Monday, July 29, 2013

Beet Red Velvet Cake and Other Adventures

It seems that you cannot have a community garden in Central Ohio without growing lots of beets.  They are a two-season crop and are very pretty.  Trouble is,  I wasn’t raised with beets and I just don’t like them.  I’ve really, really tried, but they don’t work for me.  Last year, I tried the national dish of Russia, borscht, but I couldn’t finish a bowl.  Maybe I don’t have a good recipe.  I tried roasted beets (even mixed with roasted potatoes and turnips).  I’ve made them into bruchetta spreads and taken them to parties topped with feta (to very faint praise). I’m told that they are good pickled, particularly at a restaurant in Mt. Sterling, but I’ve never had the pleasure.  I’ve even tried some Mark Bittman recipes. The best I can say is that I can tolerate them raw and shaved onto salads.  They make my kale slaws very colorful.  While the beets in the food pantry plot have been relatively tiny, the beets in my plot have been as big as my fist. 

Last week, as she was driving away, I asked Cathy Alexander what to do with them (because she loves beets).  Red velvet cake she says.   I’m not much of a baker and I almost never bake from scratch.  However, I did some research and it turns out that back in the day, beets were used to make the cakes red before there was red food dye.   There are additional benefits to baking with beets, too.  They add a natural sweetness (so that you can reduce the amount of processed sugar) and they add moisture to the batter so that they stay moist longer without adding lots of extra cooking oil.    I found a number of recipes for beet red velvet cake on the internet and used an easy recipe on Friday night to make cupcakes for my intrepid volunteers who showed up on Saturday.  (Of course, it rained until almost 3 p.m.).  Sadly, I used dark chocolate, so you cannot see the red color, but I have no doubt it would be there if I had used regular chocolate.  They are still moist on Monday.   I messed with the recipe a little bit.  I added more than ¾ cup roasted/pureed beets (bad idea) and added ¼ cup lemon juice (to beef up the color).   I will be making these again.  And often.

As for our other adventures.  Sabrina worked really hard this week to catch up on weeding the food pantry plots.  It took her a few trips, but the weeds are finally under control in there.  I can even see cantaloupes growing.  Her husband,  Tom, mowed our lawn.    Cassie stopped by on Tuesday, too, to do some light weeding in her plot and the flower beds.  Sadly, she did not make much progress.  She was able to harvest a lot of neglected vegetables.  Her butternut squash had grown out to almost the alley and there was a large fruit forming out there.  There was no way to bring it back inside the Garden and it was gone by Friday.  I had to spend most of my time at the Garden this week doing her chores since she refuses to make time to weed and prune the flower beds.  Grumble.  Grumble.   Because we seem to be having a mild summer, I decided to plant some extra impatiens in our flower beds with the hopes that they will not get fried out and will spruce up our bare spots.  

When I stopped by the Garden on Friday with new books for the kids, I used my time waiting for them to return from Alum Creek Beach by spraying weeds along the street and alley with Round Up.  By the time I returned on Sunday afternoon, however, Sabrina had come and weeded the alley for several hours in the rain on Saturday.  It hasn’t looked that good since we broke ground for the season in April.  I’m always overwhelmed when someone goes over and beyond their chores and surprises me like that.  She came to the Garden in the rain on Saturday hoping to get some red velvet cupcakes.  She told me that I would notice her work and she was right.
Sabrina and Christen are moving on to their second season crops and it is not even August.  Christen doesn't like to keep plants -- like broccoli  -- long after her major harvest.  Secondary minor harvests just don't interest her.  She pulled her cabbage and giant broccoli plant out yesterday and planted more carrots.  This will create more sunlight for her watermelon and cucumbers. Sabrina will be pulling out her lettuce to make room and might pull out her bug-infested squash.  The food pantry plot is near the end of its Spring crops (turnips, beets, lettuce, and carrots), so I need to start making plans for that space as well.

Squash Bugs.  While Sabrina was weeding on Tuesday or Thursday, I found some squash bugs in her plot.  The adults were hiding in Rose’s cilantro and on Sabrina’s cosmos flowers.  This was her first exposure to the critters.   They had already killed a couple of her squash plants.  (I think they have also killed some of Mari’s plants, one of the boys’ plants and are working on Cassie’s).   I told her that this year I wanted to burn them out.  This works well for the eggs, but the adults – believe it or not – do not stand still to be burned alive.  Sabrina used her own lighter on the eggs, but opted to squash them with rocks and bricks.  While I chatted in the alley with Cathy, we could hear periodic screams coming from Sabrina’s plot as she discovered a new nest of squash bugs.  It was hysterical. 

Yesterday, Barb mentioned to me that she and Frank had seen some tell-tale squash bug eggs in the Garden.  They – like Charlie – decided to not grow squash in their plot this year.  I told her that I had noticed them, but I’m pretty philosophical about it this year.  2013 will be the first time in my adult life that I will be harvesting zucchini in August.  I planted my squash among my invasive chocolate mint plants and it seems to have disguised my squash plants from the bugs.  The only place where I seem to find them is where the leaves overhang Charlie’s plot (which is now so clean, there are no mint plants anywhere near the vicinity).   Fact is, I’m having trouble keeping up with my zucchini harvest.  I’ve also already harvested 2 delicatta squashes from my plot and am hoping for a couple of butternut and acorn squashes.  It’s almost surreal.

Ice Cream.  Speaking of my invasive mint, I gave some to Sabrina at the beginning of the season and she made ice cream with it yesterday.  I loaned her my ice cream maker on Thursday and she emailed me last night confirming my warning:  Most ice cream recipes are a lot of work.  My strawberry ice cream is easy to make, but I don’t make a real custard with it.   She’s not ready to try again anytime soon and will be returning my maker.   I can only imagine what she would have thought if I had loaned her a hand crank machine:-)

Dill and Water Guns.  The volunteer dill in the food pantry plot (left over from Rayna’s crop last year) is nearing the end of its useful life.  I doubt pantry clients will want it, so I’m going to pitch it soon.  Like this week.  So, faithful readers, if you want some dill head seeds to make dill pickles or to otherwise store, please stop by the SACG on Tuesday or Thursday evening and I will fill your bag with large seed heads.  We have dozens of plants.  However, be forewarned.  Thursday is also likely to be the Second Annual  Shootout at the CG Corral.  The kids have been waiting all summer for me to bring my super soaker water gun to the Garden.  However, with the exception of two weeks ago, it just hasn’t been hot enough.  They showed up yesterday with their new super soakers to attack me and I convinced them to give me until Thursday to get my old gun and make it a fair fight.  Assuming they remember this that long, the plants will be getting an unusual amount of water and the gardeners and other volunteers are likely to get wet, too.

Food Pantry Donations.   Finally, for what seems to be the third week in a row, I have been rained out again on Saturday.  Only this time, it was a heavy and sustained rain.  I’m not complaining; .75 inch is always welcome.  However, it made it a challenge to harvest and make a food pantry delivery.  Luckily, my neighbors, the Pipinos have an extra refrigerator which is usually empty.  I harvested over 30 pounds of vegetables yesterday and stored about half of them in their extra refrigerator so that I can deliver them to the food pantry when it is open today.   At this point in the season, we are 300% above our donations for this same time in 2012 and 2011.    Craziness.  This is what perfect growing weather will do.  Even Mari is over the moon with her harvest this year.  The only downside is that the weeds are a little more aggressive this year than in the past.

Upcoming Events.  Well, on Wednesday, some of us will be going to the ProMusica concert at the Franklin Park Conservatory. Thursday is our second annual water gun fight.  (BYOG and filled water balloons).  Be there or be dry.   

On Saturday – weather permitting – we will put the Garden into the final touches for the bike tour of near east side community gardens on Saturday, August 10 by Yea Bikes! and Local Matters.   We are thinking about scheduling a neighborhood litter pick up on the morning of Saturday, September 7.  (Kickoff for the  OSU/San Diego football game is not until 3:30 p.m. that afternoon).  The Children’s Parade starts at 11 a.m. and ends at the Hot Times Festival in Olde Towne East that same day. 

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