Mini Greenhouses

bio picI try not to get too wrapped up in too many holidays but do recognize the importance of ritualized celebrations and the social benefits of bonding with family and community through structured celebrations. My favorite holidays are the ones that recognize and celebrate the physical world around us.

Today is Imbolc (you can do a Google search and read about it if you wish). In years past I have traditionally planted peas on Valentines day. Once even in the snow! They did well in case you are wondering. But the weather has made some subtle shifts and it has overall been a warmer fall and winter. The three month forecast for this area is warmer than normal temperatures. We could still get snow but seeds are relatively inexpensive.

So, as a gamble, as an honor to Imbolc, the Gaelic festival marking the beginning of spring, I planted those peas today as a way to embrace this warming of the planet. I say work with what you have! We seem to be given warmer sometimes even hotter temperatures and making some shifts in your gardening plan will be rewarded.

A few years ago I took a garden gamble and planted a patch of bush beans at the end of March and we did not have a freeze and we did have early green beans! That was fun.

So I silently celebrated Imbolc, the spring-like day, and planted my Valentine peas, Tokyo longs (onions), a package of cilantro, a tiny patch of radish, and a three row bed of pak choy. The choy,  went under a mini hot house of clear plastic tub set in the dirt and held down by a brick in case of strong wind. Clear glass baking pans make perfect really mini green houses for small herbs and radishes.

I imagine that by the end of this month I will be eating some of that choy along with the rest of those goodies.

WARNING; Teaser photo! A summer tomato plate, yum!

WARNING; Teaser photo! A summer tomato plate, yum!

Bonnie appetite ya’all!

signature, Sarah

 

 

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Musings On a Spring Day – in January !?

bio picWishing there were current photos of the garden but it is January and it’s a little bleak out there. It’s rather confusing actually. The last few days have been blustery, balmy, warm, sun-filled and downright pleasant. But cold weather is coming our way again by way of the most recent storm from the west coast.

I did a major survey of the yard these past days and found the jonquils up and six plus inches tall, lilacs budding, iris popping through and a desperate need to pick up branches and other winter refuse.

We totally by accident acquired ten dump trucks of fresh wood chips from right of way clearing and strategically placed to mulch flower beds and garden plants and cover walkways. Check out some of these videos on the merits of wood chips. I believe we have clean wood and shouldn’t have any problems with it. Keep the chips away from your house and out buildings because of possible termite infestation.

In the process of learning about how to use wood chips in the garden I also learned about rock dust which I didn’t really understand. Long story short I will be adding that to the garden beds this spring. Between the biochar, rock dust (Azomite if I can get my hands on it reasonably), compost, a little wood ash, some gypsum and the wood chip mulch I am so looking forward to a super charged garden year.

Yesterday's bread - good and chewy but a little flat and needing more salt. And we will create a "proof box" to let it rise in as the kitchen is seldom anywhere near eighty degrees on the warmest day winter or summer.

Yesterday’s bread – good and chewy but a little flat tasting and needing more salt. We will create a “proof box” to rise in as the kitchen is seldom anywhere near eighty degrees on the warmest day winter or summer.

Gene made some sourdough bread yesterday. It was so delicious. Seems he used to make bread weekly when he lived “out west” years ago. Ay some point he gave some of the starter to a friend, Dan, who is supposedly still using the same starter to make his own bread. So Gene got some from him and sourdough it was! We obviously have some tweaking to do because it wasn’t really flavorful enough for either one of us. After some online research I for one am pretty overwhelmed with sourdough science! But carry on we will!

You may know I owned a bakery at one time. Years ago – mid eighties – for about six years I started the donuts late every night. It was a mom and pop kind of affair and we made a whole line of baked goods including breads, but not sourdough. So this is new territory for me and kind of exciting to be learning a new bakery thing.

I guess the big news today is this – the planting has started! Yes. I transplanted a half dozen baby cabbage and prepped a place for bak choy, radishes and cilantro which will all go in the ground tomorrow. The cabbage is under heavy plastic jug hot caps and the choy, radish and cilantro will be covered with a mini greenhouse clear plastic bin. Testing the temp inside an upside down bin today brought the temp to almost 90 F! Wow!

My first seed order came in yesterday and that was certainly fun! I ordered corn seed and a few other things from Botanical Interests. Two varieties of corn, Bodacious and Peaches and Cream both of which I have eaten and thoroughly enjoyed. This will be my first time to grow corn. Yes I know about cross pollination and will take precautions.

Still looking for some leek starts to drop in my lap. I’m not too concerned about the variety this spring as long as I can get some started soon. This fall I will try my hand at starting them from seed which is coming from Baker Creek soon. In the meantime maybe someone has a dozen or so to share?

Remember those near daily garden pics from 2012 and 2013 from Marideth's garden? Here's a reminder of that very special garden I worked in those years. I think mine will rival that this year!

Remember those near daily garden pics from 2012 and 2013 from Marideth’s garden? Here’s a reminder of that very special garden I worked in those years. I think mine will rival that this year!

Happy spring day in January! Hope YOU got some hammock time – I sure did.

feet in hammock 1

signature, Sarah

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Not Much Happening

I bet this post gets a bumper crop of looks with a title like that – “Not Much Happening“, and she writes a blog post about it. Ha!

It’s been cold. There was ice. There was snow. Now it’s balmy and damp.

Ah ha! Today does have news after all (I just remembered.) Today Gene burned a huge brush pile, buried the coals with dirt, now pyrolysis is doing its job and with a little bit of luck there will be biochar! Woo hOo! If you don’t know about biochar you really must check it out. I will put a layer of char in the garden beds and some on the Hugelkultur and if there is enough then the rest will be placed in a small cornfield.

Cornfield you say?! Yes there will be a small patch of corn this year. I have never grown corn before and am really excited about this. We have chosen Bodacious and Peaches and Cream. We’ll stagger the plant dates so they don’t cross pollinate and get two flushes of  great sweet corns. I’m planning on eating fresh corn till I pop then freezing the rest.

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Ghostly alien babes asleep under the canopy of squash leaves.

Sitting on the sofa awaiting the adoptive parents to come and pick up.

Sitting on the sofa awaiting the adoptive parents to come and pick up.

Remember the Cushaws from Marideth’s garden a few years ago? The giant man eating squash? The ones we named? And adopted out!? Well I am going to plant some of those babies out on the south forty (so to speak). They are sooo delicious fresh. So sweet and melt in your mouth dripping with honey good. A pat of butter and a spoon. And nothing beats a Cushaw steak. You can bet I will be writing more about them as they grow and will include some recipes.

You may suspect (and if so you are correct) that the seed catalogs have come in. Yippeee! At least a dozen have arrived in the mail recently and they are so beautiful and fun. They are already dog-earred. Earlier this evening I spent some serious time carefully nailing down which varieties I for sure want and which items to order from a few of the catalogs.

Then I discovered a big faux paux in the nifty chart I had laid out with my varieties, catalog name, page numbers etc., etc., etc. Had to trash it and start over so it’s not quite complete but it will be tomorrow. You bet’cha. Channeling Sarah there for a minute.

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We had guests a couple days ago. That doesn’t happen too often here at Moonmooring. An old high school classmate and fellow band mate (we two the best saxophone players to ever grace Kingman High School Jazz Band) stopped by on his way home from visiting folks in Texas and we had a mighty fine visit him and the family and shared a big bowl of stew and biscuits.

Gene brought to my attention afterwards that Troy made mention, more than once mind you, of all the vegetables in the stew. I smiled and said yea sure we eat a LOT of veggies. Noting to myself that I had kept it simple and included nothing too untoward. Onions and celery. Potatoes and carrots. Green beans and corn. Surely that isn’t too exotic for anyone. Ok so there was a handful of astragalus because it’s like winter you know and…health. But I didn’t say a word about the astragalus. Nope.

So anyway, Gene, he says to me, “I think Troy might have been expecting a little more meat in the stew Sarah.” And I reply with “OH that’s what that sure is a lot of vegetables in the stew was all about!” Troy if you are reading this I sure hope you have a sense of humor :)

They were lucky it had any meat in it at all, being the near vegetarians we are here. Unlike the squirrel or rabbit the neighbors down the road would have stewed. Just joshing.

A few days ago I broke stride and used an actual recipe. I ran across this recipe, checked to see that I had all the ingredients and cooked it! I was going to follow it verbatim but it seemed to have a few problems. You can see the corrected version below. UPDATE: No you can’t see it below. I’m tired and want to finish this post. Maybe next time. I was delicious by the way.

So in spite of the fact that nothing much is happening quite a lot has been going on. I hope you are staying warm and staying dry!

signature, Sarah

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First Winter Weather of 2016

Minor weather here, wintery nonetheless. Ice is never minor and that is what Mother Nature laid down first late last night, a nice layer of ice, topped by a bit of snow. With a little sleet mixed in. I imagine the roads to be passable by this afternoon but who needs it?

Without a drop of sunshine not much thawing today .

Without a drop of sunshine not much thaw today.

Plenty of provisions to get through a minor or major ice event, plenty of wood heat and plenty of good company by way of Gene. So, I am hunkered in until the roads are totally clear!

This gray day highlights the spent ice covered lavender.

This gray day highlights the spent ice covered lavender.

I've gotten creative with cloches in the garden. There are small kale plants under those gallon and half gallon jars. It's pretty cold and sunless. We shall see if the cloche and the straw have provided enough of a buffer from the cold.

I’ve gotten creative with cloches in the garden. There are small kale plants under those gallon and half gallon jars. It’s pretty cold and sunless. We shall see if the cloche and the straw have provided enough of a buffer from the cold.

I always cook when the weather is cold, snowy, icing me in or even when I am just plain hungry. :) Yesterday was no different. Started out with a package of frozen shrimp from the last gulf trip. Thawed and peeled we were going to just gooble it down with some roasted veggies on the side (those roasted veggies were darn good by the way) but it was a little tough. So I threw it back in the fridge and last night made a chowder out of it. The recipe is below.

You may have noticed by now that my cooking philosophy is  somewhat different than most people’s. I seldom get a recipe out, check to see if the ingredients are on hand, shop, then cook it. What DOES happen is this – I look in the fridge and pantry, see what bits and pieces of leftovers and scraps there are and create something new out of it. Then I write the recipe down and share it with you all.

That is how this chowder recipe came about. Chowder. Fish. Milk base. Other stuff. Yum.

Sarah’s Spicy Shrimp Chowder

2 – 3 medium potatoes, washed and chopped
1 quart cold water

3 slices bacon, diced
1 onion, chopped
1 – 2 stalks celery, diced
2 – 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed (then mince before cooking)
2 C chopped mushrooms (your favorite)

1 C cold water
6 Tbls flour

2 – 3 C whole milk

2 – 4  tsp. Tony Chachere’s creole seasoning (or your favorite)
1 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. ground turmeric optional (this will give it a yellow color)
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

2 homemade corn tortillas, slivered and diced

about 1 pound (more or less) shrimp, diced

1 C half & half OR whipping cream

2 – 4 Tbls. cream cheese, softened to room temperature

Wash, chop and cook the potatoes in the whole quart of water in a large pot until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a skillet until the fat is rendered. Add the chopped onion and celery. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes. Add the garlic and mushrooms and cook until soft. Do not burn the garlic. Add the seasonings – Creole seasoning, celery seed, pepper, turmeric, paprika – and cook a minute more stirring well. Turn off heat.

The potatoes should be done by now. Do not drain them. Put the 1 C cold water and 6 Tbls. flour in a 2 cup jar with a tight lide. Shake vigorously until the flour is well blended. Bring the potatoes to a light simmer. Slowly pour the flour water mixture into the potatoes stirring continuously and cook until thick and bubbly. Turn off heat. This will be very thick.

Using a stick blender, blend the potato water mixture to desired consistency. If the potatoes are unpeeled there will be small brown specks which are kind of nice. Add the milk. Have I mentioned stirring?

Add the bacon and vegetables to the big pot of potato mixture. Stir well, put heat on low. Do not scorch. Give it a stir now and then.

Add the corn tortillas if you are using them. You could instead use a small can of kernel corn.

Add the diced shrimp. Stir once in a while.

Add the cream and cream cheese and bring to heat slowly stirring often. Make sure the cream cheese melts. Taste and adjust the spices. (I use a pretty heavy hand for my own eating.)

There is a lot of wiggle room in this recipe. Use what you have, more or less, adjust the spices! You could even make a roux to thicken the chowder with instead of the flour/water mixture. I like the flour/water because it is faster although does take a bit of know how if you haven’t done it before.

Along with a sandwich just enough chowder left for lunch.

Along with a sandwich just enough chowder left for lunch today.

THE SANDWICH: Bean sprouts dressed with Ranch dressing, a couple slices of bacon, a thin slice of Asiago cheese, slivered onions, baby romaine all on sprouted grain bread. Happy winter day eating!

signature, Sarah

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It Was A Birthday

Gene had a birthday two days ago. I think he is officially over the hill now. All things considered “over the hill” is a mighty fine place to be when you look at the options.

He started the day with sleeping in while I made my famous Creamed Eggs Over Toast. This is one of the first recipes I learned as part of my Junior High School home economics class. Making a white sauce from scratch isn’t a kitchen task young people are often taught anymore. I consider it a boon to have learned that because it made a lot of other things possible – gravies, red enchilada sauce and others.

White sauce, hard cooked eggs and toast, delicate and filling.

White sauce, hard cooked eggs and toast, delicate and filling. A birthday breakfast.

Later there was cake. Not just any old cake but Gene’s lifelong favorite cake in the whole world, every year Mom makes it cake. Poppy Seed Cake. Oh so unusual and yummy!

It's a big densely heavy cake with a beautiful crackle across the top.

It’s a big densely heavy cake with a beautiful crackle across the top.

A fine texture and addictive unusual flavor from the ground poppy seeds.

A fine texture and addictive unusual flavor from the ground poppy seeds.

The day before baking your cake make the filling. You may instead purchase and use canned poppy seed filling, use 1 can. I like the homemade!

Poppy Seed Filling

Grind 8 ounces poppy seeds – set aside

In saucepan combine and cook until bubbly;

1/4 C   melted butter

1 C      milk

3/4 C   sugar

1/4 C   honey

pinch   salt

Beat 2 eggs well, add enough hot mixture mixing all the while to the eggs until you have used about half of the hot milk mixture. Then add that back to the pan and hot milk. Cook until it thickens and bubbles. Cool completely before using. Best made the day before. It will be very thick. Bring it out to room temperature when you make the cake. It will be easier to stir into the batter.

Poppy Seed Cake

Oven 350 degrees F

grease and flour a 12 C Bundt cake pan

In medium bowl combine the following, then set aside

2 1/2 C   flour

1 tsp       baking soda

1 tsp       salt

In a very large bowl beat the butter and sugar

1 C         butter

1 1/2 C   sugar

Then add the poppy seed filling to the butter and sugar(see recipe above, or 1 can), beat until well blended

Separate 4 eggs, put whites in medium metal bowl, set aside

Add 4 egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each

Add the following to the batter and beat just until blended

1 tsp       vanilla

1 C         sour cream

Stir flour mixture into poppy seed , sugar, butter mixture

Beat 4 egg whites until stiff peaks form, fold into batter (remember to wash the beaters really well before whipping egg whites)

Spread batter in the prepared Bundt pan, Bake 55-65 minutes

Cool 10 minutes and remove from pan, dust with powdered sugar if desired.

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To make

Creamed Eggs Over Toast

Hard cook about 6 eggs, peel and cool slightly. Make a white sauce with a few tablespoons of melted butter, enough flour to take up the oil, and about 2 – 3 cups of milk. Bring to a light bubble and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Season with salt and white pepper (you can see I used black pepper! and lots of it). I also like mine a bit more spicy and you are only limited by your imagination with additional spices. I like celery seed, cayenne, turmeric, fenugreek, cumin, paprika – not all at the same time but you get the idea!

Slice or chop the eggs and stir them into the hot sauce. Serve over toast. A sliced orange or a glass of juice will finish it off nicely. Bonnie Appetite!

signature, Sarah

 

 

 

 

 

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Icy Morning

Two very frosty mornings in a row not so surprising considering it is January. Overall in this neck of the woods it has been quite mild through late fall and early winter. A couple nights in the teens seem a fair trade.

Some lovely ice patterns near some runoff in the driveway this morning,

Lovely ice patterns near some runoff in the driveway this morning.

I've been hoping to catch some hoar frost this winter but have not.

I’ve been hoping to catch some hoar frost this winter but have not.

And on the garden front things faired nicely through last night’s 15 degrees. It’s true there is not much out there at this late date but I’m a diehard about harvesting every bite I can!

Still about a dozen small heads of broccoli and some side shoots. So delicious!

Still about a dozen small heads of broccoli and some side shoots. So delicious!

The cilantro has been quite happy with the cold weather. It puzzles me because some sources say it is a hot weather crop but mostly it just bolts at the first sign of heat. This old glass baking dish makes a perfect mini hot house - too chipped to be used or to go to the thrift store it is perfect for the garden. Currently looking for a few more of these.

The cilantro has been quite happy with the cold weather. It puzzles me because some sources say it is a hot weather crop but mostly it just bolts at the first sign of heat. This old glass baking dish makes a perfect mini hot house – too chipped to be used or to go to the thrift store it is perfect for the garden. Currently looking for a few more of these.

Seven kale plants under makeshift cloches - gallon jars and plenty of straw will ensure a planting success in the coldest weather.

Seven kale plants under makeshift cloches – gallon jars and plenty of straw will ensure a planting success in the coldest weather. The kales are about 4 inches tall and happy.

Inside that dark spot is a small perfect cabbage, crisp and delicious. Just perfect for one meal. You might  wonder at the variety. Me to. Next year I will do better in that department.

Inside that dark spot is a small perfect cabbage, crisp and delicious. Just perfect for one meal. You might wonder at the variety. Me to. Next year I will do better in that department.

Today is Gene’s birthday and I will make the traditional annual poppy seed cake. Photos and recipe tomorrow!

signature, Sarah

 

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Hugel… what…?

Hugelkultur it is!

A week or so ago this gardening technique ran by my awareness enough times to get me to take a look at it. I shared the info with Gene and suggested we fill a gaping hole in the yard with this git’up. And so he did.

A very tall pine tree grew for decades in the yard way too close to the house for my comfort and my son Adrian dropped the tree last spring. You may remember… The tree was in a stoned up tree well and I was left with a huge partially burned out pine stump and a rock lined hole big enough to park a Volkswagon.

Taking a break - Adrian and his dad and Gene dropped seven big trees this day. The yard was a mess!

Taking a break – Adrian and his dad and Gene dropped seven big trees this day. The yard was a mess!

One thing and then another and then Hügelkultur to the rescue. I’m really excited about this method of gardening and we will likely build more of these.

It’s a small Hugelkultur bed – about 8 feet X 8 feet at best. Big enough to experiment with and get the feel of how this works.

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I understand a Hugelkultur bed will mature around the third year it is built and can last as long as twenty years without any attention other than planting and harvesting. So I don’t expect much from it this year or the next but in 2019 it should really be primo!

This is what it looks like right now. A bit too tall we think so Gene will take it down about half way and put more branches on it instead of as many logs. THEN it will be covered with manure and dirt. And plants. There will be more pictures as we go along.

This is what it looks like right now. A bit too tall we think so Gene will take it down about half way and put more branches on it instead of as many logs. THEN it will be covered with manure and dirt. And plants. There will be more pictures as we go along.

We are well into January and as promised the seed catalogs are arriving. It has been many years since I’ve really perused seed catalogs and so I ordered way too many – but how can you resist such vegatative beauty? I am loving every one of them. In all honesty though I will probably only order seed from one or two of them, Baker Creek  being my favorite and fairly local of course.

You may remember mention of a straw bale cold frame earlier this fall. It was not much of a success. It seems that without outdoor cats various rodents found the straw bale to be a lovely place to snuggle into. I did manage to keep about a half dozen good looking cabbage starts that will go into the ground by the end of next month or sooner.

Looking through the cloudy glass of the cold frame. Next year - Plan B.

Looking through the cloudy glass of the cold frame. Next year – Plan B.

Happy gardening and healthy eating to you all!

signature, Sarah

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