Saturday, October 19, 2013

My Root Cellar

Apparently fall is a woeful time for me and blogging. I'm sorry for the lack of substance here recently. Writing is a way of processing life and, admittedly, it sometimes takes me a while to process. Kind of like winter cooking, which is suited to braises, stews, and roasting, all of which take time.
This morning, I walked to my garden and spent an hour cleaning it up. I pulled up everything except green onions, chives, parsley, and snapdragons (which were amazingly still blooming!), chopped it all into smaller pieces, bagged it, raked the dirt smooth, and stared at it. It's hard to believe that my garden had come full circle again and is now laid to rest for the winter.
I got an organizing bug in me after seeing my garden look so neat and tidy, so I came home and whipped my root cellar and freezer into shape. Except for my grandparents, I can't remember anyone having a basement when I was growing up in Portland. Thus living in a house with a basement for the last two years has been a revelation. I have stored winter vegetables in the basement the past two years, but I've decided to be more organized this year, mostly to avoid wasting food.
I unpacked my whole freezer and re-wrote my whiteboard list below. I am thankful that my freezer is in pretty good shape. I've realized that my freezer is a better place for storing ingredients that can become a meal rather than pre-made meals. I love to cook so much that I just don't eat pre-made meals. If I'm in need of a quick meal, I usually make an easy meal like peanut butter and jelly toast or scrambled eggs. It's one of my weird food quirks. I'm pretty proud of this list:
The last two years, I've bought squash at Green Bluff on a whim. Bad idea. I regret to say that much of it was wasted. This year, I bought just the squash you see below: delicata (delicious roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper), sweet meat (which I'll bake, puree, and freeze in two-cup portions for baking), a Red Kuri (no idea how to cook it, so this is my splurge!), and four butternut squash (wonderfully versatile). I'm prone to impulse fruit/veggie purchases, so I can't guarantee that I won't end up with more squash. But if I don't, I'm content with what I have here:
My lovely canned goods! I've already shared a photo like this on my blog, but I'm really proud of them. Canning, freezing, and root cellar goods are three of the big ways I like to preserve the precious fruits and veggies of summer and autumn for the lean winter and early spring months. Drying is another big method, but I haven't done much with it yet. 
On an impulse, I did buy a 10-pound bag of local Yukon Gold potatoes at Green Bluff to add to my stash of red potatoes and fingerlings. It was only $5! I've separated the potatoes by variety into three newspaper-lined boxes. At Green Bluff, I recently purchased two 4-lb bags of red and yellow storage onions for only $1.50 each. A steal! I'm so excited! The last component I'll add to my root cellar is about 20 lbs of Stayman Winesap apples that I'll be picking at Green Bluff tomorrow. The farmer told me these apples are "good keepers." Excellent! That's what I'm looking for! 
I've been thinking of buying a Dutch oven, so my co-worker was kind enough to lend me his, which is the exact Dutch oven I wanted to buy. I've been testing it out with various recipes, including Butternut Squash Risotto (picture below). The risotto was easier to make than I expected and delicious in an earthy way. With squash, onions, white wine, and homemade chicken stock as some of the ingredients, I happily ate the leftovers for lunch (all week). 
Today, I simmered the bones of two roasted chickens for three hours, adding in chopped onion, carrots, two bay leaves, and fresh thyme after the second full hour. Happily, the chicken bones have enough meat on them to make Chicken Soup with Herb Dumplings. I'm thinking this Dutch oven will be my next big kitchen purchase.

It's been a good and productive day. I love the possibilities for delicious, healthy meals that are just waiting to spring forth from my cans, freezer, and stored veggies.

How are you preparing for the winter months? Do you can, freezer, dry, or store summer and fall vegetables or fruit?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Final Garden Update: Potatoes, Oh My!

I've had a blog idea brewing in my head for two weeks now, but I haven't quite got to a place where I'm able to put my thoughts into words. For now, I wanted to share with you the final update of the year from my garden. It was a wonderful year. Here's a tunnel view of part of my garden:

A lot of what you can see above were volunteer plants, like the parsley, nasturtium (yellow flower), and alyssum (white flower) in the foreground. Below, you can see the huge stalks of cosmos that grew WAY taller than I expected. You can also see my bean patch and the potato foliage in the center right of the photo.  

I spent about 30 minutes digging potatoes yesterday and harvested a wonderful amount of Red Norlands and Rose Finn Apple and Russian Banana fingerlings. It was so much fun to dig around in the garden in the nippy, sunshiney fall air and pull up hidden treasures from the dirt: rose-tinted and golden yellow fingerlings and bold red potatoes.

Here are the potatoes spread out on newspaper in my basement to "cure" for a couple days. Curing potatoes helps them keep better in a cool dark place in the winter. I thought this picture was funny because it looks so much like a science experient! I can't wait to expand my science experiment into the kitchen...yum, chemistry!

I tried to take the picture below to show how tall my cosmos are. You can sorta tell. :)

I thought the texture of the petals on this calendula were beautiful. The fringed edges almost remind me of a lion's mane.

I was in my garden to harvest today for perhaps the last time this season. Each night, the temperature dips down a little farther. The heat in my house has finally ticked on, and my bed has three layers of blankets. The trees are starting to tint crimson and gold. I picked all my green tomatoes today to try ripening them inside. I cut all the blossoms left on my zinnias and snapdragons and added to them nasturtium, cosmos, and black-eyed Susan blooms in two Mason jar bouquets. The simple beauty of consistent flower bouquets in my house for the past three months has been a particular joy. I love that my garden can be a place of combined beauty, utility, and wonder. I pray I can take the wonder and beauty of creation into the hunkered-down winter months until the winds of change bring us the new life and green stubble of spring.
Thanks for enjoying my garden with me this year!