Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Garden update: August 2011

I took a few photos of my garden a couple weeks ago, but I've been so busy, I haven't had time to put them up on the blog until now.  I'm finding that this blog is an excellent way to compare my garden from year to year.  It gives me a better idea of what works, what doesn't and how my garden has evolved over time.

As you can see from the photo above, the little stack-a-pot strawberries I planted back in April are blooming again.  These are an ever-bearing variety, so they are supposed to produce fruit throughout the summer.  I was about to give up on these plants, after I only got one strawberry off them this spring.  But now I'm finding that the plants will bloom and fruit immediately after I fertilize them with Miracle Gro every two weeks or so.  The berries aren't very big or numerous, but they are very sweet. They are fun to snack on while I'm checking out the rest of my garden.

The banana peppers are growing very well in this summer's hot and dry weather.  I definitely have more peppers than I know what to do with.

And I couldn't wait any longer.  I finally pulled the rest of the carrots out of the garden.  They were tiny, but numerous.


My biggest success this year has been the gladiolus flowers.  I planted three different varieties, and they've been blooming at staggered intervals throughout the summer.  It's been so nice to have a vase full of fresh flowers every day in my kitchen.

After a slow start, the tomatoes finally started turning red.  The patio container tomato was the first to bear ripe fruit. The tomatoes were small, but allowed us to enjoy garden-fresh BLTs this month.

As you can see, my patio tomato is struggling with blight.  The container-planted pepper is still going strong in August.

 Here's another look at my potted herbs and strawberry stack-a-pot.  They looked a little wilted when this photo was taken due to lack of rain.  But they've perked up again since then.

The ever-bearing strawberries are flowering and setting fruit well into August.
 My cucumbers were also growing fast in early August.  Unfortunately, after this photo was taken, the vine started to yellow from the bottom up.  It almost looks like the same blight that has struck the patio tomato, but I'm not sure if cucumbers get blight.

I've been trying to add more late-season color to my perennial garden.  I planted another coneflower this year, and it's been blooming since June.

I also bought some half-priced coral bells after July 4.  I'm trying to establish a shade garden under our evergreen trees.  We're using lawn clippings as mulch for now.

Overall, I'm really happy with how my garden looks this year.  I wish I had more time to keep it weeded and groomed, but I'm trying not to let perfection take over and just be happy with what I have accomplished. So how are your gardens growing?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Boland stand-still parade

Whew!  I'm exhausted from my busy, fun weekend.  Yet I wanted to share a few highlights while they were still fresh in my mind.  This weekend, I joined my mom and step-dad on a 13-mile bike ride during Boland's 125th anniversary celebration.  Boland is just a few miles down the road from where I grew up.  It's famously known as one of the smallest towns in Iowa, population 9.  In 1989, talk-show host David Letterman invited the entire town of Boland to appear on his show.

Boland has always been proud of being small but mighty.  Each year, the town hosts a stand-still parade, a twist on an old favorite.  Since the town is only 3 blocks long, the parade floats are parked on main street, and visitors walk the length of the parade "route."  Such a clever idea!

We arrived bright and early at 7:30 a.m. to register for the bike ride.  A few craft and food vendors were already setting up.

Canned goods for sale at the Boland festival.
A lot of folks from this north Iowa area (including myself) have Scandinavian roots.  We saw lefse for sale, a flat bread made from potatoes that my grandmother used to make every Christmas.

A wooden train is a popular playground for kids.
In addition to the bike ride, there was also a classic tractor ride.  Many tractor brands were well represented.

If you're not familiar with tractor rides, it's a caravan of restored tractors.  It gives people a chance to show off the work they put into restoring the tractors.

 Once the tractors took to the roads, the bikes followed.  Thankfully, the blacktop roads were very smooth, and the route was relatively flat.  We pedaled 7 miles before hitting our first stop, Grafton, a rural town that's just a little bigger than Boland.

After resting our legs for a few minutes, we pedaled our bikes on the trip back to Boland.  I couldn't get over how pretty the scenery was.  We rode in the shadow of a wind farm, which seemed to stretch for miles.

 When we got back to Boland, we stopped to watch a chainsaw-carving artist.  I had to stop myself from taking this little guy home.

But we didn't stay and watch for long.  We were on a mission.  Our registration for the bike ride included free homemade pie and ice cream!  It was tough to choose one slice of pie.  There were so many yummy options!

I ended up picking the apple crumb pie.  It was even better than I imagined.  The crumb topping had a wonderful caramel-like flavor and crunch.  And the homemade vanilla ice cream melted perfectly into the crumb topping.  So good!

My mom chose the peach pie.  My step-dad, the apple.  We lined 'em up before we dug in.

Somehow, my step-dad managed to get two scoops of ice cream!  I was so jealous.

After our eating every last crumb of pie, we toured the historic Boland schoolhouse, which is currently under renovation.

A brass band entertained the crowds.  Such excellent musicians.  Nothing beats the sound of a tuba!

Soon, the crowd was invited to watch a skydiving demonstration.  One of the skydivers was a local woman who has served in the U.S. Army for 28 years and has won several skydiving competitions.  She chose Boland for her last jump before retiring from military service.

At this point, we were getting pretty tired from waking up a 5:30 a.m. and spending 5 hours at the festival.  So we left just as the stand-still parade was getting started.  I must have been tired, because I only took a few half-hearted pictures.  Wish I took more to give a better idea of what the parade looked like.

But before we left, I had to get one more picture to remember the day.  We had a great time in Boland, and we're already planning to come back for the bike ride next year!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Banana blueberry bread

Don't the blueberries look fluorescent in this picture?  Don't know how that happened.

I like to buy fresh blueberries whenever they are sale in the summer.  I usually bake up a batch of blueberry muffins, but I also had some over-ripe bananas that I needed to use up.  So I found a recipe for blueberry banana bread from Taste of Home, my go-to source for baking recipes.

The recipe calls for shortening, which I typically don't like to bake with because I prefer real butter (for the flavor) or canola oil (a healthier alternative).  But I didn't have time to tinker with the recipe, so I just made it as is. The bread baked up just fine, and I enjoyed it.  My only compliant is that it was a little bland.  For some reason, I couldn't really taste the blueberries, which was disappointing.  In the future, I'll probably try to look for another recipe if I ever find myself with blueberries and bananas that need to be used up.

If you know of a good blueberry bread recipe, please share.  I would love to try it sometime.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Iowa State Fair memories

If you'll indulge me, I just wanted to share a few more highlights of my second weekend at the 2011 Iowa State Fair.

The "big bull" enjoying a big breakfast.

The best lunch ever - pork loin sandwich from the Iowa Pork Tent.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Artisan Bread in 5: Pita Bread

My husband and I love gyros.  Actually, I didn't love gyros until I met my husband and fell in love with him.  When we lived in a little apartment in a bigger city, he used to buy sliced gyro meat, cucumber sauce and pitas from the deli in our favorite grocery store.  But when we moved to a small town, the nearest grocery store didn't carry the gyro fixings. So we were left reminiscing about one of our favorite foods.

Then a few months ago, I discovered that a grocery store on my way home from work offers gyro meat, sauce and pitas, just like we used to buy.  However, the pita bread isn't nearly as good.  I've searched several area grocery stores for good pita bread, but the pitas I have found (if I find them at all) are stale or really tiny, I suppose for making little sandwiches.

I remembered that my Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day cookbook carried a pita bread recipe.  And I'm always looking for a reason to use my pizza stone (which I still love, by the way. Our best kitchen investment since the Oxo salad spinner.) But I was a little hesitant to try making my own pitas.  They look too time consuming, and I didn't want to spend my weekend cleaning up flour dust from my kitchen.

Well, I finally decided to take a chance, man up, and give the pita recipe a try.  And guess what?  It was so easy!  The hardest part was waiting for the bread to rise in the fridge overnight.  Rolling out the dough wasn't difficult at all.  I thought the dough would be sticky, but it wasn't.  In fact, I didn't have to use much flour at all, so there wasn't a lot of mess to clean up.  And it was so cool to see the finished product -- a bread that puffed up in the oven, then flattened as cooled.  The pitas were hollow inside, making them perfect for cutting in half and filling with gyro fixings.  So glad that we can now enjoy gyros with fresh pita bread again!

You can find a copy of the pita bread recipe in the cookbook Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. (I first discovered it at my local library.) Or you can google "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes pita recipe" and find versions of the recipe online. Give it a try if you're feeling adventurous.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Trip to the Iowa State Fair

It was a busy weekend for me -- first, a trip to the Ames straw poll, and then the next day, a visit to the Iowa State Fair with my sister.  We were both feeling a little under the weather, trying to get over summer colds.  So I didn't take many photos.  But I have a few highlights to share with you.

This year's blue-ribbon winner for non-traditional sweet roll was a bacon sticky roll!  Can you see the chunks of bacon?

One of my favorite exhibits was "Can-struction," sculptures made by stacking donated canned goods.  There was a canned-good butter cow and market-weight hog.

We hopped over to the Iowa lamb food stand for a lamb burger (my husband's favorite).

Then we checked out the pampered show pigs, who were relaxing in the breeze of the fans blowing through the swine barn.

 We saw blue-ribbon potatoes.

 And waited in a huge line to see the famous butter cow.

The fair was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the butter cow by asking local organizations to paint mini-butter cows, which were placed all over the fair grounds.  This was one of my favorites.

I came home with a few pieces of fresh saltwater taffy.

OK. Several pieces of taffy.

And I brought home the famous chocolate chip cookies in a cup.  Admittedly, this cup was full when I bought it.  I don't know where the cookies disappeared to...

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