Monthly Archives: March 2011

Roasted Buttercup Squash Soup with Curried Apples

I still have a slew of winter squash, stacked in crates, hanging out in my living room. While thumbing through some old recipes, looking for a bit of cooking inspiration, I found one that sparked my interest. This recipe is loosely based off a roasted sweet potato soup from body + soul.

Ingredients:

3 buttercup squash

1 large onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, chopped

1 ancho pepper

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

3/4 cup marsala cooking wine

4 cups veggie broth

1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

1 Tbsp honey

1/2 Tsp curry powder

1 smallish tart apple, peeled, cored and diced.

dried cranberries, chopped

plain yogurt

olive oil

Preheat oven to 400. Wash squash and slice in half, remove seeds and slice halves into wedges. Place squash wedges into baking dishes with a bit of water. Roast for 45 minutes to one hour. When squash has cooled to the touch scoop cooked squash out and place in a bowl. Discard or compost skins.

Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium heat, add onion some salt and pepper and cook until caramelized, approximately 15 minutes. Add bell pepper, hot pepper and garlic; cook for 5 minutes. Add marsala wine, squash and broth; stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes, until flavors have melded. Remove from heat and allow soup to cool. Using an immersion blender puree soup to desired consistency. Soup can also be poured into a blender, in small batches, and pureed.

In a small sauce pan, over med heat, bring vinegar, agave and curry powder to a boil. Add apple; stir for about a minute, remove from heat. Ladle soup into bowls, add a dollop of yogurt and sprinkle some apple and cranberry on top.

This soup can easily be converted into a vegan dish by omitting the yogurt.

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Vegetable Stock

Making your own stock or broth is incredibly easy. Not only are you putting those veggie scraps to good use, but it costs you virtually nothing since you would have tossed (or hopefully composted) those scraps to begin with!

The best way to save your scraps is to freeze them; once you have a full bag (or two) it’s time to cook them down. Since my diet consists mainly of vegetables I can fill up a gallon zip lock in no time! To make vegetable broth simply empty your bags into a large stock pot full of water and bring it to a boil, then, reduce it to a simmer. I also like to toss in a few bay leaves for good measure! Every so often give the pot a stir.  My pot contained a mix of carrot ends, onion skins, garlic, celery leaves, broccoli stalks, cauliflower leaves and stalks, butternut squash peels, peppers and cilantro.

Be mindful to add additional water as the liquid level drops so you don’t burn your stock. After several hours you will have a beautiful pot of broth. Remove the pot from heat and allow it to cool for a bit.

I always strain my stock twice; once through a large colander, then again through cheese cloth. The colander is good for removing the large vegetable matter, the cheese cloth will catch the smaller particles.

veggie matter left over from initial strain with the colander

It’s during the second strain that I bottle it and then freeze it. I’m going to start canning my stock so I can free up a bit more freezer space, but first I need to check with my local extension office. All of my canning books have instructions for chicken and beef stock, but not veggie. I’m assuming it would be the same procedure, but it is better to be safe than sorry dead, literally.

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Spring Nesting

I consciously strive to be as low-impact as possible. I reduce, reuse, recycle and re-purpose whenever I can. I purchase second hand; everything that can be composted is. I would use public transportation and bike more often if it weren’t for being in the middle of nowhere. I’m miles from everything and would have to ride my bike into town, then catch a bus. If I lived in a major metropolis that would be another story. So instead, I save all my errands to be ran at one time and I plan my travel route. I also make it a habit to stop on the way home from work, since I’m right across the street from a shopping center.

Typically, once the new year has begun I stop composting my dryer lint. Yes, I am guilty of using my dryer in the winter. Line drying inside is just not conducive to my living space. However, you bet your sweet bum that when we have those lovely pseudo-Spring days, my laundry is outside soaking up some rays! So Jan-April I collect my lint (and not in a Congressman Dilbeck kind of way) and save it for Spring.

Now, what do I do with this saved lint you ask? Why I give it to the birds in the form of nesting material, along with saved threads and serger clippings. I place them into a baggie and once nesting time rolls around I stuff it into my empty suet feeders. You can also use those green plastic berry baskets found in food stores. Just place the nesting material into two baskets and secure them shut with a twist tie. Really any small slotted box type container will do. The birds will simply pull out the stuffing with their beaks and the small holes helps them to grab just enough! Makes for a cozy nest to hatch and welcome those little baby birds!

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Repotting Seedlings

I’ve got “true” leaves so you know what that means, right? Time to repot and bury those stems! By doing so the newly buried stem will begin growing roots, encouraging the development of a healthy and strong root system.

When a seed sprouts the first leaves to emerge are called cotyledons. If there is only one leaf, it’s a monocot, if it has two, it’s a dicot.  The primary function of those leaves is to serve as a food source for the growing seedling. Now that I have true leaves and my plants are actively photosynthesizing, it’s time to make sure they’re getting proper nutrition! I will now begin supplementing their potting soil with a bit of compost tea.

In a few weeks my plants will be repotted again and then make their way into cold frames so that they may begin to acclimate themselves to the cool Spring temperatures. If I place them directly outside, without protection, the cold weather is sure to kill them! Even though Lactuca and Brassica are cold weather hardy plants, I will harden them off for a few days before placing them into the ground, since they too were started inside and are used to a comfy 76+ degrees (my growing lights kick off some warmth)! I will begin introducing them to the outside world next week. The daytime temps will be in the mid 50’s but the nights will dip into the low 30’s, so they will come back inside once the sun sets.

Since we received a good amount of snowfall this winter, and several inches of rain recently, the ground is still very wet! Local tradition is to till and plant peas on Paddy’s day, unfortunately that did not happen this year. If I did any direct sowing right now my carrot, pea and spinach seeds are sure to rot in the ground! I did however inoculate some legumes and started a bit of container planting earlier this week. I was hoping to begin tilling and spreading manure this weekend, but since there is more rain in tomorrow’s forecast I don’t think that will happen. Oh well, there’s always next week!

 

Images and content copyright © 2009-2011 Danielle R Limoge.

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If you build it, they will grow.

Mid February I walked into Home Depot with a sketch, a list of materials and a mission, 90 minutes later I was ready to begin construction! More often than not when I’m walking around Home Depot or other testosterone type stores, I find myself surrounded with more help than I need. At one point I had 4 guys cutting wood for me when one person could have easily handled the job. Seriously, I had one sheet of plywood and five 2x3x8’s. I’m building a light stand people, not an addition to my house! But whatever, they were sweet and clearly thought I was some kitten stuck in a tree…so cut away boys, I’m not gonna stop you.

Armed with my trusty power drill, some drywall screws and a whole lot of determination, I was able to build my shelving unit in a little under 2 hours. My biggest obstacle was maneuvering it in such a confined space…and screwing the top shelf into place. Let me just say that placing a step-ladder on top of a chair is probably not the safest way to go about things, but it got the job done!

The unit stands 6′ tall and eventually will have a total of 6 shop lights. I initially set the lights up this way so I could get a better visual of what it will look like when full of growing transplants!

I originally thought 2 lights per shelf would be enough, but some of my brassicas are getting a bit leggy (which is to be expected when using anything except high pressure sodium bulbs). I’m going to pick up an additional light in the next few days and once I’m ready to start round two of my plants, I’ll purchase the remaining three. I also re-lowered the lights so that they hang approximately 2 inches above my seedlings. Even though fluorescent bulbs don’t get that hot I’m still a little geeked out about burning the place down! I anticipate this first round of plants to be somewhat trial and error.

Speaking of trial and error I’m conducting a little experiment with a bit of tin foil. I don’t know if it is going to work but I’m hoping to reflect additional light back onto my plants that would otherwise be wasted. This also helps in trapping the humid air that surrounds my plants from being watered from the bottom up. (Since these pictures were taken I’ve lined the shelf as well.) The only issue I’m running into (which can easily be corrected) is the foil being blown off when I turn the fan on to prevent damping-off.

Somewhere along the line I got it in my head that starting everything from seed would just be too difficult. Then about three years ago I became very obsessed serious about my food growing endeavors. Seeing as how the local greenhouses’ left much to be desired when it came to plant variety, I decided to just dive in and start growing everything from seed. I’m so glad I did!

 I’ve been kicking around the idea of selling some transplants too. Most of my varieties are heirloom, some are from rare and hard to find seeds; all are organic. Maybe on the weekends when the weather warms, I’ll set up a little stand under my front pines. Nothing elaborate or expensive, just reasonably priced organically grown vegetable plants. This way I can recoup some of my seed investment, additional utility expenditure, and hopefully offset the amount of GMO varieties making their way around town! 🙂

Images and content copyright © 2009-2011 Danielle R Limoge.

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Black Gold

Ask anyone with a green thumb what their version of black gold is and I’m willing to bet the answer is compost.  Whether you have decomposing organic matter in a hot pile, a cold pile or facilitated by worms, compost is not only a nutritious supplement for your garden, farm and house plants, but it is environmentally responsible too!

The key to making great compost is moisture and the proper balance of green and brown, also know as your C/N ratio.  Too much green and your pile will stink of ammonia, too much brown and you won’t have enough nitrogen to support a growing colony of bacteria.  Ultimately you want a 30:1 Carbone Nitrogen ratio.  Now, before you start to feel overwhelmed by numbers, most green matter already starts out at a 20:1 C/N ratio, so really you just need to make up the difference.  If you are still confused think of it as a 60%/40% ratio; that will get you close enough to a target balance for your compost heap to even itself out.  A good example would be layering two parts dried leaves with one part grass clippings and ta-dah, there is your C/N balance.

There are various methods to creating compost, which I briefly mentioned earlier.  The fastest way would be to build a hot pile, which requires a bit of maintenance, but it kills pathogens and weeds.  A cold pile, also known as slow composting, is just that, slow.  It can take up to two years for your heap to break down but it requires you to do nothing except allow nature to take its course.  You can also make compost using worms, which is called vermiculture.  This was something I researched last Summer and had planned to start in the Fall, however, due to life throwing a few curve balls in my direction, I had to put it on the back burner… ’til now. 🙂

At my last home I had a 3 sided cinder-block structure that I practiced slow composting.  My new house, however, is not conducive to an open pile, so I ended up purchasing a 3 tiered locking structure.  It just so happens that the day my compost bin arrived I was also gifted a double barrel tumbler… the exact one I had been lusting over but could in no way afford!  I love when the universe evens things out!!

Both of my composters contain yard and garden waste from last year.  Over the winter the majority of my kitchen scraps went into the dark green container.  It’s just easier for me to take off the lid and toss my pale into that one then it is to unlatch the tumbler, especially when its bitter cold and there’s snow on the ground!  Yes, I realize that is an omission of laziness; please forgive me, I’m an imperfect person.

Last Sunday we had a lovely pseudo-Spring day, so I started cleaning up the side beds in preparation for planting.  I ended up with a decent sized pile of partially decomposed leaves and weeds that I added to the tumbler.  I also decided to check the progress of the compost I started last Summer which is held in the dark green unit.  I haven’t aerated it since winter began so I grabbed the pitchfork and started turning and mixing and you know what?  There is some seriously beautiful humus going on in the bottom third of that container!  Just look at it seeping out!!  I didn’t want to open the door for fear I wouldn’t be able to close it and I’m not quite ready to add it to my garden.

Compost is typically not this wet but seeing as how I had just added more organic material and then hosed it down, a bit started leaking out of the bottom.  After filling both sides of the tumbler it too received a good soaking; I then began turning the hand crank to give it a thorough mixing.  I quickly grabbed my bucket and waited for the tea. Not the herbal kind mind you, but the compost kind.  One of the benefits to having a tumbler is the nutrient rich tea that drips out of the unit!

After giving my (many) house plants a thirst quenching drink of compost tea, I still had enough left over to bottle up in jugs.  I will store this to feed my transplants with over the next few weeks.

Images and content copyright © 2009-2011 Danielle R Limoge.

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Seed Tape – A Tutorial

Seed tape is something that is mind-blowing kind of simple, as in palm to forehead “why didn’t I think of that?” type of moment. It quite possibly may change your life. Yeah, it’s that awesome.

Tiny seeds, like carrots and lettuce are somewhat of a pain to work with, especially when it comes to spacing. Their ability to blend in to the point of becoming invisible is beyond impressive! There you are planting along and something catches your eye. You look away and the next thing you know you’ve lost track, so you find yourself with your nose in the dirt (looking like an idiot) trying to locate where you left off! Plus I refuse to germinate seeds only to thin them out later. What a waste of time, energy and most importantly seeds! This is where seed tape comes into play!

I’m sure there are lots of variations to making seed tape and I’m willing to bet you can probably even purchase it, if you’re really that lazy. It takes but only a few minutes to make (depending on how many seeds you have of course) and when it comes time for rolling it out you will be so glad you have it! Besides it a nice activity to help beat those mid-winter doldrums when you’re convinced that Spring is never going to get here!

What you will need:

  • toilet paper
  • seeds
  • flour paste (mix a little bit of water with a little bit of flour)
  • ruler
  • pen
  • small paint brush

Step 1, roll out your toilet paper. Mine was approximately 4′, the length of my table (when it’s time for “planting” I will line them up, end to end). Mark where you will be placing your seeds, my spacing was done in 2″ increments.

Step 2, place a small amount of “paste” everywhere you made a mark, then add your seeds.

Allow your tape to dry completely, then roll it up and store it until you are ready for planting.

When it comes time for planting just roll it out and lightly cover with dirt. The toilet paper will rapidly decompose and the flour will add additional organic matter to the soil.  It’s that simple!

This year I’m going to try my hand at square foot gardening, so I think I’ll use tissues. I will place my seeds in 2″ increments in every direction. I may need several tissues to cover the right amount of space but it should work all the same!

Images and content copyright © 2009-2011 Danielle R Limoge.

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A Precious Harvest

Last October I harvested 21 threads of Crocus Stigma, aka saffron. I needed just 13,104 more threads to make an ounce. I’m hoping my bulbs will rapidly and magically multiply in time for this year’s harvest without me having to perform the ritual known as dig and divide, but I’m not holding my breath!
 

 

Images and content copyright © 2009-2011 Danielle R Limoge.

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