Monday, October 21, 2013

New Chapter, New Blog

Hello everyone!  We've finally settled into our new home.  For those of you may still be interested in reading about my gardening adventures, I've started a blog called 'Seeding the Good Life', which I'm very excited about.  While I still need to work on my sidebar and tweak some remaining design issues, I've gone ahead and written my first post. 

New house, new chapter, new perspective on things...and it feels nice to be writing again.  Here's the link:

Hope you all are well!


Monday, August 19, 2013

About Organic Eggs

I found this really interesting video about organic eggs and how some brands may be better than others.

Here's a link to the scorecard mentioned in the video.  I was disappointed to find that the brand we normally buy ranked among the bottom.  I'm even more grateful now that we get most of our eggs from my sister-in-law who keeps backyard chickens.

On a side note - one more week until the big move to our new house!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Alive and Well and On to New Things

Hello everyone!

At this point, It's been almost a year since I've posted anything.  To all of you who've followed my blog during the past few years, first and foremost, I wanted to apologize.  Dropping off the face of the earth is not a very nice thing to do to your friends.  So shame on me!  I hope that all of you are doing well and I can't wait to reconnect with many of my blogging buddies.  Secondly, I wanted to give a quick update on what we've been up to these days.

But before I get into that, I just wanted to briefly explain why I stopped blogging last year.  Since moving to Vermont, our family has been busy exploring the state and our neighbor to the north.  Canada is a wonderful place - one that I hope all of you get to visit.  The summer of 2012 was one of our best.  We spent most of our time outside - going on many picnics, hikes and farm forays, swimming in Lake Champlain, cooking with great friends and drinking our fair share of wine.  When confronted with this new found joy, blogging became less of a priority for me.  Then a credit card glitch tipped the scales.  You see, I had set my domain registration to automatically renew each year but for some reason, it didn't happen last summer.  Unbeknownst to me, a third-party had placed a reserve order for my domain name and once I failed to renew in a timely manner, they were able to buy it from underneath me.  Now they are listing it for sale at the bargain price of $28,000. All I have to say on that subject is 'Boo!!!!'.  In any case, I looked upon it as a sign.

Fast forward to winter, we continued to enjoy what our new state had to offer in terms of winter sports.  Jonathan took ice skating lessons, went to hockey games and we went cross country skiing for the first time.  The cold was brutal, but it didn't take long for us to adjust.  Then earlier this year, completely out of the blue, we were confronted with an opportunity to move back to Massachusetts.  The choice was a difficult one to make, but since I was still commuting into Boston part of the week for work, as difficult as it was to leave a state that we'd grown to love, it seemed like the most logical decision to make for our family financially.   So as Spring arrived, we packed up our stuff  again, said goodbye to our new friends and moved back to the Bay State (admittedly with some reservation).

Readjusting to life in a larger city (and a more densely populated area) has been somewhat difficult to say the least.  We miss the slower pace of life that we got to experience in Vermont.  The work day now goes by slower, our daily commute seems much longer and finding the sense of 'community' we'd grown accustomed to in Vermont has proven to be much more difficult than expected.  That being said, we're determined to take the best parts of our life in Vermont and transplant them here. 

In late August, we are set to close on a new home in Scituate, Massachusetts.  We are very excited to be living about a mile away from the ocean, in a community with great schools and in a town with great historical character (Scituate happens to be the second oldest town in the United States).  Our family is looking forward to laying down permanent roots, starting new traditions (Jonathan and I now dig for our supper on the clam flats of Duxbury Bay) and I'm looking forward to starting a new garden.  

Once we settle into our new home, I plan on starting a new gardening blog and I hope many of you will come along for the ride!  Until then, I hope you all have a wonderful summer!


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ripe Elderberries

The elderberries are ripe for the picking.  As the berries grow darker and fatter, the clusters droop closer to the ground.

These dark purple, almost black, elderberries are really interesting.  Up until a couple of months ago, I didn't know much about them.  From what I've read, all parts of the plant are to a certain extent toxic, even the seeds.  As a result, eating too many of the berries raw can give you an upset stomach.  I don't think there is much risk of that for me because they taste awful raw as far as I'm concerned. 

Many people believe that elderberries hold certain health benefits.  One of our neighbors juices them and claims that they help to relieve constipation.  Another neighbor, who dries and then grinds them into a powder, believes that they work to boost one's immune system.  I'm more interested in them for a more traditional purpose - winemaking.  Apparently, people have been making elderberry wine for centuries.  I can see why as there is a wildness about them that becomes tamed during the winemaking process. 

The clusters are fairly easy to strip - almost like stripping currants.  I have two one gallon recipes - one calling for 3 lbs of ripe berries and another calling for 10 lbs.  I'm assuming the latter will result in a richer more full-bodied wine.  So far, we've picked around 5 lbs and when all is said and done, we'll have enough to make wine and a batch or two of jam.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Home Winemaking - Wild Black Raspberry Wine and White Currant Wine

I started my second and third batches of wine a couple of weeks ago.  This time around, it was a raspberry wine and a white currant wine.  I was really excited to use the wild black raspberries that I had picked and froze back in June. 

For my raspberry wine, I used the recipe found in Terry Garey's "The Joy of Home Winemaking," which calls from 3 - 4 lbs of raspberries for every gallon of wine.  In this case, I used 2 lbs of wild black raspberries and 2 lbs of our homegrown red raspberries (which are delicious by the way). 

I started another gallon batch of wine using 3 lbs of white currants that I had also picked and froze in June, again using a recipe found in Terry Garey's book.   This particular recipe for currant wine called for 3 lbs of sugar, which seemed a bit much.  After the must was assembled, I was a bit concerned that the finished wine might end up tasting overly sweet for my liking. (I usually like my wine very dry.)  You see, during the fermentation process, the wine yeast feeds on the sugar contained within your must (which in fruit winemaking consists mainly of crushed fruit, water and a sweeter like sugar or honey), creating alcohol and releasing carbon dioxide.  Once the alcohol level in your must reaches a certain level, say 14% for example, the yeast population begins to die off.  Hence, if the alcohol level of your must reaches this critical point before all of the sugar has been consumed, then you may ultimately end up with a sweet tasting wine.  I'm hoping this is not the case with this recipe.

The raspberry must was a brilliant blood red and very fragrant.  The white currant must, on the other hand, was far from interesting in sight or smell. 

The primary fermentation process lasted for about 12 days, after which the wine was siphoned into one gallon glass jugs to start the slower secondary fermentation stage, which usually lasts anywhere between 4 and 6 months.  As more sugar is consumed, more alcohol is released, and more yeasts die and sink to the bottom of the jug, the wine should slowly become clearer (hopefully).  During this stage, the wine is usually siphoned into new jugs several times, separating the liquid from the settled dead yeast particles, until you end up with a clear wine that is suitable for bottling.

As you can see from the picture above, by the end of the primary fermentation stage, the white currant wine took on a light yellow hue more reminiscent of white grape wine. 

On a side note - I forgot to post an updated picture of my Juneberry wine, which began its secondary fermentation stage a few weeks ago.  You can see how cloudy the wine is at this point, but already, it's beginning to clear.  It's hard to tell by the light but I would describe the color as being ruby red.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Mid-July Harvest

I look forward to this time every year.  The first artichokes are in.  (Yes!  It's possible to grow artichokes in Vermont!)  They don't seem to mind the hotter than usual weather we've been experiencing so far this summer, though the plants are growing much lower to the ground than usual.   I know what I'll be eating for the rest of the week.

Also, my onions are looking fairly decent compared to years past.  I went back to starting them from seed and waited until the chance of any frost was over before setting them out.  This seemed to have helped.

Aside from the Sungold and Black cherries, I picked our first slicing tomato this past weekend - a Cherokee Purple I believe.  Usually the first tomatoes of the season aren't so great but this one was VERY good.  It still amazes me how different (and amazing) homegrown heirloom tomatoes are compared to anything you might find at the supermarket or even most farmers markets.

I also picked the first hot peppers of summer.   Hungarian Wax is incredibly early and always a reliable producer.

And they make the best pickled hot peppers in my opinion. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What's In Season - Turnips and Cukes

This is my first time growing your average turnip.  Up until now, I've only grown Japanese varieties,  which are smaller and milder.  I'm planning on roasting these for dinner sometime soon.

The cucumbers continue to come in strong despite the beetle issues we've been having.  Like every year, by mid-August all of my cucumber plants end up slowly succumbing to bacterial, which is spread by cucumber beetles.  I guess we'll just have to enjoy them while they last.  Fresh homegrown cucumbers in my opinion are infinitely tastier than the soft/bendy/tasteless (i.e. not fresh!) ones you find at the supermarket.

And what to do with all of those cucumbers?  You make refrigerator dill pickles of course.  I've had so many complements lately from friends who've tried my homemade pickles (which probably explains why they never seem to last longer than a week in the fridge).  Most of them have never made pickles before and didn't realize how easy it is.  Here's the recipe that I stick with (though I usually add an additional teaspoon of salt these days). 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Currant Madness

During the past couple of weeks, we've been picking currants planted throughout the development.   We have six bushes ourselves, which have yielded much more than I had expected. The red and white varieties seem to ripen all at once, which makes the picking process much easier.

The black ones on the other hand seen to ripen individually, so instead of plucking whole clusters, we picked these one by one.  I've never picked coffee before but I imagine it's a lot like this.  And unlike the white and red ones, which have a sweet/tart taste, the black one are much more interesting.  They are less juicy than the others and have a flavor that's musky and almost spicy. 

Just to give you a sense of scale, the Red Lake currants on the right are somewhat smaller than the unknown red variety on the left, but I think they have more flavor.

And while the black currants are more time consuming to pick, the red and white ones require more processing time.  But once you got into a groove, striping the berries seemed like therapeutic work. 

Just part of the harvest - we picked enough for several batches of wine, including one for each variety.  I think I'll also try making wine from a blend of the three.  And there will still be enough left over for jellies, syrups, cordials.