Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Shelby Township resident nominated for beautification efforts

Lidija Dushaj's Shelby Township yard

Lidija Dushaj was nominated for the 2014 Shelby Township Beautification award.
"I have been growing a garden for the past couple of years," Dushaj said. "I love flowers and gardening."
Although she works full time, Dushaj always finds time for gardening and landscaping. She grows cucumbers, tomatoes,green beans, three different kinds of lettuce, parsley, basil, mint and collard greens.
"I have been starting my own tomatoes from seeds that I save from previous years. I've been having 2 pound tomatoes this year. I just picked a tomato a couple a days ago that is almost 3 pounds. 
Dushaj said she starts the tomatoes from seed indoors, early season and keeps them by her patio door, the sunniest window in her house.
"I plant about 20-25 tomatoes, just for the family. When they come in they all ripen at the same time, but I sun dry them and keep them in a sealed jar. I use them for pasta or risotto and some I freeze and use for soups and roasts," she said.
The Shelby Township Beautification Committee conducts the awards annually. Shelby Township Facebook page

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Planting fall garden

Swiss chard
It's time to plant again, but this time it's easy. Since time is limited, there's only a few plants that can grow fast enough.
I'm planting green onions, lettuce, spinach, Bok choy and maybe Swiss chard.
I could plant broccoli, kale, parsley, peas and root vegetables such as beets, carrots, parsnips and radishes, if space permits. Even if the temperature gets as low as 20 degrees F, these plants will survive.
Many root vegetables taste better after a good frost, because the vegetable's starches turn to sugar. Brussels sprouts taste better if harvested after frost as well.
Most herbs will die at the first sign of frost. I think the only exception is parsley.

Grow times from seed to maturity for cool weather tolerant plants
Radishes come in first at 30-50 days.
green onions 40-50 days
kale 40-65 days
lettuce 45 days
turnips 50 days
Swiss chard 50 days
cabbage 60-65 days
peas 65 days
broccoli 70 days
carrots 70 days
parsley 70 days

It is worthwhile to plant now, the growing season need not be over. One year, I picked Swiss chard for Thanksgiving dinner.

Since fall days provide less sunlight, its important to plant in a sunny location or plant in containers. Most vegetable plants require six hours of full sun a day.

Last year, I waited until Sept. 8, which was too late for fall harvest, so it became an overwinter garden. Surprisingly, even though it was the coldest winter ever, the spinach survived and grew in the spring. It was the best, sweetest spinach I've ever tasted. I used a roof-shaped wooden frame with a Visqueen tented cover, about 3 feet tall, fitted and weighted down snugly.

Here's an article about planting in the fall for next year.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Preserving vegetables

It’s the time of year, when gardeners are harvesting more than they can consume, with any luck. One solution is to take those big zucchinis to work and place them in unlocked cars in the parking lot. Another solution, is to sell the over-abundance at a vegetable stand. Or, growers can be smart squirrels and store their harvest to enjoy in winter. With a small amount of work, gardeners can preserve their garden treasures for later.
Whether to can, freeze or dry the produce, depends on what vegetable and how much effort and time a person wants to devote. Freezing vegetables is the fastest. Canning takes longer, but is better for maintaining vegetable texture. Canning is definitely best for salsa and pickles. Drying might be the easiest, but it has limited use, such as for herbs, mushrooms and fruit.

Easy freezingIt’s easy to freeze vegetables and fruits. Some don't require cooking or blanching. For celery and rhubarb, just wash, chop, bag in serving sizes and freeze. To freeze zucchini for making bread: shred or grate and freeze without blanching. For peppers, just cut out the seeds, wash and let dry, then freeze in bags.The quality and texture is reduced after freezing, but they still have that garden fresh taste when used in cooking.
BlueberriesBlueberries can be put in the freezer with very little preparation. Remove stems and bad berries, wash in cold water, drain, pack in freezer bags. Label and freeze.

ApplesFor apples wash, peel and core apples. Slice, cut into chunks or quarter. As you prepare apples, dip the cut pieces in a solution of 1 tablespoon each salt and vineqar to 2 quarts of water, to prevent darkening. Drain well, rinse and drain again. Then you can either pack plain, with sugar or with syrup. Leave a ½ inch headspace for pint containers and 1 inch for quarts. When using liquid, place a piece of crumpled paper or plastic wrap on top to keep fruit under the liquid. For syrup, mix 1/14 cup sugar and 5-1/2 cup water top yield cups. Thaw fruit in refrigerator or bowl of cool water. If cooking, thaw only enough to separate.

Blanching Most other vegetables and fruits require blanching, which is pretty easy. To blanch vegetables, you need a large porcelain or stainless steel pan with basket strainer and lid, 2/3 full of water, a large bowl in the sink filled with ice water and a colander. Also need bags or plastic containers and a permanent marker.
Bring the water in the saucepan to boiling. Meanwhile, wash and trim the veggies. Place the veggies in boiling water, close lid and time. See chart below. Then remove from the pan and drain quickly. Next, place in ice water for the same amount of time as boiled. When the time is up, remove and drain well in a colander. To remove more moisture, place clean towels on the counter and lay the veggies out for a few minutes before bagging in labeled freezer bags and placing in the freezer. Here are blanching and cooling times for vegetables:

Vegetable blanching times - equal time in boiling water, then ice water, (Except for corn on the cob, most vegetables should be blanced 2 to 3 minutes).

Broccoli, 3 minutes
Cabbage, 3 minutes (cut into wedges)Corn on the cob, 6 to 10 minutes
Green beans, 3 minutes
Peas, 1 to 2 minutes
Swiss chard and other tender greens, 1-1/2 to 2 minutes (avoid matting leaves)Zucchini slice, blanch 3 minutes

TomatoesTomatoes taste better when sliced in half, and baked or roasted on a cookie sheet, (350 degrees for 30 minutes for large tomatoes). You can also blanch them for 30 seconds.

Do not freeze too much at one time in your freezer. It could raise the interior temperature. Leave space between packages so air can circulate freely until frozen.

Can if you canCanning takes some time. It’s more fun when you can with friends or family, plus it’s less work. You will have the sweet, or sour rewards all winter long, so much better than store-bought. You will thank yourself and your canning buddies. Hot water bath canning is good for high acid foods, like tomatoes, pickles and relishes. It’s also good for sugary spreads, jams and jellies. You need to buy jars, lids and a big stockpot with wire canning rack. The pan needs to be 3-5 inches deeper than your canning jars. For other foods, like green beans, a pressure canner is needed.For further information, get the Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning, Freezing & Dehydration. It is a very good, easy-to-reference guide, and it under $10. It is available at

For a good salsa recipe, see my recipe page on the right or click here,

Friday, August 1, 2014

Recipes from the garden

Here are a few of my favorite garden fresh recipes:

Blake's fresh salsa

Combine the following and chill covered for 1/2 hour.
2-3 cups chopped Roma tomatoes (when canning salsa, its best to blanch and de-skin the tomatoes. This is not necessary for fresh salsa.)

½ cup red onion
½ cup green pepper
1 Jalapeno, 1 green chili and 1 Poblano or whatever you can find, (Use one Jalapeno pepper per two tomatoes, more or less.)
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. ground black pepper
¾ tsp. salt
1 Tbs. white vinegar or lime or lemon juice
2 pinches finely chopped cilantro

Rhubarb cheesecake

¼ cup corn starch
1 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
½ cup water
2-1/2 cups rhubarb, cut in ½ inch pieces
1 unbaked pie crust, regular or graham cracker

1 package 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar

In a saucepan, combine 1rst 3 ingredients, then the water and rhubarb. Bring to boil, stirring often until mixture thickens. Pour into pie shell and bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Protect edges of crust with aluminum foil. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Turn oven down to 325 degrees.
Meanwhile beat topping ingredients until smooth. Pour on top of pie. Bake for 35 minutes in 325 oven or until set. Chill and garnish with whipped cream, and sliced almonds or strawberries. 

Rhubarb Bars

3 cups rhubarb, chopped
1 ½ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ¼ cup water
3 Tablespoons corn starch
1 ½ cup rolled oats
1 ½ cup rolled flour
1 cup brown sugar
½ tsp. baking soda
1 cup butter
½ cup nuts

Combine rhubarb, sugar, vanilla, cornstarch and water. Cook on stove until thick, cool slightly. Combine oats, flour, brown sugar, soda, butter and nuts. Mix until crumbly. Put ¾ of mixture into 15 1/3 x 10 ½ jelly roll pan. Spread rhubarb mixture on top. Cover with remaining crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.

Roasted root vegetables

1 pound potato
1 pound rutabaga or parsnips
1 pound sweet potato
4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 tsp. dried rosemary or other herb
2 cloves garlic

Preheat the oven to 425F°. Peel and cut vegetables into approximately 3/4 inch cubes. Use some of the olive oil to oil the pans. Mix the rest with the garlic, finely minced or pressed, and the rosemary. Using your hands, rub oil mixture all over the vegetable pieces. Arrange in a single layer on the prepared pans. Salt lightly and place in preheated oven.

Turn once, after 20 to 25 minutes (pull pan out of oven to do this) and continue roasting until done, a total of about 45 minutes. Vegetables can be roasted at a lower temperature for a longer time, if necessary to accomodate other food being roasted.

Swiss Chard

olive oil to coat pan
1/4 red onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/8 tsp. dried crushed red pepper, to taste
1 bunch of Swiss chard, washed and chopped
2 Tablespoons Balsamic vinegar or water
salt and pepper, to taste

Saute the onion, garlic and red pepper in olive oil. (You can use a large saucepan or large skillet.) Then add the rest of the ingredients and heat on medium heat for 10 minutes. As a variation, substitute 1 tablespoon of water for vinegar and add smoked turkey or ham pieces.


1/2 c bulgar, cover with boiling water for 30 minutes, then strain very well.
1 1/2 cup of chopped parsley, maybe more
1/2 cup diced green onion
1/2 cup diced cucumber
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1 Tablespoon fresh mint, optional
Mix ingredients and serve or refrigerate.

Hummus is easy to make and is often served with tabouleh. Empty a can of garbanzo beans in a food processor, along with 1/4 cup of the juice, add 2 cloves garlic, pressed, dash of salt, 1 Tbs. olive oil, 1 Tbs. lemon juice and process to a pulp. If you have tahini, add 1-1/2 Tbs. Add a dash of cayenne pepper if you like.

Thai basil eggplant skillet

1 tablespoon oil
2 -3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound chicken strips, (optional) 2 green onions
2 chile peppers finely chopped or other hot peppers
1 big or 2 small eggplant, cut irregular
1 tablespoon sugar or brown sugar2 tablespoons soy sauce or fish sauce

1 bunch basil, washed and stems removed Cut eggplant into uniform irregular shapes. Heat oil in pan and saute chicken, then add garlic and peppers and onion until lightly browned. Add eggplant, 1/2 cup water cover and simmer 5 minutes, until eggplant becomes translucent. Add more water as needed. Stir in sugar and fish sauce or soy sauce. Turn off the heat and add the basil, stirring gently. Serve with rice.

Zucchini Bread

½ cup canola oil
½ cup applesauce
3 eggs beaten
2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp soda
½ tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped nuts

Pour into 2 greased loaf pans and bake 1 hour at 350 degrees or pour into muffin tins (makes 24).