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.

On the Sixth day of Christmas

My true love gave to me… 

A portrait of a domesticated goose.

6 Geese A Laying

According to Hubpages.com, geese were the first animals to be domesticated by cavemen. They figured that they could capture the birds and pen them close to their living area and they had a continual supply of meat. So with that little nugget of information, it makes sense to address local foods and the local food movement. Now I don’t own any geese, (although I have been told I’m getting a “bird” for Christmas, that is “currently living” in our garage, which is a yearly “tale” to try to add suspense to my gift) and I don’t have a pen close to my house that I could house them. But  I should be able to find food sources locally that fit my dietary needs, that are in season and are not having to travel thousands of miles to get to my table.

For example, at Christmas we have a dish that we have served in consecutive years that has become a favorite of ours, but isn’t the traditional Christmas dinner of ham or turkey. We make a stuffed beef tenderloin that involves sausage and apples. Locally we have an old time butcher, Crabill’s meats, that takes in local farmer’s cattle and the hunter’s take animals there to be processed. So that is where I go to buy the tenderloin for the dish that I make. They also make a homemade sausage that goes into the stuffing of this dish. I should be able to also pick up the apples that I will need in their small market area at the front of the store. While I can’t guarantee that the beef that I purchase is going to be free of antibiotics, I can at least say that my food has not traveled more that 20 miles to get to my table. And I can say that I have added to the local economy by buying the meat and I have help to keep a business sustainable here in my area.

Because I live in Virginia, certain foods are not in season here that might be in season in Florida. Strawberries for example. When I * am planning my Christmas dinner, I* will try to serve foods that are in season for my area. Of course, with it being a holiday, we might break this rule for a special treat, a dessert, but I will try to keep all the foods local and in season.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

Recently I read a book by Joan Dye Gussow called “This Organic Life: Confession of a Suburban Homesteader” . It opened my eyes to how to start a journey of trying to feed yourself with seasonal foods. Joan has a house on the Hudson River with a lot that  isn’t much bigger than my own and she grows probably 80 percent of the foods that she consumes all year on about an acre of land. She grows sweet potatoes  and potatoes and has a room in her house that is cool enough that she can store her harvests to last the entire winter. Then I read the book by Eliot Coleman, The Winter Harvest Handbook and got the inspiration to grow winter salad crops in cold frames. I haven’t perfected either of their ideas or techniques yet but I certainly am trying and hope to augment our food purchases with food that is fresh from my own yard. We had a wonderful salad tonight, as a matter of fact.

 

Cover of "The Winter Harvest Handbook: Ye...

Cover via Amazon

On a fun note, Eliot Coleman keeps geese on his farm. They are good for keeping the pests down and their fertilizer is wonderful but I think he mainly enjoys their eggs, which are supposed to be wonderful, although I don’t think I have ever eaten one. He keeps his geese in a pen called “Duckingham Palace” and the ducks get names like Henry and Charles and Di.

 

So without lecturing, I just want to say that if we all made the effort to seek out local foods rather than just depending on the food that has been trucked into the grocery store we would be helping our neighbors and helping our local businesses as well as the global environment.

*As a footnote, I need to add that I don’t do any real grocery shopping. I have told my husband that if he dies first that I will starve because he lovingly cooks and grocery shops for all our food. He is an awesome cook and enjoys doing it. I don’t mind cleaning up the dishes and kitchen and growing the salad in a box in the backyard. This stuffed beef dish is, however my specialty for our holiday meal and I will be the one to go get the supplies for it at Crabill’s Meats here in Tom’s Brook.

So, when I welcome my “bird” that is living in the garage, I’ll let you know if it is a goose or a gander or a chicken or a talking parrot. I’ve been told that it talks, so I have someone to talk to besides myself. I’ll know in 20 more days.

I’d bake you a cake…or two


Cakes I made to take to the engagement party.

Here are photos of the cakes from yesterday’s posting. The one in the front is the Devil’s Food Cake from the Design Sponge Blog by Cenk Sönmezsoy. And the one in the back is the Taste of the Islands Carrot Cake that I have used for years from the church cookbook. See recipe here.

Taste of the Islands Carrot Cake

Devil's Food Cake from Design Sponge

Chard Cheese Bake

Today I visited the cold frames and see that I have broccoli and a second planting of arugula and salsify and cabbage showing up. So before long I will need to find a way to cook some of these veggies that will be maturing. That said, day before yesterday I made a Chard Cheese Bake from the chard that I had that was big enough to cut.

This pie is from the book Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert. The authors are supporters of local food and have recipes using a lot of unusual “grow your own” veggies which I have planted. I was given this cookbook several years ago by a friend and haven’t really used it and reopened it the other day when I was looking for a way to cook the chard.

So here is the recipe…

Chard Cheese Bake

serves 4

1 lb. Swiss chard or spinach (chopped) Cook & drain thoroughly

4 eggs (beaten)

1 cup milk

1 cup Swiss cheese or another cheese (shredded)

1 cup bread (cubed)

1/2 cup green onions (sliced)

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (grated

Combine with cooked greens. Pour into a greased 2-quart baking dish. Cover and bake in preheated oven at 375F/ 190 C until set, 25-30 minutes.

I added some fresh tomatoes that I had ripe from the vine into the top of it and it really added to the flavor.

YUM!