Stacking Functions Garden

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Planting garlic

The time is now for planting garlic, in the upper midwest.  You probably have just a couple more weeks, depending on the weather.  I got mine in today during the kids’ nap.  First I dug a trench about 3-4 in. deep:


Then I pulled apart the 4 bulbs of seed garlic that I had bought at the farmers’ market a few weeks ago, and placed each clove pointy side up in the trench:


If those cloves look ginormous, it’s because they ARE.  A couple of the bulbs only had 2-3 cloves in them.  I’m not sure what variety of garlic these are; I should have paid better attention when I was buying them.  My only hope is that I didn’t crowd them too close.  Anyway after placing the bulbs, I covered them with about 1/2 in. of compost:


Then I put the rest of the dirt back on top of the compost, watered with some fresh ICE COLD rain barrel water, and that’s it.  I also popped a couple of cloves into an open spot in my flower bed; I’m curious to see how they’ll do there.

Update, 14 April 2010: Success! (Including the flower bed ones!)

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A killer frost

The inner city’s first frost and our first snow both occurred the same night, Friday night.  (For non-Minnesotans:  that’s a little early for snow, and a little late for first frost.)  Here was the situation in my garden at 7 a.m. Saturday:



The snow had all melted by noon or so.  The tomatoes, banana peppers, beans, and zucchini are dead.  The parsnips can now be harvested, and the ‘late-season’ kale that I planted in mid-July is still very small, but looks healthy and I’ll probably harvest it relatively soon.  The brussels sprouts are all unfazed by light freezing, but we ripped them out today anyway because it was time to acknowledge that it’s just not going to happen.



Here’s the sad state of affairs as it looks right now.  I pulled out the soaker hoses and put them away, too.  I’m leaving the beans in place to see if the green ones that are still on there might think about drying up now that the plants are pretty much dead.


We started an additional “starter” area to the left of the compost bin, so now we are officially acknowledging that we have a 3-stage compost bin.  We create so much material for the bin that 2 side-by-side bins are not enough.  There used to be a pine tree directly to the left of the bin, but now that it’s gone we can use that area more easily.

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CSA Week 18

It’s here, boo-hoo. Our final week of CSA for 2009:

1 bunch kale
2 stalks of brussels sprouts
2 heads broccoli
1 bag saute mix
1 large butternut squash
2 bunches radishes
2 bags of herbs for transplanting or using fresh
4 onions
4-5 apples
1 pie pumpkin
4 truffles (a thank-you gift for last csa week)

I’m really sad to see our CSA come to an end.  It has been so great getting all this fresh produce every week.  Combined with what we grew in our garden, we had very cheap grocery store trips all summer long and into the fall now.  I don’t know whether we’re getting a CSA or not next year; depends on if we can find someone to split it with us.

Standard CSA info:

What is a CSA?
Where do we get our CSA from? Food 4 Thought.
See all of my CSA posts

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The end of my garden, 2009


Well, it’s going to freeze here.  Maybe not tonight, but any night now.  And there’s SNOW in the forecast for Saturday.  I am counting on that to be wrong.  But I brought in the few remaining tomatoes tonight, anyway.  Hopefully they will all ripen slowly over the next couple of weeks so I can still get a few tastes of summer.

The silver lining here is that the end of gardening season means the beginning of parsnip season!  I can’t wait to start digging them up.  I learned a lot this year.  Let’s review:

Some things I learned about gardening, 2009

1. brusselMy second attempt at brussels sprouts was a fail.  Until I can determine what I am doing wrong, I am not going to attempt growing them again.  They got further along this year than last, but they still never “sprouted” — they just got tiny, loose little bunches of leaves where the sprouts should have been.

2. Garlic is super easy to grow, and you get a double harvest because you can eat the ramps in June, and then harvest the garlic bulbs in August.  Definitely doing garlic again.  I’m planting my bulbs for 2010 in the next week or so; I will take a couple of pictures.

3. Four zucchini plants is too many.  One would be plenty.  In fact, I don’t think I’m going to do any zucchini next year because we get some in our CSA box, too, and that is more than enough for my zucchini needs.

4. Three tomato plants is a decent number.  Still not enough for canning, but I just don’t really have room for more than three.  We did have enough to freeze a couple of bags full though (we use them in soup).  I may try growing a couple more in pots next year.

5. Growing heirloom “dried” beans is super fun and easy.  Most definitely will do that again.

6. Because of my unique growing situation, between two two-story houses, so-called “late season” veggies that you plant in mid-July, such as beets and kale, are just not possible for me.  The sun dips below my neighbor’s roofline in mid-August and suddenly my garden is shaded during the warmest part of the day.

7.  I grew a lot of different herbs this year: fennel, basil, dill, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and cilantro/coriander.  They were super fun to fill in between my perennial flowers and we attracted a lot more bumblebees and butterflies to our garden in the process.

I’ll see if I can think of some more things I’ve learned.  Those are just off the top of my head.

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Book review: Nourishing Traditions

nourishingtraditionsNourishing Traditions
The cookbook the challenges politically correct nutrition and the diet dictocrats
By Sally Fallon, with Mary Enig, Ph.D.

I’ve been putting this off for a couple months now.  How do you review a book like this?  This all started with a post I did for this blog back in April.  A comment on another blog led me to the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) website, which I found to be very confusing.

A week or so later my friend Tracey loaned me her copy of Nourishing Traditions, which I quickly bought, and honestly it’s been laying around my kitchen ever since.  I pick it up nearly every day, either to read more of it or to find a recipe.

I think the subtitle does it a bit of a disservice.  It sounds kooky.  The accolades from Robert Atkins inside the front cover make it seem even kookier.  And when I first started reading it, I was skeptical.  But now that I’ve gone deeper down the rabbit hole of food and nutrition reading, I keep getting more and more confirmation of pretty much everything Fallon says.

Among the more shocking things:

1. Saturated fat is not nearly as bad as we’ve all been led to believe — in fact it might even be essential to brain and reproductive health.  Fallon points to convincing research that shows sugars, hydrogenated fats, and refined carbohydrates as being much more dangerous for your heart.

2. Soy is not as healthy as you think.  This one is the hardest one for me to come to terms with, since I was a vegetarian for so long (1999-2007 or so).  But she points out that traditional Asian cultures only ate soy products that had been fermented or cultured (such as tempeh, fermented soy sauce, or miso), because soy is hard to digest and can end up costing your body more minerals to digest it than it offers in return.  The WAPF is probably most famous for its anti-soy stance, and I think that it is taken too far sometimes.  Fallon herself is just fine with certain soy foods, as long as they’ve been prepared in traditional ways.

3. Milk, as we drink it today, is not nearly the health food that it once was.  Cow’s milk is full of beneficial enzymes and vitamins that are killed during the pasteurization process, and then it is homogenized, which denatures it even further.  Fallon recommends finding a source for raw milk from cows who are fed all or mostly a grass-based diet.  Good luck with that one, folks!  It’s actually illegal for stores to sell raw milk in the US, so you have to buy it right from the farm.  Raw milk won’t be passing my lips anytime soon, alas.

Well, this whole “shocking truths” thing just goes on and on, depressingly at times.  In the end there are very few of our most beloved foods that are allowed, and few ways in which we are allowed to prepare them.  Grilling and microwaving are out.  Coffee, chocolate, alcohol, sugar, most breads (even whole grain), boxed cereals, and white flour are out.

Happily, other wonderful things are encouraged.  Bloody red meat.  Butter.  Whole milk.  Eggs.  Preferably all from organic/local sources.  There is quite a bit of information on the difference, nutritionally speaking, between meat/dairy/eggs from conventionally raised animals vs. meat from animals that are allowed to roam around eating grass.

I have decided to take the pick and choose approach to dealing with this book, because I frankly don’t have it in me to try and accomplish all these very lofty goals.  I still have to work!  However, we have implemented a number of things that Fallon recommends.  Among them:

1. Make bone broths from chicken carcasses.  Freeze the broth in ice cube trays and add it to various foods while cooking.

2. Eat fermented and cultured foods, at least once per day, but preferably have something fermented, cultured, or even just raw at every meal.  This was a much easier goal to reach during the summer.

3. Soak most grains and beans overnight before using them.  This neutralizes phytic acid, something Fallon describes as an “anti-nutrient” and also makes the grains easier to digest, and much tastier.  (An easy way to do this is to start making steel-cut oatmeal or pancakes for breakfast on a regular basis, with eggs on the side of course.)

4. Cut back on sugar.  Oh my, is this hard.

5. Take a teaspoon of cod liver oil in lieu of vitamins.

In the semi-near future I’d like to start implementing a lot of the other things from the book, but it’s going to take time.

And now a word of caution.  This is to myself as well as you all.  WAPF/Nourishing Traditions sometimes starts to venture into “theory of everything” territory, where the western diet is to blame for cancer, obesity, ADHD, depression, infertility, diabetes, ugliness, cavities, mosquito bites, and pretty much every problem known to modern humans.  When they get on the anti-soy warpath, they actually start to sound downright cultish.

So I’m trying to temper my panic with a reminder that a person can only do so much, and I’m doing the best that I can right now.  I’m healthier now than I was a year ago or even 6 months ago.  I’ve lost about 10 lbs since I started reading this book.  I lose 5-7 lbs. every summer due to all the biking/gardening, so I’m not ready to declare Nourishing Traditions to be a diet book yet.  Stay tuned.

Which brings me back to that endorsement from Dr. Atkins.  I can totally see, after reading this, that Dr. Atkins was reading some of the same research when he wrote his diet books.  There’s a grain of truth to the low carb diet plan, although anything that says no to fruits and vegetables is a little suspect.  Fallon puts almost no restrictions on whole foods.

And although she encourages saturated fats, it’s not like she thinks you should go eat a stick of butter tonight.  Everything in moderation.  You’re going to put a small amount of some sort of fatty spread on your bread, right?  Well butter is one of your best choices because it contains crazy amounts of vitamin A and the fat that best helps your body to absorb it.

I could go on and on, but I think I’ll stop there for tonight.  Tomorrow night Sometime soon I’ll review a couple of the recipes from the book. (Updated 11/5/09)

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I made more applesauce yesterday.  Tried the double-boiler method this time, since I have been having trouble with scorching apples lately.  Here’s what my set-up looked like:


One stock pot with boiling water, the smaller one with the appples set inside of it, handles resting on top.  It’s really hard (impossible?) to burn your food when you cook it this way, but there’s a downside.  It takes forever.  EIGHT HOURS LATER:


I added more apples as it cooked down, so some of those have only been in there for a couple hours.  I kept having to add more water to the bottom pot because it would boil away, then I’d realize that it wasn’t even in contact with the apples anymore, so they probably weren’t even really cooking.  It went on and on, and of course I was really distracted during the whole process (2-year-old twins will do that).

I finally took the 7 quarts out of the canner at 11 p.m.  The good thing with canning is that you learn something every time; I’m getting a lot better at guessing amounts, etc.  Because the canning process takes so long, I generally do NOT want to run through the whole process twice, so I have to make sure I do not make more than 7-8 quarts of applesauce.  Our canner holds 7 quarts at a time.

On the other hand, as long as I’m going through all the effort, I’d like to make as much as I can.  So this is the 4th or 5th time we’ve used our canner and last night for the first time we got it just right: 7.5 quarts of applesauce.  The extra 1/2 qt. went into the fridge and we’ll eat it in the next couple days.

I think I might be reaching my upper limit on the amount of canning I feel like doing… last night for the first time it didn’t really feel like a fun adventure anymore, just more like a chore that I needed to complete.  I had picked a whole grocery bag full of apples at Adam’s parents’ house and didn’t want any of them to go to waste.

Here’s our canned-goods shelf as it looks today:


That’s not too shabby for my first-ever year of canning, right?  There’s 13 quarts of applesauce there (we’ve already eaten 4-5), plus the tomatoes we did several weeks ago.   Not bad considering all those apples were free from either our tree our Adam’s mom’s tree.

I’m trying to give myself permission to go ahead and say ENOUGH canning for this year.  I’m exhausted.  Mentally, physically.  I want to curl up with some good fiction and chill out for a while, for pete’s sake.  So I doubt I’m going to do any more, and I’m going to have to decide to be OK with that.

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Easy way to use pumpkin or squash

When the kids were babies, we used to make frozen baby food for them.  We ended up making a lot of squash, because it was so easy.   I realized pretty quickly how convenient it is to have frozen squash on hand — you can mix a cube or two into pretty much anything.  Here’s how:


Cut your squash or pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds.  Don’t be too meticulous about the strings — they’re actually really good for you so go ahead and leave them in.  Place the pieces cut-side down in a baking pan, and add about 1/2 in. of water to the bottom.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 for about an hour or until soft.


Let it cool a while if you like; it will be easier to handle.  Then scrape out the cooked flesh and press it into ice cube trays:



This very small pie pumpkin filled almost 2 trays.  Freeze until set, then put cubes in a freezer-safe gallon-size plastic bag.  5 cubes = about 1 c. pumpkin.

You can use this for so many things.  I love cooking with squash and pumpkin, but I absolutely hate when I see the words “peel, cube, and dice” associated with any type of winter squash.  That is a huge undertaking.  I’d much rather grab some cubes and throw them in.  Here are some things you can do with pumpkin or squash that has been frozen like this:

1. Baby food – start with 2 cubes, thawed.  (Note: watch out for the strings.  Might not hurt to give this a whirl in a food processor before freezing for very small babies, so they don’t choke.)
2. Add 2-3 cubes to oatmeal as it’s cooking, then add cinnamon, cloves, dried ginger and a bit of sugar for pumpkin pie oatmeal.
3. Use it in pumpkin or squash soup recipes like this one.
4. Use it in any baking recipe (pumpkin bread, cookies) that calls for canned pumpkin.  Note that it’s a little bit runnier than canned pumpkin; you will want to reduce the liquid in your recipe by a little bit.
5.  Sneak a couple of cubes into boxed macaroni and cheese to add a little bit of nutrition.

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CSA Week 17


1 head romaine lettuce
1 pie pumpkin
5 apples
1 “sugar baby” watermelon
2 tomatoes
3 heads broccoli
2 squash – “heart of gold”
A nice handful of parsnips
3 onions
4 really cute little gold turnips
2 kohlrabis (one purple, one green)

Well, this is almost it.  The second-to-the-last week of CSA.  I absolutely loved getting a box of fresh produce every week for the last 17 weeks.  And I think we actually got a really good deal — if we had purchased all of this from the store I feel certain it would have added up to more than what we paid for our half-share.  What’s more, we’ve eaten way more fresh vegetables this summer than I ever thought possible, and what a treat they all were.  Having the CSA also enabled us to do more preserving of the stuff we grew in our garden, so now we have food laid out for the winter as well.

Standard CSA info:

What is a CSA?
Where do we get our CSA from? Food 4 Thought.
See all of my CSA posts