Monday, November 30, 2009

Dreaming of Fresh Tomatoes Already!

The seed catalogs are beginning to show up in the mailbox. When David brings them in, he calls them  my "garden porn".  Funny man! For me, I am reminded of the arrival of the "Christmas Wish Book" when I was a kid.. think about it.. the photos are bright and colorful and sunny and oh so tempting.. I spend time dreaming and planning and dog-earing the pages. I make lists, lots of lists. I do love the planning and dream-time of the winter months.

I canned and dried lots of tomatoes this summer so this winter we are enjoying our pasta with yummy homegrown, home-made tomato sauce and soups made with a handful of dried cherry tomatoes dropped in and bursting with concentrated goodness, yet I find myself dreaming of those fresh tomatoes straight off the vine, warm from the sun, popping them into my mouth.. like a burst of sunshine! WOW.. dreaming of good things to look forward to in the summer.

WE eat in season NOW, so no grocery store tomatoes for our family. During our first winter together, David and I would disagree about buying tomatoes from the store.. he'd WANT them.. and I would argue that they were simply "tomato shaped objects" with no real food value or taste... by the following winter he "got it" and now.. we just spend the winter dreaming of the real thing and making plans! When you eat in-season, you develop a different kind of relationship with your food, a healthy relationship! Eating in-season also supports your local food growers because eating in-season and eating local go hand-in-hand with each other!

This summer I planted lots of varieties of tomatoes... what to plant for next year?? I adore the many shapes and sizes and colors of the heirloom varieties.

My favorite tomato is an old Italian Heirloom. The seed for this variety came to me 17 years ago from an Italian friend in WV. Jimmy got the seed from Joe Bova who was 90 back then.  The story is that Joe came to WV as a young man from Italy. When he left Italy for his new life in America, he brought the seed for this tomato with him. I have no idea what the variety is called... but I call it the Bova. It is a large paste-like tomato that makes great sauce but also make a great salad and eating tomato... SO much flavor! If I could only grow one tomato variety.. it would be this one!

Then there is the Purple Cherokee, and the orange cherry tomato and the weird green tomato that stays green, the Old German that is both yellow and red at the same time... dreaming... and planning... Yum!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Planning for a healthy garden

The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, is credited with saying "Nothing endures but change."  Nowhere is this concept more evident than in the garden where change is constant. Growth implies change and movement. My garden is in a constant state of flux. This season the peas are in the southeastern quadrant of the garden and next time they will grace the northwestern quadrant... always changing where your crops are planted ensures better growth and less pest and disease issues.

This winter take some time while you peruse the seed catalogs and make your lists... take time to plan where you will locate your plantings this year.. graph paper and a map of last year's plan will help to get organized. Consider ideal companions for your beds and what was there last year.. for instance, nightshade plants do not like to be where nightshades were last year.. think it through and make a plan!

And consider the following garden quote....
A garden should be in a constant state of fluid change, expansion, experiment, adventure;
above all it should be an inquisitive, loving, but self-critical journey on the part of its owner.
-   H. E. Bates

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

You Can Use The Land You Have!

The destiny of countries depends on the way they feed themselves.
~Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, 18th century French gastronome-philosopher

Last year, USDA Chief Economist Joseph Glauber forecast that "overall retail food prices for 2008 to 2010 are expected to rise faster than the general inflation rate."

We continue to see both food and gas prices rise and the quality and safety of the food we are offered by the "Food Industry"  decline. 

It is these very trends that intensify for me the importance of my garden project. If we all produced some of our own foods in our own yards for our own families, the impact from rising gas prices and food prices would not affect us in the same ways that they do when we are totally dependent on someone else to grow all of the food for our families! Growing our own along with choosing to buy locally produced meat, vegetables, and staples will minimize the impact we will each feel and support our local economies and be better for our environment and our health!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Favorite Garden Quote

Unemployment is capitalism's way of getting you to plant a garden.
~Orson Scott Card

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ginger Pecan Scones

Ginger Pecan Scones 

Pre-heat oven 425 degrees.

Mix together the following...
1 1/2 cups flour (for GF-I used 1/2 cup Buckweat Flour and 1 cup GF flour mix)
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons Baking powder

Cut in butter until the texture of coarse meal.
1/4 cup butter

Add in the following...
1/3 cup chopped crystalized ginger
1/3 cup chopped pecans

In a separate bowl beat together...
1 egg
2 Tablespoons of milk

NOTE: When doing Gluten-Free Baking, it is important to wait to mix wet and dry ingredients together until the oven is ready and the pan is prepped. Once the wet and dry are mixed together you want to get it in the oven as quickly as possible. 

Mix wet and dry together until a soft dough forms.

Turn out onto lightly floured board and shape into a flat round about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into wedges and bake on greased sheet for 12-15 minutes. 

I like to put the finished scones in a basket lined with a dishtowel or cloth napkin. Nothing like reaching in for a warm scone. YUM!

Time to make from start to finish.. about 20 minutes. Actual hands on time.. about 5 minutes. You can find 5 minutes for fresh scones! 

"Everyone loves a home-cooked meal, but who has the time?"

To be honest.. I think we all have the time.. but the media and the makers of processed foods want us to believe that we don't have the time and that there are more important things for us to do with our time than to cook nutritious foods for our families made from scratch with real ingredients..

With Thanksgiving coming up, we have been watching the Food Channel thinking that we may get some new ideas for our feast. What has surprised us is how much of the dishes prepared on these food shows are made up of processed foods mixed together.... like everyone's classic favorite that has been around for quite a while.. the Green bean casserole... (can of cream of mushroom soup, can of green beans, can of fried onions... mix together.. bake). But so many of these dishes are made with store bought, processed foods filled with preservatives, HFCS, artificial flavor, pesticide residue, etc.

One night we were watching a Thanksgiving Cooking Special on TV... it was already underway when we tuned in.. IT seemed to be even more a show about using processed food to make a gourmet Thanksgiving meal for your family... The message really was.. Open these cans and add some other processed stuff to them and turn them into something new and exciting..... At the end of the show the woman said something like.. "now you can cook a fabulous semi-homemade Thanksgiving Feast."

Semi-Homemade... have you ever heard such a thing?? It made my mouth drop open and stay that way for a long while! When did homemade become something that could be done in a "semi" sort of way? 

Before I started writing today, I googled "semi-homemade" and was amazed to find that Google returned 719,000 instances of "semi-homemade" on the internet... guess I am adding to the numbers by posting this.... 

Semi-homemade is a movement for sure... designed to make us think that we don't have the time.. and to get us to buy products, and ready made food. I could go off on a big rant here against this movement but I really want to focus on the answer, another way. 

Just how much time does it take to make real food for your family?? 

Our friend Sara celebrated her 23rd Birthday this weekend and yesterday morning we had her over for a Birthday Brunch. I spent about an hour cooking this special meal and I want to take you through the process to illustrate just what can be done in an hour in the kitchen. 

~I started off with Ginger Pecan Scones. Gluten-free so that David could enjoy them too... I started with the scones because scones are best warm, not hot out of the oven.. so I wanted them to have time to cook and cool just a bit before the meal. Measured and mixed dry ingredients, cut in butter, added chopped crystalized ginger and pecans.. added egg and milk, mix together, shape and cut.. bake for 15 minutes... 
~While the scones were in the oven, I went out the the garden and picked some fresh arugula and celery for the fritatta, and some calendula flowers for the table. I also began cutting the veggies...sweet potatoes, fingerling potatoes, onions and garlic from this summer's garden along with the celery and arugula fresh picked. I cut up some mushrooms and grated the cheese from the store. 

~ Scones out of the oven, I got the potatoes, onions, garlic and mushrooms going in the skillet. Added the celery after a while and put a lid on the skillet to soften the potatoes. 
~Meanwhile I cracked the eggs, added some milk and beat them together with the chopped arugula to add to the skillet. Poured in the egg mixture and stirred it around, sprinkled the grated cheese on top and popped the skillet into the already heated oven from the scones, 350 degrees.
~ While the fritatta was cooking in the oven, I got some bacon going on the stove-top. By the time the bacon was done, the fritatta was ready to come out and be served.
~ Between steps, I did the dishes  and cleaned up the kitchen so that at the end of the meal, there was very little clean-up left.

This meal was more of a production than usual as it was a Special Celebratory Meal. But in the end it was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. Filling and satisfying and healthy. I take great pride in serving food that has history, a story. These stories shared around the table help to remind us where food comes from and how much our health depends on this wholesome food made with love. 
Because I take the time to care where our food comes from and to share that story, it is especially important to me to share these meals sitting around the dining table. Too much of our food is eaten in a hurry, at our desks, or in the car.. running.. when food is simply eaten to relieve hunger, we are left wanting. Food is life and our food should have a story and a life that does not include a factory or assembly line. FAST food is the fast path to dis-ease and dis-comfort in our physical bodies as well as a detriment to our spirit.

I know I am preaching to the choir here.. but REALLY... In my experience, cooking from scratch does not take that much more time.. maybe more thinking ahead... not that much more time!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Up-date on Evergreen Cob Project

The building continues and here are some photos to show you how far we have gotten. The cob bench is mostly finished and the strawbale playhouse is coming along.

The playhouse  has an urbanite foundation with a cob layer. Then the bales are stacked and "sculpted" to form window and door openings. There is a stick-built skeletal structure with a deep overhang on the roof to protect the cob and strawbales. The straw will eventually be covered with an earthen plaster.

Close-up of foundation layers.

Cob Bench. I know it looks like a little oven... but it is NOT... Cubby is for the "Observation Journal".

Close-up of Door on Cob Bench. There is a piece of wood with nails embedded in the cob structure that the door is tied into.

The brick patio between the cob bench and the strawbale playhouse.

Side-view of the new playarea. Roof space between the two structures is open as a pergola. It will be fun to see what we eventually plant in the space after the construction is complete!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Winter Garden Shots-November

Under plastic is carrot and beet seedbed planted last week. Patch of green is arugula planted in September. We are eating lots of Arugula. It will be fine throughout the winter without cover.

Another view of carrot/beet bed and arugula. Further down the row is plastic covered bed of Broccoli. I got the broccoli starts in late and am hoping that the plastic cover will give them a jump start. We'll see. So much of gardening is an experiment.

These covered beds  are more late starts. Broccoli, red cabbage and brussel sprouts. Again.. hoping for a jump start. By now these plants should be much bigger. If they don't get some growth going soon, I am guessing that come spring, they will take off!

Lettuces with open chenille row covers. These covers are awesome. I read about them in Elliot's "Four Season Harvest". The idea comes from France. These covers are SO easy to use and will keep the lettuce growing all winter. This photo shows the cover open. I'll need to take a photo of them closed. Watch for another post on how to build this row covers.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Baking Bread on a Rainy Day

I simply adore homemade bread.. who would not! Fresh out of the oven, hot and steamy, butter melting into the airy spaces. Yum! To me homemade bread is an expression of HOME...that warm, cozy place that lives inside each of us, filled with love.

As a child my Mom made bread for our family. I remember helping her knead and shape. What Fun! She let us kids each make our own loaf. We got to do the kneading of our own bread and shaping too... So exciting to watch it grow, punching it down and growing again! These little loaves where baked in custard cups. That evening, we would have our own loaf for dinner, hot with butter melting. Oh so proud to be eating something we had made ourselves!

When I went to college, I think that what I missed most was hot, homemade bread. The dining hall just couldn't even come close! After my first year, I moved off campus into a house with a kitchen and began the process of learning to make bread on my own. Mom always made it look easy.. but it took years to really get it right.. over the years housemates and friends have enjoyed my endeavors...

Between working and raising a kid, I got out of the habit of making bread. Too busy... but craving that homemade taste, I found bakery breads that came close.. our local healthy grocer bakes a Whole Wheat Walnut Bread that I LOVE! But the price is now well over $5/loaf. Well worth it but money is tight and I can make alot of bread with $5 worth of Organic Flours!

I made my first loaf 3 weeks ago and have make a loaf each week since. I pulled out an old recipe and have been working with it.. refining it to make a good loaf for sandwiches for Rebecca's lunch box.
Once you get a routine going.. it really is not time consuming to make your own bread. NO machine necessary. Last night I got the dough started just before I put dinner on the table. It did the first rise while we ate dinner. After the kitchen was cleaned up from dinner, I did the next step-shaping the loaf.  Set the timer for 15 minutes, put my feet up and relaxed. When the timer went off, I started the pre-heat for the oven and put my feet up again. When the oven signaled that it was at temperature, I put the loaf in and set the timer again... Relaxed some more, listened to the rain... and waited until the timer went off. Took the bread out and could not wait until it cooled... so I cut off a slab and spread it with butter... Yum, the best yet!
Last night's flour mix included wheat, flax meal, corn meal and millet flours with pecans.

Here is the recipe:
One Single Loaf 

Mix the following in a bowl.  

2 cups hot water
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Sugar
1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt

Sprinkle over the top of above mixture
 1 package of yeast 

Wait a few minutes to let the yeast proof. When the yeast is bubbly, add the following half a cup at a time and mix well. 
4 cups flour (mix of wheat, white and others)
1/3-2/3 cup of nuts (walnuts or pecans)

Mix in each half cup until most of the flour is in. It will become harder to mix with a spoon, time to knead in the last flour. Turn it out on a lightly floured board, or knead in your bowl until the dough is smooth and elastic and even a bit sticky. Do not work it until it is dry or you will have a very dense and crumbly loaf.
Work the dough into a ball, put back in the bowl and oil the ball. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until double (about 35 minutes). Punch down and knead again adding as little flour as possible. Place dough in greased loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise again for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, start to pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. When the oven is ready, remove the plastic wrap from your pan and bake for 40-45 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool on a cooling rack.

Give it a try... be amazed by your own homemade bread! Enjoy. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Garlic and Onions in the Ground

I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter.  Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show.  ~Andrew Wyeth

I love knowing that throughout the winter the onions and the garlic are gathering strength underground. I love to see the green tops pushing out through the snow, bright green on a field of white. 
I planted a few weeks ago now. Last year I tried a number of varieties of garlic and picked the most successful variety to plant this year. My choice was Music, a hard-neck variety. I have planted 5 pounds of it. This year's crop was beautiful, large and tasty cloves!
I have also planted another variety.. a later maturing California White, a soft-neck variety. This one is an experiment. I planted one pound. 
Onion sets went in about the same time, yellow and red varieties, about 5 pounds worth. 
My family uses lots of garlic and onions. Growing our own is easy and saves dollars at the grocery store! Freedom and Yum!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

GF Ravioli Trials

My guy is gluten intolerant along with many other food allergies, so cooking around our house can be a bit of a challenge! Although, I've got to say that any cook loves a good challenge and I enjoy the constraints that David's diet put on my meal plans.  His allergies narrow down the endless possibilities and keep me in thinking mode.
I am Italian and David spent a year studying in Italy when he was in college... we LOVE Italian food in our house. Buying pasta can be tricky when one is gluten-free! We have found one that we all like, Bionaturae.. it is potato, soy and rice and comes pretty close to regular pasta... but they only make the most common shapes: spaghetti, elbows, fusilli, and penne... so if you want anything else, you are on your own!
I have been experimenting for a while with pasta.. without too much success. The ravioli came out pretty good... a bit dense and not at all like a gluten dough, but tasty nevertheless. 

I used an all-purpose mix of GF flours with some extra rice flour, eggs, and water. I mixed the dough in the food processor. Then rolled the dough out on a rice floured board until it was as thin as I dared.
The filling was made of fresh pesto from the garden, walnuts and Manchego Cheese (sheep milk cheese from Spain.. David is also allergic to cow dairy).

The tops were added after a thin film of water was painted around the edge to help make to two pieces of dough stick to each other when pressed gently together.
After the ravioli was cooked in boiling water briefly... we topped them with fresh from the garden tomato sauce with fresh herbs straight out of the garden (oregano, basil, garlic). A simple sauce to compliment the flavors of the filling which was very rich.

The finished product was a bit heavy, definitely filling, but really tasty.
After this ravioli project, I bought a pasta maker.  It did NOT make this GF pasta maker happy at all. It was SO much trouble, not at all helpful so I brought it back to the store the next day. Next time, I'll just do it myself!
I love that our garden provides us with such wonderful healthful food and as the economy continues to slide, I know that my family will be well-fed, both with produce straight out of the garden and with the foods that I have put up (canned, frozen and dried) for the winter. Knowing where our food comes from is important to me. Healthy food that comes with a story, our story.  Life really IS good! 

Monday, November 16, 2009

Brasstown Gardens

We took a trip to Brasstown, NC in early October. I was calling the evening contra dance at the John C Campbell Folk School during their Fall Festival. It was a beautiful day and we got there early enough to see lots of great crafts and listen to a big variety of folk music.
We had some time after the daytime festival and before the evening dance to kill... so before our picnic dinner on the porch at the Keith House Dance Hall, we checked out the Kitchen Garden at the Folk School. This garden provides food for the kitchen classes and dining hall at the school.
It was fun to see all the winter veggies in their long rows as well as the remnants of the summer crops... Beautiful handmade trellises.... and a living fence in the works... The fence is made of live trees woven and trained together to create a living growing fence that curves around a wooden rocking chair near the entrance to the garden.. Beautiful!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Next Installment on the Cob Bench Project

It has been a busy few weeks and these photos spent a long time in the camera! But here they are. Back in October, Tony's Cob Building Class at AB Tech did most of the earthen plaster work on our bench. But Tony and I put the final earthen plaster touches on our bench project one sunny afternoon.
The plaster is made of clay, sand and wheat paste. The mixture is smooth and thick and is applied by handfuls and then compressed and smoothed with a piece of plastic cut from a yogurt container. This plastic rib helps to make the edges nice and gives the plaster a smooth surface and a finished look.
The earthen plaster coats the entire bench and gives it a harder, smoother finish than just raw cob.
This bench was designed to have room for lots of kids to sit around it. The backside of the bench overlooks the woods, to one side are the raised garden beds and to the other side are bird feeders and a storm water garden.
The bench has a beehive theme complete with giant sculpted bees on the top surface. It is to be an observation station for wildlife watching at the school. The bench has a built-in place to store a notebook which will be used as a journal to record bird activity.
I love this detail of where the foundation meets the cob.
The opening now has a wooden door fitted for it, hinged to a piece of wood that was built into the cob structure. I'll need to get pictures of it to share.
Sammy the snake guards the opening. Not sure yet what we are doing to finish the snake.. right now, we left it in raw cob. I think Tony was talking about oiling it to preserve it and allow it to have a different look from the smooth plaster finish of the rest of the bench.

The whole project still has a way to go.. The AB Tech class continues the work on the strawbale playhouse that is located opposite of the bench. In this photo you can see the brick courtyard that has been started between the two structures.
More pictures to come. What a great way this has been for me to learn about cob building and help out and my daughter's school. I look forward to the day when I am ready to build something out of cob in my own backyard!