Friday, July 30, 2010

Scenes from the Garden 2010

**The giveaway below is still running, so just scroll down if you'd like to enter to win a $40 gift certificate to CSN Stores.***

Had you been in our garden this morning, you would have observed a woman who made a spur of the moment decision to make a quick pass through the garden as soon as she was fresh out of bed. And being fresh out of bed, said woman would have been adorned in night clothes and a long tangle of hair, and not at all worried about being seen in her own backyard, which is enclosed with a sturdy and private wooden fence. Of course, this woman was very surprised, as she was filling up the watering bucket, to see a tractor drive by closely along the fence. It was driven by a farmer, high up on his seat, who had a bird's eye view of a disheveled woman filling a watering can and gaping at the surprise tractor. This woman took cover in the corn stalks, but was comforted by the hasty retreat of the tractor. That is, until she emerged just in time for the tractor to make a second pass on its way out, with our heroine in full view. Well, after all this post is entitled Scenes from the Garden, and that was a real scene, as my mother might say.

Now, on to some better scenery...
This year I grew Silver Queen corn, as opposed to the usual bicolors and heirloom types I've grown in the past. The stalks are green and healthy, and far taller. We don't treat our corn or use pesticides, and have had a lot of success, an unusual victory in the face of the dreaded and ever present corn worm which rules our area of the country.

Our string beans, grown from seed like everything else, have been phenomenal producers this year. These two short rows have kept me busy for many hours! Oh, and the straw mulch? A real life saver during this dry summer. It has done so much to keep the moisture in the ground.

Peppers on the right, tomatoes on the left and in back. So far this has been a great summer for tomatoes, such a change from last year. There has been a lot of green leafy growth which means more pruning, but the fruit has been good quality. I've been canning tomatoes all week and we are not even at the peak yet.

Each year I do some hot peppers. I still have enough jalapenos and serranos from previous years to set the world on fire. These are Hungarian wax, a relative of banana peppers. I did not grow them intentionally, they were a surprise that grew out of a packet of mixed hot pepper seeds.

I usually plant a few flowers in the vegetable garden, but that wasn't possible this year. So here is a day lily from my front flower bed.

The morning's harvest.

Anyone remember this scene last winter?

Ahhh. That's more like it!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Of Corn and Country

Despite the stifling heat (it's supposed to be 110 degrees today!) I've finally settled in to enjoying the summer and have picked up the rhythm of harvesting and preserving food again. Just a month ago, it seemed impossible that anything would get done at all this year. God has been so good to me!

I even took out my little pad that I keep my canning inventory recorded on, which I was going to write off for 2010. Every canning season I write down how much of each thing I put away, so the following year I'll have an idea of the quantities I need to process to keep us well stocked. If we run short of something, I can look back to last year, so how much I did, and double the amount. If there is more than enough of something, then I'll know that however much I canned allowed me to skip a year so I can lend my energies elsewhere. This is one of my best organizational tactics. I wonder if anyone else does this?

A few days ago I took a drive through the country to run a few errands and pick up some corn. We have corn in our garden, but it's not ready to pick yet. And we eat more than we can grow. I took a few pictures.

Dog-tired by the buggy.

Narvon, PA

Looking north over tobacco field.

Most people freeze their corn, and I do freeze some also. But in addition to that, I also can some whole kernels in jars and do some corn relish. Of course, the best is eating it fresh. This is my favorite corn salad that I look forward to making every year. It was based on a recipe in Taste of Home. It's so easy to make, and what I love is that there is no waiting for water to boil here. Nope, you husk the corn (about nine ears) and take it right off the cob to start.

In a skillet, saute the corn in olive oil with some garlic (3 thinly sliced cloves, or minced equivalent) until tender. Then, stir in one Tablespoon of Dijon mustard.

In a large bowl, combine 3 large chopped tomatoes (though I sometimes like to use halved cherry tomatoes), a small red onion thinly sliced, 1/3 cup chopped green onions, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 3 Tablespoons minced fresh basil, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper. Toss to coat, and serve with a slotted spoon. Makes 7 large servings.

(Some chopped cilantro would be delicious in this also.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer Desserts

I don't do much baking in the summer. It's too time consuming during such a busy time of year. Besides, who is trying to heat up their house in July? In the warmer months, sweets around here mean ice cream, fresh fruit, and sometimes no-bake pies or bars. But once in a while it would be nice to have a piece of chocolate cake. Then, a friend handed me a recipe that was being passed around for a small chocolate cake that you make in a the microwave. I was skeptical and intrigued. So of course I could not wait to try it out. How delightful to find that it works. Introducing...

The Five Minute Chocolate Mug Cake

4 Tablespoons flour
4 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 Tablespoons milk
3 Tablespoons oil
3 Tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
A small splash of vanilla extract (less than 1/4 tsp.)
1 Large Coffee Mug

In a small bowl, add the dry ingredients and mix together. Add the egg, milk, oil, and a handful of chocolate chips. Mix well. Lightly spritz the mug with cooking spray, and pour your ingredients into the mug.

The directions said to cook it in a 1200 watt microwave for 3 minutes. My microwave is 1200 watts but the cake was done in 2:30. While the mug cake is cooking, it rises up and above the rim of the mug several inches, providing you with a small heart attack while you imagine having to clean up a chocolatey mess in the microwave. But don't worry- it does not over flow or explode, and the minute you push the stop button, the cake retreats back down into the mug.

When it's finished, you can eat it right out of the mug, but it makes enough for two servings. I turned it out onto a plate (very easy- no sticking) and added whipped cream. It certainly was a fast way to cure a chocolate craving!

Oh my. Remember that fabric giveaway I blogged about in my last post? I was ecstatic to find out that I was the winner of such a lovely prize. It was one of the nicest things to happen in a long time! Now, I really do wonder what to do with that lovely fabric. Ideas anyone?

Marie Madeline Fabric Giveaway

Don't you love these fabrics? I do. And you can enter to win a fat quarter bundle containing a fat quarter of each one here. I must admit, I would have a hard time trying to come up with a project that would best flatter these beautiful florals. Too cute.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Surprise Harvest: A Lesson (with edit)

Here is what you need to grow cabbage: A nice long, cool autumn and a truckload of pesticides. I had neither. So how did I end up with this?

And this wasn't all of it, either. The first time I tried to grow cabbage here at our home was a couple years ago. I started the seed, coddled the seedlings, and all was well until we were gone for a week and I came back to a cabbage moth frenzy and a few green stumps. This year, I felt bold again, knowing we had no travel plans. Not only did the cabbage take off, but it formed lush green heads that quickly pushed the boundaries of the narrow row where it was planted. And then they arrived --the bugs. Not just moths, but all manner of infestation. Things my husband, who grew up on a produce farm, could not even identify. But my holey, buggy cabbage was holding its own. And then the heat came.
"We'll just need to cut our losses and pull it," said the Mister.
Cut our losses? The things were as big as beach balls. Where on earth would we store these? Some of the heads didn't make it of course, having taken more of a hit than others. But when the harvest was done, we were faced with a fridge full of green. Well. All that, and here I thought my experimental cabbage project would maybe produce one or two heads, at best. Although I'm grateful and more than a little surprised that this worked out, I did not plan for a large amount of cabbage, and so have few ways of preserving them. Of course I made a beef and cabbage casserole, stuffed cabbage leaves, and the obligatory coleslaw. A few heads went to appreciative relatives. And that is the story of my cabbage victory, which also holds a lesson. There are times when the combination of perseverance and the passage of time will be our greatest allies in achievement. After all, there was certainly no high level of skill that overcame those two things when raising this crop!

***BAT Mom had a great question in the comments section that I'm going to answer here:
Can cabbage be pickled and canned?

Hey BAT Mom! Yes, you can pickle and can cabbage. Usually in the autumn I do an end-of-the-garden type pickle containing cabbage, onions, beans, carrots and peppers which are mixed and canned. Some people call it "mixed relish" or "chow chow." Unfortunately, it's not the end of the season so I don't have all the ingredients. But I am looking into other pickling possibilities (say that last part ten times real fast.)****

The heat and dryness where we live has been devastating this year. Once a day, usually in the evening, I walk the garden to see what needs to be picked, pull my harvest, and retreat to someplace cooler. Yet for some reason the weather had nurtured weeds beyond control this year. It's been terrible.

My energy level is much lower than it was before the infection. Everything feels like a big effort. I am trying not to return to my old ways of running myself ragged, trying to be all things to all people, but old habits die hard. But with multiple doctor appointments every week, there is less opportunity to take on more than I can handle.

Who else is having some surprises in their garden?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Best Day of the Year

***I'm sorry if this post appears in your Reader a few times- technology was not cooperating on this one!***

The best day of the year is what I call our yearly trek the annual PA Dutch folk festival in Kutztown, PA. It always does feel like the best day of the year. You can’t beat a sunny day in late June or early July, walking the fairgrounds with an ice cold birch beer in hand, bumping into people, some of whom you only see once a year and only at the festival, and enjoying the high quality crafts, entertainment, and food. This year was a bit of a challenge, as the Mister came down with a cold the day before, and my stamina is about half of what it was before going in to the hospital. When you add in the heat wave we are experiencing, and the phenomenal crowds as we went close to the July 4 weekend, it probably wasn’t our best year at the fair, but I’m confident it will still be one of the best days of the year.

Here are some things I love about the KFF. There are all kinds of people there. Folks from as far away as New York who have made the festival a family tradition, people with their dogs, Amish women walking shoeless on the hot pavement, and the locals who must work very hard all year in order to pull off ten days of fun and celebration. It’s also the one place where you can hear the PA Dutch language being spoken and turn around the find it coming out of the mouth of someone who is not visibly Amish or Mennonite, nor never has been. The fair unifies people in a way that few other events could.

The quilt barn (the only air conditioned building- something you really noticed this year) is always spectacular. People line up with cameras in hand to enter single file and walk the maze of quilted wonders, many done by hand. Some are so extremely intricate and well done, it would not be shocking to see them go for thousands of dollars. In a small way, it thrills me to think of the women who work on these quilts all year for the express purpose of selling them in the barn or entering their work into the auction. It means I’m not the only person who thinks about the festival in January!

This one won Best of Show.

The entertainment is always good too. This year we watched The Martin Family perform celtic music. Their children were all very talented, but the eleven-year old fiddle player really caught my attention.

Finally, the abundance of authentic food available is always a treat. Bratwurst? Schnitz und knepp? Roasted oxen sandwich? Okay, the roasted ox is a little unusual, but the lemonade made fresh before your eyes and homemade ice cream could satisfy anyone. It’s not your typical “fair food” even if it is home to the first funnel cake stand.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

With One Hand Tied Behind My Back

About a week after I came home from the hospital, the Mister and I had to decide whether we were going to save our garden. Although it was routinely watered, three weeks worth of neglect had taken its toll. Some of the weeds were a foot high, and they were so abundant that even with two good hands it would have been nearly impossible to clean up our plot without hiring a lot of help. The Mister has been busy rebuilding the sub floor in our house -a very important project that I did not want to take him away from to help pull weeds. One night as I stood in the midst of our overrun vegetable garden, I mentally calculated how much money it saves us, and how we eat from it all year. Most of our tomato plants have large green fruit on the vines. There had to be some way to get a grip on this thing. Then, that night, a cousin told me that if we put down a layer of straw, it would kill the weeds, depriving them of sun. Of course! Why didn't we think of this? So bails were purchased and after pulling out the worst weeds, I spread out the straw.

It's a very different look for my garden, but if it works I certainly won't mind it! Meanwhile, I also trimmed back the tomatoes and engaged in some tactical staking which I dubbed Operation-Get-Tomatoes-Off-The-Ground.

I'm slowly reclaiming life in little ways. The doctor has me going to wound care/physical therapy three times a week because she feels it will heal faster that way. It sounds strange, but I have to do exercises to get the joints in my thumb working again. Meanwhile, I am driving and shopping and starting to cook again.

One night I noticed a flyer on the table advertising cherries on sale. It was time to can cherries, and here I am with a messed up hand. There would have been no way I could have canned our year's supply of cherries had I not purchased a new cherry stoner on a whim some months back. It was the end of a long day of errands and shopping, and as I was ready to leave the dry good store, I saw they had cherry stoners on display. It was actually on my "need list" to get a better one so I could process more cherries, and the price was very good. Good thing I bought it. My thumb did not need to be used at all to work this new one, and I was able to get our cherries done. Amazing how that worked out.

While I have not heard the word drought yet, it has been very dry in our neck of the woods. The one or two thunder showers we get a week last only about five minutes and barely settle the dust.

Thank you once again for all of your prayers! May you all be blessed in ways you need it most.


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