Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
These words guide me as I stack the first of my six cords of firewood and divide my time between the kitchen, the garden and the computer – all things I love to do. Savoring the tail end of summer is essential, and every morning I make the rounds to admire the powerful long stems and dainty white flowers of the Cimicifugia which has reached a staggering height despite the howling wind and rain of the past week. Fall asters are beginning to show color, a surprisingly bright shade of pink in contrast to the billowy hydrangea pompoms that still attract a bevy of bees and butterflies.
While harvesting leeks and onions, I discovered a cache of ripe Cayenne peppers which are now simmering on the stove top, filling the kitchen with a hot, spicy aroma. Hot pepper jelly is not for the timid, nor for toast. Try it as a spicy sweet condiment over a mild cheese or add a spoonful to stir fry for a powerful punch of heat.
Hot and Sweet Pepper jelly
Makes 6 pint jars
12 mixed hot peppers (about 1 cup chopped) a mixture of cayenne, habernero, serrano, and jalepenos
4 sweet bell peppers, (about 1 cup chopped) yellow, green or red
2 cups cider vinegar
6 cups sugar
1 six- ounce package of Certo pectin
1. Trim the tops off the hot and sweet peppers, remove the seed and coarsely chop into small pieces. Place in the container of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse gently, leaving small chunks. Transfer back into a measuring cup along with any juice to measure out 3 cups.
2. In a deep kettle, combine the vinegar and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the peppers and bring to a full rolling boil. Stir in the liquid pectin, and bring back to a rolling boil, and stir for one full minute.
3. Remove from the heat. Pour into sterilized jars, leaving about ¼ inch room at the top. Wipe the tops clean and seal the jars. Flip upside down to seal and allow to cool. Label and store in a cool, dark place until ready to use.
Monday, September 5, 2011
The morning glory arbor blew over again last night, sunflowers uprooted and the wheelbarrow is filled with rain water. Hearing the rain pummel the roof was once a welcome sound, but too much of a good thing is devastating. People are helping people across Vermont, dig, rebuild, feed their farm animals, and bring emotional comfort. To lose a house, land and everything familiar that has been built with love is unfathomable. It is hard not to feel betrayed when a violent storms hit.
I’ve been reading Coming to Land in a troubled world, essays by Peter Forbes and others. There is a chapter titled Lifting the Veil, in which he quotes Aldo Leopold, Scott Nearing, Rachel Carson and others to make the point that our connection to the land is vital to our human spirit. “ If there is ever to be a change in culture that might save our species, it will need to come out of the pull, joy, and restoration of healthy human life rather than the push of fear. No change will come out of any force that is not fundamentally grounded in ethos of restoration. Restoration, or the reconnection of our lives to the health of the land, is parable for healthy human future."
Reading this, I see my role as a gardener, one who is deeply connected to the landscape, recognize ways to step out of the comfort of my own garden to help rebuild. I’ve donated my books with garden design consultations to several charity auctions, yet it seems frivolous in the midst of such a catastrophe. Once the debris is cleared, it will be easier to see how I can help restore and replant with the hopes of creating a nurturing environment that will help to heal and restore faith that nature is here to help.
In the meantime, I think preparing a good meal for my neighbors is in order.
Monday, August 15, 2011
Nature knows that the turn of summer has taken place and from where I sit with the French doors open wide, the light has shifted and heat of summer has slowly slipped away. Birds swoop in flocks rather than pairs, descending on seedpods left behind by the hollyhocks and sunflowers, lightly bending the tall stems. At night the frogs give way to the subtle harp of the cricket.
August is a bittersweet month, a turning point from the heady, fast paced momentum that started in April when the first lettuce and pea seeds were sown with an eager hunger for the first taste that would follow in late spring. This morning, a gentle rain moistened the soil and I planted the last seeds of the season: lettuce, spinach, kale and meslcun in a final attempt to hold back summer a little longer. Decorating the bird bath with flowers creates a dance of colors to honor the season and beckons the birds dip their wings as they pass through.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Town meeting day in Vermont coincides nicely with when I work on my spring garden design. In between votes and the long-winded discussion of police salaries and library funding, I am doodling in the margins, plotting out my garden. Sure I am listening, but thinking about my garden not only keeps me awake, and at the end of the day I can go home with plan that keeps me focused on good things to come.
I planted my first garden with four sticks and a ball of twine, measuring out a large square, and removing a thick layer of rugged turf. I turned the stony Vermont soil with compost before planting long straight rows for basil, lettuce and beans. I would be lying if I said the garden thrived, but the thrill of harvesting my own food gave way to a larger garden the following year. As the garden grew, the harder it was to decide in the spring where to plant until I realized I could start the design on paper first.
As any good cook will tell you, the key to success is following a recipe exactly before you let the imagination go wild. For gardeners, this means starting with a garden plan before even cracking open the seeds catalogs. When faced with the blank canvas of freshly tilled soil it's much harder to limit the choices down to just a few essential items. Fitting a long list of seeds onto a piece of graph paper require the gardener to be more selective. Taking a bird's eye view of the paths and the beds can bring out the artistic side, drawing inspiration from a paisley fabric or floral wallpaper design, rather than a straight ridge of corduroy. Adding a bench or a fanciful arbor is easy to draw in, regardless of whether they will actually take form.
I recently taught a vegetable garden design class with some of the techniques I share in my new book, The Complete Kitchen Garden. I had expected the class to be full of new gardeners ready to learn basic skills such as sowing seed and turning compost. Instead, there were fifteen experienced gardeners who were seeking fresh ideas for how to reinvigorate their tired plots. We started with a visualization exercise to envision the kitchen garden of their dreams. This simple exercise allowed these gardeners to step out of their comfort zone of straight rows to picture kitchen gardens filled with waves of color that engaged all of their senses. The results were magical.
Since my own garden follows a 4 four square organic rotation, it's fairly easy to know where to grow each crop and how to group to make the most of the soil fertility. I am never tempted to plant space hogs such as zucchini or corn, and the bush beans from last year were a total disaster since I never picked them - so those are out, too. This year, I am focused on lettuce and salad greens from Wild Garden Seeds, and heirlooms from Seed Savers Exchange. Simplicity is the key, as well as a few quirky additions such as artichokes and Italian Treviso radicchio. I have my tried and true favorites, but it is always good to try something new.