Sunday, October 31, 2010

The First Hard Freeze

The average first frost date is October 15, but we coasted through to October 28 without dipping that low. Finally, that day the forecast called for a hard freeze, the temperature falling to 28 degrees. We went into action.

First, I photographed the mums, which I feared would be destroyed by the freezing temperature.

Then we headed to the garden to harvest tomatoes, peppers, zinnias, dill, and cilantro.

Finally, we gathered old blankets and tarps to cover the cabbages, escarole, and kale. By then our fingers were icy so we put on gloves.

I was pretty sure the kale would survive, but a hard freeze of several hours would kill the cabbages, and maybe the escarole. The next morning, when the thermometer rose above 32 degrees, I removed the covers.

The plants were as perky as ever, and now will have several more days to grow. What's more, the cilantro and dill were unscathed.

It was a different story for tomatoes, peppers, basil, marigolds, and zinnias. Toast, every one of them. We're down to the hard-core fall crops now.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Moving Into The Pole Barn

We were amazed by the speed of construction. It took two days.

After the concrete floor was poured, it had to cure for a week. Then, move-in day!

All this stuff came out of the garage. Now there's room for my car.

After everything was stashed away, there was still plenty of room. Dennis and Butch discussed putting up shelves.

Finally, the truck, mower and tiller have a home.

Later, Chris and I sowed clover, coneflower, gayfeather, yucca, indian grass, and false sunflower seeds in the bare areas. Dennis is gradually spreading the gravel to make a driveway and paths to the doors.

Hooray! We got 'er done.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fall Gardening

When I was growing up, my dad, a farmer, always planted a garden in the spring. He grew lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, sweet corn, green beans, and peppers (which he always harvested too soon). By mid-August the garden was finished until the next spring.

As an adult, I followed my dad's gardening practices, but a couple of years ago I decided to try a fall garden, which I had read about, but never seen. The results were spectacular and delicious.

It seems odd to be starting seeds in pots in July, but that is when I start savoy cabbage, escarole, and raddichio seedlings. This year I forgot to start raddichio, but the escarole and cabbages are thriving in the cooler weather.

Every morning the cabbage heads are laden with dew. The cabbages are getting so large they are dwarfing the escarole plants which are almost two feet wide.

Kale was another late planting. It's progressing more slowly, interspersed with volunteer dill. Normally we wouldn't have dill and cilantro in late October, but this year we are blessed with no frost so far.

Almost miraculous are the numerous butterfly caterpillars that feast on the dill and, in this photo, on a forgotten carrot that has now bloomed. These caterpillars will over-winter in garden litter, and emerge as butterflies in the spring.

Meanwhile, in the cold frames, lettuce, spinach, and arugula are up and gaining a toe hold. We should have fresh homegrown salad for Thanksgiving as well as spinach salad in February.

Dad would have enjoyed this fall bounty. I wish he were still here to share it with us. When he was farming, he would have been hand-picking field corn in late October, with the work horses, Babe and Belle, patiently pulling the wagon forward as he progressed down the row. How life has changed.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Day Did Not Begin Well

While I was busy destroying three eggs over easy, which became eggs over with difficulty, the pancakes were burning. Then the spatula refused to work properly again.

"S***," I shouted, threw the spatula at the wall, and stormed out of the kitchen.

Dennis appeared shocked, but I felt much better and soon enjoyed a mangled egg and two salvaged pancakes.

The day turned out to be lovely.

P.S. Look at the spatula. It's bigger than the griddle! No wonder I have trouble manipulating it. Who do they make these giant tools for, anyway?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Meet Morris

A strange little accumulation of sticks decorated with an upended glue trap in the garage told us that moving Mabel to an abandoned barn did not end our pack rat problems. Dennis set the Havahart trap again. Sure enough, Morris showed up the next morning.

What makes us think this isn't Mabel, returned home? This little creature behaved in a different manner from Mabel. (See Mabel Takes The Bait, September 21, 2010.) He was subdued, even timid, whereas Mabel was a live wire who shunned the camera. Morris seemed resigned.

Dennis drove Morris to the abandoned barn where he left Mabel last month, and released him. We imagine that Mabel greeted Morris with, "Where have you been? What took you so long?"

What worries me is that she may also have asked, "How are the kids?"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I Give Up

Problems seem to arrive in little spates, like guests arriving at a party. That's how it's been here in Paradise all week. One problem after another knocked at our door.

I had planned to drive to Colorado to visit Nancy, Todd, Zach, and Cleo, but what seems like a host of failing machines and structures delayed me.

The MacBook Pro computer Dennis gave me for my birthday went away on Monday for a heart transplant at Apple and still has not come home.

The clothes dryer was making such a terrible screeching noise that on Monday I shopped for a new one, which will arrive next Monday.

On Tuesday the sliding door to our patio wouldn't close completely and now must be replaced, which calls for requesting bids from contractors.

The heat pump, which was maintained just two months ago, began vibrating and squeaking on Wednesday, prompting another service call.

Also on Wednesday, when I took my CRV in for wheel alignment, I learned that first I need to buy new tires, which will require some shopping around.

That's when I threw up my hands and said, "I give up. Someday I will get to Colorado, but it won't be this week."

I came home, ate a big bowl of beef stew and some biscuits, and went to bed for a long nap.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why I Grow Escarole

In July I started seeds of savoy cabbage and broad-leaf escarole and against all logic set the seedlings in the garden in August's blazing heat. That they could survive the heat and insect assaults and grow to maturity before a hard freeze seems improbable -- and yet they do.

This morning Dennis brought a head of escarole in from the garden.

I took down the American Brasserie cookbook and opened it to Tramonto's Sausage, White Bean and Escarole Stew. I had soaked some navy beans overnight and cooked them this morning. I chopped garlic and measured dried New Mexico chiles.

The recipe calls for tomatoes. These late tomatoes from the garden don't look so hot, but they're way better than the grocery store fake tomatoes. (The pimento peppers don't go in the soup. They just happened to be there.)

Kathy and her cousins Linda and Deb had come to visit, so Deb was drafted to chop escarole.

As if that weren't contribution enough, she volunteered to brown the sweet Italian sausage.

After the other ingredients were added and it simmered for a while to swap the juices around, the soup was ready.

Then it was time for lunch. Dennis became the photographer.

The soup was so good that Deb and Linda wanted copies of the recipe. (Kathy already had it.)

Today I couldn't add parsley because the butterfly caterpillars ate it all, and I didn't have Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on. It was still delicious. (The recipe also calls for butter, which isn't needed.)

This is my favorite soup and the sole reason I grow escarole. And I have to add that the soup tasted even better in this superb company.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Quintessential Fall Supper

The cold front that made my bones hurt for the past two days has finally arrived. It blew in late this afternoon. Yellow leaves flew in the wind. The temperature dropped dramatically from the eighties to the sixties. Indian summer is  in a hiatus, or perhaps done for good.

The weather change called for our favorite early autumn supper: country sausage, fried apples, biscuits and gravy.

The gravy is an infrequent indulgence, but it really makes the meal, which is a perfect marriage of tastes: the tart sweetness of Johnathon apples, braised in butter and simmered with a sprinkle of brown sugar and cinnamon, counterbalanced by peppery cream gravy, crunchy biscuits and sage-scented sausage patties.

Both of us ate with relish, leaving nothing but three biscuits. Tomorrow we will eat responsibly, but tonight we celebrate. The moon is waxing, the air is cool, frogs are croaking by the creek, and all is well.

Non-Stick Rant

Yep, I'm out of sorts over something again. This time it's non-stick 9"x9" baking pans. I use this size pan for cornbread. I serve it from the pan and don't turn it out on a cooling rack.

Sometimes an eager would-be eater grabs a knife to cut the cornbread, scratching the pan with every cut, then uses a metal spatula to remove a piece. After washing, the pan rusts. There goes another non-stick pan. (I use them to hold little pots of seedlings.)

This steel pan was not inexpensive. In case the brand is not evident, here's a close-up...

Hunting for a replacement I can find a plethora of brands, all with with non-stick coating, which I have vowed never to waste money on again. Glass pans don't seem to come in 9"x9" size.

I believe it is a conspiracy among bakeware manufacturers. As long as they all make only non-stick pans, they're assured repeat customers. Not this one, though. I'm boycotting them.

If anyone can tell me where I might find the pan I want, a suitable reward will be forthcoming.

Pole Barn Construction

Thursday afternoon four men came and augered holes for the pole barn poles. Friday morning a truck delivered a pile of materials. Friday afternoon the four men returned and began arranging pieces of metal siding around the building pad.

Dennis came home mid-afternoon to see what was happening. Our neighbor Al and his corgis stopped by, too. The poles were up and the big holes filled with dirt around them.

Next, up went the walls.

After the crew left for the day, I went back to check their progress. These guys are fast.

The big empty space will be filled with an overhead door. That's where our pick-up will be parked. Another overhead door on the south side will accommodate parking of mower and tiller. A person door will give access to a potting/garden tool area with a window. The building is just 24' x 24'.

Except for pouring the concrete floor, the pole barn will be finished on Monday. We're pretty excited.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I'm A Nut sent me an e-mail with a comment someone made on a comment I made, but don't remember making. It had to do with King Arthur flour. Apparently I had said I wouldn't buy flour that had to be shipped halfway across the country when perfectly good flour is milled right here in Kansas. The commentator labeled me a locavore radical and essentially called me a nut.

Well, I guess I am. I am devoted to Hudson Cream flour, milled in Stafford County, Kansas. I use both Hudson cream unbleached flour and whole wheat flour. The whole wheat is more finely milled than King Arthur's, and makes a better whole wheat loaf.

To celebrate my nuttiness today, I made bread.

I used one cup of Hudson Cream unbleached flour and eight cups of Hudson Cream whole wheat. That required opening a new bag of unbleached.

After two rises of the dough, I made up the loaves using the ancient Way Right scale to weigh, and balance the weight of, each loaf.

Forty-five minutes later they were in the oven, perfuming the house with good old Kansas wheat.

I'm sticking to my guns. Remember, King Arthur was a cuckold.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hanky-Panky In The Garden

In 2009 I planted two kinds of heirloom beans, Tiger's Eye and Rattlesnake, both for use as dried beans. They were tasty so I saved seeds of each to plant this year.

This year's crop is interesting. The Tiger's Eye beans look just like they did last year.

Some of the Rattlesnakes look the same, too.

But about a third of the Rattlesnake beans have the Tiger's Eye markings while retaining their normal Rattlesnake colors.

It appears there's been a little gene transfer going on. Grains of Tiger's Eye pollen have been after the Rattlesnake ladies. I'm hoping that it wasn't just markings that transferred, but also the Tiger's Eye tender skin trait. If that has happened, then we may have a new bean variety worth preserving. We could call them Snake Eyes.

It's easy to understand Mendel's obsession with plant genetics. What will successive plantings of these beans bring?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Best Part of A Yard Sale

Yesterday my friend Carol hosted a yard sale. She had invited a few friends to bring merchandise, and I jumped at the chance to eliminate part of my over-large stash of art materials. I took bundles of small driftwood, bags of leather scraps, assorted seeds and pods, beach bones and shells, gourds, fake hair pieces, felted wool, books, fabrics and lots more.

Well, the day was chilly and gusts of wind came from first one direction and then another, but the sun shone brightly and spirits were high. The mood was welcoming and friendly. Customers chatted with the sellers and each other, and exclaimed over the odd collection. They asked questions and several people said to me, "We like the same things!" And they bought some of everything I brought and all of some things.

I took a banker's box full of silk ties, some disassembled. One family of three sat on the lawn, picking through the box. When the middle-school-age son brought a handful of ties to the cashier table, I asked him if he liked ties. He replied that he wears one to school every day. His dad, who was also buying some ties, said that his son gets teased by his schoolmates for this practice. A discussion of peer pressure and marching to one's own drum ensued. The mom bought some, too, for a total of 27.

A young woman was thrilled to find a hardback copy of Education and Ecstasy, which I purchased in the 1960's. She said that her paperback copy was worn thin and she had been searching in vain for a hardback copy.

A burly middle-aged biker fell in love with a crucifix catfish breastbone I found on the Galveston beach.  He asked if I would accept $2 instead of the $2.50 I was asking. I said yes. Then, after having paid for his purchase, he turned back to the cashier and handed her fifty cents, saying, "I shouldn't haggle over such a beautiful object."

A young man rode up on a bike, dismounted, and went from table to table looking at the merchandise. Unlike others, he didn't greet us or look at anyone or join in conversation. He kept returning to my table of beach finds, examining an engineer's compass which was lightly crusted with tiny sea creature shells but still working. At last he walked to his bike, pulled up the hood of his sweatshirt, and seemed about to ride away, when he turned once more toward the beach find table. I got there just as he did and asked if he liked the compass. He shyly nodded. I handed him the compass, saying "It's my gift to you." He murmured "thank you" and walked back to his bike, gazing at the compass in his hand.

So it isn't a matter of moving unneeded objects out of my house, nor a matter of making a few bucks. What matters is the joy of memorable, genuine interactions with strangers who leave feeling they have found treasure. It's the pleasure of finding loving homes for things I have loved that matters.  And that is the best part of a yard sale.

I was so caught up in the moment it never occurred to me to take photos at the sale, although my camera was close at hand. So, in lieu of sale photos, I offer another type of loving human interaction, although this one also involves a dog.

Zander hugs Annie.