Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Habanero Hot Sauce

Today, I tried making Bob's Habanero Hot Sauce, a seemingly very popular online recipe. I went ahead and made it pretty much as written with the full amount of peppers since reviewers seemed to think that worked well. The only changes I made were to strain the liquid off the peaches to avoid making the sauce too runny, I reduced the mustard to 2 tablespoons, I reduced the black pepper to a half tablespoon as I used some pretty strong, fresh grounds and I reduced the salt to just 1 teaspoon.

It is VERY, VERY hot! Really too hot for anyone pregnant, like me! It does seem tasty as far as I could tell before my tongue felt no sensation other than burning. So, I'm going to try this again using just a couple of peppers and see if I can make something I can enjoy even while pregnant and use in greater quantity in general.

It seems like it will be a good 'jerk' style marinade for chicken.

Jeff will use some of this batch in tiny amounts and he'll take some to work for the hot pepper lovers there!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


We were very lucky! The wind was tropical storm rather than hurricane strength and the rain was minimal, I'd say less than 2 inches. Still, I did not enjoy the wind we did get! It is unnerving to see spruce trees blowing about like palm trees!

Before the storm, we were especially concerned about the new hoop house under construction. We really did not want it tested so soon! We braced it in each corner with 2x4s and the neighbor loaned us some ground anchors too. It did just fine--didn't budge at all!

Every time I go to a hardware store, I look at the generators and think we should have one. Well, Friday morning, we decided we had to have one immediately and, of course, they were all sold out. We went on a bit of a road trip to one of two stores I was able to find with some in stock. They would not take orders over the phone, so we had to drive there, fully expecting them to be sold out by the time we got there. Luckily, there were still a few to choose from, though they were selling fast! The store had them right by the door, already on trolleys, with a gas can and heavy duty electrical cord. And, they had a couple of strong employees to lift it into the truck for us.

When we got home, Jeff set it up to run in the back of the truck, which is probably a 'don't' in the instructions, but we needed it close to the house and not in the elements. Jeff organized a good set up with the shop light for night time, the fan to help keep the motor cool and a wattage meter. Next time, we will wire it into the house, so we don't have electrical cords running all over the place!

The road trip paid off as we did lose the power from about 9:50 am Sunday to about 11:50 am Monday and we were able to save all our garden food that is squirreled in the deep freezer. We were also able to run the fridge and check the TV for news updates.

We had computers on battery throughout the storm, but the internet was down!

The garden got such a beating! The larger, more fragile leafed plants like cukes and zukes got torn to shreds. The peppers and eggplants looked like they were getting broken. I took some pictures toward the tail end of the storm when the winds had weakened and I dared go outside. Here are the peppers and the flattened sunflowers in the background.

More peppers.

A detail of the green bells.

A detail of the Holy Moles.

The eggplants really looked doomed!

Most of the tomatillos were flattened, except for some that grew up through cages.

As evening came, we were able to open the house windows a little to let in some cooling breezes to clear out the hot, humid, tropical storm air. We had some candles for light in between running the generator. I wished I'd bought more than one of these cute Ikea lanterns! Maybe I will look for them again the next time we are there.

Monday, work was closed due to the lack of power, so Jeff and I cleaned up sticks in the yard. We didn't have that many. The neighbor to the south lost most of a tree and some fence and the neighbor to the north lost some tree limbs, but nothing like it could have been. Some of the trees don't have many leaves left.

We worked at staking the peppers and today, they are looking perkier!

This hab was flat on the ground after Irene, but we gently lifted it and tied it up.

Likewise, a Holy Mole.

The eggplants are really surprisingly sturdy plants.

Quite a few peppers fell off the plants and most of them are under-ripe, so they are a loss, but we will still have plenty. The eggplants are probably ok, though perhaps a little bruised. All the fruit fell off the apple trees and the grape vines. It smells like a winery under the trees!!

I just hope everyone else in the path of the storm can get back to normal soon too!!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Garden Construction Project: Building a Hoop House PART 1

Awhile back, I mentioned we were getting ready for some winter gardening...ta DA...I can finally reveal how we will do that! We are building a hoop house!!! We have slowly been working on it over the spring and summer. I am super excited about it!

A hoop house (also called a high tunnel or poly tunnel) is a passively heated structure--from sun radiation alone. It stays just warm enough that you can grow/harvest cold weather crops all winter long. You can extend the season for warm weather crops. (You could heat it on the coldest days, if you needed to.) I can't wait to experiment and see just how much longer we can make the season and what we can overwinter.

It will replace my tent style cold frames, which I cannot find for sale anymore. (I am down to one and it was pretty wobbly this year.) I will be able to start the summer seedlings I started in that in the new hoop house. It will be more convenient than the little cold frames in so many ways, like being able to stand inside it to work!

Our hoop house is about 14' wide x 28' long and nearly 7' high (at the ridge line) and the Quonset style. The 1:2 ratio is supposed to be ideal for retaining warmth. The ribs and ridgepole are made from chain link fence top rails and line posts and the ends are framed in lumber. The plastic covering is greenhouse suited (UV protected) 6 mil held in place with wiggle wire.

We used the "Quick Hoops" method of building which involved buying a special pipe bender, ground post driver and some specialized cross-connectors.

The first part of the bend is the easiest to make.

It gets harder toward the end and Jeff put all his weight into it!

It seemed so straightforward...however, there was a hiccup. Our hoops ended up being wider from end to end than the suggested 13' to 15' for the 12' wide house that we had instructions for that came with the bender. They were mostly around 16' 5". You do need it to have some outward tension for stability, but this was too hard to compress to size and caused the top of the arch to bend at the connection point. Jeff called customer service at Johnny's Seeds and they said other people were getting similar widths, or even larger. It seems to depend on the lot of metal you get. Anyway, we were told we could try to force it to fit as long as someone was holding down on the middle of the arch at the same time to keep it from bending sharply at the stress point, or just drive the ground posts a little further apart and make a slightly wider hoop house. The middle still bent under the strain, so we experimented with width and settled on 14'. We couldn't insert the hoops as far into the ground posts as indicated in the instructions. We went with what the curve would allow, which was 5 inches. It still required Jeff to swing like a monkey from the bars, wrestling them into place! And, a little WD-40 on the pipe ends helped too.

This picture shows the line posts getting cut in half to make the ground posts for the hoops. A saws all made short work of it.

It was exciting to drive the first post and have construction really underway! Despite having so much slate in the ground here, it was pretty easy to drive posts. Only one was a bother and that's because we hit some hard fill that we speculate must have been under one of the sheds that used to be here. We'd previously dug out some large slates from the same area that may have been under the sills, but who knows!

Fortunately, our site is nearly level with only about 2.5" of variation. This shot shows most of the posts in place.

With all the posts other than the problem one driven in, Jeff started working on the hoops again. He connected the two pieces that form a hoop, drilled a hole at the ridge line and used a hex bolt to fasten them together. At this point, with the wider, less bent hoops, he put them back in the bender and put a little more bend in the ridge line area. This trick really helped a lot!

Here is a progress picture showing just one more hoop remaining and the problem ground post in the left foreground. We ended up having to use a little concrete in that one.

Jeff drilled holes through the ground post, hoop and baseboard for the carriage bolts.

We used tie plates to connect the sections of baseboard (same for the hip board too).

Here is the end wall framing in progress. There weren't directions for end walls, so we just improvised.

Here is a detail of the cross connectors that hold the ridgepole and the galvanized strapping we used to secure the end wall to the hoop.

Here is the siding in progress. We clamped the sheets in place and Jeff traced the shape of the arch onto them and then he cut along the line with the jigsaw.

The siding was screwed to the frame.

This picture shows the siding in progress with the corner bits still to do.

At last all the wall pieces were in place!

And, it was time to stain the exterior. We chose a color called "Cape Cod Gray" which we are very pleased with.

Soon, I will do a "Part 2" post showing the doors, hip board, wiggle wire tracks, roll up ventilation for the south side and the 'skinning'. Well, it may be more than one post...we'll have to see!

I have a lot of learning to do, but my hope is to have fresh greens for Christmas dinner this year. I expect it will take me a few seasons to really get the hang of it though--especially with a baby keeping me busy!

Something else I'm looking forward to is having a chair in the hoop house and on a winter day, going out there, taking off my coat, hanging it on a hook and sitting in the sun and warmth, semi-outside. I can totally picture myself having my coffee there! Of course, I'll probably see all the work that needs doing and not do much sitting around, after all. That's what usually happens when I try to go sit by the summer garden!

Part 2

Part 3

all hoop house posts

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pickled Hot Pepper Rings

With too much to do today, I changed my mind about which canning recipe to do next. I used a different book than yesterday called Put 'Em Up! to make a very simple batch of Pickled Chile Peppers. This recipe involves no spices and is flavored only by a sweet-sour brine.

I think they will be especially nice for adding to sandwiches, but one can use this sort of pickled pepper on salads, pizzas or Mexican style food too.

I picked a bowl of yellow Mariachi peppers from the garden thinking their fruity heat would make a nice pickle.

I stemmed and cored them and cut them into rings. This is about 10 cups, not packed tightly.

The rings were packed into hot, sterilized pint jars and covered with boiling brine. Then, they were capped and processed in a boiling water bath. 5 pints in all.

They did float a bit, but it's hard to avoid, especially with cold packing.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

August 21 Garden Pics

If you peek under the leaves, there are a lot of big, sweet, green peppers! (All Big Bertha variety.) Unfortunately, there are a few weeds too...

I'm watching these Holy Mole peppers. They are supposed to be a brownish color when ripe, I think. They must be getting close! I've found one recipe to try with them: Holy Mole Sauce, though they must be versatile for others, if you know what you are doing!

The eggplants are starting to get ahead of me and I think I'll be giving some away soon!

The sunflower variety is a bit smaller than last year's, but they are still pretty. The first ones are blooming now and there are bees on them all the time, though it's hard to see the bee in this shot. I have to use the zoom to get a picture since they are over my head!

Hot Pepper Relish and Sauce

I'm working on some new to me recipes from a book called The Joy of Pickling 250 Flavor-Packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market (Revised Edition) by Linda Ziedrich.

Today, I picked our Cherry Bomb peppers to make the Southeast Asian Chile-Garlic Relish. I minced 2 heads of garlic--which is a sneeze inducing amount!

The relish is so simple, but so tasty! It keeps in the fridge for a long time and can be a condiment or added into all kinds of recipes. Later, I put it into quart jars for easier storage.

Another recipe in the book uses some of the relish and some of that minced garlic to make an amazing stir-fry type sauce called Sweet Chile-Garlic Sauce. It is prettier in real life with the light streaming through it. I wish you could have a taste! I really enjoyed licking out the pot after bottling it. Again, this keeps in the fridge for a long time without need for canning. (However, I wish there were directions for canning it as I would love to share it with family and friends!)

I have to get some chicken or pork and make up a stir-fry soon with some of our sweet peppers too.

I highly recommend both of these recipes. Over the next few days, I'm going to try a couple more recipes from the book and will let you know how they work for me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Enjoying Summer's Bounty

Today, after the Red Hot Sauce that was leftover from canning yesterday had had a chance to cool down in the fridge, I tried it on some chips. It's not quite what I was after, but it's interesting and tasty. I don't eat shrimp, but I keep thinking it might be a nice cocktail sauce for shrimp. I sent the remaining leftover sauce to work with Jeff and it was eaten right up!

Because I had tomatoes all washed and taking up space on the counter, I skinned some and bagged them for the freezer. I did 8 bags of just plums, about 5 tomatoes per bag.

Then, I did some mix bags with yellow, orange and red varieties.

I just froze them in small amounts as I anticipate adding them into dishes that need a little tomato texture. They will be good in my chicken chasseur and vindaloo, for example. I don't really mind some seeds, so I left them in.

The end is in sight for the tomato harvest. I'm going to start pulling out some plants. I may do a few more small batches of sauce or skinned tomatoes, but mostly we will just eat the cherry tomatoes and a few others.

We don't seem to tire of Eggplant Parm! I made another batch for dinner tonight. Each time it is a little different.

Lately, my tomato sauce has a lot of sweet bell peppers, both green and yellow.

All ready for eating!