garden update

I’ve forgotten to do updates on my garden. For a while this summer, everything was growing well.

I harvested a ton of green beans, edamame, and herbs, many of which are still in my freezer (the herbs in pesto sauce form). My tomatoes came in late due to the late planting so I was still harvesting them through October, and have some homemade sauce also in my freezer, although I mainly used them for pizzas. I didn’t get any squash or zucchini, due to squash bugs hopping from plot to plot in the garden and killing everyone’s plants. I only got a few bell peppers; some sort of bug got those as well.

I did a fall planting (also late) of peas, radishes, lettuce, and kale. That was mostly a failure. No lettuce or kale came up, and only two radishes.

The peas are still growing although no peas have appeared. I’m leaving them growing and will see if anything shows up.

I do still also have most of my herbs, which I need to cut and dry very soon.

Otherwise, I’ve cleaned out the rest of my garden and tilled some rotting tomatoes back into the soil to compost. It was an interesting summer since I’ve never done my own vegetable garden before and didn’t expect so much of it to fail. There are no chemicals allowed in the garden so I’m not sure of other ways to get rid of bugs. I’m sure planting everything late didn’t help either. I’ve learned a lot for next time though!

Irish brown bread

I’ve been on a mission since my trip to Ireland last summer to recreate the brown bread that is provided in nearly every single pub there. It was just so moist and delicious, perfect for going along with soup or by itself. I had made Irish soda bread before, but this brown bread is a completely different animal. I tried several recipes, tweaked them, combined them, and finally figured out that the ingredients in the US are very different than those available in Ireland. Specifically, you need a coarse wholemeal flour. It’s very important. Using the standard finely milled flour widely available here will still taste good, but it’s not the same. I could not find it anywhere here, and didn’t fancy spending $12 on shipping to order it online, but I was able to bring some home from a recent trip to the UK. With a final recipe tweaking… success!

Irish Brown Bread
– 2 cups wholemeal flour (or whole wheat flour if wholemeal unavailable)
– 1 cup all purpose flour
– 1/2 cup wheat bran
– 1/2 cup wheat germ
– 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 2 1/2 cups buttermilk
– 3 tbsp honey

Mix all dry ingredients together. Add wet ingredients and stir. Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake at 400F for 45-50 minutes.

bean harvest

There are suddenly tons of green beans.

The edamame bushes that I planted from seed are twice as big as the bean bushes I planted already started from the farmers market so now I’m wondering when those will start to pop out.

the first fruits of my garden

Or herbs, as the case may be. I grabbed some basil today…

…to make my favorite pesto sauce.

(If that looks like a lot, it’s because you can’t just eat some of this pesto sauce. You eat it all. Well, I froze half for later to remove it from temptation.)

Since I got my garden going late, I missed out on rhubarb. Luckily, my whole family in NY has it coming out their ears and just sent a bunch down with my brother to distribute.

I had enough to make this rhubarb buckle with ginger crumb tonight…

…and I froze enough to make the lemon buttermilk rhubarb bundt cake from the same cookbook later.

community garden

My town has a community garden. This is the second year they’re doing it and if you were in the first year, you had first dibs on the same spot for this year. I wanted to get in but I ended up on a waiting list since it was already full. If people hadn’t done anything with their plots by June 1st though, they got booted. Thankfully, someone else was lazy and I got their spot at the beginning of the month.

You start with an 8′ x 8′ plot. When they were starting the garden last year, people had to pickax their way into the ground. Apparently the lady who had my spot hired a high school boy to dig 20″ down and get out all the rock so I have a prime spot.

I wanted to do a raised bed but I needed to be able to reach all the plants so I did a U-shaped one. My dad helped me pick up the wood, cut and pre-drill it, so I just had to screw it all together.

I’m sort of following Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening method, so I wanted to do a soil mix of 1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 peat moss. You’re supposed to use a mix of different types of composts if you don’t make your own but I had a hard time finding any and ended up with mostly composted leaf soil and a bit of composted cow manure. Vermiculite is hard to find but a guy at the garden picked me up a bag at a nursery near where he works. Peat moss was the easiest to find. The proportions aren’t quite right but I think it’ll work out fine.

I bought most of my plants at the farmers market. It’s a bit late to be starting most things from seed at this point. I planted zucchini, yellow squash, beans, plum tomatoes, 1 beefsteak tomato, red and green bell peppers, basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley and thyme. I also planted half a packet of edamame seeds. I will plant the other half in a couple of weeks to stagger the harvest. I still have room for more though so I’m still thinking about what else I’d like to eat.

I still need to build one large trellis along the squash and add smaller ones among the tomatoes and peppers so I’ll be doing that next weekend. Besides that, all the work is done though and I just need to water and wait for my delicious veggies.

Lonesome Dove book club dinner

Last year a friend of mine started a book club. It’s just six of us and we take turns picking books and meet once a month at someone’s house for dinner and discussion. Sometimes the cook tries to match the dinner to the book. This month was my turn and I decided to make everyone read Lonesome Dove since none of them had ever read a western before. And because I am who I am, I had to have a themed dinner.

The main course was easy to pick: beef! (The book is about a cattle drive, fyi.) I’ve made this Glazed Corned Beef recipe several times and it’s delicious so I decided to go for it again. I like to throw baby carrots in there to cook too for the vegetable portion of the meal. To go with this, I also wanted to make sourdough biscuits in my cast iron skillet. I got the recipe from my Forty Years Behind the Lid: Chuckwagon Grub by Richard Bolt cookbook. (Sourdough recipe is actually available online here). I made the sourdough starter only a night ahead of time since it has commercial yeast and raw potato to feed it. I halved the recipe and made it in a quart jar. It started bubbling pretty quickly and overflowed the jar constantly for about two hours before I finally scooped some off the top and put it in the fridge. Note for next time: quarter the recipe or use a larger container.

Next was to figure out dessert and I was stuck between choosing vinegar pie or dried apple pie. The vinegar pie is also from the Richard Bolt cookbook (uses apple cider vinegar) so I know it’s good for cattle drives; this recipe has no eggs. The dried apple pie is from MaryJane Butters’ Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook but it also has a custard layer and a meringue layer, and a cattle drive probably wouldn’t have chickens and a dairy cow. It’s more of a pioneer pie but I was eager to use some of the free bushel of apples I had gotten this winter from the farmers’ market and dried.

I was slightly afraid of how either of them would taste though. Here is a review of vinegar pie in which the taster has to be forced to eat it:

“It’s … interesting,” he said, after his first mouthful.

Interesting good or bad?

“You can taste the vinegar,” he decided, “but it’s not a bad taste necessarily. It is strong, though.”

I thought it had a faintly apple juice-y flavor, due no doubt to that apple cider vinegar. Truth be told, it wasn’t the most pleasing flavor. I thought it a little peculiar.

“Mmmm,” said Josh gamely, rubbing his belly in an attempt at appreciation.

But if you were holed up in a dugout in Minnesota, ready to face the long winter, wouldn’t you appreciate the sweet end to a meal? Or if you were a sharecropper in Tennessee, looking to stretch your budget as far as at would go?

“Sure,” nodded Josh carefully. “But I don’t know how much more of this pie I’m going to eat right NOW, if that’s okay.”

It wasn’t okay. I slammed my hand down on the table and demanded he continue eating another SLICE OF HISTORY. He did. But I knew in my heart of hearts he was eating it because he was scared of me, not because he really liked it.

I also felt the name of the pie might be slightly off-putting. And in my The Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy by Barbara Swell cookbook, in the place of a recipe for dried apple pie, there is this poem from The Ladies Home Journal, September 1886:

“I hate, abhor, detest, despise,
Abominate dried apple pies!
Tread on my toes and tell me lies,
But don’t give me dried apple pies!”

I personally love old fashioned pies and would enjoy either of them, I was sure, but I wasn’t so sure about my dinner guests. I decided to make both and hope each person liked at least one of them. (I also decided to call the vinegar pie “custard pie” until they had tried it and hope the vinegar smell wouldn’t linger in my kitchen to give me away.)

So how did it go?

The corned beef was good, as expected since I had made it before. The sourdough biscuits were probably my favorite item of the night, simply because I was unsure how well my starter would work; it ended up working beautifully. After I took it out of the fridge, I added more flour and water since it had shrunk a bit but it took a while for it to start bubbling this time. I had to use pretty much the entire quart jar of starter for the pan of biscuits so I really do need a bigger container if I want to be able to make enough to keep some starter for later, which is the whole point of having starter. However, I would be more likely to be making a small amount of biscuits or bread than a whole pan and therefore would need less starter on a daily basis. I actually will be trying a different recipe for starter next time that only calls for one cup each of flour and water so that would definitely fit in my quart jar.

I would not make the vinegar pie again, at least not with that recipe. This recipe was cooked on the stove and I could not find any other vinegar pie recipe to compare it to; every other one I found was baked, some with meringues. My first issue was that I was supposed to boil the liquids, then add the dry ingredients, including some flour. What happens when you add flour to boiling water? It clumps. I could not work out all of the clumps and I stirred this thing constantly for 20+ minutes. It also never thickened like I thought it should either. I eventually just poured it into the baked crust any way and stuck it in the fridge for a few hours. It wasn’t that bad after chilling for so long but I still wouldn’t make it again since it wasn’t especially delicious either. No one knew there was vinegar in it until I told them though. It just tasted like a sugar pie but slightly tart and appley.

The dried apple pie was delicious. I love doing meringues and I loved the custard filling too. It’s a good thing I have lots of dried apples because I will definitely do this again. No one could tell the apples were anything but fresh.

I did something new for my pie crusts. I’ve always just done a shortening-based crust but both the Barbara Swell pie book and my Rustic Fruit Desserts cookbook recommend a butter-based crust. The recipes are pretty much the same in both books. The butter crust was good but it was more trouble than my regular crust so I don’t know how often I’ll use it. If I wanted to be really authentic for tonight, I would have done a lard-based crust. Alas, there is no lard in my kitchen. I do plan on doing a lard-based crust at some point because I hear it’s very tasty. I think only my family would be interested in trying that though.

1,000 books

I’ve apparently been buying too many books lately because I just reached 1,000 for my library. A complete works set of Jane Austen hardcovers rounded it out. I know the number because of librarything, one of my favorite websites. (Incidentally, I just got runner up in a bookpile contest there that I entered over two years ago.) Why do I need more books? I don’t, particularly. But you can get almost any book used on amazon for $4 or less, and in good condition too. I got a still plastic-wrapped, signed, numbered, first edition hardcover for $4. This is generally why I try not to go into bookstores, and especially used bookstores or library sales. It’s so easy to walk away from those with oh, say twenty or more books per visit. At this point, I literally cannot cram one more single book into my bookshelves and I don’t have room for more shelves so I suppose I will have to stop. And all this at a time when everyone I know is getting a Kindle or Nook. While I think those devices have their place (good for travel, ability to search, nice to have everything in one minimalist place), I don’t think I will ever stop buying books. I don’t just love reading, I love books. I like having a physical book in my hands, I like collecting them, I think they’re pretty, and I especially like old books. Besides the fact that I think ebooks cost way too much, you can’t buy them used, and there are limited lending capabilities, you just can’t get the same feeling with a Kindle.

Death (and rebirth) of a sewing machine

At the beginning of last month, I was sewing a friend a purse for her 30th birthday and with literally one inch left to sew, my machine broke. Nothing was caught anywhere but the gears would not turn. I sewed the last strap end to the D ring by hand, but what about my machine? I tried oiling and cleaning it, searched all over for anything caught in it or in the way, and came up with nothing. I took it to the SewVac in town where they told me that they’d do a free estimate but due to the age of my machine (32 years old), finding a major part could be difficult if not impossible.

Now I got this machine, a Singer Touch Tronic 2001 Memory Machine, about seven years ago. I was driving down the street with my mom and it was just sitting at the end of someone’s driveway on a sewing table, with a chair, looking like it was ready for someone to sit down and sew on it. I made my mom turn around and we went back and stopped. There was no sign asking for money but I went up to the door and checked that it was just free for the taking. The woman told me that it used to be her daughter’s but she no longer wanted it so I was more than welcome to it. Luckily we were in my mom’s SUV so we could load up everything including the furniture. The only thing missing was the power cord / foot pedal, which I was able to find at the Pitman SewVac. There I found out that my machine was from 1978 and it was the first computer-controlled sewing machine. I found a copy of the manual online and I was set to go. I’ve never once had a problem with the machine, although I had to get the pedal repaired once because it kept sticking, and I’ve made many things with it. I love my old sewing machine and have no desire for a new one. The older ones are much better made than they are now. Also, I’ve just recently found all the original accessories for it online, including a bunch of special feet.

I called back to get my estimate and was told Singer had the part and it would be ready in two weeks. Hooray! But after two weeks, I called again and was told the part was on backorder. Fine. Then they called me a few days later to say it was out of stock and no longer made. Apparently Singer can’t just tell them that the first time they call. They offered to give me money for it as a trade-in but a comparable quality mechanical machine would be around $300 and a comparable quality computerized machine would be around $800. I told them I’d think about it. And I did, for maybe five minutes. Like I said, I love my old machine and newer ones just aren’t as fun, even if they do have the same functions and more.

I started looking on ebay for the same machine so that I could harvest it for parts. One in excellent working condition had just sold for only $40 but I missed out on that. A few more came online but they were either not in that great of condition, cost too much, or were pick up only in Florida. I decided I would just keep waiting and looking and went to the shop to pick up my machine in the meantime. I explained what I was doing and asked for the part number so I could also look specifically for that. I also was going to try some other repair places in case they already had the part in stock. They did not have the number written down and the mechanic was gone for the day, so they asked me to leave it one more day and he’d call me the next day with the information. Late the next day I got a call saying that they had called some other parts places and at first, they couldn’t find it, but then one guy called them back saying he had it. Awesome! But why didn’t they call those places the first time? The manufacturer isn’t the only place you can get parts from. Any way it would take two weeks to get the part in, which was putting me right up to the week of Christmas by the time they fixed it, and I still had a few things to make before then.

I called at the beginning of Christmas week and was told they still didn’t have the part and would need one more week to get it in. I had to use my mom’s machine to finish up a few gifts before the holiday. Finally, today, I got the call that it was ready! There are two buttons I cannot use any more, the basting stitch and repeat pattern stitch, but that’s fine with me. I can’t wait to use it!

Winter cooking

When it’s cold out all I want to do is cook. It warms my kitchen and my stomach, and my freezer gets stocked up again. Some various recipes I’ve made over the past couple of weeks, most of them in one below freezing week:

Split Pea Soup – Could not find a ham bone at the grocery store but a friend had one in her freezer I could use. Next time, will check the butcher in town. I had to add twice as much liquid to cover the ham bone so I simmered it for a while longer to cook off the extra.
Slow Cooker Turkey Breast – Except I ended up doing it in the oven because the turkey breast wouldn’t fit in my small crockpot. I also cooked it in some white wine and didn’t have any onion soup mix so made up my own. Note to self: get a dutch oven.
Company Turkey Casserole – Had this at my grandparents’ house the week before and it was why I cooked the turkey breast to begin with, to have leftovers for this recipe. I also did this in my oven.
Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts – I never liked brussels sprouts before but these are so amazing.
Butternut Squash Soup – Always a hit when I serve it. I only use one package of cream cheese. I also take all the seeds to roast for a snack later.
Moroccan Spinach and Chickpeas – Saw this on a friend’s blog and it looked delicious.
Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad – Had some squash leftover from soup making and had to try this after the reviews I saw. I was actually not a fan but I might try it again and tweak the dressing.
Yam Smoothie – I had a yam to use and it looked interesting.
Chicken Pot Pie – I made this before but not in a while. Yum.
Red Potato and Cheddar Soup – Found some red potatoes in my cabinet that needed to get used. I left out the ham. The soup was okay but I think I’ll go back to my standard Herbed Potato Soup in future.
Buttermilk Pie – My brother requested a couple of these pies for his firehouse.
Butterscotch Pie – I did a graham cracker crust instead of pastry. I have to say, my meringue turned out amazing. I’ve only tried a meringue once before and it was a complete failure but I had some more tips this time and it was beautiful.
Veggie Quiche – Nothing is better than quiche for breakfast.
And of course, bread to go with all the soups.

Speaking of bread, here are some more that I’ve made from the book (although not all this week):

Philadelphia stromboli with sausage (using light whole wheat dough):

Pain d’Epi (made for Thanksgiving to break apart for rolls):

Naan (finally made this in my cast iron skillet):

I also made the Oatmeal Pumpkin bread although I have no pictures. That was really, really good. I’ve made the master recipe a few more times as well since it’s just so delicious and goes well with everything.

And speaking of cookbooks, another new favorite is Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More. This is right up my alley since I love old fashioned things and I love fruit desserts. It’s organized by season, so you can go right to the season you’re in and see recipes all made with fruits available at that time. So far I’ve only made the apple cranberry oat crumble (which I very appetizingly called the “crapple crumble” to the people I served it to), the gingered pear and raspberry pandowdy (a new favorite recipe and likely to be repeated soon since I have leftover candied ginger), the cranberry buckle with vanilla crumb and the apple cobbler with cheddar cheese biscuits. I will probably be doing a lot more of the apple recipes over the next week or so since I got a free bushel of apples from my farmers market.