Welcome to One-Quarter Acres

Here's a chronicle of life on a plot of land right smack in the suburbs in Minnesota, whose owners would much prefer to be in the middle of nowhere.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Excuse my absence. I've been creating life.

Little garden plots kind of pale in comparison to cultivating entire human beings within one's body and then pushing out said human being(s) on your living room rug. The last couple of months of pregnancy really sapped my life force, and I have - I think, understandably - been a little preoccupied with the care and feeding of a new little man, so I haven't had much time for gardening, canning, cooking, etc. More accurately, I haven't had much time for blogging about it.

We welcomed a little man into the world on August 14 after two whole hours of labor and four minutes of pushing. Yes, I am impressed with myself. It was an incredible experience, and after having a hospital birth and a home birth I cannot comprehend ever setting foot in a hospital to give birth ever again, unless life-saving procedures are necessary. The best part was being able to sleep in my own bed afterward, without any nurses coming in to poke or prod. I highly recommend the experience.

I meant to post regular pictures of my garden and harvests, truly I did. But I only have these meager few. My harvests were meager, as well, partly due to my half-hearted weeding and packing way too much into my square footage. I'm also not good at feeding and watering the soil, and it always bites me on the butt. Next year I need to concentrate on making really nice soil and feeding it when necessary. Our lack of heat didn't help things, but I can't blame all of my garden's failings on that!

I might be the only person in the world who had two zucchini plants and about five zucchini total.

The first harvest - the wax beans actually grew like crazy and I ended up with about three pounds of beans, eventually.

My tiny lettuce crop. It was turned into a salad with boiled beets and feta cheese in a lemony vinaigrette. My daughter gobbled it up!

And here are my three square-foot gardening boxes, packed to the brim. Next year I might actually listen to the square foot gardening dude when he says that tomato plants that aren't trellised need NINE spaces:




The yellow pear tomato was crazy productive, and the roma tomato was close behind. The yellow pears pretty much ended up going straight down my daughter's gullet, and the romas were mostly dried in the oven - just sliced in half and dried overnight at 200, no seasoning or oil. I think we got a lot of hillbilly potato leaf fruits, though I'll be darned if I knew which plant was planted where. I lost my "map" to my seedlings and then my map to the garden. Maybe next year I'll be organized. (Yeah, right.)

And since we're getting frost around these parts, I guess it's the end of tomato season unless we've got some farmers with row covers. A short and sweet season it was.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Neglectful me

I could offer excuses, but I have no good ones! I keep meaning to post pictures of my garden, but I need to take them first. We've had quite a stretch of rainy days, followed by some hot and humid days, which means things are really taking off.

Some things have not popped up. Either my chanterais melon or watermelon (I can't remember what went where) didn't come up, and most of the lettuce didn't, either. I know it's late for lettuce, but I had to give it a try. I am probably going to stop by a greenhouse and pick up half-price something-or-others to fill those gaps, and I'll plant another round of bush beans as well. Or, I suppose I could leave things bare and try to remember to plant some spinach or broccoli or the like when the weather cools down again. But I am trying to forget that someday it'll be cold and the snow will come, etc.

The big excitement recently has been my first day at the farmers market. My husband and I set up promptly at after-seven-thirty (we were supposed to be set up before then - oops) at the New Hope Community Farmers Market and we're proud to report that Robin's Dale Handmade Soap actually sold some product. I suspect we'll sell more as time goes on, if only because I'll be adding more sellable scents. As much as I like all-natural, herbal soap, the general public likes the fruity/floral sort. I will eventually have a proper website set up, with online ordering, and will likely throw some goods up on Etsy as well. I smell like freesia today, and you could, too!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Victory gardens then and now

By way of Fiona at the Minneapolis Metblog:

Victory Gardens: Join the Garden Revolution
Tuesday, June 23, 2009 at 9:00 - 11:00 a.m.

Join Rose Hayden-Smith, IATP Food and Society Fellow, national Victory Garden expert from University of California for an in-depth workshop about Victory Gardens and what history can show us in how government can better support community gardening. Rose will review historical case studies and current national policies, and work with participants to articulate public policies for today. The workshop is sponsored by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and Gardening Matters.

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
2104 Stevens Avenue South, Minneapolis

Registration: $10; Scholarships available upon request.Please RSVP by June 18 to Anne Walters at awalters@iatp.org or 612-870-3408.

Breakfast refreshments will be provided.


How about adding your garden to the One Million Gardens website? According to the site, "The One Million Garden campaign is designed to identify, encourage, and document the creation of 1,000,000 food gardens throughout the United States by the end of 2009." I'm there as One-Quarter Acres, of course.

Monday, June 8, 2009

...and more baking

I made more bread today, since we were having company and beef stew, and that necessitates bread. Brilliant me forgot the salt until mid-knead, but sprinkling in between kneads appeared to have been sufficient to prevent disaster. It's not as good as the last batch, but definitely edible.

And then I made cake!






This recipe is from the old church cookbook, as we call it. It's from the mid-1950s and everything is set in uppercase, with signatures of the women who wrote the recipes - all in the same hand. There are advertisements in the back, too: "Compliments Of TIME THEATER Douglas Ingalls Phone 88-R11 Pepin Wisconsin." My grandma added notes, certain recipes have a box drawn around them (like the cake above), and some recipes from newspapers are pasted on the blank pages. My husband complains about the way I write recipes, but I write them just like these church ladies did, with estimates and shorthand and vagueness.

You'll notice (or will you?) another charming quirk: a total lack of proofreading. There's no amount listed for the flour in the recipe. 2 1/2 cups appears to be the correct amount. And you can substitute some whole milk (or maybe even non-whole milk) for the cream and it'll still work. I substituted three tablespoons of cocoa plus another tablespoon each of butter and sugar for the bar of chocolate (which I am taking to mean a one-ounce bar of chocolate), too. The icing will thicken as it cools, but no one'll kick you out of the house if you feed them this cake with drippy icing. It's still delicious.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Planning canning

Last year I decided to fling myself back into canning. A few years ago, I canned some salsa and pickles, but moving into an apartment, and then into a new house, took me off that track. This is what I canned last year, in no particular order:

  • Bread and butter pickles
  • Dill pickles (a whole day's work with my friend Amy)
  • Orange marmalade
  • Grapefruit marmalade
  • Grape jelly
  • Plum jam
  • Pickled beets
  • Corn relish
  • Sweet pickle relish

    The corn relish wasn't like I remembered; I have very distinct memories of the corn relish I enjoyed as a child (my mom did a lot of canning back in the day), and this didn't measure up, and didn't get eaten. The orange marmalade was fantastic, but I admit I haven't even tried the grapefruit. I just made that because I had grapefruit that was going to go bad otherwise! I haven't tried the plum jam, either, as I made it for my mom. The grape jelly is fantastic, made out of non-concord grapes stolen from a friend's neighboring then-vacant house. The pickled beets are mostly for me, and I will probably hold off on making more this year since I have a few jars left over. We still have some jars of pickles left, but those will be gone soon, and the sweet pickle relish was gone in a flash. I need to make at least double that amount this year.

    I'd like to try some new things this year, like tomato jam. I traded some of my canned goods and received some tomato jam in that exchange, and OH GOODNESS is it good. I'd also like to can fruit, like peaches, pears, and applesauce. We can't get locally grown peaches this far north, but I am going to channel my great-grandma and do what they did way back when and get a case (or more!) while they're in season and can away. My dad tells me that the women of Alma would go down to the train when it came up bringing peaches, and would drag crates back home and can them together.

    This year, two other ladies will be joining me for periodic can-stravaganzas to take advantage of our joint efforts and equipment. I will be hugely pregnant during most of the summer, and have volunteered to be the one who does the bulk of the (sitting-down!) prep work. That's actually my favorite part, anyway. I'm not a fan of slaving over hot stoves, even if they're set up outside. We might do some prepwork for freezing together, as well, since some things, like strawberries and green beans, take quite a bit of effort. For now, the lineup includes processing strawberries (for freezing and jamming), cucumber pickles, tomatoes, peaches, pears, and, come fall, applesauce.

    My stomach is growling just thinking of it all.
  • Saturday, June 6, 2009

    A day for baking

    It's day two of a four-day weekend and rain's been falling all day, so it was the perfect time for baking.

    Homemade deep-dish pizzaI started out making pizza dough, which turned into homemade deep-dish pizza for dinner. It turned out satisfactorily. The tomatoes I used (Red Gold brand) weren't as rich-tasting as I had hoped, parts of the crust were tough because I really had to manhandle it, and the sausage was subpar because I was using what the grocery store had to offer, but it's certainly edible, if not really photogenic.

    A Saturday's bakingThen it was onto English muffins, using half wheat and half white flour, and by golly, they taste like English muffins, if a bit denser than storebought. I followed that up by making waffles with a topping of bananas, brown sugar, maple syrup, and butter, plus some pecans on the grownups' (not pictured). Then I made bread dough, and oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies.

    The bread turned out to be, possibly, my best ever. I credit being more patient and more distracted than usual. Here's the recipe, for posterity:

    Whole wheat bread
    (modified from the Dakota Maid whole wheat bread recipe)

    4 cups whole wheat flour
    2-1/2 cups bread flour
    2 pkg. dry yeast
    1 1/2 cups warm milk
    1 1/4 cups warm water
    1/4 cup honey
    1/4 cup oil
    1 T salt

    Dissolve yeast milk and water. Add honey, oil, and salt. Beat in 1 cup whole-wheat flour. Add remaining wheat flour.

    Turn out on counter and knead, adding enough all-purpose flour to make a soft dough. Place in lightly greased bowl and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk (about 45 min). Punch down dough, divide and form into two balls. Cover and let rest about 5 min. Roll each ball on lightly flour-dusted surface into a 10x6 in. rectangle. Roll up jellyroll fashion and pinch ends together. Place in two lightly greased 81/2 x 41/2 in or 9x5 in loaf pans, with seam sides down. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk.

    Bake at 400 degrees F for 40 min or until bread sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from pans immediately. Cool on wire rack.

    Yield: 2 loaves

    I think we're covered on the carb front for awhile.

    Friday, June 5, 2009

    Subtitled: The First Four Years

    I've been a fan of the Little House books for almost 20 years. My grandparents live near Pepin, Laura Ingalls Wilder's birthplace, and my great-aunt would take my sister and me on excursions while we were visiting for the summer. On one of these we stopped at the homesite and museum, and my great aunt gifted me with a set of the books. I've read them each dozens of times. I really should've been born a hundred years before I was.

    I'm writing my own The First Four Years now, here, in real time. I've got my little house (albeit in the suburbs and not on the prairie), a handsome husband (though I really wish he would make me buckwheat pancakes sometime), a little girl and another baby on the way, a garden, and a love for all things domestic. (But let's hope that no infants pass away and no one's struck with diphtheria.)

    Here shall be a chronicle of our live here in the suburbs, on a plot I've named "One-Quarter Acres," where I try my best to pretend I live out in the middle of nowhere instead. I'll talk about gardening, cooking and baking things from scratch, putting food by, the chickens I hope to have pecking away at my lawn someday, babies, birth, breastfeeding (those three Bs are my passions), the occasional plug of my soapmaking business, and all that organic/local/sustainable/frugal stuff that is popular nowadays.

    I will warn you all: I am far from perfect. I can be very unfrugal, unless you call shopping around for the best price on cable a mark of frugality. I eat and even enjoy fast food. I have a very hard time making budgets, let alone sticking to them. My garden is full of weeds that I'll pull only when absolutely necessary, and my photos aren't going to be suitable for magazine spreads. But who wants to read yet another one of those blogs from yet another perfect family? They're inspiring enough but leave normal individuals feeling inadequate and like they'll never measure up.

    Welcome to the blog, and to One-Quarter Acres. Enjoy your stay, and don't worry about getting mud on the floor because I'm not a good housekeeper, either.


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