Thursday, September 30, 2010

Grated Carrot Stir Fry - Carrot Poriyal

A standard lunch meal back home would include sambhar(or a dal based dish), poriyal (stir fry), rasam and curd (yogurt). With time a premium and the necessity to control carbon carb only one and occasionally two items of the list make it to the dining table. Curd of course is a necessity. Among the few vegetables that are readily available here that lend themselves beautifully in a stir fry carrots are right up there.

When using carrots, if they are chopped or grated seem to affect the taste. While I am not too fond of chopped carrots in a stir fry grated carrots are a different story altogether. Weird? I agree but that is just the way it is. Along with some arism paruppu saatham or khichidi the carrot stir fry gives a mellow completeness to a meal.

Grated Carrot Stir Fry
1. 6 Carrots (about 2 cups grated carrot)
2. 1/4 cup chopped onions
3. 5 slit green chilies
4. 1/2 tbsp of lime juice
5. 1 tbsp grated fresh or frozen coconut
6. seasonings: curry leaves, mustard, cumin and split urad dal
7. salt + 1 tsp oil
8. peanuts crushed (optional)

1. In a wide mouthed pan heat the oil and add the seasonings, first the urad dal and when it starts to brown add the cumin and mustard seeds and when they start to pop add the curry leaves
2. Add the onion and green chilies and let it saute till they are translucent
3.Add the grated carrot and let it cook for 5-6 minutes (depends on how cooked you want the carrots to be)
4. Add the lime juice and salt and let cook for another 2 minutes
5. Add the coconut when you are just about to switch of the heat
6. Sprinkle the crushed peanuts if using

Serve as a side or as a salad.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Garden Update

The Garden Update may have been silent for a few weeks but the garden has not. The stink bugs made sure a lot of the tomatoes were unusable but the chilies, squashes, greens, gourds and brinjals have all been producing.

Young ridge gourd

I would have liked a few more squashes but no complaints these squashes (Delicata and Butternut) came on their own and did give me a quite a few.

Fully grown butternut squash

The hyacinth beans are just starting to flower. My neighbor informed me that the variety of bean I was growing required a long growing time and the growing season here was not sufficient. Made sense. The unusually warm September we have been having this year has sure helped the bean plant. While this is scary with respect to global warming, the garden has gotten a second wind so to speak.

Hyacinth bean flower

I gave the produce table miss because I was not keeping track of the harvest.

Here is another mystery gourd and hoping it would grow to maturity and can be identified.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Snake and bitter gourds (podalangai) stir fry with chick pea flour (besan)

Couple of weeks ago was primary election day in the DC area (VA,MD &DC). DD had volunteered to help out in the polling booth which is usually a local elementary school. During the summer she had attended a 2 hour training session and was looking forward to working. The day before the election day she had to go meet the election judges, help them setup and get acquainted with her tasks. When I went to drop her off , I was shocked to find the parking lot of the school overflowing with cars. I never saw so many people even during the last general election(Obama election) when the turnout was expected to be high. That many people to volunteer? As we walked in wondering we were informed an open house for Sunday school of a church was also being held. That made sense!!

The next day I went to pick up DD around noon time when her shift was coming to end. The place was empty but for me and another lady, more along what I had expected after the shock from the previous day. The lady was very appreciative of DD volunteering and getting to know her most important civic duty at a very young age. She added that most people fail to take part in the electoral process and start complaining about their elected representatives when it is too late. How true! It seems the whole country is disappointed if not downright angry at what our representatives are doing in their workplaces while a large portion of the country has no workplace to go to. While the kids have the day off (schools are used as polling places), their parents have to go work unfortunately and that perhaps explained the near empty polling place?.

When I first came of voting age in India, I was in the midst of a vacation and enjoying myself and reluctant to go vote braving the crowds. My dad insisted that I go and vote along with the lecture that is the single most powerful way to express one's rights in a democracy. I have not forgotten that lesson.

Most people voting in a primary election are members in one of the political parties and are voting to choose the candidate that can best represent their party in the general election (in case of multiple candidates). If you are not registered to either party you are not eligible to vote.

Now on to the recipe,
Occasionally, when I am overwhelmed with too much stuff to do, I ask a cook to come and cook a few dishes that can last a few days. She is in such demand that it is hard to get her to come every week. Anyway, the last time she came she had cooked some bell pepper with besan a Gujarati specialty?. Bell pepper with besan was a perfect combination along with a hint of ajwain. Ajwain I have decided is a must for this recipe. I wanted to swap out the bell pepper and use some fresh snake and bitter gourds in the same recipe. What do you know, it indeed was a great and tasty combination if I can say so myself. Do not attempt the dish without ajwain, it is a must.

Snake and bitter gourds stir fry with chick pea flour
1. 1 1/2 cups of snake gourd sliced into thin half moons
2. 1/4 cup of bitter gourd sliced into thin half moons
3. 1/4 cup of finely chopped onions
4. 1 1/2 - 2 tbsp of ginger grated
5. 1/4 cup of besan flour
6. 1/2 tbsp of ajwain
7. 1 tsp of cumin seeds
8. 1/2 tbsp of red chili powder
9. 2 tsp of turmeric powder
9. salt to taste
10. 4 tsp of oil

1. In a flat saute pan add 3 tsp of oil and the besan flour and saute till it starts to turn color - from pale yellow to a darker nuttier shade of yellow but do not let it brown it will turn bitter (do not fail to do this step, the flour will clump up in the stir fry otherwise). Set aside.
2. In a wide mouthed pan add a tsp of oil and when hot add the cumin and ajwain seeds. After a minute,
3. Add the onions and ginger and let them saute till soft
4. Add the sliced gourds, chili powder, turmeric powder and a tbsp of water and let them cook till they are soft and cooked (close the lid to speed the cooking process)
5. Open the lid add salt and heat till the moisture completely evaporates
6. Sprinkle the roasted besan flour and saute for 6-10 minutes till the required texture is reached - this depends on how dry you want the dish. Preferably the besan flour should be fine grained and separate.

Serve as a side for chapatis or with rice.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cabbage with Val Beans (mochai) aka Hyacinth Beans - Stir fry

Has anyone seen the documentary "2 Million Minutes"? If you have what did you think of it.

This time we move right ahead to the recipe without too much talk,

Cabbage is one of those vegetables that is versatile and lends itself to any recipe. I have not heard anyone say it is their favorite vegetable neither is it mine. Don't know how but it is always there ready to be used.

I had some soaked Val Beans left over after making this gravy and it lay there for a week. Add some green beans to the mix and a tasty stir fry dish was on its way.

Cabbage with Beans
1. 2 Cups of thinly sliced cabbage
2. 1 Cup of chopped green beans
3. 1 Cup of soaked Val Beans (any bean would work)
4. 1/4 cup chopped onions
5. 3 slit green chilies
6. 3/4 tbsp sambhar powder
7. 1/2 tbsp grated ginger
8. seasonings: mustard seeds,curry leaves and fennel seeds
9. salt to taste

1. In a wide mouthed pan add oil and when hot add the seasonings and when the mustard starts to pop add the onions and chilies and saute till translucent.
2. Add the green beans and sprinkle a tbsp of water and let the beans cook for a few minutes till they are half done
3. Add the cabbage and let it cook for a few more minutes. Do NOT cover with a lid and let it cook for 6-8 minutes
4. Sprinkle the sambhar powder, grated ginger, val beans, salt and let them cook for 5 minutes more till all the moisture dries out.

Serve with rotis and rice.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mozarella Cheese biscuits (bread)

The Obama government made a great deal of fanfare of the Race to the top funds. You can click on the link to learn more but in short, Race to the Top funds provides competitive grants to encourage and reward States that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform. States go through several stages of application process, competing with each other and winners enjoy federal funds. Maryland my state also won some funding through this program. Our friends from New Jersey with school age kids are all probably intimately aware of the botched up application process and disqualification from the race of their state, leading to the firing of the education commissioner. So it is a big deal really. Education funding is the first to get cut in a down economy, so any help is lapped up by states with glee.

Is this enough to change anything at the ground level? Not really. US probably has the worst primary and secondary school education compared to even countries like India, China and many European countries and far behind countries like Singapore and New Zealand. The Universities here are some of the best in the World but most US high school graduates lack the skills and are not adequately prepared to take on the load of college level courses. Increasingly students enrolled in colleges are sent back to complete remedial courses before they can continue their college education.

Is anybody with school age children really surprised by any of this? The education in this country is controlled by school board members who are elected (anybody can run for these elections) and the most qualification these candidates seem to have is having volunteered in their children's classes, being members of PTA(Parent Teacher's Association) and in some cases people who think Intelligent Design should be the predominant theory taught in science classrooms. If interested read about folks who are BOE members in my county and read their qualifications. Most use this post as stepping stone to higher elected office, education be damned.

As teacher's salaries and bonuses are increasingly tied to kids performances on tests, there is a general lowering of standards across the board to make everyone come out looking good. This is a sample but can extrapolated to the whole country. Catering to the lowest common denominator is the norm. Kids who are performing at grade level(but in official terms it is considered above grade level) are separated into what is called a GT (gifted and talented) stream and supposedly given a higher level of instruction. This frankly does not mean anything because the bar is set so low. In a class room if more than 50% of the kids are testing at above grade level what does it tell us about the quality of the curriculum.

The teachers and school administrators are generally so risk averse(meaning scared of lawsuits) that anything close to maintaining discipline is anathema. Teachers will be caught in a maelstrom if they dare question a student for disrupting the class. The byproduct the teachers are intent in covering their behinds and don't worry too much about educating. They cannot take all of the blame either, the system is so broken that even teachers with the best of intentions cannot do much about the situations they find themselves in.

If you live in a socially and economically diverse region, your public school would obviously be a reflection of that. What happens in these schools is that the teachers struggle to educate kids who are ready for their grades in age only. As for the kids who are at or above grade level, some are recruited to be unpaid teacher's assistants, while the others are bored and disruptive while another group gets by without much work.

For this reason most parents struggle to get their kids into streams which supposedly offer a higher level of education than the normal classroom but all it does is lull parents into a false sense of security. The minimum expectation from these programs is nothing more than a grade level education. In a tough economy these special programs which are geared towards above average students are the first to go. There is very little support for these programs which cater to a very narrow group of students. These programs might be given fancy names like Magnet, GT etc but what they accomplish is not much.

The sad state of education today is visible already. There cannot be any second opinions about that. If a parent is capable and understands the problems facing secondary education in this country, the best they can do is to provide the extra learned needed at home. Frankly, how many have the time or energy to do remedial work that the schools woefully fall short of, and neither do the kids after a long day of boring school work.

In the US being a sports jock carries more power and prestige in a high school than math whiz (or in the American lingo a nerd or geek). Even though playing how many ever football games is going to do nothing to pull the country out of recession.

Educators, scientists, technology company CEOs have all sounded alarm about the quality of STEM education. There is no common curriculum or education standards ls across the country. The curriculum and syllabus are left to the individual school districts(counties) where setting them is in the hands of the above mentioned BOE members.

The more I see of the quality of education here is being handled the more I feel scared, frustrated and helpless. Principals who feel lowering the standards to below grade level gives opportunities for more students to participate is good for the school community at large? An over emphasis on annual testing. A test before getting admitted to college may prove that a student is ready but yearly standardized tests? Just as polling is done to gauge the mood of the electorate the same politicians need feedback do determine progress? These high stakes test results apparently determine everything from funding to allocation of resources. Little wonder that the school boards are eager to lower standards to keep their funding and cushy jobs.

I tried to convince myself that education in the US has to be good. These people are some of the most successful people in the world right? It has got to be good. The reality is more stark, the glory days of public education are long gone, the US is able to afford the best and brightest because they had the means and at whatever price. Increasingly the best and brightest can choose greener pastures than the jaded American dream.

Some of you might wonder if private education is an answer. Unfortunately only the very rich parents can afford private school education for their wards unless you are willing to send your kids to religious schools where Math and Science have religion incorporated. Most private schools besides the fees also make regular demands for donations. A high tuition does not guarantee a spectacular education either. A significant portion of the student body is compromised of rich kids with learning problems whose parents have deep pockets. It might not especially come as a surprise but rich does not equate to excellence!!
Many have sounded warning that the time to act is now. Will they? Doubtful.

I am sorry if I sounded downright depressing but these are the facts and we are struggling with it everyday.

the sticky dough

If you have reached this far and still would like to see the recipe, here it is.
Cheese biscuits are delicate and delicious. I set out to make biscuits but ended with bread almost like pizza. DD2 decided to have her birthday at Ruby Tuesday's where they started is off with cheese biscuits which gave the impetus for these biscuits.

The batter has to have just enough moisture else forget the biscuits they become bread. No waste of taste but definitely big problems with the texture. We are a spice loving family so some finely chopped chipotle peppers with adobe sauce gave the right amount of kick. Traditionally these are made with cheddar cheese but I had a huge packet of mozzarella cheese so choose to stick with it.

The 2 recipes that helped me along were from
1. Homemade Cheese Biscuit from Purple Foodie
2. Cheddar Cheese Biscuits

Spicy Mozzarella Cheese Biscuits Bread
1. 2 1/2 unbleached all purpose flour
2. 1 1/2 shredded Mozzarella cheese
3. 2 tbsp of chopped chipotle peppers + adobo sauce
4. 3 tsp baking powder
5. 1/2 tsp salt
6. 4 tbsp of cold butter
7. 2 tbsp safflower oil (any flavorless oil should work)
8. 1 cup of fat free yogurt + 1 1/2 cups of milk (be careful with the liquids)

1. In a mixing bowl add the flour, salt and baking powder and whisk it together
2. Add chopped cold butter and mix it into the flour with the back of a fork
3. Add in the shredded mozzarella cheese and using a spatula mix it in well
4. Add in the oil, whisked yogurt and mix it into the flour
5. Add the milk slowly to get the flour wet and into a stiff dough (if you want a bread texture and not biscuit texture the dough should be soggy)
6. Add in the chopped chipotle peppers and gently mix it into the dough (I learned that overworking the dough will make the biscuit not rise)
7. Grease a cookie sheet and place 2-3 tbsp of dough on the sheet about 2" apart
8. Place in a preheated 400F oven for 20-25 minutes.

1. Be sure to keep the liquids to a minimum and the dough should not be soggy like for bread
2. Overworking the dough is not good and does not help the biscuit rise

Even though they turned out to be bread instead of biscuit they were still tasty.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lima Beans (Butter Beans) in a spicy tomato sauce

In the last post while talking about the exploding cost of higher education I forgot about one important fact. Sandeepa's comment brought it to sharp focus. Being enrolled in college keeps kids out of trouble and in some cases big trouble. As parents we get a bad rap for over scheduling kids. On the other hand lot of parents vouch for the fact that being enrolled in after school activities keeps their teenagers out of trouble.

Moreover I have watched at close quarters the sadness and denial when a child gets into a situation that cannot be rewound and no amount of regret can set right. One of my neighbors son's was sent to prison when he and a group of his friends beat to death a high school student. This happened a couple of years after the offender had graduated from high school. The parents run a very successful business probably negating the need for sending their children to college. I do not deny the thought that went through my head when we heard of the news - "It never would have happened if he was busy in college". No amount of regret or denial is going to give the boy back his old life. Would college have prevented the incident? There is no way to tell.

Gone are the days when sending to college was an easy decision. In today's scenario paying for college means big time sacrifices for parents.

Community colleges, technical schools, online schools, apprenticeship,trades are all alternate means to regular brick and mortar colleges.

Just wanted to mention this fact as well.

As for the recipe it is another one that uses the bumper tomato harvest. I have my own love affair with Beans and any recipe that uses beans and lima beans at that is going to be bookmarked. This recipe was inspired by a recipe on Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska found while going through the MLLA archives.

I have learned through experience not to cook lima beans in a pressure cooker. They remain whole and do not turn mushy when cooked on stove top. As the recipe here required some slow cooking time, it fit neatly into the cooking method for this one.

1. 2 Cups of dried lima beans (butter beans) soaked overnight in plenty of water
2. 2 Cups of chopped tomatoes
3. 1/2 cup of chopped onions
4. 1 tbsp - masala powder or (3/4 tbsp roasted coriander powder + 1/4 tbsp cumin powder)
5. 1/2 cayenne pepper (adjust to taste)
6. 1 tbsp grated ginger
7. 4 cloves of garlic chopped
8. seasonings: cumin
9. 2 tsp of oil
10. salt to taste
11. handful of chopped coriander leaves (optional)

1. In a heavy bottomed pan with a lid, heat the oil and add the cumin seeds
2. Add the onions and let them saute till soft
3. Add the tomatoes and saute for 5 minutes, close the lid and let cook for another 5 minutes
4. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for a couple more minutes
5. Add the rinsed, soaked lima beans and the spice powders and mix it in will
6. Add a cup of water, close the lid and let cook for 10-15 minutes, check to see if the beans are cooked, if not let cook for another 10 minutes or more.
7. Add salt (coriander leaves if using) and mix it in well. Let cook for 2 more minutes.

Serve with rice or rotis.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tomato Pickle (tomato thokku) and Tomato Jam

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Larry Ellison - what do these people have in common besides being billionaires? They all do not have a college degree but head very innovative and successful technology companies.

As cost of higher education has steadily gone up many are questioning the necessity of and importance given to college education. Those of us who got a start in life without big student loans to our names are more than lucky. A vast majority of graduates here in the US have huge student loans which many of them will be paying off even into their 40s.

after 30 minutes of cooking and oil added

I or rather my parents paid a total of Rs 3200($72) for 4 years of engineering education, yes subsidized by the government and what I am doing in a foreign country? That is an argument for another day. Compare that to more than $20,000 to get my Master's degree. Was the cost worth it? Absolutely not.

For many parents here in the US, the cost of paying for their children's education competes with having to save for retirement.

Is college education overrated? Do they really teach skills that will help young people get well paying jobs that will set them on the path to financial security? A couple of decades ago perhaps the answer would have been different but with the astronomical costs of today's college education. The answer IMO is a resounding 'No'. There are many who hav come to believe that a college education is not the only way.

after 1 hour of cooking with spices added

The more I read about it the more I see the merits in that argument. For most of us who grew up, fed with the thought that that not getting a professional degree leave alone a degree, this is akin to a crime. With the ever rising cost of education, the return on investment takes longer and longer to realize negating the beneficial effects of a college education. Read this article for reading more.

There is absolutely no argument to the fact that college educated people make more over their lifetime than those who do not. Increasingly in today's job market, there are also those with college degrees who wait tables, pump gas and make do with jobs that don't need a high priced college education. Is it time to rethink and change our traditional views on education and make it more adaptable to today's reality?


What are your thoughts on college education? Do you or your kids have a choice in the matter?

The tomatoes I have been harvesting needed to be dealt with. One batch was predestined to become tomato thokku pickle. I have almost perfected the recipe to suit our taste buds. I also wanted to make something else besides a pickle with the second batch of tomatoes. Tomato ketchup was a top choice but my curiosity about making a tomato jam took over. What do you know Nupur announces the BB7-The Iron Chef Edition. I did not plan it that way but the long weekend last week had me cooking both the pickle and jam on the same day and I am glad I did. If I had procrastinated one or the other would not have gotten done.

Perfect side for any meal

I already my mom's recipe for tomato thokku pickle but the one I am going to present today is one that I have arrived at after quite a few attempts at making them. The recipe that I consult is from Saffron Hut. A combination of this recipe and my mom's recipe has been the one that has worked best.

Best to use a deep heavy bottomed pot to avoid splatter. Not adding garlic helps in keeping the pickle last longer and leave the pungent smell out.

Tomato Thokku Pickle Time to cook: 1 - 1 1/2 hours
1. 2 quarts of chopped well ripened tomatoes
2. 2-3 tbsp of minced green chilies (more or less depending on taste and availability)
3. 1 tbsp tamarind (don't soak in water) or 1/2 tamarind paste(optional)
4. 2 tbsp chili powder (adjust according to the heat from the green chilies)
5. 1 tsp mustard seeds + 1/2 tsp methi seeds + 1/4 tsp asfoetida
6. 1 cup of sesame oil
7. 1 tbsp kosher salt (adjust to taste)

1. Heat 2 tbsp of the oil, add the minced green chilies
2. Add the chopped tomatoes and let them cook for 30-45 minutes. Make sure the heat is kept at medium and not let it stick to the bottom of the pot.
3. You will see the tomatoes slowly start to loose their moisture and thicken.
4. Gently roast the mustard, methi and asfoetida, powder and keep aside.
5. Heat 1/2 cup of the oil and add to the tomatoes and let it cook for another 20-30 more minutes.
6. Add the chili powder, the roasted powder and salt. Mix it in.
7. Cook for another 20 minutes or so, the bubbling will slowly stop and the oil will start to separate. Heat the rest of the oil and add to the pickle and let cook for 5 minutes.
8. Cool and transfer to clean sun dried jars.

1. Use the tamarind only if the tomatoes are not sour
2. Add the tamarind directly to the tomatoes and after they have cooked remove the skin and pith
3. The time to cook the tomatoes depends on the juice in the tomatoes.
4. For a longer shelf life cook till the oil is clearly rising to the top and add the required amount of oil.

Compared to the pickle the jam cooks much quickly. Most recipes I found and the one I was really interested in this recipe on the Minimalist blog but with chilies and ginger and spices like cinnamon and cloves added I was not too eager. I have tasted jalapeno jelly and it did not taste right and was not too crazy about it, so I decided on a very basic recipe for jelly. The jam turned out pretty good an now is a favorite to spread on toast.

Tomato Jelly Time to cook: 1 hour
1. 4 Cups of chopped ripened tomatoes
2. 1 Cup of sugar
3. 1 tbsp lime juice
4. 5-6 cloves

1. In a heavy bottomed pan, mix in the tomatoes, sugar, cloves and lime juice.
2. Let it cook undisturbed for the first 30 minutes
3. Keep a close eye and stop the heat when it comes together in a shiny mass.
4. The jam gets thicker when it cools, remove from heat when a drop dropped in a cup of water does not dissolve.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Val Beans in a peanut gravy (Mochai kuzhambu)

Lunch time at work has become something to look forward to with a few colleagues from Andhra, a chance to taste some good food and get ideas and recipes first hand. The recipe to be presented today is one I tasted during lunch hour one day.

I remember fresh val beans (pachai mochai) from childhood, during season there were always in abundance and everyone was rounded up to shell them. A tamarind spiked spicy gravy made with with brinjals and fresh val beans was a big favorite. It has also boxed me into a narrow idea that Val beans have to be cooked in a tamarind based gravy. Not necessarily, a vast array of possibilites opened up after tasting val in a peanut based gravy.

Val Beans in a peanut gravy(Mochai Kuzhambu)
1. 2 Cups dried val beans soaked overnight
2. 1/2 cup onions chopped
3. 1/4 cup sour tomatoes (2 tbsp tamarind extract for unsour tomatoes, optional)
4. seasonings: mustard, cumin seeds and curry leaves
5. salt to taste + 1 tsp oil

For the peanut paste
1. 1/4 cup roasted unsalted peanuts (shelled and skin removed)
2. 1 tbsp coriander seeds
3. 4-5 red chilies
4. 1 tbsp grated fresh/frozen coconut
5. 1/2 tbsp grated ginger (I forgot to add them)

Dry roast the coriander, red chillies till they start to turn brown. Add the coconut and ginger if using and roast till it starts to turn slightly brown. Cool and blend to a smooth paste, adding a couple of tbsp of water if required.

1. Wash and rinse the beans and set aside
2.In a pressure cooker, add oil and when hot add the seasonings
3. Add the onions and saute till translucent
4. Add the beans and saute for 5-10 minutes
5. Add the tomatoes and saute for a few minutes till they become soft
6. Add in the blended paste and 2 cups of water. Do not add salt now.
7. Close the lid and cook for 2 whistles. Let cool, add salt and boil for a minute more.

1. The val beans can be precooked, in which case they will be added after the peanut paste has been added.
2. Pressure cooker is not a must. Can be cooked in a pan with lid

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Garden Update - Trials and Tribulations

Reading through the Garden Update posts is like reading through all the fantastic moments of life while ignoring the unavoidable hard ones. As in life so in the garden. I will be amiss and send you the reader in the wrong track if I do not point out the frustrations and hard work that goes into growing and maintaining a vegetable garden.

Fruit of the mystery creeper which was soon eaten by a mystery animal

The first step in any vegetable garden is to find a spot that gets 6-8 hours of sunlight during the day. Once that is settled the soil has to be worked and mixed in with organic matter. Digging and preparing the patch is back breaking work. It is a good to keep watch for horse farms who give away their manure which are very essential for the garden patch. Composting is a good way to get some of your own organic matter. You are lucky if to have family members who take the same interest as you do in the garden. They might be willing you to give you a hand when you are sweating in the hot sun with the shovel.

See the black worm? a swarm of them had taken over couple of tomato plants which had to be pulled out

Seedlings can be bought or one can start their own. Seed starting soil works well for germinating seeds. Find a sunny window to put them and water regularly. Not all seeds germinate. When the outside temperature is warm enough transplant the seedlings. Here again judge the best day to put them put a hot a day or a rainy day is not optimal. Early rains help to set them on the way to good growth. Make sure to weed and work the soil around the plants and make sure water drains properly.

Armies of stink bugs have taken over. Late summer is when all of them mature and start feeding I guess

The perfect situation is for the plants to grow, flower, set fruit and make everyone happy with a bumper harvest.

Rarely does the story plays out that way. There are bugs to deal with, too much water cause the the plant to rot. If pollination does not happen at the right time the young buds do not mature. Birds and small animals like to nibble on young fruits, literally snipping the growth in the bud. Caterpillars can completely destroy a well growing plant in less than a day.

Don't they look cute? They are equally destructive.

If you are against using pesticides it is essential to keep a close watch and deal with them in an organic manner ;) It hurts to see a young fruit wither and fall off due to lack of pollination or nutrition or a plant mowed down by one single voracious caterpillar. Birds and chipmunks are as curious as DD2 in finding out how they taste when very young.

I have read and know for a fact that it is good to have flowering plants that attract pollinators be worked into the landscape thereby ensuring natural pollination, unless you are the kind that likes to hand pollinate your squash and zucchinis.

If you are committed to a vegetable garden besides watering and taking care of them regularly you have to find someone to water your plants when on vacation. I am lucky to have a friend/neighbor who is as interested in vegetable gardens.

Reached the second floor window but a fast wind would bring it all tumbling down

There are several factors in the composition of the soil , quality of sunlight, drainage of the patch which all decide the type of plants that will work best. I have been woefully disappointed growing okra or corn whereas I have friends who swear they are the easiest to grow. I have arrived at my combination of plants that work best for the patch of garden that I have.

Watching all the pests in action truly gives an appreciation for organic farming.

If you plan to start a vegetable garden, you might or might not face some of the problems that are mentioned here. Persistence and a dogged determination yields good results. Good Luck!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Food on the Road - Breakfast to go - English Muffins with Eggs

Nobody said vacations are not cheap. Even with elaborate planning, there was not much we could do about airline ticket or hotel prices. From experience we know that spending a lot of money does not necessarily guarantee a happy tongue or tummy. With a determination to keep food related expenses under control fixing our own meals was a necessity. Started with our breakfast on the plane.

We had a very early morning flight and eating before leaving was simply not possible. Just because airlines have no problem serving peanuts at 6.00AM does not meant we can eat breakfast at 3:00AM. We had to fix something that would travel well and be done quickly and not end up missing the flight :)

Like HC aptly mentioned, whipping up our packed food to munch definitely felt good. Egg McMuffins from McDs has always been a favorite and is the inspiration for this breakfast sandwich. Very easy to put together and great to carry along and eat in the plane without a big mess.

Our flight was at 5.30AM, we had to leave home by 3.30AM. It took me exactly 20 minutes to put together 6 of these sandwiches to be eaten during our stopover at 7.30AM. Along with some muffins we were more than ready for our trip. Who in the world advises these airlines on serving peanuts or pretzels at 6.00AM in the morning? Seriously!

This has become my go to breakfast of choice in the mornings when there is no time to eat and I have to carry it with me.

English Muffins with Eggs
1. 6 Whole Wheat English Muffins
2. 6 Eggs
3. Pepper powder and salt to taste
4. Cream cheese (flavored works best) or cheese slices
5. Tomato pickle (optional)
6. Oil Spray

1. In a pan preferably small to control the size of the omelet being made. Spray the pan with oil
2. Break the egg into the pan, sprinkle pepper powder and salt. Cook on both sides thoroughly. Set aside
3. Toast the English muffin and spread cream cheese (and the pickle if using)
4. Place the omelet between the 2 slices and wrap securely in wax paper.

Can it be any simpler