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Volunteer appreciation month

I love, love, love autumn – it’s definitely my favorite season! This year I would like to celebrate my garden volunteers, those serendipitous, happy random accidents (I’m talking about plants, not my children ;-)) that keep me in veggies and flowers until frost.

volunteer okra plantPictured here are two of this year’s volunteers – okra and cosmos. The cosmos are not a big surprise, they reseed every year and bloom from July to November, attracting monarchs, butterflies, honeybees and bumble bees. The okra though, is unexpected. I’m not sure where the seed came from – I didn’t plant okra in the garden this year – but I noticed it coming up in my pebble/stone/chat patio at the end of July. Sometime I wonder why I even bother to make compost, when so many things seem to grow just fine in this pebble patio.

Other volunteers coming into production are several tomato plants, red mustard, and arugula. With volunteer tomatoes you never know what you will get. Sometimes they are productive, and sometimes they are just not worth keeping around (Hmmm… sort of like some human volunteers I’ve worked with.) I guess I got lucky this year, ’cause it seems all my volunteer tomatoes have done well.

The fall/winter garden is coming along nicely, although I’ve had to replant my lettuce several times (probably too hot and dry when I planted). That’s not a problem, since i have oodles of saved seed from this last June.  Arugula, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, and mustard greens are doing well. I’ve transplanted lots of garlic, and the Lacinato kale should be up in the next day or two. And now i think the temperatures have fallen enough that I can start planting spinach.

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Peachy dilemma

So our last peach tree is ready for harvesting, and we’re trying to figure out what to do with them. They aren’t as tasty as they’ve been in the past, and they don’t live up to their huge, juicy, intensely flavored predecessors  this year. Why not?

I guess we should have thinned these out...

I guess we should have thinned these out…

I think that the main factor is that the tree is way too overloaded. We tend to let nature do the thinning –  windstorms, hailstorms, microbursts, squirrels, etc. But this summer none of those weather events happened, and there are very few squirrels in the neighborhood (maybe because Mississippi Kites have taken up residence?). Somehow this tree held on to every fruit up until the bitter end.

Also, we’ve had a somewhat cooler than normal spring and summer. All the fruit and veggies are about two to three weeks behind schedule. I’m not complaining about this at all, by-the-way!

Anyway, here we have scads of mediocre peaches on our hands. (Mediocre is a relative term. Compared to grocery store peaches these are just fine.) This morning I cut one up and sprinkled it generously with sugar – which we usually avoid – then waited a few minutes. Ahhh… that did the trick. They will do just fine in peach leather, peach gelee, spiced peach butter, and canned in a rum syrup. And of course I can always make more peach chutney and peach salsa.

Oh, and the same as last year, we’ve had virtually no insect damage on our peaches this year. Yeah for sparrows at the bird feeders!

You knew there was a reason you'd been hoarding those bottle caps!

You knew there was a reason you’d been hoarding those bottle caps!

Last weekend was our 35th wedding anniversary (Good grief, we must be getting old!), and we stayed at Pecan Valley Inn B&B near Davis, Oklahoma. What an awesome job Janet Charalampous has done with restoring this historic mansion!

Hmmm, this cart looks familiar...

Hmmm, this cart looks familiar…

On the drive down and  back we stopped at antique stores in Purcell, Paul’s Valley,  Davis, and Duncan. We bought a few “treasures” but mostly marveled at how much of this stuff we already have. We visited the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center which was fun, and something I’d love to do with our granddaughter some day.

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Spinach, lemon, meatball soup

Image  This is one of our new favorite soups. It is hearty and filling so it can serve as a meal in itself. Beware, this is not a quick soup, don’t expect to make this in half an hour.

You will need:

  • 2 medium/large onions
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 large bunch of mint
  • 1 pound spinach
  • juice of 2 large lemons (or more) 
  • 1/2 pound ground beef or lamb
  • 1/3 cup yellow split peas
  • 1/3 cup rice flour
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • plain or greek yogurt
  • salt and pepper

Fried garlic and mint topping: Fry all but 1 teaspoon of the garlic (minced) in one tablespoon oil until golden brown. Add all but 1 tablespoon of the mint (finely chopped), mix, then immediately remove from heat.

 Soup: Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large soup pot and saute 1 and 1/2 onions, finely chopped, until golden brown. Add the  turmeric and split peas then 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then turn down heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. As the split peas are simmering grate the remaining 1/2 onion and mix with the ground meat. Add one teaspoon minced garlic, one tablespoon finely chopped mint, and salt and pepper to  the meat mixture. Form small meatballs and carefully add to the pot. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Chop the spinach and add to the pot. Cover and simmer for an additional 20 minutes. Mix the rice flour with 1 cup of water and slowly add, while stirring. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Add additional lemon juice to taste. Simmer for 10 more minutes. Serve with a spoonful of the fried garlic and mint and a dollop of yogurt.

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What’s shakin’?

Yes, it’s been a while since I last posted. I had this little thing called a dissertation to write…

USGS map

USGS map showing where the earthquake was felt

If you live in the USA you may have heard about (or felt) the earthquakes we’ve been having. All the the strongest ones (4.7, 5.6, 4.7) occurred at night while I was sitting in my big leather easy chair. I was actually on the phone with Aric when the 5.6 record-breaker shaker hit. Last night we had a 4.7 while most of the state was under a tornado watch! Oh, and yeah, OKC was dealing with flash flooding at the same time. Crazy. We’ve had a record-breaking year in many categories. We lived in California for 8 years and I never felt any as strong as the 5.6 and certainly not as many clustered so close together.

The map above is the product of a form on the USGS earthquake web site page Did You Feel It?After I feel a quake I immediately go this page and fill out the form (yeah, I know I’m a geek). Kate said she felt the 5.6 in St. Louis. I saw on the interweb that people in Wisconsin also felt it.

Chinese cabbageMike has put the plastic on the hoop houses and things are looking fine. We have lettuce, arugula, red mustard, and cilantro to eat, and I can start harvesting Asian greens at any time. And in the hoop houses we still have peppers (lordy, do we have peppers!). Speaking of which, I found a great way to roast and peel chilis. I just put them in my convection toaster oven on high for about 8 to 10 minutes, then wrap them in a dishtowel for a minute or two. They are easier to peel and less messy than roasting them on the grill or over a gas flame, and you don’t have to worry about the smoke alarm going off. You don’t get the fire-roasted flavor of course, but it sure is convenient.Pepper abundance Other veggies started under the hoops: spinach, chard, leeks, kale, lettuce, and carrots. All but the chard and spinach are from saved seed! Still left to harvest are peppers and sweet potatoes.

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Great Britian holiday pics

Mike and I had a fabulous holiday in northern England and southern Scotland in May. We rented a car – definitely the way to go.

Picasa Slideshow

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Environmentally friendly popcorn snacking

Stop buying the expensive, over-packaged microwave popcorn and invest in the following:popcorn

  • A bag of popcorn (less than $2.00)
  • A package of brown paper lunch sacks
  • A shaker of butter-flavored popcorn salt
  • Butter, vegetable, or olive oil (optional)
  • Any other spices you desire such as curry, dill, garlic, etc.

Follow the directions at Instructables (you need a microwave).

You can also make popcorn in a pan on top of the stove, but I always seem to burn some of it, and the popcorn doesn’t come out as light and crispy as the microwave method.

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Summer with a vengence

Old fashioned hollyhocks

Old fashioned hollyhocks

Matt arrived from Siberia last Thursday and was excited about the summer temperatures for a whole two days. But now he’s escaping to the public library in the mornings and Cafe Plaid in the afternoons. Our house is not air conditioned, which is almost unheard of in Oklahoma. Neither Mike nor I grew up with air conditioning, and we keep telling ourselves “Billions of people live without it, and our ancestors lived without it, so we can too.” It would cost a fortune to cool this house, and a little bit of sweating in the summer has allowed us to send Matt and Aric to fancy-smancy private colleges.

Also, it really cuts down on house guests in the summer! ;>)

Saturday I harvested garlic, and wow… what was I thinking?! I should open a booth at the farmer’s market. But of course garlic is something people are always more than happy to take off your hands, unlike zucchini or mustard greens.

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