Big zucchini, little tomatoes

July 15, 2020

When it comes to gardening, I have never had much success except with cucumbers. One year I tried growing zucchini, which everyone seems to have too much of, and I didn’t get any. Now, that was before I created a raised bed garden, and the soil of my yard was probably deficient in whatever it is zucchini plants need. When I finally learned about raised bed gardens, and built one, I also had read that I would do better buying a garden-ready tomato plant at the farmers market than trying to start one from a seed. And I did get several tomatoes that year, though I was never sure whether I had saved more in having tomatoes from my own garden than what I had spent on the plant (though of course my tomatoes were riper and fresher than what I would get from the supermarket).

Unfortunately, I didn’t find out until last summer that you’re not supposed to try to grow tomatoes in the same spot year after year. Last year’s plant started out looking great, but I think I got maybe one tomato from it. A nearby tomato plant, however, which I didn’t plant but apparently grew from a seed of a fallen tomato (one left on the plant too long the previous year and gone bad, then allowed to simply fall to the ground and nourish the soil), more or less made up for it.

I built a new raised bed garden last year, in a different part of the yard, because the original one was in an area of the yard that needs to be regraded so the water from the sump pump doesn’t keep pooling next to the house – no problem in the summer, when we have the long hose attached, but in the spring I have to keep taking off the hose when things start to freeze again (we learned from experience that it’s bad when the sump pump motor spends all its time trying to get rid of water that can’t get out because the hose is blocked by ice), then it thaws and rains hard before I get a chance to put the hose on again.

I was afraid the new garden wouldn’t get enough sun for tomatoes, which is why last year’s tomato plant stayed in the old spot. And this spring, with so many businesses closed due to COVID-19, it didn’t look like there would be a farmers market, at least not until too late to plant the garden, so in April I tried getting a plant from Menards. (That hadn’t worked well when I tried it before, but that might also have been before I built the raised bed garden.) I kept it indoors until mid-May, but took it outside for at least a few hours on warm days to get used to outside weather (one of the benefits of working from home is that I can do things like that now).

As you can no doubt tell, I’m not a very knowledgeable gardener, though I’ve tried to learn some stuff from books and online articles. I know nothing about different kinds of tomato plants (at the farmers market I always requested “a plant that will grow for anyone, without a lot of attention”), so at Menards I just looked for healthy-looking plants. I got one that said it was a “small-fruit” tomato plant, which I figured was good because I mostly buy grape tomatoes anyway for salads (at least at the supermarkets, they seem to be more consistently better quality than larger varieties). I also decided to try zucchini again this year, since it’s related to cucumbers and they have done well for me.

Maybe the garden likes having me home during the day, though I don’t spend much time on it. Maybe we’ve had really good weather. Maybe I did a better job this year with the plant food (something I never knew about either, until a few years ago). Maybe I was lucky with the tomato plant I bought. But it is just growing all over the place (including having gone through holes in the mesh so some of my tomatoes are now growing outside the garden), and I can’t count how many dozens of little green tomatoes I have.

The zucchini plant is also doing quite well, so much so that apparently this little garden is not big enough for both it and the tomato plant. There are lines of tomatoes growing in the middle of the zucchini plant, and last week I finally discovered two zucchini also hiding among the leaves, which have spread through most of the garden. Not very big zucchini yet, I thought, so I left them to grow some more.

Yesterday I decided to pick one of the zucchini, and it turned out there was a lot more hiding under the leaves than I had realized. A lot more! According to the kitchen scale, it weighs over two pounds. (The tomatoes each weigh about a fifth of an ounce.) I don’t think I’ll need to buy any zucchini or tomatoes for a while.

But cucumbers? I guess the cucumber plant can’t compete with the zucchini plant, because there is not a single cucumber in my garden.

Books: Garlic and Sapphires

June 26, 2017

Garlic and Sapphires isn’t the sort of book I’d probably have read if the library hadn’t been closed last week (due to water damage from a recent storm). But I mentioned to a friend in Toastmasters that what I really missed was access to their audiobooks, since I listen to books on CD during my daily commute (45 minutes each way). And he offered to let me use the audiobook he had just finished and hadn’t yet returned to the library.

He acknowledged that it wasn’t my sort of book (after a few years of hearing each other’s speeches you get to know a fair amount about what they like and don’t like), and I have to admit that the idea of a book written by a restaurant critic did not exactly grab my interest. But between the fact that the audiobook I had planned to listen to next was currently unavailable until the library reopened, and that one of the books in this 2017 Reading Challenge is “a book about food,” I decided to give it a try.

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Cheesecake: what is it?

February 22, 2016

I have written few block posts in recent months except about books I have written, but the article I read today about cheesecake just seemed worth sharing. Maybe it’s because I am fascinated by words and their meanings. Or maybe it’s because my family loves cheesecake.

Cheesecake, despite its name, has little in common with cake except being a dessert generally served in wedges or block shapes. But if it’s not a cake, what is it? This article from Atlas Obscura (one of my favorite sources of information about unusual places and things) explores the history and nature of cheesecake as it pursues an answer to this question.

Not in public

April 12, 2014

After doing yard work on a day like today, with the temperature finally getting into the 80’s (a week after having to scrape ice off my windshield last Saturday), a cold treat like ice cream sounds very appealing. You’d think that anywhere that the temperature regularly gets up that high, an ice cream stand would get plenty of business.

But this week I listened to a story on NPR’s All Things Considered, telling about the challenges faced by Rwanda’s first and only ice cream shop.  People whose first experience of ice cream includes an ice cream headache or tooth pain may not associate it with pleasure as we do.

But a bigger obstacle may be the traditional taboo on eating in the street. Sure, you can enjoy ice cream indoors. But most of my early memories of ice cream are outdoors – running to get a treat from the Good Humor truck, enjoying the rare treat of a soft serve ice cream cone from an ice cream stand, trying to finish an ice cream sandwich before it melted at Kingswood Day (an annual event at the high school my father had attended). It seems like ice cream is made for enjoying outdoors.

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No McCalorie counters

July 20, 2013

A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that people buying a meal at a fast food restaurant did not choose smaller meals based on posted calorie counts and recommended calorie intake. Well, no big surprise there. Who thought that really would make a difference?

There are certainly people who count calories. But they don’t typically eat at McDonald’s – unless they have kids begging for Happy Meals. And this study was done on adults. Chances are, an adult choosing to eat at McDonald’s is not going there for its nutritional benefits.

I do enjoy some of their salads (which I eat without the dressing, which would add lots of calories and little else – fortunately the salads taste good without dressing). But I never go there for the sake of a salad. I go there – rarely – as a special treat for my son, and the salad allows me to enjoy a tasty and relatively healthy meal while he devours McNuggets and fries.

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Books: Dearie

June 4, 2013

I suppose being part of a book club does not mean that you have to read every book the club reads. But that’s how I am – if I’m in the group, I read the books. So while I was not happy to find out that this month’s book was a biography of Julia Child, I made myself read the book anyway.

The prologue of Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child made me think I’d been wrong to think I wouldn’t enjoy the book. Reading about the preparation for her first TV appearance was very interesting. I looked forward to reading more about how she demonstrated cooking on TV, and learning a bit about the life experiences that brought her to that point.

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Culture and food cravings

September 27, 2012

I haven’t had trouble with food cravings since I started following Dr. Ann‘s “Eat Right for Life” program about a year ago. But when I saw the headline “How to Fend Off a Food Craving” in the Wall Street Journal, I was still interested enough to check it out. After all, there have been times in the past when I seemed to be free of food cravings for over a year, and then they came back.

I didn’t find any of the suggestions in the article very useful as far as how to fend off cravings. My experience is that finding healthy, filling foods to eat does the best at keeping cravings from starting to begin with. I enjoy the foods that I eat now but I don’t “crave” them, which to me implies that thinking about them dominates my thoughts.

What did interest me in the article is what it says about cravings and culture. Not only do people crave different foods in different cultures, but many cultures simply do not think in terms of “food cravings.” Their language doesn’t even include the word “craving.”

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A substitute for coffee?

July 27, 2012

On WorldMag Community today, someone asked about help for insomnia. I rather facetiously suggested having a baby, as I found that after Zach was born I was so sleep-deprived that I never had trouble falling asleep anymore. I was so prone to nodding off, I had to start drinking coffee to keep from falling asleep while I was driving.

Today I was experiencing the usual mid-afternoon slump (made worse by not having gotten a full night’s sleep the last few days – I no longer have a baby to cure my insomnia). I IM’d a co-worker who agreed that it would be great to have a comfy couch to curl up on for a nap. In lieu of that, I got a cup of coffee. She got an apple.

An apple? Since when does that combat sleepiness? She sent me a link to a blog post explaining it. Unfortunately I had no apples handy to test it out. After I finished my coffee, I had a mug of cranberry apple herb tea, but my co-worker agreed that it probably didn’t have enough apple in it to perk me up.

I admit I’m still somewhat skeptical. The idea certainly shows up in a lot of places on the internet, but then, that’s the internet for you. I read one article that claims “According to the MythBusters Web site, a healthy alternative to drinking coffee is eating a full apple every morning.”

I give a certain amount of credence to the MythBusters because they show how they go about testing each hypothesis. But I couldn’t find anything about this topic under the Food section of their Myth Results. The only thing I could find on the Mythbusters website about apples vs caffeine was in a forum where people suggest myths to be busted.

I’m inclined to agree with the person who commented “I think that if Apples were a stimulant on the order of coffee someone would have noticed a couple of centuries ago.” But I hope Adam, Jamie, and crew will consider taking on this myth.

I don’t see apples featured in the MythBusters Fall 2012 preview. But then, trying to stay awake isn’t nearly as dramatic as blowing things up. So maybe at some point I’ll get to see them tackle apples vs caffeine. If I can stay awake long enough to watch the show…

Farmers market at work

July 19, 2012

Every now and then I tell myself I should try to get to one of the farmers markets around here during the summer. But I am generally happy with the produce at the supermarket near our house, and driving three times as far to get to a farmers market, at an inconvenient time in my schedule, has not been a high priority.

This week at work I saw an announcement of a farmers market that would be at our workplace on Thursdays around lunchtime. This is part of one of the health initiatives promoted by the health committee at the plant next to our IT department.

Talk about convenience! All I had to do was walk out the front door (ten feet from my desk), and walk halfway down the parking lot. (It was a nice walk in today’s somewhat cooler weather – I would have been less eager to go in yesterday’s record-breaking 105 degree heat.) I was one of the first customers, and the sellers at the two stalls were still setting out their vegetables.

The rest of my family is not as fond of fresh vegetables as I am. (I have worked at it, over the last couple of years, to get myself in the habit of eating them and now, finally, to really enjoy them.) So I limited myself to three nice ripe tomatoes (what a difference from the ones at the supermarket, even the ones that look nice and red), a starburst squash, a banana pepper, and a zucchini.

I’ve never eaten a starburst squash, but they looked so nice and bright – and small enough that I could eat one easily and not worry about what to do with leftovers. I’ll have to look up how to cook one – and while I’m at it I can look for a recipe for the banana pepper. I told the seller that I’ve only eaten them out of a jar, in sub sandwiches, and he said he’s heard they’re good stuffed with cheese. Sounds good!

I don’t know that the prices were any better than at the supermarket, but they weren’t any higher, either. (Actually it’s hard to decide how to compare them, since except for the tomatoes, they were sold per piece rather than per pound.) And now I have some great vegetables waiting for me in the crisper.


June 14, 2012

Tuesday afternoon I went with some co-workers on a tour of the local Hy-Vee supermarket. It was part of a program sponsored by our department’s healthy committee, a follow-up to a session about using the Nu-Val scores diplayed on many shelves at the store. Nancy, the Hy-Vee dietitian, asked us about our particular concerns regarding health and food, then guided us through certain aisles, pointing out foods that were particularly healthy and convenient.

I didn’t see much that was new to me. After all, I’ve spent a good deal of time on my own checking Nu-Val scores, comparing ingredients lists, and looking for healthy foods I have trouble finding at other local stores. (I go to Hy-Vee for my tahini, chia seeds, and blackstrap molasses.) The PB2 looked somewhat interesting, but I wasn’t ready to spend over $4 for a jar to try it.

What really surprised me, though, was when we were walking down the breakfast cereal aisle, with coffee and tea on the shelves opposite the cereal. Nancy gestured at the array of tea in many different flavors. She talked about the health benefits of drinking any kind of tea – black, green, or white, hot or iced. But, she pointed out, the herbal teas next to them “have no nutritional value.”

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