Thursday, August 21, 2014

Wild flowers

Growing up in a sort of rural area in France, I would always run around in the fields and make wild flower bouquets.
I learned to recognize the flower's characteristics without really knowing their real names. Later I learned their names and properties.

We are spending a week on a farm in Ardeche in the South of France on the top of a mountain.  I have the pleasure to see those plants. I am always fascinated by the mix of flowers that can grow on a little patch in between fields.

We have forgotten that a lot of these plants are edible. Today I went on a walk and I brought some fresh flowers and greens to add to our salad for diner.

I picked some dandelions. I chose only the small leaves it does taste less bitter. Also some wild chicory flowers, nasturtium flowers and leaves, some red clover, and some red poppy seeds. You can find all of these in the united states.

Coming back from my walk I had a bag full of fresh greens and it made such a pretty salad.
If you have doubts about which flowers or plants are edible here is a link I found that could help you.

I also started to expand my knowledge of wild flowers by drying some and make an herbarium. I put the plants between two sheets of paper in a book and press them under something heavy. Well this time I used a wooden box of bottles of wine.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

canning salsa

Every year I buy a box of tomatoes to put up- usually I buy several boxes.  I can sauce, whole or quartered tomatoes, pizza sauce, barbeque sauce, and at least a dozen jars of salsa.  This year I've been working in smaller batches and put up 10 half-pints in an afternoon a few weekends ago.  My family uses a lot of salsa, and I like knowing both what's in my food and who grew it.  My CSA is chemical-free, and I've been really fortunate to get a lot of what I call "scratch-and-dent" tomatoes and peppers to work with this summer. 

Several years ago I got a great simple salsa recipe from my friend Jennifer, who got it from our friend Liz.  I'm happy to share my pared-down version with you.

7 c tomatoes, chopped but not peeled
2 frying peppers (these taste like a  cross between sweet peppers and hot)
2 hot peppers (or more to taste. I usually seed mine)
1 c chopped red onion
2-4 cloves garlic
1/4 c cilantro (omit if you aren't a cilantro fan)
1.5 tsp salt
3 T lime juice (I use concentrate, but you can also use fresh lime juice and add 1/4 tsp citric acid powder per jar)
2 T cider vinegar

I chop up all of the ingredients, either by hand or in the food processor and bring them all to a boil in a dutch oven.  Once the salsa has boiled for a minute, ladle into clean pint or half-pint jars and process for 15 minutes.  If I have just a few jars, I'll process them two at a time in my asparagus steamer.  4 jars will go in a larger dutch oven.  six or more jars requires the canning pot. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mid August Colors

A walk in my garden this week has me appreciating the changing colors.  Autumn is coming, I can feel it in the air.  I hope you enjoy the photo journal of some of my favorite colors happening right now.

So many sunflowers!

Pretty little zinnias.

I think Zinnias are such cute little flowers to look down on.

The Dahlias have been incredible this year.

Dahlias, with a little green ladybug.

My parent's Catalpa tree provides wonderful shade.

The sun is setting lower, making the evening light cozier.

My sweet Chester enjoying a warm afternoon, with some Black Eyed Susans behind him.

My sweet Bodhi, with Joe Pye Weed.

My parent's pink oakleaf hydrangea.  I love how it blooms later than the other hydrangeas.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Wild Blackberry Preserves

We are fortunate here in the PNW to have an abundant supply of wild blackberries.  My boys and I have picked baskets and baskets of berries the last few weeks and I've been busy stirring over a hot stove preserving them.

Wanting something low in sugar and pectin-free, I came up with this simple preserves recipe.  After tasting a few teas and jams recently that were made with douglas fir tips, I decided to add some to my recipe.  Earlier this spring, I snipped some douglas fir tips from the trees on our property.  I dried them, ground them in a spice grinder and added them to my blackberry preserves, it's delicious!  The fir tips add a sweet, woodsy taste that pairs really well with the blackberries.  It tastes like a walk in the forest!

Wild Blackberry Preserves

6 cups fresh blackberries
1 1/2 cups evaporated cane juice
1 1/2 cups raw honey
4 tablespoons powdered douglas fir tips (more can be added, or it can be omitted altogether)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a heavy-bottom pot and slowly start to bring to a simmer.  On medium heat, simmer the preserves until your desired consistency is reached, I cook mine for about 40 minutes when the consistency is slightly thinner than pudding.  I don't mash the berries, I try to keep them as whole and juicy as possible.  Once your desired thickness is reached, let the pot rest a few minutes before pouring into prepared jars.  Follow basic water bath canning directions to safely process the preserves.

my reassessment season

Here in Memphis, it is still hot as blue blazes but it's time to begin thinking about fall crops.  I have just a few more weeks to start seeds before the weather really begins to change.  I love fall gardening and can't wait to get started, but this year, I have some structural issues to deal with before I can have fun. It is the time of year when I reassess my garden and make changes.   First, what's worked:
I've enjoyed my galvanized tubs this year.  I have cucumbers and basil in the front one, tomatillos in the second (it's almost ready!) underplanted with some tender herbs- creeping rosemary and bicolor sage, dahlias and lavender in the third, and pole beans in the fourth.  They all need a good dose of compost, but they'll keep producing through at least October.  I will start some kale and burgundy mustard seeds in them for when the summer crops give up.  I've also loved the cutting flowers in what was my big raised bed.  The soil is full of root knot nematodes which choked all of my vegetables last year.  I grew marigolds, zinnias, and these large perennial black eyed susans in this space this year.  It was something happy to see from the back door, and the flowers have been full of native bees (as well as my honeybees).  The bed itself is made of cinderblocks, topped with bricks that we cemented in.  We'll repeat this treatment later this fall on a new bed.

 The hyacinth bean vines and Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes that I planted along the front yard fence are doing very well, climbing around and fruiting with abandon.  I can't wait for the hyacinth bean to bloom!  

There are two major areas that need revising.  My front yard raised beds have never done well.  I've added compost and mulch, but the dirt I bought was nutrient deficient to begin with, so I'm planning to pull the beds out and rebuild them with rot-resistant cypress.  These knee-high plants pictured below are supposed to be taller than I am.
And you can see how the level has sunk, and the grass from the lawn has crept in.  So I'll pull off the frames, put everything in the compost, reframe the two beds into fours smaller beds, and bring in a truckload of promix and compost to begin again.  I'm saving up all of the cardboard boxes my clay comes in to line the bottom of the beds so that they'll have a fighting chance against the bermuda and zoysia grasses that make up the lawn.

The side of our house is getting a complete makeover, which began today.  There is a 3 ft wide flowerbed that was filled with bermuda grass, heirloom bulbs, and a wandering fern that, while lovely, forms a thick black mat of stems at ground level.  As this is the south side of my house, I'd like to be able to plant sun-loving vegetables and have a cutting garden in this space, and it had become a weedy embarrasment.  Today, we began clearing it out.  It looks BAD.  It probably looks worse than it did before we cleared it.

The little tripod is protecting a Japanese Kerria that came from my grandmother's house and was being choked by the ferns.  We replanted a few echinacea and yellow coneflower, saving a few pieces that we dug out of the mess, but we trashed/composted the bulk of what we pulled out.  The edging you see to the right will be raised with brick-topped cinderblocks, just like my back raised bed.  I'll  fill the majority of this new bed with compost and promix to become a home for cutting flowers like sunflowers and zinnias, as well as sun-loving vegetables.  As soon as the soil is settled this fall, I'll plant carrots, greens, and radishes, then top with pansies.  Tomorrow we finish clearing out the grass and begin to smother what's left with cardboard and mulch.  Progress is so ugly sometimes, but this area needed a fresh start.

I'm looking forward to cooler days, more order in my garden spaces, and starting my cool season crops.

Friday, August 8, 2014

An Herb Salad of Sorts

IMG_5521 IMG_5550 IMG_5529 IMG_5545 IMG_5546

This past spring my friend Helen and I taught a "Cooking with Herbs" class.  Together we discussed growing herbs in the garden, how to use herbs in the kitchen and explored their different flavors. One of the recipes Helen made was a "free-form tabouleh" which was made up of loads of parsley and mint and just a handful of bulgar. I fell in love with the "herbiness" of it.  It left my mouth feeling so fresh and clean!

I forgot about the recipe until I was packing up for the beach this weekend.  We were running behind on schedule so I quickly ran out and clipped a large bunch of parsley and mint, wrapped it in a towel and we were on our way.

Turns out I didn't have bulgar (or even quinoa which would have worked too) but that didn't stop me from making it but with just the herbs. A herb salad of sorts.

It was just as delicious and I served it for breakfast with a hard boiled egg, a piece of salmon, some olives and a homegrown tomato.

It would be flavorful atop almost, chicken, tofu, eggs, inside a wrap, tacos, dipped with chips......

Other herbs such as cilantro, dill, oregano and basil could be used and added as well.

I used both curly and flat leaf parsley in my salad. Both are growing well in my garden this year.

I used lots of lemon which added to it's fresh, summery flavor.

Oh and it only gets better as it sits and marinates!

I'll leave you with Helen's recipe or you can omit the bulgar like I did for a straight up herb salad.

Free-Form Tabouleh

Parsley and mint 4:1 ratio
A handful of bulgar wheat
Olive oil
Lemon juice (and zest if you like)
Salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne

Cook bulgar. While still warm pour in a little lemon juice and olive oil.
Wash and dry parsley and mint.
Strip leaves from stem.
Chop herbs fine and place in large bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice and zest, salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste.
Mix together all ingredients.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Fresh fig salad

We are in France for the month and I am away from my garden. At the market in Paris I love to get fruits and vegetables of all kinds. This week they already had some fresh figs and I couldn't resist to get some. 
In Philadelphia we have figs a lot later in the season. Our neighbor had a huge fig tree, it died in the winter because of the cold. Last summer was the first time the tree produced fruits in large quantity a few branches were over our chicken coop and our neighbor let us have some. They were delicious. 

I love to eat them fresh so here is a salad recipe that you will love.

You need :
-Fresh figs
-Fresh mozzarella ( di bufala if you can find it! )

Slice the figs and the mozzarella and prepare your plate with a bedding of arugula.
Prepare a simple dressing olive oil and salt.  ( you could also prepare a dressing more elaborated with honey and balsamic vinegar but for today I wanted it simple )

Enjoy !

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Cucumbers are one of my very favorite vegetables.  I feel like I could almost live on them- especially when they're tiny, sweet, and crispy.  I slice them (with a few basil leaves, or a bit of grapefruit peel) in my water, I like them for snacking, in sandwiches, and raita or tzatziki.  This morning my breakfast was leftover tomato, cucumber, and feta salad.  YUM!  Our animals get in on the cucumber love, too.  The chickens love the peels or gotten-too-big cucumbers that friends give me, and even Ajax, my 18 month old chocolate lab, likes his cucumber treat.  He can actually hear the sound of cucumber slicing from across the house and comes to beg for slices!

Every year I've planted cucumber seedlings in my garden, only to have them chomped down by some garden varmint the day after I plant them, so this year, after seeing it happen again, I filled an old galvanized tub with some potting soil and planted seeds.  Is it silly to say I was amazed that they sprouted and thrived?

In late May, we happened to stop by a tractor supply store to pick up some straw for our chickens and I glanced at their seed display.  I picked out packets of tiny, cornichon-type cucumbers and a lemon cucumber for my newly filled tub.  I also planted some pole beans in case the cukes got eaten up, and underplanted the whole thing with basil, because I never have enough basil.

 In my planting, it seems like I had just a few of the lemon cucumber seeds sprout, because this is the first one I've seen.  It's still quite small and hasn't colored up yet, but I hope since I planted them so late (mid April is when people in Memphis usually put in their gardens), they'll continue fruiting into the fall.

These babies are my favorites.  I don't think I'll have enough to pickle- really I've just been picking and eating 3-4 a day.  I think next year I'll plant several more (I have perhaps 7 vines of both varieties) so that I can try pickling them.  

What are your favorite cucumber dishes?