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Flowers that Thrive on Heat Waves

Posted by Suzie Canale on Wed, Jul 29, 2015


New England has its fair share of blizzards but lucky for us, we also get to experience the warmer side of the weather spectrum during July and August.  Although temperatures in the metro Boston area commonly subside within the mid to low eighty’s, we can sometimes experience the occasional heat wave.  Since most of us are more accustomed to the chillier days of the year, a day of ninety-degree weather can sometimes make us a bit uncomfortable and dare I say-anticipating January and February once again.  But did you know that our flower and vegetable beds crave the heat causing seedlings and fruit to germinate at a healthy rate.  With the necessary watering, gardens can boom to three times the expected size during a season of muggy humidity.  Still not sold on the importance of steamy July and August months?  Take a look at these varieties that will make you thank Mother Nature for an extra fiery summer in New England!


This is a fantastic flower to grow during the blazing New England summer months because it is both draught and heat resistant.  They are best started by seed indoors and then can be transplanted to a regular garden once the fear of a frost has passed.  When they’re ready, make sure you place them in a full-sun location since they’ll only grow taller and bigger with this type of environment.


Cosmos are the #1 first choice for my garden because even if I’m having a lousy growing season, I can always depend on cosmos to be spectacular!  Having the capability to re-seed itself, they can grow extremely tall so staking the stems may be necessary.  Be sure not to over water and allow full sunshine to increase bud productivity.


Lantana is the answer to your prayers if you have a place in your yard that has difficulty providing the right outer elements for successful growing.  Craving little moisture, this fuss free plant is a knockout in the scorching temperatures and comes in a wide variety of stunning colors.  Another bonus of this plant is that critters such as rabbits despise the scent so you will find it beneficial to place the flower around your vegetable crops.

Tags: Gardening, Plants, Summer, July, August

Remembering Your Pets In the Garden

Posted by Suzie Canale on Mon, Jul 27, 2015

I’ve always loved animals since I was young and never had a home that I didn’t share with a furry critter or two.  Cats, dogs, fish, hamsters, gerbils, frogs and whatever else you might venture to tame hold a special place in our hearts as we grow to love and care for them.  They are our friends, companions and most of all, part of our families.  That’s why its so hard when one of our pets leave us for the big animal kingdom in the sky leaving us to search for the perfect memorial gesture to say goodbye.   Grieving for their loss is often particularly sensitive to children who may be experiencing this sad feeling for the first time so its important to recognize the pet’s passing in a way that allows them to adjust and express how their feeling.

Last fall, we went through the loss of our fourteen year old Siamese cat named Ricky.  Being a particularly vocal and affectionate member of the household, his passing was hard for everyone, including my sons.   We thought about what we could do to remember the adorable feline and came up with an idea that not only would represent his spirit but also signify that he would always be a part of family.

Planting a tree is a wonderful way to honor a pet’s death and encourages children to understand what they’re feeling on the inside is normal and all part of the circle of life.  Often, if difficult emotions aren’t recognized, it’s possible for kids to reject the notion of getting a new pet because of their fear of feeling the mourning all over again.  Erecting a token in their memory allows kids to release their grief in a healthy way while encouraging the thought that the animal will always remain in their hearts.  

We decided that the best variety to plant for Ricky was a Japanese Weeping Willow Tree.  The leaves change a variety of colors during the year and flower with pretty blossoms in the springtime.  Everyday while walking up our sidewalk to the font door, we are reminded of how wonderful our kitty was and smile knowing that his spirit is still alive in our home.  


Tags: Gardening, Pets, Perennials, Trees, Shrubs

Garden Tomato Sauce

Posted by Suzie Canale on Fri, Jul 24, 2015

There’s nothing like making your own sauce with the main ingredient being hand picked from your own garden.  Yes, it might be an overzealous bit of pride in the hard work it took to cultivate the delicious beauties but there’s no doubt that real tomatoes taste better than store bought.  I bet you didn’t know that while the “Anti Carb War” is still being fought, there are great benefits to eating certain dishes that, yes, contain some form of pasta.  Marinara can be looked at from an entirely different perspective if you just take the time to tweak what goes into your recipe.  The first step, of course, is to avoid the mainstream grocery stores and look for other locations where the food hasn’t been altered such as farmers markets, farm stands, and hopefully- are own backyards.  Once we’ve done that, it’s only a matter of creating the right taste and texture that you and your family prefer.

Different varieties of tomatoes provide different attributes that will change the way your sauce comes out.  For instance, some varieties are more watery while others have more seeds.  Some tomatoes possess a bite in seasoning while others lean to the sweeter side.  It all depends on what your recipe calls for and what you need those yummy veggies to do once they’ve been added to the pot.  When I make my own sauce, I depend on a meatier type but I also combine other varieties to flavor it with richness.  I prefer the Jet Star tomato for my base and then add baby heirloom tomatoes to finish it off but there is a multitude of different ways to do it.  These are some descriptions of popular New England tomatoes to help you choose what the right tomato is for you!  


These bad boys are big, juicy and most importantly, delicious!  They contain a great balance of sweetness and acidity making them popular in sandwiches and salads.  Since the rind holds well after cooking, Beefsteak tomatoes are perfect to use if you enjoy an earthy rendition of marinara because you’ll be able to have chunks of the fruit and a fair amount of seeds present.  


These guys are my favorite because depending on the shade of the fruit, the taste will vary significantly, making an otherwise boring pot of sauce an exciting treat!  There are a few guidelines though such as red being the sweetest while green holds the stronger tart characteristic.  Yellow heirlooms can be bitter so they’re fabulous when you need to bump up the flavor of a too sweet tomato sauce.  If you want my advice, mix them all together for the most interesting and delicious outcome!

Cherokee Purple

This one has a gorgeous color that your sauce will benefit from because it will turn a deeper shade of red than common sauces.  Originally from the heirloom family, this variety needs an extended amount of time to grow in the heat than other types but boy is it worth when they’re ready to be picked.  Pasta lovers will love their rich and complex taste while enjoying a recipe that requires little help of flavor from other ingredients. Olive oil, salt and pepper is all this variety will need!

Tags: Gardening, Chef, cooking, Tomatoes

Beautiful Varieties of New England Sunflowers

Posted by Suzie Canale on Wed, Jul 22, 2015

Nothing says a New England summer than a beautiful patch of native flowers!  Hollyhock, hydrangea, garden roses, lavender, veronica, Black Eyed Susan and rudbeckia are all regional varieties that we look forward to once July and August roll around.  One of the most popular species grown in and outside of the Boston area is the sunflower, which has become symbolic to the east coast growing season.  With hybrids ranging from gold to red, this happy bloom is now available in a multitude of different colors, sizes and textures.  Don’t just settle for the customary yellow face because agriculturalists are now ready to wow you with more options to load your backyard with.  Here are a few of my favorites that I’ve found to be both decadent and original to traditional species.  

Chianti Hybrid

This little beauty is crimson, resembling the shade of Chianti wine (hence the name) and contains little gold flex around the center of the head.  The leaves tend to be dark green and the stem will reach an estimated 4 to 5 feet in length.  This flower does not produce pollen so Boston florists will love this “shed free” feature of the plant.  


Although this sunflower only grows around 4 feet tall, the burst of color is simply spectacular!  Resembling the presentation of firecrackers (again, hence the name) deep yellow tint surrounds a bright red that encircles the center.  Another bonus of this beautiful variety is that it tends to bloom faster than others and does well if grown in small pots indoors before the garden is even ready to be filled.

Mammoth Russian

If you really want to grow something spectacular this summer, try seeding a giant “Mammoth Russian Sunflower”- you won’t be disappointed.  This type can climb over 16 feet in height and have a head reaching more than 12 inches in diameter.  They usually color in traditional shades of light yellow and gold but trust me, there’s nothing common about this “mammoth” plant.  For those who enjoy eating the seeds, this variety happens to have delicious edibles as well to snack on.

Tags: Gardening, Flowers, Seeds, Sunflowers

Boston’s Best Summer Berry Picking

Posted by Suzie Canale on Mon, Jul 20, 2015

Picking your own berries is an awesome activity for the whole family and lucky for us, Boston’s suburbs are bursting with farms that dedicate much of their time to providing us with these tasty past time.  Whether you’re interested in blueberries, raspberries, blackberries or strawberries, locations in and around the city have just what you’re looking for!

Why do you ask is berry picking so important for children?  Well, for starters it teaches them about growing healthy food and how to obtain nutritious food that’s important to our diets.  Besides that, the more things you can do outside instead of in front of the television the better.  With so many locations convenient and affordable to visit, you’ll find you can select just the right place to accommodate your family.  Unfortunately, Boston’s harvest weather is short.  Be sure to visit websites for seasonal picking dates so you don’t make a wasted trip where you’ve missed the crop. Check out what’s in your area or one of these fantastic local farms that I have taste tested myself!

Sunshine Farm

41 Kendall Ave

Sherborn, Ma


This place is great because they offer both raspberry and blueberry picking options plus the fields are right next to each other making it easy to navigate.  Pint sized cartons can be bought in the market for $6.00 and you can spend as much time as you want enjoying the day in the middle of their beautiful grounds. By the way, save room for ice cream because there’s a convenient stand right next door!

Ward’s Berry Farm

614 South Main Street

Sharon, MA

I love this farm because not only can you pick blueberries but if you return in the early fall, you can also dig for your own potatoes.  Green thumbs will also enjoy the stunning greenhouses attached to their very own store providing a large selection of delicious homegrown foods and freshly baked breads.  If you have little ones, they’ll have fun climbing on the structures located on the playground, too!


Tags: Gardening, Kids, outdoors

Tips for Sunflower Survival

Posted by Suzie Canale on Wed, Jul 15, 2015

Sunflowers are one of my favorite blooms to watch stretch and grow in my garden.  Their sunshine happy faces, their bold green foliage and striking color all are reasons why I strive to cultivate a crop every summer.  The trouble is, I’m not the only fan of this seasonal beauty.  Sunflowers are also anxiously awaited by several critters, insects and wildlife that can’t wait to sink their teeth and claws into the soft baby leaves that appear first once the seedlings begin to develop.  

Time and time again, I’ve carefully devised several strategies to stave these pests away but every year I wake up to that fatal morning where I witness the horrifying site of chomped sunflower stems.  Could have been rabbits or maybe even a hedgehog but one thing’s for sure, these forest delicacies were mowed down as soon as the plant could provide a hearty meal for some lucky vermin.

Or worse yet- how about the terrible damage inflected on the leaves by ants and other creepy crawlers that find sunflowers a tasty salad?  

So what do we do?  Forget the sunflower all together?  Nah.  Just hang in there and look these tips over to help ward off predators from your lovely patch.  

Tips For Sunflower Survival

#1.  Sunflower stems are only enticing when their foliage is soft and young.  Most animals will leave them alone once they have reached a height of 1 to 1 ½ feet tall so applying bird’s netting or a mesh blanket over the plant when it is in its early development will shoo most pests away.

#2 Place a container such as a soda bottle that has had the top quarter cut off over the seedlings.  This not only will keep away rodents but also create a nice greenhouse effect to nurture speedy growth.  

#3 To keep away slugs and other slithery foes, gently spray the sunflower with a water mixed with a little dish soap.  They absolutely hate that combination and it wont hurt the flower at all.  

Tags: Gardening, Gardening in Boston, outdoors

Health Benefits of Tomatoes

Posted by Suzie Canale on Mon, Jul 13, 2015

New England gardeners should be pleased to know that their tomatoes will surely be making their summer debut within the next few weeks.  Particularly if you have invested in varieties such as “Beefsteak”, “Early Girl”, “Fireworks” or “Jet Star”, your crops will surely be bursting with an abundance of brightly colored red fruit.  Although we’ll have to wait a bit longer for further seasonal types such as “Ponderosa Pink”, “Hillbilly” and my favorite, “Mortgage Lifter” to ripen to perfection, we’ll still have plenty to pick from to get Boston’s veggie lovers started.


So now that we have tomatoes, what should we do with them?  Cook them of course!

Tomatoes are not only a delicious vegetable but they have several beneficial health attributes as well.  For one thing, they contain large amounts of Vitamin A and C, not to mention a good helping of folic acid.  They have also been know to preserve brain and nerve tissue plus provide the body with aiding functionality of low blood pressure rates, conversion of glucose into energy and also act as an antioxidant to fight against diseases such as diabetes, depression and cancer.  All in all, it’s a good thing to always have in our diet and lucky for us, there’s a ton of ways to include tomatoes in our meal schedule.  Here are three dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner where we can enjoy the taste and health benefits!


Toast and Tomato is a tradition in my family where it is most enjoyed during the lazy mornings of summer and there is no question that this fare tastes the best if they’ve come from your own garden.  All you have to do is toast two pieces of wheat bread and lightly spread a low fat butter or substitute across the surface.  Choose your variety of tomatoes and thinly slice the fruit making sure the pieces aren’t too bulky because if they are, you’ll have a doozy of a time eating it!


The BLT is a widely overlooked sandwich and is sometimes ignored for its overwhelming simplicity but as we all know, sometimes less is more.  All it takes to cook this mouth-watering treat is a warm roll, a fresh couple of iceberg lettuce leaves, 1 to 2 pieces of well sautéed bacon and the star ingredient- a juicy red slab of red tomato.  If you would like to lower the calorie intake, just swap the bacon for a turkey or soy option.


Ratatouille is probably one of the most decadent yet simple dishes that tomatoes are the most celebrated.  Since the concoction is traditional within a multitude of cultures, we are lucky to have a variety of recipes to choose from.  My favorite involves adding chopped green pepper, onion, garlic, zucchini, eggplant and mushrooms to a simmering pot and seasoning it with salt and pepper.  Once the ingredients condense, add a can of tomato paste and a bunch of your own tomatoes.  Allow to cook until resembling a sauce and serve as is or serve over rice or pasta.  

Tags: Chef, cooking, #EXFL, outdoors, Outdoor Living, Vegetable Garden

Flower Infused Summer Cocktails

Posted by Suzie Canale on Fri, Jul 10, 2015

Flowers have long upheld their reputation of making beautiful displays within vase centerpieces, boutonnieres, hair accents, nosegays and eye appealing raised garden beds.  Boston florists have used their ingenuity to design wonderful arrangements utilizing texture, shape and color but now they’re getting even more ambitious when inventing new floral creations…


If chefs have been incorporating blossoms within their culinary efforts for decades, why not infuse the drink menu as well?


Industry professionals are finding that they can now increase their product demand by adding specialty summer drinks to their inventory segments!  It’s a contemporary suggestion but targeted demographics are actually surpassing their projected expectations by 50%.  The reasoning behind this lies in the appeal of adding bright shades to drinks that would otherwise be clear in appearance. Another explanation is due to the positive association that the brain makes between health, color and warmer weather elements.  The psychological attraction to this concept has allowed designers to indulge in their frisky creativity therefore inventing some of Boston’s most popular new seasonal refreshers.  Here is a sampling of this trendy way to fend off the summer heat waves!




Nasturtiums have been held in high esteem for their added excellence within recipes craving a peppery taste.  The beautiful orange, yellow, pink and red heads are also terrific in kicking up the taste of vodka once it’s had a chance to assimilate within the alcohol for a few weeks.  Serve at a dinner party to amp up the summer feel or simply keep it for yourself to enjoy on a hot and steamy day!





                                             photo credit: healthyfoodstyle.com

Although a name says a lot, don’t count on it before you’ve tasted this delicious drink that has the herb, lavender, to thank for its sweetness.  You can place stems with attached heads in a variety of liquids including soda water, ginger ale or ice water.  Any variety will do but I prefer French lavender for the fresh and crisp accent it gives to my tea.            




                     photo credit: silkroaddiary.com

These are so good I can barely stand it!  Traditional margaritas can be made playful by adding the blossoms of brightly colored hibiscus plants.  Not only do they electrify a dark pink color but they also radiate the summer spirit of fun in the sun!



Tags: Gardening, Chef, #EXFL, herbs, Outdoor Living

Summer Dishes For Your Newly Grown Vegetables and Fruits

Posted by Suzie Canale on Wed, Jul 08, 2015

Now that our gardens have begun to fill with sensational fruits and vegetables, its time to start planning a fun summer menu to best utilize our efforts!  There’s a pretty high probability that if you’re a gardener in New England, you’ll see the snap peas, cucumbers, green beans, strawberries and lettuce as some of the first arrivals.  Later on in the season, eggplant, squash and my favorite, tomatoes will appear with gorgeous color signally that their time has come to impress upon your culinary skills.   As the summer comes to an end, potatoes, corn, garlic and onions are ready to be added to the sauté pans to kick up the spice and zest of your favorite dishes!   It all sound fantastic, but lets focus on the produce that we’ll be able to cook with now that will be great options for your warmer weather dining room tables.  Here are my must-haves that have always pleased my entire family-including the kids!


                        photo credit:foodnetwork.com

Cucumber and Couscous

Couscous is a wonderful grain to get your little ones accustomed to as early as possible because the taste is mild with a low fat content and can be mixed with a variety of vegetables for a healthy dinner side.  One of the first things I throw in the pot are chopped cucumbers seasoned slightly with Italian salad dressing.  Stir the contents of a Near East pre-packaged couscous box and add chunks of the water- based succulent.  You might even want to toss in a few cherry tomatoes to add more color and watch your family devour a healthy and fresh summer salad!


                             photo credit: bellaonline.com

Snap Peas and Sweet Potato

You would be surprised by the reaction of guests when you add a well-cooked sweet potato with a handful of raw snap peas to the dinner table.  All you need to know is butter the spud lightly and add your desired seasoning such as thyme, white pepper, salt or rosemary once its been cooked to taste.  Mash up the contents and generously shower with a bunch of fresh green snap peas.  The texture is pleasant and allows an unusual but sensational blend of flavors.  I highly suggest this as a featured menu item since the presentation is impressive when served with a grilled helping of swordfish or salmon. 


                     photo credit:harvesttotable.com


There is no telling the possibilities when you can grow your own varieties of lettuce.  You can use the roughage as either a plate garnish or create wonderful salads that will leave your mouth watering.  If you’ve never eaten lettuce picked straight from the garden, you’re in for a treat.  The crisp yet buttery consistency of the leaves allow a fun combination when paired with berries such as blueberries or strawberries and works well with breads for easy lunch options of pita or club sandwiches.  One tip for the eager picker: make sure you wash the leaves thoroughly to evade dirt and soil smudges. 

Tags: Gardening, Chef, cooking, #EXFL, Vegetable Garden

Backyard Fun and Games for Summer

Posted by Suzie Canale on Mon, Jul 06, 2015

The kids are finally out of school for summer vacation and families are busy making their seasonal plans for entertainment!  The next few months can be tricky for some parents and anxiety may sit in due to the frustration of coming up with new activities.  I think we’ve all heard those agonizing words of “I’m bored” and “What are we going to do now?” at some point or another and there’s no doubting that summer scheduling can become a bit challenging.  How can we keep our children occupied for the next two months without emptying our wallets completely? 


This year I’ve swapped some of those expensive ticket fees for parks and movie passes for some quality games that I can set up right in my own backyard!  Over the past recent years, adults have been faced with the technology age of iphones and ipads that have swapped their kid’s time in the outdoors for time on a screen.  So what if we lure them with some play that they can enjoy within a healthy environment underneath the sun?  The benefits of this strategy are endless including physical fitness, fresh air and face time with their loved ones.  These are my top picks for my family’s backyard fun!


                                        photo credit: sportsrediscovered.com


If you’re going to put up any net, make it a badminton set!  Components of this game are very simple which include a net, racquets and a birdie.  The object of the game is similar to tennis accept that the birdie is lightly tapped from one side to the other.  Since the equipment is light in weight and the net sits a little lower than others, kids from all ages can join in!



This traditional and colorful challenge was first invented in 1856 in England where it became known as the game of civility.  The goal is to knock your chosen ball through small arcs called “wickets” and be the first one to make it to the finish pole line.  I love this one because it involves heavy hand eye coordination and is also a great tool for teaching other similar sports such as miniature golf.



                                           photo credit: cliparthut.com

Scavenger Hunt

You don’t have to necessary buy expensive games to have a good time!  Why not make your own entertainment by rigging up a backyard scavenger hunt?  Make a list of five to ten items that your kids can search for such as pinecones, buttercups or a clover and watch them run wild with excitement!  One suggestion before you begin is to be absolutely sure that your objects in the hunt are available in your area and make sure they wont be trampling through dangerous areas with poison ivy or oak. 

Tags: Kids, #EXFL, outdoors, Outdoor Living, Games

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