Tag Archives: tomato

Sometimes storms are cozy

I know… I promised a pictorial review of snuffing my favorite garden vegetable but….
In Alaska, we’re having a hurricane outside, well not really, but it is blowing a gale and raining. With that, I’m moved to write about my evening comfort food.
All it took was a simple Facebook post and an “Oo, oo, oo that sounds good!!!” and I’m off like a crazy woman…dubbing it “Not-So-Tomato Soup and gooey grilled cheese”.
Channeling a little Rachel Ray, I grab all of my crap out of the fridge at once and pile it on the counter.
Then dig an 8 oz frozen bag of my own veggie stock out of the freezer…. (aka “juice a whole bunch of veggies you’re tired of dealing with and cook it until you all most forget about it” the idea was stolen from Michele at b organic)
***sigh***
I’ll start here.
In the bottom of the stockpot, olive oil and half a large onion chopped and sweating.
In goes about ¾ of a cup of grated carrot… and about the same amount of diced red bell pepper. I’m just guessing here, I’m working with fixings from our baked potato bar night.
Garlic….three cloves…no need to dirty the press, just a rough chop to expose the garlicky goodness.
A few minutes for everyone to get to know each other, this is where the beautiful dance of flavors begins.
I am the girl that believes medium high heat for EVERYTHING is a nice balance between “getting the job done in a timely manner” and racing to keep things from burning. 🙂

See, it’s a game, if I turned down the heat I would lose…and I hate losing. 😀 ***Yes, I am a dork***
One can of chicken stock….POOF it’s a hot tub party!! Whoo Hoo!!!
Pop the frosty stock out the zippy bag and bloop….into the pot.
And of course….It’s a party killer… like the cops just showed up and you don’t know what you did with your pants. 😀   ***snicker***
On to the bland and boring:
One can of diced tomatoes and one can of tomato sauce
Simmer… taste…and a LITTLE on the acidic side and not sweet enough. I am going for  Campbell’s…..but with REAL food. So how do I sweeten it up without adding sugar? Another half of a sweet bell pepper, yellow this time to change it up a bit; rough chop.
While simmering to soften the pepper, in goes a tablespoon of chili powder and a teaspoon of salt.
I can hear it now…” I don’t need to put salt in my food” Well….blah, blah, BLAH! I cry BS!
If you don’t put salt in your food then you’re either eating bland CRAP, in denial by not paying attention to your seasonings, using a hell of a lot of high sodium sauces OR you’re addicted to celery. Either way, we need a certain amount of salt in food in order to discern from one flavor from another…I swear. I made this seafood chowder once……………Oh, never mind.
Off the heat …and the soapbox……maybe.
Once all has cooled down (stopped boiling), pour the whole kit and caboodle into the blender.
***WAIT…….STOP***
Now, PLEASE DO NOT make the same dumb ass mistake I’ve seen so many of those high dollar chiefs make by putting hot liquid in a blender and lettin’ her rip. Let this little house wife from ALASKA explain; when you put steaming hot liquid in a container, under a lid, and agitate it, pressure builds…..and IT FREAKING EXPLODES!!!! HELLLOOOOO???!!!
Crack the lid away from you and hold it down, better to be safe than sorry. 😮 No need to be cleaning soup off the ceiling. Then… low and slow, gently add speed until the veggies are well-blended and silky smooth.
Return to the stockpot over low flame to keep warm until the sandwiches are ready to plate.
Buttering one side of the wheat bread, add two slices of ham to the dry side with a slice and a half of cheddar. For a little extra kick, also add a thin slice of Wasabi infused Gouda; oh, it’s just delish I tell ya. Flip another bread slice on top, butter side up, and slip the whole thing on to a hot grill pan.

I LOVE my cast iron griddle, its perfect for making cheese sandwiches.
…and this is where I need more practice, or need someone else to take over, I am notorious for burning grilled cheese sandwiches…ya, I know, turn the freakin’ heat down. I know, I KNOW! It’s just a thing…

🙂  The morning after…

…sticking my finger in the refrigerated container of soup this morning, I would leave out the teaspoon of salt. Yes, I can admit it… It was a mistake. I have a tendency to forget about the stock, or in some cases, it’s been when cooking with bacon too. However, I still stand by my salt rant.

Oh, and I would thin the soup out a tad with a little water. You play with it and let me know.

That dizzle of cheese was completely by accident but it looks delicious

 

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Fortunately, not everyone lives in Alaska….Steps to Sustainable Living

It’s all about starting small…”Big Bird steps”.

I have a tendency to have big beautiful ideas and then the reality of the project sets in…. and then well it’s pretty much dead in the water and how FUN is that???

MANAGEABLE: A little bit of planning will save you time, money and aspirin.

It may be as small as a few planters with herbs on the sill, a “no-dig” bagged soil garden out the back door, a more defined straw bale garden, or a raised bed or two. Remember, size does not matter it’s what you do with what you have that counts. I’ve learned success in gardening comes with a good foundation…soil. But it doesn’t mean you have to break your back to get there or kill the ceramic piggy. All of these growing concepts will have brilliant results and end up producing wonderful compost for whatever your permanent solution may be.

How it played out in my neck of the woods:

Year One: (2008)

16′ X 18′ Finished Greenhouse

 I was fortunate enough to start with constructing a greenhouse (1) out of leftover materials from building our house. It took an additional two years to buy all of the Lexan to finish  the sides and back, which were temporarily covered with 6 mm plastic sheeting. My garden that year consisted of 20 tomato plants growing in their pots in the new greenhouse.

Year Two: (2009)

I started my seeds in the house, on a fold out table in the living room with newspaper pots (2). Not the BEST idea, but hey what can I say…..it had sunshine and I’m CHEAP.

First year attempting corn and upside-down tomatoes

Once the snow melted, I added four 4’ X 8’ X 12” raised beds and upgraded to about twenty-five 7 gallon black nursery pots for growing containers in the greenhouse.

I’d mark 2009 as the point I started to understanding why living a sustainable lifestyle is important and researching ways for it to be successful in Alaska. It wasn’t a foreign concept having a long family history of hunting and gathering, but let me tell you, living in a society of convenience assuages the natural instinct to fend for yourself.

Year Three: (2010)

Cucumbers

I planned a head; starting my seeds earlier with one large grow light in the garage. I wanted to add more raised beds but ended up concentrating on growing bigger and better fruits and veggies.

Year Four: (2011)

I ordered my open pollinated seeds online AND actually READ the back of the seed packs. Go figure…..they put growing information back there! Put together a nice little planting schedule; counted back from our last frost date which is usually May 15th and outlined the weeks I had to start which seed. However, I realized too late that I should have included the week or two of germination time. OOPS!  No biggie! In the end it worked out beautifully…

Baby Killers

…Until most of my baby seedlings were violently choked out by the “dampening off” fungus. Apparently, this occurs when you don’t use fresh potting soil every year, but what if you put your used potting soil outside to be frozen during winter??? I’m still not sold (*giggle*) on paying $40 for DIRT! It just doesn’t make since.

Spring 2011 comes and I find myself pouting about the quality of my dirt…or lack thereof.

SOIL: Having heavy clay deposits, I could’ve purchased good humified compost to get started, but that still kind of goes against the grain of the “frugal sustainability” game I play.

Really…What is “sustainability” if you just run to the store to fix the problem, right? So I did some experimenting with a couple of lasagna beds.

Lasagna gardening is based on building layers of organic material to plant in; much like a compost pile.

My Recipe:

  • Straw for structure, air flow and moisture retention
  • Chicken manure for the 1% Nitrogen (N) content which is the second highest to bunny poop at 2%.
  • My dirt for local microorganisms and to help hold the nutrients from washing to the bottom
  • Bone Meal promotes healthy root growth with 12% Phosphorus (P)

    Layers

  • Lime to counter the acidity of composting straw.
  • Epsom Salt for magnesium. It is touted be beneficial to the photosynthesis process and helps promote the availability of other nutrients. Tomatoes love it!
  • Ash for the 3% Potassium (K) to help in the production of the fruits and veggies.

I started with turning over the soil in a 2′ X 16′ row in my greenhouse and breaking up the large chunks. Added a 6” layer of straw and watered it down. I chose straw because of its hollow structure thus helping with air flow, as suggested when researching composting. Then I added a 3-4″ layer of last year’s chicken manure and watered it down to make good contact with the straw. Next came a 2″ layer of my own dirt, sprinkled with bone meal, lime, Epsom salt and ash, then watered to wash some of the additional nutrients in with the manure and straw. Now…..”Rinse and repeat.” I had enough materials for two layers, which gave me 12” of growing medium.

Lasagna Bed 1

The whole process took about an hour and once it was all watered down…I let it set over night. Planting in a bed like that is as simple as shoving your trowel into the straw and wriggling open a hole. The next morning I eagerly planted my pumpkins, green beans, tomatoes, black beans and a soaker hose… then…add some sunshine and….VOILA!!

Pumpkin vines with green beds at their feet

The Sugar Pumpkins and Provider Green Beans really love what I’ve done with the place!!!

Pumpkin vines and hanging cucumbers

(1) More later on the TRUE greenhouse effect and how to use it to your advantage. There is always a way to start small…do not condemn a wine bottle to the landfill. 

(2) Newspaper pots are ideal for seedlings that need a lot of room or do not transplant well, i.e. corn, melons, squash or cucumbers.