If The Shoe Fits

It’s quite telling that my last NaBloPoMo post for July was actually written on August 1.  Okay, if you want to be all technical about it, it’s 1:25 AM at the moment, so I guess that’s really August 2.  Whatever.

I don’t have much to say about NaBloPoMo, other than it is amazing how a little competitiveness and a fear of public failure can motivate even the lamest blogger (ahem… you’ve found her) to churn out 31 posts in as many days.  And let’s not nit-pick about the quality of said posts, shall we?  This time, it’s the quantity that matters.

Sadly, this was definitely an exercise, and I’m not regretting that it’s over.  (So why do it?)  (A very good question.  Perhaps I shall discover the answer in a separate conversation with myself.)  But I think the CSA posts will continue, since they’re somewhat useful (and brainless, which is always helpful in matters of routine).  And hopefully there will be something besides shorn landscaping to discuss on the subject of the garden.  (As a matter of fact, the first female flower of the year bloomed on the pumpkin vine yesterday, so there’s a possibility that we might actually get some fruit!  Yay!)

(Oh, and I promise to cut out all these ridiculous parenthetical remarks.  They’re making it painfully obvious just how scatterbrained I really am.)

CSA Week 10, And A Recipe To Boot

Here is this week’s box:

CSA Box 9

It included

  • An enormous cucumber
  • a medium sized zucchini
  • celery
  • some green onions
  • a head of cabbage
  • five potatoes
  • a bit of broccoli
  • some flowers (we think they are zinnias)

Last night I made a beef stir-fry for dinner and used up most of the onions, the beans, some of the zucchini, and the rest of the green pepper from last week. I will share the recipe because it is not only tasty, but ridiculously easy.

Let me say that what follows here is not an authentic stir-fry recipe. Or let me say that any resemblance to authentic stir-fry recipes, living or dead, is completely unintentional. This is how I clean out my refrigerator and come up with a quick dinner at the same time.

I should also mention that we buy our beef by the half. If you imagine a brown paper grocery bag, and then imagine six of them filled to bursting, that is about how much beef you get out of a half. (Many folks prefer to buy a quarter, since this is an awful, awful lot of beef.) About two or three of those bags contain ground beef, which comes in handy in the winter time as a filler for other casserole dishes and soups. But we also get a lot of steaks. And while I like the taste of steak now and again, I personally can’t sit down to a slab of meat and just dig in. Even my husband, who has been called “Beef Boy” in the past, can only eat so much steak.

This thing about the steaks is important because you should know that I probably would not go out and buy a steak to make stir fry with. But if you have a steak in your larder and cannot bear the thought of just frying it up and carving it, or maybe you have just one or two steaks and several people who want to eat, this is a nice way to spread the love.

First off, get out your meat ingredients. They need to be sliced and then marinated for about an hour. You can also use tofu in place of the meat (so they say), or I’ve used julienned pork chops or chicken pieces as well. Sometimes both.

For the marinade, you’ll need soy sauce, mirin (sweetened sake) OR you can use a tsp of honey plus some white wine vinegar or rice vinegar; I also use red pepper flakes and a tablespoon or so of oil. My favorite oil is sesame or walnut, but you can also use a mild olive or even a vegetable oil. You only need a tablespoon, so just use what you have. The point of this recipe is to use things up, not to add rarely-used items to the pantry. Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a proportion that is about four parts soy sauce to one part mirin/vinegar and one part oil. Put the meat in a bowl and cover it with the marinade, tossing to coat all the pieces. There should be just enough to coat everything. It should not be swimming in marinade. For two steaks, I generally use about 1/4 cup soy sauce (or less) plus a tablespoon each of mirin and a tablespoon or maybe even two teaspoons of oil.

Next, while the meat/protein is marinating, make a pot of rice. I use a rice cooker (since it’s brainless) but just work with whatever you have. Make whatever kind of rice you think you’d like to eat with your stir fry: brown, white, whatever. I find that wild rice and risottos are not so good with stir frys, but what do I know?

Now it’s time to get the vegetables ready. This is a very flexible recipe. It’s one of those clear-out-the-crisper-drawer kind of efforts (my favorite kind!) In addition to one or two steaks, our family likes to add some carrots, peppers, onions, peas, beans, and whatever else is hanging around that looks like it needs to be fried up and eaten. Last night we had some leftover corn-on-the-cob that I scraped off and put into the bowl, along with some cherry tomatoes. The only important thing is that you arrange your vegetables so that the ones that need longer cook times (peppers, carrots) go in the pan first, while things that just need a quick swish in the hot pan (tomatoes, green onion tops, already-cooked things) go in last. I use a large cutting board and scrape things into the pan in order. You can also use small bowls or whatever system works for your kitchen’s layout.

Heat up the pan – or, if you’re really fancy (I am not), your wok. Add a few tablespoons of quality oil. Sesame oil is good for high heat stir frying. Walnut oil also works. Olive oil is also fine (but not EVOO, that is best for uncooked dishes or low heat). Let the oil get hot (practically smoking) and then add the meat. Make sure you’ve got everything that needs fried right at the ready, because this part goes pretty fast.

Put the meat pieces in first. For thinly (1/4″) sliced steak, I usually cook the pieces for about 2-4 minutes TOTAL. As soon as they are colored on all sides take them out of the pan, for goodness sake. Even if you like your meat medium, or well done, do not let them hang out all day to turn into leather. The meat will continue cooking once the outside is seared, so you really want to get them out of there right away. Some pieces will cook faster than others, so you have to watch each piece and take it out when it’s ready. Chicken might take a minute or two longer. You can always add them back to the pan if you need to.

Toss in the vegetables once the meat has started cooking. Add the ones that need to cook longer first. Peppers, zucchini and carrots can practically go in with the meat. You’ll have to sort of wing it based on what you’re cooking. Remember, though, that the point is not to make the vegetables mushy. You’re just trying to get them slightly soft. If they were crunchy when they went into the pan, they should still be slighly crunchy when they come out.

Any extra liquid that’s in the bowl can also go into the pan. It makes a good sauce. Once everything is cooked, put the meat and veggies into a clean bowl and serve along with the rice. Enjoy!

A Gift for Every Occasion

Here’s an idea that took care of at least two of the 9,320,235,412 pieces of art the kids have generated thus far:

1. We started off with a watercolor painting that the girls did on regular old copy paper. I laminated each painting with laminating sheets, cut the laminated pages in half, and creased each half to make a “cover” for a book.

Kid's watercolor paintings

2. I cut some more copy paper – about four sheets for each book – just slightly smaller than the cover, then creased and stapled them inside the cover to make the “pages”.

Journal

3. Since the girls were using these particular ones, I covered the staples with clear packing tape to help prevent them from getting scratched. Et voila! A sweet little book for them to write in or give away as a gift.

Finished Journals

They each gave one to Grandma for her birthday. I am still patting myself on the back for (a) coming up with such a clever gift that is both sentimental and functional, and (b) getting rid of some of the kids’ artwork without feeling guilty about it. Score!

All Is Not Lost

I’m rather disappointed in this year’s garden, mostly thanks to the varmints, deer and bunnies who were under the incorrect assumption that all the vegetation growing out back was some sort of free wild animal all-you-can-eat buffet. In fact, I had rather resigned myself to a sparse harvest of a few heads of sad-looking garlic. And, while the garlic harvest is a bit sad-looking (the deer trampled all the foliage before it had finished bulbing), there are still some signs of life out there in the vege patch.

For example, I nearly forgot about the cucumber plants. They’re around the corner of my “L” shaped garden, against the wall, so I don’t often see them unless I go back behind the tomatoes to look. The other day I happened to venture back, and lo if there aren’t some lovely vines growing up the trellis.

Cuke Plants

Even better, we have some little baby cucumbers beginning to form.

Baby cukes

If you look past the weeds (actually grass growing out of the manure mulch), you can see a little hot pepper here:

Pepper

There are quite a few of those, and several flowers on each of the six plants. I’m surprised, actually, considering how cool it’s been.

There’s also a sturdy looking pumpkin vine:

Punkin Vine

I check it vigilantly, every day, for squash beetle borers. They decimated my pumpkin plants last year. So far, so good, though I am having no luck getting both a male and female flower to bloom at the same time. So we may just end up with a really big vine and no pumpkins. But I’m hoping.

The one thing I’ve been especially glum about so far this year is the tomatoes. My plants look pretty healthy, but there aren’t too many flowers yet, and no tomatoes. But then I noticed these on a few volunteer plants which I had let go:

Cherry Tomatoes

If I remember right, these are the yellow cherry tomatoes, which were very tasty (and very pretty!). But I also found these volunteers:

Volunteer Tomatoes

If those are also yellow, then they’re Taxis. If they’re red, I am fairly sure they’re either Stupice or one of the black varieties I grew last year. Time to check my notes.

Not only are the wee little tomatoes exciting, but there’s about to be a bloom on the fuschia plant. This is thrilling, because fuschias are typically grown as annuals in these parts. I cut this one back practically to nothing last fall, overwintered it in a cool, sunny room, and now look:

Fuschia

Aren’t they adorable? Such cute little buds? I ask you. It looks like there are about 3 or 4 pair of buds all ready to bloom any day now.

Fuschia

Speaking of blooming, the acidanthera have just passed their peak. I managed to catch a shot of one of the best bloom days:

More acidanthera

I seriously can’t decide if I like acidanthera or nasturtiums better. The nasturtiums probably win, on account of they are (a) edible and (b) much longer-blooming. But damn, those acidanthera are gorgeous!

Even more acidanthera

And here is the garlic harvest, somewhat small but still serviceable, hanging up to cure:

Garlic

Hey, it might not be pretty, but there are definitely NO vampires coming in my back door anytime soon.

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait*

Right… so, remember that nasturtium plant that was all infested with black aphids? The one I was going to rip out and burn because it was so bad?

This one?

Black Aphids on Nasturtiums

Well, I am proud to report that it is aphid-less.

Not aphid-free, mind you. But definitely aphid-less.

I do believe it has something to do with a very exciting recent discovery, which happened totally by accident while browsing some online garden site for information on marsh mallows. The reason I was looking for information on marsh mallows is because I’ve started some from seed, but what I thought was a marsh mallow seedling has now also mysteriously appeared in two other locations (important to note that I did not plant marsh mallow seeds in those locations), which leads me to question whether the thing I think is a marsh mallow seedling is, indeed, such a thing. I’m beginning to think it is not. But that’s not my important discovery (although it is useful, since I can now give up hope on growing a marsh mallow plant this year and concentrate my efforts on something else).

No, my very exciting discovery was what, exactly (or approximately), ladybug larvae looks like. (Whoa, how’s that for some alliteration?!)

This is important because, as we all know, ladybugs or lady beetles are excellent companions to have in one’s garden. They rank up there with earthworms and mulch and fish emulsion in terms of garden usefulness, really. And having ladybug larvae in my garden means that soon,  I’m going to have ladybugs. And this means we will likely not be totally infested with aphids on our nasturtium plants next year. And I am so excited about this that I have already started looking around for nasturtium seed sources because, next year, I am going to grow so many damn nasturtium plants that people will think I’m nuts.

As proof that my dastardly plan theory is already at work, please note the (very bad) (hey, it was windy today) shot of a ladybug larva hanging out on a nasturtium leaf.

Ladybug larvae

I swear, I heard it belch.

*even if it is out of sheer laziness

CSA Week 9

Today is CSA day again, friends. The season has really gotten underway, with the first of the regular sized tomatoes and peppers making their debut. It’s been a strange summer so far, with a very wet June but a very cool July. As such, our farmers are worried about late season blight hitting their crops. It’s so strange for me to think about this through their eyes. If my home garden gets hit by blight, I’m out some time and effort and about $3.27 for seeds. Then I’ll probably pay a few cents more for my tomatoes at the store. But our farmers are Amish, and they live off of what they grow. If blight hits their crops, they won’t be eating any tomatoes this winter. And that would be a shame.

I still have my half of the summer squash from last week, but (aside from the kale, which I shamelessly composted) we managed to use up everything else. This week’s box is exciting:

CSA 7/23/09

You probably can’t see the giant zucchini hiding behind the scale in that picture. A friend of DH’s sent it home with him yesterday. This means I have something in the neighborhood of 4 pounds of zucchini to do something with. I put some in our pasta last week, which was devious and surprisingly good; some of it is frozen, but the rest? I may be making an awful, awful lot of zucchini bread this weekend.

I’m not complaining, however.