Thursday, September 27, 2012


I follow the Iowa-based Earl May Garden Center on Facebook, and a recent post encouraged customers to check out the Pumpkins-On-A-Stick now in stores.  I had never heard of pumpkins-on-a-stick, so I did a quick Google search and discovered that the plants are very popular for fall flower arrangements.

The plant is actually an eggplant, not a pumpkin.  The thorny branches start to bud into white blossoms, which grow into tiny green fruit that turns orange in the fall. The eggplant looks like a tiny pumpkin.  Earl May offered the plants in decorative pots, with artificial fall leaves to add a little more holiday color.

The average first freeze date in central Iowa is just a few weeks away, so I decided to just place the pot inside the concrete planter by our front step. (Plus, the plant has some sharp thorns, which I didn't want to touch!)  I planted a few pansies around the pot to help hide the plastic container.

Here's a couple close-up shots of the pumpkin-on-a-stick.  The orange leaves are artificial, but the orange pumpkin-shaped fruit is real. If you look closely, you can see the white blooms and the green fruit that hasn't turned orange yet.

It was a bit of a splurge -- the plant cost $20 -- but I really like the festive fall color it adds to my front porch.  Have you ever grown pumpkin-on-a-stick?  I had never heard of it before until I read about it on Facebook.

Monday, September 24, 2012

2012 World Food Festival, Des Moines

Once again, I ate my way through the World Food Festival in Des Moines last weekend.  I was blown away by the variety of food offered by the vendors this year.  I would say that the World Food Festival is now favorite food-related event -- even better than the Iowa State Fair. And that's saying a lot!

Last year, my favorite booth was the Ethiopian Association's.  So that was my first stop this year.  I ordered the mild chicken wot with vegetables and rice.  As my husband says, anything with curry has got to be good.  I loved all the spices in this -- fresh pepper, rosemary, curry.  I wolfed down this whole dish!

The $1 sample at the Iowa Machine Shed booth was the chocolate bacon chipotle cookie. Look how gorgeous this cookie is!  And it's coated in chocolate!  This was easily my favorite treat at the World Food Festival this year.

I told myself I was only going to get one dessert, but I couldn't resist this "special edition" cupcakes from my favorite bakery, the Ames Cupcake Emporium.  These are Iowa cupcakes, made with bacon and cornflakes.  That's a little candy pig on the top!

I stood in line for 10 minutes for the one item I was really looking forward to trying, the Hello Gourdgeous pizza from Gusto Pizza Co.  It's a pizza topped with butternut squash, red onions and sage.  I've been wanting to make a squash pizza at home, so I was excited to try this out.

Sorry for this photo of the half-eaten pizza, but I wanted to show you the pumpkin-puree "sauce" that topped the pizza. So creative!

So fellow Iowans, did any of you visit the World Food Festival this year?  What was your favorite dish?  There was so much to try, it was hard to choose what to indulge in.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gap in apple pie crust?

OK, this isn't the prettiest pie.  You'll just have to trust me when I say it was delicious. It was so good, I ate a slice for breakfast the next day!  But as you can see, there was a gap between the pie crust and the apple pie filling.  I stacked the apple slices so high they were tumbling off the pan before I placed the final crust.  But the filling still cooked down so much that there was a gap under the crust.

At first, I thought it was the variety of apples that caused the problem.  I bought the apples at the nearby Center Grove Orchard in Cambridge.  How cute is this farm store?!

The late freeze and summer drought have cut this year's apple crop, and not all the varieties are available yet.  I asked the orchard staff what was the best for baking pie.  They recommended that I use a mix of McIntosh apples and Gala apples (since the Gala apples were on sale).

When I saw the gap in the pie crust, I searched the Internet for an answer to why it happened.  Then I got the bright idea to call the Iowa State University Extension Answerline, which is staffed by home economists. And they answered my question right away.  Turns out, I needed to cook the apple pie filling before placing it in the pie.  They also recommended that next time, I try a different variety than Gala apples, which are actually better for eating than baking.  So glad I thought to call the Answerline!

Oh, and if you're looking for a basic apple pie recipe that's similar to the one I tried, here's a good one from Pillsbury.

Do you have any apple pie baking tips?  I'm always looking for advice in the kitchen.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Strawberry Stack-A-Pot Update

I realized the other day that I haven't given an update on how my strawberry stack-a-pot has fared this summer.  This is my second year of growing strawberries in a stack-a-pot.  The first year, I ordered a small stack-a-pot from Amazon. This spring, I found a larger stack-a-pot at a local K-Mart store.  I planted the pots with ever-bearing strawberries, which are supposed to bloom throughout the summer.

My first attempt at growing strawberries in a pot was only semi-successful.  I got a few strawberries from the small pot.  But later in the summer, I discovered that whenever I fertilized the strawberries with a little Miracle Grow, the plants would start setting blooms and fruit.

This year, I was glad to find a large pot so I could plant more strawberry plants. Since we're in the middle of a drought, I've been watering the pots every day. Over-watering isn't really an issue with the stack-a-pots, since they are designed for water to drain from one level of pots to another. I've fertilized the plants every two weeks this summer, instead of once the entire summer last year.  And I've been really happy with the results.  Every day, I pick two or more berries off the plants.  No, that isn't a lot, but it's still fun to find little berries that are ready to pick every day.  One morning this summer, I actually picked a handful of berries off the plants, and I enjoyed a bowl of strawberries and cereal for breakfast.

Growing a large strawberry bed isn't an option for me, since most of our backyard is shaded. It's so cool that I can still grow strawberries -- and still be picking berries in September!  I haven't noticed any disease problems with the berries, but I do have to pick them before the ants and fruit flies get to them first.

Have you ever tried to grow strawberries in pots?  I'm curious to see if I can overwinter these plants, but I don't really have the space to keep the pots on the back porch or garage in the winter.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Visit an Iowa pumpkin patch

I've been super busy enjoying the gorgeous fall weather.  I didn't have time to try a new recipe last weekend, but I did stop by the Harvest Barn pumpkin patch east of Osceola in southern Iowa.  Look at all the cute pumpkins!

I should make a scarecrow for my little backyard garden.  Do you plan a trip to a local pumpkin patch every fall?  What's your favorite type of pumpkin?  I like the little round ones :)

Monday, September 10, 2012

In the Garden: September 2012

Every night after work, I step outside the backdoor and check on my garden.  Now that the days are getting shorter, the sun starts to dip into the horizon as I do my nightly garden checks. 

It's been a strange year for growing tomatoes.  The long stretch of dry, 100-degree days stopped the fruit from setting. And then when we do get some rain, the tomato plants suck up the moisture so fast that the tomatoes crack from the sudden growth spurt.  I've also been battling the bugs this year.  If I don't pick the tomatoes fast enough, the bugs will get to them first.

But the other night, I picked the first absolutely perfect tomato of the year: no cracks, no brown spots, not bugs.  Just perfectly round and red.  So of course, I had to take a photo, even though the sun was about to set.

Then I stopped to take a few more photos of the cute little marigolds that seem to glow at night.  I planted them in dry dirt, and I didn't think they would last the summer.  But after a few little rain showers, they have really popped with the blooms.

Most of the ornamental flowers I planted from seed this year never grew in the dry dirt.  I didn't know what I was going to end up with until the flowers started blooming.  Well, I was quite surprised to discover that I had sunflowers growing in my garden.  I don't remember planting sunflower seeds this spring.  But I'm so glad I did, because they look gorgeous this fall.  They must be a dwarf variety, because they only stand about 2 to 3 feet tall. The bugs love the blooms, however, and eat the petals down to nothing almost as soon as the flowers start blooming.

Sunflowers titling toward the sunset.  Doesn't get much prettier than that.

Now I'm really hoping for some rain this fall.  We haven't had a good soaker since the spring; every rain has totaled one-half inch or less, while places north or south of us get more.  We could use the rain to replenish our soil moisture reserves before spring planting season.

How is your garden handling the summer drought?  Are you tired of watering your garden?  I know I sure am.  Nothing beats a good rain storm.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Iowa State Fair Blue-Ribbon Cinnamon Rolls

I don't know about you, but now that the seasons are changing (even though it's still 90 degrees outside!), I'm in the mood for fall baking.  I found this recipe for the 2012 Iowa State Fair Winning Cinnamon Rolls from Two Chicks from the Sticks, who happened to judge the Tone's Cinnamon Roll contest this year.  I actually baked these on a whim.  I woke up on Sunday morning and decided I wanted to knead some bread dough.  What better recipe to try than a blue-ribbon winner?

Oh, did my husband love me for baking up these rolls for him!  I rolled the dough loosely, so the caramel topping oozed into the middle of each roll.  And I noticed right away that the rolls have a healthy dose of cinnamon, which made them unique.  The caramel sauce also sits on the stove for a little bit longer than normal so it gets extra rich and gooey.  I'm sure I'll be baking these sticky rolls up again soon!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Salvation Army Breakfast Casserole

My workplace participates in a United Way fund-raising and volunteer drive every fall.  This year, volunteers baked breakfast casseroles for the Salvation Army's Mobile Canteen.  Everyone was asked to make the same standard recipe.  It isn't anything fancy -- just eggs, cheese and Bisquick.

I don't know about you, but I'm always looking for the latest food trends by visiting blogs and reading magazines. And folks are always looking coming up with ever fancier recipes -- using truffle oil, exotic cheeses, produce that comes from another country.  But there are many needy families who are just happy to get a hardy egg-and-sausage breakfast, especially if it's their only decent meal of the day.

Here's what the Salvation Army says in its recipe pamphlet for the breakfast casseroles:

" Each Tuesday and Friday morning, the Salvation Army's Mobile Canteen serves breakfast to more than 900 homeless and near homeless individuals in Des Moines. The menu features a hot egg casserole (recipe below) that provides a delicious high-protein meal.

The free breakfast also includes coffee or hot chocolate, milk and orange juice (when available), individual boxed cereal, donuts, hard-boiled eggs and more, depending on what is available at the time.

You and your friends and relevatives can help feed Des Moines' hungry homeless by preparing egg casseroles for the Salvation Army.

After preparing and baking the casserole, we ask that you freeze it and then deliver it to our eastside facility. 

Each casserole feeds 10 people, and we serve approximately 150 casseroles each week.

You can also volunteer to help the mobile canteen serve the breakfast. Weather and disaster permitting, we begin serving at 5 a.m. each Tuesday and Friday.

To learn more about the program and to volunteer to assist, call 515-282-3599.

You can help feed the homeless in Des Moines!"


Egg Casserole
  • 1 - 9x11 inch disposable aluminum pan greased or sprayed with cooking spray
  • 2 C. grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 lb. sausage, Italian sausage or hamburger, crumbled and browned, or 3/4 lb ham (or no meat for a vegetarian casserole
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 C. milk
  • 1 C. Bisquick mix
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • Salt to taste (use less salt if you use ham)
  • 1 Tbls. taco seasoning (optional)
  • Paprika

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place meat and cheese in a greased disposable pan. Combine eggs, milk, salt, pepper and biscuit mix in blender; blend one minute on high. Pour this mixture over meat and cheese. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until casserole is firm in the middle. After cooling, cover with aluminum foil and freeze. Note date and meat contents on cover with a permanent marker.
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