The Garden | 2018

Xeriscape Garden in Colorado with Squash Arch

Early this spring, I wrote about how I was spending long days removing our grass and xeriscaping our front yard. I promised a few readers that I'd share a post once all was said and done, so here it is! 

Above: Our front yard, with grass completely gone. Mulched, rocked, and raised veggie beds in. We planted two trees last year (to the right of the veggie beds: a clump of Aspens and a Ohio Buckeye), which are still quite small but hopefully will grow tall and provide us with lots of shade. You can see our corrugated metal garden beds with squash arch, and a small xeriscape garden patch where we're growing native flowers (like echinacea, candytuft, primrose, yarrow, blanket flower, lupine, etc) and herbs (mint, sage, rosemary, lavender, thyme, chives, oregano, and tarragon). Next year -- or perhaps this fall if I'm feeling motivated - I'll add some flowering bushes (like Russian Sage), along with other native flowers on the righthand side of the yard. And ultimately, we'll put in a path going straight up to the front door with flagstone. 

Summer Xeriscape Flowers

The first thing most people say when they walk up to the house is, "I didn't realize you put your vegetables in your front yard!" It is a bit different, I know, but our backyard is almost completely shaded so the front yard is much better for veggies. And so far, I like how it adds a focal point to the yard! 

Sugar Snap Peas in the Morning

My favorite thing all summer has been getting out in the garden before the heat hits. The lighting is beautiful, and I can see how everything is doing without burning up. 

Above: Sugar snap peas in early morning.

Below: First spaghetti squash in early summer. This year, I grew several type of winter squash -- Spaghetti squash, Kabocha, Delicata, and Acorn. Of those, the spaghetti squash and Kabocha squash plants had the most epic harvests -- just one squash vine would reach from one end of the 16-foot squash arch to the other and then onto the ground. Their leaves created a canopy that offers lots of shade and even protection from rain… by the time late summer rolled around, you could hide in that little tunnel through all sorts of weather! 

Spaghetti Squash growing on squash arch.
Acorn squash growing on vine
Squash arch in garden

Above: Squash tunnel in mid-summer.

Below: I grew tons of basil this year, most of which we used fresh in bruschetta, but I’ll be making a big batch of this pesto which I highly recommend using in this zoodle recipe! I also grew a patch of Thai basil, which we added to stir fries and curries all summer long -- we still are! 

Fresh basil, growing in garden beds

My adventures in tomato growing were slightly less successful -- the bed where the tomatoes grew had terrible issues with blight. I removed a few plants, including a Black Cherry Tomato and a Striped Roman Tomato. In part, this is because I planted too close together… lesson learned. What remained: Brad's Atomic Grape Tomatoes (the prettiest!), some simple La Roma Tomatoes, Blue Gold Berry Tomatoes, and Yellow Pear Cherry Tomatoes. 

Below: Brad’s Atomic Tomatoes, green on the vine. Below that: Brad’s Atomic Tomatoes harvested.

The Roma tomatoes were best for carpese and cooking; the Brad’s Atomic Tomatoes were best for eating straight with just a touch of salt, and the Blue Gold and Yellow Pear Cherry Tomatoes were best for salads. I’ve already vetted a list of super blight resistant tomatoes for next year… as I wander around the neighborhood, I see virtually every other garden had similar issues, likely because of our super wet June.

Tomatoes growing on the vine
Ripe Brad's Atomic Grape Tomatoes

Below: An Antigua eggplant on the vine. Below that: A basket full of eggplants.

I went crazy when it came to planting eggplants. There was just so many varieties to choose from! We eat a lot of eggplant around here (it’s Oliver’s fave), so it seemed fine in May, but since July hit not a week has gone by with less than 5 eggplants to harvest. This copious harvest lead to this Eggplant Cannelloni recipe, but we also made this Harissa Roasted Eggplant, grilled eggplant, and this Roasted Eggplant Salad. In need of more recipes…. please comment with your fave!

Antigua eggplant growing on plants
Eggplant harvest in basket

One thing I’ve barely touched yet in the garden are the hearty greens. While other items in the garden reach a “ripeness point,” the greens just keep growing and growing and I’ve let them go. The Swiss Chard is at least twice as big as what’s shown in the picture below now! And the kale, to the right, is super tall. Just last night I used it to make a Chopped Kale Salad with Dates, Bacon and Pecans (recipe coming soon!).

Swiss chard growing in garden bed

Below: Dragon Tongue Beans on the vine.

Our bean harvest this year was epic — since the plants started fruiting, I’ve had a salad bowl full of beans on the counter that I just can’t get through… they are growing faster than we are eating! This week’s to do list: Pickle some beans! The dragon tongue beans are my favorite because of their colors, but our giant pile of beans is from the Blauhide Poles Beans we grew.

Next year, I’ll add some yellow and green beans into the mix. 🌈

Dragon tongue beans growing on vine
Bean harvest in wooden bowl

Below: Chamomile flowers in bloom. After the big hail storm in June, I replaced a few plants that I thought were never going to make it with seedlings I found on super sale at a nearby homestead. One of these was a little chamomile plant.

As the flowers bloomed, I plucked them and dried them. From just this one little plant — which was a bit smothered by an eggplant that took over the space - I got enough for about 2 cups of tea, but BOY do they smell amazing.

Chamomile flowers in bloom

Peppers! I planted a few types of peppers this year — Jalapeño, Shishito, Thai chili, Pimiento, and Poblano. Quite a few got wiped out by hail, so later in the season I added some Big Jim and a Red Bell to the mix. Far and away my favorites so far this season were the Poblano and Big Jim, which I stuffed (Poblano recipe coming soon! Big Jim recipe here).

Below: Biggest pepper harvest yet this season.

Pepper harvest in basket

One of the largest losses in the garden this summer was my corn.

I babied the corn from the get-go, though I also learned I did quite a few things wrong. Turns out, corn doesn’t like to be planted in a row, but in a block. Despite my ignorance, the stalks grew tall — 8 feet! So I hand pollinated them, and they went to town making corn ears.

Some time in July we got a massive wind storm that blew a branch off out cottonwood tree and onto the corn, bending the stalks in half. Still, the corn recovered. I tied each stalk to a big bamboo stake and they continued to grow.

And then, one by one the ears disappeared. Darn squirrels! I hope they appreciated all of the work that went into it. Below: I snapped a picture of one ear they left on the ground — a red an purple ear, not quite ripe. So beautiful! This is called Painted Mountain Corn, which does well at higher elevations, and the ears show a variety of colors. I am a sucker for off-beat varieties you can’t find in the grocery store.

I haven’t decided if I’ll plant corn again next year — I want to - but it’s all a matter of space.

Painted Mountain Corn

One of my most exciting harvests all summer was just this week: a sugar baby watermelon!

It went from baby (below) to all grown up (below that) in just a month or so!

I also have a muskmelon plant with about 5 melons (not ripe yet!) and a honey dew plant that I put in after the hail. I’m not sure if the honey dew will ripen before our first frost — it’s still only half the size of my fist.

Baby Watermelon
Watermelon Harvest

We don’t see many hummingbirds in my neighborhood, but at the peak of the squash blooms one took a liking to the yard. Every time I saw him, I would stay very still and just watch.

In the end, creating this garden was the most therapeutic, rewarding, beautiful thing I did all summer. Watching everything grow from seed and then actually fruit was delightful, and spending the early mornings amongst the bees and the birds was so relaxing, even when life was not.

Late summer harvest in a basket
Summer harvest on table

Below: Happy place.

Squash arch with morning light

Eggplant Cannelloni

Eggplant Cannelloni

The last few months have been go, go, go, which has meant fewer posts to the blog, less time to photograph recipes, 😭 and learning to cut myself a break every once in a while.

Somehow, yesterday was April and today it's September. September thirteenth. Back in April my mantra was, "You can't do literally everything," but somewhere between then and now, my mantra became nothing but a string of words, as I continued to ignore their meaning. So, today, I'm trying out this new mantra: Cut yourself a break. It means going easy on yourself when you've been trying your hardest. It means giving yourself a pass when you need it most.

Eggplant Cannelloni

In the midst of my mantra-creating and mantra-forgetting, our stockpile of eggplants has been growing: Not a day goes by that I don't have at least three of them sitting in our fruit bowl, staring me back. This year I planted six varieties, next year I'll plant two: Fengyuan and Black Beauty. 

  • Edirne - these were the first to fruit, but they're my least favorite to eat. other than their pretty green and purple stripes, they are just a little bitter and not as tasty.
  • Antigua - these are my favorite to look at but they are quite small, better for slicing in half and roasting with some harissa or something of the sort.
  • Fengyuan - my most copious producer, I freakin' love these eggplants. They are long (17 inches!), skinny and usually make a "J" shape. They are absolutely delicious when stir fried with some garlic and Thai basil.
  • Ping Tung - I also like these for stir fries, but for whatever reason I prefer the Fengyuan... no need to grow both, they are so similar! 
  • Black Beauty and Florida - speaking of similar, I can barely tell these two plants apart. I think I like the black beauty ones the most (we have gotten some massive eggplants from those plants). In any case, they are the best variety for recipes like this cannelloni, where you want wide strips, or this roasted eggplant salad. They're also the variety you usually find at the grocery store. 

Ok, don't quote me on the only growing two varieties thing. But those are my favorite so far this season. Have you ever grow eggplants? What were your favorite varieties? 

Basket of Eggplants from the Garden
Eggplant Cannelloni

Normally I'd suggest serving this with a glass of red, but I happened to also be making a batch of this Fig & Pear White Wine Sangria, so of course I had to have a glass of that instead. 

P.S., if you like this recipe, you'll LOVE this Zucchini Ricotta Manicotti. 😋

Eggplant Cannelloni

Published September 13, 2018 by
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Serves: 6-8   |    Active Time: 40 minutes



Ingredients:

  • 2 medium sized eggplants
  • 2-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • 1 cup mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup parmesan
  • 1 pound beef
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt & pepper to taste

  • Directions:

    1. Light grill set flame to medium. Slice eggplant into strips the long way. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil, and them place on grill, cooking for about 5 minutes before flipping. Eggplant slices should have char marks on the outside and be softened through. Remove from heat, turn off grill, and set eggplant aside.
    2. Heat coconut oil in a medium sized skillet over medium-high heat until it glistens. Add diced onion and minced garlic and sauté until onions are transparent.
    3. Add beef to skillet. Brown beef, using a wooden spatula to create crumbles as it cooks. When beef is browned, add 1/2 cup marinara sauce to the pan and stir. Turn off heat.
    4. Allow beef mixture and eggplant to cool just enough so they can be handled before proceeding to next step. (Warm is fine, just avoid burning yourself!)
    5. Prepare baking dish: spread remaining 1-1/2 cups marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9x9 or 7x12 baking dish.
    6. Work with one eggplant strip at a time. Lay it out in front of you, with the short end towards you, and place about 2 tablespoons of beef mixture in the center of the strip. Roll the strip around the beef, rolling in the opposite direction of your body. Place rolled eggplant in the baking dish, with the “seam” down. Repeat this step until all eggplant strips are used.
    7. Sprinkle top of cannelloni with mozzarella and then parmesan, and place in oven. Set broiler to high and broil for 5-10 minutes, until cheese and sauce are bubbling. Serve hot.

    Baked Ricotta with Blackberry-Thyme Smash

    Baked Ricotta with Blackberry-Thyme Smash

    Boise is surrounded by golden hills, many of them charred by grass fires. But don’t be deceived: just and hour north, you’ll be among the trees, an hour further and the grass turns green, and just thirty minutes more, you’ll come around the bend into McCall and spot Payette lake, backdropped by Brundage Mountain. This is where we spent the end of August— in a cabin with family. 

    We visited just two weeks after the annual huckleberry festival, but there were plenty of wild blackberries at the farmers market still, something you don’t see much of in the front range of Colorado! So of course, I had to take that inspiration and run with it— creating a massive list of things to make (yes, I do seem to have a thing for lists). And perhaps I’ll plant some berries in my yard next spring... blackberries, blueberries, and gooseberries too. 

    Baked Ricotta with Blackberry-Thyme Smash
    Baked Ricotta with Blackberry-Thyme Smash

    Between blackberries, we hit the trails, exploring the Payette Lake peninsula and Bear Basin on mountain bikes. On the hottest day, we rented a paddle board and kayak— the river north of town is breathtaking. 

    McCall is truly a gem of a mountain town! Outdoor enthusiasts— put this on your list. You get the strangest feeling riding your bike through the woods, like you’ve been transported to the Red Wood Forest, minus the heat! I'll be sharing a few pictures in my monthly newsletter in just a few days -- sign up here

    Baked Ricotta with Blackberry-Thyme Smash

    Published September 6, 2018 by
       Print This Recipe

    Serves: 6-8   |    Active Time: 40 minutes



    Ingredients:

    Baked Ricotta:
  • 2 cups of full fat ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup tablespoons Parmesan (divided in 2 parts)
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • A few cracks pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • Blackberry-Thyme Smash:
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries, divided
  • 3 sprigs thyme, plus more for garnish
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • For serving: crackers, crostinis, and/or crudités of choice

  • Directions:

    1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 50-ounce capacity (about 3 cups) ramekin, baking dish, or cheese baker with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
    2. In a medium size mixing bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg, 2 tablespoons of Parmesan, lemon zest, minced garlic, salt, and pepper.
    3. Using a spatula, transfer the cheese mixture to the baking dish. Sprinkle top with remaining 2 tablespoons parmesan. (Note: Do not over fill your baking dish. Make the cheese level or below the top rim of the baking dish (if needed, divide the cheese between two baking dishes. This will prevent overflow and a mess in your oven!).
    4. Place in oven, and bake for 25-30 minutes. Parmesan on top should begin to turn golden.
    5. While the cheese is cooking, make the Blackberry-Thyme Smash: place 1 cup black berries, leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme, juice of 1/2 lemon, pinch of salt, and honey in a bowl and mash with a fork until a saucy, jammy mixture is created. Add in remaining 1/2 cup whole berries (for texture).
    6. Spoon Blackberry Smash mixture over baked cheese, and top with a sprig of thyme as garnish. Serve while cheese is still warm with crackers, crostinis, or crudités.