Tag Archives: spring

Getting Ready for the Garden!

This past weekend when the sun was shining and the temperatures were in the 50s and even 60s, my mind started to think of spring. The hardest part of this time of year is the waiting. I know, that’s common for many people dreaming of bathing suit weather and summer, but for me, I just want spring. I want to be cleaning out the garden, raking out the winter mess and cutting back that late season growth. I want to make the changes I’ve been dreaming about all winter. Really, I just want to play in the dirt! 🙂

As you may remember, we moved into our new house a year ago. This past year, spring, summer, and fall was all about assessment and clean up. Since we only ever saw the house in the winter, it was fun to watch it come to life. I spent many weekends pulling invasive vines, replanting saplings to better areas, trimming trees, chopping wood, and really bringing back the garden that had been neglected for a long time. After a year, it is great to see the yard take shape, and now we’re ready for the next planting, planting.
Planning the Garden

This winter, I’ve been like a kid in a candy store. Every catalog I get my hands on, I devour. Every book I’ve had on gardening, and ones I’ve been able to borrow, I consume. I’ve been doing a ton of research to make sure I’m ready for this spring, and, boy am I ready! I have some gardens laid out, and I can’t wait to get started. So, while I patiently wait for the weather to be ready, I thought I would share some of my posts over the years about late winter/early spring prep work for the garden.

Garden Planning and Catalogs

Ordering Seeds

Garden Clean Up

Think About Starting a Compost Pile

Even if you’re not as excited as I am, hopefully these posts will give you an idea or two. I just hope the warm weather continues so I can get out there, although something tells me someday soon I’ll be outside in my winter coat and gloves, raking out the beds! 🙂 Hurry up spring!

Hitting the Garden Hard!

It seems like out of nowhere, summer arrived. It’s hot, humid, and wonderful out. With the warm weather, the garden has been bursting. It’s been a ton of work to clean out the garden, trim back trees, and weed, but it’s been amazing to see so many beautiful flowers and plant come to life. Before the dog days of summer really get here, I thought I’d take you for a little tour of the garden.huge rhododendronThis amazing rhododendron is my favorite plant. There are tons of white blooms bursting all over, and it’s HUGE.

 

white rhododendronDetail of the beautiful white rhododendron.

 

red rhododendronIn addition to the huge white rhododendron, there are several deep red ones. The blooms are a striking color.

 

hostasAlthough it’s a bit hard to tell, this is a pretty steep hill. I was thrilled to see hostas growing along the hill. I’m going to add a few other perennials to the hill, but this is a great start.

 

variegated hostasIn the front yard, there is this variegated hosta, which provides great contrast.

 

fernsThere have been ferns popping up everywhere. These are in a shady area under a pine tree. I may add some ostrich ferns to the mix, just to add some height, and maybe some Japanese painted ferns for some color.

 

azaleaIn the front yard, there are at least 10 azaleas. Some of them haven’t been cared for too well, but they all bloomed this year. This one was one of the show stoppers, even though early in the spring it was being attacked by a woody vine. It’s a beautiful coral color.

 

more azaleasAnother azalea that’s doing well in the front is this lovely lavender one.

 

treesThese are some of the trees providing lots of shade in the front yard. Thankfully it’s a mix of types of trees, including several red maples, adding a mix of color.

 

creeping phloxThis creeping phlox is not doing so well in the shady front yard. Hopefully it will take off when I move it to a sunnier spot.

 

vincaOn the side of the house, there is a spot under the pine trees that’s covered with vinca. It’s hard to see, but there are beautiful purple flowers all over the vines.

I hope you’re enjoying your time in the yard as much as I am. It’s been a lot of work cleaning out a new space, but it’s great to see some payoffs already!

Springing into Spring with Tortellini and Spring Vegetables

Last weekend, the weather was perfect. Beautiful blue skies, white puffy clouds, and temperatures in the 70s. It was great. The weather got everyone excited for spring, including me. And when I think of spring, I think of spring food…and spring veggies.

This recipe combines one of my favorite pastas, tortellini, with peas, asparagus, and onions, sautéed in delicious bacon grease. Finished off with a little 1/2 and 1/2 and some Parmigiano cheese, it’s perfect! The bacon and vegetables are crisp, the sauce is rich and creamy, and the tortellini are the perfect cheesy carriers for this deliciousness!

Chop 6 strips bacon into thin, small strips. Cook the bacon in a large pot or dutch oven over medium low heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. I use the lid for this process so the bacon doesn’t splatter everywhere. Once the bacon is crisp, remove to a plate, but keep the bacon fat in the pot on the heat.baconslicedcookingcookedChop 1 medium onion. Cook in the bacon fat until golden and softened, about 5 minutes. Mince 4 cloves garlic. Add to the onion, and cook for another minute.chopped onioncooking onioncooked oniongarliccookedMeanwhile, set a large pot of water on the stove, and bring to a boil. Chop 1 lb asparagus into 1 inch pieces. Once the water is boiling, add the asparagus. Blanch for 1 minute, then use a slotted spoon to remove to a bowl. I do this instead of draining with a colander because that way you can use the same water for the pasta.

water boilingasparagusblanchingblanched asparagusAdd the asparagus and 1 lb peas to the onion mixture. I used frozen peas, but if you can get fresh, go for it. I don’t find a huge difference in flavor, so if you can’t, frozen works. Cook for a few minutes until heated through. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 cup dry wine. I didn’t have any white open, so I used red. The flavor stays the same, it just adds a slight pink to the sauce. 🙂 Simmer the wine for a few minutes until reduced some, then add 1/2 cup 1/2 and 1/2. Bring to a boil and boil for a few more minutes until creamy and thoroughly combined.adding asparagusadding peasadding winesimmering wineadding 1/2 and 1/2almost readyIn that reserved water, cook 2 lbs tortellini according the package directions. Once cooked and drained, add to the sauce along with the bacon. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup Parmigiano cheese. Roll up 10 basil leaves and thinly slice into ribbons. Add to the pasta and enjoy!cooked tortelliniadding tortelliniadding baconadding cheesebasil leavesslicedadding basilall readyAlthough I don’t know if I mentioned it sooner, pasta is my one of my favorite meals. It’s no wonder I turn to this recipe when spring has sprung! 🙂

Baklava for Easter!

When I was younger, I can remember going to my Aunt Antoinette’s for Easter dinner. While I don’t remember most of what she served those days, I do remember what she had for dessert one year. She had a whole tray of delicious baklava. If you’re not familiar with baklava, it’s a delicious, sweet, sticky, nutty Greek dessert. From that first amazing bite, I was hooked!

A few years later, while perusing my latest Martha Stewart Living magazine, I was thrilled to see the recipe in April 1996. There was a story about a Greek Easter, and this was one of the desserts shown. I excitedly made the recipe and proudly brought it to my Aunt’s that year for Easter. Of course, it was a huge hit, and ever since then, this has been a go-to recipe for me. It’s not very difficult to make, but it’s so impressive to serve, not to mention delicious!recipeTo start, you’ll need 1 pound phyllo dough. Phyllo is a super thin pastry. It’s sold frozen, usually in 1 pound size boxes. It’s usually right next to the puffed pasties and other desserts. Allow the dough to defrost completely before using it, otherwise the paper-thin sheets will stick together. phylloYou’ll also need 3 cups finely chopped walnuts, almonds, or a mix of the two. I generally just purchase chopped nuts and throw them in the food processor for a few seconds. It easy, just be careful not to run the food processor too long or you’ll make nut butter. To the nut mixture, add 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon cloves.

walnutschoppedspicesThe other component you’ll need is butter. Melt 2 1/2 sticks butter. I know it’s a lot of butter, but it’s worth it. The butter will be the glue to hold all of those layers of pastry, nuts, and spices together.buttermeltedBrush a 13×9 glass baking dish with the melted butter. Lay 1 sheet of phyllo flat in the buttered dish. Brush that sheet with butter, then add another sheet of phyllo, and brush that sheet with butter. Keep doing this until you have 7 layers of phyllo and butter.readybrushinglayers

On top of the 7th layer, sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the nut and spice mixture. Then top with another sheet of phyllo covered in butter. Top with another sheet of phyllo, and sprinkle another 2 tablespoons nuts and spices. Continue with phyllo, butter, phyllo, nuts, phyllo, butter, phyllo, nuts, until all of the nuts are used. Make sure you save 7 sheets of phyllo for the top. When the nuts run out, top with the 7 sheets with butter in between, similar to what you did to the bottom. Top the last sheet with butter.nuts and spicesdonealmost readyOnce the baklava has been assembled, score the top into diamonds. You only need to go 1/4 inch down, not all the way through. Bake the baklava at 350 degrees for 40 minutes until golden brown.scoredgoldenWhen the baklava is cooked, combine 2 cups sugar with 1 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking for 3 minutes. Pour the syrup over the baklava and allow to cool completely. The baklava soaks up the syrup making it sweet, sticky, moist, and wonderful!sugarboilingpouringready to eatIf you’ve never had baklava, you need to give it a try. And it makes the perfect dessert for Easter! It’s what we’ll be having on Sunday. Happy Easter everyone!

A Whole New Start to the Garden!

How is it possible that it’s been almost a month since my last post? Last year I was on top of everything. I had already done my garden clean up, started seeds indoors, and even honored St. Patrick’s Day by making Irish potatoes. But this year, this year, I’ve done none of them, and I’ve let an entire month slip by. What can I say…I’ve been busy!

At the end of February, we bought a house. It’s in Kennett Square (the mushroom capital of the world by the way), about 25 minutes from our last place, and practically across the street from my work. Pretty nice, I know! But since then, there’s been cleaning, painting, packing, moving, unpacking, oh, and waiting WEEKS to get internet set up. Finally, after all of that time, and after 8 inches of snow the day before we had movers coming, we’ve settled in, and it’s time to return to normal.

With the move, I have an incredibly interesting situation on my hands with the garden. The house was built-in the mid-70s, and has very established trees. In fact, the back yard is incredibly shady. On top of the shade, the property also backs up to the woods and a creek. As a result, I’m thinking I might have to change my vegetable gardening practices, as I’m sure the critters will be an issue. Luckily there’s a large deck for pots.

The property has also been neglected for a number of years, so the trees, bushes, and plants are all completely overgrown. Over the next several months, I’ll be assessing what’s growing, what’s not, what might need to be cleared, and what additions and changes I can make. It will definitely be a different approach to my gardening the last several years, but I’m incredibly excited.Already, I’m starting to see some new growth and movement, and I can’t wait for more.TreesThe backyard is filled with trees. I can’t wait to see what they look like come spring.PachysandraPachysandra is everywhere. This is one of the few sunny spots. It seems prime for some perennials.VinesVines are also everywhere. They’ll have to come out too!RododendronThis amazing rhododendron is growing next to the deck.daffodilsThankfully some daffodils are poking through the ground.Flowering TreesTrees are showing some life!

I’m excited to see what comes up, what doesn’t, and what changes we can make. This year, I’m even more anxious for spring! Of course, tomorrow we’re supposed to be getting more snow, but at least that will give me some time to unpack more boxes! 🙂

A Comforting Spring Risotto!

IngredientsSeveral years ago, I discovered risottos.  I hadn’t really ever had them or made them before until I had a delicious spinach and crab risotto while down the shore (I’ll share the recipe some day).  I was hooked after the first bite.  It was creamy and warm and comforting, with the rice having a slight bite still.  The flavors meld together beautifully, and it was the perfect vehicle for fresh spinach and sweet crab.  I had heard it was difficult to make, but after having that first dish, I started to research just how difficult.  What I found was it’s really easy, just takes some time because you want to slowly incorporate the liquid into the rice to keep a creamy consistency.  And, even better, after making risotto several times and experimenting with flavors, I have found you can put almost anything in it, and it still turns out great.  This time of year, it’s perfect with spring vegetables!

StockFor my spring risotto, I use asparagus, peas, and lemon zest, however, you can use the basic risotto recipe and add really any flavor you like.  To make a basic risotto, start by heating 8 cups chicken stock until it begins to simmer.  You’re going to use this to add to the risotto, and it will cook much quicker if you’re adding warm stock instead of cold.  Keep the stock warming on the stove while you prepare the rest.

OnionsTake 1 1/2 onions, chopped (about 2 cups), and saute in 3 tablespoons olive oil.  When I made the risotto this time, I had some duck fat left over from a recipe, so I used 3 tablespoons of that, which smelled and tasted amazing, however, olive oil certainly works. And this recipe makes a good bit of risotto, so you want a fairly large saute pan, or, just use a stock pot.  I started with a saute pan this time but realized I was running out of room and switched to the stock pot! 🙂

You want to cook the onions over medium heat until they soften and brown.  This will take several minutes.  Once they are nice and soft, add 3 garlic cloves, minced.  Cook that for just a few minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic.  Then, add 2 cups arborio rice.

ArborioLet me just take a detour for a moment to discuss arborio rice.  If you aren’t familiar, arborio is an Italian rice that has more starch, and, because you’re making risotto, it’s perfect to get that creamy consistency.  As the rice cooks, the liquid absorbs some of the starch and becomes very creamy.  I suggest using arborio if you can.  I have made risotto for some health conscious friends using brown rice, and it really wasn’t bad, but it doesn’t get the true creamy consistency that arborio will.  However, if you prefer brown rice, go for it.

Rice and WineOk, back to the recipe.  Add the rice and stir to be sure every grain of rice gets coated with the oil.  Toast the rice for a few minutes.  Next, add 1 cup white wine.  The rice will quickly absorb the wine, and you’re ready for the slow process of incorporating the stock.  Add the stock, about 1 cup at a time, and stir.  You don’t want to start adding the next cup until the first cup is mostly absorbed.  And, you’ll want to stir often to make sure the risotto doesn’t burn or stick to the pan, but also to make sure the stock is evenly absorbed.

Adding LiquidContinue adding stock and cooking until all of the stock is absorbed.  It will probably take about 45 minutes.  Taste the risotto.  At this point it should be tender and creamy, but not mushy.  Add 1 cup grated Parmigiano cheese.  At this point you have a delicious risotto, however, we’re making spring risotto…

Chop 1 bunch asparagus into 1 inch pieces.  Blanch them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, until tender.  I add them back to the pot and fill it with cold tap water to stop the cooking, then drain.  You can do this step up to a day before and just keep the cooked Finishedasparagus in the refrigerator.  Add the cooked asparagus to the risotto along with 8 oz frozen peas (I know, I know, it’s spring risotto, and I’m telling you to use froze peas, but I never really use fresh…frozen are just as good and I add them right from the freezer), and the zest of 1 lemon. Allow everything to warm through, and you have a delicious side dish, or even meal in itself, perfect for these spring evenings!

Lemon and Parm

Peonies Blooming Everywhere!

Late spring is my favorite time in the garden.  While the first pops of color from spring bulbs are a welcome sight, I love to see the perennials come back to life.  I absolutely love the big bursts of color that they bring after the dreary winter.  There are big bearded irises popping up all over the yard. The clematis cover their supports with buds and blooms.  The rhododendron is a mass of pink blooms, and the weigela is beautifully pink and red.  However, the prize of the late spring garden for me is the huge peony bloom.

I have a bunch of peonies that pop up all over the perennial beds.  Those red shoots are a welcome site in early spring, knowing that they are still active and growing underground.  But the pièce de résistance are the blooms.  They are covered with huge blooms of amazing colors.  From the subtle whites and yellows, to light and dark pinks, deep magenta, and purples, the colors are amazing.  And the blooms come in classic, subtly beautiful single blooms to full, heavy, bursting double varieties.

Below is a sample of some of the peony blooms I’m enjoying in my garden these days.  Thankfully, we haven’t gotten a heavy rain yet to drop the blooms to the ground.  Staking is definitely recommended, but I usually just chance it.  Enjoy them while they last, sadly, they will be gone all too soon.

Single White Bloom Double Light Pink Ready to BurstDelicate Single PinkDouble Pink with Yellow CenterFull Double PinkMagical MagentaMore Blooms to Come