Sunday, December 16, 2007

Taking a Break from the Gardening Blog

I am headed to the Southern Hemisphere for six weeks. I will return in early February to a mailbox filled with garden catalogues and hopes for spring. No doubt I will dream garden dreams as I return to high summer.

When I can, I will be recording my adventures down under in my travel blog. Please feel free to visit there.

Reflections Away From Home

Until then, rejoice in the season and in the promise that comes at solstice as the earth faithfully begins her journey back to springtime.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Oh Woe is Me!!

How long does it take to make a recipe that you find interesting? Try : a year and counting? Last year I ran into this sweet recipe at La Tartine Gourmande. It is a luscious looking concoction of crab and kiwi and pomegranate. I set out to make it last fall and then realized I did not have any Piment d'Espelette ... nor could I find any. So one of my missions while I was in Paris last spring was to find some ... which I did. But alas, by then pomegranates were out of season.

So yesterday I roamed around Whole Foods gathering the ingredients in my basket. Then this morning as I looked at the recipe once again I sadly realized that the Piment d'Espelette is living on the spice rack back in New England. Grrrrrrrr.

I'm going to do it anyway, but I swear ... what an ordeal!! Anyway, go take a look around Bea's blog. It is pretty spectacular.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Saying Farewell to the Garden

The sunlight is penetrating deep into the far reaches of my living room these days, yet it is gone over the hills before 4:00 sending me into an early and almost endless night far earlier than I am ready for. I don't usually experience December light here in my "summer home" and so I feel lucky to be present for the contrast of BRIGHTNESS and early retreat that is New England in December.

I retrieved my last two rutabagas and the last of my tiny, tiny Brussels sprouts this morning. The winter squashes are packed as is the bushel basket of sweet potatoes and and shallots and more garlic than I will ever consume. And there is lots of frozen tomato sauce to bring the reminder of August back on a cold winter evening. It is all a blessing.

In a strange turnabout this year I am headed to the Southern Hemisphere to experience the solstice in its fullness not its darkness. I am reluctant to switch out so close to completing the seasonal cycle ... there is something about being witness to that shortest day that earns you the right to start the cycle yet again.

And so I head the car down the snow dusted driveway and say thank you, garden, for another year of bliss and blisters.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Garlic Report

The garlic beds are performing as expected. Despite my careful inspection at planting time, the Montana Giants, a good sized rocambole, are sporting a few doubles. I dug them up, split them and replanted them. I felt a bit like a Siamese twin surgeon as I split the cloves ... but near the bottom all became clear as each sprout had its own individual root system. I was glad to see the roots had already wrapped themselves around big chunks of nutritional compost. This could be a good year indeed.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

November Chores

November weather can be deceiving. When there is a bright sun and there are chores to do, it can feel warm even when it is 45 degrees. The first chore was to turn the composter that houses kitchen scraps. This is my last chance for aeration before winter sets in. Normally this time of year I still have plenty of grass clippings in my yard waste bin to add to this one, but the extremely dry summer (and my extended stay I suppose) have left me searching for cover material. I ended up taking the lawn mower to a patch of oak leaves on the lawn and in no time I had a clean lawn AND two bags mulched oak leaves for the composter.The next task was to build a fence to keep the apple trees safe from deer over the winter. First you gather bamboo from a friendly neighbor who is MORE than happy to unload bamboo.Next I dug post holes for where the poles would goThen I found the 8 foot netting in the shed and used plastic ties to surround the trees.
And voila ... a deer fence.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Field of Dreams

Every fall I participate in an act of faith and hope not unlike Charlie Brown's annual football disaster. My Lucy is the artichoke and my down field dream is a spring of overwintered artichoke plants.

This year several things are different. First there is a new bed for the artichokes just outside the garden fence. Second there are two new varieties ... Emerald and Northern Star which are both known for their ability to manage better in northern climates. Third, I have improvised a new warming strategy.
In years past I had cut the plants back in October and mounded straw and pine branches and finally black plastic over these perennial possibles. No luck at all. So this year I am letting them grow into the frost ... nothing too hard ... cutting back the dead leaves and have surrounded them with hay bales, nestled the plants in some straw. Then I unearthed some old windows from the basement and placed them over the top. I have left the south side open to the sun and my hope is to create a protected area that the sun can reach.
I know SOME of you have had success over wintering artichokes and I would welcome any comments you have.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Last Word on Rutabagas

Thanks to Skippy's Vegetable Garden I have found THE final word on rutabagas from none other than the King of the Prairie himself, Garrison Keilor. Read it and weep.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Left Overs

I'm not sure how I ended up with more tomatoes than I could use in late November. Maybe I had bought them thinking I would juice them. At any rate, that is how I found this recipe for Turkey Tomato Stew.

I also ended up with more turkey than two people ought to have in the house at one time. On Friday, after we had been hosted by friends on Thursday, we decided we were missing out on the best part of Thanksgiving ... the sandwiches. So like the rest of country we have turkey to spare. This is not so bad really for as I calculate it we have not had a turkey in the house for nearly two years. I am happy to be playing turkey leftovers again.

On the face of it, it seems a little strange as recipes go. Raisins? Pumpkin pie spice? And yet I can attest that this recipe from Bon Appetit is really quite good! I had to fudge a little. I only used half the onions called for and I had no pumpkin pie spice so I substituted mace and nutmeg 3:1.

And while on the subject of food. I have added a new set of links on the right panel here. I have included the new category of Food Blogs. Some I have been following for over a year. Check them out.

Turkey-Tomato Stew with Onions and Raisins

This is a kind of picadillo, a typical Spanish stew. If I had had any on hand, I would have added a packet of Sazon Goya. Serve over steamed rice.


6 TBS Olive oil

4 cups chopped onions

3 cups 1/2" dice dark turkey meat
1 1/2 TBS chili powder

1 TBS pumpkin pie spice
2 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes with green pepper (used fresh that I peeled and seeded)

1 cup water
2/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
(one packet Sazon Goya)


Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium high heat. Add onions and saute until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add turkey, chili powder and pumpkin pie spice. Saute 3 minutes. Add tomaotes with juices, 1 cup water, raisins and vinegar. Inccrease heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer until flavors blend, about 15 minutes. Uncover and simmer until slightly thickend about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Heart of the Thanksgiving Meal

All hail the mighty rutabaga !!! It is a vegetable only a mother could love. And yet I trot it out of the garden each Thanksgiving and insist it find its place at the table. To ME it is more Thanksgiving than the turkey itself. I remember when I proudly brought it to the table years ago when I introduced my French friend, Genevieve, to Thanksgiving. She tasted it and said, "This is what our parents were forced to eat during the War. Why serve it at such a special meal?" Well she never understood baseball when I explained it either ... and somehow even Art Buchwald's explanation of our national holiday never really clicked.

But I digress. For some reason this year's crop of rutabaga turned out much better than in years past. Less gnarly and more uniform in size. I was pleased to discover that I am not the only one who insists on rutabaga for holiday meals. Here is an excerpt from Eyebrows McGee's Thanksgiving Day entry of a few years ago

The soundtrack of every holiday of my childhood was the sound of rutabaga being chopped. Rutabaga is crazy dense. Picture a round object about the size of an infant's head, but a lot heavier. (Some of them are adult-head size, but my knife isn't that long.) The only way to get through it is to take your longest kitchen knife, sharpen it up, drive it in the first half inch or so, then whack the tip with your rolling pin. Hard. Over and over and over. Repeat this to cut the rutabaga into 1" chunks which you then boil and mash just like potatoes. It's hard, noisy work, cutting up the rutabaga. My mother likes to do the mashed potatoes and rutabaga first thing in the morning, so she just has to heat them up before the holiday meal. And when I say first thing in the morning, I mean first thing in the morning. For twenty-seven years I have woken up on Thanksgiving morning and Christmas Eve morning at about 6 or 6:30 a.m. to the sound of a rolling pin whacking a knife through a rutabaga.

And just when you think rutabagas cannot take anymore abuse, you come upon a recipe here at the Institute for Advanced Rutabaga Studies. Perhaps the unkindest cut is the note at the end of the recipe that reads:
[Note: Mixed with gray food coloring, mashed rutabaga leftovers also serve as a reliable substitute for mortar in various masonry applications.]

Monday, November 19, 2007

Back to the Garden

I love hunting for fall treasures in the garden. I stick a spade in a potato bed (one I didn't even plant !) and find a pocket full of little morsels. And that mangy looking Brussels sprouts stalk yields enough for dinner. There is rosemary to season the lamb chops. And the spinach ... what a feast of spinach I will have these next few weeks. And there are also ripened green tomatoes. Thanks to give here in the garden still.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Surprises in Erin ~ the landscape and beyond

I have been AWOL from the garden. I went to Ireland for 9 days and returned just last night. There were some things about the Irish landscape that really surprised me. For example, I did not expect to see palm trees and pampas grass in Ireland. They were everywhere. What's with THAT? Another thing that surprised me was how deserted the landscape is in Kerry, Clare and Connemara. First is is pretty barren of plant life. And second it is pretty barren of people. The land is famous for its abundance of peat which is still harvested for fuel. In fact nearly every pub we entered in the small towns had a peat fire glowing in the fireplace.

I would have THOUGHT it would be rich soil, but apparently not. In Connemara I was surprised to learn that the potatoes had to be planted on the hillsides so the water would drain away. The imprints in the land of the old potato fields could still be seen in landscape as you passed by, though I suspect it has been many years since potatoes were planted there. Today the land is used for grazing sheep and they dot the landscape in profusion.

While November is not the BEST month to visit Ireland, we were blessed with rain free days for the most part. However, one advantage to visiting the west coast at this time is that the gorse (Ulex europaeus) is in full yellow bloom. It added a much needed color to the landscape, particularly in Connemara where the landscape is much browner than I expected.
What was also surprising about this landscape was the lack of people inhabiting it. While it is hardly hospitable for agriculture, it is a stunning setting and I expected that the roar of the Celtic Tiger would have been played out in more vacation homes along the coast. This lack of people is a theme that recurred frequently in our tour narratives. While I heard the story told several ways by several different tour guides, the message was clear: The greatest damage done to Ireland has been the loss of her people through emigration. At the time of the Potato Famine (1845-1850) Ireland went from 8 million to 5 million inhabitants in a decade and that out migration continued until by 1930 there were fewer than 3 million Irish living in Ireland. Only recently has that trend reversed.

And one last surprise in Ireland. I expected to feel the long arm of Holy Mother Church more present in Irish daily life than I did. And I was amazed at how many churches have been given over to secondary use. The tourist bureau in Dublin is a former church. And one funny story. My first day in Dublin I was walking past a church and I saw out of the corner of my eye a sign on the church lawn about being the "light of the world" or something to that effect. I thought at the time that was a little more evangelical than I remember the the Irish parishes of my own upbringing in New England ... but times change. A few days later when I walked by the church again, I realized that I had misread the sign entirely.
From "We are the light of the world" at a glance
To ... Lighting World
Complete with samples hanging on the exterior

I went away muttering "sic transit gloria mundi."

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Fall at Walatoola

Return to Walatoola

I made my now traditional fall pilgrimage to Walatoola in Bath County, VA this week ostensibly to help with the garlic planting. As it turns out I received much more from my hosts than I contributed in farm labor.

The vegetable garden produced well this year. (I failed to photograph the huge cluster of ribbons from the Highland County Fair.) The first killer frost hit last Sunday and most of our work was confined to pulling up the dead plants and preparing the garlic beds for planting. We amended the garlic beds with peat, vermiculite and blood meal. An overabundance of hot red peppers, Thai and cayenne, dotted the landscape. And already my hosts had strung dried peppers with dishes of them waiting to be strung.

I also busied myself harvesting saffron crocus. As I worked my way down the row putting the flowers and their precious stamens in my hat, I realized that these little flowers were the only show in town for the eager butterflies and bees. When I got to the last four plants, there was quite a traffic jam of wildlife clustered there, and my HAT was filled with butterflies as well.
a hat full of saffron crocus

I was introduced at my first evening meal to a new winter squash they grew this year called "Sucre du Berry". It is about the color of a cantaloupe inside and it has a naturally sweet flavor. And I also saw my first Sibley squash, though I didn't get to taste it.sucre du berrry winter squash

Sibley winter squash

I left the farm on Thursday morning loaded with canned goods and peppers and fresh herbs and some arugula. Once again a good time on the east side of Warm Springs Mountain.
uncovering the herb beds in the morning
7 garlic beds ready to plant

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy Halloween

All Hallows Eve

As I will be on the road over Halloween, I thought I would post my ghoulish pictures now. There is a house on my daily walk that really gets into the season.
from a distance it is hard to tell all the ghoulishness that awaits the passerby

perhaps a little outdoor barbeque?

I'll take extra ketchup on mine

And watch out or you might end up dinner for the spider!

Trick or treat?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A New Leaf

We have had three, nearly four days of long, slow, soaking rain here in the mid-Atlantic. As I was returning home from the subway I saw this tree with golden leaves that looked like the leaves of a BoTree minus the little spike on the tip. [ I had first been introduced to ficus religiosa when I visited the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens near Sarasota Florida.] I, who have been living in the land of oaks, maples, sassafras and birch, was puzzled by this new leaf. I filed it away, not willing to do a bark inspection in the pouring rain. Then yesterday as I was taking my morning walk, I came upon the same leaf yet again. Only THIS time I knew what the tree was because I know it in the springtime.Want to guess the name of the tree this leaf belongs to?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

There's Nothing Like A Deadline

As the day of departure drew near I thought ... "What about those herbs I've been meaning to transplant?" "What about those new evergreens? Shouldn't they be fertilized" "The lawn ... it needs some lime." So with a 1:15 ferry reservation looming (AND a soaking rain) we raced around the yard pounding 18 inch holes in the ground, dispersing lime pellets and sloppily transplanting and finished just as the first raindrops started to fall. There is nothing quite so satisfying as the sound of rain AFTER you have fertilized and transplanted.

Then I harvested the last of the perishables and put them in a basket. Some of these late 'maters have been really tasty.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Sweet Potato Harvest

Garlic Jelly

So well you might ask, "WHY would I WANT to make garlic jelly?" If you are asking, then this is probably NOT a project for you. But I find it is a great way to use up the extra cloves you choose NOT to plant because they are #1 doubles or #2 too small. With a little bit of patience you will have them peeled and sliced in no time. Thanks to Jim at Walatoola for pulling up this recipe and for teaching me how to do this last season

Garlic Jelly
(from Blue Ribbon Preserves Linda J. Amendt, p. 102)

This exotic jelly is heaven for garlic lovers. Spread a small spoonful on a cracker for a great snack or appetizer.

makes about 7 half-pint jars

Garlic vinegar

3 cups white wine vinegar
cup peeled and very thinly sliced fresh garlic (about 50 cloves)

Jelly Recipe

2 cups garlic vinegar
2 cups white wine
6 cups sugar
2 3 ounce pouches of liquid pectin

To prepare the garlic vinegar: In a medium stainless steel saucepan, combine the wine vinegar and garlic. Over medium heat, bring the garlic mixture to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Pour the garlic and vinegar into a 1½-quart clean glass jar, or divide evenly between 2 (1-quart) jars, then set aside to cool. When the mixture is cool, cover the jar opening with 2 layers of plastic wrap, then screw on the lid or ring. Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.

Place a fine-meshed sieve over a pan or bowl. Ladle the garlic pulp and vinegar into the sieve to separate the pulp from the vinegar. Discard the garlic pulp. Rinse the sieve and line it with 4 layers of clean, damp cheesecloth. Stain the vinegar through the cheesecloth 2 times, rinsing the cheesecloth between each straining. Line the sieve with a paper coffee filter and strain the vinegar again. Cover the vinegar and let stand several hours or overnight.

Ladle or pour the vinegar into another container, being careful not to disturb or pick up any sediment from the bottom of the original container. Discard any sediment. Place a fine-meshed sieve over a pan or bowl. Line the sieve with a paper coffee filter and strain the vinegar. For a clearer jelly, strain the vinegar through 2 or 3 layered paper coffee filters. Measure 2 cups of vinegar.

To make the jelly: In an 8-quart pan, combine the garlic vinegar and white wine.

Over medium heat, heat the mixture until warm. Add the sugar and heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Stir in the entire contents of both pectin pouches. Return the mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat.

Quickly skim off any foam and immediately ladle the hot jelly into hot jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Wipe the jar rims and threads with a clean, damp cloth. Cover with hot lids and apply screw rings. Process half-pint jars in a 200F (93C) water bath for 10 minutes, pint jars for 15 minutes.


Garlic Chive Jelly: Add ½ cup finely chopped fresh chives to the jar before adding the hot garlic and vinegar mixture.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Garlic Is Planted

With the promise of three days of rain to follow, I worked all day yesterday to get the garlic planted. I decided to devote four rows in each of my two 4x8 raised beds to possible ribbon contenders. For those rows I planted the garlic in a wider grid ... 6x8 inches. Into those rows I planted Montana Giant, Ukranian, Sicilian Artichoke, Pskem and the one I call Place Monge.

Then once the garlic was planted I used the leftover planting cloves to make Garlic Jelly. It requires lots of filtering to make it clear. Here it is in the early stages.