Monday, December 15, 2014

Plotting our demise

Thankfully we survived whatever it was they were planning...  Honestly, I don't think we've ever seen them all this close for this long, plotting against us.  No good can come of this...

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Amaryllis season

It's amaryllis season!  I don't have nearly as many in bloom this winter, but that's my fault for neglecting them a lot over the summer/fall.  Here's the first to bloom, and there's at least two more under the grow lights in the basement that have tall stalks forming on them.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Orange tree progress

Pictures of the dwarf orange tree from a couple weeks ago:

Look at all those flower buds!  Wow, the tree really took nicely to some super tough love.  It was not doing well - seriously root bound in it's pot, leaves curling from not enough watering or being too cold because I left it outside too late.  So I cut back a bunch of the roots, put it in a bigger pot with worm castings, ramiel wood chips, and compost in the mix, and then watered with liquid fish, kelp, humus, and Effective Microorganisms, and stuck it under the grow lights in the basement.  Before I knew it it was super lush, super green, and super loaded with flower buds.

Uh oh - I knew we were in super trouble.  Yes, it looked pretty enough to bring back upstairs so we could enjoy it for awhile, but that enjoyment didn't last long.  It did THIS:

Dozens, if not hundreds, of flower buds opened, and we were overwhelmed with the super strong scent.  Someone's told me it's similar to jasmine.  The flower scent is very different from the broken leaf scent (which is more like bitter orange).

And yes, as many have asked, it does produce oranges, but these are more like big marbles, that do turn orange in color, but are incredibly sour.  They smell amazing, either pulled off and rolled in the hand, or tossed down the garbage disposal for a refresher.  But they do not taste good at all.  If you look at the picture above you can see some of the still-green oranges on the tree.

In previous years I've been able to decorate the tree with tiny Christmas ornaments.  Not this holiday season - it's grounded in the basement, and won't get to come back up until all those flowers have dropped.

Raspberry jelly with Pomona pectin

I've really enjoyed some of the food processing/canning I've done this year (I should take a pic of some of the remaining tomato products sometime!).  I've used tools in better fashion.  Gotten better results from the stuff I've grown or bought at pick-your-own farm markets.  Had pretty much everything turn out great tasting - either as is (jellies) or in recipes (tomato sauces, crushed tomatoes, etc).  But I'm still trying to improve.

This year I've decided it's time to plan on getting a food grinder/strainer set up for my KitchenAid mixer.  No more hand-cranked food mill if I plan on making more sauces etc next year.  We'll see if I get these goodies off my Christmas wish list, or if I'll be buying them myself.  Annnnd I've just tried changing from the jelly-making pectins that require a ton more sugar to something more natural:

Not too long ago I pulled all my raspberries from the freezer, heated them with a little water in a giant soup pot, then dumped them into a clean, white cotton pillow case (which is now known as my jelly bag).  The first day it felt like I just wasn't going to get any juice out of them.  I left them in the pillow case, in a strainer over the pot, in the fridge for about 24 hours, and was excited to find I got exactly 8 cups.  This was from the berries in two 1 gallon freezer bags if I remember right?

I found a recipe for making raspberry JELLY - which is surprisingly difficult to do.  Apparently most prefer seeded raspberry jelly.  Two issues here: 1) I hate seeds in my jellies/jams, and 2) I really don't like the idea of bugs in my food, and we were definitely getting hit with the spotted-wing Drosophila here this summer (same as the person in the above link mentioned).  Mary and I heard warning about it at a gardening lecture a year or two ago, and boy were the pictures gross.  While most Drosophila (aka fruit flies) lay their eggs in overripe fruit, the spotted-wing Drosophila aim for not-fully-ripe fruits, and you'll see the larvae crawling around on the fruit.

Just think - you take that fruit and mush it down and make jam and, guess what, dead wormies in your jam!  Blech.  I'm ok knowing this is all natural and some critters are going to make it through once in awhile - extra protein!  But Drosophila are the bunnies or guppies of the bug world.

So the pillowcase did double duty - no seeds and not a single bug (dead and frozen) made it through.  No, I didn't really see all that many at the time of harvest, but I know some where in there, and they went out with the pulp and seeds into the compost.

Anyhow - this is about pectin, not pests.

So I had 8 cups of juice.  The recipe I used called for 4 cups, and I was busy so I only made one batch.  It called for 5 1/2 cups of sugar.  Now I have a sweet tooth, and I know jellies, jams etc are really all about sweet stuff, but it still seems weird that there's more sugar than fruit stuff in a lot of these recipes.  That being said, the jelly turned out AMAZING, and people I shared it with also raved about it.  Yay!

But I had another 4 cups of juice that had gone back in the freezer.  I'd heard about Pomona pectin, decided to give it a try, and ordered some from Amazon.  The raspberry jelly recipe in the Pomona book calls for 4 cups of juice - great coincidence!  Annnnd how much sugar?  One and a half cups!  Whoa - huge difference!

The jelly made up a little bit faster with Pomona if I remember right, and tastes great, but obviously didn't make nearly as much (hey, I'm short 4 cups of sugar in this recipe).  So I got about half as much finished jelly, but the taste?  REALLY good!  Maybe not as sugary sweet, but definitely tastes like fresh raspberry.  I would say it maybe tastes a bit ...more rich?  More raspberry-ish?  I'm definitely happy with the result, and will try making more jellies with Pomona pectin in the future.

It's interesting, btw - because you get two packets of stuff in the Pomona box - a tiny packet of calcium, and a larger packet of pectin.  You make more "calcium water" than you need right now with part of the calcium packet, storing the excess in the fridge for months, until you use it up.  You then use a little of the calcium water with the juice, getting that to a boil.  You then stir a mix of sugar and the dry pectin powder into the boiling juice/calcium water mixture.  The calcium is required for the jelling process when using this sort of natural pectin, which I believe is derived from citrus?  I wondered if I would get a citrus background taste in the final jelly product, but I definitely haven't noticed any....

Friday, December 12, 2014

Black currant Titania

I'm planning to add some new plants to the backyard this spring.  I already gave up one of my 12'x4'x12" veggie beds this fall, seriously amending the soil with ramial wood chippings,compost, worm castings (with worms!), and pine needles, and put in a couple blueberry bushes.  I'll be finishing the bed out with a couple more blueberry bushes this summer.

In addition, I'm looking to grow currants (black, red, and perhaps white), and maybe a gooseberry bush or two.  I'm half tempted to find a way to fit some black raspberries in somewhere as well - I grew them years ago and LOOOOVED them, but they died off.  Totally different flavor from the standard red raspberries.

Mary and I went to a gardening seminar a month or two ago, and with great coincidence there was a speaker lecturing on "Ribes, Medlars and Pears - Oh My!".  Ribes are the plant family that includes currants and gooseberries.  For some reason, a bunch of the attendees felt they could go off-topic, asking about blueberries, but since I will be attempting blueberries again this year, I didn't mind too much.

In addition to getting lots of good information about currants, and being tempted to try a gooseberry bush and maaaaybe a medlar tree, I got a bonus - a branch of Titania black currant.

I didn't get it planted right away, but I also figured I had a little while to get out and find some rooting hormone.  I cut the one stem in two, dusted the bottom end of each cutting, and stuck them in moist potting mix, then put a bag over each to maintain humidity.  Check it out...

Signs of bud swell on each!  The cutting from the bottom of the branch (the top of these two pics) only had one bud, and it's much bigger now than the multiple buds on the other cutting - perhaps just because multiple buds are more taxing than one?

I still plan on ordering a couple more currants - probably from Raintree Nursery (I've never ordered from them before, but they come with good recommendations, plus have 20% bonus plant offerings if you order before the end of the year!)  Considering how much I love currant jelly, I hope to be making my own within a few years.

As for gooseberries - my parents have a bush that's been long in the family, coming from mom's relatives (probably taken from cuttings), and it's been spread around to friends of my parents as well.  Heck, I suspect mom's given offshoots to her real estate clients.  Thing is - mom and dad make gooseberry pie with it, and I can't stand it.  WAY too tart for my liking.  Soooo....why should I try growing gooseberries?  It looks like the different varieties can vary greatly in taste, plus I suspect that mom and dad are picking while the berries are still very tart and unripe (to keep ahead of the birds?).  I'll give it a go, and if I get a productive gooseberry plant and then find I hate it, I can always give it to Mary...she'll take any plant!

Poor peach

The peach tree I planted this past spring, worried that the first peach tree wasn't going to recover after last winter, was a real trooper and gave me seven amazing tasting peaches.  Granted, I think they were pollinated just at the time I bought the tree, so I don't get any credit.

Now I'm worried this tree's days are numbered.  I realize planting peach trees is one of the worst things to do - that they're a lot of work to keep alive and producing.  I knew this risk going in with the first one, and then after having my own peaches, I HAD to have more...they are AMAZING!  So maybe I'll just plan on putting in a new tree every few years, assuming these guys die off to blights, bugs, diseases, etc?  We'll see - maybe I'm worrying too early - but you have to admit these spots on the tree do NOT look healthy.  And I never know - do I cut those branches off NOW, or wait til spring?  I know you're supposed to avoid pruning peaches and plums over winter.

Sunday, December 07, 2014


First of the season!

This was one those years where I neglected the houseplants a lot putting them out on the deck in the spring.  I took all the amaryllis to the basement once it started getting too cold, and finally repotted some a few weeks ago, giving them a good soaking of liquid fish, kelp, humus and Effective Microbes.  Now I'm getting stalks shooting up and even a bloom!

This is the kind of color I appreciate once it's darker, gloomy and muddy outside.  I'd be happier with a nice coating of white on everything, but instead it's just gross out there. At least there's color inside!

Turkey pot, turkey pot, turkey pot piiiie!

My pies overfloweth....
And apologies for the obscure Just Shoot Me TV show reference.

Yip, still finding creative ways to use up Thanksgiving.  Turkey and stock from the carcass got combined to make turkey rice soup.  The remains of the soup got cooked with a roux, more veggies and potato, and cream, then topped with the last wheel of pie dough that was also made for Thanksgiving.  It's been a real creative way to pull the extras from the freezer... If not maybe a little soon?

Friday, December 05, 2014

Eggnog French Toast

If you're like me, this is the time of year when you buy a skinny carton of eggnog, have a couple small glasses, and realize you're done with eggnog for another year. Even the smallest offerings at the grocery store are more than I need.  And yes, after the first carton goes bad, I might possibly wait a couple weeks and do the whole thing over again.

Rather than let it go bad, I've realized I can use it up faster making some killer French toast. Only it can make way more French toast than I'll eat in a sitting, and Brett isn't into bready breakfasty things.

Last year I realized I could freeze leftover French toast, and then pop frozen pieces in the toaster, whether at home or work. Yum!

So now I've got eighteen pieces of eggnog French toast in the freezer, some of which will go in to work next week.  If I can spare the freezer space, I might make more French toast, minus the eggnog, but instead with some orange zest and/or orange oil.  Love it!

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

It's about to get fragrant around here!

About a month ago I though the orange tree was going to die on me.  It had outgrown it's pot ages ago, was outside a little too late in the season, and had been too dry for too long.  By the time it had been indoors a couple weeks it was dropping leaves and looking beat up.

So I got a much bigger pot, whacked off a bunch of the outer roots while transplanting it, boosted the new soil with compost and worm castings, and gave it a good soaking with water, liquid fish, kelp fertilizer, and even Effective Microbes.

And now? Wow! It's taking off, re-greened its leaves, and loaded with flower buds. Have you ever smelled orange blossoms? This may get to the point where it has to go back down to the basement under the grow lights if we find it too potent!