Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Drying laundry indoors and out

I'm so excited! I got the new laundry drying rack I ordered. That's 79 more feet of drying space, baby!

You see, I've been exclusively drying all our clothes outside for the last month since the weather has been so nice and dry. And warm. Of course, it's August so that helps considerably.
We were going to install something more permanent outside, but I wanted something that could be used both indoors and out. Mostly because we live in Seattle and 9/12 of the year, it's too cold and drizzly to successfully dry outside.

I've tried drying our clothes indoors during the winter, but generally give up because it takes so long to dry (several days) and I run out of rack space. So, in order to keep the air drying going, I figured I'd solve that problem by investing in more laundry drying racks. And, I've also decided that putting the racks not in the laundry room (which tends to stay fairly cool) but in the family room downstairs (with the vent opposite our oil heater) should make the clothes dry faster.

In any case, I'm pretty excited to continue line drying, even throughout the year. I'm very interested to see how it affects our electricity bill as well. Seattle City Light started sending us comparative reports on our electricity usage and I'm embarrassed to say that it's much higher than I'd like. A lot of that is because my son does part-time homeschooling so the space heater is going a lot during the day. And everyone likes to leave the lights on in the house wherever they go.

Anyway, I'll report on the impact of reduced dryer usage on our bill as time goes on.

What about you? Do you line dry at all? If so, is it yeare round or just during the summer?

Warning: There be affiliate links in this here post to help support giveaways and such like.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A week of canning, gleaning and baking

For those of you readers who don't follow me on Facebook or just don't like Facebook, I wanted to give you a wrap-up of what I've been up to the last week. Or, if you're on Facebook and you missed it, here's what's been going on around our homestead. Well, aside from the usual gardening business of being inundated with tomatoes, basil, blackberries, lettuce and green beans.


1. Apples (Round 1) - from the neighbor down the street. I've gotten apples from them in year's past and this year, they let me pillage their tree again. These apples are small and not very attractive. I ended up making applesauce as well as juicing them and making apple jelly (see below). I got about 8.5 pounds.

2. Apples (Round 2) - from the next door neighbor. These apples are much larger and tend to have less scabs and other problems. I used some of them for the apple jelly and still have a fridge full of apples. This is the first time I've asked these guys for their apples. They don't speak English very well and it took a bit of back and forth before they understood what I was asking. I got about 20 pounds.

3. Tomatoes - I walk by a house down the block that has a parking strip vegetable garden, so I get to check out what's growing every day. I've spoken with the owner a number of times before. I was noticing that they hadn't been picking their large yellow tomatoes so I decided to see if they'd be willing to trade tomatoes for some apple jelly. My neighbor was more interested in giving the tomatoes away as she was getting sick of them. She was also in the middle of making apple butter from her own tree and asked if I wanted some apples. Since I already has a fridge full of them, I reluctantly passed. But, I did score more tomatoes than we could reasonably eat in a day or so with the promise of more to come.


1. Bread and butter pickles - I had a ton more pickling cucumbers lurking in my fridge after making two batches of spicy relish. I love bread and butter pickles, so I decided to finish off the cucumbers making them.

2. Brandy applesauce - I used the crockpot for making this. Since the gleaned apples were small and I was planning on running them through the food mill, I just tossed a ton of them in the crockpot with some cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans and water and let it break down overnight. After milling them and bringing it back up to temperature, I added 1/3 cup apple brandy and canned them. Yum! (my Courvoisier Applesauce recipe is here).

3. Cinnamon brandy apple jelly - Yes, I like brandy with my apples. I really didn't feel like peeling and coring all those tiny apples, so I juiced them in my Breville Super Juicer. I added 2 teaspoons of ground ginger and 1/3 cup apple brandy to the final creation. I'm making more of this since it turned out so amazing.

4. Smoky blackberry rum jam - I spent far too much time running our backyard blackberries through the food mill to remove all the seeds, but the end result is well worth it. Dried chipotle chiles and rum give this jam quite a kick!


1. No knead honey sandwich bread - After reading a bunch of sites on no knead bread and how to adapt it to sandwich bread, I tweaked it a bit to include honey and whipped it up. It doesn't rise as nicely as kneaded sandwich bread, but it's so easy, who can complain?

2. Blackberry pound cake - My husband actually made this one, but I helped, so I'm going to include it. I'd take a picture, but there are only crumbs left. Here's the recipe though and the picture of what it should look like :) We didn't use basil, but home grown lavender instead.

Blackberry pound cake perfumed with basil

Picture courtesy of Kitchen Vignettes

3. Pumpkin chocolate chip bars - Yes, I made this again, this time without the black bottom and just milk chocolate chips throughout. My son loves it so much I'm going to make it again tomorrow after work cause it's so easy.

Whew! It's been a busy week! What have you been up to?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

August Garden Porn - Raised Bed Edition

The other day I created a list of all the stuff I've currently got growing in the garden (as of August 2014) and I claimed that I'd post some pictures. I took a bunch of photos yesterday afternoon, but photo editing them is taking freaking forever, so I've decided to post them in chunks. Therefore, today's post includes the 8 (eight) 4' x 4' raised beds in the backyard (minus the strawberries, cause there's not much to look at there).

I apologize for the floating row covers. The birds have been eating down my seedlings and I'm also trying to keep the cabbage moths off of some things. You'll have to trust me that there's stuff growing under there. I love you people, but not enough to fiddle around with unpinning and repinning this crap. Also, I tend to plant things in quadrants so it should be easy to follow. There are a couple things in the surrounding borders listed as well.

So, without further ado... starting from East to West in my yard (sunniest to shadiest):

Clockwise from top left: rutabaga, beets, cucumbers, beets
Clockwise from top left: carrots, kale, parsnips, lettuce, carrots
Clockwise from top left: cabbage, Italian parsley, pac choi, green onions

Clockwise from top left: green beans, parsnips, shelling peas, more peas
Clockwise from top left: onions, leeks, green beans, more beans
Clockwise from top left: cilantro, radishes, lettuce, green onions (tucked in)
Clockwise from top left: broccoli, brussels sprouts, more sprouts, more broccoli
Next time I'll post the experimental garden spot, chicken coop, long raised beds and greenhouse pictures. And, then! I'll do a satellite shot showing where all this is in relation to my yard. Because you just can't get enough garden porn, I always say!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Life in the Garden - August 2014

Since I post a little here and there about what I've got growing on our urban farmstead, I thought it would be helpful to give you a run down of everything I've got growing, foodwise, on our less than 1/10th of an acre in Seattle.

Pears (haven't yet produced anything)
Figs (don't really produce anything)
Lime (indoor)

Green Onions
Brussels Sprouts
Green Beans
Shelling Peas
Pac Choi
Swiss Chard
Slicing Cucumbers
Bell peppers
Hot peppers

Chocolate Mint
Italian Flat Leaf Parsley
Black Oil Sunflowers
Lemon Verbena

3 Chickens

I think that's it! I'm sure I'm forgetting something. When I get around to it I'll either take some more pictures or make a video tour, showing what's what.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Black Bottom Pumpkin Bars recipe

I'm trying to use up the last of the frozen pumpkin puree we processed from last year's pumpkins to make some space for this year's pumpkins. And, really, who needs an excuse to eat pumpkin, especially when it's paired with rich chocolate?

Although these are bars, it's more of a delicious, moist cake. And the beauty of it is that you can substitute all sorts of fruit purees out for the pumpkin. I've made this with applesauce and bananas as well.  Or a mix of all three. It just depends on what you have on hand. You can't go wrong!

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (preferably fresh ground)

1/4 cup baking cocoa*
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

1. Cream butter and sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in vanilla, egg and pumpkin.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

3. Add dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix well.

4. Divide batter in half. Add cocoa and chocolate chips to half, spreading into a greased 8" x 8" baking pan. Add remaining batter to the top and swirl it with a knife.

5. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

*I use a high quality cocoa like Valrhona

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather Recipe

If you have tons of blackberries you are trying to preserve, like to drink mojitos and don't mind chewing your fruit in a gummy format, then this fruit leather recipe is for you.

And, yes, it does contain rum. However, since it's cooked, the alcohol burns off, so you can safely feed these to your kids without worrying that you're a bad parent.

Feel free to halve this recipe.

Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather

8 cups blackberries
1/8 cup mint leaves, chopped 
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup rum
2 tablespoons lime juice
zest from 1 lime

1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees F. Place blackberries and mint leaves in a large pot over medium-high heat and cook until blackberries release their juice and fall apart. About 10 minutes.

2. Remove blackberries and mint from the heat and run the mixture through a food mill to remove seeds. If you don't have overly seedy blackberries and don't mind mint flakes in your leather, then you can skip this step.

3. Return strained blackberries to pot and add applesauce, honey, rum, lime juice and lime zest and return to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Taste mixture for sweetness and add more honey if your berries are too tart for your liking.

4. Remove pot from heat and let cool for about 20 minutes.

5. Line two 11" x 17" baking sheets with parchment paper. Pour 1/2 of the puree onto each sheet and spread thickly and evenly with an offset spatula. Put into oven and bake for 6 hours or until no longer wet.

6. With a pizza cutter or kitchen shears, cut the paper in half. Cut the sheets into 2 inch strips and roll up. Store in an airtight container.  Obviously, don't eat the parchment - peel the fruit off.

Friday, August 15, 2014

What are your personal cleaning habits?

Every couple of years I like to ask these personal hygiene questions since I'm always curious to see the answers. I do this because there is such a huge focus in our culture on bathing and bath products and sterilizing everything that I wonder how much that advertising infects our consciousness. And our pocketbooks.

One thing that always sticks in my mind is the commercials from the late 1970s for Mitchum antiperspirant. The ad's tagline was "so effective, you can even skip a day." Back then, the concept of not showering everyday wasn't such a big deal.

Well, there's no way in hell you'd see the same sort of ad campaign today. What has changed in the last 30 years that people are so averse to appearing not up to bathing "standards"? That is: showering, shaving, shampooing and getting all gussied up every single day?

So, with that in mind...

What are your personal cleaning habits?

1. How often do you shower/bathe?
2. How often do you wash your hair?
3. How often do you brush your teeth?
4. How often do you floss?
5. Do you use "natural" body cleansing products or conventional ones?
6. Do you use deodorant, antiperspirant or something else?
7. If you shave, how often do you shave?
8. Have any of these habits changed as you've tried to live a greener lifestyle? If so, which ones and how?
9. Where do you live?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Big Foot Peed on my Tent

Caught in the act. Sort of.
I've had our 4 person tent set up in the backyard because the kids like to camp out back. And, since we haven't been able to go actual camping due to health issues, this is as good as it's going to get for a while. It's been up for about a month and we've slept in it, oh, once. Mostly because our neighborhood is super noisy. Something I didn't actually realize until, well, I slept outside. So, my motivation for suggesting camping out back these days is low.

Since my son, Henry, has a bunch of stuff out in the tent that he doesn't want to put away, I find that when I have the least bit of an inkling to pack it up, I realize it's more of an effort than I feel like doing at the time. Plus, I keep thinking, "Hey! We should sleep in the tent!" In other words, we are trapped in the ninth ring of backyard camping hell.

The other evening I was sitting in the backyard trying to unknot a skein of yarn while my son was chasing the chickens around the yard, when he mentioned that there was pee on the tent's rain fly. I figured Paco, our urban farm Chihuahua, had decided to season the back end of the tent as a result of his frustration at not being able to get into the tent and snuggle in Henry's sleeping bag due to his lack of opposable thumbs and all those confounded zippers.

I also considered that perhaps it was one of the evil neighborhood cats who also like to deposit delectable kitty gifts for Paco to enjoy. And, by enjoy, I mean smear its creamy goodness all over his neck and back, rendering my dog stink tolerance to shut down like a fainting goat on the 4th of July.

So, while I was scraping up chicken poop after their romp in the yard so Paco didn't roll in that equally delightful mess, I noticed the pee spot that Henry had alluded to earlier. Except that it wasn't a pee spot from anything shorter than a 7 foot tall animal.

There's no way a 10 pound dog could have peed up that high, nor a cat. Unless, of course, the cat jumped 8 feet in the air, threw out a roundhouse side kick, suspended itself in the air, and peed on the side of the tent. A little too much Matrix choreography required, methinks.

The only real possible conclusion, of course, was that our local, Cascadian big foot, aka Sasquatch, had visited our yard in the middle of the night and peed on the side of the tent. It certainly couldn't have been a pee loaded NSA drone sent to fertilize my plants and misfired.

I guess I'll never know the truth, and the mystery that is Big Foot lives on.

Image courtesy of here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Cold Antler Farm winner!

Congratulations to Krissie of the blog, Crazy Cats Recipe World!

You are the winner of the book, Cold Antler Farm: A Memoir of Growing Food and Celebrating Life on a Scrappy Six-Acre Homestead. I'll be sending you an email!

Thanks to everyone else who participated in the giveaway.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Using Lemon for Deodorant

Of all the personal care products that I've switched out for organic, all natural or otherwise inert options, antiperspirant/deodorant is the one product that I just can't make the switch.

I've tried countless natural deodorants (they didn't really work or irritated my skin), made my own (definitely irritated my skin) and always ended up back with the nasty aluminum based antiperspirant. It was the only thing that kept the stink at bay. Unfortunately, it also seemed that the more I used it, the more I relied on it to combat the stank.

I've been reading a lot lately about the human skin microbiome and how, with all this washing and scrubbing and antibacterialing, we've completely offset the balance in our skin. The "good" bacteria gets disturbed, allowing the "bad" bacteria to run amok. For the last month, I've only used soap on the more critical areas - pits and bits. Not only does this keep my skin from drying out, but I'm hoping it is also allowing my skin bacteria to return to its preferred external homeostatis. I'll write more about this later (I'm doing another experiment there), but back to the pits.

Anyway, a reader on Facebook (thanks Brenda!) recommended using lemon slices as deodorant and there seem to be many people it's worked well for. It's one of the few things I haven't yet tried. Rubbing alcohol or vodka is the only other one I haven't tried, but I'm afraid they're too drying and it seems like they would really wallop skin bacteria in a bad way. However, maybe that's what's needed. But, I digress.

So, starting today, I'm going to use lemon slices for deodorant for a week and will report back and let you know how it's going. I'm giving it a week mainly because I suspect there will be some residual benefit of the commercial antiperspirant for at least a few days. Hopefully, if it fails, peak stink won't occur until the weekend, when I'm not at work.

What's your favorite non-commercial (non-antiperspirant) method to not repel the rest of humanity?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Homesteading Skills to Learn in 2014

Every year I like to ask what kind of new skills people are wanting to learn, either to be more self-sufficient or to finally pick up that hobby they've been wanting to try. As we head into fall, when the vegetable garden slows down, it's a good time to focus on new skills.

Last year we didn't do as much canning as we've done in the past, but the last two years we've had a huge increase in vegetable gardening! We are always doing a lot of cooking and baking, but I'd like to increase the baking we do to reduce the amount of bread and baked goods we buy. It's hard to squeeze into a busy work week, however. I'll also be focusing, as usual, on knitting and I've got a new quilting project I have my eyes on. I really need to get back into soapmaking as it's been a long time since I've made my own.

Which of the following skills do you wish you knew more about or would like to learn?
  • Food gardening and food storage (canning, dehydrating, pickling, fermentation, etc.)
  • Seed saving and/or fruit tree grafting
  • Foraging for wild foods, mushrooms, etc.
  • Composting
  • Animal husbandry (rabbits, chickens, goats or larger)
  • Beekeeping
  • Animal skinning, processing
  • Sheep or other animal shearing
  • Spinning wool
  • Knitting
  • Sewing
  • Cooking, baking
  • Making own cheese and/or yogurt
  • Making beer and/or wine
  • Solar cooking
  • Alternative medicine and/or first aid
  • Making soap (cold process from oils and lye)
  • Making candles
  • Carpentry
  • Plumbing or electrical
  • Bike maintenance and repair
  • Appliance repair

What is the biggest thing preventing you from learning to do these things? Time, money? What would make it easier?

Related books:
The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden
The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre!
Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills
City Chicks: Keeping Micro-flocks of Chickens as Garden Helpers, Compost Makers, Bio-reyclers, and Local Food Producers
How to Brew: Everything You Need To Know To Brew Beer Right The First Time
Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Delicious Cheeses
The Soapmaker's Companion: A Comprehensive Guide with Recipes, Techniques & Know-How
My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method
Homegrown Whole Grains: Grow, Harvest, and Cook Wheat, Barley, Oats, Rice, Corn and More

Note: There are affiliate links in this post.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Cold Antler Farm book giveaway

Last winter I went on a reading frenzy, reading through all of Jenna Woginrich's books on homesteading, raising animals and her transition from web designer to full-time writer and homesteader. Jenna has a wonderful style of writing that makes you feel a part of her life. I read them all back-to-back, still looking for more.

So, when I found out that she has a new book out (as of June 2014), Cold Antler Farm: A Memoir of Growing Food and Celebrating Life on a Scrappy Six-Acre Homestead, I thought it would be great to share her writing with one lucky reader.

“Few writers can put into words the epiphanies that break upon a mind and spirit communing with a piece of earth. Home, barn, and garden converge in the quietness of agrarian labor to provide transcendent thoughts about living, loving, and learning. Jenna is a master.”
Joel Salatin, farmer, Polyface Farm, and author

I have not yet read her latest book, but here's what it's about:

Leave a comment to enter.
Cold Antler Farm is a collection of essays on raising food on a small homestead , while honoring the natural cycle of the "lost" holidays of the agricultural calendar.

Author Jenna Woginrich runs her own one-woman farm and is well known for her essays on the mud and mess and the grime and passion that accompany homesteading. In Cold Antler Farm, she draws our attention to the flow and cycle not of the calendar year, but of the ancient agricultural year: holidays,  celebrations, seasonal touchstones, and astronomical events that mark sacred turning points in the seasons. 

Amidst the holidays of the equinoxes, May Day, Hallowmas, and Yule, we learn the life stories of her beloved animals and crops--chicken, pig, lamb, apples, basil, tomatoes. May apple blossoms are sweet fruit for rambunctious sheep in June. And come September, the harvest draws together neighbors for cider making under the waning summer sun. The living beings she is tending fuel one another--and the community--day to day, season by season.

How to enter this giveaway
If you are interested in entering the random drawing for this book, please add your name to the comments of this post. You get bonus points for liking the Crunchy Chicken on Facebook. Just let me know if you're a fan of the page in your comments. If you want an extra entry, go vote in this poll on what you love about homesteading and leave a comment here saying you voted!

You have until midnight PST this Tuesday, August 12th to enter. And, now for the legal mumbo jumbo: This giveaway is open to U.S. residents, 18+ only. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Winner will be selected Wednesday, August 13th and will have 7 days to respond. Warning: there be affiliate links in this blog post to help support giveaways such as this.

Now, that was easy, wasn't it!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

What are your favorite things about homesteading?

These are a few of my favorite things!
As we move into the middle of summer and head into fall, I'm reminded of so many of the things I love about homesteading (urban, suburban or rural, it doesn't really matter, now does it?).

I spend the long, summer days working in the garden with my son, watering and harvesting food for my family. I spend the evenings knitting or sewing blankets and quilts or working on the next project to keep my family warm when the weather cools. I spend the weekends baking or cooking from foods, fresh out of the garden or preserved in the pantry. And, finally, I get to share my experiences with the community of friends I have online. That's you people!

As such, I wanted to find out what parts of homesteading you like the most. I know it's hard to choose, so I made this a multiple select poll. Try to keep it to your Top 5, if you can:

survey service

If you could only pick just one thing, what would it be?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Fall Vegetable Gardening: What to Plant in August

What to plant now for eating in the Fall
Around the Pacific Northwest, planting for a fall vegetable garden really needs to be done by mid to late July, however there are still some edibles you can plant now for some tasty fall eating.

I've had a couple conversations with friends and neighbors in the last week about what to plant now to keep their garden growing so I figured I'd make a post on what to plant in August for a fall garden.

I know it's the middle of summer and even thinking about planting for fall food crops in the middle of all the beans, cucumbers and tomatoes sounds insane but, if you're like me, and you wait until the end of August or early September to get around to it, you'll be too late. So, consider this a friendly reminder!

This is kind of it, for the most part. The only other things I'll be putting in the ground over the next few months will be more lettuce. And garlic and fava beans for next year.

Before you get too far along, now's also a good time to add some organic fertilizer to your already established edibles to keep them going.

And remember, since it's so warm and dry in August (even in rainy Seattle), you'll want to make sure you keep any transplants or seeds well watered.

Plant from starts (still available in some nurseries):

  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • brussels sprouts
  • kale
  • green onions

Plant from seed:

  • lettuce
  • spinach
  • radishes
  • arugula
  • pac choi/bok choy

It's probably too late at this point, but I'm still sowing:

  • parnsips
  • turnips
  • beets
  • rutabaga

What are you planting now for a fall garden in your neck of the woods? I love hearing about who's growing what in other areas of the country. One of my Facebook readers from California is playing around with papaya starts!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Neighborhood Birds Planted My Sunflower Garden

Last December I went a little nuts with backyard bird watching (well, in my case it was the front yard). I had read the book, The Urban Bestiary, and dove head first into paying more attention to the neighborhood critters and appreciating them more than just flying "little brown jobs".

I would spend at least 15 minutes in the morning before work meditating and staring out the front window, watching all the bird action with the multiple feeders I put out. I'm sure the passers-by in our neighborhood thought I was nuts and, every Wednesday, the garbage man waved at me as he did his rounds. It got so embarrassing that when I heard his truck I would throw myself to the floor below the windowsill so he wouldn't see me sitting there, staring out the window like an old lady waiting to yell at the neighbor kids.

Anyway, over the intervening months I have alternated between different types of birdseed, but I used quite a bit of black oiled sunflower seeds right around the time we put down a bunch of mulch in the front yard. The sunflower seeds were quite a mess because of all the shells but, lo and behold, a few weeks after mulching, we noticed a bunch of little plants growing underneath the feeder.

I was going to pull the little plants up because they looked like weeds, but my husband insisted that we keep them. And, I'm glad we did. Because now we have an amazing sunflower garden growing by the front window. A lot of people comment on the sunflowers and are interested to learn how they got there.

Nothing like a little free work by my birdy friends. The nice thing about this little experiment is that when the seed heads are ready, the birds get to eat the fruits of their labor. I added back the sunflower seeds to the bird feeder recently so we'll hopefully have another round for fall.

Have you had bird feeders "accidentally" or on purpose seed a flower patch for you? Were they sunflowers or something else?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Dead Tomato Debacle 2014

Baby tomato plant smelling hands made me do it.
I had big plans for tomatoes this year. Big plans, I tell you. I got on the ball back in February and planted tomatoes and peppers from seed the likes my little basement grow lights have never seen. Twenty-seven tomatoes and nine pepper plants. Where was I going to plant all this bounty? Who the hell cared! It was February! I had months to sort all this out.

I diligently watered and spritzed and stroked and coaxed them along through March and April. At that point, I figured I should probably transplant them into bigger pots. But where was I going to put all these up-potted plants? Um, who cares! I'll just move them directly to the greenhouse later and transplant them directly! Brilliant!

May rolled around and I figured I should really start doing something about all these heat loving plant starts, so I moved them out to the greenhouse to transplant. So, off they went! Into the greenhouse! I diligently watered them. And watered them. And then promptly forgot about them.

Twenty-seven tomato plants turned into crusty, dried up little boogers before my very eyes. The peppers survived a little longer, but by now I was so despondent I ignored the horrible mass slaughter that had occurred in the greenhouse.

June rolled around and I figured I better do something to mitigate what was turning out to be a very empty greenhouse experience and went out and bought some tomato and pepper starts from my local nursery. Six tomato plants (3 Celebrity and 3 Roma) and a couple of Jalapeno, Habanero, Cayenne, Chocolate Bell and Ancho peppers to round things out.

I then promptly ignored all my new starts, but fear overtook me and I finally got off my butt and planted the tomatoes and most of the peppers. Needless to say, late June small start tomato plantings do not bode well for an early tomato season.

But! This weekend my first Roma tomatoes ripened and it looks like we'll have some plant recovery enough for tomato eating, but probably not much beyond that.

Have I learned anything from this experience? Probably not. I'm sure next year, in the grips of the Seattle darkness and rain, I'll plant far too many tomato seeds and water and spritz and stroke and coax them along. Just so that I have the smell of baby tomato plants on my hands to get me through the winter and early spring. It's like a drug. Damn baby tomato plants.

How about you? How successful are you at growing plants from seed? Or do you just dispense with it altogether and get plant starts?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Vanilla Bourbon Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Get inside mah belly!
Phew! That's a mouthful for a muffin recipe title, but just "banana chocolate chip muffins" doesn't do this recipe justice. In fact, I wouldn't even bother posting a recipe for such a simple thing if it weren't for the extra flavors in these muffins.

In any case, I adapted a Bon Appetit recipe to accommodate all the black bananas we had sitting around, begging to be ingested. The base recipe sounded pretty bland, so I thought a little doctoring was in order. Since we had so many bananas, I made a huge batch. If you don't want to make this many, feel free to halve it. And, try to use organic ingredients as much as you can!

Vanilla Bourbon Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
Yield: Makes 26

3 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder

2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 5 medium)
2 large eggs
1 cup unsalted butter, melted*
2 teaspoons vanilla (use homemade or high quality vanilla)
2 teaspoons bourbon (use something decent - I used Bulleit)
1/2 cup milk (scant)**
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1/8 cup turbinado sugar

*I substituted out 1/4 cup butter for 1/4 cup of my Courvoisier Applesauce cause that's a lot of butter.
**I put the vanilla and bourbon in the measuring cup and then added the milk to make 1/2 cup.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 1/3 cup muffin cups with liners (or grease the bejeezus out of the muffin tins).

Mix flour, sugars, cinnamon, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Mix mashed bananas, eggs and butter, vanilla, bourbon and milk in a medium bowl.  Stir banana mixture into dry ingredients until blended. Stir in chocolate chips.

Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each about 3/4 full. Sprinkle turbinado sugar over the top of each muffin. Don't be shy - this gives the finished muffin a nice crunch.

Bake muffins until tops are golden and tester comes out clean, about 32 minutes. I generally turn and rotate about the halfway mark.

Transfer muffins to rack to cool. And then commence stuffing in face.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Big, Fat Sausage Finger Blackberries

This is NOT my creepy hand.
Good grief, if there's one thing in my backyard that produces more food than we can eat, it's our  blackberry bushes. We have one Triple Crown thornless blackberry bush that produces immense, phallic looking blackberries. They aren't the sweetest things but, then again, maybe it's because I'm always just so excited by their big, black juicy ginormousness that I get flustered and pick them too early.

We have two other thornless blackberry bushes that aren't quite so prolific and not nearly so intimidating in the size department. I don't remember the variety, but they hold their own and are sweeter and less seedy. Right now, the three bushes are literally covered in unripe berries and buzzing with bees like you wouldn't believe. I'm really tempted to remove one of them and replace it with another of the Raspberry Shortcake plants that I got last year that produces nicely. But, I just can't bring myself to rip one of them out. (Or, for that matter, a few stupid pear trees that are unyielding and need to go.)

We, literally, still have about 5 gallons of blackberries in the chest freezer from last year. My intent was to make blackberry jam during the winter months when it was cold out and a more reasonable time to do some canning, but I just never got around to using all of it. My favorite recipes are Blackberry, Rum and Black Pepper jam and Blackberry, Hatch Chile and Tequila jam so you'd think, with all that liquor, I'd be more inspired to make some jam.

Anyway, sensing the upcoming onslaught of this year's blackberries and my already getting behind in the eating department, I picked a big batch of them yesterday morning and dropped them off at the neighbor's house. This year, I won't be hoarding them. At least, not yet. They were a little tart because I probably picked them too early cause, well, you know.

And, for those of you who believe my brain is permanently lodged in the gutter, I must remind you that I managed to make my way through an entire post on cucumbers yesterday without any salacious comments.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Spicy Sweet Relish for the weekend

We are supposed to be on vacation in Southern California right now. But, unfortunately, my husband's cancer complications have made the last month a very painful one for him. And, as luck would have it, he started radiation therapy two days before we were scheduled to fly out. Aside from him being in a lot of pain and severely fatigued and everyone being stressed out I, honestly, don't mind. I get to hang out in my garden during peak production time. Is that weird?

Marketmore cucumbers
Anyway, our slicing cucumbers are finally coming in and I've got a huge bag of pickling cucumbers staring at me in the fridge. So, since we really can't do much of anything this weekend, I think I'm going to make my favorite Spicy Sweet Relish. Plus, there's nothing better than standing over a steamy canner when it's hot out.

This year, I only planted a couple of cucumber plants (about 3 each, slicers and pickling cukes). Last year I went nuts and planted way more than that and we are still up to our eyeballs in pickles. I didn't want a repeat of that. I think I may have skimped a little too much on my plants this year because of the overproduction from last year. Maybe one of these days I'll get it figured out.

In addition to the pickling cucumbers, I'm also trying to avoid making eye contact with the pile of massively overripe bananas on the counter. I already have more frozen bananas than humanly necessary and I've been charged with making banana muffins. But, I really dread turning on the oven when it's over 80 degrees in the house.

Are you preserving anything this weekend? (And, yeah, I'm going to pretend that it hasn't been 8 months since I last blogged something).