Showing posts from October, 2014

From the Archives: Name That Weed

While scrolling through some photos on my phone this afternoon, I came across this one that I took back in August:

This is a weed I pulled from the garden when I was working my way through the backlog of chores awaiting me upon my return from Costa Rica. As you can see, it is shallow-rooted but quite tall, with a sturdy (but not woody stem). It looks like a small tree, especially with its broad leaves: 

But it's obviously not a tree, given the soft stem and shallow root system. It also has some white flowers that look like morning glories and smell very sweet, like a vanilla honeysuckle:

They were closed when I pulled the weed in the afternoon, but you could still smell their strong perfume.
But weirdest of all is the fruit:

That thing is a killer! I had to wear gloves to pick it off the plant and handle it (and I never wear gloves). Those spines are for real.
Fruit might not quite be the right word. Maybe it's more a seed pod, since I can't imagine any creature being tem…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Cereal

For the last entry in this month's grocery series, the kids are going to take another one for the team. They might not notice, though, since all we're planning to do is

Swap out expensive cereals for their generic counterparts. 

This, then, is our last box of Cheerios for awhile. They will be replaced by Market Basket Tasteeos, which taste pretty much exactly the same and have all the same nutritional stats.

Speaking of nutrition, the part of the cereal maneuver that the kids are likely to notice is the part where we stop buying them sugary cereals. We usually provide them things like Frosted Mini-Wheats and Special K Red Berries, and that shit is expensive. And they go through it like it's nothing, scarfing it down for every breakfast as well as an after school snack.

Well, no more. We're thinking that if they only have (fake) Cheerios, they'll be bored enough to eat something else for their snacks. Like, um, vegetables from the garden, maybe. Or at least apples …

Easy Sunday Supper

Sometimes, Sundays are about slow roasting meats and veggies and hanging around the house, enjoying the aroma.
And sometimes Sundays are about running half-marathons and going to baby showers and playing with the neighbor kids until the sun goes down.
This kind of Sunday is fun, too, but it doesn't leave much room for a big, beautiful dinner. Enter tarts:

I've sung their praises before, because they work in the summer and they work in the fall, they work with veggies and they work with fruit. They are like fast food for gardeners, and tonight they helped us use up a lot of extra Swiss chard that we had to cut to make room for our greenhouse tunnels earlier this week. (They also helped us not blow our entertainment money on junk food when we didn't much feel like cooking.)
For our quick dinner, Kirk made two tarts: The Red and Blue beet tart we've had before, but the Swiss chard and feta one is new. To make it, he steamed about a dozen chard leaves until they were wilt…

Brownies to Beet the Band

There's nothing quite like coming home to a house full of good baking smells — especially after a day as dreary and raw as the ones we've been having this week. While lately I've come to expect the warm deliciousness of homemade bread, today I walked into something different.

Really different.

Yes, it's a brownie. But not just any old brownie.

That there is a beet brownie.

We're no strangers to the mingling of chocolate and beets. It's a surprisingly good favor combination, as the beets add a complexity and texture to the chocolate that is really interesting.

Kirk got this idea from his favorite gardening cook, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The original Chocolate and Beetroot Brownie recipe is from River Cottage, but Kirk ended up modifying it to make the beet more prominent.

Because Kirk loves beets, and we've got about a zillion giant ones to use up.

Here's Kirk's version of beet brownies. You should make some, because we won't have any left t…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Sugary Drinks

This should be a no-brainer, but up to this point we haven't displayed the willpower to

Eliminate the sugary drinks from our grocery budget (and our diet).

I'll admit, this idea came about purely from a fit of jealousy on my part. You see, I like a glass of delicious chocolate milk every now and then. Once in a while, it can serve as a quick dessert when there's nothing else around, and I eagerly open the fridge …

… only to find that, once again, my children have used up the entire bottle of Hershey's syrup in just five days.

I never get any.

Well, joke's on you, greedy ones. If I can't have it, no one can.

Mwah hah hah.

Though I never seem to get any chocolate milk, I do always get more the my fair share of Mexican Coke.

It is our only fizzy vice, and it is such a delicious one. It's so good with homemade pizza or nachos or tacos. And it definitely tastes better that regular Coke what with its real cane sugar and glass bottle.

But, clearly, it's not ex…

Killer Kale

This has been an all-around excellent growing season, especially for our cool-weather crops. Despite their slow start, we had cabbages all summer long, and we still have a couple left in the garden that weren't krauted. I am also still snipping side shoots of broccoli (just had some for dinner!), which means that we've been harvesting broccoli for three and a half months now. That's definitely a new record for us. 
But most glorious of all has been our kale crop this fall:

We planted the kale back in August, and it has done very well this season, thanks to our relatively wet and cool summer. The kale above is a Russian variety, although there is also some Swiss chard behind it. This was a bonus round of kale that Kirk put in by transplanting some of the thinnings from the main bed. They totally took off, and now we have almost twice as much kale as we had originally planned.

Our main kale bed (above) is a four by eight foot box of 32 plants. The half on the right are Russ…

Garden Fresh Bloody Marys

A couple weekends ago we had brunch with a good friend in Boston. This friend is an excellent cook and hostess, so it is sometimes hard to know what to bring to the table. The solution? Our kit for home-grown Bloody Marys:

Turns out that this is the time of year that the ingredients for Bloody Marys are perfectly in season. Well, vodka is always in season, but tomatoes, celery, and horseradish are ready for harvest at the end of summer and into the fall.
To make our kit, we used a box from a set of Mason jars, which still had its handy dividers intact. I suppose a more market-minded farmer would make nice wooden divided boxes, but we were mostly concerned with portability.
Anyway, the compartments are stuffed with a bottle of vodka, four quarts of fresh tomato juice (made by running newly-picked tomatoes through the food mill), a whole bunch of celery, some lemons, a bottle of Worcestershire sauce (from the store, but I have designs on making our own some day), a small jar of freshly…

October Cleanup

This weekend we finished our major fall cleanup of the garden, removing spent summer fruits and setting up some of the frames for winter tunneling. The garden is a very different place without all those tomatoes:

Also out of the picture are the beans, corn, okra, and all forms of squash. It leaves a lot of empty space:

The newly-empty garden could be depressing, but I always kind of like seeing the clean lines of the raised beds again. After all, they've been obscured by a tangle of vines and greenery for months. It's the return of order after the chaos of abundance, and it's nice to have some breathing room again.

This weekend is also like New Year's Day for the garden, because I planted garlic bulbs (in the bed above). Garlic is one of the first things we planted when we first built these beds, and it was the first of our crops to come full circle in its propagation. This is the fourth planting of garlic, and it means the beginning of the fourth full year of the gar…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Yogurt

To continue this month's look at the grocery list, we decided to make a small adjustment to one of our common snacks. From now on we will

Replace individual yogurt cups with a quart of plain yogurt.

With four people eating lunches away from home, we tend to pack a lot of yogurt to take along with us. After all, it's a healthy snack that can cure a craving for something sweet, and it's super-convenient to toss into a lunch box.

Sounds great, but there's a but.

All those little cups are more expensive than buying a big tub of yogurt, and of course there's more plastic involved in individual containers. We recycle them (or use them in the garden to keep cutworms at bay), but it still strikes me as more wasteful than is strictly necessary.

Getting a big container of plain yogurt is more versatile, because we can use it in cooking (think marinades and raita, for starters).

And while it's nice to pick out fun flavors of yogurt, the pre-made kind uses way more sugar t…

The Saffron Harvest

Oh, did I forget to mention that we planted saffron late last summer? 
It appears that I did not. 
Well, saffron comes from a certain type of fall-blooming crocus, and you can easily grow them yourself instead of spending big bucks for saffron at the store. In fact, saffron was very commonly grown and used by the Pennsylvania Dutch, so it definitely doesn't have to be as fancy-pants as we tend to think it is. 
I ordered our crocus bulbs from White Flower Farm and planted 25 of them in the herb garden at the end of last summer. Though they sent up leaves, they didn't (and weren't expected to) bloom.
And then we saw neither hide nor hair of them until today:

Honestly, I thought these Zone 6 flowers were killed by our terrible winter and soggy spring, since that patch was bare dirt straight through August.
But then today, Kirk cleared out all the dead and dying tomato plants, and we saw that a few of our crocuses did indeed bloom, and many more of them sent up leaves after a…

Our Favorite Sandwich Bread

It occurs to me that I talked a whole lot about baking bread yesterday but did not include a recipe. Let's fix that right now.

This recipe makes great, basic sandwich bread. It's not wholly whole wheat, but the combination of white and wheat flour gives it a great texture. It also toasts up perfectly:

The recipe is based on an old recipe from Fleichmann's Bake-It-Easy Yeast Book, but Kirk (the family baker) has modified it over the years to the version you see below.

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

3 cups white flour
1 cup whole wheat four
1.5 Tbs. sugar (or honey)
2 tsp. salt
2 1/4 tsp. yeast (or 1 packet)
1 cup milk
6 Tbs. water
4 Tbs. vegetable oil (we use canola)

In a large mixing bowl, stir together yeast, sugar, and warm (but not too hot) water. Set aside to allow yeast to bloom for 5-10 minutes.

Heat milk for about a minute in the microwave.

Add flour to the yeast slurry in the mixing bowl, then add warm milk and vegetable oil. Use the dough hook to mix it all together.…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Daily Bread

One aspect of the budget that I have been reluctant to deal with during our experiment in frugality is the  grocery budget. Our grocery budget is kind of complicated. Sure, we have a basic amount we spend weekly, like anyone else, but we also consider many other items to be groceries as well: vegetable seeds, chicken feed, and row cover fabric, for example. After all, these materials are required to make the garden grow, and that's where about half of our groceries come from.

It all makes sense, but those garden expenses don't occur as regularly as the weekly trip to Market Basket, and that makes trimming the grocery budget more difficult than just deciding to cut a certain amount each week. It might be easier to make a lifestyle change instead of just picking a dollar amount to cut. The big change?

Bake the week's loaf of bread at home instead of buying it.

This is yet another change courtesy of Kirk's new job: His new schedule is only four work days instead of five, …

Giant Leopard Moths

Last weekend I was setting the chickens up in their playpen when I came across this guy:

I couldn't get him (her?) to open up from this defense posture, but it was easily as big around as my index finger, and curled up it was about the diameter of a half dollar. It has red rings, and, as you can see, a seriously spiky black hairdo.
For the first time ever, my favorite caterpillar identification website let me down. It told me I was looking at a wooly bear, but I know that's not right. (You can see what I mean by checking out a wooly bear photo here.) 
Upon further googling, I found that this caterpillar is very similar to the wooly bear, which grows up to become a tiger moth. But my caterpillar is a Giant Leopard Moth, which is even cooler. Check out this photo from Wikipedia Commons:

That guy is prettier than most butterflies, so I decided not to feed it to the chickens. Not that I could have if I wanted to: Although I expected it to just stay curled up in a ball all day, wh…

Bulbs Today, Flowers Next Spring

Tulips don't last forever, and this past spring it was clear that many of the ones we planted in the cutting garden were past their prime. Some sent up only leaves; others had weak, spindly flowers. I made a note to order some replacement bulbs in the summer, and this week they finally arrived in the mail for fall planting.
Planting bulbs is pretty easy, as long as you plan ahead. You need to get them in the ground a couple weeks before frost so that you can still easily work the soil, and so they have time to develop their roots for a month or so before a hard freeze. Here's what I set out today:

First I hoed out all the weeds in the bulb bed. There were quite a few, because this bed is ordinarily covered in chicken wire to protect the bulbs from squirrels and chipmunks. It's very effective, but it does make it harder to get weeds out because it's hard to grasp them all the way down at the base to bring them up by their roots.
Once the weeding was done, I set out the…

Passive Preservation

We do a lot of work throughout the summer and fall to make our food last: canning peaches, fermenting cabbage into sauerkraut, brining pickles, oven-drying tomatoes. Processing gets the house all hot and steamy, and we're on our feet in the kitchen for hours at a time, stirring and jarring and getting shit done.
But sometimes, all you have to do is wait.

Over in a bright corner of the dining room, our sideboard is covered with flowers and seeds. We don't need to do anything at all to preserve them, other than let them sit and occasionally give them a stir so all parts can dry out. 
That's it.
Not everything can benefit from this type of abject neglect, but our small, herby flowers are perfect candidates. They dry quickly, and since it takes a while gather a big pile, it's convenient to have them out where I can add small handfuls to the tray every few days.  

Here's our chamomile harvest, in varying stages of drying. The flowers to the left are pretty much done, b…