Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

January Pruning

       
    Late January is pruning season. All over town, ladders lean into fruit trees and piles of twigs grow between the rows. It is a good time to prune. Seeds are ordered, the garden is pre-plotted, the weather is not too cold, and there is still a little light when I come home after work. I’ve been pruning myself this week.
            Yesterday, I worked on the hazelnut trees. The Beeyard Hazelnut has a lovely, curvy, cooked shape that just needs to be cleaned up every year; I trimmed it down some as well, as some shoots were reaching for the sky. It was clear in the afternoon, and I perched on the top of the twelve foot orchard ladder, above the trees, and shook down greeny gold pollen over everything.  The Compost Hazelnut is more of a shrubby tree. Because of Mark’s compost hoops, it is harder to trim. My goal is to keep it out of the electrical wires and then let it be. Mark likes to hide in its branches in the summer and it curves over his work area nicely.
     
       This afternoon was foggy. It started out light, but, as the day went on, it came down darker and darker. It was a good day, however, to work on the front yard’s fruit trees. The apple just needed a little tipping off, and I took out two crossing branches. Moving the ladder took most of the time. The plum was a little more work, as it loves to sucker, but it is a smaller tree. I cleaned up some messy cuts from last summer, took out a few crossing branches, and de-suckered the whole thing. While I was balanced in the center of the tree, a neighbor walked by and smiled. “Looks like an art form,” he commented. When I finished, I brought some of the twigs inside to bloom on the mantle.

                        Pruning is an art, searching for the shape of the tree hidden in the branches. It is like reading the rough draft of an essay. It requires climbing up and down the ladder, shaking branches to see were they lead, considering cuts from a distance. Once the design is established, it needs to be maintained, every year. The result, however, is lovely. When all of the trees and hedges in the yard are trimmed, light moves across the yard more freely and the back yard world is more beautiful. And, unlike other yard chores, this one can be done slowly, in the late afternoon, as the misty sun sets in our winter grey skies.

Parsnip Cheese soup

1 onion
4-5 parsnips
3 potatoes

2-3 t of caraway seeds
1-2 t dried mustard

3 c of milk
3 c of grated cheddar

Saute the onion until soft, then add the parsnips and potatoes  and spices and just cover with water. Cook until soft. Puree with the milk and cheddar, and reheat. Eat with salad and new  bread. Maybe some apple sauce...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Homestead Cloths

We use a wide range of cloths-- some of them down cycled from other uses-- in order to reduce consumption of natural resources.I have found that it does not increase the amount of laundry that I am doing, and, if it did, we could adjust by not washing our outer garments as often. When the cloth is totally worn out, it is often tossed into the bottom of the compost ring, returning it to the earth.

Floor towels:
            A few nights ago, I spilled most of a cup of tea on the floor. No big deal, really. I went to the back hall to fetch the Floor Towel and the mess was quickly mopped up. We love the two old bath towels hanging in the back hall, next to the jackets, hats, and boots. One is bright orange, the other a deep rusty brown. They are both clearly from the 1970s. We use them constantly. In the summer, one is always tucked next to the stove during canning season and near the sink when we are pouring dishwater into a five gallon bucket to water the gooseberry plants. In the winter, they mop up the mud and water we track in from the back yard, capture the rainwater that leaks in where the garage meets the house, and remove cat prints in the dining room. Big towels work better than small rags for large wet messes. We use them for weeks, drying them on the pegs, and then throw them into the laundry with the small rugs.

Rags:
            We also have a huge bag of rags, which we use for house cleaning. Old t-shirts and dishcloths, as well as sheets worn thin by years of wear, become cleaning rags with a ceremonial ripping of the seams. When it is time to clean the bathroom or kitchen, paint trim, or wash the floor, we reach for the cloth rags. Once a month, we wash them with bleach and hot water and hang them in the sun to dry. When they are totally dead, after years of use, they are tossed on the compost pile.

Salad Bags:
            Years ago, I created several salad bags by sewing together scraps of cotton about two feet wide and one foot long, folding over the top, and running ribbons through the channel. We could then wash our greens, step outside, and swing the bag in a circle, forcing the water off of the leaves. If we did not use all of the greens, they were then stored in a damp cotton bag in the fridge. The bags were so useful for all sorts of things, including backpacking, that I made five or six more. They are wearing out now, and I plan on sewing another round, using old dish towels.

Napkins, tablecloths, and cloth dish towels:
            Years ago, my mother decided to be elegant and no longer use paper napkins. She bought a set of eight solid colored cotton napkins, four napkin rings (we each had our own), and established the rule—the napkins lasts for a week.  Cloth napkins quickly became the norm. Now, I have a huge collection of napkins, different patterns to reflect the seasons. And when I grow bored with them, I can make a few more by hemming fat quarters purchased from the quilt store. When we have company, I pull out the stack and toss them into the laundry when everyone goes home. Dish towels work the same way; nothing chirks up the  kitchen more than a few bright new towels. Both make excellent presents as well, useful, inexpensive, and durable. I also have a collection of old tablecloths—the gold and white ovals from my mother, seven or eight floral patterns from the 1950s from my partner’sv mother and thrift shops, and a few cheery ones I bought new. They cover the old, in need of refinishing, dining room table all winter and make the back yard look festive for summer parties.

Lemon Fennel Pasta


Trim the fronds off of your fennel bulb and chop up finely with two or three garlic cloves and the rind of one lemon. Mix with a large handful of grated parmesan  cheese.

Slice an onion and a fennel bulb and sauté in olive oil until golden. Add the juice of the lemon, along with a bit of salt and pepper. Cook until soft and juicy.


Cook a handful of whole wheat spaghetti.  Drain, mix with lemon and fennel veggies, and the garlic/frond/cheese mixture.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Parsnip Madness

Parsnips have taken over the vegetable drawer in my fridge. They grow very well in the Pacific Northwest, if they germinate. I regularly have them reaching into the clay subsoil under my raised beds. Last week, not thinking, I ordered a couple of pounds from Sunbow Farm, then cleared out a garden bed, where five huge roots were lurking. Even after passing off two in a Twelfth Night bag, I have a surplus. And the creeping knowledge that I did not dig them all two weeks ago….
I have turned my cookbooks for inspiration. My mother’s old Betty Crocker suggests cooking them in butter, which is not a bad idea. Joy of Cooking bakes them with butter and sugar—too sweet for my taste. Alice Waters considers grilling them—a classic California option for every vegetable, and The Greens cookbooks have no plans at all to ever cook parsnips. I came across an occasional parsnip-potato mash from the 1980’s New Basics and the regularly featured roasted winter vegetables. Meanwhile, the parsnips were taking up considerable real estate in the fridge and I needed some new ideas. Then I hit the cookbooks from the British Isles. One book suggested a parsnip-cheese soup, which was amazingly good. Another hinted at a root veggie pasty, which I converted into a root veg calzone of parsnips, beets, potatoes, and carrots.  Finally, while browsing a new cookbook from Ireland, I found a parsnip cake! Victory was at hand. There is only one parsnip left in the veggie bin—until I need to clean out the last garden bed.

The week looked something like this:

Monday: Parsnip cheese soup
Tuesday: rooty calzone
Wednesday: Roasted veg and rice
Thursday:  Greens and tofu (we needed a break)
Friday: Baked potatoes and parsnip cake
Saturday—split pea soup with parsnips, potatoes, and carrots
Sunday—casserole with potatoes, fennel, leeks, and parsnips


Rooty Calzones


Make the dough—1 t of yeast, in 1.5 cups of water. Add 2 t of sugar to feed the yeast and proof.
Add 3 T of olive oil,  1 t of salt, 1.5 cups of white flour, and 1.5 cups of wheat flour. Mix and knead gently. Allow to rest and rise for about an hour.

Make the filling, which is totally flexible:
1 leek, sliced
3 parsnips, peeled and chopped
3 carrots, sliced
3 small potatoes chopped
2 or 3 small beets, peeled and chopped

Cook in olive oil and red wine until tender. Toss in a cup or so of grated cheddar.

Divide the dough into four chunks and roll out into circles. I put the circles onto the baking sheet before filling them… Place the filling  on half of the circle, flop dough over the filling, and seal with water.

Bake in 350 degree oven until bubbly and brown.


Monday, January 5, 2015

January Work List

January Work List

  • Prune trees, starting in the back.
  • Peruse seed catalogs for hours. Mark everything interesting. Winnow the list down to reality.
  • Order seeds.
  • Knit.
  • Draw up the garden plan.
  • Look for snowdrops.
  • Keep an eye on storage squashes and bake any that look iffy.
  • Let the chickens out for a run in the late afternoon.
  • Take long walks on the logging roads.
  • Read.
  • Grade papers madly so that grades are accurate for the end of the semester.
  • Walk on the beach.


Shepard’s Pie, the veggie version


Hedgehog mushrooms
Celery—2 to 3 stalks
Onion
Carrots 3-4
Sautee until soft, add 2-3 tablespoons of flour to create a gravy. Season with thyme, salt and pepper.

Mix in 2/3 cup of cooked rice and ¾ cup of grated cheddar.


Put in a casserole dish, and cover with mashed potatoes. Bake in 350 oven until bubbly and eat with salad.