Monthly Archives: March 2008

Gardening… OUTSIDE!

Today was a big day in the lives of the tomatoes of Maple Hoo, as we could no longer deny that they have grown too big for the little trays we started them in. Knowing what a mess the three of us are capable of making with a few peat pots and a bag of potting soil, I suggested we use repotting plants as an excuse to bring the outdoor furniture out of storage. I know it’s a tad bit early for, say, grilling, and theoretically we could get that “last big snowstorm” Boomer keeps ominously saying could happen, but honestly our empty deck was starting to get depressing.

Empty Deck

The furniture was put in storage early last summer because of the kitchen remodel so it’s been a long since the deck has been usable. I’d never thought of myself as a deck person but after having our picnic table and benches sitting like this for a year:

Furniture in Storage

I can’t help but being antsy to be out sitting out on the deck in the evening, nursing a beer while Schnookie grills up some pork and bacon kebabs. Mmmmm pork and bacon kebabs… So it is with much glee and anticipation for warmer weather that I present the Maple Hoo Deck Furniture — restored to it’s former glory!

Deck With Furniture

I can practically taste those kebabs looking at that!

For today though, the table was less about Summer food and more about Spring gardening. The tomatoes have grown up a lot since before dinner — here they are ready to bid fond adieu to their old seedling trays:

Baby Tomatoes

They look (and smell) like happy, robust and strong paste tomato plants, but beneath the soil, so to speak (no, wait, literally beneath the soil) they look like a cry for help:

Bustin’ Out

They’re bursting at the seams in those tiny trays!

Roots!

All 32 plants (of which we’ll probably only plant 8 in the big garden and maybe 4-6 more in the back) got re-potted in bigger peat pots, or as Schnookie dubbed them, “big boy beds”. We took great pains to label them with tags tied to their mini-skewer steaks (those skewers could be holding pork and bacon kebabs… O! When will it be grilling weather?!) and carrying them down to the yard to water them.

Big Boy Beds

Looking at the paper tags and thinking about a steady steam of water being poured over the plants, Schnookie sighed, “If only we had those little plastic garden label things.” That’s when I remembered moving some garbage off the picnic table before moving it to the deck. That garbage, I was fairly certain, contained little plastic garden label things that came free with the peat starter trays. Heh. We may not solve the problems we face in the most efficient manner, but in the end we usually get it right! The tags were removed, and little plastic garden labels added.

For Christmas, Schnookie and I gave Boomer new watering cans, fancy ones, to replace the crappy ones we’d all hated using the last two years. Turns out spending a little extra on a watering can is worth it, as these work like a dream. (At the same time we gave Boomer the watering cans, we gave her ForzaMotorsport2, an Xbox 360 driving game. She and I had played it a bit, driving the starter car, a Volkswagen Golf. On a whim we fired it up last night and fumbled our way into getting enough points that we we awarded a 1961 Jaguar. The thing about these new-fangled computer games is that they’re considerably more sophisticated than the MarioKart of my youth. I stupidly thought the difference between driving the Golf and driving the Jaguar would be the Jaguar would be cooler to look at. I was wrong. Damn, but that Jaguar handles differently than a Golf! And that’s what I felt like using this new watering can. It’s a 1961 Jaguar compared to the Golf watering cans we’ve been struggling with. Watering the garden this summer is going to be like joy-riding in an Aston-Martin!) Schnookie commented, and I agree, that there is something just so very zen about watering plants with a nice steady rainish stream. And when you’re watering in the sun, and there are little beads of sunlit water collecting on fresh green leaves? Well, there’s not much better than that.

One thing that is better than that, though, is seeing the plants you water grow big and strong. The tomatoes weren’t the only seedlings getting a new home today. The onions got to take the new wood-and-glass cold frame (as opposed to the tent-y thing we wrote about earlier; that threatened to blow away in a recent wind-storm and has been relegated back to the garage) out for a spin. We plunked them down outside at around 2:00 or so.

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The cold-frame supposedly will be about 20 degrees warmer than the outside temperature, meaning cold weather crops (like onions and lettuce) can be put in it starting, well, now. It’s supposed to get wicked cold tonight, so we’ll bring the onions back in for the night, but we figured they might enjoy some fresh air for a few hours today. We were right! Two hours later, we’re all convinced they look considerably perkier.

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Look at them! They’re ready to be harvested and served alongside some pork and bacon kebabs! Seriously, we’ll be putting them out permanently starting tomorrow, along with the lettuce and the second set of onion seedlings. That’s right. We’ll have plants outside. Spring has certainly sprung. And the Bounteous Bounty is well on its way!

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Filed under 3. March, Garden

A Regionally Appropriate Sip

Well, it might still be a bit brisk outside, but it’s all sunny and summery and chockablock with playoffy hockey inside, so we needed a summery drink today. Flipping through one of my Food & Wine “Best of [Whatever Year]” cocktail booklets, I found something called a Schuykill Punch, from a restaurant in Philadelphia. Hey! We’re not far from the Schuykill! That’s, like, a cocktail meant for us! The recipe calls for 1 1/2 oz of spiced rum (it specifies Sailor Jerry’s, our new favorite alcoholstuff), 1/2 oz of Cointreau, 2 1/2 oz of orange juice, 2 1/2 oz of pineapple juice, and 1/4 oz of grenadine. Everything gets shaken together over ice, then is served over ice.

I, um, didn’t have all that stuff. Namely: I was lacking the orange juice. But I did have a few tangerines, which I juiced, and then evened out the amount with some lemon juice. The end result?

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It’s a lovely color, is super-fruity, and the juices really punch up the vanilla of the spiced rum. As we each sampled a sip of the first one I made, Pookie just snatched the glass and trotted off, saying something about how it tastes how Hawaiian Punch was supposed to taste. We were never really juice drinkers as kids, and what I’m discovering later here in life is that those juices were all just missing alcohol.

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Filed under Drinky-Drinky

Seedlings ’08: An Update

This morning saw tragedy befall our onion crop. Pookie reported shortly after the event, “The onions will someday be able to tell their descendants about the time they survived the Great Earthquake.” It seems she was rotating the flat of seedlings and, well, dropped it. Many were lost in the cataclysm. Of course, a fair number of them made it, so we should still be okay when it comes time for the big outdoor planting.

Meanwhile, the tomatoes are growing at a ridiculous rate. We were thinking they’d stay small enough that we’d transplant them in three weeks just directly from the seedling trays (like the peppers), but these are not well-behaved tomatoes. They are willful and perhaps even mutants. They’re huge. We’re going to have to graduate them up to little peat seedling pots soon, because their roots are starting to bust out the bottoms of their trays. Also, they’re tall enough now that they’re starting to fall over like they think they’re creeping, free-range tomatoes or something. So Boomer got out some twine and bamboo skewers and staked them today.

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Meanwhile, we started a few more trays of seedlings — some more onions (we were planning to do so even before the Great Disaster) and some lettuces.

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Now, lettuce is a total bobo plant. You can direct sow it into even the crappiest of soil, and with a bare minimum of care, really at any time of year, you’re likely to get a nice crop. But we want to start them early this year because we have ambitious plans for decorative planting patterns. I have no doubt this will yield highly comical results, but who are we to let that stop us?

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Filed under 3. March, Garden

This Is Not A Lemonade

I made Boomer drive to the store yesterday for a grapefruit, without realizing that it was the day before Easter. She came back several hours later, haggard and beaten down, and I felt terrible for having sent her on that errand just because I kind of vaguely wanted to make a cocktail with grapefruit juice in it. Now I had to make one, and it had to be good. I turned in my time of need to a St. Augustine Cocktail.

The recipe I used called for 1 1/2 oz. white rum, 1 oz. grapefruit juice, and 1/4 oz. of Cointreau. Everything was to be shaken with ice, then strained into a cocktail glass and served with a twist of lemon. I discovered at the last minute that I didn’t have white rum, so I used sugarcane rum instead. I also decided I wanted to sip this over the course of several hours, so I served it over ice. The end result? Looks like lemonade.

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It also tastes like what I expect those fancy bottled European lemonades you see in gourmet stores to be like. It’s got the bitterness of the grapefruit, but the Cointreau, instead of being sweet, just smooths the grapefruit out. It’s light and fresh, with the sweetness of a rum drink, but has the sophisticated edge and crispness of a really nice lemonade.

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Filed under Drinky-Drinky

The Greening Of Maple Hoo

This morning we woke up to the excited news from Boomer that there was a daffodil blooming in our yard. Abuzz with excitement, we put on our shoes, grabbed the camera, and ran outside, ready to soak up the glorious Springness.

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Ummm… okay. Well, it is, undeniably, a daffodil. It is also minuscule. In case you can’t tell from that picture, here it is next to one of those sugargum ball things:

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Maple Hoo’s first daffodil of the year is the size of a quarter. At best. We’re not even sure how Boomer noticed it in the first place.

A bit disappointed, we went in search of other signs of the burgeoning season around the grounds. As we turned the corner of the deck and made our way along the side yard, we came across the famed gooseberry bush of Maple Hoo. This is a plant that Boomer brought home from a Master Gardeners sale last summer; it had been free for the taking because it was so extravagantly pathetic that the Master Gardeners felt bad charging anything for it. It makes Charlie Brown Christmas trees look resplendent. When it arrived home it was no more than a stick in a pot, and now that it’s “thriving” in its new home, it’s really no more than a stick in the ground. But it’s allegedly a cutting from a massive heirloom gooseberry stock from some nearby estate, so while it might not look like much, it’s said to be from great bloodlines.

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And it’s also getting leaves.

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Filed under Orchard, Pommerdoodling, Seasonal

My Old (Read: “Actual”) Favorite Meal

A few days ago I wrote about a “Southwestern Green Chicken Chili” soup that I declared my new favorite meal. I may have been exaggerating a little bit in my enthusiasm for this newfound dish. You see, this weekend I broke with my self-imposed seasonal-eating rules and made what has been my long-standing favorite meal, and I was reminded anew that some upstart chili/soup thing, no matter how tasty, has a long way to go before it’s the dish I want to eat on my birthday.

So, my reasserted favorite meal is, unsurprisingly, a pasta dish (hey, I don’t maintain this Olympian physique by avoiding carbs, you know), and, unsurprisingly, comes from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials Of Italian Cooking. I first made this about seven years ago, and quickly memorized the recipe. I don’t know, at this point, if I’m still doing it the way the recipe was written, so don’t go blaming this on Marcella if it looks wonky.

The sauce starts with a pound of sweet Italian sausage, without casings, which you brown up in a dutch oven or large saucepan with a tablespoon or two of extra-virgin olive oil. Then I add two or three yellow onions, chopped, to the pan, and saute until the onions are translucent and very soft. Then I add two yellow bell peppers and three red bell peppers, which have been peeled (with a vegetable peeler — yes, it’s a total pain in the ass) and diced, and saute until the peppers are soft. Then I toss in about five small tomatoes, which have been peeled and diced. (In the summer, when I have lovely, huge tomatoes, I use two. This time of year, when I break down and buy the nasty-assed tomatoes in the store, I use five of those little ones that come on the vine. Marcella says to use plum tomatoes, which are, traditionally, the only thing in the grocery store out of season that tastes like a tomato, but I’ve found that my store carries really heinous plum tomatoes.) (And yes, the peeling of the tomatoes is another pain in the ass, with the scoring the skins, dumping in boiling water, then dumping into an ice bath. This recipe sure has a lot of steps in it that I hate, now that I think about it…) Then I season with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste, and let everything simmer until the tomatoes break down a bit and get a nice, saucy consistency.

Now, Marcella’s recipe mentioned some kind of pasta shape that was supposedly traditionally perfectly suited to this sauce, but please. It wasn’t in my store, and I wasn’t about to make it. So I decided that I’d go with a very grown-up pasta shape, something that would reflect my maturity as a home chef:

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Yeah, that’s right — wagon wheels. The first time I brought this in as leftovers for lunch at my current job, one of my coworkers actually laughed at me. But in all seriousness, these hold this sauce perfectly. The De Cecco brand noodles (my favorite) have nice ridges that cling to the delicious bell pepper-tomato sauce part, and the holes in the wheels grab onto the bits of onions and bell peppers and sausage. I really don’t understand why Marcella didn’t go with the wagon wheels to start out with. It’s probably because she’s not six.

Anyway, the last step, after tossing the sauce and noodles, is to top everything with a hearty grating of fresh parmesan cheese, and there you go. My favorite dinner. I love this so much. I love it with a glass of white wine on a Saturday night with hockey, I love it microwaved for lunch, I love snacking on it cold out of a tupperware. This is, bar none, my favorite meal.

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Filed under Carbo Loading

It Seems To Have Sprung

The first day of Spring was two days ago, and it appears the plants in our yard got the news. I’ve spent much of this morning glaring jealously at the little cluster of crocuses at the base of our neighbor’s mailbox, until suddenly it dawned on me that we have a spot in our yard that traditionally gets a crocus or two, too. And lo and behold! Here one is!

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I raced out to take a picture of it to send to Pookie, who’s stuck at work today, and on my way back inside, I glanced into the garden. The only thing that’s in there right now is the bed of garlic, which we planted in the Fall. It’s been covered with straw since November, with chicken wire over that to keep the squirrels out.

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What’s this? Can it be? For reals? OUR FIRST CROP!

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I can practically taste the scapes!

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Filed under 3. March, Garden, Pommerdoodling, Seasonal