I’m Back Online!

Did you miss me? No, don’t answer that. I was offline for a (much too long) time while my laptop was repaired. When I got the laptop back, I couldn’t log into my dashboard or cPanel or AMP. After trying numerous combinations of usernames and passwords, even though I was darn sure I knew what it “should” be, I gave in and sought help from the hosting provider. The Helpdesk type person was very patient and, well, helpful. He went through a number of possibilities, verified my identify multiple times (for which I’m grateful), and within 20 minutes had me back on my dashboard.

Then the screen dimmed as if operating on battery, and I realized the rabbit had nibbled through the laptop cord while I was focused on troubleshooting the blogs. At this point, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I laughed. There may have been tears, but hey, I laughed. 

First world problems, indeed. When I went to the computer store to buy a new cord, I had a chance to tell the folks there about the problems I’d had. Bookmarks were fine, usernames and passwords not so much. Clerk/techie nodded thoughtfully.

Meanwhile, I did get into the dashboard for A Mother’s Garden of Verses early this morning. I posted an encore, one that unfortunately is very relevant today.

Read and enjoy. It’s good to be back online.

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Scraps or Pantry Raid – Tomato Soup

The end result was tomato vegetable soup, served with grilled cheese sandwiches and applesauce. Here’s how it came about.

I’d been canning tomatoes a few days earlier. The process of peeling tomatoes, while not like herding cats, is time consuming and yields an interesting leftover. To peel tomatoes, I drop several into hot water for a few minutes and then into ice water. The peels slide off (almost) effortlessly. Almost. The results: a lot of tomatoes without skins, and a big bowl of water laced with tomato remains.

On the theme of the TV show “Scraps,” I decided this tomato water was too good to throw away. On the theme of a Pantry Raid, I used only ingredients that were readily available in my freezer, refrigerator, or pantry. Nothing fancy!

Step one: we skimmed off some of the water floating on top. The tomato content kept sinking to the bottom, so why not?
Step two: poured the tomato water into a large slow cooker and let it simmer on high overnight.
Step three: add herbs. A few green onions, a clove of garlic, some minced basil – all simmered in the soupy mix for several hours.
Step four: Store boiled down mixture in refrigerator overnight.

To make soup for supper, I added a few simple ingredients along with salt and pepper, thickened with arrowroot starch (Penzey’s is the best), and served with crackers.

Simple ingredients added (but not measured precisely): a dash of Worcestershire Sauce, a small can of commercial tomato paste, salt and pepper, frozen peas & corn & shredded fresh zucchini.

This tomato soup, whether you call it a Scraps menu or a Pantry Raid, is a winner. Next time I can tomatoes, I might do the same!

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The Continuing Saga of the Soil

In which Daisy discoveries the peas didn’t do well, but the beans? Stay tuned.

The peas, those lovely little vines that filled the space in between the random flowers, didn’t bear fruit. They produced a few tiny pods, but no peas. I don’t know if it was soil troubles, a hot & dry spell, or other issues, but my garden produced no peas. I pulled the plants and set them on yet another section of garden that didn’t produce any produce. When they dry, I’ll  toss the whole pile in the compost.

Beans, however, are looking great! They’re bushy as bush beans can be, reaching for the sun with their lovely little leaves and producing flowers and actual green beans. Yum! I have enough beans in the freezer already, so everything I harvest will be supper. Or lunch. Or raw beans for a snack (oh, yeah, they’re that good).

Meanwhile, I made a few decisions. The area with the non-producing pea plants will be devoted to flowers next year. I’m seeing more pollinators, so I’d like to keep them happy. The sections that just didn’t grow are getting an infusion of organic matter (a.k.a. compost).

As for behind the garage, the raspberries are coming back, little by little. Chuck trimmed a tree that was overreaching its borders (at the edge of the next door lot), and that helped allow more light into this area. I spread lots of parsley seeds so the parsley plot can expand even as the raspberries try to take over. Last, but never least, some of the bulbs for walking onions were trying to sprout in the tray where they were stored. I dug two shallow trenches and tossed the bulbs in. If they don’t come up this season, they’re likely to bloom next spring.

And that’s the current status of the Backyard Garden, folks.

 

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In Season: Zucchini Bread with Cherries!

This may become my go-to recipe for zucchini bread. I made a few minor changes (I hear you laughing, you who know me well), but the basic recipe is from the Essential New York Times Cookbook. I do have a beef with the way it’s indexed. This wasn’t listed under zucchini; I found it in the Q section for Quick Breads, and then under S for the name of the pastry chef who created the recipe itself. That’s a little bit like the way I saved so many recipes under E for Easy-to-make or D for Delicious.

But anyway, here’s my version. When cherries are no longer available at the farm markets, but zucchini is still prolific, I’ll probably make this with chocolate chips. Mmm.

Zucchini Bread with add-ins (cherries this time)

2 cups grated zucchini

1 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and chopped

Combine sugar and butter in large mixing bowl. Beat together, adding eggs one at a time. Mix in vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Add this mixture gradually to the liquid mixture, alternating with grated zucchini. Fold in walnuts and cherries or other add-ins.

Bake in loaf pan or three small loaf pans for 50-60 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack before slicing.

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The Saga of the Soaked Seeds

in which Daisy decides she has nothing to lose and gets reckless in her planting

It was a wonderful night in June – good weather, nice breeze, rain in the forecast. The rain barrels were ready, and most of the garden was planted. I’d been filling in a few spots here and there, just to see how the combinations would work. Carrots, turnips, parsnips alongside the tomatoes; a few more peas near the flowers; beans galore. The sun was going down as Amigo and I went inside.

It was a good night for sleeping. Cool, a steady rain, nice breezes. I woke up refreshed and ready to check on my garden plots and pallet experiment. But when I looked outside, I saw something ominous on the picnic table: my basket of seed packets, soaked through. AAAAAUGH!!!

My first reaction was to try to fix it. Dry them out! Use the oven on super-low setting! Try the grow lights! Dry the seeds before they germinate all at once! Well, they dried, but I’m still not sure they’re viable.

Since some of my seed packets were more than a year or two old, I decided that this will be the year I throw them all away in the fall. I’ll start fresh with new seeds and no more hoarding. Well, maybe no more hoarding. Seeds don’t take up much space. In the meantime, I’ll play around with what’s left. There’s nothing to lose, after all. There are large sections of my garden that are only growing weeds, anyway. I might as well toss a few seeds here and a few more there.

So, readers, I’ll share the results with you soon. So far, parsnips are going nowhere, dill is hibernating (and the dill seeds didn’t get soaked with the rest, either). Lettuce looks promising, if the chipmunk will stay out of the way.

Predictions, anyone? Will the damaged seed stock be any good? What kind of results do you expect?

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Education: valuable or dangerous?

I went to the post office one day to mail a book. The clerk was one who knew me as a regular, often mailing my Paperback Swap books on to another reader. As he went through the standard script and asked, “Does the package contain anything potentially hazardous?” I replied flippantly, “No, independent thought is still legal.”

He laughed, thank goodness. I can just see the post service suddenly searching my mail because of my slightly sarcastic sense of humor. Oops.

There have been a few changes since that day.

  • This guy, one of my favorite clerks, has since retired.
  • There’s a new majority on Capital Hill.
  • A recent poll indicates that the new majority, the Republican side, doesn’t value education in general. Worse: the Republican caucus thinks higher education is a waste of time and even bad for the U.S. (See the Pew Study results here)

Independent thought may still be legal, but learning and thinking are less and less valuable to our government. In fact, the impression I get is that the current folks in charge want to keep the populace ignorant, malleable, and easy to control.

This is scary, people. Very scary. Dare I suggest – keep reading, keep learning, and keep connecting with your legislators. Remind them that they work for all of us, not just those who voted them into office. Call, email, send postcards, attend town hall meetings. If you dare, participate in rallies and protests.

Independent thought is still legal. Let’s keep it that way.

 

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Why Doesn’t my Garden Grow?

Three major section of my raised beds are growing nothing but weeds. I have a few theories, but I’m not entirely sure. I’m hoping to narrow down the possibilities so I can figure out what to do about the problem.

Suspect number one: poor seeds

  • The basket of seeds got soaked when I left it out overnight. I successfully dried the packages, but did I manage to destroy their viability?
  • I like to stock up during late season clearance sales. The seeds I used could have been old.

Suspect number two: feathered and furry creatures

  • Birds! I suspect cardinals in the demise of my butterfly garden seed mat.
  • Chipmunks! Or chipmunk! Darn thing slips through the tiniest gaps in the fencing, and I find holes all over.
  • Rabbits? Not likely this time. The wire fencing is pretty good.

Suspect number three: random environmental influences

  • Seeds planted too late
  • Weather – too hot
  • Weather – too cold
  • Weather – too wet
  • Poor soil – doubtful. Treating my soil with compost, etc., would take a number of posts. The green “walking” onions around the edges are growing beautifully, too.

Incidentally, the pallet garden and the various containers are doing very well. Herbs, mainly, along with a few leafy edibles and flowers, all thriving. The rest? I’ll keep trying to make it work. Promote growth. Plant something that comes up, already.

Readers, suggestions? I have a gauge for testing soil pH. I might try that. What else do you recommend?

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Good Intentions & Container Gardening

I had good intentions of sharing indoor and outdoor (mostly outdoor) progress day by day. Those good intentions evaporated with the puddles on a windy day. One accomplishment was filling the crocks with plants. So far, none have been over watered – intentionally or from the rain. I must have given them enough drainage before I filled them with soil.

The Crock Garden

Just a few feet away sits the Rock Garden. In the rock garden is a large bucket filled with mint.

Mint – confined to a container

The irony here comes in the fact that I established a rock garden in the first place to take the place of the out-of-control mint. Using cardboard barriers, a lot of 20 mule team borax, and patience, I managed to get rid of the wild mint and build up a decorative and fun rock garden. That’s Amigo’s alter ego on the left: the frog playing cello.

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Goals – inside, outside

It’s summertime – the approximate ten week period that passes for a “break” in our oddly outdated agrarian school calendar. In the old, old bygone days, students would help at home on the farm in spring, summer, and then harvest season in the fall. School terms might be limited to winter or some of the town and city kids might come in early fall while the farm families kept their children home to work the land.

But I digress.

It’s summertime, and the living is relatively easy. I can sleep in, but I don’t. My body clock is set firmly between 6 and 7 A.M. I’m up and at ’em, coffee cup in hand. Up and at what? That’s where the goals come in.

I’ve decided to make one indoor goal and one outdoor goal. Daily tasks such as loading, running, and emptying the dishwasher don’t count. Watering the garden and the containers doesn’t count, either. It’s a necessity.

Yesterday the outdoor goal was to fix up the rock garden. That entailed getting rocks and sculptures and misc. from the garage and placing it strategically in the rock garden. Inside? Clean the bunny cage & replace used litter box with clean box.

The goals are a minimum. I don’t stop there. Having definite goals, no matter how small, keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. “I must get more done! Must accomplish! Must do, go, achieve!” Nope. It’s a long break, and it’s a break. Setting and meeting goals is good for my mental health. Meeting goals allows me to let go of the gotta-get-it-done attitude and relax.

That said, here are today’s main goals. Indoors: laundry. Outdoors: lift pallet garden to a steeper angle. Chuck helped with that one.

And now, while I wait for the first load of laundry to rinse and spin, I can relax.

Readers, do you set goals? Give yourself permission to take care of yourself? Leave comments. I’d like to know.

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Cleaning the Classroom – Encore

I attended a graduation party for a former student, a girl I’d taught in fourth grade. She had just graduated from high school (my alma mater, no less), and was preparing to head off to college. I reminisced on the way home. 

One year my fourth grade class decorated the chalkboard with flowers during the last few weeks of school. I liked it so much that this year, I assigned them the task. We were gearing up for a field trip to see a play based on the book Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. I helped prepare them for the story by reading about urban gardens, learning about plants, planting their own tomato plants in little pots made from toilet paper rolls, and more. One day I presented them with several shades and lengths of green construction paper, told them these were their stems, and challenged them to create flowers using our bin of paper scraps.

They outdid themselves.

The flowers were lovely, each as original as its creator. My young students (ages 9-10) decided to write their names on the board to claim their work. They wrote and drew and made more flowers, and I was glad to say Yes to saving their work from the cleaning staff. I knew Di, the cleaner who keeps my room spotless, would love the classroom flower garden as much as I did and would be glad to leave it untouched by rag or vinegar cleaning spray.


When a student moved the week before school let out, she made sure to pick her flower from the board. On the last full day of school, plucking the flowers was a high priority for the young paper gardeners. By then the chalk was getting dusty, but the paper work was as unique as ever. High art? Nope. Just right? Absolutely.

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