Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I Pea'd Myself!

Oh, garden humor. I am a laugh riot.

For real, I have finally managed to plant sweet peas in such a way that I get, you know, actual peas on the vine! Woohoo!!!! The trick wound up being: plant early, plant in the shadiest spot in the garden, and sing to the vines encouragingly every day. They prefer Bob Marley. I'm sure that this won't necessarily work for everybody, depending on your region. If you live in the Northwest, for example, you might do better with full sun and, say, Lyle Lovett. The point is: I HAVE SWEET PEAS!! To be sure, there aren't a lot of vines, probably because the seeds I planted were old. Next year, I'll put trellises on the back of every bed in the shade and try to get a bigger harvest.

In other garden news, the potatoes got a second layer of hilling, this time with mucked out straw from the school farm. Forking it into barrels made me so happy that I'm pretty sure the Ag teacher thought I was insane. I doubt any farm I have will have cows, but the smell of straw + cow + manure is lovely to me. The taties already need another hilling. I'm considering going to the Ag Center, which is a huge complex where the state fair and various animal contests and RV gatherings are held. They have a pile of shavings and manure that anybody can go and get for free. I don't know about hilling potatoes with it, though. Maybe I should just try to find some more grass clippings? I remain skeptical about the potatoes, although they look beautiful and healthy in their golden bed (I'd take a picture, but we've been under a weird little streak of thunderstorms since around five, so I think I'll stay in here so as not to get zapped...maybe later after the weather clears.) I wonder what type of music they'd like? Garth Brooks springs weirdly to mind.

The first batch of compost is officially ready. There are still some bigger strands of grass left over from last year before I realized you really need to shred your stuff before chunking it into the bin, but I'm not too worried about them. I'll use the compost on my seedlings, which will go in this weekend. Poor babies. Winter sowing, it turns out, is a science for at least one person living in the South. Again, it might be easier somewhere else with more predictable seasons. This spring has been fairly consistently coolish, but our winter was a wee schizophrenic, especially at the end. The plants sprang up fast and then have been hunched down in their pots for at least a month. Transplanting them seemed to have little to no effect on their growth, although most of them really seem puny now, like they want to stretch their legs. I'll be trying to find fish emulsion this weekend to perk up the squash. I've read that too much nitrogen makes for not a lot of fruit. And I want a LOT of fruit!! (Oooooh, the thought of fried squash is ALMOST enough to make me long for the heavy heat of summer.) The others will get some compost--and maybe some Andrew Lloyd Webber show tunes.

On the homefront, we've been doing good on the eating-in department. We took Jeffrey out to eat yesterday after a doctor's visit, but otherwise, we've eaten at home for the entire week. The rest of the month hasn't gone as well--we've done a terrible job of eating-in AND of keeping our budget. Sometimes I feel a bit like, "Dang, I'm growing a garden. How much do I have to pare down?" but this mainly comes on days when the kids are fractious or we have a packed schedule or when (to be honest) I'm just being lazy. Budgeting simply must be part of the homesteading effort, as well as doing a better job of using what we have here instead of buying something new. Baby steps.

I've settled officially on a biscuit recipe for the family. It yields yummy, tender, buttery, soft, crunchy on the bottom bread that everybody loves. It's a variation of Mama's recipe, one I read in "Better Homes and Gardens" by Scott Peacock, and one from Alton Brown, my culinary boyfriend (and fellow UGA grad.)

Not Hannah's Biscuits O' Joy
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, three teaspoons baking powder, and one teaspoon salt. I use a whisk, other folks use a food processor. Eh.
  3. Pour one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into a measuring cup. Add milk to make one cup. I use 1 percent milk, for what it's worth. This is a replacement for buttermilk. I don't know that I make biscuits enough to buy buttermilk since I don't know how long it lasts in the fridge, nor how much it costs. I'm perfectly happy with this substitution.
  4. Cut a half stick of cold, unsalted butter longways and then shortways. You're aiming for little butter cubes. Plop those into the flour mixture.
  5. Squoosh the butter cubes around in the flour mixture to break them up. "The experts" say aim for pea-sized pieces combined with smaller bits, which always makes me go, "Ack! Are we talking sweet peas? English peas? Crowder? PURPLE-HULLED PINKEYES????" Dude, you just want some bigger bits (field peas) and some smaller bits (graham cracker crumbs) and some flour. Don't have big hunks of butter in there.
  6. Stir up the milk and cider mixture. The acid in the vinegar will combine with the baking powder and make a nice fizzy dough that rises in the oven.
  7. Pour about 3/4 of the milk mixture into the flour and butter mixture. Some folks say make a well in the middle. Eh. I just pour slowly and hope for the best.
  8. Stir gently with a fork. This is the "Do this part carefully or you'll wind up with tough, dry, disks o'sadness" part. I mix until it's all just combined. Depending on weather, I sometimes have a bit of milky stuff in the bottom of the bowl. This is okay--I can always add a bit of flour during the kneading part.
  9. Plonk the dough out onto a floured surface. I use a wooden cutting board and I sprinkle maybe an eighth of a cup of flour onto the board. I have no idea if this is the "lightly floured" surface the experts go on about. This is what works for me.
  10. Now the kneading part. I flatten the dough out to about an inch and a half, fold it in half, flatten it to an inch and a half, fold it in half, repeat and repeat and repeat maybe six or seven times. I've heard you should knead eleven times, that you shouldn't knead, that you knead only enough to coat the back and front of your dough with flour. Whatever works, y'all. This works for me.
  11. Roll the dough out to about half an inch. I use a fairly large biscuit cutter and with a bit of smooshing the cut out parts together, I can get eight big biscuits and a little wonky one that I call the "sample." Don't spin the cutter; just push it down (I love the poofy little sound it makes) and lift it up. Put the biscuits on a parchment sheet lined pan so that they're almost touching, like maybe a centimeter between them. Poke holes in the biscuits all the way down to the pan with a fork, twice. Top each biscuit with a tiny piece of butter.
  12. Bake for, oh, eleven or so minutes. I never time it...I always go by sight.
  13. Eat and experience bliss.
Still working on the Cracker O' Joy. Will report when I've figured it out.


Anonymous said...

I do love reading about your garden. Sweet Peas are just gorgeous. My grandmother always used to grow them. You should have your own radio show - Music To Grow Plants By. Too funny!!!

Rosemary said...

I will have to start singing Bob Marley never had any luck with sweet peas. Great blog!