Friday, June 29, 2012

Homegrown Crushed Red Pepper

I've been trying to get this post written for months now, but for one reason or another I just kept putting it off...mostly by continually forgetting to take the accompanying photographs.  I was excited about it though so finally I have managed to get it together in order to share it with all of you.
Last year we grew hot peppers for the first time, more or less.  We'd grown jalapenos before, but I don't consider them very spicy really and we'd only grown a rather limited amount.  But, last year we grew a few different kinds of spicy peppers and the plants turned out to be quite prolific.  So prolific in fact that I had strings of dried cayenne peppers that I'd been trying to figure out what to do with.  (We ate all the serrano peppers fresh in stir-fry and a crazy hot Ethiopian inspired dish)  As I mentioned in that post I'd been tossing them (and the cayennes) into soups, stir-fry, and such, but since Matt has a heat sensitive tongue and since there were so many we still had two long strands of cayenne peppers.  I transported them carefully from where they hung in the kitchen at the rental to the new kitchen when we moved. 

Right about this time I ran out of crushed red pepper.  "Aha!"  I thought.  "That's what I'll do with all those cayennes!"  So I popped them in the spice grinder (a mini food processor) and voila!  Homegrown crushed red pepper.  I was pretty pleased as I tend to sprinkle it on wherever I can, frequently adding it directly to my plate because of the previously mention tender mouth.  I made sure to clean out the spice grinder thoroughly afterwards.

I still have two pint jars of dried peppers to crush whenever the bottle runs dry again.  Truth be told though that will be take longer than I'd have expected.  My crushed red peppers are much fiery than the one from the store.  A little goes a long way.  Yum!  Next, my hot sauce bottle is empty and I'm thinking of maybe trying to make my own of that as well! 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


We (mostly Matt) got our ditch water pump up and running finally yesterday.  Good thing too since the front yard was turning to dust and we really need the grass clippings to build up our quickly dwindling compost pile.  Not to mention the fact that the ditch water is so much cheaper to water the garden with than our city water.  $10 for the whole season.  Hip, hip, hooray!  We're pretty excited about this feature of our new home.
Reviving the grass with the water pipes in the background.

The Kid's Stir-Fry Sauce

Once I went through all of the cookbooks at my library and copied every recipe that sounded good (and not insanely complex) onto 3x5 cards.  Its not as crazy as it sounds.  We don't have too many cookbooks, really.  As a side-note I will mention that I recycle old card catalog cards as my recipe cards.  They are always blank on one side which is usually enough room for my bare-bones style of transcribing recipes.  Since the library automated to an electronic catalog the thousands of cards are just boxed up in the workroom.  We give them to students when they ask us for index cards.  We use them as scratch paper.  I use them as recipe cards.  The Kid's Stir-Fry Sauce is on the back of a card cataloging an official highway map of Delaware. 
Peas and spinach from our garden.
The reason we call it The Kid's Stir-fry Sauce is because it is slight deviation from the stir fry recipe I copied down from a cookbook called Kid's Cuisine (I told you I read every cookbook).    The original recipe was only five ingredients, so easy that a child cook make it.  Since we are just slightly more advanced than that we zested it up a little with some ginger and orange juice (other citrus juice would work, too) and dropped one ingredient I deemed unnecessary.  It is quick, easy, and quite tasty.

The Kid's Stir-fry Sauce
1/2 C vegetable broth
1/2 C orange juice
2 T honey
2 T vinegar
2 T soy sauce
2 T minced ginger

Combine all ingredients until well blended.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Spice Jar Labels

I like to draw and color and I like practical reasons to be creative.  Thus, it's only natural that I should make fun little labels for my bulk herb and spice jars.  I recently replaced the last of the plastic jars with glass ones.  I had to make several new labels.  It's really fun to try to come up with just the right label for each spice.  So, I thought I'd share what I'd come up with.  I incorporate the tare weight (the weight of the empty jar) as well as the bin number for the co-op into the label design so that they are easy to refill.  The people at the co-op always comment on them which make me happy.
My dad is a bit of a card.  When I was growing up he'd call all-purpose flour all-PORPOISE flour.  And he'd call mustard MOUSEturds.  So when I got to the ground mustard jar that was the first thing that came to my mind--mice.  Matt was puzzled at first, "Why is there a mouse on the mustard?"  When I explained the story about my dad it made him laugh and now he says he chuckles to himself every time he sees the little mouse on the jar.
Do you see the cumin in the back ground?  (Q + Men)  The Thyme (front right) is a bit hard to read in the photo, but it covered with clocks.  The oregano (rear left) is modeled on Marge Simpson's hair because of an episode in which she find a spice rack at a chili cook-off and says "Eight spices!  Some of these must be double.  Or-e-gone-o...what the hell?!"  which never fails to crack me up.  Actually just about any time oregano is mentioned in my household it is followed by "What the...?"
I really like how the Italian seasoning turned out.  I was going for the sort of table cloth you might find in an Italian restaurant.  I also was absolutely tickled with my cardamon playing card design.

Potato Blossoms

The potatoes at the community garden are blossoming.  It is so interesting to me how the different varieties have different colored blossoms.  Some are pink, some white, some purple.  It seems to coordinate with the color of the potato flesh somewhat.  Or at least I think it does.  The purple blossoms are on the All-blue potatoes, which are purple if you ask me and not at all blue.
We have 128 square feet at the community garden and almost every inch of it is growing potatoes.  We love potatoes and plant more and more every year.  They are a good crop for us to have over there because they mostly take care of themselves which makes it easier since we don't go over to the garden daily.  It also frees up a lot of room at our home garden. We did put in two rows of onions though and for once they actually look like they might make respectable bulbs.  Here is hoping!  (If anyone knows the secret to why my onions always fall over before making a large bulb I'd LOVE to know!)
Both the home garden and the community garden desperately need weeded, but it was so darn hot yesterday I just couldn't bring myself to do it.  But, its only pretty hot today so maybe I can manage to get a few beds cleared out so the little plants don't have so much competition.

Love Your Mother Earth 2012

Every June we pack up the car and head out for the Love Your Mother Earth Festival near Missoula, MT. 
It is four days of music and dancing, swimming and catching up with friends from all across the state, eco-workshops and mountain scenery, playing dress up and flying kites, eating, drinking, and being completely merry!  We look forward to it so very, very much each year.  And each year it is an absolutely fabulous good time. 
It is a really positive, exuberant, and spiritual event for me.  It is such a blessing on so many levels to be able to gather in the mountains to celebrate joy and connectedness with so many other kind, free souls.  To celebrate our beautiful planet and how we all depend upon it and are connected by it.
People are so generous and care so much for each other, like one big family for the most part.  You need a tent? We have a spare.  You need water?  I have a jug right here.  You're cold?  Take this scarf I'm not using.  Too hot?  Come sit under my shade tree.  It is such a loving, upful , playful community.   It always makes me think of  Mathew 18:3 "And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."  In general the hippies I know are a group of people who have not lost the wonder in their eyes and hearts.  Who have not completely forgotten or been removed from the innocence and simple joy of childhood.  Who have kept some of that essence intact into adulthood. 
Sitting on the smooth, round stones, in the refreshingly cold river, under the blazing Montana sun I more than once had to remark that if this isn't nice, I don't know what is.  Hopping and twirling on my bare feet, on the cool, damp grass, to the warm, happy tones of the guitar, mandolin, fiddle, surrounded by other twirling, happy people makes me filled up with peace and joy beyond adequate description.  It recharges my soul.  Dancing outdoors for me is an act of communion.  I never fail to feel the spirit within me swell, to feel the connectedness and unity with the mountains, the sky, friends and strangers, and the Creator of it all. 
Some other miscellaneous highlights from this year:

The Gypsy Lumberjacks playing "Open Country," by Bela Fleck, a song which makes my heart soar and which Matt had never heard before.
Building a solar oven out of a pizza box, black paper, aluminum foil, and plastic wrap and then using it to heat up our Caribbean au gratin casserole.  (As a sub-highlight I would also mention that we used the last of our squash harvested in October 2011 in the dish instead of sweet potatoes as well as some of our garden fresh spinach.  It is a tradition of ours to bring as much homegrown food to LYME as possible as it seems only fitting.)  The presenter had a larger solar oven that he was using to bake cookies.  He also went over a number of styles including a mason jar cooker perfect for beans and rice that Matt wants to try out sometime.
Watching this fellow doing yo-yo tricks that were truly astonishing.  It really made me want to get a yo-yo.  It was sort of like he was juggling it was that impressive of hand-eye coordination and skill.  Matt brought his juggling balls and got to do a little team juggling with a random fellow juggler.  He really likes to duo juggle, but not too many people can join in with him.  I sure can't! 
I made this cape (and nine others) for a different music festival.  Now that I have the dancing cloak we hardly use them so I gave them to my friend Hannah to share with her crew as they really were into dressing up in costume.  I kept running into people wearing my capes and it made me really happy to see them in use again.
A synchronized group release of hundreds of floating paper lanterns into the starry night sky.  It is enchanting to see all the little glowing lanterns drift up and away into the heavens.  It is neat when just one is released, but when hundreds are it is spectacular.  (For the record, it had rained heavily that day and we were not under any burn restrictions and the lanterns are 100% biodegradable.)   Though we'd seen them many times we'd never released one ourselves before this year.
Children having "seaweed" fights with their dad with clumps of stringy river plants.
My friend Casey and her sister showed up completely unexpectedly on Saturday much to my surprise and delight.  She usually comes with us, but I thought should couldn't this year.  All of the sudden she's just strolling into camp "Hey guys!"   I was sure glad she made it, even if just from one day.  And my friend, Carl, from college who just coincidentally camped right next door
Sitting on the guardrail overlooking the railroad tracks and watching train after train go by.  The rumbling and long whistles seemed somehow suiting to our gathering.  The freedom of the rails have long appealed to the hipster, bohemian, beat sort of crowd.  There is some freedom there that can't be explained I think.  The echoes off the mountains and overpasses stretched out and amplified the trains rhythm of clatter.  It was neat to see the engineers enjoying themselves, too.  Some would slow the train to a crawl as it passed the festival area and lean out the window waving at people, watching the dancers.  Others would lay on the horn all the way past the campground as the hippies cheered and waved at them.  I made sure to play every song I know that has anything to do with trains during an early morning sing-a-long with some of our camp neighbors.
My group of gal-pals are big into hula hooping and fire dancing.  On Thursday night they (and some other folks I didn't know) put on a performance by one of the smaller stages.  They had flaming hula hoops, poi, and staffs which they twirled, threw, swung, and all sorts of crazy tricks.  I don't know how they don't set themselves on fire.  But, they don't.  There was even a little boy (maybe 10-12?) taking part in the show.  I thought he was pretty brave to follow up some of those adult as he was clearly less experienced, but he did a very good job.  Some of these dancers are insanely flexible, agile, and talented.  One of them would kneel, then lay back until she was laying flat on her back with her knees splayed out to the side all the while twirling flaming poi over her face.  It was insane.  I prefer to watch.  I'll leave the insanity to them.
Jumping in the river so cold that it made every single person gasp or cry out with minor (refreshing) shock.  I just sat in that river for quite a long time.  Its amazing how even just getting your feet wet made a huge difference as far as how hot you felt.  Jumping all the way in was like natural air conditioning.

Photo credit to Jonnie Egeland.

Watching the stage artists turn a blank canvas into a stunning work of art during the course of a day.  I am an artist, but these people really are impressive craftsmen.  I can't hold a candle to them.  And they do it with people watching them!  They were doing blacklight paint at night which made the paintings look almost completely different.  It was very interesting to watch how they evolved.

They had one of those aerial silks acrobats that uses long ribbons of cloth to tie themselves up in various ways, upside down, splits, flips, etc.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about here is a random video I pulled off youtube.  I find this sort of preformance SO impressive.  Those ladies are always ripped.  I mean, think how much muscle--both arm and leg--that it takes to do that!
An insane storm rolled in quietly on Saturday and built up to what seemed to be a hurricane.  At first everyone seemed this think "Oh, its just a little sprinkle."  Soon enough though everyone was running for cover.  We ended up with quite a little posse hiding out under our gazebo.  But when the wind picked up even that no longer provided cover.  The rain was flying horizontally every which way.  Some poorly staked tents blew down, rolled over, or took flight altogether.  Hail started to pelt the ground.  It got a little loud.  You couldn't see across the camp ground or the nearby mountains.  Then in passed just in time for the music we'd been waiting to see and it was lovely again.
Believe it or not, this chair was actually under the gazebo....but without walls it may as well have been out in the open during the "hurricane" section of the storm.
Love Your Mother is a huge effort to organize I am sure, but they (Earthbound Productions) do such a good job of it.  The bands are always outstanding, even if I've never heard of them before.  Many are local, or at least regional, and they always seem to be having a blast.  We talked to a few of the Lumberjacks after their set and they had nothing but good things to say.  The recycling efforts at LYME are just outstanding.  There is not a garbage can that doesn't have recycling bins beside it and there is a whole team of people who collect, sort, and haul it off.  I saw the bags of trash and the bags of recycling as they were and the latter was definitely the more abundant.  There are regular reminders to pick up any trash you see and to make sure to recycle.  The workshops are diverse and interesting covering topics from juggling 101 to growing your own mushrooms, candle-making, reflexology, yoga, and more.  Many, if not most, of the presenters are Montana folks.  There are water barrels everywhere so that no one dances themselves into dehydration.  And if they did, well, then there are medical tents and professionals to help them.  It is a great festival. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Transplanting Morning

Newly transplanted peppers in the jungle of peas and kale.
We woke to a light rain, but decided not to let that hinder our plans to transplant out the pepper plants.  They are getting too tall for the mini-greenhouse shelves and at least one was starting to fruit so, yeah, it was definitely time rain or no rain.  The cooler temperature and rain should actually be beneficial for the poor transplants who, despite ginger handling, almost always look bedraggled and sad afterward.
Raindrops pooled on broccoli leaves.
We also planted out four eggplants which we'd started.  We've never grown eggplant before.  Until last year's farmer's market I don't think we even knew we liked eggplant.  We're both hoping the plants are successful and productive.  Oh, eggplant is so tasty.

Don't you find the curlycues of the pea tendrils just amazing?
So, we're down to just two flats of seedlings left to transplant.  We started with more than six flats (way back in March when Matt started seeds).  When the peas are done we'll be able to transplant some more in those beds and we've given away a number of tomatoes seedlings that we had extras of.
Matt is awestruck by the size of the spinach leaves.  Most photos taken our my idea, but this particular shot was all his.
To make room for the peppers we harvested the last of the spinach which had started to bolt anyways on account of the warm temperatures.  We added another four pounds of spinach to our harvest total for this year.  Matt blanched most of it and froze it for later use.  We've basically got more greens than we can eat at this point, but now we'll have some to look forward to in the dead of winter when garden fresh spinach is just a memory.  I am not complaining.
Matt hugging his greens.   While we were working in the garden he turned to me and said "I love our garden.  I mean, I know you already know that.  But, still."