Thursday, March 22, 2012

Great Expectations...

It's a daffodil March!  Pretty unbelievable for Lake Erie shore dwellers, actually pretty record setting for Lake Erie shore dwellers!!  But here they are and they couldn't be prettier.  So with all of that, I'm enjoying their first bloom and hoping this warm weather levels off a bit so they will stay around for more than two days like the crocus did.

Now, I know just about everyone has a few daffodils and that they seem very, how should I say it, commonplace?  However, my daffodils have a history, and that makes them beautiful AND interesting.  

 I did buy a few bulbs years ago and dutifully planted them and that was it.  Mainly because they were a bit too expensive for my budget and you needed quite a few of them to look decent as a planting.  So that ended my spring bulb collection.  Or so it seemed...
Years past and we ended up meeting a gardening friend of a friend named Burt.  Now, Burt was in his seventies and had gardens, I mean gardens, all over his multi-acre lot.  Peony gardens, rare bulb gardens, a couple of hosta gardens, irisis, daylilies and the list goes on.  This is not even mentioning his football field sized garden.  (He would garden only in quarter of it a year, but still, that's huge!)  He offered for us to put a few rows of vegetables in his football field garden and we thankfully agreed.  
It was so much fun to grow summer squash, winter squash and other fun things we were not able to grow in our own small home garden.  And while we were there, Burt would show us all around his flower beds.  It always was beautiful and I certainly learned a lot from him for sure!  I grew only certain varieties and kinds of plants and flowers, I think Burt grew at least one of each.  Perhaps two, making his property a virtual ark of every kind of living green herb.  

One fine Spring day, my husband casually told me that Burt had some bulbs for me for my garden.  I'm sure I absent-mindedly said, "Great!"   After all, Bert had given me a few plants before and I managed to find spots for the few of them.  However, I knew I was in trouble the moment I saw my husband bringing in bags...yes, I'm saying BAGS of bulbs.  I was quiet with amazement and consternation.  BAGS?  Who gives BAGS of bulbs away??  Well, I should have known.  Burt was thinning out the bulbs from his VAST daffodil collections and each newspaper wrapped set contained bulbs from all over the world (which means Holland mostly.)  I think I must have stared at those bags for quite awhile until I numbly went about trying to find places to squeeze them in.  It wasn't fun and I was a bit grouchy.  I mean, I hated to plant bulbs!  But, I managed to somehow plant them all and then I quickly forgot all about them.  Imagine my happiness the next spring when I went outside to find these beautiful flowers blooming?  So many different varieties and different bloom times.  Pure happiness.   

A cup of allergy tea to offset spring's pollen bounty!
The lesson in all of this?  Well, perhaps it was the point that sometimes we hate to go about the pain of investing in something.  It's hard work, tiring and there is no visible sign that it's going to pay off.  Then just when you forget about it, you reap a harvest of blessing.  Just like that...simple faith that what is unseen is going to become something very beautiful.

Thanks Burt, you taught me a valuable lesson again...AND I love these daffodils!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Classic Garden Spaghetti Meets "Cucurbita pepo L. var. turbinata".

Canned, dried, and overwintered( squash)produce from the garden

    It's still March and that means crockpots are still a viable form of cooking. As I was going to be gone all afternoon, it always proves to be a great solution for supper. 
    So, here goes the supper prep.  It was going to be the classic spaghetti sauce...with a twist.  (That ridged orange object on the right hand side should clue you in as to the twist!)
Yep, the classic ingredients of tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic, herbs and some dried tomatoes.....along with this beauty!  I had a few of these left over from the winter and thought, why not add them to the mix?  After all, squash is full of beta carotene and has that sweet nutty flavor profile, and that would be great in my sauce.  Besides, it's an absolutely amazing way to add extra nutrients and fiber to the meal without the family being aware of its existence.  

Sounds a bit cruel I know to add mysterious vegetables to a seemingly traditional meal.  But, no problem here!  My family was very accustomed to my "padding" the nutritional profile of our dinners.  As long as it tasted good, they were very unconcerned.  How did I know it was going to taste okay?  Elementary, my dear Watson.  I knew it's sweet flavor would not only sweeten the sauce up a bit, but would also help to thicken it up.  So, I washed, dried, poked a few holes in it and micro'd it until a knife could be easily inserted.  

I then cut it in half, scooped out the seeds and then the pulp.  I added the pulp to a food processor and with a little sauce, I pureed it up to add back into the sauce.  Enter now one circa 1989 crockpot (notice the mauve and country blue flowers?)  Hey, this crockpot knows how to cook and why add to landfill when it does a perfectly good job? Plus, I must confess, I love crockpots and have a 4 quart AND a 7 quart size.  I would have more, but we would need to build an addition!  With all that being said, it was time to combine!
I also added some other garden goodies...dehydrated peppers and tomatoes.  These are also great to snack on as well~especially when you're hungry cooking. My own dried garden herbs were the last thing to add.

Oh, I couldn't forget my pre-made, homemade frozen meatballs as well as some rosemary and tarragon that I froze for just such an occasion. The tarragon is a bit of a secret to our sauce.  One day I noticed it as an ingredient to a bottled sauce we really liked (what we didn't like on the bottled sauce was all the sodium and syrups.) It really gave it a nice "sausage-y" flavor and we've used it all winter.  Good thing I have plenty more tarragon in the garden.
 Next, add some tomato paste, season with salt, pepper and sweeten to taste. Let it crockpot away for 4-5 hours so the cooker can do it's magic transformation cooking thing.
It all added up to one late night dinner that was rich, hearty and delicious!  And, if I may say so myself, secretly nutritious!!


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Discovering a Wallflower...

Lured by another unbelievably warm day, I emerged from my hobbit hole to see what else was popping up around the yard.  Lo and behold, right outside my side door, on the north side of our house, I find this "little" gem, my hellebore!  Definitely not your average nursery plant, I always forget about its existence because it's biggest shine time is late winter and I am generally indoors nestling by a warm fire.  The rest of the year its greenery remains hidden in the midst of a host of rogue meadow rues and japanese anenomes.  It always seems to catch me unawares, like turning a corner and running into an old acquaintance...nice in other words.

This garden plant, cultivated now for centuries with their exact origin not really known, were used medicinally at one time.  They've been found in Europe around the ruins of monasteries connecting their use with herbal medicine.  I can only imagine the monks clothed in their coarse brown robes,  gathering the leaves of this plant to make into some bitter decoction. Monks aside, they've recently become more popular in North America and can be found in many garden catalogs. I received my specimen by my gardening neighbor friend.
  She had three of them, buying one a year, because they weren't blooming and she thought the plants were defective.  However, it seems that the Hellebore is so slow to bloom that it takes about three years.  Now the one she gifted me with bloomed within the year (it being the ripe old age of three); good thing too because I was not convinced it was worth a place in my already crammed garden.  After all, I had raised all my perennials and had now retired from planting any others.  My botanical routine now consisted of planting only annual flowers in pots and vegetable gardens. Besides, my overcrowded flower beds  were completely unwilling to welcome any newcomers and I couldn't blame them. After all, they had tolerated my over-planting tendencies for many years and how could I ask them to move over to make room for another child, er, I mean, plant?!  Well, as a gardener, I couldn't resist.  It looked, well, you know, kind of interesting.  I mean, it couldn't hurt to give it a try, could it? Much to their dismay, I managed to make some room for this unpromising looking plant, and I'm so glad I did!  It's hardy, loves sun and shade, drought resistant AND it blooms during the most plant desolate season, late winter!  Oh, and did I mention how lovely these bashful beauties are?  Just take a peek under those seemingly innocent petals and you'll be blown away by their spectacular blushing "faces."  
      There you have it, Helleborus, truly an overlooked and underrated plant.  I came very close to passing over it myself, but gardening sense intervened and it's now happily settled.  It may not be a showy peony or a rambling rose; rather more like the proverbial wall flower, but hey, watch out for those wallflowers, if you lift up their chins, they truly shine!
Time for a chilled Jasmine Tea break...ahhhh!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Eat Your Greenies...

     You can only imagine my happiness when I came upon this small clump of parsley in the mulched garden.  A true biennial, which means it grows to maturity in the first year and then goes to seed in the second, it does gives some fresh leaves its second year if you can catch it quickly enough!  And, because of this fabulous, unseasonably warm weather, I did "catch" it!
Curly Parsley
     So, even though it's only a bit of green, it's still green, and that means it is coming inside to my kitchen for lunch!

Now to put my herbal "nerd" on...Parsley is not just a decoration.  As a matter of fact, its health benefits outweigh most of the fancy dishes it's used as a garnish on!  Crazy, right?  I would fill up a page on everything it's good for, including your heart, rheumatoid arthritis, as well as being chock-full of antioxidants to boot.  If you can remember that it's rich in vitamins A and C, that should be all the info you need to want to grow, and eat this wonder herb.

Yep, I minced these little leaves of health right onto whatever we were eating this day, which happened to be a mix of leftovers.  Case in point, "Chili Baked Potatoes," (a perfect way to use up a glob of leftover chili.)  It helps to give a little bit of nutrition to an otherwise heavy meal. Of course, to get more of the health benefits, eat more parsley, but for now, a sprinkle will do because much more parsley will be on its way in a month or two!

  So, think about giving parsley a try.  It's a strongly-flavored herb, so start with a small amount and work your way up. Don't give up if you don't care for can take up to ten tries before we know we don't like a food.  So go for the ten and eat some green!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Winter's End...

What says Spring like these lovely ladies?  They are some of the most faithful in the flower world.  Seeing them always leaves me feeling one of two ways; excited for Spring, and aware that winter yard clean-up is around the corner.

 Can't help but not care though.  Their cheery ways soon rouse me from my winter slumber and soon enough, my gardening "spidey" senses awaken.  The stacks of garden catalogs soon find me thumbing my way through them, ready to try some kind of new salad green or exotic basil.  Slowly my winter fatigue begins to leave and I feel charged and renewed with garden plans.
 Yes, they mean, "Wake up! Time to get back outside to work!" Yes, they are signaling the all important end to a long winter's night.  If they can herald the good news of springtime, then I say "Viva la Crocus!" and yard/garden clean-up isn't just clearing away a mess, but making way for new life.