Friday, August 31, 2012

Chilli Pepper Ristras

I've been really pleased with the beauty and abundance of the Aci Sivri chillis we grew this year. The plants are just loaded with them. They have all begun turning bright red in the last few weeks, and this week I harvested all of the red ones (there are many more still to ripen on the plants) and strung a couple of ristras. These are supposedly a charm to bring good luck, if you hang them in your house, and are also simply pretty.

Using a doubled thread, I sewed one string of the peppers through the stems, then made a loop at the top for hanging them by. The other string I did by threading them straight through the middle of the peppers, for a different look. 

The ristras need to hang somewhere warm and dry, with good air circulation, in order to dry completely without molding. At our house, the best place is under the front overhand, where we cured the garlic. Our kitchen is often too humid to allow things to dry properly.

They make a nice decoration, indoors or out! I'll be able to make plenty more as the rest of the peppers get red, and we'll give them as gifts and keep one or two. The dried peppers should be perfect for flavoring stews and chili this winter, and for making our own pepper flakes and chilli salt.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

At the Community Garden

Over at the community garden, things are winding down a bit. Scarily, it's starting to look a bit like fall! The plot looked a little dead when I photographed it, and I had to remind myself that there is still lots going on under the ground: four potato plants whose tops have died but whose treasure troves remain to be dug, an empty patch freshly planted for a winter parsnip harvest, and still lots of carrots to be pulled. (Also, note to self: Use LOTS of mulch next year! I pulled up all the grass around the squashes two weeks ago, at which point I couldn't even see the squash plants anymore).

The flowers I planted in our plot have done wonderfully. Zinnias, yarrow and sunflowers are making gorgeous bouquets together.

We haven't been overly pleased with our winter squash production. Out of six plants, three died, and the remaining ones produced very few fruits. These are Sunshine, and are getting close to ready for harvesting.  None of the Red Kuri made it, which is a real bummer.

Our sole Queensland Blue still has a little while to go, it is huge but should turn a much paler blue-gray color.

We have an excellent yield of carrots from the plot, although we had a lot of gopher damage, so the vast majority grew weird and stubby with strange limbs!

The rainbow chard is coming along nicely. We'll let it get a bit bigger, then begin blanching it and freezing it. 

 Our two lonely corn plants have about eight ears between them, not quite ready yet but looking healthy.
This random packet of sunflower seeds I found has given us seemingly hundreds of little sunflowers in multiple colors for the last month and a half. These pinkish ones are my favorites. 

We didn't do a great job taking care of our green bean plants. We got a large harvest at first, but didn't pay much attention other than picking the beans, until the plants started to go brown and a few died completely. Upon investigation, I realized that between our laziness when picking, and flopping the bushes over none-too-gently, and watering them roughly, we had exposed many roots and also broken some of the stems. Had we been more gentle and attentive, we probably would have gotten twice as many beans as we did. 

When I was at the garden yesterday, Jessa and Elliot were there, harvesting from their plot. They planted a hops vine back in the spring (Elliot is an avid home brewer), and yesterday he picked all of his hops and was giddy as a schoolgirl about it. He was headed home right after to brew with the hops while they were fresh. Here he is, celebrating (potential caption: "Man like hops!")

Monday, August 27, 2012

In the Woods

We spent a really great weekend at Naturebridge, at Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park, five and a half hours north of home. A hundred wedding guests stayed in lovely cabins in the achingly beautiful and ancient forest, we ate delicious meals in the camp dining hall and hiked in the woods, two good friends said their vows under a huge old tree on the lakeshore, and then we boogied until 1 AM. In one of the rainiest parts of the country, their wedding day was cloudless and warm. Coolest of all, by using this camp as their wedding venue, the newlyweds sponsored numerous kids to come to this camp for an introduction to nature and environmental education. What a cool way to begin your marriage, by encouraging the children of the northwest to protect our planet.

We stopped to wander around Port Angeles on our way. You can't really see it, but Vancouver Island, BC, is behind us. 

Scenery at the Elwha River. This could be in New Zealand!

Clear, clear water.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Here and There

It's been a week full of bunnies, tomatoes, friends, and all kinds of other things. Some bad, some good. Mostly good. 

We tried this Five Minute Bread and it's outstanding. I'm sold. 

Babies! They're two weeks old now. Sixteen plump little bunnies out of the original 17 (two litters born on the same day. We need to learn to stagger the breedings so we don't get so inundated).  We're all getting better at this, mamas and human caretakers both. Fewer casualties every time.

This was a few days ago- they're already so much bigger. Princess's brood were out of their nest box for a few minutes here; we had to pull it out to remove a sibling that had died during our heat wave.  You can see the naked spots where Princess pulled out her fur to line the nest before they were born.

Safely back in a new clean nest.

We're still drowning in cherry tomatoes, and I've been eating a couple peaches a day; always my favorite type of fruit. There is a fruit stand a couple blocks away that has some really incredible ones. 

We bought a whole box and canned 13 quarts on Sunday. It was the first time Matt had canned anything, I'm glad I got to teach him. I had a couple metal canning lids that were still fresh. The rest are the BPA-free Tattler lids and rings, and we also used two of the Weck jars that Matt gave me for Christmas (on the right). 

We're heading out of town for the weekend, so in an effort to use up all the ripe tomatoes before we leave, I whipped up a batch of pasta sauce for freezing.

Our friends Provo and Jeremy brought us a big crookneck squash yesterday so I added a bunch of that too. I piled everything into a pan, covered it in herbs, garlic, and olive oil, and baked for an hour at 400F. 

Tomato skins pulled off, everything pureed in the food processor, and now four meals' worth of sauce put away in the freezer. That's a nice feeling.

We're off to the woods of the Olympic Peninsula for the weekend, to see some good friends get hitched. See you next week!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Cleaning and Storing the Garlic

I came home from work one day last week to find Matt and Jessa getting the garlic ready for storage. It had finished curing while Matt was in Boston, and I took it down and brought it inside, but hadn't gotten around to doing anything else with it.

Before being stored, cured garlic needs to have its roots trimmed off, and the dirty outside layers of their papery skin peeled off (technically, you could store it as is, but it's nicer and easier to use right away if you clean it first. You can also store it hung from the stems, but that takes up a lot more room).

The pile on the left are the biggest and nicest heads, to be set aside as next year's seed garlic.

Giving the bulbs crew cuts. 

Chesnok Red has these beautiful purple wrappers- this one was particularly bright. 

To test whether garlic has cured completely, you cut through the stem about an inch above the bulb. If no moisture comes out of the end when you squeeze it, it is fully cured. 

Garlic stores best where it is cool and dry, and it needs to have good circulation of air around it- otherwise it is susceptible to rot or mold. We are storing ours in old mesh onion bags, hung in the basement, where the temperature and humidity is much lower than anywhere else in the house.

 The small batch in the red bag on the right are the bulbs that got nicked by the turning fork when they were dug up, and had to have one or two cloves pulled out that were starting to rot as a result. Some of these we kept in the kitchen, and when we've used those we'll move to this red bag. The whole bulbs for use later on are the white bag, and then the seed garlic is up top, clearly labeled "Do not eat!" :) 

Feeling rich doesn't have much to do with money around here; it has more to do with seeing our pantry shelves looking like this, and knowing they'll get fuller before the rain starts to fall.