Tomatoes (not enchiladas)

gibbily francis
gibby is waiting for the enchiladas… soon, gib!

I sat down to talk about enchiladas. Tasty enchiladas. Tasty, authentic, homemade enchiladas. Enchiladas from the fabulous Pati Jinich of Pati’s Mexican Table fame. That will come soon, because they were really *really* tasty enchiladas!!

This morphed into a garden post. It’s mostly about tomatoes, with a wee bit of my outlook on life. The good, the bad, and the ugly :)

A riddle:

Q: What do you get when you cross a man with a disappointing tomato crop and a lady whose glass is half-full in spite of the tomato vines dying too soon?

A: I’m not sure what you would get, but around here we got a mess of watery, tasteless tomatoes tossed on at the compost heap.

That is sure to make some raccoon very happy tonight ;)

the little tomatoes that could
little tomatoes that could — left to right: park’s whopper, mr. stripey, golden jubilee, and a generic beefsteak

Ahhh, garden tomatoes. They can make your heart leap with joy, or they can crush it like a vise. How we yearn for them in the winter. We gaze longingly at the colorful pictures in the catalog, and after much discussion, choose and order the seeds. We watch for the postman, and worry that the package may arrive to an empty house and oh — horrible thought — freeze if we aren’t home! It may sound crazy but it’s true. That’s how we think up here in the north woods.

Then comes the happy day when the seeds arrive, to be safely carried into the warm house. There is much oohing and aahing over the pictures on the packets. We feel like pioneers. The garden is everything, and the tomato is king. Surely our tomatoes will look just like those pictures, and taste even better. We get out the calendar and talk about the last frost date.

From tiniest seeds planted with care by the warmth of the wood stove while the frigid February wind blows, the emerging seedlings are tended as one would tend a child. As winter wanes, we watch them anxiously — are they too leggy? too wet? too dry? It’s all in the hands of the garden gods. When spring finally arrives, the hopeful little babies are set out in the garden. If it’s a good year, we are rewarded with more fruit than we can handle — jam and chutney flow through our veins. Other years, the vines struggle and the fruit we harvest may not be as tasty as we’d dreamed way back in the chill of February. Still, any tomato plucked from the garden is a thousand times better than the hard, waxy balls from the grocery store.

If the tomatoes aren’t great, one could argue that it’s an off year for the garden. I respectfully disagree.

In the spirit of my lately-completed law class (with a hard-won “A”, too!), I offer the following evidence ;)

corn in silk and tassel
Corn is in tassel and silk

The peppers (hot and sweet varieties) are a success as usual, and there will be carrots for weeks to come. Papdi beans are coming on now. Pole beans are flourishing among the sunflowers and we are entertained by the bees (finally!) visiting.

sunflowers reach for the sky
sunflowers growing heavy with seed for the birds

Brussels sprouts plants are standing tall. The winter squash and Korean radish have exceeded even my optimistic expectations — with the latter literally vaulting out of the ground! Who knew?

brussels sprouts
brussels sprouts plant ~ waiting for the autumn chill to form the sprouts along the stem

korean radish
korean radishes average over a foot long ~ can’t pick them fast enough

The herbs are growing nicely — some already dried for winter use.

fresh basil
yes, that is the outdoor garden sink full to the brim with fragrant basil ~ I made pesto with that :)

It’s true: with the notable exception of those pictured here, this year’s tomatoes have been something of a bust.

Still I can’t complain!

amish paste tomatoes
amish paste tomatoes grow in various sizes and shapes

amish paste tomato
amish paste tomato showing few seeds

For years I dreamed of attending the Carmel Tomatofest in sunny California — not for the California sunshine but for the amazing array of heirloom tomatoes on display. Check out the photo on the link above — it’s good enough to eat, and lucky attendees could try each and every one! The classic Tomatofest has since merged with another festival featuring even more good things, but its tomato-only avatar lived on in my mind. I always wanted to have a mini-version of my own. Today, thanks mostly to dear G’s hard work, I finally made it happen. Only four varieties were featured — all the testers could handle ;)

mini tomato fest in my kitchen
lined up for the taste test from left to right: park’s whopper, mr. stripey, golden jubilee, and beefsteak — tomato fest in my kitchen!**

We may not have a huge tomato-canning venture this year, but nevermind. There is plenty of tomato bounty left from last fall, and crop is not a total loss. There are some ripening yet, and the cherry tomatoes are doing well. If the garden gods smile upon us, we’ll have tomato fest part two in a few weeks with a few other varieties — either way I have a feeling that tomatoes will be simmering before September is out. Besides, I managed to make a small batch of ISG’s tasty thokku the other day. And that made me very happy.

ISGs tomato thokku
ISG’s tasty, spicy tomato thokku

We take the bitter with the sweet in this life.

I firmly believe there’s no great loss without some small gain (though I am not sure dear G would count attracting raccoons as a gain). ;)

For me, it’s all about enjoying the moment and trying to be happy with and thankful for what I’ve got. It’s really not that hard. Anyone can choose to be happy, or choose to be unhappy.

I choose to be happy, and I won’t let anything stand in the way :)

Next up, awesome enchiladas!

**For anyone interested (and for my own journal!) the results were:
Park’s Whopper (7.6 oz) — tartest taste, my #1, G’s #4
Mr. Stripey (9.2 oz) — sweetest taste, a little spicy, unanimous #2
Golden Jubilee (5.6 oz) — a little sweet, peachy, unanimous #3
Beefsteak (5.9 oz) — G thought “pretty good” I thought “bland, watery”, G’s #1, my #4

Amish paste was not rated — it’s more a mealy cooking tomato.

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Gardening in the Cool of the North Woods

back garden complete with bat house
the little garden in the north woods ~ the red house on the pole is the bat house that dear G built to entice the creatures to our yard and gardens ~ first he built the house, then he hauled in a tree trunk and affixed the house to the top, then he *dug a hole* to set it in the ground ~ he is so clever :)

Hello friends!

I’m thankful to say that the 5th term of school is over and there are still a few days before the 6th begins. We were able to take a quick trip to the Upper Peninsula in search of boats and birds and agates… then home to tend the gardens before heading back to work tomorrow.

grand sable dunes
sunset over grand sable dunes in the UP ~ storm rolling in

It’s been a very cool summer — things are growing, but s l o w l y….

back garden
the little garden out back ~ corn tops out at about 8′ high!

brussels sprouts
brussels sprouts growing in the big garden ~ waiting for fall to produce

korean radish
korean radishes have been a surprise success ~ I’ve already made Maangchi’s Kkakdugi with a few!

korean squash
korean squash baby with blossom waiting to open

maybe a kobocha?
winter squash have been another surprise success ~ this one’s a mystery ~ buttercup? kabocha?

pepper plantation
the pepper plantation is flourishing in spite of the cool weather

ridge gourd blossom
beautiful ridge gourd blossom

summer squash
summer squash was planted late

sunflowers
sunflowers bring the goldfinches and other birds

Tonight I made rasavangi with the first of the brinjals (yep, first! in August!?) and a Korean squash. It was based loosely on this recipe from Sruthi’s Kitchen — completely delicious!

Sadly the tomatoes all have a disease which is killing the foliage — but doesn’t seem to stop the fruit from growing. Here’s hoping for heat to ripen them before frost.

How does your garden grow?

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The Little Garden in the North Woods

Hello friends!

It’s been a long winter/spring/start to summer — I have hardly had a moment to play at blogging since I went back to school in October.

law book
they called the class “criminal procedure” ~ really it is Constitutional law to keep me awake nights reading :)

The terms are 8 weeks long, with no break in between save at Christmas and late August. Finally the school heard the students crying for relief; beginning the end of August we will have a week’s break after every term. At last!

Here is where I am working these days… wouldn’t you like to come visit!!? :)

view from work
view from my ‘office’ window ~ beautiful caribbean-colored grand traverse bay :)

And here are some photos from summertime in the north woods.
Dear G built the ‘little’ garden for me — a giant raised bed — and the plants are growing huge. Now if only we would see a little fruit!

little garden in the north woods
view of the new little garden from the dining room window ~ pure green joy!

tomatoes and ichiban eggplant in the little garden
heirloom tomato plants and ichiban eggplant grow large in the little garden ~ waiting for the heat to bring the fruit

little garden in the north woods
the little garden grows corn and various squashes…

korean squash vines
hoping for some korean gray squash

three sisters garden
a ‘three sisters’ garden ~ plant corn, plant beans to grow up the cornstalks, plant squash to keep the weeds down ~ but the squash are taking over!

buttercup blossom
a buttercup squash blossom with baby squash ~ we need bees to pollinate and there is hardly a bee to be found

indian gourds vining out
snake and ash gourds are vining out…

hopeful beefsteak tomatoes
hopeful “beefsteak tomatoes” of an unknown heirloom variety

black prince tomatoes
black prince tomato plants grown from seed ~ they are flowering now

amish paste tomatoes
the big garden is full to bursting with plants ~ here are amish paste tomatoes and carrots

amish paste tomatoes
amish paste tomatoes coming on ~ we were picking these in October last year

sweet 100 cherry tomatoes
sweet 100 cherry tomatoes are reliable

pepper plantation
Dear G’s favorite ~ the pepper plantation with about 10 varieties! already picking banana peppers here :)

serrano peppers in the pepper plantation
yummy serrano peppers ~ my fav!

korean radish growing
korean radishes are starting to heave out of the ground ~ time to make kimchi soon

garden table by dear g
the awesome garden table complete with a sink ~ dear G built it so we can wash veggies outdoors!

first korean radish
and the first korean radish ~ ready for a bath

cherries in the yard
we got a few cherries from the trees in the yard before the birds claimed them…

bird pond
the bird pond with teepee of brush for the bathers to hide in ~ that huge pile in back is just part of the wood dear G has already split for winter warmth

philadelphia vireo
a philadelphia vireo waits to snatch a drink from the pond

male redstart at the pond
dear G got this great shot of the male redstart at the bird pond ~ he’s the orange and black fellow on the right :)

And last but not least, the kitties :)

lemur the dreamer
lemur the dreamer is the outdoor kitty in summer

gibby
his name is gibby (like gibbous moon) but I like to call him gibbily francis :)

kitties
pinks snoozing and daisy snuggling ~ view to the front yard behind

All is cozy in the north woods. How does your garden grow?

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Pumpkin Sambhar ~ Literally!

During my short break from classes, I am having a blast just going to work and coming home — sometimes even having a day off like today. I was poking around for something to do with a leftover ‘pie pumpkin’ from the fall. After Halloween, a local farm stand had these for fifty cents apiece and I couldn’t resist — I bought three. Two went out to the deer.

two fawns
two fawns at the bird feeder in broad daylight ~ that’s how cold it is and how hungry they are

With the last pumpkin, I thought I might make this pumpkin soup in a pumpkin.

As usual when I have time on my hands (a rare occurrence these days!), my mind started turning after reading the recipe. I decided it would be far more fun to make sambhar. OK, I know, when is it NOT more fun to make sambhar? Never! But this sambhar is baked in the pumpkin.

I made a regular onion sambhar with some carrot as well. I added fennel seeds and fresh garlic to the usual tadka, and a pinch each of ginger powder and nutmeg powder with the sambhar powder. A little extra tamarind water offset the sweetness of pumpkin. I made the sambhar on the stovetop, but did not cook the veggies all the way. I hollowed out the pumpkin, rubbed it with oil outside, and filled it with the half-done sambhar. Baked in a 350F oven for about two hours, the sambhar came out delicious. The fringe benefit was the pumpkin bowl — its softened insides bathed in all the spices and just waiting to be scraped out into the sambhar. A little bit of trouble but well worth it!

pumpkin and onions
hollowed out pumpkin with unusually small regular yellow onions ~ I treated them as sambhar onions and they worked perfectly

sambhar ~ ready to bake in a pumpkin
all ready to bake ~ I covered the pumpkin with its natural lid for the first hour ~ then removed the lid and baked an hour longer

voila ~ sambhar in a pumpkin!
voila! sambhar in a pumpkin bowl ~ perfect comfort food for the cold weather

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Happy New Year!!

Just a few shots of low-key holiday happenings here in the beautiful north woods…

Wishing you lots of love, good health, and happiness in 2014!

winter birds
pileated woodpeckers in the front yard

meg in the leelanau peninsula
a wintry trip up the leelanau peninsula to show miss m sleeping bear dunes national lakeshore

sleeping bear nat'l lakeshore at Glen Arbor
sleeping bear point as seen from glen arbor ~ snow covered dunes

the new kitchen aid!
for christmas dg and I got ourselves a mutual gift ~ a kitchen aid mixer!!! seen here after whipping up maple buttercream frosting for miss m’s cookies :)

pileated woodpecker
pileated woodpecker at the window suet feeder ~ this amazing woodpecker is the size of a crow and so beautiful! we have three around the yard…

red haven peaches
summertime dreaming… locally grown red haven peaches

summer bounty in Oct
more summertime dreaming… the mess of tomatoes still ripening indoors in october

spice cabinet
dg built a new wall cabinet for spices and things… here it is in progress

the tree
the tree

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A Wee Christmas Verse and How To Wrap A Cat

‘Tis the night before Christmas and all through the house
Not a kittie is stirring, not even to chase a mouse.
The stockings are hung by the wood stove with care
In hopes that Saint Kittielaus soon will be there.

The kitties are nestled all snug in their chairs
While visions of kittynip dance in their heads.
I’ve thrown down my apron, Meg’s picked up her book,
After hours in the kitchen, we’ve nothing left to cook.

So from Pinks and Daisy, from Gibby and Lemur
From little old Squeaker, asleep by the fire,
We wish you much happiness, your joy our desire.
And let us exclaim as we purr out of sight,
Happy Christmas to all,
And to all a good night!

xmas eve kitty buffet
pre-christmas kitty buffet

xmas eve daisy
daisy, asleep in her chair

xmas eve pinks
pinks has decided he will not be starring in how to wrap a cat for christmas — the sequel

xmas eve squeaker
little squeaker is going on 22 yrs old…

xmas eve deer
magical deer outside ~ late afternoon on christmas eve

german apple pancake
we made german apple pancakes!

the golden boys
the golden boys

my christmas gift!
the best gift any day of the year ~ miss m is here!!

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Back To School

office assistant searching for APA citations...
my office assistant ~ searching for proper APA citations :)

After years away from school, I found a way to finish my bachelor’s degree online!

This is very exciting… but I don’t have a minute to breathe.
I work, I study, I sleep. When I study, I am lost in a sea of APA citations. When I sleep, I have nightmares about APA citations.
I think one could get a PhD in APA citations alone! :(

But all work and no play makes a grumpy Linda :)

Tonight I took an hour off to make to a dish I have been craving ever since I left Massachusetts — months ago now. I have canned jackfruit in the cupboard, which is what I always used. Somehow I had convinced myself that I didn’t have time to make it. I wasn’t worth it? HA.

Why do you suppose we deny ourselves permission to do the things we love best? Well, leaving social science behind, suffice to say that this evening, at long last, I made dear Solai’s jackfruit pirattal once again.

If you have never tried Solai’s jackfruit, I say, do! It’s beyond simplicity and beyond delicious. Plus it gives me reason to forage in the spice cupboard I took over in the north woods, which around here is affectionately known as “Little India”. :):):)

In the first three weeks of school, I have made A grades. The rice is nearly done. My kids, DG, and the kitties are cozy warm in their respective beds. All is right with my little world… and I hope, with yours too :)

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