31 October 2009

last gasp

a honey bee gathers the last of the nectar from the asters

i guess i titled one of my gardening blog posts "last gasp" last year. sorry, but that's what it feels like around here. last burst of gardening energy, before winter sets in, and a mish-mash of a blog post, to cover a lot of ground before i dive into national novel writing month, tonight at midnight.

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the last cosmo of the season and the view from our window, one week ago.

let's start with the garden:
the rye cover crop is now a lovely green blanket over what was once the sprawling cherry tomato bed. we are still plucking perfect tomatillos off the vine, and i have made two batches of salsa verde (for canning) and countless batches of quick fresh green salsa. and still, there's more.

i've been enjoying the herbs we still have flourishing in the garden, and was astonished at the bounty i brought in last week, as i was preparing dinner for some friends. not all of our fall carrots have matured, but some have, and they are lovely. we are cherishing the last of the beets. the candy-striped ones are called chioggia.

we harvested another armload of leeks and made the memorable leek and goat cheese galette. since another blogger has already documented this process beautifully, i won't repeat it here. this time, i chose to make 4 individual galettes, instead of one big one. it looks so lovely on the plate, surrounded by a wreath of fresh water-cress. since it was just for carl and i (cosmo rarely eats what we eat for dinner), we got two full meals out of it. i think this might be my favorite dish right now. at least my favorite of dishes that come out of our kitchen. and i swear it tastes better with leeks, thyme and parsley from our own garden.

in other garden news, my friend stephanie, garden-educator-extraordinaire, taught me how to create our newest garden bed. first i spread out some cardboard, then a layer of our compost, a thicker layer of leaf-mold from last year's autumn leaves, then a layer of straw. it took me a couple of hours to complete, and it's huge! cosmo had a lot of fun "helping" me. in the spring, we'll dig some holes for transplants, add a little compost or soil to each hole, and that's it. the following year, it should all be broken down, and soil-like, and can just be dug and worked like our other garden beds. i am so thrilled.

we still have lettuce, arugula, and a tiny bit of spinach, which i hope will over-winter with some straw on top. apparently the carrots can stay in the ground too, with a layer of mulch, and they'll come back in the spring.

on to gleaning, and other topics:
we ended up making pear fruit leather, and a pear/cranberry chutney for canning, with the rest of our gleaned pears. one of our neighbors has a particularly nice crab apple tree, with large fruit, that tastes good right off the tree. she told us to help ourselves, and we did.

nothing like starting the morning trimming little tiny apples. but aren't they beautiful?

then carl made this glowing jelly while i was busy shopping at the free swap out at bloomingfoods (they used the truckload-sale-tent to house a glorious exchange of useful stuff, all free of charge! crazy, huh?). there was a littlecrab apple juice left over--tart, and nectar-like. we sipped it from tiny crystal goblets.

take a gander at that incredible tromboncino squash! it was a gift from our neighbor jack, whose son is a farmer. they say you can use it just like butternut, but i found it to be more stringy and watery than a butternut, and lacking in that brilliant orange color. the soup-in-progress (shown below) features a true butternut, and a garden herb bundle.

i managed to get the basement into a somewhat presentable and inhabitable space--in time for our housewarming party, and in time for the crafting frenzy, which has already begun. since some potential recipients of my creations may read this blog, i cannot reveal all the particulars of the crafted goodies that are being churned out of this space, but after the holidays, i'll try to do a re-cap.

we took a short drive to the hoosier national forest last weekend, to climb the fire tower for the ultimate autumnal view. i failed to bring the camera to the top of the tower, but my wimpy little lens wouldn't have even come close to capturing that spectacular vista-- so, it's probably better left to the imagination. cosmo enjoyed the short nature walk, and the lady bug explosion that happens here every fall.

cosmo was down for a few days with some virus, other than the flu. it was quite mild, and luckily, he's over it in time for halloween. hope yours is fun.

18 October 2009

as winter approaches...

the garlic is in the ground. maybe too early? i don't know. it rained for days. the garlic arrived,
the sun came out, i planted the garlic. couldn't help it.

also dragged the cold frame over from our old yard and plopped it over some beets and leeks that are still in the ground. i had wanted to put in some kale and broccoli starts, but i guess i waited too late because i can't find them anywhere. one of my permaculture friends said it would be worth a try to stick some seeds in the ground right now. apparently, brassicas love to germinate in this kind of weather, and while they probably won't grow much over the winter, i might get some baby kale leaves, and we may have early broccoli in the spring. it was tough finding even seeds at the local nurseries. i finally found some bulk seeds at the farm-and-feed co-op, and went a little nuts. i planted cabbage, broccoli, kale and arugula seeds in the cold frame. so far, the kale, broccoli and arugula have germinated. we had our first frost last night. i got the windows on the cold frame just in time. i'm excited to see how the cold frame works when it actually sits in the sun all winter!

we are still harvesting tomatillas, hot chilies and cilantro (made some yummy salsa verde last night, for our housewarming party). we still have parsley, basil, sage, beets, carrots and LEEKS! most of the leeks are reserved for our most favorite leek and goat cheese galette, but we did harvest a few, and made a simple dish involving a lovely, mustard vinaigrette.

the neighborhood is bursting with brilliant fall color, i'm drying and sorting seeds, and dreaming, already, of next year's garden.

13 October 2009

blog action day: climate change*

i'll be frank: i think it's a lost cause. fighting climate change. too late. we've known about the greenhouse effect since i was a little kid--AT LEAST! the situation was dire THEN. drastic action had to be taken immediately to even hope to begin to reverse the trends. instead, it has only gotten worse. and will clearly continue to do so. a new study shows that much of the arctic ice cap will be melted in summer months-- within TEN YEARS, and that the arctic will be an open sea in the next 20-30 years!

so...? that is just the way it is. we are humans, we belong to this earth, we are creatures of this planet, and this is what we do. this is what we have done. if, as creatures of this planet, we take elements of the earth, and manipulate and use them in such a way that they make the earth unlivable for most of the beings that currently in habit it-- if we humans take actions that lead to the destruction of the environment, such that humans can no longer live on earth, so be it. the earth will go on without us, and the adapted ecosystem that evolves will be something else. something we don't get to know about.

it seems arrogant to me, to believe that it is all about us. or, all about our perspective. or, that we think we can control global climate change, or that we think the worst thing in the world would be the extinction of human beings. if we make our planet uninhabitable, then we cease to exist. and i hate to admit it, but i am kind-of okay with that. well, what choice do i have? this is reality. it is simply too late to stop global warming.

i am not at all happy about any of this. i accept it, but it is, nonetheless, still heartbreaking. i dread the loss of the polar bear, the flooding of cities, and i know that the people in the lowest economic classes will suffer first, and suffer the most. it is not fair, it is not just, but it is what we have done, and it seems absurd to think that sticking a piece of newspaper in a recycling bin is going to change this global truth.

but... i still recycle everything that can be recycled, re-use packaging of various sorts, shop almost exclusively at thrift stores and yard sales for clothes and other household items. i buy and glean local food when i can, and preserve much of it for the winter months, in order to eat locally all year. i garden organically, and i compost. i ride my bike for in-town transportation--often (not always), and i bring my own bags to the grocery store.

i figure, as long as humans are still living on this earth, might as well enjoy what we still have.

*i bet i'll never be asked to write about climate change again).

07 October 2009

autumnal clichés

there's nothing like living in houston texas, for nearly a decade, to make one appreciate the splendor of the 4 seasons. when we were living in houston, carl's friend michael (of mike & patty's fame) once sent him an email in october that facetiously suggested he must be enjoying all the wonders of fall: bulky sweaters, apple picking, the rosy-cheeks of the school children...
it's still hot and sticky down there, well into october, but now that we live in the mid-west, we actually do get to experience these seasonal markers. for instance, on sunday, we went apple picking.

the trees were low, and easy for little ones to reach, but since the coveted jonathan variety was almost gone, we still got to do a little bit of searching, to find those precious few that remained. then we filled our bag with golden delicious, and red delicious, and topped it all off with a caramel apple from the quaint little country store.

we used most of the bag for applesauce, which we canned last night. cosmo went through so much of that last winter, i think we'll need to do another batch.

it is so simple: just cut apples in quarters, stick 'em in the biggest pot you can find, with a little bit of water. cook until soft enough to mash with a potato masher (stirring to prevent scorching), then run them through your handy-dandy food mill, to remove the skins and seeds. after that, you just ladle the sauce into the sterilized jars, add a little lemon juice on top (to prevent discoloration), seal the jars, and put into the boiling-water canning bath for 20 minutes. that's it. pure, homemade, nothin-but-apples-applesauce. yum.

we have also been gleaning the fallen pears from a lovely neighborhood tree. one night, we made a crisp, from the pears, plus some black raspberries we had from earlier in the season. it was heavenly. we'll probably try some pear chutney, or perhaps pear butter? any other pear ideas out there?

01 October 2009


i tried to grow beets last year. they germinated, grew about 2 inches tall, and that was it. they just sat there, all summer. didn't die, but didn't grow either. i've determined it was a combination of bad soil, and too much shade.

this year, i gave it another shot. i planted two different varieties in my fall garden, in our new place, between rows of leaf lettuce. boy, did they take off! i credit plenty of sun, and that miraculous river bottom soil in our new garden beds. we pulled out our first one a couple of weeks ago.

cosmo got to do the honors. would ya take a look at the size of that thing! i baked that one, sliced it, and just ate the whole thing with a little butter and salt. there is nothing like a beet pulled fresh outta the ground. i used to not care too much for beets, 'til i had one that had just been pulled from a friend's garden, in oregon. it is a completely different experience, and i believe the reason is that the sugars begin to break down, and convert to starches, as soon as the beet is removed from the ground. so, the fresher, the sweeter. baking and roasting do a good job of concentrating the remaining sugars, and making most vegetables taste better, even if they are not fresh from the garden.

for the next batch we harvested, we made this unbelievably delicious soup from (possibly) my favorite cook book:

Beet Soup with Three Legumes
from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison

1/2 cup red kidney beans, soaked 4 hours, or overnight (i have also used white
beans, they cook more quickly, and don't need to soak as long)
4 medium beets, peeled and diced
1/2 cup brown or green lentils
1 cup cooked chickpeas (canned are fine, drained)
2 cups chopped beet greens, or chard
salt and freshly milled pepper
1 bunch scallions, including half of the greens, chopped
two cups coarsely chopped spinach (or more beet greens, if ya got 'em)
1 small bunch parsley, finely chopped

the garnish (in my opinion, this can be doubled)

3 tablespoons butter, preferably clarified (ghee)
1 onion, cut into 1/2 inch squares (or chopped in a food processor, if you are in a hurry)
1/4 teaspoon tumeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/2 cup plain yogurt, or sour cream

Drain the beans, cover them with 5 cups water, and boil hard for 10 minutes. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until soft, about 1 1/4 hours. set aside.

Put the beets, lentils and 7 cups water in a soup pot. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 25 minutes. Add the kidney (or white) beans with 2 cups of their liquid, the chickpeas, beet greens and 2 teaspoons salt; simmer until the greens are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the scallions, spinach and parsley; cook until the spinach is wilted and bright green. Taste for salt and turn off heat.

For the garnish, melt the butter in a small skillet over low heat. Add the onion, tumeric, cayenne, and mint; cook until the onion is soft, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle the soup into bowls. Add a spoonful of garnish and yogurt to each serving.
Madison notes:...Unlike most soups, the aromatics are added at the end, breaking the clean surface with a net of golden speckles.

to achieve the effect described above, make sure you ladle plenty of broth into each bowl.

i hope at least one of you will try this soup, and let me know what you think. i love it because it is so thoroughly packed with nutritious foods, and yet it tastes like some rare, gourmet delicacy, and the colors are fantastic. the mint really takes you by surprise, and works with all the other flavors. don't think you can skip the mint. the recipe makes a lot, but luckily, tastes better the next day. however, if you leave it on the stove too long, to re-heat it, you may lose some of the dazzling color-- but, none of the flavor.

ahhh, beets.