No, it's not that Plum Pudding from past centuries, the kind that has more in common with bread pudding.  

This is what we modern folks call pudding- a thickened, creamy, sweetened mixture.

As you can see, I have an abundance of plums right now.  This used up a bunch of them!

Plum Pudding

about 1 1/2 lbs plums
1/2 cup milk or cream
one 3.4-oz package instant pudding- vanilla, lemon, or butterscotch flavor (the size that calls for 2 cups of milk)
optional: 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, ginger, and/or cardamom

Wash plums and remove the pits.  Put them in a blender or food processor, run on high until smooth.  If you don't have three cups of puree, add a few more plums until you do; blend again.  Pour into a medium-sized bowl.  Pour 1/2 cup milk or cream into the blender or food processor bowl, swish around so the milk gets most of the puree off the sides.  Pour this into the bowl with puree.  Add the pudding powder and whisk for two minutes. Taste to see if it's sweet enough for your taste; some plums are sweeter than others!  If not sweet enough, stir in 1 Tbsp sugar and taste again.  Repeat as needed.  :)
Let rest for a few minutes to set up.  

Makes about 4 cups.

Garnish with a bit of sour cream if you like.
 
 
Can you tell it's zucchini and tomato season?  I've wondered before why so many recipes combine those two vegetables.  I now suspect that it's partly because the plain zucchini excels at tasting like whatever you cook it with, and very few things can top a fresh garden tomato in the flavor department.  This recipe also uses any mellow white fish, probably for the same reason.  The other ingredients both perk up and round out the flavor.  This one's a keeper.

Baked Fish and Vegetables

4 Tbsp. butter, softened
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon zest or 2-3 drops lemon essential oil
1 lb. zucchini or summer squash,sliced 1/4" thick
1 lb. tomatoes (3 medium), sliced thin, OR cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 c. minced fresh basil or 1 drop basil oil
salt and pepper
1 1/2 lbs. mild white fish 
2 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar*

Preheat oven to 450 F and move an oven rack to the lowest position.  Mix together the butter, minced garlic, lemon juice, and zest.  If using basil oil, add it to this mixture.  Rub a little of the butter mixture on the bottom of a 9x13 pan.

Put the zucchini slices in the bottom of the 9x13 pan; add the tomatoes in a second layer.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and with half of the basil (unless you used basil oil).  Pat the fish dry with paper towels, then place the fish on top of the tomatoes.  Dot the butter over the top, add the rest of the basil, and drizzle with the vinegar*.  Cover tightly with foil; bake about 20 minutes, or until the fish flakes when you twist a fork in it.  Serve immediately.

Serve over rice to pasta to soak up the delicious sauce!

*The original recipe, from America's Test Kitchen, calls for 1/4 cup dry white wine.  I don't cook with wine, so the white balsamic is what I found in my pantry to add the savory flavor.  Since it's strong, I used only half as much (2 Tbsp. instead of 1/4 c.).  If you have neither, chicken broth and a splash of soy sauce would give a similar depth.
 
 
Everyone knows you can make bread with zucchini- but what if you have a giant yellow summer squash hiding in the garden?

Both zucchini and yellow squash-- either straightneck or crookneck-- are summer squash, with a similar flavor and texture, and CAN be interchanged in recipes.

My family's favorite quickbread is Lemon Zucchini Bread- so today we got Lemon-SummerSquash Bread.  I no longer shred zucchini -or this squash- for recipes, but puree it instead.  No more strings.  As a bonus, if I'm freezing some for later use, the texture does not change when thawed, unlike shredded squash.  

AND, if you're pureeing the squash, you can have the blender (or food processor) mix all the wet ingredients for you.

This bread is great for breakfast.

The recipe is found over here, though the blender method is below. 
 
 
There's nothing like fresh fruit in the summer, warm off a tree, juice dripping down your chin.  
However, if you want a little variety with summer's luscious bounty, here's something simple yet delicious.  It's best with fruit from the farmers' market or your own trees, but supermarket fruit will do in a pinch, though you'll want to add about 5 minutes to the baking time and maybe add an extra tablespoon of brown sugar.

Baked Peaches with Fresh Raspberries
4 ripe peaches or nectarines
1-2 Tbsp. brown sugar (1 Tbsp. for very sweet, ripe peaches)- or use 1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. sour cream, vanilla yogurt, or good-quality balsamic vinegar
a handful of fresh raspberries (about 1 1/2 ounces, or 1/4 cup)

Turn on oven to 400 degrees F.  Spend the next five minutes washing, drying, then halving and removing the pits from the peaches or nectarines.  Set the peach halves on a baking sheet, then sprinkle with brown sugar.  Pop them into the still-heating oven and set a timer for 15 minutes.  You want them to be warmed through, just starting to soften a little, and for the brown sugar to be melted.  Set the oven to broil, and put the peaches on the highest rack in the oven for ONE minute.   Remove from the oven.

Stir the sour cream or yogurt with just enough water to make it a drizzling consistency, or use the balsamic straight.  Drizzle over the top, then add raspberries.  Eat while warm, spooning the juices from the bottom of the baking dish over the topl
 
 
Pull weeds while you’re talking on the phone- better yet, while you’re on hold.  Yesterday I managed to get the above bed completely weeded, plus another one (3x50) while waiting to speak to a real human on the phone.  

 Go for a walk or a run outside; when you’re, do your stretches next to something that needs weeded.  Hey, if you’ve gotta bend over anyway, you might as well make your hands useful!

Pinch little weeds out as soon as you can identify them.  This is a bit of a change from what I used to do, pulling them out as soon as they appeared.  Years ago a wise neighbor pointed out all the volunteer perennials in her flower beds… and changed forever how I weed.  Instead of indiscriminately pulling every seedling in the bed, now I only pull when I know what it is.  This isn’t as hard as it seems; 90% of the weeds in my yard are one of the same nine or ten plants.  Figure out what your common weeds are, and learn to identify them as small as possible.  If you don’t know what it is yet, let it grow until you do.  There are only a few plants that will spread horribly if you wait- and you’ll be able to identify those pretty quickly.  Generally speaking, most plants spread only once they’ve flowered and set seeds.  You’ll get a lot of pleasant surprises by weeding this way; right now close to 1/3 of the flowers in my yard are volunteers!  I’ve even had bushes and trees free this way.

Use weeding time as one-on-one time with a child. Let them tell you about their day, or their new project, or the book they've been reading, or whatever else.  I have great memories of fixing barb-wire fences on our farm because of this- it meant time to talk with my dad.

Spend time in your yard, in all parts of the yard.  You’ll better notice what needs done.  And you’ll enjoy it much more than from indoors!  Another neighbor told me to have a place to sit somewhere on each side of the house.  Sit and read, or watch the kids, watch the sky, watch the bugs, whatever brings you joy.  Gather a bunch of fresh flowers for a vase every couple days.  Enjoy those efforts!

 
 
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Crab Salad - with watermelon rind!
To go along with last week's post on cutting a watermelon, here's something to take it a little farther!

 Most everyone has seen recipes for watermelon rind pickles- but is the rind edible for anything else? 

YES!  And since it can make up 25-45% of the total melon weight, eating it makes your money go further.

You can even eat the green part, though it's tough.  I prefer removing it.  If you use it, at least make sure it's been washed.  It is, after all, the part that was sitting on the ground and then handled by everyone else. 

The lighter green part can be eaten fresh, or cooked.  It has a high water content, a good fiber content, and a little Vitamin C and Vitamin B-6.  It also has a compound that converts to the amino acid arginine, and current research indicates it may help relax blood vessels.   When fresh, it's somewhat like a really firm cucumber.  You can use it in place of cucumbers, chopped apples, fresh zucchini, or celery.  It doesn't have as much flavor, so if that matters, you might want to increase any flavorings or spices in the recipe.  For instant, if you use watermelon rind in place of celery, it would be tasty to add a little celery seed or celery salt.  If you use it in place of apple, you might want to add a little honey and lemon juice. 

When it's cooked, it resembles (cooked) zucchini or apples.  There's a recipe for a watermelon rind stir-fry at Allrecipes.  Or maybe try Watermelon Boats on the Grill (substitute a slab of rind for a half zucchini.) What else could you use it in?  Think about all the recipes you use zucchini or yellow summer squash, apples, celery, cucumber, or other bland vegetables.   There is actually an entire website devoted to watermelon rind recipes!  It's -what else?- WatermelonRind.com   A friend of mine made the Watermelon Rind KimChee and loved it.  (seehere for a follow-up post on it.)

Meanwhile, here's something from my house the other day- I didn't have celery for my pasta salad, so instead threw in some diced watermelon rind!  I weighed the melon and its parts: out of a 16-lb watermelon, 4.5 lbs of its weight was rind.  Just so you know.

Crab/Krab Salad

1 lb. seashell pasta
2-3 Tbsp. pickle juice or cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil (I prefer olive oil or coconut oil)
1 lb. crab or imitation, flaked
1/2 onion, chopped or pureed (for kids!)
1-2 c. grapes
1-2 c. chopped watermelon rind (OR use cucumbers or celery)
3/4 tsp. salt
pepper to taste


Cook and drain the pasta.  Add pickle juice or vinegar, along with the oil, to the hot pasta (it soaks in better, resulting in better flavor.)  Add crab, onion, grapes, watermelon rind, and salt.  Stir well, add pepper to taste, and add more salt if you want it.

Cover and chill.
 
 
If you have a forsythia bush in your yard, you’ll need to prune it each year to keep it from turning into an overgrown tangle.  The best time to do this is right after it blooms.   You can prune it any time of year, but you’ll get fewer blossoms this way.  Blossoms form on ‘old’ wood, which is what gardeners call what was there during the previous summer and fall.  

If your bush is terribly overgrown already, you can cut the entire bush nearly to the ground.  About four inches is a good amount to leave behind; it will grow new, flexible branches during the summer and fall, and by the next year, it will be looking good again.  If the bush doesn’t need that much help, just cut the oldest branches off as close to the ground as you can.   Also cut out any broken or damaged branches, as well as any that cross and rub each other.  Ideally, you’ll remove about ¼ to 1/3 of the branches each year.

Lilacs can be treated the same way; these flowers also bloom on  one-year-old wood.  Cutting an old one nearly to the ground works to rejuvenate it in a hurry.  If you don’t much mind waiting a little longer, start by cutting out any branches thicker than 2”.  The ideal is to have 8-12 branches of different ages; you’ll get the most blooms that way. This also means you don’t need to prune much during its first few years.  Almost any shrub that blooms in spring, bloom on ‘old wood’.  Other shrubs that bloom on old wood, and so do best if pruned right after blooming, include big-leaf hydrangea, English holly, flowering quince, some clematis, some roses (old varieties), and most climbing roses.

Related posts:

Will Frost Damage Wipe Out My Tree Fruit?

How to Prune and Fertilize Fruit Trees, shrubs, and landscape trees

Selecting and Using Inorganic Fertilizers

Fertilizing Fruit Trees

Understanding Fertilizer, Knowing Your Backyard Weeds, and free cooking e-books

 
 
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Apparently this was a popular cake for April Fools' Day back in the 1960's.   It tastes nothing like sauerkraut, and any bits you find in the cake resemble coconut.  (The white bits you see in this photo are hazelnuts I threw in.) The sauerkraut gives moisture to the cake, just like adding shredded carrots or zucchini would.   My mom is already planning to make this with just plain shredded cooked cabbage.

   I haven't tried the frosting recipe that comes with it; I was out of mayonnaise, and made a whipped ganache instead (8 oz. chocolate melted into 8 oz. whipping cream, cool to room temperature and whip it).  I imagine the mayo version tastes quite a lot like the chocolate-sour cream frosting I've had before- a little tangy and really delicious, only this recipe also calls for coconut and pecans....  mmm.


Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chopped pecans or other nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour three 9" cake pans. Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Mix half of this into the sugar mixture.  Add 3/4 c. of the water, beat in, then beat in the rest of the dry ingredients.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla until well combined.  Fold in the sauerkraut and pecans, using a spoon or spatula.  Bake about 25-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely on a rack.

Frosting

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, melted (one 11-12 oz. bag)
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2/3 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
2/3 cup pecans, chopped

Whisk together the melted chocolate and the mayonnaise.  Set aside 2 cups of this.  Add 1/3 cup each of coconut and pecans to the remaining frosting to make the filling. 

Spread half of the filling on one cake layer, top with another cake layer, spread with the other half of filling, and put the last layer on top.  Frost the whole cake with the reserved 2 cups of frosting.  Press the last 1/3 cup each of coconut and pecans into the sides of the cake.  Refrigerate until time to serve. 

See here for another way to decorate and serve this cake!
 
 
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Branches of some plants can be ‘forced’, or made to bloom indoors before they’d bloom outdoors.  Good ones for this include forsythia (pictured), pussy willow, quince, spirea, flowering crab apple, flowering cherry, lilac and dogwood.



-Cut the stems at a 45 degree angle to improve the stem’s ability to uptake water.  To help this even more, make some vertical splits on the bottom 1” of the stem; smashing that part with a hammer will do the same thing. 
-Put  the stems in a vase of water right away, trimming off any buds that would be below water level; they make the water spoil faster.
-Keep it out of direct sunlight, and change the water every 2-3 days so it doesn’t grow bacteria.  You could also use flower preservative (still changing the water at least once a week); a homemade version is below. 

The flowers should bloom in about three weeks, depending on how close to blooming they were when cut.  If you cut them about a week before normal bloom time, they’ll only take 2-3 days to bloom inside.

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To learn when to prune a forsythia (or other spring bloomers), see the post from 04/09/12, Pruning Forsythia or Lilac Bushes.
 
 
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Do you have summer squash and tomatoes coming out your ears?  This is a delicious way to use quite a bit of that summertime produce- zucchini and yellow squash baked with caramelized onions and sweet roasted tomatoes.  You can use 2 lbs of any summer squash, but the green and yellow here are pretty together.

Normally a dish like this would be soupy, since these high-water-content vegetables lose moisture as they cook.  These are salted while raw; the salt draws out water.  This makes a big difference.

Two 6-8" long zucchini equal about one pound.

Vegetable Gratin
1 lb. zucchini, sliced 1/4" thick
1 lb.  yellow summer squash, sliced 1/4" thick
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 lbs. ripe tomatoes (3-4 large ones), sliced 1/4" thick
2 medium onions, halved then sliced thin pole to pole
3/4 tsp. black pepper
5 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced (or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder)
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves (1 tsp. dried)
1/4 c. chopped fresh basil

Toss zucchini with 1 tsp. of the salt; put them in a colander over a bowl.  Let stand 45 minutes or until at least 3 Tbsp. liquid drains off.   Put the tomato slices on paper towels or a dish towel, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt; let stand for 30 minutes.  Put another towel or paper towels on top of the tomatoes to press them dry.  Pat squash dry with a dish towel or paper towel. While the vegetables are all draining, brush a 9x13 pan with 1 Tbsp. of the olive oil, set aside.  Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a 12" skillet over medium heat.  Add onions, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper.  Cook, stirring once in a while, until onions are caramelized: soft and dark golden, 20-25 minutes.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine garlic, the remaining 3 Tbsp. oil, 1/2 tsp. pepper, and thyme.  When the zucchini is drained and patted dry, toss the squash with half of the oil mixture.  Spread the squash along the bottom of the 9x13 pan.  Arrange onions on top, then put tomatoes on in a single layer, overlapping if needed.  Drizzle the rest of the garlic oil on top.  Bake about 40-45 minutes, until tomatoes start to brown on the edges.  Increase oven to 450 degrees.  Make the topping, below, and bake 10 minutes or until topping is lightly browned.  Sprinkle with basil and let sit 10 minutes before serving.

Topping:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 slice white bread, shredded or crumbled (food processor or blender works well)
2 oz. shredded Parmesan cheese (1 cup)
2 shallots, minced (1/4 c.- or use a mild onion)
 
Stir together.

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Cherry Tomato Salad

4 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1-3 Tbsp. balsamic or other vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced (or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder)
1 Tbsp. chopped or torn fresh basil (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
1/2 c. shredded Asiago or Parmesan (or use a cubed mild cheese, up to 8 oz)
2 slices good-quality bread, cubed (optional to use, and best if stale)
1/2 c. halved olives

Sprinkle tomatoes with salt and put them in a colander or on some paper towels.  Let sit 30 minutes to drain juices.  Pour them off (great added to salad dressing, soup, or cornbread batter).  Toss all ingredients together, add salt and pepper to taste. 
To meld flavors and soften the bread, it's best if it sits a couple hours in the fridge; or serve immediately.