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July 28th, 2011

Make this for your kids: Cheesy Zucchini Fingers

By Marygrace Taylor

It’s a pretty good bet that when a food is battered and fried, called “fingers,” and served with a dipping sauce, kids will gobble it up. In fact, if there was a Parenting 101 Guidebook (anyone planning on writing such a thing anytime soon?), this tip would probably top the list of Things All Parents Know For Sure.

On it’s own, zucchini doesn’t have a whole lot going for it. It’s sort of bland and can get soggy and waterlogged if you cook it the wrong way. But practically every garden and farmer’s market in the country is overflowing with the veggie right now, pressuring cooks everywhere to come up with interesting ways to eat it.

july-zucchini

My favorite way? Cheesy Zucchini Fingers, because you can get them on the table in less than a half hour and they win kids over every time. And they’re delicious, of course. Fresh herbs and a crunchy, salty outer coating make these just as tasty as those mozzarella sticks every kid (and grown up) loves, but way healthier. If you’ve got yellow squash on hand instead, feel free to substitute.

Cheesy Zucchini Fingers
Active time: 25 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes

2 medium zucchini, ends trimmed
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 tablespoon fresh basil (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 1/2 teaspoons each fresh thyme and oregano (or 3/4 teaspoon dried each)
1/2 teaspoon fresh sage (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
3 tablespoons safflower oil, divided

Tomato or marinara sauce, for dipping

1. Slice each zucchini in half, width-wise, then slice each half length-wise. Slice each of these halves into 8 to 10 1/2-inch thick matchsticks, for a total of 16 to 20 matchsticks per zucchini.

2. Set out three medium bowls. Place the flour and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in the first bowl, and the beaten egg in the second bowl. In the third bowl, place the breadcrumbs, cheese, remaining salt, and herbs and mix to combine.

3. Dredge each zucchini matchstick into the flour, egg, then breadcrumb mixture and place on a large plate or baking sheet.

4. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the safflower oil over medium-high heat. Add a third of the zucchini fingers and cook 3-4 minutes. Flip the zucchini fingers and cook 1-2 minutes more, or until golden brown. Remove from the pan and repeat with remaining zucchini fingers.

5. Serve hot, with tomato or marinara sauce for dipping.

Serves 4
Per serving: calories 299, fat 15 g, protein 11 g, carbohydrates 30 g, dietary fiber 4 g

Marygrace Taylor is the staff writer and recipe developer for KIWI Magazine. She lives and cooks in Austin, Texas, with her husband and dog, Charlie.

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May 25th, 2011

Forest Gardening: An Investment in Your Future

Duane Marcus

Duane Marcus

What we now call food forests have been cultivated all over the world for centuries. Many indigenous cultures manage their forest resources to provide themselves with a continuous supply of foods, fiber, medicines, and craft materials. Bill Mollison and David Holmgren developed permaculture, a combination of the words permanent and agriculture, as an alternative to large-scale monoculture of annual crops. The concept of “forest gardening” was developed by British horticulturist Robert A. de J. Hart more than 30 years ago. He observed that it was much easier to maintain mulched beds of trees, shrubs, and perennials than it was to plant and maintain annual vegetables year after year. He wrote the seminal book on the subject, Forest Gardening: Cultivating an Edible Landscape, in 1996.

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The edge where a forest meets a field or open space is a highly productive space with a large diversity of species of plants and animals. Forest gardening seeks to emulate and capitalize on this. Hart identified seven layers in a forest garden:

1. The first layer is the canopy of large trees that provide nuts, leaves for mulch, and wood for fuel and building materials.

2. The next layer is the understory where smaller trees produce fruits. Apples, pears, plums, and cherries are part of this layer.

3. Below the understory live the woody shrubs, such as blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries, and others.

4. Next are the herbaceous perennials that grow from the ground, flower, produce seeds, and die back to the ground each year. In this group are many of our herbs and medicinal plants. Rosemary, bee balm, lavender, yarrow, and echinacea are a few examples.

5. Groundcovers make up the next layer in the food forest. Wild strawberries, thyme, and perennial clovers are useful groundcovers.

6. The rhizosphere, or root zone, is where some plants produce their parts. Sunchokes, various alliums like garlic and leeks, ginseng, yellowroot, and others provide us with food and medicines.

7. Hart’s final layer is the vertical layer, the vines that climb up into the trees. Grapes and kiwis give us fruit. Honeysuckle and even kudzu provide craft materials. There is a group of immigrants from Bhutan living in our area who weave beautiful and functional baskets from kudzu vines.

Before we began to design our garden here at the Funny Farm, we did what permaculturists call a zone and sector analysis of the property. We mapped where the sun was throughout the day and throughout the year. We took into account the physical structures, our house and the neighboring houses, the driveway, the street, the neighbors’ trees, and other plantings. Since we live in a well-manicured suburban neighborhood, we were sensitive to the possibility that all our neighbors might not approve of our turning our former lawn into a food garden.

View from the street—fig, self-sowing yarrow and Ammi magus. You can barely see our house in the background.

View from the street—fig, self-sowing yarrow and Ammi magus. You can barely see our house in the background.

Our first design decision was to create a buffer along the street. We planted fig trees 12 feet from the curb and filled the space between them and the curb with perennial and self-sowing annual flowers and herbs, including several large clumps of tall-growing sunchokes. Then we planned and started work on the rest of the perimeter. Our neighbors to the west have some mature oak trees, and the afternoon shade they cast determined how far toward our driveway our vegetable garden could go. Along the drive, we planted two persimmon trees, a nanking cherry, and, this past fall, a plum. On the other side of the drive, there is a 4-foot strip between it and our neighbor’s property line, just enough room for a row of blueberries. There is a nice stand of mature dogwoods, my favorite tree, and a beautiful Japanese maple near the house with a small sunny space in between. In that space, we added another plum, more sunchokes, and perennial welsh onions.

Pomegranite, yarrow, sunchoke guild, & our neighbor's house in the distance.

Pomegranite, yarrow, sunchoke guild, & our neighbor's house in the distance.

So what we have is a vegetable garden in the center of the front yard surround by a food forest. Our neighbor’s oaks form the canopy layer. Plums, figs, persimmons, and a cherry fill the understory. Blueberries occupy the shrub layer. Two falls ago, we divided and transplanted herbaceous perennials from our bugscaping bed (more about that in a future post) into our food forest. Bee balm, yarrow, and goldenrod provide food and shelter for many beneficial insects, both pollinators and predators. We added sunchokes and welsh onions into the rhizosphere. Wild strawberries and clover cover the ground. The strawberries keep the chipmunks occupied, and the clover provides a home for rhizobium bacteria that capture nitrogen from the air and make it available to the adjacent plants. Our next addition will be an arbor with a grapevine to define the entrance into the garden.

Each plant was chosen because it contributes something to the garden as a whole. Permaculturists call these purposeful groupings of plants guilds. The more functions a plant can contribute to the guild, the more valuable it is. The clover produces edible leaves and flowers. The flowers attract many different beneficial insects. The roots anchor the soil and provide a home for the beneficial rhizobium bacteria. Lady beetles overwinter at the base of yarrow. Its flowers attract many beneficial insects and also look good in flower arrangements. Yarrow is also a medicinal plant. It is an astringent. It can be used to stop bleeding and is said to improve digestion and reduce fevers.

This spring, we harvested 10 pounds of cherries from our nanking cherry tree. The persimmons are covered with flowers now. The figs have many tiny fruits forming on the branches. Our 2-year-old blueberries will produce a modest crop this year. With each passing year, we will harvest more and more from what would be considered by many gardeners to be marginal space. We tuck food-producing plants wherever we can find a space. If you have room for flowering trees and perennials, why not have them do something for you besides look pretty? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could obtain a yield from your garden beds? You have to maintain them anyway. Why not turn your garden into an edible one? Our next-door neighbor who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years told my wife not long ago he thinks of our garden as the Garden of Eden. You can create your own Garden of Eden. Try it—it’s easy.


Duane Marcus practices permaculture at the Funny Farm in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. He grows vegetables, fruit, herbs, worms, chickens, insects, mushrooms, microorganisms, and anything else that is edible or promotes the growth of edible plants and animals. He also teaches workshops on gardening and sustainable living and manages two local farmers’ markets. You can read about his shenanigans on the Funny Farm.

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April 27th, 2011

Eat Your Veggies

by Marygrace Taylor

Hooray! Spring is here, and fresh, vibrant produce is finally cropping up in the garden and at the farmer’s market. If you’re like me, you’ve spent months waiting for a taste of peas, asparagus, or anything other than dreary winter root vegetables.  And while I’m willing to bet your kids don’t feel the same way (for now!), changing their minds about fresh produce isn’t an impossible feat. Here, my four favorite—and foolproof—ways to get kids excited about their fruits and vegetables.

Get them involved
Your kid’ll be way more enthusiastic about that bunch of broccoli if he gets to pick it out and cook it himself. Whether you’re harvesting from the garden or shopping the farmer’s market, you can make gathering produce more fun by turning it into a scavenger hunt. Have your child seek out fruits and veggies in certain colors or sizes, like long green sticks (asparagus) or little blue spheres (blueberries). Afterwards, leaf through a kid-friendly cookbook with your little one to find a yummy-looking recipe that he can help you make.

Point out the benefits—but make them exciting!
Tell a little kid that carrots are good for her because they contain eye health-promoting beta carotene, and her eyes will likely glaze over. Tell her carrots are good for her because they can help her have Super Vision, and there’s a nice chance she’ll start choosing the orange veggie over other, less healthful snacks that don’t have any magic powers.

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Carrots for Super Vision

Make it look fun
It’s no surprise that a platter of steamed kale probably won’t get your child excited, but kid food doesn’t have to be all macaroni and cheese and chicken fingers. Cut veggie sandwiches into interesting shapes, arrange salad vegetables in rainbow order on the plate instead of tossing everything together, or arrange your pizza toppings in the shape of a smiley face. You could even turn a pile of grapes and cheese into a campfire, veggie spring rolls into a caterpillar, or a chocolate-covered pear into a cute little penguin!

Serve healthy food when they’re hungry
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? A small plate of whole grain crackers and a cheese stick is a healthy snack choice—but if eaten an hour before dinner, it’ll wipe out your kid’s appetite for veggies (or anything else!) at dinner. When your child asks for a snack, offer fresh fruit or vegetables like sliced apple with almond butter or celery sticks with hummus. If she’s not interested, she probably isn’t all that hungry, and can wait until her next meal to eat. By then, she will be hungry—and more willing to gobble up the side of sautéed zucchini on her plate.

Marygrace Taylor is the staff writer and recipe developer for KIWI Magazine. She lives and cooks in Austin, Texas, with her husband and dog, Charlie.

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