Monday, November 30, 2009

Happenings, Dealings with Bugs, and Some Nut Recipes


Well, here it is all the way at the end of November and we are finally getting some snow. It’s coming in waves over the hills from the north and west and beginning to coat the grass and the mud on the road.  Yesterday, we had our usual Sunday thing with my aunt and my grandmother and the leftovers from Thanksgiving. The weather was beautiful, low 50’s sunny and breezy. My uncle and one of my cousins and her little boy came up and we cut three Christmas trees and pulled them up to the house from the bottom where the nicer spruce trees are. Last year, we ended up just cutting trees from the verge of the frog pond as there was about thigh deep snow on the ground and it was too hard to get them from down below.

It’s the first day of deer, and I’ve been stuck keeping the dogs on lead. There are a lot of people out hunting, and even on our little spatch of land out back, I wouldn’t recommend going down below to avoid any hunters.

A couple of weeks ago, my mother took the dogs out just before sunrise and got into a tangle with a very large, very aggressive raccoon. She got bit right through her tall rubber boot and the dogs all got bit. Luckily, our oldest dog Sally pinned it down while mom brought the rest of the dogs back to the house, got a feed sack and the go-devil, hiked back out the field, pinned down the raccoon and drowned it in a puddle and brought it back to the house. My sister is a respectable career woman who usually gets a lot of milage out of the stuff we get into down here. She had this whole story published as a “You know you’re a redneck, if...” joke on her facebook page before I had the mud off the dogs. My mom of course had ot go to the emergency room for tetanus and rabies shots, but because she managed to find it and bring it back, I was able to take it up to the health department vet in Erie where they determined it was not rabid and she was able to not get the rest of the shots which would have been about 8 shots every week for the next four weeks. Then, the dogs all needed shots, too but our vet is great and whisked us right on and only charged a regular office call for all three dogs.

Bruce (who tipped the scales at 99.5 lbs. during his last vet visit) has been limping off and on for the last few weeks, He seemed to have a sore shoulder a couple weeks ago and it got better for a few days, but he seems to have reinjured it. Hopefully a few days on lead during hunting season will help him heal up a little. The boys are very energetic and Spencer is also pushing 90. Little Sally is so tiny compared to them and she is still over 50 pounds!

I am getting 2010 seed catalogs and already eagerly planning next year’s garden, which could hardly be worse than this year’s garden which is cause for optimism. I should hardly complain, though, since I am still getting yummy carrots from the garden and had snow peas through the end of October and my calendulas and bachelors buttons are just now spent.

I have my houseplants inside including some herbs that I am trying to winter over, but I am in the middle of battling more (!) bugs. I believe they are thrips and they have eaten up my thyme and my French Tarragon. I checked a whole bunch of books out of the library about healthy houseplants, blah, blah, blah in addition to my four thousand books on gardening. I like the whole organic philosophy that you just leave things as they are until there is a problem, but I have problems! So, the first thing I noticed is that things in a rich soft container garden mix were just infested, including my wandering jew and my herbs, and things that were in the sandier, packier potting mix were okay. Also citrusy things were okay. I tried sprinkling leaves from lemon coleus on infested plants, diatomaceous earth, laundry soap, and then a truly hellacious mixture of fels-naphtha and garlic infused olive oil. The pineapple sage seemed to stage a quick recovery, but the thyme and the tarragon were eaten to the dirt level.

Right when I was about to give up, I came across an idea in the houseplants books which said to dip the plants, pot and all, in hot water (about 140 degrees but I’ve read higher, too). I went one step beyond and prepared a pot with the sandy dirt that the bugs don’t seem tot like as much and completely washed the plant, roots and all with hot water and repotted into a clean pot that had been sitting in the garage for a few months. So far, the plant seems to be sprouting back up and no bugs have bitten it, but I am also misting it and dusting with DE regularly.

Speaking of bugs, I found a very nice old paper back called “The Bug Book” by Helen and John Philbrick with lots of old fashioned anti bug advice. Just out of curiosity, I looked up pill bugs (also called woodlice or sow bugs accourding to the Philbricks). My melon patch was absolutely devastated by these little guys this year, and to that point I’d hardly seen then as pests at all, more like little visitors in the wood pile. Accourding to the bug book, however, they are drawn to goat manure, which of course, I had packed into each hill of melons. So, hopefully next year if I switch to compost or kife some cow manure from the neighbor’s field, I’ll get more than masses of swarming pill bugs in my melon patch.

What with being stuck inside and the chilly damp weather and all, I’m baking. I made two loaves of white bread and three of multi-multi which smell very nice, but always fall in the oven and have a very unsatisfying crumb, and while grain breads are fun to concoct, it’s very difficult to have a good result. White breads are so much more pleasing!

Anyway, I have some fun recipes. These first two are from this little fundraising book called “Gifts from the Kitchen” which was a fundraising thing that my sister’s kids’ daycare sold a few years ago. They are these little fliptop books with nice little recipes for things like cookie and soup mixes in jars. This one has pickle and jelly recipes and even soap making with lye. The first recipe is very easy and will spoil you for ever paying too much for those fancy almonds at the fair:

Glazed Almonds (tho’ recipe originally called for pecans)

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Dash of salt
3 cups almonds (or pecan halves)

In large saucepan, combine ingredients. Boil 3-5 min, tossing and stirring. (Boil dry)
Spread on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet to cool. Store airtight.

Spiced Vanilla Pecans (more work - 1-2 days to prepare)

1 lb pecan halves not broken or chopped
6 c. water
1/2 c. superfine sugar
3. Tblsp. melted butter
1 Tblsp. corn syrup
1 Tblsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. each: salt, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice
1/8 tsp. pepper

Boil pecans in the water for a minute. Drain well. Mix butter, syrup, vanilla, and sugar in a large bowl. Add hot pecans and stir to coat. Cover and sit for 12-24 hours. Next day:
heat oven to 325. Put nuts and sauce on a rimmed cookie sheet. Cook 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Mix together spices in another large bowl. After nuts are cooked, toss in the bowl with spices. Cool in single layer on a cookie sheet. Store air tight.

And this is a recipe I tried because I recently raided the outdated section at the grocery store and lucked into a few bags of slivered, blanched almonds. I also made ghee with the butter sticks that were softening for cookies and the dogs bit them, but I couldn’t bear to feed all the butter to the dogs and I couldn’t actually throw it away either! (Is that too much information?)

Samsa (Tunesian almond pastry, from Countryside magazine March/April 2008)

1 1/2 cups blanched almonds (you can do this at home or buy blanched, but you will pay for them! Unless you buy bags of outdated nuts at the local store. Which I recommend, because blanching almonds is a pain in the behind!)
1 1/2 cups white sesame seeds (the dark unhulled ones won’t cream up, don’t try them!)
1 1/2 cups clarified butter (ghee) (do this at home or buy already made from the specialty shop, very expensive!)
1 package (1lb) filo dough (let thaw at room temp accourding to directions)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cups water
2 Tblsp. lemon juice (bottled is fine)
2 Tblsp. orange blossom water (come on, now, just use OJ)

In a 350 oven spread almonds and sesame seeds in a shallow pan. Stir occasionally until just browned. Pulverize the almonds and seeds in a blender (handy chopper, magic bullet, or a really clean electric coffee grinder all do well) and set aside. Butter 9x13 cake pan. lay down the filo 1 sheet at a time, brush with the clarified butter. Lay down 1/3 of the sheets, buttering each layer. Spread out half of the nuts and seeds. Lay down another third of the sheets. Put on th e rest of the nuts and seeds. Put on the last of the filo (butter every sheet, the whole way through!). Brush top with remaining butter. Cut into diamond or square shapes. Bake in 400 oven 5 minutes. Lower to 300 and bake about 30 minutes more until sides are light brown. While the pastry cooks, make sugar and water in pot for ten minutes, stirring over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, add lemon juice. Place back on the heat, boil. Take off heat and add OJ, keep warm. Put the pastry under the broiler in the oven a few minutes right before removing to brown up the top. Turn to keep even. Broil until golden brown. Remove from the oven. Pour hot syrup evenly over the top. Cool and serve.

So there it is, a selection of easy to medium to downright complicated recipes that use lovely nuts just in time for the holidays!