Monday, December 23, 2013

Sunday Brunch

I may be happiest with this meal more than any other this year.  I had mixed sprouts and pea shoots ready at the same time.  In addition, I had a couple of small tomatoes ripe, those that I picked green way back before the first hard frosts and laid out on the dining table to ripen.  Some of those ended up with the chickens, and my sister and I have eaten the rest as they turn red.  It's the first year I had tomatoes, not just through November, but through December, so I'm excited about that.

The soup is cream of turkey made from the turkey I raised and roasted, and with bone broth I cooked from the carcass.  There's also some onion, green pepper, garlic and a little half-and-half that Al bought as a treat for coffee.  We can never use the whole pint before it goes bad, so I make an effort to make some sauces and gravies whenever we splurge on a half-and-half.

The bread is our staple, baked from a frozen loaf.  The butter is real.  But back to that salad...  There are some sliced baby carrots (store-bought; we have eaten all of ours), chopped tomatoes, pea shoots in the middle and mixed sprouts on the far side of the plate.  I grated a rich, hard cheese over everything and drizzled plenty of extra-virgin olive oil, then salt and peppered.  Best brunch ever!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Winter Sprouts

Inspired by a facebook post by Vertical Veg, I levered myself from a chair and began to gather materials for my own sprouting operations.  It started out slow with seeds leftover from sundry, alternate projects, but picked up speed yesterday when I purchased a couple packets of sprouting seed from Green Acres Market.  (Btw, Green Acres has a fairly good selection of healthy alternatives, but it's impossible to buy there without bringing home a load of plastic packaging.  Ick!)

Whether indoors or out, I am besotted with pea seedlings, so I have been snapshotting the darlings each day.  They're so cute that I have to share my sequence starting Dec. 12.  The last photo is from this morning, Dec. 17.

I also tried some black-eyed peas that were so old that I had lost the date.  Those I tried to sprout, not grow in a tray of dirt.  They never germinated and began to smell funky despite washing repeatedly, so I tossed them to the chickens who relished them!  Next, I tried some winter wheat, which Vertical Veg suggested I sprout (as opposed to growing as shoots/greens).  It has been a couple days of washing without signs of germination, but that was pretty old seed, too.  As of yesterday, I have a flat of sunflower seeds purchased from Green Acres now soaking on a bed of soil like the peas in these pictures.  Alternately, I set up the sunflower seeds to sprout in a jar.  The remaining project is a similar jar of mixed seeds with which I also hope to produce sprouts.

When I work all this out, I will scale up.  The idea is to supplement greens (spinach, lettuce, cilantro, parsley, and the sweetest, fattest, little radishes one ever saw) from the coldhouse in order to produce more colorful, textured and flavorful winter salads all with my own home grown salad goods!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Oh My, Oh My, Yes, it IS a Dickcissel Nest!

Al went hunting this morning.  Usually, he brings me a gift from the field.  Often, it is a huge rock he has lugged a great distance back to his truck.  Oh, the labors of love!  Today, he presented me with this delicate sculpture.  Who knows how far he carried it, careful not to dislodge the fairy nest in its crown of twigs.  I wondered what bird might have made it, a song sparrow, American tree spa....   No, he knew.  Because he had snapped the top of the sapling off, preserving the nest in situ, he knew it had been growing low to the ground.  He said "dickcissel," and I knew immediately he was right!  The misty seedheads were already in my little pitcher.  All I did was position the sapling stem in beside it and...Voila!  Instant art!

I'm pretty much beside myself with glee.

The Muffins were a Success

I am currently out of home raised eggs, a situation that won't change for a while.  My sister is supposed to bring eggs next time she visits, but I doubt she will remember.  In the meantime, I have been on vegan cooking websites looking for eggless recipes.  The eggless sugar cookies I found were and are amazing.  I have baked them nearly a dozen times already.  My other requirement is that I should have all the ingredients already in my pantry.  I despise making a special trip to the store for one, small item.  Is any recipe really worth that?  Well, once in a blue moon, it is, but there are 1000s of ways to bake muffins, so no.I have plenty of sweet potatoes, so this recipe for sweet potato muffins was perfect.  I peeled and boiled sweet potato until soft, then mashed it well, making sure there were no chunks.  I don't think a chunk of vegetable is nice to bite into in a muffin.  I had plenty left over, but it won't go to waste.  I made two substitutions and two additions to the recipe.  Instead of coconut milk, I used Silk original flavor almond milk, which I keep on hand for oatmeal and drinking.  I also substituted the optional cranberries with raisins, another staple.  In addition, I added 1/4 tsp ground cardamom, which I keep refrigerated.  I like the grown-up flavor of cardamom.  I also added a small bag of sliced almonds because I had opened it a few days ago, and they don't stay all that fresh if not used quickly.

 After filling the muffin cups about half full, I had plenty left over.  I ended up baking 21 muffins in two batches.  Here they are in the pic below fresh from the oven with butter melting on top.  They are not an overly sweet muffin and absolutely perfect for breakfast.  The addition of nuts bumped them right up into the meal category.  For added sweetness, one could add a dollop of jam, but I ate them this morning just cool and plain, and they were really good that way, too.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Soda Bread

Bread is so simple to make, there's not much to write about it.  My recipe was from a site called Cut Out + Keep.  I chose this recipe because it doesn't use buttermilk, an item for which I would usually have to visit the store.  The only modification I made was to replace half the flour with wheat flour.  The wheat flour clogs up the sifter, but I have a fine-mesh sieve that works well for it.

 As the baker, I indulged the treat of the first piece, warm from the oven and slathered with butter.  It turned out pretty heavy, but you can see a little bit of lift.  The idea was to pair it with soup, and I think this heavier bread is better for that because it doesn't dissolve as easily.   The wheat flour gave it loads of flavor, but would probably be much lighter with all-white.   This wheat bread was so flavorful that it might also be good with a berry or nut added, but then a forklift would be needed to transport it around the kitchen.
Other projects around here are Yule decorations.  I pulled out all the stockings, but I didn't have socks for all the new family members, so I cut out some paper socks for this year.  I think they look pretty cute hanging over the door to the deck!

Far more demanding a task will issue from this box, last marked "supplies 2012."  Funny how long a history this box has lived, ever since 2004 when I stored canned tomatoes in it!  Currently, it holds my equipment for canning, the tongs, lids, seals, pincers, funnels, that type of thing.  The box is out today because I am seriously pondering the cuts of venison in the garage freezer.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Eggless Sugar Cookies

Best sugar cookies ever.  I can't quit making them. 

1 lb. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1c. white sugar
3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Cream together butter, sugar and vanilla.  Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture.  Roll into small balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Press slightly with a fork.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes until lightly browned.  Bake for 12 minutes for crispier cookies.  Adjust baking times to your oven if necessary.
Note:  Make a lot because they disappear quickly!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sweet Sausage Soup

No pictures this time, but this blog is the best location I know to find things after long periods of forgetting about them, so I want to record today's soup recipe before it slips from my memory.  This recipe was several days cooking in my mind before I ever took my shovel to the garden.  I wanted a savory soup made from sweet potato, and I started online, but didn't find the recipe I wanted, although I saw quite a few things I knew I did not want.  I started brainstorming.

I figured that carrot was sweet like sweet potato, and we use carrots in savory soups, so I could probably use sweet potato in a similar way.  One idea followed another, and the result, which we ate for lunch, was absolutely delicious.  Even I was surprised at how good it was!

Amounts that follow are estimates.  I didn't measure.
2 cups  white or red potato, chunked (or whole if small enough), boiled in their jackets and roughly mashed with a fork  Note:  When boiling potatoes in their jackets, I boil them separately and pour off the water because I don't like the bits of debris.  However, I keep the nutritious jackets, which are now boiled very clean.  In this recipe, most of my water came from the carrots and sweet potato, which I boiled together.
1 1/2 cup carrots, peeled, coined and boiled soft
1 1/2 cup sweet potato, peeled, chopped and boiled soft
1/3 cup onion, chopped, fried with the pork below
1/2 pound LOCAL ground pork, fried along with the onion  Note:  There is no need to add oil.
1 pinch FRESH rosemary, about 2 inches of stem, using the leaves only, chopped fine

Use the boiling water for the soup liquid and add more if necessary.  Salt lightly as you go, adjusting at the end.  Add the fresh rosemary when everything is finally combined, just before simmering.

This soup is a main dish, and I just added home baked bread and real butter.

Now, because I didn't take pictures, here's a gnat I painted instead.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Garden Soup

Ahh, it is climbing above freezing this afternoon, and there is a little sunlight, so it's all good.  I had to chip out the water from the birdbath this morning, although not all in one go.  First, a bucket of hot water, some chipping, then another bucket and on and on.  I won't let that happen again.  Instead, I will tip the basin when I think it will freeze and start fresh the next day with more water.  The chickens have a deeper, water reservoir, so ice is not as much an issue.  Also, theirs is an indestructible, livestock bucket that I can tip over and hammer from the bottom to release the ice.  No, this chore is not pleasant when a cold wind is blowing off the river, but it is definitely VITALIZING!

I made garden soup this morning, and I have pics!

The first picture is my collection bucket straight from the garden.  This is also my water bucket.  [Notice the 2 gallon jug filled with beans in my background.  I finished the shelling!]
 Below, my second picture is of the ingredients nearly ready for the pot, carrots, potatoes, onion, sage, kale and Swiss chard.  I boiled small potatoes in their skins in one pot and chopped carrots in another.  Salted both.  When the carrots were soft, I added the kale, Swiss chard, onions and sage and boiled until the onions were translucent.  When the potatoes were super soft, I drained then roughly mashed them with a fork, which gave me chunks and mashed, which I wanted for making the soup creamy in place of using a dairy product i.e. making roux.
 Last, I combined everything, checked the salt by taste, added pepper and let it simmer a while longer.
I had a bowl of my garden soup with a fat slice of bread and butter on the side while I watched the first half of the k-state/okla game and plan to eat another bowl for my dinner during a later game.  Best cold-Saturday, football-watching soup ever?  Probably!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ma and Pa Kettle

Mom and Dad were constantly comparing themselves to this mysterious couple, Ma and Pa Kettle.  Over the years, by numerous example and reference, we kids got an idea of who they were and how they lived.  If Mom would build a duck pen out of salvaged, fence panels that she wired together strung up on re-purposed, kitchen doors, we understood that to be a Ma and Pa Kettle construction.  If Dad built a water tower from a horse tank and salvaged telephone poles, that was Ma and Pa Kettle.

Proudly, I built my own Ma and Pa Kettle cold frame yesterday! Morning picture below!
 The window is from our kitchen remodel that we changed out mostly for cosmetic reasons, but also for the insulation factor and a lock.  The concrete blocks came from Mom and Dad's place.  I painted them black several years ago and had them in the greenhouse soaking up rays, and they serve the same purpose they did in the greenhouse.  At night, the blocks are a source of stored heat.  The mulches, the garden fabric and the flattened cardboard box, are necessary because runner grass will thrive near the heat of the solar panel aka "old window."  

The garden fabric deserves special mention because this is on its third life.  It began as purchased material, dense and textured, that served as a mulch beside a row of tomato plants.  After a season, it had some weak places, some holes from cages, etc, so I doubled it over lengthwise to serve again.  It has crumbled down to nearly shreds, but folding it over yet again, I got enough to cover two sides.  The third side, the cardboard box, is from my hoard, which grew to epic proportions from the remodel.  I NEVER throw away a box!  They are much, much too useful. 

The growing bed under the window is a little lower than the surrounding area, and I shaped a bit of a slope on the sides to funnel rainwater.  The sides are open because if I closed them, I would literally COOK anything under the glass, especially with those black blocks as the back wall.  During extended periods of cold weather, I can close off the sides, naturally, but I don't anticipate much need for it.  In fact, I chose to plant spinach here for just that reason.  In our climate, the cold is seldom severe enough (especially under that glass panel) to outright kill spinach.

Nothing is attached with wires, screws, nails or hairpins.  I can easily disassemble it and adjust as needed in response to the weather, although I don't anticipate much fuss.  I tossed in the seeds, stirred them around and watered.  Now, I'll just wait and watch.  

Friday, November 8, 2013

Easy as Pie

A little pumpkin on a path to the scraps pile becomes a delicious pie to share with family.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Canning Sweet Potatoes on a Rainy Day or First Time Pressure Cooking at Rivergarth!

I have forgotten how long it has been since the pressure cooker arrived, but I think it has been over a year, and I have been waiting all this time to use it.  The stove was ready too late to save the beans to make green beans and too late for the okra and too late even to can the tomatoes by boiling water bath, but there's one last thing I could preserve from the garden, those crazy sweet potatoes!

After the horror stories I had read of pressure cookers blowing up, I was a little scared.  Although I had read my manual front to back when the cooker first arrived, I read it again, this time circling and underlining the crucial steps, like "vent steam 7 minutes before setting the regulator weight in place."  Yes, I vented 7 minutes, and I was waiting at the exact moment hours later when the pressure dropped to zero and not a second or pressure point after to be sure I got the lid off the cooker before a vacuum seal could form.  It was a lot of work, but I found out that it's not so spooky or hard as the scare stories made it seem.

Aside from using the cooker, I learned how I do NOT want to prep the sweet potatoes next time and how I DO want to prep them.  It is just like canning tomatoes; there's the book way and then there's the way that works in your own kitchen with your own veggies from your own garden, the way Mom taught you.  The eight pints of potatoes turned out just fine, but they are not as pretty as I want them to be.  Next time will be State Fair quality!

 Washing jars, applying a seal to the cooker, locating lids and rings the right size, reading the manual, on and on, lots to do to get started.
 Boiling the sweet potatoes before putting in cans for pressure cooking.  Once they are boiled, the skins slip off.
The final product, cooled, sealed, labeled and ready to be put away in the pantry.  Now they're only one easy step away from being pie filling!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cloudy November Day at Rivergarth

 Yesterday was sunny and warm.  Now wet weather has rolled in, but it is still not very cold, no more than sweater weather.  The richly-hued leaves and berries are shiny with a fresh wash and glowing in the mist.  I couldn't resist a few pictures of the colors, although my camera was getting a little wet.

Above, no, not a pile of leaves.  Well, yea, a pile of leaves, but that's not all.  These are the hens-and-chicks that had mounded up in their growth and pushed up cylindrical flower stalks through the summer.  Their crowns died back, and now they are spreading more like a ground cover.  Very cool.  In the right of the photo, there are sharp points poking through the leaves.  That is an agave, and it doesn't like to be moist.  I need to clean out those leaves so they don't layer down in the crevices and hold moisture.
 Another pile of leaves!  Noooo, this is another sedum, which deserved a shot because of its color, but also because it is growing in that nestling-in-the-rock-grooves-looking-natural kind of way.  This garden is maturing, and I love it.  The broken pot is from mom's garden as are most of the rocks.  Thank you, Mom!
 Coup!  Yes, this is a small little bluestem, a volunteer of the larger clumps.  I now see that this phantastically-colored grass could spread even faster than anticipated when I brought it here.  Fine by me!  I adore this stuff in the autumn.  It is a signature plant.
 Named for the blue-hued blooms, plumbago, this ground cover is the absolute best.  The autumn leaves are as outrageously colored as the indigo flowers we had in late summer/early fall.  See it again below.
 All this red-leaved ground cover is plumbago that I started from a few, broken stems I dug up from Mom's garden.  This is one of two places I have it, the other being equally as large and beautiful.  When I'm dead, should someone dig this out, I will return to haunt them with bad luck by day and terrors by night!
 Aiyaiyai.  Crabapple.  Won't the winter birds love these?
 The foreground leaves are the ridiculously-rich-vari-colored crabapple, and the gold is my star magnolia.
 Here are the berries of false bamboo or nandina.  Pfft, I can photograph this bush (one of three) any time of year, and it will have something amazing to show.  It only fades for about 14 days in spring when it goes through the transformation from gaudy, winter dress to its tender, spring wardrobe.
 Here is the artichoke, which is pretty much on a volunteer basis now.  I leave the seedlings, and then they do this big, spiky, tropical looking thing.  They are biennial, so next year some of these will make flowers.  Burning bush is in the back showing off.  See below, too.
The burning bush also has these berries.  As I was wending through the garden jungle (above) to get this shot, I kept chasing sparrows back and forth.  They didn't want to leave the area, so they were circling back around me as I pushed my way inward. 
Here are the last of the zinnias.  The big kind are all done and ripened to seed, but these little ones have appreciated the rain.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Garden Journal Entry

There's so much going on in the vegetable garden that I could not photograph it all, but I got a few of the high points under the gentle, November sunlight.  Gardening this time of year is so much more leisurely and enjoyable.  None of that back-breaking stuff, but all the fine weather and satisfaction of the harvests and looking forward to a winter pantry.  [All these photos are really better if enlarged by clicking on them.]

 Parsley, small and tender, sprouting at the end of this bed and in the wood chip path.  The tall, ferny plant is fennel coming back after the heat and bugs ate it down to the stalk.  There are more instances in the pictures below where mild weather interspersed with rains and a couple of light frosts has allowed a rejuvenation of plant life.
 The spent bases of parsley flowers in an umbrel. I believe this might still ripen into seed.  I am watching.
A young crepe myrtle, the volunteering offspring of the mother plant a few inches away.  Wherever there is freedom from the lawn mower and my hoe, trees and bushes will come up on their own.  Marigolds are always a plus in a photo!
 Proud harvester of another batch of sweet potatoes.  This is from a small bed 5.5 ft x 2.5 ft x 4 in deep--roughly.  Two slips survived here, and I planted a tomato where the third one withered.  I found potatoes everywhere, and there's only one word for what is going on out there-INVASION.  I probably left as many as I found.  If the zombie apocalypse starts tomorrow, I'm finally ready~as long as I don't mind eating sweet potatoes morning, noon and night.  I have about three times this area left to dig.
 A gorgeously-hued echinacea I might call merlot.  Most of them are spent, but there are two or three with blooms in loose bouquets like this.  They are the delight of the late insects.
 A closer shot of the fennel, not really something I eat much, but the plant is so pretty, and the caterpillars like it so much.  The leaves and stalk are edible and taste like licorice.  The flavor is unmistakable.  A fun plant for kids!
 A peek inside the greenhouse where I have radishes, peas, parsley, cilantro, onions, carrots, spinach and lettuce.  The tall plants are peas on a fence.  Everything is still small, but is finally getting some sun now that the trees have dropped most of their leaves.
 Third time's a charm!  The weather has been so mild this autumn that I have had to plant several times due to hot temps thwarting my attempts to germinate cold-weather crops.  This time I covered the soil to keep it moist enough to germinate.  Hopefully, I will be eating spinach salads out of this cold frame during the winter.
 One tiny representative of all the beans I need to harvest.  This was three plants I planted at the base of a bird feeder support, only I didn't like the new feeders and took them down.  They were drowning too many bees!
 These are my three, rosemary bushes over which I have mothered for many years.  Despite cutting them harshly twice a year, they simply were TOO big to move in and out of the greenhouse another winter.  Early this summer, I planted them into the garden and now I must assure they make it through the winter outdoors.  I'm a wreck over it!
 This is another of those drop-dead gorgeous, merlot-hued coneflowers.  Click on the photo to make it large enough to see the grateful insect.  There was even a bee, but he was camera shy.
 Haroo!  I thought I dug out all those leeks, but they must have produced small bulblets before I toted them away.  Here are the young'uns, which will do fine through the winter and from which I may make more delicious soups!
 This is a picture that I love.  It may look a mess, but it is chock full of goodness!  The tender, grassy plant there is young garlic.  There are echinacea leaves, which I could harvest and dry for tea.  There is also a species of rudbeckia mixed in there that are bright yellow, a relative of black-eyed Susan, not good for eating, but birds like the seeds.  There are a few sorrel, which do not have many leaves, but will come back now that the sorrel-eating bugs are all gone.  In the background, there is a bed of oregano growing rampant, and in the close foreground, impossible to see, there were seeds scattered all over the ground, which were either dill, fennel or parsley.  I will know next spring when I taste it.  Best of all, very little weeding, no replanting, and no tilling at all.  All I do in this bed is cut back the flower stalks in the fall, which I did just prior to taking this photo.
 I mentioned the mild weather above, and this is another effect of it.  This hot-loving, cold-hating bean has sprouted from the base of the plant and is growing back.  Boy is she in for a surprise!
Speaking of the warm and wet weather.  Here's a dill that was eaten down to the stalk, but now flowering again although November is fully upon us!  Behind it is my play-dome.  It is a clear, plastic drawer out of my refrigerator that always stuck, which made me hate it until I viciously ripped it out.  I have upturned it in the garden to act as a mini-greenhouse for whatever chooses to sprout under its solar protection this winter.  It is always interesting to see what seeds lie latent in the soil.
 I couldn't resist one more photo of the echinacea.  When I figure out what conditions give me this color rather than the paler, washed out pinks, I will do them all that way.  It's a mystery to me!
I had to end with the winter workhorse, the chard.  Some people grow kale for this purpose, but I have better luck with Swiss chard, and I believe it is more tender and more mildly flavored.  I have been known to eat this in every meal for days on end.  It is great in everything; eggs, soups, stir fry, quiches, fried rice and more. It survives most of the cold weather and snow.  Only hard freezes that last many days will wilt its leaves, although not kill the plant at all.  As soon as the weather warms even a little, it is back to production.

And isn't it pretty?!