Thursday, August 30, 2012

Twig Tea (on the rocks)

Twigs For Tea 
Saving can be good: saving lives, saving money, saving endangered species, saving time, saving the document you've worked so hard on...

But saving can also be bad: saving used staples, saving bellybutton lint, saving junk mail, saving every issue of Underwater Basket Weaving Weekly since 1967.

I like to think that I fall somewhere in between. Although truth be told, I probably skew a bit further to the bad side of saving stuff (just short of the used staples and bellybutton lint). I can't help it... I like to wring every last drop of usefulness out a thing before throwing it out. Even if it's going to be composted.

Save up and stock
For instance, when I dry herbs from my garden and strip the leaves from the stems, the dried stems go into my "stock jar". When I use fresh herbs in my cooking, I save those stems too, letting them dry first, then I add them to the jar. The next time I make stock, I throw a big handful of those dry stems into the pot. They add depth and make my vegetable stock more flavorful.

The sweeter side
It's a good system and it works great for things like rosemary, oregano, and basil. But what about the "sweet herbs"; the lemon verbena, lavender, and the mints? Well, I save those stems separately in a big bowl on the counter and make Twig Tisane (herb tea) with them.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Seven Year Stitch

My Patchwork Baby Quilt
See the quilt in the photo? Does it look familiar? Maybe it looks a little like my blog header up there? Well, there's a reason for that. They are the same quilt, just at different stages of completion. Like a magazine tear-out of a swimsuit model taped on the fridge (horrid thought) might remind someone about their goal of getting in shape for summer, I very cleverly used a photo of my unfinished quilt project for my blog banner. I see it nearly everyday. So, I am constantly being reminded of something I haven't finished. Is that sick or what?

The Phenomenon Of Disappearing Motivation
Anyway, let me just say that the strategy doesn't work. That scantily-clad stick-figure on the fridge will eventually become invisible... transparent. She will just cease to be noticed any more. And then it's July and well... there's always next summer, right? It's the same with my UFO* blog header. I stopped hearing it's motivational message. I simply stopped noticing it. 

Recently, I made a renewed effort to complete the incomplete, finish the unfinished, wrap things up and move on to the next thing... whatever that may be. Sounds so healthy, right? Well it is... and it isn't. That baby quilt, for instance, is for my God-son...

He just turned 7. 

I started the quilt when he was 0.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dr. Franken-Cilantro, I Presume?

My Cilantro Bolted :(
My cilantro bolted. Actually, it is currently bolting. What does it even mean, to bolt? It sounds like something in Dr. Frankenstein's notes: 
...don't forget bolting: Add contact points to monster [sides of neck?] for attachment of jumper cables; crucial for next phase in reanimation of creature. Bwah-ha-ha-hah!
"It's Ali---ive!!!"
In this instance however, it describes what happens to cilantro plants when their roots notice that the soil has reached 70°F. If you've ever had your cilantro bolt on you, you'll know what I'm talking about. If not, I'll let you in on what happens at that magical 70°F point... the plant decides that the time is right for making seeds, shoots up with a staggering amount of growth, bursts into pretty little blossoms, followed by round green seed pods.

It happens fast. It happens dramatically. You're happily snipping some cilantro here, some there. A salad dressing one week, maybe a marinade or quesadillas the next, and then...BAM! By the time you realize what's happened... it's too late to warn the villagers.

So... I guess the whole creating-a-monster analogy actually does apply here after all.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Vertically Challenged: A Love Story

Vertical Pallet Planter for Strawberries
This is a story about a girl who loved strawberries. This girl grew strawberries in a pot on her patio one summer and having had such a lovely time of it, decided she wanted to grow eighty-seven times as many strawberry plants the following year. 

Well, as these types of stories go, the girl, who spent way too much time on Pinterest, had a very handsome and handy husband. This husband built the girl a strawberry planter like the one she had Pinned on her gardening ideas board, but better.*

He then bought her bags of strawberry rhizomes. It was late winter.

They waited, the hubby and the girl, until fairer weather in which to plant those dormant roots. But the busy-ness of their life interrupted their plans and possibly they also forgot where they put the bags of rhizomes for a while. 

Suddenly they realized that it was past planting time! They found themselves behind schedule! Because of their negligence, sadly, a few of the plant-lets didn't make it. But the rest of them (Praise be!), grew up and seemed very very happy...

Stay tuned for the exciting next installment of As The Strawberry Turns!

The Strawberries Of Our Lives?... 

All My Strawberries?...

General Strawberry?

Oh, now that's just plain silly.

*This is a completely subjective statement and in no way is intended to diminish the total awesomeness of the source idea. The "improvements" he made included adding wood scraps to the sides and bottom of the pallet and a scrap piece of plywood to the back of it. It's way stronger and more durable than the original design... but also much heavier too. If you go that route, you'll need to have a couple of strong and obliging guys around (never a bad idea anyway) when it's time to raise the planter into place. He also painted it dark brown because he's totally not into pallet-crafts, and all things considered, I didn't object. After all, it can't help but draw the eye when we're on the patio, and it might as well not look like something we found in an alley and nailed wood scraps onto... not at first glance anyhow!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mea Culpa, Pituophis Catenifer sorry little garden snakeI was going to write about basil yesterday... or cilantro... or maybe strawberries. I hadn't decided, but as you can see, fate intervened...

After breakfast, I'd wanted to putter a bit amongst the herbs on the back patio before it got too hot. As soon as I stepped outside though, I saw a distinctive shape behind the lounge chair. Retreating behind the the safety of the sliding-glass door I saw that it was indeed a snake. I ran for Hubs who came over and assured me it was a gopher snake, "They're good snakes—they eat gophers."

There was one hitch... the poor little dear was caught in the plastic netting we'd had over the blueberry shrubs all summer. The plastic netting I took off of the blueberries two weeks ago and hadn't put away yet. My bad. My really bad.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The State Of My Tomatoes (2012)

Garden Tomatoes 2012: "Cosmonauts"
It's time for my annual "state-of-the-tomato address". Actually, I don't remember if I did this last year or not. I do know that I've talked about my love of homegrown tomatoes before, and that has not changed. If anything, that love just grows deeper with each passing year.

Now, while I can't imagine that anyone else could be all that interested in how our plants are doing, at the very least you can learn from our mistakes and do better in your own garden or patio. And let me tell you, we made a couple of doozies this year!

New this year:
  • All tomato growing has been shifted to the front yard. If you want tomatoes, you must plant where the sun is. And we want tomatoes.
  • Hubby built a two-tiered raised planter to one side of the driveway near the street. The lower tier was planted with basil, the upper, home to two tomatoes with a row of chives in front of them.
  • We rigged up a shepherd's hook in the top tier of the planter to hang one of those upside-down hanging planter-thingies as seen on...
What we planted and how they're doing:
  • Black Krim (in half-barrel)... We got a half-dozen that ripened a couple weeks ago. The rest are still green and quite small. Growth has slowed.
  • Cosmonaut Volkov (in ground)... Topped out at around 8-feet and set large fruit like crazy. A few weeks ago the top started withering and dying back. When we checked the ripest fruits last week, they were soft though not yet red. We picked them and they were a mushy and the flavor was lacking.
  • Lemon Boy (in raised planter)... After a slow start, grew vigorously and set lots of fruit. We discovered blossom-end rot on half a dozen of the fruits last week and a few more this week.
  • Sungold (in raised planter)... What can I say that I haven't said before about this flavorful and amazing tomato? The shrub is absolutely huge and completely covered in clusters of cherry tomatoes on the verge of inundation... same as always.
  • Black Prince (in hanging contraption)... This one was a last minute addition. Is growing pretty well and has some fruit set but so far doesn't look like a big producer.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Potato Salad Summer

Summer Garden Potato Salad
When I promised to bring the potato salad for a BBQ we were invited to last month, I forgot that my usual go-to recipe called for red-skinned spuds and all we had were russets. Oops. So off I went to look online for another recipe, because I just love making something for the first time at the last minute... don't you? (that was just the tiniest bit of sarcasm)

Martha Stewart came through (as she so often does) with a delicious and oh-so-beautiful potato salad recipe featuring good old russet potatoes. So colorful, it's worthy of the most festive of picnics and other summer events. It's practically a party all by itself. I was entirely pleased with how it came out, which is, of course, a good thing. So I made it again last weekend for our church picnic... as far as recipes go, it's definitely a keeper.

Festive, delicious, and easy to put together, this potato salad is both familiar and a little special at the same time...

Summer Garden Potato Salad  
adapted from Martha Stewart Living magazine (June 2000) and The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook (page 226)

3 large eggs, hard-boiled and chopped
8-9 russet potatoes
3 T apple cider vinegar
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp dry mustard
kosher salt & black pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped chives
2 Tblsp chopped fresh parsley
3 stalks of celery, diced
2 carrots, shredded
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 red onion, diced

Hard-boil your eggs first...
Place the eggs in the bottom of a pan and fill with cool water, covering by 1/2 to 1-inch. Bring to a boil, remove pan from heat, cover and let sit for 12 minutes. Carefully transfer eggs to a bowl of cold water to stop them cooking further. When eggs are completely cooled, tap them all over against the side of the sink and peel under cool running water. Keep in the fridge until ready to use.

Cook the potatoes...
Scrub the potatoes and place in a large pot. Cover with at least 2-inches of water and bring to a boil. Add a tablespoon of salt and turn the heat down. Simmer for about 25 minutes, or until a paring knife slides easily to the center. Drain the potatoes and very carefully remove the skins with the paring knife, protecting your hands with gloves or towels. Cut the potatoes into 1-inch cubes, place into a bowl and sprinkle the vinegar over them.

Make the dressing...
Chop the hard-boiled eggs and add them to a large bowl along with the mayonnaise, mustard, 2 tsp of salt, and 1 tsp black pepper. Whisk together. Add the potatoes, herbs and vegetables, stirring well to distribute everything. Taste it and add more seasoning if needed. The flavors will benefit from some time together in the fridge, so try to make this the day before you want to serve it. Serves 10-12.

My Notes: I initially chose this recipe because it used russets (which I had a lot of) instead of red-skinned (which I had none of). But what was unexpected was how great it was to use some things from my garden and also how much better it tasted because of the homemade mayo.  If you have the few minutes it takes to quickly make up a batch of mayo, I truly think the potato salad tastes better for it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Simply Simpler Simple Syrup

Simply Simpler Simple Syrup
I kind of love recipes that are expressed as ratios; where any unit of measure will work regardless of whether you use metric, Imperial, or an old chipped teacup. You know: one part of this to three parts of that, where the "part" can be anything from a thimble to a 5-gallon drum. Super simple.

Well, the other day I needed to make a small amount of simple syrup for a batch of iced tea I was making. The classic simple syrup recipe is 1:1 (one part sugar to one part water, boiled together and cooled). Couldn't be simpler... or could it?

It was HOT that day—the day I needed to make my liquid sweetener. I did not want to turn on the stove for anything. Not even 10 minutes. Besides, I really didn't need a lot of it; hardly worth dirtying a saucepan for. And that's when it hit me... when I feed my water kefir grains, I just add the sugar to the water and swirl the heck out of it for a few seconds until it dissolves. No heat required... Hello!

I quickly tossed a half-cup of sugar and a half-cup of water into a pint Mason jar, then I capped it and shook it like I meant it. It took about 2-3 minutes of shimmying, but the result was a jar of liquid sweetener, ready to use.