Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fall Clean Up

I rarely clean up my garden in the fall. I wait until spring when the ground is softer and my motivation is stronger. Leaving plants up also makes for natural bird feeders throughout the winter and ads winter interest.

But, next spring I want to hit the ground running and it was an awesome fall day (especially for NOVEMBER!!), so I got to work. I stripped my garden of all but a few well placed sunflowers. I left all the echinacea because they look really neat in the snow. I trimmed back many of my plants even though they may have been still somewhat green. I trimmed the dead lily stalks leaving just a few inches to let me know where they were come next spring. I pruned my pear and a few of the shrubs. I even got rid of a very ugly hosta that I have been meaning to dispose of for quite some time. I figured that would give me some fresh space in the spring to plant something that I really enjoyed.

And I even planted garlic for the very first time. I am not too concerned about how late in the season it is. Real winter comes late in this area. Besides, the garlic cost me all of $1.50!

I tried my best to get rid of as much Creeping Charlie as I could. It really got out of hand during the month that I have been tied up redoing my bathroom floor. It usually takes me a few weekends in the spring to get it back under control. But there is supposed to be good weather all week, so maybe I'll still have a few more chances to get at it.

I'm still waiting for the last of the bulbs that I ordered. They ran out of some of them -- so I will only have about 30 to plant when they do arrive. I hope they come soon or I will have to store them in the refrigerator over the winter!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Awesome Apple Pie!

Regulars of The Obsessive Gardener know that winter means FOOD SEASON! And I am going to start out this food season with probably the best recipe I ever created!

I work with a guy that has an orchard. Along with all the experimental trees he grows (like sweet cherries, peaches, pears) he also has a ton of apple trees. At harvest time he started bringing in bags and bags of apples for us and hinting how he would really like us to bake him a home-made apple pie from some of these apples.

Well three weeks and no takers. So when he started to bring me my favorite apples -- Honey Crisp -- I decided that I should probably oblige him with a pie.

I really can't remember the last time that I baked an apple pie. It could have been last Thanksgiving, but in any case, none could have been as good as the one that this one that I created for him!!

As usual, I made this recipe up as I went along.

1-1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup COLD butter
1/4-1/2 tsp salt (I use sea salt, cause I love it)
2-4 TBS ICE COLD water
a little bit of brown sugar (please use the C&H pure brown sugar, not the colored, flavored white sugar that a lot of companies try to pass off as brown sugar)
The important thing about pastry is that everything should be cold and you DO NOT want to over-work the dough. The way that pastry gets light and flaky is through the expansion of the little bits of fat in the dough while it's baking. If all the fat is mixed in too well, it does not do the job. No tiny air pockets mean dense, tough pastry.

So with that in mind, you really should mix this by hand with a pastry blender. A fork will also work, but I find that they dig into my hand. OR, you could just mix it with your hands. This technique can work well as long as you work fast, because the heat from your hands will start to melt the butter.

Mix the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Break or chop the cold butter into bits into the mix. You want the dough to form fairly uniform crumbly bits. Then add just enough ICE COLD water to hold the dough together.

Now most people will roll it at this point. Any of you who have followed my recipe posts know that I like to cook and bake simple. All I do with this dough is push it into the pie plate to form a crust. There will be some left over dough. Hang on to that.

With my crust, I put the lump of left over pastry in the middle, threw plastic wrap over the whole thing and stuck it in the refrigerator while I prepared the rest of the pie. I actually had the crust in the fridge over night as I only had enough time to make the crust that night. I have heard that you should let the pastry "rest", so maybe this helped too.

The Filling:
4-6 apples-- cut, cored and peeled
1/2 cup brown sugar (remember -- C&H!)
1-2 tsp sea salt
1-3 TBS ground cinnamon
1-3 TBS ground ginger (depends on how much zip you want in the pie.)
a couple dashes (or more!) of Captain's spice rum

I used a variety of apples in the same pie since my coworker had given me so many different kinds. I think I mainly used Connelly Red and Honey Crisp.

To prepare the apples, I first cut the apples into slices, kind of like you'd do for pizza. Then I made "V" shapped cuts in the center of each slice to remove the core. Then I cut the peels off. I have found that this is the fastest, easiest way to prepare apples for me; you do what you want.

Mix all the filling ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Now would be a good time to turn the oven on as you want the oven to be HOT when you start baking. 325-350F

Left over pastry
a couple handfuls of quick oats
1/2 - 1 cup brown sugar (you know the drill)
1/2 tsp of sea salt
2-4 TBS ground cinnamon
1-2 TBS ground ginger
1-2 TBS COLD butter (optional, but the topping will be more dry)

Put the pastry in a mixing bowl. (If you did not have left over pastry, you will need to mix some flour, butter and water to get a gob of "pastry"). With your hands, mix in everything but the flour. You want this topping to form a fairly uniformly crumbly mix. If the mix is just too moist, add a little bit of flour at a time until it looks right.
crust -> filling -> topping

Simple, right?

Bake for about 30-50 minutes depending on your oven, the moisture content of the pastry, the moisture content of the apples, altitude, etc.
You want to bake this until the crust is golden brown.

Serve fresh and warm with whipped cream.

It made me like pie again. I will never eat any other apple pie again! It simply MUST be THIS pie!!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Squirreling Bulbs

I had gotten most of my bulbs planted two weeks ago until all I really had left was a mixed bag. I wasn't looking forward to trying to find homes for all 50 of these, so I came up with a brilliant plan.

I handed a trowel, a container of bone meal, and the bag of tulips to my son. I then told him to go out into the garden and pretend that he was a squirrel burying food for the winter. I explained that the bulbs needed to go into a hole at least 6" deep and that the bone meal needed to be worked into the bottom of the hole - but he had full control over where they were planted.

He gave me a strange look and asked, "Are you sure? You don't care where they go?"

I said, "In nature they pop up where they want so why not in my garden? It will be my springtime surprise!"

He got them all planted and was very happy to do it. He said he would even "squirrel" bulbs for me next year if I wanted.


He might be doing it sooner.

I just bought almost 50 more bulbs from Brecks!


OK. I am seriously thinking that I either need professional help


I need to be locked in the closet for a good month!

I think I've crossed that line from "Obsessive" to "Compulsive" Gardener!!