Violet Victuals

I wrote a post on violet vinegar a few weeks ago for Eat Local, but I’m stealing it for tonight since I had planned to write a blog post but ended up at the garden a lot longer than I had planned.  So, if you found me from Eat Local, I apologize for what basically amounts to a cross post.

Last year, I came across this blog post at  I loved it; I thought it was gorgeous and I really wanted to make some for myself.  However, it was later in the summer and I couldn’t find violets anywhere.  K tells me violets grow all summer, but I’m not even seeing them anymore nowadays. They seem to get quickly overshadowed by the big summer flowers.

So this Spring, I was prepared. I wanted to make some violet vinegar.  I quickly sought out the only place where I new I could get chemical free violets – my community garden!  The only problem I realized later – half the violets there are white! I couldn’t find enough violet violets, so I ended up mixing those in there.

I rinsed the violets well and picked off any stems or loose debris I could find. Then I loosely packed a small canning jar (half-pint for me, 8oz) with all the violets I had.

Once that was done, I poured rice vinegar in the jar, over the violets, to the brim.  I read elsewhere you can use cider vinegar, but it changes the color slightly.  I sealed up the jar, placed it in a sunny window, and left to steep for a week, turning over daily to make sure the violets got mixed in there well.

Such a pretty color!  After a week, I filtered out the vinegar and threw the used violets into a salad for lunch! Yum, and a great source of vitamin C! Due to the mixture of purple and white violets I had, the color of mine didn’t come out very deep, and faded to a crystal pink – but it’s still very pretty!  I think this would make a great hostess gift or housewarming present.

There’s also so many other things you can do with violets, from making violet jelly to candied violets! Even a violet simple syrup to make a refreshing spring or summer beverage!  If I find them again this summer (or definitely next Spring) I will be trying my hand at another violet-inspired edible.

Farmer’s Market This Week

It’s been awhile since I tallied our farmer’s market shopping, so here’s this week’s:

  • 1 quart of reduced fat milk, and one pint of chocolate milk from Battenkill Creamery
  • 1 sticky bun, 1 blueberry crumb muffin, and 1 loaf of honey whole wheat bread from Our Daily Bread
  • 1 bunch of asparagus from Buhrmaster Farm
  • 3lbs of Adirondack Red potatoes from Maynard Farm
  • 1.18lbs of flatiron steak from Sweet Tree Farm
  • 8oz. mozzarella cheese from R&G cheese

Oh and of course, this!  4 Matt’s Wild Cherry tomato plants, which we put in the garden last night.

Sunday night, we had the most delicious dinner of the steak, asparagus and new spring potatoes while sitting out on our deck watching over the Great Flats.  Last night was whole wheat pizza with the mozzarella cheese, spinach from the garden, and canned (not ours) tomato sauce.  Tonight, omelets with Coopers Ark eggs, mushrooms, cheese, spinach, and tomatoes.  Almost everything local, and it’s just going to get better in the coming months!

2010 Garden Plan

Found this cool website that let me pictorially draw out my garden plan for this year – mostly to scale. It’s actually 5 feet short, but eh, close enough!

To see the entire garden plan (as this is only a portion) click HERE.

The big planting is done!  My parents came up on Saturday, specifically to help with the garden, and they were great.  My mom helped weed and my dad helped K plant, and between the four of us, we got so much done.  Then, last night, K and I went back to do most of the rest of the planting.  With the exception of the chard, ground cherries, tomatillos, and a few more tomato plants, it’s done!

This week is brutally hot, so we need to take care to water EVERY single day.  Even in just one day, the ground is parched. And tomorrow will be 92F!  (Wasn’t it just below 30 a couple weeks ago?)

Anyway, this website is pretty cool. I’ll be able to take notes regarding our crops, total our harvest, and do some planning for next year.  I think it’ll be very helpful, and beats the 10,000 attempts at manually sketching out my garden.  At 55x19ft, I just didn’t have graph paper big enough!

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomahto

Our last frost date is coming up and K and I will be doing the big planting this weekend!  To prepare, we hit the co-op and farmer’s markets something fierce and walked a way with a tad too many seedlings.  But we have a big garden to fill…and I couldn’t help it!

To begin with…tomatoes.  I started tomatoes in my garage under lights at the end of March, and they haven’t turned out too well.  I’m not sure why.

Many of the cells never grew at all, and those that have are pretty puny, don’t you think? Nothing like the tomato plants we bought at the farmer’s market.

Here’s the market pic of plants:

Much bushier, right?  For tomatoes, we only picked heirloom. First I got some Gilbertie paste tomato plants to supplement the Amish paste tomatoes  I was TRYING to grow.  These are great for making sauce.  Here’s what they look will like:

The second kind we bought are called Striped Germans, that are very sweet tomatoes, perfect for adding to sauce or making preserves.

Next, we picked up some Cherokee Purple tomatoes. These are also supposedly very sweet, similar to Brandywines.

And finally I picked up one Isis Candy Cherry Tomato plant. These fruits only get to be about 1 1/2″ to provide the perfect size for my salads!

Last year we started with 12 tomato plants, but ended up with 11 after transplanting.  We now have 13, and you’d think that’s enough, right?

Of course not! Double the plot this year means double the tomatoes!  Ok, not really, because boy did I complain on this blog last year how SICK of tomatoes I got by the end of the summer.  Clearly, I’ve already forgotten.  I placed a hold on 4 more plants – Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomato.  It’s supposed to be a cherry but is also called a currant tomato. I’d never even heard of currant tomatoes till last week! But I knew I had to get them.  These will only grow to 3/4″ of an inch – they are so tiny.

So, by the end of this weekend, we will have 17 tomato plants that we bought, plus a bunch more that we tried to grow. I really didn’t know how well the ones I grew myself would do so I decided buying plenty of others would make everything ok.  I guess we’ll see!

The Greening of the Garden

With spring in full swing and warm weather once again heading our way, K and I got back into the garden this weekend. The last couple of weeks had been absolutely bitter, with the nights getting below 30. I was really concerned with how our garden had fared.

With a last frost date in our area of May 24th, we had taken care not to plant anything in the garden yet that couldn’t make it through cool nights, but I still thought below 30F was pushing it.  Still, the spinach, peas, carrots, onions and leeks are all supposed to be planted as soon as the ground can be worked, which in our area is late March/early April.  Surely the weather then gets below 30, so I hoped it would be ok.

And it was!  Everything has come through with flying colors and the peas even are going gangbusters!

Peas are climbing our homemade trellises at an alarming rate.  They’re now almost a foot tall already.

The “renegade” lettuce from last year is nearly harvestable already.  Salad anyone?

“Renegade” Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce.  This lettuce is also being found randomly around the garden.  It seems to like hanging out with the leeks most of all.

Look at all the green baby strawberries we have! Our plants are doing much better this year than last.  Let’s hope the birds don’t get to them before we do.

The advice that says give the plants a year to mature (pick off all their flowers before they produce) is definitely sound.  I think they would have done better had we done that last year.  Oh well, you live, you learn.

Our heirloom spinach that was grown in the cold frame has already gone to seed, as seen here. I kept waiting for it to get bigger, but I keep forgetting that it is heirloom and won’t get as big as “conventional” lettuce. Oh well, I picked the leaves and have other spinach growing from seed throughout the garden. I wanted a ton this year, but so far am not seeing the results.

The garlic we planted last fall is looking thick and green. It’s so much bigger than the garlic we transplanted last Spring from Terri’s garden (and picked in August).  I can’t wait to see how this does.  We also keep finding random garlic around our plot. Apparently some bulbs moved around during the winter?  Weird.

The onions and leeks are solidly set. I quickly counted 60+ onions, so it looks like most of them made it past the initial planting.

Our four rows of carrots.  This is how much we had planted last season, and they lasted through mid winter for us! However, this time, we plan on thinning them more so we get larger carrots.  We’re not sure when the best time is to thin them, but we’ll give it a few more weeks.

So after checking out the veggies, K and I headed to Home Depot to rent the smallest rototiller ourselves to turn over the double plot we have.  Turning over 1000 square feet by hand is a huge pain the butt, and even though K did probably 400-500 of it himself, it looked mostly daunting.  The CDCG will do it for us, but not until almost mid-June, and we want to plant tomatoes and everything else next week, so the rototilling had to get done.

We found this baby and rented it for 4 hours from HD for $25.  And even doing it by machine, it was still hard work. I tilled about half a row myself before giving it up and K did the rest of it.  Even though it was hard, he still said it was so worth$25 to not have to do the whole thing by hand.

We also finally mowed under the winter rye that we planted as a cover crop last fall.  The rye shot up about a foot before K cut it down, providing “green manure” – adding organic matter which worms and organisms eat and turn into nutrients for the soil.

The big planting is next weekend!

Saying Goodbye to Thacher Park

I grew up in this state, the State of New York, and felt really proud for it much of my life. But the latest antics of our unelected governor (brought to us in the wake of the Spitzer scandal) and the state legislature, who is now more than a month and a half late in putting together a budget, has really made me disappointed in it.

There are a lot of hardships being felt due to the late budget.  Postponed tax returns, school payments being pushed out, possible furloughs for state workers; all of this is really shameful and due to the ineptitude of a few people to work together to get a budget done.  But one of the worst things, in my opinion, is the shuttering of dozens of state parks.

I mean, summer is coming up, the height of the season to get out of the “city,” away from the fumes and noise, and a cheap excursion for some people.  This year, there will be no barbecues, no hikes along the escarpment, no Indian Ladder Trail.

Look at some of these photos I look last year in the fall.  How gorgeous is this place?

Absolutely gorgeous.

Today was the final day of the park being open.  It was sunny and blue and breezy, and K and I had to take one final walk in it.  The escarpment was PACKED, a protest and state troopers on one side, and people visiting for the same reasons as my husband and I on the other. If I’d had my choice, I’d have done the Indian Ladder trail, but it’s closed until Memorial Day normally (so in this instance, it will not open again) and I couldn’t.

I really thought we’d be seeing people every few feet on the trails, so K and I headed to the inland trails and hit up the red one, a 1.5 mile easy loop with some additions to it, to make it a bit more than 2 miles total. I’d never done this trail, but it hit the spot for a beautiful, easy day.

A pictorial of our hike today:


K on his way down the waterfall

K down in the ravine

Note to my state representatives:  I’m really mad at you, and I plan to take it out on you in November.

Never-ending Quilting

Last week, my friend Cynthia from It All Changes came over from her “smack in the middle of nowhere, Massachussetts” home to help put the finishing touches on my “fake” quilt.  Or so she thought.  Unfortunately for her, I had some other plans up my sleeve as well.  They included walking to the mall to A) get some exercise in and B) to buy a new suit for a job-related activity I had the next day.  I felt bad that I dragged her along for that, but it needed to get done and I’d run out of time.  But don’t worry, Cynthia, my husband thanks you for going, because that means he didn’t have to! 🙂

Anyway, when we got back from the mall, we got back to work on the quilt.  Unfortunately for Cynthia again, I was like a little child who’d forgotten to do her homework when I realized I had forgotten to trim the batting and material where needed, as well as pin the binding to the quilt.  Oops! But once again, she was very patient with me while I did both.

Here’s Cynthia’s bag that she bought in New Hampshire that made her think of me.  Sure, I don’t own a farm (or heck, even any land) but I seem like a farmer girl to someone!  She brought it all full of sewing supplies for finishing my quilt and we didn’t use one. 😦

Unfortunately ONCE AGAIN, my old, hand-me-down sewing machine was acting up that day, and Cynthia spent a bit of time trying to figure out what was making it jam.

Cynthia hard at work fixing the machine

Still not sure what’s wrong with it…but it’s now well oiled!

After the binding was sewn to one side, she taught me how to pin the other side to make the complete quilt.  I know she’s going to kill me for this, but I think I’ve forgotten already.  Seriously, I am very slow when it comes to tasks like this, and require lots of repetition.

Cynthia showing me how pin the other side

So here, for the most part, (with the exception of the other side binding, is my “fake” quilt.  I call it that because until recently, I thought quilting was just sewing LARGE pieces of cloth together. I didn’t realize the intricacies that can go into ONE quilt block, as seen here:

Meadow in bloom quilt block

Fake quilt

Despite the fact that it’s not pretty, it is warm! I’ve already pulled it out on a cool day (yes, pins stuck in there and all, since it isn’t finished) and draped it over me.  It will definitely come in hand next winter.

The quilt’s still not done, but I think self consciously I may have sabatoged my progress just to give Cynthia another reason to come over another week.  I’m going to try to keep up on my homework this time!

Last Month of the Meat CSA

Our three month CSA from 8 O’clock Ranch is now complete, and that looks to be the end of our foray into a meat CSA.  At least for now.

This month, the meat was kept a bit more frozen, but I think it may have had more to do with the weather than anything else.  Given last month’s defrosting, we just don’t want to take the chance in June, July and August.

Another issue is that we’re seeing some items repeated already (in one three month cycle).  All three months we’ve had ground beef, pork shoulder steak, and two months we’ve had ground lamb and lambchops.  For the price ($210 for 10lbs/month for three months) we’d like a little more variety.

This month, the CSA included:

  • 1lb beef frankfurters
  • 1lb ground beef
  • 1lb ground lamb
  • 2.9lbs leg of lamb
  • 1.04lb beef rib steak
  • .96lb lambchops
  • 1lb pork stew meat
  • 1.16 pork shoulder steak

Once again, we’re stuck trying to have to figure out how we’re going to share the leg of lamb with our friends.  I don’t think it’s going to happen.  I suggested to K asking them if they wanted us to buy them out, but they’re looking forward to the franks and ground lamb.  Oh well.  We’ll definitely eat for a week with the leg o’ lamb!

No farmer’s market this week for us as we were downstate all weekend. I haven’t even seen the garden in over a week now!

Grow grow grow!

Such a busy weekend last weekend, that I didn’t even get a picture of the farmer’s market – now outdoors until November!  Yay! It is so fantastic seeing so many people milling around City Hall, more and more vendors every Sunday, filling the streets. I love it!

The garden is coming along so nicely already. We got such a head start this spring, much more so than our first spring gardening last year. And yet, I know we could have done better, and we will in future years.

Our cold frame spinach (no longer in the cold frame) is growing in leaps and bounds. If this keeps up, we’ll be able to harvest spinach pretty soon!  Interestingly, the spinach we planted weeks ago from seed has barely grown. I planted yet another row of spinach behind the cold frame spinach last week. It would be nice to get spinach throughout the summer.

We finally transplanted our broccoli, which were doing quite well grown from seed. I did think they would be a little bigger before we transplanted, but that didn’t happen.  First time starting broccoli though, so I guess we’ll see how it turns out.

In the garden:

We only planted one row of lettuce this year and there will be NO MORE ever planted! The lettuce that went to seed in the garden last year has spread everywhere, like weeds! And it keeps growing and growing…I just don’t have the heart to pull it like a weed, so I guess we’ll just eat it. Until we’re sick of it. Like last year.

The peas have also been growing and growing.  Stakes are already needed. I am SO EXCITED about these, especially the purple podded peas!

Grow peas, grow!

And finally the strawberries are in FULL bloom.  They weren’t this way until June last year, so hopefully we’ll get a good crop of strawberries (and hopefully the birds won’t eat them all).

The E-mail

As K and I go along in our  “trying to stay close to basics” kind of lives, we’ve taken some things for granted.  One, that people we interact with in this new-found community we’ve become a part of have motives as pure as ours.  Two, that the farmers, who are charging a premium for their “crop” (whether it’s produce or meat), are fully upfront with their wares – that they don’t use genetically modified feed, and that while they may not be certified organic, they make their best efforts to practice as such as much as possible. Three, that those farmers are fully informed regarding what they are selling, and able to answer any and all questions regarding such.

As such, imagine our surprise, and outright dismay, upon receiving this email from our egg and chicken farmer.

From: “Phil Metzger”
Date: May 1, 2010 11:19:40 EDT
To: K
Subject: [Coopers Ark Fans] Cooper’s Ark Farm

Dear Friends,

If you have the time, please read.

Last year, you might remember a rabid skunk getting into the processing plant and “possibly” contaminating a chicken. We had to destroy 100 birds rather than take the chance of a problem. The fact that we carry over $3 million dollars in insurance never entered the picture.

On Thursday, April 28th, I brought our first 60+ birds for processing.   Approximately 40 birds were to stay whole, while the rest were parted out. When I picked them up Thursday evening, I was informed of a greenish color in a piece of meat, as well as one bad bird. He showed me the bad bird, and told me he removed the tinted meat from another.  Neither Jim Eklund (processor) or myself have ever seen this before. I did not sleep very well Thursday night worrying about the “what if’s”. On Friday morning I called Leon Moyer from Moyer’s Chicks – most of our broiler chicks and all of our pullets come from
Moyer’s.  ( He returned my call later and confirmed “Green Muscle Disease”. One of the causes is from a bird flying. Please don’t laugh.

Today’s broilers are bred for faster growth and larger breasts. They need a quiet, not too well lit, little space environment. Raising them outdoors presents a different set of growing practices/problems.

Today at noon, I’ll be bringing the whole birds back to Stanford to have them parted out. Whether there is or isn’t any other traces of Green Muscle Disease, both Jim and I feel it is in the best interest of
everyone concerned to proceed in this manner.

I’ll be available at the market Sunday if there are any questions.

I’ll be having chicken tonight.

Phil Metzger
Coopers Ark Farm

I am very sorry if this presents an inconvenience to anyone.


Yea, we had questions.  The first being, once I looked at the website listed above, I felt a little disgusted.  This huge …factory (there’s no other word for it) puts out genetically modified breeds, not much better than a factory farm.  While our chicken and eggs are definitely raised free-range, their source is not something we want to support.

Second, it appears that only hybrid birds get this disease, not heirloom or what they call heritage breed birds.  We never asked what kind of birds we’ve been getting. Totally our fault, but I wish that was something Coopers Ark had shared with us previously.  Their pictures and such (we haven’t been to the farm yet, due to my medical issues last year, but were planning on it this year) quite clearly demonstrated the conditions they’re kept in (wonderful, ample space to move around – definitely free range) and we just automatically assumed the bird breeds themselves were equally as good.  Well, you know about that assuming thing.

Phil seemed sober at the market today, no doubt from all the questions he was probably fielding.  K was rather hard on him, I thought.  For one thing, he had been completely open about the whole situation. He didn’t have to say a word.  He could have said there was a problem at the processor and they didn’t get any chicken or something.

Second of all, Phil made a really great point to K’s questioning.  Organic feed costs $750/ton (he pays $250 a ton for whatever he gets).  That organic feed at $750/ton STILL includes GMO corn.  What the heck? You just can’t win.  AND, the amount of money he would have to charge to use that feed (plus heritage breeds) would certainly be beyond anything we would pay.  We’re into this lifestyle, but we’re still reasonable people.

So really, what is he to do?  He buys the chickens from this place, he raises them well, (he once again told us to come out to the farm) and this is what happens.  I think there is something wrong with his business model, but I’m not sure how I would fix it.

And in the meantime, we feel like we’ve lost a bit of my innocence regarding all of this, as well as a bit of our naivete.  No longer can we hide our heads in the sand; we really need to be proactive with our questions, with our farm field trips (THIS SUMMER), and with our dollars.  That’s the whole point of why we do what we do.  No one’s perfect, but we can strive to be better.

Still don’t know if we’ll buy chicken from him next week though.  But if not, what would be any better?  Do we really think organic chicken sold in the store isn’t from hybrid birds? Pfft.  At least with him we know how they were treated.  Sigh…it’s really sad in a way.  Progress isn’t always progress.