A garden is a grand teacher. It preaches patience and care watchfulness. It teaches industry and thrift. Above all, it teaches entire trust.
My cooking heroes are foods that come straight out of the garden. I've never had my own garden until I moved to the midwest a few years ago. My very first "garden" was in containers on a small deck. Just a few tomato plants, peppers, basil, dill, thyme, parsley, rosemary, mint and basil. It was perfect. I’ve lived with the memory of a large family garden that was tended to lovingly by my parents. It was time to try to grow at least one tomato.
My “brown” thumbs were very industrious in planting each seedling as I wondered aloud how hard could growing a few plants be? It did take work and required consistent watering, weeding and pruning. I did actually talk to the plants every day more to appease me than them. Oh, and critter control—a few nosy squirrels tried to investigate. Mint seemed to deter them, thankfully. What mattered was having patience to nurture the plants until they started producing. It was worth it. That first tomato was almost too pretty to eat, but I did.
Cool garden gloves and a spade helped my gardening chores.
Handmade garden box for tomatoes and herbs
When I'm not gardening in summer, cruising farmers markets is like being a kid in a candy store. I marvel at the piles of greens, bins of apples, peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, corn and berries and the people who grow them. The dedication of the growers and the pride they show brightens my spirit.
The colors, textures and aroma of fresh food is like an elixir which sometimes gets the best of me and I end up with more food than I can reasonably store in my smallish refrigerator. I do freeze many foods using a Vacmaster vacuum sealer, which has been a huge time and waste saver.
Fresh mint is a favorite that I add to ice tea and in watermelon salad (recipe below).
Admittedly, I don't always have an idea of what I'm going to do with my market hauls. But I’ve learned to prepare the foods simply and create something delicious.
Fresh picked corn from Szalay's Farm Market.
- 5 ears of corn, shucked
- ⅓ cup mayo
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 1 tsp chili powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp lime juice
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- ⅓ cup crumbled Cotija Cheese
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
Grill corn over high heat until lightly charred. Use a sharp knife to cut corn kernels away from cob. Place corn kernels in large bowl.
Mix together mayo and sour cream and stir into corn.
Season with chili powder, salt, pepper, lime juice, cilantro and cotija cheese then stir to combine. Serve immediately with lime wedges.
- This corn salad can be made up to a day ahead of time and stored in the fridge until ready to serve.
The varieties of tomatoes usually gets more of my attention than other veggies at the farmers market. The various shapes, sizes and colors catch my eye. I can envision them on a plate dressed with a little olive oil, sea salt, cracked black pepper, a few sprigs of basil and maybe a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
And speaking of tomatoes... My friend Angela is the owner of Cavottas Garden Center in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland. Angela grows endless varieties of tomatoes, as well as other vegetables, plants, flowers and herbs. She is a garden goddess and I love visiting this little piece of heaven in Cleveland. Angela also hosts a popular annual Tomato Festival where guests spend a leisurely August afternoon feasting on all things tomato while listening to local musicians (interrupted by an occasional rooster crowing) on a property which include farm animals and a garden bar. There’s no other place like this.
Cavottas also sells some of the most beautiful flowers in flats, pots, hanging baskets and landscaped displays. It’s hard to decide what or how much to buy.
Flowers at Cavotta's Garden Center
Fresh rosemary adds such wonderful flavor to grilled foods and steeped in a simple syrup as an addition to espresso or a mojito.
Watermelon Salad with Feta and Mint
Recipe courtesy of ToriAvey.com
- 8 lb. whole seedless watermelon, chilled (about 12 cups of cubed fruit)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 whole limes, juiced
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese (sheep's milk feta preferred)
Note: This salad is best made just prior to serving. Prepare one hour or less before your meal.
Cut rind from the watermelon, then chop the fruit into 1 inch chunks. Place chunks in a colander to drain as your chop.
In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, fresh lime juice, salt, and black pepper to create a dressing.
As the weather starts to warm up, what better time to plant a garden or visit a local farmers market or farm stand?