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New URL!

Hi everybody-  I see that people are still coming to this url but I am writing and posting new material at this url:

http://stitchandboots.com/

But if you subscribe to stitch and boots through a feed reader you’ll need to update it here:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/stitchandboots

Please update your feed reader and come join me at the new spot!  Just uploaded a great zucchini recipe and I’ve got more on the way.

The new Stitch and Boots url is finally up and running:

stitchandboots.com

If you are subscribed to the old url, please subscribe to the new one!

New URL Coming

Hello all!  I should have posted a couple of weeks ago to say that I am in the process of moving this blog to my own server and to a new template.  As is often the case- the move has it’s complications which my support team (aka: two capable friends who know a lot more than I do about tech stuff) have been working hard to help me fix everything up.  I’ll let you know as soon as I complete the transition at which time I sincerely hope that you all will subscribe to my new url!

I can’t wait to finish the transition because I have a lot of new posts lined up such as a new dandelion greens recipe (it’s dandelion season for many of us and will soon be dandelion season for everyone), a tutorial on making excellent pie crusts, and a shortbread recipe that we love.  Also coming up are some hints on garden planning and crop rotation on a small scale.

Happy homesteading!

Before: the blueberry bed is completely rampant with weeds and one of them living in this bed is a noxious persistent grass that sends runners underground.  It ‘s called quackgrass and is similar and often mistaken for crabgrass.  While crabgrass grows low to the ground, quackgrass grows rather tall.

Blueberries, like many cultivated food plants, does better when not competing with too many other plants near its roots.  They like good drainage but don’t like their roots to ever dry out so a heavy mulch of pine shavings is generally recommended.  The pine shaving help keep the soil acidic which blueberries prefer.

After. I have weeded and mulched my five blueberry plants.  I have two more blueberry plants to get in the ground that were transplanted from my old house and have been living in a pile of dirt.  They need to be situated soon so they can settle in.

I have, for a multitude of reasons, become more disconnected from my garden than I like to be over the past couple of years as our life has done a tremendous amount of shifting and changing.  Leaving one garden and having to begin from scratch in a new one has been a daunting project which I have not been at liberty to give as much energy as I’d like.  It is, never-the-less, beginning to take shape; to emerge from the vast expanse of lawn into an urban homesteader’s design of raised beds, fruit trees strategically placed, and permanent plantings beginning to mature and fill out.  The weeds are, as you can imagine (and see for yourself!) out of control.

Late winter is the time to strategize how you want your garden to evolve.  When winter’s fist of ice let’s go of your region it’s time to clean up anything you didn’t clean up in the fall.  It’s time to prepare beds for planting with early crops like lettuces, greens, potatoes, peas, and favas.  I don’t have a huge property and yet landscaping, planning, and maintaining the 10,000 feet of this earth I call my own is actually overwhelming to me.  I used to think I wanted a few acres and now I know that I’ll never be ready for that much responsibility until I can tame this small lot I have now.

I started with my monastery garden- pulling out the carcasses of last year’s fava’s, weeds, tomatillos, and rotting chard clumps.  It is now ready to be planted with seeds and potatoes.  Being out there felt so good, like coming home after a very long trip around the world.  Plants and soil induce a great calm in my body that is at once a relief and quietly energizing.  Late yesterday afternoon I cleared my blueberry bed.  It was a long quiet meditation on how humans are always trying to force control in their environments and what it says about us.

I do believe that the style of gardening each of us has says a lot about us.  It tells our secrets if only most people could read gardens for the open hearts they are.  I have friends who keep extremely tidy gardens with never a weed allowed to sprout and I know people who exert a certain amount of control but who let a couple of corners grow long and let surprises rise from the dirt, and then there is me.  I always seem to let my garden go semi-wild.  Weeding is therapeutic and yet I have so little time outside of work and parenting that it is one of the first things I let go of when I’m thinking about how I will spend my time on my days off.

I knelt down to the blueberry bed and knew that the network of spreading quackgrass roots underneath the surface was already an intense highway of tough growth that I was going to have to fight with my hands, my weeder, and my back.  As I began pulling at the easier chick weed and gentler grasses I thought about how combative the quackgrass made me feel.  I was developing, in my mind, a plan of war against it.  Yet even as I thought about how to get as much of the crawling roots up as possible I felt a deep sense of futility.  You don’t, you can’t, get rid of quackgrass.  Unless you resort to poisonous measures.  Just like the bindweed that plagues my yard will always live here with me.

We humans like to conquer everything around us.  We like to be in complete control and to dictate what will and won’t live in our environment at all times.  We demand that plants and animals live by our rules, that any species of plant we don’t appreciate is completely eradicated because the sight of unwanted plants offends us deeply.  That’s what we tell ourselves.  How many gardeners do you know have become like mad generals fighting crabgrass?  I have heard many gardeners talk so vehemently against it that I could easily imagine them resorting to explosives if only that would kill it all finally, forever.  Tough weeds inspire anger, frustration, and dictatorship in most gardeners.

As I pulled and knelt and tried not to strain my weak back I thought about these things.  Most of us would agree (regardless of our different political viewpoints) that dictatorships are evil, that we don’t fancy fascists or kings to tell us who we must be or how we must live.  Yet how many of us attempt complete dominion over the property we have under our feet?

Perhaps my garden philosophy will seem weak to some as it seems to have arisen from a lackadaisical approach to weeding, but I realized as I weeded that I really don’t hate the quackgrass or the bindweed (which I secretly think is one of the most beautiful plants on earth and whose tough scrappy survival is a thing of legend) and that all I want is to keep it within bounds enough to let me grow food for myself and my family and to grow plants to invite the bees and the butterflies and the wasps to my side.  I don’t want to be a fascist of plants in my garden because my garden is reflective of my mind and my heart and what I really seek in life, in my whole life, is balance.

I have called my garden style neglectful yet the funny thing is- I actually like weeding.  But over the many years I have been digging in the dirt I have found that one of the most delightful things about gardening is finding surprises- letting strangers into the garden path- seeing wild flowers emerge amongst my lettuces lightens my spirit.  Every gardener leaves a legacy of themselves in the dirt they tend which, if the ground is later nurtured by another, will rise and declare old hands, old styles, other plants you never thought of planting because you never met them before they showed up at your garden party.  A gardener who spreads poison everywhere to kill off the quackgrass kills also the insect larvae that we depend on to pollinate the earth, it kills the sleeping seeds in the earth which also slowly chokes the potential of diversity.

I know that some people get great pleasure from a well kept garden and I’m not saying there’s no value in that too, but I wonder if something more might be let loose in the spirit if gardeners who normally keep an iron control over their yards were to let little corners go slightly wild?  Look at your garden and ask yourself what it’s saying about you.   Should there be any aspect of it that is nothing but a fight?  I don’t want anything in my garden to be a fight.  I don’t want any plant to be a villain.  I feel the same way about people.  How you treat your garden is reflective of your core values.  This is why I never use weed-killer.  I don’t use any pesticides that can’t be considered organic and, actually, I can’t remember the last time I used any spray in my garden besides dormant oil- a mixture of sulfur and copper.  And even that I use very rarely.  The reason is because my mother taught me, from when I was a very small person, that the earth is who we are.   That we rise from it like all other animals and plants and life-forms and that how we treat it is how we treat ourselves.  We aren’t separate.

What you spray on your plants you are spraying on yourself.  What you feed your plants you are feeding yourself.  How you work in your garden, the style in which you steward your patch is reflective of who you are.  How you treat the dirt is how you treat the world.  How you treat your plants is also how you treat other people.  Who do you want to be?

I want to create balance here.  I want to grow food, which means I have to weed more often than I do to give room to the food plants to thrive.  But I don’t ever want to become a dictator in it, I don’t want to squash out diversity or look at weeds as evil because so many plants that we call “weeds” are actually strong herbal medicine that we can turn to heal our wounds and invigorate our bodies.  How many gardeners curse stinging nettles because of the sharp stings they receive when bumping into them amongst the Campanula?  Yet stinging nettles are one of the most powerful (yet gentle) herbs on earth and have nearly every nutrient humans need to survive, and are one of the nine sacred herbs.  Perhaps instead of cursing them, they can be slightly contained or picked and used with reverence.  Perhaps they can be removed from the Campanula bed but let free underneath the almond tree?

I take Kung Fu with my family and our instructor asks us all the time to apply the principles of Kung Fu to all aspects of our lives and I thought a lot about this while I tamed my blueberry patch.  By the time I got to the last clump of quackgrass, inevitably leaving 5,000 bits of it below surface, I no longer felt combative but peaceful.  I will always live with quackgrass and it’s alright to exert some limitations on it but it will not make me angry.  I will not grow hateful when I see hundreds more of its blades rise above ground in the spring.  It’s part of this landscape.  It has its own place here, just as I do.  I want harmony in my life.  I want balance.  I want more control over my yard than I currently have but I never want to lose the sense of adventure that letting corners of it go wild give to me.  Letting corners go wild means that I am also letting myself go a little wild.  I want to always keep in touch with the rampant tangled network of intertwining lives that nature is when at its best.

No one need share my philosophy but I encourage all of you to look at your garden and ask yourself what it’s saying about you.  Then ask yourself what you want it to say about you that it isn’t.  Your garden is simply an extension of yourself.  What you do in it, what you make of it, how you feel about it, and how you treat it all comes right back to how you treat yourself, how you think about yourself.

Now it’s time for me to begin harvesting the dandelions I’ve been “cultivating” where the dog doesn’t go because spring is approaching and dandelion root is cleansing; it makes a perfect spring tonic for the body.  It’s time to harvest some of the young dandelion leaves for salads and pastas as well.  Dandelions are an incredible source of nutrition and health for the human body.  Don’t douse them all with weed-killer- instead go dig them up and dry the roots, eat the leaves, and feel the generosity of earth in your blood.

Happy gardening this week to all of you!


Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale): Plant Profile

Mushrooms, Dandelion Greens, and Pasta in a Cheese Sauce

Grapefruit Avocado Salad

This is a classic winter salad that invites a lot of variations.  The tartness of the citrus is mellowed and complimented by the richness of the avocado.  I am transcribing a very simple version here with almost no adornment because I think it’s always best to start off with something simple and then embellish from there.

I don’t buy a lot of imported produce because I believe it’s important to eat mostly locally grown food but I allow myself a few indulgences and one of the regular indulgences I allow are avocados.  Because I let myself buy quite a lot of avocados I don’t let myself buy citrus very often.  A family friend sent me two boxes full of oranges, lemons, and grapefruits from her own yard that she grew without pesticides- it was a gift  beyond price!  I haven’t had a grapefruit avocado salad in years and it is the perfect antidote to the usual deep winter root vegetable flavors and the grey skies.

Ingredients:

4 cups lettuce

1  large avocado

1 grapefruit

4 tbsp mustard vinaigrette

(Serves 4 as a side salad or 2 as a main salad)

Method:

Divide lettuce onto your plates evenly.  Slice the grapefruit in half and then (using a small sharp knife) cut out the sections and divide the slices evenly between the plates.  Slice your avocado in half, remove the pit, and then slice long narrow slices lengthwise.  If serving only two plates of salad remove all the long slices from one half and arrange on one plate (fanning them out is pretty) and then do the same with the other half.  If making four side salads then I cut the long slices in half and divvy the avocado up between the four plates and arrange neatly.  Drizzle 1 tbsp of dressing on each side salad or 2 tbsp on each main salad.

Variations: Kalamata olives are very good with citrus and avocado.  Feta is wonderful on this salad.  Instead of a mustard vinaigrette you could use a balsamic or a dressing flavored with rosemary.  Slice red onions paper-thin and add to each plate sparingly.  The same can be done with shallots.  If you don’t have grapefruit but you have very good oranges on hand- use them!  Oranges go very well with the avocado too.

Usually when you thread your machine you use the same color for the top spool as you do for the bobbin.  This is fine when the fabrics you are sewing together are the same or when the underside of your project will never be visible.  However, if you are sewing something like a place mat and the top side is one color and the underside is a different color, it will look more professional if you match the thread on each side.

This is easy to do: what you need to know is that when you’re top-stitching the thread you see on the right side of the fabric (the side facing up to you) is coming from the top spool of thread and the stitching underneath (the side facing down while you’re sewing) is coming from the bobbin.

Match the bobbin thread as closely as you can to the fabric on the underside of your project.  If there is great contrast between the top and bottom fabrics (as seen in my example) some of the darker thread will still be visible on the underside but it will be a lot more subtle.

I have met many biscotti in my life that I didn’t get along with because they tasted like cardboard.  I don’t like them too sweet either, or covered in chocolate, or filled with dried fruit and citrus rind.  I’m not sure what made me try this recipe in the first place, considering how I felt about this famous cookie at the time, but I did and it transformed my opinion.  I got the original recipe from a favorite cookbook “The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook” by Jack Bishop which I highly recommend.  His recipe calls for eggs plus a couple of egg yolks to add richness to the cookies.  While I am a fan of eggs I am not a fan of a strong yolk flavor*.  So over time I adapted this recipe to better suit my own preference.  I am offering you my version of this classic dipping cookie.

Almond Biscotti

Ingredients:

1 cup whole almonds

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1.2 tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

4 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and lightly toast them (about 8 minutes).   Set them aside to cool but don’t turn off the oven.  Cut parchment paper to the size of a large baking sheet.

In the bowl of your stand mixer blend the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.  In a separate bowl beat 3 of the eggs with the vanilla extract.  With the mixer on med-low speed add the eggs to the flour in a steady stream and keep the mixer going until the flour and eggs have been completely incorporated.

Roughly chop the almonds (I like to chop them in half so the chunks are fairly big but you can chop them a little smaller if you like).

The dough is very sticky!  Remove it from the bowl of the mixer onto a floured pastry board or your counter – you will need a pastry scraper to help you knead the dough gently (just until it’s smooth).  You will need to add more flour as you go along and may even need to rinse your hands off once or twice.

Gently knead the almonds into the dough.

Cut the ball of dough into two pieces.  One at a time, transfer each one to the parchment paper covered baking sheet and roll them out until they’re about 12″ long and flatten out so that they’re about 3″ wide.

Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl and add a small splash of water.  Brush the egg wash on the outside of the dough, including the sides.

Bake in the oven (on a middle rack) for 30 minutes.

Remove the cookie loaves from the oven and turn the oven down to 325 degrees.  Let the loaves cool for a few minutes (allowing the oven to reduce in temperature as well) and then cut them up on the diagonal in approximately 1″ wide pieces.

Turn them on their sides and return to the oven for ten more minutes.  If you live in a damp climate, as I do, I recommend turning your oven off after ten minutes but let the cookies completely cool down inside the oven.  The texture of these cookies is definitely hard and crisp enough to encourage dipping, but if your air is generally a little damp then the cookies may not achieve as satisfying a dryness as is desired.  When they’ve completely cooled store them in an air-tight container.

Recipe Notes: I think the egg wash is important here, but I hate that one recipe of these only uses about half of the beaten egg.  So if you want to be extra thrifty, I suggest doing a double batch at a time.  Each recipe makes about 24 biscotti (depending on how thickly you cut them) so if 48 biscotti sounds extreme- freeze half of them for later or share them with others!  If you’re out of vanilla extract (as I am right now!) you can scrape some vanilla bean seeds into the eggs and let them sit for ten or fifteen minutes.

*So unless I get one of my friends who are excellent cooks to do a hollandaise sauce recipe for Stitch and Boots, there won’t be one.  I can’t stand any sauce made up primarily of egg yolks.  Mrs. Carlton?  Mrs. Evich?  Mrs. Lagarde?  Any of you up for the challenge?