Garden to Table August 2016: tech support for food & yarn lovers

IMG_0120The long days of summer with a chaotic mix of heat and rain make everything grow like crazy! August is a time of great abundance in the Midwestern garden, and the farmers’ market tables are loaded with so many choices that we forget how hard it was to wait for tomatoes. Maybe you’ve picked up some yarn at the farmers’ market too…after all, fall is coming in a couple months.

Some times you might want a little help figuring out what to do with all that goodness. Here are a few of my favorites that you can use for free on your computer, smartphone, or tablet (or some combo of those):

Evernote – Great for saving online articles, blog posts, and recipes. Free to join on up to two platforms. Syncs between platforms so your notes are always read t0 go. Also great for writing draft blog posts and note taking!

Google Keep – While I can keep lists in Evernote, I like to use Google Keep for lists instead. This no-frills and easy-to-use app loads quickly, syncs between platforms, and allows quick and easy sharing of lists and notes with others.

feedly – Great for reading blog posts. Subscribe to your favorite blogs. feedly checks them regularly and compiles the new posts in your account. You can organize them by category (I have Assorted, Food, Fiber Arts, Gardening, Science) or just enjoy them any which way.

Ravelry – Love yarn? Then super-fun and useful Ravelry is for you. So easy to use, it has a database of yarns and patterns (so helpful to see what that pattern you’re considering looks like in different colors and yarns), online forums for many topics, online pattern shop, and sections to keep track of your projects, yarns, needles/hooks, and library! I love using Ravelry to search through my library from the comfort of the living room (“Hmm, I know I have a pattern somewhere in the house for a worsted weight scarf. Which book is it in?”). Want to access Ravelry on your phone or tablet? Try Stash2go for iOS or Android, or use the Ravelry mobile site.

E-books – Not everyone loves to read or work this way, but I’ve been able to get a lot of books for very little money this way! E-book publishers have short-term sales (and you can always check the Kindle bestsellers list in categories of interest on Amazon), so follow them on Twitter or subscribe to their lists (Storey Fresh Picks is one of my favorites for cooking, gardening and craft books) to find out about them. The picture above shows some of my favorite Kindle books and PDFs.

NYTimes recipes – A good iOS app and a really good website to get you access to the many recipes the Times has published over the years.

PDF reader – Really handy to be able to “mark up” a PDF of a recipe or pattern. I like GoodReader (iOS) and save a copy of both the original and my marked-up PDF knitting patterns that way.

Craftsy has online classes for crafts but also cooking and gardening! They have a number of free ones to get you started, and if you sign up to watch some, you can get notifications of sales on classes.
What did I miss? I look forward to reading about your favorites in the comments.

Ground cherries: grow your own for salsa!

IMG_3688Ground cherries are in season right now, and some lucky readers may find them at their local farmers’ market. This hardy fruit has a thin husk and looks a lot like a tomatillo as it ripens. Ground cherries are sometimes called cape gooseberries, but they are in a different genus from the round, slightly fuzzy gooseberries that grow on thorned bushes.IMG_3686Ground cherry plants have no thorns and, while slow to start from seed or last year’s fallen fruit outdoors, grow quickly once the weather warms up. In southern Wisconsin, they are more like self-seeding annuals than perennials, and you can speed up your growing a bit by purchasing seedlings at farmers’ markets or from Seed SaversIMG_3687The fruits often fall to the ground before they are fully ripe, but the fruit stays clean inside the husk. I like to mulch my plants with straw so I don’t need to pick the fruits out of the mud anyway. Later in the summer I will push a few fruits into the ground somewhere in my garden to get started on next year’s plants.

To me, ground cherries taste a little like pineapple; others suggest something between a pineapple and a strawberry. They have a somewhat grainy texture from their many tiny seeds. You can eat them plain. They are also good on salads. Try this: spinach, Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese, your favorite nuts and/or thinly sliced chicken, ground cherries, and some vinaigrette.
Other uses? Vicki has a chutney recipe on her blog that I’m looking forward to trying. I think they’d make a fun jam or fruit sauce. But my favorite use is either on salad or in salsa. When your family loves to cook, sometimes you find buried treasure tucked into a cookbook. Here’s a favorite treasure from my garden & kitchen to yours.
IMG_3697
Dennis’s Ground Cherry Salsa
makes a little over 1 pint
1 pint ground cherries in husk (1 cup or slightly more after husks removed)
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/4 cup minced garlic chives (substitute 1 clove minced garlic if you don’t have these fun perennial herbs)
1 medium-sized, medium hot pepper. Red looks best. (Adjust to your own preference.)
2 TBSP. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
Combine all ingredients. Chop by hand or using food processor.
Cover & chill at least 2 hours before eating.
IMG_3699

Garden to Table July 2016: the Speed of Summer

Every year I think I know what’s coming, and every year it takes me by surprise. Yes, I remember that the berries in the garden will come one on the heels of the next, with cherries and currants overlapping the end of the strawberries and the beginning of the summer raspberries. About that time, the blueberries start to gradually turn from green to deep blue. Although summer break means some school-age helpers available to help pick, those big kids come to summer with their own plans. Frequently those plans require a chauffeur.

I feel so clever remembering to have extra sugar on hand to make jam, but then I find I am out of pectin. And…so are all the stores in my area, and for a few days, I look forlornly at the prepared fruit in the refrigerator and even more forlornly at the weeds. Every year they get ahead of me for some reason or another, and I wonder if I’m still doing too much. I was sure I would not have time to pick the white currants (a bush that appeared in my front flower bed a few years back as a volunteer) as well as the red. An unexpected free evening and a lingonberry rake (a.k.a. Swedish berry rake) made it quick work to do both bushes. The currants went into the freezer to be made later into some sort of sauce or chutney. The small cherry harvest made three delicious mini-pies. The strawberries from the market went into freezer jam! The ones from our patch got eaten fresh. The best ways I’ve found to cut down on weeding are mulching and gardening in raised beds and containers. I was relieved to find that the weeding went much faster than usual. It’s not realistic to think there will ever be a moment without them somewhere, so I “power weed” by taking the biggest out and working toward the smaller ones as time allows. This is surprisingly effective at clearing out and improving the look of the garden, helping the plants I intend to grow, and boosting the mood of the gardener. Once the first burst of growth is past, there is usually time for weeding to become more zen. A few moments here and there stolen during mornings and evenings means the weeds and I start to balance each other’s efforts.

In the fiber world, this is also the time for the much-anticipated Tour de Fleece. It’s a handspinning event that is organized on Ravelry and follows the schedule of the Tour de France. I’ve only done it three times but am always envious of the amazing yarn created in the years I haven’t participated. It’s the perfect social media event, with loads of eye candy on Ravelry and Instagram and online teams for support and trouble-shooting.

The Tour, like the berries and the weeds, arrives at the speed of summer. The creative life so often offers lessons on letting go, being patient, sticking with things, but apparently the lesson summer has for me is all about being in the moment before it rushes on.

 

Garden to Table May 2016: salad days

May 2016 is well underway. At the farmer’s market, there are plenty of salad greens and a few early veggies. My market share CSA started, and over the last two weeks, I’ve chosen spring turnips, spinach, spring greens, and bok choy. Having managed to get the freezer down to some freezer pickles and jam, I defrosted it ahead of the main garden/CSA/market season.

image
Preparing turnips with a recipe from A Girl and Her Greens by April Bloomfield (wow, she has the perfect chef name for springtime!)

What’s ready in my own garden? Spinach, asparagus, rhubarb, kale, and green onions. I didn’t get the cover off the cold frame one warm day, so my spinach is looking a bit overheated.

image
Sad spinach

Most garden work at the Yarnstead in spring is weeding, planting, mulching, and fertilizing. The raised beds and containers need some fertilizer before planting; some people change out the soil mix in their containers every year but not me.

The biggest garden work this year has been the landscaping work I hired out: redoing a section of our backyard with paths and permaculture beds! They did all the prep and mulching, and I get to do the planting. Oh, and all the maintenance, but there will be almost no weeding in this area this year.

IMG_0046
Before
IMG_0054
After: mulch is your friend.

I want pollinator-friendly and low-maintenance plantings, so I’ve been thinking about lots of perennial plants. The thing that looks like a giant brush pile will be a hugelkultur bed eventually.

So far I’ve planted two new rhubarb next to the giant one that’s already out there. I’ve also made a new raised bed for asparagus out of old bricks and planted 10 crowns of Mary Washington. Blackberry bushes are scheduled to arrive in about two weeks.

I bought two bags of butterfly garden plants from Costco although I am not sure the varieties are native to Wisconsin, oops. Those I’ll be planting by the end of May. Last year I planted a wildflower mix that I brought back from Alaska and tossed in the (dried and squashed) milkweed pods I got from my neighbor. Those plants are growing in nicely.

Apparently I decided to go ahead with the dye garden right away without even realizing it. I found myself buying three coreopsis plants (we’ll see if they are unappealing to rabbits before adding more) for the permaculture area and seeding hollyhocks in the raised bed currently growing garlic and walking onions. I was also able to rescue a few of last year’s hollyhocks from the creeping bellflower. Next week I’ll be picking up some plants from the high school fundraiser including a flat of marigolds, and I’m paging through every one of my natural dye books.

Our remodeled yard will be a mix of edibles, dye plants, herbs, sunflowers, and pollinator plants. Most of these will come back each year on their own! There are a few areas adjacent to the professional work that I’ll be handling myself with my amateur ways (gulp). One is by the spruce peeking out of the right-hand side of the After picture above. I did a less intensive version of what the landscaper did but used straw for mulch since the area shouldn’t be very visible once the other plants grow in.

IMG_3430
I worked around some existing flowers and decided to put the compost bin back where it used to be. There’s a buried phone line along the back of the property so am leaving that area to the wild violets. It’s a favorite corner of weeds and other surprises.

It’ll be fun to see how much it changes in a few months, so I’ll do a garden tour post in the middle of summer.

I’ve tarped over the property’s original garden area which is most of the area affected by creeping bellflower. That won’t be enough to kill it but I hope to knock it back and smother all the other weeds; that should make it easier to dig out some of the bellflower next year. To do a thorough job of it, I had to cover the old asparagus bed and part of the summer raspberries, but it’ll be worth it if it helps contain that invasive plant. Keep your fingers crossed.

Recipe improv 

I haven’t been following my own advice on meal planning, so lately getting dinner on the table has been not so smooth. Daydreaming out the bus window on the way home from work one afternoon last week, I wondered what to make for dinner and thought ‘I got nothing.’ The only thing I could think of was that I have a lot of cream cheese on hand, thanks to Costco, and was there someway to use that? Besides on the bagels we already had for breakfast and that one of my kids claims not to like (except in cheese Danish)?

I rarely improvise a recipe. I feel fine about my improv skills with knitting patterns, gardening, and mindless spinning, but not with baking, crocheting, or cursing (not kidding).

My mind wandered back to a recipe I learned from a long-time friend who we will call Farmer Aunt Karen. I didn’t have crescent roll dough, but I could make some pie crust dough pretty easily. And I could make vegetarian and leftover-chicken versions to accommodate everybody without it being too much extra work. What to call this cheesy entree? Um. Cream cheese pockets??


I made the Foolproof Pie Dough from America’s Test Kitchen, which I fondly call Boozy Pie Dough because it contains a small amount of vodka. I use all butter and this time substituted whole wheat flour for about 1/3 of the all-purpose flour.

For the fillings, soften 8 ounces of cream cheese and mix with a small amount of mayo, maybe 1-2 TBSP. Then you can do your own thing with the fillings. The vegetarian version had chopped chives, green onions, and some shredded cheddar; the meat version had small cubes of leftover rotisserie chicken, and the mom version had all of the above. This made enough for two pockets each with filling left over that might have made two more.


Fold over and pinch edges shut. Bake at 350, 15-25 minutes, depending on size of pockets and thickness of crust. Serve, and receive feedback of “more chicken in mine next time” and “could use more garlic.”

Garden to Table April 2016: Whirlwind

April is zooming by. So here’s the quick update on Garden to Table and other Yarnstead action:

Hooray for the farmers’ markets in town starting up! We’ll eat from the gardens of other people until there’s a bit more to eat from our own. Salad greens, cucumber, meat, cheese, and eggs came home with us from the first market.

Today I picked 5 spears of asparagus; before that it was just some herbs and a few greens from the garden.

img_0024-1
Herb garden on April 7; that’s sorrel with the bright green leaves.
img_0032
Same garden, tonight, April 24. Sorrel, savory, sage, oregano, tarragon, a few weeds.

Gearing up for a big remodel of the backyard: the neighbors came over with a Sawzall to make short work of my shabby large garden arch. Perennials to follow.

The cold frame stays open all the time now unless there’s a frost advisory. Kale and scallions from last year came back on their own. Strawberries slowly perking up. The “old” garden in the background? Yes, creeping bellflower and other weeds, less invasive, have also reappeared from last year. Stay tuned for yet another round in that fight.

Shameless plug: did I mention I am Whisk member of the month?

Haven’t spun an inch since my last post. There’s been some knitting on a comfort shawl and the start of a sleeve for an Icelandic-style pullover for me.

Mulling over a blog post on how electronics can (and can’t) help advance creative pursuits. For example, when trying to blog on an iPad (so now switching back to laptop). App suggestions welcome, and a better post next time!