Saturday, June 30, 2012

Container gardening: Peas in a pot (or bag)

I've been having a lot of fun, and some unexpected success, at growing vegetables in containers. Yes, I have to water the container vegetables constantly.  But I also can move them around the garden if I want to change the look, make room for something else or give the vegetables more sun or shade.

This winter, I ordered a pack of Peas-in-a-Pot seeds from Burpee.  I've never had much luck growing spring peas, for some reason.  But I did have some success last year at growing lettuce in a grocery bag, after seeing it at a Discover Garden in southern Iowa.  So I decided to plant peas in a bag!

Guess what?  It worked!  I got about a handful of peas from the seeds I planted in the reuseable grocery bag.  Next year, if I do this again, I'm going to grow two bags so I can get a few more peas.

I've also been enjoying a crop of early tomatoes, which I planted in buckets way back in April.  I tried a new yellow pear tomato variety this year, and I've been amazed how many little tomatoes are coming off the plant.  And the little yellow tomatoes look so colorful in salads.

If you're interested in container gardening, in a 5 gallon bucket or bag, I have just a few suggestions.  Make sure you poke (or drill) holes in the bottom of the container for drainage.  Use potting soil (not "garden soil").  Fertilize every two weeks with Miracle Grow or an equivalent.  Don't let the containers dry out.  I water the pots once a day when the weather gets hot, and about every other day when the temps are closer to 70 degrees.  If we get a rain, I'll also wait a day or two to water.  Finally, I recommend using some type of fungicide to prevent tomato wilt and stem rot.  I found an organic fungicide/insecticide/miticide at our local Earl May Garden Center that works great.  One of the main ingredients is Neem Oil, a natural fungicide.

Have you tried container vegetable gardening in your own backyard?  Do you have any advice for those of us who are still learning how to make it work?

Rudy's Drive-In, La Crosse, Wisconsin

When I visited my dad recently in La Crosse, Wis., I made a special request to stop at Rudy's Drive-In, which is only open in the summer. It's an 1950s-style drive-in, where the waitresses wear roller skates to greet the cars.

It was cold and rainy on the day we visited Rudy's, so the waitresses weren't wearing their roller skates.  We ordered pork tenderloin sandwiches, onion rings and root beer floats, served in glass mugs.  It was definitely a highlight of my trip to La Crosse.

It was so much fun to stop at a drive-in.  Next time, I hope to see the waitresses on roller skates!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Granddad Bluff in La Crosse, Wisconsin

My dad lives in La Crosse, Wis., and I love visiting him in the summertime.  There is so much to see and do in La Crosse.  One of our favorite stops is Grandad Bluff, which reopened this summer after some much needed renovations.  The new park is now handicap accessible, and now it's a terrific place to get an amazing view of the city of La Crosse and the Mississippi River.

See the blue Cass Street bridge to the left.  That's where my car crossed the Mississippi River.

My dad enjoying the scenic view.

The new Granddad Bluff visitors center is a popular spot.
In order to reach the top of Granddad Bluff, we drove on a windy road that seems to climb straight up.  It was a beautiful, almost clear day to see the scenery below.  Quite a contrast from the "flatlands" here in central Iowa!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Trip to the Spam Museum

I've driven past the Interstate exit for the Spam Museum in Austin, Minn., more times than I can count, but I never made time to visit.  Well, I changed that on my last trip through Austin, Minn.  I stopped to see the famous Spam Museum.

Outside the museum was this incredible farmer statue.  It made me think of my grandpa, who raised quite a few pigs that likely added up as Spam.  (Our home farm is just 25 miles from Austin.)  Look at the curly tails on the pigs!

I was greeted at the door by a friendly volunteer, who gave me a few Spam recipes and ushered me in to watch a 15-minute movie about all things Spam.  The actual museum wasn't very large, but it featured the interesting history of the Hormel family who founded the company and Spam's rise to fame during World War II.

The gift shop at the Spam Museum offers all 17 different varieties of Spam, including the limited edition jalapeno flavor.  I sampled the original and turkey Spam.  The original was my favorite.

The Spam Museum was a fun little diversion along my 4-hour road trip to Wisconsin.  Are you a fan of Spam?  Do you have a favorite Spam recipe?  I've been drooling over this Hawaiian Spam fried recipe recipe and think I might just have to give it a try.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Iowa recipe: Strawberry vinegar

One of my co-workers, who knows I love unique recipes, gave me this recipe for strawberry vinegar.  I'm not exactly sure if this is true, but she told me that this is the same strawberry vinegar that is extremely popular at a northwest Iowa U-Pick strawberry patch.

This strawberry vinegar is a salad dressing. I've been spooning a little on my salads, along with a dash of olive oil.  The recipe says to strain the strawberries once you mash them, but I'm too lazy to use a cheesecloth to get the "chunks" out of the vinegar.  I ended up using my manual Oxo food mill, which pureed the strawberries and removed a lot of the seeds.

 It's a fun recipe to make if you come home with way more strawberries than you know what to do with after visiting a U-Pick patch.  I would guess this recipe would also work with raspberries or blueberries, which are in season now here in central Iowa.  If you try this recipe, please let me know how it turns out for you.  Enjoy!


Strawberry vinegar

  • 4 C. fresh strawberries, halved
  • 4 C. cider vinegar
  • 1 C. sugar

In a large pan, combine fruit and vinegar.  Cover and let stand for one hour.  Stir in sugar.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.  Cool completely.  Strain and discard pulp.  Pour into a covered container.  Store in a cool, dark place.  Excellent with salad greens.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Iowa recipes: Strawberry pie

Here it is!   I'm sharing with you the pie recipe I used to make my first-ever strawberry pie.  I was afraid that the pie filling would turn out runny, but it actually set up near perfectly.  And the Iowa-grown strawberries were so sweet in this pie!  You know how the strawberries at the grocery store can be kind of "hard" sometimes.  Well, these U-Pick strawberries were soft and super ripe.  This strawberry pie was exactly what I was craving for a spring dessert!

The pie filling set up perfectly; it wasn't runny or liquidy.

Fresh whipped cream is a necessity with strawberries.
I found this same strawberry pie recipe in several of my Iowa church cookbooks.  Enjoy!


Iowa Strawberry Pie

  • 1 baked pie shell
  • 1-1/2 pints strawberries, cleaned

  • 3 T. cornstarch
  • 1 C. sugar
  • 1 C. water
  • 3 T. corn syrup
  • 1 small package strawberry jello

Mix cornstarch and sugar together, then add water and syrup. Boil and then add the strawberry Jell-O. Cool. Mix with berries and put in baked pie shell. Refrigerate.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

U-Pick Strawberries

Strawberry season arrived two weeks earlier this year.  I took a vacation day from work to spend a morning picking strawberries at Berry Patch Farm in Nevada, Iowa.  I arrived right when the farm opened at 8 a.m., but there were already several families out in the fields.

I thought that it would be slim pickings because it was only the first week of strawberry season, but I was surprised to find several large, ripe strawberries just waiting to be picked.

I ended up picking 10 pounds (!) of strawberries. Then I spent the afternoon making strawberry jam, pie and vinegar.  I'll share the recipes with you all later this week.

Do you like to pick strawberries in the summer? What's your favorite strawberry recipe?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Iowa recipes: Baked beans & pulled pork

I love the summer -- and not just for the beautiful weather.  I love a good summer barbecue!  And Iowa farmers raise the best beef and pork in the world, and it's all available at my local grocery store.

I thought I'd share with you my favorite baked bean recipe, which I found in the most recent Iowa Master Farm Homemakers cookbook.  For the pulled pork, I tried out a recipe from my favorite Iowa BBQ sauce company, Cookie's. We use Cookie's flavor enhancer and seasoning all the time on chicken and pork. 

What's your favorite summertime cookout foods?  I always enjoy a good potato salad, but I'm still trying to figure out my grandma's old recipe. She didn't use any measurements; she just went by taste, and I'm having trouble re-creating it.

Here's the recipe for the baked beans.  Enjoy!


Really Good Baked Beans

  • 5 strips bacon
  • 1/4 to 1/2 chopped onions
  • 1 (2 lb.) can pork and beans
  • 3/4 C. brown sugar
  • 1/4 C. catsup
  • 1/4 C. barbecue sauce
  • 3/4 T. Worchestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. chopped garlic

Saute bacon until nearly done, and add chopped onion. Continue cooking until onions are soft. Drain off most of fat. Put brown sugar, catsup, barbecue sauce, Worchestershire sauce and chopped garlic in pan, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add pork and beans, bacon and onion; combine. Put into baking dish, and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Iowa recipes: Summer salad

My husband and I are trying to eat a little healthier, so I've been making big salads on the weekends when I have more time to cook.  One of my favorites is this summer pasta salad.  I found the recipe in one of my favorite church cookbooks.  I always make the mistake of adding too much pasta; I never take the time to actually measure the pasta out and just dump it in.  But I love how colorful this salad is. The recipe does make a large batch of salad, so it's perfect for summer picnics.  Enjoy!


Summer Salad

  • 2 (7 oz.) boxes macaroni rings (I used spiral noodles), cooked
  • 2 C. cucumbers, diced
  • 2 C. carrots, diced
  • 1 C. celery, diced
  • 1 C. onion, diced
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced

Dressing for salad:
  • 1/2 C. Miracle Whip
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1-1/2 C. sugar
  • 1/2 C. vinegar

Cook and drain macaroni. Add vegetables and mix. Combine dressing ingredients, mixing well. Pour over vegetables and macaroni. Stir to coat. Cover and chill until time to serve.
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