Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Plume Poppy

The garden is a drab mess in August and this year is no exception. It is too hot to weed or do anything else for that matter. Dragging hoses around to keep everything watered is strenuous enough and just running out for a few minutes to do that leaves you wet and sticky. I just hate this time of year.

Most plants in the garden look desperate and I can count the ones with blooms on one hand. One that looks somewhat decent is the Plume Poppy (Macleaya cordata), a tropical looking, big-leaved beauty that commands attention. Even when stressed by drought and heat, the leaves turn a golden color that looks metallic when the light hits it a certain way. Underneath, they are white and downy. In late summer, delicate sprays of tiny white flowers appear - attractive but to me, the leaves are the star of the plant.

I bought the plant a few years ago at a local plant sale and I was warned that it could be rampant. I wisely planted it in a sunken plastic container. It spreads by underground rhizomes but thankfully the sunken container seems to keep it in check. From time to time, I spot it popping up in other places but it is easily identifiable and easy to pull up.

Plume Poppy is tall and dramatic and can be used as a dramatic focal point in the garden. Just keep an eye on it!
Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cantaloupe #2

I was at my mother's house yesterday and there was another ripe cantaloupe. This is the second one. I'm so excited! Of all the things I planted, the cantaloupes have been the most successful. The fragrance is so intense. I had to roll the windows down on my way home and now our kitchen smells like a big cantaloupe. 

As excited as I am about growing a first, I'm disappointed that the watermelons tanked. They are my favorite. Michael loves cantaloupe though so he is very happy.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Chester and Bartholomew taking is easy. What a life!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Homemade laundry soap

The possibility of building a new house and (hopefully) retirement not too far down the road, we find ourselves looking for ways to be more frugal. I keep reading about people who save a lot of money making their own laundry soap and recently I was reading that laundry detergents are not only full of chemicals but not really necessary at all. I'm not ready to start washing our clothes in pure water so I decided to try the homemade soap recipe. It has worked out well - clothes are fresh, clean and fragrance free. Since you only have to use a few tablespoons, it lasts a long time and costs a fraction of the name brand products.

The hardest part was finding the washing soda. No one had it in our area. I found it on E-bay and Amazon but the shipping prices were ridiculous. Finally, I was directed to where you can purchase it directly from Arm & Hammer for $3.99 per box and if you buy over $20 worth (6 boxes), they ship free. Now I have enough washing soda to last a long, long time.

Homemade Laundry Soap

1 bar soap (I used Ivory, I would use Nels Naptha if I could find it)
1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda

Grate the soap (I used a kitchen box grater) and mix with the other ingredients. Store in an air tight container. Use 1-3 tablespoons per load (using 3 for larger loads).

You can also add essential oils to the mix if you would like some fragrance.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Friday, August 6, 2010

Vegan cupcakes

I made vegan cupcakes tonight and no, I'm not really a vegan. The recipe comes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I first discovered Moskowitz a few years ago when I was searching for vegetarian recipes and found her wonderful book Vegan with a Vengeance.

I have an incurable sweet tooth and I thought I would try one of the cupcake recipes. If I'm not cutting back on sugar like I should be, at least I could say I was cutting back on dairy. Does that count for anything? I tell myself that it does.

Good news - these were delicious! In fact, I'd venture to say that they are even better than a cupcake made with real butter and milk. The icing is especially rich and yummy. If you have an aversion to dairy products, try this recipe! They are very simple to make.

Your Basic Chocolate Cupcake (reprinted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

Makes 12 cupcakes

1 cup soy milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract, chocolate extract, or more vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder, Dutch processed or regular
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1) Preheat oven to 350F and line muffin pan with paper or foil liners.
2) Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil and vanilla extract, and the other extract, if using, to the soy milk mixture and beat till foamy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add in two batches to the wet ingredients and beat till no large lumps remain (a few tiny lumps are okay).
3) Pour into liners, filling three quarters of the way. Bake 15 - 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

Buttercream Frosting

1/4 cup margarine, softened (**I use Smart Balance)
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (sifted if there are clumps) (**I use Dutch processed cocoa)
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons soy milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Cream together the margarine and the shortening until well combined. Add the cocoa powder and incorporate well. Add the confectioners sugar in about 1/2 cup batches and beat well, adding a little soy milk after each addition. When all ingredients have been well incorporated, add vanilla extract and beat until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes with a hand mixer, 7 minutes if mixing with a fork).

There are variations to each recipe (I won't list them here, you will have to buy the book!). There are all kinds of other cupcake recipes and frostings. I can't wait to try more.

Since I discovered Dutch-processed cocoa, I always use it in baking. It really makes a big difference. Of course it hard as heck to find. I don't believe it exists in the city limits of Florence. But I've discovered a great mail order source. Penzey's offers it in various sizes and reasonable prices and their spice catalog is addictive.

I have a dear friend who lives in Memphis and she works part-time at Williams Sonoma. Every time she comes for a visit, she brings me something from the store. About a year ago, she brought me a bottle of chocolate extract. I've never seen a recipe that calls for it until I saw this one and I used it tonight! What fun!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Vegetable garden update

If you were reading my blog back in May, you might remember that I built a few raised beds at my mother's house and planted some vegetables. Michael and I have always grown a few tomato plants and peppers here at our house and they do quite well considering that they are planted under a dogwood tree. Nevertheless, they get enough afternoon sun to produce nicely.

I wanted to grow other things though and mother has plenty of room and tons of sun. The project has been hit and miss with more misses than hits. First of all, my mother lives near Russellville, about 25 minutes from Florence and I only get down there about once per week. Vegetables need more attention than that and I know it would be more successful if I could tend to it daily. My sister has helped - otherwise I'm sure it would have been a complete failure.

First, in the upper photo, cantaloupe growing on a trellis. I planted squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, watermelon and cantaloupe. Cantaloupe has been the clear winner. Just look at this! There are 4 cantaloupes on the vine at the moment and it looks more to come. Here's the kicker - I don't even like cantaloupes! Michael loves them though so if I can grow a nice one for him, I'll be happy.

After weeks of just sitting there, one of the cucumbers has taken off all of a sudden.

The squash (I don't have a photo) did fairly well. My sister picked a few for several weeks but all of a sudden, the entire plant collapsed and withered. As for the zucchini, I don't believe they even came up!

The herbs have done great!

I know that one problem was probably the fact that I planted too late and it has been a hot sweltering summer. Next year I plan to be ready early and get the seeds in the ground much faster than I did this year. Over the winter, I hope to build a compost box, fence in the garden, and clear the pathways. And I do hope to have a fall garden. Hopefully, by the time we get to build our house there, the garden will be ready for some serious attention.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy