Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Hello everyone! This weekend we worked at planting the garden. After working all day for three days, I'm happy to report it is in. Now for the next four months, my time will be spent weeding and watering, harvesting and preserving. This is no lady-like, garden-gloves type hobby garden, but a real "provide food for the family" garden. It takes up the better part of one suburban lot and yields enough to feed a family of four, plus plenty left over for family and friends. There are five plots each about 30 feet long by 6 feet wide, plus we grow grapes and blackberries along the fence and have a strawberry and blueberry patch. On a second lot, we have a small "handkerchief " orchard of semi-dwarf apple, pear and meddlar trees. Since we are vegans (for the most part) all we really need to buy is flour, yeast, sugar and coffee and a few other staples. Unfortunately, we also indulge too often in a bit of cheese or eggs to bake with, hence we are not true vegans. But if we were in a bind, we could live off this garden, and in the summer, we often do, not stepping inside a grocery store for weeks at a time. Not only does that save a lot of money, it saves a lot of calories because I'm not good about fattening and unhealthy impulse buys! All of our plants are started from seed, including the onions, which make it very economical. One plot is dedicated to our favorite type of food, Italian. All the tomatoes, peppers, onions and eggplants are old heirloom varieties. If you are going to go to all the trouble to grow a garden, why settle for ordinary varieties that you can find in the grocery store? It's so much fun to taste something that perhaps the pilgrims ate. Each year I plant something unusual. Last year it was broccoli rabe, which was a disaster. This year, it's woad, an herb used for dying. So far the plants look like they are doing great. Oh! By the by, the roses I started died from neglect when I was sick, so my apologies to those I promised one. But if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. I'll give it another go and see what happens. What have I got to lose? Here's on of my favorite quotes about gardening:
"A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust."...Gertrude Jekyll
Pretty much sums it up doesn't it?
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
The reason I've been pondering the simple life, is that I got the usual call from S. S. is a career woman, extraordinaire. As a matter of fact, she told me that she'd like to work four more years before retiring, so she can say she worked fifty years. Her first question is invariably, "What's on your agenda for today?" How can I explain to her that the word "agenda" is not even in my vocabulary these days. Oh, I have an occasional appointment penciled in on the calender, but the days of the five-year planner are long gone. My agenda is set when I arise in the morning. If the sky is clear and the forecast says warm, I might do up the laundry. If the weather is really hot and dry, I might spend most of the day monitoring and watering the garden (as I did on Sunday). On a blustery day, the baking is done so the heat from the oven can take the chill off the house. Or the sun shining in the window, might highlight how dusty everything has become, so an afternoon spent dusting and waxing is in order. On other days, a particularly thought-provoking Bible verse, might send me in search of answers, and I'll spend all day researching and studying every aspect of it. I never miss the opportunity to enjoy nature or am too busy to talk (not gossip). Everything gets done eventually. Everyone gets fed. In other words, I am simply living.
Simply living applies to my garden too. When I had my other blog, I once posted a picture of my front garden. I received a few comments that it looked rather "wild". I'm pretty sure the commenters didn't mean it as a compliment either! Ha! But it didn't bother me any, because that is exactly the look I was going for. The front garden is completely designed around where I can plant things, being completely netted by the roots of two old maple trees. Although I'm not the most petite petunia in the onion patch, standing atop the shovel, I cannot get it to budge into the rooted ground. So when I find a little pocket of earth, I pop a plant into it. The picture at the top of this post is one of my favorite spots. It's my back steps. It's not the most beautiful garden, but I love it the most because it was completely created by the Creator. The columbine just sprouted there and the rose rooted under the porch and found it's way to travel up the wall, hiding all the ugly mechanicals that are there.Every time I approach it, it makes me smile. A special reminder to me that He loves me and wants me to be happy. Now if I were not open to the randomness of life, I probably would have tried to remove the plants and I would have missed all this joy. There are times when we need schedules and control, but there's such happiness in simply living!
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
1/2 C. butter
1 C. sugar
1 C. (8oz.) sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 C. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 C. sugar
1/4 C. brown sugar (I use dark)
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 C. chopped nuts (I use pecans)
Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the sour cream and vanilla; mix well.
Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; add to creamed mixture and mix well.
Spread half of the batter into a greased 9 inch baking pan. Combine the topping ingredients and sprinkle half over the batter. Spread the remaining batter over top and sprinkle the remaining topping over the batter. Gently swirl the topping with a butter knife through the batter.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
This is nice served with whipped cream and strawberries. Maybe for a Mother's Day brunch? I must confess we eat it plain and warm from the oven, when the cinnamon part is all melty. Tastes like a cinnamon roll. Well, I hope that you all are enjoying and will continue to enjoy your lovely May. Until next time, I will leave you with a verse from my favorite hymn, Simple Gifts:
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
"twill be in the valley of love and delight.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
First things first, what to dry? I only dry fruits, vegetables, and herbs that are grown organically and have been picked at their peak of freshness. That's easy for me, because I grow all my food, but if you don't have access to your own garden, a good source of such things is the farmer's market, roadside fruit stands, and a good reliable fruit market that specializes in locally grown fruits and vegetables. It's a colossal waste of time to preserve fruits and vegetables that have been trucked half-way around the world because they lose a lot of their nutritional value in the process of shipping them plus you lose more in the preserving of them.
There's three ways that you can go about drying your foods; solar, in the oven, or in a dehydrator. I have a dehydrator made by Excalibur which costs about $200. A pretty expensive machine, for sure, but really does a great job on things like tomatoes, peppers, and apples. In my younger years, I had one of those cheaper ones that you can buy at any big box store. It did an OK job on drying some things like mushrooms and peas, but I've been equally successful drying those things by the solar or oven method, so I'd say it depends on what you want to do. Sometimes you just have to wait to buy the quality product rather than settle for a cheaper one. In the meantime you can try solar and oven drying.
Solar drying can be difficult. The extension service says that you need 3-5 days of temperature above 95 degrees and very low humidity. Something we rarely experience around here. But if you live in a drought area in the south, you might want to give it a try. Just put your vegetables or fruits on trays, cover them with some cheesecloth and put them in a sunny spot that is away from animals and dusty roads. Having lived in some industrial areas, where there was so much pollution, I wouldn't attempt to dry anything outside. You need clean fresh air. Anyway, if the temperature drops more than 15 degrees at night, bring your trays inside, or else the dew will rehydrate what you are drying and may cause mold and spoilage.
Another method that I use that's kind of a cross between solar and oven drying is to set my trays inside my car. You know how hot a car gets inside on a hot, sunny day. Works beautifully for drying herbs.And I've also used it for peas and broccoli minced fine (we use this in everything; sprinkled into soup and salads, thrown into spaghetti sauce, and cheese sauces).
Oven drying is another method. It's quite not very energy efficient as you have to operate your oven for several hours. So I like to do this on a cool day, when I want to take the chill off. You need to have an oven that you can adjust the heat down to 140 degrees. Arrange you trays so that there is room for air to circulate around them. Keep the door slightly ajar to help with the air circulation, or if you have a convection setting on your oven use that. Rotate the trays every half hour. You must use caution so that it doesn't get to hot or the fruits/vegetables will harden on the outside before they dry on the inside, causing spoilage. Plan for enough time to dry your produce thoroughly. Do not stop and restart the process. This can cause spoilage.
There's little prep work to drying fruits and vegetables, but there is some. For fruits with tough skins, such as, blueberries, grapes, cherries, and plums the skin must be checked, or cracked. To do this blanche the fruit in boiling water for 30-60 seconds, then immediately plunge into very cold water to stop the cooking process. Light colored fruits such as apples and pears need to be treated with ascorbic acid to keep them from turning brown and mushy. You can find this by the canning supplies. A mixture of 2 teaspoons to 1 cup of water sprinkled over the slices does the trick. Except for mushrooms, tomatoes and onions, which will turn to mush, all vegetables need to be blanched. Just use the guidelines for blanching for freezing to do this. You can find this easily on the internet.
Once you have the dried fruits and vegetables, now what? Use them in soup and casseroles. They don't have to be reconstituted for soups. Just add them to the stock. As a matter fact they used to manufacture a product called Soup Starter that was just a few dehydrated peas, onions and celery, etc. To reconstitute the dried fruits and vegetables, just soak whatever amount you are using in twice the amount of water for a couple of hours. Remember to save the water. You can use it like you would vegetable broth. Of course, dried fruits and vegetables make dandy snacks. We love the flavor of dried corn. And the tomatoes are good too. A winter compote of dried apricots, pears and apples is a lovely thing in the cold winter. A lot better than something made from anemic fruit that is available that time of year. Although this was a rather long post, drying fruits and vegetables isn't a complicated process. As a matter of fact our forefathers, dried apples and beans (leather breeches) just by string them up over their fires.
So I hope that answers all your question. Next time I'll be back with some lovely things I want to share with you. Have a nice week until we meet again!