Friday, June 28, 2013

Evening Primrose ~ Friday's Flower

Oenothera speciosa is a species of evening primrose known by many common names, such as pink ladies and pink evening primrose, while in Colorado it is generally referred to as Mexican evening primrose.  Wikipedia claims the name 'speciosa' means showy. 
Being drought resistant, this plant requires very little as far as soil or water, in fact it thrives in rock gardens and extreme sun.  Usually planted as a border plant along fences, walkways and rock gardens, this 12-18" tall perennial wildflower can easily become invasive if given optimum growing conditions.  I keep it in check by allowing it to live in a 3' X 8' succulent bed, along a brick path.
The Mexican evening primrose produces an abundant amount of delicate pink, cup-shaped flowers from spring through autumn.  Blooming both day and night, the flower tends to close during mid-day, when the full sun is directly overhead.

I think it's a lovely accent plant.  Perfect in that corner of the yard where the soil is poor, the sprinklers don't quite reach and the sun hits hard.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sun-dried Tomato & Walnut Tapenade

Let me start off by saying: THIS TAPENADE IS GREAT ON EVERYTHING.  The recipe is from Gena Hamshaw, a certified clinical nutritionist.  Her website is, where she shares her recipes for a healthier life by eating more plant-based foodsHer main focus is digestive health which she believes you can attain through a raw and vegan diet.  That said, I'm a flexitarian; I dabble in it all.
This recipe was a topping for Polenta Squares to be served as an appetizer for a large group.  Most polenta recipes are similar: broth, water or milk, cornmeal, salt & pepper and maybe some fresh corn or herbs, so use your favorite recipe for making the polenta.  The real star here is the Tapenade.  It makes about 1 1/2 Cups and keeps in the refrigerator for at least a week.

Sun-dried Tomato and Walnut Tapenade
3/4 C sun-dried tomatoes (not oil soaked)
2 C water
2/3 C walnuts
2 small cloves garlic
2 TB lemon juice
1/2 tsp sea salt
Black pepper, to taste
1 Tb fresh Rosemary, or 1 tsp dried
1/3 C extra virgin olive oil

Note: I've made this several times, and use sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil.  Then I drizzle a lesser amount of extra virgin olive oil into the processor at the end. This really comes together quickly, not having to do the boiling and soaking.
Boil the water and pour it over the tomatoes.  Allow them to soften for 20 minutes.  Discard most of the water (keep a half cup in case you need to thin the tapenade).
Grind the walnuts in a food processor fitted with the S blade until they're finely ground.  Add the tomatoes and garlic, and pulse to combine.  Add the lemon, sea salt, pepper, and rosemary.
Run the motor of the food processor and drizzle in the oil in a thin stream.  If the mixture is still very thick, drizzle in some of the soak water from the tomatoes until it reaches the desired consistency.  You're aiming for the consistency of regular tapenade, or a thick pesto.
After your polenta is chilled, cut it into small squares or triangles, you can even use a small cookie cutter if you want to get fancy.  Place the polenta pieces on a lightly oiled baking sheet, and brush the tops of the polenta as well.  Broil for 8-10 minutes or until they are slightly toasted.  Remove from the oven and top each with a dollop of tapenade.  I usually top that with olive slices or pine nuts.  Another reason to love this appetizer, both the polenta and tapenade can be made ahead of time.  Just before serving, simply broil and assemble.
My in-house taste tester claimed "This is delicious."


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Today's stroll in the garden

The small, delicate flowers on the birdhouse gourd remind me of orchid blooms.  Looking forward to gourds framing the garden arbor.

Here's a couple of late blooming Peonies amongst the Rose Campions.
This small Clematis in the herb garden always blooms before the others.
Lovely little roses in the same herb garden.
A colorful reminder of South Florida friends and family, a tropical Bougainvillea.
The Gator garden, with Lobelia and Impatiens, is hanging in there in spite of the heat.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Heuchera ~ Friday's Flower

The genus Heuchera includes 55 species, all of which are Native to North America.  It's common names include Alumroot, but is more widely referred to as Coral Bells due to the small bell-shaped flowers that grow on tall flower spikes in late spring and early summer.  The clusters of flowers on these evergreen perennials will last for several weeks. 
Coral Bells are also prized for their large, almost heart-shaped leaves, some ruffled, with striking color variegation.  The foliage grows in mounding 10-12" clumps and prefers part to half shade, along with evenly moist and well drained soil.  Above is one of my favorites, Snow Angel, with it's unique white and green mottled leaves and brilliant pink flowers.
There are many cultivars with clever names like Creme Brulee, Green Spice and Peach Melba.  Another favorite, this Lime Marmalade makes a stunning contrast to surrounding plants with it's chartreuse leaves and white flowers.
As far as propagation, they do not self sow in the garden but respond well to division in early spring.
Every few years, as my shrubs and perennials grow taller and create another semi-shady spot, I separate the larger Coral Bells and combine them into another grouping.  Last years transplants include Lime Marmalade, Caramel, and a glimpse of Sashay in the top left corner.
Sashay has deeply cut dark green leaves with a surprising burgundy contrast on the underside.  I think their ruffled leaves add a whimsical touch to the garden.
Here in the West, Heuchera's tend to heave themselves out of the ground slightly during the winter.  So every spring, I trim the undergrowth for a more shapely appearance and add fresh soil around the base of the plant. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Summer Solstice

According to the calendar, tomorrow is the first day of summer and the heat is on.  Also known as the Summer Solstice, on this day the Sun is as far North as it will be all year.  This Swallowtail has already discovered the Pink Lemonade Honeysuckle is in bloom.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the amount of daylight hours between sunrise and sunset on June 21st will be close to 14 1/2 hours, making this the longest day of the year. 
I will fondly remember the Iris in bloom...
the shade loving, spring blooming, Bleeding Hearts...
as well as many brightly colored Tulips. 
Nearly gone are the Peonies.
Each season brings another set of expectations and new challenges.  I find myself referencing my 2012 garden notebook almost daily to compare with what is going on now in the garden.  When did the Smoke Bush tips explode with dainty puffs of flowers?  The first Liatris bloom?  Or what day did the Clematis trellis change from a mass of green leaves to purple flowers?  When did Raspberries become part of our daily menu?  Well, summer is here...My expectations are high and I'm looking forward to the challenges it brings.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Wisteria ~ Friday's Flower

There are a few flowers that people equate with romance.  Definitely the rose, maybe a bouquet of daisies, but a Wisteria with it's cascading flower clusters does it for me.
A Wisteria is best described as a cross between a vine and a shrub.  It's optimal home is in full sun and can take up to 6 years or longer to bloom.  Severe pruning is the key to abundant flowers.  In an effort to keep our living area tidy last year I constantly cut back the rampant shoots that were invading our space and to my amazement I had 3 flushes of bloom.
Look at this crazy trunk.  It grew up and around a 4 x 4 post at the edge of the deck.  Several years ago, we replaced the original post, thinking we might lose the Wisteria, but it's top growth came back two fold.  I now realize why this happened after reading a tip for encouraging Wisteria growth on  Take a shovel and drive it 8-10" into the ground about a foot and a half out from the trunk to slice into some of the roots.  Damage about 1/2 of the roots and the bush will be shocked into reproduction.  I'm not sure I'd have the courage to do that, but apparently all the pulling, tugging and the reattachment to the trellis signaled a growth spurt.
I was fortunate that the planting Gods were with me when I put this Wisteria in nearly 12 years ago.  I knew nothing about the plant but luckily I put it in the right place.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sage Polenta, Marinara & Garlic Shrooms

Knowing that I read cookbooks the way most people read novels, a girlfriend sent a cookbook for my birthday; a win-win for all.  This book, CRAZY SEXY KITCHEN, written by Kris Carr and Whole Foods Chef Chad Sarno, is loaded with healthy, tasty dishes.  If that wasn't enough, it includes delicious recipes from 10 guest Chefs, many of who are restaurant owners.
In my herb garden the other day, I noticed the sage needed to be cut back, so I started looking for something to do with it.  Enter...Sage Polenta.  The author suggested serving Marinara with the Polenta, which was a wonderful pairing.  The addition of Garlic Mushrooms...well, I believe that can only make any meal more memorable.  None of these dishes required much work, but the Marinara needs time to simmer, so I started that first.

Nana's Marinara serves 6
2 Tb olive oil
1/2 C diced white onion
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 small red serrano chile, minced (or 1/2 Tb red pepper flakes)
5 C diced Roma tomatoes (if using canned: Muir Glen or San Marzano crushed are recommended)
3 Tb chiffonaded basil
2 Tb minced oregano
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
In a large shallow pan on medium heat, add the olive oil, onion, garlic and chile.  Saute until onions are translucent.
Add diced tomatoes and cook on low heat for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
Once tomatoes have cooked down into a thick sauce, add fresh herbs, salt and pepper. 
Remove from heat and serve.

Sage Polenta serves 6
2 Tb olive oil
2 C finely diced white onion
2 Tb minced sage
1 1/2 C vegetable stock
3 C milk of your choice
2 Tb nutritional yeast
3 Tb butter of your choice
1 1/4 C fine corn meal
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
In a heavy-bottom pot on medium heat, add the olive oil and onions and saute until caramelized.  Add minced sage and stir well. 
Add stock, milk, nutritional yeast, and butter.  Turn to low heat and bring to a simmer.
Slowly, while constantly whisking, add the dry polenta, pouring in an even stream.  Continue to whisk to keep the consistency smooth, while cooking. 
Once polenta has reached a porridge consistency, continue to keep on low heat and cook until the corn meal has softened, about 10 minutes.  Stir frequently and season with salt and pepper to taste. 
Remove from heat, and serve with a heaping ladle full of Nana's Marinara.

Garlicky Mushrooms serves 4
1 Tb butter- I needed more
1 1/2 C wild mushrooms, loosely packed- I used baby portabellas and next time will add more
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tb minced chives
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
In a large pan, melt the butter; add the mushrooms and garlic and saute until the mushrooms have released their liquid and the pan is almost dry, about 4 minutes.  Gently stir in the chives, season with salt and pepper, and remove from heat.
I'm looking forward to making all of this again.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Lupine~Friday's Flower

Lupines are a member of the pea family, which makes them a great addition to any garden.  They can fix nitrogen in the soil, thereby enriching the soil for their companion plants.  The bloom period is two months, somewhere between May and July, showing spectacular flower spikes.
Definitely on my top 10 list of favorite perennials, I like to see them in mass plantings.  They come in a variety of colors and bi-colors including white, cream, pink, red, magenta, blue, dark blue and many shades of purple.
They mostly like full sun and cooler nights, but benefit on a 90 degree day with some afternoon shade.  These nectar rich flowers attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
I'm especially fond of the way water collects in the center of their palm leaf type of foliage.
Grown in zones 4-7, these beautiful flowers are a stunning centerpiece.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Leek Risotto

I think Risotto is a great accompaniment to any meal.  Even with a folder full of various combinations of rice and vegetables, I'm always up for trying something new.  My winter leeks are done growing and I've been pulling them to make room for other plants.  A few days ago one of my favorite sites, Food52, featured a recipe for Leek Risotto...perfect timing for me.  And yes, it has been added to the folder.
Here is a new rice for you, Carnaroli.  Although I have never heard of it, according to Wikipedia, this medium grain rice which grows in Northern Italy is known as the 'king of rice' and is traditionally used for making risotto.  I always use Arborio, which I did this time and it was delicious, but will search for this firmer textured, longer grained Carnaroli.

Leek Risotto
From Food52~nicolecooks
Serves 4
   4-5 cups vegetable stock
   Extra-virgin olive oil
   3 small leeks, halved and thinly sliced
   1 shallot, minced
   1 cup Carnaroli rice-or Arborio
   1 cup white wine
   2 tablespoons unsalted butter
   1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
   1/3 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
   Kosher salt, to taste
   Minced chives, for garnish

Place the stock on a low simmer in a stockpot and keep a ladle nearby.  Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a deep, heavy sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the shallot and cook for 2-3 minutes, until translucent; do not let them brown.  Add the leeks and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes, or until the leeks have softened.  Stir in the rice and toast for 2-3 minutes.
Pour in the wine and let it simmer until the liquid is absorbed, and continue scraping the pan so that the rice doesn’t stick.  Season the rice with salt, then begin adding stock a ladle at a time, stirring often, and allowing most of the liquid to be absorbed before adding more.  The rice is cooked once the grains are al dente; this takes about 30 minutes.
Turn off the heat and vigorously beat in the butter and cheese with a wooden spoon to help it emulsify with the rice.  Add the whipped cream, then season with salt, only if needed.  Continue stirring until all the ingredients have been incorporated.  Serve immediately, garnished with additional Parmesan cheese and chives.
A tip from the author of this recipe is a trick she learned from the legendary chef Thomas Keller~~The addition of whipped cream takes this risotto to an even creamier level.  I agree.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Tomato Cages

People are always in a hurry to get their tomato plants in the garden.  It is the #1 favorite food to grow.  But all too often the support is added too late.  The time to put your tomato cage in place, is soon after you've got the plant in the ground.  I know what you're thinking...I've got plenty of time.  But you don't. 
In addition to amending all the vegetable beds with rich organic matter every spring, I want to give the tomatoes every possible advantage at the time of planting.   I pinch off all the branches on the bottom half of the stem.  Dig the hole and remove 4-5" of soil and set aside.  Then I mix in 1 cup of a granular organic 3-3-3 fertilizer with the next 10" of soil.  Place the plant down in the hole and fill in with the soil I first removed.  I bury between 1/3 and 1/2 of the stem below ground, which will give my tomato plant a much stronger root system.  Mulch around the plant and give each tomato 1 gallon of water.
I believe in tall tomato cages; these are 6' plus.  Frankly, those little wire cages at 42" and 54" are not nearly big enough.  By the time you push them down into the ground, they are only 3-4' tall.  The plant will grow to the top, then drape down on itself and continue growing.  There is no way for air to circulate in conditions like that
Do yourself a favor and get those cages over your tomatoes now.  Don't wait until you are fighting the tomato for placement and breaking off branches in the process.  You won't be a happy gardener then.