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Monday, August 24, 2015

Taco Republic - My New Neighborhood Joint

Among the most-stressful times in a person's life, moving from one home to another definitely resides in the Top 3. They say that moving, getting married, and public speaking are some of the most stressful events in life. Fortunately for me, I'm moving to a quiet neighborhood, adjacent to the things  love: food, parks, and the Volker/Rosedale/Westwood marriage. These powerhouse neighborhoods create a vibrant and wonderful incubator for Kansas City's most-trendy people, the yuppies, if you will, and the foodies that come along, too. I'm just happy that we bought the house before the neighborhood value skyrockets.

Right down the street from my gorgeous new house just happens to be Taco Republic, a food truck turned brick-and-mortar that seems to be my own, real life version of the "El Jefe" food truck from "Chef." Although Taco Republic does not serve Cuban sandwiches, it does serve a damn good taco.

Taco Republic on 47th & Mission, a converted gas station, serves with an open-air approach. One wonders what happens in winter, but one is grateful for such beautiful summer nights as these. Beer, margaritas, chips and salsa all welcome you with plentiful and colorful outdoor seating, as well as several flatscreen TVs for you to watch the news, the game, etc. There was a Royals game on tonight, and this little taco stand was abuzz with baseball and tequila. The vibrancy of the atmosphere is fueled by it's decor, which can be described as Austin-tacious. (I can't really explain how this is; just imagine a trendy cool place in Austin where all the college-age kids would go, and it's that.)

Oh, and service was great both times I've been here. (Once our server found out I was a food blogger, his manager made it a point to ask how the service was. I told him that I seldom comment on service, and mostly comment about decor and food.)

The food at Taco Republic could be described as Tex-Mex, but I think that it reminds me of the late night club tacos I would eat in LA after a long night at Das Bunker. My friends and I would clamor in our platforms and jelly bracelets for carne asada tacos with lime at 2 in the morning in some shady East LA shack, talking about how we should probably hit Denny's, too, to get some coffee before we scrape off enough of this eyeliner to be at least half-presentable at work tomorrow. Ah, to be young and in LA...but I digress.

These are authentic, Mexican-American-ish tacos. I like these tacos. Do you know why I like these tacos? Because they aren't pretending.

Take the Del Mar(tilapia) and Ortiz(chicken) tacos that B got. Look at the corn, the cotija cheese, the guacamole... The tacos make no assumptions, ask nothing, and aren't pretending to be the next big thing. It's a taco, and it's good. What else do you need to know? It's on a corn tortilla, which is good and authentically Mexican. Tortillas de maiz, as they are called, are considered to be a sign of authenticity in Mexican cuisine. Flour tortillas are more of an American thing, but the Mexican-American fusion of food that lies in the Southwest is so damn convoluted that I don't think anyone can honestly tell what's what and where's where anymore.

Now, onto the Tex-Mex...

These are the carne asada tostadas that I ordered the first time I ate at Taco Republic. They look appetizing, right? Upon first bite, though, one gets an overwhelming punch of pickled jalapenos, which I honestly found really overpowering and off-putting. I picked as many of them off as I could, but the pickle flavor had seeped into the sponge-like iceburg lettuce that was piled on in a sloppy chop, rather than a nice fine chiffonade like it should have been. I think it could have used a little more radish, and the meat could have been a little more. I think it was a bit light on the cheese, too, but perhaps I'm splitting hairs at this point.

I did not enjoy this dish. They pickle all of their onions and jalapenos in-house, which is great, but I guess I just don't enjoy pickled jalapenos. I like jalapenos raw, sauteed, deep-fried and stuffed with cheese, but not pickled, apparently. So, hey, maybe this dish just isn't for me.

Now, I come back tonight, on the most gorgeous evening you could imagine, and had a fantastic meal with a wonderful crowd and a wonderful man. He ordered his same Del Mar and Ortiz tacos, while I opted for the beef Old-Fashioned tacos.

These tacos are made from stewed ground beef, veggies, cheese...the works. And you know what? Not a pickled jalapeno in sight. Awesome. Oh, and it's made with corn tortillas? Even better!

The first bite of these tacos are a big splash of juicy, soft flavor. The sharp crunch of the onions and tomatoes, the lettuce, the creamy cheese, and the flavorful beef, all sort of collide. Upon second and third bites, you feel like you're eating something familiar. Upon tasting the beef on its own, I found it reminded me of the kind of taco meat your mom makes...you know that taco seasoning that you find in the grocery store, in the spice aisle, in packets? It reminds me of that...or, at least, the romantic idea of what a Midwestern Mom's "Taco Tuesday" night at home would be. These tacos taste familiar, like "Home", which is definitely not a bad thing. Big thumbs up. I did enjoy this dish.

**heavy breathing**
Of course, I must nod to dessert.

The cheesecake chimichanga is to die for. Let me say that again for the people in the back: the cheesecake chimichanga is to die for.

Click to add a blog post for Taco Republic on ZomatoPicture this: cheesecake filling, warm and gooey; crisp, crunchewy shell of an almost phyllo-like pastry...all smothered with a warm chocolate sauce. Are you sweating, yet? Because I am. Honestly, I could have twelve of these. Just...get in my mouth. All of them.

Growing up in America, you have this romantic notion that you're supposed to have "a place." You know all of the sitcoms where your main characters sit in their same booth, in their same diner, around the same time of day with the same people? That's the feeling of routine, of solidarity, of community that you're sort of raised to believe in, to expect. I don't know how realistic it is to have a place like that in modern American life, especially for a Millenial, but I definitely wouldn't mind making Taco Republic my regular place...for these reasons:

  1. It's close.
  2. It's cheap.
  3. It's good.
  4. It's seriously close...less than 5 minutes away.
  5. Great atmosphere and decor.
  6. Trendy without being pretentious. 
  7. Neat lawn chairs!
  8. Awesome people watching.
  9. Super-friendly staff with a lot of personality.
  10. Their house salsa is a close match to the kind of stuff you can get in Tucson, so bless.
  11. It's cheap. I mean, seriously, really cheap, really good for what it is. 
  12. Cheesecake chimichangas.
  13. Did I mention that it was close to my house?
I'm very glad that I came back to Taco Republic for a second go. Had I let that bitter taste of pickled jalapeno sour my entire impression of the place, I wouldn't have discovered the old-fashioned beef tacos or the cheesecake chimichangas or the churros(which are also really delicious). You can bet that I'll be back for more.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Peachy Keen Pie

Summer is slowly ending, and the fruits of our summer labors are waning. Peaches, tomatoes, etc., are all nearing the end of their season. The true end will be marked by Samhain, of course, but with Lammas passing, it's reminded me that autumn is coming, and so now is the time to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

I live my life seasonally, as per my religion, and as per my career. Being a chef has taught me, more than anything, that food is the biggest untapped power we have. The abundance in our country is just absurd, so we don't necessarily have to think about seasonality. We have strawberries in winter, for Goddess' sake. Fortunately, many of us are becoming more and more aware of seasonality, locality, and just being more in tune with the way the world works.

One of my favorite summer crops is peaches. I went a little crazy at the Overland Park Farmers' Market and bought too many peaches. I know, I know, how can someone have too many peaches? You really can't, but I sort of did; I made that fatal error of shopping hungry, despite the Wiener Wagon's best efforts.

I spent $15 on peaches. I only meant to buy the little $5 baskets, but then I realized that I was probably going to eat half of those on the way home, so it would be best to buy more. Next thing I knew, I was leaving the farmers' market with more peaches than anyone should have, and by the time I had gotten home, I was practically slathered in peach juice.

After I crawled out of the shower, I knew I needed to do something with the rest of these peaches. Sure, I could eat them, but I probably shouldn't, at this point. I considered making preserves, but then I realized that I didn't have any free jars, and would have to go out and buy some if I wanted to do that. Once I realized that I still had half a case of puff pastry in my freezer(leftover from the millefeuille), I couldn't think of a better thing to make than a pie. Besides, this gives me an excuse to use the designated pastry station in my new kitchen!

Don't you just love the color?
Peach pie says "summer" to me like no other, and it reminds me of my great-grandmother's peach cobbler. Over the years, I've developed my own take on the pie, and even gave it a name to honor her: Peachy Keen Pie...because for as long as I can remember, whenever asked how she was doing, she would always say "peachy keen, hunky dory." If that's not the most adorable grandma thing ever, I don't know what is.

Here's how to make my Peachy Keen Pie:

Peachy Keen Pie
yields: 1 delicious pie, serves 8

  • 1 sheet of puff pastry, frozen - OR your favorite pie crust recipe...here's mine
    • 8 oz vegan butter substitute
    • 14 oz AP flour
    • 2 oz ice water
    • 1 tsp vinegar
      • Cut 'butter' into small cubes and pinch the fat into the dough. Add the vinegar and just enough ice water to come together. Divide in two and chill until ready to use! 
  • 4 large peaches, peeled and cut into wedges
    • You can also use 12 small peaches!
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup local honey
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 3/4 tsp pure almond extract (you can substitute vanilla paste if you have an almond allergy)
Peel the peaches and core them by cutting in half, and gently prying out the pit with your hands. You can keep the pit to plant, or put it under your bed or on your windowsill to attract good fortune and love, if you're the superstitious type. (I popped mine in the four corners of my garden, because(really) how cool would that be if it actually sprouted??) I cut each half into six slices lengthwise, because I really like the way it looks.

I am in LOVE with my new kitchen!

Toss the sugar, spices, salt,  and almond extract together and let it sit for about five minutes, then grab your puff pastry from the freezer. Take this moment now, too, to preheat your oven, if you haven't already, to 350 degrees F. When peach liquid starts to form, add the cornstarch and toss vigorously.

I have a glass pie pan, and it was a little bigger than the one side of my puff pastry, so I rolled it out just a little bit thinner. The trick to pie doughs is that you must be a little rough, but not enough to harm it. Fluff it a little with your fingers from the bottom, once you're done rolling it, to get the glutens to relax. Gently lay your dough into your pie tin, and let it relax. Don't pull it, don't push it, and for the love of God don't stretch it...just let it relax and settle into its natural form, for no less than five minutes. Let it go. Drape it in and let it go. You know how sometimes pie crust will shrink away from the sides of the pan? That's because the dough has been overworked and didn't get enough time to rest. Quite the metaphor, eh?

See that? Just let it do that. Let it rest for at least 5 minutes. It'll naturally form to the pan on its own.
When the dough has relaxed, sufficiently, trim the edges. Keep the scraps for later, as those will become your decoration, should you so choose to utilize it as such...I would, because there's no reason to waste when you don't have to. Pour in your filling, and then give your pie plate a little shimmy-shimmy, to let everything sort of settle naturally. Now comes the fun part.

Take a handful of sugar and spread it on your board like you would spread flour if you were rolling out something. Gather your scraps and mush them all together, then roll them out on the sugar into one uniformly thin sort of disc. Using either a small knife or a pizza cutter, cut strips and lay over the pie in a sort of lattice pattern. If you have more scraps, like I did, repeat the rolling process, using more sugar as needed, and then cutting out shapes using cookie cutters. Get your egg wash ready by cracking an egg into a container and mixing it with a little water to make a sort of thin, consistent liquid.

I had this really pretty sugar maple leaf shape that I scored from Sur la Table some years ago for $0.40, so I used that, and then a small circle cutter for the tiny bits that were leftover. I had almost zero scrap left at this point, not even big enough to make another tiny circle, so I tossed almost no pie dough, of which I am proud. I used the back of a small paring knife to create "veins" on my leaves by freehand. This is an extra step that isn't necessary, but fun, and makes your pie all the more special.

Attach your shapes to the pie by using an egg wash(if you like) and a pastry brush. If you don't have a pastry brush, use your finger to sort of apply it like you would apply an ointment or lipgloss. Pop your pie into your hot oven and bake for 55 minutes, turning the pie 180 degrees halfway through the cooking process to ensure even baking, or until the pastry is cooked both on bottom and top. This is where the glass pie plate really helps you out, and why I will continue to recommend glass pie pans to this day.

My amazing stepmother made this towel! Let me know if you want one!

When the pie is cooked, remove from the oven and let it rest on the counter. If you have a wood countertop like I do, place your hot pie on a tea towel to keep condensation from ruining your countertops. If you have a cooling rack, use that. I actually have a cooling rack, but I'm in the middle of a move, so I hadn't quite gotten around to unpacking it yet...

Let it cool for at least an hour before cutting into it. I wouldn't stick it in the fridge to cool, though, as that would create steam, and steam equals a soggy bottom...and nobody likes a soggy bottom. Plus, the pie juices will get a chance to really soak and settle, and it won't turn into a big goopy mess when you cut it.

Now, go, enjoy the fruits of summer. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

DIY Canvas Leaf Print Chair

Today, I made these beautiful chairs for my new home. I didn't build them from wood, granted, but I did make prints of these gorgeous and natural leaves, found from trees that are all in my yard, all on the canvas chair covers that we bought from IKEA.

Now that B and I are living together, we've found, finally, the thing we fight about: decor.

It's not that we have entirely conflicting tastes on how a home should look or anything. Actually, we do. We have totally conflicting tastes on how a home should look! That being said, if it's been over a year since we have started dating, and this is our first fight, I feel good about our relationship. It's usually at the six month mark for me that the rose-colored glasses come off and I start to see the other person's pimples. Fortunately for B, his skin is crystal clear; or if it isn't in certain places, they're things that I can easily live with. If he had it his way, we'd be living in a minimalist white-on-white-on-white everything, with clean corners and chrome and bar stools.

Homie don't play that.

We finally settled on high, barstool type chairs with high backs and cloth cushions so my tush could feel plush after a long day in the kitchen. I chose the raw-linen-looking canvas color because I think it looks natural, but still with a very clean design. I had to have something nature-driven and one-of-a-kind in my new kitchen if I'm to make it my sacred space...so I decided on leaf prints.

And why on earth should I go to the local craft store and spend a ridiculous amount of money on stamps when I have an absolute Eden's worth of gorgeous trees all around me?

He sits beneath the Silver Maple, just one of the three trees on the property,
and one of the seven that hang over my yard and house...
Exactly, I shouldn't.

We have several types of trees in the new yard, and the house is completely nestled in this sanctuary of green. I gently harvested the leaves from each of the trees, using pruning shears, but I'm sure scissors will work just fine, if that's all you have. I did have several bushes and shrubs, but I decided to go for trees, as I wanted to stick to a common theme.

I took cuttings from:

The Silver Maple Tree, which had sprouted its own little hybrid something-or-other off the side...

The elm tree, which had this gorgeous little branch that was just barely within my reach...

And the Sycamore tree, a most-sacred American tree, which has leaves bigger than my head.

All three of these trees have wonderful and powerful properties associated with them. Maple trees, for example, are very happy trees, that symbolize attraction and longevity. Elm trees are dark and brooding, very powerful for keeping those unwanted spirits away. Sycamores are considered to be Holy trees among certain Native American tribes, and symbolize growth, persistence, and endurance. Not only are these trees powerful and symbolic, but also have gorgeous leaves, and by using them, I could have a one-of-a-kind product at the end, completely unique to my home and area.

I chose leaves that were mostly intact, and that were new and fresh enough that they were pliable. This meant cutting them directly from the tree. If you find a really pretty leaf on the ground, though, I suggest soaking it in some water to soften it before using it as a stamp. This way, it'll be soft enough to not crunch in your hands while you apply paint.

I used black fabric paint and blue dye; any brand will do. The kind of paint I used was actually dimensional paint, thinned out a tiny bit with blue dye, and applied with a small, soft paint brush. My friend JJ, of whom you've heard before, provided me with said dye when she thought it was black paint. Not to be discouraged, I attempted to use the blue dye to stamp my leaves.

I set the dye in a small glass bowl(metal will do, too, just not plastic) and brought out some sheets of paper. I tested the dredging/soaking method on the papers, saw it worked fine, and tried it on the fabric. Before I did that, though, I put a book underneath my fabric to allow a firm and level surface that I could feel out before deciding where to place my stamp. I pressed the leaf firmly down, using another scrap of paper on top to not only soak up excess, but to allow me to give a firm and even pressure. The result was quite a bit lighter than what I had hoped, but I still really liked the subtlety of the print!

Those are the leaves of the Silver Maple, all pressed down the back of the chair. I kept the design minimal, so as to keep B happy with no busy patterns, and continued on with other leaves, pressing on two more of the seat covers.

Since I had six chairs to cover, I figured two varying prints of each leaf would be sufficient, and leave enough of a pattern. When my friend E arrived at my house, with black paint in tow, we had some real fun with the paint brushes.

When I asked about the dimensional paint, she said she had used it before, just thinned out with water. Since I already had the blue dye out, I suggested using that instead. We set out the plastic packaging in which the seat covers had come as our palettes. We set out scrap paper as sort of 'easels' to paint our leaves on, and to be able to paint over the edges of the leaves without damaging my wood floor.

The paint and blue dye worked really well. As you can see, the paint was globbed on a bit unevenly on the underside of the leaf, which made for really interesting textures when finally printed. The paint stayed and made an extremely crisp and clean print, and the places in which the paint had been thinned with the dye actually ended up drying to a super-dark blue, adding dimension.

I painted the underside of the leaf, as that was the place that naturally had the textures and veins. I really wanted those lines defined, so I made sure to paint the stems, too. The silver maple turned out beautifully in this print, and you can really see where I went thicker and thinner with the paint.

The elm leaves were smaller, as were some of the maple leaves. I kept those attached to their original branches, and E and I had fun painting the tiny stems. A few of the loose leaves were used to print 'trails' across the seats, to give a more natural look, as if they had just fallen onto a path.

The sycamore leaf was the one that I was the most-excited about. Sheer size alone aside, the veins became more and more apparent the more and more I painted it. I wish I had a larger brush for this particular leaf, just so it wouldn't have taken me so long, but it truly was worth it.

This leaf took up the entire back of the chair. See that spot of blue near the top? That's where I had thinned out the paint a little with the dye. Had I used a larger brush and painted the leaf's underside more quickly, it wouldn't have dried as much. To be honest, though, I'm pretty much in love with this particular print. I used the smaller sycamore leaf print on the actual seat of the cover, right in the bottom corner, so as to offer a little variety.

The paint on this one dried fairly quickly, as well, so I globbed it on thick, especially around the edges to form that nice clean line. Remember, even pressure is going to be your friend on this, as well as a smooth and even surface...like that of a paperback book!

When I saw the blue versus the black, I decided to re-stamp the blue dyed leaves with a much lighter layer of the black, much more thinned-out. This way, I could have the color and the nice clean lines. I kept the globbing uneven, and a few of the prints offset just a hair to the left... The result was spectacular.

I mean, honestly, look at that.

Isn't that gorgeous?

This one just blows my mind... It looks like some gorgeous watercolor masterpiece!

The minimalist and sparse printing plays on the negative space, which allows it to feel cleaner and more precise...yet still natural. I suggest keeping it simple and not cluttering your piece with too many prints.

This entire project took a little more than half an hour with a friend, and was very inexpensive. If you already have the canvas/cushion/fabric, all you'll pay is the cost of the paint, dye, and brushes, which can be under $10, easily. Gather your leaves from outside, from near your house...although make sure you know that the plants aren't poisonous before gathering.

The absolute best part about this project is how fast it is. The paint is such a thin layer that it dries in five minutes or less. It took my friend and I less than 1 hour to complete six chair covers, so imagine what you can do with this technique and a tshirt, pillow case, etc. Imagine all of the different color combinations you could experiment with, as well as different leaves. With this technique, you really can let your imagination run as wild as the nature you got the leaves from.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Kitchen Witch's Garden

Howdy, friends!

I sure have had a busy month, catching up on work, experimenting with gelato flavors, and moving to my new house. I have a dear friend who's taking over my old house for me, so I get to visit my garden, still, while I work with this new one. I'm lucky to be moving at the end of summer/beginning of autumn, so it's not so scorching hot. I'm also lucky that I have until late October to be out, as I am really bad with moving. I'm setting myself a goal, though, to be completely 100% out by the 1st of September, which isn't unreasonable, especially considering we'll be staying at my place for a few days while the wood floors get treated. I'm completely in love with my new house, and the new plot of land that comes with it. I've got BIG plans for my new backyard, and am really going to take my time with my new gardening knowledge and make this the best garden ever.

"Night falls, and my Watch has begun..."
Having a fully fenced yard is fantastic, especially when there's no treacherous woods full of disease-ridden ticks all the way in the far back. Howl has taken to his new surroundings quite nicely, and has no problem digging up the dirt with me while I turn over the soil in my new garden plot.

It's a bit late in the year to plant new things, but your late summer/early fall crops are also your late winter/early spring crops. This means planting beets, carrots, leafy greens, cabbage, kale, broccoli, radishes, turnips, et cetera! I've planted radishes, carrots, and beets. They're cheap, they're easy to grow, and they're delicious. Updates on those ones soon!

It had been a few weeks since I'd been actually in my old backyard, but I couldn't think of a better time to check on it than today, considering it was not only really nice out, but it was my day off. I took several boxes and packed up my (almost) whole kitchen, some laundry, a few things I needed from my bathroom, and (unintentionally) more dog hair than anyone will ever need.

My garden, despite this crazy heat and wild weather patterns that are so associated with the Midwest, I also live by a river, so bugs are a big issue. Fortunately, I have spades of grasshoppers that gobble them up, and live their lovely little lives in my giant pumpkin patch that's taken over the entire yard. In an attempt to thin them when they were still smaller plants, I even planted a few in my front windowbox, just for kicks. It's grown all the way around my house and down towards the yard, to join its friends...

Don't believe me? Just watch.

The front plant even has two pumpkins budding! See that? That's a tiny pumpkin, which will grow and grow. Here's a picture of another on the same plant.

See how it's all swollen, now, but the bloom is still attached? Soon, the bloom will fall off and the pumpkin will really start to grow! See, pumpkin plants need a lot of energy to create those wonderful gourds that we so love, and that's why they need to spread out. All of those leaves collect energy from the sun, all to grow those delicious pumpkins, in hopes that some animal will come along, gobble it up, and dispense the seeds elsewhere. Cool, right?? I hope this one will be ready by October...

I found several others hiding in the BIG pumpkin patch in the back. I would have taken a picture, but I couldn't stand far back enough without getting into the nasty weeds that give me hives. Just take my word for it that they're huge.

Isn't this one a cutie, too? I found him underneath the watermelon vines.

Here's one that you can see the blossom starting to dry up and fall off. You know the little "button" on the bottom of your pumpkin? Your watermelon? Your butternut squash? That's where the blossom used to be! This is also the place on melons that you can sniff and see if it's ripe or not.

Now, then, being of the Blood O type, I attract mosquitos like you wouldn't believe. If you're a gardener, a Type O, or just get eaten up by mosquitos moreso than your friends, I highly recommend this little gem:

This is a citronella bracelet. I picked mine up at Planters Seed Co. in the River Market area. They cost about $1.50 and they last for 200 days after they're taken out of the package. Put this beauty on, and the mosquitos will avoid you. You will no longer be stung by mosquitos. Seriously. I even saw a mosquito land on my knee while I was wearing this, and just "Nope" out of there. I love this thing, and will highly recommend it to anyone suffering like I do.

Anyway, back to pictures!

I was really excited about these guys, considering this is my first time EVER growing corn! I'm a scant 5'8" in height, so that means my tallest ones were a little over 4 feet. I planted them VERY late June/early July, which is probably too late to grow corn, but I figured that I've only wasted a dollar if they didn't turn out. And they have, so far! They've got until the end of October to grow corn, which is when the first frost usually happens. I'm confident that they can do it.

Speaking of confidence, I'm confident that my tomato haul will be my best ever. I mean, not only are my brandywine plants finally producing...

This is a brandywine tomato plant, usually a late bloomer.

But my Indigo Roses have been a constant producer(while a bit slow, I'll admit).
The Indigo rose tomato is considered to be one of the healthiest in the world.

And my Gardner's Delight, which I didn't even plant this year, just showed up...and started wowing! I've got about ten Gardner's Delight plants that just popped up out of nowhere, all over my garden, and they're producing like you wouldn't believe! To tell you the truth, I'm half-tempted to dig a few of the smaller ones up and take them with me to my new house, but it seems wrong somehow to do so.

Besides, they're already fairly well established, so why should I want to harm them when they're perfectly content where they are?

Now, the one plant I'm honestly concerned about is my Moon and Stars watermelon plant. It's just recently begun to vine out, but hasn't fruited yet...at least not that I've seen. The leaves are gorgeous, with pretty yellow spots, just like stars in the night sky, but I fear that this nutty weather has proven too much for it. I hope that I get a fruit and that it ripens before the first frost!

This picture is my pride and joy. It's my first pumpkin of the season, and I just cannot believe how big and yellow it is already!

When I planted the seeds, I realized that several of them got mixed up with others, so I wasn't sure which was which. This is a Long Island Cheese pumpkin, which has a pleasant, mild, almost creamy flavor that resembles a wonderful pumpkin-flavored cheese. Doesn't that sound fantastic???

The vines area already withering and drying on this one, which means harvest time is nigh! Notice the brick underneath?

When you grow melons, pumpkins, etc., a good trick is to prop them off of the ground with some kind of something(I use bricks, but you can use wood chips, cedar planks, etc) to aid in the prevention of rot and insect damage. That being said, you can store these squash products in a cool, dry place for up to six months once harvested. What else can you say that about? Potatoes.

These are purple potatoes. I harvested them quite recently, but some of them were still quite small. I'll use these ones to be planted in the spring. Make sure that, if you do plant potatoes, you dig them ALL up, otherwise they'll just keep on growing and growing and growing, year after year after year...which isn't necessarily a bad thing, unless you move. One thing for sure, I can't wait to plant these and grow them again. They were delicious, and it's so fun to cut into a potato and see a beautiful, bright blue.

The great thing about gardening interesting ingredients like this is that when you get varieties in color, you get fabulous nutrients. The colors blue and purple are absolute necessities for a healthy diet when it comes to produce. Eat a rainbow; nature gives you everything you need you be happy and healthy, so why not work symbiotically with it? Nature is a beautiful thing, and working in a garden is one of the things that fills me with such a magical joy.

I hope this has inspired you to, at least, look into gardening for yourself! There's still time in the year to grow lettuce, broccoli, kale, and spinach, all things that easily can be grown on your counter top, if you live in an apartment or have limited space. Go outside, though, for roots like radishes, turnips, beets, etc. You'll be glad you did, as your body will thank you for the exercise and vitamin D.