Thursday, July 24, 2014

Nancy J. Ondra: Three Tips for Keeping Up with Garden Chores

Here in New England, flower gardens are thick with blooms, early tomatoes are starting to blush, greens are lush, garlic is nearly ready for harvesting, and oh, the berries! But how to keep up with it all when time is tight? Author and gardener Nancy J. Ondra has three simple methods for maximizing efficiency and enjoyment in summer garden maintenance.

Once the flurry and excitement of spring planting is past, it can be challenging to keep up with the less-than-thrilling parts of gardening: routine chores such as grooming your flower borders, harvesting veggies, and weeding everything. A couple of tricks can make it easier to get motivated, though, and possibly even turn tasks that you’d rather avoid into enjoyable excuses for “me time” in your garden.

Keep your tools close. If you have to go hunting through the garage or shed every time you need to get some gardening done, you’re wasting valuable outside time. Buy an inexpensive bucket, add your garden shears, gloves, and whatever tools you prefer for weeding, and keep your kit in a spot where you can grab it and go out to the garden whenever you have a few minutes to spare. Use the bucket to gather the weeds or trimmings, then dump them into your compost bin when you’re done. Replace the tools in the bucket, and put it back so everything’s right at hand for your next work session.

Flower garden maintenance is easier when you have your tools at the ready.
Photo © Nancy J. Ondra

If you grow a lot of veggies, consider making a separate kit for handy harvesting. A bucket can work well here too, but my favorite container for this is a Tubtrug Colander from Gardener’s Supply Company, because the slotted sides make it easy to wash and drain the collected veggies before you bring them into the kitchen. Add a digging knife or hand fork for loosening the soil for root crops, as well as clippers for fruiting crops and an old pair of fabric shears or kitchen scissors for easily gathering greens.

Harvest and wash your vegetables in one simple step with a garden colander.
Photo © Nancy J. Ondra

Make it an event. Instead of dreading garden tasks, turn the time into a treat. If you enjoy companionship, maybe you can lure a friend or neighbor over for a speed-weeding or harvesting session with a cup of coffee and the promise of juicy gossip. If your life tends to be noisy and hectic, use the quiet time to meditate while doing routine tasks, or just enjoy the peace. Or, load your iPod with your favorite music or an audiobook. You’ll be surprised how much work you can get done while you listen to a chapter or two, and you’ll look forward to getting back outside for the next one.

Before: the dreaded unweeded border
Photo © Nancy J. Ondra

Turn your back on your work. Gardeners tend to be very generous with plants and seeds, but their good advice can be even more valuable than tangible things. One of the most useful tricks in my maintenance arsenal came from an experienced gardener many years ago, when I was just getting started. Her advice was to “back into your work”: in other words, orient yourself so you are always looking at what you’ve already accomplished. Instead of looking down the whole length of a border that needs to be dug, mulched, or weeded (as shown above), turn your back on the unfinished part and enjoy the view of what you’ve already accomplished (as in the photo below). Keep backing up as you work, and before you know it, you’ll be done. It’s such a simple thing, but if you give it a try, I think you’ll find it as useful as I have!

After: Free of weeds
Photo © Nancy J. Ondra
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Nancy J. Ondra is a garden writer and editor who owned and operated a small rare-plant nursery for six years. She is the author or co-author of a dozen gardening books, including Five-Plant Gardens,  Foliage (winner of the 2008 Book Award from the American Horticultural Society), The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer (winner of a 2006 Silver Award from the Garden Writers Association), The Perennial Care Manual, Fallscaping, and Grasses. She currently gardens in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and blogs at

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lisa Hiley: Behind the Scenes — A Photo Shoot from an Editor’s Perspective

The job of an editor goes beyond working with words. Storey editor Lisa Hiley reflects on an editor’s role when capturing a book’s content in images.

One of the more enjoyable parts of my generally fun job as a Storey editor is going on photo shoots. It’s nice to get out of the office and away from the computer, and as someone who focuses on words all day, I relish the chance to be involved in the visual side of bringing books to life. Since the author of the book is often on site for shoots, these occasions become a great chance to develop a relationship that sometimes only exists via email and phone. 

You never know what to expect on photo shoots. They can be exhausting, hectic, and frustrating. While everything is carefully planned in advance, everyone has to be flexible and willing to pitch in. Editors might find themselves chopping fruit, washing dishes, schlepping props, crouching beneath tables to keep them steady, holding lights overhead, smoothing out wrinkled clothing on models — you name it.

The horse stays in the picture: Editor Lisa Hiley (left) surveys photographer Jason Houston’s computer setup to make sure they have the shot they need. Consulting are co-author Stephanie Boyles and cover model Fino, with his owner Frances Carbonnel. Photo © Jason Houston Photography, LLC

In June of last year, I flew to Colorado for a shoot for 101 Western Dressage Exercises for Horse & Rider. We needed several specific shots including the all-important cover. Our authors, Jec Ballou and Stephanie Boyles, arranged for a couple of magnificent Andalusian horses to be our models and found a private ranch where we could shoot against gorgeous scenery. Our terrific photographer, Jason Houston, proved a quick study in capturing equine action.

My jobs on the shoot included showing up with coffee and breakfast at 6 a.m., keeping track of the shot list, making sure the riders had the right clothes for each shot, fetching lunch, looking at every set of shots with the authors to make sure we had what we needed, and shifting cones, ground poles, and other equipment as necessary. We had to work around a few glitches, including a very small paddock with excellent footing that proved a bit tight for our claustrophobic cover star (we moved some fence panels and tried another spot later in the day). I also happily talked about horses, watched horses in action, held horses, fed treats to horses, and mucked out a stall — just another day at work!

If only I’d been able to convince my boss to send me to New Mexico to work on the photo shoot for that new cookbook ….

The cover, featuring Fino, the Andalusian stallion

101 Western Dressage Exercises for Horse & Rider is available for order now!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Blues for All Seasons: Making and Using Dried Blueberries

With berry season upon us, we’re trying a few different ways to preserve and enjoy the freshness of the harvest beyond pies and jams. Last week, we made blueberry gastrique, a flavorful, versatile sauce. This week, we’re drying things out.

I’ll be honest: when it comes to blueberries, I’m an eat-’em-fresh or freeze-’em kind of girl. After all, we rarely get so many blueberries at once that they become a problem. That said, we have about a dozen or so varieties of blueberry bushes in our yard and, as they mature and yield more fruit, we are faced with the prospect of actually having some leftover to put up. We’re fortunate enough to have a chest freezer in our basement, but if you don’t have the space for an extra freezer (or simply don’t like the cost of keeping one running), and if you’d rather avoid the food panic that sets in with a power outage, dehydrating is your best friend.

Dried blueberries are good for more than just granola. Who doesn’t like blueberry muffins?
Teresa Marrone, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Making and Using Dried Foods, writes that, when it comes to successfully dehydrating small berries like blueberries, checking, or breaking, the skin of the fruit before drying is key. Without checking, berries like blues or huckleberries will swell and can take days to dry. But be forewarned: blueberries can’t just be blanched in boiling water like other fruit. “Because blueberries are so tender and small, the fruit cooks quickly during blanching, breaking apart or becoming too soft to spread on the dehydrator trays.”

Marrone suggests syrup-blanching your blueberries before drying, to check the skin and for a more pleasurable eating experience. “Fruits that have been syrup-blanched are softer and more brightly colored than those pretreated by other methods and are less likely to darken during storage....Brief syrup-blanching checks the fruit and also improves the taste and texture.”

How to Syrup-Blanch Blueberries: 
Combine 1 cup sugar, 1 cup corn syrup, and 2 cups water in a nonreactive saucepan (as an alternative to corn syrup, use a total of 1½ cups sugar and 2½ cups water). Heat to boiling, stirring until the sugar dissolves completely. Add the prepared fruit. Adjust the heat so the mixture simmers but does not boil. Large blueberries should be syrup-blanched by simmering (not boiling) for 3 minutes; small blueberries should be syrup-blanched for 2 minutes. (For high altitudes, add 30 seconds to the time specified for each 2,000 feet of elevation above sea level). Remove the fruit with a slotted spoon and drain; for less sticky dried fruit, rinse briefly in cold water and drain.

Dehydrate using a dehydrator or convection oven, the sun, or a conventional oven. 

[Note: Dehydrating times will vary, based on the method you use. More detailed information and tips for drying methods can be found in The Beginner’s Guide to Making and Using Dried Foods.]

Doneness test: Shrunken, dark, wrinkled, leathery to hard, with a dry texture. Syrup-blanched berries will be pliable and slightly sticky but no longer moist inside; they may be more flattened than berries that have not been syrup-blanched.

Yield: 1 pound fresh berries yields ¾ to 1 cup of dried berries, depending on the size of the berries. When rehydrated, 1 cup of dried berries yields 1⅓ to 1½ cups.

Of course, you can rehydrate your dried berries for pies and cobblers after the peak season is over, but, as Marrone writes, the dried fruit used just as they are pack a flavorful punch in granola or trail mix, and serve as an excellent stand-in for any recipe that calls for dried cranberries or raisins (a major perk for me, a raisin-hater). The blueberry flavor is unmistakable in these Lemon-Blueberry Yogurt Muffins, which bake up incredibly moist.

Lemon-Blueberry Yogurt Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

1 cup dried blueberries
1 cup lemon yogurt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin, or line with paper liners.
  2. Stir together the dried blueberries, yogurt, and lemon juice in a large mixing bowl; set aside to rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder into a medium mixing bowl; set aside.
  4. When the blueberry-yogurt mixture has rested for 15 minutes, add the sugar, butter, honey, salt, and eggs; stir well with a wooden spoon. Add the flour mixture and stir just until moistened; do not overmix or the muffins will be tough.
  5. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, and then turn the muffins out onto the rack to cool completely. 

Selected text, instructions for syrup-blanching, and Lemon-Blueberry Yogurt Muffins recipe excerpted from The Beginner’s Guide to Making and Using Dried Foods © 2014 by Teresa Marrone. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Meet Mother Earth News 2014 Homesteaders of the Year: Glenn Maresca and Kelly McCormick

Every year, our friends at Mother Earth News honor individuals and families living sustainable lifestyles with a Homesteaders of the Year award. The award winners — gardeners and beekeepers, homebuilders and green energy innovators among them — have committed to living more simply and gently on the land, and their stories are unique and always inspirational. Storey is delighted to contribute a selection of books to all the award recipients.

Glenn Maresca and Kelly McCormick, who are among the winners for 2014, grow 80 percent of their food on their five-acre farm in Duette, Florida, where they also raise poultry, cows, and bees. Kelly generously sent along a little peek into their homesteading lives, and shares how The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals has helped them to navigate unknown territory with confidence:

Glenn, with our first steer
We started reading The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals when we first began our Florida homestead, and it has been invaluable as a source of information and inspiration. Our chickens have been using plastic storage crates for nests with great success due to the enhanced ventilation, which works well in our hot climate.

Our first honey!
The section on bees really helped us to position our hive and to choose the right way to get started. Without this book we would not have known to get heritage turkeys for easy breeding. Even as we moved into larger livestock, The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals was a significant help in doing things like weaning our first two rescue calves.

After reading the section on choosing a dairy cow, we knew a Jersey was exactly what we were looking for. We’re counting on using the book to advise us on calving in the upcoming year.

Tending to Norman

Thank you so much for all the knowledge and books you’ve given us. We look forward to learning even more.

Norman, Glenn and Kelly’s steer

Congratulations, Glenn and Kelly, and thanks for sharing your story with us! We hope the books continue to serve you well in all your homesteading endeavors.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Brooke Dojny: Beautiful Beets

Roasted, juiced, pickled, or sliced paper-thin and eaten raw, the colorful beet promises nutrients and flavor from green top to root bottom. Brooke Dojny previews a salad that pairs beets with peppery arugula from her forthcoming book, Chowderland, and shares a beet quick pickle how-to.

Red Ace. Bull’s Blood. Touchstone Gold. Early Wonder. Candy. Seed companies must have such fun naming vegetable and fruit seeds, and the adjectives and nouns for the many varieties of beets seem particularly descriptive. On a visit a few days ago to my CSA farm stand, beets of many colors — red, purple, yellow, striped — were bundled together and piled in a glorious heap, their shiny leaves still glistening with moisture. I bought four bunches.

Sometimes the labor involved in cooking and peeling beets can feel onerous, but I’ve learned to just add the cooking to a supper preparation. The whole cooked beets can then be refrigerated for up to three days, until you’re ready to use them. Wrapping beets in foil and roasting them for about an hour enhances and deepens their sweet flavor, but if you’re short on time, a simple steaming in an inch or so of salted water for about 20 minutes works beautifully, too. I view the beet cook’s red-stained fingers as a kind of badge of honor, but they’re easily scrubbed clean with a good stiff nail brush.

And the greens are pure bonus. Eminently edible, beet greens and are among the most intensely flavored, earthy, and pleasantly minerally of all cooking leaves. Chop the clean leaves and steam them or – even better – stir-fry the still-damp greens in a little olive oil with minced garlic until tender. Serve with a splash of vinegar.

Beets can, of course, be served warm, with butter and lemon or vinegar, but somehow I think their gorgeous color, their sturdiness, and earthy sweetness lends them especially well to sophisticated salad preparations. And simple, old-fashioned pickled beets are always welcome at a summer picnic.

Beet Salad on Arugula with Ricotta Salata 

This salad, which will be part of my new book Chowderland, to be published by Storey in 2015, calls for ricotta salata, which is fresh ricotta that has been pressed, salted, and aged. It’s somewhat similar to salty, nutty feta cheese and, in fact, the two can be used pretty much interchangeably.

4 servings

1 pound trimmed beets (about 8 medium beets)
1 small garlic clove
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1½ tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces (3 handfuls) arugula or mesclun mix
4 ounces shaved or crumbled ricotta salata
About ½ cup imported green olives, pitted or not (your choice)

  1. Cook the beets in boiling salted water to cover until tender, 20 to 30 minutes, depending on size, or wrap in foil and roast in a 350°F oven for 45 to 60 minutes. When cool, peel and cut into ½-inch dice.
  2. On a cutting board, coarsely chop the garlic with the salt, then use the flat blade of the knife to mash to a smooth purée. Combine in a bowl with the lemon juice, oil, and pepper, and whisk until smooth. Toss the beets with about 2 tablespoons of the dressing and refrigerate until ready to assemble the salad.
  3. Spread the arugula out onto a shallow rimmed platter and drizzle with the remaining dressing. Spread the dressed beets in the center and sprinkle with the cheese. Arrange olives over the top and serve. 

Quick Pickled Beets

Pickled beets are beautiful to look at, delicious to eat, and add a nicely piquant counterpoint to almost any summer meal.

4 servings

1 pound trimmed beets (about 8 medium beets)
Salt for cooking
1 cup distilled white vinegar
⅓ cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Pinch of allspice
½ cup sliced or diced onion

  1. Cook the beets in boiling salted water to cover until tender, 20 to 30 minutes, depending on size. When cool, peel and cut into slices. 
  2. Bring the vinegar, sugar, salt, and allspice to a simmer in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the beets and onion and simmer for 1 minute. Cool and refrigerate for up to two weeks. 
Photos courtesy of the author.

Brooke Dojny is the author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, including The New England Clam Shack Cookbook,Dishing Up® Maine, and Lobster! (all Storey Publishing). She won the James Beard Award in 1997 for The AMA Family Cookbook, co-authored with Melanie Barnard.  Brooke started her culinary career in the 1980s when she worked as a catering directress for Martha Stewart. From 1990 to 2004, Brooke co-authored (with Melanie Barnard) Bon Appetit’s monthly “Every-Night Cooking” column. She has written for most of the other major culinary magazines and has been a regular contributor to Down East Magazine. She lives on the coast of Maine, where she can be found hanging out at clam shacks and farmers’ markets. Her next book for Storey is Chowderland, to be published in 2015.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

“Epic” Bloom Day — July 2014

In early May, Storey Editor Carleen Madigan sent out an email seeking foster parents for tomato plants that had been sent to us from North Carolina by Craig LeHoullier, author of the forthcoming book, Epic Tomatoes. Partially for fun, and partially to ensure that we’d have the fruit we needed for photo shoots for the book, a number of us here at Storey volunteered some garden space and pledged to take good care of our charges.

Now that the heat and rains of summer have arrived, many of us are beginning to see signs of fruit. In honor of Bloom Day this month, we thought it would be fun to collect all our “epic” tomatoes virtually, from the giant to the dwarf, as they continue to grow in various corners of Western Massachusetts. Are you growing tomatoes this summer? What varieties are in your garden?


Variety: Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln is the only one in my garden that I see an actual tomato on so far; it was ahead of the others I started from seed. It’s also the only one in my garden that looks stressed; it’s at the end of the row and I’m sure gets the most sun, but also maybe the least water.  I did cram them in there. 


Variety: Rosella Purple


Varieties: Nepal, Lillian’s Red Paste, Little Lucky


Lillian’s Red Paste

Lillian’s Red Paste plant

Little Lucky has not been so lucky — no fruit yet!


Variety: Dwarf Wild Fred

Here’s the first tomato emerging on our Dwarf Wild Fred growing in a pot on our deck!


Varieties: Hugh’s, Yellow White

Both Hugh's and Yellow White are looking robust and have started to fruit.  Early on they bravely suffered some minor nibblings by spider mites, but you wouldn't know it now.  They have been growing like crazy, and I've been dutifully suckering them and whispering sweet tomato lullabies in the evenings...

Yellow White

Yellow White


Varieties: Lucky Cross, Mexico Midget, Tiger Tom

Tiger Tom has good fruit set but the leaves are sort of curling in (not sure if this is normal). They look healthy otherwise. Lucky Cross has some fruit and looks healthy; the leaves on this one and Tiger Tom are huge compared to the other varieties! Mexico Midget looks the spindliest and sprawliest of all my tomatoes and has the only signs of disease — yellowed leaves in the interior lower branches; not sure if it’s blight or just too much moisture — but it has lots of blossoms and a few teeny green tomatoes.
Lucky Cross

Mexico Midget

Tiger Tom


Varieties: Lillian’s Yellow, Cherokee Chocolate

Our Cherokee Chocolate and Lillian’s Yellow are keeping pace with the rest of our toms, with nice fruit set on both plants. I love the deeply ridged fruit of the Lilllian’s Yellow, but the plant has some discoloration on lower leaves and branches. A few other (non-Epic) varieties in our garden show the same. Blight? Hopefully not. It doesn’t seem to be spreading.

Cherokee Chocolate

Lillian’s Yellow

Lillian’s Yellow flowers


Variety: Golden Queen

It seems to be flourishing!


Varieties: Mullen’s Mortgage Lifter, Big Boy

Mullen’s Mortgage Lifter

Big Boy


Variety: Sun Gold

I planted my sungold over Memorial Day weekend. I started getting fruit pretty early, probably at the end of June. But now it’s really starting to bloom and fruit even more. I have some photos of pizzas I made last year with sun golds I grew and it makes me get a hankering for more of the same this year.

Just planted: Memorial Day weekend

How it looked on July 12



Varieties: Yellow Oxhart, Giant Syrian

Yellow Oxhart

Giant Syrian

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Sweet-Tart Taste of Summer: Blueberry Gastrique

Now that summer fruits are coming on strong, of course it’s time for filling pies and jars of jam. But if you’re looking for other ways to get the most out of your berry bounty, gastrique might be the perfect vehicle for those extra pints you snagged at the farmers’ market or harvested at the pick-your-own farm.

The “Learn the Lingo” section of Sherri Brooks Vinton’s new book,  The Put ’em Up! Preserving Answer Book, describes gastrique as “a pungent vinegar-based sauce that is heavily reduced to take on a thick, syrupy texture” and serves as “a canvas for a featured flavoring, such as berries or citrus juice.”

Blueberries, sugar, and red wine vinegar: all you need to make gastrique

My own, far less technical take on this sweet-and-tart topping might be “the sauce that tastes just as good spooned over chicken as it does on a dish of good vanilla ice cream.” However you look at it, if you’ve considered food preservation but find jams intimidating, gastrique is an easy, flavorful way to get started.

When caramelizing sugar, watch carefully for the change in color

Made with caramelized sugar that is then deglazed with vinegar, a little bit of this simple-to-prepare sauce goes a long way when served and lasts for a while in your fridge. If you’re inclined to put some up, try the boiling water method of canning or — for the ultimate in preserving simplicity — freezing the sauce in ice cube trays. Either way, you’ll thank yourself in the later months of the year, when the flavor of summer berries tastes miraculous. And isn’t that part of why we preserve food to begin with?

Gastrique (and our garden)

American pastry chef and cookbook author, David Lebovitz, recently speculated that, as “gastrique is a term that refers to stomach troubles, it’s possible that the tartness of the syrup was thought to aid in digestion of a rich dish.”

Origins of the term aside, I enjoyed my blueberry gastrique spooned over grilled chicken thighs and served on a bed of polenta, to soak up every last drop.

Blueberry Gastrique

Makes about 1½ cups

I can’t get enough of this sensational sauce. It’s easy, versatile, and delicious! The name may make it sound complicated but it is really so simple to make — and quite fun, too. The technique of making the caramel base is a basic kitchen skill you can use to create a lot of great recipes, like the sauce for flan, a butterscotch pudding, even lollipops, so it’s a useful one to have in your cooking repertoire — and it’s quite fascinating to witness, too. (Yes, I am a bit of a science geek.)

1 cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 cups (about ¾ pound) berries
Pinch of salt

  1. Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a light boil over medium-low heat. Do not stir. Cook until the sugar melts and begins to color slightly, 5 to 7 minutes, washing down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush as necessary. Pour the vinegar into the pan, but be careful — the vinegar will hiss and spit a good bit. The caramel will harden when the liquid hits it but will dissolve in the vinegar as it simmers. Simmer until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the berries and continue to simmer until the sauce takes on the color and fragrance of the fruit and thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Finish with a sprinkle of salt.

The sauce comes alive when the vinegar hits the caramelized sugar


Refrigerate: Ladle into bowls or jars. The gastrique will keep, covered, for up to 3 weeks.

Freeze: Freeze the gastrique in a covered ice cube tray or small container for up to 6 months.

Can: Use the boiling-water method. Ladle the gastrique into clean, hot 4-ounce jars. Use a bubble tool, or other nonmetallic implement, to release any trapped air. Wipe the rims, cover the jars, and screw the bands on just fingertip-tight. Process for 10 minutes. Cool for 24 hours. Check the seals and store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

Recipe excerpted from The Put ’em Up! Preserving Answer Book © 2014 by Sherri Brooks Vinton. All rights reserved.

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