(image credit Rosemary Ratcliff, freedigitalphotos.net)
Late August, at least this year, is my favorite time of the summer. The nights are starting to cool down while there is still plenty of sunshine and warmth during the day. There is just enough crispness in the air that you can tell fall is just around the bend. And the garden is bursting with fresh veggies waiting to be turned into healthy, beautiful meals.
(insert sound of brakes screeching to a halt here)
Unless of course you know Chad. Who, you ask, is Chad? Chad is what my children have named (named!) the squirrel who likes to hang out in our back yard. Chad has a lovely garden that I have carefully tended for him all summer. Chad has been enjoying a selection of micro greens, baby squash, and sunflowers. He is truly Eating to Live.
This does not make me happy.
While Chad’s cholesterol level and free radicals may be low, my ire is high. Four beautiful hills of squash–zucchinis, yellow squash, pattypan squash, butternut squash–and a hill of pumpkins, all grown from seed with nice healthy plants, trashed. I was giddy with excitement in late June when the squash started flowering, but my hopes were dashed within days when I saw that someone, nay, someTHING had chewed off every last flower. Two of the squash hills then entered a depressed state–learned helplessness I suspect–and then withered. The pumpkins, yellow squash, and butternut squash plants lived on though and set out some new vines with flower buds on them, ever hopeful of surviving the unquenchable squirrel appetite. I let myself once more grow optimistic, reasoning that in late summer, surely Chad has found plenty of berries and acorns to make his little rodent belly happy. Saturday morning, I spotted a yellow squash baby beginning to grow. I pointed out the little one inch long squash to my hubby and started to dream up recipes for it. Around lunchtime, I peeked at it to check on it’s three hours worth of growth, only to find the stem bitten off. CHAD!
Sadly, my squash are not alone. All of the greens I have planted are not to be seen. The seeds were new so I am sure they germinated, but some creature ate them as soon as the tiny shoots broke through the soil. We have rabbits in our area, too, so Chad may not be the sole perp. Kale, swiss chard, romaine, mesclun mix, cucumbers, radishes, morning glories, bush beans, pole beans… all nada. My squash plants made it up but the veggies and blossoms are robbed. Sunflowers are quickly decapitated upon blooming. Tomatoes, peppers, and basil planted from plants have survived, as has parsley planted from seed in a pot. I re-seeded my cucumbers and have one plant coming up, but at this point in the summer I am not hopeful it will get a chance to set fruit.
We’ve been able to enjoy lots of basil, as many jalapeños as we can tolerate, an occasional red bell pepper, and a dribble of cherry tomatoes. We have LOTS of unripe heirloom, roma, and red and yellow cherry tomatoes on the vine. I am optimistic that at least some of those will ripen before our first frost (it’s fair game around here after about September 15). But my brain is already twitching with plans for a fenced in garden for next summer to keep Chad and his vile posse of ravaging rodents out of my veggies!
In the meantime, if you have a productive garden you ought to have no problem coming up with the majority of the ingredients for this chili I put together the other night. If not, hit up the local produce area and you can pretend it came from your garden. Now really, no chili is truly “original”–the concept of chili has been done and re-done umpteen million times, but I made this without a recipe in front of me so I’m claiming it as my own.
Garden Harvest Chili
1 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
spritz of olive oil
1 sweet bell pepper (I used half of a red and half of a yellow)
2 jalapeño peppers, finely minced, more or less to your liking
1 t cumin
1/2 t coriander
about 1.5 t chili powder, more or less to your liking
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes (or sub fresh tomatoes if yours, unlike mine, are ripe)
1 14.5 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
2 small zucchini, quartered and then sliced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced in about 1/2″ cubes
1/2 C uncooked quinoa
1 C water
Spritz a large dutch oven with olive oil. Sauté onion, garlic, and peppers until soft. Add spices, cook about half a minute to toast the spices. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, covered, then reduce heat and simmer at least 30 minutes until quinoa is cooked and potatoes/zucchini are softened. This resulted in the right consistency for me but you may need to add water or vegetable stock if you like a thinner chili.