Archive for December, 2011

Red Cabbage, Leek & Apple Walnut Slaw

Friday, December 30th, 2011


Cabbage Salad Ingredients

One of our favorite winter salads is coleslaw.  We had a really good cabbage harvest this year – red and green alike, so we are still eating this from our own garden.  Cabbage is a good keeper and we had 2 in the fridge just waiting for good things to happen to them.  We also had a few garden leeks lurking in the produce drawer and they make a great substitute for green onions when you want a little flavor but not the strong taste of regular chopped onions.

The ingredients for the salad pictured are:

2-3 cups red cabbage, shredded

1 red apple, cored and chopped

1 medium leek, finely chopped (white & light green parts)

¼ cup currants or raisins

¼ cup walnuts chopped, optional



Option 1:  1-2 T. seasoned rice vinegar or to taste


Seasoned Vinegar Cabbage Salad

Option 2:  1 T. seasoned rice vinegar mixed with 1 T. your favorite mayo & 1 T plain yogurt


Creamy Cabbage Salad

I don’t usually measure the ingredients for the dressing so go lighter if you’re unsure.  You can always add more.  Sometimes I’m in a cinnamon mood so I’ll mix about ½ tsp. into the dressing.

If you don’t have an apple, try some other fruit such as chopped oranges or tangerines.  This salad is very flexible, as most salads are, so use what you have available and create a new dish.  This salad along with a casserole or soup is all you need to round out a meal.

Bring Back the Light

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

The Winter Solstice is December 22nd this year, but we celebrated a few days early because it’s always easier to party hard on Saturday night as opposed to Thursday.

Here is Anneliese supplicating the winter spirits in front of the solstice fire while Geoff is a rather bemused observer.

The ancients took the winter solstice very seriously.   For some it meant appealing to the gods to make sure the days did not keep getting shorter until it was an eternal night.  A really good party around the fire and maybe a few sacrifices would make the gods happy and the days would start getting longer again.  We didn’t sacrifice anything last night (well maybe a few brain cells), but I’m pretty sure our celebration has staved off eternal darkness for another year.


Self Watering Strawberry Containers

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

In October I wrote about the project that I did with Save Our Youth making self-watering planters out of reclaimed five gallon buckets.  You can read the original post here.  I decided to modify the original design and turn it into a strawberry planter.

First a note about strawberries in Austin:  They are normally planted in the fall here and treated as an annual crop.  I’m a little late in my planting this year.  The plants fruit in the spring, but rarely survive Austin’s extreme summers, even with ample watering.  Therefore rather than spacing new plants further apart and allowing them to fill in via runners, a tighter spacing is used and runners are discouraged.

In the container that I built, I use a similar tight spacing, placing the bare root plants about five inches apart.  To build this container, follow the original steps for a self-watering planter.  See my post above or look at a video of Mike Lieberman’s original design here.

Make the markings for two rows of holes one about four inches from the top and another one four inches below the first row.  Mark the holes five inches apart in each row and offset the holes on the bottom row. This gives seven holes per row.  Use the same 1 1/8” hole saw used to cut the hole for the watering pipe in the original planter.  Since you will have to cut through both buckets, tape the buckets together first to keep them from sliding around.

Self Watering Strawberry Container

Marking the holes for drilling.

Use a 1 1/8" hole saw to make the holes for the strawberry plants.

Once finished with the holes, fill the container with pre-moistened potting mix up to the first line of openings.  Then carefully place the bare-root strawberry plants (in my case Chandler variety) in each aperture, getting the crown in line with the wall of the container.  Spread the roots out as much as possible.  Once one row of plants is in place add more potting soil, gently tamp it down and fill to the next level.  With the second row complete, add another six plants on the top surface and water them in.  Fill the reservoir via the copper pipe until water begins to spill from the overflow hole.

A little tape keeps the two buckets aligned during drilling.

The finished container prior to adding potting mix or strawberry plants.

Keep the crown right in line with the bucket and spread the roots out.

The planted strawberry bucket.

I’ll cover the container if we are going to get an exceptional cold snap or move it to a protected area, but otherwise it will stay on my front porch.  Come next summer, I’ll move it to a shady location to see if I can get the plants to survive the heat.  Strawberries can fruit as early as March in Austin.  Hopefully I will have some juicy berries in a few months.

Double Corn Chili Bean Bake

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Double Corn Chili Bean Bake

Need a quick meal to put on the table while you’re ‘busy’ doing holiday preparations?  This dish is a great way to ‘re-purpose’ leftover chili if you have about 4 cups from a previous meal.  If that’s the case it takes about ten minutes to put together & it’s ready for the oven.  But no problem if no leftovers – it’s still a relatively easy dish to make and you can get creative with the type of beans and seasonings.  Don’t be afraid to spice it up.  The corn mixture and cheese mellow the flavors.  But you can always keep the salsa jar or hot sauce on the table if you want to play it safe.

 Double Corn Chili Bean Bake

½ c. chopped onion

½ cup chopped sweet & hot peppers or 1 can green chiles

1 clove garlic, minced

2 T. olive oil

4 cups cooked kidney or black beans, or 2 cans, drained

2 cups chopped tomatoes preserved from your garden, of course, or 1 – 16 oz can

Hot sauce or salsa to taste

salt & pepper to taste

Optional:  Cumin (1-2 tsp.), chile powder (1 tsp.)


2/3 c. cornmeal

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. baking soda

½ c. milk, soy milk, rice milk or broth

4 T. olive oil

1 egg, beaten

1 ½ – 2 c. frozen garden corn, thawed

1 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese


In lieu of that leftover chili – sauté onion, garlic & peppers in 2 T. of oil until onion is softened.  Stir in beans, tomatoes, chili peppers and seasonings.  Simmer until thickened or until most of the juice is evaporated.  Remove from heat.

Mix cornmeal, soda & salt in large bowl.  Combine egg, 4 T. oil & milk or liquid of choice.  Add corn & mix with dry ingredients.  Pour 2/3 of the cornmeal mixture into a greased 2 qt. baking dish.  Cover with the shredded cheese & layer the seasoned beans over the cheese.  Spoon last 1/3 of cornmeal mixture around edge of dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes, until corn bread is done.  Makes 4-6 Servings.  Yum, it’s even good for breakfast!


ladling the corn - a work in progress

Teaching an Old Dog to Teach

Monday, December 12th, 2011

The outdoor season is over for my 2011 Wisconsin garden.  I may do a little more clean up, and possibly drag in a few leaves to cover up some north beds, but the frost has already penetrated deep and there is nothing left to harvest.  There will be no more weeding or working the soil.  All my efforts now are in preparing for next year.

Gardening patterns and habits repeat themselves as you learn what has to be done to ensure a good harvest, but that hardly means every year is the same.  Change is constant and I’m always ready to try something new or modify what may not be working.  Here are a few new things from this year’s gardening adventure:

Cold Frame

I finally built a small cold frame.     I really didn’t put it to the test until this fall, but the results were excellent and it has me keen on trying more season extending structures.  Next year it’s going to be put to work early in the spring.

New bed

After shrinking my garden area for the past several years, I actually carved out a couple small new beds in the compost area.  The bed project was a test to back up my teachings on making the raised bed system I employ and the ease with which these beds can be formed and put to work.  The results were carrots, beets and peppers that I otherwise would not have had.

Planting Boards

I had been using planting boards for years, but my boards were just scraps of plywood I had laying around.  Not quite right, so this year I cut a couple to exactly the right size and I’m really glad I did.  It makes planting and working on my hands and knees much easier.

T-Post Tomato Trelils

I finally built the rock-solid tomato trellis I had envisioned for many years.  It put an end to the wind blowing over the cages and made it easy for me to string the vines up high.

And lastly, I became a teacher this year.

I’ve actually been giving talks about my garden for several years.  I’m a very loose disciple of the garden teacher Alan Chadwick.  What I really embrace is the open raised beds  of his teachings on intensive food production.  In the past  these talks were done gratis, but I’ve secured some paying engagements next year, and I’ve found that I really enjoy sharing my gardening experience with others.

To be a good teacher you have to keep learning.  And to learn you have to try new things.  I was quite happy with several new things I tried this year and I’ll continue to innovate in the garden in 2012.


Sautéed Veggies with Volcano Rice

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Veggie skillet

Recipes are normally Judy’s and Geoff’s department and what you see here is totally Judy’s creation, I’m just putting it down on the blog because I found it way more than worthy.

Judy had to grab the phone to take an order and that’s a good thing.  On her way past me as she went to her desk she whispered, “stir the veggies.”  When I went to the stove, the skillet looked so colorful I knew I had to take a picture.

What we have here are several kind of green beans, some are purple, but they’re still green beans, leeks, garlic, and sweet peppers.  All from our garden and that’s cool.  They are being sautéed in olive oil and flavored with tamari sauce and toasted sesame oil.

Veggies over volcano rice

The finished stir fry was served over Volcano Rice with crumbled blue cheese.  The rice was seasoned with mushroom broth and cooked with a hot pepper, garlic, and a couple shiitake mushrooms for added flavor.  We buy several exotic rices from Lotus Foods at our local co-op.  Lotus is owned by some really nice folks we first met at a trade show in Chicago. They mail order if  their products are not available where you live.

How did it taste?  Well, as the great Louis Jordan said,  “Mmm, mmm, mmm.  I’m such a hungry man.”   Judy’s not from Tucumcari, but she’s the one I did marry, and man, she sure can cook.

Burning with Boss

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

Our Woods

I posted recently about leaf burning and why I don’t think it’s such a great idea, even if it is allowed, but I was careful to mention that I’m not at all opposed to fires.  Being a relative land baron out here on my almost rural four acres, I would have some major disposal issues if I could not burn prunings, deadfall, and  other natural debris.

Just a little over half our property is wooded.  You can see a neighbor’s house to the east of us in this picture, but if the leaves were still on the trees you wouldn’t know the house was there.  The woods are a great screen from the traffic that goes by on our front road, which is a US Highway and the commuter route between Madison and the town of Jefferson, about 9 miles east of us.

I won’t earn any merit badges for forest management.  I do minimal work in the woods, but I do have to take down any dangerous dead or dying trees, and the deadfall into the lawn area is significant.   I’m also waging constant war against the forest as it encroaches into the yard and garden area, so there are always plenty of pruned branches to be disposed of.

Burning with Boss

So several times a year we have small to large fires to dispose of the trees, branches, and prunings.  It was cold and damp today and a good day for a small fire.  I kept feeding the fire for about an hour while Boss the cat gave me a lot of help. Tomorrow or the next day, when  the ashes are cold, I’ll shovel them up and mix them into  the compost pile.