Garden thoughts in January.

I like to plant tomatillos in my garden every summer for a variety of reasons.  For starters, I love salsa verde, which is made of tomatillos.  They are also a wickedly cool looking plant to have in the garden, because of their dramatically hanging fruit which look like little lanterns.

IMG_0632I just spent a few hours over several days looking for a good shot of a tomatillo plant, combing through the last four years of summer garden shots and that is the best shot I had.  And it’s not even mine, it’s Leni’s (from summer 2012).  Continue reading

It’s not just me apparently.

After doing some reading as well as talking to some of my chef friends, I made an adjustment to my pickled peaches recipe in that I cut the processing time by half to 10 minutes for a pint.  Most pickle recipes have a 10 minute processing time, some as short as 5 minutes.  In reading every pickled peach recipe I have been able to track down, I’ve seen a wide range of processing times.   In comparing them all, I looked at the amount of vinegar used.  I found recipes similar to mine had a shorter processing time, so I tried it out.  The resulting pickles have been much firmer, as you can see in the pie I made with them. Continue reading

DONE.

After fourteen years of being put off and a month of living in a mess, the dining room is DONE.

Alright, so there are still some little details to be addressed, like painting the radiator, swapping out the outlets (as recommended by the inspection when we bought the house), replacing the outlet covers and finishing the the french doors.  But these are things that can happen with the room back in use. Continue reading

Summering.

DSCN2307I’m taking a wee break from watching paint dry (as I type this, the dining room ceiling is DONE and the first coat of Parakeet Green on the lower half of the walls is drying) to say hello out there.    We have thoroughly immersed ourselves in summer here, with sleeping in, long days at the pool and late dinners at the picnic table.   The garden has suddenly gone gangbusters, which has not gone unnoticed by the squirrels, who are knocking on the back door looking for handouts again.   Bugs helped themselves to an entire row of kale,  much to my horror and Edie’s delight.  (Apparently I’ve been serving a few too many greens lately).   Saturday I swapped some of my strawberry jam for things like Stephanie’s Green Bean Relish and Hunter’s Lemon, Onion & Oregano Jam.   Those treats will be served up for dinner one night soon along with bread & cheese.  I love summer dinner.  I love summer.  Those lazy days where sometimes the best thing you can do is just hit the pool with a good book in hand and a bag full of treats to nibble on all day long……

We are definitely soaking it up.

As local as it gets.

DSCN1846We have a cherry tree in our front yard.  The neighborhood critters tend to get to it before we do, leaving us not more than a handful of cherries, at best.

This spring the tree was loaded.  You could see it walking down the street.  We had hope there would be enough for all of us.  Tuesday I had a bite of a cherry, realized they were not quite ripe yet, and noticed the tree was still loaded – a good sign.

Friday morning,  there was much activity at the tree.  Every bird & squirrel within a 6 block radius was feasting.  I ran out with my basket and picked everything within reach without a ladder.  I noticed a good deal of the fruit had some sort of funk, which was a bummer and the remaining fruit wasn’t entirely ripe, but I was going to get a crop off that tree dammit.

DSCN2000Two pounds later, I did.

Since they were mostly underripe, I knew cooking them was the way to go.  Having picked 8 pounds of strawberries later that day from our little garden patch, I thought about combining the two.

DSCN2003Yes, you read that right.  EIGHT POUNDS of berries from our little strawberry patch in one day.  Two pounds the day before that.  It’s been a banner year for strawberries.

Where was I? Oh that’s right, cherries.  First, I had to pit the cherries.  I got this little pitter last summer at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

DSCN2004

It pits four cherries at a time, popping the seeds out into a tray underneath.  That’s practically doing it in bulk when you think about it AND it keeps clean up to a minimum.  DSCN2005I love this thing.  I strongly recommend it, especially if you are considering doing anything with cherries this summer.

DSCN2027After pitting the cherries, I chopped up an equal amount of strawberries, added sugar and let it macerate overnight.  I found this great post on Northwest Edible Life on making pectin free jam without a recipe that I used as a guideline.  Because my cherries were not fully ripe, I went with 1/2 cup sugar for each pound of fruit.

DSCN2030The resulting jam is sweeter than I expected it to be, with big chunks of fruit.

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I packed it in 4 oz jars, trying to stretch out the yield as much as I could.   The result?  8 lovely jars of what we are calling “Greenleaf Cherry Berry”.  I’m beyond excited that we grew enough fruit to make jam with this year.  Take that squirrels.DSCN2058

Spread on sourdough toast for breakfast, it’s quite lovely if I do say so myself.

Cherry Berry Jam

2 pounds cherries, pitted & chopped

2 pounds strawberries, chopped

Combine the fruit in a non-reactive bowl with 1-2 cups of sugar.  Cover and refrigerate overnight (or longer).  Simmer on stove top, stirring occasionally.  As the fruit starts to fall apart, you can mash it if you’d like.  Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice and cook until it is ‘set’.  Pack into jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Yield – 4 pints.

Funky Chickens.

The chicks are fast growing into chickens, sprouting real feathers.
Some of them have been given names.
Like this one.
Edie named this one Ozzy, after her favorite rock star, mostly because of the black lines around her eyes.

That was before we saw the mohawk too.
Ozzy is quite vocal of a chicken and lives up to her name.
She is our punk rock chicken for sure, because of course we have a punk rock chicken.

Cuddles aka Rosebud aka Rose aka Ruby. 
She’s the neighborhood kids favorite and so everyone has a different name for her (Li has a new name for her almost daily), also the smallest and sweetest of the chickens.
She’s now sprouting feathers on her legs and feet.
She was grey as a chick, but her feathers seem to be coming in more white as she gets bigger.

This is Butters.
There is some concern Butters may actually be a rooster, given her(his?) size and aggressiveness, although I noticed when I was down there today she’s not as aggressive as she had been.  She has been the biggest chick since they were about 3 days old and along with Ozzy, was one of the first one named.

Brian’s named this one Kramer, after the TV character.
She’s a little Krameresque I’ll admit.

Most of them have funky plummage on top, even if they aren’t named.

The chickens are a major source of entertainment for the kiddos around here.  We have been throwing scraps from the compost bucket into their yard and covering it with leaves, hoping to attract some bugs.  (And growing some nice fertilizer while we’re at it.)
In other news, the squirrels have not attempted to enter the house in a few days.  That doesn’t mean I’m leaving the back door open when I leave the house, but I at least feel comfortable leaving it open when I’m not in the kitchen.  I noticed today however, that they have fairly well stripped my tomato plants of fruit over the last 48 hours, so I guess it’s let them have their way in our house or it’s my garden.  We’re still not entirely sure about a dog, but if I’m going to have tomatoes ever again, I am clearly going to have a build a fence.  Either way, looks like my next major digging project is going to be a fence.

We are not alone.

The whole block, at least our side of the street, is under seige.
I went down to Betty’s yesterday and she told me the tale of how she was standing in her kitchen when she heard a noise.  She looked up and saw a squirrel trapped between her kitchen window and the screen in front of it.  When she opened the window, the squirrel fell through the screen and landed on her kitchen counter. 
You can see the outline of the squirrel in the hole.

Since this is the internet and I can’t pose for you in person the way the squirrels position themselves when chewing through the screens, I got fancy with technology and drew you a stick squirrel.  It’s other foot was below the window line.
Perhaps this one gives you a better idea. The red blob at the bottom is it’s tail.
See it now?

It did some damage to her kitchen window too, trying to chew it’s way through the wood.
Seriously, we are under siege.  We have set the hav-a-heart trap and have gotten the main offender, the one we call Fatty, which was the biggest of all the squirrels, the one that sitting on our porch earlier this year, Pat thought was a small groundhog that had gotten really brave.  No, it was that big of a squirrel.  A few smaller ones have been caught and taken care of as well.  Are we going to have to trap every last squirrel in the neighborhood?  We have dozens of them, it could be never ending!
I’ve even broken down and suggested we get a dog.  Yes, we need a fence, but we have everything we need to build one – you see, we were going to get a dog many moons ago and got everything we needed to build a fence, but then realized that it was going to be a lot of work to build said fence and a baby wasn’t as much work at the outset, so we had a baby instead of getting a dog. I later realized that we could have left the dog home alone much sooner than we could the kiddo. Also, I’m not a dog person.  I’m a cat person.  Who is married to someone who is highly allergic to cats.  And before anyone says, oh, he can take allergy medicine for that, let me tell you, he can and does but he still has pretty horrific allergy attacks around cats that aren’t pretty.  So, we don’t have cats.   And because I have long suspected I would be the one to take care of the dog the most (confirmed when we borrow friend’s dogs just to see how it would go), I have not been quick to get a dog.  But clearly, this squirrel problem is going to take a bigger solution than what we are currently doing.  I may just have to get a dog.  Damn those squirrels.

There’s a new post up over at Cville Swaps, plus the announcement of our latest swap date.  Go see what I’ve been up to when I haven’t been battling psycho squirrels.



I refuse to live in that sort of neighborhood.

I live in the sort of neighborhood where we leave doors open all the time, especially the back screen door. The kitchen door pretty much only gets closed and locked when we go out of town.  It’s that kind of neighborhood. Or was, until yesterday.

(Click on the photo for a larger view of our unwanted guest.)
The squirrels that I spent most of last summer complaining about because they ate everything in my garden, a dozen plants worth of green tomatoes plus every last peach on the peach tree, leaving me exactly none last summer, have now chewed through the back screen door and as I discovered yesterday, are now entering our house and helping themselves to whatever they can find in my kitchen when we aren’t looking.  I came home from the pool yesterday to find jars of dried fruit scattered on the floor and two packs of buns nibbled through.  Needless to say, it’s ON.
Pat set the hav-a-heart trap
immediately as I walked around ranting about how the squirrels must GO and this morning I discovered we caught a raccoon.  Seems there’s endless wildlife feasting around our urban homestead. I guess I should be happy the raccoon didn’t enter through the ‘wildlife door’ because it might not be able to let itself back out the way the squirrels seem to have figured out and I don’t want to deal with a raccoon in my kitchen.
We still have some peaches left on the tree (it’s a late ripening variety, so they aren’t anywhere near ready to be picked) and there are plenty of tomatoes left on the vine, although while weeding yesterday I found 4 green ones that had been picked for me and something ate the first two ripe ones.  I don’t mind sharing a little bit of food with our neighbors, no matter what persuasion they are, but this breaking & entering has gone too far.  I’m taking the neighborhood and my house, back from the squirrels, because dammit, I like living in a world where I can leave my back door open all the time.  It’s a good world to live in.