Friday, September 30, 2011

Eatin' good in the neighborhood

With all the food that's coming in from the backyard and the free time that I've been given, it's like Applebee's all up in here!  Over the last week or so I've done a bunch of cooking and every meal has incorporated something from the homestead.  Some of the deliciousness includes:

* Several batches of kale chips with a mix of sesame oil and olive oil (thanks April!)
* Vegetable stir fry with our cabbage, zucchini, peas, and carrots
* Salsa
* Apple crisp
* The most delicious marinara ever, with our tomatoes and onion
* and as usual, Eggs: egg salad sandwiches, french toast, purin, etc.

Apple Crisp

8-10 backyard apples (about 6 cups cubed)
1 tbs flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup water

Crisp ingredients
1 cup quick oats
1 stick butter
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp each of baking powder and soda
1/2 cup brown sugar
dash of salt

Toss together the apples, flour, sugar, and cinnamon and pour into a 13x9 baking dish.  Sprinkle the water over the top of apples.  Set oven to 350.  Toss together the brown sugar, oats, flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder.  Cut the room temp butter in until incorporated.  Top the apples with an even layer of the crumble and bake for 40-45 minutes.  Serve warm with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on top.  YUM!

Spaghetti with the Best Marinara Ever (I got the basic recipe here and changed it up a bit.)

A dozen or so ripe garden tomatoes (or however many it takes to get about 4 cups of crushed tomatoes.)
1/2 small onion (chopped)
3 tbs olive oil
3 cloves garlic (minced)
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
Salt, pepper, sugar to taste
A couple tsp balsamic vinegar to taste
(You can add a bay leaf but I didn't have any and it still tasted delicious.)

First you need to peel the tomatoes by blanching them in boiling water.  Put them into the water and let them boil for about 45 seconds.  Take them out and put them immediately into an ice bath.  The skins will peel super easily.  Remove the seeds and chop them up into big pieces.  (I actually crushed them with my hands.  The preschooler inside of me was really excited about the sensory experience.)

Replace the boiling water in the pot with the olive oil and chopped onion.  Saute for about 5-10 minutes and add everything else.  Cover and let it simmer on low heat for a few hours.

Now taste it.  With a small spoon.  Then have someone waiting there to pull you away as you try to grab a larger spoon and eat the whole pot right there.  Seriously.  So good.

Luckily I had some self control today and it lasted long enough for me to add some vegan ground meat and put it on pasta.  Delicious.  I'm glad I waited.

Can we live here?

Several days ago, we officially started Mission: Chicken Integration.  They've been hanging out in the yard, unsupervised, without any issues for the last couple weeks so we decided it was time.  I also want to get the integration complete before the babies start laying eggs in the end of October.  And since I'm not working I can spend plenty of time playing rooster and preventing a bloodbath.

We've experienced plenty of surprises as well as stresses.  Here's what has gone down so far...

Night #1:  Shawn secretly tucked the babies up with Abby and Frannie at night.  (Diurnal birds generally have terrible eyesight in the dark so neither party had any idea.)  We were nervous so we checked on them again before bed, but everything was ok.

Morning #1:  I went out there early in the morning as it was getting light out to make sure I would be there when they woke up.  The ladies were down off their roost, and left as soon as I opened their door.  Babies were still roosting and were fine.  They had a hard time getting down though.

Night #2:  Same as night #1.

Morning #2:  I went out there early again and this time the babies were down on the ground off the roost and Abby and Frannie were still up.  I opened the door the connects the coop to the run and they went out, but Abby followed quickly and attacked Pearl.  Luckily I was able to open the run up to the outside and the babies escaped.  Pearl had another bloody comb... poor baby.

Night #3:  Samesies.

Morning #3:  The babies were down again, this time I brought the older ladies down and hung out in the coop with the doors closed and sat in between the two parties.  The babies were clearly nervous about being in such close quarters with their attackers and Abby and Frannie were clearly upset that the babies were in their home.  Abby tried sneaking by me to beat Pearl up but after about 15 minutes, I had enough and let them all out.
Night #4:  I went out to find Elsa pacing back and forth nervously with no sign of Pearl.  Guess where she was?  Up on the roost in the big coop!  Shawn and I were wondering what would happen so we put Elsa up with her sister and waited for the other two.  Not surprisingly, Abby hopped up and started bullying Pearl so we had to intervene.  We hung out for about 10 minutes as Frannie joined and all four settled down in the near-dark.  Overall, feeling pretty good, since Pearl is so smart.

Morning #4:  I walked out and immediately heard sounds of chicken attack.  When I ran over and opened the door, Abby and Frannie burst out and I found Pearl and Elsa cowering in the corner.  No blood.  Whew.  I wonder how long that was going on for?

This is going to be a long stressful road...

Morning #1: Staying out of the rain together.  Don't be fooled.  They're not friends.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Harvest

Yes, that's a tiny carrot in the back.
Happy fall everyone!  The tomatoes are still steadily coming in and I even got another handful of green beans that were late to come in.  This is the only sugar pumpkin that I got, but it's pretty.  I planted another batch of peas and lettuce since the weather is getting to be more favorable for them, and the onions are about ready to start the two week harvesting process. (10 days in the ground after I bend their leaves, a couple days curing in the sun, and a couple more days drying out under cover.)

Apples galore!
Also, we're getting close on the apples.  The mild wind storm we had earlier dropped a ton from the trees, some of them really nice-looking ones. We went through them and saved the good ones.  The ones in the bucket are for keeps, the ones in the wheelbarrow are compost.  It seems like a lot wasted, but most of them are too green to even make pie out of, and the rest have a ton of bugs in them.  There are still a bunch in the tree, I just hope they stay up there for a few more weeks to ripen up.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Phone Book

Yes, this is a phone book, and yes, it is sitting in the middle of my yard.  Why, you ask?  Well, old country wisdom, of course!  This idea came by way of my grandmother talking with her friends about my difficulties with integrating our babies in with the other hens.  Apparently the reply to this was "what, she doesn't use a phone book?"  Apparently this tactic is common knowledge among older ladies living in Auburn, CA.

The whole idea behind the phone book is that when laid out in the yard, the wind will flutter the pages.  The hens should take complete offense to this and attack the phone book, thus creating a common enemy among all the ladies and a sense of camaraderie because they all hate/fear the same thing.

Maybe this works on country chickens.  My city chickens, on the other had, just see it as an obstacle that they need to climb over to get places.  No offense taken, whatsoever.

On a brighter note, the two gangs are sharing closer pieces of grass now, and they can be left to roam free in the yard without supervision.  No chickie first aid needed in a while.  Most of the attacks have ceased as well, though if Shawn or I pay any attention to the babies (like hand feed them garden greens and such,) and not do the same for Abby and Frannie immediately after, the older ladies attack the babies with a jealousy-filled rage.  So now we just have to sneak the babies special snacks.

Pretty soon we're going to start the final phase of mission: chicken integration by putting the babies up to roost with their aunties at night.  It'll be a covert operation that happens after dark, and I'll probably lose sleep over it, hoping and praying that the ladies don't kill them in the morning.  I'll probably get up at the ass-crack of dawn just to get out there to greet them all in the morning to keep the peac.  I'll keep everyone posted on how that goes.

Monday, September 19, 2011

How to NOT spend a ton of $ on wedding stationery (Part 1)

I'm frugal.  I'll admit.  Sometimes too much.  I also like the challenge of creating things on my own with what I have to prevent myself from buying things.  This allows a personal touch to what I've made and knowing that no one else has the same thing makes me feel original.

In the last couple weeks, I've sent out the save the date cards (STD's as some call them, hehehe) for our upcoming wedding.  Seeing as how it's a semi-destimation wedding (only because there's a ferry ride involved), a holiday weekend, and we have a lot of out of town guests, we decided a save the date card was in order to give our peeps a heads up.

For those of you who don't know, wedding stationery is expensive.  So I made my own.  Last year I discovered the awesomeness of block printing so I made some prints first.  Then I found a postcard template on Word and typed something up.  This was the hardest part since moving the text boxes and stuff until it was just right was pretty painstaking.  Then I found some card stock that was nice-looking and printed out my cards at home, 4 to a sheet.

Very carefully, I cut out the postcards....

and decorated with the block prints.

Sprayed them with finishing spray, since the block print ink is water-based, and slappity-slapped a stamp on each and sent them away!

Final product: pretty classy, eh?

The backs have the usual: a little message, the addresses of our peeps, as well as a return address for us.

P.S.  The block prints are fiddlehead ferns, just in case you couldn't tell.  (I don't blame you.)

P.P.S.  The first "save the date" print I made I made backwards, the worst mistake any block printer can make.  Major fail.

Sunday Harvest

The tomatoes are coming in, the zucchini and cucumbers are petering out, and fall is just around the corner. 

There are still plenty more tomatoes on the vine, and the weather forecast for this week indicates they still have a chance of ripening up.  I made salsa last week with some of the 'maters and the jalapeno that we also got from Shawn's plant.  It was delicious.  I think I'll make more soon... I'm hoping to make a batch of marinara also.  I was surprised they did fine during the rainstorm we had this weekend, I was sure some of them would split and fall off. 

Not pictured below is the kabocha squash that a squirrel decided was ready to harvest from the front yard.  Note to squirrel: you were wrong.  It was small, (a little bigger than a baseball,) and pretty good when my dad bbq'd it.  It tasted a little green yet, but it was edible.

The peas are from the second batch I planted in late July.  I may have planted them too early in the summer, and should have fertilized the soil because these plants are smaller than the first ones.
Note the sad little cabbage....

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mmmm... Purin

Purin is basically Japanese flan.  It's an egg custard with burnt sugar on the bottom.  I've never made flan before but I think the difference is that purin is a little lighter than flan and is made in individual cups. 

It's delicious.

Ingredients (to make 4 servings, though I usually do a batch an a half)
2 cups milk
8 tbs sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
dash of salt

6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water

First you need to prepare the molds and the oven.  I use small coffee mugs for the molds.  Anything that can be put in the oven will work.  Spray the bottoms with a little bit of oil and set aside.  Place a jelly roll pan (or whatever flat pan with sides you have) in the oven with a half inch of water.  Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

Now you make the burnt sugar sauce.  (This is the best part.)  Put the 6 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tbs of water into a small saucepan over medium high heat.  Dissolve the sugar in the water and let it come to a boil.  Let the sugar boil until all the water has evaporated out and the sugar is bubbling away.  You'll know when this happens because the bubbles will start to sound like glass.  Really cool.  Prepare a tbs. of water to keep handy next to you.  Stir the sugar occasionally and it'll start to turn brown and smell burnt.  Make sure you watch it closely for this part.  Just as it gets to a nice shade of darkish brown, add the small amount of water next to you.  It will be angry and hiss and bubble and maybe scare you.  But be strong, stand back and show it who's boss.  (Don't forget this part, it can lead to disaster if you don't add any water or add too much.  1 tbs, that's all she wrote.)  Stir in the water then divide the sauce up into the 6 molds you prepared.  There should only be enough for a few spoonfulls in each cup.

Now the egg part.  Easy peasy.  Put the milk into a saucepan and put it on low heat.  You just want it warm enough to melt the sugar.  While that's going, crack the eggs into a separate bowl and beat it for a bit.  Stir the sugar, salt, and vanilla into the milk.  Making sure that the milk is just warm and not hot, slowly add the milk to the eggs and whisk together.

Now check the sugar mixture before adding the egg mixture into the molds.  If the sugar is too runny, pouring the eggs/milk in will just mix 'em up and then you'll lose your awesome sauce that you risked your life to make.  Put the molds in the 'fridge if they're too runny.  Divide the egg mixture into your cups/molds.

Now put the molds into the oven on their nice jelly roll pan jacuzzi and bake for 35-40 minutes.  Chill, and try not to eat them all in one sitting!
The mugs that no one uses are happy today.

You can put it on a plate or eat it right out of the cup like I do...
P.S.  If you don't trust me, (I'm not offended if you don't) you can check out how this person makes purin.  It's similar but she might describe it better and has nicer pictures.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday Harvest

Lots of color this week. 

I wasn't expecting much of the carrots I pulled since the tops weren't that impressive, but these are the best ones yet.  I'm totally waiting on pulling the rest of them.  More and more tomatoes are turning red, maybe we'll get a few more before the weather goes to crap at the end of the week.  Th kale just keeps going and going.  These are gonna turn into kale chips. This is the last of the green beans, I'm leaving the rest to mature so I can use them for seeds next year.  As the garden slows down, I really need to start making an effort to save seeds for next year.  I'll let you know how that goes.

Have a great day!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Staying ahead of the zucchini

Any backyard gardener knows the issues that zucchini can cause in one's vegetable inventory.  Let's just say there's a reason why there is a national "leave a zucchini on your neighbor's front porch day."  (Too late, it was August 8th.) 

Though my zucchini plants didn't produce as much as they have in past years, we've still gotten enough to fill our summer squash needs and more.  The last two that we picked were both monsters so some creativity was in order, which resulted in today's dinner: Stuffed Zucchini and Zucchini bread!

Stuffed Zucchini
1 large zucchini that got away
1 pound of your choice of meat (I used hockey pucks)
1/2 an onion, chopped
1 cup marinara sauce
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 clove of garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated cheese

Saute the onion and meat in some olive oil until browned.  Add the garlic, salt and pepper, and marinara sauce.  While that cools, slice your giant bandit zucchini in half lengthwise and use a spoon to carve out the seeds.  Some of the stuff that comes out can be chopped and added to the meat/marinara mixture so you don't have to throw it away.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place the zucchini halves in a baking dish with a little cooking spray on the bottom.  Mix in the bread crumbs into the meat/marinara mixture then fill the zucchinis with the mixture and top with the cheese.  Bake for 40 minutes or so until the cheese is browned.  Enjoy!

Zucchini Bread
3 Cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3 tsps cinnamon
3 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 applesauce
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light agave
3 cups grated giant zucchini
optional: chopped nuts of your choice (I was out of walnuts so I used toasted almonds.)

The oven should be set around 335-350 degrees.  (It was 350 for me because I wanted to bake the two things at the same time.)  Sift the flour baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together.  In a separate bowl mix together the sugar, agave, eggs, vegetable oil, and applesauce.  Stir together the contents of the two bowls until combined and add the zucchini and nuts.  Pour the mixture into a bundt pan and bake for 50 minutes or until done.

A note on agave:  I've been using a lot of it in my cooking lately.  It's slowly gaining popularity as the sweetener of choice for many.  I don't really know much about it but apparently diabetics can eat it easier than sugar because it doesn't cause spikes in our blood sugar like regular sugar does.  I like it because it doesn't taste like crap like all other sugar substitutes do.  (Stevia?  Seriously?  Disgusting.)  I think it tastes kind of like a liquid brown sugar.  We got two giant bottles for free from Shawn's uncle who works for UPS and gets lots of stuff for free so I've been trying to think of ways to use it up.  So far so good.  I like it.

So there you go, two deeelicious zucchini recipes that will make you sad when zucchini season is over. Happy homesteading!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Purple Fingernails

In case you haven't noticed it's blackberry season.  I have a love/hate relationship with blackberries.  I love the excessive amounts of free deliciousness that can be foraged in nearly every urban park in the Seattle area, but hate the fact that it is taking over in every urban park in the Seattle area.  Himalayan blackberries, which constitute probably 99% of the blackberries that can be picked around here is a horribly invasive plant that has no regard for where it grows and who's habitat it is stealing.  And once it's around it's a major bi-otch to try to get rid of.  You can't just cut it down (which is hard enough with all the thorns) but you have to dig up all the roots or it'll just grow back stronger.  It really is horrible stuff.

Picking the berries is actually doing good for the environment because every berry that is picked and ingested by us means all those seeds in there aren't planted somewhere else.  So go out and pick berries people!

That's what we've been doing for the last several weeks.  But what to do with them?  The possibilities are endless!  We've made several berry cobblers and muffins with them, but the majority have been juiced to become jam. 

Juicing blacberries is a little painstaking but a necessity when making jam because their seeds are so big and tough.  Blackberry jam with or without seeds is delicious but the lack of seeds makes the eating experience just a little better.

Today, I started with the 10 pounds of blackberries my parents picked for me over the weekend.  I had to do three batches because there were just so many.  I put some in a pot and put the heat on medium low.  As they were warming up, I took a bottle (in this case a sake bottle) and mashed the berries with it.
Once it was pretty warm (it doesn't have to boil) I poured it into some cheesecloth that was placed over a bowl.  Depending on how warm the berries are, you may have to let them cool before starting the squeezing process.
 This is what results in purple-dyed fingernails.  You really have to caress and work the bag to get the most juice out of the pulp.  It can be pretty hot so watch out.  I probably spent about a good 5-10 minutes for each squeezing session.
This is the result.  Five quarts of berries equals 2 quarts of pure, thick, blackberry juice.  That should get me about 5-6 batches of blackberry rhubard jam.  Time to start chopping rhubard and preparing jars!
Yeah, I make this look gooood...

Tuesday Harvest

Hope everyone had a great holiday weekend!  Mine was pretty good, lots of food, puppies, dirt, and lake water left me feeling exhausted but satisfied.  Back to real life.  Mine unfortunately includes unemployment.  I'm trying to make the most of all my free time but it still kinda sucks.  You'll be hearing a lot more from me in the near future, I'll bet.

Aaaand the harvest.  WE GOT TOMATOES!!!  Two of 'em.  That's two more than last year.  Oh, and I think it might be zucchini bread time.  How do 3-pound zucchinis hide from us?  They're enormous.  Camouflage is the name of the game, people.

The jalapeno is a little smaller than the last one, but I'm sure deliciously spicy nonetheless.  The blackberries are not from my backyard, they're thanks to my awesome parents who got them at Hamlin park yesterday.  We've been picking a ton lately, more on that and the rhubarb later.

Until next time!

P.S. There's a squirrel in my apple tree above my head who I'm convinced was trying to kill me earlier.  It was right above me dropping large apples like bombs.  Now it has finally settled on one and is eating it while dropping little bits that Frannie is gobbling up as they fall.  Freakin' adorable.
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