Saturday, June 29, 2013

Herb and Vegetable Container Garden Updates

The summer container gardens are in full swing! Herbs and vegetables are growing fast and we've been able to enjoy them in a number of recipes.

Our Mexican Tarragon has bloomed. As tea, this is supposed to have relaxing properties. Can't wait to try this soon.

The green onions have grown to about 12-18 inches tall and we've had our first harvest.
Delicious and fresh, there is something to eating your own home grown vegetables.

This is actually the second basil plant in the herb garden as the first one did not do well, perhaps due to the colder weather after Mother's day weekend. This one though is doing really well.

The challenge with cilantro is really its very fast development. Before you know it, the plant is already bolting. After this happens, the taste changes and it's just not the same cilantro as before. Seeing early signs of bolting, we quickly harvested some and used them for salsa.

When cilantro flowers and seeds, you've got coriander!

We lost one of the three bittermelon due to the cold weather, but the remaining two are really starting to grow into the stakes.

There was a period of slow growth with the lemongrass but suddenly there seems to be a growth spurt in the past two weeks!

We had our first strawberry harvest from this plant which grew back from last year.

First green onion harvest!

This lettuce grew back from last year and is looking really healthy. We harvested some leaves the other night for fresh salad.

I just spotted the first two green peppers. We can't wait to harvest these.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Homemade Kale and Lettuce Chips

Kale or otherwise known as borecole is a very rich source of vitamin A, C, K, as well as fiber. Getting more of these vitamins  into our kids' diets can be a challenge.

I've tried crispy baked kale before and decided to see if we can reproduce this addicting snack at home.
Having plenty of overmature lettuce at this point, we tried the same recipe on these as well. Lettuce provides a lot of fiber and vitamin A but not as much as kale.

Cut up the kale and lettuce in 1 1/2 inch strips or chip size bits. Remove the vein of kale.
Preheat your oven to 275 F. 

 Toss the veggies with olive oil and sea salt. 
Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the chips are crispy.

 Delicious kale chips were consumed by the kids in one sitting.

This is definitely a great use for overmature lettuce.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Gardening as a Cure for Tech Addiction

Have your ever found yourself ceaselessly checking your phone for text messages and unable to resist checking those facebook notifications? Is your teenager spending hours and hours on the internet?

Tech or internet addiction is now a recognized problem among adults and children. With every notification, a small "spike" of adrenaline rushes through our brains,  very similar to the "high" from other forms of addiction.

This can be very distracting from work and diminishes our interaction with other human beings. A recent publication on this topic found decreased functional connectivity in parts of the brain of teenagers. Other studies are looking at levels of neurotransmitters in kids who are chronically connected to their gadgets.

Gardening on the other hand is the polar opposite of technology. Whereas in the tech world, everything is fast and instantaneous, gardening is a slow process, where events happen over weeks and months rather than seconds. Plants are alive and depend on us for loving care, whereas our tech gadgets can rule our lives, in more ways than one. Long term effects of constantly engaging in technology, whether it's computers or smartphones, are unknown. More worrisome are the unknown effects of tech addiction on the developing brains of kids and teenagers.

A break from technology is certainly a good thing for everyone. With any form of addiction, there is a withdrawal period for a few weeks, but this goes away and is replaced by a feeling of being alive and more attuned to the environment.  Concentration improves, and tasks are easier to finish.  This summer, consider gardening as a way to take a break from all your gadgets.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

When Growing Lettuce, Don't Blink: What to Do with Overmature Lettuce

The seed packet says maturity in 30 days. Busy with visiting relatives in the past few days, I failed to notice how my lettuce mix suddenly bolted up!

Overmature lettuce leaves have a dark green color and a bitter taste. Their taste would be too strong for a fresh salad.  Luckily, we've already enjoyed some young leaves last week and there are still some young ones for salad in the next few days.

 When this does happen to your greens, fret not. They can still be put to good use.
I found this relatively  simple recipe for making compost ( with kids) .

 Cut up the greens into small pieces and place in a ziploc bag.

 Mix in with other materials such as coffee grounds.
Put a tablespoon of soil in the bag and mist with water so that the greens are wet but not soggy.

The mixture should be mixed daily and the bag should be opened for about 6 hours daily.
This is supposed to turn into compost in 2-8 weeks.
We'll see how it goes...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Take Your Breakfast Outdoors

Breakfast is perhaps the most important meal of the day. Oftentimes though, it is just a quick bowl of cereal or bagel before rushing off to work. 
What a big difference it would make to spend a few extra minutes on this meal and eat it outdoors. You don't even need a huge outdoor space. A small cafe table would give that alfresco feeling for a fresh start to your day.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

To Kill or Not to Kill: Dilemma on the Deck

You stand tall and proud in your home. Likely brought there by an unknowing bird, you are growing rapidly into a handsome young tree with a bright future. The only problem is... You really do not belong there. Someday you will grow tall and big. It is inevitable. When that happens, you will destroy the very home that housed you.  The pot which seems nice and cozy for you at the moment will someday break from your mature roots. 

We have been mulling this over for a few weeks now. Trying to get the consensus of the family on what to do. You seem happy and content, but what you don't know is...We are contemplating your death, or transfer to another place.

The kids love you. They somehow must see you as a part of the family, having seen you from your young age. I think we'll end up keeping you for a little while, or a long while. We'll figure something out when you grow up. Take it one year at a time. Maybe we can donate you to a park when we can't house you anymore. For now though, you'll be with us...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Basil and Almond Cream Sauce: A Quick and Healthy Lunch

For Sunday lunch, the kids and I whipped up a quick recipe of pasta served with basil  cream sauce which was adapted from an online recipe. It received an "A" rating from the kids and was consumed in a matter of minutes.

We harvested a handful of  basil leaves from the garden and made a puree of these with almonds (1/4 cup), parmesan cheese (1/2 cup),  2-3 cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil.

The recipe called for cream but having none in the house, we used about a cup of  half and half instead, which worked just as well for less fat and calories. We heated the half and half and poured one half cup  into the blender to mix in with the basil puree.

Then we poured the whole thing back into the pot and let it simmer for just a minute or two. This "cooked" the garlic a bit and took away the uncooked taste which kids may find too strong. Served with spaghetti pasta, it was a delicious treat for lunch. The almonds gave a nutty texture to the sauce.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Restaurant Family Review: Grange Hall Burger Bar

Grange Hall Burger Bar has quickly become one of our favorite go to places for burgers. Serving grass-fed beef, it gives a slightly healthier spin to the high fat, high calorie meal that the kids' metabolisms can tolerate and we adults can occasionally indulge in. They have a nice selection of burgers but our favorite is the Ultimate Burger. 

Their table centerpiece was a pair of purple and yellow irises. Quite beautiful on a summer day.

For dessert, we had their homemade strawberry rhubarb pie served ala mode. Delicious and fresh, as if it just came out of grandma's oven.

We discovered Grange Hall after our famished family was told that we had to wait 45 minutes for a table in Little Goat, a half block away. Since then, burger cravings would take us to this place several times a month.

Their flower boxes featured ferns. These plants are great for containers because they require very little maintenance. Indigenous to tropical countries, they can tolerate quite a bit of heat. 

Here's the Ultimate Burger, truly ultimate, with applewood bacon, arugula, melted muenster cheese, caramelized onion and horsey sauce.

In addition, the kids were delighted that their mac and cheese was topped with potato chips! 

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Cup of Dahlias: An Evening Delight

Wednesday evening. Dinner's being picked up from Davanti Enoteca, a favorite Italian restaurant of the family. Daughters busy with school work. With a few minutes to spare, I worked on a container idea for the kitchen deck.
I've seen this container for years and finally decided to buy it this year.

The problem with the container was drainage. It had none. I decided to cut and flip one of the plastic containers for the plants and use this instead of rocks.

The final product was a delightful container of Dahlinovas in red and white and a Bacopa in central pink.

Greens on the Go: Quick Uses of Herbs and Vegetables

For many years, summer would come and go and I would end up with not a single meal using my precious herbs. 

This year, I've made a commitment to incorporate our vegetables and herbs  into our meals. There is a certain connectedness that you feel with the earth when you can step out of the kitchen, harvest herbs and eat them. 

The mesclun mix is growing nicely and some leaves are ready to be eaten. 

Cilantros are just so good in guacamole. 

 This guacamole that our nanny whipped up in less than 15 minutes ( recipe from a Guatemalan friend)  paired very well with the young greens. A drizzle of truffle olive oil from Olive Mill ( Saugatuck, Michigan)  put a gourmet spin to this salad.

One stalk of chive cut up into small pieces and mixed in with cream cheese  
is a great way to spice up a breakfast bagel.

Photo credits to my oldest daughter.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Dinner Plate Dahlias: Parallels in Life

These dinner plate dahlias are perhaps one of the largest dahlias in existence. With blooms as big as 10 inches, they are huge. They are beautiful.

Ironically,they are incapable of staying upright. The stems are just too thin to support the gigantic heads and like the picture below, if they are not supported, those beautiful blooms end up facing the ground. 

Waxing philosophical for a moment, I think that this can be analogous to life. Human beings tend to want more...  Bigger houses, more money, more power. As we strive for these things however, it's important to grow the "stem" as well. Strengthen the foundation, so that when the "big" things come, we are able to stay rooted, upright, and actually enjoy these goals as they come true. 

An alternative thought is that perhaps we should not expend all our energy striving for the "big" things. Smaller blooms that are able to stand tall may be even better than large blooms facing the soil. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mini lunch vacations: An easy way to relieve workday stress

Back when we were younger, living in a tropical country,  2 hour long lunches were the norm.  Nowadays, because of our busy professional careers, lunch can sometimes be a 5 minute break munching on a sandwich or eating nameless soup in the cafeteria.  There are days however, like today , when it is possible to take a more luxurious lunch. Luxurious does not imply a more expensive lunch but rather a slower paced one eaten in a better setting. I would highly recommend squeezing in as many of these mini lunch vacations in your week. It could mean eating in a local cafe close to work, or under a shady tree or a park bench.

Today, I took a short lunch break at this Tapas restaurant close to work. This place had beautiful container gardens and eating alfresco was definitely a refreshing break.

The opportunity to enjoy a small meal of gambas and iced tea beside this waterspout  made me feel alive, refreshed and ready to start the next half of my day.

This place was on the way to an offsite facillity where I usually work on Tuesday afternoons, and because  the whole meal took only about 15 minutes, it did not take too much time away from my day. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Chive Flowers

Chives are in bloom!  When one looks at these flowers, it's hard not to expect a sweet scent. But get closer, take a whiff, and the oniony smell is unmistakable.

Chives flower profusely and it seems a waste to just throw these blooms away.

Here are a few creative gourmet projects for these flowers.

Chive Flower Oil:

I soaked a few chive flowers in grapeseed oil. Olive oil would work as well. Leave the flowers in a container until the flavor penetrates the oil. This would be great for salads.

This recipe for goat cheese scalloped potatoes with chive flowers seems delectable.

They can also be great ingredients in salads. Try this recipe with fresh chickpeas, feta and chive flowers

Chive flower vinegar would be another interesting project to try.