A full sheet of future zucchini hockey pucks.

Saving Your Harvest: The Zucchini Edition

A good friend of mine once described August in Maine as a time of “random acts of zucchini.”  In her small town where people did not necessarily lock the doors of their cars, people would come out of church or the bank or the local cafe to find anonymous bags of zucchini in their front seats.  I found myself envious of those hapless holders of bulging bags of squash.  When we first moved to Vancouver Island one of our neighbors had a bumper crop of zucchini and cucumber, and would offer us bulging bags of produce whenever Little Man and I came walking by.  I would cruse by her house as often as possible with the hopes of catching her eye.

Now that we have our garden of dreams I made sure to plant zucchini, as well as a variety of summer squash called Sunburst (aka Patty Pan).  I had been warned about the size that these plants could achieve, so I wasn’t as surprised by the size of the plant as I was about where the zucchini grew.  At first neither Dave nor I could find the actual zucchini, partly since I imagined zucchini growing like pumpkins stretched out along a long vine.  Instead, they grow like octopus arms, branching out from a central stalk-like structure.  Once we discovered where our squash actually grew, we were off to the races with trying to keep up with preserving and eating our crop.

Zucchini Blossoms

Zucchini blossoms promising a good crop.

I’ll be sharing some of my favorite zucchini recipes soon, but first I want to share a simple way to preserve your zucchini for those times when your garden or farmers’ market may not be producing.  I have been experimenting with (and loving!) pickling and preserving, but I have to say that my favorite method for saving my harvest is my freezer.  Zucchini freezes really well, particularly when it is shredded.

If you have a food processor with a shredding attachment this is going to be the easiest food storage ever.  If all you have is a handheld shredder, that works too.  It just takes a little more elbow grease.  The key to freezing the zucchini is to measure out the portions.  So here’s what I did…

I love my food processor!

I love my food processor!

Using my food processor with the shredding disk attachment, I shredded enough zucchini to fill my large mixing bowl.

The first, but definitely not the last, bowl of shredded zucchini.

The first, but definitely not the last, bowl of shredded zucchini.

I then used my 1 cup measuring cup to portion out mounds of shredded zucchini onto my parchment paper lined baking sheets.  The parchment paper keeps the zucchini from freezing/sticking to the baking sheet.  I was able to fit 6 1-cup mounds on each sheet.  As I unmolded each scoop I would gently press it down to slightly compact the zucchini and to make storing the frozen zucchini easier.  Then I covered the sheet with plastic wrap, gently pressing down between the mounds of zucchini to remove some of the air.  I then placed the entire baking sheet in the freezer overnight.

Measure your zucchini before freezing it so you know exactly how much you need for any recipe.

Measure your zucchini before freezing it so you know exactly how much you need for any recipe.

The unmolded zucchini.

The unmolded zucchini.

Press down on the zucchini to compact it and help it freeze better.

Press down on the zucchini to compact it and help it freeze better.

Filling the sheet pan.

Filling the sheet pan.

A full sheet of future zucchini hockey pucks.

A full sheet of future zucchini hockey pucks.

The next morning we took our little zucchini hockey pucks out of the freezer and put them into bags for their long sleep in the freezer.  Now that they are frozen in 1 cup increments, I can pull them out whenever I want and I’ll know exactly how much I need to thaw.

Lovely, frozen zucchini hockey pucks.

Lovely, frozen zucchini hockey pucks.

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Stay tuned for an amazing zucchini bread recipe… and an even better zucchini brownie recipe… where you can use these frozen zucchini in the dead of winter when nothing is stirring in your garden beyond the snow flakes.

20140728_153443

First Sunflower

There are many things that I’m learning through our first year of having a real garden, and the over arching bit of knowledge is that if there is a rookie mistake to make with a garden… I’ve made most of them. Making the plot too large, over planting, watering at the wrong time of day, watering the wrong parts of the plant, planting tall plants that block sun light and water from shorter ones, and the list goes on. But I’ve been lucky that the garden is amazing and I’m having a blast feeding ourselves and extended family from our garden, as well as trying to figure out how to save our harvest for the upcoming months when the garden will be but a dream for next season. It’s been eye opening to realize how much I care for that little plot of ground. A plant suffers and I’m obsessed with figuring out why. Is it wrong that I’ve already started dreaming about next year’s garden? Probably…
In the meantime, we are moving fast to keep up with the plants and trying to be creative to make our favorite greens delicious for our 3 year old. Oy! I welcome any ideas.

20140728_153514For today I want to share the pictures of our first blooming sunflower. This one was right at my eye level when it bloomed, and I’m 6′ tall. The rest are all well over my head, which means they are of dinosaur proportions for Little Man. That is part of my inspiration for the garden for next year… a dinosaur part of the garden for Little Man to play in… We’ll have to see how it works out next spring.

CenterI love these flowers.  Not only do they dwarf me, but it’s one of those things where I’ve seen pictures of them for as long as I can remember yet I’ve never had one of my own.  I’ve seen them in bouquets and in the distance, but not growing in my own yard.  I love the bumble bees that dance around centers, and the way that the petals glow when back lit by the sun.  Now I’m starting to wonder if the seeds of this variety can be eaten…  Hmm, now I know my homework for the evening…

Retro Sunflower

I've never planted scarlet runner beans before.  They have conquered their tripods and are now stringing along to other posts.  I can't wait to see what their beans look like.

A Garden in Bloom

My garden is not a flower garden.  It was designed as an experiment on growing food to feed myself and my family, and at the moment feels like it could feed a good portion of the island.  I did plant a few plants specifically for their flowers.  Sunflowers were there for the sheer joy of the huge plants, hoping that Little Man would revel in their dinosaur-like proportions.  I also planted Nasturtiums with the goal of eating their blossoms, and so far we’ve had them in salads as well as cocktails.  Beyond that, the only blossoms in my garden either signal the coming fruitfulness of certain plants or the fact that other plants have gone beyond their production.

I wanted to share images of my garden’s blooms here, both the ones promising future harvests and those that signaled it was time to retire the plant to the compost pile.

 

My thyme thinks its time to be done, but the blossoms keep ending up either in my salads or in my windowsills.  Pluck herb blossoms to try to keep the plants producing the delicious leaves you want.

My thyme thinks its time to be done, but the blossoms keep ending up either in my salads or in my windowsills. Pluck herb blossoms to try to keep the plants producing the delicious leaves you want.

We had some random tomato plants "volunteer" from the compost soil, so I planted them between my sunflowers.  They are now just blooming, so we might just have tomatoes in time.

We had some random tomato plants “volunteer” from the compost soil, so I planted them between my sunflowers. They are now just blooming, so we might just have tomatoes in time.

I remember seeing nasturtiums growing wild along the roadside in So. Cal., but here I grow them in my garden for their blossoms... to eat their blossoms I should say...

I remember seeing nasturtiums growing wild along the roadside in So. Cal., but here I grow them in my garden for their blossoms… to eat their blossoms I should say…

I ripped out most of my arugula since it went to flower.  This plant was able to hide behind the chard and I didn't find it until just the other day.

I ripped out most of my arugula since it went to flower. This plant was able to hide behind the chard and I didn’t find it until just the other day.

The most amazing (and intimidating) sight is to peek under the squash leaves (pumpkin, zuchinni and sunburst squash here) to see rows of blossoms.  Yikes!

The most amazing (and intimidating) sight is to peek under the squash leaves (pumpkin, zuchinni and sunburst squash here) to see rows of blossoms. Yikes!

This is one of my favorite blossoms, bush beans.  They are a soft lavender and are beautiful in the garden.

This is one of my favorite blossoms, bush beans. They are a soft lavender and are beautiful in the garden.

I've never planted scarlet runner beans before.  They have conquered their tripods and are now stringing along to other posts.  I can't wait to see what their beans look like.

I’ve never planted scarlet runner beans before. They have conquered their tripods and are now stringing along to other posts. I can’t wait to see what their beans look like.

For my last photo I wanted to share the opening sunflower blossom.  This one is right at my eye level, so it towers over Little Man.  Love it!

For my last photo I wanted to share the opening sunflower blossom. This one is right at my eye level, so it towers over Little Man. Love it!

I can’t wait to share with you some of our produce preservation we’re working on!  Even better I can’t wait to taste the fruit of our labor.

Riot of Greens

A Riot of Gorgeous Greens: AKA My Garden Has Gone Mad

A couple of days ago I stepped out of the house during Little Man’s nap time to do a little gathering from the garden.  As I stood there gazing at its splendor, I felt a wave of panic wash over me as it finally dawned on me the extent of how many greens I’d planted.  I remember when we first moved to the American Midwest and I was horrified by the lack of greens available in the stores.  Miles of ice berg lettuce, but only a few sad strands of wilted chard that were egregiously overpriced.  So this year, with the massive garden plot at my disposal I went nuts at the seed counter of the local nursery.  And apparently I was transfixed with the greens, since I planted purple kale, dinosaur kale (aka Tuscan kale, but I’m the mother of a toddler so dinosaur it is), rainbow chard, all of the lettuces I’ve already spoken about, AND there are rows of beets with their gorgeous greens as well.  Oy!

Tuscan kale, rainbow chard, mystery pumpkin, beets, carrots, radishes and nasturtiums... Oh my!

Tuscan kale, rainbow chard, mystery pumpkin, beets, carrots, radishes and nasturtiums… Oh my!

This week at the garden has been all about thinning out the plants that were planted too close.  It was hard at first to rip these precious little plants out by their roots, but I “thinned” them directly into the salad bowl… until that bowl over flowed… and so did three plastic shopping bags.  Remember that moment of panic I mentioned above?

Also beans, beans and more beans.

Also beans, beans and more beans.

At that moment Dave walked out onto the deck, stepped over my multiple bowls and bags of greens (including a huge bowl of radishes), and started laughing since even though he could see the evidence of my savagery on the garden displayed across the deck… the garden still looked the same.  A riot of gorgeous greens.

This is the most gorgeous rainbow chard I've ever seen.  The orange stems are my current favorite, but the red, magenta, yellow and white together make an astonishing sight.

This is the most gorgeous rainbow chard I’ve ever seen. The orange stems are my current favorite, but the red, magenta, yellow and white together make an astonishing sight.

Trail of Pumpkins

Pumpkin Revisited

OK, I’ve got to be quick since I have a three foot high pile of kale sitting in my sink that needs to be tended to.  Oy!  I’ll be sharing more about how we are preserving/saving our harvest in upcoming posts, but right now we’re in the thick of things so there is little time for blog writing.  I can’t wait to share with you the recipes/methods that we are experimenting with now.  Especially the gooseberries… oh, the gooseberries.

In the meantime I wanted to quickly share with you pictures of Little Man’s pumpkins (at least a couple of them) that I wrote about in the last post.

Trail of Pumpkins

This is one of the four main vines trailing off of Little Man’s mystery pumpkin. Note the small chameleon watering can that Little Man was using to “water” the pumpkins. He literally was watering the pumpkins, not the vine body.

This pumpkin is massive!  Note the small watering can being dwarfed behind it.  Our farmer landlords have already offered us the use of their tractor to move it once it's ready to be picked... Oh my...

This pumpkin is massive! Note the small watering can being dwarfed behind it. Our farmer landlords have already offered us the use of their tractor to move it once it’s ready to be picked… Oh my…

Now back to my mountain of kale.  I’ll share more pictures and ideas soon!

Pumpkin Blossom

My Pumpkin Vine Tried to Take Over the World

My pumpkin vine recently made a bid to take over the world, and it very nearly succeeded.  When starting this garden I gave myself the freedom to experiment… aka to mess up big time.  I didn’t want to be so worried about the outcome that I would be paralyzed to do anything.  Our garden plot is large, so I divided it up into quadrants with a small hill for squash in the center. In the center most part of the squash hill I planted a seedling that Aiden had made from the Easter Festival in downtown Nanaimo.  Dave and I call it the mystery pumpkin since neither one of us can remember what the seed was called at the festival.

Here is a picture of the mystery pumpkin seedling when we first planted it in the center hill of the garden.  It is the tiny seedling in the top center of the photo.

Please note the small, unassuming mystery pumpkin seeding in the center of the garden.

Please note the small, unassuming mystery pumpkin seeding in the center of the garden.

Now here it is today…

The mystery pumpkin tries to take over the world, starting with the garden.

The mystery pumpkin tries to take over the world, starting with the garden.

Where did my lovely paths into the garden go?  Oh, yes...  They are buried under pumpkin vines.

Where did my lovely paths into the garden go? Oh, yes… They are buried under pumpkin vines.

I started noticing an issue with the pumpkin vine when it got more and more difficult to place the arching sprinkler into my garden patch.  The humungous leaves of the vine started blocking the water, so I began pinning leaves down under the sprinkler to give the rest of the garden a chance to get some water.  Then I started noticing that half of the garden was disappearing under the ever-encroaching vines.

It was when I woke up one morning from a stress dream about my garden that I realized something needed to be done about the vines.  Once again turning to the internet for a solution, I stumbled on the Pumpkin Nook.  Using the Pumpkin Nook’s information I attacked the pumpkin vine with a loving vengeance.  I pruned more pumpkin vine than I had realized even existed in the garden.

One of Little Man's pumpkins.

One of Little Man’s pumpkins.

Now that I’ve done some drastic cutting back of the pumpkin vine, it seems to still be trucking along healthily and Little Man daily goes out to check on the progress of his six pumpkins.  I can’t wait to see how big they get.  And I think I need to start doing a bit of internet research on uses for squash blossoms.  What I failed to mention is that on the north side of the pumpkin mound I planted zucchini and on the south side I planted sun burst squash… Yes…  Remember that I wanted to experiment?  At least I don’t have to worry about not having any garden produce…  ;)

Pumpkin Blossom

"Sort of" Migas

“Sort of” Migas: A Fast Meal for Busy Days

This dish is one of those “go to” meals for an evening when there just isn’t enough time or energy to do something from the regular routine.  The inspiration for my “Sort of” Migas came from reading one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen.  In the post I was reading, Deb Perelman described a dish of Migas and from her description I knew I had to try it.  At its most basic form, Migas are scrambled eggs with spicy ground meat and tortilla chips all cooked together.  Deb’s Smitten Kitchen version was an amazing Migas with a Spicy Tomato Chipotle Coulis.

While the Smitten Kitchen version of Migas sounded phenomenal, I didn’t have the energy to even consider making it all from scratch.  In fact, when I stumbled onto Deb’s recipe I had been quickly perusing the internet in a desperate search for inspiration for a fast meal using ingredients that I actually had at home.  Now while I love living on Vancouver Island, finding good Mexican food has proven… shall we say… difficult.  This is the first place that I have ever lived where you cannot buy corn tortillas.  Seriously.  No where on the island… Doh!  This is a long way to say that I am in constant longing for good Mexican food, and therefore have to make it at home.  When I read the Smitten Kitchen post, I knew that I wanted those Migas and that if I stripped it down to its basic ingredients I could pull it off.

That said, please know that my “Sort of” Migas are not authentic in any stretch of the imagination.  Instead of Mexican chorizo I use well-seasoned ground turkey.  And I use jarred salsa.  Need I say more?  What is missing in authenticity, however, these “Sort of” Migas make up for in great taste.  They are fast, delicious, and have been endorsed by Little Man.  Enjoy!

“Sort of” Migas
Ingredients
:
1 tsp. olive oil
½ lb. ground turkey
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
Salt and pepper
6 eggs, beaten
4 cups tortilla chips
1 small jar salsa

Directions:

  1. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot add the ground turkey and break it apart with a wooden spoon. Add the garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, and coriander, stirring to combine the spices with the ground turkey. Add salt and pepper to taste, continuing to stir and brown the meat until it is well cooked, about 7-10 minutes.
    It's just not easy to make raw ground turkey look nice in a photo.

    It’s just not easy to make raw ground turkey look nice in a photo.

    Since the ground turkey is taking the place of Mexican chorizo, you need to add a lot of spice.  I dialed down my spice inspirations so that it would still be Little Man safe.  If you don't have to keep spicy-timid taste buds in mind, feel free to add some cayenne or chipotle.

    Since the ground turkey is taking the place of Mexican chorizo, you need to add a lot of spice. I dialed down my spice inspirations so that it would still be Little Man safe. If you don’t have to keep spicy-timid taste buds in mind, feel free to add some cayenne or chipotle.

  2. Lower the heat to medium low and add the beaten eggs. Stir the eggs in the seasoned turkey to scramble the eggs. When the eggs just start to set add the tortilla chips and stir to coat the chips in the turkey and egg mixture, breaking some of them while stirring. When the eggs are set remove the pan from the heat.
    Add in the beaten eggs and let then sit for just a moment to start setting up.

    Add in the beaten eggs and let then sit for just a moment to start setting up.

    When the eggs start to come together, then you can add the tortilla chips.

    When the eggs start to come together, then you can add the tortilla chips.

    When you add the tortilla chips to the pan, don't be afraid to break them up a bit.  This isn't a dainty dish, so you don't need to be gentle with the ingredients.

    When you add the tortilla chips to the pan, don’t be afraid to break them up a bit. This isn’t a dainty dish, so you don’t need to be gentle with the ingredients.

    Here is Little Man's portion on one of his planet plates.  It didn't look like this for long as he dug right in.

    Here is Little Man’s portion on one of his planet plates. It didn’t look like this for long as he dug right in.

  3. Serve the “Sort of” Migas with the salsa and remaining chips.

Click here for a printable version of the “Sort of” Migas recipe.

"Sort of" Migas