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Archive for October, 2011

Fortnight Favorites

A few highlights from the past couple of weeks:

Star-gazing by firelight.

My handsome hiking buddy.

Cozy foster kids.

Movie night aftermath.

Antics.

Cold cuddly kitty cat congregations.

Pumpkin bread and hot apple cider.

Surprise new bikes!

Looking good, October!

🙂

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I’m very pleased to announce that I have completed the first month of my 100 Month Challenge. I am now 1% of the way toward paying off my student loan debt!

As a celebration, I have purchased this lovely little African Violet, which I named Florence.

For each successfully completed month, I will buy a new houseplant. With any luck, I will be able to keep more than a few of them alive over the course of the next eight years, so that by the end I will have an impressive collection of green carbon-dioxide eating children.

Here’s to the start of my collection, and many more additions.

*cheers*

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It’s been a little while since I posted a garden update. I never would have anticipated actually having a garden to speak of this late in the year, but one of my many great gardening discoveries of 2011 is the existence of something called cold weather crops.

Cold weather crops, winter crops, cool-season vegetables: these all describe plants that actually grow better in cool temps than their heat-loving summer counterparts. Salad greens of all types, broccoli and cauliflower, peas, and any root vegetables such as radish, carrots, beets, and so on, will grace your garden well into the chillier months.

About six weeks ago we built two new garden beds and carefully sowed a small variety of seeds. This is the first time I’ve grown a garden from seeds alone, so things were a bit messy and slow to start, especially whenever the cats would get around to haphazardly planting their own fertilizer, so to speak.

But things came around, and though I’m not entirely confident we will get much of a harvest out of some of it, I’m still ecstatic to have new little green plantlings to be checking on each day, even in the middle of October.

Our lettuce and spinach (and wild onions, incidentally) are flourishing, and taste a great deal better than the ones I had tried growing in the heat of late spring. If the spinach looks a bit sparse, it’s mostly because we’ve already begun supplementing our dinners and snack time with it.

Mmmm, spinach snacks.

Here you can see where I spilled nearly an entire package of carrot seeds on the ground between the two beds. Maybe it won’t be such a waste after all!

Farmer Ollie helps out.

He stomps his feet and claps his…paws, and turns around to view his land. (That doesn’t exactly rhyme, does it.)

Meanwhile, my summer garden bed is still churning out a few surprises. I found a surprise green pepper, but unfortunately by the time I realized it was growing there, it had been rendered inedible by some mysterious force or another.

My zinnias seem to have caught a second wind this late in the season, and the marigolds are still blooming full force.

Most wondrous of all, my crazy cherry tomato plants are going on five months of production now, still providing us with a few daily saltable snacks.

It’s good to be a farmer.

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To prepare my butternut feast, I did the following:

  • Very carefully cut the squash in half lengthwise with a very sharp knife.
  • Remove seeds, which leaves a convenient little indentation.
  • Place halves in a baking dish and brush the tops with melted butter. I also poured a bit into the scooped out part.
  • Mix together a dash of cinnamon, pepper, salt, and nutmeg. Sprinkle this over the top.
  • Sprinkle brown sugar liberally over the top, and put a few tablespoonfuls in each indentation.
  • Cover and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes.
  • Uncover, and continue baking 20-30 minutes, or until the squash reaches your desired state of tenderness.
  • Enjoy!
I found that the melted butter and sugar mixture was the tastiest part of the dish. You can scoop out spoonfuls of the flesh and dip it into the pool of yummy goodness. Or, you can scoop out out all the flesh into a separate dish and mix in the melted sugar concoction, mashed potatoes and gravy style. For more flavor, add just a bit more nutmeg or cinnamon to the finished product.
Next time, I plan to cube the squash before I cook it, or perhaps scoop out the flesh about half way through the baking process. I think this might subtract some baking time, as well as allowing more surface area to crisp up a bit. Yum!

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My New Favorite Family

I don’t ever remember eating a zucchini, until this summer. I’m not sure how I could have gone almost 28 years of my life without ever having tried a bite of zucchini, but quite frankly I don’t think I ever had much of an opportunity. I didn’t even know what a zucchini looked like. I hang my head in shame.

As for squash in general, I’m afraid my experiences aren’t much more sophisticated. I’ve always had a vague knowledge that a pumpkin is a type of squash, and that it can somehow be put into a can, which is then used to make pies in November. One time, a few years ago, I had a butternut squash soup at a fancy restaurant. I felt really brave for eating it, even though I had no idea what a butternut squash was like, except orangish as a soup.

All that changed at the farmers’ market this summer. I picked up a funny little yellow thing that they told me was a summer squash. I think I may have asked what to do with it. It was lying in a basket next to some similar looking green things, so I got one of each and lo and behold, summer squash and zucchini made their debut in my life.

I’m pretty fascinated with squash these days. Summer squash is easy to grow and can be thrown into almost any dish to add flavor and heartiness. Winter squash is a whole new world that I haven’t even begun to fathom as of yet. I don’t know quite what to do with them, but I do know that they are more than just beautiful as decoration, and they have really awesome names, unlike most vegetables: Carnival, Fairytale Pumpkin, Delicata, Gold Nugget, Turban, Spaghetti, Golden Acorn!

When I think about the culinary possibilities of squash, I feel like Bubba with his shrimp. The possibilities are endless with such a versatile fruit! Squash can be baked, it can be fried, it can supplement stews and pastas and rice dishes, it can be served raw with dips though I wouldn’t recommend it. Squash makes pies, it makes soups, it makes casseroles and breads and even cookies sometimes. You can keep your Thanksgiving decor piled up on your centerpiece and it may still be edible months later!

My favorite part about squash, though, is its bang for your buck. Not only are they outrageously nutritious and delicious and durable, but they are insanely inexpensive! Just tonight I made a hearty meal for two, using just $2 worth of summer squash and red potatoes. I even used the expensive kind of potatoes, and came up with a $1-a-serving meal. Yum.

Now, this guy was a bit more expensive. At almost $4, this was the most pricey thing in my shopping basket. I’m not quite sure exactly what to do with it, but I’m sure it’s going to fill our bellies with delicious goodness, and is going to be worth every one of those 377 pennies..

I’ve been eyeing those decorative piles of autumn edibles at the grocery store with a new eye these days, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the squash family as if it were my very own. Only more tasty.

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