Garden Update

To make room for the cabbage and lettuce I had to pull out three leeks. Aren't they pretty? With their ombre' coloration they're quite trendy too! Hopefully we'll be able to use them with dinner tonight. Oliver suggested caramelizing them to use as toppings for Labor Day hot dogs!

The following photos show everything in our front yard garden as of Labor Day 2012. There are still tomato plants and pumpkin vines in the "side yard". I'm looking forward to adding arugula as soon as I find more space.

Late Summer Garden: Week Fourteen

It is the last week of August and our garden is looking a little rough. A few very dry weeks did a bit of damage to our tomatoes. Three out of the four plants are almost dead. But the fourth, an heirloom, is doing great. Over a dozen plump tomatoes are slowly ripening. The pumpkin vine has performed exactly like it's watermelon buddy. Which is to say: it's a giant healthy looking vine with plenty of flowers and no sign of fruit. Boo! The eggplants, peppers and leeks are great; they're definitely our garden stars. 

I think I'll spend next weekend ripping out the pumpkin and watermelon and filling the spaces with winter vegetables. Is it cabbage-time again already!? Yay!

Brunch, babies and a party in the park

This morning we invited a dozen friends over for brunch before our annual neighborhood summer festival. Oliver made biscuits and gravy as well as a big pot of grits. Friends brought quiches, frittatas, cinnamon bread, fruit salads - all kinds of delicious breakfast foods! We were also happy to have a handful of new friends at the party - babies! This summer was "that" summer for us: many of our local friends had kids. It's sort of nonstop... In a photo below you'll see a two month old, a three week old and friend pregnant with twins (and they're really just the tip of the ice burg). After breakfast everyone walked to Grant Park and spent several hours in the grass enjoying the festival. Our thanks to everyone for a super great day. XO - Cullen

CouchSurfing and more Thai food

My apologies for the lack of posts recently. In addition to winding down our daily blogging we've also been distracted by fun, summertime guests (but I'll get to that in a minute). Last weeks' meals were marked by the DELICIOUS Thai Chicken Satay and the TERRIBLY VERY BAD beans. I mention the beans so our readers know that when made incorrectly, our beloved and reliable beans can be downright GROSS. In this instance we were out of chicken stock and Oliver substituted water. The beans were also strangely gritty for some unknown reason. Ok, but how bad can these beans have been? Let me tell you:

1. Monday, lunch at work, eating at my desk and fairly hungry. I had three bites before deciding I would rather stay hungry then eat more.
2. Tuesday, lunch at work, I've come prepared to dress up the beans with sour cream (the real stuff, not Greek yogurt) and an entire bottle of hot sauce. I was able to mask the bland flavor but not the odd texture. I ate almost all of it but vowed to throw away the rest of the pot as soon as I got home.
3. On Wednesday I ate something else.

For your recipe reference - DO NOT SKIP THE CHICKEN STOCK!!! This is a photo of the box we usually buy (it's one of the few items we always buy at Kroger):

On the brightside, dinner tonight was PERFECTION! Green curry with: homegrown eggplants, peppers and basil; shrimp and bok choy from YDFM. This will also be lunch tomorrow (I've already packed it). We ate on the front porch where we also enjoyed the beautiful sunset and unusually mild summer weather.

The title of this post may have given away the nature of our fun, summertime guests: CouchSurfers! CouchSurfing is online network of international travelers in which you can register to be a host, traveler, local guide or all of the above. Oliver and I are currently listed as hosts. Over the weekend we had our first guests: two 24 year old architecture students from Paris. They were wonderful! Full of friendly and intellectual conversation, laid-back and go-with-flow, even helpful around the house. 

Weekend Highlights:
• Visiting Atlanta's most noteworthy, modern architectural buildings: Portman's Marriot Marquis, Meier's High Museum and Piano's addition to the Woodruff Arts Center.
• A trip to Decatur square with drinks and dinner at Leon's
• A visit to the Grant Park Farmer's market where we picked up a variety of tarts from the Little Tart Bake Shop and fresh bread from H&F.
• Oliver's southern meals: Breakfast - biscuits and sausage gravy, scrambled eggs with goat cheese and herbs. Lunch - BLT's. 

Celine and Sam - our thanks to you! We hope you enjoyed the weekend as much as we did. Good luck on the rest of your journey!

Sunday morning in the garden

By the time the Grant Park Farmers Market opens at 9:30 we've already been up for at least an hour. This morning we spent time in the garden. Our tomatoes are finally too tall for their stakes so we decided to cut them off at 10 ft. Pumpkin blossoms are appearing on the pumpkin vine. The leeks are getting fat. Green peppers are turning red and there are almost a dozen eggplants between two plants. While Oliver cooked bacon I ran down to the GPFM and picked up some goat cheese made Friday on a farm just 10 miles away. Breakfast was omelets with veggies from the garden, fresh goat cheese and a side of bacon. 

Dinner from the garden

Thursday night Oliver made dinner from ingredients we had on hand. An onion, garlic, olive oil and box of pasta from the pantry. Plus three tomatoes, a green bell pepper, a red chili pepper, basil, oregano, thyme and parsley all picked fresh from the garden. 

*Fancy Beer Friday will be posted tomorrow (Saturday)! Check back to read about Friday night at Redbrick Brewing Company and their soon to be released 17th Anniversary Ale.  

Summer garden harvest

Tonight I picked two eggplants and three heirloom tomatoes. These are the same tomatoes that I photographed and posted on Saturday. Four consecutive days of thunderstorms and the subsequent soggy ground has caused these tomatoes to split their skins in a few places. No worries though, I'm sure they still taste fine. I've already roasted the eggplants and mashed them with tahini, lemon, cumin and garlic. That along with a piece of H&F bread (from the Grant Park Farmers Market) will be tomorrow's lunch. 

What's for lunch? Alton Brown's gazpacho

The big news about this meal is that I (Cullen) made it by myself while Oliver was not home! I'm three for three on cooking for myself this weekend. I've started easy (spinach salad with an egg) and have been working my way into meals with more ingredients and more steps. Last night I roasted eggplant and then mashed it with tahini, ground cumin & lemon. While today's gazpacho didn't require any cooking it did require much more knife work then I usually take on. And I learned how to peel a tomato! I recommend this recipe for any beginner cooks who love tomatoes (and/or salsa). Thanks to Alton Brown for another easy and great recipe!


  • 1 1/2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • Tomato juice
  • 1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chiffonade


Fill a 6-quart pot halfway full of water, set over high heat and bring to a boil.
Make an X with a paring knife on the bottom of the tomatoes. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water for 15 seconds, remove and transfer to an ice bath and allow to cool until able to handle, approximately 1 minute. Remove and pat dry. Peel, core and seed the tomatoes. When seeding the tomatoes, place the seeds and pulp into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl in order to catch the juice. Press as much of the juice through as possible and then add enough bottled tomato juice to bring the total to 1 cup.
Place the tomatoes and juice into a large mixing bowl. Add the cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, jalapeno, garlic clove, olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, cumin, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Transfer 1 1/2 cups of the mixture to a blender and puree for 15 to 20 seconds on high speed. Return the pureed mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Cover and chill for 2 hours and up to overnight. Serve with chiffonade of basil.
Recipe copied from here. Click for original posting.

Pruning tomatoes

As usual our tomato vines have grown into a big, jumbled mess. Two of them are 7 foot tall tangles of branches, leaves, fruit and twine. It's containable - for now. But by the end of August we'll probably have given up trying to tame the wildness and will just let the plants spill onto the ground.

Pruning the tomato plants is not something I've given much thought. I only have a vague understanding as to why we pull off the "suckers". A conversation last night with Oliver's cousin has gotten me thinking about changing my ways. He explained that a well pruned tomato plant produces more fruit. As evidence he showed me a photo of his well trimmed tomato vine and then one of of the huge pile of gorgeous tomatoes he'd already picked. 

Motivated by what I learned I did some research on the internet this morning. The following video provided a great lesson about which suckers to pluck, why and what you can do with them (stick them in ground and they'll grow a new plant!!). It's probably too late to make difference for us this year; but I'll definitely apply this knowledge next summer. 

Our tomatoes as of mid-July 2012:

Summer Garden: Week Seven

We planted a handful of pumpkin seeds this week; they're all coming up nicely. Hopefully they'll do better then our watermelon. The watermelon vine goes on forever, has plenty of blooms but not one fruit. Our strawberries suffered a similar fate; in the end we didn't get even half a dozen berries. Fortunately strawberries and watermelon are the only plants we've had problems with this summer. Everything* else is going great.

*Two varieties of eggplants, four varieties of tomatoes (two heirloom, two hybrid), green peppers, hot peppers, leeks, basil, mint, thyme and parsley. 

Meals from the garden

The weather may be outrageously hot, but it's still a wonderful time of year to have a vegetable garden. For us Sunday marked the beginning of BLT (bacon, lettuce & tomato) season. To make this season opening, mouthwateringly delicious, sandwich we picked tomatos from two of our heirloom plants. The sourdough bread was fresh from the H&F booth at the Grant Park Farmers Market. Bacon and lettuce from YDFM. This sandwich was PERFECTION! I'm looking foward to more throughout the season. 

For this evening's dinner we picked our two giant eggplants. They were mixed them with pole beans, small potatoes, red peppers, curry paste and coconut milk for a super spicey curry. 
I'd write more - but our Peachtree Road Race costumes are beckoning. I've decided to add pockets to my toga and the draw string in Oliver's Uncle Sam pants need mending. One more day til the big race! YAY! Keep an eye out for us if you plan to be there too.

Summer garden: Week Four

The spaces once filled with lettuce and cabbage are now dry and bare. We'd like to fill them but we're not sure what to plant. It needs to be something pretty (because it's the front yard), short (because it's the sun facing side of the bed) and different (not something we already have planted). Any suggestions? The space also eliminates all climbers (no cukes, beans, zucchini, etc).

The four varieties of tomatoes squeezed along the side of the house are still doing great. I brought a vine of three ripe Phoenix hybrids to my Mom in Chicago last Friday. The Beefsteaks are growing fast so we've tied them up individually to prevent their vines from snapping under their own weight. Our heirloom is a predictable gangly mess: the tallest of the bunch with a wild tangle of branches and leaves. (I'm hoping this will also make it the tastiest.) And finally, "Black Prince", he's a late bloomer but still has a half a dozen, vibrant green tomatoes. 


Little garden, big bugs: how we organically fight hornworms and cabbage worms

This is the fourth summer Oliver and I have kept a vegetable garden. Each season has brought it's own challenges and lessons. We're nowhere near "master gardeners" but I do think our experiences may help beginner gardeners who are facing the frustration of pests or under producing vegetable plants. Later this month I'll cover how we encourage growth; today I want to address something more fun - GIANT BUGS!

Our first (and only) hornworm attack was during the summer of 2010. I've seen them described as "alarmingly large" - which is true but doesn't do justice to how terrifying it is when first encountering them. Their fat bulby heads remind me of the Predator alien. I was in such dazed disbelief the first time I encountered them that I grabbed my camera and made the following videos (which are also kinda funny). 

This spring we had our first encounter with the equally destructive cabbage worms. The information I found online gave the same advice for controlling both horn and cabbage worms: hand pick the buggers off the plants and kill them. As I mentioned in a post in March I doggedly protected my cabbages for months. Once a day I'd kneel in front of my 6 plants, turning over every single leaf, squishing the little worms and throwing the bigger ones onto the pavement walkway. This worked until I became outnumbered. As the cabbage leaves got bigger the butterflies were getting trapped in the interior leaves and laying dozens of eggs - leading to dozens of worms. I couldn't keep up. That's when Oliver found an organic worm and caterpillar killer with BT (shown in the photo top of post). I give it two thumbs up. Here is how we use it:

Fill a spray bottle (size shown in picture) with water, add a teaspoon of the BT worm killer solution, shake well and then spray all cabbages, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. Be sure to coat the tops and undersides of all leaves as well as growing fruit. Repeat once a week, after heavy rain or watering.  The solution won't keep the worms away but it will kill them once they eat it.  As your garden grows keep an eye out for tiny caterpillars; if you do get an infestation it's best to catch it early.

Happy Birthday YDFM!

Happy 35th Birthday to Your DeKalb Farmer's Market! (YDFM to us)

We're going to change things up for the month of June. In place of photos of meals we're going to share specifics on our favorite ways to cook certain foods. In addition to the garden photos we'll go a little more in depth about our (amateur) tactics for keeping everything alive. Check back for mini lasganas, grilled okra, toasted kale, fish emulsion and how to win the battle with cabbage worms!

Long weekend in the low country

The last romantic getaway Oliver and I took was to NYC in April 2010 (when he surprised me with a proposal in the sculpture garden at MOMA). Since then we've been hard at work on, well, on everything... We didn't even take a honeymoon. Earlier this spring I couldn't take it any longer - WE HAD EARNED  A BREAK DAMNIT! In a moment of haste I booked us at an inn (that we probably couldn't afford) on the island I'd grown up visiting with my family. 
Pawley's Island is located midway along the coast of South Carolina. We decided to make a road trip of it, starting in Savannah (3.5 hours from Atlanta) and working our way north along the coast through Hilton Head Island and Charleston. Our ultimate destination was the Sea View Inn, a classic beachy bed and breakfast currently celebrating their 75th year. No TV, no air conditioning, no computers allowed in the common areas. In their place we found saloon style doors on every bedroom (to allow for a better breeze coming off the beach),  a common shower down the hall and a bottle opener mounted to the wall by our sink. The beach was never crowded and thanks to the impending Tropical Storm Beryl the ocean waves were large and fun. 

This trip was my definition of total relaxation. I returned to work today refreshed; I didn't know I could return to my high-stress environment with such a feeling of renewed perspective and enthusiasm. Then I remembered that this feeling is also an important part of heart health. We all need a break from the stress of everyday life. I may have gone a little over budget on this get-a-way but I have no doubt my heart is thanking me for it. 

Hoping everyone has a chance to get-a-way this summer. You've earned it. 
XO - Cullen

Summer Garden 2012: Week one

Happy Memorial Day! It's the unofficial start of summer and our summertime vegetable garden is moving full steam ahead. Eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and watermelon are growing fast and looking good. We're gradually filling the holes left by harvested cabbage with replanted leeks. They've suddenly taken off too.

Hoping everyone has a wonderful holiday full of grilling and chilin'!