Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Winter Squash Adventure

 This year in my garden, I decided to plant some winter squashes.  I love squash of all kinds.  I tried growing Acorn squash a few years ago, but grew them in a container and never got anything from the plant.

This year, I decided to again try my hand at some winter squash.  While searching for just the right addition to my limited garden space, my mouth kept watering at all the wonderful prospects.  Acorn, Buttercup, Spaghetti, Turk's turban, Delicata: Hubbard, Candy Rooster, the list goes on and on.  I could even smell them baking, with a touch of cinnamon, nutmeg and a pinch of brown sugar.  O yummy squash soup.  Ummmm!  Okay, back to reality.  So, I settled on two, Queensland Blue (Cucurbita pepo) and Lakota (Cucurbita maxima).  Both are heirloom varieties.  (I am a big advocate for heirloom vegetables)

The Queensland Blue was developed in Australia and brought to the United States in 1932.  It is a light grayish-blue color, slightly flattened and ribbed and usually weight around 8 lbs.  It has a mild tasting orange flesh and stores up to 6 months.

The  Lakota can trace its ancestry back to the Lakota Sioux tribes from North & South Dakota.  They can be a tear drop shape or round, and range in color from orange to being mottled with green stripes from the bottom.  The flesh is fine grained and has a sweet, nutty flavor.  Fruits weight between 5 to 11 lbs. Prolific producer and stores well.  I have read nothing but good things about this squash and cannot wait until mine are here.

In my winter squash planting venture this year, I learned something about the plants that I never knew before.  To the right are two photos of my Queensland Blue plants.  Beautiful, right?!  Anyway, every time I looked at them, I wondered how the leaves at the end of the long trailing vines could look so much better than the spot where I originally put them in the ground.  After all, the water and nutrients had to get all the way to the end.  Nooo.  I found this out when I moved a vine out of the grass and back in the boundaries of the garden area.  At the joints of the plant, where the flower and the little "curlies" reach out to hold on, from the bottom side, a root will grow down into the soil and then micro roots will shoot off it once it is below the surface of the soil.  You can see them in the bottom picture if you look past the curly.  Nature amazes me every day.  So, if you are new to this like I was, be sure your squash vines are going where you want them, or you could damage them if you try to move them at a later time. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ignorance Is Bliss

The problem with that phrase is, it's true.  If you don't know, you can't worry.  If you don't know,you wouldn't know when you messed up.  If you don't know, you can sleep at night.

Through necessity , due to my heart condition, I have had to make adjustments in my diet.  Not that I really ate that badly before.  I ate fried foods maybe twice a month, sweets were not on the top of my food list, and my portions were not extra large.  I love fresh vegetables and fresh meats.  As a professional Chef, I create a lot of my meals from scratch.  I did need to begin concentrating on my sodium and fat levels and watching "cheating" with prepackaged foods when time was short.   So, I begin to read labels and research ingredients in food.  It is mind boggling the amount of artificial ingredients there are in prepackaged foods.  You have to watch what a label says on the front as well as the back.  Something that says "low fat" may be loaded with extra sugar or sodium.  Something that says "low sodium",  may have excess fats.  Why?  Because the food manufacturers replace what they have taken out, with something else that would be satisfying to the palette.

Another huge concern is what is fed and injected into beef and milk products.  At this point, I still need to do a lot more reading and research before I get too much into detail.  But preliminary findings have scared the hell out of me!  Growth hormones are fed to cattle to increase the size and shorten the time needed before going to market. Some milk cows are given a different growth hormone to increase their milk production.  Residues of these hormones may or may not follow that meat or milk into the grocer's case, and therefore, into my own body as I consume it. 

When it comes to other meats: chicken, pork...., they are inundated with antibiotics, .  The demand for larger, leaner meats in a shorter production time has made it acceptable in the meat industry for these additives to be used.  Antibiotics not only keep an animal healthy, but some can increase the growth rate in younger animals.  I see no problem with animals being inoculated when young to keep them healthy, but there is no reason to continue just to have them gain weight faster.  Oh wait...yes there is.  It's that extra money the big corporations need so the company executives can buy another house or fancy car.

I wish I had an acre or two of land to call my own.  I could raise my own food.

Tiny Orbs of Yumm-e!

In my desire to find different varieties of tomatoes, I came across a packet of a mixed variety of cherry tomatoes in my local hardware store.  Boy did that bring out the little kid in me!  I flash forwarded to a summer of beautiful tomato plants full of tiny orbs to fill my salad bowl. That is if they even make it into the house.  I have a habit of just popping them in my mouth right off the vine.  Last year I grew Yellow Pear tomatoes and would recommend them to anyone who likes tomatoes.  The grew like crazy and just three plants kept me happy all summer. 

Now this new pack of seeds contained seven varieties of cherry tomatoes and they were color coded so you knew which seed was from each variety.  The variates were Sundrop, Gold Nugget, Brown Cherry, Sweetie, Green Grape, Super Snow White, and Bicolor Cherry.

I started my little lovelies indoors, right on my desk where I could look at them each day.  I used an egg carton and used the shells as the "pots".  Growth was excellent and I put them outside in a sheltered place to "harden" them.  Unfortunately,  they got wind burned and I lost half of them.  The varieties that survived were Snow White, Gold Nugget and the Brown Cherry.  They are all delicious.  I also grew the Yellow Pear again this year and they have not let me down.  It is nice to be able to add sliced tomatoes to a meal right out of my own garden.