Sunday, December 28, 2008

As Usual

Today I let the SB slog away in the yard by himself. The weather was fantastic, but I stayed in to do some cooking and cleaning and rest the weary bones.... did I mention his most recent task is digging the sediment out of our creek? 'Nuff said.

So I started by making this recipe again, though of course I didn't have all the ingredients, so I sub-ed some oatmeal for the wheat bran and switched up the flours some. All in all, it seems to have turned out fine...

Then I had half a stalk full of brussels sprouts from my neighbor and decided to roast them up. I got on line and found this recipe....Hmm, lessee, 1# sprouts (yes, that and then some), 2 oz pancetta (nope), garlic (yep), olive oil (yep), water (no prob). Cut the sprouts, add pancetta that I don't have so I use 4 strips of bacon cut in little pieces but I don't remove the "visible fat" (um, what are they thinking?). I throw the sprouts in the dish and put the bacon chunks on top and then sprinkle with twice the amount of garlic they say. Then I completely forget to add the olive oil, but since there is lots of yummy bacon fat, I figure it didn't matter. Roast at 450 for 35 minutes, add water. Stir. Not quite done. Add more water and wait a little longer. Yum. A close cousin of the recipe I was shooting for, and pretty tasty. Luckily, I won't have to fight the SB for them as he doesn't appreciate the sprout.

It is back to work for me tomorrow. At least for a bit. I am going to plan on several short days so that we can work in the garden in the afternoons. At least I have the time. And being away has been a huge treat.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tentative Good News

So it being a spectacularly gorgeous day (besides being Christmas) the SB and I were spending a good part of the day in the garden. After a half hour or so of working on digging the silt out of the creek, we took a break and I went out to have a look at the bees. There is a magic temperature, which I believe is around 57 degrees, above which bees will fly even in winter. They get out to air themselves out, forage if possible, collect water and poop. I cannot tell you how excited I was to see the bees outside the hive. They were a little disorganized, but out and flying and doing all the things that bees should be doing. I dashed in and whipped up some syrup for them and put it in the hive so they had snacks. Hopefully they will gorge themselves and be a little better for it. I really had very little hope that they were still with us, and I am hoping I still have a chance to get them through the winter.

The next project was to plant the fruit trees that we got earlier in the week. While we were planting, the SB got sort of tired of me remarking repeatedly how excited I was that the bees were still alive. He tolerated my enthusiasm though. He can be a good sport. While we were digging our neighbor (who, by the way of nothing, makes fantastic pizza) stopped by and chatted while we dug and planted. It made the time go more quickly and was a nice visit. We gave the trees the royal treatment. Kind planting, followed by a big drink of water, followed by spraying deer repellent (compliments of Santa Cho), hanging plastic milk/soda water containers on the branches (my neighbor swears by this), sturdy stakes set (to deter deer and help straighten the trees) and finally a dose of Roots, which is like vitamin water for plants. Tomorrow, I will be hanging the tiny bags of milorganite as recommended by Chuck at the apple farm. We're givin' it our all here.

Then the SB continued to work in the garden while I went to pick up our milk at the farm. Apparently, cows give milk on Christmas too. Lucky us! Then I worked in the garden more (this is how it goes when the SB is home, we get LOTS done).

I had to drag him in from the garden on the brink of starvation and on pain of missing a visit with our friends J&J who had open house over the holidays. We take any excuse to go by and ooh and ahh over their renovation, sit in the best potting shed in C'ville, and snarf up the general hospitality.

After that we went to do some cat and fish feeding for a friend out of town and had a visit with my mama and step pa and picked up the rest of the Christmas loot. Now we are tucked in at home, pouring through our new reading materials (the SB received a number of books and I got a subscription to Cooks Illustrated *swoon*).

All in all, I couldn't ask for a better day. It was filled with all the delightful surprised (yeah bees!), family, friends and good solid work with much progress. I hope your holiday was as lovely, but you are going to have to convince me it was better than mine....

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


The SB and I returned to the FUF on Sunday. In time to turn around and head toward the south of town for a teepee party to celebrate the longest night of the year. That would be winter solstice. I have celebrated the solstice with friends as often as possible and in my heart when these friends aren't around, but this party was a little different. First of all, as stated, it was in a teepee and it was below freezing outside. There was chili and snacks and a whole lotta booze, including a real live jug of moonshine passed around the fire. There was also a mean wind and a lot of smoke from the fire. We almost made it to midnight before my feet turned into popsicles and I needed to go. It was actually lovely though. Something about celebrating with a fire and only somewhat protected from the elements....

Yesterday was cold too, but we drove south of town again to pick up the fruit trees I had ordered from Vintage Virginia Apples. An Arkansas Black apple, an Elberta peach, Green Gage plum and Seckel and Jim Pile pears. We got a brief pruning lesson and I signed up for one of the pruning courses they offer in February. Chuck (the apple guy) told us that they hang bags of Melorganite near the trees to keep the deer away. We are all for giving that a try. Then Chuck gave us a tour of the cidery, which should be serving its first hard cider in April or so.....

I had planned on working for a few hours today, but my car wouldn't start. And the key froze in the ignition. I think it unwise to ignore those sorts of signs from the universe. Very. Unwise.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Eat your heart out.

This is a shot of the garden. Today. That would be DECEMBER people. Spinach in December. Outside. Without a greenhouse. Just row covers.... BooYA. I am almost too astonished to harvest. Almost. I may wait to share it with the SB upon his return next weekend. It is supposed to be warm-ish until then so I think we will be ok.
This is the garlic coming up through the straw. You can see the hard frosts nipped the tops off. But they seem to be fine. These are the Broadleaf Czech. The parsley are still struggling along and there is arugula and some other greens still happening. I must say using this stuff gets tricky when it is dark. Sorting out what is baby greens and what are weeds is tough. I'll have to fire up the battery recharger and find the headlamps.

The headlamp came to the SB for the holidays one year. My family is often stumped by the prospect of purchasing gifts for the SB. He is quite particular about the things he likes. And the things he doesn't care about he doesn't want anyway. The headlamp was given after hearing me tell the story of him being in the yard until well past dark. Often still mowing. In the dark. He is a multi-talented person that SB. Anywhoo, it will come in handy for winter gardening and duck/chicken raising and goat milking.

This afternoon I stopped by my across the street neighbors to borrow my ladder back temporarily. They are building a chicken house. I spied on it. It looks REALLY nice. Still needs the exterior put on, but boy howdy, that is a good lookin' chicken house. I'll take the SB over there while he is home to give him some ideas...

I have a lot of projects for the SB during his winter break. I suspect they will not all be accomplished, but I will hold out hope for some.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I slept in this morning. It was all toasty in bed with the cat draped across my neck. I couldn't breath, but I was warm.

I then went out to take Cho a coffee since she is workin' the market and consequently freezing her butt off. I then stopped by my favorite local wineshop, missing the LB, but meeting up with a few bottles of wine for the coming evenings. I then tootled off to the local butcher for a hunk of beef to pot roast. Then the hippie food store and then the pasta place where my neighbor whips up some fantastic pizza by the slice. We made a tentative plan for him to stop by for pot roast tonight.

Once home I started the pot roast by flouring the outside and browning it in a pan then putting it in the crock pot with some turkey stock. Then did a quick tour of the garden - I stopped by to look at the bees.... There are quite a few dead bees on the bottom of the hive. It is the kind of number that isn't an entire hive's worth, so I don't know if they are leftover from the late summer battles to protect the hive or more recent corpses of frozen bees. Either way, I expect that this means the bees aren't making it. I hate that it is so, but I really don't expect to find them there in the spring. Heartbreaking, but I really do feel like I have learned something and I am most definitely willing to give it another go.

I took a nap (per SHG instructions) and made some granola (oats and puffed rice with almonds, dried apricots and apples with a few pumpkin seeds for color). And I did a little knitting. I have been trying to keep at the knitting. I don't do much in the summer, so if I am ever going to get through the absurd pile of yarn I have stashed in my craft room, I have to knit in the winter. So far I made the SB a hat from the walnut dyed wool. It was going to be for Christmas but I am terrible about keeping gifts - so I will have to take a picture and post it when he gets home. Now I am working on another project that may or may not show up under the Christmas tree. We shall see.

The rest of the day has been spent trying to balance a 15 pound cat on a lap that can realistically only accommodate about 12. 3 pounds. Believe me, 2.7 pounds of overflow is enough to inflict significant damage. Speaking of Kitty.... he left me a very sizable rat on the porch this morning. I guess the fantastic light of the full moon last night was just too good to pass up hunting by. I can't complain, it was intact and it was a rodent. I much prefer that to amphibians/reptiles/birds or half of anything.

The super exciting news is that even with the frigid temps of the last few weeks and the nasty chill and carpets of frost, beneath the floating row covers in the garden right now, I have.... Spinach! yup. I really can't believe it. I thought I was going to pull up the row covers this afternoon and find lots of wilty mush. Really, it is remarkably lovely. I will take a picture tomorrow. I love this winter gardening.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


So you have all been letting me get away with being remarkably dull. No pictures. No links. In fact, nothing interesting here on the blog lately. So I will try to beef up the content here and get things rolling. I have been reading this book called the Four Season Harvest, which is excellent. They refer to this time of the year as the Persephone months and describe it as the time when things really aren't doing much in the way of growing, at least in the garden. I think I am definitely there. Nothing going on, especially with the long cold spells we have been having. I certainly have hopes that some of my plants will rebound when this is over, sometime in mid Feb. The last of the leeks were harvested over Thanksgiving and are now languishing in the produce drawer of the fridge.

In direct response to the lack of garden stuff happening, I purchased two additional books. Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning and Root Cellaring. The first is a collection of "recipes" from old time French gardeners who have learned the art of low impact preservation from their families and mentors - I think Amazon has it as an electronic file for cheap. The second is how to store veggies in root cellar like conditions even if you don't have a cellar. It goes through what you can store and how and what varieties you should plant if you want to store for the colder months. All good reading for the many MANY dark hours of the current days.

I also made a new bread recipe from a website called A Year in Bread.

I can't wait to try more. I have been making the NYT No Knead Recipe (also known in my house as Magic Bread) so kneading was something I had to recall from many years past. It was good though. I love the feel of the bread when it is near done and it is smooth and elastic and quits sticking to everything in site. Little bit of a work out too, since the recipe makes three large loaves and in all it requires quite a bit of stirring and kneading. I have also been interested in this phenomenon... I have heard about it in a couple of places and really wanted to give it a try... Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Basically, you make a big batch of wet dough and keep it in the fridge and whack of a hunk and let it rise whenever you want. My papa bought the book and I was waiting for the review before proceeding, then Bang!, my issue of Mother Earth News shows up on the doorstep with the basic recipe and instructions in it. Lucky me! When I get through the loaves of sandwich bread, I'll give it a try. (I think they have even posted it on the website so go check it out.)

Also on the doorstep this week was Backyard Poultry. From there and from here, I found this website on homesteading. I can't wait to spend more time with it. They have some great info on chickens.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Overly Social?

Wow, what a whirl wind holiday! I took last Wed off work to clean the house. I got the entry hall and kitchen/dining area in presentable condition. The SB came home Wed. night with long time good friend from Maryland in tow. We went to our favorite bar to meet our friend V. Frenchstone. Whooped it up - drank too much and stayed out too late. I spent all of Thursday cooking.... Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, grapefruit salad, root veggies with ginger butter, and spoon bread. And apple cranberry pie. And other things. My friends brought fried rice, oriental veggies and roasted bruessel sprouts. All were stuffed.

We had 9 or 10 for dinner and a fabulous time was had by all (I think). We ate maybe a quarter of the turkey.

Friday we played around in the garden and ran about 6 loads of dishes. I had plans to make fresh bread for turkey sandwiches. No dice.

In the evening, a friend of the SB came to C'ville. She was retrieved from the station, welcomed with local lamb sausage, wine and Virginia ham and home made bread then whisked to aforementioned favorite bar. Where we met another friend who was in from Alabama of all places. We love her anyway. We stayed out too late and drank too much.

Saturday everyone woke up and had too much coffee then went to a friend's for brunch with her husband and family and where they plied us unmercifully with mimosas and champagne along with wild boar sausage, fresh ABC baked goods and scrambled eggs. Five hours later we were stupefied with excellent food, wine and vibrant and intelligent conversation and still managed to get out to see the exhibit at the local art museum. After that we toured Mr. Jefferson's University, shopped for books downtown and had a coffee. Then we ate leftovers. That evening we met even more friends at the Tea House. Where we drank too much and stayed up too late.

In the morning we just hung out. Guest #2 is French and made up crepes which we stuffed with fruit, meats, syrup and whatever else was around. Guests and the SB left around 3. I did laundry and then went to have dinner with my friend J, cuz I love her and cuz I was tired of leftovers. And cuz it seemed more like a break from the intensely social weekend somehow.

Although I was exhausted by socializing, I went to my neighbor G.'s tonight and had a lovely visit, which somehow didn't count toward the overwhelming surplus of socialization. Funny how spending time with really good friends is like that.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Scratch that

So no risotto for me this weekend. I am still prepared, but my motivation began to flag Sunday after spending a big chunk of the afternoon outside. Examining the deer damage. Our lilac now appears to be only slightly healthier than a the favorite chew toy of a St. Bernard. The hemlock that had finally begun to rebound from the last deer attack 3 years ago now looks like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. Though with potentially fewer needles. I will say that I am a bit tired of changing around the shrubbery. I am beginning to feel the rage that some bird lovers feel against squirrels who eat the bird food. I am trying not to let it get out of hand though. And I am finding that my very expensive tomato ladders which do me no good because I can't grow tomatoes, do a fine job of deterring deer when you remember to put them out. Though I would rather deter some of those deer right into my (non-existent) freezer. And I found all this after placing an order with Vintage Virginia Apples for some new fruit trees to plant this winter. Hope/stupidity springs eternal though I suspect I have just purchased an additional $150 worth of antler scrapers.

Instead of risotto yesterday I made white bean and sausage soup with some chard using home made chicken stock. I must admit it was pretty satisfying. Simple and one of the 15 dishes that I can make with my eyes closed. I really MUST expand. Like her. I think her blog idea is brilliant. And her situation, um, somewhat familiar. I DO NOT have 100 cookbooks though. Really. Unless magazines count. You can't really count those though. They are slim. And if you rip the pages out, you can get rid of MANY of the pages. So they don't count. Right?

In other news, my first seed catalog arrived today (note to self, when this counts as news, you need to get out more). Can you believe it? Really, someone must be trying to capitalize on this economic downturn stuff. I read an article which said that 21% of Americans were going to be planting a garden this year. If that happens, I expect more people are going to think that ground hogs are not so cute and that deer, despite being beautiful, really need to be eaten - at least some of them.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


It all started last Friday when my friend's husband made risotto for us, it was simply flavored with parsley and Parmesan and homemade stock. It was soulful comfort food and perfect for winter-y times when I am looking for reasons to stand next to the stove and stay warm.

Fast forward to Tuesday when I was chatting with my neighbor via cellphone despite the fact that she lives, literally, around the corner. We were both extolling the virtues of homemade stock. I happen to have a lot of stock in my fridge and coming off the Friday risotto event, I was inspired. So I suggested a risotto dinner over the weekend. I don't remember ever having made it before, but I am going to give it a try. I am thinking essentially the same thing that was made for me, but with, some teeny chunks of winter squash stirred in, and possibly some crunchy bacon on top. Plus a fresh green salad from the garden.

I have a remarkable number of greens still. Chard, spinach, arugula, and some other lettuce-y sorts of things plus parsley out the whazoo and about 40 leeks. The greens are covered with floating row cover, very haphazardly though effectively. It looks like someone left a sheet out in the garden. This is the kind of thing that drives the SB nuts.

I wish I knew how to harvest and store these greens well. My guess is freezing is the best way, but I am out of freezer space. My future holds a chest freezer, I am sure, but maybe not until the basement bathroom construction is finished. I actually priced them out a couple weekends ago. If we really get the garden and the orchard rolling $200 will really be money well spent.

This winter gardening thing really has me hooked. There is no weeding, no watering, few pests and delightful and nutritious greens leaping from the ground. Unbelievable. I almost feel like I am cheating. The big drawback is that one will need a headlamp to harvest because it is dark by the time I get home. In spring and summer I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at my plants. I mean, really, I just wander around and LOOK at them. So per hour spent, winter gardening is considerably more time effective. We are expecting extended cold temps next week, so we'll see how the greens fare in the weather. I now have dreams of tiny little hoop houses for my beds. I think it would be easy to do and relatively inexpensive. But honestly, there is a limit to the greens one or two people can eat. I am going to have to figure out who I can barter with.

I currently have more stock on the stove. My mama was at Whole Foods. She often picks up a pack or two of organic chicken backs and necks for me when she is there. The other grocery stores no longer carry backs and necks (organic or otherwise). Unless it is at the holiday season - I guess people make stock for gravy or something. I had a lot of veggie ends that needed a home and stock is a rewarding way to use up the carrot and celery ends and long leek leaves and the papery covers of garlic. It makes the house smell fantastic.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


What she said. What she shows. A good time was had by all.

UPDATED: Her too!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Not Lucky but Fortunate

I have no chance at games of chance. Even when I feel sure that I am going to win. I don't usually play the lottery, but there have been a few times where I was absolutely SURE if I bought a ticket I would win. Nope.

I babysit a lot. And I play a lot of games for 3-6 year olds. Most of them are games of chance that build skills by counting, recognizing colors, etc. They are not games of skill. If my charges were a little older, they might believe that I was letting them win. I am not. If it is a game that relies on the roll of dice or spin of spinner, I will lose. EVERY time. Seriously. I am not a big enough person to let a five year old beat me at Chutes and Ladders because I want to improve his self esteem. I console myself with the fact that at least I don't cheat.

Once I won a door prize. I got to spend a couple hours at a local spa with SHG. I think that is the only thing I have ever won by chance. Don't get me wrong. It was a nice prize, it was a fun time. But if you look at all the chances over all the years, some might call me unlucky.

I might agree. But there is no question in my mind that I am fortunate. Fortunate that I was brought up by people who knew how to do things and taught me. (I remember being in my Dad's kitchen at one point and him saying "I am going to teach you how to de-bone a chicken and it is going to save you a lot of money in the future." And it did. We made stock from the bones afterwards.) I am fortunate to have my friends and family in a beautiful place that is vibrant and supportive. And I am honored to be associated with people who are dedicated to creating things instead of simply consuming them.

Tuesday's election made me proud to be an American again after a very very long time. I know that there are many hard days ahead, but I feel grounded now and prepared to move forward. And in all the ways that matter I feel richer than ever before.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Remember that wool I was dying? Me neither, until I went on the back porch and remembered it has been out there. It is definitely getting darker, but not the deep chocolate brown I was looking for. I exchanged the walnuts for some new ones in hopes of deepening the color. Luckily I had put a whole bunch aside in the event that my friend wanted them, but since she didn't, I just popped the lid on the crate and dug in. The squirrels have been making pretty short work of the ones out there. I was watching them today scrabbling around for them. Then getting distracted and chasing each other all over the place. I couldn't blame them. It is pretty much what I did all day - eat and run around in circles....

No quiche made. Went to the local bagel shop with the family, went to work for a while to get set up for the impending interview season, came home and shuffled around a lot, shopped for small jars for honey and other jars for dry goods for the pantry. Selected frames of honey to process, processed one frame. Went to a friends for snacks and chatter. Came home and read about bees. It is way too early for bed, so I feel obligated to stay up even though my eyelids are drooping...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Apples, Greens and Honey

I have a temporary renter right now. He is staying for about 2 weeks. This in addition to my long term renter. My temporary renter (TR) paid me for his rent today. In cash. It is EXTREMELY dangerous to have large wads of cash in hand while there is a food festival in the plans....

The day started by having breakfast with the TR. We had lots of coffee and chatted about C'ville and Austin where he is currently living and thinking of fleeing due to the heat. Then I did a little sewing for the LB (finally, JFC) and baked some bread and visited the bees. I took them some syrup, though it didn't look like they needed any more. They still had a lot, though there were bees bellied up to the sugar bar. I replaced it anyway so that it wouldn't get old and moldy. Things were looking pretty grim. It appeared that some of the honey in the super was disappearing. There were bees flying in and out, but they didn't seem to be greeted by guard bees. I was pretty convinced that the hive had already gone down and the bees coming and going were just robbers taking the rest of the honey.

I went to the Vintage Virginia Apple Festival with a heavy heart. I bought a lot of apples and some cider and skeedattled- which was good cuz I coulda spent a lot of money there. I wasn't in any mood for having fun. On the way home I decided to go back out to the bee hive and take the super off. If it was just robber bees getting the honey, I might as well have it. So I fired up the smoker and put on the suit and headed out while it was still warm and sunny. I took off the super and poked around in the hive boxes. It actually was looking better than I though. There was a mass of bees, though not huge, it existed, which I wasn't expecting, and there was honey above them, which is what they need. It didn't look like any of that had disappeared. There was even some pollen on one side of one of the frames. So I tucked everything back in but brought the super in with me. I am going to save some frames to put back out in an emergency, but I will process some more as well.

I went back in the house encouraged though still skeptical of their survival. I opened the box that came from Brushy Mountain Bee Catalog earlier this week and unpacked my division board feeder, bee brush, and pollen substitute. The pollen substitute is something like TVP, though I expect it tastes better. I have to mix it up with syrup and make it into patties. But the stupid recipe calls for weights of pollen sub.... It goes something like 1 part pollen sub to 1.7 parts syrup by weight. I have never been a math whiz and this taxes my mental abilities as well as equipment availability.....Why can't they just put it in 100 calorie packs like they do everything else. Sheesh.

After that I went out and picked greens from the garden. I know it was a warm day and all, but this is NOVEMBER. I think I am going to be addicted to this winter gardening thing. I will get an earlier start next year though. I have things covered with floating row covers right now to keep the worst of the frost off. Check out what I got.

Some of the very bright colored chard is from the VERY early spring. I am not kidding. I started this stuff called Five Color Silverbeet by seed inside in like February. I put it out in March or April and I have been getting Silverbeet (same as Chard) from these plants since. AMAZING. The leaves are a little smaller, but dang. It is pretty rewarding. Plus there are newer chard plants in the garden now along with some spinach.

I made up a mess o greens like last week. With bacon, a leek from the garden and the greens. And a white wine and chicken stock to get the wilting going. I plan to put this into a quiche maybe tomorrow. If I am motivated enough to make a pie crust. It has been a while. I also cooked up a mess o apples that had been sitting around sauteed them in butter and a little brown sugar and some cinnamon so that I can mix them in with my breakfast yogurt and granola.

Now I am going to babysit. Don't forget to fall back.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


So for lunch today I had some of my bacon/onion/greens saute over some leftover homemade pasta with a splash of homemade chicken stock to keep everything moist.

I plan on attending the Vintage Virginia Apple Festival this weekend to stock up on winter things like apples and cider. Many of the City Market folks will be there, so I am hoping for pork and cheeses as well. I wish I had an outlet a little closer to Thanksgiving....I think it would be great to do a locally infused holiday dinner. I am sure some of ours will be. The SB keeps asking me if there will be enough potatoes left by then to make mashers for our guests. He is still swooning over the super simple meal we made while he was home, fresh bread just out of the oven, hamburgers from grass fed beef, homegrown green beans and mashed potatoes with our own leeks (the sour cream and butter added didn't hurt.) I think he is hoping to recreate some of this for our celebration. I guess it sort of depends on how many are on the guest list. And I guess I should start thinking about the turkey. It really isn't that far away.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


So funerals always make me philosophical. Today was no exception, though I didn't know the guy well. My neighbor G. wanted to go, and I went with her. We decided to have dinner together this evening afterwards. I find that you get more and more philosophical after a couple of gin and tonics (in my case gin and bitter lemon- highly recommended) and a splitting a bottle of wine. Luckily, G. lives right around the corner so I didn't have to drive. I contributed to dinner some fingerling spuds and a leek and she did the chicken and booze and some bok choy with the leek. I made out like a bandit.

Today I also put my yarn in the "dye bath" from the walnuts. Leaving it there to see how it goes. I may add some more walnuts depending on how things look tomorrow.

I also made the last batch of tomatillo sauce which I stuck in the freezer. And I fixed up a mess 'o greens with some bacon and onion ready for the addition of a little pasta. And I made some chicken stock with some chicken backs and necks and the leftover onion and garlic wrappers and a little celery and carrot. And some leek greens. I am sure I will find a million uses for it. I always feel rich when I have homemade stock in the fridge.

I also harvested some honey :) From the part of the hive that the bees wouldn't get to regardless - so don't think I am taking from them something they could use. My gut still tells me that they aren't going to make it, but I am giving it my best shot... I looked at the hive today, and they have taken some of the syrup, but not nearly what I would like to see. And with the upcoming cold weather, I don't know if they will be eating much. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Stayin' Inside

Finally getting some rain. The good kind, that is steady and soaking. I went to the market anyway with my Mama. I stocked up on eggs and goat cheese and apples and squash. The goat cheese guy gave me a big handful of jalapenos. Apparently it was a good pepper year. I'll be making the last of the tomatillo sauce this weekend. I am also making granola (this time with pumpkin seeds) and some bread (with sunflower seeds) and some goat yogurt. I got all goat milk this week. The milk lady had her barn burn down a while back so the breeding schedule got off so the cows are a little behind, I guess. As my boss says, flexibility is the key to mental health. I'll let you know how the yogurt is. Plus, it never hurts to make life a little easier now on people who can help you in the future (clearly, the lady knows a little something about dairy goats).

Shortly I am going to meet my Papa for brunch and then we are going to see my nephew perform the part of a chicken in an opera. And later today it is a BBQ for a friends beau's birthday. Whatever happened to quiet weekends at home?

Do you remember the walnuts I am soaking? I almost forgot them, but the liquid is now VERY dark and the bag the walnuts are in is definitely changing color. I may soak my yarn tonight and put it in the "dye bath" tomorrow. Did I tell you I also added a few rusty nails to the bucket? No? Well, I did that last weekend at some point. I read that iron helps the color darken. Someone recommended the nails as I couldn't find any mordant without running all over town, which wasn't really reasonable given that I didn't have a car. Plus, who wants to buy that stuff when you have the same thing (essentially) sitting in a bucket to go to the scrap yard.

My bee mentor (who rocks) called me this week and gave me a wee bit of bee advice. Just a rearrangement of the available honey in the hive. He suggested moving some of the honey in the super down into the upper box, which I can do tomorrow as I expect the rain will stop by then. It will also give me a chance to check and be sure there is still syrup in the feeder. I also got a recipe for fondant from my baker friend. Fondant is supposed to be a good emergency feed, as it is a ton of sugar, somewhat hydrated, is stiff enough to put directly into the hive above the bees so they can get to it even when it is cold. It can be super expensive if you purchase it from your local bakery. BUT, if you have a cake baking friend like I do, she can give you the secrets and the shortcuts and you can (presumably) make it yourself. I'll let you know how THAT goes if I get to it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New Comments

Hi all - I fixed the blog so that you can leave comments even if you aren't a google blooger type. And I loves me some comments so dig in.

So yesterday I posted about the bees and got a nice encouraging email from TC who tells me there is still hope. I got this around 10:30 and so I dashed downstairs and made more syrup for the bees. He says feed pollen too, so I ordered that today. We'll see. Some hope is better than no hope. Thanks TC!

So as a warm up to the FUF, I went out to feed my "livestock" this AM. The current livestock being the bees. I will tell you, when the alarm went off, I greeted the day as would any urban farmer who had stayed up a wee bit too late making sugar syrup in the kitchen and woke up to a freezing cold house on a dark morning. I hit snooze a couple times and told myself it would be OK if I went to work late. I mean, I had a bee emergency and all. Then I figured that would be pushing my luck. So I dragged my ass out of bed, showered and had a discussion with myself about whether or not I should put on my veil and gloves to go put the feeder on the top of my hive. Normally, in making these big decisions I rehearse the conversation that I might have with the Emergency Room Doctor on such occasions:
ERD: "So, you're pretty stung up there, how did that happen?"
ME: "Well, I pulled the top of my bee hive off"
ERD: "On purpose?"
ME: "Yeah, I had to feed them."
ERD: "Don't you have a mask?"
ME: "Oh, sure, I walked right past it on the way out the door, but you know, it was cold and I figured the bees wouldn't be up yet."
ERD: "Well, good thing it was cold and that the runner on the street could spot your red coat, otherwise the poison might have been worse and blah blah blah....."

After this, I ask myself, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how dumb am I going to feel having that conversation?" The answer here was pretty high, but I did it anyway. Really, I usually listen well to my Dumb Scale Calculator, but this AM it really was COLD, and I was in a hurry. And I was right. Which does not bode well for the dumb scale future if I can get away with stuff like this....

Anyway, I am grateful for the input. And now that the comments aren't restricted anymore, you can all give me LOTS of advice!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bad News on the Bee Front

I took off work early today to come home and look at the bees. And I can tell ya' even with my limited experience, it ain't lookin' good. Very small population (not enough to keep warm over winter) and very little honey. I moved things around best I could to make things available, but I was trying to work fast and I didn't have much to work with... I have to call my bee mentor (who, btw, rocks). One has to work relatively quickly this time of year as there are many marauding bees about who, once the hive is open, try to go in and ransack it. Robber bees, they are. And they were definitely out today. You can tell because the bees from the hive will wrestle with them when they try to enter. I blocked up a big part of the entry way so they would have less to defend, and I am hoping that helps them get through this period before it gets cold enough that everyone quits flying.

I think the best course of action for me is to go ahead and cut and run. Take the honey that is there in the super and kiss this off as a bad first year. (I am getting a consult from the Bee Mentor though to be sure I am on the right track.) If there is any chance of them surviving with the honey super, I will leave it, but I don't think they will even be able to get there, I think they will freeze first because the population is too low to keep the heat up. And NO, I am not going to get them an electric blanket. I am a bleeding heart, and I am not really ok with taking all the honey and leaving them, but the other alternatives are 1. hope for a miracle 2. lose the bees AND all the honey (something will come into the hive in winter and get the honey, like mice or other critters if there is nothing in there.) So I am trying to be pragmatic and think like a farmer. This is practice for the Future Urban Farm, that will indeed tax my bleeding heart animal lover self.

This bee thing is tough. Just twiddling my thumbs while I wait for them to freeze or starve. If I had more experience, I would have caught this sooner and I maybe I could have gotten them more food in time for them to store up. Though they weren't really taking this food all that well... who knows?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Putting things away

In addition to my flurry of cooking over the weekend, I also picked a bunch of mint which is drying in the basement and made a batch of tomatillo sauce for the freezer. I still have more tomatillos, but I ran out of onions. I think I am going to plan on canning some of those buggers next year. They really seem to be one of the few stars in the garden. Tonight I just picked a bunch of greens. I have started reading this blog. I know, I know, why did it take me so long? After all everyone is doing it... the truth is, I don't really want to be tempted to spend more time in front of the computer, but.... this weekend being cold and all. Anywho, I was inspire by this post. And this one. What could be simpler? I can make pasta, and in a couple more weeks I should have enough spinach.

I am somewhat concerned about the manic squirrels. They are digging in my pots and in the garlic bed. I don't *think* they are eating the bulblets I planted, but who knows? I guess I would have to smell their breath. They are definitely tearing up the lettuce pots. Bastards.

I have some garbanzo beans cooking downstairs for hummus. To go with my "crackers" and to use up some lemons that are getting a little worse for wear. Who exactly is going to eat all this food people? I realized yesterday that I could happily spend days in the kitchen if I didn't have a real job that requires me to actually be present....

Oh, and I get to designate 2 people to receive free subscriptions to Organic Gardening if I renew my subscription. Anyone interested? Email me or leave a comment with your contact info.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Busy Week

It was a busy week here at the Future Urban Farm (FUF). The week started with the SB leaving on Sunday. At about 11PM. After about 5 hours of almost ready to leave. He is back in the big city :(. I rearranged my babysitting schedule to go to CLAW on Tuesday night, so I did my regular Tuesday sit on Monday, did CLAW and my bosses going away party on Tuesday and more babysitting on Wed. Also on Wed I found out that my car needs a new clutch which will be running me in the $800 range. Glad I didn't give up any of my sitting jobs this week. But, had I been a real adult, I would have been saving up for this so that it wasn't a huge outlay. Apparently I still have a lot of growing up to do.

Then Thursday my friend P. came and picked me up at work and we went to my milk farm where we watched ducks and chickens and goats and cows roam around. The milk lady had called me earlier in the day to say that she was running a little short on cow milk but had some goat if I wanted to try that. Initially I was leery. Which is dumb since I am planning a goat for the FUF so I said yes. We took the milk home and then went to The Local to catch up on gossip etc. Have I mentioned that I LOVE my milk? I mean I LOVE it. I love going to the farm and I love drinking it and I love that I can lay eyes on my cows. *heart* I also love goat milk, which is like fluffy whole cow milk. I don't know how to describe it differently than that. Mine has NO goat mustiness and it tastes almost like the milk has been gently but thoroughly frothed. Like really really good cappuccino foam, not the stiff foam you sometimes get, but the stuff that is done right. But cold. I may stick with a half cow half goat share.

Friday I pulled up my basil plants in expectation of frost. While out in the garden I noticed that my raspberry plants are blooming. Whaaaaa? Anywhoo. I bet last night's frost took care of that nonsense.

Saturday at the market I bought apples. And eggs. And panicked that next week is the last week of the market. What is a girl to do? I really cannot fathom eating store bought eggs ever again. Really. I also ran into someone I knew from back in the day. She is settled on a farm in Crozet with rare breed sheep that she raises and she dyes and weaves the wool. Dyes with natural dyes - she so rocks. When I got home I remembered that making a dye from walnuts was on my list of things to do. I have bushels of walnuts. Currently about two dozen walnuts are soaking inside a cloth bag in some cold water in a bucket on the back porch. I am considering that the bag is not yet dyed a sign that it isn't ready.... I think they have to soak for a week or two. And really, I probably should boil them, though I am afraid they are going to smell really bad. And with the cold weather, I don't really want to open the house.

Also, I am considering a workshop in mushroom growing. The SB thought that it might be a good move for the FUF to have some potential cash crops.

And here is an end of season recipe. Last week at the market one of the farmers was selling eggplant and peppers cheap. I bought a bunch and made ratatouille with lamb. It started with two small onions and a few cloves of garlic chopped up and sauted with a pound of ground lamb. When that was sort of cooked I added 2 mild and 2 hot peppers chopped up and about 6 cups of cubed eggplant. Then I cut around all the spots on the last of my tomatoes and threw them in as well. I added some bay and coriander and cumin. I added some white wine to keep the moisture up so that the eggplant would cook properly. I let it simmer until everything was really soft then I stuck it in the fridge for a couple of days for the flavors to meld. I ate some of it for breakfast this AM with cous cous and fresh yogurt on top. Yummy.

So I was avoiding the cold and perusing the internet and found this website with this recipe. So of course I had to try it. And people, I followed the instructions. Also, since I had to get the pasta maker out anyway, I went ahead and made some pasta. Which I haven't done in YEARS. Whenever I do it I wonder why I don't do it more often, as it doesn't take that long and the results are fantastic. I think I am going to saute some cabbage and onion in butter and dump that over this pasta with lots of salt and pepper... Real comfort food. Excellent with roast pork and almost as fine on its own. This comes from the old country.... Eastern Europe where my mothers family is from. Below are some photos I got before my camera ran out of batteries.

Cracker Dough
Pasta dough

The first crackers
The pasta drying on dishtowels

Saturday, October 11, 2008


The SB is sleeping. With the cantankerous cat. Pretty cute. The SB is home for fall break. I must say he is a little cranky for being on vacation. He wanted to get more done yesterday. I think having your car fixed, having lunch with friends, taking a nap and going to an open house is a perfectly respectable list of things to get done.

I made him potato soup last night. Leeks, potatoes and parsley from the garden. A little canned chicken broth and some white wine and milk (my new milk from my herd share at Majesty Farm). Topped with a little bit of Parmesan cheese. Tasty. My leeks are really lovely. I guess it makes having them in the garden ALL SUMMER worth it. I learned that there are summer leeks and winter leeks. So next year I think I will plant the summer ones in January and then the winter ones later, so that I can have both. I have been reading lots about winter gardening and putting critical dates in my ical. With luck this will keep me on track for the year. I am definitely planting fall stuff earlier next year. I do have some nice lettuces coming along but all my kale got eaten by slugs I think. And I think I planted the wrong variety of spinach, because it seems to want to bolt already. Live and learn. In the meantime, I am going to be saving my pennies and making a list from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fine, Fine Weather

It is so totally fall today. So spectacularly fall in C'ville. I went to the market with Mama this morning. Stocked up on apples and squash. And bacon. Came home and took a bath which is a real treat. Then made some cottage cheese dill bread and while it was rising I went to the garden and planted my three types of garlic. Because I planned ahead, the bed was ready and I just needed to rake out the tiny weeds and plant, then I layered cut grass and straw on top. I probably need a few more layers, but I got distracted and dug the rest of the potatoes. I did some general garden maintenance and planned for the duck house. I need to have a couple of options for the SB to see. I was also trying to plan next year's garden to some extent. Where are the raspberries going to go? They need to be able to spread because there is no such thing as too many raspberries.

We have what I think is a red shouldered hawk hanging around the yard today. He is lovely and quite large. I have also seen a LOT of bees out today. I have no idea what that means. I am going in tomorrow to see if anything needs to be rearranged before it gets too cold to mess around in there.

And I found an ad for this in my inbox this morning. The irony of spending $500 to disguise your chicken house as a trash can is not lost on me....

Friday, October 3, 2008

May I?

May I take one small moment for a teeny weeny little rant?

1. Why did I let someone talk me into joining Facebook. DAMMIT! I have other things to do.... don't I? I mean I thought I did, but...... DAMMIT!
2. Why oh why do all the cooking magazines have to do a special Thanksgiving issue? I mean, really, how many ways ARE there to cook a turkey? Really. A handful. I wonder if the editors all call each other "Say, Chip, we were thinking of doing the turducken this year, and leave the 500 degree roasting to you... we did it last year and in '01 and we want to be sure we get the proper rotation. Sam is doing the flattened fast roast and Frankie is doin' the deep fryer this year - the slow roasted stuffer is so pedestrian no one will go near it. You OK with this? Have your girl talk to my girl and they can work out the potato part of the business."
3. What is UP with the grass. A little rain, a little cool weather and BANGO, I am in the grass business. DAMN.
4. Why don't I have any chickens yet??

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Myth

I fall into this trap every weekend... It's Friday and it seems like the entire weekend is stretching in front of me. I'll spend the evening having a drink or two (ruby port tonight) and making a list of things to do. I will somehow convince myself that it is reasonable. Just a matter of priorities, right?

Yeah... It NEVER works the way I plan. I expect this has something to do with the fact that I don't plan time to mess around on the computer or stare out the windows or take a nap or other activities which take up a REMARKABLE amount of time. And THIS weekend. It will be raining. Which really throws a wrench into the gardening, but not so much the kitchen work.

My garlic arrived today. Broadleaf Czech, Lorz Italian and Shvelsisi-Chesnok Red (really!). So the challenges are to get it growing (apparently the best time to plant is in mid October after a light frost) through the winter, fertilized and growed up, and harvested, dried and saved until next fall so that I can increase my stock. Cuz I didn't get so much garlic for my $26. But I guess if I look at it as the seed for all the garlic I will ever need to buy in the future, it isn't so bad. The bed is sort of dug. So it shouldn't be too difficult to get it in if things dry out.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Finally we are getting a little more rain. It has been sporadic at best. Tons, then none for about 2.5 months and then 5 inches then 2.5 weeks then a little. What happened to the Virginia summers that included the 4:15 afternoon downpour that you could set your watch by?

It is chilly and fall-ish and lovely. I am looking forward to a weekend of winter type cooking. Maybe pot roast or bolognese and definitely bread. And with lots of chard in the garden, chard/sausage/pasta yummers.

I have already started scouring the SESE catalog and picking out what I want for next year's garden. So far, on first pass, I have found about $480 worth of seeds and starts. That should keep me busy through March/April. I must admit, mania does make this activity less cost effective. Hopefully on second pass I can make some exclusions. Especially considering the pile of seed packets that I have left over from this past year. Or I can put an addition on the house. In other needs for the garden, I have to get some floating row covers. That is so that I can keep my greens longer. Though with this weather, it seems like we will be having major frost before half of the stuff really even gets started. My bad. I started late on this. Who thinks "It's time to plant fall carrots!" on the 4th of July. Really.

Ok, now I have to come clean. I bilked the system. And I almost feel bad about it. I managed to get the LAST share of a cow herd in North Garden. While many well intentioned people were trying to make the world better for everyone, I was looking out only for me. And I got the. last. share. I can't wait to meet my sliver of cow.

I was emailing with the very nice dairy lady. I confessed my desire for a dairy goat in my future and she was very encouraging. She is a lobbyist for small farmers and is committed to helping people get dairy animals and promoting these small herd things. Anyway, it was nice to get encouragement.
I thought that if I can't get the city council to change the city code to allow goats, I'll buy some of those holiday strap on antlers for dogs and disguise my goat as a deer. We have plenty of deer in town and no one has outlawed them. Downright discriminatory. And in this day and age!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

So Long Summer

This morning I was out watering my chard before the bus came and I heard this little peeping noise. I turned slowly, expecting to see a maimed animal on my porch, compliments of my exceedingly bad cat. But it turns out, I had just rousted a hummingbird from the nasturtiums. It flew up above the flower pot and about 3 feet away and hovered there peeping at me for 30 seconds or so. I asked it what it was still doing here and encouraged it to head south with all due haste to keep ahead of winter. When it turned and headed off it was going west. Which is pretty much par for the course with my advice.

I don't know if it was one of the birds we had seen all summer or if it was just passing through and stopping off for a snack on the way. It was either a female or a young male as it didn't show the ruby throat of the mature males. I realize as I type the LB recently had a similar experience. You gotta wonder what is going on in the bird brain.

Monday, September 22, 2008


I checked the bees today. There definitely is activity. Though really, they are not going through they syrup like I would expect. The flights are more frequent and there aren't signs of robbing or incursions by stronger hives. The long and the short of it is that I am going to have to go in full tilt this weekend and take the whole stinkin' hive apart again and see what is going on in there.

I spent last evening with my neighbor. G is the sort of friend that one really needs in life - I am just lucky that she lives next door to me. She is British, and has a way with roses. She is an experienced naturalist and gardener. She keeps up on local and national politics and keeps the BBC as her webpage. She has an AMAZING cook book collection, a passion for prints, and a fantastic and fascinating living room. She is the neighbor that always has a cup of sugar, bottle of capers, a lemon or some ginger when your guests are on the way and you really NEED it. She can talk art with the SB all night long. She is wholly supportive of the chickens and ducks. And besides all that, she has some experience under her belt. Always nice to spend an evening in her lovely house sipping gin and bitter lemon and catching up on national politics, local gossip and personal plans for the future.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Wasn't it only a few days ago that my market bags were overflowing with peaches and tomatoes? Now, when I cast my eye about the kitchen, I see winter squash, apples and sweet potatoes. My garden is pumping out chard and the ever present tomatillos. And raspberries (STILL!) though I thought they would be gone a few weeks ago. I bought peaches a week ago at the market. They were icky. I guess they had been in cold storage since earlier in the summer and they have the most revolting texture. I resolved not to buy more, but the Vintage Virginia Apples folks had some. I sampled them and they were not the kind of peach you might choose in high peach season, but they are DEFINITELY the kind of peach you choose in September when the other options are holdovers from June. It just makes me appreciate all the more the role of diversity. Produce for different purposes... peaches for spring, summer and fall- apples for eating, sauce making, cider and winter storage - tomatoes that are all ripe at the same time for canning or periodically for fresh eating. It's all there, we just have to dig deep and sort through it all.

My spider has suddenly disappeared in the night. I don't know what that means. The web and everything. Gone. No visible egg case. Interesting.

I visited the bees today. Considerably more comings and goings today in the late afternoon than in the past several months. Wondering if the addition of sugar water to the scenario has gotten the queen back into top form. Though it takes 21 days for he bees to emerge. It seems a little early. I guess that ultimately it doesn't matter why. I will go out tomorrow and check the syrup situation and hope that they are packing enough away to stay with us through the winter. I was going to say that my fingers were crossed, but since everything crossable is already crossed for a particular local (who shall remain nameless) in her own particular transition, I guess I will just double count some of those crossings for the bees. Good luck.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dare I hope?

Not one to blog about politics, I will link to this, which at least gives me hope that even red states aren't fully red and that there may just possibly be hope - though I am far from betting the (urban) farm on it... Vote, people. Vote.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Because you were so patient, I decided to go ahead and load up my riveting photos of yesterday.
These are the spinaches coming up outside the door. In the other pot, I planted a lettuce mix from Burpee.

This is the granola I made. Yummy! 4 cups oats, 2 cups puffed rice, 1/2 cup sliced almonds, 1/4 oat bran and 2T brown sugar. Pour over that a mixture of 3/4 cup pineapple juice, 1/4 cup apple juice that has been reduced to 2/3 cup and then 1/4 cup of honey dissolved in it. Pour the liquid over the dry stuff and mix well. Put on a jelly roll pan (with a little oil or non stick spray on it) in a 325 oven and stir every 5 or so minutes for 25-30 minutes or until things look like they are toasting. Don't let it go too far or it will burn pretty easily. Add the raisins after it cools. Store in an airtight container. I'll be having this with homemade whole milk yogurt and some of the last raspberries of the season for breakfast.

Cho, turn away and don't look. Or at least prepare yourself.
This is a garden spider. I have one in this same spot every year. Normally I see her on the first of September or thereabouts. I don't know if spiders live more than a year. I suspect not, but it is uncanny how it is always there this time of year. It was a good day for this spider because she was munching on something. If things go as usual, we will have an egg case somewhere about before the really cold weather sets in.

I dug out our old compost pile this morning. Wow. Compost is some good stuff - gorgeous and rich and squirming with all manner of life. I mixed it into the beds where I was planting more spinach, some kale and more of the mixed lettuces. Then I did a half assed job of turning more into the bed that is going to get the garlic along with some of the straw leftover from the potatoes. I also put a bunch on my asparagus bed. The asparagus bed is getting special treatment this year as I didn't get any asparagus last year. I think I haven't been feeding it enough. Apparently it is a heavy feeder. So I didn't harvest any of the spindly spears and left the bed alone, other than weeding and feeding this summer. Well, I watered it a bit. I'll try to continue to be diligent. Maybe it will forgive me an send up big fat tasty spears next April.

I am already starting a list of things I need to grow next year. I think I will try sweet potatoes again. I spent some time today working on planning for ducks. I have decided that they need to be in the garden. Or at least that is what I think right now. I think the chickens will be mobile. We have work for them to do in other areas of the yard and having them on the go will be good. I am hoping we can put them to work cleaning up some of the MASSIVE amounts of chickweed (or whatever it is) that takes over our wooded area like a great tide of pale green slime in the spring. It really does have the look of the pond has receded and left this goopy stuff all over. But if it IS chickweed, then what better to do with it than let the chickens scratch it up and eat it. I am all for it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Market

I feel the end of the market looming. Mama and I went this AM at our usual ungodly hour. I ran into my neighbor V who introduced me to the LARD. Yes, people, real lard. For biscuits, pie crust and other delights. These of course can be made without lard, but why bother? We also ran into SHG for the first time in many weeks. She of course already knew about the lard. Sigh. In my mild panic about the market ending in a month and a half, I bought enough food for about 8 people. So, if you are around this week and hungry, come on by....

Today I am making tomatillo sauce with one of the few success stories from the garden. I still have lots of leeks and parsley, so last night I used many of my teeny potatoes to make potato leek soup with fresh milk. Deelish. I still have potatoes to dig, but I don't think the harvest will be great (very late and half assed job) and since they seem to still be happy out there and because I don't really have a good place to put them, I am leaving them in the garden bed. We will revisit them later. I am also making granola. I haven't made it in ages, but the rising costs at IY is encouraging me to branch out. The granola I bought for the SB before he took off cost $12. Um. That is too much for cereal people.

My bees are not eating. I went out yesterday to refill the feeder, thinking it would be dry, but it was almost full. Don't really know what is up with that, but my theory is that I must have burnt the sugar a bit when I made the syrup. I had a new batch whipped up so I made a new feeder from a Rubbermaid container with holes poked in the lid. I took it out this AM. I felt like I was going to a potluck with my little container. They seemed a little more interested in this, but I'll have to check tomorrow and see for sure.

I am hoping to get some more seeds planted over the weekend. And some general yard and garden work accomplished. Of course, it is supposed to be sweltering. I'll try to follow the shade around the yard. I have spinach coming up in one of the former tomato planters. I am cutting out the other tomato today and replanting there with lettuces or more spinach or chard or something. I also need to do some work on my garden pathways to keep the weed barrier in order. Yesterday I was out puttering and pulled a plant that was covered in bugs. I thought, wouldn't the chickens like this? I really need me some chickens. And some ducks. And since we no longer have the raw milk available (ending the last week in September), I REALLY need me a cow. And the truth is that I need to be a housewife. Actually, I really need to be an urban farmwife. All my work clothes will be black.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

I'm Back

You thought it would be weeks, didn't you? Admit it. But no, here I am only a few short days later.... Well, maybe a week, but who's counting?

It has been a busy weekend. Friday I had to take off work early so that I could go snorggle some baby ducks. A lady out by the airport keeps runner ducks and she has some ducklings. She let me hold them even though I was very clear that I was NOT going to purchase any. Not even one. Not even all 5 of them. I got to check out the duck layout and see some runners in action. They didn't seem terribly messy, but the 7 ducks have free roam of the yard, and the goat pens, so there is lots of space. They have a solid enclosure that they are comfortable in and I got to watch the ducks put themselves up for the night. Man those baby ducks were cute. Pocket sized. If they were mine, I would make myself a duck apron so I could pop them in there and take them out to the garden with me.

Saturday I skipped the market all together and went straight to the harvest festival in the rain. I thought I was bein' all sly by going in the rain thinking no one else was that crazy. But LO.... Wads and scads of crazy gardeners. Wandering in the downpour. I thought I would have lots of time with the speakers to ask questions and tap into their knowledge, but things were hectic because of all the changes and people were coming and going and everything was crowded. I got a great handout though on winter vegetable gardening and I am scouring it to see what I still have time to put in.

Later Saturday I went to the parent's for a neighborhood potluck. I was sort of all social-ed out by that point so I didn't stay long. Though I had lots of nice garden/chicken chats with my neighbors.

Today was spent puttering in the garden, doing some weeding and trying to figure out where I might be able to put some of those winter vegetables. I washed all the potatoes from last weeks harvest and picked out some to try to save a seed potatoes. We'll see how that works....Clearly, it has been done, I just don't know if there is anything special that has to be done... I cleaned the front bed and planted some kale and arugala. I have teeny spinach coming up in one of the pots that (until this AM) contained my persimmon tomato.

And speaking of fruits, I had the rapturous experience on Friday of tasting my first ever paw paw. I bought some at the market on Wed and forgot about them. They were almost too far gone on Friday when I remembered them. After trying them, I raced out to my paw paw tree to see if mine were ripe, but the are still hard and green. I checked again today and still no. But I am watching them, as I am sure the squirrels and raccoons are. Hopefully, I get there first.

The rest of today was spent with the bees and my bee mentor (who rocks). The bad news is that there is going to have to be some serious feeding to get these guys up to speed before storage activity shuts down in October when the weather gets cold. Like, I have to be ON IT and be sure that their feeder never runs dry. He tells me I am going to have to feed 30-40# of sugar in the next 6 weeks. So tonight, I went grocery shopping and came home and made dinner for the bees. I filled the feeder and took it out at dusk without the smoker, but with my gloves and veil on. That time of night things are pretty quiet so there were no problems. Other than they forgot to tip the delivery person. Ahem. Makes me feel sorry for the Dominos guys.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Wow. Another long break. I hadn't intended it to be so, but alas.... We got the SB off to school in NOVA. Then back for a long weekend, then off again. Give me strength. These transitions just about kill me, so I am hoping against hope that this is the last year of it.

Last evening I harvested the rest of the main crop of potatoes. I didn't mean to, but once I started, it was so darned much fun. The soil was so lovely I pretty much dug them all by hand, without gloves. And what I kept thinking the whole time was "Dang, I need some chickens and/or ducks to come and follow me around because there are some juicy lookin' grubs in here" And there were. Fatties. Nasty grey critters. Maybe Japanese Beetle larvae, but other things too. Large and small. Crickets and grasshoppers were hidden in the straw, there were GIGANTIC worms, teeny little ant like things and all kinds of delicious variety. Chick Collective, beware. I have decided that the best of intentions are getting us all exactly no where in terms of chickens. I am hatching a plan to motivate. Stay tuned.

I filled a 3 gallon nursery pot full of potatoes. They are "curing" in the back of the SB's truck. I need to bring them inside in the morning so that they don't start to turn green. I have been eating some of the earlier harvest. These little things are super. They have a stout little skin that is toothy and insides get soft and creamy when you cook them. I roasted some with a chicken and then made and Indian type dish with them tonight. Boil about 1/2 - 3/4 pound of potato bits until just tender, drain and set aside. Saute one onion and 2 cloves of garlic with a 1 inch chunk of ginger (all chopped). Add about a teaspoon each of ground cumin and coriander, chili powder to taste, a few saffron threads, 1/2 t. turmeric and a teaspoon or two of curry powder or garam masala. Fry briefly then add about one cup chopped tomato and either 2-3 cups of fresh spinach or 10 oz or so of thawed squeezed frozen spinach. Warm through, add potatoes and a little water or broth and stir together. Serve with plain yogurt or cucumber raita.

In other exciting news, over the long weekend, the SB and I went to see some ducks. We had a delightful tour of Split Rock Farm from what turned out to be a neighbor of ours that works there. She showed us their amazing and beautiful chickens, and the ducks that were supposed to be runner ducks but they got shipped the wrong thing. Turned out they got buff ducks instead. They are still cute and they are garden loving critters that hunt slugs and eat rotten tomatoes. And not so rotten tomatoes that have the ill fortune of being low on the vine. I am sure they would love the beetle larvae as well. This new neighbor is interested in having chickens - the collective grows. AND she hooked me up with someone who DOES actually have runner ducks and who has invited moi to come and see the new hatchlings. I am afraid to go. I am afraid that I will accidentally bring some home. They might sneak into my purse or pockets or get under the seats in my car. Or something. They are wiley those little ducklings. They can hide just about anywhere. Like the basement. Or my bedroom. Or in the cab of the truck out back. It is soooo dangerous. I will probably go anyway and just make sure that I don't have any pockets or cash.

Tomorrow I am going to the Central Virginia Beekeepers meeting. I am going to be reminded what I need to do to get my hive ready for the winter. There I will also meet with my bee mentor and talk about times to put my wire strung frames into the hive. Which will be SUPER exciting. My bee mentor pretty much rocks.

AND, AND this weekend, I am going to a Harvest Festival. And I am going to attend workshops. And I am going to learn about winter gardening and growing garlic and onions (my garlic arrives in two weeks), and about growing fruit and no till planting. This is all the more exciting because I thought I was going to have to work this weekend, but the event was canceled thanks to a possibility of a hurricane, which may, if it comes, impact the harvest festival as well, but I am keeping my fingers crossed. Oh, and did I mention that it is free? At least the majority of it and I am not doing any of the parts that cost $.

Cho-girl and I are going to the Fiber Festival the first weekend in October. Tag along if you like.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


People, where exactly DOES the time go? This is not a rhetorical question so please feel free to chime in. I would really like to find where it goes so that I can go collect it and bring it back. I am hoping it just takes a wheel barrow and a shovel, but if I have to rent some heavy equipment, I am willing to do so.
To revisit... The LB, Cho, and SHG and I all made cheese Oh, about 3 weeks ago. Maybe more. Here are some of the highlights of early in the evening, before SHG went and got her camera.
If you want the play by play of live cheese making, you will have to go here.

The spread. What is the point of getting together if you can't eat, drink and be merry?

The peach auditions. Three different types of peaches, all likely to be grafted onto rootstock by a local farm and on offer for sale as small trees in the spring. We liked the Beekman. As did my friends the following evening. Deee lish.
Heating the milk with citric acid for ricotta. Someone was watching the temperature, I am sure as it is critical. It must have been the LB. She was SERIOUS about the cheese. She did the research, bought the kit, gathered us, and kept us on task.

Here the curds are being ladled gently into the cheese cloth lined strainer per the directions.

Here we give up on gentleness and dump the mothers in there.

The long and the short of it is that we really need a cow. We are all totally in agreement on this.

The following day/evening/day was spent in Warrenton, visiting some of my chick friends from waaaaaay back. Six of the original 7 of my old supper club got together for dinner, in from London, New York, State College and The Ville. It was pretty near heaven, but way too short a visit.
After that, the SB was home again, and we were off on our usual wild ride of gardening, housework, etc. When he is away, I forget how much time this relationship stuff takes ....

Anyway, from the garden, we snuck out one evening and carefully dug under some of the potato plants to see if we had any new potatoes. We never got blossoms on the plants and I read that is the time you can start harvesting new potatoes. Well, apparently you don't need blossoms. Check 'em out!
These are fingerling potatoes of a variety called La Ratte (thanks Barbara Kingsolver). What do you do with a handful of small fingerling potatoes you ask.... Well, you cut them into more or less even chunks and boil them gently. While that is going on, you saute half a pound of Babe in the Woods local hot sausage with an onion and when things have browned nicely you add in potatoes and a big bunch of chard from the front porch and you add a little white wine or chicken stock and let the greens steam in there for a bit. Then at the end you wonder if there is enough starch in it to keep the SB from having to go for a 2am snack, decide no, and throw in a cup and a half of leftover cooked pasta and warm it through. While it is hot, you plop on top several spoonfuls of fresh ricotta (see above). You watch with delight as your dinner partner snarfs down enough food to feed a family of 8.

There is another small success in the garden in this year of very few real successes.
Some of the tomatoes planted on the hillside have produced! The yellow one is Wonder Light, the two directly behind it is a Tigarella (a little stripey) then there are the Black Plum Paste (with the greenish tops) and Grandma Mary's Paste, the sort of blocky shaped ones. Grandma's Paste is amazingly prolific with a minimum (no let's be fair - ZERO) care. I have been enjoying my potted tomatoes... Crimson Carmello (nice, but not the best tomato ever - the consistency is sort of mealy) and Persimmon (lovely yellow peach and very mild but not a great producer). If we had a little more rain, I think I would have been inundated. Which was sort of what I was looking for, but I am happy, I haven't had to buy much in the way of tomatoes lately.

In other news, we (the SB and I) spent and entire day and *almost* decided to build a chicken tractor. We opted out when we went to Lowes and priced it out at over $100. We decided to scrounge more and go for a permanent structure. Now we may be back to the tractor as the SB is questioning my long term commitment to chickens. The nerve.

We have also been talking a lot about ducks. What we hear is that ducks are messy. Apparently they fling water around like crazy when they eat and they poop. A lot. I am undaunted. I am sure that we can find leaves and chips and sawdust and straw to put down. And it gives me a good excuse to get some Wellingtons.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Try It, You'll Like It

Because it is hot and because just about everything seems like anything else is too much trouble, I will post my summer staple foods:

Requires the stove to be on
Tuna Pasta Salad. Not only cheap, but tasty. This is a variation on a recipe that my Mom has made for ever. Have I posted this one before.... Please tell me if I am repeating myself.

Pasta (penne, macaroni, or something else bite sized) cook this and drain it and run it under cold water. Chop up about 1/4 cup of red or mild onion and mix it with the pasta, a can of tuna (drained) 3/4 of a regular sized cucumber (peeled and chopped) 1-2 tablespoons of capers (drained and rinsed) add mayo until it is the way you like it and add salt and pepper. It is excellent really cold. Mom's recipe is macaroni, tuna, onion, dill pickle relish (instead of capers) and thawed frozen peas (instead of cuke).

Does not require the stove to be on:
One large tomato, 1/2 a peeled cuke, 5-8 olives, 1 inch chunk of feta, 5-6 leaves of basil - all chopped, and doused with about 2T. red wine vinegar, 1/2 t. balsamic vinegar, 1 t. olive oil, salt and pepper.

Let me introduce you to my new favorite blog... One of the residents who trained with us just moved to New Zealand with his wife and two small children (3 and less than 1) for a year. His blog is pretty entertaining. All about culture shock, some professional, but mostly culinary at this point. Check 'em out.

The SB thinks I am crazy for wanting 10 ducks. Actually, he doesn't think I am crazy, he just thinks I am asking for trouble from the City if we have too many. Perhaps he is right, but they have a minimum order of 10. What to do, what to do? Anyone interested in 4 or so ducks? I am already trying to think of names for them. The SB gets to name any cat we have so I think I will reserve the right to name the ducks. I am less committed to naming the chickens, so I can offer him that.

I planted beets and beans and some late season greens. Hoping to get some broccoli started soon so I can get it in as it starts to cool down. The beets and beans are coming up gangbusters and I just put them in last weekend. I want to keep planting more since they are so successful, but I have to reserve some space for my garlic. I can't remember when that is supposed to arrive, but I ordered it this spring to arrive at the proper planting time so that I wouldn't forget. I think it is September.

Still no sign of the battery charger. If I had a camera, I would show you how great my tomato plants outside my door look and how much my wee lemon tree has grown this year and maybe even a picture of the F.A.T. groundhogs that still seem to be infesting the place, though are not currently in the garden. And I would show you the berries that are forming on my raspberry plants.

Tonight we celebrate my oldest nephew's b-day (a little early, but...) He is apparently into chocolate these days, so I will be making chocolate ice cream. I wanted to put coffee in it, but figured since it is the kid's birthday, I should keep to more kid friendly flavors. I do have some hazelnut chocolate nutella like stuff that I am going to swirl in at the end. We'll see how that goes.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Not Dead.

The SB is up in Maryland working on projects with our friend H. The weekend is planned to be 4 guys out at a cabin carving a giant crocodile out of wood and drinking beer. I will not compare this with my more regular like 8-5 government type job, but suffice to say, it ain't like that. I get weekends off, dammit. So there.

In the several weeks he was home he worked like a dog. Unfortunately, that meant I worked like a dog as well. We started his time at home by buying some expensive and useful tools. A chop saw. And a screw gun. Then we went to work on the basement. We crammed stuff into corners and cubbies to reveal wall space and eventually hung two metal cabinets that have been in the way for about 8 years. We then crammed them full of stuff. That took care of about 1/42nd of the junk in the basement. But it is a start.

He also cleared one of the property lines of brush and weeds and has created a new bed for fall planting. The SB, ever vigilant, was able to stop the tree butchers from "trimming" our trees while they were in the 'hood, and even talked them into giving us some of the chopped tree refuse. We now have about 9 cubic yards of mulch piled up. Some of it now spread on the new bed to keep weeds down and add organic matter so the new plantings will have a good go of it.

Next we started to finish the wall around the basement bathroom. Oddly, our basement came with a toilet in it. No sink and no real walls, more like what you would find inside a bathroom... little stall walls with a curtain across the front. Those are all long gone and we found a pedestal sink and put that in. Half of the framing for the wall has been done for about 2 years. The SB put in more framing and hung the door. So now we have an unsheathed wall but we definitely have a door. Which is awesome since it get something else out of the way. More to do on that project, but progress.

Finally, last weekend, we put in half a patio. Under the porch we have always wanted to lay some paving bricks that we bought about 6 years ago. Over the course of 2 days we moved a lot of dirt and 3/4 ton of gravel and about a billion bricks (most of it more than once) and we are the proud owners of about 100 square feet of patio. We ate pizza on it to christen it last Sunday. Now it is covered in junk, but I am sure we will see it again someday.

I have done almost nothing in the weeks the SB has been home but work on the house, cook and babysit. My apologies to the LB, to whom I still owe a dress. Which I am working on today.

In the success column, yeah Mother Nature, who has been providing me with plenty of blackberries to go in my breakfast yogurt.

Thank the heavens that groundhogs are short, because I have managed to pick about 6 or 7 pounds of peaches from our tree this year. Most of them have a small critter in residence, so I definitely have to cut around them, but it is exciting. They are quite tasty and considering that I don't think I sprayed them AT ALL this spring, I think they have done remarkably well. I'll try to do better next year, but I think you don't get good peaches going the completely organic route. I'll have to do more research. I made peach ice cream yesterday. It turned out to be very good vanilla ice cream with chunks of peach in it. Oh well. Maybe next time I will follow the recipe and crush up the peaches. But actually, I think the beauty of a peach is sort of quashed when it is frozen. The flavor is better when they are warm from the sun. Last year I remember having my last summer peaches chopped up and mixed into hot oatmeal on one of the cooler fall mornings and it was pretty much like heaven. I am now considering a chest freezer and an ice cream maker as my next major purchases.

I planted more kale and chard and beets and some beans. The groundhogs don't seem to be in the garden right now. The potatoes are coming along. I have some teeny weeny watermelons. And I harvested quite a few small onions. Like the SB says. Good thing we aren't subsistence farmers. I pickled exactly one quart of okra pickles yesterday. I suspect some of them will be quite woody, but I thought I would give it a go anyway. If they taste good, I'll plant more okra next year. The groundhogs left it completely alone.

I harvested my first two crimson carmello tomatoes yesterday. To find that they really weren't quite done. But they were fine. I used them to make baked eggs. You cut off the top of the tomato and scoop out the inside and then put a little butter inside the tomato and crack a small egg and fill the center. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper and bake in the oven (or in my case the toaster oven) at 400 for about 30 minutes. I cooked mine too long, but they were still edible. I used the innards of the tomato to make a little salsa-y thing with red onion and vinegar and basil and put that on top with some fresh goat cheese from the market.

I have been dreaming of chickens and ducks lately. I went so far as to go here and fill out an order form for ducks (knowing full well I wouldn't submit it). I have to order 10 ducks though. Which seems like a lot. But, well, I am getting more ambitious. I think I could do 10 ducks - knowing that I would lose a few one way or the other and probably end up with 6. And now I am thinking I need about 6 chickens. I don't want to order chicks though. I just want chickens. Ducklings are another story. I really want me some ducklings. So I may have to wait until spring. The SB hopes to get a chicken house in for me before the end of summer, but I suspect that it will have to wait until winter break for him. He has so much else to do. I already have people lined up to buy eggs from me from chickens I don't even have.

I have lost my battery charger in the current chaos, so no photos. Which stinks, b/c I wanted to show you the patio and the peach tree and the baby watermelons. And I would have loved to show you a picture of the blacksnake we found on Fourth of July. The birds pointed him out as he was trying to climb the tree for the nests, but decided against it when all the attention came down on him. We saw him later crossing the giant field of just laid mulch in the new bed and shooed him into the brush pile to keep him from heading to our neighbors picnic where we didn't expect he would get much of a welcome.

I am going out to check on the bees soon. I haven't seen them in more than a month. I am sure they miss me.