Monday, August 29, 2011

our homestead: my first heirloom tomato harvest

This has been a rough year for tomatoes. It's been cold and wet; two factors that contribute to sluggishly slow growth and blight. Despite the weather, I was somehow blessed with baskets full of heirloom tomatoes, right from our little-greenhouse-that-could. These are the same tomatoes that I started from seed on my windowsills last winter, grown in dismal February light and then transplanted out into a frigid spring. I've been picking all sorts of tomatoes, including: yellow pear, black prince, sweet 100 cherries, evergreen (the middle photo) and pink brandywine (the bottom photo). Last night my husband and I enjoyed baked macaroni with bacon and heirloom tomatoes and today calls for BLT's with big slabs of tomato and smashed avocado. I've got a bunch of large, old mason jars, gifted to me from my Oma, running through the dishwasher at this very moment, as I plan on getting my can-on before work. Today I'll be canning stewed tomatoes (using our own homegrown celery, onions and garlic) and salsa. In the winter months we'll be able to roast chicken and potatoes with a jar of our stewed tomatoes, or snack on chips and tangy salsa. We are so lucky to have this bounty!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

our homestead: sunflower season

Sunflowers and Indian Paintbrush are my most beloved flowers, and both appear in late summer; sunflowers in my yard and paintbrush on my favorite hiking routes in the mountains. I've tried to grow Indian Paintbrush in my yard but I think they really need a good alpine least for me. This year I grew Russian Mammoth Sunflowers (their heads were as big as dinner plates!), some red sunflowers and some of the classic yellow sunflowers with heads about the size of salad plates. The majority of my sunflowers grew at least 5 feet tall, some were even taller than me, and I'll admit I've spent a few summer evenings just standing underneath my sunflowers, admiring these gentle giants. I have my sunflowers standing tall in my back vegetable garden, attracting pollinators, and in my front yard, greeting any visitors that come a'calling.

I have three different life stages of sunflowers at this point. Some have already gone to seed and are ready for harvest. I hate having to cut down my sunflowers since they still look pretty, even when they lose their petals, so I have a few standing out in the field (their seeds will still be able to dry) and a few drying on my front porch where I can keep them relatively safe from birds. I'll probably move them all to my shed soon and hang them from the rafters to dry, and then I'll be able to collect the seeds for eating or for storing for next spring for a larger sunflower crop. I've been taking the spent petals of my seeded sunflower heads and have been drying them for tea, so later, in winter I'll be able to remember my garden. I also have plenty of sunflowers that are still in bloom, and about 5 sunflowers yet to bloom, so I should have some of their color for the next few weeks. With all of the seeds I'll be able to harvest this year, I'm looking forward to next summer. I hope I'll be able to plant a colossal sunflower patch!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

trail setters: a day at the farmers market

Summer is market season, and thus it's always the busiest season for me. I often have lots of dreams right about this time dealing with produce: dreams where I'm helping a customer and bagging their vegetables and then I don't give them accurate change, dreams where I spill fingerlings and huckleberries all over the sidewalk (wait...I've done that in real life), dreams where the scale isn't working or dreams where I'm surrounded by homegrown kohlrabi microgreens and everyone is excited and cheering for me (that was last night's dream). Yeah. This year I'm especially busy since I'm working the produce section of our local co-op as well and maintaining a household, wrangling furbabies and a husband, and keeping my vegetable garden happy and healthy. As most folks already know or probably already suspect, I've been a part of the market scene since I was a kid, so I've grown up with a lot of the farmers and vendors I work with. In a sense, we're like a giant family or community where everyone knows everyone.

Yesterday was a slower day at the market (SeaFair's going on this weekend), so I could take the time to catch a few photos of my family's tomato stand, Flying Tomato Farm, and the stand I work at, Frog's Song Farm. It's been a cold summer this year, so everything, again, is late. We have had sugar snap peas and rhubarb just until last week! All the way through August! And I haven't seen any west-side green beans yet...although chanterelles (a late September mushroom) are already showing up out in the wild. Freaky weather. Anyway, I'm very happy that my family's now making it out to markets with some tomatoes and cucumbers. The top two photos are of their stand. In previous years they've been at the market with their produce as early as May, but they decided not to heat their greenhouse this year and the cool weather contributed to the wait. But let me tell you, their tomatoes have been worth this wait. I made a delicious caprese salad yesterday after the market using their tomatoes and cucumbers. Mmm mmm crunchy, juicy goodness.

The bottom three photos are from the Frog's Song Farm stand. Frog's Song Farm's produce comes from a small, family farm based on Fir Island (up near Conway/LaConner). It's beautiful up of these days I'll post some photos of the area. As far as the market's concerned, we have had so much more variety than what we started the cold season with. Now we have the following up for grabs: several types of fingerling and round potatoes (apple rose finns and peruvian purples made their appearance this week), french breakfast radishes, Japanese salad turnips, chioga and classic purple beets, nantes and heirloom rainbow and big n' ugly carrots, fava beans, red and golden raspberries (though the red raspberries may be on their way out), loose and bunched spinach, rainbow chard, red and white kale, salad mix, all sorts of head lettuce, sweet onions, red onions, shallots, head cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, the first of the chanterelles, zucchini and their squash blossoms, sweet pea flowers, sunflowers, and much more that I'm probably forgetting. Anyway, that cute gal in the last photo is a my super awesome and creative coworker, Heidi. She lives in Kingston and takes the ferry over to sell with me. We always have a fun time working together (especially since we share an affinity for sweet, sweet baked goods from the market as well as the pasta man's rice pudding, oh lord!). She also hooked me up with a darling black rabbit yesterday...but that's a story for next time!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

our homestead: scenes from my walk this evening

Today made for a very sunny day, followed by a beautiful evening and sunset. I had the chance to take my dog, Ozzy, out to one of my favorite spots to go for a late summer's walk: the levy that runs along the river. I have a special way to get here. The entrance is a bit of a local have to drive all the way to the end of a rural road, past a cemetery full of born-in-the-1800s tombstones and then hang a sharp left to find it. Once you get out on the levy, you cross fields of marshlands full of grasses, wild flowers, snags, giant thistles, willow trees and all sorts of critters. Today I spotted a giant toad, several ducks, a beaver and its dam, and an otter hopping into the river from the bank across from me. In times of heavy rain, these marshlands are meant to hold excess river water to help prevent flooding in the valley. The further you walk, the quieter your surroundings become until you find some true peace.

Friday, August 5, 2011

our homestead: scenes from my walk this morning

It was a warm and balmy, overcasted morning, so I decided to take my dog, Ozzy, out for walk down the slough to the river. Above are a few quick pictures I took of the area. The first is of my neighbor's pumpkin patch, full of big orange blossoms (these will later become big ol' pumpkins). The second photo is my other neighbor's field, rolled up into hay bales. Then, the last is the promise of a very good blackberry season (the bushes that line the roadside are littered in green berries). I'm very grateful to live out here. It's so peaceful.

Monday, August 1, 2011

DIY almanac: roasted zucchini and stuffed squash blossoms

I'm a little bumned to admit that the rabbits and slugs got to my zucchini starts this season. Pretty shocking since zucchini is so easy to grow. I had my second garden patch too far down the hill I suppose, where these garden fiends could run rampant and undetected, nibbling and munching away to their heart's content. Luckily, I sell produce for a farmer who always has the coolest crops, so I can always get my favorite veggies from him. One of the specialties that he brings along are his baby zucchini squash with their blossoms still attached. The zucchini is tender and sweet and roasts up very quickly and their big, orange blossoms can be stuffed and made into an ambrosial treat. These baby squash can be found now, out in your garden if you have them growing (you can also use pumpkin blossoms), or you might find them at a farmers market. Here's how I like to prepare them for a nice, summer meal:

Roasted Baby Zucchini with Parmesan and Pepper

A dozen baby zucchini
A big handful of parmesan
Black pepper to taste
1 to 2 caps of olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice zucchinis in half and arrange, belly-up, on a roasting pan or cookie sheet. Evenly drizzle the oil over them, then generously sprinkle with parmesan and pepper. Roast in the oven while you prep the squash blossoms, or until the cheese is a golden brown. You can also broil the baby zucchini at the last minute to really amp up the carmelization of the cheese.

Stuffed and Tempured Squash Blossoms

A dozen squash blossoms
1 small package of chevre goat cheese or a soft cheese of your choice
1 small chopped sweet onion
1 to 2 tablespoons of cream or milk
Optional stuffing: chopped walnuts or pinenuts, green onions or basil
2 cups canola oil
1 cup flour
1 1/2 cups sparkling water
Salt, to taste

Prepare a plate with a piece of paper towel or brown paper (much like you would for making bacon). Mix the cheese, cream, onion and any other stuffing additives in a small bowl. Gently untwist the blossoms and stuff with the cheese mixture, either using a small spoon or a pastry piper (you can also cut a corner off a ziploc bag if you don't have a piper). Re-twist the blossoms shut. Start heating the canola oil in a sauce pot over medium-high heat until you start to see little traces or legs in the oil. You don't want it to be too hot though-no boiling or smoking! Lightly mix the flour, sparkling water and salt in a bowl, then start coating the squash blossoms one by one and then drop them in the oil until their batter becomes light, puffy and a little bit golden on all sides. Using a slotted spoon, remove each blossom and allow them to rest on the plate with the paper towel. Enjoy with your roasted baby zucchini and a glass of lemonade.