Friday, July 31, 2015

Simon Says: Po-tah-to

Po-tay-to, po-tah-to, Simon says. Don't we have enough of those already?

Simon is, himself, not much of a potato eater. Though he would eat the butter from on top if I gave him one of my baked potatoes.  He has been perfectly clear about that on previous occasions. So I can't really be surprised to find he is not getting worked up over this fascinating blog article (link) on how to breed your own new potato varieties.

I on the other hand am super excited and can hardly wait until morning to see if any of our potato plants are still blooming and ripe for hand-pollinating. Aren't you excited? I ask him.

I can't wait, Simon says, for you to turn out the light and let me sleep in peace. Does that count?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dilly Lily Apple Jelly

green apple

When critters come calling and birds begin to peck your produce how do you protect your fresh growing food?  One way is to bring it in early.  Tomatoes, for example, can be ripened on windowsills when the bunnies begin to get thirsty and bite into the juicy red goodness hanging on the vine.

Apples brought in early can be used in an even better way, to make jellies. The tartness of a green apple, makes it not just higher in pectin but a perfect punch up for a dill weed jelly.

dill flowers
the feathery leaves were used in this recipe

Did she say Dill Jelly?
Why yes, I did.

In this case a dill weed (leaves), daylily, and green apple jelly that balances on the sweeter side of sour for an unexpected bit of loveliness that I call Dilly Lily Apple Jelly (partly because it's a fairly accurate name but mostly because it's fun to say). You'll need:

5 cups Sugar
1 package Sure-Jell (pectin)

4 cups of Green Apple Juice (puree)

  • made by chopping about 2 cups of apple into a sauce pan, covering with water and bringing to a boil. Once boiling remove from heat and puree. It can be refrigerated before or after straining out the skins and lumps, and will keep overnight if everything else isn't ready yet.

2 1/2 cups of Dill Weed Infusion

  • made by pouring two cups of boiling water over  3/4 cup fresh dill leaves and allowing to sit/steep for at least 3 hours before use.
2 cups of Daylily Water

  • made by pouring boiling water over the diced up (green stem parts removed) bits of about 7 large daylilies and allowing that to sit in an air tight container for about 36 hours until it is sort of thick and then strain out the petals. Aside from the fact that it will be a pinkish hue it should look exactly like someone put Thick-It in a glass of water.
use the old fashioned orange daylilies
and confirm that your cultivars are in fact edible, not all of them are

Follow instructions with pectin packet for cooking and putting up the jelly.
  • made, basically, by combining 1/3 cup sugar and pectin with liquid and bringing it to a boil. 
  • Have the rest of the sugar measured out and waiting to dump in all at once when you get to a boil because you are stirring non-stop with a long handled wooden spoon. 
  • bring it back to a rolling boil for one minute (ish) until it tests
  • remove from heat and jar in prepared sterile jars. 
  • Refrigerate or use waterbath canner to seal for shelf storage.

If you're not sure about your daylilies, Green Apple Dill Jelly is also a big hit, just leave out the 2 cups of daylily water and reduce the sugar 1 cup.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mexican Sweet Potato Salad

4 cooked chopped (large) sweet potaotes
3 large tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 can pinto beans -- whole
1 large videllia onion, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

2 tablespoons minced garlic
2/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice

mix and toss with salad to coat

Monday, July 27, 2015


"They will live so cheap! Their housekeeping will be nothing at all. They will have no carriage, no horses and hardly any servants; they will keep no company and can have no expenses of any kind! Only conceive how comfortable they will be!" -- Fanny Dashwood (from Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen)

What we chose to do without and what we view as necessities, we all define our comforts differently. For me simplicity is comfortable. Frugality is less a farce and more an admirable way of life that I am working towards. But that's me.

Several friends believe that anything less than once a week at the movies would be deprivation indeed. I laugh at that. I haven't been out to the movies in many years. I don't miss deafening, crowded, overpriced movie theaters at all. Especially not the ones that are minefields of used chewing gum and sticky soda spills.

Within ourselves we decide to view our life, our experiences and expenditures, as either hardship or happiness. Will we be content to live within our means? Below our means? Our society (media driven) tells us we require many things. But do we really? Perhaps we would all actually be more comfortable with less. I have not noticed extravagant lifestyles making people so much happier, in fact, to judge by the tabloid headlines in the checkout line, I would guess that fame and fortune are actually harder to live with comfortably.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Simon Says: Cheese

It is good, Simon says, to buy local cheese. You should do it more often.

He says this having eaten almost the entire wedge by himself, after I found the flavor to be a piquant manure with a hint of sick and an undertone of sheer horribleness. I will never buy that cheese again.

They had described that particular award winning cheese's flavor as grassy with an "earthy" subtlety. In my opinion, a little too earthy unless you happen to be someone who regularly enjoys the flavor of bird poop and rabbit dung as Simon does, despite my best attempts to civilize him.

I wonder why so many of the "wonderful" local cheeses which are also so often recommended to be served with wine, make me think you would have to be on your third bottle and drunker than a skunk to find the cheeses remotely edible. Perhaps that's the point?

Either that or, Simon says, you know nothing and I'm the real foodie in this family.

...he did enjoy the cheese.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Three Colanders Full

The garden gives more each day.
Buttercup Squash are ripening now.

And the Genovese Basil even fills a colander by itself.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Let There Be Ripe... Tomatoes

Indigo Apple Tomatoes
Sunrise Bumblebee Tomatoes
and Thai Pink Egg (left) totally earning their names 
More Indigo Apple,
and some Mountain Princess Tomatoes.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Herb Flower Jelly

Herb Flower Jelly. Isn't it pretty?
Use caution when trying new foods.
Do not ingest anything that might be a toxin or to which you may be allergic.

Herb Flower Jelly Recipe

First the flowers were gathered, about 3 cups. [Note: Use only flowers you know are safe to eat, and know you are not allergic to. Some combinations of flowers may not work well together. Use caution.]
I used flowers from Anise Hyssop, Daylilies, Crown Vetch, and Lemon Thyme, to make my flower water.
Cover blooms with water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.
Let steep 10-20 minutes.

You will need 4 cups of flower water,
3 cups of sugar,
lime juice from one juicy lime
and a package of the pink ("no-sugar") Sure-Jell Pectin.

From there it is like any other jelly, stir constantly.
Flower water, lime juice, 1/3 cup of sugar and the package of pectin are brought to a boil over high heat.
The rest of the sugar is added and brought back to a boil. Still stirring. Don't stop stirring. Keep at a boil for 1 minute and then remove from heat.
You have jelly.
Put it in jars, or cute little jampots. You may keep in the fridge, or you could put some by for the winter using a waterbath canner.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tea with Scones

There is something leisurely about taking tea in the garden on a hot summer afternoon. Leisurely, but in the most British way, a sort of languid formality. The motions are gone though more slowly, but they are gone through nonetheless. As I imagine one did in the tropics.

One wears linen, of course. The hot tea seems never to cool, and yet the humid breeze seems to grow cooler by contrast, as the butter melt softly in the shade. Calendula Petal Butter made fresh yesterday, on scones made fresh today.

For the butter simply allow non-salted organic butter to reach room temperature in an unconditioned room and blend in the carefully collected outer petals of the Calendula flowers. Salt if you need it.

For the scones, take 2 cups flour, a stick of butter, 3/4 cup milk, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon cream of tarter, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and combine in mixing bowl. Use your hands, why not? Shape two circles, cut each in quarters, and bake for 12-15 minutes, in a 400 degree oven.

Did I mention the Jelly?
Herb Flower Jelly

Monday, July 20, 2015

Blink Detected

Simon and I dug out some new potatoes and found one that had a nose.  The position of the eyes makes it look even more like a face. Don't you think?
The camera thought so too.  It put a green box around the potato eye and warned "blink detected."  :)

Saturday, July 18, 2015


When you pick up your coffee at the fast food restaurant or the coffee shop on the way to church -- does it not occur to you that you take the coffee to church but do not allow the coffee-maker the same privilege? Are they the exception? Sunday is a day off when people go to church, unless they make a heavenly espresso?  Those people don't need church?

When you decide Sunday afternoon is the perfect time to pick up a few things at the store -- does it never occur to you that you are the reason employers think stores should be open on Sunday? You are the reason people who are honest about not wanting to work on the Sabbath cannot get hired at those stores, the reason "mandatory Sunday" policies are in place for those jobs, the reason fellow Christians have not been able to participate in Sunday fellowship for years because they have to work instead. 

At my place of work I was an exception, I faced battles to protect the day I gave to God from the encroaching demands of my job. The stand I took was not popular. I was forced to make many painful sacrifices in my life in order to keep the Sabbath day as "set apart" and my co-workers and supervisors were a bit squiffy about the whole thing.  Honestly, I was upset too -- I thought we should close on Sundays and all be off that day.

SO... When you decide to eat lunch at a restaurant after church instead of going home to cook your own lunch because that would take too long -- do you ever do the math to realize that your meal was prepared by someone who clocked in to start preparing your meal about the same time you sat down to listen to that excellent sermon? Or do you think the restaurant you frequent it an exception? They have a magic wand that prepares your food.

Sure you're not cooking your own meal not even taking your food out of a crock pot or heating up leftovers, so you're not working on the Sabbath. But isn't a little too much to claim that Sunday is a day of rest and then expect others to work that day?

So to the friend who persists in asking every Sunday, even though he knows my answer will be no... just a heads-up.
NO! I will not be going to lunch after church. I will not "make an exception." I don't want to make an exception. Stop asking me to.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Hummingbird Moth

Look who I found feeding at some Joe-Pye-Weed.  
Snowberry Clearwing Hummingbird Moth

Latin Name: Hemaris diffinis
Known as a "Hawk-Bee Moth" in the UK, the Hummingbird Moth most common in the United States is the Snowberry Clearwing variety (more info here). They really do hum and buzz just like a tiny humming bird or an oversized bumblebee.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

July Bounty


(counterclockwise from front left)
Oxheart Carrots, Pole Beans, Telegraph Cukes,
Burgess Buttercup, Ronde de Nice, and Broccoli


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Brassicas and Gourds

Baby Red Kuri Pumpkin
Red Kuri are supposed to be the ultimate pumpkin/winter squash/gourd for pumpkin pie making. To that end, Red Kuri pumpkins are now making their debut in the garden. They are putting on fruit much more quickly than I expected and look like several will soon be ready. Yum.

The Brassica family, namely broccoli and red cabbage, are once again proving to be a disappointment though. The two surviving red cabbage plants were found by a rogue groundhog before they even had a chance to head. And the Broccoli, supposed to be a 48 days to maturity variety, finally decided to put on a tiny floret Eleven Weeks after setting out plants that were started indoors. So only about Twice as long as advertised.

I used to not like broccoli, as a child. Now I love it, especially in a hot garlic sauce stir fry like Chinese restaurants do. But I think that now, broccoli doesn't like me. The long awaited yield is not going to be enough to warrant even making an onion dip.

Buttercup Squash likes me though. It has grown way, way, way past the parameters of its original trellising. It is filling the aisles and climbing the nearby beanpoles and wandering off down the next row and through a flowerbed. And hiding under that prolific sprawl are lovely little five pound beauties.
Burgess Buttercup Squash

Monday, July 13, 2015

Simon Says: Comfrey

Cut comfrey laid down between baby blueberry bushes.
Thank you, Simon says, for helping to bury my squeaky toy.  But this is not exactly what I had n mind. Why are you doing this?

Your toys, I tell him, are not supposed to be getting buried in the garden beds. I don't care how dry and hard to dig the rest of the yard has gotten; you know better. Now move and let me put this down.

Really, the comfrey leaves are nothing to do with Simon's terrier instinct to dig little hiding spots for all his toys.  It's my lazy way of cutting down on the weeding and applying a mulch at the same time.

Comfrey is a dynamic accumulator.  Its tap roots bring up hard to find nutrients and minerals, and the leaves accumulate all that good stuff. Comfrey can be cut and laid down in this "kill mulch fertilizer" way several times in a summer. This is the second time already this year I have harvested off the majority of the leaves to mulch around the baby blueberries.

I could help you weed, Simon says. If you could be okay with this squeaky carrot growing in the garden. What do you think?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Tomatoes Ripening on the Vine

Yellow Pear Tomatoes, an old favorite.

Indigo Apple Tomatoes, a new favorite.

Sunrise Bumblebee Tomatoes, already stripey -- very fun.

Thai Pink Egg Tomatoes,
trying them this year for the first time.

Supposedly blight resistant varieties, Mountain Princess Tomatoes
and Iron Lady Tomatoes are also new in this year's Tomato Patch.
So far so good. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Garden View

"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."
-- Marcus Tullius Cicero

"When it is understood that one loses joy and happiness in the attempt to possess them, the essence of natural farming will be realized. The ultimate goal of farming in not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings."
-- Masanobu Fukuoka

"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace."
-- May Sarton

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What's in Your Dictionary?

The spellcheck for word documents on my computer is reliably uninformed on how to spell any number of proper names. I expect those little red squiggles, and the super creative "replace with" options it comes up with when presented with a new proper noun outside its programmed variations. I add the name to the dictionary and the problem is solved.

Today though it offered me something new. A lesson I wanted to share.

The word Unforgiveness is not in the computer's dictionary. Instead, as I ran spell check it offered me "replace with: Forgiveness."

Replace unforgiveness with forgiveness. How right that is.
I did not add unforgiveness to my dictionary.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

And Then There Are Blackberries

The berry buckets still fill daily
blackberries ripening to take the place of raspberries.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Simon Says: Baa?

I am not, Simon says, a sheep dog.  And, Simon adds, We don't have room for a flock of dairy sheep.

I thought we might be able to squeeze in two little Shetland sheep to provide wool, and milk, and maybe even meat.  Aren't they cute? They come in different markings even polkadot! As I did my research into the dairy side of things with thoughts of sheep butter and sheep cheese and the more easily digestible nutrient rich sheep's milk. I also found Clun Forest Sheep and from what I'm reading it sounds like they'd be even better for cheesemaking.

Perfect, Simon says, now you want both and we haven't even room for one.

Monday, July 6, 2015

What's In a Name?

All Blue Potatoes Bloom
The All Blue Potatoes, blue inside, with blue skins, actually bloom blue too. They really are all blue. Perhaps the bean seeds I saved from last year will give me a clue to their name, on the brown bag in which they were saved I wrote only "pole bean." They were nondescript light brown with some speckling on some of them, and they sprouted before other beans planted at the same time. I thought they might be pintos, but I am told pintos are not a pole bean. Now, taller than me and still climbing, they have white blossoms, romano style flat pods, standard green bean flavor when picked tender ....... That could describe any of a dozen different beans.
Pole Bean Blossoms
I suppose, to borrow a phrase, a bean by any other name is still a bean.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Simon Says: Skunk!

Black and white photo = good.
Black and white critter in the yard? Not good.

Attack the invader, Simon says, as he runs, snarling, straight for the skunk on our back porch. You see where this is going.

We were fortunate that Simon is so quick and this skunk was not quite so quick. Simon was snapping at the opposite side when the skunk sprayed and only caught a little of the mist at the edges. But enough that he knew he was sprayed. Enough to make him run away foaming at the mouth and allow the skunk to ramble safely away. And enough that he had to have a bath.

But I hate baths, Simon says.
Then you shouldn't have attacked a skunk I tell him. Now hold still.

Theories I read about long ago have now been tested and proven. Skunk smell is, I was informed, best dissipated by altering the ph of the affected fiber (dog fur). For some reason the internet has always felt this is best done by the purchasing of certain vinegar based feminine products. I thought it might be easier to just use vinegar. Maybe vinegar with baking soda, I thought.

Five o'clock this morning, liberally powdered with baking soda and meekly foaming at the mouth, Simon did not fight being put in the bathtub. He knew he smelled bad, poor baby. I then doused him with apple cider vinegar, trusting that the chemical reaction between the baking soda and the vinegar would be the quickest and most effective way to alter the ph and remove the smell.

If you picture your elementary school volcano science project shaking like a wet dog you'll have a pretty accurate image of what happened next. But it worked. It worked on him, and it worked on me. Because, oh yes, I was near enough to catch a little spray too, so I can only begin to tell you how absolutely thrilled I am that baking soda and vinegar worked. Thrilled.

Now, Simon says, if you could just do something about the whole back of the house and the yard still smelling like that.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Where the Green Things Are

Baby Green Gage Plums
The Green Gage Plum put on fruit for the first time this year.  These plums are supposed to be the best ever of the British/European plums but are rarely grown in the US, because of their unreliability.  Some years they fruit, sometimes they don't. Some trees never fruit. The internet is filled with dire predictions which, of course, I read right after I had ordered the trees.

I planted them in a sunny spot downhill from the compost pile, stacking the deck in their favor, I hoped. But a spot where they could be shade trees, privacy trees, if they never produced fruit.  And then I pruned out the central leader, opened them up (which is supposed to put energy into fruiting). Still, if they never fruited that was okay, I told them.  And I waited.  Five years. Then, this spring they were covered in blossoms. Sweet, white, clusters of flowers with long showy stamens. They were beautiful. And promising.  But every orchardist knows that blossoms do not always mean fruit. And I waited again.

The frost dates passed safely. The blossoms dropped as they should, and tiny little fruits began to form. And tiny little fruits began to drop off, coating the ground beneath the trees with undeveloped plums.  This happens.  It is supposed to happen.  The tree cannot bear the weight of too many fruit, it can't feed and ripen every blossom that was pollinated.  The weak ones are sacrificed, thinned, so that the tree can be healthy.

It's still okay, I told them, if you never produce ripe fruit. I would like to taste one, though. If you could make at least one for me. So I am waiting.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Simple, Easy, Beautiful

Purple Rooster Bee Balm and Russian Sage
Several years ago we ordered 'Purple Rooster' Bee Balm (Monarda) from Dayton Nursery not just for the wonderful purple/blue of the flowers, but for the simplicity of care.  This tall variety requires no staking, and has also proven to be mildew free, as advertised. A large part of "no maintenance" gardening is picking the easy to care for varieties in the first place... and then planting them in large masses that leave no room for weeds.