Eat your Zucchini!

There are about a billion blog posts about ways to use up zucchini, and I’m writing another. Why? Because I think it’s time to celebrate the often misunderstood zucchini! Sure, we all get inundated with squash, because the plants are so plentiful. Yes, they get a horrible rap because when they don’t get harvested they turn into baseball bats that are NOT good, and their only use is to feed the chickens or turn into zucchini cars for festival races. But that’s not the zucchini’s fault, its the gardener’s, for not harvesting at a decent size.

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I think that zucchini, along with other summer squash, is one of the most versatile of vegetables. What other vegetable can be eaten both in fruit and flower form, and eaten raw, sauteed, roasted, as soup, baked both savory and sweet, pickled, fried, AND grilled? Really, we should be writing odes to zucchini, instead of lamenting of how much we have and how sick of it we are!

grow squash grow

Right?

zucchini

But I get it. After producing steadily from May until first frost, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Here are an assortment of ways to use up this super versatile veggie. I haven’t had a chance to make all of them yet, but we are only halfway through squash season!

Raw:

Pickled:

Sauteed:

  • Zucchini Butter (perfect on toasted bread with ricotta, topped with basil)
  • Zucchini Gnocchi (ok, technically boiled…)
  • Sauteed, alone or with a variety of veggies, like this one. Mix with pasta for an easy meal.

Grilled:

Soup:

Baked, Savory:

Baked, Sweet:

Fried:

Smitten Kitchen's Herbed Summer Squash Bake
Smitten Kitchen’s Herbed Summer Squash Bake

Zucchini is a veggie that doesn’t need precision. It lends itself well to meals that are just thrown together. It pairs particularly well with: herbs (basil, parsley, marjoram &, thyme), cheese (such as feta, parmesan, & ricotta), other veggies (including corn, potatoes, eggplant, onions, tomatoes & peppers) garlic, lemon, olive oil, onions, salt, and vinegars (balsamic, red wine, sherry, white wine and champagne).

What’s your favorite way to use zucchini? 


the many ways to use zucchini

Canning Season is Here!

Canning season has officially opened! Within the past few weeks, I’ve put up jars of mixed stone fruit jam, plum jam, salsa verde, and peach salsa.  I’ve got zucchini pickles slated for this afternoon’s project. Soon the pears will be coming in, and I’ll be doing big batches of my pear vanilla jam. Then, there will be tomatoes in all forms, followed by a crap-load of figs.

Canning season is officially open

Last year, I canned my way though a kitchen remodel, and still managed to put up quite a bit. You don’t need a fancy set-up to preserve, but weather you are an experienced canner or just starting out, there are always helpful things do before getting started. Here are some of my helpful tips for preparing for canning season and to make sure your preserving projects go smoothly.

preserving chaos
in my kitchen, preserving is always chaos.

Helpful Tips for Canning Season

Invest in a billion dish and tea-towels. Make sure they are clean. Towels are my most used canning accessories. I use them hold hot jars while I screw on rings. I wipe edges of jar rims. I clean up the constant jam splatters on the wall. I go through a piles of them.  Don’t start a canning day without making sure your towels are washed, dry and handy.

towels

Stock up on jars and lids. Buy more than you think you’ll need. Then add another case. Throw in 3 more boxes of lids. Nothing ruins the flow of canning day by having to go to the store to buy more jars or lids. If you are in Sonoma County, Friedman’s has the lowest prices. Wide mouth quarts: $13.49, regular mouth quarts: $12.49. Wide mouth pints: $12.49, regular mouth pints: $10.99. 8 oz jelly jar: $11.49. However, Ace in Healdsburg and Sebastopol have excellent sales, so keep your eye out.

canning jars for sale

Stock up on sugar, vinegar, pectin and lemon juice. Again, nothing ruins the flow by having to run to the store. Depending on what you can, make sure your pantry is full of vinegar for pickles, sugar and pectin for jam, and bottled lemon juice for pretty much everything.

Make sure you pull out rings prior to filling jars. More than once, I’ve had my jars filled and then realize I didn’t pull out my rings. Nothing causes me more anxiety than having to fish the right sized rings out of the jumbled mess in the pantry while my pot is at a rolling boil and I’ve got sauce sitting on the counter. Depending on your husband to gather them up while you are ladling out the sauce isn’t a fool-proof plan.

ring and lid mess

Clean before and immediately after. The second thing that causes me anxiety in the kitchen is not having counter or sink space. Before you start cooking down fruit or chopping up tomatoes, do all the dishes, put them away, and clear off the counters so you have a wide workspace. When you’re finished, wash your pans and utensils immediately so you don’t have to struggle with a dried sticky mess. If you’re a disaster like I am, also wipe off the walls and your stove backsplash, preferably as you cook. Old tomato seeds and jam splatters are infinitely more difficult to get off than if they are new.

jam mess

Have simple snacks available. If you are spending a full day over a hot stove, the last thing you want to do is think about making a meal. Sometimes, if you are having to stir constantly, you just don’t have time to prep something, let alone sit down and eat. So I like to keep super simple, filling snacks that I can eat with one hand. Sliced deli cheese and meats are a good one, I can just pull it out of the fridge and do a quick roll-up and eat as is.

Wear an apron. Because aprons are awesome.

apron

August 1st is International Can-It-Forward Day. There are webinars, tutorials and podcasts galore all over the interwebs to celebrate, so make sure to check it out for new ideas and helpful lessons.

Has canning season started in your kitchen yet? What is your go-to tip to make sure you have a stress-free experience?


helpful tips for canning season

How to Stay Cool without AC

It is starting to get hot in Northern California. I, like a million other people in the area (not an accurate statistic, but I’m assuming a lot), don’t have AC in my house. If you are one of these people, than you have also followed this statement with the perfunctory explanation of “but that’s ok because we don’t really need it”. And while I (a Central Coast town native with a temperature comfort range of 55-75) thinks it gets ridiculously hot here,  I do acknowledge we are much more reasonable than many other places in the country. However, that doesn’t mean that the handful of 100+degree days don’t suck, or think the regularly occurring 90-degree days are comfortable.

temperature

Air conditioning is a rather new development, invented in 1902 to reduce humidity in a print shop; by 1931 the window unit was created, but was only accessible to the very wealthy. It wasn’t until the 1950s that a residential AC unit became a standard household feature. Central air didn’t come around until the 1970’s. Until then, people kept cool by smartly-designed houses that were custom to their climate and area, and following old-fashioned ways to stay cool.

If your home is like mine, where a summer day means your coconut oil easily melts in your pantry (which is at 76 degrees, btw), and putting in an AC isn’t financially feasible, or you have AC but want to reduce your energy consumption, consider following these simple tips to stay comfortable!

How to Stay Cool without AC

Don’t generate heat. If it is hot outside, avoid making more heat inside. Skip the dry cycle on the dishwasher, and do loads at night. Line dry clothes instead of using the dryer. Replace incandescent bulbs and halogens to LEDs. Take cooler showers, and run the exhaust fan to pull out humid air.  Use a grill outside, or make quick meals on the stove instead of using the oven.

a favorite summer meal is quick cooking soba noodles topped with sauteed chicken and a mess of fresh, cooling veggies and herbs
a favorite summer meal is quick cooking soba noodles topped with sauteed chicken and a mess of fresh, cooling veggies and herbs

Take advantage of cool air. The easiest way that I keep my house cool is using my windows. Open up windows early in the mornings and then close them when the day starts to get warm. Open back up in the evening and night. I find that in Santa Rosa, I leave them open until around 8am, and then open them back up around 5:00, when the afternoon breeze comes in. Or on a really hot days, when the temperature equalizes with outside, around 4:00, and I just suck it up for a few hours.

open windows when cool, close as the day warms up
open windows when cool, close as the day warms up

Cross-ventilate. Open windows on opposite sides of the room, or if they are all on one side, set up a fan near the solid wall to direct air flow. If your house is two-story, open windows on both floors. Open the windows wider on the upper level than the lower to increase air flow speed. If you have fans, run them. Fans don’t change the temperature, but the moving air makes it feel that way.

Use curtains to block sun. Especially on the South and West facing windows, cover with dark shades to block out the sun, and therefore the heat.

i keep heavy curtains on the south facing windows for the sole purpose of keeping out heat
I keep heavy curtains on the south facing windows for the sole purpose of keeping out heat

Make your own shade.  For a long term solution to heat management, plant trees on the East, West & South sides of your home, to cast shade, therefore keeping your home cooler. Highest priority is the South-West side, which will shield the hottest afternoon rays. Choose a deciduous tree, so that you can get warming sun during the winter. Or, consider awnings or trellises over windows. I recently read this article that talked about how air conditioning allows architects to be lazy, as we don’t need to think of way to vent warm air, how to shade windows. If you are remodeling your home, brainstorm and research ways to decrease heat in summer and increase heat in winter, and see if you can implement those in your building.

shade is your friend
shade is your friend

Adjust personal routines. People all over the world live in hot climates without AC, but instead utilize time-tested techniques to stay cool. Drink plenty of liquids, but limit caffeine and alcohol. Enjoy spicy foods and hot teas, which make you perspire, and therefore cooling you down. Wear loose clothing of natural materials, like cotton or linen. Do physical work during the cooler parts of the day, and find a shady spot to relax in during peak heat.

cucumber mint water

 


Helpful tips on how to stay cool without AC

What to do in the Garden: July

Happy July! After a dreary spring, summer has come crashing in and brought the heat with it. This month is an awkward month for planting, it’s too hot and late to plant most spring and summer crops, but too hot and early for the fall and winter veggies. Instead, focus your efforts on keeping up with the harvest!

Northern California Gardening Checklist: July

  • Minimize fire risk. Mow or weedwhack down dry wild grasses and weeds around the house, doing the work early in the morning. Clear away dead branches from shrubs and trees. Check out Fire Safe Sonoma for more guidelines and how to keep your home safe.
  • Prop up fruit trees. To prevent limb breakage on fruit trees, use wooden supports to brace heavy limbs that are sagging with fruit.

    a sturdy stick props up a loaded Santa Rosa plum branch
    a sturdy stick props up a loaded Santa Rosa plum branch
  • Control hornworms. Inspect tomato plants for chewed leaves and black poop, telltale signs of a hungry hornworm. Hunt though foliage and handpick. Shudder in disgust and quickly feed to the chickens.
  •  Water. Water early early in the morning to minimize evaporation. Adjust irrigation systems to water more often (if needed) to compensate for the heat. I try to get out before 7:00 every morning to water my beds. Its best for the plants and, bonus, I don’t get all sweaty hauling the hose around. Check containers regularly. If you forget about a pot, and the soil contracts leaving gaps at the side, soak the container to rehydrate the soil.

water early in the morning

  • Prune berry vines. When your done harvesting, cut old canes (the ones that have just bore) off at the base, and tie new canes to the trellis.
  • Prune wisteria. To extend the height or length of the vine, select some of the new stems and tie to a support in the direction you want them to grow. Then, cut the rest back to within 6 inches of the main branch.
the side of my house is literally a wisteria jungle. taming it is on the to-do list, someday.
the side of my house is literally a wisteria jungle. taming it is on the one day to-do list
  • Feed. If you didn’t enrich the soil when planting, feed tomatoes lightly. If you have issues with blossom end rot, apply a liquid calcium.
  • Harvest. Pick cucumbers, beans and squash daily. Tomatoes start to ripen this month, as well as melons, eggplants and peppers. Keep up with fruit harvest and remove any fallen fruit off the ground to prevent a mess and pests. I’ll be doing posts later this month on ideas on how to use all the plums and summer squash we are all inundated with.

basil and squash

  • Deadhead. Pick off faded blooms from annuals and perennials such as daisies, geraniums, marigolds, repeat blooming roses and penstemons to prolong flowerings.
  • Preserve. Canning season is now here! I’ll be doing a post next week on helpful preserving season tips. Make jam from the influx of summer fruits. If you can’t get to it right away or need to accumulate enough fruit to make it worth it, wash, pit and measure out them store in the freezer until you have more time. Ferment the cucumbers into pickles. Run fruits though the dehydrator. dehydrating apricots
  • Plan. Curl up in front of an AC, or at least a fan, and start planning the fall garden. Order seeds for cool-season veggies like lettuce, broccoli, carrots, kale and radishes.
  • Eat Ice Cream. Apparently, its National Ice Cream month. As if I needed an excuse!

Any exciting plans for July? Have any garden or home projects you’re hoping to get accomplished? Leave a comment and let me know!


“Live in each season as it passes: breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit.”
–  Henry David Thoreau

Homestead Happenings: Potato Harvest

Last week, we completed my most favorite of garden chores: potato harvest!

yeah potatoesThis year, we grew two different varieties of potatoes: Yukon Gem and Kennebec, both yellow skinned varieties. The previous year, Yukon Gem gave us the best yields, so we wanted to make sure to grow them again. However, the yield wasn’t nearly as much as last years, but the Kennebec did great. These were planted on March 23, from organic seed potatoes purchased from Harmony.

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I love harvesting potatoes because it is like an easter egg hunt, but in the dirt! Potato harvesting is best when done as a team effort, and the husband and I make a great team. First, I pull out all the plants and gather what tubers are hanging on. After raking away the mulching straw, he uses a fork to turn the soil. I quickly move behind him, filtering the soil and grabbing up any of the spuds before the next turn of dirt covers them. They get brushed off of the loose dirt, but not washed, and tossed in a basket.

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Any potatoes that accidently got scraped or speared are set aside, and are quickly eaten. The rest of them we store in baskets in the pantry, covered with a towel to prevent light from reaching them and turning them green, therefore inedible.

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Between the two varieties, we harvested 54 and a half pounds. These will be used mainly for roasted potatoes for weekend breakfasts, but also for mashed, potato salads, mashed, gratins and in soup. My main goal for using this year’s crop: mastering hashbrowns.


Wondering why potatoes are called spuds?

According to Today I Found Outa “spud” was a “sharp, narrow spade” used to dig up large rooted plants. Around the mid-19th century, first documented reference in 1845 in New Zealand, this tool began lending its name to one of the things it was often used to dig up, namely potatoes.

My Secret for Keeping Zucchini Edible Size

Its zucchini season! Which for an urban farmer, also means it’s the season of dreading the baseball bat sized squash.

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When picked at a reasonable size, zucchini are delicious and nutritious. However, they get a bad rap and become the dreaded veggie of the summer when they start to grow to ginormous proportions. Every gardener knows the dread, to go out to the squash bed and see a missed squash. They easily camouflage with the rest of the plant and they seem to double in size overnight, so its a common occurance. And when they are picked at a large size, they are not good. Which is why supreme intelligence is needed to make sure you don’t get stuck with these dreaded lumps of seeds.

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So I present to you the best homesteading hack ever. Follow this tip, and you will never be stuck with giant zucchini that has no purpose other than feeding the chickens. Are you ready for my secret? Behold:

Keep pruners out in the garden.

IMG_8350Simple, right? I used to be like all the other gardeners out there. I was regularly harvesting giant squash that were no longer edible. Until this season. I started keeping my clippers out in the garden, in a dedicated spot. Now, every morning when I water, I check the plants, grab the convenient clippers, and harvest squash at their perfect size. IMG_8590

If I kept them stored in the house or the garage, I would get distracted in my journey from garden to house, and end up watching cat videos on youtube. Or I’d tell myself I’d pick later- which never came until too late. Or I couldn’t find them and then I’d spend the rest of the time searching until I forgot what I was looking for.

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So as long as I have zucchini growing, my Corona clippers that I use to harvest will live on top of the step ladder that serves as a cucumber trellis. I see squash, I harvest squash, I put clippers back. Repeat daily or morning and night. Never have the dreaded baseball bat squash again!

You’re welcome.

Drying Herbs & Flowers

In my garden, I grow a variety of herbs and edible flowers. I have big dreams for a culinary, medicinal and tea herb garden, but for now, I companion plant a variety in my veggie beds and under the fruit trees. Right now, most herbs are in peak season and the spring and summer edible flowers are in full bloom, and I make sure to dry a variety to enjoy year round.

camomile

Drying herbs is the my favorite way of preserving simply because its the easiest. There is no need for fancy equipment and it takes zero energy. Even if you don’t grow your own herbs, now is the best time to buy at the farmers market and put some away. Its remarkable how much better freshly dried herbs taste compared to the dusty crumbles of herbs you can buy at the grocery store.

How to Dry Herbs & Flowers for Culinary & Tea:

For large leafed-herbs, like basil, mint and lemon balm, snip off stems and tie the cut ends with twine. Hang upside down in a dry place away for direct sun, until they are dry and crisp- about 2 weeks. I use a kitchen window. Plus, it gives my home the added bonus of giving off the apothecary witch vibe. Then, strip the leaves off the stems and store in a glass jar.

hanging lemon balm

For fine leafed herbs, like oregano and thyme, lay the sprigs out on a plate, tea-towel or fine mesh screen in a dry place out of direct sun. After a few days and the leaves feel crips, strip from the stems and store in a glass jar.

oregano

For flowers, I leave the blooms in a fine-mesh wire strainer or on a plate, in a dry place out of direct sun. I give the strainer a quick shake every day. If there is a large quantity, lay single layer on a tray. Once dry, store in a glass jar.

calendula

What I Drying

  • lemon balm
  • lemon verbena
  • peppermint
  • spearmint
  • basil
  • oregano
  • marjoram
  • sage
  • thyme
  • nettle
  • catnip
  • calendula
  • borage
  • camomile
  • jasmine
  • honeysuckle

IMG_2853IMG_7593jasmine
What herbs to you make sure to put away for later in the year?