Saturday, May 28, 2011

It's A New Dawn and We've Got Peas

One of my soul mates, Jamie, is a psychic and she has her own online radio show.  She is a natural for radio, with her confident voice and happy laugh.  Every week she brings new insight, and sometimes guests, to her broadcast.  This week, I was one of her guests.  My NutriMirror BFFs Lynn and Kel were guests, too.  We talked about NutriMirror and had a wonderful time getting the message out.  Being on the radio was a fun experience.  It was not only fun; after the show, the three of us were all buzzy from the incredible energy of doing something new and wanting to do it some more!  Based on Jamie's reading for me this week, and previous readings, we three are going to become even more familiar with online radio when we launch our own show.  Right now we are in the mulling it over stage.  If you'd like to hear us on It's A New Dawn, click here:  12Radio It's A New Dawn   Our show was on May 24 but I encourage you to listen to all of Jamie's shows - they are worth it!

The garden took a hit this week when hurricane-force winds blew through on Tuesday evening.  There has been very little rain around here this spring; the weather maps show rain all around us but we have only had a couple of cloudbursts.  On Tuesday we had the high winds and a splattering of rain, not enough to really benefit the garden.  The winds knocked over our big tomato plant and the peas that were taller than me.  We got them all stood back up, and Greg rigged up a network of twine that's keeping things upright.  We have peas now!  Not enough to pick for a dinner of peas, ham and shrimp, but we will be there soon.

Peas!  May 27, 2011
 The peahouse is progressing.  Next year we will reconfigure and plant the peas inside instead of outside, so they will naturally cling to the chicken wire as they grow right up to it.  This year we've been training the peas onto the chicken wire, hooking the little tendrils on and in some cases tying the plants on.  These are about thigh-high now, and have peas on them too!

2011 peahouse, the first of many
 The thing is, we planted two kinds of peas:  English peas, and sugar snap peas.  We didn't bother keeping track of what was planted where, so at this point I'm not sure if we are supposed to eat the pods or shell them.  Greg says we will know when the time comes.  I hope he's right.  (He usually is, as I've learned over our 23 years together.)

Our gardenias are starting to bloom now, too.  I would love to chop these bushes down to about a foot tall after they finish blooming.  I am a big believer in pruning.  Many people consider pruning to be bad, because they like the look of overgrown ungainly plants.  I prefer the way things get all lush after they've been pruned.  Right now we will just enjoy the heavenly fragrance of the gardenias.  Between the gardenias and the roses, when the breeze is just right it smells like heaven in my front yard.

The blossoms only last a couple of days but the bushes are loaded with buds
 Every year we like to grow a vegetable or two that we've never grown before.  This year we have beets, broccoli and onions.  The beets are leafed out and looking good, but not near ready to harvest.  We assume we will know when the broccoli is ready; not yet, but the plants are big and healthy.

Always wondering what the next unraveled leaf will reveal!
The onions were weeded this morning after I saw this picture!
 I've already picked one onion, to use in a delicious tomato and cucumber salad.  The recipe was posted on NutriMirror by Christinediane and it was so good I'm going to link to it.  I hope she doesn't mind!

Tomato, cucumber and feta salad

The recipe didn't call for onion, but since I knew my onions were big enough to eat I decided to add one.

This year we have a lot of volunteer plants coming up from ones we planted last year that seeded for this year.  Nasturtium, cosmos, and zinnias are everywhere.  I noticed something growing by our rosebushes that was not there last year, and that I did not plant.  I don't know what these sweet little purple flowers are!  If anyone does, please let me know!

Mystery Plant
 When we had to move our fence last month, I dug out the cucumbers and moved them to the front yard.  They are really happy there and we have a few tiny cucumbers already.

See it?  Right under the yellow flower.
 We have zucchini and a cantaloupe about the same size.  So cute!

Sadie stays in the yard with me while I'm puttering around.  She wanders around smelling everything and randomly barking.  My sweet Sadie is 13 now.  I hope she'll be around for a few more years; in the meantime, I am cherishing every minute with her and taking lots of pictures.  She fills a very large spot in my heart.  One of these days I'll get around to writing her story.  It's very interesting, involving the front page of the Bristol, Virginia newspaper and a journey from golden retriever rescue in North Little Rock, Arkansas to Leesburg, Virginia, at the tender puppy age of six months. 

Sadie on Patrol
 It's Memorial Day weekend, the start of beach season here and the end of my trips to the oceanfront until September.  I can't take the crowds, the parking meters, and the drunken revelers everywhere.  The beach is so awesome in the off-months, when it is possible to be the only person on the beach for miles around.  Happy weekend everyone and thank you to all of our service men and women.  It is great to be free and I am grateful to everyone who keeps that possible.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Strawberry Pickin' Day

When the strawberry farms tell us it is time to pick our own, Greg and I are usually the first people out there, the minute they open on a Saturday morning.  We drive out to a part of Virginia Beach that is still country, good old Pungo.  Pungo has an annual Strawberry Festival.  We attended the festival one time and vowed never to return.  Too crowded, too hard to park and unpark, just too much.  We have yet to go to the Peanut Festival in nearby Suffolk and we have lived here for 11 years.  I have a love/hate relationship with Mr. Peanut and should probably go to the Peanut Festival at least once.  I'll put that on my bucket list, right after "learn to speak Spanish."

So today is Strawberry Pickin' Day.  I had a hair appointment this morning, and Greg was helping a friend decide if his bathtub is cracked, so we didn't get out to Pungo at our  normal early hour.  We didn't get out to Pungo at all.  We drove down the street about 2 miles to a little farm stand and bought 5 things of strawberries.  I don't know how big the things are - a pint or a quart or something.  You can see them in the picture.  We also bought some fresh-picked asparagus, which I will roast to go with dinner tonight.  Yum.

Locally grown strawberries and asparagus
 Then we went to the grocery store to buy ice cream and whipping cream and some kind of cake-like item to put the strawberries over.  We usually buy the little spongecake cups; last year they came in chocolate too.  We discussed the possibility that there would be no little cakes at the grocery store, much less chocolate ones.  Greg said his mom always served strawberry shortcake over big Bisquik biscuits.  I said yes, and I could never stand that.  I told him I realized he grew up eating strawberry shortcake that way, and I grew up having it over pound cake, or the little spongecake cups, so I understood how you get attached to a childhood favorite.  I offered to make a sponge cake, even a chocolate one, but in the end we just went to the store.  We bought a pack of the little spongecake cups, and a pack of little angelfood cakes for me. 

Greg has been working like a lumberjack all morning.  When we got home with the strawberry haul, he wandered off to take a nap.  I got started getting all these strawberries organized.  First, I made some chocolate-covered ones.  I just picked some big berries, and melted some Ghirardelli chips in the microwave, and went to work.  Look!

Guess how many are left?
After making the chocolate covered strawberries, it was time to make strawberry shortcake sauce.  I filled a big bowl with water and put the strawberries in it, to rinse off any bugs.  One bee and two inchworms came off, and I hope that was all of them.  Sadly, they died, and I feel guilty about that.

Years ago, one fine evening when I served strawberry shortcake to my father-in-law, he went off on a rant about how there's never enough sauce.  Not just  my sauce, nobody made sauce right.  There's just never enough juice and the berry-to-juice ratio is always wrong Wrong WRONG.  My usual method was to clean the strawberries, slice them into a big bowl, and sprinkle sugar all over them, stirring them occasionally until a sauce formed.  To my knowledge, that was the accepted way.  After his dad's rant, Greg and I decided we were going to make the sauciest strawberry shortcake sauce the world has ever known.  Our first attempt was a winner.  We sliced half of the strawberries, and put the other half in a blender, pureed them, and poured them over the sliced berries.  Over time I've perfected this method and now when I puree the strawberries, I add a cup of simple syrup.  Luscious, plenty of sauce, never any complaints.

Oh, anyway, after washing all the strawberries I laid them out on clean towels on the counter, dried them pretty well, and got to work cleaning them.  Really dark ones went into the blender.  Pureeing them makes kind of a light pink colored sauce so I try to use the darkest ones to get a darker sauce, because I think it's prettier.

Beautiful clean strawberries
 While I was prepping the strawberries I made a simple syrup of 1 cup sugar in 1 cup water, over a low heat until the sugar dissolved.  That needs to cool down before I can make the sauce.

When I had cleaned most of the berries, and had a blender full and a big bowl full, I put the remaining berries on a sheet pan and they are in the freezer.  They will go into a plastic bag and be used in a future recipe.  I love that there is no waste with this purchase.  The strawberries will be eaten, the tops will go into the compost, the little blue pints or quarts or whatever are biodegradable so I can use them in the garden. 

Nothing is wasted
There is a skylight right over the counter where I usually take pictures.  The sunlight on the sliced strawberries makes them look like orange peppers.  Just as a little reminder, this is not a photography blog.  We have two digital cameras; one of them, the battery is always dead soon after I recharge it; the other one, I somehow turned off the flash and don't know how to make it come back.  The manual is around here someplace (note to bucket list: learn how to turn the flash on and off).

Puree the strawberries and simple syrup
Now comes the fun part. Put about 1/4 a cup of the simple syrup over the sliced strawberries and stir; put the rest of the simple syrup into the blender. Puree the strawberries, and pour over the sliced strawberries. (Helpful Hint:  Make damn sure the bottom is screwed onto the blender correctly.  I wasted a bunch of time cleaning up the blender and the countertop after I blended the strawberries.)

Stir, taste, swoon. These will sit in the fridge until time for dessert tonight, and the berries will soak up a little of the sauce while they sit there.
Saucy enough?