Train Cooks Italian!

Post By Train


By now it’s no secret that I make pizza.

I’ve been making pizza for nearly all my adult life off and on. I love pizza. In fact I love it so much I can eat it every day and much of the time do but apart from making spanakopita and a few other Greek delicacies I have zero knowledge as a baker.

Even as I write this I acknowledge the fact that I am no baker. Last year I couldn’t even make a fococcia.


Yeah, one track mind I guess but now I am expanding and having fun doing so.

Not too much expansion, just more of what I am doing. I went crazy last year looking for another pasta machine and finally bought a cheap one to replace the good one that was stolen from me years ago.

It did well and I made a ton of pasta, lasagna and all.

Then I bought a better machine and am still making pasta all the time. It’s just a bit easier.

Pasta machine with ravioli maker attachment

I am constantly looking for ways to improve.

I should slow down long enough to explain that I make most of the pasta the old way.

That is to say I still roll mine and cut it with a knife.

Same with my ravioli.

I roll it, then either cut them with a special cutting die or I roll them out with a special rolling pin.

Heheh, I lay the dough out over a tray, fill the depressions then covering with another layer of dough I roll over the top, cutting through, and in seconds, it’s ravoli.

Yeah, I make all kinds of stuff now and without a torch too.


I gotta tell you that making pasta is a very simple process.

The basics are so simple you will wonder why you haven’t been making it all along.

There are finesse-points you will pick up but right off you can begin feeding your family

fresh homemade pasta without preservatives, etc.

The beautiful part of the whole idea is it only takes minutes, not hours and if you have a stand mixer it will take less time still.

I have been known to spend large amounts of money on dry store bought pasta, already a year or more old.

No wonder it takes so long to cook and never really tastes like pasta.

To this day I still have store boughts in my larder, wagon wheels and such.

Some of you folks want new ways to turn a buck and here is one staring you straight in the face!

A good pasta extruder like DOLLY can turn out enough pasta to supply a major super market store.

Every type of pasta and the DOLLY has other uses too.

Not a toy at approximately $4000.00 but in the right place used by the right person I think this is an automatic business.

I nearly bought one last year for myself, just to play with.


I would be sitting on 1000 pounds of pasta by now and still cranking it out.


Yeah, pasta is great and you don’t even need a machine of any kind to make it.

You can mix the dough by hand quickly and roll it out then cut it all by yourself and this pasta cooks in just a few minutes, not twenty plus minutes and the flavor is unmatched.

Make pasta tonight, you’ll be glad you did.



Posted in Cooking, italian, pasta | Leave a comment

Dead Winter Blues

Post by Redbrick

January 2012. A new year, new opportunities, new challenges; and my first impression is: “Wow, it’s cold!” Times like these make me think that maybe the ancients were on to something, celebrating the New Year on April First. When things are warm. And alive. And growing. Who wants to start a new year with three miserable black months of frustrating cold, anyway? Maybe we’re the “January Fools” in this deal!

Even so, gardeners are nothing if not optimists. We have to be, squirreling away tiny little seeds in the hopes of planting a whole new garden next year. They sure don’t look like much, do they? Certainly not like a huge bumper crop of food and flowers. They are, of course, and we know it, but it still takes a leap of faith to trust in them.

Those seeds also help us keep our sanity in the next few months, the months that I moaned about up in the first paragraph. Dreaming of future gardens while leafing through seed catalogs goes a long way towards banishing winter blues. My best garden years were planted in my imagination during Black January, and I’m sure yours were, too. Remember? The sweet corn reached halfway to the moon; each stalk bearing a half a dozen ears (at least!) every time you looked. The lettuce grew sweet and succulent, never bolting or bitter. There were tomatoes the size of beach balls, peppers in every color of the rainbow, and exotic new veggies you just read about in the catalog, that the kiddies were sure to love to eat! (I DID say this was all in our imagination…) And flowers! Sunflowers that lit up the sky for late evening dinner parties in the yard, moonflowers that rival their namesake, dahlias to make Dali weep…

Laying it on a bit thick? Maybe, but you know where I’m coming from. Don’t you? No? Then why is your seed order total up to three digits at least. For just the first order. With five more catalogs begging for your attention. Yeah, I thought so.

Too bad catalogs don’t help much with curing cabin fever. For that, you need to step up the tempo a bit. Which is why I found myself dashing out to the back yard in what felt like sub-zero weather, in only shirt sleeves. Short shirt sleeves. No, I hadn’t lost it. Well, maybe I had, but never mind that. I did have a good reason for it, seriously: cuttings.

Okay, here’s the whole story. I was in the basement, doing a load of laundry when it occurred to me that now, RIGHT NOW, was the perfect time to start some gooseberry cuttings for next year. Soooo, rather than bother to go all the way upstairs for a hat and coat, I’d just zip out to the patch and snip a few cuttings. After all, my Mad Scientist’s Room, um, nursery area, is in the basement. Why not? It’s something to mess around with, and January’s MUCH too early for seed starting up here in Somewhere-North-of-the-Arctic-Circle, Pennsylvania.

Man, was it ever cold! Come on, Spring!

Posted in Opinion, Planting | Leave a comment

Gimmie Shelter, growing figs north of the Mason Dixon line.

Post By Redbrick

If you grow figs north of the Mason Dixon line, now is the time for action. While our Southern neighbors can safely grow fig trees outdoors in the ground without a care, we Yankees need to give some thought to winter protection.

A Mediterranean plant, the fig cannot handle winter temperatures much below freezing without some help. If you provide them with a little shelter, however, they do quite nicely as far north as Chicago and Boston!

You can protect your fig tree in one of three different ways. I have used two of them myself, and many New England and Lake State growers swear by the third. The first method requires keeping your trees in large planters year round. You simply move the potted plant into a cold but never freezing storage place for the winter. An attached garage or unheated cellar works great. My figs never had any complaints about being stored in the back stairwell of my basement, under a set of metal ‘Bilco’ doors . Don’t worry about light, a dormant fig doesn’t need it. Do remember to water it once a month, however. And remember, a fig bush in a large decorative pot makes a beautiful accent for your deck or patio!

Once I planted my figs in the ground, that was no longer an option, so I switched to method two: bundling, or as I like to call it, ‘crating’. Simply put, you tie and wrap the branches of your tree into a bundle, covered with burlap or old carpet, or something similar. Paper-bagged leaves make a great packing material. As a final touch, you can even wrap the entire affair in black roofing paper. But never, ever wrap it in plastic sheeting. That’s an invitation for mold and fungus.

Finally, you can bury your fig for its winter nap. No, I’ve never done it; it sounds too much like work. The practice is sound, however. Tie and wrap your fig as if you were going to crate it, then dig a bundle-shaped trench to one side of it. Use your shovel to cut the roots on the opposite side of the bundle. Now say a prayer, think happy thoughts, and push the bundle over into the trench. Cover it with the soil from the hole, plus as many fall leaves as you can get. That’s it. Well, except for worrying that you just committed ‘arboricide’. But don’t be afraid, the tree’s just fine!

Yes, we Yankees go through a lot of work for fresh figs, but that first luscious bite of fig makes it all worthwhile, don’t you think?

Posted in figs, gardening, Growing, Planting | Leave a comment

Black Walnuts (Juglans nigra)


post by deninmi

Piles of fallen black walnuts are a common sight in many U.S. states east of the Rockies this time of year: hard, fragrant green orbs midway in size between a golf ball and a tennis ball, that slowly turn yellow and then eventually black, soft, and “mushy” if not taken by squirrels or humans for food. The tall, usually straight-trunked, tree that bears them is common along roadsides, in meadows and woodland margins, and in farm windbreaks and hedgerows. Some populations of black walnuts are alternate bearing, only having a crop every other year, while in other areas, they bear annually.

While black walnuts are a prized food for many, and they are used in various commercially-made food products such as ice cream, candy, and baked goods, many people have never tasted them. Others do not like the distinct, assertive flavor of black walnuts, but most people seem to enjoy them when combined with other flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, or spices. Black walnuts are a good source of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats, and contain decent amounts of Vitamins E, B6, and Magnesium.


Another reason why many people have not tasted black walnuts is because they tend to be relatively expensive and difficult to find, although many supermarkets do stock shelled nutmeats in small bags in the baking nut section. Black walnuts are significantly more difficult to process than their Carpathian, a/k/a “English” walnut cousin (Juglans regia). The commercial “English” walnut of commerce grows in a green husk similar to that of the black walnut. However, unlike the black walnut, the English walnut’s husk splits into four equal sections when the nut is fully ripe, and the nut in its shell falls free of the husk. The black walnut, however, remains inside its husk until the husk either rots away on its own, or is removed by humans or animals. And, the black walnut husk contains a potent natural dye that stains everything it contacts a rich, dark brown. Walnut stain takes a week or longer to fade from human skin, and is generally permanent on porous surfaces. In fact, the husks themselves are often used as a source of natural dyes for yarns, fabrics and even woodworking, and depending upon the material being dyed and the process used, the end color can vary from a yellowish-brown to a deep, almost black color.


Home processing of black walnuts for food use is a multi-step process, a bit labor intensive, and can be messy, but is ultimately rewarding. The first stage in the process is to remove the outer husk. The most popular method is to lay piles of nuts on a hard surface such as a lawn or gravel driveway (but NOT on your concrete or asphalt drive, unless you want a permanent brown patch in the middle of it), and then run the nuts over with either a tractor or your car (they nuts won’t crack even under the pressure of a heavy vehicle). This cracks the outer husks, and you can then put on a pair of rubber gloves and pick the nuts themselves from the husks. Alternately, some people process small quantities by putting on old shoes and stomping or stepping on the nuts, or pounding the husk with a rubber mallet or other hard object.

Once the nuts have been husked, you can wash them with a garden hose to remove some of the residual flesh of the husk, and then put them into some type of container, such as a plastic crate or mesh bag, which will allow airflow. The nuts must be put into a dry place with good airflow to allow them to fully dry and “cure,” for about two to three months. When they first fall from the tree, the nutmeats still have relatively high moisture content, are opaque white in color, and are somewhat astringent. As they sit in a dry place, the moisture content of the kernel falls, the oil content rises, and the flavor mellows. If the place that you cure the walnuts is too cool or moist, surface mold may form on the nuts – this generally will not harm the nutmeats inside, but may present a minor health hazard for people with mold allergies, so it’s best to watch the nuts and adjust the environmental conditions as the nuts cure to avoid this problem. Finally, it’s also a good idea to stir or rotate the nuts a few times during the curing process, to ensure that all of the nuts dry properly.


Shelling is another challenge with black walnuts. The shells are very hard, and can be a challenge to open. Small quantities can be done with a hammer or hand nut cracker, but if you plan on doing any quantity at all, its best to invest in a high quality manual or even electric walnut cracker. This saves a lot of wear and tear on the operator and makes the chore a bit less tiresome. Black Walnut meats are encased in a woody shell even on the interior of the nut, so don’t expect the perfect halves that are typical of English walnuts. Generally, quarters are about the largest piece you will get out, and often even that is hard to achieve. One good note, though, about shelling the nuts – the messy, staining flesh of the husk dries to a black powder during the curing process, and no longer stains the hands or surfaces as long as its kept dry.

To store your black walnut nutmeats, I would first suggest that you lay them out on a cookie sheet or plate and carefully check them for residual bits of shell – the woody shells are extremely hard, and you wouldn’t want someone to break a tooth on your homemade treats. Because they are so nutritious, walnut nutmeats are very attractive to a number of common household pantry pests like Indian meal moths and grain weevils, so I suggest you always store them, tightly wrapped or even sealed into vacuum sealed bags, in the refrigerator or freezer. If properly wrapped and sealed, the nutmeats will stay fresh for about 6 months in a refrigerator, and for at least 3 years in a freezer.


I hope that this has inspired you to sample black walnuts for yourself. I have a personal goal this year – in my household, we cracked out 69 pounds of nutmeats from the 2009 crop. I want to beat that total this year. I guess I had better “get cracking” in a month or two, as soon as the nuts are properly cured.


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Keeping Japanese Quail – “Mini-Chickens For Eggs, Meat, or Just for Fun”

post by deninmi

What is the size of a softball, can live in a space a foot square, lays an egg a day for about two-thirds of the year, starts to reproduce at five weeks old, comes in several dozen different colors, and is a delicious source of meat?  Well, if you said “Japanese Quail,” you’d be right.  I started experimenting with these micro-birds last year, and they have quickly become a favorite of mine.  They are about as low-maintenance as you can get in the world of game birds and poultry. Just give them a clean living space, adequate food and water, and a dish of sand for their daily sand bath, and they’ll be perfectly at home.

The Japanese quail, as the name suggests, is the East Asian subspecies of the common Eurasian, or Pharaoh, Quail, which is native across the entire Eurasian continent from Ireland and Britain to Siberia, and south to China, Japan, India, the Middle East, and North Africa.  In the wild, these birds are migratory, breeding in the northern latitudes and migrating to the tropics or subtropics for the winter, but they have proven to be fully hardy outdoors in even harsh climates like Alaska or Minnesota as long as they have a clean, dry, draft-free cage with an inner hutch or box for group huddle on cold nights.


The female Japanese quail begins to lay eggs at 5 to 6 weeks old!  Quite an amazing feat for something that was a bumblebee-sized hatchling a few weeks back.  The quail egg is relatively large in proportion to the body size, and is roughly a quarter to a fifth by volume of the size of a large chicken egg.  The eggs are an attractive off-white color, splotched with either brown, green, or blue speckles (the color of the splotches and speckles depends on both genetics and environment, and can change over time or with diet). Most people cannot tell the difference in flavor between quail and chicken eggs, but obviously, it will take more of them to make a dish due to their small size.  Another plus with quail eggs – many people who are allergic to chicken eggs can eat quail eggs without a problem, although conversely, a handful of people have allergies to quail eggs, too.

One minor downside on raising Japanese quail – over the course of many hundreds of generations of domestication, they have almost totally lost the ability to nest and hatch their own eggs – generally, the hens tend to almost totally ignore their eggs after they lay them, and they are prone to dropping eggs at random throughout the run, although feed dishes and sandboxes tend to be favorite spots.  So, in order to raise your own (which I would suggest, as the chicks are hard to obtain), you will need some kind of incubator, preferably one that automatically turns the eggs and adjusts the humidity as needed.


Housing and husbandry are simple – the birds do best in a cage with half-inch hardware cloth bottoms, so that the droppings can fall through.  Allow about a square foot per adult bird, and plan on a ratio of roughly one rooster per 5 to 6 hens for breeding purposes.  The birds do require a relatively high protein diet, at least 24%, although up to 30% is good, and usually are fed a special game bird crumble or pellet, along with fresh water and treats like greens, grass clippings, birdseed, mashed boiled eggs, fruit, or pretty much anything you would feed to a chicken, perhaps just cut up a bit finer for these small birds.  Unlike most other game birds, Japanese quail can be kept in colonies, since the birds rarely fight with each other.  Unlike chickens, the birds have no “homing instinct,” so don’t plan on “free ranging” these birds –they’ll be gone in a matter of minutes, chasing the first juicy insect or interesting looking patch of green on the horizon, and they won’t look back.  The temperament of Japanese Quail can only be described as mellow – other than the “no free ranging” thing, I have found them remarkably similar to chickens in terms of behavior and handling. Mine are sweet little birds that come running every time they see me, to find out what treats I’m bringing them.  If I want to capture one, that’s not very challenging, either, since I can generally just reach down and pick them up at will (obviously, if they do get out into the wild, they won’t survive long, since they are unafraid of pretty much everything). Finally, be aware that the quail roosters do crow, but it’s very quiet, and sounds about like a cricket or katydid chirping, and they crow around the clock during the peak-breeding season, from about late March through August when the days are long.  Too many roosters in the mix, and you will have nightly crow-offs, but luckily, its pretty easy to tell the gender by one of several methods that are described on many websites, and you can always use extra roosters as a source of delicious meat – Japanese quail generally dress out at 5 to 7 ounces, and the meat is mild flavored but is all dark meat, even the breast meat.  The birds are fully mature at 8 to 10 weeks, but even 5 to 6 week old birds are large enough to harvest for meat.


Japanese Quail were kept for several hundred years in Japan, China, and Korea both for their meat and eggs and as pets.  As with Koi, goldfish, and other animals, they have been bred into a pretty wide range of colors and patterns, and some people keep, breed, and even show them, and collectors are always on the lookout for new and unique colors and feather patterns.  These birds were actually brought to this country to use in biological research labs, since they are inexpensive to raise and breed quickly.


One final note: some states may require a permit to keep these birds, or may have restrictions on numbers kept or other restrictions, since these are considered “game birds,” so always be sure to check out the regulations in your state (generally with the fish and game department) prior to committing to keeping these fun little birds.

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Early Snow on a Hard Winter


Post By Redbrick

Fat fluffy snowflakes drift gently out of the sky as the kids build snow forts in the yard. Christmas music plays in the kitchen while my wife and mother-in-law help her uncle package fresh venison. The dog spends half an hour deciding if she really wants to go out for a bathroom break in eight inches of fresh snow. And Halloween is two days away. Yeah. Halloween. Not Christmas, not Thanksgiving: Halloween.


Snow weighs heavily on the branches of pines and hardwoods outside, bowing them to the breaking point. Sharp reports ring across the neighborhood, signaling the failure of a bough or trunk to hold up to the pressure. The power has flickered a few times in the house, but it hasn’t failed yet. In that, we’ve been lucky.

Where we haven’t been so lucky is in the matter of my apple tree. It was an extremely rare variety, a Ditlow’s Hard Winter, ironically enough. A rescue variety, there are fewer than ten trees left in existence, most of them grafted by me personally. So you can imagine I tend to obsess over this tree. At seven years old, it bloomed for me for the first time this spring. Even though it set no fruit, I rejoiced over the blossoms.

This forenoon I went out to it with the idea of shaking off the heavy wet snow from its young branches. I was too late. The trunk had snapped clean at the graft union. My Hard Winter lay unrecoverable in the offending snowfall, a sad little tangle of branches.

As I stood over my lost little tree, I reflected on how circumstances can change your perspective. For years I looked forward to the day I could cut scion wood from Hard Winter, to distribute to whoever wanted to help save it from oblivion. What I had imagined would be an exciting, joyful moment had become a time of sorrow and desperation. I thought I’d be standing UNDER the tree as I cut them, not OVER it. You’re not supposed to take scion wood in October, either; the storage period is too long. Yet, here I was, pruner in hand, making a last ditch effort at a rescue attempt.

A small package now rests in our spare refrigerator, a precious bundle of scion wood waiting for March and grafting time. So much can go wrong until then: mold, dehydration, even a faulty thermostat. Will the world come to an end with Hard Winter? No. Will it be diminished, even slightly, with Hard Winter’s loss? I think so. Am I partial to Hard Winter? Yes, but isn’t anyone who does what we do, rescuing heirloom vegetables and antique fruits? Say a prayer for Hard Winter, and for me as we wait out the coming months.

Posted in gardening, Growing | Leave a comment

Season Extension

Post by Johno

Every plant needs a suitable climate in which to grow. Season extension means providing that climate before or after it occurs naturally. This can mean heating or cooling. For any specific crop, you want to obtain optimal conditions as fast as possible, and keep them for as long as possible.

Row covers under snow at 5 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

The English used heated glass structures to house orange trees and other exotics through the winter. The French used cloches, small bell-shaped glass domes, to keep vegetables warm until the weather was ideal. These days we have other materials that are much lighter and less likely to shatter from impact, though glass is still a viable option.

A wonderful material available today is called the floating row cover. It comes in different weights for varying degrees of frost protection, the heavier weights offering the most protection at the cost of light penetration. Water and air pass freely through this material, so you don’t have to worry about removing them on warm days or do much watering unless there hasn’t been enough rain. They also protect from drying winds. The first time I used this material I was amazed at the rate of growth of the salad greens underneath. But don’t think you can start hot weather crops weeks early with this material. It offers a few degrees of protection, so it’s mostly for close calls and cold hardy crops.

For serious protection and very early starts, a hot house is ideal. But short of that expense, hoop houses or low tunnels covered with clear plastic are great for season extension. Hoop houses are tall enough to walk in, and low tunnels are just tall enough to provide a tropical mini-climate for the plants starting underneath. The first time I used a low tunnel to get an early start on corn, the seed germinated in three days, while it was still quite chilly outdoors. The temperature was a balmy 90 degrees Fahrenheit. But the drawback is that temperatures can really soar on unseasonably warm days, so you need to monitor the weather daily and open the ends to draw some of the heat out on occasion – more and more so until it’s time to remove them. You can get ventilated plastic specifically designed for this purpose, too. I also use low tunnels to protect tender perennials and to grow cool-hardy crops throughout the winter.

Another method commonly used for an early start is to cover prepared beds with black plastic and plant directly through small holes in it. It heats the soil up to a more suitable temperature quickly. This can be less of a good method in the south, where the summers are so hot it can work too well. But even in this situation it works for crops that will be finished before triple digit heat arrives.

Heat can be as much of a problem for cool-loving crops as cold is to heat-loving crops, turning them bitter of preventing germination. Shade cloth or lathing can help cool the soil.

Posted in gardening, Growing, Planting | Leave a comment

First Red

Post By darwin’s lair
For me, it does not truly feel like summer until I am making red sauce, fresh, with ingredients from my own home garden.
After being away up north for a week, I found the Sasha’s Altai holding a few full trusses of ripe tomatoes. Before we had left, a week ago, there were a half dozen tomatoes blushing which I had picked and taken along, but they were simply sliced and eaten as they ripened. These were enticing.  Seductive.  Each cluster holding wonderfully red, and slightly soft to the touch, beautiful tomatoes.  Two of them even cracked along their side when I picked them.
It is a habit of mine, whenever I make tomato sauces, to save the seeds.  Of course I end up with far more than I would ever need, but how can any real gardener ever have too many seeds?  All you need is some clean bowls, a sharp knife, and a jar with a label and a cap.
First, you slice the tomato in half, then you just look at it and marvel at how wonderfully it is put together, imagine what it will taste like (if you can resist biting into it right then) and then (if you are me) you take a photo.
Gently, so as not to destroy the meat of the tomato, I squeeze and coax the seeds out of the tomato halves into one bowl, then dice the remaining tomato up into another.
Once I have seeded all of the tomatoes, the seeds are poured from the bowl into a clean jar, labeled with the date I put them in there, and the date to take them out.
I put the jar on the windowsill where it will be warm.  Six days from now the gelatin coating on the seeds, which is a sprouting inhibitor, will have fermented off. The process of fermentation also generally gets rid of any disease issues if you have seed-borne pathogens in your soil.  The seeds and liquid in the jar will be poured through a wire mesh strainer, scrubbed under running water, then spread over a ceramic plate which I put out of the way on a shelf over the stove, labeled, for at least a week to ensure that they are completely dry. At that time I save some just in an envelope for next year, and the rest end up in an airtight container in the deep freeze. 

But that aside, back to the large bowl of diced tomatoes I had once I was done seeding the tomatoes.
I have a large double boiler, with the pasta insert, so I don’t have to be dumping boiling hot water to drain my noodles.  It is already boiling and steaming away on the stove and the water is fairly heavily salted (about 3 tablespoons in 2 gallons of water) which if you neglect to do, will leave you with some pretty bland pasta.  Into that goes a pound and a half of dry linguini noodles.  Immediately after, I put a high heat under a wok, pour in about a third of a cup of olive oil, 4 large crushed and diced garlic cloves (in this case, Hardy German, so it was a whole head of garlic) which I left alone in the oil for only about 20 seconds before adding all of the diced tomato. Gently (and I do mean gently) I turn it into the olive oil and garlic with a large spoon.  This is meant to be cooked softly enough that the skins do not slough off of the fruits. As soon as the olive oil and garlic are fairly distributed among the diced tomato, fresh herbs go in. Today, it was about 30 chopped leaves of sweet basil, 6 sprigs of Italian flat parsley, and a few sprigs of French thyme. A pinch of salt, a few turns with a pepper mill, the spoon again to fold in the herbs, turn the heat off, and let it sit.
By the time the pasta is done (about 5 minutes later) the herbs have wilted, tastes incorporated into the sauce, and their aroma permeates your entire home.  Pasta is quickly drained (don’t let it just sit there) and then it goes into the serving bowl.  Sauce is poured over the top, the bowl is proudly carried to the dining table, you all sit admiring it while allowing the juices to soak into the noodles (which if you do it just right, is when the noodles are actually finish cooking) after which you all stuff yourselves.
Posted in Cooking, gardening, Growing, Planting, Seed Saving | Leave a comment

Cider Nights and Coffee Mornings

Post By: Redbrick

Autumn has arrived, and not just on the calendar. If there were any doubt, this weekend has pretty much put it to rest. Friends are reporting houseplants (and stowaway toads) moving indoors for the winter, snow (that four-letter word) in West Virginia, and a whole roster of other signs of the season. Outside my window, a cold rain has been falling all weekend, and indoors I am ‘enjoying’ the first official cold of the season. Yippee.

Even so, Autumn is still one of my favorite seasons. I love the ever changing display of leaves painted in the palette of fire, battalions of Canada Geese flying south in formation, and pumpkins, gourds and corn shocks making their grand appearance at farmers’ markets and roadside stands. Soon, Jack Frost will break out his engraving tools to decorate the morning grasses and even window panes in his signature pattern and flair.


But my favorite part of Fall? Cider nights and coffee mornings. My wife can tell you, I’ve been enthusing about them for at least as long as we’ve been married. Something about the cooling air just makes cider and coffee taste that much better, at least to my mind. And while you can have coffee any time of the year, cider is exclusively a Fall beverage.

I’m not talking about that bland clear liquid found in the supermarket aisles, but rather the real stuff, that reddish brown, murky, mysterious nectar pressed, bottled and sold( but never filtered!) at the orchard. Who knows what apples have lent their essence to the blend? Maybe Macintosh or Jonathan, Ginger Gold or Winesap, Northern Spy, Cortland, Empire, the possibilities are endless! Without doubt, the best ciders, like the best pies, are always blends of apples. That’s not to say that varietal ciders are without merit, but they do lack a certain character found only in mill-run blends: that distilled essence of Autumn.


The only thing better (in my opinion) than a cold glass of cider? A steaming mug of mulled cider! Try it on the next chilly October evening. Simmer a quart or two of cider in a saucepan with a stick of cinnamon, some cloves and allspice, and a lemon’s juice, allowing the brew’s aroma to fill your home like a newfound friend. When the cider has mulled for ten minutes or so, curl up with a mug, a good book, and your favorite special someone. Now, that’s Autumn!

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Gardening With Children

Post By RozieDozie

Worms Wiggle, Lady Bugs Don’t Bite and Radishes Can Be Purple:  Gardening With Children

Have you played in your garden lately, smelled the basil, watched bees buzz in blossoms without worrying about possible vine collapse?  If not, then share your garden with a child.  Any child; yours or a borrowed one.

When my children were young, we spent our summers gardening  together without a single whine of “all my friends are at the swimming pool”” or “I hate squash, why are you forcing me to pick that prickly, yucky stuff???”   My children are grown now and have magnificent gardens thanks to me, their first gardening teacher….


One summer, when my children were school age, I decided we would turn a backyard patch into fresh vegetables for ourselves and, overly optimistically, our neighbors.  Exercise, good food, citizenship; GARDENING!!!  A VACATION LEARNING EXPERIENCE!!!

I shared The Fun-in-the Sun Plan with my children.  It was met with Rolling Eyes followed by a feet-dragging, why-are-you-making-me-do-this  trip through the feed and seed store.   Undaunted, we forged ahead, seeding and weeding and waiting for things to grow.  And I waited for the joy and enthusiasm to kick in and the kids waited for their mother’s Happy About Children attitude to come back.

Two more summers of Starting Over were no better, so I reluctantly gave up teaching my children to garden.  Years later, when some left home and eagerly chose to live in Totally Plant Free High-Rises Overlooking Concrete, Mother’s Guilt and Remorse reminded me “ YOU SHOULD HAVE TRIED HARDER TO TEACH THEM TO GARDEN….”  This was soon followed by the Universal Mother’s Lament “IF I ONLY COULD DO THINGS OVER AGAIN….”

And then, suddenly, a Reprieve! A Marvelous Gift of Second Chance…  GRANDCHILDREN!!!

From the moment those precious little Grandbaby Hands could grasp a trowel, they toddled after me in the garden, dug for worms, and poured water over the “flowies”.  Together, we tasted the purple radishes, admired lady bugs and blew on ripe dandelions, allowing the garden to speak to them and lure them in its own special way, through all of their senses.  Happily, without pressure, they touched, smelled, tasted, listened, saw and learned.

Nary was one word uttered about “work” or “planting in the lines”.  We simply enjoyed ourselves.  For these Second Chance Children, I introduced the garden as a fun place, an opportunity to play together, and, finally, finally I reaped the reward of enthusiasm and joy as well as the unique pleasure of experiencing my garden through a child’s eyes.

Have I done for my Grandchildren what I didn’t do for my children?  Have I passed on a legacy of growing things that will inspire my grandsons and granddaughters to be gardeners and seed savers and appreciators of the miracle of plenty and abundance that comes from one unique, well-tended embryonic  seed? I dunno.

But I’m convinced that showing children how to enjoy and play in the garden is the first step in teaching them to  grow  things, whether you do it on your First or Second Time Around.

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