It’s really been time to make pesto for at least a week – but time, you know – it just evaporates and then I find myself looking down a row of basil that just simply needs attention NOW! That’s where I found myself this afternoon – with a spare hour to my credit – so pesto had to happen!

Believe it or not, pesto is one of the easiest things to make. It doesn’t really take much – a couple of cups of basil leaves, some pine nuts, some garlic, some parmesan cheese, and some olive oil. Being the lazy girl that I am, I really feel strongly that a food processor is high up on the list of necessary ingredients of making pesto! 🙂

See – only takes up a little corner on my counter:

But of course, we start with the garden – where the basil is yelling, “Dina! Get out here! We need attention! NOW!”

Ideally, you want to wait until your basil plants are at least 10 inches tall before you start harvesting the leaves. And if you hadn’t heard it before, it’s time for you to know that plants that go to flower tend to be bitter – so you want to harvest when they start to flower. Important note: if you deadhead (i.e., pinch off the flowering part of the plant) it doesn’t actually halt the flowering of basil, it just spurs the plant to produce more flowers. Rather than deadhead, cut at least six leaf pairs down the stem. The plant will then begin leaf production again – giving you more to harvest soon! (See Organic Gardening magazine for some excellent resources on growing basil.)

So – as you can see, this plant is definitely at least 10 inches tall – in fact, it’s 18 inches tall – so time to harvest! A good rule of thumb is to cut the stems just above the second set of leaves (counting from the ground up). This will cause new stems to form at this juncture. (Cool, huh?) If you trim your basil often – every 10 days or even less – the better flavor your basil will have.

Here’s the same plant after it’s little – ahem – hair cut.

Not a bad harvest, huh? And just to make sure we’ve got some truth in advertising going on here, this is harvest from TWO plants, not just one.

I typically put the collander in the sink, pull the leaves from the stems, and put the just pulled leaf into the collander. The work goes pretty quickly. I pull all of the leaves I can possibly get from a stem – avoiding any flower or seed “spikes” that are at the apex of the stem.

Once all of the leaves have been pulled from the stems, I wash them thoroughly – seriously, can take up to five full minutes to make sure they’re thoroughly clean!

That was a lot of leaves, huh? Would you have guessed it was only 4 cups of leaves? Make sure to pack those leaves down pretty firmly – and don’t forget to drain out any excess water that might settle to the measuring cup. (By the way, I’m making a double batch here.)

The step I forgot to take a picture of is the one where you throw those leaves into the food processor and pulse until they’re pretty finely chopped.

Next, you add the pine nuts. I used about 7 tablespoons of them. Also, some people prefer walnuts – it’s fine to use either, but I love the pine nuts myself. Pulse some more, until they are chopped and incorporated.

Now you add the garlic. Some people keep minced garlic on hand. See – true confessions come out there… I’ve got a bad attitude about the minced garlic you get in the jar – I just really don’t think it tastes as good or fresh (well, cause it isn’t!). I, of course, recognize that for some folks it really is the best choice for them – but for me, not. Soooo… if you add minced garlic, you don’t need to pulse much here – if at all. If you add cloves of garlic, make sure you pulse until they are minced and incorporated. The recipe calls for 3 garlic cloves – being the garlic-loving girl that I am, I usually double that.

Now the parmesan cheese. Again – going back to the lazy girl thing – while I could pull out the microplane and hunk of parmesan and grate like crazy to get the 1/2 of a cup of parmy, but instead, I hit the freezer for my handy bag of frozen shredded parmesan from Costco. Hey, it works! Go ahead and pulse to incorporate the cheese.

Now, while the food processor is running, gradually add in the 1 cup of olive oil. I use extra virgin olive oil – use whatever you prefer.

Then, I do something that really isn’t called for in any of the recipes that I’ve seen yet, but I do just ’cause I like it this way: I transfer the ingredients from the food processor into a mixing bowl and throw in about another 1/4th a cup of shredded parmesan and use a spatula to mix it in.

Now it’s time to package the pesto. I pretty much make it to put in the freezer – where it will store nicely for up to a year. Woo Hoo! I use 1-cup freezer containers and fill leaving just a little head space. I’ve found over the years that adding a little layer of olive oil on top of the pesto works wonders at keeping it fresh tasting once it’s thawed.

And – voila – I now have my first three 1-cup containers of pesto in the freezer for the coming year.

I think the best part about having basil plants in the garden is that it really only takes a few minutes to throw together a batch of pesto – whether it’s a small batch to be used immediately, or a larger batch to prepare for the freezer.

And just in case you don’t have a way to use your wonderful batch of pesto, here’s one of my favorite ways to do so:

Dina’s Favorite Pasta Salad

1 pound of orzo
3/4ths pound Italian roast beef (1/2 inch thick slice)
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup shaved parmesan cheese
1 small zucchini (peeled, sliced thinly)
1 jar pickled baby corn
1/2 cup pickled carrots
1/4 cup pickled asparagus
1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts
2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
5 green onions, sliced
1/3 cup cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup balsalmic vinegar
3/4 cup pesto
1 large avocado, diced
6 small tomatoes, wedged

  1. Dice up pickled vegetables according to your personal preference. Combine all prepared vegetables (omitting avocado and tomatoes) into a large mixing bowl. Add diced italian roast beef. Toss together.
  2. Cook orzo according to directions. When done, drain – but DO NOT rinse. Toss the hot pasta with the vegetables and beef. (This will steam the vegetables a bit.
  3. Quickly add in and toss with the pesto, vinegars, and olive oil. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. Shortly before serving add in grated parmesan cheese and avocado.
  6. Once completely mixed through, garnish with tomato wedges and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, as well as a few shavings of parmesan cheese. Serve.

Ta da!

Strange goings on during the night…

It was a little strange to go out to the garden this afternoon (my first chance today to get out there – it was a busy day!). I was a little puzzled to approach the makeshift gate – which is simply a single panel of the decorative fencing covered with chicken wire, the wire legs get shoved into the ground and – voila! – we have our gate. It isn’t fancy, that’s for sure, but it is effective at keeping the chicks (and dog) out of the garden! The gate was actually bent nearly flat – as in at about a 45 degree angle. Hmmm… something is definitely amiss!

I quickly ascertained that something had been at our lone zucchini plant!

You see that? Like it’s half way dug up! Dang! What would do that?

I moved on…

I don’t know if you can see that, but on the bottom left side of the photo you can kinda see through the trellis… See the branches of the tomato plant that have been pulled down to the ground – and kinda trampled? STINK! What’s been in my garden?

THEN… The outrage of it all…

something had the gall to take a bite out of one of MY squash! See those bite marks?!

Then a little bit later, I found that something had been in the green bean patch, too!

WHAT pray tell, has been in my garden? I am so not amused! You start messing with my squash, some serious battle has been declared!

What do you think? Racoons? We sure have them around here – a lot! We do have a lot of deer issues… Here’s the baby we found leaving the yard last week:

that bite mark was too petite for deer, though, don’t you agree?

I don’t know, but they better not come back!

Time to Jam!

Saturday mid-day we headed out to Rowell Brother’s to pick berries. We really were initially after blueberries – which we did get. They got frozen within hours of being picked and have been used quite a few times since then with wonderful results. (The blueberry muffins Sunday morning were a big hit!)

Same day we also picked 18 pounds of Boysenberries. (The boys insist their real name is POISONberries – and that spies use them to battle the enemy as needed!) We ended up needing to head out of the house Saturday evening unexpectedly so the berries went onto sheet pans and into the fridge. I was sure I’d get to getting them processed into jam Sunday afternoon.

Nope. Didn’t happen. On the sheet pans in the fridge they remained. Monday, I’d certainly get them done!

Yeah, not. Too much going on. Tuesday, for sure! Of course, I knew we’d be at OMSI with my niece and nephew – but I thought, we won’t be there too late, I can do jam once we get home.

You know what? The best laid plans often get thrown to the wind! LOL! BUT, after dinner Tuesday – with a team effort, we got it done!

Here my lovely assistant pours 4 cups of washed boysenberries into the pot.

She’s got a gift that girl – give her a potato masher and a pot of berries and she can really get the show on the road!
“That’s a lot of sugar, Aunt Dina!” Yep, sure is! 7 cups of sugar go in, and then we heat and stir.

Yep – that’s two batches we got going there. It’s amazing how many batches you can get done in one evening if you keep the batches going! I also learned years ago that if you throw a little butter into the heating berry/sugar mixture, that the foam will be greatly reduced after the boiling stage. Very effective.
This is just after it has reached the boiling point, we’ve added the pectin, and it’s boiled for a minute and been removed from the heat.

Now the fun part – getting jam into jars!

Two important notes… I would never ladle jam into jars ever again without having a flexible plastic cutting board beneath the jars and between the stove and the counter. They’re wonderful things, those little cutting boards! AND, I simply cannot believe I had never broken down and purchased a magnetic lid lifter prior to this. All of those years burning my poor little fingers – I love the lid lifter!
And here you are – completed boysenberry jam. Yay! 34 pints and 1 half-pint from 18 pounds of boysenberries that were picked on Saturday. I worried that the berries sitting around for those couple of days might diminish the quality of the jam. Quite to the contrary – we tested the finished product and it was fabulous.

I can’t recommend the Tri County Farm website enough. If you’re in the Portland area and looking for a u-pick locale – this is the web site to check out! If you’re in the Portland area and not doing some u-picking of some kind, then why the heck not?! Okay – I know, not everyone gets into it – but wow – we are so blessed with so many great resources here in the lovely Pacific Northwest. If you’ve hesitated because you didn’t know where to find a place – here’s your chance!

Our Garden continues to grow…

You get busy with stuff and you turn around and bam! they go and grow up on you! Green beans of course! Can you believe how much they’ve poofed? And there are flowers forming all over the place! Woo Hoo!

Yay! An actual zucchini!

There will be squash for dinner tomorrow night! It is a little unfair, I’m afraid. Jess, my daughter, is away for the week – she’s my squash co-dependent, but in her absence I promise to do my very best to savor every succulent bite! 🙂

I hope this picture shows up okay… It’s a picture of a bumble bee – mid-flight – approaching a German Giant tomato blossom. He was so beautiful – I hoped to get maybe a snatch of a little glimpse of him in a photo – but wow – full-sized it’s quite the photo!

We’ve got a tomato explosion going on! There are green tomatoes everywhere! And they’re beautiful. I’ve got lots of plans for these babies!

Aren’t these the prettiest little pear tomatoes you ever did see?

This is a German Giant heirloom tomato – it’s the most unusual looking little start of a tomato – almost flat. With a name like German Giant you gotta wonder what kinda size this little fella is gonna develop into!You should smell the basil. It’s heavenly. I’m hoping to start making pesto in the next week. I make it up, put it in little freezer-friendly 1-cup containers, and then throw it in the freezer for use throughout the year. Even if I do say so myself, it’s wonderful. What a wonderful thing to thaw it out and be returned to the amazing smell of fresh basil in summer!
The cucumbers are getting bigger!

And John got the next bunch of green beans in. This side is a runner bean called Scarlet – I think they’ll be a great addition to our garden. I honestly can’t remember the name of the beans he planted on the other side, but I promise to try and investigate and report soon!

Here’s a better view of the trellis system that John built a couple of years ago. We’ve used them for cucumbers and peas in the past. It will be interesting to see how it works out for green beans!

They say it’ll rain tomorrow. Today is 22 days without rain. I’m ready for a little rain. It only makes sense, of course, I thorughly watered the garden today! 🙂

Kinda awkward…

You would think a chicken would want a more – well – convenient place to lay her first egg. But on the roost?! Comfort seems like it would be an important factor… but apparently not for my big girls! Yes folks, here is our first egg from the big girls – now if only we knew which one!

As you can see – it was soft shelled. Also interesting – no yolk! – it was just egg white. It was somewhat petite in size, which we expected.

I’ll admit it – we’d been waiting for what seemed so long we were totally surprised when it appeared!

Here’s hoping they figure out the whole why we have the nest boxes to begin with thing soon! LOL!


Do you see that? just above the flower (and the pink construction tape that I use to tie plants with) – the little itty bitty cucumber?

Woo Hoo!

I admit it – I was worried. There are green tomatoes galore, even some peppers present, squash coming on like gangbusters – but no signs of cucumbers! I worried there weren’t enough pollinators. I worried that the ones that we’d seen weren’t getting their job done.

Okay – I admit it – I worried it would be another dismal result with our attempt to grow cucumbers. I thought, “Great – I’ve gotten cocky, now they’re gonna show me how much I don’t know!”

But – sigh of relief – the pollinators are doing their jobs… See? There’s a lovely bumble bee about his business – bless his little heart!

I honestly believe that the sight of a yellow crookneck squash plant in serious bloom is one of the loveliest sights there is… feast your eyes…

Hard to believe summer is halfway over. The kids go back to school in six short weeks. It feels like the summer isn’t just passing – but evaporating!
We are on serious egg watch here. Henrietta, Hallie, and Millie are now 18 weeks old – RIR’s typically start laying somewhere in the 18 to 22 week mark. So we’re keeping them in the coop/run area for the majority of the day, only letting them out to free range in the late afternoons – in hopes that when the day comes that they decide to join the ranks of laying chickens that they’ll decide to do so IN the nest boxes! Updates to come, of course!

Share the Memories!

This is perhaps a little bit of a “different” post on this blog, because for the most part the folks who read have not know me all that long. Occasionally I get a post or email from a friend or family member that I didn’t realize was reading here, however, so I’ve decided to pick up the challenge from my much beloved neice, Nicole.

Here’s the scoop: Leave a memory about ANY or ALL of our family members. It’s always fun to see what people think of first when they think of you…

  1. As a comment on this post, leave one memory that you and I had together. It doesn’t matter if you know me (us) a little or a lot, anything you remember!
  2. Next, re-post these instructions on your blog and see how many people leave a memory about you. It’s actually pretty funny to see the responses. If you leave a memory about me, I’ll assume you’re playing the game and I’ll come to your blog and leave one about you. And if you don’t have a blog, leave a comment here anyway! 🙂

If you don’t know our family well enough to have a memory – why not leave a favorite memory of your own family that makes you smile. 🙂

What Grocery Store Waste Costs You

This from this week’s Parade Magazine:

Food prices are rising, but your grocery bill might be lower if you weren’t paying for an estimated $20 billion worth of food that supermarkets throw away each year. Stores in the U.S. waste twice as much food annually as those in Europe, and a recent U.N. report found that total American food waste—including what we pitch from our refrigerators—is worth $48 billion each year. One reason is that, since food travels 1500 miles on average to reach your plate, some of it spoils in transit. Also, Americans are used to huge displays of fresh food at the grocery store, so some produce is piled up for decoration rather than sold. But now supermarkets are trying to cut waste—or at least find more environmentally friendly ways to handle it. Stop & Shop/Giant-Landover has reduced the number of items on display and asked suppliers to use smaller boxes, resulting in less waste. Supermarkets in Nashua, N.H., and Deerfield Beach, Fla., make compost out of spoiled produce, meat, and even flowers. Still, keeping food from the trash pile in the first place would be best. “We waste between a quarter and a half of all the food we produce,” says Jonathan Bloom, a journalist who blogs about food waste. “If there’s a silver lining to today’s rising grocery prices, it may be that they force us to value our food more.”

Wanna see what I found today?

Is that not just one of the most beautiful things you’ve seen of late? Of course it’s only *pretending* to be ripe just yet – but it’s almost there. My mouth is watering in anticipation!

Know what makes it even better? It’s not alone! There are berries nearly as far as the eye can see… just waiting to be kissed by the sun and consumed by me!

Isn’t this just the cutest little banana pepper you’ve ever seen?!

There are more baby squash each day – it won’t be long until I can’t take the wait any longer and I’ll break down and cut a whole bunch of them and race them right into the kitchen to sautee them up.
Do you see that wonderful little pollinator on the right? There are MANY in the garden. It’s so encouraging to see them. We’ve heard so many bad reports about the conditions of bee colonies in the area. I counted perhaps six different types of bees today – not to mention butterflies, and a hummingbird.
Thistles are such a pain! But oh, so lovely! Had to snap a picture of this one before John dug it up.

For the first time since we’ve lived here a little bunch of Queen Anne’s Lace has come up – it has the most delicate blush of pale pink to it. Lovely!

…and the hydrangea is a beautiful blue.

Jake – playing hide and go seek amongst the squash!

And… I still hate weeding, but thanks to Madelyn I’ve found my very favorite weeding tool! Meet Grampa’s Weeder and some other really cool tools at Grampa’s Gardenware.

Yes, still lots of weeds to eliminate from my garden – but I’m making progress, slowly and steadily!

I hate weeds.

Yet, here you can see how very prolifically I grow them.

Late last August (2007) I had a total right hip replacement. Yes, I’m young – 44 years of age. But it was shot, and the old one had to go and the new one had to be “installed” – so to speak. In my hip class my classmates were blown away that I was “one of them.” Can I just say here and how that I have a WORLD of respect for older people who have a total hip replacement. That surgery can really kick your butt. And it’s not just a little recovery – it’s HUGE. Here I am 11 months since that surgery and I’m still adjusting, figuring out how to deal with the hip and my limitations, and finding myself truly shocked when I have a little season of time when my new hip feels “normal” or “natural.”

That all being said – let me just repeat: I hate weeds. A lot. I hated them before my hip replacement. I hate them now. Maybe a little more. Why? Because my knees both need to be replaced, my ankle is being studied for a possibility of being replaced, and I can cause myself a LOT of pain if I use the wrong body mechanics because of my new hip. And guess what – weeding is one of those “wrong” body mechanics. Yes, folks, if you drive past my yard you’ll see me bent over at the waist with my butt in the air pulling weeds. I wish there were some other way to do it – but there isn’t.

So, since it hurts I let them go much more than I ought to. I’m still trying to find a way to have a much less “weedy” garden. I think more mulch is part of it. Sadly, my supply for this year is dwindling and I’m not going to get another load full if it. We really are committed to organic gardening – so we continue to research and do lots of trial and error. I won’t be giving up gardening any time soon – that is for certain. So I’ve got to find some better weeding methodologies!

Isn’t Jake funny?

Cucumber flowers – woo hoo! This photo above are the Straight 8’s. The photo below is a bush cucumber plant. I think the flower on the bush is prettier, don’t you?

I’m so pleased to see how heartily my basil plants have taken off. It’s time to start using it! Pesto here we come!
The green beans are doing it again – nearly exploding with growth in phenomenally short periods of time. Wow! It won’t be long until we have beans!

LOOK! It’s an actual teensy, tiny yellow crookneck squash. It is actually conceivable that I’ll have squash to eat in DAYS – not some indeterminate vague number of days in the future. I find that so exciting!
Here, my friends, is the definition of pathetic:

Poor Pepper – she’s gotta wear a cone right now. She’s in heat and she’s been tearing her hair out – and not gently – her skin is in distress. So we’ve put this contraption on her – much to her chagrin – and we’re hoping she heals up quickly. She will be a very happy camper when the cone comes off!