Monday, October 29, 2012

Cool Weather Cooking

One night, as we ate supper, (I had made a casserole of chicken, butternut squash and seasoned bread cubes) John commented that we were having heartier suppers now that the weather has cooled off. It’s true that winter and fall seem suited to warming, hearty meals  like soups and stews and casseroles. And it's not just that I have more time to cook now than in the spring. Even though business slows after the spring, I still favor lighter meals like pasta and salads, chicken and fish in the summer. And the same holds true with the herbs I use in cooking. I use basil a lot in the summer-nearly every day. It seems a shame not to take advantage of the bountiful production and to pair it with summer veggies and meats. I also use parsley, marjoram,savory and thyme, herbs toward the lighter end of the scale in terms of taste and strength. As the weather cools down, I particularly notice that I begin to use rosemary more in my cooking Still using parsley and thyme, both of which I think go with almost any savory dish. I love rosemary, but its bold flavor seems better with the more substantial, longer-cooking dishes I’m making now.

This is a simple recipe I got years ago during a Rodale Institute workshop I attended. It lends itself to variations and additions.
My mom used to add turnips and-or parsnips. I've used sweet potatoes in addition to or in place of the regular potatoes. And even with the colder weather, you should have plenty of fresh rosemary to use for awhile yet. One thing the instructor emphasized in this recipe, make sure to include cabbage-it adds a lot of flavor.
Place 2 sprigs of rosemary-about 4"-6" long in a roasting pan.
Add cubed potatoes, sliced carrots, onions, cabbage and cubed butternut squash. Add a small amount of chicken broth~maybe 1/4 cup or so. 
Cover and roast at 350 for one hour.
Goes very well with ham, pork roast or beef.

I'm working in the shop preparing for the holidays. I try not to start any actual Christmas work till October. When I worked in the garden center, they would start arrangements, etc. in August I thought that was awful . Watch for our holiday newsletter during the first half of November.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Frost Warnings

Since the weatherman was calling for frost, I took some time to wander around the gardens and enjoy some things before they finished up for the season. Some were no big surprise-the end of season plants that always put on their best show now. Like red pineapple sage, which did not start blooming for me till October, making it quite a short growing season this year. And the fuzzy purple spikes on Mexican bush sage-beautiful in both color and texture. And the yellows and oranges of both marigolds and calendula, which always seem more appealing to me in the fall. But there were some surprises.

We have some pink David Austin roses and one, not a particularly large bush was covered with flowers this fall-I stopped counting at two dozen. Nearby were my rose bon-bon cosmos. I had cut them back sometime in the summer. So the plants were shorter but very full, and just loaded with blossoms. They’re a mixture of single and double pink flowers-very showy. All the nicotiana or flowering tobacco put on a good fall show. And the tall, upright verbena was gorgeous. It's upright, rather than trailing, but has the same flat-headed flowers with multiple florets. It was sparse during the extreme heat of July, but lovely through September and October. Although not winter hardy, it reseeds reliably every year. And of course, the fuzzy red chenille-like stems of love-lies-bleeding ~ it takes awhile for them to size up, but they are a real show»stopper when they do.

l made a mad rush around to cut the last of some herbs for drying and also some annual flowers to dry and bunch. I had an excellent fall rebloom on my lavender this year-almost as good as the spring bloom, l thought. Also picked globe amaranth, eucalyptus, cockscomb and a few others.

Lucy got to chase a squirrel the other day. They really fascinate her. lt didn't take her long to figure out there's no sense in chasing birds, since they just fly away. But squirrels run and then climb trees! This one did just that, but once he was up that tree, he didn't scamper to the top and jump from tree to tree, he just sat there. If she could have figured out a way to climb that tree, she would have. He ascended slowly, but she could still see him and she wasn't ready to give up. l finally had to put her on the leash and drag her away. The next day she went out looked up and smelled and smelled. -

Friday, October 19, 2012

Transitioning to Fall

After working outside all summer, and being hot, I am enjoying the transition to fall. Even back in August, on a few mornings you could feel the change beginning in the morning air. Then, one morning, l needed a long-sleeved shirt on Lucy's first walk. Then, a sweatshirt and finally blue jeans instead of shorts. I notice the transition in my work habits too. Work is shifting from the greenhouses to getting the shop ready and stocked for the holidays.

There's still a lot of outside work~ with all the rain, lots of weeding, some perennials to plant to fill in spots and replace some that didn't survive or thrive and trimming back that we didn't get to at the height of the summer. It's lovely working out on a sunny fall day.

Another sign of fall-toads returning to the greenhouse. We had a bumper toad crop this year-4 were living in the greenhouse this spring. Since then, they've dispersed and I've seen them outside at different times and in different locations. Even saw a baby once. There was one of the toads that I would see regularly in the greenhouse throughout the summer. He or she would go in and out but I'd see him in the back corner every few days. Sometimes, I'd see two together-perhaps they‘re a couple. And now, I see the two of them dug into the dirt most days. They must be preparing for Winter.

The hyacinth bean vine is developing beans, although it bloomed about a month late and should be loaded with beans by now. Also, the late Mexican bush sage, with fuzzy purple flowers is starting to bloom now. We had a casualty in the last big rainstorm. Our Mina, or firecracker vine, was on an obelisk in the garden at the top of the driveway. Being top-heavy, it got wrenched out of the ground roots and all so it couldn't be replanted. Too bad, because it was also starting to bloom, with pretty sprays of yellow, orange and red flowers.

The goldfinch pair feeding on the echinacea seeds have brought friends. They've gone through about 6o% of them now.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Big Job!

A big job accomplished! It was time to replace the plastic covering our back greenhouse. The plastic degrades over time, due to the sun‘s rays. It's not a difficult job, but it requires two things.

A calm day and lots of hands, since controlling a 50 foot long piece of plastic can be challenging.    John recruited several co-workers, a cousin or two and of course, John and I along with our helper, Jon. There are actually two pieces of plastic, with an air gap
between, to provide some insulation.  For the first piece, my job was to stand inside the greenhouse with a very long~handled broom and guide the plastic over the metal hoops. For the second piece, I just helped pull it over the other piece. Then, the guys inserted the wiggle wire (zigzag wire pieces) into channels at each end of the greenhouse to hold the plastic firmly in place. Repeat for the  second piece and most of the work is done. That part took about two hours-and just in time, because it began to get breezy then. Trying to control a flapping piece of lightweight plastic in even a gentle breeze is tough. John and our helper finished up the rest of the work in a couple more hours. It looks great and has held up well. A couple days later we had the all-day blowing rain and everything held up.

Lucy had a great time meeting all her new friends. Of course, we had to put her in during the actual operation. Imagine a wild dog running amok over 6 mil plastic.

One day, while walking Lucy, I noticed her with her nose moving along the ground. She wasn't sniffing, but rather walking with her nose directly on the ground. It looked strange and I couldn't imagine what she was doing. When I got close enough, I saw she was following a praying mantis which was walking along. She was just following along, with her nose against it, trying to figure out exactly what it was. It eventually moved off under some cover.
Since then, I've seen mantises frequently. This must be an active time of year for them. And they are all big. On foliage, they’re all green. One that was sitting in a pot, was brown on top green and underneath.