Category Archives: Garden

Anniversary Garden

The hubs and I celebrated our fourth anniversary over Memorial Day weekend. We are a sucker for tradition and stick to the classic list of anniversary gifts. Each year it has been fun to come up with something clever to give one another. We’ve conquered paper, cotton, leather and this year fruit or flowers. While I may beam from a dozen roses, surprising my husband with a basket of fruit or homemade jam just didn’t seem good enough. Therefore, we decided to go in on our gift together.

If you remember last year, I talked about planting a shade garden. We worked on ripping up the old ground cover from the side of the house and took out some shrubs. By the time I was motivated to plant, it was too late in the season. This year, we gave each other the gift of beautiful landscaping and had fun picking out flowers and sprucing up the side walkway of our house.

To dedicate the shade garden, I painted a rock I found in our yard with our anniversary date. I freehanded the letters in pencil and painted them in with some leftover paint I had laying around the house. Now, as we walk past our pretty flowers, we both feel a little extra love.

I researched the best flowers to grow with little sunlight in Wisconsin. We already have bunches of purple daylilies whose blooms we have been enjoying lately. We have also mixed in a few varieties of hostsas. I wanted to add some color at other parts of the season, so I added some astilbes and coral bells to the mix to brighten it up. While you may not be able to see them yet, I also placed Northern Sea Oats to give some height and depth to the garden. We fixed up the edging and added some cypress mulch. We couldn’t be happier with the transformation!

I will share more pictures with you later in the season and next year, when our small plants blossom and bloom!

Do you stick with the traditional anniversary gifts? If so, I’d love to hear your clever ideas!

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DIY Succulent Terrarium

A few months back my mom came to visit with this large glass apothecary-esque jar in tow.

“I figured you could use it for something,” she said. “Maybe a terrarium?” Brilliant. It was perfect for a terrarium to bring a little green to my new office at work, which happens to have a large, sunny (and empty) window ledge.

Last weekend when picking up a few extra vegetables and plants for my actual garden, I finally got around to getting the goods for my terrarium. Instead of the moisture-loving plants found in many terrariums, I went with charming succulents to create a quirky, low maintenance cactus terrarium.

This is a pretty foolproof project even if you’re not the gardening type. The hardest part of the whole project was editing my plant selection! I ended up with two neon colored cactus, an aloe plant, a mini jade, two sempervivum and a frilly ground cover succulent – which I’m happy to report are thriving so far.

What You’ll Need:
glass jar, apothecary jar or similar transparent container
variety of mini succulent plants, such as cactus, aloe, jade, sempervivum
cactus soil (quantity will depend on size of your container)
small river rocks
gardening charcoal (found at your local garden store)
a spoon

*NOTE: These are rough instructions. Depending on the size and shape of your terrarium container, you may not need all three “soil” items or you may need to adjust things to fit in a smaller container.

1. Line the bottom of the container with a thin layer of charcoal. This helps with drainage and with preventing potential odors in your terrarium.

2. Next, line with a thin layer of river rocks. In a smaller container you could reverse the layers of soil and rocks for a more “zen garden” look.

3. Depending on the size and shape of your container you may be able to put the cactus soil in first or the succulents, filling in the soil around them. I had to put the plants in and use a spoon to fill soil around the plants in order to fit them. Place plants as desired to mix up shapes and colors.
4. Finish off with soil or with additional rocks to achieve the look you want.

Care: Your succulent terrarium needs lots of sunlight but only needs to be lightly watered about once a week. If you choose to keep a lid on it, water less frequently as the plants will generate moisture.

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Filed under Decorate, DIY, Garden

Summer Couscous Salad

My neighbor is growing cucumbers and they have literally taken over her garden.  Almost daily, I find 2-3 beautiful cucumbers sitting by my back door.  I have gotten pretty creative using these up, and this couscous salad turned out to be one of my favorites.



Summer Couscous salad

1 box near east couscous, any flavor (I used the toasted pine nut)
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
handful of fresh garden herbs, minced
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Prepare the couscous according to package directions and let it cool.  Mix in the herbs, pine nuts, feta cheese and cucumber.  Mix to combine.  Serve cold or at room temperature.

I love this dish because it is a wonderful side next to grilled chicken or a meal in itself for a light dinner or lunch!

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Filed under Cook, Garden, Healthy, Quick & Easy, Sides

{In the Garden} Heirloom Tomato Tart

I wait all year for my heirloom tomatoes to become ripe. From the smell of the plants to the funky shapes and colors of the tomatoes themselves, I love everything about them.

However a week or so ago, I went out to pick the first ripe one only to find that some critter had taken a nice big bite out of it already. GASP! I figured it was a fluke…until it happened again and again. Every afternoon I would check my tomatoes to see what would be ripe in the morning and every morning the newly ripe one would be compromised. Was it a squirrel? Rabbits? My dog, Lena? The creature was smart enough to only eat the ripe ones. This was war and not one I planned to lose.

I still haven’t figured out the culprit but my battle tactic has been to cage my plants with chicken wire. So far it seems to be working and I’ve been able to harvest a pile of gorgeous tomatoes to make this Heirloom Tomato & Three Cheese Tart and an all-fresh batch of our favorite Heirloom Tomato Soup. I’ve heard tales of pepper-vinegar sprays, dog hair, coffee grounds, netting and more deterring animals as well but haven’t tried them.

Have you had issues with garden thieves? How do you prevent animals from eating your tomatoes? What worked or didn’t work for you?
heirloom tomatoes
heirloom tomatoes

Heirloom Tomato & Three Cheese Tart
Tart Shell
1 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C shortening
1 C ice water
1/s tsp vinegar

Filling
1/2 C low-fat ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/4 C half & half
4 Tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
pinch salt
pinch black pepper
1-2 heirloom tomatoes
1-2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
handful basil, chiffonade
drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 375. Combine ice, water and vinegar in a bowl and set aside. In a separate small bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Cut in small balls of shortening, spreading them throughout flour. Spoon in 2-3 Tbsp of vinegar water and use a pastry cutter or your hands to work into a dough. Add more water, one Tbsp at a time until dough holds together but is not too sticky. (Tip: If you overdo it with the water, just add a sprinkle more flour to dry things out). Use your hands to push dough into an 11×7 tart pan, working dough evenly up the sides and flattening evenly across the bottom.

In another small bowl, whisk together ricotta, egg, half and half and parmesan cheese until creamy and well-combined. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour filling over dough. Bake for 10 minutes to just set filling. Remove from oven and layer tomatoes and goat cheese on top. Bake for another 30 minutes. Cool slightly and top with basil and a light drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar.
heirloom tomato and goat cheese tart
heirloom tomato tart

More Tomato Recipes: FoodNetwork.com Summer Fest

We’re participating in FoodNetwork.com‘s Summer Fest summer vegetable recipe round up with lots of other great food bloggers! Check out these other tasty-looking tomato dishes with the rest of your garden bounty:
Big Girls Small Kitchen: Seared Chicken with Cherry Tomato Pan Sauce
What’s Gaby Cooking: Zebra Tomato and Burrata Crostini
Zaika Zabardast: Balsamic Roasted Tomato-Basil Ice
And Love It Too: Healthy Lunchbox – Garlic Tomato Basil Pesto Bruchetta
Chez Us: Roasted Tomato Sauce
Daily*Dishin: Refreshing and Rustic – Tuscan Bread Salad
Glory Foods: Fresh Tomato Salsa
Dishin and Dishes: Tomato Tart Tatin
The Purple Cook: Eggplant Parmesan Caprese Salad
I Am Mommy: Tomato Crudite
Cooking With My Kid: Gluten-Free White Bean Chive Cakes with Heirloom Tomatoes
FN Dish: Easy Tomato Appetizers
Add a Pinch: Simple Caprese Salad Skewers
Sweet Life Bake: Salsa Cruda
Virtually Homemade: Farfalle with Roasted Tomato Sauce, Bacon and Shaved Romano
Dixie Chik Cooks: Tomato, Basil and Olive Bruschetta
The Sensitive Epicure: Yemista – Greek Stuffed Tomatoes & Peppers with Potatoes
Mooshu Jenne: Sun Burst Tomato Pasta
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Book Club, Tomatoes and a Recipe for Chicken Provençal?
Cooking With Elise: Tomato Parmesan Biscuits
From My Corner of Saratoga: Cooking from the Garden – Bruschetta Pizza
Fritos and Foie Gras: Tomato Terrine
Creative Culinary: Fresh and Savory Tomato Pie
Big Apple Nosh: Caprese Salad/Tomato Carnage
Spices and Aroma: Quick and Easy Paneer Curry
Zaika Zabardast: Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Breakfast Rolls

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Filed under Appetizers, Garden

{In the Garden} Peonies

Just thinking about peonies makes me swoon. I’m a sucker for any fresh flowers but these huge frilly blooms are my favorite. Mine usually make their big appearance at the end of May or beginning of June but with this year’s cold spring they’ve just finally arrived.
heirloom peonies

Telling Stories with Flowers
They were the first plants I put in when we bought our house, with its then non-existent landscaping. I’ve since packed five peony plants into my small city backyard but those first two were heirloom variety plants that have been in my family for five generations. You don’t usually think of plants as family heirlooms but it’s such a fun and beautiful way to keep the spirit of a family going.

Since peonies played a starring role at my wedding, my third peony was a wedding gift that blooms every year around our anniversary. As nice as china and colanders are, plants can be a gift for a special occasion that really can keep giving.

pink peonies

Transferring Peonies
As with most perennials, the best way to grow peonies is by dividing and transferring them from an existing plant from a friend or family member, like my heirloom varieties. Not only is this free (!) but it’s the fastest way to get large lush plants with lots of flowers.

You want to transfer them in early fall so that the root systems can establish before spring. Use your hands to separate out a section of an existing plant and then use a straight spade to carefully make a clean cut through the plant base. Dig deep to get all of the roots out and transfer as soon as possible to the new location. Examine your new plant to locate the “eyes” of the peony (see here).  They will be 1-2 inch pinkish sections at the bottom of the stalks just above the root base or 1-2 inch pinkish cones sprouting from the root base.  When you place the plant in the ground, leave about 1 inch of the eyes showing above ground.  Cover the rest firmly with soil.  Water well.

Do you love or hate peonies?  Do you have a special plant story? Please share!

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Planting a Shade Garden

Ever since we moved into our house, I’ve had dreams of walking down our stone path to the backyard with colorful bursts of flowers spraying in all directions. Besides planting a few hostas here and there, I don’t have much experience with planting in the shade. I decided this year is the year. So here is what I am working with:

My husband and I started by ripping up all of the ground cover. Helpful for soaking up water and keeping the soil moist, but not the look I want to go for. I am sure we will be working to get rid of this completely for years, but for now, we have this:

And if you are paying extra special attention, you’ll notice our newest edition in the back. Our  brand new, eco-friendly, garden-loving, sewer-helping rain barrel! I’ve been entertaining the idea of getting a rain barrel for awhile now. I love the thought of using the wonderful rain water that would otherwise fill the gutters, and pool in the small dip in our yard. Using it to water our plants and herbs sounds like a much better idea, so we buckled and bought the Fiskars Rain Barrel. And so far so good!

So now that my rain barrel is in place and my ground cover is ripped up, I will make the trek to the garden shops this weekend to pick out my shade plants. This side of my house faces northeast and is bordered by some large oak trees. The plants toward the front of the garden get some sunlight throughout the day, but anything planted toward the wall, sees almost no sun. I’m more interested in planting perennials so I only have to plant one time rather than planting and replanting every year.

I want to create depth by having some taller grasses and ferns in the back, interspersing colors throughout. Here are some species of plants I’ve found that I am going to try incorporate in my dream shade garden:

From left to right, clockwise, Astilbe Fireberry, Lilyturf, Lungwort, Coral Bells. (whiteflowerfarms.com)

Ultimately, I want to create a look similar to this:

http://www.livdesigns.net & www.perennialnursery.com

And out I go to start the process. If anyone has any suggestions on great shade perennials, I would love to hear them! I will post my pictures once my garden is in full bloom. What is your garden project this summer?



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Butternut Squash Ravioli

While digging through my freezer the other day, I came across some pureed butternut squash that I made and froze last fall.  It has almost been 6 months, so I needed to use it up!  I got an idea to try and recreate one of my favorite Milwaukee dishes, Butternut Squash Ravioli from the amazing restaurant La Merenda.  They are tender, sweet ravioli topped with melted butter and a crushed, crunchy almond cookie.

I love the taste of simple, pureed butternut squash, so I wanted to keep the filling basic so the squash would be the standout flavor.  I decided to try out wonton wrappers instead of fresh pasta, which worked very well.

Warning:  This recipe is incredibly delicious but quite time consuming!  It took me about 1 1/2 hours from start to finish.  I will say that I think the outcome is worth the effort, but this is not a 30 minute meal!

Butternut Squash Ravioli

1 cup pureed butternut squash (I roasted mine and blended it with a small amount of water to reach a good consistency)
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
2-3 tablespoons fresh grated Parmesan
dash of nutmeg
1 egg
1/3 cup butter
1 package wonton wrappers
1 almond biscotti, crushed

Start by making the filling.  Blend the pureed squash with the ricotta and Parmesan cheese.  Mix in a tiny bit of nutmeg and then place in the refrigerator to allow it to cool down.

Place  your chilled wonton sheets on a cutting board and cut into a circle either by using a biscuit cutter or top of a wine glass or mug as your guide, cut out about  36-48 evenly shaped circles.  Set aside.

In  a seperate small bowl, whisk the egg.  Also, grab a cookie sheet and generously sprinkle with corn starch.  This will prevent the ravioli from sticking to the cookie sheet.

Now, you are finally ready to assemble your ravioli.  Start with one circle and place a small teaspoon sized dollop of the butternut squash mixture in the center leaving a good boarder around the edge.  Be sure not to overfill or you might have a hard time sealing them.  Dip your finger in the egg and completely coat the outside boarder.  Top with another circle and press all edges until the ravioli is sealed.  Then, with the edge of a spoon, go around the ravioli, pressing down to be sure they are sealed up tight.  (This will help prevent them from opening when they are placed in the boiling water.)

Continue this process until you have used up all of the squash mixture.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  In a separate pan, melt 1 /3 cup of butter and allow it to slightly brown, being careful not to let it burn.

Once your water has reached a rapid boil, gently place your ravioli one at a time.  I only boiled about 5 at a time to prevent them from sticking together.  (Tip: Gently stir once you place the ravioli into the water to ensure that they do not float to the bottom.  If this happens, they might stick and possibly burst open.)  Watch carefully, after about 3 minutes they will begin to float to the top.  Once this happens, they are done.  Take out each ravioli with a slotted spoon and place directly into the melted butter.

You can either let them all sit in the butter and soak it up, or dip them in the butter and place in a serving dish.  If you do not dip them in butter the ravioli will stick together and will be difficult to separate.

Continue this process until all of the ravioli are cooked.  Plate and top with the crushed almond biscotti.

One bite and I was in heaven, the delicate wonton wrappers really allowed the butternut squash to shine in this recipe and the addition of brown butter just enhanced the flavor.  The best part is the crunch of the biscotti, it adds just a tiny bit of sweetness.

Now, I am sure some of you are wondering why I spent all that time cutting circles out of the wonton wrappers.  I did some trial and error with this to see which shape would cook up the best.

First I tried to leave them whole, but the ravioli seemed a bit too large and were much more delicate, making them prone to breaking while in the boiling water.

I also made triangle shaped ravioli, leaving the wonton sheets whole and just folding them in half.  This worked pretty well too, but I just preferred the round shape.

My whole family ate these up and enjoyed every bite.  They all agreed that they are definitely worth the effort.

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Filed under Cook, Garden, Main Dish