Saturday, August 15, 2009

Stop Ducking the Zukes

This morning, I came across a wonderful sounding recipe from DDaisy, someone I follow on Twitter. The recipe is for Chocolate Zucchini Bread and is on her blog: Compost Happens. This prompted a small exchange with cityslipper about zucchini being the butt of many gardeners jokes. Btw if you are a Twit, or should that be Twitterer (?), you really need to follow cityslipper, too and check out his blog.

At any rate, I felt sorrow for the oft neglected and much aligned garden outcast, aka zucchini. So, I am here to stand up for "zuke" and shout it's merits to the world! Below is a recipe using this diehard (and yes, it isn't easy to make this plant die, it is quite prolific!) squash. If you do not tell the person eating it that it contains "zuke", they will not know.

The next time you see someone headed your way with this treasure, don't run, don't duck! Hold your hands!

So, go bake this up, let it cool, then sit down with a large piece and a glass of ice-cold milk. Chocolately and moist and cake-like, it is utterly delicious! Before you finish the last bite, you too will be a fan of this step-child of the garden! Stay-tuned for more recipes using zuke! You won't be sooooorry!

2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons soda
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup oil
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups grated, unpeeled zucchini (important! grate it into very fine shreds, i.e. NOT like a carrot)
Combine dry ingredients. Mix oil and egg. Stir into dry ingredients. Add vanilla and zucchini. Mix well. Spread into greased jellyroll pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes or until done (the old toothpick test).
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup margarine
1 cup chocolate chips
Mix all ingredients together except chocolate chips in a sauce pan. Cook for 1 minute or until sugar is dissolved. Add chocolate chips. Beat well until chips are melted and then spread quickly on brownies.

I was going to recommend you cover the leftovers after you eat some but at my house they don't last that long! :-)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Direct Sower of Seeds, I Am Not

Yes, it is waaaaaaaaaay overdue for the report on my seed experiment from the spring: direct sowing after chance of frost instead of starting my seeds in my greenhouse in the early spring.

Normally, I do not cut to the chase but today I will allow myself. So you are spared :-)

It was a dismal failure. For instance, the above photo. Now, in my defense, after I sowed these sunflower seeds we had mucho rain. Noah kind of rain. Maybe not 40 days but pretty darn close. As you can witness, I've moved onto other endeavors with the weeding of this plot being last on my to-do list. The viable beds being more important. I apologize for it's untidiness.

Seeds that were sown in the long border did nothing. Seeds I intentionally planted in my containers did not germinate (Maybe it was the seed vendors fault! Maybe I was shipped faulty SEEDS!). BUT the seeds that fell from the plants that grew in those containers LAST YEAR, germinated and did fine!

Seeds planted in the raised bed garden germinated half-heartedly so I threw some zinnia seeds that were hanging out in the garage into the beds there and they have done fine. I did discover that nasturtiums do not like the heat and humidty prevelant in my raised bed garden. This area has a microclimate of it's very own. However, I think I am on to something with herbs in that space and if I am here next spring, I will explore doing more with those. The birds love that garden and I would welcome opinion as to whether the seeds might have fallen prey to my feathered friends.

It's a mess, both from the storm the other night and my neglecting to pull out the bolted plants, but as you can see, some things have grown.

All in all, I have learned that direct sow doesn't work for me. More success was had when I started seeds in my greenhouse in early spring. Sure, it took more baby-sitting, or seed-sitting if you will, but the results were worth it.

Hey, you'll never know unless you try! Now, let's go get dirty! Happy gardening!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Confessions Of An Insatiable Chocoholic (or What I Do With MY Hershey!)

Green/Natural. Chocolate. Fragrance. Chocolate. Healthy. Chocolate. Tasty! Chocolate!

Need I verbalize how often chocolate has been on my mind of late? Anyone who knows me is well acquainted with my incredible love affair with the decadent sweet and also is aware of the fact that I am no longer a spring chicken!

How can I enjoy chocolate satisfaction without it either ending up padding my jeans or stuffing my arteries? Yes, I am aware of the health benefits of a little bit of dark chocolate once in awhile but forgive me, I am decadent in my use of chocolate. I want to eat vats full of milk chocolate, preferably German or Swiss. I want to bathe in hot chocolate. I want to load my shopping cart down with Hershey bars as I enter the checkout at WalMart. I want to feel the richness of it's taste as I devour a pan of chewy brownies or drown myself in a gallon of melted rocky road or cookie dough ice cream luxuriousness.

Okay, so you now get my point. If I were to indulge my fantasies, I truly would resemble Jabba the Hutt already (as a dear, sweet, annoying friend of mine implies quite often, I might add). But nay, I do not. Not yet as of this writing anyway.

Back TO the point, sorry I digress. Not only do I have to be considerate of the caloric consequences of my corpulent consumption of the confection but I must also be thrifty or the sheer amount of my purchases would break my emaciated piggy bank. Hmmm. How to enjoy this treat without having to constantly purchase a new "fat" wardrobe (girls, you know what I talkin' about here) and how to do it economically?

I will confine myself to using a readily available, low-cost, tasty brand. Godiva, Ghiradelli and many others are indeed delicious but more expensive to indulge in. To satisfy my constant cravings, I will use Hershey. I have found Hershey to be robust, silky smooth and deeply satisfying on all levels and compatible with my pocketbook. While I appreciate the finer points of more exotic chocolate, I found Hershey to be perfect for me.

Next, how to enjoy Hershey without sending myself to Weight Watchers or an early grave? Other than the obvious avenue of consuming the Hershey candy bar (btw, I discovered if I exercise with a Hershey I actually lose weight!), could I discover another way in which to luxuriate in it? Yes, I use it in my body scrub. Have you ever showered with anything Hershey? Personally, I have found it to be a divine experience!

Bath and Body used to make a bodywash and lotion called "Wickedly Hot Chocolate" which I used but it was available for a limited time only. Since then I have had to become creative in how to replicate a body product which was both good for my skin, green, inexpensive, AND smelled and tasted like chocolate (in the event I was starving to death in the shower and needed something to eat to sustain my very life! Not that I would eat it, mind you except in an emergency but I might lick my fingers before scrubbing!).

I came up with a body scrub recipe using natural/green ingredients from around the house to which I could add some Hershey's syrup for that luscious and decadent aroma of chocolate. It contained ingredients that are good for my skin, that exfoliate and moisturize while feeding my senses and not my fat cells! When using the scrub, I first wash with soap/bodywash and follow it up with the scrub, rinsing VERY well. Following is the recipe:

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup oil

1/4 cup honey

1/2 cup Hershey syrup

1/2 cup white sugar (more if you prefer a drier scrub but that makes it harder to use)

Mix and store in a container in the refrigerator, taking some out ahead of time unless you like a COLD scrub. Mark the container "Do Not Eat" or invariably a teen will come along and think it is brownie batter and eat it.

Please, mix up a batch and go enjoy yourself while treating your senses and your skin to a decadent experience. And if you are up for a little romance . . . invite your significant other :-)

(And yes, I did eat the Hershey bar :-) Just can't be around a Hershey and not eat it!)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Boy, Then a Man, Always My Son

He's 17. A man. A boy. Some days a boy in a man's body but more often than not, he's fully a man. Well on his way to adulthood.

I love both of my boys, my eldest is 22 but this is about my youngest.

Because of the late spring timing of his birthday, he enters his junior year of high school chronologically ahead of his peers, often more advanced/mature than his classmates. Yet not in all ways, he remains foolish at times, as we moms well know.

Lately, although he will tell you forever, I have struggled with his growing up. Struggled with letting him go. How can he be ready to face the world on his own soon, when he cannot even remember to pick up the wet towels off of the wood floor? Or remove the dishes with leftover food in them from his room before they become moldy? Weighty issues certainly. Is he ready for more independence? Is it time for his dad to step up more? Is that what a young man needs? Does he still need his mom in the same way he did ten, or even five, years ago?

A couple of months ago, I asked him if he needed me around anymore. He hemmed and hawed, trying to find a politically correct answer, a fragile balance between the truth and his mom's feelings. In the end, what he came up with was: I'd trained him well how to take care of himself i.e. doing laundry, taking care of pets, cleaning his room, studying for class and going to work. How, he asked, would he grow up if I don't now let him be more independent and put those skills to work? But, I asked, did he need me here in order for him to be able to do those things? No, he said, but he would like to have me around sometimes. I think specifically to make tomato-potato soup and mashed potatoes for him and maybe to schedule his haircuts and buy his deodorant.

His reponse has caused me to do much thinking since then, especially in the last couple of weeks. We had another conversation just this week at which time he read this missive. How tightly do I continue to hang on? Is it for him or for me? He's made some pretty stupid judgment calls but then so have I. Does he need help navigating the shoals in his life that threaten to wreck him? Does he need me day to day, literally onsite? Or is it more being available in his life when he needs me?
These last few weeks I've been faced with decisions about my own life as I close one chapter and begin another anew. I am dealing with the dissolution of my marriage and somewhat, my family. Wondering, do I stay in this toxic environment that threatens to destroy ME? Would my son be okay with his dad? Would he suffer if I moved to another place but was able to be local frequently?

Much more discussion needs to take place, but I've realized he will be fine no matter where I am, as long as we can be together frequently in person and always available by some kind of electronic media.

So, if knowing he will be not only fine but successful, I now begin to explore where I want to be: New England, Michigan, Colorado, even Ohio. Where? There are a myriad of factors to be weighed as I contemplate my own future. Each place having significant reasons to relocate there i.e. family, work possibilities, friends, quality of life, cost of living, etc. Some places calling to me more than others. Sooner rather than later, it looks like I can plan a change, which I am currently doing so. The next part of my life awaits. And with his blessing.

What I do know for certain is this: I raised a fine young man, independent and capable of being more so, as he nears graduation. Independent . . . but still loves his mom. I must relate a recent discussion we had. I had told him some truthful, yet disturbing news about me. He put his arms around me, told me he loves me and understands. And could I please fix some of my great mashed potatoes for his girlfriend for her birthday?

Told you he needs me for some important things :-)

I am proud of him. He can be launched into young adulthood no matter where I am physically, in relation to him. I can be available for him whenever and wherever he needs me, whether I am here or there for he is in my heart, and I in his.

He was a boy. Now he is a man. But he will always be my son.