Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Guess What Still Isn't Finished.....

THE FLOORS! The stain looked phenomenal, but I screwed up the eco friendly top coat. Then Alex tried to gently sand that off and destroyed half the stain. Then we ran out of stain (that we'd waited THREE WEEKS to get in the first place, and that Artemis Environmental claimed would cover twice the area we have.)

I broke down and just bought polyurethane. The hallway is finished and looks fabulous. The dining room is 2/3rds done, but the final third has neither stain nor finish. The living room is getting there, but needs the stain touched up and a new top coat.

This floor has made me cry, and driven Alex to drink. We need to get it DONE!

However, we have completed the world's ugliest, but most functional and dog-proof pen for the chickens. They graduated to grower feed today, since they are now two months old. It's always fun to visit our "Urban Chicken Headquarters" in Regent Square, since the pet store has chickens just hanging out at all times.

The garden is on the verge of insane productivity. Today we tried a few of the Amaranth greens, but I think you're either supposed to pick them smaller or cook them, since they were pretty bitter. Snap peas are probably halfway done with production, but the french and green beans have flowers, so it'll be a week or so until they start churning out a ton of beans. The surprise early producer is our peppers. We have two killer green bell peppers on the vine, and some great looking jalapenos.

I learned a little something about cauliflower: you're supposed to plant it for fall! Who knew? I'm just happy it produced anything, given the warm weather. I think the weather is preventing our broccoli from doing anything. They are leafy again after we killed all the caterpillars with neem, but haven't flowered yet, and it's pretty late for that. We shall see. If not, I will plant more to over winter.

I'm having a great time eating half our bounty and squirreling half of it away in freezer bags for winter. We have 1/2 gallon of cauliflower, 1/2 gallon of broccoli, and 1/3 gallon of snap peas. For those interested in preserving veggies for later, the best method is to blanch them in hot water for a minute or two, them submerge them in ice water. Dry them off thoroughly to prevent freezer burn, and stash them in thick freezer bags or freezer containers. I also have a few precious blueberries chucked in there, but it's about one day's worth on yogurt or in cereal. We'll need to buy bushels of rasps at the market for me to satisfy my 5$ a week frozen raspberry habit all year.

Friday, June 15, 2012

When Life Gives You Lemons...

Make Lemon Curd!

Yesterday we got an incredibly exciting package in the mail. A relative who lives in San Diego sent Alex (and I) a huge box of his home-grown lemons. These things were big, and their juice is so delicious. Since they weren't from the store, I know they aren't waxed, and so they won't last very long. I'd never made lemon curd before, so I decided to give it a try. Particularly since this is what our fruit bowl currently looks like:

We have a lot of lemons!
What a Thoughtful Treat!! I may have promised to play video games in return for these puppies, though.

I halved the sugar in the recipe, and used local eggs for the custard. Yuuuum! It is delicious and tart. This is no mild, namby-pamby lemon curd you get at the specialty food store. It's bright and gorgeously yellow and it will add flavor and creamy texture to shortbread and pound cakes all year! I'll probably do another round to give as present, but I didn't have enough butter on hand to make it happen this morning.
Add 1 cup lemon juice and 1 T zest to double boiler

Add 1 1/2 sticks butter, 1 cup sugar, and 4 eggs and whisk constantly until it thickens

These are the eggs we just picked up from the Phipps Farmer's Market

Strain through a mesh sieve if you want, but I always skip that in any recipe.
Laddle into jars and process 10 minutes.

Lemon curd is great because it employs both the juice and the zest. The spent lemon peels didn't go to waste either, because I mixed up a batch of lemon cucumber water as well. It's like the spa is right in my kitchen! For people who don't like drinking water, this is a great way to feel luxurious while you're hydrating.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Changes Afoot in the Garden

Last week I was so pissed off with the cauliflower, that I considered pulling it out completely. It takes up probably a fifth of the space in its raised bed. It attracts bugs. It shades everything. It's sort of the worst. But now I'm glad I didn't make that choice. A gorgeous, currently bug-free head of cauliflower is developing this week and it should be mighty tasty. Allegedly, if you cut off the head, another smaller one will grow. I don't really know how to do that, though, because it's pretty difficult to get to. 

The blueberry bush is looking healthy. We planted it in a deep hole that we filled with sandy soil and soil acidifier. The berries are really tart, but I like them that way. I think all in all, we got about a pint of berries, which isn't bad at all for the first year.

Another huge, annoying plant was the brussel sprouts. As you can (maybe) see, though, they are developing sprouts all along the center stalk. Yippee! Two stalks will net a few pounds of brussel sprouts, which is plenty for us.

As I mentioned last post, the chickens are escape artists. We're constructing a new pen so they can roam any time we're home. It's proving a far bigger pain in the ass than we anticipated. And no, it isn't a trick camera angle, nothing on that sucker is level.

The garden looks so lush and happy! Weeds aren't really a problem, since the plants have gotten so big.

There's the first little jalapeno!

And snap peas are forming all over the unruly vines. Next year, even though they are not supposed to need trellising, I will trellis them madly. They are leaning every which way and impeding the carrots' progress.

The last of the lettuce has bolted. I should really pull this out and plant something else, but it's so shady it'd be hard for a new plant, and I'm curious about what happens next. Where do the seeds come from?

Another cool surprise is the bed of tiger lilies growing on the side of the house. They make things look cheerful now that the roses and peonies are out of commission.

Early girl tomatoes are setting in droves! Now all we need is a few more sunny days and we should be drowning in tomatoes all summer!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I'm a bad blogger...

It's been about 2 weeks since I've posted anything. That doesn't mean that nothing's been happening, it just means I've been lazy. That, and my camera is acting unreliably, so I take all these pictures, can't get any of them to upload, and get annoyed.


The ladies are getting huge! They've been out in their coop for 2 weeks now, and are only just learning to put themselves to bed at sundown. This feels like an enormous victory, since I won't have to pick them up and chuck them inside so often. They've also become escape artists! The other morning, I went inside for a few minutes while they were in their pen. When I came back out, two of them were happily pecking... on the other side of the chicken wire! I can't figure out how they got there. It's pretty high for them to have flown over, and I couldn't find a spot for them to squeeze under. Mystery. Because of the great escape, we need to up the ante on chicken security. This afternoon, we're planning to build a new pen. One with a roof, and with a person-sized door. We can let the babies into this new pen in the morning so they have more time to roam, and then force them into the really predator proof run and coop at night. I think they'll be happier for this. The portable pen can go into retirement until fall when we need to sequester the ladies in the garden beds so they can eat all the bug larvae.


Things are getting enormous! The snap peas, which you aren't supposed to have to trellis, are almost collapsing under their own weight. I'm going to try to give them something new to climb up this week. They already buried the little metal stake I put in a month ago. The corn and beans are about a foot tall, and my Early Girl tomatoes have a ton of green fruit on them and the limbs of the plant come up past my waist!

Strangely, we have very few pests in the garden beds, but a TON of pests in the plants in pots on the patio. The cherry tomato has (had) aphids, but I sprayed it with Neem last week. For those who don't know, Neem is a plant oil that kills aphids, larvae, and adult bugs. It's ok for organic gardening, but should be used sparingly, since it also harms beneficial insects. The butterflies are laying their eggs in the center of the cauliflower and collard plants, so hand-picking the eggs doesn't work. Every morning there are new caterpillar attacks. Since the Neem, though, I don't see any new worms. It's just a matter of whether or not the plants will bounce back. I've said it before: I am NOT planting cauliflower next year. They take up too much room, take too long to grown, and attract far too many pests to the party.


We are DONE with the floor sanding, which is good, because my knees are pretty seriously bruised from the job. Still haven't received the floor stain, so now it's a game of trying not to ruin the bare floors when we walk on them. I expect the stain to arrive by this Friday at the latest. In the meantime, we'll work on staining the trim for the living and dining rooms, and building a secure pen for the babies. The eco-friendly paint did arrive, so the dining room wall is a lovely yellow, and the hallway is green. Very green. It's a bit Irish Pride Parade, if you ask me. However, I'm hoping to temper the color with a lot of hanging greenery.

The problem with green paint is that it's just one color. Greens in nature are so much more dynamic. I pick something I think looks like grass, but there's no variation and I'm always a little disappointed. I don't think I'm going to post any pictures of the house until the big reveal when the living room and dining room are all done.


On a hot tip from my parents, we learned you could grow a pineapple tree from the top of a pineapple. The trees have to come inside in winter, but how cool is that? We bought pineapples (even though they were from far away) in the hope that we could have our own pineapples a few years from now! You can also grow trees directly from the seeds of stone fruit like peaches or apricots. I'm waiting to find the fruit varieties that thrive in PA at the market later this summer, and then I'll sprout them as well.

We got what I think is the bumper crop of blueberries for the season: about a pint. I tried to eat them quickly, but we'll need to freeze them. Could be fun in blueberry pancakes later in the year! Blueberry jam of syrup doesn't seem as exciting.

The strawberry bourbon vanilla jam looks glorious! I only have two jars, so one for giving, one for eating. Seeing the shelf fill up a bit with new goodies for the coming year makes me feel secure in some arcane way. It also signals that I can use up the last of last year's frozen bounty. I still have a one gallon bag of whole tomatoes, and one gallon of crushed. Pasta sauce and chili will be happening this week. We've been eating horribly since friends were in town (always happens) so it will be nice to get back on track. No pizza! No pierogies! No pitchers of beer!