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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Swing into Summer

I am so far behind on my blogging. I have some great pictures to share but no time for the words to go with them.
We are busy harvesting and weeding all the glorious crops we planted in May. We sell at 4 Farmers Markets during the week. We are members of Penns Corners Farm Alliance - a co-op of farmers from western Pennsylvania that supply over 500 CSA members and fine restaurants in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area.
 We received grant money to install a "high tunnel" - just a season extending greenhouse that we don't heat. We use roll up sides for ventilation. The purpose of the high tunnel is to be able to produce vegetables earlier and later in the growing season. We have had great fun with it.

 Once we finally got it ready to plant, we had to decide what to grow. I wanted to mix up the selection so I could see what was simple and successful. We planted 3 types of lettuces, Swiss chard, kohlrabi, zucchini squash, yellow squash, sunburst squash, cucumbers and pickling cukes. We trellised the cukes, installed drip irrigation, and placed an Adirondack chair inside. My cousing Phyllis sat and watched me weed will sipping a glass of vino!!! She is such a morale booster.
It has been like a little garden club house. We are busy with the weeds. Once the lettuce was harvested, we planted a mix of heirloom tomatoes plants that we coerced out of my friend Beth. They look great Beth.
We are busy picking blueberries - it is July you know!!!
Chat soon. Mary

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

April Showers!!!

Really, here in western PA we average about 2.5" of rain for the month of April. This April our total rainfall was just over 5". Needless to say, we should have amazing May flowers as the adage goes.
The excessive rain has brought about a very abundant growth of Morel mushrooms. These woodland delicacies can be found throughout western Pennsylvania in mid Spring if the growing conditions are favorable. 
Smaller variety found in the "North Woods"

My father was an avid "shroomer". He taught me when and where to find Morels. There was only one ideal location that he knew of. From Spring to Spring we would check for them. This year with the extreme rain, Molly and I have found them in the most unlikely places. (A good "shroomer" never reveals her sources!!!) We have spent several rainy afternoons in the woods. The thrill of finding your first one is great. They are camoflauged well. Once you spot the first one, it becomes easier to find more. We only pick about one of every three we find. You want to leave some there to reproduce. It sure is hard to walk away from them. We left this big one in the picture. Think of the babies it will produce!!! My favorite way to eat a Morel is sauteed in just a bit of butter. There are great recipes out there for fancy stuff but I just like them simple and savory.
That is a dime on the ground beside this giant Morel.

Spring delights!!!

A quick and easy spring dish is asparagus sauteed with Morels served over angel hair or in a risotto. Be sure to grate some fresh Parmesan over top.
Eat lots of this fresh and often because the season is so short.
Be sure to get out and enjoy the new season and the fun things that come with it.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Blooming of the Easter Egg Tree

A deciduous Easter Egg tree and shrub.

From mid March through the end of April, the colorful Easter Egg tree blooms throughout western Pennsylvania. This colorful display of "blooms" can be seen on deciduous trees and shrubs and also on evergreen shrubs. The Easter Egg tree/shrub is more or less a miracle of nature. It would appear that one does not need two trees to have the blooms. I have noticed a single blooming tree with no other blooming tree within miles. I have yet to see honey bees swarming to gather nectar from the blooms. So pollination is not an issue of concern either.
  I have looked in the local garden centers and big box retailers and have yet to find a seedling/sapling to plant in my own garden.  There is a seed company out of Georgia that sells an "Easter Egg tree" seed.
 The picture on the website is that of a white egg- shaped eggplant. Not what I was looking for.
Googling for a live Easter Egg tree only brings search results about using a branch stuck in a bucket with blown decorated egg shells hanging on it. Even gardening guru, Martha Stewart only shows the German and Swiss traditional branch with blown egg shells. For those fortunate to have an Easter Egg tree blooming in their yard, congratulations. 
 As you travel around town on these last days before The Bunny comes, be sure to keep an eye out for these sure signs that warmer, sunnier days are to come.

A coveted  Weeping Easter Egg tree

Evergreen Easter shrubs

A well-established Easter Egg tree in full bloom

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rainy Days and Chocolate

It was another rainy, cold day in western PA. It's time for we farmers to be digging up the ground and planting our crops. We have been blessed with lots of rain - which we will probably be thankful for in the heat of the summer. sure can drag me down. This recipe came to me from Fine Cooking. They send me a recipe a day. This was the day to bake some happiness. So these little beauties created quite a stir on FB yesterday. I have orders from friends and family all over the country and requests for the recipe. I really hope Kenny got the one out of my mailbox I put there for him to pick up. If not, Cindi, the mail lady will get a big surprise. It was down to 34 degrees last night so it should still be good this morning.

                                                            Banana Split Brownies
For the brownies:
1 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 large eggs
1 medium overripe mashed banana
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

For the topping:
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1/8 cup Banana liqueur (I love this stuff!!! It's like a banana popsicle with a kick!!!)
7 oz. mildly bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I use Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips.)
1 cup mini marshmallows
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Make the brownies:
With the rack in the center of the oven; preheat to 350*. Butter and flour the sides and bottom of an 8 inch square glass baking dish.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat until it smells nutty and turns golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and salt in. Add the eggs, banana, and vanilla. Whisk in the cocoa and flour, mixing slowly at first and then more vigorously until the batter is combined.
Spread the batter in the prepared baking dish, smoothing it so it fills the pan evenly.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the pan comes out with just a few moist clumps clinging to it. 40 to 45 minutes.
Let the brownies cool in the pan before topping.

Make the topping:
Bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat. Stir in the banana liqueur.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Reheat the cream mixture and stir in the melted chocolate until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Pour the ganache(chocolate and cream mixture) evenly over the cooled brownies.
Cover the ganache with the mallows and almonds. Put the broiler rack about 6 inches below flame. Heat broiler on high. Broil the brownies, rotating the pan every 20 seconds or so to keep the mallows from burning, until browned.
Let the brownies cool in the pan until the ganache is set, at least 2 hours.

Instant Happiness!!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Next Life Farm

It was a cool, wet morning here in western PA so I decided to visit my friends at Next Life Farm. My mission was to check out their new "High Tunnel" that they constructed. Ken and Beth have been growing fun things in greenhouses and high tunnels for several years. How many, I am not exactly sure but we have known each other for quite a while. High tunnels, or hoophouses, are unheated greenhouses that can help market gardeners extend their growing season so that they can improve the profitability of their farms. Ken and Beth are Certified Organic growers. They sell their produce at the Farmers@Firehouse in Pittsburgh's Strip District on Saturday mornings May thru November, Indiana County Farmers Market,  and thru Penns Corners Farm Alliance. 

Beth's giant Rosemary. That's Bonnie standing next to it.

Beautiful Swiss Chard - Bright Lights

Bonnie stood next to this giant Rosemary 'Arp'. Beth said it has been growing for about 6 years. I told her if I had been planning something for dinner that called for fresh Rosemary, I would be cutting some of that. It was beautiful, and fragrant. This Swiss Chard has been growing in the cool greenhouse since last Fall. I wanted to start eating!!! Ken and Beth grow some of the most beautiful produce. They have a wonderful selection of heirloom tomatoes.The nasturtiums are picked and sold as edible flowers. Nasturtium blossoms have a peppery flavor that are fantastic in a salad of mixed greens. Scented geranium blossoms are also edible. We once made a Rose Scented cake once. It had a delightful hint of rose.

Yes, Beth's nasturtiums are blooming today.

Rose Scented Geranium

That was a great field trip today!!! Thanks Ken and Beth for sharing your wonderful world with us.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spring Break

The kids are home from Nashville for a week of Spring Break. It's been a busy week of sleeping, resting, studying, eating, and sleeping. We took a trip to the Southside last night. Mallorca is a wonderful restaurant on Carson Street that serves up Spanish Continental cuisine like no one else in Pittsburgh. We started out for their famous Valencia Paella - assorted seafood, chicken and Spanish sausage with rice. However, we got sidetracked by the Mariscada - assorted seafood in Spanish brandy and wine sauce, lightly spiced. So we ordered one of each with an extra plate. It was a grand feast!!! You should see Molly go after that paella!!!! 
Valencia Paella

Ibiza Tapas & Wine Bar is next door to Mallorca. That's Tapas - not topless. The first time I told my husband I was at a Tapas Bar he heard "topless bar". Needless to say, he was eager to go until I explained it to him. We shall try Ibiza on our next adventure!!!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow. ~Proverb

In all my 50 years, spring has always followed winter. I am starting have to have my doubts. However, spring does not officially start until Sunday, March 20. I believe winters like we have had just make us appreciate the warm weather when it finally does arrive.

Allstar Gourmet Lettuce MixIf you have not already ordered your garden and flower seeds, you still have time. I will be seeding in the greenhouse in the next few weeks. My favorite thing to start early is a salad mix. Pictured at left is a mix from Johnny's Seeds called Allstar Gourmet Lettuce mix. This mix of lettuces and greens are quick to sprout. They need some light but not much heat to grow. In about 20 days you can be nibbling on fresh, sweet leaves. Some of the annual herbs such as basil and cilantro are quick to sprout also. Anything fresh and green is such a delight after our long, dark, cold winter.

Menu planning is always an challenge for me. Fortunately, my family will eat just about anything that is put before them. They do not, however, usually care what we eat so they don't generally have suggestions.  It appears that it strains them to think of some one thing. Today was one of those days that no one cared or wanted to think about it. So we whipped up some turkey burgers using a recipe off line that we "doctored" just a bit. I think the best part was the sauce we made to eat with the burgers. It was a quick and easy meal.

Turkey Bean Burgers
1 cup cold leftover white or brown rice
1 pound ground turkey
1 (15 oz.) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon Montreal Chicken seasoning
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 ripe avocado
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
Combine rice, meat and beans with spices. Form 8 small patties. Heat vegetable oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Cook patties 7 to 8 minutes on each side.
Combine avocado with the rest of the ingredients. Stir well together.
We eat these on our plates with a slice of cheese. We don't eat a lot of bread, but a good crusty roll with lettuce and tomato would be great.
As a side, we had Alexia's sweet potato fries - sea salt and pepper. I found these advertised in the Bon Apetit magazine. There are 3 flavors: plain, sea salt and pepper, and chipotle. I love the plain, my family loves the spicy ones. They are quick and easy to additives or preservatives.

Start planning now for those great summer evenings on the porch. It will be here soon.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Grandma goes global!!!

My mom and I had the opportunity to travel to Santa Ana, Honduras for 11 sunny days this month. My sister, Janet, spends a lot of time here working with a non-profit organization called Mi Esperanza. Mi Esperanza - The Women of My hope, is a faith-based group that promotes the education of women in Honduras. There are training schools set up to for women to learn skills such as sewing, cosmetology, and computer technology. These classes are offered free to qualified women. Thru support and grant money, Mi Esperanza employs teachers and gathers equipment and supplies for each class. Satellite classes are set up in outlying communities. The goal is to have these women skill to find jobs in their villages enabling them to work close to home and close to family. View the website at

Mi Esperanza is closely connected to the Honduras Project. We were fortunate enough to be able to help build two houses while we were there. The house is a basic, 16 x 16 building. Please know that Honduras is the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere. A 16 x 16 house to these people is a mansion. It is such a blessing to provide shelter for these people.