Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Leftover Ham - Oh Yum!

Most of us are tuckered out after all the fun and family of the Christmas holidays.  We grab whatever's in the refrigerator and make due for the next few meals.  If you had ham, here's one easy and great soup that is filling and flavorful.

Cheesy Ham and Potato Soup

Spray a large crockpot with PAM to keep the soup from sticking.  Turn to high cook.

Boil until tender:
5 pounds washed/unpeeled golden Yukon potatoes
Drain/let sit in cold water until cooled - with your fingers/peel off skin.  Add skin to your composter. 

Add to crockpot:
2 Cups Ham (Dice or pull into small bite sized pieces)
32 ozs. Chicken stock/broth

Salt and Pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire
1/2 teaspoon of Cayenne pepper (to taste)

Melt in fry pan:
1 heaping Tablespoon Bacon Grease
1 heaping Tablespoon Butter
And add:
1 Cup Finely Diced Carrots
1 Cup Finely Diced Celery
1 Cup Finely Diced Onions
Simmer until onions are translucent but not browned.

Add to crockpot:
Onion mixture and potatoes.  Lightly mash with hand masher/leaving bite sized potato hunks.  Cook until mixture begins to bubble at the sides.  Scrape down.

1 Cup Milk (Add more if it becomes too thick)
1 Pound Vevetta cheese - cut into squares
Stir and when cheese has melted, turn crock pot temperature to Low.

If this begins to bubble, turn it down to warm.  Cooking too hot will cause the cheese to stick to the sides and flavor won't be as good.  Everything in this soup has been cooked prior to the crockpot so it's just a matter of letting flavors blend and holding warn until you're read to eat.  

This makes a large crockpot full.  It can be made in a soup pan but you must stir more often to keep it from burning/sticking.  And when it's all warm and ready, it needs to be served rather than held.

This also freezes well.  Simply stir to blend ingredients while reheating.  Also, microwaveable but be sure to cover because it splatters.   

As they used to say on the farm, this soup will "stick to your ribs" these cold winter days.  It's good with a simple salad or fruit.  It's almost too rich and thick for crackers or bread.  

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christmas Jam

I just finished two batches of Cranberry Jalape├▒o Jam - they look good - they taste good - they set up:  All is well in Santa's workshop.

I had bought a little jar of commercially produced CJJ and loved it on toast, eggs, crackers, cheese - many things.  The cranberries give it zing and color - the peppers a little bit of heat.  Then, I couldn't find it anywhere and decided I'd make my own.  The following recipe is easy and worked exactly right (love it when that happens.)

Cranberry Jalapeno Jam

2 cups     Whole fresh cranberries - washed/drained
3               Jalapeno peppers **
2 Tbs.      Water
1 cup        White vinegar
5 cups      White granulated sugar
3 oz.         Liquid pectin

** You can use any type of hot pepper or more than three BUT you don't want to make it so hot that it loses it's subtle flavors and is just another hot sauce.

Wash & sterilize 5 half-pint jars, lids and rings.  It will make five jars but you will have about 1/2 cup left over to use/store in refrigerator.  

Wearing latex gloves, wash peppers, cut off stem ends, slice in half lengthwise and remove all seeds and inner membranes.  Chop finely in the food processor.  

Add cranberries and water to peppers.  Pulse until finely chopped.

Spoon pulp into a 4-quart stainless steel pan.  Add vinegar.  Cook over low heat 10 minutes to blend flavors.  Stir to keep from burning/sticking.

Add sugar all at once and raise heat.  Stir constantly until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a rolling boil.  When mixture bubbles and the top foams significantly - add pectin.  Boil hard one minute.  Remove from heat.  Stir.  If there's extra foam, skim off and discard.  

Ladle jam into jars, leaving 1/2 inch at top.  Clean rim, add caps and rings; gently tighten.  

Process jam in water bath canner 10 minutes.  Remove to towel covered surface.  When the jars have sealed and cooled, tighten rings.  The jars need to be completely cooled for the jam to set.  Wipe clean with damp rag and polish with dry towel.  Date and store at room temperature.

Refrigerate after opening or anything not processed in canner.   

Since I'm giving some as Christmas presents, I added a label and twine bow.  This recipe isn't terribly time consuming and the end result is a beautiful jewel-toned jam.  

Monday, December 11, 2017

Tropical Beauties

Sunset off our patio
We were fortunate to spend some time in Maui last month.  The awesomeness (yes awesomeness) of the ocean is one of the great features.  The other was the vegetation.  Vegetation seems so generic for Maui plants and flowers.  They are anything but generic.

The background:  I won the ten days in a beautiful condo on the beach through an on-line auction held by the National Hemerocallis Association.  The condo time was donated by one of the NHA officers - the owners.  What a gift!

Not only did we have wonderful accommodations but a view of the Pacific from our patio.  Although it was a bit early for whale watching, one of those big girls showed herself to us not far off the coast of our beach.  This ramped up the awesomeness to a bucket list level.  

We visited the privately owned Kula Botanical Garden.  It poured down the entire time we walked the garden which gave it an ethereal feel.  And so, under our umbrellas, we saw these beauties.

As always, you can click on the first picture and then page thru them in a larger format.  Vacations are great and this one especially beautiful - but - there's no place like home.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Who Knows What

When asked why or what about certain garden things, experienced gardeners can reply with some scientific answers, experience based answers, botanical answers and when all else fails:  Who Knows What!
 "Carnival in Mexico" with one flower having a gold eye 
and the bottom flower with a green eye.   

There are times when all experienced gardeners (professional or amateur) don't have a good answer.  Sometimes we can give a "maybe it's whatever" but that's still means Who Knows What.  

Newbies tend to think there's a firm answer for everything in nature but there's not.  
 "Designer Gown" will throw off lavender and purple flower 
and other times a peach and rose flower.

Here's an example:  A daylily will be pictured as having a green eye by the hybridizer. In your garden, it may have a gold eye.  No, it's not a mistake, you weren't hoodwinked and it wasn't mislabeled.  It's probably because of the difference in soils, or perhaps the camera, or the time of day, or if it's cloudy or sunny, or where it is in the bloom cycle OR Who Knows What
 My "Japanese Red Franksred" maple tree has always turned a glowing orange in the fall.  This year a few leaves turned and the rest have kinda just stayed green until they fall.  Who Knows What.

Some years a perennial flower, bush or tree may produce seeds and other years nothing.  Some are predictable while others are Who Knows What.  

We all know weather plays an important part in plant production, looks and survival.  But weather isn't a finite explanation.  Without sounding too basic, there are so many factors in nature when combined in different ways at different times, it would take a lot of horticultural knowledge and testing to determine the why of many of our garden questions.  And simply put, there's not much money to pay for that kind of individual testing especially since it may a once in a lifetime thing.  And so...we simply guess when all known answers have been exhausted.  
This "Cherokee Chief" dogwood did poorly from the beginning.  I moved it three times, pruned it, sprayed it, swore at it and finally decided to do nothing and let it die in it's own shame.  And then - yes then - it became all it was suppose to be.  Who Knows What.

It can frustrate or it can be another example of the wonder of our gardens and of nature as a whole.  The act of gardening shouldn't be frustrating and I suggest you learn to move swiftly into Who Knows What as a way to remain happy and sane in your gardens.  It's a definite answer in an indefinite garden world.     

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Have Zucchini - Will travel

One of the beautiful things about this time of the year is the Midwest's abundance of zucchini.  Aside from the many cartoons and jokes, even non-gardeners will find an occasional zucchini on their doorstep, workplace desk or vehicle.

I've raised zucchini from time to time and finally realized I needed to figure out what to do with the "extras".  I've made zucchini bread but seriously how many loaves of bread should one person eat!  I like it raw dunked in a flavorful dip but after eating one two-foot raw zucchini, I'm about done with that recipe.  My last and best measure for the extra was:

Wash the zucchini and wipe dry.  Cut off the ends and grate the rest.  You can grate with a hand grater or with your food processor.  I don't bother to peel and it doesn't hurt if you have to cut the zucchini into smaller chunks before it goes into the processor.  If it's a huge zucchini, you may want to cut out any tough seeds.  Once it's grated, take a couple of handfuls or measure out two cups, insert into a zip lock bag, roll to get out all the air and close.  Freeze.  I don't bother to cook prior to freezing because it makes it too watery for most recipes.    
Come winter, it makes a healthy addition to stews, soups, breads, casseroles, meat loaf or meatballs - let your imagination be your guide.  Because one of my kids was a finicky eater, I learned to grate many nutritious vegetables as a way to fool him into eating healthy.  Since zucchini doesn't have much taste, it's an excellent "fooler". 

Since one-cup of zucchini is 20 calories, it contains no fat and is rich in Vitamin C, it has no down side.  The Nutrition Facts are from the USDA.  

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 cup of chopped
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 2
Calories 20
% Daily Values*
Total Fat 0.22g0%
Saturated Fat 0.046g0%
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.094g
Monounsaturated Fat 0.017g
Cholesterol 0mg0%
Sodium 12mg0%
Potassium 325mg
Total Carbohydrate 4.15g1%
Dietary Fiber 1.4g6%
Sugars 2.15g
Protein 1.5g
Vitamin A 5%Vitamin C 35%
Calcium 2%Iron 2%

The following recipe was copied from The Kosher Gourmet in an article by Joe Yonan.  Although it makes 4 servings, it could be decreased/increased for your needs.  The zucchini and pappardelle (you can substitute pieces of lasagna noodles for the pappardelle - broke into one inch pieces) are simply a backdrop to the lovely flavors of onions, garlic, basil and lemon.  You can also sub out the olive oil with sesame seed or walnut oils but stay away from corn oils as they are too heavy and increase the saturated fat.  


SERVINGS: 4; Healthy
Adapted from "15 Minute Vegan: Fast, Modern Cooking" by Katy Beskow (Quadrille, 2017)

 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed
 8 ounces dried pappardelle
 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
 1 clove garlic, chopped
 2 medium zucchini (12 ounces total), trimmed and coarsely grated
 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (see NOTE)
 Handful fresh basil leaves

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the pappardelle and cook according to the package directions, until al dente, then drain. 

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in the onion and garlic; cook until the onion starts to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the zucchini and increase the heat to medium; cook, stirring frequently, until the zucchini is tender but not mushy, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the pepper.
Toss the cooked pappardelle into the pan with the zucchini to coat evenly. Taste, and add more salt and pepper, as needed.
Transfer to a serving platter, drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and scatter the pine nuts and basil on top. 

NOTE: Toast the pine nuts in a small, dry skillet over a medium heat until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes, shaking the pan a few times to avoid scorching. Let cool completely before serving or storing.

Nutrition | Per serving: 380 calories, 10 g protein, 46 g carbohydrates, 19 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 75 mg cholesterol, 290 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Squeaking Out August

Since I've been a tad lax posting all things gardening during August, I'll squeak out a combo article.

L-R:  Nancy A, Pat M., Bonnie S, Kathy H, Mary K, Kathy F,
Me, Gail R, (back) Sandy W, Tina H & Pat R
  Our garden group had a stellar (highly carbed) brunch at our special friend's, Mary K, home.  Out of twenty-two FMNs, eleven were available to eat, drink and be merry.  We did miss the rest of you - hope you can make it next time!

Talk (as always) revolved around gardening:  

  • What produce they're preserving and how
  • Weeds
  • Weather
  • Master Gardener and Master Naturalists programs
  • Monarchs & other butterflies.
  • Why, how and who (of most anything)
  • Using produce in favorite recipes (hot peppers especially)
  • Honey & bees, maple syrup and other condiment making
  • And laughing - we can never forget laughing.

We mingled in what's happening on a personal level - caregiving, selling/buying homes, grandchildren and more.

It was a happy/sad kinda day.  You see, Mary and her husband, John, are selling their home and moving out of state.  We all understand and try to be supportive and encouraging.  But we do have small lapses of sadness because Mary is one of those people you feel God has placed in your life because He knew it would enrich your's.  She is funny (a trait we seem to value pretty darn high,) intelligent, imaginative and caring. Not to mention she's crazy energetic and has wonderful gardens.  

Since they are lowering the price of this beautiful property, we offered to each chip in $20 and purchase it for our "garden clubhouse" - she'll get back to us on that...  If you're interested in a new place, check out 137 Township Road 150 N, Toulon IL.

We also did one of my surveys on "What is your favorite annual?" and it goes:
Bonnie's Blue Victoria Salvia.
Bonnie S. wrote " I have loved Blue Victoria Salvia for years. I have always had one or two returning the following year, but never as many as this year. I assume it's due to our mild winter. The picture I sent is of the Blues that came back on their own. What a wonderful surprise! That's a pretty good bang for my buck.  I know we need a good, hard freeze to kill lots of garden pests, but the mild winter blessed me with a nice splash of blue."
One of Nancy's pictures of her coleus.
Nancy A. wrote:  "When Diane asked what our favorite annual was it was very difficult to choose. I usually don't buy a lot of them but with the Garden Walk (Nancy's was one of the gardens featured) this year, I have oodles and right now they are putting on quite a display.
After walking around the garden I would have to say that all the different coleus varieties make this my favorite annual plant. They pair up very beautifully with flowers in pots and hanging baskets but more than ever I love to team them up in the landscape and watch them meander all over the place until the first frost. They are super simple to multiply and do well in part sun, part shade, or even shade. My favorite annual flower for baskets or pots would have to be the Supertunia variety of petunias, as you can tell from my garden walk this year. Thank you Ryan Werkheiser for stocking so many colors and kinds. My favorite annual flower that I put in the ground would have to be the bedding geraniums.  I love to put them in my garden as well as in the city bed that I am taking care of. They are very dependable, have a long blooming season and perform well in drier conditions. I usually trim them back and take a lot of them in over the winter and also take cuttings. They cover all my window sills all winter long and still bloom inside which makes me very happy in the dead of winter."

One of this year's zinnias.
Me:  I could have posted pictures of zillions of zinnias but this amazing one is fun because it changes colors as it matures.  Rose, peach, dusty to vibrant it has it all.  Zinnias are the workhorse of annual flowers.  They stay pretty when picked and the pollinators love them.

Although this isn't one of Pat R's dahlias, it is a pretty one.

Pat R:  Her favorite annual flowers are dahlias and zinnias.  fyi:  Pat has so many miniature/fairy gardens in her yard I've completely missed her annuals.  She knows how to do these little scenes right!

Robyn's Cleome's
Robyn T:  Her favorite is the Cleome (Spider flowers.)  This self-seeding wonder brightens the late summer/fall garden and is loved by pollinators.  A native of tropical South America.  Robyn's garden was also on the Garden Walk and is stunning.

Carlin's Moss Rose
Carlin H:  "My favorite annual has to be moss rose.  It is always so good to me no matter how I much I abuse (don't water) it! I have a pretty hanging basket of pink and white one this year but it is closed up tight today. The picture is a little moss rose in the robin's nest that was home to 4 babies this spring. We have had 2 sets of 4 robin's hatch every year that we have lived here. Always makes me smile..."
Thunbergia - yellow.  We had trouble getting Tina's picture
to me but this is what she's talking about.
Tina H:  "One of my favorite annuals is called Thunbergia.  It comes in a variety of colors, but I usually pick the yellow because it's so bright and cheery.  I love the unusual shape of the flowers.  They vine nicely in a hanging basket or a window box." 

Praying for the Houston area and for everyone dealing with the ravages of wind and flooding.  Praying for safety, perseverance and stamina for residents and emergency workers.    

Monday, July 10, 2017

Favorite Herbs

My latest poll of our garden group, the Forget Me Nots, is about their favorite herb.  I realized it was hard to narrow it down to one so some expanded on the theme with comments and examples.  
Standard variety of basil grown in a pot.

Carlin H.:  

"My grandchildren make it very hard for me to only choose just one! 

  • Chocolate mint/Isaac likes finding it here and there.
  • Lemon thyme/Preston runs his fingers through it every time he walks by.
  • Orange mint/Hannah and Lilly think it makes the very best infused sun tea.
  • Scarborough Fair/I love to sing it (loudly and slightly off key!)

I love herbs of all kinds! Since you are asking for one, I'll choose Rosemary.  I have a delicious pork loin recipe that calls for abundant sprigs.   I grow it near my back door so that I brush by it often and release the heavenly smell."
Dill is growing volunteer in several places this year.

Gail R.:

"My favorite herb (there are many that I enjoy) has to be Rosemary. It smells so good! I rub it between my hands and then breath deeply. Wow. It tastes so good, also. I throw it in with baked chicken or roast it with vegetables. Heavenly. I also recently learned that when infused in oil and rubbed on the skin, it's great for soothing aching joints. I'll have to try that soon.

Speaking of herbs:

University of Illinois Extension is offering a make and take workshop on July 11 from 5-7pm in Galva. "Martha Smith, horticulture educator , will lead participants in planting their own herb container to enjoy for the rest of the season. Kristen Bogdonas will lead a make and take of herb-infused salt blends. Herb-infused beverages and snacks will also be ready for you to sample. " All this for only $10 and you will get to take the herb garden home! Sounds like fun to me. Bring your friends and/or spouse for this fun opportunity. Register in advance by calling the extension office at 309/932-3447 or online at

Food, drink, plants...sounds like an FMN opportunity to me.

Happy summer!"
Horehound (perennial) that I grow simply because my grandma
made Horehound hard candy. 

Robyn T.:

"I'd have to say dill and feverfew.  I've used feverfew in every bridal bouquet I've done....lovely!"  NOTE:  check out Robyn's facebook page to see her bridal bouquets - prettier than any florist ever made!
I grow Horseradish for the ornamental big leaves.  If anyone wants a root
start or to grind, let me know - it's easy.

Rebeccca D.:

"Feverfew!!!!  I love feverfew.  I use it ornamentally and it is blooming profusely right now---lots of tiny white button flowers about two-feet tall."
Lemon Mint is so wonderful.
Spearmint.  Mint gets a bum rap as being an invasive plant.  It does spread but I find it easily pulled and kept within bounds.  The best part is pollinators LOVE the flowers, especially honeybees.

Mary K.:

"This is practically like asking "which is your favorite child?"!

I love oodles of herbs. Wooly Thyme is a lovely border plant in my garden. It attracts lots of pollinators. I love variegated thyme & had it for many years as an accent in my gardens (it died out). Tarragon is a lovely tall herb & yummy in choron sauce. Best of all ... Lavender! Love it's grey/blue foliage, fragrance & awesome purply/blue blooms!
Oregano is another plant that when bushed it gives off its perfume.

Karen R.:

"Favorite herb by far for summer, ­čî┐ basil, also my chives. Use both so often. 

Bacon and chives in deviled eggs. Yum. "

Kathy H.:

"Dill because it attracts swallowtail butterflies!"
Rue is host to butterflies.

Nancy A.:

"My favorite herb has to be basil. I especially love my first fresh tomato basil sandwich in the summer. I use basil in so many dishes during the summer and have dried for it winter use and even frozen it in ice cubes for later use as well. It also makes a great pesto."
Old fashioned sage - a perennial.

Diane G.:

And as for myself, my favorite for eating is diffenately Chives.  For the butterflies it's dill and rue.

As others have said, I love being able to brush up against herbs as I garden for the fragrance.  The only time it's backfired was the time I planted Celantro.  Celantro is an easy to grow, spreading bush of an annual.  I'm one of those few people who is repulsed by the smell and taste which meant every time I mowed it smelled up the mower, me and the atmosphere!  Mistake!!!
Freezing herbs in olive oil.  Simple and a great way to have the fresh taste all winter.

I know all of us could have listed many more herbs.  As a side note, one of my favorite books is "Gerard's Herbal - a history of plants" written in the 1600s by John Gerard, it's a wealth of history.  Readers shouldn't use it's recommendations for herb medical uses unless you consult your doctor first.  It was all they had at the time but much has been learned since.  I use it all the time for reference and a look at a time when the garden was what kept us fed and nursed.