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Monday, June 21, 2010

Leggy Gaga

Leggy Gaga, the fawn abandoned at our next door neighbor's doorstep!
Copyright 2010,

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thanks, Oprah....

Oprah Winfrey is the most unlikely source for organic gardening advice - or so I thought - but to my surprise, she had the following basic insecticidal soap recipe on her enewsletter:

Start by mixing a concentrate solution to keep on hand by combining 1 cup/.24 L of vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon/14.8 ml of liquid dish soap. To dilute this mixture to use in your garden, combine 2 teaspoons/9.86 ml of the concentrate with 1 cup/.24L of water. Put the mixture in a hand sprayer and spray it on infested plants. Be sure to wet both tops and undersides of leaves.

I have used a similar compound for years - although I admit I just rather give it to the bugs than treat all the time - I have plenty to share!
Copyright 2010,

The Sour Cherries Arrive

Being a Michigander by birth, I love sour cherries. There is no better marker of a summer well lived then a sour cherry pie.

Normally sour cherry pies arrive just in time for Independence Day parties, but this year the cherries are early. Maryland doesn't have much of a cherry crop, and many years it fails. Bauhger's pick-your-own orchards has a one-week sour cherry season, and it started two days ago. I'd like to report that I was out there on ladders picking away, but I went the lazy route. I stopped at the famer's market for pasture raised meat, then headed to the farm market for 2 five-gallon buckets of cherries. Pre-picked.

I was hardly alone. Baugher's was buzzing. The line at the cherry pitting machine (see photo) was long, and I noticed a couple of things - my purchase was light in comparison to others, and there were a lot of women in head scarves. I couldn't contain my curiosity, so I asked a couple of gentlemen in line ahead of me what they were planning to do with their rather massive amount of cherries.

Turns out that sour cherries are a regular part of Persian cuisine, and one of the men was going to freeze them for use the rest of the year. A drink was one possibility, but his favorite dish was a Persian rice with sour cherries. He said that one could always make the rice in a rice cooker, but he liked the "old-fashioned" way of soaking, then boiling, then steaming the rice. The other man in the conversation did a quick search on his iPhone for recipe, and it was easy to find. It sounds scrumptious, and we will have it with our Father's Day celebration today. Here's the recipe I am using:

Abaloo Podow – Persian Sour Cherry Rice

About 40 small sour cherries

2 cups rice - basmati is preferred

Big pinch of saffron in 2 tablespoons of warm water

3/4 stick butter melted

Rinse rice till water runs clear. Soak rice for an hour. Boil rice 8 minutes in plenty of salted water. Strain rice. Add half the butter to large enameled dutch oven or other pot. Add half rice and stir a bit.
Add half cherries and half saffron/saffron water evenly in layers.
Layer on the other half of everything starting with the rice.

Put a kitchen towel over the top of the pot, then add the cover. This helps keep the steam in.
High about 8 min, low about 20.

Some of the recipes call for it to be layered in the steaming pan in a pyramid shape; it is supposed to develop a crust. I will try it that way and see what happens.

It was so nice talking top this Persian man - it really made my day that he would share this dish with me, and I hope he and his wife eat their cherries in good health all year.

The other man in line with me told me that he will freeze the cherries in small bags with some Splenda and eat them as a frozen treat all year. He grew up coming to Baugher's with his dad and finding the sound of the cherry pitter machine to be a comforting sound of childhood, and makes him miss his dad. Awwww. A sweet memory - that's why I took the picture of the machine!

I don't know either man's name, but thanks to both of them for sharing!

Last night I spent many hours re-packing the cherries so the huge bag would not explode in the refrigerator where we stashed it while going to hear my husband at a cello recital. Now they are packed in bags, measured out for a mega-harvest-preserving session. From 2 5-gallon buckets of cherries, I am making:

1. Four or five pies. I use the classic Joy Of Cooking version - impossible to be better. Having homemade pies in the freezer means I am always ready for a potluck or have something special for company. I'm using Karen Mahan's pie crusts this year - but still having some crusts in the freezer so they will be ready for when the blueberries ripen in a few weeks.

2. Two batches of sour cherry jam. Not low-sugar - it is a treat and will be treasured as one! I also don't like the freezer variety except for the time involved because the texture is not as firm and thus doesn't spread as well. I don't like the hot steam of a hot water bath canner, but I like the results. I may need to get a pressure canner if I keep this up all summer, though.

3. A traditional Hungarian sour cherry soup. In eastern Europe, this is a first course; here, often a dessert. It sounds yummy either way.

4. The Persian rice - and I am so sure that we will love it that I am counting out the amount for several more batches and freezing them.

5. Two batches of tart cherry liqueur. I made homemade limocello last year, and it was yummy, especially in champagne. I'll try this - takes at least two months - and perhaps give it as gifts at Christmas.   

6. A cherry crumble. While my mom could make a really good pie, what I remember most about dessert in my childhood was the crumbles, slumps, and cobblers. Our favorite was "cherry goo", and I think the crumble is getting close to the "goo" of my memory.

All these cherries make my Michigan heart sing!

Copyright 2010,

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pea Soup

One of my favorite new books this year, "The Seasons of Henry's Farm" has a recipe adapted from Deborah Madison 's recipe called "Waste Not, Want Not" Pea Soup. What intrigued me was that the stock used the pea pods. This always bother me - the pods go from the garden right to the compost pile!

Never again. This recipe was magical. It was worth the fuss and bother to make the homemade stock with scallions, parsley, carrot, lettuce leaves (thank goodness since I had a huge lettuce harvest, too) and the empty pea pods. I didn't use the optional beef soup bone, and didn't miss it  a bit.  Once the stock is done, then it is scallions, peas, salt, pepper, and sugar - and the result was the freshest, cleanest tasting pea soup I have had in a long, long time. Perfection.

I am sure it was both the stock and the rest of the recipe that made it so good, but the next harvest of peas, I am making another batch of the stock to freeze even if I don't make the pea soup!

 Copyright 2010,

Karen's CSA

My friends have suggested that I start selling CSA shares. I've become a vegetable. Who wants spinach? Any takers for peas? Can anyone help me out with the lettuce?

This weekend I harvested romaine lettuce, and once again I have more than we can possibly eat. So far, I have delivered packages of washed leaves, rolled in paper towel, in an open bag, to 2 families, and two more will be dropped off this evening. Normally, I can and freeze and preserve, but lettuce needs to go to the food bank or friends.

At times like this, I need more friends!

Copyright 2010,


I am grateful. It waited two months this year. My first case of poison ivy usually comes in late April - and I didn't get it this year until June. I think it says more about what I'm doing than the plant itself. I've concentrated pretty hard on the vegetable garden this year, and the shade border and woods have been pretty neglected. But somewhere, someone, I always find some poison ivy.

I used to get the most incredible, long lasting cases that would leave permanent scars. Huge welts. The more I treated them, the worst it got.....duh! It turned out I was allergic to the over the counter topical medicine sold to treat poison ivy! Now that I know I am allergic to caine mix, I am in need of some relief from other sources.

For the first time this year, I tried using plantain leaves. Since we don't use any herbicides in our yard, and completely ignore the grass to spend time in the gardens, we have plenty throughout our yard! The research I did said to use them in the bathtub, and them take cooked leaves and blot them on the wounds. My bathtubs are not the nice soaking tub variety, so I passed on the tub (but if I had a view I would have tried it). Instead, I made a paste of the leaves and rubbed them on affected areas of my legs and arms. It made a royal mess- and I can't say I saw any difference in my skin.

Next I tried apple cider vinegar. A slight sting. Walked around a whole day smelling like a salad that you really didn't want to eat. And it didn'[t help a bit.

Finally I admitted defeat and went to the doctor 2 days ago, and started on steroids. My skin calmed down a lot. I thought I was reaching he end of this episode....

Tonight, I am itching and stinging.  A lot. All over my legs.

Here we go again!!

Copyright 2010,

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Would I Do Something Illegal?

I met a wonderful person today who had done a lot of things I would like to do - built a deck and chicken coop with his teenager, installed a graywater system, and is about to install solar panels. In a small house, much like ours.

He said the graywater system was totally illegal. That's where I cringe. I believe that graywater systems are responsible, and that we absolutely have to find ways to make them legal and standard. Water is far too precious to waste in any way. We nee dot use it sparingly and well. I want a graywaer system to water my non-vegetable garden. But am I willing to install one now, thumbing my nose at local codes? Probably not. I'm far from perfect, but I am pretty much a goodie-two-shoes who follows the rules.

Graywater is not radical environmentalism, it is common sense. What we all need more of - especially the government, who makes these dumb rules. Petition time?
Copyright 2010,

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Nesting Instincts

Today's garden chores included work on our most-neglected part of our yard (or perhaps more accurately, one of them): the north side corner. Wild, weedy, and shaded, it is enclosed by Norway spruce, inside which are crabapples and dogwoods - looks of competition for roots. Last year we planted some lovely azaleas there. They were not like all the others at the nursery; these were balled, and had a much more open shrub structure, with delicate flowers, not in-your-face pink like most. They are quite happy, so we are as well, and we've decided to add some hydrangeas to their neighborhood. I had been waiting for the perfect place for a smaller version, a blue lacecap, so we added her in one corner. To hide an ugly metal support to a telephone pole, we looked for a spot for a variegated leaf hydrangea, bigger than the lacecap. So I was happily weeding the area, when I saw it.

On the ground was the most perfect little nest. What strikes me most is the shape of the cup: it is not round, like most nests, but oval. It is small - no dove or jay or robin could fit into it. So I brought it inside to look for a nest identification guide. Not finding it, I googled nest identification, and still came up empty. So I googled Cornell, hoping that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology would be able to help.

What I found at Cornell was "Nestwatch", yet another citizen-science effort this wonderful lab is conducting. They are looking for "regular people" like you and me to record nests. The amount if data they collect with their citizen participants is truly awesome.

So I registered. Not for the next on the ground, but for the lovely Gray Catbird nest that is right by the gate to my vegetable garden.  I had noticed her hanging around every time I was in the garden, but it was Jonathan who first found the nest. It is inside a climbing hydrangea that covers both sides of the fence by the gate - very well hidden, but unfortunately in a place I disturb on a regular basis. Mama bird was not happy when I looked to verify the number of eggs to register the nest. Four beautiful, perfect little eggs in an incredible, rich shade of blue. Like a Caribbean sea, much darker than a robin's egg and richer than an Arcana chicken's (and much smaller). I quickly left so she could resume brooding the eggs, which Cornell says she will do for 12-15 days. What surprised me was how short the fledgling period is - just 10 - 15 days. Amazing.

We have other nests, too, but I don't know what is happening in them because they aren't accessible. In the lilac in the back, we have a cardinal nest for the first time. They don;t seem to be there at the moment, so I'm thinking that the first brood has fledged already. We had bluebirds in the veggie garden box, but they. too, are gone now. We don't know if the bluebirds nesting in the house outside our bedroom window are the same pair with a second brood or a different pair, but when one landed near the shade border just as a ruby throated hummingbird was feeding on blooms, it was pure magic. And house wrens are in residence in the house made by one of my favorite potters, Ken Hankins, and in an old birdhouse that had fallen down and was temporarily stuck in the crook of one of the apples in the orchard. We thinks bluejays, mourning doves, and at least one woodpecker are nesting, too, but we can't find the nests.

I love knowing that our property isn't just our home, but is home for many other creatures. I wish it wasn't home for a groundhog, but I welcome each and every nest. May it be safe and warm.

Copyright 2010,