Garden Party in September

Thomas and Belle are getting married in October of this year. So a few weeks ago they called to say they wanted to invite their friends from DC out to our house for a pot luck backyard picnic. Needless to say, Herb and I went into gardener mode and started working on the yard. We have been extremely lucky so far that we have had lots of regular rain so that the yard isn’t brown like it was this time last year. I have ordered seeds to plant flowers about and tried to look at the date and back up from there so that I would have things blooming by the September 24th date that they have given us. I’m not hopeful that I will have the look that I want but the yard being green is probably all I can really hope for. We have, over the years, had to deal with high water rates and using rain water for my flower beds to keep the perennials alive and so we are used to the additional care that goes into keeping things green. Having a cistern and rainbarrels really help.

At this point, I should back up and give a history of the yard. We have now lived here for 16 years and when we moved in the yard looked like a landing strip. Long straight and narrow. There are sidewalks almost all the way around the perimeter of the yard and there were three outbuildings, one of which we housed a rabbit for many years to use the poop as a fertilizer. That building finally got so bad that it had to come down and all that is left is a concrete foundation of sorts that I have put a simple patio area on and my makeshift greenhouse. After 16 years of labor, the yard is finally starting to look mature and is a real joy to spend time in so I am sure that is why the kids wanted to have a party in the backyard. The building you see in the photo was an old garage and is now called “man’s world”. (No real explanation needed). There is another building beside the patio up closer to the house that I hope to take down in the coming year and replace with a studio to get all the hobby stuff out of the house and into my own space.

Last September, I began a series of cold frame gardens that are now doing well, all things considered. The fact that I didn’t know if it would work and the experimentation of trying to grow greens through the winter has me excited to give it another try this coming winter. We have thoroughly enjoyed lots butterhead lettuce and arugula and now have carrots, celeriac, and tomatoes and green beans and berries coming on. Even a couple of cucumbers and I’ve planted some gourds for the fall for some color for our tables.

I have had problems with ground hogs coming into the yard from my neighbors yard and, together with that neighbor, we have trapped about 6 total and given them the heave ho. I also went to Lowes and purchased some chicken wire fencing, which will come down before the backyard party to try and keep the greens that are still surviving the heat from getting eaten up by “someone” besides us.

Salad on New Year’s eve…

today's harvest, arugula and red romaine

The cold frames have now been in my yard since Labor day. We harvested a really big salad for a dinner in early November for my cousin, another for our Thanksgiving dinner, a small salad for Belle on Christmas eve and today I harvested what is in the trug in the photo at right.

I have added a slideshow of the photos I took of the beds today, but I have to say that today the thermometer got in the low 60’s and we missed getting the snow that everyone else got on Christmas day. And a few days before and after Christmas, the temperatures have been really cold and extremely windy here for a few weeks. Last week we had winds that had to have been at least 40 MPH so having the veggies in cold frames was really important those days. One of the days, the lid of one of the boxes blew off and I had to go and put some weight on it to keep it in place.

chard & lettuce with some frostbite

As you can see from the photo at right, some of the lettuce and the chard have some serious frostbite on them but there is some new growth as well. This really was the only bed to have had some serious damage so far.The radicchio also looks a little rough considering, that it was really looking pretty in the early fall. But again, it has some leaves that look like they are going to recover just fine.


The second bed contains radishes, carrots, arugula, red romaine and mache (corn salad). All of these look great and seem to be growing slowly but show no signs of any damage at all.

spinach patch

The spinach isn’t very thick but there is enough there to add to some of the lettuces along the way and add to some of the greens that I may harvest.


I have a big turnip and within the ten or so turnip plants that I have there is a small one for each plant so during the really cold months we may be able to harvest a turnip or two.


There are two parsley plants that are doing well and look healthy, but not enough to do anything with yet but, by spring, I can probably harvest some to add to some new potatoes.


The mache is doing really well. This plant is supposed to grow in the tundra and each of those clumps are a serving so when it is time to harvest those I will pull a clump out. It is not a come again crop that will replenish. Supposedly, it has a nutty flavor. This is a new vegetable for me but it is one that Eliot Coleman recommends for the winter garden.


The cabbage is hanging in there and beside it is a vegetable called Salsify and it also looks healthy. The cabbages haven’t started to bunch up into heads yet. Salsify is a root vegetable that is said to have the flavor of oysters but I didn’t see any hint of them yet. They look like they are doing okay in the cold.

I pulled back some of the dirt from the carrots to check their progress and they are starting to form under there. Looks like it will be a good while before we can have carrots. I think I may put those out sooner next year so that maybe by this time I will be harvesting those. Plus, I didn’t do successive plantings so when I finally do get carrots, I will have them all at once. Again, something to remember to do next year.

more radishes

You can see the small radishes that are coming in nicely and in a few weeks I would think they will be ready to eat too.  And I think

Kale seedlings

I have some Kale seedlings starting to grow amongst the spinach so I need to keep an eye on that too. Again, probably should’ve gotten those out earlier too.

All in all, I think it has been a pretty successful experiment so far. We’ll see what things look like into February and March when the weather gets really nasty before it starts to warm up for spring. In the meantime, check out the slideshow and I’ll go eat some salad. We’ll, maybe tomorrow, as a start to the  New Year.

If I knew you were coming…

This Sunday is the engagement brunch for my oldest son and his fiance’ and  Ragga, the restaurant has agreed to let us bring some items to help celebrate. Because the Wilburns have developed a reputation as good cooks and bakers, I have agreed to make two cakes to take.

Cakes I made to take to the engagement party.

That said, Design Sponge is my favorite blog and they have a recipe section where they feature chefs and food. I came across a cake that was not only beautiful but chocolate. Two of the best criteria for me, well, the chocolate at least. We’ll see how beautiful they turn out.  So I thought I would share the cakes I am going to take with us today. I will post the recipe today and then as I bake the cake I will try to get photos of the process and put those in later. I plan to do this baking tomorrow morning so the cakes will be fresh for Sunday. Recipe below and stay tuned for photos.

The first is the Devil’s Food cake that I found on Design Sponge and you can see the recipe for the chocolate cake I plan to bake here. The second cake is a cake that I got out of one of those church recipe books that churches sell as fundraisers. You know the ones with the funky plastic spiral binders. I have a ton of those things. Remember earlier in the week when I discussed my cookbook collection? Anyway, the recipe that I found years ago in one of these books is a Carrot Cake that is really good. It is called “Taste of the Islands Carrot Cake”, I’m sure, because it has pineapple in it.

Taste of the Islands Carrot Cake

by Joy Fisher (I have no idea who Joy is but, thanks, Joy!)

Makes 16 servings

For the Cake
1 3/4 cups plus 4 T all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 & 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 & 2/3 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
4 cups shredded carrots
1 cup chopped, unsalted macadamia nuts or pecans
1/2 cup raisins
Pineapple filling
2 cups diced fresh pineapple
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup pineapple juice
2 T cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla
Cream Cheese Icing
2 -8oz softened cream cheese
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup finely chopped toasted pecans or macadamia

CAKE: Preheat oven to 350

Grease a 10 x 3″ round cake pan. Line the bottom with a circle of parchment or waxed paper. Grease paper and lightly flour pan.

Sift together  1 & 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a large mixing bowl, combine oil, sugar and eggs with electric mixer at medium speed until light in color, about 3-4 minutes. At low speed, gradually add flour mixture, beating just until smooth. Combine carrots nuts, raisins and remaining 2 tablespoons flour. Gently fold into batter. Pour into prepared cake pan. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 and bake for 50-55 minutes or until done. Cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes. Run knife around sides of cake to loosen. Turn cake out by inverting onto another rack and cool completely, paper side down.

FILLING: In a medium saucepan , combine pineapple and sugar. Cook over low hear, stirring occasionally until pineapple is tender, about 10-20 minutes. Combine pineapple juice and cornstarch and stir into cooked pineapple. Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Cool. (can be made a day ahead and chilled, covered in fridge)

ICING: In medium bowl, with electric mixer, combine cream cheese and butter. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth

To ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: Peel paper off cake. Using a serrated knife, slice cake horizontally into 3 layers. ( I have 3 cake pans so I may bake the 3 layers separated and watch the timing closer so I don’t have to cut the big one into layers) Place bottom layer on a 10″ cake circle or serving plate. Spread half of the Pineapple filling over cake layer. Place middle layer of cake on top of filling and spread with a thin layer of filling. Add top layer. Spread remaining icing evenly over sides and top of cake. Press chopped toasted nuts onto sides of cake.

Harvest Time

After having cheesecake for breakfast yesterday, I decided I needed to have a healthy salad today and it just so happens that some of my winter veggies are ready to do just that. I found a huge radish and cut some of the lettuces and found a green pepper and some tommy toes. There is enough to mix some together for a nice side salad to go with my leftover Jalisco’s tacos from Wednesday night out with Herb.

WordPress seems to think that Herb is a link. HA!


If you look close, there is some baby arugula, some red romaine lettuce, some spinach and some chard. My carrots aren’t even close yet but the tops are big enough now to be able to tell they are carrots and not a weed. The broccoli is still in the seedling stage as is the cabbage and radicchio. I probably won’t see those until Spring. Something to look forward to.

I need to see if I have something good to mix together for a dressing. There is fresh basil still out there so maybe a basil dressing would be good.