Wednesday, October 5, 2016

An Ounce of Prevention

I'm all about sustainable farming/gardening - I know, might sound strange from a person who sells soil amendments and such. 

But honestly, it's my goal to build a soil so healthy as to not need outside inputs for the farm eventually. So why wouldn't I want the same for you?

The one thing I can't make/create here at the farm though, may be something I always do use and that's seaweed. 

Short of a trip to the beach to collect it, of which I certainly wish I had the time to do, I use it in bottled or dry powered form. 

It's getting to be that time of year when our temps take 20, 30 and even 40 degree swings - all within hours of time. This can take a toll on plants not yet established or acclimated to the current temps. Not to mention, your pets, and yourself! 
 "Stress on a plant is what invites pest and disease." 

But in the over 30 some-odd years I've been organic gardening/farming, over and over and over again, the benefit of using liquid seaweed foliar spray comes up. Especially right before one of these temp swings - like the one scheduled for Friday. 90's to low in the 50's. Stress on a plant is what invites pest and disease. 

So let's try to ease the stress with a little shower of love on the garden either after the sun's heat is out of the garden or first thing in the AM while it's still cool out. Plants are only receptive to the benefits when their stomates are open.  Add in a little liquid fish for a N boost if needed. It's a great time to really observe your plants up close and personal, especially if you're using a small hand sprayer - as opposed to one off of a cart or tractor.

Lift up the leaves, spraying the undersides, too. If you see pest insects, such as aphids or squash bugs, etc., check back the next morning to see if they've not stopped hanging around. Your plant's inherent defense system may have gotten the kick it needed with your foliar application of enzymes, hormones and trace nutrients found in the seaweed.

Adding a bit of home brewed compost or vermicompost tea never hurts, either. Upping the bacterial and fungal activity helps everything work better. Even on the plants' surfaces it seems.

So that's your little gardening tip for today! Make some time to do a little preventative treatment and it should help ease your plants through these crazy seasons of up and down temps! Where one day you're wearing shorts and a tank top and then you wake up to a snow day! Hey, it happens in N. Texas!

Now go git your hands in the dirt!


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Ratatouille – Dallas Fresh Veggie Style

 Ratatouille – Dallas Fresh Veggie Style

If my memory serves me correctly, the first time I was served ratatouille, it had been prepared by chef Graham Dodds who has presided over several wonderful Dallas restaurants since I started farming, and becoming more aware of my taste buds. You can, and definitely should, go check his art out at Wayward Sons in Dallas, where he is now currently cooking up a storm of wonderfulness!

It was such a colorful dish; full of reds, greens and yellows. And it tasted so good! I looked it up to see what all was involved in making this dish, that’s how much I liked it! There was no way I could just figure it out from eating it, because remember last post I told you, I'm not a chef! 

So today I’m sharing with you a version of ratatouille that begins with the recipe I found on line under Martha Stewart's web site. Of all the paper, real life handed down and gifted, food stained cookbooks I have at my house, I can't believe that I had to find it on line. But you can find the list of ingredients and more detailed instructions here.

The above photo shows the base ingredients from my farm and a few from the farm of my friend and colleague, Beverly Thomas who owns and operates, Cold Springs Farm near Weatherford. 

She grew the banana peppers, those cool little green eggplant, and the red onion. The rest is from my place. Tomatoes, yellow squash (in lieu of zucchini), bell peppers, garlic and not pictured, fresh oregano and a secret ingredient I’ll tell you about later. 

I started out with very ripe, fresh tomatoes. The recipe calls for cans, but – nah – if you have fresh ones, that’s what I’d opt for, every time. As you can see, I mix and match varieties. Here are Hillbilly, Costoluto Genevese, and Burbank Slicers – I think. 

I chopped off the stem/core and then chopped them up into chunks. I tossed them into a baking dish and drizzled them with some olive oil, gave them a stir and into the oven they went. As per directions, I stirred them every 10 or so minutes; keeps them from sticking and blends the flavors as it thickens. 

Meantime, in between stirs, I cut up the eggplant into chuncks and salted them with the Real Salt that I sell here at Eden's, using the larger crystal or “kosher” version, and set them on top of a paper towel. This “sweats” the eggplant of its excess moisture. 

Next up is to sauté the chopped up onion, just till it was a little translucent, and then add the garlic. Now Martha’s recipe calls for an entire head of that stuff, and that may be why, in part, I needed the secret ingredient at the end, but since I’d only made this once before, I went ahead and followed the recipe as it was written for the most part. 
The variety of garlic I used was Burgundy, I believe.  A Creole Hardneck garlic with a well deserved reputation for its combination of rich taste and striking beauty. I had 3 kinds this year but I am pretty sure this was the variety I grabbed. 

Next into the hot olive oil goes the peppers. I had a couple of small, bell style that were starting to get wrinkly I thought I'd better use up, and I thought I’d add 1 or 2 of the pretty lime green banana peppers from Beverly’s place, too. I had tasted one last Sunday at the VeggieVan and thought it was a little warm, but didn’t think it would spice up this dish too much with all of the other ingredients that are included. Ha! 

After stirring and getting the peppers all nice and crispy, and after stirring the tomatoes several times and letting it get kind of syrupy, I combined them into the cast iron skillet, along with fresh, chopped up oregano.  

Side note – be sure to wash your hands really well after picking your oregano, and before fishing out of your eye whatever flew in it on the way back from the garden – or be prepared to cry. ouchie. My friend Trish says that a drop of coconut oil on the corner of the eye will put the fire out. Next time, if there happens to be one....

Now the kitchen is really smelling yummy! Chopped squash and the eggplant are last to go in. Simmer a bit more, turn it down a little, then cover; leaving just a little of the lid open for escaping steam. 

A few minutes later, I just had to have a taste to see how it was coming together. Added a bit more salt, I never seem to use enough at first, and then a couple of tablespoons of the red wine vinegar and it should be done. 

Well, I wasn’t expecting quite the kick out of those banana peppers that I got, or maybe it turned out to be the full head of garlic. But at any rate, the day before at Market Day when talking about making this dish with my friend and bee keeper, she mentioned using what sounded like an odd ingredient to add to this otherwise savory dish. But, alas, I decided it was what I needed!  Honey. Susan had just brought a case of our “spring” harvest Zip Code Honey®, too.

I needed to cool the dish down because I am not a fan of chasing every bite of my food with milk or something else to cool off my tongue or throat.
Now, it was going to be perfect! And it is!! I like to eat mine with some fresh baked, crunchy crusted bread and fresh butter, the real kind.  The bread was still rising and I was hungry though, so that will have to wait for next time. But boy was this a great lunch! And you don't have to be a chef to make it - but it's good to have it made for you, too!

Now, since today happens to be National Ice Cream Day, I will follow it up in a little while with a big ol’ banana split! Sorry, not pictured – I have to get some of those goodies at the store, yet. Nothing better than a homemade banana split to cool down a slightly spicier than planned lunch!

I think a pint of Ben and Jerry's non-GMO ice cream and some organic bananas are in my immediate grocery list future!


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Decisions for Meal Planning Made Simple!

I have a little confession to make – I’m not a chef. I mean I can make a mean lasagne and I’ve gotten decent at creating just about anything stir fry, I’ve learned how to make ricotta cheese and what the heck to do with fava beans. But much of what I know how to make, are simply my versions of my family standbys I grew up eating and later customized for myself.  
Fresh Fava Beans Partially Shelled

Summer Squash & Arugula Salad - Eating Local by Sur La Table
Now I know this may come as a surprise to many of you, because, yes, I do post pictures of various food items that I’ve made; generally made from scratch using things from the gardens.

But I’m kind of a color-by-numbers sort I guess, in that, I’ve learned to cook being dependent on recipes. I love cookbooks and still have most, if not all, of my mother’s beloved cookbooks and a few of my own I’ve picked up and been given along the way. I’ve shared various recipes from some of them with you over the years.

And cookbooks are awesome with their gorgeous photographs and step by step directions – as long as you have all of the ingredients a recipe calls for, or a suitable facsimile. 

But how many times have I (or you), stood in front of an open refrigerator door staring blankly at the dozens of bags of assorted produce, cheese, fresh herbs, milk, cream, butter, yogurt, etc., etc., and then walk over to the pantry and stared into its shelves of dried and canned beans, rice, cous cous, lentils, olive oil, balsamic, oatmeal, various dried fruits, pastas, etc., and ended up making a bowl of popcorn with apple slices and peanut butter on the side? So many I’m almost embarrassed to tell you. Kind of like standing in front of the closet trying to decide what to wear to the school dance when we were in 8th grade. 

I guess by the time I come in from a double digit hour workday, sometimes on a triple digit temperature day, my brain is a little fried out for fresh ideas. And if it doesn’t jump out at me, well, it’s not happening, folks. Without a lot of energy left to brainstorm a fabulous meal at the end of the day, I imagine, is why many people turn to the obligatory drive-thru, meal in a box or dining out option.

It's probably a good thing that my budget doesn’t allow for dining out that much, because down here, there’s really not anywhere I want, or should want, to be eating anyway. Which would mean spending a good hour and half going out to eat in Big D, or at the least, up in Mesquite, to one of the two semi-healthful, semi-clean-fastish-food options. Chipotle or Jason’s Deli.

But one day while my stomach grumbled at me, I stumbled upon what maybe many of you did a long time ago and just forgot to tell me about; because there are a whole lot of people who “like” this guys Facebook page. And there's a cool website for color-by-number people like me – for cooking! 

My Fridge Food!

You simply tell the data base, (that I imagine was built by someone with the food skills that I don't have), what you have on hand, click a button and ohmygoodness! – dozens of recipes simply appear on your screen – and even tell you if you have all of the ingredients, or identify what items you are missing, based on what you input originally. It allows you to add items you may actually have, that were not originally asked about in the initial survey, to further build your menu options. And it even remembers everything for the next time you visit!

My Food Fridge Helped Me Whip Up a Simple Bruschetta for Lunch
Now there’s an app for this already – and I hope you get it, but I’m not a big app person.

However, I did bookmark the website and refer back to it whenever my brain goes dry for meal ideas. Which can be often. I’ve not been a pre-planned "menu for the whole week" person for years, because for one thing, this occupation is pretty inconsistent and I don’t always get to eat at the same time. This means I can’t always plan ahead for how long I’m going to have to make said menu items. And secondly, I may not want on Thursday night for dinner what I wrote on the menu Sunday when I planned it. And I don't always have a Sunday afternoon to prepare a week's worth of menu items for the freezer, and anyway, that brings me back to the "what if I don't want pasta salad for lunch on Wed. I want something else", issue.

So this is perfect in that I can tell some invisible chef in my computer what I have on hand and skim over the list of options it provides; which also gives a prep time, and then decide what looks good and what I have the energy to make. Unfortunately it ends there - you will also still have to prepare the said dish(es). But as long as I have a recipe, I'm usually game to try making anything that sounds good. And there are plenty of options with pictures so something catches my eye sooner or later.

This definitely should help reduce wasted time in front of the open fridge, expand meal options and reduce wasted food! I've not tried a lot of different recipes yet, but the few I have tried, have been easy to follow and came out well. And again, I'm not a chef so even if your kitchen skills are limited, these are not difficult to follow recipes.

Whenever I grow these, I get a lot of questions. Do you know what these are?
And for those of you in a CSA and are the ones who open your bag of goodies each week and says to yourself, “what am I going to do with this”? Fear no more! Just add the items each week to your list of things on hand and watch the ideas roll in! (Just make sure you asked your farmer to identify everything in the bag, before you left the farm.)

Here it is…..

You’re welcome! :)


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

PS - For those of you a little wary of signing on using your FB profile, or without one to use, I emailed Nick, the site owner, about other sign-in options. His reply was that he "had to take down the email log-in until I can run some security updates so Facebook is the only log-in option.  However, I have made it to where the site works the same way whether you're logged in or not until I get it fixed.  The pantry list should save to your browser."