Gardening Begins … kind of

Are you guys gardening yet? We already ordered our WaterSorb so we’re ready to start rototilling … but the soil’s going to be too wet for another couple of weeks. I’m sure that others are ready to start, though, because we left ours pretty much just “to stand” over winter (and harvested the last of the beets and carrots a couple weeks ago), so we had plenty of cover to keep the ground moist. Our friend (in whose yard we garden) did a rough till last week with his tractor, just to knock down the tall stuff, though, so there’s hope that it’ll dry out before midsummer.

We need to order from Kitizawa Seed for our Kabochas soon … I’ll probably take care of that today. We’ve found that Kabocha Squash makes a far better pumpkin pie than any other pumpkins, but the problem now is in choosing, because until I checked Kitizawa I was somehow thinking that there were, oh, maybe two kinds of Kabocha. No such luck. There are 12 varieties on Kitizawa’s site, so it’s either going to be a squash-filled gardening season, or we’re going to have to make some hard choices. Fortunately for us, our CSA will, no doubt, provide us with Delica (green) and Uchiki Kuri (red). Our trouble will be in deciding which of the other 10 varieties we should grow.

Next up, of course, will be the choosing of tomatoes. We are going to attempt some restraint this year, as we’re still not through with last year’s: some are in the freezer, awaiting pasta or something; more are in zips, dried, awaiting breads and pestos. However, when we get to Morning Sun Herb Farm, we usually find at least 6 different varieties right away, and a bit of wandering brings us a few more. Last year, thanks to the gophers, we “only” ended up with 7 plants. This year … I think we’re going to try for 6 plants. Only. No “fallbacks,” no “spares,” no “just in case the gophers get them.” We’ll see.

And, surprisingly, tomatoes and squash about does it for what we’d like out of the garden this year, except for an Armenian Cucumber and, perhaps, a couple of Ronde de Nice zucchini. And that’s it. Except for the things we have to grow in the way of “rent” for the garden space, that is: okra and collard greens.

It’s strange to think that we may have finally gotten our gardening under control. We’ll see – because we usually give ourselves these stern talking-tos – but I think that we may finally be learning that if you can’t eat it all, and if it makes it difficult to harvest, then you probably don’t need to grow it. And we especially don’t need to grow things which can’t be preserved easily, and which we don’t eat ordinarily. Eggplant falls into that category – the category of “one plant, maybe, if there’s room, and if the plant is free.”

That’s the problem, actually: the majority of our plants tend to be free, because other gardeners (soft-hearted lot that they are) have planted, intending to “thin,” and end up simply giving away their seedlings. So, they look at us, and we must have “sucker” writ large across our foreheads, because we end up with all manner of things to plant, unless we want to kill them off. So of course we plant them. And water them. And buy replacements when they get eaten by the gopher, because we can’t bear the empty spot where once was a plant.

Let the chaos begin.

Kitizawa Seed:
Find a CSA:
Riverdog Farm (our CSA):
Morning Sun Herb Farm:

Quick update: I made our purchase from Kitizawa, and can expect delivery in a couple of days. I guess I’m weak … ’cause I really couldn’t resist:

  • Akehime, Hybrid Winter Squash, Baby Kabocha
  • Sweet Mama, Hybrid Winter Squash, Bush Type Kabocha
  • Fairy, Hybrid Winter Squash
  • Armenian Cucumber
  • Prik Ki Nue Rai-Thai Hot Pepper
  • All Red Leaf Amaranth
  • Red Noodle Yard Long Bean
  • Tsu In Yard Long Bean
  • Nozawana Turnip Green
  • Celtuce (Stem Lettuce)
  • Atomic Red Carrot
  • Cosmic Purple Carrot

So, I really am going to stop. No more purchases. Except for the Collards, and the Tomatoes. Really. Honest.

The Philosopy of Neglect

Ages ago, I read that African Violets are actually from somewhere called Saintpaulia. Because they’re one of those plants that hardly ever blooms unless they’re forced to by a horrible dry spell, I doubt I’ll ever get to see them in the wild — I’m a desert person only insofar as there is a hotel with air conditioning, or a pool nearby.

I am inordinately proud of my Saintpaulia ionantha. My mother had these all the time I was growing up, and routinely overwatered them. I’m so much better at complete and thorough neglect, so my plant is thriving, blooming periodically, and doing just fine. I’m especially pleased because I started this plant from a slip of a parent plant that was given to me as a gift. All hail the feeling of delicious competence!

Like everything else beautiful, wild African violets are an indicator of species life; a botanical canary-in-a-coal mine. If things in East Africa are doing well, there are violets. If things are polluted… well, suffice it to say that the lands where these flowers grow are vigorously protected by any number of people.

African violets… glow. When seen in just the right light, they actually have some kind of a glitter on the leaves, which I couldn’t get to come through properly with the camera (unless I blew up the picture to a huge pixel-defying depth)… which of course was an epiphany that other violet-watchers have discovered. I find it makes them most horribly, violently, purple-prose spewingly philosophical, so I must share the wealth of pain:

“African violets are at their most beautiful during dry spells… when they have everything they need, they’re just lovely fuzzy green shrubbery. When they’re not watered, they send out blooms. Maybe they flower as cries for water. Maybe they flower to show us how to deal with adversity (oh, gag. I’m sure that’s not it.) graciously.”

And here’s another soppy florist motif: “The lovely African violet plant just needs a little light to keep it in bloom. This plant is symbolic of the human strength that fights back in the face of adversity with the aid of little hope for light at the end of the tunnel. This [plant] will help your loved ones to recuperate, to keep up their morale in the face of unpleasant situation and to fight back unpleasant thoughts and feelings. This plant is a great gift for your loved ones who may be depressed, sick or in a situation where they need the love and support of their family and friends.”

I’m sorry. I know I’m not meant to laugh at this… this gratuitious circuitousness, but for goodness sakes, if someone needs family and friends around, perhaps we should just take a chance and go sit with them… as lovely as my violet is while it’s blooming, it’s just not as good as listening effectively as I am. I do suppose it might help one fight back unpleasant thoughts and feelings, for about ten minutes (let’s revel in that feeling of competence again, shall we?), but after that…? Ooh, wait. That’s an unpleasant thought… Drat it, my usual psyche has come back again. Oh well. So much for my darling plant.

I suppose this is my nudge from the universe to go and listen to my sister complain from her hospital bed, but… nah. She has other people she’d be happier to see, so I’m taking a night off… to admire my violet.

Pepper Preserving

So, we’ve been making our way through our supply of dried and drying peppers, trying to knit them into something suitable for storage … and also something decorative, if we’re going to have them sitting around. Shown to the left is the first bundle – of what we had thought to be Thai Bird chiles, but about half of which seem to have a miraculous lack of heat. We’re probably going to end up saving these as simply decorative … or giving them away as such. It’s sad, really, because we know that one of the two plants was Thai Bird – we tasted the peppers, and they were truly magnificent in their heat. The other, though? Completely decorative and devoid of heat. I’m hoping that one of the two bunches is the Thai Bird and the other is the decorative, because of the differences in color and in ripening speed. We’ll see.

Next up are our Bolivian Rainbow Peppers. There’s no doubt that these babies are hot – painfully so, and of a type of pain which comes back to get you especially cruelly if you try to brush your tongue to take away the pain.

We’re going to let them dry, to see what they’re like that way. Shown to the left are the ripe specimens, and to the right are the immature fruit. They start out life purple and progress through a cream into a yellow and then red. The red ones seem to be holding up to the drying process better than the purple, which are wizening into almost pea-sized little black nubbins. The reds are keeping their shape, and not wrinkling.

Everyone should have a good, white wall in the house, upon which to hang their herbs (and fruits).

Here’re the lot of them, hanging in an out of the way area to dry. They will probably not be joined by the remaining peppers, which will go into the cuisinart to hopefully provide some flavor for the winter. We’ll see.

Operatic Death of the Garden

OK, so we yanked out the garden on October 2. By “yanked out” I mean to say that we tore down the tomatoes, harvested anything which was in any way shape or form edible, and left the rest … without water. Well, we were bright people this year, and turned in WaterSorb by way of drought protection. It worked. The silly garden is still cranking out produce three weeks later. True, we didn’t really leave much … but to come back (we garden at some friends’ house) to find nice, fat Armenian cucumbers is just rather a shock.

We’ll be adding more WaterSorb next year, too, ’cause the stuff degrades in about 5 years, so we added only 1/5 what the recommended quantity was, planning on adding that same amount every year, so that it’d be fairly constant. It should be interesting to see what happens when it’s got twice as much drought protection.

It truly is much like watching a Ballet demise, though. Scary.

Now, back to reinstalling software from the ground up … to make things nice and fresh for the next client. Sigh.

Pruning Out the Deadwood, Changing Seasons

Autumn is making me melancholy. Or something is. On nights when the moon is full, and the sky is that particularly brilliant shade of blue, when the wind is cool, even at noon, and things all around you are changing, well… you don’t really need an excuse to gently indulge your melancholia, do you?

‘Tis the season to read books and sip spiced hot chocolate, to ponder life truths and have a good cry for no particularly good reason; to write letters sans keyboards, with actual pens that use ink; to cement friendships, or slough off particularly noxious ones you’ve been hanging onto for too long. ‘Tis the season to shake off the deadwood, prune back the branches, and prepare to go dormant so that new growth can take place. Autum-time — it’s the slow-down that comes before the little death which comes before life returns.

Part of me hates change so much that all of this pruning and such makes me want to go back to bed, but letting something die back without pruning it, in plants, anyway, means that it’s not easy for the plant to come back to life. Trying to make changes stick in myself, without making room for them, without giving things up a few things that are comfortable, but hurtful, probably won’t work out either. So, it’s time, and every year this time rolls around again. I look forward to seeing how it will all turn out.

Meanwhile, the Silly Sibling’s Ceremony that took over my life is now over — (Which has me convinced that there is a God, if not, we’d still all be at the church still, waiting for her to finish her pedicure and maybe show up on time…wow. There are no words.) so I’m finally digging out of the filthy dusty house, returning library books, putting up the rest of the produce in the freezer and into the dehydrator, and finding the bedwarmers. It’s actually been coldish and rainy and it’s a welcome respite from the state of Eternal Summer via Global Warming. I’m relieved. Admittedly, I’m still disappointed at my retarded sunflowers; the only one I got is a full four inches tall — it looks like an oversized dandelion — but it’s time to shake off the failure and put in the bulbs and the sweet peas, maybe some amaranth, and more kale. Hopefully better results next time…

I have a wee dram of champagne waiting for me to take notice of it. Can you believe that someone had the good sense to make a sweet potato chutney that calls for champagne? I can’t drink it, but I can eat it!

Sweet Potato Chutney

  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 cup champagne
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 3 Tbs. crystallized ginger, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbs. curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 3 Tbs. fresh mint, minced

In large saucepan over medium high heat, place onion, sweet potatoes; champagne; sugar, dried cranberries; crystallized ginger; cloves garlic, curry powder; and a spoon sea salt. Reduce heat to low and cook 30 minutes, stirring frequently.Remove from heat and stir in minced mint. Garnish with minced sprigs.

Meanwhile, I have a hankering for some more ‘classical’ applications for sweet potatoes… (and NO, they don’t include marshmallows, sorry): I think I’m going to jazz up the traditional caramelized sweet potatoes with ginger and orange juice instead of using brown sugar and butter. Or, better still, I might just try the whole thing with delicata squash; I hear it’s great baked with apples and caramelized.

The season of change: brings many possibilities!

End of the Garden

This weekend we tore out the garden. With the nights dropping below 50°F, there was no chance of the tomatoes ripening any further, so before the rain starts we decided to get everything out. One more weekend for those pesky things like shallots & onions and we’ll have everything ready to turn under for the winter, and we can start worrying with planting things like Cabbages and Kale. It’s looking like rain in the next few days, but we’re hoping it’ll stay away through next weekend, so that everything can be fully harvested and for the first time in many years we can get it turned BEFORE the wicked weather comes.

We ended up chucking the green tomatoes into the deep freeze, so as not to have to deal with them until we’re ready to make chutneys & mincemeats. The ripe tomatoes will be dried or frozen as well, the peppers strung up, and we’ll be all snugged in for the winter.

The only transplant to overwinter is the little Chiltepín, with its pea-sized fruit of doom (aka “hotness distilled”). They’re not so mean as the habañeros, as they don’t linger, but they do pack just about as much of a bite. They’re supposed to turn red … but I’m doubting it, as the seeds were fully formed & the plant hasn’t turned out anything BUT the little round green fruit. I’m almost afraid to see what happens if they DO turn red … but I’m really hoping that it’ll survive the winter inside. They grow wild all over the southwest and Mexico, and are supposedly the precursor to the modern pepper. So, I’m thinking that maybe ours is just going to stay green

With the end of the garden comes free weekends, and more baking. And figuring out what to do with about 15 pounds of hot peppers. The joys of gardening.

Identify Your Berries…

The fabulously colored Chocolate Habañero, shown to our left (or in a full shot here), is a berry. Identifying it as a berry isn’t all that special. Identifying it as a Habañero? That’d be the part which I failed to do so well. How could I fail to identify such a lovely fruit? Well … I made up for it with a fair degree of haste, spitting the partially-chewed pepper into the trash-can, gesturing wildly that I was unable to speak, and enduring. For quite a few minutes. The endorphins weren’t enough for me to make me want to do it again, but there was definitely the pleasure of relief.

Thus, I must say that I will NOT make the same mistake with the lovely little Chiltepin (Scoville Scale of approximately 100,000, which ranks up there with the milder Habañeros). I don’t know what I’m going to do with either of these little lovelies … but I’d imagine that they’ll be diluted quite a bit, perhaps in a large crock-pot of beans or something. I DO know that I won’t be biting one of them any time again soon.

Bolivian Rainbow Peppers, on the other hand, are only about half as hot….

Dry Puttana

Oh, YUM!

After all of my whining about slicing and juice everywhere, I’ve discovered that dehydrating vegetables is paying off in a serious fashion. I made the best pasta sauce I’ve ever made last
night, and I mostly wasn’t paying attention while I did it… So I’m going to root around in my brain to find the list of ingredients for my newly named Puttanesca Asciutto.

  • 1 c. dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1. 5 c. boiling hot water
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 1 cup chopped kalamata olives (mine were stuffed with jalapenos, which is why I didn’t use any pepper. You might add a 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper to your sauce.)
  • 1 whole chopped onion
  • 2 cloves smashed garlic, OR 1 tbsp. garlic powder
  • 2 basil leaves, julienned
  • some capers, if you like them. I don’t.

And from there, it was simply a matter of feeling my way into a recipe: I stuffed the tomatoes into a pot, poured on the water, and waited twenty minutes. Then I dumped them into the blender, and added the other ingredients. I whizzed them up, and cooked them down for ten minutes, until some of the water cooked out. It’s a chunky, fragrant, flavor-intense sauce that would work well on short pasta with a dry asiago cheese, or on a pizza; with some meat, probably, or as a breadstick dip — endless possibilities.

And, best of all, I will whine no more about the endless tomatoes in the garden.

Until next year.

In A Post-Produce Frame of Mind

Words cannot express just how much I HATE tomatoes right now. They smell funny. They leave a rash on my arms. Their …pollen-y leafy green junk gets everywhere. And they have slick little seeds. And I don’t want to eat them anymore. No. Not no mo!

Yes, okay, this is my annual plaint. Locked in winter, we all long for the freshness of tomatoes on our tongues. By March, I am planting tiny seeds thinking that there could be nothing finer than the rich flavor of a pear tomato, bursting sour-ripe on my tongue. And then the season turns, and I get my wish. And I get my wish. And I wish, wish, wish. And then I wish them gone.

The closer it gets to October, the more loosely does this land seem to be gripped in eternal summer, and the more foreign tomato production seems. I want to already have done with all of this fruiting and producing. I want to have put it all up and put it away, and for it to be all a misty, fond memory. I do not want rock-hard pears staring me in the face. I do not want overripened melons, disturbingly large zucchini, and out of control cucumbers inviting bizarre shape comparisons. And I want NO. MORE. TOMATOES. It’s not like all of my whinging is going to do me any good. I was told rather succinctly that if I could come up with something to take the place of the dreaded and derided fruits, I should speak right up and suggest it. But actually: you can’t grow bread. And really? That’s all I want.

Maybe next year we should grow wheat. Hmmmm.

A sad little PS to my story of the scary corn? Silly Sibling (this as opposed to Sullen Sibling and the Littles — does sound like a hair band, doesn’t it?) will now no longer take anything from the garden because she, too, found a worm in the corn. Our Earthmother has managed to produce two complete wusses. But the real irony is that I shucked the last corn, and it was flawless and perfect — no worms, no must, not even any undeveloped kernels. And I promptly chucked it into the freezer. Speaking of which, it’s time to price some of those things. Between the dried veggies and the abundance of salmon, we suddenly have four inches of freezer space. And if we keep making lovely loaves of cinnamon raisin bread… we’ll have none. I hate the idea of the American Obsession With Having Enough For the Apocalypse, but we do need a little more storage for the food we put up. This weekend, all the canning jars go into the garage, and do all the dried stuff, so we may as well shift the salmon into below-storage, too.

The aubergine onslaught has been slowing… finally… We’re to the point where we’re past the one MASSIVE fruit per plant, and have been getting quite a few medium sized bits. I hate eggplant, of course, but I found out my niece made and ate an entire pan of eggplant parmesan — made with Japanese eggplant, mind you, not Italian — and I decided I wanted to give it a shot. Eggplant parmesan sans eggs is very possible; frankly, the eggs never have added to the flavor, to my mind. The cheese issue has been solved nicely with a mozzarella substitute that everyone will eat, however, I haven’t found a parmesan substitute. So, as a recipe in progress, this is just

Aubergine d’Mozzarella:

  • 2 large aubergines
  • salt
  • 1-2 cups unflavored soymilk
  • 2-3 cups yellow cornmeal
  • Olive oil
  • 5 oz. mozzarella – real or imagined
  • 4 cups puttanesca sauce (you do realize puttanesca is a derivation of ‘puttana,’ which means ‘the way a whore would make it?’ my kind of Italian cooking!!)
  • 2 tsp. freshly crushed garlic – or more or less
  • sprig chopped rosemary, basil, to taste
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1/2 c. chopped green onions

Preheat oven to 400°

Slice eggplants crosswise into 1/4″ rounds. Salt both sides and set aside for 1-2 hours. This leaches away the bitterness. (Some people say this is unnecessary nowadays, as all eggplants are bioengineered to be less bitter. Try telling that to an organic, non-genetically-modified eggplant, okay?)

Rinse salted eggplant slices and set aside to dry on paper towels. They’ll have lost their firmness, and hopefully, their bitterness. Rinse them and wring them a bit, then lay them on a pan. Fill a shallow bowl with milk (or I’ve known people to use creamy salad dressing), and another with yellow cornmeal. Dip eggplant slices into milk and then cornmeal. (Do it again if you want your breading thicker.) Most recipes suggest you deepfry the breaded slices about 1-2 minutes on both sides and set aside on a nest of paper towels. You could do that, or you can bake them on a heavily oiled pan for ten minutes on each side.

Remove the crisped veg from the pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with sauce, and replace a layer of the breaded slices. Sprinkle lightly with chopped herbs, onion, garlic and olives, and cover with shredded cheese. Cover the mozzarella with sauce and repeat the layers ad infinitum, until you run out. At the last layer, anoint with the chopped herbs, sauce, mozzarella and place it in the oven for 30 minutes. *Note: Let it set for at least 5 minutes before serving. As with all aubergine dishes, the longer it sits, the more the flavors mingle. It’ll be even better the next day.

Be aware that with salting the eggplant, you will still have residual salt… so resist the urge to salt a bite before you’ve tasted it.

This re-orientation of one of my old recipes gave me a great urge to make this tonight, but as the mercury currently stands at 87° F… well, this is the weather when we set the slow-cooker outside, all I’m saying!

Think Before you Consume

So, this morning I was asked if I’m a vegan. The person doing the asking was our spin teacher – born in 1979, a dance major, adopts puppies on her vacation to save them from having to live in the wilds on whatever desert isle she’s visiting at the moment. You know her – somewhere in your life, she lurks, driving her jeep with all manner of “meat is murder” stickers plastered on every available surface.

And you also know that she’s about as thoughtful as a stoat, as she goes out and buys a Prius to replace that Jeep with, because she wants to do her part and all that. Never mind that replacing a 3-year-old jeep with a new vehicle means that she’s essentially contributing to the problem (hello, new aluminum needed for your hybrid), rather than helping to fix it.

Let me just say this now: if you’re not going to keep your car for a decade, it’s not going to save you any money to buy a hybrid. I’ve owned a cute little Honda Insight since December, 1999. I’ve spent around $1000 on gas for that car during that time, and figure I’ve saved around $2000 compared to what her Jeep would have needed. Now, the cost of buying a new vehicle? NOT going to be worth it, financially.

So, let’s recap: not financially beneficial to replace a perfectly good car with a new Hybrid; not environmentally beneficial to do so, either. If your car is totalled out and you have no choice but to buy a new vehicle? Hybrid all the way (well – one of the two fuel-efficient ones on the market, that is, ’cause they’re not all of them about saving fuel).

Am I a vegan? Mostly*. But do I advertise the fact? No. Why not? Well, if you have to ask, you just won’t get it.

*I eat honey (try making a nice oat-bread without it – I’ve been, and it’s no picnic) and drink milk (coffee). I also enjoy Salmon around a dozen times a year (sustainably fished, as all Pacific Salmon is, of course).