Baby Beets and Dumb Dogs

Yesterday I took a short day at the office so I could come home and do some gardening in the sunshine.  The forecast called for two more days of sun and warmth, followed by a couple of rainy days, then clearing up for a sunny weekend. I decided that was good enough to try and get a winter garden in before the real cold sets in.

I yanked the summer garden out the week before last (all except the kale, which has been thriving since the aphids died off), but the empty beds still needed turning and sweetening up with some new compost. I’m not being overly ambitious with this round. Although I’d fantasized about starting an asparagus garden and doing some straw-bale cold frames of lettuce and spinach, I decided to go easy on myself. So I’m keeping it simple with beets, English peas, chard, kale, onions, garlic, and a cover crop of sweet peas in the biggest tomato bed.

After adding some composted manure and organic fertilizer to the turned soil, I carefully separated out the little onion starts and planted them in a row down the middle of the kale bed.

The soil in the lower bed and melon patch was not as depleted as the upper and middle beds, but I went ahead and dosed it with some good stuff anyway and planted them with English peas, beets, and garlic. The middle bed had my two tomato plants that suffered the steepest decline so nothing but sweet peas (note my funny ad hoc trellis of tomato cages and bamboo) and some manure went into that bed.

I was tired but very pleased to look out and see three garden beds of possibility, having grown weary of staring at my sad, gangly tomato plants.  However, the next morning when I went out to check on the new arrivals, I found my beds had all been trod through by the neighbor’s dog! Again! (You may remember this happened right after I planted my summer garden as well).  I know it was the neighbor’s dog because she knows how to open my front gate and rambles around freely in my yard, and because my own dog has MUCH smaller footprints and sleeps inside at night.  Curses! So I triaged the new plantings the best I could and erected a silly fence around each bed with bamboo stakes to hopefully discourage her from running through them like a dumb dog superhighway again.

Dome Improvements

Jeez golly, I have been trying to get a good picture of the house ever since the sun came back out and I just can’t seem to get any that really show how much better the place looks. As I mentioned before, we used the exact same color of paint. That and the fact that there are tons of shadows from all the trees around the house makes it impossible to get a really clean and distinct image of the improvement.  But fret not, I do have a before and after for you, such as it is.  I remembered that I’d taken a picture of the back of the house just before I started my whole patio project this summer, so here you go!

The Dome back in June of this year.

And the Dome today! Patio completed, trim replaced, siding replaced, painted, and back door refinished and painted. Yay!

It feels really good to have this project completed ahead of winter. Of course there are still a few things to finish up, as there always are. But the hard part is out of the way, and the house is ready to keep us warm and dry this winter. And it’s looking mighty snuggy, if I do say so myself.

Green Tomato Pickles

My tomatoes this year were a bit of a bust. Oh well, I’m still learning this stuff, hard as it is to admit. I feel like I should be an old pro, having grown up here where the garden is an integral part of life. 18 years of city living trained me for other things, like how to look tough walking down a bad street, how to find serenity in a crowd of people, and where to find the best pizza/burrito/hoagie at 2 AM. But it did not teach me how to make dirt that will sustain tomato plants through the entire summer.

My plants started out vigorous and ecstatic, clearly enjoying the chicken manure and organic fertilizer I used to supplement the soil.  They got huge fast and were covered in fruits. But they quickly petered out, and I never experienced the abondanza I had dreamed about. I got one really good crop, the first round to ripen, and that was about it.  After that they plants all got leggy and pale, and the few fruits that set wouldn’t ripen.  And then there was the incident with the deer.  Ah well, I have years of gardens ahead of me to get this right.

When this cold snap hit, I had a lot of green fruits still on the vine: Cherokee Purple, Roma, and Brandywines. I decided I need to make some use of them, given my meager yield overall, so I made green tomato pickles.

The recipe was simple, an amalgam of recipes I found online. The basic trick is to wash and quarter the tomatoes and then toss them in salt and let them sit overnight in the fridge. Then rinse and toss with whatever seasonings you want to use. For one batch I used garlic, fresh mint and basil, and Thai peppers. For the other I used garlic, fresh tarragon, and black peppercorns. You just pack the seasoned tomatoes into mason jars (sterilized) and cover with white wine vinegar, then pop them in the fridge. They are very sour, but very flavorful. Last night we had some as an appetizer, beside a selection of cheeses and sourdough bread, as you would a dish of olives. Not exactly the pantry full of ruby red tomato sauce I’d hoped for, but at least I’ll still be enjoying my garden all winter long!

A Quick Peek (and Grown Up Mac n Cheese)

Well, we (mostly) finished painting the house just hours ahead of the first storm of the season and man am I glad! The project took longer than we thought it would, as all projects do, but the house looks great. All that is left is to paint the upstairs dormers and do some more caulking of woodpecker holes here and there.  While we’re up there we’ll clear out the gutters as well.

I fully intend to post photos of the house all gussied up, but with the storm in full swing at the moment, you’ll have to be satisfied with this comparison of newly painted siding next to the old siding and funky trim. Same paint color, but the old paint was totally oxidized and peeling so you can really see what a difference the new paint makes.

One great thing about not painting for 20+ years is that when we finally did get around to it, the transformation was astonishing!

As the fella finished up painting in the highest places, Paul and I gathered as much dry manzanita kindling as we could.  Paul also filled all the bins inside with firewood and we covered the piles outside with tarps.  Then we put all the tools and painting equipment away and got inside!

Feeling exhausted and hungry from working, I decided we needed some serious comfort food for dinner, and whipped up a batch of grown-up mac and cheese (see the recipe below).  As we popped open bottles of IPA and dug in, the wind began to blow.

We actually had two extreme tornado warnings yesterday, with a few touching down in the next county and rumors of one literally just down the road (I’m skeptical about that one as it was reported by a local at the grocery store but not confirmed by any other source). Either way it’s wild stuff. We never have tornadoes around here, being as we’re sort of up in the mountains.  Although I can’t claim spotting any funnel clouds myself, we did see some very dramatic thunderstorms, dark ominous clouds, and hail, and we all agreed that was a perfectly acceptable tornado experience and that we don’t need another one, thankyouverymuch.

Here’s a loosey-goosey recipe for grown up mac n cheese. As you know, I cook by the seat of my pants, so these measurements are approximate:


  • 2 cups sharp cheddar, grated
  • 1 cup mozzerella, grated
  • 1 cup blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1 cup half and half at room temperature (milk will work, but all we had was half and half)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 12 oz strong ale (we used IPA, also I drank some before I poured it in, so more like 10 oz…)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons white flour
  • 1 box of whole grain pasta – I used old fashioned elbow macaroni, because not everything has to be grown up
  • 1 cup of thick cut bacon, cut into 1 inch slices, cooked to your preference
  • bread crumbs (I use panko)
  • fresh ground black pepper to taste

Get the pasta going, make sure you salt the water.

To make the cheese sauce, you’re going to start with a roux.  In they heaviest bottomed saucepan you have, using medium-low heat, melt the butter and very lightly saute the garlic.  Then gradually sprinkle in the flour, stirring to incorporate it completely into the butter without making lumps. Allow the flour to cook in the butter for a minute or two. Then very gradually and while stirring constantly, add the half-and half (or milk). You don’t want any lumps, so if lumps start to form, stop adding the cream and stir until the lumps dissolve before adding in the rest of the cream. Once the cream and the flour mixture are totally incorporated and starting to thicken, add your cheddar cheese and stir until it’s completely melted. Then add your blue cheese and stir that until it’s completely melted. Then you want to very slowly pour in your ale while stirring. Don’t do it too quickly or the sauce will lump up. Keep stirring the sauce and use a low heat so it doesn’t burn on the bottom.

Once your pasta is cooked, drain it and put it back into the pot. Using a rubber spatula, pour all the cheese sauce over the cooked pasta and stir to combine. Add the bacon and stir until it is evenly distributed.  Then sprinkle in about half of the mozzerella and stir that up. As the mozzerella melts it will make everything gooey and stringy and awesome.

Transfer the whole mixture into a big glass baking dish or casserole dish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs, the remaining mozzerella cheese, and black pepper to taste. Then bake until the topping is slightly brown.

We had this with some sauteed broccolini and lots of hot sauce. Talk about comfort food!




It’s going to be another long stretch before I have anything interesting to blog about. Not that I haven’t been busy, oh no! The fella and I have been busting our bums getting the Dome buttoned up for winter, which this weekend finally meant painting! Unfortunately, because we’re using the exact same color paint as before, is not a tremendously photogenic project. In person it is an incredible transformation, let me tell you. But all my photos look like boring pictures of green walls, and with the slanty fall sunlight, are so high-contrast that any differences in color are totally lost with my cruddy camera. So you’ll have to take my word for it: the house looks like a million bucks! We’re about halfway done, and the rest will have to wait until the weekend as the fella and I both have paycheck-style work to do for the next few days.

p.s. I tried the peach shrub this weekend and it is DELICIOUS!  Makes an amazing cocktail with a jigger of rum, and a splash of sody-water over ice. I use only about an ounce of shrub in the mix and it’s perfectly sweet, super flavorful (but watch out, cuz you can’t taste the rum!) and very refreshing. I am also thinking it will make an amazing hot toddy type drink heated up with some bourbon, which is a little more suited for the season.

The Strange Ambition of the Homesteader

As the boisterous summer season is replaced by the contemplative calm of fall, I cannot help but take stock of my progress in this homesteading adventure, and unfortunately I’m not entirely pleased. It’s true that, from spring to fall of this year, with the immeasurable help of my Ranch community, I have accomplished the following:

  • Rebuilt the crumbling chicken coop and goat pen into a cozy and functional (not to mention lovely) shelter
  • Increased my flock to five hens
  • Brought in three wonderful Nigerian Dwarf goats to start the Henge and Hollow herd
  • Prepped, planted, and harvested my first big vegetable garden
  • Explored my property on horseback for the first time in 20 years or so
  • Established my first colony of honeybees
  • Built a patio and bee garden at the back of the house
  • Threw a huge party
  • Put away 6 pints of peach jam; 14 packages of pesto; 16 cubes of tomato paste; two jars of pickles; one pint of peach shrub; two cups of sundried tomatoes in olive oil; 1/2 pound of dried peaches; and one quart of jalapeno pepper sauce
  • Replaced all the rotten trim on the house
  • Hauled two truckloads of firewood out of the forest
  • Fell madly in love with the most wonderful guy I’ve ever met

I guess you could say that’s not a bad 6 months for a single girl going back to back to the land. For sure, some of this stuff is magical and there’s no denying it.  Still, there is so much more to do. The new hens haven’t started laying and are just three more mouths to feed, there’s the kidding shed and milking parlor to be built and no money to build it, the doe has yet to be bred, my garden was something of a disappointment and all I can see is pile of work ahead of me tearing it all out and getting the winter garden in, the apple, olive, and grape vine all produced nothing but shriveled useless little fruits, I will be going a full year as a beekeeper without tasting any honey (if I’m lucky and they even survive the winter), my horse needs shoes and I can’t afford it right now, the back patio project is being overrun with weeds and I can’t keep up, my summer exercise regimen fell to the wayside before it even started, my fella is about to head out for six months of work somewhere far away from me, and we still have to paint the house and split the wood ahead of what they’re saying is going to be a very wet season.

Not to mention all the wild plans for an aquaponics system, broiler chicken tractor, cheese cave, and greenhouse up and running for next season! Holy mole!

So much for the gentle paced life of a country mouse. I seem to have replaced the striving and grasping of city life with an equally frantic list of impossible homesteading goals. What gives?

What is definitely true is that winter brings new priorities. The bustle of warm weather tasks must be set aside for now. They can wait. Life will slow down, become more methodical. Keep the fires going, keep the soup hot.  As the rain begins to fall I will learn a new meditation: appreciate what I have, be at peace with how things are.  Take comfort in a pair of wool socks.  The aroma of damp leaves and warm bread.  My ambition will rest underground with the bulbs, and come up again in spring.


Well, here it is. That sensation, at once so familiar, yet almost forgotten, of being cold. It’s amazing how, when you live in a place with distinct seasons, you can be so insanely hot in the summer it’s almost like you’ll never be cold again. Until you are.

The leaves are falling in golden sunlight.  The windows are closed. I wrap my hands around my coffee mug and the warmth is comforting. And there you have it: Autumn is here, summer is gone.

This weekend I did a bunch of kitchen stuff while the fella finished replacing the trim on the house so we can start painting.

I baked sourdough, made and froze a batch of tomato paste, and started a ‘shrub.’

My first post-summer sourdough. My wild yeast starter has mellowed into a lovely, sophisticated flavor that it equally sweet and sour. I was worried when I took it out of the fridge to make the levain, because it smelled very fermented, but I love the results!

For the tomato paste, I pureed about 3 pounds of tomatoes – some from my garden, some from my neighbor’s, and some from my friend Megan’s. Once pureed, you can strain them to get out the skins and seeds, but my strainer was too fine and nothing but tomato water was getting through, so I decided my tomato paste would have to be ‘rustic.’

Then I sauteed one whole onion and about 5 cloves of garlic in olive oil on a low heat until they were very soft.

Then I added the tomato puree to the onions with a pinch of salt, and cooked off nearly all the liquid over a period of about 3 hours. As the paste thickened it got much darker in color and more fragrant. Then I froze it in an ice cube tray. 3 lbs of tomatoes filled just 1 tray after all that!

I had never heard of a shrub until Gina made some a few weeks ago. It’s sort of a vinegar fruit syrup you add to soda water, and it makes a super thirst-quenching beverage (also a delicious cocktail mixer!) so when my aunt brought over a bag of very ripe local peaches, I knew just what to do with them. This shrub was very easy: 4 lbs peaches, peeled and chopped, macerated in 1 cup sugar for two or three days. Then add 15 basil leaves and 1 cup white wine vinegar and refrigerate for another week. Then strain out the solids and keep the ‘shrub’ (the remaining liquid) in a glass jar in the fridge and it will keep for months and months. Yum!