Preparing for the Holidays, Naturally

The holidays can be a time of crazy consumption, extra trash, and lots of spending. OR, they can be an opportunity to celebrate nature’s wintery beauty and pour positive energy into homemade gifts made for loved ones.

winter-greens

Yesterday’s new snowfall set the scene for the start to my holiday preparations.  Without the garden to tend, I’ve had time to rest from major projects at home and recharge.  I cheerily began to gather ingredients for gift making.  A walk outside yielded foraged materials for decorating the house and a handful of greens (and edible flowers!) pulled from the snow-covered garden.  Back inside, with a fire crackling in the wood stove, I got to work.

sprays-and-bouquets

Click here to read about my natural holiday decoration suggestions.

herbal-teaClick here for a great list of ideas for homemade gifts you can make in the kitchen.  Additional delicious gift ideas I’ve written about include homemade crackers, dukkah, herbal tea mixes, homemade vanilla extract, all-in-one soup mix, and homemade apple sauce.

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Recycling a tree, Saving a species

My latest contribution to the Charlotte News:

Vermont Tree Goods recycles largest elm in an effort to save species

Tai Dinnan | Contributor

Vermont Tree Goods supervised the taking down of The Vermont Elm, the largest elm tree in the Northeast on Nov. 1. This Bristol business will recycle the heirloom hardwood in their oversized sawmill and use the wood to build distinctive furniture. The 250 year old elm died from Dutch elm disease.Vermont Tree Goods will make a philanthropic gift to The Nature Conservancy based on how much product made from The Vermont Elm is sold. This will allow the conservancy to further their work to save the species by breeding and planting disease-resistant elms. Furniture made from The Vermont Elm will be on sale in the spring. Each purchase will honor the legacy of Charlotte’s remarkable tree and help establish new communities of resistant Elms for future generations to enjoy.

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Before tree work began, a crowd of local tree huggers gathered at the Garrett residence Tuesday morning to celebrate the lives of two elders: The Vermont Elm and Charlotte’s Tree Warden Larry Hamilton who recently passed away. The crisp sunny morning created the perfect atmosphere for a ceremony filled with reverence and celebration.

Heather Furman, Executive Director of the Vermont Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, spoke about her organization’s efforts to breed and plant disease resistant elms in Vermont and neighboring states. John Monks, owner of Vermont Tree Goods, announced his business’ plans to recycle the huge Vermont Elm, mill it into planks using their unique saw, kiln dry it, and bring to life once more as furniture.

img_1905Several local residents and friends of Larry including new Tree Warden Mark Dillenbeck, neighbor Vince Crockenberg, Vermont Tree Goods Sales and Marketing Director Tai Dinnan, and neighbor Erick Crockenberg then spoke of the inspiration they found in Larry’s life-long work in support of trees and forests. Larry spent the final chapter of his remarkable life in Charlotte where he served as tree warden, was active in a broad array of town activities, and started the Tree Fund that has enabled hundreds of trees to be planted along Charlotte roads.

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The crowd was then welcomed forward to give the tree one last group hug. Many adults were necessary to reach around the massive trunk that was nearly twenty feet around.

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Tree work began at 10 a.m. and finished at 5 p.m. Most of the wood was transported to Vermont Tree Goods’ sawmill by the end of the day. An additional crane and truck was necessary to pick up and transport the bottom 20-foot-long section of trunk, weighing in at about 25,000 lbs.

The red elm’s wood is in great shape and is beautiful, with many rosy tones. Vermont Tree Goods hopes to have coasters made from the elm available by the end of this year. Furniture is expected starting in the spring of 2017. Email info@vermonttreegoods.com to put your name on the waiting list! Visit VermontTreeGoods.com for more information and updates as product becomes available.

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November in the Garden

*Note: In light of the election results, seasonal rhythms, gardening, and food might seem unimportant.  My thoughts: to most effectively champion the causes we believe in, it is crucial that we stay grounded, healthy, inspired, and strong.  When we take time to nourish ourselves, we will find greater success in our work to make the world a better place.*

November is the month to finish up any last “to-dos” in the garden.  Though many of the tasks could be done in the spring, checking them off the list in November is a great way to close the growing season and set yourself up for an easy start to the next one.  November is also a more relaxing time to preserve any last vegetables and fruits from the garden, enjoy stored harvest, relax by the cozy fireplace, and take a bath!

I’m feeling tired but pleased after our first year gardening at our new home.  Years spent as cow pasture, Southern facing slopes, loamy soil, and high ground water all contributed to a huge harvest yield.  Of course, hours and hours of spring time weeding and early summer pest control helped too.

before-garden-to-bed

The garden after our first hard frost

We put the garden to bed this past weekend.  This involved pulling dead material out of the garden and piling it into a compost heap, thoroughly weeding the beds that work best for early spring planting, and covering bare rows and paths with grass clippings and hay.  Our garden site is exposed, so covering the beds with mulch will help keep our topsoil in place and protect it from being washed or blown away by the winter elements.

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The fallen (unripe tomatoes and watermelon) and the standing (kale and Brussels sprouts)

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Dead plant material to be composted

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Cleaned up and mulched garden rows, garnished with flourishing kale and hanging-on calendula and fennel.

In order to completely clean out their row, I harvested the last few cabbage to make kimchi.  The next day I chopped and pounded the cabbages along with ginger, garlic, turmeric, hot pepper, black pepper, and salt.  img_6813

After all that pounding, I decided to rest.  Out of curiosity, I started scanning back through this blog, reminiscing about the growing season and remembering the projects, harvests, and beautiful scenes from the past year.  What a surprise to discover last November tenth’s post: November in the Garden and Kitchen.  The subject?: Putting the garden to bed and making kimchi!  For me, this serves as a happy reminder of how settled into our new home and environment we are.  Today I am grateful to feel in synch with the natural rhythms of the home, yard, garden, field and forest I call home.

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End-of-the-Season Recipes

oct-harvest

It’s the end of the growing season, but it isn’t quite time to rest.  With the bulk of our harvest frozen, canned, dried, and fermented, it’s time to deal with the left overs: the harvest that didn’t get processed during the peak of the season.  Though these “ugly” fruits and veggies are now gaining recognition in the mainstream (not everything comes out looking perfect!), they’ve always been part of harvesting and cooking for home gardeners.  I have fun examining the motley selection of veggies occupying my kitchen counters and refrigerator space, determining how they could be combined in delicious ways.  It takes some creativity at this time of year!

Sometimes end-of-season produce is a bit worse for the wear.  This weekend I prepared several gallons of sauerkraut from some cabbages that were admittedly acting as slug hotels in the garden.  After removing the holey outer leaves, however, wonderful fall sweetened crisp cabbage was revealed.  Yum!

cutting-cabbage1

It is also an important time of year to monitor harvest stores in the basement and attic.  Any veggies that show sign of rot or discoloration should be used first.  As last night’s dinner highlighted, blemished squash, onions, and other veggies are often perfectly delicious.   They don’t stay good for long, however, so it’s good to enjoy them right away while they’re still tasty.

Butternut squash

Thankfully, some plants are happy to be outside in the frost and colder weather.  Most of the brassicas: kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli, get sweeter and more tender after it has frosted.  For now I’ll happily leave them outside and will be ready to enjoy them when I see counters and fridge shelves empty and need to go get vegetables in order to prepare for our next meal.

Find great recipes for fall harvest from some of my previous blog posts:  Sauerkraut, pumpkin, chard, winter squash, frost sweetened kale, and Brussels sprouts.  Enjoy!

Winter-Kale-brussels-harvest

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October in the Garden

autumn-breakfast

Autumn breakfast treat: chai, cider donut, and cinnamon apples

Fall is certainly in the air.  Colors have changed dramatically in the last week, and we are now in peak foliage in the Champlain Valley.  According to our climate zone, we were supposed to get a frost by October 1st.  However, the end of the growing season has been unusually long and the garden is still going strong.

We are learning more about our property’s micro climate and have been surprised to have escaped several frosts that nipped our nearby neighbors.  Last Friday temperatures were projected to dip below freezing, so we did a big harvest and covered up the plants we wanted to save.  The next morning revealed a frost so light that even the basil was spared.  Our airy southern sloping garden seems to keep frost from forming on the plants when temperatures hover around freezing!  Though I am excited for the ongoing bounty, I’m also starting to feel tired and ready for the growing season to come to an end.

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Big pre-frost harvest – so many watermelons, peppers, and butternut squashes this year!

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We escaped another frost! Blankets drying and garden still going strong.

Foliage isn’t waiting around for freezing temperatures.  In the past week, trees in our area have turned dramatically.  The hills are tinged with reds, oranges and yellows.  Forest walks are stunning and smell richly of fallen leaves.  Vibrant colors surround us.

changing-colors

Sugar maple beauty: from green to red in a week.

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Our house peeks through the foliage – the view as I make the final decent down Mt. Philo.

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A few fall forest scenes.

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Mid-October pesto and veggies!

In the kitchen, it seems like it is still August.  We continue to have bountiful peppers, broccoli, beans, leafy greens, tomatoes, and fruit to play with.  We certainly got our fill this season.  Soon we will transition to winter jackets, squash, parsnips, and frost-sweetened kale and Brussels sprouts.  I’m ready!

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Fun Fancy Finger Food

Making fancy appetizers can be a fun and beautiful way of highlighting delicious local harvest.  The best part is that beauty often comes with simplicity when highlighting fresh vegetables and fruits.  Here are a few recipes I’ve tried recently:

caprise-skewers

Caprese Skewers: Halve cherry tomatoes and small mozzarella balls.  Skewer a basil leaf between piece of tomato and a piece of mozzarella.  Ta da!

cantelope-ap

Cantaloupe and Parmesan: The easiest of the bunch – this is more of a pairing than a recipe.  Lay out bite size pieces of cantaloupe and place thin slices of a hard cheese like parmesan on top. Skewer with a toothpick if desired.

cucumber-bites

home-made-icing-piping-bagCucumber Bites: Mix equal parts chèvre and sour cream, and mix in a dash of garlic powder, salt, and enough dried dill weed to speckle the mixture with green throughout.  Let sit in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before mixing again and tasting.  Adjust garlic, salt, and dill to taste.  Splash in a bit of lemon juice and/or add lemon zest if desired.  Spoon entire mixture into a icing piping bag (or one corner of a ziplock, twist tie shut, then cut off tip).  Slice cucumber into rounds.  Pipe dip on top of each cucumber slice.  Garnish with fresh parsley or dill.

 

melon-aps

Mint, Feta, Watermelon Cubes: Cube watermelon, slice solid feta into thin square pieces, and separate fresh mint leaves from stalk.  Arrange watermelon cubes on your serving platter, place a piece of feta and mint leaf on top of both, and skewer each tower with a tooth pick.  A beautiful flavor-packed end-of-summer treat!

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September in the Garden

garden-trellis

fruits-of-septemberSeptember is, quite literally, a fruitful month in Vermont gardens.  Melons finish their journey to ripeness, apples and pears are ready in orchards, fall raspberry canes bow with the weight of fruit, and tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants continue to mature in gardens.  In our sunny southern sloping garden, we’re excited to be growing these heat-loving treats so successfully.  It is also a time for preservation as we prepare for impending frost.  Vegetables like kale, chard, broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans can be blanched and frozen.  Ingredients for salsa, tomatoes, pesto, hot sauce, and apple sauce are all ready to be harvested and canned.  Almost any vegetable or fruit from the garden can be pickled.

Here are a selection of some of my favorite recipes that may help inspire you to enjoy the bounty September has to offer:

Tomatillos-and-tomatoes

Salsa – Our basic recipe and ideas for inventive iterations.

sungold-harvest

This most delicious way to highlight cherry tomatoes.

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Pan Seared Eggplant, which would be great with Dukkah sprinkled liberally on top.

raspberries

Flourless chocolate cake, featured annually in our household smothered in fall raspberries.

pesto-recipe

Pesto – consider swapping another nut or seed for pine nuts, another cheese for parmesan, or another herb for basil.  So many opportunities for great flavored sauces!

pickles

Pickles and fermented veggies – The idea I always fall back on at the end of the day.  Almost any favorite vegetable or fruit can be pickled.  However (even more beneficially) wilty, less favorite, or overly abundant things can be pickled with equal success.

Wishing you a happy harvest season!

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