Sunday, June 9, 2013

Celebrate Spring with Strawberry Muffins.

Are you still awake? Oh, good. I know it's late, but since tomorrow is Monday, I really, really think you need to stay up just a little longer to ensure a happy start to your week.

Honestly, it's been such a wet and gloomy weekend here, and tomorrow looks like more of the same. The good news? School's out for summer! (Sing along if you like!) The bad news? The wet weather ushers in the end of strawberry season.

We eagerly await the first strawberry of the season. After all, what announces spring more than a scrumptious, juice-dripping, warm-from-the-sun strawberry? Then, in a blink of an eye—and maybe because we're all so wrapped up with end of school year programs, finals, awards days, playoff games, camp registration, and the assorted noise of every day—the strawberry sign pointing to the farm vanishes.

In a panic, I drove by, only to see “Sold Out” handwritten on a paper taped to the farm stand door. The strawberries in our garden are dwindling, so it shouldn't come as a great surprise that the farm by us would be done, too. But, with the craziness in getting ready for the farm tour, I completely forgot to freeze strawberries to get us through to next spring. 

So, like any good locavore, I sent out an emergency plea to my Facebook friends to find out if strawberries could be found.

Thank goodness for social media, because within moments, I had the names of three farms still selling berries. Within two hours, I returned with two gallons of strawberries in my possession.

Whew. Disaster averted.

Here's the thing: you need to make these muffins immediately, while you can get your hands on fresh strawberries. Although you can use frozen berries, it's just not the same celebratory spring muffin. I'm sure it's good, but the best part of baking strawberry muffins is savoring one fresh-from-the-garden, delicious strawberry that emits the sweet scent of spring while you chop the other berries to add to the mix. The aroma alone will make your mouth water.

I made these muffins for the CFSA Upstate Farm Tour, and they seemed to be a hit. In the next batch, though, I experimented with adding a streusel topping—and I liked it even better. (I should have taken a photo with streusel. Sorry.)

Strawberry Muffins

(Makes 18 muffins)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1-1/4 cups milk
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
2-1/2 cups diced fresh strawberries
1-1/2 cups sugar


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin pan with paper liners or grease muffin pan.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl, mixing thoroughly. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, eggs, and melted butter. Add the liquid ingredients slowly into the flour mixture, mixing until just combined. (There will be some lumps in the batter.) Add the strawberries and sugar to the batter, stirring gently to combine.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups to fill the liners ¾ full. Sprinkle streusel topping (see below) on top of the muffins. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into muffin comes out clean and the muffins are lightly browned.

Streusel Topping

1-1/3 cups sugar
1-1/3 cups flour
1-3/4 tablespoons water
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, softened

Mix all ingredients until crumbly.

Now, with a warm strawberry muffin in your tummy, the challenge of Monday seems less daunting, doesn't it?

Hope you have a lovely week!


Friday, June 7, 2013

Turning Lemons into Lemon Rosemary Shortbread Cookies.

Each year, during the Carolina Farm Stewardship's Annual Upstate Farm Tour, the kids set up a lemonade stand and sell sweets made from ingredients grown in our garden. Typically, I bake lavender shortbread cookies—but this year, the lavender wasn't blooming in time for the tour. Instead, I harvested some rosemary from the front garden, minced it until it was nearly powder—honestly, I just don't like the texture of chunks of rosemary—and baked lemon rosemary cookies.

A friend gave me the recipe, which I modified a bit—I'm also not a fan of grated lemon peel. I just dislike the texture of it, so I omitted the lemon peel.

I'm crossing my fingers that next year we'll have our own lemons to use to flavor the cookies, too.

Lemon Rosemary Shortbread Cookies.

1 cup butter, softened

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced well

1/4 teaspoon salt


In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add lemon juice and vanilla, mixing well.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, rosemary and salt. Slowly add dry ingredients to the creamed mixture. Mix thoroughly.

Divide dough and roll into two, approximately 12-inch logs. Wrap each roll in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for about 30 minutes to chill. Remove from freezer and cut logs into 1/4-inch slices. Place sliced dough on ungreased baking sheets, with cookies spaced about 2 inches apart. Bake at 350° for 8-10 minutes, until edges turn golden brown. Cool for 2 minutes before removing from pans. 

Note: these cookies, while delicious, are fragile and tend to crumble or crack, so take your time! It's worth it, I promise. Makes approximately 8 dozen cookies.

Stay tuned...tomorrow I'll post the recipe for the strawberry muffins—perfect for a weekend breakfast!

Happy weekend!



Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Welcome to the Farm! (Just Don't Block the Neighbors' Driveway, OK?)

Last weekend, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association's Upstate Farm Tour came to our house. (Yes, that's correct, turn left at the subdivision sign.)

People sometimes look a little perplexed when they arrive at Garden Delights, especially if they haven't read the description of our "farm."

But as this is now our third year on the Farm Tour, most of the visitors know that our "farm" is a bit...unusual.

While the majority of the 24 farms on the tour offer acres of gorgeous, sustainably-grown veggies or dozens of adorable animals to attract visitors, Garden Delights is an anomaly.

We live in a subdivision. With an Homeowners' Association. On less than an acre.

And when people visit Garden Delights, they realize that they, too, can grow a lot of food without a lot of acreage. At least, that's my hope--and I think that's why the fabulous organizer of the CFSA Upstate Farm Tour, Diana Vossbrinck, includes our "mini-farm." 

Would you like a tour?

Visitors check in and begin the tour in the front yard. Our property is surrounded by forest, as you can see from the photos. Still, we plant edibles that can grow in the shade, such as fraise des bois, or forest strawberries, and blueberry bushes with the ferns and hydrangea. After all, edibles co-mingled with ornamental plants provide tasty treats when you're pulling weeds in the garden. Plus, the kids know that they can always pick a berry for a snack when playing outside. On our property, we're 100% organic, so fruits and veggies are safe to eat straight from the garden.

Many of the flowers we grow serve a dual purpose--they provide a splash of color in the landscape, but they're also edible. Daylilies, roses, nasturtium, violets...depending on the season, there's always a flower to add to a salad.

After wandering in the front gardens, follow the path along the garage through the forest. Here, you'll find native plants like Oakleaf Hydrangea and Solomon's Seal, along with a variety of hostas, lenten roses, and ferns. Oh--and of course, the path also includes our favorite fraise des bois. (The forest path plantings are fairly new, begun in the fall and added to as new plants find their way to our house.)

Our first destination along the woodland path is the small greenhouse and herb gardens. Here, you'll find my first "real" greenhouse--a birthday present from a few years ago. Peter feared that the enormous amounts of plants growing in the basement might lead to a mold problem. Thankfully, we never found out, because he built this lovely little greenhouse so that I could move the heirloom babies out of the basement.

Two small 4' x 4' raised beds contain the demonstration herb gardens, planted to show a wide variety of culinary and medicinal herbs, as well as those herbs, like the many mint cultivars, that are dual purpose. Here, we also explain to newer gardeners the invasive nature of mint--and explain how one gardener many years ago thought mint would make a lovely "spiller" plant in a windowbox with geraniums. Instead, of course, that gardener ended up with a windowbox of just mint.

In this area, too, visitors see that small gardens can produce large amounts of food. Samples of a variety of containers planted with edibles are displayed: kale, heirloom lettuce, and rainbow Swiss chard in one container, and tomatoes with fraise des bois in another...

...silver thyme mixed with begonias and fuschia in a hanging basket.

While the Farm Tour didn't include the back sitting area, pool area, or the potager/nasty dog side of the back yard, one Saturday visitor wandered there unexpectedly. On Sunday, I made certain to add a sign, pointing the way for the tour. (If only you knew how nasty the dogs' play area is, you'd understand my mortification. I'm just glad she didn't break her ankle in the dozens of holes they've dug there!)


Passion vine, or passion flower, is a newly added edible to our garden. I grew the vine from seeds which I brought back from Switzerland, and I'm anxiously awaiting the flowering of the 18 new vines added along the woodland path fence. Not only is the flower stunning, but the plant produces an edible fruit. Plus, passion vine is the host plant for Gulf Fritillary butterfly larva. How can a girl go wrong with passion vine--particularly when it grows in the shade?

Along both sides of the woodland path, we've planted hostas and ferns. As in, I planted about 80 hostas the week before the tour. I know, I's been planned for a long time, but there are only so many hours in the day. 

We also planted a few surprises. The younger visitors each receive a scavenger hunt sheet when the family checks in, with a list of things for the kids to find in the gardens. (I'll share the scavenger hunt list later this week.) Any of my friends who attended the Garden Bloggers' Asheville Fling may recognize the fairy door as the work of the incredibly talented Damaris Pierce. The fairy garden, of course, was part of the scavenger hunt.

As you continue along the path, turn left into the forest, and along the fence you'll find a hint of things to come...

Our older girls, while normally contained in this long, covered area outside their coop, spent the tour semi-free ranging in the forest, contained in a portable fence/pen Peter constructed so that visitors could meet them properly. It also allows them to free-range safely--and without escaping to treat the kitchen garden as their personal buffet.

Just past the chicken coop resides the compost. Several years ago, Peter asked what I'd like for Valentine's Day. My answer? A three-bin compost system. He told me that I'm a strange woman. What can I say? I love good compost!

And now, the fun begins! I've been remiss in introducing you to our newest babies--but that's a post unto itself. As a teaser, you can see them in the little run, just behind Kristen.

Kristen and Roxanne stole the show.

Visitors couldn't believe how Kristen carries Roxanne like a baby...

...or that she had trained Roxanne to give autographs.

Sadly, I forgot to take a photo of the actual Roxanne autograph until the only one remaining was drenched from the rain--but you get the idea.

Oreo was quite the star as well.

One child really, really loved Oreo...

Poor girl. Worn out from her five hours of fame.

Knowing that kids can only be patient for so long while parents want to chat about compost and companion plantings, I thought a little tic-tac-toe game might entertain the younger visitors.

Mikey and my niece, Lexie, also needed some diversion.

And now, onto the kitchen garden.

The garden is comprised of seven raised beds, each 4 feet x 10 feet. An angel wing herb garden is designed in front of the raised beds, containing dozens of herbs that we harvest for cooking--but also intended to help attract pollinators and beneficial insects.

The main path to the kitchen garden originates in the herb garden. We had lots of fun showing kids how to rub their fingers together on various herbs, and then asking them to smell their fingers. Sort of a living "scratch and sniff" game!

Visitors received a guide to the gardens, which listed the plantings and varieties in each raised bed. Later this week, I'll post about the specific varieties of heirloom tomatoes, peppers, peas and such in each bed. For now, I'll just share an overview, since this post is turning into an epic novel (sorry!)

In each bed, we showed examples of companion planting, both to boost harvests as well as to divert pests. We also showed different methods of vertical gardening to maximize plantings in minimal space.

My incredibly talented friend, Kate, designed the most adorable scarecrow lady and wrote about it on her blog, Farmhouse 38. Determined to emulate her sweet scarecrow, I failed miserably. I aspire to artistic greatness--but I just lack that gene. (Seriously, you must see the amazing things Kate creates.) Our lady is watering the Three Sisters Garden here.

The peas continue to produce like crazy. As they're one of the few veggies the kids will eat willingly, we have them planted all over the garden, with four varieties in one raised bed... well as in the kids' raised bed garden, the potager, and in the strawberry bed on trellises. Honestly, is there anything better than fresh sweet peas in spring?

To the left, you can see the raspberry bushes, trellised along the length of the garden.

Crossing fingers, it looks like we'll have an incredible harvest this year. Hooray!

Our heirloom apple trees, though, perplex me. We've yet to see any blooms, and this is our second year. I'm hopeful that next year will be lucky #3, and we'll have homegrown apples.

New to the garden are plantings specific for pollinators, hoping to lure more butterflies and bees to the area. We also plant host plants throughout the gardens: dill, fennel, parsley, and milkweed for the Monarchs. Again, more about the pollinator gardens later...

There she is...the big greenhouse. She's a source of pleasure and despair. There's nothing happier than potting up seedlings in the middle of February in a toasty greenhouse, your hands smelling of basil...and there's nothing worse than losing all of your plants when the power goes out...and you don't know it until 10 p.m. because you're gone all day, entertaining the kids who are home for Spring Break. Let me tell you--when a greenhouse reaches 140 degrees, plants do not like it. Not one little bit.

However, the strawberries growing by the greenhouse are scrumptious.

The blueberries are progressing nicely. 

Located behind the greenhouse in the forest are the shiitake logs. What an incredibly fun experiment that you can read about here.

Saturday, Kristen was a busy girl. Not only did she entertain visitors as the chicken whisperer, she also sold treats.

Rosemary lemon shortbread cookies, using rosemary from our garden...

...and strawberry muffins, also using strawberries we grew. (Recipes will be posted later this week.)

Thank goodness for treats, because Saturday's perfect weather turned evil on Sunday. At exactly 1 p.m. when the tour opened, a torrential downpour began. Lightning, thunder, tornado warnings...some farms on the tour closed for safety. Us? We huddled in the greenhouse with our new friends, munching on cookies and muffins...

...checking Accuweather to determine if we needed to tour our basement. 

Honestly? I thought Sunday would be a bust. The rain continued all day. Not a drizzle, not a sprinkle--we're talking serious rain and scary lightning. But, as my husband says, "There's no bad weather, just bad clothing choices." And the visitors kept coming, resplendent in slickers, rain hats, galoshes, and sporting golf umbrellas. I can't tell you how much I wish I owned a waterproof camera, because Sunday's visitors amazed me. A darling little girl in a ladybug rain poncho just made me smile, and the dozens and dozens of lovely guests who braved the weather to come to our little pretend farm? 

I'm awed. Who would have thought that our crazy little piece of land would interest so many smart, funny, passionate foodies, environmentalists, and gardeners-to-be?

Two lovely visitors really stood out over the weekend. I'm so excited by the teen gardener who is planting her very first garden this year--two raised beds that I hope will bring her oodles and oodles of delicious heirloom tomatoes. I hope she will send me photos of her gardens and her harvest.

And this little precious bundle! Three months old and on her first farm tour--I'm in love!

So, my friends, thank you. Thank you to the new friends we met this week, and thank you for taking this virtual tour. A huge shout out to Diana for her amazing work organizing the tour, which is only one of her many duties with CFSA. Thank you to our volunteers, Sarah and Anne, and my sisters Becky and Marsha, who worked the tour all weekend. You are so appreciated!

Thank you to the real farmers--those people who work so hard to feed us, because although I'm honored to be included on the CFSA Farm Tour, I'm not a farmer. Farmers work much harder than I do. And their work affects us all.

I'm just an obsessive gardener who likes to grow a lot of things, including food.

Stay tuned for Farm Tour specifics--what's growing together, varieties of heirlooms, and recipes.

Now, though, I'm tired...the tour wore me out, but in the best possible way. New friends, new ideas, and so much I want to share with you!

Did any of you local folks make it to any farms on the tour? I'd love to hear about your experiences!

Happy growing days, friends!



(Shared with Wildcrafting Wednesday, The Backyard Farming Connection, and  From the Farm)