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My Unruly Garden: Summer

27 Oct

My garden is always unruly, but this year it went above and beyond in living up to its name. Family friend and environmental scientist Jacob installed a drip irrigation system into our garden for my birthday which helped tremendously for our plants but also helped foster a thriving weed community. Which wouldn’t have been so bad had I been able to pull them in a tidy manner. Unfortunately I had a severe allergic reaction to an antibiotic that resulted in hives that lasted well over a month and going outside in the heat was verboten for my condition, so the weeds grew and grew. The weather was also the strangest I’d ever experienced, and winter was so warm my strawberries never stopped producing fruit and my poppies never stopped blooming. When summer hit, full-force with heat and incredibly dry conditions, the poppies burnt out early and the strawberries looked stunted. This was dispiriting until I noticed the neighbor’s dog, Coco, chowing down on my entire strawberry plant. At least their demise wasn’t my fault.

Watering became tough and nearly impossible while I stayed indoors, hive-covered, and took care of the kids. Anthony was consumed with work, and watering became a near-impossible task. It wouldn’t have gotten done at all if it weren’t for Jake’s irrigation system. It saved the garden, as much as it could be saved. The peppers (YOLO!) only produced a handful to harvest, and the tomato plants were mostly decorative. I think this might be the last year I try full-sized tomatoes in the backyard. I’ve tried them in several spots and have never had great luck. I did get a pretty impressive crop from a tomato plant that we stuck in our front flowerbed, as it’s shadier and cooler there, but I’m not sure if I can convince Anthony to put vegetables in the front yard again. Cherry tomatoes of all types seem to thrive in the backyard, so I might just stick with them considering water is too precious a resource to waste on plants that won’t produce.

 

We were treated to pumpkins of several types this year, thanks to Isobel raiding my seed stash and dumping them all in one corner of the garden while the adults were otherwise occupied. The plan was to grow only one plant this year, but she had other ideas. It worked out as we got so much out of them in terms of both fruit and variety. It was really a lot of fun to search through the plants for the pumpkins (they like to hide under the broad, prickly leaves) and we still have a few more on the vines right now.  The most famous of our pumpkin crop is Pumpkiny, the pumpkin Isobel adopted as her BFF and took with her everywhere, including to school. One day Isobel accidentally left Pumpkiny in the garage for a day or two and it dessicated in the hot, dry oven that is a Valley garage in the summer. No matter, Isobel still carried him with her everywhere, even as the wrinkles increased. He first was like a pumpkin prune, but as time went on more moister left him and he became hard and cracked. I don’t know where Pumpkiny is right now. It’s been a week or two since we’ve seen him. I think there’s a fair chance he lost so much water and shrunk to the point where he winked out of existence.

 

We still visited the pumpkin patch even though we grew our own pumpkins this year. It is a fun yearly tradition that I would hate to miss out on and besides, Isobel is so attached to the pumpkins we grow in our garden that we are not allowed to eat, carve, or in any other way decorate them. It was not that long ago that we spent all month long painting our pumpkins from our garden but that is no longer acceptable. They are members of our family that she treats as such.

None of the marigolds I grew from seed made it past the sprout stage, but we still had plenty of of poppies until the summer heat exhausted them. The sunflowers thrived and Isobel took care of a section of the sunflower patch herself. She loves the whole process–planting, watering, watching it grow, finding the new blooms, and perhaps best of all, harvesting the dry heads and fishing out the seeds. I think she enjoys that more than our yearly ladybug introduction tradition, which is saying a lot.

Elias loves being outside and giggles whenever the breeze ruffles his hair. He can sit outside on a blanket or a bouncy seat and be content for a long time. Especially if Sister or the cats are being entertaining within view. He is fascinated by grass and leaves and the experience of being outside.

I think the biggest change to the garden for next year will be timing. Climate change is causing us to adjust our gardening schedule radically. Late summer has become the fallow months and we’re going to start our garden in February or even January when temperatures (if they are like they were at all last year) are mild. Many crops that didn’t stand a chance this year will have a better shot at it if we start earlier. The basil started off strong but had a hard time sustaining itself in the heat, as did the marigolds, and poppies. The peas never even reached the flowering stage.

 

Recipe: Zephyr Squash Bake

14 Oct

I am always glad to add another recipe to my summer squash arsenal because this time of year people are innundated with squash and every where you go home gardeners are trying to relieve themselves of it. I love to turn them into fritters or add them to a soup and my mom loves to grate them and cook them with onions like you would hash browns. When my friend Jacob came to town awhile ago he brought a Zephyr squash from his garden, which looked like a yellow-green striped zucchini the size of a small loaf of bread, and it was so large I wanted to try to bake it like you would a gratin.

Summer squash is a general term which can be applied to any squash harvested in the summer, such as zucchini, patty pan, lemon zuke, etc, as opposed to the winter squash which are harvested in the fall and keep well during the cold winter months: pumpkin, acorn, and butternut. Zephyr squash is not required for this dish, it just happened to be what I had on hand. It worked well because of its large size.

After some pantry rummaging I decided not to do a gratin after all. I had some tomato sauce and half a block of jack cheese that I wanted to use up. This turned out more like a meat-less, pasta-less lasagne, so think lots of sauce and a bit creamy from the cheese. I wanted to use either ricotta or cottage cheese but I had neither, so I substituted Greek yogurt, which worked really well. It  separated a bit when cooked and so it created a ricotta-like texture that was really nice.  I served it with a green salad dressed with oil and vinegar, Parmesan toasts, and because I live with two carnivores, baked meatballs.

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  • one large or several small summer squash, sliced into rounds or half-moons, seeds removed
  • half a yellow onion, sliced
  • about two cups of tomato sauce (jar of veggie pasta sauce will do)
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt, fat content up to you
  • one half cup jack cheese, or more, to taste
  • parsley for sprinkling

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– Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

– Slice squash and put it in a 9 in x 9 in pan.

– Dice a yellow onion and add to pan.

– Pour tomato sauce over onions and squash. Mix gently.

– Add yogurt and mix again.

– Layer top of pan with jack cheese and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until cheese is browned and bubbling and squash is fork tender. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

 

This dinner was simple to put together and perfect for a late summer dinner.

 

 

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