Florida Backyard header image

All images © Daniel & Stacy Tabb and Boondock Studios

Recipe: Seriously Better Tomato Bisque

The original recipe is here.  Below you will find our new favorite version, borne out of my inability to accurately detail the ingredients Husband needed to pick up on his way home from work…


  • 2 14oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 lb whatever tomatoes you have lying about on counter or in your freezer
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (or if your husband is allergic to them, as mine is (*sob), 4 tbsp dehydrated onions)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 8oz can tomato sauce
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 pint light cream


In a heavy, deep saucepan (I love my Calphalon for this), saute the onion in the butter until golden and fragrant. Add the tomatoes and all the dry stuff.   Realize you’ve told Husband to pick up TWO cans of tomatoes instead of THREE.  Raid the freezer for the array of cherry and plum tomatoes you put away back when the tomato plants were actually producing, and not blighted sticks. (If your non-can tomatoes are rock-hard frozen like mine, don’t even bother cutting or peeling – because you can’t – just fish the skins out of the soup after the simmering is all done and before blending.)

Simmer for about 25-30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. Be doing something else, and pretty much forget about the tomato mixture for a bit, until it simmers down and loses most of the liquid.  Say “shit” and fish about in the pantry for chicken stock.  Add 2 cups.

Remove the pot from the heat, fish out the bay leaf, and attack the soup with your stick blender (carefully, dammit, it’s hot). You’re aiming for a pretty fine texture, bisque should have a smooth mouthfeel.  Then add the milk and cream.  Taste.  Realize it’s now too thin and go back to the pantry for more tomatoey flavor.  Add 1 8oz can of tomato sauce.

Return the pot to the heat and bring the soup back to “hot,” stirring constantly so Nothing Bad Happens.

Taste and smack yourself for not using chicken stock before now.

The Backyard is a Nightmare

And not just because it’s hot, sticky, weed-choked and otherwise nasty.


That’s an enormous argiope making a meal of an equally enormous green dragonfly.  I know argiopes gotta eat too, but I draw the line at butterflies/dragonflies.  Time to get out the Lousiville Slugger.

Did I mention it’s hot, sticky, weed-choked and nasty out there?  There are exactly TWO crops doing well right now…

1.  The wonderful red rice beans:


That’s a 6 foot tall fence, and they’re reaching to the ground on the other side.

2.  Husband’s experimental tobacco:


That’s 5+ feet tall there, and being sprayed with Bt to keep the nasty chewy things away.

Speaking of the Husband, he goes in for surgery on Sept. 3 to repair the disc/remove the bone spur on his vertebra, so the backyard just isn’t going to get much attention at all until recovery is made from all that.  Yes, MY recovery too…I’m a champion worrier.


In the meantime we’ve been doing a lot of cooking.  The jalapeno soup was spectacular:


The Shrimp Two Ways (honey lime sauteed and cold with roma tomatoes, avocados and balsamic vinegar) was also mighty good:


And the made-em-ourselves tamales were so very tasty:


Things will get back to normal around here eventually, just as soon as all the medical issues sod off, and the heat becomes something less than KILLYOUALLYAAHHH!! outside.

Long Time No Blog

Yeesh, almost a month since the last post…good thing you’re not paying for this, eh?

Well, it’s hot, as I may have mentioned, and with the kids not here for the summer our routine is shot all to hell.  We did take off for a week in Sanibel right after the 4th holiday, and while we greatly enjoyed each other’s company, Florida beaches in July are not the most pleasant places to be…something to remember.

After our return Husband’s shoulder bone spur went from ‘ow’ to ‘jesuschristonadonkeythathurtsOW’ which has now prevented him from working for going a week, despite a cortisone shot, so it looks like surgery is in his future, hopefully arthroscopic to reduce recovery time.

So combine the “hot/nasty” with “hurt” and you’re getting a whole lot of “ignoring the garden” going on around here.  Husband steps out from time to time to vent his frustration on the grasshoppers that have suddenly taken an interest in our key lime tree, and coo over his nearly-a-foot tall tobacco plants, but everything else has slipped into benign neglect…which I am making a note to myself in the journal, remember for next year.

It’s not all bad, though.  The jalapenos, padron and whitney peppers are all still producing like mad.  The fig tree has grown two feet and is covered with fruit.  The peanuts are blooming.  The red rice beans, good golly the red rice beans…let’s just say don’t stand too close to them or they’ll climb your ass, too.

So next year we’re going to adjust our plan a little.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, bush beans and corn are the first things to be started, (in January inside & March outside) and will be removed the first of June no matter how productive they still might be, because it is just going to be all downhill from there.  Then in June we’ll be doing all peppers, soybeans, peanuts and red rice beans.  In September we’ll remove all those things and start second rounds of tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, bush beans and corn.

That’s the plan and we’re sticking to it.  Yep.

You Grow the Veg, You Cook the Veg

As those of you who read a lot of Florida bloggers know…it’s frickin’ hot out there.  This tends to make us not go out there nearly as often as we did in the spring/early summer, so everything in the garden is officially on it’s own.

This is fine with the volunteer tomato, who inexplicably is putting out orange fruit:


I would have bet good money on its parentage being the grocery store vine tomatoes, and it may yet be, no guarantee those things will seed true.  Whatever, they’re all destined for a big pot of ranchero sauce this week.  *drool*

Here’s the paprika pepper drying operation:


Yeah, it’s slow, but it works.

Here are the myriad red bell peppers and tomatoes that have A) fallen off, B) been harvested early to prevent splitting due to excess rain, and/or C) rescued from wilt-stricken plants…


…of which the body count now stands at THREE thank you.  I believe I can trace the infection from the purchase of a jalapeno plant from Target’s garden section.  And I’m *really* pissed off about it, as you may well imagine, especially seeing as how the red bell plants in that box also appear to be wilting.  *fume*

Look back up there at that crazy sausage-shaped tomato…that’s a Striped Roma and is it not the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen?  The orange is sort of iridescent, sparkly in the sunshine.  I think they need to sacrifice themselves to my ranchero sauce, too!

Husband and I were on the way to Lowe’s this morning (I swear they need to paint a parking space there for us), talking about what to have for dinner, when it hit me that we had, out in the garden, absolutely everything required to make beef stock (well, except the beef).  We added beef necks to the grocery list and today became Stock-Making Day.

First was the harvest of 9 lbs of bunching onions, shallots, scallions, leeks and cipollini onions, and 3 lbs of celery.  Then the cleaning of same, which I have to tell you, would better be effected outside with the assistance of the local fire department.  I believe I have permanently stopped up the right side of the sink at this point.

I had a picture of the onion harvest – 9lbs of crazy green stalks sticking out of my blue bucket is quite the sight – but my dang camera got a little confused and that image is lost forever.

Trust me, it was cool.

Here’s the celery harvest:


And the leftover celery/onions headed for the freezer until the next Stock-Making Day:


Into the roasting pan went the beef necks, shallots, onions, leeks, cipollini onions, white/orange and purple carrots, a goodly dash of olive oil to keep things from sticking, and an entire bulb of gorgeous garlic, smashed and peeled.


That roasted at 450 degrees for 30 minutes (turning a couple of times).


We pulled it out, nicely burning my thumb in the process, transferred everything to a stock pot, then deglazed the pan with 2 cups of water and poured that lovely goodness into the stock pot too.

On top of that went 3 bay leaves, 12 cups of water, a goodly handful of the freshly harvested celery (imprecision is not really a problem in stock making), a handful of fresh thyme from the garden, a tbsp or so of  black peppercorns, tsp or so of kosher salt, and about 8 of my baby black plum tomatoes. Use whatever you have on hand…parsnips, potatoes, other things that do not start with “p”…

Interlude to Allow for the Waxing Rhapsodic on the Wonder of Black Tomatoes: This is our first year growing any black tomatoes, and I’m just astonished at the depth of flavor they have.  Very low acid, wonderful sweetness, but still a great tomato flavor.  These are on my list to grow every year from now on.

So, all that good stuff is in the pot and simmering away right now…


…after which it’ll be refrigerated overnight, the congealed fat peeled off, and the stock poured into the nearest mold-type thinger we can find (ice cube trays work great) and frozen until needed.

The only downside to this stock-making business is you spend all day smelling the amazing aromas coming from the stock pot but it’s not for eating.  Yet, anyway.

“Men and Melons are Hard to Know”

(Benjamin Franklin)

Thusfar, this has been a good year for melons here in the Backyard.  We’re still having some fungus issues, and those will no doubt continue once the rainy season gets it’s arse properly in gear, but production-wise, things are looking pretty good.

Sunday, in the midst of humping a metric buttload of dirt around to the new tobacco boxes, we noticed the Amarillo Oro melon had been chewed a bit on the bottom, so even though it was not even remotely the correct color we pulled it.  We also pulled the first Gold Baby watermelon, even though it could have stood another week or two on the vine, because…well, because Husband wanted to nom on it.


And, lo, he stood over the sink and ate half.


The Amarillo Oro is a honeydew type that should have been yellow-rinded before harvest, if not for the stupid bugs, but was still quite tasty in the very center.  The Gold Baby is so called for it’s beautiful yellow flesh, which is extremely sweet.  It only gets about 5 lbs but don’t let anyone tell you that makes it an ideal small garden variety…our vine is over 20 feet long with dozens of 8 foot long perpendicular offshoots.  It honestly takes up  more room than the two pumpkin vines.  But the reward, oh the reward…there are, at last count, over 15 tiny melons in progress out there, so, totally worth it!

Bloom of the Day

The hollyhocks did wonderfully this year, though somewhat inconveniently placed in the front bed, where an 8 foot tall spike of fuschia flowers is somewhat…obnoxious.  The tall spikes did their thing, went to seed, and now there’s so very many new hollyhocks coming up there, including (inexplicably) this white one:


This is where I’d like more botanical knowledge…is this a sport?  A throwback?  I’m curious about these things..

Segue…I’m looking into the Florida Master Gardener program.  It requires a bit of classwork, a token fee, then a certain number of required volunteer hours per year.

Close friends/family blink at that part, I’m sure…you, VOLUNTEER?  Well, yeah.  I work from home, I have increasingly little patience with the outside world, and seem to be well on the path to full-blown misanthropy here, so yeah, I think some volunteer work in the gardening field could possibly save someone’s life down the road.


Bloom of the Day

Today’s bloom is a showy little strumpet:


This is Crocosmia ‘Walbreyes’.

The Silence of the Pumpkins

Would you care to guess how many seeds you get from a 53 1/2 lb pumpkin?


Go on…guess.


1 cup would be the correct answer.


Seems paltry for a fruit this size, but this is one of those super-mega pumpkins, the kind that people grow for massive size instead of flavor, shape and/or seed production.  If we grow pumpkins again (and that’s a BIG old “if”), we’ll aim for a more backyard-friendly size and a more eating-friendly variety.

Can’t say it hasn’t been interesting though.  And the compost pile is going to be hella rich in iron, zinc and phosphorus.


Meanwhile, Husband is happy with his roasted seeds.


Be…I’b hoding by dose.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Start by boiling the seeds in salted water, this will both flavor them and ensure a nice crunch after they’re roasted.  Use 1 cup and 1 tbsp of kosher salt per 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds.  Bring it all to a boil then let simmer for 10 minutes.

Coat a sheet pan with a couple of tbsp of olive oil, and add seeds in a single layer.  Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, until brown and crispy.  Use a spatula and turn them every 5 minutes or so.  Let them cool before serving.

Today Must Be Saturday

Holy merde it was hot out there today.  Yeah, we could have gotten out of bed somewhat earlier but then there wouldn’t have been all that sleeping…

On the agenda today was filling the new boxes (which Husband did, and for which I worship him), feeding everything, adding support poles where needed in the beans/tomatoes, digging out and replacing the mass of soil where the poor Black Plum tomato expired, pulling weeds out of everything (because we live in the freakin’ tropics), and adding dirt to the potato bins, where the plantsies were getting a bit tall:


Skipchat has it if you allow the stems to get too much sunlight then they become actual stems and aren’t capable of producing potatoes.  How much is too much?  You got me, this is all a big experiment for us, and something like that probably depends on the variety anyway.

On the harvest side of things, today was The Day for harvesting the second pumpkin (first was 2 weeks ago, and 37 lbs).   I guessed 50 lbs, and am notoriously bad at this sort of thing, but when Husband weighed it the thing was indeed 53 1/2 lbs.


Something that big ought to have a freakin’ name.  We don’t really eat pumpkin-y things around here – we’re only growing them because #1 Son picked out these seeds at the garden center – so it is destined to become toasted pumpkin seeds and major compost enrichment.

Also harvested were 1 red bell pepper, 2 jalapenos, 4 paprika peppers, 14 Orange Paruche tomatoes, 6 Black Cherry tomatoes, and 6 ears of Country Gentleman Shoepeg corn.


The kernel development on these is MUCH better than on the last crop we tried (yay, hand pollination!), and the earworm incursions limited to two tips.  And then only because we have not sprayed Bt in the past two weeks.


These are destined for a pot of homemade chili, along with the rest of last year’s red rice beans.  *drool*

Looking forward we’ve got fruit on every one of the 20+ varieties of tomatoes, all the pepper plants (red bell, whitney, padron, ancho, tequila sunrise, jalapeno) are groaning with fruit, the Gold Baby watermelon is duking it out with the pumpkin vine over ownership of the backyard, the Swan Lake vine is finally fruiting, the second planting of edamame is blooming, the Black Valentine and Anazasi beans are podding all over the place, the Key Lime tree has eensy limes all over it, and the fig tree is finally fruiting again.

It’s a nice time to live at my house, I tell you.

Situation Normal-ish

Sorry about the page of code instead of my site there…a new plugin apparently had a psychotic break while I wasn’t watching.  It’s dead now, Jim.

We haven’t stepped out into the garden much this past week…90+ degree temps/humidity will do that for you, as will recovering from the gawdawful drive to deliver the kids up to Nana for the summer.  But today we’re bygad going to get those three new planting boxes filled, which means schlepping a crapload of 30lb bags around our heinously-sloped backyard, which means by sundown I’ll be crying for anything containing rum and an ice-pack.

Pictures may or may not follow.