Rather silly, I suppose, but one of my enduring memories of the Minnesota Renaissance Fair is the cheese soup in a bread bowl. Back in college it was a fall ritual to road trip from Superior down to Shakopee and spend a day roaming around the fair grounds. We didn't have much money, but everyone pitched in for gas and the shows on the grounds were free. Puke and Snot (a comedy act) were a perennial favorite. They had a wide variety of foods, but cheese soup in a bread bowl was something I almost always indulged in. I hadn't had any in years, until the winter of 2007-2008 when I saw it on the menu at a local restaurant. It was so good that I really wanted to have it again, but we don't go out to eat very often, so I figured why not make it at home? Enter the internet. I love online recipe searches. Now we don't have to wait for the fair to enjoy cheese soup in homemade bread bowls. [Read more…]
Now that the bulk of planting is finally done (other than adding a few things later in the season for fall and winter harvest and maybe a few more flowers – you can never have too many flowers), it's time to settle down into regular maintenance. Weeding, mulching, thinning, staking – turn your back for a couple of days and it's amazing how much things can change (and get out of control).
The root veggies planted from seed are coming along nicely, so they need to be thinned out so they are not overcrowded. I've tried planting more thinly, but then it always seem to happen that they don't germinate well for some reason or another and I up up replanting. Thinning is easier for me. My mom never thins, and I didn't when I first started, but the roots grow so much nicer when they have more room. The last few growing seasons have been short on rain, too, so more room equals less stress on the plants.
You can see in the “before” pictures that the carrots are growing in bushy little clumps without much wiggle room between plants. The goal for the first thinning is so have about an inch between them.
Here's the after. Much easier to see individual plants. As they grow, they'll get thinned again, and the small carrots will end up as salad fixings, and the larger carrots will be left for winter storage.
The potatoes are around a foot tall, so they are ready to be mulched or hilled to get more plant undercover to produce a better harvest. I prefer mulching, as I find it easier to move around leaves and straw than dirt. Also, if it gets rainy in fall (not a problem recently, but it does happen), you don't end up with such a muddy mess. Given that I mulch almost all of my garden anyway, this is just a better all around solution for me.
I saved several bags of leaves from my in-laws last fall (and actually stored some of my root cellar vegetables in leaves, which worked well), so my Kennebec potatoes received a leaf mulch this year. The leaves also acidify the soil, which reduces potato scab. (Note to self – avoid planting potatoes in beds that were occupied the previous year by brassicas that were mulched with lots of composted manure, as too much nitrogen contributes to potato scab….sigh…garden rotation is not as straightforward as it seems.)
The cat seems pretty happy with the abundance of catnip volunteering all over the garden, too.
Warmer weather means the last of the transplants have come out of their shelter in the cold frame and the seeds planted earlier are finally starting to pop up out of the ground. What a slow start to the season! At least we didn't get flooded this year.
On the down seed, the bugs have also defrosted. Working at dusk last I got mauled by mosquitoes. Normally I rub down my exposed skin with a couple of handfuls of crushed catnip or other herbs, but I was stuffing in a few last transplants and my hands were muuuuuddyy! It got too dark to hunt down some plantain to crush and apply to the bites (this does work – my grandma used to call it medicine leaf), but Benadryl spray is a modern marvel. Sweet relief! (UPDATE: I've learned how to infuse plantain into oil and make a salve out of it. It works even better than the Benedryl!)
The flea beetles are back in force, too, and chowing down on my pepper plants. Flea beetles are nasty little bugs that hop and are about the size of fleas. They start by chewing so many holes in the leaves that it looks like the plant has been hit by buckshot. As they continue feeding, they can completely defoliate a plant. A couple of plants are likely beyond hope. This is two days damage – nasty little buggers.
Others are hardly touched, and will hopefully stay that way. I'm trying a new approach – used coffee grounds and crushed eggshells. I read about using each of them on different gardening forums, so I thought I'd try to the two together.
Update: The coffee grounds were effective on the flea beetles, the eggshells were not. ALL THE PEPPER PLANTS RECOVERED – even the ones that looked beyond hope! Eggshells do work great for keeping slugs at bay, and can be added to the planting holes of tomatoes to avoid blossom end rot. Another option to help prevent blossom rot is to put 2-3 calcium antacid tablets in the hole when planting. To improve fruit set on tomatoes and peppers, water new transplants with a mix of 1 tablespoon Epsom salts dissolved in one gallon of water.
I got an award from Hannah at Preparing for Our Children's Future!
Thanks for thinking of me, Hannah. 🙂
At the risk of providing TMI, here we go.
10 Honest Things About Yourself!
1. I have eaten dirt, on purpose. Can't say I'm a fan, I prefer to grow fruit and veggies in it and eat them.
2. Being a mom is the toughest thing I have ever done, and the most rewarding.
3. The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know.
4. Homeschooling has rekindled my love of learning and made me rethink nearly every thing I've taken for granted all my life.
5. Faith is a powerful tool that can help people accomplish amazing things and provide peace in a troubled world.
6. I find ancient history fascinating. Actually, I find a lot of things fascinating. I wish I could split myself in two so one of me could research while the other did what needs to get done. They could take turns.
7. I've grown (and eaten) over 100 different varieties of fruits and veggies.
8. I have big feet, which makes it hard to find shoes.
9. I exercise almost every day.
10. I wish I had better self-esteem. I'm working on it. :o)
Okay! Here are my four blogging friends that I picked to give this Award to:
Here are the Rules of the award
1. Thank the one that gave it to you.
2. list 10 honest things about yourself.
3. Give to 7 other blogger friends. (I only did four because I am new at this.)
4. Place the picture at the top of your post.
Hope ya'll have a great time and look forward to reading each of your 10 Honest things about yourself!
Raising Butterflies – A Homeschooling Experiment
Back in late June 2006, we found that our parsley plants had attracted an abundance of parsley worms, otherwise know as swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, so we decided to try our hand at raising butterflies. As my youngest has professed that he wishes to grow up to be a butterfly rancher, we took the opportunity to create a private habitat for the little critters (protected from our many songbirds which had been munching on them in the garden). First, we gathered an assortment of parsley plants against the south side of the garage, then we built an enclosed out of wooden lattice scraps and covered it with garden cloth. Here's a picture of Duncan checking on his “wormies”. [Read more…]
In spite of our cool weather, spring-bearing perennials such as asparagus and rhubarb have been producing tasty edibles. The rhubarb patches are largely unhampered by the cold. We don't have a patch at our current location, but the neighbors are always happy to share. Once a patch is well-established, I have yet to meet anyone who has been interested in using up their entire patch production. I enjoy the tartness combined with some sweetness, and sometimes some dairy. Mine usually goes into sauce (lovely on toast or ice cream), muffins (these freeze well and stay nice and moist) or desserts (I have a rhubarb custard recipe that everyone in the family likes).
Asparagus is also in season, but the cold has slowed it down significantly. I'm garden tending for neighbors who are traveling for a couple of weeks, and part of my job is to find the asparagus spikes (they have patches scattered around the yard) and harvest them so they don't go to seed too early. Most sources I've seen suggest harvesting for around three weeks before allowing the spikes to grow out and flower to put energy into the roots for the following season. With the dry May we had, some of the first spikes harvested were a little bitter, and they were few and far between in the patch. Since the rain, growth has picked up and the flavor has sweetened back to normal.
Fresh local asparagus is an entirely different vegetable than the store bundles shipped from across the country. If you’ve never been an asparagus fan, you need to try fresh, locally grown. The taste is more like garden peas with just hint of asparagus “wildness”. Good and good for you, I hope you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy these spring treats.
Asparagus and RhubarbPrint
Pork with Rhubarb Sauce
Adapted from rhubarbinfo.com
- 3 lb Pork loin center rib roast (8 ribs)
- 1/4 teaspoon Salt
- 1/4 teaspoon Pepper; coarsely ground
- 1/2 lb Rhubarb, fresh; chopped (2 cups)
- 1/4 cup Apple juice concentrate; thawed
- 2 Tablespoon Honey
- Nutmeg, ground
- 2 Tablespoon Water
- 1 teaspoon Cornstarch
Have the butcher loosen the pork roast backbone, if possible, for easier carving.
Rub the roast with salt and pepper.
Place bone side down in a small, shallow roasting pan.
Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest portion of the roast; make sure bulb doesn't touch bone, fat, or the pan.
Roast, uncovered, at 325 F. until the thermometer reads 150 F., about 75 to 90 minutes.
For the sauce, in a medium saucepan stir together the rhubarb, apple juice concentrate, honey, and nutmeg.
Bring to a boil; reduce the heat, cover, and simmer ten minutes or until the rhubarb is very tender.
Mix the water and cornstarch; stir into the rhubarb mixture. Cook and stir until the sauce is thickened and bubbly. Continue cooking for two minutes more.
When the meat thermometer registers 150 F., spoon some of the sauce over the roast. Continue roasting until the thermometer reads 170 F., about 30 to 45 minutes more.
Spoon on additional sauce occasionally. Let the roast stand 15 minutes before carving. Heat any remaining sauce and pass with the roast.
Cream of Asparagus Soup
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Total Time: 40 minutes
- Yield: 6 servings
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 stalks celery, chopped
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4 cups water
- 1 (10.5 ounce) can condensed chicken broth or homemade chicken broth
- 4 tablespoons chicken bouillon powder
- 1 potato, peeled and diced
- 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and coarsely chopped
- 3/4 cup half-and-half
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
Melt butter or margarine in a heavy cooking pot.
Add onions and chopped celery; saute until tender, about 4 minutes.
Stir in flour, mixing well. Cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Do not burn, or let it go lumpy.
Add water, chicken broth, and chicken soup base; stir until smooth. Bring to a boil.
Add diced potatoes and chopped asparagus. Reduce heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Puree soup in a food processor or blender in batches. Return to pot.
Stir in half and half cream, soy sauce, and black and white pepper. Bring soup just to boil. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve hot.
Our Suburban Homesteading Adventure
My husband reminded me this weekend that our current garden was really not our first garden, so it wasn't fair to neglect to mention our foray into suburban homesteading.
We built our first home back in 1995 on a half acre suburban lot nestled in the remains of an abandoned tree nursery. Our backyard was littered with flowering crab apple trees that didn't meet the cosmetic standards of the nursery trade, but were beautiful to us. There was also a ginkgo, an ash, two maples, a hawthorn – and not much room for a garden. First on the “to do” list for the spring was getting out the chain saw and hiring a tree spade to do some rearranging. The ginkgo and one of the maples were removed, as they looked to have some type of disease (I suspected verticillium wilt because of canopy die-off). The flowering crabs were moved north and south to open up the center of the yard.
The front yard was completely regraded and a lot of fill was brought in to make the walk out work (the home was a walk out ranch). The landscaping quotes we got were soooooo expensive – we decided to tackle it ourselves. This might have been okay, had we lived in another neighborhood, but ours came with restrictive covenants are very uptight neighbors. We both worked full time, and our builder went away on his honeymoon, and the yard took a lot longer to finish than the “within one year of ground breaking” specified in the restrictive covenants (closer to two years, to be specific). This didn't sit well with our neighbors, some of whom talked behind our backs and others who bad-mouthed us openly. Such is the way life works at times. When we decided to build the area was largely undeveloped and we were very excited to be able to build a walk out and be only a half a block from an arboretum. As the lots filled with houses, it seemed one was more extravagant than the next, and all were professionally landscaped and groomed to perfection. We did so not fit in. Nonetheless, we kept working at it, starting in front and progressing around the house. I stopped working full time to come home during my first pregnancy, and the sweet crew of guys I worked with (I was an engineer with a solar contractor) came and built our field stone retaining wall instead of throwing me a baby shower.
Then we got the visit from the “enforcer”, giving us notice that we'd better finish our landscaping – or else. This was in high summer, when grass does not grow in northeast Wisconsin, it goes dormant. Instead of finishing the seeding in fall as we had planned, we dragged out every sprinkler we owned and bought a few more to water relentlessly so that lawn would be in two months sooner. They neighbor who had most vocally complained about our yard stopped by one afternoon to let us know one of our sprinklers had tipped, and I asked him why he had felt it necessary to call in “the enforcer” instead of talking to us himself. He started ranting about how we had finished the other side of yard (we had, in spring, when grass would grow, but couldn't finish his side until the retaining wall was done, which happened in summer, so as mentioned above we were waiting until fall to seed). He really didn't want to listen to our explanation, he just kept repeating the phrase, “What am I, mashed potatoes?” Honestly, still, to date, this is one of the strangest non-conversations of my life. Perhaps he had a bad experience with his Mr. Potato Head doll as a child? This same neighbor, even after the yard was filled with flowers, vegetables and fruit, and was, if I may say so, quite stunning, commented to one of his guests (who had noted the beauty of our flowers) that we “had nothing but weeds”. Even though he was a banker, I would have to say he was a poor and bitter man, and I truly feel sorry for him.
Fast forward – heavy clay soil equals 23 raised garden beds in the backyard, flanked by trees with flowers in the center.
The front yard had a little better soil (different fill) and had eight flower beds, four patches of roses, an arbor with climbing roses,
clematis on either side of the front door, a garden bed,
a high bush cranberry, two dwarf sweet cherry trees,
and one dwarf pie cherry tree. One side of the house had two dwarf plum trees, more flowers and two dwarf apple trees (these crept into the back yard). So the south there were blueberries on the lot line, a yellow raspberry patch (delicious!),
a red, a pink and a black current bush, four grape vines,
two dwarf peach trees, and three “colonnade” apple trees. The boys literally were able to graze their way around the yard before we moved. It was an oasis in a suburban chemlawn desert. Mom said the first time she visited, she knew right away which house was mine.
Here was the view as she pulled up:
We crammed a lot in a small amount of space. I miss all the fruit trees. Hopefully some day I will have them again.
So that's where we really started as a family. If you you went way, way back, you'd find me in the garden as a toddler playing next to my mom. She and I have spent many, many hours there together.
Our First Garden at our Current Homestead
Back in June 2005, we moved out to our 35 acre “dream home” in the country. The house was still under construction, the land surrounding the house was raw and scarred (we opted to do our own landscaping to save cash). My first “garden”, such as it was, was an assortment of cast off, overgrown, transplants from my mom and our green cabinet guy, Paul. There were about a dozen tomatoes, a few peppers, eggplant and Brussels sprouts, and four celery plants. I hacked holes in the broken sod and dumped the plants in with some water and we were off! I mulched with wet newspaper and straw, and ran a soaker hose for drop irrigation (it was one of the HOT summers). The tomatoes were tied to four foot tall stakes in two rows about four feet apart. The rest of the plants shared a second and third row of the garden. Not fancy, but functional, more or less.
The tomatoes grew – and grew – and grew – until they formed an impenetrable thicket. But we had plenty of tomatoes. The peppers and eggplant did well, too (did I mention it was HOT?). The celery turned into small green bushes (I had never grown celery before and didn’t know to blanch them). They didn’t look at all like store celery, but worked just fine for flavoring. I have grown celery ever since. The Brussels sprouts were bloody awful. The poor things were completely overrun by cabbage worms – literally, I think most of the green on the plants was due to the worms. The leaves looked like they had been hit with buckshot. Truly pathetic, and not one sprout was consumed that year, except by the worms. Brassicas do not like heat.
The rest of the yard was a weedy, overgrown mess. No greenhouse, no retaining wall (BIG drop-off right next to the front door), no deck (BIG drop-off out patio doors) no flowers, nada – just a seemingly unending string of subcontractors who were supposed to have finished months before and a bewildered Spanish girl (somehow I thought it would be okay to host an exchange student right in the middle of the mess) who managed to remain cheerful in spite of regularly being woken up by power equipment in Podunk, USA. (She was a city girl who loved shopping – poor thing must have felt like Alice in Dairyland falling through the looking glass.)
And yet, there was potential. In blogs to come I’ll tell how the picture all filled in, but for now I’ve got to wrap up.
Armpits don’t smell like roses, but everyone has them and I think it’s time we made peace with them and quit embracing the notion that all odor not chemically synthesized in a lab is bad. In fact, in any number of cultures over the course of history, body odor was known as an aphrodisiac, or at the very least a normal part of life. Perhaps one of the most famous body odor references was a note from Napoleon to Josephine – “I will return to Paris tomorrow evening. Don't wash.”
When it comes to figuring out what factors influence body odor, think inside before you think outside. Your diet directly influences your body odor, and a healthy, well balanced diet generally means you will be smell less gamey. Highly processed foods don’t just make you sick, they make you stink. Medication can also influence body odor. Turn to diet and healthy lifestyle choices first before turning to pharmaceuticals.
While I’m not advocating that you give up bathing entirely, I do recommend more environmentally friendly cleanliness options. Skip antibacterial products. You don’t need them, and they can contribute to antibiotic resistant strains of nasty bacteria and attack the helpful bacteria on your body. Look for plain soap. Not deodorant, not antibacterial – the simpler, the better. Read the label. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, that’s generally a bad sign. I’ve included a link below to some of the top offenders.
As for deodorant products, consider skipping or reducing your use of those that also contain antiperspirants. Most antiperspirants contain aluminum, which has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Applying antiperspirant to your armpits basically mainlines the aluminum into your lymph nodes and through them your immune system. I have found that Naturally Fresh Deodorant Crystal Roll-On with chamomile works well and does not irritate the skin after shaving.
UPDATE: I no longer use the Crystal Roll-on deodorant. I didn't realize this earlier, because the label boldly states “No aluminum chlorohydrate”, but the crystal deodorants do contain aluminum, just in a different (supposedly less absorbable) form. In spite of the crystal deodorants claims that they are not harmful, at least one study has shown that they may cause more damage than standard deodorants. Instead, I've switched to Herbalix deodorants, which heal and detoxify. I have also used homemade deodorant (recipe here).
The ‘Dirt on Clean’ in an Oversanitized World – Excerpt from a fascinating book on human hygiene.
In Defense of Dirt and Grime – Why I don't keep my house super clean.