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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Compost Trick

I hit upon a great way to get my compost to break down faster.

Instead of waiting for the various compost constituents to break down from larger pieces to smaller, I figured I could help them along with the lawn mower. The contents of my last compost pile went into the bed at the back of the yard, along with the contents of the chicken yard.  They are under warps for the duration until I can move the asparagus into them.

So I needed to start a new compost pile for the winter, which I determined should be in the first bed that I'm rehabbing.  This summer I planted buckwheat into it, which I took down last weekend.  Then from the big bed, I needed to take the pole beans and cucumbers down from their respective trellises and cut them up for the compost.  But I didn't want to have to cut them up the hard way, and I didn't want to leave them whole; plus, I needed to add a lot of carbon to the pile, which I why I keep straw in the garage (I really need a barn, but then, I also need a truck and I'm not getting that anytime soon either).  Using the mower with the bagger removed so that it would 'mulch' sounded like a good idea.  Ideally, you want to end up with a C:N ratio of 30:1, but compost will work between 25:1-40:1*. You also want your compost to be damp, but also be fluffed up enough for air to pass through it.  A compost pile with little to no air in it will decompose anaerobically, and trust me, it will smell bad.  Having the straw chopped up into little bits goes a long way to keeping air in the pile.  This is how i did it.

First I laid down a layer of straw:

Then I put the bean and cucumber plants on top of that:

Then I put a little more straw over that:

Then I had Steve run the mower back and forth over it:

Then I raked it into a row and had Steve run over it again:

This is what I got:

If it looks like a lot more straw than green stuff, that's because it is.

At one point, I added a bunch of old cucumbers:

And this is what I used to chop them up:

This is my mangel chopper, or fodder root chopper that I got from Red Pig Tools (I love my Red Pig tools- I have a bunch of them).  It was a whole lot easier than attacking them with a machete, which I also have. Between the mower and the mangel chopper, I think I can retire the machete.

After chopping it all up and dumping it onto the new pile, I mixed in the buckwheat from the bed and some kitchen scraps, and then covered it loosely with a large sheet of plastic because it was going to rain the next day.  A rainy day will cool down a compost pile and worse, leach nutrients.   It's still a short pile, so I'm not expecting too much to happen right away.  A compost pile doesn't really start cranking until it hits a critical mass, which starts at roughly a cubic yard.  Some compost piles that are so large have been known to produce enough heat to spontaneously combust.  This is the best explanation of how that can happen that I've seen.  I never seem to have enough material on hand at any time, so I doubt that will ever be a problem.

Even if this pile is alway so small that it takes longer to break down than I want it to, at least I didn't have to chop it up with a machete, which is just plain taxing.

* See this for a great Carbon:Nitrogen calculator that will help you get your mix just right.

I need more shelving....

Rotkohl and applesauce

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Woohoo! Sourdough!

I've been trying to successfully make a sourdough starter years, to be met with only disappointment.  I know I could have bought one, but I didn't want to do that.  My older sister made sourdough all the time when I was a kid, and she made her own starter and kept it (like a pet) on the kitchen counter in a Boston baked bean pot.  Her sourdough breads were delicious, and I've been wanting to make them as well. When I asked her where she got the recipe, she said The Sunset Cook Book of Breads.

So I faithfully followed their fussy instructions: they have you start by heating a cup of milk to 90 or 100 degrees F and then remove it from the heat and stir in three tablespoons of plain yogurt and let the whole thing stand for eighteen to twenty-four hours.  As you might have guessed, this isn't making sourdough starter so much as it's making yogurt.  But into this yogurt you stir one cup of flour until smoothly blended and then cover tightly and let stand in a warm place until the mixture is full of bubbles and has a good sour smell.  Well, it never worked, and I'd have to throw out the ingredients in disgust and disappointment, again.

I don't know if it's because you make it with a yogurt or not, but I can tell you that part of the reason it failed is because they have you cover it tightly. No wonder it never worked!  Sourdough starters work by capturing wild yeasts from the air, much like Belgian beers do.  If you cover it, the wild yeasts can't get in there, and you're just spoiling a cup of yogurt and a cup of flour, which is what I'd been doing all along.

Last weekend I finally got wise and called my sister.  May as well go to the mountain, I figured.  In talking, she mentioned that she knew that Lane Publishing later changed the instructions for sourdough starter. She had the second edition whereas I had the third, so I asked her to read me the instructions from her book.  They were much, much simpler, and they worked.


Tonight we'll pull a half cup out and Steve will start a poolish, or more correctly, a levain,*  for a sourdough boule.  We'll also add another half cup of warm milk and half cup of flour to replenish the starter.  This is called feeding it (see? the pet analogy isn't so far off) and if you don't bake often with your starter you should draw off all but a half cup of starter and add a cup each of warm milk and flour to feed it, at least once a month.  The starter needs to be kept in the refrigerator once it's soured correctly, and you should leave it out on the counter from four to six hours to warm up before you use it.  You can leave it overnight if you like to bake in the morning.  

But woohoo!  Sourdough!

Sourdough Starter:

In a glass or crockery jar, leave a cup of milk to stand at room temperature for 24 hours.

Add 1 cup flour and stir until smooth.  Leave uncovered (very important!) in a warm place, like on top of the refrigerator (80 degrees is ideal) for 2-5 days, until it gets bubbly and smells sour, at which point you can use or cover loosely and put in the fridge until you need it.

If during its making the liquid separates, just stir it back in, but if the liquid turns pink, chuck the whole thing and start over.

I kept my starter in the only consistently warm spot in the kitchen, which is also out of the way of drafts: the top of the freezer.  The next day my starter had separated, so I just stirred it back in.  And today, the second day, it's ready.  And it smells wonderful.

*This is pre-ferment, not preferment in pronounciation.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Making Scrapple: Adventures in Goody Guts

I have to publish a correction to this post...Mom corrected me- it was one chicken and two dinners for ten people.

When I was a kid, Mom would take two one chicken and get two dinners from them for ten people.  In a way it was kind of magic, but in reality, it was just careful resource management. She'd buy a large chicken, cut it up (later on that job fell to my older brother, who eventually showed me how to do it, including digging out the kidneys from the back under running water with your thumbs- I think this is probably why I have no problem reaching into a dead chicken and grabbing the entrails by the gizzard), and bake everything but the back, neck, wing tips and goody guts, which you would know as giblets; all that would go into the stock pot.  For dinner the first night, she'd carefully portion out a piece of baked chicken to each person according to his or her size/age, and my older brother always got first dibs on seconds, because as my father repeatedly put it, "his body being a bigger machine needs more fuel".

Then after dinner while the chicken parts were still warm, she'd pick the meat off  and refrigerate it and the stock, and the next night, she'd make a gravy from the chicken stock, add the chicken bits and frozen peas, and serve that on noodles.  Daddy called it Sludge, and we loved it.  Except for the giblets, which we'd pick out of the gravy and leave neatly on the sides of our plates. Mom started giving the giblets to the family dog, who was ecstatic about them.  My older sister dubbed them Goody Guts. I thought they were revolting, especially in my gravy. I still do.  To this day, if someone says giblet gravy, I think oh, for your cat you mean?  Uck. (Involuntary shiver.)

Which is why if you'd told me five years ago that knowingly and for no reward I'd be slicing through a pig heart and kidneys with the intention of eating them I'd have probably punched you.

But this is how it happened: we'd had the various pig parts in the freezer ever since we brought home that ill-butchered pig in August of 2012 (honestly, what is it with the small-time butchers in Oregon? My friend Rae  told me that every roast she'd had from her pigs had a rib sticking out of it. Who in their right mind wastes ribs on badly cut roasts?), so they needed, had been needing, to be used up in something. Trouble was, I didn't know what to do with them.  There are still two pieces of pig liver in there, but I know what to do with them, and this autumn, they will finally fulfill their destinies.  But what with all this egg saving and trying to feed Steve on little to no eggs for breakfast, it dawned on me that I should make scrapple. Never mind that I've never made it before, much less even eaten it.  I duly added "neck bones or other porky parts for scrapple" to my grocery list.  And it was Steve who pointed out that this was an excellent thing into which to throw the pig heart and kidneys that were languishing in the freezer, so they eventually came out to be defrosted.

Then commenced the internet search for recipes.  There were lots and lots.  There were pictures of the finished product in the loaf pan and on the plate.  The stuff on the plate looked fine; the stuff in the loaf pan not so much.  It was gray.  I can't think of any food that is gray.  I wasn't so sure I should have embarked down this path, but at this point I couldn't not make it. It's like going to Paris: if you make a start and chicken out, it's better to go ahead so that you can say, "I went and didn't like it", which sounds better than, "I was going to go, but chickened out at the last minute." After all, you could go and find out you like it.

The internet says there are lots of different ways to make scrapple and some of the differences can be attributed to the region from which they come, but they are all pretty much the same in theory: boil pig parts to make a stock or broth; strain it and return the broth to the pan; grind up the pig parts and add those back to the stock; season and thicken with a combination of flour (specifically buckwheat flour, in some parts) and cornmeal; pour into loaf pans while hot, then cool and refrigerate, and slice and fry the next morning in some sort of pork grease.  So I did what I usually do when faced with multiple recipes and methods for a dish I've never tried: I used an amalgamation of everything.

One of the first things I did under my own volition was to roast the neck bones first to get a brown color going in the stock and get more flavor out of them, which is something that no recipe mentioned. Roasting the bones would go a long way toward getting the gray out. Later, when I'd found the buckwheat flour that's been lurking with the dry goods, I thought "Ah. That's probably why the stuff was so gray." But browning the bones couldn't hurt, and it did help a lot.  Actually, my stock was smelling pretty good while it boiled the meat into submission. The heart pieces went in with the bones; the kidney pieces went in a half hour before the stock was done.  Kidneys have to be extracted completely from their white membranes and soaked several times in different water baths until the water clears for them to be edible. Even after all that boiling, with the meat falling off the bones, the heart pieces still felt like little pieces of hard rubber.  I hesitated putting them into the food processor, but I figured, enh, in for a penny, in for a pound, so in they went.  The bones and organ meats worked out to be just a little over a pound of meat that I could use. I picked out the meat and the squishy parts (which would normally turn my stomach if my tongue happened upon them just as they are, but there's a lot of flavor in fat and I was going to grind it anyway), and left the bones and cartilage.  The other thing I did a little differently was to grind the spices together and mix them into the flour and cornmeal mixture so that they'd disperse and bind immediately to the mixture, rather than throwing them into the boiling stock and watch them float and then stick to the sides of the pan. Incidentally, the spice mixture smelled heavenly and I think I'll mix some up and try it in something else.  It smelled so good I was moved to bring it to Steve in his office and command him to smell it.

This morning I had a little trouble getting the first slice out of the loaf pan, but I'd guess that was my inexperience; all the subsequent slices I had no trouble liberating from the pan. In pictures online, I'd noticed most loaves were removed from the pan and then sliced, but I decided not to try to extract it whole from the pan; I just plain didn't want to ruin it. Some recipes said to flour the slices before frying; others said you didn't have to. I remembered my mother's fried cornmeal mush sometimes sticking to the pan so I opted to dust the slices.  I had zero trouble with frying it, and eventually called Steve to breakfast. I cut into my first piece with a little trepidation and put it in my mouth.  Hot and crunchy on the outside, hot and creamy on the inside and just plain tasty.  Even the goody guts had disappeared into the background and contributed to the whole overall delicious experience. Working from the receipts, and not even dialing down to the exact proportions of what I'd bought and what I'd used for the dish, it worked out to $1.18 per meal.  And I mean meal, not per serving. Super cheap.  We'll be making this one again.


This takes a lot of time, so plan on making this with on and off attention one day, for eating the next.

3-4 lbs neck bones or other porky parts
salt and pepper
4 quarts of water
1 giant or two medium onions, skinned and quartered
bouquet garni of celery (I used lovage), bay leaves and thyme sprigs
1 large, peeled carrot, cut into three chunks
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp each sage, mace, thyme
1 tsp marjoram
½ tsp black peppercorns
½ cup buckwheat (or whole wheat) flour
2 cups cornmeal

Grease the bottom of a large oven proof frying pan and lightly salt it. Place the neck bones in the pan and lightly salt and pepper them. Slide into a 375 degree oven and roast until brown, about an hour.

Fill a large pot with 4 quarts of water and put on to boil.  Remove the bones from the oven and place the bones in the water, setting the roasting pan aside for the moment.  Add the onion, carrot and bouquet garni to the stock pot.  Ladle some water from the stock pot into the roasting pan and deglaze the pan.  Pour this into the stock pot.  Simmer the stock until the meat is fork tender, about two hours. (If you have softer organ meats to add, wait to add them to the stock during the last half hour of the boil.)

When the meat is fork tender, turn off the heat and pick the porky parts out of the stock.  Strain the stock and return to the stock pot.  Pick the meat from the bones and discard the bones.  Grind the meat with a little bit of the broth.  Return the ground meat to the stock.

Mix the flour and cornmeal in a separate bowl.  Whirl up the salt and spices in a spice grinder (or work with ground spices) and add to cornmeal mixture and mix.  When the stock is boiling, whisk in the cornmeal mixture to keep lumps from developing.  Turn down heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, for twenty minutes or until thick.

While hot, pour finished scrapple mixture into loaf pans (this should make two each 5x9 pans) and tap to shake out bubbles if any. I found that my ladle, greasy from moving stock around, was great for this.

Cool the loaves and refrigerate overnight.

Slice in quarter inch slices the next morning for breakfast and dust with flour.  Fry in hot bacon grease or lard.

Serve with one or two of the usual suspects: ketchup, maple syrup, applesauce or apple butter. Yes, you can use Siracha.

Scrapple freezes well; slice and freeze individually on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and then wrap for storage.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Making It Pay

Trout Muniere for breakfast
This year I grew and preserved more food from the backyard than I ever have before, but after gathering it together I realize I am still a loooonnnnnnnggggg way off from preventing starvation in a down-chips environment. That is why I need to add more sources of protein to the mix, and do something constructive about growing more potatoes, which remain the highest source of calories per acre.  Both of these strategies will involve much thought, especially the potatoes thing.  I know I can grow spuds, but I don't want to grow them in the beds, because it's really true: once you have potatoes growing somewhere, you'll always have potatoes growing somewhere. It's been two seasons since I grew potatoes in the big bed and they are still coming up.  Thus I really want to get them into the potato barrels I made but the barrels need soil and I don't have any spare.  In fact, I've decided that next year I'll grow a much smaller range of vegetables in one bed and really concentrate on growing soil in the other beds, which I've already gotten a start on.  Next year's garden will still be the same but my yields will be much reduced, because if starting seed in compost has taught me anything, it's that I really, really need to do something in a big way about my soil fertility.  But this post wasn't supposed to be about growing things, it was supposed to be about adding fish to the mix!

Steve and I really believe in the whole notion of letting chickens have their winter off from production because that is what they do naturally. Aside from it allowing them to still be able to lay later in their lives, it saves on the energy and infrastructure costs to run a line out to the coop to keep a light on.  The opposite side of course, is a lower feed-to-egg ratio because you still have to feed them, but we still think this is the humane way to keep chickens.  So knowing that they are going to be shortly laying off laying, we've been saving eggs against the day when they quit altogether for the season.  We're trying more and more to eat seasonally, and even eggs have a season.  So- Steve found a very old article from the seventies in the Mother Earth News where they'd done the experimenting on saving eggs and found that the best way to keep eggs for the long term is to keep unwashed eggs in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  They found that eggs kept this way will be good up to six or seven months.  I don't want to keep them that long- just long enough to see us through to when the girls start laying again, and if memory serves, that was near the end of January (I think).  During the winter we don't have eggs for breakfast- they get used in dishes where you need one egg, like pancakes or other baked goods, and the occasional jar of mayonnaise.  It's all part of that seasonal eating thing, like I mentioned before.  So- replacing eggs for breakfast becomes something of a challenge because, frankly, I like eggs for breakfast.  I can also become completely bored with hot cereal.  Last winter I added a lot of tuna cakes into the mix because we had so much canned tuna, which I can still do, but I have far fewer jars of it and it also requires mayonnaise, which requires eggs, which kind of defeats the purpose.

However, I really like the idea of fish for breakfast.  This morning we had Trout Muniere made from some of the trout we caught on Sunday. The hardest part was scaling and butterflying the fish, largely because I found conflicting information and instructions on YouTube.  I mean YouTube worked well enough for learning some knitting tricks but it's less successful with processing fish.  Everybody seems to do it one way or the other, and the presenters each had different levels of expertise as well. The first guy I watched seemed to make a hash of his trout, and mine are considerably smaller.  I don't have that much fish to waste. What I need, it turns out, is someone with a great deal of skill to show me how to do it, and then watch over my shoulder to correct me as I attempt the job.  Let's face it- picking up a skill on your own, particularly one fraught with finesse, can be really, really difficult.  I think probably scaling, gutting, and filleting or butterflying fish is something at which you get good only by repetitive action.

Which means I have to get good at fishing.

I don't have any plans to do any more fishing this year because the way the fishing licenses work in the state of Oregon is that they are good for a year, based on the calendar.  I am just cheap enough to not want to waste forty bucks on a license I'm only going to be able to use another three months; I don't see myself getting good enough in that much time to make it worth the expense.  So at the beginning of next year, I'll go get my fishing license and get started.  I've already leafed through a couple of regional map and availability books, plus bought one on beginning bait casting that will make good reading for the interim.

And I'm really hoping that I can get good enough to justify buying the salmon gear so that I can try for a spring salmon next March or April.

For now though, I need to go finish butterflying and freezing the rest of the catch, and then digging the offal into the garden.*  One way or the other, I am going to make this pay.

* I learned from my neighbor who learned it from his mother who was a full-blooded Native American (Creek) that the way to successfully dig fish guts into the soil is to dig a hole, add the guts, and then add a good layer of wood ashes over them; it keeps the raccoons from digging them back up.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Birthday Wish Comes True (Sorry- It's Not For World Peace)

I find, as I get older, (and today I am one year older) that birthdays are best observed or celebrated, whichever your preference, by wonderful experiences upon which you can recall (for as long as you can); they are the gifts that truly keep on giving.

Last year for my birthday, I was given a the experience of mushrooming by a friend who had no idea that it was my birthday, and who gave me the unreserved gift of her time, freely given.  It was a great day, and a treasured memory. I asked about mushrooms this year, but the rains have been insufficient.  I hope that we can still go later in the season, when the rains have returned.  If we get a day mushrooming this autumn, that too will be a gift, and I will be grateful.

But for this year's birthday I wanted a guitar.  I've been wanting to learn to play the guitar for years and told Steve that if I don't learn to play it will be something that I will regret on my deathbed (among a thousand other things that I have also failed to do, or unhappily, have done).  But then it occurred to me: if, and when the SHTF, a guitar will not get you dinner (and I do not pretend to believe I will ever play well enough that it should); perhaps instead I'd better ask for fishing gear, which is of course what I did. Steve agreed.

I called an ex-vendor friend of mine who is an avid outdoorsman and a very nice guy to help me pick out what I'd need; the cherished notion of ever learning to fly fish giving way to the better practicality of plain old casting for lake trout being the more sensible approach to this new skill I was keen to learn won out.  I would learn to cast.  We met at the local large anglers' establishment and, mmmm, seventy-two or so dollars later I had my gear and my new pole was rigged with everything except the hook.

I have never fished before.  It was not something my own father did, and my dear grandfather passed long before I was old enough to even know how to spell fish, much less be interested in catching one.  So then, how to learn?  Ah! YouTube. Wonderful invention; it's where I learned the toe graft stitch (AKA the Kitchener stitch).  I found a video and watched raptly- this guy knew what he was talking about (and unlike so many who post to YouTube, he didn't waste time with a lot of useless talking but got right to the point- capital!).  But I wasn't getting it- I retrieved my pole and tried to mimic what I was seeing short of actually casting in the house, but, unbelievably, without even actually casting (in the house), I managed to lose the barrel swivel, leader, and lead weight somewhere between my desk and the front hall and fouled up the line.  I hadn't even cast!  I was just holding the thing and it all went pear shaped!  How the hell did I manage to do that? Obviously I needed one on one coaching and my neighbor Larry would fit the bill.

I need a favor of you, I told him last week. I want to learn how to fish; will you show me how to cast?  Of course he would, and last Thursday when he showed me how to cast and while I was practicing in the street, he and his wife Kathy and I got to talking and the next thing you know we've arranged to go on my birthday the following Sunday up to the trout farm where they take the grandkids.

So this morning while I am running around trying to put together a picnic lunch and get my own birthday cake into the oven, Kathy shows up with a bakery box.  Which she opens to reveal:

I was floored.  "Oh how cute! Thank you", I gush.

Steve takes one look and concedes, "Oh yeah. That's crazy cute." (Never heard him use that one before.)

But it was crazy cute.

I finish the picnic prep and we load up Larry's truck and drive up there. We find our spot on the pond (now, I know this isn't the macho way to fish, but you don't need a license, it being on private property, and I wanted to get some casting and, more importantly, catching experience under my belt before trying this on my own. With a license. Somewhere out where other anglers go and I can be seen fishing.  So did not want to embarrass myself) and set up in the shade.  Inexperienced as I am, even I know you don't catch fish casting your shadow in the water. 

Larry catches a fish right away:

I immediately catch a couple fish, but wind up dithering on the bank, trying to re-bait my hook, although at this point I think I've lost my hook and I'm retying on another, hence the intense concentration (and my reading glasses):

I get three fish into the bucket and hook a fourth, and I can tell, even though, you know, I've never done this before, that this guy is a little bigger than the others, never mind that I'm going to have to pay more for him; he winds up being fifteen inches long- not quite a pound, but I don't care because I'm catching fish on my birthday!

Steve hasn't caught anything yet; he's working with a live bait hook and a worm.  I've been catching fish pretty rapidly with power bait, and I want him to experience this, except that somehow, he manages to seriously foul my line.  I mean he's managed to get the line caught up way the hell up under the spindle inside the reel.  I bite the treble hook off my line and tie it on to his leader (after dispensing with his live hook) and get him all set up.  Kathy, bless her heart (and patience) takes my gear and later gets the line pulled free of the reel and gets me back to square one.  It later turns out that I'd had the free spin button turned on which was the source of all my angst.  Glad I learned that one on the little pond before embarrassing myself out in the wild.

In the meantime, true to form, the power bait wastes no time and Steve has a fish, which he reels in.  It also turns out to be fifteen inches long:

That's a pretty fish.

That's happy boy.

I'm a happy girl (I use that term loosely in view of the fact that I am now pushing fifty from the wrong side).

It was an awesome day.  Fish are going to learn to fear me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Darn It! Mom Was Right!

You know how sometimes your mom tells you something, and you don't want to do it for various reasons of your own, all of which are good reasons mind you, but then you think about it and you realize your mom is right?  

I know; I hate when that happens too.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I wish I had a pantry. Actually, I've been belly-aching about a pantry for a long time.  I thought at one time I would hire my contractor to remodel my utility room, which would make a very nice pantry, but decided against it because I just plain do not want to spend the money.  I still want a pantry, though.

So Mom said, in an emailed conversation we had, why don't you turn the cabinet over your washer and dryer into a pantry?

Well, because that cabinet is already holding a bunch of stuff was my lame answer.

But then I thought about it.  I really want a pantry.  So I went to the utility room, opened up the cabinet doors, and stood back and looked at the cabinet.  You know, I thought to myself, there's really no reason all that stuff can't go somewhere else.  I spent part of Monday finding new homes for everything and the other part of Monday working on the cabinet.

Like everything else that was in this house when we bought it, whoever it was that built the aftermarket shelving or cabinets in this house used the absolute minimum to get the job done.  The shelves in the utility room cabinet are made from half-inch plywood and have no visible means of support.  I braced them all with cleats along the sides and back nailed into the studs, and then happily filled them with stuff that's been sitting all over the kitchen.

It's sagging!
Then I noticed they were kind of sagging, so I nailed up a half-assed center support.  I still couldn't get the doors shut properly but I figured oh well. We had dinner, we watched some tube, we went to bed. Then I got to thinking: what if the shelves finally give way sometime in the night?  Aside from scaring the living shit out of you, it would be a shame to lose all your home canned stuff in there, and the tuna represents a sizable investment.  I threw back the covers, found my slippers, and got up and emptied the cabinet.  Then I went back to bed and thought about how to fix the situation and eventually fell asleep.

See the board on the bottom? Worked!
Tuesday after feeding Steve his breakfast, I measured and cut a four by one inch hemlock board that I had in the garage, and then cut braces for it to nail into the studs.  It now runs along the front of the cabinet behind the bottom front where most of the sagging was occurring, and properly supports the bottom shelf, which is supporting the upper shelf. I'm happy to report that it's holding the load just fine and I can also get the doors shut as well.  

Yay! I finally have my pantry!

Kudos, Mom.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Climbing Stories

Today we closed the windows on the coop.  Part of that is because the nights are starting to get chilly and part of it is because Lola, who is last in pecking order so the other girls won't let her roost with them, has been roosting on the top of the larger window, which means she's crapping all over it. I had to clear everything out of the coop, climb up into the coop, unchain the window so I could tilt it into the coop, and reach over the roosts to scrape bird poop out of the window frame with a joint knife before I could close the window.  Between this and climbing all over the enclosure roof last weekend, I am finding muscles I haven't used in fifty years. For real. Like the last time I used them I was five.  I'm not kidding; I used to climb onto the kitchen counters to get into the upper cupboards where the good stuff was.  I was bad.  I got my comeuppance though.  One time I'd opened a lower cupboard door to climb up the shelves to the counter and got up there and promptly lost my balance and fell off, landing squarely with the open cupboard door up my crotch.  I'd loosened the top hinge on the door and nearly gave myself a female circumcision in the process. Luckily my dad was the next person into the kitchen- he felt sorry for me and fixed the cupboard door while I whimpered.  My mom would have just killed me.

I mentioned before I've been working on re-roofing the enclosure and managed to get most of it up before a couple days of rain only to find that the tarps didn't fair so well over the year and they're full of holes, a lot more holes than I put in them.  They have to be replaced, so I ordered three each eighteen-ounce vinyl tarps which are the minimum weight I could use for a roof and expect it to hold up.  They are supposed to be waterproof but also abrasion and UV resistant, which should help them last longer. Or so I hope.  They are a lot more expensive than the polypropylene tarps. A lot more.  Anyway, the amazing thing is that I got up on the roof in the first place! Granted, it's not as high as say, the roof on the house, but it was more than I expected to be able to do.  I surprised myself.

You'd think I'd learned not to climb up on stuff.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The End of The Summer 2014

The shadows are getting longer and the sunshine is mellowing out to an autumnal shade of golden.  The zucchini are covered in powdery mildew and have quit putting out flowers, and the Kentucky Wonder beans have only a few stragglers still on them drying down because most of them have been picked already.

The end of summer has come and I'm mentally and emotionally ready for autumn, which is my favorite time of year, despite the fact that it means nearly non-stop rain and chill, and then three months of winter. There is something about flannel shirts and wood smoke and frosty mornings that I just dig.

I promised myself that I would re-roof the chicken coop before the rains start, so that is in progress. I tore off the tarps that I had up there; what didn't occur to me when I put them up is that they would not only protect the girls from the rain- they would also fill with water and sag. Last winter I had to go around and punch holes in them with a knife so they would drain and not bring down the roof, which rather defeated the purpose of the roof.  I'm adding more rafters and cats, and have a passel of one-by-threes to nail up for purlins.  I considered corrugated plastic, vinyl flooring, and briefly, asphalt shingles to cover it, but all were going to cost more than I wanted to spend.  In the end I decided to reuse the tarps, which I'll cut to fit this time and staple down. And then go back and patch holes.

Fire roasted peppers
The end of summer also means harvest, and this year's summer garden has kept me hopping.  To date I have enough frozen, shredded zucchini to make forty-four loaves of zucchini bread (for which I have a great recipe; we really like zucchini bread), two shoeboxes and then some full of packaged green beans (French filet beans, 'Denver' and 'Vanguard'), frozen onion rings and chopped onions (which is how I'm salvaging the onions that went to flower) three quart bags of chopped green bell peppers and one quart bag of chopped red bell pepper (and they're not done), ten half-pints of fire roasted Italian peppers (they're not done either), seven pints and five half-pints of salsa, nine half-pints of baba ganoush, twenty-three half-pints of tomato sauce for pizza (the tomatoes are a long way off from being done), two gallon bags of muffin-tin-sized chunks of frozen pesto, eight pounds of dried Kentucky Wonder beans for soup, enough garlic and shallots to last the year, and fifty-five pounds of onions.  I'm definitely getting better at this, although I'm still a long way off from where I want to be.  But I think I need more room for that.

I still have onions curing that
haven't been bagged yet.
This year's onions were a revelation.  I'd purchased live starts of a variety called 'Big Daddy' from Franchi seed by way of Seed from Italy.  Several them tried to go to seed, which is more due to the capricious nature of our spring weather than anything else.  I was ecstatic, frankly, when I discovered that the great majority of them didn't get tricked into thinking they'd gone through a winter and needed to go to seed.  The onions grew and grew, by and large, true to their names; I've never seen such huge onions much less have them come from my garden.

No lie- crocheting with twine
is hard on your hands
When they were finally cured and ready for storage, I quickly discovered that the two little string bags I had weren't going to cut the mustard, so I had to crochet myself a large string bag from twine. First I had to whittle a large crochet hook from a dowel that was in my collection (which my dad had done for my mom, so I knew it could be done), and then I was able to crank out the bag.  The onions are resting comfortably on the floor in the kitchen.  I sure wish I had a pantry.

Other plants that did well and were a surprise were the chard I also bought from Franchi.  Bieta 'Verde de Taglio' is actually a kind of beet ('bieta' gives that one away) but it makes sense when you consider that the other name for Swiss chard is silverbeet.  I actually hate Swiss chard, but the description in the catalog claimed that this variety tastes like spinach, which it does.
Bieta 'Verde de Taglio'
But unlike spinach, this stuff handles the heat like a champ and keeps on growing all summer long. We had some ninety-six degree days there and it didn't even wilt.  I've been cutting on it all summer and it's now thicker than ever. I suspect that it will only last as long as the first frost, but at that point I will have more than gotten my money's worth for this seed purchase. I'm really happy with this cultivar. Incidentally, Franchi is very generous with their seed, and have a great reputation for high germination rates.  I have lots of seed left and will buy this one again some four years down the road when they're finally no longer viable.

Oddly, this year I struggled with the squash, of all things.  I'd planted black zucchini and a variety called Costata Romana and they came up and got eaten by something (slugs, no doubt).  I didn't have much time, so I only replanted the zucchini, which took.  And out of three seeds per each four spots, only one precious 'Sweet Meat' winter squash made it through. From that plant I have only two squashes, one of which is pictured in the header.  Next year I'm going to seed the squashes early and transplant them.  Cucurbits aren't supposed to like that but I'm not taking any chances like that again.  I'm also not going to plant the black zucchini but will stick to the Costata Romana because that is the one that Carol Deppe (The Resilient Gardener) said was very tasty dried, and I had wanted to dry squash to put away.  She said that some zucchini tasted like nothing at all and some were not too nice dried, so since she's done all the work growing, drying and tasting, I'll take her advice and grow the one that tastes good dried.

I've learned my lesson with volunteers, however.  A plant that grows where it isn't wanted is technically a weed, but wanted plants (like food crops or expensive ornamentals) that are growing where they weren't planted have been dubbed volunteers by my mother.  So that's the term I used when I found volunteer tomatoes all over the yard.  I have a whole bed of volunteer strawberries in with the blueberries, for instance.  This year, when I had so much trouble getting the zucchini and Costata Romana to take, that when I happened on a volunteer squash growing over by the Sweet Meat squash, it was so much further along than my second batch of zucchini that I just let it grow.  I didn't know what it was but I recognized a squash when I saw it.  It turned out to be another zucchini, and I've pulled a lot of food from it, but the downside is that because it was within ten feet of the Sweet Meat, now I can't save the seed from the Sweet Meat because it was no doubt cross-pollinated with the nearby zukes.  So no more volunteers. I have to be ruthless with the volunteers.

Today is Friday, and I would like to goof off for once (especially since I didn't pull the last batch of jars out of the pressure canner until 9:50 last night) but there is still a chicken roof to work on and apple trees to prune and zucchini plants to pull out and replace with cover crops. And weeding and a planter box to move and a compost pile to throw into it, and…and…and…..

Friday, August 15, 2014

Book Review: An Everlasting Meal - Cooking with Economy and Grace

We all know how cheap frugal I am, so when I tell you I've found a book to buy, you'll appreciate that I think it's worth the money.

Tamar Adler is someone I'd like to meet and talk with someday. Like me, she loves food and words, and her writing reflects that. In An Everlasting Meal - Cooking with Economy and Grace which I happily stumbled upon at the library (always borrow it first if you can), Adler blends ideas and instruction with a bit of philosophy, all crafted with a remarkable gift for turning a phrase.
Regarding beans she writes: "Beyond the indelible stain the poor little things will never shake, the distaste we feel for beans in not unfounded either. Our beans are rarely as good as they can be.  They're usually so bad, in fact, that basing an opinion of their merits on prior experience is very much like deciding you don't like Bach after hearing the Goldberg Variations played on kazoo."  Which is really apt, considering we're talking about beans.  She delicately then goes on to say: "Once the sun has set and risen, drain the beans through a colander and cover them by two inches with fresh, cold water.  What gets flushed out of the beans on their overnight wallow is what inspires musicality in eaters.  Feed their soaking water to your plants, who will digest it more quietly, if you like."  I also likes how she deals with cooking times and the importance of letting things take as long as it needs to to taste good: "If a soup seems thin, let it go on cooking. If tomato sauce still tastes acidic, give everyone a bowl of olives and a stern look and cook the sauce until it mellows out."

Even her chapter titles are clever: How to Teach an Egg to Fly covers, naturally, eggs; How to Catch Your Tail deals with not wasting anything in the kitchen, and the last chapter, How to Snatch Victory from the Jaws of Defeat tells how to save a ruined meal or ingredient (and who hasn't had one of those!).   There are few actual recipes in the book, which is a good thing, because most of it is the kind of instruction which leads you to eventually be able to intuit what you need to do to cook and save well.

There was only one place in the book where I disagreed with her despite her phrasing, and that was the subject of some vegetables tasting better pickled than they do fresh: "If creation had had any pretensions of being perfect, okra and green beans would have both grown from seed to fruit full of vinegar and salt."  I think that's highly personal take on their merits, because I would much rather mow my way through a bowl of fried okra than I would popcorn, and French filet beans with a little butter, garlic and lemon juice, or bacon, spaetzle, butter, and Penzey's Bavarian Seasoning are marvelous revelations for one's mouth to get around.

All that aside though, the book would be useful for any scratch cook who cooks from scratch not only for the fun of it but also because of the economy of it.  For anyone trying to get more out of less and live well in the process, having An Everlasting Meal to refer to would be like being able to ask someone whose cooking you admire for their instruction and advice anytime you like.

I'm going to buy a copy, and that's the best recommendation I can make for any book I've borrowed.