The Garden of Eatin'

During times of war, people used to grow "victory gardens" to increase food production. We're not by any means at war, except perhaps with ourselves about whether or not to put a mask on and head back to the grocery store. Since canned goods can't hold a candle to fresh produce, why not use this extra time to start a little garden? It doesn't just help with social distancing, it gets you in the sunshine, provides a tastier yield and saves quite a bit of money.

Some parents start a pizza garden to connect their children with nature. It's a simple affair, with just tomatoes, basil and oregano. Everything grows above ground, and you can pick as needed while summer marches on.

Some people grow cocktail gardens on their balconies, with mint, rosemary and basil. If you'd like to muddle your way to greatness, Ladles and Linens has the book for you. I grow these herbs, plus Thai basil (my absolute favorite) and cilantro, because I can't resist homemade Vietnamese food.  

I'm quite a lazy gardener myself. I don't build raised beds or grow anything that I can't see. Fruit trees are perfect for people like me. I trim back branches once every spring, and let mother nature do the rest. Unless you consider a Caddyshack-like war against squirrels to be work, because those freeloaders are relentless. But all summer long I have fresh figs, peaches, grapes and raspberries.

And tomatoes have such a will to live, that I never even have to buy a plant. I take my shovel and sprinkle compost onto a sunny spot in my yard, and inevitably, tomatoes burst forth. I often find my 5 year-old plucking cherry tomatoes right off the vine and eating them in place. For larger tomatoes, I sometimes grab them before they ripen and surprise my family with a plate of fried green tomatoes. It can be as easy as planting a stick in the ground, per the deliciously-themed seed pods available at Ladles and Linens, pictured above. 

Regardless of your skill level, gardening is therapeutic. It connects you to the earth, helps you move with the seasons and provides more exercise than many think. So get a little dirty! As hard as social distancing can be for some people, creating a home garden is one way to contribute to the effort, and perhaps open you up to a hobby you never knew you loved.

 

Dress Your Home for Sweater Weather

Go beyond the gourd when warming up your home for autumn. The changing of the seasons should sweep through your home as it does the outdoors.. Below are ways to delight each of your five senses in a sweater weather kind of way.

Scent

Fill the air with spices using a warm simmer pot. Cinnamon apple is fitting for the crisp air. Fill a pot with cinnamon sticks, apple peels, orange rinds and whole cloves.Bring to a boil, then simmer all day long. Add water as needed. 

Taste

What's better than the scent of a simmer pot? Something baking in the oven. Specifically, a chai pumpkin cake with browned maple butter frosting. It makes pumpkin spice seem basic.

 

Eyes

Always bring the outside in, because this season is focused on what's going on outdoors. White pumpkins have always made a striking statement, but wild things are necessary. Bring in branches with red leaves, Jerusalem artichokes and pine cones. In fact, build a fire and throw a pinecone in it. It glows orange.  

Touch

Throw your windows open and let the fresh air filter through. Your home will feel  crisp and clean. If you're lucky, you may catch the scent of woodsmoke. Throw faux fur and chenille blankets on the couch, pull off  your socks and settle in.  

Hearing

Play Simon & Garfunkel. Trust me on this. 

 

The Great Pumpkin Spice Debate

Love it or hate it, pumpkin spice is here to stay. What started as a seasonal treat from Starbucks has turned into a market-driven phenomenon. From benign products like pumpkin spice candles and pancakes, to the extreme, such as pumpkin-spiced Spam, facials and deodorant, it's everywhere. 

Years ago, an astute food writer mentioned that pumpkin itself isn't a very tasty vegetable. In fact, it isn't used in many recipes as is. The mild flavor is dominated by cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, then baked into pies.

But I'm not sure that even matters to pumpkin spice fanatics. Because for many, it's more than a novelty latte at the coffee shop. It means an end to humidity and the unending bikini selfies on Instagram. It means cool nights by a bonfire, apple picking, cashmere sweaters and changing leaves. What began as a flavor has become an idea.

Besides, what's Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie? It's also a great source of beta-carotene, fiber and vitamins B, C and E. And if a burning pumpkin spice candle doesn't make you feel a little warm and fuzzy, it's an economically-sound way to gage whether or not you're dead inside. 

 

Summer on a Stick: Homemade Popsicles

Ah, childhood popsicles: plastic tubes and rainbow-colored tongues. Nowadays, those who steer clear of high-fructose corn syrup have endless options, but it comes at a price. An eight-pack of organic popsicles may cost well over ten dollars, though the recipes are basic and the boxes are lightweight; all packaging, no product.

When King of Pops opened in Richmond, I appreciated  their ingenuity. Their pineapple habanero and sweet tea with lemonade were the answer to those humid summer days. But people who love to cook are naturally curious about flavor combinations. and it wasn't long before I fell down the rabbit hole!

What you'll need: 

1) Groovy Pop Molds - They'e reusable, saving both your bank account and the local landfill. 

2) A bottle of homemade simple syrup. Make a nice pot of it. It's great to have on-hand during the summer anyway, for iced coffee, lemonade and iced tea. But having this already-dissolved sugar is perfect for sweetening up pop recipes too!

3) Imagination. I encourage you to play with your own combinations. You can color layer your pops, make a swirl design, or if the occasion calls for it, add a splash of vodka or rum. How can you tell if the finished product will be good? Love the taste before you freeze it.

4) Be stocked. Ripe bananas make everything creamier. Coconut milk is a great dairy-free alternative to cream. Hot peppers are heaven in fruity popsicles. So is basil. Lemonade, peanut butter, balsamic vinegar, hot cocoa, caramel topping, whole blueberries and coffee all have a place in the endless creations you'll make. 

My favorite fruit is watermelon, and I'm partial to watermelon mint pops. I fill a blender with frozen watermelon cubes, a fistful of freshly-ground mint from the yard, a 1/4 cup of simple syrup and top it off with lime seltzer water (enough to help it blend). Once poured and frozen into molds, it's summer on a stick.

I also love the classic strawberries and cream. You can even use coconut milk to make it dairy-free and extra creamy! Just blend 5 cups of ripe strawberries, a can of coconut milk, 1/4 cup of simple syrup (or maple), et voila!

Now go put the POP in your popsicle recipe, and be sure to share your creations with us!