Monday, December 31, 2012

  ( Polenta with braised kale and marinara~isn't it gorgeous ?)

So, here it is. The final post of this year. New Year's Eve.  It's been a crazy year, on so many levels, that I cannot begin to write about it. lol  

 But I have cooked.  and I have gardened and I have made it through good times and bad times and all the times in between. Sometimes with help, sometimes alone.  We had a severe drought in this part of the country, and the farmers lost crops  and our garden did admirably well (though not as good as usual, maybe). And that was only because we have raised beds which conserve water, we mulch like there's no tomorrow, and we garden organically so our plants are healthier and stronger  to begin with.  And I couldn't help but think (about the drought and the farmers) that all the corn that was devastated was GMO crap anyway. And I feel a slight twinge of guilt for that, but I'm only an enlightened human.  lol   Still, our potato harvest is already used up at the end of December because we didn't get nearly as much as we usually do.  The sweet potato crop was a bust as well and has been gone for a few weeks and at Christmas I used up the last of the 2011 crop, which was stupendous. Obviously.  But I canned a lot and we have enough food of different kinds to get us through until spring. My chickens are still laying really well, and I have a fridge full of eggs, as well as about 8 dozen stored. I have also been picking up things like canned salmon and tuna for a protein source that keep in the pantry if I need them. I also still have a lot of quinoa and oats and rice and all manner of things here and there. Lots of canned turkey and a few jars of canned chicken breast from last year. If I find a good enough sale opn some decent meat, I will can more. That was a convenient thing to have on the shelf. I used it in soups, stews, nachos, burritos, name it. That was also my first attempt at canning meat. I have canned fish, long long ago.  And now I have canned both turkey and chicken. My friend cans ground beef and sausages too, but I don't use that stuff often.

 I do, on the other hand, use a lot of salsa and marinara sauce. So I grow lots of tomatoes and bell peppers and onions and garlic so I can can those things too and not have to buy them. Plus-they taste so much better. lol

  I grew some incredible salad greens this year, 2 types that just wouldn't quit-drought or no drought! lol We will plant them again next year. We had lettuces until mid-December! (And I picked kale again this morning,)

I cooked fun new dishes, like Thia noodles and spring rolls.

We had a pretty good peach harvest, despite the drought.  I made some jam, made some peach salsa and froze a lot of peaches. AND gave some away. I had the good luck to meet a woman who lives up the road from me  who shared her pear harvest with me, and I wound up with jars and jars and jars of pear halves, diced pears and pear butter. We dried and stored apples from our tree too. And I didn't make apple butter this year, because I made so much last year.  We also had a ghreat blackberry season, which came early and beat the drought. Once things started drying up, the berries were done too. So it was a short season, but we practiced due diligence, and got out there every day to pick.

  We had the best carrot season we have ever had. 

And indeed it is.  Indeed it is...

 So, good-bye 2012, with all your challenges and lessons [hopefully] learned.  Hello, 2013--get ready for the ride!

  Our New Years Eve extravaganza tonight will be a feast of NY strip steak and  wild caught Maine lobster tails. A nice wild rice and basmati pilaf, a healthy crisp salad, soft wholegrain rolls and a coconut pie. After all that rich and heavy food, we may or may not be able to stay awake til midnight, lol.  Tomorrow I will make a traditional New Years Day meal of Hoppin'  John,  greens and cornbread.  And we will be at home (it's snowing now) safe and secure, in our life, in our love and in our faith that all things will work out exactly as they are supposed to and we will, indeed, have every thing we need.

  Bless you all, and thank you for giving me another year of the opportunity to write, to share my cooking and my life with you.  You enrich my world more than you will ever know.

Bon Apetit!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Just when you thought it was safe....

  And just when you thought you were "wrapping it up"....LOL   Well, as you can see by this picture, taken the first of November or so, it LOOKED like fall had arrived and the season of rest and recuperation was upon us.  Sort of.  I mean, we all know that the part from about November 23 or so, until January 1st or so, was looming and would be hectic. But it's a different kind of hectic from the canning and gardening time.  It's more fun. It's more relaxed (for some). And a time of pleasure and family and good will and all that jazz.

 And usually I agree that once the garden quits, whoo...time to slow down. But it was the "quit"-ting part  that Mother Nature didn't seem to understand.  In fact, today is November 28th and I still have lettuce, chard, kale, carrots, beets and turnips in the garden. GROWING.  Lord, it feels like Mississippi.

  After Halloween, I was at my favorite little local market and he had a box of sugar pumpkins out. When I came in, he said--I saw you looking at those pumpkins. I quickly said-No you didn't.  He made me an offer I couldn't refuse, and I came home with a box of 10 of those little beauties (about the size (max) of a volleyball). I wasn't terribly excited, except that I had gotten this box of pumpkins for about a buck and a quarter.  And I'm always excited by a bargain. lol  But I really dislike canning pumpkin because it's so much work. And such a mess. But I was consoled by the thought that I would have a lot of pumpkin seeds to roast, so that made up for it. I can use them in my granola bars for the Irishman's lunch instead of all sunflower seeds. I froze 10 quarts of pumpkin from those babies. Wow. Nice. And now my freezer is full. The next time I stopped by the market a few days later, he said--hey, want some more pumpkins? I firmly said No, thank you. And he said, well, didn't you say you wanted the seeds? You could just take the seeds out and throw the rest away.  (He doesn't know me well enough to know that I almost never throw anything away.)  I said no thanks and headed for the back of the store. By the time I reached the cash register, he was smiling and said hey, I'll GIVE you those pumpkins. No charge. And then I stopped.  I started thinking, I could maybe feed them to the chickens. I know they like the pumpkin guts, they'd probably eat the meat. He said, I'll load them in your trunk. I said how many? He said, all of them. They were big old jack-o-lantern pumpkins. He said they probably weren't edible by now anyway, but the seeds should still be good.  I thought, well, they can always just go in the compost.  Long story short...I came home with a trunk full of big pumpkins, 9 or 10.  Sigh....

   Of course, all but one of them was fine and perfectly edible.  I roasted a gallon of pumpkin seeds and canned another 14 quarts of pumpkin. 

 So I am now pumpkin rich.  And suddenly I am finding recipes for all things pumpkin that sound glorious, like pumpkin granola and pumpkin scones and  pumpkin cinnamon rolls ! 

  And afterwards I cleaned everything up and put away the canner and thought, heck--done!  Yippee!

  But then Thanksgiving came. And as you know, I always use everything up to it's bitter end, every time i can do so.  And I always cook down the turkey carcass and can or freeze the stock for soup.  It's a really marvelous thing to have in your pantry.  

  As the Irishman was going to his dad's for Thanksgiving, and I was staying home to tend the critters, he made a foolish remark about how now I wouldn't have to do all the work like I usually do. I was planning to go spend the day at my brothers, and his wife was cooking the turkey and all I had to bring was a dessert and side dish.  By Wednesday afternoon I was beside myself and knew that the only thing that would make me feel better would be the smell of turkey roasting in my house. Bahahahhahaha.

  I went to the market to see if I could find a last minute turkey and sure enough, the holiday gods were smiling on me and I found a FRESH turkey. I grabbed it up and headed home. Right after I started it cooking, I got a phone call and was informed that I had won another turkey in a drawing at a local market. I jumped back in the truck and went to pick it up.  It was frozen, so I put it on the bottom shelf of the fridge to thaw. Thinking I would cook it on Friday.  When my fresh turkey was all cooked and I took all the meat off the bones, I dumped the carcass back into the roaster, filled it up with water and a dash of vinegar and set it on low to cook for stock.  By the time I got to my brothers on Thursday, my sister-in-law had already cooked the turkey, pulled the meat off it and bagged up the remains for me to take home with me. (Gotta love that girl!!)  So later, when the event was all finished and I was back home, I dumped her carcass into the roaster with my carcass and left them to cook merrily, while I recovered from my food coma on the sofa.

  The next day, Friday, I put the 3rd turkey on to cook and began the laborious process of pulling out bone and sifting and sorting through it all to strain the broth and pick out whatever meat made it into the stock. 

Since I had plenty of turkey from the first one I cooked in the fridge, I decided to just can the 3rd turkey, so after going through the same process, I sifted and sorted the turkey, pulled out the big bones for the dogs (they're all in the freezer in  a ziplock bag), pulled off all the skin, and started again. I canned some jars with plain stock, some with some turkey and mostly stock and some with mostly turkey and some stock.  Assorted pints and quarts.

About 27 all in all.  and THEN...I washed up that canner and all the canning supplies and put them away and I swear to you--I am not getting them out until next summer.  I don't care what.

  You know the best part? By the time I was all finished, I had less that half a bread bag of actual waste from those 3 turkeys. And by waste, I mean bones too small for the dogs (necks, vertebrae, etc) , gristle and goo. All the rest of it got used up, fed to dogs and cats, and  put into the freezer.

  Now THAT'S a successful session !  And we'll have soup stock, turkey for noodles and all kinds of other yummy stuff for a while to come. And all it cost me was about 12 dollars for the turkey#1, and time. I still had plenty of canning lids and have a gazillion jars.  No outlay of cash there.  Winner winner turkey dinner! 

Bon Apetit !

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wrapping it up....

The growing season, I mean. Not Christmas presents (haven't got a thing), not the blog (Love this too much).  Yesterday I picked a couple of gallons of green beans again. In weather so cold I had to wear gloves.  And looking across the yard, I saw the forsythia blooming. It was 75 degrees for 2 weeks! In October !  Everything is so crazy... I have garlic and onions that are 6 inches high.  And now we have been having to put covers over everything this past week so they don't freeze.  (The temps dropped 30 degrees in one night) Sigh....But, I picked half a 5 gallon bucket of mostly green and some ripe tomatoes yesterday too, and so now those plants can die back. The squash is gone too. The snow peas are radiant, on the other hand, and my 2 lettuces are jubilant. lol  The kale loves this weather and the chard is doing okay too.  We'll see what happens. So today I'll be canning this last batch of green beans and drying the few tomatoes. The green ones I'll set out on newspapers to hopefully ripen slowly.  I was going to try pickling some of the tiny ones, and I still might, but I'm not sure just how many of those are in there.  My friend Cathy does that, and I thought I'd give it a try. (Maybe I should taste some first and make sure I even like them. lol)

  It's been a very good year, harvest-wise, in spite of the drought and the outrageous heat. We broke records all over the midwest.  Not in a good way. lol   Weeks and weeks of killer heat and nary a drop of rain. I credit all the success I had this year to my organic raised beds.  And massive amounts of mulch to hold what little water they got in.  I am a devotee of this method of gardening and will never do it any other way.  So, this time of year, I spend a lot of time out there, returning things back to the Mother earth. The vertical composting of dead plants, the applying of more compost, more dead leaves (a major FREE component of our fertilization process). And topping it off with the old used mulching straw. Then settling it down for a long winters nap. In about March, we will put heavy black plastic on all the beds to warm the soil and speed up the decomp process.  In late March, we will start it all again,. putting potatoes in the ground and uncovering the bed where the onions and garlic are planted.  Assuming it's starting to look like spring, and we're not buried under 3 feet of snow.. lol  And if we are--then a few more weeks of vacation for us.  We play by Mother Nature's rules.  There is no getting around that.  I don't know if I will try to start seedlings inside or not. I never have very good luck with that. It disturbs me...I have a very green thumb. But for the life of me I cannot seem to raise any seedlings except squash.  Go figure. 

  I have saved some seed this year...not as much as I should. But edamame and squash and bee balm and fennel and anise hyssop and tomatoes. I will have my own seed potatoes and sweet potato slips too (I hope).  And I can hopefully keep the lemon grass alive through the winter so I can replant. Same for the parsley. The chives will reseed themselves, but I have collected some seed from the garlic chives, just in case. They  have come back 3 years running now.  I also have a Survival Seed vault that I contains all the basics. And some seed left that didn't get used this past year. So, all in all, I shouldn't have to buy much.  I need to get better about saving seed and starting my own indoor seedlings.

  Any minute now, I will start rearranging the pantries and seeing just how much of what I have. And rotate..old to the front and get things used up. I just finished my last jar of 2011's green beans the other day. I finished up the tomatoes a long time ago, except for the dried ones and the marinara (2 jars left).  I am already 3 jars into this years salsa. I may be in trouble there...but I can't remember offhand how much I canned this year. And somehow, that particular days bounty never made it into the garden journal. lol I did put lots of things in there, but I probably missed a lot too. Looking over it, I feel pretty proud of myself.  I have 13 jars of green beans sitting on my counter that need putting away so I can have room to can the ones from today...when it's all said and done, I should have about 45 jars of beans. That's about right--a few more wouldn't have hurt, but we ate a lot of fresh beans too, and gave some to neighbors. The tomatoes got canned into marinara, salsa, tomato sauce and tomato preserves. And dried. I dried a buttload of those babies. And I'll dry a few more. Maybe. 

  All in all...a good year of putting food by. Got peaches, apples, pears and blackberries and cherries in the way of fruit. Some frozen, some made into jellies, some canned and some dried.  I wanted to dry some pears, but didn't get to that. Maybe next year--or I might give my friend Kay a call and see if she has more she wants to get rid of. Might be way too late though, I don't know. I dried button mushrooms, red and white onions, okra, tomatoes, carrots, lemon grass, chives, walking onions, parsley, basil, fennel, hyssop and bergamot. I dried squash, lima beans, broccoli, cauliflower and peaches. I canned 21 pints of pinto beans so they would be ready to use on a moments notice. I froze edamame (a lot!) about 15 quarts.  I have some frozen ear corn that I am going to dig out of my big freezer and cut off the cob and dry. It is SO good thrown into a pot of soup!  The corn crop this year was a catastrophe because of the drought, so I didn't get any extra to do. We don't eat that much corn anyway...and the older stuff is taking up room in the freezer.  I made only 1 or 2 batches of peach jam and just froze the rest. Some of that I will make jam with later when I don't have anything better to do (as if) and there are some older blackberries in there somewhere too, and they need to be made into jelly.

  I hope that your year was good. We work really hard in our gardens and  it's so disappointing when we lose the battle to Mother nature, like the year the big tree came down in the storm and smashed my bean trellises and killed my beans and smashed all the tomatoes into oblivion. Or it rained too much too long and killed lots of things., Or it didn't rain enough...and on and on, ad infinitum. But--we roll with the punches and we tell ourselves it will be better next year. And we push up our sleeves and we do it all over again...having faith that the seeds we plant will sprout, that the soil we've nurtured will bring forth healthy nutritious food, and that we'll manage to get it all done...just in time.

  Have a restful season.....

Monday, October 22, 2012

Polenta is the word of the day !

 One of the things I love (but don't make real often- for several reasons) is polenta. It's an age old food, peasant food mostly, of the northern Italians.  Over the centuries, it's been made with everything from faro to spelt to millet to buckwheat.  In the 15th or 16th century, maize arrived from the New World. And the rest is history. It was a staple of the mighty Roman Legions and a subsistence food for the peasants.  Today it enjoys a gourmet renaissance around the world.  Being made with corn has significantly lowered it's  nutritive value, compared to buckwheat or spelt, but it is a tasty and filling food that lends itself to diverse variations.

  I buy Bob's Red Mill Polenta to make sure I'm getting non-GMO corn.  It's a very nice coarse ground corn meal and cooks up well, in about 30 minutes.  Tonight I made a polenta with braised kale and mushrooms. The first thing is to make the polenta :

  In a deep saucepan, bring 6 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt to a rolling boil.  Using a long handled spoon (I prefer a stout wooden spoon)  slowly pour 2 cups of polenta grits in a thin stream into the water, stirring constantly to avoid lumps.  Bring this to a boil and then turn the heat to low and stir often to prevent burning. It will take about 30 minutes to cook. It will be very thick.Make sure to stir it hard all around the bottom of the pan. Continue cooking and stirring, and about 15 minutes into it, add 3 tablespoons of butter. 

  NOTE*  This is one of the reasons I don't make polenta all that often. It is labor intensive. You can't go off and leave it, you can't cover it and let it go. You have to be right on top of it the entire cooking time.  The other reason is that corn isn't really all that good for humans. But we love it anyway.  lol  *

You'll need a 9 inch square pan or a bowl that you have oiled well with olive oil.  When the cooking time is finished, use a rubber spatula and turn the thick gloppy mixture into the oiled bowl. It needs to sit a minimum of 10 minutes.  Then you can turn it out onto a plate and it will hold it's shape. You use a knife and cut off the size and number of slices you need. 

 This is what it will look like.  Pretty, isn't it?

  Next, you can choose what you want to top it with.  I almost always use some type of marinara sauce...this year I canned a lot of sauce to have on hand for just such occasions. You can use commercial sauce if you like, or you can make your own concoction.  I heated up a pint jar of sauce, put it on top of the polenta (on the plate)...topped it with some shredded parmesan and romano cheese. I then rolled up some kale leaves that I ribbon sliced and sauteed them quickly over a medium high heat with some minced garlic and thin sliced mushrooms in olive oil and butter.

 The kale is out of the garden, of course.  It was beautiful.

  As a different kind of a side dish, I had some fresh Christmas  Pole Limas that I had just shelled, so I looked around and found a no-nonsense  recipe that suited me and went to work on those too. They cooked while I was cutting the kale, and took only 15 or 20 minutes. Very simple.

Heat the skillet on medium heat, 1 tbsp. EACH butter and olive oil. Add the beans, and cook, stirring occasionally about 15 minutes. Add some minced garlic and cracked pepper and sea salt the last 5 minutes. It was wicked good!

  Here's a picture of the finished plate. Pronounced "Excellent" by the Irishman and eaten in entirety by us both.

   (Click to biggify all pictures!)

Bon Appetit !

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Egg Foo Yung, anyone??

 No silly, this isn't the egg foo yung. This is the salad that accompanied it for tonight's supper. You can click the picture to biggify was awesome.  Many of the ingredients came from my yard and garden. Many of the ingredients for the egg foo yung came from here as well.  It was all around a very economical meal that was tasty and very satisfying. 

  The salad greens consisted of the two lettuces growing in the garden,  bronze mignonette and a red romaine. I added some young kale leaves and some young chard.  Then I looked around and spotted some beautiful new chickweed growing in the old kale bed and next to that was some pretty wood sorrel. I grabbed some parsley and the tops from some of the Egyptian walking onions.  I brought them in and washed them and laid them out to dry. Then I chopped it into bite sized pieces.  I sliced a very small Honey Crisp apple onto it, put the last of the gorgonzola on it, threw in a tiny last bit of walnuts (need to put that on the grocery list) and finished it off with some great pecan halves.  I dressed that bad boy with fresh squeezed lemon and olive oil right before supper. Mmmmm....

  The egg foo yung is yet another tasty way to use up eggs when they start accumulating. I only have 7 hens, but they lay from 4-6 eggs per day, and that starts adding up.  I keep hard boiled eggs on hand all the time too. A tasty snack that's high in protein and good for you...and a quick egg salad sandwich for lunch. A lot of time it's my breakfast too.  For the egg dish, I started with a small skillet full of carrots, celery, baby bella mushrooms (sliced thin), a can of mung bean sprouts (I often have my sprouting jar going, but not I always try to keep a can or two of those sprouts in the pantry), onions and green onion tops.  I sauteed them just a little, to bring out their flavors, then I dumped them in a bowl to cool.  I got out my 2 cup glass measurer, and cracked 7 eggs into it. I beat them lightly with a fork and set them aside.

  Next I made a light mushroom and onion gravy to go over the egg foo yung patties. It's not like that thick brown goo that comes over them in the restaurant...more of a delicate gravy that I saute thinly sliced mushrooms and onions, season, add soy sauce, and  hot water, then thicken with cornstarch. I usually put a little Kitchen Bouquet in too, and that turns it a rich brown.  I make this and set on the back burner.

  The sauteed vegetables have cooled down enough by now...I season them with a little salt and pepper, maybe some garlic granules.  I mix it up again, mix up the eggs again too, and combine the whole thing until the veggies are good and covered by the egg. This gets ladled into a skillet with a small amount (or more, lol) of vegetable oil, my big cast iron skillet will fit 3 patties at a time. Make sure the oil is hot before you ladle in the egg mixture.

Fry them until they are a delicious golden brown on both sides, then drain on paper towels. Keep them warm, and put on a plate with a ladle of gravy across the top.

Served with a salad, this makes a wonderful Thursday night supper.  The Irishman had seconds...but you could serve him a bicycle tire, if you put gravy on it.  lol   I'm trying to do a better job of eating out of my pantry and gardens as long as I can. We still have quite a bit of stuff out there, so it's still relatively easy.  

  I started making pear butter with the riper pears I my kitchen is a disorganized chaotic wonderland.  A new friend gave me about 3 bushels of pears from the trees in her yard, all in various stages of ripeness. I was able to use up all the softer ones, the ones with spots and the less pretty ones in the pear butter. I have a 7 quart crock pot full of it, bubbling happily away. It makes the house smell grand, all cinnamon-y, nutmeg-y and clove-y.  Perfect trio of autumn smells.  But--that's another post....try the egg dish if you like that sort of thing.  It was really good, and I think the leftover patties will make a great breakfast sandwich, with a little melted cheese and sliced rip tomato on it!!

Bon Apetit!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Italian Layered Salad with Crostini

 This, my friends, was a coup d'etat... we have  our discussion group out at La Vista Ecological Center on a Thursday night.  Sometimes we have a potluck, sometimes someone brings starts at 7 PM, and most of the members are scrambling home from work to hurry and clean up and get out there. I usually fix something for the Irishman to eat in the car as I drive us, because he doesn't get home until 6 and we have to leave by 6:30 at the latest in order to be on time.

  I was looking around my kitchen this Thursday past, and saw that I had a lot of really ripe beautiful red tomatoes on the counter that needed using. So I thought I would make a quick salad to throw together and take for everyone. The Irishman is not a big fan of raw tomatoes, so I fixed him up a dish of leftover spring rolls and Thai rice noodles. 

 The first thing I did, was go to the garden and hunt down a cucumber or two.  I picked some red and green bell peppers too. I had a nice chunk of fresh mozzarella in the fridge. I had edamame in the freezer. 

I assembled the ingredients (or most of them)

Red RIPE tomatoes
Cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks
Thinly sliced white onion
Red and green bell peppers, cut into thin rings
Edamame beans, rinsed
Fresh basil leaves, chopped (I have a pot of herbs on my deck--I also used a couple of center sprigs for garnish)
Soft fresh mozzarella, cut into cubes
Red wine vinegar
EVOO (extra virgin olive oil--organic if you have it)

Then I just layered the ingredients, starting with tomatoes until the bowl was full. Just before the cheese layer, I liberally sprinkled the salad with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Then I put on the vinegar and oil. Then the cheese.  The layered again the same way. I topped it off with a grind of pepper and the cheese and  the pretty basil.  VOILA!

It all turned out really yummy.  I had a couple of french baguettes, so I thought and thought..and came up with the idea of crostini for a partner to the salad. I sliced the bread about 1 inch thick. Then I took my big cast iron skillet and put some olive oil in it. I minced garlic, heated the oil, threw the garlic in and then took the slices of bread and put them in. I turned them over, salt and peppered them, and let the olive oil/garlic soak in, then added a little more olive oil and cooked them until they were a golden brown. It took a couple of skilletfulls to get them all done, and I had to keep adding olive oil and garlic, and spooning out the garlic that got too done, because it gets really bitter, and NOBODY wants to eat that. lol

Here's what it looked liked when it was finished:

 And I'm here to tell was goooooooooooood.  lol  I brought home a little salad and NO bread when all was said and done.  The crostini was toasty on the outsides and soft in the middle.

  This makes a great lunch or hot summer night supper. The next morning, I had leftover salad with my scrambled eggs.  Mmmmmm....  I love stuff like this, don't you??  I like it even more, knowing that I grew, organically, almost all the ingredients in it.  If I had had the time and air conditioning to have made the baguettes myself, it would have been even better. Do you have a favorite dish that you make??  Tell me !!!

Bon Apetit!~

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Oy vey!! I've had a busy summer....

 And it all started with this.   

  The blackberries were grand this year. They came and went pretty fast this year because of the drought and blistering heat, but when you live like we do, you make hay while the sun shines.  So I picked and picked like a madwoman for a couple of weeks, battling 100+ temps and heat stroke.

  Then came the lettuce, which wasn't much of a chore, actually. Just picked and ate, and the 2 types we planted stored really well in the fridge.  It was a Mignonette Bronze and Red Romaine.  They were beautiful, and even in the extreme heat, took a LONG time to finally bolt. 

  Isn't it gorgeous? We've just planted our second planting of point in trying to plant anything earlier, but the heat has finally gone away. We've also got green beans in the dirt (3-4 inches tall already) and kale and carrots and  radishes and beets.

I canned quite a bit of green beans and salsa, as you can see here.

  I canned a batch of peach salsa and a big batch of peach jam when the peaches came in. Unfortunately a few other things were coming in too, so I decided to just freeze the rest of the peaches, figured I can make more salsa and jam later, when I'm not so busy.

 And, on July 21st, we got our very first pullet egg!!  It's next to an egg from the big birds for size comparison.

  As you can see, our 2 little peach trees did well for us this year.

  In addition to the salsa, I canned tomato sauce and whole tomatoes this year, and dried a ton. I still have tomatoes out there, but the ripening process is slowing down with the cooler temps.

  I pickled baby onions, green beans and okra too.  Lots and lots of

  We had a decent enough potato harvest, considering the drought. In the neighborhood of 50 pounds altogether.  We also harvested 14 butternut squash, and there are a few more out there that are late bloomers.  Today the Irishman picked about half the apples out on the tree, and it's about  2 bushel. My plan for those bad boys is storing most of them and drying the rest. I still have applesauce coming out the wazoo from 2 years ago. 

  So far, with 2/3 of the bed finished, I have frozen about 5 quarts of edamame. And the plants that are left are loaded, just a variety that matures later than the others. The quinoa got knocked down by a storm and we are pulling it up by the roots soon and hanging it in the garage to dry.  I'm not sure if it's really ready, some of the seed heads look more full and seedy than others. We'll see.

  I have started harvesting some of the lemon grass...drying the big leaves for tea, and found a link today to freezing herbs in olive oil, which I am going to try with some of the stalks. I thought I would also do some of the mint and basil that way, but most of the herbs--oregano, mint, basil, thyme, sage, and rosemary, will be dried.

  I dried 25 pounds of red onions and about 10 pounds of button mushrooms too.  And some summer squash slices for soups. And some okra and tomatoes.  I will be drying some apples still and even dried some peach slices to see how that would work. Great!  lol  And I almost forgot that I dried 10 pounds of sweet cherries too.


  So you can see that I have been hard at it.  Tonight I made a lovely Thai rice noodle dish and some spring rolls, and will post that recipe tomorrow. It was delicious!

  So I will say goodnight now, and come back tomorrow and post that recipe, between working on that big bunch of apples that are sitting in my kitchen....

Bon Apetit!


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

You're gonna thank me for

  You was like this...

    I was gone from home from 8 in the morning until about 3:30 in the afternoon.  It was 97 degrees. I haven't been to the grocery store for about 2 weeks. And I am trying not to go. Everytime I think I have to go...I rethink it.  lol It's so easy to just run there and dump some cash and come home with something to fix. But I have a full pantry or two and lots of food here. But sometimes...well, a girls brain just won't work. So I traipse off to the store.

  Anyway, I've been trying to be more mindful about it all.  The Irishman came home with a watermelon for me a few nights ago, because I was whining about wanting watermelon for like, I don't know...a week or something.  And then , my neighbor came home from her day away and brought me some peaches from a local orchard. And yesterday I was home with no car.  (Are you getting the picture now??)  lol

  So, suppertime rolls around and I get my big, hot self off the couch and think...hmmmm....maybe I'll make a peach salsa like Judy makes. And fix some kind of burritos or something, since I have some leftover rice in the fridge as well as part of a jar of pinto beans. And then I google Peaches/watermelon. And the rest, as they say, is history...

  There are several recipes for a peach and watermelon salad on the internet. I chose one, considered what ingredients I actually had on hand (no cherry tomatoes, for instance, but I do have dehydrated tomatoes in the freezer...) and started playing. I did follow the vinaigrette recipe pretty closely. So that's where you start:

  In a small jar or container that you can shake to mix...combine:

       2-3 Tbsp. honey
       1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
       2 Tbsp. EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
       2 Tbsp. white rice (or wine) vinegar
       salt and pepper to taste

 Shake that baby up good and set it aside.  I kept it out at room temperature because I knew we'd be eating it in a couple of hours.

  Now the fun part:

  Lettuce (the recipe called for arugula, but I had  other kinds so I used that. As long as you don't use the dreaded iceberg lettuce, I'm sure it will be okay).  LOL Washed and relatively dry. Tear it up in a bowl, as much as you need for your family. I used a smallish bowl this time because I was making those humongous wraps too. We ate every bite.  :)

 Watermelon, seeded and cubed. I'm guessing that I used about a cup, maybe more.  You can play with this.

 Fresh peaches--washed thoroughly, and sliced. I don't peel them, but you can if you need to.

  Mint leaves--I have some growing in a pot, spearmint leaves. A small handful-crushed by hand and then chopped slightly.

  Halved Cherry tomatoes, yellow and red...OR--(if you're me) dried tomatoes from last year that are so sweet and crunchy, they're like candy. A handful.

  Feta cheese.  Okay, I had gorgonzola, and that's what I used.  About 3 good tablespoons, but some might like less and some more.

  Cracked black pepper to taste.

  Mix these items together and drizzle the salad dressing over it all.

  Here it is after we dug into it.  Both of us were...omg...this is a magnificent combination of flavors!!  I might even put a few walnuts in it next time, but I will definitely be making it again.  The Honey Vinaigrette was perfect for it. A++++   all the way around!

  Okay. Now--go make this. And don't be afraid --you can put any amounts of anything you want in here. Just try!!

Bon Apetit!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Saturday suppers (when it's a gazillion degrees in the shade!!)

 This is da bomb!!!!!  It's a cold soba noodle salad.  You know I am infatuated with those darn buckwheat soba noodles, right?  lol   So much so, that I ordered 2 boxes of them from Amazon some time back, because they were about half the price I had to pay at the health food store.  SO now I have a case and a half (9 packages) of sobe noodles in my pantry, just waiting for new and wonderful dishes. (because I am using them regularly).

  I searched the internet, found several recipes, as well as several remarks that they weren't crazy about the results. So I thought, well..I look 'em all over and then I tweak it to suit me!  And if it isn't awesome, I'll do something different next time.

  So, here are the ingredients I used:

  1 package (3 bundles) of organic soba noodles.
  2 carrots, julienned, pcs 1-2 inches long
  about half a cucumber, peeled and julienned
  4 tbsp. tamari sauce
  3 tbsp. sesame oil
  3 tbsp rice vinegar
  1 1/2 TSP. wasabi paste
  3 TSP. minced fresh ginger root
  3 tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted (I used the black seeds because I was out of the white ones)
  scallions, tops, sliced (2-3 of them)


  Easy enough. And the wasabi paste can be found almost anywhere these days, in the Asian foods section.

  So, to start, cook the soba noodles according to package directions. You'll want them a little al dente for this salad, just like you would any pasta product that you were using for a salad. When they're cooked, rinse them under cold water until they've cooled down and then set aside.

   Next, lightly steam the carrots then dunk in cold water to immediately cool them. You want them crispy cooked. I "match stick" cut my carrots, and maybe if you julienne them, they would be better left raw. Any way you decide, cut them up and set aside. 

  I toasted my sesame seeds in my smallest cast iron skillet on top of the stove (because when it's a gazillion degrees, you don't wanna turn the oven on!!)  Just put them in a dry skillet and low heat, stirring now and then,  until you can smell them.

Next it's time to mix the dressing that goes on this wonderful dish. I used a 2 cup measuring cup and put all the ingredients in (not the scallions--those are for the top of the finished product).  I used a 2 cup because I knew I would need a little wiggle room for mixing in that wasabi paste. I used a small whisk to make sure it was all blended.  I also peel the ginger, but I'm sure you know that!   Find a bowl that will hold your noodles and pour the dressing on and mix well (I always use my hands when it says mix well, lol)  Then put your cucumber and carrots and toasted sesame seeds  in and mix some more. One of the recipes I read said that this dish is usually served with either fish or egg, so I hard boiled some eggs and peeled them and put them in the fridge while I was cooking the noodles.  Cover your bowl and set it in the fridge for at least half an hour to give the flavors a chance to mingle.  When you're ready to eat, heap your plate with the soba salad and garnish with the eggs cut in quarters. Sprinkle your chopped scallions on top and ENJOY!!!!!!

 (Sorry, I forgot to take the picture until after I had dug into it! lol)

  The smell of the fresh ginger and the sesame oil is a force to be reckoned with...this was absolutely wonderful.  Really good food for a really hot day...YUM!

Bon Apetit!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Building a lasagna garden

 I wanted to talk a little bit about gardening today.  It's the backbone of my world these days, lol, especially this time of year, when it's the backbone, the head and the heart! lol   One of those landmark moments in my life was the day that I stumbled across an old book by a woman named Ruth Stout.  She wrote about mulching and composting and a no-till garden. She was a feisty old woman that I could really relate to. I had already read books by Helen and Scott Nearing called Living the Good Life, where they waxed eloquent about the practical realities of living off the land.  This was back in the early 70's.  The Mother Earth News  magazine had begun publishing filled with information for people who wanted to "get back to natural living" and "live off the land".  I was young and energetic and had become a bit of an idealist.  I had a young baby and was determined that he have a better beginning than I had had myself, so I breastfed him until he was almost 6 months old, when he started walking. I made my own baby food fresh every day. I grew my own organic (I say organic--we didn't put any chemicals on our food, but our place was surrounded on 4 sides by farm fields that were sprayed to death for generations and probably the water table was full of it too, But by golly, I had a DREAM!  I became an eco-warrior before it was chic. lol

  Fast forward through my life, and I have lived in several places, tried to garden in most of those and wasn't always successful. I grew pots of veggies if I couldn't garden in the dirt. I always at least had window herb gardens, and as much as I did not want to move back to Illinois, I always yearned for that kind of gardening and that kind of country life. In 1995, I moved near Asheville, North Carolina. After the first year of living in a log cabin on a lake where the lots were small and too densely wooded to get enough sun to grow anything, we bought a little 1/3 acre lot with a tiny blue house on it. It even had a white picket fence all around the front yard.  The back yard was long and deep and narrow, and perfect for a garden.  All the way at the back was a tiny stream that ran through it, and right in there, we set up 3 beehives.  About this same time, I came across a book by a woman named Patricia Lanza called  Lasagna Gardening.  I read it in one night and was so excited I could barely wait to get started.

  The basic premise of Ms. Lanza's book was a no-till garden with long rows no more that 4-5 feet across (depending on how tall you are).  She said you didn't have top dig or till the ground at all. Just lay out your beds with newspaper or other paper layers and wet it down good as you put the papers down. Thick layers if you have a lot of grass.  We looked at our lawn, looked at each other and got to work. Instead of newspaper, we used heavy brown paper that came from where we worked. It was untreated paper that lay between layers of other fragile paper used in making plastic in the plant we worked in. The beauty of this stuff was that it came in 5x10 foot sheets. We brought some home and got to work. Put down the paper and water the heck out of it. We laid out 4 beds that first year. about 20x5 foot long.  From a local nursery, I ordered several truckloads of finely mulched material as well as compost. ( For the record: we spent quite a bit that first year buying mulch and compost, because we didn't know things that we know now. That hasn't happened since.)  Asheville has a leaf composting facility where the city picks up residential area leaves and dumps them and then continually maintains the place by scooping and turning and it makes the most beautiful compost I have ever seen. You can go there and they will load you up with as much as you can use. For free. 

 Ms. Lanza has a formula for the beds, which consist of layering (like a lasagna) organic materials. We had a friend with horses and got a whole load of spoiled hay for free. We also were given free access to all the pony poop we could use. YIPPEE!  So that first year we started the beds with paper, hay, mulch, compost, leaf compost, manure, and some grass clippings thrown in.  You layer and layer until you're out of least, that's what we did. The final layer on top was a couple of inches of the finely ground mulch. Now...she said you could plant right into this top layer the first year, even though it wasn't dirt, and you could grow vegetables. I was skeptical, naturally, being from the farming center of the country. I thought it couldn't possibly work WELL, tho it might work some. But I wanted a garden so bad I was willing to give it a try. So I bought some seeds and some plants and started making holes.

  Even that very first year, my garden was magnificent.  Our house was on a corner lot, and people were always stopping traffic to gawk at our gardens and to talk. I had 12 ft tall sunflowers bordering one of the beds. All the vegetable beds were interplanted with zinnias and marigolds and nasturtiums. Everything grew like crazy. And I was hooked on lasagna gardening. I couldn't fathom any other way to garden, it's so easy. Weeds are at a minimum, the raised beds hold water better than flat ground. There's no need for any extra fertilizing because it's really one big bed of compost. At the end of each garden year, we lay the dead vines and stalks down on the bed and cover them with more straw and whatever chicken house material we've gathered over the summer and lay it to rest. And in the spring, we add more and more and beds get a little higher and the soil more beautiful and it is a sight to behold.

Here's one of the beds in June of last year. This is the 3rd year of gardening here since we moved to IL and had to start all new beds.  I was heartbroken to have to leave my garden beds in NC..they were so beautiful. 
(Here's one pic I could find from NC) This was probably the second year gardens.

    I cannot imagine my life without being able to grow my own food. As things change in this world we live in, it's a skill we had all better cultivate if we want to know how to keep ourselves alive and healthy.  My food keeps me nourished physically and spiritually and emotionally. It does not make me sick. It gives me a financial freedom.  It connects me to Creation. It fills my pantries.  And I am blessed to be able to do share with others. Every year I donate fresh vegetables to local food pantries. And the more I give, it seems the more I get.  And that, my friends, is a Universal Law.

   So---I hope that you got some information you can use from this. I hear people all the time say they would like to garden but can't, because they can't and have no one to till the ground for them. This is your  lucky day!  NO more tilling or digging or any of that hard work.  We have chickens and we also have a 3 compartment compost system in our backyard. We compost everything that comes out of our kitchen and flower beds. When we clean the chicken coops, all that manure and straw goes into the compost. After the first bin gets full and composted a bit, it gets moved and eventually finds its way to the third bin which is ready-to-use compost.  We have a neighbor out here with horses who is more than happy to supply us with all the manure we can use free for the hauling out of his stable cleaning piles.  One year we met a woman with goats and got loads of goat poop.  All in all, it's a great FREE system for building heavenly garden beds.

"A garden is a work of ART..using materials of Nature..."~~Anonymous


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Today we're making healthy happy granola!

 We eat a fair amount of granola. I have been making granola since the 70's (do tell!) lol, and have as many recipes as I do chickens. lol  If your family is a cereal eating bunch, making the transition from commercial boxes to home made can be a satisfying, healthy and economical move for you. Not to mention the fact (and this is big for me) you know exactly what's in it. NO fillers (sawdust?--seriously). NO high fructose corn syrup. No chemical additives. No empty calories at all.

  This is the list of ingredients to make a basic granola:

      8 cups rolled oats. (not quick-old fashioned)
      1/2 cup dark brown sugar
      1/4 cup barley malt syrup (optional--I have it, so I use it)
      3/4 cup honey
      1 cup oil (I use coconut, but any vegetable oil will do)
      1 Tbsp. cinnamon
      1 Tbsp. vanilla

    [ Dried fruits and nuts, coconut, sesame seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds (preferably raw), raisins...whatever your family likes best.  I dry a lot of my own fruits and use those in my granola and makes it even less expensive to make.  As you can see by the ingredients, it isn't costly. This recipe make a big gallon jar of granola.]


 You want to get out a medium sized saucepan and mix together the next 6 ingredients on the list.  (Hint--if you put the oil into your measuring cup before the honey or BMS,  the sticky stuff will come out effortlessly!)  Cook over a low flame, stirring to dissolve all the ingredients.  While this is cooking, assemble your dried fruits and nuts...I often use a combination of nuts, like walnuts, peanuts and almonds.  Depends on what I have on hand.  You can put in coconut if you like that. Put in whatever seeds you like into the oats mixture.  DO NOT PUT THE DRIED FRUITS INTO THE MIX YET.  

   When your pan of goo is completely dissolved and mixed, pour it over the oats mixture and using a large wooden spoon or spatula, mix thoroughly. You want to coat all the oats completely with the hot mixture.  Next, we're going to put this into a 250 degree oven to toast and dry out the mix. This part of the process will take about an hour or so.  You want to get in there and mix and stir it about every 15 minutes, so that it doesn't burn.

  Now, after it's all golden and yummy looking, add the dried fruits you chose and mix it up again.  Let it cool before putting it into a one gallon container. And there you have it.  A healthy nutritious breakfast that's quick to fix on busy mornings, and makes a great snack too.  We eat it with milk or mixed with yogurt--both equally good. The Irishman and I both are a little lactose intolerant, so we don't use much dairy in this house. I have found a really good organic soy yogurt and we have Rice Dream rice milk.  If you want a hot breakfast, all you have to do is pour your milk over it and stick it in the microwave for a minute or so. 

  One thing about this hearty treat--It doesn't take much of it to fill you up, A cup of granola is about all my hardworking Irishman can eat and I eat a little less than that usually. Satisfying, filling, good for you..

  It doesn't get any better than that!

Bon Apetit!