(almost) wordless wednesday

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“Home wasn't a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.” 
― Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye

tips for tuesday
preparing your garden

Preparing Your Vegetable Garden

Whether it's a garden-fresh tomato on a sandwich or corn on the cob direct from the garden to the stove, you know it's true: The tastiest vegetables come from the home garden. Much enjoyment comes from producing your own crisp vegetables, and it's an activity where everyone in the family can contribute -- even the very young.

The best gardens come from careful planning. Winter is a good time to plan your garden. Few things are more enjoyable on a cold winter evening than thumbing through seed catalogs while awaiting spring's arrival. But whether you plan to plant a large garden or just a few containers of vegetables on the patio, gardening is more than just planting seeds. There are many elements to consider for a successful harvest.

Assessing Your Climate for Starting a Vegetable Garden
Your local climate will dictate which vegetable plants you can successfully grow in your garden, as well as when to plant them. Very hardy vegetable plants will do well in cooler climates, but tender plants must be grown in warm weather only -- frost will damage or destroy these delicate plants. Familiarize yourself with your local first and last frost average dates before you choose which vegetables to plant in your garden.

How to Start a Vegetable Garden
When you're getting started with your vegetable garden, your first two considerations are what vegetables to plant and where to plant them. A wide variety of vegetables is available for gardeners to choose from, and there are multiple types of each vegetable to suit different tastes and climates. Be sure to avoid the shade of large trees, shrubs, and buildings when selecting a spot for your garden plot.

Designing a Vegetable Garden
Plotting out your garden on paper before planting will help you visualize your space and use it effectively and efficiently. You can use graph paper to make a scale map of your garden and decide on a layout for your vegetables.

Vegetable Garden Soil
Vegetable garden soil should ideally be a mix of air and solids, including clay, silt, and loam. If the mix isn't just right, or if your soil is lacking in nutrients, you'll want to add fertilizers and organic matter to your garden soil. A garden soil test report can help you determine your soil's needs.

Composting for a Vegetable Garden
Compost piles provide excellent nutrients for your garden soil, and they give you a place to discard your kitchen waste. Start your compost pile with a base material such as leaves, grass clippings, or sawdust; add your organic garden and kitchen waste, and let the magic of the compost pile take over.

tips for tuesday
in the garden: january

Though it's been January-dreary for the past week or so around the Hill Country, Spring, for many of us, is really just around the corner as far as gardening goes. Just as you get the last boxes of holiday decorations stashed away, it's time to get planning.  

We can expect peas and asparagus early, and those spring greens for which we'll clamor in a few months, need to be in the ground as early as this month or next.  

Today, we'll take a look at the next few weeks of what and when to plant in Zone 8.  For information on planting dates for your particular zone, consult this chart to determine the zone in which your garden grows, and then adjust the following to-dos accordingly. And later today, information on preparing your plots--getting the best start.  Cause we all know that 
The beginning is the most important part of the work.--Plato.  And Mom.

In the Garden--January

Fertilize: Fertilize asparagus, strawberries, daylilies, iris, pansies and roses. Use compost, manure or a complete fertilizer.
Water: Water everything well before a freeze, but avoid overwatering.
Transplant: Plant bare root and container grown roses, shrubs, trees, groundcovers and vines. Move hardy seedlings outdoors. Divide and transplant perennial herbs and summer and fall blooming perennial flowers. Donate extras to a plant sale.

Prepare Soil: Add compost and/or fertilizer. Till deeply. Test soil (forms available at the Extension Office). Check winter mulch and replenish, if needed. Stockpile leaves for mulch and composting throughout spring and summer.
Lawn Care: If lawn has a history of brown patch problems, treat with a labeled fungicide late in the month. Repeat treatment in 3 to 4 weeks, if needed.
Diseases/Pests to look for: Check for mealy bugs and for scale on houseplants. Need a plant problem identified? Bring a sample in a ziplock bag to the a County Extension Office near you.

Things To Plant In January

Flower Plants: Alyssum, Butterfly Weed, Calendula, Candytuft, Cornflower, Dianthus, Daisy (African, Michaelmas and Painted), Gaillardia, Liatris, Edging Lobelia, Nasturtium, Ornamental Cabbage and Kale, Pansy, Phlox paniculata, Snapdragon, Stock.
Flower seeds: Ageratum, Alyssum, Balsam, Bluebell, Calendula, Candytuft, Cleome, Coreopsis, Cornflower, Delphinium, Echinacea, Feverfew, Gaillardia, Gayfeather, Gerbera, Hollyhock, Hyacinth, Larkspur, Lobelia, Lupine, Nasturtium, Phlox, Poppy, Queen Anne’s Lace, Petunia, Snapdragon, Sweet Pea, Sweet William.
Bulbs: Allium, Alstroemeria, Amarcrinum, Canna, Crinum, Dahlia, Daylily, Gladiolus, Hosta, Hyacinth, Spider Lily (Hymerocallis), Liriope, Monkey Grass, Rain lily, Society Garlic, Tigridia, Tulip

Just around the corner......
Early—Mid Month: asparagus crowns
Mid—Late Month: Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Onion sets, Peas (English & edible pod), Spinach
Herbs: Garlic chives, Horseradish, Parsley, Chervil
Fruit: Bare root or container grown pecans, fruit trees, grapes, berry bushes

Other Things To Do:
Time to get the garden ready for the new growing season. Clean, repair and replace garden tools. Create a garden plan to help organize chores and planting schedules. Start tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings indoor under fluorescent lights.

(Courtesy of the Garden Guide for Austin & Vicinity, published by the Travis County Master Gardener Association, copyright 2000-2002, via Central Texas Gardener)

Twelfth Night: King Cake!

In the Gulf Coast region, as well as many cultures across the world, Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, ushers in Carnival season, which ends on Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras.  The celebrations will include King Cake, traditionally made in this area with a soft brioche-type dough, with, or without fillings, iced simply, then sprinkled with sugars in the the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold, and green.

During my years in Louisiana, I had the opportunity to eat little slices of seemingly hundreds of King Cakes.  It was customary during the season to have a weekly King Cake party at one's workplace, and the teacher's lounge was no exception.  We all had a piece, and the one of us lucky(?) enough to discover the traditional 'baby' in our slice was expected to provide the following week's cake.

Occurring so closely to Christmas, this time of year was often one of catching up with a budget set a bit out of whack from the holidays, so there were many weeks in which one or more of us skipped the cake, to avoid the chance of having to provide the next one for the group.

But, oh, what a sacrifice this was!  My very favorite regional sweet, it was all I could do not to sneak a slice after the baby was discovered by another!  But that was kinda cheating.  So was born the motivation, for me, to learn to make one, myself!

Gambino's Bakery, in Baton Rouge, made my favorite in those days, and every year, I try a new recipe to replicate the sweet tender bread, surrounding many fillings, the cinnamon being my traditional choice.  Gambino's isn't the only bakery that makes King Cake.  In fact, EVERY bakery makes them, and every native has their favorite.

This year, I based my efforts on the recipe, below, from Allrecipes.com.  I made a few adjustments: the zest of 2 sweet oranges and 1 Meyer lemons were added to the pastry, the filling was doubled, but the raisins were omitted in favor of golden currants, dried, and the glaze was thinned by doubling the water.  I reduced the oven temperature to 350 degrees, and baked about 10 minutes longer, covering the cake with foil for the last ten minutes. I kept a low level of steam in the oven by misting the sides with a spray bottle of water, every ten minutes of baking, taking care not to get mist on the cake. Also, I used paste food colorings to dye fine and coarse ground sugars, and sprinkled them liberally, in bands, immediately over the glazed cake,while still warm.

1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45
degrees C)
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup melted butter

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon water

1. Scald milk, remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup of butter. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water with 1 tablespoon of the white sugar. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

2. When yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the remaining white sugar, salt and nutmeg. Beat the flour into the milk/egg mixture 1 cup at a time. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. When risen, punch down and divide dough in half.

4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

5. To Make Filling: Combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup raisins. Pour 1/2 cup melted butter over the cinnamon mixture and mix until crumbly.

6. Roll dough halves out into large rectangles (approximately 10x16 inches or so). Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough and roll up each half tightly like a jelly roll, beginning at the wide side. Bring the ends of each roll together to form 2 oval shaped rings. Place each ring on a prepared cookie sheet. With scissors make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

7. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Push the doll into the bottom of the cake. Frost while warm with the confectioners' sugar blended with 1 tablespoon of water.

Recipe copyrighted, and courtesy of Allrecipes.com.

Mardi Gras falls on February 12th, this year, and whether you're making the Big Easy a part of your carnival plans, or simply celebrating from the comfort of your home, you might want to acquaint yourself with route maps and schedules of parades, balls, merriment, and more.  The website, Mardi Gras Day, is a great place to start.

Let the good times roll, my friends!

(almost) wordless wednesday
The Great Tamale Campaign of 2012: Prep Work

With Friday's delivery date looming, work begins in the kitchen the night before the tamale masa will be picked up, and if all goes right, we'll begin rolling some 3000 tamales on Wednesday. (But it doesn't go right. And that's for tomorrow's post.)

As of this point, all is on schedule.  It's quiet in the kitchen, and we dig in to make meat fillings. Sauces and vegetable fillings will be made the next day, as we roll tamales.  Or so we think.

We seasoned and slow-roasted 9 gigantic hunks of pork, then, early the next morning, trimmed them of fat, sliced, and seasoned some more...

That man on the left?  Worked a ten hour day, then met me in the kitchen for 6 more, smiling all the while.  On two hours of sleep, he'll repeat the next day.
We sliced 8 smoked briskets, and did our best to keep from eating it all as we worked...

We poached 80 pounds of chicken, then shredded, seasoned, and mixed with green chiles...

We soaked 20 pounds of husks, to begin with....

And we finally hit the hay early, early, the next morning, for a 5am wake-up alarm.  And several subsequent snooze button-hits, before we're off for the masa, and a stop for fuel on the way to pick up one of many tireless helpers.......

Yep. A.M.
All runs a little less smoothly, and the action picks up, continued, tomorrow, on Notes From Maggie's Farm.

Ringing in the New: 2013

Let our New Year's resolution be this: we will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word. --Goran Persson 
Happy New Year, friends!  We wish you abundant blessings of peace, love, and prosperity for the New Year.

We'll celebrate, today, with a mixed bag of traditions, hoping to cover all of the bases in this Yankee-meets-Southern Girl-home.

Since my very first year as a young homemaker, with nothing more than a Southern Living Annual Recipe collection to guide me, I've been churning out Hopping John, made of the black-eyed peas considered good luck for their resemblance to coins, every New Year's Day. The recipe has changed a bit over the years, but the basic premise is the same, and I'm not sure where the original recipe is, anymore. Every year, even the year I spent in Pittsburgh, where black-eyed peas were so scarce that my in-laws had to visit 3 stores for what they were quite suspicious of, knowing 'cowpeas' only as animal feed.  Though I'm a bit under the weather, this year will be no exception.

Chopped onion,celery, carrot, and garlic will be sauteed in grapeseed oil, to which blanched frozen black-eyed peas (or cowpeas) from late summer's crop will be added, along with long grain rice, smoked ham hocks, homemade chicken stock, and spices. Covered and simmered until rice and peas are tender, they will wait patiently on the stove as the remaining cast of culinary characters are prepared.

With a nod to my husband's family traditions, we will have pork and sauerkraut, the chunks of picnic ham leftover from Christmas nestled in a bed of homemade kraut, that, save for a few hotdogs, has been kept fermented, in cold storage, just for today.  It will be sauteed with sweet onion, caraway seed, and juniper berries in a few pats of butter, with just about a teaspoon of brown sugar tossed in, to keep things interesting.

Collard greens, cabbage, and any other greens at all, are all mentioned in Southern cooking as signifying folded money, so we'll have a mixed greens salad, pulling together the collards and arugula still growing, and tossing it with a simple citrus vinaigrette.  Maybe some of the candied cranberries I put up over the holidays. If I had blue cheese, I might just sneak a little into that salad, too.

We'll finish it all off with a steaming buttery chunk of cracklin' cornbread, and share a resolution or two over our meal. I certainly love the resolutions of Goran Persson, above, and Helen Keller, below. This year, I can't really identify any burning originally-wrought resolutions of my own.  Most years, I have a laundry list of ways I'm going to be less me, but come about March, I'm just as me as always.  Maybe this year I'm just okay with me.  I'd like to be a tad more disciplined, I'd like to get more exercise, I'd like to get this house organized.  I'd like to let go of some things.

I think I'll resolve to take it one step at a time.

So, I'd love to hear.  What do you resolve to do or not do in 2013?  And how are you ringing in this bright shiny new year?

Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.--Helen Keller 

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