Thursday, December 29, 2011


I'm not a geranium person, but I purchased one last spring because I loved the color of the flowers. As long as I remembered to water it, this Calliope hybrid continued to bloom all summer long. Once freezing weather threatened, I decided to bring it inside, to see if I could keep it alive until next year (not always a sure thing in my household).

Not only is it alive, it is blooming. Nice!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A new toy

I always try to take vacation days between xmas and New Year's, not to fly off to exotic (or even warm) places, but to stay at home and hibernate a bit. I also get the chance to do some of the things I have trouble finding time for while working. Like playing with my new food dehydrator.

After reading The Feast Nearby, I was inspired to purchase a dehydrator, but between the disaster otherwise known as the garden and a pinch for time, I never had the chance to try it out. Yesterday I decided I was tired of tripping over the Ida Red apples in the garage and dragged them inside for a transformation.

My peeler-corer-slicer produced relatively uniform slices of apple, which took about 5 hours to dry. At least, I hope they are dry. I don't purchase dried apples ordinarily, so I'm not sure exactly how they should feel. I sampled some of the thicker slices, though, as I put them in jars, and they were delicious.

The peels, cores, and the apples that would not cooperate with the peeler-corer-slicer went into a pot, along with culls from the apple collection (Fuji and Cameo) that needed to be used, to become applesause (after a trip through the sauce maker). So besides two "quarts" of dried apple slices, I also have seven pints of applesauce.

Besides rethinking the garden, I am also being forced to rethink the freezer and just what I put in it. When I purchased it, my intention was to fill it with fruits and vegetables, so I would not have to water bath or pressure can anything; I'm lazy that way. But now that I am purchasing grass-fed meat from Honored Prairie, the freezer has proven to be too small for bulk purchases. I expect I will have to can some stuff, but the dehydrator now offers another option.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Rethinking the zone 5 garden

Usually at this time of year, I review the past gardening season and make plans for the next. To that I say, Bah, humbug! Last summer's garden was a disaster. The whole backyard was a disaster. I was happy to let everything die, only to have this area experience an extended fall (the grass is still green!) that I failed to take advantage of.

There is a city park near my house that is, in part, a working 1930's farm. It also includes gardens and a small orchard, the picture of what I hope my backyard will be some day. My son and I visited the park on Thanksgiving and again on xmas, and saw that kale is still growing in the garden and greens in the cold frame.

So now I am getting serious about building my own cold frame. There is a good spot for it, on the south side of the West Wing, next to the porch. Cement blocks are cheap, so all I need are some old window frames.

There also will be three 4'x4' square foot garden beds near my patio. The plan is one will hold aspargus, another strawberries, but I think I will reserve the third for vegetables that can winter over.

What are your garden plans for 2012?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Adventures with raw milk

When I decided to buy a herd share, I committed to getting two gallons of raw milk every two weeks. Quite frankly, this is a bit much for a household of one. I skim the cream off the top for my coffee, I drink some (usually as part of a fruit smoothy), I've made some cheese (not always successfully). Now I am making yogurt from an heirloom culture that is supposed to work at room temperature, so you don't need a yogurt maker.

At least, I hope I am making yogurt. It took me two tries to make the yogurt "mother". You see, making yogurt with raw milk is a little more complicated than using pasteurized milk, as the natural bacteria in the raw milk will slowly kill off the yogurt bacteria. So, instead of using some of the made yogurt for the next batch, one has to maintain a pure mother culture.

I don't know what went wrong with my first attempt at mothering. Maybe I did not get the milk warm enough to kill off the natural bacteria, maybe I added the culture before the heated milk had cooled enough, maybe my house is too cold. I had used a candy thermometer, a thermometer so old that the glass casing broke off when I washed it afterwards. Alarmed that there might be broken glass in my mother, I decided to throw it out, but let it sit anyway. It never really thickened up, so no loss there.

With the second batch, I used a dairy thermometer, then put the mother in the oven with the light turned on. I also put a remote thermometer in there, just to see how hot the oven would get with only the light burning. Turns out it gets to be 80F. No wonder bread rises so well in the oven.

So tonight I am making the yogurt itself, plus a new mother. I purchased the starter from Cultures for Health, a website that has all kinds of fermenty things. This particular yogurt culture, Viili, purportedly makes a mild, semi-thick yogurt. We shall see.

Then maybe I will try butter.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Purple fingers

According to my not-necessarily-accurate memory, when I was a kid, one or more pomegranates would appear in our kitchen around xmas time. Not quite sure how to eat one, I would fill my mouth with the garnet-colored berries (or whatever they are called) and gently chew on them, releasing the juice and fruit from the seeds, which were then unceremoniously spit out. As an adult, that memory has kept me from purchasing pomegranates for my own kitchen. Until now.

After reading this, I decided I would try my hand at making grenadine. Too bad I did not read the comments as well, because my method of extracting the juice was a bloody mess (which is one reason there are no photos with this post [edited to add one photo]). I erroneously thought I could just put the berries through my Roma, with no preparation other than separating the berries from the rind and membranes. Don't try it - it doesn't work very well.

In the end, I did manage to get three cups of juice from seven (I think) pomegranates. The recipe calls for two cups of sugar to two cups juice, but I started with two cups sugar to three cups juice, and the result was delish. I poured the mixture into three pint jars, added a tablespoon of vodka to each, and now they are sitting in the freezer in all their slushy splendor.

So, was all that work worth the trouble? I held some back, to make a Tequila Sunrise. It was so good, I made another. So, yes, it was worth it, but don't expect me to do so more than once a year.