Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Junque Yard

I've been remiss in posting photos lately. It's not pure laziness...there just hasn't been much to show. Once the spring bulbs blew their wad (metaphorically speaking, of course), there's a lull in which the loverly Siberian Irises usually do their thing. I had a large cluster of them, that I split up into several smaller clusters and dispersed around my garden bed, but they did a poor showing this year. Just a couple of scraggly blossoms. I don't know if it was crappy weather we had, or if they are still recovering from the replanting, but there's plenty of green growth on them. They will come back next year.

Anyway, with the warmer temps the Asiatic Lilies have started strutting their stuff. I have some that have been in that bed for 2-3 years, and I planted 6 more early this spring.  The nursery I bought them from unduly forced them, and some attempted to bloom early, hardly waiting until they'd poked their heads out of the ground. Ah well, next year those guys will be phenom.  However, the rest are making their showing now, and what I show they are!

Sometimes, my camera phone does good!
Don't mind my toes peeking in at the bottom.

An awesome looking white and peach colored one that's being blocked by some black-eyed Susan's who won't appear until later this summer.

Seriously, does it get any better than this???
You know, I have no idea what this is. My uncle gave me a hunk of it, and said it was easy to grow. He was right! It's pretty too, but the flowers are at their peak in the mornings. I'll snap another of them when they are really looking pretty.
And in the herb garden, the Sage is blooming like nobody's business!

Flowerz. I haz happeh.  :)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Junque Food

On Saturday, I made my weekly sojourn to the Farmer's Market. Oh how I love looking at the bright flowers and veggies all lined up for sale. Unfortunately, the pickings were a little more sparse this week. I believe it was due to a combination of use getting there an hour before it closed, hence, most of the stuff was sold already, and probably due the fact that this is the time of the growing season where there's a slight lull.  The cold weather crops, such as lettuces, spinach, rhubarb, and sugar snap peas are winding down as the weather warms up, and the hot weather crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, plus everything else that takes 90 days or more to grow isn't ready for harvest yet.

I had read about a local artisan breadmaker in a local newsblog. I was hoping for a chance to speak with her, as the article as about her flax seed bread that she makes with no sugar. NO SUGAR? You heard me. No sugar. I had to ask her how she did it, because I was always under the impression that yeast needs fuel to rise. Here's a little secret about me: I'm shy. I hate walking up to people I don't know and engaging in conversation. Well, hate is wee bit strong, but I definitely get heart palpitations. But I really was curious, so I sucked it up and went to go speak to this woman. I really shouldn't have worried. She was bright and welcoming, and instantly offered a sample of her bread - a standard ice breaker. And it was wonderful! crusty on the outside, soft and chewy (but not in the over-processed way of commercial breads) on the inside. I mentioned that I'd seen the write up on her in the local newsblog, and she beamed, and bubbled, and said that she'd gotten quite a response from it.. And so our conversation took off.

I asked her about the no-sugar thing, and she explained that yeast doesn't *need* the sugar for fuel, but sugar does help in making the bread rise faster. She told me how long she lets her bread rise (first rise usually overnight in the fridge), how she prefers to cook it open on a baking stone, and much more. I was in baker heaven.

As you might remember from a previous blog, I make my own bread, but due to time constraints, and the fact that I have a bum wing,, I now make it in a bread machine. I'm seriously contemplating ditching the machine, and going back to the old fashioned way. I've also had very dim success with incorporating wheat and other grains into the bread. Could it be something so simple as hurrying my dough too fast, that led to less than desireable results? Quite possibly. This is stunning to my brain. I can slow it down, and have a better result! I am all about slow! I constantly think I must have been a turtle in a past life. I can do slow! Why don't they tell you these things in the cookbooks???

Da Hubster and discussed the bread making process on the way home from the farmer's market. He and I came up with the conclusion that the addition of sugar (or honey, or whatever is *needed* to feed the yeast) was added in during the course of time to speed things up, and it might possibly be another link in the "make it fast & plentiful* part of society that has contributed to our overweight society. It's certainly feasible. I made a small joke about sugar making the bread diabetic, and he gave a small chuckle, but seriously, folks. It's a metaphor for life...slow things can be better for you. I'm certainly going to continue to plod along, and let the slow food movement continue the right the wrongs I've done to my body over the years.

If you want to know about this wonderful lady I met on Saturday, you can look her up at Or find her on FaceBook at The Traveling Chef.  And if you local to me, you can find Lizz at the Downtown Racine Farmer's Market on Saturdays.

P.S.I also bought about a pound of sugar snap peas. I'm going to try that pickled sugar snap pea recipe I talked about in the last blog post! I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Junque Yard

It's a nice Saturday morning. The sun is out (Sun? What's that??) It's a wee bit chilly, but in that temporary way, that you know it's going to warm up later.

As I sit outside with my laptop and cup of coffee, I watch robins stealing bits of the straw that I use as mulch in the veggie gardens. I thought it was too late for nest making, but maybe there is an over-pregnant momma out there yelling at her mate to her some more nesting materials. "Henry, get it NOW."

This week I have been enjoying lettuce, spinach, and my favorite, sugar snap peas. Right off the vine. I have them growing in a container right next to the drive way, and I always pick at least one to munch on as I walk by. Sugar snaps are delicious. And one of those things that the more you pick, the more will grow. Until it gets too hot. Then I move the container out of direct sunlight, in hopes of extending their growing season a bit longer.

I saw a recipe for pickled sugar snap peas that I want to try. You can find the recipe here. I doubt that I will get enough from my pot to make a pint (especially with me eating them all the time), but I might have to make a trip to the Farmer's Market and pick up some extra.  The recipe as it is does not call for actual canning, but you can process them, there's enough acid to cook through, especially in pint jars.

The recipe is on the Eat.Repeat blog, and I found it from "Food in Jars" on FaceBook.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Junque Yard

Good evening...and Happy Belated Solstice!

I am finally starting to see some growth here at the micro-mini ranch, despite the lack of sun and the warmth that generally accompanies it. I have a pot of basil that is doing well. I should have enough to pluck and dry a large batch of leaves on my dehydrator this weekend. Last year I grew basil in a pot and it did really well, that is, until someone (probably a rabbit) chewed the main stalk off at the base one night. I noticed it the next morning, and was just sick about it. I've had trouble growing basil in the past, but finally had felt I'd gotten the knack.

Basil, unlike most herbs, is a little more persnickety in their water requirements. Most herbs you have ignore a bit, make them feel just a wee bit neglected. Then they turn up their oil production and you get all the wonderful scents and flavor you crave. They are woo'ing you, as it were.  Not so the snobbish basil. If basil feels the least bit neglected, it will up and die on me. It wants its soil to be moist almost all the time. It prefers potting soil rather than the clay-packed soil in my yard.

So anyway, I was out one weekend morning last summer, surveying my little green kingdom, and I see that my prize basil has fallen over like I tree in the woods that I wasn't around to hear. Did it make a sound? If it did, I didn't hear it. I will admit that I got a little misty seeing my plant all keeled over, the leaves already looking limp. No pesto. No tossing a few leaves in a soup or a salad. Then I thought, maybe I can dry the leaves and save it that way?  And I did!

I plucked every last beloved leaf off the stalk and gently washed them. Then I laid them in a single layer on several trays of my dehydrator and turned it on.  Within about an hour and half, they were done. I gently crushed the dried leaves into glass container with an airtight lid, and sniffed dramatically one last time.

Over the next few months, I realized what I boon I had made for myself.  Home dried basil is so much more aromatic and flavorful than store bought dried basil. It really needs to be capitalized: its Basil. My spaghetti and pizza sauce become more masterful. Garlic bread became godlike with a sprinkling of my Basil. Pasta salads and even roasted veggies which are NOM to be begin with became MOAR NOM (if you pardon my LOLspeak) with the Basil. In short, I will never buy dried basil again when I can make Basil at home so easily.

And so can you. You don't even need a dehydrator. Go out and buy yourself a basil plant from a farmer's market or local nursery. They should still have some in stock. if not, pick up a packet of basil seeds, and plant in a pot. Keep the soil moist, and in a warm, sunny spot. When the plant starts to get tall and a little bushy, pinch off the first layers of leaves, that causes the plant to become bushier, and less likely to flower. When it starts getting cold, or when you want to harvest and dry your leaves, pluck them off, wash them gently in cool water. Pat dry. Then layer then on some parchment paper set over a cookie sheet in a single layer, if you don't live in a warm humid climate, put them on top of your fridge for a week. They will dry naturally. If you want to speed up the process, put the cookie sheet in your oven set to the lowest temp on the dial. Leave the door open a crack to let most of the heat escape. You don't want to cook your leaves, just speed up the drying process. Check on your leaves every 20 mins or so. Some ovens get too hot for this process, so it's important to check often. You might want to turn off the oven at intervals. The leaves are done when they are dry and crumble easily. Let them cool, and put them in an airtight container.

Now you know what I know about Basil. And it's all thanks to some waskily wabbit.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day Musings from the Junque Pile

I don't normally get schmoopy over family, but on this Father's Day, I wanted to say a few words about my grandfather. 

In my lifetime, he was a "still waters run deep kind of guy." There weren't many conversations, but there was always love. He and I had a generation between us, and I now get the impression that he didn't quite know what to do with me as I was growing up. I was a wimpy, emotional kid and he was the strong but silent type that probably felt that I needed major toughening up, but never really showed it.

His role at family gatherings was to grill the meat in the summer time, run to the store if needed, and sit in his recliner and watch "60 Minutes" and sitcoms. He would laugh at the family "Remember when...?" stories, but I don't remember him telling many of them.

He'd let me cuddle with him in his recliner, but got distinctly uncomfortable when I asked him why he didn't kiss me like the men and women on TV kissed (I was probably around 5, and didn't know the difference between kissing and *kissing).

When he would get up from his recliner to check on the grill, or make himself something to drink, I'd sit in his chair and wait patiently for him to get back. He'd always act surprised to find me sitting there. "GET OUT OF MY CHAIR!" He'd mock-roar. When I'd giggle and shake my head, he'd pretend to sit down anyway, until my girlish squeals made him stand back up and swat me out the chair.

He always listened to my less than decade-old knowledge of the world, "Bapa, I know the Earth is turning, because I can SEE it!  Look at the clouds moving!"

This was a man who'd served in the Army, Navy and Air Force during WWII, ferrying planes around. He taught cadets swimming , too. But he never talked about those times.

Before I was born, he worked many years for US Steel. On the weekends, he drove all over the country showing the Great Danes that he and my grandmother bred and trained. Later when they gave up the dogs, he and my grandmother raised and showed birds. He served on the board of directors for both dog and bird local organizations for years. I have his gavel from when he served at president of the local Great Dane Society from 1962 to 1965. It on a bookshelf in my living room. I also have several pictures of him standing with champion dogs, usually with me crying in the foreground. I never liked having my picture taken.

My grandmother and grandfather always raised veggies and had flower gardens in the summer. At the time, I wanted nothing to do with them. Weeding was a chore they soon learned was not worth it for me to do, as I invariably pulled the wrong things out. Besides, there were BUGS in those gardens! And I hated to get dirty.

When my sister about to be born, my grandfather came to pick me up to stay with him and my grandmother for a few days. I always loved to be there with them, watching TV. Playing in the Japanese rock garden they created in the backyard (no grass, lots of gravel means less bugs, right? Right??) He'd throw marbles out into the gravel and tell me to go look for them. I always brought them back to him, and marveled how they could get back outside so quickly, so I go hunt for them some more. He never let me see him toss them back out there. It was just another miracle of childhood.

One year, vandals twice set fire to the storage space in me and mother's apartment building . Once was directly in our storage locker. We lost a lot of our things, most heart-breakingly all of our Christmas ornaments. My mother, being ever practical (and very poor, though I wasn't aware of it at the time), decreed that there would be no Christmas tree for she and I that year. I spent a weekend at my grandparents house making ornaments to decorate what I thought would be my grandparent's tree. My grandmother and I sat for hours making chain garlands out of construction paper, Santa and Mrs. Santa ornaments out of toilet paper rolls. Those Santas were to become my favorite of all that we made that weekend. Later on that year, my grandfather arrived unexpectedly at our apartment with a large, fragrant Christmas tree, and all the ornaments my grandmother and I had made for "their" tree.  Itis still one of the most special Christmases I can remember.

Happy Father's day to the man who was for all intents and purposes was my father. Hope you are doing great things up there, Bapa.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Musings from the Junque Pile

Ah...another mild Saturday morning, and I am up way earlier than I want to be.  Here at the micro-mini ranch we have a rare breed called, "the alarm clock cat."  Boston is 14 years old, and very set in his ways. Unfortunately, his internal clock broke down awhile back, and anytime after 4:00AM is fair game. He's also never been able to tell the difference between a weekday and the weekend. Therefore all days are meant for waking before the sun comes up.

It might be safer to say he's part rooster.  He starts crowing for breakfast usually around 4:30 AM. Pillows have been known to fly in his general direction when he gets his MEOW on. I also keep a water spritzer near the bed for when he really gets going. Unfortunately, once I get up to feed him, I'm usually wake enough that I cannot go back to sleep.

Today started off with Boston's typical RRRRRAAAAAWR, and my usual response, "SHUT UP."

Then his co-conspirator, Norm, who decides to up the stakes, invited me to play a game of Bed Mouse. If you've never played Bed Mouse with a cat, it's actually a rousing good time. But not at 4:45 in the morning.  The rules are simple. If your foot under the cover wiggles, Norm will pounce on it and try to capture it with his paws and teeth. If you wiggle you foot even more, Norm will roll around on the bed in ecstasy, attempting to bring the Bed Mouse to submission. I am so good at this game, I can sometimes play it in my sleep. Not this morning, however. Norm has another talent that works in conjunction with Boston's alarm clock. Norm can pace up and down a sleeping person's body until he gets right over that sleeping person's bladder. And then he stands on that spot, and gets heavier, and heavier, and heaver. His little paws have these magic lead weights that suddenly appear. And the beauty of this talent is that he doesn't have to do anything. He just stands there on his opponent's bladder and gets heavier.  It's a neat trick if you think about it.

Around this time, our dog, Muffett also decides that it's time for her morning constitutional.  She will jump down off the bed, and pace at the foot of it. Her little nails go CLACK CLACK CLACK on the wood floors. She might give a gentle shake of her head, causing the tags around her neck to jingle in a merry fashion.


And as all this still hasn't worked (yet), the 3rd cat gets into the act. Celeste, our shy delicate flower of a cat will jump from the window sill, where she's been guarding us as we sleep.  *POMPH!* Right into the middle of the bed. She will mince over the rumpled covers of the bed and meow in her tiny female cat voice, right in my ear. Just a single, tiny MEW. It's really such a perfect counterpoint to Boston's heavy-handed, disturbingly rooster-like siren call from the doorway (he doesn't dare get any closer, knowing he's in for a whack of the pillow or a face full of water.

With Norm growing heavier and heavier on my bladder, Muffett pacing down below, and Celeste being cute in my ear... HOW IS A PERSON SUPPOSED TO GET ANY SLEEP???

They aren't. That's the point.

Good Morning.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Junque Food - Spaghetti

From time to time I get asked about my spaghetti sauce recipe. I don't really have one. My family didn't really rely on recipes when I was growing up, unless they were trying something new and fancy. Spaghetti was the dish I usually asked for as my birthday dish as I was growing up. And since, as I kid, I had no interest in cooking, it wasw one of those meals that miraculously appeared on the table. Well, not really. But you get my drift.

My family, as I said, didn't really use a lot of recipes. The women in my family that have awesome trait of being able to dissemble a meal in their brains and say, " that's how it works." And that's how they would cook. It's not an exact science, and we've all had some experiments that didn't quite work out, but for the most part, it worked for our family. My talent for eating something and figuring out the spices and cooking method didn't evolve until my early 30's, but I am glad it did. It makes cooking more fu.n. And it drive DaMan and my mother in law crazy. If they don't work off a recipe, they don't cook. Hubster has mellowed on this somewhat. If he's cooking, it's something he knows how to do, or he asks me for a breakdown. He doesn't get nearly as frustrated as he used to when I tell him, "a little bit of this, and a pinch of that..."

Anyway, here's my process for cooking spaghetti. Yours, if you have one, will certainly vary. I am always of the mind that knowledge is power, so share your variations with me in the comment section below!

Ingredients I use most often:

Italian Sausage (mild or hot)
large cans of diced and crushed tomatoes (home canned when I have them)
diced green peppers
diced onions
lots of garlic (powdered when I don't have fresh chopped)
spices of your choice. I learn towards basil more and more and less towards oregano than I used to)
about a teaspoon of sugar (just to cut the acidity of the tomatoes, NOT to sweeten the sauce)
olive or any other light cooking oil

Take the saugage out of it's casings and fry up in a heavy bottomed fry pan, chopping it up as fine as you can while it cooks. Remove from heat, and drain it on a paper towel like you would bacon.

In a heavy bottomed stock pot, heat up a tablespoon or so of oil, and toss in the onion, green pepper, and garlic. Sautee the veggies, stirring frequently until the onions are translucent. Stirring often will keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pot and browning. When the onions are no longer white, add the sausage and the cans of tomatoes, sugar, and your dried spices of choice. Put a lid on, and let it come up to a boil, then take the lid off, and lower the temp to simmer.  I let mine simmer all afternoon, stirring often.

That's it! I usually make it a day ahead of time to let the flavors meld together. I taste it often and adjust spices as I need to.

The only note that I would add is that if you choose to use fresh spices instead of dried, add them at the end of cooking, and not during the cooking process.  Fresh basil tends to turn black and look unappetizing, and fresh oregano tends to turn bitter. I like a blend of dried and fresh. I use dried during the cooking time, and then chop fresh and sprinkle it on the top of the finished meal before serving. It's very pretty that way too!

So, what do you different? Tell me!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Musings from the Junque Pile

Good Morning!   The weather might cooperate today. It is supposed to be 60 and mostly sunny. Not quite shorts weather, but after the insanity that comprised of this past week, I'll take it.  We had 3 days of almost 100 degree weather earlier in the week, then temps plummeted to the 50's with lots of fog and rain. My poor tomatoes have no idea what do with themselves. My peppers are growing, though not as fast as I would like.

The rains damaged some of my strawberry blossoms, and I'm hoping they were already visited by the bee fairies and were already fertilized. I will be checking on them later today to see if there are any burgeoning berries. If I don't, I will lop off the damaged blossoms and see if I can coax the plants to re-bloom. These strawberries are heavy producers, and I can usually get them to bloom 2 to 3 times during their month of production.

The bin of potatoes that was constructed by DaMan has sprouted! I am so excited about this as it is our first time growing potatoes.

I am serious need of hacking back some of the more over-zealous herbs. The oregano, as usual is dominating the sage. I need to take it down a peg or twelve.

This year I planted borage, a lessor known herb. I want to see what it does, and it is purported to bring in bees and butterflies to our yard. We get a pretty heavy traffic of butterflies, which are always a joy to watch.

I need to get off my duff and plant the rest of my containers. I want to put chamomile in one, dill in another, and loofa in another.  That's right, I said LOOFAH!  LOL. Those sponges that you scrub yourself in the shower with?  Those! I saw a packet of seeds at the store earlier this spring, and I amazed. I never gave a thought to loofah, or if I did, I thought it was a sea sponge. But no, it's a squash!  You can even eat it. The packet says that if you pick it early, it can be sliced and sauteed like a zucchini. Or you can let it mature on the vine, and dry it for your very own personal scrubby.  How amazing is that? Anyway, I can't wait to try it. And report back to you, of course.  :)

I also need to get my booty to the nursery for a couple of flats of marigolds. DaMan and I like to plant them in between the veggies we are growing as a deterrent to rodents and some insects. Since we are not usually overrun by either, we want to keep up the tradition. Plus, it's a little bit of flowery colorfulness in and amongst the veggies. They have a strong menthol smell to them, which, I believe is part of the deterrent.

In other news, I spent a couple of hours trimming up our dog, Muffett, yesterday. The poor old girl had lots of winter coat that needed to be shed. She's got a very Wooky like coat, but her undercarriage and legs grow silky hair that doesn't take well to being buzzed with the electric clippers. So we sat outside yesterday afternoon, and she let me attack her fur with the scissors. She looks pretty good. Now, I need to clip her nails. She is NOT going to like that at all.

I also spent a good portion of yesterday cooking for the week.  I made a hugs vat of spaghetti sauce, that will also do double duty as pizza sauce. A loaf of bread was made, as well as a double batch of chicken curry salad for sandwiches.  We will be eating well on the micro-mini ranch this week!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Junque Food - Stock!

Here's a subject near and dear to my heart - Stock!


Yes, stock. I love it. I use it constantly, for a richer and fuller flavor to my meals. If a recipe calls for water, I use stock. Broth, if I have to, but I prefer to use home made stock. And I will tell you why. Homemade stock is low in sodium, because you control what you put in it when you make it. It's easy to store, and it's an environmentally friendly way to wring out the last little bit of your foodstuffs before throwing it out or , (as in the case of the veggies) throwing it in the compost, as we do, adding another environmentally friendly layer to the mix).

You can make stock out of virtually anything you cook. My favorite is chicken, beef, and veggie stock.  All require a little forethought, but once you get in the groove, you will give it no more of a thought than you gave to meal planning in the first place.

Chicken and beef stock: First rule of business is SAVE YOUR BONES! After any meal, throw the leftover bones into a freezer baggie (one for chicken and one for beef and LABEL the bag, trust me, you will forget which is which), and put them in the freezer.  When you get enough bones to fill a stock pot about 1/3 of the way, you are in business. Throw the bones in the pot, cover with fresh cool water, bring up to a boil, then turn the temp down low and let simmer for a few hours. Ta Da!  Let cool, fish out the bones and toss, then freeze the stock for later use.

Veggie stock: Same first rule of business: SAVE YOUR SCRAPS! I know it sounds gross, but come on, you cleaned the veggies before cutting them right? Pretty much anything is fair game when it comes to veggie stock: carrot and potato peels, celery ends and tops, onion cores...whatever you were going to throw out, put it in a freezer baggie and freeze. Get a good mix of stuff in there, and then do the same thing as with the chicken and beef bones. Cover with water, bring to a boil, then simmer for a few hours. Take the strainings and throw them into your compost pile, or throw away.

Here's a great tip that I learned awhile ago for storing your frozen stock. Once it's cool, pour it into ice cube trays and freeze. Once they are frozen, put them in a baggie for minimal storage space in the freezer. Each cube is about 2 tablespoons of liquid if you need measurements for a recipe.

Great. I have now have a freezer full of stock, what do I use it for?? Whatever you want. As I said, it makes a great replacement for water in a recipe. You can substitute stock for water when making rice, I boil potatoes in veggie and chicken stock (or a combo of stock and water) when making potato salad. Last night I used veggie stock for poaching salmon fillets. And, of course, there is always soup to be made! Really, its uses are endless.

I hope you try making stock, it's fun, it's not time consuming, and it's a great way to wring a little extra out of a dollar - which is something most of us need.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Junque Food - Put a little spice in your life

I used to be a mail order catalog Ho. Yes, I said HO. Back in the day, you could see me at any time perusing catalogs for clothes, housewares, etc. I would look and look and wishfully fantasize about all the stuff I could get. Occasionally, I would buy something, and pace in front of the door waiting for it to arrive, gleefully tear off the packing tape, and rip through the packaging peanuts when it finally did.

Those days are over. Economics and a little bit of maturity have caused me to give up the majority of my catalogs. It is too depressing to constantly look at shiny pages of items I can't afford. Besides, my  life has gone in a different direction, and I constantly tell myself that I'm trying to downsize my "stuff" not add to to it.

But there is one catalog that I get and still relish. Penzey's spices. What a great catalog this is! And no, they aren't paying me to say it (but they could if they wanted!) They work hard at making it more than just a catalog in that they invite readers to share stores about their families, and the cooking that they do, using (of course) Penzey's Spices. Some of the most heartfelt stories are published in their catalog. People reminiscing about growing up in their mother's kitchens, learning to cook, their father's time honored recipes for batter frying fish caught on a lazy weekend. I get choked up a lot. It's not uncommon to see my blowing my nose while reading this catalog. How amazing is that?

What kinds of memories does cooking bring back for me? I thought about it, and I have to say not so many of my youth. I had no interest in learning to cook as a child. My grandmother did most of the cooking for special occasions, and mostly, I was just interested in eating, than I was about the prep for it. It took me many years of trial and error before I learned to enjoy cooking and baking. Now, smells coming from the kitchen mean more to me than they did as a child. Coming home from work, and smelling a curry that DaMan has created that afternoon will positively make me swoon as I come in the door. Baking a loaf of bread overnight will give me sweet dreams, and a happy wake up call in the morning.

Does spices affect your lives? Is there a smell or a taste that brings back fond memories? Tell me about it.  And go sign up for that catalog.. You will love it. I know I do!

Penzey's Catalog Request Page

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Junque Yard - freshening up the walkway

It's a warm/cool morning, as I sit outside with my laptop and cup of coffee. I'm really enjoying the spring/summer like weather. After all my rantings that spring was too cold and rainy, I'm taking advantage of all the good weather I can!

DaMan started on a project that I've been chomping at the bit to have done for awhile. We held off due to financial and the aforementioned rainy weather, but the stars have aligned, and we can now (hopefully) go forth!

There is a paver-lined walkway that goes up to the back of our yard. It's in sort of a strange area, about 2 feet out from our garage, leaving a space that has become our berry patch, with strawberries, raspberries, and one lone blueberry that's hanging in there, but isn't happy, because it needs a girlfriend blueberry bush in order for it to be happy and produce blueberries (hoping that will be rectified soon, I hate to see anyone/thing lonely).

As nature is prone to do, the grass and weeds have come up through the cracks between the pavers, and it's pretty unattractive. Grass has also permeated my strawberry patch, and is making it difficult to weed in there. So it is time for a re-do.

DaMan pulled up about 50 concrete pavers last night. Today we are going to head to the local hardware store where they are having a sale on pea gravel. We will pick up some landscaper's cloth, too (and maybe another blueberry bush for the lonely guy that can't get a date).

The pea gravel is essential. Once all the pavers are up and the unwanted sod is pulled, we will level the dirt underneath as much as possible, lay down the landscaper's cloth, and spread the pea gravel. The bags are $1.75 for 3 cubic feet.. We estimate that we will need about 20 bags of gravel. Then the pavers will be laid down again on top of the gravel. Everything we've read about this says that a good 2 inches of gravel will help with frost heave during the winter. If you are unfamiliar with that lovely trick of Mother Nature's, it's where the ground buckles and heaves up during the winter due to cold and frost. Concrete and cold do not like each other, and they fight in the winter time, especially in cold climates, such as ours. If you see cracks in a  sidewalk where one corner is higher than the other it's likely, more often than not, due to frost heave.

Landscaper's cloth is just a little more insurance that the grass and weeds don't come back for a few more years. It will eventually degrade, and you can buy the stuff based on how many years it is estimated that it will stem back the tide. 7 years, 10 years, etc. it sells for about $8.00 per 20 feet.

We are hoping to do this project for around $45. Here's hoping that we keep our budget, and I'll have a nice looking walkway again! I will update the results as we finish the project.
Isn't this ugly? Strawberry patch to the left, lawn to the right

The pavers DaMan pulled, to be used again, once the ground is ready for them.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Junque Yard

Here are pictures of some of the plants growing here at the micro-mini ranch.

These are strawberry blossoms. Last weekend I finally got a chance to week the strawberry patch. it's located up against our garage, and only gets 3/4 sun. But it's enough to keep the strawberries happy. I mostly have the June-bearing variety, with a few ever-bearing. The difference is that the June-bearers produce heavily for about a month (usually June - hence the name), and then spend the rest of the summer producing baby strawberry plants in the form of runners.  The plants have 3 years of production, so the runners, or their offspring of the main plants are great to keep the "family" going.  June-bearers are reputed to have better tasting fruit, and the fact that they produce quantities at more or less all one time make them great for canning jams with.

Ever bearing strawberries produce smaller quantities of fruit, but they do it all summer long. Supposedly, their fruit isn't supposed to be as great tasting as June bearers, but I haven't found that to be the case. Once you try a home grown strawberry, the overpriced pints you can buy at the store just can't compare. Strawberries can also be frozen. We've also tried dehydrating them, with mixed results. My goal has always been to grow enough strawberries in one season to make at least one session of jam purely from my own garden. I can never seem to get enough strawberries at one time to be able to do it. So I supplement what I need from the farmer's market. Someday...

These are the raspberry bushes. They are in their 3rd year, and going strong. Raspberry is a great plant to try if you are new to gardening. You can't kill them! They can be pretty invasive, though, so you need to make sure that where you put them, you want them to stay. Unfortunately, I am not listening to my own advice, and plan to move them after their production cycle this summer. DaMan is constructing a better spot for them to grow, and we will move the bushes into a lesser trafficked area in the yard. And then I will be spending the next few years cursing myself as I pull up unwanted raspberry sproutlings from the old spot.

I took this picture on a windy day. I couldn't get these charming little flowers to stop moving!  These are the blossoms of a horseradish plant. I was gifted with a root cutting from my uncle, who promised me that horseradish would also grow anywhere. As I got it late in the fall last year, I didn't have a spot picked out for it, so I stuck it in a pot, and did not get a chance to give it a permanent home before winter came. I figured it would not survive, as this past winter was very cold, with lots of snow. But it did. it was one of the first plants in the yard to out out leaves. And these adorable little flowers smell really good too! A very light, floral scent with none of the eye-watering you might expect if you knew the power of the root from which it came. I cannot wait to dig out a piece and grind it up to serve with a giant hunk o' beef. I love horseradish!!

This is a mystery flower. It's not something I planted, but it's growing in between my front porch and and ornamental hedge under my living room window. I have no idea what it is. It's probably some weed, but as I also have some lily of the valley growing in that same spot (which came over from the neighbor's yard), I can't say for sure. It's pretty though. There's a quote that says, "the definition of a weed is a plant that's growing in a spot you don't want it to." Makes you think, doesn't it?

This is by no means all tha is growing here at the micro-mini,  but it's a good time to stop and get ready for our weekly trip to the farmer's market. Let's see what kind of damage we can do this week, shall we???