Sunday, October 18, 2009

Squash With a Face & No Apple Goes to Waste

This weekend is something special. Three days of at home time, mostly alone with my son. We don't have to go anywhere, besides a few small errands. This almost NEVER happens. Also, I have a list of canning and gardening projects to accomplish. Of course. We started out today with making apple pie filling. My son was absolutely fascinated with the apple peeler. Not that I blame him. He wanted to sit and eat the little pieces that came off after he ran the apple through. We whipped out a potful of apple for apple pie filling in no time! We also got a whole crockpot of applesauce done this evening.

We decided to do our pumpkin carving as well. In this family, we take it very seriously. Usually, every person gets their own pumpkin. This year, the big kids won't be back until the actual day of Halloween, so my son and I just did our own this year. My son does not shirk from sticking his hands in and getting the guts out.

As you can see, he loves his work. He got mad at me, because I wouldn't let him dig the guts out of mine, too.

This year we went for a more traditionalist approach. He wanted to have some of the standard triangle mouth and eyes. Some years, we print out fancy designs and carve out intricate patterns.

I freestyled this one. Nothing too fancy, but made my son laugh.

Here's the other...kickin' it old school. He has kind of a Winnie-the-Pooh look, I think.

Then we got to roast the pumpkin seeds. My son loves them. I have a picture of him stirring the pumpkin seeds every year since he was two. I am into tradition pictures...I love to look back and see him doing the same thing at different ages. Isn't it fun to watch them grow up?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, & Thyme (Among Other Things)

This is a little friend I found in my fennel last week when I was cutting herbs. We have already had 3 nights of hard freezes, so last week I was trying to prepare for the end of the garden. I am surprised to see how many things are still looking good, even after several nights of temps down to 26. It really feels like winter here in Iowa, not like October at all. I have been running the kerosene heater in the bedroom, much to my guy's dismay. He is the one that got me started on it 3 years ago. It went something like this.

Him: We need to get a kerosene heater on clearance. Then we will save money on the gas bill.
Me: I don't know. That doesn't sound very safe. Doesn't that put fumes into the house?
Him: No, my parents used one all the time. They only put out fumes if something breaks in it, that's why we have a detector.
Me: Hmmm...makes me nervous.
Him: Nonsense, it will be fine.

Fast forward 3 years.

Me: Honey, the kerosene heater needs to be filled...
Him: Good lord, again? You run that thing every night! It's not cold enough to be using that all the time.
Me: I don't like it to be cold in the bedroom before I go to bed...
Him: You are a kerosene heater junkie!

See, it was his fault! It is true, I stand at night and rub my hands over it before I get into bed. I am totally hooked. But it is a little early to be running it every night. I draw the line at seeing my breath in the bedroom!

So, back to the caterpillar. It is a black swallowtail butterfly caterpillar, and I guess they just love fennel. I thought he had left, but when I was hacking out pieces of fennel to dry I found him underneath some plants. If you can see the orange 'horn' things on top of his head, those are called the osmeterium and they are a gland used for self-defense I believe. If you press gently behind their head, the horns will pop out and it makes them look kind of funny.

This is my hybrid tea rose that I dug up and brought in. I know nothing about roses at all. I just knew that this kind probably didn't winter over very well, so I brought him in. I am actually surprised it is alive at all. I thought it was dead, and it ended up being behind some other plants, so I forgot about it for a couple months. I was thrilled when I saw all the crimson blooms. Now I just have to keep from killing it over the winter.

As I mentioned, I was gathering herbs before the freeze. I have a rather large herb garden, but I have little to know experience with drying them or preserving them in many ways. I have mainly used them fresh in years past, with the exception of basil. I got lemon balm, chocolate mint, lady's mantle, and pineapple sage to dry for tea. Not sure how it will taste, but you got to start somewhere.

I trimmed some rosemary, thyme, orange thyme, oregano, and spicy oregano for cooking.

I also gathered sage and french tarragon for cooking.

This is the large pile of fennel, regular and bronze, that is drying in the corner of my living room. I also added a pile of eucalyptus. These I think I will use mostly for dried arrangements.

Because of the cold weather, many houseplants and containers had to come in. This house is very short on window space, so I resort to clumping pots around tiny windows. I am going to purchase another shop light to hang here to provide more lighting. Pay no attention to the dead castor bean plant. It very strongly objected to me digging it up to bring in, and it even more objected to me forgetting to water it right away.

This is where many more of my houseplants hang out all winter. This is a southern window, so the light is fairly decent. I scored the cool wooden plant stand for 1.50 at a garage sale two summers ago. My guy calls our house 'the jungle' in the winter. Anybody have a monkey?

Monday, October 5, 2009

There's a Toad in My Soil!

Some of you may have seen my twitpic picture yesterday of my little warty friend here.

I got the shock of my life when working in the garage. I had some ginger that sprouted, and I wanted to pot it and make a plant for indoors. I was dumping potting soil out of a bag into the pot and this guy falls out into the pot and jumps. I about had a coronary.

Toads used to really gross me out. But when you are the mom of a little boy, you get over that jazz pretty quick. Since I had my good scare, he had his. I picked him up, but I have learned to hold him out a sharp angle. Anyone that has ever picked up a toad knows why. They shoot out a stream of urine that is actually quite impressive, volume wise. Then as a sneak attack, they usually pee a second time, in case you thought they were done and held them up to your shirt.

I continued to hold him out at an angle for a minute...and then set him free on the edge of the driveway. His expression is rather cute, I think.

Speaking of cute, this is one of the gourds that I picked up this weekend. I just think all these warts are fabulous.

This is the beginning of my fall display. I will be adding a lot to it this week and next week. I take Halloween decorating very seriously. I try to add a new decoration to my collection every year. This year I got this cool web.

It came with two spiders that have bendy legs, so that you can position them in the web or anywhere they can grab on. The web is quite reflective, and shines in the sun or light, though you can't really tell in this picture. This weekend I will get out the 5 ft inflatable light up pumpkin!

This is the west edge of my house, minus the sunflowers. I finished cutting those down the other day. I saved all the seed heads for the birds this winter. All that is left over here is some okra and what is left of my green beans. It feels very barren to me, after seeing those huge sunflowers there.

The reds, purples, yellows, and browns are beautiful in their own way. I am sad to see my summer plants go, but I love and respect the richness of autumn. What is your favorite part of autumn?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pumpkin Farm!

I just realized after I uploaded all the pictures for this post that there are few to none of any pumpkins. Maybe it should be titled 'Apple Farm'? Anyways, today we made our annual visit to a farm to gather warty squash and bags of fruit. This is my haul of edible items. I got a bushel of jonathan apples, a 1/2 bushel of golden delicious, and a peck of honeycrisp. I also got 3 awesome dressings, having to do with vidalia onions. Not to mention apple cider, which I am going to corrupt by mixing with hard liquor. I can't wait to start cooking things with the apples. The kids ate their fill while we picked today. You might be able to see the ring of juice around my son's mouth.

My son has the most adorable expression on his face in this photo. We had just finished picking apples, and the kids all really get into that. My son was climbing trees to get to his, and got his jacket caught on a branch. He had a really cute 'Peter Rabbit' moment where his shirt was half over his head and I had to rescue him. Check out my funky acid wash denim jacket...I stole it out of one of my guy's clothes totes in the garage. I am pretty sure it originates circa 1990.

My stepson had one of the extended apple pickers, and was really going for perfection, finding the biggest, most beautiful apples he could reach. Note the lovely balloon hat, it's what all the chic apple pickers are wearing this season...

We didn't get many of our pumpkins today. We picked out a few special ones, that had cool warts or colors. I will probably show them later when I get all my harvest/Halloween decor set up. Just plain orange pumpkins I will get another time. My son developed a rolling strategy that worked pretty good for him. I also picked up several large and funky gourds. I have something of a gourd obsession. The wartier and uglier the better. My guy just rolls his eyes at me. I smiled sweetly and told him that was how I picked men, too. Ha ha!

The farm hired this awesome balloon artist lady to make free balloon gear for the kids. My son got a belt with removable swords....tres creative, no? My stepson is sporting the crazy balloon hat. They need to hire her back next year, she was a big pull for the kids.

Check out my new ride! I am definitely getting one of these for my veggie garden next year. I guy said he would be really upset if he came home and found an 'M' in the yard. I enjoyed posing on it all the same.

My son gives it a shot on one his own size. I said I have a gourd/squash obsession, well he has a tractor obsession lately. This was his dream, to ride this thing around on a figure 8 track for 15 minutes. If I could find one his size that actually pulled a plow, I think he would die. You might notice in some of these pics the ground looks kind of wet. That is because it was raining off and on the whole day. It was also cloudy and dark. And it was in the upper 40s I believe. We would have gone another weekend, except this was the only weekend we have the big kids here until the weekend of Halloween. So this was it.

The kids also loved playing in this corn pool. It is a huge area filled up with a couple feet deep of corn kernels. They play in it kind of like it is water, and kind of like it is snow. They stood up on the straw bales surrounding the pool and dived into it. They went down slides into it. They laid on their backs and pretended to make....corn angels? My son even tried to bury his stepbrother in corn, with an expression of maniacal glee.

During one of the more sunny moments of the day, the kids insisted we take their picture on this 'stand', set up for just such a purpose. They kind of remind me of Olympic medalists here, the way they are standing. In spite of the weather, we had a really good time today. I may go back for more apples, but we definitely got our fill of fun.
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