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.