This Year’s Garden – Part 1

Since we moved into our house in 2004, we have been planting a bigger and bigger garden every year. This year, however, we have more than doubled the size of our backyard garden. Plus, we are committed to keeping it 100% organic.

The larger garden wasn’t my idea. One day, I came home and Sandi had cut down all the bushes and small trees that had been growing along the back fence of our yard, about a 20-foot line of shrubs. She simply decided that she didn’t like it anymore.

Backyard Garden

Before Sandi’s Purge

Expanded Garden

After we converted this space into an expansion of the garden

We also noticed that an area along our driveway, which had been covered with stones, was the area that was getting the most sunlight of any area in our yard. So we removed about eight feet of the stone, filled it with topsoil and planted it as a squash garden.

Pumpkin Patch

We removed about eight feet of stone and put pumpkin and acorn squash plants

The problem with having a garden that is more than twice the size is that it requires more than twice the attention. Fortunately, over the past several years we have learned a lot from the many gardening mistakes we have made. This year, for example, we planted tomato plants far apart from each other so that we won’t have the tomato jungle that characterized our late summer garden in previous years.

Tomato Plants

This year we spread the tomato plants far apart

We originally erected a three-foot wire fence to keep the dogs out of the garden, but our new puppy, Max, who joined our family last December, surprised us by being the pit bull high jump world champion and kept getting himself trapped inside the garden. So we had to tear that fence down and built a four-foot fence.

Max the Pit Bull

The World Champion Pit Bull High Jumper

It’s only mid-July and already we are beginning to get some zucchini, yellow squash, patty pan squash, jalapenos, green peppers and cucumbers. There are tomatoes on all four types of plants — beefsteak, teardrop, plum and heirlooms — as well as tiny pumpkins and strawberries coming in. The only thing we are still waiting to see are the green beans.

Lots of squash

Zucchini, Yellow Squash, Patty Pan Squash and Cucumber plants are going crazy!!!

We also are having trouble with one certain spot of land. We tried spinach on it, but they all shriveled and died. So then we planted snap peas, but they don’t seem to be doing well, either. I don’t know if it’s because we planted them too late — they are an early or late crop, I learned after they were in the ground — or if there’s something wrong with the soil in that spot. We’ll see how they do.

Snap peas and trellice

These snap peas are the second thing we planted in this corner. The spinach all died.

A recent bout of high humidity combined with heavy rains caused an explosive growth spurt, as evidenced by the size of some of our zucchinis, which literally grew overnight.

Today's vegetables

Here’s what I pulled out this morning

I anticipate a heavy yield this year. We had more tomatoes, peppers and jalapenos last year than we knew what to do with. I can only imagine what it’s going to be like this year, especially since we’re already getting a lot of vegetables. I may have to open my own farm stand!

Green beans

Green beans are growing quickly, but no flowers yet

Have you planted a garden this year? How is it doing? What have you planted? What sort of problems are you having? I just love gardening, don’t you?

Garden love

Don’t you just love gardening?

Meat Free Mondays – Garden Pizza

As you may know, pizza is my favorite food.

If I could eat it for dinner every night, I would. In fact, before I met my wife, I did.

Because I love it so, I’ve written about pizza a lot, including my standard pizza recipe, this awesome Buffalo Chicken Pizza, and recently Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza.

With our garden in full swing this weekend, I decided to make a vegetarian pizza using ingredients we grew ourselves, such as these awesome green peppers …

… Yellow squash …

… And tasty jalapenos.

I even made a very simple pizza sauce out of some of our Roma tomatoes …

… And Greek oregano from our accidental herb garden, some garlic cloves, a little Balsamic vinegar, some sugar, salt and pepper.

Homegrown vegetables are the most delicious, so this pizza was amazing. Even our doggies enjoyed some.

Isabel “The Enforcer”

Bud, Bad Dog or “Misunderstood”, Depending Who You Ask

It’s that wonderful time of the summer when the harvest is so abundant there’s no way to possibly eat everything ourselves, so we desperately push our vegetables on relatives, friends and co-workers.

Still waiting for our watermelon to mature, however.

Best. Pizza. Ever.

Life is rich.

Zucchini Harvest

Anyone who grows zucchini in their garden knows that there’s a certain point during the summer where it just grows so fast that you can’t keep up with it. No matter how much you cook and give away to friends and neighbors, there’s always more.

Fortunately, zucchini is a very versatile vegetable and can be cooked in almost any style.
You can grill it, fry it, bake it, broil it, boil it and even eat it raw. It has a relatively neutral flavor so it won’t overwhelm the other elements of your recipe, but it is a good conductor of flavors.

It’s rich green color is appealing on the plate. Some zucchinis have a paler green color, which I don’t prefer but works if you pair it with the darker variety for color contrast. Yellow squash is related to the zucchini – and in fact is almost identical in flavor – and can be used in all the same ways.

Zucchini blossoms, the flowers that form before the zucchini itself, are also edible and
make a wonderful plate garnish  or in salads. Remember to remove the pistil or stamen before serving.

When I was growing up, my father grew zucchini and it was one of the few dishes he would cook regularly for our family. Mom was (is) an excellent cook, so dad was relegated to the wings. He made this stew-like dish with zucchini, that was almost like a ratatouille, but without the small dicing.

“I think the recipe you are remembering was one I just kinda made up as I went along,” my dad wrote when I asked him for it recently. “I would sauté onions, garlic, zucchini and whatever else I had, like green pepper, celery, etc. After it was soft, I would add a can of diced tomatoes and at the very end, some Parmesan cheese. All on top of the stove.”

We had it very frequently – with almost every meal – this time of year.

I recently prepared a three-course zucchini dinner for my wife, Sandi, and I’m glad to say she enjoyed it all, even though she’s a finicky eater. I started with a low-fat baked zucchini appetizer, followed with a tasty and easy zucchini and ground turkey casserole, and finished with a sweet and nutty zucchini dessert bread.

Baked Zucchini Appetizer

Baked Zuccini Appetizer

Baked Zuccini Appetizer

1 medium zucchini, sliced into medallions

1 cup Fat Free Zesty Italian Dressing

¾ cup bread crumbs

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cracked black pepper

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

Slice zucchinis at a slight angle to increase surface area. Combine bread crumbs, S&P, and parmesan in a bowl. Dip zucchini slices into dressing, then dredge in breading. Spray a sheet pan with pan spray and lay out breaded slices in a single layer, Bake at 375 for 20 minutes, flipping mid-way through. Serve with your choice of dressing (I used Fat Free
Ranch).

Zucchini Turkey Casserole

4 cups sliced zucchini

1 lb ground turkey (or ground beef)

1 TSP EVOO

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium green pepper, ribs and seeds removed, diced

2 jalapenos, ribs and seeds removed, diced

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tsp salt

TSP Italian Seasoning

2 cups cooked rice

8 oz can tomato sauce

TSP hot sauce

1 cup cottage cheese

1 large egg

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

¼ cup grated parmesan

1. Blanch zucchinis by boiling for 2 minutes then rinsing in cold water in colander to stop the cooking process.  Drain completely.

2. Saute onion, green pepper and jalapeno in EVOO until onion translucent, about 5 minute. Add garlic, cook another minute, then add turkey and cook until done, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and fold in tomato sauce, hot sauce and rice. Season to taste with S&P. If using ground beef, drain the fat.

3. Stir together cottage cheese and egg in bowl.

4. Shingle half the zucchini in bottom of casserole dish, spoon turkey filling on top, layer cottage cheese mixture on top of that, then shingle remaining zucchini over the top. Cover with grated cheese and bake covered at 375F for about 35 minutes.

5. Uncover, sprinkle parmesan over top and return to oven for another 10 minutes or until parmesan has browned. You may want to broil it for a minute or two at the end to get a rich color.

Zucchini Turkey Casserole

Zucchini Turkey Casserole

Zucchini Harvest Bread

3 eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

2 cups sugar

2 cups grated zucchini

3 tsp vanilla

3 cups flour

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Beat eggs, vegetable oil, sugar, zucchini and vanilla until creamy. In mixing bowl, combine all remaining ingredients except nuts. Slowly add flour mixture into liquid just until batter forms, then fold in nuts. Pour into two well-greased bread pans and bake at 325F for an hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before serving.

Zucchini Harvest Bread

Zucchini Harvest Bread