Wednesday, August 31, 2005

August Overhead

The last day of August. The summer went so fast. I can hardly believe it. Here is a shot of my garden in all it's jungly glory. I like that it is overgrown in some spots because it screens the garden sitting areas from the road and alley. You can actually go out and sit in the garden without feeling like you are on stage.

As you can see, the sunfowers have taken over. I moved a lot of them while they were still little, but couldn't bring myself to take out the rest that were growing where they probably shouldn't be. They are so beautiful and attract tons of birds. Cardinals and goldfinches especially. When they fall over from the weight of the seed heads, I remove the plant and place the seed heads out where the birds can get at them. I have a grapevine wreath hanging on the side of the shed and I often tuck the smaller heads into that.

This picture is just after a major bout of weeding, but there is still lots more to do.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Tomato & Zucchini Lentil Soup

Here is yet another way to get some use out of all that zucchini. I'm guessing you also have a load of tomatoes at your house by now, too. This recipe will take care of some of those as well.

Boil 4-6 cups of salted water in a pan. Throw in four or five handfuls of lentils. Remove the pan from the heat and let set.

Heat some olive oil in a pan on medium heat. Chop some garlic and onion and throw into the oil. Make sure that the oil isn't so hot that the garlic browns. Saute these while you cut up about three tomatoes. Toss these into the pan. Turn up the heat slightly. Add a tablespoon or more of basil, along with a little bit of thyme.

Chop up some more tomatoes, about three or four more. Throw those into the pan with the other tomatoes. Chop up a small zucchini, about 1-1/2 inch in diameter, into one inch chunks. Sprinkle in some salt and oregano. Pour the lentils in, water and all. Leave this to cook on it's own.

Take the lentil pan and boil 6-8 cups of salted, oiled water. Throw in the pasta of your choice. I chose egg noodles, about 4-5 handfuls. Stir them to make sure they don't stick to each other.

Once the noodles are just about fully cooked, remove from heat and drain. Add these to the tomato mix. The noodles will tend to soak up a lot of the water that is in the soup, so if you want a more liquid soup, you might have to add water.

I served this with garlic bread. You can top the soup with parmesan, if you like. If you don't like lentils, you can always add another kind of legume or just leave them out all together.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Zucchini Pancakes

This is a good recipe for those zucchini that have gotten a little too big to just slice up and throw into a sauce, fry up or grill. I get those all the time. I either forget to check if there are any that need to be harvested, or they hide and I don't see them until they are taking over the yard.

Get one of those monsters, cut the ends off. Slice it in half and then slice the halves long way. Scoop the seeds out. Grate the zucchini.

In a large bowl mix 2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Add 2 cups buttermilk ~OR~ if you use powder buttermilk, like I do, add 8 tablespoons of the dry buttermilk into this mix, then add 1-1/2 to 2 cups water (add less at first, you can always add more later).

Mix in 2-3 eggs. Add 3-4 tablespoons oil or melted butter. Mix in the grated zucchini. The mix should be just thick enough that you could ladle. If it is too thick you can add a little more water or buttermilk. If it is too runny, you can add a little more flour.

Chop some pecans or walnuts and mix in. Sprinkle a couple teaspoons of cinnamon on the batter and mix in.

Heat a griddle or frying pan to medium high. I use a cast iron pan. Pancakes just come out better on cast iron. You will want to make sure that you keep any pan you use oiled. You will probably have to oil between cakes. I just spray with Pam after every other cake.

Ladle the batter onto the griddle/pan. When the edges are dried and it is possible to flip the cake, do it. This is the fun and frustrating part. You can check if the cake is able to be turned by trying to get a spatula under it. If the cake seems too loose to lift in full, leave it a little longer. If your cakes are starting to burn before you can turn them, reduce the heat a little. You will only have to cook the second side about half the time as the first.

Serve these with butter. Syrup probably isn't necessary, but my husband and son like them with maple syrup, so maybe you will too.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Easy Veggie Lasagna

Lasagna was always one of the three dishes that my mother made that were not only edible, but were the best I ever tasted. I hardly ever make it because it seems so difficult. As I was thinking of possible zucchini recipes though, I thought that lasagna would be a perfect try.

As I boiled 10 lasagna noodles in oiled and salted water, I mixed 12 ounces of cottage cheese, 7 ounces ricotta, a handful of parmesan, and a handful of romano in a large bowl. Add 3-5 ounces of spinach. I used frozen (squeeze it dry) but I think that I would use fresh next time since I wasn't impressed with the flavor of the frozen spinach. Mix in two eggs and set this aside. Preheat the oven at 350 degrees.

Heat a pan with some olive oil, one or two tablespoons. Chop up a couple cloves of garlic. Add to the hot pan- you do not want the pan so hot that the garlic turns brown, just enough to cook it. Dice six or so tomatoes. Add those to the pan. Add three or four tablespoons of Italian seasoning and a good sprinkling of garlic salt (or other salt. Sea salt? You know how much I like sea salt, mmmm...).

As the sauce cooks down, slice up a medium size zucchini into 1/8-1/4 inch slices. If you like mushrooms you can slice some (I used portabella since I had some leftover). Remove the noodles from the heat even if they are not cooked all the way (in fact you probably only want them cooked halfway). Rinse them under cold water and separate.

When the sauce is thick, spread some of it in an oiled cake or lasagna pan. Put in a layer of noodles, then a layer of cheese mix, then noodles, then a layer of the raw zucchini slices and the mushrooms (if you are using them) topped with tomato sauce, another layer of noodles, the rest of the cheese mix, a layer of noodles, and top with the remainder of the tomato sauce. Top the whole thing with grated mozarella.

Bake in the oven for about an hour. My husband is not a big vegetable fan, but he liked this. He even ate leftovers- that's rare. I made mine half with mushrooms and half without (my huband doesn't like mushrooms). My son ate until the mushroom side was completely gone.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Rosemary Basil Chicken with Spaghetti

Here is another of my recipes. I actually just made it up, like off the top of my head, about an hour ago. We just got back from the grocery store and needed something for dinner fast before SSB had to go to work. We had just bought a big bag of frozen boneless skinless chicken breast from Sam's Club Tuesday so I grabbed a couple breasts- CHICKEN BREASTS, (geez! you juveniles ;) and defrosted them. If I am going to chop up the chicken, like I was intending to do with this dish, I only defrost them enough to take the edge off. I still want them frozen to make the cutting up easy. It's more like chopping celery than like chopping over-ripe tomatoes.

While that was defrosting (about two minutes on defrost in the microwave), I started a pan of water for the pasta. I chose spaghetti because we had just bought some. You could use any plain pasta. I always put salt and oil in the water. They help heat the water faster, season the pasta, and they help keep the noodles from sticking to each other.

I heated up another pan, my cast iron fry pan, of course. Once it was hot, I put in about two tablesoons of extra virgin olive oil (cause you only live once) . While that was heating up I chopped up the stilll mostly frozen chicken into one inch cubes. You can chop them up however you like. I made sure that the pan was good and hot before throwing in the chicken. This sears the outside to keep the juices inside, plus it makes it taste better. Start stirring right away to make sure that no side gets over-cooked and all sides get seared fairly evenly.

Once the chicken cubes are fully seared, turn down the heat to about medium. Make sure that there is still moisture in the pan to keep the chicken from getting dry. Add a little water if you have to. Mince two cloves of garlic and add to the chicken. Grind up half a tablespoon of rosemary and throw that in. Add about a tablespoon of basil- or more if you like. Add a couple of big pinches of sea salt (or regular salt, or garlic salt, whatever). I like sea salt because it gives the food a nice flavor. Regular table salt is too harsh for my tastes. I would highly recommend getting sea salt. Don't go to a hoity-toity shop for it though. Go to an Asian market. You can get a couple pounds of the stuff for about $1, at least that's what I pay for mine.

The pasta water should be ready by now. Add the pasta, stir, reduce the heat slightly, and cover. I like to stir the pasta every five minutes to make sure that I don't get the evil pasta clump! Seriously, who wants to try and eat that?

Dice up some of the tomatoes out of your garden into thick chunks. Throw them into the chicken pan. I never peel tomatoes. Peeled tomatoes are for wusses. The tomato peels add a nice bright red garnish to the dish. Cook the mix down until the tomatoes make a psuedo sauce. Add a little black pepper if you like. I did.

The pasta should be done, or at least when it is done, drain and add to chicken mix. OR you can do it the lazy Sylvana way- just tong the pasta out of the pan you cooked it in right into the chicken mix pan. What's a little pasta water among friends, eh? Stir the whole thing together. Add a couple handfuls of feta cheese (good stuff, that feta). And serve.

My picture may not look very impressive. I feel that I didn't add enough tomatoes. I used three- medium sized.. Next time, I might use five, or less pasta. Although, my son said that it was the PERFECT sauce to pasta ratio. And my husband said it was fabulous. I thought it was pretty good myself, so maybe I wouldn't change a thing.

BTW- I know that this doesn't contain any zucchini, but I didn't want to go overboard with a new idea. I think though, after tasting it, you could add some chopped zucchini in this. I would add it maybe at the end of searing the chicken to sear it as well, but not over-cook it. You could also add it with the tomatoes if you like it firm, but somehow, I just don't think it would be as satisfying.

Still in the Blahs

I am still suffering from the garden blahs, even though my garden is looking pretty good right now- especially after I mowed and weeded some. It is raining really good today, so tomorrow will be a great day to do some more weeding. I try to do my weeding after a rain because it loosens the soil and makes the weeds come up WAY EASIER!

My echinacea and rudbeckia are still blooming strongly. The candy lilies and liatris are waning. The sunflowers have heads at various stages and my garden is FULL of goldfinches! My neighbors are so jealous.

I have yet to find Mr. Ed lilies anywhere, and I am getting quite frustrated about it. I'll have to check back through my emails and send another note to the company that said that they would have them this fall. I think they may be LIARS!! I wonder if I could order them from New Zealand, or if that would never pass customs. It probably would be way more expensive than I would be willing to pay for them anyway.

I am working on some new zucchini recipes for you. I plan on having two up this weekend. I made some veggie lasagna the other day that even my husband liked! That is really something since he is not a big cooked veggie fan. He even ate- LEFTOVERS!! He RARELY eats leftovers. So I guess that lasagna must have been really good. Or he has done something terribly wrong and is trying to distract me from finding out. Hmmm...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Wonderful, Prolific Zucchini

Image from

Jac was asking me what a zucchini plant looks like, so I decided to post a picture of one for all those that may be unfamiliar with this particular vegetable. One plant is generally enough to feed a couple of people for quite a few months. As you can see, this plant clearly has at least 6 fruits already growing. And it will keep producing until frost.

Zucchini can be eaten raw, although most people prefer it cooked. You can bake them, fry them, roast them, grill them, boil them, make breads and cakes with them. They are great stuffed with whatever you like to eat. They are fabulous added to tomato dishes. I make pancakes with them. You can dry them and make flour with them. They are so versatile, even the flowers are edible. If I find any recipes for those, I will certainly post them.

They do best in temperate climates. So I guess my feed the world campaign might not work out after all. They do keep for about a month after cutting them from the vine, unless they are very small. The smaller ones are best for cooking whole, since the seed are small. The larger ones are best used for stuffing, recipes requiring grated zucchini, or for making flour.

We gardeners in the temperate regions of the world are most familiar with the running joke of the astounding proliferation of this plant. I know so many people that think the only thing they are good for is bread. That is why I will be posting zucchini recipes. Maybe you'll get some fresh ideas and you'll never have a problem knowing what to do with all that damn zucchini!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Zucchini, Zucchini, Everywhere!

If you are like most gardeners, you probably spell it wrong (I know I do!) and you have had to move out of your house to accommodate all the zucchinis that your garden has produced. Seriously, I only plant two plants and I still have so much frickin zucchini I could probably feed a third world nation. You know, that's not such a bad idea. Why don't these countries grow zucchini?

Short of shipping the excess to food pantries or developing countries, what ARE you going to do with it all?

Well, there's more to zucchini cuisine than bread. I have quite a few recipes for zucchini that I simply LOVE! And of course, I am always looking out for new ones to try. So last night, when I bought the most amazing recipe book EVER!!! I decided I just had to try this easy Thyme and Zucchini Fritter recipe.

Of course, I almost always just use a recipe as a guideline, so the following is how I made them and will not exactly correspond with the recipe in the book.

In a medium sized bowl beat together two eggs into a scant cup of flour. When this is mixed thoroughly, sprinkle baking powder over the top of the batter, just enough to dust it. Mix this in as well. Mix in enough milk so that the batter will just barely run from your mixing utensil. This is about 1/4-1/3 cup. Mix in about 2-3 teaspoons of dried thyme. You can also use fresh if you were lucky enough to remember to grow it this year. Salt and pepper to your taste.

Get one of those green bad-boys from your garden. Wash it if you want. I don't. I like to innoculate my immune system on a regular basis to prepare for bio-warfare. Cut the ends off, and start grating. I think I used about two cups. They suggested to grate it over a paper towel to remove some of the moisture. That's a really good idea, especially since you will be frying these. I use Viva. It's the best towel on the market! Mix the grated zucchini into the batter.

You need a frying pan and some oil. I use a cast iron skillet. I love the way that cast iron cooks food. It just adds something extra to the food that I can't explain. It makes pancakes and hashbrowns perfectly. And it comes in handy as a weapon if your dog is broke.

I splurge on extra virgin olive oil. You only live once! Use a couple of tablespoons.

Heat the pan first on medium heat. I learned years ago that the key to non-stick (save for those cancer causing teflon thingies) is cold oil on a hot pan. I don't really know if this is true, but what the hell. Do it anyway.

Once the oil is heated enough, scoop some of the batter into the pan and spread out slightly. You can put a couple of these in the pan at a time. I got three in at a time. Fry each side until they are golden brown and there is no more raw batter coming out the sides.

I served these warm with real mayonaise. I did try them with Miracle Whip too, and that was good as well. I would have made my own garlic mayonaise, but I was way too eager to try these while they were still warm and I hadn't thought to make it ahead of time.

The verdict? Nummy! I would definitely make these again.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Dear Ms Smarty Pants

It is that time of year. The time of year that I was promised would produce my favorite lily in the whole wide world- Mr. Ed. You remember -The mashed potato lilies. Whenever I see them they remind me of one of my favorite food, a heaping serving of steaming, buttered & peppered mashed potatoes!! Oh, YUM!!

I went to the catalog that had sent me the email about having these lilies in the fall. No luck. I'm getting impatient. I Googled it and saw that Thompson & Morgan had them. Well, ALL RIGHT! So I click on it. The page comes up and sure enough, the name is Mr. Ed, but that ain't no Mr. Ed in the picture. UGH!!!

I decided that they should know about their mistake so that another obsessive Mr. Ed hunter isn't as disappointed as I was. I sent them the following email:

I just wanted to contact you about the picture that you have in your online catalog listed as Mr. Ed lilies. Mr. Ed lilies are pure white with a little peppering of speckles. The ones you have here are most likely the pink version- Mr. Sam. Thank you, Sylvana Gardener

And they emailed me back:

Dear Ms Gardener

Thank you for your enquiry.

Thank you also for your observation, it would appear we have incorrectly referenced our lily collection. We would like to thank you for bringing this to our attention, and we will be taking the apporpriate action to correct this error.

Kind regards
Janet Challis

Technical Customer Care Advisor,Thompson & Morgan

Yeah, I am enjoying patting myself on the back right now; but that doesn't get me any closer to getting those Mr. Ed lilies. Humph! I may lose a few battles, but I will win the war!

Friday, August 12, 2005

"Candy, Candy, Candy! I Can't Let You Go!"

I started these from seed when I first started my main garden in 1998. These are candy lilies. So far this year all the ones that have come up are this same pink variety, but they do come in other colors like yellow and orange. I think I have a gardien angel (get it?) because these pink flowers fit right in with all the other pink flowers that I grow. I love them.

The foliage on these plants is great. It looks just like iris. This helps add a little extra interest in your garden.

They were very easy to grow from seed and have self sowed themselves easily, but definitely not invasively. Some years they just break even. This year they had resowed exactly the amount that they had last year, but the whole lot of them moved over about three feet and they are doing tremendously better! I can't believe three feet would make such a difference. And more intriguing, how did they move themselves?

But really, I try not to over think those things. I'm afraid that I might break the magic.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

End of Summer Slump

Yeah, I have fallen victim to the August gardening slump. I have not done any gardening since the grandparents visited. I haven't even mowed the lawn in over a week! It could have been the really hot weather. It could have been the stress of trying to find a new job for when my position is terminated at the end of this month. It could be that we had a lot of family visits to take care of this month. Or it could be that I just have those end of summer blahs.

Eh. Whatever it is, the weather isn't helping much now either. I tried to go out to get some garden/yard chores done yesterday. As usual, as soon as I got all the equipment out and started the job, the black storm clouds came galloping in to piss on my parade! Dammit!

Well, maybe today. It is looking really nice. But today and the rest of the week I am working full days, so it isn't looking too good either. I do also have quite a bit of paperwork to catch up on. Ugh! I feel so, so...overwhelmed!

I just need to take a deep breath and put it in perspective. Make a list and start getting the things done. If I can just start doing something then there will be less and less to do, and eventually, it won't look so bad anymore.

Right. All right then. What needs to be done? Weeding.
***hyper ventilating!!!!!***

OK. That was a bad thing to start with. Let's try again.

Mow the borders so that if I have to, I can let my son do the rest.
*wait for panic---none*. Whew! Now that wasn't so hard!

I could also finish fertilizing since it is supposed to storm the next three days and I never finished the last time. Yeah, I could do that.

I need to stain the legs of the bar that I just built. But you know, that's not killing anyone right now. It can wait.

Fantastic! Procrastina-- uh, I mean, prioritizing is a great way to break down some of that To Do Mountain. I like to have a written list, that way I can look back at all that I have accomplished. I also like to write myself "way to go!" notes to help keep my momentum going. And if I do exceptionally well, I will treat myself to something nice- usually food related-- and then, usually chocolate related. YUMMY!!

Chocolate Mountain, here I come!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

I try to make sure that I always have something blooming in my garden. I have a bunch of flowers that are just starting to pick up steam. As you can see the few echinacea I planted a few years back have successfully taken over this corner of my garden. Of course, it was my plan all long. There are a few other plants seen here, well weeds really that I thought looked good, so I let them grow. I'm a pretty easy going gardener. I have read in a few garden books that letting some weeds grow actually can help your garden since beneficials may use them in their life cycle. Plus, some garden pests actually prefer the weeds. I don't know about these weeds though. They were just pretty.
This is a decendant from some gaillardia that I started from seed about seven years ago. I have never seen gaillardia with this color pattern so I have marked the flower heads and I'm going to collect the seeds to see if I can get them to come out like this again. If they come out true, I might try to market them. I love this color combo. I was thinking about calling them Bahama Mamas after that yummy drink! What do you think? Would you buy them? I'm not stuck on that name, although I could use one of those drinks right now! Mmmm...
Here is a shot of my black-eyed susans that have finally decided to bloom. They are late. Everyone else around here have had their's blooming for over two weeks now! I like this combo with the gayfeather. I have another rudbeckia that is more the color of mac-n-cheese (which by the way is one of my favorite colors) but the pictures turned out sort of fuzzy. Oh what the hell, I'll post them anyway.