Monday, June 25, 2012

Feelin' Hot, Hot Hot

So needless to say it's hot outside. Where we live, we are dealing with a severe drought. In fact, it's been roughly two weeks since we last had any rain. And my super-awesome-chief-meteorologist-friend says our rain deficit is more than a foot. Sunday was the hottest day of the year for us so far. So yeah... It's hot. And dry. And miserable.

This is where I want to chime in with an "I told you so." Last winter, everyone thought I was crazy for my concern about our very mild winter. And now we've had the driest Spring (and possibly Summer) in the books. Not to mention bugs (including harmful ones) are hideous this year since they all didn't die during winter. Believe it or not, there are reasons to like the cold.

But I must save a more in-depth rant on that for later. What we need to focus on is now. That includes us trying to figure out how keep cool and our garden alive. Let us first get to our plants. Over the last couple of weeks, we've moved about everything we can to the front porch so the plants have some relief from the unbearable sun. It's a quick fix and frankly, all of those plants are doing better than the ones in the garden beds. We moved the basil to get even more shade after it showed signs of suffering. So even full-sun plants are hurting from this heat.

Mint, Marigolds, Calendula, Chamomile & Echinacea
We are also dedicated to watering every thing every morning. I used to water in the evenings, but all the water would absorb during the night and leave the plants to wilt throughout the hot days. The morning watering is helping, but you can tell the zucchini and squash aren't as delighted as when it fully rained. It doesn't help that our backyard is north-ish facing so it's getting all of the sun throughout the majority of the day. But hey, some of the dryer plants like the lavender & sage are loving it.

When you do water , focus all of the H-2-Oh on the roots around the stem. Try to avoid hitting the leaves with water. That can lead to the leaves getting sunburned during the day or even bring disease and mold if you water at night. So I always try to just water at the base of the plant. If you can, also pour water away from the plant since most root systems branch out, not down.

But my purple bell peppers aren't the only living beings trying to survive this summer. So here's a few ways to keep cool:

- Wear loose-fitting clothing that's a light color
- Wear Cotton. It's lighter, more breathable, and helps our own perspiration
- Use Fans. They help circulate and cool the air even with Air Conditioning

Here's a biggie- focus on your feet. 25 percent of your sweat glands are in your feet. And that little fact can bring several options when it comes to cooling down. Of course there's the obvious use of breathable sandals over shoes. And if your dogs are hot, try either freezing a damp rag or place a bottle of lotion in your fridge that way you can apply it to your feet to cool down after a long, insufferably hot day.

With that in mind, you can also chill a wet bandana that you can tie on if you plan to work out in the yard. A long time ago when I rode & showed horses (long story), we would dump our shirts in cold water and put them on to cool off during our work days.

Water is another biggie for the hot summer months. So drink it up... with bottles of water that is. But sometimes you need more of a re-hydration boost. Even if you didn't run a marathon this afternoon, if you were out and sweating a lot, consider taking in some electrolytes. That can come from various sports drinks, but the latest "all natural" option for that is coconut water. Coconut water is fat free and low on calories while providing some potassium and sodium (key to serious re-hydration); but it's not the best thing out there. The levels of potassium and sodium are par. It doesn't really offer anything amazing compared to everyday intake of fruits and vegetables. Just sayin'.

You should also avoid taking in anything that can cause dehydration like caffeine an alcohol. Also just sayin'.

Since we are talking about what you consume, eat small. That includes smaller, more frequent meals or snacks. That prevents your body from working overtime to digest and metabolize. Nibbling on cold, water-based fruits like watermelon and grapes is a great summer pastime. And while it sounds crazy, eat spicy food. That helps produce sweat which helps you cool down. Sweat and hydration is key.

I have one last tid bit for you to keep in mind during this summer. And it's an amazing idea I saw on pinterest (of course). If you get a sunburn, try freezing & applying cubes of aloe vera. All you need is true aloe vera and an extra ice cube tray. I almost want my husband to get sun burnt so I can try this. But I shouldn't increase his risk for skin cancer just so I can use a cool pinterest idea... or should I?

Either way, keeping cool and hydrated are crucial for you and your garden during the hot summer months. And with June being this unbearable, I am really afraid of what August will be like. But at least you don't have to be in a drought to enjoy all these great tips on beating the heat. With that, sit back next to a fan, open up a chilled bottle of water, and stay cool my friends.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wild Card: Squash-Giving

As I explained last week, we are getting in a lot of squash and zucchini early. It's hard to believe it's not technically summer yet, but I already harvested twice from our garden.
And that's not all that we picked this week
 Since last week, we were able to get about seven zucchini and six yellow squash. So needless to say, we needed to get cooking. Thankfully two dear friends from home came to visit us. Ashley even brought another zucchini recipe to try: chocolate chip zucchini cookies.
One of the best friends a girl could ask for
One night, we worked up a menu that would use as much as zucchini and squash we could use. This is what we came up with:
- Roast Beef Stew
- Cheesy Squash Casserole
- Zucchini Tots with a Garlic Aioli Sauce
- Zucchini Cookies

In total we used six squashes & more zucchini than I can remember. So we decided to call the night "Squash-Giving." Get it? It's like Thanksgiving? Hilarious, I know. None the less, it turned out great and delicious.
So let's start it off. First the non-squash dish. Our roast beef was a basic slow roast with some water, onion, celery, potatoes, and rosemary with some spices. Oh, and of course, it was made with local, grass fed beef. I'm not the biggest roast fan, but it was good. And we have a semi decent beef broth now.

Back to the squash dishes, there's the awesome cheesy squash casserole:
- 6 yellow squash thinly sliced
- 1 vidalia onion thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- 1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- Salt & pepper for seasoning
- 1 sleeve crackers crushed (note: breading does not work)

Saute the squash & onion in a pan. Warning: there's a lot of squash and onion. You will need a big pan.
Really. It's a lot of squash.
Mix everything else but the crackers in a bowl. Add the sauteed squash & onion. Mix together & pour into greased baking pan. Sprinkle crackers over the top. Bake in an oven at 350 degrees for at least 20 minutes or until golden brown on the top.  Enjoy. It's light, buttery, and fabulous.

Then there is the zucchini tots. It's a great recipe, but there wasn't quite enough. But here it is:
- 1 cup zucchini, grated
- 1 egg
- 1/4 yellow onion diced
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs, we used an Italian style
- Salt & pepper for taste

Put the grated zucchini into a dish towel and squeeze out the excess water. We did this for the zucchini cookies, but that's for later.
After you get all that done mix the egg, onion, cheese, bread crumbs, zucchini, salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture into a greased muffin pan. Bake in an oven at 400 degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until top is browned. For us, there was so little that the bottoms burned a little.

But that's ok because we topped it with a great garlic and basil aioli that I originally use with some baked sweet potato fries:
- 2 Tablespoons fresh basil leaves sliced in chiffonade style
- Salt & pepper to the taste
- 3/4 cup mayo
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice

First mix the basil, salt & pepper into one bowl. Mix mayo, garlic & lemon juice into another. Then combine. Simple & delicious.

Then there is the dessert: zucchini cookies. This recipe comes from Ashley's lovely mother in law.
- 3/4 cup butter softened
- 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 1/2 teaspoon orange extract
- 3 cups grated zucchini
- 3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups granola cereal
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (milk chocolate & butterscotch works too)

Cream butter & sugar in a large bowl. Add the egg, vanilla, orange extract & zucchini. Stir in flour, baking soda & salt before adding granola. Then stir in chips. Spoon out mixture on cookie sheet with tin foil. Bake in an oven at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. This recipe makes a lot of cookies.

And if that's not enough, we also made the delicious zucchini rice skillet last night. And there's still alot. of. zucchini.

I think we have a problem.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Getting Close to Harvest

Hello there- sorry about that abrupt week off. Last weekend, my husband & I hosted a fabulous housewarming party for our lovely friends in Western Kentucky. And while it was better than we could anticipate (which normally happens), we decided to take a breather for a bit. But now it's time to get back to the grindstone. And that's a good thing because we are getting close to the start of summer harvest.
Sad thing is, they are already bigger now
In case you didn't know, yellow summer squash and zucchini do amazing in the south. About three weeks ago, I mentioned why these two delicious summer squashes are so good for you. It's amazing how much our plants grew in just 21 days. We are going to have to harvest the first of our zucchini and summer squash this week. Summer squashes are pretty easy; you just cut it from the stem. The best thing to keep in mind is when you harvest it. You'll want to cut yellow squash when it's about 6 inches long. Zucchini is twelve inches or less. If you let it grow too big, the skin will get tough & it will be less pleasurable to the palate.
With that being said, we will probably have two or three zucchini and a yellow squash ready by the end of the week, if not sooner. At I've already found a few recipes I want to try thanks to the ever fanastic pinterest:

- Cheesy Squash Casserole: Made it last year. It. Is. Extraordinary. This recipe is light, buttery, and makes plenty for leftovers.
- Veggie Rice Skillet: This is already a dinner staple for us. But we added garlic. It needs a bit more of a kick of flavor.
- Stuffed Yellow Squash: Made last week with squash from a friend. Also needs a kick, but is surprisingly easy & mess-free.
- Zucchini Tots: Something the hubster & I really look forward to trying.
- Summer Vegetable Tian: A dish I've been dreaming to make since we planted our garden this year.
- Baked Zucchini Chips: Looks like a healthy, crunchy option to regular chips
- Baked Zucchini Fries: It's astounding how many unhealthy sides zucchini can replace.
- Roasted Parmesan Zucchini: Yes, there are a lot of zucchini recipes out there.

We are also seeing another plant that's getting close to the beginning of harvest season: my beloved chamomile.

Isn't beautiful?
I first have to say that our chamomile smells so sweet and wonderful. And while I doubt I will have enough to make tea throughout the winter, I look forward to drying it for a special brew. Chamomile is also pretty easy to harvest. For tea, just use your hand like a rake and pull off the flowers that are in full bloom. But if you plan to make chamomile essential oil, you'll need to cut about 3 inches down from the flower to include the stem and possible tops of leaves.

Hopefully this week, we will get a few buds and start drying. After that, I'll crumble it up and use a tea ball to make a spectacular, local cup of chamomile tea with honey. Yum...

If you enjoy cooking, there is really no greater joy than using food that you grew & harvested. In this day in age where most of us work for money, a garden allows you to take in and benefit from what you put your heart, energy, and soul into. Your hard work is a delectable seasoning for local dishes.