Saturday, July 26, 2008

Beginner's Luck

I’m in trouble with these vegetables. It’s only July and I’m already giving them away. Every night we have tomato and green pepper salad and I’ve made my special zucchini spaghetti three times. Going on eight if you count the leftovers.

This is the recipe: Fry zucchini in olive oil and garlic. Add sliced black olives. Pour it over spaghetti and mix it up with garlic salt and fresh parmesan cheese. That’s it.

That meal, though not what one thinks of as a traditional country meal, such as chicken and biscuits, reminds me of being on a farm in the summer. When I was a little girl, my mother’s friend, Alice, took me to her sister’s farm in upstate New York. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Madelyn, the sister, let me do farm things. She gave me a bottle to feed a baby goat. She let me pick out a cookie recipe from her black-and-white composition notebook where she kept them all hand-written inside and let me make a batch myself. (Two pages were stuck together, and so I followed two recipes, unbeknownst to me. Somehow, they still came out delicious. Perhaps it was the dumb luck of a beginner.) Madelyn also sent me out to the garden to pick zucchini and the other sister, Jeannie, made the zucchini spaghetti. They served it out of a big dented aluminum pot to all of us kids and now summer is not summer to me unless I make it.

The problem is, that’s the only thing I know how to make with zucchini and my vegetable drawer is stuffed with them. Plus there are three more big ones waiting to be picked as we speak and no gang of kids to feed it to. Even the tomatoes. A dozen ripen every day. More than we can eat. And there are a hundred green ones waiting their turn. My mother is always wanting me to make fried green tomatoes. I think she got that from the movie of the same name. But why fry a green one when you can eat a red one or fry up some zucchini or eggplant? If gas wasn’t so expensive, I’d take the vegetables to some soup kitchen or homeless shelter but I’m not going to spend seventy-five bucks driving to the city to hand over a bag of vegetables. It’s not like you can make it worth your while and save them all up and bring a truckload of veggies, which is what it looks like I’m going to get when all is said and done. If I had the room to save vegetables, I wouldn’t be in this predicament.

I don’t know who I could give my vegetables to. I don’t see many people on the farm. The UPS guy comes once in a while. The ladies down at the Minute Market when I have to go and get milk. The bank lady. That’s about it. I asked Kurt to bring some to work but being a guy who hates sissy-Mary vegetables like zucchini, and most things green, he said, “Nobody wants that stuff.” The neighbors are no good because they all have their own gardens—big plots of red earth surrounded by wire fence reinforced with various methods to keep the deer out—aluminum pie plates rattling and spinning in the breeze; strips of neon orange tape fluttering and wiggling; scarecrows in worn-out overalls and straw hats with broken brims; electric wire; baby powder. People will try anything to keep the deer out. But they don’t need any of my vegetables even if the deer get through and munch on theirs all night long. I couldn’t shine their shoes as far as gardening goes.

Pearl moved one of her gardens to a different spot this year because the deer were having a hay-day and she wanted to throw them off the track. This was the one that was next to my driveway. I’d asked her what she was doing with it because June was already here and nothing was planted. She said, “Oh, do you want to use it?”

I almost had a heart attack. It’s about an acre big.

“No, no, I just wanted to know what you were going to do with it,” I waved my hand and backed up.

It’s nice to know Pearl has a lot of faith in me. But it is obvious she doesn’t really understand just how much of a real city girl I am. How I recently learned gardening tools are not for tying in a ribbon and hanging on the wall like in Country Living magazine. Or how I just learned how to weed, deadhead, prime the pump, identify a black widow, back the truck up to the loading dock at the feed store without hitting the hitch, that Sevin isn’t a number and gathering wood isn’t romantic.

Still. It appears I have a green thumb. You’d think I have a big garden with all this surplus stuff. You’d think I was using Pearl’s acre next door. The neighbors are suspicious. Truth be told, I have given them some of my vegetables before their own, in their big plots of land with their professionally tilled up dirt and spinning discs like round mirrors keeping the deer out, came in. Effie raised an eyebrow when I handed her a Wal-Mart bag full of tomatoes and zucchinis. “Debi, where are you gettin’ this stuff?”

“Right there,” I turned and pointed to my little garden. It’s only about two feet wide and runs the length of the garage, turns the corner and runs the width. That’s it. One row. Actually, I wasn’t even planning to make it that big. Last year I had a hard enough time managing the tomatoes. But when I saw the pepper plants at the feed store, I thought I should at least get a package. I don’t know what they’re called. It was a container of four. Peppers are eighty-nine cents a pop in Wal-Mart and half the time they’ve got little soft spots on them. So I thought I might as well pick up a package of four and save some money. I got a package of four tomato plants as well. You have to have tomatoes. There is nothing more glorious than a juicy tomato still warm from the sun.

Half the garden is a strawberry patch. It overflows onto the lawn. We planted that last year with a couple of seedlings we bought from the 4-H club for a fundraiser. It has now run amok. I’ve gotten a couple of pints of sweet strawberries out of it and though the strawberry farms in the area have closed for the season, my strawberries are still coming.

I thought I was all set but then Kelly came home from school with some sweet potato plants they started in ag class. So we planted them too. On the last day of school, she stepped off the bus with two more packages of tomato plants. The teacher was unloading everything in the greenhouse. I gave half to Pearl. I should have given her all of them. And then the next time I was in the feed store I thought about zucchini spaghetti up on the farm and so I picked up a package of zucchini plants. That’s how the garden ended up going around the back of the garage.

What do I do with all of this? Last year Pearl got me freezing my tomatoes. I can’t can them because I have a smooth-top stove and you can’t can on those types of stoves because the heat will break the glass. Well, that is neither here or there because I don’t know how to can anyway, plus if I did, I wouldn’t, because it sounds like too much work. So Pearl turned me on to freezing. It’s pretty simple. Just boil the tomatoes, slip the skins off when they’re cool, and put them in Tupperware containers. The problem is, I still have tomatoes in my containers in the freezer from last year.

Even if I could handle Pearl’s acre next door, it is apparent that I don’t need it. I have a green thumb all right. Or just the dumb luck of a beginner.


CountryDew said...

I can't believe your tomatoes are red. Mine won't turn!

You could get a pressure cooker and can tomatoes. Spaghetti sauce all year!

Pam said...

This is my first time reading your blog and wouldn't you know it, I have another use for your veggies. My husband and I published a cookbook last year when I answered a call from Quail Ridge Press looking for cookbook entries for their "Best of the Best from Virginia Cookbook II" publication. I think one of the reasons they chose our book was due to the recipe I submitted for "Pamela's Zucchini Squash Casserole" that you will find on page 118. But if you don't have that cookbook, or ours (The Hall Family Cookbook, A Collection of Original and Stolen Recipes), then here you go...

5 medium zucchini squash that are about 1½ inches in diameter by about 7 inches long,

3 large fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
1 teaspoon of salt
¼ teaspoon of pepper

1 lb. sweet Italian sausage (optional)

2 tablespoons of butter, melted
1 box of flavored croutons (garlic, onion, or whatever you like)

Cut each squash into thirds and par boil for 7 minutes just to soften them up a bit.

Cool squash in cold water, drain, and chop into small chunks. Place chunks into a colander and drain again.

Mix tomatoes, onions, salt and pepper together and let sit while preparing the squash. Drain before the final mixing with other ingredients.

Remove casings and brown sausage for about 15 minutes, breaking it apart with a fork as it cooks.

Mix all ingredients and add melted butter and croutons. Pour into
a 9 x 13 x 2 baking dish or similar size.

Bake in 350° oven for 40 minutes to heat through.

About 10 minutes before casserole is cooked, in a double-boiler, melt the 2 lbs. of Velveets cheese and add 2 or 3 tablespoons of milk as
needed to thin to a consistency that will pour. Crumble 5 or 6 slices of crisply fried bacon and mix it into the cheese sauce.

Dish up the casserole and spoon cheese sauce over.

This is our family favorite summer recipe for using up plentiful veggies. Adding the meat makes it a great one-dish meal.


Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

Countrydew, see! I DO have a green thumb!

Pressure cooker? That sounds scary. Isn't that what Lucy Ricardo used one time and it blew up?

Pam, thanks for the recipe and welcome to my blog. That sounds yummy and I will try it! Love the name of the Hall Cookbook, how you blatantly admit, right in the title, to stealing, lol.

Jamie Ferraioli said...

Send me your veggies!! I'm starved for fresh vegetables over here. My tomato plant is the fastest grower and slowest tomato ripener. Only ONE cherry tomato ripens per day pretty much. A total tease!

Also..have you thought about making zucchini bread? And also fresh salsa for sure!!

Mrs Mom said...

Hey Debi- Bet I can convince Dear Husband here to spring for shipping via UPS of some of your fresh veggies! Let me know if it gets too overwhelming there for you. I'll pony up and pay the shipping in order to get him some fresh maters, and peppers and zuchs! ;)

Meantime, have you tried making Zucchini bread? I have a killer recipe here somewhere if you want! ;)

Roanoke RnR said...

I wish I was your neighbor...I'd gladly take those zucchinis and tomatoes off your hands. My neighbor keeps giving me summer squash and I just don't have the heart to tell him I don't eat it. Meanwhile I've flooded the valley with basil and peaches. I'm sick of both. I wish my fig tree would have taken...

Amy Tate said...

Debi one of my favorites is Zucchini Fettuchine. In a sauce pan saute 1/2 pd. mushrooms, 2 cups chopped zucchini, butter and a little white wine. Add 1 cup of heavy cream bring it to a boil and let simmer. Then pour it over cooked fettuchine pasta, mix it well and sprinkle Parmesean cheese on top. YUMMY!

Becky Mushko said...

This must be a tomato year! Mine are coming in like crazy. Squash bugs got the yellow squash, but the zucchini is producing enough so that I cook some every day. Sometimes twice a day. said...

Zucchini frittata? Saute squash, onion, garlic, sea salt in olive oil in hot cast iron skillet. In a bowl, beat 6 eggs or so, pour into skillet with sauteed squash and onions etc. Throw on some basil, a quartered tomato, some goat cheese or whatever kind of cheese you like. When the eggs are cooked around the edge, put in hot oven til the eggs "poof" . Serve in wedges, warm or room temp., all set for lunch or supper!

Wish our tomatoes were ripe!

Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

Becky, it must be our area because everyone else is reporting problems. Unless we BOTH have green thumbs!

Thanks for the recipes everyone! I guess I better stop giving them away because I have some good ideas to try!

Pony Girl said...

I wish I was your neighbor too, I'd love to have some fresh veggies! Your zucchini spaghetti sounds delish, though. Have you ever made zucchini bread? My mom always made that, it's good. Actually, at our school potluck last year, someone made zucchini brownies! I'm telling you, they were amazing. And so much healthier!

Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

My neighbor just brought me over some zucchini bread (very tasty) and the recipe.

I bet the zucchini brownies came from that book by Seinfeld's wife--I think it's called Deceptively Delicious.

Amy Hanek said...

I wish I lived closer.... I'd help you!!

Giulia said...

This is the MOST DELICIOUS cake! I got it from a gal when I was doing a show in Winnipeg. Grating the zucchini is messy, (and I squeeze the grated zucchini between my hands to get much of the juice out before measuring it), but it's worth it. And you can use the zucchinis when they've gotten to be watermelon size (won't taste any different). And you can pretend it's good for you because it is, after all, a vegetable, no?!!!


2½ Cups All-Purp. unsifted Flour
½ Cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2½ Teasp. Baking Powder
1½ Teasp. Baking Soda
2 C. Finely grated, unpeeled zucchini (2-9)
2 Teasp. Cinnamon
¾ Cup Cooking Oil
1 Cup white sugar
1 cup Light Brown sugar
Grated Rind of 1 medium orange
3 Large Eggs
2 Teasp. Vanilla
½ Cup Milk
1 Cup Chopped Walnuts or Pecans

Generously grease & flour a 10" tube or bundt pan. In a medium bowl, blend together dry ingredients & nuts. In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat sugars gradually into oil. Beat eggs in one at a time. Then stir in vanilla, rind & zucchini. Add dry ingredients to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk. Make three dry and two liquid additions, combining lightly after each. (Main mixing bowl has creamed mixture. Ad 1/3 dry then 1/2 of milk, then another 3rd dry, rest of milk, last 3rd dry.)

Pour batter into pan and bake at 350 for 1 hour. Cool cake in pan 15 minutes. Then remove & cool completely. Dust with icing sugar.

And here's another recipe:


5 TBSP unsalted butter
2 onions, coarsely chopped
5 TBSP curry powder
6 Cups Chicken Stock
2 potatoes, peeled & cubed
1 TEASP salt
1 TEASP black pepper
6 zucchini
1½ Cups heavy or whipping cream
Snipped fresh chives, for garnish

Melt 4 TBSP of the butter in soup pot. Add onions & curry powder and cook, uncovered, over low heat, stirring occasionally until onions are wilted (about 15 min.) Then add stock & potatoes; simmer, uncovered, for 15 min. Season w/salt & pepper.

Slice 5 of the zucchini and add them to the soup pot. Simmer 10 minutes.

Puree the soup, in batches, in a food processor or blender. While the machine is running, add the cream through the feed tube in a slow, steady stream. Pass the mixture through a food mill or fine-mesh sieve and return it to the pot. Keep it hot.

Julienne the reserved zucchini. Heat the remaining 1 TBSP butter in a small skillet, add the julienned zucchini, and saute over medium heat until just wilted, 1 minute. Add this to the soup, garnish with chives and serve.
And if you've never had cucumber and tomato sandwiches - try it. Mayo, then slice the cukes make a nice bed of them, then put the tomato slices on top and add salt and LOTS of pepper. YUM!

PS: I've been told that Melorganite sprinkled around the edge of the garden will help keep deer away (it's a fertilizer). I've used Liquid Fence and it's been working (but it's VERY expensive. First year I've seen my Hostas though.

Kristine said...

You take your extra zucchinis to Westlake with a sticky with my name on it. They will send them over to me. I will then ask you for more specific directions on how to slice and cook your zucchini because your zucchini spaghetti sounds really good.

Robert planted a garden. I think we got a grand total of two cherry tomatoes. However, our wonderful neighbor gifted us with a kitty litter tub full of potatoes from his garden. (Don't ask, but so far, the potatoes have been GREAT!)

Anonymous said...

I copied some of the yummy zucchini recipes, but don't know if I can bring myself to buy zucchini at the supermarket. Maybe I will go to the produce stand (and I'll pick up a few Jersey tomatoes, too). I did get a "down-home" feel reading some of the other comments.