All Together Now

 

On a few occasions I’ve been asked, “Mark, I know that you do both fruit and vegetable gardening and home cheeesemaking. Are those two distinctly separate topics, or can they work together?”

Most definitely, yes, they can work together! In fact, if you combine the two just right, you create wonderful foods that can enhance your dining experiences for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Here are some suggestions.

Salads – You can enhance a salad of homegrown garden greens by sprinkling it with some of your homemade Feta cheese. Or how about using your homemade Blue cheese to create your own Blue cheese dressing to pour on your salad?

Infusing cheese with herbs – When making your own cheese, how about creating something distinctive by mixing some herbs into the curds before putting those curds into your cheese press? Some typical herbed cheeses include Caraway Swiss and Havarti with Dill.

Incorporating vegetables into cheese – The sky is the limit when it comes to making vegetable infused cheeses. How about adding some sun-dried tomatoes to your homemade cream cheese? Or a cheddar cheese infused with finely-chopped onions?

Wine-infused cheeses – At first glance, this sounds off topic. What, you might ask, does making a wine-infused cheese have to do with incorporating fruits and vegetables into cheese? Well, if you grow the grapes yourself, make your own wine, and soak your newly-pressed cheese in the wine for a few weeks, then, in a roundabout way, you are combining fruit and cheese. And if you substitute vodka for the wine you now have infused your cheese with a potato byproduct.

“Gee Mark, I’m not sure about this,” you say. “This sounds rather unusual.” Well, I have a one word answer for you – experiment. Try different combinations of fruits, vegetables, and cheese. After all, that’s how new foods are discovered.

“But what if I create something that looks awful and tastes worse?” Seriously? What if you create something that looks pleasing, tastes even better, and wins Cheese of the Year? Isn’t that worth the risk of maybe creating something awful? And if the worst happens, and your Limburger with Brussels sprouts tastes like the inside of a garbage truck? Then you simply toss it away and try a different combination. No one has to know about it but you.

So go ahead. Experiment with different fruit-cheese-vegetable combinations. And embrace the results – good, bad, or otherwise!

Support Your Local Farmers Market

Farmers Market

 

They show up every spring; they’re here through September or October; then they’re gone for the year. Nearly every town and city has one, and they are growing in popularity. I’m speaking, of course, about farmers markets, and, next to your own garden, they are one of the best sources of fresh fruits and vegetables you’ll find. In addition, you’ll find vendors that sell baked goods, meats, soaps, spices, eggs, and honey straight from the hive. Some even have live music provided by local talent.

 
Most farmers market vendors accept cash only as payment for their wares, but some will accept credit and debit cards. A few farmers markets are set up to accept food stamps and their equivalents — a wonderful way to provide good nutrition to lower income people.

 
But just as a movie theater needs butts in seats to survive, farmers markets need bodies in their booths to stay alive. So I encourage everyone to patronize their local farmers market. Yes, we should all plant our gardens and grow our own food. I encourage that; that’s what I’m all about. But a garden is merely a means to a goal — providing a consistent supply of fresh produce that hasn’t been tainted with potentially harmful chemicals. Farmers markets can be another means of helping you to reach that goal. Though you may have your own garden, your space for it is limited. As much as we may like to, we gardeners cannot grow everything. Furthermore, due to city ordinances, many of us cannot raise our own chickens or keep our own beehives. Farmers markets, with their wide array of fresh food offerings, can provide for us the items that we cannot produce for ourselves. And when you buy from a farmers market, you’re helping small family farm operations to stay in business.

 
So get yourself down to your local farmers market and avail yourself of all the wonderful fresh offerings. It’s good for you, good for your family, good for farmers, good for the economy, and good for America!

 
I’m The Garden Troubadour, and I approved this message!

Bring Your Garden to the Feast

Feasting

The holiday season is a time of feasting, drinking, and merrymaking. There will be dinner parties galore with all kinds of delicious food served — turkey, ham, beef, sweet potatoes, stuffing, pies, cakes, and the list goes on. Many of us will be attending these parties, and we will probably be bringing a dish to pass, especially if the party is pot luck. In this area we sometimes struggle. What should we bring? Sometimes the host or hostess will assign certain meal types (e.g. main dish, salad, dessert, etc.) to individual guests or ask in advance what each guest is bringing and coordinate accordingly. But what should we bring if the host or hostess does neither of these?

Why not bring a gift from the garden? If you were successful in your gardening endeavors, harvested a bumper crop, and took steps to preserve some of that harvest through canning, freezing, fresh storage, etc., then why not share some of your bounty with your fellow dinner guests? You can bring over a jar of pickles to serve with the meal. Or you can whip up a special dish using some of your preserved harvest. A vegetable soup or a salad is always welcome — especially if it was made with your fresh vegetables. A potato salad or mashed potatoes are positively scrumptious; even more so if it is made from your garden potatoes. Do you have apple trees growing in your yard or did you pick apples from a commercial orchard? You can turn those apples into apple pie or apple cider and share some of that with your guests. Hot apple cider is body and spirit warming treat during these cold holiday months. Do you grow your own corn or wheat? You can grind it to meal and make your own bread.

Anyone can bring a dish to pass. But to bring a dish that you made yourself with your own garden harvest will not only provide a mouth-watering treat for everyone, but will also gain you the respect and admiration of your friends and family. What’s not to love? So go ahead; bring your garden to the feast! It doesn’t need a special invitation and it is always welcome.

Drowning in Zucchini; Flooded With Tomatoes

All of your hard work has paid off! All of the sweating, digging, and back-breaking work is producing dividends in the form of tempting mouth-pleasing tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, etc. But holy cow, you didn’t expect dividends like this! Your kitchen counter is overflowing with zucchini; your kitchen table is piled high and wide with tomatoes, and if you add one more cucumber to your refrigerator, it will explode. What in the world are you going to do with all of this?

DSCN7100 Zucchini Excess DSCN8102

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Well, giving the excess to family and friends is usually the first solution. Most people love fresh fruits and vegetables (especially when they don’t have to pay for it) and are more than happy to take some of the excess off your hands. But this solution does have its limits, and eventually your friends and family will start barring the door when they see you coming with an armload of zucchini.

A second solution is to preserve the excess through canning, freezing, drying, or winter storage. Properly preserved produce can be stored away in your kitchen or basement. Then when you have a hankering for beans, carrots, or any other produce, you won’t have to make a special trip to the grocery store (perhaps in the snow?) to spend your hard earned money on inferior produce. Your own supply will be right there at your fingertips — and it will look and taste a whole lot better too.

Third, you can use the surplus harvest in a wide variety of recipes. Chutneys, salsas, salads, breads — the possibilities are endless. Don’t have any recipes? Check a cookbook out of your local library or download some recipes from the internet. You can prepare the recipes early in the week and have plenty of leftovers for the rest of the week. Or you can bring the finished products to your next dinner party. While your friends are oohing and ahhing over what a tasty dish you’ve prepared, you can gain additional brownie points when you tell them that you not only prepared the dish from scratch, you also grew the vegetables yourself.

Lastly, you can always bring the excess to a food bank. Believe me, they can never have too much fresh produce, and they will be more than happy to take the excess off your hands. It’s a wonderful way to give away your surplus yield and also help those in your community who have fallen on hard times.

Having more produce than you can use is an excellent problem to have! Best of all it’s a problem with many wonderful solutions. So if your garden fruit and vegetable cup runneth over, then implement one of these solutions today.