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, 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 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
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


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.