Weed Patch Surprise!

dscn1231This weed patch is where I planted left-over seeds, but then grass and weeds took over.  The corn didn’t amount to anything and the okra not much.  Some doughty marigolds did well along the edges, and I was collecting seeds when I saw a Kabocha squash at my feet. Then tromped through the weed patch and found numerous squash — more than in the devoted squash patch.  I’m sure I missed some, as the color is hard to pick out from half-dead weeds.  Some were very small, but they were fine.  The squashes have chosen, and next year this will be the (tended) squash patch.

The result was about 2 gallons of squash, which is excellent for making pies, but that’s a lot of pie!

I had a Japanese guest for dinner, and he fondly remembered Kabocha squash and hadn’t had any since he’d left Japan.  So, I took some of the squash and (raw) cut it into bite-sized chunks, coated them with coconut oil, brown sugar and a little salt, and roasted in a 400 F oven.  The best squash ever.  Better than butternut, better than acorn, and certainly better than pumpkin in all ways.

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Jack Reacher: Night School by Lee Child

161115-night-school3 out of 5 stars.  I love Jack Reacher, but sadly not this book.  To review, a 5 out of 5 stars means that once invested in the book I don’t want to be bothered with sleep, people, feeding cats, etc.  I will read a 5 out of 5 book over all other available reading materials.  3 out of 5 means I finished it, and a 4 out of 5 is somewhere in between.  I fully expected this Jack Reacher book to be a 5 out of 5 as all have been before.  The first concern hit when I found out this Jack Reacher story  pre-dates, by many years, the main Jack Reacher story line.  But that has happened before and was done well.  Not this time.  This time I kept catching myself reading the news, cute little things on Facebook, etc., rather than reading this eagerly awaited book.

Jack Reacher is a carefully and masterfully balanced character, able to carry out our darkest desires with savage efficiency, and yet still seem noble and trustworthy.  As the book series progresses we learn bits and pieces about Jack’s past, and what made him as he is, and it all ties together beautifully.  These parts of the books are very satisfying.  Contrariwise, this book was all background and added nothing of interest.

Worse, while a carefully and masterfully balanced character, Jack doesn’t have much complexity.  To make the character seem younger, perhaps, some of the complexity that Jack had seems to have been stripped off.  He’s more chatty.  Even though life hasn’t beaten him up as much, he’s just as dark.  He’s not just self-assured, but cocky to the point of silliness, repeatedly.  The masterful balance is gone, and while it’s hard to describe why, there’s no doubt that this is true.  The supporting characters all lacked depth and seemed flat.  Yes most of the series’ supporting characters aren’t extremely detailed, but the character facets displayed always implied credible people.  That was missing as well.  I went so far as to check the cover carefully to see if there was a ghost-writer with a Lee Child outline, but found no evidence of it.

Have I gotten crankier about character definition?  Am I bored with Jack Reacher?  Stephanie Plum is about as simple and predicable as a character can get, and I’m already enjoying Janet Evanovich’s latest.  The last Harry Bosch book was great.  I don’t think it’s me.  I wrote this before checking any other reviews of the book and:  It’s Not Me

If you haven’t tried Jack Reacher, I don’t want to discourage you.  Every other book has been a 5 out of 5 stars, and there are a lot of them.  The link below has a list of all of the books in published order, and describes discrepancies with Reacher’s chronology in case you want to read them in chronological order.  I recommend reading them in the order they were published — that way the teasing bits of information on who Jack Reacher is build up nicely.  And then I’d stop before Night School.

Jack Reacher Books In Order

Before buying another Jack Reacher book, I’ll read the reviews.

Sadly, the Jack Reacher movies are not a fan refuge.  Tom Cruise is simply to small to play Jack Reacher — the whole world will react to him differently.  In spite of that, the first movie was okay; barely worth going to.  A close enough call so I did read the reviews on the new movie (Jack Reacher:  Never Go Back) and so will not spend money on that, either.

 

It’s Time to Plant Garlic!

Planting Garlic Update (2/20/17) — so far so good!

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At least I think it is.  One rule of thumb is plant garlic on Columbus Day, another is after a few frosts, and I went with Rule No. 2 given this year’s long and balmy fall.  The first frost last year was mid-October, and this year was on November 11.

These are Russian garlic cloves and bulbs (a hard neck variety) that I bought from the Enon Valley Garlic Company at the Seven Springs, PA Mother Earth News fair.  I picked them because they were midway in terms of hotness, and mostly because the cloves were very large, which will make processing the cloves much easier as I use them.  The selection at the MEN fair was much larger than on the Enon Valley website.

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The Enon Valley website has planting instructions and I based this effort on them.  My raised garden is made up of rotted wood chips, and the parsnip harvest showed that better drainage is needed for some root crops, and garlic needs well draining soil, so I mixed in a little sand and set the garlics in place on top of the natural level of my garden.  The garlic should be spaced so that when the bulb grows to maturity there will be 2″ between finished bulb.

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I dug a ditch around the garlic to help with the drainage, and mixed the dirt from the ditch with some sand.  Maybe 10% sand; maybe less.  Then I shoveled this on top of the garlic.  I added about 2″ of partially decomposed chips, and then about 2″ (pressed down) of hay, followed by chicken barriers — since the chickens have the run of the garden in the winter, and since they destroyed my garlic last year.

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The idea behind planting in the fall is that the roots will grow and get a head-start in the spring leading to stronger plants and bigger bulbs, but care must be taken to not let the plants grow too much before winter comes, thereby expending too much energy only to die.  This is what happened to my garlic last year.  Hopefully I waited long enough!

End Hen Cruelty

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I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t like to support animal cruelty, and unfortunately that what everyone is doing who buys regular eggs at the grocery store.  These were $4.98 at Walmart.  I know they cost more, but the typical Ag-science treatment of laying hens is horrendous.  The note in the upper right is the important part.

How to Decipher Egg Carton Labels

Perfected Pumpkin (or Kubocha Squash) Pie

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I have accumulated several pumpkin pie recipes over the years, and none of them were just right and so I’d adapt as I went, sometimes with good results and sometimes not.  This year I decided to take a more methodical approach, and so bought what I thought were sugar pumpkins.  They were not.  Then I tried again, and was again disappointed with the pumpkin.  Maybe if you grow your own, good baking pumpkin can be had, but I’m done with trying because Kubocha squash (“Japanese pumpkin”) makes a wonderful pie, as shown in the picture above.  While none of the experiments were rejected by the family, each effort was closer to my ideal, and below is the only pumpkin pie recipe now in my book.  I use Pillsbury pie crusts, bought eight at time from Sam’s, stored in the freezer.

As a side note, canned pumpkin is not pumpkin either, as other winter squash from the same family have better texture, color and flavor:

Canned Pumpkin Ingredients

 

Two 10″ Pumpkin (or Kubocha) Pies

Preheat oven at 450 F.  Put all of the following into a blender, and then blend.

  • 4 cups pumpkin or 29 oz canned pumpkin puree
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon flour (I use oat)
  • 1.5 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon molasses
  • 1 rounded teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ginger & cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon orange extract
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ c Cream
  • 1 c milk

Once oven is to temperature spread crusts out in pie pan (I use oven-safe glass), and pour filling into each.  You may want to pour in the last few cups once the pies are in the oven to avoid sloshing onto the exposed part of the crust.

Bake at 15 minutes 450 F, and then 30-40 minutes 350 F.  Check with a toothpick in the center to ensure the pies are done.

Best if allowed to cool to room temperature.

Excellent 2016 Cyser Melomel Recipe

Melomel is a fruit-mead combination, and in Cyser the fruit is specifically apples:  an Apple-Honey Fermented Beverage.  I used honey from my own hives and apples from my trees.  The apples had been pressed to make cider, but the left-over pulp seemed to have a lot of apple umph left, so I added water to it and pressed it again.  I used VR21 yeast from an ongoing active cider fermentation process (turning cider into hard cider).  This yeast is supposed to conserve more of a fruit’s flavor, and so far I’ve been happy with the results.  I started this batch of Cyser on 9/11/16, and bottled it on 11/6/16, ending up with 17 bottles.

RECIPE

Apple Part:

  • 8.5 quarts second pressing from cider pulp (added 12 quarts water to 30# of pulp – this was too much)
  • Added 2 cups of active cider ferment (yeast V21)

Honey Part:

  • 1 quart dark honey (not quite right)
  • 4 quarts water
  • 1 rounded teaspoon Irish moss
  • Boiled and skimmed off foam.  Let cool overnight.

Combined Apple Part and Honey Part, 1 quart water, 2 cups lemonade and 1 table spoon Penszy’s apple pie seasoning.

9/26 – bubbling had stopped but the mixture was cloudy.  Added 1 t pectic enzyme and mixed up (pectic enzyme breaks down cell walls, and I hoped it would do that in the floating particulates so they could be eaten by the yeast and then settle, which seemed to happen).

10/23 – Cleared and settled.

Pleasant mild taste (no distinct apple pie or lemon flavor); didn’t seem to have a high alcohol content.  No need to age in spite of the honey which was a wonderful and unexpected result.