Monday, March 10, 2014

Infiltrating the Underground Blueberry Market

I'm a planner, and, more often than not, a tedious, painfully deliberate one. Each spring, my various planting and gardening areas become the target of my planning powers, and of my aspirations, hopes, dreams and wishes. I carefully consider each catalog, each variety, each seed--and I wait to see what germinates.

However, this season, my son and I quickly became obsessed with getting blueberry bushes. Once we discussed it, we decided immediately: we MUST have blueberry bushes. This past weekend, I had been researching what I thought might be some good mail order options online when...

Serendipitously, on Sunday, just prior to heading out to do some browsing at the local garden centers, and trying to sufficiently caffeinate myself from the switch to DST, I saw a Facebook post from a local enough blueberry farm with which I was vaguely familiar (in the Blueberry Capitol of the World, Hammonton, NJ!). This farm was selling $10 plants, but not just any plants: 4-foot, 3-year old, organic, non-GMO plants! In fact, they posted that they were open for business from 1-6 p.m. 

So, of course, we drove to DiMeo Farms in Hammonton, NJ to get four of the storied shrubs, hoping the deal wasn't too good to be true.

To be honest, many pieces of the process aroused suspicion. There were a lot of rules, too many steps, conflicting information that seemed...coded. Subterfuge (likely accidental) abounded. 
Thankfully, there were also a lot of blueberry bushes. 

After trying to decode the discrepancies between the open invitation to the farm posted on FB and the very specific directions to call the farm and "make an appointment" detailed on their website, I did call ahead (I tend to be overly conscientious). But, I got no answer. I decided to just leave a message saying that I saw their post on FB and to call me if there was any problem with us just showing up. 

I guess there wasn't a problem...
 We arrived at the farm and pulled in to the driveway, where we saw only a single truck (likely the farmer's own), parked near what is likely the owner's very lovely home, which was surrounded by blueberry plants. Somehow the only farmer working spotted us from across the fields and came hurrying over, and looked like he was making a cell phone call...the eagle has landed?

 This is not the farmer.

They do have a lot of blueberry bushes at DiMeo!

The farmer came over, directed us to park in a very specific space which he practically measured out with his precise gesticulations, and asked us how many plants we'd like. Then he went deep into the fields to choose them (rather than just grabbing four containers from the front) and put them in our car. He then told us "The Boss" was coming so we waited a bit, maybe five minutes. I asked the farmer if we could just pay him and be on our way and he laughed :-) Hmm. He went back to work. "The Boss" eventually came out. He was polite but guarded, and not particularly forthcoming with blueberry bush advice or interesting anecdotes. He gave us a handout on how to take care of the plants. I paid him (cash, of course, and, no receipt) and we (finally) made off with our plants. 

Score? Something...more?

Maybe I've been watching too much True Detective. Or, maybe I'm just thinking about that Bob's Burgers episode where the kids work at the "blueberry farm" for a summer. Hmm.


                                                       Here are our 4 plants, and a rainbow                                                        (No, Cohle, you are not hallucinating the rainbow.)


Apparently, I got a mix of organic Duke and Bluecrop blueberry varieties.

DiMeo has plenty of $10 blueberry plants right now, so if you are interested, give them a call to "schedule an appointment," or hit up their FB page to which they seem very responsive. 
Let me know if you need back up...


After stashing our blueberries, we took a side road to investigate this suspicious lake:

 

Can't decide where to plant the blueberries...I have two options, both of which have potential blueberry predators. Gonna have to choose between the pee-ers and flyers or the climbers and eaters. 

Once the blueberry issue is settled, I guess I'll have to start catchin' again.

Meantime, check out my spring planning post from last year, which includes links to past gardening adventures. 

Happy Spring!


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Restorative River Walks

Well, I've had a lot of unwanted "excitement" here in the past few months. LSS (long story short) I've had kidney and related problems on and off since April that have been worsening since November, including a week long kidney "event" over Christmas vacation, four rounds of antibiotics (since July after 20+ years without any) and advocacy turned argument with the medical system. And, my tooth is still not resolved after five months of trying to fix it.

Now, I have a cold from my son's school.

It's just not going well.

But, I've been trying to get out and walk everyday along Cooper River and Hopkins Pond to keep myself active, regardless of how I'm feeling. That has been wonderful.

Here are some pictures:


      
               The Duckery.                                 Slippery Boot Prints                                                                                                                                                    Driveway Bunny 

                                   


                                                                          Woodland Bunnies!









There are a few male kingfishers who have overwintered and assertively guard their river territory, flying furiously back and forth and chattering their raucous chatter! 

(If you like you can read more about the Cooper River Watchable Wildlife Walk, the map there doesn't seem to include the portion in Haddonfield and Cherry Hill that I walk, but that's OK!).

Frozen seagull tracks or cross country ski pole imprints? :-)

Hard to know...



Hopkins Pond after the fresh snow we got on Tuesday night.

BTW, if you like these and want to see more, I'm mostly on Instagram these days, posting a pic or two a day from my walks, when I can take them.

Have a peaceful day!


Friday, December 13, 2013

DIY Easy Milk Carton Gingerbread House

Do you wish you could make an adorable gingerbread house but blanch at the prospect of the baking, cutting and assembling before *finally* getting to decorate?

Yes? Me, too. Here, then, is an adorable "gingerbread" house that you can put together without too much fuss. It's super easy and baking is not required!

Here's my son's house, he made the whole thing himself!

OK, so here's what you need:

Graham crackers or any kind of cookie or cracker, any kind of cardboard pint container, a prepared icing like Betty Crocker's (all of the vanilla flavors are vegan that I have seen and used), a paper plate or piece of flat cardboard,an off-set spatula or butter knife and two quart sized plastic ziplock bags and a rubber band (not pictured).

Note: The graham cracker brands I buy contain honey, but have no other animal ingredients. Obviously, use whatever you are comfortable with. Anything will work here, just cover the pint container with it! Here is a nice list of  "accidentally vegan" cookies or crackers for your browsing pleasure.

Now, we'll make the house:


1. Cut off the spout of the milk carton to make that side of the roof flat. I used kitchen scissors, it's easier than you think!

2. Measure up the graham crackers to fit the sides and roof of the carton. Break or cut them with a knife to fit. Using the off-set spatula or a butter knife, coat the backs of the cracker pieces with icing and stick them on the flat surfaces of the carton (just not the bottom). 
The pieces will be quite moveable, but don't worry. 
Let your house dry overnight. The crackers will dry rock solid onto the house.

If you are near a Trader Joe's, pick up both their Cinnamon Grahams (note: they do contain honey, but no other animal ingredients) and the Organic Soy Creamer (which is vegan). 
The Cinnamon Grahams fit *perfectly* on the TJ's organic soy creamer pint container!
You can make a perfect little gingerbread cabin with the Cinnamon Grahams!
I'm sure other brands have similar proportions, check your store.

After your house dries overnight, you are ready to decorate.

Prepare a plastic "pastry bag" for your icing.

Cuff a zipper freezer bag (turn the top of the bag down so you don't get icing into the zipper part). Fill with about a cup (or a bit more if you'll be doing a lot of decorating) of the icing. Using the bag, push/squeeze the icing down into the corner of the bag. Squeeze the air out and zip the bag shut.Now, put this bag into a second freezer bag and secure with a rubber band as shown (this helps to keep the icing from squishing up the bag rather than down into the cut tip and is helpful if letting a child do the piping). The second bag is insurance against the seams of the bag breaking during piping. Now, snip the corner of the bag to create an opening to pipe out the icing (about 1/8 and 1/4 inch opening). Done! (You can just put the whole bag into the fridge to store it if you don't use it all in one sitting).

Gather some candy to do the decorating:
Warning: Some items pictured are not vegan (but many are!)

The (mostly) vegan selection! (I think there are some caramels in that mixed candy bag).
Everything else is vegan or vegan *enough* for me. If you like, here's a huge list of accidentally vegan candies, cookies and crackers for your decorating pleasure!

Ice Away! Fill in all the spots that the crackers didn't with icing. Remember that this type of icing is *very* soft but will still dry very hard. 

We did our house in stages.

First, he put his candy on.

Then filled it in with icing. We let that dry overnight.

Then we attached the house to the paper plate, added a path and a "woodpile." 
We still may do some more work on it.

Here's our house from last year:
Note the pretzel "welcome mat" and the candy cane wrought iron railings.

I recommend you secure the house to a paper plate (just use some icing to glue it down) or to a piece of cardboard so you can landscape the area around the house!

If you have a tall carton (a quart carton), you can make a gingerbread apartment building, clock tower or put it together with the pint containers for a church, castle or other larger building. I have yet to do that (but aim to!).

We still have to decorate the "log cabin" style house.

This style of house is also great for house decorating parties since they are easy and can be prepped ahead.

Happy Decorating!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Trader Joe's Turkey-Less Stuffed Roast to the Rescue!

So, a week ago I made a desperate Trader Joe's run in search of their vegan vanilla ice cream (which is amazing) and which they had been sold out of for the first two weeks of November (my poor husband was the victim on those runs).

THIS TIME I CALLED AHEAD.

Peter answered and emphatically encouraged me to put all three quarts of the remaining ice cream on hold, for pick up asap.

I can follow directions.

I like the new spelling of my name.


I secured the product in triplicate! 

And, previous, to this trip, while recently perusing Trader Joe's (super handy and fun) Vegan Product List, I noticed they offered a *new* *vegan* *Thanksgiving/Holiday* *roast.* OH YES THEY DO. I thought in all caps: THERE'S ABSOLUTELY NO WAY ON EARTH THEY WILL ALSO HAVE THE VEGAN STUFFED HOLIDAY ROAST IN STOCK THE WEEK BEFORE THANKSGIVING. 
(The ice cream debacle may have made me a little hypervigilant.)

BUT THEY DID.
 LOOK! THERE SHE IS! Note the cute "V" (lower left).
I also procured a jarred Cranberry Sauce so I wouldn't have to make one.

 And I needed a little more of the delicious and reasonably priced 10-year Balsamic Vinegar (of Modena). That's the only kind you should buy.

And I was buggered that my camera was behaving strangely during this shoot. I finally figured out (afterwards and much too late, of course) that it was still set to manual (I had been playing with it days before and left it in the manual setting). That explains the iso of 3200 in this shot. Big duh. Sorry guys!

Anyway, back to our story. So, yes, the ice cream and the holiday roast...

SO, I stayed back from Thanksgiving travel to work on my book, develop some recipes,and do some other things (more writing).

As other cookbook authors will tell you, when you're writing and developing recipes, you don't have the time or inclination to make a whole meal. It's one of those good problems.

On Wednesday, I was in pie development mode, and I made a pie. But that's all I made. So, yup. Nothing left over from that but pie. I didn't even eat the pie, a slice of the pie or even a bite of the pie. I thought I might bring it somewhere or something plus I didn't want pie on Wednesday (through no fault of the pie).

This is what I ate yesterday, on Thanksgiving:
A DINNER ROLL. 
Yes, it's a potential book recipe, but seriously!

OK, so today, I was really feeling like I HAD to eat some Thanksgiving type feast meal.

I remembered the Trader Joe's Turkey-less Stuffed Roasts in my freezer. And the Brussels sprouts and the cranberry sauce. And, the rolls (I know).

I thought you guys might like to know how the frozen, super convenient and VEGAN roasts tasted, right? Right?

Well, let's start by opening up the bag.
Here's the bag.

All the directions say to do is heat the frozen roasts at 450 for 25 to 30 minutes. SO EASY.

OK, so I was a *little* taken aback by how tiny they seemed. 
Those are the gravy packets that are wrapped.

So, I baked the roasts (both of them, since they seemed so tiny and I was really hungry) and I heated up the gravy on the stove top, and I made some Brussels sprouts (a book recipe, they are SO good) and I opened the jar of cranberry sauce and I stuck some of my rolls in the oven.

Here's what I ate tonight:


And, OH MY WORD was that roast ever delicious! It *really* tasted like chicken (in a good way), the texture was spot-on (juicy yet crisp-tender, perfect!) and the stuffing was flavorful. 
And one was plenty.

It did not, in *any* way at all, need the ferociously foul smelling gravy.
The gravy looks fine, but smelled atrocious. There was no way I was going to put that in my mouth.
I'm not sure what they did to the gravy, but I do not recommend you eat it (just chuck it, sorry, TJ's!). Next time, just do a mushroom gravy, OK, guys?

Since today was Black Friday, I also went to the library and bought two cookbooks from the library cart for $1.50:
I love dated cookbooks.

And here's a crazy cat video for you:
It's all upside down and stuff. I KNOW! Sorry. 
I'm not really having luck with the photos and the videos this weekend!

However, my friend Michael had me covered...

Thanksgiving Turkey and Pilgrim by my old collegue and artist friend,
Michael Wintering, LPC, ATR-BC (Board Certified Art Therapist).
Media: Electronic Wacom Intuos Digital Drawing Pad.

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday!