Garden

Okra

Okra
It's producing like crazy in our garden right now. Staggering the planting didn't help at all; it needs to be picked every day from ever single plant.

Okra is a relative of hibiscus (and cotton), which is obvious when it is flowering.  It apparently still grows wild in Ethiopa and Sudan as it has been doing since prehistoric times. Like so many other "traditionally southern" foods it came to the southern USA with the enslaved Africans. One of my grandmothers loved to fry it. She would slice it about ¼ " thick, dip it in beaten egg, roll it in yellow cornmeal (not flour!) and fry it in a cast iron skillet.  I don't fry much, and usually do it my other grandmother's way:

STEWED OKRA AND TOMATOES 

1 tablespoons oil (I use olive oil; my grandmother used bacon grease)
1 medium sweet onion
about 1/2 pound of okra, sliced 1/4-1/2" thick
1 can of tomatoes, broken up (my grandmother used canned "stewed tomatoes")
salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion in oil till clear, add tomatoes and okra. Bring to a boil and simmer over low heat till okra is tender - about 15 minutes. Traditionally served over white rice. 

Something else good to do with okra in the summer: Vegetable Gumbo

{photo: those little ants on the flower were harbingers of a major aphid infestation (ants actually "farm" aphids because they produce a sweet liquid ants like to eat - kind of like us and cows). A good dousing with soapy water took care of the problem.}


Zona's Zinnias

May zinnia
My grandmother Zona introduced me to zinnias, and maybe that's why they have always had such a southern, homey sensibility about them to me. They're natives of Mexico but do so well here, especially in the less humid month of May. I love the different shapes and colors of their papery-dry flowers, and their long stems which make them perfect for cutting. They last a long time in a vase, and have been a part of my summer home-decorating since my "Nanny" gave me the first bouquet.

Later in summer they will grow bushy and their leaves will speckle with various viruses, but their flowers will soldier on till the bitter end. In the right conditions, zinnias will self-seed. I will never forget the school garden we left planted with still-thriving colorful zinnias in June, and which surprised us the following September with a new crop of all white ones. Apparently hybrids, the second generation did not keep the characteristic of the parent - but still so beautiful! 

Now I try to keep them germinating throughout the summer, ready to fill in spaces in the garden. Right now there's a row of beautiful all purple ones swaying in front of the tomatoes in the front yard, muti-colored ones circling the trees in the parking lot, and a little row behind the corn. They're cheery and colorful and will always remind me of my funny (and colorful) grandmother Zona Lee. 


To be a laboratory

Parking lot palm bed 2.25
We cannot change the culture in which we live except - as Gandhi once suggested - by being the change we want to see happen. So the only way to go forward is to look at ourselves, at our needs, at what it is to be a human being; to work out, for ourselves, the optimum way to live, to live in health, harmony, and accord with other creatures in the web of life. Each of us has to be an inventor, a creator, a discoverer of the right way for human to live. Thus each of our lives become a laboratory for a new experiment. Once you begin to see it this way, you realize just what an exciting project it is... We are pioneers - together you and I - and many, many others who are traveling in the same direction. 

- Marian Van Eyk McCain

[Parking lot garden - phase 2, part 1: Clearing out the weeds while keeping the soil off the sidewalk]


Warm up a little salad

Oranges february 2
One of the inconveniences of our climate is that some of the things that are so refreshing in the heat – lettuce and citrus for example – grow best here in the cool winter. I still love them, and I think we may be in particular need of their nutrients when our bodies are stressed by the cold. But I'm just not in the mood for them when it's 55 degrees in the house. I want soup or a slow-baked casserole that will heat up the kitchen as well as my body.

While we normally eat both these things uncooked, the can be prepared in a way that preserves their overall fresh feel but is a little warming as well.

SIMPLE ORANGE COMPOTE

Ingredients
5 or six oranges, peeled, seeded and sectioned
1 orange sqeezed
¼ cup dried cherries, cranberries or raisins*
¼ cup chopped pecans*
¼ cup coconut*

*These last three ingredients are optional. I happened to have them leftover from winter holiday baking - and they did make it pretty and a little more hearty.

Directions
Place ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat immediately. Add chopped pecans,dried fruit, and coconut if you would like. If oranges are not very sweet, you may need to sprinkle with a little sugar as well if you are serving as dessert.

VEGETARIAN WILTED SALAD

I remember my mom making this when my sister and I were little and my father was out of town. We ate things like spam, fried bologna, fish sticks or frozen pot pies for those rare father-less meals. We loved it!  It was only later that I could imagine the pressure my mother was under to prepare a substantial meal for her hard-working partner, and how these days might have been a break for her from that routine. My mom said her own father used to make it for her when she was little.  I wonder if this one "Yankee" in my family tree had a similar desire to eat salad with a little warmth to it. He, like my mother, made it by frying bacon and using the bacon grease as the "oil" in very warm vinaigrette mixed right in the skillet.  After all these years, I remember it as being incredibly delicious. Here's my vegetarian version:

Ingredients
2 heads (or bags) of lettuce
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1teaspoon salt – or to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil
one large sweet onion, chopped

Directions
Wash and dry lettuce and place in salad bowl Shake rice vinegar and salt and sugar together in a jar with a tight-fitting lid Heat olive oil in a skillet and add chopped onion. Sauté till crisp – between 1 and 3 minutes. Add vinegar mixture and stir around, scraping up the crispy onions into the liquid mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat, then pour mixture over the lettuce and toss.

Lettuce february
[above - our midwinter fridge . . . below - February lettuce] 


Pesto Genovese

Basils close
Basil smells like summer, and it is one of the few plants still looking relatively perky during this mid-June heatwave. Pinching back its flowers and watering only when necessary should keep it going all summer. If yours starts to look sad, you can cut it back and it should come back again. This summer I'm trying variegated basil as well as the traditional Genovese variety. The variegated looks so pretty in the window box. 

Pesto is a great way to use basil in the summer. It's an easy dish that requires very little cooking, so no worries about heating up the kitchen. This recipe makes enough pesto for a pound of pasta. While any kind will do, I like how the pesto clings to fusilli. If you have any left over you can freeze it in an ice cube tray before adding the cheese, then thaw as needed. Traditionally the pesto is made with a mortal and pestle, and someday I hope to have one of these. For, now I have a little, used food processor which does the job. I would highly recommend NOT using a blender. I have killed several making pesto and other such gloppy concoctions.

Pesto Genovese - traditional basil pesto

3 cups loosely packed bail leaves
1/2 cup chopped nuts (traditionally pine nuts but many recipes call for almonds. I prefer substituting pecans, our local nut. 
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup grated parmesan - optional

Halved or quartered unrefrigerated cherry tomatoes - also optional

Process the first four ingredients in a food processor or grind in a mortar with your pestle. Add to the hot pasta. THEN add the cheese by sprinkling evenly over the pasta and mixing with a spoon. Adding the cheese after the pesto allows the pesto to distribute itself evenly without getting clumped together with the melting cheese. Adding some lightly salted and peppered cherry tomatoes or chopped tomatoes adds a wonderful contrasting color and some extra deliciousness. 

Buon appetito!

Vari-basil window box
 


One last cup of Bavaria

Chamomile flowers
When I was a little girl, my grandmother remarried (my grandfather died when I was eight). Her new husband, Rudy, was German and introduced us to all kinds of interesting things like bloodwurst, stollen, and herbal tea. Whenever I smell a chamomile teabag I am transported back to those sweet days of learning about a different culture from a different grandfather. Rudy, who never had children of his own, became the great-grandfather my children knew and loved before he died - in a sauna on a cruise ship at 90.  

Anyway, I grew chamomile during the late winter and early spring on our south-facing front steps and later in window boxes. It's delicate ferny leaves and tiny daisy-like flowers are now beginning to fry to a crisp. So I am harvesting the last of them. I'm going to try re-potting them, cutting them back and putting them in a shadier area to see if they will somehow survive the summer. I'm not optimistic. 

But I will drink a cup (or two) of tea to them. A tablespoon of fresh or a teaspoon of dried flowers, steeped in boiling water, with a bit of honey makes one sweet cup. And it tastes like 1970, in my mother's kitchen.

Chamomile tea is supposed to be good for anxiety, stomachache, pms, headache, and insomnia. I should plant more next year.


You need a swig of Jamaica

Jamaica

It is so very hot here - nearly breaking a 100 year-old record. Today the heat index is forecast to be 102. We have also had half as much rain as we normally do so far in October. AND the owner of our empty lot garden has turned off the water. So. Only the hardiest of heat-loving plants are surviving.

One of these is "Roselle" aka Jamaican Sorrel or Hibiscus sabdariffa, among other things. It is a beautiful plant - red stems and calyces, dark green leaves, lovely yellow hibiscus flowers with pink centers. In the past we have harvested these in the late fall and early winter, but these are already producing the prized calyces (stress?) and so we are picking them now. 

Roselle Plant

These calyces - the base of the flower - are the source of a famous Jamaican holiday drink called "Jamaica" (pronounced huh-my-cuh). There are a number of recipes for this but all involve boiling the sepals (removed from the calyx) for 10 minutes or so and adding spices and sugar (and often rum). Here's a typical recipe; you can google to find others. 

Roselle Calyces

We made a lighter drink by removing the sepals from about 40 calyxes and boiling in a quart of water for ten minutes, straining the sepals out, adding sugar (quite a bit) and then another quart of cold water. It makes a nice tea, reminiscent of Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger. Very pretty and delicious over ice. A nice island treat for this extended summer we are having.


Cucumbers to Refrigerator Pickles

Cucumbers

Harvesting begins today! Our first cucumbers are ready and it looks like hot peppers are right behind. We were out early this morning weeding, spreading mulch, watering and planting Seminole pumpkins (good growers in the heat). That's it for planting, except for possibly filling in any spaces that present themselves with a few zinnia and sunflower seedlings.

One of my favorite thing to do with fresh cucumbers is to turn them into refrigerator pickles, and it takes about five minutes. The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook - a classic  during the 70s back-to-the-land movement - has a delicious recipe that I've been using for a while. Sweet onions, like Vidalias, are also being harvested right now and are just perfect for this. While I'm feeling anything but "cool as a cucumber" during this ridiculous hot spell (90s in May? This does not bode well...), we'll enjoy eating them for sure.

REFRIGERATOR PICKLES

Ingredients:
2 cucumbers, thinly sliced
1/4 - 1/2 sweet onion thinly sliced
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons honey

Directions:
Place vinegar, salt and honey in a jar and shake till blended. Pour over cucumber slices. Store in refrigerator for 3 days.

Garden week 5