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How to Eat for Free (Occasionally)

It pays to go to farmer’s markets and to get to know the farmers! Yesterday, I scored free hamburgers (and really good hamburgers at that) and a ton of slightly bruised tomatoes. Between that and zucchini that I grew myself, my dinner tonight was practically free!

Thanks to Kim at Black Bottom Farm for the free burgers — they *are* really good. Kim was kind enough to offer me the burgers after I also procured some of her bulk ground beef and breakfast sausage patties — those are a breakfast staple for me now. I ended up grilling the burger patties this evening. They are perfect!

When I mentioned to another farmer that I was planning on freezing tomatoes for use later, she offered me a bunch of her slightly bruised produce to go along with my purchase. Those bruises won’t matter when I process the tomatoes into sauce later. Score!

This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten food for free simply by chatting with one of the vendors about my plans for their food. It helps to be working with an item that is in over-abundance (like tomatoes right now).

I didn’t have to ask for these freebies, but I have invested time to talk with each of these farmers in the past. I even visited Black Bottom Farm not too long ago (read my post about the farm here).

Go ahead and give it a try. You’ve got nothing to lose by learning more about the food you eat by talking with the people who grow it for you!

Garden Update

I think I’ve harvested the last of my zucchini. There are still blossoms on my lone zucchini plant, but the bulk of the plant is looking pretty rough. My cucumber plant still has tons of blossoms on it though, so I hope it will keep producing.

A critter now truly has been after my baby pie pumpkin plant, so I found a recipe for rabbit repellant made from cayenne pepper, hot sauce, water and dish soap (just a little) and I sprayed that on the plants today, including on the sole little pumpkin that is nestled between two marigolds (the only reason it’s still around, I think). I have two huge gooseneck pumpkins growing by my garage.

My tomato plants also don’t look that great but are still bearing fruit. I need to cut back some other straggly plants that are past their prime and think about seeds to plant for the fall. I want to plant peas, more lettuce and kale. I’m thinking of transplanting the rosemary out of my VegTrug so that I can completely refresh the soil in that before doing anymore plants in it. The kale in there is looking anemic. I might wait for the basil growing in that container to die off first though…

I’m also already dreaming about what to plant next spring. I want to add at least one raised bed to my yard — I’m thinking lots more beans, some melons and plenty more squash plants.

A Tale of Two Nutellas

Image

The U.S. version is on the left; the Italian on the right.

Dear Readers (all 6 of you), I am happy to take risks on your behalf. Such a risk today involved sampling two different versions of Nutella — the American version and the Italian original. No need to thank me.

An industry insider let me in on a little secret — the composition of Nutella sold to us unsuspecting Americans is different from that sold in Italy. It’s sweeter. I had to try this out for myself. I have a dwindling jar that I bought at Target not too long ago. Today, I bought a jar of the Italian stuff from a local Italian market.

Damned if I couldn’t tell a different immediately. The American version IS sweeter (and not in a good way; in a chemically aftertaste kind of way). The Italian version is hazelnuttier.

Now, you wouldn’t be able to tell much of a difference from the list of ingredients. While those on the imported jar are in Italian, they are the same ingredients and in the same order as in the American version. I’m guessing that the percentage of sugar to other stuff is lower in the Italian version though. They do make a point of calling out the percentage of hazelnuts in each jar on the Italian label. Not so on the U.S. version.

Here’s another difference that I noticed from the labeling. While the U.S. version says a serving is 2 tablespoons (about 37 grams), the Europeans are saying a serving is much less: only 15 grams. This leads to everything from the calories to the carbohydrates being much lower per serving.

Here’s another little tidbit: The Italians think we’re doing it all wrong. They sneer at our Nutella cupcakes. Nutella is for breakfast only. Don’t you dare put it in pancake batter either. It is for smearing on a piece of toast (or perhaps a baguette slice). It doesn’t belong anywhere else. Check out how it’s marketed. Sure, there’s tons of Pinterest recipes out there involving Nutella, but the only Nutella sponsored usage is as pictured on the jar of Nutella.

Silly American.

On Sex and Pumpkins

(With a title like that, I think my blog stats are about to get really interesting…)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been fretting over the state of my pumpkin plants — they send off tons of blossoms, but no pumpkins developed. This was true for all three varieties I planted. Meanwhile, my other squash plants are going gangbusters.

I even started trying to hand pollinate the plants each morning, dutifully swabbing the inside of each open blossom with a Q-Tip to try and transfer pollen from one to another. Still nothing. What was worse, all of the blossoms were falling off.

I blamed slugs. I blamed squirrels. I blamed stink bugs. A reader blamed vine borers. A neighbor blamed rabbits. I blamed myself for doing something wrong.

Then I finally Googled the problem and got a lesson in sex education.

Turns out, there are male flowers and female flowers. To get a pumpkin, the pollen from a male flower needs to access a female flower. Most of the blossoms on my plants have been male flowers, which usually fall off 2-3 days after blooming. My efforts at hand pollination, therefore, have been pretty useless.

Here’s the good news: Now that I know what to look for, I’ve noticed a few female flowers blooming. WARNING: The following photos depict cucurbita girl parts and boy parts. If you’re into pumpkin porn, you can click on the photos for larger versions.

Female flower booty.

Female flower booty.

Female flowers have what looks like a tiny little fruit already developing at the base of the blossom. The flower at left actually did get pollinated.

The bad news: some critter found it delectable and chewed a nice hole into it.

Male flowers don’t have the bulb at the base of the blossom.

There’s another way to tell them apart though and that’s to look at the stamen inside each flower.

Male flower.

Male flower.

Female flower.

Female flower.

Here’s the best news: There’s another pumpkin plant clear across my property in the compost pile next to my garage. I haven’t watered it. Vehicles driver over many of its vines, which encroach into the alley. But it’s huge — wrapping around one corner of my garage. And it has several baby pumpkins growing on it.

Baby gooseneck pie pumpkin.

Baby gooseneck pie pumpkin.

This plant resulted from a squirrel-nibbled pumpkin that I threw into the compost pile last winter. I’m going to fence it in with chicken wire to try and keep critters out (and to keep the town from removing my compost pile on trash day, like they did once last year).

Christmas-in-July Haul

Sweet summer.

Sweet summer.

It’s my favorite time of year again! Nothing beats that first blackberry of the season. Absolutely nothing. I demolished half a pint of these just in transporting them from the sink to the fridge. Here’s what else I bought at the market today:

  • 1 pint blueberries
  • 1 huge jar of local honey
  • 2 lbs ground bison
  • cute summer squash (since mine never happened this year)
  • lettuce
  • jalapenos
  • scallions
  • marinated feta
  • cantalope

Garden Update

Garlic and tomatoes.

Garlic and tomatoes.

I told my tale of squash-plant woe at the market and the conclusion is that it’s most likely squirrels noshing on my squash blossoms. The chicken wire around my largest container doesn’t seem to be keeping them at bay. I’ve never seen one in the vicinity, but I think I might make some cayenne spray to see if that deters them in the future. I want pumpkins, dammit.

Other than that, the garden is doing pretty darn well. I started hand-pollinating the pumpkin plants since that seemed to work well for the cucumbers. I have been noticing more bees frequenting the veggies in the morning, so maybe they’ll start doing more of the work for me.

My super-steak tomatoes are finally starting to ripen. I harvested one of them and the first garlic this morning, but I probably should have waited until the soil had dried out for the garlic — I’ll leave the rest in until then. We had massive amounts of rain yesterday.

The blackberry canes are really establishing themselves and there’s even some green berries on one of them. Can’t wait to see what they do next year.

Last weekend, I concocted a weed spray of vinegar and dish soap. I used it right before the sunniest time of the day. It worked really well and fried the crabgrass around my driveway. I didn’t pull it up in time though and they’ve come right back. Gotta work on my timing, but it’s nice to know you don’t need chemicals to kill weeds.

In other news, my compost tumbler is all but broken. The plastic warped where it connects to the spindle and it’s only a matter of time before it pops off. Then I have to decide whether to keep using the barrel in a spot where it won’t kill the grass or to set up a compost pile somewhere. I don’t have a large lot, so it would be close to my house, which isn’t that desirable. I could buy a different compost bin, but I’d rather save my pennies. I need to do some research on building my own.

Freedom Haul

Today’s haul was all about freedom (4th of July was on Thursday, after all). I had a very stressful week and I chose to leave all my cares at the sidewalk once I got to the farmer’s market today. I splurged. I loaded up. I saw lots of friends and Maggie and I made some new ones. It was a good (if hot!) morning.

photo(1) copyHere’s what I got:

  • Beautiful white onions, just because
  • Purple and green bell peppers
  • Lettuce
  • Cantalope
  • 2 pints blueberries
  • Breakfast sausage patties
  • 1 pound backfin crab meat (talk about a splurge!)
  • Portabella mushrooms
  • Sweet corn (I cooked this already)
  • Gluten-free sausage roll (I ate this already)
  • Gluten-free glazed almond mini bundt cake
  • Cordova White marinated feta
  • Vanilla sweetgrass oatmeal soap
  • Natural deodorant*

* I’ve gone chemical-free on so many things, but not this yet. We’ll see how I do with this. One of my aunts once wondered how deodorant/anti-perspirant can’t NOT be connected to the rise in breast cancer — you use it so close to that tissue.

Garden Update

Lots more lessons learned this season. I planted several seeds of many varieties of plants with so-so luck. For most of my squash varieties, only one seed for each type took. I’ve picked a couple of zucchini so far. My yellow summer squash plant is all but dead though. Something is eating right through the stems of many of the plants and I can’t identify the culprit. I’ve pulled slugs, a few stinkbugs and a cucumber beetle off the plants, but haven’t figured out what’s doing the most damage. I haven’t seen any of those pests in several days anyhow. The butternut and spaghetti squash plants are humungous. Fingers crossed they produce some good squash!

I do have several varieties of pumpkin doing really well. Some I deliberately planted and a few are transplants from my compost pile. I have mini pie pumpkin plants, French blue pumpkin plants and gooseneck pie pumpkin plants. All have had blossoms, but I haven’t noticed fruit yet. Not sure if the culprit mentioned above is responsible or not. There’s still a couple of huge pumpkin plants growing in the compost pile and encroaching on the alley. One neighbor is so excited to see what results from those plants.

My blackberry canes are busy establishing themselves, but I won’t see much fruit from them this season. Only one of my raspberry canes is still with us. Ah well.

I’ve been hand-pollinating my cucumber plants and finally have some growing on those vines now. I’m going to pick a couple of them tonight to try. My bush beans are getting crowded out by the squash plants, but have been producing. I haven’t picked those yet and will probably do so tonight. I have a ton of rainbow chard, but don’t really care for it. Not even bacon grease could make it palatable for me. Anyone reading this who is near me is welcome to help themselves.

My Thai cherry tomatoes are producing nicely ripening fruit. The supersteak tomatoes are looking good but haven’t started to turn red yet. I added more fertilizer to the soil in that container as the plants were looking a bit anemic. No blossom end rot this year — hooray!

I have one rogue broccoli plant that has a teeny little head of broccoli on it. I pulled up a few carrots this morning and had them with my breakfast. When you grow it yourself, you can’t wait to eat it. My kale has been doing pretty well — I noticed the youngest plants weren’t growing so I added compost to those last weekend and they’ve already perked up.

As to the lessons learned: I gave the squash more room this season, but I really need to spread them out more and plant more of each type to ensure a good harvest. Looks like more of my lawn is going to become vegetables next year!

I put down landscape fabric around my beds to try and keep the weeds down, but it wasn’t opaque enough. The weeds are still growing underneath of it and it’s a constant struggle to keep the fabric tied down. I need to put mulch down on top of it, but have been too cheap and lazy to do so yet. I may wait until the fall at this point.

Finally, I need to completely refresh the soil in my tallest container next season. The plants in there aren’t thriving as much as they should with the weather we’ve been having. I’ve been amending with compost in the meantime.

Chemistry of a R̶o̶o̶t̶ Beer Float

100_4830 A few weeks ago, I tried Southern Tier’s Choklat stout at a beer tasting. It was a-mazing. Never before had a beer evoked memories of childhood* as its subtle hints of Hershey’s syrup did.

I knew what I had to do.

A beer ice cream float.

My friend Brian recommended trying mint-chocolate chip ice cream. That’s my favorite ice cream flavor, so that sounded perfect. I ended up blending my own mint ice cream using peppermint patties and vanilla ice cream (all the mint ice cream I found, even at the organic grocery store, had “natural flavors” or MSG in it).

100_4825The ice cream tasted awesome.

The beer tasted awesome.

The two together… not so much.

But I was undeterred. The following night (last night), I tried again, but with the plain ol’ vanilla ice cream.

Magic.

100_4834

Now, a word of caution. Adding sugar to beer causes a very bubbly reaction. If you try this at home (and I recommend that you do), leave plenty of room in the glass for the foam that will ensue (not unlike in a root beer float).

Bonus pic of chopped up mint patties:

100_4824*Well, except for some crappy beers that remind me of the mostly flat half-bottle of my dad’s Michelob that I drank when I was 5. (Obviously, I was too young to know any better. I mean, Michelob? Really?)

This Little Pig Went to… the Pig Farm!

It was a hot, sunny day for my little pig to be out on the farm, but she had a good time.

It was a hot, sunny day for my little pig to be out on the farm, but she had a good time.

Maggie and I visited Black Bottom Farm in Galena, Md., today! They actually have a lot more than pigs — cattle, turkey, chickens, rabbits and veggies too. They’re launching a CSA this summer. You can find out more on their Facebook page. The farm is open to visitors on Saturday afternoons.

I chat with owner Kim Wagner at the Easton farmer’s market (she’s there every other week, trading weekends with SB Farms — the bison folks). I mentioned that I’d been down to visit Polyface Farms a few years ago and I thought their pigs must be the happiest on earth. Kim said she challenged that. After all, her pigs are pastured and have the run of the woods for plenty of shade (just like at Polyface), AND they are fed cheese wheels from Chapel Country Creamery, gourmet bread and sprouted oats. I got a tour from Kim and her kids today. She was kind enough to send me home with some of the hummus that will be offered through the CSA. I picked pineapple pesto from the flavors available. Enjoy the photos of their farm below!

A pond on the property.

A pond on the property.

Maggie getting up close to one of the rabbits.

Maggie getting up close to one of the rabbits.

Mama pig.

Mama pig.

The runt of the litter emerging from the woods.

The runt of the litter emerging from the woods.

Piglet's-eye view.

Piglet’s-eye view.

Maggie kept her distance from the piggies most of the time -- she was vastly outnumbered.

Maggie kept her distance from the piggies most of the time — she was vastly outnumbered.

Kim said, “If you leave here thinking that you wouldn’t mind being a pig on this farm, we’re doing it right.” That she is! The pigs were social, obviously well-fed, and there wasn’t any smell. If you get the chance to visit Black Bottom Farm, do it! Or at least buy their meat. I picked up Santa Fe-seasoned sausage at the market this morning and can’t wait to have it for breakfast this week.

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