Monthly Archives: April 2008

Living The Semi-Homemade Dream

Pookie has long been trying to get me to buy the fancy extracts sampler from Baker’s Catalog, and I finally succumbed when she convinced me that the new kitchen was a good excuse for getting them. So I’ve had these five little bottles sitting in the pantry, and I haven’t really had a lot of uses for them.

Fast forward to a month or two ago, when Boomer and I made our first venture to Costco. Being us, we couldn’t resist a box that had instructions on it for making 96 brownies:

Last weekend Pookie had the brilliant idea of using the extracts to semi-homemade up the brownie mixes; what can I say? She’s a genius! We started out with a batch of orange brownies, then moved on to the almond extract, and ended today with the coffee.

It should be mentioned that I’ve added orange extract to my homemade brownies before, so we knew it would be delicious in these. Pookie has gone so far as to say she wouldn’t be ashamed to bring a box of from-mix brownies with the orange added if she had to provide a dessert to an office potluck. I can highly recommend that as an additive. The almond also delighted me, although Pookie’s review was that if she hadn’t known that’s what the flavor was, she would have decided it was coconut, because it’s markedly not just a normal brownie, but not entirely obvious, either. It’s flowery and fresh-tasting, though, and really mellow if you let the brownies sit overnight. The coffee extract was a disappointment. It did the least of the three, both in terms of disguising the “from a box” flavor and in terms of bringing something extra to the table.

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Filed under Baked Goods, Taste Test

Companion Planting: Take That, Pests!

We have recently upgraded from “throw stuff in the ground and see what grows” gardeners to “throw stuff in the ground, then read about how we could have done a smarter job of that, then see what grows” gardeners. Among the things we’ve read about how we could have done a smarter job of gardening have been some tips about pest-repellent companion gardening. Companion gardening is a concept we’ve kind of willfully ignored (although we totally inadvertently stumbled onto the cosmos/corn pairing our first summer, which may explain why we inadvertently managed a really good corn yield), but we’re becoming increasingly freaked out about pests. So when we read that marigolds are kind of a cure-all pest-repellent, and can be easily plopped into the corners of your vegetable beds and then left to work their magic, how could we resist?

This weekend has seen the final uncovering and dirt-filling of the beds, and after doing the not-at-all fun part of that yesterday, today was all about putting in our miracle pest-repellants in preparation for the big tomato-planting next weekend. We bought a handful of different marigold colorways, and then randomly dispersed them around the beds that had room for them.

They’re in the corners of the potato beds, on the ends of the radish/pepper bed, and in the newly-filled tomato and basil beds, ready to be boon companions to our crops.

And if nothing else, they’re a welcome spot of cheerful color amidst all the empty soil and wee, spring-green sprouts.

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Filed under 4. April, Garden

All Walks Of Potatoes

So we planted four types of potatoes this year, Yellow Finn, All Blue, Banana Fingerling, and Desiree. They’re very distinct-looking potatoes, as their names would suggest; the Yellow Finn is a small, yellow waxy potato, the All Blue is, well, all blue, the Banana Fingerling is a waxy, yellow and elongated, and the Desiree is a red-skinned potato with yellow flesh. Now that they’re all sprouting, what’s surprisingly cool to see is how different their plants all look, too.

First to come up was the Banana Fingerling, and while it’s very potato-y, it has a kind of elegant legginess to it. I’m sure that’s purely coincidental, but I still think it’s cool that a long and graceful tuber has sprouted a long and graceful plant.

The Yellow Finns have been slower to sprout than the others, and right now they look suitably stumpier than the Banana Fingerlings. That will probably change soon, but right now, humor me, okay? I’m trying to run with the idea that the plants are all reflecting the potatoes they’re someday going to grow into.

What’s kind of cool about those two plants compared with the Desiree and the All Blue is that they’re the same color. The Desiree, meanwhile, is definitely veined with a hint of red:

Furthermore, I think the leaves are a little plumper and curvier. Although I’m probably projecting — I am convinced this plant is called “Roselle” (I have no idea why), so I think I’m looking for “Roselle”y traits when I look at it.

By far the coolest thing to happen in our garden so far this year, though, is the sprouting of the All Blues. They grew in blue.

We had visions of totally blue potato plants dancing in our minds for a few days, but as they’ve leafed out, they’ve greened up quite a bit. That said, they’re still a hell of a lot bluer than their compatriots.

So now I’m all excited that the four different plants have such distinct looks, so watch they all end up appearing exactly the same a month from now.

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Crop Update: Onions And Radishes

Our onions are starting to look like actual plants now, instead of just seedlings:

And meanwhile, in the next bed over, the radishes are rapidly expanding. Some of them are even growing their second leaves:

What’s sort of hilarious about the radish arrangement is that we laid that whole bed out with a very ambitious design that involved two types of radishes and four types of lettuce. We had concentric diamonds of lettuce, and then chevrons of radishes between them, everything to be direct-sown in successive plantings. Which is all well and good, assuming your seeds actually take. Which the lettuce did not. So now we have chevrons of radishes and big empty expanses where there is no lettuce. Which is probably a good thing, because we completely forgot to allot space in our planning for our pepper plants. Now it looks like we’ll have chevrons of radishes radiating out from a clump of peppers.

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The Fruits Of Our Garbage

We were super-excited when we moved to Maple Hoo and had enough yard space to be able to compost our kitchen scraps. One of the first things we bought for the yard was a compost bin, and we have, since day one, religiously deposited into it every compostable scrap we can. Last week, for example, we had citrusy cocktails in the afternoon and chili for dinner, and this was what the compost bowl looked like:

Now, we know there are all kinds of steps you’re supposed to follow to optimize your compost pile, with the balance of green and brown material, the aerating, the turning, the heat, the beneficial worms, the humidity, blah blah blah. We take the “benign neglect” approach, just dumping everything into the bin, very rarely thinking to try to add some brown (shredded newspaper or straw), and even more rarely thinking to turn it. After two years of just piling up the kitchen scraps and letting them do their own thing, we opened up the little hatch at the bottom of the bin, and look what we found:

It’s compost!

It was no mean feat shoveling that stuff out of the bin, and it got pretty stinky as the less composty stuff at the top of the heap started falling down as the foundation was excavated. What we managed to pull out of there was a bit damp, so we gave it a few days to dry out, but when it came time to fill in the last few beds in the garden, we had a couple of cubic feet of lovely, homemade compost!

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Fun With A New Camera

The other day we returned from a quick trip out to the garden and discovered we’d taken over 70 pictures of teensy-tiny proto plants in the garden none of which were completely in focus. Hm. Perhaps it was time to admit we needed a bit of an upgrade in the camera department. So we purchased a Canon Powershot A630. We… have no idea how to use it. Yet. But that’s not stopping us from goofing around with it!

Here I did a comparison of the old camera:

and the new:

Obviously, we have some kinks to work out, but all in all, it looks like we’ll get more detail and more life out of the new camera.

I also took it for a spin outside and had fun with the Macro setting, a garlic plant, and the lavender I potted today.

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Filed under Pictures Worth A Thousand Words, Pommerdoodling

Hey Maple Hoo — What Are You Growing Today?

Today was a hard-labor kind of day, a day that prompted Pookie to invent the term “yardfun” to trick us all into thinking we were enjoying what we were doing. But no matter how tiresome the work in the yard is, it’s all made up for by the sight of our plants growing in. So we happily fenced trees, dug up weeds, lugged soil and turned beds, because it’s already the last weekend of April — that means our “seedlings” are well on their way to becoming “crops”.

We have had almost no luck at all with our lettuces this Spring, which means we’re complete and total losers, because even the dimmest of bulbs can grow lettuce. But we did direct-sow some radishes a couple of weeks ago to go with our now totally imaginary lettuce crop, and they’re looking very sassy today:

We also direct-sowed a row of scallions in one end of the onion bed, and for the second straight year, were despairing that we’re too incompetent to grow bunching onions. But today, lo and behold, there are three wee little seedlings in the row where we planted dozens.

We’ll try not to eat them all in one place. (And we’re also going to start a tray of scallion seedlings tomorrow, because they were a crazy-good crop two years ago. The regular onions seem to work very well when they’re started and transplanted, rather than just tossed in the dirt, so maybe we’ll have better luck this way.)

The potatoes are in fine form, and we’ve got 17 plants coming up now of the 24 we planted. We’re going to give the remaining seven one more week to show they’re sprouting before plopping a few more seed potatoes into their places. Interestingly, when we went to strip the straw cover off the bed we’re putting the gherkins into this summer, we discovered there was an abundance of volunteer potatoes coming up in there. Obviously, we did a lousy job completely harvesting the crop we had in there when that bed was hosting potatoes last year.

There were no fewer than six potato plants above the soil, and it took some work to get all the way down in the soil to the sources.

Damn, that’s a lot of potatoes we missed. Oh, regrets. Terrible, terrible regrets. As Boomer said as we gazed upon them sadly, “That’s a whole meal.” This year we will be digging down to China if need be, to ensure that we’ve harvested each and every delicious potato morsel from our garden.

Meanwhile, the garlic is growing like a weed…

… And speaking of weeds, we’ve got lovely little violets growing of their own volition in our pumpkin patch. What a nice change from the dandelions and poison ivy that normally live in there.

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