Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Hope There's Chili Sauce in Heaven

Tonight I cleaned the now-ripe tomatoes from the window sill, took the previously washed tomatoes out of the refrigerator, and cored, peeled, and diced them for--you guessed it--another batch of freezer chili sauce! (The recipe for this scrumptious sauce is provided in my previous chili sauce post.)

I took a picture of the diced tomatoes before I added any of the other ingredients. I wanted to show the variations in the coloring from the different heirloom varieties that combine to make this sauce. I like knowing that my chili sauce is special, created from tomatoes that have been grown for years, perhaps even centuries, the seeds passed from one farmer to another. Who knows how old some of these varieties are! The combined flavors make the chili sauce different every time, which adds to its specialness.

After adding the remaining ingredients, I brought the mixture to a boil at about 8:30 p.m., which means I'll be periodically stirring to keep the sauce from burning on the bottom (although the nonstick surface of the pan is a tremendous boon in that regard). That means I'll be up until about 11:30 this evening stirring chili sauce, but oh my, it is definitely worth it! I did take a nap today, so I'm good to go.

The pungent smell, a mixture of cider vinegar, tomatoes, and the sweet odors of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and more, are already wafting in from the kitchen as I write this, and I think Heaven can only be heaven if there's chili sauce.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Peaches, Salsa, and Chili Sauce...Oh, My!

I've been trying to get peaches for about a month of farmer's markets, but every time I get in line, they run out of peaches before I can get any! The farmer only has apples left.

Of course, last Saturday when I went to the farmer's market for Gala apples, they were out of apples and only had peaches! Mildly disappointed that apparently Gala season is over, I bought a bag of peaches and let them ripen for a few days on the counter. Then I peeled and sliced them, added a small amount of sugar, and froze them. Hubby and I ate some of them tonight over pound cake, and they were delicious! Canned peaches (from the store) have nothing on these peaches...a little bit of heaven!

I also made another batch of salsa, ending up with 5 1/2 pints. I have enough salsa now, so I'll have to turn my tomatoes to other endeavors. Like tonight's chili sauce.

I don't know why I thought of making chili sauce, but when it crossed my mind, I knew I was going to make it, no matter how much trouble it was.

For a while--I don't know whether it was one season or more than that--Mom was into canning. I remember her making dill pickles, canned green beans, maybe some other things. Mostly, though, I remember the delicious chili sauce she canned from our garden tomatoes. We used to eat the chili sauce on hot dogs primarily, and I would always spoon it on the hot dog liberally. I don't eat hot dogs today, but I bet it would taste good with bratwurst!

Unfortunately, I don't have her recipe, so I went hunting online for a freezer recipe. I found one on a site that claimed to be from The Joy of Cooking. I own that recipe book, but never looked to see if it is indeed the same recipe. I followed the online recipe, but cut it down to a more manageable size. The original recipe called for 20 pounds of tomatoes, but since I do not yet have a food scale, that wasn't going to work. Plus, I was pretty sure I didn't have 20 pounds of tomatoes. I cut it down to 8 cups of tomatoes (that's after they are cored, skinned, and diced, mind you), and it made a reasonable amount: 4 pints.

As I was reading through the recipe, alarm bells went off. When I think of chili sauce, I think of a slightly warm, tomato-y mixture with perhaps some onions and green peppers in it. This recipe called for those ingredients and other ingredients one would expect. But then it called for a whole host of weird ingredients--at least they seemed weird to put into chili sauce: brown sugar, allspice, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. I looked at a couple of other chili sauce recipes, and these ingredients showed up there, too. So I thought what the heck, I'll give it a try. The worst that could happen is the batch turns out nasty and I dump it out and have wasted some produce and 4 hours of my time.

Once the concoction started cooking, though, I was back in my childhood, savoring those chili-sauce smothered hot dogs. And when the batch was finished, it was delicious! So, I share that recipe with you here.


8 cups tomatoes (after coring, skinning, and dicing)
1 1/2 green peppers, seeded
3/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 large white onions (I used sweet walla walla onions I had previously chopped and frozen)
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup cider vinegar
2 1/4 tsp. coarse salt (I don't know what this means, so I used my salt grinder salt)
3/4 tsp. black pepper (ground that, too, since I was using grinder salt-lol)
3/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. celery seed
1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard

1. Core, peel, and dice tomatoes.
2. Dump tomatoes into a nonstick or enamel-coated pan (you don't want the tomatoes to react with metal).
3. Add the remaining ingredients.
4. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer on low, stirring occasionally to keep from burning on the bottom.
5. Continue simmering until mixture is thick, about 3 hours.
6. Place the pan in a bowl of ice water to cool the mixture quickly.
7. When cool, transfer to freezer-safe containers (I prefer freezer-safe canning jars) and freeze.

Catching up the Harvests

It's bad enough that we have soybean aphids plaguing us outside here in Central Illinois, but worse is the fact that I have fruit flies or gnats in my house. I've harvested three times this week, and I can't keep up with the produce...which is good news for the fruit flies, because they get to feast until I get the food processed.

At left you see harvest #1 (Monday): 4 Brandywines, 1 Peach Tom, 1 Orange Banana, 2 greenish yellow, 6 purple, 8 plum, 21 Sungold Select and 53 Sun Sugar tomatoes. Oh, yeah--and 5 okra. I read that I could dehydrate okra to use in soups, so I experimented with these five. I sliced them thinly, placed them on the dehydrating tray, and--voila!--24 hours later, I had tiny little withered okra slices. The dehydrating worked well, and I stored the dehydrated okra in a canning jar.

Harvest #2 (Thursday): I didn't feel like picking sun sugar tomatoes again, so I skipped over those. We had gotten some rain we've been needing, and the tomato plants seem to be perking up again. As long as they are making fruit, I'll continue to find uses for the tomatoes! At this point, since I've been making tomato sauce and salsa, I'm just combining all the varieties together. The flavor of the finished sauce or salsa is different every time depending on the kinds of tomatoes that went into the sauce, but it's all good. This haul brought in 10 more plum tomatoes, 1 Genovese Costoluto, 3 Orange Banana, 3 Brandywine, 2 greenish-yellow, 4 Best Boy, 2 Yellow, and 6 purple. Plus, I harvested a handful of greenbeans (I'm not going to count them, sorry) that I cooked up for dinner. They were very tasty! The green beans were hiding beneath the zucchini, and now that those plants are gone, the green beans are taking off. I only have a couple of good plants (thank you, bunnies), so I'll be lucky to get a couple of meals worth.

Harvest #3 (Sunday/today): As you can see, the tomatoes keep on coming, thanks to the recent rain, and the okra is now producing well. Today's take included 2 Beefsteaks, 2 Brandywines, 3 Best Boys, 1 yellow, 1 Peach Tom, 2 Orange Bananas, 12 plum, 2 purple, 22 Sungold Select, and 74 Sun Sugar tomatoes, with a side of 20 okra.

I've got another layer of okra dehydrating (some of the larger okra), and tomorrow I'm going to fry up some okra for dinner. Meanwhile, I got all my tomatoes washed, and the ones I haven't processed yet are in the refrigerator, protected from the house gnats.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Recipe: Fresh Garden Salsa

I was talking to my friend Teresa yesterday about the salsa I made and she asked for the recipe. Since I was going to be making another batch, I figured I'd take a photo and then offer up the recipe.

The basic recipe comes from a small book in the Learn How Now! series titled Super Salsas. I was looking for a good, basic recipe, and of all the recipes I looked at in my various recipe books, none seemed quite what I was looking for. They always seemed to have at least one ingredient that just didn't seem to belong. Their recipe is called "One Basic Recipe = Infinite Variations." I'll give you the recipe below, but true to form, I adapted it, so I'll offer my adapted recipe below theirs.


4 medium tomatoes
1 tsp. garlic
1/2 c. red or white onion
2 roasted jalapenos
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 tsp. salt

1. Dice tomatoes, mince garlic, and chop onions.
2. Wearing gloves, seed and chop roasted jalapenos.
3. In a large glass bowl, mix all ingredients.
4. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.

Here's my adapted version:


4 medium tomatoes
1 heaping teaspoon minced garlic (I get mine at the dollar store; it's the minced garlic in its own juice, not the dried minced garlic)
1/2 c. chopped green onion
Old El Paso or other brand chopped jalapenos to taste
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 tsp. sea salt

(This makes enough salsa for 2-4 people who are healthy salsa eaters. I triple the batch so I can freeze some for later use. I'm not sure how the frozen salsa will turn out--it's an experiment.)

1. Core, blanch, and peel tomatoes. (I used several varieties of tomatoes for the triple batch I made: Brandywine, Plum, Yellow, Valencia, and Best Boy. Any tomatoes will do if they are fresh; if you are trying to make this salsa in the winter when the only tomatoes available are from the grocery store, I recommend experimenting with canned diced tomatoes.)
2. Dice tomatoes and dump into a glass bowl.
3. Add minced garlic, chopped green onion, jalapenos, lime juice (by the way, for the triple batch I only increased the lime juice to about 2/3 of a cup), cilantro, and sea salt.
4. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

If you can't eat jalapenos (I love jalapenos, but they do not seem terribly fond of me), try using chopped green chiles instead.

WARNING: If you are going to touch jalapenos, whether you will be roasting them or using the pickled ones, WEAR GLOVES. Jalapeno oils tend to stay on the skin even after repeated washings, and I can tell you from experience that jalapeno juice in the eye is NOT a good feeling. I have found, though, that if I get some jalapeno juice on my hands, the Veggie Wash that I use works very well at removing the oils!

Experiment with the recipe and have fun! The salsa is very fresh tasting--better than anything you'll find in a restaurant.

Natural or Unnatural? KFC Honey Sauce and Buttery Spread

Ladies and Gents, it's time once again for that delicious game show, Natural or Unnatural? But before we get to today's product, a story.

I stopped at Kentucky Fried Chicken on the way home on Friday since I was too tired and lazy to cook. I ordered a couple of 2-piece meals, and the window attendant asked whether I would like butter and honey.

"Sure," I replied. After all, I love butter and honey on biscuits; why would I say "no"?

Once home, I unpacked the plastic bag (which I will reuse, of course) and found the honey and butter packets. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the packets were labeled honey sauce and buttery spread!

What's that, you say? Unnatural? Because of the words sauce and spread? Well, that very well may be, but you can have spreads and sauces made from entirely natural--really natural--ingredients. (Reminder: When I write natural, I mean ingredients that are grown in nature as a plant or animal.)

But you are right that words such as sauce and spread may be indicators that what you are about to eat is either non-food or that it may contain ingredients that aren't grown in nature. Let's take a closer look at KFC's honey sauce to see what we find.

If we look closely at the printing on the back of each packet, we find that the honey sauce contains the following ingredients: high fructose corn syrup, sugar, corn syrup, honey, caramel color. Notice that honey is the fourth ingredient, after HFCS, sugar, and corn syrup. HFCS, of course, is unnatural; sugar is fine. Corn syrup--I'm not too sure about how it differs from HFCS, although I have read it is not as bad for you. Caramel color--why would you need caramel color for honey? Isn't it already that color?

To determine what ingredients honey contains, I took a look at one of the jars of honey I purchased at market. Here's the ingredients list: honey. I looked at another container of honey I purchased at a stand in Florida that contains tangerine essence and found these ingredients: honey, tangerine oil. No HFCS, no sugar, no corn syrup, and definitely no caramel color. Needless to say, I didn't eat the packaged sauce and instead used the honey in my cabinet.

On to the buttery spread. The word spread, of course, makes one suspicious right away. The fact that no ingredients are shown on the packet is disturbing, too. So I visited the KFC Web site and clicked on the Nutrition tab. I clicked on the KFC Ingredient Statement link, which pops up a PDF document with a list of ingredients for each of their menu items. Um, guess what isn't listed? You got it: the buttery spread (I didn't see honey sauce on there, either).

By the way, I recommend taking a look at this sheet. The only thing natural on the entire page is the sweet corn--the ingredient listed is corn. Other than that, you are looking at a whole lot of unnatural stuff and preservatives. For example, do you make biscuits at home? I bet you don't use most of these ingredients when you are making them: Enriched Flour Bleached (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Partially Hydrogenated Palm Kernel, Soybean and Cottonseed Oil, Buttermilk, Sugar, Baking Soda, Salt, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Nonfat Milk, Sodium Caseinate, DATEM, Whey Protein Concentrate, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Whey, Wheat Protein Isolate, Natural Flavor. Liquid and Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Salt, Soybean Lecithin, Natural and Artificial Flavor, TBHO and Citric Acid Added to Protect Flavor, Beta Carotene (Color), Dimethylpolysidoxane, an Anti-foaming Agent Added.


Striking out on the ingredients list, I took a look at the KFC Nutrition Guide. No mention of buttery spread (or honey sauce) there, either. So, I called the KFC hotline provided on the Web site: 1-800-CALL-KFC. From about 7:35-7:40 p.m., I spoke with Madison, the very nice woman who answered my call. She attempted to call up butter spread on her ingredients list, but she didn't have that information, either (nor did she have the honey sauce information). She took my cell number, name, mailing address, and e-mail address and indicated that she would report this to someone in upper management and ask him or her to e-mail the information to me as soon as possible. When I receive that information, I will update this blog.

Until then, I'm not eating the buttery spread.

UPDATE 10:20 pm Sunday, Sep. 20, 2009

I received the following e-mail from KFC Customer Service:

Thank you for your request in regards to obtaining a KFC ingredient list on our menu items. It is always a pleasure to hear from one of our loyal KFC customers.

Per your request, please find a link that will allow you to view our ingredient list.

I tried to reply to their e-mail with a note, indicating that their buttery spread is not on the ingredients list, but the e-mail was returned for failed delivery.

Kudos to KFC for getting back to me so quickly; unfortunately, this still ranks as a Customer Service FAIL in my book.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Yesterday's Harvest; Today's Market Purchases

While I was out taking pictures of my creepy bug infestations yesterday, I also grabbed a few tomatoes that caught my eye: A couple of brandywines, a Best Boy, and a plum tomato.

I was very pleased to note that my pepper plants are getting blossoms on them now. I am worried, however, that I won't get peppers from them quickly enough to beat the frost. We'll have to see. I don't know if I have the energy to build a cold frame for them--I'll have to do some looking online and see what it takes. I just planted too late, I think, but time will tell.

I stopped by the Bloomington Farmer's Market today and picked up some Italian flat-leaf parsley, some Ropp cheese (cojack; garlic-bacon cheddar, and tomato-garlic-basil cheddar), some beets, 4 anjou pears, some salad lettuce, some heirloom tomatoes ($1 a pound for defectives, many of which had hardly any defects) for salsa making, some green, yellow, and red sweet peppers, and a bag of peaches. The peaches are huge, and I hope they are sweet! The crap they call "peaches" in the store are never ripe when you buy them, and if you try to ripen them on the counter, they go bad overnight. Blech. All of what I purchased was fresh, herbicide- and pesticide-free, and from local farms. I also purchased another 1.5 pounds of bacon made from pastured piggies. Yum!

I'm hoping, too, that the sunflowers, which are now all open, will develop their seeds before the frost. I'd really like to be able to roast sunflower seeds this year.

I need to order a cover crop for the garden. I'm thinking hairy vetch instead of winter wheat, to help break up the soil. Any suggestions?

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Downside of Gardening: Bugs

The tomato hornworm has to be the creepiest caterpillar I have ever seen. I love wooly worms; in fact, when I see them, I crouch down and pet them, feeling their soft prickly backs. There is something very cute about these wriggly little ground teddies. (They remind me of bears for some reason.)

The tomato hornworm is the exact opposite. It has no fur, just white lines on its smooth green hide that look almost like creases (I try not to get close enough to find out for sure), or perhaps even war paint. They have a little red spiky cowlick on their rear end; the front end looks eyeless (again, I'm not going to get close enough to find out). What is most horrifying about this worm is the combination of its seeming eyelessness and its teethy mouth. [shiver] These things give me nightmares. They remind me of the sandworms in the movie Dune. And yet, to get them off the plant, I have to pick them off, and I'm always afraid that I'm going to squeeze too hard (they grip the tomato plant stems strongly, and are hard to dislodge) and be rewarded with a handful of green goo.

Earlier in the season I found about 5 and blogged about them; yesterday, I picked 6 off my tomato plants and threw them far into the yard in the sun, hoping that, like vampires, they would turn to ash in the sunlight or, even better, be spied and eaten by birds. I like birds. I don't mind feeding them. Today, I found this one and one other. Back to the hornworms in a moment.

Another creepy bug that I have battled before (clearly to no avail) is the Japanese Beetle. They are once again (or still, I'm not sure which) copulating in my greenery; unfortunately, this time they have picked my okra plants as their conjugal beds.

If you look closely, you'll see we have a couple of stray beetles who have either just finished having sex, are about to have sex, or have no interest in sex; you have a couple in the lower right caught in the act, and upon an even closer inspection, you'll see a buggy menage a troi happening in the upper left of the leaf. The only thing worse than thinking about bug sex is imagining one's parents doing it. [shiver]

And now, back to the hornworms. The only good hornworm in my book is a dead one--or one with parasitic wasp egg sacs all over its body, which will soon hatch and eat the worm. Second best is a hornworm that is about to become spider food.

I know spiders are good for the garden, but this one--a wolf spider, maybe? I don't know--is too big for my comfort. I've never really cared for spiders, and the bigger they are, the less I care for them. I have to pick okra around this sucker somehow. [shiver] It does make me wonder, too, if this monster is living in my okra, are there others about? Just thinking about that is giving me goosebumps and making my skin crawl.

I'd feel kind of sorry for the grasshopper, who was apparently dinner, but he's kind of creepy, too, all wrapped up in his spiderweb blanket, his arms across his chest as if he were lying in state in an invisible casket.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Using Up My Tomato Stash

I washed up my tomatoes from the last few harvests, tossed a couple that had gone bad, and then peeled them all. At first, I thought I might turn them all into salsa, but then I worried that the salsa might not turn out, and I would hate to waste all those tomatoes on nasty salsa. So I split the batch, turning half of them into tomato sauce and the other half into salsa. I was very happy with the flavor of the salsa after refrigerating it for about an hour, so I went ahead and put it into freezer jars (although one of the pint jars ended up in the refrigerator for tomorrow night...I just have to get some chips to eat it with). I ended up with 3 1/2 pints of tomato sauce and 3 1/2 pints of salsa.

I still have some tomatoes left over, ripening fully on the window sill, so I may go ahead and make another batch of salsa in a few days, adding to it any other sizable tomatoes from the garden.

Now, if I could only figure out some way to freeze the overabundant sun sugar tomatoes without going through the peeling process...

Squash Bugs Are Called that Because They Deserve to Be Squashed

I managed two harvests this week. Monday I pulled in the last 3 zucchini, and then pulled the plants. The leaves were completely covered with powdery mildew, although the zucchini themselves were fine.

And then, when I pulled up the plants, I found something I hadn't missed at all.

Squash bugs. [shiver]

These creepy crawlies look almost spiderlike, particularly when they are small, and can quickly devastate your squash plants. I didn't think I'd have to worry about them this year, since this is the first year of squash plantings. How wrong I was! I'm just thankful the zucchini was at the end of its season before they presented themselves.

In addition to the three zukes, I managed a handful of green beans--the first (and perhaps even the last!)--as well as several more tomatoes. The tomatoes are clearly losing steam, and I didn't think I'd feel this way, but I'm a bit glad. I hauled in 2 Peach Toms, 3 nameless yellow tomatoes, 4 Best Boy, 1 Beefsteak, 1 Costulouto Genovese, and 4 purple tomatoes--not sure what kind. I've been calling them Brandywine, but today I realized they aren't. I also harvested 95 sun sugar tomatoes and 11 Sungold Select.

Today I harvested a second time this week and picked my first 9 okra! The okra plants are tall and strong, despite the chewed-up parts of several leaves where the Japanese beetles have been feeding. We can't seem to get rid of those little buggers!

I also harvested 7 plum tomatoes of some kind, 3 Peach Toms, 3 Beefsteak, 4 Brandywine, 3 purple tomatoes, 2 yellow tomatoes, 3 Best Boys, 101 Sun Sugars, and 16 Sungold Select.

My goal tonight is to make a batch of salsa and what will probably be the last batch of tomato sauce this season.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Freezing Frenzy

One of the hardest parts of this experiment called "Playing in the Dirt" is finding the time and energy to cook, process, and put away the harvest food before it goes bad.

I managed tonight to process the tomatoes into tomato sauce (8 pints) and also ended up with 4 pints more of diced tomatoes. The Best Boy tomatoes seem to work best for dicing, while the meaty Beefsteak tomatoes work really well for the tomato sauce. I threw into the tomato sauce this time the few Costoluto Genovese tomatoes I had as well as several Orange Banana tomatoes, which are very sweet and meaty. Interestingly, the flavor of the tomato sauce is very different this time--definitely sweet. I think when I make tomato soup this fall, I'll use this particular batch of tomato sauce. I think it will make very tasty soup to accompany my grilled cheese sandwich! The round dots on top of each jar are labels that I've scribbled the contents, month, and year on so I can identify the frozen foods and also know which to use first.

I also put up most of the rest of the bread and butter pickles, which have been curing in the refrigerator for about a week. Unfortunately, I ran out of jars before I could get all of them put up, so I moved the rest into a smaller container until I can pick up more freezer jars. I did have one marinated artichokes jar on hand that I had just washed, so I used that for some pickles for the refrigerator--I'm not certain that the jar is freezer safe like the canning jars.

I'm pretty happy so far with what I've put away in the freezer for winter. I feel a bit like a squirrel preparing for the cold, foodless months, but at least I know where I hid my food.

Tomatoes Fizzling Out

The unseasonably early cool weather--including some nights in the low 40s--and too much rain has definitely caused my tomatoes growth to come nearly to a complete halt. On Monday, I was only able to nab 3 Best Boys and 2 Beefsteak tomatoes. The zucchini, of course, will never die, and I managed to get two more of those picked. I also decided that before the next series of rainstorms moved in, it might be wise to dig up the onions. I can't believe how tiny they are! I've got 5 white onions (which might add up to one whole onion) and 38 yellow onions, some of which don't look much bigger than the sets I planted. I'm not sure what went wrong, other than perhaps I planted them too late in the season (very likely). I will definitely be reading up on onion planting over the winter so I can have a better crop next year.

Today I went out to harvest again, and true to form, found 3 more zucchini. Can I take a contract out on these plants legally? Sheesh! I also hauled in 163 sun sugars, 13 Sungold Select, 2 Costolutos, 1 Peach Tom, 1 Mystery tomato, 9 Best Boy, and 12 Brandywine. I'm having to pick the tomatoes a little earlier than I'd like because the bugs and other critters seem to be gnoshing on them as they begin to ripen. I placed several on the windowsill and, in a day or two, they'll be just fine for slicing. I think that unless we get a warm, humid spell, my Beefsteaks are about done producing. Sad--those are my favorite! I think I'd like to get one more round of BLTs eaten before summer fades away.

Zucchini: 110
Cucumbers: 178
White Onions: 6
Yellow Onions: 40
Sun Sugar Tomatoes: 1,123 (broke 1,000: woot!)
Beefsteak Tomatoes: 56
Best Boy Tomatoes: 64
Cosmonaut Volkov Tomatoes: 2
Sungold Select Tomatoes: 40
Peach Tom: 4
Brandywine Tomatoes: 20
Orange Banana Tomatoes: 3
Costoluto Genovese Tomatoes: 6
Mystery Tomatoes: 4
Herbs: cilantro, mint, dill

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Dishwasher

I've been looking for ways to reduce our impact on the environment here at home, both little and big. I'm not convinced our dishwasher is as eco-friendly as it should be, but since it works, I won't be replacing it anytime soon. It's more eco-friendly than washing by hand.

However, I think we have discovered an impressive way to avoid the dishwasher: Yogi.

Yogi is cleaning up his father's dinner plate (we had bratwurst and baked beans that night). I didn't get a picture of the finished version...you couldn't even tell the plate had any food on it! I could have Yogi clean the plates, and then I could just stack them back in the cabinet, no dishwasher needed!

OK, Dad, I am just kidding. ;-)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Waxing Poetic about Sunflowers

There's something really appealing about sunflowers. They seem stately, somehow, elegant. Of all the plants in the garden, the sunflower towers over all as it stretches its stems upward to worship the sun. When it is in full bloom, the head drooping heavily, laden with the burden of seeds, it seems a reflection of the sun looking down upon us, its seed center a full eclipse upon the sun's flaming beauty.

My sunflowers are indeed stately, standing soldier-tall, heads facing directly up to receive full benefit of the sunlight. The spiky head leaves are a direct contrast to the softer, more graceful arms. The stalks are thick, strong, and stable, supporting not only the weight of the flowers-to-be, but also the weight of the cucumber vines that have used them as trellises over the last few weeks. The last cucumbers I picked were hanging from the sunflower stalks and were blemish-free; they had rested protected beneath the sunflower's shady leaves.

I'm hoping our first frost is far enough away that these sunflowers have a chance to bloom and develop seeds; I want to enjoy the flaming beauties before fall takes a foothold. I want to be able to save and roast the seeds, to enjoy a taste of sunshine until spring, when I can plant these beauties again.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Recipe: Easy Natural Cashew (or Peanut) Butter

Hubby and I eat a lot of peanut butter and almond butter, but to buy the kind at the store that is actually healthy is an expensive proposition. For example, a 12-oz. Arrowhead Mills All Natural Creamy Cashew Butter can be had from Amazon.com for $6.84 (plus shipping). Of course, that cashew butter is made with Canola Oil and the safety information indicates that the butter "May contain 0.5% or less of the following almonds, peanuts, and/or sesame seeds."

I made 16 oz. of all-natural cashew butter for $6.99--and I know that it is fresh, because I made it today! Who knows how long ago the peanut or cashew butter you bought at the store was manufactured.

I couldn't believe how easy it was to make, how little time it took, and how few dishes it actually soiled. Honestly, we buy things at the store because doing so is more convenient, but in this case, I don't think buying peanut or cashew butter is more convenient than making it at home. I wonder why I've lived 44 years without making my own peanut butter. Here's the recipe, which can be adapted easily in any number of ways:


-2 c. cashews or peanuts, salted
-1 1/2 tsp. olive oil (I use organic, first cold-pressed olive oil, but you could use any olive or canola oil)
-1/2 tsp. sugar (I substituted 1 tsp. Blue Agave Nectar; I imagine you could substitute 1 tsp. honey or even Splenda or some other sugar substitute, although I would recommend cutting the measurement for the sugar substitute)

Put all the ingredients into a food processor. Tighten down the food processor lid and process for a couple of minutes. At one point, the butter will ball up as it goes around the processor; I continue to process until the ball breaks back up and smooths out and I stop hearing little nut chunks being chopped. Open up your food processor and, using a spatula, scrape around the sides. If you like the consistency (and taste), put in a jar and store in the refrigerator. If you want a smoother consistency, just add a little more olive oil and process a bit more. If you want your butter a little sweeter or saltier, just add a little more sugar/sweetener or salt and reprocess. If you like it chunky, chop up a few nuts and, once you like the consistency, stir the chunks in and then put in the jar.

1 1/2 cups of cashews made 1/2 pint (8 0z.) of cashew butter; I made a full pint using 3 cups of cashews, the size of the Meijer cashews bag. And it is tasty, especially when it is warm right out of the food processor. If you don't want salt, buy unsalted. Or, you can buy unsalted nuts and then add salt to taste, which allows you to control the amount of salt.

I'm going to try making some almond butter in the near future, since in terms of health benefits, that's the butter we prefer. I wonder if it will be more difficult, since almonds are a harder nut than peanuts or cashews. But, as usual, I will keep you posted!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Well, the tomatoes didn't attack me, exactly--the mosquitoes did. I will say, however, that some of these tomatoes probably weigh close to 3 or 4 pounds each, and the basketful was heavy! They might have killed me under just their weight alone!

OK, enough melodrama. I brought in a pretty good harvest of 'maters today: 159 sun sugar tomatoes, 20 Sungold Select, 1 Cosmonaut Volkov, 1 Orange Strawberry, 2 Orange Banana, 11 Best Boy, 1 Peach Tom, 8 Beefsteaks, 2 Costolutos, 5 Brandywine, and 2 mystery tomatoes that I can't track to the originating plant. Check the harvest count at the bottom of this post for a current tally--I'm amazed at how many I've harvested so far.

Oh, and the cucumbers haven't quite given up yet (but are very, very close): I harvested 3 more today. I think I'll use those to make some Italian pasta salad this weekend, and it looks like I'll be dicing up tomatoes and making some more tomato sauce for the freezer.

Also, I'm delighted that one of my students brought me a sizable bag of green beans today, along with a few kohlrabi! Woot! I'll cook up some of the green beans, but will probably blanch and freeze the rest. I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, this cooler weather looks like it hasn't been very friendly to the tomato plants. Many of them are getting yellowed leaves. I hope some warmth kicks back in, because it would be nice to get a couple more really big harvests in so I can continue to stock my freezer. I don't want to have to buy tomatoes or tomato sauce at the store. Blech.

I did see one huge zucchini out there...but I couldn't bear the thought of picking one more zucchini. Enough is enough. Seriously.

Zucchini: 105
Cucumbers: 178
White Onions: 1
Yellow Onions: 2
Sun Sugar Tomatoes: 960
Beefsteak Tomatoes: 54
Best Boy Tomatoes: 52
Cosmonaut Volkov Tomatoes: 2
Sungold Select Tomatoes: 27
Peach Tom: 3
Brandywine Tomatoes: 8
Orange Banana Tomatoes: 3
Costoluto Genovese Tomatoes: 4
Mystery Tomatoes: 3
Herbs: cilantro, mint, dill