Archive for March, 2012

Reduce Your Footprint

Plastic bags can be washed and reused or recycled.  This rack, specifically for the purpose, comes from an Amish catalog.

Plastic bags can be washed and reused or recycled. This rack, specifically for the purpose, comes from an Amish catalog.

A bit of a rant here, sorry!  Doesn’t everyone realize that bottled water is one of the most successful marketing hoaxes that has been foisted upon us?  I recognize its utility in some situations; stored for use during a hurricane or traveling in places where tap water isn’t safe.  Even during Hurricane Irene, I bought it because of the convenient size of the large container as it’s the perfect size and shape for my pantry shelf.  The standards for tap water are stricter than those for bottled water.  I guess it seems “cool” to have some high-priced water bottle in hand to sip out of.  A friend recently had a very nifty water bottle from Fiji, no less, but she had refilled it many times and it fit well into her pocket.  I can see this and have a Nalgene water bottle that I use when hiking.

I reuse a lot of plastic.  Plastic bags can be used over and over, if you wash them out well. The photo above is of a plastic bag drying rack I bought from a catalog that caters to the Amish.  It’s years before the ziplock seals wear out.  Worn out ones can be recycled with grocery bags after you cut off any paper labels, if you still use plastic grocery bags (they’re banned here and we all take our own to the store).  Those shower caps they give out in hotels?  They’re great for covering bowls.  I use them to cover my bread dough while it’s rising.

While I’m on the subject of conservation, it isn’t that hard to put dishes in the dishwasher and cloth napkins in the washing machine.  The boreal forests that are the breeding grounds for some of North America’s most beautiful birds are being cut down for paper plates and napkins.  You probably have cloth napkins that you never use.  Start using them.  People will think you’re being elegant and the birds will thank you.

Leave a comment »

Freezing Pesto for Winter Use

At the end of summer I am always faced with gigantic basil plants in the herb garden which I want to make into pesto.  The challenge was to find a way to preserve it over the winter, so we could enjoy it year round without buying the oil laden, often bitter offering at the supermarket.  I have found that it freezes quite well.  I cut back on the olive oil and leave out the cheese, adding it back after I thaw the pesto.  While I don’t think it’s good enough to just thaw and use as a dip, it adds its spicy deliciousness to many cooked dishes such as rice, pasta and potatoes.   Just drop in a “cupcake” of it when the dish is nearly done, so it warms up but doesn’t cook too much.

Pesto for the Freezer                                                                                          

One or two of these pesto "cupcakes" brings summer to ordinary rice.

One or two of these pesto “cupcakes” brings summer to ordinary rice.

  • 4 cups packed basil leaves
  • 1/2 Cup Pignoli nuts
  • 6 cloves garlic (because it loses some flavor by freezing)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • enough olive oil to make it hang together

Process in a food processor, adding oil through the top until it holds together.

 I make a huge batch (food processors make this job a breeze) then spoon it into mini-cupcake papers which I freeze in a mini-muffin tin.  Once frozen, I store them in a plastic bag until needed.  The meal below is salmon filet with dill mayonnaise glaze, what is probably the last of our Brussels sprouts (fresh from the garden), rice with pesto and a salad of pear, sunflower seeds and a toasted round of panko dredged goat cheese.

IMG_0458

Comments (2) »

A Tree Comes Down and Nesting Boxes Must Go Up

This tree dwarfed the house

This tree dwarfed the house

Our gargantuan tulip poplar was damaged by lightning some years ago and the rot had finally become so extensive that we realized it was time to take it down.  This huge tree had been our air conditioning and provided nesting spots for many birds and animals.  I know the flickers and red-bellied woodpeckers had been looking again this year for good locations and even seen the red-belly begin excavating.  I’d also noticed that our summer bats seem to come out of that tree in the evening so I felt we had to provide alternate housing for these three species, at least.

The flickers require a 2.5 to 3″ hole and the red-bellies, 2.5 so I have two nest boxes on order for those sized boxes.  I was given a bat house a few weeks ago (how lucky is that??) so it only had to be painted and mounted.  Here in New England the bat houses are painted black (water based non-toxic paint) as the bats prefer warm temperatures.  The inside needs to be rough or grooved so they can grip and it needs to have a landing plate at the bottom.  There are many good sources on the internet giving specifics and plans.  It is best to mount it on the south side of a building so they get the morning sun to warm them.  The house should be in a location that has few branches nearby to prevent predators from accessing the house.  We mounted ours on the side of the barn and are hoping for residents.  Here is a picture of the mounted bat house.  If any of you have experience with them and see problems that might limit our success, please let me know.

With so much help, the project is sure to succeed

With so much help, the project is sure to succeed

We have mounted it with high hopes

We have mounted it with high hopes

Leave a comment »

Bird Banding: Nets Go Up for Spring

Securing the nets for the season

Securing the nets for the season

One of my most enjoyable activities is banding birds for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  I do this as a sub-permittee under Connecticut Audubon’s permit at the Birdcraft Museum and Sanctuary in Fairfield, Connecticut.  Banding studies are used to track migration trends and population changes as well as many other statistical variables affecting our birds.  I love to see the birds close up and to see the faces on the children in the many school groups, when we do our demonstrations during the migration season.

This week we put the nets back up, with our early spring bringing back migrating birds ahead of schedule.  We lugged, hammered and checked the nets for holes to the sounds of early Phoebes, singing their hoarse FEE-Bee calls as we worked.  The next day was foggy but we opened the nets for a little while and were rewarded with the first bird of the season, a robin.  This robin was a returning migrant, probably a nester in our sanctuary as she was already banded.  I looked up the data on her and we had banded her on May 12, 2011 when she was already one year old.  Welcome back, Mrs. Robin and good luck with your nest this year!

Our first bird of the season, all banded and ready to go

Our first bird of the season, all banded and ready to go

Leave a comment »

From New England Boiled Dinner to Red Flannel Hash

Here it is, ready to serve.  I love my big old Leeds platter for this meal.

Here it is, ready to serve. I love my big old Leeds platter for this meal.

This past weekend we had a few friends over to enjoy our home corned beef (see previous post for recipe) and I made New England Boiled Dinner a/k/a NEBD.  For this use, I did not change the water after one hour when simmering the beef, I simply rinsed the beef well before beginning to cook it and let the flavor of the brining liquid permeate the water.  I did this because I wanted a lot of flavor for cooking the vegetables for the NEBD.  After the beef had simmered about four hours (and could be pierced easily with a fork), I removed to a warm platter to rest, spooned some of the liquid over it and covered it well with foil.  I then added the vegetables, in order of cooking time.

VEGETABLES FOR NEBD for 6:  12 small to medium red-skinned potatoes (unpeeled), 12 carrots trimmed peeled and cut in 3″ pieces , parsnips trimmed peeled and cut in 3″ pieces , 1 medium turnip peeled and cut in 1.5 to 2″ chunks, 8 beets halved or quartered if large (cooked in their skins and then peeled), 3 onions halved or quartered if large, 1 medium cabbage (cut into eighths).  When slicing the cabbage and onions, take care to make your cut so each section retains some of the core so it doesn’t separate while cooking.

First add potatoes (unpeeled), then carrots, turnip, parsnips, quartered onions and last the cabbage sections.  I cook the beets separately in their own pot of brining liquid as the red colors everything if you put them in with the rest of the vegetables.  Everything should finish at about the same time.  Test the potatoes and carrots with a sharp paring knife.  Gently lift the vegetables from the liquid (with a slotted spoon so they drain) and place them on a large platter, in an attractive arrangement.  Serve with rye bread, horseradish sauce, butter and spicy mustard. I made more than enough for the six of us as I wanted to make Red Flannel Hash with the leftovers.

RED FLANNEL HASH:  Take the leftovers from your NEBD, chop them up and mix together well, adding in black pepper and herbs (I like thyme) as you mix.  Turn the mixture into a greased frying pan and cook over low heat until a crust forms on the bottom.  Then mix it up and press down again, repeating this as a crust forms until there are crusty bits throughout the mixture.  (This takes about 1/2 hour.)  Press the mixture down firmly to make a cake.  Turn on the broiler to low and put the pan under the broiler until the top has crusted over.  (Pros can turn the cake over and cook the other side on the stove top but it always breaks apart for me.)  Return to the stove top and press depressions into the top for as many eggs as you want.  Crack the eggs into the depressions, cover the pan and cook on low heat until the eggs reach the stage of doneness you like.  Serve with horseradish sauce and ketchup.  If you have an overabundance of one leftover, just save it for another use.  If you don’t have beets left, it is just Corned Beef Hash, not Red Flannel Hash.

Red Flannel Hash with Poached Eggs

Red Flannel Hash with Poached Eggs

Comments (1) »

Peas have Sprouted, Lettuce Doing Well

My lettuces survived transplanting

My lettuces survived transplanting

I really seem to have called it right, planting peas and transplanting lettuce directly into the garden, two weeks early.  I checked two days ago and had one pea shoot showing but today there are at least two dozen.  The lettuces all survived and are putting out new leaves.

Tiny pea shoots have poked up in this early spring warmth

Tiny pea shoots have poked up in this early spring warmth

Leave a comment »

Ponderosa Lemon Marmalade

Hard to believe this tiny tree created this enormous lemon

Hard to believe this tiny tree created this enormous lemon

My tiny Ponderosa Lemon tree has put forth enormous effort and borne one lemon.  Being a Ponderosa, this lemon is quite large, about the same as two regular lemons.  What to do with one lemon, to do honor to the effort put forth by my little tree?  I decided to make lemon marmalade.  I don’t like to use artificial jelling agents, so I do it the old-fashioned way with just lemon, sugar and water.  In case you have not been rewarded with one lone lemon, I will give the recipe as written, for regular lemon marmalade.  I adjusted the amounts, using a calculator, to make the correct proportions for my lemon.  This recipe is adapted from one in The Australian Woman’s Weekly “The Book of Preserves.”

Tangy Lemon Marmalade

    • 6 medium lemons
    • 7 cups of water
    • 4 cups sugar
Cut rind thinly from lemons, slice finely. Cut pith from lemons, chop roughly.  Cut flesh into thin slices reserving seeds.  Put pith and seeds in a muslin bag or similar container (to keep them separate from the rind and flesh).  Place rind, flesh and water in a large bowl with muslin bag of pith and seeds and let sit overnight to soften the rind.

This is the cheesecloth bag containing the pith and seeds that has soaked in the juices overnight.

This is the cheesecloth bag containing the pith and seeds that has soaked in the juices overnight.

Remove muslin bag in the morning to avoid letting too much of the bitter seed flavor to infiltrate the jam.  Put rind, water and flesh mixture in a large pan and simmer covered for 40 minutes until rind is soft.  Stir in sugar over heat (without boiling) until dissolved.  Bring to a boil and boil until the marmalade jells when tested.  Put finished marmalade into sterilized jars and seal.  I usually can the sealed jars in an open kettle for five minutes to assure myself of the seal but this is not necessary if the seal seems secure.  You can tell if you have a good seal by the vacuum created when the jar has cooled.  After it has completely cooled, the center of the lid will have pulled down.  The ring can safely be removed at this point.  If you make this recipe with the normal number of lemons, you get about 6 cups.
How to test when it is ready??  I use two tests; the cold plate test and the double drip test.  Put a small plate in the freezer when you start to cook the jam.  When the jam sheets off the spoon into double drips, then take out the plate, let a few drops fall onto the plate, wait a minute to let them cool and try pushing the drop with your fingertip.  If it piles up or wrinkles, it is ready.
Here you can see the "double drop" which is another indication the you have cooked it long enough.

Here you can see the “double drop” which is another indication the you have cooked it long enough.

This is how the marmalade looks when it is done.  The drop wrinkles slightly.

This is how the marmalade looks when it is done. The drop wrinkles slightly.

Finished product.  Only one jar for each Ponderosa Lemon.

Finished product. Only one jar for each Ponderosa Lemon.

Comments (2) »

Plankton Feeding Gulls

If you are near the shoreline, like I was this weekend, you may be treated to a spectacular sight of thousands of gulls in a feeding frenzy, some close to shore.  There has been a lot of discussion about this phenomenon on the Connecticut Ornithological Association’s excellent website (found at www.ctbirding.org ).  There is some debate about what organisms are contained in this bloom of plankton the gulls are feeding on.  It may be barnacle larvae or even slipper shell larvae.  Whatever it is, it spreads over the water in a brown wash and must taste delicious to the gulls, for they appear from many observers accounts, to follow the plankton blooms up and down the shoreline.  We saw an estimated 13,000 gulls off Sherwood Island State Park in Connecticut, a mixture of ring-billed gulls, herring gulls and great black-backed gulls with a few Bonaparte’s gulls.  There may be a relationship to the full moon although this year, the feeding behavior I witnessed doesn’t seem to have been tied to that.  Interesting to see, if you have a chance.

Comments (1) »

Keeping Amaryllis, Year After Year

Don’t throw out those beautiful Christmas Amaryllis bulbs once they finish blooming.  It’s so easy to keep them over and enjoy them year after year.  They will multiply, making little bulblets that will become blooming bulbs in a year or two.  Then you can start giving them away.  Once they have finished, don’t cut the foliage.  When the weather warms up, move them outside (I do this when I plant the tomatoes).  You can leave them in their pots or plant them in the garden.  They like to be 1/3 out of the ground, are heavy feeders and like a lot of water.  I give them a side dressing of bone meal twice over the summer and keep them well watered.  Once they have been hit with the first light frost, repot them, cut off the foliage and move them into a dark area for about 8 weeks, watering them sparingly.  Bring them into the sunshine at the first sign of growth and begin a regular watering schedule.  They should rebloom and increase in size each year.

Three of my favorites; Charisma, Benefica and Lady Jane

Three of my favorites; Charisma, Benefica and Lady Jane

Comments (3) »

Starting Tomatoes, Planting Peas and Lettuce

Three days ago I took a chance and planted my peas.  It’s not St. Patrick’s Day, which is when I usually do this, but with such a mild season I think it’s worth the risk of trying it 10 days early.  Even more risky, I set out a dozen of my little lettuce plants which I’ll protect with a plastic cover on frosty nights.  I usually set some out into the cold frame on St. Patrick’s Day so this may also be OK.  We’ll see.

Now to the tomatoes.  First I check with children and friends to see if they want me to start some plants for them.  As a result of these requests, I am starting nearly 50 plants.  When choosing which seeds to order, I look for organic seed, heirloom varieties and I always try at least one variety I haven’t tried before.  We like a medley of colors in our salads and we like to have some cherry tomatoes as they come in early and we love them in our own version of Caprese.  I plant three cherry tomato varieties;  purple, red and yellow.  For “beefsteaks” (big globular slicing types) I also choose a color variety, this year; purple, orange, red and a yellow striped with pink one (Pineapple) which is one that I really love the rich, slightly acid flavor of.   For utility tomatoes (sauces and drying for winter use) I plant two heirloom types; Opalka, which bears huge plum shaped, meaty fruits  and Principe Borghese, which has been bred for drying and has a low moisture content.

I don’t use the newspaper pots I posted about earlier as I have found the roots of the tomatoes are so vigorous that the plants grow into each other and I break off a few roots when I pry them apart.  For my tomatoes I have saved three-inch pots over the years as they fit well into my planting trays.   Be sure the potting soil is well hydrated before you plant the seeds and label each pot, especially if you are starting seeds for friends!  I plant two seeds per pot, snipping off the weaker plant with a pair of scissors after they show their first true leaves.  Just to whet our appetites for fresh, home grown tomatoes, I give you our Caprese recipe, so simple, so delicious…

Caprese with Feta

  • Halved cherry tomatoes, preferably a combination of contrasting colors
  • Crumbled feta cheese, as much as you like
  • Your finest olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh basil (I use a miniature leafed variety but any non flavored variety is good as long a large leaves are shredded.)

Sprinkle olive oil over the halved tomatoes and let them sit for half an hour or so, until the tomato juices begin to run.  Toss with the crumbled feta and basil leaves, salt and pepper to taste.  I don’t use much salt as the feta is quite salty.  The juices from the tomatoes provide the acid for this simple salad.  Some recipes call for balsamic vinegar but, to me, this just masks the fresh tomato flavor.

The tomatoes are on the top shelf of the light stand.  Be sure to label each pot.

The tomatoes are on the top shelf of the light stand. Be sure to label each pot.

Leave a comment »

%d bloggers like this: