Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Foxey Persuasion

It's taken him a year, but I think she's slowly succumbing to his charms.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Surprising Autumn Blooms

I was pleased to find some flowers blooming in the yard today that I hadn't really expected to see this late in the season.  This loropetalum puts on a huge show in spring and is now in bloom again. Not quite as full as the springtime display, but bright and lively all the same.
This brilliant red quince was a surprise as quince usually bloom in late winter.  I was impressed by this one when it bloomed multiple times last winter and spring.  It has been looking not well, losing leaves in the late summer and I was afraid it might not survive.  If this flower is any indication, the shrub may rally yet.

I hope it will.  

I also spied a flourish of flowers on the jackmanii clematis and one lone zinnia that somehow manged to dodge the frost.  You just never know what you might find if you look around.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Birthday Extravaganza

 Sunny Peppers!
Yes, the peppers continue to ripen and survive despite cold nights.  It's amazing what a sheet of remay row cover can do to preserve and protect.  I'm not sure about this week with lows forecast in the mid 20's it could be the end, but it's been a great run.  We have loads of peppers now that I need to cut up for the freezer because I don't think we will be able to eat them all up.

I've had a wonderful birthday week with multiple celebrations in honor of turning, as someone said "double nickles".  There have been cards and calls, gifts and dinners and a general festive air all around.

I baked this gorgeous snapper from the local fishmonger on my birthday eve. Along side crispy roasted potatoes, the last of the garden beans and a salad of just picked red bibb lettuce, a nice french white Bordeaux, that was some living brother.  And we polished the night off with a flour-less chocolate torte that I baked for myself as I'd been having a hankering.

On my actual birthday Nov 8th, David went out to Prairie Ridge with me to help band birds. It was another cool sunny day and we had a big time capturing kinglets and many sparrows in the nets and putting the bands on their tiny legs before measuring, weighing and releasing them to fly on about their day.

That night we enjoyed a super dinner at Mateo Tapas Bar in Durham where we sampled 9 different plates and a fair amount of wine.

Yesterday I spent the day at the NC Community Garden Partners Annual meeting.  I am on the education committee and so was on the planning committee for this event.  I think it was a big success, we had over 100 people from across the state taking part in workshops and presentations.  People seemed to be learning lots and networking too, always good.  Our theme this year was sustainability of gardens, not on the ecological level but on the management, business, funding, longevity level. It is great to see the community garden movement growing in North Carolina and so many people interested in getting gardens started and in keeping them going strong.

Best of all- I won the raffle of this gorgeous community garden quilt!  It represents raised beds, pathways and veggies growing, and has a few chickens clucking through it as well.  Colorful and fun.  I couldn't believe it.
And so, I enter my 55th year feeling very celebrated, loved and lucky indeed.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Returning to Normal

I was trying to catch a flock of crows flying over.  You can see one- a blur, but love the red oak leaves set against that blue, blue sky.

What a day.

I am finally feeling the fog lift from having that tooth pulled.  I took a good brisk walk down along the creek, soaking in the fall colors and bright sky.  Came back home and worked in the garden for a couple of hours, weeding and tidying up in the veg patch.  Finished cleaning up the asparagus beds.  It always looks so much nicer when that's done.

Pulled down Jacks beanstalk, now dry and dead.  Pruners and scissors, cutting and pulling the twisted vines where they had climbed, wrapping themselves around the fence wire up, up, up.  Put away the posts, fence, piled the vines into the wheelbarrow for compost.

It was chilly and I kept my purple sweatshirt on the whole time, feeling snugly.  Pulled chickweed and oxalis from between the young carrots.  The soil was cold and I was glad for my good gloves.

Kept a fire going in the stove all day too.
sweet gum leaf  - like burgundy leather

The autumn has truly arrived and with it colorful trees, breezy clear days with leaves swirling by.  I am ready for this shift.

Also glad for the time change, to wake before 7 with some sunlight.  And at the end of the day to come inside and hunker down for long evenings of comfort food suppers and books.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Happy, Scary Halloween

Here I am in my own special Halloween costume.

Fresh back from the oral surgeon yesterday.  There I had a second molar, #30 removed, goodbye number thirty, and an implant anchor drilled into my jaw bone. Lets hear it for sedation, I was semi-conscious but didn't feel a thing.  Love this spiffy wimple holding an ice pack against my jaw to reduce the swelling. 

Armed with antibiotics, pain killers, ice packs and special peroxide mouth rinse, hoping that I will heal well over the next few days and in some period of time, can't remember how long we have to wait, I will have a new faux #30 installed.  The trials and tribulations of aging.  All I can say is I am glad to have some money set aside for such things and don't have to go around with a rotten tooth or a hole in my mouth forever. The surgeon says the second molars do 90% of the chewing, kind of a key tooth, I wouldn't want to live without.

Otherwise life is moving along.  I was happy to get my 60 cloves of garlic in the ground last week, to be 60 heads for next year. 
Discovered this cluster of hardy cyclamen popping up out of the leaf litter last week that made me want to plant loads more. What a nice surprise, those delicate pink petals sweeping up to the sky.

The first frost finally came on the night of October 18. That prompted the digging of the sweet potatoes.  About 5 gallons are currently curing under the bed.  Much smaller than last years beasts, but that's alright, I actually prefer the smaller ones to roast whole into sweet nuggets that can be eaten skin and all.  We covered up the peppers because they are still loaded wth big green fruits that I want to ripen and also the green beans, so we are still harvesting from those.

The fall crops seem happy and the frost slowed down the caterpillars a bit for which I am grateful.  So now we move into meals with many greens; lettuce, tatsoi, kale, collards and eventually I hope some cabbages and broccoli, despite their late planting.

Another cool thing recently was Leonard Bergey and his beautiful team of Percheron horses who came over to plow one of the pastures up on the creamery.  Such gorgeous animals and Leonard is masterful with the gentle giants, he is a whisperer for sure.

OK- off to a bowl of soup prepared by my handsome nurse David.  (Please forgive any percocet induced misspelling or poor grammar within this post.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What's Been Going ON!?

Top of the Mountain

Where to begin?  It's been too long since I've been to this page.  More than a month in fact.  So what's been going on! as my brother Alex always says at the start of his weekly newsletter....
Sunrise over Topsail Beach
There was a delightful trip to the beach, our old same favorite Barrett Cottage at the corner of Trout and Ocean, down near the tip of Topsail Island. There with two lovely lady friends I whiled away days and nights eating fresh fish, walking on the beach, bird watching, watching the sun rise and set, the full moon rise and set too. We rode bikes, kayaked and swam, swam, swam.  It was about as perfect as a beach week could be and my honey Dave joined us for the last couple of days of quiet bliss.

Back at home I spent a week catching up, then a week in conferences and workshops.  I was in Raleigh at the Marbles Kids Museum for a three day intensive on early childhood physical activity sponsored by Blue Cross & Blue Shield NC - made me feel a little better about all those premiums I pay! I learned more than I have in a workshop in a long time, got loads of great ideas for easy and inexpensive games and activities to do with little ones (ages 3-5) to get them moving while having fun.  Diane Craft was there and shared all her wisdom.  They even brought in real live children for us to practice on which was super informative, our technique improved dramatically between the first group and the second the next day! FUN that's what it was all about.

Then I was two days at the Natural Learning Initiatives' annual Design Institute at the NC Botanical Garden.  This is the event to which I attribute my epiphany of career change and life change- 4 years ago I heard Phil Waters from the Eden Project in England talk about "Play Work" and thought to myself- "that's what I want to do, I want to be a play worker."  Despite its oxymoronic sound, it is indeed the work of children to play, and we don't let them do enough of it, not even close.  

I made a presentation on gardening and cooking with kids.  I had a copperhead crawl across my foot while I was standing and listening to someone else speaking during another workshop! That was exciting! The appearance of the snake was only one among multiple signs of transformation that have visited me lately, I am ready, I am watching for the big shift.

The NLI-DI was the perfect lead-in to two more days of training at the NC Zoo in Asheboro.  There I completed my third and final session in the Playful Pedagogy training.  I and four other happy folks are the first graduating class in this program that has helped us understand better the principles of play and how to make opportunities for children to play.  By providing "affordances" stuff in other words. Both natural: sticks, bamboo, leaves, nuts, water, trees... and human made: cardboard boxes, balls, buckets, pool noodles... Then get out of the way and let the children play.  In a safe space, but without great interference from adults.

Guess what?  Kids learn by playing.  They develop cognitive, social and emotional skills while being physically active and being creative.  It's a win win,  play workers just need to provide the space and stuff and then keep the parents out of the way so kids can take some risks and explore.

And we got to camp out at the Zoo!  I woke to the sound of elks bugling across the park, got up and walked over to watch the seals swim and play for a while.  It was strange, and I was surprised at the noise from all the mechanical systems whirring and humming to keep all the animal exhibits running smoothly, it wasn't as quiet as I thought it might be.

Finally back at home and with some free time - it proceeded to rain for 8 straight days.   Well, I got caught up on work and house chores at least, though had to break down and use the drier to get the laundry done.  I was quite happy to see the sun yesterday so took a long walk to the mountain top, haven't been up there since the leaves came out last spring.  It was swell to see some sunshine and spy a few lovelies like:

 Indian pipe in bloom

At home I did manage to get a fall garden planted in between everything else but we have had a killer crop of caterpillars, maybe all the rain?  Who knows, but these fuzzy buggers are wreaking havoc in the greens:
Along with wooly worms and a few other varieties of creepy crawlies.  We've been squishing loads of them and when it finally stopped raining I sprayed Bacillus Thuriengensis (BT) to try and slow them down. 
Need more sunny days to ripen up the green peppers that are still on the plants and for the ground to dry up enough to dig the sweet potatoes and plant the garlic.

So life goes on despite no blogging.  As I always say, though you probably won't believe me, I'll try to be better.  Maybe that will be part of the coming transformation?  More writing- YES!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pepper Palooza

 Half of the pepper patch
Peppers are a crop that require a lot of patience.  Especially if you start your own plants from seed.  Around the 1st of March I prep my planting trays and sow the seeds of peppers, eggplants and tomatoes and put them on a heat mat to sprout, then under grow lights where they grow along for about 6 weeks.  At that point, I step them up into larger pots and start to harden them off by putting them outside during the day and bringing them in at night, exposing them to more and more sun each day.  Around the 1st of May I set them into the garden beds and put the cages around them.  Then it's a waiting game until the first fruits begin to show color and fully ripen up, usually around mid August.  Six months before the first fruit, that is a long wait.  From that point on, its pepper city up to and often beyond frost.

They are actually pretty easy to grow, I just keep them watered and usually give them some extra fertilizer in the form of fish emulsion in mid-summer as they are starting to set fruits.  There are few pests that attack the plants, sometimes caterpillars can get into the fruits and cause them to rot, but generally they are free of problems.

Bowl of sweet, colorful, crisp goodness
I have no interest in green peppers unless they are the hot varieties.  I grow 1 plant of serranos every season which produces enough peppers for an army.  I also grow at least one of the medium hot chiles such as anaheims, poblanos or pasillas each year.  But my true faves are the sweet and colorful bell peppers; red, orange and yellow as well as the Italian stuffing peppers.  I have Carmen this year and sometimes I plant Corno di toros which are nice as they also have yellow and orange fruits in addition to the red.  This year I have a Marconi Gold which is a bright yellow stuffing pepper the same size as the Carmen.  And finally the pimentos which are so meaty and rich roasted and either dressed in olive oil for salads or appetizers or chopped for good old pimento cheese.  

All of the peppers freeze really well too and so I roast and freeze them or chop and freeze the colored bells to use in soups, stirs fries and other dishes through the winter.  Small hot peppers can be frozen whole and the chopped peppers need no prep or cooking, just core and seed, chop and toss in freezer bags, so easy.

We are eating lots of these now raw in salads, dipped in hummus, sauteed in pasta dishes.  The only down side is that there isn't a lot of other stuff coming out of the garden at the moment, the tomatoes are finished, the eggplants are making a few, the beans are winding down, and now I am waiting eagerly for the fall greens to start up but it will be a while.

Just yesterday I sowed seed for lettuce, spinach, radishes and turnips.  I put in another batch of carrots as the first planting from a month ago came up sparsely.  The beets look good and are already about 3 inches tall, so they will be the first greens we get to eat this fall.  I also need to pull out the tomato plants dead or dying to make room for the brassicas.  Little broccoli, cabbage and collard plants are sitting in pots and really want to be in the ground.  I do have quite a few frozen greens from the spring so I guess I'll eat those  while I wait for the new ones to come on,

Truthfully, there is never a shortage of food around here, I'm only complaining because, well, I don't know why I'm complaining, it's foolish!

Monday, September 2, 2013

FIG-alicious August

Whoa- what happened to August?
Let's see....
There was a vacation.

Here we are with our peeps out in Missouri
We had an amazing visit and adventure in the Ozarks with brother Jon and sister-in-law Candy.  Together we camped and floated down the crystal clear and cold spring fed Current River in the Ozarks National Scenic Riverways.  It was good to go and see everyone, but after 2,000 miles in the car and 9 nights in 7 places, we were glad to get back home.  We've been back a week and I'm just now feeling like I might be getting caught up on things, though you know the reality of life in the country, you never really get caught up.  Everywhere I look I see another task that needs tending to.

Something else that's been taking up lots of time, surprise, surprise- harvesting and processing.

Figs were coming in like crazy before we left, this is a fraction of what we were dealing with. 

 Add cupfuls of the above, fresh sliced ginger and lemon...
 Bubble, Bubble Toil and Trouble

Ta Dah!! 
20 jars of fig and ginger preserves to stash under the bed with the canned tomatoes and peaches.

I made another 4 pints yesterday with the ones we harvested after we returned, they are coming in daily and if we don't pick them quick, they turn to fruit fly and wasp food, dripping sour juice or full fledged fuzz balls covered with fur.  I think they are slowing down.  They sure are tasty both fresh and cooked.

The tomatoes really are finished and it's time to pull out the dead and dying squash, cukes and early beans and plant the fall garden.  I am happy to report the forecast for this week brings a cold front on Wed that will usher in cooler drier fall weather. Pretty much from the first hot humid days in June, I wait eagerly for the moment when the weather cools again.

But now- I need to go out and mow the grass.

My fig preserves:
12 cups (after prepping) washed, stemmed and halved fresh figs
6 cups of sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 whole lemon; quartered lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced
2 inches of fresh ginger; peeled and thinly sliced
1 stick of cinnamon

Put it all together in a large heavy bottomed pot and bring to a simmer.  Cook one to two hours stirring frequently over a medium-low heat until thickened.  If you have a thermometer, it should reach 221 degrees.  Be careful not to scorch or burn on the bottom.  Be careful when you stir, it can splatter and burn you!  Makes about 10 half pints.  To process, pour hot into sterilized jars, top with new canning lids and rings and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Remove to cool.
OR put in containers in the fridge, give to friends and keep refrigerated until its gone.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Where's Jack?

The rain just won't quit.

Another 7 tenths last night, after 7 tenths the night before, after.... I can't keep track anymore, it seems its rained almost everyday.  As a result things are growing very tall, I guess they are trying to reach for the sun?
Standing in front of the pole bean trellis
David added  3 feet to the top of this trellis and still the beans have grown another three feet beyond that, winding and wrapping around themselves in an attempt to grow higher.  They are finally setting flowers and beans, I may have to get a ladder to pick them though.  In addition to Jack in the Beanstalk references I keep hearing Aretha singing The House That Jack Built "But I ain't got Jack, and I want my Jack back".

The extension David made for the cucumber trellis was so heavy with vine and fruit that it snapped and folded over on itself.  So now picking cucumbers is more like an excavation.  But they keep putting on, with all the rain they are watery, crisp and sweet.  I am glad we will be leaving for a vacation in another 10 days and when we get back, hopefully all the cucurbits and tomatoes will be dead.

After making 4 gallons of tomato sauce, half in the freezer, half in jars and tucked safely away for winter, I am happy to see the tomatoes coming to an end.   But not quite, so last night we took advantage of the first 3 fat eggplants and the squash surplus and made a big pot of ratatouille.  So tasty.
 Vat of Rat + Today's Harvest
Back in my restaurant days we would make 5 gallon buckets of ratatouille and put it in everything from omelets to crepes or serve it as a side dish along side cold roasted lamb.  There, we actually flash fried each vegetable in oil and added it to the cooked tomato sauce.  At home, I sauté batches of each veggie in olive oil and then simmer it all together with tomatoes, onions, garlic and a healthy handful of fresh basil.  Yum.  Some of this is headed for the freezer too.

In fact, we are slated to go out and buy a new larger freezer today as our 25 year old 10 cubic foot freezer is stuffed and we need more space. It's making this groaning sound that gets me nervous, I would hate for the old thing to die right now as its filled to the brim with cherries, blueberries, tomato sauce and more.  I hate shopping but sometimes you just gotta do it.  25 years for an appliance is not bad, and I fear the new one won't last half that long.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Something Lurks or Storage Crops

Onions on the living room floor
Yesterday I brought the onions inside to finish drying as it's been so humid I was afraid they would rot.  This year I had the idea of drying them under the shed using a wire cage.  This worked fabulously, the tops of the onions strung through the wire to hang down the middle with the onion bulbs outside to cure.  
The drying rack
Some years I have braided them for storage, but the tops seemed too mildewy from the recent moisture so I opted to cut them off and will store the onions in net bags once they dry a little more in the living room.  It will be a miracle if we eat all of these before they start to sprout, but we will give it our best try.  This years haul was about 60 pounds.

The down side to growing a surplus of veggies, even those that store well such as onions, is not really having a very good place to keep them.  I long for a root cellar or something like it where crops would be safe from critters, cool and dark enough to prevent sprouting or rotting, just moist enough to keep things fresh.  Alas, we have no such place in our house.  There is a crawl space underneath, but the mustiness and presence of crickets and mice make me leery of putting anything down there for long.  So we just try to grow enough, but not too much, and eat things up while they are fresh.

But we often face this sort of situation:
 Last years sweet potatoes; the too big, too small, too ugly 
These never got cooked and are sprouting in the closet.  I will see if they are still worth eating in the next week or so, but they might end up on the compost pile, all their goodness gone into those two foot tall sprouts. And there are more in the ground now, growing for the fall harvest.
 In the bedroom
Always looking for a good spot to store things or at least get them cured, I've discovered under the bed is a good spot for the taters, dry but dark.  I still have one of those beautiful Long Island Cheese squashes from last fall sitting in the kitchen, it seems to be holding up well, but I'm sure its lost its goodness from sitting in the house for 8 months.  They are so big each one made lots of cooked squash and confession- there is still cooked pureed squash in the freezer too. As I've mentioned in a previous post, won't grow that one again, we are back to butternuts, sweeter and smaller.

I hate to waste things and have started making a regular donation to our local women's shelter from our surplus, but I get greedy, so much effort in the growing that I want to eat everything up or preserve it some how.  So I inevitably end up with things like those crazy sweet potatoes, too far gone to give away.  It's a constant crap shoot trying to figure how much of everything to plant, some years the harvest is poor so you plant more, then you get a whopper harvest and can't eat it all.  Ah well, such is life.  

The freezer is groaning, its 25 years old and needs to be replaced with a larger model, I hope we organize that before the old one dies...

Monday, July 15, 2013

Red Alert- Tomato Emergency!

I planted extra tomatoes this year with canning in mind.  I've always made sauce and frozen it, but last year I also canned pints and quarts and they turned out so well and didn't take up freezer space so I decided I wanted to do more canning this season.  When I made that decision I didn't know it would be the wettest summer on record.  In case you didn't know, tomatoes don't really like humidity and wet weather.  What was one of the best looking tomato patches we've had in a long time; healthy, lush plants loaded with green fruit, has been turned, in the course of three very wet weeks, into this.
This batch of Red Agate romas have lost almost all of their leaves. Not pictured are the Marianna hybrid which are doing a little better but the fruit is only beginning to ripen.  Granted, the fruit set is fantastic as you can see, but the tomatoes are starting to rot before they fully ripen due to too much moisture.  So today I picked everything that was remotely red and brought it into the kitchen. I dried off and left on the counter all that looked like they would make it a few days to get redder. Look close to see the little spots that in a few days turn into black rot.
The rest I washed and processed for sauce.  I have a method that is probably not the most efficient but I like the result so I labor away.  First I remove any spots and the cores from the tomatoes, cut in chunks and put them in a big pot with some salt and cook until soft, 20 or 30 minutes.  Then I put that mixture through the food mill to remove skins and most of the seeds.  In addition, because I like my sauce to be a bit chunky, I peel and seed some of the better looking ones and chop those up.  So the result is two batches, one of chopped and one of puree.
I heat some fruity olive oil in a large heavy bottom pot, cook chopped onions and garlic until starting to soften, then add both batches of tomatoes along with about a cup of chopped fresh basil, marjoram and oregano and a bay leaf and let the whole thing simmer for at least an hour to meld the flavors and cook away some of the water. This yields a rich, thick sauce that I can freeze in baggies for winter pizza's and pasta.
The final product, burbling away
I was at this for three hours this morning between the picking, sorting, peeling, chopping, not to mention washing the dishes that mount in a process like this, but it will be worthwhile in the end.  I hope the remaining tomatoes in the garden are going to ripen up before the plants go down completely so I can actually get some into jars as I had planned.  The weather is finally turning hot and dry this week, with 90+ degree days  forecast every day  I am not looking forward to that very much, but at least we are already half way through July.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Berries = Pie

 Bowl of blue deliciousness
The blueberries started ripening in earnest this week and then the blackberries began to follow suit. The blues have been the plumpest ever thanks to our record breaking rainfall over the past month.  Ten inches of rain fell in June and we've had another 1.5 inches just in the past 48 hours, it seems like it just won't stop.  But I'm trying not to complain given how much I've complained about drought over the past few years.

I do begin to feel like I'm living in a rainforest.
The berry patch
We have about 18 blueberry bushes of varying age and variety.  Most are rabbiteye and they begin bearing in July and continue into late August/early September.  The oldest were planted about 8 years ago, the newest last season.  The varieties include Premier, Columbus, Tifblue, Delite, Onslow, O'Neal and Powder Blue.  The older ones came from Finch Blueberry Nursery, a well known NC blueberry grower, the newer ones from Camellia Forest.
A few ripe blueberries with many more to come
And blackberries too
I'm not as happy with our blackberries, they are a thorn less variety, can't remember the name though they are all named for native tribes, I think Arapaho or maybe Navajo?  Not sure why they are named this way.

I would like to try a different variety and see if we have better luck, while these do make nice large berries, they are not as sweet as one would hope, nor as plump as other varieties I've seen.  They'll do for now.  If you have a favorite blackberry variety, please comment and tell me what it is and where you found it.

So with some berries mounting up I knew it was pie time.  I like to use my friend Karen Barkers recipe from her Sweet Stuff book. She includes orange zest and juice and a hint of cinnamon, that together with the 2 kinds of berries yields a really fragrant flavor, not too cloying, not too sweet.  I used 3 cups of blues and 1 cup of blacks (Her recipe calls for 4 cups of blues and 2 of blacks, I didn't have that many and it turned out fine, I just reduced the sugar and flower a smidgen.)
This is what I am talking about!
With ice cream for dessert last night, with cappuccino for breakfast this morning, and more to come. Not exactly slimming for my waistline but I'm getting to where I think that slimming my waistline may be a lost cause.

For a little more pie fun, check out the movie Sweet Land, a wonderful film about a mail order German bride coming to the Midwest in 1920, there is a fantastic pie scene about 45 minutes in and the whole movie is a very sweet love story worth watching.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Carrots and Beets and Nematodes! Uh Oh

I try to get all my root crops out of the ground by early July so they don't start to rot or be invaded by various worms and other critters.  I managed to get all the potatoes and onions out of the ground about 10 days ago just before our torrential rains hit. Phew. Onions are safely drying in the shed, potatoes under the bed.  Then yesterday I harvested the second planting of carrots and beets I had sown in Mid-April.  They had been looking pitiful, not growing well despite additions of organic fertilizer, lots of water and even some compost tea.  When I pulled them out I understood the problem immediately.

Root knot nematodes, they were causing all these crazy looking nodes on the roots and in doing some research I learned this is hard on the plants for sure.  Supposedly some ways to cope with the problem are to solarize the soil by putting clear plastic on top and baking it so it kills the little buggers. Otherwise, crop rotations, growing grain cover crops like Sudan grass, or planting marigolds which have a toxin that kills the nematodes were all recommended on various websites.  If you have experience with this problem, post a comment to help me and others know what to do!

I still managed to get close to 2 pounds of carrots and with the final harvest from my first planting plus the wimpy ones, I got about 4 more pounds of beets.  Now I need to be eating some carrots because the ones I dug a couple of weeks ago are still sitting in the crisper and while they store well, I know they won't keep for ever, been visualizing one of those grated carrot salads with lemon and raisins, but visualization ain't gonna make it happen, I've got to actually go in there and get out the grater!

I also need to eat up these beets as I've got 8 pints already pickled and I think that's going to do us for the year, I like pickled beets, but a few go a long way which is the general truth about pickles I think.  When I was rooting around in the cupboard to make space for the beets I unearthed several jars of dilly beans, circa 2009 as well as some pickled okra and lost jars of fig preserves, time to get cranking on consuming some of that stuff.

I'm thinking some beet and cucumber borscht with all the cukes that are starting to pile up in the fridge.

It must be July.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Tart Cherries!

Yeasted Cherry Cheese Coffee Cake

It all started with our trip to the orchard back in June.  We watched and waited until the cherry hotline announced the tart cherries would be ripe at the same time as the dark cherries.  We packed a lunch, piled into the car with our best pals John and Michele and headed down the highway to Mayberry (Mt Airy) and north to the edge of Virginia.  There, outside the town of Ararat, the 105 year old Levering Orchard sits perched on the side of a very steep mountain, much like Noah's fabled ark on the peak of Mount Ararat. They feature 44 varieties of cherries as well as apples, peaches and nectarines.

We first visited the orchard 2 years ago with friends and picked buckets of sweet bing cherries that day.  We had romantic memories of the breezy afternoon spent with jolly friends, happily picking and picnicking in the shade of the ancient cherry trees.  Something felt different this time, as if the cherry orchard had fallen on hard times.  The buildings were more ramshackle, the grass more overgrown, and we learned that they had lost 80% of the sweet cherry crop from the rains the previous week brought by tropical storm Andrea.

David still managed to find a half bucket of decent dark cherries and we picked and picked the tarts, they were at their prime, slipping easily by handfuls from the trees and into our buckets as we swayed atop tall skinny ladders set precariously into the tree branches.  We stumbled up and down the steep slope, over briars and poison ivy in search of the best trees, the ripest fruit.  When we had filled four buckets we knew we better stop, the tarts are more expensive than the sweets, being a rare and perishable treat, even the "pick your own" price was $3.79 a pound.

We found a rough spot to sit and eat our picnic, hot and tired from scrambling around the mountain side.  But we enjoyed a view of the distant blue ridge and watched tanagers and orchard orioles flit around in the trees.  Then we packed up and headed to the weighing shed.  We knew the bill would be high, the previous time we'd been shocked that we had picked $50 worth of cherries, but blew off the worry each time we ate another handful of the dark sweet fruit, remembering our happy day with friends.

The tarts, being more expensive, and filling the buckets more fully as they are smaller, caused our bill this day to total out at $83.00!!!   Oh well, it was done, we piled back in the car and began the 2.5 hour drive back home.  So you might ask, in the scheme of things, was it worth it?  We asked that question too.  But the reality is, you can rarely buy tart cherries here, they are hard to grow in our climate, and man are they good.
Fresh from the Orchard
I'm sorry I didn't get a photo of the state fair prize worthy lattice topped pie I baked a few weeks back, but I'll post a photo of the next one, and there will be another.  Once home we got right to work processing.  We washed, pitted and froze 7 quarts and the next day David used the last 3 quarts to make 5 half pints of cherry conserve.

Washing, Sorting, Pitting
We did the math- they were something like $8 a pound once we pitted them and tossed out the less than perfect fruits.  I don't know that we will do it again, the $8 per pound doesn't even figure in the gas and time spent driving all the way out there, but it is as much about the adventure as it is about the fruit.  Right?
 Glistening and frozen ready to be bagged

Yesterday we made the bodacious coffee cake pictured at the top of this post.
The recipe, I must admit, came from Martha Stewart and you can find it here

The yeasted dough was sexy, silky, with a whole stick of butter and a couple of eggs, nice to handle, it didn't stick to the table as we rolled it out and prepared the cake. We spread sweetened cream cheese over the dough and topped it with cherries before rolling into a log and twisting into a coil.

The snail, ready to rise one last time before baking 

Quite a production.  Once it was baked and cooled slightly I drizzled the confectioners sugar and milk icing over the top.  The flavor and texture of that white glaze shot me instantly back to the Ann Page (A&P) pecan coffee cakes my mother would buy for a special treat on Sundays at our house.  Damn it was good.  We criticized the lack of enough cherries in each bite, the wetness at the bottom of the cake as a result of the cherries having been frozen and settled to the bottom during rising.  We continued to be critical as we ate slice after slice.  I said anyone else would have been screaming at how delicious the thing was, before we fell into a carb induced coma on the couch.  And it wasn't bad nibbled last night before bed or warmed up this morning alongside the coffee.  And there is more- it was a monster of a cake that we'll enjoy for at least one more day.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Me and Davey J

David's friend Brad, Me and David in our first garden, 1986

Today marks 27 years since David drove in the driveway of the ramshackle farm house I had found for us and revamped in preparation of his arrival. We had met the previous year in Texas, spent 6 months in a deeply passionate courtship before I packed up and left Austin for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which was my mothers recent debilitating stroke.  We missed each other something terrible so he removed the back seat of his army green Gran Torino to hold all his worldly possessions, and drove east to join me in Chapel Hill where we had decided to give co-habitation a shot. 

We are still enjoying life together.  I was 27 years old that year, and I'm 54 now, I've spent half my life with this creative, brilliant, funny, thoughtful, tender man.  This morning as he left for work he called me out to see the resident garter snake, stretched out by the front gate in the sun.  I told him of the handsome box turtle I saw on the driveway when I went for milk first thing this morning. These are the things that have always turned us on, that continue to turn us on. 

This week also marks 16 years in our home, where we spend most of our spare time gardening together, growing food and flowers and seeing what manner of wildlife might happen by.  We've never made this match official, never saw the need, only created legal documents and wills to protect and prove we share our property.  And that has worked out fine for us.

Here we are lately
A little grayer
A little plumper
Still smiling