Saturday, December 26, 2009

Gifts Given

I didn't want to spoil anything by showing you what I've been knitting, as they were Christmas presents. Not that the people I gave these to actually know that I have a blog, but there you are. So first up, I made my MIL a scarf using this pattern. I'm not certain about the yarn name, but it's a mohair blend.











Then I made this for my mom using Shulana pacolana, which is a wool/alpaca blend. Nice and soft, bulky weight, and knit up fast using Misti Chunky Ribs & Ruffles Scarf pattern.











And since I had leftover yarn, having bought two balls of the pacolana, I made Mom a Fidget, which I think turned out rather cute with silver buttons.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jammin'

I've been looking for a challenge to do this upcoming year. It's been tough, because this is the first challenge I'm trying, and it needed to be something that I thought I could do fairly easily, and have plenty of time to accomplish it. It needed to incorporate something I already can do somewhat, not be a total burden on my family, and be interesting enough for me to want to do it each month.

I've thought about doing Not-so Urban Hennery's Dark Days Challenge, but unless my garden is up to snuff for the winter, finding local food means driving into the city once a week, which doesn't seem like the right idea. I've thought about doing some of Crunchy Chicken's challenges, but they seem more family-oriented, and my family is already whining at me to turn up the heat when it's set to 68 degrees.

So when I saw Tigress' Can Jam, I was pretty sure that was the one for me. But I waited, and thought it over, and finally made the decision today, which was a good thing since today was the cut-off date.

So here I go! Ready for my first challenge (may it not be my last!)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Recouping

I had some minor surgery on Friday (the 13th!) and sat on my derriere all weekend. Although I'm doing fine, I seem to tire out easy, so I'm taking things slowly, and doing things that I don't have to be up running around for long periods of time. So I'm catching up on the laundry, baking and pureeing my pumpkins, and the in between resting time is spent knitting a lacy scarf for someone for Xmas (three people come to mind).

I'm baking the sugar pumpkins in a 350 degree oven for an hour, as 45 minutes doesn't seem to cut it. It seems that one of my plants wasn't truly a sugar pumpkin, although from the outside it looked like it. The pumpkin flesh wasn't dark orange like the others, nor did it have the same texture or smell. So I chucked it, since I didn't like the taste of it anyway. It was almost cucumbery. yuk.

The scarf I'm making is from
http://www.knittingonthenet.com/patterns/scarflacekm.htm (sorry about that! Blogger is messing up and the link isn't showing). I'm using some leftover fuzzy white stuff (mohair?) that I was going to make my mom a moebius scarf with, but I didn't have nearly enough. I've since lost the name of the yarn. The pattern goes really quickly, and I should have it done soon. I'll post pics soon!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Stocking Up

The pantry is bulging, and Mr. E is complaining. It's fall, and I'm stocking up.

Pasta seems to be at its least expensive in the fall, and as we go through quite a bit, I buy a lot (ergo Mr. E's complaint "Do we own stock in a pasta company or something?"). Fall is also a great time to buy baking ingredients and spices, as the stores have their holiday sales on. My store had spices 50% off recently, which is the only time I even THINK about buying saffron. If there's going to be a shortage of rice or flour, these recently have happened early in the year, so it's good to stock up on those now as well.

I'm not just stocking up on food, but cleaning supplies, medicine, and paper products. Cold and flu season is here (obviously) and so tissues and cold medicine are in high demand. My local shops have buy-one-get-one-free sales on cold medicine in the fall, or I buy in bulk at Costco. I hate having to make a special run to the store for medicine when I'm not feeling well. I also always keep a backup jug of laundry soap and dishwasher detergent so I never run out.

As I'm buying things, I'm looking at what I still have a lot of or never used. I'll be taking a trip to the local food pantry with a whole lot of canned corn. I haven't used it, and don't foresee using it, so it's better to donate it before its expiration date. This will free up some space, as well, and get things off the floor of the garage and onto shelving (which will make for a happier hubby, and reduce my buying duplicates because I can't find what I'm looking for.)

I also (finally) got our firewood. I'll never wait this late again. The wood, although not green, had definitely been heavily rained on, and is a pain to try and get started. Next year, I'll get it in early September at the latest. For now, I'll have to bring in a load to dry indoors for a day or two so it's start-able.

I'm still looking for kindling. The previous owners left a ton, and it took us eight years to go through it all. Now we're out, and I'm really curious where they got it from. It looks like mill ends or bits of cedar shakes. I'm keeping my eyes open for opportunities to stock up on that as well.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What to do With Apples - Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal

So you gotta be thinking "What is she going to do with all those apples?" Aside from pies, crisps, and all manner of fattening desserts, I dehydrated about 1/3 of my harvest. I can still rehydrate and make pies or applesauce, but I just don't need to do it RIGHT NOW.

One of Thing 2's favorites, besides preferring dried apples to fresh ones, is Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal. Yes, you can buy it instant, but it's so much better this way:

Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup water
3 dehydrated apple rings, cut up
dash salt
dash cinnamon
pat butter

Then I put it in the microwave for 2-1/2 minutes and add a tablespoon of brown sugar. Fall comfort food.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Frost and Apples

After Apple Picking


My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still.
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples; I am drowsing off.
I cannot shake the shimmer from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the water-trough,
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and reappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
And I keep hearing from the cellar-bin
That rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking; I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall,
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised, or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Robert Frost



A frost was expected last night (and it came: 26.4 degrees), so the boys and I scrambled to get everything out of the garden. Thing 1 took care of all the squash and overripe cucumbers, Thing 2 stripped all the beans from the bean vines. And I set about getting all the apples off the last apple tree.

I ran across the above poem after Googling "apples" and "frost" (I wasn't sure if the apples could take any frost, and I'm still not sure), and I laughed at how appropriate it is. I realize that it's been analyzed this way and that, but I truly can see it for what it is: a poem written after carefully picking apples for hours and hours, and rather sick of it, at that.

I brought in 99 POUNDS of apples from the last tree. That was after picking 33 pounds from it already. That's more than I got from all four trees last year together! Thankfully, it's the keeper variety, so they all went into the shed until I've dealt with all the other apples in the house.

So with that, 30 pounds of squash, and 5 pounds of cukes, I have actually SURPASSED my goal of 350 pounds of food! I'm now at 404 pounds with a few carrots and beans yet to weigh. So 237 pounds was apples, but there were still 167 pounds of other fruit and veg. I'm hoping to expand on the "other" and literally "cut back" on the apples next year.

I'm definitely pruning back the apples. The trees were so overloaded, the branches were bending to the ground. We're not allowed to transport apples across county lines here because of the apple maggot. And, of course, all my friends live in another county. So here they stay unless I make goodies out of them. As for the rest, they're either in the garage (squash) or awaiting me to do something with them. I'm going to try The Victory Garden Cookbook's senfgurken recipe for the cukes, since I hate to see them going to waste.

Friday, October 9, 2009

I'm Baaaaack!

Hey there. I'll bet you've been wondering where the heck I've been. Well, August was more than a little crazy, but fun. September was spent catching up.

We spent our yearly trip up in Canada, hanging out at a cabin next to a lake. The boys went horseback riding, and did some swimming. Unfortunately, due to the wildfire danger, we weren't allowed campfires, but we did manage a BBQ. We spend the same week up there each year, as do the other families, and it is so fun watching all the kids grow. My eldest was literally getting chased by the girls this year. I guess I don't need to worry about him yet as he's still running away. :-)

We were home for four days and then left for two weeks in France. We spent a week in Paris seeing all the sights, then drove south to Provence for a week with my in-laws. Provence is so much slower than Paris, it was a little hard adjusting. The food there was spectacular, though, and we ate our way through a lot of escargot, cheese and olives.

So, basically, my garden fell apart during the high season of August. My neighbor took care of the watering needs, but he had his own tomatoes and needed none of mine, so they rotted on the vine. The pears were ready, and he took almost all of them - there were two very ripe ones left for me. They are so yummy! So August's harvest was only about 5 lbs and a lot went to waste. Unfortunately, I didn't have my neighbor weigh what he took, so I couldn't add it to my harvest total. I'm guessing he took about 10 pounds of pears?

We came back in early September, and what a load of work I had before me! The rest of the boys' school supplies needed to be purchased, and I had trees full of apples waiting very impatiently for me. The garden was in dire need of help. So I hit the ground running, pulling out the food dehydrator and baking like crazy.

I have decided that four semi-dwarf apple trees are really too much for my family of four. At least at this time. Either that, or I need to rent a cider press. I've brought in 118 pounds of apples so far, and I still have another tree to go. AND it was one of the tree's "off" years. This last tree is a "keeper" variety, so I'll try to wrap and store the better-looking apples in the shed to see how they do. The bugs seem to dislike this tree's fruit, but unfortunately, it's not scab-resistant.

So I'm about to surpass last year's harvest total of 255 pounds. I don't think I'm going to make my goal of 350 pounds, but I probably will be within 25 pounds of it. I'm upset that I didn't get anything in for fall and winter except the garlic. I'll just need to get my rear in gear next year if I'm to make an even higher goal. What do you think? 400 pounds?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Garlic


I love braiding garlic. It takes something that would otherwise look like this:






And turning it into this:

Not all garlic is braidable. My top photo is of the variety "Music," which is a hardneck garlic. The stiff shaft that runs in the center of the head makes it not conducive to braiding. The second photo is of Inchelium Red, a softneck variety. I clean the heads, chop off the roots, and lay them in the shade until the necks are pliable. Then I follow these instructions. The braids last for months without unravelling, and doesn't it look so much prettier?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Pickles in Progress


I made a batch of refrigerator pickles with my first "large" harvest of cukes last Friday. I don't have a crock (yet), and I don't grow enough to merit a whole crockful of pickles (yet).

Three pounds of cukes is just enough for five pint jars of dill refrigerator pickles, though! Instead of putting the cukes in brine in a crock, you pour hot brine over the cukes in a large bowl, let them sit until they're room temp, and then put them in pint jars. The recipe, from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving said to let them sit in the fridge for two weeks. That's the hardest part of the recipe.... I tried one on Monday, and it was pretty close. Still a little salty, but the cuke was nice and crispy and full of dilly, vinegary yumminess. Can I wait until August 14th to eat them? I don't think so.

Now, what to do with the next batch of cukes....

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

July Harvest Tally

For the month of July, here's what was taken from my garden:

11.2 lbs cherries
9.3 lbs peas
6.7 lbs hardneck garlic
5.2 lbs softneck garlic
5.2 lbs strawberries
3.9 lbs pickling cucumbers
2.6 lbs lettuce
1.5 lbs cabbage
1.6 lbs onions
1.1 lbs tomatoes
0.1 lbs basil

for a total of 48.4 lbs of food for the month. This is a little (0.6 lb) less than last year. However, last year I had planted lots of potatoes, and had brought in 25 lbs of them during the month of July. So I'm very pleased with the fact that I was able to make up for all those potatoes!

The hot weather has been responsible for the early tomatoes and cukes. Here we say that it's either a "tomato summer" or a "cabbage summer." Last year I didn't get my first tomato until August 22nd, and my first cuke on August 30! Last year was definitely a cabbage summer, and this year a tomato summer.

Looking ahead, I only brought in 30 lbs of produce during the month of August last year. It'll be interesting to see if I can beat that number, as I've been really lax replanting salad greens and getting the autumn garden going - my excuse is that it's been too hot. This week it's finally cooling down, so that excuse is out the window!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Where Have I Been?

Oooh, between running kids to this camp and that, dealing with garden stuff, it's been too hot to sit at the computer, and generally being under the weather. I'll try to be better about posting.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bountiful Berries


We're having a bumper crop of strawberries this year! Already 17 pounds of strawberries picked, and we're only halfway through the June-bearing berries. The pictured berries turned into a batch of strawberry jam, and since Thing 1 and I picked 5-1/2 pounds worth today*, I'm looking at making a second batch tomorrow. I'm also thinking about drying some, freezing some, and maybe making strawberry syrup, if I can find a recipe that doesn't call for corn syrup.


*Oh, yes! The harvest tally is finally growing!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Apple Maggot Traps Up

Today I glued the apple maggot traps. It's a sticky job, and I hate it, but darn if they don't catch the bad guys. It took a small output of cash last year for the traps, but there was enough glue for several years, and I only needed to buy the phermone lures this year - about $8 for three. The stuff reeks to high heaven, and I needed to wash my hands several times to get the glue and phermone stuff off my hands. Gloves just don't work. I need to put the socks on the apples soon. They're sizing up really fast....

Monday, June 8, 2009

Curcurbits Planted, and Other Cheesy Topics

I finally got my cukes and squash transplanted today. I planted some sugar pumpkins, a buttercup squash variety, acorn squash, and some dual-use cukes. It sounds like it shouldn't have taken very long, but of course, in order to plant them I needed to weed out the section (blasted buttercup), make a batch of organic fertilizer.... I'm hoping that transplants will be large enough to fend off the nibbly creatures.

The broccoli all went to seed. I can't seem to time them just right. Not ready, not yet, too late. The cabbages are more forgiving, and are starting to head up. The garlic is forming scapes, and I need to decide whether to stir-fry them, or hang them on the apple trees to fend off the deer that seem to have found them again.

I have yet to get the beans planted, and I better get them in tomorrow, along with a bunch of other stuff. I know, it seems really late, but for whatever reason, the soil around here is very slow to warm up. Rather than "better late than never," around here it's "late or never".

Thing 2 had a chemistry experiment that he and a friend needed to do for school. So my kitchen became a chem lab for an afternoon, and I got to play chemist for the first time in a long while. Part of me misses it, but not for the pay they're making these days. The chemicals they needed I found at a homebrew store, which piqued my interest. Not so much for brewing beer or making wine, but most homebrew stores also carry cheesemaking equipment. I have a kit that I got for Christmas. I think it's time to try it out. Fresh ricotta, anyone?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

First Strawberries

Yesterday the first few strawberries were ripe from the day-neutral variety. I only got a couple of ounces worth, and they were gobbled up in seconds by the guys, but apparently they tasted delicious. I don't care for strawberries myself, and I always get questions like "Well, why do you grow them?" Well, because there are three other people in the house that do like them, and I like strawberry jam, just not raw berries. That and it's WAY more cost-effective to grow them, rather than to buy them, and I know that they're not sprayed with ANYTHING.


Right now I smell like smoke. I didn't spray the apple trees this year, and what a big mistake that was. I went out to check the trees, and I found many tent caterpillar nests among the branches. Man, did they grow fast, because it's only been three days since I was out that way. So I clipped them, and Thing 2 and I built a little fire to kill the pests. Being that the fire was made of apple wood, sage and bay leaves, the smoke smells nice, but I'm smokey all the same.


After loads of rain in early May, we haven't had a drop in weeks, which is unusual for this time of year. While I'm saving on natural gas since there's been no need to use the furnace, I'm using much more water than normal for this time of year. Of course, compared to my neighbors who don't follow the voluntary water restrictions and are watering their lawns EVERY DAY, and letting it run into the street, I'm using hardly any water. There are days that I ask myself "Why do I bother?" but I know, at least, that I'm doing the right thing.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Herban Renewal

After a few years, some perennial herbs get really woody centers and need some freshening-up.

My sage plants were six feet across, and after this winter, the centers were dead with a ring of green around the outside. The plant had propagated itself by layering, so it was time to dig up the whole thing and replant one of the new, smaller plants.

It wasn't the only one. I can't seem to keep thyme for very long before the same thing happens. I've tried hacking it back hard, like I do for lavender, but it doesn't seem to work. So I have new thyme plants, too.

And then the rosemary died, which isn't unusual. It's marginally hardy here, and I haven't had one that's lasted longer than four years. What was surprising was the horehound died. I'm not replacing it since it's pretty weedy.

Also, the bay trees gave out - The two in the herb garden died back to the ground. Thankfully I have one more which is on the south side of the house and didn't sustain any damage. They were too big for the garden anyway, so those got pulled out as well.

So my herb garden is in need of plants. I've replanted the rosemary and will move the sage to its' proper place soon. I bought more Greek oregano, since I go through all I can dry and then some. I'm waiting to see if the tarragon will survive Thing 2's trashing of it.

I've replanted the thyme with french thyme. I taste-test herbs before I buy, and there was a huge difference between the french and winter thyme. The french has way more flavor. Even Thing 1 said "WOW!" when I had him taste it.

I'm weeding out the spots for the annuals - basil, coriander/cilantro, summer savory, and marjoram - and have all but the marjoram started. I keep forgetting to find seed.

So now is the time to go for broke on new, different herbs. I have lavender, fennel, lemon balm, caraway, borage and horseradish. And the parsley self-seeded, but it's not looking very promising. I may need to buy a couple of plants until some newly sown ones get going.

So what else should I try? Does anyone have recommendations? What can you not live without?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

It's been a flurry of activity around here. Spring finally arrived, and with summer just around the corner, I needed to get a lot accomplished in a hurry! Add to it the fact that I ran out of fertilizer materials, and the places that I used to get them don't stock them anymore, lots of kids' projects due, forms filled out for the summer and next year, garden-fu, house-fu, financial-fu, computer-fu, and generally feeling run-down-fu.

Griping aside, the weather has been fantastic. I took these photos this morning:






From the top, we're getting close to strawberries! Mr. E's apple tree went bonkers again this year. I'll have lots of thinning to do. The cherries went bonkers, too, for the first time. I hope the weather is dry enough for them to not get diseased. I love how pears start out up-side-down. I might get 5-6 pounds this year! And the lacy flowers are caraway. I'm looking forward to using my food dehydrator on the seed, as I never get it dry enough to store well.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cliff Mass - Book vs Blog

If you haven't figured it out already, I'm a total weather geek. I have my cheap weather station out by the veggie garden, I check three different weather reports at least twice a day (and if there's a storm coming, more than that), and at times I try to figure out what the weather's going to be like at my house.

So when Cliff Mass published his The Weather of the Pacific Northwest, you know I was jumping up and down to get my hands on a copy. And, well, I am rather disappointed.

First of all, the book is set up awkwardly. The figures referred to in the text are often on following pages, so one has turn pages back and forth to reference the figures. This isn't Cliff Mass's fault, but rather the publisher's, and I hope if there are subsequent printings of the book, that this will be addressed.

The book is very repetitive. It's as if he expects everyone to either skip chapters and go straight to the stormy stuff, or have the memory of a gnat. Over and over again, he re-explains the effects of rising and sinking air. Okay, we get it already! Once would have been sufficient, and he could've saved ten pages of the book.

The book covers too large an area. I think of Cliff Mass as a PUGET SOUND forecaster, not a NORTHWEST forecaster. And as such, I would have preferred seeing the book limited to the Puget Sound region. The heat of southern Oregon, the ice storms of Portland, why there's such good wind surfing on the Columbia - these things seem out of place in a book that's 75% about Western Washington.

Lastly, some authors just put me to sleep. I'm not sure why, but they do. I mean, I'm really excited about this topic, I should be reading the book cover to cover without stopping, right? Yet night after night, I would get through a page and a half and fall asleep. The writing is rather dry. Professorial, maybe? His excitement over weather which you hear when he speaks just isn't coming through to me.


HOWEVER


I just love Cliff Mass's blog: Cliff Mass Weather Blog. Here his enthusiasm shines, and I'm reading each word with relish. The things that are going through weather forecasters' heads are there for you to see - and why they screwed up. The topics are always timely - I'm not reading about snowstorms in July, I'm reading about either what just happened, or what's about to happen. Almost experiential learning.

Anyway, I feel I'm learning much more from his blog than his book. I finally found out why there are radar blips when there isn't a cloud in the sky! The figures are right there where you need them, too, and they're better than those in the book. I'm sure I learned something from his book that I didn't get out of a library's textbook on weather, but it's lost on all the minutiae that makes Puget Sound weather so appealing.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Noticing Things

I am always amazed how people can be so busy that they either don't notice things, or don't stop to do the right thing. I can be guilty of it, too, but today, for whatever reason, I was living in the moment, and aware of all that was around me. The frogs, the rain, the birds, the blackberries blooming their purple-pinkness.

And the water pouring out of the ground by the school gate.

Now, it was impossible to not notice that all this water was pouring onto the walkway. You had to walk through it to get to the gate. About a hundred people did so this morning, and apparently I was the only one to either think "why?" or to do something about it.

Right next to the walkway, water was bubbling up out of the ground, forming the stream that you had to walk through by the gate. It was coming out about as fast as a garden hose turned on three-fourths of the whole way, so not an insignificant amount of water.

Two possible scenarios cropped up in my mind: either this could be a spring, which is kinda cool, or there was a water main break, which is decidedly not cool. Either way, it would need to be dealt with - if a spring, they would need to reroute the water so it would stop washing away the walkway. The reasons for dealing with a water main break are obvious.

I told the office staff, who told the custodian, who called maintenance. They told me I was the only one to mention it, and were puzzled why nobody had mentioned it before. I left the custodian and the maintenance worker to their devices. I'm betting on the water company being there right now.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Croque Monsieur

To call this the French version of toasted ham and cheese is doing it a disservice. If you've never had one, it's toasted bread, spread with Dijon mustard, a little sliced ham, Gruyere cheese, topped with another slice of lightly toasted bread. Then a white sauce with Parmesan and more Gruyere is slathered over the top, then more Gruyere, and the whole thing is baked and then broiled. I don't want to know the calorie count or fat content.

I had one at Brouers' in Seattle, and it was an eye-opening experience. Since that time, I've been looking for a recipe, unsuccessfully. One day, I was channel surfing, and landed on the Barefoot Contessa, and lo and behold, she was making Croque Monsieur!

I've never tried any of her recipes, so I wasn't sure how it would turn out. Last night I gave it a shot, and made it with Cream of Tomato soup. I didn't want to just make grilled cheese, I wanted to celebrate the fact that the stitches came out and I could use my thumb again. I like to celebrate by cooking.

Anyway, I have to say, it was incredible! I just wish I hadn't run out of bread. It really put the soup to shame. I think I need to serve it with something more sophisticated than tomato soup; maybe a potato leek? Vichyssoise?

Doh! I gave myself away. I didn't do Meatless Monday last night. I really wanted to celebrate and make Croque Monsieur. Well, it was low-meat, at least.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Up-Pot

The thumb is forcing me to keep my house and yard-work to a minimum, which is driving me crazy. I can't find any gloves that will fit over the thumb guard, and desperation is about to set in. Not that housework is high on my list, but even my slovenly standards have a limit.

I did get a little done today. I managed to trim the clematis by the front door, pull some weeds, and get rid of a bunch of old pots. I removed the early spring planter, and swept the front walk. It looked so much better!

Thing 2 helped me pot up the tomatoes into 4" pots. He labelled everything and watered the plants in. It was nice to have a helper. There were 16 plants in all. They needed up-potting about a week ago, but at least they're done now.

We had frost last night. It was 28 degrees this morning. The average last frost date for my area is supposedly April 9th, but it's never been as early as that, and I'm giving it a couple more weeks this year before I subject the tomatoes to the chilly weather, even if they're in kozy koats. I think April 20th is a closer average last frost date.




Okay, I can't concentrate. The guys are playing "American Woman" on Rockband, and it's really loud and lousy....

Monday, April 20, 2009

First Blossoms

Okay, the ornamental plums are all out, but it's the pears, cherries and apples that I hold my breath for:



Other things are coming up in the garden:



Peas in the one photo, and chives and caraway in the other.

And more blossoms - it's spring!



Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ouch!


OK, I'm a clutz. I was slicing potatoes using a mandolin, and not using the safety equipment. Three and a half hours in the er, and seven stitches later, my thumb is throbbing.

So now I'm not supposed to use it (typing with one hand, here) for two weeks. No dishes, no gardening, no laundry. I guess it's time for the boys to really chip in around here!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Finishing Tasks

I am a great one for starting things, but really bad at finishing, as is evidenced by all the unfinished knitting projects in my office. So the last few days I've been really working at finishing up things that really needed to get finished.

So yesterday, I finally (only ten days late) seeded the April 1st lettuce, spinach, and radishes. I don't know why I put it off. The ground was all prepped. It took just a few minutes to fertilize and plant the seeds. Lack of inertia, or activation energy, or something. Wednesday I am due to plant the seeds for the scallions. At least the weather is supposed to be warmer!

I also finished both baby afghans today. I'll toss them into the wash, and Mr. E can give them to the twins' dad at work. They're nice and soft, and I hope they like them!

And, finally, I finished the taxes. Woo-hoo! I'm not sure I'm going to do it anymore. It's getting way too complicated for my wee brain. Now, at least, I can clean up all the paperwork and regain my desk space.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Break-in

Is it a sign of the times? Or are we just lucky that it hasn't happened to us yet?

My husband occasionally has to park on the street in a not-so-great neighborhood in Seattle. His car is a beater - old, with 200,000+ miles on it (it still gets over 30mpg, though), and as is his wont, he'll drive it into the ground. In this not-so-great neighborhood, his car has been keyed several times, but between the old paint and dents, it hasn't been that big of a deal.

Yesterday, someone broke into his car. They punched out a small back window and unlocked the car (courteous of them, as it will cost less to replace). They climbed into the front and took the spare change - maybe a couple of bucks, if they were lucky. They left empty-handed other than that (we think). They didn't take the cassette tapes :-). His car has no CD player, and there was no MP3 player, iPod, or the like in the car - usually he listens to books on tape from the library. I bet they doubted that someone could lead such a spartan existence.

The ironic thing is, a couple of weeks ago, we were parking downtown, and I was collecting the spare change out of my car so it wasn't in sight. Mr. E laughed at me, and said that no-one would break into a car for the spare change. I told him of a time when I was at the UW, when someone did to a girl on my floor's car (oddly enough, during the last big downturn of the economy). He laughed it off at the time.

So now his beater is sporting a new duct-taped window. The pride of the neighborhood :-)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Beauty Day, Eh?




Many years ago, I road-tripped to Edmonton, Alberta with my husband and a couple of friends. It just seemed like the thing to do at the time. We left late on a Friday night - one of the friends was returning from a business trip - and drove all night. We crossed the Canadian border from somewhere in Montana, I think, as a beautifully sunny day dawned.

We stopped for gas and a restroom break just over the border. Another couple also stopped, and the woman greeted us with "Beauty day, eh? What a glorious day to be alive!" At the time, I'm sure I snickered, being young and stupid. She was probably not much older than I am now. The rest of the trip is a blur - we stayed at the West Edmonton Mall, and you could see the curvature of the Earth from our hotel window. But what I remember most is that woman's "Beauty day, eh?"

Today was a "Beauty day." Low 70s, a light wind, blue skies, and snow on the mountains. I am fairly sore from yesterday's exertions, so Mr. E helped turn the rest of the two beds for me. I transplanted the lettuces, cabbages, and broccoli, adding compost and fertilizer, and watering them in with Alaska Fish fertilizer. Oh, and I got my mile-and-a-half in.





Top left: shallots Top right: budding pear Lower left: broccoli seedling Lower right: budding apple

With the warmer weather, all the fruit trees are getting ready to burst forth. Spring is so full of promise! The promise of warmer weather, of ripe fruit, and good, wholesome food.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Time to Get to Work!

Got lots of work in today! I started with a mile and a half walk. I need to get in shape for Bloomsday! It's a 7.5 mile run/walk event that I do with my "sisters", M and J. J runs, M and I walk. I have a month before it happens, but I was really sedentary this winter, and today's walk really let me know it :-). I'm going to do 1.5 miles every day for five days, then bump it up to two miles for four days, then up to 2.5.... The main thing is that I'll need to do it every day, rain or shine (or snow, or....) No more loafing.

Once it warmed up (below freezing last night), I dug in about two quarts of homemade organic fertilizer into the onion area, twirled it into the soil with a garden fork, raked it out and got the onions in. I have six four-foot rows, each a foot apart, which is too close, I know. I planted the seedlings about four inches apart, so with luck, if the blasted varmints leave them alone, I should have 70+ good-sized onions. That will hopefully last me six to eight months (no counting chickens here....)

Next came the peas. I spread a quart and a half of organic fertilizer along the 25 feet of row that they'll go in, and also added 2-1/2 cups of bone meal. I twirled that in with the garden fork, and then came the laborious process of planting each seed. Thankfully, Thing 1 helped out with the twirling and the planting. Chit-chat makes everything go faster, and we were done pretty quickly. About eight feet, double row of Lincoln peas, and 16 feet of Early Frosty. It'll be interesting to see when they're mature. Did waiting until April mean that I won't have peas until July, like last year?

Unfortunately, the ground was too wet to dig up from all the rain we had on Wednesday and Thursday. So I just weeded out the areas that I still need to plant. That's a pretty full day, anyway. Today finished in the low 60s (degrees), so it'll be good to dig tomorrow.

I made another batch of fertilizer, and need to go find some more components of the mix, as I'm out of just about everything that goes into it.

I'm totally wiped out, so it's a bath and early to bed for me.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Portland Road Trip

Today was very, very wet. Perfect day to road trip!

We went to Portland, Oregon for the day to visit two of our favorite places - OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry), and Powell's Books.

OMSI, if you've never been there, is a lot of fun for adults as well as kids. It's much more hand-on than the Pacific Science Center. You get to move blocks with people-powered cranes, try to build the fastest sailing ship, see who can make the best paper-cup flyer, and investigate acids and bases in the chemistry lab.

There was also a DaVinci exhibit. They built some of his "inventions", but the part I found fascinating was all the research done on the Mona Lisa, and what they think she originally looked like before time took it's toll. Much brighter! She looks jaundiced in comparison.

After that, we visited VooDoo donuts (YUM!) and then we spent some time at Powell's Books. I picked up a copy of Steve Solomon's Gardening When it Counts - Growing Food in Hard Times. Looks like I'll get to peruse it tomorrow since it's so wet, and then Saturday and Sunday will be full of gardening.

This is short - it's been a long day.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mother Nature Playing April Fool's

I looked out the window this morning. It is April, right? No foolin', it was snowing.

Not again! Another late spring, two years running. I can handle one year, but two in a row? It's enough to make a gardener cry.

So, no, I didn't get any planting done (it's probably a good thing I didn't), and won't now until Saturday, when it's supposed to dry out and warm up.

My tomatoes are slowly growing in the garage, under lights. It'll be a while before I'll be able to get them outside. It took forever for the cherry tomatoes to emerge. Frankly, I'd given up on them. So now I'll need to thin them to one plant per cell. The first leaves are starting to show on the earlier plants, and it won't be long before they'll need to be moved to four inch pots.

In the meantime, it's still winter, so there's a fire in the wood stove, and I'm working on baby afghan #2 which is now big enough to snuggle under. I really do need to finish it soon....

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Starting the Garden

Well, I have a flat of lettuces, a bunch of onion plants, some cabbages and broccoli, and a gazillion pea seeds waiting (not-so) patiently to get in the ground, and it's been raining and threatening snow. In late March. Again.

So I took this relatively warm (only seven degrees below normal), sunny day to loosen up the soil at least where the onions and peas will go, even though we had almost half an inch of rain yesterday. I did it at the end of the day and only did the pea and onion area because that was all my back could take those were the driest areas. The lettuce area was really soggy, and if it's dry tomorrow, I might try to loosen it up a bit.

I don't own a rototiller. It seems pointless for 400 sq feet. I just use a garden fork, dig in to the hilt, and lift up the soil, letting it fall back into place and breaking up the large clods. I try not to turn it over at all, and I definitely have fewer weeds this year as a result. Tomorrow, if the rain holds off, I'll put an inch or so of compost and some fertilizer on top and mix it into the top six inches of soil, then rake it out and get the peas and onions in.

The thing is, I have so much to get into the ground, I'm going to need to get another 80 square feet prepared by midweek, and we're supposed to get more rain. The weekend looks like it'll be fairly dry, so I guess everything will be another 3-4days late.

People ask me if I've "gotten my garden in." This is a strange concept to me. My garden is never "out". I generally start in March and am constantly planting until October, when the overwintering garlic goes in.

This has several advantages. First, I'm not trying to get all four beds going at once. I'm only trying to get one and a half in now. Secondly, I harvest short-cycle plants like lettuce and radish all summer. Third, in Western Washington, if you waited to put your peas in at the same time as your squash and tomatoes, they'd wither in the heat, if not succomb to pea enation virus. And lastly, I have the opportunity to plant fall crops in the beds that the spring veggies are finished with, without needing extra space.

Here's hoping for warmer, drier weather....

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Local - Shades of Gray

Whenever I think of shopping "local," I am always confused by what that really means. On the extreme side, there are the farmers close by, if they have a roadside stand or visit my town's farmers' market. That's the ideal, of course, which is only available to me from July to October.

But beyond that, it becomes a really gray area to me. A locally owned restaurant generally buys all the food and paper products from far away, so how much stays local, really? Is it any more than, say, McDonald's, who pays a few cents more an hour to their staff? Or a trinket shop whose goods are all made in China?

And then, what about locally owned chains, like Top Food/Haggen's? They promote locally produced food. Is it such blasphemy to shop there? Yes, it's a chain, but doesn't the money stay within Western Washington (Bellingham)? After that, you've hit a slippery slope - Starbucks, Fred Meyer, Costco, even Amazon. Although most of what's in those stores doesn't come from my local area, they are at least locally owned.

But then, the franchise owner of the McDonald's would say that he owns his franchise....

Where does one draw the line?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Signs of Spring

Spring is approaching, albeit late. The shotweed is finally flowering. There have been years where it was blooming by mid-February, but this year's been another cold one. The sixth snowiest since 1948? Yikes. The purple flowering plums have a hazy purplish tinge to them, and the pear and apple tree buds are starting to swell. There was a lady bug on one of the apple trees yesterday.

I've been setting out the cabbages, broccoli and lettuces during the day, and bringing them in when the temp hits 40 degrees. Each day I put them out a little earlier and bring them in a little later to get them used to the idea that they're going to have to get cold soon. I always wonder if they get really messed up, since they're colder during the day, and warmer at night as babies, and then they abruptly have to switch.

My onion plants arrived on Monday. I've set them just outside the back door to stay cool and moist, but not freezing. They need to get into the ground, the sooner the better. I spent some time today weeding the veggie bed where they are going to go, and the bit where the lettuces are going to be. If Wednesday or Thursday of next week is nice enough, I'll transplant them then. Still haven't planted the peas. I'll try to get that done on Sunday.

Planting is about to go into high gear! Around April 1st, in go the broccoli, cabbages, and lettuces, and I'll be seeding more lettuce, and radishes and spinach. At mid-month I'll be sowing scallions, and winter squash. And then it gets really crazy!

I also chopped down the bay trees that were nearly killed when it got so cold. There was a little live wood left, but since I have a giant one on the south side of the house which fared much better, I'm (with a lot of help from Mr. E) going to rip these out and put in something not quite so large.

Finally got the tomatoes seeded today. So much for an early start on those. It's difficult to think about planting heat-loving tomatoes when there is so much snow! I'm going to have four Stupice, four Siletz, two Oregon Cherry, and six Oregon Star. I have yet to find a sauce tomato that will ripen in our cool summers. I'm hoping that these Oregonian tomatoes can handle the cold.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mediterranean Lentil Soup

I'm on a lentil kick, since I bought a ton online, and now I have to deal with all of them!

There's a restaurant in Bellevue called Mediterranean Kitchen which has the yummiest food in ginormous portions. They always start you with a soup, pita and hummus, and for years they had a spicy lentil soup that was to die for. I've tried looking online, but haven't found one that was remotely close. However, there is one in America's Test Kitchen New Best Recipe that I think is spot on.

Hearty Lentil Soup with Fragrant Spices

3 slices (about 3 ounces) bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped medium
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes*
1 bay leaf
1 tsp minces fresh thyme leaves
1 cup (7 oz) lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 tsp salt
Ground Black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
4-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1-1/2 cups water
1-1/2 tsp lemon juice
3 Tbsp minced fresh cilantro

1. Fry the bacon in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, 3-4 min. Add the onion and carrots; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 2 min. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, bay leaf and thyme; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the lentils, salt, and pepper to taste; cover, reduce the heat to medium low, and cook until the vegetables are softened and the lentils have darkened, 8-10 min.

2. Uncover, increase the heat to high, add the wine, and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken broth and water; bring to a boil, cover partially, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape, 30 to 35 minutes; discard the bay leaf.

3. Use a stick blender to blend soup to your preferred consistency **. Stir in lemon juice and 2 Tbsp cilantro and serve, garnishing with remaining cilantro.

* The original instructions have drained tomatoes, but I didn't bother draining them, and I don't think they need to.

** If you don't have a nifty stick blender, puree 3 cups of soup in a blender until smooth, add it back to the soup, add the lemon juice and heat on med-low for another 5 minutes before adding the cilantro.


Thankfully, I was planning ahead and pulled some carrots for this out of the garden before all the snow and deep-freeze temperatures hit.

Now, if I can just figure out their recipe for lamb swarma....

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009

Yup, it's Still Winter














I know that there are 11 more days until spring, but winter is really holding on here. I haven't planted the peas yet, and it looks like it'll still be a while before I can.

Temps are forecast in the upper teens for tonight, so I'm glad I've kept these guys in the garage.




I've had to remove one layer of 2x4s since the plants were practically touching the lights.

I still haven't planted the tomatoes, but will get on it this week. I was kind of hoping that I'd have the lettuce, cabbage and broccoli outdoors a bit by now so there'd be more room, but Mother Nature decided otherwise.

I got hit with a cold last Monday that left me exhausted, so not much was accomplished last week. I did finish one of the baby afghans, and started on the second a couple of days ago. I'll post pix when they're both finished and ready to go.

Yesterday was spent in the kitchen baking cookies, bread, and making a batch of hummus. Today is being spent washing heaps of clothing. Tonight I'm making a new lentil soup recipe. With all the snow, it's going to be a "soup night," as my mother calls it.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Transplant Day

It's been two weeks since I sowed seeds indoors for the lettuces, broccoli and cabbage. They've been growing really well under the lights and have their first true leaves, so today I transplanted them into larger pots. The cabbages and broccoli went into 4-packs that were 2x2 inches, and the lettuces went into a 72-cell flat. They also got their first dose of half strength fish fertilizer.

I was a bit surprised at the broccoli. I was expecting that the hybrid broccoli would be off to a faster start due to all that "hybrid vigor", but it was the open-pollinated Umpquah that had the biggest root systems and sturdiest plants.

I'm a little worried that the full flat of lettuces won't get enough light, being that the flat is so wide, but I find that lettuces can do with less light than other plants.

Why did I plant a full flat of lettuce? I figure that I'll harvest the babies for salad a couple weeks to a month before they're fully mature. It's not that much more work to do a flat than it is to do a dozen.

I plan to set these outdoors in a couple of weeks, depending on the weather, to let them harden before planting them around the first of April. We're due to get more snow this week, so we'll see how this late winter/early spring progresses.

In the meantime, I'm starting my tomatoes a little early since the lights seem to be such a success. Usually I start them around the 15th of March, but they've been so pale and wimpy I have to set them outside during the day so they get enough light. Even then, they sunburn a bit even under the protection of Kozy-Koats.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

WHO Invented the Automobile?

Just finished watching Obama's speech. The car was invented in the US? Karl Benz is rolling over in his grave.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Is it Spring Yet?

It sure felt like spring today. It was sunny, over 60 degrees, and you could smell pollen in the air. I opened the windows to the boys' rooms to let in the fresh air, but had to close them too soon since someone decided to burn.

I took the opportunity to weed 16sq ft of herb bed, and get out in the front yard and plant the azaleas. 'Mother's Day' is the variety, and they're supposed to be crimson red. Thing 2 helped water them in, and I think more water wound up on him rather than the plants.

I cleaned up a bit in the area around the azaleas, but I need to wait just a bit longer before I prune back the red hot poker plants. So it still doesn't look so great. I also need to move a rose bush. The flowering currant got much bigger, much faster than I thought it would, and it's smothering the rose bush.

The sedums are starting to bud up, and the flowering currant is about to burst. The chives are a little late, but have about an inch of new growth, as does the garlic. The next time I go outside I need to side-dress the chives, garlic and shallots with blood meal.

The seedlings got their first watering today. It won't be long before I'll need to transplant the lettuces. I can already see the first true leaf starting. The lights seem to be working well. The seedlings are all a nice, deep green, and the Red Sails lettuce is tinged red as it should be.

I'm disappointed with myself that I didn't get any maple spouts for my trees this year, so I wasn't able to get make any maple syrup. One year I used elder twigs, but they had a tendency to clog. The sugar maples are a little too small yet, so I suppose it's for the better that they get another year to grow.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Of Cabbages and Broccoli and Peas

Even after a relatively dry February, my soil still isn't ready for digging in. After scooping up a handful of soil, squeezing it, tossing it in the air about six inches and letting it hit my hand - I still had a hard, cold ball of soil. And as it's supposed to start raining on Saturday night and be a cold, wet March, it'll be quite a while longer before I'll get the peas in. "Patience is a virtue," my father always says. Sigh.

Good thing I can get my planting fix indoors.

My babies! From the left, cabbage Early Jersey Wakefield, broccoli Tendergreen, broccoli Umpquah, and then two rows of mixed lettuces, Red Sails, Salad Bowl, Forellenschluss, and Black-seeded Simpson. Danish Ballhead cabbage is my fall cabbage (duh) so I won't be planting it quite yet.

I took a tip from Laura at (not so) Urban Hennery, and got some different lights for my cheap-o light set-up in the garage. She uses sunlight bulbs. I'm trying one sunlight, and one plant/aquarium bulb to see how it works out. How cheap-o is my light set-up? I use old 2x4s underneath the flat to prop up the plants, then remove them as the plants get bigger. I planted the babies on Feb. 14th, and they were up and running after 3-4 days on the top of the refrigerator. I have high hopes that this year my started plants won't be quite so spindly, and won't get sunburned quite so easily once they're in the garden.

Why do they call it plant husbandry, anyway? Seems like it should be called plant mothery.

Elsewhere in the garden, I finally, with Thing 1's help, yanked out the three miniature rose bushes that always look like H-E-double toothpicks. Tomorrow I'll clean up the area and put in the five azaleas I have waiting to go in their place.

I'm trying to pace myself in the garden this spring. I have a tendency to go all out and put in eight hours in a day, and then not be able to move for a month. So this year, I'm calling it a day after about an hour. That way I can work a little every day, enjoy it more, and strengthen my muscles gradually.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Seeds are Here! The Seeds are Here!

I finally received my order from Fedco. Sounds like they're getting hammered with orders - up 31% this year. Glad to know someone is seeing more business in this economic climate.

Unfortunately, one of my choices was sold out - parsnips of all things. So I'll need to pick some up at the nursery. I'll see what they have of Territorial's, but it looks like I'd better be quick about it, even if I don't plan on planting any until August.

Folks around the blogosphere are beginning their seed-starting. I'll be starting lettuces, broccoli and cabbages this weekend. They'll all go into the garden the first of April.

I found the most excellent containers for starting seeds. Full flats are too huge for the few rows that I start at a time, plus they're unwieldy. So I'm going to use the plastic containers that the pre-washed greens come in. They're just the right size, nice and deep, but not huge, easy to pick up and move, and there's a lid that I can use to keep them covered until germination.

Sowing this weekend:
Cabbage: Early Jersey Wakefield and Danish Ballhead
Broccoli: Umpquah and Tendergreen
Lettuces: Red Sails, Forellenschluss, Salad Bowl, and Black Seeded Simpson

Monday, February 9, 2009

Anticipation and Planning

I put in my seed orders back in January. My Territorial order arrived promptly, but I'm still waiting on the bulk of my order, which is from Fedco. I think that they may be holding on to my whole order until a couple of backordered things come in. I thought that they'd send out all but the backordered items, but I guess not.

It's still too cold to plant anyway, and will be until March. Even then, the only things going in the ground will be the more cold-hardy stuff like spinach, peas and lettuce. I used to plant my peas in February, but realized that they do just fine, if not better, if planted in March. But for now, the sun is out, and there is a light dusting of snow on the ground - planning days, to be sure.

What? Still planning? Yes. Last night I decided that after all the mapping out I've done, I'm not going to plant potatoes this year. The voles are just too plentiful, and since potatoes seem to be their favorite food, I'm not going to help them out by providing for them. Hopefully over the course of the year their numbers will dwindle to the point that it'll make growing potatoes worthwhile again. Until then I have a whole lot of space to fill.

I brought home The Complete Kitchen Garden by Patrick Bowe from the library this weekend. In it, he claims that 100-150 square feet will be large enough for salads and tomatoes for a four-person family, 200-250 square feet will add beans, onions and fruit, 600 square feet is a "full-sized domestic kitchen garden," and not until your garden is 800 square feet should you look at planting potatoes. I have 400 square feet of vegetable beds, 64 sq ft of strawberries, and about 240 square feet of herb garden. So I guess I don't quite make the 800 square foot limit for potatoes anyway.

Those numbers seem rather small to me, though. I think Steve Solomon said his garden was 3,000 square feet for 3 people, not including row crops, and Rosemary Verey's potager was over 5,000 square feet. I often see the question online "How big does a garden need to be to feed X number of people?" Obviously, geographical situation, fertility and gardener experience will affect the size of a garden, but how about a ballpark estimate? No one wants to give one. This is the best I've been able to find.

More cold and wet is forecast for the week, so it's time to snuggle around the fire with a cup of tea, my plans, and an eraser.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fruit Tree Care

Today I pruned the fruit trees. It was sunny and warm (45F), with a light breeze blowing, and so was a good day to get some outdoor chores done.

My trees are a few years old now, and, with the exception of the cherry trees, the form is established. So all I really need to do anymore is clip the growing tips back to about 6", and cut out any crossing branches. It's light work, and Thing 1 came to help pick up all the fallen twigs. We dry them out and use them for kindling.

That accomplished, I took a look around the yard. The herb garden took a major hit with the temps going down to 1F. I definitely lost the rosemary, catnip and fennel (although enough fennel seed fell, so it'll be back next year), probably lost the tarragon and lavendar, and may have lost the bay trees and sage. Ouch.

The mousies have had a hayday under all the snow. They took out some shallots in the veg garden, and there are holes and paths all over the lawn. Any ideas for dealing with voles, I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday's supposed to be warm, so I'll spray the fruit trees with a dormant spray, and hopefully have a chance to weed out one of the veggie beds. I've received the seeds from Territorial, but not those from Fedco. But that's another post....

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bread - Susan's Honey Bran Whole Wheat

I admit it. I've been really lax over the last couple of months about making my own bread. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to make a loaf, and I was ready to go again. I was really raring when I went to buy a package of hamburger buns. $3.20 for eight buns???!!! And that's on sale?

I've been trying to get the family to eat more whole grains, but they've been rather resistant when it comes to bread. Thing 1 would eat scads of whiter-than-white baguettes every day if given the chance, but if I only had 100% whole wheat in the house, he'd simply stop eating bread altogether. I bought some bread that used a bit of white whole wheat flour, and he didn't seem to notice, so I'm thinking that maybe that's the starting point I should use with him.

And then, recently Laura wrote about Susan's Honey Bran Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread, which sounded yummy. I've made Susan's Farmhouse White before, although I had to fiddle with the measurements. Oooh! A whole wheat bread, loaded in fiber, using white whole wheat flour? I had to try it.

It took a bit of searching, but I found some white whole wheat flour. Not local, of course. We live in a state known for wheat, yet the only folks that sell local flour are Stone-Buhr, and it's all-purpose flour. Why is that?

So yesterday I made up a batch of bread. The measurements all worked well if you weighed them. The whole wheat flour measured out to almost 6 cups by volume. Another reason to ditch the measuring cups when making bread.

As you can see, there are only two loaves there, and the recipe makes three. The third loaf didn't last ten minutes out of the oven, as it was dinner time.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Recycled Jeans Quilt

Ta-Da! I finally finished Thing 2's Recycled Jeans Quilt.
I think it turned out cute. I used the general pattern for a throw from allpeoplequilt.com, but didn't use binding, and instead added a couple of extra rows to make it the right length for my son's loft bed. Then, instead of making a normal pieced top, I did a rag quilt, making the seam allowances show, clipping them, and giving it a "cut-offs" kind of look. I even included a couple of pockets. I didn't quilt it, but rather tied it using DMC embroidery floss. The backing is basic white muslin.

I'm on a project-finishing rampage for a while, trying to find my office/computer/craft/mess room. Now I can at least get my work table and floor clear of all sewing paraphernalia.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Meatless Monday - Thai Red Curry with Tofu

Mention the word "tofu" around here, and you'll be met with wrinkled noses and sour faces. Undaunted, I pressed forward with a Thai dish from America's Test Kitchen Best 30-Minute recipe. After all, they came up with an awesome tomato soup last week.

The results were, well, mixed. The red curry sauce, although tasty, was not quite right. I'm thinking it's missing something citrusy, kaffir lime leaves maybe? It definitely needed some heat. The vegetables, red pepper and snow peas, came out excellent - crisp-tender, even though the snow peas were frozen. And so we come to the tofu. It was sliced into slabs, breaded and fried, and watching it cook in the skillet reminded me of fried Spam, which, dare I say, I love the taste of, but hate the looks of.

During the last two minutes of cooking the tofu, I'm not sure what happened. I think I may have turned down the heat a bit. At any rate, the tofu suddenly sponged up most of the cooking oil, resulting in tofu that tasted like...cooking oil.

After the tofu comes out, the red curry paste is dropped into the skilled with more oil. I think the pan was too hot at this point, because the paste spat all over the place. And I mean ALL over the place. I hurredly added the coconut milk to help cool down the pan, but egads, what a mess. I was glad I was wearing an apron!

All in all, it was edible, although a bit bland. Mr. E was actually pleasantly pleased with the tofu, Thing 2 ate half of his, Thing 1 managed a bite. The sauce went well with the rice, it just wasn't quite right.

I'd like to try cooking Thai curry again sometime, just with a different recipe. And I am determined to find a way the rest of the family will eat tofu besides a couple of cubes in the bottom of miso soup.

Friday, January 16, 2009

New Purchase

I made a large purchase. I bought myself a food dehydrator. After watching all the apples go bad and having no real way to dry them out properly, I decided that this would be a good idea (finding it 33% off online helped the decision-making process).

I will still air-dry my herbs, but now I can do apples, onions (if I ever figure out how to grow them well), dried cranberries, cherries, tomatoes, and whatever else I can throw in there. Oooh. Actually, I'll dry caraway seed in it, too. I can never get it dry enough to not mold in the jar.

Anyway, I'm really excited. It arrived today, although I won't be using it until June or July at the earliest. Off to peruse the manual, and dream of all the food I will be preserving this summer and fall!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Meatless Monday - Cream of Tomato Soup

Posting about Meatless Monday has been a bit of a problem. Since our main meal is at 7:30 at night, by the time I'm done with the dishes, the kids are in bed, and I manage a blog post, it's already Tuesday, and posting about Meatless Monday on Tuesday is a little screwy. So I'm trying out writing the post after the fact, and then posting early on the FOLLOWING Monday. Which is why everything is in past tense. Does that make sense?

For Meatless Monday, we had Cream of Tomato soup that I made following the recipe in America's Test Kitchen's The Best 30-Minute Recipe. I grew up on the stuff in the red and white can, and really haven't liked it since they switched to high fructose corn syrup. It is much too sweet now, and much too runny to work in the recipes that I normally use it in.

But oh, how I loved cream of tomato soup as a kid! We would have it with grilled cheese sands or would dip peanut butter sands in it. Yum! Sometimes instead of in a bowl, we'd have it in a mug, and drink it. Serious comfort food.

This is WAY better. Much more tomato-y. Yes, it takes longer, but still under 30 minutes, and most of the stuff can be found in the pantry.


Cream of Tomato Soup
Serves 6

3 - 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes
3C chicken broth*
2 bay leaves
2 T butter
1 onion, minced
1 T brown sugar
1 T tomato paste
salt
2 T flour
1/2 C heavy cream
2 t dry sherry
pinch cayenne

Drain tomatoes really well, reserving juice. Add broth to reserved tomato juice to measure 5 C. Bring broth mixture and bay leaves to boil, covered in large saucepan and set aside (I kept it at low simmer). Meanwhile, melt butter in Dutch oven over high heat. Add tomatoes, onion, brown sugar, tomato paste, and 1/2 t salt, and cook until tomatoes are dry and beginning to brown, 11-13 minutes. Stir in flour and cook for 1 min. Slowly stir in broth mixture. Bring to simmer and cook 5 min. Remove bay leaves. Puree soup until smooth**. Stir in cream and sherry. Return to brief simmer, then remove from heat. Season with salt and cayenne to taste.

*Okay, I know. Using chicken broth isn't strictly meatless. You can use vegetable broth if you like. I think of "Meatless" as meaning "no flesh".

** The directions say to put it in the blender in batches. I'm telling you, if you don't already have one, a stick blender is the way to go. I love my stick blender!!! It's not baby-food pureed, but I like finding little bits of onion or tomato bursting with flavor. Works great for making applesauce, too, without all the mess of using a blender or food mill, and then you have to dirty another blasted bowl find a place to put umpty gallons of soup or sauce while you do the next batch. No thanks.



Some day my garden will be at the point where I'm canning oodles of tomatoes, and I'll actually be able to make broths that taste like broth instead of lightly flavored water, and then this will be much more homemade. I'd definitely like to try it with fresh tomatoes. But until then, this is definitely on the winter soup rotation.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The 2008 Tally

So it looks like I managed to get 255 lbs of food from the garden this year. For anyone that's interested, the breakdown goes like this:

Apples - 121.6
Potatoes - 62.4
Tomato - 13.2
Strawberries - 11.2
Peas - 8.8
Cabbage - 6.2
Cukes - 5.1
Corn - 4.9
Soup peas - 3.7
Leeks - 3.4
Carrots - 3.3
Lettuce - 2.9
Garlic - 2.7
Spinach - 1.7
Onions - 1.4
Turnip - 1.3
Pear - 0.6
Radish - 0.4
Scallions - 0.4
Parsley - 0.1


Aside from the apples, the garden was a bit of a disappointment. A very cold spring and summer led to very little corn, no squash at all, and a dismal tomato harvest. This summer is supposed to be warm. Let's hope for a decent spring as well.

I'm not going to grow corn anymore, and let the "experts" in the valley do it for me. Corn takes up too much room for what I get.

I'm going to plant more varieties of squash this year. I've fallen in love with butternut squash ravioli. Butternuts don't do well around here I've heard, but there are other flavorful squash that I'm going to try instead. I'm going to start the squash indoors from now on, as well. I don't have good luck getting it to sprout in the ground.

Eating veggies as they ripen in the garden was a big challenge this year. I need to find more uses for the food I have, preserve more, and take the time to make those veg side dishes.

One reason for the huge apple harvest was my attention to pest control. I'll be at it again this spring, putting socks on the apples. Trapping the mice will be a major challenge this year.

So assuming no major climate disasters, I'm going for 350 pounds of food from the garden in 2009.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Melt-Down

Shortly after my last post, my hard drive decided to meet an untimely end. We're not sure what happened, but the drive is unreadable and lots of photos from the last two years have been lost. Thing 1 had two English assignments disappear, and Thing 2 lost the project he was working on. Lots of tears here and lessons learned (back up everything! Keep photos safe!)

The snow is still melting here. My friend, M, wanted some sage, but it's looking a bit smooshed under a thin layer of ice. I'm not exactly sure where the carrots are, or even if they're edible anymore. Right now I'm glad I didn't get a whole lot in the ground this fall, because it wouldn't have been able to make it through the last two weeks. We hit a low of 1 degree. I'm not sure that the garlic will make it, either.

Warm weather is supposed to return, so I'll know a little more about how everything fared next week. You never really know, though, what made it through until about May. There will be lots of plant replacement here this year, I'm afraid.