I didn’t poop my pants

27 Feb

This is not the first time I have said this recently, but I haven’t said it here. Raccoons scare the bejeezus out of me. I have nightmares about raccoons. I don’t like going to the barn or near the trashcans after dark because I know they are just waiting for me. If you are one of the mistaken many who think they are furry, adorable, fish eating little bandits, or who felt sorry for the beasts in Where the Red Fern Grows, listen to this.  Raccoons are a rabies vector, they have sharp teeth and claws, and when caged or cornered they can hiss like pressurized steam escaping from hell.  I would simply prefer to avoid any dealings with them.  I don’t even want them in stew.

So last night, I didn’t make it out to close up the chicken coop until after dark.  Can you see where this is going?  I’ll allay some fears now — the chickens are fine.  I went into the barn, the poorly lit barn, to get a scoop of food for the ladies, lifted the weight off of the chicken food and scooted the lid aside, just enough to get the bucket in.  Simultaneously I leaped eight feet in the air, shrieked “Oh damn!” and somehow managed to land about 30 feet away from the barn, hitting the ground at a dead run.  But, I didn’t poop my pants. There were two adult raccoons curled up together inside the closed chicken food bin.  Just taking a cozy nap.  They had zero interest in moving (really, if I were napping on a pile of cookies, I probably wouldn’t move very fast either).  I just stood there, outside the circle of the motion sensor lights, watching, waiting, and preparing to run even faster if necessary, and they very slowly peeked up over the edge, then one took off.  Leaving one in the bin.  This is when I thought, “Oh crap, there’s babies.”  So I crept back to the barn, dreading the attack that would surely result from angering a mama coon.  Fortunately, I was wrong.  The second critter dove out and scurried away into the dark recesses of the barn, knocking things over and upsetting the chickens with the racket.  The good news is there were no raccoons in the feed today when I checked.  The bad news is there is a displaced raccoon lurking in the barn, just waiting for the right time to get back in the bin, and I bet next time she brings the family.  Gotta go, it’s almost dark and I’ve got to close up the hen house…


Veggies anyone?

22 Feb

Some pantry stock goodness from our garden and those of our friends.

It’s that time!  Spring is nigh, things are blooming and growing, and my profit/loss spreadsheet says it’s time to start selling CSA shares.  This year I am offering a very limited number of shares, at introductory prices, available in three sizes – The Single, Double and Triple.  The Single share is designed for the solo cook or households looking to supplement their pantry, priced at $15/week.  The Double, sized for couples or mainly veggie-eating singles, is $20/week.  The Triple, a family share, is $25/week.

The shares will feature an assortment of veggies and fruits, whatever is available that week.  There may also be flowers, herbs, random surprises and most certainly recipes for what’s in the box.  There will be add-ons available, if you would like to round things out with a dozen eggs or some jam, fruit butter or pickles.

The season will be approximately 24 weeks, starting the first week of May and ending in late October.  You can purchase shares by the week, but if you commit to 20 out of 24 weeks (you choose the weeks unless the weather chooses for us) you will get a substantial discount.  I won’t ask for all 20 weeks paid upfront, but it would be awesome if you could pay for 10 weeks, and then around week 9, pay for the other 10, or write 2 checks, and postdate one.

Remember that by buying shares, you are supporting not only our family endeavor, but the broader community.  The closer we are to success, the more we can contribute to the hungry!

For an idea what you can expect in your boxes, throughout the season we will be growing English peas, snap peas, onions (spring and keeper), white potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, lettuce, limas, southern peas, okra, peppers,green beans, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, winter squash, turnips, beets, carrots, parsnips, radishes, kale, swiss chard, collards, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic and the kitchen sink.  This is not an exhaustive list, and there will be multiple varieties of many of these.  I have chosen heirloom varieties of most crops, for better flavor and to make our produce more distinct from grocery store options.   Many crops are from seeds I have saved through several seasons and are now well adapted to this climate.

At the end of the season, depending on the weather and availability, I would like to offer a Winter Share option, delivering cool weather crops and long keepers like squash, potatoes, and onions.  There will be more about that as the season progresses.

So, who’s on board the veggie train?

Spring was here

19 Feb

Roasted veggies tonight!

I spent a good bit of the last two days out in the backyard, prepping for planting. In short sleeves. It was gorgeous. The kind of weather that people who work outdoors know is the harbinger of bad weather to come. And as I sit here typing, the rain pours down, and we wait for the sleet and snow to settle in for the duration. This is North Carolina, so we won’t have to wait long for warm weather again (probably day after tomorrow), but things are budding and blooming and life is beginning to flourish already after this incredibly mild winter. In doing my rounds I discovered that the peas are finally germinating, there is some fantastically healthy looking spring garlic growing in the compost, all of the fruit trees are budding, and the wild asparagus has already starting sending up spears. Already started sending up spears. I feel like I need to say that one more time, but I won’t. Asparagus is one of my favorite foods, hands down, and to me those first shoots mean that fresh food and green things are here again. I got really excited when I saw that asparagus. And much less so as the forecast turned from rain to sleet to snow.

But we’re not here so that I can complain about the complexities of Southern winters. We’re here so that I can discuss, nay, bragabout what I’m getting done. I of course spent some more time with Hoss, retilling those same beds, trying to grind up as many chunks of clay as possible, and trying to chase the now dormant bermuda grass out by the roots.

Here you can see Hoss, the tiller, and Not-so-Little Joe, the wagon, terrific helpmates in the garden. And yes, the green you see is mostly weeds... The cattle panel trellis is just barely visible in the background.

I starting hoeing up the beds, added some most excellent earthworm-laden composted leaf mulch and horse poop, and laid down landscaping fabric between the rows, (again the fight against bermuda grass). I pulled up plastic from last year that I had left down to solarize a couple of beds, and cleared a bunch of aster and morning glories. I moved the soil bags I used for potatoes last year and started prepping that area for the deep raised beds. And then I pulled some onions, turnips and carrots, and came inside for dinner.

Here is an example of the deep raised bed, looking at an inside corner. The corners are simply held together with framing braces, secured with wood screws. I would recommend not being as chintzy with the brackets. Spend the extra $1.50 and get something bigger. These beds are 10'x2.5'x16".

After dark I continued working on the garden, on the internet. I want to make sure there are lots of enticing flowers for bees, birds, butterflies and beneficial insects, so I am putting in a boatload of seeds for wildflowers, sweet alyssum, roman chamomile, lavender and nasturtiums. I envision a dense border of fragrant and eye-catching flowers along the edges of the garden, drawing in all sorts of creatures that dine exclusively on squash bugs, bean beetles, Colorado potato beetles, cabbage worms, blister beetles, aphids, mosquitoes, and hornworms. I want it to be a beautiful bloodbath. And now I am picturing Snidely Whiplash, tying a hornworm to some railroad tracks, twirling his waxed mustache and giggling gleefully. But I will not come rescue the vine chomping menace — NO! I am only here to tighten the ropes. Now who’s giggling gleefully? And who can disagree that when it comes to pest control, flowers beat the hell out of gloves and a bucket of soapy water.

Ten Fingers, Ten Toes, Part the First

11 Feb

I hate using power tools.  I would rather spend six times longer doing something with a hammer and a chisel than whip out a router.  I don’t mind the endless monotony of a simple screwdriver.  Staple guns scare the bejeezus out of me.  But I draw the line at handsaws.  One of the few handy things I dislike more than power tools in general, is the handsaw.  I can’t use one efficiently or neatly to save my life.  My cuts are ragged and jagged and look much like I’m in training for a role in a slasher flick.  If you remember back a couple of posts, I recently purchased a truckload of cedar boards – not from a meth lab – and now it’s time to make those raised beds.  And those boards will all have to be cut to length.  Yikes.  So, putting on my bravest of faces, out of the barn came the Skilsaw and the saw horses.

Full disclosure here — I haven’t used anything like a Skilsaw or an electric saw of any sort since the jigsaw projects in 6th grade shop class.  Dan was horrified to learn this later.  “Why didn’t you ask me to give you a lesson?  That is SO scary!”  So I told him the truth.  “Well, it didn’t look that hard.  And it wasn’t.  Look, ten fingers, ten toes — it’s all good.”  What wasn’t good was the weather.  I checked with NOAA, as I do obsessively, and it was just supposed to be cold and windy, made even colder by the windiness.  So somewhere into cutting the seventh or eighth board, I was surprised to find myself not surrounded by swirling sawdust, but by swirling flurries.  Oh well, I needed to go the hardware store anyway, and it was time to get Bea up from her nap, and it was lunchtime and I needed to check on Dan, who has the stomach flu and couldn’t have given me a lesson anyway, unless we were cutting lumber in the bathroom.

Several hours, a trip to the hardware store, some leftover turkey tetrazzini, and a short nap of my own later, the temperature had dropped and the wind had picked up, but at least it was sunny, so I thought I’d give it another go.  I will go ahead and claim success, at the risk of jinxing things, because I got the first tier of the deep potato beds done.  And I even pulled out the electric screwdriver, because it was just too damn cold to stand outside any longer than I needed to, and I needed to feel like I had accomplished something.  I think it looks pretty good.  And when it’s twice as deep and bursting with potatoes, I’ll be bursting with pride over my carpentry skills.

Now, I know that there should be pictures, and there will be, but not until I have one complete bed, and my fingers are warm enough to work the camera.

As Requested, Spinach Soup

9 Feb

I feel I should preface this by saying that my first few years of actual culinary training took place in the 18th century.  So my recipe creation skills lean more towards lists of ingredients and more away from exactness.  The good news is that I’m getting better at paying attention to how I make things, since Dan actually would like repeats of the same meals occasionally.  And I didn’t set my petticoat on fire making this (hopefully you won’t, either).

Since I happen to know a group of fantastic ladies who are hosting a Soup Swap at the end of this month, I’ll give the recipe in the large quantity I made.

Creamy Spinach and Mushroom Soup (because Costco’s having a sale!).

2 pounds fresh spinach
1 pound yellow onions
1 pound mushrooms
Veggie or chicken stock (about a quart, or enough)
Whole milk or cream (about a pint, or enough)
4 Tbsp butter
Salt, Pepper, Garlic, Allspice to taste
Dash of cream sherry if desired

Brown butter in stock pot. Add chopped onions and cook until they go glassy. Add chopped mushrooms and saute all together until the mushrooms have that great deep brown color and everything is starting to caramelize. Add the spinach (you may have to do this in several batches — it is a surprisingly huge pile) and stir around to let wilt. Now add enough stock to just reach the top of the veggies. You can add any seasoning at this point as well, since you are almost done. Let simmer until spinach is good and cooked, then begin adding milk. If you have a stick or immersion blender, this is a great opportunity to show it off. Whip that bad boy out and begin blending, adding milk as necessary to keep the soup fluid enough to actually blend. This can be an impressive feat of dual-action soupery, if someone happens to be watching. Or, as the alien blood splatter on the side of our otherwise shiny new fridge might testify, it is not the best task for the easily distracted or those with toddlers who like to pull cords. Taste. Adjust. Voila. Soup.

Dan thought this had a slightly bitter taste, but enjoyed it.  Spinach will taste a little like the often loathed veggie it is, so if you want to sweeten the pot (that was so intended), you can add a tablespoon of honey or a little brown sugar.

Note: If using fresh garlic, add in with the mushrooms.

NPR, Meth Labs and Raised Bed Lumber, Oh My

7 Feb

Yesterday I saw an ad on Craigslist for rough sawn cedar in agreeable dimensions for a great price, so of course I called. Today I went to pick it up. First of all, I would like to emphasize that I grew up in a rural place. Rural is comfortable and comforting to me. Where I went for these boards, was well past rural and extremely close to the Heart of Nowhere. It went something like this.

Rather than give me an address, the guy said just to call when I got to Somewhere and he would guide me. Apparently he reconsidered, because when I got there, I was told to meet him at the only fast food place in town (if I told you the name of this establishment, you might understand how far outside of an actual city we already were). From there I followed him down a pretty good sized road, a pretty good way, until we turned onto another smaller road. Coincidentally one of Dan’s coworkers lives down this road, so I still didn’t feel too adrift — until we shot past his place and kept going and going and turned onto an even smaller road. Now would be a good time to mention that I had been listening to NPR. Specifically a story on meth addicts and meth labs and the rural environments where they are often found. And the super explosive Shake and Bake meth method. And all I could think as we drove deeper into the void, was “This dude is taking me to his meth lab.” I tried to pay close attention to my surroundings and started working on an escape strategy should something go wrong. And then we turned again. Onto a one lane mud road, into dense forest. And at this point I almost stopped, but I had come so far…

So I cautiously rolled along, looking for places to turn around if I needed to and wondering how much control I would have over a pickup speeding backward over a bumpy mud road. And then I saw the sawmill. This was legit. He opened up his shop and that warm cedar smell flooded out, making me want the boards like the open door of a bakery makes me want to eat myself stupid on bread and cake. I left feeling bad that I had misjudged the guy who hand milled my new cedar planks and gave me a discount when he found out what they were for. That’s not to say there wasn’t something shady happening in that trailer, but nothing blew up while I was there. And I will go back when he has more milled and get another truckload.

Now I have enough planks for four deep raised beds (hello potatoes!) and they only cost 15 bucks per bed and a few gray hairs.

The Problem of Plenty

5 Feb

I have never actually seen it, but I hear there is a show called Hoarders, about people who do exactly that. Don’t anyone alert the producers, but I think I may qualify. Fortunately my collection doesn’t take up that much space, really, at least not until you have to find room for the transplants. I hoard seeds. I save seeds, buy seeds, trade seeds, swap seeds, but I always seem to have too many. Too many varieties, too many transplants, and conversely, never enough garden.

Earlier this year I decided it was time to do something about the baby food jars, pill bottles, folded paper towels, paper plates, sandwich baggies, big paper grocery bags and plastic tubs full of seeds. I wanted a card file for my seeds. Do you have any idea how antiquated that system is? It was hard to even find a card file, and when I finally found all of the components for my Dewey decimal of seeds and proudly put it all together, carefully labelled in little individual baggies and envelopes — there wasn’t enough room. I need another card file. And that hasn’t stopped me from getting more seeds. My dad gave me some he’d been sitting on for several years. I ordered a watermelon variety that I wanted, and since I was paying shipping anyway…well, you can figure out what happened. And now, I’ve taken to tacking on my miscellany to other people’s seed orders. A friend recently asked me if I needed anything, and since she was already ordering, I figured I could go ahead and get that last tomato I wanted. Is there a pill for this? Do I need counseling?

But seeds can’t just sit there. What’s the good in that? It’s like collecting stamps and never mailing anything. I want to plant everything, but right now my gardens are just not big enough and somehow they’re still too big to find the time to properly manage. But I can’t fit everything in, so of course I plan on expanding. Seriously, can anyone recommend a 12 step program? I started more seeds this afternoon and now the cellar is fairly busting at the seams with flats of sprouts. My goal this year is to grow more than just what we need and to provide for others, so I should be growing lots of fewer things, probably, not fewer of lots of things. Rationally I understand this. But when faced with a fleet of flats and a stack of seed packets, I immediately begin to bargain with the space. I can plant less of those and make room for these. And I must have this, and this and ooh, this. I have allotted 6 raised beds for curcurbitas in the garden plan this year, a generous amount considering everything else that’s got to be planted. So, how do I fit cucumbers, 5 varieties of summer squash, 6 varieties of winter squash, 2 kinds of pumpkins and some melons into that space? And here is where I admit that these are just the numbers I finally decided I couldn’t do without. This is not something that intercropping alone can fix. I need a Tardis to accomplish a feat of that magnitude. So I find myself making bargains again. I have to promise some seeds they will be second string — I’ll pull them off the bench when the squash bugs decimate the first plantings. Or I’ll plant them next season — they’ll still be viable, and I will love them all the more for having waited, right?

Then there are the things I wait too long to plant, because they take up too much space for too long, and I covet the real estate. So they don’t do well, or don’t happen at all. I will have parsnips this year. Next year I’ll put in some salsify. As much as I love asparagus, I am a little resentful of it, because it’s always there and I could be using that space for something the other 10 months of the year. God help us all when it’s time to plant the rhubarb.

p.s. the seed pack image belongs to 3potato4 — thanks!

A productive day off

2 Feb

I guess one of the downsides of being a grownup is working just as hard on your days off.  At least I got to sleep until 8am!  The potato rescue event that I had planned today was cancelled by the DOT, henceforth to be known as the Great DOTato Fiasco of 2012, and I suddenly had an entire day with no plans.  So I made some.

Bea and I went to Costco, where we were too early to partake of the sampling/moveable feast, but we did score some organic spinach on sale.  More on that later.  Then we went to the hardware store to pick up some seed flats and a scuffle or hula hoe.  I think I like hula better — just sounds like more fun.  Scuffle sounds like something you might do with  street tuffs in an alley.

Then it was off to the garden.  By the end of the afternoon I was exhausted, muddy, and swearing at my tiller like a sailor, but I had harvested the last of my fall broccoli, onions and collards, and cleared and tilled six beds for winter/spring transplants.  This weekend I should be able to add some composted leaf mulch and horse manure, and maybe clear more beds.  I also plan to plant some wild asparagus seeds I gathered along our fence and see what happens.  On the planting calendar I have cabbage, collards and broccoli to seed as well.

And now back to the spinach.  Tonight we had creamy mushroom and spinach soup with leftover cheesy cornbread croutons.  Don’t adjust your monitors, it really is that color.

Mushroom Spinach Soup with Cornbread Croutons

No leprechauns were harmed in the making of this soup

Cornbread (or keep your skillet good and greasy)

1 Feb

We are having cornbread with supper tonight, a staple in our house. I can’t make cornbread without thinking of a friend’s description of his mother’s cornbread — “It could choke a horse.” This is not that kind of cornbread. I first came across this basic recipe when I was baking in a local restaurant, and have since tweaked it to meet our tastes (and pantry). Tonight it has some shoepeg corn and chipotle powder in it, to compliment the mojo chicken (baked in mojo criollo) and honey-spiced carrots. It’s moist and light and now even better than ever since I found the best cornmeal around.

There is a farm a county or two to the west that grows and grinds their own corn. At first I thought the really good cornbread was a fluke, but it’s not. It’s the cornmeal. Milk and Honey Farm sells locally (at the Cobblestone Market by Krankies in season) and at their farm. Check them out if you want some top notch cornbread, corncakes, corn muffins, polenta, you name it. While you’re there, get some of the Porto Rico sweet potatoes. You won’t believe a plain baked sweet potato could be so stinking good.

HoneyBea Farm Cornbread (adapted from Moosewood Cookbook)

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/4 cup honey
3 tbsp butter, melted

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix buttermilk, egg and honey in another container. This is best baked in a cast iron skillet, so pull out a 9 or 10 incher and use it to melt your butter, swishing the butter around to grease the pan. Mix wet into dry and add butter last. Pour into pan and bake at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes, depending on your oven.

You can add onions, peppers, sun dried tomatoes, corn, cheese, herbs, spices, and even some sausage crumbles. Just some ideas from our experience, but you go crazy!

On the off chance that you don’t stand around the stove eating the entire pan, it’s good in the morning with apple butter. If you get distracted and let it sit out overnight, cube it, toss with a little olive oil and herbs and bake up some killer soup croutons.

One satisfied customer

Answers from Mr. Lu

31 Jan

The other night I couldn’t face the kitchen – the mess, the planning, the cooking, the cleanup – so Mr. Lu’s it was. A quart of Veggie Lo Mein, an order of Veggie Egg Foo Young and a few Crab Rangoons later, we made it to the fortune cookies. Mr. Lu always gives extra, so I had two fortunes (lucky me) and I couldn’t have asked for better fortunes.

Fortunate fortunes

I DO appreciate the caring people who surround me, although I may not call or write or visit as often as I would like.  And I really miss some of you terribly.  And the surprise, well, who doesn’t love surprises?  Maybe the surprise will be a card or a thoughtful phone call, or Kickstarter funding…They’re all great options.  If you don’t know about the Kickstarter project, click the link to the right and check it out.  As my husband says, I just need 5,000 people to pledge a dollar apiece.  That shouldn’t be too hard, right?  Tell your friends!

This also brings me to something I have been pondering.   Endless hours of weeding strawberries and stripping trellising off t-posts gives you lots of time to think.  Often I hear people speak of curmudgeonly farmers and imply that if farmers wanted to work with other people they would be in a different business.  It’s true that there can be a lot of isolation on a farm, but I have to say the farmers, gardeners and horticulturists I have worked with have been some of the kindest, most open and most generous people I have known.  When you are invited to a farm, usually you are invited to a home.  That seems like such an extension of trust.  You are being invited to a place where people live AND work, where almost all of the day to day things happen, and that seems so intimate.  But that’s not all.  Farmers share work, ideas, struggles, successes and seeds (physical and metaphysical).  It seems like the exact opposite of the grumpus farmer, alone except for a scarecrow and happier for it.  I’m sure those people are out there, but I guess they haven’t had me out for a visit…

And now that I have rambled on, I planted English peas and snow peas on my new trellis.  I’ll be sure to write about it when they are up.