Apple Butter Season

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Apples, apples everywhere. No, really. They’re everywhere. My new house has a big old apple tree in one corner of the lawn and there are apples everywhere. At first I thought this was great, but now I’m trying to find ways to use apples, picking up fallow apples, and trying not to knock my head on errant tree branches when I stand up from picking up fallow apples.

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Any way, filled up a gigantic bowl of apples. They’re not grocery store looking, all pretty and perfect. They’re on the smaller side, likely because the previous owner didn’t tend to the tree much over the past few years, so branches grew longer than they should have, and the end result is many tiny apples.

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So many apples. But toss them in a crock pot with some sugar and you’re good. I just core them, leaving the skin on. Once they’ve cooked on low overnight I just puree them with an immersion blender.

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Voila – apple butter. I made apple butter meringue bars with some of the apple butter, which was a big hit.

Learn How to Can with CDCG

Saturday, August 13th, 12-2 pm at the Oakwood Community Center located at 313 10th St, Troy, NY 12180.

Canning: Learn how to can with CDCG and agricultural journalist Amy Halloran in honor of National Can It Forward Day.

Bring your curiosity: We’ll do a thorough tool review, discuss the USDA’s safe canning procedures, suggest literature and demonstrate jam-making, using local fruit.

Free for CDCG gardeners and $12 for non-members.

Contact educator@cdcg.org or 518/274-8685 to register.

Gardening Trials & Tribulations

Blogger is being fussy about loading my pictures, so you just get to deal with some Albany Jane griping and bitching.

Oh, gardening is not going so well in Albany Janeland.


So Albany John got this black stuff. It’s like a fabric sheet that you put over your plants, and cut holes in for the seedlings. I think we were supposed to cover it with more dirt, which we didn’t do, so most of my hard-grown seedlings died a thirsty and shrivel-y death. Three tomato plants lived. We got some more from our gardening neighbor. She didn’t have any more room for her tomato seedlings. Yay for generous gardening neighbors!!
The remaining seedlings aren’t doing so well though…

My first semester in college I had this bio class that had a plant-growing requirement. Seriously, it was part of the class. Something about life cycles. And photosynthesis. You know. Any way, you had to grow the thing from seed, and then create a whole report on it. Hypothesis, observations, etc. Measurements. You know. And then a mass spec on the stuff at the end. Any way, anyone who’d ever taken the class before (which was everyone on campus) was like “Oh, that is such an annoying study you have to do. It’s way more work if your plant actually lives, so just leave it in the dark and kill it and then just do hypothetical research.”
I figured “No problem, that plant doesn’t stand a chance around me any way.” but the seed I had grew like crazy and it was the only plant I’ve had that didn’t meet some depressing fate, at least for the first semester. I have no idea what happened to it after that, although I wish I could tell you it’s still living in a window of my apartment. I probably threw it out because it wouldn’t die or flower. Any way, yeah… so I’m not very good at growing things.

Out of the 20 or so seeds of romanesca zucchini squash that I planted, a whopping two grew. So Albany John picked up a 4 pack of already grown zucchini seedlings and we planted those in between the growing ones in the zucchini row. I have no idea if my parsnips are growing, but some carrots are popping up. But holy cow, are my weeds doing really well. I’m gonna have one heck of a bumper crop of weeds, that’s for sure. I should have intentionally planted them, ’cause there is no way they’d have grown as much already 😉

Also, I may not have watered them as often as I should have.

I think next year I’m just going to buy all of my seedlings. Or buy a house that has a backyard or more windows I can keep cat bellies out of. Yeah, it was the cat bellies… that’s what it was. Nah, but really I think that the trickiness rumors around heirloom plants is correct, so maybe if you’re a novice gardener like myself, maybe just buy your seedlings. Or at least realize that you might have to supplement half of your garden with purchased seedlings after the seeds turn out to not… grow.

The black thumb of death still rules my garden!

Garden fairies, keep your fingers crossed and send some good vibes my way. Goodness knows my plants need it.


My Community Garden

Here’s my community garden. I signed up for a plot with Capital District Community Gardens and have secured a plot somewhere in the greater Capital Region.

Albany John and I did the bulk of our land-moving one day. He is one excellent work horse. If only I had a plow. Meanwhile, I am a fairly decent rock-plucker. Man, NY ground is rocky!

Here’s an Excel spreadsheet of what’s in the ground so far, and when it was planted. It’s about 19 Albany Jane Feet by 12 Albany Jane Feet.
Carrots, Parsnips, Cucumbers, lettuces, and Zucchini. And all this rain means I don’t even have to stop by to water them.

I am now impatiently waiting for warmer weather so I can plant my army of tomato plants. As of now, the cat bellies/paws are really wiping out the seedlings at an impressive pace. Good bye Nasturtium. It seems I’ll never be able to see you flower. But the asparagus beans are holding up pretty well (except for the day I tried to weather them outside and squirrels started nibbling the leaves. I swear, between the cat bellies and the squirrels, I’m going to be lucky to have any seedlings at all).

Here is one pile of rocks from the garden. One of many. So many piles of rocks. Actually, these turned out to be handy as cheap-o row markers. I just placed them at the ends of my rows in a line where the seeds were. Not too bad, and helps me get a visual on what’s where.


My next big tasks are going to be figuring out organic gardening fertilizers (are there liquids I can use for that, or do I have to do manure?); transplanting my seedlings; trellising the cucumbers, squash, and beans; and not screwing things up too much in general.

The latter’s going to be hard, since I always want to put things closer together than the packages of seeds say, but this year I am sticking to it! Spacing! Spacing! If you’ve ever met me in person, you also know how incredibly clumsy I am, so there’s also a pretty huge chance I’ll drop something on my seedlings and ruin them all.

Capital District Community Gardens’ 24th Annual Spring Brunch

One of my fave local organizations, the Capital District Community Gardens, is having their 24th annual spring brunch. It’s a nice fundraiser for them, and seeing as how I plan on getting a plot with them this year, I think it sounds like a fun event to attend. Check out the info below:

More than 100 local restaurants will prepare and donate dishes for Capital District Community Gardens’ 24th Annual Spring Brunch, which attracts more than 500 attendees and raises more than $50,000.

Attendees will also have the opportunity to bid on more than 200 items donated by local companies and individuals through a silent auction that includes overnight getaways, dining certificates, handcrafted gifts, gardening items and art.

Advance tickets to the brunch are $20.00 for adults and $5.00 for children less than 10 years old; tickets purchased at the door will be $25.00. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit www.cdcg.org or call 518-274-8685.

WHEN:
Sunday, May 1, 2011
10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

WHERE:
Hudson Valley Community College’s Siek Campus Center
Troy, N.Y.

BACKGROUND:
Capital District Community Gardens (CDCG) is a local nonprofit community service organization with more than 35 years of experience helping residents improve neighborhoods, foster self sufficiency, grow food through community gardening and beautify urban neighborhoods through street tree programs. CDCG manages 47 cooperative neighborhood food gardens that serve more than 3,800 Capital Region residents. CDCG also operates the Veggie Mobile, which brings fresh produce at an affordable price into low-income, inner-city neighborhoods throughout the region, as well as The Produce Project, an entrepreneurial urban agriculture training program for at-risk youth. Other CDCG programs include Squash Hunger, Taste Good Series and Urban Greening. Visit www.cdcg.org.

Enchiladas Verdes


I’m totally digging this gardening thing. Although I learned that I’m not as big of a fan of tomatillos as my garden made. I still have some in my fridge! And they’re not rotten. At least I think so…

Any way, I had some salsa verde kicking around from the summer. I thinned it out with a little chicken broth and rolled up some chicken in flour tortillas and slapped that sauce on it.

Albany John poached the chicken before shredding it. Wow – poached chicken cooks so quickly. And then we had broth for soup!

He also made some chicken cracklins.


Rolled and slathered. I popped some tin foil over the top of the container and baked them for about 20-30 minutes.


They sure swelled up during cooking time!

Mmm, soft, tender enchiladas. A good way to use up those tomatillos. Although next year I might opt to grow something else. The tomatillos really took over my garden.

Thanksgiving #2

Albany John and I hosted Thanksgiving on Thursday this year. Much more low key than the 18 or so people we had last year. My mom, sister, Sistah, one of Albany John’s fraternity brothers, and one of my mom’s friends.

And just like that, an old dresser becomes a table, and the nook above it becomes a great place for library books and a box wine. The flowers in the vase were the last of the year from my garden. Some stragglers giving me something to be thankful for. A few canterbury bells, and some gai lan that had gone to seed.

Albany John was busy with all of his food preparation that day. I tried to make a few raw dishes for my sister, who’d said she’d eat some cooked stuff, but she’s got a nack for changing her mind and I wanted to make her some stuff to eat, so I became the raw food chef de cuisine.

Speaking of that garden, I pulled the last of the carrots out of the ground, too. Seemed fitting enough for Thanksgiving. I peeled and boiled them, though. Made them just a touch sweeter and just soft enough to lose their crunchiness. My sister ended up eating some veganly cooked veggies, carrots included.

Albany John made this rub for the turkey that was outta this world good. Garlic, last of the parsely from the garden, magic… I don’t know. Something like that. It was a perfectly sized bird for our gang. A 12 lb Murray’s Turkey cooked up in a few hours. Although next time I think Albany John will use the temperature probe you can leave in the turkey next year.

He and Sistah picked at the turkey and probably had a meal of their own before anything was set down.

I made… this… stuff for my sister. It was not terrible, but… um… I don’t know how you could pass up a turkey for this. Or even roasted butternut squash.

So I rented a bunch of books on raw food from the library to try and make my sister something really, really good. Most of the recipes are fairly flexible, so I just soaked some almonds and purred them with some dehydrated sweet potato chips, raw black sesame seeds, some carrot, some basil, onion… it was a real mish-mash of nuts, seeds, and while certainly edible, it wasn’t something that I’d ever have a desire to eat again. My sister really seemed to like it, though.

I’ll at least give it props for its flexibility. It doubled as a tabbouli-textured dip when wrung out, and became dehydrated patties, too.


I was all “Bye, raw food! Have a good Thanksgiving!” when I popped these babies out of the oven. Buns made with butter and milk. And slathered with butter on top. Some folks have an achilles heel, I’ve got a gluten heel.

And another raw food staple, zucchini noodles with raw “cheeze”. The raw cheeze was easy enough to make. Soaked cashews with some salt and a clove of garlic. Meh, it was okay for an every day meal, but I wish I could have made something more substantially impressive.

More food laid out! Raw side of the table on the right – spinach salad with some sprouts Albany John made, and then deliciously roasted turkey, sausage stuffing, roasted butternut squash, and mashed potatoes.

But the best part of dinner was the TEAPOT OF GRAVY. We couldn’t find a gravyboat (assuming we even have one), but Sistah and Albany John came up with this dynamite idea of using a small teapot to serve gravy out of. NEW FAMILY TRADITION, RIGHT HERE!


I must be getting old – I could only manage one plate. But I had to make room for the stuffing, so I scarfed the salad down quickly.

We had some pie, and then my mom made Sistah one of her measured drinks, which are basically flammable. In addition to bringing over some kick-ass mashed potatoes, my mom also brought about three bottles of wine, and a… cube of vodka for the festivities. Thus making it the year my mom tried to kill Sistah with a drink that separated after 20 minutes. I’m guessing she was also trying to kill the rest of us, but hey, now we’ve got a bunch of wine left, which is never really that much of a problem.
Sistah made this really good apple pie that tasted like there was caramel, but there was none in it. I don’t know. Magic, I’m guessing. I loved that she did dessert, though – totally let me off the hook for that one!

And then there was chocolate-banana sugar-free chia pudding soaked in pecan milk. Not baaaad, per se, but… y’know. Would have been awesome with a caramel drizzle and sugar. My sister seemed pretty psyched, so I’ll have to hear how it went over. This is something I’ll play with and eat. Likely so it’s neither raw or vegan, but still, good.

So how was your Thanksgiving, guys? I’m most thankful for the fact that my sister and I didn’t come to words and start throwing food at each other over our respective fooding habits.

A Tale of Two Tomatillos

This is the tomatillo section of my garden. They have kind of taken over 1/2 – 1/3 of my wee gardening space. Next year I’m getting a community garden plot. My garden was probably 1 (mmaaayyybe two) rows at best this year, in terms of size/space. Underneath them is one poorly growing tomato plant, an eggplant, basil, and watermelon (I think it died, though – you can kind of see it looping on the fence on the far right).

While the plants underneath might not be doing so well, the tomatillos have been looking pretty productive.

These were the first two fruits of my labor! Woo hoo! I think I spent about $80 getting my feet wet with gardening this year. Hopefully next year won’t be as expensive since I have many seeds left over.
These tomatillos don’t get husks that hug and split like most tomatillos do. For the most part, the husks stay a few milimeters away from the fruit itself, and don’t turn all that brown or dry.

The one in front is pretty big for a tomatillo, and the one in the back is smaller. After I took this picture, I decided to open up the tomatillos since a) they were there, b) I’ve never had one before, and c) they looked like gift wrapped presents. Things did not go so well, and now I am hesitant about opening up any future tomatillos I get from my garden.

I peeled back the husk and noticed some dirt, and… OH GROSS! Three earwigs scuttled to the back of the husk from the edges of where I’d opened it.

Naturally, I had a mature and calm reaction:

It was really all one phrase “ohfuckbugs!” when I shouted and dropped the tomatillos on my foyer stairs (my apartment’s kind of weird). There should be another comma in there too, but when you see a bunch of earwigs that you realize are IN YOUR HAND, you don’t really consider grammar to be a priority.

They landed on the bottom step and first one, then two, and then what I thought was the final third came out. I grabbed a CD that was laying on the floor next to me (I also don’t keep my apartment that tidy… which turned out to be a good thing in this case) and started whacking at them.

I learned that earwigs are really hard to kill.

Especially when 10 more start pouring out of the small tomatillo!!! Where the hell did they all come from?! THEY WERE JUST IN MY HAND. GROSS!!

I shouted to Albany John (reinforcements). I didn’t want earwigs all over my house since I couldn’t kill them all, and he ran into the kitchen and grabbed a knife and started killing them all with me. It’s the little moments we share that I cherish.

Even with two people, 13+ earwigs are really hard to kill. They try to scurry away and gross up some other section of your house, so you have to whack and chop at them pretty quickly.

Man, after my tirade against moths, I think I might be coming off as some kind of psychotic killer fueled by bug rage. WHICH I AMMM! I’mma chop you, bugs! Get outta my ’tillos!!!


After the earwig slaughter, I washed them off… thoroughly. I mean, you need to wash tomatillos well any way, since they have a greasy coating to them, but I was washing them more to get the bug cooties off of them. Eugh.


They look much nicer all washed off and FREE OF GROSS-ASS BUGS.

I haven’t had any more earwig infested tomatillo problems, but I still open them over the sink now. It would be way easier to drown all of those earwigs in one go than scrambling to kill them all on one step with a CD.

Grilled Chicken & Chuck Steak

Albany John and I bought split chicken breasts and chuck steaks at Hannaford. They were on sale ($1/lb for the chicken boobs, $2/lb for the moo cow) and more than likely factory farmed after living terrible lives waiting for the axe. I hold no illusions about such cheap meat being ethically sourced or living happy lives dancing in the country.

BUT THEY WERE ON SALE AND I WANTED TO GRILL SOMETHING. I know, I’m part of the problem with the demand for cheap meat and factory farming.

I think Hannaford is the better chain grocery store in the area. They usually have lower prices, much friendlier staff, and better quality overall.
After trying “good” beef (grain fed, no-hormone, etc), I think their beef tends to be not that great as-is, but it’s fine when it’s got a sauce or marinade on/in it.

I let it sit in a ton of garlic (~3/4 of a head), and a little bit of chili powder, parsley, marjoram, kosher salt, and olive oil.

Albany John made some kind of marinade out of sake, garlic and other stuff for the chicken.

We eventually found a grill in Waterford, NY. Because we. Needed. Charcoal. Grilling. I rather liked it – it had a good view of Peebles Island and some docked boats, sans $6 parking fee. I’ll have to remember it when I think of going to Peebles Island again. It’s right next to it, and you can walk there from the Waterford side.

The chicken took a chicken’s age to cook, but oh man was it nice and charred. Albany John and I tore into a breast while sitting on a bench at sunset. I’m sure we looked like wild hobos tearing maniacally at a piece of food, but in our minds it was a nice snack while waiting for everything else to get to the right temperature.

I did the steak, which was surprisingly easy to cook. Just a few minutes, and then pulled at rare. And man, I love instant-read thermometers. It makes cooking meat much easier for me (in that I don’t overcook it).

We drove home and let the meat rest a little while longer while we showered up. I made a salad from the last of the greens from my garden (some gai lan leaves, the pai tsai that wasn’t eaten by earwigs, and misc lettuces). I had to pull them. They were getting too tall, and the heatwave wasn’t helping either.

I also tossed in some sugar snap peas (man, they also did not like the heat), and some black beans. The black beans are those tiny little buggers in the salad. Who’d have thought black beans are pale green when fresh? I had to peel the pods to get them (trust me, the pods are inedible. way too tough).
They turn black when they dry, which I learned after the heatwave killed an indoor blackbean plant I had growing. But now I have, like, three dried black beans THAT I MADE MYSELF.

I made a garlicky, anchovified Caesar dressing to go along with it. GARLIC OVERLOAD was the theme of the night.

Check it, here’s the only piece of meat I’ve ever cooked rare! Albany John cut everything up and we ate it with some rice. The beef was also really good dipped into the salad dressing.

I’m liking rice more now out of laziness. It’s super easy to make in the rice cooker and heats the house up the least in comparison with other carbs (pasta, potatoes, bread, etc).

Oh yeah, and one more thing:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAD!

Garden Salad

Garden Salad usually evokes the pre-fab wrapped trays of garden salad I could order for lunch in elementary school. I’d try to order the chef salad every now and then because I was generally the biggest girl in my class, and salads were healthy. I was not a big fan of vegetables in general, and every time I’d order it, I’d pick over the hard boiled egg, lettuce, tomato, and whatever other greenery they may have put in there, and ended up eating the strips of ham and turkey cold cuts. Not pretty, not tasty, not filling, and not good.
Eventually I gave up. How could I resist hot turkey sandwich, the fancy Chicken A La King, or spaghetti and sauce?

This salad came from my garden. The lettuce leaves are doing well. The French Breakfast radishes I planted seem to want to pop out of the ground. So I grabbed one, just one, and sliced it up into a small salad for two. Hell, it was a small salad for one, but you know. It was refreshing to eat last night, that’s for sure!

Albany John is awaiting a small but bountiful harvest of radishes. I hope they grow bigger! The French breakfast radish we had last night was a small sphere.

It’s funny – When I was growing up I’d never even think of touching the radish. But now that I’ve tried it, it doesn’t really taste like anything.