Tuesday, August 4, 2009

tomato season has arrived in the garden

its tomato season! the farmer's markets in DC have been overflowing with tomatoes for the past few weeks, and now my garden finally is too.

i started my seeds in March this year, then transplanted them to larger containers in April, and then finally put them in the ground in June. my first tomato was on July 22, so from seed to fruit the total growing time was about 4.5 months/140 days.

my tomato plant growing in a tomato can :)

in April. still living indoors most days, and outside only for the very warm sunny days, then back in at night.

late May, and much bigger. living outdoors now, soon to go in the ground. no flowers yet.

late June/early July. happily in the ground with lots of little green tomatoes.

mid July. ready to harvest!

the dangerous part of growing tomatoes is that the bugs/birds/pests also love them, and are constantly racing me to get the ripe fruit first. in the most recent bunch of tomatoes i harvested, 3/12 had been pecked at by a bird or bug before i got to them. to prevent this from happening to the rest of them, i am taking advice from an article i read about saving/reusing old pantyhose:

"Place pantyhose over growing vegetables such as squash to reduce damage from bugs. You can also hang some vine vegetables in this way to keep them off the ground."

so this weekend i found some old stockings that had a run in them, cut them into 15-20 pieces, and covered all of my green tomatoes on the vine with the stockings. they look kind of funny now, but so far it seems to be working! i picked two more tomatoes today that were perfectly intact.

tomatoes with stockings protecting them from critters.

we'll see how the experiment will work in the end. hopefully it will be a good long tomato season, without too many pests getting to them before i do.

tomatoes from the garden, ready to eat!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

my first cayanne pepper! and i put it in a cake...

so in honor of our lovely housemate Pacifica, who will soon be leaving us for grad school in Arizona, i decided to make a special cake tonight. this may not seem that relevant to gardening, but actually the cake recipe called for a cayenne pepper, which i picked from my garden this weekend.

cayenne pepper turning red

pepper seedlings, three months earlier.

the first time i met Pac was during her house interview with us after we discovered her (she discovered us) on craigslist. she mentioned during her interview that she makes really good spicy chocolate cookies, and that was when i knew it was meant to be!

over the past 11 months, i've come to find out that Pacifica also shares my love for margaritas, so for this recipe i decided to combine two of her favorites: spicy chocolate and margaritas.

chipotle chocolate cake with a lime tequila cream cheeze frosting and a chocolate cayenne fudge swirl.
and its vegan.

here is the recipe, in 4 parts:


1 cup soy milk 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder, Dutch processed
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (powder)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 chipotle peppers, seeded and minced (I used chipotles in adobo sauce)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease large baking dish (9x13)
2. Whisk together soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil, vanilla extract to the soy milk mixture and beat till foamy. Stir in chipotle peppers. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt. Add in two batches to wet ingredients and beat till no large lumps remain.
3. Pour into cake pan, filling three quarters of the way. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely.

(adapted from cupquake blog, which they adapted from vegan cupcakes take over the world)


8 Tbsp earth balance/vegan margarine

8 oz tofutti (or other brand) vegan cream cheeze

2 Tbsp lime juice (approx 2 fresh limes)

1 Tbsp margarita mix
(or just use more lime juice)
1 Tbsp Tequila
1 tsp lime zest (or more to taste)

5 cups powdered sugar (use vegan version)

In a large bowl, combine butter, cream cheese, lime juice, margarita mix, tequilla and lime zest. Beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

2. Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time, and continue beating until smooth. If icing is too thin, add more powdered sugar, a couple tablespoons at a time.

(adapted from hostess blog)


1/3 cup soy milk
1/2 cup chocolate chips
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp earth balance/vegan margarine
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cayanne pepper powder
1 cayanne pepper, deseeded and diced-- and home grown! :-)

Melt the margarine in a saucepan over med-low heat. Add the cayenne pepper and sautee for 5 mins over med/med high heat. Add the soy milk and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and add the chocolate and maple syrup. Stir over low heat until melted, then remove from heat and let cool slightly.

(adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance)

4- All together now...

once the cake is cool, pour the cream cheeze frosting on top while the cake is in the pan. spread evenly. add the fudge swirl by dribbling on top in horizontal lines across the cake. use the tip of a knife to cut through the lines vertically to make the marble image. zig zag the knife up and down the whole cake until it looks the way you want it. be careful not to do too many zig zags (you don't want to just mix the icings together).

slice and enjoy!

serves 15 or so
total cooking time was 1 hr 20m

a couple of notes about this recipe:

- the icings are runny, which is perfect for this marble-in-the-pan style cake. but if you plan on doing this in cupcake form instead, there will be some modifications needed. to make the cream cheeze frosting less runny, here are a couple of suggestions
-- add the liquid ingredients last and only add what you really need
-- add more lime zest instead of juice if its already looking too runny
-- use half shortening and half margarine to help it keep its hold
-- check the ingredient list on the margarine. if you are deciding between two different types in the grocery store, pick the one with less water (lower on the ingredient list)

- there are lots of different options for decorating this cake. one option is to make them as cupcakes, omit the fudge, and instead roll the edges of the cupcake in crystallized sugar and sea salt mixture (more sugar than salt). that would be more true to the margarita themed cupcake.

- the recipe calls for some spice, and some really like it hot, but some don't. the current recipe is a happy medium. but if you are like me and really really really like spicy chocolate, experiment with the quantities of the spice (meaning, go ahead and double the cayenne)

- i suppose you don't HAVE to use a home grown cayenne, but its much cooler if you do. ;-)


we'll miss you, pac.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

spring around the bend-- the beginning

a beginner's gardening adventures in columbia hts, washington DC.
also other adventures

my vegetable garden started this year around christmas time, when i received a grow your own mushrooms kit from my mum and a salsa growing kit from my friend kiera. around this time i also met someone at a potluck in dc that happens to be the president of the "twin oaks" community garden, conveniently located 5 blocks from my house. i saw all of this as a sign that i should start gardening this spring. so i signed up for a plot in the community garden, started my salsa seeds and mushroom box, and that is the beginning of my very first vegetable garden.

the first seedlings!

top to bottom: house plants inherited from a friend, chives from the farmers market, and salsa seedlings-- tomato, sweet pepper, cilantro, cayanne

much more from the beginning soon to come.