Archive for the 'Family' Category

Guest post: A garden out of control

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Chase Ledebur, my cousin Kären’s son. Chase has been gardening this summer for the first time at home, and I wanted you to hear from this wonderful and talented 12-year-old in his very own words.

Hi, I’m Chase – welcome to my garden. This is the first vegetable garden I’ve had at home. At school I was a part of planting a community garden, but it is a flower garden.

My Mom and I built the raised bed together and then planted 4 varieties of tomatoes, summer squash, three kinds of peppers, zucchini, Japanese eggplant, basil and oregano.

I have really enjoyed watching the plants grow and bear fruit. At first it started out small, but it’s now out of control. It’s so out of control that we had to cut back all our plants, stake some of them, and we are constantly harvesting all of our vegetables.

I love the whole process. Next year I think we’ll plant less, or maybe we’ll add another bed.

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Photography shouldn’t distract from weeding

On my way out to Oakland from Iowa, I made a stop in Grand Junction, Colorado, at my cousin’s house. She and her son Chase had planted their first vegetable garden in a beautiful raised bed off one side of the house. Tomatoes, squash, basil, oregano – the garden was still filled with seedlings when I got there, but had the promise of an amazing summer of production.

Chase gave me a tour of the garden before I headed out toward Salt Lake City, where I had a dinner planned with Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen, and I started shooting pictures almost as soon as I got out there. Chase put up with my paparazzi-esque behavior while he weeded the garden, but only did so for so long.

“Genie,” he said, looking up at me with a pointed look. “You really could stop taking those pictures and start helping me with the weeding.”

Well, I did help. A bit. And just recently, I asked my cousin if Chase might be interested in giving my readers an update on how the garden is doing, now that the summer season is in high gear and veggies are popping out all over. As it turned out, he was interested, so stay tuned – on Wednesday, I’ll be turning the floor over to Chase, who is more than just an excellent gardener – he’s a fantastic kid!

Singing for one’s locally-grown supper

The MetMy parents and I tried something a little different over the holidays this year — we celebrated in New York City. We hit all the typical requirements of Christmas in New York: the Rockettes, FAO Schwartz, Rockefeller Center, the New York City Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker — but also included plenty of unexpected stops along the way.

Among the most interesting of these stops was a backstage tour of the Metropolitan Opera, where we stood on the stage, tromped around amidst giant set pieces, and peeked into the dressing rooms.

Let you think it was all papier mache and union guys shouting at each other in thick Brooklyn accents (and there was plenty of both of those), let me assure you that opera singers and their behind-the-scenes team think about more than just the next entrance cue. As our tour guide whisked us through the maze of passageways behind and under the stage, I caught a glimpse of an article tacked to one of the company bulletin boards: “Let Farmers Fill Your Fridge.”

Because the Met has strict rules about making sure you are stepping on the heels of your tour guide at all times, I wasn’t able to take the time to skim the article or figure out in what magazine it appeared. However, it made me grin to know that even opera folks in the middle of Manhattan are concerned about the origin of the food that graces their table.

Green Thumb Sunday: Grand Junction sunset

Grand Junction Sunset

Gardeners, plant and nature lovers can join in Green Thumb Sunday every week. Visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Nice matters

Nice Matters Award‘Tis the season for giving, for celebrating with family, for passing around all manner of good feelings. And since ‘tis the season, in Iowa, for digging out from an ice storm, I’ll take any warmth I can get!

But recently, my cousin Katherine passed along a truly warm and wonderful honor in my direction: The Nice Matters Award. As she posted on her blog, “This award is for those bloggers who are nice people; good blog friends and those who inspire good feelings and inspiration. Also for those who are a positive influence on our blogging world. Once you’ve been awarded, please pass on to seven others whom you feel are deserving of this award.”

I’m honored that Katherine chose me to join six other talented bloggers—she made reference in her blog to my winning this many times, but I have to correct her—this is the first time this has made its way into my piece of the blogosphere. So Katherine, thank you, and cheers to you and your blog, which is also so deserving of the award!

In the spirit of giving, here are seven bloggers I’m highlighting today for the Nice Matters award:

  1. Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen. From her tireless dedication to Weekend Herb Blogging and to encouraging us all to cook food that’s both delicious AND healthy, to her support for the rest of the food blogging community, Kalyn is always thoughtful, always generous with her time and resources, and just an all around great person.
  2. Same goes for Alanna of Kitchen Parade. Alanna was one of the first bloggers I ever met in person, when she stopped through Cedar Rapids on her way to northern climes. She passed along a wake-up call to me that day that stuck with me like nobody’s business…and that call had repercussions that I would have never imagined. Beyond that, her recipes are delicious, her blog is entertaining, and she is passionate about great food.
  3. Trey of The Blogging Nurseryman is passionate about independent garden centers, keeping customers happy, and finding ways to use technology to bring customers to the fabulous garden center he and his wife own and run, and to get information about gardening out to the world at large. Plus, he has offered to be my personal garden consultant if I ever get stumped in a garden center here in Iowa. That definitely gets him on the list!
  4. Michelle at My Grandpa’s Garden just up and sent me a praying mantis egg sac this summer. Plus, she introduced the garden blogging world to Big Pumpkin and Charlotte. She’s been such a terrific addition to my garden reading this year.
  5. Kenny at Veggie Gardening Tips is another blogger who passed along a gift for my garden this year—some seeds for ice-hardy greens that I will be writing about in the fairly near future. Kenny is an incredible source of expertise, and, in my experience, thrilled to share what he knows with other bloggers.
  6. Carol at May Dreams Gardens began the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club, which has exposed me to books I would have never thought to have read. Not only is she a wonderful gardener and blogger in her own right, but she has been inspiring the rest of us to expand our gardening horizons, and for that, I thank her.
  7. Finally, in the continued spirit of one cousin to another, I’m going to highlight my cousin, Kären, who just launched Can’t Spare the Change, a brand new blog and Web site that examines how all of us can better effect change in the world around us and in our lives. Kären has an incredible story to share, and has inspired me in many ways. I encourage you to check out her blog and her story.

This is by no means an exhaustive list…but I wanted to highlight these bloggers, all of whom have affected my life in wonderful ways. Thanks to them, and to Katherine, for sending the award my way!

Pear salad with honey-cranberry drizzle

Thanksgiving feastOur family Thanksgiving menu is a little bit of a moving target. Turkey? Check. Stuffing? Check. Cranberry sauce? Check.

But sometimes the sweet potatoes show up roasted, sometimes mashed, sometimes in a pie. Some years, mashed potatoes make an appearance, other years, we save them for another meal. This year, steamed broccoli made the menu.

Yes, steamed broccoli. Come on…don’t you think “steamed broccoli” whenever you think “pilgrim hat?”

We generally have some manner of salad, and this year, Mom mentioned a pear salad in the days leading up to the feasting. However, at a critical moment just before our guests were to arrive, she arranged some romaine leaves on five plates and handed me three washed pears. “Here you go,” she said. “You’re in charge of the salad.”

The moment of truth upon me, I took a look at what I had to work with: one red pear, two yellow pears. Some pecans. Dried cranberries.

I set to work, slicing the pears thinly and arranging them on the plate in the world’s most OCD manner. As it turned out, I needed the whole red pear, and 1.2 yellow pears to accomplish an even number of slices on each plate.

That left me with .8 yellow pear. What do you do with that? It’s not like you can eat it, not when you’re faced with the impending groaning sideboard. And then, inspiration hit. I diced the last .8 pear, mixed that diced pear with dried cranberries, and topped the slices with the mixture. I added crumbled pecans on top, and then had to decide how to finish the dish.

Had I had blue cheese, this is where I would have crumbled some of that, too, and called it a salad. But Mom had just purged the refrigerator of blue cheese, and while she did have some blue cheese dressing in the refrigerator door, it was good that we checked the expiration date: it turned out to be June, and that left me back at the drawing board. It needed a finishing touch, and if it wasn’t to be cheese-related, then I was going to have to improvise an actual dressing.

“I have honey mustard dressing,” she said, but that didn’t jibe with my developing salad fantasy.

“Do you have honey?” I asked.

She did.

“Cranberry juice?”

Also a yes.

And thus was born a slightly sweet, fruit-appropriate, yet Thanksgivingesque dressing for the pear salad. Drizzled overtop, it was delicious, and would also make a nice addition to the table any time you have pears at perfect, sliceable stage of ripeness.

Pear salad with honey-cranberry drizzle
Pear salad (Serves 5)

Enough romaine leaves to line 5 plates
3 pears (preferably different colors, for contrast)
1/3 c. dried cranberries
¼ c. pecan halves
1 ½ Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp cranberry juice

  1. Line the plates with the romaine leaves.
  2. Slice the pears thinly, reserving approximately ¾ of one pear. Arrange the slices evenly on the lettuce leaves.
  3. Dice the remaining pear and mix it with the cranberries. Divide the mixture evenly between the five plates, mounding it in the center of the sliced pears.
  4. Crumble the pecan halves and divide them evenly between the five plates, sprinkling them over the mound of diced pears and dried cranberries.
  5. Whisk together the honey and cranberry juice (adjusting the amount of cranberry juice depending on how thin your honey is – you want this to be a mixture that can be drizzled) and drizzle a small amount over each salad.
  6. Serve immediately.

This is my contribution for Weekend Herb Blogging, which is being hosted this week by Truffle of What’s On My Plate. Stop by later in the weekend for the full round-up of recipes and other herb, veggie and fruit goodness!

No shortage of apples in Pennsylvania

Hollabaugh visit montageOne of the things that surprised me when I moved to Iowa — and oh, there were plenty of things that surprised me — was how many apple orchards there are around here.

My parents live in Adams County, Pennsylvania, home to apple orchards that dot the landscape as you drive down country roads, and that’s where I have become most accustomed to the apple trees, with their blossoms and heavy fruit. Iowa wasn’t where I expected to find apples.

This year wasn’t so great for Iowa apple farmers. We had weird, warm weather early, which made the buds blossom on the trees, followed by a hard freeze. Parts of the state escaped apple blossom trauma, but around Iowa City, things weren’t great for local farmers.

Pennyslvania escaped Iowa’s anti-apple weather. In Pennsylvania this year, there appeared to be no shortage of apples.

In October, I visited my parents for the weekend, and Mom and I made a trip to Hollabaugh Bros. Fruit Farm and Market, a sprawling barn that features apples, pears, and other locally-grown produce, along with more locally-produced jams, jellies and other goods than you can imagine. On Fall weekends, the place is packed, crawling with area residents (and the occasional, camera-lugging out-of-town guest) who fill bags of varying sizes to the brim with bulk apples, then stagger to their cars, visions of crisps and crumbles and pies dancing in their heads.

This time around, a Japanese man lamented the lack of Asian pears. Adams County might not have lost their apples, but it was, apparently, not a good year for Asian pear production, and they were running at a hefty price while we were there. But there were local persimmons, lined up like little pillows of sweetness, and at least a dozen varieties of apples and pears, including Bosc pears, banana apples, and the trend-eriffic Honeycrisp.

I had plenty of time for photography, since a 10-pound bag of apples does not make for a non-awkward carry-on item, but I have to admit I was a bit wistful not to be filling up my bag with varieties perfect for eating and cooking. Back when I lived in D.C., it didn’t seem like Fall if I didn’t make a pilgrimage up to see my parents and hit Hollabaugh’s, always buying more than I could comfortably eat. This time, I had to leave with just the images. After all, they’re much easier to take on the plane.

And, sometimes, much more amusing.

Mom and I get on the bus

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Kay Hollabaugh for stopping in the middle of her busy day to take this picture of me and my Mom. Kay said, “I don’t know about that bus driver…”


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All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

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