Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Scheduling Growing Families and Holiday Meals

I have been baking today. I made dinner rolls and two King Cakes. Granddaughter Lala was here and accused me of torturing her. All that food -- and we can't eat it until SATURDAY. Oh, Grandma!!

This year my children and I hit the wall every family meets eventually. I couldn't schedule Thanksgiving or Christmas celebrations at my house because the kids were busy doing their own things at their houses. So at Thanksgiving, I went with my beau, Leon, to his sister's for the holiday. Jen, Steve and Lala had a meal at their house. Joe and Lisa and Aunt Roseanna did something else at their places.

I thought we might be able to manage a Christmas meal, but the same problems came up. So, I stole a page from Leon's family. I am not trying to have a family holiday meal at Thanksgiving or Christmas. I'm celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas and inviting everyone for an Epiphany Meal (that's Kings Day or 12th Night, depending on how you count it.)

This is the second time I've made a King Cake (which is really a sweet bread with a cinnamon/raisin/nut filling.)  I made one for Mardi Gras one year when I worked at Grand Prairie Memorial Library. The recipe makes 2 cakes, so I took one to work. Everyone had fun with that, especially Mel, who was from New Orleans.  That was when I learned King Cakes were originally made for Epiphany in honor of the Three Kings coming to visit the Baby Jesus. What would be better then, than to make a King Cake for this Epiphany Celebration?

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. I'm going to Topeka to see my friend Marsha. It's her birthday. When we were kids, we always spent her birthday together. We have tried to get together several times since I returned to Kansas, but tomorrow we are going to make it! I will present her with a newly printed copy of my cookbook and wish her Happy Birthday and Joyous New Year.

And Thursday I'll be back to cooking for our dinner on Saturday. Hm... wonder what pies go well with King Cake?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Mea Culpa

I haven't blogged much in the past year. There are photos waiting in a folder. Stories yet to tell. Good intentions say I'll still write those blogs and pre-date them so they show up in the right spots. Hey, it's winter now? That's a good time to do inside jobs, right?

Well, 2014 was a busy year. In January I had foot surgery. That sat me back for a goodly time. During the 6-8 weeks of recovery time, I did a lot of knitting and watching TV. YEA! An excuse to knit. The main thing I worked on was the Lion Brand Flattering Jacket. I got everything but the sleeves done while I was not walking. In November I finished it. The sweater is made from a llama/wool blend and is quite warm. I love it.

By the time I was walking again, it was time to start the seeds for my garden. I never have success growing my plants from seeds. I use a grow light. I use good soil. I use fresh seeds. They don't grow. Viola! A nursery man I was complaining to this summer told me what I was doing wrong. He said it didn't matter how early I planted my seeds. If the soil isn't warm, the seeds won't grow. My seed starts are kept in the sunniest, however, the coolest room of the house. It sounds like I need to find one of those mats that folks put in terrariums for lizards -- something to keep the floor warm (or at least an electric heating pad). I could put that under the trays of seedlings. I'll search my seed catalogs and see what they offer. Guerney's Seed and Nursery Co., formerly of Yankton, S.D., now in Greendale, Indiana, always has neat goodies. It just so happens my new Guerney's catalog came in last week... Dream time!!

Yard Long Beans growing on a trellis
Perhaps I'll find something interesting. Otherwise, I will not even try seedlings in 2015.  I'll just haunt all my favorite nurseries. There are two in Topeka, One south of town, one in Burlington and one in LeRoy. I love nurseries. There is a lot of instant gratification in bringing home plants 3", 6" or taller and putting them right in the ground where I want them. No worrying with watering and waiting. No wondering if they will come up and survive. They are right there! I can see them. I can plan around them. Unfortunately, I'm limited to the varieties that the nurseries stock. Seeds can come from anywhere. You can have any kind of seed that will grow in your climate if you start your own. (Sigh) Stick within your capabilities, Iris.

First Yard Long Beans picked
The garden did get in. As usual, I tried some things I hadn't grown before. My best experiment was Yard Long Beans. My 4'x12" raised bed grew enough beans for me to put up  the 75 1/2-pints I wanted for the year. If I were feeding more than one person, I could probably plant the plot more densely and get 75 full pints from that space. I will definitely grow these beans next year.

This was not a good year for tomatoes. I don't know if it was the new bed where I planted them, or if there was something else wrong. I had a terrible time with blossom end rot, particularly on the paste tomatoes. Nearly all of them had to be discarded. The beefsteak tomatoes fared the best. I canned and juiced all I wanted, but supplemented a lot with tomatoes from Pome on the Range in Homewood, Ks. I hear calcium helps prevent blossom end rot. Next time I plant tomatoes, I'll be certain to put ground up egg shells in each hole at the time of planting. I will also research the problem this winter to see what else I can do to prevent it next year.

Root crops don't grow well here. My onions are a bit bigger than pearl onions. The potatoes and sweet potatoes are hardly big enough to peel. I don't think I will mess with potatoes next year. My soil has a large clay content. I need more humus and what? sand?  Wouldn't that turn clay to concrete? Need more research. I truly would like to grow big onions and healthy carrots. Forget about potatoes. Give me carrots!!

It is now December. The New Year will be here before the week is out. It's time to knit, study seed catalogs, and plan for next year.  The Wheel of the Year turns even when we aren't ready. We might as well keep jogging and stay with it. It's certain I'm 66 and ready to slow down in some areas, but I enjoy playing in the dirt too much to quit gardening. There is such a joy to see the plants come up, bloom and give their fruit or seeds. I find myself out there talking to them and telling them how pretty they are.

If you're going to be a Crazy Cat Lady and Eccentric Gardener, you might as well start with talking to to plants. :)  Wouldn't you tell these flowers how beautiful they are?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Mom's Home Cooking is DONE!

Cover sheet and dividers for cookbook

When Dad was on the road, Mom typed up the recipes she didn't want to be without and put them in a small ring binder. This was her personal cookbook. It went with her everywhere. When I left home, I typed my own copy of that book. Over the years I've added many recipes to it. After Mom died in 2000, I realized I wanted to share those recipes with my daughter Jen.

I had inherited Mom's and Grandma Hull's recipe files, cookbooks and the ever faithful ring binder. I didn't want those recipes to be lost. In the late 70s the Bethell cousins had shared recipes with me so I could preserve Grandma Bethell's recipes. Now it was time to do it for the Hull side. 

I purchased cookbook writing software and got to work. By 2004 the first pass was printed for Jen and I, but there were lots of recipes I hadn't even started to key into the computer. Fast forward to 2014. Three or four software programs, several computer OS upgrades and computer crashes later, I have finally come to a place where I can say "Stop." Not "Done." Just stop. All the files that had been keyed in over the last 14 years had to be rekeyed this year because Windows 7 doesn't talk to that older software. I started last fall and have worked at it steadily. There are close to 450 recipes in the book now, and over 200 pages. This is a good start.

It was good that no one was coming to my house today, Christmas Day. I was still formatting the chapters and printing them. By 5:30 when I went to Jen and Steve's for Christmas Dinner, the books were finished. I printed seven copies. A master copy, a working copy for me, and presents for Jen, Lala, Lisa, Marsha and Roseanna. I will be sharing the book with cousin, in-laws, and outlaws via email as a .pdf file. The ones that want a hard copy can print it for themselves.
Juicing tomatoes to make ketchup

I am so proud of this book! Most chapters have about 30 recipes in them, even the canning chapter! We come from a long line of country cooks and gardeners. Canning is a strong family tradition. You could see a set up like the one in the picture in any cousin's kitchen during tomato season. 

A days baking
Mom would be proud of the large section on bread making. She enjoyed making bread. Grandma Hull once told Mom when she was a new wife that Grandma was proud of her. Most modern cooks had given up bread making, but Mom hadn't. Grandma would be glad to know that Jen and I are bread makers, too. The line continues. I haven't tried every recipe in the bread section of the cookbook, but I can vouch for most of them!

Lammas Bread
There is one point. The cookbook isn't final. I anticipate adding more recipes every year. I've asked the people who got copies to share their favorite recipes with me in the coming year. I'll key them in and send out "update pages" at Christmas next year. The book will keep growing and truly reflect the favorite foods of our extended family.

   Mom's gift to the family was her genealogical research. My gift may be Mom's Home Cooking. Hm... I don't think that will be a bad thing.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Bethell Cousin Reunion

 It is hard to think that it is my generation that is calling the family reunions now. That was something Grandma -- or Mom -- did. I just went and tried to figure out who everyone was.

For the last few years the only time I've seen my immediate cousins -- Jody, Dick, Marion and Marie -- have been at funerals. We laugh and say we have to quit meeting like this. Well, at the last funeral I took the bull by the horns and said, "Ok, let's have a picnic. At my place. When can you make it?"

We had one false start in August. When the day came that everyone was sort of available, it was hotter than the hinges of Hell. No one wanted to be outside. We agreed to wait a month. We were finally able to get together on Sept. 29.

It was fun to see everyone. My brother and one of his boys were there. Marie and Don couldn't make it, but Marion and Beverly, Dick and Donna and some of the next generation of cousins made it. My son Joe (standing in the one group shot) got to meet cousins he didn't know he had. Hm... that sounds familiar.
Erma, Wilma and Mryna Bethell -- our Moms

There was lots to eat, lots to talk about and many stories to share. You know, this was a lot better than meeting at funerals. We need to do this more often.  One cousin remembered that our Moms used to get together in October every year to celebrate their birthdays. Each was an October girl. Myrna, the oldest, is mother of Marion and Marie. Erma, the middle child, is mother of Bill, Dick and Jody. My mom, Wilma, was the baby. Skip and I claim her.  Another cousin said, "Well, this is nearly October. We're carrying on their tradition. Maybe we should do this next year."

I like the sound of that.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mom Always Said Try Something New Every Planting Season

 My parents gardened for over 50 years on the property where I now live. Dad didn't understand why I wanted to compost or grow my garden organically. He used pesticides and chemical fertilizers and all the things that make me cringe, but that was their way and they were content.

I didn't always agree with their growing methods, but I do agree with their one dictum: Always try something new every year. You might find something you like; you might never eat it again, but you don't learn anything if you don't stretch yourself.

My "Something New" this year is Yard Long Beans. My raised beds are generally 4 ft. wide and 12 feet long. I don't want to work as hard at gardening as the folks did with their 30x90' traditional garden. I would still like canning or freezing quantities of some of the things I grow (Tomatoes! Definitely canning quantities of tomatoes!). I also want canning quantities of green beans.

In my small space, yard long beans seemed a good idea. My son drilled holes in the landscape timbers of the raised bed that would hold the conduit that supports the nylon trellis. The beans have been going to town. Every time it rains, more beans start growing.

You can see the first handful I picked spread out on the dash of my car. The next day I picked easily four or five times that many beans and canned 12 1/2-pints of beans for the coming winter.

Checking last year's canning log, I put up 30 1/2-pints of green beans. There are three, maybe four jars left. That was a good supply for one person last year. At the rate the yard-long beans are going, I'll have 30 1/2-pints by the end of July.  Ho-boy! I do hope my kids like green beans. I may be canning and giving them presents before the summer is out.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Kitchen Garden

I loved the Kitchen Garden last year. It is placed right off the steps from the back porch. I grew lettuce, kale, tomatoes, flowers and other "kitchen herbs" just a few steps from my kitchen. 

There were some problems. I tilled the ground right up to the sidewalks. As the plants got bigger and hung over the fence, we had to swerve into the grass to get to the garage or the car parking area. The picket fence wasn't all that sturdy, either. The cats and dogs both were able to knock it down.

This year when Joe began his raised bed improvement plan, the kitchen garden got a make over. First I made sure the landscape timbers were going to be positioned well inside the walks. After that, Joe brought in his special tools and we brought the frame up to three landscape timbers high.

Being well aware of Grandpa's advice to rotate crops, I don't have the same things planted here this year. I miss the lettuce and herbs, although I did move chives and leeks into the point of the bed. Most of the bed is planted to watermelon and cantaloupe. The vines are everywhere. I think they like it!

Every time I walk to the car or the garage now, I play peek-a-boo among the vines spotting the melons that are developing. The watermelons are Sugar Babies -- small melons suitable to be eaten by one person. I'm not sure what type of cantaloupe I will get. The seeds I planted died, so I picked up something at the nursery that was labeled "cantaloupe." Surprise is good, right?

Thursday, May 29, 2014


 Last year I planted 10 grapevines on the west side of the property. Five were Concord grapes and five were Thompson seedless. I didn't worry about staking them the first year. I just wanted them to get a good root structure and become established. Four Concord and three Thompson made it through the winter.

Last fall Dave was kind enough to set the T-posts that will support the vines. This spring Joe got the wire and strung it. It was our first fence-stretching experience. I was impressed with my son's creativity. We didn't have the proper tool to pull the wire taut, but he improvised. He took a cable clamp, a loop of wire and a tie-down strap and used them. He clamped the loop of wire to the wire that needed stretched, securing it with the cable clamp. Then he wrapped the tie down strap around the outside fence post to make a come along. One hook went into the loop on the wire. Viola! Wire stretched.

He had some slick brass clamps that caught the loose end of the wire after it wrapped around the fence post and squeezed down on them to hold the wire in place. My grapevine supports look totally professional! Yea, Joe!

The final touch was to put a guy wire on either end of the row to counterbalance the weight of the plants as they get bigger. My contribution was to cut a pool noodle in half (one for each side) and slice it down the middle so it would mark the guy wire. We sure don't need someone cutting through the yard at night to trip on one of them.

Now -- grow grapes! Grow.

Friday, May 16, 2014

It Is So Nice to Have a Son

 I have been doing raised bed gardening since about 2010. There hasn't been much "raised" to the bed. I framed the area I intended to garden with landscape timbers, tilled the dirt and put seeds in the ground.

This year my son, Joe, decided it was time to improve the raised beds. I need them deeper for root crops like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots. I need them deeper to continue to improve the soil. Joe counted the beds I have (9) and computed the number of landscape timbers I needed to bring them up to 3 landscape timbers high, and off he went to Sutherland's Lumber. He began by making me an entirely new, huge 4'x32' bed (bed #10!) west of the circle garden. Our friend, Dave, in the dark blue shirt, helped him with it.

Practice improving the first two raised beds told Joe that driving 12" spikes into those landscape timbers with a 3# mini-sledge wouldn't be fun. Not even pre-drilling the holes was enough to keep him from groaning about his aching back and shoulders.

He invented a special tool for his air-compressor that would be a modified air-hammer. With the air-hammer he could drive the spikes nearly in place. The sledge would only be needed to seat the heads.

As simple as it looks to make a rectangle out of landscape timbers, the process is very time consuming. After all the timbers are staggered like bricks and placed just so, with levels stacked to the right height, Joe has to drill pilot holes for the spikes. Usually it takes someone, in this case, Dave, to steady the timbers while he pounds the spikes in place. Each joint requires a spike on either side of the seam. Corners need three spikes. We use 12" spikes to reach through all three timbers. If they poke through to grip the earth below, that's gravy.

Finishing this bed means three of ten beds have been brought to full height. It's going to take all summer to bring all of the raised beds up to this new standard. Thank you, Joe and Dave, for this bed.

I love this new bed! It is as long as my parent's garden was wide. I can see it being used for lots of things, particularly things I want to grow in quantities. I had first thought I would plant yard-long beans here, but on second thought, this will be home to the tomatoes. It takes a lot of tomato plants to put up all the things I like to can.

Update July 2014: Here's a photo taken in July with the tomatoes going strong. I've already picked three or four Roma tomatoes. It won't be long before I have enough beefsteak tomatoes at one time to start canning. YUM!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day, 2014

Morning Has Broken!
The Cat Stevens song is running through my head. I was awake early today (really early), so I took my hot tea and breakfast on the back porch. There were too many clouds, trees and houses to see the sun rise, but every bird in my neighborhood was caroling the dawn. I enjoyed my quiet time to commune with the new day.
I love spring. It rained last night, so the grass is that extra vibrant green of freshly watered spring grass. Charming and Sugar were snuffling and rolling in it. Loki, our youngest cat, followed everywhere Sugar went, stalking her dog run as it trailed in the grass. Every so once in a while he would pounce... then she'd walk off (never seeing him) and he'd shake himself and look around. What the dickens?
It's a good morning. Happy Mother's Day to all.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

So Many Photos -- So Little Time

I spent a lot of last summer photographing my garden and incidentally posting some of the views on Facebook. Did I ever update my blog? Not like I should have. It was off my radar.  I still have the photos, and Blogger does allow a person to set the date for a post, so all is not lost. I can go back and fill the gaps.

Now it's spring again! I so love spring! My friend Dave gave me a small electric tiller last fall as a birthday present. I love my tiller!!! Now I am going crazy tilling various raised beds and making new ones. I have pretty much tilled every possible vegetable bed I can put on this property without touching the front yard, the orchard or the area around the fire pit. Of course I could garden those areas, too, but dang. The kids are grown. I don't need the entire 100'x150' yard turned into a garden!
 With that said, I do have a lot of raised beds (10 last count.) I want to grow enough food to can. Yes, I supplement my canning supply from the farmer's markets in Ottawa, Lyndon and Emporia, but if I can grow it, I don't have to pay for it. :)  I will be adding one more raised bed behind the circle garden. That will be the last bed that can fit in the area that was my parents' garden. I have ventured into "new" zones -- the shade garden under the ash tree (near the metal dog pen) and the kitchen garden just outside the back door. I love that kitchen garden! It was full of tomatoes last year, with kale, lettuce and a few other greens squeezed in along the edges. I will plant tomatoes there again this year but down the center of the bed, not across the back of the triangle. Considering how they spread, tomatoes, a bit of basil and some marigolds and nasturtium may be all that grows in the kitchen garden this year. Lettuce, kale, spinach, etc. will all be shifted to the shade garden.

My son, Joe, and I are slowly increasing the height of the raised beds from one landscape timber high to three high. This will allow me to improve the soil more easily and to grow root crops better. So far the only root crops that worked well were the sweet potatoes I grew in the shade garden last year. That was probably because that ground had never been tilled before. Every Christmas Uncle Robert gives me a gift card to Sutherland's Lumber. (Ah! I love that man!). The gift card will go toward more landscape timbers and spikes for the other beds.So far we have two beds completed.

The one shown has potatoes planted in it. I will be spreading straw over the potatoes this week. (Yes, I got the spuds in the ground before St. Patrick's Day. :) )  The other quote is "Plant peas when the daffodils bloom." I'm on track with that, too. The potatoes in wire cages didn't work out last year, so we built the first 3 timber high bed for potatoes. This year that bed holds two kinds of peas: English peas and snow peas.  Rotate your crops! I don't want nightshade family following itself (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers) so I tend to move peas into a nightshade bed the following year. Legumes restore nitrogen to the soil.

The pantry shown is just one of the spots where I stashed last fall's produce. I have more shelves in the South Room. (Need to get a better name for that room.)  Joe built me this pantry section last year when I knew I was going to be doing a lot of canning. He had the presence of mind to use adjustable shelving. I've already had to have him cut more boards as I inserted more shelves to hold more jars. If you notice lots of pints and half-pints in my canning, it is because I don't anticipate cooking for more than one or two people, so I want smaller portions in the jars. If company should show up, just open more jars!

Two things I learned. First, some things are better in quart jars. Diced tomatoes, for instance. Many of my recipes (soups and chili in particular) need two pints of tomatoes. Pie filling also requires a quart of fruit. So don't waste effort. Can them as quarts. This year at least half of the tomatoes I can will be in quarts.

Second, it's nice to can soups! When I make too large a batch of chili or stew, I can the extra. It makes a quick meal ready on the shelf later on. This year I will try my hand at canning stews directly, not as an afterthought. I do love soup. Check two of my Pinterest boards for recipes I'm going to try someday: http://www.pinterest.com/tilla2/canning-and-preserving/  or   http://www.pinterest.com/tilla2/superb-soups/.  In the same vein, I have really enjoyed having canned chicken broth on hand. Three whole chickens and about 1/2 a left over turkey gave me 2/3 of the winter's needs for broth. I canned them in both pint and half-pint jars. Some of the broth was canned with mushrooms added. This became the base for homemade cream of mushroom soup.

I have really enjoyed having canned beans on the shelf. I posted recipes on the canning-and-preserving board of Pinterest on how to can dry beans. I like to can pinto beans and navy beans. My daughter likes black beans. I am still looking for the right mix of spices to make my own Ranch Style Beans. The recipe found in the Homesick Texan's blog is not quite what I want.

When I wasn't canning last summer, I was dehydrating. I have dehydrated onions, corn, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, celery, and carrots as well as various air-dried herbs and spices. The jalapenos were ground in the coffee grinder to become a fine powder. Just a few shakes give taco soup and chili a new tang. The dehydrated corn wasn't a big success. It takes far too long to reconstitute, but the other dried veggies are great soup starters. I toss them into the liquid early in the cooking process. They re-hydrate by the time the dish is ready to eat. Frozen green peppers and onions are handy to toss into a quick omelet.

I swear, I have been channeling my Mother! :) It's either that or I am in danger of becoming a half-hearted prepper.