in the garden--august

tips for tuesday
notes from maggie's farm

"How sociable the garden was.
We ate and talked in given light.
The children put their toys to grass
All the warm wakeful August night."
-  Thomas Gunn, Last Days at Teddington
True to form, August rolls in with a heat for which no civilized words can be tendered.  Despite the tireless daily watering efforts, many gardens are simply dried and done for. Though it may seem that all is over but the canning, it's time to prepare for, perhaps, the most pleasant time of the Central Texas garden--Fall!  We're lucky, here, to have a fall so temperate as to get a second lease on vegetable and flower life, and a little preparation and planting now, especially when spent in the cooler earliest daylight and late evening hours, will have you gardening in the more pleasant months ahead.

Fertilize fruiting vegetables after first fruit set for higher productivity. Feed chrysanthemums every 2-3 weeks until buds appear, then weekly until buds show color. Fertilize roses for fall bloom. Feed berries and fruit showing poor color/vigor.

Water all planted areas deeply but infrequently during dry periods.  Outdoor container plants need daily watering. Keep azaleas and fruit trees watered well because spring blooms are developing. 

Discard faded annuals and refurbish soil as needed. Prepare loose, well-drained beds for fall bulb planting. Clean up established garden beds. Turn compost pile. 

Lawn Care
Mow every 5-7 days and leave the clippings on the lawn. Set mower higher in shady areas to promote denser turf. Avoid weed killers whenever temperatures are above 85°.

Diseases/Pests to look out for
Watch for cutworms on new tomato transplants; protect with paper collars around base 1" above and below ground. Watch for grub worms, chinch bugs and fire ants in lawns. Check for borers in peaches, plums and other trees. Look for aphids and powdery mildew on crape myrtles.

Prune roses back by 1/3. Deadhead spent blooms and seed pods from crape myrtles for continued blooms. Trim photinias for red fall color. Remove dead and damaged wood from shrubs and trees. Pinch chrysanthemums for the last time.

Things To Plant In August

Flower Plants
ageratum, ajuga, wax begonia, blue daze, boltonia, cockscomb, impatiens, gloriosa daisy, salvia, sedum, shasta daisy, stokes' aster, zinnia.

Flower Seeds
ageratum, alyssum, amaranthus, balsam, bluebell, calendula, candytuft, cleome, coreopsis, cornflower, castor bean, cosmos, cockscomb, four-o'clock, gerbera, hollyhock, impatiens, linaria, french marigold, moonflower, morning glory, petunia, portulaca, sunflower, tithonia, flowering tobacco, zinnia.

autumn crocus, hardy cyclamen, louisiana iris, liriope, lycoris, monkey grass.

Early—Mid Month---Corn, Eggplant, Pepper, Southern Pea, Tomato, Winter Squash
Mid—Late Month---Potato
All Month---Cucumber, Summer Squash

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

lemony summer vegetable pasta toss with marinated mozzarella

meatless monday
notes from maggie's farm

It's HOT out there!

This is not news.  I know you, your lawn, your gardens, your pets, your HAIR--well, we're all suffering from the heat.  If you are someplace cool, we hate you a little right now.  Because, just in case we haven't said it before, in our world, and in most of yours'...

It's HOT out there!

And too darned hot to do a lot of cooking.  Or heavy eating, for that matter.  We want something cool, something light, something refreshing, because we feel absolutely NONE of those right now.

And it's days like these that call for a quick in-and-out of the kitchen, with energy to spare, please.

So, on Mondays, we often take to the fridge, standing there long enough for that ding-ding-ding-close-the-door-you're-we're-not-air conditioning-the-world! alarm to come on, and be ignored, as we rifle around for the leftovers of the weekend's pool-party, dinner al dente, picnic, appetizer take-to, or whatever glorious things you did with a little fresh fixings over the weekend, all to be tossed together for a bowl of delicious that we can nosh on for the next few days.  The next few days of NO COOKING.  

This weekend, we'd visited a friend who had a lovely platter of summery fresh veggies and cheese to serve guests.  She'd had quite enough of the summery fresh veggies and cheese by the end of the day, and, knowing I never say no to summery fresh veggies and cheese, implored me to take home the leftovers.  Yes. YES, I said.

They were things many of us have in our fridge right now.  Or ought to, anyway, because, thrown together like this, at the last minute, when you have no idea what to do about dinner--well, they're lifesavers. Consider picking some of these up to keep on hand for quick summer suppers next time you're at the market.

What we came home with:
marinated mozzarella 
cherry tomatoes
sugar snap peas

What we had:
whole grain pasta
fresh herbs
lemons.  Always, we have lemons. Lemons make our my heart sing. More on that... 

My love for lemons is well-documented, however, one of us, around here, and it is NOT ME, is not crazy about lemon. I knew this about him before we married, and while it gave me pause, I chose to overlook this obvious flaw of character and partner up anyway. It's something I work around, much like he does my late-night addiction to playing Mah Jong, online. He is not averse to the sweet, and precious, may I add, addition of lemon zest, which takes the sour bite out of the dish.  If you, like him, are not a fan of the lemony pucker, decrease, or, it pains me to say, omit the lemon juice, but, please, NOT the zest.  

Tapping on the picture will enlarge, if your eyes are straining to read the fine print.
Prep ingredients, as above, and set aside.  I love the combination of lemon and rosemary, so I snapped off a healthy twig of it, plucked the leaves from the woody stems, bruised it a bit by rough chopping briefly, and tossed it into the warm pasta.  Basil, chives, or even mint, or a combination of any of these herbs, would work beautifully, as well.

Prepare whole grain pasta, according to package directions, tossing in the slivered sugar snap peas in the last few minutes of cooking time. Drain, then toss with remaining ingredients. Dress with reserved marinating oil, and lemon juice, if using. Add kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.  And serve.  

(and stay cool out there...)

sweet spot : rudy

saturday simplicity
notes from maggie's farm

I think we each have a personal sweet spot. It's the state of mind in which we experience the most joy and satisfaction in being ourselves.  And from that place of pleasure and joy in being ourselves, energy arises to flow out into our day bringing with it the depth and resonance of our own beingness, bringing with it blessing.  --David Spangler

It helps to have feedback from a trusted source...

And it may take a little work...

A little practice...

approaching from different angles...

even quiet contemplation...

 but when you do find it...ahhhhhhhh.

Here's to you, and to finding your sweet spot, today.
Have a great weekend!

crossroads: the house of blues

by Joyce Sutphen
The second half of my life will be black
to the white rind of the old and fading moon.
The second half of my life will be water
over the cracked floor of these desert years.
I will land on my feet this time,
knowing at least two languages and who
my friends are. I will dress for the
occasion, and my hair shall be
whatever color I please.
Everyone will go on celebrating the old
birthday, counting the years as usual,
but I will count myself new from this
inception, this imprint of my own desire.

The second half of my life will be swift, 
past leaning fenceposts, a gravel shoulder,
asphalt tickets, the beckon of open road.
The second half of my life will be wide-eyed,
fingers shifting through fine sands,
arms loose at my sides, wandering feet.
There will be new dreams every night,
and the drapes will never be closed.
I will toss my string of keys into a deep
well and old letters into the grate.

The second half of my life will be ice
breaking up on the river, rain
soaking the fields, a hand
held out, a fire,
and smoke going
upward, always up. 

putting food by: texas peach, sweet onion & thyme relish

texas, this tuesday
notes from maggie's farm

Two of the finest crops that the Texas Hill Country has to offer is sweet peaches, and sweet onions. We're lucky enough to have had a bumper crop of each this year.  Around the country, peaches are either in full season, or have just begun showing up in the markets and roadside fruit stands.  And what was once only available to those of us lucky enough to live in the South, sweet onions--Vidalia, 1015's, Noondays, and the like, are now more common all over the country.  

As one of our contributions to Ball Preserving's National Can It Forward Day, and Canning Across America's Can-A-Rama celebrations, this Texas Peach, Sweet Onion & Thyme Relish is loosely based on a recipe from Southern Living Magazine, clipped from its pages, and forwarded to me by my precious mother (We'll revisit that nice surprise later today, in this evening's post). It is sweet, with peaches and sugar, savory, with red pepper, sweet onion, and  herbs, and sour, with the addition of cider vinegar, a combination of flavors traditional in the South, then taken up a culinary notch with the addition of fresh thyme, which adds a whisp of a french-fare flavor--call it southern comfort food with a little accessorizing.  

Use this special treat as an accompaniment to cheeses and meats, or a quick lunch on a buttered biscuit, maybe with a sliver of Virginia ham, or proscuitto, and a smudge of creamy goat cheese.  I love to enjoy it with a tiny plateful of crispy, peppery cheese wafers.  Later today, join us as we show you how to utilize this relish to make quick work of an elegant supper--Peach-Glazed Pork with Sweet Peppers. 

And now on to the magic...

While you can certainly prepare this relish and move it, packed in sterile jars, straight to the fridge for several months of safe-keeping, the peaches, sugar, lemon juice, and salt all make this a perfect candidate for boiling water-bath canning.  Please review last week's post on the detailed process before starting, and prepare your workspace with prepped jars, lids, canner, and a kettle of filtered water ready to boil, with which to top of the water in the canner, if necessary.  The more preparation you can complete before beginning, the more success you'll find with the whole canning affair.

Yield: About 8 half-pint jars (prepare several extra jars, as canning yields often differ according to varieties of fruits used)
2 cups water, 2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 cups apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup (bottled) lemon juice,
2 T kosher salt, 1 T yellow mustard seed, 2 tsp celery salt, 2 t crushed red pepper flake, 1 t granulated garlic, 4 whole bay leaves, one full bunch fresh thyme, de-stemmed (the equivalent of 1 heaping tablespoon of thyme leaves), or 1 and 1/2 tsp dried thyme
3 pounds fresh, washed peaches, peels left on, sliced into 8 wedges, then each wedge sliced in fourths
3 pounds sweet onions, peeled and sliced, thinly.

Combine liquids and seasonings in a heavy-bottomed dutch oven; stainless steel or enameled cast iron--do not use aluminum pots or utensils for any canning processes.  Bring liquid to a boil.  Add peaches and onions.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a full simmer over medium, to medium-high heat, stirring often, and cooking until peaches just begin to break down, which should be at least 30-45 minutes.

Ladle into clean jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Wipe rims well, seal, and place in canner, allowing space around each jar, and with enough water to cover tops of jar by one inch.  (If hard water is a problem in your area, use filtered water to can, and add 1-2 T vinegar to water in canner to prevent hard water spots on jars and lids.)  Process for 10 minutes, covered, after water comes to a rolling boil, according to canning directions covered in last week's post, 'yes, you can!'.

When processing is complete, turn off and remove canner from burner.  Uncover, and let stand 10 minutes.  Lift jars from canner with a jar lifter, and place on a towel or cooling rack in a location where they will be left undisturbed, for 24 hours.  At the end of 'rest' time, check for seal by gently depressing the center of the lid.  If lids do not 'pop', they are properly sealed. Remove any that have not sealed to be refrigerated (and used first), remove outer band, and store in a cool, dark pantry, closet, cabinet, or shelf for up to one year.

Be sure to stop back later today for Peach-Glazed Pork and Sweet Peppers, a genius way to use this fancy relish to make your life a little sweeter, and easier.  We'll get you in and out of the kitchen, with a sophisticated meal, in short order, with, perhaps, time left over to enjoy a summer sunset--likely one of the most precious moments of a hot summer day.  

Hope this day is just peachy for you.
Sorry.  Couldn't resist.

up to our ears...

this week on
notes from maggie's farm

Well, friends, I'm just up to my ears in preserving this week!  Our July commonly looks something just like this--more foods to preserve than we have time with which to do so.  We're up to our ears!  But we've still got big plans for the week.

This week, on Notes From Maggie's Farm, we'll be 'putting by' a unique, and if I may say so, deLISH Texas Peach, Sweet Onion, and Thyme relish, and we'll show you a pretty darned genius way of using it, along with your other canned jams, jellies, and relishes, to dress up a simple meal-- Peachy-Glazed Pork with Sweet Peppers.

We'll get out of the kitchen for a brief respite on Wednesday, as we visit the sultry city of New Orleans, and The House of Blues, then later in the evening, we'll be at Cupcakes and Cocktails, the Austin Food Blogger Alliance fundraiser in support of Bake A Wish Austin.  We'll get pics, I promise!  

When Thirsty Thursday comes around, we'll be making quick work of a cocktail using the precious fruity dregs of our jelly jars, and later in the day, we'll pull out all the stops with infused salts, with which to dress those jammy, and jammin, thirst-quenchers.

On Friday, we'll be showcasing Basil Malt Spicy Mustard we made last week, and enjoying a quick take on the classic Chicken Dijon. 

That's our big plans. Of course, just plans. What actually occurs may not remotely resemble this list seeing as how we're at the beck and call of our gardens, and this small farm that often has plans other than the ones we've set forth.

What do you have planned for this week?

“Summertime, I think, is a collective unconscious. We all remember the notes that made up the song of the ice cream man; we all know what it feels like to brand our thighs on a playground slide that's heated up like a knife in a fire; we all have lain on our backs with our eyes closed and our hearts beating across the surface of our lids, hoping that this day will stretch just a little longer than the last one, when in fact it's all going in the other direction.” ―Jodi Picoult, My Sister's Keeper

the art and craft of putting food by

saturday simplicity
from maggie's farm

“...Following her instructions, I joined her in the chopping and mixing. The magical smell of pickling spices wound around us and it wasn't long before we were in another world. I was suddenly immersed in the hand-written recipes Mother resurrected from the back of the Hoosier cabinet--in the cheesecloth filled with mustard seed and pungent dill. As we followed the recipes her mother had followed and her mother before that, we talked--as the afternoon wore on I was listening to preserve the stories in my mind. 'I can remember watching my grandmother and mother rushing around this same old kitchen, putting up all kinds of vegetables--their own hand-sown, hand-picked crops--for the winter. My grandmother would tell her stories about growing up right here, on this piece of land--some were hilarious and some were tragic.' Pots still steamed on the stove, but Mother's attention seemed directed backwards as she began to speak about the past. She spoke with a slow cadence, a rhythm punctuated (or maybe inspired) by the natural symphony around us.” ― Leslie Goetsch, Back Creek

putting food by: preserving by infusion

freestyle friday
notes from maggie's farm

Another simple way to preserve herbs, fruits, and even some veggies, is by infusion.
Noun:  1.  A drink or extract prepared by soaking the leaves of a plant in liquid. 2.  The process of preparing such a drink, remedy, or extract.  (Thank you, Google.)
There are a few simple guidelines when infusing foods in oils, vinegars, syrups, and liquors. And, in addition to what we've served up right here on Notes From Maggie's Farm, we've curated not just a little help from around the web.

The Olive Oil Source: Infusing Olive Oils
Chef Talk: How To Make Flavored Oils
Design Sponge: Small Measures' Infused Vinegars
Serious Eats: How to Infuse Liquor
Bon Appetite: Infuse Your Booze
Making Herb, Rose, Fruit and Herb, and Lavender-infused Simple Syrups
Notes From Maggie's Farm: Infusing Liquor

Notes From Maggie's Farm: Sweet Cherry FirecrackerCranberry Lemon Drop, with Cranberry-Infused VodkaStrawberry Basil CordialStrawberry Fields, and Apple Cranberry Shrub.
Food & Love: Cucumber-Infused Gin
Salt's Kitchen: Brandied Cherries
Gourmet Veggie Mama: Carrot Ginger Martini
From Bon Appetite, Aquavit Spritzer, Chamomile Gin Cocktail, and Jalapeno Tequila Gimlet
From Gourmet: Apricot Toddy, Sherwood Forest Cocktails, Infused Ice, and old-fashioned Cherry Bounce, and lest you think we total drunkards, Ethiopian Spice Tea

Notes From Maggie's Farm: Rosemary Orange-Infused Olive Oil
Gourmet: Annato Oil
One Green Tomato: Fruit-Infused Vinegar
Local Kitchen: Blueberry Basil Vinegar
Punk Domestics: Infused Oils
101 Cookbooks: Magic Sauce
Whole Foods: Herb-Infused Vinegars
And from Mary Makes DinnerLucky Oil, which is "infused with Szechuan Peppercorns, dried hot red peppers, sliced fresh ginger, and sliced fresh garlic-- 1 tablespoon of each in a cup or so of oil over low heat for about 10 minutes. Strain, then use in stir fries, dressings, and sauces."

Give you some ideas?  These are just a beginning.  The sky's the limit! With a few tips, and food safety guidelines from above, why not try a few simple infusions, yourself, this weekend? With the herbs, vegetables, and fruits brimming over the baskets at your local farmers markets, or, if you've gotten the gardening bug (and not too many bugs in your garden), you're very own abundance of healthy fruits-of-the-earth, you can line your coffers, and those of friends and family, too, with unique, made-for-you-by-you flavored oils, vinegars, syrups, and liquors of which to be bust-your-buttons proud.  And don't forget to send us the pictures! 

yes you can! canning 101: water-bath canning

tips for tuesday
notes from maggie's farm

This week on Notes From Maggie's Farm, we're Putting Food By.  Yesterday, we tackled preserving by way of refrigerated pickling, and now we're ready to move onto shelf-stable canning.  There are two methods for safe canning-- boiling water-bath canning, and pressure canning.  Today we'll explore the first of those; the who (YOU!), why, what, and how of water-bath canning, and tips from the experts.  

You CAN do this!

How Canning Preserves Foods

The high percentage of water in most fresh foods makes them very perishable. They spoil or lose their quality for several reasons:

growth of undesirable microorganisms-bacteria, molds, and yeasts,
activity of food enzymes,
reactions with oxygen,
moisture loss.
Microorganisms live and multiply quickly on the surfaces of fresh food and on the inside of bruised, insect-damaged, and diseased food. Oxygen and enzymes are present throughout fresh food tissues.

Proper canning practices include:

carefully selecting and washing fresh food,
peeling some fresh foods,
hot packing many foods,
adding acids (lemon juice or vinegar) to some foods,
using acceptable jars and self-sealing lids,
processing jars in a boiling-water or pressure canner for the correct period of time.
Collectively, these practices remove oxygen; destroy enzymes; prevent the growth of undesirable bacteria, yeasts, and molds; and help form a high vacuum in jars. Good vacuums form tight seals which keep liquid in and air and microorganisms out.

extracted from the "Complete Guide to Home Canning," Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 539, USDA (Revised 2009).

Steps for Water-Bath Canning

Follow these steps for successful boiling water canning:
(Read through all the instructions before beginning.)

  1.   Before you start preparing your food, place canner rack in the bottom of a boiling water canner.  Fill the canner half full with clean warm water for a canner load of pint jars. For other sizes and numbers of jars, you will need to adjust the amount of water so it will be 1 to 2 inches over the top of the filled jars.

  2.   Center the canner over the burner and preheat the water to 140 degrees F. for raw-packed foods and to 180 degrees F. for hot-packed foods. You can begin preparing food for your jars while this water is preheating.

  3.   Load filled jars, fitted with lids and ring bands, into the canner one at a time, using a jar lifter. When moving jars with a jar lifter, make sure the jar lifter is securely positioned below the neck of the jar (below the ring band of the lid). Keep the jar upright at all times. Tilting the jar could cause food to spill into the sealing area of the lid.

If you have a shaped wire rack that has handles to hold it on the canner sides, above the water in the canner, you can load jars onto the rack in the raised position and then use the handles to lower the rack with jars into the water.

  4.   Add more boiling water, if needed, so the water level is at least one inch above the jar tops. Pour the water around the jars and not directly onto them. For process times over 30 minutes, the water level should be 2 inches above the jars.

  5.   Turn the heat setting to its highest position, cover the canner with its lid and heat until the water boils vigorously.

  6.   Set a timer (after the water is boiling) for the total minutes required for processing the food.

  7.   Keep the canner covered for the process time. The heat setting may be lowered as long as a gentle but complete boil is maintained for the entire process time.

  8.   Add more boiling water during the process, if needed, to keep the water level above the jar tops. Pour the water around the jars and not directly onto them.

  9.   If the water stops boiling at any time during the process, turn the heat on its highest setting, bring the water back to a vigorous boil, and begin the timing of the process over, from the beginning (using the total original process time).

  10.   When the jars have been processed in boiling water for the recommended time, turn off the heat and remove the canner lid. Wait 5 minutes before removing jars to allow the canner contents to settle. This waiting period is not required for safety of the food when using USDA or University of Georgia processing times, however.

  11.   Using a jar lifter, remove the jars one at a time, being careful not to tilt the jars. Carefully place them directly onto a towel or cake cooling rack, leaving at least one inch of space between the jars during cooling. Avoid placing the jars on a cold surface or in a cold draft.

  12.   Let the jars sit undisturbed while they cool, from 12 to 24 hours. Do not tighten ring bands on the lids or push down on the center of the flat metal lid until the jar is completely cooled.

  13.   Remove ring bands from sealed jars. Put any unsealed jars in the refrigerator and use first.

  14.   Wash jars and lids to remove all residues.

  15.   Label jars and store in a cool, dry place out of direct light.

from the University of Georgia. Andress, E. (2011rev.). Preserving Food: Using Boiling Water Canners. Athens, GA: University of Georgia, Cooperative Extension.

Learn More:
National Center for Home Food Preservation

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