...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.

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Seed Catalogs Are In!!

Before the holiday centerpieces have even been wrapped in tissue and stored, the seed catalog arrives in the mail, and just as Steve Martin got so excited as to announce the arrival of phone books in the movie, The Jerk, so gardeners everywhere pronounce the arrival of their seed catalogs. Just yesterday, in the usually quiet circulation office of the library where I volunteer, a usually quiet worker came bursting out of her cubicle to grab a co-workers's arm. "My Burpee arrived!"

So did mine. And this year, I might actually order from it.

You see, I've spent many years in the place where I advise all novice gardeners to begin: at a local nursery. This is a very safe place to do your garden plant shopping. If you go to the nursery, you see plants that are timely--in season and appropriate to your growing climate--available to you. You also see the bare minimum of necessities in garden tools and soil treatments, not to mention the guy who looks like Santa in suspenders, ready to answer all your gardening questions. And if you really want to get "out there" you might go to an herb festival, but that's the limit.

Nevertheless...as you "grow" in the hobby (I know, the pun is atrocious) you might find you want to "branch out" (did I not learn my lesson?) into some things that aren't of the most common fare. For instance, I wanted to re-grow broccoli as a fall crop last year, but found no local nursery offering it. One nursery told me they'd tried stocking it the previous year, but so few people bought it that the store had taken a loss on it and decided not to stock it that year I wanted it. I'm sure over someone's dinner table that night the conversation came up: "Danged, if someone didn't call today wantin' broccoli now, Myrtle!"

In any case, my resolution to wade through the confusion of a gardening catalog was confirmed by that desire for broccoli seedlings.

My next couple of posts will surely be related to this upcoming adventure.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sabbath Rest...a Father's Prayer

The following prayer is attributed to General Douglas MacArthur. As I read it, I can't help but wonder: if an earthly father can have such a magnificent vision for his fallible son, how much beyond human comprehension the vision of the Creator of all fathers. May His bright land expanding before our sons be ever the subject of their gaze!

Merry Christmas!

A Father's Prayer

Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; a son who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.

Build me a son, whose wishes will not take the place of deeds; a son who will know Thee-and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge.

Lead him, I pray, not under the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand in the storm; here let him learn to feel compassion for those who fail, a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men, one who will reach for the future yet never forget the past.

And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility so he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the meekness of true strength.

Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, "I have not lived in vain."


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Early Winter To-Do List for the Ornamental Gardener

For me, ornamental gardening equates to this: a fake fern stashed atop the book-shelf. Or maybe, the other: a stylized photo of the snow-covered, generic bushes alongside the front porch.

But, many other gardeners are just as enthused about their ornamental gardens as I am about my edible one; so, ornamental gardeners, the following to-do list is especially crafted for you:

Test soil pH before applying lime
Make a new compost heap
Take root cuttings
Lift and divide herbaceous plants
Collect and compost leaves as they fall
Cut down dead tops on herbaceous perennials
Take hardwood cuttings
Order seeds
Check stored bulbs, corms and tubers for mold and rot
Plant trees and shrubs
Clean and service lawn mower before winter storage

Deep snows came earlier than usual in our area, making some of this list uncharacteristically over-due--we almost have mid-winter conditions going here. But consider this a friendly reminder for any of these you ornamental gardeners forgot to do earlier.

P.S. What is a corm?

Happy word-searching!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sabbath Rest and Holiday Table Graces

Act 27:35 And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken [it], he began to eat.
Act 27:36 Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took [some] meat.

Holidays...a time when many tables--even those where the air is rarely stirred by the breath of a spoken grace--glimmer under that hint of added sweetness a blessing offers to those dining.

I thought this might be a fitting time to share one more devotion from Swindoll on the topic of spoken table graces. He offers five pointers on developing the art--and it is an art--of meaningful table graces in the company of family and friends.

1.) Think before you pray...consider specifically what is on the table. "Pray with those things in mind. Draw your prayer out of real life. Don't lapse into mechanical mutterings or convenient religious jargon."

2.) Involve others in prayer..."Try some sentence prayers around the table. Ask the family for prayer requests."

3.) Sing your table blessing..."Try it a few times. After the family has recovered from the shock of shattering the norm, it might catch on." Whether your family is more the type to sing the Doxology or a praise chorus, holding hands and singing a blessing can be a good way to break prayer monotony if it should be settling.

4.) Keep it brief, please..."There's nothing like watching a thick film form over the gravy while you...pray around the world three times." Swindoll reminds, "God's watching the heart, not totaling up the verbiage."

5.) Occasionally pray after a meal...especially "when the mood is loose or the meal is served in 'shifts' or picnic-style settings, be flexible."

A closing observation is worth noting: "Is your prayer time at the table losing its punch? Here's a way to find out. When the meal is over, and you get up to do the dishes, ask if anyone remembers what was prayed for. If they do, great. If they don't, sit back down at the table and ask why. You've got a lot more to be concerned about than a stack of dishes."

Swindoll offers this as a follow up activity to those who are serious about making meaningful meal blessings a New Year's Resolution: survey ten people about their meal prayers and consider what you learn as a result.

--from Swindoll's Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Early Winter's "To Do List" for the Edible Garden

What do nature-lovers do on winter mornings besides run gorgeous photo shoots through their bedroom windows? (Thanks to my friend Karen for letting me snag her photo for my blog. Isn't it beautiful?) I'll tell you what they do. They study how to be better gardeners the following season. They dream about what new things they'll try and what things to give a year's rest. For instance, I got a great book of gardening basics at the second hand book store. Best $2 I've spent in a long time! I browsed through it as I ate my sub-sandwich supper, and then day-dreamed under its inspiration through the super brownie and ice-cold milk course. Finally, glancing up at my husband over my reading glasses, I said, "So. What do you think about adding a trellis over the back gate to use as a grape arbor?"

"We could do that," he said.

Now I have all sorts of new plans to make and all winter to play with them. Only once before did I have a grape arbor on my property, but that year I made the best grape jelly I've ever made in my life. I know it will take a few years to have a good crop, but that is part of the joy of it anyway: inviting something into life that helps you experience a little "delayed gratification." It is a joy that see too little regard lately.

As I perused my new book, I came across a section I thought I'd post from periodically. It is a garden calendar, offering "to do" lists across the seasons.

Here is the recommended to-do list for now, early winter:

Test soil PH before applying lime
Hang any remaining garlic bulbs to dry
Plant last fruit bushes and trees
Lift and store root crops for winter use
Harvest and store remaining apples and pears
Check fruit already in store
Lift layered plants
Start forcing rhubarb
Life leeks and parsnips
Take hardwood cuttings of currants
Disinfect canes and supports before storage

This book also reminds that "Winter is the quiet time, when you can sit and plan your next year's crop and order seeds and new plants from the catalogs. It is also time perhaps to oil and sharpen any garden tools or apply a coat of wood preservative to the garden shed and fences...

"Maintaining a successful edible garden demands a methodical, orderly approach, and a commitment to the garden throughout the year."
--from Country Living Gardener's Gardening Basics

Next week, I'll share the list for the ornamental garden as well, but for now:

Happy list-making!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Garden in Your Holiday Gifting

Ever get tired of fighting the crowds for those gift-purchasing outings? It's fun for a while, but when it comes time to find gifts for those outer circles of acquaintances, it can grow tiresome, not to mention expensive. One option to remember is that personally made items make great gifts! All you need to do is find a jar of homemade relish, jelly or maybe even create a "soup mix" jar with beans and rice and seasoning. Top the jar with a hand-made jar topper, add a matching crocheted pot holder and put it in a basket with a little ribbon. You might even line the basket with a bed of your homemade potpourri to make it even more elegant. And, if you don't know how to crochet, don't be dissuaded from trying this gift-option. Crochet lessons are easy to find online, and for most people, the video lessons make it more than easy enough to pick up the hobby. Here is a link for basic crochet stitches followed by one on how to crochet in a circle:



I simply crochet a circle, then make a trim by chaining three stitches and single crocheting into every other stitch of the circle around once. Then I go around a second time, chaining three and single crocheting into each loop I made on the previous round. A chain in a contrasting color makes a tie that I thread through these loops and I have a country-kitchen jar topper ready to use.

Not sure you're quite ready to try something that ambitious? You can make simpler jar toppers by buying a yard of fabric you like, cutting it into small squares with pinking shears, centering it on the jar and tying it down with a decorative ribbon.

Besides topping canning jars, you can also fill a jar with little bags of bath salts (described in a previous post) as a gift. Appropriately-sized bags can be found in the wedding dept. of a craft or party store. They're rice bags, officially, but make nice bath salt bags as well!

Another option you might like for gifting in a jar is your homemade potpourri or a mix of dried soup herbs. This gift is handy in that when the lid is removed, (if you use an open netting or a loose weave crochet topper) the aroma will waft right out from the jar without requiring an added container.

Options for homegrown gifts abound and add a sentimental touch as gifts for teachers, neighbors, service workers etc. Plus, they don't breaking the bank.

Happy gifting!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sabbath Rest...the long view

Every last sputter of life has gone to sleep for the winter--no more work in the garden other than to pour a bucket of wood ash from the fireplace now and then on its bare soil. I look at that ground, and I think about all the hours I knelt there fostering this kind of life over that kind, nurturing, babying, tending, then later pruning when life became so robust it would destroy its own promised future, finally pulling up by the roots when life became too much effort for its feeble stem to carry, especially as environmental conditions became dire. I think of how often my hands grew raw pulling weeds, or my feet wet and cold as I inadvertently splashed them in a morning watering. But all that is finished for a long season, and now and then I gaze through my window out at the flat soil and I remember other mornings, early summer ones when I'd peek out at the earliest light to see whether the summer squash were appearing on the vine, or whether a tomato had taken on even the slightest tinge of pink yet. Now all that is left are the here-and-there reminders of those days gone by: decaying stems and leaves, a pinkish pepper, washed out and long-faded from the blood red of its days on the vine, a few shoots of garlic that tried to grow too soon but gave up when a deeper cold took up residence. I look out and wonder what the next garden will look like.

It is not quite time to plan yet...not quite, but it is certainly time to take the long view.

Why do all the work? Oh, the benefits to my family's bodies, to my neighbors' pantries, to holiday tables--these are all quite valid, and I've categorized them here in this garden journal. But why the strange swell of tender joy in my heart at the sight of a little three-leafed cucumber plant bobbing about in even the slightest breeze? Why does putting my hands into the earth touch that deep place in me? Why do the butterflies and the birds, yes and even the thieving chipmunk make me smile?

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk born nearly to a century ago, wrote strong spiritual words that describe my heart's song about this. He described a small French town where he briefly lived, described it in terms that very much fit my own feeling about this life of "cooperation" with the rest of creation. I thought I'd share those words with you, garden reader.

The whole landscape, unified by the church and its heavenward spire, seemed to say: this is the meaning of all created things: we have been made for no other purpose than that men may use us in raising themselves to God, and in proclaiming the glory of God. We have been fashioned, in all our perfection, each according to his own nature, and all our natures ordered and harmonized together, that man's reason and his love might fit in this one last element, this God-given key to the meaning of the whole. Oh what a thing it is to live in a place that is so constructed that you are forced, in spite of yourself, to be at least a virtual contemplative!

So there it is, my deep heart reason for loving what I do enough to remake it new every year. When spring says "Wake up!" the bare little garden has almost no power within itself to be a thing of beauty and health to mankind--not after what civilization-building has done to the landscape.

To be a nice level lawn where a dog can chase a Frisbee or a child can pitch a ball with his father--this is a noble enough purpose for a back yard to exist, but to enhance that purpose with a plot of life-sustaining produce...well...all I can say is: no wonder my garden makes me smile.

Happy contemplating!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

'Tis the Season to Cook Breakfast [Part 2]

Ready to take one more jaunt to those lands where numbering the days a hearth spends warming meals requires centuries rather than decades?

Our recipe for Pain Perdue needs its modern interpretation, so here is "page 2" of that recipe listing:
In French, 'pain perdue' means 'lost bread' - another simple way of using up leftover bread that we now call French Toast. Dipping pieces of bread in egg yolks only gives a richer flavor and more golden color than using whole eggs. You can serve it sprinkled just with sugar as in this Tudor recipe or try it for breakfast with honey or jam and cinnamon. It is also delicious served with bacon and mushrooms for a leisurely weekend breakfast.

4 slices of bread, crusts removed
3 egg yolks
good pinch of salt
1 oz butter
2 tbsp sunflower oil
caster sugar, jam or honey to serve
ground cinnamon (optional)
1. Cut each slice of bread into three fingers
2. Beat the egg yolks with salt and a tablespoon of water to make them soak into the bread more readily.
3. Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan and when it is quite hot, dip the bread into the yolks making sure both sides are well coated.
4. Fry in batches until golden brown, turning once.
5. Keep warm whilst you coat and fry the rest of the slices. Serve warm sprinkled with sugar and a light dusting of cinnamon. Good too with honey or jam.
The first post of this pair had one comment offering a translation of the original recipe into modern terms. I think she did very well!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

'Tis the Season to Serve Breakfast

One of these mornings, someone is going to stumble sleepily over to the stocking hanging from this mantle and expect to find treasures inside it. Almost immediately afterward, that same person will expect something else: breakfast! It is Christmas--that one time of the year when breakfast is just naturally a "company" meal so today I'll share a classic breakfast recipe...but with a quirky twist. On a recent post, a friend commented on the pleasure she found in poring over old cookbooks, a comment that reminded me of a novelty cookbook I had on my own cookbook shelf. It was a souvenir gift from my son.
This cookbook takes the modern chef back to the Tudor kitchen of the 1500's. Not only does it contain historic "kitchen" artwork and descriptions of life in that Old World hub of activity, it also has the novelty of recipes listed in their original language...back when neither spelling nor measurement were standardized.
So, just for the fun of it, I thought I'd offer you this breakfast recipe puzzle. Today you'll get the recipe for Payn Purdeuz (French Toast) in the original language from Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books. Try your hand at the translation; then tomorrow I'll give the "modernized" companion recipe and you can see how closely your translation matches!

Happy studying!
Take faire yolkes of eyren, and try hem from the white, and drawe hem thorgh a streynour; and then take salte, and caste thereto; and then take manged brede or paynman, and kutte hit in leches; and then take faire buttur, and clarefy hit or elles take fressh grece and put hit yn a faire pan and make hit hote; And then wete the brede well there in the yolkes of eyren, and then ley hit on the batur in the pan, whan the buttur is al hote; and then whan it is fried ynowe, take sugur ynowe, and caste there-to whan hit is in the dissh. And so serve hit forth.

eyren: eggs
try: pull
payn man: bread loaf
manged brede: manchet bread

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sabbath Rest in the Bleak Days of Winter

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.
Albert Camus

If we never had winter, we'd hardly be able to see how consistent our tested hopes might be for a coming summer. It snowed in my city this most recent weekend of the Advent season, prompting me to remember an old carol that makes a lovely sabbath rest, all by itself:

In the Bleak Mid-winter
In the bleak midwinter,
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter
Long ago.
Angels and archangels
Might have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But his mother only,
In her maiden bliss,
Worshiped the beloved
With a kiss.
What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb.
If I were a Wise Man,
I would do my part;
Yet what can I give him...

...give him my heart.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Heating Up the Cold Weather Fare...Home-Ground Red Pepper

Sunday was Christmas Parade Day in my hometown, and despite the hats and scarves and gloves and cups of steaming cocoa, everyone came home ready for something hot to eat. So Winter Parade Day was a natural companion to Chili Supper Night. But before we made our first pot of genuine cold-weather chili, I ground some of the red pepper strings that have been hanging in my window, drying.

Prep for long term storage of these spicy veggies is surely easy if you have a food processor. Simply cut off the stems and toss the remaining peppers into the processor. Chop them down until they look like what you find in the condiments rack at your local pizza parlor, and you're good to go.

In just minutes, a jar of chopped red pepper joined my other seasonings near the stove top. But now the kitchen window was quite bare, so I took advantage of the season and added a little holiday flare. Where for months now my garden produce has found a way station, now happy little knick-knacks cushion against the loneliness of a bare view of an equally barren backyard.

Besides chili, the red pepper has found its way into seasoning for olive oil bread dip and into Spicy South of the Border Chex Mix, which leads to my gratuitous recipe of the day:


In a preheated 250 degree oven, melt 6 tbs. butter in an open roasting pan. To this, add a package of dry taco seasoning mix, one tbs. Worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper. Mix well before adding 8 cups of various dry cereal options--chex mixes, cheerios. Other stir-in options include 1 cup each of mini pretzels, peanuts, cheese bits crackers, dried-rye bites, bagel chips--up to three more cups for a total of 11 cups of munchies. Stir well to coat evenly and bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

I highly recommend this mix for teenage parties or to send--in gallon-sized bags--back to school with college students who have come home for the holidays!

Happy grinding!