End-Of-Summer Roasted Salsa

IMG_2195Here’s another non-recipe for super easy, super delicious summer salsa. I have all these ingredients growing in my garden so it’s a great way to use up piles of my bounty. You can change any amounts or throw in other veggies depending on what you have on hand. If your garden is looking a little empty of these ingredients, all these items are in season for a few more weeks so you can pick them up at your farmers’ market or local supermarket at good prices.

End-Of-Summer Roasted Salsa

Possible Ingredients (use whatever salsa-type veggies you have on hand)

  • Tomatoes
  • Tomatillos
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Cilantro (I like lots and lots)
  • Jalapenos
  • Bell peppers

Turn your oven to broil (high). Lay vegetables (except cilantro) on lightly greased cookie sheet and broil until just blackened  and soft but not burned, approx. 10-15 minutes. Throw all veggies plus big handfuls of cilantro into food processor or blender and process to your preferred consistency. (I like mine fairly smooth but some people prefer chunkier salsa.)  Add a pinch of salt and voila, you have delicious salsa.

The trick with this recipe is the roasting. Everyone will ask what your secret ingredient is. Many salsas made with raw ingredients are too acidy or bitey, especially if the onions are strong. Roasting mellows out all the flavors and condenses the sweetness for a more intense salsa.

What To Grow In The Winter?

I’m really starting to feel like a bonafide suburban farmer. Terms like “fall crops” and “cover crop” are becoming an everyday part of my vocabulary. Inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, my current gardening goal is to have something edible from the garden year round, fall and winter included. For the first time I’m planting a full garden of cool-weather crops and am hopeful when temperatures plunge, the veggies will keep on coming up.

So far this season I’ve planted broccoli, carrots, kale, cilantro, parsley, lettuce (a cool-weather variety) and fava beans. For the most part they’re coming up great, especially the fava beans. Those seeds have already sprouted foot-tall plants that look like a miniature forest in the open swaths of front yard where lettuces grew just a few weeks ago. A side note about fava beans – I chose to plant them because I read they are a nitrogen-fixing cover crop. The good stuff they put back in the soil is akin to adding wonderful compost to my soil (they’re called a “green manure”) but with the return of some pretty flowers in a few months and a crop of beans next spring. Territorial Seed Company has a nice variety and some good info about planting this crop.

The only trouble I’ve encountered with my fall plantings (and granted it’s still technically summer, at least for another few days) is that something ate all my carrot seedlings in the front yard. I had these beautiful tiny rows of inch-high carrot tops before I left for camping last week. I returned to discover a bare patch of dirt. The carrots I planted out back at the same time are still there and doing well. I hope whatever mysterious creature invaded the front yard does not discover the beautiful feathery tops coming up out back. Anyone know what kind of pest eats carrot tops (we don’t have bunnies) and a way to organically keep them away?

Besides cool-weather veggies, I was reminded the other day by our local paper that fall is the best time to plant just about everything else too. Cool weather is the best time for new perennials to take root and become established plus, since most people tend to plant in the spring, nurseries have pretty good deals on plants right now. I put in a grapevine the other day and plan to soon dig up some aster and spirea starts from a friend with a gorgeous perennial garden.  Think planting now, lovely healthy garden (and less work) come spring.

I’m new to this fall/ winter crop thing. Do you plant cool-weather crops? If so what do you plant and when? I still have space for my crops but am just not sure what to put in so would love some more ideas.

Tons Of Tomatoes? Try This.

IMG_1962Summer days are waning (sniff sniff). One of the wonderful things about the end of summer is our daily trip to the tomato plants. How big of a bowl do I need today, I wonder each time? Two days ago I bypassed a bowl altogether and just gathered the bounty by holding up the bottom of my long t-shirt, akin to a farmer’s wife using the bottom of her apron.

While I love picking each shiny red globe, I’m actually not a fan of raw tomatoes. Something about that mushy texture just gets me every time. So when tomatoes are entering my house by the dozen each and every day, I have to come up with creative ways to use them up so I can enjoy them just as much as my husband (lover of raw tomatoes) and daughter (follows in her mama’s footsteps when it comes to tomatoes).

I have three favorite preparations this summer I’ll share here, two today and the third (roasted salsa) in a few days.

#1 – Easy Tomato Sauce
You can make this recipe with any ratio of ingredients you like or have on hand. Everything here is approximate. You really can’t mess this up, unless you leave the tomatoes out all together. We have all these ingredients in our garden this year so it’s especially fun to make knowing we did it all ourselves!

2 pounds fresh roma or other tomatoes, coarsely chopped (I don’t bother deseeding or skinning)
4-6 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced or crushed
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
Big handful fresh basil, 12-16 large leaves, coarsely chopped
Small jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (deseeded unless you like a lot of spice)
1-2 tsp. sugar
dash salt
olive oil

Saute the garlic and onion until soft in the olive oil. Add in the jalapeno (optional – leave it out if you don’t like spicy food). Add tomato chunks and let simmer on low for 15-30 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and the tomatoes have melted into each other. Throw in the basil, sugar and salt. Serve over noodles, chicken, steak or as a delicious side dish. It’s thick, rich and delicious. I keep thinking I’ll make extra and freeze it but so far we just keep eating it all!

#2 Sauteed tomatoes and green beans
I make this when I can get a big enough handful of green beans from our two piddly bush bean plants.

Fresh green beans (1-2 dozen, or more if you have them)
2-4 cloves fresh garlic, crushed or thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1/4-1/2 pound cherry tomatoes or other fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Fresh herbs from your garden (I usually go for the tarragon)
Olive oil
Salt

Blanch the green beans in boiling water for about 4 minutes, until bright green and slightly tender. In the meantime heat the olive oil in a large pan and saute the garlic and onion until soft. Add in the tomatoes and, like the sauce recipe above, let simmer until thickened and melty, about 15 minutes. Add the green beans for another 2-3 minutes of cooking time in the sauce, then stir in the herbs and salt at the very end. This makes a lovely side dish to grilled meat on a warm end-of-summer evening.

Enjoy, and please do share your ideas for cooking up all these beautiful tomatoes!

It’s Zucchini Season. Don’t Make Eye-Contact With Your Neighbor.

I read that quip on a local lumberyard sign a few years ago and it’s stuck with me ever since. Zucchini season is a time when enthusiastic gardeners want to throw in the towel, er, zucchini they’re so overrun with those cute little green squashes.  Well relax one and all as I have found a delicious zucchini bread recipe that won’t make you groan and roll your eyes. It’s got chocolate in it, people. You can eat it for breakfast or dessert and still feel good about getting your vegetables.  The recipe uses a 1 1/2 cups of shredded zucchini (about one medium squash).  If you don’t want to bake 42 loaves to get through your harvest, run the lot through your food processors shredder, package in ziplocs in 1 1/2 cup portion, freeze and bake this puppy up all winter long.

The recipe is from one of my fave cooking magazines, Cooking Light. I’m publishing a link to Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread rather than the actual recipe as I’m not sure how the copyrights work with big magazines. I recommend baking a little less than the 60 minutes they suggest for a moist, slightly underdone texture (dry cakes and breads are a pet peeve).

Oh, and be sure to use fair trade cocoa (Dagoba, Equal Exchange) and chocolate chips like Rapunzel (available at Whole Foods and New Seasons).

Next up in my “Cooking Your Garden’s Harvest” series (like the name? I just made it up) is Garden Fresh Roasted Salsa.  Coming tomorrow or very, very soon.

Dill-icious Potato Salad

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OK, that title is so corny but I couldn’t resist.

Last weekend my husband made spicy dill pickles (yum!).  Due to a slight error I made in calculating how much dill we’d need, we ended up with five unused bunches of dill in the fridge even after making a dozen jars of pickles.  So even though I didn’t grow the dill myself, I thought I’d throw out the recipe for those of you who might be growing dill and/ or potatoes, peas, or any of the other ingredients in this cool, crisp salad.

From Recipes From A Kitchen Garden by Renee Shepherd and Fran Raboff

  • 1 1/2 pounds new potatoes, steamed and cut into chunks
  • 1 cup cooked peas, drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery (I used cucumber instead)

Dressing:

  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 clove garlic, halved (I crushed mine)
  • 2 T white wine vinegar
  • 1 T Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 t sugar
  • 1/4 cup mayo (I used light)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 6 scallions, finely sliced
  • 6 T chopped fresh dill
  • freshly ground pepper to taste

Prepare peas, potatoes and celery/ cucumber and set aside. Mix together all dressing ingredients. Pour over peas and potatoes and mix gently together. Garnish with sprigs of dill.

I’ve still got 4 bunches of dill in the fridge. What should I do with those? One can only eat so much potato salad!

Mint – Easy To Grow, Easy To Use Up

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I planted two mint plants this year, despite warnings from friends as to how mint takes over the garden.  Considering all the weeds that seem to be usually taking over my garden, I thought a mint invasion sounded like a grand idea.  So far, it’s turned out to be just that – grand and delicious.

I planted a Moroccan Mint plant and a spearmint plant. Neither have taken over, both are beautiful and delicious as iced tea.  I’ve been brewing fresh mint tea every day or two and my whole family loves it. It’s so easy it hardly qualifies as a recipe, but here goes.

Minty Fresh Iced Tea

Clip a large bunch of fresh mint from the plant and rinse well.. I generally use 5-7 full branches. Place the branches (no need to remove leaves – use branches and all) in a large glass, heatproof container and pour boiling water over the top. Let steep for a few minutes or a few hours, depending on how strong you want it. I sometimes let it steep all day. When ready to drink remove mint leaves and pour over ice.

To make something even prettier I throw in some slices of fresh fruit and/ or berries and feel like I’m drinking a summer cocktail!

Any other ideas of ways to use large quantities of mint? Even my tea-drinking habit isn’t keeping up with the plants so I could use more ideas!

Tasty Tidbits From My Suburban “Farm”

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Several of my readers (you know who you are!) have been asking for more pictures of the results of my reclaimed yard.  Last summer’s gruntwork to turn our soggy front grass into a productive perennial and vegetable garden has paid off, much to my husband’s and my delight.  Our yard is small, all the more reason to use less for grass and more for flowers and good things to eat, even in the ‘burbs where forgoing grass is akin to a mortal sin. Thankfully we live at the end of a quiet street and have very kind neighbors who, quite frankly, could care less what we do with our yard. That and we give them free lettuce.

Here are a few bits of wisdom I’ve garnered through this adventure:

  • “Landscaping” is a word to be shunned. It implies some kind of gardening perfection, ultimate control of nature.  I’d have to make gardenwork my full time gig to attain said perfection not to mention it feels so sterile.  I’m notIMG_1361 sure of a better alternative, perhaps “nature-scaping?”  We put the plants in, then we let nature run wild, weeds and all.
  • I garden the way I decorate inside my house. I’m not good at visualizing an end result so instead I try out an idea, then change it if I don’t like it. Nothing in the yard is permanent. As an example, I have four rose bushes I thought would make a lovely addition and instead look like neglected orphans. They’re free for the taking to a good home – any takers?
  • Lettuce starts should not all be planted at once. Not unless you are raising rabbits. We have a lettuce explosion in our yard, which we’re eating daily plus giving away as fast as we possibly can. I just can’t stomach salad for breakfast, healthy as it may be.
  • Seeds are not scary. I’ve  never had much luck planting starts indoors but the lettuce, peas and carrots I planted from seed straight into the ground are my most prolific, healthiest crops this year.
  • I’m in love with real, rambling, chaotic, dirty, bug-ridden gardens (and I stole that line from the wonderfully messy gardening blog, Garden Rant).
  • I’ve mentioned this on this blog before, but a major gardening breakthrough for me has been the freedom to mix edible plants with flowers.  There’s no written rule that vegetable gardens need to be separate from flower gardens – it’s just the way most people garden.  Since I’ve embraced the wild look anyway, the veggies and berries fit right in.

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Tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, lettuce and cucumber surrounded by perennials

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Do you have a beautifully wild garden at your house? Inspire me with a photo and I’ll share it on this blog!

Crazy Coupon Shopping

Today I saved $254.65 on my family’s weekly groceries!  However did you manage that? I hear you ask.  It took a lot of prep, two hours of shopping at two different grocery stores, lots of bribing Grace, plus a trip through the Burgerville drive-thru on the way home. My deeply discounted purchases included organic beef, wild caught salmon, organic fruit and vegetables and organic milk, and I saved big on every single one.

Before I tell you how I did it, let me tell you who inspired me. I read this article in our local paper a few months ago about Louise Jaffe, a local coupon guru who regularly saves 75% off her grocery bill just by shopping smart. She blogs about it so I turned to her site for advice last week to see if I could do the same while still shopping sustainably.

I’ve always been a coupon clipper from the paper but now I’ve gone hardcore, at least this week.  First I perused my Sunday Oregonian for grocery store ads and manufacturer’s coupons.  I compared what was on sale at different stores to my grocery list and made a list for each store.  I chose to focus on just two stores as I knew my schedule (and sanity) couldn’t accomodate more. I chose Safeway and Thriftway since they’re both reasonably close and had the best prices on the things I needed.

My list for each store was made almost entirely of items on sale at that store that I needed. I also found I had a number of matching manufacturer’s coupons plus both stores offer double coupons. On top of that, both stores offered $10 off your order of $50 or more this week through coupons in the paper.  I stocked up on items that were really, really cheap and would store or freeze easily.

Here are some examples of my favorite deals today:

Safeway

  • Buy one, get one free on organic blueberries and organic grape tomatoes (neither available yet in the farmers’ market but both coming soon to our yard!)
  • Wild Atlantic salmon for $9.99/ pound. I bought 5 pounds, had the butcher wrap each pound separately for easy thawing and froze them all.
  • The clearance section was full of organic beef tenderloin at 50% off. I bought four packs (about 10 pounds worth $76) for $38. It’s all in the freezer.

Thriftway

  • Organic Valley milk is on sale for $3.69. I printed off $1 off coupons from Organic Valley’s website (you can print the coupon up to two times) plus used double coupons to get a total $1.50 off each half gallon, or $2.19/ half gallon.
  • Kettle chips are on sale 3 for $5  or $1.69 each. I was kicking myself for not having anymore $1 off coupons from the Chinook book. If I had I could have doubled them for 50 cents more off (the max Thriftway will double a coupon) and paid $0.19/ bag. Alas I did not have any more but $1.69 is still a great price.
  • While not organic, I did save really big on my husband’s favorite Raisin Bran Crunch cereal. The Thriftway insert in Sunday’s paper had a coupon for buy 3/get 3 free. Then I had 3 manufacturer’s coupons totaling $3.50 off. My double coupon gave me another $1.50 off. All 6 boxes cost a total of $7 or $1.25/ box. He’ll be happy with that for quite a while while I enjoy my Barbara’s Shredded Spoonfuls.

My total bill between the two stores was still higher than a normal weekly shopping bill.  After all the savings I still spent $228.44. However we’re now stocked up on really nice meat and fish for at least 2-3 weeks. We’re also headed to the beach with friends this weekend so my bill included several meals for 12.

I don’t think I could shop this way every week but I don’t think I’ll have to to still save big. If I do crazy coupon shopping (my new moniker for it) every 2-3 weeks I can stock up on canned goods, cereal and meats I can freeze when they’re on sale. We’re growing a lot of berries and veggies and buying the rest of our produce at the farmers’ market so I figure I can shop there weekly for fresh items.  Now that I know how much money I can save if I just put some thought into it, I’m pretty sure I’m hooked.

I’d love to hear what deals you’ve found and how you manage to save money for your family while shopping for sustainable foods. What do you do? Have you tried this kind of crazy coupon shopping and does it work for you?

Love Your Vegetables, Even In The Front Yard

Why do I put all our flowers out front and shove my veggies out back, out of sight?

This was the question I asked myself earlier this spring when my husband and I started planning our garden.  Our house is on a small lot so our space for a dedicated vegetable garden is limited. Since we took out our front lawn last year however, we found we still had quite a bit of available soil in our front, landscaped yard.  Inspired by the urban farming craze happening here in Portland, I resolved to plant nothing new in  my yard this year, front or back, that wasn’t edible.

And why not? Vegetables are beautiful!  Soft curly lettuce leaves, rich purply salad greens, crisp spinach and stately broccoli stems line the rocky garden path. Tiny carrot seedlings encircle the hydrangea. Tomato and tomatillo plants cover a small earthen mound we had yet to landscape.  Onion starts dance merrily around the rose bushes.  Squash and cucumber vines will wind around below our landscaped native grasses.  Four blueberry bushes planted last fall are in full bloom and mark the boundary between the street and our yard.  We haven’t turned our front yard into a suburban farm. In fact, you’d hardly notice the vegetables between the tulips unless you were looking for them. But I feel the pride of a suburban farmer.

Our backyard vegetable box is getting good use too. Snap peas, bush beans, brussel sprouts, garlic, and leeks are growing in nice neat rows. In our backyard flower beds we planted a raspberry start, peppermint and spearmint plants, and the strawberries are coming back in full force. Cilantro is popping up from seed in a container on the deck. We aim to grow 3-4x what we have harvested in the past and, by using 3-4x the space we’ve planted in the past, we should be able to do just that.

Can you find the hidden vegetables in these shots of me and Grace in our yard?  Hints below.

Photo #1

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Photo #2

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Photo #3

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Hints:

Photo#1: Purple lettuce leaves along the path in front of Grace. Spinach growing on the other side of the path.

Photo#2: Onions to the left of Grace. Broccoli growing around the petunias to the right of Grace. Lettuce just beyond the tree stump.

Photo#3: Onions in the foreground, broccoli just beyond, then lots of lettuces and salad greens in the distance on opposite side of path. Yes, I am using sluggo in my yard. Those slugs devour my veggies if I don’t, and supposedly it’s non-toxic, biodegrades, etc. I certainly hope so.

Strictly Organic Coffee Is Strictly Delicious

“Dark. Rich. Beautiful. Delicious.”woman-picking-cherries_thum

Response to a bar of chocolate perhaps? Nope, those are the words uttered by my coffee-loving husband as he ground fresh beans from Strictly Organic Coffee for our morning brew.  We’ve been sampling a different roast each morning for the past week and we’re in coffee bliss.  As I type I’m enjoying a deep, dark cup of Ethiopian Harar, one of my all-time-favorite varieties of coffee and especially exquisite from Strictly Organic. We’ve also loved their Organic Papau New Guinea blend and Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. Each type is perfectly roasted and I have to admit to even snacking on a few plain beans. They’re that good.

Strictly Organic roasts 100% organic, 100% fair trade certified beans at their roatery in beautiful Bend, Oregon. They have  a great little cafe as well as delivering their freshly roasted beans by bicycle to various retailers and restaurants around Bend.  The company reminds me of a central Oregon version of Portland’s favorite coffee roaster, Stumptown. Besides all the good things listed above, the company also pays health insurance to all employees.

Strictly Organic sent me the samples I’ve been trying for the past week and they’re sending up sample bags for EVERYONE who attends Bambootique’s Spring Trunk Show and Inventory Clearance next Saturday (April 18th).  Other great fair trade products on sample will include Theo chocolate, SLO Vanilla Chai Latte, Noble Coffee and Numi teas.  I hope to see you there!

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