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Showing posts from January, 2015

2015 Master Plan: The Driveway Quadrant

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All of the blizzarding and emotional turmoil of the past week has interrupted my mini-series of posts about the garden's master plan for the coming season. Let's wrap this up, shall we? Our last quadrant:

Across the top are our canning tomatoes: Paisano and Amish Paste. To the right is a long block of corn, which we have expanded a bit since we finally had success with it last summer. At the very bottom right corner is our block of okra.
The okra is next to the bed of sweet potatoes at the bottom, which should work to give those long vines a little extra space to curl around the tall okra stalks. Those crops should make good neighbors. Also in the bottom row are two zucchini plants (which will be plenty!) and a square of eggplant. Hopefully the eggplant will get enough sun in that spot as the summer wears on. By fall there's some shade there because it's near the house, but by fall we're usually a little tired of eggplant anyway.
To the left there is a spot for wi…

All's Well That Ends Well; or, The Cat Came Back

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As I write this, Fletch is curled up on my lap, as is his wont whenever I try to fill that space with a laptop. This can be irritating when I'm trying to get work done, but today I'm going to let it slide.
Let's back up a couple days. 
On Monday afternoon I left work early to get home ahead of the snow. You know, the BIG snow that was scheduled to bury New England with several feet of snow over a 36-hour period. I picked up some firewood and gathered up flashlights in case we lost power (we didn't), and I made sure the chickens had food and water to last a few days. I also checked the heat in the workshop and put some food and water out there for Fletch, figuring he'd be stuck out there for a day or so until we could shovel the path to the workshop. He followed me into the house and spent the afternoon curled up until we put him back outside after dinner Monday night.
And that was the last we saw of him.
Meanwhile, the blizzard was well underway when we woke up on…

2015 Master Plan: The Workshop Quadrant

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As I write this, a gentle, fluffy snowfall is blanketing the garden. It looks in life rather like the white planning page:

This is the workshop quadrant for 2015. Across the top are more grapes and herbs--perennials that live there permanently. The long row on the right side is, as always, filled with annual herbs (cilantro and dill) and spring greens. This length of planting space has plenty of sun in early spring before a nearby maple leafs out in May. It makes it a good place for leafy items, especially things like lettuces that enjoy the shade to keep them from bolting as temperatures rise. Since these are the only things that do well in the shade, we don't have much crop rotation going on: we just switch the herbs with the greens each year and amend with compost. We have decided on a four-block succession planting for the herbs this year, with plantings every six weeks. Hopefully this will provide cilantro and dill during the summer when we most need it for salsa and pickles…

2015 Master Plan: The Swingset Quadrant

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As I mentioned in my last post, in the fall of 2015 we plan to try a much larger greenhouse space for tunneling over our winter veggies. That large tunnel will be tall enough to walk into, and will arc from the northern edge of the bottom row of the swing set quadrant (in the northeast) all the way over to the southern edge of the top row of the patio quadrant (which lies directly to the south of the swing set quadrant, separated by a brick path). The greenhouse will have an entryway (maybe even a lightweight, plastic-covered door, if we get fancy) at the center intersection of all the garden beds. Take a look at the big plan and see if you can visualize it:

To make this worthwhile, we had to plan ahead to make sure that those two long beds will hold only cool-weather crops. So along the bottom row of the driveway bed, we have a pea trellis, carrots, and leeks:

The pea trellis is to the north so that it won't shade the young carrots and leeks as they grow throughout the summer. I…

2015 Master Plan: The Patio Quadrant

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January snow and ice (or, in this year's case, rain) mean that we're in the short lull between garden seasons. There's still a bit left to harvest from the tunnels through the winter, but during the very shortest days of the year nothing is actually growing. In just a few days we'll be starting leek and onion seedlings indoors, but just now the only gardens that are growing are on paper:

This year we've streamlined our plans onto just one big sheet instead of four normal ones. We ran out of graph paper (thanks, Newburyport math and science program!), so Kirk just made a measured drawing. We're pretty well-trained to see the garden as a giant grid for square foot gardening at this point, so this worked out fine. To the right of the plot is the complete list of everything we plant, which gives you a sense of just how big the garden is overall. 
By far, the easiest quadrant to plan is the patio section. It's the smallest because it doesn't have the center…

Sunday Dinner: Football Food

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This Sunday we enjoyed some football food while we watched the AFC Championship game: sliders!

Our mini-burgers were topped with bacon and cheddar, plus caramelized red onions, bread and butter pickles, and homemade ketchup from the garden. Well, pickles and ketchup don't come directly from the garden, but their ingredients do.
We also had purple and yellow French fries and a light slaw. Our storage cabbage is still doing well in the basement, and Kirk made a new winter slaw with shredded cabbage and carrot, plus a couple of thawed cilantro cubes, salt and pepper. The dressing is a light vinaigrette of olive oil and vinagre de banano (banana vinegar) from Costa Rica. It's a really delicious vinegar that tastes like a fruity, caramel-y malt vinegar. I've never seen it in around here before, and if I can't find any, I may have to try to make some when we run out. Anyway, it's just the thing for this crispy winter salad.
And to drink? Chocolate milkshakes. 'Cause…

Kids' Corner: Beef Stew and Herbed Dumplings, à la Kreacher

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Last weekend Tiegan and Jonas worked together to make Kirk's birthday present: Sunday dinner!
Tiegan spent some of her Christmas money at the book store, and one of the items she was most excited about was The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook: From Cauldron Cakes to Knickerbocker Glory: More than 150 Magical Recipes for Muggles and Wizards. After paging through it, the kids decided to make Beef Stew with Herbed Dumplings for Kirk. And with only a quick consult with me about how sear the meat, they did it all on their own. 
I didn't even hear any shouting, so it must have been fun. Here's how they did it:

Tiegan: We cut the onion, carrots, and the celery into kind of big pieces. We also made dough for the dumplings out of flour, eggs, milk, and herbs. I picked oregano, sage, and thyme. Then we covered the dough and put it in the fridge.

Jonas: I cut the potatoes by taking each potato and cutting it in wheels. Then I cut each wheel into quarters. It didn't take long onc…

Sweet Potato and Chorizo Soup

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It is cold.
As I sit typing away, the wind is shrieking straight out of the north. It is a mere 6 degrees in the garden right now, and it's likely that the last turnips and greens will be dead tomorrow, even if the plastic tunnels don't come undone in the wind. Many schools in the area are closed tomorrow due to -30 degree wind chills, and though mine isn't one of them, hope springs eternal.
So, yeah: it's cold. Definitely a soup night. And a soup lunch tomorrow, whether I get to eat it at home or have to carry it to school (I pre-packed to appease the gods of the jinx):

This is a great soup for a cold night. Kirk riffed on a Jamie Oliver recipe (brought to our attention by a good friend), and it is delicious: a sweet and spicy soup that warms you twice over. Here's Kirk's take on it, which makes use of our winter veggies and adds some sundried tomatoes for a summery kick. He also decided against pureeing the whole thing, which was a great improvement. I also …

Trim The Fat Tuesday: The Wrap-Up

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2014 and the year of the Trim the Fat Tuesday Challenge is in the books. So how'd we do?

After 52 weeks of cutting back just one budget item each week, our total savings for 2014 came to $11,065.50.

What?!?

If you'd have asked me a year ago, I never would have believed that we would be able to save that much. Sure, some of our cuts saved us over a hundred dollars a month, but most were much smaller than that--just $10 or $20 at a time.

Still, it's the cumulative effect that counts. This was made especially clear when we were able to pay off my car a couple years early with all of our Trim the Fat savings. That, in turn, led to our biggest monthly cut of all, as we no longer have a $350 car payment to worry about. We took those savings and added them to the pot as well, and we are now shoveling all that extra money toward the mortgage to pay the house off early.

As of this January, our total monthly savings comes to $1728.50 each month. Over the course of the year 2015, th…

Cherry Bounce, Part 4

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Over the weekend we celebrated Kirk's birthday by cracking open the Cherry Bounce during a game night with friends. This is the first time we've served it, and we were playing it pretty safe by mixing it instead of drinking it straight. After all, it's pure rum with a cherry infusion and a lot of sugar.

Sure, George Washington drank it straight, but he was pretty bad-ass. We still wanted to be able to play party games competitively.


It turns out that the Cherry Bounce didn't pack much of a punch when mixed, so it might not be so potent as we feared. It really is delicious straight, and I think that a small cordial glass à la Colonial times would be quite lovely on a cold, winter night.
But for the first time out, we liked it a lot mixed with Coca-Cola and a twist of lime. You know, a rum and Cherry Coke. I love Cherry Coke, so this drink was a winner. We're calling this play on the Cuba Libre a Cereza Libre (cereza is Spanish for cherry).

Cereza Libre 
Fill an old …