Half A Salad with a Full Garden

Last summer I was getting all fancy with the gardening and the fresh stuff and piles and piles of lettuce to show for all my hard work. Thanks to my appaent inability to withold memories I went and planted flowers and herbs on top of where the end of last year’s crop went to seed. So what happened? Rogue lettuce. EVERYWHERE. It was growing out of the drainpipe hole at the end of the garden bed. It was springing up from between the cracks in the sidewalk. It was sort of grow up and through a rock?? And that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that even with all that crazy ninja lettuce popping up everywhere and messing up my carefully planned out herb garden I’ve gotten about 10 good leaves from the lot of them.

On the bright side (in the back where we get more sun) I’ve had so many tomatoes that the only thing I could think of after a while was to cut them in hlf and throw them in the oven so I could at least have something that still tasted like tomato and would turn to black goo on the countertop. I really hate it when tomatoes go bad. It’s super gross.

But all those poor tomatoes I just didn’t rescue in time aside, I was left with only half a salad since I was strangely without any other ingredients to help make any salad I made be more than just chopped tomatoes with salt. It takes a special tomato to be delicious without some sort of additional lubricant with taste.

Here is a picture of tomatoes.

Here is a picture of tomatoes.

But between work and more work and my entire fammily deserting me for the island homelands I have had very little to eat except vegetables for the last month. It all happened because my dear mother finished her radiation treatments (yay!) and it ended with a really really big last minute party where I tried to grill outside. Thinking I’d try something new for a big crowd I attempted making burgers. Like real burgers. The kind with meat cooked on an open flame. Well over charcoal.

For those of you who don’t know: I was raised vegetarian. At some point the family became pescatarian but even fish is a rare occurence at Chez Tobing. I have left behind those meatless way for almost a decade now but even today I don’t cook meat. So me deciding to try cooking burgers for a party was probably the worst idea. They didn’t turn out awful. Just not great. The black bean burgers I mixed up, however, turned out amazing and I’ve even made this receipe since. I usually make my own aioli with vegenaise, fresh crushed garlic, lime, and sriracha. I had also posted the burger recipe last year in “Keeping it Veggie“:

Black Bean Burgers with a Smoky Red Pepper Spread

Black Bean Burgers with a Smoky Red Pepper Spread

But alongside the semi-successful burger project I grilled about 5 billion pounds of fresh stuff: Eggplane, zucchini, yellow squash, onions, OKRA!, bell peppers, asparagus, baby bell peppers, portabello mushrooms, sweet potatoes, corn… You put the grilled veggies on a toasted bun with the aioli and a still cripsy-on-the-outside black bean burger (or a marinated and grilled portabellow mushroom if you prefer) and that makes for a good party! In the future, though, I think I’ll leave the regular burgers to a professional. The afterparty of this whole affair was me sitting on the sofa eating nothing but roasted vegetable sandwiches for the next week while watching “Chuck” and drinking the remains of my homemade “Make Your Own Juice Bar”. My favorite was the sparkling ¬†Persian Lime with an extra shot of sweetness from the ginger simple syrup.

In honor of the vegetables (and “fruit”. That’s right, I’m looking at you tomatoes!) that kept me alive while living alone for the last month I’m dedicating the next series of posts with all the wonderful ways to eat them!

Grilled Portobello Mushroom Burgers (from SkinnyTaste)

Grilled Portobello Mushroom Burgers

No Plants Were Harmed

Eggs Baked in Roasted Tomato Sauce

“Eggs Baked in Roasted Tomato Sauce” from Food & Wine

I’ve seen recipes like this, or similar to this, around several times not and I’m interested. Very interested. It would never happen for an actual breakfast because I’m just way to lazy in the mornings to do anything the recipe call for. Brunch, however, I could probably manage. Brunch times run until 2:00-2:30 in my book. Plenty of time to sleep in, have coffee, watch TV, and then actually turn my brain on enough not to catch my PJ’s on fire while putting tomatoes in an oven. Last time I tried to work on my seedlings while tired I actually just picked up a small clay pot and flung it across the the counter. Why? I don’t know! One minute I’m humming to myself and the next… crack! Also, dirt EVERYWHERE. It’s like my reflexes and muscles were like… Teehee! She’s so no awake we can do whatever the heck we want!

[No actual plants were harmed in the making of the story in this blog.]

A Green $pring

I may not even need to say it but I spent way too much money last month. Between my friends wedding and all the parties that go along with that, to the birthdays (there are about 5 in my family in March and I’m only counting the ones we celebrated), to the endless stream of house guests and the going out to eat and shopping and oh my gosh there goes an entire paycheck! On top of that, my tithe check finally got cashed and boy was in a heart attack to randomly see $1000 just *POOF!* out of one of my checking accounts. Once I realized it was my tithe check I calmed down but my mom hadn’t told me she had turned it in (finally) and so I wasn’t expected that notification when I got it.

For those of you who weren’t aware: I pay my tithe. It may not be on a regular basis but once a year (if I’ve had any income), I write a check made out to the Middle East Division of Seventh-day Adventists.

“But, Oci,” you might be wondering, “Aren’t you one of those weird free-agent types that disregards and often sarcastically attacks the idea of organized religion?”

Yes. I do. But just because you don’t agree with they governing system doesn’t mean you don’t do your part. God asks for 10%, God gets 10%. That’s how I roll. And, since I was baptized in the Nile in Khartoum, I like sending my tithe to my home church where I feel it can do the most good rather than some of these fancy behemoths with too much money and not “enough” stained glass in their sanctuaries. I used to go to church on a sand dune in the dessert. Who cares about stained glass windows?

But back to my story.

I spent way to much money last month and now I’m really trying to cut down and maybe refocus some energy into my sproutlings. I’ve got a nice little set of garden babies getting their vitamin D in front of my bedroom window. There are several different varieties of tomato, some red peppers, a selection of lettuce, a myriad of herbage, my new lemon tree(!), and several starter pots of Morning Glories. I’ve got some plans to redo the front bit of yard we have and that might involve pulling up some shrubs that have been there since the house was built. I’m gonna miss them but I need space for my herb garden. Including the back yard, we have maybe 150 sq ft to work with and the

Also, I want to buy a house. I have enough to buy a run-down foreclosure in unknown gang-territory in Baltimore and still have several thousand left over to add walls and maybe plumbing but not enough to make it completely habitable so I’d really like to get that in order. I’ve looked closer to DC and it’s like no bang of all your bucks. My mother is really not okay with this plan and tells me to stop browsing slum-houses on the foreclosure apps I downloaded the other day.

Regardless of where I end up or how mugged and raped I get, I know I want to do more gardening. Last summer I had the worst crop of tomatoes ever so I’ve diversified the selection for this year. I found some hybrid-100 seeds in our basement. WARNING: Do no use Hybrid-100. Lousiest tomatoes ever and they came and went like there was nothing to live for. Which, in their case, there wasn’t.

What I’m most excited about is the herbs. I may have mentioned before that I had attempted growing several basil plants indoors over the winter but while I was gone someone who will remain unmentioned decided to try and have the heat on in the house while the rest of us were away and forgot to water the plants for me and they all gave up and are now happily decomposing in our compost heap out back. But I’ve started another round of herbs since then. I’ve got English Thyme, Basil,¬†Lavender¬†(not always considered an herb but it’s my garden so I can call it what I want), Chammomile, and Lemon Verbena. I also have an older Rosemary growing in the back that I want to try and transplant part of in the front if possible. Mint has also spread from our next door neighbor’s garden area and has covered nearly 3/4’s of our back yard and that needs to be reigned in significantly before anything else can be properly planted.

If you’ve checked out my general Pinterest Profile you’ll know that I pin more than just Gastrogasms materials but I also do stuff for a potential slum house or property whenever I manage to get my hands on one as well as gardening stuffs. Here are some of the things I actually plan on trying out in my garden this spring. If I weren’t working this upcoming Sunday I would have tried to do some work on it but we’ll just have to see when things get done.


This photo comes from “Art & Appetite” and I absolutely love the boxes. I like things to be neat and orderly just like this garden. I highly suggest looking at the rest of the photos on this blog.


If I get my lettuce to grow properly I hope to do something like this in one of the beds in front of my house where we successful grew lettuce last year. There are still a few leftover from last summer that I’m not sure what to do with…


Vertical Garden

I live in a townhouse and our space is incredibly limited. So using the back fence of the back of the house (which gets almost continuous sunlight during the day) for vertical gardening would be great. I’m not sure how my little strawberry seeds are doing after this past week but if they make it I’m also thinking of attaching gutters around the top of our back fence and growing strawberries there.

The Big Black Blob in the Basement Reveals Family Secrets

Yesterday my parents and I went over to my grandma’s house to pick blueberries and take her out to lunch. It was 95 degrees (F) out and I was poorly dressed for the task since I was only planning to go to Ikea that morning to pick up our new outdoor furniture and then ended up staying with my parents to my dad’s doctor’s appointment, which happened to be near my Gma’s so we decided to go over there.

My grandparents were/are huge gardeners. My Gpa was a founder and active member of the local gardening club for literally decades and when they had bought the house I’ve always known them in they bought with with gardening in mind. One of the highlights of my grandparents” garden is the Blueberry Patch down at the bottom of the property in my Gpa’s garden. My Gma’s garden is up at the top of the property and right behind the house.

We have 9 blueberry bushes of 3 variety of blueberry and every summer that my family is in the area we do our best to harvest them all. This summer is proving to be one of the best harvests in the last couple of years and I’m excited because I love blueberries and I’ve missed blueberry season for several years now with my traveling and school obligations.

So there I was, both over and under-dressed all in black, feeling like I was under broiler picking blueberries and making my mom scream by pointing out all the tiny spiders next to her. Since I haven’t been around for the proper blueberry experience for so long I had forgotten how absolutely sublime it is to pick a juicy berry the size of a nickel straight off the bush and put it straight into your mouth. It’s warm and sweet and the texture can’t be beat by any other form of blueberry or blueberry by-product.

As I was standing there roasting in the sun eating berries towards the end of our picking session I remembered someone… or something… that I hadn’t thought of in a while: Dorfy. Now to truly understand Dorfy and why it has anything to do with blueberries I have to go back more years than I will say.

When I was around 7 years old my family moved from Sudan to Ethiopia. I think it was around this time that I realized I really hated the heat (I’d just never remembered anything different really) and I liked big fluffy down blankets. It was also around this time that my grandpa decided it was high time he learned how to use a computer so during one of our R&R’s back to the States my dad set him up and soon there was a desktop in his basement office with little sticky notes and labels all over the place to remind him how to do everything from turning the computer on to checking email to ordering books online.

While my grandpa would write regular reports to my parents I started to receive this “secret” messages written by a big black blob that supposedly live in my grandparents’ basement and came out at night to play on my Gpa’s new computer and eventually learned how to write emails. You’d think I would have been smarter at 7 and realized it was my Gpa but I wasn’t. I dictated an email back to the strange blob through my mom and now there is a folder of printed email exchanges labeled “Dorfy” of which I own a copy.

The reason I remembered Dorfy in the Blueberry Patch is because one summer he had snuck into my Gpa’s big white behemoth of a car and followed them to a friends house where my Gpa had discovered the secret formula of combining three of his favorite things: blueberries, ice cream, and chocolate. While my Gpa was sill alive these three items were staples in their kitchen.

The next time I was at my grandparents I begged for my Gpa to teach me the secret recipe during one of our late nights up watching “Two Stupid Dogs” when we were in need of our Saturday night “Midnight Snacks” (which actually took place at 11 but at my age I certainly wasn’t going to point out what time it was in fear of being sent to bed). My Gpa was much more mobile back then and shuffled into the kitchen and grabbed the ingredients while I got use bowls and spoons.

We sat at the dining room table and I watched, enthralled, as he explained the delicate balance of a FULL scoop of ice cream, a proportionate handful of fresh blueberries from the garden (it was summer), and the perfect drizzle of chocolate syrup over the whole thing in order to create the trifecta. Pretty much every night afterwards on that trip I was showing my mother how good I was getting at making the Secret Recipe and every night my poor mommy had the hardest time waiting out my sugar high to get me into bed.

After my grandpa died those three things have never been in the kitchen at the same time. My grandma is something of an over-the-top health nut when it comes to her cooking – my grandpa couldn’t stand her healthy cooking most of the time and so when we came over my dad brought steak – so she doesn’t buy ice cream and she wouldn’t be caught dead with chocolate syrup.

Here’s a photo of yesterday’s gleaning from the Blueberry Patch. It’s still early in the season and this is only the second harvest. A whole row of bushes have yet to become ripe so we’re looking forward to a great blueberry season this summer. I’ll probably be doing some features on blueberries this summer. Also Raspberries since the edge of my grandma’s property is nearly all raspberry bushes about to get ripe.


Yesterday’s Blueberry Haul