Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Gardening for Food: The Keepers

A few weeks ago, I gave you my list of things I do not grow in my garden, either because they just don't grow well here, or because I don't like them enough to bother with them. But of course, any list like that begs the question: What DO I grow?

So glad you asked! Here's a very long answer.

First, the things I like enough to start seeds for and keep inside my house for two months before I can plant them outside:

Cabbages--These are fun because they're often the very first thing I harvest and preserve. Although they are typically presented as a fall vegetable to be kept into winter, I have not had luck starting them in summer and getting any kind of harvest in the fall. Our falls feature quite hot days, thanks to our intense sun, and also a lot more little bugs that want to eat the cabbages. So these are a spring crop for me. This year, I have I think ten plants currently in the bathroom waiting to be transplanted. We give several away, and with many of the rest, I make sauerkraut. I might try some other canning recipes this year, too, if I get enough cabbages. 

Look! A cabbage! And a lot of other stuff.

Kohlrabi--In many ways, kohlrabi is not a very practical plant to grow. It's huge, taking up a lot of garden space for just one baseball-sized (or smaller) harvest. And then, when the edible part is harvested, so much of the tough outer part is cut away that it really ends up being very, very little food for the work and space. However. I love it, and so do my children, and I have never seen it at a grocery store. So I grow it. A prime example of something that's worth it to me, but might not be to you.

Basil--Primarily for pesto. There's such a great return on basil, because it's so expensive to buy at a store that I would never buy enough to make pesto. But if I grow it, I will always have cubes of pesto in the freezer for winter. Also, fresh basil for roasted tomato sauce is the best.

Tomatoes--Speaking of roasted tomato sauce, can't make that without the tomatoes. It is definitely a battle growing tomatoes here, thanks to our chilly nights, hot days, dry air, constant wind, terrible hornworms and army worms . . . pretty much everything conspires against tomatoes. But I refuse to be defeated, because tomatoes are my favorite thing from the garden. We eat them fresh during the season, of course, but what I really like them for is roasted tomato sauce for pasta and pizza. Or just plain roasted tomatoes, canned and ready to be used in enchiladas or chile or whatever. In order to have enough to can, I have to have A LOT of plants. Last year, I think I ended up with around 30 producing plants, and I still wished I had more. I just don't get the pounds of actual tomatoes off my plants here like I did in New York, but as I said, I refuse to be defeated. So I just plant more.

Green onions--A new experiment this year. Anything that comes up as a thin, wispy seedling--onions are pretty much the definition of that--has almost no chance outside in our dessicating wind and heat. So I started them inside, in the hopes they'll be a little hardier when I transplant them.

And now for the seeds I put directly in the ground:

Beets--Beets are funny here. They seem to be very patchy in their germination and survival, so that maybe a quarter of the seeds I plant actually make it to the plant stage. But the ones that do make it get HUGE. And I love, love, love having pickled beets for salads in the winter, so I just plant a really big bed of them and expect to have a lot of attrition.

Carrots--Like beets, lots of attrition. But these are particularly beloved by my children, so I still plant a lot of them.

Parsnips--A new thing for me this year. I expect they will behave much like the beets and carrots, in that I won't get a large percentage of the seeds through to harvest, but the ones that make it will be very good. We shall see.

Rutabaga--Same deal as the parsnips. New this year, probably will follow the root-crop pattern, but we'll have to see. I know it's not a universal opinion, but I seriously love rutabaga, so I really hope it works.

Radishes--Radishes do not do well here. Our hot sun tends to make them woody and spicy very early in the spring. Luckily, my children like spicy radishes, so I just pull the radishes pretty small. Not much of a harvest, but they are a fast maturing vegetable, so they don't take up a lot of garden space for long.

Lettuce--Somewhat surprisingly, lettuce does do well here. As I noted before, I'm not great at succession planting, and anyway it's really too hot and dry in the height of summer for good lettuce. However, lettuce will prolifically re-seed itself, so I always have lots of volunteers that are ready when the stuff I've planted is either not ready yet, or already bolted. I appreciate anything that will volunteer. So much easier on me.

Less work for a BLT is a good thing.

Snow peas--I plant these quite early outside, and sometimes the harvest will go into June, thanks to our cool nights. We eat a LOT of snow peas during the season--my kids pull them right off the vines before I can even get them inside--and I always think I should plant more. They take up a lot of room, though, and require a lot of trellising, so I don't.

Cucumbers--I'm not even going to bother planting typical varieties of cucumbers anymore. All I want cucumbers for is refrigerator pickles and fresh eating, and the Armenian cucumber (technically a kind of muskmelon, like cantaloupe) provides that along with a much greater resistance to dry, hot conditions that make for sad, bitter cucumbers.

Green beans--These are what I pickle instead of cucumbers. I grow Kentucky Wonders, which make some really big, long beans that are perfect for dilly beans. And of course, we eat a lot during the season. I also always blanch and freeze at least one gallon bag of them, which my children prefer to eat frozen. Another thing I always need to plant more of but don't. All that trellising again.

Calabaza/calabacita--Our most unique vegetable, the seeds for which originally came from our friend Rafael. The calabacitas this squash produces are my stand-in for zucchini, because I think they're better than zucchini. The mature calabazas provide hundreds of pounds of winter squash for the freezer. The vines of this plant are incredibly long and aggressive, and they irritate me every year when they invade every neighboring area of the garden, but I tolerate it because of the harvest from them.

So pushy, this calabaza.

Winter squash--A. has developed his own strain of winter squash by allowing cross-breeding and only saving seeds from the ones we really like to eat, so now we have a sort of winter squash that has very orange, sweet, and fairly dry and non-stringy flesh. This is what I use for pumpkin pies. 

Garlic--A.'s thing. I love the scapes so much we could never have enough garlic. Although really, yes, we have more than enough garlic. We need to find a better way to store it, though. It always dries out long before the end of winter.

Special mention to the perennials, which grow incredibly well here:

Asparagus--This will be the first year that I can freely harvest our first row of asparagus, which needs  few years to get established. I'm excited. We also put in another row last year, which means in a couple of years, we're going to have incredible quantities of asparagus. Yay.

Rhubarb--I think of rhubarb as a very northern vegetable, but it does really, really well here. We should have great quantities of rhubarb this year, which I'm looking forward to.

Parsley--We just planted this last year, and I think it will come back this year. We'll see.

Dill--Not technically a perennial, but it re-seeds itself and grows every year with no work on my part, so it might as well be.

And then I end up with bouquets of dill at the end of the season.

Raspberries--We have three canes we're trying to get established. Berries are not a natural for our environment, so we'll see how that goes.

We also have dozens of peach, apricot, and apple trees around that are still getting to a harvesting stage, as well as some grape vines, but that's more orchard/vineyard, so we'll leave it here.

So tell me, my fellow gardeners: What's in your garden?

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Snapshots: Patriotic

It's a Church Lady month! I was there to turn on the heat Friday night (in preparation for a funeral the next day) just as the sun was setting, which made for a very atmospheric church.

Attending religious services would have been a very different experience before the invention of the electric light.

Outside the church, there was a completely ice-covered tumbleweed.

So of course I took a photo of it. Why not, right?

And some morning photos . . .

The sun rising behind the apricot tree.

Shorn sheep seeking sustenance. (I couldn't resist the alliteration.)

And Jasper, who is ever-ready with a wagging tail and licking tongue first thing in the morning. Or any time.

There you have it! My life, snapshotted.

* I never knew, until just now looking for a link to the lyrics of "The Star Spangled Banner," that our national anthem has three more verses after the one we always sing. I am somewhat gobsmacked by this.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Friday Food: A Tale of Two Fats (and Cream Cheese)


Short version: Tuna noodle casserole, green salad with vinaigrette

Long version: I make tuna noodle casserole once a year, during Lent. This was it. I had a can of cream of mushroom soup from excess commodities that had been sitting around for a very long time, so I used it in this. 

Half the kids loved it. Half were ambivalent. This is the usual ratio of food appreciators:food detractors.


Short version: Barbecue chicken sandwiches, green salad with ranch dressing, chocolate pudding, fresh bread with homemade cream cheese

Long version: I was baking bread, so I stole some of the dough to make buns and then made sandwiches by dicing the leftover chicken from when I made stock a few days before and adding barbecue sauce.

I've been having a lot of salad lately because I asked A. to buy me some more of the big clamshells so I'll have them to plant my tomato seeds in a couple of weeks. I don't know how anyone has room for those big, inflexible boxes of plastic in their refrigerators. So inconvenient.

I also had a couple gallons of milk that were at their best by date, so I made a recipe and a half of pudding. No one ever complains about pudding. And I managed to make it in my smaller pot, even though that meant it was literally almost overflowing.

I didn't spill a single drop of this. I was very impressed with myself.

The reason I had to use my smaller pot was that my bigger pot was full of cream cheese. 

Yes, I made cream cheese. I had been meaning to try it for awhile, and bought the starter culture and rennet for it some time ago. It wasn't until I had some more time over spring break that I actually tried it, though. It just requires half and half, the culture, rennet, and salt. It was very easy, very delicious, and a big hit with my children.

I made a pound and a half of cream cheese and it was all gone in two days. Yikes.

Cream cheese draining.

I think cream cheese, like yogurt, can actually be kept going indefinitely by using some of the previous batch to inoculate the next batch. The question is whether I want to be making cream cheese every week in addition to everything else I already do in the kitchen.

Stay tuned.


Short version: Brisket, mashed potatoes, green salad with ranch dressing, rice pudding or baked apples

Long version: Since I was going to make the rice pudding and that bakes for four hours, I also put in the brisket. That takes even longer, of course. About ten hours. So I also baked the apples in there, just a couple that had bad spots and needed to be used. I have one child that doesn't like rice pudding, so he was happy with the apples and heavy cream.

Brisket always results in quite a bit of rendered fat, which of course we all know better than to throw away, right? Right. 


Short version: Chopped chicken patties, leftover mashed potatoes and cheese, raw cabbage

Long version: My plan had been to have eggs with the mashed potatoes, for a quick workday meal. But then I got all the leftover chicken patties from the school lunch, so instead I chopped those up and fried them in butter to re-heat them. They ended up kind of like chicken nuggets, I guess.


Short version: Grillades, rooster rice, raw cabbage

Long version: I used the saved brisket fat to brown the meat before braising it, and then the remainder of the brisket liquid to cook it.

I very much enjoy the alliteration of "rooster rice," but it also happens to be factually accurate, as I made the rice with a jar of rooster stock that didn't seal when I canned it.


Short version: Leftovers, frozen peas

Long version: The one child who loves sandwiches finished up the barbecue rooster meat. Poppy had a chicken patty and rice. The other boys had brisket and the rest of the leftover mashed potatoes and cheese. They all had the peas.


Short version: Meatloaf, roasted potatoes, pureed calabaza, sauerkraut, raw cabbage, Mexican wedding cookies

Long version: I made the cookies in the morning with Poppy, mostly because I have a lot of nuts on hand and Mexican wedding cookies use almost as much nuts as flour. I used this recipe, but I added a bit of salt, because every recipe needs a bit of salt.

I also made the dough entirely in the food processor, as I had to use it anyway to grind the walnuts. This worked fine, although it is a very thick, stiff dough, so I had to scrape it and rearrange it a few times in the processor.

Because these are rolled in powdered sugar after they're baked, they're not a great cookie-jar cookie--they get a bit sticky--and I certainly wouldn't send them to school as a snack, but they were a fun weekend cookie.

The only reason I made roasted potatoes with the meatloaf is because I had the two cookie pans that could be rinsed off and used again before being washed, so I used one for the meatloaf and one for the potatoes. 

Also, I had all that fat in the refrigerator that needed to be used. In addition to the brisket fat, which was a bright orange from the tomato sauce I had put in with the brisket, I had the bright yellow chicken fat taken off the top of the rooster stock before I canned it.

So cheery.

Perfect for roasting potatoes. I finished off the brisket fat and used a little of the chicken fat, too. It made for some very tasty potatoes.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

This Can't Be a Coincidence

On the stage/lounge/library that I set up in our high school, there is a pool table. It's possibly the world's worst pool table. There's a hole in one spot, one of the balls is actually missing a section of its hard covering, and the cues have pretty much completely lost their tips.

But it still gets used a lot, often by Cubby, who loves playing pool.

I can't do much about the covering on the table, but I did think maybe it wouldn't be too hard to replace the wonky ball and the terrible cues.

So this morning at 4:30, when I was awake but didn't want to get up yet, I was considering doing a search for cue tips to replace the awful ones.

Cue tips . . . Q-tips? Ohhhh. 

Surely that must be where the name came from, right? Because the Q-tip--that none of us use to clean out our ears, no way--actually resembles the tip of a pool cue.

However, when I looked up the history of Q-tips, I found that the company claims the Q just stands for quality*.

I like my name story much better, though, and now I will think of pool every time I use a Q-tip (but not in my ear, of course! never!). So there.

* I also found the original name for Q-tips was something that would definitely never fly now. How times, and word meanings, have changed in the last hundred years.


Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Gardening for Food: Perhaps Precipitous?

St. Patrick's Day is the day I plant out my cabbages. Or as close to it as I can get, if I have to work or something on March 17. This year, however, despite the cabbages in the bathroom looking like this:

Put us in, Coach! We're ready to grow!

I am not going to be planting them out on March 17. Or March 18. Or March 19. And that is because St. Patrick's Day this year is going to be ushering in some very cold nights, followed by what looks to be some significant snow.

Not the best introduction to the great outdoors for plants that have been kept coddled and warm their entire lives thus far. They'll be staying put for awhile.

This, by the way, is certainly why older people in any area traditionally planted a lot later than the current "last frost date" listed for their zones. They didn't have weather forecasting and couldn't afford to lose their plants, so they always played it much safer than us modern gardeners with our ten-day forecasts.


I also may run into some trouble with the seeds I planted. Besides the lettuce, radishes, and carrots I showed you by the wall last week, A. and I took advantage of some very warm days during our Spring Break last week to prepare some other beds and plant parsnips, radishes*, rutabagas, beets, and more carrots.

I am crossing my fingers that those seeds stay sleeping below ground for at least another week. Although those plants can take a light frost, new seedlings of any kind are not going to survive overnight temperatures in the low twenties.

Stay put, seeds. It's a cold world out here.

So yes, I may have jumped the gun on some planting this year, and yes, I may have to replant some seeds, but that's okay. It's all part of the wild and crazy life of a gardener.

So tell me, my fellow gardeners: What's happening in your gardens right now?

* The MiL taught me years ago to interplant radish seeds with parsnip seeds. The radishes come up within days, whereas parsnips can take weeks to germinate. So the radishes mark the row where the parsnips are, you get two crops out of one row, and pulling out the radishes can help thin the parsnips.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Snapshots: Shearing and Fog

The professional shearer came this year, much to our relief. Well, mostly A.'s relief.

One of these things is not like the other . . .

Moody windmill.

Dogs disappearing into the mist.

Odin in his den.

There you have it! My life, snapshotted.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Friday Food: A Visitor and a Shearing


Short version: Fish patties, mashed potatoes, frozen green peas

Long version: I still have several cans of salmon from the excess commodities, although when I made fish cakes with it, we found them to be softer and not quite as tasty as the tuna patties I customarily make. So I mixed the two kinds of canned fish, using two cans of tuna and one can of salmon. This worked well, and will likely be how I will use the rest of the salmon.

On several days this week, I cooked, pureed, and froze the remaining calabazas that were starting to go south. I have discovered that the easiest way to cook these giant squash is to cut them in half, scoop out the seeds, and put the halves in my huge pressure cooker with a bit of water. I bring it up to pressure, turn it off, and by the time the pressure comes down to zero, it's done.

All done!

This works much better than the oven, because I can't fit more than one half of these big squash into my oven at a time. Plus, it takes way longer in the oven and I have to monitor the water level in the cooking pan frequently.


Short version: Beef stir-fry, rice

Long version: I had two sirloin steaks left from the package I had thawed for Thursday's dinner, so I sliced them thin and used them to make stir-fry with onion, carrot, broccoli, frozen green beans, and half a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables.

The great benefit of the bag of stir-fry vegetables is that is has the baby corn cobs and water chestnuts in it, both of which are favorites of my children. I think they each got a single one of each, but at least they got something exciting.

Yes, tiny corn and water chestnuts are exciting. Low standards, remember?


Short version: Pork ribs, leftover mashed potatoes and rice, Holy's cabbage, roasted parsnips, baked peaches and cream

Long version: The MiL got the parsnips at Trader Joe's in Albuquerque before she drove here. I haven't had parsnips in years, but coincidentally bought some seeds to grow them this year. So I was interested to see which of my children will eat them.

Unsurprisingly, there was an even split on the appreciation of parsnips, as is so often the case. However, I love roasted parsnips, so I'll just eat the ones not eaten by the two parsnip avoiders.

The MiL also brought us real cream from Trader Joe's. We can't get real cream anywhere we shop--only the ultra-pasteurized whipping cream with all the stabilizers and junk--so this was very exciting. I decided the best way to enjoy the real cream was poured over sweetened fruit. So I baked two gallon bags of Nick's peaches with maple syrup, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves. 

A very popular dessert, especially with the cream.


Short version: Green chile cheeseburgers (with buns!), green salad with vinaigrette, leftover baked peaches and cream

Long version: The MiL is a big fan of green chiles. This was her last night with us, so I decided to make something with green chile. I already had dough going for bread, so I used some of that to make buns and made cheeseburgers that could be topped with chopped roasted green chiles.

Not everyone chose to have the green chile, but everyone enjoyed having a bun with their burger.

Funny story: I had also made chocolate chip/walnut cookies earlier in the day, per Poppy's request. I took the big bag of sugar out of the cabinet and put it next to the bowl with the melted butter in it. The bag of sugar was still in the grocery store bag, which came home in the back of A.'s truck, which is very frequently used to haul hay.

This is why when I opened the bag of sugar, small bits of hay came off the outside plastic bag and ended up on top of the melted butter.

Welcome to my life.

I scooped the hay out, and figured any bits I missed would just mean some extra fiber in the cookies.


Short version: Quesadillas, leftovers

Long version: Shearing day! Yay!

We ate a late lunch of sloppy joes after shearing was done, and then A. left around 4:30 p.m. to get the boys to an altar server training and judo. A couple of the children wanted to eat before that, so I made them bean and cheese quesadillas. The others had leftover hamburgers and rice when they got home around 7:30 p.m.

Shearing photo!

Giant pile of puffy wool. This is from one sheep. They have very impressive fleeces.


Short version: Cubby's spaghetti and potatoes, chicken with pesto, green salad with vinaigrette

Long version: At 4 p.m., there were children whining about being hungry, children making themselves tortillas and peanut butter while asking when dinner would be, and I was not yet ready to make dinner. So I said, with some irritation, "If you want it now, go ahead and make dinner."

So Cubby did.

He decided to make spaghetti--with a jar of roasted tomato puree, a few cubes of frozen pesto, oregano, and butter--and potatoes fried in oil.

I did note that would be two starches in one meal. He did not care. And honestly, neither did I, since A. doesn't eat pasta and would be happy to have the potatoes.

The chicken was my addition. We got two roosters from our neighbor that we had butchered this day. I had cooked them in the pressure cooker to make stock, and then I used some of the shredded meat for dinner,  mixed with pesto and butter.

I also contributed the salad. 

Obviously, we need to do some work on the idea of a balanced meal, but at least I didn't make all of it.


Short version: Chicken slop, mashed potatoes, green salad with vinaigrette

Long version: That same rooster meat, plus the stock, plus cornstarch, onion, powder, garlic powder, and bit of rosemary to make essentially chicken in gravy. Slop sounds so much more fun, though.

When I told the boys what we were having for dinner, they all said, "Slop? Like what they eat in prison?"

Yes, children. I'm giving you prison food tonight. Eat up.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?