Mushroom Popcorn

This is a follow up to my post on types of popcorn.

I ordered and received a two-pound bag of mushroom popcorn.

Not having read my previous post on popcorn, my daughter thought I’d ordered mushroom-flavored popcorn. It is not. But mmm,  we might have to try that sometime. I’m not sure how I would add mushroom-flavor but it could be interesting.

It is also not some kind of 1960s psychedelic snack food.

The “mushroom” part refers to the shape of the popcorn when it’s popped. Butterfly or snowflake popcorn is the kind found in most grocery stores for popping at home. Mushroom popcorn is generally used by commercial poppers for caramel corn, kettle corn, or other kinds of popped popcorn that benefit from a rounder, more durable popped kernel (also called a flake).

I ordered JustPoppin’s Tru-Pop brand Mushroom popcorn from Amazon because it came in a 2-lb size — manageable for at-home consumption. Plus it had generally good reviews as well as popping tips and a hotline in case you had trouble achieving a mushroom-shaped flake with their kernels. It costs a little more than typical popcorn but is still pretty economical for snacking.

img_7015

Just-Poppin’s Tru-Pop Mushroom popcorn with instruction sheet and a hotline for help.

In the bag, it doesn’t look much different from standard yellow butterfly popcorn. But side-by-side unpopped kernels are a little larger.

img_7018

Clockwise from top: White kernels, standard yellow, and mushroom kernels.

The popping instructions said there’s a narrow temperature range for optimal results. We followed the recommendation of using a higher heat and adding the kernels only once the oil was hot enough. Readiness is determined by putting three kernels in the pot. Once they’ve popped, add the remaining kernels.

The oil used should be one that tolerates a higher cooking temperature like peanut or coconut. We like refined coconut oil — no coconut flavor, but a good cooking oil that tolerates high temperatures and may have some health benefits.

We use a three-to-one ratio of oil to kernels and cook it in a single layer in an ordinary medium-size stainless steel cooking pot with a lid. We love multitasking kitchen utensils, so we don’t have a specialty popcorn maker. (Except my daughter, she likes making it.)

Our results were excellent.

A bowl of mushroom popcorn, lightly seasoned.
img_6906
Mostly shaped like little balls.

As you can see, our flakes look rounder with fewer little blobs protruding. This looks a lot like the kettle corn or caramel corn we’ve purchased at fairs and festivals minus the carmel or sugar coating. We had very few unpopped kernels, on par with other quality varieties.

In the photo (below) the top flakes are white kernel popcorn that I purchased at a farmers’ market. It’s also available at many supermarkets. The bottom right flakes are standard yellow popcorn — the most common variety at grocery stores. The bottom left is Mushroom Popcorn with large, round flakes and a few that look like standard butterfly popcorn too. It’s available online and may be carried at some gourmet and specialty shops.

img_6910

Comparing three varieties. White (top) is a little smaller and brighter white. Yellow (bottom right) is typical size and shape, not quite as white. Mushroom (bottom left) is similar in color to yellow popcorn but larger, rounder, and with more noticeable husks.

As you can see, the mushroom popcorn has more husks attached to the flakes themselves as well as left behind in the bowl or pot. I included a few husks in the photo. The husks are pretty tough. You can shake out a lot of the larger pieces and/or let them collect at the bottom so you don’t get a mouthful of husk. But there are still little bits attached to the flakes themselves. In caramel corn, those husks will be masked by the sugary coating. The white and yellow flakes have fewer husks attached and left behind in the pot. The husks they do have don’t seem as tough.

Along with the difference in shape, the flakes themselves have a slightly different texture. As previously reported, the mushroom flakes are a little tougher. They have more of a crunch whereas the standard butterfly flakes have a lighter crispiness to them.

The flavor was better in the butterfly kernels. It’s a small difference, but if I was eating plain popcorn then I would definitely choose butterfly popcorn. It was a little sweeter and cornier tasting. The mushroom kernels had a slight styrofoam taste. That sounds terrible. But it wasn’t bad, just not as good — a little blander overall. Naturally, adding salt and a sugar coating will overcome a lot of the difference in taste. For now, we tried it with our usual salt and butter- and cheddar-flavored topping.

I can definitely see how the mushroom popcorn would work better for commercial popping purposes and even homemade caramel corn. The rounder shape allows for a thinner, more even coating of sugar. When I made kettle corn at home using standard popcorn, there were some fairly thick globs of sugary coating stuck in the deeper nooks and crannies of the butterfly shapes.

The mushroom popcorn includes a notice that it should only be used as intended — for eating — and that, while not GMO, it is a specially bread popcorn and is proprietary. So they don’t want you to use these as seeds to plant a crop. No worries for me, I don’t have room for growing corn on my balcony.

It was fun to try. We’ve made a couple of batches now and like mixing the two varieties. I would definitely suggest mushroom popcorn for homemade caramel corn and kettle corn. But if you just want a nice snack, butterfly popcorn is still the way to go.

Pop Popped Popcorn

Well, I learned something new about popcorn today. I’ve known there was a difference between the shape & size of popcorn that we make at home and the stuff that is coated in caramelized sugar yumminess on carmel corn or kettle corn that we get from fairs and other commercial popcorn vendors.

One is type larger and rounder — more ball shaped. The other is more irregularly shaped, less round, with more poofs sticking out like lobes or wings.

What I didn’t know, was what the actual difference was. Color? There are yellow varieties and white. There’s multi-colored popcorn too with reds and blues.

We made a nice batch of home-popped popcorn yesterday for an impromptu movie night which was really just an excuse to make popcorn. But then, MOVIE! So bonus. Anyway, I’d purchased some white popcorn from the farmer’s market a month or two ago, and I hadn’t used it. So yesterday we used both yellow and white popcorn.

There are differences between yellow and white, but they are still the same basic shape. So I looked up more info about popcorn online. Thank you, Internet.

Apparently there are two major kinds of popcorn shape.

There’s Butterfly-shaped popcorn and Mushroom-shape popcorn. Both can grow on the same cob of corn, but there are also hybrids that produce more-or-less exclusively Butterfly- or Mushroom-shaped popcorn. The Mushroom-shaped hybrid was developed only as recently as 1998. Growing conditions can make a difference too.

By the way, a popped kernel is called a “flake.” (Something I also learned today. So if anybody ever calls you, “a flake,” maybe you should consider it a compliment. Popcorn is pretty and yummy. And it’s popular for movies. So another plus.)

Butterfly-shaped popcorn (sometimes called, snowflake-shaped) is the kind usually popped at home. It is reported to be more tender, be more fragile, and have fewer noticeable husks than Mushroom-shaped popcorn. So it may feel better in your mouth when you snack on a bowlful of light & fluffy Butterfly-shaped popcorn. All (or almost all) of the (un-popped) popcorn that you find in a typical grocery store will be Butterfly-type popcorn.

Mushroom-shaped flakes are rounder, more like a ball or a bell, with far fewer protrusions. These flakes are denser, have more noticeable husks in the popped product, and are more durable. Since they’re tougher, they hold up better for pre-popped commercial popcorn purposes especially the kind coated with sugar like carmel corn or kettle corn. Some of the pre-popped popcorn you find in grocery stores may be Mushroom-shaped popcorn. But you’ll have a hard time finding this variety un-popped to pop at home. It can be ordered online, and may be available from some gourmet providers.

Yellow and white butterfly popcorns have differences too though.  Along with the obvious one, kernel color, there’s a slight difference in taste and texture. Some people prefer one over the other — much like some people prefer white corn-on-the-cob and others, yellow.

Generally, white flakes are a little smaller, more tender, and, some say, more flavorful. Both look white when popped, but side-by-side, the white popcorn is a brighter white than the yellow.

There are other factors that make differences too like freshness, growing conditions, and popping technique.

Any kind of popcorn can be a healthy snack with a large amount of fiber, as long as you don’t load it up with too much butter, salt, or sugar.

Hot-air-popped popcorn is healthiest because it’s popped without oil, but I find the texture to be tougher and overall not as appealing.

Microwave popcorn is, probably, the easiest to make, but offers few options to experiment with different types of popcorn kernels. I’ve also heard that the fumes aren’t healthy to breath (individual results may vary). So it’s good but not the best.

You don’t need a special popcorn popper to make popcorn at home. We go for a balance of ease and flavor by cooking it in a pot with coconut oil and adding a variety of toppings. We’ve purchased white, yellow, and multi-color popcorn and tried organic and conventionally grown. I plan to order some Mushroom-shaped popcorn soon too.

How we pop:

To make yummy popcorn, we add about a rounded Tablespoon of coconut oil along with 3 Tablespoons of un-popped kernels to a medium-sized stainless steel pot that has a tight-fitting glass & metal lid. It’s nice to see the kernels as they pop. A plain metal lid will work fine too though.

Heat on medium-high heat (depending on your stove). Too low, and the kernels won’t build enough pressure inside for the steam to make them explode (which is the mission-critical pop). The kernels will just lightly toast and mostly remain un-popped. Heat that’s too high will burn the oil and your popcorn too. Adjust as needed.

You can heat the oil first and add three kernels of popcorn to the pan. When they pop, add the rest of the kernels to the pot.

Keep the lid on (or you’ll have a mess), and shake the pot back & forth several times per minute. Kernels should start popping in a minute or two. Shaking keeps the un-popped kernels rotating in the heat at the bottom, so they can pop. The fluffy popped kernels will rise to the top up off the hottest heat so they don’t burn.

When the popping stops or slows to only a few pops in 20 seconds (or when the pot looks full), remove it from heat and take the lid off. You don’t want it to burn, and you’ll want to let the extra steam escape. (If you start to smell something burning that’s another good time to remove it from the heat.) Turn off your stove. Put the finished popcorn in a bowl or other heat-resistant container, and season as you like.

We add salt, pepper, butter-flavored seasoning, white-cheddar seasoning, garlic powder, dried herbs, or even a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. (Not necessarily all at the same time.) Sometimes we add no oil after it’s popped, but a small drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or a hint of real melted butter is extra yummy. These also help the other seasonings to stick better. Yummy!

 

Copyright 2017 Deb L Kapke. Sharing is permitted with attribution and stuff. Contact for commercial use.

Checking In – 6 Days ’til

Okay, it is less than a week to Christmas. I’ve taken a vacation day today, so I can get some things done before Christmas. I’m going to blog a smidge because I haven’t in over a week. There is less time to Christmas than days since my last blog post. I feel like I should freak out now.

Though I have some shopping done, I’m not finished yet. We have partly decorated for Christmas, but aren’t finished yet.

We got an adorable tree from the tree lot where my daughter volunteered. It was one of the largest trees in the small-tree category. It is beautifully full and nicely shaped with a good top branch for the star.

I love the smell of fresh-cut trees. If I put my fingers into the tree water to check its depth, my fingers smell awesome. (I know, that sounds kind of weird, right? But it’s true.) The tree water is like some kind of beautiful fragrant, cold-brewed tea.

We have a smallish artificial tree that we purchased several years ago. We used that last year. It’s getting kind of sad looking. Some of the branches are a little droopy (because the cat likes to climb it) and the fake needles are falling off as much or more than any real needles. Plus it smells so not fresh. It smells like the storage area and old cardboard. Not really something that brings to mind the holiday spirit. I’d need some Glad spruce-scented spray or something to make that one a little more appealing. I should probably dig it out of storage and pitch it.

We went to a wonderful Christmas party on Saturday night where we got to see good friends and eat yummy food. I want to eat more yummy food and see more of our friends. Things get busy.

Sunday my daughter’s Girl Scout troop made and decorated Christmas cookies. More yum.

The past week had some extremely cold days, so if my tomato plants had any life in them at all before they are now completely done for the year. I rescued a few small plants from the balcony and brought them inside during the extreme temperatures. At least it felt like winter while we were thinking about Christmas.

I left one squash out on the balcony which froze rather solidly. It was like a big rock. I could probably take out zombies with that squash. Do not drop it. Once thawed it needs to be eaten or cooked quickly. So we made a large pot of squash soup for dinner yesterday. 

The good part of partially freezing is that once thawed, the squash softens up some, so it is much easier to cut than fresh and raw. 

But I think generally squash tastes better if it is cooked before being frozen. The squash soup makes a nice compromise. Plus it’s super healthy. Today I still have more squash to use up.

We’re still debating if we should see Santa at the mall this year. We’ve been every year since my daughter was tiny. Now that she’s a teenager, we almost didn’t go last year. But then we did and it was cute. Except that there was a TV crew filming the Santa at the mall. That turned out to be kind of fun and kind of embarrassing for my daughter.

Our mall has had the same man-in-the-red-suit for many many years. So he’s in all of our photos. It was only natural to go back there. I guess the TV crew had the same idea about Santa and was filming a piece on Santa at the mall since he’s been there so long. They didn’t want to use a small child in the piece, so they used my daughter. It was also timing — she just happened to be the next, older child in line when they were filming. It looked cute. She looked very nice on the local TV station.

But a couple of teachers saw her. So back at school they said, “hey, we saw you on the news with Santa!” So it got a little embarrassing for her. (Hey, the TV interviewer even sat on Santa’s lap. I thought there was a lot more potential for embarrassment in that.)

I have reassured my daughter that odds are extremely good that the same thing won’t happen again this year. My biggest hesitation is the line. It’s always massively huge. I hate to take up so much time just waiting. (Though I can bring electronic devices for playing games or writing, so it’s not that bad if I plan it right.) But we missed out on making a reservation since we weren’t sure if we were going. Now that we might go, we’ll have to wait in the line. Hopefully, we can go during a weekday when the line won’t be as long.

My daughter has been busy making lots of peppermint bark for gifts and dipping pretzels in chocolate too. We get to eat all the mistakes and “test” the non-mistakes too. We have very happy taste buds right now. She made more this morning. I need to go find a tin to put it in.

Hope folks are having a great week and enjoying lots of yummy things.

img_6602

 

World’s best peppermint bark. I could eat the whole tray myself.

 
 

Oh Look, A Saturday!

This has been one jam-packed week, and it’s not over yet.

Last Sunday evening my daughter volunteered for a late shift at a Christmas tree stand for her service club. We almost got a tree then, but I felt like I needed to get the car ready and a spot ready at home. Plus I couldn’t decide on a tree, and the stand was closing at that point.

Monday, my daughter had rehearsal for the orchestra winter concert. And later that evening I had to run some errands because I knew I wouldn’t be able to run any errands on Tuesday (or Wednesday either for that matter).

Tuesday was the Winter Orchestra Concert. Traffic around the mall was horrible. It’s extra bad this time of year. The mall is between my office and the school and home. Plus it was pouring rain which is always bad for traffic. It’s like we’re getting pre-melted snow. Traffic is instantly bad. I mean, worse. So I didn’t have time to pick up Dave to get him to the concert with me (he doesn’t drive). So I was there by myself, and he missed her first cello solo with the orchestra. Gah.

img_6464
Orchestra Concert

The concert was great! I only partly messed up the video. My phone doesn’t do well when taking long videos. Part of the video just freezes. Last time I tried to bring my iPad for recording. But I accidentally pressed the time-lapse button instead of the regular video button (and I almost dropped it on the floor). So the entire video plays back in fast forward and with no sound whatsoever. This time I have most of the sound and most of the motion too. That’s better.

The school always has wonderful concerts, but it was raining so it was all a little messy. I managed to buy the  CDs from both this winter concert and the fall concert. I keep forgetting to bring checks with me, but I had enough cash since I didn’t buy the Christmas tree on Sunday. Sometimes things work out that way.

Wednesday morning I was stressed I had so much to get done. Some of it done.

Wednesday evening my office had its annual Christmas party. It was very nice. We had a yummy buffet dinner with an assortment of proteins, salads, and pasta. Then, pumpkin cheesecake for dessert. We presented a plaque to the founder of the company who will be retiring from active consulting at the end of the month. He’s been doing this for 40 years! We finished up with a White Elephant gift exchange. I got a book called, “Infuse.” I’m going to have to try some of the suggestions. The most popular items exchanged were a bottle of Girlshine (like moonshine, but a kind of brandy) and a pair of messaging slippers that looked like giraffes. We had fun.

So by Thursday, I was still trying to get things done that I would rather have had done earlier. Plus my stomach was giving me trouble (maybe I’ve been drinking too much caffeine recently. I know I can’t do that).

By Thursday evening, I had playoffs in our pinball league. I only made it to D division this time, but I made the playoffs. So yay. And I came in second in the payoffs, so I got a nice prize pick. Double yay!

Friday was here before I knew it. Barnes & Noble bookstores were having a Harry Potter Holiday Ball from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Which I really wanted to go to, but apparently not badly enough to actually brave the cold and the traffic and parking at the mall this time of the year. Plus I was kind of tired.

We thought about getting a Christmas tree then too, but I still need to get the car ready (unless I want to tie the tree to the roof) and find a spot here at home. So the tree and Harry Potter Yule ball both got scrapped in favor of staying home and watching the movie, “Elf.” (I really know how to go wild.)

I carried a few more plants in off the balcony since the overnight temperatures were getting so low. Our balcony stays warmer than the average area temperatures, but once it gets into the 20s things start to freeze even there. I’m pretty sure most, if not all, of the tomato plants are toast at this point. Those are just too large to carry inside. Last year they lasted into early January. I picked some green tomatoes which may or may not ripen (or get fried or pickled).

Mostly frozen, tomato plant-cicles.
Rescued squash assortment plus green tomatoes and peppers.

 

Feeding the more adventurous of the area wildlife.

Mr. Squirrel has returned so many times that the pumpkin on the balcony looks like it exploded. I carried most of the other squash inside so they wouldn’t freeze.

There was a pigeon or dove on the balcony. He few away when I went outside. I think the bird was eating pumpkin seeds now that they’ve been released. I still think a squirrel has been our main nibbling culprit. He’s probably the American Ninja Warrior of squirrels and pumpkin is his reward for getting four floors up on a smooth-sided building.

Our balcony has become a popular feeding spot (I like it too). I should clean up the pumpkin. (And then hope the critters forget all about it in the Spring.)

Also on Friday, I started this blog post. But then I called it, “Oh Look, A Friday!”

I really miss blogging or writing every day that I don’t do any. I think I’m addicted. November was a better month in terms of actually getting writing done. I knew there would be times in December when it would be harder. This week was certainly one of them.

So here it is Saturday. Saturday! I don’t know how it got here already. It was just last weekend for cryin’ out loud!

Today, my daughter has a cyber security competition of some sort and will miss dance class. I’ll need to drive her one way or the other.

I really, really need to get my oil changed and my tired tires rotated.

Hopefully, I’ll get my blog post done for “Size Matters: Notes from the Balcony.” I’m working on the part covering herbs. But I’ve grown a lot of herbs, so the list is pretty long. It might be wise of me to make break that post into two parts.

Hopefully, we’ll get the Christmas tree today or tomorrow (whether I have a spot ready or not). And I got this blog post done, so that’s good! Yay! (Except when I went to save it, my WiFi went out so oops. Hopefully, I’ll actually get it posted. You’ll know one way or the other.)

I hope everybody had a good week, has a great Saturday and has a wonderful weekend overall.

Size Matters: Notes from the Balcony Garden III

In my balcony garden I’ve established that you’ll have better results if you use larger containers. It’s a good idea to use plants that won’t grow too large too (though you can sometimes break that rule). And full sunlight is best for most edible plants, but a few tolerate some shade.

Tomatoes and peppers especially need lots of soil and sun. 

Greens might be a little forgiving with some filtered sunlight. They’ll perform better — grow larger with larger leaves — in larger pots, but some will survive in less-than-ideal containers. Swiss Chard is nutritious and pretty easy to grow.

I tried some lettuce and arugula this year. I only planted a little because I wasn’t sure how it would grow in a container garden on my balcony.

LettuceLittle Gem. I think I meant to grow more than one lettuce and then didn’t. Little Gem is a small variety of romaine. It had a mild taste that would work well with any kind of lettuce mix. I let it get some shade. It may have thrived better with full sun and with more room too. Even with a little shade it still bolted in the heat of summer though not as quickly as my Japanese Giant Red Mustard plants. I should probably have started the lettuce seeds earlier in the season. 

Arugula – I planted two types of arugula. I love that taste of arugula so I was happy that it grew for so long. It seemed to be okay with a little shade too.

One type was, Arugula Rocket Salad (Roquette) which has nice peppery leaves that look a lot like the arugula I might buy in a grocery store. I love the taste of arugula. These grew larger than the other variety. So I guess that’s good. It resisted bolting for a while. I think it started to bold, but has slowed down now. It’s still growing a few small and tasty leaves. 

The other, Arugula Wild Rocky Organic (at least the seeds started organic and I mostly grew the plants that way). This is a fast growing arugula with a strong flavor that I happen to really enjoy. The leaves grew smaller and finer than the other variety. This made the plant look almost frilly or lacy. It adds pretty texture in a salad with other greens. It grew similarly to the other arugula as far as growth and bolting, but more of this variety bolted. But I’m still getting a few small leaves. 

Overall for container gardening I’m not sure the lettuce was worth the fuss. Space is at a premium. I may try it again though because I love the idea of walking out and picking a salad or a few leaves for sandwiches. If I do, I really need to plant earlier.

I love the taste of arugula, so I enjoyed picking a leaf or two for snacking as I did other gardening. I didn’t grow enough to make whole salads for the family, but it was enough for a few leaves added to mixed salads. Since it grew for longer, it was enjoyable to have in my balcony garden. (And it’s not dead yet.)

Arugula – two varieties Rocket Salad (left) and Wild Rocky (right). Picked this morning.

Next I’ll cover herbs.

(Corrected the caption since I had my right and left backwards. You’d think I’d have mastered that by my age. Oops.)
This post is also for NaBloPoMo.

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Genetic Creamer

In other strangeness, I noticed these words on our coffee creamer today, “PRODUCED WITH GENETIC ENGENIEERING.”

I like pumpkin-spice flavored coffee creamers this time of year, but they are leaving stores in favor of winter holiday flavors like peppermint mocha. 

I saw Limited Edition Amaretto and thought it might be worth a try. I didn’t look closely at the label until this evening. I was curious if the Almond flavor was “natural” or artificial. It is both. And Genetically Engineered too apparently. 

Now I’m curious as to which ingredient or ingredients are genetically engineered. I would not have thought that genetic engineering was necessary in a coffee creamer. Though I’m not sure what I expected. Most flavored coffee creamers never really promised to be all-natural and from the earth (although it’s not exactly from Mars either).

I always think of products (especially fruits and vegetables) as being GMO or not GMO, so maybe this is the label for that? I guess I’m glad they let us know… I don’t think I mind. (But I’m still thinking about it.) So are the almonds genetically engineered?

Maybe I should just pick up a carton of actual cream next time. Or have tea and no cream. Or just enjoy this tasty, genetically-engineered coffee creamer and not worry about it. 

I wonder if actual Amaretto is genetically engineered these days too.

 

Produced with genetic engineering and a really cute coffee-cup shaped barcode.

This post is also for NaBloPoMo.

Size Matters: Notes from the Balcony Garden II

In my previous notes on balcony gardening (here), size matters in container gardening which is pretty much the only way to garden if you want to grow stuff and don’t have a yard or land. Container gardening is also helpful if you have a yard but poor soil or no sunny spots where you do have soil. 

Containers allow you to put your plants in the sun on a patio, balcony, deck, or front porch or even move them (within reason). You can extend the growing season by bring cold-sensitive plants indoors for the first couple of hard frosts.

Along with craving large containers full of soil, some plants are hungry for sunlight. Sun is especially important for tomatoes and peppers. Most edible plants need full sun. But there are a few plants that don’t mind a little shade. 

Greens and some herbs can be a little forgiving if they don’t get all-day sunlight. I usually put the tomato and pepper plants where they will get the most sun, then let the other plants fend for themselves with the scraps of sunlight that fall elsewhere.

I tried two kinds of greens this year along with some lettuce and arugula. I didn’t grow tons of any of them. This year was mostly an experiment to see what will grow and what we’ll enjoy.

Greens

Japanese Giant Red Mustard – This is a variety of mustard plant with a reddish tinge on the large green leaves. It’s pretty. One pot looked more like a decorative plant then an edible. The flavor has a spicy mustard kick which I enjoyed. Leaves can be eaten raw in salads or sandwiches or cooked like Southern greens (which will mellow out that kick). 

These seemed to want larger pots. While they want good light, they will bolt in heat. So strong, hot sunlight can make them bolt faster. Bolting is when a plant sends out a flowering stem that will go to seed. Too little sun and they won’t flourish. But a bit of shade from a tomato plant, for example, can stretch the growing season. Once Mustard goes to seed the leafy parts stop growing and get bitter. But the seeds can be used for seasoning or grinding into mustard paste or powder. 

I might have liked Japanese Giant Red Mustard more if they grew well for longer. They were fine through most of spring but were done by late spring and early summer. On the upside some of the seeds self-planted and are now growing in one of the nearby tomato pots. I’ll see how they do. They aren’t very big yet, so they may not get big enough by the time cold weather kills them. 

Swiss Chard – Bright Lights Variety – This is a variety of Swiss Chard that comes in different color variations. Red, yellow, white, and purple stems have green leaves some of which can be tinged with red. Swiss Chard is in the same family as beets and generally tastes like spinach. It can be eaten raw or cooked. Once they get really big, the stems are best cooked. Or you can cut the stem out and use the leafy parts raw. 

Swiss Chard was by far the best surprise of my leafy greens experiment.

I planted these from young plants in early spring and they are still alive and didn’t bolt. They’ll grow bigger in larger containers, but I left one in the small plastic container it came in and it’s not dead yet. So these are hearty plants! (Maybe they’ll just never die.) 

I’ve purchased Swiss Chard in the grocery store, but find that it doesn’t last long in the fridge. That makes growing this nutritious plant extra nice, I just snip a few leaves for sandwiches, adding to salads, or chopping into soup or rice dishes. Plus its absolutely beautiful! 

Swiss Chard can be fairly cold tolerant (I think), so I’ll see how long it lasts with winter soon upon us.

Young Swiss Chard and a mustard plant that had already bolted by late spring.


it’s not dead yet. Swiss Chard picked today.


Additional posts will cover herbs, lettuce, and arugula.

Size Matters: Notes from the Balcony Garden I

There’s a little spark of life still shimmering in my balcony garden. So I’m keeping a few notes on what worked well. Next spring I may need a reminder.

By default the balcony garden is a container garden. Some plants are better suited to container gardening than others. Size matters — both the size of the container and the kind of plant.

Overall, I used larger containers this year than last. That makes a difference. Plants like to stretch out their roots and get comfy. Not only do plants— peppers, tomatoes, leafy veg or herbs — grow larger and produce more fruit  in larger containers, the soil will not dry out as quickly on a hot day. That can be a big thing.

Once some plants totally dry out, they may not come back. Also, blossom end rot (not a good thing) is more likely if the soil dries too much between waterings.

I don’t have a hose on my balcony, so I carry water in large jugs or let Mother Nature’s rain give the plants a good drink. Plants in larger containers can take more total water per watering, but they need watering less often. After a good rain, many of them can go for days with no extra water. (My arms get a good workout when it’s dry out.)

Tomatoes really benefit from a large container. Comparing last year’s plants to this year’s, I got more yummy tomatoes from fewer plants. So if the choice is more plants but smaller containers or fewer plants and larger containers, you’re probably better with larger containers.

Home-grown and vine-ripened make such a huge difference in the juicy, sweet and tangy taste of a tomato. Grocery store tomatoes never come close (except a few heirloom varieties if you can find them). Farmers markets can have good ones, but around here, those aren’t cheap.

Tomato varieties that don’t grow as large are probably going to work better on a balcony, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try.

Patio Tomato is a variety of tomato plant specifically hybridized for containers and small spaces, but I’ve never been quite as thrilled with the taste or the quantity. Celebrity Tomato plants grow well in containers, produce more fruit, and taste excellent.

Cherokee Purple tomatoes taste great, but want tons of space. My plant last year was fairly healthy but grew only four nice tomatoes. It was a lot of work for four tomatoes. I’m better off buying Cherokee Purple tomatoes at a farmers’ market. I left them out this year.

Sun Gold cherry tomato plants can get quite large. Huge even. Stretched upright, my plant this year would have reached all the way to the balcony above us. I had to tape part of it to the wall to keep it from taking over. I’m sure it might have been happier in the ground (or in an even larger container), but it still produced a lot of super tasty cherry tomatoes. That was fine. So, I think cherry tomato varieties are a little more forgiving for containers.

Sun Gold cherry tomatoes.

Peppers (hot or sweet) generally grow pretty well in containers (larger is still better). But there isn’t as much difference in taste between home-grown and store-purchased. So I love other things about growing peppers — like being able to just walk out and pick a pepper. It’s nice to see them grow and know that I used only a little soap and vigilance to keep pesty bugs away. Picking them at the peak of ripeness can still provide some amazingly sweet and flavorful peppers. I also like growing hard-to-find peppers that I know I’ll eat.

We liked Gypsy Peppers again this year (though one plant seemed a little different and may have been mislabeled).

Cow Horn Peppers were a huge hit for the hot stuff. They grew lots of beautiful, twisty, flavorful, larger, hot peppers. I would so grow these again.

Garden Salsa peppers weren’t quite as impressive, but they were fine for a pepper with less heat.

Dragon Cayenne was another good one. The smaller plant seemed fine in a not-huge flower pot and the little peppers had nice heat and flavor.

We generally like jalapeños and did again this year. They like a larger pot for good numbers. They still grow okay in a smaller pot, but the quantity is greatly reduced.

Cajun Bell peppers looked almost like habaneros, but weren’t as hot. They were thin-walled, and not as convenient to slice as some of the other varieties. I may or may not grow them again. But they were cute.

.

Hot stuff – Cow Horn peppers.

Next I’ll cover leafy greens and herbs.

Thanksgiving 

On this day of eating lots of food with friends and / or family, I wish everyone much good food and plentiful friends and loving family. May we all have much to be thankful for today and all year. And may we have the wherewithal to give thanks. 

We ate food at my mom’s. The five of us ate food until we felt like we would burst. My stepdad usually cooks the turkey in an old, plain white T-shirt to retain juices. It sounds weird, but always tastes delicious as does the stuffing and giblet gravy (which weren’t cooked in a T-shirt). The sweet potato casserole was dotted with marshmallows and just enough seasoning (brown sugar and vanilla extract) to be super yummy. We made the green bean casserole — our favorite variation with diced water chestnuts. 

Then, when we felt like we could hardly eat another bite, we had pumpkin pie.

While we’re sad about the recent loss of our kitty, we had much to be thankful for. Earlier in the day I did some cleaning and even wrote some words for NaNoWriMo. It was good. 

Tea for Tuesday (on a Wednesday) – Just Peachy III

With Thanksgiving upon us, everybody is probably thinking about food, but maybe not about beverages.

Ice tea is a good classic beverage option. It can be made from scratch for pennies per serving, and it’s a lot more elegant than a glass of sofa pop next to a plate of turkey and all the trimmings.

Here’s one way to make classic sweet iced tea. Click here.

A variation is fruit tea — peach tea is one of my favorites. Click here for that. Include cranberry juice for a Thanksgiving variation

But if you find you have zero time for either of those and want to offer something other than soda pop, fruit juice, or milk, then powdered drink mixes might work.

I tried a lot of powder drink mixes over the summer in my search for a perfect peach tea. (And for convenience because sometimes, I just don’t have time for anything else.)

While scratch is oh-so hard-to-beat, there are some drink mixes that I actually enjoy. The iced tea drink mix that came out on top for me was Crystal Light Peach Iced Tea. I tried many others. I’m not always a fan of Chrystal Light. But this Peach Iced Tea won me over because I can taste the tea and the peach. It has a light, refreshing flavor with enough tartness to taste fruity without overpowering the flavor of the tea or peach. Some mixes add so much malic acid, that it’s hard to taste much else. Those tend to taste tart and nonspecific fruity.

Crystal Light Peach Iced Tea is a sugar-free option that uses artificial sweeteners (Aspartame). That may scare some away (and make others happy). If you don’t drink aspartame, this isn’t the drink mix for you. It nearly kept me away, but in the end that nice peachy tea taste won me back. But I’m hoping they come up with a version using Stevia.

Crystal Light Peach Iced Tea is available in boxes of single-serving, on-the-go pouches or pitcher size packets. Either one is handy in a pinch.

Previous Older Entries