Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Great Tomato Race.

The first contender: Black Krim, my tallest plant standing at 4.5', bought at Jung's Garden Center. This one seems to have a little damage to the bottom. I was disappointed about that but there are 2-3 other little ones growing so I should just get over it. It's also starting to lobe in an interesting way at the top. I'll get a shot of that when it ripens.Contender #2: a sweet little German Pink, plant 4' tall, was a basement seedling. Interestingly enough, this plant had some of the first blossoms but it's first set of 3 stopped growing after blooming. They're still there on a lower branch.
Contender #3: Aunt Ruby's German Green, another Jung's buy, only 4' tall but the widest plant. I had to use a cage with this one. The tomato has an interesting pattern of lighter bottom with darker green shoulders.
And in the paste category, Contender #4: Power's Yellow Heirloom, basement seedling, 4' tall and lanky. Flowering like crazy. This was the first little tomato I noticed a few weeks ago but it seems to stalling now. I wonder if the color will change soon. The bottom was lighter then the top today.
My other paste tomato and the final contender: Opalka, 4' tall and lanky. This one surprised me. One of my sharp-eyed sons found it just last week. I'm sure it's grown 2" since then and it has passed up the Power's tomato which was larger last week. It has an interesting (and typically paste tomato) lopsided heart look to it. Like a first grader would cut out for his first Mother's Day project.

Well, that's it. Officially (as in not counting the seedlings no one wanted so I finally planted them in the perennial bed two weeks ago out of pity), I have 8 Power's Heirloom plants, 8 Opalka, 8 German Pink, 1 Aunt Ruby's German Green, and 1 Black Krim plant.

We have bets going as to which will ripen first. I think last week all bets were on the Power's yellow. It was the earliest and biggest. Since then the Opalka and Aunt Ruby's German Green have had growth explosions and I'd certainly say they were both larger now. But which will ripen first?

Son#3 says the Opalka.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Practicing for Canning Season

More berries. Fresh picked on Sunday although I was not happy about the price. Local food is great and I don't mind paying a bit more, but 2-3x in price what I can get at a local grocery, a 30 minute drive, not organic, and pick it yourself. Humpf.

I got out my brand new Roma tomato/apple strainer. I bought a berries attachment as well. I didn't really think I'd use the grape (Wisconsin not really being grape country), salsa (Dean likes bigger chunks), or pumpkin (we don't eat that much pumpkin pie and the seeds are not difficult to separate out) attachments so I bought it solo. The price for the whole set was very reasonable.

I have a few thoughts about this strainer. It wasn't too hard to put together but I found that there is a space in front of the screw which accumulates several ounces of fruit. While I don't think this matters much in a big batch it can get annoying when you only have a quart or two.

Boys had a great time turning the crank and poking it down the hole. We ran the seeds through 6-8 times to get all the juice out. Then my berry-loving 3rd son ate a bunch of the leftover seed blob. Oldest son was non-plussed.

Certain people are looking forward to making chicken broth and raspberry jam today.

I'm going to follow a similar recipe to the strawberry jam (which everyone loves), only this time I'm going to boil down the sauce after adding the apple juice, THEN add the pectin.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Chasing Basil with a Butterfly Net

We've found something my youngest son really likes on his Ketogenic Diet...Pesto!

Now being a native of Wisconsin small-town life I had never tasted pesto until this year. It was green...and slimy. Why would I want to pay $15-25 for that on one of our few nice restaurant (aka no boy's allowed) trips?

Last Winter we stopped at a restaurant after a neurology appointment and they had a revolving pasta bowl. We tried various sauces and the clear winner was pesto.

So this year I was excited about planting basil. Until the miniature revolution. So I went out to Walmart and got 3 over-sized, under-potted basil plants and put them in the garden.

After our first harvest this week ds#4 fell in love. He doesn't fall in love easily. This is a kid that likes no more than 4 types of food (mostly bread and none of them vegetables). Here he is with his basil net and a collection of basil he picked for his dinner. I won't gross you out with what he dips in it. He's not allowed pasta on the diet and doesn't seem to like it anyway.

Here ds#3 helps with the pounding. I knew there was a good reason to have boys. They love to pass around the mortar and pestle.

Last week it was cinnamon.

The week before that was almonds.

I think I have a green revolution on my hands. Yay for leafy greens!

Our pesto recipe (as adapted from Alice Waters, Mark Bittman, and several online recipes):

2 small cloves of garlic
1/4-1/2 cup of lightly toasted pine nuts (next time I may try walnuts or almonds instead)
pound until smooth

2 solid cups of basil
a squirt of lemon juice
chopped fine then pounded or if short on time throw into the chopper and go (my favorite method)

Mix the two batches then add olive oil (1/2 cup or a little less depending on the consistency you desire) slowly. Salt to taste.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Harvest Preparations, part 1

Maybe I went a little crazy this weekend.

After walking through the tomato patch and counting 66 blossoms a few weeks ago I decided that my little stash of a dozen pints and a dozen quarts was just not going to do it this year. Last year we ate the applesauce I filled those with in less than a month.

My little old Foley strainer may not make it either.

After a jaunt to Walmart, bastion of low prices and other evils of capitalism, I had to rethink my whole plan. A dozen quart jars were $8.50 on sale. A dozen jars at the local IGA are $10.50 (sales? we don't need no stinkin' sales).

Popular opinion was that I should check Freecycle and garage sales. Dean brought home 3 dozen more this month. It still didn't feel like enough.

Last week I finally contacted a woman from CraigsList who was selling 30 dozen jars. On Friday night we drove off into a dark, country night and I bought 13 dozen jars for about $3 a dozen. As I followed her into her field rock basement with walls a foot thick, I realized that I had come to the right place. A place where people inherit jars because Great Aunt Myrtle died, not because they drove over to the Fleet Farm.

At home we immediately unpacked my plunder from the blankets, sheets, bags, and boxes. While my husband picked out cool designs like the red star, the gramma in the rocker, the Atlas strong-shoulders, and the bicentennial liberty bell I made a quick batch of baked donuts and sent the older kids to bed with a sugary O each.

Then I got down to my usual Type A list-making figuring out how many Kerrs I had, how many Balls, how many wide-mouth, how many regular, how many quarts, how many pints, how many special designs. Once I had all that done and felt satisfied to have quantified everything I promptly lost the list. I blame my Type B side. Or maybe the children.

Some days it's hard to tell who to blame.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Just Call Me the Mother of Invention

We have a few things going on here right now. The first is the reassembly of an old bolo golf set. After severe injuries last year I had it put away (I think we still have some of those balls in a tree). Now I'm trying to build some low fencing for the straggling soy bean plants. Whatever likes to eat them doesn't bother to climb but goes after things lying on the ground. We'll see if this will help.

I'm also looking for ideas on how to use this old laundry sink. It even has a handy drain hole. It will drain right off the porch. I was thinking a small tree (lemon?) or maybe one of those mini-blueberry bushes.

I think it's light enough to drag into and out of the house if we want to keep something going all year long. (Now let's see how Dean replies to this.)

Any ideas?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

There was a Teeny-Tiny Garden

I look at my peppers and basil this year and I can't help but wonder what went wrong.

There's certainly nothing obviously wrong with them. Leaves? Check. Stem? Check. Growing? Check. They seem to be getting bigger and adding leaves.

The problem here is that 'bigger' is relative. My largest plants are still smaller than the size of a plastic knife (see photo...I used the knives as labels so I wouldn't lose these when I was weeding). The basil is even smaller.

All of this has made me idly wonder if we are going to have teeny-tiny peppers or drop sized dollops of pesto in our future and if the old adage about caffeine stunting your growth is true and what the plant world equivalent to Mt. Dew is.

Heat? I'm pretty sure I stunted them at birth with a cold (55 F) basement, but that shouldn't be bothering the second (and third) planting I did in my warm living room window and on my sunny deck. Light? Water? O cruel Nature is there no method in your madness?

Okay, I'm over it. I guess I'll be buying peppers this year at the Farmer's Market. I'm hoping someone will do a bit more than the usual green or red bell peppers. I was looking forward to trying some Poblanos and watching the packet mixed pepper seeds grow.

And if these babies get taller than their markers I may take them inside for the winter to see how they fare in a winter house full of cats and children.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Garden Bloom Day--July

So much more to talk about (it's July, isn't it?) in the garden but it is Garden Bloom Day and I shouldn't make backward cousins out of my Perennials.

I forgot these were here but I need more red in the garden. It cheers me up.
Son#3 chose a 6-pack of Marigolds for my husband. He loves them and the seeds he planted didn't come up this year. These look productive enough. At least this year he didn't plant them in a defunct toilet (a source of much hilarity around here even though I made him keep it in the backyard.)
I thought this coreopsis (along with all the plants my mother gave me) died but it's growing bravely in the shadow of the bachelor's button.
Even though the pup chewed it down to a nub over the winter and spring, it's still going strong. The dog has a weird fascination with eating Quack grass at this time of year. Something I'm gently encouraging.
Purple bells.

I really should get better about names. Maybe it's just too hot today to think.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Jam Won't Gel

After a wonderful day of picking berries, I decided to make some low-sugar jam with some pectin I had. It seemed like an easy idea even though I've never done it before. The steps are few and it only takes a few minutes once the berries are cleaned up.

Instead of the recommended 4-7 cups of sugar I added 2 cups of apple juice and a tablespoon of liquid sucrolose (my 4th son can have that on his diet). Then I boiled it down until most of the water from the apple juice was gone (maybe I didn't boil it down long enough?). I got the idea from this website.

The jam wouldn't gel. I added some Knox unflavored gelatin. It still wouldn't gel. I figured as it cooled it would become more jam-like. Like Meg in Little Women I had pots of syrupy produce and a hot kitchen when I was done. The jam won't gel.

My husband and I had a good laugh at my efforts. The syrup is good. It's plenty sweet enough. I might even leave out the sucralose next time.

The jam/jelly/syrup is great on crackers, toast, and pancakes like the ones in the photo. You just use a spoon instead of a knife.

Oatmeal-Apple Pancakes

1 cup oats
1 cup buttermilk (or milk, or buttermilk powder and milk)
3/4 cup flour (white, wheat, or a mixture)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. (or to taste) of cinnamon
2 large eggs
1/3 cup of brown sugar (or turbinado or even honey)
2/3 cup of oil or unsweetened applesauce or a mixture of the two (I like 1/2 cup applesauce with a dash of oil which looks like 1/4 of a cup)

1. Mix the oats and the milk/buttermilk. Sit for 30 minutes or until oats have softened.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients mixing well.
3. Oil a griddle or frying pan. Heat until a drop of water sizzles.
4. Fry cakes. Turn when holes begin to pop and pancake is nicely brown.
5. Cover with maple syrup, strawberries, or warm applesauce (my favorite). Enjoy.

I like these because the oats give them a nice flavor and a solidness I don't get from white pancakes. I like to make my own smooshed apples (aka super chunky applesauce/apple pie mix) to go with them for dinner.

I got the idea from a muffin recipe I tried once. I've been messing around with it since then.

25 cents

Lazy days of summer? I think not. Also for sale: books 10 cents each, card games 25 cents, and a glass chess set for $5. My second son went door to door and rode around with a sign on his bike to advertise.

Daily take: $3.60

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

It's about Blooming Time

Shy squash.
Giant broccoli being allowed to reproduce.
Bush beans.

Pea blossomCilantro

And even Tomatoes!

A few more: oregano, soybeans, eggplant, sunflower (first stages of budding).

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Red, White, & Blue Weekend

A few things we got from the local Pick-your-own farm.
Red, White, AND Blue potatoes. We didn't pick these on our own but the owner did go dig the blue ones out for the boys.
Strawberry goodness.

This year, because of the cold Spring, a lot of the berries look odd. The boys are having a good time with octopus-shaped berries.

Since I'm planning on making some jam I don't mind the weird ones at all. We had a nice time processing them at the table this afternoon. Four bowls: eat immediately (son #3 is in charge of that bowl), make jam, freeze, and eat this week.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Small Town Parade

The day was bright and hot. Hundreds of people lined Main Street with lawn chairs. Children sat on the curb. The Lion's Club sold hot dogs. Toddlers walked in and out of the blocked off road.

After a mile of paper plates, wagons, and coolers we finally found our friends and sat down. They all wore Aussie hats (oops, only my younger two were hatted) and had water bottles (ditto). They also had two helpful little signs set up which read 'NO CANDY PLEASE.'

We had talked about this ahead of time. My youngest son has Epilepsy and is on the Ketogenic Diet. No sugar. They are vegetarians who prefer to limit candy to certain times and occasions.

Before the whole thing started someone came along and offered to sell us an orange square to help the Library. If we put it in the street and if a horse poops on it we win a prize. We bought 4. I don't think you can pay enough for that kind of anticipation.

Within 15 minutes of setting down our squares were were deep into an old-fashioned small town parade. The kind that starts off with a police car riding silently down the street and is quickly followed by Belgian horses pulling a wagon with the bank's name emblazoned on it, firetrucks, 4-H floats, half a dozen Mustangs, the Boy Scouts, tractors, the Girl Scouts, firetrucks, a high school band peppy but slightly off-key, 4 guys playing in the back of a pickup who usually sing down at the bar on Saturday nights, Miss Dairybest the fairest of the Fair, clowns, veterans, the American flag, the local state representative, and assorted people riding horses or ponies.

This is how I remember parades as a kid. The bands, the horses, the emergency vehicles. What I don't remember is the candy! Sure, I remember the Lion's guys were passing out candy, and sometimes the 4-H did too. Occasionally there would be a coupon for a free small cone from the local gas station or Tastee Freeze. If you were lucky you got 3-4 pieces. Tootsie rolls and Dum Dums. If the kids next to you were faster you got none.

Holy Corn Syrup, Batman, it's like Halloween out there! We had a sign. I can't tell you the number of people who threw candy to my 3 year old son. We made big NO gestures. They still threw candy. A few people apologized for throwing after they noticed the signs we were waving. Most just walked away.

Somewhere there is probably a 3 year old who doesn't want to run and pick up candy. I don't know him, but there is probably one somewhere. We've only been on the Ketogenic Diet 2 weeks and he's still in denial. We've been limiting sweets since Easter. He still remembers. Meanwhile his brothers are not allowed candy in front of him. They have to run out and throw the candy to the kids on the right or the left before he can get out of his stroller. Heartbreak on all sides.

Hundreds of pieces of candy (and no poop prizes) later, the mayor rides down the street in a convertible with all the regular people who forgot there was a parade going on right behind. The only rush hour of the year. Then we pack up our chairs and hug our friends goodbye.

The street is crowded on both sides. We pass Miss Dairybest on the way back. She's walking without her shoes but she still has her crown on. She's eating something. I think a brat. Across from the bar some kids are sitting in the back of a truck. Their heads are shaved and their skins are brown. Their dad sits on the tailgate with a top hat that's shaped like a beer mug.

I swear we are parked 2 miles away and it must be 90 degrees Fahrenheit. My husband stops for hot dogs now that we've left the vegetarians. I tell myself I will be much more prepared next year. I'll remember to bring sunscreen and gallons of water. I'll remember to bring myself a hat. I'll make my husband park closer and get there earlier.

Still, it was a wonderful time. The only thing that could make it better would be watermelon. Yum, watermelon.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Flood Relief Starts Here

Since reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle last winter, I've been excited about supporting local agriculture this year and extending my baby-sized garden. Good stewardship makes sense to me.

The garden is going well. Not everything went exactly as planned (dead cucumbers, spinach, carrots, basil, cilantro...microscopic peppers) but every moment has been an experience of learning and growing for me.

After a late, late spring here I think farmers sighed with relief. June was finally here and planting was almost over. Perhaps that sigh came a little too soon.

The month of June had incredible rain which flooded fields and rivers (swollen with snow) and washed away many farmers best plans. Some can replant but the later it gets in the year the more chancy it is for our cooler/shorter growing season.

With rumbles of a food shortage and price increases this hardly seems like good timing. So what can we really do about this? Probably tighten our belts a bit and use good planning skills, like most of us are doing already with the rise of $4/gallon gas. We can be thankful that things are not much worse for most of us.

But once we've done that we need to look to how we can help others in our community who may be struggling harder than we are. The Wisconsin Dept. of Agriculture recommends that we turn out at local Farmer's Markets to support our neighbors as they try to make the most out of what they can produce this year.

True community starts at the grassroots level, not in state bureaus or federal agencies. We create the community we live in. Honestly, I can't think of an easier way to make a positive change then stopping by the Farmer's Market on Thursday and spend $2-4 on new potatoes or peas.