12/29/2009

Double Deep-Fried Hot Dog on a Bun


(Shown here, my herb shop next to the garden, with a light dusting of snow today).

I think the observance of the New Year holiday is more emotional and psychological than it is real. It's a bit like paying a religious person to forgive you for all the errors you made in the last 12 months, so that you can simply start all over again with a clean slate and make the same errors of judgment again. Granted, it is an observable date, something you can point to on the calendar and say, "That's the day I quit smoking" or, "I swore I'd cut my soft drink spending in half, beginning there..." But the date's also loaded with minefields. Intentions are good on the first day of the year, less so after the second piece of candy the day after. But if for nothing else, setting aside one day of the year to start anew, make promises, allow ourselves some forgiveness for being slackers, is in the end, a good thing.


You may already know that this New Year's Eve holds something special. This year when we celebrate the death of 2009 and the birth of a new calendar year, we'll have not just a full moon on New Year's Eve - something that doesn't happen that often, but a blue moon, as well. If you go to bed early and miss seeing this full, blue moon on New Year's Eve, you will have to wait another 29 (or was it 27) years to see another. And no, the name blue moon doesn't relate to its color, it will likely be its regular moon-color. Read the link to see why it's a blue moon. Additionally, this Saturday will be a palindrome date --- 01022010.  (A palindrome is a number, word, or something that can be read the same forwards or backwards).

The seed catalogs keep arriving daily and piling up in my office, beckoning me to STOP and read them. I'm just not ready to leap into the pile to ferret out the exciting new plants I want to grow in the coming year. With last year's record millions of new, first time gardeners, seed companies have pulled out all the stops to offer us even more tempting selections. Jeremiath Gettle, who with his wife, Emilee, owns Baker Creek Seed, said they have expanded from 900 varieties of vegetables and herbs last year, to just over 1,100 this season! And our friends, Rose Marie and Keane McGee, owners of Nichols Garden Nursery, have lots of new and tempting additions this year, as well, including offering seed for the Achocha plant I've been crowing about this year in earlier postings on this blog. If you want to grow some, they are the only source I know, and theirs comes from the strain I was given by my friend in Bhutan.


In Indiagarden, you can see they are growing all the things we in the cold Midwest only imagine from our seed catalogs at this time of year. And in Puerto Rico, see the plants this San Juan, Puerto Rican gardener is growing. If we can't garden this time of year, we can experience and appreciate other people's gardens through their blogs.

Our friends in Hawai'i, Bill and Betty Daily, sent this link for some New Year's day food suggestions from the CopyKat Recipes page. The bottom one, lovingly titled, "White Trash Sushi" consists of ham rolled around a dill pickle, then wrapped in an egg roll wrapper, sealed and deep fried. The reviews say it is really good. As Americans, we firmly believe that anything is good, provided it is deep-fried! (That's why weight-loss programs are such money makers for their creators).


Immediately I went off the creative deep end and began to imagine next year's winner for deep-fried State Fair food. (You'll remember that last year the winners were, deep-fried Coca Cola, and deep fried M and M candies; this year, deep-fried butter took the prize). The vendors at all the state fairs across the country compete each year to see what weird new food can be deep fried for people gullible enough to try it).


So I'm thinking, if you took a hot dog, put it in a bun, added relish, mustard, pickles, onions, dipped it in batter and deep fried it, THEN, dip it again in more batter and roll that in chopped onions and deep fried it again. That should win. It combines state fair food - the always America hot dog - with all the traditional condiments, it fulfills the category of ordinary/unusual food that is deep-fried, and no one else is doing it. Now there is a perfectly good reason to swear off deep fried food for the whole New Year. (And for those of you who are reading this from countries that have more civilized food, it's just fine to deem American food as just plain silly; often times, IT IS!).

Steven Litchford, on his ManDish blog, posted this recipe for using up the refrigerator left-overs from Christmas dinner. Check out his Warm Maple, Ham and Apple leftover casserole, which I am certain is better than a double-deep fried hot dog on a bun.

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I hope this finds you looking forward to a new year ahead. Whether your New Year comes at the end of December, or it comes later, I wish you the very best in the coming year.

12/20/2009

Global Warmer


I'm pretty sure all those folks who refuse to believe global warming is happening, are not gardeners. My belief is, if you have a connection to plants, soil, seasons - a garden - then you can't help but notice the way the climate has changed. I'll grant, maybe there's an outside chance, that some of the changes can be attributed to a cycle, a thousand years of this or that, heating up or cooling down. The earth's been through that before, but even if that's so, it's serious and we have some input as humans. There's too much evidence to be ignored and it may not be too late to fix it. I believe in cause and effect. If you burn down the rain forest, kill the animals and trees, suck all the oil out of the earth and turn it into smog, burn up billions of tires a year, and pollute everything in sight, there will be a result. I've gardened in this exact same spot for the past 30 years and I've seen some rather significant changes.


When I started gardening here, May 1, 1979, there were no nine-banded armadillos in my garden. There were none closer than half a state away in Arkansas, to the south. (I live right on the line that divides Missouri from Arkansas, in the Ozarks mountains). In 1991, I saw my first armadillo in my yard and even though the Missouri Department of  Conservation said it wasn't possible, it was, and soon people were seeing armadillos digging up their yards and gardens all over the Ozarks. Since that time, armadillos have moved northward the entire length of the state of Missouri, and are now seen in Des Moines, Iowa, several hundred miles away, according to friends there). Global warming, or just adventurous armadillos?

When I first arrived here, figs were impossible to grow. Now I grow two varieties quite successfully, along with muscadines, which also shouldn't be growing here. And this year there were reports of fire ants being discovered in the Bootheel of Missouri. Those nasty little ants' bites are hard on livestock and humans. We've long had bans on nursery stock being shipped into our state from other places which have fire ants, requiring that the soil of the plants be treated first. Evidently the little pests hid in hay and now that the climate is warmer, they're on the heels of the armadillos and are pioneering new settlements northward into an area they've not been seen before.

In all my years of tromping the woods and forests of the Ozarks I have never once seen mistletoe growing. In my knowledge, the nearest sightings of this hemiparasitic plant (that means it attaches itself to a tree branch and lives there, partially dependent on the tree, but not totally, for its survival) was about an hour's drive to the south. But lo and behold, right there in a couple of oak trees about 4 miles from my farm, there's a little colony of mistletoe alive and thriving.

You'll remember that mistletoe is poison (unlike poinettias, the other plant associated with Christmas, which aren't poison). At least the European variety is poison, although I don't know anyone who's actually eaten any of our dozen or so varieties of American mistletoe. Phoradendron flavescens. It has traditionally been used for medicinal purposes under controlled conditions. Birds eat the berries, especially cedar waxwings and cardinals, and that's the way the plant spreads, through bird droppings, dropped on high tree branches. (The name, mistletoe, apparently springs from two Anglo-Saxon words, "mistel" for dung, and "tan" for branch; "mistletan" is Old English for mistletoe). In California, the Extension Service puts out bulletins showing how to eradicate mistletoe from the landscape, while the state of Oklahoma declared it the official flower.


Tradition holds that when a man and woman find themselves accidentally under a sprig of mistletoe, hung in the house at Christmas, they must kiss. The tradition comes from Celtic rituals and Norse mythology. In Gaul, the Druids considered it a sacred plant. Mistletoe is also said to be a sexual symbol, because of the consistency and color of the berry juice as well as the belief that it is an aphrodisiac, the “soul” of the oak from which it grows. Sp here is mistletoe, almost in my backyard. Global warming, or adventurous plants/insects/mammals, you be the judge. The United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Denmark is a beginning in the right direction, but rather timid in its outcome so far. The problems are great, the decisions should be, as well.

Our Friday Night Dinner Group had its annual Christmas gift exchange last night. All of us, 11 in all, are like minded, similar in age, and many in the group either have no other family, or are estranged or distant from them. So we are all our own adopted family and this ritual of silly gifts and a dinner in someone's house, is always looked forward to by us all. The holiday season for many people who are older, is a time of everything from melancholy to downright depression and our little party is meant to bolster all of our spirits. Our night out is our single celebration for the season. We eat and laugh and open presents, some bought, some from last year's gifts, some homemade, then we eat some more.


I was responsible for the appetizers before the main course. I took an assortment of fresh vegetables and dips. Here's the dip I made, from my book, Great Dips, Using Herbs:

Beach Party Shrimp Dip (it works just as well for the holidays)

2 cups cooked, shelled shrimp, finely chopped
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 green onions, diced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, or 1 small, hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 tablespoon dill pickle, chopped fine
1 tablespoon Dijon or good, brown prepared mustarrd
2 teaspoons, or more, horseradish
2 tablespoons catsup
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce.

The easy way is to put everything into a food processor and pulse for 3 or 4 times, but you can also chop and dice everything by hand then combine them. Refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight. Serve with fresh vegetables or chips.

Regardless of who you are or where you live, I hope you find peace and happiness. This may not be a holiday season in your country, or it may, either way, consider this, from my little collection of quotes, mine and other people's:

It doesn’t cost anything to love others. Do it freely, love is never wasted, even when it appears it is....Jim Long

12/15/2009

Oh My Beautiful Jalapeno


The very long and welcome pepper season in the garden is gone and I had to buy a jalapeno at WallyWorld (you may gasp, there aren't many choices for fresh produce nearby). But when I unpacked the groceries last night, there was NO jalapeno to be found anywhere. I looked through the recycling bin of plastic bags. I looked in the 'fridge. In the pepper bin on the counter. There just was not a fresh jalapeno anywhere. Breakfast burrito would be bland, bland, bland. Today, in a hurried walk through the cold, between the house and my office, there it was in the driveway, flat, lately run over by a car wheel, my beautiful jalapeno! Pepper withdraw sets in quickly.

I'm addicted to hot peppers, I admit it. That's why I grew so many varieties this summer. The morning's breakfast just isn't the same without some heat. I rescued this one from the driveway, smashed as it is, and will cook it tomorrow. Gee, I miss summer already.

As we drove through Birmingham a couple of days ago, home of Southern Living magazine and the Grumpy Gardener, we drove by Grumpy's little castle to see what he was up to. As I suspected, the jolly old elf was in high holiday style. He complains about the holidays - Grumpiness is, after all, his middle name - but I figured deep down, he's just a pushover for carols and lollipops and all the hoopla of Christmas. There he was, dressed in his finest red outfit, a fresh-picked amaryllis in hand, about to drag his Christmas tree into his castle. (If you want Grumpy's tips on how to choose a Christmas tree then check this out: How to choose a Christmas tree).

If you have never checked Grumpy's blog, then you don't know about his myth-busting story about poinsettias. As I have long suspected, they're not poison, at all. I've claimed it for years, but now we have it in the expert's own words. Check out this Poinsettias aren't poison!.

One of the things that gives me great pleasure, are you, the followers of this blog. I've visited most of your blogs and websites and I must say, I'm honored at the talented people who stop by here to see what I'm up to. And your blogs lead me to other blogs, and I learn what's new and important and fun. Some of you have fantastic food blogs with great recipes. Some of you "do" art. Lots of gardeners, folks from around the globe and good friends and neighbors. Thank you for checking in from time to time! I'm truly honored.

If you're looking for a great Sparkling Gingershap Cookie recipe, here's the link to Man Food, Steven Litchford's food blog. Now, if I can figure out a way to make stevia sparkle like sugar crystals...



And a question...do any of you Southerners happen to know these berries? As we drove through northern Mississippi and Alabama there were lots of trees in the swampy areas with what looked like flowers. Upon closer inspection, I found they're a 2-lobed, white berry. The berries arrangements on the trees made them look flower-like. I'd like to know the name of the tree if you recognize the white winter berries.

There's still a little life in the garden, even this time of year. Even with 17 degrees F. tonight, the cilantro will survive a bit longer. Tomorrow, the fresh cilantro will be introduced to a smashed, run over jalapeno and some eggs and sausage... Happy gardening and thanks for stopping for a visit.

12/11/2009

Cabbages for as Far as the Eyes Can See


It's supposed to be warm in Florida. Two days ago, in south FL, it was 90 degrees. Tonight, in Panama City, 40 degrees. I know, if you live in the cold, frigid north, that sounds warm. Not if you thought it would be warm down here. Even the local Floridians are complaining loudly that this is not Florida weather.

The past 3 nights we've stayed in motels that promised they had high speed internet. Each night it either didn't exist, or it would be on for 3 minutes then off for 5, not long enough to post to FaceBook or here. And so I've not been able to keep up with postings the past 2 days.

After a day at the best thrift shop in Florida, the Women's Center in Sarasota, we headed down to the town of Imokolee to the rare plant nursery I'd visited last January. We  picked up some black pepper plants, one variety from Thailand, a Piper nigrum, that's a bush pepper. The other variety, also a Piper nigrum, is from Guatamala and is the typical vine. Black pepper, if you aren't familiar with it, is a modest vine that grows up the trunks of trees. The berries grow in clusters along a stem and are harvested when ripe. Pepper berries become peppercorns when they're dried. And since pepper plants quit blooming and producing when the temperature drops below 40 degrees, I just went to the car and brought the pepper plants inside for the night.


We also picked up a miracle fruit plant, something I've been wanting to get for quite awhile (and which I wrote about here last January). The fruit is amazing in that it switches your taste buds from sweet to sour, or the reverse. If you eat a lemon, then taste miracle fruit and it's so sweet you can hardly stand it. Or, eat a bit of sugar, then eat a miracle fruit berry and it's incredibly sour. And it happens instantaneously.


We stopped at the Seminole Casino in Imokolee for about an hour, eating dinner and gambling away ten dollars. From there we drove up to West Palm Beach where I've given lectures before at the West Palm Herb Society festivals. The Mounts Botanical Garden is an admirable collection of rare fruits and herbs, along with a good sampling of Florida native trees and shrubs. It's part of the Univ. of FL University Extension system.


One of the things I found interesting at the botanical garden is the hedge that surrounds the herb garden. Can you guess what it is? I walked past it 3 times before I noticed what the plants are. Imagine, if you will, a hedge 16 ft. tall, of allspice! You may recall the photo in a posting here a couple of months ago, of the 1 gallon allspice plants I have on our sun porch. Well, this is what fully mature allspice trees look like, trimmed into a hedge. Allspice berries come from this, the same spice you likely have in your spice cabinet. And the leaves are used in cooking, as well.


I took this photo of a mature cinnamon tree, as well. In places like Sri Lanka and India, where a lot of cinnamon is grown, it's trimmed back each year. When the new, sturdy sprouts grow back and are big enough, the bark is split and peeled off and dried, and that's the source of stick cinnamon. My cinnamon plants are still about 12 inches tall so I won't be harvesting my own cinnamon any time soon.

And if you wonder where your cabbage comes from (besides the grocery store) there are hundreds of acres of cabbage in this part of the state. It's cabbage harvest time now, and we've seen lots of trucks loaded to the top and over, with fresh-cut cabbages. We even had to dodge a huge head of cabbage in the middle of the intersection!


Heading homeward to a frozen garden. Stay warm!

12/08/2009

Road Trip!

After weeks of basking in warm fall-like temperatures, the weather turned loose and froze the garden and then snowed on it. It had to happen eventually. We'd been planning a trip south for several weeks and the timing was good. We both packed a few token summery things, hardly able to visualize warm weather again and headed south.

The big first stop was the Unclaimed Baggage store in Scottsboro, AL. If you ever wonder what happens to unclaimed or completely lost luggage, well, this is where a lot of it ends up. These folks have been in business for 20 or 30 years and the place is jam-packed with goodies and not so goodies. Occasionally they'll find real gold. Once it was a suitcase of Egyptian artifacts. Just a few weeks ago they found a huge emerald. We saw mink coats, Rolex watches, cameras--- hundreds of cameras and lots more.

What'd we buy? Luggage, of course, they have lots. Josh bought a carrying case for his navigator, I bought a bag of nail trimmers, tweezers and scissors. Ever wondered where those 3 inch long scissors they took away at the airport security? They end up in the Unclaimed Baggage store. I bought a baggie full for $2.09!


Today we made it to Sarasota, one of the goals of the trip (after Unclaimed Baggage). The Women's Center Consignment & Thrift Shop is probably one of the best thrift shops anywhere short of the famous Salvation Army Store in Washington, DC. We spent about 4 hours there. Seems like lots of people from Chicago, New York City and everywhere else, retire around Sarasota. Then they grow older and want to get rid of their collections. Oriental rugs, great buys for antique ones, antique furniture, jewelry, sculpture (no, not the concrete kind, but real collectible art), paintings, marble fireplace fronts and mantles. It's an amazing place to visit. Unfortunately it doesn't have a garden.

Lunch was local salad with actual, vine ripened tomatoes (remember those, from summer?) Josh was munching away on a steak salad. Notice we're sitting under umbrellas, in 80 degree weather? I may just stay, I can hardly bring myself to think of heading back to freezing weather. I'm certain if there was a reasonable way, I'd spend the winters somewhere warm and grow my own winter tomatoes!

More details later. We're going garden hunting tomorrow but may hit another few salvage and thrift stores along the way. Happy gardening!

Oh, I couldn't pass up this sign, it was just too funny not to add to my collection. You have to look close at the sign on the door to see why it's funny. Bad humor, I know, but there it was, driving down the road with that sign on it.

I wish you could be here, enjoying the 80 degree weather and ripe tomatoes, too!

11/30/2009

Pears, Crows & Chili

I know it's a stretch to connect the above photo to the garden, but this newspaper clipping is just too good not to share. I guess the connection is: peppers come from the garden; peppers go into chili seasoning; chili seasoning goes into the chili cook-0ff. There, that's the only connection I can think of for garden. But you have to admit, both captions make this funnier than the newspaper probably intended. It is, indeed, a large crowd, but I don't see how it does anything to help hungry children.

We've had lots of crows in the orchard every day for the past couple of months. I really get a kick out of watching them. I start the day nearly every morning, soaking in the hot tub out on the deck. Being in the hot tub is a bit like being in a duck hunting blind because the birds don't recognize me as human nor a threat and basically don't even notice that I'm watching them.

Every morning one crow, which I dubbed the Advance Guard, flies to the power line above the orchard, near the old pear tree, and looks around. If there's no danger about, he gives 4 short and one long caaaaw. Within seconds 3 or 4 more crows fly to the ground and hop over to the pear tree. There are still fallen pears beneath it and they like the pears as much as we do. They'll eat for awhile, sometimes calling in their friends, then Molly will give chase and they'll fly on to other pursuits.

Josh has been gathering pears and cooking them down into pearsauce, just like applesauce, since early September. He's canned quite a bit, frozen some, and has dried several bags of pear slices in the dehydrator. We've gladly shared the pears with the crows. They're great clowns and I really like watching them. And over time I've come to recognize some of their different calls.

In very early morning, the crows leave their rook, their night roosting area. The crows that have the job of Advance Guard go in different directions, about a quarter to half mile apart, and report. If one gets distracted and doesn't answer the "report in" call, one of the others comes and checks on him, and gives him a tongue-lashing for being negligent. They have particular calls for when there's food; calls for just having landed somewhere to look around, and especially a different call when they spot an owl. From my vantage in the hot tub each morning, I have come to recognize and enjoy their many calls they use to communicate.

I found these great natural stone nail files that we're selling with our Nail Fungus Soak. It's the same kind of mineral stone that's used for sharpening knives. The files are 5 different grits, designated by color, from very fine to coarse, with one large one for smoothing calluses and heels. (The files aren't even on our website yet, you have to call). The great thing about the files is you can sterilize them. (The fastest way to spread nail fungus from one nail to the other, or one person to another, is by the use of trimmers and nail files that are already infected). Dunk them in rubbing alcohol once a week and you're safe. Natural stone files last for years! And, yes, my Herbal Nail Fungus Soak is all natural, made with herbs, and works. I guarantee it!

You probably already know I've been making and selling my formula Nail Fungus Soak for almost 18 years now and have lots of happy customers who've gotten rid of their cracking heel and nail fungus. Most anyone who digs in the soil or gets a nail injured, will get nail fungus. Oddly enough, some doctors still believe the only remedy is to kill and remove the nail. I certainly wouldn't want to go to a doctor who did that if I had a broken arm! Imagine, removing either one as a "cure." Nail Soak does a great job on athlete's foot a the various kinds of nail fungus. We sell through lots of chiropractors, podiatrists, pharmacies, some doctors, lots of natural foods stores and the amazing Amish Country Store in Branson. We also have a helpful Questions & Answers page, which includes comments from our customers and tips on dealing with nail problems.

Our good friend, George Hudson, drew this caricature of me and it pretty much describes the past several days. I hope your week is going well, and you've recovered from Thanksgiving.

Happy gardening!

11/22/2009

Ghost Towns, Calico Rock

video
Jenny, who's our friends, George and Pat's favorite chicken, was agitated and upset at the news of Mr. X this week, as you can tell by the video. Rosalind Creasy responded to my post about Mr. X and set the record straight. Here's the update:
"Thanks Jim, I enjoyed your link, though Robert drove Mr. X from coast to coast, and he spent a lot more time in nursing homes, school classrooms, and in front of garden club audiences than he did on TV. I have had him cremated and am going to scatter his ashes over Robert's grave next summer. My cats are under my roses, however."

I took a drive down to Mountain View, AR yesterday to see friends and pick up some trees for our front yard where I had a tree cut down last week. I bought a 12 ft. white dogwood, an Autumn Glory maple and a Savannah holly. I picked a few bitter oranges (Poncirus trifolium) in a friend's yard. These golf ball sized oranges are bitter and not really edible, but have a nice fragrance. If you don't know the plant and want an unpenetratable hedge, this is the plant. With 3 inch thorns, and a little dab of something on the tips that hurts like the dickens if you get pricked, this is one mean plant. I had one once that reached about 12 ft. tall and even after I'd cut it down, the left over dead thorns still could cause intense pain when picked up. It's almost worth growing this tenacious plant, however, just for the fragrance of the orange blossoms in the spring. And it's plenty hardy to zero or below.

I also photographed some sumac. I've written about this plant here before. It's used as a seasoning herb in many Middle Eastern countries. Here in the Ozarks we simply boil it, add some sugar and coriander seed and serve it hot as a tea, or over ice.

Rather than retrace my tracks, I drove north from Mountain View to Calico Rock. This is a great little town situated on top of bluffs that overlook the White River, with still operating railroad tracks that follow along the river. Calico Rock is named for the miles of moss and lichen-covered sandstone flats around and beyond the town. Just driving along the roadway you can spot 1 to 2 acre-sized patches of flat rock outcropping and every square inch of the stone is covered with moss and lichens. There must be dozens of kinds growing there and what's fascinating is there's so much life in the moss. It's actually like a miniature world, the closer you look at the moss and lichen colonies, the more activity and life you notice there. An entire world that operates separate from and independent of, you, me, anyone.

In the town of Calico Rock (which is known for it's tourist fishing economy in summer) there is a ghost town called, Peppersauce Ghost Town. As many times as I've been to Calico Rock, I had never known there was an old town just across the creek. Lots of 1800s vintage buildings, setting empty. There's a jail that is about the size of my closet, made of stone with tiny holes for the prisoners to peek out of. Mostly it housed drunks, I understand. The name, Peppersauce, was the local's name for white lightning/homebrew, which was made and sold there. It was the seedier part of town and the more respectable townsfolk didn't venture into that neighborhood, not during the daylight, at least. So I looked over Peppersauce Lane, which was the main questionable section long ago, and it led across a little bridge and into Peppersauce Alley and what is now the ghost town. Peppersauce - good name for Arkansas home brew!

Today, Josh's mother, Barbara, was out in the garden looking over the salvias and roses, still in bloom with our beautiful weather. I planted the trees I brought home from Mountain View along with a few dozen tulips. Happy gardening!

11/17/2009

The Famous Mr. X Dies

I received word yesterday from our friend, Rosalind Creasy, that the famous rooster, Mr. X, had died. He'd lived to a ripe old age of 15, a substantial yearage for a rooster, and passed away quietly in his sleep Sunday night. Our condolences to Mr. X's family and friends.

And there were many of both. Just last year we heard the details of Mr. X's birthday party, which was attended by neighbors and friends. Cathy Barash, who's assisting Ros with a new book, and staying in California currently with Ros while the book is in progress, sent photos and the menu from the big birthday party. No chicken or chicken products were served but a special menu from Ros's garden was the fare. Ros is well known for her incredible plant and garden books and calenders for the Sierra Club.

She inherited Mr. X from her husband, Robert, after he was killed in a motorcycle accident. Before that time, Mr. X, with Robert in tow, had appeared on numerous Good Morning America and Today-type shows and Robert could be seen carrying Mr. X through the airports and boarding planes for media appearances from Coast to Coast. Mr. X was a house and garden pet and had a cushy life for a rooster.

Mr. X evidently didn't bother the garden plants. I've heard that Ros maintains a very well groomed garden, which she uses it in her photography and writing business, as well as for developing recipes for many incredibly beautiful her books.

Our own rooster, which simply has the name, GET OUT OF THE GARDEN!, has been a pest all week. He has his own harem, but flies over the fence every day and picks through the beds and bugs in the garden. This coming weekend he'll get his wing feathers clipped and his flying days will be a thing of the past - until they grow out again, that is. Why not leave him in the garden? He's scraping the soil out of the beds, digging in the gravel pathways and generally making a mess of things.

We may finally get our first frost of the season tonight. Here it is, the 17th of November and we're still having lemongrass, basil, oregano, parsley and even a ripe tomato this week. The big bunch of 12 ft. high red castor beans in the chicken yard next to the garden (and which I can see from my window as I type this) are still looking lush and tropical. Winter is just over the hill, but what a grand ride it's been to have a pleasant and productive fall season after the wintery October we had. Every day without frost, freeze or snow is one day closer to spring!

The food dehydrator has been going all week. Josh has been drying pears between my pepper drying. The pears, sliced thin, dry to a nice leathery, pear-ish flavor that is sweet and make a good snack.

I'm drying peppers as fast as I can. I split them open and in some varieties, remove the seed clusters. My fingers still have that deep pepper burn from yesterday's pepper splitting process. They dry faster that way, rather than just putting the peppers in whole. It takes 2-3 days to dry them to the crisp/dry stage, when I bag them up. Then when I have a few gallon bags of peppers dried, I'll mix all 12 varieties together and grind them up in the food processor. I like the blend of flavors, from mildly hot to pure heat, and that will become pepper seasoning for winter foods. From scrambled eggs to Chinese dishes, peppers are an important component to my cooking.

Many of you may recall I take photos of unusual, silly, strange or funny signs when I travel, so here's my sign of the day. It makes you wonder, do they also rent ethics, too? Maybe sincerity?

Happy Gardening!

11/10/2009

Season Out of Sync

Blackberries in November....larkspurs blooming...fennel blossoms being feasted upon by insects, the months have gotten reversed. October was one of the coldest and wettest Octobers on record in the Ozarks. November, thus far, at least, is what September and October should have been. With highs in the 70s, sunny and mild, and as yet, no frost, we're getting the beautiful fall weather we wished for last month.

Yesterday I took this photo of a ripe blackberry. There had been more, but friends had eaten them, not even noticing that blackberries are generally over and done 2 months ago. I was glad they found them to eat while visiting! These are especially productive blackberries, hybrid thornless varieties from the University of Arkansas. They've introduced Arapaho, Navaho, Ouichita and several other thornless varieties in the past few years and the vines are enormously productive. But in all the years I've grown thornless blackberries, I've never had them produce berries in November.

The continuously chilly weather the past 2 months, with the constant, daily rains, has convinced plants like the larkspurs that are in bloom in the garden, red raspberries and blackberries, that spring must be here.

I noticed my bronze fennel plants are still blooming, also a bit out of season. Most of the leaves of the mature plants have dropped, but the stalks have blossom umbrels, and the pesky cucumber beetles are enjoying the nectar. And the assassin bug, shown here on the fennel flower, is enjoying eating the cucumber beetles. Assassin bugs are beneficial predators that feed on garden pests and they are welcome to all the cucumber beetles they can find.

People often tell me they can't tell the difference between fennel and dill. Akos, our first intern, many years ago from Hungary, worked with us in the garden for nine months and said to me one day that he didn't know the difference between the two plants. I had him smell and taste both and then he could better tell between them. I told him he could not leave Long Creek Herb Farm, not knowing the difference between those two plants because I would be ashamed to have failed him as a teacher. As you can see in the photo of the leaves, they do look similar. The one on the left is fennel, and is slightly lighter in color, while the dill, on the right, has more of a blue tint. And no, it's not true that you have to keep them separated because of the possibility of them crossing. They are two distinct plants, it's not possible for them to cross pollinate, any more than it is for a rose bush and an apple tree.

Our webmaster has been working feverishly on our new website, soon to be launched. In support of what he's doing, I have been photographing a few more products for the web pages. Chili Seasoning, Roaster Seasoning, Anne's Perfect Pumpkin Pie Spice and Teas of India, were all on today's photo menu.

Happy season, whether yours is in sync, or completely out, like ours. I won't complain about beautiful sunny days, nor blackberries in November!


11/06/2009

Normal Rockwell is to blame

I blame it all on Normal Rockwell. The barbershop where I got my haircuts as a kid had an old calendar of N. Rockwell prints and one of them was a kid and his father raking leaves, a spotted puppy playing in the leaf pile. They were smiling. They were having fun. It was what leaf raking was supposed to be.

I blame Norman on a lot of misconceptions from my childhood. Those Saturday Evening Post covers of the big family gathered around the Thanksgiving table, or the aforementioned leaf raking, or the big day at the grandparents on Christmas. I grew up believing people's families were actually like that.

Trouble is, leaf raking is a solitary duty. When the leaves fall, every year, other people are too busy, or have too much to do. Or, "tomorrow." We have several nice, big oak trees in our yard, and a couple of maples, and I'm grateful and glad for every one of them. Until the leaves fall, that is. Oak leaves are like hand sized pieces of brown cardboard and they pile up in the corners and under hard to get at places and stick themselves between the boards on the deck. If left to their own devices, after a rain or two, they pack down like those trendy Cuban pressed sandwiches, and once glued together, have to be pulled out with tongs. Nearly.

So each year I slog along, glaring at the neighbors who drive past, never stopping to help, at the UPS guy who could surely take a few measly hours out of his busy 12 hour day to help, while I stubbornly whale away at the leaves. Yes, I know how much good mulch they would make. They could fill the bottom of the pond at the lower part of the pasture and seal it up so it actually holds water. They could be put in the goat barn for bedding. The fact is, we have mountains of leaves and I have a limited amount of energy. So, with rake and the sometimes-working leaf blower in hand, I round them up into giant piles. I run over them with the lawn mower and mulch some, but it's too big a job for the mower, and in the end, I pile the leaves in the driveway and set them afire. And once burned to black ash, I track some indoors every day just to keep the memories alive. And no matter how carefully I rake and blow and puff, plenty will remain stuck in the flower beds, hiding behind the stacked flowerpots and under places they shouldn't even be able to get to.

I think it's not that I actually mind leaf raking, what I mind is Normal Rockwell having convinced me a long time ago that people came together to do the job, that it was fun, that people smiled while working. I also don't like the fact the leaves aren't green any more and the trees look bare and dead for a whole season.

We're still picking raspberries, roses and lavender, grateful for another week without frost. And the ancient, 'Brush Pile' tomatoes are still producing, as well. These tasty little tomatoes reseed themselves each year in the blackberry patch and grow up and through the berries. When the other tomatoes have quit for the year, these little berry sized tomatoes, just keep producing tiny tomatoes until a freeze finally halts their growth.

So Norman, where ever you are these days, I hope you had to put your paintbrush down and rake a few leaves. Your paintings might have turned out a lot different had you been using a rake instead of a watercolor brush and some of us would have grown up knowing leaf raking was a chore, not a community event. Good leaves to you!