Mature Prairie: Fall

long view largeThese are my colors. From 1978-82 when I was in high school, I made many of my own clothes, and these were the colors I gravitated to. They were called “earth tones.” My mother called them “brown.” Looking at the prairie these days reminds me of the one and only “suit” I ever made, a lined jacket, pants, and a corduroy vest that had all these colors in it. I loved that vest.

The mature prairie behind the house continues to look different than it has other years. The individual plants stand out, although I couldn’t tell you without their bright flowering heads what they are. Well, these are the seeds of grey headed coneflowers. It’s seed harvest time. This time of year they flake right off their stalks and release a great, citrus-y scent that stays in the skin.

hand seedsAnd this fluffy one was the last to bloom, goldenrod.

goldenrod seedAs for these with the sherbet-red stalks, or the grasses, I don’t really know.

prairie red plantsExcept that this is our wave of blue stem…

grassesThe colors of the ground are in harmony with the colors of the trees, and the light of the low sun is just burnishing everything. It’s precious metal time. Jewels of the earth time. A final shout before everything is blanketed in snow.

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leek seeds

I think leeks might still be the most amazing plant in the garden. The seeds are so tiny, and I start them before anything else. And yet, the full-grown leek is one of the last things I harvest. When I put the plants in the garden, they look like individual blades of grass. I always think they are never going to make it. A little water and they lie flat on the bed. It’s usually pretty cold still there in April, and they just hold on.

They require more work than other plants, too. You have to keep hilling them up, keep bringing in heavy soil or compost to pile around the shaft. Only the covered part will stay white and develop into the part of the leek that is desirable. They’re often thin even six months later when it’s time to harvest them.

This was a good year for leeks.

leeksA good year for leeks means the shafts were wider, they had more layers, than in other years. They were tall and strong. Most if not all of them made it to maturity. I waited until after several light frosts, and then, mostly because we haven’t gotten any rain and I didn’t want to water anymore, I dug them up. And then I tried to find something really special to cook them in.

I did make a batch of potato leek soup. It was fine. I’m not the biggest soup lover in the world. And I think there were too many potatoes to leeks in the ratio. I also made three pints of one of my favorite things, a red pepper leek olive with vinegar and oil tapenade you can put on bread that is amazing (I have now given you all the ingredients so no need for a recipe). I canned those and will be loving them so much in the spring. This past spring I had two half-pints and I ended up stuffing them in chicken breasts when the red pepper sauce was finished. Really delicious.

leek and salmon pie 2Salmon and leeks seem like an obvious combination, so I went looking for a leek and salmon pie recipe. I found several on, but they all had the same problem. Puff pastry. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been intimidated by puff pastry. I pulled out the box that had been sitting in my freezer for two years and, well, it cracked into tiny pieces in my hand. Should I buy another box and try again? With some encouragement from my Facebook friends, I went and bought a box of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry.

I chose the simplest leek and salmon pie recipe, one that didn’t involve pie weights and pre-cooking the crust and didn’t involve cream, goat cheese, herb cheese, AND cream cheese (really??). In fact, it didn’t call for any cheese or cream at all. The reviewers, though, said it was dry– except that it comes with a red pepper sour cream sauce that solves that problem.

leek and salmon pieI decided to add some half and half and dot the mixture with goat cheese before baking, to kind of help it out. And I must say, it was a fantastic and suitable use of leeks. Served with some freshly-picked greens with a dill/lemon vinaigrette, it was too good for Thursday night. And, fear of puff pastry conquered.

Here is the recipe, which I will certainly make again.

Leek, Salmon and Goat Cheese Pie

  • 4 large leeks (I used 7 medium leeks)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbs half-and-half or cream
  • 1 Tbs butter and 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless boneless salmon fillet
  • 1/4- 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill leaves
  •  coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 oz of goat cheese
  • sriracha or other hot sauce (optional)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • a 17 1/4-ounce package frozen puff pastry sheets (thawed according to package instructions)

Cut white and pale-green parts of leeks crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. In a bowl of cold water wash leeks well and lift from water into a colander to drain. Pat leeks dry. In a large skillet cook leeks and garlic in butter and oil over moderate heat, stirring, about 5 minutes.  Cut salmon into roughly 3/4-inch pieces and in a bowl toss with leeks, dill, salt, and pepper until combined well.

In a small bowl whisk together egg and water to make an egg wash. On a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin roll 1 puff pastry sheet into a 10-inch square and the other into a 12-inch square. Transfer 10-inch pastry square to a floured large baking sheet and mound salmon filling in center. Dab goat cheese on top and if you like a kick, dab on some hot sauce as well (I used a little sriracha).

Brush edges of pastry evenly with some egg wash. Carefully drape remaining pastry square over salmon and gently press edges together to seal. With a sharp knife trim edges of pastry to form a 10-inch round. Crimp edges and cut 4 steam vents on top of crust. Brush crust evenly with some remaining egg wash. Chill pie, loosely covered, at least 1 hour and up to 3 (I only had 1/2 hour for chilling).

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Bake pie in middle of oven until pastry is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Serve pie warm or at room temperature with a sour cream based sauce. You can make a sauce with lemon juice and dill, with hot sauce, with cilantro, with red peppers pureed in a blender. But I do recommend a sauce.

Adapted from here:

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Pretty Enough to Eat

photo-14 copyToday I was preparing my garlic beds for planting. I brought in two straw bales and the country store where I bought them had bags of apples– 20 lbs for $20! Score! These are locally grown and “minimally sprayed.” That sounds good to me. I’m not sure I want completely unsprayed apples.

photo-15I was thinking as I was picking lettuce that I grow enough food not to have to eat the really ugly stuff. Last week I cut into a few large potatoes I harvested weeks ago and they had brown triangles in the middle. Some of them I cut around the “bad centers,” but others I just threw away. I have good potatoes. I was making potato leek soup and didn’t want blemishes or anything off.

A friend recently asked for a recipe for purslane. She got it in her CSA box. I had to call BS on that one. Purslane from your CSA?? I’m sure it has tons of vitamin C or something, but I don’t eat purslane; I pull it as a weed. She ended up making a stew and said that the only thing she didn’t like about the stew was the purslane! It was too chewy and weird tasting. I say if you’re going to offer purslane, put it out as an “extra.” But really, don’t bother washing and prepping purslane for 100 families…

I have tried nettles, making a weird oily soup that I’m sure was very good for me. That was a one-time deal. I also often eat things that are growing up between my garden beds. I love edible flowers, especially nasturtium.

susanwithrabbitIn my homesteading excitement, I even made rabbit stew, twice, from rabbit my husband shot and brought home. Then I told him to just dispose of the rabbit because it really wasn’t worth making the stew for that little bit of meat. Basically, I loved the stew but didn’t think it was worth buying the ingredients and spending the time to accommodate a free rabbit.

When I was preparing the garlic beds, though, I turned over a little square of straw that was lying between the beds and uncovered a thick tangle of really beautiful sprouts. From the seeds attached, I’d say they were from a delicata squash or zucchini that grew in the adjacent garden bed and was discarded.

photo-16So can I eat them? Why not? I washed them and cut off the seeds and roots, pulled off some of the tops, and put them on my salad, with lovely lettuces from the cold frame and from a weird patch growing next to the cold frame (I often spill seed packets…). The lettuce that had brown or yellow patches, I threw away. I had a few more tomatoes and some fall radishes, too. The sprouts were good, flavorful, added some depth to the salad. So far, no “digestive” consequences…

My produce is not going to win any beauty contests. Especially my tomatoes! But there is an awful lot of it, so I can be a little picky. And I’ll wait until after the apocalypse to eat purslane, dandelion greens and nettles.


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Something New

prairie carpet 10-14There is a feeling of something new around here. I can’t quite explain it, but I’m just feeling like something new is happening. It’s a strange feeling for fall! It has a lot to do with the arrival of the new greenhouse.

It has not been assembled yet, but when it is up it will be 26′ x 72′, with raised beds for me and a very large area for potting prairie plugs. It’s really for the prairie business. With the rise in demand for natives, prairie and pollinator plots, Steve anticipates business. As it is, he is the only person in Central Minnesota right now doing prairie work. There are businesses in all other parts of the state, but Steve is the only one planting prairies around St. Cloud (though there is a business close to the Metro who does jobs here).

I don’t really know what it will mean for me yet. Next year I’ll just begin growing things in there. I’m pretty busy right now, pretty near my limit in terms of gardening and homesteading. Any more will require more time, and I’m not sure where that will come from. Right now it’s all just possibility.

But also this afternoon, out pulling things out of the garden beds, I was struck again by how different things are in the garden than they were when I first started this blog. I’m getting ready to plant the garlic for next year, and that always reminds me of my original impetus for the garden. Reading about eating locally, I started paying attention to where my produce came from. I stopped eating bananas and have successfully avoided crops from Australia and Argentina. But what really bugged me was the garlic from China. My garlic came from China! There is no life without garlic, of course, but I was surprised to find out how well garlic grows in Minnesota. There’s even a festival! And so, getting ready to plant two beds of Minnesota-raised seed garlic, I have about 40 heads of garlic (after using 60 already in the preserving and cooking since harvest in July) in a burlap sack in the basement that will get me through Thanksgiving. Two years ago I grew half that.  I’ve made a dent, a very large dent, in my local food consumption. I’m not sure I believed that would happen when I started, and I certainly didn’t expect it would become so much a way of life for me.

new 17 acres of prairieAfter the work in the garden, I went for a walk with my camera to the new 17 acres of prairie. For about a week, a local construction company has been putting in a road for a new development that will have about a dozen houses. That will bring the development right up to the dead end where our driveway begins.

The long term plan for the city is to put a road right through these 17 acres to serve as a “feeder road” to get people in and out of the neighborhood. They would take the land through eminent domain. We’re thinking given the cost that it won’t happen for a long time. The new houses, though, bring it a little closer.

hyssop closeI wanted to take a photo of the purple flowers I saw there a week ago. Do you know what it is? I didn’t either, so we asked Jeff. It is hyssop. Hyssop! There’s a fair amount of hyssop flowering out in the new prairie, planted this past spring.

Hyssop smells like anise or licorice, but a bit more perfumy. Like maybe there’s some myrrh or frankincense in there. I say that because it’s a Biblical flower. It is used in the Old Testament in cleansing/purifying sacrifices. A branch of hyssop is dipped in the blood of the sacrificial lamb in Exodus and the hyssop branch used to apply it to the lintels to mark the homes of the Jews in Egypt so the angel of death will pass over their houses.

hyssop plantsPsalm 51:7 reads: “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

In the New Testament, when Jesus is on the cross, he says he is thirsty. They dip a branch of hyssop into sour wine and offer it to him. And “when he had received the sour wine,” he “gave up the spirit” and says, “It is finished” (John 19:28-30). It’s a connection between the passover sacrificial lamb and Christ as sacrificial lamb.

And hyssop is growing out on the new prairie. Some day I may harvest this seed as part of our prairie seed mix. Wikipedia says it is used by beekeepers to produce an aromatic honey. It is also used in liquors, a primary ingredient in Chartreuse. As a healing herb, it is used as a cough suppressant and expectorant and in mouthwashes. In cooking, dried or fresh leaves are used (moderately) for their strong mint flavor.

If the sudden appearance of hyssop in one’s life doesn’t suggest there are more, new things ahead, I don’t know what does.

And now I’m off to make a new dish. My counter was completely bare when I went out to the garden today, but I’ve hauled in all sorts of things. I’m still eating “fresh,” and working on the stash in the fridge. Tonight we’ll be having a stir fry with pork marinaded in a tamarind chutney marinade. For vegetables we’ll have carrots, parsnips, daikon radish(!), onion, and greens: Michilli cabbage, turnip greens and beet greens. I’ve got a fresh burlap sack of Royal Basmati rice from the Somali grocery store, too. And maybe a handful of hyssop leaves.stir fry produce 10-14

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Squash and other October Prepping

photo-15photo-14Today was the day to deal with the Cool Old Squash.It’s been sitting in the basement like a porpoise letting me know that it wasn’t going

anywhere. I got two, actually, but gave one away to a couple visiting from Switzerland. They were on their way to a family event with many of his 13 siblings, and it was definitely going to find a good use.

My preservation goal for the day was to chop up and freeze the remaining paprika peppers and zucchini, but I got sort of inspired.


cool old squash openedThe Cool Old Squash I kept was 19.5 lbs. I had no idea what to expect when I cut it open. I did not expect it to smell so sweet and have such lovely flesh and simple core. I haven’t eaten much banana squash, but I’ve eaten a lot of butternut squash, and this squash is as lovely and maybe more mellow, but far from flavorless.

I diced it with my friendly Vidalia chopper and blanched in batches. Then I pulled out the FoodSaver and put it in packages of 3-6 cups. I’ll make my Thai curry squash soup with it and also probably throw it in soups and stews. Or make more Thai curry squash soup with it!

cool old squash dicedThere was a blemished bit and I cut off a generous portion of the top before preparing it. I still ended up with 21 cups of squash! I used 7 cups to make the delicious squash dip below, from a recipe from Ward Bauman, my boss at the retreat center. He served it to our board and it was super yummy. I didn’t have date syrup, so I took a chance and used a teaspoon of tamarind chutney. I added it to the puree, and dang it is good. I had some for lunch, just dipping bread in it. I’m thinking about freezing some of it– I recommend cutting the recipe in half if you’re not having a big party…

So, by noon, I’d made good work of the squash and also frozen 6 cups of sweet peppers and two bags of chopped zucchini.

frozen food 10-1-14October always finds me ready to just start eating from the stash and not always prepping and eating fresh. I think we’re going to get a real frost this weekend, but I’ll still have stuff out there. I’m still eking out enough cherry tomatoes and peppers for pizza and salad toppings– last night’s pizza was a summer and winter squash variety, with delicata and zucchini on a bed of cherry tomatoes and pepper sauce, topped with feta, onion and garlic.

There’s still a lot of food out there! In fact, I think I’ll go dig some leeks, parsnips and harvest some Brussels sprouts now… I feel a frittata coming in my near future.

Winter Squash Spread

2 1/2 lbs winter squash (butternut, banana, etc), peeled, seeded and cut in chunks (you’ll need 7 cups)
3 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp cinnamon
5 Tbs tahini
1/2 cup labna or Greek yogurt
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp sesame seeds
1 1/2 tsp date syrup, maple syrup, tamarind syrup, etc.
chopped cilantro or parsley for garnish

Spread the squash chunks out in a roasting pan. Pour over the olive oil, cinnamon and 1/2 tsp salt and mix well. Cover lightly with foil and roast at 400 degrees until tender, 1 hour, stirring periodically. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. (This would make great, flavorful, caramelized squash. I had already cooked mine for two minutes in boiling water and let cool down, so I didn’t roast… Seriously faster, too!)

In a food processor, pulse the cooled squash, tahini, yogurt, and garlic until the consistency you want it. (I also added the tamarind chutney at this point.)

Spread over a serving plate, spindle with sesame seeds, drizzle with the syrup, and finish with a sprinkling of cilantro.

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Peak Colors!

IMG_9078This past weekend I had the good luck to be invited to a friend’s cabin near Scenic State Park north of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. I was there once before, in June, when we were plagued with bugs. Not so this time. I still got a few mosquito bites around the campfire and on a woodsy hike late in the day, but mostly no bugs.

IMG_9064This area is known for its fall color and there is even a “Fall Color” driving tour. My friend Mary has had this cabin for close to 20 years, and she seems to know every inch of every mile surrounding this place. Much of it looked the same to me, until she would point out the particular aspect of a lake, the mix of pines and maples, a stretch of birches. All of it was equally gorgeous to me.

IMG_9047We had a great weekend, very peaceful, unseasonably warm, and we thought seriously about jumping in the lake. I had my feet and legs in there. It was icy cold. The closest we got to the water was a canoe ride on the last, still morning.

IMG_9073It is hard to overestimate the beauty of being off the grid, at a cabin, for a few days. Warm cooked food and coffee (I roasted vegetables and Mary made an apple pie), a fire in the evening, and this time the winter stars in the sky, my old friend Orion guarding us while we slept.

Enjoy these photos!





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Homemade Ketchup!

ketchupOK. Pioneer project number one. I managed to scrounge 2 1/2 more lbs of tomatoes off the plants, mostly cherry, about half of them sun gold tomatoes. Sun gold tomatoes are sweet, which I find challenging. I was thinking about making a tomato jam recipe that was recommended by a friend, but I didn’t have vodka (!) and I don’t know, the idea of putting two cups of sugar into tomatoes kind of puts me off. Almost as much as going out in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon and buying vodka. I did want something that would be spicy and sweet.

One thing I have been wanting to do is make ketchup. I looked around on the web at several simple recipes. The ones I’ve seen in the past have called for tons of tomatoes and lots and lots of time. I wasn’t really into that.

I had settled on “curried ketchup” and a simple recipe. I started by roasting the tomatoes. But as I was getting ready to put it together, I realized that surely Amy Thielen would have something to say about this! And yes, in her “projects” section, she has a recipe for ketchup.

I didn’t follow it exactly, but I did use her spice sachet.

Basically, I did this:

Quick Homemade Spicy Ketchup

adapted from Amy Thielen’s “The New Midwestern Table”

2 1/2 lbs of tomatoes
small onion
1 inch ginger, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp sea salt

spice sachet, wrapped in a square of cheese cloth and secured:
cinnamon stick
1 tsp allspice berries
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp coriander
1 sprig fresh rosemary

1 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs apple cider vinegar

Roast tomatoes for 15 minutes in 350 degree oven until collapsed and shriveled. Cool slightly. Put in a blender with ginger, garlic, salt, onion, and puree until it’s really smooth.

Pour into a cast iron skillet through a fine mesh sieve (a food mill would be better, but this works for me), pushing to get all the liquids into the pan. Add the sachet and simmer on a very low temperature for 1-2 hours, until it’s the consistency you want. Thielen puts it through a blender again, but I just put mine into a jar (I got a little over a half-pint) and into the fridge. It should keep a couple of months (longer in the freezer). I don’t think it will last that long.

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