I Resolve to Change with the Season

Winter clothes line

Following up on the idea that fall feels like a new year, I asked Naturemom if she has any changes she is making this season. I think you may find her outside in the near future in the garden and with the clothes line.


Garden Plan

Naturemom says this is the year to get her garden ready for spring. She moved three years ago. Business and baby meant that she was short on time and energy for her garden, but she’s ready now. She’s motivated by the desire for her family to grow and eat their own fresh vegetables next year.

I Resolve to start planning for it now, or I know the best planting season will pass me by in the spring and it will be June again before I get to any serious gardening.


Winter Clothes Line

This summer Naturemom has been using a new clothes line, and this will be her first fall and winter. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can only dry clothes outside when it’s warm. Cold dry works wonders.

Though her youngest is nearly out of diapers (this does happen!), she made a point of saying that she would absolutely use a clothes line in winter for cloth diaper laundry. She encourages other parents to try this because of how great the sun and cold is for keeping diapers clean.

I Resolve to use our clothes line until the snow falls, and even give it a whirl a few times this winter (no promises on how often this will happen, though! I’m not a fan of the cold).

How about you? Any resolutions for changes you intend to make with the changing of the seasons?

Image © Denise Campione | Dreamstime.com

Chunky Spaghetti Sauce in under 1 Hour

Chunky tomato sauce for children

Since my children weren’t big fans of my homemade licorice (though I was!), I decided to make a more kid friendly garden recipe today: tomato sauce for spaghetti. I planted several kinds of tomatoes this year: fat juicy tomatoes for my husband’s sandwiches, little yellow pear tomatoes for salsa, and Roma tomatoes for sauce.

The tomatoes are only just ripening for us in the past few weeks, so I didn’t have enough to make a lot of sauce yet. So, I just made lunch for two children.

Roma tomatoes picked this morning

Roma tomatoes picked this morning


Chunky Spaghetti Sauce

8-10 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/4 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbs olive oil
salt, pepper, basil, oregon, and chili pepper to taste

Serves 2 children.

From picking the tomatoes to serving lunch took about 50 minutes, including 30 minutes of infrequent stirring.

Tomatoes still warm from the sun

Tomatoes still warm from the sun

We often add carrot to our tomato sauce, but it was necessary today because we had so few tomatoes. If you have carrot-averse children, you can blend the sauce and they will never know.

Start with the aromatics

Start with the aromatics

Add carrot, onion, garlic, and oil to a small sauce pan, and cook on medium low heat for about 5 minutes.

That's all of the ingredients

That's all of the ingredients

Add diced tomatoes and continue to cook for another 20-30 minutes.

Cook down to the texture you like

Cook down to the texture you like

Serve! It really is that easy.

Spaghetti lunch for two children

Spaghetti lunch for two children

Old-fashioned Licorice with Fennel Flavor

Homemade licorice

Homemade licorice

Last Wednesday, I cleaned up my overgrown herb garden. I have a whole winter’s worth of mint tea, the fresh sage went into turkey dressing that I’ll be eating in about an hour, and the fennel seeds and leaves my children convinced me would make nice licorice.

My cleaned up fennel plants

My cleaned up fennel plants

Licorice is usually made with licorice root and anise seeds. Because of the potential side effects of actual licorice root (raised blood pressure, edema, and toxicity to liver and cardiovascular system), it made sense to me to use a substitute that has common culinary uses. Fennel seed is also used medicinally to prevent gas. A licorice-like fennel candy makes a nice after dinner treat.

Fennel is much more mild than licorice, so you will need to make a very strong infusion of fennel. I used both seeds (dried for a few days then crushed to release their oils) and leaves (crushed into powder). Next time, I’ll make it stronger.

Fennel seeds I picked last week

Fennel seeds I picked last week


Infusion of Fennel

1/4 c. fennel seeds, crushed
2 Tbs. fennel leaves, powdered
1 c. water

Pour boiling water over the seeds and leaves as for tea. Cover immediately and leave until room temperature. Strain.

I left the infusion overnight then boiled it down a bit to try to concentrate the flavor. Because I added the liquid to a syrup, I wish I had boiled it down more. The whole process would have been faster if I had concentrated the flavor in less liquid.


Fennel Syrup

1 c. blackstrap molasses
1/4 c. oil (I used canola/rapeseed)
1 c. liquid (my fennel infusion)
3/4 c flour, sifted

Makes about 12oz of licorice.

Mix molasses and oil in a heavy saucepan. Add liquid and mix. Use a candy thermometer to bring the mixture up to soft ball stage (~230-245 degrees F).

Long before the syrup reached soft ball stage

Long before the syrup reached soft ball stage

It took me about 40 minutes to bring the syrup to soft ball stage because of the amount of liquid I added. Reduce the liquid, and the process may be faster for you.

Once my slightly fennel-flavored molasses mixture held together in a ball when dropped in cold water, I removed from the heat.


Licorice Dough

Remove from heat. Add flour 1 tablespoon at a time but quickly. The longer the syrup is off the heat, the less time you will have to shape the candies.

The amount of flour you need may vary depending on humidity and temperature. When the mixture forms a thick dough that becomes difficult to stir, put a spoonful in your hand. (Be careful! It could still be quite hot.) If you can roll it in your hands without it sticking, it’s ready to roll out.

Mixing flour into licorice syrup

Mixing flour into licorice syrup

Now, move fast!

Use a heavy metal spatula to scrap all of the mixture onto your working surface before it can harden onto the pan. (I didn’t.) Break off a couple of tablespoons at a time and roll in your hands to make 1/4″-3/8″ wide ropes.

Licorice ropes about 4 to 6 inches long

Licorice ropes about 4 to 6 inches long

I had helpers, and we still lost about 5% of our mixture on the edges of the pan due to our slowness.

We used the candy stuck on the pan to try a version of the licorice water that my children have wanted to try from the Just William stories thinking might work better than the version with modern, store-bought licorice. Around the time of rationing during World War II, licorice was one of the few sweets that children could get, and they got creative in making sweet drinks. It was horrible, according to the children. I think they just don’t have a concept of how what is sweet has changed over time.

Once you have all of the licorice in ropes, use kitchen shears to snip them into ½” pieces. These look just like the licorice I used to buy as a child.

Cut homemade licorice

Cut homemade licorice


Reviews

My daughter very diplomatically asked if she could finish her fennel licorice later and said that it was probably a very adult taste. She’s probably right. The flavor is intense. This is not the hard gelatin goo that generally passes as licorice. With the only sweetener being reduced molasses, it is a bit bitter but it tastes great to me. My husband said it’s kitchen magic.

To make the flavor more palatable to a child, you may need to use sugar or some other sweetener. Many recipes recommend rolling licorice ropes in powdered sugar to keep them from sticking to one another, and that would lighten the flavor a bit.

Or, help your children develop a taste for less sweet treats. That’s my plan. One little piece of fennel licorice after dinner will seem like a treat. Both children have agreed that it would be easier to see a small piece as a flavorful treat.

As the season of horror and candy (and horrible candy) approaches, I’ll post a few ideas how to deal with the onslaught and avoid the sugar jitters.

Fresh from the Farmers’ Market

Farmers' Markets build healthy communities

Farmers' Markets build healthy communities

September is boom time at farmers’ markets. Other than a few berries and spring crops, you can get nearly all of the summer and fall produce. There are more squashes this week than last, and winter squashes are starting to show up (though the pumpkins in my garden are only just starting to look like pumpkins). Many farmers’ markets post what’s fresh at the market that week on their websites or in newsletters.

It seems clear that when people know their food producers, they have more trust in the safety of the food. After the egg recall a couple of weeks ago, farmers’ markets saw much higher sales of eggs, and they sold out much earlier in the day. One market manager interview by MSNBC said, “At the farmers’ market, you can shake the hand of the farmer who collected your egg that morning and I think that is much more reassuring.”

We try to reduce our impact, so food miles (the number of miles your food travels to reach you) matter. We look for nutritious foods that haven’t been drained of their goodness by suspicious chemistry in the field and processing after harvest, so organic matters. But, far more important in my mind than the broader environmental impact and nutrition is the safety of our food. Buying food that is grown locally by people whose hands you shake when you buy is not just a personally satisfying experience but an implied relationship of trust that they aren’t selling you a product that is going to make your children sick.

Beyond that implied relationship, you can build relationships that keep local producers accountable. You can observe food safety at the market (are meat and eggs chilled?) and you can take steps to keep your food clean (by washing fruits and vegetables well) and safe (by keeping dairy products cool). You can’t necessarily see how the food was treated before it arrived at the market, but you can talk to the farmer, ask what they think about food safety in the news, and ask how they handle food at the farm. Farmers’ markets are governed by food safety rules—rules that giant food corporations would like to use to squeeze small farms out of business—and they will most certainly have opinions about food safety that they are willing to share.

Farmers’ markets are an essential part of a larger system of health and safety not just of food but of community and earth. What’s fresh at your farmers’ market this week?


Resources

  • Farmers’ Markets Canada lists provincial farmers’ market associations, which will lead you to your local market.
  • Local Harvest (“real food. real farmers. real community.”) lists farmers’ markets in the U.S. along with a lot of other local food producers.

Image © Lee Snider | Dreamstime.com

Fall Garden Prep

Fennel seeds

I know it is time to take care of my garden for the Fall. Today I watched out the window as a neighbor boy crawled on his hands and knees to get under the cascade that my fennel makes over my sidewalk. Like so much in our lives, we let it grow wild, and it’s falling over from the weight of all of its beautiful, licorice-y leaves. It’s time to call the fennel done, collect the seeds, and dry what leaves I can—maybe find a homemade licorice recipe that uses fennel seeds as a substitute for anise seeds. (If you have such a recipe, please send it. My children think this is a fine idea.)


What else should you do to prepare your garden for Fall?


Bulbs.

What your area needs depends on climate. If you are a new gardener or even an experienced gardener, your local university agricultural extension service may be sending out helpful newsletters about now. My local ag school sent a newsletter last week about garlic, and I’m ready to plant garlic bulbs as soon as we have our first frost.

Until then, it’s a great time to plant flower bulbs. Fall bulbs have a chance to take root before the ground freezes.


Herbs.

Some herbs can be put into a pot and grown indoors through the winter. I may aspire to this, but I don’t generally get to it.

Before the frost (and before they flower), it’s time to cut the herbs and hang them to dry. We have a massive amount of mint, and I see a lot of mint tea coming our way this winter. Dry the herbs by tying them together in bundles and hanging them upside down. This allows the oils to flow to the leaves. We expect a few days of 70 degree temperatures this week, so this is an ideal time to start herbs drying before the real cold rolls in.


Lawn.

Fall is a time to re-seed and repair lawn. What little lawn I have is still recovering from new sprinklers installed a year ago, so I’m trying to level the lawn and keep it from being a pond during big rain storms.

If you fertilize your lawn, consider making compost tea. This involves creating a friendly environment for the micro-organisms you want to spread all over your lawn. The simplest way the make compost tea is to put a quart or two of your compost in a bag that will let water flow without letting the compost itself flow. Hang the tea bag into a 5-gallon bucket filled with water after you let the water sit for a day (if you are using chlorinated municipal water). The tea needs to be aerated to encourage the micro-organisms, so an aquarium pump comes in very handy as you bubble your tea for 2-3 days. You aren’t quite done yet, though. The micro-organisms need food to thrive, so add 2 Tablespoons of molasses. After a few days, you have a naturally beneficial liquid you can spread across your lawn.

You don’t have to wait until fall to do this. Kids love to check in on (sniff around) brewing compost. If you get in the habit of feeding your lawn and garden with your own brew, you can experiment with different foods for the bacteria, like seaweed or lemon juice.

While you’re poking around the compost, water and turn it before it freezes.


Cover crop.

Don’t leave your garden soil bare. Cover crops add organic matter and prevents soil erosion. Then, in the Spring, you can turn the crops back into the soil.

An appropriate crop depends completely on your area, so check what local master gardeners recommend. You may find that red clover or bachelor’s buttons work in your area, which means you also add color.

I have yet to find a good cover crop that can thrive in my soil, so I often end up just adding compost and clippings. If you don’t add cover crops, at least cover bare areas with mulch or some other cover.

Today is the day my children and I harvest herbs, but we have several garden chores lined up for the week. We love this time when it’s pleasant outside without being hot or cold, the dog sniffing everywhere, snacking on the cherry tomatoes, and feeling great about feeding ourselves even in our very small way.

Image © Denys Dolnikov | Dreamstime.com