Saturday, May 26, 2012

Things to plant again (and again and again)

Valencia Orange Tomato.  Oh, man, is it good!  It's gorgeous bright orange colored skin (honestly like a Valencia orange) is almost blemish free.  The shape is typical tomato ~ fat, round and slightly flattened.  It's meaty with few seeds and the core is almost non-existent.  But the flavor is the best part ~ fruity-sweet and deep, probably from a hint of acidity, but only a hint.  It's just a beautiful tomato.  The plant's not that productive (I think it set a half dozen before the heat set in the first time, we'll see if it set any more this last cool down.), but it's one I'll be saving seeds from for dang sure.

Another hit this year is Snow White.  These little pale yellow beauties are nommy!  Smaller than a quarter (bite sized!) and perfectly round.  This one's also fruity sweet, but no acidity I could tell.  It's sweeter than the Valencia.  The plant is pretty darn productive, too. I think these would look beautiful in a bowl with some Yellow Pears, Sungolds, Juliets, and a few Matt's Wild Cherries thrown in for sheer cuteness. 

As usual the Romas are kicking ass.  They're so freaking productive it's incredible.  The San Marzanos are holding their own, but it's not a candle to the Romas. 

Some winter things are hanging in there, too.  The Red Russian kale has finally bit the dust.  A couple weeks ago it started bolting, then the insects set in.  I think I'll wait to pull it 'til it's obvious it's a goner, so it's still out there in all it's lacey-leaved glory.  It looks like it's trying to put some more leaf rosettes out down near the bottom.  We'll see.

The chard is still there, too.  The Fordhook Giant is beautiful.  Tall, white and hardly a bug bite on them.  They do look like they're suffering in the heat a bit, all wilty and such about midday.  But it's hanging in there.  The colored chards I can't say the same for.  They look as bad as the kale. 

The collards are still doing okay, too.  As is the dill and a few forgotten beets.  The leeks are plumping up.  I wonder if I should pull a few to eat now or wait for a freeze to sweeten them up.  I have the same conundrum about the greens. 

And the ubiquitous tomato picture(s).  Starting from the top left ~ five little Romas.  The bright orange one to the right of them is the Valencia Orange.  At it's feet are the Snow Whites and Isis Candy Cherries.  To the right of them are three little Black Brandywines (very productive, but not as nommy as the other purples) and a big Black Giant with a quarter on it's head to show size.  Below that are a little San Marzano, then a Black Krim and a Cherokee Purple.  To the left of that and against the front rim of the tray are two Creoles.  Behind them is a Dinner Plate.  To the left of it is an Early Girl.  To the left (lower left and upper left both) are two big, fat Ponderosa Reds.  And we're back to the Romas. 

I need to have a taste test, but at the moment I'm too full of flax bread.

Friday, May 25, 2012


I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but a couple years ago I lost a hundred pounds by switching to a low carb (low crap, really) diet.  I like sweets and all, but two of my very favorite things in the whole wide WORLD, and two things that are quite high in carbs, are pasta and bread.

Mmmmmmmm, pasta.  Linguine with a perfect al dente bite smothered in alfredo sauce and studded with shrimp.  Homemade macaroni and cheese made from a real roux with muenster, white cheddar, and mozzarella.  Or just freshly boiled angel hair drizzled in butter and capers.  Oh, gods (because calling on one isn't enough.).

And bread.  Breadbreadbreadbreadbread!  Sourdough, French, garlic, nut, wheat berry, rye...  Toasted in butter on a cast iron griddle.  Baked into croutons, seasoned just right.  Or sandwiches ~ oh, I could go on all night.  And the smell ... oo-oooh, that smell ... of it baking in your own oven.  THAT I could even make a meal of all on it's own.  Just give me a freshly baked loaf and a stick of butter.  Gimme, gimme, gimme.  Oh, bread, how I've missed you.

But the longing may have ended.  I just tried Laura Dolson's Focaccia Style Flax Bread and ... well, the title of this post says it all.  Oh. EM. GEE.  It's good.  So good that I'm going to copy the recipe to a card in my recipe box, the hard drive of my computer, and the bottom of this post just so I don't ever, ever, ever, ever, ever lose it. 

It tastes just like a whole-wheat nut bread.   It's lightly nutty and sweet, but not overwhelming at all.  It's the perfect accompaniment to the baked sausage, mayo (Hellmann's of course), basil leaves and Valencia Orange tomato I topped it with.  It's consistency is soft, just like bread.  It's not at all like dry heavy pumpernickel or tough tortillas or even cake, all of which I've encountered in my trials of other low-carb breads.  (For the record, I like cake.  Who doesn't like cake?  Of course I like cake.  Just not in my bread.)

When I was making it, I noticed it called for a couple tablespoons of fake sweetener.  I'm not a big fan of fake sweeteners, so I used agave nectar instead, which has a low glycemic index and load so it won't affect me nearly as badly.  It does add 32 grams of carbs to the whole thing, but that just means the bread's got 3 1/3 grams effective carbs per piece.  Not bad.  The recipe makes 12 pieces, each with 6 grams protein, 185 calories and 5 grams fiber (looks like I'll be poopin' good, too).

Oh, I am in love.  Now I just need a noodle recipe. 

Focaccia-Style Flax Bread
2 cups flax seed meal
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsps. agave nectar
5 beaten eggs
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup oil (I forgot to put this in and it was STILL good)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Oil pan (a 10X15 pan with sides works best) with melted butter.
Mix dry ingredients well -- a whisk works well.  Add wet to dry, and combine well. Make sure there aren't obvious strings of egg white hanging out in the batter.
Let batter set for 2 to 3 minutes to thicken up some (leave it too long and it gets past the point where it's easy to spread.) Pour batter onto pan. Because it's going to tend to mound in the middle, you'll get a more even thickness if you spread it away from the center somewhat, in roughly a rectangle an inch or two from the sides of the pan (you can go all the way to the edge, but it will be thinner).
Bake for about 20 minutes, until it springs back when you touch the top and/or is visibly browning even more than flax already is.  Cool and cut into whatever size slices you want.

 Make a freaking sandwich.  Eat it.  Fall apart in bliss.

Update June 2nd: I tried this recipe with golden flaxseed meal, 1 tablespoon agave nectar and 1/3 cup melted butter instead of the oil.  It tasted cornbreadish.  I think with even less agave nectar and twice as much salt, it'd be even more like cornbread.  Ooh! Ooh!  Green chilis!  Gotta' add those, too. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

2012 Celebrity Challenge: Update 1

Late last year, I started looking into who owns what hybrids.  I found out that 80% of them are owned by big agribusiness companies who have been buying seed companies and the hybrids they've come up with at an alarming rate.  I'm not a big fan of big agribiz.  If I were to list all the reasons why in this post it would digress into a teal deer of epic proportions.  No, I don't think they are the antichrist, but I do think they are chasing the almighty dollar at all costs and are doing much damage in the process, so I like to avoid doing business with them whenever I can.  Many customers at work feel the same.  More and more of them are asking for heirlooms and telling me why.  I've learned a lot from them and my own research, knowledge I pass on when another customer asks.

Early Girl
A problem I'm coming up against is what to tell them when they say, "Shit! Celebrity and Early Girl were my favorites! What do I grow now?!"  Those two are the most popular tomatoes around it seems.  Many people have reported that Celebrity is incredibly productive, and my trials so far have borne that out.  Early Girl is supposed to be the same, with the added benefit of being early, something very desirable down here in our hot climate.  Both are likely owned by Monsanto now that they've bought Seminis seeds.  Bummer.

Arkansas Traveler
Growing tomatoes is a challenge for us here in Central Texas, so when someone finds that perfect tomato variety that does well here, it's hard to let it go, even when faced with going against your principles.  I can understand that.  I mean, we are talking about home grown tomatoes here.  Many people only have room for a few plants, so are torn between a sure thing they've always counted on and trying something new since doing so could mean few or no tomatoes this year.  When they look at me and ask, "Which should I grow?  Which is as productive and disease resistant as the old standbys?", I want so badly to give them good advice, but I don't know for sure and it kills me to think I might be steering them wrong.

In order to be able to answer them with at least some certainty, I've embarked on a search for the tomato that will kick Celebrity's ass.  Just like in years past, I planted many varieties this year, but this time I researched a little more and picked many of them with this challenge in mind.  And I planted a Celebrity and an Early Girl right alongside them, as well as a couple other hybrids.  Of course I won't be able to determine from just one year who is the clear winner, so I'll continue to do this challenge every year, replanting the winners and a few new contenders each year along with those hybrids. 

So far, I think I have a few good prospects.  Here are how things are shaking out so far.  I've listed each variety, then number of tomatoes as of today, whether or not and how much it's sick with the wilt going through the patch, and general comments.   

Mortgage Lifter
Celebrity ~ 20 tomatoes. Slightly sick, but otherwise good (healthy) looking. Short plant, maybe because it's a semi-determinate? Might not be able to cut it back and have it grow back for a fall flush. 
Early Girl ~ 14 tomatoes. A little sick, but otherwise good looking. Tall. Despite it's name, it's not early.  None of the fruit are even beginning to blush, yet I've already harvested ripe fruit from three or four other plants, and another handful are starting to ripen theirs. 
Champion ~ 22 tomatoes. A little sick, but otherwise good looking.  Tall.  Like the two above, this is a hybrid recommended on all the lists for our area.  It was also mentioned in The Texas Tomato Lover's Handbook as one of the author's favorites.  So far, it's not doing well for me.
Ponderosa Red
Super Fantastic ~ 4 tomatoes. 20% sick, but otherwise good looking. Tall. This is a hybrid I think we grew as a kid.  Neither super nor fantastic so far.  Maybe it'll do better in the heat?

Arkansas Traveler ~ 10 tomatoes. Medium sick, but robust.  The fruit are HUGE.  Much bigger than I was expecting.
Cour di Bue ~ 11 tomatoes. Very sickly. Looks like I'll lose it.
Creole ~ 10 fruit. Fairly sick.
Dinner Plate ~ 6 tomatoes. Sick, but robust.  Tall plant.  None of the fruit are anywhere near dinner plate sized, more like golf balls.  Maybe it was named for the plate you'll put them on and not their size?
German Johnson ~ Normally, if the fruit weren't bigger than a pea, I didn't count them.  But this one's 6 tomatoes were all about that size.  I think I might have planted it late?  It's sick, but barely so, and doing very well otherwise.
Homestead ~ 5 tomatoes. Sick, but robust.  Medium sized plant
Marglobe ~ 17 fruit. Pretty dang sickly looking.  Might lose it, too.  Short plant. Smallish fruit.
Mortgage Lifter ~ 14 tomatoes. Sick enough to have lost many bottom leaves, but the top is quite robust and healthy looking.  Fairly good sized fruit.
Oxheart ~ This one I had high hopes for since last year it produced one of my first fruits, then went on to give me many more, but this one got a slow start.  The seedling I started from seed was awful small when I set it out, but I did it anyway and I think the plant suffered for it.  It's now a fairly tall plant, but not producing much yet.
Pink Ponderosa ~ 5 tomatoes.  Sick, but tall and healthy.
Ponderosa Red ~ 14 tomatoes.  Pretty dang sickly, dammit.  It was doing SO well. 
Red Brandywine ~ The seedling I planted died.  BUMMER.  This is one was another I had high hopes for since last year it did so well for me, having more than a dozen fruit on it by early May.
Rutgers ~ 14 tomatoes.  Short and sick, but doing well.
Trucker's Favorite
Stupice ~ 33 smallish tomatoes. Very sick.  Might lose this one, too.  Tall plant.  I didn't think this one would be a contender since I thought it was a small-fruited variety, but it's so productive that I had to include it.  Fruit aren't as small as I was expecting.
Trucker's Favorite ~  6 tomatoes.  Sick, but good looking.  Tall plant.  Another one I had high hopes for.  I think this one is an old fashioned shipping/commercial variety, so I thought maybe it might hold it's own.  So far it's not, but I may still try it again next year.

And an honorable mention goes to the Brandywine Black.  That thing is a monster!  It has over thirty fruit on it and gave me the first ripe tomato of the year.  Good flavor, at least as good as my other favorites.  I'll have to do a blind taste test later in the year when more of the blacks are ripening at the same time.  It's sick, but doing well. 

Also, I wanted to record that the Romas are really kicking ass.  As usual.  They're outproducing the San Marzanos by far (but I'll bet the SMs will win hands down in a taste test).  The Amish Paste is very sick, but the Principe Borgheses are doing well, as are the Red Figs.  I must count their fruit next time I'm out there.

Oh!  And the Snow White is COVERED in fruit!!  I am amazed at how many there are.  I've already picked three and had them for lunch today.  Nice, sweet and fruity flavor.  Very good!  I think it'll be a staple in my garden from now on.

Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead

La Nina is gone.

I'm sitting on my bed, curtains open, looking out on the wetness outside cloaked by an overcast sky.  I can feel the huge collective sigh emanating from everything out there.  The trees seem to be standing taller, the grass is greener, and the garden ... oh, the garden...

I am so tied to my garden.  No matter where I am, I feel it.  It's as if there's a tether between my garden and me, one I only have to turn my mind to to travel down and transport myself to the peacefulness of it.  It's a source of hope ~ when I'm feeling down, I think of it and what I want to do next, picturing how it will look and I will feel when I'm done, and somehow everything feels better.

When it's hot and dry and things are suffering out there, I can't bear it.  I suffered right along with it last year.  Man, did I suffer.  Some people get seasonal affective disorder in the wintertime when the sun doesn't shine.  Me, I get it in the summer, when the rain doesn't come.  I lose hope that things will ever be other than hot, dry, and miserable.

But now, sitting here basking in the afterglow of two inches of rain that fell last night, I have hope again.
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