Pumpkin. Plus Pumpkin.

IMG_5324Thanksgiving is on the horizon so today I did a little prep for it. I baked up and then pureed the two pie pumpkins that have been waiting on the counter for just this holiday. My plan is to bake a pumpkin pie (natch) as well as a pumpkin cheesecake. The pie will be light and delicate. I like it like that, different than the denser pumpkin pies I admit to also readily enjoying. The cheesecake will be heavier, a thick creamy cylinder of deliciousness.

Once the pumpkins were out of the oven and cooled and pureed, I tossed the pumpkin seeds with a little oil and a little salt and roasted them up in the hot oven for a pre-dinner snack. They made a fine pre-dinner snack. While I turned those seeds in the oven, and while I whipped up dinner itself, I sipped my latest beer–a pumpkin ale, light on the spice.

I like a decent pumpkin ale but most of the ones I have tried are pumpkin spice ales, heavy on the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg and hardly tasting of pumpkin. I created this beer to have an ale worthy of the squash moniker. It has a zip to it that makes me say Hmm as well as Mmm. Good stuff.

On another note, I finally (finally) planted the dang garlic. The last week has been crazy cold and things have begun to freeze up. Today, however, offered a warm enough window. I dug up one garden bed and popped in some bulbs saved from this year’s harvest. Hopefully they will appear as green shoots in the spring.

While I will have to wait many months for the garlic, next week I will get to enjoy a pumpkin pie, a pumpkin cheesecake and a fine pumpkin ale, all in one day. In the meantime, there are these toasted pumpkin seeds to polish off. You know, before they get stale.

Tubers Out of the Dirt

I have started pulling tubers. Let me say that again. I have started digging up root vegetables. I made some roasted potatoes from the first batch and they were so good I made another last night. Carrots are ready now as well. These are some good ones–a variety of colors and flavors. I should have a good volume of food with these crops before all is said and done.

The first potatoes I pulled up were German Butterball. These were from tubers I had saved from last summer. I hadn’t meant to save them, exactly. I had stored them to eat and then missed some at the end of the bin. They sat until spring, when they were sprouting like crazy. I had some extra space in the garden and so I popped them into the dirt. I am glad I did. They are a, duh, buttery variety, and white. I also have pulled some others–purple and pink. I love that. Who wants only white potatoes when you can have purple and pink? Several of these colorful plants never took so the extra white potatoes were especially welcome.

Check Out Those Colors

I have purple carrots as well, along with yellow and the standard orange. Our soil is mostly clay–although I did add a good deal of compost this spring–so sometimes the carrots get stunted. I pulled three is a row that were stubby. One of them looked like some kind of alien landing craft. Maybe my garden, which is a circle rather than your typical rectangle, was an inviting locale for an extraterrestrial vehicle. Perhaps my carrots are actually buried spaceships? You be they judge.

Odd Shaped Tuber or Visitor from Space?

 

Garlic Pulled

Garlic Drying in the Sun

Yesterday I pulled the garlic. I should have pulled it sooner but we were away and it just didn’t happen. I planted two varieties in the fall and one of them was way ready to yank from the dirt. It was so ready that a few of them broke at the stem. This was the Purple Bogatyr, a purple tinged, smaller variety. The other is much larger and, because I let it go so long, the bulbs are huge. I have 25 bulbs drying in the sun right now and I pulled a couple earlier as well. For the first time a couple died in the spring–not sure why.

I plan to crank out some pesto in the next couple of days, along with some pico de gallo. Hopefully this garlic will last a while–not all year I am sure but a perhaps through the fall. We do eat a lot of garlic. Next up: onions. They are looking good and the tops are starting to fall over. Pretty soon I will pull them as well.

Beets for Dinner

Just pulled from the dirt

I wasn’t really all that fond of beets. My parents grew them in our garden when I was growing up. I ate them with the rest of my siblings because that was one of the things we were served. I don’t remember hating them, but I also didn’t ask for second helpings. Once I moved out on my own I never ate beets. I didn’t buy them, I didn’t cook them, I didn’t order them. They just were not on my radar of delicious things. That, however, has changed.

Last year I planted beets in our garden for the first time. It turns out my parents instilled in me not only a love of gardening, but also a love of beets. Who knew those purple guys could connect generations? I only grew a few of them last summer. I had a spot in one of the beds and so bought a few seeds and sowed them. And they were tasty. The first ones I coated in olive oil and grilled, and I have not turned back. I remember eating boiled beets, but roasting or grilling is my cooking method of choice.

So last night we had beets for dinner. I had a small crop, thinking I would plant a second batch that hasn’t made it into the ground yet. They were fat and bright and red. I peeled them and sliced them thick and grilled them like I did that first time. I also grilled zucchini, several of which we got from our farm share this week. The topper was the pesto I made yesterday as well. Basil and cilantro is bursting so I cut lots of it. I also pulled a couple heads of garlic–the first from our garden this year. I whipped up a batch of traditional basil pesto and one with cilantro. I froze most of it and the rest dressed the grilled vegetables. It was dee-lish.

Basil ready to be turned into pesto

It turns out, after turning into somewhat of a grownup, that I now have a real taste for beets. Soon I am planning to brew another batch of beer. I will add a couple of pounds of beets to that. I will add some sugar for the yeast to snack on and it will likely turn the brew red or pink. That will be interesting. I certainly did not imagine myself, back when I was swallowing those red boiled tubers, that I would be a fan of beets, growing them myself and adding them to homemade beer. Maybe I am more of a grownup than I thought.

Seedlings on the Rise

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Yesterday I managed to plant some lettuce, arugula and beets. Due to our Mother’s Day activities I had to get to the garden beds late in the day. I ran out of time to plant carrots. The garlic is going gangbusters and the spinach is leafing out nicely.

Inside, tomatoes and peppers and basil are reaching for the sun in the windows. Onions and leeks are ready to get outside. Things are growing nicely.

I am a little behind since I want to spread some beneficial nematodes. My official workplace is right near a garden supply store where I can order some of these handy microscopic critters, but since I usually work out of my home, I have not had the chance to get there in far too long. Before I plant cucumbers and pumpkins and melons I would prefer to work on reducing the cucumber beetle situation. I am not fond of those attractive little pests. They do a number on the fruiters.

This year I have planted a good number of flowers, however. Sunflowers and bulbs and annuals. I don’t usually get to those so I can say I am proud of myself for that. Every year I have the ambition to keep up with all the amazing landscaping that came with the house. That has not happened. Maybe this year. But don’t hold your breath. Of course, I would not recommend holding your breath for much, except maybe the paper mill in Rumford, Maine, so maybe that advice isn’t worth much.

I hope this week to make more progress on the nematodes and then the rest of the crops. And the garden will grow.

Eating Around Here

I made dinner tonight and let me tell you it was good stuff.  It was simple, really, but a simple pleasure.  I scrambled up eggs and cheese and we ate it with greens. The greens were as simple as the eggs–leeks, garlic, peppers and kale with some salt and butter.  The combination was tasty, tastier than I thought it would be.  It felt good to eat food so wholesome and healthy.  And it felt good to know that almost everything came from right around here.

The leeks and kale came from our farm share. Our last pick up was Tuesday and we got a lot. We used some of it tonight. The peppers came from our garden–the last of them to be picked. The butter was Cabot butter, so also fairly local. The cheese in the eggs was also Cabot, and the eggs came from Maple Meadow Farm in Salisbury (the eggs could be more local, I admit, but this wasn’t bad). The olive oil traveled far to get to us, as did the salt, but those are hard to get from local sources.

The one thing that was questionable was garlic. That came from a farm somewhere, but that’s all I know. Our farm share did not include garlic several times in a row–they didn’t have a great year. I missed the farmer’s market last Saturday–I couldn’t get there until too late. And our local market, which often has good local produce, didn’t have any local garlic, so I bought what was there, even though I hate not to know the source of my food. Part of the reason we had no garlic was that the garlic I bought at the farmer’s market a couple weeks ago I planted in the ground. I want to make sure I have plenty next year, so I planted all the cloves and hope for them to burst out of the ground in spring. That would make things local, eh?

So our meal had only a few food miles. It is simply crazy that our food system means we can get cheap food that is transported hundreds or thousands or miles. How is it that we can spend 87 calories to get one calorie and not pay more for that one calorie than we do? How is it that we are OK with the poor quality of those strawberries or winter tomatoes when we buy them, out of season? We ship food all over the place so we can eat whatever we want whenever we want it. So we get poor quality food and we burn up all kinds of oil to get it and we pump CO2 into the atmosphere like mad (literally) when we could could have better food at less real cost if we ate locally. So I try to do that.

Having a garden helps. Taking part in a community supported agriculture program helps. Living in Vermont helps, as local food is available much of the year because people care about it. And canning and freezing helps, too, as that means we can spread the harvest out over the cold months. I am new to canning but thanks to my parents giving me a tutorial, I have canned my second batch of jam. I have pesto and pumpkin and soup in the freezer and will freeze more. I could do better and, with some experience and over time, I will. Pulling pesto out of the freezer in January is just about the best thing ever.

Keeping my food miles down is important. I don’t want my food traveling more in a year than I do. It is one thing I, and collectively we, can do to make a difference to abate global warming. Eating locally can make a big difference in limiting carbon emissions, since we all need to eat. One day we will be forced to eat more locally, since oil will get expensive and raspberries from temperate climes won’t be cheap to ship in the winter. Plus, food usually tastes better if it hasn’t traveled half way around the world. And it has more in it, so it is healthier. Sure, if we eat locally we don’t get to have anything we want whenever we want it, but waiting for things makes them sweeter, sometimes literally. And I can wait for a little sweetness.

(This post is part of Blog Action Day).

Kitchen Frenzy and a Soup Recipe

I got home from an all day meeting today about 4:30.  I headed right to the kitchen.  Last night I was going to make a tomato corn chowder.  Then I got working and didn’t stop until way too late.  So I planned to make it tonight.  And I did.  It meant I had to get cracking.  And I did.  It was, how to say this, tasty as all [insert expletive here].

I tried to find a recipe but just couldn’t scrounge one up.  That was probably for the better.  It would have taken me longer to keep referring to a book and then half forgetting what I just read as I chopped garlic.  Here is what I did:

  • Sauteed three small leeks in about a tablespoon of butter and a splash of olive oil in a large pot and then set that aside
  • Cut up two medium size carrots (small cubes), a couple pounds of red potatoes (cubed), two sweet peppers (diced) and sauteed all that in the large pot in about a tablespoon of butter and a splash of olive oil
  • Added four cups of water and two teaspoons of salt to the pot and brought that to a boil
  • Removed the pot and then removed a couple cups of the potatoes to keep them in chunks, then pureed the rest in a food processor
  • Tossed three small tomatoes (OK I used the one weird large tomato I picked yesterday that looked like three small tomatoes attached at the hip), diced, along with four cups of corn I had removed from the cob (already cooked) into the pot.
  • Heated the tomatoes and corn gently for about ten minutes, then added the chunks of potatoes and the puree
  • Added a teaspoon each of chopped fresh oregano, chives and thyme
  • Added a cup of whole milk
  • Topped with freshly grated black pepper, heated for another 10-15 minutes (stirring to keep it from sticking to the bottom)
  • Ate it up

The children chowed it, even my son, who has been pretty picky lately.  I have to admit, and my wife said this aloud, it was worth the hour spent preparing.  The vegetables and herbs were all from our garden or from our CSA.  Even the milk was local.

Item two was making the base for coffee ice cream.  I whipped that up while the soup heated and stuck it in the fridge.

Then I went out with the kids and picked basil.  We have more basil than I can handle.  This is first year that the basil has really just grown.  I clipped it pretty well not long ago and it really grew back well.  I cut 12 cups of the stuff with my eager children who lost interest when they decided to mow the lawn with their scissors.  They didn’t get all that far on that project.

I made three batches of pesto (it is supposed to get pretty cold the next couple of nights–basil doesn’t like cold), froze two and popped the other in the fridge.  By now the children were off to bed with their mother, and I tried not to make too much noise with the food processor.  They did fall asleep eventually, even after the delivery truck woke them up.  Late delivery.

I just polished off the small bowl of ice cream from the batch I made after the basil was stored away.  I probably shouldn’t have coffee ice cream this late–it is made with coffee after all, which people drink to stay awake.  But I had to try some.  What kind of cook would I be if I didn’t taste what I made?  Plus, I didn’t have that much.

I waited to eat the ice cream after I had cleaned up everything (except the ice cream maker bucket–that thing was way too cold to wash).  Cleaning too far too long.  I was ready to be done when the counter was still covered with dishes.  My wife still is healing from her sliced finger, otherwise I am sure she would have offered to do all the cleaning.  I cook, I clean, I eat.  All after a day at work.  Not bad, eh?

Garden Woes

Ready for Planting

Ready for Planting

We started our garden at the house in which we now live in 2007.  That garden was limited.  We dug up some lawn and gathered some compost and got going.  We planted tomatoes and carrots and lettuce, pumpkins and strawberries.  Last year we expanded, adding more compost and digging more beds.  This is year three.  That first summer we had no problems at all.  Everything grew like gangbusters.  Now the troubles have started.

One mistake was getting compost from a new source last year.  It was filled with weeds and contained the larvae of cucumber beetles.  Cucumber beetles eat the roots of young plants and then, after they hatch, eat the leaves of the same plants.  I have had to replant zucchini and yellow squash and cucumbers, and the melons are pretty much bumming.  I have done nothing yet to get rid of them this spring so our problems persist.  I thought turning the soil late in the fall would help.  I turned it all again early in the spring.  No dice with that simple plan.

I planted peas for the first time this year.  They started off well but now the rabbit that hangs out in the woods has discovered the plants.  It keeps whittling them down to nubbins.  The pea plants are no taller than they were six weeks ago.  Then our cuddly friend discovered the carrots and the lettuce.  The little pecker is nibbling down our salads.  And a squirrel is eating our strawberries.  These critters are killing me.

I planted popcorn today.  Last year I had to plant corn three times.  The first time the turkeys ate the sprouts just as they emerged.  Then the crows did the same after I put up a scarecrow (can you say misnomer?).  Finally I hung a string across the bed with old CD’s hanging from it.  Those spinning reflectors kept the birds away.  I hope that this trick will keep them away again.  The popcorn was one of our best crops last year.

At this point the onions, at least the ten out of 26 that survived (no idea what was up with that) are healthy.  The leeks (except for the handful some crazy bird yanked out but left on the soil) are shooting up, and the pumpkins are spreading.  The tomatoes and peppers (planted a few days ago) are still alive but my optimism is wavering.  We will have some food out of this endeavor but not as much as we might.

I’m not all that upset, really.  I am disappointed, of course, but not upset.  This gardening adventure is about persistence over the long term.  I planted red zebra tomatoes the first summer.  They grew well but were not the sweetest.  I may plant them again as sauce tomatoes, or I might consider trying to grow them over a few years to breed sweeter fruit, but I learned that another variety might be better.  I also have not had much luck with melons.  They need warm weather and lots of it.  The beetles snacking on them don’t exactly help.  So melons will require much more trial and error (hopefully with diminishing error).

I have had luck with seeds I saved for peppers and pumpkins.  I will try more of that this year.  I like the idea of keeping the cycle going–planting seeds from plants that grew the previous year, then doing that again.  It is amazing that it works at all.  Plant a few seeds and they grow into plants that provide food?  That is plain old miraculous, really.

So I do what I can to keep things growing.  I weed and water and hang old computer discs.  I need to get on the cucumber beetles.  They haven’t hatched yet, but I know they won’t wait for an invitation to sit down to dinner on my cucumbers.  Their social graces, it seems, are less than refined.

First Ski Day

Brian Jenkins Burlington Free Press

Brian Jenkins Burlington Free Press

Today was opening day at Bolton Valley so we headed up there for some early skiing.  We had a blast.  We took only a few runs (the kids are still getting their ski legs on) but got the feel of it.  I even got a few turns in on my own while sliding down the trails with my daughter.  I had my first spill as I tried to take a small jump ( I landed it but ate white with my first turn).

We stayed warm enough and the place was not as packed as we thought it might be.  I had the impression that there were just as many people there as on opening day last year but somehow things ran more smoothly.  Everything just seemed to flow a little better.  We got our passes in just a few minutes, didn’t have to wait in line for the lift, found a place to park, even found a spot to put on our boots with no problem.

Once we had fun on the slopes we headed around the corner.  We lived up there for over a decade and we wanted to check out our old house.  We designed and built it one summer and fall, and it was an odd feeling to leave it.  It turns out that the new owners added a couple of touches we had wanted to add ourselves but did not–a large front porch and a small roof over the front door.  It looks great.  It looks better on the outside than it ever did when we lived there.

It was a great place to live and both of us felt we could be happy up there still.  Winter up there meant we were in the place to be.  We always had snow on Christmas, but we couldn’t have much of a garden.  One can’t have everything, but it sure was nice to put on boots and walk up the hill and take a few runs, all without driving.  Ah, but how about that popcorn we grew this summer?

Tomorrow we will likely head up there again, get the itch scratched for the weekend.  We will have to load the car and drive up there like everyone else.  For now, that’s what we’ve got.  Yesterday I was outside while my son stomped around on the frozen garden.  I started mentally planning what we might grow next summer.  Some days I ski.  Some days I pull weeds.  That isn’t easy to do all in one place.  As for tomorrow, I may spend some time thinking about gardening, but one should ski while the snow is on the mountain.

Popcorn Ready at Last

Back in June I planted some popcorn. I planted it later than I wanted but the turkeys, and then the crows, had pulled up all of the sweet corn. I was playing it safe. I hung some old CD’s to blow in the wind and that kept the fowl away. At the end of September (the 22nd) my daughter and I picked it and shucked it. It has been hanging to dry since then.

I tried to pop some last month but it did not work well. It was not dry enough. Today I tried again, heating about ten kernels in hot oil. Every one popped. My son helped me peel the seeds from the cobs. He stripped a few of the mini cobs before declaring “I think I’m done doing this now.” I love his honesty.  I picked up the ones he scattered across the counter.

We did not get too much, just over half a jarful, but it is enough for several batches this fall and (if it lasts) winter.  Here are some visuals of the process this afternoon:

What they looked like before removing the kernels

What they looked like before removing the kernels

Naked cobs

Naked cobs

Off the cob

Off the cob

Storage vessel until time for popping arrives

Storage vessel until time for popping arrives