Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Ancho Chili Powder – Seed to Jar

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016



Technically, this is easy peasy. Throw dried ancho in a grinder and pulverize. Viola! Chili powder! I hope I never have to resort to store-bought powder again.  I wish you could smell it! It has a wonderfully fruity pepper aroma, like nothing I’ve ever found in a store.  I opened the grinder, took a big sniff, and immediately did this weird sneezy cough thing.  There is so much more going on in this simple powder than I could have imagined.

As far as easy peasy goes, I’ve decided to give myself a little more credit. This was a project that took some time, patience, and a little elbow grease.  I chose an heirloom poblano seed last winter, and planted the seeds back in early March.






At the end of April, I turned over a cover crop of rye and vetch in my raised beds.  I hand dig all 4 of my raised beds, and by the time the cover crop had decomposed into the soil enough that I could plant, I had dug each bed a total of 3 times.  It’s a great way to start getting back into shape in the spring, and I’m usually a little sore at first. By mid May, I had transplanted the poblano pepper seedlings in the ground.




By the beginning of August, I was picking and roasting green chilis for the freezer




Here I am in September, and the peppers have finally ripened to a beautiful chocolate.




This past weekend, I halved and seeded them, and put them in my dehydrator. After a couple of days, they were shriveled, semi-crisp, and almost black.




I’ll admit, I had my doubts when I put them in the grinder.  Who would have believed the powder would come out looking like this? One smell. One taste.  THIS is why I bother to do so much of what I do. This is what knowing where my food comes from is all about.  Now, whenever I cook something using this powder, I’ll be reminded of 7 months, from seed to jar, of what’s involved in producing a simple staple spice I keep in my cupboard.




Now that I’ve finished this post, I’m off to use my spectacular ancho powder to make up a batch of my Tex-Mex blend.



Food Traditions

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016


This isn’t exactly a rant.  More random musings from the garden and kitchen. Plus, I’m writing this more for the sake of journaling, than thinking anyone is going to benefit from anything I have to say.  It’s a very hot muggy day, and I’m trudging back and forth between the garden and kitchen, taking breaks to cool off while I finish planting my fall garden – peas, beets, carrots, spinach, pak choy, lettuce, cabbage.  If I don’t finish planting this week, it’s going to be too late.

It always feels a little strange to be planting at the same time I’m dealing with the glut of a late summer garden.  I’ve got a bumper crop of poblano peppers and eggplant this year.  Once it cools off this evening, I’ll fire up the grill and get the peppers charred, and will work till bedtime getting them peeled, seeded, packaged, and in the freezer. This is just the first batch. There are more left on the plants than the number I picked this morning.


Anyway, back to my musings. While I’m taking my indoor breaks from the garden, I’m going through old cookbooks and a few articles, planning a couple of new ways to preserve my red roasting peppers and eggplant.  As I’m reading about making Serbian Ajvar, I find myself comparing my new fangled American preserving to Old World  preservation. Old food traditions exert a strong pull on me.

As much as I love modern conveniences and technology, my heart thrills to explore old forgotten, labor intensive methods of food preparation.  I prefer my mortar and pestle to my food processor, my big chef’s knife to about any gadget you can name, and I never recoil from a recipe that calls for 30 minutes of slow heat and stirring, or something that requires several stages of preparation over a period of days, or even weeks.

Another aspect of old traditions that appeals to me is community.  My time spent preparing my harvest is solitary, and I know it can’t be helped, but something inside me screams that this isn’t right!  This isn’t the way it should be done.  Historically, communities have come together to harvest and prepare the fruits of their labor. Grandmothers, mothers, and daughters, passing down recipes and methods from one generation to another, sitting together talking, sharing stories and wisdom as they snap, peel, chop and grind.

I’m conflicted. Sometimes I think I’d give up this world I live in for an older way.  And I don’t mean that in a “cranky-old-lady-reminiscing-about-the-good-old-days-like-they-were-better” kind of way. I think  something’s been lost that we’ll never be able to get back.  But, this is the world I’ve been given, so I’ll just keep learning what I can about old methods, and choosing to do things the hard way.

A Garden of Another Kind

Friday, April 24th, 2015


Most years, these would just be a couple of big boxes of dirt where a couple of different women are going to plant some stuff.  However, this year they mean something special to me.  This one is located in a community garden in Utah, where my daughter-in-law, Britni, is learning to garden for the first time in her life.




This one is located at my place in Indiana, where I will be gardening yet again, as I have been since I was Britni’s age.  Yes, I know, I need to mow my grass.  Deal with it.


raised bed


She and I both turned the soil in our cross-country gardens today, and chatted with each other online and shared pictures afterwards. We are going to be sore together as we flex muscles we haven’t used much over the winter.  Britni has been asking me gardening questions over the last couple of months, and we’ve had conversations about what we were looking at in our seed catalogs, and how to prep soil. We’ve talked about worms, compost, and how to support tomatoes in small spaces.  Neither of my boys showed any interest in my passion for growing things, and I’ve always been OK with that.  However,  it wasn’t until Britni sent me the picture of her efforts today that I realized how much I’ve always wanted to be able to share and pass on what I’ve learned over the years. So, as Britni plants her first seeds this spring, I think of what Gertrude Jekyll said, “The love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies, but grows to the enduring happiness that the love of gardening gives.”


Just Another Summer Morning

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

The weatherman was calling for a rather warm, humid day with a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon, so I decided to get an early start this morning.  First on my agenda was running to my Amish neighbor, Rose’s, house to help her butcher a few chickens.  She had promised to give me a refresher course in chicken processing, since I’ll be doing my own at the end of the summer, and haven’t done so since I was a teenager.  Apparently, chicken processing is a little like riding a bike, and it all came rushing back to me.  Rose gave me a chicken to take home for dinner, and it’s currently soaking in buttermilk in my fridge for Buttermilk Fried Chicken from the cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks.  One of these days I’ll have to sneak some pictures from a distance of the Amish working in their fields, or a buggy passing by for you.

Anyone know what to do with a gallon of mulberries?  After placing an old sheet under a mulberry tree along the pasture fence row and giving it a good shake, I’ve got a gallon I need to decide what to do with. Sorbet for dessert after fried chicken tonight?


I spent a little time with my garden, pulling a few weeds, and picking some out of control greensl.  I suppose those should become part of dinner this evening also.  That’s spinach in the foreground, cilantro behind it, flowering arugula in the back, and dill in the upper left hand corner.  When I’m done writing this post, I’m going to go back out and pick the sugar snap peas.

lush greens

Because I garden in raised beds, space is at a premium. I always grow one or two zucchini plants, and they tend to be a bit problematic, thanks to their sprawling tendency.  I picked up a tip on pinterest that seems to have solved the problem.  I placed an upside down tomato cage over the plant, and as it has been growing, I pull the leaves up into the cage. It’s holding the main stem relatively upright, and preventing the plant from creeping out of its designated space.  We’ll see what happens as the plant grows larger.

zucchini control


Teenaged Chickens & Pickled Radishes

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013


chicken butts 2

The chicks aren’t chicks anymore.  They’re teenagers now. This morning when I let them out of the coop into the pasture, I noticed their chirpy little voices were interspersed with awkward, croaking clucks. Also, a few of the roosters have been attempting to crow, which is hilarious. I’m reminded of  the catching and cracking of the voice of a teenaged boy, as it transitions to a deeper, more manly sounding thing.

As you can see in the shot above, feeding time is very serious business. Whenever I make a trip out to the pasture, I’m practically mobbed, as they all come running up to see if I’m bringing more food.

chickens grazing

The roosters have begun to develop their tail feathers, and combs and wattles are coming along nicely. I ended up with 12 hens and 13 roosters.  When butchering time comes around, the largest guy with the most spectacular plumage, comb, and wattle (aka superior genetics) will get to stay on as the patriarch of my little flock.


On to the subject of radishes.  This past weekend I brought in my first major haul of the gardening season, and spent time in the kitchen putting some of it away for winter use.

strawberry rhubarb

I made 3 small batches of strawberry vanilla jam, a batch of my Gingered Rhubarb Conserve, an arugula feta quiche for lunch, a pan of strawberry rhubarb crisp (my youngest son’s special request), and a big jar of pickled radishes.

jar of radishes

These are quick and easy refrigerator pickles, and my solution to a bunch of radishes that need to be pulled all at the same time.  I just can’t eat them all at once, and they don’t hold all that long.  I go with the more French garlic and tarragon flavor, but you could go with dill instead, or any other favorite herb for that matter.

Pickled Radishes
Tarragon Sprigs

Stuff a jar with cleaned and trimmed radishes, several whole garlic cloves, sprigs of tarragon, and a teaspoon or so of peppercorns.  I like my radishes whole, but they can be sliced.  Fill the jar to cover all of the radishes with a solution of half vinegar, half water, and salt.  I use about 1 tablespoon of salt per 2 cups of solution, but it’s a good idea to adjust to your personal taste.  Let the jar sit in the refrigerator for a few days before eating.  The pickling solution will pull all of the red out of the radishes.  This is what mine looked like in less than an hour.

pickled radishes

Growing Pea Shoots

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

I’ve been intrigued by recipes I’ve been seeing for pea shoots.   However, pea shoots are not something I’ve ever seen in any of my local markets, so I did a quick bit of searching online. It turns out growing pea shoots is a snap!  Yeah, I know that was a bad pun. This little project was satisfying on so many levels. I’ve been dying to get out and start planting my early spring garden, but the last two weeks of monsoon-like rains have prevented it.

Day 10

I’ve had a couple of these wide, shallow dollar store bowls lurking in my cupboard for years, and they’ve never really gotten much use.  It turns out they’re perfect for some quick indoor growing projects.  When I’m done writing this blog post, I’m going to go get the other bowl and get some radishes started.

I had a big bag of sugar snap pea seed I had saved from the garden a couple of years ago.  I put some of them in a glass of water and soaked them for 4 or 5 hours.  Then, I filled my bowl with some growing mix I had stored in a bucket in my basement.  I scattered the pea seeds across the surface, covered them with more of the soil, watered them in, and then put the bowl under my grow lights.

Day 1

Talk about instant gratification… this is what I had 4 days later.

Day 4

7 days later ……

Day 7

… and here we are 10 days later, ready to cut the top couple of inches of growth, easy peasy! Yes, another bad pun.  According to the reading I did, I should be able to cut them again in another week or so.  It will be interesting to see how many times I can cut them.  Now, I just have to decide which way I want to try eating them first.  I’ll let you know how it goes. Now, I’m off to locate that other bowl and some radish seed I know I’ve got left over from a couple of years ago.

Day 10

Potato Towers

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Today the weather decided to cooperate with my day off, and I was able to spend some time gardening.  A few days of 70 degree weather has me feeling like I’ve awaken from a long deep sleep. I don’t know if I can remember the arrival of spring making me feel as relieved as it has this year.  My case of the blues seems to have passed with the arrival of the sun and warmer temperatures.

I’m a recent convert to Pinterest, where I found this idea for potato towers.  In the past, I’ve chosen not to grow potatoes because of the space they require, and bought them from my neighboring organic farmer.  It’s true I have lots of space on the farm, but I have huge time constraints. Conventional gardening requires more weeding than I have time for, so I garden vertically and in raised beds….. small space, high yield, and virtually no weeding.  Given the way I like to garden, it’s easy to see why I was attracted to this method of growing potatoes.

I had everything on hand to complete this project, and didn’t need to spend one single penny. The last time I brought potatoes up from the well pit, I brought a few more than I should have.  Thanks to warmer temperatures I ended up with perfect organic seed potatoes that were beginning to sprout.  I also scrounged a roll of rusty fencing from a junky corner behind our barn where my husband likes to stash materials of that sort.

Armed with my rusty fencing, a small roll of flexible wire, and wire cutters, I cut the fencing and wired it up.

I have a utility area near some of my raised beds where I maintain a pile of compost used to amend my soil. Since I do make the effort to keep this area weeded, I thought it would be the perfect location for my potatoes.

I formed a straw “nest” in the bottom of the fencing and filled it with compost for the first layer of potatoes.

I placed the potatoes around the outside edge of the tower, sprout side outward.  I covered the potatoes with several inches of compost, adding more straw around the outside as needed.

I continued with additional layers until I reached the top. I ended up with 4 layers, the top layer about 6 inches below the top of the fence line. I didn’t water the tower yet, because rain is predicted for tonight.  If we don’t get the rain, then I’ll water it tomorrow.  Yes, I know my tower is leaning in this picture, although it looks worse in the picture than in reality.  I fixed it later by driving a couple of hefty stakes into the ground around the outside to provide some stability.  I’ll try to remember to take pictures throughout the growing season, and give a couple of progress reports.


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.

Season of Change – Fall Gardening

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

There is a definite change in the air, and a noticeable change in the length of the day and the angle of the sun. I’m used to the changes that come each year as summer ends, but this year is a little different.  My youngest son is starting his junior year of high school, and my oldest is starting his junior year of college.  Last weekend my oldest son moved out and into his own apartment. One down, one to go.  I’m a horrible mother…. I’m not one bit sad, and am happy to see him go. After all, isn’t this what the goal has been all along? To raise my boys into happy, responsible adults who can strike out on their own and thrive.  I love my kids, but my husband and I are coming to that point in our lives when we’re thinking about our own changes. We have things we put on hold to raise a family. We have things we want to do, places we want to go!

At this time of year,  gardeners are busy canning and preserving the summer’s bounty, and beginning to think about putting the garden to bed for winter.  I’m always amazed to see my gardening neighbors NOT take advantage of the opportunity to extend the harvest season by planting fall crops.

This morning was overcast and a little humid, the perfect morning to finish planting my fall garden.  Pictured above is a wall of climbing nasturtium growing in the center of one of my raised beds.  You can see my 6 foot tall San Marzano tomato plants in the background. The tomatoes are a late ripening variety, and are just now starting to turn pink. The picture below is another view of the nasturtium.  Earlier this summer you weren’t able to see much of the nasturtium because a row of spectacular Florence Fennel was towering above them to the right.  Along the left is a planting of green beans that are currently producing prolifically.  This year the green beans have me confused. They have usually begun to die off by this time of year.  Instead, they put on a second spurt of growth and are producing more beans than the initial crop 6 weeks ago.

Moving on to the raised bed where my nightshade family veggies are planted, the Italian heirloom eggplant, Listada de Gandia, are having a great year.

I love these eggplant! As well as being gorgeous, they’re some of the most flavorful I’ve ever grown.

The Chervena Chushka peppers, the  Bulgarian heirloom roasting peppers I planted from last year’s saved seed, are ripening. I see some pepper roasting in my near future.

The next raised bed is where my early spring garden was planted, and is now being transformed for fall and early winter. To the right you can see some cucumber vines (which are still producing prolifically), and to the left is a bed of parsley. In the middle is a lonely basil plant that was almost choked to death by some carrots that were harvested two or three weeks ago. New carrots have already been planted on the other end of this bed.  The bare spot in the foreground is planted with kale that will be harvested in late fall and early winter. I’ve talked my husband into helping me build a frame for a floating row cover, and am hoping to extend the kale well into winter. The kale variety is Winter Red Russian. This Cape Cod blogger reports harvesting Red Russian in February!

Around the corner to the other side of the bed are the snow peas I planted a couple of weeks ago. They should be ready to harvest in October.  Because there was a spring planting of peas here, I amended the soil with some compost before planting the new crop.

I’m not sure how much longer the cucumber will keep going.  At any given point in the last few weeks, you could find  10 to 20 pounds of these babies on my kitchen table. I’ve made salads, given them to friends and family, fed them to the chickens, and even thrown some on the compost pile.  If they don’t slow down soon, I’m going to have to yank them to make  room for the peas to climb the fence.  The spring peas were finished in time to be pulled to make room for the cucumbers, so it’s only fair that the cucumbers be sacrificed for the peas.

Fennel Success!

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

I’m pretty excited about the Florence fennel I grew this year.  I’ve been experimenting with growing it for a couple of years, and this year I think I’ve got it figured out. I started the seed indoors back in March, and transplanted the seedlings into the garden in May.  I also dug quite a bit of compost into the soil, as fennel is a heavy feeder. The plants have had a couple of brushes with storms and high winds, which resulted in some strange twisty looking fronds, but overall I’m very happy with the results.  You probably don’t remember the scrawny little plants I showed you last fall.  Pretty pathetic, huh?

So, you should understand why I’m quite pleased to show you the first bulb I cut this afternoon. I figured I should get my hand in the shot for the sake of scale. Not bad for Hoosier grown fennel, if you ask me.  Hey man! Someone’s gotta toot my horn!

You ask, how do you use fennel?  Well, to begin with, I use it in place of celery.  Why?  Celery is an evil, vile vegetable, and I don’t know why anyone in their right mind would eat it when fennel is so much more tasty!  Also, my husband is allergic to celery. Here’s an Arugula Fennel Salad I made last summer, and Autumn Ham Soup with Pumpkin and Barley from last fall.  Now that I’ve cut my first bulb, I just might have to work on a new salad combination.  Stay tuned!