Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Tale of Two Days

Yesterday was yet another frustratingly on again/off again rainy day. By actual count, it rained hard enough to soak everything and drive me indoors five different times. When it wasn't raining, the sun was shining and teasing me into hauling all my paraphernalia back out into the garden one more time. Then, you guessed it, the big, gray clouds would move in and, yup, more rain. About the third time this happened, I just stood looking up at the sky as the raindrops fell in my face and said, "Okay, who's winning here?"

Raining too hard to work in the dirt? I did really try to keep myself productively occupied. I went to recycling and then the local greenhouse to see what I absolutely had to buy since they were having their closing weekend sale. Back home. Hey! Sunshine. Great. Out to the garden. Rain started. Inside to mix up a meat loaf for dinner. Weather cleared. Back outside. Rain again. Inside to make a batch of kombucha. Back outside. Guess what? Rain. Inside to set a batch of bread to rise. Back outside. Drip, drip, splat, splat, run for cover. My spirit was broken. I did something I rarely do during daylight hours. I grabbed my current book and laid on the couch and read. Until I fell asleep for a wee little nap. All that dashing in and out, up and down, out and about was apparently exhausting.

But whadda different day today. Finally had a whole day when the weather cooperated enough that I got a good day's work done outside. Planted three kinds of beans, sunflowers that I've been wanting to plant for two years, a row of dill I had started inside a couple of weeks ago, and a row of alternating marigolds and early cabbage. Finished mulching the raspberry patch and a bed of lettuce. Roy was out all day, too. He did the big job of all the weed whipping --- around all the garden beds, the field garden, the pumpkin patch, the perimeter fence, all the fruit trees, the beehives in the yard, and the flower beds around the deck. Then he mowed all the grass. This is a huge feat and normally doesn't all get done in one day.

When he planted the tree seedlings a few weeks ago, we put what we thought was a flowering crab apple in a triangular section of a flower bed on the east side of the deck. But, whoa, now that the leaves have appeared, it sure doesn't look like any kind of apple tree. So we did a little switcherooney with a seedling (that does look like a flowering crab apple) that he had planted in the open space outside of the fenced in yard next to the wood's line. He also planted the two bleeding heart bushes and three gypsophila that followed me home from the greenhouse sale yesterday.

With luck, tomorrow will be another lovely weather-wise day and we can get the hammock set up for the first time this year. Well, maybe not until a few other things get done first, but I can hardly wait to settle into it with my book . . . and take a little nap.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Road Block

I've fallen and I can't get up? No, but I am stuck and my wheels are spinning. Here it is the second week in June and I can't finish getting my garden planted.

Late last week, we had one heck of a deluge in the form of 5" of rain overnight. It took out roads, bridges and driveways county-wide. About three-quarters of the way out to the highway, our driveway crosses a section line and electrical right-of-way. One of the huge poles suspending the high voltage wires toppled and we found ourselves unable to get out the driveway because of the downed wires.

When all was said and done, we found we were extremely fortunate to have come through the flash flooding with hardly any personal damage at all. Our basement stayed dry, the driveway didn't wash out, and the garden came through very well. About the only thing the water did there was to move some tomato cages (wire wrapped with plastic) snapping off the fledgling tomatoes, flatten the dirt I had hilled up over newly planted potatoes and wash away some tiny lettuce sprouts that had newly emerged. Some of the sapling trees Roy planted a few weeks ago sustained some erosion around their bases so he made a tour fixing that.

Since the storm we've had very cool weather and only a couple glimpses of sunshine . . . and more rain nearly every day. I did manage to get out a couple of days ago to finish mulching the blueberries with peat moss and the raspberry patch with saved grass clippings. Also dodged raindrops to harvest a good bunch of spinach, thin some lettuce and harvest the first radishes, but I haven't been able to do any more planting. And, really, with the current low temperatures and wetness (which makes it seem even colder), I should put off setting out replacement tomatoes, and planting beans and pickling cucumbers for fear the seeds will just rot in the cold, saturated ground. But talk about pea growing weather! And it's true the plants that like cool weather are thriving. I've got strawberry plants that are about 12" tall. They look like they're stretching up as far as they can to reach some sunshine. Or perhaps just escape the mud.

Sure, there are plenty of things I could get involved with indoors during this cold, inclement weather. But there's an uneasy feeling that keeps me pacing back and forth looking out the windows at the unfinished garden. I just can't seem to switch gears and concentrate on anything else until the garden is in. Then I'll feel good about moving on to the next big project waiting to be tackled. (Wood splitting, anyone?)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Remembering Rosie's and Rhubarb

I really, really like rhubarb and whenever I'm cooking with it I always think of Rosie's Cafe. The first few years Roy and I were married, we lived 55 miles away from where I worked full-time and he worked part-time while going to school full-time. It was a good hour's drive one way. Occasionally on our way home at night, we would treat ourselves and stop at Rosie's Cafe for a quick dinner. The small restaurant was owned and run by three sisters. Rosie was the waitress and the other two sisters worked in the kitchen. This was in the early '60s and all the food was made from scratch and good. There was a printed menu but there was always an "evening special" utilizing fresh produce and meat that was available in the local farming community. Eating at Rosie's was a great experience. I often dream of going back there, but the sisters would all be 100+ years old now . . . and probably not doing much cooking.

Now, pie has always been my very favorite dessert. As a new cook, I had heard that making good pie crust was a real art so was a little gun-shy about trying it. Instead, I purchased packages of Betty Crocker's "pie sticks" (they looked just like quarter pounds of butter) which you rolled out and, ta-da, there was your pie crust. One day Roy said very kindly, "Hon, until you have time to learn how to make pie crust, why don't we just skip the pies." Well. I could take a hint. No pies went in and out of my oven for some time.

Back to Rosie's. Each spring, Rhubarb Pie was sure to be offered. Outside of the fact that Rhubarb Pie is close to being my very favorite kind of pie, Rosie's crust was wonderful; flaky, tender, melted in your mouth. So one night after polishing off a piece of delectable Rhubarb Pie, I asked Rosie what the secret was to making such great pie crust. She replied that I would have to ask her sister as she was the pie baker. One of the sisters came out of the kitchen to chat with us. Cleverly avoiding revealing her own crust recipe ingredients, she did say that I had to remember two things. The first was to use ice water when mixing the flour and shortening. The second was to always make the pie crusts and then let them rest in the refrigerator overnight before rolling them out and making the pies.

So back to the drawing board I went and eventually came up with a good crust recipe. Matter of fact, my career in the restaurant business started with going to a friend's restaurant at 4:30 in the morning and baking pies. And, yes, I made lots and lots of rhubarb pies. One year after I had my own restaurant, Roy and I contracted with a lady living somewhat south of us who had long rows of luxuriant rhubarb plants. We bought over 100 pounds of rhubarb, processed and froze it so I could make rhubarb pies throughout the year.

Recently I found a cookbook that was obviously written for rhubarb lovers. Recipes using rhubarb to make everything from beverages to jams to salads to desserts. What fun I'm having working my way through it. If the old wives' tale about rhubarb being a cleansing, spring tonic is true, boy, are we in good shape.

My rhubarb plant currently looks a trifle lopsided, and possibly a little over-picked, so I should try to refrain from any rhubarb concoctions for a week or so. But I can still go bake some other kind of pie. I like to think Rosie and her sisters would be proud.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Getting the Garden In

Yup. There's something about putting in a big garden that eats up all your time and beats up all your body parts. Or at least, that's what happens to me this time of year. Our growing season up here near the tundra (not quite, but sometimes it feels close) is so short that it seems everything needs to be done at once.

When we lived in Illinois (farm country, you know, where you could actually grow things like sweet corn and tomatoes without the use of greenhouses and cold frames), you could spread your planting out a bit. Get in the early crops like peas, onions, lettuce, beets, broccoli, cabbage, and carrots and then rest a bit before planting the veggies that like the really warm weather such as tomatoes, beans, corn, cucs, melons and so forth. Up here our growing season is smooshed into such a short period that by the time the frost leaves the ground and the cooler weather seeds and plants are safe from contracting chilblains, it's also time to get in the rest of the crops so they have time to mature. Typically, our spring is non-existent; we seem to go from "gosh, it's still danged cold out" to "time to put away the turtlenecks and find the tank tops . . . and be quick about it, I'm sweltering!" A high of 40 degrees one day, then the next day it's in the 70s and above for the rest of the summer.

Then, too, there's the dance I do every year to get as much as possible done outside before the dreaded bugs arrive. This year we've had an exceptionally cool spring (cool non-spring?) and because of the lack of any warm days (ah, but wait, I think I remember one a couple of weeks ago), the bugs here in our location close to Lake Superior have yet to make an appearance. Shhhh, this is not a complaint. But it does make me push my body each bug-less day to get all I can done outside because I know my tolerance for working in the garden while being chewed on by black flies, or mosquitoes, or no-see-ums is nil. My dad was terribly allergic to insect bites and although I'm not as affected as he was, one bite swells my skin like a helium balloon while itching for weeks and so I simply cannot function while various small, flying beasties are feasting on my blood.

Complaints, complaints. Waaaah, what a cry-baby. I'm just tired and achy and dirty tonight. I love gardening; you'd hear a lot more moaning and groaning if I had to give it up. And, hey, let it be a challenge. Once the garden is in, I find it easy to keep it weed-free and enjoy immensely the visual beauty of all the growing and producing plants and harvest of nutritious foods I look forward to. As far as this never-enough-hours-in-the-day period, well, what could be better for me than to spend days out in the beautiful, fresh air, bending and stretching and exercising so many muscles in my body? It's all worth it many times over.