Saturday, January 28, 2012

The seeds have arrived

Today, Sean and I went to the Manassas National Battlefield Park and spent several hours walking the trail around the sites of the First Battle of Manassas (there was a second battle but that part of the park was on the other side).  We have a book on hikes around DC/VA/MD and we are trying to be more active on the weekends.  What does this have to do with seeds?  I was commenting on the way home how this time of year was very calm.  Normally, I am always thinking "I should be out in the garden" - either in my yard or vegetable garden.   This time of year there is nothing to do but plan for the Spring.  Although this year, the winter has been so mild, a couple of weeks ago I spent the day weeding the front yard.  The Bittercress is taking over the front yard and back lawn.  Luckily the roots are shallow and it's very easy to pull up in the wet soil.


Yesterday, I received in the mail a booklet called "Plant Invaders in the District of Columbia" put out by the Urban Gardening and Forestry Outreach Cooperative Extension Service - part of the University of the District of Columbia.  Who knew such a group existed?!  I had no idea. I will have to explore this group more thoroughly.  The booklet lists 14 of the most common invasive plants of the city. I think most of them are growing in my next door neighbor's yard (the rental house next to me).  Every summer it's a struggle to keep the honeysuckle, ivy and porcelain berry from taking over my yard from the neighbor's yard.

I have ordered some seeds and they have arrived. I didn't order too many this year because there are lots of seeds leftover from last year.  My gardening neighbor and I go in together on seeds plus the local nursery was having a sale in Dec - 50% off seeds.  So I didn't need to order too many this year.  I get almost all my seeds and potatoes, garlic, sweet potatoes and shallots from Territorial Seeds in Oregon.  I've used them for years and have been very happy.

I am going to try something new this year.  I ordered cucumbers and zucchini that are especially bred for containers.   I will try this in the front yard and see how it goes.

The end of Feb, I will start the tomato and pepper seeds and if this weather keeps up being warm, I should be able to start planting lettuce and greens the beginning of March. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dark Days Challenge - Fussy Grits

Sean went to NC for Christmas and came back with blue corn grits from Anson Mills.  They are based in South Carolina but he found them at a farmer's type market in Charlotte.  Since it was only a plastic bag of grits, we looked at the company's website for directions on how to cook them.  I was a little put off by the statement that greets you

"Bottom line: Our products won't work with standard recipes. Standard recipes won't work with our products."

Well ok.  The ingredient list starts out with this heading "Equipment Mise en Place" and requires spring or filtered water to cook these grits.

I'm thinking, these better be some damn good grits since they are also supposed to be soaked over night.

Drained after soaking in tap water.  Don't tell anyone I used city water

These grits took an hour and 1/2 or so to cook.  The recipe called for making it like risotto - cook them in some water but gradually add hot water in ladlefuls as it thickened.  Top with lots and lots of butter.   I also made some scrambled eggs - eggs from farmer's market, milk from the dairy and dried herbs from my own garden.  Threw in some pork cracklings from last week's lard making.

 These grits were good but way too fussy

Monday, January 9, 2012

Dark Days Challenge - I forget what week

I've lost track of what week I am doing with the Dark Days Challenge.  The organizers have come up with some mini challenges that I will try to tackle in the coming weeks.  For now, the meal this week was a simple recipe of Buttermilk Blueberry muffins.

Emma and I love muffins - Brian's vow is to never let anything that isn't plain bread or 1 of 2 varieties of cookies to ever pass his lips.  "you can't make me eat that slice of pie mom" or "I just don't like cooked fruit" - ok, honey here is your hunk of stale bread and some water to wash it down.

I found the recipe off the web but it's a simple dry mixture with eggs, buttermilk and melted butter.

Blueberries picked last summer at Butler's Orchard

Flour from Byrd Mill, buttermilk and butter from South Mountain Creamery, eggs from Farmer's Market.

They were delicious!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Making Lard

Last year, when I ordered my side of pig, Farmer Allan asked me if I wanted the fat.  I declined and when Sean and my friend Katherine said "what, you didn't want the fat" I knew I had made a mistake.

This year, I said yes indeed give me the fat.  I thought it was going to come as lard but as Allan told me, it's not cost effective for the butcher to make lard.  So what I got was a bag of frozen fat.  Today I decided to try and make lard. It didn't look hard.  I took the fat out of the freezer a couple of days ago.

Bag o fat

Cut into chunks

Put into Dutch Oven.  Bake at 250 for several hours until mostly melted and bits of fat are brown

Take out all bits of brown fat.  I put them back into a pot and melted again on top of the stove.  Strain out fat again.

Lard - in process.  Needs to cool and solidfy

And the brown fat bits?  Called Cracklings and I can't stop eating them.  Delicious

The final result