Merlot Mudpies

Can a blog be about gardening, cancer, family, food and life all at the same time? Oh good.

Zucchini (Again) and a Camping Idea August 12, 2009

Just a thought for those of you drowning in zucchini again this year:  it shreds beautifully and freezes well, too.  I just got through the last of my frozen zucchini in May.  I shredded all of it up in a food processor and bagged two-cup portions and froze them flat so that they’d stack well later.  You can use them for any cooked zucchini dish you’d normally made with fresh and only have a negligible difference in taste.

On another note, I did something today that I’m pretty tickled about with regard to preparing for a church/family camping trip:

I pre-packaged coffee beans, oatmeal and etc in small packets so that we’d have them handy while we’re camping at the beach the next three days.  I was concerned, though, that I wouldn’t remember the right measurements for all of the things we’ve brought with us.  To fix this and not have to do any extra packing of papers or things we’d lose, I wrote the measurements for our most common camping recipes on the inside of the lid of our camping box with a Sharpie so I never run the risk of leaving them behind.

Do you have a camping box?  Ours is a large rubber-maid bin and we have camping pots and pans that nest, metal plates and bowls, a set of metal mugs, and silverware that rolls up in a mat to keep it all together.  I also keep a sponge, old rags, a bottle of dish detergent, a metal coffee percolator, and a roll of paper towels in there.  When we camp, the bin serves as a wash bin which ensures that it stays clean, too.

We’ll be camping at the beach at a popular surf and camp spot with our church and I’m really quite excited about it.  So is my son.  And so is my husband!


Starting Seeds March 4, 2009

Filed under: garden,Gardening,Organic Gardening,zucchini — Mary @ 9:44 am

Waiting for seeds is like waiting for Christmas.  The anticipation is building in our house right now while little peat pots sit quietly in their makeshift greenhouses waiting to sprout.  I’ve only got 25 pots going right now.  I tried to restrain myself.  And I’m finding that this year, again, I’ll probably rely on starts that I purchase instead of only just growing from seed.  The Heirloom Tomato Sale starts in just a week or two at Hawthorne’s Country Store.  Their supplier loves his plants.  I feel good buying from him.  He’s the one who encouraged me to try Sungold even though they are a hybrid.  I loved them.  I had them coming out my ears last year.  But I’m going to plant two this time.  It’s like having a candy plant.  But the fruit is nutritious!  Eamonn just started liking tomatoes this year so I’m looking forward to eating tomatoes off the vines with him — an unfulfilled vision from last year’s first season of Planting With Toddler.

Speaking of toddlers…my little baby is not so baby anymore.  He’ll be 3 this month and he’s a lot more content in the garden these days.  I’ll be preparing him his own little garden bed this week that he can walk in all he wants without mommy hollering, “DOWN ON THE PATH!  AUGH! THOSE ARE CARROTS!  GET DOWN!”  He started some seeds with me, too.  4 sunflowers, one pot of Brandywine tomatoes (I think…mommy forgot to label his), and one pot of green beans.  The green bean is already starting to peek its little sprout head through the soil.

He’s a very professional gardener, my guy:


Eamonn starts seeds while wearing his special gardening goggles.

Eamonn starts seeds while wearing his special gardening goggles.

My seed chart.  You can see some of the varieties in there:


Lots of tomatoes and a few other odds and ends

Lots of tomatoes and a few other odds and ends

My pots.  My lovely little pots.


My pots prepped and seeded, waiting for the growth to begin.

My pots prepped and seeded, waiting for the growth to begin.

Along with Black Krim, Costoluto, Persimmon, Brandywine, Jubiliee and Orange Flamme tomatoes, I’m starting two yellow crook neck squash (no more than that this time…I learned my lesson!) and some cucumbers…Armenians, I think.  Trust me, many pictures will be taken of my babies when they pop their heads up for the first time.  

I’m finding it’s not Eamonn who’s having to be warned off of lifting the lids off the greenhouses 20 times a day…Starting seeds forces patience on the impatient gardener.


Living on the Edge — Support Your Local Farmers July 30, 2008

Aphids are the bane of my existence right now. I hate them. I dream about them. I take great pleasure in spraying them with a mixture of Listerine, dish soap and water…the organic gardener’s magic solution for aphids. They attacked my corn, they attacked my okra, they attacked my strawberries, they attacked even my zucchini while I was gone.

As I harvested all of my corn this week, I wore gloves and watched in fascinated horror as clumps of aphids and their farmer ants fell to the ground at my feet while I cut stalks and shucked husks into a wheel barrow. I was really surprised at the wrath I felt towards these pests, and how personally affronted I was every time I threw an infested branch or cob into the waste pile.

It got me thinking about what it must be like to really be a farmer. While I am growing this food for my family and, from a budgetary standpoint, we have begun to rely on our garden as a resource, we always have the grocery store and farmer’s market in our back pocket should things not go well. Would we have to cut someplace in our budget to compensate? Sure. But would it we devastation for our family or the end of our livelihood if a crop failed? Of course not.

But for thousands of families who farm for a living all over our country and all over the world, that is not the case. And for organic farmers and small-time family farmers, I think the burden and the tenuous balance on the edge of financial and lifestyle viability bust be very extreme. This has been highlighted for me this week as I’ve dealt with the pests, diseases and weeds in my own garden that have taken hold during my absence for a week.

And yet, small family farms and local farmer’s markets carry some of the best-tasting, beautiful produce you have ever seen — and here in California during the summer, produce is so bountiful at Farmer’s Markets that it almost seems like some of the booths are giving their things away in a joyous celebration of the plenty that our climate provides for.

I know that Farmers Markets are not as convenient as the local grocery store. I know that sometimes getting past the less-than-picture-perfect bend of a local cucumber or pitted heirloom tomato bottom can be hard when we’ve been trained to think that waxy-shined, straight-grown produce equals great taste at the grocery store. But I urge you to pick a day in the week to come, find out when and where you can get to a local farmer’s market, and support our local farmers and organic growers. Let your other senses take over, let your nose and your taste buds inform you as you choose out some of summer’s bounty at the different stalls. Enjoy the fact that your jalapenos and tomatoes from local sources are not a part of a scary national recall and that the man or woman who is helping you pick your fruits and vegetables is likely the person who grew them — not a 5th party vendor down the line from some mass-production farm with little personal investment in what they produce and sell. Do like my friend Jen and see what $20 can get you.

I doubt that you’ll be sorry, and I suspect you’ll decide to do it again.

As a bonus for those of you with kidlets? I’ve yet to visit a FM and not have my son plied with free samples of sweet fresh fruits, lots of smiles, and a chance to see from close up the source of the food on the table every night. He loves a trip to the local Farmer’s Market and I’m sure your kiddo will, too.

The San Diego County Farm Bureau offers a free online calendar for all the licensed farmers markets throughout the county if you don’t know which is closest to you and works with your schedule. Be there, or be square.


The Zucchini Naming Contest July 8, 2008

All right, friends. A zucchini this size deserves a name. But I am too fried to come up with one right now. And so I leave it to you to come up with a name for what is, currently, known as “The Whale” of those of us in Ivey Ranch who grow zucchini. It was so big I yelled when Joce showed it to me while she was watering for me as I pulled some weeds.

I give you The Whale, AKA Zucchzilla, AKA “HOLY COW WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT THING??”
Giant Zucchini

Entries will be considered with considerable bias by me and possibly my sisters-in-law because DANG are they funny…but if they make suggestions then clearly it’s just me deciding on the winner. And we all know I’m succeptible to bribes. A prize will be given. I’ll even promise a GOOD prize. But I have no idea what form that will take at the moment.

Comments with suggestions, por favor!


The Good, the Bad, and the Bunny June 26, 2008

There are a lot of pests I have no issue dispatching into the sweet hereafter when I find them gnawing on my food plants. Corn rootworm and snails come to mind immediately. This is the sort of fuzzy line I have regarding snails: If I find them on pavement after the rain, I’ll pick them up, all worried-like and bring them to whatever non-edible-to-us batch of plants I have handy and safely deliver them to a life of veggie-munching without a second thought. “Ooooh little snail!” I’ve been known to cry with my friend Jocey as we do shell-bearing-being triage. However, the same snail found eating my corn? Splat. ‘Nuf said.

I’ve also been having to do battle with lots of mice who have quite a taste for tomatoes, I find. Really, they’ll hop right over zucchini, lavender and peppers if a tomato has started to ripen, I find. I won’t go into details on my mouse war. Let’s say measures were taken and now that I have enough tomatoes to share and my plants are too thick for gnawing through, I’ve called truce.

But last week I discovered that a certain bunny person has taken a liking to my squash patch.

Really, I draw the line at bunny war. There are quite a few gardeners, I know, who would have no compunction about dispatching bunnies. And I was aware as I sprayed a little extra water into the squash with the thought that it was extra hot that day, that some of my fellow gardeners would not take kindly to my instincts if said bunny took a liking to some things in their patches too…but…really. A BUNNY!

My bunny is very polite. He works on one zucchini giant at a time rather than going around and rudely taking bites out of a bunch of them. And he leaves the baby squash alone. Perhaps he knows those are my favorite?

But essentially this is the truce bunny and I have come to: I don’t chase him off and he respectfully keeps his little paws on only one gargantuan zucchini at a time. I can live with this. I, who have been bemoaning the zucchini plethora for weeks now cannot justify fighting with a bunny who only wants one or two for his own.

Boy, I do hope he doesn’t have any bunny parties that the other gardeners notice because they might not be so accommodating.

Forgive the lull in posts. We spent a lovely weekend in LA in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave visiting family and generally being irresponsible and quite pleased with a few lazy days. Pictures to come as much has happily grown in my garden due to the heat.


Stuffed Zucchini June 17, 2008

While this recipe wasn’t exactly a success, it still warrants documenting as the mistakes are fixable and there is definite potential here. So here goes. Stuffed zucchini:

First, I boiled the zukes for about 6 or 7 minutes on each end. They were so big I couldn’t fit them in my stockpot all the way at once. Then I took them out, halved them, and scooped out the seeds. Mistake #1: I should have done a much thinner shell. That being said, here they are waiting for filling.
Waiting for filling

I couldn’t find dirty rice and I didn’t have the time to make my own, so I used a mix (this is rare for me but it was good) for Jambalaya from Zataran’s. While that cooked up, I crumbled and browned hot italian turkey sausage. Then I mixed the two together for the stuffing, seen here.
Jambalaya and sausage for filling

Stuffed the zucchini. Mistake #2: I should have piled this higher and not worried so much about the mess.
Stuffed zucchini

Sprinkled with grated cheese. Mistake #3: I should have used maybe Provolone, or just a good Parmesan, or possibly even a white cheddar. I used the four cheese blend from Trader Joe’s and it just wasn’t the right cheese for the job. I should have mixed some of it into the filling, too.
Cheese on top

The finished product:
Finished stuffed zucchini

I was going to say that I should have baked it longer, too, but I think the thinner zucchini shell would actually resolve that issue for itself. My long-suffering hub, the kitchen taste tester, still ate two portions and was willing to take some for his lunch today. But he agreed that some improvements could certainly be made. Learn from my mistakes and give it a shot!

One thing, sadly, that you simply will not be able to duplicate, however, is my musical accompaniment as I cook. Poor you. It’s just so…restful…having him play while I cook. “Mom! Mom! I dwum! Sing, Mom! Sing! Mom. MOM. MOMMMM. SING!” Mmm hmm. That adds some flavor no other ingredient can add…
Eamonn on drums

My next project will be my beloved mother-in-law’s zucchini casserole. She’s a fantastic cook, but always generous with my abilities in the kitchen, so I’ll ask her if I need any help with her recipe. Oh that reminds me that I need to ask her if Italian sausage is a fair substitute for ground beef or turkey…because that’s what I have on hand…


The Gift that Absolutely Refuses to Quit Giving June 12, 2008

Ah, zucchini. You thought I’d written enough about it, didn’t you? Well, clearly you were wrong. Because today I picked these beauties and posed these other cuties with them:
Little kids, giant zucchini

Thank heavens for the mice who ate half of the fourth one or I don’t know what on Earth I’d do.

As it is, those suckers are getting stuffed with dirty rice, italian sausage and cheese tomorrow and baked. This is the winning combination favored by just about every gardener at Ivey Ranch, so I’ll give it a go. How bad could something stuffed with sausage and cheese really be? Right? Right.

And before my nap (I’m sick, that’s my excuse), I leave you with my demure blooming corn. This picture gave me shivers of joy. But then, we’ve already discussed my very probable garden insanity…
blooming corn


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