Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tomatoes where? Well I'll be darned...

Yep, just when you least expect it, just when you'd given up all but the most fleeting moments of hope...

I'd brought this plant in from my balcony at the beginning of the winter since it was still fairly young (was basically a cutting from another plant that had taken root too late in the season). I didn't really know what I had in mind to do with it, but I found this little perch for it by the balcony door and kept watering it all winter (albeit from time to time quite sparingly).

Half of it even got attacked by aphids (as you can see, I need to pinch off those dead leaves), but it stayed green all winter, surprisingly! I didn't think it would get enough sun sitting here to live.

But maybe tomatoes have a hibernation phase?

Low and behold, a few weeks ago, the little sucker sprouted some blooms! Once again hopeful and a bit surprised, I gently shook and rattled the branches in a pollination attempt. Guess it worked because....

Now I have this!

indoor tomato, about 2 in. diameter
 I really didn't expect that! And then, more blooms! And this (just noticed today!):

another tomato, about half an inch wide
Am I gonna get an indoor tomato crop? Wow! What a pleasant waiting-for-spring surprise! Not only did I not think the cutting would bloom at all, but it has produced fruit....indoors? I mean, it is at least protected from wind here, and I guess it didn't need quite as much sun as I'd thought.

Inspires me to try some other experiments!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Hope dies last - a new year, a new season

Are you already planning your garden for this year?

I hope so! I am a bit late getting things going, but here's to a (hopefully) much less meager harvest than last year:

my radish harvest from late-July 2013

While this is an exaggeration of how small my harvest from last year was, it is only a slight one. After all, I did get a few more radishes, some herbs, some green onions, about a handful of beans and peas, and 2 tiny jalapenos...or, as one would say on Skype:
(Skype (facepalm), i.e. hand to stern, shake head)
IF you will remember - last year's garden went very far awry thanks to the construction on my building which lasted ALL summer, leaving not only dust and rubble in my planters but blocked off any sunlight I could have gotten! Am hoping for the best - as they say here, "hope is the last thing to die", which I find very applicable!

In the next post you will see how I got a head start on this season!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A trip into the deserts of Africa (+ pics)

This post's title, and the fact that I am actually posting here, are NOT a joke. Happy April (Fool's Day), everyone! :)

I once again had lots to do this year so far, and winter is admittedly a slow-ish season for the gardening community (I know, still no reason not to post!) - but I hope you all have survived the bitter temperatures and piles of snow!

Over here I only saw snow once this winter, a very light dusting, for about 4 days - otherwise it has been above freezing! I know, I know. So mild. This explains why I am already seeing local asparagus in the supermarkets (albeit for 20€/kilo)!

Nevertheless, I managed to get away for a week to much warmer and milder (and more exotic) climates - I took a trip to Tunisia, which was pretty interesting and fun!

I'm only including some gardening/nature-related pictures from my trip here, otherwise there would be too much for this post (although I may post more if anyone requests). Not that there was a whole lot on this topic thanks to the desert climate - enjoy a few highlights of traveling around northern Africa!

some fresh artichokes at the market in downtown Sousse

an indoor vegetable market downtown

driving through the desert, headed south - still some green at this point

the most important agricultural crop - olive trees!

we visited a mountain oasis in the desert

mountain desert oasis waterfall!

you see some interesting sights driving through the countryside, like this main (resting under the olive tree) selling is beans on a roadside stand

heading back up north there was a bit more vegetation
an olive tree near downtown at the archaeological museum

a close-up of olives

Friday, December 27, 2013

A few Plant-y Presents for Christmas!

Merry Christmas and a great start to the New Year, first of all!

I hope everyone had a few joyous days during the holidays and has a fun celebration planned for New Year's Eve! I will be getting together at a work friend's house and celebrating with a few people. Christmas was also spent with a good friend's family in typical German style (they celebrate on the 24th over here) - first off tortes and cookies with tea and coffee, then unwrapping gifts, then oil fondue with a few kinds of meat and a variety of vegetable salads and delicious dips. On the 2 official days of Christmas (25th and 26th) I, of course, had to work! So it is! :)

Aaannnyway, my plants here indoors have produced a few surprises in the past few days, so I hope you enjoy the following pictures as well as the remaining few days this year!

My tea plant is blooming! Was NOT expecting that! I think some extra
water and the heat turned on a bit more often did the trick.

After months of growing, a few jalapenos turned RED! Was also not expecting that. I ate one the other day which was very flavorful - it was half red, half green. I guess once again the warm climate indoors caused the change. Still yummy!

This is a new plant added to my collection, the poinsettia (or "christmas star" as they'd say here).
This was a gift this holiday season.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Amsterdam Flower Market (w/ pics)!

As promised, a report of my recent travels!

Despite having lived over here in Europe for over 9 years now and having visited many parts of the continent, there are still a few important cities/areas that I haven't been to yet and are long overdue! Amsterdam being one of them, despite its proximity to where I live! So the idea for a mini-vacation and city-tour was conceived a while ago and finally born last month!

Amsterdam is not only an obvious choice destination for especially young travelers (thanks to its vivid cityscape, red light district, and pot-smoking cafés) but also appeals to the more general traveler thanks to its rich history, famous museums (Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt House, recently-reopened Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, etc.), and world-renowned culture scene (Concertgebouw).

Another highlight, famous to all but a mecca for the gardener, is the Bloemenmarkt! This "floating" flower market is named so due to its location - hover over the canals with some supports on houseboats, totally Amsterdam-style!

As you may assume based on the name, flowers and bulbs are the main focus of this market, but it is a paradise for all gardeners alike - many, many different types of seeds, including exotic seeds, full plants, and even marijuana "starter kits", can be purchased and even packaged for international travel.

Enjoy my pics of the Bloemenmarkt!

a typical flower stand - look at how deep it is, and PACKED with seeds!

seeds, bulbs, more seeds and bulbs

cut flowers for sale, great selection...

...even cabbage blooms sold as cut flowers! pretty!

flowers, palms, and cannabis starter kits

the obvious pick: Dutch tulips...what which to choose?

more bulbs: amaryllis

more bulbs: zantedeschia

and some monster-esque bulbs!

live plants (here bonsai)

the ceiling of this shop at the end of the market was to die for, like heaven - a ceiling of pink (dried) flowers!!!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Mystery Vegetable: Savoy Cabbage

First off, thanks to you all for checking back! I have been really busy starting a new phase at work and doing a little traveling (check again soon for relevant posts about that! :) but will try to post more often now if I can!

Now winter is starting to (very slowly) peek its toes out from underneath the warm covers of mid-fall, the assortment of vegetables that I am getting in my weekly CSA box is definitely adjusting to suit the season. This week I got a very typical German vegetable that I know we have in the States, but I at least never would have purchased! What would you do with a...

Savoy Cabbage
savoy cabbage

The Brassica oleracea var. sabauda L. or Savoy Cabbage Group is a fall and winter vegetable that is quite popular over here in Germany especially around the Christmas season - "wirsing" is mostly cooked with scallions and garlic and is either served with sausages or as a side to duck, deer, or any wild game for the holidays (along with potatoes, of course!). It is a variety of the same species as kale, or "grünkohl" in German, but unlike kale, does form a head. The texture is the same, and I think they also taste the same. 

These heavy heads of green are not only a nice side dish for the winter season but are also very good for you for several reasons! Leafy greens are thought to help prevent cancer, probably due to their high fiber content, which also helps you stay full for longer and aids in digestion. Savoy cabbage as well as kale are also high in Vitamin C (wow!) and Vitamin K.

Another increasingly popular way to prepare kale and thus savoy cabbage is to make chips! I have done this once, but I used too much oil so the chips gotta kinda soppy quickly. The preparation is pretty simple, though, and something different to try. Have fun with this recipe from Food Network and invent your own ways to eat savoy cabbage!

Kale Chips
- 1 head kale, washed and thoroughly dried (important! otherwise the chips will not be crispy!)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Sea salt, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 275°F.
Remove the ribs from the kale and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Lay on a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil and salt. Bake until crisp, turning the leaves halfway through, about 20 minutes.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

What to do with your leftover or unripe fall harvest...

my CSA green tomatoes
Fall is definitely in full swing, and I love it! There are so many great things about fall...enjoying the crisp air, bundling up with cozy sweaters and warm drinks, harvesting the fruits of your labor on hot summer days in your garden...and of course enjoying the fall recipes that celebrate your ripe and (hopefully) plentiful harvest!

Sometimes, however, it gets cold pretty quickly and your vegetables don't have time or the warmth to ripen before frost sets in, but don't despair! There are still some beloved recipes that safely use unripened vegetables that are delicious and one-of-a-kind, specific to the fall season, such as this one below! You don't have to let your vegetables go to waste!

Since my balcony harvest was very minimal due to the scaffolding that I've mentioned before, I had asked my CSA if they would at all be able to get me a few pounds of green tomatoes to make this recipe that I miss every fall,making sure to explain that they are just unripe red tomatoes. They asked their farmers and my wish was granted, so a recent delivery included some green tomatoes that I used for this pie (otherwise unable to find and purchase here anywhere...)! This is a simple and delicious recipe (one of my fall favs!) very similar to my mom's version...for those who are skeptical, it really doesn't taste like tomatoes, it has it's own mild flavor. If you're from the southern States, you probably have had fried green tomatoes before and this is nothing new to you!

green tomato pie
Green Tomato Pie

Pastry for 9-inch pie (top and bottom)
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
5 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
4 c. thinly sliced green tomatoes
1 tbsp. white vinegar or lemon juice
(1 tsp. grated lemon peel)
1 tbsp. butter

Mix sugars, flour and spices. Arrange a layer of tomato slices on the bottom of pie shell. Sprinkle with 3 or 4 tablespoons of the sugar mixture. 

Continue alternating layers until the pie shell is full. Sprinkle any remaining sugar mixture on top and dot with butter. Sprinkle lemon rind and vinegar on top. Put top crust on, cut slits in the top crust for ventilation, and bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until brown (the ingredients start to bubble out of the slits). Optional: add a crust protector or put foil over the outer edge of the crust for the last 15-20 minutes of baking to prevent the crust from burning.

yum, yum, yuuuuuummmm!
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