Friday, September 21, 2012

Celebrating Fall

Fall has always been my favorite season, mainly because of the beautiful red, orange, and yellow colors. Also, to me it represents a fresh start, maybe because a new school year begins and I still associate that with new beginnings. This Fall we're planning a little work around the house, and I'm hunting for a new, more interesting job, so I hope that this Fall season brings a facelift to both my home and career.

dead tree
front house 9-21
Fall is sort of a literal "fresh" start, too, because the blistering heat of summer is now gone. I can open the windows and not run the AC or the heater. There are fewer bugs. The humidity is lower and my frizzy hair becomes more manageable. There will be other "starts" in the garden this season. We lost a tree in the front yard earlier this week. Although I didn't think the rains were that heavy, apparently it rained enough on Tuesday to finally push over the edge the shallow roots of the spruce tree in our front yard. I hate losing trees. We also removed an azalea bush right in front of the tree. All that's left is a barberry bush and a lopsided azalea bush.   We found a bird's nest in the azalea bush! I'm glad that shrub is still intact. I hope once we get another tree up it'll provide a home for other birds. The best time to plant new trees is in the Fall, so if we can get things cleaned up and ready in the next few weeks, we hope to have a new tree before winter.

basil and ML 9-21

Things slow down in the garden. Last weekend we cleaned up our container garden. Gone are the dead, brown tomato plants. They didn't have a good year anyway. The basil has started to flower, so it's going to seed soon. The peppers continue to ripen and do well in the daytime heat, though the cool evening temperatures will start slow production down.

Gardening aside, one of the best things about Fall is the food!  This is the perfect weather for soup, it's still nice enough outside to grill and eat outside, and I can start using the oven again without turning my house into a greenhouse. A hot cup of tea or coffee is more enjoyable when the morning is chilly. So tomorrow, on the official first day of Fall, I will be switching from iced Chai lattes to warm Chai tea.
I'm joining Donna's Seasonal Celebrations at Gardens Eye View Head on over to read about how other garden bloggers are celebrating the change in season.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

SSFC: Food Preservation

It has been a while since I've posted about the SSFC eating-locally challenge--and yes, it's still going! I'm a couple of days late with this, but last week's challenge was about food preserving and canning. I have never canned anything before, and I don't think I grow enough food to go through the trouble of canning. I like the idea of preserving fresh food for the winter, and we do freeze a lot of food. I have local squash, spinach, and broccoli in the freezer that I haven't got around to using yet. Peppers freeze very easily--we clean them, core and remove the seeds, and then slice or chop them up, put them in a container, and leave them in the freezer. When I'm ready to use my peppers, I often just run them under water to soften them up and then they're ready to chop and add to your dish.

For the food preservation challenge, I decided to try oven roasting some of my tomatoes.

tomatoes for roasting
These are so many recipes online with varying times and oven temperatures, and after sorting through all of them, I decided to follow this one by David Lebovitz. The length of time is hard to gauge because it depends on the size and moisture level of tomatoes. I've read that Roma tomatoes are best because they have a lower water content than others. Unfortunately my pile of tomatoes was of different varieties and sizes, so I loosely followed his recipe, but mainly decided to wing it.

I had one beefsteak tomato, a few Romas, a handful of cherries, and some Pink Brandywine heirlooms from my garden. I waited until we had a cloudy, somewhat cool day so that running the oven for 3 hours wouldn't stifle us to death in the summer heat. Here's what I did:

Oven Roasted Tomatoes
- Preheat oven to 325°F
- Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally, remove the stems, and remove the seeds. I patted dry some of the juicier tomatoes with a paper towel to remove some excess moisture.
- In an 8x8 pyrex baking dish, add about 3 tbsp olive oil, one clove of garlic, 1 tbsp dried oregano, 1 tbsp dried basil (from my garden!), and salt and pepper.*
- Toss tomatoes around in dish so that all sides are coated.
- Place tomatoes cut side down in the dish.
- Bake for 2 1/2 hours or until tomato skin is wrinkly. (Some of my smaller tomatoes were ready after 2 hours).

*Feel free to add your own combination of herbs and seasonings here. I think next time I'm going to use rosemary and thyme, or maybe do one dish with oregano only.

oven roasted tomatoes final
Here's the finished product. They don't look very pretty, but let me tell you, they smelled fantastic! The whole house smelled like olive oil, oregano, and basil, like a pizzeria! I almost hyperventilated from inhaling all that yumminess. I let them cool a little and then put them in a freezer bag. I think they'll be great in soups and sauces later this Fall.

You can read about what other Challenge participants made here. Do you can? What's your go-to method of food preservation?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Back From the Wild West

{wild flowers in the Badlands, SD}

How did it become September 15 already??!? I haven't had much Internet fun-time lately. Between busy days at work, trying to get some home remodeling projects contracted, and a quick trip out West, I haven't had time to spend visiting my favorite garden blogs.

In between work my husband and I took a little vacation. We've been on an American travel kick in the last year or so, trying to see as much as this country as we can while we're young and child-less. We were up in Maine and New England earlier in August for a wedding, and that was a beautiful part of the country. Lots of mountains, forests, and so close to the ocean that you get lots of fresh seafood. I've been up and down the Eastern seaboard and all over the South, but I haven't seen much of the Midwest or Southwest, so we decided to take our annual vacation in what used to be part of the Wild West. We mainly stayed in South Dakota, but we rented a car and drove into Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and North Dakota. 

It was a great trip, it's so beautiful out there and not as flat as I imagined. The cattle industry is huge, and we saw many, many cattle ranches as we were driving around. We also visited several national monuments and national parks, including Devil's Tower (the first designated U.S. National Monument), Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and drove through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Badlands National Park, and the Black Hills National Forest.  We stayed in Keystone, SD, and Deadwood, which was such a typical Wild West town (but with computerized slot machines now), and learned a little about some old-time cowboys and outlaws.

{prairie dogs}

I saw bison, coyotes, wild horses, wild turkeys, and lots and lots of prairie dogs. They were so cute! Although, they did remind me a little of the squirrels that have been terrorizing my garden. We ate some good food--lots of beef around, as you might imagine--and I had sarsaparilla (which is really just root beer) and drank beer in a few saloons, and talked with a lot of nice locals.

Sadly, you can really see the effects of the drought in this part of the country. Everything is DRY and there are warnings in all the campgrounds, national parks, and practically every gas station indicating that the risk of wild fire is high, so don't flick your cigarette butts anywhere. There was a huge wildfire that had just raged through northwest Nebraska/southwest South Dakota. Locals told us it had been started by a lightning strike in a field. People told us storm clouds have been rolling in all summer, but there wouldn't be any actual rain, so when the lightning stuck, with conditions as dry as they have been, all that grass and hay just ignited and it burned for days. Firefighters from as far as Arizona and California came in to help them fight it. Funny how we haven't heard about that here in DC. There was so much blackened, scorched earth, and when all the grass and hay are burned up, there's nothing for farmers to feed their horses or cattle. You can imagine what this is doing to their local economy. Despite this, everyone we met was so nice, and it was nice to see this rugged part of the country and get away from the crowds of city life. It was the perfect end to our summer.

I'm still working through photos and trying to get my house and garden back in order after some neglectful days. I hope to have more updates soon and see what everyone else's gardens are up to now that we're officially approaching Autumn!

Have you seen the Wild West? Where have you vacationed this summer?