MuddyFingersMeg

Eat, drink, (garden, knit, quilt, think, fix, read) & be merry

Catch-Up

Hi Friends,

I’ve been off both school and most work for the past three weeks.  It’s been positively lovely.  I realize this is probably the last time before I retire that I can simply hang out at home without worrying about work or school.  I’ve been busy cleaning, crafting, gardening and relaxing.  Here are some snippets of what I’ve been up to.

Strawberry and Lavender.  

The strawberries have been incredible this year.  I estimate I’ve harvested 30-40 lbs so far, with more coming in each day.  I’ve made parfaits, shortcake, tarts, strawberry lemonade, dried strawberries, frozen strawberries, smoothies… the list goes on.  I’ve been pawning them off on the neighbors and anyone who happens to stop by.  It’s getting a little exhausting, truth be told, but I can’t complain.  It’s the first “bumper crop” since I started my garden here and it’s a real joy.

The lavender has also done well this year.  I snip all ripe buds each evening and dry them.  I tuck them into my drawers, between my sweaters, and set some aside to cook with during the year.  Lavender ice cream or hot chocolate anyone?

I used this strawberry tart recipe and, boy, it was good.  Bake it for a crowd, though, because it’s probably the richest dessert I’ve ever made. 

I have three strawberries patches and this is the largest.  As you can see it’s taking over the garden.  It’s due for a massive  hacking back rejuvenation, which it will receive once it finishes fruiting.

The yellow lilies are blooming.

As is the ‘Coral Cove’ rose.  When the weather heats up the fragrance wafts over most of the yard! 

This is the second nest of baby bunnies in my veggie garden this year.  I ran off the first batch, but these little guys don’t even have their eyes open yet.  I believe in dispatching with them humanely, but sometimes I melt from the cuteness and just leave them be.  I’ll regret it later, but right now it’s fun to head out and pet their fuzzy warmth.

Other garden delights are coming in, including the peas, garlic scapes, greens, and herbs.

Oodles of queen bumblebees frequent the garden and they particularly love the blooming comfrey.  One of the bees is nearly as big as my thumb.  They’re working frantically to set up their nests and then they’ll incubate their brood.  Once the first workers hatch out, the queen will stay in the nest, but the only bumblebees out right now are queens.

The Oenothera is blooming.  The tag says it’s suppose to be fragrant, but I detect nothing.  Do you have evening primroses?  Are yours fragrant? 

This morning I caught the beaded moisture on the edges of the Achemilla.  It looks like dew, but it’s actually the result of “guttation” where the water pressure builds at night and pushes out through the edges of the leaf.  Cool, eh?

Pretty blue delphinium.

I think the open mouth of the penstemon flower looks like a roaring lion, complete with dangling fangs.  

Of course, there has been a bit of knitting.  After 18 months, I finished up the cabled sampler blanket.  In the end it ate up 24 skeins totaling nearly 5.5 lbs and 2 miles of yarn.  It’s going to be so nice next winter.  Until then, it’ll look nice living on our couch.  Ellie (the cat) has already laid a claim to its’ cushy warmth.

The peach tree has grown like a weed and put on a nice crop of fruit.  The fruits are about the size of a walnut.  I’m noticing some damage which I think is from the plum curculio.  Next year I’ll be ready the bag the baby fruits.

And I’ll leave you with a sweet picture of some Siberian Iris blooms.  I hope to be back again before school starts on Monday!

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For the love of lavender

This past winter marks the second winter lavender has successfully wintered in my zone four garden.  I had an abundance of blooms this year and here is the recipe for one project.  Unphotgraphed uses included lavender sachets, bottles, sugar, baths, and general enjoyment.

First the stems had to be picked just before the blooms opened.  The buds are deep purple but they’re still buds.  I have another variety that flowered so quickly I wasn’t able the harvest in time and I had to just enjoy it in the garden.  The buds retain their color and fragrance better than opened flowers.

Once the harvested stems had dried I stripped off the buds.  It’s tedious work, but I just picked up a stem here and there for several days and managed it with very little direct effort.  Now you can use the lovely lavender for whatever you want!

I made ice cream!  I brought 2T lavender buds, a 1/3C honey, and 3 C cream to a boil and then let it cool, stirring occasionally, to room temperature.  I put it in the refrigerator overnight and strained out the buds.  I wisked 1 C milk, 1/2 C sugar, and a splash of vanilla into the cream and put it into the ice cream maker for 25 minutes.  The soft mixture is then frozen for 12 hours and voila!  Honeyed lavender ice cream.  Delightful.

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Relief

Finals are over.  I still have a directed study that needs to be finished by the end of May, but the bulk of the pressure is off.  I am so relieved.  This has been such a rocky semester.  Many of the classes were ones I had been putting off (read = not very exciting).  I got eyeball deep in a bunch of extra circulars, including a big research project.  Farm season started.  I had a lot of soul-searching to do as well as thinking about the future.  And, to add fury to the fire – there was the therapy which has been so incredibly difficult. 

I cooked eggs yesterday and realized that’s the first time I’ve cooked in at least two months.  P has been getting us by, cooking up big meals on Sundays and sometimes during the week.  Otherwise it’s been takeout, tortilla chips, and popcorn.  I wish I were kidding.

I’m taking today for myself.  Too bad it’s rainy because I was hoping for some quality time in the garden.  I have ~150 plants on the deck awaiting soil, including a number of large shrubs and trees.  I’m not sure where they’re going, exactly, but they were “good deals”, orphans or just pretty and so they sit.  Tomorrow P and I head down to a state park for our annual morel hunting trip.  P found a few delicious handfuls the other day so they’re out!  We just need to go and find more.

Thanks, friends, for sticking with me over the past several weeks.  I know it’s been ugly around here but your listening and encouragement have been invaluable to me.  Today I feel like the worst is behind me.  That may not be true, I don’t know, but I’m going to believe it for now because that sure feels good.

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A bowl-lot of love.

I fell completely in love with primary colors Py*rex bowls way back in junior high.  I’ve pined for my own for an awfully long time, but could never justify the expense.  A kind friend once gave me the medium blue one as a start to my set.  And for Valentine’s day this year, P bought me the rest.

I love them more than a person should love bowls.  They’re just so pleasing to the eye.  And they make great mixing bowls.  I just made a double batch of cornbread in the largest size.

These will be getting a lot of use in my kitchen.  Once I find time to start cooking again.

Oh, and have I mentioned I am going to be a beekeeper this year?  The home for the bees arrived in boxes two weeks ago.  It’s since been assembled and primed.  Now I’m just waiting for a warm, sunny day to give it a few coats of paint.  The bees arrive in 2-4 weeks.  I am so nervous and so excited. I hope I don’t kill the queen.

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Tapping the Norway Maple

We tapped our Norway maple the other day.  Red, sugar, and silver maples are all much better for syrup but we’ve got a Norway so that’s what we’re tapping.  We tapped it last year and didn’t get much, but this year we did a better job and have gotten much more sap.  I still doubt we’ll get any more than a half-pint of syrup when it’s all boiled down but it’s still fun.

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Risk and Resolve

So, I’m a little late to the New Year’s resolution discussions.  I may have missed the boat entirely as it seems many resolutions don’t even make it this far into the new year.  But I typically run a little late, so I’m going to write about it anyway.

See, I’m not a big new year’s resolutions person.  No, no, I don’t wait until the beginning of the year to launch a grand scheme to lose ten pounds, save more money, or be kinder to my relatives.  I’m very slow to make new decisions, but when I make them – watch out!  I’m a woman on a mission and waiting any length of time does not suit me.  So I make my changes through the year, as the situation warrants and lifestyle permits.

Don’t get me wrong – like most people I wouldn’t mind losing ten pounds, buffering up the bank account, or make more of an effort with my relatives, it’s just I know myself and I know I won’t keep a resolution unless I’m ready.  The likelihood I’m ready on the first of the year is almost certainly zero.  Call me a pragmatist.

You can also call me a liar.  After that rant I must confess I make two resolutions each new year – chew my food more and sit up straighter.  I’ve made the same two resolutions each year for I-don’t-know-how-long.  No matter how much I work on these, there is always more work to do.  I’m slouching right now.  And I ate my delicious dinner in record time.  (I cooked!  Can you believe it?  I made shirred eggs and I highly recommend you do the same.  You won’t be disappointed.)

Anyway, I’m rethinking my policy on New Year’s resolutions.  See, 2011 promises to be an important year for me.  Not only will I turn 30, almost finish my bachelor’s degree, hold my first full-time managerial position, and buy my first car; I will also take the GRE, apply for grad school, and play my fiddle in public for the first time.  People, this (grad school, not the public fiddling) signals something very important.  It means I’m finally starting to figure some stuff out. It means my life compass, which has been spinning wildly since I was a child, is finally finding north and settling down.  It means there exists the very real possibility that I might get a good job and have a stable life.  It means I’m even less likely to repeat history and end up in poverty again.  This is huge. I have never seriously considered that I would actually find a good job that I enjoyed.  My quiet, unspoken reality was always that I’d bounce from semi-crummy job to downright crappy job for the rest of my life.

But now I think I have a plan:  I’ll try my damnest to get into a good PhD program.  If I fail, or don’t get funded, well, then, plan B.  I’ll become an elementary or high school science teacher.  And if all else fails, I’ll become a naturalist.  I have three options I could happily live with.  I’ll work freakishly hard for option A because, honestly, it’s the coolest.  I never ever ever in a million years of my wildest dreams thought I’d be PhD material.  But it seems I have a shot, so why the hell not?  I have, at various points, thought being a professor would be great, but such a dream seemed impossibly lofty.  The whole process is overwhelming and a bit frightening.  When reading through the requirements for application I get the same gut feeling as when I peer over the edge of a cliff – is it exhilaration or pure terror?  I, at times, want to run from this very idea and return to a more manageable life.  But it’s too late.  If I don’t give it a shot, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.  I’ll always wonder, “What would have happened had I succeeded?”

All this circuitous rambling has brought me to this:  risk.  See, a few weeks ago I read about a woman who took a little different approach to the New Year’s resolution.  She chose one little word as a focal point for the next year.  As 2011 is going to be an important year in my otherwise uneventful little life, I need a point of focus and a resolve to wrestle with big issues and fight hard against the tempting inertia to stay put and dream small.  So I chose one little word for 2011, one word to remind me to think big, even when it’s terrifying.  One word to challenge me to reach higher.  One word that can shore me up when I’m feeling low.  One little word I can blame if things don’t go well (kidding, kidding).  As I plunge full-speed ahead into this decade changing year I need a word like risk to pull me from my comfort zone and remind me life is meant to be lived and not simply survived.  Truth is, I’m more reserved and cautious than the younger me.  I know more intimately what it means to fail, how much it hurts to fall.  But this year I’m going to embrace a little risk.  Why not?  Life doesn’t wait.  The impossible can only become possible through a little bit of risk.  Afterall, what’s the worst that can happen?

A few specific risks for 2011:

– Take the GRE and apply for grad school

-Go to a fiddle jam.  With my fiddle.  And play.

-Continue wholeheartedly with counseling

-Reach out more and be more vulnerable in friendships and relationships.

I think that’s enough for tonight.  Although only four items long, that it likely enough to keep me busy for 2011.  And beyond.

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Squash soup with chilies, coconut, and lemongrass

As if the dearth of food pictures and recipes hasn’t made it obvious, I have lost all kitchen mojo in the past few months.  Last night, for example, I had a cinnamon milkshake and popcorn for dinner.  Unfortunately, that has been pretty normal around here.  Tonight, though, I put on a pot of soup and P loved it so much he told me I had to write it down, so here it is. Squash soup is generally very flexible.  In this case, I simply purged the fridge of perishables that were on the verge of going bad, and picked some stuff out of the pantry to match.  If you don’t have the exact ingredient I used, try something else.  Soup is also a great way to use the remnants of last summer’s garden.  The squash, (dried) chilies, (dried) lemongrass, and garlic are all from last summer’s bounty.

I usually puree squash soup, but I didn’t feel like fishing out all the chilies and lemongrass, so there’s some texture in this batch.  Feel free to play around with the recipe.  And don’t be intimidated!  The soup came together in about 45 minutes (not including simmering time)

Without further ado, here’s the recipe:

In advance, cut 2 whole winter squash in half and remove (and compost) the seeds (I used Buttercup, I’d recommend any sweet winter squash with a fine texture like Buttercup or Red Kuri.  I’d avoid stringy varieties like spaghetti).  Place the four halves cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a 350F oven for an hour, or until easily pierced with a fork.  Remove, let cool, and scrape the flesh from the skin.  Compost the skins.  Set squash aside.

Heat ~1/4 C (it’s winter,  we need the insulation) olive oil (or another fat) in a pot.  Add 1.5 onions, finely diced (the “half” was going bad in the fridge…) and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until soft and starting to brown (8-10 minutes).  Add 2 stalks celery, finely diced and cook for a few minutes.  Add some heat – I used whole dried Thai chilies, but you can use red pepper flakes, cayenne, dried chilies, etc.  Add 2-3 T minced fresh ginger and 5-6 cloves garlic finely chopped or pressed through a garlic press.  Cook just until you can smell the garlic and ginger (1-2 minutes).  Add the squash and stir in (it’s easier to prevent lumps this way).  When throughly mixed, add one can coconut milk, and combine throughly.  Finally add 4-6 C broth (depending on how soupy or stewy you want it) and a few stalks lemongrass.  Simmer for a half hour to an hour.

If desired, toast some bread crumbs in a pan over medium heat until dry and crispy.  Sprinkle over individual bowls of soup when ready to eat.

Enjoy!

Hopefully I don’t actually need to say this but – DON’T eat the chilies or lemongrass stalks!

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A Homemade Christmas

We had such a lovely holiday.  We had mountains of delicious food, cookies galore, and so many dear friends and family from both near and far.  Many of the gifts given and received were both thoughtful and homemade.  Let me share a few highlights.

P and I made and decorated sugar cookies using this recipe.  So, so good.

We made mint slice biscuits using this recipe, but omitting the chocolate coating.  They’re pretty good, although they’re a lot of work.

P’s family did a holiday gift basket exchange instead of individual gifts.  It was so much fun to put together a single basket rather than running around town to buy gifts for a dozen people.  I made a basket with a “winter warmer” theme and put in a handknit scarf, brownie mix in a jar, homemade hot cocoa mix, alcoholic whipped cream, beeswax candles, and a bottle of irish cream.  It was the one of the most frequently stolen basket during the swap, so I think it was a hit!

I made the beeswax candles from beeswax I brought back from Peru.  They smell divine.

The hot cocoa mix is made using unsweetened cocoa powder, vanilla sugar, salt, cayenne, and a little cornstarch.  I no longer buy commercial hot chocolate mix because this is tastier and more affordable!  The “brownies in a jar” recipe is found here.

My sister made this wonderful peppermint sugar body scrub.  I can’t wait to try it – yum!

My foster mom made these awesome pillowcases for everyone in the family.  Mine is this fantastic mushroom fabric.  I love it so!

P and my foster mom share a love of baseball, so it’s only fitting that his pillowcase is made from baseball fabric.

What were your holiday highlights this year?

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The Big 2-9

Yesterday I turned 29.  We went out for a nice dinner and came home to celebrate with a few friends and a Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake.

Yes, friends, this cake is amazing.  It’s even better than it sounds.  I am a shameless, self-proclaimed lover of all edibles that combine the wonders of chocolate and peanut butter.  But this confectionary delight takes the cake, pun intended.  It’s a double-layer chocolate sour cream cake with peanut butter cream cheese frosting topped with bittersweet chocolate ganache.  You must make one for your next celebration.  You won’t regret it.

Please forgive the blurry photo

 

We also found some time to don our santa hats and decorate the balsam fir adorning our living room.  We don’t put up many Christmas decorations, but I do love love love the excuse to bring a tree into the house.

 

Just as the day was coming to a close, a blizzard blew in.  We awoke this morning to enormous drifts of snow.  We had four holiday parties and get-togethers this weekend.  They’re all canceled.  Instead we had a quiet day at home.  We ventured out for a few hours to help dig out neighbors, deliver a few cookies, and document the storm.  I love having this much snow.  Here I’m standing in a snowbank – it’s nearly up to my waist!  (although, considering my height, that isn’t saying much).

Snow Angels!  Believe it or not, the banks were nearly vertical.


It’s been a great weekend to ring in end of my 20s.  I’m not even all that sad.  I’m ready for 30.  Bring it on!

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Down but not out

Oy Vey!  This semester is a doozie.  I’ve either been in class 4-5 hours a day or working every day since… before Labor Day.  But let’s not think about such things.  Let us, for the sake of sanity, think about other things.  Wonderful things like…

Lard!  After some serious hunting around town I managed to track down some pure, unhydrogenated lard with no additives (and cost less than $8+/lb).  That stuff is hard to find.  But it’s worth it…

Have you ever had lard pie crusts?  Divine.  Rich, flakey, and easy to roll out.  We even made some teeny, tiny mason jar pies like this.

But lard has so many other good uses, too, including a batch of homemade soap.  I’ve made two in the past few weeks, but only one (on the left) has lard.  They’re both enriched with coconut, hemp, and cocoa oils to combat winter dryness.

Let’s think about apple picking…

and canning…

and freezing lots of produce.

Let’s think about knitting…

and knitting (this color show a brown hat.  It’s actually a lovely green)…

a wee bit of crochet.  I think I’ve been using the knitting needles for stress relief.  Fortunately, no one has been hurt.  Yet.


Let’s think about harvesting…

bok choi…

edamame*….

winter squash…

sweet potatoes (!!!)….

and watermelons.

While thinking about winter, I bound a piece of wool for a nice winter blanket.  It’s already in heavy rotation around here.

I made some spore prints to verify that our Garden Giant mushrooms were actually what I thought they were.  All tests checked out and we ate them right up.  Yummy!  We’d eat more but the squirrels keep digging up the mushroom bed to plant their fall harvests.

We took a little trip to visit P’s grandma for her 80th birthday party.  Fun was had by all.  These bottles were in the restaurant and, thinking they were silly things, we picked them up for a photo.  They were made of glass and filled with liquid.  SO HEAVY!  But hilarious nonetheless.

I’ve even found a few minutes to enjoy the late fall garden

Sunflower Heliopsis

Hazelnuts

Jacob’s Ladder

and some lovely roses.  As a side note, this rose plant came to me free last year because it was so poorly pruned and heavily diseased.  A little TLC this year and I’ve been richly rewarded.

And, sadly, now it’s time to think about homework.

*I was super geeked out to find rhizobia nodules on the roots of the soybeans.  If you’re wondering, it a bacteria that lives in symbiosis with legumes (beans/peas/etc) and allows the plant to get its’ nitrogen needs from the air rather than the soil.  A huge advantage and much exploited in organic farming.

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