Beau-ti-ful basil

I noticed the basil plant on our front porch overfloweth with fragrant leaves and we’ve only snipped off a few so far. So I gave the plant a good trim and got a bowlful of leaves I can use to make pesto genovese. Even just sitting in a bowl they look lovely.

I almost feel bad grinding them up, but since I’m grinding them up with garlic, cheese and olive oil, I don’t feel that bad.

A full load from the farmers market

I wasn’t really expecting anything from the farmers market this morning, but it was just full of good looking produce today. We loaded up our basket so full we could barely carry it. Now it looks like we have a lot of cooking to do!

Mike was excited to try gooseberries. The woman at the stand gave us a recipe for a cobbler, but he’s thinking about making more of a crisp with almonds. I don’t care what it is, let’s eat it! They taste like a blueberry, but more tart.

We also picked up a bright jar of strawberry jam and some of the best pizza sauce I’ve ever tasted from a local restaurant, Rock Power Pizza.

I’m really excited for these beans. Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for beans sauteed with shallots worked out so well I can’t wait to have it again. We also decided to try the purple variety.

We are so close to not having to buy tomatoes for a while. Our yellow pear tomatoes are just about ready to go, the purple cherokees are big but still green, and the other plants are full of not-quite-ripe fruit as well. After a long discussion about how it seems like it costs a lot to grow your own we decided that certainly isn’t the case for us. $15 worth of seedlings has become 5 huge plants that will produce hundreds of tomatoes by the end of the summer. I’d like to see how much it affects our grocery bill later this year when we’re buying less produce and making more of our own sauces.

I’m a legit gardener (thanks, rain)

Earlier this spring I planted a little flower garden on the side of our house. Thanks to Mike’s mom’s help last year, I had a pretty good idea how to do it. And it wasn’t rocket science — I just bought some pretty annuals, dug some holes, planted the plants and let Mike cover it all with mulch. I did have to water it a few times when we had some parched days. But soon enough we had more rain than we could handle, and those little plants took off.

Now I’ve got cosmos, vinca, and these pretty pink and white flowers from last year.

But what really excites me are the roses. They were already planted by previous tenants and then thoroughly abandoned. I finally got a clue and pruned them a few weeks ago, and then nervously awaited for the stubs of branches to grow back. And would you believe it, they did!

I got my first roses this week. They’re tiny, but pretty. And after tearing some of what I like to call “viny shit” out of the plants on the side of the house, they may actually start to bloom, too.

AND, I didn’t take a picture of this, but I believe a perennial we planted last year is blooming. It started as a very weed-like group of leaves, but I just had a feeling it was supposed to be there, so I didn’t rip it out.

Yup, I am pretty much ready for my green thumb now.

Zucchini Bread

Finally, gardening comes full circle. Last year’s garden produced a lot, but mainly zucchini. Millions and millions of them, it seemed. We would go out one day and see a few orangey flowers and then a few days later we’d be hauling in watermelon sized zucchinis and scratching our heads as to what to do with them. So by the end of the summer when I had fed the entire newsroom with massive zucchini and I felt bad about tossing them, I started bagging them up and throwing them in the freezer. And finally, nearly a year later I had one big bag of shredded zucchini left.

So, I made zucchini bread, of course. Who wouldn’t want to see those green shreds mixed with three cups of sugar and a cup of oil?

This recipe is from Paula Deen, and with the exception of the time I made it in Colorado and it sank into a two-inch tall pathetic heap of sweet bread, it’s perfect. Soft on the inside, a little crispy on the edges. It makes two good-sized loaves.

Zucchini Bread

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup water
2 cups grated zucchini
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine oil, eggs, water, zucchini and lemon juice. Mix wet ingredients into dry, add nuts and fold in. Bake in 2 standard loaf pans, sprayed with nonstick spray, for 1 hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Alternately, bake in 5 mini loaf pans for about 45 minutes.

Signs of spring

Thank God.

A second bloom on my peace lily plant.

The first hosta of the year.

Daffodils. Plus a gnome.

This one I could have done without.

Proof that I am not a total failure at gardening

This morning an amazing thing happened. My peace lily plant, which has been living a very droopy existence since I got it last year, sprouted a single bloom.

That plant has looked like it was headed for the trash about 50 times, but I couldn’t give up on it. Like so many other things, I needed to prove that I was capable of keeping a houseplant alive. Especially one that so many people had assured me was impossible to kill. Well I’m here to tell you people, you can kill a peace lily – in no time at all. This sucker needs to be watered several times a week, and it needs to be very close to natural light. It’s nothing like the philodendron in our living room that we couldn’t kill if we tried. Once I found the lily a place near a front window and watered it (somewhat) regularly, it hung on. But it never looked good.

I think the real reason I don’t want it to die is that it came from a funeral. My best friend’s brother died in a horrible accident last summer, and at the end of that stunned weekend they were left with a huge hole in their hearts and about 2 dozen houseplants. So I hauled that peace lily back to Iowa and promised to give it my best shot.

So here it is spring, after a painful winter, and that gangly plant has not only hung on, but decided to bloom. I think I needed that little flower more than I realized.