We’ve been having a lovely summer! I can’t remember another summer where it was mostly sunny and warm. Usually we have stretches of sunny and warm mixed with stretches of cold and rainy. But it’s been just heavenly. It’s been a gift for me–I, like many people, do so much better emotionally when it’s sunny.
I love gardenias and they hold a special place in my heart because they were my mom’s favorite flower. Of course, when I went to my high school prom, my corsage was a gardenia, much to my mom’s delight. And when dAhub and I got married, I we ordered a corsage or boutonniere of their favorite flower for each of our family members. It was so fun to see everyone wearing their their favorites. Of course, my mom had a gardenia. The florist said she got such a kick out of designing each corsage/boutonniere from of all of the different flowers. Our wedding theme was “English Country Garden” mixed with Alice in Wonderland, so the idea worked really well. Anyway, I bought the plant–it has been blooming like crazy all summer. New blooms open each day. It’s like magic. And I put the pot on our front porch so we can smell them as we enter the house. Girlfriend and I sit out on the porch in the later afternoons and evenings and read, and we can’t get enough of the scent. It’s perfect.
I made a promise to myself this summer that I would spend at least a little time each day out in our garden. The past few years I have been busy with book stuff and I kind of ignored the garden. This has been mostly OK for the several fruit trees and berry bushes that do their thing without much input from me. In fact, our dwarf apple trees are covered with apples. They are only about 3 feet tall (they are truly dwarf trees), but they are so covered with apples that they are bent over to the ground. And my pear tree, which has four different types of pears finally produced a pear. Just one, but it’s a start. And the golden and red raspberries are going crazy–they are just about the easiest plants to grow here. My blueberry bushes produced quite well but, as usual, the wild birds got all of the berries. I need to covered them with netting or something. I am reluctant to do this because the one year I did covered them, a baby bird got stuck in the netting and it took forever to get him out. It was quite traumatic for me and for the bird. Ack. And the fig tree is covered with baby figs–maybe we will be able to get some before the squirrels help themselves.
But, I used to keep a vegetable garden each year. dAhub helped me plan it years and years ago. It is in a separate section of our garden and is surrounded by a chicken wire fence that I train vines on. We put in a picket fence gate with an arbor over it. It’s quite charming. For the first few years, I concentrated on it and veggies grew really well. But, apparently word got out in the animal and bug world that yummy things were in there, so it turned into be a private restaurant for the squirrels and the slugs. It got to the point where the squirrels took a bite out of every zucchini and pumpkin I grew. Something else ate all of the onions under the ground. And, I got demoralized by the endless fights with the slugs–who mow down the baby carrot tops and the lettuces. I used copper tape to deter the slugs, but then I lost all the tape (I’m kind of a space cadet when it comes to where I put things for storage). So, I kind of let everything go and instead we grew seeds for plants that were good for the chickens–dAhub got into that for awhile. That worked well for a few years. The veggie garden area kind of went to seed (literally) and just stayed mostly bare with various weeds and volunteer raspberry plants for a few years.
This year, though, I decided to try again. I have been experimenting with growing our veggies in big pots to raise them up and out of the way of the slugs and the under-the-ground bugs (or rats or gophers or whatever eats stuff under there) and also maybe make them a bit less enticing for the squirrels. Since I have been home this summer and have the time to water and keep an eye on things, this has worked well. We have several pots of cucumber plants that I am training up an older metal arbor that wasn’t being used. And I have a couple of zucchini plants growing up a stepladder I set up in a big pot. I am also growing multi-colored carrots in another big pot. Everything seems to be doing well and I’ve even made pickles out of some of our cucumbers!
As you know, we have a park at the end of our little block. And for the past few years, the neighborhood farmer’s market has been held there. It’s one of the highlights of my week, especially since I don’t really grow enough to sustain us over the entire summer. It’s held on Wednesdays and I make sure to clear time in the calendar to go over there each week. There’s always music being played by someone, which creates a festive atmosphere. Last week, someone was playing a saw(!) There are folks selling all sorts of things from edibles to things like soaps and jewelry. Of course, there are veggies and fruits in season. I have my usual round of farmers that I go to each week. There is a flower person that I buy a bouquet from each week. There is a grass fed beef guy that I buy our once-a-week beef from (I started to eat beef again after 30 years because my iron continues to be so low). There’s also an egg person (who also has duck eggs!) and a farm that carries dried beans in addition to fresh produce They are so fresh that you don’t even have to soak them before you cook them. I stock up on dried beans for the year.
One of my very favorite booths is the berry booth. They have a succession of berries in season. In the beginning of the summer they had strawberries. And then blueberries and raspberries. And now blueberries and blackberries. I buy a half flat of mixed berries from them each week. This gives us enough to get our fill of fresh berries, as well as some for me to bake with and some to can and freeze. I also go over to the stone fruit guy and get peaches, apricots, and cherries to eat, can, and freeze. I love that the same people come each week and we can chat and catch up on the week’s activities. It’s so convivial and it is just perfect.
I’ve been getting blueberries for the past few weeks. It’s really hard to choose, but I think blueberries are my favorite berries. I’m not saying that I don’t like the other berries, but my heart skips a beat every time I have access to really good fresh berries. As you know, I have something called Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) that makes it difficult to eat raw fruits, vegetables, and nuts. I have found that my ability to eat raw blueberries has dwindled to being able to each just a few at a time. But thank goodness I can bake with them! I also freeze and can them to save them for the times of the year they’re not fresh.
So, today’s recipe is a blueberry crumb bar recipe that is so easy and so good. It’s a adaptable bar and we’ve been munching on it as a snack in the afternoons, as a dessert after dinner, and as a go-to treat when we traipse over to the nearby lake to swim. It’s a winner! I adapted it from a recipe I found on the fabulous Smitten Kitchen website. And she apparently adapted it from a recipe she found on the AllRecipes site. And who knows where that person got it. It doesn’t matter–it’s a great recipe and Girlfriend says it’s now one of her favorites.
Blueberry Crumb Bars, Gluten-Free
3 cups (420 g) Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour mix
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar
Zest and juice of ½ to 1 lemon (I used half, but you can use more)
1 cup (2 sticks; 225 g) unsalted butter, cold and but into pieces
1 extra-large egg
4 cups (590 g) fresh, whole blueberries
¼ cup (60 ml) honey
4 teaspoons tapioca flour (or cornstarch or potato starch)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F/190 degrees C/Gas Mark 5. Grease a 9 x 13 inch/23 cm x 33 cm pan with butter or oil.
In a medium bowl, gently mixed together the blueberries and lemon juice. Add the honey and gently stir until the berries are covered. Add the tapioca flour one teaspoon at a time, and gently stir until the berries are covered.
If using a food processor
In the bowl of a food processor, place flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and lemon zest. Pulse until combined. Add butter pieces and pulse until the mixture looks like wet sand combined with varying-sized pebbles. Add the egg and pulse until the mixture comes together a bit (it will still be crumbly).
If doing by hand
In a large bowl place flour, salt, sugar, and lemon zest and mix until combined. Add butter pieces and using your fingers or a pastry cutter, cut butter into the flour mixture until is looks like a combination of wet sand mixed with pebbles. Add the egg and mix until the mixture comes together a bit (it will still be crumbly).
Pat half the dough into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture over the dough. Crumble the remaining dough over the blueberries to cover as evenly as possible.
Bake at 375 degrees F for about 55 minutes (until top starts to brown). Remove from oven and let cool completely before cutting. Store lightly covered at room temperature for up to 5 days.