Monthly Archives: July 2011

Rosemary Focaccia

This past May, I spent an evening with my friends, Bill and Lauren; they too share my enthusiasm for all things local, organic, and of course, homegrown!  Because I am a passionate advocate for healthy food, low-impact living, and organic gardening, it only seems natural that I end up being the go-to person for related questions and advice.

My friends were very interested in starting an organic garden, as well as purchasing their transplants from me.  We had decided to make a night of it.  I’d bring their plants, my hot artichoke dip, and a fresh-baked apple pie (they were in charge of the main course) and we would share an evening of delicious food and great conversation!  And that is exactly what we did.

For 4 hours I talked (pretty much non-stop) about food, the food system, and organic gardening.  Lauren had a pen and paper at the ready, while her hubby, Bill, absorbed every word I spoke.  I’m friends with a lot of like-minded individuals and in our shared idealistic world, we would all be homesteading, off-grid, in our own little community!  Ahhhh… the dream!

For that evening’s dinner, Lauren grilled California-style veggie sandwiches, which were served on warm-from-the-oven focaccia, paired with a tomato, basil, and mozzarella salad.  Everything was delicious!

With the back-to-back-to-back, oppressive heat waves that have been taking place, I’ve been relying on my grill for dinner.  Two weekends ago I baked a double batch of focaccia to be paired with my evening meal of fresh-from-the-garden veggie sandwiches.

Rosemary Focaccia – adapted from the Pioneer Woman (I’m still trying to get Lauren’s recipe!)

1-1/2 tsp active dry yeast

1-1/2 cup warm water

4 cups King Arthur all-purpose organic flour

1 tsp  salt

1/3 cup olive oil

large sprig of fresh rosemary, minced

course alaea salt, for sprinkling

olive oil for drizzling

Sprinkle the yeast over warm water and let stand for 10 minutes.

Whisk flour and salt, then drizzle in olive oil until combined with flour.  Next, pour in yeast/water mixture and mix until the dough comes together in a sticky mass.  Form the dough into a ball and lightly coat with olive oil.  Place the dough into a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap, set it aside for 1-2 hours.  If you do not plan on using the dough right away it can stay in the fridge for several days.

Remove dough from bowl and place on a lightly floured surface.  Divide dough in half and roll out into a rectangle.  I reserved the second portion to be baked later that week.  If you are baking both sections, place each one on a separate cookie sheets and lightly drizzle with olive oil.  Cover each one with plastic wrap and allow to rise for another hour.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Remove the plastic wrap (dough will be puffy) and use your fingertips to gently press dimples into the surface of the dough.  Sprinkle with rosemary and coarse salt.  I baked each one separately, so 20 minutes was just the right amount of time to yield a golden brown surface.  If you are baking both, 30-40 minutes is recommended.

Cut into pieces with a pizza wheel.  Serve immediately.

Since I reserved some of the bread for the next day’s meal, it needed a bit of freshening up.  I placed two pieces on the top-level of the grill for 3 minutes and it worked like a charm!


Filed under Baking, Vegan, Vegetarian

Cooking with Fire

I’ll admit, I’m kind of new to the grilling scene. Not to say I was completely inexperienced, because I’m not, but I never actually owned a grill up until about 2 months ago. That’s unless you count the time I had an in-ground fire pit that we would fill with charcoal and lay grill grates over top. It was kind of awesome. After cooking dinner, we would fill it with wood and have a fire. I, however, was completely paranoid because we had nosey neighbors and there was an enforced ban on open fires, and it was placed right next to my other neighbor’s wooden fence. Do you see where I am going with this? Sure, it was constructed from brick and cinder blocks, but paranoid I was!

Since I am not much of a carnivore, it never entered my mind to purchase a grill after moving into the new place.  Then, the summer holiday super sales on grills began, so I ended up getting one.  I thought about charcoal, because I really like the smoky flavor, but I really don’t want to mess around with coals.  So propane it is!

Mainly, I grill veggies, but it has seen two pork chops and three chicken breasts, too.  I found them when I cleaned out the freezer late Spring to make room for this year’s anticipated veggie harvest!  Last week I grilled tofu for the first time and I must say I was pretty pleased with the results!

Grilled Herb Tofu and Agave-Dijon Root Vegetables – adapted from Cookouts Veggie Style

for the tofu::

1 block extra-firm tofu, sliced and pressed to remove excess water

2 Tbsp lemon juice

2 Tbsp rosemary infused olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

8 fresh basil leaves, sliced into ribbons

1 med sprig of fresh rosemary, chopped

several splashes of vegan Worcestershire sauce

salt & pepper to taste

Whisk together lemon juice, oil, garlic, rosemary, basil, and Worcestershire in a shallow bowl.  Marinate tofu “filets” for 20-30 minutes.  Overnight would have been awesome, but I had just gotten home from work and I was starving!  Remove tofu from marinade and sprinkle each side with salt and pepper, place on a hot grill over a medium flame and cook approximately 5 minutes per side, or until browned.  I have one of those veggie cage things (I have no idea what they are really called) and it worked perfectly!  Seriously, when I saw it at the store I gasped out loud and was like “MOM! Oh my god, that is awesome and I am so grilling stuff with it!”  She just shot me the one eyebrow raised “you’re so weird” look.

for the root veggies::

4 Tbsp agave

3 Tbsp Dijon mustard

4 Tsp lemon juice

2 Tbsp olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

4 medium beets, sliced and quartered (you can peel them if you want, I don’t)

4 medium carrots, coined into 1″ pieces (I don’t peel my carrots either)

Marinate veggies 20-30 minutes, then transfer to foil.  Double wrap the veggies and place them on a hot grill over a medium flame.  Cook for 15-20 minutes, turning once.   Remove from grill with tongs; use caution when opening the foil package, the steam will come rolling out!!

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Wordless Wednesday: Chioggia Beets


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Amaretto Apricot Jam

With the exception of making yards and yards of seed tape (fall carrots), much of last weekend was spent in my kitchen.  I’m sure I have a solid week’s worth of food posts!  Hopefully, I can squeeze in the time needed to sit down and write seeing as how Sunday night I ended up pulling my remaining Easter planting of root vegetables.  I have lots of canning and juicing on the horizon! 🙂

Sun-ripened apricots are one of my favorite fruits!  While at the local market paroozing the fresh picked produce (come on now, I can’t grow everything), I noticed a bounty of apricots.  Realizing I had never made apricot jam, I decided the time had come to remedy that!

After flipping through my canning books and online food sites, I decided to make Hitchhiking to Heaven’s amaretto apricot jam.  It turned out awesome and it is now my new favorite add-in to my daily snack of Greek yogurt.  By the way, if you have never added homemade jam to Greek yogurt you need to get on that.  Like now!

Apricot Amaretto Jam {via}

4 cups apricots, peeled (about 24)

3 cups of sugar

2 Tbsp lemon juice

1/4 cup amaretto (I used an “airplane” sized bottle of Disaronno, it was perfect!)

Blanch apricots to remove skins.  Remove pits and mash.  Add sugar and lemon juice.  Over med-low heat, cook mixture ’til sugar is dissolved; continue cooking for 10-12 minutes.  Apricot jam tends to foam up quite a bit, so don’t move too far from your stove!  You can test the doneness of your jam by conducting a gelling test.  Place several spoons in the freezer and once you have finished cooking your jam, take one of the frozen spoons from the icebox and scoop out just a bit of jam (not a full scoop).  Place it back in the freezer for about 3 minutes, then hold it vertically.  If your jam slowly creeps down your spoon like the 80’s horror flick the Blob, it’s done!  Once the jam is done, remove it from the heat and carefully stir in your liqueur.  Ladle into hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace, and process in a boiling water bath according to your recommended altitude time.  For me it is 5 minutes.  It may take about two weeks for your jam to reach a hard set.


Filed under Boiling-Water Bath Canning, Jam & Jelly

Summer Berry Granola

I’d like to introduce you to the latest addition in my morning granola rotation: Summer Berry!  Yes, I know, sour cherries are not technically a berry, but the title “triple fruit” did absolutely nothing for me!

Summer Berry Granola

2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup flax seeds
1 cup slivered almonds, raw
1 cup black walnut pieces, raw
1/2 cup sunflower seeds, raw
3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
2 Tbsp agave nectar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 Tbsp sunflower oil
a pinch of salt
a sprinkling of cinnamon
a sprinkling of vanilla powder
Toast the oats in a 9×13 pan for 15 minutes at 300°F, stirring once.  In a small bowl, combine wet ingredients and whisk until well blended.  Remove the toasted oats from the oven and add remaining dry ingredients, except for the fruit, cinnamon and vanilla.  Stir until combined, then evenly pour the oil-sugar mixture into the pan stirring well to make sure everything is well coated.
Place pan back in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until granola starts to brown around the edges, stirring once or twice.  Be careful to not overbake your granola when using flax seeds.  Not only will flax lose its beneficial health properties when over heated, but it will also develop a smoky flavor.  Add dried fruit and stir.  Top off with a sprinkling of cinnamon and vanilla.  Allow to cool completely before placing into containers for storage.

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Dehydrating Cherries

Several weeks ago I picked sour cherries for the first time.  Since I had yet to preserve this fruit, I decided to try out various methods not knowing which would end up as my favorite.  With the exception of cherry pie filling (because I LOVE pie), dried cherries have definitely won that title!

Sour cherries on their own are packed full of flavor; once you dehydrate them, it takes the intensity level to a whole other playing field!

Dehydrated Sour Cherries

Wash cherries, remove pits and stems.  Arrange in a single layer on dehydrator trays and place on recommended fruit/veggie setting.  I have an American Harvest and the temp for fruit is 135°F.  Cherries,  like strawberries, are mainly water, so it will take quite some time for them to finish.  I checked mine every 2-3 hours and removed the raisin-like cherries as they were ready.  I believe the total drying time was around 12-14 hours.  Store cherries in an airtight container.


Filed under Dehydrating

Herbs: German Chamomile

This year, I vowed to make better use of my food dehydrator; so far I am off to a great start!  Last year, I didn’t begin using it till mid July, but successfully dried blueberries, banana chips, and Swiss chard.  I failed at tomato skins.  Technically, I didn’t fail, but the results were not what I had expected.  Instead of a crispy chip-like wafer, I ended up with leathery plastic pieces… and into the compost they went!

This year, I’ve dehydrated several batches of both strawberries and cherries; blueberries will be the next fruit to come into season.  I also have plans for tomatoes, melons, peaches, kale, carrots and anything else I can think of!  I’ve also decided to better utilize my vast supply of organic herbs growing around the property.

Last year I planted Matricaria chamomilla, also know as German or Hungarian chamomile.  It is closely related to Roman or English chamomile; however, they are two separate plants.  German chamomile is an aromatic annual that grows about 2-3 feet in height and bears small daisy-like blossoms.  Roman chamomile is an aromatic creeping perennial that also produces small daisy-like flowers, but grows close to the ground.  For centuries, the English have been using it to create scented lawns (like the one found at Buckingham Palace), since it’s resilient to being walked on.

Another way to tell the difference between German and Roman chamomile is by the receptacle.  Roman chamomile is flat and solid on the inside, whereas German chamomile is dome-like and hollow.

Many herbalists use the two chamomiles interchangeably since they have similar properties.  German chamomile, however, is considered medically superior and more potent since it contains more of the anti-inflammatory agent chamazulene. Chamazulene is a highly effective and proven herbal remedy for arthritis, rheumatism, and gastritis.  German chamomile is also anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, calmative, carminative, digestive, emmenagogue, mild bitter, nervine, and a sedative.

Since I allowed my German chamomile to self seed, it came back (with a vengeance) this Spring.  I have more chamomile than I know what to do with… and that is a very good thing!  I plan on transplanting some of the volunteers to other areas of the property this weekend.  I really enjoy winding down with a relaxing pot of chamomile and catnip tea, so, the bigger my harvest the more tea I can brew!

 Polonius assisting me with the harvest!

Drying German Chamomile

It is recommended that you harvest the chamomile flowers early in the morning after the dew has dried, but before the blossoms have opened.  When I started, the blossoms were closed, but they had opened by the time I was done!

You can pinch off the flower from the stem, which will encourage rapid new growth, allowing for a continual harvest.  Or you can cut the stems, which takes much more time for the plant to rejuvenate.  If you cut the stems, tie them together with twine and hang upside down in a warm, dry, and dark place.  If you are only cutting off the flowers, which is what I did, you will need a drying screen or a dehydrator to dry them.  I used the herb/craft setting on my dehydrator and left it run for about 8 hours.

Before placing the blossoms in my dehydrator, I first soaked them in a small bowl of cold salt water for 10 minutes to kill any bugs that may have tagged along for the ride.  I think I used 2 tbsp salt.  Then I drained the flowers, rinsed them and allowed them to soak another 5 minutes in fresh cold water.

Store the dried flowers whole, in an air-tight jar, out of direct sunlight.  When making tea I keep my flowers whole, but some people like to crush them.  Always crush herbs right before using them.  Storing crushed herbs is a sure-fire way to decrease their effectiveness and flavor!


Filed under Dehydrating, Herbs

Garden Tour and My Battle with Blight

Last weekend, I spent most of Friday night, all of Saturday morning and some of Monday afternoon tackling the beginnings of late blight on my tomatoes.  Late blight is usually our precursor to the ever loathsome dog days of summer.  Every July, the bottom leaves develop spots, turn yellow, shrivel up, and die, leaving my tomato plants looking like a sad mess.  Thankfully, late blight seems to favor my leaves and not the actual fruit itself.  However, it can affect and destroy the leaves, stems, fruits, and tubers of potato and tomato plants.  Late blight was responsible for the Irish Potato Famine.

Late blight spores are asexual and are spread by rain splash and wind currents.  One way to slow down this ugly fungus-like pathogen is to begin removing the infected leaves as soon as they appear.  I should have started that task around Tuesday, but alas, I had too much other stuff to tend to.  By the time I got into the garden Friday, it had spread through the first three rows of my tomatoes.  My Cream Sausage were the hardest hit.  Since they are a determinant variety, I will be pulling them after the harvest.  My Amish Paste, Hillbilly, Cherokee Purple and Green Zebras are all indeterminant varieties, so I will continue to clip off leaves and suckers well into the fall till our first hard frost.

And now, I shall take you on a 365 degree tour of the main garden!

Several of my sunflowers had what appeared to be powdery mildew, so I pulled them.  I’ve started new ones for transplant.  Two weeks ago, I pulled the sugar snap peas and rebuilt the trellis to accommodate my tiger melons, which I will be growing vertically.  My bush peas will most likely be pulled this weekend and replaced with winter squash.  Carrots were next to the bush peas, but I pulled them after the picture was taken.  The brassicas will most likely come out next week.  Some are forming heads and others I don’t believe ever will.  I will be planting carrots, beets, and beans in that space.

After the empty space on the left is celery, then Brussels sprouts.  They may or may not do anything.  Regardless, I am going to give them another go this Fall!  I love me some Brussels sprouts sautéed in an obnoxious amount of butter and garlic!!  And now begins the tomatoes.

L-R Cream Sausage, Amish Paste, Hillbilly, Cherokee Purple, and Green Zebra.  I think it took me a total of about 10 hours to cut out all the blight damaged leaves.  I also thinned out the suckers (stems that will never flower) and restaked everything!  You can now walk down each path; by thinning out leaves, I’ve increased air circulation, which will hopefully help in protecting against other tomato diseases!

Some of my tomato plants have reached a height of 6 feet, they are now taller than me! 🙂  I did some companion planting this year and placed a row of carrots between the Green Zebras and the Purple Tomatillos, they were shaded by the rapid growth of the plants flanking them.  After the leaf trimming, they are getting more light, but it will be a slow grow for them!  This is my first year for tomatillos and I did not realize just how big they got!  I did not stake them, but they are holding up well.  I may go in with supports later if they begin to look stressed.  To the very right of the picture are my ground cherries.   Only two made it and they are thriving; I’ve started two more that now have true leaves.

Beans, beets, beans, and cucumbers!  I’m going to seed more carrots next to the last planting of beans.  If I need to, I will trellis my cukes to keep them off the ground and away from my carrots, which is most likely the case.

And as we continue along the backside…

Zucchini and purslane are behind the tomatoes.  Yes, I eat purslane.  Yes, I know it is a weed.  I have more summer squash growing in the front garden, along with kale and onions…but this post is all about the main garden.

I ended up losing two Swiss chard earlier this year.  I’ve never had them bolt from the heat in their first year till now!  I’m going to start more for my cold frames, and hopefully extend my harvest well into the winter months.  Next to my chard are alternating rows of beets and carrots.  They will soon be ready for harvest.  In front of those are my newly seeded French breakfast radishes.  So far they are doing well!  Next are beets that I have slowly been pulling.

And finally, the remaining brassicas, peas, sunflowers and some empty growing space that will soon be covered with winter squash!

Well, that’s it.  You have now just circled my main garden.  Hope you enjoyed the tour! 🙂


Filed under Micro-farming

Wordless Wednesday: Little Bee Bum


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Sour Cherry Vinaigrette

I haven’t used store-bought dressings in years.  Why would you want to buy something that is so easy to make right in your kitchen?  I’m a big fan of vinaigrettes and usually whip one up featuring the current seasonal fruit.  Since cherrypalooza has been taking place in my kitchen it only seemed appropriate to dress my summer salad with a sour cherry vinaigrette!

Sour Cherry Vinaigrette  This is my go-to base when making any vinaigrette.

1/2 cup pitted and destemmed sour cherries

2 tbsp honey or agave

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/2 c neutral oil such as canola or vegetable

salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a tall container and puree with an immersion blender.  You can also combine everything in the bowl of a food processor.  If you don’t have either, chop cherries into very small pieces and whisk everything together.  Store any unused dressing in the fridge for up to 5 days.

I’m down to the last of my home-grown salads for a while.  The one pictured above consisted of flame lettuce, broccoli, cream sausage tomatoes, carrots, peas and beets.  I sprinkled on some feta, walnuts and sunflower seeds too.  I’m going to seed some of my large containers with Tom Thumb lettuce.  I never do well container gardening since they dry out so fast, but I’m going to give it another try.  Tom Thumb is pretty heat tolerant, so if I position the containers where they only receive morning sun they may be okay!


Filed under Spices & Sauces, Vegetarian