Friday, August 31, 2012

Summer Tomatoes, better than New Jersey!

All 12 tomatoes lined up in a row
Nothing in the food world tastes more like Summer than a juicy tomato (except maybe corn right from the farmer)!  Growing up in Pennsylvania, I always thought New Jersey had us beat on growing the best tomatoes.  Each trip to the Shore meant a chance to sample the Jersey Tomato.   It was so full of flesh/meat and less with juice and seeds.  When you bit into a Jersey Tomato, "Mmmmmm!" came out involuntarily.  That was, until this year.  Sorry NJ!  I don't know if it was the lack of rain, or my own garden, but I was rather unexcited with my Jersey tomatoes I purchased this year.  In the meantime, my own tomatoes think they're from the Jersey Shore!  They have that Jersey taste.  I wish I knew how I did it.  Maybe it was the extra hot sun or the watering.  Perhaps it was the special tomato growing formula I purchased this year.  Whatever the reason, my plants are producing not only an abundance of tomatoes, but they're yummy!  When I slice one open, it is thick red tomato inside with very little "run-off" as I call the excessive seeds and juice from store-bought tomatoes. 

The only challenge this year was the ground hog that would eat them just as they ripened.  So I had to pick them a day or two early.  This past week, I noticed the stink bugs starting to come back.  They too love tomatoes.  However, we love them more than any groundhog or stink bug so I plan to win the battle.  Meanwhile, anyone local want to swap tomatoes for something you're growing?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Curling Cucumbers: the unplanned Shirly Temple Variety

I've begun to nickname my cucumbers "Curly-Q's" because as the summer goes on, they're becoming more and more curled up.  Sometimes just the end stays curled, and sometimes the whole cucumber is curled around itself like a frightened caterpillar!  Being that this is my first year growing cucumbers vertically along a trellis, I naturally thought that might be the problem.  However, after some research, the problem seems to be the bees.....or lack of them!  Curling cucumbers are caused by incomplete or uneven pollination.  This is important to the shape of the cucumber.  If all the seeds are not pollinated then the cucumber will continue to grow, but be misshapen. 

This makes sense to me.  In the beginning of the growing season, I would see bees all over my cucumber flowers.  Then as the zucchini grew on the other side of the yard, apparently their much larger orange flowers were more appealing to the bees.  In the morning, the zucchini flowers are over-crowded with bees and other insects while the cucumber plant looks like a castoff.  If this was a popularity contest in the vegetable world, my zuchini's were definitely winning! 

If your cucumbers are curling because of an obstacle in the garden, that's an easy fix.  Just clear a path for the cucumber.  If it is a lack of bees, then plan next year to add some flowers nearer, or in, the garden.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Zucchini Pizza Casserole: Kid favorite!

I've written before about kids in the garden and the zucchini invasion I had a few weeks ago.  Well, for my first year of growing zucchini, I continue to be amazed at the great yield for such little effort in the garden.  Except for the vine borers, which I was victorious against, the remaining zucchini plants continue to produce more than our family needs.  I was scanning the internet for more recipes when my Mom handed me one from Taste of Home's website:  Zucchini Pizza Casserole.  It had the necessary ingredient for my kids to at least try it--cheese!  Not only did they like it, but my youngest who does not like zucchini or ground meat, gobbled it up!  So for all of you with picky eaters, or too many zucchini in your garden, here's the recipe.   The only adjustments I made were to leave out the green pepper, and to lengthen the time in step one from 10 minutes to 15-20 minutes.

From Taste of Home

Zucchini Pizza Casserole [Taste of Home]

4 cups shredded unpeeled zucchini
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 can (15 ounces) Italian tomato sauce
1 medium green pepper, chopped

  1. Place zucchini in strainer; sprinkle with salt. Let stand for 10 minutes. Squeeze out moisture.
  2. Combine zucchini with the eggs, Parmesan and half of the mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. Press into greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish.
  3. Bake, uncovered, at 400° for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook beef and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Add tomato sauce; spoon over zucchini mixture.
  4. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses; add green pepper. Bake 20 minutes longer or until heated through.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday In His Garden: the harvest

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. [Galatians 6:9-10]

As our family enjoys the benefits of living in a part of our country that has not been so hard hit by drought, we harvest almost every day now.  There are plenty of cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini to make it worth the effort to go out and check each morning.  As we do this today, I'm reminded that my youngest son may have planted the zucchini seed, I watered it through the summer and tamed back the weeds, while my oldest might be the one to cut if for harvest.  And so it is in the kingdom of God.  Sometimes we're fortunate enough to be a part of all three steps and sometimes just one.  Either way, do not grow weary in doing your part.  Tell others about him.  Encourage and love others along the way.  And be bold when God asks you to stand up for Him.  I'm not saying that's easy.  Certainly, I've struggled with boldness for years.  Most importantly, as we read in the verses above, it simply tells us to do good.  That seems easy enough.

However, in our society of distractions and false teachings, the weeds are also threatening.  God needs more workers in the field.  Ask God how you can be used in His garden today.  Get out and do some good.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

No Patience for Homemade Marinara Sauce

I've long been a skeptic of homemade "accessory" foods.  I'm talking about homemade sauces, frostings, condiments, and even homemade cool whip. Yes, I still remember my sister-in-law (I was newly married at the time) saying that she was making Cool Whip from scratch. I remember asking my husband why she was making it? I just assumed that she had run out and didn't want to go to the store.  I was then educated in how much better it tastes and the advantages of making your own.  I must admit, it was delicious!  But still, the time it takes, and the room for error (on my part) did not make me stop buying my Cool Whip from the store.

This whole process of making your own (fill in the blank) often seems more expensive and more time consuming more times than not.  So why do people do it?  I'm intrigued.  Yes, it's almost always healthier.  And sometimes saves you money.  But it really must be because you enjoy it.  I will say that the exception is strawberry jam.  I have an annual ritual now of making as much strawberry jam as I can to make it last thru the next Spring. It's become a challenge to guess the right amount of jars and how many I can still be giving away as gifts.  The jam is delicious!

Jam aside, I had to try my hand at a recipe I saw on Pinerest.  It was for homemade marinara sauce in the crockpot.  Now someone finally had my attention!  My kitchen had a bunch of homegrown tomatoes and the thought of throwing them in a crockpot and going about my day sounded great.  Well, let's just say, I won't publish the recipe, AND I'll continue to buy my sauce at the store where it's a whole lot cheaper and tastier! 

Here's what happened.  The original recipe called for canned tomatoes but many comments under the recipe said you could use fresh tomatoes.  Simple enough.  Nope!
To use fresh tomatoes, I first had to blanch them in boiling water and peel the skin.  Not only a yucky feeling (imagine slimy eyeballs), but 20 minutes longer than just opening two cans and dumping them in. Plus, I ended up with half the amount of tomatoes I needed so now the rest of the recipe was cut in half.

Next, throw all the ingredients in the crockpot together.  I like that step. Easy!  Especially since I already had onion pre-diced in my freezer!

After the alloted cooking time, voila!  Well, not quite.  I thought it just tasted like stewed tomatoes.   While I was ready to throw it all out, and chalk it up to a lesson learned to just keeping buying my pasta sauce, my husband disagreed.

My sweet husband said to save it and we'll put it on pasta or something.  "Afterall, you took the time to make it!"  He's a keeper.  Maybe I can add spicy sausage to it and no one will notice. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Growth Spurt

We're back from vacation and by the looks of my garden, I learned two things: 
1.  It obviously rained while we were gone.
2.  Things grow a lot faster when you're not watching!

Seriously, either I've forgotten how the plants looked before I left, or they grow better when I'm not watching.  I concluded that it's a lot like trying to watch a pot of water come to a boil.  Some people say it takes longer if you're watching it.  That can't possibly be true.  However, it certainly does seem to boil quicker if you look away.  And so it is with the garden.  Go away for a week, and you come home to some monster plants!  The dahlias tripled, the zuchini plants doubled and the tomatoes are thriving!  All the rest kept pace too.  I enlisted a neighbor to "help yourself" to the veggies while I was gone so her picking cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini certainly helped.  It's nice te be home to hover over my gardens once again, but it's also a relief to know that they certainly don't need me as much as I thought.