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Showing posts from December, 2012

Party Food: Delicious Dips

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It's New Year's Eve! Not my favorite holiday, but at least it comes with a strong tradition of finger foods. My favorite thing to do with bite-size treats is to dip them in something, so that's what I was working on this afternoon.
First up: some roasted garlic. Many of our Spanish Rosas have started to sprout in storage, so I grabbed those for this project:

That may have been a mistake, since the flavor is a little greener once they sprout, but using these didn't make me sad about cutting off the tops, since that part is messed up now anyway.
The cutting-off-the-tops thing seems to be pretty standard for making roasted garlic in the oven, although this is news to me. I never bothered with that when we roasted some heads on a wood fire back in the fall. I thought using a muffin tray seemed inspired, though, so that's what I did:


Next step is to coat them with olive oil. I kind of just drizzled it on. I guess the point is to keep the dry skins from catching fire? O…

Garden Gift Boxes

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Now that all our Christmas gifts have been given, we can share how our garden gift boxes turned out without ruing anyone's surprise. For my sister, some homemade cosmetics:

Here is a gift bag of oatmeal-comfrey soap and comfrey lip balm. Check out the fancy-schmancy labels! That was my Christmas craft project last week. Some quality time with PowerPoint and sticker paper made for some professional(wish)-looking presents.
For our other relatives, we put together garden gift boxes. They were each a little different, but here is a good example:

Kirk nailed together the boxes from workshop scraps, and we filled them some freshly-labeled items from our store of preserves. In this box we have a bottle of dandelion wine, a jar of brined pickles, a jar of tomatillo jam, and a package of tomatillo-lime dodgers. 
Kirk made the tomatillo jam back in the fall, when we picked out last major baskets of tomatillos before the frost. This is a made-up recipe, substituting tomatillos for gooseberr…

(This) Sunday Dinner

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Yesterday was the final Sunday of Advent, the evening of our Joy supper:

This is a spinach and bacon quiche, which celebrates our joy that the chickens are all laying perfectly well again now. We also had a spinach and kale salad, with some matchstick carrots (and apple chunks from a local orchard). The kale has been snowed on a couple times now, and never is any the worse for wear in the elements. The spinach is under glass in the cold frame, and it's just as tasty. It also brings us joy that we can still head out into the garden for our dinners, even though it is now officially winter. 
I also had a glass of dandelion wine with dinner. It is definitely better well-chilled (our first tasting was at room temperature), although perhaps too dry for such a light meal. 
Now that Advent is complete, we have just a day to go until Christmas. Hope your holidays are filled with all the hope, peace, love, and joy you can handle!

(Last) Sunday Dinner

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With the holidays fast approaching, this week kind of got away from me, and I realized I never finished this post about the excellent dinner that Kirk made last Sunday. We've been doing our Advent Sunday celebrations up right this year, with really excellent dinners to enjoy while we light the week's candle and reflect on hope, peace, love, and joy. Last Sunday was the Sunday of love, and we observed it with a December turkey dinner.
Along with turkey comes stuffing, and it's easy to see why that's a traditional food at this season of the year. The things we have from the late fall garden are exactly what we need for stuffing:

Here we have the dried out ends of bread, and a pan of diced carrots, leeks, and the last of our celery. Kirk cooked them a bit to soften them up, then used his hands to mix it all together in a big bowl. Also in the mix:

That’s thyme, sage, and rosemary. Although we cut large bunches to dry before frost, we still have these herbs available fres…

Dandelion Wine: Part 5

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All things, once seen, they didn't just die, that couldn't be. It must be then that somewhere, searching the world, perhaps in the dripping multiboxed honeycombs where light was an amber sap poured by pollen-fired bees, or in the thirty thousand lenses of the noon dragonfly's gemmed skull you might find all the colors and sights of the world in any one year. Or pour one single drop of this dandelion wine beneath a microscope and perhaps the entire world of July Fourth would firework out in Vesuvius showers. This he would have to believe.
~from Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury
Back at the end of spring, I picked a yard's worth of dandelions to make dandelion wine. You check out the process here. It's been sitting in the basement for the last six months, and last night we opened one up to taste for the first time. 
Dandelion wine is traditionally not opened until the winter solstice, so here's to bottoming out on sunlight for the season:

It's hard to tell in t…

Glass Houses

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Any hope of me overcoming my new obsession with hot beds in the near future was destroyed today, by the same wind that took out another window of our cold frames:

It was really gusty today, and when I got home, six of the eight glass windows that we use to cover our cold frames had been tossed around to other parts of the garden. Luckily only one broke, but now we are down to just seven, and that means that one of our cold frames is done for the year, because we need eight windows to cover both completely. And if it's not completely closed up, it obviously won't work. So I put away the three remaining windows that had been over the frame with cilantro, fennel, and dill, leaving them to certain death when temperatures drop again. I also reinforced the windows over the cold frame with the salad greens, weighing them down with bricks: 

But really, is this any way to live? I had to re-batten down a lot of the plastic on the greenhouse tunnels too, for like the 50th time this seas…

Victorian Kitchen Garden

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Recently Kirk found something new to get us through the winter months. It's a little BBC show from the 1980s called "Victorian Kitchen Garden," and it is awesome:


It's like a precursor to those great PBS shows like "Frontier House" and "Manor House" that they used to make, where people recreate everyday life in a historical time period. This lacks the costume-y nature of those shows, but these guys use their research and first-hand knowledge from some of the last old-time estate gardeners in England to bring a decrepit garden back to its full Victorian splendor. And since this is more about food than flowers, it's super interesting. In a quiet, old-guy-narrating-a-BBC-documentary way. I think Jonas half-expects a knight to come riding by and stab people.

Anyway, Episode 2 has given me fresh food for thought in the winter gardening arena. It's all about nineteenth century greenhouses (kinda expensive to heat, but so beautiful) and, my new …

It All Amounts to ...

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... a hill of beans.


Or, more precisely, a half gallon of beans. (Ok, so we ate half a jar already in various chilis. But the total harvest was about two quart-sized mason jars.) I finally finished shelling our Cherokee Trail of Tears beans this weekend. 
We harvested the last of them back in early October, before our first frost. When we did that, we picked any remaining pods (ripe and not-so). They were drying out on the screened-in porch ever since. Gradually we've picked away at that pile, shelling a bowl at a time in front of the TV, on rainy days or during dark evenings. 
It definitely makes sense to let them dry in the pods. They are much easier to shell that way, and then you save a step on having to dry the beans after shelling. It does take some skill, though, to deal with the brittle pods. I kind of crush it in one hand until it splits, but keep that hand cupped around it as I pull the two shell sections apart with my other hand. This helps keep the bean from dropping …

Winter Roses

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Ok, so all of our actual roses are bare now as winter closes in. It's snowing and sleeting tonight, but spring will be back. And when it comes, I'll be adding roses to the cutting beds. After some tea and cookie-fueled research, I decided on these three from Heirloom Roses:

Golden Celebration

Tamora

Heritage
The cutting garden is shaping up to be full of sunset colors: gold, apricot, salmony pinks, and a few blues for contrast. These are always my favorites, and the reds and whites already have a home in the perennial border, so they won't be missed here. I'm not a huge fan of icy pinks and magenta-purples, so they are not invited.
All of the roses I ended up choosing are David Austin roses. He is a breeder who works to create old-fashioned looking English roses. I looked at lots of actual old garden roses, but ended up choosing these newer varieties for the cutting garden because of their reblooming quality – it makes sense to have them produce throughout the season …

Herbal Apothecary: Homemade Soap

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I ran out of soap, so I made some more.
I decided to go with a melt-and-pour, because it is easy. I didn't quite have it in me to deal with lye and saponification calculators (yet, anyway), so I ordered an organic base and splurged on a soap mold (an upgrade from sour cream cups, which I have used in the past with no problem, but I thought it would be nice to have soap without a recycling symbol on top). I got these from goplanetearth.com, although without the mold their shipping would have been expensive. In the future I'll probably go with Organic Creations in the future.
The soap base is very simple: just palm and coconut oil, lye, water, and some sorbitol (a sugar alcohol for moisturizing). I picked it because there's not all the other chemicals that are in most commercial soaps – it had the fewest amount of ingredients I could find. 
Anyway, I cut off a half pound block and melted it in my ersatz double-boiler (a glass bowl over a pot of boiling water):

I don't u…

An Even Dozen

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I think it's safe to say that our new coop-lighting scheme has done the trick:


It's been a week since we had our (new) first egg once they were back up to 17 hours of light per day, and all four chickens have begun laying again. It's hard to tell in this photo, but a couple of the big brown eggs from Dolley look to be double-yokers. As for everyone else, their eggs seem a tad on the small side, but I have read that this is normal for the winter. This is because eggs are mostly water, and in the dry winter air, the chickens will be less hydrated than they are in the summer (kind of like us, with our dry skin and hacking coughs as the season wears on). Since they don't have as much water to spare, the eggs are a little smaller. Even if smaller, we're getting tow to three eggs per day, which isn't too shabby for the cold and dark of December.
That's fine. It's good to be back up to having a dozen in the fridge. Now we can get back down to business: pancak…

Wintertime Sunday Dinner

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Even with a pretty nice afternoon, it's hard not to feel some serious winter blahs when the sun sets at 4:09 p.m. We're working on just over nine hours of daylight here, and that's nothing short of terrible.

One thing that did help make that early nightfall better was a really great Sunday dinner. First, a tray of vegetables ready for roasting:


This is full of fresh-picked carrots and leeks, plus potatoes and garlic from winter storage. They were cut into pieces, drizzled with a bit of olive oil, and given a generous helping of rosemary leaves and whole sprigs of thyme.
After an hour of roasting veggies and the beef, the house smelled great, and it was time to eat. Green salad to start:

Fresh from the cold frames and greenhouse tunnels are lettuces, mache, and arugula. There are also some slices of fennel bulbs that we pulled last weekend. Non-garden ingredients are thinly sliced Granny Smiths and pomegranate seeds. Yum!
Then the main course:

You can see on the left the r…

Greenhouse Hoop Adjustment

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We took advantage of a nice day wedged between rainy ones to do some work out in the greenhouse tunnels. Yesterday in the drizzle we opened them all up wide to let them get some rain and air out, knowing that it would stay above freezing over night.

Today we had to cover them back up for the coming week (this time of year it's too dark too early to try to get it done after work), so we harvested some veg for Sunday dinner, cleaned out dead and dying leaves, and clamped the plastic back into place.

As we did that, though, we decided to break down the hoops from this bed:


Kirk harvested the last beets out of this bed yesterday afternoon, so all that's left is a row of Swiss chard that's been picked at all season long. We decided that a better use of our greenhouse materials would be to cover our leek bed instead:

So we moved the greenhouse hoops and plastic to cover the remaining leeks. You can see that some of the leek leaves are sticking out the bottom, but that's not…

Herbal Apothecary: Homemade Shampoo

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I finally used up my old shampoo, so it's time for another go at recipes for the shower. This recipe is based on one from Rosemary Gladstar, and you can check out the original recipe here. I made a few tweaks based on what I had handy.
Step one: make a strong tea with 1 ounce of dried herbs in 8 ounces of distilled water. Turns out an ounce of dried herbs is a LOT:

I used (more or less from left to right) sage, rosemary, and comfrey. The rosemary and comfrey are supposed to be good for hair (more about this in Rosemary Gladstar's book, if you are interested). The sage is mostly for its darkening properties. I ended up doing a modified version of what was recommended for brunettes. Now, I actually have naturally light-to-medium brown hair, and it gets lighter in the summer. Aside from some misguided Sun-In use in junior high school, I have never colored it. I thought I'd give the darkening version of this shampoo a go, knowing that it is gentle, natural, and should rinse o…

Back In Business

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Hooray!

This photo is courtesy of Kirk, who found it this morning. This is the first egg we've had in over two weeks, and we are psyched to see it! Hopefully this is a sign that our light-adjustment strategery is working. The timer has been adjusted by 30 minutes each day, and now the chickens are up to 17 hours of daylight. Sunrise is at 11 p.m. for them, via the bulb in the henhouse. 
It has also been quite warm this week (though temperatures are dropping back to regular December levels as we speak). We'll see over the coming weeks if this egg is one of many, or a fluke brought on not so much by the light as the warmth. I'm really hoping it's the light.
This egg, by the way, is one of Dolley's. She was our first chicken to lay, and she is the most reliable. Prior to the Great Egg Drought she could be counted on for an egg a day, and only rarely missing a day. I'm not surprised she's the one to break the strike first. Hopefully it's a sign of more to …

Winterizing the Chicken Coop

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Q: Why would our chickens' water fount be in the kitchen sink?

A: Because it's frozen. 
December came in with a touch of snow, which made for a fun trek to the Christmas tree farm yesterday:

It was pretty, but it was cold. When we got home with the tree, we realized the temperature for the day hadn't climbed out of the 20s. When Kirk looked in on the chickens, he realized that their water had frozen over, so we had to bring it in the house to chip out the ice and refill it.
Time to winterize the coop. About a month ago we picked up a warmer for the water:

For a quick fix last night, we ran an extension cord from the garage to the coop, but today Kirk worked up some permanent wiring:

He dug a trench (lucky me – I got to fill it back in!) and ran a wire underground from the workshop to the run:

From the run the wire goes up through the eave, along the ceiling of the run, and on into the henhouse. Kirk set up an outlet on the wall to plug the warmer into:

We'll keep an e…

Aerial View: December 1, 2012

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The biggest change over the past month: Fall is over, and winter is here! The snow that fell off and on today helps highlight that for sure, but if you look closely, you will also notice that a whole lot of plants have died back or been pulled: Gone are the asparagus, peas, peppers, nasturtiums, borage, and chamomile. The horseradish has been cut back, and the greenhouse hoops and cold frames have been covered back up. The garlic has been mulched in straw, and the rye grass cover crop has taken root in most of the empty spaces.
What's left to eat? Under cover we have cabbage, lettuce, carrots, beets, Swiss chard, turnips, a few left over radishes, spinach, and mache. We also have kale, parsnips, leeks, fennel bulbs, and celery that are uncovered. The parsnips, kale, and leeks should be fine for a while but should be covered soon; the celery and fennel needs to be brought in and used up ASAP.    

The swingset quadrant.

The patio quadrant.

The driveway quadrant.

The workshop quadra…