I’ve long been an advocate of every season BUT summer. Hot, humid, languid, permanent afro — none of these qualities are particularly endearing to me. However, while there are rewarding things about gardening in the spring and summer, there is something about a summer garden that is steadily transforming me into a summer lover.

I realized this yesterday morning, which Sprout and I spent under the fig tree. Teaching her how to pick fruit and vegetables for herself and pop them right in her mouth — there is something undeniably fulfilling and magical about this act — and then I remember that it’s not magic — this is one of God’s carefully crafted perfect provisions for us. And that we are richly blessed to have a tangible reminder of the truth that is very, very true, whether we recognize it or not — that God faithfully provides for us every single moment of every single day. That he protects us like he protects the seedings when they’re young and growing. That he lovingly re-shapes us into something even more beautiful when we acknowledge that we’re totally wrecked, like our garden this spring. That he delights in us when we bear fruit.

“These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.” Psalm 104:27-28

And as a side note, is there any fruit prettier than a fig?

So, as we’ve harvested veggies from our garden, here are a few of my go-to recipes for fresh summer produce.

Fig Preserves

8 cups of figs
1/2 Tbsp baking soda
6 cups of boiling water
4 cups white sugar
2 cups water
1/2 sliced lemon

In a large mixing bowl place figs and sprinkle with baking soda. Pour the boiling water over the figs and soak for 1 hour.
Drain figs and rinse thoroughly with cold water. In a large Dutch oven combine the sugar and the 4 cups of water; bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes.
Add the figs and lemon slices to the syrup in the Dutch oven and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Spoon figs into hot, sterilized jars and spoon syrup over figs, leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Top jars with lids and screw bands on tightly. Process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath.

Tomato Sauce

Extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh garlic, coarsely chopped with some nice salt and allowed to sit 10 minutes if possible
Plenty of vine-ripened, garden fresh tomatoes cut into chunks (I use a serrated knife)
Fresh basil (at least twice as much as you think seems like the right amount—I measure fresh basil by the handful)
Fresh oregano (more than you’re about to put in)

Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, then add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Do not allow the garlic to brown.

Add the tomatoes, basil, and oregano and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid cooks out. Cooking time will depend on the juiciness of the tomatoes.


When there is still some liquid left in the pan, carefully puree the sauce using a blender or a food processor.

Bring the sauce back to a boil and continue simmering until desired consistency. Let cool, then spread on pizza dough. (I have a great pizza dough recipe, too — I will get that on here another day)

Squash Cakes (from the kitchen of Brooke Burgess)

2 cups cooked squash, mashed
2/3 cup Jiffy corn muffin mix
1/2 cup chopped onion (I do this in the food processor to get it finely chopped)
1 egg
1/2 c Canola oil

Mix together corn muffin mix, onion, and egg. Add this mixture to the mashed, cooked squash. Heat Canola oil in skillet, then drop large spoonfuls of the batter onto the skillet, and cook a few minutes on each side until golden. The Sprout LOVES these.

Zucchini Bread (also from Brooke’s kitchen)

3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated, unpeeled zucchini
3 tsp vanilla
1 c all purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 tsp cinnamon
1 c chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350. Beat eggs and sugars together. Mix in oil, zucchini, and vanilla. Sift dry ingredients together and beat into mixture. Stir in chopped nuts. Pour batter into two greased and floured 9 x 5 inch loaf pans. Check at 40 minutes, but cook for one hour. Best if allowed to cool for a few hours after baking.

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There’s really no accounting for the long gap between posts, other than that the spark of writing inspiration somehow got buried deep in a pile of dirty laundry.

The storm damage clean-up in our yard (which was paltry compared to the heavily damaged parts of town) has been a gradual process. The upside is that I’m now proficient at dealing with all manner of tree men.

We went to the beach. At the time we had a crawling toothless baby.

Two months later I have a toddler with a mouthful of teeth who runs wind sprints with our dog around the back yard.

We had a garden party for the Sprout. She was shockingly delicate with her first bites of chocolate.

If I’m judging by the jars she foraged around for in the pantry this morning and brought into the den, she has now moved on and has a taste for capers and Caesar dressing. [To the worried grandmothers: don’t worry, the bottles were closed.]

The Goose has acquiesced to her new role as the Sprout’s best friend. I assume because of the added perks of the job [read: apricots, cheerios, popsicles].

We went to the lake with sweet friends. Absolutely no fun was had.

Against all my expectations, our resilient garden, after being crushed by a 100 year old oak tree in April, has grown back beautifully. Sprout likes to pick black eyed susans and cherry tomatoes. I am trying to get her to enjoy the squash and zucchini.

Does anyone have a good recipe for homemade spaghetti sauce using your own tomatoes? I have 13 juicy red ones in the window that I’m hoping to transform into some kind of sauce this week.

We ate our first ripe figs yesterday. Hooray. Sprout is eating them by the handful

We’ve enjoyed time with family as they’ve come through town, a family reunion, an unexpected funeral, and through the magic of Skype.

FCL has put in long hours this summer on a big work project, but it has made our time with him that much more precious. One byproduct is that we’ve gotten to scatter Cheerios all over the floor of his fancy downtown office on our visits there. It has also made our sweet neighbors that much more dear, as Sprout and I have spent many nights sharing a dinner table with them instead of eating alone.

So, the summer is zipping by. And on that note I will zip off of my computer.

April is one of my favorite months in the garden. The first roses and peonies bloom, and the green shoots of summer plants seem to grow by inches every single day. Every morning these past few weeks the Sprout and I have gone outside to pick roses. She likes to eat the petals. I can see the appeal – they do smell like they might be tasty.

We had a great resurrection Sunday, beginning with an early morning worship service.

Then, shortly after this photo was taken, the Sprout slipped on the window frame and busted her lip wide open. The human mouth contains a surprising amount of blood. She handled it much better than I did.

We’ve deemed Sunday afternoon officially fort time at our house, so we spent Easter afternoon transforming the couch and den into a pillow and stuffed animal fort. Sprout requested James Brown music to dance to, ostensibly because she was wearing “Hot Pants.”

She has also named her stuffed koala Jethro Tull. Peculiar child. But good taste in music.

It has been a wet, windy day in our corner of the world.

We have a large front window in our old house, and I love that my Sprout is endlessly fascinated by looking out of it. She loves to perch up on the back of the couch with her hands pressed against the glass, staring at the wind-whipped leaves. Even when she’s in her high chair eating she gets distracted, and I’ll catch her perfectly still [a very, very rare occurrence], gazing out the window. Maybe she is a storm-chaser in the making. Maybe if she chooses that career path she will know better than to tell her mother, lest I never sleep another wink.

In other news, I have been battling both a cold and poison ivy. Poison Ivy is winning like 27 to 1 over the cold in the battle of trying to make my life miserable. Its most wily trick thus far was to spread from my cheek to riiiight on the edge of the inside of my ear. Well played.

So, to combat the yuck outside and the yuck I feel, I have been looking at swimsuits. Because looking at swimsuits is much more fun than the grim reality of trying on swimsuits.

Here are some that have caught my eye. What about you? What are some other good sources for cute swimsuits?

at Boden: Jade Two Piece Top + Bottom

Or, this Target Top

Product Image

Or, another favorite from Down East Basics

Or what about this bikini top from Old Navy with this black swim skirt?

I also love love this Liberty of London print from J.Crew, but I don’t love the price tag.

And also this one.

… Maybe by the time I work my way into one of these my poison ivy will be gone.

I made Easter Eggs last week. Though I had minimal help from the Sprout (or the Goose for that matter), I’m guessing this time next year it will be a whole different ball game.

I saw a picture on Urban Comfort that featured eggs with a twist, so I decided to try and mimic it.

Supplies you’ll need: tissue paper or origami paper, sharp scissors, glue, paintbrush, eggs, egg dyeing kit or food coloring.

Hard boil your eggs. [side note: I have long searched for the best method for hard boiling an egg. After trying several recipes, I’ve decided my favorite is this: put your eggs in the bottom of a saucepan and fill it with water. Bring it to a boil and boil for one minute. Then cover and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse the eggs under cold water. This has yielded yummy results for me every time.]

I used a mix of brown eggs (because those are the kind I like to eat) and white eggs. It’s certainly up to you, looks wise. Obviously you probably won’t dye the brown eggs, but I like that they have a more natural look.

Follow the directions on your Easter Egg Dyeing Kit from PAAS or whomever, throwing out all of the weird stickers and glitter pens and who knows what else they put in the kit these days. I dyed about half of our white eggs, leaving the other half white. Again, your preference here. You may want to go on the pastel side of the dye (i.e. not leaving the eggs in the dye for very long) so that the paper shows up once you glue it on.

While all of the boiling and dyeing is going on, cut your tissue paper or origami paper into roughly 3″ by 3″ squares. Then try to send yourself back to 6 year old mode and think paper dolls and snowflakes, except this time with flowers. Because my brain apparently couldn’t think back that far and my first couple of flowers looked more like mangled acorns, I used my trusty friend Google to find this basic pattern for a flower. Once you’ve got the folding down, you’re only limited to the extent of your scissors’ dexterity. I tried to mimic the shapes of real flowers in our yard (in a very, very rough sense!).

Once you’ve cut out a bunch of flower shapes of varying sizes, cut yourself a good helping of leaves and stems from the green paper.

Then put some Elmer’s glue into a ramekin, dip a small paintbrush into the glue, and get to work putting glue on the back of your tissue flowers and positioning them onto each egg.

A nice alternative to dyed eggs this year at our casa — particularly if you’re like me and you have a surplus of tissue paper.

So here’s what’s going on at our house.

Lots of time in the yard and garden. Look! Strawberries!

Garlic!

Radishes!

Lettuce!

Moles!

Moles. My perennial nemesis has returned to taunt me by tunneling directly under the fresh zinnia seedlings I transplanted last Sunday, rendering them rootless. The labyrinth of mole tunnels and gopher kingdoms running underground in our backyard might be in line for some Guinness Book record. Maybe that’s what’s going on here. A Shawshank style tunneling competition fueled by nutrients from the juicy roots of my tulips, dahlias, coneflowers, and so on and so forth.

Oh, and also this is going on at our house. Someone has wised up that the most lucrative spot to be during meal time is directly underneath a 10-month old’s fingers.

Oh, and also this. Because apparently the Sprout is weird like her mother.

Frozen grapes.

Grape hyacinths.

Green hostas popping up through the dirt.

Rose buds.

Lawyer humor.

Louisiana Strawberries. Strawberry Trifle. Abita Strawberry. Strawberries in the garden.

Cruising Sprout.

Teething Sprout.

New babies. Baby showers. Weddings. Flower arranging.

Bacon, 3 ways.

Sprout’s grandparents.

My grandparents.

New Bissell.

Broken stove.

New stove.

Outdoor dinners.

My parents’ back porch.

Root beer.

Reading.

Umbrellas.

Spring.

I’ve had several folks ask, recently, what we’re growing in the garden this year, and for timing, recommendations, etc. on planting. Since planting season is upon us* and I’ve already worn down FCL’s ears talking about it, I thought I’d outline some thoughts on the blog.

If you’re not interested in gardening, this epistle will be of little excitement to you.

IF YOU ARE AN EXPERIENCED GARDENER, LOOK AWAY NOW. I AM NO SUCH THING.

(But if you are, will you please leave your name, phone number, email address, fax, favorite color, etc. in the comments section? xoxoxo.)

I blame the previous owners of our house (and genetics) for my interest in gardening. When we bought our house, it was evident that the folks who lived here before us took great pleasure in tending their front yard. Unfortunately, they ‘tended’ the front yard by creating elaborate beds half filled with odd plants that bloom hot pink, collecting yard art, and curating a vast collection of incredibly invasive plants for which I have no taste.

So, in an attempt to modify our yard to look less like a crazy cat lady lives in our house, I had to learn about the things already growing in our (full shade) front yard. I killed at least 6 full sun plants the first year we lived here by trying to coax them to exist in our full shade front yard. I am still learning to embrace the shade. Things like this and this have helped.

Our primary garden (in the backyard) is 24 feet by 7 feet. I used to think this was huge -now I think I could fill 4 beds this size. We have great soil up here, so instead of a totally raised bed, several years ago we dug out a space (and by we, I mean at least 70%, if not more, of my patient husband, sometimes after dark wearing a headlamp) and then mixed our soil with purchased soil, compost, manure, and peat.

I have a couple of little spaces at the foot of our deck that we use for gardening as well. This space housed The Great Pumpkin Experiment of 2010, which I’ll detail in a later post. Suffice it to say, FCL has banned me from pumpkin production this year.

Here’s a list of the plants we are growing and plan to grow this year with very (VERY) brief notes as to when to plant, and how (from seed, transplant, bulb, etc.). Notes on care will come later in the season, I suppose.

I’ll go into greater detail as I have stories to tell about the growth of each. If this year is anything like the last several, the growing season will involve some kind of garden pest convention in the middle of my vegetables, my hate/hate relationship with the people who work at Lowe’s, a shovel, gophers, me wringing my hands and biting my fingernails, and a dead gardenia (I cannot help but plant this, my favorite flower, every year, and subsequently kill it).

English Roses

LD Braithwaite, Pat Austin, Jude the Obscure, Sharifa Asma, Graham Thomas, and Golden Celebration

Plant from bare root in February/March using manure, bone meal, and mulch.

Source: David Austin Roses



Daisies- Alaska

Perennial (which I’m guessing you know, but just in case, means it comes back year after year). I’ve been told that in our area (planting zone 7b, for Birmingham, 8 for Jackson) the rule of thumb is to plant tender perennials and summer annuals on Good Friday, not before. Some years I am patient enough to wait this long, others I am not. I will say, it is probably better to abide by this rule.

Source: Bluestone Perennials

Phlox David

Perennial. Good Friday.

Source: Bluestone Perennials

Rudbeckia Prairie Sun (Black Eyed Susans)

Perennial/Annual – it depends on which kind you have. Mine have come back every year. Start from seed indoors in early March (using something like this). Transplant to yard on Good Friday. This can spread, so watch it if you’re in a limited space.

Source: Harris Seeds

Dahlia- Honeydew, McAlister’s

Perennial. I heart Dahlias. I have successfully divided and multiplied their tubers, but gophers and slugs take out the bulk of my growth every year. Not to be diverted, I am planting my tubers this year in chicken wire and coating them in hot sauce. We shall see. Plant tubers in March.

Source: Swan Island Dahlias

Sunflowers- autumn mix

Annual. Sow directly in the ground outdoors Good Friday. Make sure your dog doesn’t trample the bed mid-season.

Source: Lowe’s, Harris Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Echinacia (Purple Coneflowers)

Perennial. Start seeds indoors in early March. Move transplants outdoors on Good Friday. Or buy transplants at a garden center.

Source: Lowe’s

Cosmos- orange, versailles

Annual. Scatter seeds outdoors on Good Friday, and again in May and June for repeat blooms throughout summer. Seeds are VERY EASY to collect once the flowers die, and then you have your crop for next summer.

Source: my grandmother’s garden, Harris Seeds

Coreopsis

Perennial. Plant outdoors on Good Friday.

Source: Bluestone Perennials

Peony

Perennial. Ideally, plant transplant in fall for bloom the next spring. Slow growing, but gorgeous.

Source: Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Hanna’s Garden Shop

Daffodil

Perennial. Plant bulbs in fall, 4-6″ deep. The bulbs are poisonous, so gophers/moles won’t pilfer them. They are the only bulbs that survive in my garden, and they are gorgeous.

Source: Old House Gardens, Costco

Garlic

Perennial, apparently. It took all of last season to figure out what exactly this alien plant was growing in my garden, since I didn’t remember planting any garlic. 5 foot tall stalks, beautiful purple globular flower. Smells like… garlic.

Source: I have no idea where I purchased this, or when I planted it, but it grows.

Kniphofia Flamenco

Perennial. This will be our first year growing. Plan to plant on Good Friday.

Source: Bluestone Perennials

Eryguim Blue Hobbit

Perennial. This will be our first year growing. Plan to plant on Good Friday.

Source: Bluestone Perennials

Dianthus Desmond

Perennial. This will be our first year growing. Plan to plant on Good Friday.

Source: Bluestone Perennials

Aquilega Black Barlow

Perennial. This will be our first year growing. Plan to plant on Good Friday. This is a shade plan with (shocking) blue flowers. Front yard addition!

Source: Bluestone Perennials

Carrots- Nantidino and Scarlet Nantes

Annual. Direct sow seed outdoors February or March.

Source: Harris Seeds

Tomato – Super Sweet, Big Boy, Scarlet Red, Tornadose Des Conores

Annual. Start seeds indoors in early March. Transplant outside Good Friday or later. I did all heirloom seeds last year, which produced a few beautiful tomatoes, but which are much more susceptible to drought in the South. This year I’m primarily sticking to more hearty types.

Source: Harris Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Watermelon- Verona

Annual. Last year’s watermelon failed because it was overrun by the aforementioned pumpkin experiment. This year I plan to baby it. Start seed inside in late March, and transplant outdoors after Good Friday.

Source: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. This variety was developed in 1965 at MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY! I’m sure it will taste like WINNING but hopefully not like tiger blood or warlocks.

Cantaloupe

Annual. This will be my first try at this. I plan to purchase a transplant at Lowe’s or Andy’s Farm Market and put in the ground on Good Friday. This one probably needs to be trellised.

Zucchini – Elite

Annual. This is year number one on zucchini also. Start seeds indoors at the end of March. Transplant outdoors on Good Friday. This needs to be trellised. I will grow it on my garden fence.

Source: Harris Seeds

Cucumber – Japanese Long

Annual. We have had prolific cucumber crops the last few years. You can either start from seed in late March to transplant outdoors on Good Friday, or wait and just direct seed outside in late April. Trellis this one.

Source: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Lettuce- Buttercrunch, Arugula, Red Sail

Annual. Direct seed outdoors in February or March, and again in September for a fall crop. This will die out once it gets particularly hot outside. Arugula is typically the best performer.

Source: Dr. Lou Heck- master gardener, and Harris Seeds

Herbs- tarragon, sweet basil, cinnamon basil, opal basil, cilantro, rosemary, flat leaf parsley, pineapple sage, lemon thyme, oregano, dill, mint, chocolate mint, chives

All except basil can be started in early March. I usually buy transplants because they’re cheap and I’m impatient. Rosemary and mint are perennial, parsley is biennial, and the rest are kind of hit or miss as to whether they’ll last beyond the winter. Basil needs to wait until Good Friday to be planted. All of these need full sun, except the mint and rosemary, which can tolerate part sun.

Source: Andy’s Farm Market, Pepper Place market

Zinnia- Benary’s Giant, Dreamland, Magellen, Cactus, California Giant, Starkville Mystery Mix

Annual. My summer staple. Start from seed in early March, and transplant outside on Good Friday.

Source: Harris Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Gaddis Hunt. If you are anywhere near Starkville, Miss., whatever you do, BUY A FLAT OF ZINNIAS FROM GADDIS HUNT. They are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and they grow like a charm. He sells a flat (20 plants) for $10, and if you’re interested, I have his phone number.

Hellenium Mardi Gras

Perennial. Plant transplant on Good Friday.

Source: Bluestone Perennials

Strawberry

Perennial/Annual. I guess it just depends. I planted seeds last year that didn’t amount to much, but there are still small plants growing in the garden. And now thanks to sweet FCL, who brought home some transplants yesterday as a surprise, we may actually have a strawberry harvest this spring. Sow seeds outside maybe in the fall or winter for a spring harvest?

Source: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Leaf and Petal

Radish

This will be year number one on the radishes. Sow seeds outside in late February/early March.

Source: Dr. Lou Heck- master gardener.

Cockscomb- Indiana Giant

Annual. Start seeds indoors in early March, move transplants outside on Good Friday. EASY to collect the seeds from these bad boys to have for next summer’s garden. This is the fuchsia plant that looks like a brain.

Source: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Daylily

Perennial. Put transplants in the ground on Good Friday, or in late summer for the following year. Daylilies make prolific “babies,” so you’ll end up with triple the amount you planted originally within a couple of years.

Source: Shepherd Daylily Far

If you’re thinking about starting, or expanding, your garden this year, I hope this gives you something to chew on!

If this is your first year starting from seed, here’s a great step-by-step: http://awaytogarden.com/seed-starting-basics.

Happy Seed Season!

*for SOME things, not ALL things 🙂

We had an oven repairman come check our oven because, among other things, it was 75° off. Now it is 175° off.

I scrubbed, mopped, and vacuumed all the floors in our house, only to find Sprout licking the side of the kitchen trashcan. Twice.

I gave her a bath, dressed her in a brand new dress, and then gave her a teething biscuit. She is now covered in what looks like caked on bread dough from head to toe.

I bought food for a dinner party, forgetting that because of #1, our oven won’t reliably heat above 300°.

I have now been to the grocery store three days in a row.

I finally got the mountain of clean laundry folded and put away in drawers only to notice that the hamper is piled full again.

I looked inside my new cowboy boot to find a pool of spit-up.

Hilarious the repetition, the one step forward three steps back dance of days like this. But I will remind myself that motherhood and the keeping of a home are anything but futile.

We have an oven that (kind of) works. I have a Sprout with a budding sense of humor. I am sure by 2015 there will be ‘smart laundry’ that can wash itself.

And it is in the small spaces, the repetitive tasks, the tone of my voice with the Sprout, the opening of our home to others – that is how I am being called to redeem my part of the world right now. And that is then woven into the bigger Story, which is THE thing that matters.

Dear Birmingham friends, do you need any vases?

I am editing my collection (with the ulterior motive of making room for this or this or this at some point).

None of these are particularly special, but they are in good shape, and I thought I’d offer them up before I toss or donate them.

Any of the below are yours for free if you want them — just let me know!