Saturday, December 01, 2012

Rum, Ruin, Rumination & Resolutions

Hot buttered rum on the evening's misty cold and wet agenda.  Homemade batter from clean butter organic white and brown sugar, a little cinnamon and clove and vanilla -- et voila! -- buttered rum batter.   A little Black Seal Dark Rum (sublime stuff,  plays well with lots of flavors, very mellow) and we are snug and warm inside as well as out.

It has been a little over two years since the last post.  Busy I guess. (Grin.) At the moment the garden is in disrepair as the last of the summer crops are still pushing out a few fruits.  Lemon tree is in the weird interregnum where for a few weeks we actually have no ripe lemons to pick. (The rest of the year this tree is in never ending production, with buds on just as the last round comes ripe.)  The mandarin oranges are all green, apples are long gone, and we didn't get a winter crop of anything in yet.

I blame the weird weather.  And the neighbor spraying roundup.

Too hot too late in the year to think of winter crops  in a timely fashion.  And the annoyance of finding out your next door neighbor has been spraying the border grass (including the base of the vegetable planter) with Roundup fer cryin; out loud, has severally limited the plantings.

But Winter Break is coming, and perhaps we can get the planting spaces squared away and nourished in time for our February spring plantings . . .

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Four Batches of Homemade Granola Down, And the Recipe for You, Finally

So, I owe several people the recipe for homemade granola . . . and have been negligent in keeping garden posts up this spring . . . so to hop back into the ol' blog I will start there.

First I have to say that I discovered the basic recipe when served by Rhonda Stone, Pasadena City Council member Haderlein's Field Rep. She used a version of the Barefoot Contessa Recipe, which I dutifully looked up, and massively modified. (If you want to see the original, with some commentary, try here, at The Cookbook Critic. )

Moontree Granola

4 cups (apx 1 lb or 450 g) organic** Rolled Oats
2 cups slivered dry-toasted almonds
1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup good olive oil
2 cups toasted unsalted cashew pieces (whole cashews are more expensive, and need to be chopped a little; but even salted whole cashews can work)
2 cups raisins
1 cup dried cranberries

  • Mix dry oats and almonds together in a large bowl; be sure there is room to stir the mixture after adding oil and honey.

  • Mix the honey and olive oil with a hand or stand mixer on low, or light whisk. The goal is to evenly distribute the honey and oil so that it will evenly coat the oats.

  • Pour a portion of the honey-oil over the oats and stir it in. Add some more honey-oil mixture and stir, to coat the oats and almonds. Continue adding honey-oil and stirring until (a) all the mixture is in and (b) all the oats have been coated. This may require some stirring well after all the honey-oil is added.


Cover a baking sheet (with edges) with parchment paper, or be prepared to scrub after baking. Spoon the oat mixture on the parchment and spread evenly.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place sheet on middle rack, and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes check cereal color and stir on the sheet. Cereal should be just tan. The final bake time will be between 20 and 30 minutes longer, but check the cereal every 10, then every 5 minutes.

Once the cereal starts browning it can go from lightly brown, to nut brown, to burnt in a few seconds. When the cereal is a light brown remove the cookie sheet from the oven. If the cereal cools on the sheet, it will continue to brown. If the cereal is already brown enough, slide the parchment off the tray and onto a heat-proof surface.

Let the cereal cool until cold, crumble into a bowl. And the cashews add dried fruits, mixing well. Store in sealed kitchen or Mason jars; makes about 3 quarts by volume with these add-ins.


Nuts: Substitute any nuts that you like, or leave them out entirely. Dry nuts (such as dry- roasted almonds) can go in with the oats, and are great with the honey-oil mixture. Oily nuts, such as cashews, peanuts, or similar, should go in with the dried fruit and not be heated. If nuts are omitted from the oats, reduce the oil slightly, by about a 1/8 to 1/4 cup.

Dried Fruits: Any dried fruits will work. I have used home grown dried apples and figs; my wife prefers no nuts and a mixture of Trader Joe's Raisins and "Golden Berry Blend"

Other Stuff: Leslie also likes to sprinkle ground flax meal on the spread out oats before baking (1/8 to 1/4 cup). Adds some good omega-3's and fiber, and a little nutty flavor. To turn it into candy, add a few chocolate chips. Really, the issues is to add what you like!

Eating: Great as a filling snack (a handful in a wax paper bag goes a long way) or as traditional cereal with milk. Or with vanilla or maple yogurt. Greek style yogurt is interesting too, and you can add fresh fruit for a change from time to time.

** All ingredients are organic or otherwise cleaner versions where feasible. The organic oats are easily available at Wholefoods at modest prices; the other ingredients all come from Trader Joe's, of course.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Spring Planting Redux: Summer's Salads

Four-day weekend -- with no rain and warmish sunshine -- let us get some things done and finish up the garden layout.
Tilled up a 4' x 10' patch of back lawn, and another 8' x 8' patch to add to the approximate 200 sq ft. of raised beds and tilled front lawn. Puts us at around 300 sq. feet, exclusive of of fruit trees and a dozen large pots. When we finish Spencer's patch we will be looking at about 350 sq.feet, a respectable space if I do say so.

Put down today (into the one of the new rock-walled beds) are lettuce starts (Romaine, red Romaine, oak leaf, red oak leaf, head lettuce) and spinach, all interplanted with some interesting English (Kew Gardens Brand) organic carrots.

Also down today a long strip of green beans (purple seed) adjacent to last week's snow peas, so two thirds of that box is planted. The last third will be some other nitrogen fixer (maybe a yellow wax bean) or some shelling peas or both.

Spencer's watermelon patch will get interplanted with potatoes for fall, and maybe a corner of broccoli.

The girls have requested more Roma tomatoes, and we will be definitely put Big Jim New Mexico chilies in from saved seed. Possibly bell peppers, and likely some red cabbage somewhere, although the cabbage may be headed for a big pot, as they are heavy feeders and we don't want them to compete with other stuff, or the soil-fixing effort on the south 40".

Still debating putting in a stand of broom straw somewhere, likely the front lawn . . . just contemplating how to make it decorative . . .


Saturday, February 06, 2010

First Pass on Early Spring Planting; Hungry Already! Is it Summer Yet?

Last weekend hand weeded about half the original "south 40" raised-bed of buckets of grass starts; after six or seven years of home compost, home worm compost and some store compost, and cover greens tilled under, the soil is now quite dark and crumbly, alive with worms. Great stuff!

Mid-week, we soaked some snow-pea seed we saved from last year's crop overnight and stuck it into a couple of long rows to beat the rain. A few seeds have floated up, but a quick finger poke has them back in the ground. Should be buckets of peas in a couple of months, and we will keep adding seeds every 3 weeks or so. Each new wave of plants should give us peas well into summer. Always fun to cruise the back yard for dinner, and steamed or stir-fried vegetables -- and especially the snow peas -- are really yummy.

Last weekend we also put a bunch of stuff into the ground.

Genovese Basil, about twice as much as last year, went in as seed. Until last year I had no luck with basil from seed, but these plants were champions. We whipped up and froze buckets of pesto (with HGO Garlic) in the fall, and if we are lucky, the new plants will be up and usable about the same time we run out of frozen stuff.

Kathryn thinned and transplanted last year's leek starts, and she should have plenty to grill up and put in her soup shortly; Hannah planted purple-seed green beans in her planter box, with second generation saved seeds. Spencer put down a watermelon patch, which we hand-tilled into the back lawn and surrounded with some of the river rock we collected on our permit a while ago.

We also took up a three-foot by 40 foot stretch of the front lawn with the mantis tiller, and put down two rows of corn (about a hundred plants), interplanted with Anasazi beans and sugar pumpkins, yellow squash and green squash. The plan is for the corn to act as trellis for the squash and beans. The beans will grow all summer and be picked and saved as dried beans for use in other dishes later; the squashes should be producing by late spring or early summer, and the pumpkins should be ready by August for eating (both savory, like squash, and sweet, as in pumpkin' pies) and saving for Halloween.

Leslie has tidied up her herb box and has several new and returning items to add to it.
If it dries up this weekend, will finish weeding up the south 40 and consider what to put in . . . I am tending to broccoli again, although last years crop was a big disappointment and I need to do some research to see what would be good as an alternate-year crop in that space.

We started the new year with only about 5 inches of rain on the season (since June 09) but have had 10.50 inches additional since January 1; nearly 3.50 inches in the last 24 hours.
All the other perennials -- especially fruits -- remain, and are beginning to show signs of spring. Mandarin oranges are fully ripe and quite delicious. What we have not eaten or handed out by March 1 or so, we may make into preserved fruit, or jam or marmalade. Might try juicing some too, but they are kind of small. Really fascinating juice though!

The scant five gallons of hard cider we put down late fall is nearly clear enough to consider bottling. It has promise, but it won't be clear what we have until at least May. This batch was all wild caught yeast, a strain that developed in a bottle of juice on the counter, which we cultured and then fed to the larger carboy. I actually drank most of the new cider that came from the wild caught (it was only a half-gallon) but came to my senses with enough yeast left in the sludge to feed and culture for the larger batch.

As we contemplate spring and summer harvests we are seriously considering two or three more of the hanging fruit dryers -- very effective and store nicely. I even dried racks of apples in my classroom over a rainy weekend -- which my students loved.

COMING SOON: What goes into the remaining South 40? How much of the back lawn will get tilled into river-rock raised beds? And will my neighbors complain if I put more of the front lawn into broom corn?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

We "Tie One On" Without the Master Craftsman Nearby, and It Comes Out Okay.

Been working on a new skill for the last several weeks. Back in September, took a broom tying class from Little John, arranged by the folks at Adams Forge. Didn't quite finish the broom we made in class, and needed to find the materials to sew it down. Which proved a but of an odyssey, but worth it in the end.

Tried making a broom needle out of various objects, but none did the trick. Finally orderd a flat steel "needle" that worked really well. Except that it had very sharp edges and a very sharp point and it had a tendency to cut the sewing thread. But what are a blacksmith's tools for if not making and fixing other tools. (Grin.)

So: filed off the edges and rounded off the point of the "needle" a bit, and it worked great. Used some heavy black hemp line from Michaels' for sewing down my first "class" broom ($1.50) and it worked great too. Trimmed the corn ends with heavy snips, and the first broom was done.

It was really fun to do, and the end product looked great, even if it was a mediocre outcome. So I figured I wanted to do it again. But one thing I had learned was that the proper equipment makes a big difference.
So, the first thing I needed was broom corn. Ten pound box from from an online store: arrived well before Christmas. Buying broom corn was far easier than you'd expect. Turned out buying the right twine was another matter.

The sewing line wouldn't work: Not really strong enough to support the needed tension. Couldn't find anything very workable or attractive in several local stores, but thankfully Little John made free with the name of his secret only-from-Mexico-in-10-mile-spools brand of nylon net-making twine. Now it isn't supposed to be available easily -- but one quick Google, and there it was, in 200 yard, $6.00 spools! That arrived just after Christmas.

Unfortunately, to properly tie a broom you need to pull on the string pretty hard while turning the handle -- which requires a "tying wheel."
This is basically a big spool that you can step on to hold down the roll of twine while you pull sharply. I had some ideas on how to make it, then I noticed that I had some barrel staves and a table saw . . . After a couple of false starts, I cobbled up this tying wheel: Solid oak, and it smells like wine. (Grin.)

So now I needed a handle.

We have some large branches of apple wood and also of holly, so I cut off a nice curved section of holly branch, sanded it down to near white (a little mottling for visual interest) and off we went.
Since I had a pile of undifferentiated broom corn I spent an hour sorting it into four piles: Small, medium and really long -- plus broken bits. It took a little while to do as I started out with "long" and "short" and discovered that the straw came in three distinct lengths, not two, so had to restart at one point.
After a while Hannah came out to help, and we made her a quickie "flying broom" out of a stick in the backyard and the broken broom corn bits. Turned out nicer than I expected, and proved that the tying wheel worked.

So, long story short, I finished the broom I started at home from scratch. It has some serious flaws in execution, most of which are not visible. I did leave off the second layer of straw, and so had to undo one whole layer, add the middle layer in where it belonged, and then redo the top layer -- but it made a big difference in the fullness of the broom.

At the end, I clamped the broom in the post-leg vise between two more barrel staves to sew it. Came out pretty ok, given all the oopses and redos.

Oh, and naturally I saved some of the seeds that fell of the broom corn and we will have to see what we can do with that this spring.

The Holly-Handled First Solo Broom

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Cider, Woodsmoke, Soap Bubbles, Beef, Barley & Guiness Give the Illusion of Fall in SoCal

A deep bed of white-orange hardwood coals throws its heat six, maybe seven or eight feet, warming my waterlogged and cold fingers despite my distance from the fire.
Darkness has arrived, and is impatiently settling into full night, despite the parting comments of the sun written in the bright blue glow of the twilight sky. There is just enough light left to finish cleaning the cider press without resorting to the jarring eye-noise of the backyard floodlights. The last pressing bag is hung to dry.
Two fresh logs on the fire flair with surprise as they settle onto the coal bed, then transform themselves into the hot, steady flame befitting the tree from whence they came. Cider is in the kitchen; homemade Beef, Barley & Guinness stew is simmering; fresh cider-bread is in the oven. Fresh coffee is on the table and I have a few minutes to make some notes and observations on the ol' electronic kitchen calender here.
Another Round of Fall
At the more northerly latitudes of Europe from whence we Americans borrow our seasons, it is winter. Late August through about Halloween are the transitional time, and the traditional start of winter in November can be quite bitter. Around here, if we have nights in the 40s and days in the low 70s we consider that winter has truly begun. (Ah Southern California!) Overnight we had our second lowest temp since last spring -- a mere 42F or so -- and a high not much out of the 60s. We almost had rain; a few places had a cloudburst on Friday, but here we got nothing but some pretty clouds scudding around on a brisk breeze. This is the second patch of "fall" that we have had this year -- after the last patch we had a week of temps in the 90s. Sigh.
Oak Glen Apples
Made the annual pilgrimage to Oak Glenn for cider apples last weekend. Didn't buy as much as we usually do -- maybe only half to two-thirds. No particular reason. Feelin' thrifty I guess. The Snow-Line cider seconds look quite nice this year -- very little in the way of rots, moths, etc. (Some years there is more carving done on the apples than not. Today in a bushel I had maybe two cups of parings -- and most of those precautionary. )
The mix appears to be Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Pippen, Rome, a couple of Honeycrisps, a few Winesaps, the odd small Arkansas Black, a couple of the cloyingly-sweet Golden Delicious and one lone Red Delicious in that first box. Made a sweet but not too sweet mix over all. Nearly two gallons out of the bushel, wish is good.
Hannah and I pressed up one box this evening -- just to get some cider for dinner. And breakfast. And midnight snack tonight. (Grin). Nothing quite like cold cider with apple-wood smoked bacon, and some really fresh eggs, fried potatoes with HGO garlic, onions and peppers.
"Dinner is almost ready," Hannah tells me, singing a song about cider she invents on the spot as she blows her soap bubbles. The hot smoke from the fire carries the bubbles high into the sky, and we laugh.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Garlic Madness Under the Moontree

Yes, madness I say. Garlic everywhere, and not a vampire in sight!

This is, I think, my fifth fall planting garlic. (It all started with some sprouting store-bought stuff several years ago; several garlic related posts here.)

Today, I just finished planting 175+ cloves of five varieties of garlic. Next summer there will be much deliciousness. Last year's crop is being consumed even as you read this, and, well, we may be reduced to buying garlic by late spring. No chance of that in fall 2010 though.
This year we bought a two-pound sampler pack from Filaree
Farms, plus planted our own planting-stock of last years Cuban Purple/Rojo. Sampler included several hard neck and softneck varieties (links on both the variety and specific cultivar give detailed information):
Planted 25 of each of the four, plus 50 of the Cuban
Purple/Rojo (we really really like them). Still have Silverwhite Silverskins from last crop to eat, and plant if we decide too. A couple of little spots left with finishing fall stuff that can go to garlic in a week or two.

The Cuban Purple/Rojo we planted was ordered from Filaree Farms last year, then grown by us in '08-'09 and saved for replanting. (We have some to eat too, but we really liked it, so a third of the best bulbs were saved for "seed" for this year.) Our planting stock was much brighter red than I remember the mailorder Rojo planting stock; maybe we should call it Rose City Rojo? In any case, we love the stuff -- great flavor, easy mild "burn" in pesto, easy to peel. One of our four-year-old's favorite jobs this summer was peeling the Rojo garlic for dinner.
In taste testing the planting stock, the Killarney Red had a nice, easy but complex flavor. Haven't tasted the others yet, but since we have 1-10 cloves of each left, we will soon. (Grin).

We have planted 25 cloves of each variety, plus an extra 25 cloves (total of 50) of the Rojo, plus a "green garlic" plot of an additional 25 miscellaneous cloves.

Green garlic is what it sounds like: Garlic that has not been dried or cured, and in some cases may not even have really started forming bulbs.

It is surprisingly delicious, and is like a mild garlic-flavored green onion. So, since there where lots of odds and ends (at least 5 cloves of each variety) I planted a patch to pick before the bulbs mature without regret.

Growing garlic also provided the interesting discovery that chopped greens -- just some of the leaf or even the stalk of a pulled green garlic -- make a lovely garlic-flavored chive sort of effect!

Last year we ordered late, and put in about 40 Cuban Purpe/Rojo and 40 Silverwhite Silverskins in two batches; one location did pretty well, the other, not so well. Our one-pound investment in planting stock yielded about 12-15 pounds of garlic, if you include all the sampled green garlic and greens. We still have eating / planting stock from the Silverwhite's, but I think we may have enough garlic in the ground, including one silverskin variety allready.

Now that the bulk of the garlic planting is done, there are always a few cloves extra for the available space, so we will be having a small side by side taste test comparison soon.

Coming Soon: Cider Season!