Category Archives: Uncategorized

On being heat wimps

I have to remember that warm weather has an upside

The mercury in the non-greenhouse thermometer reached 86 degrees F. yesterday.  You’d think it hit 106 the way we were carrying on around here.

I will readily, easily admit I prefer cool weather.  We didn’t get to 90 all last summer and that was quite fine by me:  canning was still a sticky endeavor (and considering I was canning food for 135 schoolchildren as well as our own needs perhaps “endeavor” is an apt term) but otherwise it was an enjoyable year.  And now, well, now our blood is still thick and our entire aspect is crabby.

Case in point:  Five hens are sitting on eggs and, when they come out for their daily water, food, dustbath and, er, bowel clearing session they create QUITE the ruckus in the yard.  They cluck mightily and pick fights (!!) with everyone, and it appears to be catching.  When not molested by broody hens, our other chickens stand droopily with heads lowered and wings out, trying to take advantage of any breeze.  But once one gets a-squawking the others remember past grudges and the feathers then fly.  This heat and humidity has caught them off guard too.

T-bell the goat stomps her feet on the milkstand.  We got actual tears yesterday when our daughter realized her kiddie pool (six year old kiddie pool) had a hole, and her mood was only lifted when I told her she could spray ME with the hose.  The dog keeps losing fur and I saw one cat wrapped around the base of a toilet at one point in the afternoon.  And who wants to cook in this kind of weather, much less garden?

I suppose if we’d been eased into it instead of thrown in the boiling pot we’d have been less upset by how hot it was.  Go ahead and laugh:  we’re complete hot-weather wimps!

On literally being stuck

img_9534The turkeys’ and geese’s view

I am watching snow fly upward.   We are staying home today under a blizzard watch, and I’m watching my own little blizzard right now while everyone else sleeps.

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments yesterday.  I cannot tell you how gratifying it is to me to learn there are so many other people out there with an itch to dig!  Dig, and maybe blog about it!  When I started this blog endeavor, indeed, when I started this grow-most-of-what-we-eat thing, it was a rather solitary pursuit.  It still is a solitary pursuit, come to think of it; it’s my muscle, my rather like-it-or-lump-it decisions as far as what is grown and what is cooked and what gets preserved for later.  But to know that I am part of a community, at least a virtual one, is good for me on a cold day like today.

So thank you, kind readers.

img_9518Little Edie is not happy

On fruit

Because we live in the bounteous Fruit Belt I suppose I am a bit jaded about what the average person pays for fruit.  (One of the final straws of our moving from Minnesota was the $48 pricetag on a peck (half bushel) of Macintosh apples.)  I’m even more jaded now that I get much of my fruit for free.

Did you know that Michigan, after California, has the most diverse acreage for growing things in the U.S.? It’s true.  Agricultural commodities, from elk to ginseng to cranberries to wheat to apples and our famous cherries, we do grow a lot of stuff here. Considering most folks associate Michigan with our top-of-the-bottom lists (unemployment, home mortgage failures, etc.), I think folks should also know what we do right.

Child labor: a good thing

So Saturday we actually “went retail” and visited a local U-Pick apple orchard.  (U-Pick:  isn’t that the oddest term ever.)  Of course, most places can’t *just* let you pick apples.  Nope.  You can fish, run through a corn maze, get your face painted, listen to live music or tumble in one of those moonwalk things (that is, you can if you are small), and of course go on a hayride.  Eat cinnamon donuts, or a caramel apple, or a hotdog, and of course drink lots of fresh cider.  It was all a bit much for me, including the price for picking three pecks of apples ($24).  Then I realized that was a sixth of what the Minnesota farm wanted for the same apples, so I bucked up and paid them.  The girls sure had fun picking them though.

Wednesday photo

Very busy today. Just thought I would show you something pretty.

What is your favorite time of day?

Playing with one’s food: turkey poult

The reason I ask is I do not think I have one. I do enjoy sitting down and eating dinner, though. And right now it’s a very fine evening of complete stillness and long shadows as the sun tips away from us for the night. If anything, I think I am biased toward evening.

All the critters are out: the ducks with their insistent noises (they are ENTIRELY noisy and nervous when they leave their pen), the goslings and turkeys cutely pecking the rocks of the driveway, and all the egg chickens are at my feet here on the back deck, giving themselves and each other a preen. The slow-growing meat birds are flapping around in the chickens’ pen and venturing outside furtively: they actually like to fly, and their favorite game is to play King of the Mountain atop the feeder. This is a perfect summer evening.

I will say this about country living: You can develop feet of lead. (Or maybe, in my case, clay.) I don’t ever want to leave, so…we don’t ever really go anywhere. Surely it is wonderful having people over, entertaining and feeding friends and relations. But to get me actually off the farm and, you know, go out for an evening? It’s hard! And I blame the creatures.

My inlaws came over for dinner recently. My FIL was laughing heartily at all the critters as he couldn’t turn his head without seeing some avian drama or another, or see the new kitty Little Edie do something amazing like show up with ANOTHER huge mouse in her mouth (thanks, kitty!). My FIL is a whiz with all things electrical (he’s an electrical engineer) and dang he’s cheap: feed him, and ye shall get your electric work done! (I should here mention that I can do the electrical work too but I have a much lower threshold for wiring than he. Let’s just say to each his strenghts. I would rather weed and cook.) So I laughed when I read the news recently that there was an uptick in durable goods in the US (goods sold that last longer than 3 years) because I guess we just helped that number. The inlaws were over so my FIL could add a dedicated circuit and new outlet in the basement for our brand-spanking-new second chest freezer. They were on sale at Sears, and all our meat birds (plus the half pig and quarter beeve this fall from Providence Farm) mean we need more freezer space, for at least half the year. (The other half it will be off, a nice surface for me to, I don’t know, start my seeds or fold our laundry.)

So maybe it’s evening with me. Maybe it’s the stillness, the chance to observe, the chance to sit back and reflect. And you?

Until I feel up to a real post, here’s a few Wyoming wildflowers Tom snapped for me on one of his hikes. Enjoy.

Where are you, El?

I’m going to take a few days off.  Have a great weekend, everyone.

I (heart) long weekends

Busy weekend here! (Too busy here to blog, apparently.) Hope you are all enjoying sunshine wherever you garden. And look what the ducks learned to do:

Please excuse the poor photo quality, as it was taken through a window.

More fluffy cuteness

You know, they only are cute and fluffy for such a short period of time!

The typical scene.  What you are not hearing is me doing the mothering harangue.  “Honey, don’t squeeze them.  No, you should put that baby down.   Honey, he’s cheeping, he’s scared, please set him down.”

Chick complete with egg tooth

Ducklings on 11 June

and one baby on 27 June, with tree sap on his belly.

On the canning season

This is the time of year the above two devices get found in the junk drawer, washed off, and used.

Marital aides? Child behavior modification tools? Nope. These are a cherry pitter and a strawberry huller.

It’s funny: we went to three stores before we found the cherry pitter. It was in a local hardware store, and had a pricetag on it from the 1980s. The thing was rusty so they just gave it to me. Of course and as a joke Tom now buys me every cherry pitter he can find: notice the next picture. Lovely German engineering.

It is not fully cherry season, so I haven’t busted out the cool pitter. We’re in the earlies now, with the more tart and bigger ones coming around the beginning of July. But wow, is it strawberry season! We’re filling ourselves, and now I am filling jam jars too. Last night I made a lovely clafoutis of cherries and strawberries, befitting my adoration of the egg and All Things Custard.

Note: slapdash clafouti recipe is now in the comments!

Tell me this, though: why is it that every time I begin to can stuff I feel the urgent need to also dirty every dish, pan, bowl and pot and practically every dishtowel we own? I really need an adjustment period. Hopefully it takes me only one day’s worth of canning madness (but that is unlikely). It’s just wild to think I do some form of food preservation every night until mid-September. Tonight, it took too long. Tomorrow? I guess we shall see. It’s like anything, I guess. It takes the time it takes, and with a bit of practice, less time will be needed.

But inevitably I always forget how darned fussy jam-making can be. Luckily, the payoff is tay-steee.

Attention beekeepers!

Hum a bum buzz buzz

Holy Crap!

Just walked into my potting shed (also known as Shed of Dreams, like, I better get this x farm implement for future use and store it in said shed) and I’ve got bees!

I stopped (backtracked, blocked traffic) a couple years back to grab a super I saw on the side of the road. This was before all my research that says things like “don’t reuse old hive equipment ever,” etc. So I have it, in my shed, and overnight (literally) there are now bees in the super. And in the shed. And chasing me all over the place should I go near the door.

I am overjoyed, of course. I planned to get a nuc last year but CCD killed my bee guy’s hives. I am overjoyed likewise that bees are so numerous here that they’re finding an old super squirreled away in an old shed. It’s great news, mostly…

Well, folks: but how do I get my tools out of there now? What do I do? Especially since I have a load of new chicks coming!! help! move the super outside at night? what? buzz buzz

Happy Friday

Here’s to the end of a very trying week. Amongst other woes, I got a new laptop, as my six year old model is slowly giving up the ghost. Unlike a new car these things magically don’t just, you know, start working on their own. Considering I have the patience of a gnat regarding technical glitches, its arrival, and our daughter’s continued slow recovery from getting her tonsils out, have made this a week I will be glad to get behind us!

So…here’s hoping there’s a happy weekend ahead for us all.

On mountains of work

Here’s a perfect example of how behind I am: I haven’t had time yet to make the new greenhouse beds. Most of the leeks are destined for it, as you can see the difference between outdoor

and indoor leeks. The babies from seed were getting leggy and needed to get in the ground. Ding! it occurs to me that they can be transfered later (unlike onions they don’t hate being moved) so they’re now doing time, temporarily, crowded together in a corner of a lettuce bed.

It’s been cool lately, which has been something of a gift as far as the garden and greenhouse are concerned. Every day I spend about two hours outside doing various growth-related tasks: seeding, transplanting, mulching, weeding (which I realize doesn’t help the growth of the weed, but you know what I mean). I spend an hour before work, an hour after. And I am still behind. So the cool weather has bought me some time in terms of moving things out of the greenhouse. They get to stay in there longer until it completely warms up outside.

The cool weather has been a bad thing as far as the chicks are concerned. They are still indoors in the mini-coop and not outside in their tractor. (Today is Tractor Day: I will post about it soon.) I think I got them too early. They’re fully feathered out at four weeks. I have noticed their chests (breasts) don’t have a lot of feathers on them yet, so I worry about sticking them outside. They spend most of their times lying on those big chests of theirs, and, well, it’s been so cool so I am sure that’d chill them. So next year? I will not be in such a rush to get them.

Two hours of garden work a day sure sounds like a lot of time, I am sure, to many of you out there. The time to the task at hand is a constant thing. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but those two hours aren’t doing a great job of knocking down that mountain of work! Of course I am the only person to blame for this work… Either way, I think I need to take a day or two off of my job just to feel like I am pulling even.

And then, I will come up with another scheme, and then I will be back where I started….

Some answers to your questions

1. Like chicken, only better (richer)

2. Braised in a huge dutch oven for 2 hours at 375* on a bed of leeks, dried/fresh herbs, white wine and veg stock; he was still kind of tough; lots of breast meat

3. I am not that good at plucking. Then again, I hate shelling peas and beans too: I think it’s the time required, not the task at hand

4. Tom wanted nothing to do with it but the eating. At one time he yelled down from his upstairs window: “Is it safe yet?”

5. The guineas can still count. The three hens are bemoaning the loss of their leader and are still calling despondently.  I hope their small brains can forget

6. The other chickens, however, are very happy!

7.  I don’t think I have ever worked so hard for a meal

Counting our chickens

We have done some thinking about our poor yard birds. With Bonnie’s unexpected death, I am beginning to think that we need to contain our birds completely.

As it is now, I jump up at any guinea squawk, dog at my side, weapon in hand, to rush forth and defend the Chicken Homeland. If you know anything about guineas, they put Chicken Little to shame as far as their anxiety level. They are alarmists in the extreme. That said, when they do get to hollering, there usually is a cause. The dog who killed Bonnie has come back at least twice so we are right to worry.

For a household of three egg eaters, three to four chickens is more than enough to keep us happily in eggs all year. Chickens are highly social animals who psychologically need at least one but preferably two feathered friends living with them. Three chickens, also, won’t completely trash a garden. Three then would be our magic number for contained, non free-range hens. We have six chickens, and four guineas. I won’t be thinning out the chicken ranks, as these girls are our pets. The guineas, though, are not pets, and, if I will be locking the chickens up, the reason for having them (i.e., free-ranging chicken watchdogs) is gone. Sigh. Poor guineas. They’ve just begun to lay again their odd pointy thick-shelled eggs.

I am really sad to have to lock our girls up permanently. Poor chookies. (I keep thinking about prison jokes and parole humor here: dang, I’m sorry: I am always whistling past the graveyard. You should see me at a funeral.) The chickens will get let out often enough, I suppose, when I am outside, but…there really are too many threats out there.

In the immortal words of H.I. McDunnough, “Sometimes it’s a hard world for small things.”

The kindest cut


Oh mercy

One heartbreaking thing about seed-starting is those cute little green babies are just crying out for your love and care.

I say, get out the scissors.

Seriously: if you sow more than one seed per pot, you’ll need to thin them out to ensure that someone has the best opportunity for growth. You might be tempted to pull out the weaklings, but stop yourself. Their roots are most likely intertwined, and you’ll damage the survivor. So just give the to-be-thinned ones a snip!

And then, of course, you can eat them. (Maybe not the tomatoes, though.)

I tend to oversow old seed, like these Early Purple Sprouting broccoli pictured above.  I will let the spared few get another inch taller before I transplant them into bigger pots…or into the greenhouse itself.  (These guys can take the cold nights in the greenhouse.)

Another seedling tip:  I use water from my edible sprouts to water them.  No sense in letting those nutrients go down the drain.  What, you’re not woo-woo enough to grow your own sprouts?  Then use the water you used to steam your veggies or soak your beans!  Dilute it 2:1 first, though.

Birds at the feeders

I don’t think Pauline counts as a wild bird.

Mud Season has begun


Snow is still more picturesque than mud

So Saturday I stepped outside into the sunshine and said, Wow, it smells like spring! It was still chilly, and still so much snow on the ground that the chickens were despondently digging up their coop floor to meet their need to scratch.

Sunday, I stepped outside into the sunshine and said, Darn, it smells like spring! and I spent the day watching things readily melt. Bye-bye igloo. Hello 90* weather in the greenhouse.

Monday morning, it’s 50* and pouring. I had to turn on the air conditioning in the car to defog it enough to see. I needed my wellies just to get to the garage.

Not that I am complaining about spring’s rushed arrival; I really am not. I’d prefer, though, a less jarring transition. (Now watch: we’ll get a blizzard next week.)

When life hands you lemons

Okay, maybe not lemons, but how about a lot of snow? We’ve endured a minimum of one snow day from school a week for the last 5 weeks. We’ve had a LOT of snow this year. It makes one a little stircrazy. So, this is my husband’s answer:




So then I asked my daughter to model the greens I had just pulled out of the greenhouse, as a point of incongruity:


but I did not ask her to eat them (yet). And we’re, what, 22 days from spring?

On memes


The first salad of February

Friday was our third snow day in eight days. Crazy.

It was also Tag El for a Meme Day, it would appear. Pattie hit me for the 7 Random Things meme; seeing as I have done this one twice before and really don’t think you all are interested in Things 15-21 That You Don’t Know About Me, so I will simply rehash my other two. (Yes, it’s cheating. Oh well.) Danielle, though, hit me with one I hadn’t even seen before, much less fallen victim to. This one is an Archive meme wherein you cite some of your own favorite posts in five categories. This one has legs, I thought; maybe I will try this…if only because I am sure many of you haven’t the patience to backread 500-odd posts. I’ve put the rules of this one at the bottom.

Confession. When I think “meme,” I don’t think “Meem,” I think “memememeMEEE” because, frankly, that’s what they’re mostly about. Snore-boring, in other words. But I take my hat off to Pattie and Danielle. These are two selfless individuals who regularly blog and work for greater change, greater awareness of food and the making of food. Pattie works to make everyone consider themselves part of a foodshed: we’re all connected, she says. She is also gung-ho to get people gardening and has begun a Victory Garden quest for us. Danielle’s love of food and family have led her to do what we did: uproot and move to the country for a better life. She’s a lot more selfless about it in that she runs her own CSA. (Me? I won’t part with my veggies unless I really LIKE you.)

So here’s my take on these memes (remember, ME figures highly, sigh).

Family: One’s family should be the raison d’être of anything they do. I don’t blather on about my family much here. I’m a fairly private person. But moving to the farm was done to put magic into our daily existence, and this post exemplifies it.

Friends: I don’t mention real, actual, flesh-and-blood friends much here, but my friend Tim has consistently tried to keep me honest. He really thinks this nation’s issues with food are positively psychotic, and I readily agree.

About Me: There is one post that defines me and my beliefs absolutely, and it is this one. I garden for the food. It might be the only socially acceptable form of gluttony. But I still scratch my head often about how little our society values what it eats, and I was really on a tear about it a year ago(1, 2, 3, 4, 5). I still wonder, but I think I have moved more into the Let Them Eat Twinkies camp; maybe I have simply lost hope that America’s redemption will be found in a Brandywine tomato or a hybrid car or a compact fluorescent lightbulb.

Something I Love: No surprise, folks: it’s compost. It’s more about the compost, though: it’s about the circle of life here, about befriending things you don’t see. It’s as close to faith as I get.

Wildcard: It’s here I will answer Pattie’s call to the 7 Random Things. I answered Monica’s call to a 6 Weird Things, and then Tracy tagged me for a gardening-related meme in the 7 Random Things.

(Archive Meme Instructions: Go back through your archives and post the links to your five favorite blog posts that you’ve written. … but there is a catch: Link 1 must be about family. Link 2 must be about friends. Link 3 must be about yourself, who you are… what you’re all about. Link 4 must be about something you love. Link 5 can be anything you choose.) I am thinking heavily if I want to force people to do this meme. It is useful, though; I might just tag Pattie back with it!



Red chard

I went out into the main gardens today just to see what’s going on. It had been snowcovered until our huge thaw last weekend, and I hadn’t been out there for a while. You know, you just gotta take your hat off to certain plants’ will to live: despite snow and sleet, despite a low temperature of 11*F, despite winds and lack of cover, this is what I saw today. Kinda neat, huh?


Bibb lettuce




And how’s that working out for you?


And it won’t make me sick: greenhouse broccoli

You’re supposed to ask the above phrase in a droll, sarcastic manner. And what is it you are asking about? The all-local, mostly-home-raised diet that I have imposed on my family.

And I will say to you: It is going well. It’s when I eat nonlocal that all hell breaks loose.

Frankly, this local grub dealio is going better than I thought, especially since I added meat back into the diet. I had rather forgotten how stupidly easy meat was to cook: there’s no chopping, and hardly any prep at all, really. It’s kind of boring, frankly, to an aspiring alchemist like myself: I had, for so many years, exacted the absolute last drop of flavor out of simple vegetables, beans and grains that meat cooking is…not terribly challenging. (And no, I haven’t done a standing rib roast or fired up a bain marie yet, so I suppose it could be harder if I wasn’t just roasting or stewing things.) But meat aside, my vegetable growing choices for next year’s gardens are becoming terribly clear, especially in the root cellar department. My poor root cellar is being sorely taxed.

More Root Crops, especially Carrots. More Cabbage, More Head Radicchio. More Celeriac. More Winter Squash.

But back to the present. The terrible thing about the end-of-year holidays to me, gastronomically, is the small fact that I will be eating other people’s food (OPF). I here present the unspoken downside to extreme local eating: the intestinal distress one experiences when one eats Off The Reservation. I have been sick for days now, and I blame a slice of Eli’s cheesecake. (Technically, Eli’s is in my 100-mile foodshed range, but dang, let’s just simply say that I don’t normally eat that way: 850 calories for a slice.) But really, both Tom and I have noticed that if we ever go Off Rez (i.e., away from home) for any length of time, we just feel ill! We need to get back home and have some restorative garlic soup and bread.

It could just be the flu. I know that food poisoning, unless you’ve eaten something really disgusting, does not have fever and body aches as attendant symptoms. I have these symptoms. But I would rather blame OPF, in the form of that demon cheesecake, than a simple flu bug. Even a local flu bug.

Surprise in our Christmas tree


I’m not particularly gung-ho about Christmas. I enjoy the time off, and enjoy having two weeks of school-free fun with my daughter…but really, the high holiday of consumerism doesn’t appeal to me in the least. For the sake of family bliss, though, I mostly keep my feelings to myself.

It’s my job to get the tree. I harvest them on either our land or our neighbor’s land across the road. This year, Saturday, I took the kid out with me to go find “the perfect tree,” as she called it. It took a while but we found the least Charlie Brown-ish one: quite a search, considering we stomped around 16 acres of muddy, bramble-filled woodland. Well, we found it. And when I set the tree down at the back steps of the house, we found it held a nest.

Okay, that little nest even got my scroogy heart going. So here it is, lit by our new LED lights.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

Happy solstice!

I figured today, right before the actual hour of solstice, was as good a time as any to move away from Blogger.

Thanks for finding the new digs! I wish you a warm, festive holiday season. The snow is melting here; third snow, third thaw…I even saw a couple of bugs flying around outside when I did my chicken chores this morning. (Well, it is 45 degrees outside.) Either way, the world is now tilting back toward the sun, closer, day by day, to gardening season. And that is as warm a thought as I can give you. So thanks for coming to my new home.

Garden Rant

HEY dear readers!

I am ranting today at Garden Rant. Go check it out.


On the efficacy of tears

Thank you all for your warm sentiments. I appreciated the cyber-hugs!

Gardens, in the scheme of things, are nothing to cry over. I didn’t lose my job, I didn’t lose a loved one in a war, I don’t have an incurable disease. Those, frankly, are great reasons to cry.

My first thought, honestly, when I was pulling out the posts for the chicken fence were this: what’s with the waterworks? Is this The Change Of Life? So even among the tears, I am always laughing at myself.

I’ll tell you this, though: when Tom came back inside from talking with the propane guy, and heard me sobbing, he freaked OUT.

So, today, my task list is especially long. That chicken run needs to be put back up, as those happy birds again have free range, but they’re easy targets for the hawks. The damage needs to be assessed in the herb garden. Compaction is a bigger problem than just getting smashed: this clay soil becomes positive concrete when it’s run over. I think the only loss, as far as Thanksgiving is concerned, is the sorrel: it is ripped to shreds. And the fence needs to be put back up around the herb garden. And then there’s all that other stuff I need to do.

I’m time-crunched is all. Considering I adore having lots to do in the gardens, you’d think getting one uprooted and another run over would be seen as opportunities by me!!!!

On tears

I did something yesterday that I never do. I cried.

Yes, I am normally very much a tough cookie, and am not easily given over to much sentimentality or, indeed, to tears of any kind. My first reaction is usually anger. It’s a wave, usually, of red-eyed steaminess that, with much social grace and coaching I have tamed to…well, at least a deep intake of breath before I blow my top.

And gardens are nothing to cry over, in the big scheme of things, but…

…the propane gas guy HAD to drive right over the kitchen herb garden yesterday. And I cried. I cried A LOT.

What the hell is THIS about, I wondered?

I guess it started with having to get our well replaced. I had to move a whole bed of perennials in order for that to happen. Have they moved back? No. Has the bed been reaugmented with lots of organic matter and new soil? No. Is the front yard still a clay-filled unsightly mess? Yes, why, yes it is!

So, what’s with the propane guy? Is the driveway all of a sudden not big enough for him? Well, welcome, friends, to the joys of country living, where all services (electric, gas, water, sewer, trash, internet) are YOUR responsibility!!! There IS no city or township or county system to plug into. Propane is only (thankfully) used to heat up the hot water heater, and the dryer, which now sits unused. So our propane tank, a small lovely looking R2D2 thing outside the basement door, sprung a leak. You would walk outside and think: ‘did something die under the back porch? By Dog it stinks out here.’ So the whole tank had to be replaced, and he had to drive a big truck back there and boom the old tank out, new tank in. This required that I first remove the chicken fencing, remove the decorative fence around the garden, take one of the clotheslines down, and then go inside and cry.

(I should say I harbor absolutely no malice toward our propane guy. He is, though maybe 10 years younger, and sporting a ‘I Heart Jesus’ keychain, a dead ringer for Michael Moore. He is actually quite a sweet man, and he felt horrible about the garden.)

What’s with the tears? I guess it is because I have absolutely no time to redo what has been undone. The greenhouse is only now just enclosed, the other gardens need to be put to rest, the compost needs to be made, leaves raked, chicken coop windows reinstalled, etc. etc. etc. No time for extras. So thus, I cry. It’s the overwhelming hopelessness that I remember as a child: I have no power over this situation, these tears say. It’s not a comfortable feeling.

We have returned

We liked it so much, we stayed an extra day.

The kid is definitely an urbanite. She’d say things like “I need to make a call,” and she would. She also had me in tears when she saw that I was taking her to the train and she said, “No, we don’t take the subway to the restaurant. We take a taxicab.”

Note kitties in the Hello Kitty bag. Don’t leave home without them.

Things you’re not seeing

…because the camera is away, with Tom, on his trip.

Robins. Robins, today, flying south, a few at a time, a hundred at a time, flap flap flap swoop with their wings. They’ve been flying by all day, just above the treetops. Last week it was starlings, two weeks before it was red-winged blackbirds. The blackbirds even stopped for a visit in our maples. LOUD! Then, as I stood there in awe just staring, some unknown and noise-less signal caused them all to fly off, with an immense whoosh sound of their thousands of wings.

The changing trees. The deciduous trees are all in and around this pantone shade: wait, I can’t find my wheel. So, if you squint, they’re an unhealthy orange-brown.

Babies. Seedling babies, that is; of all the little seeds I planted in the greenhouse last weekend, most are up already.

The gross white scum that forms atop tomato gel when you squeeze the overripe fruits into jars for seedsaving. (Be thankful for not seeing this.)

The new chicken run. They’re getting fenced in for the winter, as I don’t trust the neighborhood raptors. The fence isn’t finished yet, but boy will they be mad when it is. Lucky for them, their “pen” takes up almost 300′ of fencing, so they shouldn’t complain overmuch.

Bugs. Specifically, bugs eating my precious plants. I have taken to twice-daily prophylactic raids into the greenhouse garden to squish the cabbage worms that insist on munching my broccoli. But I spare the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, who’re doing just as much damage to the neighboring parsnips and parsley.

Produce/recent harvest. Fall peas (egads!) and my one-and-only head of broccoli romanesco, the only cabbage plant (other than broccoli) that survived this August’s monsoon rains, were dinner last night. And the lettuces, runner beans, rutabagas and radicchio have loved the cold weather that’s moved in since our 90* day on Monday. I swear they’ve doubled in size.

(Can I just mention this again: fall peas. It’s amazing they made it into the cooking pan.)

Ah, well. I’m sparing you my blurry shots; just use your imaginations.

Drying herbs

Lemon balm, tarragon, basil, summer savory and marjoram tied up and ready to go

With September’s Eat Local Challenge’s emphasis on food preservation, I thought I would show “easy stuff” first. Refrigerator pickles are easy. This is even easier.

A lot of the reasons I do what I do is because, in the country, I have no access to the gourmet establishments that populated my city life. Instead of doing without, though, now I am D.I.Y. But even when I was a city kid, I dried my own herbs. It was so easy to do. Considering how expensive spices can be, this certainly appeals to my tightwad side. And in the thick of winter, it is so nice to be able to grab a bit of summer seasoning off the shelf.

Not that I am growing cinnamon, vanilla, peppercorns or even ginger outside (though I could grow the latter, I suppose). Instead, most of the spices I grow fit in that generic French category of “fines herbes.” These are the green ones that most of us can, and DO, grow in our North American gardens. Basil. Borage, chervil, cilantro (coriander), fennel, mint, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme. Chives. Tarragon. Lemon balm, lemon grass. And Hungarian peppers can even be dried and ground into your very own paprika.

So, here’s the procedure. Select the healthiest, strongest herbs: generally, they’re at their peak before they go into flower. Go outside in the morning and cut some herb branches. If they are wet with dew, shake them off a bit and set them in the sun to dry (but not fry: it is important to watch out for this). DO NOT wash them off; just try to brush or shake off any of the dirt you see. Tie them up with some twine and place inside a small paper bag (lunch bags work well for this) that you have punched a bunch of small holes in. Cheesecloth also works: you must make sure, though, that the drying place is dark. Tie the bag around the branches and hang it up in a dry, dark, well-ventilated spot (not your kitchen, in other words: your bedroom, maybe, or your garage). The herbs should be dry in about 3 weeks. You can them remove the leaves from the stems and gently crush them or grind them as needed.

I love making my own herb mixes. Italian herb mix is one I use frequently (oregano, rosemary, thyme, marjoram and basil). The true Fines Herbes is an equal mixture of of the following: chervil, chives, parsley and marjoram (or tarragon). Bouquet garni is a stronger mixture of thyme, sage, and parsley, but, like Fines Herbes, its contents can vary. I am also a huge sucker for savory (both winter and summer) and thyme, so I make a big mix of that, too.

Confession here: I did a lot more herb-drying in Minneapolis, as those harsh Minnesota winters generally laid waste to all but my most hardy perennial herbs. Now? I am a lot more lazy, as our winters here are a lot more forgiving. I find that I can still go out in December and pick fresh, frost-bitten herbs for my cooking.