Tag Archives: gardening

My Garden Delivers Calm in a Mad, Mad world.

curled stamenMy garden has been a little haven this week. I planted this dianthus a couple of weeks ago and after a hard day at work this week I was brought back to a calm place in my mind by the incredible spicy clove scent of this little blossom. This one right here. These are commonly referred to as “Pinks”. It’s a small mounding plant with little blossoms. If you plant some, be sure to choose one with scent, not all dianthus have it.

mandarin blossomI love so many things about the Oregon climate. I miss the rain and the cold and the clouds. This little blossom reminded me that one of the things I missed about California was the ability to grow citrus. This one little blossom so full of rich balmy scent grounded me a few times this week. I park my Vespa right in front of it. I stop and smell anything that’s blooming every time I come home. I’m reminded what is good about the Mediterranean climate I live in. Plus, we did actually get rain last week and that was fantastic.

mushroom 4The rain we got is also the reason for this surprise – a cluster of mushrooms nestled in among the lemon balm in the fig tree barrel. I don’t know what it is but to see a mushroom in our dry climate is pretty exciting. Eventually I want to create an edible mushroom garden in our shady side-yard.

garlic bedI need to mulch the garlic beds. I’m afraid I didn’t plant the bulbs quite deep enough. They’ll do better with mulch, especially as the warm weather settles in.

garlic and foxgloveThis is my other garlic bed. I also have garlic planted around my roses and in between my herbs in the middle tier of my raised beds. These foxgloves were planted last year but remained small in the shadow of the summer squash that was in this bed at the time.

snow peasSnow peas! The snails ate the ones I planted a couple of months ago. Snails are proving to be a formidable pest in this garden. I have bought some Sluggo which I always found effective in the past.

sorrel 2My mom’s sorrel. I’m not a huge sorrel fan but isn’t this beautiful? It overwintered and is looking refreshed.

English DaisyEnglish daisies. I love daisies. All daisies. Such a simple joy. Even if you don’t have a garden you can have a pot of these in a sunny window.

My garden has been reminding me of the cyclical nature of things like time, seasons, feelings, trips, love, housework, jobs, opportunities, dreams. Things come around again and again. Sometimes it’s hard to see the cycle because it’s too small or too large for us to grasp. I don’t think we need to always see it. But it’s useful to be reminded that even things like death aren’t truly an end so much as a return to what we like to think of as the beginning.

The air this morning is mild and pretty. The mourning doves are cooing and it brings into focus other mornings from the distant past that are acutely pleasant to me. Summer mornings when I was 14 years old. My parents left me home alone for a week while the rest of the family traveled somewhere I can’t remember. They gave me grocery money and instructions to take care of the garden and animals. It was one of the best memories I have of being a teen.

I remember waking up early and watering the garden  before the heat set in. The mourning doves must have been cooing then too because that sound always brings me right back to this memory. I’d eat yogurt, fruit, and granola for breakfast. I’d drink tea. Then I’d watch soaps on tv while making paper dolls. Sometimes alone and sometimes with my two best friends. In the afternoon I would go down town and hang out with friends. Go to their houses, or to Lithia park. Then I’d be home again, picking vegetables from the garden using my mom’s shallow harvest basket.

Out there in my mom’s garden, in the late afternoon heat, the world was silent except for the occasional squabbling of our hens and the hum of the bees. The air was spicy with clove scent from my mom’s carnations. It was supreme happiness to me, to be all alone, tending a garden in peace and a quiet interrupted only by soft happy sounds. No family fighting, no discord, no unrest in my head, no fears, just blissful solitude standing in the garden my mother designed and grew.

Now I find that in my own garden whether it’s large or small or just a few pots on a ledge. I feel that same happy stillness when surrounded by plants and listening to mourning doves.

July Garden Update, 2014

hook and flower 2The garden this summer has, so far, been amazing. I have been harvesting calendula for over a month now. At first there was just a small amount each time, too little for the dehydrator, so I strung them up to dry. While pretty, they don’t dry as thoroughly this way. I ended up putting these in the dehydrator later for a few hours.

dehydrating calendulaThis is the medicinal kind Calendula officinalis and if you plan on using your calendula for salves, I suggest you plant this variety. It has the strongest medicinal qualities of all the calendula varieties. Picking them, smelling them (marigold), drying them, and plucking the petals off to store for use later make me happy. Maybe it’s the colors. Maybe it’s knowing they are so good for skin and so easy to grow. I love everything about calendula.

drying comfreyI’ve been harvesting my comfrey too. I have only one plant but it’s putting off tons of leaves and I keep cutting them and drying them. They are huge. Too huge for my dehydrator unless I cut them first. This one harvest was just too big so I hung it out in the back yard under the oak tree. I don’t like the quality of hung dry as much as the dehydrator. They turn pretty brown. Which is fine. But it’s just better in the dehydrator. I dislike the smell of comfrey. Cutting it, crumbling it, yuck. Not sure why. But it is one of the best medicinals in my opinion so well worth the unpleasant scent.

light through oilI finally FINALLY made salve with the oil I already infused months ago. This is a triple strength wound salve and it’s turned out really well and we’ve been using it and it’s GREAT STUFF.

kale harvestMom loves kale. I used to think kale was okay-ish but mostly only in soup with white beans and cooked so long it stops being tough or tasting like old man breath. Yeah, I really don’t like kale and never have. But it’s one of mom’s favorite greens so she grew a couple plants of it and I harvested it for her, cleaned it, steamed it, and then froze it. She is still having to be careful of her produce intake after surgery.

insect nurseryPrettiest little insect eggs ever. They look like beads and are hard like bead too. These clusters came off in one piece. I have to admit that kale leaves can be really beautiful.

withered blossomOur squash plants have been pretty productive. The most productive being the zucchini and the least productive being the yellow crookneck. All of them are so good fresh from the garden – I can’t get enough of them.

sage and squashStarted harvesting and drying my sage.

tomatoes and calendulaThe tomatoes I planted this year are: Ananas Noire (actually ripens green and yellow), Ethiopian Black (small black tomato), Cherokee Purple (huge and deep red), Japanese Trifele (small reddish pink), Sungolds (orange cherry tomatoes – the only cherry toms I ever grow), and Pinapple (orange with red streaking).

Purple CherokeeWe’re getting lots of tomatoes right now. And yet – we eat them almost as fast as we harvest them. I made a wonderful tomato soup the other night and I didn’t have enough of our own tomatoes that day so I had to add a can of tomato sauce to it. Even so – the fresh tomatoes made it especially good. I made garlic sourdough croutons to go with it. I did make it too salty though.

The neighbors all love our garden. They tell us all the time. Strangers walking by stop and enjoy and we’re outside they tell us how gorgeous it is. It’s gratifying. It’s so wonderful to have our front yard vegetable and flower garden giving so much joy not only to us but to a lot of other people too.

Notable failures: beans. I planted bush beans around the base of the peach tree and they started turning yellow and the beans are tiny. I think it’s the variety and I don’t like it because I can’t tell when they’re mature.  The carrots and beets have not thrived. My herbs keep flowering and not growing in size. My summer savory died. Screw summer savory!

It’s time to remove the chard which has become covered in powdery mildew. Time to cut down the spent snap dragons. Time to trim back the rudbeckias. I need to weed out all the spent sprawling allysum and take out the dying nasturtiums. I think we need some new flowers. We definitely need some penstemon and thunbergia. Maybe some lobelia and creeping verbena. Flowers to add some color once I cut down the spent ones.

Next herbal project is to develop a great lip balm. I have just ruined a big quantity of organic sunflower oil by trying to infuse it with fresh rosemary and dried peppermint. FAIL. Infusing oils with fresh herbs has failed twice for me now and I need to stop learning that lesson. I don’t like the resulting smell. It smells like bruised leaves. So this time I’m going to do a batch of sunflower oil with calendula and comfrey and then add essential oils to it. I’ll start that today.

Being out in the garden to pick vegetables and herbs this season has been amazing. Getting  back into gardening after such a long time away from it feels healing and good. So, more of that soon!



Finding my Feet in the Garden Again

lagerfeld roseYesterday I had a major anxiety meltdown.  It made everyone miserable.  Today I have a huge emotional hangover.  The best thing I know of to cure it is to hang out with plants.

P1010317So before I go get some bean seeds and squash plants from the nursery I am sharing some pictures of how the front garden is coming along.  Many things are settling in and just now starting to make new growth.  These pictures are from a week ago.

P1010319Those tomatoes are in.  I didn’t start my own seeds this year so I’m at the mercy of the local nurseries choice of toms.  So far we’ve got: Sungold, Japanese Trifele, Pineapple, Cherokee Purple, Ethiopian Black, and Anasas Black.  (Wishing I could have found Caspian Pink and Aunt Ruby’s German Green)

P1010321Sharon gave me a bit of comfrey root and I wasn’t sure it was going to make it – but it did!  I’m pretty excited about this.  Don’t you dare tell me how it “takes over” as though that’s a bad thing.  Comfrey is one of the best medicinal herbs there is so bring it the hell on!

P1010318The border against the porch is really coming along well.  All the roses, having been fed a couple of months ago, are thriving and are covered in blooms and buds.  We cut our first bouquets of the season and for days I’ve been enjoying the heavenly rose scent next to my laptop in my office. iceberg budIceberg is a workhorse.  We’ve missed having it in our garden.  Beautiful small blushed blooms with a medium honey-scent.  Wonderful for filling in bouquets.

People stop and stare at our garden now every day all day long.  And not as though they were wondering how such a trash heap was allowed to flourish.  They LOVE it! They tell us how much they love it all the time.  A UPS man slowed down to tell me the garden was looking great.  A group of hoodie and skinny pants -wearing teens walked by and I heard one of the guys say “I can’t wait to see what they do with this next!” pointing at the raised beds.  Seriously.  Teens love our garden as much as the older set do.

It’s childish of me but it makes me giddy to say I designed and built them every time someone asks.  I’m that proud.

On earth day I was writing but I stopped to go plant my Abraham D’Arby rose and do a little weeding.  Perfect day.  Perfect moment.  Everyone knows I’m not a fan of sunshine but I will say that when it’s mild enough even I can enjoy the feel of it on my back.  The alyssum smells strong when the sun is out so the yard smelled like honey.  I picked my mom and I each a little vase of roses.  That is a chief pleasure in life of mine.  Deadheading roses and picking bouquets to bring in the house.  My therapist said I needed to do that as often as possible because I mentioned it as one of the few activities that I find truly calming.  Anxiety is an insidious bitch and she took me the hell down yesterday.

Today is gorgeous out and so I believe the best way I can push the lingering threads of stress from my head and body is to put my hands in that soil out there and open packets of seeds and play that game where you put them in the soil and hope something comes of them.  You never know with seeds.  I’ve got some Alpine strawberry seeds I’ve been meaning to plant.  I’ve been hesitant because I don’t want them to fail.  Today I’m going to sprinkle them out in different areas and just let nature decide what to do about it.  There isn’t enough time in life to sit on seeds when you can throw them out into the world and watch for the tough suckers that pop up.

On my day out Friday I spent about an hour at a bus stop waiting for buses that didn’t come.  I picked up trash and I enjoyed the scattering of chamomile.  I don’t know what kind it was – no petals on them – the scent was more pale than on the Roman or German kind you grow in your garden but had the unmistakable smell of chamomile.  I’m not sure if chamomile has a wild cousin or not, I will find out another day.  I just enjoyed that a carpet of it was thriving in the hardscrabble behind the bench at the stop.  I feel like I’m one of those scrappy little buggers, just hanging on through drought and flood.  Popping back up after being walked on carelessly.  Multiplying its universe against all odds.  And for the desperate traveler they offer succor to an aching head.  If only the traveler would bother to know what’s right there under his feet.

I hope your garden is breaking out of its winter shell now.  I hope you’re able to get out in it.  I’ll be connected to you all today when I’m out there blackening my nails. xo

The Monastery Garden Update


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInstitutional plantings of agapanthus, spider condos (aka mock orange?), and some wan heather (or whatever those wan plants are that you can’t see in this picture).


the new front yardMatching tiered raised beds on either side of the front walkway with an Elephant Heart plum in the center on one side and a Frost peach in the center on the other side.

cleaned upFirst we had to strip out the agapanthus – a job that will never be completely done because this plant was designed by the devil – and then we removed the creeping amorphous shrubs that all the neighborhood spiders were using as their hatchery.

P1000988Then we got one of the neighbors to come dig up the beautiful weeping cherry that produces no cherries.  This was a sacrifice on my mom’s part.  I swear I didn’t force her to agree to let me put a fruiting tree in its place.

IMG_20140317_173816Then I began measuring and cutting the lumber for the beds.  Remember that I already designed the beds this winter?

P1000991I built the beds.  It took me about a week to build all the beds.  Philip leveled them in the ground and filled them with soil.

P1010002If you want to meet your neighbors in Santa Rosa all you have to do is work on a garden project all week.  Absolutely everyone will introduce themselves to you.  I love it!  You could work on a garden project for a year in McMinnville and no one will EVER talk to you or introduce themselves.  Ask me how I know.

IMG_20140319_192606Everyone in the neighborhood (so far) LOVES the raised bed design!  (They’ve all told me so and have been commenting on the progress excitedly for two weeks now).

view from porchI wanted the beds to be matching on either side of the path to give the walkway a sense of symmetry and formality.

the new front yardThis week I will be planting the beds out with most of the herbs they’ll have in them for this year.  The vegetables will go in next week.  Next year I will add more medicinal herbs to the beds as we’ll be building vegetable beds at the end of the driveway.

I’d be out there planting right now but I woke up too late and it’s already HOT out and I wouldn’t be able to water anything I planted without giving them major sunburn.  Next week I should have more to show you in these beds.

My Morning Bicycle Ride: Food in Yards

huge gardenThis morning I took a bicycle ride through the posh neighborhood just a few blocks away.  I decided to spot and photograph all the food I could see in the gardens – mostly looking for front yard vegetables and fruits.  This particular enormous garden has long been a favorite of mine.

driveway corn and melonsI love to see people making use of driveway dividers to grow food.  Here is squash or melons and dried up corn.

persimmons and rock wallPersimmons in the front yard of a charming house that I have always admired.  But since I was focusing on food growing I didn’t snap the house itself.

pearsAcross the street from the persimmons the neighbors have two pear trees.

squash in the front yardThis is my favorite – when vegetables are used in front yards as part of the landscaping for all to see.

strange fruitWhat the hell are these?  I don’t know if they’re edible but I had to include them because they’re weird and cool.  Also – the same yard had an orange tree.

orange treeHere it is.  Look at all those wasting oranges.  That’s a real shame.

grapes and limesGrapes and limes!  I may have spotted rhubarb too but it was hard to tell and I didn’t want to trespass to find out.

applesSmall apple tree.

semisad peach treeThis was planted in the sidewalk strip and I wish I could do that in my strip but I think the city doesn’t allow it and here in my very busy very city block I think it would get the city’s attention.

driveway tomatoesThe owner of these tomatoes came home just as I spotted them.  I asked if I could take a picture of his tomatoes and he said yes, but I think he was really weirded out by me.  This is another driveway divider as garden.  I love it!

front yard veg boxDamn poor picture but this cute little house put a pretty vegetable box right near their front steps.  Super charming!

squash toms and marigoldsAnd lastly – another veg box in a front yard.  They have another on on the other side of the walkway.  I wish my tomatoes looked that robust!

That’s the end of my posh neighborhood food growing tour.

That was a really nice way to start my day.  Unfortunately, my back is hurting so I’m headed back to bed for a while longer to ice and heat it.  Hope you have a great Monday!

Giant Rudbeckias and Plum Moonshine

loving my rudbeckiasI didn’t get much planted this year but I managed to establish three Rudbeckia plants and they just started blooming last week and now they’re busting out the biggest flowers I’ve ever seen a Rudbeckia produce.  Huge!  I can see them out my office window which is a real pleasure.  I’m looking at them right now while you look at the picture of them.

black krimThe tomatoes aren’t doing fantastic but they are finally fruiting and gaining size. They need to be staked better but this Black Krim is just starting to color up.  Black Krims are my favorite tomatoes.

box of good stuffMy friend Chelsea shared the bounty from her (ex)father in law’s garden with me.  I sauteed the yellow crookneck squash for dinner last night with some mushrooms, pureed garlic, salt, and pepper.  Simple – and so good!  The yellow plums weren’t super aromatic but they were sweet with a tart skin so I made plum dipping sauce out of them.  Or, that’s what I had planned.  Then I burnt them so bad I also destroyed the pot I cooked them in.  Luckily it was a pot that was already cracked at the top because it was a piece of crap to begin with.  So I’m mad I wasted all those free plums.

plum moonshineThe red plums are Elephant Heart plums – the best in the whole world in my opinion!  I was worried about not having time to make and can jam with them (they make exquisite jam) so I decided to make plum liqueur.  Then I had trouble finding affordable 100 proof vodka.  It is my opinion that 80 proof makes terrible liqueur unless you really lower the sugar in the recipes, but even then, the 100 proof has the balls to cut through everything and warm your throat and stomach without being the tiniest bit insipid.

I settled on getting everclear because it was cheaper than the 100 proof.  This stuff is 153 proof.  YOWZA!  So I may be needing to dilute it some down the road.  So instead of liqueur I am really making plum moonshine.

I need to find a new source for cheap 100 proof.  Let me know if you know of one.

Well, I’m off to run errands.  For any of you wondering – I will be resuming the pyjama pant project soon.  I know it’s been forever and I’m sure everyone has given up – but I will see it through.  I’m cleaning my office this week to get ready.

Hope you all have a great Friday.  And please tell me what preserving, garden, or craft projects you’re up to right now!

december nasturtium

Garden Wish List for 2013

december nasturtium

My mind is turning towards my garden and all that I want to do with it and plant in it and the things I want to change in it.  At the moment I am struggling to make myself new clothes because suddenly everything I wear has holes in it or stains on it and I don’t have a lot of choice and I have decided that since I may be obese for life regardless of good healthy changes I make to my life – I am determined to stop being so drab.  Making clothes requires pattern work and lots of time.  I need to finish this before I get my hands into the yard – but while I’m sewing I keep trying to organize in my head all the things I want to grow.

We mostly have low maintenance shrubs and plants here.  A couple of things we do have that are awesome:

a lemon tree (not a Meyer I’m happy to say)

A white peach

a gardenia

a few roses

freely seeding salvia and alyssum

The trees and roses all need big help.  The peach has been in a barrel for years without the bottom cut out – so it need the bottom cut out as was done for the lemon so it can spread its roots.  It needs a little compost and fertilizer – as does the lemon.  Both produce fruit (I just had broccoli yesterday with lemon juice from our tree!) but need care.  The roses are in dire shape as they’ve been in the shade for years.  They are horribly spindly and thin – they all need to be moved up front to the strip of dirt in front of the porch and they’ll need rose food to help them along.  The wee gardenia has a bud but it is being crowded out by a really big hideous shrub-turned-tree that I am going to completely remove.

What I want:

Culinary herbs: rosemary, lots of thyme, Greek oregano, Mexican oregano, winter savory, French tarragon, dill, parsley, sage, and marjoram.  (I would add basil and cilantro but I’ve never done well with either)

Fruit: a yellow peach tree (or two, dwarf), an orange or tangerine (though orange might get too big), gooseberries, lingonberries, wild strawberries, currants, blueberries, kiwis, and Red Flame grapes.

Flowers (both annuals and perennials): penstemon, scabiosa, lavendar, rudbeckia, cosmos, nigella, bleeding heart, coreopsis, campion, dahlias, nasturtiums, and columbine.  Also hundreds more I can’t think of right now and probably don’t have room to grow.

Medicinals: calendula, comfrey, peppermint, feverfew, catnip, chamomile, and other things I can’t remember right now and need to look up.

Vegetables for this year:  cucumbers (fresh eating), lettuce, Swiss chard, tomatoes, green beans, summer squash.  Just the basics.  Even if I get a couple of raised beds going in the driveway I won’t have much room.  Perhaps snow peas too?  If so I should get those going soon I think.  That would be good for both salads and stir fries.

One last thing I want to grow in this garden if I can are mushrooms.  We have all that shaded area and a big oak – some mushrooms like oak trees.  I want some half rotted logs innoculated with spores to try and acclimate with plenty of mulch and obviously moisture when the season comes.  I must look into this.

So what’s on your garden wish list?

Santa Rosa Gardens

I love this porch decoration.

This is next door to us.  Most of the houses on this street are either old or vintage (it’s an official historic district with signs and all).

I remember when this yard was lawn with some perennials.  Over the years more and more people have been getting rid of their lawns.  I don’t actually hate lawns – I mean I HATE having one myself because I loathe mowing and I think it’s a waste of space I could be using to grow food or flowers – but I think lawns are pretty, it’s just that I’m really bothered by the amount of water it takes to keep them up and how many chemicals people use to kill off the weeds in them and the unnaturally strong fertilizers used to feed them – both of which contaminate natural waterways.  So while I understand that having lawn is something many people enjoy – I can’t help but really enjoy seeing people rip them out to plant drought resistant plants or vegetables or flowers or trees.

I also remember this garden when it was just being planned and planted out many years ago.  It’s filled in beautifully.  The house that goes with it is also quite lovely and has had a lot of work done on it.

Really sweet front garden.

Mulching is really important in a dry warm climate.  This garden looks a little bare.  You have to be patient with gardens and let them fill in.  Sometimes you have to add more later to fill in gaps.

You know nothing makes me happier than to see people growing vegetables in their front yards.  Vegetables are beautiful and I object to the idea that they should be sequestered in the back like servants or the poor relations you wish no one knew about.  Now I sound like I think poorly of everyone who grows their vegetables in their back yards.  I don’t.  I promise.   Sometimes the back yard is the only good spot for them.  I just especially love to see them center stage.

You know I had to share the McMinnville style garden with you.  This is the view from my office and it makes me smile because it’s like the universe was making sure I wouldn’t forget my Oregon adventures and my antipathy* for miniature Japanese maples.

Well, I’m off to shower and make some more hamburger buns.  There aren’t any good ones on the market shelves.  I saw several with high fructose corn syrup in them.  Lordy lou – is nothing sacred?  Seriously, bread requires very little sweetener – just enough to feed the yeast beasts – there is no excuse in the world to be using HFCS in bread.  So.  Making my own buns.  I hope you have a wonderful Sunday!

*I don’t really hate them – I just got really tired of the formula for yards in Mac:

mostly lawn+ miniature Japanese maple+a sensible flowering bush+a tiny bed of annual flowers usually cut into the lawn (often in a kidney shape)=de rigueur.

And NO – not all gardens in Mac follow this formula – there are plenty of interesting and pretty gardens that are following their own stars – it’s just that there aren’t enough of them yet to distract me from the ubiquitous same-same.  Still, in the six years I lived in Mac I saw more and more gardens doing their own thing – so I think there’s lots of individuality to come.

An Apartment Garden in Portland

I love how more and more people are turning their yards into edible landscapes.  I especially love to see this happening on the grounds of apartment buildings.  When I lived in the JC neighborhood in Santa Rosa I had a neighbor who was a great inspiration to me – he rented a small apartment just down the street and had almost no yard space but not to be discouraged he turned the sidewalk curb strip into a miniature garden in which he grew garlic and greens and tomatoes.  In his small place he was busying brewing wine and making cheese.

It’s so easy to be defeatist and assume that if you can’t grow lots of food or make lots of your own preserves that you shouldn’t bother growing or preserving anything.  My neighbor taught me that the important thing is to be doing whatever you can for yourself, that growing your own food, even if it’s a few heads of garlic and some salad greens, is an act of freedom and of self sufficiency.  It’s about keeping your connection strong between yourself and the soil that nourishes you.  It’s a little bit like a prayer or a meditation and it’s a lot like feeding yourself the highest quality nourishment you can even on a micro-scale.  Learning how to grow things and preserve food is tapping into knowledge that is at the core of the success of human beings as a species.

In a more pessimistic view it’s also what’s allowed us to overpopulate the earth and conquer nations and fight wars.  Growing things allowed humans to settle down and stay put through the seasons.  Agriculture allowed us to stop roaming.  The evolution of food preservation is what allowed humans to cross oceans and to cross masses of land to attack other people.  Without drying and salting foods armies couldn’t go far.  So in a weird way, while I’m eulogizing the wonderfulness of growing and preserving foods I’m also celebrating what has made humans the most terrible virus on earth.

Still, those humans who know how to grow their own food and how to preserve it for later use have truly valuable knowledge and in times of war or natural disasters this kind of knowledge gives you better chances of survival.  Plus, everyone will want to be friends with the person who knows how to make alcohol from apples and who can make sources of protein rise from the ground in plant form when there’s no meat to be had.  The person who knows how to pull wild yeast from the air and mix it with flour to make bread is like a magician when there is no bread and no packaged yeast in the stores.

I am happy every time I see evidence of humans getting into the soil to grow their own food.  City gardens are hopeful and resourceful.  I always stop to enjoy them whenever I see them.  This garden has some really big beets that are ready to pick.

It’s time for some lemony beet salad!

Getting Into Fall Around the House

My experiments with tomato tarts are over.  Tomatoes are officially finished for the year.  At the Saturday Market Denison Farm had a basket of mostly unripe pale ghosts of what I recognize as tomatoes.  It’s over.  As much as I love tomatoes I am not sad.  Everything has its season and I’m so happy that the temperatures have dropped.  My house got down to 55° this week.  My  mom usually can’t take such low temps in the house but she must be getting used to it because I offered to turn the heat on (we haven’t done so this season yet) and she said she was fine.  Keeping the heat down will be important in budgeting now that we’re back to paying our mortgage and hoping to keep the house.  I can’t even remember if I mentioned here that we got approved for a trial period with the HAMP loan.  People can be refused it even after paying their mortgage perfectly on time for the whole trial period, so nothing is certain.  But what’s new?  Nothing has been certain for a long time for us.

Big splurge in my house was buying a bunch more wire bail hermetically sealing glass storage jars for my pantry and cleaning my whole pantry out.  We had a major pest infestation and I had to throw a bunch of grains and old stuff out as well as wipe down all the shelves and clean out jars.  Doing this always feels so good!  We are buying more and more in bulk so it’s important to have a good way to store it all.  We do have food-grade plastic buckets for the huge quantities of legumes we have in the garage.  I hate using any plastic but I can’t see a better way yet for those.  But here in the cupboard the air-tight glass jars are the only way to go for us.  Because I can’t afford to have ALL things stored in them I do have a number of screw-top jars in use.

My Elephant Heart plum tree lost a huge branch.  we have yet to prune it and deal with it.  It makes me so sad.  However, I’m hoping that with a great pruning we can encourage it to survive this setback.

I finally finished canning.  I did.  I finished this past Tuesday with making quince “cheese”.  The project is a bit dubious, I have no idea if it turned out.  I have to wait a few weeks before opening my jars and trying it.  The recipe was actually British and called for using glycerin to coat the inside of the jars so that the quince can be removed more easily and sealing them with wax.  I am inexperienced in this and didn’t have paraffin on hand so I processed them in a canner which made coating in glycerin a waste.  If I like the taste of the quince cheese then I will go the traditional route next year and use wax and glycerin.

I was done with my canning.  I really was.  The grape syrup was a bust.  It gelled but not completely so I re-boiled it and it was ruined.  It lost all grape flavor and became boiled fruit flavor.  Not my favorite.  I tossed it.  Ah well, these things happen.  It’s part of the preserving learning curve.  The apple sauce, at least, was simple and I canned quite a few pints of it.  I don’t even eat much of it but I do love it on savory pancakes with sour cream (latkes or zucchini fritters) so it’s nice to have some on hand.

I was done with preserving and cooking in serious bulk until yesterday when my friend Andre had a bag of tomatilloes he couldn’t do anything with and gave them to me.  Suddenly I have tomatillo salsa to make.  I’m not crying.  Not really.  I love tomatillo salsa.  So I’ll be making that this week.

Food budgeting is beginning.  My first trick is to not shop during the week.  Unless it’s something specifically for Max.  I will not indulge in the habit I have of suddenly wanting to make something I don’t have the ingredients for and running out to buy them.  I am shopping on Saturday for the week and will simply have to make food with what I buy.  No spontaneous purchases.  Next I will work at limiting some of the expensive things I buy like cheese.  Coffee too.  If we run out mid week, no buying another bag.  I’ve got lots of tea to drink in it’s place.  I’m not depressed this time (the year before last was super hard and really depressing).  We have plenty to eat.  Max’s food is the biggest concern because of his picky eating, but cooking on a budget for the adults is not going to be difficult if I get creative.  We have tons of bulk and after this very busy preserving season I have stuffed the shelves with jars of home canned goods and the freezer with good things.  We are already very fortunate and rich with good things to eat.

I also have a great huge stash of walnuts from a dear friend of mine and this makes me feel secure like a squirrel with a full tree trunk.  I look forward to cracking them.  My OCD makes this kind of work extremely satisfying and then I’ll freeze the nuts so that no bugs or bug eggs can survive.  Sounds distressing, I know.  However, I know from experience that these things linger in all real food and sometimes freezing is the best way to deal with them.  I’m going to have so many walnuts to use!

Today I’m going to make chocolate zucchini bread from Clotilde Dusoulier’s book of the same name.  I’ve never tried it before but I’m hoping the kid might enjoy it.  (It’s actually “cake” but has less sugar in it than most zucchini bread recipes do).  To that end I must dash off and get dressed and clean the kitchen.  What could be better than baking on a rainy stormy day?

I hope you are all enjoying your Sunday and keeping warm inside.

Pantry Shelves: how to clean, store, and organize your kitchen shelves