Friday, February 24, 2012

Seedlings and Seeds

On February 4th, I started some chives (front center), oregano (right most) and cilantro (left most, mostly not on camera). The chives and oregano are planted in old repurposed chicken containers, the kind you get when you pick up a whole rotisserie chicken. They make awesome greenhouses! The oregano got their start in a repurposed Chinese take out container (black bottom, clear plastic domed lid). All three are looking quite good, although the oregano are still itsy bitsy.

On February 21st, I started getting serious. I'll admit, my earlier planting was done not for the purposes of starting something for the garden, but just out of sheer desperation to get my darn hands dirty! All this lovely weather, days in the low 50s, and I can't trust it to stay warm enough to start making outdoor stuff. There's still freezing weather and snow in the forecast.

Well, on the 21st my garden calendar popped up and told me it was time to start my tomatoes indoors. I used pellet pucks of dirt that were given to me for my birthday (having a birthday during seed catalog time is GREAT), which I soaked until they were all puffed up. Then I put them into egg carton bottoms to hold them firmly. In one egg carton I planted 12 San Marzano (roma) tomatoes. In another I planted Beefsteak (a meaty slicer). Then, in the little plastic berry bins you see in the top right of the picture, I planted the cherry tomatoes. So I will end up with (with luck) 12 roma plants, 12 slicer plants, and 10 cherry plants.

My garden plans call for ten each of the roma and slicer tomatoes, and three of the cherries, but I figured there's always a chance I'll lose some between then and now, and if I don't, I'm morally certain I'll find a place to put a couple of extra plants. Oh, and those extra six cherries? They belong to the 6 year old girl twin who has her OWN garden this year. She has a whole PLAN. Heh...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Potato Leek Soup

Every once in a while, I like to make a pot of potato leek soup. This time it was brought on by a couple of things. First, it's Lent and I've given up junk (overly processed foods, like tinned soup among other things). Second, there were incredible looking leeks at the grocery store and I couldn't resist their huge allure. So last night I made a nice pot of potato leek soup from scratch.

Since this is one of the easiest recipes to make, I thought it would be a nice one to share. You can make it in the crock pot if you want, though I prefer it on the stove. It's not a very long timeline for a fresh soup, either.


  • 5 or 6 large potatoes (I like yukon gold)
  • 1 large or two smaller leeks
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • approximately 5 cups of broth
  • spices to taste
In a big soup pot, put your broth on to warm. Don't boil it at this point, but bring it to a nice simmer. Meanwhile, peel and then dice your potatoes. You want the potatoes to fill the pot, but not past the liquid line. All the potatoes should be under broth. Bring the soup to a heavy boil, then reduce heat to a rapid simmer. Remove the outer leaves of the leek and then cut off the end. Coin it, and toss it into the soup. Stir, and if necessary add a bit of water or broth to make sure all the ingredients are covered. Add the garlic, stir, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Some might like fresh parsley (I did) or a bit of celery, but that's a personal choice. Simmer until the potatoes are literally falling apart. 

Using a good masher, mash the potatoes in the pot, along with everything else. You don't want this soup to be thin or smooth - it should be lumpy and tasty! When it's mashed to a consistency you like, add a bit of cream or milk, stir, adjust the spices to taste. Simmer 5 more minutes, then serve with warm bread or crescent rolls. 

This is a great stick-to-your-ribs soup for cold nights.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Soup Pucks

These are (some of) my soup pucks. I got the idea off Pinterest, though I can't find the original poster unfortunately. It's a GREAT idea for those of us who want to freeze soup as opposed to canning it. Right now I have a ton of freezer space and my shelf space is rather limited, and so the idea of freezing soup in small pucks made a lot of sense to me.

You make your soup (in this case, home-made minestrone but without pasta 'cause it gets all mushy in the freezer), let it cool, then ladle it into silicon muffin pans. Why silicon, you ask? Because you can turn them inside out and pop the pucks without having to partially melt them to free them from the muffin pan!

My big pot of soup made 9 pucks and 2 full size tupperware style servings. Just put the muffin pan in the freezer and a few hours later you can pop these babies out and store them in a big zip loc baggie with the name and date on it. Now, whenever I feel like having "a can of soup" I can go to the freezer and pull out one or two pucks, pop it in a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of water, and microwave it until it's hot throughout.

I am so much in love with this idea that I'm now thinking this might be the way to get beyond the canned mushroom soup. I use this stuff for my green bean casserole, as a base for pot roast, in other soups, and a zillion other things. It contains a lot of icky stuff that I can't pronounce, and I hate that I'm using a canned soup that I didn't make myself. However, canning (even with as good a pressure canner as we have) mushrooms is not fun, and often backfires. So... Maybe the answer is to make a big batch up, measure it into one cup pucks, and freeze them. Then whenever I'd normally reach for a can, I can grab a puck instead, and avoid the MSG and other non-food additives! Yay me!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Preparing for Spring

It is time for preparation. I've pored over the seed catalogs and sketched out the the garden plans. I've gotten wonderful and amazing seeds from the Thrifty Mama on a Trailer Park Homestead to add to my box of seeds for use this year. I've been squirreling them away since last fall, when we got the house and I knew for certain we'd have a place to garden this year. I also have some dried beans and dried blue popcorn that I hope to germinate.

I used some freezer jam jars with lids to test whether my seeds were still good. So far, my peas, beans, lettuce, and a few others have sparked off little green shoots and leaves in their glass and wet paper towel homes. I'm quite thrilled to see them questing for light up on the sill of our kitchen window. They get a grand amount of sunlight there, although it hasn't been the warmest place. The corn, green peppers, and delicata squash seeds haven't yet done anything, but I wonder if perhaps they're just too cold despite the sunlight. If they don't sprout soon, I plan on moving them to a warmer place with a bit less sunshine, in the hopes that they will perk up and prove to me that their still-packaged brethren are ready to be planted next month!

Out of sheer desperation, I have also planted some of my herbs, in "mini-greenhouses" that I created myself. I suppose the term I should use is up-cycled, as they are made out of take-out containers with clear plastic lids. The two large ones are made out of grocery store rotisserie chicken packages, which are just the right depth (a bit over an inch) and have that nice popped up top. I poked a couple of holes in the plastic bottoms to allow drainage, filled it with organic starter mix, and liberally dusted their tops with a bit of oregano and cilantro. The smaller one is a Chinese take-out container which now contains chive seeds, tucked into a pretty and moist earthen bed. They're not in the chilly kitchen, though. They are living on the little dry sink in our living room, very near the wood stove, where they will get quite a bit of sunlight and a lot of warmth each day.

I had to plant something. I had to smell that incredible scent of fresh soil, and feel it between my fingers. There is a lot more to plant, and I have toilet roll tubes to use as seedling starters, as well as some of the little soil pucks that expand into seedling size bags of soil. Sometime in mid-March, the tomatoes will get started, and even a couple of cucumbers. I don't do many cukes, because they grow best outdoors in the free soil, but I find that one or two started indoors is fun for myself and the kids, and if hardened off correctly, will start bearing a week or two earlier than their younger companions. I'm such a kid when it comes to seedlings and fresh vegetables. I want more and more!

It isn't all easy chores, though. Because we just moved into the house, we didn't have any wood chopped and drying before we moved in. We've been scrambling each week to keep enough wood chopped and split to keep us warm. The unreasonable price of oil is very dissuasive; we try to avoid using the oil furnace except to keep the house about 55F at night. The wood stove is going almost all the time, a dry heat we're thankful for in the chilly weather. Hubby has been chopping up the wood as we bring it in (it's fallen wood in the forest behind our house, already partially dried thank heavens). I've been helping more with stacking and arranging, though I've done a bit of splitting myself. While I have lamented having enough snow (I worry about drought this summer), the mild winter has been a blessing because we've been able to keep ahead of the cold with our wood supply. If it had been much colder and snowier, we'd have had a lot more problems.

We're also not neglecting our frozen stores. I was almost out of my previous batch of turkey broth, having used it in several recipes and a batch of turkey soup when I was ill. We defrosted and cooked up a deli chicken (rotisserie style) and a turkey breast (also rotisserie style) which we'd been given by a friend. After cooking all day (well, re-heating, as they were already cooked) in the crock pot, they fell apart during the meal that we enjoyed. Then I took every part of it we didn't devour, bones and all, and popped it all right back into the crock pot and poured in water and spices, and let it cook on low overnight. By morning, I had an incredibly tasty batch of boiled chicken which I used in another recipe. The bones were tossed out, and the broth itself I put into a big pot and jazzed up with some spices. I let it simmer down quite a bit, until it was double strength, and then I froze it (pictured above) in small containers. Whenever I need a bit of broth, I just grab one of these bad babies out of the freezer, and voila!

Today being a nice warm day (it was 54F earlier!), we decided to use a creosote eating log in our wood stove. Though the creosote isn't as much of a danger with the set up that we use, we figured it was better to get rid of as much of it as possible. The log has chemicals (yea I know... not great) that bind with the creosote and make it brittle. Over the next few days we'll have a bit of dust come down, and it'll all clear itself out. It's good, because our fireplace will burn much more efficiently.

What preparations are you making for spring? Are you planting in flats indoors? Sketching up your garden plans? Checking out the local CSAs to see which one fits your lifestyle and budget best? What things occupy your February time?