Thursday, December 22, 2011

December Post Produce: Sautéed Brussels Sprouts!!!

Winter may actually be here now that we've had a couple of snowfalls. Now is when the staying power and storage characteristics that have made some crops popular is evident. When I visited the garden recently to harvest the last parsnips I also checked on the abandoned Brussels sprouts. Temperatures had been below freezing more than once so I wasn't really expecting them to be usable anymore. Mostly I wanted to get them pulled out and composted to keep the garden as tidy looking as I could, a hang-up I may work on overcoming in 2012. There were still at least a pound of tight little sprouts on the stalks just the right size for eating. I stripped them all off knocking ice pieces from inside the outer leaves as I went. A few days later we were doing a typical "what should we have for dinner?" and pulled the bag of sprouts out of the refrigerator. I was pleased to find that they weren’t mushy and watery like other vegetables that have been through freezing temperatures.

A quick sauté of lamb gyro sausage we had laying around with onions, red chili flakes and cherry tomatoes made a delicious and colorful dinner. There are still some sprouts in the fridge waiting for the next meal. I’m thinking they’ll probably accompany one of the local, free-range chickens we’ve got stashed in the freezer along with the last of the turnips.

This fascinating dish was brought to you for Post Produce for Daniel’s Your Small Kitchen Garden. Check it out for more gardening, cooking and preserving inspiration.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Not What I Expected

Today I made what was probably my last trip to the garden for the year. The aim was to harvest the last of the parsnips before the ground freezes much more. There were only a handful left. The few that I had dug up previously were really tasty. They were also surprisingly long and straight considering how much clay there is in the garden’s soil. Not so with today’s harvest! Most of these roots were forked and twisted like crazy. Only one was somewhat straight. A couple had wound around each other and intertwined but I managed to wiggle them apart. Another reminder that if I’m going to grow more root crops next year like I plan to I’m going to have to do some more soil prep.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Post Produce: Calendula Lotion

Last summer the nice Korean family gardening across the path from our community plot grew masses of amazing golden flowers. I asked them what they were and he said that they were Calendula and added that they were good for the skin. This year I grew some and, remembering what my garden neighbor said, looked into the “good for the skin” thing. Calendula, it seems, is used in different healing balms, salves and lotions. After perusing a few recipes on the Internet I decided to take a shot at whipping something up from the dried flowers I’d saved from the garden for this month’s Post Produce.


The lotion would consist of only three ingredients: olive oil, beeswax, and dried Calendula flowers pulled from four or five inflorescences.




I started by adding the flowers to two tablespoons of olive oil and gently warming it on the stove. Taking it off the heat, I let it steep for about an hour and then strained the oil.





To melt the beeswax I first broke it into pieces. Beeswax is less brittle and more sticky than candle wax, I noticed.




I started with six grams from my thirty gram bar.  To melt the concoction I put the oil and wax inside a clean can—not a tuna can!—in a small pan of simmering water and stirred with a wooden stick. When it looked like the mixture was still pretty liquidy and not so lotiony I kept adding small amounts of wax.




Eventually I had added the entire bar. The next step I do not recommend. While I was lifting the can out of the pot with tongs I bumped the edge and splattered the oil and wax on the stove, counter, my shoe and the rug. As I was scraping and cleaning up the mess I realized there was too much wax in the mixture making it brittle so I added another tablespoon of oil, carefully placed the can in the oven on a piece of foil and alternately warmed and stirred.


Stirring Glop

Eventually, after gradually adding small amounts of oil it appeared to be maintaining an acceptable consistency.  I scooped it into a small jar and tried rubbing a tiny bit into my hands. There appear to be some small bits of wax yet, but they smoothed out and didn’t remain a problem. This stuff is really waxy, though. After applying it I did have to wipe my palms so I could handle things without gumming them up.


It was an interesting exercise and I ended up with some nice-smelling if odd textured lotion. Were I to do it again I’d definitely use a recipe with exact proportions. The Calendula flowers themselves were ridiculously easy to grow from seed. In fact, I noticed some seedlings springing up around the mature plants late this past summer. Whether or not I make anything with them, I do intend to grow them again.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Home-Grown Black Bean Chili

BeanzThere really isn't much to this recipe but a friend asked about it so I thought I'd try writing it out. It's just something simple I threw together to use some fresh shelled black beans I had on hand. My Black Valentine bushes produced a second flush of pods late this summer that didn't have time to ripen and dry before the cold weather hit. You can, of course, cook dry beans to use or even resort to canned beans if you absolutely have to.

  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1/2 medium white onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup peppers finely diced -- blend sweet and hot to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 cups diced whole tomatoes
  • 2 cups cooked black beans
  • salt

Heat canola oil in a saucepan and in it sauté the onion and peppers. When they're softened, add a couple cloves of minced garlic and chili powder. Sauté half a minute more. Add tomatoes and cook until they're soft. Dump in the black beans and simmer gently to blend the flavors, about 20 minutes. Salt to taste and serve. When I made this I purposely tried to primarily use produce from my own garden and did pretty well. Only the oil, chili powder and salt were purchased. I'm looking into making my own chili powder but it's going to require a better cumin crop than I had this year--which would be any cumin at all. I was inspired to try the bit of frying the powder with the first round of  veggies from a lot of the Indian recipes I've made. I believe the theory is that the more intense "dry" heat brings out the flavor and toasts the spices before adding the liquid component. In any case, this was tasty for being so simple. Doubtless there are many variations I could try, especially in the home-grown vegetable department.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Garden in November

The garden is ready for winter, as far as I’m concerned. The last big project this year was to reshape the layout of  last year’s half of the plot. I had originally created beds running north/south which resulted in them also running up and down the slight slope rather than across. As a result I had to be extra careful when watering in newly seeded rows. If it rained hard, the water pooled and ran down the row dislodging the carefully placed seeds. As beds became close to empty this fall I worked on digging and shoveling to reorient them east/west and thus across the slope so the tops could be more level. I also made the beds a full three feet wide. Previously I had limited their width to whatever I could easily step over. Since they ran the full length of the garden I didn’t want to have to walk all the way around one to get to the next row. In the end that didn’t prove to be an advantage since it was more the height of the plants that determined what I could step over. I drafted a fairly accurate representation of the previous and new bed layouts in AutoCAD and it appears that we gained a bit of plantable area.


November GardenAfter the new beds were established I dumped a load of partially composted leaves on each one and roughly spaded it into the top eight inches or so of soil. There is a good amount of clay present in the garden so we take advantage of any opportunity to add 0rganic matter and loosen it up. I left the surface rough to slow water running off it through the fall and winter. Finally, a thick layer of leaf mulch was spread on all the beds and paths. Fortunately there are still a few living plants or the garden would look like a dozen unmarked graves.


Last year I made a note in my garden notebook to ignore the typical predicted first frost date of somewhere around the last week of September or first week of October. I sort of heeded that by planting some fall crops that would take me past that date, but I held off doing a cover crop because by the time I thought of it I was sure it wouldn’t have time to grow. While we may have had a light frost up there, we’ve been nowhere near a real freeze for over a month past the expected dates. I kind of wish I’d taken a chance and put in some buckwheat anyway, but at the time I hadn’t yet done the bed rearranging. Next year I definitely plan to do a cover crop of something.


The biggest veggies still surviving and producing are the Brussels sprouts. They’re going to make an appearance on the co-conspirator’s Thanksgiving table. My note for next year is to plant them a lot farther apart.

Brussels Sprouts

A few parsnips are still in the ground but I pulled one to cook some time this week. We tossed one in when we roasted a chicken recently and it was wonderful. One aim of loosening the soil is so that we can grow better root crops. The parsnips did OK, but we had a lot of forked carrots. There are some more unusual root crops I want to try next year as well.



Off in the corner where I planted cilantro that promptly flowered and went to seed is…cilantro! I thought I had harvested all the seed to use in curries and such, but apparently I missed some. The volunteer plants are growing much better than the potted plant I bought last spring so next year I’m just going to direct-sow this crop. I’m one of those people who thinks cilantro tastes like soap. I used to loathe it but now I merely dislike it. I’m working toward tolerating it and perhaps one day actually liking it.Cilantro

Another herb that is still going like crazy is the French sorrel. It’s too bad because I never did find many uses for it this season. I had no idea it would get this big, nearly smothering the winter savory I planted it next to. I don’t even know if I should be using the big leaves or only the tender young ones. If you grow this one, let me know how you use it.

French SorrelThe winter savory was used at least a little. It went into bean dishes and I believe I used it with chicken once. It kind of reminds me of rosemary which I’ve never had any luck growing. Hopefully it will make it through the winter and come back next season.

Winter SavoryI suppose I could be doing some season extending things like a little coldframe or some row cover, but what with rearranging the layout—a process that took multiple sessions of work over several weeks—it looked like it would be a logistical pain in the neck and a bit of overkill. Maybe next year I’ll experiment more with fall and early winter crops, but for this season I really feel like I’m ready to be done.  Now to start really planning next year’s garden! 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To Bee or Not to Bee

OK, yes, that was lame. But it does kind of sum up the exploration I've undertaken over the last several months. I've been reading a lot about honeybees and beekeeping. It's hard to resist such an interesting undertaking and I'm still weighing different options. But it's seriously looking like we're going to become beekeepers along with a friend of ours. Ironically, just as I was deciding to go ahead and put a hive or two in our back yard, the Co-conspirator brought my attention to a news story about the city council considering an ordinance to expressly allow beekeeping in the city. Up until that point I had found nothing in the code that expressly prohibited it so I thought I'd just go ahead and do it without asking. Unfortunately, the proposed ordinance as it currently stands is a little too restrictive to let us place and maintain our hives as I was planning to. It was also around this time, I think, that I mentioned my beekeeping fantasies to a good friend of ours who also happens to be an entomologist. As luck would have it he's also interested in starting up and has connections to rural opportunities to place our hives. Problem solved.

It will be interesting to see how the ordinance shapes up. I feel it's kind of a cop-out to just go outside the city to avoid conflict altogether, but one look at the neighborhood list-serve reminds me how "engaged" some of neighbors are. Perhaps in the future when the ordinance is settled and we've got some big, healthy hives going we'll move some into town. For now we're going to just work on getting better educated and better connected to experienced beekeepers. We attended this month's meeting of the local beekeeping association and they seem like a friendly and knowledgeable bunch. I was relieved to find out we weren't the only "no-bees" at the meeting. So there's the big winter project. Stay tuned as the adventure unfolds!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Braised Sauerkraut and Bratwurst

In my last post I mentioned how nice it would be to have a summer kitchen for when canning or cooking are too hot or smelly to be done indoors. Almost immediately after that it occurred to me that we can and do cook outdoors and I'm not talking about the grill. Last evening I wanted to make some braised sauerkraut but didn’t want to risk another case of “outhouse kitchen”--Enter the Dutch oven!


Setting the StageI started by setting up a cooking area on our patio. I laid out some of the leftover pavers we've got lying around to make an elevated, fireproof platform for the coals. Cooking directly on the patio would have scorched it. When we are camping and cook in the Dutch oven we just place the coals directly on a patch of bare ground.


Light my FireWe had just enough charcoal left over to do one round of cooking. For dishes that take more than an hour or so, we usually end up lighting a new batch to replace the burned down coals but I didn't anticipate needing to do that with this dish. I piled them up and put a match to them. We've always used briquettes because Dutch oven cooking recipes are often calibrated to the number to use. There is a bag of real hardwood charcoal laying around here somewhere and I'm thinking some time I may give it a try and see how the process compares. Incidentally, it was about this time a light breeze kicked up and I was starting to question the wisdom of doing this with a thick layer of dry leaves all over the back yard.


Ingredients in DO While the coals were starting I assembled the first ingredients in the Dutch oven. The full recipe is at the end of this post.


Coal Layout When the coals all had some ash on them I arranged two thirds in a rough circle just a bit smaller than the Dutch Oven. They're spaced so they aren't touching so air can circulate. This particular Dutch oven has three short legs that elevate it just above the coals. The one we us indoors in the oven doesn't have legs.


CookingThe Dutch oven is placed on the cooking area and the remaining third of the coals arranged evenly around the edge of the lid. As you can see, this oven has another feature the one for indoor use lacks. There is a lip around the edge of the lid to hold the coals on. Heating from both the top and bottom are probably more important when baking, but I thought since it was getting cold out a little extra heat wouldn’t hurt.


Smoked BratsMeanwhile back in the kitchen, we unwrapped the much-anticipated special ingredient. At yesterday’s Market we picked up a package of smoked bratwurst from Pecatonica Valley Farm


Searing BratsTo get a little extra flavor out of the brats we seared them a bit –in cast iron, of course, but they were on the dry side and I think if I were to do this again I’d skip this step. It really didn’t seem to add anything to the dish.


Simmering By this time the sauerkraut and friends had been bubbling for a while. No foul odors, by the way, were detected!


Brats in Kraut I sliced up the brats into thirds and nestled them into the kraut to share flavors for a while.


Brat Kraut and Taters The final result, served with a delicious mound of garlicky mashed potatoes was a hearty, seasonal and satisfying meal.


Dutch Oven Braised Sauerkraut and Bratwurst


  • 1/2 White Onion, Sliced
  • 1 Pint Home-Fermented and Canned Sauerkraut (substitute other if you absolutely must)
  • 1/2 Cup Local Beer
  • 1 1/2" Cups Chicken Stock
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon Caraway Seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dried Thyme
  • Black Pepper to Taste
  • 2 Delicious, Local, pasture-raised-pork bratwurst


Start and arrange coals as described above. You will need sixteen coals for under the oven and seven for the lid, a total of twenty-three.

Place sauerkraut in a colander or strainer and rinse off salty brine. Add to Dutch oven along with the beer, stock, herbs and pepper.

Place oven on coals. Note: Do not preheat oven and then add cold ingredients. Shocking the hot metal thusly just isn’t good for it. Allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Slice bratwurst into thirds and add to simmering sauerkraut. Allow to simmer for an additional 2o minutes.

Serve with a delicious starchy side dish and more local beer.


Serves 2

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Canning the Kraut

Apparently my first attempt at making sauerkraut was successful. Along the way there were a couple of surprises. The first was that it didn't stink. What a relief. I think the method of covering it with plastic wrap had something to do with that. When I'd check on its progress I always did a sniff test and while it developed a "vegetably" fragrance it wasn't offensive. You could only smell it if you stuck your nose right in the crock.

The second surprise was that it was done fermenting long before I expected it to be. I was figuring on a four week process. Somewhere in week three I read something to the effect of "it's done when it stops bubbling." I hadn't noticed mine bubbling for several days at least so I decided to go ahead and put it away.

Freezing didn't seem like a good idea and the refrigerator was way too full at the time so I opted for canning it using the boiling water bath method. The entire batch fit nicely in four pint jars. During the canning I could definitely smell it but didn't think much of it. Soon after I was done the Co-conspirator came home and announced that the kitchen smelled like an outhouse.

Earlier this year I did a fun little "dream home" exercise where I listed on paper all the things I'd like to have as part of my ideal home. One feature is a summer kitchen--an outdoor, covered but unenclosed cooking area. There we could can away to our hearts' content without steaming up the house in the heat of July, fry fish and can sauerkraut without stinking up the place, and share the "external benefits" of our cooking adventures more with our neighbors.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Post Produce: Peppers!

I'm going to spare you all the highly, excessively alliterative content I considered including in this post. Suffice it to say I'm dealing with a plethora of peppers as I participate in my first Post Produce. A couple days ago I finally called the pepper harvest over and harvested every last one of them. We may have some sunny days but it's going to stay cold and the chances of many more of them growing appreciably or even ripening are pretty slim. I selected a good quantity for freezing and then, faced with this abundance I decided it was time to try pickling some.

The first recipe I used was the basic one for hot peppers in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. It's a simple solution of vinegar and water flavored with garlic. I mixed it up by using different peppers, treatments and additional vegetables. Some recipes I had looked at called for blistering and peeling the peppers first so I did that with the largest of the remaining Chervena Chushkas. These are so good this way I may have to pressure can some next year so I have them for making muhummara. For now the commercial bottled ones will have to do.

In the end I had eight pints. Three are straight, whole jalapenos, two are the roasted sweet peppers with some carrots added to one jar, two are green Italian frying peppers with celery in one and onion in the other and the last jar is plain Ancho Gigantea--none of which were actually gigantic.

With these done and out of the way I'm still left with quite a few more green Chervena Chushka peppers. For these I'll use Ball's "Pickled Pepper Mix" recipe. This version calls for slitting and brining the peppers for twelve to eighteen hours so I'm timing that process so that I can do the actual pickling tomorrow morning.

Now my only question is how we're going to eat all these pickled peppers?!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pickled Green Tomatoes

I'm surprised how GOOD these things are! First, a little backstory. The other day as I was munching my lunch at work one of my co-workers happened through the break room and we got talking about gardens and the weather and all that stuff some people find boring but we don't. In the course of your chat I mentioned that I've got a lot of green tomatoes on the vines that I don't expect to ripen despite the nice warm spell we're having. She then told me about the pickled green tomatoes that were served at her daughter's recent wedding. I had one of my (frequent) "Oh, duh!" moments as she enlightened me to something I could be doing with some of that unripe fruit.

As soon as I had a chance I picked a small load of green San Marzanos and Sungolds and got picklin'. The recipe I used was found here. In the original sliced globe tomatoes were used. Since I actually have fewer globe types on the vine right now I opted for the varieties mentioned above. The San Marzanos I quartered lengthwise into spears and the Sungolds, some of which were actually ripe or beginning to color, I randomly halved, left whole, slitted shallowly or just cut off the discolored spot on the stem end. My thought was that I could compare the different sizes, degrees or ripeness and treatments of the fruit. I also substituted a quarter of the white vinegar in two of the jars with cider vinegar, both having an acidity of 5%. Even though I just made these pickles yesterday, I popped open the larger jar of spears and thought they taste pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sauerkraut? Yes, Sauerkraut

For nearly a year I've had a little voice in the back of my head urging me to try making my own sauerkraut. It started whispering about the time I attended the first Fermentation Fest last fall in Reedsburg. I didn't attend a sauerkraut workshop, but in an exhibit I saw there and the reading I've done since I've discovered that making sauerkraut at home is a pretty simple and straightforward process.

What may have been holding me back was the memory of a crock of cabbage fermenting in my grandmother's kitchen. First, it was huge. At least it seemed huge to me and I've seen some big ol' crocks at the Fest and elsewhere. Also, the recipes at the National Center for Home Food Preservation and in my USDA book call for twenty-five pounds of cabbage! I hate wasting food and was concerned that if it "went bad" or we didn't like it that there would be a lot of cabbage to throw out and it wouldn't even be compostable because of the salt. Second, I recall my grandmother's batch of sauerkraut having an odor my young nose didn't care for. This week the weather is going to be open-window warm, but we can't always count on that. A closed up house and a stinky food experiment brewing on the kitchen counter are not a good combination.

The first hurdle I overcame fairly recently. Looking around at people on the Internet making sauerkraut revealed many were making smaller batches. Duh! I've known how to scale recipes pretty much forever but for some reason I had a mental block about this one. I blame the looming image of those ginormous crocks. The second apprehension I reasoned away. I know my food tastes have changed since I was young so I probably have developed some kind of odor tolerance, too. As long as it's not as bad as the collard blanching episode, I figured we'd survive.

The ingredients in basic sauerkraut are simple and inexpensive: cabbage and salt. The cabbage, just shy of six pounds, I picked up at the Westside Community Market for a whopping $1.50. I'm sure it's available for even less at other places. The salt I already had on hand of course and I would only need three tablespoons probably costing pennies. The crock was another matter. I've got a rectangular food-grade plastic container I use to make kombucha. The shape is no problem since a scoby will grow to fit, but for the sauerkraut I wanted something round so I could use the traditional method of weighting it down with a plate. As luck would have it we actually had a real stoneware crock sitting around that had not been drilled to function as a planter. I scrubbed it up thoroughly and put it to work.

The first step was to cut the cabbage into as thin of strips as I could. I set to work with a knife and decided after less than two minutes there was no way I was going to do the whole head that way. Instead I resorted to the food processor and made much faster and perfectly acceptable progress. I began to get worried when the cabbage filled our two largest stainless steel bowls. There was no way it was all going to fit into that little crock! I decided to just proceed with the recipe and then either try to scrounge another container once the crock was full or grudgingly pitch whatever didn't fit.

I began salting the cabbage and mixing it around in the bowls with my hands. One of those little kitchen miracles started to occur. The strands of cabbage wilted and collapsed and the mounds got smaller and smaller. Soon I was able to get it all in one bowl and it still continued to collapse as I moved it around. When I started packing the cabbage in the crock, tamping it down with my knuckles as firmly as I could without breaking it it took up even less space.While a whole head of cabbage may feel dense and heavy, it's clearly got a lot of air in it. By the time it was all in, the crock which is less than eight inches across and maybe ten inches deep wasn't even half full!

By this point in the process a bit of juice but not a whole lot was starting to come out. There was just enough to cover the cabbage so I didn't add any additional brine and put in one of Grandma's plates in weighted down with a clean jar full of water. Soon after I got thinking about the gold band on the rim of the plate and substituted another kind of plate. I think the paint/glaze probably contains some kind of metal and I didn't want to risk either the brine damaging it or the metal reacting with the brine and creating off flavors or even making the sauerkraut toxic.

The final step was topping it with some plastic secured by a rubber band as suggested here. Now all I do is wait four or five weeks and keep the surface of the brine . As of this moment it's been fermenting four days and yesterday began to show a small amount of foam bubbling up around the plate. I skimmed a bit of it off but am trying to keep the top on as much as possible to maintain at least a low oxygen if not actually anaerobic environment. Stay tuned for updates as this little project progresses.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Roasting Peppers -- I've Figured It Out

This year the only pepper seeds I started for planting in the garden were for an heirloom variety called Chervena Chushka. The plants turned out to be prolific producers and I was able to harvest a good number for roasting.

In the past my attempts at roasting peppers haven't been entirely successful. The idea is to char the skin so that it rubs off cleanly and easily and in the process the flesh of the pepper is rendered soft, sweet and delicious. The method I previously used consisted of taking the grid off one of the gas burners and laying/holding the pepper directly in the flame. When I tried that this time, I got the same results I always have. The skin blistered, blackened and peeled readily on the bulges of the pepper but stayed fresh and undercooked in the valleys, so to speak. I got frustrated with this process and decided to try the broiler method. I arranged the peppers on a baking sheet and positioned them as close to the broiler element as the oven rack allowed and watched closely as the wider parts began to blister and char while the tips remained red and fresh this time. This wasn't any better than the flame. Deciding that at least on the stovetop I could tediously direct the flame at the spots that obviously still needed it, I pulled the peppers from the oven. That's when the discovery happened. Now that the peppers had been pre-roasted or at least had the chill taken off them, they blistered and charred quickly and evenly in the gas flame.

After each pepper was completely roasted I placed it in a pan covered with foil to allow them to steam a little longer and loosen the skin.

After they'd all been roasted and rested, the skins slipped off ridiculously easily revealing the sweet, fragrant flesh.

In the end we stuffed them with polenta and goat cheese and served them with some nice roasted halibut and Tasty Evergreen and Sungold tomatoes also from the garden.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Tasting

Earlier this week I pickled some golden beets and eggs together. I waited a few days and this evening took out a beet and an egg to give them a taste.

The eggs were a little rubbery but not as firm as past ones I've made. Maybe in time they'll get tougher. I'm hoping not. The yolks were just set in the center so if anything I undercooked them. The flavor was delicious, as was the case with the beet. Sweet, spicy, earthy. The gold color hasn't penetrated far into the egg white but it might given a couple more weeks. We'll see if they last that long.

And if you're feeling like hearing me yammer on about pickling, check out my conversation with Steve Howard over on the Growing Your Grub podcast.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pickled Beets and Eggs

Yesterday I was contemplating the heap of beets accumulating in the crisper drawer and wondering what I was going to do with all of them. As luck would have it, I had managed to harvest some of the Burpee's Golden when they were still small--just the right size for pickling. For some added interest, I decided to include a few hard-boiled eggs.

In the past I've pickled the typical red beets together with eggs. The color from the beets works its way into the egg white giving it a rosy pink color. While the color of the golden beets isn't as intense as the red ones, I'm hoping to end up with some golden eggs. They may not protect us from a failing economy, but they'll be fun to eat.

The recipe I used is the "Spicy Pickled Beets" in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, a book I highly recommend to anyone looking to try canning and pickling. As you can see in this shot of the finished product, I didn't use the recommended two-part lid canning jars. I'm treating this batch as refrigerator pickles that will be eaten up in a relatively short time. Now I just have to have the patience to wait a few days for the flavors to develop before I can taste the results!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Lima Beans

This year I grew lima beans. On purpose. They're also known as butter beans or butter peas.

I can't remember if they were seeds I purchased myself or got from my garden guru. They were called 'White Dixie Butter' and I find it hard to resist anything with butter in the name, especially a bean. I planted them fairly late compared to the other beans since I planned on picking them as shell beans and didn't worry too much about them reaching the dry stage. I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to them, just noticing that they'd bloomed and that pods were forming. Then a few days ago I finally looked up when they should be harvested. I read that they are good when the pods are fatter but not too yellow. Next time I was in the garden I pinched a few pods and could feel the little tell-tale bumps but they weren't what I would call fat. Then I noticed that some pods were dry and brown and a few had been chewed by pests. Popping open one of the fatter pods I was reminded that lima beans are flat compared to the other beans I grow. I looked over the small patch and decided rather than go over them every day or two looking for all the "just right" pods that enough were ripe or beyond. In cut all the plants at the base and brought them home. It was much more comfortable sitting on the deck stripping the pods off the plant than it would have been crouched in the garden.

The co-conspirator pitched in sorting the dry from the fresh pods--which included a number of under-ripe ones and we got to work shelling. In the end, knowing how many seeds I planted that actually grew into plants that produced beans and how much we ended up with I calculated a yield of nearly one hundred-twenty five times what was planted. Had I not wasted some that weren't ripe that number doubtless would have been higher! It occurred to me that the quick bean counting I did a while back was in error. I didn't account for the fact that not all the bush beans planted grew and produced. Beans are often touted as one of the most productive crops you can grow. I know I'm convinced.

"Pick 'em, hull 'em, put on the steam. That's how we fix butterbeans!"

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tomatoes Again

Got up and canned some tomato puree first thing this morning.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Curry and Connections

Tonight I made a decent Kerala style mushroom curry. I found the recipe via an online friend I first met via an orchid discussion forum. She lives in Mumbai and has an excellent blog of her own that you should check out some time. Something struck me about the fact that when I was looking for advice about authentic Indian cuisine, I was able to get authoritative input from someone I've talked with for years but have never met. Such is the power of the Internet.

Occasionally I'll step back from the keyboard and take a critical look at the role the Internet plays in my life. I recently returned from a wonderful camping vacation where I probably could have but didn't bother to access the Web, email, etc. I really didn't miss them. Sure, I was capturing images I may post on facebook at some point and, yes, I did manage to do one ambient sound recording that may find its way onto Freesound. (It stars a vireo with wolf backup, by the way.) I had plenty of treeware, an ereader and my precious notebooks to keep me busy and I knew I'd be back online soon after returning to civilization.

Best of all I had the opportunity to let my mind slow down and really evaluate how I spend my time, including my Internet usage, and I decided it's a valuable connection to the people and information that enrich my life. I think about the individual and joint projects I've got simmering right now and while it can seem overwhelming at times, they're things I truly enjoy or that I feel are important. While I was jotting down yet another URL in my notebook to check out when I got home I looked at my to-do list. It occurred to me that I really need a to-don't list. It doesn't even have one item on it yet, but I'm getting close to formulating the first one. It goes along the line of "Don't waste time/energy on things you don't really care about." Simple enough, but I have a feeling there's some power in it I haven't quite yet realized.

Meanwhile, the curry was good but it was also a learning experience--what experience isn't? The recipe I used was from one of the sites Sunita recommended, a blog called Vazhayila. I used a mixture of the oyster mushrooms from the almost-neighborhood farmers market and some regular button mushrooms. The onion, garlic, jalapeno and tomato came from our own garden. Spices were from our local Penzey's store. The co-conspirator told me--after the fact--that Penzey's chili powder is a bit on the strong side. That and the extra jalapeno I added were evident when we were sweating and sniffling our way through dinner. A few dollops of yogurt helped cool things down. Next time I'll remember to make a cucumber raita. Finally, local tortillas stood in for the chapatis since I thought we were out of whole wheat flour and I didn't want to venture out into traffic again.

Friday, August 12, 2011


I've wanted to write about tomatoes for a while now, but I just couldn't figure out how to approach the subject. To me, tomatoes are one of, if not the best reason to have a garden of one's own.

This season I "undertook" growing tomatoes like never before. I decided to get into cultivating them, coaxing them toward maximum production, treating them like the special, Chosen plants they are. The results have been fairly satisfying.

Have you seen the movie "Ratatouille?" Do you remember the scene where Anton Ego takes a taste of the special ratatouille and is immediately transported in his mind to a childhood moment where taste and memory meet? Tomatoes do that for me.

I can munch (if I had to) on the pathetic, bland commercial tomatoes from the grocery store all year and not feel a thing. There's nothing to them. But when I get my first, real local.,home-grown tomato of the summer my eyes close and I'm taken back. I don't know when it is, but I can picture exactly where. I'm at the supper table with my family and there's a plate of thick slices of vine-ripened tomatoes. They were, and still are, the best thing I've ever tasted in my life. Hands down.

So far the tomatoes I've harvested this summer have become snax-off-the-vine while gardening, salad items, sandwich additions and tasty side dishes all on their own. I've also cooked them into thick sauce with and without spicy local Italian sausage. Today I oven-dried a big batch which, of course, became a little batch of concentrated savory/sweet flavor. They'll be stewn on pizzas and folded into pastas over the coming months and taking me back to this time when ripe tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes are easy to come by.