Sunday, October 30, 2011

Backup Solar Lighting Tip

A quick tip for those suffering power outages in the northeast from the early snowstorm. If you have solar accent lighting in your garden, bring them inside. They are safer than candles and better than flashlights. I lit up my whole house with garden lights during an earthquake power outage once.

... Of course, if you are in a blackout, you probably can't read this tip. But you can add it to your bag of tricks for next time.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Today's Haul

Last season I couldn't grow a carrot for the life of me. This year... well, witness the evidence. Proof that my life's motto: never give up, never give up, never give up, is of some worth. Next year.... peppers!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Earwig Eats Shallots in Storage

A single earwig sure can do a lot of damage. I went to pluck a few shallots from a braid last night and discovered that nearly the entire braid was pure mush. Disappointed, I tossed the rotten shallots in the compost bowl when suddenly out crawled a very surprised earwig. Ahah! The culprit.

Sadly only 4 shallots survived the hungry earwig's appetite, but I have learned a good lesson.

If you braid your garlic and onions outside, be sure give them a good once over before bringing them inside for winter storage.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Time to Harvest Celeriac

The celeriac is full grown and ready for the spade. Very timely because it's stew and soup season. 

Celeriac triplets

And, of course, time for Bloody Caesars! A perfect drink for the fall. If you're a fan of Bloody Marys try a Caesar next time. You'll love them. I'm a bit of a teetotaler myself but once in a blue moon I enjoy a Caesar. If I am going to have alcohol, I want a serving of vegetables with it.

use a tall chilled glass
Add 1 ounce Vodka
Few shakes of Tabasco and Worcester Sauce
Fill with Clamato Juice
Dress the drink with an edible slice of Celeriac (slice the root into long strips) or use a thick stalk of celery. (Note: if you have neither, rim the glass with lemon juice and dip the rim in celery salt.)

Caesars are much tastier than the traditional Bloody Mary and once you go Caesar, you never go Mary again. That doesn't sound right, but you know what I mean. The flavor of Clamato juice is more complex and full-bodied than plain ole tomato juice, and fear not, it doesn't taste a bit like clams. Delicious.

Virgin Caesars are just as good for nondrinkers.
Well, there's much happening in the garden to report.

The fall crops are steady and abundant. There's a lovely harvest of carrots this year. Such a delight after last year's paltry offerings.

Other fall successes include potatoes, onions, Brussels sprouts and squash, which all continue to produce. The Brussels sprout plant is chest-high now and still reaching higher.

I tried this Bacon, Cream & Sherry Brussels Sprouts recipe last week and it was major hit. Even the sprout-shunners enjoyed it.

It may be October, but it continues to be cherry tomatoes gone wild, out there! They are even growing out of compost bins.

We're still enjoying raspberries, but the blueberry bush did not produce for the second year running and the leaves have now turned red for the fall. 

Strawberries are encroaching. I'm sure the pH of the soil is off.

Plenty of sage left for Thanksgiving too. Not many people use fresh sage in their stuffing anymore but I am foisting it on everyone anyway. It's so fragrant and delicate.

That's all from the front.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

How To Catch A Mouse Humanely

My cat is a skillful mouser. She catches the poor little souls, ferries them inside the house and releases them to prolong the chase. Mice are forever getting behind cabinets and bookshelves. Over the years, I have learned the fine art of flushing them out and quickly releasing them to the wild.

The Guilty Party

Two products I use work wonders and cause no harm to the creatures. First, canned air. The fastest way to flush a mouse from a hiding place is with a harmless blast of canned air. Canned air is available at any Staples in the electronics department. It's normally used to clean computer keyboards and electronics. 

This year I found a second product that works like a dream. Literally. It's the Mouse Inn by Catchmaster. It's 100% humane and you have zero physical contact with the rodent. I love this product!

The Mouse Inn is a small Plexiglas container with an angled door on a hinge that has a few little air holes in it. The mouse runs inside, the door closes behind and they can't get out. 

You place the containers alongside walls because rodents will hug the walls as they run for safety. (Check them daily. If left unattended for extended periods mice will expire inside.) 

Catchmaster also includes Valerian Root pellets to place inside the traps for the mice to eat. Apparently the smell of Valerian is an attractant and serves to relax the trapped rodent. If you run out of pellets, you can always buy Valerian at your local health food store. Humans use it as a sleeping aid.

After the mouse enters the Mouse Inn, you take the container outside, set it on the ground and flip it over. The door instantly flops open and the mouse escapes into its natural habitat. The reusable trap is ready for the next rodent.

When I first saw this contraption I really doubted it would work, but boy-oh-boy did it ever! A mouse was caught within 10 minutes of placement. 

As winter approaches, mice and rats will be seeking warmer quarters so I suggest you stock up now. Note: Catchmaster also offers a larger size called the Rat Inn. You can get them at

The Mouse Inn, used in combination with canned air, is a winning combination.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Chicken Stock

The secret to a good dish starts with a solid base, and that means stock. That's why I like to make my own homemade broths and stocks. The best part is, they are totally free. They use up unwanted vegetable scraps, bones, chicken carcasses and fish shells.

Prep staff in restaurants get their stock pots simmering at the crack of dawn so they'll be ready in time for the evening service. That's because a proper stock takes 3-8 hours of slow, steady simmering (note: they should never come to full rolling boil). 

If you boil your stock it will turn cloudy (as seen here) which I don't necessarily mind since I know what I'm using it for, but normally you want a nice clear stock and you get that by slow simmering. Bubbles should barely break the surface. The low simmer doesn't have your whole house steaming up either.

I use leftover chicken carcasses for my chicken stock, toss in veggie scraps and a bouquet garni from the garden and let it simmer away for three hours before straining and storing in heavy gauge Mason jars in the freezer. Great for soups, stews, tagines and pastas.

So I got three gorgeous (albeit cloudy) quarts of chicken stock (broth) from the carcasses of two mere little chicken breasts. They'll be used in a tagine, soup and a pasta dish this week.


Carcass of leftover chicken
Bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, bay leaf)
1 onion
1 Carrot
1 stalk Celery (leaves or ends are fine)
Three black peppercorns
Fresh cold water
Simmer for 3-4 hours
Strain before bottling

(You can adjust your seasonings as you see fit, adding in sage, garlic, salt, etc. Once you get into meat stocks you'll want to roast the bones first and extend the simmering time from 5-8 hours depending on what you are making.) Truly, there is nothing that makes you feel more like a real chef than preparing your own stock from scratch, and I guarantee you, meals prepared with homemade stocks and broths are the ones that need less fat for flavor, and inevitably elicit the "wow, you're a great cook" remark. Using stock instead of fats is the key to dieting without loss of flavor.