Monday, March 30, 2009

Around the house this Weekend

On Friday and Saturday this weekend the sun managed to find it's way out from behind the clouds and gave us days in the 50's and 60's. How wonderful. Both of my boys have decided that spring is here and have been insisting that they don't need coats and want to wear short sleeves. Who can blame them? 

This was Benjamin and Ripley playing outside after school on Friday -- inventing contraptions.
Checking the inner-workings of the 'vehicle'.
On Saturday morning the boys got to work outside before I'd even finished the breakfast dishes (pancakes . . . but more on that later). There were eventually some meltdowns and arguments, but when I took this picture I was so proud. 

The leaf collection method was their own invention. 

On Saturday, in the mail, I received my seed potato order. It's obvious that when I ordered them I was lamenting about the harvest I had last summer, because I ordered a LOT of seed potatoes! Yikes. I am planning on putting them in various potato towers, rather than in the ground this year. We'll see how they do! 
Varieties: Yukon Gold, Red Sangre, German Butterball, Bentje -- That'salota potatoes!
I know you're tired of reading about all of my leeks at this point . . . but I harvested a hum-dinger on Saturday for a potato casserole dish. Isn't she pretty?
I read on someones blog that you can plant the root part of the leek and it will sprout to form a new leek. So the past few harvests I've saved the root and put it back in the ground for fun. We'll see how it works. I'll keep you posted.
We have a new favorite pancake recipe. It's from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion, which if you don't have it, it's really a baking bible and everything I've tried so far has been excellent. They also do a great job educating you about the small important details of baking, which I have found to be very helpful.
The bacon, incidentally, is from a local Rehoboth farmer. 
They raise their own cattle and pigs.
Zephyr Pancakes (24 3 1/2 inch pancakes)
Mix all of the dry ingredients together:
2 C flour
2 1/2 T sugar
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
Whisk together all of the wet ingredients:
3 large egg yolks
1 1/4 C heavy cream (I used whole milk)
1 1/4 C buttermilk (I used whey from my yogurt making)
2 T butter, melted
1 t vanilla extract
Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry, just until combined -- it's okay if there are a few lumps. 
Scoop out with a 1/4 cup onto a preheated, lightly greased skillet. Flip. Eat. Yum. Yum. Yum.

(I have to admit that this last time, I wasn't careful with my liquid measurements and added too much -- so the pancakes weren't as fluffy as the last time. But, they were still tasty!)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Reese Bowen

My nephew Reese celebrated his 3rd birthday last weekend. At some point during his short 3 years of life Reese developed a love for music and the guitar in particular. For well over a year now he's been "playin' the air guitar" to music. For his third birthday his parents (Scott and Tanya) decided to get him his first guitar. Now, nay sayers may say "geee ... that's early and a little ridiculous" but let me tell you this boy can play. It's truly the cutest thing you've ever seen. Now, I know you may have kids of your own and they are cute and all, but Reese playing his brand new guitar took the cake. The most amazing thing was, he picked up the guitar and held it like he's had 5 years of lessons. He strums both with and without the pick, rests the guitar on his knee like an expert and he's trying his darnedest to figure out what cords are all about. Did I mention he sings while he plays? I'm telling you -- cute!
Reese Bowen in his Daddy Scott Bowen's lap
Reese with cupcakes
(Incidentally, Tanya and I both received cupcake trees from my mother for Christmas. At the time it struck me as the oddest gift, but let me tell you Tanya and I have both gotten a ton of use out of ours -- and don't they look festive?)
There is my little Superman Ripley overseeing the opening of presents. 

I must say I am a fan of the old fashioned tradition of opening birthday presents at the party in front of your guests that took time out to select something special for the occasion. Hauling them away in a bag in front of all of the little children who helped pick out the gifts just seems uncivilized. I don't mean to be too harsh, and I know that some birthday 'locations' insist, but my boys have been devastated at the sight of it on many occasions -- and they're pretty tough. Yes, sometimes it can be mayhem but these are life lessons, right? It kind of reminds me of sporting / school events where everyone gets a trophy or a medal. How are our children going to learn the joy and disappointment of competition? In life, some people are 'first' and some people aren't. "I'm sorry Mr. Brown, only one person can fill this position sir. I'm sorry you just didn't get the job and I don't have a token medal for you to take home."

I digress.

Happy Birthday Reese. You are adorable. Keep playin'.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My Almost Ten Year Old

Yesterday, out of the blue Benjamin comes up to me while I was sewing cushions for our church's youth group room and said "Mommy, can I start tucking myself in at bedtime? I feel a little baby-ish." 

With a sad puppy-dog face on I said "But you are my baby boy." As I pulled him onto my lap and half-kiddingly started to cradle his long body.

"Ripley is your baby boy." He states.

"But you are my first born baby boy."

"I'm not a baby anymore." Benjamin tells me.

"You're not my little chick?" I ask. (We've been talking a lot about chickens recently)

"No. Mommy, I'm turning into a rooster."

I thought that was the cutest thing I'd ever heard.
I still tucked him in last night though. 

Friday, March 20, 2009

My Seed Progress

Here are a few pictures of our seed progress so far:
I planted plenty of basil this year. Last year I did too much waiting around to harvest again for pesto. This basil is 'lettuce leaf' basil. Just look at those huge floppy baby leaves!
Well, as you can see, I solved my dwarf tomato problem from last year.
It was simply too cold downstairs in my basement for them to grow well.
This year I have a small ceramic space heater that you can set at a certain temperature.
They are going nuts and I'm going to have bushes before May comes! Eeek!
These are my Chamomile seedlings. Aren't they cute?
The seeds are practically microscopic. You have to plant them by getting the seeds to stick to your finger -- then touch the soil and hope they all scrape off into the damp soil.
Pinching them with tweezers (like I use for some small seeds) is out of the question. 
They are just too small!
Just for the heck of it I planted some of the seeds I'd sown directly into the ground last year, to give them a head start. Here are a few beet seedlings.
Broccoli and Cauliflower
My pepper seedlings - and plenty of them.
The seeds I had on hand from last year I tried to use a lot of simply because I wasn't sure that they'd last through another year before planting (that would be three years old). 
Does anyone know the answer to this? I know onion and leek seeds only last one year.
More pepper seedlings.
My onions are all gangly -- does anyone know why?
My leeks are standing right up on end -- but not my onions. 

P.S. - Like him or not, I was happy to hear that the President will be planting a vegetable garden at the White House. I know that Michael Pollan and Alice Waters have been pushing for this. I just hope it's more than four raised beds. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What is going on?!

"Why is there a screen in our front yard?!" you ask. Well, that is an excellent question. 

The answer:  Leprechauns. 
Benjamin has been chatting it up with his friends about Saint Patrick's Day at school. He learned that Leprechauns enter your house through a high open window, so you have to leave your window wide open on Saint Patrick's Day eve. He learned that you set your shoes out underneath  your bed and the Leprechaun fills them with money, and that Leprechauns make a mess out of your house turning everything up on end looking for green items and gold. "Terrific" I thought. Just what I need . . . another 'holiday' or event where parents have to tippy-toe into their children's rooms to leave a coin all the while trying not to wake them up . . . worse than the tooth fairy, this guy makes a mess of your house, and you have to leave a window open in the middle of March?! I joked with Benjamin that I might put up a sign telling the Leprechauns not to come into our house. They sounded like a lot of work. Victor stated that he was not in favor of letting the Leprechaun in.

At just past midnight on Saint Patrick's Day Benjamin races into our bedroom, flicks on the over head light and comes over to the side of our bed with eyes as big as saucers and a look on his face that tells me he's expecting to get punished. 

"Benjamin. It's the middle of the night man. What IS it?" I ask.

"I was trying to make sure the Leprechauns could get into the house, so I opened my window and the screen -- BUT THE SCREEN FELL OUT! Like, the screen is ON THE GRASS!"

Good grief, I'm thinking to myself. You've got to be kidding. "Benjamin, please, just go back to bed." 

He looks at me as if to say "YEAH, but the screen!!"

"Benjamin. To bed. You're going to be a crab tomorrow. I love you. Please go to bed!"

He walks out.

About a half hour later, I could swear that through my eyelids I'm seeing light every now and then. Clumping sounds. Now what?!  "Benjamin! What is going on dude?" 

Benjamin comes out from underneath our bed with his clock in hand that lights up when you press the LIGHT button. I'm in utter disbelief.  "What are you doing?!" I ask.

"I'm pretending to be a leprechaun."

Benjamin is under our bed filling our shoes with money that the errrrrr . . . Leprechaun . . . had left in more sensible, less risky places around the house like in the hallway! 

"Benjamin, TO BED. I love you. Go."

I felt bad for the guy. I felt bad that the 'leprechaun' hadn't fully embraced the holiday and Benjamin felt like he had to take up the slack. It won't be long before my soon-to-be ten year old . . . stops, you know. 

For now, I will look back sweetly at being woken up twice after midnight for 9 year old shenanigans. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I cannot wait . . .

Last summer, once my garden was well underway, we ate almost exclusively from it. True to the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle concept, it was a rare event for me to go to the grocery store. I might have zipped into Whole Foods to get grains or meats -- but that was it.(Now, incidentally we get our beef and pork from a local Rehoboth farm.) But at one point I remember having to go into my local Stop and Shop supermarket. I walked into the produce department and stopped dead in my tracks. I looked around -- everything looked like plastic. Perfect plastic food without life to it. You couldn't tell that any of this stuff had been in the ground! I remember being so surprised at the change in my perspective. 

When I took an Organic Apple Growing class last spring a big topic of conversation amongst the larger orchard growers there and the teachers was how Americans had become conditioned to purchase only perfect looking food. Nothing misshapen, no fly-spec, no scab . . . we want perfection. Otherwise we won't buy it. The irony is, it's tough to grow a perfect apple without spraying the dickens out of it. At the class was a middle aged couple who wanted to start growing some of the apples in their orchard organically. The previous year they had tried to go completely spray-free (not even organic types of prevention) and came up with such "damaged" apples that they had to make them all into cider. No one would purchase the poor things. 

Foxy BroccoliFoxy Romaine Lettuce HeartsFoxy CeleryFoxy Green KaleFoxy <span class=

Now that ALL of the vegetables and fruits from my garden are long gone, I have to resort to the supermarket for my vegetables. I cannot wait to harvest my REAL food! 

Monday, March 16, 2009

To the Rescue!

As you can see, my strawberries have been under attack. Since last summer Victor has been saying that we needed to put a fence up to keep the rabbits out. After the snow melted a few weeks ago the rabbits have discovered my strawberry plants and have been celebrating the approach of spring with a feast. So, this weekend, we did it. We put in a fence.
I won't lie to you. It was tough. Right now as I'm sitting here typing, my forearms are aching from the exercise -- sore from clinching a shovel all weekend. I can't even begin to imagine how Victor feels. Poor guy -- he was the only MAN on the job and had to take care of the real grunt work. 
The boys did their part trying to pitch in. You know how it goes, it's really more work for the parents to include them, but the whole idea is teaching them about the rhythm and reward of work. 
I'd read up on how to install a fence to keep small munching animals out of the garden and particularly liked one "how to" where they utilized wood posts from trees in the back woods. We have tons of these small trees and they were free. To keep rabbits out, the fence has to be 18-24 inches high.
Victor dug sixteen post holes all the way around our garden approximately 8 feet apart.
Then we dug a trench one foot wide all the way around to lay 
fine mesh wire down to ward off borrowing animals.
Just when we thought we were over the tough part . . .
there was seemingly unending digging to be done.
After two days of solid hard core work . . .
We are close to finished. 
(We used heavier "hog fencing" for support and chicken wire on top of that.)

We still have to set the posts into the dirt by pouring water around them, pressing, pouring and filling. We have to finish digging a narrow trench along the rock wall for one last run of fencing that goes along my rhubarb and asparagus plantings (right now the fencing is just resting along the posts on that side of the garden). And fill the trench with dirt. The fence reminds me of the movie "Chicken Run" . . .  but with some green veggies growing inside I'm hoping for a more charming look. Maybe a few sweet peas growing around the outside . . . even if the rabbits get them. 

Friday, March 13, 2009

Eat your heart out baby!

Now, I don't mean to make you other northerners jealous or anything (well, maybe a little), but take a look at what I harvested from my little home garden in the second week of March:
Arugula and Mesclun Greens from my cold frames . . . 
Winter hardy leeks mulched in my garden . . .
Local Rehoboth Eggs (Rhode Island Reds)
Don't you just love the variation in size?
I wish I could say they were from my chickens . . . but alas . . . 
Leek and Cheddar Quiche
Arugula and Mesclun greens 
with lemon juice, olive oil, Portuguese red pepper sauce, salt and pepper.
Now THAT is a great, healthy meal for the family! 

The quiche recipe I always use is a good old Fannie Farmer basic quiche recipe where you can add any vegetable of choice to the recipe depending on what you have on hand . . . which is great in the summer if you have a vegetable garden! You just roam around outside to see what's available for the pickin'. I need to get the remaining leeks out of my garden (they are scattered throughout) so I will be ready for new seedlings in April and May! 

Basic Quiche Recipe:

Prepare one oil Pie Crust - get the recipe and instructions HERE.

Partially bake the crust (of course with quiche, you only make the bottom) prick prepared crust in pie plate with a fork several times. Then bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes. Pull out of the oven when it's done (carefully, so you don't damage the edge of the crust).

Meanwhile, while the crust is baking prepare your quiche filling.

Saute 2 leeks (rinsed well) Slice lengthwise several times, then chopped into 1/8" slices. Rinse chopped leeks again in a fine colander. Then saute in 1 T of butter (or olive oil) and a sprinkle of salt. If you want to use another vegetable, use about 1 cup of chopped veggies - like broccoli, spinach, asparagus.

Filling - Mix into a large bowl (if it has a pouring spout, all the better)
  • 4 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 2 Cups whole milk (recipe calls for light cream, but I've used the milk and it works well)
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/8 t nutmeg
  • pinch cayenne pepper (don't worry, your quiche won't taste spicy)
  • 1 1/4 C grated cheese - sometimes I use a little more. (For my leek quiche I used cheddar cheese and a little freshly grated parm cheese -- simply because that's what I had on hand.) Saving some (maybe 1/8 C) to sprinkle on the top after I pour the egg mixture into the crust.
  • Sauteed veggie of choice - 1 Cup raw
Mix the above, then when your crust is precooked make sure your pie crust is on a rack in the oven with the rack pulled out. Pour the egg mixture into the pie crust, sprinkle the reserved cheese on top, and then gently slide the quiche into the oven. 

Cook quiche at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for 30 minutes more - until the egg mixture has set in the center of the quiche. 

Yum. Yum. Yum. 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Helpful Tools

I want to pass along some helpful tools that I think are terrific that I've used recently for a friend of mine. 

If you know anyone who needs meals, rides, errands -- perhaps someone who has just had a baby, someone who has gone through surgery, or someone battling an illness, there is a great online tool that is very effective. It's called Care Calendar. Through this you are able to show what the specific needs are. Then, people who want to help log-on and fulfill the need that works for their schedule. This is especially helpful if you are the person responsible for organizing such things. All you need to do is direct volunteers to the site. It's very user friendly and effective. 

Also, particularly for someone who is going through a surgery of some kind or battling an illness, Caring Bridge is a site where you can create a page where friends and family can find out how they are doing, how their treatment is going, make comments and keep in touch. 

Information about these sites seem to travel largely through word-of-mouth. Pass it on. They are excellent tools.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fresh from the Garden

Not too shabby, huh? 
Here we are on the other side of winter and my darling leeks are still looking good. I might grow leeks even if I didn't enjoy the taste of them -- just so I could pick something out of my New England garden in March. 
I used these in a quick pasta dish last night. 
Victor raved about it. He kept asking "What's in this?!" I'm not sure why he loved this more than usual (he loves pasta!) but finally I told him 
that it was an "Ancient Chinese Secret".

Benjamin's ears perked up "A what? An Agent of Chinese Secrets?!" as if I had the key. Very funny. Well, since it got such rave reviews I'll tell you what I did. Really this is the basic recipe for Pasta Primavera, but I decided to keep everything green. Using leeks, asparagus (soon I'll asparagus from my own garden!) and peas. 

You'll need: Garlic 5-6 cloves, 3 leeks, bunch asparagus, cup or so of frozen peas, 1/2 cup or so of white wine, juice from 1/2 a lemon, a good pile (1-2 cups - I use a fine grater, so it's very fluffy) of freshly grated Parmesan cheese (the real stuff), salt and lots of freshly ground pepper. If you have fresh Italian parsley, that would be fabulous -- I didn't have any. Sniff.

Put a large pot of water to boil on the stove. Salt the pasta water with 1 T of salt.

Put a large saute pan with tall sides on the stove and drizzle olive oil all over the bottom of the pan. Put the burner on low. to heat up the olive oil.

Meanwhile, rinse your leeks well. Cut them in half lengthwise, then chop them into about 1/8" wide slices. Rinse the leeks again in a colander. (Trust me, it's worth it. Otherwise your whole recipe could taste like grit.) Throw the leeks into the prepared pan with olive oil. Turn the burner up to medium low. 

Chop or press your garlic and throw into the pan along with the leeks.

Sprinkle about 1 t of salt on the garlic and leeks and as much pepper as you have the patience to grind (or to taste). 

Chop your asparagus into 1 1/4" long pieces - cutting on the diagonal to make it pretty. Put to the side.

When your water is boiling, throw in 1 to 3/4 of a pound of linguine pasta. Cook the pasta al dente because you will be cooking it a little more in the skillet afterwards to get the sauce to cling to the pasta.

At this point, turn your skillet burner up on medium high, throw in the asparagus and 1+ cup frozen peas. Toss from time to time and cook until they are bright green. 

Pour the lemon juice from 1/2 a lemon (the zest would be nice too!), and 1/2 cup white wine into the skillet. Keep the heat up on medium high and let the liquid reduce. 

Add a ladle full of the pasta water into the skillet (the starches will make the sauce stick to the pasta). 

When your pasta is done, pull it out of the pan with tongs and put into the skillet. Don't rinse the pasta. Save the pasta water as you'll use it when the sauce gets too dry. 

Toss the pasta with the veggies / sauce, coating the pasta. Drizzle more olive oil on the pasta (don't be shy, olive oil is very good for you and reduces bad cholesterol). Add in another ladle full of pasta water if your sauce is looking dry. 

Throw in 1 cup of grated parm cheese. If you have fresh Italian parsley, now is the time to throw it in. Toss with the pasta / veggies.

Taste. Add more salt or pepper if needed. (It probably will be.)

Serve. Top individual servings with the remaining grated parm cheese.