Category Archives: gardening

Death in a Jar of Salsa

I gave one of the nurses at my office a about 40 lbs. of tomatoes this year, since she wanted to make salsa. We had an abundance and I was glad to get rid of them. She said she got other tomatoes, too, and canned 60 jars of salsa. She gave me a jar earlier this week, and it was all I could do to smile and thank her when she handed it to me.  Once I got up to my floor, I flushed it down the toilet.

Perhaps I am overly cautious, but I would never can and process anything in a used Hormel ham hock jar using the original cap.  She hadn’t even removed the ham hock label.  I know that salsa has lots of acid in it from the vinegar, and that her salsa will probably be fine, but, still, this person is a nurse and there are some basic rules of hygienic food preservation that you just never violate. There was a story in the Fargo Forum a few years back about some well meaning woman in the eastern part of the state who invited people for Sunday dinner, fed them home canned peas, and killed half of the guests with botulism.  Those stories  stick with a person who does any home canning.

Tell about some gifts you would have rather not received.  Got any canning or food preservation disasters or horror stories? Am I being alarmist?

Truth in Advertising

I am always amazed at the deceitfulness of people who sell plants through catalogs and greenhouses.   It is easy to be fooled  into buying plants that just won’t work in your climate zone  if you don’t know your flora.  The most recent scam up here is the marketing of hydrangea macrophllya,  a group of hydrangeas that just won’t grow here but are probably the prettiest ones for stunning shades  of pink and blue. They are tempting, but it is just too cold here, and unless you are prepared to mulch pretty heavily in the winter, they just won’t do much after the first year. We have tremendous luck with hydrangea arborescens (the big, white, poofy ones) and hydrangea paniculata (ones with pointy flowers that often turn pink at the end of summer).

Hybrid tea roses were marketed for years as good to zone 4, but now are sold with the disclaimer that they are only good to zone 5.  They really only do well here if you cap them with rose cones in the fall and mulch heavily. We used to have lots of tea roses, but we got pretty tired of all the fuss. We planted Morden roses from Manitoba instead.  They are very cold hardy.  We have a few hybrid teas in the yard that do well since we seem to have created a micro-climate in the yard with shrubs and fences that keeps temperatures a little warmer than in other parts of the yard.  The pictures below show a hybrid tea we never cap or mulch that comes back every year and is a really stunner.


A couple of years ago we bought two Morden roses that were supposed to be only four feet tall at the most.  One turned out to be a climbing rose that had multiple, six foot long branches.  It was not labeled as a climbing rose. It was in a part of the yard that wouldn’t have supported a trellis, so it  flopped around and got tangled in everything around it. It mercifully died last winter so we dug it up, providing room for one nearby that we assumed was a four feet tall rose as it had been labeled. As you can see in the next photo, it, too, is starting to act like something else.


It is a little hard to see, but the rose put out a couple of stems that were at least seven feet tall.  Husband cut them off after I took the photo. I hope this was just a fluke.  I just don’t know who in the plant world to trust anymore.

Who do you trust?  When have you had something that didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to? When has a plant fooled you?

Borscht Closure and Cabbage Tiffs

We grew a short row of beets this year.  Husband started to talk about making borscht in June. He is an incredibly obsessive person who loves to compare and contrast recipes.  Borscht recipes started to appear on the lamp table near his chair in the living room, and with difficulty he finally settled on one recipe a week or so ago.  He had, of course, annotated it with suggestions from other recipes. It was a complex recipe with twenty-one steps.

Last Friday he started to make the borscht, beginning with a beef stock.  That took all Friday afternoon and evening, with Husband fussing over the vegetables and herbs  that were to go into the stock, and how long the stock was to cook.  It was finally finished at 3:00 am Saturday morning. I strained it for him later in the morning. He fussed and fussed, asking if I should skim off all that fat, was the beef tender,  and was it enough?  I reassured him it was. Then the real hysteria began, with the twenty one steps.

The vegetables had to be julienned in a specific way.  It was a clear borscht with beets, cabbage, onions, celeriac, carrots, potatoes, and our home grown fresh Vermont Cranberry beans.  Only he could assemble the soup.  I don’t quite know what the other steps were, but I went to bed at  9:00, and he finished the soup just before midnight. It made two gallons. The kitchen was in a state of continual mess and uproar the whole time the soup was in preparation. I became increasingly irritated with him. I started to argue with him over what to do with the leftover cabbage he didn’t need in the soup, a half head of  savoy cabbage we had grown last year and blanched and frozen. He was going to throw it away. When I heard myself saying  “You can’t throw out the rest of that cabbage! It worked really hard to grow for us!”  I knew I was completely around the bend. I don’t even like cabbage. Then Husband got stuck at Step 20-correct for seasoning.

He ate some of the soup for breakfast on Sunday. He was pensive and broody all morning after that.  We went to church, and as we were driving home he said we had to go to the store to get a cruet. He explained that he was disappointed in his soup because it needed more acid and herbs, and he wanted a cruet to infuse herbs and vinegar to add to the soup. No, he said, he couldn’t just use a pint jar.  After a great deal of indecision on his part, we found just the right cruet to match his expectations. We went home, and he proceeded to turn the kitchen upside down (again), chopping all these herbs and figuring  out what he wanted in his soup.

I had finally had it with all this obsession and brooding, and asked if I could taste the soup. It was wonderful. I told him that if he thought it needed more acid,  to squeeze a God damned lemon into it and just add some fresh dill, but what ever he did he needed to be done with the soup!!!  He looked stunned and seemed to come back to reality. He sheepishly agreed that I was correct, and filled up the cruet with vinegar and the herbs and put it in the fridge. I have no idea what we will do with it.

When have you got so close to something that you couldn’t see it for what it truly was anymore?  How do you choose recipes? What is your favorite beet recipe?

Really Cookin’!

A couple of days ago LJB mentioned finding a recipe and sticking to it. I’ve been thinking about her comments a lot, since I am the exact opposite.

I had a lot of vacation days to use up, so have been off since the 22nd and I have been on a cooking jag.  There are two main reasons for this.  One of the reasons we’ve already discussed recently – TOMATOES!  The other reason is that I’m a morning person. As much as I love to cook, I am just not up for cooking after I get home from work.  Warmed up leftovers (or take out) in my jammies are pretty common fare for me at night.

So the combination of many mornings at home and my glut of tomatoes had me cooking up a storm. I started my vacation by dragging out about a dozen of my cookbooks; for some reason that I don’t even remember now, I pulled out a lot of vegan cookbooks.  Then I flipped through them and used little slips of paper to mark some of the recipes that looked good to me.  I marked about 16 recipes – only one of which I had ever made before.  Then YA looked through and vetoed a few.  I shopped for six recipes and then got going.  I did the last one today – vegan lasagna rolls (which ended up being not vegan).

Here’s what got made on my vacation: Fried Bread Panzanella, Roasted Carrots w/ Parmesan & Garlic, Pico de Gallo, Pasta w/ Tomatoes & Olives, Roasted Tomato & Garlic Sauce, Smash Potatoes w/ Pesto & Parmesan, Apple Honey & Arugula Pizza and today’s Lasagna Rolls. Now we have enough leftovers to last another week or so.

When is repetition good for you? Or not?


The 9 course meal we ate on Saturday night  was completely sourced from a 100 mile radius of the restaurant.  Given its location just east of Seattle, it was no surprise that salmon,  geoduck, mussels, and oysters were on the menu. We also ate local lamb and pork. All the veggies like turnips, carrots, greens, cabbage, potatoes, beets, and cucumber came from the restaurant farm, as did all the herbs and flowers used in the dishes.  (Day lilies, Marigolds, and Bachelor Buttons are surprisingly tasty.)  There were lovely local mushrooms. All the wines had been commissioned from local vintners by the restaurant owners last year for the meal.  Cooking fat was either butter, grape seed oil, or hazelnut oil. They grow quinoa locally, and we had that, too.

The restaurant owners went to the extreme, though, to make sure that everything we ate was from within 100 miles.  That meant that they churned their own butter from milk from local cows, and planted a couple of acres of rye and wheat to mill their own flour for the bread. They collected clean local sea water to make their own salt. We had no pepper, but there were so many farm herbs in the food that we didn’t miss it at all. Lemon verbena provided all the citrus we needed. The biggest dilemma was what to use for locally sourced leavening for the hazelnut cakes we had for dessert.

They started out last year collecting mule deer antlers from within a 100 mile radius of the farm  and grinding them to a powder. Horn is apparently a good leavening agent and made some pretty good cakes. It takes a lot of laborious, time consuming grinding, though, and they found an even better leavening agent  in wood ash from the fire place. Who knew?

Plan a meal completely sourced from a 100 mile radius of your house. What would you serve?


Comfort Zone

We are in Tacoma and I will soon be forced out of my comfort zone at an art and wine sipping event.  We are going to a wine bar stocked with an art instructor who will teach us how to paint dahlias on canvas with acrylic paints.

I cannot draw, sketch, or paint. It has been that way since I was a child. I don’t think it has anything to do with lack of training. I just don’t possess the capacity. Perhaps after a glass or two of wine I won’t care how my painting of dahlias turns out.  Husband and daughter are both good at art and are excited about doing this. I will enjoy being with them, but it makes me anxious to think about the actual painting part of it.

I think it is  good to try new things like this, but I wish I could plunge joyfully into them instead of creep hesitantly toward them.

How do you feel about trying new things? Are you a creeper or a plunger? How have such experiences turned out? 

Silence of the Canes

I’m a chatter – I freely admit it. No life stories, but a comment for the cashier, a quick quip for others waiting in line with me, hello to the librarian. Normally I pick raspberries with my BFF Sara.  We chat away while we pick and if there are folks on the other side of the canes, we usually talk with them a bit.

This year schedules just didn’t coincide so I ended up at the raspberry patch on my own. I was sent down a long row of canes with just one lone gentleman on the other side.  He had just started as well and we were picking at about the same speed.  We even, by unspoken agreement, shared the “in between” space.  Sometimes he would pick berries from the middle and sometimes he left them for me.

But he didn’t chat. I asked just a few questions to see if we could find some common ground:

VS: What do you do with all your berries?
H:   We spread them on cookies sheets and freeze them?
VS: Me too.  After I make some jam.


VS: Where are you from?
H: Northfield
VS: That’s convenient.  (berry patch is in Northfield)


VS: Are you here alone today?
H: No, my wife is here.


Three hints are enough for me. Clearly he didn’t feel the need to chat, so I left him alone and we continued to pick silently.  His wife eventually showed up and they outpaced me although even as they got farther away from me I could hear that they weren’t speaking to each other either. So at least it wasn’t me.

Did your folks tell you never to talk to strangers?