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Showing posts from 2015

The Darkest Day

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I spent this winter solstice at the funeral of a beloved friend. 
She was full of light and energy, and it is so very dark here right now — as if the sun were suddenly snuffed instead of just warming the other side of the planet for a bit. 
I lack.
I lack words to express this loss.
I lack all resources to stand up against the waves of sadness that have really only just begun to crash around me.
I lack any ability to cypher out the ledger sheet of this year, which has been filled with more loss — in the world at large and in my corner of it — than I can tally. 

This photo gets at something I haven't been able to say, though. This is MaryClaire, walking away, holding Jonas' tiny hand and no doubt teaching him something about that big, beautiful world around them. He's only five there, and that's also gone, replaced by something study and clever but less soft and trusting. 
And, now, much more sad. 
So there they are, my friend and my boy's boyhood, just out of reac…

Big Bird's Banana Bread

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So far we have jarred up about 10 pints of honey, and there are still several combs left in our buckets waiting their turn for crushing and straining. That’s about 16 pounds of honey (well, according to the online calculator I found, it’s 15 pounds, but we also used quite a bit in passing that never made it to the jar at all).

Anyway, with all that honey around, we need to use it for more than just sweetening morning tea and coffee. (More about honey in coffee later — it’s a life changer worthy of its own post). This morning, Kirk pulled out an old favorite recipe:



Big Bird’s Banana Bread is the best you will ever eat. This recipe is vintage 1970s, straight from the Sesame Street Magazine (though ours is a photocopy). This recipe is also as wholesome as you would expect, given the earnest source: tons of real bananas, honey instead of sugar, and it’s totally whole wheat. You’ll have more fun if you click on the photos and follow the original directions, but here’s the basic, unbeatab…

Sunday Dinner: Homemade Pizza and a Salad

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We took advantage of this beautiful weekend to finish up some garden clean-up chores that we had put off while working on the kitchen. Now all the garden beds are tidied up for the winter, and all the root vegetables are mulched and ready for cold weather.

Part of the clean up included harvesting some beets and beet greens that are not under plastic. I also picked the last radishes, which have done admirably in the cold without any protection. Add some last snippets of broccoli and a carrot, and you have a tasty winter salad:


We were a little disappointed to discover that most of the arugula and lettuce in the greenhouse tunnels was limp and mushy from the wide temperature fluctuations over the past month, so this salad is mostly beet greens taken when we pulled the beets for storage. (There's a tiny bit of arugula from a volunteer patch, but not much.) That makes for a strongly flavored salad, so Kirk balanced it out with a sweet new dressing:
Honey Sesame Dressing
2 Tbs. sesame …

Peace Comes Dropping Slow

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I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made: Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee; And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
~ W. B. Yeats, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”
Our own bee-loud glade has fallen silent, but we were able to harvest eight full combs of capped honey:

These five we had sitting out on the counter for some time, since dealing with sticky, messy honey in the midst of kitchen chaos would have been difficult. That’s not an ideal situation — without the bees using their wings to maintain the proper humidity, the honey thickens and will eventually crystalize. 
But over the past several days we’ve been working to get the honey out of the comb (though you can see in the photo above that we’ve been cutting off pieces to use as needed, for a cup of tea or to drizzle in an apple pie, for example). 
To deal with the honey properly, we finally cut the comb off the bars:

Ordinarily we’d just put these back i…

From the Archives: Okra Quick Pickle

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Some time over the summer, before we tore apart the kitchen, I decided to try my hand at pickling okra. I know this because I found this photo lurking in an unpublished post: 

Careful forensic evidence reveals that this photo was taken on the old kitchen counter, while the kitchen was still lime green in sections. I also recall being inspired by some pickled okra we had at Loretta’s Last Call (otherwise unmemorable except for the pitchers of sweet tea) before a game at Fenway on the Fourth of July. So I imagine I threw some early okra in a jar back when the okra was just starting and we couldn’t harvest enough to eat or freeze in a decent-sized batch yet. 
I also found a cryptic note to myself reading "old horseradish brine, vinegar, water, dill, peppercorn, garlic” under the photo.
So, to the best of my knowledge, here’s what happened. I used a jar that had recently been emptied of its horseradish pickles and tossed in three pods of okra, in what can only be described as the laz…

The Chickens Are (Finally!) Laying

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Our older chickens molted early, and our younger ones finally figured out the whole egg-laying thing, so we are flush with eggs of many colors and sizes:

Despite the short hours of daylight, we've been able to turn the light on for the girls, and now they're averaging about three eggs per day. We suddenly find ourselves with two dozen eggs in the fridge. This comes at a great time: Wednesday is Pie Day, and holiday baking will be in full force immediately thereafter. 
In the meantime, quiche is one of the quickest ways to blow through a bunch of eggs, so that's what Kirk made for dinner. This was a Cheddar Bacon Broccoli Quiche, and it was outstanding:

Cheddar Bacon Broccoli Quiche
For the pastry: 6 Tbs. butter 2 Tbs. shortening 1 1/4 cup flour 1/2 tsp. salt 1/4 cup vodka
For the filling: 4 strips of bacon 1 medium onion 1 cup chopped broccoli 4 eggs 1 cup half and half 1 cup milk 1 cup grated cheddar a pinch of thyme a pinch of mace salt and pepper to taste
1. Put flour i…

Curried Butternut Soup

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We still aren't done with the kitchen renovation, but Kirk has been managing to put together some healthy garden meals anyway (even though washing the dishes in the upstairs bathtub is no fun). Last night we had a new Curried Butternut Soup:

Curried Butternut Soup 2 medium red onions, finely diced  4 Tbs. butter Salt and pepper to taste 2 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced 4 cups chicken stock 8 cups water 1 Tbs. ginger garlic paste 1 Tbs. curry powder 1/2 cup half and half
1. In a large stock pot, melt the butter and sauté the onions on medium heat until soft. Generously season with salt and pepper.
2. Add the butternut squash to the pot with the onions and stir, then add chicken stock and water. Cover the pot and allow to simmer over medium heat for about 30 minutes or until butternut squash is cooked through.
3. Add the ginger garlic paste and curry powder, then use an immersion blender to puree the soup until very smooth.
4. Stir in the half and half and adjust …

Get Involved: Protect Our Pollinators

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Remember my poor, probably pesticide-poisoned honeybee?


The fact that she died with her tongue sticking out is a classic sign that pesticides were involved.
Well, it just so happens that this week there's a hearing scheduled on Beacon Hill about limiting the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in Massachusetts. This bill is supported by Massachusetts beekeepers, who are working to keep decisions that affect honeybees and other pollinators out of the hands of the pesticide manufacturers. 
If you live in Massachusetts, take a moment to write your state rep and senator in support of H.655, An Act Protecting Massachusetts Pollinators. Send an email in support of the bill to committee co-chairs Sen. Anne Gobi and Rep. Paul Schmid. While you're at it, copy your own reps. In Newburyport, that's Sen. Kathleen Connor-Ives and Rep. James Kelcourse. If you live in another part of the state, you can find your reps here
It only takes a few minutes to make a difference, so rattle off tha…

The Beehive Postmortem

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As I alluded to ever-so-briefly in my previous post, our bee colony has collapsed. Through October they seemed to be doing fine, but when I checked in on a warm day earlier this month, it was eerily quiet. No bees at all at the entrance, and no humming of activity. 
I opened the hive to find lots of gorgeous combs of capped honey, but no bees at all. No living ones, anyway. There were a few dead ones on the floor of the hive, and that was it. Thousands of bees had simply vanished into thin air. 
Later we went through the hive to take some photos to send to our bee mentor for some insight on what could have happened to the colony. Here's what we found:

Lots of comb that should have brood cells (baby bees in the comb) had nothing at all. The cells at the top are capped honey for winter, but the ones at the bottom have only a very spotty brood pattern (the parts that look like closed dots in the honeycomb). There are no eggs in the comb either, a sign that our queen "failed,&quo…

We Buried a Cat Today

We buried a cat today.

We brought him home from the neighbor's yard, where we found him stiff and cold, paws unnaturally curled and raised as if to fend something off. His teeth were bared a bit, but his eyes were closed.

A snow shovel wasn't bier enough for what was so recently a purring, warm thing, so I brought up from the basement a cloth,

a green curtain that I had sewed long ago and which had once hung in the dining room of the Red House, where we fed babies with plastic spoons and marked time with small colored candles in cakes.

Now that's buried too, wrapped around the cat whose body suddenly made sense again as we rolled him over and he looked like he was sleeping.

"He doesn't look scared any more," said the boy as we tucked in his friend and carried his body to the hill behind the fence,

stirring up papery orange leaves as we went.

Three of us scooped fistfuls of light, silty soil over the bundle, and I felt how soft the dust was, falling through m…

The Little Apple Tree That Could

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You may recall that the epic Winter of 2015 brought with it a lot of damage to our plants, especially those in the perennial border and the orchard. Our small Granny Smith tree was hit particularly hard, since it was, for a time, completely buried in a full Gronk of snow:


When the snow finally melted, its massive weight broke every branch on the little tree:

We figured it was a total goner, but since it managed to both blossom and set fruit (!!!), we didn't remove it. The result? One perfect apple:

This is the one and only Granny Smith apple harvested from that tree ever, and it was a great one: extra large, crisp, and juicy. It's a shame the tree isn't worth saving (we have some orchard redux in mind for next spring, actually), but it was nice to see it put out one prefect piece of fruit.

Sunday Supper: Chicken and Broccoli Ziti

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It's been a while since I've reported on a Sundaysupper, but here's a really good one:

We still don't have a fully functioning kitchen yet, so Kirk is focused on easy dinners. This chicken and  broccoli ziti was an upgrade from the mac and cheese that we'd normally make, to spruce it up for a Sunday dinner.
To make this, Kirk boiled a box of pasta and added broccoli from our last harvest in the last three minutes of cooking. This is probably the equivalent of one large head of broccoli, but ours included lots of individual side shoots, which is what you get as the season goes on.
He also sautéed up a pound of chicken breasts, seasoned with dried basil and oregano, plus salt and pepper. 
Finally, the sauce is a standard bechamel with about 1/4 cup of grated parmesan and four to six cloves of minced garlic. He mixed it all together, topped it with breadcrumbs and some more grated parmesan, and it's all done!
This would probably make a good baked casserole-type di…

Indian Summer

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Today wasn't the most gorgeous of Indian summer days, but I'll take the warmth as it comes, blustery clouds, scattered showers, and all.

This time of year is always a little unsettling to me. After a frost, there's suddenly not much left to do in the garden.

Okay, there's plenty of cleanup to take care of, but nothing is urgent at all right now. THat will change when the sugar maple finally dumps its elves everywhere, but for now it's a strange lull.

With no garden activities to enjoy, the warm weather seems kind of a waste. But I also feel a vague need to take advantage of the day, because the sun is setting early, and there's not so very much daylight to be had these days.


The roses, for their part, seem unaware that everything else has died off. They're still blooming almost better than they did in the spring and summer. Being right next to the house surely helps keep them warm and sheltered from the wind.
Come to think of it, lots of red flowers around…

One Last Summer Harvest

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We often don’t have a killing frost here the first couple times it’s predicted, protected as we are by the ocean, which acts as a big heat source and keeps our temperatures slightly warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. In the game of protecting tender plants, those few degrees in either direction are crucial.
This year, though, there was no flirting with 33 degree nights. The temperature dropped right down to 30 last night, and that did in the last of the summer fruits. We prepared to protect our leafy greens, and yesterday I also went through the garden to pick anything that looked big enough to be worth saving: 

As a general rule of thumb, fruits will not survive a frost, but root vegetables will be just fine until a hard freeze, thanks to the insulating power of the earth. Leafy vegetables are a toss up: Basil gave up long ago and green beans are out, but arugula, cabbage, and kale are fine. Broccoli is also usually pretty tough, but we were planning on a stir fry for di…

All Snugged Up

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It's that time of year again: Frost is on its way. That means it's time to get our butts in gear and protect our fall veggies from getting nipped back by the cold. With proper care, leafy greens should last through year's end, and leeks and carrots will be fine all winter (though there's no guarantee we'll be able to get to them, but they'll survive nonetheless).
We never, ever manage to take care of this until the very day temperatures are expected to drop below freezing. This year there's the whole kitchen thing, but there's always something. The trouble with that is that, without fail, the day we put up the tunnels us the windiest, coldest day of the fall.
Today was no exception. The streak is alive.
Still, we got it done. This year we put our longest ever tunnel in place:

This stretches the full 27 feet across our longest bed along the brick path. Inside are leeks, beets, turnips, bok choy, mesclun, and a handful of carrots.
We also covered some ot…

A Dozen Eggs

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At least two of our new chickens — Rachel, the Rhode Island Red; Lizzy, the Welsummer; and Louisa Catherine, the Gold-Laced Wyandotte — are laying now, and we’ve collected a dozen eggs so far: 

This mis-matched set doesn’t include the four “seed eggs” that we put in the nesting boxes to help the girls figure out where to lay their eggs. Someone’s got it down, but someone else is still laying little eggs on the floor under the roosting bar.
But who’s laying where, and which egg belongs to which bird?   
All three of our older chickens are molting and appear to be done laying for the season. Martha and Abigail lay green eggs, so that’s not in question anyway. Sally lays light brownish-pink eggs, and you can see that we have three or four full-sized, light eggs in the box. We thought perhaps she was the one laying these big eggs in the box (despite the molt), but today I picked up an egg with a clue: 

The downy feather left attached to this light egg is a definite red-brown, and that me…

The Colors of Autumn

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It's shaping up to be a gorgeous holiday weekend here, and we took a little time out from building kitchen cabinets to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. The leaves here are just starting to flush with color, and there are lots of pops of red and orange in the garden as well.

Our calendula was nibbled back a few times by a bunny or groundhog, so it's not as full as in years past. Good thing I still have plenty of it dried and stored from last year to make soap. The blooms we do have are lovely, though. 

Tough the vines have called it a day, the rose tomatoes are still ripening in the sun. 

The okra has also slowed way down in the cooler temperatures, but they're still blooming. The bees love these flowers, so I imagine they'll be all over this once it unfurls. These plants are easily eight feet high now, so the blue sky is always the backdrop when you look up to see them.

These tiny red petunias really took off this summer, and they're still going strong. You'l…

Autumn Greens

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So there's no more fuss and there's no more scenes and my garden thrives! (You should see my nectarine.) But I'm telling you the same I tell Kings and Queens don't ever ever ever mess around with my greens!
~from Into the Woods, by Stephen Sondheim
We're still slogging through our kitchen renovation, and it's sucking up a lot of time that we would ordinarily be spending on preserving the last of our summer fruits — not mention cooking delicious meals using all that garden produce. An embarrassing amount of apples, pears, and tomatoes have been fed to the chickens due to our inability to eat them in a timely fashion.
One thing that's doing well and can be stored in place outside are the cool-weather greens. Though the back half of the summer was a dry one, we had a fair amount of rain early this month to get us back on track. The moisture and the cooler temperatures mean happy greens:

Cilantro, because it's related to carrots and celery, is at its absolute b…