Fantastic Zucchini Lasagna

I’ve been seeing recipes on Pinterest for Zucchini Lasagna, and since zucchini is a heavy producer for most people that plant it, I thought I’d take a shot at it. It turned out SOOO good. Let me just say, I didn’t even miss the meat. I’ve been wanting to bring more DELICIOUS plant-based recipes into our lives, and I have to say, this fits the bill. And it’s a great way to use your fresh summer garden vegetables!

zucchinlasagna1

Zucchini Lasagna

2 medium zucchini

1 large onion (I used a red)

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 jar or large can (23-24 oz) of tomato sauce

1/4 cup water

2 – 3 T. balsalmic vinegar

1 egg

1 cup ricotta cheese

Approx. 1 cup mozzarella cheese (or whatever you have on hand)

1 cup (packed), sliced swiss chard

About 8-10 large leaves fresh basil, thinly sliced

Salt

Pepper

A little oil of your choice

Cut the ends off of the zucchini, then slice thinly long-ways with a sharp knife or a mandolin slicer. In a large bowl, thoroughly salt both cut sides of the zucchini noodles. The salt draws water out of the zucchini so your final product won’t be so soupy. Let it sit for about 30 minutes. This is what mine looked like:

zucchinilasagna2

All of that liquid in the bottom of the bowl dripped off the salted zucchini. Can you imagine that extra liquid in the lasagna? Unless you like to drink your lasagna, I strongly suggest salting the zucchini!!

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.

Saute the onion in your choice of oil. When mostly softened, sprinkle garlic powder and saute for another 40 seconds. Add pasta sauce, water and balsamic vinegar. Mix and cook together until slightly thickened (approx. 5 minutes), then salt and pepper to taste.

Mix the ricotta and egg in a small bowl. Put half of the basil in the ricotta and egg mixture. Mix the other half of the basil with the sliced swiss chard, just on the cutting board.

After the 30 minutes is over, rinse the salt off of the zucchini and pat dry.

Put a little pasta sauce in the bottom of a 8×8″ pan. Layer zucchini, pasta sauce, swiss chard/basil leaves, ricotta-basil mixture, pasta sauce, zucchini, sauce, swiss chard and basil leaves, sauce and then mozzarella.

Bake for about 30 minutes covered with foil, then about another 20 minutes uncovered. The cheese should brown beautifully in lovely golden spots. When you take it out, let it cool about 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

P.S. Yay for cell phone food photography!

Inspired by lots of pins, particularly the recipes here, here, and here.

TIPS:

Chop the basil and swiss chard finely. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to roll the smaller leaves up tightly in the larger leaves, then slice thinly across the roll.

Serve with a crusty bread!

Summer Garden August 2014

The garden is doing well this year, though half of it got started a bit late. We have been enjoying the addition of truly fresh food to our diets. Bryce has a garden bed at the office this year as well, so we’ve been getting good stuff from both places. Beet greens and swiss chard have made appearances on our plates, and zucchini has been eaten with gusto in a dish that’s new to us. (I’ll share the recipe soon….it was SOOO good).

swisschardzucchinizucchini2

Baby Boy loves eating the peas…hence there are few pea pods left on the plants to photograph right now, but there will be more in a week.

pea

Lots of green tomatoes, only a couple red ones so far. I swore last year I wouldn’t use the same wimpy tomato cages, but I didn’t follow through. Unfortunately, not all of my tomatoes are even caged at this point. I did find, however, that the “large” puny cages do alright when doubled up. They support the tomatoes much better doubled than when they are used singly.

tomatoes2

This year I planted the tomatoes closest to the fence in holes filled with compost, and the other 3 are just planted in our regular soil. The 3 closest to the fence do seem to be doing better, but they were also planted a little earlier if I remember correctly. And they are different varieties. So, not a true test of the difference compost makes, but I still believe the compost is the way to go. You should see my grandpas tomato plants. He plants in large deep holes, filled with just leaf mold/compost and his plants are MASSIVE and loaded with tomatoes. I mean, we are talkin’ 5 foot tall, lush, thick dark green plants covered in beautiful tomatoes. I’ll have to take a photo and show you sometime, it’s amazing!

tomatoes

tomatobabies

The gooseberry plants gave us a great harvest this year, and they are so much bigger than they were last year! The dill and basil have struggled. You can barely see them poking up between the brassicas and the gooseberries. I planted them late in the season as transplants and they’ve been too thirsty at times. Even so, the basil has been used a lot in my cooking.

gooseberrybushes

My ARP rosemary is doing well. It is supposed to be a variety that has a better chance of surviving our cold winters, so crossing my fingers. When you just brush your hand across a rosemary plant and breath that scent, oh my stars. I love it.

And look at those gorgeous chives and green onions! They both overwintered from last year, and I started the green onions from the left overs of a store bought bunch! After chopping the green tops for a recipe, I planted the bottoms. They’ve done really well, and even went to seed this year.

herbs greenoniongreenonionseed

I think a neighbor must have sprayed weed killer earlier this summer, and it must have gone airborne (volatilized) and hit some of my jerusalem artichokes. That’s the most likely explanation as to why there is a completely dead patch right in the middle of the bed. I’ll have to replant the spot this fall when I harvest the tubers.

jerusalemartichoke

I planted green beans around Baby Boy’s saguaro cactus rib teepee fairly late in the season. I thought it would be a fun “house” for him, and if we get beans, great! He helped me plant them. *smile*

Lyamshouse

Kale got in late, but is doing well. And I imagine with the cooler temps we’ve been having lately, they are going to take off soon. Aren’t they lovely!

kale2

Broccoli is flowering! Not necessarily great for edibility, but look how pretty it is! Looks like broccoli will be on the menu today.

broccoli

I’ve got at least two little watermelon forming. They seem to be growing pretty quickly, which is fun for impatient gardeners…not that I know any.

watermelon

Yes, there are obviously some weeds in my garden. Morning glory is a major pest in my yard and garden. We put a lot of black plastic down this year to help control some of the weeds and to retain moisture. This has worked well over all. It definitely has made weed control easier…although there ARE weeds in my garden, they aren’t as HUGE or quite taking over….so that nice.

plastic

Lessons I’ve learned (or have been reminded of) so far this year are:

That I need to plant stuff earlier to give it a better chance of producing a respectable harvest.

Use a good compost, and dig your holes wide and deep.

Control the weeds early in the season, and mulch to keep them down, and keep the garden looking nice. Don’t let them go to seed! Next year I plan to mulch the perimeter of the garden with straw to keep it looking clean and to help smother weeds.

Any gardening lessons you’ve learned that you’d care to share? Let’s hear it!

Cherry Tomato Tasting 2014

It’s well known that store bought tomatoes just can’t compete with the rich, sweet, complex flavor of home grown. I find this holds true with cherry tomatoes too.

cherrytomatoes3

These beauties are Sun Sugar, Black Cherry, and the red ones, I’m fairly positive, are Super Sweet 100s. This particular batch grew in Bryce’s “office” raised bed garden.

cherrytomatoes2

Sun Sugar and Black Cherry won the taste contest for me, with Sun Sugar in first place. They are sweeter than the reds, especially the Sun Sugars, and I love the bright gold and subdued purplish colors. However, everyone seems to have their own idea as to what makes a great cherry tomato.  My father in law prefers the more classic, less sweet tomato flavor of the Super Sweet 100s.

cherrytomatoes

Do you have a favorite cherry or grape tomato? I’d love to try some new varieties next year! And last but not least, anyone have a great recipe that highlights cherry tomatoes? Suggestions please and thank you!

Peaches!

Our peaches are SO beautiful this year. Our tree has only been in for about 2 years, but after thinning it earlier this summer, it produced these plump, sweet, fragrant beauties.

peaches3

If you don’t thin your fruit, you will get more peaches, but they wont be as big, and the weight of all those little peaches can be a strain on your tree’s bending branches.  Just “unscrew” the fruit from the branch by twisting it until it pops loose. Don’t just pull it off, as it can pull strips of the branch off with it! Also, You want to wait to for the fruit to set, as not all the tiny peaches that form early in the season will actually stay on the tree (this is often referred to as the “June-drop”). I thin mine to about 1 peach every 4-6″ sometime around July. Thinning relieves the tree (especially a young one like ours) from the weight of excess fruit, and it makes the fruit you do pick larger and of a higher quality. I highly recommend it!

peachespeaches2

Ours is of the Elberta variety. It seems to ripen around mid-season, and we’ve been picking them for a week or so. Fresh, ripe peaches are glorious right off the tree, in baked goods, or in a simple but ever delicious bowl of peaches and cream.

peach3

*Sigh* There are just few things that can compare…

First Gooseberry Harvest!

gooseberry6

I planted two ‘Poorman’ gooseberries 2-3 years ago in our garden. Didn’t get any berries last year, but this year we actually got a harvest!

gooseberry4gooseberry5

Aren’t they beauties! They turned from pale green to this rosy color as they ripened.

gooseberry1

I will warn those of you that might be interested in planting your own gooseberry bushes that they are thorny, and you kind of have to reach into the plant to retrieve the berries. But it’s worth it!

gooseberry3

Gooseberries are often used in jams and preserves, as they apparently can be pretty sour. But these are plenty sweet enough for me to eat them right off the bush, even when they are still a little green! Even Baby Boy ate a few today, and he’s a much more picky eater than I am. *smile* Tart and sweet, with a flavor similar in taste and texture to cranberry sauce.

gooseberry2

The plants have done pretty well I’d say, and though our harvest wasn’t huge this year, it’s a lot more than last years! It’s always exciting to reap the first fruits of your labor!

Lesson (Hopefully) Learned

I loved this wedding. I loved the clients, the flowers, the venue. But I learned a valuable lesson or two. If you are in the floral business, don’t count on a wedding photographer to take photos for you without previously discussing with them (seems obvious, I guess I was just hopeful), and secondly, don’t forget to take photos!!

The bride and groom won some kind of wedding package (awesome), but apparently due to the fact that it was a giveaway, the photographer was unwilling to let me use any of their photographs. I still don’t really understand why it should be a problem, if I got the clients permission and compensated the photographer, but oh well, I should have spoken to the photographer before the event.  My second mistake was that in the hustle and bustle of the day, I completely neglected to take my own photos of the flowers and venue. My sole photo came from my dad’s phone (Thanks Dad!). These were the centerpieces.

clintandcandicecroppedsharpenedetc

The only other thing that I really documented was the bride’s bouquet for her bridal photos. (Note to future brides: Lilies are gorgeous but SO fragile. Just remember that if they are in your bouquets, they might look the worse for wear by the end of the day. Not necessarily a reason not to use them, just something to keep in mind.) As pretty as this bouquet was, it was NOTHING to her wedding day bouquet! I am so ticked at myself for not getting any photos!! It was huge with glorious giant pink peonies. GRRRRRRRRR! It kills me!

candicebridalsbouquetpswmwhite

I still have the smallest, tiniest hope that if contact the bride I might be able to find a relative or friend that took a few photos that might be willing to let me use them. *Sigh. Learned any lessons the hard way lately?

Gray and Yellow Winter Wedding

This lovely wedding had an elegant and fresh combination of gray, creamy white, and yellow.

graylexbretwm

The bride’s bouquet featured white David Austin “Patience” garden roses, Creme de la Creme roses, brunia berries and lacy dusty miller leaves.

graybouquetwm

The centerpieces varied in size, but included white hydrangea, yellow and cream roses, yellow wax flower, seeded eucalyptus, and cream stock. The taller arrangements also had green amaranth hanging over the side of the vase.

graycenterpiecewm

This is an example of one of the short centerpieces. I love the velvety matte gray of the brunia.

graylexi1wm

This was one of the arrangements that brightened the buffet table. The photo doesn’t show the entire thing, but the twigs coming through the arrangement were curly willow. Just as a side note, the food was AMAZING.

graylexiwm

And finally, a photo of the cake.

graylexwmcake

 

Absolutely loved getting a chance to be involved in making such a wonderful day even more beautiful. Thanks Lexi and Bret!

Photographs courtesy of Katherine Loveless Photography

Blooms for Hire

In case you didn’t know…

I am an independent floral artist! I love creating custom floral designs that beautify life’s already special events. Do you have a wedding, baby shower, or company party in your future? I would love to be a part of it!

bridalsmallwm

Contact me for ideas and estimates at jessica@wildflowerindependence.com

See more of my work here.

Photograph by Abong Bain

The Seeds Are Here!

Look what came in the mail for me yesterday! Oh it’s like Christmas!

seeds2014wm

I am one of those strange people that devour seed catalogues. The different plant varieties and their growth habits enchant me, and I daydream of harvesting produce as diverse and colorful as the plants that fill those pages. I have scavenged the catalogues for years, but this is the first order I’ve placed. EVER.

seed12014wm

These were my top picks this year, although I may place another order. These are all heirloom varieties, so the plants will come back true from seed saved each year (as long as they don’t get near another variety that can cross-pollinate). I ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Seed Savers Exchange.

Baker Creek:

Ananas Noire Tomato This tomato’s flavor profile sounds intriguing. It also has interesting coloring and is supposed to be a good producer.

Golden Beet I love beets, golden and otherwise. Big bonus, the gold ones aren’t nearly as likely to stain your clothes or anything else!

Petit Gris de Rennes Melon In the catalogue, this is claimed to be the favorite melon of a famous melon expert. I figure if it’s a “melon expert’s” fave, it’s gotta be good.

Zuchinno Rampicante Squash Love that this squash can be used as a summer squash or as a winter/storage type.

seeds22014

Seed Savers Exchange:

Potimarron Squash It’s French name describes it’s supposed chestnut-like flavor, it’s a good keeper, and just look at that gorgeous red/orange skin! I also like that the squash isn’t a HUGE winter squash. It’s a manageable size at about 3-4 pounds, just big enough for a few people, or to be turned into a pot of soup.

Black Krim Tomato This tomato looks amazing, super dark, and the flavor is supposedly one of the best. I can’t wait to try this one!

Sweet Pea Currant Tomato These are itsy-bitsy tomatoes perfect to garnish…whatever you garnish tomatoes with. Honestly I’m hoping the flavor is good too, because I don’t know how many excuses I can come up with to grow adorably minuscule tomatoes if the main purpose is not to eat them. But I couldn’t resist trying them at least once.

I cannot wait to see how these babies do this year! Are you growing any new varieties this year that you’re excited about? Any tried and true that you would recommend?

Growing Citrus In Cold Places

citrus9

My lemon tree started blooming, so I thought I’d share the beautiful gems with all of you. Unfortunately, I can’t share the gorgeous smell! I love the scent of citrus blossoms.

citrus5wm

Not too long ago, the little buds were just tiny, like this:

citrus16wmcitrus17wm

They grew until the plant was covered in white buds like this:

citrus4wm

Even before the buds opened they started to smell AMAZING, and over the last few days they have opened into these sweet, waxy blooms.

citrus7citrus10wm

Some of the blossoms from last year turned into this year’s fruit. This is a lemon, and the next shot is a blood orange.

citrus14wmcitrus15wm

If you have an indoor space that gets a fair amount of sun in the winter, I would highly recommend growing one of these beauties. The foliage is gorgeous, the flowers are lovely (as is the scent), and they are pretty forgiving plants. My dad gave me these trees a few years back. A few of the trees were bare-root, and some of them he had been growing in pots. My dad was a lot better at regularly fertilizing and watering than I have been, but I am improving. You’ll notice that in the following photo, there are not a lot of large leaves, but there is a TON of new growth and small flower buds.

citrus1wm

Even though I brought them inside for the winter, they lost a lot of leaves. There are probably a few reasons for this:

-The seasonal drop in temperature for one.

-The shock of being moved abruptly (without being whatever-the-oppsite-of-hardened-off-is) may have had something to do with it.

-New temperatures

-Less light

-Maybe even the difference of humidity from outside and the mudroom could have done it. I’ve read somewhere that misting your trees can help, or putting them over a tray of pebbles and water, so that the evaporating water can help keep the humidity higher.

-Cold. Our mudroom is very cold in the winter, due to drafts, the tile floor, and the heater vent that was closed until just recently (for some reason), so it may have just been too cold in there.

-And finally, it could have also been a lack of water, since the tree that lost the most leaves was the one that I think was most neglected when it came to watering.

citrus6wmcitrus2wmcitrus3wm

Whatever the reason, I am just glad that the trees seem to be forgiving me, and I hope to make it up to them this year.

This morning I noticed that the lemon tree had shiny dried spots on it. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, imagine that someone flicked sugary syrup-water onto the leaves and then it dried. And that’basically what happened. The culprits were fairly easy to spot once I knew to look for them. Aphids. They drink the sap from the tender buds and leaves and excrete a sweet sticky substance called “honeydew”.  I also found a solitary “scale”. I killed the majority of the aphids, and removed the scale. I squished them by lightly brushing my fingers over the areas where the infestation was the worst. Kind of gross when you think it through but hey, it works. I need to mix up a spray for the rest of them. We’ll try using some soapy water first, and then go from there.

citrus12

Baby Boy enjoys smelling the flowers too, but I have to keep a close eye. He likes to pluck the flower buds!

citrus13wm

So give it a try if you have the inclination! My next citrus attempt…kaffir lime! I’ll keep you updated on how my trees do this year. Any favorite citrus memories and recipes out there?