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About Kristine Smith

About Kristine Smith

Award-winning author of the Jani Kilian series. Retired scientist. Owned by a dog.

around the house gardening seasons

Yes, we have no tomatoes

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There will be no raised bed garden this summer.

I first installed it back in 2009. The first few tomato crops were incredible–I had 6-7 plants, and spent most every weekend from early August through early fall making marinara or tomato casserole or salads with fresh basil (I grew that, too). When the chill weather came, I picked the greenies and stuck them in paper bags to ripen, and had fresh tomatoes into December.

I added compost to the soil and added fresh soil every so often, but for whatever reason–weather, poor choice in plants–the harvests fell off. Last summer’s was the worst–it was so cool that even the farmstands struggled. I managed a couple handfuls of cherry tomatoes and some mesclun. Part of me missed the buckets and buckets of harvest, but part of me didn’t care. It had stopped being fun.

I gave the plastic framing to the chimney repair guy, who had a friend who was planning a raised bed garden. That left the dirt, two squared-off mounds of tightly-packed topsoil. Today, I shoveled it into the wheelbarrow and dumped it around the plants near the deck. Over the next few weeks or months or however long it takes, I’ll trim the area with the edger and add more soil and mulch until it looks neat and proper. I have spirea and hibiscus growing there now, and would like to add a few more things. Some of the daffodils in the front yard are putting forth nothing but greenery, which means the bulbs have birthed bulblets that are sucking away the strength; I’ll separate those and stick some near the deck. Look for some shorter shrubs that flower. I am thinking about moving the birdbath garden to the sideyard outside the fence given that the seed that falls to the ground has attracted skunk for the last few years and Gaby has never met a skunk that she didn’t want to harass, the results of which you can guess. If I do that, I can move the astilbes that are growing there now to new homes near the deck….

That will be the outdoor project for the year. Get the backyard in shape.

food

Chicken stock

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I think this was my best batch yet. About 3.5 quarts of gelatinous, medium brown goodness.
I had been saving roasted chicken carcasses for over a year and sticking them in the deep freeze. Yesterday, I excavated them all, added the one from this past Sunday’s dinner, and split them up between the 8 qt stockpot and 5qt-I-think soup pot. Added a load of celery, carrots, onion, garlic, bay leaves. A bundle of dried rosemary, thyme, and sage. Salt and pepper. Covered with water and let everything simmer for about 5 hours. At that point, the stock looked and tasted a little thin, so I strained out the veggies and bones, combined the stocks in the 8-qt, and let it boil until the level dropped about an inch and the stock had turned from medium yellow to medium brown. After the pot cooled enough, I stuck it in the fridge.

This afternoon, I skimmed off the very thin layer of fat, which was minimal and mostly consisted of the olive oil I used to coat the skin pre-roasting. Portioned the stuff into 4 cup and 2 cup containers, and stuck them in the deep freeze. I’ll use some in a week or so when I mix up a batch of bean and sausage stew.

I picked a decent-size bowl of meat bits off the bones. The meat is dry, but it still has flavor–I’ll add mayo and mustard and herbs and spices and chopped celery for an okay chicken salad.

Earlier this week, I made a loaf of my old standby banana bread. It’s such a forgiving recipe that I monkey with it constantly. I now substitute whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose–this results in a pretty dense bread. This time, I used 1 cup w/w pastry flour and a half-cup wheat germ. Toasted unsweetened coconut and walnuts. Dug out candied orange peel that I found on some store’s post-holiday bargain bin, and added that. A tablespoon of chai spice and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Because of the sugar in the peel and chai spice, I cut back the sugar in the recipe from 1 cup to 3/4 cup.

This loaf came out a little lighter, and the orange flavor really comes through. Good bread.

food

Revision cookies

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It’s going to be a few weeks before my alter ego has to get to work on JERICHO revisions, but I went ahead and made a batch of revision cookies anyway. I like to have food squirreled away in preparation for the long march to –30–: soups, burgers of various types, maybe a meatloaf. Chicken breasts and portions of fish. And home-baked cookies. I’ve tried making do with packaged cookies, and they’re not the same–I don’t feel like I’m having an end-of-the-day treat when I have one of those. There are some bakery cookies that I love, especially the whole grain-dried cranberry and cowboy cookies from Whole Paycheck. But in that case, I need to make a choice between a month’s supply of cookies and paying the mortgage, and if I don’t keep up with the mortgage, I won’t have a place to write. So, I bake my own cookies.

Ina Garten has a couple of cookie recipes that have become standbys, namely her Oatmeal Raisin Pecan and her Ultimate Ginger. I had a boatload of old-fashioned oats, and I love oatmeal cookies, so I opted for the Oatmeal Raisin Pecan…with a few changes.

  1. I substituted dried Door County cherries for raisins. I love raisins, but I wanted to try something a little different.
  2. Instead of all-purpose flour, I used 1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour and 1/2 cup wheat germ. The w/w pastry flour worked well when I made a loaf of post-first draft banana bread a couple of weeks ago–apparently it’s made from the soft wheat berry, so it’s higher in carbs, with less gluten and protein. Because of those characteristics, I have found I am able to use it as a replacement for all-purpose, at least so far. I am guessing that if I tried to make pie crust or some types of bread, the story would be different. But I’ve found the cookie and banana bread recipes to be pretty forgiving, so I will stick with whole wheat flours when I make them.
  3. I added about a cup of unsweetened coconut to the pecans and toasted the whole mess together.
  4. Spices. In addition to the cinnamon, I added 2 tablespoons Spice House chai spice. It sounds like a lot. But the directions state to use 1 tablespoon in a 6 oz cup of tea, so I figured that 2 tablespoons wouldn’t overwhelm a recipe that can yield 3 dozen cookies.

Verdict? The flour and wheat germ worked great–the cookies are moist and have a little chew, which is how I like them. I don’t like really chewy, soft cookies. The cherries are good, but a little on the sweet side. Next time I will use raisins or good dried cranberries. As for the chai spice, it added nice depth. I might back off to a tablespoon or a tablespoon and a half next time, though, because it is strong. I will see if the flavor mellows over the next few days.

Oatmeal-dried cherry-coconut-pecan-chai cookies

Oatmeal-dried cherry-coconut-pecan-chai cookies

weather

Snow

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Yes, it did. 14.5 inches officially, according to the recording station nearest me. Turned out to be the fifth largest snowstorm in Chicago history, with an official O’Hare tally of 19.3 inches.

The wind pushed things around and made them pretty uneven. The roof looks like someone did a really messy job of frosting a cake with stiff frosting, thanks to the wind. Meanwhile, 7-8 inches in some parts of my driveway, well over a foot in others. A foot and a half or so up against the garage and of course, at the end of the driveway thanks to the snowplows. Behemoth chewed through it all, bless his 2-stage heart. I just wish he didn’t handle like a bus with flat tires.

After I finished the driveway, I dug out the front steps and the rear sidewalk. Part of the deck. This way, Herself has plenty of room to maneuver. She was the little supervisor through all this.

supervising

supervising

We are apparently supposed to get a few more inches Tuesday evening, which will be just dandy. Not sure when I will be able to take Gaby for a walk. The park district usually plows the bike trail, but I doubt that it’s a priority at the present time.

Stay safe and warm, if the storm hit you or is headed in your direction. If you avoided this brush with Old Man Winter, well, lucky you.