Sunday, May 18, 2014

Radishes. Who knew?

I'm beginning to suspect there are a lot of foods we've all been brainwashed to dislike ~ without ever even bothering to try them!  Radishes, for instance.  Thankfully, my ol' pop liked radishes, growing them and eating them, so I learned from him to appreciate a crisp, tangy radish on my salad.  As a crop, there is nothing more fun to grow.  They sprout from seed in a mere three days (sometimes sooner!), grow sturdily and faster than their weeds, and harvest with ease, producing a pretty, red globed root.

I did RUE that heirloom variety I got from Baker Creek, but now I'm thankful for that too-hot-to-eat  radish because it has forced me to look outside the radish as a garnish rose (not that I've made a radish rose since I was 16 or so.)

My first try was to roast them, following a recipe that promised to take away the bitterness, making the pretty, red root taste just like a potato.  No go!  The radish top soup I made was very good, even scoring a hit with my husband, but it doesn't use the root.   I then braised the roots with a bit of sugar.  The braised radishes were yummy with no hint of bitterness, but I'm not a big fan of a sugared vegetable with my meal.

Next I found an easy recipe for pickling.  This one was attractive because I had all the ingredients on hand, garlic cloves, whole black peppercorns, white vinegar, kosher salt and sugar.  I found a plastic lid to fit a glass jar from my stash and assembled the ingredients, tossed in my clean, fresh-picked radishes, tucked them in the refrigerator and gave them a shake a few times over the next three days.

The vinegar bleaches the radish, and the radish skin's pigment stains the vinegar, so the solution is red, and the radishes turn pink throughout.  It's strikingly pretty!  I ate one last night with my fresh, chopped tomato, and it was terrific!  The radish provided crunch and a tang of vinegar.  There's no hint of the bitterness.   Add a dash of olive oil for instant salad dressing.
This is one radish recipe I definitely chalk up into the success column.  I will make more of these as long as the radishes keep coming, and I look forward to trying variations on the theme.  Red wine vinegar, perhaps?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Whites, I Love 'Em

Roses are blooming in yellow, burgundy red, pink and a red that's crazy red.  That last one was my mom's.  Peonies are just turning pink.  Chives are pink to lavender. I have an orange and a red honeysuckle already long in bloom and, of course, the irises in yellow, purple, violet, orange, and my favorite, the white.

There's a lot of shade at Rivergarth, and I soon learned that dark colored flowers like purple or saturated reds don't show well here.  I learned, too, that whites are positively luminous.  In the evening, they glow.  So it's here that I really fell in love with whites, although gardenia and I did conduct a love affair as far back as the early 80s.  There's something about the subtlety of white that tugs at the heart.  I can't resist. 

Below are some of the whites presently blooming for me.  Some are sublime, some shy, some humble, some outrageous!

I include lamb's ear because its soft, silver foliage acts as a pseudo-white at Rivergarth.  I have it paired with a dark yew tree, although the 'ears spread everywhere.  I let them stay when they're not in the way.  Otherwise, it's the compost heap for these gentle invaders.

Not all white iris are the same.  These are the three I have.  The one at the bottom was the earliest and is done blooming.  The beard is white, which I consider a bonus, but it retains the slightest taint of lavender in the petals.  The top two are in full bloom.  The first one, obviously, has the orange beard, and the style arms are elongated, which looks like it has three, thin, additional petals.  The second one is almost yellow, but what a yellow!  So delicate!
This is the honeysuckle bush sold in wildlife bundles.  The birds like the red berries, but they're no good as people food.  These spread everywhere, and I am continually weeding them out because they will grow 20 feet high and an as yet undetermined amount in width if left unchecked.  My red and orange honeysuckle vines are already blooming, as I mentioned, and the whites are nearly to open.  When that happens, the air swirls thick with heady fragrance.
White clover is mildly successful here.  I am always encouraging it to spread, but it is fickle, and I haven't figured out exactly whether it wants to be left alone or pampered.  The bees go gaga over it naturally.
This year's first pea blossom.  Pitter-pat. That's my heart skipping a beat.  I'm in love!
Last, another chapter to the lemon blog I've threatened to write.  This is a plant I got at Atwood's about a month ago.  We went back for chicken feed last week, and those same lemon plants were at death's door.  I wanted to adopt them all and take them home, but have settled for the one I already had.  And look what it is doing for me, blooming!  I hope a bee will find it!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Kansas Darlings!

My mom was REALLY SOMETHING!  No wonder my dad went gaga over her.  Mom's in the middle of the first pic, the one with Bennie scrawled across her back!  Scandalous!  I've enlarged the following photos so the print can be read.  The newspaper is the Bull Shoals Gazette, Flippin, Ark,., May, 1950.  Mom was only 19.  She wouldn't turn 20 until November.


In less scandalous news, Mom posed with other winners of an art award in 1948.  Somewhere in all my boxes, there are several similar awards for her art.  This picture is from The Wichita Beacon, Thursday, May 13, 1948.

Note:  Should anyone want the additional pic of Lova, let me know, and I can email it.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Gathering on a Rainy Morning

Last night's rain made many of the irises droop, so I cut some more for the kitchen.  Before they made it to the vases, I thought the shadows while the flowers were still in the pail looked pretty enough to picture.

 Those in full sun and not too crowded withstood the rain quite nicely, like these salmon orange ones, one of my favorites.
I put them with a bicolor iris of orange and violet in a cobalt blue vase.  Crazy!

There were lambs' quarters galore around the firepit for the chicks, so I picked them a big bucket full.  The babies LOVE fresh greens!  Then I picked some greens for us in the kitchen.  Fresh buttercrunch lettuce and baby beet tops in the salad spinner below.

Also in the greens aisle of my rainy grocery store were the young Swiss chard.  Rain-drenched, first pick of this planting, they could not be more perfect or more tender.  Not a lot, just enough to sauté and place beside brown rice and an egg (one of which was waiting for me this morning.  More when the hens get busy!)
Inside, I have to brag about my lemon project.    Lemons are a blog unto themselves, but the abbreviated version is that I got another seed to germinate (first pic below).  It doesn't look like much, but it is the third!  The germination miracle happens on the dining table, then the wee seedlings are moved to my window nursery to sunbathe (second pic) until they are tough enough to go outside on the porch.  After proving they can handle conditions on the front porch, they go out to the garden, and here are my first two lemon babies from seed (third pic below).  So excited!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Plastic-free Bread?

I'm on a quest to do just that, keep my kitchen supplied with bread that doesn't require plastics for me to make.  The recipe must be easy enough for me to not mind making it every week by hand (without a bread machine) and easy because baking is not my forte.

A good while back, I did actually reduce the amount of plastic packaging we purchase along with our bread by switching to frozen dough, which comes packed five loaves to a bag.  Better than a bag with every loaf of ready-to-eat.  This was a vast improvement.  The fresh-baked bread is delicious, and it's convenient to keep a big store of it in the freezer.*  I keep and re-use the plastic, dough bags, but there are only so many of these I need.  Like the plastic, shopping bags (we no longer acquire), they tend to pile up.  It's time for a new boycott, the first R of the four R`s, refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle, in that order of priority.

To that end, I'm trying recipes as I have time and motivation to do so.  The latest is from a languishing blog, Home Baked, called Buttermilk Bread.  In case that blog disappears, I'll write out the recipe here:

Buttermilk Bread
Makes 2 large loaves

2 cups lukewarm water
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1 Tbsp. Kosher salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. melted butter

Mix the water, buttermilk, yeast, salt and sugar in a 5-quart bowl or lidded food storage container.  Add the flour and stir until all the flour is incorporated.  (I use a large silicone spatula, but a wooden spoon works fine, too.)

Cover the bowl or container (not airtight) and let rest at room temperature for about 2 hours.At this point, you can use the dough immediately or keep it covered (still not airtight) in the refrigerator to use over the next 7 days.  Sprinkle the dough with a little flour and scoop out half.  Dust the piece of dough with a little more flour and quickly and gently shape it into a ball.  Stretch the ball into an oval and place in a greased 9x4x3 non-stick loaf pan.  The pan should be a little more than half full.

Let the dough rest for 40 minutes (or 1 hour and 40 minutes for refrigerated dough).  Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Dust the loaf with flour, and slash the top with the tip of a sharp knife.  Brush the top with melted butter.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown.  Remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.  Keeps well in a sealed plastic bag for about 3 days.

When I made it, I had my oven set on convection bake, and I still had to add 5 minutes to get the same golden brown that was in the blog's picture.  This was also with only one loaf in the oven because I halved the recipe.  With two loaves in there, it might need more time.  At the point of refrigeration in the above recipe is the stage when I think I can throw the bread dough in the freezer to replicate the convenience I currently enjoy.

Of course, it's not enough to be easy and delicious.  It has to reduce my use of plastic, and if the basic ingredients are purchased in a bunch of plastic containers, then I might be worse off than I was.  So here's the plastic count based on what is currently available to me.

2 cups lukewarm water
0 units of plastic.

 1 cup buttermilk

Dairy has become an issue since my grocery no longer carries milk in the fold-top paper cartons.   I don't normally buy buttermilk because it might go to waste.  I make it, now, with whatever milk product I have on hand and a little vinegar.  The milk, whatever form, still comes with the plastic cap and a plastic ring.  The vinegar, too, though in a glass bottle, has a plastic cap and ring.  The vinegar's saving grace is that it will be used for many, many loaves, so many that the plastic contribution to my bread is negligible.  2 units of plastic.

 1 1/2 Tbsp. active dry yeast
I buy yeast in a glass jar with a metal screw cap.  0 units of plastic.

 1 Tbsp. Kosher salt

My salt comes in a paper box with a metal spout.  0 units of plastic.

 1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar

Sugar comes packaged in paper.  0 units of plastic.

 6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Flour also comes packaged in paper.  0 units of plastic.

 1 Tbsp. melted butter

I buy butter in sticks individually wrapped in paper, packaged in a paper box.  0 units of plastic.

My plastic unit total comes to 2, the cap and ring from the dairy, unavoidable at this point.  I can rationalize this amount by claiming that the dairy is purchased for other purposes and that I'm only borrowing, but it's just as possible that I might buy milk only to make the bread.  Assuming I purchase milk solely for the bread, I can buy as large a unit of milk as one gallon.  That much makes 32 loaves, but that's more than I would probably bake before the milk spoils.  More realistically, I imagine myself making about 10 loaves.  Before, I had 2 plastic units, the bag and the bag clip, for every 5 loaves.  Now I have 2 plastic units for every 10 loaves, half the plastic.  Is it worth the effort of mixing my own dough bread?  Only if my husband will eat it with as much pleasure as he eats the fresh-baked bread I'm currently buying as a frozen dough.

Of course, a better solution** is to find a bread that is both delicious and dairy-free.  I looked online for dairy-free alternatives, but the list doesn't look promising.  The bread has to be versatile, delicious true, but sliceable and the right flavor for a sandwich or as toast.

Pending a new idea, this is my new bread.   Below is a pic of the first loaf fresh from the oven.  After it cooled, we sliced it and declared it superb in every way for our needs.  In flavor, it was far, far better than the store-bought dough.  It even had a better structure for slicing.  Importantly for me, it's extremely easy to make.  This will, at least, allow me to test how the process of mixing dough in batches and freezing works for me.
*Freezing is low on my list of desirable methods of food preservation.  It requires a lot of energy no matter how you calculate it, and it's HIGHLY unreliable.  One, sustained power outage, and all your hard work and ingredients consumed are lost.  Another reason this particular bread recipe is appealing is that it is simple enough to whip up individually every few days, eliminating the freezer stage should that fail us for any reason.
**Another alternative is to use powdered milk.  I can buy that in paper boxes with metal spouts.  It's  another direction I fully intend to try.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Garden Progress and Kitchen Fixin's~May

A Few Photos of the Veggie Garden
1.  Corn:  Oh, how modestly the corn starts out!  I snapped this on day one of germination.  Could  these sproutlings be ANY cuter?!
2.  Lettuce, beets and onions.  I have been using the last of my spinach, which has mostly bolted, and I'm now working on this row of lettuce with baby beet leaves for interest.  The salad spinner is in full swing on a daily basis.
3.  The potatoes are coming along nicely.  In addition to these are some random ones growing from potatoes that were left behind last year.  I'm keeping them all.

4.  The snow peas are doing great on their fence in the hugelkultur bed.  Although I still don't like this method, I'm giving it another try.  Next to the peas are some potatoes I had left over after planting the main row.
5. One of several rows of radishes.  Beside them is a row of Swiss chard I will probably thin once more.  I regularly plant radishes and lettuce, so I always have some coming on.  This variety of radish turned out very hot for me, too much for me to enjoy them on a salad.  They are all harvested now, replaced with another row of seeds.   I made soup from the tops and roasted the roots.  Pictures to follow! 
Making the Radish Top Soup
Here are those same radishes, cleaned, ready to be cut up for soup and for roasting.

And here are the pretty radish tops after I sorted and washed again in the spinner.  Onion was softened in butter, then I added the sliced potatoes and radish tops without too much chopping because I knew I was going to run the soup through the food processor afterward.  It just happened that I cooked a chicken we bought at the Farmer's Market last Saturday and had been making stock from it, so that's the brown liquid in the pyrex measuring cup.
 Starting to look like soup now that I've added the stock and simmered it down.  The potatoes are soft, so I call that done.

A quick run through the processor gives me this lovely green.  The recipe calls for cream at this point, but that was too heavy for a soup that already had two potatoes to thicken it.   Result?  Delicious!  Really, really good.

 I'm not as enthusiastic about the roasted radishes.  The recipe said I wouldn't be able to tell these from potatoes.  Wrong.  Admittedly, I botched a couple things, too much salt and I cooked them a little too long, but that would not have effected the fact that I could still detect some bitterness.  It's just possible with some condiments, it could be covered up, but I will scout elsewhere for ideas for my too-hot radishes.  In the meantime, I'm looking for my old variety of radish in an heirloom.  Better luck this fall!

The March Continues Placidly

I've spent long hours outside doing hard labor in my gardens.  It's not done, but I'm feeling a little reprieve since every available space in the veggie area is planted.  I've turned my attention to the flower beds.  Oy.

The record heat is a blessing and curse.  Sensually, I love it, but it's hard to germinate in these temperatures.  I've been using every trick I know to keep the vulnerable seeds moist.  Yea, the temperatures speed up the process, but only if the seeds don't dry out!

The heat has also brought an opportunity to test out my summer clothes choices after the big closet purge.  I decluttered two items yesterday, a dress and a shirt.

After my gardening stint, I showered and was looking for something cool to wear.  (We don't run the air conditioner unless there's a compelling reason.)  I tried on a blue, knit, sleeveless, tube mini-dress I had saved.  This revealed lumps in all the wrong places!  I peeled that off and tagged it for donate with no regrets.  I turned, instead, to my reliable collection of mini-skirts.  They are my go-to for hot days in the house.  A cotton skirt in a small, green print was cool and light.  I tried to pair it with a skimpy, knit top.  Trying that on, I remembered why I seldom wore that shirt.  There is a seam that cuts across my boobs in a most uncomfortable and unsightly fashion!  Again, donate pile and no regrets.

I really didn't have anything that matched the skirt, so I went another direction and pulled out a sleeveless cotton shirt with an orange print the same size as the green of the skirt.  Perfection.  Both items light and easy to wear.  I wore it all afternoon, even cooking in an already hot kitchen.  So comfortable I could take a nap in it or wear it to the store.  Bonus: Before bed, I rinsed the shirt in the sink and hung it on the shower bar to dry.  I simply folded the skirt to reduce wrinkles and put it away.  No laundry!  Don't you love summer?

Last night, after my mini-purge, I dreamed of decluttering.  In the dream, it didn't go quite as smoothly as it did in the light of day in my house.  I don't know if that means anything or not. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Tree

Looking back, I think the first time I experienced that sense of lightness and freedom instilled by decluttering (at least in this present residence) was when I decided to do away with the full-blown tree for Yule.  At the point of dispensing with the floor-to-ceiling tree, I also consolidated several boxes of ornaments into one and tossed out the trashy ones that held no significance to us.

In the past, that stupid, traditional tree would sometimes stay up until March.  NO ONE wanted to deal with it once the holiday was over.  I began to hate that miserable, pyramidal collection of dusty gewgaws.  I so much like our current system better.  I purchased a wrought-iron ornament stand to set on the piano, and we thoughtfully select only our favorite ornaments to display.   The process and custom of hanging the ornaments has become, once again, an enjoyable ritual that Al and I do together, now with music on our vintage stereo and glasses of wine.  We don't fuss with assembling the bulky tree (or watering it in the case of a live one, heaven forbid), and I don't have to haul out all those boxes of lights and balls, sort them, and haul them back out of the way temporarily only to carry them all back up the stairs and down/out again at the end.  What a pain that was, and I haven't even mentioned the fact that no one enjoyed stringing the lights so we each rather waited on the other, hoping it would get done so we could plow through to the fun (easier) part, hanging the ornaments.  Somehow, through seeming whims with no deep thought on my part, I've managed to preserve the sentimental ritual with its accompanying journeys down memory lane through holidays bygone, the aspect we like, and eliminate the work we don't like.

Admittedly, I haven't completed this purge.  The tree is packed away in its box in the barn, and it is accompanied by some boxes that haven't been sorted, but they don't come into the house.  My greatest stumbling block to the purge proved to be when I started to throw out the tree in its box.  It's not a very old item, and it's in perfect condition.  Besides my regret at its value as an object, I experienced pangs of fear that I might want to use it in the future.  What if there comes a time I have a change of heart and want to invest in the laborious enactment of a vintage celebration?  That's the decision I have to make before I remove the tree, and I think, after writing this has prompted me to think it through, that I've made that decision.

If I ever want to do that, go all-out, there will be a classier, more meaningful, way to do it than with an artificial tree, and I won't need all those boxes in the corner, the ones filled with...not sure what's in there, but certainly not very much of value or I would be missing it.  Someone else can benefit from my tree.  I still can't throw it in the dumpster, but I can drive it to Goodwill with the next load and, when I get a chance, I'll go through the boxes, too.

Phew!  So glad that's settled!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Another Stab at Reducing Plastic Use

I read somewhere that most of our plastic use is for food.  It seems true at our house, especially in the old days before I finally trained myself to remember the cloth, shopping bags when I went to the store.  One would think the plastic, grocery bags bulging from every crevice of the house would have put me in the mind to remember, but change is hard!  On that point, I score, because I don't bring home plastic grocery bags at all anymore.  If I'm out and think about swinging by the store on my way home, I won't do it unless I have a bag to take in with me.  Al will still stop sometimes, but he has learned, at least, to ask for paper.  It's not ideal, but he knows better than to drag in those horrendous, plastic ones!

I made a declutter drop-off to Goodwill this morning, bundling it with a trip to Greenacres for that must-have item, almond milk.  Another chance to practice plastic reduction!  I remembered my cloth bags, of course.  *pat on the back*  Overall, I did a little better than usual so I'm glowing.  I bought several items in bulk, reusing bags for that.  I don't know how acceptable that is, so I do it rather quietly, though it's not hard to justify myself considering how outrageous it is that Greenacres only has plastic bags for this purpose!  I simply refuse to place my lemons in a new bag every single time.

Besides the lemons, which were $1 each (!), I got a piece of ginger root, bananas, walnuts, raisins, coconut flakes, quick oats, and chia seeds.  I also finally found the bulk teas!  I only found them because I had to go back for something and saw them at the end of the bulk aisle that I don't usually enter.  They even had gunpowder green, my favorite.  Free trade and organic!  So far no new plastics.  Then I had to get the almond milk, and it has a small, plastic screw cap on a paper carton.  I also got my ancient grain wraps, which come in a plastic package.  I need to investigate an alternative for my wraps.  Perhaps making them myself?

Ohhh, I looked a long time at all the yummy dairy products in the cooler section, the yogurt and cottage cheese, but I didn't get any of it.  Just too many tubs.

My other major plastic purchase was a tub of coconut oil.  Sadly, this tub is the only packaging I've seen at Greenacres.  They have a liquid coconut oil in a glass bottle, but this product is fractionated, meaning they actually remove the particular lauric acid I want the oil for in the first place!

The last item I purchased, my elderberry concentrate, comes in a glass bottle with a metal screw cap, leaving my final plastic total at 1 plastic bag, 1 plastic screw cap, and 1 plastic tub.  The bill was around $108, so I feel pretty good that the greater percentage of our money went toward food and not into plastic packaging that would eventually go in the trash.  No reason to be throwing cash in the garbage when, with some thought and a little restraint, I can invest in better nutrition instead.

Monday, April 14, 2014


Knowing that we were getting a freeze, I did a fairly thorough forage of the greenhouse and garden.  It's the time of year, while they are young and most tender, to eat weeds, so those weren't forgotten, and I managed a very nice harvest of greens and roots to pair with my Farmer's Market tomatoes for salads over the next couple of days.  After washing, they turned out so pretty that I just had to share a picture.

The roots included onion, garlic, radishes and carrots.  The carrots are actually supposed to be that small.  I chose that variety for the greenhouse because I don't have infinite soil depth in there.  They have an interesting taste and texture, not as sweet as the last carrots I grew, Scarlet Nantes (I think), but have a delicate substance that is truly enjoyable.  The radishes were so sweet, typical of radishes grown under cold conditions.  I nearly ate them both before saving a few, thin slivers to sprinkle over the salad.  The onions are bunching onions, a delicate treat after eating the more robust Egyptian Walking Onions all winter.  The garlic is what I might call spring garlic.  Without exaggeration, I have hundreds of these.  It's not as strong as a clove, and I chop it like an onion, green top and all. 

The storage container is mixed greens, pictured close-up further below.  In the 6 o-clock position of this first pic is a plate of lamb's quarters.  If pushed to describe them, I would say they are neutral in flavor and texture in a salad.  I want to try steaming them with onion and garlic, which is why I gathered them separately.
 The close-up below is of the mixed greens.  It includes baby beet top, pea shoots, sorrel (the lawn weed), cilantro, a tiny bit of parsley, and Buttercrunch lettuce.  I didn't bother picking spinach because it's so cold-hardy.  The peas are from a single row in the greenhouse that I use just for tender shoots.  The crop of snow peas is outside on a fence.

The little guy in the picture below (sorry for the fuzziness) decided to tag along with a lettuce leaf.  He found my dirty tea cup while I was washing greens.  Eventually, I tossed him into the pile of carrot tops to be taken out to the compost pile.  He'll be fine out there unless the cold got him last night!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Decluttering "the Box"

After determining that the project to locate all the hammers I own was a low priority, I whipped myself toward tackling my nightstand, a constant area of activity and many failed attempts at customization.  I knew I couldn't do it all at once, so I decided to tackle a small portion and see how it went.  Although small, I focused on a hot box of constantly shifting miscellany.  Literally, a box, the box that holds "smalls" that I sometimes think I will die without upon waking at 2 am or that I want as I prepare for bed.

It was a homemade box, crafted with quite a bit of thought for the contents, with compartments I sized to fit the items I wanted beside me in the evening.  As anyone might have predicted, in less than a year, it had become a junk-all, and I was pretty sure there wouldn't be much left if I decluttered it.   Although I anticipated a big payoff, it would require a lot of decisions.  I wanted to do it, but I didn't want to.

I dumped this ugly box on the counter and what I got is pictured below.
At that point, I pulled out the items I thought I would keep, and I came up with the small collection below.
One hour and eleven (11) minutes later, I had finally dealt with all the remaining items, one by agonizing one.  Happily, I actually found a house key I didn't know I had!  Sadly, very little of it went into the trash, only the paper notes (sans one), the 2 pencils (with hard erasers), and the cut up credit card.  I did manage to donate a worn belt I discovered whilst putting away the two laces, and some costume jewelry went in the trash while looking for a little box for the ear plugs.

Then I needed something to hold the remaining, loose items, so I went in search of a small container.  Because these items happened to be of such varying shapes, I couldn't find the perfect box, bowl or basket, not until I went back to the pile and made another cull.  I compromised by putting the file inside the nightstand rather than on top and decided I could get up off my ass to find one if I really needed a pen.  After that, the search went better, and I found a wooden, lidless, square box that served my need.  The final assemblage is in the pic below.
I'm now exhausted, so decluttering the interior of the nightstand will have to wait for another day.  I don't think I could go through all that again so soon!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Farmer's Market Meal

The earliest Farmer's Market to open was this first Saturday in April at the Sedgwick County Extension office at 21st and N. Ridge Rd.  It was cold and windy, but we went anyway, looking for anything that I am not growing for myself in the greenhouse.  Al was drawn to the garden gewgaws, and I had to talk him out of buying a metal sculpture of a sunflower that was eight feet high and weighed about 500 pounds!  While he studied garden gnomes, I took a spin around the stalls, assessing the goods, warding off taste samples.  Al ate everything they offered!  It was like taking a five-year-old to the fair!  I bought him a bag of coffee almond toffee, then let him pick out some meat from the lamb vendor.  For myself, I bought a package of Swiss Chard and one tomato. 

These tomatoes were perfect, absolutely blemish free, gorgeous red, plump and not too big, not too small.  I was immediately suspicious of how they would taste!  Afraid it would be mealy and like cardboard, I bought only the one.  Boy, was I sorry!

Combining our goods from the market with greens from the garden, and an extra egg for Al, I cooked us a late lunch.  The chops were TDF, so tender and flavorful.  So glad I bought four packages.  Al was only going to get one!  I said you have to buy organic meat when you can find it.

Wow, just look at that salad below.  The cuke and cheese (I baked a frico) are from the grocery store.  The lettuce, spinach, onion, and carrot are from the greenhouse, and that chopped tomato is from the Farmer's Market.  It was SO GOOD!

Then there is the beautiful Swiss Chard that we had with brown rice, onions, and the lamb chops.  Gorgeous!

Gamble Tomatoes

About a week ago, I started planting tomatoes.  I had previously sorted, repaired, tested for pressure, and roughly laid out the soaker hose in this year's configuration, and I had a start on mapping out those areas I wanted to mulch alongside the growing rows.  Those are things I could do while it was still cold.

I chose two tomato varieties this year.  Three, if you count the cherry tomatoes, but those are mostly for snacking while I'm in the garden.  For the main crop, I chose the nutritious Black Krim.  For my early tomatoes, I chose Glacier, which I have grown before.  I bought all my seeds from Baker Creek, started my tomatoes on the dining table (March 3) and put them under indoor lights when they germinated (March 6/7).  They are pretty spindly, but I know from experience that if I can get them outside and protect them from the cutworms, they will grow out of it quickly.  I always plant more than I need to replace those the cutworms harvest.

Fully aware of the gamble, I planted two Glacier on March 21, well before our last average frost date of April 12.  If frost gets them, I have more seedlings to replace them, and if they live, I will have a head start on the game!

But I haven't simply left them to the frost wolves.  I have given them every chance to succeed, same as the tomatoes that I will continue to plant in stages until they are all in.  First, of course, is the soaker hose.  That's a must that I have been laying out for years and years. (Soaker hose isn't the same as it was 20 years ago, more's the pity, but that's another story.) 

Down each side of the tomato row and between each tomato plant on four foot centers, there will be foot access on mulched ground.  The mulch begins with a layer of cardboard (I use boxes when I have them and brown, landscape fabric when I don't) or newspaper (for the small, detail spaces) covered with a natural mulch of whatever I happen to have that year.  Leaves are fine, but they break down.  Wheat straw is better and desirable, if it doesn't cost me an arm and a leg.  This year, I have the remains of a wood chip pile, so I'll toss that around over the cardboard when the tomato plants are all set.  (Use caution with wood because it's a taker, as well as, a giver as it breaks down.)  If there's a weed outbreak through these layers, I'll toss on another box or newspaper and throw more mulch over that.

This method, a variation of "lasagna gardening" has all kinds of advantages. The tomatoes have as much room as they need to spread above and below the ground.  It gives me access from as many sides as I need for picking my ruby treasure.  It means I don't have to till the ground, which means I don't need a rototiller, which means no gas, oil, maintenance, labor, or noise.  Below is a pic of buckets "planted" in the ground.  As I dug those holes, I gloated over the structure of my soil, a product of many years of care and love for that precious medium, the dirt.  Partly that structure is due (among other factors) to the fact that I haven't tilled it.

Those are all things I always do, but I'm adding a little twist this year, the buckets.  These are actually plastic plant pots, the ones with drainage holes at the bottom.  I've planted them to the rims and left them empty and uncovered, except for a handful of crushed oyster shell I tossed in the bottom of each.  As it rains (or when/if I water from overhead), the buckets will collect water and release it about 12 inches lower in the soil, down where thirsty roots can access it, along with any dissolved calcium from the oyster.  A bonus was that I dug pretty deep holes, further breaking up the soil for tomato roots that LOVE to ramble.  Although I didn't think of it before, I see now that the black plastic is serving as a heat collector for my early seedlings, warming the soil to a considerable depth.  It hasn't even rained yet, and I already have a win-win!  Later, the tomato leaves will shade the buckets, protecting from overheating in the fierce Kansas solar.

The next step is to actually plant a tomato seedling.  This is done by burying the stem right up to the true leaves (pinch off the first leaves), then wrap a bit of newspaper around the stem right at the soil level.  This little collar requires the skill of a surgeon, and it's not foolproof.  The collar wants to unwind and disappear.  I tried tape one time, but moisture in the soil and surroundings released it as well.  Despite the difficulty of this niggling step, I still try, because those stems that are covered are protected from cutworms.  Where a collar is lost, there is often an extremely disappointing discovery in the morning, a little seedling lying on its side, looking exactly like a tiny lumberjack came through in the night and felled it with an axe.  It's my major cause of loss and why I always germinate more tomatoes than I think I'll need.

After planting, tomatoes get a little tray that sits around them like a collar.  In the pictures, that is the black plastic form hiding the plants.  They come in red these days, too.  Mine are old, used many times, so they're the old black, a good color for early planting because it harvests heat.  Later, the collars are good mulch.

After the collars, a wire cage goes around each.  Not these little 3 foot high cages sold in stores!  Even some semi-determinate tomatoes will grow to 6 feet or more in each direction, and I am fond of indeterminate varieties some years, too, which have no check (except for cold) on the height/length they will grow.  My cages were given me by my mom, who constructed them out of galvanized wire fencing on 6 inch centers.  They are about 20 years old, and the pins at the bottom are mostly rusted, but they're still better than anything I could buy.  When they finally rust away, I'll make new ones from new wire fencing.  Each cage gets an iron stake, and I often have to add stakes when plants get so large they threaten to topple the entire structure over, especially in a wind storm!

Over the first two Glacier seedlings are the glass cloches I cut from 2 gallon wine jugs.  They worked very nicely, although it's probably warm enough now (April 6) to dispense with them.  It was sunny all day yesterday, and the cloches would have steamed the little seedlings into a vegetable side dish if I had left them on.  I have 3 more jugs to be cut, but I was waiting to see if it was worth it.  It is.

While all this elaborate structure is being put together, I use bricks to hold it down.  As the pins and mulch and stakes get layered on, the bricks get piled to the side to be used elsewhere and then again and then finally making a pile that I'll use in the fall for even more tasks like tacking down fabric row covers against early frosts.

As of this writing, I have four tomatoes in the ground, two Glacier and two Black Krim, and I have all the buckets "planted."  I would plant all the tomatoes if it was not for that fickle fiend, frost!  Meanwhile, in the greenhouse, here's some green to soothe the eyes and soul, carrots, lettuce, spinach, onions, a random cilantro, and some pansies I started from seed waaaaaay back in the fall.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


The first of those plants, seeds or seedlings, that I have planted outdoors this spring are the carrots.  I should have planted radishes already, but it has been too muddy to disturb my soil.  As far as the calendar goes, I pretty much have a green light now, so I'll be planting in a frenzy whenever spring rains allow.  Because I'm working in those weather windows of time, there will be days when I do nothing but fret and other days when I work myself to the bones.

The picture above shows why I do it.  SO CUTE, and I know I am going to enjoy those little rows for many months, all the way into autumn. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Keeping Lettuce Longer

One of the most delicate and beautiful greens is lettuce.  Around here, it is also a terrible waste when purchased from the store because it seems to go brown and mushy, especially the stuff in bags, within a couple days.  Also, conventionally grown lettuce is covered in pesticides.  That is a concern for everyone, but especially people with young children whose little brains are rapidly developing and for us old folks, whose little brains are rapidly degenerating! Not to mention what pesticides are doing to irreplaceable ecosystems.

When I got online looking for tips for preserving lettuce, I first ran into this idea of using a vacuum seal.  Sounds good, but then I would have to purchase the apparatus.  No thanks!  Heavens, I'm trying to simplify around here, not buy another gadget!

I looked some more for tips that didn't require the gadget and found people adding paper towels in with the lettuce to absorb moisture.  No, no,  no, I'm trying to reduce the number of paper towels I waste, not find another use for them!

After a bit more browsing, I realized I might know as much about preserving lettuce as I'm going to learn from the internet.  I'm still open to tips from old dogs out there, but here's what I know about saving lettuce by growing it myself every spring, fall and winter for about 25 years.

1. My homegrown lettuce stays fresh in the fridge longer. That may have something to do with how long the store lettuce is transported and stored before seeing the grocery store lights and resting under their misters.  If a person is not growing their own, organic and local is preferable to conventionally-grown lettuce.

2.  Spin lettuce COMPLETELY dry before storing.  While I won't ever buy a vacuum gadget, I definitely recommend a lettuce spinner as a basic, kitchen tool.  (*See below for more on spinners.)  Although a spinner is preferable, lettuce can still be dried either by patting it dry between clean towels or placing it in netted bags and swinging it outdoors.  That last is only useful in good weather and if you're fit and active!

3. Be gentle in handling.  Brown edges are harmless, but aesthetically unpleasant, and we want our food to be beautiful!  The choice of tearing or chopping depends on how much lettuce there is to process and the size of the storage container.  I prefer to leave the leaves as large as possible (I have a huge container I use specifically for lettuce.) and tear it later at the time I assemble the salad.

4.  Toss with scant amount of fresh lemon juice.  I don't add so much lemon that it pools in the plastic container, just enough to make the lettuce shine.  Freshly squeezed lemon works best and tastes brighter.  I wouldn't even bother using bottled lemon juice.

5.  Don't store too cold, which means either turn the fridge temp warmer (probably not good for other foods) or store the lettuce on a high shelf.  Putting lettuce in the "crisper" is a good way to wilt it and turn it mushy in the moisture that tends to condense down there.

6. Store in a plastic tupperware-like container instead of bags.  Bags with holes are the typical container from a store.  They're better than a sealed bag, but bags of any kind get banged around and crushed.  Even the act of placing the lettuce into the bag compresses the gently spun and lemon-tossed leaves. I handle the lettuce only as much as necessary.  I toss with lemon in the plastic container, which saves a transfer step.  If the lettuce is thoroughly dried, coated in lemon, and stored at average refrigerator temps, the lack of ventilation won't be a factor, especially if the container is often being pulled out and opened to make fresh salads.

These same tips can be applied to store-bought lettuce, although the storage time is necessarily less.  In my house, I buy from the store when I know I can use it all within a couple of days and when I have exhausted my home sources of greens.  It is very seldom that some of the store-bought lettuce isn't wasted, which is odd because it is very seldom that there is ever enough of my homegrown greens!

Now, I could talk growing lettuce ad nauseum, but I would have to write a book for all that.

*More on salad spinners:.  It's one thing to deny yourself gadgets, another to fail in having a well-equipped kitchen.  There's work to be done in there!   Plastic spinners work fine, and they are easy to clean.  I usually only need to rinse mine.  It does take up room, but earns that space by virtue of functionality and frequency of use.  Should a person be in the market for buying a salad spinner and not wish to purchase plastic, there are other choices in metal.   In this Youtube video, Julia Child demonstrates some amazing, vintage spinners she collected.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

My Shipment Arrived from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

I could write a brief treatise on each choice, but I'll spare the world my garden geekiness this time.  Suffice to say, I'm pretty excited!