When it seemed like the coronavirus was really going to hit us badly and stretch into spring and maybe even summer, I figured I’d need to get into “homesteading” mode. I always do a vegetable garden, but I usually buy plants instead of starting from seed. Will there be plants to buy this year? Who knows? Let’s get seedy!
I collected all the seed packets from around the house. Some were in the garage. Some were in the laundry room cupboard. A few were in the basement. Yet more were tucked in the drawer where we keep the dog’s things (brushes, harnesses, heartworm meds etc.).
Altogether, it was a motley collection:
Lots of lettuces. Lots of peas. Lots of beets. A few tomatoes, cukes, herbs and other goodies.
“Not bad!” I thought. I found some seed starter plastic thingies to start the seeds indoors and got started planting. Then I noticed something:
How long are seeds good for? Centuries, under the right conditions, I imagine. I mean, there are seed banks that store seeds in case of an apocalypse, right? I figured I’d draw the line at 10 years – anything older probably would not be worth planting.
Next I ordered some seeds I didn’t have – tomatoes, squashes and peppers. When those arrived (and it took a while) I popped them all into some seed starter soil and set them to incubate on the radiator.
I despaired that they didn’t seem to be doing anything. Each day I’d water as needed and scrutinize the soil for signs of life. Then one day:
You can’t imagine how happy I was to see these tiny specks of green.
Shortly after they all started coming. Once the seeds sprout I put them in a sunny window during the day to catch the light and warmth, rotating the tray so the plants don’t stretch too much in any one direction.
It’s fun to watch the cucumbers especially (they’re the biggest of the lot in the picture above). They really move to capture the most light as the earth rotates around the sun.
From all the old seeds I had two duds – spinach and basil. I’ll have to see if I can get some fresh seeds the next time I brave the grocery store.
Outside, I started the peas. My neighbor, who has the greenest thumb I ever saw, insists that peas are planted on St. Patrick’s Day. I didn’t quite do it that early, but I still got them in the ground on the first warm day.
They still have not sprouted. I don’t know if they’re duds or if it hasn’t been warm enough (I strongly suspect the latter). I want to brave a peek at my neighbor’s garden to see if she’s had more success, but I am too chicken. I will try with another packet if I don’t see action soon. I also will start the lettuces and squash directly outside once the last danger of frost has passed, whenever that is.
I have now been self-isolating for 25 days. As the days have worn on – and as the virus has ravaged New York and other parts of the United States and the rest of the world – I have been trying (and partly failing) to Keep Calm and Carry On, as the British say.
It’s hard to concentrate at work. I have been giving myself something to look forward to at the end of every work day as a bit of a reward. One day I took an online Pilates class. Another day I tidied up the perennial beds. At some point, I dug out the yogurt maker and cooked up a batch:
We ran out of bread, so why not bake some?
This recipe from Cook’s Illustrated was excellent. You use a multigrain hot cereal mix as a starter. We ate the last of it this morning in French toast – divine!
Then I got cocky and tried to make hamburger buns:
They came out like hockey pucks – edible but dry and misshapen and dense. At least the toasted sesame seeds were tasty.
I’m not one to be defeated, so let’s play around with the Instant Pot! I tried making a turkey barley soup.
I misread the recipe and put a pound of barley into the pot instead of a cup of barley. It swelled up every drop of turkey stock and affected a risotto-like texture. So why not call it “bar-zotto” and eat it with some grated Parmesan? It wasn’t half bad. There’s still plenty left if you’re peckish.
The sun came out – time to hit the garden. For years, I have been meaning to relocate some blueberry plants to encourage better cross-pollination and protection from berry-thieving birds (if the plants are grouped tightly, one piece of bird netting should cover the lot). So I dug up some plants and moved them, replanting with a good dose of fertilizer for acid-loving plants.
There is so little traffic and noise in my neighborhood – we live on a normally busy street – that I can clearly hear all the spring birdsong. In an hour or so I counted 18 species, a few by call alone.
My house is old, with the ghosts of gardens all over the place – a wisteria vine here, a decaying stump there. In the middle of the lawn, this blue-striped quill appeared, ready to delight anyone who came across it:
Every night after dinner I sew 10-15 cloth face masks. My nurse friends take some to work, while others have been given to relatives, neighbors and friends.
Finally on Friday I had to go to the supermarket. There’s only so much barzotto and hardtack a gal can eat, amirite?
The trip took 2 1/2 hours and cost me $330. I wore a mask, gloves and a hat. When I got home, I stripped to my undies in the laundry room and threw everything – including my sneakers – into the washing machine to scrub on the “sanitary” cycle.
The market was out of all kinds of weird things – no salt, no Romaine lettuce, no flour or cinnamon, no chicken breasts, no macaroni and cheese mixes, no 1% milk, no cleaning supplies of any kind, except for some feeble-looking “all natural” stuff that might be a bit better than vinegar or lemon juice.
I figured I might as well live it up – I bought a rack of lamb, a kosher chicken, an organic pork loin – all the cheaper cuts were sold out. I bought a $5 jar of applesauce and four funky-looking oranges called “Sumo” for $1.50 apiece. A big bag of Costa Rican coffee. A bag of frozen wild-caught shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico. Organic onions and potatoes and milk.
Americans have been hoarding toilet paper. We are not guilty of this (we conserved – as a child, my grandmother admonished me that “a lady only uses four squares.”) Still, we were down to our last two rolls. The store limited each shopper to one 12-roll bundle. I felt lucky to get it.
In the diary aisle by the display of creams, a man was arguing with someone on the phone. “They don’t have quarts of heavy cream! They only have pints of heavy cream! I looked and looked and that’s all there is!” This went on for a minute, while he shouted all the various creams and quantities available into the phone. I stood by (six feet away, natch), waiting for reason to arrive on the scene. Finally I suggested that he buy TWO PINTS of heavy cream, as each is 16 ounces and a quart is 32 ounces. He looked at me like I was crazy for 10 seconds. Then his face lit up like I was an angel from heaven. I never have received such fulsome gratitude in my life. He grabbed two pints and bolted for the checkout.
My good deed done for the day, I approached the display and took a pint of half and half. Upon returning home, I realized I grabbed the fat-free shit instead of the real thing. Bah!
Here’s a pro tip from me to you: Spending more time with your parents will make you feel older, not younger.
My mother is recovering from knee replacement surgery, so I took a few days to help her out – shopping, getting meals, cleaning, keeping her company, that kind of thing.
Definitely a job for the distaff side!
Each day began by observing the neighborhood squirrels at the feeder.
My parents don’t like to keep a lot of food in the house for some reason. They prefer to go to the grocery store every day. Here’s a typical haul – some Boursin-stuffed chicken breasts and other fixings for dinner, blueberries to make muffins for breakfast the next day, and – via last-minute text request – a giant bag of Cheetos.
I found myself eating dinner at 5 p.m. My mother was very taken with my “recipe” for green beans:
Buy a bag of pre-trimmed green beans
Steam in the microwave for 4-5 minutes
Toss with salt, pepper, olive oil and juice from half a lemon
Although she told me that I shouldn’t cook with any salt from then on. There’s absolutely no real health reason for the fatwa on salt – my mother just thinks it’s unhealthy.
After dinner, we had a rousing game of Scrabble while a John Wayne movie played on TV.
I thought I would make use of the time by working on some sewing projects. One day I combined a trip to the fish market with a shopping trip for sewing supplies.
“You were gone a while,” my mother said when I returned.
“Sorry – did you need me?” I said.
“No, I just wondered where you went.”
I was gone maybe 90 minutes. Gee, why don’t I feel like I am 16 again?
It was fun to set up my machine on my grandmother’s old sewing table.
The dining room has plenty of space for this, but it was a disruption in the flow of things. My parents’ cats gave me dirty looks. My dad kept reminding me to unplug the iron. I didn’t get much done and had to drop out of the Refashion Runway competition. I couldn’t find much to refashion anyway – the theme was “fake fur” and people need that stuff at this time of year. Oh well.
My parents live in New Hampshire, so I took off for about an hour one day to hear Bernie Sanders speak:
That same day someone from Sanders’ campaign came to the door and my father had fun telling the guy off: “Everyone who likes your guy is already downtown listening to him speak!”
On Sunday I had a rare treat. My parents still get a newspaper delivered daily. On Sundays, the paper includes full-color comics.
Bonus: a guy I went to high school with has a son who’s old enough to get married. The wedding announcement was in the paper.
After three days of this I started looking forward to my 5 p.m. dinner, some Cheetos in front of the TV, and the squirrel show every morning. One day a scandal erupted when some pigeons ate the squirrels’ corn.
Every day I tackled a cleaning project. “Everything’s gone downhill since your mother’s been laid up,” my dad said after I spent 2 hours on the bathroom.
I told him that he needed to help out more. Distaff side, my ass.
I left them after four days with a freezer full of spaghetti sauce, chicken, soup and muffins. My sister also has also been helping out with meals, cleaning, doctor’s appointments and the rest. We have a good laugh about it all.
I know that taking care of parents is something we all have to do sooner or later. I am grateful that I have the kind of relationship with them that they I can help them – for sure they helped me for many years! This was a relatively minor event – my mother will recover and go on with her life. The day will come when it’s not such an easy job. I am glad I had the chance to prepare for it a bit.
But I left the visit feeling old and feeble. My knee makes a crunching sound when I walk. That can’t be good. I have my mother’s thighs – I guess I have her knees, too.
Sugar has been my lifelong enemy. Ever since I was a child, my sweet tooth would get out of control. Cavities, weight gain, headaches, low energy – all the bad stuff that follows a sugar binge have ridden bitch on my life, all my life.
I have been able to kick sugar for a little while, but it always roars back. I can go for a few weeks without having anything, and then I start up again. I am trying again to find a system that sticks.
No sugar or grains of any kind at breakfast (fruit is OK).
Avoid packaged foods (and reject any that have added sugar of any kind).
Eat fruit (but no bananas or grapes – sugar bombs that they are).
Drink only water, coffee or tea (no added sugar or flavorings).
Eat spicy food to ward of sweet cravings.
Eat roasted vegetables to heighten natural sugars.
Reward yourself with a small piece of dark chocolate (80%-90% cacao, low sugar).
I have never made it to #7, so I can’t attest to how that goes. But here’s how the other six steps have gone for me, from hardest to easiest.
Hardest: #2 – avoid packaged foods, especially those with added sugar.
In the United States, sugar is in everything. I mean, everything. And not just one kind of sugar, either – usually several varieties of sugar lurk in the most unlikely places. Food manufacturers do this to hide the amount of sugar in a food, since ingredients on he label have to be listed by volume.
For example, we had friends for brunch last weekend and served up some bloody Marys. I didn’t have any, but I listed to everyone rhapsodize about how delicious the bloody Mary mix was. Why so tasty, you wonder? It’s basically candy in a bottle:
Sugars of various kinds appear seven times on this label. Yes, fruit concentrates and molasses count! If all those sugars were counted as one “sugar” on this label, it would probably be the third ingredient after water and peppers.
The other problem in the United States food system are foods that have health halos – basically foods that are packaged as organic or otherwise “healthy” but in truth have a lot of shit in them. Cereals are the worst – my husband is constantly buying so-called “healthy” cereals that have as much sugar – gram for gram – as a candy bar.
Breads are tough too. I sometimes bake my own bread, so I know that a bit of sugar helps the yeast get busy faster. But there’s no excuse for something like this:
This organic bread has two kinds of sugar – right after the wheat comes “organic cane sugar” (seriously – it’s the THIRD ingredient if you don’t count water) and further down the list of all these grains and seeds you get some molasses.
I found some French bread that had no sugar in it, but it went stale after two days. Sugar is a preservative too. There are these so-called “sprouted” breads in the freezer section that have no added sugar, but I am sorry to say the texture and taste didn’t thrill me.
Finally, I hit on tortillas – I found some with no added sugar, so I am doing wraps and burritos instead of sandwiches for a while to see how that goes.
Hard: No grains or sugar at breakfast
Most important meal of the day, ’tis said. And hard to avoid grains and sugar.
I often have breakfasts like this with plain Greek yogurt, and don’t ever eat sugar-sweetened yogurt or sweetened fruits. Luckily, I have been a black coffee or tea drinker for a while and never go for sweet coffee drinks. But I always crave carbohydrates in the morning, and I often reach for some toast or other carby thing later in the morning if I have none at breakfast.
It’s really important to make this effort because if you start the day with sugar, the rest of the day tends to go downhill quickly. Think of each day as a blank slate – you don’t want to crap up that slate first thing, do you?
Other breakfasts I have enjoyed include eggs in various forms, apple slices with peanut butter, roasted veggies with olive oil, and ricotta with berries. You have to be careful with breakfast meats such as bacon, ham and smoked salmon, because a lot of it is cured with – you guessed it – sugar!
The Times got pushback for putting the kibosh on oatmeal for breakfast – plain whole oats, no sugar added. People are really devoted to this breakfast, apparently.
This has been HARD for me. Whine whine whine. I soldier on.
Easier: Basically the rest of the list is pretty easy and even enjoyable.
Water – no prob. Once in a while – maybe once a week – I used to drink a Vitamin Water Zero. Now I have zero Vitamin Waters, and it’s all good. If I crave something bubbly, some Pellegrino with a lime or lemon wedge does the trick.
Spicy food – also no prob. I can’t say if this trick has really curbed sugar cravings, but in general, the more flavorful your food is, the more it satisfies you. Of course, it was hard to find spicy condiments without added sugar. Finally I found this salsa:
Ingredients are just tomatoes, hot peppers, onions, vinegar, garlic, spices and herbs. It’s sooo good – I put it on everything!
Roasted veggies – I had been doing this anyway, so it was an easy win.
Roasted root vegetables in olive oil
Roasted grape tomatoes and garlic
I roast up a batch of veggies a couple of times a week. The roasted tomatoes are delicious as a topping on meats or pastas. Roasted larger tomatoes put through the blender make a great alternative spaghetti sauce too – with no added sugar. Jarred sauces are loaded with sugar!
Easiest by far: Eat Fruit!
I love fruit. I eat 2-3 pieces every day and will reach for fruit first if I crave something sweet. Often fruit packs a bigger punch if I pair it with a bit of protein or fat, like whole-milk ricotta, peanut butter, or cheese.
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with fruit, so I like to buy different things every week. Out of season fruits are sometimes good frozen (just be sure there’s no added sugar). I keep cherries, blueberries and strawberries in the freezer at all times in case the craving strikes.
Next step – No-sugar February
I have been playing with these sugar-busting tactics all month and am ready to go for it 100% in February. If I make it the whole month I will reward myself with #7 – a piece of dark chocolate.
As part of my sustainability goals for 2020, we’re doing Meatless Mondays as a family. Except for the dog, that is.
My husband is a carnivore second only to the dog, so I have been working on ways to keep him satisfied and not deprived. Here are some ideas for magical meatless meals:
Chick peas (aka garbanzo beans) – Protein and fiber in one place – what’s not to like? Sure you can buy them canned, sure, but for really nice chick peas, buy them dried and cook them yourself. It’s a lot cheaper ($2 or $3 / pound) and the texture is better. Soak them overnight in plenty of plain water (for at least 6 hours), drain, and then simmer in salted water for about 1 hour, or 30 minutes in the Instant Pot. They have a buttery texture and take well to spice – try some crushed red pepper in a hearty sauce!
Lentils – Another protein and fiber one-two punch. These cook more quickly than chickpeas and have a texture that lends itself to soups and stews. I like the French style lentils, as they’re a bit more durable than other kinds, but it’s all good.
Chili – Purists will argue that chili should NOT have beans in it, but who cares? When you’re making a vegetarian dish, it’s a given that beans will star. I like to use either black beans or kidney beans, plus some plant-based meat substitute to bulk things up, plus lots of onions, peppers, tomatoes and corn. And a lot of spices – smoked paprika really works wonders to bring flavor to anything. Feel free to top with cheese or sour cream and some thinly sliced scallions.
More cheese, please! You need to be careful with cheese because it can pack as much saturated fat and calories as red meat. For Italian dishes, I like to buy part-skim ricotta and mozzarella to save some fat and calories, but I always use good imported Romano or Parmesan. Here’s some manicotti in a quick tomato sauce, getting ready for the oven.
Go for grains – A lot of less-common grains make the base for salads and soups. Barley in particular is filling and satisfying, and its texture stands up to whatever you throw at it. I like to parcook barley in plain water until it’s almost done, then take it off the heat, add a generous amount of salt, and let it stand covered for 15 minutes or so. This barley salad is great for summer with watermelon, feta, cucumbers, peppers and other goodies.
Self-improvement plans – what else would we distaffers do on January 1?
A few quick resolutions then, before we get to work:
Style: I did Me Made May for the whole month last year (even while on vacation) and for most of the year, really. Now that I have a reliable jeans pattern, there’s nothing stopping me from wearing Me Made Everyday. So I am going to go for it!
I got started this morning with a nice long walk in the park with the hubs and the dog in Me Made Jacket (Simplicity 8843), the Jasper Sweater from Paprika Patterns, and hat by Green Pepper Patterns.
I made the sweater last week out of some poly-cotton blend sweatshirt fleece with a muted plaid design.
To add interest, I did the cuffs, side panels and collar on the bias.
2. Gardening: My vegetable garden really put out this year. Amending the soil in my two raised beds helped so much. I found a reliable set of tomato plants and other veggies to grow from now on. I was kicking myself for not doing a better job of tending to the plants and harvesting. So I am planning to do less, but put more effort into what I have and not let anything go to the bugs or go bad on the vine.
3. Fitness: Seek out a real posture plan. I played around with various posture exercises and finally found something that seemed to work. I need to hire the trainer who did this workshop for some private sessions, to make this a regular thing. I am hopeful that I can stop my hunchback development and maybe even undo some of the damage I’ve done.
4. Housework: I have one simple goal. Keep the kitchen floor clean! With a dog around, it’s a chore. I always feel like my home is at its best when the kitchen floor is vacuumed and scrubbed. So that’s the big goal here. Exciting, right?
5. Sewing: For sure, I am going to continue with my “sew edgy” look for the office. I need to find a simple dress that I can make a TNT. I also need a few blouses, and I really need to make a proper suit. For casual wear, I will perfect the jeans. I realize that while I have been playing around with a lot of indie pattern companies, I have been disappointed with some results compared with results from Big 4 (although there are exceptions), so I am going to focus more on Big 4. I have plenty of fabric and patterns at this point – so I am going on a “fast” at least for the first half of the year.
6. Sustainability: A friend who’s a sustainability consultant really made me think about the nature of consumption and waste. I am proud that I don’t do fast fashion and that I will mend and alter clothing. I take public transportation, walk or bike most places. I have a few “upcycle” and “refashion” sewing projects in my head for this year. I feel I could do more, however, when it comes to food. We are doing Meatless Mondays as a family, and on my own I will do more meatless meals (my husband will be challenged to do Mondays as it is). I also am going to buy fewer prepared things in plastic containers – I am talking to you, deli soups and salads! Seriously, it’s not hard to make soup. I’ll probably save $100 a year! I sewed up some simple reusable bags for produce, and I always use tote bags at the store. And I am going to stop buying the occasional to-go coffee unless I can get it in a reusable insulated mug. I already do this with water – why not with coffee?
7. Diet: I just gotta kick sugar. I feel that very badly. I can go for weeks without any, and then I have some, and it’s just a spiral from there. I am not sure how to tackle this one, except to go cold turkey. I need to research more, but it’s happening.
8. Career: I started last year doing a weekly work reflection on Friday mornings. I’d write down a few accomplishments, networking wins, personal achievements and other notable events from the week. This is a great idea because at work, weeks turn into months, turn into years, and then you have to get a new job, and you go to update the resume and you can’t think of what to say! This exercise takes 5 minutes and it really helps. I am getting started by updating my LinkedIn profile and resume with key accomplishments from 2019. Also, I am trying to network more. I need to be “heads down” at work and more collaborative and social.
9. Family: This is a tough one. I feel that I have neglected my husband and family at times, especially my in-laws. There’s no excuse – we live so nearby – but weeks go by without a word to or from anyone. Even with my husband, we have well-established routines that make it tough to break out. So I am going to make more of an effort on all fronts. Sometimes a simple call to say “hi” or an impromptu date night is all we need to get out of the rut. I will take care of my mother when she has knee surgery later this month, so I can use that time to visit a bit with others to get the year started off well.
10. Reading: I have done well with reading more female authors, but I feel I need to do more to read writers from different nationalities and races. I got a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas, so I plan to pick up a few things to get started. I general, I am going to try to read more and do less “faffing about on the mobile” while on my train commute. Now that my grad school is done, I will have time to open my mind more in other directions.
11. Giving back: We made an effort in 2019 to give more to charities, and we succeeded in increasing our contributions by a thousand dollars over the course of the year. I also have done a bit more charity work with groups I support by in-kind contributions of time and expertise. In fact, I won an award from one charity I support with weekly editing and coaching of college students. I miss volunteering with local groups, though – I managed one event in 2019 – a bike-a-thon – so I am going to try to do two events in 2020.
12. Activism. I will admit it: I dread 2020. I am terrified that Trump will get re-elected. I have little confidence that the Democrats will get their shit together. I worry that the economy will thank, and while that would hurt Trump, it’s going to hurt a lot of other people too, so I don’t exactly wish it. After he was elected, I made a plan to so something once a week to #resist. I wrote letters to Congress. I attended rallies. I got educated on the issues. I sewed a shitload of pussyhats. I donated money to groups under siege – Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League – I could go on. I have kept up some of these activities but have let others slide. This is a do-or-die year. I need to step it up.
Thank you for reading! I wish you all a happy healthy 2020! (Except Trump.)
Today is Thanksgiving in the United States – our annual harvest festival where we all eat too much while giving thanks for all the stuff we have. In theory anyway. Some people follow the gorging ritual with midnight shopping sprees, to buy even more stuff.
Sounds like a job for The Distaff Side!
Women do most of the holiday work. “Wait!” You may say. “My husband loves to bake his triple-chocolate cake for Christmas,” or “My Uncle Joe makes the best turkey!” Sure, men do their part, but the brunt of the work – certainly the grunt of the work (the planning, the budgeting, the shopping, the decorating, the cooking, the hosting, the cleanup) piles overwhelmingly onto women.
Not that most women view this all as a thankless task. Most women I know – especially retirees and women who don’t work outside the home – LOVE holidays. They really look forward to them. Get excited about them. Work hard for them. Enjoy them. And then feel let down or resentful when it’s not as perfect, or as fun, or as appreciated, as they’d hoped.
Why? Two reasons, I think:
If you have a busy life, whether it’s with work, kids, school, volunteering and other obligations, your days are full already. A holiday is fun and a break from the routine, but it’s also a lot of work – work that piles on to the work you already have.
If you do not have a busy life, you have little to do and little to look forward to. Holidays, birthdays, vacations and other events take on epic levels of importance. You really want to go all out. But the busy people in your life don’t see it your way.
Each side of this divide needs to give the other side a break.
If you’re in the “busy” camp, practice saying “no” to whatever holiday obligations irk you most. The holiday won’t be “ruined” because you ran out of time or money or energy to follow some hallowed tradition. Decide on your priorities and stick to them. Outsource thankless tasks.
If you’re in the “not busy” camp, practice having something to look forward to besides holidays. There’s no reason why you can’t cook your special holiday dish anytime, or why you have to wait for a holiday to do some cherished activity. Recognize that not everyone has the time, money and energy you have.
Finally, both sides can eat less, buy less, decorate less and do less. Look instead for those moments that make a holiday memorable. No one’s going to remember in 5 years that the turkey in 2019 was especially delicious, but they will remember things that really matter.
We were set to have our first hard frost this weekend, so most of the plants in the garden had to have a last hurrah. I picked all the green tomatoes and hot peppers.
Anything red was processed and frozen, either as spaghetti sauce or as chopped peeled tomatoes to use for cooking another time.
Anything unripe and green went was invited to party in the piccalilli pot.
Piccalilli is basically a sweet and sour relish made with whatever’s left in the garden at the end of the season. (See here for the ancestral recipe.) The veggies are ground finely and cooked down a bit with vinegar, salt, sugar and pickling spices. I usually make some every fall, mostly to give as Christmas gifts. This year I went overboard.
I don’t know what I was thinking. It didn’t seem like so much, and yet it kept coming and coming… Altogether I think it was 30 pints, but I admit I lost count. The good news is that I won’t have to make any next year if I don’t feel like it.
I also have results of my tomato roulette experiment. At the end of the season, I decided that these tomato varieties worked best, so I will plan on planting them next year:
Fourth of July – An early variety, not quite ready to harvest at July 4th, but a week or two later (still pretty good in my book). Each plant produced at least 100 billiard-ball-sized tomatoes of 1.5 to 2 ounces. The flavor was a bit acidic with a sweet finish, and the tomatoes have a good texture – not too wet, not too dry. The skins that were neither tough nor delicate – a nice balance that made for easy picking and storage.
Brandy Boy – Has a similar flavor to the heirloom favorite Brandywine, but the skin is not as delicate, so it’s less likely to crack and get moldy. The plant produced twice as much fruit as the Brandywine, at about the same size – 8 ounces to over a pound. The fruit was ready to harvest two weeks earlier. A great win! I’ll plant this instead of Brandywine from now on.
My husband and I differed these two: Big Beef and Big Boy. Big Beef was ready to harvest a week before Big Boy and the tomatoes were all about a pound – one slice covers your whole sandwich! Big Boy’s size varied from a half-pound to a pound. Big Boy showed some wilt about halfway through the season, while Big Beef didn’t. Both kept producing until late September, but we got a few more Big Boys. Both were very sweet – everything you’d expect from a summer tomato. But Big Boy was rather wet and seedy, while Big Beef was meatier but drier. I liked Big Boy’s texture better, but the hubs preferred Big Beef. I suppose I will plant them both next year.
These two were total flops:
Better Boy: Very poor producer, and what we got was mealy and malformed. Pass!
Yellow Pear: Very pretty to look at and a heavy producer, but totally flavorless and dry. Even cooked they were no good. Pass!
I planted two apple trees 10 years ago. Each year, I faithfully watered, fertilized, pruned and cleaned up around the trees. I even tried sprays to control for insects and blights.
And I got no apples.
Deer invaded our yard and ate the new growth. We put up a fence. One tree died after five years when some rodent chewed up the tender graft point. The other tree lived but never thrived. It didn’t take root properly and blew over in a hurricane. I rerooted and staked it. I kept up the orchard husbandry. I got a few apples, but most of them were lost to squirrels, birds, and bugs.
Two years ago, I said the heck with it and left the tree to its own devices.
This year I got a ton of apples.
OK, not a ton, but a good basketful and more on the tree to harvest soon.
Joy at finally having my work pay off? Yes. Heartbreak that the apples are malformed, shot full of bugs and not that tasty? Again, yes.
Out of the whole basket, only these three apples look “good enough” to maybe pass for supermarket apples:
Who am I kidding? If most people saw these apples at the store, they’d pass them by. The next time you buy apples at the market, think of how much human intervention is required to get something picture-perfect.
If you have ever been apple-picking, you’ve noticed that commercial orchards keep their trees pruned to the point of being stunted, for easier harvests and bigger yields. My grandparents pruned their trees annually and still had to use a homemade apple-picker made out of an old broomstick and a twisted wire coat hanger to pick some fruit.
Because I have not pruned the tree in a few years, it’s even harder to harvest. I had to buy one of these telescoping fruit-picking gizmos.
From the ground, looking up into the branches, lots of great fruit seems within reach. I finagle the fruit-picker under a tasty-looking apple, pluck it, and pop it into the basket. It looks pretty good:
Then I flip it over:
Yuck. Damn birds.
I mean, I love birds and I don’t mind sharing a few apples with them. But they prefer to peck at many apples instead of just eating one. Hey bird – if you’re going to start an apple, finish it before you go onto the next one!
Many pecked-up apples rot on the tree, Those that fall get a second life as a meal for raccoons and squirrels. This windfall encourages the raccoons and squirrels to visit again and again. I try to vigilantly pick up any fallen apples right away, but every morning some more lie on the grass, chewed and brown and yucky.
I took the basket of “good” apples inside, washed them, then got to work prepping them. These are Cortland apples, meant for cooking not eating. They’re good for pies, sauces and things like that. I figured I’d made an apple crisp. I mixed the apple pieces with the juice of a lemon, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoons of nutmeg and cinnamon. The crisp topping is made from 1/4 cup each of butter, flour, brown sugar and chopped toasted pecans.
An hour of coring, peeling and slicing, and an hour of baking later:
It was pretty tasty – the apples are pretty tart, which I like. I feel a great sense of joy at this too. And then I think of all that work just for one apple crisp, to be enjoyed for a couple of meals when I could buy something similar for a few bucks. Heartbreak again!
My tomatoes are coming in – I have had at least one from every variety I planted, except the Brandywine, which is always late and therefore not my favorite.
I already love the 4 of July variety. While they are small – between the size of a golf ball and a billiard ball – they were indeed early and have a nice flavor, a bit acidic, with a good skin – not too fragile or tough.
The loser far is the so-called “Better Boy” which has produced few fruit, and most of them are malformed, like this one:
I have no problem with ugly produce, but I do want some normal tomatoes too. The plant only has a few other fruit on it. They taste OK – nothing special. Definitely won’t plant this again. Better Boy, my butt!
The king tomato was Big Beef – almost a one-pound fruit so far and several more on the vine:
The other two varieties – Big Boy and Brandy Boy – also were very good. They were pretty similar really – in a taste test Brandy Boy seemed a bit sweeter, with the delicate skin of a Brandywine. We’ll see what else we get for the season.