Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How to Peel Garlic

This is a short post, but a good one. How do you peel garlic? Many people don't... they buy it pre-peeled because they don't want to waste their time on it. A few know to put a broad knife over a clove, give it a slight smack to loosen the paper-like wrapping, and then peel. In fact, that's how I did it for years. Then I learn this neat-o method.

Step 1. Break apart cloves in a head of garlic and put them in a bowl.

Step 2. Cover the bowl and shake the daylights out of it.

Step 3. Open the bowl to reveal all your garlic cloves have been peeled! Put the peeled cloves in the fridge to store.

I know... right?!?! Why is this not common knowledge?

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spinning Wheel Bliss

Rebel, rebel, represent... yeh, I got a spinning wheel. I couldn't help myself, I've been obsessing ever since I took spinning classes at Beelighted in Zumbrota, MN. It took a while to afford one. Despite dreams of a forlorn wheel someone would sell of cheap, there is really no such thing. Spinning wheels, even old ones, start at about $300.

The wheel I got (picture above) is a cheaper model by Kromski called the Prelude. It is a single drive wheel with Scotch tension. It comes with 2 extra spindles and a version of a built in Lazy Kate to ply yarns from. The wheel above is unfinished; if you follow the link to the Prelude site above, you will see it stained dark. Eventually I would like to do the same; the wheel looks fabulous dark.

Spinning isn't automatic or easy. At first it's a bit like rubbing you belly while you pat your head... there is a lot going on and hard to keep track of it all. I think I do well for a novice spinner, but I have a lot to learn still. Below is 2 ounces of 2-ply yarn that is Aran weight and made from wool roving. To make yarn, first you spin the yarn (clockwise) into a long, thin, "single ply" strand. Then, if you like, you take the two ends of the strand and spin ("ply" ...used as a verb here) them together (going counterclockwise). The end product is a 2 ply strand that is more like yarn you see in the store and generally more uniform than single ply yarn.

Hand spun yarn is more uniform and truer to weight the more experienced the spinner is, but it all has it nuances. Most knitters love the slight variations in hand spun yarn, many pay a premium for it. Spinning won't make you tons of money though, roving itself is costly and with labor on top of that. Most "expensive" hand spun yarns are modestly priced for the materials and the process. Those that do make money are usually starting with fiber produced on their own farms. But if you make it for yourself, chances are you really are doing it because you like spinning as much as knitting, and in the end you will save a little bit of money on the final yarns. (without counting the labor of spinning, fiber IS cheaper than yarn.) I do have visions of getting and Angora rabbit sometime in the future, though. Angoras have long fur that is a good fiber to spin and I have a background in raising and caring for rabbits. I definitely need to find a cute project for the yarn below... ideas welcome!

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Monday, March 19, 2012

And Spring gave Summer a miss...

So winter never really came and all of a sudden it seems we are in the middle of June here in Minnesota... very odd in deed. Usually sometime in March we get a "warm spell" of 30-40 degrees or so, just enough to give you hope. Then we are hit with more snow until late April.

But this year the snow never really came and, well, I was counting on a snowy March to finalize my garden plans. No such luck, so I find myself scrambling. We may get a frost yet... but it certainly won't be in May. So I finally find myself "behind" in starting plants that needed starting (tomatoes). Over the weekend I drafted up the page you see above for my square foot garden. It will have a trellis on one side for climbing plants. The idea behind square foot gardening is to plant very compactly, eliminating rows used in traditional gardens.  I ordered the seeds today...

...The order above is from seed saver's exchange in Iowa. There was also $6.00 shipping... so almost 30 bucks. Like most things, the garden is going to be the most costly this year (the first) because materials (and seeds) can hopefully be used next year.

My plan for the bed is to cut two 2"X12"x8' in half, giving a 4x4 bed. Each square you see above is 1 foot x 1 foot. I think plywood will work for the bottom, with some drainage holes. I am going to try raise it off the ground with cement blocks. Then comes the dirt, which I am not excited to see the price for... I expect that to be costly. Now I am not the most mechanical, but I am going to make it myself, or die trying ;).

So I started racking my brain with how much of everything to get, but I ended up deciding that I just wanted to take this as a learning experience, choose a few things I like, and go through the process this year. I can worry about what I want more of next year.

So the varieties I chose are as follows:

Carrots, St Valery See them here
Cucumber, Bushy OG
Pepper, Habenero Mustard (for Equah, will be in a separate pot)
Swiss Chard, 5 color silverbeet
Bean, Black Valentine
Turnip, Purple Top White
Bell Pepper, King of the North
Tomato, Cherry Roma
Tomato, Hillbilly Tomato Leaf

Really, these are chosen by nothing more than the online descriptions and whatever looked like fun to grow. I figured I could wrack my brain and spend hours studying something I knew nothing about, or I could give it a shot and learn as I go. I chose the latter. It's my first vegetable garden and I just want to have fun with it and get my hands dirty. I chose heirlooms, because I'm particularly attached to them. When given the chance I went for striking varieties that would be inspiring to grow. I will likely have stumbles along the way, but hopefully it will be somewhat successful. I also will have some potted herbs and hot peppers (I didn't want to try reaching over these to tend other plants). The seeds are ordered, and hopefully this weekend I will start some indoors and get the bed built. We will see, weekends get busy fast around here.

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Music on Monday: Trampled by Turtles

You would think I'd have been a long time fan... by all reasonable standards I should have been. I was living in Duluth around the time they first started getting noticed, and while living in the Minneapolis/St. Paul, I repeatedly read about them in City Pages and saw their disks at Cheapo in the Local section.

...But the fact is that Trampled by Turtles... well, it just screams crappy punk rock band. I'm sorry, the name is a bit clever, but I couldn't get over that I thought I knew what they were about... and I'm not really a punk rocker. Don't get me wrong, I like a lot of punk rock... but I really just can't be bothered to scrape through the local "scene" because, frankly, some punk rocker types bother me. Some are sweet as pie, and some make you feel like you're just got a snooty cheerleader as your lab partner.

And so I passed them by. BAD choice. They are an extremely excellent... bluegrass... band. Or folk, or whatever label you prefer. They are the type of band that could have gotten away with crappy song writing;  their instrumentation skill is enough to draw a crowd. The cherry on top is that they are indeed strong songwriters. And, oh boy, you must hear that fiddle player.

I missed my opportunity to see them in February, they were sold out by the time I got around to looking up tickets. But they hail from Duluth, as good Minnesota music should, and I'm sure I will find an excuse to visit them and take in the North Shore. I suggest you do the same.

Official website:

You tube:
 Wait So Long
Where Is my Mind? (Pixies Cover)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Recipe: Root Veggie Soup

Wow, this is a really filling and comforting soup. I got it off a package of root vegetables (contents shown above), but I adapted it slightly to my liking. The original recipe didn't have much in the way for seasonings and the end product was meant to be blended to a puree. From past experience, I have not like these types of pureed soups, so I skipped that part and just added some thickener.

1 medium onion
1 tsp olive oil
8 garlic cloves, minced
3 lbs root vegetables (carrots, turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, celeric, sunchokes)
* Potato (I did not use, but will try next time)
6 cups vegetable stock
3/4 cup cream
2 tsp corn starch mixed with some cold water
salt and pepper to taste

I will add here that maybe you want to add a potato as well. I think the flavor would certainly be great and it may bulk up the broth enough to omit the corn starch later. If you do use too much carrot, parsnip, or turnip the soup can bit sweet for my taste. The potato may help to counter that sweetness.

Prep all of you veggies-  scrape, clean, and cut.

Heat the olive oil- make sure to use under Medium heat so you don't scorch it. Yes, I did this, while talking to my sister on the phone. If you do scorch the oil (it will start smoking heavily and smell awful) get it off the burner and out of the house! Smoked oil is a carcinogen, you should not breath it in. But don't worry, if this happens, you will KNOW not to breath it by it's putrid stench.

OK, add the onions and cook until soft.

Now add your vegetables and cook for 10 minutes. They will not be thoroughly cooked. I also added my salt and pepper at this point, maybe a teaspoon or so of each. You can experiment with other seasonings, the recipe called for none at all, a bit odd. Generally speaking, a little seasoning goes a long way. You could try some thyme or rosemary as well.

Add stock and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes per the directions. Mine took longer. Take off the heat and allow to cool for a bit. Stir in the cream.

Now heat on the stove again and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Allow to simmer until nice and thick. Adjust seasonings as needed.

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