Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fowl, containers and kombucha update

I decided to tackle this mess last weekend. Honestly, the main reason I'd been avoiding this area for years was because I was scared. With all the pots haphazardly thrown on the cart, I knew some creepy crawly things had probably made homes or a bazillion babies in egg sacs. What I was happy to find was the bird's nest below.

I've tried eggplant a few times, never to see a reasonable eggplant before the plant was decimated. I decided to tuck this eggplant in a corner of the container by my front door and so far, no flea beetles! It will be really pretty to see flowers (or dare I say - fruit) on this plant.

Drumroll...below, you see the "mother" SCOBY (brownish), with the daughter below it! In this post, I pondered whether the kombucha would garner more shock value or health value.

After diligently waiting about 12 days, I found the drink pretty darn cool. Fizzy with a head. Pretty crazy, huh? Though it started off with as sweetened tea, the finished product was not sweet. I felt it tasted a bit like sparkling apple cider. It literally warms the belly as it goes down - like i'd imagine some good old homemade moonshine might. But alas, in the end...

I just can't do it. I drank a few glasses and coincidentally, we started to have a fruit fly problem. I decided to make this effective trap, only I didn't have any cider vinegar on hand, and thought the kombucha would be perfect. Guess what? I've got the perfect recipe for fruit fly bait. After seeing a cup of kombucha in a plastic cup with a bunch of dead fruit flies it in, I just can't drink it anymore. Below, my older daughter tries it with her pancake (with a sauce made of strawberry preserves, lemon juice, and butter - yum-o!). This is her face after she states, "The pancake that was just in my stomach is now in my throat." I tried. We all tried. We will not be experiencing the long-term benefits of kombucha in this household.

Some mean old geese at my parents' house. They're not happy that I've come to take photos of the babies.

These are the more chill Chinese geese below. Unfortunately two were killed by predators last year. The Chinese geese are supposed to be very protective and loyal. I've noticed they seem to keep watch over the babies - see the bottom photo...

Above and below, the fowl habitat. My father just built a smaller pen for the babies, and there is also a fenced area on the pond for the ducks to swim around. They have quite the life!

Below, the new baby ducks and geese. Awwwwwww!!! You can see one of their grandparents hatching here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

GTTC - strawberries and canning competence

I was right about the bumper crop of strawberries! For this week's Garden to Table Challenge, I made a few things from the garden that I can enjoy now or months from now.

First, I made triple berry jam (on the left) and strawberry lemonade concentrate (on the right). Later in the week, I made another 14 pints of lemonade concentrate, this time also adding raspberries and blackberries to my own strawberries. Here are the recipe and directions I used (loosely based on the Ball canning book - I adjusted somewhat because the recipe was waaaaay too sweet):
  • To make about 6 pints of strawberry lemonade: measure 9 cups of berries (then puree), 7 cups of freshly squeezed lemon juice (I used 10 pounds of lemons to end up with 7 cups of juice. You really need a citrus juicer for this job!), and 8 cups of sugar. Heat ingredients in large pot till sugar is completely dissolved and liquid is hot but not boiling. Fill hot pint-sized jars. Process for 15 minutes.
Below, the start of tonight's project - strawberry lemon marmalade. This marmalade is so flavorful. There's something so fragrant about the peel of citrus fruits - but I think it's definitely an acquired taste. I thought marmalade was soooo disgusting as a kid. Do you like marmalade? Did you as a kid?

This week's canning went so smoothly. It's funny to compare the mad canning skillz I have now compared to my first experience. Here's what has REALLY helped:
  • I have all the necessary supplies and have learned which ones I really need (large canner with a proper rack, tongs, a wet washcloth, a stockpile of jars, lids, and rings) and which ones I really don't (magnetic stick to pick lids out of hot water, jar lifter).
  • I have the concept down. I don't need to constantly read and re-read directions in the canning book as I go along.
  • I've got a system down. I can quickly and carefully remove a hot jar with simple tongs and a washcloth.
  • Per my former farmer friend, I keep my clean jars hot in the oven turned on low rather than in separate boiling pots of water. This trick has made all the difference.
  • I'm not freaking out about trying to keep a completely sterile environment like the book warns about. It will all be just fine.
  • I have full trust in the "pop!" and don't feel the need to hover to watch and listen for it.
And because canning is just really freaking fun and awesome (well, if you're the kind of nerd I am, you understand), I've decided the first GTTC prize will be the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I've also decided that I'm not going to wait till the end of the season to offer prizes. In fact, all season long, if I think of a fun prize, I will simply: 1) announce it on a particular Saturday, 2) draw a name from all the entries thus far, and 3) award the prize the following Saturday from all entries up to Friday night. All entries then go back in the pot. In other words, the more you play, the more of an opportunity you have to win.

Note to new GTTC participants - I'll be posting each week's GTTC on Saturday. Feel free to blog about what you're harvesting/cooking up, link to this blog, and then link below. Doing this gives you one entry to the occasional random prize drawings as described above.

So...next Saturday, I will draw from all the entries in the GTTC so far. Winner will get a new copy of the Ball book, which has a gazillion recipes and explains all the basics of canning step by step. The photo above is just so ridiculous I had to post it. I was moving photos from my camera and found my husband took these. On a glorious day this week, my six year old and I were outside in the front yard. I was reading the canning book (you can see it behind me), then we decided that we were going to pretend to take a nap. All I remember was that my little one said she was going inside to get juice. I woke up an hour later alone, dazed, and confused. The six year old got juice and decided to check out what was on TV. She never came back. And I'm sleeping in the front yard by myself cuddling stuffed animals...

And speaking of cuddling animals, my father's little guys were born last week. Can't wait to see how big they've gotten in one week. This post from a few years ago shows photos of a duckling being hatched (or whatever the verb for that process is). Hope you've had a good week!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I drive past this tree in my neighborhood every day. Am I the only one who finds this sight very unsettling?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Garden to Table Challenge - roasted asparagus with shaved Parmesan

After five or six years of keeping the faith, there is finally enough asparagus to warrant the energy to cook it. The spears, purple upon harvesting, green up while roasting in an oven with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle of salt and pepper. To serve, they're drizzled with balsamic vinegar and garnished with shaved Parmesan. It was quite nice served this simple and elegant way!

What's going on in your garden and kitchen? To join the Garden to Table Challenge, post about what you're cooking, including a link back to this page. Then, link below to be entered in a drawing for prizes at the end of the gardening season. Each week's GTTC post will be up on Saturday. Feel free to add your post any time during the week!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Kombucha - shock value or health value?

The funny thing about having our own garden is that when my family makes our weekly visit to the farmer's market, we skip most of the vegetables and seek out the same things: peach lemonade, lemon drop cookies, and the fresh-from-the-grill sausages one of the Amish families cooks up (dressed how the matron enjoys it - with her own homemade ketchup, a generous helping of horseradish, on her daughter's delicious fresh baked rolls).

I shopped solo on this day and quite honestly, what compelled me to buy the kombucha mushroom was the loooooooong 10 minute wait for my sausages. After taking repeated peeks at the little jars in the cooler, I saw a thing that almost made me laugh out loud at the reaction I suspected I would receive from my family. I had to bring it home.

Definitely for the shock value.

Here's the Amish family recipe for Kombucha:
  • Boil a gallon of water, then add 4 regular sized black tea bags to steep for 30 minutes.
  • Add a cup of sugar, then allow to cool completely to room temperature.
  • Pour the sweetened tea in a glass jar and float the kombucha mushroom on top.
  • Fill about 10% of the jar with a starter tea or 1/4 cup vinegar - this helps with the prevention of contaminants (actually, this step was not indicated on the recipe sheet, but I added it based on what I read on the Internet).
  • Cover the jar with a tea towel and rubber band towel in place.
  • Place in a dark spot for 7-14 days.
  • Enjoy over ice!
When I read about Kombucha described with the acronym SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast), I remembered that Julie posted about it fairly recently. The culture (there's something about the word culture...) floating in the jar in the first photo is actually a folded up pancake shaped kombucha mushroom - also known as a mother and scientifically classified as a zoogleal mat. But that's not all...after creating the fermented tea that you enjoy over ice, the mother makes daughters that you can separate to make more tea or give to your friends! The Amish woman told me that once she took out the mushroom and set it on the counter because she didn't want her tea too strong and later, she found that it had created a baby. Awesome!

But despite the shock value, turns out there are quite a number of health values (of course, no claims have been scientifically proven). Kombucha tea:
  • detoxifies the liver and energeizes the mind
  • aids cancer recovery
  • increases energy
  • sharpens eyesight
  • improves skin's elasticity
  • aids joint recovery
  • aids digestion

Well, who knows what the true health values are. Some studies show nothing, some studies show benefits. In about 10 days, we'll see if the Kombucha tea is the panecea that many think it is. All I can confirm for now is that it's a fun project that is sure worth the shock value at least!

Friday, May 13, 2011

May GBBD (!!!) & GTTC - sesame soba noodle salad

***** Happy May! *********************

This week, the salad greens have grown just beyond babyhood. The lettuce mix made a beautiful salad with soba noodles and an Asian-style sesame dressing. Here's what went in the salad (sorry, I didn't measure, but you won't be able to mess this up!): spring salad greens, cucumbers, cilantro, dried red pepper, green onions, soba noodles (cooked, rinsed with cold water, drained), and a dressing made of: peanut butter, orange juice, oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, lime juice, sesame oil, minced garlic, minced ginger.

If you've created something delicious this week using your own fresh harvest, I would LOVE to hear about it. Show your stuff off in your post making sure to include a link back to Greenish Thumb, and link to the current week's GTTC (posted every Saturday) using Mr. Linky. Each entry that includes a link back here, will be entered in a raffle for end of gardening season prizes (TBD. I have still not had any fabulous light bulb ideas, but I'm getting close). Those of you who have already posted and linked - I have your names down in my jar!


In other news...It's MAY! Carol's blog's namesake. Thanks for checking out my blooms below. Next, why not visit May Dreams Gardens to see what's blooming in other parts of the world?

Baptisia, allium, maroon-colored sinocalycanthus above. Below, the blooms of hairy vetch - used as a cover crop in my vegetable garden.

Irises galore!

Lavender with a lush green backdrop of sedum.

'Green Halo' peony...

Preview for June: many lilies, roses, and summer perennials. See you back for GTTC next Saturday and GBBD on June 15th!

Reminder: you're linking below if you're participating in the Garden to Table Challenge. See you again soon!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Jan, Keter, and other happy things

Above, you see the new happy compost mixer (both human and plastic)! Below, you see the previous compost bin situation. Economical? Well, yes. Raided by racoons? Unfortunately. Neglected? Embarassed to confirm. As you can tell, I really needed some help!

You know, I'm in love with two men - my husband of course, but also the UPS man. Who wouldn't love this strong and wonderful man in uniform? He's capable of lifting 150 pounds of unwieldy cardboard and drops by with smiling face bearing gifts on a fairly regular basis. Well, technically they're not gifts if you had to pay for them in advance, but in THIS case, the compost mixer I received was TRULY a gift from both the Keter company and Jan from Thanks for Today, following my post on the Satanic Boy Scouts (and the follow up) linked to Jan's Gardener's Sustainable Living Project, an annual Earth Day event.

Now that I have my new compost mixer, here's what I'm looking forward to:
  • deterring the raccoons and neighborhood cats
  • having finished compost in a contained space that I access and use easily
  • turning my compost more frequently (with the mixer's handle, it enters "toy" catagory and I might even get a regular helper out of this)
I'm really partial to the 3-bin compost system (an unflattened version of what you see above). I like the idea of filling a bin to the top, closing it off, and then starting to fill another bin while the first bin cooks down, and so forth. I think what I'll do is use the new Keter to collect my browns and greens, and once full, I'll close it off and begin to collect my compost materials in one of the round bins. Once the Keter compost is finished, I'll empty it in the garden, and then move the more recently collected scraps into the Keter, repeating the process of saving more in the round bins.

I envision a much healthier garden with the addition of good compost that's more speedily made. I have high hopes for this tumbler - I have wanted some sort of tumbler for ages! Looking forward to the beautiful blooms and fat veggies that I'll surely have now! Thanks so much Jan and Keter for this generous prize! In other happy things...

Below, the happy "bouquet" I received from my almost 13 year old this past Sunday.

And another happy thing, in a prelude to the bumper crop I think we'll have this year, strawberries are ripening one by one. In the photo below, you see that the first stop after kindergarten every day is the garden, "Hey mom, let's go check on the strawbs!"

One more happy thing for today, May blossoms!

Friday, May 6, 2011

GTTC - Tabbouleh

Rather than waste the precious spring at work, I should just take the season off to stay home. I'd move a kitchen chair out to my front walk and surely I'd be able to watch these plants bud and bloom right before my eyes. Below, a new garden structure. And just when I thought the garden had completely lost my almost 13 year old's interest, she remarks how the new garden obelisk adds "a lot of depth" to the garden. Oh yes it does, and I can't believe she noticed!

The photo above was taken about 3-4 weeks ago. The photo below was taken a few days ago.

In the back, pretty and delicate blooms.. lily of the valley and moss phlox tumbling over walls.


And in the vegetable garden, the parsley is a veritable shrub! This week I have decided to make good use of the parsley that is fragrant and lush. I tried to think of something that would require a large amount of parsley and the tabbouleh below completely fit the bill - a perfect light, slightly tart, and fresh spring salad. In the tabbouleh: cracked wheat (soaked in hot water 1:1 for an hour), tomato seeded and chopped, cucumber seeded and chopped, about 1 cup of parsley chopped, and an easy and flavorful dressing of extra virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and a sprinkle of salt.

What culinary delights are happening at your place? To enter the Garden to Table Challenge end of season raffle: post about what you're growing/buying and cooking on your blog being sure to include a link back to Greenish Thumb. Then simply link below. Post any day of the week. I will have new posts up weekly on Saturdays. Have fun!

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