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And The Winner Is …

… black cherry tomatoes.

Not only did they win me two ribbons at the county fair, they also are the highest producer in my rain soaked garden. I have harvested close to 25 pounds of these flavorful heirloom tomatoes from two plants. Plants purchased last spring from TLV Tree Farm at the Clarksville Farmers’ Market.

This is the second year they have taken second place in the heirloom tomato category. It’s the closest I have gotten to that elusive blue ribbon, and the $35 special premium attached to winning it.  I just can’t get my other heirlooms to ripen early enough to enter them in the fair. Next year will be even harder as the fair is a day earlier for entries, and I barely had adequate numbers of my other vegetables.

I did put in seven entries and came away with seven ribbons. Two firsts, three seconds, and two fourth place ribbons. My first place winners were my okra, and I had the largest tomato. Not very large, a green heirloom variety called Aunt Ruby’s Green German. It was a pound and a half. It’s crazy. I only got a half dozen of them from that plant, so it will not be bought again next year.

As for other notables from my garden, this is the year that the Italian cucurbita moschata, aka tromboncino took over my garden. It’s crawling everywhere and giving me 1-3 pound squash every time I go there.

This is the latest one. 2 Pounds, 14 ounces. There are seeds only in the bulb, so they are sweeter than other summer squash if you get them before they become too large. In past years, friends have found hiding ones that have weighed as much as 10 pounds. Those with darker green skins are treated like winter squash, peeled and used in soups or in muffins and breads.

I have been making and freezing trays of fritters. By themselves or paired with corn, or with sweet red peppers, we make a batch, have a few with dinner and then freeze them stacked on parchment. All winter long I can pull out a sheet or two and have fritters as a side dish with dinner.

Here is one of my earlier harvests of the squash.

And these are the other major producer this year. My okra. Drowning in okra. I had a market pack with ten plants in it. They looked quite pathetic when I planted them and I expected many of them to die. Nope, they didn’t. Out of ten tiny plants, seven survived and are now six feet tall and producing like mad. I have made many fries, have sautéed them, made a hash, and am running out of ideas. I do donate quite a bit of these to the food bank every Tuesday as we get dozen of them weekly.

Last but not least, the heirlooms.

Not a great year. Many cracked from the excessive rain. I did get quite a few of Rutgers tomatoes. Those are the red ones with the cracked tops. The green ones were those green German variety. The two on the bottom right were from my Amish CSA and not from the garden.

But these were still my favorite. At the height of summer, they were large and sweet.

I roasted these. Spread out on a tray. Rolled in olive oil, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and oregano. Low temperature for a few hours. Like candy.

The garden is winding down. Just okra, cherry tomatoes and lettuces. A big basil plant and sage. Almost time to do my winter pesto and maybe spread some Tuscan kale plants in the corner to see how they do.

This summer was awful for the gardeners. Far too much rain, excessive heat when it wasn’t raining, and bugs galore. Still, I love the challenge and I enjoy my harvests.

Winter in the Spring

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It’s only fitting that on the second day of spring we get smacked with eight inches of snow. Heavy wet snow. Tree branch breaking snow. After all, I did just post a few weeks back about our unseasonable warm weather, and look where we are now.

Our CSA is also still stuck in winter mode. If I see carrots on the newsletter Friday night, I may finally reach my limit and give them to people on street corners. Ten weeks running. Every color. Some of them downright weird.

Mutant ninja carrots, even.

Then there are the vegetables on steroids.

The 2 and 1/2 pound red beet. It was split, roasted and diced for salads. Many, many salads.

Followed by the next delivery with this “little” treasure.

There were two sweet potatoes that week. Total of more than 5 pounds. Far too large to roast. I gave one away, the little one, to a friend and the other, the behemoth, will become an ingredient in another adventure in lasagna. Maybe this weekend.

I cannot wait to see real baby greens on the list for my weekly pickup. I am so tired of winter, and want to get my garden going. Bring on the arugula, the pea shoots, the spring mix. Bring on the local farmer’s markets where I can get something light and refreshing. And put away those humongous root vegetables.

 

Summer in the Winter

The weather here has been crazy. Short sleeve weather. Open the windows and eat outside.

Tuesday, we just decided we needed a road trip to our favorite flea market, farmer’s market and lunch stop. Manheim PA. The Roots market and auction.

It’s a throwback to the large markets once common across the country. Not that far off from some of the best markets we found on our trip to the Mediterranean.  Lots of local stuff. Some not so local stuff. Many vendors selling goods. Used items.

Everything and anything. Even a live poultry auction in one of the buildings.

Flea markets are fun. I found a treasure trove of Time Life cookbooks of the world here a few years back. This year, wandering around we did find a book seller that had many of the westerns that my mom loves. In large books, without faded print.

We had lunch. Did a bit of shopping. I picked up some of my favorite celery. Some herbs. A couple avocados to go with the Tuscan kale in my CSA share.

A lazy day in almost perfect weather.

This celery was the real reason for the trip. If you haven’t tried it, you should. Head up to the area just west of Lancaster, on any Tuesday. Find Hodecker’s. Their celery is so sweet, and so different from that in the stores. The family sells their home grown product part of the year, and the rest of the year imports the same variety from California. It’s different. It’s awesome, and a treat for those of us who enjoy the best produce we can find.

We must be crazy. Driving for two hours just to buy celery. And have PA sausage subs. And home made cookies for dessert. Maybe pick up a shoo fly pie.

 

Cabin Fever

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So, y’all tired of ice and snow, mostly ice, yet?

I am. Not loving the weather or the way it bothers my “aging” bones. Time to find some interesting things to do while waiting for spring to get here.

This is a two-fer week at the Howard County Conservancy. Thursday night a fascinating slide slow from Ned Tillman. Ned’s hikes and lectures all over the county are always well attended, and this week he is bringing new material about the world under the soil.

Saturday, a winter “hike”, but it will be an indoors Second Saturday program. Frog calls, and bird ID, in the warmth of the Gudelsky center where the wall of windows allows you to search for, and identify birds. Getting prepared to do the backyard bird count the following weekend. Which you could then do from the comfort of your own home.

Even in the snow.

If the weather does cooperate, you could also head out this Saturday to Mardi Gras on Main Street in Old Town Ellicott City. A family friendly Mardi Gras. With a scavenger hunt throughout old town, and the free Boogaloo at the Bin, with live music all afternoon and evening. There will be libations and food for sale. Gumbo, anyone? Maybe a beignet?

I did manage to get out last week and enjoy some of the wintertime activities around here. Even one of my favorite things. Cooking and eating locally. Over at Clarksville Caterers for a Slow Food chapter event with Chef Ryan Wiest.

Focusing on fresh winter vegetables, which the attendees peeled, cut, and roasted to go with short ribs made by the local chapter board members. I enjoy our quarterly events, featuring local foods and local people.

Anything else that would tempt you to brave the wintery winds and cold?

 

Wazzup Hoco?

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I’ve been absent quite a bit these days. Not that I wanted to be, but I have had all kinds of things happening.

Dead Internet was one.

Cataract surgery, the second. I can now verify that with this second eye done yesterday that I have 20/20 vision in both eyes for distance. Soon to get only reading glasses.

That’s the really good news. As for the internet thing, it’s been a challenge. Kudos to Comcast for solving it (I never thought I would write those words). Ten days total. Teams of people. The final verdict. Cable that was damaged underground, thirty year old cable. They ended up repairing it by digging up the area south of our driveway last Friday night In the rain. Much of the earlier detective work took place during the brutal cold. Guys in buckets on single digit temperature days.

They spliced new cable to give us back our internet.

I suppose that means I should blog more. Giving credit all over the place. Checking out Food Plenty and writing about it.

Giving a shout out to the Wine Bin for their great customer service. We bought a box of Montaud Rose, 2016 vintage, which ended up being sherried. No problem to return.

I really love the small businesses around here.

And, another shout out to Kendall Hardware. For having everything we need, to deal with bad weather, and to feed my feathered friends.

I also made New Year’s Resolutions that I didn’t get to blog about, what with spotty internet. The biggest. Get back to talking about the CSA baskets. A new post soon on that topic.

 

Coping With the Cold

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Cold weather is returning, after a nice couple of days. My little bird friends are hitting the water heavily.

In particular, my friend Flicker. Definitely here because of the heated bird bath. If you have feeders, make sure they stay filled, as the birds depend on you for food.

My bird bath isn’t pretty. But, it’s functional. I need the brick and rocks there to keep the insert from blowing away in high winds.

The blue birds are back, too.

They don’t use the feeders, only the water.

Other things I have paid attention to, as the temps dipped to single digits last week.

Letting the water drip at the most vulnerable place in the house. That bathroom where a pipe burst four years ago. We use the hall bath in the worst weather, just to keep the water flowing. Our master bath is protected. The hall bath is on the west side, where the winds blow and the walls are always cooler.

We also now keep the panel off the access to the crawl space, allowing warmer air to get in there. On the coldest days, I do laundry and run the dryer on high heat, raising the temps in that unheated crawl space full of pipes to the kitchen, laundry room and mud room bath.

We were told a long time ago, do not turn on a gas fireplace, or light a fire, while keeping the glass doors closed. They can shatter from the thermal shock. We have heard of many places where this has happened.

Also, do you know where your main water shut off valve is? Find it out. It makes a huge difference, if a pipe bursts, to be able to stop the water quickly.

We are weathering these cold temperatures so much better, since we took the time to beef up all our insulation. The house is warmer. We are happier for it.

We insulated the attic,

and all the dormers.

Last but not least, for me, the cook. I keep using the oven on slow cook, making soups, pasta meals, and stews, which are comfort foods.

 

Good News Bad News

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Well, the good news is the easy repair of our washing machine. Just the switch which says the top is down and the motor can run.

The bad news. Our internet died Tuesday. Much drama. Two visits. Trucks with buckets trying to access connections in brutally cold weather. No internet and suggestions that we need a new cable run. Then, OMG, the internet returned at 11 pm last night. Magically. Now, we have no idea if we need new cable runs from the main road. I am just frantically paying bills and answering emails in case it dies again.

It is amazing how much we now rely on internet to support us.

My volunteer work, at the Conservancy, for example. I need to publicize upcoming events like the renowned owl expert with incredible information about one of our favorite predators. Paul Bannick, on the 12th of January. Ranger will be there. This event may sell out. Go online and book quickly. His event on the 13th in VA has already reached its limit at 175 participants.

Another fun event on the 13th, we have a haiku writing fest. With crafts by Columbia Families in Nature. Come out and banish those cold weather blues.

The last bad news in our area. The closing of Casual Gourmet. I will miss Alexandra’s shop in Glenwood. They are retiring and no one wanted to buy it from them. For the rest of this month, they are liquidating their inventory. Stop in, help them out, and say farewell.

All in all, this brutal winter is knocking us down. We just need to find things to keep us occupied and WARM.