Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Tater Time

 3 Weeks Ago, Sunset Over Snowy Pasture

It's been a real challenge to get the spring garden in this year because of all the cold weather, snow and rain.  The ground is still very wet but I simply had to forge ahead, hopefully not damaging the soil structure too much by working it wet.  "They" say you shouldn't work the soil if a ball of dirt squeezed in the fingers forms a tootsie roll, well that is certainly the case, but despite that, I managed to plant last week in between rains. Peas and some greens: lettuce, mixed greens, radishes, cress and kale which are all beginning to sprout.  I also set out 180 onion plants, 120 yellow, 30 red and 30 white.  It was nearly 3 weeks later than I normally plant them but there was nothing for it with snow on the ground!

Today I planted 7 varieties of potatoes, very exciting.  Purple Viking; purple skin, white flesh and BIG, Desiree; red skin and yellow flesh, Carola, Yukon Gold and German Butterball, all white to yellow skin and yellow flesh and two types of fingerlings; Red Thumb with a  beautiful rose-colored flesh and Rose Finn Apple, another yellow fleshed.  It's exciting to have so many varieties to try and I was able to get them at a good price by buying through Country Farm and Home in Pittsboro and putting together a group order of 50# for several community gardens.

The rest of the garden is slowly coming back to life, with late winter treats giving us joy and hope for the spring.  Dwarf iris, edgeworthia, crocus, winter sweet and early daffodils. Yesterday the blood root shot up when the temps went up to 80 degrees!  The trout lilies are starting in the woods and the maple trees are dropping their red flowers.  It's exciting to think the first day of spring is only a few days away, but as usual the list of chores is a bit overwhelming.  Tomorrow I plan to plant beets, carrots, and some more greens before the next round of rain.
Creek Foam Has Been Outstanding This Winter

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Retreat to Weymouth

I am thrilled to be spending a few days at the Weymouth Center in Southern Pines with my writing friend Susie.  This is the perfect place to take stock of the old year and the new.
It was a bit grey and stormy today but that was alright for getting lots of work done.

Think, write, read, walk and ponder the universe.

What a gift to visit here once again, I'll be sad to leave tomorrow but it's been great to recharge my batteries and refocus my intent as I head into the new year.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Last Word for 2014

So the Last Word is actually the name of a cocktail that our friends Sarah and Ben turned us onto last summer and we are thinking of mixing up a batch for the festivities tonight.  The recipe is as follows:
3/4 oz Gin
3/4 oz Green chartruese
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz maraschino liqueur
Shake with ice and strain
garnish with a twist and/or a cherry

But truth be told, I felt compelled to put a few words on this page at years end.  I've been horribly negligent on this blog with the last post in July!  It really was a very busy fall, it really was.

I enjoyed a first half of 2014 year in review, reading through my previous posts.  It's funny as I see the same things over and over.  In fact I spent several long days at the start of my winter break reorganizing my office and cleaning up, much as I did last year at this time.

The 240 onions that I planted back in March are starting to sprout in the closet and so it's time to make big vats of french onion soup again.  I think I went overboard for sure, next year I'll only plant 180.

The last handful of those red pontiac potatoes we dug back in June are sending out pubescent white and pink shoots, one more batch of mashers and they'll be gone, then it will be on to the bumper crop of sweet potatoes.

We are still eating those greens I froze in June and also enjoying fresh greens and salads from the garden.  Thriving thanks to floating row cover that keeps the frost away on cold nights.  I continue to harvest a big bowl of lettuce and other mixed greens each week, we have baby bok choy, cabbages, broccoli, kale, spinach and carrots all still perking along out there, ready for picking when we are ready for eating, such a luxury.

Tomato sauce, ratatouille, chopped multi-colored peppers, black-eyed peas and blueberries still fill the freezer to get us through the next few months of cold weather cooking.  Lots of firewood to burn to keep us warm.  We are rich indeed.

Since my last post back in July I've been to:
 American Community Gardening Association meeting in Chicago in August
  • A week at Topsail in September
  • Organized 5 GROW workshops for NC Community Garden Partners and traveled to Laurinburg, Hickory, New Bern and Asheville in October
  • In November I was back to the coast for a GROW workshop in Wilmington and a long birthday weekend at Wrightsville with some of my gal pals.
  • Finally in December I went up to the Franklinton Center at Bricks in the tiny town of Whitakers, NC for the fifth and final GROW workshop.
So there really was a lot of travel and running around and getting ready for the travel and running around in between.  In addition, I continued to manage the Carrboro Family Community Garden and work with multiple new and existing clients for my new business, Playful Nature Consulting.

I hope you'll forgive my absence in this space, I was overwhelmed with too many responsibilities and something had to go.  It's my hope to get back in the swing of regular writing and attempt to reign in the workload a smidgen in 2015.

I leave Friday for a few days of reflection and writing at the Weymouth Center, a wonderful way to start the new year.  Here's wishing a fabulous, healthy and prosperous 2015 to any of the faithful readers I may have left at this site. Thanks for continuing to check in from time to time to read the latest from MKH at MCC.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tomato Surprise

Tomato Surprise sounds like a recipe you might find in a Betty Crocker cookbook from the fifties.  Probably a cassrole including ingredients like canned tomato soup, saltine crackers and cheese.  But no, read on to learn about our tomato surprise.
Here is the scene about every other day.  The cukes and squash are getting pretty thick.  Dating each bag is critical to making sure we are on a "first in, first out" program.  The blueberries have been plentiful enough to start freezing some.  We are up to 2 quarts in the freezer, as many as we can eat fresh and lots more on the bushes. 

Don't get me wrong, this is a good problem to have, but the need to process is a bit oppressive at times.
This is the other fairly constant scene in our kitchen right now.  Despite eating as many as we can, processing for sauce, freezing whole, making BLT's, gazpacho, salsa and they just keep coming.  I actually made a sauce last night with Sungold cherries because they were on the verge of going over and that would be a crime.  The sauce was fantastically sweet, I put it through the food mill to remove the skins, and then cooked it with some Japanese eggplants and a load of garlic and basil. Yeah.

The big surprise in the mater patch this season were the Aunt Ruby's German Greens.  Now I knew I had started some seeds but somewhere in the translation of seed flats to stepped up pots, I thought none of them had sprouted.  I found the seed in a last seasons reduced bin and so I figured maybe they just had not been good seeds.  Luckily, they did sprout and were mislabeled.  I planted a couple in the group of plums thinking they were sauce tomatoes.

As they started to mature it became apparent they were no kind of plum tomato but some sort of heirloom.  I thought they were Georgia Streaks, yellow with a red sunburst on the bottom, but the mystery tomato was ripening later.  Not until a couple of them started to rot on the vine did it occur to me they were the German Greens. 
What a fantastic tomato!  They have a silky texture similar to a Cherokee Purple and that gorgeous sunburst of pink at the bottom. Even with very green shoulders, they are perfectly ripe, with a nice balance of acid and sweet.  Fortunately we made the realization before they all went bad.
Here a dynamite salad made with the Aunt Ruby's Green tomato, watermelon, purple onion, feta and topped with peanuts.  I did a dressing with peanut oil, rice wine vinegar and fresh basil.  It was super tasty.

Fortunately I think I have enough plums for one more big batch of sauce and the crop seems to be winding down.  Then we will go through withdrawal because we will no longer be eating 2 or 3 amazing tomatoes each day.  Oh well, can't have it all.  If they were available all year like this we wouldn't appreciate them as we do when they only are at their peak for a couple of months.  But we will have them frozen and canned to enjoy over the winter.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Monster Cukes and Other Garden Trivia

These two state fair quality beauties measuring 17 and 19 inches respectively, slipped past our attentive pickers eyes.  They were each snuggled close to or behind the green metal fence posts upon which the cucumber trellis is supported.  They were hiding under the leaves of cukes and beans.  Growing longer by the day.  I'm sure the inch of rain we finally got helped push them along to their mammoth lengths.  Both are Japanese varieties; small seeded, thin skinned, sweet, wet, crunchy, spectacular, even at this size.  The top one is a Suyo Long; prickly and ridged, fancy when cut cross-wise to reveal scalloped edges.  The bottom is a Tasty Jade, smooth and round.  Both are long time standards in our garden. 
I think I know how I'll be spending my day tomorrow 

It's sauce making time.   Despite the early blight, the tomatoes have done quite well and put on a very nice set of fruit.  This is definitely the peak week, we'll be eating as many as we possibly can. 

I was shocked to realize we haven't had a BLT yet, so I went to the store today to get all the ingredients for the ultimate sandwich.   Good rustic white bread, a head of lettuce and some decent bacon.  Tomorrows lunch.  Discussing tonight's dinner menu and this quest for BLT fixin's with  David this morning, I apologized for being geezerly in my anticipation of meals to come, but there you have it.  Got to have something to look forward to right?

Especially since we have cancelled our anticipated camping vacation for next week due to the fact that it looks like rain most every day in the mountains starting Sunday, the day we were to leave and lasting through the week :-(.   SO we are going to stay home and eat.  And work.  But considering all I've got to get done this month, its probably a wise decision.  Hopefully we'll get a chance to sneak off for a little fun at some point soon.

And with all those maters coming in, well, we probably ought to stick around to deal with them too.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Quintessential Summer Supper

 Cherokee Purple, Sungold and Pink Bumblebee tomatoes with some summer friends

I can't get through July without posting about this most summery of plates.  We've been eating some combo of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and snap beans once and sometimes twice a day for the past couple of weeks.  I do not tire of this grouping as I know it will never taste quite the same at any other time of year as it does when it comes fresh from the garden.

Some S&P, O&V and a smattering of feta or cottage cheese with some purple onion for bite and fresh basil for pizazz, its just hard to go wrong.

On the left up there is a zucchini stuffed with a custard made of fresh corn, egg, milk and cheese.  It's topped with fresh tomato sauce made of nothing but onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil with peeled chopped plum tomatoes.  It is so sweet and simple.

I added a pile of lentils last night for some more protein.  French lentils are great eaten cold, worth a try if you haven't and they cook up quickly too.

Best news of all.  It's raining.  Rained last night too.  A half an inch and I'm feeling maybe we'll have another half inch or more tonight.  Everyone, even non-gardeners, are breathing a sigh of relief.

 Corn Stuffed Zucchini (Calabacitas rellenas con elote)

           Adapted from Diana Kennedy's The Cuisines of Mexico 

3 large zucchini- wash, trim the ends and cut in half lengthwise.  Scoop out the flesh and save for another dish, leaving a 1/4-1/2 inch thick "boat" to hold the custard.
Put in a blender:
   Scraped kernels from 3 ears of corn
   1 egg
   1-2 T milk (enough to free the blades of the blender)
   1/4 t salt and some fresh pepper
Add 1/2 cup of grated cheese, and give another zip in blender
(I like muenster but you could use jack or cheddar)

Put zucchini boats in a baking dish, pour the custard into the boats, top with more grated cheese.
Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes-one hour.
Serve with fresh tomato sauce and some chopped fresh parsley or basil.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Praying for Rain

And perhaps the prayers will be answered.  It is so parched and dry the weeds that make up our lawn are starting to die. Many plants around the yard are drooping, despite spending hours each day standing with the hose to give a hope of continued life to the many shrubs and trees we've planted over the past few years. 

The bonus to standing with the hose is a chance to take in a slow view of things. Watch birds flit about the yard.  Or clouds move across the sky casting shadows on the parched landscape. A moment to pluck and crush Japanese beetles munching away on the apple trees. Or pick blueberries while the hose rests at their feet, giving the roots a deep soak to yield plump berries. 

Happiness in Blue

I resorted to the rain bird today.  We rarely use a sprinkler, as they seem wasteful, but it's come to that, too many vast dry areas and too little time to spare.

It did rain today, but only briefly.  I went out and just stood, listening to that sound of water hitting leaves, ground, roof.  I thought "Come on, come on, keep going, PLEASE."  It has been nearly a month since we had any appreciable rain, so it's getting critical.  More is forecast for tomorrow.  Fingers crossed that we are under the 60% of sky that's predicted to give a decent shower. We'll need at least an inch to even begin to soak down into the baked and cracked soil.

Good news is that diligent watering does yield vegetables.  And the lack of rain has probably saved our tomatoes from the blight that was overtaking them earlier in the season after the one heavy rain we had back in May.
Happiness in Red and Yellow
We are also fortunate to have a well.  Here's hoping it keeps on pumping cool clear water from deep in the ground for many years to come. 
Nothing really says July quite like day lilies.  This one is a fave with its green throat in contrast against those velvety purple petals.
This two-toner is another beauty
I've noticed the plants with tuberous roots; day lilies, ginger lilies, peonies, are much better able to endure the lack of water.  But even they are beginning to show signs of distress.  

Come on.  Rain.