a view of the garden in early fall

IMG_8407It has been a busy summer and even though fall has arrived, things are not slowing down!  We have picked a freezer full of vegetables and I have canned more tomatoes than I can count!  Here are some photos of the garden to give you an idea of what we have been up to.  Above is a lousy photo of one of our ginger lilies in bloom-they are so fragrant!

IMG_8410Back in May, I brought home 7 tire planters from the Urban Gardening Festival.  This one is full of shade loving plants and they have really filled in, now I need to figure out how to keep it alive over the winter-these plants are not cold hardy!

IMG_8413The other 6 tires look like this and I just replanted them with fall flowers-now they need to fill in.  The strawberries have spread like crazy and we are hoping for fruit by the bowl next year.  The strawberries have also helped the rhubarb crowns get established and we were able to harvest from each plant.

IMG_8414Gate greeters-love the little faces that greet me as I enter the garden.

IMG_8417The chair planters I made this spring have filled in.

IMG_8418How can you not love sedum?  These plants are so hardy and can survive the neglect they sometimes get in this busy garden.

IMG_8419Love the colors and textures they add too and bees love the blossoms.

IMG_8420All of this heat has been just what the peppers needed and they are coming in by the bowl.

IMG_8421Poblanos

IMG_8422Sweet banana

IMG_8424Roselle Hibiscus is one of my favorite plants in the garden.  This year I am experimenting with jam.  The first batch is in jars but I see room for improvement and will be making more.

IMG_8428Someone asked me why I planted flowers in the garden.  The short answer, I like them!  But more importantly, so do pollinators and butterflies.  This little skipper is drinking from a noodle bean flower.

IMG_8432New to us this year is Cardinal Basil.  Those flower heads can get as big as a softball and the leaves are huge as well.  The flavor is an intense, classic sweet basil flavor and it has made its way into a lot of tomato sauce this summer!

IMG_8440The change of seasons means a change of plants.  Extra Dwarf Pak Choy is actually ready to harvest and we have picked some already.

IMG_8442The last of the canning tomatoes-finally done with it for the year!

IMG_8446Where ever I go in the garden, they watch us work

IMG_8447Lady Bird, our only Americauna hen is a little shy in comparison to the others

IMG_8449The watermelon jungle.  First one we picked wasn’t ready and the chickens ended up with a nice treat.  This one looks ready to go.

IMG_8451Glass chicken.

IMG_8452The bottle tree.

IMG_8456The flower tower

IMG_8459Cherokee Trail of Tears beans are one of the best heirloom beans.  We let a bunch go to seed so we will have plants next year.  We can also dry out the seeds and cook them like other dried beans.

IMG_8463Finding an egg in the box is something that never gets old.

IMG_8470We harvested the sweet potatoes and pulled up about 40 pounds from the six plants in the bed.  So, there you have it, what we have been up to the last couple of months.  Come back and visit soon!

if the garden gives you rhubarb, bake a cake!

IMG_8379Rhubarb is not easy to grow in the south.  The high heat and humidity make it challenging for this Siberian transplant.  Some of the varieties can survive in our area, Nashville zone 7a, such as Victoria, Canada Red, Cherry Red or Valentine, but afternoon shade is the key.  Plant the crowns on a Northern slope or in an area that gets shade in the afternoon so that the soil temperatures stay cooler, be sure it gets plenty of water too.  In my garden, I have four Victoria crowns growing, the most commonly found variety here in Nashville, and I use large, plastic bread racks to provide shade for the plants during the hottest periods of summer.

IMG_8384This year, I was surprised at how quickly all of the crowns grew and I was able to harvest some stalks to both make this cake and to freeze for later.  One of my favorite cakes to bake is an upside-down cake.  Being able to turn a fully decorated cake out of a pan is so much better than having to frost and decorate layers.  As beautiful as it is, the stalks made me think of celery-luckily, it didn’t taste like celery!

IMG_8385This recipe is a work in progress and I am not posting it here but it is based on a Persian Love cake made with pistachios, lemon zest, cardamom and rosewater.  To decorate it a little after turning it out of the pan, I sprinkled chopped pistachios and rose petals around the edges.  Because this was a large cake, 9″x13″, I took it to a Master Gardener meeting and potluck dinner, I came home with a very small piece; I ate it for breakfast the next day.

Blackberry-Lime Julep Cake

IMG_8296Well, it goes without saying, I have neglected this blog lately.  As spring approached, things in the garden at home and in the Demonstration Garden got busy, very busy.  As we have worked to prepare the Demonstration Garden, a small team of volunteers worked on getting the word out.  The result, a chance to tape two segments for a local TV show, Talk of the Town.  The plan, tie the garden into the Royal wedding happening this Saturday.  The result, a Blackberry-Lime Julep Cake and opportunity to talk about flowers.

While the cake the royal couple chose sounds delicious, I had to give it a southern spin.  Spring in the south means horse races, lots of flowers and a bit of bourbon drinking in the form of  mint juleps.  For a cake, those things all work well.  Elderflowers are not easy to come by but blackberries are so I decided to make a cake that combined blackberries and lime with a rich bourbon buttercream.  And for those of you that are shaking your head and wondering about the mint, I chose to use it to decorate the cake.  In the photo above, you can see Mountain Mint, False Blue Indigo, Red roses, Blackberry blossoms, Cilantro blossoms, Chamomile blossoms, Tansy leaves and Thyme.  If you want to use fresh flowers or herbs to decorate a cake, be sure that they have not been treated with any chemicals.  These all came from the garden and were grown without any chemicals, and with the exception of the Tansy and the False Blue Indigo, they are all edible.

And because I love to swirl colors together, I marbleized the layers of the cake and I suggest you do this too!  The pale green color of the lime batter contrasted nicely with the purple blackberry batter.  Honestly, you could do this with blueberries as well, the recipe was adapted from one in my first book, Sky High Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes.

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Blackberry Julep Cake

Makes 1 (8-inch) triple layer cake to serve about 16

 

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups sugar

1 tablespoon freshly grated lime zest

½ teaspoon salt

7 egg whites

3 cups cake flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1-1/4 cups milk

Blackberry-Lime Preserves, recipe follows

Bourbon Buttercream, recipe follows

Fresh flowers, mint sprigs and blackberries for decoration

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 3 (8”) cake pans, line them with parchment paper and grease the paper. In a mixer bowl, cream the butter with the sugar, lime zest and salt until light and fluffy. Gradually add the egg whites, 2-3 at a time, beating well between additions and stopping to scrape the bowl.

2.  Combine the flour with the baking powder and whisk gently to blend. In 2-3 alternating additions, beat the dry ingredients and milk into the butter mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl several times. Beat on medium-high speed for about 1 minute to smooth out any lumps and aerate the batter.

3.  Scoop out 1 cup of the batter into a small bowl. Divide the remainder equally among the 3 prepared pans, smoothing out the tops with a rubber spatula. Mix 2-1/2 tablespoons of the Blackberry-Lime Preserves to the reserved batter and blend well. Drizzle heaping teaspoons of this blackberry mixture over the batter in the pans. Using a skewer or paring knife, swirl the blackberry mixture in short strokes to drag it down through the batter but take care not to mix it in.

4.  Bake for about 25 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the layers cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn them out onto wire racks, remove the parchment paper and allow them to cool completely.

5.  To assemble the cake, place a layer, flat side up on a cake stand or serving plate. Spread half of the Blackberry-Lime Preserves over the top. Place a second layer on top of the first and spread the remaining preserves over it. Finally, place the third layer on top of the second and frost the sides and top of the cake with the Bourbon Buttercream Frosting. Arrange the flowers, mint and berries around the top of the cake and the serving plate.

Blackberry-Lime Preserves

Makes about 1 cup

3 cups frozen blackberries, fresh or frozen

¾ cups sugar

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 teaspoons freshly grated lime zest

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1.  If using frozen blackberries, allow them to thaw and the juices to accumulate. Place the berries and the juice into a blender. Puree the berries and pass them through a strainer to remove the seeds.

2.  In a heavy medium nonreactive saucepan, combine the blackberry puree with the sugar, lime juice, lime zest and the ginger. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring frequently dissolve the sugar. Continue cooking, stirring often, for 20 minutes, until the preserves have thickened and are reduced to 1 cup.

 

Bourbon Buttercream

Makes about 3-1/2 cups

1 cup sugar

6 tablespoons Bourbon

2 eggs

3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 tablesoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1.  In a small nonreactive saucepan, combine the sugar and Bourbon. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue to boil with out stirring, occasionally washing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush, until the syrup reaches the soft-ball stage, 238 degrees F, on a candy thermometer. Immediately remove from the heat.

2.  In a large mixer bowl with the mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs briefly. Slowly add the hot syrup in a thin stream, pouring it down the sides of the bowl; be careful to avoid hitting the beaters or the syrup will splatter. When all of the syrup has been added, raise the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is very fluffy and cooled to body temperature. This can take 15 minutes or longer.

3.  Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low and gradually add the softened butter 2-3 tablespoons at a time, beating well between additions. As you’re adding the last few tablespoons of butter, the frosting will appear to break, then suddenly come together like whipped butter. Beat in the lime juice, and the frosting is ready for use.

 

Sky_High

Many thanks to Tuwanda Coleman and Talk of the Town for the opportunity to tape the segments and for promoting the Urban Gardening Festival.  To see the segments from Talk of the Town, follow these links:

Blackberry-Julep Cake

The Royal Bouquet

granola cake; a tuesdays with dorie post

img_7316Back in September, I learned we were relocating again.  After a few bumps in the road, we have landed back in Nashville and are settling into our new home.  During the move, one of the things I missed the most was being able to bake in my own kitchen and now that I have a kitchen again, I am also baking again!

First up; granola cake.  Actually, this recipe comes from Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan and not only is it the first cake I have baked in a while, it is the first time I have been able to join the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers since we started packing up for the move.  Since we are back in Nashville, we are active with the Master Gardener program and this cake was a great choice for the potluck dinner we have each month.  Having cut the cake into thin slices, I placed the cake on the dessert table and didn’t have any trouble convincing folks to try it!

img_7318The recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate, shredded coconut and granola which all combine to make the flavor similar to an oatmeal cookie with coconut and chocolate chips.  The only thing you need to know, use a good quality granola because it is a large part of the flavor and texture of the cake.  With this in mind, I made a small batch of my own granola rather than buy it.

While I am not posting the recipe for the cake, we do not post the recipes from the book out of respect for the author, I am posting the recipe for the granola that I used in the cake.  This recipe is the one that I made for years when I was working at the Loveless Cafe and I suggest you mix up a batch-it’s that good!

img_7330Granola

This small recipe makes about 2 cups of granola and can easily be doubled or tripled, just store it airtight and use it within a month.  My preference is to use a combination of wildflower honey and sorghum but you can use just one for the total amount.  If you can’t find sorghum, molasses will work but will give it a little more color.

3/4 oz light brown sugar

1-3/4 oz pecan pieces

5 oz whole rolled oats

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon sorghum

Preheat the oven to 350. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. In a heat proof bowl, stir together the brown sugar, oats, nuts and cinnamon, set aside.  In a small pan, combine the butter, honey and sorghum and over low heat, stir until the butter melts and the mixture is heated but not boiling.  Pour the melted butter mixture over the oats and stir until it is combined.  Dump the mixture onto the prepared pan and spread it out evenly.  Bake for about 10 minutes, stir it well and continue baking for another 10 minutes or so.  The time depends on how thin the layer is in the pan.  Keep a close eye on the granola and stir it frequently until it turns a nice deep amber color.  When the granola is the color you want, remove it from the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes.  Using your hands-it will still be hot and it needs to be pretty warm for this to work, break up the granola so that it will be free flowing when it cools off.  Gently rub the clumps between your fingers to separate the large lumps-they will be pretty hard once cooled so do not be tempted to leave them in tact.  Allow it to cool completely and store it airtight.

img_7326Want to bake along with us?  Pick up a copy of the book, visit the website and get to work!

oh so tempting…

Welcome to 2017, now get on the bandwagon and change it up.  My thoughts on that, not very original; I need to change my diet and make some progress removing the weight that menopause thought it would be fun to gain.  Actually, for several years now, I have had a doctor tell me that I need to get my cholesterol levels down below 200 and keep them there.  Not an easy task if your job is to bake and develop recipes.  Constant tasting + constant temptation = consistent failure to some extent.  The process of moving did nothing to help this quest at first, but a month after moving into the new place, I may have a new strategy.

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When we began the process of moving, we packed everything we wanted, unloaded what we didn’t and after the sale of the house, our belongings went into storage.  With no real kitchen to cook in, we ate out a lot and it quickly caught up with us.  Then when we moved into the new house, it was holiday baking season and it just slid down hill from there; cookies, cake, wine, candy… In the past, I would walk nearly every day and it was easy to go 4 or 5 miles on the trails near our home in Williamsburg.  In a pinch, I could walk laps in our neighborhood because even though there were no sidewalks, we lived in a development made of two dead end streets and I never had to worry about the traffic.  Walking the streets is not an option here at our Nashville home because not only is there a complete lack of sidewalks, meaning I must walk on the narrow shoulder, the traffic whizzes by at 30-40 miles per hour and if I need to jump out of the way, chances are I will be laying at the bottom of a drainage ditch.  Even so, I am hoping to find a route nearby on some of the less traveled streets until I can find a trail system close to the house.

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As to that new strategy, if I do not buy it, I cannot eat it.  We purged so heavily for the move that I am having to restock completely.  As I shop, I think twice about the things I buy and now that the holidays have come to a close, there is no need for some of the ingredients I have always kept on hand in the past.  Simply put; out of sight, out of mind.  If I keep the temptations off the shopping list, I think I can do this.  Now if I could just get winter to go away…

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Tempted

life in limbo

img_7190Things are moving along here.  Our appraisal came back and we are waiting on a closing dated.  Moving in day cannot come soon enough.  While it seems a bit like turmoil, it is actually a little liberating; no obligations, no chores, just waiting.  It has given me a chance to look through so many photos of our time in Williamsburg and I really will miss exploring there.

One of the perks of Darry’s position at the College of William and Mary was the free pass to Colonial Williamsburg.  Whenever we had a few hours free, we would head to the village and take a tour of one of the many buildings or visit the trades shops and learn a little about what life was like for the colonists.  These photos were taken in R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse which can be found on Duke of Gloucester Street just up from the Capitol Building.  As we sat in the front room, our guide (in period costume) spoke of the history of the coffeehouse and we were served hot chocolate or coffee.  In the corner sat a man in period costume as well and he began to speak out as well.  His role, Benjamin Franklin, and he told us of the matters that would have been discussed at the time the coffee house was in operation.

img_7192Everything in the reconstructed building was a reproduction but it still served to show just how things were.  Williamsburg was a fairly sophisticated place and even though I knew that about the Colonial era, it was still surprising to see just what they produced.  We tend to think of the colonists as living in little cabins with the bare essentials and while many did live like that, the folks living in the city of Williamsburg were able to live a little better.  img_7193

Vigor: a state of mind

via Daily Prompt: Vigor

If you have been reading my latest posts, you know we are knee deep in relocating from Williamsburg, VA back to Nashville, TN.  While this excites me on so many levels, it also has the ability to suck the joy out of things.  Honestly, I have had a hard time getting excited about the move, about all the things that come with a move and not just the packing and unpacking.  The “not knowing” when and where we will be calling this home-our home.  A lack of residency status, in a way; not really a resident of Tennessee, not really a resident of Virginia.

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the facilities; no oven to bake in

 

Right now, all I want to do is get on with it, get it over with; unpack and move on to the business of settling in.  My mind is racing with lists of things I want to do, things I need to do.  Visions of garden beds are floating before me and I am bursting at the seams to get my hands back into the dirt.  Our chickens made the trip and are living temporarily in a friends backyard and we look forward to bringing them home too.

The holidays are upon us and I want to bury myself in flour and roll out sheets of cookie dough.  My cutters are accessible and will be one of the first things I unpack!  It just isn’t Christmas without sugar cookies and gingerbread, cut into festive shapes and covered with icing and sprinkles.

So why call this post vigor?  As much as I am in a somewhat happy place-yes I am happy, despite what this post might suggest, I am still anxious for the unknown, for the fact that we are technically homeless and living in a motel room until the purchase of our new home goes through.  My creative part has given way to a writers block and I had to resort to using a random prompt; the word “vigor” from my reader on wordpress.com and as far as the daily prompts go, I am not alone, follow the link and read posts by other bloggers using the word vigor

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the rest of the joint

Beans, bounce, brio, dash, drive, dynamism, energy, espirit, gas, get-up-and-go, ginger, go, gusto, hardiwood, juice, life, moxie, oomph, pep, punch, sap, snap, starch, verve, vim, vinegar, vitality, zing and zip.  According to Merriam-Webster, these are all synonyms of vigor.  They are also a list of the feelings I have, the things that are pushing me along as I wait-the hurry up is done for now.

 

 

spicy bread and butter relish

IMG_6843When it comes to sweet pickle relish, most people either love it or ignore it.  Personally, I like it in very small quantities and really only as an ingredient and not a stand alone condiment.  Tuna salad, Thousand Island dressing and potato salad are all likely to receive a dollop of sweet pickle relish in our kitchen but only my husband will eat it by itself and only if it is on a hot dog.  My strange aversion to it is a little weird when you consider that I could probably eat a jar of bread and butter pickles all on my own and if you compare recipes, you will see that they are nearly identical in the ingredients used.

As I picked the last of the Homemade Pickle cukes from the shriveling vines in the garden, I wondered what I could make with them.  Our pantry shelves already had dill slices, dill spears, bread and butter chips, sweet relish and relish with a bite so why make more?  The answer is obvious when you think about the fact that it keeps and it also makes great gifts; more than a few folks I know will be getting a package of canned goods from the garden during the holiday season!

IMG_6834Making pickle relish is a new thing for me.  My preference for avoiding it meant that I would rarely try one when available but with the goal of canning and preserving as much of the produce from the garden as I could, I decided to make some since Darry does enjoy it.  The first batch I made was a small one and it filled only a few tiny jars and since he enjoyed it so much, I have now made two additional batches, both larger, and we have enough until the next cucumber harvest-a year away!

If you are familiar with relish, then you know that it is made with tiny pieces of cucumbers, lots and lots of tiny, little pieces.  Bow down and thank the inventor of food processors, who ever that person(s) is, they just saved us from spending hours of slicing and dicing!  You will first need to clean off the little spines on the outside of each cuke, then remove the blossom and stem ends, slice them lengthways and if the seeds are large and fully developed, scoop them out with a spoon.  The jelly in the seed area can remain if the seeds have not formed yet or if they are tiny, similar in size to a sesame seed because they will be tender.  Once cleaned, cut each piece into chunks so that the food processor will chop them evenly without reducing some to puree.  Pulse the chunks in the processor, a portion at a time, until the pieces are smaller than peas.  The mixture will be uneven in size to some extent but that is okay, you just do not want huge chunks and tiny pieces together because it will cook unevenly.  If you find that it is hard to get a uniform size, pull the large chunks out and dice them further by hand.

In my batch in the photo, you will notice that I sliced the onions and left them in strips, I did this so that they would be more obvious in the finished relish.  Honestly, half of the needed pound of onions came from our garden too, but they were so small, smaller than a golf ball, that I just sliced them and left them in strips because I could barely see through the tears!  Cut your onions into what ever size you like; it is also acceptable to cut them into chunks and pulse them in the processor to match the size and appearance of the cukes.

One thing I would suggest, don’t use the machine for the peppers.  They tend to juice out so much that dicing by hand is better.  In this batch, I used jalapenos that had turned red but you can use green ones or any other type of pepper you prefer.  Previous batches included dark green poblano peppers as well as green bell peppers.  My intention was to make a hot and spicy batch but surprise, those jalapenos turned out to be the variety that isn’t so spicy.  Even so, they gave it a little heat but more importantly, a lot of color.

Once the vegetables are all diced, toss them with the salt and let them sit in the fridge overnight.  This helps the flavors blend together and develop and it also allows for the water to be released.  When you are ready to make the relish, allow the mixture to sit in a colander and drain for at least 20 minutes, give it a press or two to help get the excess liquid out.  Taking this step will help preserve the crunchy texture of the vegetables by removing the moisture and therefore shortening the cooking time.

IMG_6839First, the sugar and vinegar are heated to make a syrup.  The spices and vegetables are added and over medium heat, allowed to simmer.  It is important to stir it frequently so that the water can evaporate and to prevent sticking.  As it cooks, the color changes.

IMG_6840The longer it cooks, the more the golden color deepens.

IMG_6841When finished, the vegetables will be mostly translucent and fairly even in color, except for the red peppers.  My suggestion, make small batches and experiment with the onions and peppers; red, yellow or white onions, whether sweet or not could be used just as any type of peppers.  Keep in mind, you are cooking it down and if you reach for the ghost peppers, it will be beyond fiery!

IMG_6849Bread and Butter Relish

makes about 6 half pints

8 cups diced pickling cucumbers-about 3 pounds

1 pound onions, sliced or diced

1 cup finely diced red jalapenos

1/3 cup pickling or sea salt

11 ounces sugar (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 cup cider vinegar

1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon celery seeds

3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes

1/2 teaspoon ground mace

The day before you will make the relish, toss the vegetables with the salt in a bowl or container that is non-reactive.  Cover and store in the fridge for 12-24 hours.  When you are ready to cook it, dump the mixture into a colander or mesh strainer over the sink and allow it to drain for at least 20 minutes.  Give it a few presses with your hand to help it along but do not press it so much that it is completely dry-you want some of the juices for the flavor they will add.

In a large pot, combine the sugar and vinegar and over medium-low heat, stir to dissolve the sugar.  When it comes to the simmer, add the spices and then the vegetables and raise the heat to medium.  Allow the mixture to cook, stirring frequently, and reduce until most of the moisture has evaporated and the vegetables are translucent.  Depending on the pot, this will take a while, about 30 minutes for my batch.

While the relish is cooking, prepare your canning pot and jars by boiling them.  Remove the jars from the boiling water and drain upside down on a rack so that you are filling hot jars.  Using a canning funnel, fill each jar so that there is a half inch space at the top, wipe the rims if necessary and cap the jars.  Fasten the bands so that they stay in place but do not tighten them too much or the tops will buckle.  Process in the water bath for 10 minutes, allow the jars to cool completely on a rack before storing in the pantry or cupboard.  It will taste best if stored for a few weeks before eating.

For more information on proper canning techniques, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website.

honeybee hive inspection

IMG_6071All hail the Queen.  Can you see her?  Center of the photo with the large yellow dot, that is our lady of the hive.  We went into the hive yesterday to take a look, and there she was, at the top of the hive on the outside frame-not a good thing.  What that means is that she is running out of room to lay eggs so lucky for her, we were prepared and had another box of frames ready to go.

IMG_6076The hive is fairly full, so full that they were building comb in the feeder.

IMG_6081Darry cleaned it all out and refilled it with sugar syrup.

IMG_6084The hive has really increased in number, look at how busy they are!

IMG_6089To clean out the feeder, Darry took out the floating bars, the bees were pretty calm about it and just gathered on the slats while he worked and I took photos.

IMG_6093Drones cannot feed themselves when they first emerge from!  The drone (on the left) is being fed by a worker bee (on the right) and he will start feeding himself by the time he is a week old.  To learn more about the roles of bees in the hive, read this article by the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium. IMG_6094IMG_6095Check back for more photos, I will post more next time we go in for a look!