...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Kitchen Pilgrimage

Over the summer, we took a monthly garden pilgrimage, but the gardens are sleeping and the air is chilly. Much better now to make kitchen visits, don't you think? Our first kitchen pilgrimage is to a friend's catering kitchen. Paula was with me at the birth of my first child and was the first to teach me that true Texans put pickle relish in their chili! Paula is an artist in the kitchen, and I'm thrilled to have her as my first guest blogger in the winter kitchen pilgrimage series! To follow her on Facebook, add her business page for Paula's Parties 'n Such to your listings and check out her offerings on a regular basis. Here's one she included as per my special request. Thanks, Paula!


We all know that homemade pies are a hit for the holiday festivities. But, there are some who shudder at the thought of making tender, flaky pie crusts and perfect meringue. Well, the tips below should put your mind to rest. I'm hoping you will use these tips to reach absolute confidence in your baking skills.


1. Separate eggs while they are cold.

2. Allow whites to come to room temperature (always) which assures the most air will be incorporated.

3. Use a small deep bowl and make sure the beaters are very clean (any grease will interfere with the beating). The whites will increase 2 1/2 - 4 times their original volume. A rotary hand mixer will make a soft meringue, but you will need an electric mixer to make a hard meringue.

4. When the whites are beaten to the foamy stage, add salt and cream of tartar. Cream of tartar helps egg whites to reach maximum volume and increases the stability.

5. The amount of sugar to add depends on the type of meringue: 2 T sugar to each egg white for soft meringues (toppings) and 4-5 T per white for hard meringues (shells). Beat in sugar gradually, 1 T at a time until no grains of sugar can be detected. The sugar is added when the whites have reached soft peaks; if added too early, meringue will not reach its full volume.

6. Spread meringue on HOT pie filling. This method provides heat for the bottom of the meringue cooking it slightly and causing it to adhere to the filling. When spreading meringue, make sure it is spread over the entire surface so that the filling is completely covered and the meringue is sealed to the edge of the dish. This prevents shrinkage of the meringue during baking.

7. To prevent weeping, make sure you bake meringue properly. Bake a soft meringue in a preheated 350 oven for 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the meringue, or until golden brown. Cool at room temperature. After it reaches room temp, you can refrigerate.


For a 9" pie: 4 eggs at room temp, 6 Tablespoons sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 4 teaspoons cream of tarter, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

Place room temperature whites in mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed until foamy. Add salt, cream of tarter, and vanilla. Mix until whites reach soft peak stage. Add 2 Tbsps sugar and continue mixing making sure the sugar is completely dissolved. Repeat, adding sugar 2 Tbsps at a time until all the sugar is incorporated. Mix until whites are stiff and shiny. Spread on HOT filling, taking care to cover completely, touching edges to seal. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or until delicately browned. Allow to cool to room temperature before cutting or chilling.

(Alternate method using cold eggs: Put egg whites and sugar in mixing bowl and place the bowl in a pan of hot water. Stir constantly, until whites feel warm. Add the salt, cream of tarter, and vanilla. Remove the bowl from the hot water and follow instructions for adding sugar.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sabbath Rest Thanksgiving...Revisiting the Original Thought

Thanksgiving: just three days ago my son snapped this photo of me as I took a break from cooking the traditional meal. But already this scene would look quite different should you see me taking a similar break now: stockings would dangle above my head, retro art tins would be propped along the hearth, and a colorfully adorned tree branch would reach toward my right shoulder. But before we leave our remembrances of Thanksgiving altogether, I'd invite you to sit here at the hearth with me for a moment of reflection on the holiday's origins.

Imagine you're sitting on a hard wooden bench in the meetinghouse, services are finishing as usual: with weekly community announcements. Little do you imagine that you are about to hear words that will affect the lives of people for hundreds of years to come when your Governor, William Bradford, walks to the front of the room in his red waistcoat and violet cloak (apparently it's a myth that they all wore dull grey, black and white under their big shiny buckles) to read the following pronouncement:
Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of conscience; now, I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, ye 29, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor, and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.
--William Bradford
William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth Colony, 1623

Much of Psalm 35 could be lifted as a lament and a beseeching in this day and time, but I will--in honor of that first Thanksgiving thought--restrict my reflections to the joy and hope in this one verse and honor the heart of those who were the first to grace this continent with their blood, sweat and tears for the express purpose of freedom of worship:
I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people.
Psalm 35:18

Friday, November 26, 2010

Holiday Menu Planning with Your Garden Fare at Hand

One of my favorite things to do in prepping for a holiday meal is to peruse old cookbooks to see what tradition recommends. Today, I'll offer a couple of quotes from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. (New in 1960 that is.)

"For your centerpiece, let your mood and resources be your guide." Our table this year had a country harvest feel to it. I used the heavy stoneware and a centerpiece that featured a corn husk doll, bright red and gold leaves, and cinnamon candles. I just didn't "feel like" going with the china for this one. The centerpiece was shifted to the unused end of the table during the meal--there were only 5 of us--and only rolls and condiments graced the table proper. The feast itself was served buffet-style off the kitchen table. This arrangement worked so well, I may use it every year.

Back to the cookbook. Its list of Entertaining Menus were indeed entertaining as we read through them the day before our meal shopping outing. We found menu plans for everything from a late evening buffet to a luau.
But, their recommendation for a Thanksgiving Buffet included the following dishes:
Swedish Pickled Shrimp
Cold Sliced Smoked Turkey
Frosted Cranberry Salad
Assorted Relishes
Buttered Dinner Rolls
Pumpkin Pie
Tea and Coffee to drink
Our own meal relied heavily on the stock that came from this summer's canning and freezing efforts which I've marked with an asterisk in the menu listed.
*Zucchini bread with powdered sugar and a variety of homemade jellies
Light Lunch:
Egg salad on french bread toast
Summer sausage
Cheese ball and crackers
*Homemade freezer slaw
Holiday Dinner:
*Roasted turkey with herb vinegar marinade
*Herb dressing
Cranberry sauce
Mandarin oranges
Golden mashed potatoes
Marshmallow-topped yams
Amish noodles
*Green beans
Pumpkin pie
*Chess pie with strawberry and blueberry topping
Obviously, I pulled a lot from the freezer: from the strawberries picked and frozen in June through the zucchini bread made sometime in July, from the slaw made in August to the corn and green beans packed away here and there throughout the summer, all these brought memories to the surface, making the meal a tangible celebration the bounty of the year.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sabbath Rest...imagery and reality revealed

George MacDonald is the "contributing author" for today's sabbath rest post. I flirted with similar ideas on one of this blog's side page about the garden and spirituality, but he states these ideas of imagery and reality so eloquently I'm emphasizing this essential beauty of gardening again through his words, as they are edited by Michael Phillips. This is not just the formal spirituality built intentionally into some gardens, that is a soliciting sort of spirituality. This is more a responsive one that depends on the state of mind of the receiver rather than on the garden constructed. Be prepared to throw wide the gates of your mind to understand his ideas. He can be a little complex on a first read, but the nourishment found in these ideas is definitely worth the concentration!

All high things can be spoken only in figures and images. These figures, having to do with matters too high for them, cannot fit intellectually. They can be interpreted truly, understood aright, only by those who have the spiritual fact in themselves.

It was never the design of the Lord to explain things to our understanding--nor would that in the least have helped our necessity. What we require is a means, a word, whereby to think and understand high things within ourselves. Such will true figures--for a figure may be true while far from perfect--always be to us. But the imperfection of the Lord's figures cannot lie in excess. Be sure that in dealing with any truth, its symbol, however high, must come short of what glorious meaning the truth itself holds. It is the low stupidity of an unspiritual nature that would interpret the Lord's meaning as less than his symbols. The true soul sees, or will come to see, that his words, his figures always represent more than they are able to present. For the heavens are higher than the earth, so are the heavenly things higher than the earthly signs of them, no matter how good those signs may be.

And what for example might be one of these signs MacDonald describes? He uses one beautiful one I'll share here.

The root and stem may thirst for the flower for whose sake they exist, so too may the life in men cause them to long for him who is their life and thirst for its own perfection within them.

Let us say to the Lord, "Jesus, are you loving the Father in there? Then we out here will do his will patiently waiting till he open the door. We shall not mind the wind or the rain much. For perhaps you are saying to the Father, Your little ones need some wind and rain. Their buds are hard. The flowers do not come out. I cannot get them to be made blessed without a little more winter weather. Then perhaps the Father will say, Comfort them, my Son Jesus, with the memory of your patience when you were missing me. Comfort them that you were sure of me even when everything about seemed so unlike me, so unlike the place you had left.
In a word let us be at peace, because peace is at the heart of things...

Thy will, O God, be done! Nothing else is other than loss, decay, and corruption. There is no life but that born of the life that the Word made in himself by doing thy will, which life is the light of men. Through that light is born the life of men--the same life in them that came first into being in Jesus. As he laid down his life, so must we lay down our lives, that as he lives we may live also. That which was made in him was life, and the life is the light of men.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Lovely Post on Pot Rot

Yes, pot rot. We moderns hardly realize our dainty term (potpourri) springs from such root words as pot rot! And, given that homemade potpourri could indeed become literally that--pot rot--I thought I'd throw in a post that gives a few pointers on how to successfully craft your own at home, and more easily than you'd imagine!

First, the ingredients. You'll need essential/aromatic oils and seeds. These are the only part of the mix that I buy commercially. I find it too time and space consuming to make my own essential oils, so I buy them. I also like to buy scented rose hips when I can find them. They hold fragrance nicely over time if kept in an airtight container. I have had bags of rose hips keep their fragrance through several rounds of potpourri-making.

Next, you'll need a base material. From a kitchen garden, this base material may be the most subtle scent, but will nevertheless be the bulk of the potpourri. Flower petals and pine needles are often easy to come by, but keep in mind that not all flowers are as aromatic when dried as when fresh. Some that smell faintly sweet on the stem can take on a more vinegary smell when dried. Others have blossoms so delicate that they completely fall apart and turn to dust when dried and mixed. I find hearty, heavily-scented flowers are the best choice.

I used rose petals, lemon balm, a bit of baby's breath, a few bachelor's buttons and some sage in the one pictured here. But, you could make it more a culinary scent by using basil, thyme, mint and other kitchen herbs; or you could make it more woodsy with mint, pine and lemon balm. There are a myriad of possibilities, making this one of those projects in which your creative bent can run free. If possible, though, harvest whatever base materials you choose--whether flowers or herbs--on a sunny day just after the dew dries. By doing so, you'll best insure the bulk material is at its peak fragrance. If not, your potpourri will carry more of the scent of the essential oil than anything else.

Next, you'll need a fixative. The fixative is a fragrance-preserver. Animal-based ones are rather expensive, but you can dry rosemary from your own garden, as I did here, to use as one. You can also sometimes get orris root, tonka beans, rose attar--to name a few--from a craft store or an online supplier. They are just as effective and cheaper. In fact, you may find when you mix in dry rosemary, your olfactory memory takes you back to craft shops of the past. Whatever you choose, you'll need a tablespoon of that fixative for every quart of bulk material used.

Next up is the essential oil. I'm using lavender oil here, but have easily found and used vanilla, citrus and rose oil as well. And, if you can find melon oil it makes a great bath oil scent...but I digress. For the potpourri, you only need add 3 or 4 drops or the scent of the oil will overpower all other scents in the mix. A medicine dropper might be a good idea if you're starting from a full bottle of aromatic oil.

When the potpourri is finished, set a bowl out, leave the room a while and then return to "assess" the fragrance. If you're satisfied, store whatever you're not immediately using in airtight containers to save for later use. Keep these in a dark, cool place.

A last practical note about those base materials, especially if they come from your own garden: freeze them for 3 days when first picked, especially if you have any problem with aphids in your garden. The last thing you want is "buggy" potpourri.

Even if your homemade potpourri loses some of its fragrance over time, you can doctor it up when you open the jars. This table centerpiece sports two jars of last-year's potpourri. The scent was rich, but a little faint for my tastes, so I added a tablespoon of autumn spices: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg; a handful of vanilla rose hips and some dried orange peel. These refreshed it enough to give the dining room a gratifying fragrance.

What is my favorite thing about homemade potpourri? It is hopeful, especially when its scents are out of season. Sound sappy? I don't care. It strikes me that when I open a jar and put it on shelf or table, I drift into little spell of day-dreaming. I breathe again air happily rife with smells from a season or two prior, and I lapse into fond reverie. There is nothing like olfactory memory for bringing the most peaceful and energetic memories right to the front of the mind.

Happy fragrances to you!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Novice Gardener, if you read Sunday's post, then more than likely you have spent the last couple of days reflecting on whether gardening, as a lifestyle, is for you. The active season's finish is the first stopping place for such reflection, but not the final one. Know that the final answer doesn't present itself until you've over-wintered, sustained on many levels by the fruits of your labor. In short, for some, gardening is the mountain that fits the eagle-self, but for others, it is the barnyard. Either way, be at peace with your discovery.

So what is the best way to celebrate the advent of this new season-- a season for soothing the weary body and answering the questioning soul? Why with a bath, of course!

Earlier in the season, I picked up some wonderful bath salts at the local farmer's market, but now that the growing season is over, I have the ingredients to make some of my own as my purchased salts are finished. The following "recipes" for herbal bath treatments come from Rodale's Successful Organic Gardening Series, from the book on Herbs.

Creating your own herb bath can be as simple as heaping 1/2 cup of dried herbs on an 8-inch square of muslin or cheesecloth, tying it up with a string and floating it in the bath. Lemon balm, lavendar, rose petals...all are obvious choices. For more specific guidance on which herbs to add or how to make a decoction for your bath, check out this website: http://www.frontiercoop.com/learn/herbsavvy11.php Adding a few teaspoons of powdered milk or oatmeal will soften the water even more.

To make a bath oil, mix 1 part essential herb oil (find these at a local craft store) to three parts light vegetable oil. Store in a glass bottle away from light. Then simply shake the bottle and use a tablespoon per bath. To convert this to a massage oil, use 1/2 teaspoon of the essential herb oil with 1/2 cup of sweet almond oil and store similarly.

The Country Store offers the following recipe
for a bath oil promised to be a "therapeutic treat." In a decorative bottle, mix 3 tbsp sweet almond oil, 5 drops grapefruit oil and 5 drops orange oil. One teaspoon in the bath will prove highly refreshing, but add it after the bath finishes running if you want to keep the essential oils from evaporating before you get to enjoy them!

Finally, here's a website full of tips and techniques for creating more homemade goods. This particular page, for instance, tells you how to make your own lip balm!
Sign off today is, of course:
Happy relaxing!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sabbath Rest: Where Do You Go at the End of the Season?

Today's devotion is taken from Catherine Martin's Set My Heart on Fire.

Perhaps you know the story of the Texas rancher and the eagle. The rancher, hunting in the mountains, came upon an eagle's nest and took one of the eggs back home with him, placing it under a setting hen. The eagle was hatched and cared for by the mother hen. For some period of time, the eagle seemed perfectly content to remain in the barnyard and feed along with the chickens. But one day, it heard the harsh scream of a mature eagle, swooping down in search of prey. In the blink of an eye, the young eagle ascended into the sky and was never seen again. He had found his new home in the mountainside cliffs, for he was not made for the barnyard dirt.

The hardest work of the gardening season is finished. The days of pecking the ground are suspended for a time. It is time to look up and listen, to reflect and grow until a new season comes. It is time to accept the gains and losses encased in renewal. Rest and Peace to you my gardening friends!

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:29-31

Friday, November 12, 2010

Another Garden's Swansong

We finally did it. We just had a full week of beautiful Indian Summer after the first couple of nights of hard freezes--making both timing and temperature perfect for a day of fall tilling. Garden Helper Senior (the one who gave me those dozen roses last week) got the tiller ready and together we tilled everything but the garlic patch and a short row of still-lively lettuce. I had never done a fall tilling before this year. Only spring. In the fall, I've always just thrown a little hay down and let the bed drift into hibernation, but my soil is getting tired enough that this year we decided to till in a few bags of fertilizer, some summer plant left-overs--mostly marigolds, herbs and bean plants--and a little shredded newspaper. Soon, I'll take a soil sample to be tested. I need to know what to save over the winter: whether it be wood ash from the fireplace or egg shells and coffee grounds from the kitchen. In a small suburban plot like mine, crop rotation is a help but rarely is it alone sufficient to keep the soil nutrient-rich. You have to supplement or accept smaller and smaller yields as the years go by.

I've included a couple of nice links on this topic. After roto-tilling my arms are too tired to type a summary so I figure you might as well read the original. The first one details the reasons why you might like to do an autumn-tilling along with me.

This second one is a nice link to a site that helps you plan your future garden rotations online. Spring may seem like a good time to do this; but if you just tilled up this year's garden, then this year's layout is still fresh in your mind which can aid you in your planning.


As usual, I pause to take a deep breath as I stand in the middle of the garden plot in the early evening, and I smell virgin soil--come full circle. The last time it had no aromatic competition from the plant life was last April.
And even now, as the sun sets, I catch a whiff of wood smoke from some neighborhood fireplace. I reach down and grab a handful of dirt. Still a fine texture.

There's promise in that soil for another year.

Happy tilling!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Blanch...it's not just your great-aunt's name

When the hard freeze comes and the garden starts the day under a frosty blanket, the last of its fare will freeze, too--either in your freezer or in nature's! If those foods are meant to grace your table through the winter, they will often fare better from a blanching before you freeze them.

What is blanching, you ask? Blanching involves dipping vegetables in boiling water. This process slows the negative effects of enzymes on the food while it is in the freezer.

And blanching isn't just for gardeners! As your farmer's markets close for the season, or even in the produce section of the grocery stores, the last of the seasonal food can often be purchased in bulk at cheaper prices than will be found for that fresh produce for many months to come. Now is the time to buy that produce and freeze it for yourself. For instance, I purchased a large batch of broccoli and big bag of cranberries with the intention of freezing most of it.

But if you're going to blanch those veggies, you should know that everything has different blanching requirements, and some things need no blanching at all, for example, the cranberries need no blanching; so it is good to have a chart of blanching recommendations handy. I have a home preserving cookbook that includes a blanching section. According to it,the Ball Blue Book, you should begin by washing and cutting vegetables as if for cooking fresh. Use a ratio of 1 gallon of water per pound of vegetables. A wire basket, mesh bag or metal strainer works adequately as a blancher. Use the blancher to lower the vegetables into vigorously boiling water. Begin timing as soon as you put the vegetables into the water. Keep the heat on high as you blanch. Either stir the water or keep the container covered while you blanch.

An important point to note: underblanching increases enzyme activity, so you're better off not doing it at all if not taking care to note the time recommendations. On the other hand, overblanching decreases vitamins, minerals, flavor and color. Obviously, it is vital to note blanching times!

When the blanching is finished, immerse the vegetables in icy water to stop the cooking process and pack loosely in airtight freezer containers. I like using freezer bags that I can label with the food type and the date. You can remove most of the excess air with these bags, but they don't store as tidily as stackable freezer containers.

Here are a few commonly frozen foods and their blanching times:

Asparagus: 1 1/2 min. small spears to 3 min. large spears

Snap beans: 3 min.

Broccoli: 3 min. (large sections need 4 min.)

Carrots: 3 min. for cut carrots to 5 min. for whole

Greens: 2 min.

Fresh herbs: don't blanch!

Onions: wash and chop but freeze without blanching.

Peas: (sugar or snap) 2 minutes

Peppers: neither hot nor sweet need blanching.

Potatoes: wash, peel, wash again and blanch 3-5 minutes.

Tomatoes: must be made into sauce before freezing. No blanching.

Tomatoes (green): wash, core, slice and freeze with freezer wrap between the slices. No blanching.

Plums, pineapples, kiwi and many berries such as blueberries, gooseberries and cranberries can be cut (if needed) and dry packed to freeze. No blanching is required. Others like cherries and strawberries fare well in a sugar pack. To sugar pack, use one part sugar for every six parts sliced berries or one part for four parts with pitted cherries. Allow to stand for 10 minutes for sugar to dissolve, then freeze.

Apples and pears often call for specific syrups. (More on these syrups in a future blog.)

Finally, who can boil mass quantities of a vegetable, fill the kitchen with its aroma and not make something for immediate consumption, too! So as a bonus, I'll share my broccoli quiche recipe. It was the main entree for dinner the day I froze broccoli. As a side? Cranberry salad, of course!

Italian Broccoli Quiche
2 cups of broccoli
1 unbaked pie crust
1 medium onion chopped
1 cup cooked Italian sausage
4 beaten eggs
2 cups light cream (half and half)
1 T flour
1/2 t salt
1 t Italian seasoning
1 1/2 shredded cheddar

Prick pastry shell and bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 325 degrees.

Crumble sausage after cooking and cook onion in the sausage drippings. Drain.

In a bowl, stir together cream, eggs, flour, salt and seasoning. Stir in the broccoli, sausage, onion and cheese. Mix well. Pour into the pastry shell (still warm) and sprinkle with another 1/2 C cheese if desired. Bake in 325 degree oven 45 to 50 minutes. (Cover edges with foil to prevent browning if desired.)

Happy blanching (and baking)!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Winterprep for the Burrow (Part II)

Frost pus to bed not only your vegetable garden, but eventually even the heartiest residents of your flower garden as well. At this point, enjoying fresh-cut flowers requires a visit to the florist. My husband surprised me with a dozen roses from the florist's shop, but I did find a few companion flowers still in the wildflower patch--a last few bachelor's buttons and sprays of baby's breath, for instance. Today's post once again draws tips from Emilie's Creative Home Organizer. This time, they are on maintaining long lasting displays of cut flowers.

  • Vase life for cut flowers is extended by filling the vase with warm water. Place daffodils in a separate vase of water for half a day before combining them in a bouquet with other flowers. They excrete a sap that clogs the stems of other flowers.

  • If you have hard water with high mineral content, you can increase the vase life of flowers by switching to distilled or purified water. Do not use softened water, since it contains salts.

  • A solution of one part lemon-lime soft drink (not diet) and two parts water provides proper acidity, a bactericide to reduce cloudiness of water, and sugar to "feed" flower buds so they open completely and gives extended life to cut flowers.

  • If roses arrive looking slightly wilted, re-cut the stems and lay the whole flowers under barely warm water in a sink for an hour or two.

    One final suggestion regarding your vases of cut flowers: take some snapshots with your digital camera and use a card-making computer program to create cards with them. Leave them blank inside so you can use them for multiple purposes. A good start might be to distribute a few for Kindness Day, Nov. 13.
  • Happy cutting!