Pesto Anyone?

basilI have 3 kinds of basil this year Italian, lemon, and Thai all growing in my garden. Some are in the veggie bed and I have others in containers. If you have no space you can even grow some inside on a sunny window sill.

If you don’t have a garden you should be able to get locally grown basil at your farmers market, or local natural foods store at this time of the year. You can get fresh herbs in the winter, but they are expensive and they don’t taste as good to me.

Pesto is fragrant mixture of herbs and nuts ground into a thick paste with olive oil. And there are dozens of variations.

Traditional Basil Pesto

  • 2 cups basil leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 – 1/2  cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (optional – add salt to taste if you are leaving out or use a vegan substitute)

Put basil, garlic, ¼ cup olive oil, nuts, and cheese if using into a food processor. Process the pesto using the pulse setting, so you can still have a few small chunks of nuts for texture. Add more oil if the mixture is too thick. Taste and add more garlic, salt, or cheese until you love what you have and can’t wait to eat it.

What to do with it?

  • Toss with pasta and top with fresh ground pepper
  • Spread on a pizza crust instead of red sauce
  • Put in mashed potatoes
  • Add into a soup (minestrone is great for this)
  • Mix into your scrambled tofu in the morning
  • Blend with silken tofu for a perfect dairy free dip

Ok, so I’ve sold you on trying to make pesto, but you don’t have any pine nuts? Or maybe your basil didn’t do so good this year. Now it’s time to get creative. First off you can substitute any nuts for the pine nuts. I used almonds in mine. Why not try pistachios or walnuts?

Use the recipe above for general proportions, but realize you will have to taste as you go even more since some herbs have a stronger taste than others. You’ll begin to notice how the oils of the bruised herbs smell mingled with the smell of the nut you chose.  And then you’ll know if you need to add more of another ingredient.

  • A few combinations to try:
  • Arugula (Rocket) and Pistachio
  • Oregano and Walnut
  • Sage with Pine nuts and a little lemon juice
  • Mint and Almond
  • Rosemary and hazelnut
  • Tarragon and no nuts at all

If you need more ideas take a look at this post on the gardenWeb herb forum.

Save your new creation for a winter surprise! Oil an ice cube tray and put your freshly made pesto into the slots. Once the cubes are frozen, remove them from the try and place into a freezer bag. Now in January they’ll be waiting to go into your steaming pot of minestrone!

AreoGarden: One Way to Grow Food Inside

I finally bought an AreoGarden 2 weeks ago. It seems like an expensive toy, but in the dreary winter I need a chance to ‘tend garden’ every day. I wanted to give it a try and see if it could lift my winter blues. It has a sensor that alerts you when you need to add water or nutrients, and a very bright grow light that is on a timer. It’s really pretty foolproof.Granted, it is a little expensive, but I got my 7 pod  AeroGarden Classic when it went on the Amazon deal of the day for 99.00 and came with the Gourmet Herb Seed Kit, currently it’s 141.50. They do have a 6 pod one that also includes an herb kit on sale now for 99.00, so you could try that one too.

aerogarden.jpgThe Gourmet Herb Seed Kit has chives, 2 kinds of basil, thyme, mint, dill, and parsley. Currently all of my herbs have germinated, and the chives are at about 2 inches. Setting it up was very easy and took about 5 minutes. Just add water, a nutrient tablet, the seed pods, plug it in and you are on your way to harvesting herbs in your kitchen year round.

I know some of you already do grow herbs inside all year, and I’m certainly not implying that the AeroGarden is the only way. It’s just an easy way. And if you are an apartment dweller, it’s a great way to grow fresh herbs, lettuce and more.

The seed kits are expensive at 19.99 for 6 or 7 seed pods, but they do have a AeroGarden Master Gardener Deluxe Kit, so you can use your own seeds. That is not only cheaper in the long run, but allows you to grow a wider variety of plants. Next I’m going to grow some loose leaf lettuce or arugula. Yum! I’d like to get a second AeroGarden to grow lettuce in at work. It would be amazing to cut the lettuce for my lunch right at my desk.

Wondering if it’s green enough for you? Check out this page on the aerogrow site, It answered my questions and it seems like they are trying to do the right thing and improving as they go along.

Free Seeds For Your Garden

One of my favorite chocolate makers, Dagoba is giving away free seeds when you sign up on their site. They are saying that everyone who signs up will get at least one packet of lavender, mint, rosemary, pumpkin or sunflower seeds.

And if you plan a neighborhood planting project and let them know, they may just send you some chocolates too! While you’re at their site check out the green thumb gallery or suggest a flavor for a new chocolate.

Busy Gardener/Lazy Vegetarian Menu Monday

It’s summer and if I’m not feeling hot and lazy, I’m out in the yard working on my veggie garden or a flower bed. This is the time of the year that my inside chores suffer endlessly. And the time of the year I feel most overwhelmed.

I mean how can anyone work full time, have a functional kitchen garden, make new flower beds, shop, cook 2 meals a day, and keep the house up too? And if that’s not enough I’m doing yoga and some aerobics every morning before work. I’m hoping it will keep me calm and more able to face the to do list that has become my life. (And maybe my butt will get smaller!)

Thank goodness I have a partner to do the laundry and mow the yard or I would really be freaking out!

Just when I get the deck cleaned off and some flowers are blooming – the mosquitoes are ready to feast on me. Every spring I start off optimistic, goading myself into believing it won’t be as hot, the mosquitoes won’t be as plentiful, and the neighborhood noises will be less annoying.

Then June hits and it gets to 100 degrees and I walk out to see if I have any new baby veggies and come back in with 10 – 15 mosquito bites. Also on my mini walk around my veggies beds I find my arch enemy – THE APHIDS. Yes, the aphids are back again this year and of course out to get me. And last week I found the wooly creatures that I believe are wooly aphids. I believe they have sucked the vibrant green out of my scarlet runner beans.

Anywho – that’s why my dinner list is less impressive this week. I’m working on balance. It will only be in the 80’s this week, so I’m going to be gardening every night this week if I can. And playing some wii tennis if the rain gods listen to my pleas…

Monday: Indian with store bought naan (I know I’m lame!)

Tuesday: Bulgar with veggies and amromatic spices (recipe coming…)

Wednesday: It’s just me – so leftovers with a salad a wine out on the deck

Thursday: Mixed-bean Casserole with Sausage

Friday: Slow cooker Brown Rice and Squash Crockpot “Risotto”

Saturday: Out to dinner

Sunday: No idea what I’m making except another ice cream experiment!

You too can participate in Menu Plan Monday, just go over to I’m an Organizing Junkie and add your menu to Mr. Linky – or just look at everyone else’s menus.

It’s hot – drink more water!

With the overbearing heat here in NC, I have switched from trying to make myself drink enough water to actually craving it. I think the fact that I’m actually exercising doesn’t hurt either.

One of the tricks I have been using to cultivate these cravings is putting water in a glass pitcher in the fridge. It seems extra cold and refreshing. I have grown a variety of mints this year, pineapple, apple, chocolate, lime and orange. And I have some lemon balm and lemon verbena. So I have been throwing in a couple of springs into my pitcher. So far the orange mint-lemon verbena is my favorite. As soon as my cucumbers ripen I’ll throw in a few slices in with some lemon basil leaves.

All of them have been tasty and much cheaper than the mint water you can buy in individual plastic containers in the supermarket. Hmm…cheap, yummy, and better for the enviroment – I like it!

Also I was lucky enough to get my recipe for carrot salad and seared oyster mushrooms posted at the farmer’s market blog carnival. You really should go by Jen’s site and check out all the great posts! I’m going to have to try Lavender Farms’ Lavender Lemonade – I have tons growing, and haven’t made anything with it yet. Maybe I’ll have a few lemons ready on my dwarf meyer lemon tree and I can use those too.

Grow your own lettuce

I’ve become fascinated with the resurgence of the Victory Garden. I think everyone has the idea that it would be nice to get your salad from your own backyard, patio, or balcony. And the truth is you can. And people long before us did it. In fact, there was a time our Grandmothers (or great grandmas) were encouraged to do it.

With all of us learning more about our food, we realize most of it comes from farther away than we thought. A friend of mine has frozen organic strawberries from Serbia! I’m sure I have something like that lurking in my freezer. Thinking only about organics, can lead you a long way from home.

At a farmers market you can usually get the best of both worlds – local and organic. But not everyone lives close to one. Most chain groceries are starting to label where the produce was grown. But some places have gotten in trouble for labeling non-organic food organic. Sometimes it’s nice to just know what you put in the food your are eating.

Before I sound like a seasoned gardener, let me tell you each year I try some new things in the garden. Sometimes they work, other times they don’t. But either way I learn something and have an excuse to spend more time outside.

Last year it was raised beds for the first time, and this year I’m adding a bunch of containers to allow me to plant more vining plants like sugar baby watermelon and round zucchini. Could I tell you which plants will make it to my table? Not really. I have a good idea, but sometimes it’s up to the squirrels or the bunnies to decide for me. I’m just a brave newbie, not a master gardener.

If I can manage to do it you certainly can. There are some great resources on the web and one of my favorites is You Grow Girl. There are great articles and tons of forums for any location or interest. There are even grow alongs where everyone agrees to grow a certain item and talk about it. The Garden Girl is a great source for how to videos and she is in an urban area to boot. She does more in her urban garden than I thought possible. It has inspired me to think of ways to better utilize the space I have.

At the very least you can grow a “salad bowl” in the smallest of spaces. Organic lettuce can be expensive and it goes bad quickly. Lettuce growing in a bowl is cute and you can cut 1/3 of the height of it, make a salad, and in a few weeks it’ll grow back and you’ll have some more! This will keep happening until it “bolts”, or tries to go to seed. Once this process starts the lettuce will be to bitter to eat. To delay this you may need to put it in the shade once the temperatures stay above 80 degrees, so the heat doesn’t trigger the bolting. This article from the Washington Post explains this more thoroughly and gives you some ideas on how to prolong your harvest.

You can either drill holes in an old wooden salad bowl (try thrift stores), or get a bowl shaped planter – they are shallow so you don’t need as much dirt. All dirt is not equal and you will need to go buy some potting soil.

At the store they will sell top soil, garden soil, etc – but potting soil is created to hold water a little better, because containers dry out faster than something that’s in the ground. So make sure your bag says potting soil. You can make your own if you want, here’s an article with soil recipes. And nowadays you can find organic potting soil even at Lowes or Home Depot.

You can get some mesclun seeds (A blend of different salad seeds mixed together) or other loose leaf lettuce. You can find these at any drugstore to gourmet online stores like Cook’s Garden. If you choose to order your seed, try to get a variety that is more heat tolerant like Red Sails. That’s the variety I’m trying this year in my raised beds. The Cook’s Garden lists the varieties by season.

So now that you have your pot, fill it with your potting mix. Liberally sprinkle your seeds in an even layer across the pot, then cover with a little more soil and water gently. You will need to keep the soil moist while you are waiting for the seeds to germinate. It took about 10 days before most of mine sprouted up, but it won’t be long till that will be my dinner. And there is nothing better than eating salad that you grew yourself.

Happy Earth Day!

I have been trying to eat more local food, and to reduce my personal impact as far as waste goes. Visiting a few local farms and cheese makers over the weekend got me thinking. They do an amazing job, growing food that I can be happy to buy from them. No pesticides, using well and pond water, rotating crops, and the food I saw growing was beautiful.

It’s amazing how many things I do mindlessly, so I am going to be more aware of what I’m doing and why. This should keep me more frugal as well. Next time you go to a fast food restaurant, really look at the amount of trash that’s generated in just that one meal. It’s amazing that we have are so distanced from our food, where our waste goes, and how our food is grown.

This week my meal plan revolved around what I bought at the market. I think that’ll help me not waste what I buy. Encourage me to really think about where the food came from, why I’m choosing to serve it to my family and friends – a cooking meditation of sorts.

I have been thinking about landscaping my yard – adding more food into the mix. Today I got a few bare root plants I’m going to use. They were on the sale rack, so if they don’t all make it I’ll be ok. I got 2 varieties of strawberries, black raspberries, blackberries, and 2 varieties of grapes. I have 2 blueberries already, though it looks like one of them may not make it through the spring.

I would really like to produce more food and put some away for the winter. Right now I have 10 tomato plants – 6 purple cherokees, a striped german, a pineapple, and 2 patio tomatoes. My hope is to at least freeze some, and I’d love to learn how to can.

It’s ambitious, and I won’t be able to do everything I want to, at least not all at once. But even if I get 2 tomatoes and a handful of green beans, it’ll be worth all the effort.

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