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Nature’s Fingerprint

January 19th, 2009

During the gardening season I took tons of photos because I knew in the dead of winter when everything was covered by a blanket of snow, I would enjoy looking through all my beautiful garden photos.
Since this is what I’m seeing out my window at the moment, I’ve been spending some time every day looking through all of my photos from the summer. I came across this gem the other day. The intricacy of nature is amazing, something I have noticed even more as I garden.
I noticed the pollen pattern on this zucchini blossom while I was pollinated one day. It’s like it has it’s own fingerprint. Amazing.
This is a little curly that the squash/pumpkins vines put out to grab onto stuff.
The center of an echinacea bloom, how vibrant!
An Asian Lilly loaded with pollen.
A double hollyhock blossom getting ready to burst into bloom

What intricacies do you notice in nature?

Eating Seasonally = Winter Squash

January 7th, 2009

When you’re trying to eat seasonally you start to wonder what you’re going to be eating for veggies in the winter. I do have mache and spinach still growing in the garden for greens, as well as canned green beans, beets, and zucchini pickles in the pantry. All of these are wonderful, but one of the best winter vegetables is butternut squash. They’re super easy to store, mine are just sitting on top of the side table in my dining room. They will last for up to 6 months if stored properly. Now that’s amazing, no canning, freezing or preparing, just pile in a corner and check them every week or so, could it get any easier than that?
There’s just something about roasted squash that is warm and cozy. They’re also super healthy. Butternut squash is an excellent source of magnesium, potassium, vitamins C and A, and a good source of calcium.

So how do you go about eating a butternut squash? They can be cooked in a variety of ways: baked, pureed (like mashed potatoes), in muffins, in pies, in ravioli or lasagna, and in soups. We prefer ours in soup or roasted, although butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter occasionally graces our winter table. You can also eat the seeds if you’d like. I sometimes roast them in the oven, but most of the time I save them and throw them out by the bird feeder for the birds.
Most of the butternut squashes that grew in my garden this summer were small ones, but I did have a volunteer that grow out of my compost pile that produced a 3 pound squash. I bought 6-7 at the farmer’s market along with a few pumpkins and other kinds of squash.

Here’s my favorite Butternut Squash recipe.

Butternut Squash and Chipotle Soup

from Fresh & Light (Williams-Sonoma)

1 butternut squash, 2.5 lbs
1 tablespoon of butter
2 slices of coarse country bread, each about 1/2 inch thick cut into 1/2 inch cubes (for croutons)
1 teaspoon of dried sage
1/2 yellow onion chopped
2 small chipotle peppers (I’d start with 1 without seeds and then taste) I use canned ones
3 1/2 cups of chicken broth
salt to taste
fresh sage leaves (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Using spoon, scrape out the seeds and any fibers and discard. Place the squash halves, cut side down, on a baking sheet and bake until just tender, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh into a bowl.

In a large saucepan over medium high heat, warm the butter. Add the bread and dried sage and saute, stirring often, until the bread cubes are browned on all side, about 4 minutes. Using a spoon, transfer croutons to a plate and set aside. Add the onion to the pan and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the squash chiles, and broth. Simmer over medium heat and cook, uncovered, until the squash is very soft, about 30 minutes.

Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth (or with immersion blender), be very carefully blending hot soup as it has a tendency to explode the top off the blender. It’s best to start with bursts of power then to full blend. Its also wise to keep a kitchen towel draped over the blender. I have found an immersion blender to be indispensable since we make many pureed soups.

Return soup to the pan and reheat gently. If desired add some whole milk and butter. Taste and add salt and freshly ground pepper as needed. Ladle into warmed bowls. Divide the croutons among the servings and garnish with sage leaves. Serve hot.

What’s you’re favorite way to eat butternut squash?

Pollinating Squash

July 14th, 2008

A couple weeks ago I notided that some of the small pumpkins and zucchini were shriveling up on the vine and falling off. I thought it was from all the rain we were having, then I was reading and realized it was due to poor pollination. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and started pollinating the squash myself. Here’s what I learned.

This is what happens when you have poor pollination.

Squash plants has 2 different kinds of blossoms: male and female. The male blossoms produce the pollen and the female blossoms produce the fruit. Usually several male blossoms are produced for every female blossom. How do you tell the difference between a male and a female blossom? There are 2 ways to do it.

First the male blossom is usually on a long straight stem as you can see here.

They also have a single stamen on the inside with pollen on it, as you can see here.

The female blossoms are close the main vine attached to what appear to be small fruits (this is a butternut squash as you can tell by the shape).

The female blossom as a multi-stemmed stigma on the inside as you can see here.

So how to you pollinate your own squash? First you check to make sure the male blossom is mature and producing pollen. A little pollen will come off on your finger when you touch the stamen.

Pick a mature male blossom and peel back the flower petals.

Now all you have to do is rub the male stamen on the all parts of the female stigma and you’re finished. This is what your squash will look like if they’re properly pollinated. This zucchini blossom fell off the next day and the zucchini will be eaten today for lunch.

Make sure you check your plants every day for mature female blossoms. They wilt quickly!

Fried Squash Blossoms

July 13th, 2008

I’ve heard you could eat squash blossoms, however I’ve never eaten them. They are very common in Mexican cuisine.

I’m an adventurous cook and eater, so with an abundance of squash blossoms on my hands, I decided to give them a try. I picked 4 male squash blossoms (the females produce the fruit, the males just produce pollen).

I finally decide that for the first try, stuffing them with cheese and deep frying them couldn’t fail me. So I whipped up a simple batter of flour and water mixed until slightly runny (I also added a pinch of salt & some freshly ground black pepper). I stuffed the blossoms with some white cheddar cheese and dredged them in the batter. Then I dropped them in some hot oil and fried them for a few minutes on each side.

I must say, Mr. Chiots and I liked them. I will be trying them in different recipes in the near future! I think I will stuff them with green chiles, onions, and Monterrey jack cheese next – MMM squash blossoms poppers.

Here Come the Squash!

June 26th, 2008

I noticed my squash plants are starting to show the signs of baby squash! How exciting.

Reading & Watching

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.