Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Head Start Raised Beds

     Today we constructed three new raised beds using #2 or 'Garden Stock' cedar. I like to take care of these chores in the Fall so that the soil mix has plenty of time to cure over the winter. Because it's such a slow time of year for them, the lumber company happily cut all of our wood to size for us. This was much appreciated, as the 2 x 12's were better pickings than the 2 x 8's, but a total pain to secure in our truck. So, we were that much closer to done when we got back. First, JP made a simple template for a corner joint from the scraps:

     He made sure that they were a loose fit, and traced them onto the corresponding wood:

Made the cut on the bandsaw (we can't keep a jigsaw alive for some reason. Or an avocado plant.)

Made good use of at least 3 rarely used objects in the garage; one of our house rules.

     Nailed the corners together with Paslode pleasure:

     And just like that, we have more space.....We did start removing the sod and turning the soil; tomorrow we'll get up early to fill the beds with leaves, rotted hay, compost, peat moss, and whatever else we can find. I can't wait to decide what to plant where!

     and meanwhile, the girls kept themselves busy.  I didn't get a picture, but one of them flew onto JP's    plate while he was eating a sandwich - good stuff...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

First Ever Food Swap

Yesterday morning before work, some friends and I came together for our first ever 'Food Swap.' Above is the booty, but there are a few disclaimers to be noted. Firstly, I'm a stickler for decent photographs, and this is one was not working out, so I decided to come back to it when I returned later in the afternoon. Really, this was JP's idea, but he forgot to mention that he would be eating most everything I was trying to photograph all day long. And I do mean everything...
Also, the bread, granola, and salad dressing were made by others, but the fruit chutney on the right is just a falsified stand in for the apple butter and hummus I gave out. Next week, I swear I'll get it right, as this little still life does not do any justice to how great everything tasted.
Now, for the specifics: We are currently a group of 4 (teetering on both 3 and 5) who have agreed to make larger batches of snacks and sides to share weekly. Our true intent is to trade main dishes, soups, stews, vegetables and bread throughout the winter, in order to save each other time and effort, and also because we're excited to try each other's food. With the Holidays coming, we've decided to keep it a bit simpler for now, but who knows when we'll jump in deeper. Or fall apart completely. But, the good news is that we've all agreed to continue on next week, and I am totally excited!
Tomorrow JP and I have a garden date (this is big news) so we'll be building some more raised beds, creating an interior hoop system inside the greenhouse, and with tremendous luck, building my dream composter/pergola/arbor. This last one has been difficult to talk him into, as he doesn't think that compost systems need stairs, but I have a secret diagram of his brain which I consult when I really need to sway his reactions. Photos to follow!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Soup Makin' & Seed Savin'

I've been working my way through a large CSA box of Winter Squash over the past few weeks, mostly making soups and grain dishes out of the 5 or 6 heirloom varieties that we have on hand. This past year, we didn't have space to grow squash ourselves, and so we arranged for a Fall Vegetable only CSA with our local organic farm. Next year, though, space has already been set aside, so I've been sure to rinse off all the seeds and label them for planting. Here's the recipe I use for pretty much every root vegetable soup I make, like the Acorn Squash & Apple Cider Soup above (with a homemade popover , leftover from JP's mom's birthday brunch this morning!)

Squash & Root Vegetable Soup
1 squash scrubbed, pierced with a fork, & baked at 375 for one hour, set aside to cool

Diced Root Vegetables to saute in olive oil over med. high heat for 5 -10 minutes:
3 carrots
1 med. onion
1 celeriac
1 turnip
3 parsnips
3 cloves garlic
1 sweet potato

I then add about 1 T nutmeg, 1 1/2 T thyme, and 1 t cayenne with 2 t salt and mix well. Next I add 1 - 2 diced apples, the squash (scraped out of it's skin) 1 Qt. vegetable stock, and about 1 1/2 C of apple cider. After letting the mixture come to a slight boil, I turn off the heat and puree in a food processor in batches, returning the smooth mixture to the pot. Lastly, I adjust the texture by adding a bit more cider, water, and sometimes a small amount of cream or half and half if I have any around. Then of course, I pour them into small glass pint jars, and they're off to the freezer for a perfect lunch with a hoophouse salad.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Great Apple Mint Harvest: Part Two (with eggplant)

As you may have read earlier, I recently harvested a lot of Apple Mint, and made a Rosemary Mint & Honey lip balm ( and indeed from a later batch I discovered that the correct ratio is really 3 parts oil to 1 part wax, with small amounts of extra softeners added.) Here is my perfected recipe, which will yield 100 tubes of balm:
  • 8 oz filtered beeswax, grated
  • 24 oz grapeseed, sweet almond, olive oil (or any other pure, food grade oil)
  • 2 T honey
  • 1/2 t pure Vitamin E oil
  • 1 oz cocoa butter
  • 8 drops Rosemary essential oil
  • 8 drops Peppermint extract
melt all in a slow cooker, adding the scents at the end, and pour into tubes!

Due to our warm spell, the pruned Apple Mint has a good amount of new growth - enough so that I can make my favorite eggplant recipe! This combination is very reminiscent of an appetizer that we served at a restaurant I used to work at in Richmond, Vermont, which is sadly no longer open. However, the actual recipe comes from what I thought was the Dean and Deluca cookbook, but I can't find it in there anywhere! It used to be in there. The warm salad on top of toasted crusty bread with hummus is totally addictive. You can trick any naysayer into eating eggplant this way, and you should because naysayers actually stop the world from spinning a little,  and are therefore dangerous to the rest of us.

Warm Eggplant Mint Salad

  • 2 medium eggplant, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 14 oz can crushed tomatoes (I use fire roasted by Muir Glen)
  • handful chopped or torn mint
  • balsamic vinegar
  • olive oil
  • salt

Preheat the oven to 375 or start a medium hot grill. To slice the eggplant, trim the top and the bottom so that the eggplant rests flat on your cutting board, and then trim off and discard two opposing sides before making your 1/4 inch slices. Now you only have a thin piece of skin around the edge of your slices. Toss the sliced eggplant with some oil and salt until they are coated, and then either grill or roast on a cookie sheet until the eggplant is cooked, but not so soft that it can't hold it's 'slice' shape (about 10 minutes.) Chop up and place in a bowl. Meanwhile, strain the tomatoes in a colander, and squeeze a bit of the excess juice out. Saute the sliced onion in oil over medium heat, adding the tomatoes after about 4 or 5 minutes. Stir for 2 minutes, and add the eggplant. After the mixture is combined, add a few dashes of balsamic until everything smells really good to you. Return mixture to the eggplant bowl and toss with the torn mint.

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