Friday, July 26, 2013

Garden eating: July

Before July totally passes us by, I'm going to sneak in with another installment in my Garden Eating series. (June's installment here.) Early July was beets beets beets, and now we've abruptly fallen through the trap door into zucchini-and-green-beans 24/7. Grilled zucchini, shredded zucchini, zucchini pizza... it's all there. The above was just grilled zukes over pasta with a garlic-oregano vinaigrette and some feta. So easy.

Steamed beets and potatoes over greens with green goddess dressing.

Pasta with white beans, garden broccoli, tomatoes, and lots of garlic.

My very favorite summer vegetable soup. The picture might say otherwise, but this actually conceals a lot of zucchini in the base. Every summer I hope for a chilly night so I can justify making this soup-- this week we had a 46-degree night! Perfect soup weather.

And... zucchini pizza with more beans and more broccoli. This recipe is such a winner-- I know I've blogged it before. 

Forgive me for not linking to it right this hot minute.

I need to go and pack. We leave in ELEVEN HOURS. Hot damn. I will be back in this space Monday, 8/5, with photos and tales to tell. Nashville, here we COME.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Thinking of fall

I am not someone who goes into denial about the end of summer. I forget what the topic was, but the other night I found myself in a vivid, pleasant fall dream, and woke in the early morning thinking about sweater tights and canning applesauce and making soup. It was lovely. Fall is like the Olympic podium for gardeners-- if all goes well-- and you stand and wave, and maybe someone gives you a bouquet of flowers for pulling out the Gold Medal in Kale, when the odds were against you and you'd sprained your wrist in training three weeks ago. 

I almost always win the Gold Medal in Kale.

This summer, I am also close to medalling (meddling?) in basil, beans, garlic, parsnips, and, thrillingly, tomatoes. Some of those plants of mine are absolutely loaded, and the string support system I'm using is working great.

But anyway, fall. This is time of year I start thinking about fall. I've sowed rows of fall carrots and beets and more parsnips, and chard and mustard and broccoli raab (experiment!) too. Last year's winter garden did so well, I'm trying everything again, and then some. This morning the air is cool and dry, the high is only 70 degrees, and I forget every year how just the air makes such a difference in my attitude for the day. Cool and dry = get out there and sweat.

Chard babies.

I pulled our garlic the other night, my first-ever homegrown, and it was stupendous. I'm not sure if there will be enough to plant for next year and enough for us to eat all winter long, but time will tell.


I planted a metric ton of beans this year. I have two small plantings of bush beans (Provider) to eat as green beans, staggered by about three weeks (which is great). I also have about 60 linear feet of these, above, a variety called Maine Yellow Eye, which are supposed to be grown and dried on the vine and shelled out for soup beans. I'm not sure if it's overly optimistic or just pure fantasy to think Patrick and I might sit around the fire in January shelling out beans and drinking wine... mmm... well, we'll see.

In the meantime, it's nice to dream.

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Monday, July 22, 2013


I'm pretty sure the fates were listening the other night, when I got on Facebook and started semi-bragging about how my deer fence was working and my green beans were gorgeous. You have to be careful, when you're farming or gardening or homesteading, to not slip from satisfaction into smugness.

Saturday we went to Grassroots for the day. It's a big four-day music festival near Ithaca; camping there for all four days and muddy night used to be religion for Patrick and I. So there I was, meeting a friend of a friend, talking gardens and chickens and predation. And there it was: "We've got our chicken coop built into our garage," I said, "so there's an extra layer of protection." Satisfaction slipped to smugness, right there too.

We were gone all day, and most of the night. We got home at 3 am, and Genevieve and Patsy were nowhere to be found.

I am absolutely heartsick for them both. Yes, they're chickens, but it's incredible how caring for them and talking to them over the course of a year can make you love them. We shared so much of our story with them-- especially Genevieve, who I was so sure would outlive them all. Genevieve, who could fly even with her wings clipped, and was, I'm pretty sure, part Racing Chicken. And Patsy, the sweetest, most docile girl. 

Sigh. Losing chickens is such a conflicting experience. On one hand, it's a fairly regular occurrence. Chickens are tasty; lots of critters like to eat them. In one year we've lost four: one to the road, one to a dog running loose, and now these two. They're chickens, they're prey, they're uncomplicated animals that are easy to raise and have the emotional depth of a head of cabbage. So I try to accept it: we're going to be here a long time. Chickens are going to come and go, many many chickens, and there will be loss and we will live through it.

And on the other hand, trivializing the experience like that just feels so wrong. The guilt comes seeping in. The guilt and responsibility: we could've gotten home earlier, we could've asked a neighbor to close them up for us, but we didn't. That is even harder than the heartsickness. 

In the end, I have to tell myself that any life lived on this place, no matter how short or how badly ended, is worth living. It's that way for me, and for Patrick, and I know for our cats and our dog. I can only assume our chickens-- deep in their cabbage-brains-- felt the same way. 

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Bits of news, and plotting our escape

So, ahem, where were we? It has been incredibly hot. Tonight we have a date with Patrick's parents' pool, and tomorrow the high temp is only 77, so we're closing out the heat wave in style. I'd be totally fine if the rest of the summer stayed between 75 and 80.
Moving on. Raspberries. Ahem. I have been dutifully picking the cup or so of ripe berries per day, and I have been making shrub. Maybe some husbands are lucky enough to have wives who make raspberry pie, or cake, or at least jam, but my husband has a wife who likes to stew her raspberries with vinegar and sugar and pour it over ice cubes with soda water. Has anyone else ever tried this? It's awesome. Here's a recipe. It's best to use Bragg's apple cider vinegar, as they say in the recipe, but really any cider vinegar will work. A few sips feels like the perfect tonic on a hot summer night-- light, crisp, full of good-- and, this may be a complete coincidence, but the mosquitoes seem to leave me alone when I have a glass of shrub in my hand. Hmmm.

Those old-fashiony drinks, man. There's a reason they caught on, and it usually goes beyond taste.

Two years ago I bought a slew of death's-door perennials at a July greenhouse closeout sale. I bought delphiniums and sea holly, and stuck them in this bed together. Where they are doing just swimmingly, without any help at all. And I'm loving how the gray-plumminess of the sea holly whispers to the alice blue of the delphs. Whisperwhisperwhisper. 

We have eaten zucchini every night this week. I am proud. I am a little tired. Tonight I am trying a spin on these, summer squash waffles (squaffles?), though I won't be making them vegan... just because. Waffles should include butter in them, at least in this house.
There's a line in a favorite cookbook of mine about waffles, about how low-fat waffles don't, or shouldn't exist, because without the proper amount of fat you don't get the custardy innards. Any cookbook with enough spine to stand up proper and espouse the virtues of fat has my respect.
Moving on.

Our freezer looks like this. I'm not one to say OMG, but. OMG. It is July, people, and I need to plug in my chest freezer! 
I have a chest freezer that could hold a dead body. I make a point of emptying it out each spring and unplugging it (usually in April, after we've eaten through our winter stores), and it rests for a few months before fall comes along and I need the space for bags of frozen peppers or tomatoes or cauliflower. This summer, I started freezing earlier than ever-- and more intently than ever-- and so our fridge-freezer is now bursting, two months ahead of "schedule." Peas and zucchini and broccoli and kale and spinach and beet greens, oh my. Oh my. Last night I froze my first gallon of green beans, which was officially the coffin nail. So there's that.

There's also these guys. I can't believe how big they're getting. They've stopped peeping and are in that awkward and very comic stage where they make this dumb honking noise every time they try to cluck. The two buffs-- June and Maybelle-- are totally docile and gentle and have caught on very nicely to the standard practice of how to be a chicken. 
Emmy, on the other hand. Oh, Emmy. Since the beginning she's been a... special case. I would pick up a buff, and it would freak out for two seconds before it figured I wasn't trying to kill it. Emmy never seems to come to any such realization. She flaps and struggles and honks and flaps and struggles whenever I pick her up. When everyone comes in to eat, she stands outside on the ramp making a sound not unlike a party noisemaker stuck in a trash compacter, piteously, until I walk around the other side and stuff her ass in there with the others. I've taken to calling her, lovingly but insensitively, pollo retardo, because-- I'm sorry, but she's a chicken-- I need something help myself cope with her stupids. We love our chickens, but they can be an awful lot of work. Funny work. Work that you get paid back for when they start laying. But still, work.

Ok. last little bit of news. We are leaving for NASHVILLE in eight days. I have insane writing deadlines right now, and I'm trying to get in as much of the garden as I can before we leave (though I have arranged for a garden-sitter), but this morning I woke up and said to Patrick, "One week..." and felt that intoxicating giddy-dizzy feeling you get before a big, long-awaited trip. We have five nights in a hotel on Music Row. Next week I am going to get us reservations at the Bluebird, if it kills me. I have wanted this trip, and been looking forward to this trip, since I met Patrick. Before that. Since I was in Nashville with my parents, at twelve, and realized, even then, that I was holding them back. Oh, sweet vacation. How I hear you callin'...

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Height of summer

Well, we're here. Yesterday I picked zucchini, green beans, and raspberries: the defining three crops of mid-July in this part of the country. I like that. I like that my life here can be defined by the crops of the moment, and their accompanying harvesting and cooking duties. 

I've been offering a small prayer to the Bean Gods every night before I head in to bed. Remember last year, when the deer breached the fence and gobbled my crop? They waited. They knew. They timed it so my plants were as loaded with beans as they were going to get, and then, they leapt. That was the night of July 12, 2012, so I've been waiting with baited breath as the nights tick slowly by and beans ripen... and no hoof-prints appear in the dirt. I am hopinghopinghoping the extra strand of wire all around keeps them out out out, but I am taking nothing for granted. 

Meanwhile, this little garden is looking pretty cute, for its first year in existence. The bishop's weed, which I anticipated would be sprouting all summer, is pretty much gone, even from around the roots of the currants where I couldn't dig it out. Take that. In its place, I have a lovely showy rudbeckia, and some silvery-leaved chamomile relative, and variegated pineapple mint, and two little lavenders. I planted a "beneficial insect attractant mix" on the right, which has turned out to be a fun combination of buckwheat, mini sunflowers, basil, dill, cilantro, and some clover species. I'm not sure it's luring praying mantids and lacewings and ladybugs, like I imagined it would, but it is kind of pretty all the same. 

It's just the beginning, but I can see how it's going to be.

Similarly, it's just the beginning of zucchini season, but I can see how it's going to be. BLOOMING NUTS.

I gave one to my neighbor Jody, and three to my mother-in-law. I have three gallons of frozen shredded already, and we've eaten them in ten meals in two weeks. Tonight is cold pasta salad with grilled zucchini, tomorrow is stuffed zucchini in tomato broth. I'm not ready to yell for help yet, but... I may reach that point! 

In the rest of the garden, the tomatoes are slowly swelling, the calendula (left side of the middle bed above) is about to bloom, the fennel (right side) is looking mighty nice, and my rows of mustard and bok choy and broccoli raab I sowed to replace the now-eaten beets are coming through. 

Some little tasks are starting to build up this week, which makes me a little anxious. But in this heat, and with these deadlines, I just have to let the garden be, for most of each day. I spend a few minutes in the foggy mornings, and maybe an hour before bed, but that is really all I can muster. Today it will be 91. It's 74 in the house, and headed nowhere pleasant, I imagine. 

Sigh. I'm thinking Del and I might have a date with the creek tonight.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

A Sunday

Caution, dog-noses seen in mirror may be closer than they appear. Really really close. We were asked to come help with a group yard-improvement project at Patrick's parents' house on Sunday. We brought Del. We also brought pickled beets and a bag full of zucchini, but Del, I think, was the most welcome hospitality gift. Patrick's parents' Airedale Fiona, and his sister's terrier/schnauzer mix Piper were also in attendance, and it was a real hoot watching them all get to know each other and romp around the yard.

The thing about being asked a favor by Patrick's mom is that you will be repaid in food. Lavish food. Maybe the best food of your life. The table bore blue cheese potato salad, and chili-basted corn on the cob. Chicken and sausage from the grill, and a kale salad with tangerines and dried currants and pistachios, and very extremely cold Chardonnay.

And lime custard tart with berries. We really don't mind being repaid in food.

Once home, we slouched off our wine buzz (at least I did) and watched the sun set over those sticky 90-degree hills. Foosh. This is going to be a week for hibernating in the cool of the dining room (coolest room of the house, where I make my "summer office") and drinking iced coffee and doing little more outside than picking beetles and watering freshly seeded rows.

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Friday, July 12, 2013


Now that the porch is done, it finally feels like I'm really gaining on the house again. Look at that new blue part! Boom! A coat of paint makes such a big difference. With a nice new roof on everything (that'll be after we sell our Binghamton house.... still no nibbles...) the house will really look cared-for. And nothing beats that cared-for vibe.

I'm reminding myself that I'm only about two months into working on the exterior... and I have most of three months left to go. That is a good chunk of time; my goal of getting that whole front side done seems reachable. That's a damn good feeling!

In other news, we took Del to the creek recently. I may have gotten wetter than he did (though he got plenty wet, too). I am not especially good with heat; any day that gets above 85 should be acknowledged with a dip in the creek. 

So happy to have a lovely little one nearby. Happy weekend!

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The progress

May 7th:

May 21st:

May 31st:

June 10th:

June 19th:

July 2nd:

This morning:

Wow. Last night, dinner was a giant salad with steamed beets, potatoes, radishes, and more of that green goddess dressing. The only ingredients not from the garden were a dollop of yogurt and a squeeze of lemon. 

The peas are almost finished, and will be ripped out probably tomorrow or Friday and replaced with a big fat bed of carrots, beets, and parsnips, for fall and winter eating. The broccoli is still cranking away. The raspberries are coming in. The ZUCCHINI, holy crap. I picked the first eight at just a little bigger than thumb-size, and threw them on the grill the other night, to circumvent the tidal wave of behemoths I know is coming. Time to sharpen my food processor blade and shred, shred, shred.

Something is definitely eating my peppers: little unsuspicious-looking brown leaf-hoppery guys. They gut the leaves then sever them from the plant, and make all the flowers fall off, too. I'm looking up row covers as soon as I publish this.

Half my tomato plants, and most of my cukes and winter squash, are stunted-- and the only thing I can think is that I shouldn't have tilled in those hickory leaves. Hickory leaves have a biotoxin, like walnut leaves, that keeps other plants from growing around it. It's an anti-competition strategy. Some plants are immune to the toxin, and some aren't. Last fall when I was swamped with leaves and trying to figure out what to do, I decided to chance it. Obviously, the green beans and broccoli and potatoes have no sensitivity to the stuff, but other crops do. The good news is, the toxin gets broken down by soil microbes, this fall I'm not putting any hickory leaves on my garden, and next year everything should be okay. 

A garden is always a win some, lose some proposition. Fortunately to me, whatever winners there are make up, in spades, the disappointment of the losers.

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Monday, July 8, 2013

Birthday weekend. Summertime. Ithaca.

Thanks to my weekend waitressing career, it had been two years since I'd traveled to Ithaca to properly celebrate Kat's birthday. And, naturally, I'd forgotten that it used to be one of my favorite holidays. Back when we all lived in town together, we'd converge on a gorge or a park pavilion or a state park campsite, always that first weekend in July, always toting plenty of libations, and celebrate.

December birthdays just aren't as much fun. Alexis and I can commiserate on that account. But at least we share a good friend whose birth date seems designed to make up for the mediocrity of ours. 

Friday's agenda: burritos, margaritas, string band, cocktails.

Saturday's agenda: waterfall, picnic, winery, winery, lake, party.

It was splendid.

I hope the birthday girl had the most fun, but honestly, I'm not sure. I'd forgotten how this is the time of year when it feels sooo indescribably good for me to get away from "the farm" for awhile. 

Kat knows a lot of farmers and gardeners, and even an orchard manager or two. So, naturally, the food at her party was... oh, sweet heaven. Everyone flooded that kitchen with towel-wrapped bundles of summer onions, and bowls of fresh cherries, and bags of ruby-speckled lettuce. 

And gin. Gin, too.

It was a fine time. Happy birthday, Kat!

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