Saturday, November 28, 2009

marking time

Five or six (we're not sure) years ago, Solon and I went to the local garden center to buy him a plant. He was five (or four, we're not sure) and he chose an African violet. The African violet thrived. It thrived a lot. We moved it into a bigger pot, and maybe we even divided it once (we can't remember that, either). This year, home for Thanksgiving, I was asked to please help divide it again. Which, of course, I was happy to do. And since African violets are such obliging, gratifying house plants, it occured to me that some of you might have one, in desperate need of division. If you do, then here's how Solon did it. I suggest you follow his instructions.

First, find two (or more) pots in which to plant your divisions. Solon wasn't sure that this pot would work because there was no hole in it, and he reminded me that he waters his African violet from the bottom.

Without a hole in the bottom, the plant couldn't absorb water, could it? No, it couldn't! So we went down cellar and chose two, terra cotta 4" pots for the two divisions we anticipated.

I knocked the violet out of its pot (onto the newspapers, of course) and told Solon not to be shy. He easily pulled apart the two main clumps of the plant.

Next Solon coverd each drainage hole with a stone,

then poured a little fresh potting soil into the pot. I held the plant in place while he added soil around the plant, pushing it in deep.

We thought we'd have two African violets after the division, but while we were pulling things apart, we found two mini-plants, trying their best to push up from underneath the leaves of the larger plants. These clumps didn't have many (any?) roots, but we thought we'd try an experiment. We potted them up in 2" pots, then placed each one inside a zip lock bag.

Solon inflated each bag (after reminding me I should say inflate instead of blow up. Apparently blow up means something different to little boys...), creating a mini-greenhouse for each mini-violet.

In the end we had two, freshly potted, blooming African violets, and two mini violets, which Solon has promised to send me regular reports on. He's going to open the bags once a week, check the soil moisture, water if necessary, and re-inflate the bags. Solon asked what he should do if the plants start growing and outgrow the bags? I explained that if they start growing, they've established roots and they can come out of their mini-greenhouses. Fingers crossed.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

remembering Kyra

3 years ago today Kyra died. We still miss her.


Friday, November 20, 2009

delicious Greek-ness

Went back to the oyster mushroom tree first thing this morning. Picked several luscious clumps of soft, baby oysters and came home to try a new recipe from a new cookbook. My idea of a lovely afternoon.

I should back up a little...this year I'm responsible for the vegetable at Thanksgiving. My family isn't big on vegetables. They think corn, potatoes, and carrots count, and while I like all these things, I don't consider them TRUE VEGETABLES. I've been thinking long and hard about how to put a little green on the table. From Vefa's Kitchen:

Fricassee of Oyster Mushrooms (w/slight modifications)

Chop two onions and saute till translucent in olive oil over medium heat.
Add about a pound of oyster mushrooms, cut into large pieces; saute for about 10 minutes.
Add a head of romaine lettuce, chopped, 1.5 Tbs dried dill, chopped (or 4 Tbs fresh), S&P, and 1/2 c. fresh parsley, chopped. Stir it around.
Add 1/2 c. water, reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat.

Whisk 4 Tbs lemon juice into one egg. Add a ladle-ful of the mushroom lettuce broth into the egg mixture, whisking while you add. Pour the egg mixture into the greens and stir to distribute evenly. (It's not exactly an avgolemano sauce, but works on the same principal of adding hot liquid to egg/lemon without allowing the egg to break into pieces.)

When I read this recipe it sounded more interesting than wonderful, but I really wanted to cook with the freshly picked oyster mushrooms, and I was still looking for a green Thanksgiving vegetable, so I gave it a go. Our verdict: Wow!

Who knew braised lettuce could be so delicious? Vefa, obviously. The lemon sauce was bright and dill (a spice I don't often cook with) was the perfect accent. Highly recommended.

On a related side note: a comment by Marie at 66 Square Foot Gardening made me defend Greek feta in a knee-jerk, nationalistic kind of way. As penance for my jingoistic behavior, I decided to do a blind taste test. Last week at Sahadi I bought a quarter pound each of Greek, French, Bulgarian, and Domestic feta. Michael set up the test. I easily eliminated my least favorite (turned out to be the domestic). I also clearly identified a front runner: tangy, smooth, and complex. It didn't fall apart into clumps in your mouth, nor was it so moist as to be spreadable or mushy. I couldn't make up my mind about second place, flip-flopping between plates 2 and 3. It was time to turn over the labels. The winner: Greek feta! Also the most expensive, but I say it's worth it for this excellent, satisfying cheese. The French and Bulgarian were both very, very good and I'd be happy with either. But given my druthers...I guess it's in my blood.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

oyster mushrooms?

Can anyone help me?

I THINK these are oyster mushrooms, but as anyone who hunts for wild mushrooms knows...thinking isn't good enough! Plus, I WANT them to be oysters so much that I could quite possibly talk myself into believing it. I'd appreciate your input asap, so I have a chance to actually do something with these beauties if they turn out to be oysters.

Pros: (why I think they may be oysters)

-growing on dead/dying hardwood

bad cell phone pictures

-fan shaped

-no stalk or small stalk on side of cap

-white spore print (take my word for it)
-we've had several frosts in Shohola, plus recent rain and then a warmer spell

Cons: (why I'm not 100% sure)

-the gills don't run as far down the stem as I think they should

Come on people! You know I want to eat these babies! But I won't do it till I have confirmation, I promise.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

taste test

We have, from left to right:

-mixed fruit

I expect two to be vile, three to be tasty, and one to be ok.

As a pre-Thanksgiving taste test I'm opening several half bottles to see which, if any, I might contribute to the Thanksgiving table. Well, one of the Thanksgiving tables. We have two Thanksgivings: one for each family. No alcohol permitted at one house...don't ask. Suffice it to say in my ancestral home the libations are liberally poured and enjoyed. Although I'm not sure how many people would respond in the affirmative to an offer of turnip wine. Which, btw, turns out not to be vile at all!

I poured myself a glass as I started this post and am pleasantly surprised. When I tasted it a year ago it was WAY too turnip-y. Now, after 2 years in the bottle (and 3 years since inception) it's quite nice. The miracle of fermentation. Maybe I just won't tell anyone what it's made from.

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storm sky

Last night, when Michael went out to start a fire for the lamb, he called in that I should look at the sky.

Shohola is far enough inland that we didn't feel much effect from the nor'easter (the storm formerly known as Ida), some high winds and a little mist. But there was no denying the preternatural pink tint to the sky.

Not normal.

But beautiful.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I bought a painting.

I never buy art, but this painting called to me in a voice I couldn't resist. Its name is Lynx Lynx and from the moment I saw it I knew I wanted to own it. (Somehow the word "own" seems petty and impossible. Can anyone really OWN art?) Anyway, I knew I wanted to be able to look at it every day because it fills me with happiness and an irrepressible smile every time I do.

It's an encaustic painting (which I had to be told) and the artist is Georgia Schnore. She is 12, and I hope she keeps on making art for the rest of her long, long life. I can't explain how happy this makes me; it's a wonderful thing.

There may be one more reason why I am so fond of this painting.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

apple wine

I may have passed a milestone.

As anyone knows who bakes (or makes jelly, or brews wine), you start out by following the recipe. Plain old regular cooking allows more flexibility and free-styling, but with baking (and jelly making and home brewing) the quantities must be precisely right or the cake won't rise, the jelly won't jell, the brew won't ferment.

It took a little time and a lot of success for me to start making up my own jelly recipes...knowing which fruit required extra pectin and where you could tinker with the sugar. Last weekend I tried my first batch of own-recipe wine. It won't be ready to bottle for at least a year, but so far, things look promising.

I was inspired by the folks at Eminence Road Farm Winery. They joined the Barryville Farmer's Market this year and I was so excited to see they made an apple wine that I became a regular customer. I rarely buy wine because I have a closet full of decent home brew down cellar. But I wanted to support these guys and dammit, their wine was good! We traded a few bottles back and forth and when I told them about some apples I'd picked on a beach in NH last year, Andrew asked what kind they were. I didn't have a clue, but I knew they were wicked tart. He said old fashioned apples often make the best wines.

So this year, when I went to NH at the end of October, sister Sarah obligingly drove me back to Buoy Beach, where I picked 10 lbs of apples. When I weighed them I realized I had twice as much fruit as my recipe called for, so I decided to try something new.

I cut all 10 lbs of apples into 1/8s, and simmered for 15' in a gallon of water, cores, skins, and seeds included. I realize this may give me a hazy wine (from the high amount of pectin) but there was no way I was going to core all those little green apples. Added a crushed campden tablet and let it sit overnight in a 5 gallon pail.

The next day I dissolved 3 lbs of sugar in 1.5 quarts of water and added the sugar syrup to the apples. When the must settled at body temperature I added pectic enzyme, juice of two lemons, and some Montrachet yeast. In the past I've used champagne yeast, but these beach apples have aa assertive personality and I thought the Montrachet might be a better choice.

Fermentation had begun by the next morning (last Sunday) and this weekend it was time to strain the must and transfer the juice from the primary (the pail) to the secondary (glass jugs).

strained pomace (the solid portion of the must)

racking the juice from the primary to the secondary

I've now got 2 gallons of apple wine fermenting away.

See the little bubbles?

They should start to clear over the next month or so, and as the spent yeast settles out, I'll rack the wine off the lees, hopefully ending up with 8-10 litres of vintage Buoy Beach wine. Time will tell.

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

and yet...

It's November in NE PA.

We've had several frosts.

Most of the leaves have fallen.

And yet...

(I promise I didn't place that oak leaf there!)

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