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Rematch!


For two years now, Kate has been lording it over her brother that she came in first in the gingerbread house building contest, kids division,, and he lost.  Now, technically, he came in second, and she won, because there were only two entries in their division.

I am one of those modern parents who thinks it was great that they even entered, and used their creativity and all that. I would give out ribbons and trophies to everybody!

Last year, we were sick for the contest- I actually had made dough, figuring we could roll it out, but that just didn’t happen. It has been in the freezer for a year- I figure since we don’t eat the houses (mmmm! stale gingerbread!) it doesn’t really matter that the dough is old.

So, this year, we are healthy, and ready to go.  The houses have to be at the library at 9:30 Saturday morning.

Image My design is a cabin on a glass candy lake, with an ice-fishing hole.

Kate wants to have a Valentine Post Office, with heart shaped windows made of hard candy.

Will (previously known as “the boy” but it seems reasonable to refer to him by his name now,) is making a gingerbread Jurassic Park…with dismembered gingerbread people who have been ripped apart by the gingerbread T-Rex.

In order to prevent tears on Friday, we have been doing a little bit of mixing and baking and building every night this week. There still may be tears on Friday. We’ll let you know how it goes.

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Rosemary- You can grow that!


At the farmer’s market last spring, I was chatting with this charming German woman who sells pastries (wait, is that offensive? like saying “nice smelling eighth grader” implies that most of them stink? am I saying that I don’t expect Germans to be charming? Maybe she’s Austrian?)Anyway, I had bought a rosemary plant at another stall, and she mentioned she had seen a lemon rosemary cookie recipe, and wouldn’t it be great to have lots of rosemary for recipes like that.

The hardiest rosemary I have heard of is a variety called Arp, and it is hardy to zone 6.  We are technically zone 5, which means we get colder in the winter than it can survive. I say technically, because the zones are changing, with global weirding and all. Zones are determined by the coldest expected temperatures in the winter, and for several years, we have not reached those coldest temps.

I have a two pronged approach to growing my rosemary over the winter, so I have enough for those lemon rosemary cookies (you knew it had to be about the cookies, right?) The first prong was to plant the rosemary in a raised bed right by the house which has a frame over it. The bed is sheltered from the wind, and easy to water, but free draining. If the weather gets really bitter, I can put a plastic cover over the frame. Since rosemary is a Mediterranean plant, it wants soil that drains well, cool temperatures in the winter, but not super cold.  We have just started a cold snap, with the radio weather people predicting lows “well below zero” for tonight. I put a plastic milk jug hat over the plant before it started snowing.

are you okay in there, lil buddy?

are you okay in there, lil buddy?

In case that plan doesn’t work, and I wind up with a skeleton of a plant in the spring, I have also taken cuttings and rooted them on the kitchen window sill.  They are alive now, although I am not sure how they will take the lack of sun as December stretches into January, February, March and April…

Squeee! they are like tiny little evergreens...

Squeee! they are like tiny little evergreens…

Most windowsill herb kits don’t work well, because most windowsills don’t get enough light.  You may see rosemary plants cut into topiaries this time of year, as indoor herbal christmas trees. I would say, if you buy one, cut into it, and make cookies and roast and stuff with it- having fewer leaves will make it more likely to survive the winter in the house. And let me know how the cookies come out.

You can grow that is the fantastic idea of C.L. Fornari, who urges garden bloggers to recommend what to grow to people on the 4th of every month.

 

Saffron- you can grow that. No, really!


Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world- the stigmas of the autumn crocus flower must be picked by hand, and each blossom has only three tiny strands. $1500 per pound was the quote I found on the internet, and the story said that often the spice is adulterated with the flavorless anthers of the flower- only the red strands have the classic flavor used in paella, and ummm… yeah, pretty much paella…
Confession, I planted saffron crocus several years ago, and then I dutifully harvested some, and then it sat in an envelope in my cabinet for a while. I think when I ordered the bulbs, I was like “Most expensive spice in the world? Challenge accepted.” (Actually, I probably bought the bulbs before the “Challenge accepted” meme started, and now here I am, using the meme well after its expiration date.)

Autumn crocus

Autumn crocus

I do have to say, it is very easy to grow, just like a regular crocus, plant the bulbs in fall- the biggest difference is that it sends up leaves in the spring, but only flowers in the fall. Then pick out the stigmas, place in an envelope, and forget about…oh, I mean, make paella.
Anybody have a good paella recipe?

You’re going to want waffles in 12 hours, right?


I ate a Liege Waffle from a food truck at a festival a few weeks ago. Oh my gosh! Rich, and sweet, with little nuggets of pearled sugar. I only had enough tickets to get a plain one (By the way, I hate the tickets at a festival thing- you have to stand in line for tickets, then stand in line for food, then you have either too many, or not enough.) But even the plain one was delicious.
It made me want to research the whole Belgian Yeast-raised waffle deal. I went to Smitten Kitchen  and the scary thing was just how much fat these things have. I’m not against fat, if you can take it, but we’ve got some health issues around here. Pancreas don’t care if it’s butter, or coconut oil, or crude oil, too much is too much. These recipes call for (full stick?) of butter. Ummmm…that winds up being more than Kate’s allotment for the whole day in one waffle.

mmmm...waffles

mmmm…waffles

Now, I have played with fat reduction and replacements in baked goods- apple sauce makes waffles a bit too sticky, so I decided to try pumpkin. And as long as the waffles are orange…why not add pumpkin pie spice? The pumpkin adds moisture and replaces some of the fat- notice that these are low fat, not non. You could use egg whites, and no butter at all. We tried one batch that way with apple sauce, and they were disappointing. I mean, we still ate them, but if you are standing over a waffle iron, you want something worth your time.
The ingredient that has me stumped in these recipes is the pearled sugar- it was in the festival waffles from the waffle truck, but it is not a pantry staple for me. Maybe it should be… anyone know where to get it?
So, the set up the night before, is to make a sour dough, essentially. I have done sourdough before, with a jar on the counter, then in the fridge, then you periodically make a loaf of bread…I have gotten off the sourdough treadmill, honestly. My kids don’t like sourdough bread much, and I don’t like it enough to have a loaf every week. But a facebook comment from a friend who makes sourdough waffles made me think about getting back on the treadmill- I wouldn’t have to make bread every week, I could do waffles, or pancakes… that’s another blog post.

Lowfat Pumpkin Waffles
1/4 cup warm water
packet yeast
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted, then cooled
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
1/4 cup canned pumpkin ( I used the kind with pie spice mixed in already)
2 teaspoons baking powder
Bloom the yeast in the warm water, stir in the milk, butter and the flour. Let rise overnight (or during the day- brinner, am I right?)  When ready to make waffles, beat an egg, add the baking powder, egg and pumpkin to the flour, yeast and milk mixture. The batter will be pretty runny. Cook according to your waffle iron directions. I love these topped with peanut butter and apricot preserves, the kids eat with syrup, obviously.

(does anyone know where to get the pearled sugar? the interwebs tell me Ikea has it, but I really don’t want to go all the way to Ikea for sugar?)

Edited to add: scouts report (no, really, actual scouts, like they have uniforms and everything) that the Ikea south of Denver (is it technically the town of Superior?) does not have pearled sugar. Any ideas?

Chili Peppers- you can grow that!


It’s salsa season here in the west. Around here, the trucks from New Mexico are parking at the farmer’s markets, or in random parking lots, setting up propane roasters, and the air smells like home. Not the home where I grew up- I don’t have childhood memories of this scent. It’s the home I want to be.

Meet Big Jim- about 8 inches long and full of fun.

Meet Big Jim- about 8 inches long and full of fun.

You can grow your own chilis, you know. And roast them on the grill

.My mistakes with chilis in the past has been not enough space, and not enough water, and not enough sun. In the past I have always crammed them in with the tomatoes, because when you come home from the nursery, they are all little tiny. The poor chilis would get crowded out and shaded out by their neighbors.

This year, I came home with two plants, “New Mexico Big JIm” and “Jalapeno” and actually gave them some space, in the small veggie bed by the back door. Three years ago, I put two tomato plants and two peppers in that 6 square foot space, and by July, the tomatoes had swallowed up the peppers, and I almost forgot I had planted them.

This year, they have space to stretch out, nice deep soil (I’ve been adding organic matter to this bed obsessively- leaves, compost, coffee grounds), and they are amazing. The “Big Jim” is aptly named- about the same flavor as a Serrano, not too hot. I think their highest purpose would be to be stuffed with cheese, and fried, but probably we’ll just roast them and put them in quesadillas.  The jalapenos are just hot- I like them in a nice salsa fresca- tomatoes, onions, chilis, cilantro, all chopped up with a squeeze of lime, and scooped up with chips. Don’t freeze it, don’t can it, just get it while it’s hot.

You can grow that.

Mocha Borgia


IMG_0328While in Taos on vacation, I had a Mocha Borgia at a communist cafe there (not so communist that it the coffee didn’t cost 4 dollars- to each according to his need didn’t extend to “this woman really needs a good cup of coffee”, and maybe it was just “progressive”- there were sure a lot of bumper stickers on the ceiling). The Mocha Borgia was a latte with chocolate syrup and orange zest. When I read it on the menu board, I visualized a sprinkle of orange zest, rather than the worm-like pieces of peel they topped the drink with, that snaked out through the drinkhole of the plastic lid (drinkhole? is that a word?). I sat on the bench on the porch, with the kids, waiting for DH to track down the burrito stand where we had some amazing breakfast burritos on our honeymoon in 1996.
I sat in the sun, sipping the tasty coffee, but with every couple of sips, a little worm of orange zest would ooze out, and I didn’t want to take off the lid and fish around for the chunks, because by this time DH had found his burrito stand, purchased his burrito, caught up on old times with the owner of the burrito stand (her sister was Mary Jane, the former owner, who had sold us burritos 6 years ago when we were last in Taos, and 17 years ago.) and I was back in the car.
It got me thinking, though, chocolate and orange is such a great combination, but why not do it with extract, instead? A long time ago, Starbucks used to have a Mocha Valencia, then they got rid of it because I am apparently the only person who liked it. What about making a chocolate syrup, and using orange extract instead of vanilla?
Alton Brown has a recipe for chocolate syrup, and the only alteration I have made is to use orange extract instead of vanilla.I also didn’t have as much cocoa powder as called for, so I made a 2/3 batch, which made about 3 cups of syrup. This recipe has the original Alton Brown measurements. You could totally divide the batch, and add different extracts- peppermint, cinnamon, almond?

Alton Brown’s Chocolate Syrup

1 1/2 cups water

3 cups granulated  sugar

1 1/2 cups cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 tablespoon extract of choice (or divide the batch in 3, and use 1 teaspoon each of various flavors)

Boil water and sugar together in a small pot. Whisk in cocoa, salt and corn syrup until solids have dissolved. Cook until mixture is slightly reduced and thickened. Add extract and stir to combine. Strain into a spouted measuring cup and let cool to room temperature, then pour into squeeze bottles and refrigerate.

Garlic Scape Pesto


I grow hardneck garlic , and one of the benefits of it is that you can eat the unopened flower buds, called scapes, in the early summer. I have put them in stir-fries before, and they are really tasty, greener, milder chunks of garlic.

My subsistence garlic farm- a year's worth in about 2 square feet.

My subsistence garlic farm- a year’s worth in about 2 square feet.

Then on Pinterest (Pinterest gets me into more trouble- are you supposed to do the stuff you pin, or just pin it, and let your social network believe you do it- like all those ab workouts I see pinned, I mean really? We’re supposed to do how many crunches? (all those not on Pinterest, disregard previous rant)) I saw a pin of garlic scape pesto recipe. Now, here’s where I get in trouble, because I saw it, I don’t think I even pinned it, and I certainly didn’t click through to see the recipe, I just let the idea sink to the bottom of my mind like a pebble in a pond, and then weeks later when I saw the scapes forming on my garlic, I was like, “yeah, so it is probably just like when you make it with basil, maybe I’ll put in a little parsley, so it won’t be too…sharp.” After all, one of the things I don’t really like about basil pesto is that it is kind of bland, so really garlicky pesto would be a good thing, right?

So then I picked all my scapes (picking them is supposed to help the bulbs become bigger, also, rather than sending energy into forming seeds, it adds mass to the roots) and I got out the food processor and started to puree stuff.  It smelled amazing.  I planted roughly 20 garlic cloves last year, which has turned into 20 plants, with 20 scapes.  Which is a lot, for the half cup or so of leaves I snipped off my parsley plant, and the corner of a  chunk of parmesan, and the little baggie of pine nuts and the quarter cup of olive oil.

I have since done some research on official scape pesto recipes, and let’s just say my proportions are off. Here’s one from Dorie Greenspan- calling for about twice as much cheese and nuts as I used, and half as much garlic. Well.

Let’s have some pasta. It will keep the vampires away. If you are making some, can I recommend that you use Dorie’s recipe?

Early tomato update (spoiler- no tomatoes yet!)


A commenter, who I know from real life to be an actual horticulturalist, suggested I put upside down tomato cages in my walls of water to prevent them from tipping over. It has worked beautifully! I put dollar store finials on the wires not just for pretty, but also so I don’t poke my eye out.

Small tomato cages, put in upside down, support the sides of the wall of water.

Small tomato cages, put in upside down, support the sides of the wall of water.

The tomatoes are staying nice and warm at night, they are flowering, especially the 4th of July plant. I am super hopeful that I will be slicing up tomatoes in just a couple of weeks.

Tomatoes grow the most once nighttime temperatures are above 60- since these have been protected on the nights it has gotten down into the 40’s, they have really grown a lot.  I guess if I were a true scientist, I would have a control tomato plant, with no protection, and see what the difference was.

Instead, I held my camera inside the wall of water and took a bunch of pictures.  What would it be like to live in a water teepee?  Very green.

The view from inside.

The view from inside.

Early tomatoes


We can all agree that home grown tomatoes are what make life worth living, right. (Oh be quiet- you like them in salsa and stuff, though, right? okay, then.) So, we can probably all agree that we want those tomatoes as early as possible, right?
Around here (zone 5, Northern front range of Colorado) the traditional date for safely planting out things that won’t survive frost is Mother’s day- mid May. There is no guarantee it won’t freeze after that date, but that is the average annual last frost date. This year we had a snowy April, and an actual cancel-school- snow day on May first.
That meant that the ground was cold- it was very wet, which is a good thing, but the soil was cold. I made the decision to delay tomato-planting until it warmed up a bit.
Tomatoes need warm air temperature as well as warm soil temperature- it isn’t just a matter of “not freezing” they actually need to be warm. (Interestingly, tomatoes are kind of the Goldilocks of plants, when it gets too hot, over 90, they stop blooming)
I checked the soil temp with my trusty meat thermometer, and it was 43 degrees. I had some walls of water in the garage. For those of you who don’t know, a Wall of Water is a plastic cylinder made of connected tubes which can be filled with water.  It creates a mini greenhouse, and the water absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night. They are supposed to be self supporting. I set them up, (and then reset them up- they kept falling over- I don’t know if the cat kept messing with them or what the deal is, but that is why I don’t ordinarily use them- any one have any tips?)

Look how slouchy that one on the right is- if that falls over on the chocolate cherry plant I am going to be so ticked off.

Look how slouchy that one on the right is- if that falls over on the chocolate cherry plant I am going to be so ticked off.

Anyway, I set them up, then took the soil temperature again. It was 63 degrees after just a couple of days.
Now, variety choices. In the past I have gotten “Early Girl” because the fruits are, you know, early. 60 days to maturity, which means mid July, roughly. One year I was swayed by some garden porn, and bought Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter, which has a great name, and an heirloom provenence, and is supposed to be heart-meltingly delicious, which didn’t ripen until late September, so I didn’t get to eat any. Mid- September is our average last frost date, so we have about 4 months to get as many tomatoes as we can.
This year I went to the garden center, and mixed in with all the Early Girls was a variety I hadn’t heard of before- 4th of July. I checked the label- 55 days. Which means first harvest on the…let me do the math..umm, 30 days hath September…carry the 1- the 4th of July.

The other variety I picked today was Chocolate Cherry. I have grown this before, and it is so delicious.  It ripens to a dark, deep red, very sweet. It is a bit slower to ripen, but very prolific.

So, I put them in the ground, carefully lifting the waterfilled tubes away from the planting spots, digging in some compost, plugging the tomato plants in deeply, then carefully replacing the waterfilled tubes back over the plants. I acknowledge that it might have been easier to dump out the water and refill, but I just couldn’t see doing it. It seems wasteful.

That was a couple of weeks ago, and the 4th of July has blossoms on it. I haven’t seen any pollinators go inside- which doesn’t mean there aren’t any, but I have been busy. Does anyone have tips about that? The walls of water seem to be kind of a pain in the neck, but I am hoping they are worth it.

What is your deal, Asparagus?


I ate 4 spears of homegrown, organic, purple asparagus the other day. And that might be all the asparagus I get to eat this year from my garden. This really bugs me- I love asparagus. This patch has been growing for maybe 4 years, and I planted another one 2 years ago, and I see no shoots coming up this year at all.
What the heck?! What is your deal?!
I followed planting instructions, I watered the new bed faithfully, I really want asparagus. The universe should give me what I want, right?
I suspect the issue is water. The asparagus that does well around here grows near irrigation ditches and cattle waste lagoons (yeah, that’s what it sounds like). This has been a wet spring, but a dry winter. We do live in a semi-desert. So if I want to grow asparagus here I need to water more, all summer.
I think what has been difficult about that is that you only pick asparagus for a few weeks in spring, but it needs water all year, and I have a hard time watering ferny foliage that doesn’t feed me. In my head, I think the ferny foliage should take care of itself.
What I came up with last night was maybe I should interplant some things that I do want to eat with the asparagus. Carrots? okay. Lettuce? cool. Beans? okay. I’ll water it like any other veggie garden.

it only looks like it is as tall as the fence- that's just an error in perspective.  This stalk is smaller than a pencil. Sigh.

it only looks like it is as tall as the fence- that’s just an error in perspective. This stalk is smaller than a pencil. Sigh.

So, I’ll try it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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