Animal, Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver is always on my nightstand. I read and fell in love with this book years ago when I planted my first vegetable garden in my city-living courtyard! A part of me still dreams of running a homestead as Kingsolver has accomplished in this book – someday maybe. I was truly inspired by Kingsolver and her family. She captures the true joys and hardships of being a family, working together and the simple joys of life. Kingsolver, her husband and two daughters leave the comforts of their Tuscon, Arizona home and travel across the country to settle in a rural town in Virginia determined to live off their land for one year – they only buy food raised in their own neighborhood or grow it themselves. Their story is one of human resilience, rediscovering your roots, the rewards of self-sufficiency and the love of food! It is an empowering read that is extremely informative about the politics of food and how we can all benefit by taking our food into our own hands.
This book couldn’t be more relevant than at a time when we are dealing with a global pandemic that has encouraged many across the globe to become more self-sufficient, connect with a slower pace and care more about the earth that sustains us all.
The beautiful stories woven throughout this book are of the joys of growing food, the hardships and rewards and what you can do in your own simple ways no matter how big or small to nourish your own mind, body and soul – and by doing it, make this world a little better. I hope this inspiring story finds its way into your heart and home and maybe even finds a place on your nightstand!
Tell Me What You Eat and I Will Tell You What You Are.
Years ago I saw this idea in a gardening magazine and loved it! It is simple to make and such a beautiful addition to the garden landscape. All you need is a giant Rhubarb leaf (you can really do this with a leaf of any size so feel free to get creative – Elephant Ear also works great too), a bag of cement, a bag of sand and a tarp or something to protect your cement from the elements while drying.
Make a mound of sand in an area that will not be disturbed as it will be the base for your leaf to dry.
Place Rhubarb leaf face side down on the mound of sand
Mix cement and apply to bottom side of leaf
Cover with tarp and let dry
Once cement is fully dry – flip it over and peel off the green leaf – Now your leaf is ready to place in the garden!
Get creative and try out some different leaves of all shapes and sizes. We have also used smaller leaves and used them outdoors and in our house. We’ve also tried adding powdered tempera paint to the cement mixture to give a color to it. You could also water color the cement when dry and use a sealant to keep the color from washing away. The finished product is a lovely addition to any garden space and the birds love it!
Wishing you a Creative Day in the garden – Making some Lovely Garden Art!
I love summer squash and zucchini. To my great fortune, this year my garden is plentiful of it! Thankfully, both of these vegetables can be cooked and eaten so many different ways. I love to sauté some zucchini on the stove top with olive oil, chopped garlic and a little salt and pepper. I also love roasting it in the oven tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper and some parmesan cheese. Currently, my kids two favorite summer squash and zucchini recipes are squash fritters and zucchini bread- no surprise there! We’ve added our personal touch to some pretty basic recipes that we thought we’d share with our fellow gardeners who are also trying to figure out what to do with all that squash! Enjoy!
Summer Squash Fritters (We use the yellow squash for these)
2 Cups Yellow Summer Squash or Zucchini shredded
8 Tablespoons Flour
2 Large Eggs
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Pepper
Chopped fresh Basil leaves
Half an Onion shredded
2 Tablespoons Parmesean cheese
Vegetable oil and 2 Tablespoons Butter for frying pan
Mix all ingredients in one bowl
Heat oil and butter in large frying pan (enough oil to cover the fritters half-way)
Scoop a small pancake size dollop of batter into the pan once oil is heated
Cook on one side about 2-3 minutes until browned then flip and do the same on opposite side
Once done, move fritter to a plate with paper towel to absorb extra oil
My kids love these served hot with ketchup and fresh sliced tomatoes!
2 Cups Zucchini shredded
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Nutmeg
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Zest and Juice of 1 Lemon
2 Large Eggs
1 Cup Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Coconut Oil – or Vegetable Oil
1 Tablespoon Butter for Pan
Mix all dry ingredients and wet ingredients separate then Combine
Butter a 13 x 9 inch pan
Pour batter into pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes
Mix juice of one lemon with enough confectioners sugar to make an icing consistency to pour over cake when cool
This Zucchini Cake Recipe is adapted form a Wonderful Italian Cook that the kids and I like watching on Youtube. She reminds me very much of my own Nonna and has some authentic Italian dishes you might enjoy checking out.
About six months ago after our first family adventure in our camper and gaining a new appreciation for living in a simpler way, I wished for a slower pace to life. Fast forward a couple months and I got it! Never could I have imagined that it would be forced upon us! And never would I have wished for a global pandemic to bring this slower pace. But, with a slower pace and more time on our hands we were able to pursue another wish of mine, a big garden with lots and lots of tomatoes! Thankfully to a very hearty compost delivered by our local dairy farm and to the hard working hands of my husband, kids and myself, the tomato dream has come to us in bucket loads!
We planted numerous varieties of tomatoes this year; Brandywine heirlooms, Early girls, Sun Gold cherries, Fourth of July, Big Boy Brandywines, Plum tomatoes and lots of cherry tomatoes. Little did we know how prolific the plants would be and how good a growing season we would have. The kids and I are out there every day inspecting the tomatoes and gambling on which ones are ok to leave for tomorrow hoping the slugs and other small hungry visitors won’t eat them before we get to them. It’s a risk we’re not always willing to take, but Our tomato storage capabilities are reaching their max. I feel more and more like my Italian Nonna everyday as I care for my tomatoes with the tenderness I do my children and trays fill my house with upside down tomatoes spaced apart and covered with linens in order to prolong their lifespan. Like us, the tomatoes are also better off social distancing to insure their health and longevity.
I Have been making sauce, canning, jarring, freezing, sun drying and roasting tomatoes daily. We’re eating many tomato sandwiches with fresh pesto and mayo. There is nothing quite like the amazing taste of a vine ripened tomato. It’s a simple thing that can bring so much joy. The tomatoes seem never ending and the garden is beginning to feel a bit like Big Anthony’s garden from the Strega Nonna storybook! For those not familiar, his garden is a bit out of control, but the unwieldy magic of a garden continues to be truly delightful and exciting! We keep finding new surprise plants that have sprung from our dirt and are now bearing fruit. We have butternut squash trellising across our fence, an unknown squash growing in the pumpkin patch and compost bin, cucumbers growing in our pot of Canna’s and a giant gourd plant taking over a flower bed!
Every meal seems to be a new creative adventure. We have roasted some of Leo’s giant pumpkins and made lasagna size pumpkin pies! With plenty pumpkin purée leftover to fill our freezer for later use. We can’t get enough squash fritters, zucchini bread, fresh garden salsa and cucumber salads! We’ve even gotten pretty creative with our pesto recipes and made beet green, kale and basil pesto with almonds and walnuts. We’ve gone Greek and made home made Tzatziki along with feta, tomato, cucumber wraps. The magic of the garden keeps on giving and continues to renew and recharge our mind, body and soul!
We have harvested all the carrots, beets and lettuce and have started new plantings for an early fall harvest. There are so many great vegetables you can plant in August for most planting zones that will allow for a crop before winter. We have put in bush bean plants, arugula, spinach, mesclun salad mix, kale and broccoli rabe (a bitter green similar to broccoli). Some other vegetables that you can plant now are radishes, carrots, beets (for beet greens and small beets), Swiss chard, and garlic.
The kids are drying out seeds from the tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, banana peppers and pumpkins to save for next year.
To Plant a Garden is to Believe in tomorrow.
There is something so therapeutic about working the earth, growing your own food and cooking and eating together. It is a tradition I hold dear to my heart that I am grateful to pass down to my children. Sunday dinners at my Nonna’s house packed into her tiny kitchen with my Aunts, Uncles, Great Aunts and Great Uncles, cousins and friends eating a home cooked meal from the garden while listening to them debate over who found the cheapest grapes and broccoli rabe – are some of my dearest childhood memories. As a young girl I didn’t quite understand why my grandparents worked so hard when you could buy everything at the food store? Yet, there was something special about what they did that struck me even at an early age. Both my grandparents have since passed, but I feel their presence shining over me each time I set foot in my garden and get lost in the rows of tomato plants. They were two very hardworking people who lived very simple and always shared the fruits of their labor with those they loved. They were the original ‘Farm to Table’ farmers. The way they have shaped my life to appreciate the simple things, to know where my food comes from and to respect the earth that feeds me, is profound. They have gifted me with the secrets to the true riches in life, good food, family and friends- and for that I am ever grateful.
If I am so lucky to be granted a third wish, It would be that – All who have tasted the pleasures of the earth work together to preserve it. Be that in the garden and in life.
This was a new experiment in our house. Each year we go to a living history museum where they dye wool with ingredients from nature. It has always been amazing to see the beautiful colors that come from some surprising ingredients! One way that the early colonial settlers dyed wool was with onion skins. The yellow onions will give your wool a yellow -orange – beige – brown look and if you use Red onion skins, you will get a reddish purple coloring. Colors can also vary depending on the yarn color you are using. Leo and I decided to give dying yarn from onion skins a try!
It’s a simple and fun project to try. We used the skin of two yellow onions, brought them to a boil in a pan of water on the stove top and simmered it until it reached a dark orange color. Then we added our acrylic yarn. If you are using actual wool, be sure to only add it once the water has cooled down, otherwise you can felt the wool with the hot water. We let our yarn sit until it reached our desired color. Kind of like dyeing Easter Eggs. Just check it periodically to determine how dark you’d like it. Then we put it outside to dry in the sun. Once dry, Leo used it to work on a ‘God’s Eye’ craft!
Another interesting way of dyeing the yarn is putting it with the onion skins in a mason jar full of water and let it sit in the sun for a couple days. This process takes a lot longer, but is fun for the kids to see how the sun warms the water and extracts the colors from the onion skins. If they are inspired, they could try other objects from nature to put into a jar with white yarn; flowers, green leaves, dandelion roots, berries and even mushrooms!
This pickling project was spearheaded by Leo. He loves pickles and was so excited by our surplus stock of cucumbers coming out of the garden that he requested we give pickle making a try. I’ve never made pickles before aside from what I call my lazy way of adding cucumbers to the pickle brine of empty pickle jars we bought from the store. It’s worked in the past, especially since we never really had a lot of cucumbers left over to jar. The ‘Homemade Refrigerator Pickle’ recipe we followed from A Spicy Perspectivehttps://www.aspicyperspective.com/best-homemade-refrigerator-pickles/ was easy, simple and the pickles taste great!
Homemade Refrigerator Pickles:
3 to 4 cucumbers
1/4 cup Vidalia onion, sliced
3-5 sprigs fresh dill
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 cloves garlic minced
1 1/2 teaspoons pickling salt or kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon whole yellow mustard seeds
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Fill a clean pint-sized jar with 3 to 4 sliced cucumbers, onion slices and fresh dill sprigs. Leave a 1/2 inch of space at the top of the jar for liquid.
In a small pot heat the vinegar, water, garlic and spices until the mixture comes to a simmer and the salt and sugar dissolve.
Cool the brine down to a warm temperature and fill the jars so that everything is covered with brine.
Close the lid tightly and refrigerate for 24 hours before eating.
Homemade pickles should last for two months in the refrigerator in a jar.
I planted a different kind of cucumber in the garden this year along with the other pickling cucumbers. This one is an heirloom Cucumber Lemon. If you haven’t ever tried it, they are delicious. Crunchy, sweet and can be eaten right off the vine or pickled. Another great addition to the cucumber garden!
One beautiful gift in my family’s life that has come from this ‘great global pause’ is the time we took to expand our garden. It has been something Mike and I have been dreaming of doing for years and because of the need to remove trees, clear the land from lots of overgrowth, make beds, a fence and bring in some good compost – the task at hand was very labor intensive and time consuming. It was a team effort and we are thoroughly enjoying the fruits of our labor which I am grateful for each and every day.
With the warm July weather, the garden has truly exploded with bounty – and with that, we’ve had some unexpected visitors. One morning, Vivi (my 20-month-old) and I were sitting in the living room playing, when she pointed out the window and said, “Mama, Neigh, Neigh.” I looked and saw these adorable fawns in our yard eating some fresh buds off the stumps of trees we cut down. “But where is the mama?” I asked. “Oh, there she is mom,” said Leo. “She’s in the garden!” In the garden! I jumped to my feet and opened the screen door and there she was happily enjoying my beet greens! I started walking over to the garden as if to kindly ask her to leave and not frighten her babies and as peacefully as she came, she left, jumping over our garden fence. I discovered that the beet greens weren’t all that she likes, she throughly enjoyed our green beens too!
About a month ago, when Mike was working on the fence, he asked me if we should make it higher than 4 feet because deer can jump 6 feet high. I told him that the likely hood of a deer jumping over a fence to get into our garden seemed funny, entirely unlikely and not to worry. Well, rather than eating my beet greens, I’m now eating my own words! Since then, we added a wire addition to the fence so that it now stands at 6 feet tall. The deer keep visiting, but fortunately they haven’t attempted leaping this fence.
The garden fun doesn’t stop there. The kids are always so eager to pick the ripening vegetables, even before they’re ready and bring them into the house to show me with excitement. We have eaten some small, hard, orange tomatoes, very small and bitter cucumbers and some baby eggplant. No problem, it’s all edible, some vegetables really just taste a heck of a lot better when they are ripe! It has been a good lesson in patience. Fortunately, the kids have now pretty much got the hang of picking fruit when it’s reached its peak, aside from Vivi who still loves those big green tomatoes she calls apples! We check the garden daily scoping out with excited anticipation what we can pick next. Unfortunately, we had another little visitor that was also watching our tomatoes, eggplants and carrots as closely as we were and decided to taste test the fruit too! Instead of eating it all or taking it with him, he just took bites of whatever he liked and left the rest there for us. So, again, we were back to the fence, searching for a spot that the little bugger was using to get into the garden. We found the hole and found another, made some repairs and found out the hard way one night that it was a skunk who was paying our garden a nightly visit.
Now that we have put the garden on lockdown from all visitors except for those that work in it, we have seen things start to flourish again and are having a hard time keeping up with all the goodness. We have been enjoying summer squash, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, early girl tomatoes, green beans, eggplant, cucumbers, cucumbers and more cucumbers! The kids and I have been trying out many zucchini/squash recipes and have been enjoying zucchini fritters, saute’d zucchini, squash and eggplant, and some great zucchini bread along with many cucumber and tomato sandwiches. Leo and I also made homemade refrigerator pickles and as we were packing them into our refrigerator, we realized it was broken! Yes, all my pandemic frozen goodies went with it! Didn’t realize they had all thawed and could only save so much since my oven broke earlier in the week and I was only working with a stove top! Just feel like it was all adding to the slower, homesteading pace of life to be without my appliances! Had to try and go with it, otherwise I may have broke down too! Fortunately, we had a back-up fridge in the basement and were able to save what we had in the refrigerator – especially those pickles!
Leo has decided to celebrate Halloween in July and has been having lot’s of fun carving summer squash, cucumbers and even one of his pumpkins from the ‘Great Pumpkin Patch!’ Can’t help but smile looking at my little guy and his missing two front teeth next to his toothless pumpkin!
I hope you all are enjoying the joys of gardening and celebrating the beauty and bounty of life. The gifts of life are so precious – meant to nourish, to be preserved and above all, Enjoyed – True to the garden. True to life!
Wishing you all Good Health, Good Food and Good Company.
Life is Good!
The garden keeps on growing! Each day we walk through the garden weeding, watering, and pruning the suckers off the tomatoes, we are amazed by the growth that seems to happen overnight. Gardening is truly a labor of love. If you’ve ever weeded a carrot bed, I’m sure you’d very much agree! Weeding aside, tending to a garden is therapeutic for me and I think it’s contagious! The kids along with Mike are always out there checking on their plants, pulling weeds, picking bugs off the bok choy and the eggplant, making sure the ground isn’t too dry, counting tomatoes and flowers in the pumpkin patch and dreaming of what the next couple months will bring like tomato sandwiches and homemade pickles!
Leo has been my right hand man in the garden this year. He seems to be pretty much in charge of the whole production, but like any good boss, he is always asking questions and learning himself! He is always out there first thing in the morning to check on things, especially his two bean plants that he sprouted from seeds in a jar and then transplanted into the garden. He is a seed saver. Everything he eats, he usually asks where is the seed and how did this grow on a plant and can he grow it in the garden. We are both learning something new everyday. We have researched corn, how many ears one stalk can grow, how to help your pumpkins grow bigger, where are banana seeds and why flowers turn into plants. We also have been studying bees; how they survive and thrive and how they pollinate plants.
People who love to eat are always the best people.
Spending time in the garden has always brought me great joy and I feel so honored to be able to share this gift with my family. I have so many beautiful childhood memories of my Italian grandparents garden in New Jersey. My Nonno and Nonna taught me so much about working the earth and making good food. They were the original “organic” farmers growing up in a little mountain village in Italy. They valued everything they put on the table because it truly was in every word, “the fruits of their labor.” So much of what I know about gardening I learned watching and helping them. They taught me at an early age to respect the earth and to take care of it because our existence depends on it. They weren’t environmental activists, they were Italian farmers who knew the importance of respecting the earth that feeds you. They taught me where food comes from, how to compost and create healthy dirt, how to save seeds for next year, how to can and cook what you grow and best of all, they taught me the great joy of sitting down to a meal together with those you love.
Gardening and food have a way of connecting us all
Planting a garden isn’t just about experimentation, it is about hope. It is about believing in the magic and beauty of the earth and the gift of tomorrow. When planting a garden there are so many things that are out of our control that can effect our plants. To believe in a garden is to have hope. Hope that the tiny little seed you planted will be nourished by the earth and weather the storms and be resilient. It is having trust in the unknown, which is something I hold very near to my heart during these uncertain times. Hope is something that like a garden needs to be nurtured and encouraged to grow. There is no time better than the present to harvest hope. To believe in tomorrow. So I encourage you to dig deep into the earth and plant some seeds of hope. Your garden will do more than grow plants, it will give you a harvest of plenty; one that will nourish the mind, body and soul.
Having a garden and believing in new beginnings is a Victory for us all!
We have all been hard at work creating our new 2020 Victory Garden expansion. Mike has been working harder than anyone using his time off from his business during this ‘Great Pause’ to expand our garden. He is a true Pioneer Great Outdoorsman – He cut down the trees with his trusty chain saw, he milled the trees into lumber for our raised beds, a garden bench, the split rail fence and a picnic table (coming soon), he and the kids shoveled all the compost we had delivered from a local dairy farm, he pulled weeds and lots and lots of poison ivy to make the space ready for our new garden! With all this homesteading that has been happening Mike and I are feeling a little more like Charles and Caroline Ingalls every day!
Mike has worked incredibly hard (although he has a way of not making it Look like it) putting together the beautiful split rail fence from the trees he cut down. He even had the kids working on scraping the bark off the trees. I usually have to turn away when I look out back and see the kids hard at work with sharp tools! I only ask that they are safe and have a clear understanding of what they need to do and then I take comfort and great pride in seeing them shine and feel proud of their contribution and hard work.
The kids and I started some kale, swiss chard, mesclun salad mix, tomatoes and eggplant seeds in our cold frame and transplanted some to the new garden. We also purchased plants from our local garden center and got some extra’s from my father-in-law as he needed to thin out his new plants.
It is so exciting to see it all come together and to think of the fruits of our labor that we’ll be enjoying this summer! The beds are full of cucumbers, golden beets, carrots, peppers, eggplant, bok choy, lettuce, beans, squash, zucchini, garlic, onions, sunflowers, corn, kale, swiss chard, basil, parsley and tomatoes – lots and lots of tomatoes!
Leo planted his own garden space with sugar baby watermelons, magic lantern pumpkins, corn, sunflowers and gourd pumpkins! He loves collecting seeds from all the fruit and vegetables we eat, drying them out and then putting them into his garden!
If you’re looking for a great gardening book for kids – Sharon Love Joy has two wonderful books: Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots
If you’re a grandparent and would love to put together some garden delights for your grandchildren or with your grandchildren – Sunflower Houses is a Beautiful book:
Here’s to a summer full of Good Health – and a Plentiful Harvest of Peace, Hope, Joy – and lot’s of Veggies!