Cooking without a Kitchen – still

Monday was a Planned-overs type of day. Planned overs are like leftovers, but cooked on purpose. In this Era of No Kitchen, we are cooking planned overs at least once a week so we have something decent that can be reheated in the microwave.

So, Monday. Burgers were on the menu. Side dishes, cooked on the coals in foil, were potatoes – diced reds and fingerlings with Scarborough Fair seasoning (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme) and green & yellow zucchini squash with onion, salt, and pepper. These turned out very well.

Ah, the planned overs. We had a pound of French Onion bratwurst from the local meat market, and brats are always better on the grill, so I jabbed them with a fork and cooked them on the top rack. Someone recently suggested cooking bacon on the grill, so I tried it. As I pushed the burgers out of the flames so they wouldn’t get charred, I wondered if Someone had cooked bacon on a gas grill, not charcoal. The bacon smelled good, as bacon does, but it had a definite char look to it. I tried a piece on a BLT, and it tasted like bacon. Okay, it was okay, but I don’t think I’ll try that trick again.

Monday, as you see, was an adventure. I didn’t take any pictures because I was too busy moving bacon around to prevent total burn-to-a-crisp status. The veggies were a hit, the burgers were delicious (Amigo had two), and the bacon and brats went into the meat drawer for later.

Tuesday, I learned how to bake a pot pie in the toaster oven. Here I am, in my 50s, and I’ve never used a toaster oven. Now I can cross “Toaster Oven Use” off my bucket list.

Tuesday night I decided to do an experiment with the multitude of green onions in my garden. I pulled up several. Okay, if I’m honest about it, I pulled up a lot. I cleaned them up in the bathtub – no sink, remember – and packed the green tops into a crock pot set on low. I left it on Keep Warm overnight. In the morning, I removed the green tops, added the white bulbs sliced small, and seasoned the onion broth with a little salt and pepper and garlic.

Summertime, and the living is…is..

Last Friday was the all-important, all-consuming, why did it take SO LONG to arrive Last Day of School!!

We spent the weekend shuttling Amigo to his reunion at the school for the blind and then to Lions Camp. Monday, I finally took a deep breath and felt summer settle around me.

I spent most of the morning taking care of various garden chores. There’s nothing better than starting summer with dirt under my fingernails! Buttercup the bunny came out, too. She nibbled on the lawn and rested in the shade. A little weeding, a little watering, transplanting two tomato plants that were too crowded to another big pot. Did I really use two, too, and to in the same sentence? Maybe my mind is still in school, after all.

And that brings me to the rest of the week, this first week that so many think of as a teacher’s summer “off.” All day Tuesday and Wednesday and then a half day Thursday will be spent in staff development learning more about the technology I use to teach online, but mostly, putting in the hours. Next week I’ll have two commitments: a book study (I’m leading it, so I’d better be ready) and a formal three day training in an intervention reading program.

Without driving the details, I’ll just say that June is a full, full month. I did my best to leave July more free. August isn’t bad, either. None of summer, at least this year, will be a full summer off.

So anyway, my point? I’m not sure I have one. I’m happy to have more time to dig in the dirt. In a few weeks, I might even try Sleeping In. Meanwhile, it’s summertime, the good old summertime.

 

It’s a Garden. Period.

During WWI and WWII, people grew Victory Gardens. It was a good PR move, helping people feel like they could ease the burden of feeding the country by growing food of their own.

In 2008, the term Recession Garden came about. Planting a garden in the backyard, on the apartment balcony, or anywhere there was room for a container helped provide fresh food for the family, even if the country’s economy was shaky.

And now, just when I thought I’d heard every trendy excuse to grow your own tomatoes, there’s a new term: a Climate Victory Garden. By tilling – or not tilling – a small plot, gardeners have a chance to use their efforts as a force for change.

It isn’t my original idea; the concept comes from Green America by way of Mother Nature Network. I like their philosophy; they encourage composting, planting perennials (does my rhubarb count?), avoiding chemicals, and covering soil with mulch to maintain temperature and moisture.

As I said, it isn’t my idea. In fact, I hesitate to put another trendy label on my containers and the approximately 32 square feet with mostly vegetables growing there. Victory Garden, Recession Garden, or Gardening for Climate Change, it’s a garden. It’s not dirt, it’s soil. It’s tilled, compost added, watered, mulched (well, when I get time). But don’t call my little backyard effort anything trendy. It grows vegetables. It’s a garden. Period.

Progress – on a lot of fronts

Tomatoes are in their containers.

Computer desk and matching bookshelf and computer are in the guest room/office/La Petite’s former bedroom.

I have plants for the pallet garden.

Laundry is started.

All of these took more effort than we expected.

Tomatoes: I started the tomatoes from seed in March. Not all came up; I was a bit concerned. I did get six Roma plants, four beefsteak, and three large (and very tasty) cherry. Friday I was worried; the tallest tomato seedlings were showing some odd color on their leaves. I wondered if they were under watered – or over watered, for that matter. I came to the conclusion that they needed bigger containers, room to grow. They’re now transplanted to containers near the main raised bed garden – all but the one lone yellow pear tomato plant that’s in a basket between two rhubarb plants.

Computer desk and matching bookshelf took two weekends and time during the week to empty, clean, and move. Darn, those pieces were heavy! They’re all in place now, and everything works. Chuck had a challenge getting the AT&T tower up and running again, and it runs the landline, Internet, and television. He finished Saturday, just in time to pick up Chinese food and bring it home for supper.

Plants for the pallet garden: I have strawberries for the top sections, marigolds for the base, but the Home Depot garden center didn’t have the cabbage or kale I wanted for the large place in the middle. I watered them all, but they’ll have to wait until tomorrow night to get transplanted into the actual pallet.

Laundry. Darn it all, I almost forgot this weekly chore. After I cleaned up outside, collapsed on the couch with my laptop and a bowl of trail mix, I realized that unless I didn’t throw clothes in the washer and dryer, we might not have enough drawers in our drawers as the week goes on.

Laundry isn’t as glamorous or fun as planting the garden, but it has to be done. Now I’m relaxing on the couch next to Chuck, who plans to cook supper tonight. No take-out this time.

Stop Creating Emergencies.

Sometimes I call it “panicking over nothing.” But then I have to remember that whatever’s causing the panic might not be important to me, but it’s important enough to upset someone else.

In the book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, there’s a chapter that advises the readers not to create their own emergencies. For example, it’s okay to buy cookies from a bakery instead of baking them from scratch. Pick up an already cooked rotisserie chicken instead of prepping and cooking a big meal. It’s not what I’d do every day on normal days, but sometimes it’s wise to step back and avoid creating unnecessary emergencies.

Right now, those emergencies are either kitchen or garden related. The kitchen remodel is coming sooner or later – most likely sooner. We have a lot of clearing and purging and emptying to do before demo day. We had to clear space in the guest room/office so that we could move the computer desk in there, and soon we’ll need to move the computer desk, the shelves on top of it, and the computer itself and all its cords into that room.

Garden! I started tomato seedlings and herb seedlings, and now I need to prep the containers. Yes, that’s right, the tomatoes are going in containers this year. I have the containers, I have the bags of soil, and I’m ready to start making those ready.

In addition to the containers, I have the pallet. It was glorious last year, and I have plans for the pallet garden again. I just haven’t had a moment to pull out the old, dead plants and fill it in with new soil and move it to its new home six feet away from where it is now – you get the picture. I want to do it all, and I want to do it all right now.

So, Daisy, why can’t you get outside and do it all right now? What’s stopping you? Regular readers, friends, and family all know that I’ve been sick lately. It feels like the last three weeks have lasted more like three months. I’ve been spending a lot of time resting, rehydrating, resting, icing or heating a sore back and sore knee, and resting. You get the picture. In between, I’ve visited doctors and pharmacies. Somehow, I managed to teach a few days and grade a lot, and I do mean a lot, of research projects.

It’s when I’m resting that it’s hardest. I might be sitting on the couch with an ice pack on my lower back and a glass of a refreshing beverage by my side, but I’ll be thinking that I really, really want to break up the soil in the main garden plot. It’s common to find me closing my eyes for a bit and then coming back to wakefulness with an Oh, No, I Need To — fill in the blank.

I’ve managed to sidestep cooking emergencies with the help of a crock pot and a well stocked pantry. I even filled the Stamp Out Hunger bag for the Post Office food drive. But as I patted myself on the back for that, I remembered that the spices will need a new, temporary home, along with the taco mix and my favorite sloppy joe mixes.

And then I say Stop. Little by little, all will be well. For now, I’ll rest and recover so I’ll have enough strength to cope when a true emergency comes along. I don’t need to create my own.

ER Observations and Random Thoughts

I wasn’t totally coherent two weeks ago when we went to the ER, but I did notice a few things.

Doctor paused before coming in the room and asked if I’d had influenza yet this season. I answered no, and he grabbed a mask before he came in. One of the first tests they ran was the swab for Influenza A. Fortunately, it came back negative. I don’t hear well to begin with, and if I had to listen to doctors and nurses through masks, I might have given up trying.

Based on that, I’d gather that flu isn’t through in our fair city. If the ER folks are still concerned, I’m glad I finally got my flu shot.

Today, almost two weeks later, I’m dealing with major dehydration – so much it’s causing lower back pain. Kidneys? Maybe. Doc On Call also had me cut back my blood pressure medicine for a few days. It’s a medicine that can also be a diuretic – in other words, can dehydrate. See how much I’ve learned?

Yesterday Nurse On Call said, “Let’s keep you out of the ER this time.” I liked her attitude. The pain level today, along with the weakness and other garbage, came close to sending me right there again. The big difference this time was that Doc On Call saw me yesterday, and I now knew what to do to fight back. Doc On Call was quite thorough with her testing; I hope, hope, hope it’s all covered.

Meanwhile, a dear coworker is dealing with something much worse. Her sister had a rare and oft-fatal complication during labor. Both mother and baby have made it through the first twelve hours; it remains to be seen if they’ll survive, and if so, what the damages might be.

Back pain? That’s nothing. So why am I so near tears?

To Swap, or Not to Swap?

I had plans. Big, exciting plans. I was going to go to a seed swap and seedling sale on Saturday morning before The Boys (Chuck and Amigo) were even awake. Then the blizzard arrived. And not just any blizzard: the blizzard that broke records, records in snow-is-the-norm Wisconsin.

So I didn’t get to the seed swap and seedling sale. Honestly, it may have been cancelled. So much was closed, so many events cancelled, that I don’t even know if the park or the nature center was plowed. In fact, we were at the meat market watching a chef pick up $500 worth of meat for his restaurant when his wife called him to say the staff couldn’t get in and they were closing.

I wasn’t planning on bringing seeds to swap, if I’m honest with myself. I had been thinking about buying seedlings and nurturing them indoors through the blizzard and the early spring that might happen, maybe, someday. I don’t have many seeds, or at least not unique seeds. Or do I?

I have butternut squash, parsley, and dill, all salvaged last fall. Those are such common seeds that I wouldn’t bother to offer them up as a swap. However, when I found myself in the garage after cleaning and emptying a litter box in the middle of the storm — oh, let me start over without the drama.

Bunny’s litter box needed cleaning, so I walked through the garage to dump the waste/fertilizer on top of the snow in the backyard patch. On my way back through the garage, I grabbed a packet of seeds for sweet banana peppers. As long as I was there, I dug through the empty pots on my planting table to find milkweed. On my way to the milkweed, I realized I had saved more than I’d remembered. I searched through yarrow, chamomile, yellow beans, feverfew, baby’s breath, and (how could I forget?) walking onion bulbs!

The ending of the story is this. I didn’t go to the seed swap and seedling sale – if it even happened. But I did find more seeds that I could start right now – right now! – and nurture under my grow lights until spring really arrives.

Take that, Mother Nature.

Gardening in Winter

I ordered seeds. I brought a bucket of potting soil in the house. Next: start the tomatoes and peppers. Oh, the herbs, too. I kind of let those dry out and die from neglect.

Tomatoes, and perhaps the peppers, too, will grow in containers this year. I have a few already. Then when we discovered a new-to-us store full of collectibles and vintage goodies, I found three more pots big enough for tomatoes. Yay!

Last year was a rough year for tomatoes. I bought a lot of tomatoes and peppers from the farmers markets. The cause might have been weather, cold temperatures at all the wrong times, lack of rain when we needed it, too much rain when we didn’t, you know the drill. Tomatoes, however, can drain the soil of its nutrients. I wondered if I’d planted tomatoes and peppers just one summer too many, and the soil just had nothing to give. My solution is this: tomatoes in containers for a year. They’ll have fresher soil in the pots, and the garden soil can replenish itself with the help of organic material (compost! Yeah!) and some interim “crops” like beans and peas.

It’s still winter, though. March came in like a confused animal, neither lion nor lamb, so I have no idea how the rest of the time from now until spring might unfold. New England is getting hit with another nor’easter, as the Weather Channel says. Closer to home, Minnesota might see a major snowstorm soon. Here? Who knows?

In Audrey Hepburn’s words, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Planning that garden and starting seeds in winter – now that’s faith.

Cider Press is a Hit

We’ve learned quite a bit about making our own apple cider in the past few months.

No matter how much we make, it won’t last long.

I looked into recipes and processes for making hard cider. I considered other “flavors” such as cherry and rhubarb infused cider. Hahaha! Fresh apple cider is incredibly delicious. Chuck and Amigo drink it in place of orange juice at breakfast. I heat some up after school instead of an instant cappuccino. We froze a few containers, only to thaw them a few days later.

Nothing is better than fresh apple cider.

See above.

Pasteurizing apple cider on a plain old fashioned kitchen stove is easier than you might think.

Details: I did a lot of surfing on sites like the USDA and the CDC to find information about home pasteurizing for cider. The results were consistent: heat to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and maintain that temperature for 6 seconds. 6 seconds? Is that all? I maintained it for a full minute, just because.

There are more people making their own cider than I thought!

Amigo offered up some of our homemade apple cider for a barbershop chorus celebration, and several of the guys in the chorus let me know that they, too, press their own cider. One or two talked about antique cider presses. Another talked apple varieties; we like ours a little more tart, so Macs are the main apple. That, and the tree outside my office that I pick for free, keep the recipe pretty straightforward. A few buckets of Macintosh apples and a few pounds of something else will make a tasty mix.

Sweetener? Unnecessary.

I found this out by accident when I bottled a batch of cider and then realized I hadn’t added any sugar. Any. Sugar. At. All. And – it was delicious. Maybe it was the Honey Crisps, or maybe I’m just getting used to having my apple flavor straight, no chaser.

Next year, I’ll be more aggressive in foraging for apples earlier and oftener. Er, more often. I learned that orchards keep boxes or buckets of “seconds” or “imperfect” fruit, and that fruit is still delicious. If I can make friends with a few people who have apple trees and don’t pick them – don’t laugh, it could happen, just like the tree outside my office building – I can procure enough for a large batch of cider.

And then there are pears. I know at least three people with pear trees, all of whom seem to have excess pears come September. Pear cider – why not?

To-do List and Climate Change

In a typical year, putting the garden to bed for the winter has been a pretty straightforward task. Harvest the last of the vegetables, dump any containers into the garden to enhance the soil, spread compost, sit back and enjoy the late autumn rains. Oh, I forgot leaves. Rake leaves into the garden or compost bins.

The past few years have been different. Snow has come later – December, even after Christmas two years ago. The last frost, the one that finally kills off the annuals and freezes the allergens, has been later each year, too. Sometimes I’ve looked outside and wondered if I might still have fresh tomatoes if I hadn’t put the garden to bed already.

This year, I’m still cleaning up the tomato plants. It wasn’t a good year for tomatoes, anyway. But I put in a second planting of lettuces and another batch of peas. I’ve been able to cut several batches of lettuce in September, and the peas are growing well – now, in October. Green beans have been prolific, too. Every time I pick beans, I notice more blossoms that will be more beans if temperatures stay warm.

Herbs are doing well in their containers on the deck. I plan to bring them inside as the frost nears and see if they can adjust to growing indoors. My grow lights might help.

I have a few volunteer tomato plants, too. They turned up in a random part of the garden where I have never grown tomatoes. I tossed the smallest of those into the compost and transplanted the bigger ones into containers. I have no idea how they’ll do, but I might bring them inside, too.

I have no idea when the final killing frost will happen this autumn. I don’t know if this is the new normal of climate change, this late fall and delayed winter. Whatever the weather, we’ll weather the weather, whether we like it or not.