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!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Monday mornings at Honeysuckle Hill

  Last night, at the very last minute...I decided to make some healthy crackers to go with our Sunday night supper salads. I've been perusing recipes on the web, found a lovely site called Maria's Country Kitchen,. written by one of the famous Rodale family women. I found a lot of recipes for homemade crackers and decided that I wanted the easiest one I saw, lol.  There are whole grain crackers, no grain crackers, cooked cracker, raw crackers...vegan name it, someone has tried to make it. It's a lot of time consuming fun looking at new recipes. lol

  This picture is the mixed up cracker dough all patted out in the pan.   The basic ingredients are simple enough :

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (I use Bob's Red Mill)
1 tsp. salt
2/3 cup warm water
1/3 cup olive oil

  Then I got a little wild, and added a few raw sunflower seeds, some flax seed and some black sesame seeds. Then I thought--rosemary would be good!  And garlic granules. 

   Just in case I was getting a little over the top, I thought I'd better stop.

   You mix it up with a fork or spoon and mix it just until the ingredients are combined.  I put a sheet of parchment paper on the baking sheet, but you can just oil up your pan, then oil up your hands, and put the dough onto your sheet and start patting it out to the edges of the baking sheet.  I have a really large sheet from my restaurant days that I use--if you use smaller ones you'll probably need 2.  Try to pat it out as uniformly as possible, but don't make yourself too crazy with it.  It's not rocket science folks--just munchies! lol  I ground cracked black pepper onto the tops and ground some sea salt too, just because I could.

  Then I baked it at 375 degrees.  Now--her original recipe said to bake them for 15 minutes. Mine took longer than that. Ovens vary, sloppy cooks like me mess up baking times because I put in a little too much water or know--usual stuff.  I think next time I'm going to try baking it at 400 degrees and see what happens.

  Here's what was left halfway through our salads:

 (As one of my friends says: click to biggify)

    Here are the salads:

 Needless to say, the crackers were a big hit with Mr Man and I just had a few more for lunch with my soup.
 I'll definitely be making them from now on. That's the problem with some of this stuff, you start making it from scratch and you can never go back to store bought junk again. I think they could have been a little thinner and crisper if I'd rolled them out with a rolling pin and that would be good too. But these were yum.

  Okay--Monday chores calling my name.  It's been a rainy morning and I slept cozy and calming, falling rain.  The critters are all pretty serene too,lol.

   Bon Apetit!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Inventory findings and other craziness...


   Well...the pantry inventory. There were some things that surprised me more than other all the freaking APPLESAUCE I have !!!! And I have less peaches and almost no tomatoes.   Enough green beans left to get through til the summers harvest. More canned chicken breast and turkey and broth than I thought. I found a bit of older jams and jellies that I am contemplating what to do with, but only 2 jars of peach jam left. The old stuff is mostly blackberry jam, which I'm not crazy about and rarely eat (or open, apparently).  The Irishman likes it... And I have blackberries in the freezer too, so depending on what this years crop looks like, I might take the old stuff and make jelly. Because honestly, the only reason I don't like BB jam is all those damn little seeds.  lol  I have 15 pounds of  assorted rices (Brown, Jasmine, Basmati).  13 pounds of dry beans. 22 pounds of various flours. 19 pounds of quinoa. 4 gallon jars of rolled oats. 

  Are you bored stupid yet???    LOL

The point is...that I have enough food in there to feed us for a while. I know that this year I will not be buying any apples. The ones from our tree are probably going to make cider vinegar and eating apples.  I can look at this list and figure out meals.  You get the idea. It's no longer so much of a mystery to me...

  I have a nice variety of food that we love and can eat.  I have pastas and sprouting seed mixes and oils and peanut butter. I have seaweed and I have polenta and I have pickled beets and kraut.  I have tea bags and some coffee and canned pineapple.   I am pretty darn satisfied with my pantry.


  Today the Irishman helped me get the kimchi going. I use a very simple recipe from Sharon Astyk's book Independence Days  and after reading up and around the 'net,  I decided to make it from everything BUT the napa cabbage that most recipes call for. I used regular old everyday green cabbage, I used red cabbage, and I used Savoy cabbage. I sent himself out to bring me in a big yellow bowl full of kale (yup--we're still eating kale out of the garden and it's as sweet as ever!!).  We cut that up and put it in. We chopped and sliced carrots, garlic, ginger and daikon radish.  Then we made a batch of brine, 2 tablespoons of kosher salt (pickling salt) to every gallon of water.  I didn't have one bowl big enough for all the ingredients, so we divided it up into 2--my big old cut glass punch bowl and another medium sized bowl.   Here's what it looks like now:

  It will sit in the brine for 24 hours,  after which I will mix up the chili pepper/paprika mixture and put that and a bit of sugar into each of the jars it will go into.  These jars have to be allowed to sit at room temperature so the fermentation process will start, and then can be moved into the refrigerator.  It takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for the kimchi to ferment properly, depending on a few environmental factors. The last time I made it, it took a while, and I never did refrigerate it...just left it all on the counter and ate some almost every day until it was gone.  I really need to buy Sandor Katz' books on fermenting

  After it gets jarred tomorrow, I will take some more pics and post them, so you can see how beautiful this stuff is--there are a lot of different ways to make it, and it is said that there are as many recipes for kimchi as there are families in Korea.  The health benefits of fermented foods is well known and I know we feel better eating them...kraut, kefir, kimchi...yum!!

   Alright--that's all for tonight.  I'm heading off to bed so I can get up early and try to work in the garden before it gets too hot.  It was another barn burner today, as they say in the sultry midwest. 

Bon Apetit!