Deep Bed Mulching…Check!

Even though it ended with me completely drenched from the rain, I am thrilled to have deep-bed mulched almost all of my section of the back garden this afternoon.  It was a lot of work, because I waited too late in the season to do it (which meant having to mow or pull the weeds I’d allowed to get out of control).  And, to be honest, I was slightly tempted to mow the whole thing and just till it under.  BUT, it took me two years to convince Dave to leave a section of dirt for me to try my “hippie” approach for enriching the soil, reducing weeds and retaining moisture.  We’ve had remarkable success in this test area in the two years since I started it, but Farmer Dave is still reluctant to let go of time on the tractor for the rest of our garden space…and I completely understand.  I like driving our old John Deere 2010, too!
Today, I basically unrolled a huge round bale of hay that has been decaying at the edge of our woods for a number of years.  I then spread the rotting hay over the area that I had just mowed.  In some areas, I put down sections of newspapers under the hay, too, providing an additional barrier against the thistles that I’d allowed to establish.
In the past, I’ve mulched with grass clippings, soiled hay from our chicken coop and truckloads of dead leaves.  It’s a lot of work on the day we mulch it, but the energy it takes to maintain is almost nothing for the majority of the growing season.  Our plants stay moist in dry weather and don’t become overrun with weeds when the rains hang on.
For most of the rest of our gardens, I mulch in between rows after planting as opposed to covering the entire space each year.  This is still greatly beneficial, but driving that heavy tractor over it at the beginning and end of every season seems to undo some of the weed barrier and soil aeration that the deep bed mulching allows.
I ran out of hay before I could totally finish, but I know that, with all of the rain we’ve had, there will be plenty of grass clippings this week to fill in the gap.  It really feels good to have such a big job done!

Fall Food

Fall is my favorite time to cook.  We have an abundance of high-quality, low-cost ingredients on-hand and I feel good about spending the time to actually putter around in the kitchen with them.  During the summer months, when our gardens are at peak production, we eat well…but without much time invested.  We harvest what’s ready and slice it, grill it, roast it or steam it and that’s pretty much the extent of things.  There’s very little baking, very little time actually spent making something out of all of those amazing ingredients.

Once most of the harvest has been frozen or shelved, though, things are different.  I can feel good about spending time on actual recipes, dishes that have multiple steps–making sauces, layering flavors, taking the extra time that has eluded me since April or May.  Plus, the temperatures are cooler and the heat from the oven doesn’t seem quite so insidious.  Instead, it beckons me with aromatic memories of crusty breads, hearty meatloaves, tender briskets and caramelized vegetables.  Sigh.

Today has been such a morning.  I’ve been turning out food left and right:  maple-glazed butternut squash, chili-rubbed sweet potato fries, sausage fajitas, oatmeal-jam bars, chunky applesauce.  Almost all of these things have major components that we raised right here on our little hobby farm, and it just feels really good.  Whether the food is staying here or being taken to folks with new babies, I feel like it has been a labor love.  Truly.

I confess that I did not feel so warm-and-fuzzy six weeks ago when I was sweaty and exhausted and sore and dirty almost all of the time.  There were many nights that I wished a pizza fairy would delivered a highly-processed-hot-and-ready pizza pie directly to my tailgate so that I could wolf it down without having to even leave the garden.  And, from past experience, I can tell you that I will not feel quite so rosy about our homegrown fare once March rolls around and we are down to the ever-present frozen corn, canned green beans and stewed tomatoes.  But, even then, it feels good to not have to think about what’s for supper.  It feels good to live well within our means.  Even then, when we sit down to vegetable soup or green beans, sausage and potatoes for the fourth time that month, I am thankful.  Ever-conscious of having so much more than so many others.  Ever-grateful for the land, the energy and the opportunity to grow good food for my family and friends.

Now, though, we feast with friends and we feast with family, sharing the beautiful, flavorful bounty of another abundant season.  Thank You, Lord.

Coleslaw Perfection

Okay, I understand that perfect coleslaw is a matter of opinion.  I can accept that.  However, I want to add that I get lots of compliments from folks when I fix this–sometimes from people who don’t even really care for coleslaw!  So there must be something lovely about this recipe.

I sometimes add finely-diced sweet peppers or cucumbers to this before dressing.

scant 1/3 c. sugar
3/4 t. salt
1/2 c. mayo (the real stuff, please)
1/2 t. pepper
1 T. vinegar
2 T. lemon juice
small sprinkling of celery seed, if desired

Combine above ingredients and let sit while you chop the following:

1 medium head cabbage
2 normal-sized carrots
1/2 onion

Pour dressing over veggies and stir well.  Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of four hours, or even overnight.  Stir well before serving.

Serves 12 or so.

Jalapeno Popper Dip

Yum, yum, yum, yum, YUM!

Last year, a friend told me she made a jalapeno popper dip.  My interest was piqued, but I didn’t have jalapenos on-hand, so I didn’t act on that interest.  Our garden is now putting out quite a few of these lovely hot peppers, so I wanted to give this dip a try. We had company coming in for Labor Day, and I thought perhaps I’d find willing guinea pigs among my guests.  I found a recipe and tweaked it according to my preferences and the ingredients I already had in my home.  The results were scrumptious!  I will say that the original recipe I saw used green chilies in the dip as well, which would be a welcome addition.

2 pkg. cream cheese
1 c. sour cream
a couple of dashes of Worcestershire
1/2 c. shredded cheddar
6-8 fresh jalapenos, diced
1/2 c. grated Parmesan
corn chips, tortilla chips or other dippers

Combine all ingredients well.

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Did I say yum?

Zucchini Pizza Pie

Since our summer months are usually inundated with zucchini, I try to prepare it in a wide variety of ways.  Most of my family agreed that this recipe is a keeper.  Once the crust in established, the rest of the dish is very flexible, so it’s a great option when trying to use what you already have on-hand.

4 c. grated zucchini
1/2 t. salt
2 eggs
1/2 c. grated Parmesan
2 c. grated mozzarella or provolone
1 c. grated cheddar
1 lb. ground beef or pork sausage or chorizo, or whatever
1 onion, chopped
2 c. marinara sauce of your choice
1 c. bell pepper, chopped (or mushrooms, black olives, more zucchini, tomatoes, etc.)

Preheat oven to 400.

Put grated zucchini in a colander and sprinkle with the salt.  Let stand 10 minutes, then squeeze out moisture.

Combine zucchini with eggs, Parmesan and half of mozzarella and cheddar cheeses.  Press into greased 3-qt. baking dish.  Bake 20 minutes.

In large saucepan, cook ground meat and onion over medium heat until done.  Add marinara sauce.

Spoon sauce/meat mixture over baked zucchini crust.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese and top with veggies of your choice.  Bake another 20 or so minutes, or until heated through.

NOTE:  This casserole freezes really well.

Green Tomato Bread

I don’t like green tomatoes.  I’ve tried.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  I’ve tried them friend, in chutneys, in salsas and in relishes.  I just can’t get into them.  I can eat them, but I don’t enjoy them.

Until this.

Thank you to my friend, Charlene, for sharing this tasty recipe.  It’s definite proof that if you add enough sugar to anything, it can be good.

This makes two standard loaves.

3 eggs
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. oil
1 t. salt
1 T. vanilla
2 c. grated green tomatoes, drained
3 c. flour
1 1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
3/4 t. cinnamon
3/4 c. dried fruit of your choice, chopped to the size of raisins
1 c. chopped nuts, if desired

Beat eggs well and add sugar, oil, salt, vanilla and tomatoes.

Sift dry ingredients separately, then gradually add to tomato mixture.  Stir in raisins and nuts.

Pour into greased bread pans and bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

Stuffed Zucchini

About this time every year, I am looking for new ways to use zucchini.  This recipe is easy and tasty, and it uses another veggie that I have plenty of right now–Swiss chard.  If you don’t have Swiss chard, feel free to use spinach.

6 smallish zucchini, halved lengthwise
4-5 c. Swiss chard, sliced and packed
1/2 c. onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. oil
1 T. fresh basil (or 1 t. Italian seasoning blend)
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
2 T. dry bread crumbs (or cracker crumbs)
4 T. grated parmesan, divided
2 T. butter

Scoop out the pulp of the raw zucchini halves.  Chop the pulp coarsely.

Cook the Swiss chard, then drain and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

Saute the onions and garlic in the oil until soft.  Add the spinach, zucchini pulp, herbs, salt, pepper, bread crumbs and half of the cheese.  Mix well.

Place the zucchini shells in a baking dish and stuff with spinach mixture.  Melt the butter and drizzle over the top.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

NOTE:  These can be completely cooled, wrapped in plastic wrap or wax paper, then placed in a freezer bag for freezing.