Tuesday, August 28, 2012

From Beautiful Basil to Perfect Pesto.

Last night, I spent a few hours in the large kitchen garden. The tomatoes are just a memory—dead vines entangled in a Texas weave. The cucumbers, while still producing, are an ugly sprawl of spotted leaves...and the Three Sisters garden is, sadly, down to two siblings. Honestly, I don't know how the Native Americans survived, because my Three Sisters garden never produces an edible ear of corn.

Maybe the Three Sisters garden is just an historical urban legend. Maybe those sisters really bickered and pulled each others' hair. I mean, really—how many sisters coexist without some squabbles? In our garden, the beans wrestled the stalks of corn to the ground, while the squash promptly suffocated it.

This is not the lovely legend I embraced.

As I cut out dead vines and harvested ten million hot peppers, I uncovered huge, lovely Genovese basil plants. I companion-planted the basil in the tomato bed last spring.

And then I forgot about it.

Actually, I planted basil a bit too enthusiastically. Basil grows in the tomato bed, the herb garden, the other herb garden, in pots on the balcony. I even sowed more seeds in a container two weeks ago, thinking we might need additional basil to last through the fall. Plus, of course, we needed all eight varieties of basil I grew.

All of the tiny basil plants thrived, growing into enormous, thick, deliciously scented bushes.

So last night, while I mourned the end of tomato season, I snipped Genovese basil branches, stuck them in a vase, and decided that today will be:


During the summer, our oldest son, Tyler, developed an affinity for pesto making...but not of his own accord. While home from college, we decided he would cook for the family one night per week. Not only did Tyler's dinner responsibility help me while I chauffeured the kids to various camps and lessons, but as a rising college senior, we thought it was time for him to learn how to cook. Velveeta Shells and Cheese, we told him, doesn't qualify.

Interestingly, the first few meals prepared by Chef Tyler were actually cooked by his very sweet (and patient) girlfriend. Tyler assisted. But finally, he took the leap and mastered a few entrees of his own—including pesto.

Pesto only sounds daunting. It's absurdly simple. 

The first time I needed pesto, I bought it. Now, I consider pesto from the store sacrilegious. Plus, honestly—basil is too easy to grow not to have a pot of it on your balcony. It is, however, not so easy to grow inside—so you'll want to make a large batch of pesto while the basil is fresh and in season, then freeze the pesto for mid-winter delicious dinners.

Tyler likes a thick pesto, but my version is more spreadable and sauce-like. Making pesto is quick, especially if you have a food processor. Some diehards swear that the only way to make true pesto is by grinding the ingredients with a mortar and pestle. While it sounds very romantic, and Julia Child would approve, who really has time for pounding basil into mush?

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (I prefer Genovese)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
3 garlic cloves, finely minced

Wash basil, checking undersides of leaves for any garden creatures. (You do not want the added protein of a slug in your pesto.) Dry well. Place the basil leaves in small batches into the food processor and chop well. Add 1/3 of the nuts and garlic, blending again. Add 1/3 of the Parmesan and blend while slowly adding about 1/3 of the olive oil. Let the oil drizzle into the mixture while blending. Stop frequently to scrape the sides of the food processor bowl.

Continue to add the ingredients 1/3 at a time, repeating until all ingredients are well blended. Served over pasta, use as a base for bruschetta, or dollop onto scallops. Pesto can be frozen for several months or refrigerated for up to one week.

There...wasn't that easy?

I plan to harvest more basil tomorrow, triple the recipe, and freeze in small batches so that we'll taste a bit of summer all winter long.

If you didn't grow your own basil, check with your local farmers' market. Usually, you can find a gorgeous bouquet of basil for a few dollars. Or visit Local Harvest to find a farmer near you.

It's worth it. I promise.


XO ~


Monday, August 27, 2012

La Bella Luna

Saturday night, as we were heading out to have dinner with my sisters and nieces, something caught my eye...

Dangling from a small branch...

...a just-hatched Luna moth.

We've seen several Luna moths (Actias Luna) in our area, particularly by our back porch door, as they are attracted to light. However, we've never encountered one drying its wings, preparing for its first flight. 

Each pale green wing sports a translucent eyespot. You can see the spots on the bottom wings faintly through the unfurled top wings.

Adult Luna moths fly at night. Mating occurs after midnight, and egg laying begins that evening. Females lay eggs on host plant leaves, and the caterpillars emerge in a week, feasting on a variety of leaves: white birch, persimmon, sweet gum, hickories, walnuts, and sumacs.

Our home is tucked into a forest, surrounded by white birch, hickories, and sweet gum.

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate sweet gums? I've been known to roll down the driveway and land on my rear due to the carpet of sweet gum balls. I suppose now that I know itty bitty baby Luna moth caterpillars are eating the leaves, I might curse our sweet gum trees a bit less.

Adult Luna moths don't feed--they don't even have mouths. For their short lives, their only job is to reproduce.

And, after about a week of hard work, the adult Luna moth dies.

But what a way to go...

The adults may live for only a week, but we Southerners are fortunate. Our warm climate allows for two to three broods of Luna moths from March through September. Any caterpillars hatched now will most likely feed and then spin a cocoon, where they will remain until spring.

Although we were running late for dinner, we all took turns photographing our rare visitor: Kristen with my old phone, Mikey with his Nintendo ds, Peter with his phone, and, of course, me...who hasn't mastered the macro lense yet. It's on my to-do list.

Here's hoping for lots of Luna moth sex in our yard this week. 

I'll be glad to feed those babies plenty of sweet gum leaves!


XO ~


Thursday, August 23, 2012

World Kitchen Garden Day Giveaway!

Recently, I've mentioned my need to tackle our overrun, ugly summer kitchen gardens to make the transition to fall crops. I've created plans, determined when to start the seeds, and realized I'm behind schedule.

Guess what? I've still successfully avoided the gardens all week.

I could make excuses: I'm readjusting to the back-to-school routine, focusing on writing, cleaning the house (my husband is rolling his eyes now). Honestly, the gardens just look so...depressing.

Then yesterday, while searching a website, I found my motivation:

World Kitchen Garden Day—Sunday, August 26, 2012. 
Launched by Kitchen Gardeners International as a healthy response to the International Snack Food Association's “Snack Food Month,” World Kitchen Garden Day is an opportunity to gather in gardens with friends, family, and neighbors to celebrate the pleasures and benefits of home-grown, homemade food.

Real food. Local food. Healthy food.

Now, that's something to celebrate!

World Kitchen Garden Day is an excellent motivator to get our gardens whipped into shape.

Plus, I can spin it into a fun, family event, instead of tackling the gardens by myself—HA! It's a holiday, after all—right? Maybe I'll invite friends and neighbors, too, and share some of the weed-pulling, soil-amending, planting fun in our gardens.

Of course, I'd feed them yummy local food. I have a great recipe for Peach Crisp.

In honor of World Kitchen Garden Day, I have a giveaway to inspire you to get your hands dirty!

World Kitchen Garden Day Giveaway
The winner will receive:

$25 gift certificate for Seed Savers Exchange
 to purchase your kitchen garden seeds. 
(They also have a great selection of books and gardening gifts.)

 American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America

No matter your political beliefs (and let's check those at the door, please)--this is a beautiful book. In 2008, Kitchen Gardeners International (KGI) initiated a high-profile public awareness and advocacy campaign known as "Eat the View," calling on the White House to plant a kitchen garden. The organization believed that if a kitchen garden could be planted in such a high-profile location, it might inspire millions of people to plant their own gardens. With more than 110,000 signatures on KGI's White House garden petition, the administration took notice.

So did most of the country, as the White House South Lawn became filled with fruits, vegetables, herbs—and thousands of visitors.

From the inception of the garden to the planning, soil testing, crop selection, community involvement, fails, and even seasonal recipes, American Grown is more than just a coffee table book. The layout and photography is gorgeous, but I especially loved the profiles of gardens and gardeners across the country, as well as the seasonal planting diagrams of the White House Kitchen Garden.

There are several ways to enter the giveaway—and each action counts as a separate entry. That's right, you can enter up to FOUR times! Here's how:
  1. Leave a comment on this post with your name and your favorite homegrown fruit or vegetable. (If you don't currently follow Growing Days, I would be grateful if you would “Join this Site.” If you already follow Growing Days—thank you!)
  2. “Like” my Garden Delights Facebook page and leave a comment. I share more gardening tips and information on the FB page. (Again, thank you if you've already liked the page—just leave a comment!)
  3. Repin this post on Pinterest. To make it easy, you can just Repin this pin.
  4. Share this post with your friends on Facebook.

Giveaway details:
  • The contest deadline is midnight EST on Friday, August 31, 2012.
  • The winner must be a resident of the continental U.S.
  • The winner will be selected by a random drawing.
  • The winner will be announced in an update to this post and on my Facebook page during the first week of September.
Happy World Kitchen Garden Day, everyone!


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Perfectly Peachy Decadence.

I dread the end of summer. 

I miss the kids when they're at school, although I do manage to get more written without their company.

I miss the amazing tomatoes from the garden, which are now shrimpled, brown, ungainly vines.

I miss the incredible sweet corn from our local farmer. And I'm holding a little grudge, too, because he assured me there would be corn until the end of August.

Excuse me? It's only August 22. Give me my corn!

I know that soon—too soon—I'll be missing those drippy, hurt-your-teeth-with-sweetness South Carolina peaches. I'm currently eating my weight in peaches daily.

Speaking of weight...guess who lost 25 lbs? Still, there's more to go, but for now I'm celebrating.

And you know how I did it?

By eating the most delicious, fresh, amazing local fruits and veggies instead of junk. And eating less.

Wow, it's rocket science.

Still, this isn't about diets and weight loss or the fact that I did just eat a handful of Lucky Charms. This is about celebrating summer and gorging on delicacies that we'll miss when it's cold, gray, and nasty.

It's about peach crisp.

Not cobbler. Crisp.

I've never been a cobbler girl. My dad used to make cobbler, using the doughy Bisquick mixture as the topping. I would scrape off the mushy biscuit wannabes to get to the good stuff underneath, still wishing for a bit of sweet, crispy topping.

When faced with an enormous load of peaches I bought for my lunches, I realized we would soon host a fruit fly fest in our kitchen if I didn't use them quickly.

It was time for a crisp.

Naturally, I turned to my good friend, Alice Waters.

Alice never fails me. Not only is she my hero with her Edible Schoolyard project and Chez Panisse Restaurant, but she holds my hand when I have an overabundance of zucchini or spinach and no creative culinary thoughts in my brain. Alice doesn't bully or tease about my domestic shortcomings—but she insists on the real deal.

Fresh food. Local. Sustainable.

She makes cooking—and eating—a pleasure.

Alice's The Art of Simple Food is my go-to cookbook, used more than any of our dozens of kitchen guides. When I was a college student, my mom presented me with my first cookbook: The Joy of Cooking.

I'm not quite sure what she was thinking. After all, in college we lived on Raman noodles and Avanti's pizza bread. Cooking didn't coincide with my lifestyle.

Still, I know many college students are much more evolved due to our local food revolution. Our son and his girlfriend often cook elaborate meals with the ingredients from our gardens. I think they would actually enjoy The Art of Simple Food.

But they can't have my copy.

I still look up the recipe every time I make peach crisp.

Last night, I opened Alice's book and tackled the pile of peaches while Peter and Mikey went to soccer practice. By the time they came home, the house smelled amazing.

Of course, peach crisp alone is delicious. Peach crisp with homemade whipped cream, however, is divine.

So, to help you celebrate the dwindling summer days, I'm sharing with you Alice's recipe for Peach Crisp, and my own recipe for homemade whipped cream. You may need to travel to SC for the peaches, because you know we grow the best peaches in the country, right? We even have the giant peach to prove it. 
(Or, as our oldest son said when he was a little guy: “Mommy! Look at the big butt!”)

Peach Crisp
Slightly adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
4 pounds ripe peaches
1 tablespoon sugar (if needed—check the sweetness of the peaches first)
1-1/2 tablespoons flour

Preheat over to 375 degrees.

To peel the peaches, use a sharp knife and cut an “X” at the base of each peach. Dip the peaches in boiling water for 10 to 15 seconds, then peel off the skins. Cut the peaches in half, remove the pit, and slice into 1/2-inch pieces. (Be careful—those naked peaches are slippery little buggers. My left ring finger is proof. Ouch.)

Add the sugar and flour to the peaches and mix well. Place the fruit in a 2-quart baking dish to await the topping.

Crisp Topping
(Note: Alice's version calls for nuts, which I don't use. If you want a nuttier crisp topping, toast 2/3 cups of nuts—pecans, walnuts, or almonds—allow to cool, then chop coarsely. Add to mixture.)
1-1/4 cup flour
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt (leave out if using salted butter)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used a little more—we like lots of cinnamon.)
12 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces.

First, thoroughly mix all of the ingredients except the butter. Add butter a bit at a time, mixing into the flour mixture with your fingers, a pastry blender, or stand mixer using the paddle attachment. (Because I'm a lazy cook, I use the mixer.) Work until the mixture comes together and has a crumbly texture.

Spoon crisp topping evenly over the top of the fruit mixture. Place in 375-degree oven and bake for 40-45 minutes.

Homemade whipped cream
1 pint whipping cream
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add all ingredients into bowl of stand mixer. Mix on high for 2-3 minutes or until correct whipped cream consistency. (Check mixture frequently after two minutes to ensure that you're not making butter!) Can store in the refrigerator for several days.

Serve with peach crisp. Or eat by the spoonfuls without any adornment, as Kiki is known to do.

Happy end of summer fruit binging!

XO ~

P.S. Confession: I only wish Alice Waters was my best friend. Sadly, we've never met...

Monday, August 20, 2012

School Days, Cool Days...It's Time for Fall Crops.

It's quiet. Eerily quiet. No Wii battles. No Harry Potter marathon. No endless rationalizing about why we need a horse.

Except for the dogs' whining, the only sound is the chirping of birds. With the balcony door wide open, the cool 64 degree breeze is airing out the house from the smell of bacon and pancakes.

How can today be the first day of school?

Seriously, I'd like to time travel back to the end of May and enjoy another summer vacation with the kids. Instead, we're back to reality. Schedules, enforced bedtimes, and homework just aren't as much fun as Scrabble tournaments, beach trips, and after dark swim-fests.

In a blink of an eye, summer vanished. In a blink of an eye, my babies are now a college senior, a sixth grader, and a second grader.

Impossible. (Notice the lack of back-to-school photo for the college boy? He didn't even want help moving back to school. Sniff.)

While I wallow in mom-angst, I must get busy. Although summer doesn't end until September 22, it's time to prep for fall gardening.

Honestly, I'm ready to rip out the summer garden. By late July, the garden looked ratty. Fortunately, it still produced well, which is the point of a vegetable garden, isn't it? Still, I dreaded when a friend or acquaintance wanted to visit the garden. By August, the plants looked so horrific that I found it difficult to visit the garden. The wilting tomato vines and spotty, overgrown cucumber plants depressed me. So now, here we are, August 20, and I have no qualms about ripping out the ugliness to replace it with lovely, fresh cool weather crops.

The problem is—I need to grow my fall garden transplants.

Yesterday, I spent three hours scrubbing seed trays. Naturally, the seed trays should be washed, bleached, rinsed again, and put away after spring planting. In an ideal world, I would open the greenhouse and find immaculate seed trays awaiting seed starting mix and seeds.

But this is my world.

Instead, my back aches from Saturday's marathon tray scrubbing session while the kids played in the pool.

Next time, child labor may be involved.

Now that the trays are clean and disinfected, it's time to check the planting schedule.

The most important consideration when planning your fall garden is: when is the first frost expected for your area? If you don't know the approximate frost date, you can contact your local extension service or enter your zip code here.

In our area, we expect frost by mid October—approximately October 15.

For a few of the veggies I plan to add to the garden, like Brussels sprouts for Peter, I'm a little behind schedule. But Brussels sprouts actually taste better after exposure to frost, so I might be OK. I hope.

Because I'm starting the fall garden from seeds, it's important to consider how long each variety takes for germination, as well as days to harvest. Although cool season crops can survive some frosts—and even freezing temperatures with protection—the plants need to be established and mature before the first hard freeze. 

Today, because I'm in the thick of seed starting, I thought I'd share the following information for your use when planning your fall garden. The following table will give you an idea of how long it will take for your cool weather veggie seeds to germinate, what temperature and depth is best for germination, and how long until your crop is ready for harvest.

Armed with your average first frost date, you can then calculate when to start your fall garden seeds.

Soil Temperature for Germination
Planting Depth
Days to Germinate
Days to Harvest
Brussels Sprout
Lettuce, Head
Lettuce, Leaf
Onions, Bunching
Onions, Globe
Pac Choy
1/2”- 1”
Swiss Chard

(FYI: A few of my favorite sources for organic, heirloom seeds are Seed Savers Exchange, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Sow True Seeds, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.)

For example, my first frost is projected for October 15. If I want a good harvest of leaf lettuce, I'll need to plant by September 1.

Yikes. I need to clean out the gardens!

So, now you know when to start your seeds, what the temperature requirements are for germination, how deep to plant the seeds, how long it will take until your babies make an appearance, and when you can start feasting! But—should you start your seeds in containers, or direct seed into the garden?

Some plants don't like their roots disturbed. Beets, carrots, chard, peas, and spinach should be direct seeded in the garden or started in biodegradable pots. Some plants, like Brussels sprouts, require a long time until maturity and benefit from an early start in containers or trays. Also, by starting seeds in containers, you can continue to enjoy your productive summer garden without needing to make space for fall crops too early.

(Of course, if your garden looks like ours, you might be ready to clear it out and direct seed everything.)

You can find a quick refresher on what supplies you need and how to start growing your seeds indoors here.

Over the next few weeks, I'll highlight some fall crops—what to watch for regarding pests and diseases, how to tend, how to harvest...and especially, how to enjoy the bounty.

What are you planning to grow in your fall garden? Any favorites, or are you trying some new varieties? And—as always, if you have any questions about starting your seeds, please let me know!

Happy sowing!

XO ~