Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Joy of a Really Big Tiller

I have a preternatural bent for doing things as low-tech as possible. And yet I'm not averse to using technology when it seems right to me. And since it's finally springtime in Oregon and I've already been bested out in the backyard, I'm glad for my flexibility.

It's early on a Saturday morning and the dew is thick on the ground outside. I've had frost the last two mornings, but today is shaping up to be gorgeous and the temps last night were well above freezing. I'll need to wait a bit yet before I can get out there and work in the yard, so I'm passing the time composing this blog post. But there's a twist:

Lantern Light on My Computer
I'm using my sturdy, efficient kerosene lantern made in the French Alps. For years I used Aladdins, but this particular lantern is better suited to me. (In fact, I gave away all my Aladdins.) For one thing, it doesn't make the hissing noise my Aladdins did, and I think it uses less lamp oil. It's also not so fussy on parts, and because there's no mantel to constantly break, I don't have to stock what always felt like a mini lantern supply shop just to keep the lights on. Also, the glass chimney sits rock solid on the base, and it's made from a sturdier glass than most. And finally, those parts not only last longer, but they are less expensive to stock. Love my lantern.

Anyway, back to my garden.

First of all, some history: I've only been in the Lilliputian cottage for three years, and when I bought this derelict little gem, the grounds--like everything else--were a mess. But I got busy, again with help from family. We weed whacked the tall weeds only to discover that the back corner of the backyard had been used as a dumping ground by the previous owners. If you have read my previous blog post about my kitchen remodel  (Vegetable Oil by the Gallon), you'll know that this was just more of the same. But while the kitchen episode had its share of humor, what with the family of racoons and all, the backyard mess was just gross.

We ended up digging down about three feet (no kidding!) and wider than that and found broken buckets, monster rocks (I reused those), kids toys that looked to be years old (but not old enough to be antiques and therefore worth something), and most of an old toilet. (One of my sons suggested we fill the toilet with dirt and plant what he insisted would be a "flower pot" in the truest sense of the word. I opted out of that plan and it went to the dump along with everything else.) After unearthing the toilet (gloves on at all times, please!), we just put our shoulders into the task and filled up an entire truckbed with junk.

But the job was done. So now nothing stood between me and the garden of my dreams. Well...yes, there was one thing. Two actually.

I had to have two major surgeries so I could walk again and be without pain, which had become so debilitating that I could barely function. There was just no way I could go on any longer pretending that I could live with my condition. It was time. So I slathered on bales of straw and bid my garden adieu for two whole years. But this was where I made a tactical error.

Instead of breaking up the individual flakes of hay and strewing them feather-light over the top of things, I carefully laid out the compressed flakes side-by-side over everything. I figured that since it would be quite a while before I'd be back in the garden, those dense flakes of hay would simply kill everything underneath, and then, over time, decompose back into the soil, leaving a beautiful, weed-free, perfectly composted bit of gardening heaven in its wake. This bit of paradise was supposed to be waiting for me this year.

Didn't happen.

Earlier this spring, I went out back determined to hand dig a spot to plant peas and early greens. I sallied forth one fine day, garden tools in hand and my post-surgical body strong and ready for work. I started digging. It took all of about two minutes for me to come to the sickening realization that I was in a world of trouble. There was just no way I'd be able to dig up an entire garden area by hand. You see, those flakes of hay that I had plunked onto the ground two summers ago had sort of cemented themselves into place. Instead of killing the weeds underneath, they had in fact provided a perfect habitat for the weeds to somehow grow up through them. They weren't going anywhere anytime soon.

What to do, what to do. I thought about this for several weeks. Time's awastin', I fretted. Summer waits for no gardener, I fussed. There's nothing I can do to change that, I fumed.

But this much I did know: I just had to have a garden. So I thought and thought. I devised any number of scenarios for getting my garden spot ready for planting. And in the end, this is what I did:

I bought a tiller.

Actually, one of my sons and I bought a used tiller together. We used my money (moms really are indispensible!), but he plans on paying me half, and I'm hopeful. When that happens, this tiller will have already (almost!) paid for itself, because this is what I did earlier today:

I'm tickled pink with my new tiller. It ate through those cement-like plates of weed-grown hay flakes like they were nothing. Even better, when I started the tiller up, it only took me two pulls to get the thing going.

Because of this new purchase I am mentally going wild. I have made plans to till up large swaths of the front yard and along the side yard too. I'm seriously considering taking out the rest of my lawn in the backyard and turning an unused spot next to the garage into my hazelnut orchard (I think I could get two trees squeezed in there).

Thanks to my new tiller, I'm this close to realizing my dream garden, at least in my imagination. Really all I need is some time and a bit of money to see things through. Time is finite, but the money is coming--just as soon as my son pays me for his half.

Hope springs eternal. Hopefully gardens do too.

Blessings to you and yours!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Very Best Black Beans and Rice

I know that calling the recipe I'm about to share with you "the very best black beans and rice" is a bit hochmut of me, but it's true. What makes this bean dish so incredibly delicious is the "mojo" you ladle over the top (read on for that part). So, without further ado, I'll tell you how it's done:

Put some black beans on to simmer to which you've added a bit of olive oil and water to cover. I usually throw in a piece of pork or beef (either leftover or not; if I use raw meat I brown the pieces first in the olive oil before throwing in the beans), but it's just as good with no meat. You can use broth to flavor the beans if that sounds good, but I just use water.

Cook the beans for much as 5 - 8 hours is fine because you want them to cook up thick. I usually don't have that much time, so I'm more liable to cook them for about 3 hours. Suit yourself. Cook's choice! Add water or broth as needed. Don't add salt or pepper until near the end of the cooking time.

When the beans are getting near to being done, cook up some rice. While the rice is cooking, make:


In a saute pan, cook in olive oil (don't be stingy with the oil) minced garlic, chopped onion, and diced tomato. Saute the mixture long enough for the flavors to release and soak into the oil. Then add them to the cooking beans. There's really no right time to add the sofrito. I've done it at the beginning, and then sometimes I've just cooked my beans plain and instead simply topped my serving of beans with it. Any way is okay.

Next you're going to make the piece de resistance:


In a jar with a tight fitting lid (because you'll be shaking things up) add:

half orange juice, half lemon juice (I usually make about a pint's worth)
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. cumin
twice as much basil as you used for the cumin
twice as much oregano as you used for the cumin
lots of minced garlic

Unless the mojo has sat in the fridge for a day or so, the herbs--even with vigorous shaking--will tend to separate quickly and sit on top of the juices. If this happens simply mix with a spoon and scoop a spoonful out at a time.

Into your individual bowls goes first the rice, then the beans/sofrito mixture, and topped off with the mojo. I usually use about 4 tablespoons for my serving because I love the stuff, but you may want to be a bit conservative until you decide how much is right for you.

Now for the photos:

Here's the sofrito with the meat cooking:

And here's my bowl of black beans and rice right before chowing down:

Oh my goodness these are tasty! I hope you try them, and I hope you love them as much as I do. Beans are economical, filling, and nutritious, and it's my personal opinion that people these days don't eat enough beans. If you're one of those, I may just change your mind with this recipe.

Blessings to you and yours!