Friday, May 17, 2013

Some Progress Indoors

It's the time of year when I'm much more concerned with garden projects than indoor projects. However, we have made a little progress. We hung the mantle a while ago, but I never posted a picture.

We also put up the last bits of trim in the dining and living rooms. I need to get my butt in gear to paint the cabinets, but I will wait until next week most likely.

Thriving Yard

Bunch #3 of kale from our raised bed.

Radishes! Don't throw out their tops, do this instead.

Pak Choy, Cabbage, Collards, and lots o' Kale

Not a bug or bite on these leaves! 

The snap peas were stunted from the row cover, so I sucked it up and freed that whole garden bed.

Garlic tops! You could harvest now, but that'd mean less mature garlic later.


Peonies are ready to rock.

And the rhubarb is most undead.

Tomatoes, started from seed, now hardening off before they go in the ground next week.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Custom Wallpaper!

I couldn't find wallpaper I liked, so I decided to commission a toile of my life! You'll recognize the house, the bunny, the garden, the chicken coop, and pittsburgh's downtown. Also included is a fire engine and my busstop in squirrel hill. 

A friend of mine from my Colorado days, who also happens to be a talented illustrator, did the piece. If you are interested in seeing more of his work, I suggest you go to his lovely professional website:

I've sent away for samples from Spoonflower, and if all goes well, I will be ordering wallpaper rolls. Spoonflower also does fabric, decals, and wrapping paper so I could customize my whole life if I feel inclined!

This wallpaper purchase does mean I've broken a rule: I wasn't supposed to start thinking about bedroom or bathroom renovations until I was done with the kitchen. And we are far from done with the kitchen....

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Violet Jelly

Tomato seedlings under the grow light.
I had big plans for today: rent a nail gun from Home Depot, finish the living and dining rooms, (or, you know, quasi-finish), maybe even get going again on the kitchen painting. I sent Alex to grab the nail gun while I made a quick batch of jelly to can and got the yogurt maker going. I was feeling very industrious, but we forgot one key thing.

Today is the Pittsburgh Marathon.

Alex had to drive 15 miles east just to find a place where he could cross Penn Avenue (the main street, located between us and the Home Depot) and even then, couldn't find any road on which he could go back west. Boo.

Still, this was a productive weekend all in all. Yesterday we moved, scrubbed down, disinfected, and reoriented the chicken coop. We transplanted all the tomato seedlings up into bigger pots. They are looking very healthy and happy. Yesterday I made and canned lemon curd. Then we attended the second annual "Food in Our Neighborhoods" event at Chatham. The students do a great job of putting it together, and there is always yummy grub to be had. One woman at the event was selling dandelion jelly and violet jelly, made from wildflowers on her farm. It was gorgeous and delicious, so we bought some at the heart-rending price of 10$ for 4 ounces (!!!!)
Wild violets soaking in the boiling water.
Aren't they gorgeous?
We have dandelions and violets all over the yard, so I got to thinking. How hard would this be to make some of our own.

The answer is, not very.
Blue violet infusion.

Now it's purple once the lemon juice
is added.
Finally it becomes pink with the sugar addition.
I picked 2 cups of violets in the time it took to get our kettle to boil water. You pour 2 cups boiling water over the violets, and let them steep for up to 24 hours. The water is a gorgeous blue color, which is pretty fun.

Then you just make jelly the usual way: lemon juice, sugar, pectin, and heat. The lemon juice changed the color to purple, and because I only have unrefined sugar, the color changed a little more to pink when I added the sweetener.

It's a really subtle flavor. I think it'd work better as a syrup so the violet is more concentrated. I also think squishing the violets more to get more oil out of the petals might work well. Dandelion is a more flavorful flower, so the jelly ends up tasting a lot like honey. We'll try that this week.

They don't look like much now, but it'll
be awesome when it's holding buckets of
potatoes in midsummer.
We also got most of the seed potatoes planted, and indeed, constructed new experimental stacking potato beds from old trim we removed from the living room. Pictures to come, once the vines pop out. Right now it's just a depressing pile of old tires and mud.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Ok, it's really, really spring now. For real.

Apple tree still alive, unmarred by deer, and
surrounded by violets.
Yesterday, we harvested the first huge bunch of kale from four plants that we over-wintered. This morning we sautéed some and topped toast with our girls' eggs, local salsa from the CSA, and the kale. Add a side of hash browns made from local taters, and it was a great saturday morning feast.

This does make finding a corner of table on
which to eat breakfast a little tricky.
Most of the herbs I was certain had died are looking great all of a sudden, the strawberry plants look ready to get down to business, and I transplanted a ton of healthy tomato seedlings into larger pots this morning. Yesssssssss!

I also dug out my seed potatoes from the back of the fridge, cut the ones that needed separating, and set them out on newspaper to dry. If all goes well, they'll be in the ground in the next few days.

The kitchen is back in production mode.

But perhaps the most spring-y part of today, is that I did our first round of canning. Huzzah! We had a few of the lemons left that Alex's aunt and uncle sent, and managed 4.5 cups worth. I love this stuff, and I love giving it out to people, which means you can never have enough. The curd is yellowier than I was last time we made it because the girls' eggs are so much more colorful than the ones you get in the store. It's gorgeous.
I finally got little jars!

If you are interested in trying it for yourself, the recipe is below. Adapted from Sheri Brooks Vinton's Put Em Up Cookbook because I like my curd tangier and thicker than her recipe suggests.

1.5 sticks of unsalted organic butter
1 c sugar (preferably raw or unrefined, fair trade and vegetarian)
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs (our girls eggs are a little smaller than the store-bought kind, so I add a 5th sometimes)
1 c lemon juice (from 5-ish organic lemons)
1 T lemon zest (or just whatever comes from the lemons you juiced.)

Combine all in a double boiler, and whisk until it's a custard, around 10 minutes. You can store this in the fridge in an airtight container for 2 weeks, or can in a water bath canner for 10 minutes so it's shelf stable for a year. Yumm-o! If you don't have lemons, limes or oranges would work too.

Friday, May 3, 2013

This is Why We Could Really Use a Farm Truck...

Sucesses and Failures in Local Cooking w Spring Ingredients

We subscribe to a "Cabin Fever" CSA share this year. It gives us a box of goodies from a cooperative of local growers from the beginning of April until the middle of June, which is about the time when our garden will be exploding. It isn't actually enough to keep us fed all week, so supplements from the freezer and our garden are working really well.

It was a slow spring here, so there are very few greens so far, and more value-added products like corn meal, honey, maple syrup, and cheese. This week we got ramps, which I'd never had before. They get a huge thumbs up - filling the taste space between spring onions and garlic. In Appalachia, there are ramp festivals every year heralding the Spring. Ramps used to be poor people food, but now they are trendy, so farmers get 17$ a pound now as opposed to the 2$ they'd get 10 years ago.

I took the local wheat flour we got in the CSA box last week, combined it with salt, yeast, local honey, and water to make the pizza dough, and topped it with some of the last of our homemade tomato paste, local goat gouda cheese, and the sauteed ramps. Was it the best thing I ever tasted? No. But it was pretty doggone yummy!

Sauteed the ramps and their green tops in a little butter.

The local gouda got a rough grate and went onto the pizza

As usual, I never remember to take pics until we've begun eating.

Then yesterday, I decided to use the recipe for a cheesy grit souffle that my CSA posted to their weekly blog. The recipe called for hominy grits, but the CSA suggested I use some of the local cornmeal instead. I added spinach instead of the suggested ramps (all gone), and it looked like a really lovely polenta.

Until I cooked it. I don't have a souffle dish, but the recipe said it needed to bake in the oven in a water bath. I put it in a springform pan, and put that in my largest frying pan filled with water, which then went into the oven. I knew immediately that I'd made a mistake. Some of the water seeped into the springform.

An hour later, I took the thing out and it looked pretty good. It had a nice crust on the top and seemed springy and eggy. The second I unsnapped the Springform though, it all oozed out the sides. Nothing else had become spongey or souffle-like but the top layer. Two hours down the drain.

We did eat it. It was polenta, basically, and a tasty polenta at that. It was also one of the more filling meals I'd ever had. Peasant food gets the job done.