Saturday, April 12, 2014

Garden time

It's time to start the garden!

Sunflowers sprouting
This year we started  some herbs and flowers inside. We, that is to say the Child and I, have planed lots of sunflowers. Round two is peaking up here in the kitchen. Round one has already gone outside to the big patch of contaminated dirt that formerly had a willow tree. The tree came down twice in two separate storms so we though it best to chop it up rather tan wait for it to get really big and come down on top of the shed.  We would really like to plan something nice like a blueberry bush there but after having the soil tested, we know we can't grow any food there until the soil has been  cleaned. Enter the sunflowers.

She's two, it's time to put her to work
Apparently, sunflowers are very good at removing containments from the soil.And as long as you don't then eat the seeds or put the plants into your compost, they are an effective and quite cheap way of cleaning up decades of crap that has built up in nearly every yard in the city.
Clean, you bastards!

Now, of course, sometimes you want to grow things you can eat too, and we're preparing for that. On the sill we've started some herb, some successful, some not. We tried two types of basil, but only one has sprouted. The poor tarragon has failed again this year too, and I think I'm going to have to scout garden centers from some already started plants of I'm ever going to get that in the perennial herb garden in the front. The dill, however, is growing nicely! Once I'm more confident about the weather, I think that one will be ready to go outside.

Three types of tomatoes
Unfortunately, we've run out of window sill space that gets good light and is not right where cat or child will knock everything down. The solution we came upon was to try putting covered seed starters in the basement and replacing the flickering fluorescent with a grow light. Unfortunately, I bought the wrong sized light, but that shouldn't matter for the first couple of days. By Monday I should have the proper light and our little underground greenhouse will be up and running.

Meanwhile, I did already start planting. We're trying tomatoes from seed this year. Paul Robeson, Amish Paste and Bonny Best were the varieties. I ordered them from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and they came with a gift of flower seeds as well!

Two containers, 6 pots of 6 plants each
The rest of the seeds are left over from last year. I picked up these 36 pot planters and put six of each plant in. So far I have two bush beans, navy beans, two types of cucumber, radish, carrot, spinach, broccoli raab, celery, cauliflower and cabbage. If I can get half of each of these, I'll be happy.

I think I planted this
Things are starting outside too! Just before spring, I planted the peas. There are three varieties, each in its own row, all roped ff in the large raised bed. So far the only thing that's doing really well in there is some kid of onion that I didn't plant. I also put in lettuce, but I have a sneaking suspicion that all became bird seed. Another good reason for starting things inside.

We decided to try potatoes again this year. I liked using the grow bag last year so got some colourful new ones for this year's try. We got seed potatoes from Potato Garden. This year we're trying Marris Piper aging (blue bag), King Edward (purple bag) and Yellow Finn (poppy bag). With luck we should have this whole potato growing thing down by the time the child is in high school.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


I finished it last week and she's worn it twice now.  It is VERY warm! She probably doesn't need the liner in her jacket with it.  But it should be good for cool spring days and,  as you can see, there's room to grow.

Monday, February 03, 2014

WIP -Toddler sweater

I managed to score some beautiful llama/alpaca yarn at the winter farmers market a few weeks ago. I only bought two skeins and that seemed enough for a sweater for the sprog. I'm making it a bit long do she should be able to wear it next autumn and winter as well, provided she stays tall and skinny (clearly she didn't get that from me).

I'll post when I finish and she's wearing it.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Winter knits

slightly crappy webcam photo
I've decided I'm just not cut out for scarves. Not that I don't have a variety of very nice ones, it's just that they don't seem to entirely work in the cold weather. Both scarves and neck gators seem to have the fatal flaw of leaving bits of skin exposed either above or below and letting the wind whip right through.

Enter: The Dickie. I admit, I got the idea of knitting dickies from watching Big Bang Theory with Howard's ever-present neck accessory, but it seemed like it might be quite practical. I whipped out one on some random circular needles with some yarn I had in my office (what, you don't have yarn in your office?) and after wearing it once I was sold.

Dickie #2 (pictured) I made for Spouse. I used two stash yarns at the neck, switching just to the blue for the tails. This one has a particularly long front so that it can be tucked in to a wide variety of necklines. The double bulk at the top is exceptionally warm too.

Now I just need to get him to wear it.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Preparing for Christmas

Last week I made some candied peel in preparation for plum pudding and mincemeat. After boiling the citrus peel in sugar water for over an hour, I spooned it out to dry and was left with a sweet-tart syrup. Just the right thing to go in the Christmas beer.

Yes, Christmas beer! Last year I made dozens of mince pies - homemade mincemeat in shortbread crusts - some of which Spouse brought around to the neighbors. It was his way of introducing ourselves (well, himself. I shyly stayed home) and sharing a bit of British Culture. This year I suggested that in addition to mince pies we give a bottle of homebrew, hence the Christmas beer.

I've only recently gotten back into home brewing, thanks to Northern Brewer's one gallon kits. They make just enough for a one-beer-drinker household. For a holiday brew though, I needed to not only make more, but to work without a net kit. I had previously bought some crushed grains at Homebrew Emporium with the plan of making custom one gallon batches, but though I'd just go all in and do a big three gallon one right off. I looked around for recipes, settling on this one as a basis for mine. Then I ordered malt syrup (because I wasn't going to try all-grain after so long an absence of brewing) in nice big jugs (the better to portion you with, my dear), hops and yeast. Yes, I didn't go to the local shop, mainly because I wanted to be sure of those specific hops and yeast, and because the MBTA has had diversions every weekend and I didn't want to go out.1

So now the beer is bubbling nicely and it's time to think about plum pudding. I went the lazy route and decided to use whatever dried fruit was in the pantry. That meant a few apricots, some apple and raisins. I really don't like raisins so I chopped he hell out of them and hoped the booze would mask the raisininess. With all the lovely sweet and spicy and boozy flavours mingling, I think the raisins will be well hidden.





Candied Peel

Sliced peel of:
2 oranges
2 lemons
2 cups ginger wine or water
2 1/2 cups sugar
Boil for one hour. Drain, reserving liquid. Store peel in refrigerator until needed

Christmas Beer

3.5 gallons water
9 oz black patent malt
9 oz Cara Aroma
5 handfulls whole oats
2 whole nutmegs, quartered,
1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise
liquid from candied peel
6 lbs light malt syrup
1 oz Glacier hop pellets
1 oz Willamet hop pellets
Edinburgh ale yeast
Pour water into large pot. Place grains in a mesh bag and submerge in pot of water. Add 1 nutmeg and the vanilla pod. Bring water up to 150 degrees farenheit and hold there for 20 minutes. Remove grain bag and squeeze out. Sparge if you're so inclined.
Add malt syrup and liquid from candied peel to water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, add the Glacier hops. After 45 minutes, add the Willamet hops. After 5 minutes, remove from heat and put the pot in an ice bath to cool. Once room temp, strain into carboy and add the yeast, second nutmeg and he vanilla pod from the boil (of it looks striped of all vanilla goodness, get half a fresh bean). Set down to ferment for a week.
Place into secondary fermenter for a second week or bottle with priming sugar. Age for at least four weeks.

Plum pudding

1/2 cup each raisins, dried apricots, dried apples, chopped
1/2 cup random booze  -  wine, bourbon, rum, absinth was the combination I had at hand
1 medium apple, grated
3 small carrots, grated
1/4 cup candied peel, chopped
1.5 cups bread crumbs - I used homemade Anadama bread for this
1 cup coconut oil
1 heaping teaspoon mixed spice - nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, mace, clove, allspice
1 cup Whole wheat flour
1 cup Christmas beer (snuck from the carboy)

Soak dried fruit overnight in random booze.
Add everything but the beer and mix until it all seems to be fairly uniformly spread about the bowl.
Add the beer, stirring, until well mixed. Place in greased pudding basin, cover with foil or parchment and tie tight. Steam 4 hours. Cool. If in a metal container, as my pudding mold is, remove and wrap in plastic wrap and foil. Sprinkle on rum, bourbon, or whiskey every couple of weeks, wrapping it up tightly again after. Store in a cool place until Christmas.

1 Plus then I got to order a soda kit for Spouse's birthday

Putting the garden to bed

Child is helping

Thursday, August 22, 2013


So the summer is ending and, while it wasn't a lot, we did manage to grow some things this year.

The most recent item to appear was a cucumber plant. I didn't even know I'd grown one! This plant was doing well but I really didn't know what it was (a good reason to label your seeds when you plant them) until the blossoms started to turn into fruit.


Next up, the tomatoes! We do have a couple "larger" tomatoes, but the cherry tomatoes (did not know we had those, but I got the plants second hand) have turned into a bumper crop. The red ones aren't lasting long as we tend to munch them pretty quickly.

cherry tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes

The potatoes, which I really though would go well, are a bit, um, small. These are the Marris Pipers that we grew in the container. I had anticipated at least 10 pounds but we only got enough for a small colander. They're tasty though!

The other potatoes are even fewer (and many still in the ground), but given the hills weren't particularly big, that's not surprising. The plan for next year is one long, deep bin that we will build up with covering over the growing cycle like with the planter. Hopefully we can get a few pounds out of that.

The Marris Piper harvest

But I'm not ready to give up this year yet! I've started some seedlings inside for late planting. Here we can see some cabbage (left) and cauliflower (right) beginning to sprout! The far left has carrot seeds too. Since the container potatoes have been all dug up I plan to use that bin of dirt for the carrots. Not sure about the cabbage and cauliflower yet though as I'm not sure just how much sun they'll need. They may end up in pots that can be moved around the garden.

Seedlings for late planting

While we didn't get everything we planted, we still did much better than last year. I'm sure next year will be even better, and I've already marked my calendar for when to order seeds and when to start sprouting inside. We're hardly at a level of self-sufficiency, but at least it's a start.