Saturday, February 27, 2010

Brown Rice, Lentil and Spinach Soup

The Spinach Renegade Hybrid that I planted this fall has done beautifully.  Like I said earlier, it froze many times during this unusually cold winter but always thaws without sacrificing flavor or quality.  It's probably the best performing spinach I've ever planted.  But I'm almost out of it :-(  I think I have enough left for one more meal after this soup.  

Last night I picked about six beautiful heads and made one of my favorite soups.  I even used all the homemade turkey stock (from my Thanksgiving turkey carcass) in my freezer.  This recipe makes a bunch and it freezes beautifully.  Please try this one.  It's easy, healthy and so very good!

Brown Rice, Lentil and Spinach Soup

1/2 lb hot turkey Italian sausage, casings removed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 finely chopped carrots
2 finely chopped ribs of celery
1 medium finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon smoked Hungarian paprika
1/2 - 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (depends how hot you like it)
12 cups chicken stock
1 cup rinsed, long-grain brown rice
3/4 cup rinsed brown lentils
1/2 pound fresh spinach, tough stems removed, thoroughly cleaned and coarsely chopped
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in 5-quart Dutch oven (or soup pot) over medium heat;  add sausage and cook, stirring and breaking it up unto small pieces until browned, about 6-10 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a plate.

Add carrots, onion and celery along with cumin seeds, thyme, paprika and crushed red pepper.  Cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes.

Add sausage, chicken broth, rice and lentils.  Taste and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until rice and lentils are soft, about 45 minutes.

Turn off heat, stir in spinach and cook until wilted, a couple of minutes.

Serve with freshly grated Asiago or Parmeggiano Regianno cheese.

Buon Appetito!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Frozen Spinach

It was another *very* cold night last night.  The temperatures dropped to 25F!  Unbelievable.  I'm glad I covered all my new little seedlings.

But what I haven't had to cover this entire winter, even with our many nights of subfreezing temperatures, is my spinach.  It has frozen solid more times than I care to count this season, but after every freeze the spinach thaws beautifully and gets a little bit sweeter.  Here's what it looked like this morning.  I think there's something very beautiful about it that I want to share.


Tonight I think I'll make a Brown Rice, Lentil and Spinach soup.  It's a great recipe and the perfect dinner for what's shaping up to be another very cold night in the hills of South Texas.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Snowy February Day...

...follows a Beautiful Spring Morning.  It's hard to believe just two days ago, the temperature was in the middle 70's and it felt like spring was just around the corner.  No such luck.  This morning we woke up to cold temperatures, low 30's, with a wintry mix of precipitation all around us.  The weather pattern this winter has been so bizarre and unpredictable.  It snowed and sleeted all morning long, very unusual for us here in deep South Texas.  North Texas and the Dallas area are accustom to real winter weather.  But it doesn't usually affect us this far South.  Still, I found it beautiful and a welcome change from our typical weather pattern.  Jut think, in 1996, the temperature on February 22 registered 100F! 

Enjoy the beautiful winter wonderland in the hills of South Texas :)


My snow covered garden.  I covered all my little seedlings with a thick layer of hay and a frost blanket.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Beautiful Spring Morning

We have had an unusually cold winter here in South Texas.  The coldest I can remember, which is really OK with me.  But this morning dawned sunny, warm and full of promise of what's to come.  The weather is supposed to turn cold again tomorrow and into next week so I decided to head outside this morning and take in the warmth and sunshine before retreating indoors next week.

I walked around the property this morning and was thrilled at what I discovered:  bluebonnet seedlings!



You already know how I feel about seedlings but I was super excited to find bluebonnet seedlings on the property.  In the fall of 2004, I scattered three large bags of wildflower seeds over the hillside and all over the property, up by the house.  The following summer began our three year drought and we've not had much in the way of wildflowers the past few years.  Our South Texas drought ended this fall/winter and this will be the first year we have bluebonnets in the spring landscape.  That makes me very happy :)

The bluebonnet, Lupinus Texensis, is the State flower of Texas and it is beautiful and intoxicatingly fragrant. Typically they cover the hillsides in the spring and are a sure sign that winter is almost over.  The flowers have beautiful dark blue, upper petals with white spot at the base.  Bluebonnets are usually the first of the wildflowers to appear in the spring but walking around the property this morning, I discovered a few other tiny wildflowers popping up through the grass and weeds.  Not sure what these are, but I was thrilled to see them blooming!



And yes, the bees are still at it in the greenhouse :)






I have a lot to do today, but was so happy I took the time to walk around and enjoy the sunshine, warm air and early signs of spring.  You just never know what you're going to see until you really take the time to look.

I hope you have a blessed day :)

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Just before we left on vacation (early February), I planted romaine seeds, broccoli raab seeds, beet seeds and Swiss chard seeds.  While we were gone, the weather was pretty nasty...cold, rainy and just plain dreary (glad we weren't here :).  Anyway, given the recent  wintry weather, I wasn't sure my seeds would germinate.  Well, I went out to the garden this morning, pushed back the straw and there they were...little tiny romaine, broccoli raab and beet sprouts.  WhooHoo!  That discovery sent me into, to quote a dear friend "ecstatic mother mode!"

romaine lettuce


broccoli raab

And here come the beets!

I know, I doesn't look like much.  In fact, you can hardly see them.  But they are there and that's what makes gardening so exciting for me.  It starts with a seed, no bigger than a pinhead, and from that, eventually--with nurturing, good weather, food and sunshine--emerges a tiny little sprout and then a seedling, and finally a beautiful head of romaine lettuce that makes a wonderful green salad for your family or friends for dinner.

The process of growing vegetables is what excites me.  I love everything about it...planning the garden, preparing the beds, selecting the seeds, planting the seeds in the dirt, waiting for them to germinate, mulching the little babies, watering the seedlings, feeding them, watching them grow and finally harvesting good, fresh food that will end up on my dinner table.  I love thinking of different ways to prepare the vegetables that I grow.  That in and of itself requires some (ok...lots of ) creativity.  Think summer squash and tomatoes.  But I'm so passionate about food--where it comes from and how it's raised--that to me, there is nothing more rewarding than growing my own.  It must be in my bones or something because I just love it.

So that's why it's not difficult for me to get excited about a tiny new seedling.  As a dear friend and I once's all about the food :)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bees in the Greenhouse

My husband and I just got back from a week long vacation to the island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean.  It was a fabulous trip (more on that later).  We were happy to be away from the day-to-day routine but equally happy to get back to it. 

Well, my greenhouse had been closed up tightly for a week and its inhabitants were in need of some TLC.  When I opened the door to the greenhouse, I was hit with an intoxicating lemon tree was in full bloom (although a bit water stressed) and it smelled wonderful!  I wish you could smell it too.  It was great. 

Sunday was a pretty warm day so I decided to leave the door open for a bit to air out the greenhouse while I watered everything.  What happened next was amazing.  I went down to the garden for a few minutes and when I returned to the greenhouse it was full (and I mean full!) of honeybees.  I've never seen anything like it.  They were all over my lemon tree.  I couldn't even step into the greenhouse without being overcome by bees.  They weren't aggressive or anything but the message was clear:  "Do not enter!"  So I didn't.  I just stood there and watched,  listened to the hum, smelled the wonderful scent and took in this fascinating event (at least for me it was). 

I think what happened was not much is blooming right now and as soon as the scent of the lemon tree blossoms hit the air, the bees were all over it.

After an hour or so of gathering all the nectar they could possibly carry, the bees began to leave and I was able to get in there.  I got a few wonderful photographs of the lovely honeybees doing their thing that I'd like to share.

I hope you enjoy as much as I did.


This little beauty was also having a field day on the lemon blossoms.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fig Tree

Things are beginning to pick up in my South Texas garden and I couldn't be happier!  We still have some very cold nights but the days are getting longer and it won't be too long before spring is here.  Which brings me to my project for the day...transplanting my fig tree from its home in a pot to a hole in the ground.

I bought this beautiful Texas Everbearing Fig Tree (Brown Turkey variety) last summer and transplanted it into a big clay pot.  It only produced a few figs for me but I didn't expect much for its first year.  When fall came, it lost all its leaves and went dormant...just as it was supposed to :)  I moved it into the greenhouse and it has lived happily there all winter.  After consulting my favorite online and print resources and talking with folks at the local nursery, I realized that if I want to get any fruit production out of the tree, I will have to put it in the ground. 

Luckily, in anticipation of this purchase (I've wanted a fig tree for a loooong time), the last time we had major landscaping work done on the property, I had the guys dig me a hole, about 6' wide, 4' across, and 4' deep.  I's overkill, but I figured it would be easier to fill the hole up than to make it any bigger.  We live on a hill on solid rock!

I picked a spot on the hill that gets full sun. Plentiful sunlight is key to maximizing fruit production.  Otherwise, I can expect reduced performance from my tree.

Good drainage is important as well.  Avoid soils and sites where water stands for more than 24 hours after a rain.  In areas of poor drainage, roots receive insufficient oxygen and they will die, resulting in stunted growth and eventual death of the tree. 

So this morning I went to the nursery and bought 12, 2-cubic foot bags of gardening soil and 8, 1.5 cubic foot bags of soil revitalizer compost.  Now I was ready to get to work.

I began by dumping three bags of gardening soil in the hole, mixing in a bag of compost and then a few pitchforks of cedar bark mulch.  I continued with this process until the hole was 3/4 full.  Next, I removed the fig tree from the pot, shook some of the soil loose from the roots and made sure the roots looked healthy and were not compact and knotted up.  The roots looked good and I saw no sign of root-knot nematodes.  I placed the tree on top of the loose soil, about 2-4 inches deeper than it was in the pot.  Then all I did was fill in the hole around the tree with soil, compost and mulch, mixing well.  After the tree was in the ground, I put about an inch of cedar bark mulch around the base of the tree then put the soaker hose on it for about 30 minutes...and Voila...I now have a fig tree!

I'm so excited!  I love figs.  To me, they are the perfect summer fruit...sweet and so versatile.  I bought this variety (Texas Everbearing) because it is well suited to central and East Texas. Although it is not quite as cold hardy as the Celeste variety, it will, if injured by a freeze, produce fair-to-good crops on sucker wood the next season.  This is important to me because we live in an area prone to late spring frosts.  Since it is so new to life outdoors, I will cover it with a frost blanket if a freeze is predicted.  I worked too hard today to have a cold snap take my fig tree!

The fruit on the Texas Everbearing fig is medium to large, with a reddish-brown skin tinged with purple.  The pulp is reddish-pink and delicious, excellent for eating raw; stuffing with blue cheese, wrapped in proscuitto and briefly baked; and for making home preserves.

So...that's what I did today in my South Texas garden.  I will keep you posted as my little fig tree grows and begins to produce wonderful fruit.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Mulching is a wonderful, but underutilized, garden practice.  It is low tech but high impact.  And it's cheap.  Mulch suppresses weeds, conserves soil moisture, prevents erosion, moderates soil temperature, and adds organic matter to the soil.  Proper mulching also reduces soilborne plant diseases by preventing rain or irrigation water from splashing up onto the plant foliage, and it simply makes your garden look better :)

There is an art to mulching and the first step is deciding what to use.  The best way to start is to use what you have on hand.  For most gardeners, leaves and lawn clippings are readily available.

Grass clippings are easily available every time you mow your lawn.  Simply hook up your bagging attachment to your lawn mower and you are good to go!  When using fresh grass clippings, limit the layers around your crops to about 1/2 inch thick or the clippings may begin to decay anaerobically from the center of the layer, leading to too much heat and bad smells.  A thin layer breaks down quickly and adds nitrogen to the soil as well as the ever important organic matter.  You can also let the clippings age and dry out some before spreading them.  The biggest drawback to using grass clippings is weed seeds. 

Shredded leaves are an excellent mulch for summer because they protect the soil so well against the heat of summer sun.  An area with a 4-inch layer of shredded leave mulch can be as much as 10F cooler than bare soil would be.  It's easy to shred leaves, again using your lawnmower.  Spread the leaves over a patch of your lawn and set the mower height for at least 3 inches.  Mow over the leaves from the outside in until they are as finely chopped as you want them.  Next put on your lawnmower's bag attachment and use the mower to suck up the leaves.  You can store the mulch in piles around your garden, using it as you need to.  This also makes a great compost to add to your soil at the end of the season when you are tilling your beds and putting them to sleep for the winter.

Mulches can also be organic matter such as shredded bark, compost, pine straw, wood chips.  Straw is a great summer time mulch when you want to buffer the soil against the summer heat.  Soil covered with a 4-inch layer of straw stays as much as 8F cooler than unmulched soil.  And in most parts of Texas at least, straw is cheap.  I get mine at my local tack/feed store for about $7 bale.

As some of you know, I use cedar bark mulch on my garden and it works great.  We acquired all this fabulous mulch when we had a bunch of cedar cleared from our property a few years ago.  As part of the process, we had the landscapers chip the cedar bark into fine pieces and just had them rake it into big piles.   I keep several large piles by my garden and use it for mulching my vegetables/plants/citrus trees, adding it as organic matter to the soil in my beds, and weed control on the ground around my garden.  Like I've said before, I love this stuff!

When planting seeds in vegetable gardens, it's best to mulch after the seedlings have emerged.  But for my winter seeds of beets, romaine, broccoli raab and chard, I covered each row with a very thin layer of straw to help stop radiating heat loss in the soil.  The little seedlings can still poke up through the straw.  As a general rule, 2-3 inches of organic mulch applied to the soil surface is adequate.

What type of mulch you use is usually determined by where you live.  Whatever is in the local nurseries for mulch, is what is likely to work best in your area.  And it's always best to buy bagged mulch over mulch in bulk.  Bulk mulch may be a little cheaper but it is *so* much more work!  Think of all the shoveling and hauling you'll have to do to get the mulch where you want it.  The significant amount of additional work may prompt you to say..."the heck with this mulch thing!" which would not be a good thing for your garden.  Bagged mulch is easier and you are more likely to stick with it.

Mulching is a simple, effective way to protect your plants, add organic matter to your soil, maintain soil moisture and help keep the weed population down.  I can't imagine gardening without it.

Monday, February 8, 2010


OK...I know...what does pizza have to do with gardening you ask?  In my garden kitchen, lots!  I love to make homemade pizza.  It tastes *so* much better than the greasy stuff you buy at the local chains.  Having a bread maker also makes it very easy for me to always have frozen pizza dough on hand.

Anyway...I was trying to think of a different way to use the gorgeous spinach I have in my garden right now when it dawned on me...I'll make a garden pizza!  So that is what I did for dinner last night.

I have this fabulous recipe for homemade tomato sauce that couldn't be easier:

Simple Tomato Sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
5 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press or finely minced
1 can (14.5 oz) crushed tomatoes (I like Muir Glen Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes) (homemade tomato sauce would be even better...but I used all mine!)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Splash of red wine vinegar


In small frying pan over low to medium heat, warm the olive oil.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic begins to bloom and is fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Be careful not to let garlic scorch or the garlic will taste bitter and you'll have to start over.

In a bowl, stir together the garlic-oil mixture, tomatoes, dried herbs and a splash a vinegar.  Taste and season for salt since canned tomatoes vary in salt content.  When seasoning with the red wine vinegar, add just enough to make the flavor sparkle; the sauce shouldn't taste tangy.

And that's it for the sauce!  It will keep in the refrigerator for about a week and it freezes well too.

Next I sauted some spinach my favorite way:

Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in skillet.
Add about 3 cloves crushed garlic, stir until garlic begins to sizzle, and oil is flavored.


Add washed spinach.

Cover and let spinach wilt, stirring a few times.
Don't let the spinach cook down too much.
Take it off the heat while it is still bright green but wilted.
Remove the garlic cloves.
Set aside

 I looked in my freezer to see what else I might have for my garden pizza and discovered some roasted peppers from this past summer's crop.  I took those out and defrosted them.  I *love* roasted peppers too.  And this was my last batch.  Can't wait to start growing more!

Since my husband likes meat on his pizza, I wondered what kind of meat could I put on my pizza without taking anything away from the sauce, spinach and roasted peppers?  I remembered I had some beautiful meatballs I made a few weeks ago from some ground lamb I bought at the San Antonio Farmer's Market.  The lamb comes from just up the road in Ingram, Texas.  So I took a half dozen of those babies out of the freezer.  Now my pizza toppings were complete.

I preheated my pizza stone in a 500F oven for an hour and a half.  

I pressed the dough out into a rustic circle (it's really hard to make it completely round), brushed it with olive oil, spread the sauce over the dough; then added the roasted red peppers, spinach and meatballs.  I topped the entire pizza with a very generous handful of grated Parmigianno Regianno, slid it onto my hot pizza stone and popped it into a 500F oven for about 10 minutes and voila...Diane's Garden Pizza!

 It was delicious!  And that was dinner last night :)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Guadalupe River After the Rain

...and rain it did!  In the past 2 1/2 days, we got more than 3 inches of rain here in South Texas.  I, for one, am not complaining one bit.  I think it's wonderful.  Our summers are so hot and dry that I rarely gripe about the rain, especially at this time of year.  After all, it *is* winter and the weather is supposed to be cool and rainy.  And it sure beats snow and ice!

The rain finally let up this afternoon and I decided to take a walk down to the river, camera in hand, to see what the Guadalupe looked it.  I figured it would be up and it sure is.  I haven't seen the river this high in almost a year.  It is beautiful.  On a normal day, this river is clear, low and quiet, although it always runs pretty quickly.  But today I saw a very loud, turbulent and muddy Guadalupe.  I was also reminded of the power of water.  Running water always stirs something deep in my soul.  Maybe that's because I'm an Aquarian :)

Anyway, I thought you might appreciate some photos of the beautiful Guadalupe River.


Look at the direction of the trees on the opposite bank in these next couple of photos.  I know it may seem impossible, but the river has gotten that high on occasion, causing the trees to bend in the direction of the river flow.  Pretty amazing, the power of Nature. 

There were even some whitecaps on the Guadalupe...go figure!

As I was walking around, I noticed lots of these, what I call "star weeds".  Of course, I know that is not the correct botanical name for them, but to me, that's what they look like, and I think they are beautiful. 


No matter the season or the weather, the Guadalupe River is a beautiful piece of the South Texas hill country.