Category Archives: Garden

Using the Garden: Lavender


This weekend, I have to do something with the lavender flowers in my herb garden. There is a lot of beautiful lavender growing out there. I love it for its beauty alone, but I do like to use as much of what my garden produces as I can, and I am afraid I will miss my window if I don’t get going now.

I plan to dry some of the buds, even though everyone seems to recommend you dry it before they bloom, and blooming is happening now. Chalk it up to this year’s lessons for the future; next year I will get an earlier start.

I have actually used lavender before a bit. A couple of years ago, I made lavender sugar to give as homemade Christmas gifts, even though it was almost embarrassingly easy–just pulsing some dried lavender flowers with sugar in the blender to mix through and putting the resulting mix in pretty jars. It was a fun and different gift though, and it made a nice addition to gift bag stuff. I think it would be really nice in a tea-themed basket thing, too (why yes, that is a technical term, basket thing, 🙂 ).

I wanted lots of ideas for how to use my fresh, garden-grown lavender, though. A quick online search gave me many ideas, some I had seen before, some new. Marsha, who does my garden, was not at all surprised when I told her I had found some infused liquor ideas. She and her partner have been the appreciative recipients of my forays into mint liqueur many times. I saw suggestions on various forums for using lavender to infuse both bourbon and gin. I am a fan of both liquors, but the gin does sound like a better match for lavender. I will do a small batch of both, though, and see how they taste.

We will definitely be making a big batch of lavender simple syrup as well. Last year I made an easy dessert out of sliced strawberries, lavender syrup and lemon zest sugar, either alone or over ice cream that we definitely want to try again. We did lavender lemonade with fresh lemon juice as well, and I was surprised at how much the kids liked it.

On a non-food note, I am excited about making this soap, even though I don’t have loofahs from my garden:

 So, my plan for the weekend is to start the liquor infusions and make the simple syrup with the fresh lavender, and then drying whatever is left for use throughout the year. That gives me a bit more time to find ideas, too. Anyone have any to share?

Menu, Week of 12/5


Quick planning, easy meals this week.

Monday: Pork and Tomatillo Stew
I didn’t make this last week, but I did get the pork out of the freezer, so I need to make it now. Also, I am using some of the tomatillos from the garden!

Tuesday: Sloppy Joes on lettuce leaves, sweet potato fries
A friend is coming over to practice crafts for the crafting party, so this should be relatively quick and easy.

Wednesday: some kind of chicken risotto
I will be winging this recipe. I am guessing there will be some kale in there, since I have that growing outside still. If it turns out well, I’ll post a recipe.

Thursday: Quick sausage and tomato casserole, brown rice, broccoli
The broccoli is still growing out in the garden, too!

Friday: pizza (with chickpea flour flatbread crust and Daiya dairy-free cheese)
Pizza, because I want the kids to love me, ;).

Saturday is the kids crafting party so I am not sure what we will do that night.

This post will be linked up on for Menu Planning Monday.

The Garden is Almost Done for the Year


My gardener came yesterday. She usually comes on Thursdays, but it rained on Thursday, so it was a good thing I caught that nasty virus and had to work from home yesterday. I love going out to the garden with Marsha because she teaches me so much, and we have become friends. She is super busy, though, so I don’t like to miss a garden day, especially now, when the end of the season is fast approaching.

We have been very lucky this year in that we have not had a frosty night yet. In fact, I still have tomato plants out there that are producing. The tomatoes are ripening very slowly, but they are still growing! We have not yet harvested the sweet potatoes, but we will next week. My tomatillos plants have had a lot of little balloons for a long time, but they are finally ripening (green chili is definitely on the menu for next week!)

We also planted several fall crops that will keep producing for a while. I consulted this article on fall gardens to see what I need to protect for light frosts, and what I can count on sticking around for a while (there is a table at the bottom of the page). We don’t actually have a lot of the veggies that are listed in the semi-hardy vegetables list, but I will definitely be protecting my beets! We got several in the spring, the first time our beet crop was successful, and they were so delicious, I want to get these if I can. They are coming along, but not quite done, so if there is a light frost, I will be covering them. Also, there is some arugula that I just love–that peppery bite is perfect for so many things–so I will be protecting that, too.

I have some experience with vegetables sticking around after hard frosts, so I knew I would continue to have some produce well into fall and even winter, but the garden is so much bigger this year, there are more options. For instance, the first year I had the garden, I picked my last Brussels Sprouts on Thanksgiving morning, and my thyme didn’t even seem to notice this past winter, but this year is the first time we have had any luck with the broccoli, so I was really excited to see that is a hardy vegetable. We have a lot of radishes out there, too, so I am glad to see we don’t need to rush to finish those. We also have turnip, mustard greens and kale, which we will use for as long as they produce. In fact, a good freeze makes the kale sweeter, and even better in our morning smoothies.

The fall planting of spinach didn’t really take this year, even though we planted a whole bed with seeds. I was so disappointed, but I am hopeful it will reseed itself and come back early in the spring–one of the plants did that last year, which I didn’t even know was possible. We had spinach before the garden was even officially started for the year, and that plant was the most prolific of the spinach plants. Marsha tells me the carrot seeds that we planted, but that didn’t grow, will possibly come back in the spring and start early, too.

Our gardening is turning more and more to preparing for next year. Since I have so much more garden space this year, we have the space to produce more of the things that we use a lot, rather than a little of a lot of different things. So, we are going to do one whole bed of garlic, and planting now for a harvest next June makes for bigger garlic bulbs, hooray! We had several shoots from missed or broken cloves in our harvest this year, and yesterday Marsha moved those over to the new bed, spacing them so they have plenty of room to grow. We only filled about half of the bed, so she will bring more next week.

I will be bringing in some herbs to grow in pots, soon. My Thai basil is completely flowered, so I won’t bother with that, but the pesto basil looks good still, and I have two rosemary plants that can come inside. The thyme and parsley I will leave in place, because they are hardy, but I am not sure about the others. The oregano, I will probably leave, because I know it is a perennial, but I don’t know what to do with the tarragon, lemongrass and garlic chives. Research time, I guess (also: research recipes for tarragon; it’s growing beautifully, but I am not sure I have ever used it).

It is also nearing the time to start reviewing more of what went well, what didn’t, what we used, what we wished we had more of, what just sat out there untouched, and plan ahead for next year. I spend much of the winter doing that, honestly, because I miss my garden. I love growing real food in my own yard, and I especially love going out to pick fresh ingredients while I am making a meal. How awesome is that? You can’t get any fresher. I can’t imagine doing without a garden now that I have had one, and I may even expand more next year–at least to some fruit trees.

Does anyone else have end of gardening thoughts to share? Does anyone do any indoor gardening, beyond a few herbs in the window?

A quick garden update

Things have been crazy around here, what with the start of school, my birthday last Monday, the girl’s birthday today and a generally insanely busy work period. We actually did a pretty good job preparing for the start of the school year for a change, and my job was recently re-classified as non-exempt from overtime rules, so it hasn’t been too bad here, but my writing time and energy have definitely slipped. All of this is my quick explanation for my lack of posting, but the really important thing I need to get up here today is this: we did some fall planting in the garden! As usual, when I say we did some planting, I mean that Marsha planted things while I followed her around chatting enthusiastically about new plants and bugging her about when we get to plant more spinach.*

Here is what we got planted this week, pretty much all of which I am super excited about:

  • Leeks
  • Siberian dwarf kale
  • Turnips
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Basil
  • Radishes
  • Dill

I still have a few carrots from the spring planting. I was going to try to pull them all out so that we could replant the whole section, but I didn’t want to be out of carrots yet. We have really been enjoying using freshly picked carrots in our meals, so I didn’t want to be totally out until the new ones start coming up. The beets are long gone, though, and all my dill has gone to seed and the seeds have been harvested, so I will be glad to get more of those. I hope that the leeks take–this is our first time planting them, and I love leeks, so I am hoping for a lot of them.

I have a couple of buttnernut squash out there that are nearly ready for picking, so that is exciting, too. There are a few tomatoes coming, and they are on the plant that the squirrels and rabbits have mostly left alone. I may pick the biggest of those tomorrow and make fried green tomatoes to go with dinner. The sweet potatoes we planted from a box from Costco that didn’t get eaten quickly enough have produced some very robust looking plants, so I have high hopes there. The cabbages are finally starting to look like heads of cabbage rather than a few large leaves fanning out, so that is cool, but my Brussels sprouts are obviously being eaten by something, :-(. There is still quite a bit of Italian kale, some other kind of kale that is not Italian or Siberian, and chard, too. On the chard front, I learned something new this week–apparently raw chard burns my mouth like acid. Not fun at all, and it takes forever for it to stop hurting. No more raw chard for me.

This year I have actually gotten quite a bit more produce from my garden, except for the tomatoes. I have really been able to cut back on purchasing vegetables elsewhere, which is nice. This week, I had my first canning adventure, successfully making pickled jalapenos! The peppers actually came from my neighbors garden, because my pepper plants have only recently started to produce anything, but he had more than he oculd handle. So, he gave me the peppers and I pickled and canned them. I am beyond excited about that, and suddenly filled with confidence in my ability to can all the things! I may be doing fruits from a pick your own place soon.

* Marsha says two more weeks for the spinach planting, although we may try to put a few early seeds out this week.

Menu: Week of 8/14/11

I liked the menu planning method I used last week, starting with a list of what I have on hand. We bought less at the store, used more stuff before it needed to be thrown out, and generally ate better. This week, I am trying to see how long I can go with food on hand, no store supplementation. I won’t last the whole week, I know, but I think I can make it through Wednesday.

First, a quick report on last week’s plan vs. reality: We ate according to plan about half the time for dinner. The pan-fried fish and grated veggies was awesome, and the kids ate it pretty well. I mean, they loved the fish, and they ate the grated veggies without complaining too much, even though there was asparagus in there, and things were mixed together, so I am calling it a success. Chili mac and risotto are always hits, so that went well. I wasn’t feeling the curry on Tuesday, though, so I just had sauteed veggies with a couple of eggs scrambled in, and Thursday devolved to microwaved packs of macaroni and soy cheese with sweet potato fries on the side–quite the starchy night. Friday, I went out with friends since the kids were at their dad’s, so I didn’t bother to make a pizza. We did okay with breakfasts and lunches, though–I only went out for lunch at work one day, and that was out with a friend anyway, so I feel pretty good about that.

This week, we are getting back to having the girl cook one night per week. How we fell out of that habit this summer, I don’t know. She is going to cook Thursday night, making a dish she has made a couple of times before. We are trying to work up some signature dishes for her, to build her confidence.

Have on hand:

  • ground beef
  • Italian sausage
  • black beans
  • spiced garbanzo beans
  • fish sticks
  • turkey burgers
  • chicken thighs
  • lentils
  • canned tuna
  • whole wheat spaghetti
  • quinoa
  • brown rice
  • chicken broth
  • baby spinach
  • potatoes
  • cereal
  • oatmeal
  • dried fruits–cherries, cranberries, pineapple
  • eggs
  • butternut squash soup
  • frozen waffles
  • various snacks: granola bars, pretzels, sweet chili rice chips, Simply Fruit fruit rollups, etc.

Garden stuff

  • greens
  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • banana peppers
  • bell peppers
  • herbs
  • broccoli
  • japanese eggplants
  • green beans

Sunday: Since it was just me, I did goat cheese and crackers, an apple, and some ice cream

Monday: Pasta with tuna, capers and tomato, based on this recipe idea

Tuesday: Chicken panang curry, made with chicken, potatoes and carrots, plus some extra garden veggies–bell peppers, broccoli, kale, green beans if there are any out there (carrots are from the garden, too), brown rice/quinoa

Wednesday: Pasta, sausage and bean ragout, modified to fit what ingredients we have (kale subbed for spinach, red beans subbed for the white, broken spaghetti subbed for the elbow mac)

Thursday: One pot rosemary chicken with white beans

Friday: pizza


Eggs and hash browns
Oatmeal with dried fruit
Fruit smoothies


Peanut butter sandwiches
Tuna salad sandwiches

Prep work on Sunday:

Took chicken out of the freezer
Started prepping garlic for  French pickled garlic
Baked oatmeal cherry cookies
Baked blueberry scones

Other prep work still to be done:

Make the French pickled garlic
Make more pickled carrots
Take hamburger out of the freezer

Grocery list, very short again:

Daiya Mozzarella
Vanilla soy milk
Orange juice
White beans
Dried rosemary

We are going to be starting with a fall planting soon, and I am looking forward to more carrots and beets, and especially more spinach. We are also going to do a big planting of garlic, because I have a lot of garlic preserving recipes I want to use, like the pickled garlic, and this garlic liqueur, made with brandy.

Dinner Tonight


Dinner tonight--a lot of veggies, mostly from the garden, with a couple of eggs to hold them together and some goat cheese on top. Yum!


Not a great picture, sorry. I was hungry! I used garlic, carrots, kale, a banana pepper, part of a zucchini and a tomato from the garden, plus some mushrooms I had in the fridge. I feel so healthy, and I love that I used so many good things from my garden–I went out and picked the carrots and kale just before I started cooking. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.

Using up the garden: Catching up

I have posted a bit about what we are doing with the garden produce on the Garden 2011 page, but I wanted to start gathering more information here, because I do look back at these posts for ideas. I want to make sure I don’t forget some of the yummy things we have done to make sure that we actually use our produce! I haven’t been chronicling them as much this year, though, so I have a whole bunch of things to dump here:
  • Fruit smoothies are a great way to use greens. The stronger flavored greens like mustard, collard, turnip and beet greens don’t really work for me here, but spinach and kale are fantastic. I do smoothies a little differently every time, depending on what kind of juice or frozen fruit I have around, but the general proportions for 3 people: 2 cups juice, soy milk or a combination, 2 bananas 1 – 1 ½ cups frozen fruit, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and a big handful of greens. I like to blend everything but the greens before adding those. Sometimes I add a bit of vanilla yogurt. I really like frozen peaches in this, or berries or mango, but anything goes. I also add fresh fruit when I have some I need to use up, but I really like the frozen because it hold together better, and makes it seem very decadent–almost like soft serve ice cream for breakfast!
  • Polenta with sausage and greens was a delicious, satisfying dinner (see picture above).
  • I am so excited that we are actually getting beets this year! This is the third time we have planted them, and the first time we actually have beets to eat. The first thing we did with them was to have beets and greens curry with chickpeas. This was pretty and so delicious. I had my Indian food friend over, and she agreed that it tasted great.
  • I made a really great veggie-filled frittata with lots of greens from the garden, onions, garlic, sliced carrots, fresh parsley and basil, and goat cheese. I sauteed the onions, garlic and carrots in a bit of olive oil, then added a huge amount of greens–all the kinds I had available in the garden, mustard greens, collards, beet greens, kale, and chard. When the greens were wilted, I added four beaten eggs and some crumbled goat cheese, then cooked until it started to set and finished it in a 350 degree oven. I am making this again this week with carrots from my garden–the first time it was some baby carrots from the store I wanted to finish using.
  • I made this pickled beets recipe for my son’s birthday party, because he loves beets. He didn’t really love these, though–too vinegary, he said. My mother and aunt and grandma and I loved them, though! It was fun peeling the skins off after I had boiled the beets, too. I know, that sounds silly, but I had such fun just slipping them off so easily once they were cooked.
  • We also had a squash and broccoli side for the birthday dinner, with a sauteed onion, plus a yellow squash and some broccoli from the garden. So delicious and easy! I diced the onion, then started that sauteing while I sliced the yellow squash. I sauteed the onion and squash for a bit, then added the broccoli and a bit of water, put a lid on the skillet and let it cook for about five minutes. Fresh vegetables really do have the best flavor.
  • We went camping again this past week, and for dinner vegetable sides, I brought a big bag of garden veggies. I sliced a couple of small onions, a yellow squash, a zucchini, a couple of small patty pan squashes and added in some green beans. Then, at the campsite, I took some out each night, added them to a small pot with some canola oil, garlic salt and freshly ground pepper and cooked them on a mini-gas grill.
  • We also took a bunch of carrots along for lunch snacking (or anytime snacking). I cannot believe how many carrots we have growing out there!
  • I have added greens to many things, I can’t even remember them all. I know I added some to risottos, like this delicious tomato and sausage risotto. I added some to soups, like our favorite chickpea noodle soup. I think I added some to pasta dishes, too. Basically, whenever it seems reasonable, I go out and grab a bunch of greens to add to whatever I am cooking.
  • I am well into making a HUGE batch of the mint liqueur I made last year, although I just realized I made the sugar syrup with too much water today. That’s okay, though, because I can always add some more mint and rum and extra strong sugar syrup; there is plenty of mint still out there.

I am going to be posting more about what I am doing as I do it going forward, so I don’t lose anything. I am really enjoying my garden, and I don’t want anything to go to waste, or at least not much. I feel somewhat better about it going to compost than being thrown away, but everything that goes on the compost pile feels like a missed opportunity to me. That was some delicious, organic, as local as local gets food, and I missed it! I am much better than I used to be about that, but there is still room for improvement.