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

Self Portrait

An Update on the Garden

I guess you could call this a self portrait of sorts.  I loathe to use the term “selfie,” and in this case would it even count as a “selfie” if I only took one shot rather than dozens?  But there it is, my shadow in the lower left corner of the shot.  The sun was lowering perfectly to drape my garden in golden light, but also perfectly so that I couldn’t get a picture (with my phone no less) without my shadow in it.  So selfie it is.

The garden is growing in exuberant bunches of greens.  Farm kids in Iowa would talk about how in the peak growing season for corn you could actually hear the corn stalks growing, a sort of breeze-like, reedy, squeaking.  I cannot hear my garden growing, but I like to imagine the leaves creaking as they unfurl farther; the squash blossoms opening their maws; and the sunflowers, tomatoes and runner beans snaking at what seems like an unnatural speed.  Yet it is all the definition of natural.  There are days when I come outside shocked by the riot of green  in my backyard.  Runner beans that have literally grown a foot over night.  Rows of chard and kale that I had just brutalized (aka thinned) the day before and that had grown back with leafy vengeance.  And don’t even get me started on the squash hill that centers my garden plot.  Oh my…

I’ll get back to the greens in another post, but today is just about a brief celebration of abundant greenery.  Little Man’s favorite time of day, other than cuddling with Mommy or Daddy while sipping juice (heavily watered down) and watching a little bit of TV after nap time, is when I’m watering the garden.  He gets his “work boots” on and gets to tromp through the garden plots, moving as I move the oscillating sprinkler, shrieking in his three year old voice “Is this the shower I’m looking for?” as he runs back and forth through the arching rainbow of water.

"Is this the shower I'm looking for?" squealed Little Man.

“Is this the shower I’m looking for?” squeals Little Man.

And please note the crazy bunch of greenery in the lower left corner of my garden plot in the photo with Little Man dashing through the water.  If you remember a recent post of mine (Even if You Are a Killer of Plants) on growing salad greens in a container, this is what happens when you let them loose in the ground and really spread their roots.  I just attacked that garden last night to make lettuce wrapped hoisin chicken for our dinner guests, so it isn’t quite as fluffy today.  But only just slightly less.  I picked a massive overflowing bowl of greenery, and this morning the plants had spread their remaining leaves and replaced them seemingly by magic.  I shudder at the thought of ever having to buy lettuce again, but since we don’t have a southern California growing season (aka year round garden access…  not that I’m jealous… OK, I’m a little jealous), at some point this good thing will come to an end.  Oh bother.

In the meantime we are all reveling in our first ever “real” garden that is not in containers, though we have those too.  It’s fun to think about all the ways that we have grown as individuals, as a family, as immigrants, and as first time gardeners in this last year. It sets the bar pretty high for this current year…

Selfie

Deb's Swiss Apple Pie

A Tale of Two Parties: Deb’s Swiss Apple Pie

We’ve made it!  We’re at the end of the recipes from Dave’s Graduation Party!  It seems fitting  to end this party series with a dessert taht is perfect for feeding a crowd.  It tastes amazing, but is one of the easiest pies to make AND it comes giant sized.  This was taught to me by one of my favorite New Yorkers, Deb, of the famous Deb’s Jello Salad post.  It is from Deb that I was first introduced to the magic invention of the apple peeler/corer/slicer all in one.  Brilliant!  And it is especially brilliant for this recipe for the Apple Slices layer.  a few cranks of the handle and all you have to do for your presentation apples is slice them in half and fan them out.  If you have one of these inventions gathering dust in a dark corner of a kitchen cup board, this is the perfect dish to bust it out for.  You won’t regret it.

Deb's Swiss Apple Pie

Deb’s Swiss Apple Pie
Ingredients
:
Apple Filling:
4 large apples, peeled, quartered, cored and cubed
½ c. butter
½ c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
Apple Slice Layer:
5 medium apples, peeled, cored, halved and thinly sliced
2 tbsp. cinnamon sugar (see recipe)
Pastry:
5 1/3 c. flour
4 tbsp. sugar
2 c. butter
4 eggs
Custard:
2 c. heavy cream
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. nutmeg

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, making sure you have about 1 inch of overhang on two sides.
  2. Apple Filling: Put the apples, butter, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until the apples begin to soften, about 7-10 minutes. Remove the apple filling from the heat and cool slightly.
    The apple filling ingredients.

    The apple filling ingredients.

    The apples are just now starting to soften.

    The apples are just now starting to soften.

  3. Pastry: Depending on the size (or presence) of your food processor you might need to blend this in two batches. If you have a large processor, or if you are mixing this by hand, do it all in one batch. In a processor blend all of your pastry ingredients until it looks like a wet sand with bits of butter throughout. If doing this by hand, combine all of your ingredients in a large bowl and cut the butter and eggs into the dry ingredients. However you blend the ingredients, once well combined dump your pastry ingredients onto a lightly floured board and press them together until they form a unified dough. Roll your pastry into a large rectangle that will fit your sheet pan. Carefully drape the pastry over your rolling pin and move it to your sheet pan. Gently press the pastry into the corners of your pan and crimp the edges if you want a decorative finish.
    The crumbly pastry ingredients.

    The crumbly pastry ingredients.

    It doesn't look like it will hold, but it will...

    It doesn’t look like it will hold, but it will…

    Ta da!

    Ta da!

    The pastry just fits into the baking sheet.

    The pastry just fits into the baking sheet.

    A simple crimping of the pastry edges.

    A simple crimping of the pastry edges.

  4. Apple Slice Layer: Spoon your apple filling into the pastry shell. Arrange the sliced apples on top of the apple filling in neat rows, overlapping them slightly. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the apple slices.
    The apple filling layer in the pastry crust.

    The apple filling layer in the pastry crust.

    The apple slice layer.

    The apple slice layer.

  5. Bake the pie for 10 minutes at 425, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for a further 20 minutes. Watch your pie and if it starts to brown too quickly or “over caramelize” cover it loosely with foil.
  6. Custard: Gently beat the heavy cream, eggs, vanilla and nutmeg to combine. Pour this custard over the apples, doing your best to pour it evenly over the pie. Return the pie to the oven and bake for a final 10 minutes. Cool the pie before portioning.
    The custard mixture.

    The custard mixture.

    The finished product.  Delicious!

    The finished product. Delicious!

  7. Slice the pie into squares and either serve directly from the pan or place the slices on a pretty platter. The pie can be served warm or cold, and can be made a day or two in advance. Be sure to refrigerate the cooled pie until ready to serve.

Click here for a printable version of Swiss Apple Pie recipe.

Including a “recipe” for cinnamon sugar seems a bit odd at first, but it’s one of those things that no one should ever have to buy premixed.  There’s just two ingredients, cinnamon and sugar.  No stabilizers, preservatives or other ingredients that you can neither pronounce or guess as to what they do.  For me cinnamon sugar is more about proportions than anything else.  I want to be able to smell and TASTE the cinnamon.  It should do more than simply create a light beige sugar.  It should be redolent with cinnamon, enough that if you sprinkle it generously on buttered toast (it makes the best cinnamon toast ever!), you should get the sweetness of the sugar, but more importantly the warm heat of the cinnamon.  There should be no doubt in your mind about what you are eating and enjoying at that moment.  ‘Nough said.

Cinnamon Sugar

Cinnamon Sugar

Cinnamon Sugar
Ingredients
:
½ c. white sugar
1 tbsp. cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Put both the sugar and cinnamon into a jar with lid, seal the lid and shake vigorously to combine. Conversely you can combine the two ingredients in a small bowl and transfer the finished cinnamon sugar to a jar or other container to seal it for future use.
  2. This can be used for an excellent cinnamon toast or sprinkle it on top of muffins before baking them for a sweet finish. Enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of the Cinnamon Sugar recipe.

Deb's Swiss Apple Pie

Super Women or Women in Hiding?

This post was inspired by a wrenchingly intimate post by Aarti Sequaria (of Aarti Party on the Food Network) about her struggles with Postpartum Depression (PPD).  The post is entitled “Coming Out of the Fog” and it is definitely worth reading.  The post isn’t graphic or shocking, but in many ways it is a soul baring statement exposing what she initially thought was a weakness or personal deficiency.  I knew I wanted to share this post with my female friends in case any of them or their friends/family were struggling with PPD.  That’s when I got mad.

I cannot speak to what it is like for men in our society, though I have witnessed some of the intense stresses that my amazing husband and wonderful brother have dealt with trying to be the best men they can be.  I can, however, speak to the pressures of being a woman.  I got mad about sharing Aarti’s post because based on the statistics it is likely that one of my friends has suffered (or is suffering) from PPD and I don’t know it.  I got mad because there are so many things that as women we feel we must keep quiet about because otherwise it makes us look week or less than perfect.  So we swallow it down, put on the Superwoman face, and try to present a perfect Pleasantville face to the world.

My reading of this article coincided with a meeting I had with a friend whose job is to help academics get jobs at her university.  I met with her to talk about how to best position myself for getting back into the university professor job market after my time off with Little Man.  During our meeting she spoke about the “lie of feminism,” and as a feminist I was shocked by the statement.  She continued, talking about the lie that she and other women of our generation were told in college; that we could have it all, career and family.  “Don’t get me wrong,” she said, “we can have it all, just not at the same time.”  Ah…  So there’s the difference.  We can have it all, career and family, but we don’t have to do it all perfectly at the same time.  Relax.  Breathe.  Here we go…

My career-building friend advised that rather than trying to be a Superwoman of perfect proportions (physical and otherwise), it was better to find a way to “balance the guilt” of trying to balance career and family.  Something has to give.  You cannot be the perfect career woman, perfect mom and perfect homemaker all at once.  Not without breaking or lying.  You have to make choices that allow yourself to be less-than-perfect in some of these areas and then learn to balance the guilt of these imperfections.  This is especially true when the kiddos are young.

A great example that my friend used was a film called How Does She Do It? starring Sara Jessica Parker.  I haven’t seen the film, but she described a scene in which the mom/career woman is invited to a dinner at a friends house and is asked to bring a dessert.  With all of her family and business responsibilities the woman doesn’t have time to make an apple pie, so she buys one from the store and then distresses it to make it look homemade.  I haven’t seen the film, but for that scene alone I want to see if my library has it.  By the end of the film she learns that she doesn’t have to be a Superwoman, and the next time she is invited to a friend’s for dinner she brings the pie in the bakery box.

So that is my rant, bouncing around from women hiding their imperfections, trying to live the lie of feminism, and often hiding these issues from those who love us best.  I’ve written before on this blog about how two weeks after Little Man was born I was back in the classroom teaching full time (My 50th-ish Post).  I put on the Superwoman face and didn’t share with any of my friends the stresses that I was going through.  Only my amazing husband knew the stresses I was facing, for everyone else I presented the best Superwoman face that I could, though it was often slightly smeared with baby spit up.  I have a couple of course lectures that deal with eating disorders and I speak to those classes about how statistically it is probable that one or more students in that room are struggling with eating disorders.  Now it’s my turn.  Forget about the social network “friends”, in our smaller group of friends that we see face to face on a regular basis, it is probable that one of them has suffered from Postpartum Depression, from a miscarriage, from failure to get pregnant, from a cheating spouse/partner, from some other “failure” that she is ashamed to admit even to close friends and family.  I’m frustrated that it takes posts from well-known strangers to allow us to share intimate and important things that we struggle with.

There’s the soapbox for today.  I’m done.

Salad Green Container Garden

Even if You Are a Killer of Plants, You Can Do This: A Planter of Salad Greens

Until I moved to Indiana I thought of myself as a killer of plants.  If anyone spoke of gardening I would back away horrified, explaining that my green thumb was black.  I had left a trail of dead houseplants across three states, and I could only imagine that a garden would mean large scale plant destruction.

Then we moved to Indiana for my first “real” job as a university professor and we were living in a “real” house.  Not a tiny apartment where you could literally hear your neighbor blow his nose in his kitchen while you were doing dishes, not a duplex, not a loft, a real house complete with a deck.  Our backyard was a gloriously shady space perfect for matches of extreme bocce, but didn’t get enough sun for a garden.  Our deck, on the other hand, was perfect for container gardening.  So off I went to the local warehouse store for plastic gardening containers, and a local nursery for bags of soil, seeds and seedlings.  And I didn’t kill anything.  In fact, things grew like magic.  The pictures I used here are all from my current two salad garden containers, both of which sit atop a deck railing, leaving more room for our deck set and bbq… and toddler play area.

This amazing assortment of lettuces all came from the same packet of seeds.  I believe this was a "gourmet salad mix" and contains both green and red salad greens.  My favorite is the Red Oak Lettuce that you see popping up on the left side of this image.  Needless to say when I'm "thinning" my plants I tend to leave the Red Oak to grow taller and rip out everything around it to eat first.

This amazing assortment of lettuces all came from the same packet of seeds. I believe this was a “gourmet salad mix” and contains both green and red salad greens. My favorite is the Red Oak Lettuce that you see popping up on the left side of this image. Needless to say when I’m “thinning” my plants I tend to leave the Red Oak to grow taller and rip out everything around it to eat first.

The most magical of all the containers in my deck garden was the one for salad greens.  This was the one that I had the least hopes for, and had simply filled it with dirt, drizzled some seeds over it, mixed my seeds through, watered it and moved on.  It ended up being the most amazing of all the boxes.  The greens grew like mad and were gorgeous to boot.  The “moral of this story” is that this is one of the easiest ways to garden that you can do.  Even if you have no space for a garden, maybe you have corner by your front door where you can stash a small garden pot or a window where you can hang a basket or but a box in, you can grow your own lettuce.

For this salad I used primarily the assorted greens "thinned" from my containers.  That just means that there were too many seedlings going in the pot so they can't all grow well.  So I ripped out the seedlings that were growing too close to bigger plants, ripped off their roots, and created an amazing microgreens salad.  I've done this for weeks.  As my larger plants get enough room I'll stop ripping them out and start simply snipping off a few leaves around the edges and keep going from there.  This salad also had the flowering ends of some of my herbs, particularly the oregano.

For this salad I used primarily the assorted greens “thinned” from my containers. That just means that there were too many seedlings going in the pot so they can’t all grow well. So I ripped out the seedlings that were growing too close to bigger plants, ripped off their roots, and created an amazing microgreens salad. I’ve done this for weeks. As my larger plants get enough room I’ll stop ripping them out and start simply snipping off a few leaves around the edges and keep going from there. This salad also had the flowering ends of some of my herbs, particularly the oregano.

If the easy factor isn’t convincing you to try this, lettuce is also one of the more expensive vegetables to buy in the grocery store, as well as being one of the most chemical treated if you can’t afford the organic varieties.  If grown conventionally (with pesticides, etc.), lettuce is nearly impossible to truly clean, meaning that with your salads you are eating traces of whatever chemicals, fertilizers, and insecticides they sprayed on the fields.  If you grow your lettuce at home you control what is sprayed onto the leaves, how long it sits in storage, etc.  It’s a win, win.

This particular salad day coincided with the blooming of my first nasturtium blossoms (yes, they are edible) and the fact that my basil plants were trying to bloom so I pinched off the blooming tips and into the salad bowl they went.

This particular salad day coincided with the blooming of my first nasturtium blossoms (yes, they are edible) and the fact that my basil plants were trying to bloom so I pinched off the blooming tips and into the salad bowl they went.

If you are willing to give this a try, here’s what you do…

  1. Fill your container with dirt and sprinkle the lettuce seeds more or less evenly over the surface. Gently stir your fingers over the dirt to barely cover the seeds with soil.
  2. Water your seeds and keep the soil moist as you wait for the magic to begin.
  3. As your lettuce grows and starts to fill the container you can start thinning your plants.  On the packet of seeds it will tell you how much spacing between plants you should have, which will likely be a couple of inches.  As your plants grow start pulling those that are too close together, tearing off their roots, and washing them up nicely to eat with your dinner.  Your “thinning” of the extra seeds ends up being a series of amazing microgreen salads.

There is something amazing about having a still sun-warmed salad with your dinner on the sun-bathed deck.  Give it a try and happy gardening!

Salad Green Container Garden