Search This Blog


Friday, September 12, 2014

The End of The Summer 2014

The shadows are getting longer and the sunshine is mellowing out to an autumnal shade of golden.  The zucchini are covered in powdery mildew and have quit putting out flowers, and the Kentucky Wonder beans have only a few stragglers still on them drying down because most of them have been picked already.

The end of summer has come and I'm mentally and emotionally ready for autumn, which is my favorite time of year, despite the fact that it means nearly non-stop rain and chill, and then three months of winter. There is something about flannel shirts and wood smoke and frosty mornings that I just dig.

I promised myself that I would re-roof the chicken coop before the rains start, so that is in progress. I tore off the tarps that I had up there; what didn't occur to me when I put them up is that they would not only protect the girls from the rain- they would also fill with water and sag. Last winter I had to go around and punch holes in them with a knife so they would drain and not bring down the roof, which rather defeated the purpose of the roof.  I'm adding more rafters and cats, and have a passel of one-by-threes to nail up for purlins.  I considered corrugated plastic, vinyl flooring, and briefly, asphalt shingles to cover it, but all were going to cost more than I wanted to spend.  In the end I decided to reuse the tarps, which I'll cut to fit this time and staple down. And then go back and patch holes.

Fire roasted peppers
The end of summer also means harvest, and this year's summer garden has kept me hopping.  To date I have enough frozen, shredded zucchini to make forty-four loaves of zucchini bread (for which I have a great recipe; we really like zucchini bread), two shoeboxes and then some full of packaged green beans (French filet beans, 'Denver' and 'Vanguard'), frozen onion rings and chopped onions (which is how I'm salvaging the onions that went to flower) three quart bags of chopped green bell peppers and one quart bag of chopped red bell pepper (and they're not done), ten half-pints of fire roasted Italian peppers (they're not done either), seven pints and five half-pints of salsa, nine half-pints of baba ganoush, twenty-three half-pints of tomato sauce for pizza (the tomatoes are a long way off from being done), two gallon bags of muffin-tin-sized chunks of frozen pesto, eight pounds of dried Kentucky Wonder beans for soup, enough garlic and shallots to last the year, and fifty-five pounds of onions.  I'm definitely getting better at this, although I'm still a long way off from where I want to be.  But I think I need more room for that.

I still have onions curing that
haven't been bagged yet.
This year's onions were a revelation.  I'd purchased live starts of a variety called 'Big Daddy' from Franchi seed by way of Seed from Italy.  Several them tried to go to seed, which is more due to the capricious nature of our spring weather than anything else.  I was ecstatic, frankly, when I discovered that the great majority of them didn't get tricked into thinking they'd gone through a winter and needed to go to seed.  The onions grew and grew, by and large, true to their names; I've never seen such huge onions much less have them come from my garden.

No lie- crocheting with twine
is hard on your hands
When they were finally cured and ready for storage, I quickly discovered that the two little string bags I had weren't going to cut the mustard, so I had to crochet myself a large string bag from twine. First I had to whittle a large crochet hook from a dowel that was in my collection (which my dad had done for my mom, so I knew it could be done), and then I was able to crank out the bag.  The onions are resting comfortably on the floor in the kitchen.  I sure wish I had a pantry.

Other plants that did well and were a surprise were the chard I also bought from Franchi.  Bieta 'Verde de Taglio' is actually a kind of beet ('bieta' gives that one away) but it makes sense when you consider that the other name for Swiss chard is silverbeet.  I actually hate Swiss chard, but the description in the catalog claimed that this variety tastes like spinach, which it does.
Bieta 'Verde de Taglio'
But unlike spinach, this stuff handles the heat like a champ and keeps on growing all summer long. We had some ninety-six degree days there and it didn't even wilt.  I've been cutting on it all summer and it's now thicker than ever. I suspect that it will only last as long as the first frost, but at that point I will have more than gotten my money's worth for this seed purchase. I'm really happy with this cultivar. Incidentally, Franchi is very generous with their seed, and have a great reputation for high germination rates.  I have lots of seed left and will buy this one again some four years down the road when they're finally no longer viable.

Oddly, this year I struggled with the squash, of all things.  I'd planted black zucchini and a variety called Costata Romana and they came up and got eaten by something (slugs, no doubt).  I didn't have much time, so I only replanted the zucchini, which took.  And out of three seeds per each four spots, only one precious 'Sweet Meat' winter squash made it through. From that plant I have only two squashes, one of which is pictured in the header.  Next year I'm going to seed the squashes early and transplant them.  Cucurbits aren't supposed to like that but I'm not taking any chances like that again.  I'm also not going to plant the black zucchini but will stick to the Costata Romana because that is the one that Carol Deppe (The Resilient Gardener) said was very tasty dried, and I had wanted to dry squash to put away.  She said that some zucchini tasted like nothing at all and some were not too nice dried, so since she's done all the work growing, drying and tasting, I'll take her advice and grow the one that tastes good dried.

I've learned my lesson with volunteers, however.  A plant that grows where it isn't wanted is technically a weed, but wanted plants (like food crops or expensive ornamentals) that are growing where they weren't planted have been dubbed volunteers by my mother.  So that's the term I used when I found volunteer tomatoes all over the yard.  I have a whole bed of volunteer strawberries in with the blueberries, for instance.  This year, when I had so much trouble getting the zucchini and Costata Romana to take, that when I happened on a volunteer squash growing over by the Sweet Meat squash, it was so much further along than my second batch of zucchini that I just let it grow.  I didn't know what it was but I recognized a squash when I saw it.  It turned out to be another zucchini, and I've pulled a lot of food from it, but the downside is that because it was within ten feet of the Sweet Meat, now I can't save the seed from the Sweet Meat because it was no doubt cross-pollinated with the nearby zukes.  So no more volunteers. I have to be ruthless with the volunteers.

Today is Friday, and I would like to goof off for once (especially since I didn't pull the last batch of jars out of the pressure canner until 9:50 last night) but there is still a chicken roof to work on and apple trees to prune and zucchini plants to pull out and replace with cover crops. And weeding and a planter box to move and a compost pile to throw into it, and…and…and…..

Friday, August 15, 2014

Book Review: An Everlasting Meal - Cooking with Economy and Grace

We all know how cheap frugal I am, so when I tell you I've found a book to buy, you'll appreciate that I think it's worth the money.

Tamar Adler is someone I'd like to meet and talk with someday. Like me, she loves food and words, and her writing reflects that. In An Everlasting Meal - Cooking with Economy and Grace which I happily stumbled upon at the library (always borrow it first if you can), Adler blends ideas and instruction with a bit of philosophy, all crafted with a remarkable gift for turning a phrase.
Regarding beans she writes: "Beyond the indelible stain the poor little things will never shake, the distaste we feel for beans in not unfounded either. Our beans are rarely as good as they can be.  They're usually so bad, in fact, that basing an opinion of their merits on prior experience is very much like deciding you don't like Bach after hearing the Goldberg Variations played on kazoo."  Which is really apt, considering we're talking about beans.  She delicately then goes on to say: "Once the sun has set and risen, drain the beans through a colander and cover them by two inches with fresh, cold water.  What gets flushed out of the beans on their overnight wallow is what inspires musicality in eaters.  Feed their soaking water to your plants, who will digest it more quietly, if you like."  I also likes how she deals with cooking times and the importance of letting things take as long as it needs to to taste good: "If a soup seems thin, let it go on cooking. If tomato sauce still tastes acidic, give everyone a bowl of olives and a stern look and cook the sauce until it mellows out."

Even her chapter titles are clever: How to Teach an Egg to Fly covers, naturally, eggs; How to Catch Your Tail deals with not wasting anything in the kitchen, and the last chapter, How to Snatch Victory from the Jaws of Defeat tells how to save a ruined meal or ingredient (and who hasn't had one of those!).   There are few actual recipes in the book, which is a good thing, because most of it is the kind of instruction which leads you to eventually be able to intuit what you need to do to cook and save well.

There was only one place in the book where I disagreed with her despite her phrasing, and that was the subject of some vegetables tasting better pickled than they do fresh: "If creation had had any pretensions of being perfect, okra and green beans would have both grown from seed to fruit full of vinegar and salt."  I think that's highly personal take on their merits, because I would much rather mow my way through a bowl of fried okra than I would popcorn, and French filet beans with a little butter, garlic and lemon juice, or bacon, spaetzle, butter, and Penzey's Bavarian Seasoning are marvelous revelations for one's mouth to get around.

All that aside though, the book would be useful for any scratch cook who cooks from scratch not only for the fun of it but also because of the economy of it.  For anyone trying to get more out of less and live well in the process, having An Everlasting Meal to refer to would be like being able to ask someone whose cooking you admire for their instruction and advice anytime you like.

I'm going to buy a copy, and that's the best recommendation I can make for any book I've borrowed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Pickle-Packing Mama

What with planting a cucumber called Marketmore, not thinning them out (I've had trouble with cucurbits this summer and didn't dare), and the generosity of (someone else's!) bees, we are up to our eyebrows in cucumbers this summer.  I still have a large colander full of cukes in various stages of growth on the table and have been making salads with the better ones and chopping the not so great ones into hunks for the girls, who think they've died and gone to heaven when I toss them into Hensdeep for them.

But since picking that veritable shit load, I've gotten wise to cucumbers: pick them when they are still tiny and make cornichons from them.  Sometimes, I'm not so on top of things in the cucumber department (I'm also picking and processing green beans and zucchini as well) and run across pickle-sized cucumbers, which get picked and turned into regular pickles.

All my recipes are coming from The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich, a terrific book I've mentioned here and here.

Clockwise from the top left are: Lower East Side Full Sour Dills, Cornichons A Cru, and Hungarian Summer Pickles, By The Quart.

The green beans I'm processing are the lovely French filet beans that I love so much.  This year, I grew 'Denver' again, and trialed 'Vanguard' from Franchi seeds by way of Seeds From Italy, and I have to say that the Vanguard seem to be a much better bean.  I had better germination from them and the plants are more robust and prolific, as well as started producing sooner.  Vanguard is a very good name for them and I'll be sowing this bean again.  To process, I'm blanching them for only a minute and then shocking them in ice water** before stuffing them into labeled freezer bags. Then I stuff the freezer bags into a shoe box I keep in the freezer which kind of forces then into a shape that's easier to stack.  I'm excited about my green beans this year- they are going to be lovely to eat this winter.

The zucchini is another story: I love zucchini bread and have a great recipe to share with you, but I'm not baking any this summer.  That's because I don't bake in the summer.  In fact, I don't cook in the house at all in the summer, unless we're having a freak rain storm and the predicted high is in the seventies (like today)(we had enchiladas for dinner tonight- I'm not missing that opportunity). I read in my trusty MEN* that you can shred them (the zucchini, not the enchiladas) for zucchini bread and then freeze them, and then thaw them out later at bread baking time, so I've been shredding and freezing them three and a half cups at a time, which will make three loaves of zucchini bread.  So far I've frozen enough for thirty loaves, which at three and a half cups each is a lot easier to store than baked bread. I also like to substitute some of my potato with shredded zucchini when making latkes- the secret to that is to take a handful of shredded zucchini and s-q-u-e-e-z-e the living daylights out of it (pretend it's your ex-husband or bat-shit crazy ex-girlfriend- that kind of squeezing) before mixing it with the potato, et al.  After freezing, it might be too mushy for latkes- I'll have to report back on that for you. But three and a half cups fills a quart-sized freezer bag which I then flatten out on a cookie sheet to freeze, and those get stacked in the veggie bin once they're hard.

I'll report more of what's coming out of the garden this summer- the alliums will take a whole post by themselves.

*Mother Earth News
**I've found that a very good solution to not wanting to buy ice or waste tray ice is to float a couple of large blue-ice packs in the shock water- they don't melt as fast as regular ice and I can reuse them.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Search Begins

Last weekend Steve and I rolled down to Jacksonville, Oregon to see the Tedeschi-Trucks Band at the Britt Music Festival.  What a great venue, and what an awesome band!  We had such a good time that I just bought tickets to see them again at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland in November, which I think will be a great way to celebrate thirteen years together.  Why? Because our seats are numbers 13 and 14; thirteen years together in the year 2014. Kismet, no?

But getting back to Jacksonville- part of the reason we wanted to go was to start looking at parts of Oregon to see where we want to buy property and build a house.*   This started with a trip to the local AAA office to get a bunch of county maps.  The Friday of the concert we drove around Josephine county, which was really pretty, but later at dinner our waitress told us, "oh you don't want to live in Josephine county. Josephine county has no sheriff's department."  It turns out that the county lost their federal funding from co-opted lumber sales during the Great Recession, and the residents didn't want to pony up a 150% increase to their property taxes, so the sheriff had no choice but to lay off his deputies.  They also had to release most of the inmates of the county lockup (keeping the very worst offenders behind bars).  If that weren't enough to make living there unlikely, the lack of The Law has spurred various vigilante-type posse groups. I like living in the west, but I don't want to live in the Wild West.

So we were very disappointed to learn that we wasted a whole day on a county we couldn't consider. The other day was spent looking in Jackson county, which we've decided is too dry and too spendy. Beautiful, and really reminds me of California, but not for us.

Then on the way home we got off Interstate 5 and drove out 126 to Mapleton and headed back in on 36.  Both routes were really pretty and we liked them a lot- this was in Lane county.  It was interesting to see the difference in maintenance the two roads receive, because the coast road (126) was in much better repair than the other.

We know we want to be on the coast side of Interstate 5, and in the rain shadow of the coast mountains, and we'll look at Washington as well.  And at this point, we're just looking for what looks good- we're not searching for property (although if the right thing jumped out at us, we'd probably take the plunge).

This could be a long search.  Let me know if you know of a good place to look that you would recommend if you have one.

* Our dream house does not exceed the current square footage within which we live (1400) and could wind up being a great deal less. We're also planning on building it ourselves, so it can't be too fancy. Don't want a fancy compound, just a homestead.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hailstorm Chocolate Nut Tart

The day before yesterday, I'm in the shower, and when I turn off the water I hear this THUNDERING ROAR…it was hailing- the worst hailstorm I've ever witnessed.  It was worse than anything I'd experienced in Florida.  I've never seen so much hail come down so fast and so hard. The last time we had a bad, late hailstorm it was in May, which was bad enough, but then my plants weren't so far along.  This one happened mid-June- I dreaded what it was doing to my garden.

I finally got outside to see what kind of havoc the hail storm had wrought, and my heart sank when I saw the damage.  A few things are going to be okay- the pole beans and cucumbers, for instance, because they were sitting under their respective trellises which provided a modicum of cover.  The cabbages will probably be alright because I think enough surface area of them are unscathed.

Torn tomato- half of it's on the ground
But the mainstays of my summer garden- the tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and kale- were pulverized.  I'd just trimmed the tomatoes to a single leader and one of them was flopped over broken.  I don't know what that means for production from that one.

What's left of the Sweet Meat squash
Also decimated were the crops that are newer to me, the cardoons and Sweet Meat squashes.

Cut up cardoon
I can't quite say everything's wrecked, but enough of it is to make me feel that it all is.  I really don't know if the tomatoes can come back from it; I'll just have to see. About a third of my sweet corn crop which I just got into the ground also was ruined.

Well crap.


I guess I could be seriously depressed about this, and maybe I am, because I decided to make a dessert I haven't made in a very long time-  probably not for five years.  I don't know why not- it's one of Steve's favorites and it's pretty easy to make.

If eating this doesn't cheer me up, nothing can.**

Hailstorm Chocolate Nut Tart

1    recipe pate brisee (unsweetened pie crust)
1-1/2 cups chopped nuts
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1    teaspoon vanilla
2    pinches salt
1    large egg
1    large egg white

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 Celsius or gas mark 4).

Roll out and line a rectangular* tart pan with the pie crust.

Fill it with the chopped nuts and semisweet chocolate chips and set aside.

Mix together the rest of the ingredients and pour over the nuts and chocolate pieces.

Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes.

Let cool completely before serving.

* I always make this in a long rectangular tart pan and it takes 45 minutes- if all you have is round tart pan, increase the nuts and chocolate chips a little and bake it for 55 minutes to an hour.

** I'm not actually expecting this to make me feel better because I'm not an emotional eater.  Nothing encourages, or unfortunately, discourages my appetite.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Coppice Story 2.0

Some of you may remember my post on coppicing woodlots.

(Obviously you can read up on it if you don't.)

About three or so years ago I planted some cider gums (Eucalyptus gunnerii) with the intent to coppice them.

First the bad news: one of them died.

Aside from my fat thumb, this shows the dead tree on the right

Now the good news: it's not dead and it coppiced itself!

New growth! (the silvery blue-green stuff)

See all that new growth at the bottom?  Those will grow into new tree trunks.  I'll let them get a little larger, and probably some time this summer I'll drop the dead portion of the tree across the neighbor's lawn, taking much care to miss his apple trees and pick a day he's out with his truck so it's not in the way.  I'll cut the deadfall into short sections, probably ten inches or less, and stack that for fire wood. Then I'll thin the smaller shoots out and leave the sturdier ones to grow, and cage the whole thing so that weed whacking won't thwart my efforts.  Once they're as tall as the cage, I'll remove the cage.

Eucalyptus is very, very hard, and makes great firewood- it doesn't usually figure in lists for best woods for firewood because most of those lists are European or American in origin.  But growing up we had eucalyptus in the back yard, and the prunings were sectioned and kept for firewood because dry, it's a very hard wood.  I have to admit that I'm thrilled to see it coppice the way I'd anticipated it would.

This won't replace buying firewood for our suburban lot, but it will help.  Maybe a lot!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Get Rid of It

So much has happened recently, I don't know where to start.  Oh yes I do.

I finally had it up to here with my boss and quit my toxic job, so I'm updating my resume and looking for work again. Fortunately for me, work made an exception and cashed out my two weeks vacation, which ends this Friday.

But last weekend, we went to the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington, and again, we learned a ton. So much so that I haven't finished transcribing notes.  There were two talks that really influenced me- one was on the benefits and how-to's of living tiny, and the other was on improving soils. I'll get back to the soils later* but first I want to give you a little info on downsizing, to which Steve and I had previously agreed, but so far I've done nothing about.

First, I have to admit that I'm a pack rat.  Not a hoarder, per se, but my pack-ratting habits could easily descend into hoarding. I have all kinds of things squirreled away 'just in case', so the very notion of going through everything and making a decision about it is daunting.

The best start to the process of downsizing is using the 365 Day rule: if you haven't used it in a year, get rid of it. I have to use my own rule in this instance because, where the speaker had rock-climbing gear he hadn't used in a year and probably wouldn't again because he got it in college and now he's forty-one and unlikely to climb rocks again, I have a sewing machine that I probably haven't used in a year, but definitely need to hang on to because I have future projects that will need it, plus it's a good tool. I hang on to good tools.  But I could probably get rid of some of the fabric I've been hoarding for a while.  I don't see much point to ridding myself of my knitting supplies because they don't take up that much room and they're necessary for a particularly productive hobby, but I could probably rid myself of the art supplies I'll never use again.

And then there are the books. Books are much harder to go through, and I've already done it once, but yes, I need to do it again.  I'm keeping all my homesteading books, and I'll keep my complete Jane Austen, but I think it's time to pass on my children's book collection. Which brings me to one of the more important tenets about letting go of stuff.

One of the children's books I'll jettison is my Tasha Tudor Book of Fairy Tales which I received for my seventh birthday.  Like the velveteen rabbit, the book's condition will attest to how much I love it, which is why I still have it at the tender age of fifty-four.  Never mind 365 days; I haven't cracked it open in 365 months, which is a little over thirty years, so why do I still have it?  Because I spent many happy hours with it?

The thing to recognize with the sentimental stuff you can't let go of is that the memories they hold are not really held within them; they're held within you.  Getting rid of that book will not get rid of the memories- those will stay with me until the Alzheimer's hits, and if that happens, the book will not help anyway. So out it goes.

Getting rid of my ten years (Feb 1992 - Dec 2002) of Martha Stewart Living magazines complete with index is not going to be so easy though....

* In this instance, later means a different post.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Only Wilbur-ilbur-ilbur Is Going To The Fair

Well, not quite.

Maybe attendance is down, or it could be the fact that I've re-upped my Mother Earth News subscription in my own name, or who knows? Maybe the Universe has chosen to shine rather than shit on me for a change, but when MEN offered me tickets to the MEN Fair for $10 for the weekend, I jumped on them. We're going to the fair!

Anybody else going to the MEN Fair in Puyallup, Washington on May 31 and June 1?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Does Anyone Even Make One?

I am sitting in my living room with my feet up, rather than being outside in the somewhat decent weather while waiting for the rain to arrive.  I'd hoped to get the collards and kale out of the Big Bed, weed it, and get in the peppers and eggplants I bought yesterday at the Canby Master Gardener Show.  I was stern with myself and only bought those plants to replace what didn't germinate for me*.  It was hard, but I stuck to bell peppers, sweet Italian peppers and serranos. Oh, and basil for pesto and borage for the bees, but that was it.

So why am I sitting on my arse instead of working?  Because I stuck my spading fork into my middle toe and I'm trying to get it to stop bleeding.  And before you ask how the hell did I do that, let me tell you, it's a whole easier to do than you think it is.  I also stuck it through my expensive Muck boot, and I'm despondent about that. Not sure if I can repair it or not.  It certainly won't self-heal like my toe, which has finally stopped gushing but is still throbbing, eventually will.

Where's a steel-toed rubber boot when you need one?

Later:  We are finally back from the emergency room; it took two stitches to get it to stop bleeding. So my advice to you: treat your spading fork with respect- they bite!

* Next year I'm buying Franchi seed from Seeds from Italy.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014