Monday, July 30, 2007

To Veg or Not to Veg

Is that the question? No. What is a vegetarian?- that is the question.
When I was growing up, I pretty much knew there were animals, minerals and vegetables. That is not really the case anymore, but for most things it still works. I think yeast is in some other class now, but I don't spend much time worrying about it. SO, I always thought that a vegetarian was a person who did not eat meat- no chicken, fish, or animal flesh. But I did think that milk and eggs were OK, since they were not flesh. OH, NO! I was wrong. It is NO ANIMAL PRODUCTS- because little boy cows are killed to keep the milk flowing and little eggs are chicken embryos waiting to hatch. Hmmm.
This is a bit harder for me because I really like cheese and eggs, and because the soybean is pretty yechy to me unless you go to extremes to make it taste better. I can eat young soybeans- well cooked with a bit of salt- but the other stuff like soy milk and soy cheese, tofu, etc. Well I just don't like it all that much. It could never be a big part of my diet. Also, there is all that balancing of proteins that has to happen to make sure you get all the essentials. Eggs would make it so much simpler, and not everyone of them is a little embryo waiting to get out. But then...
I found out that it isn't just about vegetables, but they must be RAW vegetables. Not steamed or stir fried, but very raw and fresh. The life force of the plant is transferred to your body to sustain you when you eat raw fruits and vegetables fresh picked now. Every minute they are off the plant, they are losing their life force until they are pretty much useless after three days. Grocery stores are bad because the fruits and vegetables are like little mummies by the time they get to you. I have to admit that fresh fruits and vegetables taste the best, and I like a lot of them raw, but I also like them cooked. And I am not so sure about that life force thing. Part of me still believes in calories and my own ability to use them.
So, lets go back to that Ovo/lacto Vegetarian concept (eggs and cheese and veges). This is probably the most common of the vegetarians I know. I can cook a lot of these foods and love them, even though I eat meat, too. But lately, there is another type of vegetarian- Pescatarian. This is eggs, milk, FISH and vegetables. And then there are some that just don't eat RED MEAT. They claim to be vegetarian, too. I mean Chicken/egg what's the difference. And Buddha thought oysters were OK, so all fish must be fair game.
And to make it all worse, everyone changes their minds every year. If you want to lose weight you can't be eating all those vege/fruit carbs. People you thought were one way, gain five pounds and become the other way at a drop of the fork. Just as I get a great bunch of recipes for my friends and family, I find they are flapping the steaks on the grill and eating store bought mixed green salad.
The definition of vegetarian seems to be "I think I am, therefore I am."
So I offer no pretense, I have no convictions, I am not making a statement. I eat animal flesh, animal products, vegetables and fruits that have been processed, grains not sprouted, and yeast. But I do try to minimize my impact on the earth as best as I can. There are many meatless meals. I am not wasteful- the carcass and bones become soup. I make the next dinner with the leftovers. I compost as much as possible. And I am grateful for every little animal and plant (and yeast) who gave its life for my meal.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Switching Mental Gears

Today was the last of the peaches and apples. Whew! July was a busy month. Now that the fruit is at a slow down, I can think about what is still left to do and it looks like Vegetables are the big winner.
Those beans that I went crazy about are now Beaning their little hearts out. I need to blanch and freeze several bags of beans. And the tomatoes are all over the counter waiting to become spaghetti sauce. The 4 ears of corn will be ready in about two weeks. The second crop of Asparagus will be ready in about two weeks. Red cabbage? Yes, there is one left. Celery, parsley, fennel. While it is on my mind, I could also start reworking some of the spent beds. Except that now the weather has decided to become summer and it is very hot and sticky here. All I really want to do is lay around in the shade and sip iced tea.
We are approaching the first harvest festival. If you weren't sure, the Pagan seasonal clock puts mid-summer right around the summer solstice. 6 weeks later is the first Harvest festival. Then the Second Harvest at mid-September. And the final Harvest festival at the end of October. By the end of the Harvest seasons I am one pooped out cookie. I usually don't plant too much for the last harvest. There are some winter squash, late peppers, last tomatoes, bits of this and that. Since I don't have to harvest acres of corn and hay, I usually blow that one off. It is too hot here to grow much in late September, but I do start my Fall garden of cabbage, lettuce and broccoli at about that time.
But there are some interesting things coming up. Asian pears and figs come in September. Then the last items on the harvest list are Jerusalem Artichokes and sweet potatoes which I harvest in December. By the time I get the sweet potatoes out, it is time to plant again for the spring. This year, I am trying to let the Jerusalem Artichokes make flowers and seeds. I have not grown them from seeds and want to see how they do.
In December, I find if I clean out one bed and re-work it with compost and worm castings, it will take me about two days. I can then start to stagger the beds in plantings. Once the beds are in full growth, I only re-work areas as plants come out and new ones go in. Most of the Fall time is spent cleaning up spent brambles, weeding, and pruning citrus trees.
So back to that first harvest festival- August 1 or 2, I think. I am going to take a long, well deserved rest from the garden and the preserving. I am going to dance and play at the beach. Then I am going to go home and eat steamed veges and simple biscuits. Then, late at night, when no one is looking, I will dance naked under the moon. (No pictures, please.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Nearing the End of Peaches and Apples

It feels strange to get close to the end of the peaches. I wait all year for them. I rejoice at the blooms, fret over curl, clean up dropped leaves and fruit, prune and fertilize- all for that three weeks of bliss. The smell of the ripe fruit is bliss. The taste of the brown sugar sweetness is bliss. The mass quantities of stored produce is bliss. The look of the fruit on the tree is bliss.
Now, I am almost done processing surplus and every bag of frozen or dried peaches is carefully allotted to a future month for muffins, ice cream, fluff, or cobbler. Yet, the memory of that 3/4 pound perfect peach, juice running all over my hands and chin, still warm from the sun- hmmm. It makes me long for the next year even as this year finishes.
My husband doesn't really like peaches all that much. He will tolerate peach ice cream, and sometimes Fluff- but he generally doesn't eat them out of hand. Aha, you say! More for me? Yes, that is a logical extrapolation, but my little cherubs help themselves to the surplus. They benefit from the stores and the baking. My family comes out of the woodwork sniffing, searching, whining.
Tomorrow, I make a birthday cake with homemade peach ice cream. This is the cap on a dinner for 10 for my husband's sister and her family. Max will be 3, and I am mid 50's. I am hoping to have the slightest bit of control over the last of the peaches. I am not ready for my family to help finish off the season- I want the last ones all to myself.
Then I will patiently wait to do the happy dance next spring.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Singing with Chickens

I know you have read me chatting about being with my chickens in the garden. So now it is time for you to meet Custard. She is a Dark Cornish at about 3 months old. The other one is Quiche, but she is not in this story.
Custard is very friendly, a lap chicken so it seems. She likes to sit on me, be near me, play with me, and sing to me. In the morning she wakes me up with her songs. This is not crowing- she is not a rooster. This is singing. If you go to this url - - you can see and hear her.

Custard is a bit of a scaredychick. She needs to be close to the other one or me at all times. If I go into the house she wants to go in, too. She will sit on my arm and pose. She will let me pet and hold her for short periods of time. She runs to me when she is frightened by the hawks over our yard. She eats from my hand and wants to check out everything I am doing when I work at the outdoor table. Custard is named for an Egg food. I don't think she is every going to become Coq au Vin because she has sung her way into my heart. Begawk!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Just Peachy

I have the most wonderful Apple tree. And I have the most wonderful Peach tree. Honestly, I love all my trees, but I am particularly impressed by this Peach tree. I have no idea what type it is, except that it is freestone, yellow flesh, ready in July, and keeps well on the tree for about 3 weeks. This last feature gives me lots of time to figure out what to do with 300 peaches.
These are not your little two bite peaches. These peaches weigh in at 1/2 pound each and they are bigger than the palm of my rather large hand. And the stone is rather small, so you get lots of peach.
I have been giving away peaches to favored friends, dehydrating peaches, freezing peaches, pureeing peaches, cooking with peaches, devouring peaches- I am inundated with peaches- And I am still dealing with the last of the apples. I am not even close to the last of the peaches.

But, I have been exploring some wonderful peach recipes that use lots of peaches. I have one muffin recipe that uses 1/2 cup chopped up dried peaches (about 2 peaches fresh) and 1 1/2 cups pureed peaches (about 3 peaches). It is so moist and flavorful that I want to make it often even though I can only eat so many muffins before exploding. I have been pureeing peaches and putting it in the freezer so that I can make this later in the year. I will let you in on a really good secret, psst, whisper, this is a nearly fat free, no sugar added recipe full of bran and whole wheat and peaches.

Peachy Bran Muffins- (modified from the Secrets of Fat Free Baking, by Sandra Woodruff, RD.)
2/3 cup wheat bran
1 1/2 whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar substitute (I use xylitol, but you can use Splenda or sugar or maple sugar)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 cup pureed fresh peaches
1 egg (or 2 egg whites)
1/2 cup chopped dried peaches
(1/3 cup chopped pecans- optional)
Mix the first 4 dry ingredients together. Stir in the peach puree and egg until just moist. Stir in the chopped dried peaches and nuts. Spoon into baking cups lined with paper or sprayed with non-stick spray to 3/4 full. They don't rise much. Bake at 350F for 15-17 minutes. Makes 10. After baking, allow to sit for 5 minutes before removing from pan. Serve with whipped cream cheese- uh, so much for fat free.

I would need to make this recipe 40 times to use up all my peaches, sigh. That's a lot of muffins. So I have to do other things with the peaches.

This is a Peach Fluff recipe-
Peal and slice 5 large peaches. Lay the slices in a single layer on a wax paper lined tray and freeze for 12 hours or more. (This can be done months ahead and the frozen peaches can be stored in zipper bags.)
Place frozen peaches in a food processor with 1 tablespoon Brandy and process until they are a finely chopped frozen peach snow. Keep them frozen, you might need to do it in two batches and put the first batch back into the freezer. (You can do this part ahead and keep it frozen in the zipper bag.)
When you are ready to eat this- Take the frozen peach snow and 2 tablespoons sugar (or substitute) and one egg white and process it again in the food processor until it starts to fluff up (the white is getting beaten). This might take a couple of minutes.
Spoon it into pretty bowls and eat it with a vanilla cookie or two. It might serve 4 people, but around here it only serves 2. (left overs can be frozen- right!).

I have been planning to send some of Fluffysgarden to friends who are far away and under much water, but I am waiting until the weather clears a bit. I want the postal messenger to get through. Just in case Daughter of the Soil and Caroline are reading, we are thinking of you in your sogginess, and wishing we could bring you here to dry out a bit. If there is anything we can do from afar, please let us know.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Fluffy Home Companion

We all need friends. Apparently, so do vegetables. Why else could someone write a book about companion planting. My plants have lots of friends- bees, birds, chickens, me- but they also seem to need other plants that are, you know, ... friendly. I have given this considerable thought over the years. I know you think that it is because I have way too much time on my hands, but the truth is I am an intensive gardener. Nay! Make that extreme gardener.
The idea of intensive gardening was developed for people with big needs and small space. It requires deep soil, lots of fertilizer and water, layering of roots and planning for light and air needs of plants. Essentially, you look at your space and plant things together so that different layers of root space use the whole bed without tangling up with each other. And the plants are tied up, staked, or balanced for different heights so that shade loving plants are under taller ones. You need to place the bed in such a way to insure lots of air circulation and water from ground level so that leaves don't get wet and encourage mold. Since you can't get in between the plants to weed and fertilize, you have to fertilize in the watering system and weed as plants are retired. It is the Science of Gardening for the excessive/compulsive personality.
With so many plants in one little space, I suppose they should be friendly with each other, so as to get along well. So, how can you tell if they are making friends and enjoying each other's companionship? It is not like they invite me to the party. I don't even think they notice me at all. It would seem to me that most of my plants get along out of sheer necessity. I have four eight foot by four foot beds that are one foot deep, that is one foot of rich top soil. Each bed has a mass of plants- beans, corn, celery, fennel, ginger, garlic, parsley, tomato, potato, squash, pepper, cucumber, and cilantro. The only unhappy member of the party was the cilantro- which bolted as soon as possible but made wonderful coriander seeds. I am not even sure it was unhappy. It attracted bees, looked beautiful, and made great bunches of seeds.

Generally, I plant seasonal plants together. I don't pay any attention to rows and spacing. Some plants are comfortable when close to another and the others find a way by falling over or choking someone out. I always let a few last season plants go to seed. The flowers attract bees. And in the winter I refurbish the bed with compost, worm castings, and aeration. Winter here is about two weeks in December, so I work fast. During the growing seasons, I work an area where the plant has finished and install a new plant or seed in that space.
Really, when you think about it, the plants have to get along because they have no choice. It's put up or shut up. Lately, it has been very quiet out there.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Year 'round Goodies

As you may well be aware, my garden produces more than I can eat in a single season. I would have to consume apples day and night to use all the apples, so I preserve things. I have dehydrated apples for pies, teas and snacks. Apple butter, Apple Sauce, and Apple leather. But apples are only the beginning of the bounty. There are apricots, peaches, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, lowquats, oranges, lemons, grapes, Asian pears, figs, pineapple guava, plums, tomatoes, pomegranate and occasionally avocados. And vegetables, too. And Herbs, don't forget the Herbs.
So now as the peaches and plums arrive, and I am still wallowing in apples, I realize there are things from last year that need to be eaten, too. Some are still in my freezer and pantry. I have been canning blackberry jam and apple products for a full week. Most of the blackberries and strawberries are out of the freezer and done on the plants, so I can write those crops down as done. But the others are just getting into full swing.
Dehydration is a great way to deal with produce and herbs. I am drying parsley, onion, garlic, anise, fennel, spinach, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, celery leaves and stalks, lemon grass, lemon verbena, mint and lemon balm. Later I will dry grapes, figs, ginger, green beans, tomatoes, lemon and orange peel, and basil. By the time autumn rolls in I will be packing away sweet potatoes, pumpkins and other squashes, and organizing my myriad of jars and packages. It reminds me of Badger's house, in the "Wind in the Willows". Baskets and jars everywhere, bags of stuff everywhere.
But sometimes, about now, I discover unused things that need attention. I found old dried apricots, dates, and figs- then I remembered why. Chutney! I had been saving them for Chutney. So today I made four jars.
Chutney recipe:
8 oz slivered almonds
1 pound carrots, peeled and shredded
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup chopped dried figs
1 cup chopped dried apricots
1 cup raisins
6 large cloves of garlic, grated
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons powdered mustard
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients together in a 6 quart pot. Cook over low heat, covered, stirring frequently, until quite well cooked (about 20 minutes). This preparation is quite dry while it cooks the carrots, you may need to add 1/2 cup water during the cooking. When the mixture is bubbling all over, spoon it into hot sterile canning jars, tap or stir out air bubbles, and seal. Process in a boiling water bath to cover for 20 minutes. Makes 4 pints (16oz jars). This keeps for a year, but ours never lasts that long.
When this season of canning is done, I will take a picture of my production- stacked and labeled and ready to store up. It is quite impressive and tasty, too.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

15min of Morning

I got up late today, 6:15 am. I wandered about the house a bit before I let the chickens out. I sipped coffee, chatted with my sweetie, and made a list. I bagged up the dried parsley, lemon peel, orange peel, apples, and celery leaves. Then, at about 7 am, I went to the garden. Chickens and I got busy with the day. I harvested blackberries, mint, lemon verbena, lemon grass, late Fava seed, apples, blueberries, and tomatoes. I cleaned the herbs and got them into the dehydrator for the next round, then fixed myself some breakfast. I weeded for about an hour and trimmed some leggy plants, stirred the compost, planted some new seedlings and poured a second cup of coffee. At 10 am, I took a break and did some knitting in the shade of the patio. The chickens didn't want to go into their pen yet. I talked on the phone for 30 min. to an old friend. I had some toast for lunch and shooed the chickens back to their pen, which I cleaned and restocked with food and water. It was 11:30 pm. Time to go in and do those indoor things. At 11:45 my son came into the house. He had just gotten up and wanted to do some laundry. He was quite proud that he got up before noon, there was still "15 minutes of morning" left.
I am too tired to notice much lately, but it seems a terrible waste of a day to sleep that late.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Hidden Harvest

Well, I am currently up to my crock in produce. I have started the apples. We are way past pie and into applesauce, apple butter, and dried apples. And there is the Apricot harvest that my mother-in-law surprised me with- jam, dehydrate, cobbler. And there are the berries- jam, freeze, dehydrate. And the Tomatoes- sauce, dehydrate, Bruschetta. And herbs, and onions, and garlic, and.... Well, all I can say is lids. I had to buy a bunch of lids for my jars. And the month of July also brings Peaches. My kitchen is becoming a commercial produce processing plant. Every surface is covered with produce, equipment, and production in stages of completion.
So that brings us to the Hidden Harvest- seeds.
Hmmm. I heard you say it. Seeds are things you buy every year to get the garden up and going. Like pumpkins and cucumbers and lettuce. But I can tell you that there is a great big harvest waiting for you in your garden that is almost too small to see.
Every year I let a few lettuce plants go to seed. They produce enough seed for years of lettuce, but I try to use it up each year. Not every seed is viable and it doesn't stay useful for a long time. And I try to save a few beans, peas, and definitely squash seeds. This year I also got some coriander and spinach. There is always dill and anise and chard. Onion, yes there is some onion, too. And Tomato. Peppers, I forgot peppers. And flowers of course- like tagetes and calendula, Peruvian lily, fragrant narcissus, Watsonia and wild Gladiolus. I have a collection of small jars full of seed for next year.
So how do you go about collecting this Hidden Harvest? There are many opinions about this. One is that the plant must be completely dry before you collect the seed. Some say when the plant is yellowing. Others say don't do it at all because the outcome is "iffy". Me, well, I harvest beans and peas when the pod gets leathery before it dries and splits. I smear tomato seeds on Paper towels when they are ripe enough to eat raw and let them dry. I collect pepper seed from green or red peppers depending on when I think about it. I grab the onion flower when I see the black seeds start to show and put it in a bowl to finish drying. I break off the downy, yellow stalk of lettuce and whack it against a white sheet- mature seed falls into the sheet. I pick off the ripe seeds of Fennel, anise, dill, celery, parsley, coriander while they are still a bit green/yellow (if I wait the birds will get them all). Snails also like seeds, so you have to get there before the snails. But sometimes you can just toss the seedy stalks onto the garden soil and let them seed themselves under the mulch of the parent plant. This has worked for many thousands of years.
I take a personal pleasure in collecting seeds. It is a time consuming activity and a package of seeds from the store can cost as little as 10 cents when it is on sale. But when I collect seeds, I feel like I have gotten a little something special from the garden. And sometimes I get something I can't get anywhere else.
I have a piece of my friend's garden in my garden because I took some of her beet seeds before she moved away. I think of her there. I have Fava beans from my sister-in-law. She let me have two and they parented all of my seeds. I have chard that has been successful for 5 years. I only save the red ones and now they all are red. I have unusual seeds for unusual plants and usual seeds for usual plants. And some seeds I wish I didn't have at all.
But not all seeds are good to gather. Hybrids- like tomatoes, corn and cantaloupe- don't breed true when they cross pollinate. The next crop may be something awful. Pumpkins are like that a bit, too. They start out huge but breed down to small naturally, and they lose some color and flavor.
You have to know what you really want before you save the seeds. Sweet corn seed is probably best purchased each year, but popcorn can be saved easily. "Developed" tomatoes are usually hybrids and should be bought each year, but cherry tomatoes and yellow tomatoes breed true. And Saving seed takes up space. You have to thoroughly dry the seed in the air. A dehydrator will kill the germ. You have to check for bugs and larva. You have to store it in a jar or bag and remember where you put it. AND you have to want that vegetable or plant next year in your garden.
So that is it for seeds. Not real hard to do, but strangely satisfying. Someday I may actually try breeding something special, but for now I just want a little extra from my garden experience.