Friday, November 21, 2008

A Book Review

I just finished The Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected Blossoming</a> by Jeannie Ralston.

This wasn't a book that I had heard of, or that was recommended to me. It simply caught my eye while I idly perused the stacks at the library. Lavender, hmm, my favorite flower, what's this book about? Normally I'm not interested in memoirs, particularly ones of people I never heard of before. I hope I can convey how this book affected me.

The author was an up and coming journalist in New York City when she met the love of her life, Robb Kendrick, a National Geographic photographer. For him she gives up her beloved metropolis and moves to Austin, Texas, and then moves again to a piece of property in very rural Texas. Inspired by the lavender fields in France, Robb decides to plant lavender on their property but his work requires him to travel extensively, leaving Jeannie to handle the business of the lavender alone. Meanwhile she is trying to get pregnant, trying to deal with her feelings of resentment towards her husband, and trying to cope in a place where she feels she doesn't fit in.

She believes it was the lavender that eventually taught her to let go and that her life with her husband, their life adventure, is more important than her idea of living a metropolitan lifestyle. Once she began to accept her new life she marketed the heck out of that lavender and turned her town and region into the lavender capital of Texas. Then Robb asked her to reinvent herself again, move again, accept him again.

This is a wonderful story, a fantastic manual on marriage, a terrific gardening journal. And in many ways I could relate to the author. I too moved from a large city, Philadelphia, to very rural New York for the love of my life. Gardening was the catalyst that has taught me to accept my life here. In short, I was very moved by this memoir and I'd recommend it to anyone, particularly married women.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A review of this year's veggie garden

Overall, I'd call it a great success. We had a wet and cool summer. I rarely had to water. So, the tomatoes had less flavor than I like, but they were profuse as the picture above illustrates. Granted, we planted more than twice the plants we ever did before. I canned 60 quarts of tomato sauce, along with a few quarts of stewed tomatoes and an attempt at my own ketchup. I was very pleased with the San Marzano paste tomatoes I tried for the first time this year. I felt they produced much better than the Big Mamas that were our standard for pastes, and they had a better flavor. The Heirlooms did very well also. We grew Striped Germans, which are my favorite and may not ever be kicked out of that position, and Roses, which were quite good too. And, of course, we included a few plants of Sungold cherry tomatoes.

Despite the low temperatures, though, the heat loving plants, like eggplant, did fine. I will likely plant eggplant again although three individual plants was quite enough. The peppers could have done better but it was my fault that I planted that tall cosmos between them which crowded and shaded them. I won't do that again. And I had a complete failure with the tomatillos. Again my fault, I didn't get them started soon enough and frost hit them before the fruit was ripe.

The beans did fantastic. But next year I'm going to abandon the purple beans and go with all green. The purple was pretty but not as prolific and I thought the green beans taste better. Besides, cooking turns the purple beans green anyway.

Planting the carrots and onions together in the same bed seemed to work quite well. And even though I historically have a terrible time with cucumbers, I did manage to get a few this year.

Of course the zucchini did very well. I really enjoyed the variety I planted this year, Eight Ball. They are round and had a good flavor.

The new asparagus plants I put in got a good start and hopefully we'll be able to harvest them in a couple years. And I planted some garlic before preparing the garden for winter.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Herb Pods

Yea, I need to come up with a new name for them, Herb Pods sounds both unappetizing and illegal. But since I'm not really marketing them it will work for now. This is my new favorite thing to do with all the basil I grow. I use basil a lot in cooking, doesn't everyone? And I'm a complete snob for fresh basil, dried, you might as well sprinkle grass clippings on your food. So, I wanted to find a way of preserving the basil before first frost.

Here's what I did; I picked all the basil that was left and de-stemmed it. I also pick a lot of oregano and de-stemmed that as well. I peeled a whole head of garlic. All of that went into the blender with about 1/3 cup olive oil and I pureed it into a thick liquid. It had a milkshake consistency. Then I poured it into ice cube trays and froze the mixture. When it was solid, I popped them out and put them into individual sandwich bags and back into the freezer.

Now, when making spaghetti sauce with my unseasoned tomato sauce, I just pop one of the herb pods into the sauce and it is all seasoned in one shot with the fresh basil flavor. I've also used them in a friend's recipe for a lentil rice casserole. It would work anywhere a recipe calls for fresh basil, oregano and garlic. Next year I intend to make more. Maybe with different mixtures; some that would be just basil for example.

I'd show you a picture but they really don't look like much.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pre-Halloween snow

Oh, goodness, I can't believe I haven't written in here for 2 months.  Ridiculous!  I'm going to revamp how I do things here.  I think the blog must be about more than gardening because I have so much more going on.  I'm a mom, I like to cook, I have other hobbies.  

But in the vein of the title of this blog, I want to show you just how snowy it can be around here.  

We had big plans for Halloween this year.  A bunch of friends were coming over.  I decorated inside and outside the house.  My husband built a coffin and a crypt facade for a little Haunted House.  Since we live in a village and many of our friends live in the country they all came to our house to watch the trick n' treaters.  My husband dressed as a mummy and laid in his coffin to scare the kids when they came up our walk.  I bought lots of booze, made too much food and even got my hands on some dry ice.

But two days before Halloween, on the 29th, we got 18" of snow.


In this area, snow is a way of life. No one bats an eye. You never see people at the grocery store before a predicted snow storm loading up on toilet paper and jugs of water like you did in my hometown of Philadelphia. People still go to work when it snows. Life goes on. And 18", that's nothing around here. But when the 18" is heavy wet snow and falls on trees that still have many of their leaves, that causes substantial damage. We lost our power for most of the day. School was cancelled. And it kind of put a damper on our Halloween plans. How would we put up the graveyard and crypt in a yard full of snow?

The next morning, the day before Halloween, my husband blew the snow out of the yard with the snowblower. When it broke down, as it is want to do, we shoveled snow out of the yard. Halloween day was warm and sunny and much of the piles melted and we had a great party.