Monday, April 26, 2010

Busy at Night

So. Like most pregnant ladies, I am up many times throughout the night. Sometimes I find myself moving through the darkness to the bathroom thinking "Goodness, I can't wait until I can sleep through the night again." And then I laugh because clearly my brain is forgetting that even when my bladder returns to normal, there will be a little guy in our house who will probably want to party several times a night. Busy is definitely a night guy, but even so, sometimes I'll wake up and he's very, very still. I will lie there for a while and if he doesn't move, I start thinking "Hey Busy. Busy. How's it going in there? Are you sleeping? Give me a little kick for yes." And I kid you not, I can wake this guy up in no time. Is that mean? It's my own private party trick. For you Firefly fans, sometimes I look down at my belly and think, "Also, I can wake you up with my brain." Awesome.

Ok, enough of that. More garden stuffs, from blooms to fruits and other perennial fun. Happy Monday out there.


Baby cherry.


Baby peaches.


Asparagus.


Strawberries. The same bed one year ago here (yes, there are strawberry plants in there).

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bloom


Strawberries


Tulip


Lilies of the Valley


Sour Cherries


Piedmont Azalea


Blueberries

Yeah. Happy weekends out there.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Favorite Visitors, Profanity, Etc.

Wednesday? Are you sure? Really? Jeez. Ok then.

We have been enjoying an awesome string of lady visitors. First, an evening with a cross-country trekker on her way to Maine. We had not hugged her since our wedding almost two years ago, so you can imagine that it was durn good to squish her some. Due to crazy calendars I had to work for most of her visit, but she and my man drank beers and cooked food and talked about life and things that grow and when I came home from work at 11 (righty-o, that is LATE for this family) they were both animatedly on the living room floor examining serrated arborist tools. Good times, and I only let her go because now that she and her girl live in Maine I will see them much more often.



Then that girl up there flew right into Asheville for a seriously awesome weekend. I have a feeling she might give me shit for putting that photo up there, but can you blame me? What a babe. Her mama took that photo at our wedding, and although you can't tell from her carefree smile, she is busting her ass in the hot morning sun helping get the farm where we were married ready to roll. This one is my oldest friend, someone I have known for over 30 years now. I know that and it still blows my mind. This is the woman who makes me laugh the hardest, that kind of hold-your-stomach-in-and-try-not-to-pee kind of laugh. Is that an old friend thing? It's definitely an awesome friend thing. We took it sloooooow for the weekend - ate some barbecue, went to the plant nursery, worked in the garden, yammered. Then she took off for Namibia because that is how she rolls.

Speaking of the garden, can I just high five the heck out of this spring? Aside from the few unnecessary days of 90+ degree weather, this spring has just sprung in the most delightful fashion. Which is to say: no Dogwood Winter frost/snow snap. The warm weather rushed the daffodils and tulips some, but oh - the trees. This is the year for redbuds and dogwoods. The latter are seriously blowing my mind - lacy white visions of loveliness, everywhere I look. The garden has been correspondingly pleased, with carrot seeds up in less than a week (last year they took almost three weeks) and bok choy ready to be eaten already. Our raised bed is full of dahlias and lupine and yarrow, and with Rachel's help we also planted in our shade garden underneath our bedroom window: Sweet Woodruff, a native Piedmont Azalea, Solomon's Seal, Ostrich Fern, Columbine, Nasturtium, and some lettuces and cilantro that will get some sun but hopefully not enough to make them bolt. It looks spare right now, but everything in there has a reputation for size, so I think by the end of the summer it should look mighty fine in there. We were hunting for a Cinnamon Fern, and I'll admit that the Trilliums really hollered at me at the nursery, but they were too dang pricey. Lastly, can we talk about the rhubarb? It is enormous. People stop and talk to us about it. Multiple people have made Little Shop of Horrors comparisons. We have been picking it in a restrained way even so, and yesterday we ended up with enough for a recipe we'd been eying from this lovely book.



Hello Rhubarb Cherry Brown Betty. I will not repeat them here, but good grief when I put the first bite of this in my mouth I uttered some seriously signature swears to convey just how awesome it was. As it turns out: rhubarb from your garden tastes better than the rhubarb from the store. Will I never come to just expect this?? And, while we're on the subject, how would you describe the taste of rhubarb? We came up with sour, spicy, earthy, and BRIGHT. If you can get your hands on rhubarb and cherries, make this make this make this. We used the cherries we picked and froze last year, mostly sour cherries but a few wild sweet cherries too. Note that we did not adjust the sugar content for the sour cherries, and we both thought it was a perfect amount of sweet, so with Bings we would probably dial the sugar back just a bit. Also, we thought this shortbread from this book was even better than the Cook's Illustrated shortbread, bonus.



Rhubarb Cherry Brown Betty

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, for pan
1 pound vanilla bean shortbread, crushed (approx 4 cups crushed, recipe to follow)
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 cups rhubarb, trimmed and sliced 1/2 inch thick (about 1 1/2 pounds prepped)
2 cups (12 ounces) Bing cherries, fresh or frozen, pitted (we used mostly sour)
2 tablespoons kirsch or brandy (we used whiskey and almond extract)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Generously butter a 3-quart baking dish.

Rub the sugar and cinnamon together in a large bowl, then add the rhubarb and cherries and toss to combine. Stir in the liquor, then let sit for 15 minutes to draw some of the juices from the fruit (ours sat longer than this).

Evenly spread half of the crushed cookies in the prepared pan, then add the rhubarb mixture and all of its juices and gently spread it over the crumbs. Top with the remaining crushed cookies.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and, using the back of a large offset spatula or something similar, gently press down on the betty to ensure the rhubarb mixture is submerged in its juices. Bake uncovered for an additional 15 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned. Test the rhubarb with a paring knife to ensure that it is soft. Cool for 20 minutes before serving, topped with a dollop of whipped or ice cream.

Vanilla Bean Shortbread

This recipe makes 48 cookies, which is almost-but-not-quite three times the amount you'll need for the Betty. We halved it.

1/3 cup granulated sugar
Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean
2 cups unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 cups unsifted confectioners sugar
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup rice flour

Stir the granulated sugar and vanilla bean seeds together in the bowl of an upright mixer with the paddle attachment, then add the butter, confectioners sugar, and salt. Mix on medium speed for 1-2 minutes, until fully incorporated but not fluffy. Stir in the vanilla and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stir in the flours in two additions, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Fully incorporate the flour without over mixing.

Dump dough onto work surface, divide in two pieces, place each on a sheet of parchment paper and form into a log about 12 inches long. Shape, wrap, and chill for at least two hours or until firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice each log into rounds 1/2 inch thick and arrange on a baking sheet one inch apart. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the edges are golden brown (note: this of course took way longer in our oven). Allow to cool, store in an airtight container. You can also freeze the unbaked logs, well wrapped, for up to two months.

Serious yum.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Three-quarters Baked

That would be Busy. He is three-quarters baked up. We can hardly believe it - something like 10 weeks to go and then there will be another human in our house. He is not even here and he cracks us up already, like so:

B: "Maybe we should have a blueberry smoothie on the back porch while the sun is shining out there."
Busy: BIG KICK
Me: "We should probably do that."

Did you know that he can taste what I'm eating? Crazy.



Anyway. After some unfriendly 90 degree weather, we are back to a sweet spring. There have been a few threats of frost, but nothing has materialized, and we're hopeful that this year we'll get our first cherries and peaches. Also a first: rhubarb. Sweet Mary, our two plants just roared into life about four weeks ago and from round alien nubs sprang long stalks with leaves the size of a trashcan lid. They are HUGE. Kind of scary huge. Definitely "Heather, you once again planted things too close together huge." I will move them in a few years, I swear it. I find it kind of exciting to eat something that is partially poisonous, don't you? Anyway, we're only supposed to pick for two weeks this year, but even so I think we'll have plenty. We're eying a sour-cherry-rhubarb-brown-betty from this lovely book, because duh: the strawberries won't be on until late June! I intentionally got a later bearing variety because I didn't want yet another thing that we had to protect from late spring frosts, but the upshot is that our strawberry-rhubarb timing is a little off. My plan is to squirrel away some frozen strawberries so that next year we can pull those out right when the rhubarb is on. Although now that I type that I am remembering that you can also easily freeze rhubarb so this cheat can go both ways.



B has been cracking on house projects lately, including a set of shelves for the crappy little closet in Busy's room. Woo-hoo. I know I've said it before, but the man kills me in his painter clothes. How I love this guy. He's been painting in these pants for eons, and already I can look at them and find the color of our kitchen or bathroom - he's like a walking paint chip.

Anyway. All to say: life is very exciting around here. Hope yours is too.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pregnant Lady Drinks



It's Thursday, it's Thursday! B and I have a date tonight. We are going to eat here, and then going to dance our socks off to these fellows. B and I could two-step a hole in the floor listening to this band, I swear it.

Ok: pregnant lady beverages. With the 90 degree weather we've been getting here (seriously, it is kind of fucked up - we just hardened off and planted our lettuce starts and I swear their curled little centers are giving off the "I am thinking of bolting" vibe) I am seriously missing summer beer. B and I have never been big juice drinkers, and I'm sure you won't die of shock to learn that we don't drink soda or whatever you call that where you live. But man, I needed a cool treat kind of drink that wasn't full of sugar. During the winter I went through several tea phases: mint, vanilla hazelnut, mayan cocoa spice, and last and longest, rooibos tea. You gotta find it just straight up, none of this hibiscus-lemon-blueberry nonsense. Our bulk section hooked us up. Anyway, we take it with a small spoonful of honey and a glug of milk. Turns out, it tastes great the same way cold, yay. So that pitcher up there is full of sightly sweetened rooibos tea, add your own milk please.

Gran, how about that pitcher? My Granny has one just like this but slightly smaller and in green. These are vintage Finnish pitchers, as it turns out, and there are four sizes and four colors. I have a blue and a green, and someday I will stumble upon the yellow and brown, I just know it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Peacocks & Peppers


Halt the presses! Don't panic! Stay calm! The Great Pepper Emergency has been canceled. Almost all of the reseeded peppers just popped up. Also! My back feels sooooo much better. Also! I am not so tired today! Can you tell? Whoopee!

Also, that bird up there does not live here. It lives outside of Charleston in an extremely sad petting zoo on the plantation we visited. Why does a plantation need a petting zoo? I personally arrived with no petting expectations. There were chickens and goats and pigs, and that was, I don't know, ok, but then there were fox and deer and hawks and I felt very sad for them and had to Write a Letter About It, which is something I am genetically programmed to do when bothered by something. Free the fox and hawks! Right.

Anyway. May you only see your hawks in the wild, and may all your pepper seeds come up the first time around.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Monday Again?


Our Easter Eggs

I am having the sinking feeling that Tired on Monday might be a common refrain around here until Busy makes his arrival. Boy howdy, just like all the books said, I am feeling pretty fatigued all over again. Tired is not very Heather. Once, in the early days of B and H, I flew out of the house to meet B at his car and said in a rush, "I am so full of GO!" which made us both laugh and is now a common phrase between us. Suffice to say, Busy is currently using my Go to do jumping jacks at 3 in the morning. Plus, in an especially awesome move I wrenched the hell out of my back and can now appreciate how much that sucks! It's getting better though, I know it.

Anyway, enough with the complaining! Fortunately I have an awesome husband who, after I tried to mulch the strawberries and ended up in the house crying due to aforementioned back pain, put me in our super comfortable lawn chair and let me be Garden Queen while he did all the work. We (the royal version) planted yellow onions, red onions, and leeks. Quite a lot of them, actually (a move we hopefully will not regret), and started our first pot of fingerling potatoes. Everything is looking great - the peas are up, the transplants (baby bok choy, green cabbage, red cabbage, broccoli, broccoli rabe, kale, lettuces, chard) look great, and the seeded bok choy, lettuces, and beets are all popping up. No word from the carrots yet, but those gals take their time. We are working on timing, a tricky thing in a space constrained garden. Will the peas be done by the time the peppers want to go in? Etc. We are also trying to be better about succession planting so that we can stretch things like lettuce and carrots and beets, but we are not awesome at that yet.

The indoor germination has been really WEIRD. Last year, I swear that every single seed we put in came up, leading to much transplanting and thinning and over-agonizing about whether to put in 20 basil plants or just chuck a few in the compost pile. This year it is true that 1) we planted fewer seeds per pot and 2) my parents arrived right in the middle of the planting of these seeds (this fact in no way implicates them in the germination weirdness, for real). And you would think that two adults could manage to converse with guests while planting some seeds, but I think this is actually not the case. I know for a fact that a few of the cells that were supposed to have squash seeds in them did not in fact have any seeds in them, I checked after three weeks! Ha. ANYWAY, the germination was weird. All three basil in one pot up like bunnies, and none in the pot next door. Operator error? Soil too warm? Soil too wet? Hard to say. The only thing that we did not end up with enough of are sweet peppers. Which is kind of an enormous bummer because I think those are one of the riskiest plants to buy from A Stranger since they are so stinkin' fussy about when they see certain temperatures, etc. We have a nice bunch of ancho peppers ready to roll though. We did drown in peppers last year, that much is true, but damn, they were so yum. Anyhoo. I did seed a second batch so I haven't given up yet.

This is pretty much the first year that a lot of our more permanent crops are strutting their stuff, namely rhubarb, strawberries, asparagus, our one remaining rockstar blueberry bush, and hopefully a few cherries and peaches. We are still not allowed to eat any asparagus, which is very hard, but we will get to eat rhubarb and strawberries for sure. Gah, I am so excited. The asparagus literally grow in front of your eyes:





Ok, that is not really the same asparagus, but it really does grow that fast in one day. Swear.

I was not too pathetic this weekend to appreciate the absolutely stunning weather we had. Seriously: stunning. The flowering trees just exploded across town, along with quince, forsythia, daffodils, and hyacinths. Our peach tree is in full bloom (leading me to suspect we planted one that wants to live in a warmer zone, oops) and across to street the World's Largest Weeping Cherry is putting on the annual spring show:





Hello Spring. Please stay.