Sowing the Seeds of Love…and Tomatoes.

It’s about that time, my friends. For Floridians (or maybe just overeager ones like yours truly), late January is when a lot of us start sewing seeds indoors. It goes a little something like this: sow, sow, sow, pot up, pot up, pot up, harden off, harden off, harden off, plant in the garden, and pray we don’t get a freakish March frost.

Last year, I went a bit bonkers with purchasing heirloom seeds from Tomatofest. I’m a sucker for the pretty colors and vivid descriptions. And i may be a smidgeon indecisive. For my small garden, I purchased around 15 varieties of determinate and indeterminate tomatoes from tiny to mammoth, Thailand to Arkansas, yellow to black, and tart to sweet. Now I feel compelled to use them all before they expire. I act like it’s a sacrifice, but I’m a square foot gardener who loves a challenge. Spacing? What’s that?

In my favorite seed starting tray and using my favorite seed starting mix, I sowed Chadwick Cherry, Thai Pink Egg, Black Zebra, Arkansas Traveler, Healani, Martino’s Roma, Yellow Ripple Currant, and Hawaiian Currant tomatoes.

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Based on my last post entitled “My Tomato Cheers and Jeers of 2013,” I’m betting that the Thai Pink Egg and Healani tomatoes will do well. And if 2012-13 is any indication,  I’ll inevitably fail with the Black Zebras and won’t get a single one. Lousy, stinking, son of a…. I digress.

It’s a new beginning! This is every gardener’s most hopeful, positive Pollyanna-ish moment of the year. I’m feeling good. We’ve got a ton of good compost, lots of Azomite, and we’ve starting using bone meal (which, by the way, is fantastic for lots and lots of big, beautiful blooms). Here’s to a prolific tomato 2014!

Until next time, my fellow gardeners,

Jenna

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My Tomato Cheers and Jeers of 2013

Eating the last garden-fresh tomato is bittersweet. It’s sad because it’s the last tomato. I eat it slowly and savor ever single bite. I use it sparingly and thank the heavens my boyfriend hates tomatoes. Eating the last tomato is also a happy time because I know I’m one moment closer to the new season and will get to do it all over again soon. I fantasize about what seeds I’ll start and reflect on the season’s tomato successes and failures. Here’s a summary of my tomato-related pain and joy of 2013:

Miserable Failures:

  • Moving a five foot Thai Pink Egg plant that was doing fantastically into a place where it would get more sun is a terrible decision. Dragging a perfectly happy plant to a new location is stupid. The plant was miserable, it turned a sickly yellow-brown and then proceeded to die.
  • Hot and cold and hot and cold and so on…. Plants hate this, but it’s out of our control. Things died.
  • Too much rain and humidity leads to mildew and oodles of aphids.

Successes:

Thai Pink Egg tomatoes proliferated…

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Chadwick Cherry tomatoes were super hearty…

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Healani plants, although difficult and fickle, provided me with quite a few delicious tomatoes…

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Overall, I can’t really complain. Gardening is a series of events, both wonderful and tragic, which lead to a greater understanding of our environment and how we can live in harmony with it. Gardening organically is challenging; I won’t say it’s not. But it’s worth it, both for our planet and our health. And, besides, it’s a blast, and I can’t think of any better excuse to play in the dirt.

Happy gardening, my friends.

 

A Carrot’s a Carrot, No Matter How Small…

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I always look forward to walking around the garden when I get home from work. It’s my daily ritual. It lifts me up; it’s what saves most of my days. I reconnect with nature and breathe. And sometimes, I get to pick a little something delicious right from the soil. Today was one of those days.

Just before dark, I saw the most precious little carrot top sticking out of the dirt and gave the greens a yank. And wouldn’t you know it? There was a 2″ tangerine-colored carrot under all that green! You see, we started these seeds in mid-October and swore they’d never amount to anything. After all, the location of the bed is less than ideal during the winter months. Saying it gets three hours of sun might be a generous estimate. So we didn’t expect much. But the tops kept growing and were the most perfect emerald green. We pushed on. It paid off.

These little guys may only be 2″ long, but they’re delicious and all ours. Perhaps the length is due to them being “Short and Sweets.” Perhaps it’s due to the lack of sun. Perhaps we just stink at growing carrots. No matter, any gardening endeavor that ends in edible and delicious organic veggies is a success.

Happy winter gardening, my friends,

Jenna

Staying Toasty with Potato, Leek, and Green Onion Soup

Monday night, Florida got below freezing. Palm trees had frost, pink lawn flamingos were stowed in garages,  and bikinis were put away. And this girl? This girl was clinging to a massive mug of potato, leek, and green onion soup.

Oh, how I love soup. Oh, how I love cleaning out the veggie drawer. Oh, how I love the warmth that radiates from the stovetop as I hover above my giant, red, enameled cast iron pot.

If you love warmth and delicious soup, and I know you do, read on…

Ingredients (use organic whenever possible):

  • 1 large leek, sliced and cleaned
  • 3 large green onions, sliced
  • 5 medium Idaho potatoes, washed and cut in 1″ cubes
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon bacon fat (omit if your vegetarian, and just add one extra tablespoon of butter)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (omit if you’re gluten-free)
  • 3 1/2 cups 2% milk (or use what you have on hand, but I don’t recommend skim)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Cracked black pepper to taste

Method:

Melt the butter and, if you choose, bacon fat in a heavy pot over medium-low heat.

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Sautee the leeks and green onions for about 3-4 minutes until softened.

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Add the flour and stir constantly for 4-5 minutes.

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Add the milk, cream, salt, and pepper, and stir. Bring contents to a simmer.

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Add the cubed potatoes and paprika. Give it a good stir, bring to a simmer over low heat, and put on the lid.

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Cook for about 15 minutes and check the potatoes. They should be fork tender.

At this point, strain out about half of the potatoes and leeks and out in a separate bowl.

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Using a traditional blender, food processor, or immersion blender, purée the contents still in the pot.

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Add the potatoes back to the pot, adjust seasonings, and serve.

Also, I’m sorry about not having a gorgeous photo of the finished soup in a pristine bowl. I was hungry, and I ate. It was so worth it. 🙂

DIY for a Happy, Healthy, Juicy 2014

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Florida winters bring an abundance of gorgeous, colorful citrus to our farmers markets, and my friend Craig at the City Island Farmer’s Market in Daytona Beach has the best. He’s been in the citrus business his whole life and really knows his stuff. Depending on the week and what’s perfectly ripe (according to sugar content), he’ll have tangerines, tangelos, red grapefruits, white grapefruits, pineapple oranges, red navels, and honeybells, among others. And while I love to slice or peel and eat, I absolutely love to make fresh-squeezed juice. It’s fun to mix and match the varieties and get blends impossible to find in stores. Besides, there’s nothing like local.

This week, I squeezed sun glow tangerines and a couple of red navels, and it’s so simple to do. I use a small electric home juicer by Black & Decker that allows me to control the amount of pulp. I like next to no pulp and it does a good job of keeping the stuff out.

If you’re considering juicing citrus at home yourself, here’s some basic steps:

Gather up your favorite citrus fruits (go local if you can) and don’t forget to wash the skins.

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Slice each fruit down the middle but not from the stem end. Avoid cutting through the poles.

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Plug in your juicer and set it to the amount of pulp passage you desire. Get to juicing!

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Remember to rinse the grates out when it get’s too gunky. Being clogged only makes the juice harder to filter down to the receptacle.

Pour it in a pretty jar.

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Compost the skins, and enjoy your delicious juice!

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Get Rich in 2014: Decadent Crab and Prawn Bisque

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Sometimes I go a little overboard. Sometimes I like to treat myself to something decadent. Sometimes that involves Alaskan king crab legs and tiger prawns. And, sometimes, like this time, my dad is responsible for the overwhelming seafood feast that arrived at my door. All I had to do was figure out what to do with it. “If I must,” I told him…

Our seafood extravaganza lasted two days (and we still have leftovers!). The first day involved garlic, butter, and penne. The second day, oh that glorious second day, turned into a magical soup, the kind of warm, comforting embrace I dream of. At first, I couldn’t decide: chowder or bisque, chowder or bisque, chowder or bisque…my head spun. And then I looked toward a Martha Stewart cookbook for a smidge of divine inspiration. Boom. Done. Bisque. But I had to do some concocting on my own. I wanted to play with my fancy crustacean foods and create something spectacular and show dad that he should always bring king crab and tiger prawns over here.

For about 4-6 servings, you’ll need:

  • one large leek, thinly sliced, rinsed and drained
  • two green onions, thinly sliced
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (or two tablespoons cornstarch made into a slurry for my gluten-free friends)
  • 3 cups milk (I used 2%, but you could use whole)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
  • finely ground black pepper
  • a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce
  • one pound of your favorite pre-cooked crustaceans, cut in bite-sized chunks (I used tiger prawns and king crab leg meat)
  • one large russet potato, cut in small 1/2″ cubes

Method:

In a large pot or dutch oven, melt the butter.

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Sauté the leek and green onions on medium-low until they’re just softened, about 3-4 minutes.

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Turn the heat to low and add the flour. Cook while stirring constantly for about 5 minutes.

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Add the milk and cream and cook until the mixture begins to thicken. For my gluten-free friends, this is where you’d add your cornstarch-water slurry. Also add the paprika, salt, pepper and hot sauce and give it a good stir.

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Incorporate the potato and stir.

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Put the lid on the pot and bring the contents to a very gentle simmer over low heat. Cook for about 3-4 minutes until the potatoes soften. If you haven’t done so already chop up the seafood.

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Finally, add the seafood and stir.

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Add the lid back on and cook for another two minutes until everything is warmed through.

Adjust your seasonings, warm some crusty bread, and enjoy eating like royalty…until you have to do the dishes.

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Have a happy and blessed new year, everyone,

Jenna