Gardeners in New England tend to judge our short growing season by one crop: tomatoes. It was “a good year,” “a bad year” or an “OK year.” Sure, the cucumbers might delight for months and the blueberries, packed in the freezer, might get you through the winter, but nothing beats a juicy summer tomato, fresh off the vine and warm from the sun.
The past few years have been blah for tomatoes. I think the soil in my raised beds was to blame. Even though I rotate the tomato crop between two beds and liberally supplement the soil with my own compost, raised-bed soil loses its oomph after a while. So this year, I’m trying four strategies:
Replace about half of the soil. I had several yards of clean, screened topsoil dug in with the old soil. The result was a richer soil, but the screened stuff got mixed in with the actual ground soil, full of small rocks that have irked New England gardeners since Colonial times. So I will need to rescreen next year. It’s fine for this year.
Plant further apart. I’ve tended to overbuy tomato plants because of all the fascinating varieties you can get nowadays. The plants tend to crowd one another by midsummer, and inevitably tomatoes rot on the vine because I can’t find them through the dense foliage. This year I followed the directive to plant each 2 feet away from the next.
Skip most of the heirlooms. Many lesser-known tomato varieties provide fabulous flavor and gorgeous looks, but a paltry harvest, less disease resistance or other drawbacks. I have labored with these tomato varieties many times and have concluded that while they’re fun, they’re really not worth the trouble to invest in heavily. Hey – if you’ve got the time and patience, go for it. But I have wasted too much time and money on plants that succumb to disease and insects, or that produce only a few tomatoes late in the season, to get excited anymore. For heirlooms, Brandywine is our favorite, so I planted a few.
Try a test garden for commercial varieties. Many common varieties produce bushels of tomatoes, but they might not win beauty contests or pack as much flavor as heirlooms. I decided this year to try out several common commercial varieties, in search of two I can rely on year after year for volume with decent enough taste and reliability to be my “go-to” tomatoes. . I’m trying these:
Big Boy – the granddaddy of big-ass backyard garden tomatoes
Better Boy – a variety derived from Big Boy that produces more, but smaller, fruits with a slightly shorter growing season
It’s rained so much in New England this spring that people are joking that it’s like “Old England.” I’m not complaining, especially when I see the results of this wet weather and milder temperatures.
This marks the second year for these perennial beds that line a walkway from the driveway to our back door. I am pleased with how it turned out, with a few issues. A few things didn’t make it over the winter, and a few things grew differently than my expectations.
When I bought the coreopsis and veronica plants, for some reason, I thought the veronica would be taller. Maybe it’s stunted from crowding or not enough sun. Anyway, it’s fun to see the purple spikes try to break through the sunny yellow coreopsis crowd. I’ll move them to the front of the bed in the fall.
Here’s another unusual color combo – pink phlox and red yarrow. I think the blue undertone of the phlox makes it work with the red. I also like the contrast in flower shape and structure. Even if it clashes, who cares?
The poppies have been gone by for a few weeks, but I couldn’t resist a photo anyway,
My roses really went to town. I didn’t get around to pruning them all – a few bushes to one side of the garden were left to their own devices. See what a difference pruning makes?
Even my little yellow climbing rose is putting out.
After years of frustration with this yellow climber, I decided to just let it do what it wants. It will never really climb onto the trellis. I will always need to tie it. Boo. Look at the flowers though!
Trees are also loving all the water. This redbud is a stunner:
I have lots of peaches in my future:
And even my reluctant Cortland apple is putting out for a change.
And with some luck (and defense against birds) buckets of blueberries are in the future.
I never water plants as much as I should. I mean, I will water annuals and my vegetables, and anything in pots or planters. But that’s it. I leave perennials, bushes and trees to their own devices. Seeing this year’s bounty makes me realize I ought to water everything more often, if Mother Nature hasn’t.
I happy that I scored a few accomplishments in 2018 in my distaffian pursuits, besides sewing. In no particular order, here they are, plus some recommendations in case you’re interested in knowing more.
Survey Research and Statistics
I enrolled in a graduate program in survey research. I took an intro to survey research class in the spring and a statistics class in the fall. I recommend that everyone gets to know a little about surveys – how they’re conducted, what a good one looks like, what a bad one looks like, how the math is done and how to interpret results.
There are so many surveys these days. I estimate I get a request to take a survey at least twice a week – mostly marketing and customer service surveys where companies want to know why I bought or didn’t buy something or what my experience was like. Sometimes a pollster calls me for a public opinion survey or a political poll. I used to say “thanks but no thanks” to surveys, but after learning more about them, I participate more often.
A couple of takeaways:
People like to harp on surveys that are “wrong,” but they rarely are wrong. Most 2016 US presidential polls predicted Hillary Clinton would win by a slim margin. Most Brexit polls predicted the UK would vote to “remain,” by a slim margin. Those surveys were not wrong. A slim margin is still a margin – the margin represents the likelihood that the outcome would go the other way. It’s unlikely, but it does happen, as we know all too well.
Innumeracy is a problem. Many people do not understand simple statistics and random chance. For example, if you flip a coin, the chance it will be heads is 1 in 2 (expressed mathematically as 0.5). If you flip a coin twice, the chance it will be heads twice in a row is 1 in 4 (0.5 times 0.5 = 0.25), but the chance is will land heads on each individual flip is still 1 in 2. The odds reset with each flip of the coin. If you flip a coin 9 times and it comes up heads 9 times, what’s the chance it will be heads on the 10th flip? Still 1 in 2. Every slot machine ever was built on peoples’ inability to understand this.
All surveys contain some kind of bias, no matter how well the pollster controls for it. For example, some respondents will modify their survey responses depending on the gender or race of the person asking the question. Some people will misunderstand a question. Maybe a question is poorly worded. The person asking the questions may not be clear or understand a response. Many other things can go wrong.
Survey fatigue is a problem. As more and more surveys are conducted, respondents are getting better and better at evading them. This makes it harder to get a decent response rate, which increases the cost and time it takes to do a solid survey. The old random-digit telephone dialing methodology doesn’t work well when so many people have cut the cord, and most young people have never had a land line at all. New technologies are needed to combat this.
Internet polls are useless. Seriously, don’t ever pay attention to what an Internet survey says.
These two college textbooks were pretty well written and approachable:
Also, the statistics posts on DrMath.com and the LinkedIn courses by Eddie Davila are good.
I finished my perennial beds this year. A few things didn’t do so well, but all in all, I am happy with how this turned out. I am glad I spent the money to have the old bed dug up and new beds created.
I have learned the hard way not to engineer a perennial bed that closely. Maybe some gardeners are OK with fussing over everything, but I lack the money, time and energy for any high-maintenance plants. They have to grow with little love or supervision, or they’ll take their chances. That means no delphinium, which need constant fertilizer, or Asian lilies, which get eaten by bugs.
I didn’t design these beds but instead adapted a sample bed design from the book “The Garden Primer” by Barbara Damrosch. Not all of the plants were available in the varieties and colors the book suggested, but I was able to find decent substitutes. A friend gave me this book years ago. There’s a new edition out that has updated recommendations for plant varieties.
I’ll revisit the plan in the spring, as some plants likely won’t survive the winter. I wanted some white phlox, but I couldn’t find any – will seek again in the spring. Also, I think the design overall has a few too many “daisy” shaped flowers – I’d like more shape variety.
The vegetable garden turned out pretty well, considering the soil in my raised beds needs replacing. I augmented it heavily with compost – bought some in addition to what I made. As usual, I planted too many tomatoes.
In 2018 I discovered the joys of modular cooking. In brief, my husband and I cook and prepare a variety of proteins, veggies, starches, salads and soups that can mix and match into meals.
For example, in the summer I do every week a big mixed grill of vegetables, and in the winter I do a big pan of roasted mixed vegetables. The mixes are seasonal and vary a bit week to week.
This mix above has bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini and yellow squash. Alongside this grill wok we cooked several chicken breasts and a few ears of corn. We get these meals out of it:
Meal 1: Chicken and veggies with corn on the cob
Meal 2: Chicken fajitas with the veggies, plus salsa and tortillas, with corn salad on the side
Meal 3: Pasta primavera with the veggies and the last of the chicken, plus some Parmesan cheese and a tossed salad on the side
Meal 4: Omelets with the last of the veggies, plus cheese, bread and salad
Winter takes on this concept start like this, with a whole roasted chicken and roasted root vegetables.
Dinner 1: Roasted chicken with sweet potatoes and roasted carrots and parsnips
Dinner 2: Chicken pot pie with some of the leftover chicken and roasted vegetables, plus a gravy and a pastry crust
Dinner 3: Stuffed sweet potatoes with leftover chicken, plus some nuts and dried fruit
Dinner 4: Chicken noodle soup, with broth made from the chicken carcass, plus pasta and the rest of the roasted veggies
This method of cooking is a revelation for me. For this to work, you have to be OK with leftovers, admittedly. Often as the week goes on, the more flavorful dishes appear. Hot sauce is my new best friend.
We had a cold spring, and I was on vacation during prime spring planting season. So those are my excuses for why my vegetable garden looks like crap this year.
I usually buy seedlings at a suburban nursery about 1 hour roundtrip from my house. This year, already behind and short on time, I bought my seedlings from a pop-up store along the roadside.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Red bell pepper, Italian frying pepper, same thing, right?
This plant was marked as broccoli. It’s kale. And not the good kind of kale that makes a nice salad. This is the tough stuff that requires a half-hour in a pressure cooker to be edible.
Also, because I was so late in planting, a few volunteers got started without me. I figured what they hey – fewer plants to buy.
I thought this was a cucumber plant, based on the leaves. It finally revealed itself this week as a butternut squash.
Another plant with cucumber-vineish leaves turned out to be what I thought was a cantaloupe. We ended up calling it a “cantanope.” As in, is “It a cantaloupe? Nope!”
It looks like a cantaloupe on the outside, looks like a honeydew on the inside, and has absolutely no flavor. I had to bust some myths – there’s no such thing as a canta-cumber, for one. And yes, it was “ripe.” It must have crossed with a honeydew, although I can’t imagine how as I have never planted one.
Finally, one volunteer did good. A cherry tomato, of course.
Sometimes I think I should just plant cukes, cherry tomatoes and lettuce and be done with it.
Well, at least there’s a farmer’s market in the park on Sundays.
I have been trying to lose weight for a year. I have lost seven pounds. This is a good news story. Many people might say, “Seven pounds, in a YEAR? That’s not much.” Those people would be misguided. Seven pounds is a lot, especially for me, for two reasons:
I have around 15 pounds I want to lose, so seven pounds is about halfway there.
If I had continued on the road that caused me to gain seven pounds in the first place, I’d be even more overweight now.
To lose this weight, I tried two commercial weight-loss programs. I like the structure and accountability they offer. Here’s my quick review of them.
Summary: A weight-loss mobile app that provides daily articles to read and activities to do, plus tracking of food intake and exercise, and pairs you with a coach and a group for support. I learned a lot from this app, but I didn’t actually lose any weight during the four months I tried it. (I would lose a pound, then gain it back, on a repeat cycle, that is.)
What you eat: The diet itself is just a calorie-counting app, which breaks foods down in a stoplight system – eat lots of “green” foods, such as fruits & vegetables with high water content, some “yellow” foods, such as lean meat and dairy, and few “red” foods, such as sweets and fats. The app provides 1,200 calories a day, which left me starving and irritable most of the time. I think this very low calorie limit set me up for failure. There is such a thing as eating too little and putting your body into “conserve” mode. I often ate 1,400 to 1,500 a day, making sure the “extra” calories were for filling fruits and veggies. Still, every day I felt like I was one scary moment away from this:
What you do for exercise: The system sets an activity goal that ramps up gradually to 10,000 steps a day (the app has a pedometer built in) and X minutes of exercise a day after that. I had no problem here. If you exercise more, you get to eat more, which seems to defeat the purpose of exercising.
What you learn: The best parts of Noom are the articles and activities, geared to change behaviors around weight loss. You learn not to fear the scale by weighing yourself daily. You learn your “big reason why” you want to lose weight – a very good exercise if you want to get at your real motivation.
You learn how to deal with temptations by exposing yourself to them, to the point where they lose whatever meaning they had for you. You learn to identify triggers for overeating, how to deal with difficult people and situations, how to eat mindfully and how to cope with all those hormones and other bodily systems that conspire to frustrate weight-loss activities. The first two months the articles, activities and quizzes were great. And then the program changed and each day you got a lot of random crap, repeated articles and “duh” kinds of stuff.
Support: This was a big letdown. The so-called “coach” was really just someone who’d text you once a week and ask you to set a goal. If you reached out for support, the “coach” would get back to you, eventually, but would not offer any real guidance beyond asking you questions so you could figure out for yourself what to do. The coach did not seem to remember my issues or struggles – each week it was like the first time they’d ever met me. I looked up the coaches on LinkedIn and Glassdoor. They all looked to be thin people in their 20s, and some had training as dietitians or nutritionists. They said they coached up to 300 people at a time, which means they have only a couple of minutes each week max to spend with each person. The “group” support also was very lacking, as new people were coming all the time and others were dropping out. It’s hard to connect with anyone.
Cost: $99 for two months, with no extras to buy.
Best takeaway: The best thing I learned from my coach was to think back to when I was at my ideal weight. What did I do back then? How did I feel? What was an average day like? What were my struggles? I spent a lot of time thinking about this, and it helped me see my present a bit more clearly. When I was at my goal weight, for example, I did a lot more cardio exercise than I’d been doing lately, so I got back into that, in addition to my Pilates, walking and gardening.
Worth it? Not for me. If you are clueless about how to lose weight – that is, you have no idea how to eat healthy and you never exercise – Noom might be good for you. If you think this might work for you, I’d try the 2-month program. Be very careful to cancel before the renewal period if you plan to quit!
Summary: This British weight-loss system uses a proprietary restricted food list, online recipes, articles and support, and weekly group meetings led by a coach where members help each other in real-time chat sessions. I lost my seven pounds using this system and I recommend it, with reservations.
What you eat: The restricted food list is idiosyncratic but leans toward low fat, high carb. It includes unlimited “speed” foods such as most fruits and nonstarchy vegetables – you’re supposed to fill your plate 1/3rd with these foods every meal. You also can have unlimited lean proteins, starchy vegetables, pasta, rice, beans and a few other things.
People freak out at the idea of eating as much pasta and potatoes as you want. This is ridiculous, of course, but the “all carbs are bad” school is pretty persistent.
You can also have one serving of whole wheat bread, certain cereals nuts and the like a day, and two servings of dairy. Finally, you can spend a very limited number of “Syns” on whatever you want – chocolate, alcohol, oils and butter, etc.
This system means that you eat very little prepared or processed food and almost no sugar. Since I like to cook, it was pretty easy for me to prepare my meals and avoid “Syns.” But it makes it very hard to eat out without asking for lots of adaptations, since most restaurant food has a ton of oil in it. And you can forget about pizza. I quibble with the tough stance on oils. A little healthy oil is very important for nutrition, and healthy skin and hair. I spend at least 2 Syns a day on olive or sunflower oil.
What do you for exercise: There’s a “Body Magic” component that encourages activity. Do X number of minutes, X days a week, and you get an award. I got the awards pretty easily. The hardest one – “Gold” requires at least a half hour of exercise 5 days a week.
What you learn: Each day is a new day at Slimming World. You’re not meant to save up your Syns for a big splurge, but rather do the best you can each day. This was hard for me, as I have tended to think about weeklong blocks of time, but now that I am used to it I realize it’s better to focus on the present. I liked weighing in once a week though. You also are meant to plan, plan, plan so that you know ahead of time what you’re eating. This is not a diet for people who do things at the last minute or open the fridge and say “what should I have for lunch?” They have some handy tools, such as a “For and Against” list where you write down all the reasons for and against losing weight. Sounds dumb, but if you spend some time on it and revisit it from time to time, you learn a lot about yourself.
Support: The coach and groups are much more involved and high-quality experiences than with Noom. You choose a day and time for your hourlong group meeting – I happen to do Wednesday nights. The meetings happen in a chat format on Slimming World’s website. The coach leads the meetings, but the content is whatever you want it to be. Members can pose questions to the group and we’ll all chime in to help. Sometimes this gets tedious, especially when people have asked for breakfast ideas for the 10th time. But we often have real discussions about real problems, such as planning for holidays, dealing with food pushers and fitting exercise into daily life.
The meeting also includes a lot of pep talks and awards. I’ve been “Slimmer of the Week” three times. The group and coach also are available during the week on a special landing page, or you can reach out to the whole Slimming World community. A few membersof my group exchanged personal numbers so we can text each other during the week. My one complaint is the website and mobile app are both very wonky – hard to use and prone to crashes and bugs.
Cost: The initial joining fee is $30, which includes access to the online community, articles and recipes, and a booklet. After that, it’s $10 a month. I paid $14 to buy a three-month meal and activity planner book because the website annoyed me so much. This was totally optional.
Best takeaway: I really like the planning. Each week I make a lot of modular foods that mix and match for meals. For example, I’ll grill or roast several chicken breasts and a pile of vegetables, boil a pound of shrimp bake a few potatoes, cook a pot of couscous and a pot of pasta, hard boil several eggs, and prep veggies for salads. Dinner of grilled chicken, grilled veggies and corn on the cob one day becomes a pasta salad for lunch the next day and fajitas for dinner, etc. I almost always bring my lunch to work now, and I never have a day when I am hungry, there’s not much to eat in the house, and we end up ordering takeout.
Worth it? Yes, I recommend this plan. You will get out of it what you put into it (as with most things in life, right?) It’s easy to follow, you get support if you want it, and you can lose weight.
I am trying this week to go Sugar-Free, and I am not talking about switching to Diet Coke.
I am trying not to eat any added sugar at all, in anything.
This is harder than you might think. You can’t go sugar-free just by avoiding sweets. In the U.S. anyway, sugar is in almost everything. I went through my cabinets and fridge and marked with a sharpie all the sugar-laden foods with an X.
Why is there sugar in mayonnaise? I’ve made it from scratch before, out of only egg yolk, oil, mustard, lemon juice and salt. Same deal with spaghetti sauce. Aren’t tomatoes sweet enough? I definitely don’t add sugar to my homemade sauce.
Mayo doesn’t need sugar.
Neither does spaghetti sauce.
Obviously, all cereals are out. I am not a big cereal eater anyway (this is my husband’s hoard), but I checked just for fun. Cheerios has only 1 gram of sugar per bowl – that’s about 1/4 of a teaspoon – so the best of the lot. Some of these so-called “healthy” cereals have 13 grams per serving – about 1 tablespoon of sugar.
I’m also astonished at how sweet foods have more than one kind of sugar in them. A barbecue sauce, for example, had two kinds of corn syrup, brown sugar, and plain ol’ sugar in it. Yuck.
Food companies do this mostly so that they can hide the amount of sugar in foods. U.S. regulations require food companies to list ingredients by volume, most prevalent to least prevalent, in the food. If they just used, say, corn syrup, that item would appear high up in the list, maybe even first. You think you’re eating tomato ketchup, but the label would reveal you’re eating corn syrup flavored with tomatoes. So they spread out the sugar content among several different types of sugars to hide this reality. There are more than 60! Common ones you see are: sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, maple syrup, brown sugar, molasses, honey, agave syrup, cane juice, beet sugar, sucrose, fructose, etc.
Some people think that some kinds of sugars are “healthier” than others. Not true. It’s all basically the same. Just because honey and maple syrup come from nature doesn’t mean they’re less sugary than corn syrup that comes from a factory.
I stumbled upon another reality of processed foods – things tend to get sweeter over time. I had in my pantry two boxes of Kashi Cherry Dark Chocolate granola bars – one “original” and one “improved.” Obviously, these have sugar in them. I have been bringing them to work sometimes if I want a sweet treat to have with coffee, because it’s a better option than, say, a pastry or doughnut. I compared the old nutrition ingredients to the new, and look what I found:
The “new & improved” label shows more chocolate.
Improved how? More sugar and fat, less fiber!
The “new and improved” is actually “new and worse.” There’s more sugar and fat and less protein now, but more chocolate! The bar is denser and also stickier from the extra sugar. Brands like Kashi have a “health halo” around them. They use packaging and advertising to make people think their products are good choices, but they’re not.
Finally, here’s a Tale of Two Salsas.
The one on the right is a Peach and Mango salsa. It’s sweet, yes, because there are peaches and mangos in there. Yet there’s also sugar and agave syrup, which is supposed to be “better” than corn syrup. As if. WHY? The salsa on the left is a roasted tomato and pepper concoction – no added sugar. Its 1 gram of sugar occurs naturally in tomatoes. So it’s what I am going to have.
My sewing room garbage can is stuffed. I put in there the muslins and pattern pieces from the Burda trousers 127 from the December 2017 issue. The fit just looks awful, no matter what I do. I will spare your eyeballs the ugly pictures from my third muslin attempt. It was a serious shitshow. The idea to do a “full thigh adjustment” did not work. Excess fabric pooches out in the thighs and just looks absurd. So yeah, I learned that lesson.
Also in the bin is my skirt from New Look 6326. This had two problems – dodgy fabric and a backside fit that just baffled me. The waist was enormous but when I put in another set of darts in the back, I got this bizarre pleating effect. Could I fix it? Maybe. But fuck it. I don’t even want the skirt anymore. It’s made of wool crepe and it’s already mid-February.
Basically, I struggle mightily to fit the bottom half of my body. I can make tops and jackets all day. I can make a fit-and-flare dress or skirt. But I have to deal with my thighs, butt and waist in any way, I fail. This is serious disappointment. Half the point of sewing apparel for me is to get clothes I want but cannot buy because RTW cuts don’t remotely fit me.
I have always hated my legs. Even as a child I hated them. I seriously had cellulite and stretch marks on my thighs when I was 12. I have spent my entire life trying to deal with this. Even at my thinnest as an adult, my legs looked terrible. Now I have gained back some of that weight, and I think every fucking pound of it went to my legs and my ass.
This is a string of failures. I am also having problems with this graduate class I am taking. Work is boring. I can’t seem to lose weight. And our dinner party last night didn’t turn out well either.
Part of me knows that failure is inevitable when you try something new or hard. “Give yourself permission to suck,” I say to myself. Well, I suck all right. Everything sucks. I feel like I just need a good long cry, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I thought maybe if I wrote this – just put all the shit out there – it would release the floodgates.
I am not much for desserts nowadays – too rich, too sweet, too many calories I’d rather spend on something else. But a little corner of my heart still loves a fruit pie. I grew up eating them and making them, as a child at my grandmother’s side. In New England tradition, pies are simple and not too sweet, with just a rumor of cinnamon in an all-butter crust. Eat a leftover slice for breakfast with a steaming mug of creamy coffee.
My minimalist pie starts with the right kind of apples: either Baldwins or Cortlands.
Cortlands are commonly found all over the place, but Baldwins are the apples to score if you’re lucky enough to have a diverse orchard nearby. Baldwins used to be everywhere years ago, but they’re rare find today. I drive to Guilford, Conn to get some at Bishop’s Orchards.
My family grew two varieties of apples when I was growing up: McIntosh for eating and Baldwins for keeping. They’re a hard winter apple, not too sweet or too starchy. You can safely store them in newspaper in a cool place until spring.
I cut the apples with one of those eight-slice apple coring and slicing gizmos. Leave the slices whole – you want a bite of apple, not mush – and toss with the juice of a lemon to keep them from browning.
To the apples, I add a half cup of white sugar (again, not too sweet is the rule), 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (you want to taste apple primarily, with just enough cinnamon to perfume the pie juices) and a tablespoon of potato starch for thickening. You can find potato starch in the kosher section of your supermarket. It’s better than cornstarch because it keeps the pie juices clear, while cornstarch clouds the juices.
Then there’s the crust. That’s simple:
3 cups of all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out (get King Arthur, a New England brand, if you can swing it)
Pinch of salt
1/2 pound of cold sweet butter (two sticks – I like Kate’s Homemade Butter from Vermont)
8-10 tablespoons of ice water
An all-butter crust is crumbly and hard to work with, so if you’re not a pie doyenne, sub out half the butter for Crisco and you’ll have an easier time and a pretty good crust. I make my crust by hand, cutting chunks of the cold butter into the flour-salt mixture with a pastry blender in a big bowl. Sure, use a food processor if you’d rather.
Once the butter’s cut in to the flour into tiny pieces (no larger than a grain of raw rice) sprinkle in the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time. If it’s humid, 8 tablespoons of water will do. If it’s dry, you may need up to 10. Err on the “less is more” side – you can always add water if you need it, but you sure can’t take it out. You’ll know it’s done when it just holds together if you give a chunk of the mixture a good squeeze.
Rolling out the pastry is another “less is more” exercise. Sprinkle flour onto your counter and onto a rolling pin, Flatten the pastry with your hands into a disc and roll, center out, then lift from the counter, turn 90 degrees, flip over and roll again. Got that? It’s roll, lift, turn, flip. Roll, lift, turn, flip. A scraper helps with the “lift” part. You shouldn’t need to roll that much – 8 or 10 turns should do it. If the pastry is not cooperating, wrap it in plastic and let it rest in the fridge for a bit, then try again.
To transfer rolled pastry into the pie plate, wrap an edge of the pastry around the rolling pin and coil the rest of the pastry around, then unroll it right where you want it. (I can’t think of a better way to explain this – I imagine there are 100 videos on YouTube if you don’t understand.) If there are little holes or tears in the crust, just patch them as best you can. It’s homemade, after all. Don’t sweat it.
To get a good seal on the crust, wrap the overhanging bits of top crust under the overhanging bits of bottom crust and crimp them together with your fingers or a fork. Cut a couple of vents in the top crust so steam can escape. Brush the top crust with an egg wash (an egg beaten with a little water).
I use a clear Pyrex pie plate so I can see what’s going on as the pie cooks. I bake it at 400 degrees on a pizza stone to get a good crisp bottom crust. It’s done when the juices bubble thickly. Some may spill out – don’t worry about it.
Cool completely, or as completely as you can stand before eating.
The trees are just starting to turn here in Connecticut, but the weather’s been unseasonably warm and sunny and we haven’ had a hard frost, so flowers are still blooming. It’s a funny time of year for the garden, with pruning on the agenda, as we wait for the leaves to fall and for the annuals to die.
I harvested the last of the tomatoes and basil, and pulled them out of the raised beds for compost. I’ll process the basil with some olive oil and salt and freeze in mini plastic containers to use all winter. The frost had kissed, but not killed the green basil, and there was a little of the red basil left. It didn’t produce that well this year. The tomatoes were spent.
I harvested more broccoli but left the plants alone for the most part. Despite harvesting almost every day, eating a lot and blanching some to store in the freezer, some broccoli flowers and goes to seed. I love these humble broccoli flowers, and so do insects. You probably can’t tell from this picture, but there are at least 9 species of insect feeding off these plants, including four kinds of bees, two kinds of moths, a ladybug, some other small flying bug I can’t identify, and one noisome garden pest – these gray aphids that form huge masses on the plant and suck the life out of it.
I prune off aphid-infested stalks and let the rest of the flowers go. The bees get rather aggressive at this time of year, as the flower supply dwindles.
While autumn color is still a few weeks away, my blueberry bushes are doing their own thing. I have three varieties in my garden, and they’re all donning their autumn colors on their own time.
The fully green bush to the left is the “Blue Crop” variety, a midseason berry. Its scarlet neighbor is “Jersey,” a late season berry and the coppery neighbor to the right is “Earliblue,” an early variety, of course.
We pruned the lilacs and holly bushes so they won’t crowd the driveway and sidewalks this winter. I still need to do the roses, but that will have to wait for another day.