Perfect Christmas

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Who would have thought we’d be missing snow after last Winter? But alas, it is Christmas Eve and raining pretty steady. I tell the kids, if it were just a bit colder, it would be snow…
But I don’t mind. Christmas is in the heart, not contingent on any “just right” setting. Snow is nice, perfect decorations are fun to look at, a beautifully set table a joy to behold, but none if it necessary. We forget, our Holiday traditions are an amalgamation of countless Christmases past, not something that happened at any one place at any one time!
So relax: If you don’t get all the lights up this year, or the figgy pudding goes flat, or you never did quite get all 7 varieties of cookies baked, it’s ok. Something to aim for next year. Who wants a Holiday celebration to be identical every year?
Keep the focus on family, on Love, and Hope. Laugh at yourself, and enjoy others. Take pictures of the mishaps, as well as the “perfect” moments. You may find, in the coming years, that you enjoy those memories more, memories filed with laughter rather than stress.
If you find yourself thinking you “can’t wait for it to be over,” then you are living someone else’s Holiday. Take back ahold of it and make it yours. What do you want to be doing? Do it. Better to feel the Spirit and have fun!
Love and Blessings to all, and many Hopes for the New Year! ūüôā

Signs of Spring

The Earth begins to emerge

The Earth begins to emerge

Only two days til Spring, and it is a relief at last to see the tell-tale signs that yes, even after a Winter long and brutal as this, Vernal blessings will arrive.¬† With the high volume of snowfall we’ve seen this year, we are fortunate to be experiencing a slow and gradual meltdown.¬† We have experienced no flooding, not much water in the basement at all.¬† The sodden, frozen earth is just emerging from it’s blanket of snow, I can just begin to see the gardens left from last year, and it’s fun to stroll about them and dream of what to plant in each bed for this season.

The birds have really come alive!¬† I have been enjoying the sight of Robins for a couple weeks now, the starlings have already begun scratching at the house and I’ve seen large trains of Canada geese heading back North.¬† I hear new calls and see new flashes of color every few days now.¬† Friends report additional sightings at various ends of the county.¬† My Midget White turkeys are all strutting about, entertaining passers-by.

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Seeds have been ordered and are arriving, and the long-season crops like onions, leeks and celeriac are already being sown. We also have spouted arugula, mizuna and kale to plant in the high tunnel for an early jump on the season.¬† We’ll start peppers, eggplants and herbs next.¬† And I’m sure a flower or two.

Mizuna seedlings

Mizuna seedlings

The Venal Equinox is two days away on March 20th.  From then on, the days will be longer than the nights.  I join in the excitement as the Earth once again begins to stir.

The Warmth of Winter

Spectacular Winter sunrise

Spectacular Winter sunrise

This Winter seems relentless.  With the frigid temperatures and endless snowstorms, it can become challenging to keep everyone in good spirits.  I have found that pulling out some old-fashioned tricks has helped tremendously.

First of all, don’t forget to stop and look around.¬† Winter is beautiful, especially with lots of snow.¬† Some of the most amazing sunrises can be seen now, and grumpy tired children are instantly warmed and wakened with a view of the colors.¬† The heavy snows transform the landscape, rounding and hunching the evergreens and creating vast palettes with which the wind can toss and brush, revealing amazing patterns and textures on the surface of the snow.¬† wpid-IMG_20140206_104959_756_wm.jpg

When the weekend comes and boredom threatens to set in, bundle the kids up and go for a stroll outside.¬† One needn’t venture far, sometimes the most amazing things can be spotted right off the house or garage.

Icicles dancing

Icicles dancing

Cool icicles and frost patterns on windows are fascinating, and kids of all ages love to pluck down an icicle for themselves, as big a treat as a lollipop!

A small oak leaf left from Autumn, trimmed with frost

A small oak leaf left from Autumn, trimmed with frost

It is very helpful to connect with Nature to find the beauty and inner joy of this time of year.  Like the nighttime of every day, Winter is a time to rest and rejuvenate, to heal, to reflect in quiet time, to dream up hopes and aspirations anew for the coming Spring and Summer.  Take the time to notice the low and distant angle of the sunlight unique only to this time of year, to appreciate the crisp colors of the cold daylight sky, and the extra vividness of the starry  night sky.  Savor the absolute brilliance of the Full Moon illuminating a snow-covered landscape, as bright as daylight itself.  Stop and listen to the soft stillness of Winter, every sound muted by the soft blanket of snow surrounding us.  All this beauty is more than worth braving the cold to witness.

Our creek completely iced-over, a rare sight

Our creek completely iced-over, a rare sight

Common-place things become extraordinary in the winter landscape.  We live on the East Branch of Nanticoke Creek, a year-round stream.  Only in extremely cold winters such as this does it ice-over.  This year there is even a collection of 6-inch thick cakes of ice on the banks, jammed and piled together creating a mini arctic landscape.

Common things become extraordinary in the winter landscape.

Common things become extraordinary in the winter landscape.

The snow tells tale of an animal crossing, amazing that life continues even in the bitter cold

The snow tells tale of an animal crossing, amazing that life continues even in the bitter cold

It’s fun to spot and identify the different animal tracks in the snow.¬† It’s amazing that so many little creatures are able to endure the bitter cold temperatures, and we can appreciate our ability to seek shelter in the warmth of our homes.

When you do get back inside, you’ll find otherwise restless children calmed, refreshed, ready to enjoy the warmth of the home.¬† Now is definitely the time to break into the stash of all the goodies that have been put up for Winter use!¬† Canned salsas, chutneys and relished can come out with crackers to chips to create a quick snack, apples from the root cellar can be made into sauce or canned applesauce is warmed and enjoyed with cinnamon.

Finished sauce ready to eat

Finished sauce ready to eat

Frozen berries are made into syrup to jazz up pancakes or waffles, or baked into muffins and quick breads.  Extra milk from the cow?  Time for hot cocoa and homemade pudding!

Pancakes with blueberry syrup

Pancakes with blueberry syrup

These comforting activities in the kitchen add warmth and spirit to these cold days, as well as creating priceless memories for the children to pass on to the next generation.

Winter is cold, but it is also beautiful.  Without these colder days we might forget to appreciate the warmer days ahead.  Rather than feeling gloomy during these days, remember to find the fun parts of a snowy landscape, whether inside or out.

What are some of your favorite Wintertime activities?

Parsnips, a Mid-Winter Break

Harvesttotable.com

        Right now in Upstate New York we are enjoying what is know as the January Thaw, a fairly predictable period of time in Winter (anywhere from early January to late February) when temperatures rise above normal for a few days, allowing some of the snow to melt off, a few of the insects to come buzzing about again, and perhaps even a bear or two wanders out of hibernation and stretches its legs.  Invariably it may bring gardeners out-of-doors, to stroll and smell the beds put to sleep for the season, likely even find a tool or two that was consumed by weeds back in September.  Bulbs of garlic and tulips that have heaved out of the ground are poked back in, and perennial beds that were neglected are hastily mulched, fingers crossed in hopes that they will again be forgiving and grow on in the Spring, despite our ill-care.

By this time in the Seasonal diet, items from the root cellar like carrots, beets and turnips, potatoes and squashes have become the staple dinner fare, with dried beans, onions, garlic and canned veggies from the pantry rounding out the variety.¬† It’s hearty, comforting and nourishing food, perfect to carry one through the cold season.¬† But, oh, would not something fresh from the garden be such a treat?

Enter the Parsnip, planted first thing in the Spring, and best harvested during the mid-Winter thaw!  Days like these are perfect to go out and lift the mulch, looking for the tiny tell-tale bright green shoots that indicate treasure lies below.  Parsnips have traditionally offered fresh fare to liven up mundane Winter tables for generations.

Fresh-dug Parsnips.

Fresh-dug Parsnips. source: Two Chances Veg Plot Blog

Parsnips were very well-known in our culinary history, having fallen out of fashion as of late, yet now enjoying a resurgence in popularity.  Parsnips look like blond carrots, with their flavor being best described as a cross between a coconut and a carrot, creamy, earthy and sweet.  Unlike carrots, parsnips need to be peeled and are generally eaten cooked, not raw.  Parsnips show two phenotypes, long and slim, and shorter and chunky.  The core of the thicker parsnips can be a bit woody and bitter, I find it best to core the larger ones.

Parsnips are in the carrot family, and thus biennial, meaning they grow leaves the first growing season, then will send up a seed stalk if allowed to grow a second season.  Parsnip stalks are upwards of 5 feet in height, and have flowers and seeds that look much like Dill.  Parsnip seed head and seeds Source: wikipedia

Parsnip seeds like to be planted first thing in the Spring, as soon as the ground can be worked.  Better yet, prepare the ground ahead in the Fall.  Parsnip seeds should be surface-sown, thus they like the wet days of April to keep them moist.  If it happens to be a dry Spring, keep the seedbed dampened until they sprout.  Parsnips grow much like carrots:  They fare just a little better against weed competition, but not much, so keep them weeded and watered regularly over the growing season.  Thinning the seedlings will result in better yields.  One reason Parsnips may not be for every garden is they are a space commitment the entire season and beyond.  However having fresh harvest in Winter and early Spring can more than make up for the space given.

Source: Benedict Vanheems     Parsnips can be harvested at the end of the growing season in the Fall, but they are so much better if left to build some bulk and sugar content through some cold weather.  Mulching the parsnips will protect them from mice or other predators, and makes it easier to dig them out.   Once that warm spell in mid Winter hits, run out and lift the mulch and use a broad fork to carefully extract the delicious roots.  Parsnips can also be left in the garden to harvest in the Spring, but be sure to get out early and pull the before the leaves actively start growing again.  Once they bolt, they should be lifted and composted or left to go to seed for your garden next year.

Do take care not to over trample the garden bed, for soil compacted while wet can take time to recover.  To cut down on soil compaction (and muddy boots), lay some boards, cardboard or even newspaper on the ground where you are working.  No help for the mud on the parsnips, though. :/

Wash peel and core your parsnips, and they are ready to cook.  They can be prepared any way you enjoy carrots: parboiled, steamed, mashed, glazed, baked or even roasted.

They are excellent with butter, cream, parsley, nutmeg, ginger, cheeses, even caraway.

One of my favorite recipes with parsnips is that of Cheddar Parsnip Soup, from Sundays at Moosewood:

1 med onion, chopped                          3 med potatoes, peeled and cubed (~1 1/2lbs)

1 tsp salt                                                  3 cups water

2 Tbs vegetable oil                                1/4 tsp ground fennel seeds

2-3 tsp caraway seeds                          3 cups med sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

5 medium parsnips,                             3 cups milk

peeled and cubed ( about 1lb)         chopped fresh Parsley or sprig of Dill

 

I a 3qt saucepan sautee onion with the salt in the oil on low heat until the onions are translucent, about 10 mins.  Mix int he caraway seeds and parsnips.  Stir and simmer gently about 5 mins.

Add the potatoes and water.  Bring the soup to a boil.  Moderately simmer for about 10-15 mins, until potatoes are tender.  Remove soup from heat.

Stir in fennel and cheese.  When cheese is melted, pour in milk.  Cool soup 10-15 mins.  In blender or food processor, puree the soup in batches.  Gently reheat, careful not to boil. Serve hot with garnish or parsley, dill or grated cheese.

 

This soup is so good!

So, if you’ve planted parsnips, get out and pick them.¬† If not, they are in season at the store or at farmers market, get ahold of some a give them a try.¬† Then plan to add them to your garden this coming season.¬† You will be so glad you did!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carolers by the Front Door

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We are enjoying a some-what unexpected lake effect snow this morning.  I heard beautiful soft chirping, and was pleased to find these pleasant visitors at my front step.

Egg Season Repost

If you shop for your foods locally, you may have already noticed that eggs, like many other items, have a season, a time of greatest abundance.  And like other seasonal items, one is challenged to find ways to preserve the abundance for the times of scarcity.  This has been an age-old question, with some interesting solutions.

For our farm, eggs are abundant at this time of the year, early spring and summer.  Often the heat of August can cause the chickens to stop laying their eggs and go through the molting process, when they naturally drop all their feathers and grow a new set.  Obviously, the warmest weather is the best time for this, so that is when they do it.  But again, this means no eggs! (But hours of amusement watching naked chicken butts running around!)

So the trick is to somehow stash the eggs up while they are plentiful.  Storing eggs has limits, because a whole egg does not freeze well.  A thawed egg is still edible, one can no longer distinguish between the white and yolk, and they no longer froth if needed.  If you enjoy your eggs scrambled, they can be beaten and frozen raw, or cooked scrambled and then frozen.

Eggs can be hard-boiled and pickled, if you enjoy the unique taste.  Simply save the brine from store-bought or homemade pickles and drop in your own eggs.  Let them sit in the brine at least two weeks for best flavor.  Pickled eggs should be stored in a very cool, dark place, such as the refrigerator or proper pantry (below 40 degrees, F).

One of our favorite ways to store up extra eggs is to make homemade pasta.  European-style pasta is traditionally made from eggs, flour and salt.  Pasta can be thus dried or frozen and will keep for a while.  Make lots of batches of pasta while the eggs are abundant, and enjoy throughout the year.

      My pasta recipe is simply:

8 cups of flour

6 eggs

2 tsp salt

water, if needed to moisten

We mix ours with the dough hook, but a paddle will work fine.  It needs at least a couple of minutes of mixing to get the gluten strands going.  The dough should not be sticky when finished.  It can be rolled out by hand or put through a pasta roller.  Keep layers of pasta separated with floured wax or parchment paper, or they will re-combine.

Issac loves to cook and has his own pasta maker.

Fettuccine ready for the pot.

Homemade fresh pasta is boiled for a shorter time than dried.  Fresh pasta is done in under 5 minutes.  When it is finished it will float.  It is such a treat, much more filling than the pasta from the store.

Another old-time method for storing whole eggs is to bathe them in a substance called “water-glass”.¬† This is sodium silicate, and is used 1/3 cup¬†to 1 qt of boiled, cooled water.¬† Eggs must be unwashed (but wiped clean) and un-fertile.¬† Eggs can be stored immersed in the water-glass solution for up to three months under 40 degrees F.¬†¬† I have personally never done this, but have heard my elders talk of doing it with good results.

And of course, the best way to keep fresh abundant eggs from going to waste is to indulge is rich dishes and deserts that use many of them, such as mousse, sabayon, bread pudding, homemade pudding, Quiche, Carbonara, etc!

Please share your favorite recipes and methods of keeping extra eggs.  I would love to hear them.

A couple of good books with information about storing eggs and other foods:

Putting Food By, by Ruth Hertzberg, Beatrice Vaughan and Janet Greene

The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest, by Carol Costenbader

Watch “Peacock practice” on YouTube

My Favorite Pepper

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I enjoy growing a variety of peppers, including Green Bells.  We eat them often and they are easy to preserve for Winter.  Finding a good bell pepper for gardens in the Northeast US can be a challenge. I spent years trying different varieties, and have been delighted to find one that works for me.

It’s all in a name.¬† Often, started pepper plants from commercial garden centers have names like California Wonder or Golden Calwonder.¬† The “wonder” lies in why one might grow California Anything here in New York?¬† I have found great results instead with King of the North, an OP pepper.¬† There are other hybrid strains that do well here, such as Ace (F1), but I like to use Open Pollinated varieties so I can save my own seed on some crops.

King of the North reliable produces multiple fruits

King of the North reliable produces multiple fruits

I get King of the North seeds from Fedco Seeds of Maine (www.fedcoseeds.com), though they are likely found with other purveyors of heirloom open pollinated seed.

They do well both in the high tunnel and outside.

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I start my peppers under a grow light at the end of March to set out around Memorial Day here in the Southern Tier of New York.  They like full sun.  Too much nitrogen will encourage leafy growth and leave less time for fruits to develop.  I usually have full sized green fruits to pick by the end of July.  I generally have no trouble collecting a number of red fruits well before frost.

Peppers are easy to put up.  I simply cut the raw clean peppers into chunks or slices and place in quart sized freezer bags to freeze.  They will be flaccid upon thawing, but this texture if fine for the dishes we commonly enjoy, such as pasta sauce or chili.

Let me know what varieties of sweet bell peppers you grow for your region.¬† I’m always looking to try something new.¬† ūüôā

Bell peppers produce well without taking up much space

Bell peppers produce well without taking up much space

First Fruits

As we reach the height of Summer, the gardens are beginning to yield:¬† flowers that we have anxiously watched turn to tiny green fruits are at last ripening, and it is the gardener’s delight to find those first fruits; whether it be a cucumber, green beans or summer squashes. The garden picture is finally complete!¬† It is very gratifying to see results of this labor of love that we call gardening.

That first Cucumber!

That first Cucumber!

In conversations with home gardeners, I have noticed a tendency among the novice to feel reluctant to harvest these first-comers, for they look so beautiful and it’s fun to show them off to visitors.¬† Resist the temptation to dwell upon this image, and go ahead and pick those first fruits!¬† What many folks don’t realize is that these first to ripen are merely a bit of a test for the plant, a “feeler” if you will:¬† How quickly the plant finds itself parted with its first offering is indication of “demand”, thus influencing “supply”.¬† Simple Economics.¬† If the first fruits of a plant are allowed to go to maturity and set seed, the plants gets the message to slow down growth, that it has accomplished its mission to reproduce and there is no need to produce very many more fruit.¬† If those first ones are picked, the plant kicks into production mode and begins to send out several more.

So, to get more beans, cukes or squash, it is important to go through and collect the first ones that appear.¬† You’ll get the double gratification of enjoying what you have grown and watching many more to come.

So pick all you want!¬† They’ll make more. ūüėČ

Cherry Picking Peacock Video

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Reposted from my Tumblr blog.  http://sunhfarm.tumblr.com/post/56994524503/my-peacocks-love-fruit-this-yearling-will-jump

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