Summer Amnesia…or Denial…or Wishful Thinking

We are in what I like to call the “honeymoon” period of a Louisiana Spring. The flowers are blooming. My husband’s garden is thriving:

And the temperate weather is just enough make me foolishly optimistic. The yard and garden sure don’t seem like that much of a chore when it’s only 80 degrees outside.

But deep down, I know it’s coming.

The heat…dear God, the heat. By mid-June, I know my currently euphoric love of the outdoors will morph into bitter misery.

I’m already a big sissy when it comes to the oppressive Louisiana heat, but last summer traumatized us all. We had months of temperatures over 100 degrees (often reaching 110) and absolutely no rain. The record breaking heat and drought destroyed lawns, landscaping, trees, and crops. Our electric bill nearly put us in the poorhouse, and our kids dang near went stir crazy because they couldn’t play outside for most of the day. When we tried cooling off, we failed. Even if we waited until late evening to swim, the pool was still hotter than most people’s bath water. I really, really do not want to relive that.

Every year, a beautiful Spring makes me hope that maybe, just maybe Summer won’t be so bad. Maybe we won’t be constantly confined, or burning our hands on scorching seatbelt buckles, or dreading the double whammy of excruciating electric and water bills. Maybe my poor husband will be able to mow the lawn without the real danger of heatstroke. Maybe we will be pleasantly surprised.

And maybe pigs will fly…*sigh*

First Harvest

My husband picked our first vegetables of the year from our garden. About two seconds later, he found one of his pepper plants stripped bare of its’ leaves. He also found the fattest caterpillar on earth next to the plant, with an incriminating fleck of pepper leaf in the corner of its’ little caterpillar mouth.

My husband used words that are not fit for public consumption, but being the softie he is, simply relocated the guilty party to another part of the yard.

I’m going to laugh when he finds the caterpillar back in the peppers tomorrow.

 

Overcoming Garden Trauma—Where Do We Go From Here?

With Spring not too far around the corner, I’ve realized that I better come up with some type of plan to rehabilitate our yard.

Last summer, my little section of Louisiana experienced both record heat and drought. It rained only a handful of times for five months, and even when it did rain, it felt more like the sky was spitting on us than actual precipitation. We had more consecutive days of 100+ degree temperatures than at any other time in history, many of those days reaching 110 degrees, if not more. As a result, huge sections of our grass died completely, or were overrun by weeds that could probably survive an apocalypse. We also lost several azaleas, and many other plants that were significant to our landscaping. Our raised-bed vegetable garden was hit and miss, with the exception of a bumper jalapeno crop. Go figure.

My husband tried to water everything as much as he could, to the point that our water bill rivaled our electricity bill for which would be the biggest budget-killer. By the end of the summer, we admitted defeat and hoped for better luck next year. Consequently, our yard is a wreck, and our gardening enthusiasm is at an all-time low.

I know I’ll have to replace the azaleas and other landscaping plants, but I am clueless what to do about the lawn. Should we reseed the dead sections? Weed-and-Feed what’s left and hope for the best? We also are having the mildest winter in years, so does this mean that summer will be as bad, if not worse than last year? How can I heal my balding lawn and help it thrive?

I am still an abject gardening novice, not to mention inexcusably lazy when 100-degree heat is involved. However, if I don’t get my butt in gear and come up with a plan, our home is going to be a whole lot more scraggly-looking come Fall.

Can, Freeze, Burn My Hands Off, Repeat

I am drowning in garden produce this week, so I spent my Sunday making jalapeno salsa, so I could my use some of my burgeoning jalapeno crop before it overtakes my kitchen:

And, to be honest, I was the total idiot who decided to chop seventy-plus jalapenos without protective gloves. My hands are still burning, and I nearly cried when I washed my hair in the hot shower this morning. Let’s just file that under lesson learned, shall we?

Since our jalapeno plants continue to thrive like they drank radioactive Kool-Aid, I also plan on making and freezing some bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers next weekend, in hopes of having readily available appetizers for our busy holiday entertaining season. My poor Food Saver is probably going to go on strike soon, because it’s my go-to answer when I have a lot of fresh garden produce but not enough time for a marathon canning session.

So far, all my canning attempts have followed my trusty Ball Blue Book, but I think I’m ready to branch out a little. A trip to the bookstore may be in order soon, because I need to fresh ideas to preserve our hard-earned harvest. However, that’s a bridge I’ll cross later this week.

Despite the added workload that the garden poses right now, I still am so incredibly happy that we put in the effort to get it going during the Spring. The raised beds were both costly and time-consuming, but they accomplished exactly what we hoped: we have a thriving vegetable garden in an area of hard-clay soil, and we’ve taken a step toward more sustainable living in the midst of our urban community. Even more important, the heathens see their dad and I working together to plan, create and execute a shared vision for our family.

I’ll just keep reminding myself of that fact when I’m seeding seventy more jalapenos next weekend.

With gloves, of course.

A Trip to the Farmers’ Market, a Day of Cooking and Gran’s Fresh Tomato Dip

With my husband out of town, doing whatever it is guys do on a “guys’ weekend,” I decided to split my time today between fun and productivity. First, the heathens and I headed out early to explore our town’s new and improved Farmers’ Market. We tried to support our local Market last year, but with limited vendors and few genuinely local products, we wrote it off after our first visit. However, the organizers must have really listened to the community, because they’ve tripled the size of the Market and I was amazed at the diverse offerings from many north Louisiana vendors. Because my garden is overwhelming me with my own produce, I was more interested in finding other handcrafted products in my efforts to buy locally whenever I can. Well, by the time we left, I had a pound of local honey (from Hummer & Sons), a bottle of Southern Hurricane wine (from On Cloud Wine) and a tub of sundried-tomato goat cheese from a central Louisiana goat farmer (WesMar Farms). In the meantime, the boys snacked on fresh beignets, bought various knickknacks from local artists with their allowance money, and charmed the honey guy out of a couple of fresh sunflowers.

The heat soon drove us back home, and I got started on taming my own mountain of vegetables that was overtaking my kitchen counters. First, I tackled the eggplant by making Baba Ghanoush, as well as a completely improvisational roasted vegetable ratatouille. Both are now chilling in the refrigerator, so the jury is still out on whether those experiments will be tasty treats or epic failures. Next, I popped about 30 tomatoes in the oven to slow roast, with the plan to make some roasted-tomato pesto, and save any leftover tomatoes to snack on throughout the week. Finally, I used up the remaining tomatoes on my homegrown tomato standby recipe: Gran’s Fresh Tomato Dip.

This dip is a weird in that it is neither a salsa nor a pico de gallo. If I had to describe it in a few short words, I’d say this dip is just a delicious way to appreciate the sheer perfection of a homegrown tomato. In fact, I usually will not make this recipe using store-bought tomatoes, so we seem to enjoy Gran’s Dip only during the summer months. Got a tomato invasion of your own? Here’s Gran’s Tomato Dip, step by ridiculously easy step.

First, let’s start with the players:

Gran's Tomato Dip

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  • 2-3 large tomatoes, preferably homegrown or locally produced
  • 3 green onions
  • 1 small can chopped black olives, drained (4.25 oz…I think)
  • 1 small can chopped green chilies (about 4 oz…I think…again)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (not pictured, because I am a dork)
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • Black pepper to taste and additional salt if you so choose
  • To make Gran’s tomato dip, start by chopping the tomatoes and placing them in a medium-size bowl:

    Next, chop the green onions, including both the white bases and green tops:

    Add the green onions, green chilies, olives, olive oil, vinegar, garlic salt and pepper to the tomatoes:

    Stir gently until well-combined. Cover tightly and refrigerate at least 4 hours, but preferably 8 hours or overnight. Taste and see if it needs additional salt before serving, but it usually doesn’t.

    Serve with tortilla chips, Frito’s scoops or whatever similar chip you prefer.

    I’m going to make a cocktail now…I’m tired.

    It’s just not natural to have so much productivity on a Saturday…

    Avian Invaders and Greek Food—Yep, It’s as Completely Unrelated as You Think

    When I came home from work today, this little guy had taken up residence in the base of my deck. I gave him wide berth, but he somehow managed to give me the “Whatchoo talking bout, Willis” look from every angle.

    I am pretty sure that look is the “bleep off” version of bird. Hopefully, he’ll move along soon, because my boys will start thinking he’s a pet if he hangs around much longer.

    In completely unrelated news, the garden continues to produce food faster than we can eat, can and freeze. I got a little desperate this weekend, and did a frantic search for eggplant recipes, with the hope of reducing the pile of vegetables that is overtaking my kitchen counter. I landed on Moussaka (which I can’t even pronounce, by the way), and decided that a little experimentation was in order.

    I certainly did not have high hopes for this recipe. First, it contained a bunch of ingredients that regularly send the heathens into riot-mode. Second, I am a Louisiana girl, and my pathetically underdeveloped palate is still confounded by the spice combinations that are in a lot of Greek food. Indian food too, for that matter. Lastly, just the simple fact that eggplant is the main ingredient was enough to have my husband doing the dramatic choking/dying pantomime. *Sigh*

    Well, lo and behold, we all liked this dish, and I got to rack up the cool mom points for a garden-fresh meal. It was deliciously rich and cheesy, and the eggplant was well-disguised from the heathens’ vegetable-laser-vision. I don’t know how “authentic” this recipe is, but our simpleton taste buds sure enjoyed it, and I was able to reduce my vegetable invasion for at least a day.

    I served the Moussaka with a simple Greek salad (also using veggies from the garden):

    And got to feel like the Saturday dinner superstar. Want to have a Moussaka adventure of your own? Here’s the recipe I used:

    Moussaka

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    Ingredients

    • 3 eggplants, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch thick slices
    • salt
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 1 pound lean ground beef
    • salt to taste
    • ground black pepper to taste
    • 2 onions, chopped
    • 1 clove garlic, minced
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1/2 teaspoon fines herbs
    • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
    • 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
    • 1/2 cup red wine
    • 1 egg, beaten
    • 4 cups milk
    • 1/2 cup butter
    • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    • salt to taste
    • ground white pepper, to taste
    • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

    Directions

    1. Lay the slices of eggplant on paper towels, sprinkle lightly with salt, and set aside for 30 minutes to draw out the moisture. Then in a skillet over high heat, heat the olive oil. Quickly fry the eggplant until browned. Set aside on paper towels to drain.
    2. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and add the ground beef, salt and pepper to taste, onions, and garlic. After the beef is browned, sprinkle in the cinnamon, nutmeg, fines herbs and parsley. Pour in the tomato sauce and wine, and mix well. Simmer for 20 minutes. Allow to cool, and then stir in beaten egg.
    3. To make the béchamel sauce, begin by scalding the milk in a saucepan. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth. Lower heat; gradually pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly until it thickens. Season with salt, and white pepper.
    4. Arrange a layer of eggplant in a greased 9×13 inch baking dish. Cover eggplant with all of the meat mixture, and then sprinkle 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese over the meat. Cover with remaining eggplant, and sprinkle another 1/2 cup of cheese on top. Pour the béchamel sauce over the top, and sprinkle with the nutmeg. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
    5. Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees F.