Showing posts from November, 2012

Fresh Horseradish

I forgot to mention the new addition to our Thanksgiving harvest traditions: horseradish!

A few days before Thanksgiving I went out and dug up a root of horseradish that we had planted back in the spring. As you can see, it's pretty big after a summer of growth. For comparison, the original root we planted was only about as big as the light brown offshoot that is second from the left of the main root. I only dug up this one piece, which was half of one plant. We have four. 
So yeah, that's way more horseradish than anyone needs.
I brushed off the dirt and let it sit on the counter, and on Thanksgiving we used it for Bloody Marys. Since we live a few states away from family, we celebrate Thanksgiving with friends, cooking through the morning, taking a soccer break with the kids, and feasting in the afternoon. There are brunchy snacks while we cook, and this year we upped the ante with some Bloody Marys.
And let me tell you, they were pretty damn good. Totally worth the effort …

Herbal Apothecary: Homemade Shaving Cream

Another shower staple I recently ran out of? Shaving gel. It took a little more searching to find a recipe for this that sounded doable (and that I already had most of the ingredients for). I found some crazy suggestions to mix shampoo and lotion and call it good. What I ended up with as a starting point was a page from, which had recipes for both a foaming shaving soap and a shaving cream. Since the soap is meant to be used in one of those foaming pump dispensers (and since I just happened to have a newly empty one lying around), that's what I went with. The cream looks awesome, but really thick, and seemed like it would be a pain to deal with digging it out of a jar in the shower. 

I had to cut the recipe I found (see the link above) in half, since my foaming bottle only holds 6 ounces. Here's the measurements I used:
1/8 cup aloe vera gel 1/8 cup liquid castile soap (Dr. Bronner's lavender, so no additional essential oil required – it has a pretty stro…

Chickens on Strike!

This week our chickens stopped laying!
At first we thought maybe they were protesting their working conditions, vis a vis colder nighttime temperatures, or perhaps were angry about the afternoon their water ran dry. 
To make it up to them, management has offered watermelon and cucumber halves as sweet treats. (These were harvested in summer and are well past their prime for human consumption, but were scarfed down no problem by the chickens.)
Still, it's been almost a week, and this is what we've got left: 

Now, I had to use three eggs for the pumpkin pie and pumpkin seeds, and Kirk bartered a dozen last week for some venison steaks (which is a really good trade). We also gave a away a half dozen to a friend. Funny how just two weeks ago we thought we had more than we could ever use!
It has helped that we've heard from several chicken-keepers that their chickens also stopped laying this month – at least we can be pretty sure there's nothing wrong with them. Still, tha…

Chipotle Lime Pumpkin Seeds

While processing our pie pumpkins the other day, I set aside the seeds to make a snack:

First, you have to pick the seeds out of the stringy glop, and this takes some patience. After they are separated, the seeds need a final rinse to get off any last bits of pumpkin. Then I spread them out to air dry on towels. (The pumpkin goo goes right into the compost bucket.)
While the seeds are drying, I mixed up a ... dressing? flavor coating? in a bowl. This was 1 egg white, the juice of a small lime, and a teaspoon of olive oil, all whisked together until emulsified. Then stir in 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of chipotle pepper, 1 teaspoon kosher salt (go light and taste, depending on how much salt is already in your chili powder), and 3-4 big pinches of sugar. 
Add the pumpkin seeds into the mixture and toss with a spoon until coated. I had just over 1 cup of seeds, but this amount of dressing could really cover up to 2 cups of seeds, I think. So ours are quite strongly flavo…

Fresh Pumpkin Pie

Happy Thanksgiving! My observation of this, my favorite holiday of the year, began yesterday afternoon, when I began preparing our pie pumpkins: 

Our squash harvest this year was kind of small: just these 3 pumpkins, and no butternut squash. I think we'll eventually feel that dearth over the winter as we run out vegetables to make it through our "no buying veggies” challenge: These guys store really well, without doing really anything to them at all. The processing only happens when you want to use it. Here's how:

Cut off the top with the stem, then put that newly flat end down (for stability) and the pumpkin in half. 

Use a spoon to scoop out the guts and seeds. Set those aside--we don't waste things around here! Scrape out any strings and admire the beautiful yellow flesh of the pumpkins.

Put the pumpkin halves face down in a baking pan or casserole dish. Or both. Just make sure it's a dish with sides, to hold in the juices. Having them face down helps them ste…

Herbal Apothecary: Homemade Lotion

This fall, I've been working to replace my chemical-filled soaps and lotions with homemade products that use natural ingredients. As I've been using up various tubes and jars, I haven't gone to CVS to buy more; instead, I find a recipe and test out a new, homemade version. 
A while ago I made some new moisturizer. A homemade moisturizer is different – definitely more of a cream, for starters. It doesn't have any alcohol in it, which makes store-bought lotions feel like they are soaking in quickly, even though it's actually evaporating some of the moisture into the air. They are also much thicker, so you have to get used to waiting a bit for it to soak in. I don't find it permanently greasy the way suntan lotion is, but it does take a little getting used to while you wait for your skin to absorb all the good stuff. 
You can make these lots of different ways, but I basically followed Rosemary Gladstar's "Perfect Cream" recipe. Moisturizers basicall…

The Sweet Potato Harvest

I'm not sure how this slipped my mind, but I forgot to fill you in on the sweet potato harvest. Planting sweet potatoes was a first for us, and the slips we got in the mail back in the spring really didn't look like much. We didn't know what to expect from our planting of 25 teeny roots, some with a leaf, some without. They were stringy and limp, and not all of them made it through the transplanting. But eventually the vines took off, and they filled in their area (and then some) by midsummer. You can check out the progress of their grow the through the summer by looking at the aerial views – they were in the driveway quadrant, along the top of that square by the okra.
Anyway, the sweet potatoes got a little bitten back by our first frost back in October, but weren't totally killed until a week or two of cooler nights later. Once the leaves of the vines above ground were dead, we were free to dig up the roots to store and eat. The first ones Kirk found were kind of we…

Herbal Apothecary: Facial Cleanser

Remember my homemade face scrub? I've been using it for over a month now, and (once I got used to it) I love it. There's a bit of trick to getting just the right amount on your fingertips, and massaging it gently at first, so it doesn't just slip off your hand in a big glob. It also helps to start with a dry face, so the scrub can get a grip on your skin. There is a bit of finesse involved, but the results are really worth it. I haven't had any of my occasional PMS-induced chin breakouts since I started using it, and it's not at all drying, which makes it great for winter. It's a winner!

Turns out that Tiegan wasn't a huge fan, though. I can understand that – as I mentioned, there's a learning curve, and a 10-year old is likely to be more easily frustrated by it. Also, a 10-year old's gorgeous skin barely needs and exfoliation anyway, so I started looking for a less scrubby alternative for her.

After some internet research, I decided on this DIY cl…

Our Microclimate

It's now a whole lot colder than it was during our lovely long weekend. In fact, the nights have been colder than expected – well, colder than predicted on the local news. I usually check out for better local information. Wunderground is short for Weather Underground, which relies on "official" weather reports as well as lots of local observers. 
When I say local, I mean really local. Newburyport has about four or five local stations to choose from; for example, Plum Island, Middle Street, and the Common Pasture. I usually rely on the Common Pasture results because it, like us, is located over the High Street ridge from the river and ocean, so we get some bigger temperature fluctuations – it’s just a little bit colder in the winter and a little bit warmer in the summer.
For regular life, this is all probably more specific than necessary, but for the garden, it's super-helpful. For example, I can keep track of local rainfall amounts (so I know how mu…


Over the long Veteran's Day weekend, we had some really great weather. We took advantage, gathering up the last leaves and cleaning the garden beds of plants that had been killed by some cold nights. We also mulched our garlic:

I planted these bulbs back in October, and most have sent up small shoots over the course of the past month:

Last year we mulched our garlic with leaves from the fall clean-up, but this year we had a bale of straw from the Dodge Agway that we had picked up for the chickens. This was back when they weren't using their nesting boxes very well, and we thought we could entice them with nicer bedding. Now they just scratch it all onto the floor of the henhouse, so screw 'em.
We also used it to mulch over the strawberries:

This, by the way, is exactly the reason we call them strawberries in the first place. Straw is the traditional mulch to protect the crowns from freezing, since they are close to the surface of the soil. We have both the strawberries and…

House History

While we were preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, Kirk was cleaning out around the bulkhead to bring in loose items (like our rain barrels, for example). But he made an outstanding discovery, which sidetracked us for a couple hours: an old newspaper from August 31, 1931. It's dusty and crumpled and in several pieces, but we love stuff like this, so spent some time piecing it back together:

The paper is The Advertiser, which was the first daily newspaper in Boston. It was acquired by William Randolph Hearst and eventually died off. By the date of this piece, they were just using the name for their Sunday paper.
And what we have definitely has the feel of a Sunday paper, complete with an arts section (devoted to radio plays, as you can see in the photo above), travel articles, and an advice column. There are also plenty of ads, my favorite of which is below. Check out the new car and fashionable hats:

Another page includes a decorating advice column. We were pretty disapp…

Itchy Eggplant

I've been in denial about this for the past couple months, but it's time to admit it to myself: I think I have an eggplant allergy.

This is horrible!

First of all, I've spent the last 37 years blithely leaving the allergy section of medical forms blank (though I am often compelled to write "N/A" so they know I didn't skip a question – I take tests very seriously).

Second, I love eggplant.

Third, and worst of all, what if this is a general nightshade issue? And what if it means that I'll also react to peppers, leaving me unable to pull my weight in finishing off the rest of our summer harvest (above)? And what if it means that I'll eventually react to (gasp!) tomatoes?

Time to hit the internet for some information on my symptoms. These symptoms consist of an itchy feeling on the roof of my mouth and soft palette when I eat eggplant. This never happened to me before this season, and it only started in about October or so. At first I wasn't even sur…

Am I Ready to Be a Farmer?

So when work gets boring, or difficult, or long, or soul-sucking, we start to talk about quitting everything and starting a farm. This often happens in the winter, when the memories of summer gardening are rosy, and the time spent indoors in the darkness of the short days feels endless. When we moved in late 2009 we looked at some places with much bigger lots, and considered a small farm, but in the end a nice neighborhood in walking distance to schools and a lovely downtown won out.

We did end up with half an acre, which is far more land than most lots in Newburyport, and we've filled it almost to its farthest edges with orchard, garden, and chickens. We've managed to keep up our end of the "no buying veggies" challenge for about six months now, and haven't bought eggs for the last two months. With any luck in the berry beds and orchard next year, we could scratch all fruit (save citrus and avocados, which we really would be sad to do without) from the shopping…

Herbal Apothecary: Homemade Lip Balm

Winter is on the way, and the furnace is running most of the time, sucking every last drop of moisture out of the air. That means the season of chapped lips is upon us, and I decided to do something herbal about it. So here we have my herbal lip balm. This is a variation of Rosemary Gladstar's recipe (from this great herbal cosmetic handbook, and it worked out really well. 
I used the comfrey infused olive oil that I made a while back. That's really easy: Just simmer comfrey leaves in olive oil over very low heat for a few hours, then strain out the solid stuff. It makes the olive oil even greener than before, and it smells herby and nice, though it doesn't taste like much. Comfrey is noted for its healing properties. It helps wounds heal over quickly, so for a while I was using this comfrey oil straight up on my lips; it moisturizes and helps heal any chapping or cracking. But that's kind of messy, so I wanted to get it into a more easily portable lip balm tube inste…

Tree Removal

At long last, two scary and dying spruce trees at the front corner of the house are gone. You can check out a recent "before" photo here. We tried to have this work done before the hurricane, but since it involved a massive coordination of utility companies – National Grid, Verizon, and Comcast –  to come take down and then reattach wires so the crane could get in and out, the work was postponed until Election Day. Seems the utilities were a little busy last week.

Speaking of the crane, it just barely fit in the driveway, and the kids and I spent some time mesmerized by the swaying pendulum of the giant hook in the front yard:

Getting Verizon and Comcast to do this was unbelievably frustrating. (National Grid, you guys were great.) Between the two of us, Kirk and I spent hours on the phone, and we lost several days' morale to sheer frustration in dealing and re-dealing with their scheduling errors and utter incompetence. I don't have the energy to go into any more d…

A Pregnant Pumpkin?

It's that time of year when I am surrounded by pumpkins. Carved pumpkins on doorsteps, pie pumpkins curing on the porch, calabaza songs and dances at work, and first grade science observations. Just when I thought I couldn't possibly look at another pumpkin with any pleasure, this happened:

The first grade classes at the school where I work spend the fall noting their scientific observations of various pumpkins. Today the teachers cut them open to compare and contrast the seeds, and this one had seeds inside that had already sprouted. This pumpkin must have been warm enough in our classrooms (not surprising, given how overheated our building often is) to encourage the seeds to sprout. It must not have dried out much at all either, since it was moist enough to allow the seeds to germinate.
So there you have it – a pumpkin with new pumpkins growing inside it. 
I've never seen anything like it. Thanks, first graders!

Bulbs for the Cutting Garden

This afternoon I planted bulbs in the cutting beds:

All told, I put in 150 bulbs today. They included several varieties of daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, irises, allium, and lilies. For the cutting garden I'm not too worried about planting in a natural-looking way – straight rows to fit in as many as possible will do just fine in a place where most of them are meant to be cut down to bring inside anyway. 
Faithful readers will recall that the bulbs in the perennial border were either devoured or relocated by our rapacioussquirrel population. This time, we are working to prevent damage from the get-go:

We covered the whole bulb bed with a roll of chicken wire. Instead of burying it, we screwed wooden battens directly to the edges of the raised bed to hold the chicken wire in place:

In the spring, the green shoots should find their way through the holes in the wire, but squirrels will have a difficult time burrowing in. This solution isn't feasible in the perennial border, where…

Aerial View: November 1, 2012

As you can see from these photos, Hurricane Sandy did an excellent job of bringing down lots of leaves in a short bit of time. That's why the back lawn looks brown: Those are oak and maple leaves, not dirt! We'll get to raking them up later this month. We also haven't put the plastic back up over the tunnels since the storm came through, but we'll definitely need to do so by Saturday, as we are supposed to have nighttime temperatures back into the 30s by then. 
Other than these very minor inconveniences, we had no real problems from the hurricane, and consider ourselves very, very lucky.
The biggest changes here are that all of the summery plants like tomatoes, melons, sweet potatoes, and okra have been pulled out, leaving lots of empty spaces. Many of these spots have been filled in with new shoots of winter rye, though, so it still looks like there is a good deal of green in the garden because of our cover cropping.
Bigger plants include cool-weather things like Bru…