Saturday, July 31, 2010

Being careful what I wish for

Remember the blogger who was a little afraid she might not have enough enchilada sauce to last her all year long?

Husking tomatillos is a sticky, somewhat tedious business. Fortunately a dear friend came by and she and I talked chickens and children while she cheerily helped me peel every single usable tomatillo in the buckets -- and that harvest trug was also full yesterday, from the fallen fruit in the bed. Having her there helped immensely, not only for the work, but because when I'd grimace and flick my sandal off of my foot, she'd calmly say, "Earwig?" "Uh huh," I'd reply, "Toewig," and we'd go on.

Once they were peeled, I shifted them from soapy water to draining rack. I wasn't really trying to get all of the sticky off, just the earwigs, their leavings, and any stray garden dirt or plant matter. Just a dunk and a rinse, really.

Added to them were the outsides of as many peppers as I could get at the market. It was, unfortunately, not a banner day for peppers. If hot hot hot salsa was a good idea, I could have made this with any amount of peppers, but I wanted a mix between the mildness of Anaheims and a tiny bit of Jalapeno. Instead, I got mostly Pasillas. You can also tell that I didn't start the salsa until after dinner. Peeling those babies took up a bigger part of the afternoon than I'd bargained for; and the kids were too hungry to wait for me to finish a batch!

I used the food processor to chop things, because it's faster and also because I don't want a chunky salsa, the way I would if it were going on chips or something like that. I did miss enough that there's going to be chunks, especially of onions. I have bags of frozen chopped onions from the harvest with the soft places, so it's fairly easy to measure.

I prefer lime to lemon juice. After this batch, though, I think I like a mix of vinegar to lime juice the best. As long as the juice is bottled, I believe the acidity is safe for canning. Vinegar would sort of be insurance too.

The trusty food processor turned these

Into this pretty quickly. Sometimes I poured off a little bit of juice -- it tends toward wateriness anyhow.

Spices like cumin and oregano add just the right flavor

And I use kosher salt because I haven't found canning salt in my area yet. It may not be perfect, but it works okay.

Simmer all the sauce for 20 minutes, then put in jars and process. Last night, I doubled the batch (according to the hot pepper amount) and only got nine pints.

That's really pretty terrific - a batch of enchiladas takes about two. It would be more terrific if there weren't the equivalent of another five gallon bucket of peeled tomatillos waiting. I can freeze them, cook them and freeze them, can them whole, or go and get more peppers today and make another double batch. A new recipe for enchilada sauce crossed my radar while I was writing this, with larger amounts than mine. Maybe I'll try that one tomorrow night.

When I went to bed, the cat was nosing after one of the earwigs walking across the floor. Guess I didn't get them all when I swept. Eeew.

The recipe I used can be found here, and it's fairly straightforward.

Tomatillo Green Salsa
  • 5 cups chopped tomatillos
  • 1-½ cups seeded, chopped long green chiles
  • ½ cup seeded, finely chopped jalape&ntildeo peppers
  • 4 cups chopped onions
  • 1 cup bottled lemon or lime juice
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons dried oregano leaves (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
Serve by making an enchilada "lasagne" using corn tortillas for the "noodle" layer. I use queso fresco for an authentic cheese, and either chicken or black beans and corn for the filling. Layer, then top with more tortillas and some jack cheese, then bake covered at 350 degrees F for 30-45 minutes, or until everything is bubbly and the cheese is melty. Take the top off until the cheese browns a bit.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Enchilada Sauce Forever

Beset by powdery mildew, perhaps some sort of rust, and lying almost flat on the bed, the tomatillos' time came today. Plant after plant ripped up easily and was dragged out of the garden and flung on the wheelbarrow with roots all facing one way.

For a little bit, I got some help stripping tomatillo mountain (the plants looked as though they could have grown quite a while longer, based on flowering tips and baby fruit) from a couple of kids, [no, no, not the kids -- help from the kids, tomatillos from the plants] but that didn't last long. I couldn't even get my eldest to pretend to come out and help. See if I'm an easy taxi service this week. Hmph.

I'm not sure I can blame them -- there were more than I really wanted to process, especially as the lowering sun felt more and more intense.

I was both relieved and surprised at the amount -- I had hoped to grow enough to put up a year's worth of enchilada sauce as we really like lasagne-style enchiladas, but after making a measly three pints last week, I'd despaired. Looks like there might be enough, after all.

And there are still some more to get out and pick up. Tomorrow will be time enough for that, plus a boatload of other details. That stack of bricks in the first picture would be much nicer put out as the end part of the patio. Maybe I should get some more clover seed, too.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

First things first

Life with small children (okay, less small than they used to be, but old habits die hard) can often feel as though it's all reactive. You try to anticipate, but really kids are just bags of immediate wants and needs. I'm pretty spontaneous myself, but I do like some planful time. It helps center me for the onslaught of my days. If possible, I like to get up before anyone else, the time I used to run, and now I read the paper. Then I take a walk in the garden. Sometimes I hope that it's going to be a quick overview, but often I end up harvesting, doing stuff, getting happily side tracked. Today was a seriously sidetracky sort of day. The best!

I'm tickled at the bursting bounty of my bell pepper plants. I know that they need fertilization to keep going at their peak, and I have a low-tech idea for that which I'll blog about if it works, but still, just think of all the yumminess coming up:

The potato harvest seems like such a high return on investment. Somewhere the weights of the planting potatoes have to be written down. Even though I don't mean to, a visit to the potato bed seems to sneak in at least once a day. I'm not going to repeat the red and purple regular sized potato plantings -- the red ones are only good for boiling, really, and it's not my favorite preparation, and the purple ones are very . . . well, purple. Not for me.

But the fingerlings? They're called "Red Fingerling" and "French Fingerling" at the store where the original ones came from, and the French are buttery and fantastic. Maybe tonight we'll taste the red ones:

Can you see the "European Bell" pepper under that Early Girl tomato? Neither can I. Note to self, tomatoes are space pigs. Give 'em their own bed.

A quick tie up of a big branch and some judicious pruning freed the pepper to have at least a little light and some hope of fruiting.

The volunteer squash is doing fine -- I'm going to have to start walking over it soon. Of course, depending on what it is, I might end up tearing it out. It will be compost, at worst.

Today is the tomatillos last. The municipal green bin is being emptied today, and since I won't compost anything with this much powdery mildew, I was waiting for room for the plants. Any tomatillos worth saving will go into another batch of enchilada sauce, and then we'll just call it a day. I'm not up to coaxing them along. Maybe some year I'll fight powdery mildew, but not this one.

The Cherokee Purples are like little happy surprises peeking among the foilage.

Yesterday I managed to mostly turn under the cover crop. Now I have to find out what was supposed to follow the buckwheat, soybeans, and clover. I'm sold -- now I just have to make certain that I've scheduled cover cropping in between rotations, and find a source for modestly-priced bulk seed.

Flowers mean that beans can't be far behind, if the beetles don't eat them all. Little pests.

The other bean bed is happier with some iron slug bait. I was finding too many babies half chewed. We replanted in the empty spots, but I bet there's going to be enough for the whole year anyhow.

When I was ready to go in the house, the basket was much heavier.

Ten minutes after going inside, a freshly beaten egg and enough butter to make me feel a little guilty made a breakfast to seriously savor. That's the kind of fast food I can get behind!

Squash blossoms, Cherokee Purple tomato, and some of the volunteer tat soi from a path. Now I get to think of lunch.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


All done. Used the charts from this blog, and a general gauge x kid-head measurement for the size. Yarn is Mirasol "Tupa," and I used size 3 needles.

The chart parts were done back and forth, intarsia style, because I haven't mastered intarsia in the round, and this worked out best, although the "A" needs some help. I joined and did the top in the round, then seamed the bottom part. Then I undid and redid the seam because I discovered that it's generally better to seam black wool in bright sun versus a dim evening house.

The resident Pratchett fan is pleased, and warm*, and that's all that matters.

*Hey, it's summer in the Bay Area. It's chilly!

Pets, Products or something else?

A recent post on our city's backyard chicken list has been pinging around in my head for days. I haven't posted back because I wanted to make certain I'd figured out what I wanted to say.

The poster had some aging hens, and she didn't want to keep them because they weren't laying any more. But she had some requirements about what she wanted to do with them -- she didn't want to kill them, nor did she want anyone else to kill them.

Essentially, she was hoping that someone on the list would have a recommendation for some sort of chicken retirement home, where the very tame chickens could be petted and cared for until their lives naturally ended.

This got me thinking about many different things, but of course because I have chickens, I thought of my relationship with mine. Of the two chickens featured above, the black one is still vigorously laying, while the black and white one isn't. She's one of our original chickens, and easily six years old.

Generally, I plan to kill the laying birds once they're past laying age (and for me that is somewhere around 3-4, given my experience so far), so why haven't I killed the "old lady" up there? Well, the first six chickens we got were celebrated by the children. Loved, named, played with, and the kids asked me to promise not to kill the birds. It was a promise freely given and happily kept. These birds were pets. The eggs were secondary for the children.

The black hen? She's from iteration #3, and she doesn't have a name. She's cared for primarily by me, and she's a great layer. The kids (primarily the younger girls) do occasionally "play" with the chickens, but it's a different kind of play. For me, she's primarily an egg layer, and eventually soup.

Let me get this part straight -- I don't enjoy killing animals for its own sake. Anyone who does isn't a homesteader or a farmer, they're just in need of serious help. But I do consider myself a realist. I eat meat, after years -- years -- of vegetarianism, and neither decision was made lightly. When I kill an old hen I do so because I am not running a retirement home for chickens, nor am I treating them as pets. I'm rearing my chickens as my grandmother did on her farm: for use. They are treated pretty well (amazingly well compared to factory farmed chickens; just read Temple Grandin's Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best life for Animals to see why that is) and then they are killed when their use to me is done.

And this brings me back to the post on the chicken list. What I think got me was the inherent contradictions in this person's stance. They wanted the chickens to be treated as pets (not killed, loved), but they weren't willing to take on that role. They wanted to act as farmers, and be done with the animal when its use was over for them, without being responsible for what that meant either. This "neither fish nor fowl" (please excuse me) stance isn't morally defensible, unless of course they wanted to fund the chicken's retirement, by, say, setting up a fund for their lifetime of care at an animal rescue organization. Maybe they meant to be hard-nosed about it but found that they couldn't stomach it in the long run. And that's okay, but it's something to be very clear about.

And maybe that's what I'll post -- at least the gist of it -- because someone needs to speak up for these kinds of decisions to be made ahead of time. New chicken owners are going to have to think before they pick up the cute little fluffy layers or else people end up doing crazy things like "setting them free" with the obvious problems that entails.

Sometimes it's not a lot of fun being the grownup.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


At the end of yesterday I made a list of what I'd accomplished, since I didn't feel as though I had done "enough."

Today I'm doing it the other way 'round -- a list of the planned things, while not yet noting what I've done (like taking the cat to the vet and trying to figure out how to pay for it).

Notice what the last item is on today's list:
  • prune out front
  • lay bricks in patio
  • clean basement
  • clean freezer
  • assemble and place last bee box
  • cut and dig buckwheat into the open garden bed
  • do classwork for my three classes: paper grading, answering email, posting grades, etc.
  • make pickle relish and can it
  • make enchilada sauce and can it
  • make dill pickles and can them
  • put clean dishes away
  • knit?

Friday, July 23, 2010

When life

(or a 15 year old) gives you overripe cucumbers,

. . . make pickles.

These are the "quick dill pickles" from Keeping the Harvest, and I have no clue how they will taste. Still and all, it was an interesting experiment. I still have the rest of the cukes, both perfect and overripe, to process. I hope they turn out well -- we love dill pickles.

Oh, and I must mention my lunch because it was not only tasty and filling, but all of it save the oil came from my back yard. I fried thick slices of just-harvested potatoes, then pulled them from the pan, added thick slices of pattypan squash (see a theme yet?) and added sliced garlic once the squash began to brown. When those were done, a few Tat Soi leaves wilted in the pan and then I tossed them on top of the potatoes and then threw in a handful of raw Sungold tomatoes. Bliss in a bowl!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Greens Gone Wild

I was away from the garden for ten days, and it was the first place I went when I got back. What a difference a week and a half makes! When non-gardeners care for the garden, some things change without being noted, I suppose. Everything was bigger:

And some flowers had come into their own. I showed Cat how to make snapdragons "snap," and her brother showed her how it worked. Next we'll wear snapdragon earrings. I'm quite proud of these flowers, since snapdragons are tricky to start from seed. As always, though, I don't think there are enough flowers in the garden. Too many weeds, too few flowers. . .

A very chilly worker bee on an "Envy" zinnia. I love the pale green flowers.

The pole beans are gleefully climbing the sunflowers in two beds, which are reaching lofty heights. Unfortunately, some of them are also flopping over. I believe I may have to shore up that idea for poles. Oh well, there's always other years, I suppose.

I believe that the tomatillos are showing some powdery mildew or some such -- it's the same thing they got last year. Plus, they have all flopped over. It's as though someone gave the order, and the all hit the ground at once.

Both Padron and rainbow bell peppers are coming along nicely. I plan to spray them with a bit of fish emulsion this week -- and boy do I wish I had carefully marked each plant so I can see which should be fried small and which should be left alone. Perhaps they're marked on the master drawing.

And it's really summer, because the tomatoes are coming in to their own. This is the "step view" of the volunteer out front.

A ripe one peeks out beside the lime tree -- oh, I'd better check that tree too. Ripe limes sort of hide among the foilage, and the tomato is making getting in there a challenge right now.

Here's a good view of the restraints I'm using on the Early Girls, and the stubby paste tomatoes behind them.

Finally, finally, I was moved to do what I've threatened in years past and act like the tomato beds were jungle foliage to hack back with a machete. I have never been able to get myself to do this because it always seemed a sin to waste tomatoes. But the memory of giving away basket after basket of these beauties fortified me. This is the "after" picture, so you'll have to imagine he path full of Sungold foliage and baby green tomatoes.

The reasons I was willing to do this are lurking in the rest of the plants:

Time to cut and turn under the buckwheat cover crop. If this goes well, it's definitely something I'd like to repeat. Easy and abundant, and a good way to improve soil, from what I hear.
Right before I left, the second bush bean sowing went in. Thankfully, they're coming up well, Royal Burgundy close, yellow wax on the other side, and pole beans (using actual poles!) behind. I'm committed to liking beans more this year. Last year's crop wasn't very tasty, or maybe it was just me.

Another thing tried just before I left was walking along a back bed with some dried bracts of kale seeds in my hands, rubbing them over the soil. Apparently it worked. Easiest sowing ever. Time to thresh that bag!

Talk about urban sprawl! This is a view down the cucumber bed -- the tomatillos are flopping into that path too. I had been whining to anyone who would listen about my lack of cucumbers. That might have been a mistake, in hindsight. I'm looking up recipes for "overripe cucumber pickles" now.

Mr. H. recommended these little beauties -- Mexican Sour Gherkins. They needed better staking, I think - the plants are sort of impenetrable. Today I'm going to try a ripe one.

Pattypan squash are romping about -- I've gathered a bunch and now have to figure out how we'll eat them.

The Kabocha are coming along nicely, with leaves the size of umbrellas.

A gone to seed broccoli plant brought the chooks running. They know a good snack when it shows up.
And all over -- really all over -- are these uninvited guests. See it on the middle of this otherwise beautiful sunflower?

Yellow cucumber beetles. I'm going to have to resume my soapy-water patrols. The beans and sunflowers have perforated foliage from them. They're relatively easy to kill once they're found.

And this is what I ended up with -- a box of cucumbers and the final apples off of the Anna, chamomile flowers to dry, a handful of cherry tomatoes and old onions, a bowl of basil, and two plants' worth of red tomatoes. It's so good to be back.