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FondueWe better celebrate.

There’s nothing quite like a big pot of gooey, warm, melty cheese.  It’s not the healthiest thing you can eat, but one must indulge once in a while.  Cheese just so happens to be my absolute favorite thing to eat ever.  Too bad I can’t figure out how to grow it in the garden.

Enjoy.

Ingredients:

  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
  • 1-1 ½ cups dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons Kirsch*
  • 1 pound Gruyere, Emmenthaler, or Jarlsberg cheese, grated (or a combo of two or all three)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt & pepper

* Also called Kirschwasser, a liquor made from a particular kind of German sour cherry.  Available in most liquor stores–a pint will last many many fondue nights.

Directions:

  • Warm your fondue pot to low heat.  You could also use a heavy ceramic bowl warmed in the oven, or place the pan over a warmed hot plate after cooking.
  • Rub the inside of a medium stainless sauce pan with the garlic.  (Most recipes tell you to throw the garlic away after this step, but I say throw it in the pot!  Just don’t eat it later.)
  • Toss the cheese with the cornstarch and nutmeg in a bowl until cheese is thoroughly coated.
  • Place the pan over medium heat on the stove, and add the wine and the Kirsch.  Bring to a slow boil.
  • Reduce heat to medium-low, add the cheese to the wine, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until cheese is melted.  If it’s too thick, add more wine until it’s the desired consistency.  If you have wine left over, don’t let it go to waste…  😉
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Carefully pour into your fondue pot on low heat—keep an eye on it and stir occasionally so it does not scorch on the bottom.

Serve with bite sized pieces of:

French Bread
Rye or Pumpernickel Bread
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Apples
Pears
Grapes
Dates
Pretzel Sticks
Bread Sticks
Ham
Salami

Hams on the Smoker

The Hubby has a smoker–one of those big ugly black cylindrical barrel-looking grills.  He is a master at pulled pork and beer can chicken.  He has smoked turkeys for Thanksgiving, and they have been divine.  This past year for Turkey Day, we decided to try our hand at making ham, and it was amazing!  You have never seen meat devoured so quickly!  10 pounds was gone in a matter of minutes.  So naturally, when Easter rolled around this year, and we found out we’d be having family in town, we got excited to recreate that delectable dish.

Last weekend, I set the Hubby on a quest for fresh ham–that is, raw uncured pork leg.  He called our go-to grocery store, where we got the meat last November.  The very nice man in the meat department told him, “I am sorry, sir.  We only carry fresh ham for holidays.”  Ummm…  have you heard of Easter???  So he made another call.  At the buy-in-bulk store, the very nice man in the meat department referred him to the deli.  So he made another call.  And another.  And another.  The best answer we got was that it could be ordered for us, and that it would be here in three to four days.  (And that it would cost three to four times what we paid for it in November.)  Not gonna work.  Fresh pork has to be cured in order to turn it into ham.  We cured the 10 pounder for 5 days. Continue Reading »

We are about six weeks away from our last frost!  My guess is that with as warm as this year has been, we aren’t actually going to have too many more frosts, but this is Colorado.  You never can tell.  We are proceeding under the assumption that our last frost will be around or just after Mother’s Day, which is Sunday, May 13.  If you can, clear your calendar the weekend of May 19/20–that will be our biggest planting weekend!

Forsythia

Everywhere you go right now, there are beacons of spring: forsythias.  Forsythias are the shrubs in full screaming-bright-yellow bloom right now.  The rest of the summer they will be green, and fairly inconspicuous, but this time of year they are all calling, “Boo-YA!  Spring is here!!”  Forsythias bloom when the ground temperature reaches about 55 degrees–that’s just about the temperature the ground needs to be to plant a bunch of cool season vegetables.

This weekend, we will be planting seeds both inside and out.  Although we might still have a couple of frosts to come, the forsythia tells us that soil temperatures are high enough to get seeds germinating.   So let’s get ’em in the ground!

Here are the seeds we’re planting this weekend:

Indoors:
Cauliflower
Lettuce
Radicchio
Watercress
(please be sure to see Lesson #4 below, if you haven’t already)

Outdoors:
Bok Choy (this is a new one for me this year–will let you know how it goes!)
Broccoli & Broccoli Raab
Greens – Mustard & Collard
Kohlrabi (weird looking, but so delish!)
Peas **before planting peas, soak the seeds in water overnight**
Radishes
Spinach
(please be sure to see Lesson #5 below, if you haven’t already)

Additional Resources:

Lesson #4:  Planting the Seed

Lesson #5:  Down & Dirty ~ Direct Sowing Seeds

While turning my beds over this past weekend, I found a small crop of carrots that somehow managed to escape last year’s harvest.  Those stubborn little things survived the winter and were just waiting for me like an impatient child. “It’s about time,” they said, “It’s been freezing out here!”

Carrots for Soup

OK, admittedly not the prettiest carrots you've ever seen, but they will make great soup!

These carrots had, indeed, frozen and thawed, frozen and thawed, frozen and thawed, over and over throughout the winter.  As a result, the skinny ones were flimsy, and the large ones were very woody in the middle.  I couldn’t possibly chop them up to put on a salad, but they had too much life left to be doomed to the compost bin.  The solution?  Soup!  Soups and stews are always a great way to take advantage of veggies that aren’t bad, but aren’t quite at their freshest, either.

Yesterday it snowed, and the temperatures dipped to a chilly 32 during the day.  It seemed the perfect time to turn my tenacious carrots into a belly-warming dinner.  I happened to also have a head of not-so-fresh cauliflower on hand, so I supplemented my carrot crop with some of that, but you could easily make this recipe with 4 cups of carrots (or 4 cups of cauliflower).  Although I think 2 teaspoons of curry powder is just about right for this amount of soup, you will probably want to add 1 teaspoon and taste it before dumping the whole amount in–we tend to eat spicy!  Continue Reading »

SeedlingsUnlike planting seeds indoors, planting seeds outdoors is super easy, and it’s much cheaper than buying seedlings.  Peas, beans, radishes, carrots, corn, parsnips, turnips, spinach, squash, lettuce, other greens, and cucumbers are all great candidates for direct seed sowing.  But it’s barely April, you say, why are we addressing direct seeding now?  Don’t we have to wait until all danger of frost is past?  (Because you know we will be getting one of those nasty spring snow storms this month.)  (In fact, it’s snowing as I publish this post.)  Lots of these guys will grow from seeds planted directly into the ground even if you think it’s way too cold out to plant anything.  If you can dig into the soil, usually there is a seed that wants to grow there.

Supplies list:

  • Seeds—the backs of your seed packets will tell you which plants can be sown directly into the garden, vs. those that need to be started indoors.  (By the way—lookie what was in my Inbox this week—buy 2 get 1 free seeds at Echter’s!)
  • Plant tags—you can find little plastic tags any place that sells seeds, or get creative!  Anything that you can write on that won’t disintegrate when wet can mark plants!  Small flat rocks?  Sure.  Paint stirrers?  Yup.  Get creative.  I found a great post on making plant tags from a material which everyone has too much of lying around the house (don’t we?): DIY Plant Markers.
  • A permanent black marker to write on your plant tags.  I have used blue and purple Sharpies in the past—not recommended.  In time, they fade in the sun.  Even better, you can buy UV resistant permanent markers at most nurseries (they are right next to the plant tags).
  • A ruler or tape measure.
  • A hose long enough to reach your vegetable beds.  Even if you have irrigation installed, you will probably want to get out there and douse your little babies yourself in the beginning.
  • A nozzle for your hose with a shower setting or a garden wand.
Nozzle

Notice this nozzle has several different spray patterns. Use the one called Shower for watering your seedlings in the garden.

Water Wand

A water or garden wand is longer to make it easy to reach into gardens or to water hanging baskets. These either come set to send out a shower of water, or the are available with different patterns.

Continue Reading »

Aunt Ruby's German Green, Sundrop Cherry, Purple Russian, Green Zebra, & Speckled Roman Tomatoes: just part of last season's harvest.

My three favorite days of the year are:

  1. Thanksgiving
  2. Christmas
  3. The day we eat the first tomato straight off the vine in the garden

This weekend is when the journey to #3 begins!  #3 is the day when all of your hard work pays off, and you suddenly understand what all this gardening nonsense is all about.

Garden tomatoes are absolutely delicious–they will make you never want to eat store bought again. (For a great post about just this subject, check out: $25 a pound for tomatoes — bargain or foolishness? | Views and Mews by Coffee Kat (also some good tips there about critters in the garden)).

Keep in mind that each tomato plant will need about 4 square feet of space in your garden.  (Actually a tomato plant needs a circle 2 feet in diameter, the area of which is Pi square feet.  Coincidence that a pizza pie is covered with tomato sauce?)

While it’s tempting to plant 10 different varieties (which I do), first figure out how much space you actually have to plant your tomatoes when you move them into the garden, then decide what to plant.  I usually suggest getting a variety of types of tomatoes:

  • Globe tomatoes:  The all-purpose tomato.  These are usually 3-5 inches in diameter.  Can be diced or cut into wedges for salads, or sliced for sandwiches.
  • Beefsteak tomatoes:  Bigger varieties.  These are perfect if you want a big fat slice to top your burger.
  • Plum tomatoes: Great for everything from salads to salsas to sauces.
  • Cherry and grape tomatoes:  Perfect for salads.  They are also a fantastic snack when you are out there weeding.  Just pluck straight off the vine and pop them into your mouth.

If you haven’t read my post on planning your garden, start there, then go plant those tomato seeds!

Additional Resources:
Lesson #3: The Plan
Lesson #4: Planting the Seed
$25 a pound for tomatoes — bargain or foolishness? | Views and Mews by Coffee Kat

If you have never bought vegetable seeds before, it can be overwhelming.  You have decided what you want to plant, and you head to the nursery with list in hand, but when you get there, you are confronted by gigantic racks with hundreds of seed packets.  These are usually in alphabetical order, which makes it pretty easy to find the veggie you want, but when you get to the T’s, you discover they have 50 varieties of tomatoes, packaged by 8 different seed companies…  It’s a lot.

I have recommended Botanical Interests for new gardeners because the seed packages contain all of the information you need to get your seeds started.  However, if you are going to the nursery as a rookie gardener, these packages can seem like they are written in a foreign language (oh, wait, that actually is Latin on there!)

Here are some quick little diagrams to help you decipher the mystery…

Seed Packet Front

Front of the Seed Packet (Click for a larger image)

Seed Packet Back

Back of the Seed Packet (Click for a larger image)

I used a tomato seed packet for this particular example, since tomatoes are so popular for home gardening (not to mention delicious!)  Different vegetables will have different info, for example, “indeterminate” applies to tomatoes that produce fruit for a long period of time, but that doesn’t apply to all veggies.  The important things to note for planting all seeds, though, are on the bottom half of the back:

  • How deep to plant seeds.
  • How far apart to plant them.  This is actually under the “Thinning” section on these packets, NOT the “Seed Spacing” section.  I suggest planting your seeds at this distance from the get-go, then there is no thinning later!
  • When and where–how long before the average last frost, and do you start these seeds indoors or out?  (This section will also include any odd germination quirks–if a seed likes to be cold to germinate, or if you should soak it in water for a period before planting.)

Important Note!  When you get home, don’t just rip into these packages–make sure you open them carefully, because the inside is also filled with useful info, a drawing of the sprout (in case you forget to mark your seedlings), harvesting details, further cooking tips, and sometimes even some trivia about the veg.

Horseradish (yum)

Fresh Horseradish

This weekend I was turning over my beds (see Lesson 2: Digging in the Dirt), and I found, as I do every time this year, my returning friend (enemy) the horseradish plant.  Hubby and I planted Horsey before he was my husband.  So yes, the plant is old enough to have a nickname.  Sadly.  Every year when we get out to work on the garden, we swear loudly at Horsey.  Why the *%#$ are you still here, Horsey??  Horsey must feel very unloved.  But really?  He is back again?  How does he do it?  I have seriously been trying to kill this guy for 12+ years, and I never really have to try to kill plants.  I am pretty good at it naturally.

I don’t actually recommend planting horseradish, because you will never ever ever get rid of it.  I supposed if you are a huge fan and really want to try, you could try to put it in a container, just to keep the madness in check.  But if you already have some in your garden, you might as well benefit from it.  This year I decided to put Horsey to good use.  I dug out as much of him as I could get (see the photo), and I made “prepared horseradish”.

Here’s how:

Continue Reading »

Divide & Conquer!

Chives are one of those things that are just a glory to have in the garden.  They taste fresh, green, herbaceous, and I put them on everything!  Today I started cleaning out my beds and discovered the chives already going full force!  Yay, spring!  Oregano is another herb that is fantastic fresh from the garden.  Last year I also borrowed a dehydrator and dried a TON of oregano–it puts the stuff from the grocery store, even the stuff from Savory Spice Shop completely to shame (and I LOVE Savory–no offense, guys).

However, chives and oregano are bullies.  They are the kind of plants that just muscle their way in to any part of the garden they want, and they stay there (until I come along).  Oregano will send roots out several feet, and little sprouts will come up all along the length of the root.  And a small 4 inch pot of chives can grow to a patch a foot in diameter in just a year or two–not to mention it reseeds itself like crazy if you aren’t careful.

For this reason, I highly recommend planting these guys in containers, rather than in your garden.  They are hearty enough to last in a pot, and they can’t choke out other plants if they don’t have any to compete with!  My chives and oregano, though, are not in containers–they are in a bed–so something had to be done.  Armed with my spade and a bunch of old plant containers, I went to battle against these meanies, and what I have left is much smaller versions of the plants in my garden, with a bunch of transplants ready for new homes (read this: if you live in Denver, get your butt over here and pick some up!)

Divided Herbs

Oregano and chives, after being divided and repotted, all ready for new gardens! I know the oregano doesn't look like much, but trust me those roots are in great shape!

Continue Reading »

This weekend is all about starting veggies from seed indoors.  If you haven’t read my post Lesson #4: Planting the Seed, you’ll want to start there–it’ll give you a shopping list of everything you need to get started.

These are the seeds to plant this weekend:
Eggplant
Kale
Onions
Peppers

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