Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Bulb a Day Keeps the Vampires Away

Happy Halloween! We're keeping our house safe from the little vampires soon to be patrolling the neighborhood with a garden bed full of garlic.

Garlic overwinters well, especially in our temperate climate. Planting it in late October gives it time to establish its root system before winter sets in, and then the tops will start growing quickly in spring.

I really love hard neck garlic, but Brett likes soft neck, so we planted both. (Soft neck is like what you get at the grocery store, with large cloves surrounding small cloves; hard neck garlic has a stiff central stem that all the cloves grow around.)

Cloves broken apart and ready for planting. Hard neck is in the paper bag, soft neck in the basket.

I prefer hard neck because it often has a more pungent flavor, and because it will grow scapes.
If you've never had garlic scapes - the curly tops of hard-neck garlic with a small, bulb-like bud - you are really missing out. They have a soft, mild garlicky flavor and are amazing sauteed in a little oil with some salt. If you aren't growing your own, keep an eye out at your local farmer's markets in spring; the season is short and I've never seen them in a grocery store.

To plant, we broke apart the individual cloves and picked out the largest ones to use. I planted them an inch deep, about 4-6 inches apart.

Take that, vamps!

Now we cover them over, mulch, and wait until spring to harvest and cure.

We all like to have something to sink our fangs into.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

I'm in Love with a Stripper

A homemade wallpaper stripper, that is. (Sorry, T-Pain.)

Before mudding and painting the upstairs drywall, we needed to remove an old wallpaper border that wrapped around the bedroom. I've heard all kinds of horror stories about removing wallpaper, so suffice it to say I was not looking forward to this task.

But, in a strange and unaccustomed reversal from our usual projects, this turned out to be much easier than anticipated. 

The reason? Fabric softener.

Fabric softener is the secret ingredient in homemade wallpaper stripper. A 50/50 mix of fabric softener (unscented, please) and water worked like a charm for us. Apparently, the fabric softener stops the water from evaporating as quickly, so it can soak the old adhesive more effectively.

I put the mixture in a spray bottle, sprayed down the border, wiped up any excess drips so the water didn't damage the drywall, and then walked away for 15 minutes. Then I could slide a scraper under an edge, and the whole strip came away cleanly! There were some spots of old adhesive and backing left behind, but those came up with another spritz and scrape. 

As you can see from the damage here, the stripper really made a difference - even a test scrape at the dry wallpaper took some drywall with it. And we really had to wait the whole 15 minutes to get the full benefit.

A wallpaper-free wall! It's really satisfying to see the clean strip where it peeled off so nicely. Up next: a fresh coat of paint.

As an added bonus, in order to reach the border all the way around the room, we had to get rid of all the drywall and wood scraps that have been piling up over the last couple months. Just having all that floor space freed up makes me feel one step closer to done!

Hermione lying down on the job.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Spiced Pears

Spiced pears kick-started my love of canning. Years ago, I was at the house of a friend of a friend who produced most of her own food. She had these glorious shelves of gem-like food in mason jars, waiting for winter. While we chatted, she opened up a special treat - a jar of pears in spiced heavy syrup. They were clove-y and cinnamon-y, sweet and tangy - a perfect treat on a cold day.

I was so taken that I asked for the recipe on the spot. She pointed me to what has become my canning and preserving bible, the classic Putting Food By. But although I've used many recipes from that book, I've never actually made the spiced pears.

So when our neighbors offered us some excess pears from their tree this year, I knew just what I wanted to do with them.

Pears simmer in a spice-infused brine.
I read somewhere that the best way to core a pear is with a melon baller. Fact check: this does work and produces attractive results. Related fact: I have pear guts in my hair, I think I've developed carpal tunnel syndrome, and I never want to see a melon baller again.

Just like I remember!
The recipe says these are pretty enough to win you a blue ribbon at the fair. As far as presentation goes, let's just say mine... won't. But they are delicious!