Sunday, January 27, 2013

Apple Mob

Have you ever walked near a neglected apple tree in the early fall and noticed fruit on the ground, rotting away? When I was a kid, I remember a huge apple tree in a friend's backyard that we used to pick apples from. And while we often filled our bellies with the sweet snack, many of the apples went uneaten because my friend's parents never harvested from the high branches. I suspect this happens a lot, either because of the homeowner's lack of time, ability, or interest in harvesting from the whole tree. Maybe they just don't know what to do with all of those apples that ripen at the same time.

That amounts to a whole lot of apples that go uneaten, when they could be picked and donated to a food pantry to serve the hungry in our communities. And that's exactly what is happening around the country, and it's called apple gleaning. In fact, lots of apples in commercial fields are missed the first time around because professional pickers are not patient and often do not seek out fruit hidden behind branches, and do not pick apples with blemishes. So, in come volunteer gleaners to pick this perfectly good food for those who need it most.

I'm a little obsessed with organizing an apple mob of volunteers to descend on a neglected tree to harvest it to feed the hungry as part of my GardenWorks project. If you're interested, please contact me. Also, if you live in the DuPage County, IL area, and you have an apple tree that you need help harvesting for any reason, please let me know. It could be a win-win for all involved! Check out the links below for some interesting articles on apple gleaning.

Volunteers take to fields in harvest against hunger - USA Today
Urban fruit gleaning - Crunchy Domestic Goddess blog
Wanted: Apple pickers for food shelves - Minnesota Public Radio
The Gleaners and I - Roger Ebert's review of a documentary about gleaning

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New to Me - Chayote

Never heard of chayote? Neither had I until I spotted it in the international market near my home. And since was feeling bored adventurous, I picked one up. I had no idea if it was a fruit, vegetable, or other at that point. By the sound of the name I thought it might be Mexican, and after a text to my BFF Lisa, who is Mexican, I found I was right.

Chicken Chayote Tacos before baking. Obviously, I'm no food photographer.

Lisa told me it is a type of squash, and is usually used in soups. I'd already had tacos on the menu for this week, so I peeled and diced the chayote, sauteed it in olive oil with some garlic and diced onions, and combined it with shredded chicken and a little cheddar cheese in tortillas. I rolled the tortillas in a 9x12" pan, and sprinkled more cheese on top. Baked for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees, and voila! Baked Chicken Chayote Tacos!

Chayote is usually cooked, but can be eaten raw. Either way, it's a great source of amino acids and Vitamin C.

Monday, January 21, 2013

New to Me - Asian Pear

Tried the Asian Pear. Yup, tastes like a pear.
Asian pears are also called apple pears or Chinese sand pears. The skin has a rough texture that I wasn't a huge fan of. The kids and I enjoyed it better peeled.
I promise the Chayote post will be more exciting!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

New to Me - Persimmon

I live close to a great international market. You can find anything there, from Polish to Indian to Mexican traditonal foods and ingredients. Their produce area is HUGE, with so many fruits an vegetables I've never heard of, let alone eaten. But all that's about to change...

Over the next week or two, I'll highight some fruits and vegetables that are new to me, and new to my family. During my last shopping trip, I bought a pummelo, a persimmon, an asian pear, and a chayote. And I've never eaten any of them. First, the persimmon.

Persimmons are native to Asia, and can be eaten raw, dried, or cooked. It looks like a tomato, in fact, you cut it just like you would a tomato. I half expected it to taste like one too, or at least just super flavorful considering it's beautiful orange color and juiciness.

But that was not to be. It didn't have much of a taste, if anything, it tasted like a really bland peach. Meh. Maybe I'll have better luck with the asian pear.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Butterflies in Winter

On a recent trip to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, my kids were thrilled to be able to see the release of butterflies into the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven. And now you can see it too! Click the image below to play the video.

If you haven't been to this museum yet, you should go. It's really a gem, and a great place to visit in winter. The kids were able to pet and hold lizards, snakes, and turtles, walk among flying butterflies, and learn about nature through play. They had such a great time, we bought a family membership ($60) and will be able to enjoy the resulting reciprocal relationships the museum has with others.

Here are the highlights of our trip in pictures.

The museum has a huge collection of butterfly specimens from all over the world.

The butterflies liked me - this one landed on my arm.

Coccoons and crysalis in various stages of metamorphosis.


Hands-on with the reptiles.




I told you they liked me!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year, New Plants

Happy 2013 to all of my gardening pals! I wish you all of the health, beauty and peace that gardening brings.

I'm sure you are just as anxious to get out into the dirt as I am. While I wait, I've been practically drooling over plant catalogs, and that's helped me get through these chilly days indoors.

I was so excited to read of new plant available through my plant supplier, Midwest Groundcovers in St. Charles, IL. They've really expanded their selection of native trees and shrubs, and since they are available in 5 gallon containers (read - they are smaller than what you'd find in a nursery), they are really economical and easy to transport and plant yourself. These plants are not only native to our local climate, but they also support our native birds, insects, and other wildlife.

Here are a few that I can't wait to incorporate into my designs this year:

image credit
Calycanthus floridus (Carolina Allspice) - sun or part shade, up to 6-10' tall and wide, amazing dark ruby red flowers.
image credit

Cornus alternifolia (Pagoda Dogwood) - part shade, 15-30' tall and wide, unique horizontal branching pattern.

Hamamelis virginiana (Witchhazel) - sun or part shade, 10-15' tall and wide, one of the last flowering shrubs in October. More

Quercus alba (White Oak) - sun, 65-85' tall, nice form, tree and it's acorns feed more than 180 insects, birds, and mammals. More

Liriodendron tulipifera (American Tulip Tree) - sun, up to 100' tall, 50' wide, pyramidal form, leaves shaped like tulip flowers.

Viburnum trilobum (American Cranberry Bush) - sun to part shade, 10-15' tall and wide, striking fall color and berries.