Garden 2014

Oh boy, would ya just look at that mess?

A few months ago we had to take out three of my garden beds so that a truck could drive over them in order to get to our well house to replace our pump.

There is no recovering from being run over. What REALLY screwed me is that I got all lazy with not mulching and…well…WEEDS. Jefe’s been wanting to put a yurt or something over on that plot for his man-cave escape and I’ve been all like “No!! That’s my garden!” but now I’m all like “Dude. Yurt On.”

The issue is that I just cannot bring myself to even BEGIN to think about shoveling and wheel barreling more soil to replace those beds. It was SO hard the first time. Even though Jefe did a good portion of the work. I guess (and this is tough for me to admit) that section of the yard was probably not the best location for the garden. SIGH. Don’t tell anyone I admitted that though, okay? That’s just between us.

Once I get some new mulch put down it will look a lot better. I decided that I am going to plant the long-term-ish staple-type things like potatoes, onions, garlic, and winter squash over in this section of the yard. I’m also toying around with the idea of growing some stuff in straw bales, tomatoes in particular.

I read somewhere once that your kitchen garden should be in a location that is close to your kitchen. (!) This is especially true for lazy people such as myself. So…with that in mind, I decided that most of the garden this year will be planted in what started out as my garden before I decided to move the garden.

Follow that?

The bonus is that the beds are already filled with soil and there is actually workable dirt in the areas that don’t have raised beds. I can dig a hole and plant something in it. I can’t do that over in the other (south) garden, as there is about a two foot layer of large pebbles/river stone which makes digging completely impossible, hence the raised beds.

Another thing I decided to do differently this year was not to start all of the vegetables under lights. This is mainly because our trip to Paris would have totally messed with that endeavor AND I lost the use of one of my closets in a spare bedroom. I purchased some starts this past weekend and am kicking the garden off with those.

I AM going to start some seeds indoors, mainly things that I can’t find at the Farmer’s Market. Like Celeriac.

In other yard news, I am meeting with a landscape designer today to have a discussion about hot mess that is the front yard.

I need some professional advice as this part of the yard is highly visible and I feel like I need help in figuring out how to deal with all the issues (like the septic tank!) I’m excited to see what she’ll come up with!

April 18. 2014 by Erica
Categories: Garden | Leave a comment

Macarons: What I Learned in Class



While we were in Paris I took a class on a Sunday morning at the Cooking with Class cooking school. The class was awesome. The chef, Constance, was charming and funny and a wonderful teacher.

I was most interested in seeing the technique in macaron making called the “macaronage”. It is the process of combining the almond meal/powdered sugar/ liquid egg whites with the whipped egg whites. This step has been shrouded in mystery for me as some recipes call for an exact number of strokes and often tell you that you know you are done when the mixture is like “magma”. That is very specific and somewhat vague at the same time. I’ve watched a million YouTube videos and looked at tutorials for this step but there is nothing like seeing it in person.

It wasn’t actually that big of deal. No secrets or specific strokes. The main thing I got out of it was that I have been over mixing my batter and knocking too much air out of it. It was just one of those things that I had to see for myself.

I decided that (once I got over my cold) I needed to make a match of shells as soon as possible in order to see if what I learned in class actually made a difference in my home kitchen. I am happy to report that I got an almost 100% shell success rate, which is awesome. I think I need to play around with the cooking time but I am really pleased.

Three out of a hundred…not bad! These came from the center of the baking sheet and because of the way my oven works, the center doesn’t get as hot as the edges, so the macarons in the middle of the baking sheet tend to stick. During the cooking class, Constance showed us how to make a jam for the macarons. She used frozen blackberries, sugar and dumped in a little powdered pectin. It was the easiest thing the world. We tested for doneness by dropping little blobs on to a plate and checking to see if they were “jammy” and jewel-like. Once it was done, the mixture was dumped out onto a plate, a piece of plastic wrap went on top and into the fridge it went. Easy. Did I mention it was easy?

I wanted to make a seasonal flavor and decided that I would try rhubarb. I found a recipe for a Rhubarb Beer Jam, got the supplies, and macerated the fruit with the beer and sugar overnight per the recipe’s instructions and was planning on using the same technique that we did in class.

The too-long-don’t-read version of my jam is this: it didn’t work. I don’t know what the heck I did or didn’t do…perhaps I didn’t cook it long enough? Too much liquid with the beer added? I don’t know. I only know that it did not jam and the rhubarb was starting to scorch. It turned out more like a fruit puree.

I tried to salvage the mess by mixing a little of the not-jam with some cream cheese. I filled a few shells and let them sit overnight as is required. I sort of knew in my gut that the filling wasn’t going to work, and I now understand why macaron fillings are usually buttercreams or ganaches. The point of letting the macarons sit overnight is so that the shells absorb what little moisture is in the filling, which softens them slightly and allows the flavors to meld. If the filling is too moist, you will end up with soggy macarons. Like these:

So. How do I make this work? I still have half my batch of shells and about a cup and a half of the not-jam. Here are my options:

  • I found a recipe for a rhubarb buttercream, which uses egg yolks. I have a million of these in the freezer so this looks interesting.
  • Using white chocolate and folding in the rhubarb to make a flavored ganache. I think I would also like to try to find some Rhubarb bitters to add to this as well. The only issue with this filling is that it might be too sweet for my taste.
  • Thickening rhubarb by adding gelatin or agar agar.

I’m thinking the buttercream. I’ll let you know how it goes. I almost forgot to mention the fact that I created my own colored sanding sugar by adding the gel coloring to some turbinado sugar. It worked like a charm!

April 15. 2014 by Erica
Categories: Macaron | Leave a comment

Bonjour!

Hello! How have you been? I hope all is well in your land! I am currently hacking my lungs out on the couch with a cold I caught on the plane back from our AWESOME trip from Paris. Poor Jefe was sick the entire trip and I was expecting to succumb sooner than I did.

I felt like the past two months my life was consumed with preparing and researching for the trip. Now that it’s over I feel like I can get on with my regularly scheduled program: Preparing for my next trip to Paris!

Just kidding. Sorta. I’ve got a ton of things I want to get done, now that I can focus. Things like Sewing! and Gardening! and Cooking! and Projects!

I plan on sharing all the fun details of our trip with you but for now I’ll leave you with my covert attempt to capture some adorable pugs that were coming our way while we were walking down a Parisian street. I was trying to be all sly and not alarm the poor lady who was walking them. I don’t think it worked judging by the look she gave me. What can I say? I have a soft spot for pugs.

April 09. 2014 by Erica
Categories: Paris, Travel | 1 comment

Macarons – The Nut Edition

I decided that I am going to try to aim for at least one batch of Macarons a month this year. I was brainstorming flavors, trying to think of something that would fit for January and inspiration struck while I was at Trader Joes buying groceries. I saw that they started carrying cashew meal, which got me wondering what the flavor difference would be from regular old almond.

I’ll go ahead and confess that I am harboring a secret desire to sell macarons. Perhaps a macaron truck or a stall at the Farmer’s Market. I don’t know. It seems like A LOT of work and food service is super foreign to me, so it stays bubbling around in my head. That stupid Eat St. show on The Cooking Channel makes it look so easy.

I recently discovered that macaron shells freeze AMAZINGLY well, so over the past two weeks I’ve made four batches of shells: cashew, pistachio, pecan and almond.

Top down: Pecan, pistachio, cashew and almond

They’re filled with a basic vanilla swiss buttercream which I cut with some creme fraiche to add a little tartness.

You can definitely taste the difference. I toasted the pecans, and that REALLY brought out the flavor, but the shells are super fragile. The pistachios are good as well, but holy cow. Aside from being expensive, they are a bugger to shell.I can see why the professionals stick to a paste in the filling.

And I am STILL having the air pockets. I think that I am under folding during the “macarronage” stage, leaving too much air in the batter. I think.

February 02. 2014 by Erica
Categories: Macaron | Leave a comment

Queen Bee Scarf

There it is. I think it’s done. The skinny black border around the very edge will be rolled and stitched. Do you see the bee? Hint: Not the ones in the corners. Overall I am quite pleased if I do say so myself. And here’s where crazy artistic anxiety comes in to play: I’m afraid to get it printed! Isn’t that lame? I’m afraid it won’t look as good. AND THEN WHAT WILL I DO??

Silly.

I also have the next scarf almost done. Here’s a peek:

I still don’t know what to do with the border. A wave motif maybe? What do you think? I also tried putting the little ships in the corner boxes, but I didn’t like it. I might try it again, or I might not even have corner boxes, although I like the idea of having continuity with these initial scarves.

I’ll keep at it.

January 18. 2014 by Erica
Categories: Tessellation, Uncategorized, Work In Progress | 4 comments

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