It’s not a looker, but it’s a surprisingly satisfying weeknight supper.

Many years ago, I worked for a non-profit environmental education organization. The first time I had this dish, the founder of the organization, who was vegetarian and a force of nature, brought it to a potluck. I’m not normally a tofu lover (and I’ve even gone so far as to make it from scratch from ground soy beans) but I loved it in this dish and asked her for the recipe. Here are her original directions:

  • Cooked rice
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (flavored)
  • 1 package baked tofu (Italian or other flavored)
  • 1/2 pack feta cheese
  • Artichoke bottoms
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 package raw spinach
  • Garlic powder
  • Jack or other cheese, shredded

Mix all ingredients and place in a baking pan. Add water/bouillon if seems too dry. Bake at 350 until hot and crispy.

Ha. Not a lot to go on, but honestly, you don’t need much to go on. This recipe is infinitely variable and hard to mess up.

Here’s my more fleshed out version.

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Main broccoli head harvest mid June. These heads ranged from just over a pound to up to two pounds each.

I keep a seed inventory spreadsheet that goes back to 2003. On that 2003 list? Waltham 29 Broccoli. Broccoli and I go back a long time. It was one of the first vegetables I learned to love. I even ate it back in high school, when the list of vegetables I would eat was very short. I preferred it smothered in packaged cheese sauce back then. We mostly eat it in a stir fry now, but I’ve also made broccoli soup a time or two, and it often just shows up as a sauteed veggie side with whatever dinner we’re having. It’s a kitchen workhorse, and I freeze some of my crop every year.

Every year I start broccoli in my greenhouse, and ever year I have a few extra seedlings to sell. And every year most of them languish and don’t end up in a garden. I never understood this, until this year when I joined several online beginning gardening groups. I’ve come to realize that a lot of people have a hard time growing broccoli. They try it once, have a bad experience, and so never grow it again. So I thought I’d write up a few tips.

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Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

My husband hates cucumber pickles. Me? I’m kind of so so on them. I don’t like dill pickles on my hamburgers (sweet pickle relish is OK). Sometimes a dill pickle spear that comes with a sandwich will taste amazing. Sometimes terrible. I’m never sure why. Dill is far down the list for my favorite fresh herbs. I’ll choose rosemary, thyme and cilantro any day. Even sage and parsley get more use in my kitchen.

So when it comes to making pickles, I don’t do a lot of it. I’ve tried all manor of recipes for boiling water bath canned dill pickles over the years, including the new technique where you pasteurized them at 180 for 30 minutes instead of boiling them, and I’ve never been all that excited about the results. The texture is never as crisp as I’m looking for. I’ve tried all the tricks including a grape leaf in the jar and using pickling lime.

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An early (and kinda sad) farmers market booth, from 2011

While I incorporated my business in 2010, I didn’t sell my first product until June 1st, 2011. So I recently passed my 10 year anniversary of being in business! I was fielding a question online from a new business woman about selling herbs and spice mixes, and it got me to thinking. What are the top ten things I’ve learned from being in business for 10 years?

In no particular order…

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This is a poor butchered willow from my neighborhood. It will never look normal again. It’s not near a house. I have no idea what prompted the owners to do this.

Years ago, while living in Parker Arizona, I noticed that there were a lot of trees pruned to look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. As a tree lover, it just seemed wrong on a gut level, and I didn’t understand why anyone would do that to a tree.

Our yard there had a large mulberry tree out front that had been topped in the recent past. We got a knock on the door asking if we wanted our “tree cleaned up” to which I responded “absolutely not”. We let that tree do its thing, even though the shape never looked right. Southern Arizona is an unforgiving climate, with daytime temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 months out of the year. The last thing this tree needed was to have all of its branches removed. The last thing we wanted was a reduction in shade.

Once we took the 12 week (now 17 week!) Arizona Master Gardener program in 2020, we better understood the ins and outs of why topping trees is such a bad idea. I’ve been meaning to write a blog post on this for a very long time. The recent butchering of some mature sycamores in front of a winery in our town prompted me to finally put this piece together.

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I’m a fan of America’s Test Kitchen and have been a subscriber to Cooks Illustrated since the late 1990’s. Over the years, when I’ve had an abundance of one ripe fruit or another, I’ve tried out a variety of their ice cream recipes. A very long time ago, I had an uncle send me a small pint sized ice cream maker where you froze the special bowl and then hand cranked it for 5-10 minutes. It was fun to experiment with it. Then a few years ago, I broke down an ordered a Cuisinart ice cream maker, which was really just a larger electric version of the same system, for less than $100.

But as I get older, and can afford fewer and fewer calories and have more dramatic reactions to large amounts of sugar, I’ve done that less and less. Not to mention most recipes require you to make a custard with eggs and cream, being careful not to overcook and scramble them, and then chill well before churning. Seriously. I don’t have that kind of time or patience most days, no matter how delightful the results.

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Buckwheat, unrelated to wheat (it’s in the smartweed/knotweed family) is called a pseudo-grain, because its not actually a grass (unlike corn, wheat, rye, barley, oats…). It’s strange almost pyramid shaped seed is most commonly used in Soba, a Japanese buckwheat noodle, and as an additive to pancakes. I have a love/hate relationship with this grain. I love it in baked goods, hate it in noodles, and think its unappealing as a “groat” or boiled whole grain cereal.

But buckwheat is grown locally by Joel’s Organics, and in a fit of “support local” I bought a bag some time back. Because buckwheat contains no gluten, its a good fit for gluten free baking. But because it contains no gluten, its also tricky to use in baked goods that need gluten to hold them together. (Soba noodles, by the way, always also contain wheat flour – so they are not a gluten free noodle).

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Subtitle: So you want to build a greenhouse. Here’s what you need to know.

I built my first greenhouse in the mid 2000’s when we were living outside Durango Colorado. It was a DIY design based on using a wood frame, PVC pipe for the arches, and plastic sheeting to cover. It probably cost me less than $200 with new materials. I had wanted a greenhouse for almost 20 years at that point, but could not afford to buy a kit. When we got it up, it was early spring in Durango, an area that is almost 7,000 feet in elevation, and has a last frost date in early June! I had tomato seedlings started in my sunny laundry room, and was SO excited to now have a greenhouse I could transfer them to.

I lovingly put them all into the sunny warm greenhouse. The next morning, everything had frozen solid and all of my seedlings were very very dead.

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This is our system, from the app on my phone, at 10:32 in the morning on April 6, 2021. A sunny spring day. That dark you see on the right side is from the shade of a silver maple tree on that corner, which we do not want to remove, as it provides critical shade for our animals in the summer. By midday, the angle of the sun has changed enough that its no longer an issue.

Way back when I was about 20, I attended a few “alternative” building and energy lectures while I was at San Jose State. I probably still have a brochure on “rammed earth” building somewhere (and still have a deep interest in earthship building techniques (we’ve visited the ones in Taos New Mexico twice). But every time I looked at the price, there was just no way I could afford to go “off grid”.

With the advent of net metering, where the consumer installs a power generating system that is hooked into the electric grid, things started to seem more realistic. You don’t have to install a system that meets all of your needs all of the time, including banks of batteries. Instead, your system feeds back into the existing electrical grid. When you generate power, you get paid by your power company for that electricity, and if you are producing more than you need, someone else can use it. If your system doesn’t meet all of your needs, you’re not left hanging with no power.

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So, in 2019, I decided to put on my big girl panties and hire actual part-time help in the fall. You know, not paying someone “under the table in cash” but actually run payroll. Our business is small, and our gross revenues are under $50,000, but there’s only so much of me to go around. I’ve also reached a point where I can’t increase that gross revenue unless I have more help to grow and make more product.

Because I’m a control freak and like to understand my business from the ground up, I decided that to start, I’d do the paperwork around officially hiring an employee myself. I wanted to understand what percentage of money was going out in addition to what was going to the employee’s hourly wage, and where it was going as well. And because I only wanted to hire someone for about 10 hours a week it seemed ridiculous to hire a bookkeeper for what amounted to about $550 a month in payroll.

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Jennifer Kleffner

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