Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer Growth Spurt

This weekend felt like summer and I have the sunburn to prove it.  I spent Saturday at Bowman Bay for my company picnic and apparently forgot to reapply sunscreen on a few choice areas, namely my chest and the right side of my left ankle.  How that one happened is anyone's guess.

In my burn-induced house arrest on Sunday (ha! the world conspires against me in puns) I spent most of the day sitting on the couch, either reading, knitting, or watching Anthony Bourdain. And, of course, it was the latter that got me out of the house.

Tony was in Naples, and at the end of the show he had dinner at someone's mother's house.  She made a "simple" Sunday dinner of pasta in meat sauce that made me drool. Once the craving took hold, there was no changing what was on our dinner menu for the evening. We winged it, but the result was really fabulous.

"Homemade" Ragu

1 onion, diced
1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Italian sausages, casings removed
1 lb flank steak, sliced 1 inch thick
2 lbs beef roast, any cut, cubed
1/2 -1  cup of good red wine (to taste)
2 (15 oz) cans tomato sauce
2 (15 oz) cans diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp thyme
2 Tbsp oregano
2 Tbsp basil
2 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Heat large sauce pan (I used a 7 quart dutch oven) over medium-high heat.  Add just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan.  Brown mean in small portions, makign sure to never cover the entire bottom of pan. Remove meat once browned and set aside.  Add onions to drippings in pan, adding more oil if necessary.  Cook until onions are brown, then add mushrooms and garlic.  Once mushrooms have "sweated" add wine to deglaze the pan. After wine starts to reduce, return meat to pan and add remaining ingredients. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 2 hours, more if you can wait.  The longer it simmers, the better it will be.

To serve, remove meat from sauce.  Ladle sauce over your favorite pasta (penne or rigatoni work great for this) and serve meat as a side. Leftovers are even better than the first time around!

While the sauce was a-simmering, I went for a walk around the garden and was impressed at what the recent heat has done for my plants.

My peas have only a few pods left on them and will soon be pulled to make way for something else.  Romaine maybe?

I have a handful of small green tomatoes.  It's supposed to hit 80 this week, so maybe I'll get a few more to pop out, and a little growth on these guys.

Most impressive, I think, are my cucumbers.  I have two plants, and they both have several inch - inch and a half long baby cucumbers.  And one even has a monster 3 incher!

My zucchini and bottleneck squash are toddling along slowly.  They have perked up quite a bit and have some new growth, but nothing impressive.  A couple of blossoms and the leaves have gotten a bit bigger than they used to be, but no fruit yet.  The zucchini transplanted from a friend's yard has recovered from the move and seems to be thriving.  It dropped a leaf or two, but there are some new ones growing and a few blossoms about to pop. These leaves put mine to shame! We'll have to wait and see which one produces before judging them too harshly.

Living right next to this guy are my two tomatoes I started from seed.  They're both looking healthy, but I fear they'll be too small to produce anything this season.  But I'm going to remember that this actually worked and try again next year.  A single dollar for a packet of seeds vs $5 for a start - what savings!

What I've found most disappointing so far, aside from my radishes and carrots that haven't done SQUAT, are my beans.  I think I have a combination of bad soil (maybe an excuse for the radishes), late planting, and squirrels. I think those fluffy buggers have found my seeds after I planted them, dug them up and ate them. That or I got a bad packet of pole beans. I planted both bush and pole, and I think maybe 2 out of 35 of the poles have sprouted vs almost all of the bushes. I've heard that you can keep planting bush beans up until August, but the ones I have in the ground now are all pretty dang small. 

The first batch planted, back in early June. Seeds were soaked for 24 hours before planting.

The second batch, planted in late June/early July.  Seeds were soaked, and organic fertilizer was used in the hole before planting.

The last batch of bush beans, planted in mid July.  Some beans were soaked, some were not. All were planted with some osmocote fertilizer.  Soaked beans are slightly larger than non-soaked beans.

They haven't quite caught up with the second batch, but have already surpassed the first. I haven't decided if it's a sun or a water thing, or the different fertilizer.  I decided to try Osmocote because cats love the organic stuff (proven by Ollie breaking into the storage closet on several occasions) and I didn't want to encourage the neighborhood felines to hang out in my yard or dig up my plants.  The squirrels do enough of that.  If only we could get the cats to actually scare the squirrels away...

I'm anxious to produce something I can eat other than peas.  I keep walking through the local P-Patch and getting really jealous of the amazing produce. It's something to aspire to.  I think I'll do serious planning this fall and winter, peruse the local seed manufacturers catalogs, and do some soil improvements and maybe next year I can bump up the yield to P-Patch levels.

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