Falling into Autumn

You know you are busy when you can’t even stop to write about it, and that’s what happened to me over the last 4 months.  It’s been the good kind of busy, but I do miss having time to think.

Somehow, summer evaporated without a trace while I wasn’t looking.  I am typing this from my kitchen table where just this morning I was drinking coffee to the background hum of the heater under the sink.  It has warmed up since then, but it still feels like winter is arriving quickly.

The garden got away from me this year – I did manage to harvest some cucumbers, tomatoes and squash, but between rain, humidity and my time away, most of it went to waste, which was a shame. The few squash I did grow were monsters though, and today one will become butternut squash and garlic lasagna, as well as some bacon squash bites for a squash-themed dinner next door later on.

The garden got most of the way finished this year, but in just a couple rainy weeks while I was traveling, the butternut squash vines grew to 35+ feet long, obscuring most of the garden under the leaves and blossoms, and only now can I pull out the dying vines and finish the fence and the garden beds.  I’m hoping it’s not too cold over the next few weekends while I work.

 

 

I did get a lot of pesto made and frozen, canned some salsa verde, and today I am blanching and freezing kale and broccoli from our CSA for winter eating.

Peppers and Tomatillos 2018

Blanching kale and broccoli is simple – drop kale leaves, minus the stems into boiling water for 2 minutes.  Cool and dry on towels.  Add to baggies and pop into the freezer for soups, smoothies or stir-fries. Broccoli, same 2 minutes, same process.  You can blanch a large batch of veggies in just a few minutes, so it’s a perfect activity when you are busy.  The kale stems leftover are great snacks for our bunnies, Clover and Marshmallow.

 

But mostly it’s been work, and starting to figure out how to integrate Sithean’s future resident, Eli the Artist, into our lives.  The house as it is will work for 4 for a while, but as wonderful as it is it’s also not a big space, so I hired an architect to help us figure out how we might make the space work for us in the long haul. We’re a ways away from the work, but getting it all lined up while we settle in this winter is a fun project for the whole family.

I love garden season, but I’m excited for fall, the holidays, winter, and a little peace and quiet here and there.  While the pace of life isn’t going to slow down completely, It’s always a little relaxing when I’ve closed the book on outdoor maintenance for the season, and I can focus my attention inward.

Happy Fall.

 

Summer Progress (and Pesto)

Back in the days of the Tudors in England, and even before that, Royalty often left their courts in the summertime to go on ‘progress’, or tours of their kingdoms.  These days, many of us go on summer vacation, the modern day equivalent, dragging our household, coolers, and pets with us.  It’s kind of the same, although less to avoid The Plague and Sweating Sickness, and more to go to the beach or the mountains.

I can’t believe it’s been nearly 2 months.  Since I took a breath, honestly.  Summer was just kicking off the last time I blogged, and now it’s nearly over.  I knew I was going to be busy, but I didn’t quite imagine the level of busy I would be.  In just two months though, I did a few things:

  • Started a consulting company with 2 business partners and started working for our first client, which involves every-other-week travel on my part
  • Finished renovating the guest room and welcomed Helene, our favorite intern ever as a summer resident
  • Spent an all-to brief weekend in Florida
  • Spent significant time on other commitments – more on that later
  • Juggled the needs and schedules of kids, animals, plants and yard with more or less success

When I write, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but it sure took up my days and evenings.

The garden is still patiently waiting to be finished.  I got the 10 yards of dirt handled, and then another 6 were delivered, which are still waiting patiently to be spread.  That will wait another week, but I hope to be done by Labor Day.  I planted tomatoes, dill, basil, cucumbers, watermelons and squash, and the combination of rain, benign neglect,  and compost means it has turned into an un-navigable jungle.  Next year it will be finished, and only need to be planted and staked.

Our CSA, that we split with our neighbors has kept us in fresh veggies where the garden couldn’t.  This week was the first batch of canning tomatoes, and I look forward to getting those preserved for winter.  I’ve managed to blanch and freeze broccoli, and begin to make and freeze a house favorite – pesto.

Next week the kids and I head out to the mountains for a long-planned breather.  We have a routine on this vacation  – rest, hiking, a couple small, local amusement park, maybe a float down the river or some zip lining.  Back to school shopping.  It’s our week to enjoy each other and some downtime.

And then back to life, dirt moving, weeding and pesto-making.  Pesto is simple, delicious, and a tiny container can cost $8 or $10 for the good stuff.  Make batches of your own using my recipe, based on the NY Times basic pesto recipe here, but with a few updates:

Rachael’s Pesto to eat and preserve:

1 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
4 cloves garlic
1 cup grated parmesan
1 tablespoon lemon juice or fresh squeezed lemon
1/4 tsp salt or to taste
4 cups basil leaves

Process all in a blender or food processor until very smooth.  This should give you plenty for dinner and enough to preserve for 3 more meals.  When you pull it out of the freezer in January and open the lid, it will smell like summer.

 

 

What Not To Do

Just as the garden project hit critical in the ‘we have to finish this so we can plant wearesolateohmygoodness’ way, a few other things happened.

I took my individual consulting practice to a new level by starting a consulting firm with 2 amazing partners.  Simultaneously, I accepted a  role with a client that is more like a full-time job, and entails some fairly regular travel.   I began to ramp up for my new role while doing all the work that starting a new company entails, and spending every spare moment trying to jam in garden building, finishing my guest room for our summer intern to stay in, and trying to cram in every kind of appointment and time with my children under the sun before my schedule got compressed.

What that led to was 4 of the busiest weeks I’ve ever had, with days going far into the night.  By the time I got on the plane last Monday afternoon, I was ready to drop.  I got back Friday night and was up at the crack of dawn, back at it.

I do this periodically – or maybe life does this, not sure –  cramming every kind of life change, crisis and work demand into a tiny window of time.  I’m not sure why I don’t spread these things out, but I don’t seem to remember from incidence to incidence that it’s really not ‘she who dies with the most checks on her to-do list wins‘.  Maybe you can relate.

Even though I manage to juggle a lot, the thing I am still learning is what to let go.  There was a time where I thought everything, everything had to be cooked from scratch.  I’ve learned the merits of a bag of Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken and some pre-cut vegetables for dinner.   Same for acknowledging that once a year I will clean out my bedroom closet, and then it will slowly degrade until I can get to it again.  No one died when I caved on Pringles.  I can’t do it all alone.  Today I was supposed to have the dirt in the garden spread so I could get another truckload.  The reality is that the pile is halved, there’s 3 garden beds built and planted, and yes, it’s getting done but so is my job, my kids, the animals, the laundry, grocery shopping, cooking….

It’s SO easy to get consumed in life and forget to see the forest for the trees.  Relationships.  Time reading with the kids.  I like to think I have my priorities straight, but I often choose the ‘to-do’ instead of the ‘just be’.

I think we’re all a little like that, to a degree.  I have no words of wisdom on the matter, just that sometimes it’s worth letting the projects go to take silly selfies.

K and I_Home

Garden Dreams Part 2

While the smallish people headed to Maine to open their grandparent’s Moosehead Lake camp with Dad, I headed into the garden this weekend.  The ancient irises have started to bloom – they were a breathtaking surprise last year, in a color scheme I had never seen before, and I have been looking forward to them again since they faded out last July.  I’ve been working on cleaning up the trench bed where they and the peonies live, a task I didn’t get to last year.  It only takes about 6 months for a garden to get overtaken by weeds, and I am removing several years worth.  Reorganizing and restructuring the trench bed, which is a desperately needed task, like so many things here, probably has to be deferred to next year, but I am already starting to make plans.

Irises after the Rain

On Saturday, I also pulled out 4 wheelbarrows filled with debris, rocks, and weeds from the old garden in preparation to till.  Last year gardening season ran very late, with tomatoes, tomatillos and squash still ripening in early November, and I ran out of steam.  Instead of pulling out the old vines, I just opened one side of the wire fence and let the wildlife have at it.  It l left a mess though, and was pretty overdue to clean it up.

My next door neighbor and friend Melissa and I co-garden, share chickens, ducks, and frequent meals and glasses of wine.   Last year we started the garden together somewhat organically, with an offer of help from her father to rototill.  Somehow that became a shared garden space to both of our delight, and this year we sat down to make a plan to make the garden more permanent. Melissa’s husband Jay weighed in to ensure we actually have a plan that will work – which is a critical check on our enthusiasm to just get started and figure things out as we go along –  and helps out when our skills are exceeded by our excitement, which is with reasonable regularity.  Jay has a sixth sense about when to step in and when to let us get on with it.

Because we want this garden to last for many years, we decided to till the space, removing any noticeable  grass, myrtle and weeds, as well as roots and rocks,  before leveling it with added compost – 8 yards of it will arrive on Tuesday.  Pulling out clumps of grass as Melissa tilled in the rain left me with the realization that I was now living that line from Monty Python’s The Holy Grail “Denis, There’s some lovely filth over here.”

Melissa’s father once again loaned his rototiller, which he bought in 1971 and is still going strong – I have an immense fondness for this particular piece of garden equipment, having created the area where I plant now twice.  It took a while for us to get the hang of it without Melissa’s Dad around to supervise, but eventually we figured out the 47-year- old tiller and got to work.

Melissa and the 47 year old rototiller.jpg

It took just under 3 hours to till and clean out the new garden area, which is now ready for the added dirt, and a fence later this week.

Garden Prime.jpg

It’s a chilly day here, and we were both grateful when it was time to go inside, but so proud of our accomplishment.  It’s getting real, and I can’t wait to see it when it is finished.

Garden Dreams Part 1

It is one of those beautiful not-quite-summer days today.   The last of the lilacs are in full bloom, the air is filled with the perfume of springtime, and the world is verdant and lovely.

Late season Lilacs May 2018

The asparagus is coming to an end, with me letting more and more stalks grow into feathery trees to sustain itself for next year.  Bolted asparagus always reminds me of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree at first, although eventually they feather out like giant ferns.  Asparagus is beautiful long after it is edible.

Asparagus ready to propigateThis week brought another pleasant surprise – my Easter pansies, left out on a few too-cold nights,  have miraculously come back to life.

Pansies.jpg

My neighbor Melissa and I stole out this afternoon for a few hours of work on the garden expansion.  The seedlings are growing out of their trays, and the threat of frost is past, so now we are racing against time.  We had planned to have the new garden built by now, but between weather and life, we’re trying to get everything done before Flag Day.  Even with a child-free long weekend while my kids are away with Dad in Maine, it’s going to be close.   But a fun kind of cutting it close, with a really neat garden at the end of the process.  I have long dreamed of a potager, and it’s within a week or two of becoming a reality.

What’s left of the old garden, minus the gate, was pulled down and we began to measure the new space:

old garden

The new garden will be 42’L by 19’W, with cedar fencing backed in wire fencing to keep out the wildlife.  The wire fencing from last year is likely the only reusable component, but we kept it very simple, knowing we were going to reconfigure.  In width, we are only adding about a foot, although we’re moving the start of it closer to the trench bed, which you can just see the edge of below.  We’re adding about 12′ in length, and more formal beds to make it easier to navigate and weed.  It should look better as well.

Stringing the new garden.jpg

Farmlet Priorities

Spring here means everything needs to be done at once.  Weeding, taking care of baby animals, and preparing for gardening season absorb most of my energy, but there’s still all that basic life stuff that needs doing – family time, groceries must be bought, dishes, laundry, meal preparation, errands…none of that goes away.

I outsource 2 major to-dos in my life – summer lawn care, and the big housekeeping work.  While doing them both myself would save me about $3000 dollars a year, I invest in these items for a reason – my lawn is huge, my tractor is ancient and perpetually breaking down, my tractor skills are lacking, I don’t really enjoy mowing or weed whacking, and my weekend time is pretty compressed anyway.  As the only adult living on the premises, I have to make choices.  For me, it’s a spend that allows me to spend more time doing the things I want to do.

Same with having the house cleaned every 2 weeks.  It doesn’t last, and of course I end up wiping down surfaces and vacuuming in between, but it does mean that I don’t ever have to scrub the bathtub out, and for the most part, I don’t mop floors.  These are two areas I consider drudgery, and I pay to have them handled.

Everything else though, is either me, or my small army of amazing volunteers.  My neighbors plow me out in the winter.  I weed and plant incessantly, and feed and water animals twice a day (I also feed and water the smallish people, but not so much on chicken and duck feed).  My ex does major yard cleanup, leaf blowing, and the occasional assembly of things, as I am schematically challenged, to put it nicely.  One of the moms helps me prep and paint.  I’m so lucky to have a lot of support.

Still, this time of year requires ruthless prioritization.  Stuff has to get in the ground.  Weeds spring up overnight.  When the CSA kicks in come early June, Friday evenings post-pizza will be spent processing foods and planning meals based on what bounty was available.  I’m pushing to try to get my guest room painted and set up, as it’s been a storage hole for over a year, and I’m sick of looking at it.

And the smallish humans require attention too – generally, and for all of the end of school year activities that start up around this time.  This year both kids are transitioning to new schools, so graduations and celebrations abound.  There’s also a lot of daily mediation required, such as around the screaming fight that broke out over who sings ‘What the World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love‘ better on the ride to school yesterday.  At least the irony was amusing, if not the assault on my ears.

I employ a multi-step evaluation process at this time of year in order to figure out what I should be doing.  Like the old-fashioned structure pioneer women used to define their priorities, this decision tree is invaluable if you are not sure where to put your energy.  It’s perhaps not as simple as:

Wash on Monday,
Iron on Tuesday,
Bake on Wednesday,
Brew on Thursday,
Churn on Friday,
Mend on Saturday,
Go to meeting on Sunday

But it is clearly the modern equivalent.  I mean, I don’t have a butter churn or actually know how to make beer, and I don’t go to any meetings on Sunday, mostly preferring not actually interact with people on weekends.  Ironing is definitely a non-standard activity as well.  But otherwise, exactly the same.

decision tree

 

 

 

Cold Spring Nights

The weather here at Sithean continues to veer between summer-like warmth and chilly enough to light a fire in the wood stove.  Once, even, cold enough to turn on the heat, and usually I hold the line after May 1st pretty hard.  Sithean has oil heat, which isn’t cheap on the best of days.  Still, it’s starting to warm up generally, and the lilacs are finally starting to bloom.  The asparagus bed started producing about 2 weeks ago, and will go another 3-4 weeks.  I missed a few to bolting, but there’s still plenty for eating.

For most people, May probably doesn’t seem like a great time to recommend roasted vegetables.  But it’s an odd time for eating locally, barring making a few really delicious asparagus frittatas (asparagus, eggs, cheese, potatoes for the crust if you want one) from our eggs, and the occasional lettuce wraps. Farmers markets and CSAs haven’t started up yet, I’m basically out of everything I preserved last year, and it’s grocery store bounty until at least June 1.

I take advantage of the cooler nights to fill the freezer – come August when we go on vacation, I’ll take the meatballs I made tonight and froze, a couple pounds of pasta, and we’ll eat it for dinner our first night away with garlic bread and a salad – a tradition we have not broken in at least a decade.  I’ll be making Falafel for the freezer this week too, as well as Bulgogi , a house favorite, especially on the grill.  Food prep means there’s always something here to eat if I do it right, so no one (me) has to capitulate to the Takeout Gods.

There’s a few leftovers from my fall crops lying around too – a couple winter squashes that made it this far, and the last of the half-bushel of sweet potatoes to supplement what we are buying.  The squashes will be cooked down and the puree saved for soup, but the sweet potatoes are inevitably roasted.

I love sweet potatoes, and while there are lots of ways to prepare them, roasted with various spice coatings is my favorite.  It’s also the quickest and the simplest.  I keep spice mixtures on hand to toss them in, but salt, pepper and olive oil also works.

Roasting sweet potatoes is simple – preheat oven to 375 degrees, oil a pan, peel and slice the sweet potatoes into half moons or wedges, sprinkle salt, pepper, your favorite spice mixture and drizzle olive oil on top.  Bake until soft with crispy edges, 25 minutes or so.

My current favorite is Harissa seasonings, a mix of chili peppers and paprika.  I like the smokey flavor it adds.  I use Spice Road brand, but any will do.

Harissa_Silk Road

 

Harissa sweet potatoes.jpg

Another favorite here is Tumeric-roasted cauliflower.  When organic cauliflower goes on sale I always pick up a couple heads.  Cut the florets from the head (the bunnies get to eat the leftovers), put them in an oiled pan, sprinkle with salt, a generous amount of tumeric, and olive oil over the top.  Roast until tender, 45-50 minutes.

The great part of roasted veggies – aside from healthy, cheap and tasty –  is that the leftovers can be warmed in the oven repeatedly with no loss of taste or texture.

If you can’t have a warm spring night, at least you can have a warm spring meal.