Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake

Oh My My.

If you love tomatoes, basil and cheese, you will LOVE this Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake. If you've never tried Quinoa, this is an excellent recipe to start your Quinoa adventure. You can thank me later...This is seriously good eats!

Here's the link to the recipe if you want to give it a try: Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake

To make the Quinoa needed for this recipe, it's 1 cup Quinoa to 2 cups water. Bring water to a boil, then add a pinch of salt and the quinoa.  Set timer for 15 minutes then watch it until there's no liquid left.  Like rice.

When I first started making recipes with quinoa, I had to figure out how to make "2 cups quinoa".  It's 1 part quinoa, 2 parts water.

And if you like this recipe, let me know!  There a tons of excellent Quinoa recipes on Pinterest!  The mexican type recipes are also excellent.  But this caprese version is definitely my favorite.  It smells sooooo good in here!!!!

Oh, and I picked two more okra pods.  There.  I got in my gardening for the day!!!

(A Little Too) Spicy Vegetable Soup with Okra!

I've only gotten 3 okra pods so far so I decided to make some vegetable soup.

I don't like to make soup in the crockpot.  It doesn't taste the same as my method in a pot on the stove.

First I added some olive oil to a big pot, added onion, garlic, carrots, celery and green beans and let each addition sweat a bit.  Then I scraped the corn from the cob and added that along with my 3 okra pods, letting it all sweat a bit longer.

I added kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, then a big can of (cough) "mild" Rotel diced tomatoes, 2 packets of chicken bullion and water to cover.  I really wanted to add baby lima beans, but I decided to be brave and bought a can of green pigeon peas instead. These were the only veggies that weren't "fresh".

I opened the pigeon peas and did a taste test before adding to the soup.  They weren't bitter (which is what I was worried about) and they had a consistency similar to baby lima's, sort of.  It worked for me so in they went!  I'll definitely buy cans of green pigeon peas to add to rice.  They don't compare to fresh green pigeon peas, that's for sure, but they'll definitely work in rice.  Glad I got the courage up to try them!  I'm waiting impatiently for my pigeon pea plants to produce again.

When I was at Publix buying the other veggies, younger son was with me.  We got to the canned tomato aisle and I asked him if I should go with plain, italian seasoned or spicy Rotel tomatoes.  He suggested the mild Rotel diced tomatoes. So that's what I bought.  I always think spicy food (gumbo) when I think of okra.

Holy Moly!  That soup was spicy!  Even he was a bit surprised at how spicy it was.  We had to double check the label on the can to be sure we hadn't made a mistake but sure enough, they were "mild"!  It's way too spicy for me, unfortunately.  I'll need to wait for more okra and make a second batch with a little less heat.

I put the soup in pint jars and took 2 to work and fed them to my bosses. No complaints so I guess it wasn't too spicy for them.  Younger son said he'll eat the rest.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Bonsai and Creeping Cucumber!

Check out these creeping cucumbers!

They are in a small sushi condiment dish.  They're adorable!

Hubby is getting ready to make one of our bougainvillea trees into a bonsai tree so he was weeding around it getting ready to dig it out.  There were quite a few creeping cucumber fruits on the bush.  We discovered them last year and have been enjoying them ever since. This was quite a crop he picked today!

The green ones are perfectly edible.  When they turn blue/black, don't eat them! They'll cause trouble with your digestive tract!

Here are two Bonsai tree's he's been working on - both junipers:

For scale, the plants are on a 12" tile.

These are the two plants we bought on Saturday that he'll will be working on next:

The one on the left is a Brazilian Raintree and the one on the right is a Fukien Tea Tree.

We have quite a few trees in the yard he can dig up and use for Bonsai.  It'll keep him busy!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mulch in the Forecast

I managed to get a load of free mulch on Tuesday and hope to get 2 or 3 more tomorrow.

I also did a bit of weeding this morning before work.  I was able to weed around what I am fairly certain is a korean melon plant. The darn snails are getting at the fruits but most of the vine is now climbing up a tree limb.  I've been picking the snails off every time I'm out inspecting things.

Tomorrow we're going to Wigert's Bonsai in North Fort Myers.  Hubby is back on a bonsai kick.  He went to Wigert's on Wednesday and was amazed.  He wants me to go tomorrow to see how amazing the place is and to help choose a bonsai tree.

Once all the weeding and mulching is done, I plan on buying some bagged compost from OrganicLee.  Not sure how good this stuff is but thought it would be worth a try. It's either that or black kow.  I can't make compost fast enough and I need A LOT!

There's still some bushwacking that needs to be done in the new garden area.  A Dwarf Firebush, False Poinciana and Necklace Pod bush all need to be removed.

Lots to do.  Praying the weather will stay coolish.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Woo hoo!  I managed to grow okra!  I'm amazed.  Particularly since these two plants were neglected for a month.  Weeds growing up like crazy all around it.

Here's the weedy state of the 2 okra plants:

But they seem to be happy nonetheless:

Here's the pod I picked today:

I really should have picked it last night but I didn't get home from work until 7:30 and I forgot all about it.  I swear it grew an inch since yesterday morning!

There should be a few more ready by the weekend so I can have a taste test.  The first pod went into a paper bag in the crisper drawer awaiting it's siblings.

My first attempt in eating my homegrown okra will be by frying it.  I'm hoping to put a few into a vegetable soup as well.

Here's an okra story...

We were on vacation celebrating our 25th Anniversary.  It was a great trip, no schedules, just meandering south from NH to FL for a week. We drove down the Delmarva Peninsula and went across the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel.  We stopped at the gift shop/restaurant on the south side of the bridge-tunnel so we could enjoy the view.  Since it was getting late, we decided to grab a bite to eat and watch the sunset.  I ordered the soup and the young woman said I probably wouldn't like it because it had okra and other weird stuff in it (I don't think she knew what lima beans were because that was the only other "wierd" vegetable I could find).  I assured her I'd enjoy it. It was the best vegetable soup I've ever had!  That woman didn't know what she was missing!  I don't know if I can ever replicate that soup, but I'm sure going to try.

And I'll have it all to myself!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Weekend Gardening (and Other) Adventures

We had lots and lots of rain last week and the forecast shows another wet week ahead. Yay!!  I love when it rains.

I've taken cuttings from my longevity spinach to start new plants.  The main plant has gotten quite leggy over the summer.  My bad for not trimming and eating it regularly.

I took stock of the herbs that survived the summer so far - Rosemary, Green Onion, Lemon Grass, Bee Balm, and a wee bit of Lemon Balm and Mint.  I was surprised the Bee Balm did so well.

And now for some bad photography...

Okra in Flower

Korean Melon (I think!)
Whatever it is, it's quite happy.  It's a jungle of weeds back there so it's going to be "fun" making sure I don't accidentally injure it when I weed out that area.

The New Moringa

The Papaya's are doing fantastic!

In this next picture you can see that it's still got lots of fruit to offer - there's another flower at the top.

I really love that the papaya ripen one at a time.  It would be difficult to eat papaya if they matured all at once.  I'm going to plant a few seeds from the first mature fruit and pinch the tops off at about 4 feet to see if they'll branch out (staying within reaching distance) and still produce fruit okay. The two mature trees I have are going to be skyscrapers soon.  Luckily our pole picker will reach them. For now.

The two new pigeon pea plants are doing great.  They're only a few inches shorter than the avocado I grew from seed last year:

They'll easily overtake the avocado, but I'm hoping the root system of the pigeon peas will help feed the avocado.  In the foreground are the Fig and Moringa. Background is the trunk of the Papaya, with two smaller papaya trees behind the monster tree. They aren't growing very fast, too much shade for them I think.  I'll just let them do their thing.  Oh, ignore the pots - I was putting rabbit manure in them to fertilize and forgot to move them out of the way.

For the first time ever, I bought "Jiffy" seed pots!

I've always direct seeded into the garden.  For some reason, using these jiffy pots seems like "cheating", which is silly since I'm still planting seeds.  Hubby actually picked this up and said, you need to do this and start them NOW!  Since my new garden isn't quite ready it seems like a good idea.  It's usually November before I get around to starting seeds outside.  It will be an interesting experiment!

I FINALLY planted the Persian shield plant yesterday.  Figures, it didn't rain. Hopefully we'll get a bit more rain today.

We've been sprouting mung beans again.  I've been using the rinse water in the garden. I'm going to try growing some microgreens again this week too.  I'll use all peat moss this time for "soil".  I tried microgreens before using a new bag of miracle grow potting soil, assuming it would be sterile.  Nope. It was a mess within days.

I found some really nice strawberries at Fresh Market so I bought some vanilla yogurt and made up "to go" 1/2 pint jars of yogurt and strawberries.

I started two more pints of kefir last night and if they turn out okay, I'll be adding strawberries and vanilla to this batch.

It was a busy weekend, but what I really wanted to do, and didn't, was get more mulch. Oh well.  Maybe sometime this week.  I might investigate having a load of mulch delivered.  It would be much handier.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Last weekend I trimmed back my Moringa tree and hung up a bundle of leaves to dry.  I stripped the dried leaves from the stems tonight and put them in a canning jar.

I've given half to a friend.

I always leave my dried moringa in leaf form, I don't like to pulverize it.  Since I mostly use in tea and smoothies, it works best for me.

I've had my Moringa tree for a few years now but I ignored it and let it get too tall.  I'll have to pay better attention to the new tree that I've just started and pinch it off at 3 to 4 feet.

Weeding, Farmers Market and Pickled Okra

Tuesday was a busy day!  I started the morning off with a half hour weeding session.  It felt great to make some progress.

I skipped out of work early so we could go to a local indoor Farmer's Market that's been getting great reviews.  It's only open on Tuesdays, 4 to 8 (I think). I was impressed - lots of good produce.  We bought some nice beefsteak tomatoes, a seedless watermelon, two dragon fruit, a large container of grape tomatoes, some nice pickling cucumbers, ginger, romaine, pea pods, and okra.

When we got home I made two 1/2 pints of pickled okra.  I came across this recipe Monday night so it was fresh in my mind when I spotted the okra:

The recipe looked simple, and it was.  I tried them tonight and they were perfectly edible.

I made a salad for dinner last night and also made up three "salad jars" for lunch this week. Pint jar, dressing on bottom, grape tomatoes, sprouts, pea pods, cucumber and lettuce on top.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cassava, Moringa and Okra

The Moringa seed I planted has come up nicely - we've been getting (mostly) daily rains since I planted it so it got an excellent start.  I cut the two year old Moringa tree back today leaving only one large (albeit leggy) branch.  It's still wet enough in the season that new shoots should emerge where I cut the other branches. Hopefully.  I plunked a few tops in pots to see if they'd root.

I saved a handful of leaves and they're drying in the kitchen.  Once they're dry I'll crumble the leaves and put them in jars to add to smoothies or tea.

My two okra plants are still growing strong.  As I was weeding near the sunchokes, I noticed two more okra are still struggling along.

I pulled up one of my two cassava plants (the one that ended up in the shade) and there wasn't a root to be found. Nada. Zip.  I was a bit disappointed.  I probably pulled it too early - it's only a year old. So I'll leave the other one for several more months.  I've been searching the interwebs to see if I should have pinched the tops off at some point to get them to branch out.  I'm perplexed because all the images of cassava plants seem to be a huge bush.  Both of mine are just one very tall shoot.  Hmmmm.

It was definitely a disappointment about the cassava, but I cut the stalk into several segments and will try regrowing more plants.  The very top section I kept about 16" long, trimmed all but the very top leaves, and placed it in water.  I'll plant it in a few days. I thought I'd give it a drink until the shock wears off.

And speaking of papaya, my fruits are still growing bigger every day.

I did some spot weeding, fertilizing, and some pruning of my Jaboticaba tree and rose bushes.  I also planted a few more green onion roots and ginger.

It was a productive day for once!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Jaggery Balls

I discovered that if you run out of Molasses in the middle of making gingersnaps, you can sub with jaggery balls!  What are jaggery balls, you say?  These are jaggery balls:

Cane sugar.

The nice man at the Indian Market convinced hubby they were excellent to use in place of sugar in your morning coffee so he bought some.  I tried it in my coffee and nope, I didn't like it.  But it sure worked like a charm on the gingersnaps I made the other day!

And there you have it!  Jaggery balls!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Kefir Experiment

My first batch of Kefir, as I suspected, was way too yeasty/zingy.  So I threw the first batch out.  I split the grains up between two pint jars for the second batch and it worked perfectly. It was weird though, because it only took about 14 hours to be ready vs. the 24 hours it took the first time around with twice as many grains in a one pint jar.  I'm a little confused about how that could have happened.

That's my Kefir update for now.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mulching the Shredding

One of the things on my to do list today was to shred a big bag of old bills and receipts.  I put the first bin full of shredding in the compost tumbler.  The next three bins full went out in the garden where I'm working on building the soil. After each load of shreddings I covered it with a heavy layer of mulch.  I did pull the tall weeds first, but that was about it.

I also planted two more green onion roots from last night's dinner.  That was about it for gardening excitement today.

The Kefir finished up at about the 20 hour mark.  I made three jars of refrigerator oatmeal.  Then I made two more pint jars of Kefir.  I split up the kefir grains - the first batch seemed a little "yeasty" vs "zingy".  There might have been too many grains for just a pint of milk.  Another good experiment in the works!

Quail Eggs, Kefir and Salsa Verde

For breakfast, we ate quail eggs for the first time.  Cracking them was a bit of a problem, but I managed to only wreck 2.  There's a tool you can buy, looks like a cigar cutter, and if we do get some quail we'll invest in one of these.  The eggs are a bit pricey considering you need to use 3 or 4 to make an egg sandwich.  But once we start raising them, I'll be very happy to eat them regularly.

I called a local feed store that stocks chicks of all different sorts but the one thing they don't stock is quail.  Bummer.  I went on Craigslist and found a woman nearby who said she'd put me on her list to call when she has some quail chicks. Not sure how long that will be but at least it's a start.  Our other option is to buy hatching eggs on-line.  Not sure about that idea.

My next project was to make up my first batch of kefir.  I got the kefir grains on Friday. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for it to do its thing.  I started with organic whole milk.  It takes about 24 hours (+/-) to get to a buttermilk type consistency, which is when I'll strain it and put it in the fridge. Looking forward to some overnight oatmeal!

I also started some mung bean and lentil sprouts.  It's been a long time since I've sprouted!

And my list bit of healthiness was to make salsa verde.  YUM!  Boy that's good stuff. I'm going back to Publix for more tomatillos!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Vacation Day!

I took the day off yesterday, the first day off in a long while, so we could go to Marie Selby Botanical Garden in Sarasota.  It was a wonderful day.

The greenhouse full of orchids, gingers, bromeliads and other epiphytes is my favorite part of this garden.

Here was an amazing "bat plant":

The greenhouse is just packed with vegetation and water features.  There's a lot of vision overload and you really need to walk through the greenhouse slowly in order to take it all in.

Stock Photo

Here's an amazing Hoya growing in one of the garden paths, in bloom!

They have a neat little tea room and the cafe sells the freshly brewed iced tea. We enjoyed watching the Koi and drinking some excellent iced tea called Little Monkey.

The house on the grounds, the Christy Payne Mansion, is beautiful.

Stock Photo
If I ever build a house again, this is the floor plan I would use, on a much smaller scale of course!  The staircase is amazing. You'll have to go check it out!

On our way home we had dinner at The Ice House Pub in Punta Gorda. Love that place!

Our next stop was Leaf Asian Market where we bought quail eggs, a 6 pack of frozen quail and some jujube fruit.  I've never tried jujube fruit.  It was "okay". I'm not keen on growing plants with thorns, and since I wasn't gaga over the fruit I'll probably pass on growing it in the yard.  Although, I will chuck the pits over the fence and if it grows out there, then that's fine with me!

I'm looking forward to trying the quail eggs tomorrow. Since we're on a quail kick, I figured we'd eat some birds for dinner next week and give the eggs a try.

It was a very relaxing day.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Coturnix Quail

I read this post over on floridahillbilly.com about raising Coturnix Quail and I'm seriously thinking about raising some of these birds.

They don't make a whole lot of noise as compared to chickens, and I like the fact that they don't have freakish feet like the chickens did.  I can probably handle them without the fear I had for the chickens.  The two chickens we had were a lot of fun, but only because I figured out how to get around handling them.  I lured them back to their coop with cherry tomatoes.  Worked like a charm.  But boy their feet were terrifying!

The quail wouldn't be running around the yard like the chickens did so no worries about the resident wildlife snatching them away.  They'd strictly live in our coop.

I also like the idea that they're fast growing birds.  Hatchling to the dinner plate in 7 to 8 weeks and you get eggs starting at about 4-1/2 to 5 weeks!  Pretty amazing really.

We both love to eat quail so it seems like a win-win.

The eggs are ridiculously small, but with just the two of us, that would be fine. They are known to be prolific egg layers.  It takes 3 quail eggs to equal a chicken egg.  Our two black australorps were such good layers (a dozen eggs a week!) we had to give away lots of eggs because we just couldn't eat that many eggs.  So the small eggs might just work perfectly for us.

Overall, quail seem to be the best option.  I might try to hunt down some quail chicks or eggs on Saturday.  I'd like to start with 6 and see what happens.  Worst case - I could just eat them in 7 to 8 weeks!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Coffee Roasting, Tomatillos and a Wee Bit o' Gardening

I roasted three different kinds of green coffee beans this past weekend.  I roasted Mocha Java again, Papua New Guinea and House Blend II (those are the names of the coffees).  I don't recall trying the Papua New Guinea before, but I did try the House Blend II.  Figured it wouldn't hurt to give them all a try, and if I don't like them, I can blend them.  It will be a good experiment.

I found some tomatillos at Publix today after work, which was a nice surprise.  I had them all bagged and in the cart, went to get cilantro, and they didn't have any. Not even the potted plants you can usually find.  Dang!  I bought them anyway and tomorrow I'll go hunt down some cilantro and get the rest of what I need - onion, garlic, jalapeno and some tortilla chips.  Roast it all up and give it a whirl in the food processor - salsa verde.  Yummy stuff.

My wee bit 'o gardening was plunking two green onion root ends into the ground while dinner was cooking.  That was exciting.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Flower Seeds

A few weeks ago I had removed most of the plants in front of the deck, and about a 2 foot section in the front part of the south section of the garden.  Then I put down some heavy mulch.  Over the weekend, I raked up all the mulch, nearly killing an adorable ringneck snake (oh no!), and tossed everything in the other garden area that I'm reworking/expanding, then planted some flower and herb seeds where I had raked.  Not sure how they'll do, it's still blazingly hot out. We did get some good rain the last two afternoons so that should help get them started.

I planted another Moringa tree seed and hope it will germinate in the ground.

I also moved two of my Ivy gourd plants into the sun.  They weren't doing well because they're only getting sun in the morning, then shade the rest of the day. According Grower Jim's blog post here they do best in full sun.  I also planted another few seeds for good measure!

I've put down quite a bit of mulch on the front portion of the new garden area. Looking forward to getting another load of free mulch soon from up the street. The fun part will be removing more grass!  Not much longer now before the weather breaks!