GARDENING: Garden Plan a Week, Week 5, TREE-RIFFIC Shade garden

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Early beginnings of garden plan below
Early beginnings of garden plan below

Ok, I'm sorry, I am a little behind on the garden plan a week thing. Easter hit our home like a freight train, and I missed some garden plans for y'all. Let me make it up to you with this nifty tree plan for shade that I have been working on since I inherited my shade garden from our home's previous owners. This bed is under a magnolia tree, and as some of you gardeners out there know, gardening under a large tree is challenging (lack of light, lack of water). But after many of my plants went to shade-plant heaven, I seem to have come to the right mix that's working.

This plan has a lot of different leafy textures to make the bed very interesting after blooms have faded. It also includes popping in some shade loving annuals like Nicotania and Impatiens to keep some color going all season. I chose fringed bleeding hearts v.s. regular to complement the various ferns in the bed. I also liked using some more indigenous, woodland plants that are different and unique, but thrive under typical tree cover (such as May Apple, Trilliums and Solomon's seal). And finally, putting in a unique plant here or there is always nice, like the ostrich fern in the back right corner. You might not find these ferns at a typical "Big Box" store, but at a true garden center. But this fern is worth the extra trip.

TREE-RIFFIC Shade garden

Shopping List:

1 large Foxglove
5 Hostas
6-7 medium Phlox
3 perennial shade Lilies
2 Japanese Ferns
2 Woodland Ferns
2 Sweet Woodruff
4 Fringed Bleeding Hearts
3-4 Solomon's Seal
13 small Trilliums (They propagate)
1 Dayliliy
1-2 May Apples (They propagate)
2 Red Coral Bells
9 Pachysandra starters (They propagate as ground cover)
1 Ostrich Fern
6-10 Impatiens plants (for filler)
10 Nicotania plants (for filler)

RECIPE: Amaretti Nutella Sandwich Cookies

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Amaretti are basically an almond macaroon, and a staple in Italian cuisine. My mother and I have a slew of different recipes and versions of Amaretti, but these caught my eye. They are a simple-if not messy-cookie to make. It is based on an Epicurious recipe I found, that had these guys sandwiched together with nothing in the middle. With all that work, I wondered, what was the point? So after some culinary musings, I decided to try Nutella in the middle, and the flavor is amazing. They yield about 24 cookies after sandwiching, if you make them small. I left some "unsandwiched" for my purist Italian family.

Now, as much as I hate using a piping bag, it does give you control over this gooey batter, and allows you to make them as small as you need to. Also, the parchment is important for this because of the steaming step that lets these cuties lift off easily and be chewy in the middle. The net-net is, don't skimp on the steps, and you'll be happy.

Amaretti Nutella Sandwich Cookies


7 oz. almond paste in a can or tube
2/3 cup granulated sugar (maybe a scant less, when measuring. Go a little under that)
2 large egg whites, at room temp. for 30 minutes

1/2 cup, more or less, of Nutella or other hazelnut-chocolate spread


In a food processor, crumble the almond paste, and pulse until evenly loosened. Add the sugar and pulse again until crumbled finely. As the processor is going, add the egg whites. Process until very smooth and thick. Now its ready to be spooned in to a pastry bag with a1/4 inch tip-1/2 inch tip. I used a slightly ridged tip to add some flair but you can also use a simple, plain tip, too.

Line 2 sided baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 300˚, and move racks to the upper and lower thirds of your oven.

Pipe1/2-3/4" wide circular mounds about 1 1/2" apart on the sheet. Bake for about 18 minutes, switching levels and turning them half way through. The cookies are done when they ever so slightly brown on the tips and are a pale white color. Take out from the oven and place on a heatproof surface.

Working quickly and carefully (I burned myself during my Amaretti adventure, so be careful!), pour a tablespoon or so of water under the parchment paper and lean the pans on an angle so the water travels under all the cookies. You will hear a sizzle and see steam. The steam will release the cookies and create the chewy center you want. Carefully lift them off the steamed parchment with a metal spatula and cool on wire racks. (careful, not too much water and don't let them sit too long, chewy can turn SOGGY quickly!)

When cool, spread a thin layer of Nutella on the bottom of a cookie and sandwich to another Amaretti cookie. Store in a airtight container for 1-2 days (any longer and they get dry). They can be frozen for up to 3 months. Continue until finished. You can try low sugar jams or other nut spreads in the middle. Make up your own and have fun! MMMM, little nibble of Heaven.

RECIPE:Traditional Neapolitan Easter Soup, Revamped

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This soup I have made in years past as a great make-ahead first course for a formal Easter dinner. This recipe was derived from a very traditional recipe from the 18th century, and comes from Naples, Italy. I found it here, and make it yearly in honor of my mother who was born there. But some things needed to be changed, primarily the meat. Vintage Italian recipes often call for hard-to-find, peasant cuts. They are also out of the mainstream palate. SO I use easier to find cuts. I also brown the meat to get a good base going. And I suggest you use milder, springtime greens and less of them to keep the soup lighter. I am not sure about you, but the Italians have a ton of courses. You don't want the soup to be too heavy and filling before you get to the main course!

You can make the stock the night before Easter if you wish. I made mine a whole week before. I suggest doing the stock at least the night before because of one simple is easier to defat it. The meats used here are pretty greasy. The fats solidify on top as it cools in the fridge and you can scrape it off the next day and discard it, leaving just delicious broth. Once you shred the reserved meat and put it back in the "defatted" stock, you can either freeze it as is at that point, to be defrosted and finished at Easter-or you can just continue on with the recipe, serving it that day. Either way, its a savory start to a special meal! Buona Pasqua!

Traditional Neapolitan Easter Soup, Revamped 


1 small onion, cut into chunks
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 lb breast of veal with bone
1/2 lb -3/4 lb beef shank
1/3 lb. Beef ribs and/or Pork Spare ribs with Brisket Bone
1/3 lb. cured Neapolitan sausage, cut into chunks
1/4 lb. cured Neapolitan salami
1/2 cups worth fresh Parsley sprigs
2 Bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh Rosemary
6 sprigs fresh Thyme
1 well-rounded teaspoon tomato paste
6-8 cups cold water (enough to cover everything)

6-8 oz. spring leafy greens, like baby spinach, well rinsed and roughly chopped
1/4 cup white wine
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 cups low sodium beef broth on hand to adjust seasoning


A night (or more) before serving (broth can be frozen up until 3 months):

In a large dutch oven or soup pot, heat oil on medium high. Cook onion chunks until tender. And the Veal breast and brown on both sides. Transfer to a plate, brown the pork ribs (or beef ribs) on all sides. Transfer to the same plate. Brown the beef shank, transfer to a plate. At this point, you will have a lot of browning and caramelizing happening on the bottom of the pan. Take a cup of your water and splash it in, scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon as you go. Add all the meat back in. Add the sausage and salami. Pour the rest of the water over all until it completely covers all the meat. Now add all the herbs and tomato paste, and stir gently. Do not worry that it isn't chopped or anything. You will be straining everything out. (This is real peasant cooking!) Cook on high until a rolling boil happens, then lower heat to a very low simmer, and cover the pot partially. Let simmer for 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Check and add water if its boiling off too much. The meat should stay covered in the water.

Reserved Meat for the Soup

Meat to discard

When done, pull out the meat. Depending on your tastes, decide what you want to shred and put back in the soup, and what you want to discard. I shred some of the veal breast and the beef shank, and toss everything else. I just take the meat I am going to shred and store it in a separate container until the next day. With the rest of the broth, strain through a fine mesh sieve into a large storage container. Discard all the rest of the remnants of the broth. Store the broth and the reserved meat you plan on shredding in the fridge overnight in their separate containers.

 The next day, with a spoon, carefully scrape off the fat solids on top of the broth and discard it. With your reserved meat, tear and shred off about a cup and a half's worth or so, and stir it back into the cold broth. At this point, you can cover all of this and freeze it for up to 3 months.

NEXT/OR, pour the cold (or defrosted) broth with the shredded beef in a large soup pot. Over medium heat, get the soup to a nice simmer. Add the white wine. Add the spinach and cook until tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If the broth is too punchy, add a little water as the spinach simmers. If it is too weak or you need a little more liquid, add some beef broth to kick it up and extend it. (You should have about 6-8 cups of soup, roughly) Serve warm with a little bit of grated Parmesan. (final picture BELOW! ) Got rave reviews!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

RECIPE: Chicken Veggie Drawer Carbonara with Whole Wheat Pasta

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We whipped up this Carbonara with some fresh made whole wheat noodles we brought back from the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. For you foodies out there who are planning a trip to that northern city, this is a must on your visit. It is an indoor marketplace with European style food stalls and booths from fishmongers, bakers, butchers and other specialty foods. The basement floor includes desserts, clothing and jewelers, and other artisan crafters. So that's my plug for the St. Lawrence Market! Now to the task at hand; Pasta Carbonara.

You don't need to use whole wheat pasta. You don't need to add all these veggies. We just wanted to empty out our veggie drawer and this recipe is a perfect way to do so! Don't get squeamish about the raw eggs. They cook gently with the heat of the pasta and the pan, so it is important to make sure the pasta is hot. If you are not convinced, you can use 1/2 cup Egg Beaters® or other pasteurized egg product as a substitute.

Chicken Veggie Drawer Carbonara with Whole Wheat Pasta


Egg Mixture
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream (with 1/4 cup extra on hand if needed)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

The rest
1/2 lb. thick cut bacon, diced (may use Pancetta to be more traditional)
1 lb. chicken tenders, chopped
salt and pepper for chicken
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup chopped/sliced red pepper
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 medium sized Portabello mushroom, chopped

1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 cup frozen peas
1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti


Whisk together the egg mixture ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Saute bacon over medium heat in a large pan until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Pour off all but 1 1/2 Tbsp. drippings. Return pan to heat with the reserved drippings and brown the chicken pieces on all sides in the bacon fat, seasoning with salt and pepper as they cook. This takes about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to the plate where the bacon is.

Return pan to heat, add 1 Tbsp. olive oil and add red pepper, garlic, onion and mushrooms. Saute until golden and tender. Transfer to a bowl and keep warm. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions.

Return pan to heat and raise it to high. Deglaze it with the wine, lemon juice and broth, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom with a wooden spoon. Reduce liquid by half, about 3 minutes.

In a colander, have the frozen peas waiting. When pasta is done, drain directly on top of the peas in the colander. Shake the colander so peas get properly heated and pasta drained. Back in the pan go the vegetables, chicken, bacon and the hot pasta with the peas. Lower heat to medium-low.

Pour the egg mixture over the pasta and toss with a wooden fork and spoon until the dish is well combined, heated through and the egg mixture has thickened slightly. If you feel there is not enough sauce to go around, grab that extra 1/4 cup of cream you set aside earlier and splash it in there. Toss around, and serve immediately with an extra sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

GARDENING: Garden-Plan-A-Week, Week 4, My Shade Garden

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Today I am going to share with you one of my shade garden plans for planning and inspiration. My shade garden was started by the previous owners of our home. They created a very formal structure with mini square beds divided by paver paths. All that was planted were hostas and pachysandra, and landscape liner was used all throughout. The garden in all was a little too angular and "cut up" for me. I prefer more organic shapes with more flow. But I made peace with it, and decided to use height variation to add texture to the overall look of the Shade garden. It is a large area, and I have been working on a mini bed or two a year. The one I am sharing with you is a larger one near the walk. It is roughly 6 feet by 5 feet.

When planning it, I felt it seemed a central, eye catching element, as well as something tall. On one of my plant shopping trips, I fell in love with a Japanese Climbing Hydrangea and had to have it. This became the focal point in the center with a pyramid trellis. Then I built up and stair-stepped heights towards it from the outside in. I kept the pachysandra in places which is nice ground cover to fill in holes, (which it actually did once I ripped out all the landscape liner! This ground cover needs to extend roots in dirt, so landscape liner was preventing it from spreading properly). You can use different ground cover if you wish. Also, you have the flexibility to add different annuals here and there. Annuals help give color throughout the growing season, because though shade perennials are lovely, the blooms are generally short lived.

Here you go! Happy Spring!

Shopping list

2 Hosta
2 Astilbe
1 Ostrich fern
1 Japanese Climbing Hydrangea (Or other part shade climber)
Various pachysandra, about 4-6
4 Globe Flower
2 Spiderwort
1 Red Coral Bells
1 Fringed Bleeding Heart
2 Monarda
3 Toad Lily
6 Forget-Me-Nots
2 Bugleweed
4 Sweet Woodruff
2 Silver Lamium
6 Lilies
12-14 low height shade annuals for filler (Impatiens)
Climbing structure

GARDENING: Is Global Warming Potentially Changing Cold Zones for Gardeners?

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Last year, I began wondering if cold zones were changing. My garden bloomed so early, and it seemed that the winters were becoming ever so slightly milder year by year (excluding the year we had dismally few sun spots, thus a cooler winter/year overall). Things in my yard just seemed to be way ahead of schedule as of late, and this spring is no different. In fact, it is even more so, with my spring bulbs blooming this week. Last year, they were blooming for Easter pictures...over two weeks away!

Now, I know there is a big debate if global warming is real or not, and there are some of you out there that may not believe it is happening. That's fine by me! But being a gardener means having a sixth sense about weather. We become like our own plants. We feel rain is coming before the forecasters do, and we can sense if it will be an early fall or spring. Trust me about this. It's a wonderful thing to be that in tune with your surroundings, and to be a good gardener, you have to be. It's all about your surroundings! And I have had this feeling that things have been changing.

So, long story short, I did some research and came across this article from USA Today. I have included it below for you to read. It was very interesting. But what was WAY more interesting was the cold zone maps they highlighted, which I have put here for you to see. Basically, the USDA cold zone map is very old. It was last updated in 1990, and it was based on weather patterns as far back as the 70's. The funny thing is, most nurseries all kind of know the map is out of date, they just don't speak about it. In fact, no one speaks about it.

"At nurseries across the nation, it has become common knowledge that the government's climate map is out of date. And yet the nursery industry, which had $16.9 billion in wholesale sales in 2006, has joined the USDA in taking a conservative approach to changing the map.
A big reason: money.
Nurseries commonly offer money-back guarantees on plants. Analysts say many in the industry are worried that adjusting the climate maps would encourage customers in cooler areas to increasingly buy tender, warm-weather plants unlikely to survive a cold snap." -USA TODAY

Concerns about cold zones grew and the National Arbor Day Foundation followed weather patterns from 1991-2005, and noticed a movement of the cold zones shifting northward. They wanted to update the map. The USDA map from 1990 was based on weather patterns from '74-'86. The USDA is saying they won't change the map because there needs to be longer weather analysis done. But '74-'86 is not much longer than The National Arbor Day's analysis from '91-'05. So why not entertain it? Many people think they won't to minimize the highly charged global warming discussion. If the USDA changes it, it will be like them stating that global warming is real...and that's getting too political. So the National Arbor Day made their own map anyway, shown above. But why else won't the USDA look at cold zone updates?

I think the money questions is interesting, as well as the affect on the economics of agriculture in the country. However, with the right information, don't we all become better gardeners, commercial farmers as well as little old me? It seems best stated here, "There are nurserymen who are excited about the new market" for plants in the northern half of the United States, Ellis says. "There are the ones who see … it as a marketing opportunity."

I think at the end of the day, we should be conservative with our plantings. If it is an investment plant, like a tree or a special shrub, don't buy out of your traditional zone. If it's small perennials or something on sale, give it a try and see how it does. Experimenting gets expensive, money back guarantees or not. The article finishes by saying that at the end of the day, use your neighbors and neighborhood as a guide. No one is going to  know what works on your land than someone working similar land a few houses away. Find out what works. Become part of a local garden club or get to know the local, privately owned nursery. As said in the article, "Nobody is more familiar with soil and weather conditions in your yard than the person down the street with the beautiful garden," he says, "because usually what went into making that garden was a lot of mistakes and dead plants." I know I, myself, leave a trail of dead plants to take us to the next ice age!

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