Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Starting things - and finishing things

My counter top is full of projects. A week ago, I started a new batch of fermented mustard pickles. They can be jarred this Friday. Same day, I started a jar of sauerkraut. Forgot to put in juniper berries, but I will do that with my next batch. I'm eating my last quart from last year right now, so this is perfect timing, although sauerkraut just keeps tasting better with time. But even "new" kraut is better than the store bought stuff.

Fermenting kraut and mustard pickles
My two bowls of poolish are doing their thing - flour, water and a pinch of yeast. It will sit until this evening. I give it 12 hours, by which time I'll see lots of bubbles and it will smell divine! Then it will get mixed into my bread dough. The dough will do a slow rise in fridge until I take it out at 5:00 tomorrow morning to make 15 baguettes for Garden Patch Market.

By tonight, it will be spongy and full of bubbles.
I made buckwheat pancakes for breakfast this morning and realized the jar of homemade sprouted buckwheat flour is getting kind of low. So more buckwheat was soaked this morning, then will be rinsed and drained daily until I see plenty of sprouts. Then it goes into the dehydrator for a few hours and is ground into flour for my beloved buckwheat pancakes. I mix it half and half with my low carb baking mix. Sprouting the grain gets rid of a few carbs, so my diet can tolerate a plate of buckwheat pancakes once every week or two, especially after a really intense workout at the gym.


Buckwheat groats soaked and set to sprout
I make kefir for a couple of people and have a delivery tomorrow, so the milk is sitting on the counter, with kefir grains added. By tonight it should be just right. I'll bottle it and take with me to market tomorrow.

By tomorrow morning, it will be thick, creamy kefir made with A2 milk - high nutrients
One of my customers loves my sourdough rye bread (only leavening in the bread dough is yeast that I caught in my kitchen when I moved here three years ago), and the jar of sourdough came out of the fridge for a hefty feeding so that I will have enough to do a recipe for two loaves tomorrow and Friday. Yes, that's right - it takes at least two days to make my sourdough rye bread, but it's worth the wait. He will be at market Saturday to pick up his loaf, and there will be two half loaves for sale along side the French baguettes. Those two breads are at the opposite ends of the bread spectrum, let me tell you, but both mighty fine.

I can already see some bubbles forming!
Last but not least, I'm making Easy Slow Cooker Lemon Custard, a low carb recipe with liquid stevia, fresh lemon juice and rind, egg yolks and heavy cream. It is in my slow cooker in a water bath for three hours. First time I've made it. Hope it turns out well.

Organic lemons, organic egg yolks, heavy cream, a little stevia for sweetening. 
Once a month, my minister and I have dinner here together and talk over church business.  I'm president of the board this year, and we seem to accumulate a few knotty issues that need some extra attention each month. Tonight's the night. He will just have to put up with my low carb stuff - although he is bringing the appetizers, his choice. Menu: Rev. Chip's appetizers, sweet red peppers stuffed with cauli-rice smothered in meat and tomato sauce, sautĂ©ed beans with garlic and cherry tomato cream sauce, and the lemon custards for dessert.

Well, back to work. Christina will be here to work in the soap room in an hour, and I have to get the work schedule together, get labels printed, jars set out, etc. so that we make the best use of our time today. In three hours, we put out a LOT of product!


Monday, September 4, 2017

Cleaning up the gardens

I'm cleaning up the flower beds one last time for the season. Busy, but such soothing work. There is a lovely fall breeze. Even though Mabon, the fall equinox, hasn't yet arrived, there is definitely a change in the weather. Even the air smells different.

Front of house is done. I'm going to take a little rest, then head back to the rose garden. It will get its own blog entry, of course! LOL


Fall flowers in the front stoop planters

Zinnias, such a beautiful red! The mum to the right blooms rust brown. Getting so big! Time to divide.

Yes, I grow potatoes in my foundation plantings. It's my thing.

Culinary sage. This is a spectacular plant! Giving away the trimmings at market this week.

English ivy got another haircut today. If you don't mind the extra care, it is a great ground cover.

The yarrow. Looking sad after several harvests for the soap room this year. But it will be back!

Were there really that many weeds?

Sage bush trimmings - going to market. Stop by. It's free!

Cosmos were really looking sad. So they are on their way to the compost heap. Still useful in their own way.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

New bread baking process this morning!

WOW!!

Well, I used my couche, bread flipper and burn prevention gloves for the first time this morning. Oh, WOW! I cannot believe how beautiful the bread is turning out.

I am a bit clumsy with flipping the loaves directly onto the baking stone, and I made the first five loaves a little too long. One of them has a bent tip where it was too long for the baking stone.

The texture is unbelievable! Take a look at these pics.

Loaves rising in the couche

Loaves baking directly on baking stone - no pans anymore!

First loaves out of the oven - 10 more to go

Look at the crumb, the texture - perfection! 

My gardens and my kitchen

The rose garden is all I hoped for. It's in need of a thorough weeding today, but that is pure pleasure. An hour spent, and it will be spotless again! I moved some ground cover from the foundation plantings in front of the house, will move some more down there today. It will make the job easier when there is not so much bare soil.

I bought lacewing eggs and ladybugs. The ladybugs didn't hang around long but I think they wiped out the aphids before they went. Roses are looking better. Haven't seen a lacewing yet.

Every few days I pick a bouquet of herbs, and hopefully there will be a new rose blooming. They look so beautiful on my counter, and I love having the fresh herbs at hand. I use them more when I don't have to stop and run outside with the scissors to cut them while I'm cooking.

The rose garden


They smell as good as they look.

Roses, herbs and mixed bouquet

Picked new herbs this morning


And speaking of cooking, my bread baking will be quite exciting this week. I finally, after years of using old beat up baguette pans, have purchased a couche, from France no less. So I will be forming my loaves using the couche, which is a heavy linen cloth. It is laid out, then bunched up every few inches to form troughs. The formed loaves are laid in the troughs to rise. I bought the flipping board too, so that I can flip the formed loaves onto the board and use it to take the loaves to the baking stone in my oven. They will be baked directly on the stone, and it should mean even better crusts. And while I was at it, I bought some really good oven gloves. Really tired of the burns on my hands and wrists!


The new equipment

So that's what has been happening in Susie's gardens and kitchen. Life is good.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Why I was late to the market AGAIN!

Jerry told me about these wonderful pickles his mother made called mustard pickles. They were made in a crock, fermented for ten days, and then could be kept in a cool dark place without refrigeration for up to a year. My kind of pickle!

My one and only invention is my Easy Peasy Fermenting Jar. I originally called it my Suze Goldberg Pickling Jar, since one of my nicknames is Suze, and I put it together from odds and ends in my kitchen. But given the history of Rube Goldberg inventions, it may have given the impression that it would be unnecessarily complex. My jar is simple and it works! So I renamed it to reflect how easy it makes what was kind of a messy job.

I had several crocks and used them to make my own pickles. But even with a weighted plate on the pickles, skimming of mold was required. It was messy. There was a fermenting jar for sale on the internet - $30 plus shipping and no mold to deal with. It had a unique jar that, if broken, cost $20 (and shipping) to replace. I could do better than that. I am a frugal person.

I rooted through my cupboards and found a half gallon wide mouth canning jar, big enough to hold large head of cabbage if fermenting sauerkraut. Two of them would hold a half peck of pickling cukes. Perfect!

The trick to stopping mold is to keep the oxygen out of the process. The on-line pickling jar had a looped straw in the lid to allow any gasses to escape, and the lid screwed on tight to keep out air. So how would I keep the air out of my jar? No matter how full I filled it with my salt water, there was sure to be a small amount of air trapped in the top when I screwed the lid on. And a tight lid plus a build up of gases could actually cause the jar to explode.

I did some more rooting and found the perfect insert - a very small soufflé cup that we had used in my restaurant. It fit firmly into the neck of the jar and had straight sides. I filled the jar with pickles, spices, oak leaves for tannin, and salt water, making sure that the insert fit completely into the neck. When I inserted it, with the jar in a shallow bowl, a little of the saltwater spilled out. This meant that there was no air in that jar! The insert was heavy enough to keep the pickles under the salt water, and light enough that if gases accumulated, it would allow them to escape. You can always add a bit more saltwater if there are too many burps, which could allow a little air into the jar.

Suze's Easy Peasy Fermenting Jar at work
In five days, you will have tremendous dill pickles. In a week, you will have mighty fine sauerkraut. In ten days you will have mustard pickles. However I can't attest to how good they will taste because the reason I was late today is because I was making my first ever batch of Mustard Pickles. We will see. (Update: August 11, 2017 - decanted the pickles. They are fantastic!)

Today's Mustard Pickles. Will be ready August 11, 2017.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The rose garden

I got a couple of buds from the plant that the company is replacing before it bites the dust. Appears to have been damaged in shipping. The stems were misshapen, and they were not suitable for a bud vase.

Tonight, I clipped my first rose for a bud vase. It is sitting beside me. Wonderful fragrance! The company tells me the buds will be bigger as the plant matures, but I am quite happy right now. The color is all I expected, and the scent -- oh, the scent!

Here is English Miss, the first proper rose from my new rose garden. I am very happy indeed!

July 13, 2017 - English Miss

Monday, June 26, 2017

Wilma and Estelle

I was wandering the halls of the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly, a.k.a. the GA, when I heard a couple of women in a conversation with someone about where to eat in the center. I caught up with them to ask them if they had learned anything useful, and I had the privilege of meeting Wilma and Estelle - two delightful ladies who belong to a UU church right here in New Orleans. They asked if I would like to join them while they tried to find the food court.

Wilma bragged about being 81 (and if I do say so myself, she looked pretty youthful, wouldn't have guessed it). She whispered to me that Estelle is 95 but didn't want people to know, then added, "I don't know why I'm whispering. She is deaf as a post." Estelle certainly didn't look 95. Both were decked out, definitely not the typical Midwestern women I am used to being around. Jewelry, makeup, coifed hair, although how they managed the hair in this climate is beyond me! Every morning, I fix my hair in the hotel room, think it looks great, and by the time I have arrived at the restroom at the Convention Center, I all but scream when I look in the mirror! What happened?

So anyway, Estelle, Wilma and I meandered towards this hypothetical food court, which seemed ever out of reach. Estelle walked over to a table where a man sat alone. She yelled, "HELLO! HELLO! HELLO!" Then she and the gentleman started talking at the top of their lungs to one another. Wilma suggested we have a seat, because she knew this was going to take a while. She said the guy is deaf, too, so it would take them a bit to get through their conversation.

Wilma gave me her history while we waited for Estelle to return. She was originally from New York City (I detected the accent), then moved to Urbana, Illinois, home of the University of Illinois, where she and the man she married were both educated. Her husband became a college professor, had taught at Indiana University in Bloomington at one time, then DePaul University in Chicago. He retired from there and they moved to New Orleans for their golden years, a place she obviously dearly loves. Her husband passed several years ago.

Finally Estelle was done with her conversation, then brought her friend over to our table to meet both of us, and after much shouting, introductions were complete.

The three of us continued our wandering towards the food court. It became obvious that it was too long a walk for Estelle, so my new friends headed back, while I went on towards the court. We parted, said we hoped to run into one another at the Sunday morning service, and we were on our way. I do so regret that I didn't get a picture of my new friends. Maybe I will run into them today, in the midst of the 4,000 people who will be attending the service this morning. If I do, I will get a picture if they will allow - and something tells me they would LOVE to have their picture taken.

I enjoyed meeting them, and I think the feeling was mutual.

Prologue: I didn't see them Sunday morning. Since Wilma, obviously a sharp shopper, told me there would be bargains in the bookstore right before the convention closed, I went there in the hopes of running into them. But alas, they were not to be found. But I got a few good bargains. :)


Friday, May 19, 2017

Greenhouse - Part 2

Sometimes my enthusiasm outstrips realty. This greenhouse - would it be just one more example of something that wasn't nearly as much fun nor as useful as I dreamed? Oh, no, this time I was right on!

Everything is a bit late - contractors who put it up and installed electricity never seemed to hit a due date. But finally it is up and running. I'm eating radishes - at least a dozen a day, French breakfast, my favorite. The butter lettuce is wonderful. It's a little crowded, but it is working out well, a fresh salad ever couple of days.

The day before yesterday, I put in 12 kale plants, in the spaces left as I harvest radishes. They were started in the seedling tray, and once they were removed from those tiny cells, they exploded in size!

I planted two tomato seeds in every cell, except for a couple of things that my experience taught me never germinated extraordinarily well. Except this year! Wow! Germination has approached 100%. I'm giving away plants - was sure that I would have requests for a couple hundred at least. Not so much. They are late, and a lot of people already have their plants in. (Fools, I say. I've lived through killing frosts during Memorial Day Weekend.)

My kids made me promise not to turn this into a business. I didn't expect this many extra plants, though, so unless they are willing to plow up their yards, I will be selling plants here at market. The other vendors would not be happy with me giving away plants while they are trying to sell the fruits of their hard labor, so there will be a price tag on each tomato plant.

I had a commercial greenhouse on the farm, raised between 4,000 and 6,000 plants a year. Raising 300 is definitely in the "hobby" vein, and I am having a great deal of fun. It's still not too late to get some freebies, so if you want a few plants, respond to this blog and tell me how to get in touch with you so that you can get your plants.

Here are pictures from the new greenhouse in town, and from harvests at the farm. We planted around 200 plants at the farm each summer, and I just loved the old heirlooms - weird shapes, all different sizes, beautiful colors - and every one of them very tasty indeed.

Seedling tray in the hobby greenhouse in town






Seedlings potted up, going to their new owners in a couple of weeks.



Harvest from the farm. 

Offering tastes at the market

A Brandywine from the farm

Canning the market leftovers

Aren't they beautiful?

Bumper crop of yellow tomatoes


Getting ready to can

Tomato plate - tasty treat!

Seedling trays at the farm - thousands, not hundreds!

A lot of plants  were grown in the 18' x 24' greenhouse! I miss it.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The greenhouse!

At last, my new hobby greenhouse is up and running. I thought this day would never come. So many things went wrong, so many delays, terrible instructions, installers who didn't keep their promised dates, who had to do things twice because they misinterpreted the pictures (the only instructions).

This greenhouse is pretty much a mini version of the one I had at the farm - 6' x 8' instead of an 18' x 24' commercial greenhouse in which I grew several thousand plants each season. So I knew what I needed here. No sense putting up a greenhouse if you do not follow some basic principles that will get you lovely home-grown plants.

I looked at a $200 (sale price) hobby greenhouse at Harbor Freight. After doing a good bit of research, I decided on one a little heavier, with more features. I got it at Home Depot. The one I chose had some pretty good reviews, and some pretty horrible ones. Since I always read the bad ones first, I decided I could get around the problems many purchasers had with this model by doing a more robust installation.

I hired two men to put it together for me, me being a single 75 year old woman. In spite of lifting weights three days a week, I am pretty sure it was beyond the scope of my capabilities, even with a little help. Since I wanted much more than the "normal" greenhouse, it cost a pretty penny. There is electricity run to it (how to plug in heat mats, radios, lights and fans?), and after looking at pictures of these greenhouses lying in pieces on the ground after a strong wind, I bought the tie-down kit. The installers set the anchors into concrete instead of just screwing them into the ground. They also built a 4' x 8' frame made of 4" x 4" untreated lumber (still doing that organic thing, so no treated lumber) and set it on corner posts, also set in concrete.  In addition, I bought the automatic vent opener and a shade cloth. So many people think that you want all of the sun and heat you can get, but the sun will scald your precious plants if they get direct sunlight, and the heat will cook them.

Here are a whole bunch of pictures of the project, from start (parts all over the ground) to finish (heat mat plugged in and bringing the temp up to 80℉ to optimize tomato seed germination). I have no idea what I am going to do with 300 plants. I have room for maybe 50 of them here, including the flowers I am growing. Tomatoes? I can plant about 10 of them in pots on my deck, and I'm going to try growing a few in the greenhouse. They are organic heirloom plants, indeterminate, and I'm going to try to grow them on twine in the greenhouse, where I can control heat and light. I can dream, right?

I'm happy.

The puzzle laid out on the ground


Getting there

Electricity done

Note guy wires - the anchors are in concrete!

A place for indoor growing - I'm dreaming of fresh organic kale in January.

Shelving had to be jury-rigged to get 8' of continuous shelf. Bad design! But we made it work.

French Breakfast adishes and butter lettuce coming along

Seedling tray - finally arrived and filled with organic seedling mix

Note the split door. This means I can get a cross breeze without having to keep the door open. Too many geese in this neighborhood! I can imagine them going in and having butter lettuce and French Breakfast radishes for lunch. If not geese, then the rabbits. Or perhaps Fred will go on a digging expedition.

Hoping to get a crop before it gets too hot. Blistering yesterday! 

Erin and Tim came over, and Tim got the end shelves level. I still need to add wire cable in the corner, but I'm ready to roll!

Thermostat to control heat mat. It's working on getting temp up to 80℉

At last! Growing things!!

Vent still closed this morning, but it will open as the temperature rises.