Looking a gift horse in the mouth

I am not a fan of power tools. I’d rather wreck my back using a push mower (only until I have no lawn left) and wish for many reasons that all leaf blowers on the planet would simultaneously self-destruct. So when Troy-Bilt offered me the power tool of my choice to review – sort of like winning a kind of bloglottery – I hesitated and even gnashed a little in frustration at my luck not running towards a shiny new spade or a truck full of perennials instead. But when I looked out at my enormous debris-cum-compost pile it occurred to me that Troy-Bilt probably makes chipper shredders…

A friendly correspondent at Troy-Bilt helped me choose the chipper shredder 4325 which is their hard-core model capable of chipping branches up to 3″ in diameter. By now I’ve used it (by which I mean Z has used it while I delivered debris and watched) twice to open the path back up to our compost bins.

Out of the box it rolled easily into position and started up like a shiny red champ – 2 hard tugs on the cord and away she went. After a couple months in the garage it was more reluctant to start and if it had been up to me to keep pulling the cord, I might have given up. But once going (6 or more tugs and some monkeying with knobs), cs 4325 hummed away. Loudly. It’s really loud. Offer ear protection to the neighbors and put all the kids down cellar because as power tools go, this has to be among the most damaging to the drums. (My neighbors use leaf blowers so I consider cs 4325 their comeuppance.)

The shredder chute – the largest opening – is at about chest height on me and even for Z who stands 6′ tall, it’s forearm barking high. I guess that’s for safety reasons because there’s no way, even for a super tall person with simian arms, to reach down the opening and touch the blades. The chute also necks down from a good 18″ or so to about 8″ and then turns a corner before the blade house. According to Z, a well sifted armful of leaves could be dropped and sucked around the corner easily. All of my chunky debris (4′ weed stalks, armfuls of dried lavender stems, etc) needed a little more encouragement to turn the corner. Z finally settled on using a 1×6″ plank to push everything through. (Since a one-by-six can’t turn corners, there seems to be no danger of it, along with its handler, being sucked into the blades.)

The chipper chute angles out in the opposite direction – on the engine side of the machine – from the shredder mouth necessitating a complete shift in operator orientation. If you try to stand where you can easily-ish reach both chutes, exhaust will burn your legs or dust will blow up your nose. The lazy multi-tasker in me might have been annoyed by that but Z organized my pile and did the dance with grace.

The largest branch he put through (the chipper chute) was about 2″ in diameter and according to Z, the greener the wood, the better for finding the blade without getting hung up. He did also say that anything that could be encouraged one way or another to reach the blade would be chipped, no problem. My enormous piles of chunky yard waste were literally reduced to shreds and I was amazed at the uniformity and tininess of the resulting stuff. It makes beautiful mulch or a sweet layer for the compost pile. And all of the shreds were shot right into a sack (provided with the machine) which made clean-up and distribution incredibly easy.

To sum up, I’d give cs 4325 5 stars for being able to shred so much of my unruly pile of yard debris; 3 stars for a reluctant start (and needing to have a strong arm to pull again and again); and 2 stars for wonky ergonomics and design.

For clarity and full disclosure, I’ll say it again: Some fellow bloggers might claim I’ve gone to the dark side, but Troy-Bilt sent this expensive tool to me free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

This little piggy went to market

me buying cheez, yoThe farmers market is one of the best ways to get fresh veg and support local farmers, stimulate the local economy and basically save the world with a radish and a zucchini. So where in SamHell am I supposta get tasty greens in the winter? I could go to the box chain supper-market and get some nice GMO’s shipped thousands of miles, yeah – or not, so it’s off to the winter farmers market.  local vegOn a balmy winter Saturday, I think it topped out at 30° in the sun, really nice – no seriously, it was a beautiful day – K and I headed out to Providence (Pawtucket actually, but let’s not split hairs) for some nice indoor farm fresh. The place was packed, how cool was that? – all kinds of vendors, fish, cheese, veg, live music, and yes, pigs…in the form of tasty sausage. And so many people shopping:  Old hippies with gray hair, young punk rockers in red doc martens, hipsters in tight jeans, art students in paint splatters, yuppies with babies in fancy strollers – all saving the world, or more importantly helping to ensure that I can get fresh food locally. So back at home, with week’s worth of veg, a martini in my paw and creme brule cooling on the counter, and snow predicted to start any second now, it’s been a very good day.  -Quick note, crème brûlée impresses the hell out of company and is wicked easy to make.

ring it up, sonyuppies and hippies and hipsters - oh my!

Z’s crème brulée

4 egg yokes

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

(all organic ingredients if possible, obviously.)

Wisk yokes and sugar until smooth (pale).  Add vanilla and wisk in cream.  Strain into 4 4oz ramekins.  Bake at 300°for 45 minutues in a water bath (ramekins in a glass dish filled half full of boiling water) or until jello-like in center.  Cool to room temp. then refridgerate for at least an hour.  Before serving, dust a thin coat of sugar on top and get out the blow torch.  Bon appetit!  Z-

Garden to Table

-by Zeke-

The ocean breeze whistling through the naked shivering trees with the shrill note of winter, winding and twisting around me, searched out all the chinks in my well worn Carrhart armor. It whispered quietly in my ear with a deafening roar “YOU’VE GROWN SOFT OVER THE SUMMER”.  It is of course correct, but that like the weather will change. The sudden bitter cold makes the simple joy of bustling about the kitchen, next to an intoxicatingly warm stove, all the more delirious. Work boots swapped for the soft caress of slippers, tool apron packed away in favor of its culinary cousin, dish towel slung over my shoulder, I attempt to dirty every dish in the kitchen.

Tonight’s dinner was a wonderful bouquet of home grown rootieness; rutabaga and carrots, beets, and beet greens. These were presented to me in their purest form, barely plucked from the earth’s nurturing embrace and plopped down all greens and roots and dirt spilling and cascading over my cutting board. This was what we had on hand, and me being too lazy to run out to the store, was what we ate.  Perhaps next time I’ll add in a little sauteed chicken with a garlic and wild mushroom pan sauce…

Now what pray tell is a rutabaga, you may well ask.  I did – I mean I know what it is when it’s sitting in front of me – but what is it really? Truth be told, it is a turnip.  A yellow turnip in fact, or Swedish turnip or “Neep” to the Scottish – nothing all that exotic but it’s definitely tasty.  And now that we know what it is let’s cook it.

veg for dinnerFirst up is the carrot and turnip smash.  Peel and chop the turnip (or rutabaga, if you are so lucky) and boil until just starting to soften, then add the chopped carrots. There is something in the taste a home grown carrot that cannot be quantified beyond the nostalgic kick in the rear of running pants-less through my mother’s garden with a carrot, greens still attached, clutched in my paw. It was the 70’s, we were hippies, don’t judge… But I digress.

Once all are nice and soft, drain and smash with a potato masher, add in butter, cream, and salt and pepper to taste. It makes a wonderfully tasty and colorful side. The beets are just as easy. Trim the greens and roots, scrub and rub down with oil, wrap them up individually in foil and pop in the oven at 350° until soft – about an hour, or two martinis, but who’s counting?  When cooked and cooled enough to handle, the skins should slough off easily.  Dice them into random sized chunks and mix with butter and fresh chopped dill, mm-mm.

The beet greens, which are not green at all: Take the nice crisp little ones that Jack Frost has not nipped and cut the stems into one inch chunks and saute in a little oil, then toss in the leaves that have been cut into 1/4 inch ribbons (or chiffonade for you cookie types).  Stir in fresh minced garlic and dried oregano and basil and cook until just wilted.  Serve topped with crumbled blue cheese – I found a tasty cheese from nearby Marion, Mass made with raw milk.  Wine paring: Something red I should think, or another martini.  Hey it’s the weekend, I don’t have to drive, stop looking at me like that. Besides I still have to make an apple pie for tomorrow, but that is a story for another day.    Z-