Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Garden Lessons

Growing up, my mom always had a huge vegetable garden. I learned quickly as a child to never complain about being bored in the summer because it meant mom would find me something to do. Quite often, that something involved weeding the garden. I never wanted anything to do with vegetable gardens, they seemed like so much work.

Oddly enough, I’ve really enjoyed flower gardens my whole adult life but never considered planting a vegetable garden until this year.

When I started my very first vegetable garden this spring, I was truly clueless. It had been over 25 years since I’d spent time in a vegetable garden as a child.

I learned many gardening lessons this season, some through research, some through experience and mistakes.

I researched on-line how far apart my rows should be and then my mom said I could have put them closer when she saw my garden.

I learned that bunnies are able to destroy an entire month’s worth of bean growth overnight.

I learned how to put up a darn good rabbit fence and solve the my-garden-is-a-bunny-salad-bar problem.


I learned that seven zucchini plants are about five too many for a couple and everyone they know.

005I learned that when you think a zucchini is the perfect size, you must pick it. Immediately. If you do not, when you look at it a few hours later, it will have grown to monstrous size.

015 And the same thing happens to cucumbers.

I found that I love to go out on a random Saturday and pick all kinds of vegetables from my garden. It makes me smile.

050I learned how to can tomatoes and how to make pickles.

I learned that stuffing fresh jalapeno halves with cream cheese, wrapping them with bacon and baking them in a oven is an excellent idea.

I learned not to take my contacts out after seeding jalapenos.

As the season is winding down, I’ve got more tomatoes to pick. But, in the next few weeks, we will get frost and the garden season will come to a close. My first vegetable garden has had some successes, some failures, but mostly, it’s been a whole lot of fun. I’ve already started thinking about what I will plant next year.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Homemade Yogurt

I've always loved yogurt and thought it would be fun to make, so after scouring the Internet, I found some instructions and tried it. It was fun and easy, not to mention delicious. There are myriad ways to make yogurt. Once you've done it a few times, you can experiment with different milks, incubation times and methods, etc... Since washing dishes is one of my least favorite activities. I went with the recipe that created the fewest dishes to wash.

If you want to make yogurt like I do, you will need:

1/2 gallon of milk - I used 2%
1/2 cup of nonfat dry milk
4 Tablespoons of plain yogurt
Candy Thermometer
Pint jars with lids
Cooler with lid

This recipe makes four pint jars of plain yogurt but can easily be halved if you don't want to make that much. Just cut in half all the ingredients!
First, wash and sterilize your jars and lids. You can do this by putting them in a pot of water and bringing it to a boil. Take them out and let them dry. Once they are completely cool and dry you can put the lids on and they will be ready when you get ready to make the yogurt. Or you can do this right before you make the yogurt.

Start with 1/2 gallon of milk. You can use skim, 1 %, 2 %, whole, goat, soy... I've used 2% but am going to try using skim since that's the kind of milk I usually buy.

Open the milk and pour out about 1/2 cup, drink it or give it to your kids to drink, put it in your coffee, or whatever you'd like. We're are just trying to make a little room in the milk container to mix in the dry milk.

Pour the dry milk into the 1/2 gallon carton and shake to mix. You will find it easiest to use a funnel to pour in the dry milk - this does give you one more item to wash, however. If you don't have a funnel, just carefully pour in the dry milk.

Another option is to leave the dry milk out, apparently it's not necessary but may give you a thicker yogurt. I had some in my pantry because I use it when I make bread so I used it for the yogurt.

Pour the milk into your clean jars, the 1/2 gallon container of milk will fill your jars almost to the top.

Put a washcloth in the bottom of a pot and add water. You can start with just a couple of inches of water; when you put in the full jars, the water level will rise in the pot. The water can be warm to fairly hot so you get a faster start on bringing it to a boil. Do not put in boiling hot before you add your jars though. When the cold milk in the jars comes into contact with boiling hot water, the jars will crack. The washcloth will keep the jars from rattling around too much when the water starts boiling. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of one of the jars. Place your jars into the water, you may need to add more water so that it comes up about 3/4 of the way up the side of the jars. Turn the burner on and bring the water to a boil. You want to bring the temperature of the milk up to between 180-185 degrees. It takes a while to bring the milk temperature up but you can do something else while they heat. Check the temperature occasionally. You don't have to stir them, they won't burn in the water bath.

Some recipes say that if you hold the temperature of the milk at around 180 for 1/2 hour, you will have thicker yogurt. Other say just to bring it to this point, no need to hold it there. I've tried it both ways and didn't notice any difference.

While you are waiting for the milk to heat, take out 4 tablespoons of plain yogurt. Each pint of milk will use one tablespoon of yogurt as a starter. I think my tablespoons were heaping. I've found measurements don't have to be precise. The yogurt should set out at room temp while the milk heats. I used Dannon this time but have also used Old Home brand. Just make sure it's plain yogurt. If you have homemade plain yogurt, you can use that too. Adding fruit and flavors comes after this whole process is complete.

After the milk has reached 185 degrees, take the jars out and place them in a bowl or sink with cold water. Don't throw away the water you used to heat the jars of milk in though. You'll need it later. If you see a skin on the top of the milk from heating, just remove it with a spoon. You can add some ice cubes to the cold water to cool it down faster. You need to cool the milk to between 105-112 degrees before you add the yogurt starter to the milk. That is temp at which the yogurt multiplies. The milk cools pretty quickly in the pint jars so you do need to keep an eye on it more closely now. If it gets too cool, just heat it up again.

At about 115 degrees, I take the jars out of the cool water, remove a couple of teaspoons of milk from each jar and stir it into the yogurt to make it smoother and easier to stir into the milk. When the jars reach about 112 degrees, I distribute the starter yogurt equally into the pint jars of milk and mix gently. Then put on the lids. If you have a big enough cooler, you can put the pot of hot water you used earlier into the cooler. If not, pour the hot water into a heat proof bowl in the cooler. Place a towel in the cooler and nestle your jar together on the towel. Cover the jars with the towel and shut the cooler lid.
Leave you cooler shut for 6 hours. Don't open it up to peek as you will lose heat. The hot water in the bowl or pot in your cooler will keep the yogurt warm enough to incubate.

After 6 hours, take the jars out, you will have yogurt. Put them in the refrigerator to cool and stop the process. You'll also have yogurt if you take the jars out after 5 hours because you are tired and want to go to bed.
The time in the cooler can range from 4 -24 hours, as long as the temperature is adequate, your yogurt will taste different based on how long it incubates. If you incubate your yogurt a long time, you'll probably have to add more hot water. There is plenty of information on the Internet about incubating yogurt in the oven, on heating pads and in crock pots. Yogurt making has plenty of room for experimentation.

Remember, this is plain yogurt you've just made, if you want it to taste like the fruit yogurt you buy in the store, you must add the sweetener and fruit. The good thing is that you control the amount of sweetener you add to your yogurt.
There are a number of things you can do with the yogurt you've just made. I have been eating it for breakfast with fruit and homemade granola. If you strain it through a coffee filter over a colander in the refrigerator, you can make a thick yogurt cheese, the yogurt cheese is wonderful for dips and desserts. You can add gelatin and fruit to make custard style yogurt. I use plain yogurt at least a couple times a month to marinate chicken for chicken tikka masala. I plan on sharing that recipe here someday, as it is one of my favorites.

This is the yogurt I made last night and enjoyed it this morning with cherries and honey.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Autumn Joy

Today is the first day of Autumn. It still looks and feels like summer, the grass and trees are still green, the flowers are blooming, the sun is warm.

The seasons are changing though. One sign that fall is here comes from my Autumn Joy Sedum. As fall approaches, the flower starts to turn a pale pink, then a beautiful deep dusky pink and eventually to a deep burgundy copper in very late fall. When most other plants are winding down, Autumn Joy Sedum is ramping up.
During the summer it has a succulent foliage and the flowers are green; my kids used to think it was broccoli. It's a very common plant but I love it, as do bees and butterflies. It is also virtually indestructible, doesn't require watering, and is easy to propagate. A cutting can be put into a glass of water to root and then planted; even easier, a broken stem can be put directly into the soil and watered and it will grow. I think there is something satisfying about seeing those little roots grow out of the cutting so I prefer to it that way. Autumn Joy is a perennial, meaning it comes back every year. Mine have been coming back reliably for many years. I don't cut them back for the winter either. I leave them in the garden for birds to perch.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Woodland Hill

Every once in a while, a detour in life is something wonderful...

Such was the case on Sunday afternoon. My husband and I decided to take the long route home from the city in order to visit my grandma, who recently moved into a nursing home. The road we were to take was detoured. We followed the detour through beautiful countryside. We had never been in this area before and were taken with its loveliness. We talked about coming back on another weekend to pick apples at one of the orchards we passed.

Then, like an oasis for weary travelers, a vision appeared.

With a screech of the brakes and a quick turn, we were in the parking lot and walking up to the tasting room at the winery. In Minnesota, this is a rare site and we were thrilled. We've visited wineries in Oregon and California but we had no idea something like this could be found in our climate.

The tasting room was lovely. I forgot to take pictures inside, trust me when I say it was gorgeous.
To the left of the tasting room building, there was a garden with a fountain and seating. Gardens and large mowed grass areas surrounded the area.

After tasting the wines and purchasing a number of bottles of the excellent wines. We each got a glass of wine and wandered around the grounds. The smell of wood smoke was in the air. A short walk from the tasting room, a fire smoldered. The only thing that could have made the day any better was to have a picnic lunch packed for to go with our wine on these beautiful grounds.

I had a glass of white wine called "Autumn Sky" It is made from a blend of two grape varieties which have not yet been named. They were developed by the late Elmer Swenson, a grape breeder, who developed a number of grapes for cold climates. My husband had a Rose wine called "Crimson Delight" This wine was made from the "Frontenac" grapes which were developed by the University of Minnesota.

We finished the wine and walked toward the vineyard. Some of the smaller grapes have a light colored netting over them. They needed to be protected from the birds.Woodland Hill Winery started planting grapes in 2005. The winery has been open for the last two years. They have seven acres of grapes and grow seven different varieties of grapes.
They were picking grapes the afternoon we were there. There was a gate with a sign that said "employees only" and it was surrounded by an electric fence, I suspect to keep the deer out. We walked up the hill a bit further and found an open gate and saw the grape picking was in full swing.

I was able to walk up to these grapes and take a picture of them however, I didn't take note of the sign on the end post which told what kind of grapes they were.

A wonderful find on a detoured road.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


My husband and I, along with our dog PD, went to the Renaissance Festival this weekend. It was a spur of the moment trip and it turned out to be great.

We saw a glass blower. He was making a wine glass. We watched him for quite a while. It appeared to be a very labor intensive and time consuming project. He said that the most dangerous time in the process was removing it from the metal rod and if something were to go wrong, that is the point which it would do so. And, just as he said, in the end, the glass fell apart when he tried to remove it.

There was singing and dancing with fire.

This woman seemed to be completely comfortable dancing in front of a crowd with her fire sticks. That's what I call body confidence.

In the middle of the walkway we came upon a human bench. He kept yelling out "place to sit." I didn't see anyone sit down for long.

We watched jousting. The horses were huge but they could move quickly and were decked out with braided hair and costume. The actors and actresses did a great job interacting with the crowd. This is William. Our side of the stadium was assigned to be his cheering section. We got to boo for the other competitors. It felt wrong, but fun, so I did it.

The announcer had a mustache my husband admired. I told my husband that it looked fine on this guy but there is no possible way a mustache like that would be living in my house.

The competitors must have been literally roasting in their suit of armor. It was about 90 degrees outside.

They moved in for the kill. Being this was a festival. No one actually died. It was fun to watch.

These kids in the mud made me laugh out loud. I bet they had a great day.

They weren't the only ones in the mud. These guys were a hoot.

Hands down, the Renaissance Festival is the best place on earth for one of my favorite things, people watching.

This is the definitely the best people watching place on earth!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sleeping In

Some days it is just so hard to get out of bed.

My "To Do" list is so long but my bed is so cozy.

I guess everyone has days like this.