Friday, July 29, 2011

Girls Night Out

Last Thursday, at the height of the recent Midwest heat wave, I went to a Girls' Night Out event at Spring Bluff Nursery.  The temperature was 96F, but with the humidity, it felt like 230F.  They were featuring gourmet hors d'oeuvres, wine, fun vendors and sales on many annual and perennial plants. 

I was sweating.  Profusely.

The nursery folks had a fun game for all the participants. They hid 50 Easter eggs amongst the ball and burlap trees, each containing some kind of coupon.  My coupon is good for 50% off a tree, so we'll be getting another tree for the backyard very soon.  Skyline honeylocust, anyone?

One of the vendors I was really impressed with was Holly of The Backyard Farm Girls.  Holly and Jennifer help people set up and maintain small chicken flocks in suburban backyards.  What a great idea!  Martha has chickens, and I've always loved the idea of having my own backyard flock. But if the Big Guy won't go for a beehive in the backyard, then you know chickens are out of the question.  Of course, that doesn't stop me from asking him about it 682 times a week.  Bonus! They offer introductory classes...hopefully I can attend one soon.

I wanted to buy a gazillion plants, but with limited time, space and funds I only bought two clearanced Purple Passion asparagus plants, two gallardia and two sedum.  My hope is that with more flowers in the backyard amongst the vegetables, I should be able to attract more bees and butterflies to help with pollination issues.

Spring Bluff Nursery had a darling fairy house on display. Isn't this too cute?

One thing I liked about the event was that I got to visit their "sample garden" where they feature all the varieties of vegetable seedlings they sell. I was happy to find out that zucchini plants are in fact bushes, and not vines.  I had always thought zucchini was more like a cucumber, and I expected it to vine everywhere.  Good to know that it's supposed to be a bush!

Now that plants are fruiting (vegging?) the sample garden turns into a U-Pick garden.  The kids and I will head out there soon to see what they have available.

It was a nice, if sweltering, evening.  Thanks to Spring Bluff Nursery for a fun event!

Thursday, July 28, 2011


I like gardening. I really, really like gardening. And even though I am fairly new at this (I've only tried to garden twice before in my life), it's going well.  As I've repeatedly mentioned, gardening is the one trait about Martha Stewart that I covet the most, and also the area of Martha-ness in which I am (was?) most lacking.

With that in mind, you can imagine how proud and happy I was when we began to harvest cucumbers two weeks ago. The Little Guy was just as excited as I was.

The first cucumbers came off of our Fanfare variety, and they were quite tasty. 

So far, we've harvested at least 8 cucumbers (I've lost track of the exact count).  Cucumber slices are great for snacking and as a side dish in our house.   Of our two varieties, I like Sweet Slice the best.  I'll be planting two of those next year.

I've also harvested ONE cherry tomato from the Golden Nugget plant.  Because there was only one, I quartered it so we could all have a tiny taste.  It was delicious!   I would definitely plant two of those next year as well.  

If all goes well (good weather and no more hornworms), we should have several more of these for this weekend.  And a lot more smiles like the one above!  Happy harvesting!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Not in my garden

I was admiring my tomato plants this weekend (indeed, I make time to fawn over my veggie plants at least twice a day), I noticed something on the leaves of my Early Girl.

Is that poop? On my tomato plant?  Gross! 

Then I noticed SEVERAL tomatoes had been munched on and then left for dead.  Or at least left for consumption at a later time.  Now I was really getting upset.

Finally, I found the culprit:


At this point, I should let you all know that the presence of the Little Guy, who joins me for nearly every stroll I take around the garden, was the only thing that stopped a long string of four-letter words from coming out of my mouth.

I ran inside and called Uncle Rich, who happens to be a garden expert.  "There's this HUGE caterpillar thing...on my tomatoes...AND IT'S EATING THEM ALL!!!!"  I'm not sure I was making a lot of sense, but Uncle Rich knew exactly what I was talking about. 

"Kill it. Kill it now, before it annihilates all of your tomatoes," he said.  
"How? This thing is huge!" I replied.
"Smash it," Uncle Rich recommended.
And so I did.

For those who are not familiar with ginormous tomato-eating caterpillars, as I was not until Saturday, that THING is a hornworm.  BFF Laura confirmed what Uncle Rich had said and helpfully added, "I like to cut them in half." 

My favorite theology teacher (Hi, Terri!) informed me that hornworms are like cockroaches...there's never just one.  Since that bit of info, I've been going over my tomato plants daily with a fine-tooth comb.  So far, I haven't seen another but I am on the lookout.

Memo to any hornworms thinking of entering my garden:  I will DESTROY you. 

Which leads me to wonder, what method does Martha use to kill hornworms?  On second thought, she probably doesn't have any in her garden...they just wouldn't dare.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Manda Monday--Canning planning

A few weeks ago, I walked into a Master Gardener Q&A session as folks were discussing tomato plants.  People were nodding in agreement when the Master Gardener said "Two tomato plants is enough, there's really no need to plant more than that."

And from the back of the room in that shrill voice of hers...okay, mine...I screeched, "ONLY TWO? BUT I PLANTED TWELVE!"

The Master Gardener and her small but experienced gardener audience chuckled at my tomato enthusiasm, since clearly this newbie got a little out of control when purchasing her seedlings.

Well, I beg to differ. Having twelve tomato plants is going to be totally awesome, especially since I plan on canning a lot of the fruit. 

Yep, that's right, I'm going old school. Actually, canning is new again.  As food costs rise, home canning is a great way to save money, especially if you grew the food yourself. 


There are plenty of books and kits to help you get started.  The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving has been on my nightstand for a few days now, and I'm getting my materials ready.  I have a pressure cooker (Thanks, Uncle Rich!), funnel, jar lifter and an assortment of jars, lids and bands.
I hope to have enough tomatoes for a few jars each of pasta sauce, crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes.  Of course, more would be better.  In my wildest dreams, I'll be up day and night for two straight weekends as I can can can thousands of beautiful red tomatoes. 

In addition to the Complete Book of Home Preserving, I have an older Ball Blue Book for canning from BFF Laura that's going to come in handy, as well as The Encyclopedia of Homemade Preserves. Online, I'm looking at the Ball Canning website and the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Now, all I need is for my 100+ green tomatoes out there to ripen all within two weeks of each other.

Note to the crowd at the Master Gardener Q&A session:  Next year, I'm planning for TWENTY tomato plants. Minimum.  So there!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Flea market find

Not too long ago friend Yogi and I hit the Kendall County Flea Market

We got there early, so not many vendors had set up other than the ones in the barn. But the barn displays were fantastic!  Every vendor took such pride in their wares and things were beautifully displayed.

The good thing about hitting the flea market early is that it's still cool outside (well, maybe not this week) and it's not crowded.

Here's my find from the flea market:

It's a square cake stand! Isn't it awesome?  Cake stands are quickly becoming my thing, and I was happy to snatch this up for only $10.00.  Yogi's theory on the hole in the middle is that it's meant to allow for stacking another smaller stand on top.  Do you have any ideas as to what the hole is for?

Yogi and I are heading to the Kane County Flea Market in August...maybe I'll add another piece to my growing cake stand collection! 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

XXX Pumpkins

So Aunt KB gave me 8 pumpkin seedlings in the spring, and 6 made it into my garden. A few weeks after planting them, I got this email from her:

"Thanks for the shout out on the blog. Good luck on the pumpkins. Just so you know - you have to have "pumpkin sex" to get a good harvest."


KB continues:

"The girl pumpkin flowers are the ones with the green pumpkin balls under them - the boy pumpkin flowers do not have this part. You take a q-tip and get friendly with the boy flower and then introduce the q-tip to the girl flower. You will have a limited time in which to have pumpkin sex - so take advantage of an open flower. If all goes well the pumpkin ball will start to grow and turn into a big pumpkin.  KB"

After I finished reading this email bomb, I sat in my chair dumbfounded for quite a while.  I had to help the pumpkins reproduce?  ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN MENTIONED WHEN YOU GAVE ME THE SEEDLINGS!!!!

Honestly, this was the first I had ever heard of helping plants produce fruit, and I know Martha has never mentioned this in her magazine/blog/website/show.  And also, isn't that what bees are for? 

I told KB she was crazy and bees handle this sort of thing and that I had no intention of helping pumpkins in the bedroom and this kind of thing really should have been discussed prior to me receiving the pumpkins and is this some crazy joke that more experienced gardeners play on newbies and OMG I gave one of those seedlings to MOM2 and are you telling me I need to have this conversation with her????

Fast forward several weeks later, when I have lots of flowers on my pumpkins (and zucchini for that matter) but no fruit.  I began to wonder if maybe KB was telling me the truth about the birds, bees and pumpkin business.

I attended a Master Gardener Q&A session where KB's wacky ideas about pumpkin pollination were confirmed. Turns out it not some crazy scheme cooked up by my aunt to make me do weird things to squash in my garden, but a way of helping nature out.  But believe me, I still tried to get out of the role of pumpkin pollinator.  I even whined to the Master Gardener, "Seriously, shouldn't bees be doing this?

And then she dropped a bomb on me..."Yes, but have you seen any bees in your garden this summer?"

And the truth is, I've only seen one or two bees all summer.  This is not good.

Dismayed by all this flowering-but-no-fruiting and bummed out by my lack of bees, I decided to bite the bullet.  I smushed some flowers together and hoped for the best.  Then I saw this:

See the golf-ball size pumpkin underneath the flower?  Maybe my pollination assistance had helped, even though the flower accompanying the baby pumpkin hadn't been smushed.  I thought my work was done, so I didn't mess with that flower.  I have come to regret that decision: here I am a week later, and it looks like that golf-ball size pumpkin is withering away rather than getting bigger.  Crap.

I'm having similar issues with my zucchini.  Lots of flowers but no squash so I started smushing flowers together there, too.

Now I do have three small zucchini growing, along with a question: Do I need to be pollinating every single female flower, or can I just do one or two and the plant will get the idea? 

This entire experience is leading me to think that next year, I either need to stay away from pumpkins or get myself a beehive in the backyard.  Pumpkin pollination might just be too much for this Martha wanna-be.  At any rate, I'll keep smushing flowers together and crossing my fingers that I get some pumpkins and zucchini in the fall!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Martha Monday--Women with Vision

Tonight on the Hallmark channel, Martha Stewart presents a prime-time special, "Women with Vision" at 8pm EST.  I will be on it. 

And by "on it," I mean I'll ask The Big Guy to Tivo this for me so I can watch it at a more convenient three years from now when I'm running in only five different directions, and not 12 like I am now.

Oh, did you think I was going to be on the show?  Nope, sorry.  When Martha does a "Women who barely function in the morning and don't even have time for breakfast and have to stop at the Dunkin' Donuts drivethru for coffee and bagels because they were too busy getting rid of a dead snake in their backyard and preparing for tonight's community education class of Living Well and Spending Less" episode, then I will be the guest on that.  In a totally unrelated note, can you guess how my morning went?

Find out more about the show here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Register now to live well and spend less!

Quick reminder:  my next Live Well, Spend Less! course at Waubonsee Community College starts next week on Monday, July 18 at the Sugar Grove campus.  To get a small taste of this class, check out my blog post on living well and spending less in the summer.  Also, take a peek at what we accomplished in this class during the spring semester.  The best ideas featured in the class (as determined by the participants) will make it onto The Martha Initiative.

Sign up for the class here.  You can find it by typing in the class title:  Live Well, Spend Less; or by typing in my last name: Grant.  As always, you can see a list of all of my upcoming courses on the right sidebar.  I hope you can join me at Waubonsee!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Martha Monday--Sipping up summer

We've had a wickedly hot past two weeks with no rain (until this morning, that is) and I've been searching for some great ways to cool off.  For obvious reasons (fanaticism and laziness) I looked no further for inspiration than and found some great summer drink recipes.

I need to get my hands on some Pimm's No. 1 to make a Pimm's cup:

I also need to get my hands on some prosecco for this Prosecco Sangria:

Isn't this fun? What a great idea for a punchbowl!

I love plain/regular mojitos, but I'm willing to give this Bing Cherry version a try:

I'm off to the liquor store and then home to experiment...have a great Monday, everyone!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Cherry chocolate mice

I saw these at a birthday party a few months ago, and they've been in my Idea File ever since.  They're cherry and chocolate mice...aren't they adorable? 

The body is a maraschino cherry dipped in chocolate, keeping the stem on to represent a tail.  The head is a Hershey's kiss, and the ears are almond slivers. I'm guessing the eyes and noses are simply frosting dabbed on.  I ate several, and I can assure you they taste just as good as they look. Yum!

These mice would fit into a variety of birthday and shower themes...I'm thinking of doing a barnyard theme for Little Miss' 2nd birthday, and these would be perfect in a toy barn.  I could also see these at a nursery-rhyme themed baby shower ("Hickory Dickory Dock," anyone?). 

I'm sure these took a nice chunk of time to prepare. Fortunately, I sure they could be done a day or two ahead of time and held in the fridge until the party.  These were just so cute and delicious...mice have never been more appealing to me!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Drying herbs

Remember this?

The Little Guy and I had planted an herb garden in February, and by June, everything was out of control.  I demolished the basil to make pesto, which left only thyme and oregano for drying.

Look at this thyme! It's crazy! Crazy thyme!

I snipped the thyme and oregano stalks off at the base and simply placed them on paper towels and left them in a cool, dry place for a few weeks to dry out.  This might not be the preferred way to do it, and I'll show you why in a minute, but that's just how I roll here. 

Also how I roll: I left these alone and then actually forgot about them.  It was such a pleasant surprise to find them every few days: "Hey! What's that?  Oh yeah, those are the herbs I'm drying. I should do something with that."

The thyme was a big, tangled clump when I cut it, and I didn't take the time to untangle it before it dried out. As a result, I had a huge clump of dried tangled thyme on my hands, which made leaf extraction very difficult. 

I ended up just wringing the whole clump in my hands over a sheet of wax paper, hoping that I would only get the leaves.  As people with more sense know, thyme stalks are quite thin, and in the wringing process I also got a lot of stems in there along with the leaves. 

It took a few minutes of extra work, but I did get most of the stems out. This thyme will be stored in an airtight jar and saved for future use. If it's not all used up in the next few months, then it will be at Thanksgiving when I pile it all on the turkey.

The oregano was much easier to process, perhaps because the stems are quite substantial and not as prone to breakage.  I simply separated the stems from their drying-process-clump, and ran my fingers over the stems to break off the dried leaves.

These, too, will go into an airtight jar for future use.  I foresee lots of it going to pizza dip

Now that I'm all out of live herbs, I'm staring a whole new round of herb growing in the kitchen.  And because my need for pesto has grown, I'm planting some basil out in the garden as well.  How Martha is that?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Martha Monday--Fireworks cookies

On the cover of the July issue of Martha Stewart Living, there's an awesome picture of frosted sugar cookies done up like fireworks.  Love it!  And so obviously, I had to make them. 

Fortunately, we had a great July 4th weekend birthday party to attend for our friend and neighbor, so I made a platter of circle and star fireworks cookies for the adults and, at the hostess' request,  individually wrapped twelve cookies to be included in the kids' favor bags. 

This project was a lot of fun.  Martha's colors are a lot deeper, and I had some icing consistency issues going on here, but overall I'm really happy with the result.

Happy Fourth of July to everyone!  Have a safe and fun celebration!