Archive for October, 2011

Winter Garden Tunnel

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Yesterday my guys spent some time helping me get the garden ready for winter.  I cleaned up the raised bed that grew our tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, and then sowed a winter cover crop of hairy vetch and winter rye in their place.  The cover crop will overwinter and resume growing in the spring, when I will turn it into the soil.  Tomatoes are heavy feeders, and it’s crucial to return nutrients to the soil at every opportunity.  While I was working on fall clean up, the guys erected a winter tunnel so we can continue to eat from our garden into the winter months.

The tunnel was constructed of reclaimed/recycled materials. The cattle panels (used for the structure of the tunnel) were my buck pens from the days when I kept a small dairy goat herd. We did purchase a $70 roll of 6 ml plastic, but there’s enough on the roll for the next 4 or 5 years.   The tunnel is crude and imperfect, as it was intended to be quick, temporary, and inexpensive.  It will be taken down in the spring, and then erected over a different raised bed next fall.  In the picture above you can see the cattle panels, anchored in place against the sides of the raised bed by wooden stakes driven into the ground.  As you can see, the cattle panels form a slightly wonky shaped dome.  Below, the bottom edge of the plastic is about to be rolled onto a piece of lumber and nailed against the side of the raised bed.

The excess plastic at the corners was rolled and secured with zip strips we had lying around the barn.

Our prevailing winds come from the northwest, so the south end of the tunnel will be used for entry and venting.  I didn’t have it set up yet, but the plastic on this end will be anchored by a board and a couple of cinder blocks.  During the winter I will remove the board and be able to  lift the flap of plastic enough to vent the tunnel on warm days.

Here’s a peek inside the tunnel.  At the front are a couple of different varieties of heirloom kale, Tuscan Lacinato and Winter Red Russian. Growing up the cattle panel on the right are Oregon Sugar Pod II snow peas.

I found this guy living in the peas, and there was another one living in the kale.

I’m growing two varieties of spinach, Monstrueux De Viroflay and Gigante Inverno.  I’ve overwintered the first variety before, and it performed beautifully.  The lettuce between the two spinach varieties is Tom Thumb, an heirloom loose head lettuce.  Planted elsewhere in the tunnel are arugula, carrots, parsley, and some stray volunteer dill plants.  My carrots are not as fully formed as I would have liked.  It’s the first time I’ve tried to overwinter carrots, and I learned that I need to plant them about 3 weeks earlier than I did.  I’m hoping the added warmth of the tunnel will help them grow a little more before the real cold weather arrives.  This is the first year I’ve tried a tunnel like this, and if all goes well, I’m hoping we will be able to stretch our greens into January or February.

Sweet Potato & Root Vegetable Seasoning

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

I’ve got anther seasoning blend for you already.  It’s just that time of year.  Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been grabbing as much as possible from the herb garden before the first hard frost arrived.  A freeze was predicted last night, so about an hour before sunset I went out to the garden and picked the last of the green tomatoes. I also covered the peas, greens, and a few herbs with some sheets.  Sure enough, there was heavy frost on the ground this morning and the bird bath was covered with ice.

With a glut of freshly dried herbs and seeds, I decided to replenish one of my favorite spice blends for seasoning sweet potatoes and other winter root vegetables today.  I’m honestly not sure where I came up with this particular blend, but I’m glad I did. You can use pre-ground coriander and fennel, but I highly recommend using the whole spices and toasting and grinding them yourself.  Your taste buds will thank you.  I heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat and dry roast the coriander and fennel until the seeds begin to pop and smoke.  I always keep the pan moving, and remove the seeds to a big plate at the first sign of smoking.

Sweet Potato & Root Vegetable Seasoning
2 parts ground coriander seed
2 parts salt
1 part ground fennel seed
1 part crushed dried basil
1/2 part ground cayenne pepper

Blend together and store in a jar. Toss your favorite root vegetables with a little olive oil and this seasoning blend, and then roast in a hot oven.

Beer, Cheese, Herbs & Wine – Part 2

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

My dad, brother-in-law and I hopped in the car bright and early last Saturday morning and drove up to Michigan beer country.  There are so many great breweries in Michigan that it was hard to choose. We decided that it would be best to limit our visit to 3 breweries, and it took us almost two weeks to completely make up our minds. The decision was for Bell’s Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo, The Livery in Benton Harbor, and Greenbush Brewing in Sawyer.  Bell’s was open the earliest, so it was our first stop. I made one big mistake on this trip. I was so focused on beer tasting that I completely forgot to take pictures of the beer!  I plan to do better on my next brewery trip.

Bell’s Eccentric Cafe was spacious, open, and relaxed.  There were neat old beer ads on the walls, and wooden African masks, which we thought was a weird combination.  I love this old beer blurb I found outside the restrooms.  There was much more text below this, but it wasn’t possible to get a picture where all of the text would be visible. I was able to find the entire text on Google Books.  This appeared on page 81 of the  September 8, 1941 issue of Life magazine.  It’s an absolute hoot, and worth the read.

Our bartender was courteous, and helpful, and I had a little fun chatting to an old local who hit on me, in a tasteful old geezer sort of way.  We opted for tasting flights on this trip, so we would be able to sample a wide variety while maintaining both our palates and our wits.  We also ate food through the whole trip, and all three of us were well under the legal limit for driving (so no comments about drunk driving.  I don’t roll that way, and neither does my BIL or my dad).

I’m really kicking myself about not taking beer pictures.  You should have seen the cool tasting trays in this place.  They were wooden platters in the shape of Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. The trays had numbered round indentations which held six 4 ounce glasses. We chose  Quinannan Falls Special Lager, Rye Stout, Java Stout, Lager of the Lakes, Oktoberfest, and Best Brown Ale.  All were excellent.  I don’t think Bell’s makes a bad beer.  My favorite of the six was the Java Stout. I rated it 4.2 at and my tasting notes are: Coffee, smoke, and chocolate aroma. Black with a minimal creamy brown head. Dark roasted coffee, smoked meat, cream, chocolate, ash flavor. Smooth, creamy full body. Really great stout.

Since we had a good breakfast on the way up, we took our time with the tasting, ate some bar nuts, and then walked around the corner to Bell’s General Store. Not only did the store stock Bell’s gear and beer, but they also offered a huge selection of homebrew supplies. I was amazed at the variety of hops and yeasts, and a store employee told me it was just a small sampling of what’s available in the beer world.  I bought a Bell’s beer glass and a few beers for some friends and then we headed out for The Livery.

The Livery is located in an old brick building. The neighborhood is full of empty buildings, and you can see that the recession has not been kind to this town.

The brewpub was located in the basement of the building, and I wasn’t expecting the run down old VFW feel when we walked in.  Despite the dimly lit, run down feel of the place, the atmosphere was laid back and comfortable.  We ordered a hummus plate and a pizza to eat before we got too far into our beer tasting. We spent quite a bit of time at this location, trying about 12 different brews. The hummus was really great.  The pizza was ok, but was made with a premade crust.  Our beer selections: Lawnmower Lager, Red Canoe, Maillot Jaune (Biere de Garde), Malcolm’s Best Bitter, Raspberry Wheat, Steep Canyon Lager, Old Cedar English Strong Ale, Mandeau Man Ruby Red, Steel Wheels Oat Stout, Guide, McGilligans IPA, and Anniversary Ale (6th – Bourbon Barrel Imperial Brown Rye). Generally speaking, their beers are solid, and some exceptional. My favorite was the Steel Wheels Oat Stout with a rating of 4.2. Tasting notes:  Toasty malt, chocolate, coffee, ash aroma. Black, thick creamy head (like an espresso crema) that sticks to the glass. Chocolate, coffee, smoke, raisin, charcoal ash flavor. Medium to full body. At this point I remembered I hadn’t been taking pictures, so I snapped our empty glasses.  A friend, who had been following our shenanigans on facebook, “yelled” at me for uploading a picture of empty glasses.  I believer her exact words were, ” You’re supposed to take the picture before…”

After leisurely finishing our pizza and hummus we headed off to Greenbush Brewing.  Forgive me ahead of time, but this brewery was not the most positive experience for me, so you’re going to get some negativity.

We walked in and the place was LOUD.  The music was cranked, and the place was over capacity.  A sign on the wall indicated a capacity of 32, but I counted 40+.  Service was non-existent, the place was chaotic, and customers were confused about how to order.  My brother-in-law got a bartender’s attention, who then tossed him a piece of paper and a pen telling him to write down our selections, and to bring it back.  I took the paper back up to the bar, and both bartenders completely ignored me while waiting on people who had come in behind me.  I finally had to get snippy to get served.  Not cool at all.  This is a new brewery, and they need to expand the premises and work on their service.  Food is minimal, there is no formal menu, and if you want it you’re going to have to ask for it because they don’t offer.

If it weren’t for the way noise bounced around the place, the open room and glass that allowed you to see the actual brewing operation  was cool.

Our selections were: Undertow Autumn Ale, trAKtoR Golden Ale, Distorter Robust Porter, Anger Black IPA, Terminator X, pHarmacy, Jackal Bocktoberfest, and Closure. We all agreed that the beers were good, but nothing struck us as being exceptional. My dad and I kept tasting the same overly sweet malt flavor in several of the beers we tried. The highest rating I gave at Greenbush was for the Distorter Robust Porter at 3.5. Notes: Chocolate, roasted malt aroma. Dark brown with a small tan ring. Dark roasted malt and peat flavor. Dry bitter finish. Medium body.

Maybe it’s because the three of us are no longer what you would call young, but we found the attempt to be hip with the names of the beer, and the beer descriptions that were more marketing than helpfully descriptive to be a little irritating.  When you’re trying that hard to be hip, you’re not.

Negativity aside, we visited the place, checked it out and got some ratings under our belt.  Now we knew what the place was about, and we headed homeward.  Once we reached home territory we decided it was time for more food, so we hit our local brewpub, Mad Anthony’s Lake City Tap House.  We were done with beer for the day, and just wanted food. This place has great food, and we decided to share appetizers: Hot wings, Gorgonzola fries, and Wisconsin cheese curds. We went home happy, sober, and full.  We ended our evening by sitting around a fire in my parents’ back yard.  It was one of the best weeks I’ve had off work in quite some time.

Beer, Cheese, Herbs, & Wine – Part 1

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Have you missed me? Nope, probably not, but I won’t hold it against you!  I took some time off work so my mom and I could go visit my sister in southern Indiana, and visit a few places I’ve been intending to visit for the last few years. Owning a family run business, if the family wants to do anything together, I have to close up shop entirely to make it possible. I’m going to break this into two parts, and try not to get too detailed … just general impressions.

My mom and I arrived at my sister’s house in the late afternoon.  This is the first time I’ve visited my sister since she and her family moved back to the states from Germany, so I got the grand tour of her new home.  As soon as my brother-in-law got home from work we headed out to the New Albanian Brewery for some of the best pizza in southern Indiana, and of course, beer! I had their Keller Pils, a German style pilsner,  with my meal.  The place wasn’t busy, and our waitress was excellent. We had asked her several questions about some of the beers, and I think she realized she a couple of beer geeks on her hands.  Without asking us (and free of charge), she brought out a tasting flight of 6 for my brother-in-law and I to try.  Guess who earned a really big fat tip?  I was so focused on food and beer that I forgot to grab my camera on my way out the door. I plan to make this a regular stop whenever I visit my sister, so I’ll have plenty of opportunities to snap some shots. Of course I had to buy some beer for friends since this brewery doesn’t bottle for distribution.

The next morning we headed out to visit Stream Cliff Herb Farm & Winery. I enjoyed the visit, but it had its pros and cons.  We stopped in the wine tasting room first to sample a few wines.  These three vintages found their way home with me.

Prancing horse is a sweet cranberry wine which I plan to use in a mulled wine recipe at Christmas time.  Horsefeathers is a crisp, dry Sauvignon blanc which will probably be the bottle that sits on my counter (and disappears) the next time I make risotto.  Thunder Hoof is a dry Shiraz,  ripe and rich on the palate with plum and wood. I might go back for more of that Shiraz some day.

Stream Cliff calls itself historic, and boasts to be Indiana’s oldest herb farm. I found myself very disappointed with the herb gardens.  I went expecting to be presented with culinary, medicinal, tea, and dyer’s herbs.  What I got were several pretty ornamental perennial gardens laid out in quilt patterns with herbs thrown in here an there.  I consider myself a folk herbalist, and I approach herbs as useful plants for food, medicine, and comfort. I expected a historic farm to present me with gardens that would exemplify herbal traditions.

The Twigs & Sprigs Tearoom was a wonderful place to have lunch with my mom and sister.  It definitely had a feminine appeal, and we didn’t see many men in attendance. We had our lunch outside on the covered porch where all the tables were covered with different linens that could have passed for vintage patterns. The food was outstanding and well seasoned with herbs.  I had a lemon verbena lemonade, and an open-faced sandwich made with  focaccia spread with pesto, topped with fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil, and liberally drizzled with olive oil.  When I go back for that Shiraz, I’ll eat lunch again, but skip the herb gardens.

The following day we visited Capriole Goat Farm.  I’ve been wanting to try their cheese for many years, and knew they were located in southern Indiana.  The big surprise was discovering the farm was only 3 miles from my sister’s house. I would have liked to take pictures in the dairy, but when I asked if I could take a few shots, I was asked not to do so. The dairy’s cheeses are highly awarded and world-renowned. They have trade secrets they are very careful to protect.  However, I was allowed to take some pictures of the cheeses in the tasting room (which had horrible fluorescent lighting) and of the goats on the farm.

First up is the Wabash Cannonball, a hand formed boulet of creamy surface ripened  chevre with an ash layer. Tasted by itself it was darn strong flavored cheese, but I’d really like to try it again when I can get my hands on some fresh figs.

Next up is  Mont St. Francis, a pungent aged raw milk cheese. Again, tasted by itself … really strong. One of the suggested pairings was pickles and ESB, which I’m game to try at a later date.

Here we have Old Kentucky Tomme, another aged raw milk cheese, which I purchased to take home. In the tasting room it reminded me a little of a young goaty flavored brie.  I haven’t got into this one yet, but my plan is to try it with one of the suggested pairings of grilled apples and onions, and possibly the Thunder Hoof Shiraz I picked up at the herb farm.

Lastly, O’Bannon, my favorite of them all. This cheese is wrapped in chestnut leaves soaked in Woodford Reserve Bourbon, and has a wonderful complex fresh, tangy, salty, slightly boozy flavor. Normally, I’m not a bourbon fan – I’m more of an Irish Whiskey kind of gal – but this stuff is fantastic!  I took some home with me. I’ve been eating it on toast for breakfast. I love the flavor so much I don’t want anything to compete with it. I plan to ask my sister to bring another one of these up to me the next time she visits. I want to try  it grilled in the leaf wrapper served with crostini. I’m salivating just thinking about it!

Responsible for these wonderful goat cheeses, is a herd of 500 dairy goats. I was very impressed with the health and care of these animals.  Having raised dairy goats myself, as well as making a not-too-shabby chevre, I understand that high quality milk from healthy, well cared for animals is of the utmost importance. The barns were large and spacious, impeccably clean for a space where goats can walk around and poop anywhere they please.  These two little girls look about the right size to have been born just this past spring.

Despite the huge pastures just outside the barn, the whole herd felt the need to crow inside the barns to watch the three strange ladies with cameras. Typical nosy goat behavior.

Part 2 – up to Michigan beer country with my dad and brother-in-law coming as soon as I get it written up.