Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Night Gardening

One of my favorite things about long summer days is that I still have about an hour and a half of daylight after the kids are down for the night. A few days ago, after putting down the kids, I watered thoroughly (all this predicted rain has just not been happening lately); spread almost-ready compost over parts of the garden (this is the compost to which I had previously added the horse manure my uncle gave me to improve my raspberry soil--thank you, Uncle Darry!; picked peas; put "compost tea" on my grape vine (a euphemistic name if I've ever heard one); and examined the progress of some of my plants.

The zucchini is getting one last chance with me this year. Every year I give up on it because of mildew mold, and my plants have got it again this year, but I'm going to wait and see. I decided if my plants do not produce at least five zucchinis before all is said and done, I will give up on growing zucchinis for at least the next few years.

The green beans are actually doing significantly better since I raised the bed where I was growing them.

I found a great recipe for this broccoli rabe, combined with the bok choy I'm growing in another bed in the book The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without by Mollie Katzen.
The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without

My cucumbers did really terribly last year, so I planted extra this year. The plants I started from seed indoors turned yellow when I planted them out and had to be pulled. So I put some seed right in the ground and also bought a few cucumber plants. Anyway, it's looking like they're doing alright so far this year. We ate our first cucumber tonight. I'm so excited. I can handle not getting any zucchini far better than no cucumber.

The lettuce has been providing us with quite a few salads. It's a little more bitter at this point, but we're still eating it.

I put up a string trellis behind my tomatoes in the front yard. I'm trying a different system for staking them this year. I hope they just sort of grow up onto my porch posts.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cuban Urban Farming . . . How Inspiring!

Black Raspberry Rhubarb

 Move over strawberries . . . here come black raspberries.  These are my favorite thing I grow.  And (thank you, Uncle Darry!) I have a great variety of canes, not that I know what variety that is.  But they are so sweet and really thriving.  I'm really excited for next year because I decided to expand my raspberry section with the baby plants that showed up this year.  Really, a bunch of raspberries (which sell for about $5/pint in my neck of the city) is just a tastier and more cost-effective use of my land than saving more room for say, zucchini.  I just started getting some this week, still just a few handfuls a day, but I think it'll pick up a little soon.  I have red raspberries in the front that bear in the fall.  This year I had to pinch off a few early flowers off of that one--those reds better not try to cross with my beloved black raspberries.

 Tonight I tried something new.  Since we don't yet have enough raspberries for everyone to have more than 5 or 6 at a time, I thought I'd pick a few of my bigger rhubarb leaves and make some black raspberry rhubarb sauce.  It was really, really good.  I just made it like my strawberry rhubarb sauce but put in the black raspberries in place of the strawberries.  I don't know, I might like it even better.

I think the grapes will be the next to grace our table with fruit.  God is so good!  Imagine, all this abundance in inner city Philadelphia!

Getting Bigger

Abigail is truly a force to be reckoned with at this point.  She makes sure her voice is heard.  And if "we're" playing piano, scoot over.  She's so in on it.  She now says: Dada, nana (banana), nigh nigh (goodnight), dah (done), Mama (this one's infrequent and a little questionable, but she whines it at me when she's really annoyed and I'm counting it), and I think there's one more but this is all I remember.

Abigail can stand for a few seconds now without holding on to anything.  It's only a matter of time . . . 

Mommy Camp

Mommy Camp kicked off this week.  I decided that while we are not going to pay for camp for our 3 and 5 year-old, there was no good reason that we couldn't make a "camp" schedule for the summer.  So on This week we made our calendar for the 12 weeks of summer.  It's really tall, it wouldn't all fit in the picture.  That way the kids can look and see when we're going to Lancaster to visit Grandma and Grandpa, when we're going to South Carolina to visit Meme and Granddaddy, and when we're going to the beach (those are generally the three questions I get asked daily).  We went to two parks for picnic lunches and playdates, and we went to the zoo.  We had our first piano lesson and we made string bracelets for our first craft.  I am a little tired, but I have to say that it would be way worse to not really have any structure to these three birds in the nest days.  Plus, "camp" only really lasts between one and three hours.  Grocery store visits and life have to fit in around this stuff.

Here's our weekly schedule:

Mon:  Micah work with Mommy on reading, math, writing practice/Jesse work on independent "workbook"--then switch.  This day will also be a theme day.  Monday was summer kick-off day, and I don't know what else we'll do (sports day, letter "c" day, water fun day . . .)

Tues:  Craft, outing

Wed:  Piano lesson, pool

Thurs:  Mommy project (I have no idea what this means for tomorrow, maybe gardening?) with boys; playdate.

Fri:  Daddy off work (most of the time, for the summer only)

So we're excited.  The kids are really looking forward to "Camp Week" when I plan on setting up the tent in the yard for the week for the kids to play in.  I'll have to post highlights.  :)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Girl Grilling

I listened to Elizabeth Karmel from GirlsattheGrill.com interviewed on NPR as spring hit and the nice weather started and she challenged the notion that only men can grill.  She suggested that men were having all the fun out there with their beers laughing while women did the more grueling cooking indoors.  

I saw her point, but remained unconvinced.  I don't contest that women can grill, I just question why they'd want to.  I mean, I don't know if your husband is like mine, but I can count the number of meals he cooks in a year on one hand (or two at the most).  (In fairness, he can count in the same way the amount of times I do the pest removal or many other undesirable tasks I save for him--and, hey, I'm not complaining about our division of labor, it works for me.)  But nights when we grill are the only times that at least part of the meal is not my problem.  I'm usually in the kitchen prepping everything else, but part of the meal is taken care of with little or no involvement on my part.  

Then that last heat wave hit, and Owen and I decided to ride it out until the beautiful weather this week came (we were studying the 10 Day Forecasts like wannabe meteorologists) instead of installing air conditioners.  We did make it, but wow, it got really hot.  And the day it went up to 90-something outside and I chose to bake bread . . . let's just say I was literally icing myself down at the end of the day.  

Amazingly, I was not sufficiently inspired to grill that week.  I just went for meals that required as little cooking and as little effort as possible.  I was big into rice noodle dishes.  It's no wonder that those originate in hot Asian climates.  But once the house felt bearable again, I've found it even harder to use my stove or oven.  The house needs to recover, I need to recover.  I even begrudge the toaster the small amount of heat it produces in the kitchen, and I cannot understand why my husband is still boiling water for hot tea in the mornings.  Inconceivable!  :)

So tonight I bit the bullet and went for the grill.  My kids, amusingly enough, were alarmed.  "No, Mommy!  You'll burn yourself!"  I scoffed at that, and read the directions on the grill quickly.  (I have used the grill, but only a few times and not within the last year.)  I assured them that I was more than competent to handle the grill, it's no more dangerous than the stove, but turning the gas supply knob does make me a little nervous.  I did OK, except that I didn't light the correct side at first because I didn't read carefully enough.  So when I did get the right side lit it made a little bit of a gas poof, which Micah informed me does not happen when Daddy grills.

Dinner was great tonight, though, and completely foil-wrapped and made on the grill (except for a pasta salad made from leftover pasta):  
  • asparagus and garlic with olive oil
  • pre-seasoned Wild Turbot (fish) from Trader Joe's
  • potatoes with deep grooves cut in, rubbed in salt and olive oil

I am very proud of my grilling prowess.  

Alright, ladies, who's grilling these days?

Seasoned Popcorn

When it was unbearably hot last week, one of the lighter foods I enjoyed eating (and I pretty much ate only light foods, with the exception of maybe ice cream) was seasoned popcorn.  I actually am not a big popcorn lover, it tastes kind of like air to me (or chemicals, if it's from a bag), unless it is stove popped and well-seasoned.  My favorite popcorn recipe is of course one I made up:

Homemade Seasoned Popcorn
To stove-cook popcorn, for the uninitiated, you pour popcorn to cover most of the bottom of a big pot and add enough canola oil so that there's a thin film under all of the kernels and then heat on high until the popping slows to a few seconds between pops (honestly, it's so much better and ridiculously easy-- I can't believe the microwave popcorn business does so well).

After it's popped I sprinkle on:
  • salt
  • garlic powder
  • turmeric
  • paprika
  • italian seasonings

It doesn't even need butter, and it tastes really, really good.  I even love this popcorn.

The Greens Have It

From left to right: swiss chard, redbor kale, white russian kale, bok choy (pac choi on the packet), and broccoli rabe
We're starting to harvest the greens now.  The arugula is over, it went to seed.  The lettuce is finally thriving (we've got multiple salads out there waiting for harvest, hilariously I have to use up the lettuce I bought first).  And the kale and swiss chard is actually looking big enough that I feel like I can pick it.  I'm really excited that my broccoli rabe is filling out, it looked a little peaked for a while.  I used the above greens and cooked them in bacon grease with mushrooms and we ate them beside our bacon, arugula, mushroom pizza last weekend.  Pretty amazing, I must say.  It'll be really exciting to have enough of each of those to make a monochromatic side of just broccoli rabe or bok choy, for example.  The distinct flavor of each green is lost in a mixed bag greens saute.  Still, it was an exciting first step.  And Abigail has been eating our steamed kale and swiss chard this week, which will hopefully help her slightly low iron levels.  I can't wait until the garden gets to the point where I can wander outside at 4:00 to see what I find for supper.  What's your favorite part of the spring harvest?

The Graduate!

So while I must confess that I do find a preschool graduation a rather amusing concept (they sure weren't doing that when we were little--and did my parents even go to preschool?), it was a little insane to watch Micah switch over to school-aged.  He's already very excited for kindergarten, and I guess I'm ready for it . . . we'll see.  I've heard it's harder than I think it's going to be.  Meanwhile, we're embarking on "Mommy Camp" this summer, because we're not doing any camps this summer and because this is the last summer I'll have them all before they get to school and their parents lose mucho influence to peers and teachers.  It's also probably one of the last summers anything like "Mommy Camp" could sound remotely appealing.  I'll post more about it in another post.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fight for Right to Photograph Farms! (Really!)

State legislatures nationwide are considering bills to make it illegal to photograph farms.  While may seem like a little thing, it's one more alarming step in the wrong direction.  It could only distance people from their food supply and make it easier for industrialized food to do whatever they want (translate: whatever creates food for the least amount of money, no matter the environmental or health impact).

If you want to raise animals in inhumane conditions, you certainly don't want people coming in with cameras--pictures of sick cows covered in their own manure will hardly sell more burgers this summer.  But I fail to see the benefit to the animals or the consumers in helping big farms hide these conditions from the public.  Smaller farmers, raising animals in humane conditions, are welcoming photographers onto their farms to take pictures.

Consider signing the following petition from SlowFoodUSA: Keep it legal to photograph farms!

Transparency is always a good thing when trying to keep big business "honest"--or in trying to shift things that direction.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Gluten-Free Sourdough, Take Two

My bubbling and active sourdough starter.
So I'm back to making the sourdough bread again.  I gave it up a year ago because I couldn't handle the sourdough smell while I was pregnant.  I had to throw away the starter.

I've had mixed results.  The starter is good, active and not too sour.  And it was easy to come up with that again: one part flour, one part water, a little sugar, a little kefir.  But since I stopped for a year and didn't write down any measurements for making the actual bread when I was in the swing of making it . . . I am finding it very difficult to get going again.

I baked five different days so far.  Day one was moderately successful, a little flat but tasty.  Days two and three weren't cooked all the way through.  Day four was amazing.  Day five I left the house while it was cooking and didn't get to turn the heat down partway through, not the best.  So what I need to do this time is actually measure, really, and record it in the blog so that I can replicate it if I take another year long hiatus.  I also realized that any readers who actually wanted to try to make the bread on their own probably found it really annoying.  My apologies if anyone else found it as annoying as I did the past two weeks to try to figure out what Val meant by "a little bit" or "almost kneadable."  That is the most difficult part of all of this: how close to "kneadable" to get the bread.  If I was using wheat, kneadable would be the way to go.  But typically gluten-free gets dry and choky unless you keep the dough pretty moist.  Interestingly, though, I keep letting the bread be too wet.

I will press on, and I will share measurements when I have them.

A Quart of Berries

Our largest yield yet was a quart--we had several days where we got a pint.
We had a good crop of strawberries from our patch this year, probably about 2 and 1/2 quarts so far.  We still may try to go pick some to freeze for the winter (that was pretty great last year).  I just need to find an organic strawberry farm near Philadelphia.  Anyone know of any?