitchen Projects

IMG_8239
Don’t open the back door!

We are finally enjoying a true blizzard in our new home!  Fluffy white drifts tip into the house each time I open the front door.   I’m excited to play in the snow – my first priority is sledding or cross country skiing down Mt. Philo.  I think I’ll wait, though, until I can confidently get back up the driveway when I return.  In the mean time, here are some fun indoor projects that are perfect for a snowy day:

salve-ingredinets

Soothing salves

homemade-crackers1

Homemade crackers

marmelade

Marmalade

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Homemade Bath Salts

diy-epsom-bath-salts

Homemade bath salts are SO SO easy to make yourself.  They offer a great way to take advantage of the healing, relaxing, and restorative powers of warm baths in the winter.  Epsom salts have been used for generations to relieve aches and pains.  More specifically, they provide you with a dose of magnesium, a mineral that is often lacking in our modern diets.  Magnesium’s many powers include: maintaining normal nerve and muscle function, supporting a healthy immune system, keeping the heart beat steady, and helping bones remain strong. It also helps regulate blood glucose levels and aids in the production of energy and protein (from Medline).

When you make bath salts at home, it is also fun to experiment with different combinations of essential oils.  In addition to smelling good (without exposing you to synthetic fragrances), each essential oil has an array of superpowers that help promote health and wellness.  A simple google search can help you understand the range of benefits from each different essential oil or provide you with essential oil suggestions for treating a specific heath condition or promoting a feeling or mood.

Simple Homemade Bath Salts (adapted from Wellness Mama):

  • 4 cups epsom salts (very cheap and available at all drug stores)
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 40 drops of essential oils (available at health food stores and online)

Mix together in a glass bowl.  Store in a quart canning jar.  Use 1 cup per bath.

making-your-own-bath-salts
Lavender, birch, and frankincense for my “Aches and Pains” bath salts mixture
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Winter Weekends Around the House

This winter we’ve had the luxury of being able to enjoy calm weekends at home.  Our time is structured with projects and forays outside supplemented by plenty of relaxation and reading by the fire.  Having time and lacking garden surplus foods that must be used up has given me the space to experiment with some new recipes.  We also enjoyed the results from our first attempt to process garden-grown dent corn into authentic tortillas.  Yum!  Here are some (food-focused) glimpses from our winter weekends at home:

defrosting-elderberries
Elderberries defrosting in the sun (Elderberry Syrup recipe here)
sweet-potato-brownie
Sweet potato brownies: we’ll definitely be making this again! (recipe here)
brownie-plate
Oops: meant to take a picture of the beautiful brownie plated on strawberry sauce with a drizzle of maple syrup sour cream on top… 
saved-cilantro-seeds
Sorting seeds and making our order for the 2017 garden!
windowsill-herbs
And then planting a few for some early spring windowsill cilantro
bone-broth
Bones defrosting for crock pot broth (recipe here)
skiing
Two amazing things happened last week: it snowed AND it was sunny
sauerkraut-angel
Appreciating this beautiful cabbage angel while making sauerkraut (recipe here)
making-tortillas
Homemade garden-grown blue corn tortillas (recipe here)
homemade-tortillas
Success!
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Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes Uncategorized

Better Bitters

homemade-bitters

Our pantry, freezer, and fridge are stocked with organic whole foods.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have access to such high quality ingredients, many originating here in Vermont and some from around the globe.  Cooking everything from scratch (and barely ever eating out) allows us to spend more on the raw materials, making incredibly high quality meals quite affordable.

Then one day out of curiosity I took a peek at the Angostora Bitters ingredients panel from our cabinet… Alcohol, water, sugar, gentian, natural flavorings, carmel color and added colors.  Not the worst things in the world, but I realized that I could do way better!  Why hadn’t I thought of making my own bitters before now?

It turns out, making bitters is incredibly easy.  Simply steep ingredients like citrus peels, herbs, or spices in vodka, strain, and enjoy!  But what to steep?

Inspired by great new companies, like Urban Moonshine and Salud Bitters, I wanted my bitters to be functional and delicious.  I had also been meaning to take advantage of the collection of herbalism resources I’d been accumulating.

medicinal-herb-books

Browsing through my books, I started to list combinations of herbs, spices, and citrus peels that would promote health or ease ailments.  I’m no herbalist, so I don’t guarantee results.  I know that herbal remedies need to be used regularly over time to be effective and I’m not planning on having bitters every day.  The herbalism lens, however, was useful to me in concocting some intentional blends from millions of possibilities.

A simpler option, of course, would be to start with single or two-ingredient bitters.  Orange, cardamom, or ginger bitters would all be great all on their own.  I was ready to make a project out of it, however, so I pulled tons of ingredients out of the cupboards and got to work.

bitters-ingredients

I filled each jar about 1/3 of the way up with herbs, spices, and peels (dried ingredients will expand and you want everything to stay below the level of the vodka).  I then filled each jar with vodka, labeled each with its ingredients list, and let them sit in a dark corner of my kitchen.  I shook them daily (sort of… on the days I remembered).  After two weeks, I strained and rebottled into old hot sauce jars.  Perfect for pouring small amounts!

bitters-steeping

Though my concoctions were blended without really knowing how they would taste, I love the unique flavor of each one.  I now have a diverse selection on hand for adding to seltzer, water, or cocktails.  What an easy way to upgrade this versatile cupboard ingredient!

homemade-bitters

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Preparing for the Holidays, Naturally

The holidays can be a time of crazy consumption, extra trash, and lots of spending. OR, they can be an opportunity to celebrate nature’s wintery beauty and pour positive energy into homemade gifts made for loved ones.

winter-greens

Yesterday’s new snowfall set the scene for the start to my holiday preparations.  Without the garden to tend, I’ve had time to rest from major projects at home and recharge.  I cheerily began to gather ingredients for gift making.  A walk outside yielded foraged materials for decorating the house and a handful of greens (and edible flowers!) pulled from the snow-covered garden.  Back inside, with a fire crackling in the wood stove, I got to work.

sprays-and-bouquets

Click here to read about my natural holiday decoration suggestions.

herbal-teaClick here for a great list of ideas for homemade gifts you can make in the kitchen.  Additional delicious gift ideas I’ve written about include homemade crackers, dukkah, herbal tea mixes, homemade vanilla extract, all-in-one soup mix, and homemade apple sauce.

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Summery Garden Recipes

harvest

I’ll admit it: I’m not a recipe follower.  My approach in the kitchen is to start with whatever item we have in abundance, add spices or flavorings that we didn’t just eat in the past few meals, taste, adjust, and enjoy.

This leads to a broad diversity of results that carry us through weeks of enjoyable seasonal meals.  But sometimes I feel the need to switch things up.  To try something new.  Or to use some new combination of flavors I just wouldn’t have thought of when trying to pull together a quick dinner from scratch.

Sometimes, especially starting around August, I also start to feel overwhelmed by the abundance of certain veggies and tired of my standard way of preparing them.  Bring on the recipes!

Here are a few ideas we’ve enjoyed this summer:

beet-risotto

Beet Risotto: Crafted by a friend and creative chef, this fun combination, enhanced by a generous amount of lemon zest, was a great way to enjoy our first true harvest of beets.  Check out her other recipes if you ever need in-season inspiration!

kale-ribbons

kale-salad

Raw Kale Salad: I was doubtful at first – I don’t love raw kale or dishes without enough sour, salt, and fat to balance out kale’s strong bitter green roughage.  It turns out the trick is in fine cutting and dressing ahead of time.  Yum!

rainbow-pizza

Rainbow pizza: When I saw this online in January, I immediately thought: “I can’t wait to try this in August!”  If the cauliflower crust in this recipe intimidates you, try it with a regular crust.

zucchini-fritters

Zucchini Fritters: After inventing a handful of variations on meals featuring zucchini and summer squash, I was excited to find this one to add to my repertoire.

Homemade fudgesicles: Ok, we didn’t grow any of the ingredients in this one.  AND, we ate them all without taking a picture.  BUT, it is a simple recipe with relatively whole foods and very delicious results!  I especially appreciated how the subtle sourness of the yogurt enhanced the overall flavor of these delicious cold treats.

Be sure to send your favorite summer veggie recipes my way, I’m always in need of new ideas!

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Feasting on Herbs and Flowers

spring-herbs2

This is my favorite time of year to include a big handful of herbs and flowers in every meal.  Herbs have fully leafed out and are starting to grow tender new leaves.  The flowers in bloom are ever evolving, and you’d be surprised to learn how many of them are edible.  While we’re waiting for our first peas, beans, cucumbers, and carrots, I love highlighting the wonderful flavors of backyard and garden herbs and flowers.

tea-flowers

Make tea: Both herbs and flowers make wonderful tea.  Standard flavors like chamomile and mint are easy to grow in your garden and are best harvested at this time of year.  Other familiar blooms and leaves also make great tea!  Try red clover, stinging nettle, sage, rosemary, raspberry leaf, lemon balm, catnip, or rose petals.  Spices from your kitchen like ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon make great additions to tea blends.  Want to dig deeper?  Get a book or look online to learn the healing properties of your favorite herbs and flowers.

fresh-herb-tea

spring-herbs1

Make Herb Pesto, Dip, Sauce, or Dressing: I’m always surprised by how big a bundle of pungent herbs can be used to made a small dish of delicious “pesto.”  Try blending the herbs in your garden with sprouted sunflower seeds, olive oil,  parmesan, and lemon juice for a delicious pesto.  Add a small amount of chicken broth or coconut milk for a wonderful sauce to top your meals.  Add more oil and vinegar, and perhaps some plain yogurt, mustard, and garlic to make a delicious green dressing.  As a bonus, herbs are packed with nutrients and a variety of healing properties.

herb-pesto

Garnish Generously: Flower petals and finely chopped herbs made delicious and beautiful garnishes for meals and toppings for salads.  If you don’t have many choices in your garden, wander into your yard (make sure there are no pesticides or pet waste!) or nearby fields.  Dandelion greens and petals, clover petals, violets, wood sorrel leaves, purslane, chick weed and lambs quarters are all nutrient-packed wild leaves, “weeds,” and flowers that are plentiful and tasty.

may-salad-ingredients

may-salad