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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Where Did Winter Go?

I must admit, typing this, that I may jinx us, and we will get a March snowstorm. But, that would be really interesting as we haven’t had one of those for quite a while. Today temps in the fifties lured me out to mix potting soil and top soil into a container to start my spring greens.

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I buy a simple tray, punch some holes in the bottom. I put this tray in one of those fruit boxes from a visit to Costco, the box wrapped in plastic, and with some newspaper between it and the tray, to absorb excess water. I mix potting soil and top soil. Made three rows of indentations. One I filled with mesclun mix, one with arugula, and one with Tuscan kale. I am trying kale for the first time this year.

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I will see how they do in the east window of the kitchen, and if they need more sun, I will take them up to that large south facing window in our bedroom. The largest and brightest winter spot in our house. Strange place for plantings, but it does work well. Last year I got great results with the mesclun.

As for other spring planting plans, I saw that Tractor Supply has a greenhouse for sale. A small one, build it yourself. Just enough for a few trays of plants. We may check it out and that is where I will start some of the herbs, and where I will harden the heirloom tomatoes. I have my plans in my head, now if it really is getting to be spring, the planting will begin.

Really, I don’t think we got much of a winter. A little cold. Really rainy. Snow that disappeared in a day. Not bad.

Social Butterflies

In more ways than one.

Last night the 50+ bloggers and readers gathered at Union Jack’s in Columbia to reconnect. We haven’t had a get together since last spring, so it was great to see everyone. It is amazing that we have a local group, close to 300 blogs written by county residents, that gets together and networks. I like Tales of Two Cities blog about the event.

Our hosts last night were from The 53 and ukdesperatehousewife, Bill from the former, and Claire, from the latter.

My husband came with me, and really enjoyed the conversations. Lots of fun, even on a really rainy evening. It looks like we will be doing more of these in the future.

As for the second way to be a social butterfly, I am about to do my refresher training for the spring field trips at the Conservancy. One of the spring topics, for second graders, is Wings, Stings and Leggy Things. I love the butterfly part of this activity. The Conservancy has huge amounts of milkweed, which attracts monarchs. We will even rescue, nurture and tag emerging butterflies to track their journeys. It was a highlight of my first fall there. Tagging butterflies and releasing them. In the spring we talk about how they return here for the summers, and how we have created a welcoming habitat for them to thrive.

I like our training sessions. A one hour refresher course, a hike to rehearse what we do with the school children, and then, of course, the social part of it, we have a potluck on the last Thursday of training. I blogged yesterday about the training. Come out and be a social butterfly with those of us who love the outdoors, enjoy teaching the little ones all about the earth science around them, and who want to make a difference in our own small way.

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My third reference to social butterfly today, that of home gardener, getting ready for the 2013 season. We pruned the butterfly bushes. I am learning how to find and rescue monarchs from the milkweed in the meadow. I blogged last fall about finding it out there. I intend to rescue as many larvae as I can, in order to protect them from predators.

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This is a tiger swallowtail. We have lots of those every year. I know my butterfly bush isn’t native, but it certainly attracts a large number of them.

Spring has sprung, at least for most of what I am doing. Tomorrow, I will be starting my spring greens planting and putting together a salad table. All that, after my social butterfly attendance at Conservancy training.


Volunteer Season

Spring is coming. Lots of opportunities to volunteer. And, lots of opportunities to learn about Howard County in depth, plus how and where you could make a difference.

Let’s start with the volunteer naturalist programs. At the Howard County Conservancy where I volunteer, they are always on the lookout for new faces to help. Not just leading children’s hikes, but also some behind the scenes work. I, for one, love the opportunity to get outside and lead the children’s hikes. If that isn’t your thing, they also need office help, and gardening help.

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Training for elementary school programs starts this Thursday. The secondary program training started today. For some reason, I had my calendar wrong and missed it. Never fear. Two more sessions if you would like to try your hand at something really new. Like, what happened on the farm during the Civil War. The training for this new pilot and the other training details are here.

When I first started volunteering I shadowed current leaders to learn. It is an easy way to see how much fun the hikes are. I also signed up that first fall to take the Howard Legacy Leadership Institute for the Environment program training, and to give back hours to the Conservancy. The Conservancy is one of many county partners in this program.

The program has been revamped. There is no requirement to volunteer if you want to attend the training. The option to become a “HoLLIE” grad is still there, but if you are interested in continuous learning, there is a noncredit course being given that includes material we learned in HoLLIE. The visits to NASA to see the satellite data and hear world renowned scientists speak of their experience, tracking global climate events. Other lecturers on regional and local programs, like stormwater management. The training will be held on Thursdays in April and May. Info here.

last year's class on a discovery hike

last year’s class on a discovery hike

Greenfest is coming. April 13th at the community college. Earth Day activities including river clean up, twenty minute clean up, tree plantings are all being advertised. I hope to keep locals informed as I hear of new opportunities in the area.

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As that commercial keeps telling us “Get Out There”. With all this coming up, spring is definitely right around the corner. Why waste it inside?


How Did That Chicken Turn Out?

For my Winter Eat Local Challenge. The other day I posted about the pastured animal calendar and the dry rub chicken recipe in it.

I had a picture of the TLV Farm chicken marinating but didn’t put up the finished product. It came out looking like this.

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The chicken went into a 300 degree oven, for about an hour. I put veggies bought at England Acres under the chicken. A large onion, two large carrots and some purple potatoes. Most of the veggies came from Lancaster Farm Fresh Coop, wholesaled to England Acres.

The other star of this dinner was the salad. Greens from East Rivendell. The golden beets were from Roots Market. Goat milk feta and red onion from England Acres. The dressing. Homemade black cherry yogurt dressing. Pequea Valley Farms yogurt. This yogurt is by far the best we have ever tasted. I buy it at England Acres by the quart. It never lasts very long, but I did make dressing from it.

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We split up this salad to have after the chicken and veggies. Drizzled the dressing over it. Still have a little left for later this week. Awesome dressing.

As for dinner with the local wine. A 2011 Linden Avenius Sauvignon Blanc. This sauvignon blanc is more of the fume blanc style than the style of New Zealand, which is citrusy and acidic. Lovely pairing.

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Saturday night’s dinner turned out very well. Mostly local, with some spice, herb and oil exceptions as usual. That yogurt is just beckoning me. I have an unopened container of blueberry up in the fridge. I think I will make it dessert tonight, with a few of those candied walnuts from the Olney market.

If you can find the yogurt, you have to try it. I promise. You will never want grocery store yogurt again.


At the Market in February?

Yesterday morning we headed out to Olney to check out the market and see what the vendors have in late February. It is nice to have a market near us. No need to drive to Silver Spring, Tacoma Park or Dupont Circle on the weekends.

This market is a farmers, artists, and artisan/food vendor market. In the winter it is located in and outside of the Sandy Spring Museum on Rte. 108 not far over the Montgomery County line. About ten miles from us.

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Sunday was lovely. Lots of vendors were outside taking advantage of the sun.

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Homestead Farms of Faulkner MD, and Orchard Breeze of Ortanna PA were two of the farms outside. I picked up greens from Homestead and grilling sausage from Orchard Breeze. I also got a few other items, butternut squash and greenhouse tomatoes out there. Went inside and found apples from Falcon Ridge. This is their last week until spring. I was looking for Our House for their organic micro greens but they only come biweekly.

Here is what I brought home.

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The candied walnuts were from a vendor outside, whose name escapes me, and who isn’t on the web site. So were the spiced nuts and wasabi peas. They were the little treat for my cocktail hour last night.

As for the greens, I got some extra arugula to go with the winter mix. Filled up the salad spinner, and we are good for the week.

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There is something about just picked greens. Makes me think of spring. I will be starting my indoor greens box, up in the south facing window of our bedroom. It gets the most sun to start the seeds. Last year I had a great early start.

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Next week my CSA begins again. Can’t wait until my first visit to pick up at Breezy Willow. I am plowing through the freezer, using up last year’s bounty, and want those fresh veggies back in our diet.


Cocktail Hour

That civilized winding down hour or so that used to precede dinner in homes before we all became so rushed and didn’t have time or take time to relax. It is one of our simple pleasures a few times a week. We just stop and enjoy the sunset, or watch the news while dinner happily finishes in the oven.

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Tonight we celebrated the opening successes of the Orioles, using my old glasses from the McDonald’s set. They bring back memories. A couple of fairly weak gin and tonics, more for the refreshing aspect than anything else. A little nibble. We hit the Olney Farmer’s and Artisan’s market today and picked them up. Just a handful for us while dinner is still baking.

Tuesday night I will be joining my fellow bloggers in Columbia for a cocktail hour. Only we call them blogtail parties. A couple of our local bloggers are hosting it. It is at Union Jack’s, right next to Columbia Mall. From 5:30 pm. The link takes you to the sign up page. Only a few places left. It looks to be a full house.

I enjoy meeting the bloggers from around here. Those of us who regularly blog and post them on hocoblogs. I might have to borrow my husband’s phone and bring it with me to join in the tweeting and checking in on foursquare. Now, if they can make my favorite cocktail, that Meyer lemon basil fizz, I will really be impressed.

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Our blogtail hour, or two. A chance to get out and relax with our cyberfriends. We can put faces and names to those people behind the keyboards. A really fun event.


Paper Calendars

I am surprised that there are still lots of paper calendars out there. Many of us have changed to using our tablets or smart phones to record upcoming events. But, my husband still likes that calendar hanging on the side of the refrigerator. I picked up a very interesting free calendar out at England Acres last month. This is a new one for me.

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I am learning all sorts of facts about locally pasture raised meats from this one. Like the February fact.

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Each month also includes recipes, so today using one of my TLV chickens, I am making this recipe. Should be a good dinner as the rub smells wonderful, and the white BBQ sauce tastes really nice. It has been in the fridge since last night.

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I am using half a chicken so I cut the amounts in half. The chicken looks like this as it is marinating.

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Here is the recipe for the BBQ sauce. This is really good sauce. Strange combination but it works.

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I know I cut off the end of the page in the pic. Just brush it on during the last ten minutes of cooking. I also cut this recipe in half since I have half a chicken. Use a little more Old Bay if you want a spicier sauce.

Tomorrow I will be posting my weekly Eat Local meal, and this will probably be it. There are other really good recipes on this calendar, that may show up on my table soon.


The Elusive Pileated

Finally!! I got a picture of the pileated woodpecker, at least one of them, that have been living at the edge of our property for the past two years. We hear them all the time. I saw one of them once a year ago. Today they came out and visited the side yard right out our window.

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Not the best picture as he wouldn’t keep his head still, but I did get him as he was checking out all our dead trees on the property line. I also managed to catch him as he left. Twice.

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A highlight on a dreary rainy day in west county. The varied bird community on the edge of the forest and the fields.

Wegmans Marketing Strategy

What is it with the aggressive mailings from Wegmans? They have upped the ante in their latest mailing to the all anonymous “residents” in this area, at least. Don’t know where they are mailing closer to the store but we are 16 miles away from them.

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It used to be $30 in coupons. Now, they have increased the value. And, changed from a free item to a $5 coupon, plus the other two $1 coupons, weekly.

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Still, $7 savings barely will cover the gasoline to drive from west county to Wegmans, so is it worth it? 30-40 miles round trip depending on where you live. Most of us out here don’t drive energy efficient mini vehicles. We have a pickup and a couple of SUVs, since we get more snow and ice, and we have to haul much more than when we lived in the city. For us, 1 1/2 gallons of gas would be what it would take just to run to Wegmans to pick up those few items. $6-7 worth of gas.

Since most of the coupon items don’t interest us, it is only the $5 one that is a draw. I have to admit, though, that we will drive further to buy from our local farmers, than to go to a grocery store.

As for our coupons, when I get to Columbia for car repairs, dental work, or doctor appointments, I would use some of these coupons. For things like the coffee packs, better pricing than Costco for this San Francisco Bay.

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If I remember correctly, these K cups are $32.99. With a $5 coupon, they are seriously cheaper than anywhere else to buy K cups.

Hmmm, maybe worth it to go once or twice in the six weeks. Dental appointment next week. Car maintenance next month. A very good price on coffee. Otherwise, not worth the gas consumption to grocery shop there.

I do appreciate the place, but it isn’t my weekly place to shop.


The Costco Stock Up Run

I almost titled this post, you can’t get there from here. It seems there is no direct way for us to get over to Costco from where we live. So, I noticed I am not using them for many of my purchases, just because of the time it takes to navigate through Columbia. No direct way from west county. I end up using Rte. 108 all the way around to go in the back way through Lark Brown to avoid the delays on the other roads.

That means I really stock up when I go there. Very little food these days though. It seems to be my Go To place for toiletries, paper goods, spices, oils, chicken broth, printer cartridges, and my personal favorite ridiculously expensive item, Sonicare toothbrush heads. Why in the world do they cost so much? I made sure I got enough olive oil, nuts, garlic powder and chicken stock, the low sodium one that I like to use for making couscous and risotto. Hopefully it will be another 3-4 months until I need to go back.

The only real food items I bought, and this is indicative of how we have changed our eating habits, were lemons, limes, Meyer lemons, oranges, and “WOOHOO” I found one of those lovely large ends of wild ahi. My one huge splurge for raw fish, and I love getting the end piece to portion out and make 4-5 meals from it.

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Two pounds. I ended up making three vacuum seal bags out of it. Two have those perfect thick filets and one has about a pound of the under side and the very bottom. The large one will make one of my slow cooked oven braised in tomatoes and olive oil, Tuscan style tuna — which will serve us for two meals. The smaller ones will be pan seared, maybe coated with sesame seeds and a little garlic.

Now that I have the vacuum sealer from my brother, I know the freezer won’t dry out or burn this fish. It was really easy to make the bags. I am really liking this machine.

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I have learned a little trick with the 11″ roll. Cut a short piece of it. Turn it sideways and seal the open two sides, making a fully sealed plastic pouch. Now, cut off one of the “permanent” sealed edges, to get a long thin bag.

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This puts the white strip for writing on the bottom instead of the side, and you use less plastic for smaller items. You need that three inch section to go into the machine. Why waste 3 inches by 11 inches to put it in horizontally, when you only vacuum and seal on the three inches by five or six inches. You get much more mileage out of the roll, doing it this way.

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The thin seals made by the machine are now on the sides, and the thick original seal is on the bottom.

I ended up with three nicely portioned bags, one to be taken out and used this weekend, the others to stay fresh in the freezer for weeks.

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Since this worked so well, I may be getting some large packs in the future of scallops, and make them into single serve portions. I also can’t wait for summer, when I can freeze fruit from Larriland.