Six Good Habits of a Lazy Gardener

I’m a suburban gardener. I garden in spurts because I’m busy, and, sometimes, just lazy. Thanks to a few good gardening habits I picked up from my mom, I have cucumbers to pickle, more peppers than I have time to eat and put up, herbs, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, okra, tomatoes, onions, and . . . well, there are lots of peppers.

My mom is the antithesis of rushed and lazy and, when it comes to gardening, she’s the real deal. She pushes a hand plow through straight, fertile rows. As her plants grow and produce, she weeds, waters, and hoes on a predictable and reasonable schedule. My rows are crooked, and my schedule is irregular, but I managed to take on few good gardening habits that I learned from her, mostly the ones that involve reusing and repurposing things you have on hand.

Six Good Gardening Habits

  1. Newspapers: Unfold and stack newspaper pages, pulling out the ones with waxy finishes (those aren’t so great for the garden). Arrange newspapers (at least 6 layers thick) around the seedlings or plants. The newspaper serves as weed block. When it’s time to pull up old plants and turn the soil, till in whatever papers hasn’t already composted itself.
  2. Mulch: Leaves, grass clippings, pine needles. They can all be your garden friend. I prefer leaves in my vegetable garden because they are less likely to introduce weed spawn and they break down more quickly than pine needles. For Wow! weedblocker, after covering your garden rows/beds with layers of newspaper, add a layer of leaves. Once your plants peter out, you can till the leaves and the newspaper into the soil, and you’ll have an even richer soil for the next round.
  3. Cardboard: To create a raised bed above a grassy or weedy area, don’t buy weed block or dig up the grassy patch. Use cardboard. Remove any tape or stickers from the cardboard and place on top of the grass. Make sure it’s a solid layer by overlapping pieces of cardboard so no grass sticks through. Once your bed walls are up (I use cinder blocks), fill your raised bed with soil, peat moss, compost, etc.
  4. Eggshells: Save and grind eggshells. I have a little compost bucket in the kitchen, dedicated to eggshells. When it’s full, I grind the shells in my food processor. NOTE: Eggshells will scratch plastic blenders and food processors. If you want to avoid this, place the eggshells in a Ziploc back, smashing them as you do. Remove as much air as possible before zipping, and roll over the bag with a rolling pin.
  5. Vegetable waste: Compost! There are many dos and don’ts about composting correctly, but I don’t have time for all of that. I just toss my vegetable scraps into my compost pile, a 3-sided area (the fence and two sides of cinder blocks) just over the back fence in the right of way. My compost is unkempt, but when I need good dirt, it has never disappointed.
  6. Plastics: Don’t recycle those plastic containers. Let the other R take over and Reuse the plastic jugs and jars. I use vinegar for nearly everything: cleaning, canning, cooking, even washing my hair. The empty vinegar jugs become scoops and funnels that I use for distributing soil and fertilizer. In June, the jug becomes a fruit picking bucket that hangs like a holster on a belt while I pick blueberries and figs with two hands. Wide-mouthed plastic containers are great for storing seeds, ground up egg shells, and fertilizer.
©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Too many cucumbers? Try keeping a pickle jar

Cucumbers! They’re delicious, but they don’t keep very long in the vegetable bin and the freezer is not an option. Gardeners and CSA members know that the leap from no cucumbers to buckets full is sudden. What to do with all those cucumbers when you don’t (have time to) can pickles? Toss them in a pickle jar.

Buy time with a pickle jar

Whenever you have more cucumbers than you can manage, take a couple of minutes to rinse and slice them (peel if you prefer), then toss them in the pickle jar, shake to mix the liquid and slices, and refrigerate.pickle jar

The liquid you keep in your pickle jar is up to you.

  • If you make pickles, save the extra pickle juice in a jar in the fridge. You can toss cucumbers (or other vegetables) in the jar to make them last a little longer. They won’t last as long as truly pickled vegetables, but the pickle juice will buy you some time.
  • If you’re not the canning type, dissolve about 1 tsp pickling or kosher salt in 1 cup of white or cider vinegar. Again, vegetables tossed in this solution will have a shorter life than canned pickles, but the vinegar solution buys you more time than if you just toss the extra cukes in a vegetable bin. If you want to add seasonings, add whole, not ground seasonings. Peppercorns and mustard seeds, for example.
  • Finally, leftover juice from store bought pickles can be used to buy some extra time. This is a particularly pleasing alternative if you discover a brand of pickles you adore and hate throwing that delicious pickle juice down the drain. Use it!
©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Double Choked Shrimp Brie Soup

Choked Shrimp Brie Soup: a brief history

On a whim, I picked up some sunchokes at the market even though I had no clue what they were. At home, I looked them up —texture similar to potato, flavor similar to artichoke, can be eaten raw or cooked, with or without the peel, great for creamy soups/dishes— then tossed them in the vegetable bin.

A few nights later, my honey and I had dinner at a restaurant where the special soup du jour was shrimp brie artichoke soup. We melted into love for the soup, and I decided to try to recreate it. I remembered my sunchoke discovery and decided to include them.

After culling for ideas online, I made this. If you love shrimp and cheese, you won’t be sorry I took the time to note the process.

Choked Shrimp Brie Soup: The recipe (or something like a recipe)

Ingredientschoked shrimp brie soup

  • 1/4 cup Olive Oil (or part olive oil, part butter)
  • 1 cup chopped carrots (2 medium)
  • 1 cup sliced celery (2 stalks)
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup (or more) peeled and chopped (bite-size pieces) sunchokes
  • 1 quart shrimp stock (you can make these with the shrimp heads/peels. See below)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • salt to taste (I didn’t use any)
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2 cups (or more) of peeled and deveined gulf shrimp
  • 1 4 1/2-ounce round Brie cheese (I used more like 6 ounces), rind removed and cut up

Optional

  • 1/2 cup (or more) of artichoke hearts cut into bite-size pieces (fresh is what I used, but thawed frozen could work)
  • Croutons and/or chives (optional)

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and sunchokes. Cook and stir till tender. Add shrimp stock, white pepper (and salt). Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
  2. Add cream and use hand-held blender or masher to cream the mixture (I didn’t completely cream, just a little)
  3. Stir in shrimp, artichoke hearts (if you’re using them), and Brie. Cook and stir over medium-low heat about 5 minutes more or till shrimp are pink, soup is heated through, and cheese is melted. (Stir often to make sure soup doesn’t scorch on bottom of saucepan.) Serve topped with croutons and/or chives, if you like.

Makes 8 side-dish or 4 main-dish servings.

SHRIMP STOCK

To make shrimp stock,

  • Place shrimp heads and peels in about 2 quarts of water.
  • Add quartered onion, 3-5 cloves of garlic, quartered lemon, bay leaf, peppercorns to taste, and thyme (or any mixture of herbs).
  • Boil for 10-15 minutes (reduce to 1 quart).
  • Strain.
©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

My Garden Control

The hunter’s full moon is shining down on my garden tonight. I don’t have much in the garden, but the soil is freshly tilled and a dozen seedlings are reaching for the sky. My garden, honestly, is about everything but the vegetables. Sometimes it’s about control.

I can’t say I control my garden well. And the garden certainly doesn’t control me.

If the bean counters showed up, my garden would be condemned. It’s a bad business model. More money for the lesser vegetables, or, often, no vegetable at all. Add to that, the garden takes up precious time, space, and effort.

If the bean counters, however, would factor in more than harvest, my garden would receive a “best deal” sticker. My garden is for unplugging, for meditation and movement, for physical and mental therapy, for emotional grounding.

Tonight as I studied the hunter moonshadows on my crooked rows, I felt a surge of comfort.

Just as everything was spinning completely out of control, I took time last weekend to weed and till my garden. The weeds in some spots were chin-high. It took two days and many I’m-going-to-pass-out moments.

Control becomes an emotion. I felt it immediately. Sure, I was panting and wiping the sweat from my face. But I had restored something. Taken control.

I started this week with more direction and strength. And tonight, as that out-of-control feeling was creeping back in, I went outside to see the full moon. I knew she’d be there. That helped.

I looked at the shadows she cast. My garden rows and seedlings beamed up at me in the moonlight. They restored me.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

 

Roasted Zucchini and Squash

I haven’t made scientific calculations about how often zucchini and yellow squash are included in CSA boxes, but if you live in the southern US, probably in about 70–80%. This can be challenging even for zucchini/squash lovers. Tonight I made roasted zucchini and squash, with a little tomato and bell pepper from my CSA box. I had leftover French bread, which was perfect for a homemade crouton finish.

Roasted Zucchini and Squash

Ingredients

vegetables
  • 4-6 zucchini and squash, sliced in medallions, 1/4 inch thickroasted zucchini and squash
  • 1 onion, sliced in thin rings
  • 1/4 c. bell pepper, sliced in thin slivers
  • 1/4 c. tomato, chopped
seasoning
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp dried herbs and spices (oregano and/or thyme with chili powder works well)
topping
  • 1-2 c. cubed bread
  • 1/4 c. Asiago cheese, grated

Process

  1. Preheat oven to 450º.
  2. Toss the vegetables in a Pyrex baking dish. Slice zucchini and squash in medallions.
  3. Blend the seasonings. I use my Cuisinart Smartstick chopper/grinder. Note: I don’t use salt in most of my recipes. If you want to use salt, the seasoning is a good place to add about 1 tsp.
  4. Drizzle about half of the seasoning on the vegetables and toss.
  5. Place in oven, uncovered, and bake 15 minutes.
  6. Place the cubed bread in a bowl.
  7. Drizzle the 2nd half of the seasonings on the bread and toss.
  8. Add the grated cheese to the bread cubes and toss.
  9. Spread on top of baked vegetables.
  10. Return vegetables to the oven and bake an additional 5-10 minutes, the croutons are golden brown and crisp.
  11. Enjoy!

roasted zucchini and squash

Variations

  • Use only zucchini or only squash.
  • Use a different pepper: ancho, jalapeño, or banana.
  • Use more tomato, or none at all.
  • Instead of topping with homemade croutons, sprinkle with just cheese.
  • For a vegan dish, finish the vegetables with nutritional yeast instead of croutons or cheese.
© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2016

Roasted Fig Chicken

What can you do with no time, seventeen figs, and some chicken? Roast! This Roasted Fig Chicken was a pleasant surprise on a busy night. I used very little prep time and what I had on hand: figs from our tree, CSA and garden vegetables, and chicken.


Seventeen Figs and a Chicken (Roasted Fig Chicken)

IngredientsRoasted Fig Chicken

  • 2-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 17 figs, 13 whole, 4 chopped
  • 5-6 red potatoes, whole
  • 1 med onion, sliced
  • 1 small bell pepper, sliced (I used bell)
  • 2-3 tbsp c grated Asiago (or other hard cheese)
  • 3-5 cloves garlic. whole
  • 2-3 sprigs of fresh oregano
  • Salt/Pepper/Season to taste

ProcessRoasted Fig Chicken

  • Preheat oven to 400°.
  • Saute about ¼ c of the onion and pepper with 4 chopped figs.
  • Prepare chicken (pat dry, pound in seasoning, cut a slit to stuff).
  • Stuff chicken with sauteed onion/pepper/fig mix and Asiago cheese.
  • Arrange chicken in Pyrex dish.
  • Throw in the remaining onion, pepper, and figs, along with potatoes, garlic cloves, and seasonings.
  • Cover with foil.
  • Bake for one hour.
©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2016

Grill to Oven Grilled Snap Beans with Feta

Looking for something new to do with your beans? Grilled snap beans! This is another grill to oven recipe for using up those generous boxes of summer CSA vegetables. You’ll need a grill basket or grill pan.

You may be tempted to eat these straight from the grill, but that extra step to the oven = feta baked into the grilled goodness. Worth it.


Grilled Snap Beans with Feta

IngredientsGrilled Snap Beans

  • 1 lb snap beans, ends snipped and strings removed (I used wax and snap beans)
  • 1 med to large onion, cut in 1/4 inch slices
  • 1-2 whole fresh tomatoes
  • 1-2 whole fresh peppers, sweet or hot (I used bell)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp dried oregano (sub other fresh and dried herbs and seasonings)
  • salt and pepper to taste (I didn’t use any)
  • ½ c feta cheese

Process

  • Prep
    • Preheat grill with the oiled grill basket.
    • Grind garlic and seasonings in olive oil in mini food processor. (Don’t bother cleaning the food processor yet. You’ll use it again.)
    • Toss beans, onions, tomatoes, and peppers in seasoned oil.grilled snap beans
  • Grill
    • Transfer beans and onions to grill basket, careful not to drip too much oil into grill.
    • Place tomatoes and peppers directly on grill.
    • Grill on high to med high for about 5-8 minutes, stirring beans and turning tomatoes and peppers every couple of minutes.
    • Remove beans to a 9X12 baking dish.
    • Place tomatoes and peppers in a bowl and cover with a lid or plastic to allow them to “sweat.”
  • Oven
    • Preheat oven to 350°.
    • Peel skin off of tomatoes and peppers.
    • Remove stems, and de-seed peppers.
    • Grind tomatoes and peppers in mini food processor (OK to chop if you prefer them chunkier)
    • Pour tomatoes and peppers on top of beans and toss.
    • Sprinkle feta on top of beans. You can leave the cheese on top or toss it into the bean mixture.
    • Bake for 20 min.

Variations

  • If you love garlic-heavy dishes, place a head of garlic in foil, drizzle with olive oil, and place on the grill with the vegetables. Grind the roasted garlic with the tomatoes and peppers.
  • If you like beans with slivered almonds or other nuts, add these when the beans go to the oven.

NOTE: Snap and green and string are all the same thing when they’re a bean.

If you like this grill to oven recipe, check out my grill to oven squash and zucchini.
© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 5016

Cabbage with Sausage

What to do with last week’s cabbage?

This week we received the biggest CSA box ever! Luckett Farms is spoiling us and I love it! Snap and wax beans; squash; zucchini; cherry and large tomatoes; cucumbers; red potatoes; white and purple eggplant; jalapeño, poblano, banana, and bell peppers; onions; basil; peaches, and blueberries! But I still had last week’s cabbage, so instead of reaching for the squash or zucchini, I cooked cabbage with sausage and made a peach and blueberry cobbler.

I tried a delicious recipe a few months ago from the New York Times, but the cooking time is 2.5 hours, and it was already 7:30 pm (I’m not a stellar meal planner). This is my tweak on that recipe. Delicious. But also flexible. If you’re in the mood for cheese, sprinkle some Romano or Asiago on top. It was too late when I thought about all the tomatoes from this week’s box. Sliced tomatoes on top would have been great.


Cabbage with Sausage (Express)

Ingredients

  • 1 small/med cabbage (or ½ a big cabbage)
  • 5 links of Italian sausage (delinked) or about 1 lb of loose Italian sausage
  • 1 small to med onion
  • 2 sweet and/or hot peppers (I used pimiento from my garden and banana from CSA)
  • 1 stick (unsalted) butter
  • ¼ c wine
  • ¼ c Panko bread crumbs

Process

  • Preheat oven 350º.
  • Cabbage
    • Slice cabbage in thin layers.
    • Bring a pot of water to boil.
    • Place cabbage in boiling water.
    • Return to boil and boil cabbage 3 minutes.
    • Strain.
  • Sausage
    • Sauté sausage, breaking up as it browns.
    • Stir in onions, peppers, wine, and 2 tbsp butter.
    • Cover and reduce heat.
    • Simmer until vegetables wilt (2-3 min).
  • Assembly
    • Melt 3 tbsp butter in 9 X 12 Pyrex dish.
    • Add 1 layer of cabbage. Toss in butter.
    • Add layer of sausage.
    • Add another layer of cabbage, then sausage.
    • Continue layering, and finish with cabbage on top.
    • Sprinkle Panko bread crumbs.
    • Drizzle with remaining 3 tbsp of butter.
    • Cover with aluminum foil.
  • Cook
    • Cook for 30 minutes at 350º.
    • Remove foil.
    • Cook an additional 10 minute to brown top.
© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2016

Baked Chicken with Snap Beans

Snap beans are one of the many perks of summer gardens and CSA boxes. But like zucchini and squash, keeping up with the beans can be a challenge. This baked chicken with snap beans is a delicious one-dish meal. Tweak it to your taste or mood. The possibilities are limitless:

  • Don’t stuff the chicken.
  • Use a different cheese.
  • Don’t use cheese.
  • Use different herbs.
  • Don’t use chicken, just cook the beans!
  • Or maybe, just have a glass of wine and cheese and crackers. Cook tomorrow. 😉

If you are in the mood to cook, this is worth the effort.


Bake Chicken with Snap Beans

Ingredients

  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 lb (about 6 c) fresh snap beans* (OK to sub or include wax beans, I used both)
  • 1 fresh tomato, sliced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • marinade, (I used a tweaked version of my sour cream marinade)
    • Grind the following together in a mini food processor.
      • ½ c sour cream
      • 2 tbsp olive oil
      • 4 cloves garlic
      • ¼ c mango salsa (for sweet and hot)
      • 1 tbsp chipotle pepper adobo sauce
      • 3 tbsp fresh oregano
  • cheese stuffing
    • Grind the following together in a mini food processor.
      • ½ c cheese (I used quesadilla cheese, but you can sub other cheeses: e.g., mozzarella, feta, cream)
      • 1 clove garlic
      • fresh oregano (OK to sub other fresh or dried herbs)
  • bread crumbs
    • Grind the following together in a mini food processor.
      • 1.5 c panko bread crumbs (OK to sub regular bread crumbs but panko tend to be crispier)
      • 1 clove garlic
      • 1 tbsp oregano

ProcessBaked Chicken with Snap Beans

  • Marinate chicken.
  • Beans
    • Remove ends and strings from beans.
    • Steam beans for about 5 minutes (or blanch). This is optional, but I like to do it to make sure I don’t have any tough beans.
    • Prepare cheese stuffing and bread crumbs.
    • Toss strained beans in about 1 tbsp of olive oil.
    • Sprinkle 1 c of bread crumbs on beans, and toss.
    • Arrange beans in a 9X12 Pyrex pan and set aside.
  • Back to chicken
    • Slit each chicken breast to create a pocket.
    • Stuff each breast with 3-4 tbsp of cheese stuffing.
    • Heat 1 tbsp oil in frying pan.
    • Sear chicken for 2-3 minutes on each side, careful to keep the stuffing in the cavity.
  • AssemblyBaked Chicken with Snap Beans
    • Arrange chicken on top of beans.
    • Add tomato slices on top of chicken.
    • Sprinkle remaining bread crumbs over chicken.
    • Drizzle last tbsp oil over chicken.
    • Bake for 30 minutes or until bread crumbs are golden brown.
    • Enjoy!

*NOTE: snap = green = string: all the same thing.

© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2016

Sour Cream Marinade

If you like to grill or bake boneless, skinless chicken breasts, try a sour cream marinade. Your marinade can be different every time. Start with sour cream, a little oil, and garlic, then add the herbs, spices, and condiments that suit you and suit the meal.


Sour Cream Marinade

IngredientsSour Cream Marinade

  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2-4 cloves garlic (OK to sub ½ – 1 tsp powdered garlic or 1-2 tsp garlic flakes if you don’t have fresh garlic)
  • sweet: 1 tbsp honey, but molasses, agave, coconut or brown sugar also work well. I’ve also used pepper jellies (sweet heat) and fresh fruit (such as mango or peaches)
  • herbs & spices: 1-2 tbsp dried (more if fresh) herbs and spices. Basil, rosemary, dill, oregano, thyme, parsley, and sage are good go to herbs. Other seasonings chili powder, paprika, cumin, other pepper powders, cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric.
  • tang: Sour cream is tangy on its own, but I often add a little more tang: 1 tbsp mustard, fresh or pickled ginger, lemon or lime juice, vinegar, or citrus zest.
  • salt to taste (I don’t use salt, but 1-2 tsp should suffice if you do)

Process

  • Place all ingredients in a grinder, chopper, or food processor.
  • Grind.

That’s it! Use as a marinade for chicken. Perhaps start with boneless, skinless grilled chicken.

Sour Cream Marinade

The color of your marinade will depend on the ingredients you include. This one included honey, paprika, parsley, and dill.

© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2016