Showing posts from December, 2014

The Last Harvest of 2014: Brussels Sprouts

2014 might go down as the Year of the Brussels Sprout here at Ye Olde Port Potager. Although we didn't end up with a big crop, we managed enough for one dinner, which is far better than the abject failures of the past.

Brussels sprouts are challenging because they are gardening's longest game. We planted the seeds way back in the middle of April, and that was even a couple weeks late thanks to last winter's unrelenting polar vortex. They are slow growers, and it wasn't until September that we had buds:

Those tiny buds form just above each leaf, and on September 1 we broke the leaves off of half of our  plants to encourage the buds to develop. For the other half, we topped them:

Both methods perform the same function: get the plant to grow some new leaves. It's just that the new leaves we want are shaped like tiny cabbages. 
Five or six weeks later, the ones that we topped had some nice development of sprouts near the top, but not so much growth farther down the st…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Hobbies, Part 2

This is it: the final Trim the Fat Tuesday budget cut! In looking over our budget this month, I realized that we could easily

Cut a little more out of our hobby budget for the coming year.

As I mentioned before, our hobbies include things like Kirk's entry fees for races and triathlons, some theatrical production fees, rink admission for skating, and other stuff like that. It also includes materials for costume building on Halloween:

The hobby budget does not include the garden. That's filed under groceries, since it's kind of more like a family farm than a hobby at this point.
Anyway, looking back over our budget and comparing it to our actual spending in 2014 revealed that our hobby barters and previous cuts have been so successful that we still have a surplus in this line item. To start banking that savings instead of letting it get frittered away, I'm going to officially cut $5 more from the hobby budget each month, since we're not missing it anyway.
By th…

Sunday Dinner: Roast Beef

Last night we had a pretty excellent Sunday supper. It was all delicious, but can you spot the star ingredient?

Our colorful wintertime plate included herbed mashed potatoes and gravy, a really tasty rosemary roast dressed with horseradish, roasted carrots and parsnips, and (drumroll) Brussels sprouts!
If you have been following this blog for some time, you know that growing Brussels sprouts has been an ongoing challenge for us. This year we finally had some worth harvesting, and last night we enjoyed them sautéed with just a touch of maple syrup. They were sweet and tender after spending a good month out in the cold, and I will give a full accounting of the successes and failures of the Brussels sprout crop later this week.
For dessert we opened up the spiced peaches that Jonas made back in the summer:

True to their name, they were very, very spicy. Luckily, these were very ripe and very sweet peaches that could stand up to the powerful amount of cinnamon we put in the jar. Still, I…

Christmas Dinner: Spinach Pasta

Our Christmas dinner is not a tradition that rises from the garden, but rather is a reminder of our (admittedly relative) poverty when we first lived together in North Carolina. 
That first year that we lived together, while I was finishing college and student teaching and Kirk was learning some very useful farm skills as an interpreter at the living history museum at Old Salem, we lived on very little money. We did the grocery shopping at the local Kroger with a carefully planned list in one hand and a calculator in the other. If I'm not mistaken, our budget was $25 for the week, and if we went over the limit, we took things out of the cart and put them back. Some weeks we had enough for everything plus pickles; other weeks we did not. 
This budget led to a careful exploration of pasta and stir fry dishes, and we learned just how far a single cut of meat can be stretched. We regularly split a chicken breast in half to share for dinner.
So for our first Christmas dinner together,…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Entertainment Budget, Part 3

As the year draws to a close, we've decided to challenge ourselves to take one last bite out of our entertainment budget by (once again)

Cutting an additional $10 per week out of our entertainment budget.

Kirk and I debated about this one for a while. We've managed to get used to our past entertainmentcuts without too much trouble, but this last one seems like it could be more challenging. But that's kind of the point, isn't it?

I think this last cut will force us to decide whether eating out is how we really want to spend the money. We tend to get lazy about cooking sometimes and just order pizza or go out for a burger. With a tighter rein on the entertainment budget, we'll have to examine those choices a little more carefully. Do we really want to spend the money on so-so Chinese food just because someone brings it to our door? Sometimes the answer will be yes, but I think it might often be no, if the trade-off is skipping a movie or round of mini-golf. Either wa…

Cherry Bounce, Part 3

Back in August we gathered chokecherries and used them to infuse some local rum to make old fashioned cordial called Cherry Bounce. Now that it's December and the cherries have been soaking away in alcohol for the last four months, the Cherry Bounce should be ready. Here's what it looked like when I brought it up from the basement, where it had been sitting on a cool, dark shelf: 

It's hard to tell in this photo, but the liquid is now a totally dark black-purple — the color of black raspberry juice, but barely translucent at all. I set up the bowl with the handle from the stand mixer with a mesh strainer on top to catch all the little chokecherries:

I was a little surprised at how dark the liquid was when I poured out the first jar. The dregs were even a little thick looking. The chokecherries now look soft, and their skins are no longer shiny:

I tasted a chokecherry first, and they are definitely spent: totally tasteless, and certainly nowhere near as tart as when we pic…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Raise

This is a little bit of a cheat because I'm not technically making a cut in spending. After much haggling in our latest round of contract negotiations, though, we did end up getting a raise this year. I will therefore

Move all the extra income from my raise immediately into savings.

It's actually easier for me to consider this extra money since it wasn't in my check from the beginning of the school year. We usually use that amount for our annual budget, but now my suddenly higher checks will feel more like a bonus since our budget is already accounted for. The trick here is to earmark that cash for savings right away, before we get used to having it lying around, and before it just sort of disappears into the checking account where it could be frittered away on goodies from the local bakery or a pellet gun or something.

My raise comes to $902.29 for the year, which is $676.72 after taxes. Prorated out to 12 months, that's $56.39 extra a month to add to our savings. Not…

Squirrels Are Assholes, Part 673

I've written a lot here about how much I hate squirrels. They eat our fruit, dig up our bulbs, and now it looks like they are following me to work.
Ok, so I'm sure it's far more likely that our Newburyport Squirrels just called up their Brookline cousins to mess with me. They probably gave them my license plate number, because just look at what these assholes are up to now:

Have you ever heard of squirrels building nests in the engine block of a car? Me neither, but apparently it's a thing. 
Luckily for me, this is not my car. This is a co-worker's car, and this is the second squirrel nest she's had to dig out from under the hood of her car. It's happening to lots of other people who park under the trees at work as well. 
The squirrels must be fast workers, because this all happens during the course of just one school day, and when you smell burning leaves while you're driving home, you know you have a problem.
No tales of axe-murdering squirrel hitchh…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Gas Station

I've been watching gas prices lately (when you drive almost 100 miles a day, you start to take in the scenery). There's a pretty wide variety, but I think I can make an easy cut by planning ahead to 
Make the weekly fill-up at the cheapest possible gas station.
I typically hate stopping to put gas in the car, but I'll admit that it's been borderline-enjoyable for the past month or so. Each time I pull into the gas station, the gas is just a little cheaper than the last time:

This gas station is my preferred spot; the cheapest places I've found on the North Shore are in Peabody, which I drive through every day. Gas here along Route 1 is way cheaper than in Boston or Newburyport. I usually fill up during the commute.
But … sometimes I don't. And then sometimes we run out of gas on the weekend, which forces us to fill up at the expensive gas stations at home.
With a little advanced planning, I should be able to cut out those pricey Newburyport gas station trips en…

Potato Cakes

Yesterday, after completing our last bit of gardening for the year, Kirk made a really delectable lunch from some odds and ends. Not that you could tell — it looks like a fancy-schmancy tapas plate:

These are two potato cakes garnished with some creamed spinach with carrot ribbons and turkey gravy. The kids were about to head out to the third performance of their Christmas play, and we wanted them to have a hot lunch to tide them over, but didn't want it to be too heavy. This was perfect.
It was also a perfect way to use up the inordinate amount of mashed potatoes and gravy we still had left over from Thanksgiving, so I highly recommend it any time your eyes are too big for your stomach in the mashed potato department (which is really just about every time, right?).
Potato Cakes
1 cup mashed potatoes 1 egg 1 tsp. baking powder 3/4 to 1 cup flour
Mix mashed potatoes, egg, and baking powder in a large bowl. Gradually add flour until the mixture feels like a workable dough. Press out…

Winter Clean-Up

Between last weekend and today, we made our final push to clean up the garden for the winter. Though the veggie beds and winter tunnels have been ready to go for some time, we still had to take care of the perennial border:

This is my least favorite task of the whole year, the trimming back of all the perennial plants and the raking of leaves for the winter clean-up. I am always sorely tempted to call it all mulch and let it go, but it is much harder to clean up in the spring before the bulbs come up.
So here we are, out in the cold getting it taken care of before what looks to be a week-long nor'easter heads our way. Also crossed off the list was some plant protection:

This is our little fig tree. Last year we corralled it in a box of leaves, but it was such a harsh winter that that it died most of the way back anyway. Over the summer it did put out two new shoots, and it looks like we may have a fig bush instead of a tree. Because it is so small, we wrapped it in straw and burl…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Granola Bars

This one is short and sweet, and super-easy because it affects the children. Several months ago we decided to

Cut the granola bars out of the grocery budget.

Back in the spring, the kids were eating these glorified candy bars like they were going out of style. We were buying two boxes a week, and they would often be gone by Wednesday. They gobbled down a lot at baseball games, and after the season was over we put a stop to granola bars entirely.
At the height of granola insanity, we were even buying name-brand Chewy bars. These are two boxes for $5, so that was $5 per week, or $20 per month.
But … it's not like we stopped feeding the children. Though we're not buying these any more, they have been replaced by other snacks (fruit, whole grain crackers, homemade bread). To be more realistic, we probably only save half the money, because we still spend half on other, healthier foods for their lunch boxes. 
Still, $10 a month isn't too bad. Especially not for me, who ate maybe…