Curried Lentil Stew

We’ve had a return of chilly weather, which means I can make soup for dinner a few more times before this year’s heat sets in and we only want to eat cold, green things for the next seven months.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the heat!  Soup is just so easy and satisfying, that it’s a shame to waste the last cool nights eating salad already.

I happened upon this recipe online and, after making a few adjustments, whipped it up for dinner in 30 minutes.  It’s delightfully flavorful, unapologetically nutritious, exceptionally filling and just ethnic enough to feel like a refreshing change from the norm.

We paired ours with some queso garlic toast made from sourdough bread brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with granular garlic, chopped cilantro and crumbled queso fresco. Toast it under a hot broiler for a couple of minutes. Yum!

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Curried Lentil Stew

Adapted from: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/why-i-dont-like-instant-pot-curried-lentil-sweet-potato-stew/

Serves: 5-6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
½ – 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
5 cups chicken stock
1 cup brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 pound yams or sweet potatoes, finely diced

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup plain yogurt or queso fresco

In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, heat oil over medium heat and add onions. Saute for about 5 minutes, or until golden.

Add garlic and stir for 1 minute.

Add curry powder, salt and pepper and stir constantly for about 30 seconds to allow spices to toast.

Add tomatoes, stock and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.

Add cubed yams and simmer another 10-15 minutes, just until lentils and yams are soft.

Stir in chopped cilantro just before serving and garnish with either yogurt or queso fresco.

Transplanting Your Seedlings


Young seedlings are the adolescents of the plant world. While they look like smaller versions of their full-grown predecessors, they lack the hardiness and strength to survive on their own. Use the following tips to take your seedlings from tender to thriving.

Soil Temperature

Soil temperature is the single most important factor to consider when deciding on a date for transplanting. If overall temperatures have been low, the soil will not be warm enough for your plants to thrive. Lettuce, spinach and other greens can be safely transplanted or sown directly when the soil is a mere 50°, while zucchini and other summer squash prefer dirt that has warmed to around 70°. Tomatoes, peppers and other heat-loving crops can tolerate cool soils, but will not grow much until underground temperatures reach about 80°. To speed soil warming, mulch with black plastic or use small wall-of-water greenhouses to warm each individual plant. You can order an inexpensive soil thermometer or just use a finger to estimate soil warmth.

Hardening Off

About 10 days prior to transplanting, begin setting your plants outdoors in a shady spot for increasing amounts of time each day. Start with just one hour and add an hour each day until the plants are spending most the day outside, but still being brought in each night. This process, known as hardening off, helps seedlings gradually adjust to the harsher outdoor elements and can help them avoid going into shock when they are planted in the garden.

Planting

Be sure to plant in the later afternoon or during a cloudy time to help avoid plant dehydration and shock. Use your hand to support the stem of each seedling as you gently tip the container on its side and squeeze the root area to loosen the plant. Next, gently rough up the root ball to loosen roots that have begun to grow in a circular shape.

Care

Take care to water each new plant daily for the first few days. After that, you can use a finger to test the soil moisture and only apply additional water when the soil begins to feel dry 3-4 inches below the surface. Roughening up roots and spacing out water applications encourages the roots to reach deep into the soil, lending stronger more resilient plants.

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Tropical Shave Ice


Two friends of mine posted photos of themselves in Hawaii on social media today. I immediately felt jealousy and a craving for shave ice. Not the kind with sticky syrup in every color of the rainbow, but the kind made of tropical fruit with a big scoop of ice cream at the bottom. 
This sauce is the perfect topper for shave ice or plain ice cream and comes together in a jiffy. 

Tropical Sauce

1/2 cup fresh or frozen pineapple chunks

1/2 cup Fresh or frozen mango chunks

1 fresh peach, peeled or 1 cup canned peaches 

Blend all together in a high-powered blender. 

Serve over shave ice or ice cream and pretend you are in Hawaii!

A Year in the Zone 8 Garden

I prepared this a year ago for a little mini-class I taught on gardening in my zone, which happens to be 8b.  Knowing your zone is essential in timing planting and harvesting, because it is based on your last spring frost, first fall frost and your overall winter low temperatures. Find your zone here.

I generally follow this schedule each year and it helps me to grow more in less space.  As some crops finish, others are planted in their place for a second harvest.  With our long, hot summers, we truly can get two seasons out of the garden!  Hope this helps you plan your 2016 gardening year!

A Year in the Zone 8 Garden

January: Beginning- order seeds, start onions, brassica family indoors.  Mid-month- start tomatoes, artichoke indoors.  Plan the garden-remember to rotate your crops!

February: Beginning-Buy any remaining seeds.  Plant peas, potatoes, onions spinach, lettuce, radishes, carrots, beets, brassica family.  Start peppers, eggplants and herbs indoors.

March: Last frost will be sometime early or mid-month!  

Plant, Plant, Plant!

Beginning-plant tomatoes (with frost protection wall of water or wait for mid-month), artichokes, beans, corn, cucumber, eggplant (with frost protection or wait till mid month), peppers (with frost protection or wait for mid-month), spinach/lettuce, radish, squash, swiss chard, kale, herbs.

April: Beginning-plant melons, okra, radish, spinach/lettuce.  Begin harvesting salad greens.

May: Beginning-last chance to plant artichokes, okra, radish.  Ramp-up watering.  Start harvesting!

June: Enjoy the bounty of your harvest and go to war with the bugs.  Ramp-up watering.

July: Plant winter squash from seed by the 4th of July.  Can still plant-beans, cucumber, eggplant, melons, peppers, summer squash, carrots.  Beginning of the month-start brassica family indoors.  Keep those plants well-watered!

August:  This is a big month for winter planting.  Seeds will need lots of water to germinate!

Around mid-month plant-brassica family, spinach, carrots, beets, lettuce, herbs

Can replant or 2nd plant-tomatoes (or prune original plants), beans, cucumbers, squash

Also keep up on water needs!

September: Plant-radish, lettuce/spinach.  Should be able to back down on watering some.

October:  Last chance to plant-radish, lettuce/spinach (mostly for spring harvest).  Start harvesting what you planted in August.  Back down on watering.

November: First frost is mid-month.

Clean out beds when tender plants freeze.  Keep up on the bugs (too bad they don’t die when our tomatoes do!)  Plants should need substantially less water now-even those wintering over.  If the weather is dry, water once a week or every other week through winter.  

December:  Take the month off (ha!) and look at seed catalogs.  Harvest spinach, beets, carrots, brassica family (don’t let these freeze solid or they won’t be good).  

Tropical Peach Smoothie

Monday mornings (or any weekday mornings for that matter) very often call for breakfast through a straw around here.  We are still a little groggy from the rude awakening of the alarm clock, and not moving quickly enough for a leisurely breakfast.  Enter: the smoothie.  IMG_0928

If you do the smoothie right, it is a balanced breakfast that can be consumed quickly, or grabbed for an on-the-go, carpool-driving ma.  I do recommend an unbreakable cup with a lid for the latter occasions:

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The key to a nutrient dense smoothie is a balance between carbs (think fruit and veggies), protein (think yogurt, nuts or nut butter) and fat (think full-fat dairy, coconut oil or some seeds).  If you load your blender with only carbs, you’ll be hungry much sooner.

The trick to a quick-blending, smooth smoothie is layering.  A good, high-powered blender definitely helps too, especially if you’re blending flax or other seeds into your smoothies.  (Note: I do not personally recommend the Ninja brand.  I’m a Vitamix girl myself and would recommend a Blendtec , a Breville or a Cuisinart as alternatives.)

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Add all liquid ingredients to the bottom of the blender first.  Then add the soft solids, like yogurt, nuts and seeds.  Next comes fresh fruit, in this case it’s peaches.  Finally add your frozen ingredients such as frozen fruit or ice cubes.  Now, just blend it up on smoothie setting and you’re set to go.  If your blender doesn’t have a smoothie setting, simply turn it on low for a few seconds and then increase the speed up to high over the next 3-5 seconds.  Blend on high until the desired consistency is reached.  Layering, along with the right balance of soft to solid ingredients, should eliminator the need to stop the blender and scrape down the sides (in most blenders).  Now just add a straw and breakfast is served.  (Note: these straws are the recommended version for smoothies and shakes because they are larger in diameter, but we find the originals work just fine for our needs.)

Tropical Peach Smoothie

1 cup coconut milk beverage (can also use almond milk or dairy milk)
2 cups yogurt (I use full-fat for that nutritional balance)
3 medium peaches, peeled
1 cup mango chunks, frozen
1/2 cup pineapple chunks, frozen

Layer ingredients into your blender in the order listed and blend either on smoothie setting or as described above.  Sip through a straw for the full tropical experience!

Fall Planting and Winter Gardening for Your Zone

Did you need a project for the weekend?  Is “need” really the correct verb for the previous sentence?  Either way, it’s time to get planting in the garden if you want winter and even some spring produce!  The first thing you need to know is your USDA Hardiness Zone.

USDA Map

The map gives you a general idea, but it’s best to visit their site and type in your zip code to find the correct zone.  Once you know that, you’ll also know your winter low temperature range.  Mine is an 8a, so any of you with lower temperature ranges than 10-15° F either need to begin this process earlier (next year, that is) or be prepared to do more frost protection.  We will talk about methods for that in a later post.  You also need to be real about what you can and can’t keep alive given your particular gardening setup.  Even though I may be able to keep a tomato plant alive in my backyard all winter (don’t put it past me, I may try it one day) I will have more success with crops that are less frost sensitive.

Now, here is RULE 1 when it comes to “winter gardening:”  IT’S SUNLIGHT MORE THAN TEMPERATURE THAT DETERMINES SUCCESS.  So, technically, you should all go out and figure out your latitude on a map and then base when you begin your winter plantings on that number.  The further north you are, the earlier you must plant to get the growth necessary before low temperatures set in and light is at a minimum for your area.  Once you’ve reached that point in the calendar year where you feel like the days are significantly shorter than during the summer growing season, your plants will not grow significantly.  The idea is to get the growth taken care of BEFORE this happens so there is something to harvest.

Here is THE BIG SECRET about fall/winter gardening: IN MANY WAYS IT’S EASIER TO GARDEN DURING THE FALL AND WINTER.  The bugs die off (literally), you use less water and there are less weeds.  Everything is a little slower paced and more manageable.  Once I get past the motivation to get it planted, my fall garden is probably my most rewarding of them all, which brings us back to that project you wanted (?) to do this weekend.

Here are some ideas for quick-growing winter crops that most of us can still get in the ground:

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Beets.  We always have a bowl of steaming, buttered beets on our Thanksgiving table.  I absolutely LOVE the tradition of going out and pulling the last of our beets out just before the holiday.  It feels like the perfect way to remember that this has always been a day of gratitude for what we already have .  If you’re thinking your kids won’t like them, trust me when I say that beets grown in the cool weather of fall are like eating sugar.  If they (or you) still aren’t convinced, try explaining that only those people who eat their beets all gone get to have pink-colored pee the next day.  That ought to at least get them listening.  Look for varieties with a shorter “days to harvest” number or those specifically advertised for fall planting.

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Spinach.  Clearly I’m not the only one who enjoys a good spinach salad.  I’ve got some leaf miners who are already feasting on the fall garden, but they’re nothing a little B.t. can’t handle.  (For more on that, read what I had to say here.)  I’d much rather deal with a few miners than eat a pesticide-drenched salad, anyway.  With a good head-start, your spinach will be the rock star of your fall/winter/spring garden.  Spinach planted and kept alive through winter will grow gangbusters the next spring.  The root system is already developed, and it takes off as soon as the temperatures and light even begin suggesting spring.  Plus, you can continue to harvest spinach all winter long in most climates, with little to no frost protection.  Look for varieties that specifically mention “winter” and save those heat tolerant varieties for your later spring plantings.

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Carrots.  One of my children is personally offended if we do not always have carrots growing in our garden.  Even when I lived in Zone 5B with a winter low temperature range of -15 to -10 we kept carrots in the ground and harvested them all winter long.  It was muddy, but worth it.  Again, look for shorter germination to harvest times for fall plantings.

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Quick-growing crops (Herbs, radishes, lettuce).  It’s not too late to get a few more batches of cilantro out of your patch of garden, or to finally get some radishes that aren’t so spicy (the heat adds to their zip).  Choose mixes of lettuce for a quick micro-greens crop before the first frost.

Garlic.  Plant it soon and harvest it during late spring to early summer next year.  I haven’t done this yet because it’s a little too early where I live.

More on how to frost protect during the frozen months will come later on.  For now, get out there and scratch a little soil up and plant some seeds this weekend.  Your winter menu will thank you for it!

Heroes

FullSizeRenderI had a recipe to post today, but it can wait until next week.  I just returned home from the “Hero Day” assembly at my kids’ school.  It’s a wonderful tradition where they sing patriotic songs; honor local law enforcement officers, firemen and first responders; read “Hero Essays” composed by the 5th grade students; and observe a moment of silence while Taps is being played.  It’s intense and I felt very emotional as I sat thinking of not only September 11, 2001, but also of the men and women who put their lives on the line each day to protect the freedoms this country was founded upon.

My friends, there are heroes among us.  There are heroes who have gone before us.  And there is an entire generation of heroes who need us to teach them what freedom is and how to value it.

I’m flying my flag today in all of their honor.

Tomatoes for Ma

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“Ma took charge of the day’s work for the rest of them, and best of all Laura liked the days when she said, ‘I must work in the garden.'”  (Wilder, Little Town on the Prairie, 8).

It always brightens my day to know that gardening is on my “to-do” list!  I can only imagine how Laura felt after The Long Winter, to be out working in the garden again: digging in the dirt, planting, tending, and harvesting.  There is something calming and grounding about the cycle of gardening.

I would continue to garden-even if I could only grow tomatoes.  If tomatoes were the last fruit on earth, I would plant them in abundance!  So, when the pests roll into town and attempt to disrupt my supply, I have to do as Ma Ingalls did, and get to work in the garden.

So, today let’s talk about the tomato green horn worm (Manduca quinquemaculata), shall we?  It’s a pest that, if left on it’s own, can decimate your plants in a few days time.  It also feeds on some varieties of peppers, so check those too!  You remember the “very hungry caterpillar,” right?  I’m convinced it was a horn worm.  Let me introduce you:

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He’s a master camouflage artist.  Look again:

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Here’s some tell-tale signs that you’ve got a horn worm problem on your hands.  First, sticks where there should be foliage:IMG_0434

Second, ahem, poop (droppings, pellets, etc. etc.).  This used to be your plant:

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What’s a Ma to do?  Whip out your defenses!

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First, find all the live caterpillars you can and kill them.  They usually hang out at the very ends of branches.  See those gardening scissors?  Just go ahead and snip the hungry buggers right in half.  It’s gross, don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Alternatively, hire small children (ideally your own) to pluck and squish them for monetary compensation per worm (at our house these guys go for 25-50 cents each).  The very best time to find these worms is in the morning or evening.

Second, get yourself some B.t., which is short for Bacillus thuringiensis.  Spray the foilage of your plants.  B.t. is a bacterium, rather than a pesticide, which is why it is approved for organic gardening methods.  According to the bottle, you can apply it up to the day of harvest (read and follow all labels and directions yourself before application and harvest, please!).  The short of it is this: the worms eat the sprayed foilage and get a nasty, deadly case of indigestion.  No more hungry caterpillars.  Ma can go back to her tomato eating and preserving.  More on that tomorrow…

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Beginning with Basil

Welcome to Modern Day Ma!  I’m glad you’re here!  I hope you find what you’re looking for among the recipes, ideas, and gardening tips, or just some good reading material for your day!

Summer’s bounty is upon us, and it seems a terrible time to start a blog, but it’s also the perfect time!  There is produce in every corner of the yard, farmer’s market and refrigerator and it’s either got to be eaten up, preserved, or tossed in the compost bin.  So, let’s get started with pesto!

basil boquet

Basil is my favorite herb.  When I was beheading my plants (hey, they’ve got to be convinced to keep growing) I ended up grabbing this gorgeous handful into a bouquet and then snapping this shot.  As I did so, I thought to myself that it made a perfect little decorative bouquet for someone like me!  The garden is, hands-down, my favorite place to spend time and nothing beats a delightful, fragrant handful of basil!  It can spice up tomato sauces, sandwiches, soups, eggs, salads, pizzas, meats, and even lunchboxes!

Pesto is the best way to preserve that fresh basil flavor for the long winter. I always make pesto in huge batches when I have basil and then freeze it into “hockey pucks” in my silicone muffin pans.  Just fill the muffin cups (even partially full, if you’d like smaller portions), lay them on a tray and freeze.  After the pesto is frozen, simply pop them out into a storage container or zip top bag and store in the freezer until ready to use.  Pest will defrost at room temperature in about 20 minutes.

Pesto

1 cup fresh basil leaves
4 cloves garlic
½ to 1 cup good quality, yummy tasting olive oil (Spectrum or B.R. Cohn are my favorites)
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup freshly grated Romano cheese (or use more Parmesan)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste-about 1 tsp each pepper and Kosher salt
Optional 1/2 – 1 cup toasted nuts (pine nuts, pecans, almonds)

Combine basil, garlic, nuts, cheese, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor and roughly chop.  Add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream with the motor running.

Don’t add too much oil. When the motor is stopped, the oil shouldn’t puddle. A good way to check is to turn off the food processor, let it sit for a minute and then check it. If there is a little olive oil that is separating out from the mix, then it’s probably enough. If it still seems really thick, add a little more oil.

Be careful not to leave the food processor on for too long, or it will turn your pesto into more of a peanut butter texture. It shouldn’t be that smooth. You should still see small chunks of nuts and/or cheese when it’s all done.

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