Leeks!

I didn’t eat leeks growing up. I didn’t even know what they were. But one of the best things about a farmer’s market is finding out about new to you plants. Last week, we tried fava tops. They were OK, but not our favorite. Maybe I need to learn a different way of preparing them besides steaming. They might be good in salad… But I digress. Leeks. Several years ago, I asked the farmer about what to do with leeks. He said to make soup. So, I took some home and made soup. It was very yummy. Since then I have bought leeks regularly and have discovered the wonder that is roasted leeks. Also, buttered leeks are A. Maz.Ing. We eat a lot of them in season. If eating an onion as a side dish seems strange, just know that all the sulfurs dissipate and the sugars caramelize, creating amazing goodness.

They are not cheap though, so I reckoned I should try my hand at growing them. I bought some seeds, and started them. They died. So I bought some starts. I read up on planting leeks and all the “books” said to dig a trench to plant the leeks in. Then, as they grow, you should fill the trench in. This is so the leeks blanch, creating more of the white part, aka the good part. (Although if you use the recipe linked above, you can use the green parts too.) So I dug the trench, which promptly filled in with the first spring rain. Hmm. Not a good plan for where I live.

So I came up with something else. I looked around our place and found a piece of rebar about 1/2 an inch thick. Below you can see the “tool” I used last week. Somehow I lost the rebar. And as soon as I finished in this area, I lost this tool as well. Now I’m using an arrow that was destined for the trash. So you can see, you can use whatever you have.

Then I poked it into the ground a few inches down and wiggled it around a bit to create a slightly larger hole. With the arrow, I have to wiggle it more.

I separated our one leek plant and, as gently as possible, I poked it down into the hole. Then I carefully firmed the dirt up around it.If you look closely, you can see the tiny little leek seedling poking up out of the ground.

I tried this method last year, with GREAT success. I had a great leek crop, which I just finished eating. The leeks had a nice ratio of white to green. This year I’m adding another “experiment.” I’m planting my cabbages around my leeks. I’m hoping that the scent of the leeks will confuse the cabbage butterflies. They are so pretty, but their caterpillars are so destructive. Finally, I added a not too thick layer of wood chip mulch to keep in moisture and keep out weeds.

I hope you will try this method of planting leeks. It’s so easy and leeks are so good. And really good for you as well.

Advertisement

Garlic Season

Here we are 2/3 of the way through July. I’m not sure how that happened at all. Normally I would be harvesting lots of things from the garden, but the cool, wet spring made that difficult. I wasn’t able to get out and plant things when it would be good. And what I did manage to get in the ground just sort of hung around.

The rain was really good for one thing though…garlic. I have been growing the same garlic for at least 20 years. I don’t know the name of the variety; I got it from the Farmer’s Market. Every year I grow it and save cloves for planting in the fall. And every year it makes respectable, flavorful heads. But THIS year it outdid itself.

I also planted one head of ‘Hood’ garlic that I was gifted last year. It’s not an elephant garlic, but the heads are bigger than regular garlic. All the cloves are nice sized, without any of those pesky tiny ones that are a pain to peel and use. Or at least I think that’s how they are. I’ve only pulled the one head apart. It had seven cloves, so I planted six of them. (My husband snagged one of the cloves before I could put it in the ground. There was a discussion.) The plants were bigger and the scapes were bigger…and earlier.

Since garlic is the first crop I finish growing, I use that bed for my winter garden. And, even though it’s still July, it is time to start preparing for that. Which means it’s time to harvest the garlic. They were all done making scapes and the leaves were starting to turn yellow, so it was time. I spent a few days this week using my birthday present garden fork to loosen them and pull them up. Oh boy! I reckon I got around 60 heads of my regular garlic this year. And almost every head is big and full. That is probably more than we will need, but enough to make lots of garlic olive oil. And the six cloves of the ‘Hood’ garlic made six beautiful heads.

“Regular” Garlic Harvest. Just look at those heads!
‘Hood’ Garlic. That’s my foot for comparison

We still have quite a bit of garlic left from last year, so we are in no hurry to eat it. I bundled them up and tied them with hay string. They are hanging in the garden shed until they have finished curing. Then I’ll clean them up, clip off the leaves and stalk, and choose the cloves for next year’s crop. The rest will come into the house to make all number of garlic yummies. I like to put garlic in almost everything. Well, probably not chocolate chip cookies. What do you use garlic for?

Two Things I Wish My Mother had Taught Me

My mom was a single working woman. She did not have a lot of time. Generally dinner was something thrown under the broiler like a hamburger patty or a piece of fish with chopped iceberg and tomato. Nothing wrong with that and it got dinner on the table pretty quickly.

However, there are two cooking skills that I wish I had known growing up: making a white sauce and roasting vegetables. After a decidedly unscientific poll, it appears that most moms of that era didn’t do those things. It was the 60s and 70s, and exciting food was Hamburger Helper. Since white sauce is one of the French “Mother Sauces,” white sauce had definitely been around. But not in any of the homes I frequented.

Back when my boys were little and we were living on one teacher’s salary, I pinched my pennies so hard they squeaked. I used the calendars in Woman’s Day magazine to give me meal planning inspiration. (I really miss those calendars.) One time the suggestion was Shrimp Alfredo. I didn’t want to spend the money to buy the alfredo sauce in jars at the grocery store. It was more than I felt we could afford. So, I looked up how to make it. Turns out it is just a white sauce with Parmesan cheese. Since white sauce is made with fat (usually butter), flour, and milk or cream, it is not terribly expensive to make. And it’s very easy and quick as well. I first made it with shell pasta and made a dish we call “Shrimp & Shells.” Still a family favorite. I soon figured out just how handy that process is. If you add chicken broth instead of milk, you have cream of chicken soup base. Tomato sauce gives you tomato soup. The possibilities are as endless as the number of liquids you can try.

So how do you make a white sauce? Here’s my “recipe:”

Simple White Sauce

Ingredients:
2 Tbsp Butter
2 Tbsp Flour
1 cup milk
Salt and garlic to taste

Melt butter in saucepan. Add garlic, if using. Whisk in flour, continuing for a few minutes until it no longer has a raw flour taste. (This is called a roux, and you can add a richer flavor if you cook it until it’s brown-ish. Of course, then you won’t have a white sauce.) Add salt to taste.

This is a medium white sauce. You can make it thicker or thinner by adjust the ratio of roux to liquid.

The other cooking technique my mother (and her peers) didn’t seem to know is roasting vegetables. Most of the vegetable we ate came from a can (except for the lettuce and tomatoes mentioned above). Not exactly ideal for turning kids on to the taste of vegetables. But roasting…..oh my. So. Good. I came across a recipe for roasting cauliflower and then drizzling it with honey. It was really good, but I soon discovered that it really didn’t need to honey. The roasting process caramelizes the sugar in the vegetables and gives them such amazing flavor. From there I started experimenting with all sorts of vegetables. Broccoli? Yes, please. Kale? Yep? Onions? Oh, yes, especially leeks. Asparagus? Every night if possible. It’s SO easy. Here’s how:

Roasted Vegetables:

Heat oven to 450 degrees F. You can put your sheet pan in the oven to heat too if you want. It does help, but it’s not absolutely crucial. Mix your veggies with some oil of choice. (I use olive oil or duck fat if I can find it.) Salt to your taste. Spread vegetables out of baking sheet, being careful to give each piece some room. (Otherwise they will steam and not roast.) How long depends on the vegetable (Asparagus takes only a few minutes. Cauliflower can take 20 minutes.) and how big the pieces are. About halfway through, flip the vegetables over. The part on the bottom will have developed a nice caramelly brown color and such good flavor.

These days, I’ve taken to roasting them in the Air Fryer. I do everything the same, although the vegetables are not spread out. It takes less energy, a little less time, and doesn’t heat up your kitchen in the summer.

So, give these a try. I bet you will find something new you really like. And you will expand your cooking options easily.

Reclaiming Beauty

Many years ago a friend and I drove up the Oregon Coast stopping at every nursery along the way. One of the was The Bramble and the Rose in Yachats. It was not like any nursery I had ever been to. Ducks and chickens ranged freely around the grounds. The beds were haphazard and messy. It looked every bit like the hippy garden that it was. But I am sucker for a rose, especially one with fragrance. So I bought a miniature called ‘Pink Bells.”

When I got it home, it’s fragrance seemed to have disappeared. Strange, but perhaps all the other roses at the nursery had given me the illusion of fragrance. However, I am not one to waste something I spent money on. So I planted it at the base of our lilac. Then I learned that, although the blooms and leaves are petite, it is not really a miniature. It is a climber. And it climbed up our lilac bush.

Lilacs are beautiful, but they only bloom for a short period of time. And here was this rose which bloomed all summer climbing up the flowerless branches. So pretty.

Former glory

I was thrilled. It was pretty and had the quality I liked most in such things: I didn’t have to do anything to make it happen. It was a bit of serendipity.

But then two years ago, we had a series of storms move through our area, dropping LOTS of rain, making the ground quite soggy. Then a wind storm blew through, knocking the rose-covered lilac over and breaking off several limbs. I needed to prune the rose down to the ground in order to pull the lilac back to semi-vertical. My husband had to drive a t-post into the ground to stake the lilac because it would not stay put. And I waited for the rose to work its magic again.

And waited. And waited. Instead of climbing up the lilac, it sprawled on the ground and into the walkway. Still I hoped. But something needed to be done because it was being quite aggressive at snagging clothing as people walked by.

So finally I gave up hope and took things into my own hands. I pruned it severely again, doing my best to train it in the direction of the lilac and not the path. I snipped smaller bits off near the lilac. I wound the remaining canes around the lilac’s branches. I’m not sure if it will ever reclaim its previous glory, but I’m giving it a try.

I’m probably going to have to keep after it to train the rose. I don’t think I can be lucky enough to have something so beautiful happen on its own twice. But I’m determined.

How I Organize My Seeds

Lately I have been seeing several blog posts and YouTube videos about how people store and organize their seeds. Quite honestly, they all seemed expensive and more complicated than I wanted. I like to have something that is cheap and works with my brain. Those do not always go together, but this time they do.

First up is my Garden Checklist. I have read many recommended lists for what to do when in my garden. Some worked for where I live and what I like to grow, some work sort of, some are very specific, and some didn’t work at all. Add in variations in the weather, and it gets tricky to know what to do when. So I kept notes of what worked and what didn’t. Then I created a “schedule” of what jobs to do. I set the tasks by week, so that I have some flexibility. I can always change things up if the weather doesn’t cooperate. The tasks are still listed so I don’t forget them when I have to postpone. If you have ADD like me, you will understand that. I used to use a pocket calendar that I got for free and created it anew every year. The last few years, those calendars seem to have disappeared. I created a document on my computer, printed it out, covered it in clear plastic, and stapled it on the crease. It was a little tricky to get the pages back-to-back, but eventually I did. Now I know when I’m targeting getting each job done and check it off with a dry erase marker.

There are lots of ways to organize seeds. You might organize them by type, with all your squash together. Other people like to organize them alphabetically. I organize then by the month I will be using them. Each month is held together with a rubber band with an index card with the month written on it. May is pretty fat.

Then I put the packets in a zip-loc bag, which you can see no longer zips. I seem to keep adding seeds to my collections. I may have a sickness. I do toss some of those little packets that absorb moisture. I got them from some shoes I bought. Between that and storing them in the refrigerator, my seeds last quite a few years.

It’s a weird little system. It doesn’t look particularly good. But it works for my brain. Maybe it will work for yours.

Back at it.

Last June my bonus daughter Shawna gave me a sweatshirt with the caption “Homebody.” Absolutely perfect. Which is weird because I am a serious extravert. I love being around people. But I love being home puttering and doing my “stuff.” Retirement has been wonderful for that. I spend time in the garden every day. I’m getting some more housework done. I’m baking. I’m even organizing my craft room.

I had planned on being available to be a substitute teacher. I really like teaching. But the governor decided to reinstate the mask mandate. Teaching in a mask is really hard. Doing anything in a mask is hard, but teaching is REALLY hard. So, I decided to wait to sub until I didn’t need to wear a mask. And you know what? It was great. I didn’t even miss teaching. I was just as happy as can be being home with weekly trips into town.

And then the school called me. A teacher needed to take four weeks off because his wife has cancer. If everything goes well, he will be back after the four weeks. I really didn’t want to put my mask back on, but I prayed about it. The Lord reminded me that one of my values is “People first.” The wife is a marvelous person who would do just about anything for me. So, I said yes.

I started last week. I went in Monday and observed the teacher. It was the first day of the grading period, so I learned quite a few of his rules and routines. Then I taught the rest of the week. It was so fun. I really enjoyed reconnecting with former colleagues and students. Many of the students made a point of telling me they were glad I was back. Turns out that I haven’t lost my teaching “touch.”

The four weeks is shared between myself and another substitute. This week is her week; next week is mine. That is just about perfect. I get to be back in the classroom enjoying kids. And I get time to recover because teaching makes me tired.

Will I continue to be available to sub even if I have to wear a mask? I really don’t know. I’m leaning toward yes. But I don’t want to tell them I’m available. I rather like just being home!

Apple Time

One of the first things we did when we moved to our property was plant fruit trees. And then we didn’t water them. Somehow we missed the information that it’s super important to water fruit trees for their first year. So it too a LONG time for them to mature. But they are mature now!

One tree

We did carefully label each tree. And then a storm came through and blew all the labels away. Which means we have no idea what varieties we have. All I can say is that they are all good.

This year we are having a fabulous crop. Every morning Dan comes back in with a bagful he has gathered while Bo is doing his morning business. And they are lovely. And tasty.

A perfect apple. It was hard to not take a big bite!

We have an abundance. But what to do with all of these apples? Despite making several crisps, batches of applesauce, gallons of frozen apple slices, we still have an embarrassing richness of apples. We are planning on borrowing a press from some friends. (We traded firewood for use of the press.) That will take care of a bunch of them.

But we are also wanting to eat our apples later in the year, so we don’t have to buy apples from the store. Seems kind of silly when we have so many. I researched how to store apples and the best information I found that would work for us is to individually wrap each apple and store them somewhere cool. But, we don’t know which apples are keepers and which are not. It’s a problem. Dan decided that the tree in the picture above seems like a good keeper. I’m not sure what he is basing that on, but sure, why not!

I picked the apples the other day. One of the advantages of stunted trees is that you can reach all the apples. Some of them had been pecked by birds (Grrr) with ants moving into the wounds. Those are still quite edible, but not for keeping.

Great for eating. Storing, not so much.

I cut newspaper into quarter pages and carefully wrapped each intact apple. Then they were gently placed in a box to avoid bruising. They will live in our garage and then into the fridge we keep out there. Will it work? I do not know. But we’ll check each month to see. Either it will work or it won’t. But it’s worth the experiment.

Ready to store
My “helper”

My “Helper”

Growing up, I mostly had cats. Fluffy (I was three, don’t judge.), Mimi, Charlie, as well as several strays that lived with us for awhile and then…strayed. I only had two dogs. I don’t even remember their names. In my defense, I didn’t have either of them very long.

First was a little blonde puppy. I think it was a lab mix, but maybe a cockapoo. ( I know those are totally different.) We kept him in the back yard. One day he got out of the back yard, ran out into the busy street we lived on, got hit and ran back into the backyard to die. I don’t think I had him for even a week.

The second was a poodle with papers. What were my parents thinking! This dog also ran out into the street, possibly getting hit by a car. Instead of running into the back yard, he ran under a parked car. The driver of the car stopped and it became quite a show trying to coax this brown poodle out from under the car at night. My mom reached under and could touch him, but not grab him. When she brought her hand out, it was covered in blood. Not a good sign. I don’t remember how, but eventually the dog came out from under the car. He didn’t have any apparent injuries. When we washed off Mom’s hand, we discovered it was her blood because he had bit her. I’m not sure what happened to that dog, but he wasn’t around any more.

I grew up with my cats and got married to a dog person. He tolerated my cats, but always really wanted a dog. We had a few dogs over the years. Muttsy the basset hound/chow mix. Yes, she looked as crazy as that sounds. She had severe separation anxiety and howled the entire time we were gone. Then we got Annie from some neighbors who were moving to a place that would not be good for her. She was a sweet border collie/lab mix. However, the neighbors let her into their house and fed her. They even bathed her when she got sprayed by a skunk. Eventually she just sort of became their dog. Later we adopted Bonnie from the local shelter. Bonnie was a German shepherd/Australian shepherd mix. She sang and smiled, which to people who didn’t know her, looked a lot like baring her teeth. She didn’t bite; she would lean on you. Unfortunately, one morning she started bleeding internally for unknown reasons. By the time we could get her to the vet, she died.

For several years we were dogless. I like shelter dogs and would have happily got another one. But Dan had his heart set on getting a puppy. (So he could train it properly.) And he wanted a lab. That means a lot of time and effort and when he was working full-time, he just didn’t have much of either of those left over at the end of the day. And then he retired. Perfect time to get that puppy.

He spent quite awhile looking for just the right dog to be his “buddy.” It took over a year, but two of my students’ (siblings) dog was having puppies. She is a lab and so is the father, so just what Dan wanted. We got the last puppy available. So a little over a year and a half ago, Bo came to live with us. He was so cute.

Isn’t he cute!

Even though he is over a year and a half old, Bo is still a puppy. A 75 pound puppy. His disposition is sweet and he truly wants to please. But he is a puppy.

He loves to “help” me in the garden. Mostly that involves digging and grabbing my gloves and utensils. To be fair, I do appreciate the digging when I’m harvesting potatoes. Not so much when I’m just needing to pull out a single weed. He knows that he is not supposed to steal things, but it is just too fun for him. He prances around with the item in his mouth, daring us to chase him. With only two legs, we are hopeless at catching him. I usually have to resort to some sort of trick to get my item back. Often that involves his squeaky ball. He loves squeaky toys, but has pulled the squeaker out of all of them…except his ball. So it is still a major treat. But even then I have to be quick to get my tool back. Last week, he very carefully picked up my spool of drip irrigation line. In all his prancing, I don’t think he managed to make any more emitters than were already there. Yesterday I was chopping and dropping weeds and couldn’t find my garden scissors. Sure enough, there they were in Bo’s mouth.

He was quite proud of his new acquisition.

As Shel Silverstein said, “Some kind of help is the kind of help that helping is all about. And some kind of help is the kind of help we can all do without.”

I Love You Man!

A little over a week ago, my husband Dan and I celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary. When we got married, we agreed that divorce was not ever going to be an option. And it hasn’t been.

That is mostly due to my wisdom in choosing him to be my husband. Dan is pretty fabulous.

He makes me laugh every day. He is hilarious and has a funny way of looking at the world. I once read a study that said that adults rarely laugh. I don’t know who those adults are, because I laugh hard every day because he has said something hilarious.

He has a real servant’s heart. It truly is a joy for him to do things for me. Every Saturday morning he makes waffles for me. And on Sunday after church, he makes grilled cheese for lunch. For the first several years of our marriage, he did all the cooking. Two days ago he loaded up the kayak for me and drove me to the lake to help me put it in. Then he bought groceries while I was paddling. If I am having trouble with something, he will often step in and help me with no complaining. He wants to make my life easy.

Dan and his puppy Bo. After years of my having cats, he finally got a dog for him.

When we had our first child, we had planned on my going back to work. But after Jacob was born, the idea of being a mom and being a teacher at the same time was overwhelming to me. His suggestion was that I stay home, so I did. But he still made dinner every night after working all day. I decided that was probably not fair, so I just started making dinner. His response? “Where is my wife and what have you done with her?”

I did work part-time as a substitute teacher, which I really did enjoy. But our babysitter moved away just before Henry was born. I started looking for a replacement, but was having a hard time. Dan suggested that he would appreciate my being home full time. And so I did. I did make a point of saving money everywhere I could to accommodate out lower income. Understand that, although he was an excellent teacher, Dan did not particularly enjoy doing it. But he went every day to provide support for me and the boys.

We are currently living our dream of owning property and having a “homestead.” It truly is wonderful. But what is not wonderful is our water system using a spring. The water is delicious, but it takes a huge amount of work to keep it running. Although he is getting older and it is getting harder for him to dig it out and provide water for our home and garden, he still does it. When I forget to set the timer when I’m watering and run the 1500 gallon cistern dry, he doesn’t get mad. He fixes it, which is a major pain.

All of those things are wonderful. But the most wonderful thing is how he has put up with me. For most of our marriage, I have struggled with my mental health. I was not always reasonable. I knew it, but was powerless to be different. There were arguments that happened because I was struggling with my OCD and depression. Most men wouldn’t have put up with it. But he did because he loved me and had made a commitment. And above all else, he is a man of his word.

So here’s to you Dan Gray. You are amazing. I’m so glad that we got married 39 years ago.

Making Liqueur From the Land

So, I’m always trying something new. Recently I watched a video on a new YouTube channel called Parkrose Hausfrau on making berry liqueur. We have berries. So, of course, that meant that I had to make some.

But… I couldn’t just stop there. I had to branch out and experiment because new things. Our apple trees are really producing, and we need to do something with them. So I went to the liquor store. (In Oregon you can only buy hard liquor at the state approved liquor store. Don’t ask me why. I do not know. I just know that it seems weird to me to buy vodka in a grocery store like you can in Washington.) I bought the cheapest vodka and brandy they had. Angela on the video said that’s what I should do.

I chopped up the apples, put them in a quart jar and covered them with brandy. I also picked blackberries with Bo (our lab who LOVES to pick and eat all berries). A couple of days after I did the apples, I did the berries. Then I was outside and realized that I had a LOT of mint that I had not good use for. We drink a lot of hot chocolate, especially with mint liqueur. Could I make some of that? I didn’t know, but it was worth a try.

That was two weeks ago. Today I strained the apple brandy and covered the apple pieces with sugar. I will let them macerate for a couple of weeks, and then strain again. That will be followed by more sugar for two more weeks. Then it will be done. And good. I hope. I did taste it today and it had mellowed considerably, so I have some hope.

I will follow the same procedure with the berries. Since they are a couple of days behind, I haven’t done that yet. After much thought and discussion, it has been determined that I won’t sugar the mint. Otherwise it might taste like cough syrup. It might still taste like cough syrup. Who knows. That’s how experiments work.