Saturday, December 5, 2009

It's 1942! And I'm hacking up the Victory Garden for winter.

The winter garden is coming along nicely! Just a few weeks ago I'd let it go all to hell, and due to my laziness, I can see I'm going to have a hard time eradicating all the Oxalis that's made itself at home in my garden. I used to eat the stuff when I was a kid. My friends and I all called it sourgrass, and we'd pick a flower, put the stem in our mouth and chew to release the sour juice. It wasn't until years later I learned that the lovely sour taste was oxalic acid. A toxin.

That lush greenery in the middle of the picture is the oxalis. Not so long ago, the entire yard looked like that, all four quadrants of the garden were just FILLED with the stuff. I couldn't poison it - that's a TERRIBLE idea when you're just about to plant vegetables - and I couldn't just whack off the tops with a weed whacker. That would leave the roots and bulbs belowground to regenerate. So I had to deal with it the long, slow tedious route. I had to pull it all out by hand.

After the first few handfuls, I noticed that only the tops were breaking away, so I sprinkled the area with water and let it soak in for a few minutes, then started plucking them again. This time not only did it go much faster, but the entire root came out with every pluck. Only about 10% of the plants broke off at the top, so I'll still have to go back every week and yank any newbies that have grown in, but that's 90% less work than I'd have to do otherwise, so I'm fine with that.

From this angle you can see some of the pepper plants that are still producing, even though they're starting to look scrawny. They go from left to right, straight through the middle of the picture. The brown thingys against the fence are the remaining summer cornstalks that I have to throw out.

After I'd plucked out all the weeds, I raked up the debris, then went back over and yanked out any strays I might have missed the first time around. I added roughly an inch of compost all over my area and tilled the snot out of it, until the earth was nice and fluffy down to about a foot deep. I used to do this part of the work with a pickaxe and hoe, but I finally splurged this year and bought the smallest tiller I could afford. It cost me $200 and it's paid me back in vegetables and the cost of aspirin ever since. Its paid for itself. I highly recommend using one. So anyway, I tilled it all up (that's why it looks so dark and rich in the picture) and ran my furrows. I planted one long row of multicolored beets along the outside edge, followed by a slightly shorter line of multicolored carrots on the inside. In a week I'll add another line of carrots (I'm trying successive plantings this year) , a line of Parsnips, and a new mystery plant called Salsify. It looks like a skinny white carrot but tastes like oysters when you roast it. There's a black verson and a white version, and right now I'm just trying to decide which one I want to try.

To the left of the dark wedge is the onion patch. I already have reds and yellows growing there, but I left just enough room at the outside for two more rows of Leeks and shallots.

On the right of the wedge is the cabbage patch. I only seem to have enough room for red cabbage this year, but maybe I'll pop in a green cabbage seed if a red doesn't make it. A friend from Hunary just gave me her wonderful recipe for sweet red cabbage. My mouth is just watering thinking about it! I can't wait until I can sacrifice one of these cabbages to my pot!

Directly across the point of this dark wedge of soil is where I'll be growing another heirloom oddity, Romanesco Broccoli. It looks beautiful, doesn't it?
All those marvelous little turrets and spirals, and it's lovely apple-green color. I'm sure it would be wonderful steamed and dipped in gravy, or stir-fried. There are lots of recipes I'd like to try. But most of all I think it will look mysterious and exotic in the garden.

Park Seeds, The Victory Seed Company, and Botanical Interests all sell high-quality heirloom and organic seeds. Renee's Seeds have always been a favorite because I'm a very indecisive person. I want five different kinds of peppers or beets in my garden, but I don't want to buy five different packets of seeds. Renees sells wonderful mixed seeds in a single packet, all color coded so you don't pay for five and yet wind up with only two in your garden anyway. Botanical Interests does the same thing but now to the degree that Renee's does.

Friday, December 4, 2009

It's 1944, and I'm hungry!

...As I'm sure my counterpart was in 1944 after a long day at the factory getting metal shavings down the back of her neck. A few days ago I made a batch of corn chowder from a recipe in one of my rationing cookbooks, but as I was flipping through it I thought the sandwich fillings sounded equal parts bizarre and intriguing. In the spirit of rationing, I'm trying to make do with what already have in the house, since years ago no matter what you wanted, it was tough to get, even if you had the proper number of ration stamps.

I have some cheese, plus salad dressing, plus some green peppers still growing on the leftover plants in my garden, so I settled on cheese filling for my experiment tonight. You can see it at the top middle of the page above. I've accidentally cut off the top of the recipe, but the name of the recipe is the only thing missing. The ingredients begin with cheese and end with Worcestershire sauce. If you're trying this at home, don't accidentally add carrots or Tabasco just because I was too lazy to rescan my page. Those belong to another recipe.

Soybeans are pretty easy to get these days, but I'm not certain how they were packaged in 1944 when this recipe came out. They might have been dried like pinto beans, and cooked in hot water to reconstitute them, or they might have been fresh green edamame pods. I haven't seen advertisements either way, but I have a can of coked soybeans in my pantry, so I figured that would split the difference. In the future, I'll probably work to keep fresh-frozen edamame around the house, since they'd add a good flavor to whatever I put them in.

I cut the cheese into slices to facilitate chopping, then bundled up everything in my food pocessor and pulsed it a few times until everything was even.

My camera gives everything a green tint, so this sandwich filling was just about the color of pimento spread in real life, and a nice thick texture.

Again, forgive the green tint on the pictures, it was a very tasty-looking orange in real life.

And the verdict? It was surprisingly good! I used Thousand Island dressing, and TI plus cheddar cheese is always good on salads, so I guess it should have come as no surprise that this spread would come out so well. The green peppers gave it just the tiniest tang and the soybeans gave a little bit of a crunch to it. I'd say I have enough for four sandwiches, maybe six if I spread it thin. I already ate one sandwich before I wrote this, and I think I'll go back and eat another. In a day or two when I run out, I'll try its neighbor on the right: Carrot Filling.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It's 2009!

Oh, Lovely, lovely loaf! How tasty you are with butter!

A short break from my time travels today.

A few days ago I read an article about a book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I love making bread, but yeah, it takes a long time and I'm not too crazy about that part. The article, in Mother Earth News, stated that all you have to do is make dough, keep it in the fridge, and then whenever you want bread you just break off a chunk, shape it, let it rise once and bake for 30 minutes. In this way you can have hot, fresh bread in less about two hours, you never have to knead, and the cost is amazingly low. This appealed to my Rationing mindset, so even thought the technique was not in use during wartime, it SHOULD have been. I had to give it a try.

My first experinemt was the basic bread: Flour, yeast, water, salt. That's it. No sugar, no kneading. I baked up a batch and put the rest of the dough in the fridge for later. My first loaf was so golden and beautiful that my husband and I ate it al at once that same night. Luckily, I could shape another loaf and have a second helping within two hours of the first. And there is still abunch left in my fridge for later! For an investment of six cups of flour, I'll be getting at least 5 loaves of bread. And THAT is GREAT!

Mother Earth News is an invaluable magazine for those brave people who want to go to the next level of retro and actually try their hand at living the lifestyle that gramma (or great-gramma) lived. It's also handy for people who are tring to become more self-sufficient, or those who are becoming disillusioned with modern life. There are always articles on organic gardening, raising various kinds of livestock, cooking, and making things like barns or rainbarrels. For the moderns, there are articles on how to put up solar panels and windmills so you can finally tell the power company to shove it. Give it a peek, I think you'll like it.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and its new sibling, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, can be purchased at , and you can also visit their website and see what they're experimenting with today.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's still 1943!

I got my day off to a swinging start with The Swingin' Years. Usually I love listening to the whole thing every Saturday and Sunday, but today I woke up so late that all I heard were the last few songs on the countdown as I chugged my coffee.

But it was my favorite year, 1943! This week, five of the top ten songs were performed by Der Bingle, but the number one song was Paper Doll by the Ink Spots, and man, I found myself humming that song. All. Damned. Day.

The 1943 theme got me thinking about my poor neglected Victory Garden, so I spent the rest of the day yanking up the weeds and remnants of the summer tomatoes and tilling in compost for the winter cabbages and peas. It was sunny but there was a definite chill in the air, and the wind started picking up just after noon, blowing the fallen leaves everywhere. It was apple pie weather; stew weather. You need something chunky and warm to cast the chill out of your joints at the end of the day.

As I planned where the root vegetables were going to go, I started to get really hungry, imagining roasted parsnips or beets from my winter garden accompanying a baked chicken, or all the carrots, peas and potatoes filling up a stew. Then, as I was clearing away some forgotten corn stalks, it occurred to me that I had the making of a great stew sitting in my freezer right now! The corn crop this summer was AMAZING. What a difference planting corn in a block makes! I blanched and froze most of it, hoping to make corn bread and soups this winter. Well, no time like the present! And just a few days ago I went past a recipe for Corn Chowder in one of my ration recipe cookbooks. Gosh that sounds good! Now let me see, where was it...

Next week, if you're good, I'll make some of those bizarro sandwich fillings for you. They're really not bad, I've tried a few. But I digress!

In the spirit of true rationing, I had to make do with a few things. The first thing that went through my mind was "FOUR CUPS OF MILK! THAT'S MY WHOLE WEEKS RATIONS!" So in the spirit of making do, I used two cups of fresh milk, and enough powdered milk and water to make two more cups. The thing about powdered milk and powdered eggs is that they're awful when you use them as directed and consume them as stand-alones, but if you bury them in a recipe they are undetectable. And so it was with the stew. The milk situation turned out just right. Also I was out of onions, which has never happened before. Finding them growing out or turning to mush happens from time to time, but I can't ever remember actually being OUT of them before. Luckily I had some chopped, dried onions in the pantry, and while I certainly didn't get the same magical aroma that real onions and bacon fat would provide, the resulting flavor of the soup was quite nice.

The resulting soup was a little insipid at first. You have to use a LOT of salt to get it up to snuff, and even then I thought it smelled wonderful but still tasted a little boring. I added a teaspoon of butter smashed up with a teaspoon of flour to make a roux. That added some body and improved the taste a bit, but it was still a little boring and I was just about at capacity for the salt and pepper, I didn't want to use any more. I searched a few other recipes and found garlic powder to be a recurring ingredient, so I tried about a 1/4 teaspoon. That made it sparkle, but there was still a little something missing. It smelled wonderful but the sweetness of the corn just wasn't shining through. Aha! Sweetness! I put in a teaspoon of sugar and stirred it in. I tasted it. Oooh, yes...that's MUCH better! So for all those who just skipped to the bottom of my paragraph, follow the recipe but add some garlic salt and a little sugar to the finished product.

I don't have any crackers on hand, and I was going to make bread but I ran out of strength. Plus, the soup cooked up very fast, about a half an hour. I still have a few rolls hanging around that didn't get used up for Thanksgiving dinner, so they made an excellent garnish. Tasty too.

I wish you could taste it, it's really quite good, and it makes enough for four bowls of soup plus leftovers for another day.

Further adventures for my time travelling friends:

The Swingin' Years can be heard Saturday and Sunday Mornings from 6 to 9 am Pacific Time. If you've never heard it, it's really a treat. The host, Chuck Cecil, has been running this show for fifty years now, and he serves up each song with trivia, listener-supplied memories from letters, interviews with the Bandleaders and singers that he's conducted over the decades, and stories about the ballrooms they played in. The only commercials are station breaks and the occasional pledge breaks every month or two. It's a first-class memory trip and I don't know what I'll ever do when Chuck finally kicks the bucket.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

It's 1941!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! No matter when you celebrate it...on the last Thursday of November, as tradition dictates, or on the penultimate Thursday, as FDR decreed it to be in 1939 in order to extend the Holiday shopping season and get some more money flowing into the economy as soon as possible. It was a nice idea, and it certainly worked the way it was supposed to, but just ask the simmering families what THEY thought of it. If you had one day off, and your children and cousins had another day off a week later, it was impossible to get everyone together for the Thanksgiving meal. Sports schedules had to be postponed or canceled, parades were re-routed, it was a general nightmare. Some people (and some states) split the difference and celebrated TWO Thanksgivings (oh my gosh wouldn't that be great if we had two 4-day weekends in a row? Heaven!) but most people and states picked one and tried to stick with it as best they could. After much fuss, Congress finally passed a law in 1941 stating that Thanksgiving would henceforth be ON THE FOURTH THURSDAY OF NOVEMBER, AND THAT'S IT, BUSTER! Okay maybe they didn't use those exact words but that was the spirit of the law.

In any case, Happy Thanksgiving! Save a slice of pie for me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It's 1943! And it's starting to get chilly.

Twice a year I get a terrible itch to plant a vegetable garden. The one I plant in spring...well, that's a no-brainer. I get to plant all the things you'd typically expect to see in a Victory Garden: Corn, tomatoes, peppers, melons and herbs. The winter garden takes a little more planning. You don't want to go to all the trouble of digging up the soil, planting seeds and pulling weeds, only to have your strong little sprouts turn to mush with the first frosty night, so you have to plant only the things that can take the cold.

Luckily, most of the things you can plant in the winter are things you might actually want to EAT in the winter. Red cabbage cooking on the stove with sugar and vinegar makes a wonderful smell and an even tastier dish. Chubby little sugar snap peas cook up hot and fast, and although I haven't tried it yet, there are two recipes for pea leaf soup in my ration cookbooks. If I can save the leaves from powdery mildew this year, I might actually give it a shot. Cauliflower tastes much better broken to pieces, steamed hot and served with leftover gravy. Broccoli makes a tangy, crunchy salad with bacon and dressing, and you might think you hate Brussels Sprouts until you have them simmered in mustard sauce. And what's a stew, soup or casserole without a few root vegetables, like carrots or parsnips? Every little bit helps, you know.

Yeah I know it's a planner from 1944, but what I plant this winter will contribute to recipes like these next February. So there.

Click on the page for a larger (and much sharper) view of the recipes.

The most important thing that I've learned about winter gardening is that things get BIG, bigger than you'd expect them to, if all you have to go by is the size of the finished product at the store. The first year I planted cabbage, I figured a foot apart would be just about right, that allows for the head at the center and some extra leaves, right? Was I ever surprised when they hit up the three foot mark and started fighting it out for space. So this year I'm doing the onions a foot apart and spacing the cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower four feet apart. This sounds like I'm getting fewer cabbages out of my little plot of land, but four cabbages you can at sure beats one cabbage shaped like an S from space hogs.

So off I go, wearing a beat up and much-patched pair of pants (Make it do or do without!) and an ugly shirt I don't mind ratting up. The sun is shining, the wind is blowing, it's not too hot and it's not raining. This is perfect fall gardening weather! And when I get back in, maybe I'll make a soup out of the Butternut squash I harvested from the summer garden.

I tell ya, a little victory gardening makes a big difference in your meals! And your pocketbook.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

It's 1939!

NBC radio city is one of my stops on my fantasy perfect day. I'd relive a day from some set year, start off with a vintage breakfast courtesy one of my antique cookbooks, a newspaper from the LA Times Archive (They have any day to choose from, from 1881 on) , then catch a movie I saw in the paper, or visit the site of NBC radio city with two tickets to Fibber McGee and Molly...or maybe I'll hit up the old KNX building across the street from Columbia Studios. It used to be CBS, the Columbia Broadcasting System, so various movie stars from the studio across the street would cross the crosswalk after work and put in an hour (whether they wanted to or not) recording their episode of Suspense! That's my favorite, Suspense from the war years. Absolutely the best! Always a great, twisty ending! I'd end the day by listening to an old radio show, probably Suspense, come to think of it, and partake of any advertised product that happened to still exist.

I keep thinking of things to do on my perfect day. There are things that still exist, like various movie palaces and radio stations, a few restaurants and shops. And of course I have movie magazines and women's magazines from whatever year I pick. Thank heavens for netflix! I can watch a double feature if the movies still exist. Oh it would be so much fun to roll film at the same time sixty years late! I am such a dork.

Further reading:

If you have a Los Angeles Public Library card, it will get you access to the L.A. Times Database for free. This link will take you to the database. Pop in your card number and pin and proceed to "Proquest - the Historic Los Angeles Times". Give the date you want and hit enter. Everyone else will have to go to the Proquest database or the Los Angeles Times Archive database but you'll have to pay for the privilege.

has dozens of stations that cater to the Old Time Radio fan, and OTRCAT has individual shows for purchase, but a google search will turn up many, many sites that offer mp3s of old radio shows and news broadcasts.

Monday, May 25, 2009

It's 1943!

It's the middle of the war and things could still go either way for our boys. D Day is still more than a year away, and the slog to get there will be hard. Back on the homefront, it's Decoration Day, which means a big parade down main street with lots of flag waving and patriotism, something we need right now. After the parade, we can take in a movie. Casablanca and Mrs. Miniver are playing in town, but that sounds too heavy right now. With all the boys gone overseas, the town is pretty empty and I don't want to think about what could happen to them at any time. Maybe something light, like a musical... Hello Frisco Hello is playing at the Arlington in Los Angeles, and you KNOW how I love Alice Faye. We could just take the streetcar over still get home before 10. But first, I think, some breakfast.

Thank heavens I have my collection of ration book recipes. It's the end of the month and I have next to nothing left! Tonight I'll be dining on Boiled cauliflower in gravy, but I think I might still have just a little condensed milk left for cooking. If you mix it half and half with water, it becomes milk again. It doesn't taste like fresh milk, but it's better than nothing. Now let's see...I don't have any shortening left...but I have some oil...let's see what I can whip up...
Oh hey, that'll work! The drop biscuits don't need any shortening, you can just use oil. I've got that! Let me put on some chicory coffee to perk and I'll be right back with my mixing bowls.

The thing about ration recipes is that they don't usually make all that much, and I'll admit these biscuits are a little dry, but with some margarine and homemade jam, they taste just great!

I'm out of sugar for my coffee, but I still have some sweetened condensed milk to put in it, and I've found that I actually like that better than cream and sugar. Especially with chicory coffee.

Ah, a real wartime breakfast! How lucky we are that we have SOMETHING. I don't mind scrimping and rationing if it'll help our boys get what they need to end this war any faster.

Thanks, Boys!

Monday, January 5, 2009

It's 1909! ...Or is

Everything old is new again. From the Los Angeles Times, January 5th, 1909...

And from Yahoo News today, January 5th, 2009...

Search begins for Kansas boy missing 10 years

EL DORADO, Kan. – A missing Kansas boy's adoptive parents, who failed to report his disappearance for nearly a decade, are considered "people of interest" in the case as authorities expand their search nationwide, a sheriff said Monday.

Investigators were focused on finding Adam Herrman, who was 11 when he disappeared in 1999 from a mobile home park in Towanda where he lived, Butler County Sheriff Craig Murphy said.

Authorities only recently learned he was missing, and would not say whether they believed he was still alive.

"We are working it as if it is a death — but we are not leaning one way or the other," Murphy said.

His parents, Doug and Valerie Herrman, have not been arrested or charged. Asked why, Murphy replied: "We are not ready is an honest and upfront answer."

Earlier media reports said Adam had a history of running away, but Murphy said investigators have not confirmed that. The boy was adopted by the Herrmans when he was 2 1/2 years old.

The family has cooperated with investigators, he said.

Murphy said a search of the now empty lot where the family's mobile home once stood gave investigators one answer they sought, but he did not elaborate other than to say no human remains were found.

Murphy's office did not receive a missing persons report until contacted recently by Sedgwick County's exploited and missing children's unit. He declined to say who tipped them off. It was not clear exactly when they learned of the boy's disappearance.

Investigators have not found any confirmed data on Adam's whereabouts since 1999.

Murphy asked the public for help, and issued a plea to the missing boy himself: "If Adam Herrman is alive out there — and he would see this — I would ask him to contact us immediately."