The Zucchini Invasion

Our vegetable garden is doing marvelously well this year.

Boy, is it doing well.

We’ve already harvested rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries (both red and black), lettuces, spinach, collards, Swiss chard, kale, peas, turnips, beets, carrots, radishes and some green beans – many more of those are on the way.  We’re about to start harvesting peppers – bell, jalapeno, serrano, poblano – as well as the cabbages; tomatoes will be ready soon, too.  The onions are coming along, as are the sweet potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes, and the spaghetti and delicata squashes doing quite nicely.  It also looks like we’re going to have quite a few cantaloupe and even a couple of Sugar Baby watermelons.

I think the only things we’re not going to see much of are butternut squash, parsnips and okra, which is sad – Beloved and I both adore them.  But, when we’re ready to harvest the late summer/fall vegetables, we’ll be able to plant more greens and cool weather crops; in fact, I think Beloved’s already got a second round of peas going, as well as more radishes, turnips and beets.

And of course, there’s the zucchini and summer squash.

Tons and tons of zucchini and summer squash; not only are our own plants producing like the vegetable version of gerbils, we’re getting an average of six pounds a week from our CSA. (When we pass roadside stands or booths at farmers markets heaped with piles and piles of the stuff, we just shudder.)

We’ve been cooking and eating it several times a week – often for lunch and dinner.  Before too much longer I’m going to go on a zucchini bread baking binge, the vast majority of which will be given away to our co-workers and friends; the rest will be frozen and most likely consumed over the holidays (Oldest Son is coming to visit for Christmas! Hooooooraaaaaay!!)  In the meantime, we’ve been freezing a great deal of it for use during the winter and early spring months, before we face next year’s Zucchini Invasion.

Freezing zucchini is really quite easy.  We simply shred it using the shredding blade of our food processor, then measure it out in 1-cup portions.  Those portions are then placed on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and put in the freezer until completely frozen – usually overnight.  Then we vacuum seal them with our Food Saver and pop them back in the freezer.

Shredded ZucchiniShredded Zucchini Bagged

How do you use all of this frozen, shredded zucchini you may ask?

It’s actually a good question; the first time we did this, I was hard-pressed to use it all.  But, if you think a little outside of the box, it really isn’t hard.

You can use it in Zucchini Fritters, of course, or your favorite zucchini bread or muffin recipe – I never had much luck making paleo zucchini bread; it always came out heavy and/or gummy – but when I go on my baking binge, I’ll probably use this recipe.  However, I mostly hide it in savory foods.

It’s a great addition to meatloaf and meatballs, or the meat filling in stuffed cabbage (especially if you’re grain-free or low carb; it substitutes the rice or bread crumbs quite nicely).  It’s easily hidden in many types of casseroles, including the breakfast type, and is also really good in soups and tomato-based sauces – toss it in the spaghetti sauce AND the meatballs, and you’ve got your kids eating twice as much!  I’ve even thrown it in omelets and quiches.

So embrace the zucchini.  You’ll really be able to eat it all.

Spring Has Sprung. Sort Of.

Ah, Spring – you capricious flirt.  You give us warm, beautiful days, allowing us to hope that this horrible winter will really end, then turn around and do this:

March in Ohio

Yes, that is just so WRONG.

Despite only blogging once last week (and losing readers because lentils are apparently of the devil), I’m really ready to start blogging on a regular basis once more.  I also think the whole thing is about to morph again, as our focus is once again shifting.

No, other than incorporating properly prepared legumes and grains back into our diet (with the occasional sugary-but-homemade treat), our diet isn’t really changing – the main focus is, and always will be, grass-fed/pastured meats and eggs, full fat grass-fed dairy, organic, local fruits and vegetables and healthful fats.  But we’re well-accustomed to eating this way now, and are becoming interested in other things.

Being empty nesters (and, unfortunately, dogless) has recently given us some very unaccustomed spare time.  For me, this means trying my hand at things like homemade yogurt and sourdough starters as well as taking up old hobbies from my youth, such as crochet and cross stitch.  Recently, I’ve completed two afghans and am almost finished with a white cotton spread for our bed.  I’ve started a cross stitch sampler with a Senility Prayer (“Grant me the senility to forget people I don’t like, the good fortune to run into those I do like, and the eyesight to tell the difference”) and find myself eying patterns with skulls and crossbones that say “Don’t Make Me Poison Your Food” for the kitchen.

Hey, I never claimed I was a normal old lady.

Beloved has once again turned his attention to seed trays and grow lights – we have a veritable mini-farm in the living room (and that’s just mostly herbs and a couple of tomato plants, with a couple of other things thrown in to mix it up) – as well as the garden out back.  He ripped out half the trees in our once shady back yard, and there are four additional raised beds, quite a bit larger than the others, to complement the two original in-ground and five raised beds he added last year.  One of the now treeless areas is now sporting three of these:

Take A Wild Guess

I don’t think I’m allowed to tell you what this is (I believe there will be a detailed post on the planning, construction and use in the very near future), so I’ll let you speculate about it in the comments section.

I will, again, be canning and freezing much of the fruits of our labor, as well as those from the CSA, and will probably talk quite a bit more about that this summer.  Other tentative plans include re-purposing an older model refrigerator into a curing cabinet for homemade charcuterie and freaking out the neighbors with a bat house and a beehive.

So, basically, we’ve become suburban homesteaders.

It’ll keep us off the streets.

There’s No Place Like Gnome

When we bought our house in 2005, we needed a large place – we had three kids at home and two who came to visit as frequently as I could manage. The living arrangements have changed (several times) over the last 9 years, what with adult children yo-yos, but the house has been a good one.  Especially since our bedroom is on the first floor and we rarely have to venture upstairs, something I avoid if at all possible.

I don’t even want to know what the bathroom up there looks like.

By the time it was just The Young One left at home, Beloved began to grouse that we should have bought a much smaller place, despite the fact that I frequently reminded him that at least two of the kids would have killed each other had they been forced into closer quarters, and that all that empty space upstairs, to say nothing of the basement, gave us plenty of room for them all to spread out when they do come to visit, such as when TYO graduated from high school.

These days, however, My Better Half has begun to change his tune and has decided that we should keep the house until we’re ready to retire, which is at least 15 years away.  It’s too convenient to our office, too close to Jolly and The G Man, only 40 minutes away from The Young One’s college campus and within reasonable driving distance to all of our farmers.

Of course, the fact that there are 9 vegetable gardens, and more coming this year, in the back yard might have something to do with his about-face.

Beloved has always been an avid gardener.  Our back yard in Texas was beautifully landscaped, and the first thing we did when we moved to Ohio was plant flowers.  It didn’t take us long to begin an herb garden and dig a couple of 8′ x 4′ plots in the back for a few tomato and pepper plants (those plots are now dedicated to our annual crops: rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries).  When we went local/sustainable and joined a CSA, he decided to see what we  could grow ourselves and before I knew it we had not one, but two, compost bins in the back yard, seeds sprouting in our living room, buckets of manure in our trunk, 5 raised beds (he built two more before the weather became bitterly cold this year) and complicated diagrams about what to plant, when to plant, and where to plant.

My husband is nothing if not thorough.

At any rate, at one point during this awful winter – what we now call a Cold, Gray Bucket of Suck – Beloved sighed over the fact there’s so much he wants to do but can’t, and idly mentioned, “We need a gnome.”

“A gnome?”

“Yeah, a garden gnome.  It’d be cute.”

Well, you don’t have to ask me twice – for his birthday in January, he received these from

Zombie Garden Gnomes

Click image to enlarge

Garden Statuary

Click image to enlarge

Apparently I’m nothing if not thorough, myself.

And a little twisted, too.

A Marigold’s Tale

The subject of this week’s Spin Cycle is “Best and Worst.”

I can do that.

Okay, so you know Beloved’s we’ve gone off the deep end with our back yard gardening.  Not surprisingly, this has turned out to be a mixed blessing.

Best:  Sprouting our own seeds, replanting them in the back yard and knowing they’ll likely survive.

Worst:  The back yard garden has begun to take over our living room.

This has engendered some interesting conversations, though.

The G Man, as he hangs over the back of the love seat:  “What’s wrong with the lids on the plants?”

The Young One:  “It’s called ‘condensation.'”

Best:  Nurturing all of our plants, knowing they will eventually be blog fodder dinner.

Worst:  What – I need to water and weed AGAIN??

It should be noted that I am not the most trustworthy person to weed; I often cannot distinguish between the seedling of something I’m really going to want to eat later, and the weed I won’t.

Best:  Loving the Spring weather in Ohio even more.

It amazed me when I first moved here that you could practically just throw stuff in the ground and it would grow like gangbusters.  We had a beautiful ornamental garden in our back yard in Texas, but due to the searing heat 7 months of the year, we had to be very careful about what we planted, and tend it vigilantly.  Up here, we plant stuff, water it occasionally and that’s it – we have a gorgeous bed of impatiens in our front garden all summer long every year.

Worst:  Learning to HATE The Weather Channel.

The same Weather Channel that promised our over night low would be 38 F.  He Of The Green Thumb was out of town, leaving Hopelessly Inept Gardener on her own for the week.  Hopelessly Inept Gardener thought it would be safe to simply water the garden, rather than covering it, before retiring for the night.

You don’t know terror until you’ve left your husband’s precious garden uncovered all night, only to wake up at 5 a.m. and realize it’s 31 F degrees outside.

Best:  Having He Of The Green Thumb declare that the damage isn’t as bad as you thought; all of the cold/cool weather plants (lettuces, peas, collards, carrots, parsnips, beets) are fine and he shouldn’t have transplanted the peppers, squash, okra and tomatoes outside so soon.

Worst: The realization that the marigold your precious grandson started from a seed at preschool, and which was on the verge of blooming, was one of the items that had been transplanted outside too soon.

You have never seen two people search for a marigold at the local gardening centers quite as frantically as Meema and Papa.

the Marigold

Fortunately, three-year-olds have a limited grasp on the fact that marigolds don’t grow so large quite so quickly.


The Gardening Obsession

This week’s Spin Cycle is about “obsessions.”  Hoo, boy.

Yes, we tend to be obsessive, which is probably why Beloved and I are so well suited.  Three years ago when I began to obsess about the kind of food we eat and where it comes from, Beloved was right there with me.  In fact, he’s become more obsessive about it all than I have. (Not surprising, since my loving husband is an “A type” if there ever was one. As for me, I’m not sure I even qualify as a “B type” – I’m probably somewhere down the line at…M).

At any rate, last year we weren’t exactly excited about the offerings from our CSA.  Not that they were bad or anything, just nothing too terribly out of the ordinary – lots of lettuce and green beans and zucchini and tomatoes and peppers, but no kohlrabi or bitter melon or dragon tongue beans or anything like that.  Now, there is a farmer we know who grows things like that (and much, much more) and offers CSA memberships, but his farm is considerably further away.  He’ll bring our share to the farmers market, but that means driving out to Peninsula every Saturday morning, something we elected not to do last year; we attended that particular farmer’s market once or twice a month.

So, Beloved decided we’d grow our own vegetables, hopefully being able to ditch the CSA all together eventually.

Now, we’ve been growing our own food for at least six years; I have a wonderful herb garden on the east side of the house, and we have two 8′ x 4′ plots in our back yard where we’ve grown everything from tomatoes to okra to peppers to broccoli over the years.  But once he decided we’d expand on that, those two plots became home to perennials – rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries to be exact (the asparagus crop has been disappointing to say the least, but the rhubarb is huge and we’re going to have a ton of strawberries, much to The G Man’s delight).  I should also pause here and mention that we have a huge blackberry bush that is going to drown us in that beautiful fruit as well, and a raspberry bush that we hope will eventually be just as prolific.

Once he decided to expand our backyard garden, I began finding sketches all over the house with various layouts of raised beds and positions for water barrels (don’t even get me started on The Search For The Perfect Water Barrels).  Fortunately, he decided to “start small” and built 3 raised beds:

Raised Garden Beds

Well, until recently, anyway – I think he’s decided to build 3 more before Spring is over.  At any rate, we have squash and peas so far – the peas are what the lines of twine are for, and you can see they’re off to a good start.  (Remind me to tell you the compost squash story another day.)  Here are the “old beds” we’ve been growing things in for several years (I forgot to take a photo of the herb garden):

Old Garden Beds

If you look closely, you can see the three sad, lonely asparagus spears next to the huge rhubarb.  The strawberries are in the bed in the foreground.  You can’t really tell, but there are dozens of flowers in there, each with a tiny strawberry in the center.  That big bush to the right along the fence is the blackberry bush; the small plant to the left of it is the raspberry bush we put in last year.

Of course, I’ve already shown you the compost bins and told you about our weekly jaunts to pick up eggs and 25 gallons of cow manure (I swear I have the only blog where you can do a legitimate search for “seriously good shit”), but then the man just went off the deep end and decided we weren’t going to purchase “starter plants” any longer because we had no idea where the seeds came from (“Monsanto” is a four-letter word in our home).  So he got a seed catalog that sells organic, heirlooms seeds and the next thing I knew we had this behind the loveseat in our living room:

Seed Trays

That long trailing plant is the squash I’ll tell you about at a later date.  The green pot contains a live basil plant we purchased at the grocery store, the plastic up is The G Man’s geranium he started from seeds at preschool, and the two small plants in the foreground are red bell pepper starters we got from a guy in the neighborhood who is also an organic gardening enthusiast.  Everything else are plants Beloved started from seeds – I can’t tell you everything off the top of my head, but I know there’s butter lettuce, Brussels sprouts and purple carrots in there.

But it doesn’t stop there, oh no.  He’s talking about digging up the part of the front lawn that runs beside the walk leading from our driveway to the front door with a decorative raised bed and planting sweet potatoes there because the flowers are supposed to be so pretty.

And he’s taken the lawn organic so we can harvest our own dandelion greens and the purselane that grows there wild.

I’ll let you know when he buys me a large, iron kettle and some lye and begins to refer to me as “Ma.”