I knew I would torture myself with envy when I visited my friend Nancy’s vegetable garden just down the hill a bit from my home in Laguna Beach. But I’m setting aside my jealousy so I can share her garden–along with some of the terrific meals she prepares from her harvest—with you. By day, Nancy is a whiz financial planner, but during her free time her passion is plants and food. What I most admire about Nancy is her determination to grow her own food, even in the face of every imaginable obstacle, deterrent and failure endured by gardeners toiling along the coast of Southern California.
You can read about many of her adventures on her blog, called Fresh from Nancy’s Garden, and find tons of great tips on how to grow summer vegetables and use the produce in simple, healthy recipes. Starting with her very first post chronicling her battle with gophers and squirrels to a recent post about a mysterious strawberry thief, Nancy has fended off nearly every garden pest or scourge. “I don’t give up,” she told me when I asked about the secret to her bountiful garden. After much trial-and-error, she has built this lovely screened-in garden room that blocks underground assaults from gophers as well as those from the air by birds. (Not to mention the deer, racoons, skunks, rabbits and other critters that haven’t figured out how to open the door.) Read this post to see how she built her garden room.
Nancy recently replaced low, raised beds with a higher rock wall that lines the sides. Most of her summer vegetables are already well on their way to producing–everything from cucumbers, bush beans, summer squash and forests of tomatoes to all types of herbs and some more unusual plants, such as these tomatillos. I just found some of her recipes she shared from last summer, like this Tzatziki and herb-accented Tomato Palooza salad featuring her homegrown cucumbers. I also love her arugula salad (have you planted your seeds yet?)
It’s only the first of June and she already has several of those giant, overlooked zuccinis that you usually discover in late summer. And that’s despite the constant May gray and June gloom cloud layer. Here’s Nancy’s recipe for a herb-paired roasted vegetables, including zuccs.
One of her favorite veggies is snap peas; here’s one of her recipes for pea soup). Meanwhile, here is a yummy string bean recipe Nancy duplicated from the most popular vegetarian cafe in Laguna Beach, which locals just call The Zinc, that features her end-of-summer beans.
Look how loaded this tomato plant is already. My jealousy is flaring again. Nancy honed her culinary skills during a cooking vacation she took several years ago at Tuscookany, one of the best cooking schools in Italy. Here is a vegetarian recipe she put together using her abundant swiss chard, or her favorite chef Franco’s minestrone soup (got carrots yet?). What I love about her recipes is they are all relatively simple to prepare and rely heavily on letting the fresh flavors carry the dish. So Italiano! (Check out my post on how to grow tomatoes for more tips on growing tomatoes. I even have a Pinterest board featuring hot tomato tips.)
Even her corn is already over six feet high! How about adding some sweet kernels to her Spring Vegetable Soup?
Look at these magnificent artichokes! And lucky you–here is her Baby Spring Artichokes recipeusing fresh herbs.
Whether you are growing your own vegetables or bringing home armfuls from your local farmer’s market this summer, check out Nancy’s blog for ways to turn them into healthy, delicious meals. If I had this garden–and did I mention I wish with all my heart that I did–I might just spend all my time hanging out in these chair watching the plants grow.