Thursday, November 4, 2010

Warm Weather

You know the weather's whacky when it's November and you are washing the car in a short sleeve T-shirt.

It's actually been warmer the last two days (72 today, 75 yesterday) than it was during many days this summer. I'm trying to get in as much yard work as possible right now....

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Drying Bay Leaves

Bay leaves are the one herb that I harvest in October. All other herbs are at their peak in May or June, and sometimes I'll take a second cutting, but no later than August.

Bay leaves, on the other hand, are best taken in the fall. It gives the plant all summer to size up its leaves. Otherwise, the small new leaves curl up while drying, and are fairly tasteless.

Yesterday was pleasant - it wasn't raining at least - so I clipped a few branches on our monster bay tree. I washed off some scale insects that were clinging to a few leaves, and hung them in the kitchen to dry. They take a while to dry nicely, but not as long as basil. I don't bother trying to keep the leaves perfectly flat. They don't curl up that badly, and once dry, I either keep them in a glass jar, or generally, just leave them hanging in my kitchen, waiting for me to pluck a leaf for soup. The color of the stuff you buy at the store looks like mine after they've been dead for a year. Hmmm. Makes you wonder how long the store-bought have been around.

I've had an interesting time growing bay leaves (Laurus nobilis). Many years ago, a friend had a small tree that she gave to me to keep while they moved from a house into an apartment. A year later, the tree moved with us to our new home, and I planted it on the south side of our house. It's partially shaded, which seems to give it a compact, brached habit.

When we put the herb garden in, I planted two more trees thinking that my friend would be moving into a house again soon. These trees, planted in full sun, grew very fast, reaching eight feet tall in just a few years. The branches were long, and perfect for making wreaths. What a pretty way to display my bay leaves! I rank it right up there with garlic braids. My friend's tree also grew quite tall, and when they finally moved into a house, the tree was twelve feet tall! There was no way we could move it, so I guess it's mine now. It's now about 20 feet tall. Did I say it had a compact habit?

Unfortunately, a few years ago we had an extremely cold winter. Every so often we get a cold blast out of Canada. It hit zero degrees here with a brisk north wind. The two newer plants weren't protected from the wind, and didn't have the house to keep them warm. Both trees died. My friend's tree, although cold-damaged, survived. The next years' growth was stunted, but it's come back quite well.

So, the bay leaves are drying away to add flavor to another winter's worth of soups. Based on the amount of time they're warning us about the winter we're supposed to have, it's probably a good thing I'm drying lots.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Planting Garlic

I took advantage of the warm (77!), sunny day and planted my garlic. Since it's supposed to be a cold winter, and the rest of September seemed like October, it was probably a good time to plant.

While researching garlic bulb spacing, I ran across this site by Colorado State University which shows a study on bulb spacing and irrigation. They say that six-inch bulb spacing is the way to go, rather than the three-to-four inch spacing that I've been using. While I've been getting okay bulbs, I'd prefer larger ones.

So I spaced the bulbs six inches apart in "rows" eight inches apart across my four-foot beds. I had Thing 2 help set the bulbs, only having to rescue a few that were upside-down.

I spent a good portion of the day weeding out one of the herb beds and cleaning up around the front of the house. Mr. E trimmed a tree and sheared the hedges, so our house looks a little more cared-for. He also cut me some muchly needed kindling. Tomorrow is supposed to be cool and wet, and I think a fire in the wood stove would be nice.

Thing 2 and I looked to see if the squirrels left us any filberts from our tree. Usually there are quite a few left on the ground for us. This year, however, I couldn't find a single one. Not one! It makes me wonder if this is a sign of the kind of winter we're going to be having....

Thursday, September 23, 2010

First Day of Fall

The first day of fall 2010 finds me in the kitchen. It's a dreary day, drizzle with a high of only 55 degrees here. I had to turn the heat on, or face a very grumpy Thing 2. Even with the heat on, he's cold. "Put a sweatshirt on," I say, and hear a grumble in response. I wish we could have at least had a warm fall to make up for our lackluster summer.

I'm in the process of preserving as much as possible right now. I have about 60 pounds of apples to deal with at the moment. I haven't even had the time to weigh them all, and so have only been doing it as I use them.

Today I dried about eight pounds of apples. Eight pounds fills my dehydrator trays, which in turn fill one one-gallon ziploc bag once dry. I dried another eight pounds a couple of days ago, and will do another two or more batches this week. Thing 2 loves to have them in oatmeal, and prefers eating dried apples to fresh.

I peel, core and slice them on my contraption that's used for such purposes. It takes under an hour to fill the trays, and another six hours before they're dry. Then, into a ziploc they go, as much air squeezed out as possible, and they stay in pretty good shape for months in the pantry.

I was going to order Clear Jel from Amazon, but they were sold out already, and I have no clue where to find it around here. I wish I had some to can apple pie filling. If anyone in the Seattle area knows of a place that carries it, let me know! I'm thinking applesauce this weekend at any rate.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pantry Shelves

The problem with canning my own produce is that I wind up with a lot of it. I want that strawberry jam to last a year, so I put up several half-pint jars. And then there's chutneys, apple butter, apple pear butter, pickle relish, and mint jelly. And also many quarts of applesauce, peaches and pears. By September and October, by pantry is getting nice and full. The shelves are all loaded with summer's bounty.

Yesterday, while in the kitchen, I heard a strange popping sound. Just one loud "pop" followed by another several hours later. I couldn't figure out where it was coming from. At one point I looked at our wall-mounted pantry shelves, and although they didn't look quite right, I couldn't see anything really wrong with them. I did think "I really need to re-adjust the shelves and get nicer brackets." I guess the pantry agreed with me.

While I was picking up Thing 1 from soccer last evening, the whole set of shelves ripped itself from the wall anchors and crashed to the floor.

Amazingly, only one jar of mint jelly broke. But you can imagine the state of my kitchen right now, as I have all the stuff from over 50 square feet of shelving strewn about the kitchen and dining room. I guess I really did need to clean it out. I just wasn't planning on doing it RIGHT NOW.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Palm Zipper

I picked up the Palm Zipper by Chef'n in a kitchen store in Ashland, Oregon this summer. Thing 1 just got his braces on, and would not be able to eat corn on the cob for the next two years. (What? No sweet corn? Inconceivable!) And after he's done with braces, Thing 2 will be in the same boat.

I've tried using various methods to get corn off the cob so I could freeze it. I've used the corn cutter that looks like a giant bobby pin with a circle of steel in the middle of it - the cobs never really fit correctly, especially the really fat ones. I've tried cutting it off the cob with a knife, which results in lots of half-kernals, kernals with the tops sliced off, etc. Not to mention the fact that I always feel like one of my fingers is in danger of getting sliced. I needed something better.

So last night I tried the Palm Zipper for the first time (yeah, the corn is that late this year). Woo-hoo! I love it! The thing is wicked sharp. It slices through the corn like a hot knife through butter. Given my history with sharp objects, I didn't hold the ear in the palm of my hand, but set one end on a plate, and held it upright with a corn holder on the other end. Zip zip zip. It only takes off two rows at a time, and could maybe be a little bit deeper, but full kernals came right off the cob with very little waste. I also like the fact that it's nice and small - no big mandolin-style set-up. It's a keeper in my book.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Back Again

Hey, everyone! I'm still alive. Spring was hectic, and summer even worse. Now that things have calmed down, I finally have the time and energy to write.

The garden was a major disappointment this year. The spring was too cold and wet, the summer was cloudy except for a couple of spurts of hot weather (when we were on vacation, no less). I didn't put Kozy-Koates on my tomatoes, so the first ones are just now getting ripe. The strawberries are still a mass of weeds. Half of the things I wanted to plant, didn't get in the ground.

The cabbages that I started under lights early this year bolted, as did the broccoli. The lettuce nearly died when I transplanted it. The lettuce that self-sowed did much better overall. The cherries had a late frost, so I didn't get any. Even my apple trees are not doing so well, many having succumbed to a fungus.

Now the weather powers-that-be say that we're in for a La Nina winter, which means that nothing will overwinter here without serious protection. September is supposed to be way colder than normal, and October wetter than normal (read "floods"). It's supposed to rain at the end of the week, so I'm going to put something over the tomatoes to help keep them warm and dry (so they don't get late blight).

In lieu of garden fruit and veggies, I've been trying to find u-pick and local food. The boys and I picked 14 pounds of blueberries and several pounds of raspberries. I bought 20 pounds of peaches at a farmer's market and canned several quarts. I'll make a trip down in the valley for pickling cukes, corn to freeze, and whatever other veggies I can find.

I'll still get another batch of lettuce, spinach, radishes and scallions planted for the year, and maybe some arugula and mache. I'm not hoping for anything beyond that, though. I'll be stocking up on supplies this year as La Nina has lately meant two weeks of snow, or I can't get across the valley to the grocery store due to flooded roads. I've already started stocking up on my son's medications, canned tomatoes and beans, although an inventory is probably in order.

Hmm. Nice to core-dump. Back with more (accomplishments this time) soon.

Friday, April 16, 2010

April Can Jam - Mint Jelly

April's Can Jam was herbs, and since the only herbs really going here are the chives and mint (and what the heck can you can with chives in it?), I needed to find something to do with mint. Besides mojitos. Which is normally what I make with my mint, in my Mexican pot, called "the Mojito Pot". And even though I was totally aghast at using up all my mint, and had to find more at the store (but, hey! I managed to find organic AND local (like 13.3 miles local!) mint) all I can say is:

Mmmm. Ymmmm. Smack, smack. Mmmm.

I just pulled my first (and it will not be my last!) batch of mint jelly out of the canner. I have never tasted anything like it! I'm totally blissing out here.

Mmmm. Golden jars of minty goodness.

The recipe, from Ball Complete book of Home Preserving

Mint Jelly (makes 4 half-pints)

1-1/2 cups fresh mint leaves, packed
2-1/4 Cups water
2 T lemon juice
3-1/2 Cups sugar
One packet liquid pectin

Prepare jars, canner, and lids. Wash, dry, and chop the mint fine.

Combine mint and water in a small saucepan. Bring to boil. Turn off heat and cover, letting it steep for 10 minutes. Strain through a jelly bag.

In a large saucepan, mix 1-3/4 Cup minty liquid with lemon juice and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. When boiling so hard, you can't stir it down, add pectin and boil hard one minute. Remove from heat.

Skim scum, pour into jars leaving 1/4" headspace, process 10 minutes.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Out Sick

Ugh. I've been sick all week, so unfortunately, no alliums canned, jammed, or otherwise preserved. Next month, for sure! I'm wondering if the food-of-the-month for April will be rhubarb?

I managed a short stroll around the garden today. You can almost feel the energy in the fruit trees, pent up all winter, ready to burst into blossom. Many will probably erupt late next week.

Today is gorgeous, tomorrow is supposed to be near 70 degrees, then back to our normal 50s and showery. And back to bed for me.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Everything's Sprouting!

This weekend was a busy one in the garden. We had one last warm weekend before the weather turned last night to what is to be normal or below-normal temperatures this week. Good for the lean snowpack in the mountains that gives most of our area its' fresh water, but not so hot for puttering around the yard.

The cabbages and onions that I started in February went out into their final places this weekend. Ten Golden Acre cabbages in the two or three leaf stage went into one bed, while twenty row feet (five rows across a four-foot wide bed) of tiny onions went into another. I could've waited until April to put out the onions, but I'm so forgetful about turning off the lights at night indoors, that I'm afraid that they're going to get too long of a daylength and bulb up too early. So they went outside in their little cell-packs pretty early, and since they seemed to be happy like that, I figured that planting them now would be okay, too.

Most of the seeds I started are up now. Only the peppers and Oregon Cherry tomato have yet to show. I've never grown peppers before, so I'm not sure how long they take, and the Oregon Cherry was slow last year, so I'm not surprised that they're not up yet. The lights in the garage are pretty full, and I'll need to move the broccoli outside fairly soon to make room for the rest.

The peas I planted outside February 20th are starting to poke their heads above the soil. I don't expect them to go much further until after the weather warms back up after this week. The 6-10 day and 8-14 day forecasts show above normal temperatures, so this cold period looks to be pretty brief. Hopefully the radishes and lettuces that I sowed outdoors will finally make an appearance....

In good news, my new computer will finally get here on Wednesday. This will be the last Dell computer we ever buy. The customer service and delays are not acceptable. I won't go into more, or my blood pressure will go through the roof again. At least I'll be able to post photos again soon!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Planting Catch-Up

I am by nature a list-maker. I make lists for shopping, daily to-do lists, yearly to-do lists, lists of seeds, lists of chores, lists of gardening tasks - you get the picture.

And one thing I do every year to ensure that I succession plant, is to make a list of what I want to plant when in the veggie garden. I've made elaborate ones based on "planting by the moon", and simple plant-something-once-a-month timetables. Invariably, I fall behind. Sometimes it's weather related, sometimes a vacation is scheduled right at the time I want to get something in the ground. Mostly it's because I'm better at planning than execution.

Over the last two days, I managed to get caught up. Yesterday I planted my tomatoes and basil in small pots for starting indoors, and potted up the cabbages. Today I added broccoli and sweet peppers to the pots germinating on top of the fridge. Outside, I sowed some lettuce and radish since the soil temperature is 45 degrees. I also transplanted my lettuce sown in January, and also a number of volunteer lettuces. Frankly, the volunteers looked in better shape, if a little bit smaller than the lettuce that got to live its early days in my garage.

I'm now off the hook for a couple of weeks as far as planting seeds goes. I'll just be dealing with the huge numbers of tomatoes, broccoli, basil and peppers once they emerge.

The weather looks to be warm and relatively dry the next couple of weeks, so I'll need to get going on the strawberry and herb beds. The purple flowering plums are in full bloom already, and the pears won't be far behind.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Peas Planted

Unlike most of the nation, the weather here has been exceptionally fine. I finally got the last of the veggie beds cleared of winter weeds yesterday, and in digging around in the dirt, I realized that the soil was warm and not soggy.

What the hey? Warm soil in February? Even though we had frost last night, we've had sunny days, almost 60 degree weather, and most importantly, no rain for quite a while. So the soil was dry enough and warm enough to plant. And although I'm not thinking tomatoes or even lettuce just yet, it's fine pea-planting weather.

So yesterday I scratched a 24 foot double row for the peas, scratched bone meal in the bottom of the furrows, and planted my Maestro seeds. Then I tamped it down, and an amazing thing happened - I actually put up the pea fence! I NEVER do it at planting time and I ALWAYS get it in too late and wind up damaging the poor peas, or try to rig up some other system that never works. Woo-hoo for me!

Now, lettuces can be planted quite early, and I actually have a gazillion volunteers where the lettuce was last year, so I know it's warm enough for germination. However, they're not exactly growing speedily, despite the warm weather. I think there's just not enough daylight for growth yet, which makes them susceptible to slugs right now. Maybe next week when I plant out the lettuce I started indoors, I'll try a little trial sowing of lettuce outdoors. If the weather holds.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tigress' Can Jam - Carrots in February

So here it is, February, and the Can Jam Challenge has thrown carrots at us this month. So the decision I faced was "sweet or pickled?" Looking into my pantry, I saw a gazillion jars of sweets, and only one jar of pickles. AND I'll be making more sweets (strawberry jam) before I'll make more pickle (cucumbers). First decision made - it was going to be pickled.

Pouring over all my recipe books, I discovered that most of the recipes for pickled carrots also had other veggies that certainly aren't in season right now, especially cauliflower and cucumbers. So what was a person to do?

Then I came across a recipe for pickled carrots and daikon radish. Hey! we're on to something here! Asiany flavor and colorful, it's just what we need. So, from Ball's Complete Book of Home Preserving,

Vietnamese Carrot and Daikon Pickle

3 C water
3 C white vinegar
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp grated gingerroot
2 lbs carrots, julienned 2 in x 1/8 in *
2 lbs daikon radish, julienned 2 in x 1/8 in

Recipe says it makes 6 pints, mine made 7 pints

In a large non-reactive pot (at least 4.5 qts, I think), combine water, vinegar, sugar, and gingerroot. Bring to a boil. Add the veggies and stir for a minute. Remove from heat.

At this point, if you want to, you can add a star anise to your jars. Very pretty, but since I'd rather lick my shoes rather than taste anything even remotely licorice-y, I left it out.

Fill hot PINT jars with veggies up to a generous 1/2 inch headspace, fill with pickle liquid up to 1/2 inch headspace, remove air bubbles, wipe rims, put lid on, screwbands on, the ususal deal.

Process in boiling water for 10 minutes, remove canner lid and wait 5 minutes before removing from canner.

* Warning: julienning this many carrots took me almost an hour. The daikon went fast, but the carrots took forever. The book recommends using a mandoline, but after almost taking off a chunk of my thumb last year with one, I wasn't about to use it for such fine work. Also, they say that you can go up to 1/4 inch on the size of the carrots, but I think that's way too big.

It'll take 4-6 weeks for the veggies to pickle. Then I'll serve them with stir-fries and Thai food. If the pre-pickled tasting is anything to go by, these are going to be incredible!

I will post a photo when I get my new computer (which has now been pushed back to March 1. Thanks, Dell.) because you really need to see the bright, cheery color and stark contrast of the carrots and daikon.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Why So Quiet?

Why has it been so quiet on the blog? My computer crashed again, this time fatally. As it was about eight years old, I guess it was time for a new one. So the only computer I currently have access to is Thing 1's, and he doesn't like giving it up for long. I've been able to check my email, and that's about it. My new one arrives the 24th, so until then, it'll be pretty quiet around here.

I just picked up some carrots and daikon for the Can Jam, and will be posting that soon, albeit without photos. Lettuce, cabbage, onions all started and under lights. Well, the onions aren't under lights - they have yet to emerge so are still sitting on top of the refrigerator. Almost finished with clearing out the last veggie bed. This is a good thing as the shotweed is starting to flower. It's been so warm, I keep considering planting the peas. Then I remember a saying (no idea where I heard it) that goes something like "There is nothing more I fear than a farmer in shirtsleeves in Februeer," which reminds me that we can get frigid blasts in late February and early March.

Last night we had yummy Penn Cove mussels for dinner, and all the shells will be crushed and used for slow-release calcium in the veggie beds. I used a first cutting of chives on the mussels - such a harbinger of spring! Thing 2, who loves chives on his potatoes, was very excited to see me bring some in from the herb garden.

On the things-to-do-this-week list: Bloodmeal on the garlic and chives, finish weeding the veggie beds and clean out the strawberry bed, start more lettuce indoors, carrot and daikon pickle, try and get to the perennial bed out front.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Warm January

What a difference El Nino makes! This date last year we had a high of about 43 degrees, right now it's sunny and already over 50 degrees!

In fact the weather has been so good this January, I've been able to get half of my veggie beds cleared of weeds already. And the weather reports indicate that I'll be able to finish the job this week. Usually, we'll have a good week in February, when I'll try to get it all done before the shot-weed flowers. I'll put in hours a day, and my back and arms will ache for a week. This year, hopefully I'll get all the beds weeded out before shot weed becomes an issue. The extended run of sun (or at least warm, dry weather) is allowing me to tackle the job in small increments, a half hour or hour a day.

I've also been able to get some exercise in. Last year's Bloomsday made me realize that I'm too old and out of shape to try and do it cold. So I started at the beginning of the month walking 15 minutes a day, and added 10% each week. If I keep it up, I'll be doing about an hour a day two weeks before Bloomsday.

Why am I starting with only 15 minutes? Last year I really wasn't all that well, and I've come to realize that I'm in really lousy shape. If I try to do 30 minutes right off the bat, it's too much, body parts start to hurt and I quit after a couple of weeks. So right now I'm establishing a habit. I told myself that anyone can walk for 15 minutes, it won't totally kill me or use up so much time during the day. Now I'm up to 18 minutes, and will do 20 minutes starting Friday.

So far, so good. January has become the month to get my self and my veggie garden in shape.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tigress' Can Jam - Jamuary

Yea! I completed my first Can Jam!

January's produce-of-the-month was citrus. Any citrus. I've never canned citrus before, and wasn't certain what to make. I've always loved the taste of marmalade, but added a little twist, adding dried chilis for some kick. I thought pouring it over some goat or cream cheese would make a great snack or appetizer, and I love the idea of being able to whip out some marmalade and crackers from the pantry, cheese from the fridge, and voila, aren't I the good hostess?

I used a recipe from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, Orange Chili Marmalade.

Orange Chili Marmalade

2-1/4 lbs oranges, seeded and thinly sliced*
grated zest and juice of one lemon
6 cups water
6 dried New Mexico chili peppers
9 cups granulated sugar

Bring to a boil over high heat, oranges, lemon juice and zest, and water. Boil gently for 40 minutes, stir occasionally. Add chili peppers, partially cover and boil gently 30 minutes**, stir occasionally. Discard peppers.

Boil over med-high heat, stirring constantly. Gradually add sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, keeping it at a boil. Boil hard, stir occasionally, until gel stage, about 15-20 minutes.

Ladle into hot jars, 1/4 inch headspace. Process 10 minutes after coming to a boil in the canner. Turn off heat, remove lid and wait 5 minutes before removing from canner. Made nine half-pints.

* I sliced the oranges by hand, and the peel was really too large, even with my best effort. Next time I'll either use a food processor or mandoline to slice the oranges, and then chop the rind into smaller pieces.

** I wouldn't go over about 40 minutes here, or the peppers will fall apart, and you'll wind up with peppers in your marmalade.

As far as being local, organic, etc., citrus doesn't grow around here at all, so at minimum, my Cara Cara oranges came from over 800 miles away in California, and the lemon from further than that. Both were organic, however. My sugar came from Paraguay, organic and fair trade. I had a heck of a time finding any of the peppers listed in the original recipe (dried habeneros, Colorado or New Mexico peppers). New Mexico peppers were the only ones I could find, organic or not (they're not).

As far as taste goes, I think it needs about a month to "meld". It tastes uber sugary right now, with not a lot of orange flavor in the jam, but the peel is very orangey. I would've wished for a bit more pepper flavor, too, but maybe that'll come through as the sugary taste wanes and the orange strengthens.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The 2010 Garden Begins

I sowed the first seeds of my 2010 garden today. Three varieties of lettuce: Salad Bowl, Red Sails, and Black Seeded Simpson. I simply sowed them in some potting mix in 4" pots, and put them on top of the refrigerator, covered in plastic wrap. These three lettuces make up the backbone of my lettuce crop, and always do well for me no matter the weather. I'll plant them out mid-March.

I was hoping to start onions today, too, but haven't gotten my seed order in yet. I keep waffling back and forth on a number of vegetables, and need to get my catalogs to my neighbor to see what he wants this year. I still have a little time before I need to plant the onions, but the sooner the better.

It felt good to get the garden started. Pots on my refrigerator are a great harbinger of spring.

A storm is barrelling in off the coast tonight. After a very soggy and windy day tomorrow and Tuesday, I think it's supposed to dry out for a while. Hopefully I'll have a chance then to weed out the veggie beds and do some cleanup of the front yard perennial beds.