Category Archives: Food

Broccoli Bandits

The kitchen garden is getting a little overgrown with fragrant dill, but I don’t have the heart to cut any of it out.

The boys love to play in their “hideout” or “cave” or “house”.


They crawl through tunnels and pretend they are spies whose mission is to seek out and capture beetles and worms.

They stay away from the bees, but always point them out to me.

“They get pollen,” Joe tells me matter-of-factly.


The dill forest is surrounding the broccoli and cabbage which, in this heat and humidity, has started to bolt. We’ve harvested a few bunches of broccoli and a cabbage so I’m not too upset about the boys pulling off the stalks and munching away as they play at “super spies”.

In fact, I’m not upset at all.

“This is a good snack, Mommy!”

Yes. Yes it is.


My little broccoli bandits can eat all they want.



We are stagger planting.

Every few weeks, we sow more lettuce, cilantro and other leafy greens so that we’ll (ideally) have a constant supply of fresh salads and herbs over the summer and as far into fall as we can.

We are also doing this with carrots and other root veggies that are a “one and done” producer.

Yesterday, I went to the greenhouse to plant another round of cilantro and buttercrunch lettuce.

I hadn’t been over in a few days, but all of my starts are still flourishing. Soon it will be time to start giving a few away and transferring a few to the outdoor garden.

I plan to ‘pot up’ a few tomatoes and peppers and leave them in the greenhouse environment to test production.


The lettuce and herb table I started a few weeks ago is beautiful to behold. Rows of bright green buttercrunch and the promising start of cilantro and basil.


For this round, I scattered more lettuce and cilantro in between the rows, filling up all of that wasted space. These are greens so I am not worried about overcrowding the produce.


Baby cilantro leaves are packed with that delicious and distinct cilantro flavor. I just had to sample a few of the new sprouts.

After scattering the seeds, I stopped by to water the other plants. The Replacements are growing quickly. One Mr. Stripey that was all but dead has made a miraculous recovery and already has a strong and stout stem.

There is hope for them afterall.


In this windy cold
Checking for eggs is brutal
Stumbling in the wind

Sprouts Springing

Last week I started the first round of tomatoes, and the second round of peppers.

Two flats of everything from plain ol’ beefsteak to Mr. Stripey.


I’m happy to report that some seeds have transformed into seedlings, popping up through the soil.

We have some tomatoes…

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…and a few first round peppers peeping.



The first round cabbage were the first seedlings to emerge, followed closely by the pepperoncinis. I’m hoping that this year will be the year for peppers. The past two years have been very disappointing in the pepper department.

Happy little seedlings
All planted in a row
Green and spindly, fragile
But stronger as they grow

Later this week I’ll be kicking off round two of the tomatoes, some basil and a half flat of broccoli.

Seed (see planting guide) Ind. Dir. Rnd 1 Rnd 2
Habanero x 2/18 2/24
Sweet Bell Pepper x 2/18 2/24
Habanero x 2/18 2/24
Sweet Ital. Pepper x 2/18 2/24
Cabbage x 2/18 2/24
Jalapeno x 2/18 2/24
Pepperoncini x 2/18 2/24
Ground Cherry x 2/24 1st week Mar
Beef Steak x 2/24 1st week Mar
Rutgers x 2/24 1st week Mar
Black Prince x 2/24 1st week Mar
Mr. Stripey x 2/24 1st week Mar
Burgess Climbing x 2/24 1st week Mar
Heirloom Rainbow x 2/24 1st week Mar
Basil x 1st week Mar NA
Broccoli x 1st week Mar NA


All Wrapped Up

It’s just about the end of the year and I cannot see making any more progress on my 13 in 14 endeavor. We tackled quite a few of the skills, and we’ve accomplished much more than planned over the past year.

And now, a final review of the 13 Skills we planned to “master”  in 2014.

1. Sewing – I did not sew a Halloween costume for the boys so the hem is the only project I’ve completed this year. I’m counting it. COMPLETE

I did, however, make an AWESOME turtle shell for Joe’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume.

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2. Auto Upkeep – Complete fail here. I did not learn how, or even attempt to learn how, to change my oil. I know there is still time in the year…but it’s not going to happen this year. FAIL

3. Firearm Training – This weekend I am going to attend a Women on Target class with a good friend. I am extremely excited for and a little nervous about this class. IN PROGRESS

4. Wilderness Skills – Ray and Joe camped in the backyard one night. It was a great experience for Joe. He learned how to camp, clean up and that there are always snacks when camping. COMPLETE

5. Teaching – Still no space for learning downstairs, but I’ve realized that the space is more for me than for the boys. Our classroom is everywhere we go, and a quick check in for what Joe and Jake should be doing/learning at his age has shown me that we are doing a pretty darn good job. COMPLETE (and ongoing)

6. Reloading – Another fail…there’s always next year! FAIL

7. Health and Fitness – I do have a 5k in the running (pun intended). In December, I am going to participate in a Jingle Bell Run. Our team theme is “Santa and His Elves on the Shelf.” That is pretty much the extent of my health and fitness goal. We are still trying to eat better and the CSA and garden this year really helped with that. As COMPLETE as it can I am willing for it to be this year.

8. Raising Chickens – BEYOND complete. Still super stoked on how well these birds did and how awesome the chicken coop, designed by my husband and father-in-law, turned out. COMPLETE


9. Bee Keeping – This one is on hold for a few years per my previous update. COMPLETE (sort of)

10. Gardening – The two swales we put in have done a fantastic job holding water. We’ve barely had to water this year due to all of the rain and, with all of the trees we have planted, watering would have been a full-time job.


Next year, we need to research and do a better job of saving seeds. We’ve missed so many opportunities this year and we’re feeling a little bit silly that we will AGAIN be buying seeds next year. COMPLETE

11. Archery – Yeesh…yet another skill put off to next year. FAIL

12. Blogging – I’ve started watching 5 Minutes With Jack and am learning more about how to grow my blog audience as well as turn it into a little side business. IN PROGRESS

13. Canning – We canned mild salsa and plan to can some hot salsa. No pickled okra, beans or pickles this year but this is a huge improvement over last year. COMPLETE

Overall we completed 8 skills, 2 skills are in progress and we had 2 fails–which will be added to next year’s list.

Our goals are complete
In some areas we’ve failed
In most we’ve outshined

Artichoke Harvest

Today, I noticed that the Jerusalem artichokes were almost lying on the ground. One was even pulling out by the root, so I decided it was time to start harvesting.


I thought I’d just go out with my spade and pop them right out of the ground. Not so. The root of one plant sends out little lines as far as a foot from the base of the plant making it hard to just dig around the base of the main plant. You run the risk of damaging precious pieces of artichoke if you aren’t too careful.

I only had time to harvest one plant today. It took about 20 minutes of digging and raking the soil until finally, in a fit of frustration, I pulled the entire plant out by the root…and I fell over from the effort. Joe was concerned and Jake tried to tackle me.


I ended up with a big bowl of artichokes. This is from only one plant and we have at least ten more to pull.

I plan to roast them in a little garlic and olive oil tonight for dinner.


The chickens will get the scraps.


Artichoke, garlic
Salt, pepper and olive oil
Mouth is watering

Autumn Eats

We had fresh garden beans with our supper last night. I picked them and snapped then just an hour before the meal. My sister-in-law cooked them with a little bacon grease and ham. They were delicious!


When it gets a little bigger, we’ll have buttercrunch lettuce to eat. I’d guess it will be ready within the next week or so.


Despite the bugs munching on the leaves, the cabbage and broccoli are starting to form heads. In another 3-4 weeks we’ll have fresh broccoli and cabbage to add to our meals.

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Against all odds, the comfrey has returned once again. How strange this little soldier is. There was on leaf on it when we planted it and the next time I looked it was gone. Only a teeny tiny nub was left. Now, two big and one little leaf have erupted from the soil.


We hope to start propagating the plant next year to expand our crop. It is said to be very easy…we’ll see.

Cabbage, peas and beans
Produce for the autumn meals
Delicious and crisp

The Vineyard, the Fedge and the Mini-Orchard

I am SO excited to report that Ray, Jake, Joe and I ate our first grapes yesterday! Oddly enough, the bounty did not come from the plants we put in last year, but from the Pinot Noir grapes we planted this year.

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There were 8 grapes total. Joe was with me and quickly downed 4 of the 8. I ate 1, saved 1 for Jake and saved the other 2 for Ray.

They were delicious! After tasting them, the memory of hiding in the grape arbor at my babysitter’s house came back to me. I was 8 or 9 and I remember standing on my tippy-toes to reach a cluster of grapes in her backyard.

Next, Joe and I took a stroll through the fedge. I had Joe stand by the autumn olive for scale. Below is a picture of it last year next to the picture I took yesterday. We will most likely not get any berries this year. Normally, the autumn olive fruits in the 3rd year.

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It occurred to me that I have yet to give an update on our mini orchard. The apple, weeping mulberry and IL everbearing mulberry have all grown quite a bit since May of last year.


Weeping mulberry


IL Everbearing mulberry


2 in 1 Apple

And, as I mentioned in a previous post, we even managed to get a few mulberries from both trees. The birds (not the girls) got the rest.


Poor little chickens
No mulberries for you girls
Eaten by robins

The Super Smoothie

In our CSA this week, we got our hands on a pint of ground cherries and a pint of aronia berries.


I planted ground cherries this year, but have not seen them pop up anywhere. Our aronia berry plants are doing well, but we wanted to compare. We’re not completely sure what they should taste like when they are ripe.

After tasting the ground cherry and sampling the aronia, we came to a couple of conclusions.

1. Ground cherry, while interesting, is weird both in taste and texture. It has a pineapple-like taste with the texture and finish of a tomato. I like them both…but blended? It’s kind of funky.

2. The aronia we planted looks the same as that from the CSA, but tastes wildly different.


Even Joe agrees. Ours tastes better.


So what do we do with a pint of each?

We make a smoothie!

Ground Cherry, about two handfuls
Aronia Berry, about four handfuls
Yogurt, about four dollups
Kefir, about a cup
1 banana
Stevia, a 6″ stem plus leaves
Crushed ice, about a cup

Pulse in blender or food processor until consistency and color are to your liking.


The smoothie was not only a beautiful color, it was delicious and healthy too.

From the kefir, we get probiotics.

From the aronia, we get antioxidants.

From the ground cherry, we get niacin and vitamins A and C.

From our kids we get big smiles and cries of “More please!”


Cherries and Berries
Aronia, stevia
Delicious smoothie

Heirloom Salsa

I didn’t plant any red tomatoes. Sure, a few romas from last year’s plantings volunteered their services and we have a few from our CSA, but most of mine are heirlooms. Yellow, Black Prince and, of course, Mr. Stripey.


I didn’t think about that when I started to make salsa to can. The only red in the mix comes from the mild red peppers and a few tomatoes from our CSA. It’s such a colorful blend of peppers, onions, tomatoes and cilantro…quite pretty actually.

Before starting, I looked at a few salsa recipes in the Ball Canning book and on Pinterest. So many sounded delicious! I decided to take the best flavors from several recipes to make my own tasty salsa.

I pulled quite a bit of the ingredients below from the garden, but I did end up having to get some at the store.


Oregano, chili powder, salt, pepper, worcestershire sauce, garlic powder and lime juice for the jars. I later added cumin.


Cilantro, Italian red and green peppers, leeks from CSA, tomatoes, jalapenos, red onion and garlic.

My father-in-law is a great cook. He makes up marinades for pork, chicken, beef, veggies, you name it. They are so tasty…the perfect blend of flavors. I’ve watched him cook and asked him how he knows how much of this or that to put in. His response? Season it until it feels right.

I started to do the same. At first, I was conservative with my seasoning. I was too afraid I would over season and sabotage the dish. In fact, I did ruin dishes a couple of times with too much salt or pepper*.

*Note: You don’t need to use as much pepper and salt if it is finely ground.

Then, as I cooked more and marinated more, I got a better sense of what tastes good together. So when I made this salsa, I didn’t really use measurements. I used two full bulbs of garlic plus more garlic powder, some oregano, a little chili powder, probably too many jalapenos, 3 or 4 pounds of tomatoes, a few leeks, two red onions and then two cans of stewed tomatoes that I crushed.

I prepped and put all of the ingredients in a stock pot and put it in the fridge overnight. I told myself it was to let all the flavors “mesh”, but really, I was just tired from all of the chopping, mixing and crying over the onions and leeks.

I mixed it all up the next day and cooked it on the stovetop.


I tasted it several times, adding a pinch more of this or that until it was to my liking and knowing that as it sits in the jars, the flavor will only get better.


Then, I sterilized the jars, rings and lids, ladled the hot salsa into the hot jars, and processed for 10 minutes.

I ended up with 4 quarts and 3 pints. Enough for us to enjoy, and share.


Customary haiku for my amusement.

13 in 14
Canning requirement complete
Next is sewing. Yikes.

Almost There: A Poem

The cabbage is planted
The broccoli is too
Brussel sprouts, cauliflower
Not much left to do

The garlic I’ll plant
When the frost comes to call
Fresh veggies we’ll have
Through the winter and fall

The chickens are eating
The eggs that they lay
They’d better stop munching
Or with lives they will pay