Blizzard flag

There’s a blizzard warning up for our neighborhood come Sunday. I feel badly for R., who spent the day after a hospital stay plowing in blizzard conditions last weekend, and must be thinking about doing it again. He generally knows the storm is coming long before the rest of us. Here’s the broadcast transcript from the NWS:

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE CARIBOU ME
425 PM EST FRI FEB 15 2013

MEZ002-005-006-011-015>017-029>032-161015-
/O.COR.KCAR.BZ.A.0001.130217T1100Z-130218T0800Z/
NORTHEAST AROOSTOOK-NORTHERN PENOBSCOT-SOUTHEAST AROOSTOOK-
CENTRAL PENOBSCOT-SOUTHERN PENOBSCOT-INTERIOR HANCOCK-
CENTRAL WASHINGTON-COASTAL HANCOCK-COASTAL WASHINGTON-
SOUTHERN PISCATAQUIS-NORTHERN WASHINGTON-
INCLUDING THE CITIES OF...PRESQUE ISLE...CARIBOU...VAN BUREN...
MARS HILL...MILLINOCKET...EAST MILLINOCKET...PATTEN...MEDWAY...
HOULTON...HODGDON...SHERMAN...SMYRNA MILLS...LINCOLN...HOWLAND...
SPRINGFIELD...BANGOR...BREWER...ORONO...OLD TOWN...AMHERST...
AURORA...DEDHAM...EASTBROOK...GREAT POND...ORLAND...DEBLOIS...
GRAND LAKE STREAM...MEDDYBEMPS...PEMBROKE...PERRY...PRINCETON...
ELLSWORTH...BAR HARBOR...BLUE HILL...EASTPORT...MACHIAS...
CHERRYFIELD...DOVER-FOXCROFT...MILO...GUILFORD...DANFORTH...
VANCEBORO...TOPSFIELD
425 PM EST FRI FEB 15 2013

...BLIZZARD WATCH IN EFFECT FROM SUNDAY MORNING THROUGH LATE
SUNDAY NIGHT...

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN CARIBOU HAS ISSUED A BLIZZARD
WATCH...WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM SUNDAY MORNING THROUGH LATE
SUNDAY NIGHT.

* LOCATIONS...NORTHEAST...EAST CENTRAL AND DOWNEAST MAINE.

* PRECIPITATION TYPE...SNOW AND BLOWING SNOW.

* ACCUMULATIONS...POTENTIALLY RANGING FROM 4 INCHES OF SNOW OVER
  FAR NORTHEAST MAINE UPWARDS TO 10 INCHES OF SNOW ACROSS SOUTHEAST
  DOWNEAST MAINE.

* TIMING...SUNDAY MORNING THROUGH MOST OF SUNDAY NIGHT.

* TEMPERATURES...13 TO 26.

* WINDS...NORTH 20 TO 35 MPH WITH GUSTS UP TO 40 TO 55 MPH...WITH
  THE STRONGER WINDS AND WIND GUSTS IN PROXIMITY TO THE DOWNEAST
  COAST.

* VISIBILITIES...ONE QUARTER MILE OR LESS AT TIMES.

* IMPACTS...POTENTIALLY HIGH TO EXTREME...WITH SEVERE BLOWING AND
  DRIFTING SNOW POSING THE GREATEST HAZARD WITH THIS EVENT RATHER
  THAN HEAVY SNOW RATES AND VERY DEEP ACCUMULATION WITH FALLING
  SNOW. SNOW AND STRONG WINDS WILL CREATE VERY HAZARDOUS TRAVELING
  CONDITIONS. BLOWING AND DRIFTING SNOW WILL LIKELY CAUSE FREQUENT
  WHITEOUT CONDITIONS WITH VISIBILITY NEAR ZERO.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

A BLIZZARD WATCH MEANS THERE IS A POTENTIAL FOR FALLING AND/OR
BLOWING SNOW WITH STRONG WINDS AND EXTREMELY POOR VISIBILITIES.
THIS CAN LEAD TO WHITEOUT CONDITIONS AND MAKE TRAVEL VERY
DANGEROUS. STAY TUNED TO NOAA WEATHER RADIO OR YOUR FAVORITE
SOURCE OF WEATHER INFORMATION FOR THE LATEST UPDATES. ADDITIONAL
DETAILS CAN ALSO BE FOUND AT WWW.WEATHER.GOV/CAR.

&&

Do It Yourself: Sea Salt

We live on an island and often benefit from our proximity to the ocean by harvesting seaweed and compost for the garden, digging clams, and gathering  rose hips and wild asparagus that grow untended on the beach. A few weeks ago I found myself buying 8 oz of sea salt for $3.00 at the grocery store and thought hey, ocean!  And then I went down to Beach Road Beach for 6 gallons of really clean seawater. harvest seawaterI also did some research online. According to various blogs and agriculture sites (and for once, Wikipedia wasn’t all that helpful) six gallons of seawater should produce six cups of salt via evaporation. That seemed like a very high concentration to me, but turned out to be quite accurate.

I chose shorefront with no sewage outflow or houses nearby and a fast-running current. Water from a shallow bay might contain more salt, but is more prone to contamination. I initially forgot that water weighs 8.3 lbs per gallon but remembered pretty quickly when I realized I was downhill from the car with a container that would weigh >50 lbs when full. I finally put the large container up by the car and schlepped buckets up the ridge to fill it. You’ll want your water source to be convenient to your transportation.

Strain the water through a sieve to remove bits of debris and sealife. Don’t empty the container all the way when you pour it into your cooking pot to avoid any sand that has settled to the bottom. It helps to rest the water container on something sturdy above the level of your cooking pot to pour it off. I used a honey sieve to strain the water into a 5 gallon restaurant pail.

pouring off If you can possibly avoid it, don’t do this inside! Boiling off six gallons of water took a full day – actually two half days of diminishing sunlight – over a wood fire, and that’s a lot of water vapor to add to the interior of your house. I used a 5 gallon lobster pot a refilled it when necessary but I imagine any non-reactive pot or bucket would do. If you have to use a smaller size, try for as much surface area as possible to encourage evaporation.

kettle on the fire I lit a wood fire in my cinderblock grill using slightly punky firewood that the mice have been living in that I don’t want to burn in our woodstove. I only kept the fire going during daylight hours, currently 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. here in Downeast Maine, and it took two days to reduce 6 gallons of seawater down to about 4″ of what looked like clear water and a cup of chunky tan sediment swirling on the bottom of the kettle. At that point I took it off the fire because I was afraid I’d scorch the pot.  Boy, was I disappointed!

The remaining water was very salty to the taste, but even the steam coming off the kettle was salty – I didn’t see how it was going to produce 6 cups of salt. I dumped what was left into a large glass baking pan, per directions on the web, and figured I had nothing to lose by letting it evaporate the rest of the way in the house. The next day it had dried enough to appear opaque and slushy, and then crystals started to form. I broke up the slab with a potato masher periodically because the top dried out first.

pan o'saltNow, a week later, I have 5 1/2 cups of large crystal sea salt that has dried quite white like the dish I pulled out first so that we could sample it. It tastes like salt, of course, but there’s also a little extra “ocean” flavor somehow, probably due to the lack of processing. My neighbor describes it as “smoky”. All in all, a good experiment – would try again!

 

Happy pie day

pie pie pie crispMmmmmmm. From bottom to top:

Pumpkin pie, recipe by Fannie Farmer, variations: no additional milk (evaporated milk only), homegrown pumpkins roasted and pureed, not from a can, 4 eggs not 3 (to make up for the lesser amount of milk, and accommodate the fresh pumpkin texture). I’ve been unable to find accurate versions of my 1950’s edition FF recipes online, so I’ll post them later.

Apple pie, recipe by Martha. Variations: Locally grown, fresh picked Cortland apples were very juicy, added 1 Tbs tapioca and let the filling ingredients sit for 15 minutes before added to the pie shell, doubled the amount of spices.

Maple pecan pie, recipe from Martha as well. Variations: twice as many pecans. The original recipe only takes 1 1/4 cups and that’s too high a ratio of pecans to filling for my taste.

Pear and cranberry crisp with gingersnap crumble, recipe from Smitten Kitchen. Variations: added some local dried cranberries for texture and sweetness. This was a new dish for me this year and it got great reviews.

Oh, and there were cream puffs in honor of R’s birthday. Fannie Farmer’s recipe for the pastry, with creme anglais filling and ganach top from The Professional Chef.

cream puffs

Seaweed harvest

I went down to the cable beach this afternoon to harvest seaweed. The road was in pretty good shape for a gravel slope after all this rain.

Beach Rd Beach roadThe hay is in from the meadow, exposing the giant granite boulders that pop up here and there. The mountains in the distance are across Somes Sound on the other side of the island, in Acadia National Park.

Beach Rd meadow and CadillacHigh surf and strong winds from Hurricane Sandy pushed long barrows of seaweed onto the beach. I harvested six contractor bags of fresh kelp and bladderwort for the garden.

Seaweed harvestI also brought home six gallons of seawater and tomorrow I’m going to experiment with making my own sea salt. The surf close to shore was full of seaweed, but the water was warm on the incoming tide so walking around in squelchy shoes wasn’t too uncomfortable. My Merrills will be fine after a night of drying in front of the woodstove.

Drawing waterI prefer to harvest rose hips after the frost, but here it is early November and we’ve only had a few nights below 35F. This year I waited too long and the cedar waxwings and other fruit-eaters have beaten me to the wild roses. I may look in other places tomorrow, or perhaps add some late pears and apples for a mixed batch of jelly.

Rose hipsTomorrow – a post about boiling down a kettle of seawater!

 

Over time

Late in 2009 we cut down a dozen spruce trees and a lot of scrub in the front yard. Over the course of just a few days we went from a dark, 40′ tall forest screen to a flat front yard in full sun, dotted with huge stumps and torn wild raspberry bushes. There isn’t much soil here and dirt is expensive to truck in, so we made set out new garden beds with seaweed gathered from a local beach, 3 yards of biocompost, and a lot of cardboard and small deadwood in our first attempts at hugel-kultur. This photo was taken in early June 2010. The spruce tree stumps are clearly visible, as are all the rocks that were too big for me to collect in a wheelbarrow. The  boulder at top left looked even bigger after we took down all those trees.

garden before photo in 2010That year I started to read about “macro-culture”, sheet mulching and the practice of planting the entire garden to a purpose – including the paths and surrounding areas, not simply the beds. Over time the sheer plant density builds soil, holds moisture and insect life, and provides shelter for root systems. It is a popular system for marginal soils in desert areas and eroded hillsides, and I thought it might be helpful on our mix of never-cultivated rocks and clay. I stood in the same spot to take this photo yesterday and I think the idea might be working. . .

garden after macroculture

 

Raspberry season

 

August has arrived with crowds of houseguests (ours and other people’s), green beans, and 140 tour boats between now and October. And raspberries.

purple royalty raspberriesThere’s too much to do in the garden to be sitting around making a blog post, but sometimes the temptation to record the beautiful chaos of fruit and bloom is just too much. The purple royalty raspberries (above) are abundant and showy. The everblooming variety “Anne” is more subtle in taste and color, and the berries are hidden in the leaves.

Anne in handWe also grow Liberty, which is a plain red variety that taste exactly like red LifeSavers. I picked a mixed quart and made this jam tart from Smitten Kitchen with half jam, half fresh berries.  It was wonderful – pictures later!  Next up, blueberries. . .

Patriot blueberries

Neglect as a gardening technique

I went away for a week and evidently the garden enjoys a bit of “alone time”. Almost everything in this picture is edible (except the giant spruce tree).

the view

The oregano hedge (like everything) has enjoyed the alternating rain and sun and nearly doubled in size in seven days.

oregano

Celery (which I use only for delicious celery seed because I never get around to blanching it), rose campion, and valerian; tall plants growing rampant at the back of the garden.

celery and rose campion

Briarseed bread poppies, each blossom opening and falling apart in a day but leaving plenty of seeds behind.

poppy seeds

Golden marguerite, mallow, Joe Pye weed, in a garden row for the bees.

golden marguerite

And finally, at the edge of the garden, a wall of angelica.

angelica

In the gloaming

I have a post nearly finished about Sunday’s hive inspection, but I was out in the garden tonight and it was so beautiful that I took dozens of photos. The combination of a wet spring (groundwater tables are finally above drought levels) and my 2012 resolution not to mow or weed-whack where it wasn’t absolutely necessary has produced a really lush environment, especially for Maine.

The valerian jungle hasn’t quite spread to the entire yard, but it’s a near thing.

valarian fields forever

This is a very photogenic patch of Fedco’s “Freedom” lettuce mix.

Freedom!

The view down the south hill, with newly clipped withy and a row of elecampne in front of the bog garden.

withy in the gloaming

Red oakleaf lettuce growing through garlic and chives.

garlic forest

The view out back, into the alpine garden.

alpines

New horizons

Our local college campus has a community garden plot just down the road from my mother’s new digs.

COA garden

I applied for a plot in the depths of January and got the call to come down to work day and claim my space just last week.  Fifteen of us had a wonderful Saturday morning hauling old logs up the hill to the new vineyard site and cutting turf in under cloudy, windless skies.

COA gardeners

The site has some of the problems common to community gardens: a bad case of clubroot and invasive populations of comfrey, sowthistle,  bindweed, and witchgrass. Clubroot spreads easily on tools and shoes, especially in the damp spring weather, and rototilling has contributed to the spread of invasive perrenials, but current management has good protocols in place to keep these problems from spreading. Shoes and tools are rinsed in a bleach solution upon leaving the plot. I prefer to cut comfrey down to the ground because the leaves make an excellent mulch, but if you’re in the mood to pull them out each type of weed has a dedicated disposal area (the sowthistle has its own glass-topped “coffin”). The good news is that the soil is rich, deep and organic, and supplemented with abundant compost from the college cafeteria.

compost bins

Here’s what my 10′ x 10′ plot looks like now – I’ll be posting updates as the season progresses. Today the soil was too wet to start work without damaging its structure.

my plot

And here’s a photo of the raisin sour cream coffee cake I brought with me. You should always show up at work-day with high quality fuel.

Aunt Loris's coffee cake

Aunt Loris’s Raisin Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Cake
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick) at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups sour cream
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon table salt

Filling and Topping
2 cups raisins
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter or spray a 9-x-13-inch baking pan with Pam.

In a large bowl, cream butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together into a separate bowl. Mix in sour cream and then dry ingredients alternately into butter mixture until both are used up and the batter is smooth and very thick. Mix in 1 1/2 raisins, reserving 1/2 C of the raisins as a topping.  In a medium bowl, beat eggs whites until stiff, then fold into batter.

In a small dish, whisk together sugar and cinnamon for filling and/or topping.

Spread half the cake batter in the bottom of prepared pan. Sprinkle with half of cinnamon-sugar mixture. Dollop remaining cake batter over filling in spoonfuls. Use a rubber or offset spatula to gently spread it over the filling and smooth the top. Sprinkle batter with remaining cinnamon-sugar and remaining raisins.

Feel free to ignore this step and just sprinkle the entire portion of cinnamon and sugar on top of the cake with the remaining raisins. It will still be totally delicious.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, and it’s even better the next day.