Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Harvest (Sort of)

Now that it's already November, it's a bit late to be posting pictures of the fruits of (mostly my husband's) labor. The garden has been dug up and tilled under, the stakes have been removed, and the hideously laughable temporary deer fence has been packed away. And I must say, I'm relieved.

A few random potatoes (which my
husband pronounced as "just okay,"
and the Zucchini that Ate Manhattan
The First Year of Being an Official Gardener was difficult, as it is for a lot of people. Some things, like that stinkin' frickin' frackin' blight, are largely beyond our control and plant more of a seed of despair than anything else. We planted wayyyyy too much zucchini, which proved hardy enough to survive Nuclear War and then some. And yet, we probably planted just as much squash - the stuff I did want lots of - and it barely produced half a dozen vegetables. Not sure what happened there.

Tomatoes were beautiful and round until around the middle of summer. I checked on them, they looked picture perfect although still hard and green, I trimmed some leaves to let more light in, and then went back down the hill to wait another week or so for them to do their business.

Meanwhile, I tended to our doomed pumpkin patch that was busy producing lots of leaves and few fruits. Not enough sun, we reasoned, but still it was fun to try. We got a whopping two pumpkins out of our efforts, that looked about the size of a grapefruit. I trimmed some leaves off of those, too, in the hopes that I could let some more light in and encourage something to happen.

As this was going on, the pumpkins were silently spreading the much-hated Powdery Mildew. Not enough sun, too much water - thanks to the kids liberally sprinkling them every hour on the hour whenever I wasn't looking. Poor things didn't stand a chance. Although really, my research on the nasty stuff yielded that it does happen to many plants in the curcubitaceae family, which include cucumbers, squashes, and melons. Every time we passed a pumpkin or squash patch in our travels, I always craned my neck to see: Did they have powdery mildew?

After I ripped out the offending plants (and unfortunately even some I didn't want to pull out, because I wasn't paying attention), I set off to see what was going on Up the Hill. As I got closer to our garden plot, I gasped at what my husband had warned me about: it looked like a flamethrower attack had been launched on our garden. The Dreaded Blight Fungus was among us!

You'll know it when your tomato plants have blight. It can affect other types of plants close by, and it's considered wise not to plant tomatoes and potatoes close to each other (we did). It first starts out like a discolored yellowish blossoming under the skin, and if you leave them sit too long, the fruit practically bursts forth at the seams with white powdery yuck. While some have suggested that you might be able to cut off the bad stuff and eat them (before they get white, at least) do not can with them, since it's considered a disease.

In our area, it was apparently a bad year for blight, as a nearby co-op farm had to destroy pretty much their entire crop. Pretty depressing. I have read that some people will go to great lengths to avoid it - and you can, to some extent. Trimming off the lowest level of leaves prevents contaminated soil from splashing up during rain storms, and watering from ground level can also help. Some people cover their plants and do a whole host of crazy things, and yet it can be spread through the air, neighboring plants and through contaminated garden tools. Given this, I don't think I'm going to be a Master Tomato Grower anytime soon.

And as if you didn't have enough to worry about, there's early blight and late blight. Both can decimate your prized patch faster than you can say ketchup.

And yet, come spring, we'll probably be hovering over the seed displays, planning on what to plant next year...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

How does your garden grow?

For years, my husband and I have talked about having a garden. In the three houses we've lived in, though, we've never had enough sun, so it's been more wishful thinking and daydreaming than doing any digging. Last year we tried tomatoes in buckets, which produced mixed results - not helped by a poor year for gardeners everywhere, and torrential rains that drowned our poor plants beyond belief.

Taken a few weeks ago - things are much bigger by now already.

I've recently been into the old fashioned living idea - the idea of self-sustaining and producing something from start to finish. I already sew, and it's wonderful to start a project from a basic bolt of fabric and turn it into something beautiful. My husband hunts for venison, and now can process the deer from start to finish himself thanks to the astute teachings of a wise, experienced friend. While some of you might be grossed out about eating deer meat, whether you care for it or not it's still cool to go through the entire "from woods to table" process!

So gardening seemed like a natural progression. After all, while growing up in Ohio, my mom always had at least two large gardens going during the summertime. She canned and froze, carrying on the tradition of her agrarian grandparents. It seems like a dead art to most, but many are starting to turn back to their roots - literally - to grow their own food and at least partially sustain themselves, whether for environmental reasons, or because of the increasing cost of goods. We do it just because we like the idea of starting something from its genesis and bringing it to fruition - much like the venison idea I mentioned above.

This year we dug out a plot next to a friend's nearby in a sunny location. So far we've got squash, zucchini, tomatoes and potatoes going. Considering that I've heard that potatoes can be a bit fussy, we've started out well and they look good so far. My husband just put some carrots in that we've had growing from seed on the windowsill for a little too long, so we'll see how those turn out. So far, everything looks wonderful, and it's so fulfilling to see how things start from a small seed into an established plant in no time at all! I think in less than a week the squash seeds went from nothing to something, which the kids really enjoyed seeing.

We also decided to plant pumpkin seeds next to the house, in the sunniest place possible. We've started a yearly tradition with the neighborhood kids of carving pumpkins together and having a little party, and we're hoping to have enough fruits of our labor by Halloween to share with everyone.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

How to have a great garage sale

'Tis the season for garage sales galore! I love them, and have found some really great stuff on only my second weekend out. I can't stop at all of them, unfortunately, but some attract my attention more than others. As a lover of sales, I can tell you the top things that irritate me to no end when I'm looking for the good ones.

  • Everyone loves a sign that is bright and gets your attention. Not a piece of soggy cardboard with something written in pencil that no one can see. 
  • Make signs big, not the size of a postage stamp. Think about who's going to see it and how. There is nothing worse than a potentially great sale that has a sign that is illegible or so small you can't even see it. If you live on a busy road, how are people going 55 going to see your sign? You don't want to obstruct anyone's vision, but it should be bigger than an 8x10 piece of paper, at least. Do them on the computer, even, in a nice big, clear font. Post them at busy intersections where people are likely to see them when stopped for traffic lights! 
  • I saw a couple today that were written not only very small, but posted down low to the ground. Invest a couple bucks and buy a wire sign frame from Home Depot to make your sign stand out!
  • Take your signs down when it's over! Half the signs I saw today were for sales that are already done. When we had ours, our top priority after the sale ended was to take down those signs, not only because I don't want people stopping at our house, but because it's so frustrating to reach a place and not see anything at all. Last weekend we drove by on two separate days to a sale advertised heavily with signs, only to find everything locked up tighter than a drum. If you can't have the sale, at least take down your signs anyway. 
Other ideas:
  • If you can, put your stuff out where people can see it. I've driven by quite a few because I can't really see what all they have, if everything is tucked away in the garage. Bring out the cool stuff to entice your visitors!
  • If it's not really "huge," please don't say it is. I've seen a couple that were "huge," according to the sign, and were nothing more than two tables of knick-knacks and not much else. If you live in a neighborhood, ask your neighbors to contribute and you can split the money. Somewhere I read about a few families who had a neighborhood sale and then used the money to have a block party. How fun is that?!
  • Donate your proceeds. Nothing attracts people faster than a group of Girl Scouts having a sale to pay for a class trip, etc. 
  • Don't make your prices too high. Some people seem to think they're going to get $5 for that used pair of fingernail clippers, which puzzles me. This is a garage sale - not Walmart. People are looking for deals - so be willing to negotiate. 
  • Most of all, have fun! Sometimes it's just as much fun to have a sale as it is to go to one, as long as you have the right company. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

From the Recipe Box: Chocolate Chip Muffins

I would love to be one of those women who bravely lets her children cook and experiment with her in the kitchen. Unfortunately my kids fight like cats and dogs with each other when the time comes to cook, so I usually secretly slip away to stir up a batch of cookies or pizza.

My oldest was off from school yesterday so I decided we were going to take the plunge and make chocolate chip muffins. They got the idea a few days ago after breaking into a bag of chips, sneaking handfuls of them upstairs with sweaty palms. Blech. So I dug up a recipe that didn't require too many fancy ingredients and endured the sibling rivalry for a little cooking lesson.

The first thing I usually remind them when cooking is: "If you have to cough or sneeze, do NOT do it on the food!" I want them to learn how to cook and enjoy it, but consider this a first-and-foremost rule of thumb. Aside from the usual bickering over who got to measure what and who pours this, it went fairly well and was a pretty kid-friendly recipe.

We doubled the recipe, and the only changes I made were inadvertently adding an additional 1/3 cup of milk as well as adding about two teaspoons of vanilla, at the suggestion of another reviewer. It turned out just fine with the extra milk, and not biscuity at all, as someone else suggested. I also added regular-sized chips rather than the miniature ones, and they turned out just fine. Not too much, and perhaps could have added a little more. (I put in about 3/4 of a bag.) I would probably add an entire bag, if I make this again.

One reviewer added an additional 1/4 cup of milk plus vanilla chips, so I guess my accidental addition of milk was not much of an error. Perhaps this takes care of the biscuity taste some people noticed.

Chocolate Chip Muffins, submitted by Lori Thompson

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Ready in: 35 minutes
Serves: 12

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup miniature chocolate chips

In a large bowl, combine the first four ingredients. In a small bowl, beat egg, milk and oil. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in chocolate chips. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups three-fourths full. Bake at 400 degrees F for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

I found this recipe here .

Monday, January 11, 2010

From the Recipe Box: Corn Casserole

For years I've been looking for a good corn casserole recipe, and even though I have a huge stack of cookbooks, none of them have a recipe for this in them. What? How can that be?

I went to one of my favorite recipes sites, , and found a dreamy corn casserole recipe that is so easy and everyone loves. I made it for a church potluck and someone actually said it was good enough to be a dessert. Yum!

If you're on a diet, I'm sure you don't want to know what's in here. And when I doubled the recipe for Thanksgiving, I shuddered to think that there were four eggs, two cups of sour cream and two whole sticks of butter in here. (Paula Deen would be proud.) But it's so good, who really cares.

Corn Casserole

1/2 c. melted butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 package (8 1/2 ounces) dry cornbread mix (I use Jiffy, which is super cheap!)
1 (15 ounce) can of creamed corn
1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 cup sour cream

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8x8 baking dish.
• In a bowl, combine all ingredients and spoon into prepared dish. Make sure to stir well, because you don't want a lump of sour cream to turn up when you bite into it (or maybe you do??).
• Bake for 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

It's been my experience that if you let it cook a little too long, it sort of loses that souffle quality that makes it so yummy. When it looks firm in the middle (but not hard), that's a good indication that it's done.

I found this recipe here .

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Homemade Christmas Ornaments

Now that it's almost time to take down the tree, I am taking a moment to look at a lot of the ornaments I've made over the years and take some photos to share with everyone. I've made this a yearly tradition, because someone in my family long ago decided to do the same for me. 

Some are quite simple. The easiest, and one of my favorites, was this small dollhouse miniature that I hot-glued on to a colored clothespin. Probably took like two minutes, tops, and made use of a random object that I had for no good reason (who keeps, or even has, a green clothespin?). There are all kinds of neat-o miniature items just like this in the dollhouse section at most craft stores that can accommodate just about any hobby or interest you can think of. 

Isn't this just the cutest? And a total pain in the butt to photograph, I might add, because everything's so tiny. 

But really, I am the queen of wooden ornaments. They are cheap, you can paint them and decorate them any way you like, and they are definitely kid-friendly. Like most people with children (or pets, too, I suppose), my poor tree usually looks top-heavy with all the fragile ornaments on top (I usually buy several blown-glass ornaments each year to add to my collection, too). I usually add beads, glitter, paint - whatever I can find in my giant box of crap - and glue on a photo each year of each child and also a family picture, so that we can look back and see how we've changed. Because they're pretty durable, the kids can easily hang them up themselves without worry of breaking them. 

This one is of a snowflake (obviously) that is just plain unpainted wood. I painted a few coats of white iridescent paint on it and then, once dry, added a thin layer of regular Elmer's Glue. Then I sprinkled white glitter on top and allowed to dry overnight. Once dry, I added a coat of varnish (you can also get this in the craft aisle next to the acrylic paints, so it's not like I used anything crazy or special) to keep the glitter from coming off and make it more durable. It still sparkles and looks so pretty hanging on the tree. I've got several, with filigree-type designs in the shape of hearts, a bell and a star from years past. 

Another favorite that was a bit more painstaking was a sled with two kids on it for my older children. This one required some thought about the shapes (I'm surprised it came to me so quickly LOL) because they are just little craft shapes. I don't know if they were supposed to be snowmen or not; at any rate, you can paint them to look like just about anything. The sled came separately and I painted on the coats and faces - which I usually stink at. (Painting is not something you'll see much of on this blog, for sure.) The balls, I believe, are like little cotton thingies that came in a pack but I have no idea where I bought them. I just glued them all together to look like a pile of snowballs. The red thing around the girl's neck is supposed to be a scarf, but you really can't tell from the photo. But check it out - they even have ear muffs! 

And lastly, are these simple ones I did several years ago while newly married. You know, before kids came and would routinely plow through your table of stuff, sending things flying and putting hands in the paint/glue/glitter or whatever you might have out. These were just simple shapes with a hole drilled in the top and I used rubber stamps to make many of the pictures. This particular one, I think, I used a star sticker as a template and then peeled it off when the paint was dry.  I also used a crackle glaze underneath that would give it a cool vintage effect. This flag theme seemed appropriate since this was Christmas 2001.

Now that I've shared, who's going to come to my house and help me put it all away??