Meal Planning

It’s been raw and rainy over the last 24 hours.  I braved the rain last night to head to the garden, where tomatoes are still ripening, albeit not for much longer.  We haven’t had a freeze yet, but the average temperatures have been dropping week over week, so by next weekend I’ll need to clean out the garden completely.    I’ve been holding out because the tomatillos are still producing, and I am getting Sungold and San Marzano tomatoes consistently.   The Mexican Torch Sunflowers are still in bloom as well, defying every reasonable expectation for summer flowers.  IMG_1586

Nonetheless, after another batch or two of sauce, it will be time to close up shop for the winter, pulling vines, raking, and rearranging the bricks.

I’d like to finish the garden fence as well, assuming we can before it gets too cold.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll wrap our baby fruit trees in fleece jackets for the winter, clean up the yard, and start battening down the hatches for cold weather.

We still haven’t been apple picking, so we’ll squeeze that in on Sunday, but a few local, fresh apples have worked their way into our last few weeks of the CSA, as have winter squash, so tonight we’ll be working our way through a batch of Apple and Brie soup with Pumpkin Granola, along with a salad, fresh bread, and a roasted chicken for the kids

We’ve been lucky over the last several days to enjoy deliciously warm fires in the wood stove.  After we bank the fire for the night with one final log, we close the door to the living room, and in the morning the room is still cozy warm.   We invested in some new log racks this year, and we can now store all our wood on the porch and in the house, which makes fires so much easier.

We’ve taken another step towards local food here – starting next month we’ll see monthly deliveries from Walden Local Meat , key to our efforts to reduce our food miles, control meat intake a little bit better, and stop eating quite so much residual plastic.  While the $207 each month for 10 or 11 pounds of meat, another couple pounds of local fish and ground beef and bacon added in is a large chunk of our grocery budget, I expect it will be offset by us not having to think about running to the store for ingredients.  I’ve ordered our Christmas Turkey as well, ensuring our holiday dinner is taken care of with a click of my mouse.

Which gets me to the really important point.  While I love to make new recipes, and I keep lots of ingredients on hand so that we can eat a variety of food, most of the meals here are based on what we might have on hand.  I have a lot of Salsa Verde and chicken, so Enchiladas Verdes are going to be on the menu every couple of weeks.   I turned a roaster chicken into Chicken Soup with Rice last night, adding popovers for a quick and easy side.  I buy flour in 25-lb quantities so that we always have baking ingredients around, and of course we always have plenty of eggs now.

I know I have about two weeks of lettuce and tomatoes for salads before they are replaced by roasted vegetables baking in the oven once or twice a week, or cold-weather greens like spinach.

So what does a menu plan here look like?  Well, it’s flexible – we might get busy and a labor-intensive meal gets pushed for something similar.  What have we had a lot of lately, and do we need a break from repetition?  What needs to be used up?  We have a few bananas past their prime, so banana bread or muffins.  We also have a pileup of root veggies, so a roasting pan full on Sunday night is probably just the thing.

What kind of time do we have?  If there’s lots of commitments, we might make something simple, like Rosemary Ranch Chicken, or if there’s lots of time I might make something more intricate.
Also key are kid requests – no matter what’s in season, we periodically spend the time chopping and prepping for Taco Night, complete with homemade guacamole, because, well – it’s always a hit.  The key here is not to over-plan, but to constantly assess who’s eating, what’s around, and whether everyone has a good appetite.

Here’s our meal plan for this weekend:

Friday Night: Chicken Soup with Rice, Popovers, Salad

Saturday: Eggs and Bacon for Breakfast, lunch out or whatever’s available, dinner Apple Brie Soup with Pumpkin Granola, Salad, Bread, Chicken

Sunday: I’ll get up and bake – banana muffins to go with scrambled eggs or something similar.  Lunch will be leftovers, and dinner will be roasted veggies and some kind of grilled meat, maybe turkey burgers, which are always a hit.

Simple Roasted Veggies:

Cut up a variety of root veggies – mushrooms, onions, beets, carrots, leeks, sweet potatoes, turnips – whatever you have.
Drizzle with olive oil, salt and balsamic vinegar
Bake at 375 for approximately 4 hours, occasionally turning.  Remove foil after 2 hours

Veggies will caramelize with the oil and balsamic vinegar.  Make enough for leftovers.

Monday: This is a holiday here, and the kids head to their Dad’s after breakfast.  Dad just bought a new house, so the kids are excited to go set up their rooms.  We’ll probably make pancakes or waffles for breakfast, have leftovers again for lunch, and dinner will be something Eli and I enjoy, like Grilled Scallops with Salsa Verde and Salad, along with leftover roast veggies.

Happy Eating!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living In Two Seasons

IMG_1539Winter on the farmlet is peaceful.  We do less, generally, and relax more.  But in the months leading up to winter, there’s a lot to do, so it’s best to start early and space everything out.  In this place, we live in two seasons simultaneously,

In the garden,  the gorgeous – and enormous – stalks of Mexican Torch Sunflowers continue to bloom.  These were a surprise, the only variety of sunflower that took root in the garden, out of the several types I planted.  While they have dwarfed the fig tree they grow around, it seems to be alright under there.  Butterflies seem to love them, so they will make a reappearance next year, although maybe next time I’ll give the fig some space.

I’ve got a few more weeks of tomatoes, and my Tomatillos are just starting to get ripe, so I have a bit more canning to do, but that too, is winding down.  The rest of the pumpkins are almost ready too, and I’ll probably see a few more peppers as well.  By around October 15th, I’ll be pulling out plants and prepping for next year.  I love to garden, but I equally love putting the garden to bed for the season, just as much a pleasurable part of the rhythm of the year here as planting and harvesting.  There’s a satisfaction in getting things ready for the next round.

This year that means we need to cut back and prune the overgrown raspberries, which have started to take over more than their share of the yard.  I never did get to dividing irises and peonies, so that will have to be done next year.  All over, it’s time to prune back the summer growth.

The chimney sweeps were here latst week, and a half a cord of seasoned firewood will arrive on Friday.  The last chore in winter heating is furnace burner cleaning before we flick it on for the season.  We can only supplement our heat with the wood stove, but it keeps the living room nice and cozy.

The bunnies will – when it gets good and cold, get a tarp over their hutch and run.  I’ve tried a few options for insulation for them over the years, and that seems to be the simplest to keep them safe from wind and weather.  We bring them in for a night or two if the weather gets dangerously cold, but generally they stay where they are.

We’ll keep cleaning the chicken coop as long as we can into the winter, and they will get a heat lamp and an electric waterer that keeps everything from freezing.  Eventually though, we have to let it be until spring, other than surface cleans.  Extra pine shavings laid down every few weeks help, but it gets hard to clean in the coldest weather.

I will also fill the freezer so that we don’t have to go out when the weather is bad.  I’ve got a few months to do it.  It’s interesting, always living in the now and 3 months ahead, but it’s the only way I ever want to be.  When I’m blanching and freezing kale in June, or canning tomatoes in August, it’s an investment in the future.   I’m ready for chilly nights, and when they come, I’ll be daydreaming about the next garden….

 

 

 

Preparing for Autumn

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The weather turned chilly at the end of last month, and the nights have stayed that way.  Slowly the trees are turning from green to orange and red.  The smallish people have started to adjust to school, the fall raspberries are ripening, and hoodies are becoming standard morning attire.

Fall is most definitely coming.  I see it in the way the vines and tomato plants are dying down, as I rush to harvest the last of the Sungold tomatoes, our favorites.  The San Marzano tomatoes are ripening as well, and they are the best for sauce.  Tickets for our fair are on sale, and extra blankets are back in use.

Now that the wedding is over, Eli and I have turned our attention to preparing for the cold weather.  The chimney sweeps come next week to make sure the wood stove is clean and safe, and wood needs to be ordered.  Tomatoes still need to be canned, the rest of the basil needs to be turned into Pesto and frozen, and there’s Tomatillos to turn into Salsa Verde, so this weekend, in and around our usual things, is a canning weekend.  I’ve got the first 2 batches done, and there’s more to come.

We have 4 pumpkins ripening in the garden,  plus one white one that has already taken up residence on the porch.  4 more is enough for Halloween and some roasted pumpkin dishes besides, although we’ll probably let the kids do the pumkin patch thing – the rule for us is that you can pick a pumpkin as big as you can carry.  One of ours will hopefully be put aside for my favorite Christmas side dish, the wildly indulgent Dorie Greenspan recipe for Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good.

Over the next few weeks, air conditioners need to be pulled out of windows, and we need to finally finish the garden fence and gate before we tuck the garden in for the winter.  All this work will allow us to settle into the holidays and then winter, and relax.

Which is good because we’re ready for the pace of things to slow down a bit.  This year has been a busy one, full of projects and changes, and when we take stock, Eli and I are both proud of what we’ve accomplished and also just, well, really tired.

Tonight is a repeat performance of Chicken Souvlaki Bowls – it’s grey, rainy and chilly out, so we’ll enjoy sitting inside, with some of the last of the season’s sunflowers to keep us company.  Summer has a few days yet, and we are going to relish them all, but look forward to more chilly nights and warm days to come.

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August Food

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I admit it – as much as I love summer, love salads with fresh lettuce from our CSA, love making pickles and picking berries, and love getting away to the mountains as we do every year, I’m ready for fall.  Which means on some level, my garden enthusiasm for the year is starting to slowly wane.  It’s funny, I get like this every year just as the preserving, which I truly enjoy, ramps up.  It’s as though I know if I power through a few more weeks of Salsa Verde, Oven-canned tomatoes, and homemade salsa, I can start to rest on the literal fruits of my labors.

Of course, there’s the garden clean up to do in late fall, and this year we finally need to finish that last fence section, but in about 6 weeks the only thing left to do will be to pick the last pumpkins and squash and put the garden to bed for the winter.

I finished off the pickle making with one last batch of the bread and butter type.
We have enough pickles to put jars on every table at the wedding, and plenty for us as well.  There’s more pesto, to make,  of course.  Canning tomatoes and tomatillos is coming, but not quite yet – our harvest is increasing by the day but the volumes aren’t there yet.  I am ready for chilly nights, pumpkins on the porch, and no more weeding.  I want roasted vegetables, a pot of soup on the stove, and lazy weekend mornings followed by apple picking.  I want to be able to put on a pair of jeans without them sticking to my skin, and a pair of boots.

I love the 4 seasons.  I used to think I hated winter, but then I moved to South Florida for a couple years and while I loved so much about it – Florida is so much more than Disney and hot – it wasn’t home.  Since then I’ve come to like winter – the stillness of it, the softness of falling snow, even the ice.  I work from home more than half the time, which makes it easier – when the weather is bad I don’t have anywhere I need to be, and if I’m traveling, it’s hotels and no shoveling.  Winter is peaceful.  We don’t rush off to ski every weekend – I don’t ski at all – and often the most exciting thing to do, other than training runs for me, is to plan what’s for dinner.

Spring is exciting – there’s seeds to plant and outside to be excited about. Every time the first of our crocuses bloom, I get a thrill.  I still remember the first year here, watching the gardens unfold into flowers and greens.  That excitement never changes, nor does my optimism about my gardens.

But fall is by far my favorite season, with all it’s New England-y assets.  There’s the colors of the leaves, and the crunch of the way they feel under my feet.  There’s hot apple cider with cinnamon sticks.  The way the air smells, clean and crisp.  For us, there’s the Topsfield Fair, which for 10 days in October every year turns our town into candy apple-covered mob scene, complete with giant pumpkin contests and fried whatever-on-a-stick.

The garden will wind down , the wedding and all it’s associated planning and projects will be over, and once the fair comes to an end, there’s nothing other than starting to get ready for winter to be done.  For us that’s firewood delivery – we’ve used up most of the viable firewood the previous owner left us, insulating windows and doors, and making sure storm windows are ready.  A brand-new firewood rack for the porch should be here soon too, something we’ve been needing to get for a bit now.

For today though, sunflowers are in bloom at the farms nearby and the temperature hit a high of 89 degrees – it’s hard to imagine being cold again.  The idea of no fresh-picked salads, no sweet corn, no roadside farm stands is almost impossible to contemplate.  I want the fresh food to linger while the days cool, an impossible feat.

That said, I’m hearing small complaints of boredom with the grilled-chicken-and-salad-with-side-of-corn-on-the-cob repetition, which are probably the smallish people’s way of communicating their readiness for a change in seasons as well, or maybe just Mom’s lack of inventiveness on the subject of dinner.  So tomorrow we are having taco night, complete with Instant Pot Carnitas, homemade guacamole, and all the toppings.  I know when my ratings are dropping, and clearly, action is required.

Still, we’re in the home stretch of summer, and I might throw in some grilled corn just because I can.

 

 

 

Late Summer Delicacies

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This evening my daughter is off to a wedding with her father and grandparents, and my son stayed behind with Eli and I – he’s a little young as an attendee for evening weddings yet, and mostly happier to be left behind.

He dug his own little garden and planted, telling me that while he’s not sure yet he wants to be a gardener, he might be so he’s giving it a try.  And maybe we’ll get some late season flowers and wax beans as a result, which never hurts.

I spent most of the afternoon in the kitchen, canning and preserving.  Pesto, pickles, and a start at tackling the bounty from our trip to pick blackberries, which typically ripen around now, just in time for my birthday.   I’m not quite sure yet what we’ll do with the ones we don’t freeze, but I’m leaning towards Blackberry Financiers, which are a favorite and store and freeze well, for a summery treat in the cold and dark of winter.   I have some wild Maine blueberries too – the net of this is that in and around the tasks we have in the final 12 days leading up to our wedding, there’s a lot of food to put up.

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Which is why lunch was a simple arrangement of tomatoes and cucumbers from the CSA, basil from the front yard, and red pepper and feta spread with mozzerella from the farm we picked the blackberries at. Simple, tasty and absolutely beautiful, as summer food should be.

Dinner was slightly more involved, but only slightly – Rosemary Ranch Chicken, fresh corn, couscous and salad, but still one of those fresh summer meals that fills without leaving you feeling too full.  I’m sitting and listening to the cricket chorus, and our sunflowers are in full bloom, both sure signs that summer is coming to an end.

We are just a few days away from the wedding, and deep in the throes of both house projects and of food preservation for the summer.  So far we’ve put up several kinds of berries and made pesto and canned pickles – both the bread and butter and dill kind – and blanched and frozen kale.  The tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos are just starting to ripen, which means September weekends will be filled with sauce-making and salsa verde.

Summer meals are best when light, leaving the intracacies of cooking for the colder months.  Eli is always ready to grill, and we have a salad to complement our meal most nights.

Summer is, when done right,  is easy and delicious.  Soon it will end, and with that ending comes the chilly nights and more complex meals and flavors – curries, roasts, soups and root vegetables.  But for now, I’m grateful for the bounty of the season, for the pleasure of picking my Sungold tomatoes for the season and adding them to our butter lettuce from the CSA.  This is the time of year where everything is delectable, right outside the door, and for far too short a time, readily available.  I love all the seasons, but I will miss the summer lettuces and cucumbers, even when I happily trade them for squash and pumpkins.

For now though, I am reveling in the bounty that our warm season brings.  I hope you are as well.

 

Pickle Time

 

It’s a sleepy, IMG_1034 (1)chilly morning here already – 54 degrees, which is a little odd for August.  It almost feels like fall is arriving early, but this is New England, so we’ll likely get a heat wave soon.

It’s been a while – not because I was too busy (although I was pretty busy) or because I ran out of things to say, which I do once in a while, but because just as life was humming along with the final wedding details being ironed out, the downstairs bathroom renovation moving along, and the garden starting to produce tomatoes, my computer died.   And died just as I was about to kick off nearly 4 weeks of nonstop travel, which made the shopping for a new one a bit complicated.

While losing my computer for a few weeks wasn’t the end of the world – I have other electronics – it was beyond irritating, not in the least because it was yet another unplanned expense.  But today I finally made the time to sneak out and acquire my fabulous new HP Chromebook, and I am already in love.  I carry my laptop everywhere, and this one is going to be a pleasure to use every day.

So let’s see…where was I before all of that?

The garden is once again a jungle, this time of tomato plants, rather than the squash run amok from last year.  Sungolds are ripening, and this year, having trained the squashes and pumpkins up, they are not the majority of the chaos.  I planted a lot of tomatoes, and I think in a few weeks I may begin to regret that.

But despite that and all the busy, this year I’m making more time to preserve the fruits of my – and the CSA’s – labor.  The first of our endeavors was to freeze strawberries and raspberries that we had picked, but the more labor-intensive but utterly worth it effort was put into making bread and butter pickles, which are a favorite of mine.  Our CSA has had several weeks of all-you-can-fit-in-your-bag pickling cucumbers, and I’m taking advantage.

The key for pickles is the prep.  Salting and soaking the cukes, making the brine, prepping the jars.  Other than just setting the expectation that you’ll get a few dish towels messy while ladling the cucumbers into the jars, and you really do need a jar lifter so you don’t burn yourself,

It will take about 2 hours from start to finish to make 5-6 quarts, but in the end you will have the best pickles you have ever tasted.

I learned from my neighbors that pickle crisping additives can be replaced by putting a single grape leaf at the bottom of each jar.  Since they happen to have mature grapevines and don’t mind when I crib a few leaves here and there, I availed myself of them.  That said, there’s plenty on the market if you don’t happen to have neighbors with grapevines.

Today I’m on to dill pickles – I like this recipe from Practical Self Reliance, but there’s a lot of good ones out there.  The key for dill is to use pint jars and make sure you are using a recipe meant for canning.

Canning your own food is not scary.  I repeat, not scary.  Anyone can do it, I promise.  And when you are done you will have the best

You need:

Jars
Jar lifters
Couple dish towels
Wet towel for wiping off the rims of the jars
Big pot of water
Recipe for pickles (or whatever)

That’s it.  Add to that a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon, and you will have deliciousness to eat and give away.  And here’s the great news – you can often find jars free (get the lids and bands new) and once you have them, reuse them.  This can be a cheap, and tasty, hobby.

Happy pickling!

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Summer Bounty

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I woke up this morning a little too early, with morning rain rolling in.  The kids have been with their grandparents this week, but they are finally due home later today.  It’s a mellow week – I work for a few days, then we’re off to the mountains for a bit.

The combination of rain every few days combined with sun means the gardens are growing and everything is lush and beautiful.  The chickens are let out most days to perform one of the most critical jobs on the farmlet – eating ticks and other bugs.  Deer ticks are a huge problem here in Massachusetts, and chickens are one of the best defenses for our little space.  They view them as nothing so much as tasty snacks.

Our CSA started up a few weeks ago, and is supplying us with lots of greens.  We are enjoying salads almost nonstop.  My current favorite is a little feta, some lettuce and tomatoes, a sliced-up mango, avocado, and toasted pumpkin seeds.  It’s a really great combination of savory, sweet and sour,  but really any type of salad this time of year will do.

We’ve mostly jettisoned pre-made salad dressing for the simplest and most delicious kind – squeeze one lemon over the salad, add salt, pepper, and olive oil, and toss.  I’m never going back to a bottle of dressing.  Ever.

We’ve also been getting broccoli and kale in enough volume that it’s time to start blanching and freezing it for the cooler weather.  It seems almost ridiculous in June to be planning for winter, but it always comes, and the more food I preserve now, the less we will need then.

The Honey Locust tree is in bloom, dropping waterfalls of  beautiful white flowers all over the driveway.  The blooms last only a few days, but create the sense that driving up to the house is a Hollywood dream sequence, with flowers wafting over you in slow motion.

The garden is growing beautifully, and other than the rabbits that tunnel under the fence a la Peter in Mr. McGregor’s garden to compete for the bounty, we should have an amazing harvest this year.  It’s a late-summer garden, mostly tomatoes and peppers because of the effort to build and finish it, but it’s almost time to add fall greens, and finish the fence and gate.  In the middle sits a small fig tree, planted just a few weeks ago, but starting to leaf.

All in all, we planted 5 fruit trees this year – a Cinnamon Spice apple to replace the one that is dying and needs to be removed (it tastes just like it sounds), a Seckel pear, 2 apricots, one an Iranian variety, and one a Japanese Ume type, and the fig tree in the middle of the garden.  My dwarf cherry didn’t survive the winter, but I will wait until next year to try again on that.  I bought my trees from Trees of Antiquity, started by a preservationist in order to save some of the older, less planted species.  Since preservation is part of what is so important to me here, paying a teensy big extra to know that I’m continuing a line of trees that has grown for hundreds of years makes me smile every time I see the tiny leaves growing on what amounted to little more than sticks with roots when they arrived.

One thing that has been critical in building and preserving this land is amending the soil.  Last year nearly 16 yards of organic compost went into the new garden, and this year I’m adding more everywhere I plant.  The mostly ignored front of the house got some newly-divided daylilies from the Moms, but when I started digging I realized the soil was mostly dust.  A few buckets of compost later, the daylilies are preparing to bloom.

I never grow tired of listening to the rain, especially when I can just sit and enjoy it.  All too often, I sit on Saturday mornings and make a to-do list.  But this morning I decided that despite all the important things that must be done, so too is it important for me to reflect on how far we’ve come since that cold December night when the children and I first arrived.  Not even 3 years yet, and we’ve added so much to this place.  And it keeps adding to us.

I hope your home brings you as much joy as ours does.