Thursday, July 30, 2015

Onions and Garlic, too.

My onions had started to become prey to voracious slugs, so I pulled them the other day.  They'll dry happily for a couple of weeks (more or less) in my rigged up rack on the porch.  It smells very pungent out there right now--not a bad smell, but quite onion-y!
The garlic finally dried down the majority of the way, and now just needs storage in a cool, dark space.  My pantry closet will be perfect, and the garlic should keep for a long time.  I plan to use some of it for next year's crop, but it can wait in the pantry until October.  That will give me plenty of time to decide which cloves look the best for seed stock.  Right now, they all look pretty good!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


It always seems to take forever, but finally the day arrives: the first of the homegrown tomatoes are ripe!  This variety is called Julia Child, a nice medium sized round fruit that smell heavenly.  Based on the state of the plants, it looks like Gardeners Delight and Orange Banana may not be far behind.  I am so happy, because that means putting up jars of bruchetta topping and salsa may not be far behind.  Ooh, and let's not forget dried tomatoes.  Those are my favorite for pizzas and pasta...gosh.  I sure hope those tomatoes don't take long to ripen, I can hardly wait!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Homemade Chili Starter

Some evenings, after a long day of work, it's so nice to have canned soups waiting in the pantry.  Homemade ones, of course, with far less sugar and no weird additives like the store-bought stuff.  Part of my less busy days of summer I spend restocking the pantry for the rest of the year, and making soups to can is a change from making jams and jellies.

Typically I use the recipes in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (as I did to make this batch of chili starter), but I also like the basic recipes in So Easy to Preserve, a publication of the Extension Service in Georgia.  One of my favorite recipes is beef with peppers and onions, a simple mixture of lightly seasoned beef with peppers and onions canned in beef stock.  Using the formulas in So Easy to Preserve, it's a simple matter of calculating the appropriate pressure and time to process.  I don't add any thickeners, those come later when I reheat the stew for dinner.

There are hosts of recipes on the internet for homemade soups that can be processed and canned for later meals, but be sure to cross check them.  Be cautious of any that claim you can add flour, or pasta, or simply water bath them.  The flour and pasta will become straight mush, and you can't water bath a soup because it isn't acidic enough to be processed that way safely.  If you can't pressure can, then freezing is an excellent option.  But, speaking from experience, nothing beats a good home-canned soup, stew or chili!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Knitting Projects

 I've been working away on some knitting projects this summer, to get a head start on holiday gifting.  So far, I've made a version of this:
photo by beth whipkey,
The Rosie Cowl, by Beth Whipkey, is sweet and simple and a relatively quick knit.  It reminds me of something Little Red Riding Hood might wear to visit Grandma...

I've also made a version of the Wren Wolf Cowl by Heidi May, also findable on  It's super simple, and really fun.  Here's me, modeling it:
Fun, right?  Here's the cat's reaction:
"uh..I think you need to back off those pain pills."
Next up, this sweet little hat called Black Forest, by Caitlin ffrench:
perfect for adventures, photo from
Not only is it a cute pattern, but I'm making it with one of my favorite yarns, a blend of mohair and silk.  Ooh, it is nice to work with!

After that, well, I've got a good half-dozen more projects lined up, including some illusion knitting.  I am fascinated with this process.  Rows of knitting and you wind up with a fools the eye, 3D "picture" at the end.  I'm planning to tackle the Green Man and a couple of Celtic knots...but all in good time.  Anyway, check out this video below and maybe you'll be inspired to give illusion knitting a try, too.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Outside Digs

It's been four days since the teenage meat chicks moved outside, and they are loving life in the Little Coop.  They've weathered two storms in fine style, and are having a great time frolicking about in their new space.  They are growing like weeds--somehow, I think I got sent Cornish Cross chicks in my frying pan special, instead of the slower growing White Rocks or Leghorns that were advertised.  I don't mind too much, really, but I may need to move my butcher date up a bit sooner!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Peach Season

Earlier this past week, I talked a friend into stopping by the farmers market and picking up a box of peaches for me.  I don't do peaches every year, as they are a lot of work and a half-bushel box means you get a ton of peaches, but this year, is a peach year.
So for the past couple of mornings, while it is still relatively cool, my kitchen has become an assembly line of sorts.  Each peach needs to be washed, then the bottom marked with a shallow "X" cut.  A brief swim in a boiling water bath, followed by a dip in ice water helps the skin to slide right off.
Once the skins are off, it's a matter of slicing or dicing and placing the peaches into a bowl of lemon water.  I made a batch of honeyed peaches, using a lightly sweet syrup made from local honey and water.  Sixteen pints later and I think I'm good on peaches for the next year or so.  All that peeling and slicing leaves quite the bowl full of debris: skin, pits and bits of peach flesh not fit for canning as is.
What to do with all that extra bits?  Well, I opted to put it in a sauce pan and add water, simmering to make a deeply pink and fragrant juice.  I added a few whole spices to the mix: cinnamon stick, star anise, whole allspice.  Then it was into a jelly bag to strain slowly overnight, and today (after adding sugar and pectin) I made seven half-pints of beautiful rosy Spiced Peach Pit Jelly.  My whole house smells like peaches--it's heavenly!

And still,  I have more peaches.  I'm thinking of making a slow cooked batch of Brandied Peach Butter, which if I cook it overnight should be perfect for both canning and adding to my morning porridge.  If any peaches are left over after that, I may just bake something with them...peach crumble, anyone?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Mid-July Jelly

One of my favorite daily "chores" is to wander around the yard and see what fresh fruits and veg are ready for picking.  Some days, it's a glut of squash and cucumbers.  Other days, it's fresh chard, kale and lettuces.  But my happiest days are right now, when currants, raspberries and gooseberries are ripening daily.  While many don't make it into the house, devoured by the handful as Head Gardener perks, those that do make it in get transformed into something to be enjoyed in colder months.  Sometimes it's jam, chunky and seedy and deliciously simple.  But other times, I like to do the slow process of making homemade jelly.

Jelly is, actually, very simple to make.  It just takes time, because you need to first process the fruit, then allow it to drip through a jelly bag overnight.  The slow drip-drip-drip from the jelly bag is soothing, a promise of delights to come.  The next day, the actual jelly making begins.  After measuring the juice, and measuring out an equal amount of sugar, it's onto the stove to come to a rolling boil.  A packet or two of liquid pectin followed by a hard boil for one minute, ladle into clean sterilized jars and process for the allotted time, and there you have it: beautiful clear jelly to stock the pantry and give as gifts.

Generally, I start with four cups of juice (you can add a cup or two of water as needed to make this amount) with an equal amount of sugar.  The above jelly, made from black and red raspberries and my first crop of delicious gooseberries, measured 2 1/2 cups after dripping all night so I added enough to make up the difference to reach my four-cup measurement.  I put the juice and sugar into a large saucepan and bring to a boil.  Usually, I add two pouches of liquid pectin (I use Certo brand as my mainstay) and then bring it up to a very hard boil for one minute, stirring constantly.  Don't stop stirring, and don't let it boil over!  It is very hot, and will burn both you and whatever it it stinks like heck if it gets on the burner.  Jelly notoriously gets a foam on top, but its easy to remove if you let the jelly cool for a minute and then use a metal spoon to scoop the foam off the surface of the jelly.  Ladle into the hot jars, and process for fifteen minutes in a hot water bath canner.

Four cups of juice will yield about six half-pints of jelly, more than enough to enjoy and give away as presents.  I don't make huge batches of jelly, because who can eat that much?  I much prefer my daily wanders through the garden, and making small batches of delicious, jewel toned goodness.  Plus, you can call it anything you want: Mid-July Jelly?  Yes, please.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Beauty of Wild Flowers

Each summer, I try to add some gratuitous beauty to the garden by way of wild flowers.  The bees and hover flies and butterflies adore them, which makes the rest of the garden very happy as well.  And I love how they look, little dots of cheerful color happily growing in wild abandon.  When fall comes, I mow them down with the weed whipper and give the area a good raking.  Generally I need to reseed in the spring after the last frost passes, but some flowers do a wonderful job of seeding themselves.  I have patches of blanket flower, yarrow and bachelors buttons that come back, year after year, delightful surprises for both me and the bees.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Simple Summer Pickle

The garden is really starting to produce an abundance of goodness, more than I can enjoy fresh.  It's time to start making pickles.  I have more than enough cucumber pickles in the cupboard, so I'm working on various forms of fermented pickle to be kept in the fridge.  This version has napa cabbage, swiss chard, onion, zuchinni, summer squash and red pepper flakes in it.  After it sits out for three days and does its happy bubbling thing, it'll go in the least, until it's eaten.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

More Garden? Oh Yes.

Big projects a-foot!  Well, sort of.  A couple days before the hardware was removed from my foot (now propped comfortably on a footstool), I had the help of my 13 year old helper to dig over and prep a new garden bed on the west side of the house.  It's a tricky location, getting shade until about 1030 AM and then roasting the rest of the day in the sunshine.  Plus, the wall is concrete so it gets a lot of reflected heat as well.  Great in the wintertime, but not so hot in the heat of summer.  An additional factor is that it is west-facing, so it bears the brunt of cold winter winds and hammering storms that roll in from that direction.

Hence, a hardy mix of plants.  It looks sparse for now, but each of the plants that are in there will grow to be 4-5 feet in diameter so they needed lots of spacing.  While they are tiny, it looks a tad ridiculous...but plant them closer together, and eventually, they choke out and die a sad, miserable, and likely disease-riddled death.  Not something I want to happen, so hence the sparse looking planting.  I think I'll add some spring and autumn flowering bulbs, but that will have to wait until next year/this fall, I think.

So what's in the garden for now?  Well, I had a spare Coral Drift groundcover rose, so I placed that on the sunniest, hottest corner.  I think it will fill in beautifully.  I planted two Victoria rhubarb plants, and two Strawberry Sundae peegee hydrangeas.  Both these plants are very cold hardy, and will be beautiful.  The rhubarb will also be delicious when I can start picking it in a couple of years, and it will have gorgeous red stems.  My current rhubarb plant is not doing well, sadly, and seems to be on its way out.  I think the crown got frozen and damaged, but with these two replacements I should be awash in rhubarb soon enough.
WHile I was working in the backyard, I decided to lay down a thick sheet of black plastic to kill off some grass, in preparation for a new garden bed.  (I decided to extend my current wildish herb area, too, but that's not pictured under it's thick tarp covering.)  By leaving this area to sit under plastic for the rest of the summer, through fall and winter, it will be "dead" by spring and ready to dig over or be made into a no-dig garden bed.  I haven't decided which, but I'm excited to add another garden area.  No idea what I will put in it, but it won't be lawn and I'm one step closer to only having grass paths to mow!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Oh, Lord. I Love Brioche.

Rich, filled with eggs and butter and all things good, brioche is hard to beat.  Until now, I've been buying it (when I can find it) and invariably been disappointed.  Either it's greasy, or too sweet, or simply blah, and it's really, really expensive.

Imagine my joy when I found this recipe at the King Arthur Flour website.  So delicious...and so easy.  The hardest part is waiting overnight to play with the dough.  But it's worth it, because you wind up with light, fluffy yet rich buns perfect for burgers, or for eating with butter and jam.  (I like it with my homemade strawberry jam, so yummy!)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Roasted Cauli

My beautifully purple Graffiti cauliflower is producing a bountiful crop, which is so exciting.  The cabbage moths have left it alone, for reasons I don't really know but it makes me so happy.

Of course, now my only difficulty is figuring out ways to eat it.

One of my favorite ways is roasting it.  Simply separate the head into individual florets, and toss into a cast iron pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and plenty of sliced garlic.  Pop into a 400 degree oven and allow to roast for about 20 minutes, stirring a couple times to make sure the garlic doesn't stick and burn.  When it's done, the edges will be lightly browned and slightly crispy, the garlic will have gone nut brown-crisp, and the whole thing will be completely delicious.  Yum.

Incidentally, the leftovers make a fabulous hummus-type spread/dip concoction whizzed with a little more oil or water to loosen it up. Yum times deux.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Wonderful Gratin

Ah, the humble gratin. 

I've been making all sorts of variations on this theme, using the early summer produce that's emerging from the garden.  Chard gratin, kale gratin, and in the above case, fennel gratin.

What's a gratin?

Well, it's kind of a French dish (pronounced GRAH-tahn) in this case involving fresh vegetables, a bit of half-and-half (or cream, if you have it), a little bit of shredded cheese, and a topping of buttered, seasoned bread crumbs.  All this is layered into a buttered casserole dish, and then baked at 400 degrees until it is browned, crisp and bubbly.

It's a great side dish, although I have been known to make a small dish and eat it all for dinner.  It's vegetables, right?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Great Garlic Harvest of 2015

You never know, in the late days of October, just how the garlic will fare through the cold months of winter and wet of spring.  After the scapes have been harvested, and the leaves start dying back, you finally reach the day when it's time.  The day to harvest has come and you can pull the garlic bulbs.

That day was past Friday.  The leaves had turned yellow and died back about 50%, which is my signal that the garlic is ready to be pulled.  It didn't take too long to lift it all, as it was growing in a block in a four foot-by-four foot raised bed.  While I was out there in the sunshine, pulling the white bulbs out of the rich dark earth, my neighbor came by to ask about my corn.  He was convinced it was failing, that it was sweet corn that was turning purple and dying, and was rather surprised when I told him it was an heirloom dwarf variety of flour corn.  Turns out, he really likes garlic but has never tried growing it, so I gave him a couple heads to let dry for a couple of days and then use in whatever his wife will allow him to cook.  I may make a convert of him yet...

In any case, my harvest is spread out and drying down on the porch.  I rigged up a simple frame of furring strips and plastic saw-horse supports (with an additional spare chair on the end) and draped the garlic over the boards.  After they dry down for a few days, I think I'll trim off the stalks and store the bulbs in a basket.  I had fun braiding them last year, but this year's crop has such sturdy, stiff stalks I don't think they'll permit that level of bending.  I don't mind--I have lots of baskets to choose from.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Independence Day!

I hope you have a great day, celebrating the symbolic holiday of the birth of the United States of America--ah, the Fourth of July!  Barbeques, swimming pools, and sparklers everywhere the eye can see.

If you choose to use fireworks, please do so responsibly.  And, speaking for all combat veterans, traumatized dogs and small children everywhere, please don't fire them all night long, close to others' homes, or aim them at structures or people.  It's supposed to be a fun holiday, not a night of terror.  My poor hound Phoebe will be suffering through this weekend, hiding under chairs and popping doggie valium.  I'm usually reduced to swearing and yelling impotently through the bedroom walls toward the neighbors' around about midnight, when I'm well tired of (a) dealing with doggie hysteria and (b) sick of my usually quiet village sounding like it's transformed in Beirut.

Ahem.  Well, enjoy those roasted hot dogs and corn cobs, folks.  I'm planning to do so as well...and here's hoping the fireworks are done before 11 PM.  (A girl can hope, can't she?)

Friday, July 3, 2015

You Gotta Love a Funky Hat...

I've been working on a few knitting projects that are taking a while, so as a quick project to break the tedium I worked up a very fast knit.  This pattern is called The Better Bucket, and is available as a free pattern on  I made it up out of a cotton-wool blend (80% cotton) which is quite lovely--and quite the bright pink color!  It's a nice floppy bucket-style hat, perfect for puttering in the garden or sunning at the beach.  I think I may add a large funky button for decoration.  I mean, a bright pink hat just cries out for a funky button, don't you think?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Clearing the Freezer

It's nearly time to buy in some fresh fruit from the local farmers market, but first, I need to make room in the freezer.  Its surprising how much I can tuck away in there...and then completely forget about.  I am ashamed to say I found a giant bag of frozen blueberries...from three years ago.  Ugh.  Don't eat them, people.  Toss! Toss!

But I did have a good supply of fruit from last summer, so I've been working through making a variety of preserves.  So far, I've made Honey Spiced Blueberry Jam, Blueberry Lime Jam, and "normal" Blueberry Jam.  I've also made a batch of Cranberry Ketchup, which smells really delicious.  I think after it settles and mellows for a couple weeks, it will be a fantastic sweet-tart savory sauce perfect for summer barbeque toppings.
I've found a few strawberries tucked away, just enough for a batch of Strawberry Lime Jam and a homemade galette that smells of summertime.  After that, I just need to figure out what to do with the currants and black raspberries I have stashed in there.  And then, all the fruit in my garden can ripen and/or appear at the farmers market, and find a home in my freezer.  This year, I'm thinking I need to get some peaches for sure.  I think, however, I'll give the box of blueberries a miss.  If I do get some, it'll only be a few pounds-worth and I'll not hide them in the back of the freezer again!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Fun with Yogurt

I was recently gifted an older yogurt maker by a good friend, and I finally decided to give it a try.  It's surprisingly easy to make your own yogurt.  All you need is milk, and some leftover yogurt to add to it.
All you need to do is measure out your milk (I used about half of a half-gallon of milk per 5 jar batch), and heat it to the boiling point.  Then, you let it cool down and add the yogurt, whisking it in well.
Fill the jars and pop on the lids, and place in the yogurt maker for about four hours.  The yogurt will thicken up to the consistency of thick cream, and then you chill it (it'll thicken more as it cools).  And there you have it, easy homemade yogurt.  While I don't have my own dairy animal yet, I can buy a quart or so of organic, local milk and make fresh yogurt whenever I need some.  Plus, you can strain the yogurt overnight through cheesecloth and make a delicious, tangy homemade cream cheese.  Now THAT I am looking forward to trying.