Saturday, August 25, 2007

First Fruits

In the Hebrew Bible, the sacrifice at the altar was usually the first born male lamb or goat or calf. This is because the first one to open the womb was considered the best and purest. But there are also other issues around first fruits. It is the one most anticipated and when it shows up you want it right now. So to offer it is truly a sacrifice because you must show self restraint and wait for number two. First grains, first fruit, first animal birth, first child. All were the best of the offerings.
So today, one of my chickens laid its first egg! I don't know which of the two did it. I wasn't watching. It is a pale brown egg, rather elongated, and about the size of a medium egg (1/2 the size of an extra large).
I am very excited and hope that my chickens continue to produce lovely eggs now for the next two years. Two years is the normal production duration for most chickens. After that they just hang around and eat bugs and make noise.
But today is a good day to celebrate a first fruit, greatly anticipated, lovingly cared for, and offered as only a chicken can. The chickens are eggsactly 4 months old to the day.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Disruption in Paradise

My garden is my favorite hobby. It is also a major source of my daily nutrition. Sometimes it is my exercise program. And sometimes it is my companionship. Today, Fluffysgarden is thoughtful about things that we have taken for granted, loved and lost, or seen to completion.
We are running out of water. Most of the country is flooding right now, but we are drying up and burning down. 1/2 of our water will be cut off in the next two years. The price will zoom up, the quantity will fall low, the garden will need special attention to water conservation. I have already started those plans to save used water for trees and plants. I have drip and soaking hoses and have eliminated the lawns in back. My final push will be to eliminate the lawn in the front. What I hope to have is Trees instead. Trees provide shade, fruit, resting places for birds, flowers, wood, and soft green light. The barren spaces of dead lawn won't seem so awful if there are trees. I can deep water them and keep them alive without too much evaporation. So we have taken clean plentiful water for granted and now we must find another way.
I also have a project that is coming to completion. Well, it isn't really a project. My son is moving to China for 3 years to teach English. He has graduated from college with a BA and is looking for something different. I am glad to see him strike out on his own and try something new. I will miss him, but I may also go visit. I have always wanted to see China. I will try to miss the Olympics. It is a thoughtful time- happy for him and sad at the same time. But I am looking forward to the empty nest (almost). Conflicted.
So as I weed and plant and think, I see great changes in the future. Some of it is frightening and some of it is challenging and some of it is just plain annoying. But the garden will go on, because I will find a way to make it happen. There is just too much wonder and joy out there to let a little bit of change chase it away.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

What Flower Fairies really do

Late August has an interesting collection of produce. Beans, corn, pumpkin, squash, celery lead up the vegetable list. The fruit is much different than the normal stuff, though. We have Asian Pears, and black seedless grapes, and Mission figs, and oranges. I will be making raisins from the grapes, and I may have enough figs to dry some for next year's chutney. I usually juice the oranges and make smoothies. But the pears are fabulous right off the tree. They are crunchy and sweet.
Asian pears have special needs during the year. They usually need more cold weather than we get, but this year we had lots of cold. They also need help with pollination. Every two days I would go out to the trees with my paintbrush and help spread pollen. Many of the flowers didn't have all their parts, so this was actually necessary.
I told my husband I was out in the yard having sex with the trees.
He is OK with it. He really likes the pears and is willing to sacrifice some of my sexual energy for the cause.
This is what flower fairies really do.

Friday, August 17, 2007

First Harvest Production

Well, it has been a couple of weeks since the first of August, and I did in fact have a beach picnic to celebrate. But it has taken this long to get the picture ready for my blog.
As most of you wonderful gardeners know, we only store the surplus. During the growing season we eat like little piggies. So my picture is not truly complete. I also saved some of my produce in the freezer, so it isn't in the picture either. But this will give you a good idea of how I spent my summer vacation. Applesauce, apple butter, apricot jam, chutney, blackberry jam, tomato juice, onion jam, and [dried apples, apricots, peaches, vegetables, seeds, herbs, bulbs,], and granola. Frozen peas, beans, peaches, purees, onions, and blueberries.
Hmmm. I get tired and hungry just thinking about it.
My grandmother used to can every summer. Then she would be afraid to eat what she produced. When she died we had to toss about 6 years of produce that had sat in the cellar for 10 years.
There are several types of processes and certain foods benefit from each kind. It is important to eat all of the canned produce within one year (jams can last 2 years). Always mark the production date on the lid.
Jams, jellies, and acid based foods (pickles)- these foods can be safely sealed in a hot water bath situation. Sugar and citric acid provide adequate acid to stop fermentation and BAD bacteria. Hot pack the food- which means put it into the sterile jars hot (except pickles). A boiling pot, water to cover jar, clean, sterile lid, boil about 20 minutes (pints- add time for quarts). If you cold pack it (put it into sterile jars cold) you need to boil it for about 30-40 minutes (more for quarts).
Other foods, like beans, carrots, corn , etc, need salted water and up to 40 minutes in the boiling water bath. This actually cooks the food in the jar and the salt prevents possible bacteria from growing. At this point a pressure cooker could be useful.
Anything with meat in it poses a special problem and should be cooked in a pressure cooker. Jams actually have a problem with the pressure cooker, because the higher heat destroys the pectin.
This is why the freezer eventually took over my kitchen produce. Frozen meat, fruit, and tougher vegetables taste almost like fresh when cooked. And when I need canned meats or fish, or vegetables- I actually buy them. I am not foolish enough to think that I really can be totally self sufficient in today's world. Freezer foods should be used within 6 months (3 for meats or fish).
Dehydrated foods- fruits, vegetables, meats- should be used within 6 months also. I have never made beef jerky that lasted that long, My daughter dried about 20 apples and ate them all within about 2 weeks. I have dried many things and if they are still around after 6 months- it means I didn't really like it or use it much.
This brings us to Plum Jam. You may say that it is not on the list above, and you are correct. After making several gallons of plum jam, my family decided that they don't like plums all that much. I am still trying to use up jam that is 3 years old. This is how I decided to do it- Plum Teriyaki Sauce.

1 cup plum jam
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 or 3 minced garlic cloves or (1 heaping teaspoon garlic powder)
1 inch piece of fresh ginger grated or (1 heaping teaspoon ginger powder)
1/2 cup water or (apple juice, wine)

Marinate cut up beef or chicken over night or at least 4 hours. You can skewer the meat with veges and BBQ, or stir fry. Boil the used marinade for 15 minutes to reduce it somewhat and use it to brush skewers or pour over rice. This is very sweet and pungent of garlic and ginger. You can heat it up with a tiny bit of cayenne pepper. You can use it over fried tofu and you can use it as a marinade for beef jerky. Mostly, you can hide the plums and they family will think it is wonderful.

Needless to say, I don't can plums anymore. But someday, when I use the last jar of jam, I might.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Beans, beans a beautiful fruit

Sometimes I like to try different things just for fun. It comes of having enough that you can play with your food. So when I went bean crazy, I tried a bean called Hestia. It is a scarlet flowered bean, like a runner, but bred into a bush bean. The flowers are truly beautiful. Some were red and white, or red and pink, or red and red. The pods were rough and thick and had a bit of a bitter bean taste. If they were young enough, they tasted ok, but they took about 10 minutes longer to cook than a Roma or regular green bean. I decided that they were passable for my taste and extremely pretty as plants, so I decided to save the seed for next year.
When I planted these beans, the seed was not remarkable. Frankly, I didn't pay much attention. So, as the pods matured, I started opening some of them to see how the seed was growing. I was shocked by what I saw!
At different stages of growth, the beans were bright, bold colors of Pink, Mauve and Puce. They had purple and white spots, or blue and white spots. They got an incredible size over time, as large as a broad bean. And as they dried, they turned a purple/brown with dark spots. In this picture, I am showing a bowl full of beautiful beans and some of the Roma and Hestia on the plate. The Hestia pod had between one and four fully developed beans. The pods could get very long, but not all the seeds would develop. If you let the pod age to a yellow/green, the seed might start to sprout in the pod (as some of mine did), so I started harvesting them early while the pod was leathery but still green. As they air dry, they turn brownish or purple and shrink quite a bit, but they still have the spots. I have not yet cooked or eaten just the beans. I am having too much fun looking at the pretty colors.
The plant itself is a bush type, but not like any bush type I have ever grown. Each plant made about 10 branches with flowers, leaves and pods about 2 or 3 feet long. Of the string of 10 or so flowers, only two or three would form pods. Of the pods one would have lots of beans and one would have only one bean. There might be two immature failed pods.

They take up lots of ground space because they don't run up a pole- they spread out. Two or three would fill a 5 gallon pot. So, I had planted them wrong. The Roma bush should be behind in the trellis and the Hestia should be in front to spread. But they were strong growers in our funny weather. They are still making a few flowers after 3 1/2 months. I have collected enough seed to last for a couple of years and I still have pods on the plants.
I will plant these again next year, and spend some time tasting just the beans at different stages. After all, they were supposed to be food, not just toys.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Culinary Poverty

As I gather and dry herbs for the winter, I am reminded of my childhood days. My family didn't have a garden here, but my grandmother in the mid-west did. All of the cooking I ate and learned to cook was suspiciously lacking herbs- even parsley. So I did some investigating years back and I discovered some interesting facts about our country.
There has always been great international cooking available for the wealthy people. They could afford spices and chefs and baby vegetables and fresh herbs. But the bulk of our country was not wealthy. Many barely had enough plain food to eat. Many had to scavenge greens and roots from the sides of roads- even to eating young fern sprouts. And most of the spices had to be imported. The USA spent many years in isolation paying off various wars or avoiding wars. There wasn't much in the way of imported goods until after WW2. We even had a government plan once to be self-sufficient in the area of sugars by growing sugar beets and maple trees with government subsidies.
Cooking styles became very simplified- you cooked what you could grow and you grew the most calorie dense things you could. And after a couple of generations, the taste of herbs was forgotten. Cookbooks didn't teach them either. The ingredients were scarce or too expensive. Soon seeds and plants were unrecognizable except by the most wizened. And lately, herbs have become a symbol of ancient healing medicine men and witchcraft specialists.
I am not talking about strange foreign herbs like cardamom or ginger. I am talking about everyday type herbs like fennel, parsley, oregano and thyme. When I read through some of the old cookbooks, I am amazed at the few sparse references to seasonings, spices and herbs. If they were mentioned at all, they were 1/2 teaspoons of dried gray dust. So I broke with tradition and learned to cook with herbs and spices. Then I started growing fresh herbs and found the taste so remarkable that I can't use dried ones any more, unless I dried them.
I routinely toss a handful of dried oregano into a meatloaf. I chop cupfuls of parsley for my tabbouleh. I have fresh bay leaves and sage year round. I am now so spoiled that I can't imagine life without herbs and spices. So I am leaving a recipe here for those with fresh parsley and celery:

Tabbouleh Salad

1 cup Bulgar Wheat (dry)
1 1/2 Cups boiling water.
Soak Bulgar wheat in boiling water until soft and chewy (20 min.) Drain off excess water.
2 tomatoes , chopped
2 ribs celery with leaves, chopped
2 green onions, chopped with green parts
5 radishes, chopped (no greens)
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 or 2 cucumbers, seeded and chopped
2 cups parsley, chopped fine
Dressing- 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice (or wine vinegar), salt and pepper to taste
Toss all ingredients together and chill one hour. Serve on a lettuce leaf.

Bulgar Wheat- you can make this at home if you can't find it in a store. Get sprouting wheat (whole raw wheat grains) and soak it in water for two days, changing the water once each day and night. Dry out the wheat grains and gently toast them in the oven on very low (200f) about 1/2 hour. Chop the grains in a blender just until they are well cracked but not powdered. Cook them in boiling water for about 10-15 minutes until soft but still separate. Drain and cool. Use immediately.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

More than Just Gardens

There are more things in this life than the garden. Did I say that? Well, it is true. Sometimes there is cooking, or cleaning, or enjoying time with friends (and family). In our home, I am usually in charge of the garden, food, cooking, planning of such things, securing such things, and distributing such things. But a really good life also has entertainment that is not food. The Playing is the thing.
Playing what? Playing at what? Well, that is the job of the Entertainment Director- my husband Drakonis (aka Eduard Schwan). Drak has a music collection that spans decades. Opera, Symphony, Rock, Jazz, Classics, Mood, Synth, and easy listening. Usually he ignores Country or Disco- but there are a few things he can tolerate.
On weekend mornings, Drak puts on some beautiful Concertos, or Mozart's Requiem, or Bach's Variations. Then we have a lovely breakfast on the patio. He is in charge of the music. He also plans the out of home fun things like movies, operas and music events. He has even been known to plan trips to the park or hiking trails. And though there are times when he is very busy and forgets to plan stuff, for the most part we have a very lovely life with a balance of activity, serenity, companionship, and solitude. All this is mixed with work and play, food and frolic.
So lately, my Drak has been working very hard on a project. He not only plays CD's, he also writes music. And he also makes computer generated movies. He has just completed and released on DVD his "Dance of the Technoids" music video. This has been a monstrous project for him, considering he also works 40+ hours per week and is raising his youngest teen, Sara. But he has tamed the beast and is now relaxing from the stress and basking in the glory of having his music in the market. If you want to see his beautiful face, is the place.
His is my sweetie and my best friend- I love him and his music. Now, it is time to party!