Simple Breaded Eggplant

Eggplant seems to be prone to insults. Recipes often bury this beauty beneath heavy sauces and layers of cheese. And, this is one vegetable that rapidly disintegrates into tasteless mush when overcooked. 

This morning, hubby John presented me with a wonderful breakfast that is easy to make and delicious. The eggplant was breaded, sprayed with avocado oil, and grilled on the medium setting for roughly 30 minutes. Then to add flavor contrast, he topped each slice with a dusting of goat cheese, basil leaves, and oregano flower tops (another edible herb flower). On the side, he mixed Fagé 0% Greek yogurt and blueberries (sweeten to taste) for a lite and infinitely appealing meal.

A New Use For Basil Tops

Fridays are typically busy. It is our day to go to the farmer’s market and enjoy a day away from home. We, therefore, try to keep breakfast simple. This Friday I opted to make steel-cut oats seasoned with cinnamon and topped with blueberries.

As I sat down for breakfast, John came in from the garden with a handful of tops from our basil plants to add to the oatmeal. This is an ingredient I would never have thought to add to oatmeal, but the result was an amazing blend of flavors – tart, sweet, and a bit sassy. I almost felt like I cheated a bit with this breakfast – so delicious and yet so simple and healthy, packed with antioxidants and fiber.

For the Love of Summer Salad

Our garden kale decided to make a comeback this year, so this morning we decided to add our kale (flowers included) into a summer salad featuring romaine lettuce, arugula, white onion, red and yellow peppers, carrots, celery, and goat cheese. Splash a bit of homemade vinaigrette (we used raspberry vinegar and added EVVO, white balsamic vinegar, Italian seasoning, garlic, onion, and a blended fruit assortment of blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries to create our antioxidant power-house dressing) for a light and tasty addition to any meal.

In the Backyard Garden

As many of your know, I retired at the end of 2020.  So this spring, we decided to mix it up a bit.  When I was working, John handled all of the cooking.  I have now joined him on the “cooking” front, freeing him to focus more on the garden.  

John loves gardening and the rewards of growing your own food are endless.  Early spring brought kale to our table and we are hopeful that summer will produce a bounty of tomatoes, green beans, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, and peppers.

IN MY BACKYARD (CREEPING CHARLIE)

I was out in the backyard observing some of the plants I have planted in the last two years. I noticed an evasive plant with a lot of scalloped leaves and pretty blue flowers. The plant seemed to attract bees and smells of strong mint.  When I pick it up, it comes up easily, as it is not a deeply rooted plant. It seems to always grow in clumps around the yard. Usually, this plant is found in the shady parts of the gardens around the base of other plants. It does pull up easily and with the regular pulling of weed plants around the flowerbed, it can be pulled up, but never goes away.  It comes back year after year. 

I looked up the plant in several plant guides and found it to have many names, and seems to be referred to as Ground Ivy most of the time. I kind of liked the one name, Creeping Charlie as this plant can quickly spread to take over any flower bed. Mowing does not stop it from continued growth. 

I like the plant as it is a wonderful green color with interesting leaves.  When it blooms with blue flowers, it is actually very attractive. I just pull some of it up when it starts becoming evasive. 

On the Scientific side of my research, I found this Ground Ivy ( Glechoma hederacea) has quite a history.  Historically, Ground Ivy was used as an herb, eaten in salads, and used to make medicines and tea. It was also used to flavor beer. The plant is very high in iron. Young leaves and sprouts are eaten like spinach. Tasting a leaf produces a very strong minty flavor. 

Although technically a weed, to me, Creeping Charlie is simply another interesting plant in the backyard.

IN MY BACKYARD (VIOLETS)

I will always wait for the blue violets to grow in my yard.  I do not have regular pruned grass; I just let it grow and mow it. In early spring, the wild violets congregate in my yard in various locations. Sometimes, they appear in one place in the front or backyard and sometimes in surprising places in the yard where I would not expect them. I like them; they would be unwelcome in a yard treated with chemicals. I just consider them to be gifts from nature.  

Science gives them the name, (Viola odorata). They grow in groups of heart-shaped leaves with beautiful blue flowers that just are so delicate. They continue to seed, low to the ground. What seems to be dead flowers really are the flowers reproducing seeds.  I noticed after mowing, they continue to grow.  The seed is spread so easily that they can get transported all over the yard. 

If you do not have a treated lawn with chemicals, an added feature of violets is that they are good for food presentations, and both leaves (heart-shaped), flowers, and stems are edible. I like to include the flowers on desserts or in salads to add that wild touch. This is also a plant you could pot grow, especially if you treat the yard with chemicals or have pets in the yard. 

I hope that your yard gives you a treat with these beautiful wildflowers.

Feeling Vulnerable

John found this lovely Butterweed plant in our side garden.  Tall, bright, and yellow, this small wildflower stood-out among peonies and daylilies struggling to bloom in an abnormally cold and gray spring.  I noticed the plant when a first single flower appeared at the top of the long stem, surrounded by several waiting blossoms.  I could almost feel the power in the plant’s sturdy stem.  On a damp and windy day, I snapped many images, trying to capture this wildflower as it danced in the wind. 

Spring has been difficult, with much more time spent at home in dismal and sometimes depressing weather.  We know we are among the vulnerable, seniors that are at a higher risk over our younger counterparts.  Our age can be a reminder of our vulnerability, the fact that time is sometimes unkind and limiting.  

Each day, I have visited this wildflower and am greeted by more flowers perched on top of a still wavering stem.  Somehow, this little plant makes me feel less alone, a companion plant for John and I.  This one is determined to survive.  So are we.

In my Backyard (Butterweed)

It still amazes me the number of plants that are in someone’s backyard. I had this one particular wildflower grow from a small plant to a foot tall in a few days.  I let it grow to see what it would look like through its stages of growth.  I was rewarded by my patience with a pretty cluster of flowers atop a very strong stem with kite-like leaves. It was very green and healthy-looking.  You might say the plant was, “Wild Strong!”  I encourage plants like this in my backyard.  I set up a mystery of search and learn using my skills of observation and research.  I find the plant in a book or on the internet and learn about its life cycle and how it fits in with other cycles. 

When my wife and I looked it up we found it to be classified as a Butterweed. You find this weed more to the South but seems to be evasive. Vacant farmlands are covered with fields of these yellow-colored flowers until the cycle of the plant is finished.  More than likely the plants get plowed under with the planting season. They always come back.

On the science side of terminology, the plant is named (Packera glabella), a name given by the followers of Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, who developed a classification system to name animals and plants.  So, the weed we know as Butterweed has a scientific name, and is more important than being just a weed. This weed is important to the South for providing food for crayfish; the flower feeds many pollinators that are attracted by its bright yellow flower. 

It is a happy reminder that when you want that perfect lawn, you are missing out on the beautiful weeds like Dandelion and Violet and many others that give beauty and natural life to our backyards. They can be tamed and sometimes used as an added floral to attract beautiful birds and helpful insects.

The Plight of the Bumble Bee

My first experience with a bumblebee nest was a surprise.  My son, Jonathan, and I had just finished a project for Cub Scouts that was aimed at obtaining a badge for nature study. He worked hard with me to build a really neat birdhouse.  Excitedly, he climbed a ladder and placed the birdhouse between limbs in the very large Maple Tree in the backyard.

Jonathan was hoping that soon a bird would choose his birdhouse, and he could watch from his window the coming and going of the birds making their nest. He had watched every day, but no birds seem to even come close to the nest. I thought that there might be a problem with the positioning of the opening and the birds would not be able to get in through the hole.

I got the ladder out of the shed.  I placed it upon the tree ready to climb up to see what was wrong with the birdhouse, a bird’s eye view so to speak. To my surprise, I heard a buzzing sound just about halfway up the ladder.  I noticed right away to my surprise two bumblebees buzzing around me.  I have seen the bumblebees at work in the yard as we have a flower and victory garden full of bees, of all types, every day, throughout the summer.  I have never been stung or bothered by them, as long as you let them do their work, they seem to leave us alone.

When I looked up I noticed not a bird in the birdhouse but a buzzing hive of bumblebees!  I yelled to Jonathan to run into the house.  I chose a quick jump to the ground and was on Jonathan’s heals as we both ran for the door.

The bumblebees let us know we did not belong near their nest.  That prompted me to learn about these bees and what to expect from them while they were in the back yard. As I found out unless they nest in the house near people, they pretty much do not bother humans, but I found that they are very important to us as pollinators.

These bees, as with most types of bees, go from flower to flower. In the process, they pick up pollen which is the male sperm of a plant. This allows flowers to become fertilized with the flowers’ egg cells. It is very important to us that the flowers produce fruits, which we all enjoy, and allows for propagation of the plant. I also learned that the bumblebee buzz allows it to vibrate pollen on to its body, which pollinates flowers, as well as helps feed bees at the hive along with nectar gathered during the visit.

Bumblebees live in small hives, in the ground where rodents might have had a den, or in small holes in woodpiles. In our case it was our birdhouse, or should I say a bee house.

The Beautiful Butterfly

 am reminded that cycles are very much a part of our life.  One that easily comes to mind at this time of year is that of the beautiful butterfly.   I find it a cycle that is very familiar and one that a younger child is taught early in the science instruction in our elementary schools. There is such excitement that comes over a child when the caterpillar spins itself into a chrysalis,  and after a time emerges as a beautiful butterfly.  It is a sight that will never be forgotten in my mind.   The butterfly lives for a time and then lays eggs.  Of course, it all starts over with that egg and begins once again to carry out the cycle of the butterfly.

I think it correct to say we enjoy the miracle of birth or is it rebirth?  I am safe to say most of us remember very little about our birth, mine is written about in a baby book my mother kept. And, eventually, the parent for some reason wants you to know about your birth.  I call that rebirth, finding out about your birth.  It is also triggered when you observe the birth of animals or even plants.  Everything yes, ends in some form of a nonliving state, but we dwell too much on nonliving parts of the cycles.  Birth and rebirth are amazing, even though very scientific, a very emotional time for humans and animals. A trip to the local fair to see the pigs born to a sow can show the children how well animals take care of the newborns.  Children just beam and ask questions about birth, and it usually leads to a discussion of their own birth.  Yes, the children are born again, or in a sense experience rebirth.  It reminds them of how special they are and of course how special mom and dad are at this stage of the cycle of life.

Back to the butterfly, this is not the only animal that begins its cycle with an egg and goes through all stages and then begins again passing on genetic information.  There are many unique and different staged cycles to observe by a walk in the woods or a close look in your own backyard. I suggest you get your kids and buy a couple of insect guides or animal books and go look for animals and study their cycles.  You might just have a rebirthing of your own.