Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Greenhouse Update

The wind is dropping, the sun is out (which will make it bitterly cold tonight), the greenhouse is up and the plants are in. It's already much warmer in the greenhouse than outside, even though it has no insulation. I'd forgotten how much I love being inside a greenhouse. It's peaceful, warm, moist and alive!  Hopefully, the plants (the lime tree, olive tree, jasmine and herbs) will be happy there, too.

Epiphany and Socks

George's socks are coming along with the first sock completed and the second one about halfway through the arch expansion.  I'm using the Philosopher's House Socks pattern from Cat Bordhi's New Pathways sock book. I have her newest sock book, and it looks interesting, but I can tell I'll need to sit with it and concentrate quite a bit. The New Pathways socks clicked (finally!) and I can now knit more or less without referring to the pattern all the time.  I even have great hopes of abandoning patterns altogether and just doing my own.

Yesterday was the first day I felt like anything after my cold.  Of course, I overdid it and am now back to feeling rotten. But yesterday was Epiphany and I got the urge to make my traditional prime rib dinner. Since I didn't start until late, and George got me an almost 5-pound roast, we ate late, but there it was. I didn't make Yorkshire Pudding, but did make a brown gravy from the drippings. I didn't feel up to making the King Cake, so it's in the oven now. When the children were little, I made a pound cake every Epiphany with an almond glaze on it. The first time, I planned to put a coin in the cake for them to find, but then thought the better of it. They might bite down on it and break those precious teeth! So I decided to hide an almond instead. But when I invited a friend with her two boys to have the dinner with us, I thought that I'd never explain to four very young children why one got the lucky almond, and the others didn't, so I laced that cake with almonds! Pound cake isn't a traditional King Cake in any culture, but it is in our house, and that's the only time I'll put the almond glaze on it.This year's King Cake is in the oven now and I'll make the almond glaze when it cools.

George is getting ready to bottle his first batch of double IPA, which ought to be exciting. Actually, it probably won't be, but he's using his new bottle washer for the first time and that might be exciting.

In gardening news, the pop-up greenhouse arrived today, a day late, but we probably won't put it up. With winds gusting up to 40 mph out there, the poor thing might blow away just as we're trying to get it anchored down. We'll set it up this weekend, perhaps, and try to get it going. I sometimes wish I had a few acres of land and no restrictions. I'd like to have a workshop for George, a permanent greenhouse, a small garden, and a little room for a few chickens. However, that's incompatible with life on a boat, so we'll see.

The hydroponics herbs are coming along nicely, except the parsley, which still stubbornly refuses to sprout. If it doesn't sprout by tomorrow, or if I don't see roots underneath, I'll probably try dropping another seed or two in the pod. The basils are sending out their second set of true leaves, the mint, thyme and dill are sending out their first set of true leaves, and the chives look very much like small chives. I'm looking forward to harvesting my own fresh herbs.

I had to give up on the idea of starting my seeds hydroponically this year. AeroGrow is out of units, having sold out for Christmas, and I'd need a second unit promptly. It will be time to start peppers soon and then tomatoes a couple of weeks afterwards. We are trying one of Burpee's seed starting kits that looks interesting and we set up florescent desk lamps in our "grow" corner. We've been trying them out with our microgreens and they obviously work. Probably next week will be the beginning of starting our few veggie plants for the spring. We're planning on several types of tomatoes, growing over the arbor where we had mandevillas last year, bell peppers, cucumbers and herbs.

The weather has been much colder than usual this year - or rather, much colder than it's been lately. I'll have to check NOAA and see what the records are for this time of year. A bad cold front is coming through now, with the temps due to get down into the 20's tonight and for the next few nights. This is very unusual for us and I'm worried about my new, young olive tree. Established olives can make it down into the teens, although they don't enjoy it much, but young trees usually need at least five years to mature before they're hardy enough to take temperature extremes. I think the pomegranate in the front yard will make it. George just suggested getting the greenhouse set up before the hard freeze tonight and setting a lamp in it to keep the temps up a bit. Since we won't hve a chance for solar heating to start working - no sun today - we'll be dependent on the power grid tonight.

Stay warm, everybody!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Getting Short Ribs and Tilapia Meuniere

Yes! In spite of colds, cold temperatures and other nastiness, we made it to the Pearl Market before opening today and got a couple of packages of short ribs.  I'm going to see if these are as wonderful as I've been led to believe.

In spite of the fact that we'd planned to spend New Years on the boat, we're at home. Both George and I are down with colds and we just didn't feel like being on the boat right now. We came home on New Years Eve and have stayed through the weekend. This means we went to the Pearl Market for our first farmer's market visit of the year, instead of the Austin market. Truth to tell, I'm not ill-pleased with being at the Pearl Market again. Some of our favorite vendors weren't there - the mushroom folks and the lamb folks weren't there, but our favorite goat cheeses, camembert cheeses, herb plants, grass-fed beef, eggs, and veggie folks were all there.  We walked out with our basket uncomfortably heavy and at least two bags in addition.

On the way home, we tried to calculate the percentage of our food now coming from local vendors. I'd say about 75% of our veggies, probably 60 - 75% of our meat, and maybe 40 - 50% of our cheese come from the market. Flours, spices and baking goods are still sourced out of state - except for locally produced cornmeal - and that's a significant percentage for us as we bake all our own bread. We are eating far more seasonally, which is something I've long wanted to do. I'm also learning, at long last, to think more in food. I find it surprisingly liberating to work around fresh foods I find at the market rather than work from recipes and try to find ingredients. I'm freeing myself from dependence on recipes and learning to cook by technique instead.

Tonight's supper was tilapia meuniere, made from tilapia caught fresh yesterday morning, packaged last night, purchased at the market this morning and cooked tonight. Nothing could be simpler, and I see why Julia Child raved over sole meuinere as her first meal in France. It's perfection!

One of the surprising benefits of becoming locavores - eating locally produced foods - is that we're developing relationships with the growers of our foods. I had a conversation with my favorite egg lady, who also has lots of veggies. She mentioned a kind of burgandy okra, which had me almost in tears.  My grandmother grew burgandy okra and passed seeds to me, which I've since lost. Seeing my look, she promised me burgandy okra - she'll grow it this year.

Bread isn't the only food we're making ourselves. I've been making many of our cheeses, having been introduced to The Cheese Queen through Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I've been making our mozzerella, yogurt, yogurt cheese and cottage cheese. I wish we could source local milk, but at least we have HEB's organic milk, which seems to work just fine. George has taken up beermaking - and thus far hasn't blown anything up! We're drinking his first project, a light German ale. It's okay, but I admit, I'm not a beer fan. He has a double hopped IPA in the fermenting vat at the moment. We'll see how it turns out. I'm growing our sprouts as they seem so much fresher than the ones at the store. I made Pad Thai with the first crop of mung bean sprouts and it was the best I've ever made! I got trays for growing our own microgreens as well.  I'll have to report back on them later. We're growing our own herbs hydroponically - a technique I want to learn more about as I may need the knowledge while cruising. Six of my seven herbs are up and doing well. The parsley is still on one of its seven trips to the devil and back, but I think it may be about ready to pop its head up.

As of today, we've eaten in a restaurant once in over a month... and I got sick from it. I don't know what's in restaurant food that upsets my digestive system, but it's something. I suspect preservatives. Other than coffee, which does tend to upset my system, I can cook as rich as I want at home and feel just fine. We've also moved away from eating any processed foods, no high-fructose corn syrup and no soybean oil. This isn't a vow of anything and I don't try to keep the kids from eating whatever they want... although I've noticed that they've lessened their dependence on processed foods. The shopping list, to which we all contribute, tells its own tale.  The food is undeniably better, too, which makes it easier to take each step, one at a time.

I'm fighting my cold with a remedy that at least makes me feel better, whether or not it actually helps my cold. I mix apple cider, the juice of a tangelo (from the market), a cinnamon stick, whole cloves, whole allspice, and about a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger, simmered together. It's warming and spicy and makes me feel better for at least as long as it takes to drink it!

In a knitting update, I finished both hats. The second was, indeed, a waffle hat which turned out quite well. I'm now at work on George's socks - a pair to replace the pair that had to be retired.  you can only darn socks if there's anything left for the darning to take hold of!  I may look at Elizabeth Zimmerman's socks with the sole knitted separately, so the sole can be removed and reknit as necessary.

More later about tomatoes, greenhouses, and reports from the herb front.