Bale Gardening Part #1 & Vanilla Chia Muesli

It’s time!
Bale Gardening Lesson #1!

Time to get our growing medium started, since it will have to be ready by May, or soon after the frosts stop.
Time to call the person you’ve decided on purchasing bales (hay or straw) from and get them delivered. Arrange them into position and start letting the weather do its thing. Rain, snow, frost, it’s all good, and will help in the decomposition process of the bales.

If they are not getting enough moisture, then hose them down liberally with water at least 2 times a week. Water, temperature changes, and sun will start those bales cooking… literally. After about a month of them being outside, stick your hand into the middle of a bale and feel the heat that is created through the composting process. Keep doing this at least once a week for the following weeks until they start to cool again (which means you won’t cook the roots of the seedlings that you will plant).

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Where should the bales be placed?
In the sun! The beauty of bale gardening, other than that you are avoiding mega amounts of work since you won’t be doing any tilling, hoeing, weeding, mixing compost, re-tilling and re-hoeing and re-weeding… is that they can be placed ANYWHERE that is in the sun, and has access to water. Gardens, driveways, rooftops, backs-of-the-shed, balconies, houseboats, … get the idea?

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Along a fence is always great because one can use the fence itself as a support system. That’s where we like to plant our climbing string beans.

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If the sun only shines on a narrow driveway, utilize it!

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Just remember that you need to be able to access them relatively easily in order to water them, and later to collect your bounty when it is ready.

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It really is as easy as it sounds, but you must be dedicated and see it through until the end because with regular rain and/or watering (but no hard labor), you will get so many vegetables that you will have to decide what to do with all the veggies you won’t be able to eat in time.  I have been getting into canning in a big way, but freezing is also a good option. You just have to be there to water them and harvest regularly in order to encourage more growth. Easy peasy gardening!

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If you place your bales on grassy lawn, as we have, you must create a barrier between the lawn and the bales so that the grass does not keep growing up through the bales. We have found that the best barrier is cardboard as it will also decompose over the summer and leave you with a nice grass-less patch of soil that can either be re-used for bales the following year, or tilled and worked for more root vegetables using old bales from prior years (more about that later).

In our next lesson I will write about what grows well in bales according to our own experiences and which plants can be started directly from the seed, and which are better off planted as seedlings; especially in regions where the growing season is not very long.

In the meantime, have some muesli. Oats should be cooked, or soaked, for better digestion and blending them with chia seeds adds extra nutrition and a pudding like texture. Vanilla and raisins sweeten this treat without any other added sugars. Eating small servings of this instead of heavy sweets helps ease the sugar cravings during dieting regimes… and it tastes so good! Muesli is made ahead of time so one week’s worth of breakfasts can be made in the time it takes to pound, or process, some nuts.

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Vanilla Chia Muesli
makes 4 – 6 servings

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4 cups milk of your choice (dairy, soy, almond, coconut, etc)
1 cup of oats
1/2 cup chia seeds
1/3 cup pounded hazelnuts
1/3 cup pounded almonds
1/4 coconut flakes
1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla
fresh fruit slices

Blend the milk, oats, chia seeds, raisins, and coconut flakes in a bowl. With a mortar and pestle pound the hazelnuts and almonds until only a few larger chunks are left. I prefer the texture of nuts in muesli with this method because some of the more finely pounded nut pieces blend better with the muesli and the chia seeds, increasing their flavor and the overall texture.
Blend the pounded nuts with the oat/chia mix along with the vanilla.

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Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight, or at least 5 hours. The chia seeds will absorb much of the liquid creating a uniquely creamy/crunchy texture, and the vanilla and raisins will add just the right amount of sweetness.
Serve with fresh fruit slices of your choice.

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Instructions for Next Year’s Hay/Straw Bale Gardners & Skordalia

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My blog subscriptions are piling up in my mailbox which sucks, because it makes me feel like I don’t post as often as I should. Maybe because everybody else who has been blogging so much longer than I have, has the rhythm down, and wham bam they press out their posts. I don’t have time to read all their posts, much less do more than I already am except constantly taking pictures of our food.
Who would have thunk that now every time before we can sit down to eat, I have to be all over it with a camera first.
Picture files are piling up and need sorting.

Lentil soup and fresh sesame and caraway rolls were last Friday's dinner

Lentil soup and fresh sesame and caraway rolls were last Friday’s dinner

Seriously, I see fabulously talented bloggers and as I have mentioned in an earlier post, I try not to become too overwhelmed.
I do think though that my last post was a bit on the too longish side, so I shall be brief this time.

Roasted turkey thighs with acorn squash and potatoes

For those of you who want to do a bale garden (like we have been doing for the last three years):

Bales laid out before planting. Ideally they will need to 'season' (decompose) for 3 -4 months.

Bales laid out before planting. Ideally they will need to ‘season’ (decompose) for 3 -4 months.

If you’re thinking of doing a hay or straw bale garden next year, AND are also using hay bales as autumn decorations on your front yard; you might want to consider buying enough hay or straw bales to fully complete next year’s garden IF you have a place to keep them covered (like under a weighted tarp) until February. This will be the time when you would take out the bales to start ‘seasoning’ them prior to being able to plant in them.

To establish how many bales (the small rectangle kind, not the large round massive ones) you will need, you will first need to consider what vegetables you want to plant and how much of them. If you are doing it for the first time, I suggest you stay within conservative amounts. Then, if you find you are really into it, like us, then you’ll feel more confident planning the following year’s even bigger garden.

Our first garden. We had 20 bales in an E shape along a fence. The fence worked great for climbing beans. You need to be on good terms with your neighbor for this.

Our first garden. We had 20 bales in an E shape along a fence. The fence worked great for climbing beans. You need to be on good terms with your neighbor for this.

Each bales holds two (2) well established and fully grown plants. It might seem in the beginning like one could fit more, but the plants get big quick, and the bales also decompose more throughout the summer. By the end of the summer,when you will have two gigantic tomato plants in a bale, or two humungous zucchini plants, you will understand.

Mid summer bale garden.

Mid summer bale garden.

The things that we have found grow well in bales are:
tomatoes, basil, marigolds (those you plant all together), cucumbers, all kinds of squash, zucchini,cucumber, melons, beets, beans, and eggplants.  I haven’t tried leafy vegetables like lettuces or kale and cabbage, because they are for cooler weather and by that time I’ve lost my oomph.

Summer squash happy in a bale garden.

Summer squash happy in a bale garden.

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So, get your bales and think about how you will arrange them in the garden next year. After Halloween, if you don’t have a barn, stack them in a pile and cover them up with a tarp. I’ll tell you more when the time is right.

Skordalia (Greek garlic paste)
Great for serving with boiled, steamed, or roasted vegetables, grilled meats,  or as a dip.

Root vegetables roasted with olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper, and lemon.

Root vegetables roasted with olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper, and lemon.

When I first started this blog two months ago, I was asked by my virtual friend Harry (we met through friends on facebook) to post a recipe for skordalia. I immediately got to work. The reason it took so long is because there are three kinds of skordalia that I know of, and for each post I need to take a few pictures, don’t I?
There is also a limit as to how much skordalia one can eat in a month.

So sorry for the delay, Harry, and may you have as much fun trying these as we have had eating these!

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Skordalia 1 – with a walnut base
This is the most unusual version, but my favorite, so I will start with that one.

1 cup of walnut pieces
2-3 garlic cloves (depending on how potent you like it)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup of breadcrumbs
1/4 cup (aproximately) lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
coarse sea salt
fresh parsley

Blend everything except parsley in blender until. If too thick, add a few teaspoons of water or lemon juice until it has the consistency of a thick dip. If too thin, add a little more breadcrumbs. Season with salt. Garnish with lots of roughly chopped parsley.

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Skordalia 2 – with potato base

1/2 pound of potatoes
2 -3 cloves of galic
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
coarse sea salt
fresh parsley

Peel and boil the potatoes. When they are soft; drain them, then mash them in a bowl with a fork or wooden spoon.
Press garlic through a garlic press and add with remaining ingredients to the potatoes. Season with salt. Garnish with roughly chopped fresh parsley.

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Skordalia 3 – with bread base
This recipe is great if you live in an area where you can easily get loaves of fresh bread from a bakery.  When this kind of bread is stale, it is the best for this. Otherwise, use breadcrumbs.

1 cup of breadcrumbs (with 3/4 cup of water) OR 3/4 lb of stale white or whole wheat bread slices
2- 3 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
coarse sea salt
fresh parsley

If you are using stale bread, cut it in slices, soak in water, and when soft, squeeze out the excess and place in food processor, then add other ingredients
If you are using bread crumbs, add them with the water directly to the food processor and combine with the other ingredients until smooth. If too thick, add a little more oil and water, if too thin, more breadcrumbs. season with salt and garnish with plenty of roughly chopped parsley.

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Flat Roofs & Tomatoes

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We’re slowly reaching the finish line here in Tomato-land. A cool night last night reminded us that it will all soon be over. We will stop eating tomato salads for lunch and dinner, we will stop making stuffed tomatoes to eat with our lunch salads and dinner salads; no more beeftekis baked with tomato slices, no more fresh tomato sauce with roasted veggies, no more green pickled tomatoes, but most of all, no more boiling down and processing, and no more drying.

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There’s still quite a few kilos of loaded plants out there in the collapsing bales, but the tomatoes will be picked soon, I’m sure, to finish ripening on the dining room table downstairs…. and yes, be processed. Those will be The Last.

The end is near.

The end is near.

I never made dried tomatoes while I was in Mykonos. I never even met anyone else that did either (not that this means anything), but for some reason Mykonian flat roofed houses seem to come to mind when I dry tomatoes. Probably because they are ideal for this job. Guaranteed sunshine, a dry atmosphere, and a steady northwind to keep humidity and rot away. Too bad I can’t beam ourselves and our tomatoes over there for a quick drying session. We’d hook up with some old pals, and just hang out a bit. Back in the day, some of those pals also used those flat roofed houses for other activities which did not make me very popular with the locals. Because of the strange behavior of my friends, I’m sure my neighbors thought I was a real hussy. I think it was probably a good thing that my Greek wasn’t very fluent then.

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Working with tourists was an exhausting business. Seven days a week, day in day out, morning and evening, often going on until late at night. To a Greek, the shop closes when the last customer leaves. This meant we sometimes had to draw straws as to who would stay awake to close up the shop. We just had to party on and keep the vibrations going because that was how money was earned. Tourists came to relax, blow off steam, or just frolic in their irresponsibility, and we who worked all summer long had to provide the services and the atmosphere they thrived in and paid for. The only time we could sleep was on the beach between shifts, or wherever we lived, but it was always just a few hours snatched here and there, and never enough. So sometimes one had to get inventive.

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Homemade Tomato Sauce (simple unstrained method)

For this process you will need a water bath canning system and mason type jars with rings and lids. Or a pot tall enough to boil the jars in, completely covered in water. I did this the first time I canned in a water bath. I threw some knives into the bottom of the pot for the jars to stand on so they wouldn’t directly touch the bottom and possibly explode. After you try this once, you end up purchasing a regular canning system.

Collect your tomatoes and wash them, scraping away any dried leaves or dirt. In a food processor, chop them, then pour them into a large pot. If you don’t have a food processor, you can grate them. This method may take more time, but you will also end up with less tomato skins in your sauce. Personally this doesn’t really bother me, but some people it does. These same people will then also have to strain their tomato sauce to make it pure and seedless. I’m not one of those. I buy that kind.
Cook your tomato sauce on a medium to slow heat until it has reduced by at least 30%. I like to cook mine until it is reduced  by more than half. This creates a thick and flavorful sauce, but it also takes about six to seven hours of simmering.

When your sauce has reduced enough, put it on a slow simmer on a back burner while you sterilize your jars, lids, and rings. Before I seal my jars, I like to wipe them down with alcohol. Something like Grappa is perfect, but never rubbing alcohol which is a poison!

Fill your jars with sauce, seal them finger tight and process at a boil for 15 minutes.

Set them on shelves and admire them.

Dried Tomatoes

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We have a ton of plum tomatoes. Both red and yellow. When they are dry, I layer them in the jars, cover them with olive oil, and they look very lush.

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If you don’t have a flat topped roof on a Cycladic house in the Aegean or somewhere in southern Italy or Spain or Mexico, you will need an electric food dryer. We got ours two years ago from my sister-in-law and have been thanking her every time we use it. Thank you. Thank you.

Slice your plum tomatoes in half, scoop out the jelly-like seed stuff, and place the hulls skin side down, on the drying racks. Turn it to about 135F, or whatever setting is recommended for that model for fruit and vegetables, and leave it alone for seven to nine hours. Towards the end, check them every so often so they don’t get too dry, otherwise they resemble sour chewing gum. Let them cool completely with the top off, so as not to cause condensation, then layer them in jars. Cover completely with olive oil.

Savor in the winter with crostini, vegetarian sushi, pizza,…

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The Garden Dictates Roasted Summer Vegetables

ImageWe are into our third summer of hay bale gardening. It is also our biggest vegetable garden to date and it is keeping us very very busy. Once we discovered how much easier cultivating veggies in hay bales is compared to conventional gardening (in soil), we just kept planting more and more every summer, not really thinking too much about the work involved in processing all this food that will all ripen at about the same time. We are at maximum production now with 30 bales, plus 12 bales worth of organic growing compound created from last years bales and used in raised beds, and a potato patch using another 6 bales worth of composted material from old bales. At some point, every single horizontal surface started to fill with ripening tomatoes. After making 20 jars of that awesome pickle recipe using three different kinds of veggies, we realized we may not eat any more than that but food baskets for Christmas started sounding like a really good idea. Image
We don’t go out to eat this month. When we do cook, we look to see which vegetable we have the most of. I feel guilty when we buy veggies like sweet corn, that we didn’t grow. I have dreams of inventing new squash recipes. This is a three day holiday weekend and so far I have made dried tomatoes, boiled down tomatoes, and am working on preserving a 1/2 bushel of peaches that my Mr. Wonderful has found on sale. We toy with the idea of making pepper jelly. No not really.
The garden dictates all culinary activity.

I first heard about hay/straw bale gardening through some article on the internet. Basically one plants seeds or seedlings directly into semi decomposed hay (or straw) bales. No soil preparation like tilling and hoeing and weeding and nourishing. The beauty of the bales, is that other than letting them sit around to decompose, you have no other  job other than keeping them watered, and keeping pests in check. They are self-nourishing “containers” that one can place anywhere – a driveway, a balcony, a rooftop, or as in our case, a very non-draining garden.  At the end of the season the bales can be either thrown into the compost pile creating some amazing soil for the following season, or you can use them as mulch.

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(This was our first bale garden trying out if it really works)

I’ll go into further detail about this type of gardening later in the season when it is time to suss out where next years’ bales are coming from. In the meantime, its back to cooking, canning, drying,  and preserving.
The garden dictates.

If you are overwhelmed with the array of wonderful summer vegetables available right now and want to make something in a large amount that you can munch on for a few days (great at room temperature!), or freeze until another day, this recipe can absorb anything that’s being grown now, especially tomatoes, zucchini, various squash, eggplant, and some of those fresh herbs that are also in abundance right now.
I’ve never been able to make a small amount of this dish. 
Feel free to add anything else; beans, peppers, corn. Avoid broccoli or cauliflower as their flavors tend to overwhelm the subtleties of everything else.

In Greek they call this recipe Μπριάμ (Briáhm). I don’t know where the name comes from nor what it means… I’m assuming it means the same as Ratatouille; a mix of everything.

Mixed Roasted Summer Vegetables or Μπριάμ (Briáhm)

serves 10

6 -8 medium sized pieces of various squash type vegetables (zucchini, acorn squash, etc), cut into large chunks (about walnut size, or slightly bigger)
2 onions, thinly sliced
8 small potatoes or 4 large, cut into walnut sized chunks
1 large green pepper, cut into thin slices
1 large eggplant, cut into smaller sized chunks
5 large tomatoes, sliced into thick slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup olive oil & a little extra for drizzling
1 handful fresh mint, chopped
1 handful fresh oregano, chopped
coarse sea salt
fresh ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350F (170C)

In large bowl, combine everything except the tomato slices, making sure that the oil and the herbs cover all vegetable pieces. It’s actually best to use your hands for this.
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Pour the oiled and seasoned veggie chunks into an adequately sized baking dish and cover everything with the tomatoes slices. Drizzle some olive oil over these slices.

Bake for 1/2 hour, then increase heat to 380F (185C) and bake for another 1/2 hour or more.
Potatoes should be done and all vegetables should have a golden crispy edge.
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Allow to cool a bit. Serve with fresh bread, crumbled feta cheese, or parmesan gratings. A chilled dry rosé or white would be a perfect pairing with this Mediterranean country-style dish.