Wednesday, February 29, 2012

the beauty of un-pretty things

Melting snow is exposing what has been covered for months now, and all this unearthing is showing the not-so-pretty side of things. Add to the mix our ongoing saga of extreme winds, and things appear to be in quite a state of disarray - leaning fence posts, snapped support structures, bent wire, odds and ends strewn about.

I had an hour of time today in which I intended to get outside and make a small dent in our ever-growing list of projects to get ready for spring. You know the kind? Where you set out to once and for all tame this wild beast of Nature, and restore order to the chaos that is your land? Right. Spring cleaning for the outdoors, only a silly person like me would contemplate the possibility and necessity of it!

And as I walked around outside on this beautiful day, pulled in so many different directions and a bit frenzied at the start, I came to realize how im-possible and truly un-necessary it is to impose too much order on this place. It's a bit wild, and I'm starting to really like it that way. Projects are always in the works, and I'm beginning to be okay with the prospect of certain things never being truly finished. Un-pretty things abound, and I'm learning to see the purposeful beauty in this.

Monday, February 27, 2012

in my kitchen {simplicity style}

This is often the time of year when inspiration in the kitchen is hard to come by for me. As much as I love potatoes and root vegetables, I tend to get in a winter cooking rut when there's no farmer's market or garden abundance in sight for at least another 2 months. So, oftentimes it helps to just keep things simple, and strive to embrace the simplicity that makes the eventual return of the spring growing season all the more cherished when it does arrive.

And speaking of embracing, I'm now officially, completely, and utterly in love with homemade mayo! My current favorite (simple) lunch is roasted chicken salad with lots of mayo. If it was summer and I had a fresh cucumber, I would slice it up and make little tea sandwiches with this mayo-filled chicken salad. But even in winter, with just a bit of celery, it is SO good.

It's also now officially Lent, which for us here means meatless Fridays. Although, for reasons I'm still not quite certain of, fish does not qualify as "meat," so really, what we have are "fish Fridays."

Here's a simple Lenten (or anytime) recipe:

Fried fish with an Asian twist

1. Coat fish fillets (any white fish will do - typically I use tilapia) in a mixture of flour, salt, and cayenne pepper

2. Deep fry for 10-15 minutes

3. Top with julienned fresh ginger and sweet chili sauce

4. Eat with rice and your choice of veggies. Stir fried cabbage with onions, garlic, and fish sauce complements this nicely.

Wishing you all a week filled with simple and tasty eats.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

garlic tea for the garden

I recently noticed some little bugs attacking my house plants and indoor citrus trees, so I whipped up a batch of garlic tea to help me combat the problem. I forget where I first learned about this, but I've been using it for years now to help with pest control on plants both inside and out. It's best used as a preventative measure or when you catch an infestation in the early stages, but it's a simple and organic way to keep plants from being bad bug dinner.

How to make Garlic Tea:

1. Blend up 3 or 4 garlic cloves (leave the paper skins on) with about 1/2 Cup of water

2. Strain the concentrated liquid through a coffee filter. I squeeze it gently to speed up the process.

3. Add the concentrated liquid to a gallon jug, and fill with water

4. Keeps in the refrigerator for about a week, or can be frozen in ice cube trays for later use
5. For small jobs, put the tea in a spray bottle and spray down plant leaves. For big jobs, such as in the garden, I use one of those tank sprayers (the ones for staining fences).

A few notes for garden use:

-I spray once a week in spring when I first plant, and then just every so often throughout summer or when I notice a problem

-I spray early or late in the day, but I try not to spray when the bees are out and about

-The spray doesn't seem to keep away the beneficial insects - I've still seen ladybugs in the garden after using it. (Although you know what they say; if you've got ladybugs it means you have aphids!)

-Although this spray has worked very well for me, I've had limited success with keeping cabbage butterflies away with garlic tea, but planting herbs like oregano around the cabbage helps, as does removing any larvae you see under the leaves. 

Do you use natural pest control in the garden, too?

Friday, February 24, 2012

{this moment}

Joining Soulemama for: "{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

what we're (hopefully) growing this year

After many late nights of this:

 And time passing all too quickly as my baby makes her first genuine attempt at crawling:

(note that she's shown little interest in crawling toward anything but this. Oh yeah, that's my girl!)

I've finally placed the last of my seed orders.

It's always a strange process for me, this planning stage. I seem to go through a whole spectrum of emotions - there's the initial excitement, elation really, at all the amazing possibilities. Then there's the deciding/fretting bit, which is quickly followed by the burnout phase and the accompanying "oh no, what have I gotten myself into" fear of complete and utter failure thing, and finally it all seems to culminate in the deep breath of a hopeful prayer. It's wonderfully exhausting work, and I haven't even taken a shovel to the soil yet!

This will be our first full year of planting here, so naturally I have high hopes, but am also trying to ground myself in the knowledge that first years are often the learning ones. So, I'm planting some things I've had success with in the past, some things my research tells me should do well here, and some things that will likely push the boundaries a bit! My foremost goal, though, is to grow the things we want to eat. I often consider what ingredients I need for making our favorite meals, and this guides my thinking about what to plant. 

Some orders have already arrived, and others will be trickling in over the next few weeks. This year I'm growing things from my collection of saved seeds, and most of my new seeds are coming from Baker's Creek and Fedco. My garlic and potatoes are from The Potato Garden, and I'm experimenting with a garden for the chickens with a poultry package from Sustainable Seed Company.

So, you want to know what we plan to grow this year? I put a tab under the banner so you can see my running list

Wherever your own planting journey finds you this time of year, I hope it's a good one.

Monday, February 20, 2012

a little re-purposing

I'm beginning to learn that keeping house is very much about problem-solving - Seeing a need and figuring out a solution. Gone are the days where I look for a store-bought solution, and here right now are the ones where I do my best to use what I have. So, in the spirit of thrift and creativity, there's been a little re-purposing going on around here! 

My first problem was that welcoming the baby to the table for family meals, albeit wonderful and adorable and fun, is also very messy. At first, I had a little wool cover (that was originally intended to fit over a changing table pad) which I put in her highchair as a cushion. But it quickly became apparent that washing sticky bits from the wool was not the easiest or best solution. So now I have an old washable cotton car seat liner placed over the wool. Baby still gets a nice cushy spot to eat, but I don't spend hours picking at wool (and by that, I mean the un-fun kind of picking at wool).

Another recent need is a place to store my extra laundry powder so I could make big batches at a time and have easy access to it. This old metal milk crate turned out to be a great solution, and it's fun to see such a charming old thing sitting on top of the washer.  

Next up is my on-going and ever-growing problem of how to contain kitchen scraps before they're brought out to the animals or compost. I've used bowls, but they're cumbersome without any handles. I've used bags, but they leak and are wasteful. I've used buckets, but they're quite large to sit on the counter, don't have lids, and before you know it, there are little fruit flies in your kitchen (even in winter!). I needed some reasonably-sized containers with lids and handles that could be dumped, rinsed out, and re-used. As luck would have it, my mom had been given this set of canisters as a gift awhile back. She didn't have a used for them, so she gave them to me! With a little labeling and the making of make-shift handles with a drill and some chicken wire, I think they will work out beautifully.     

A little re-purposing. A whole lot of satisfaction.  

Friday, February 17, 2012

{this moment}

Joining Soulemama for: "{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

a lesson from little red

This little red hen wants to be a mommy. She was in the nest box all morning long, clutching at all the eggs others had laid there and then recklessly abandoned. She goes broody, this one, every other month or so, and I have to gently nudge her out of the nest and off the eggs she's doing so well to keep warm. In spring, I'm going to let her sit and hatch eggs to her heart's content. But winter here is not the best time for little chickies, I'm afraid. 

I wish I would accept gentle nudges to wait or to change course as graciously as she does - With only the slightest protest, a little ruffle of my feathers, dusting off of my beak, and a dignified strut over to rejoin the others.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

homemade mayonnaise: the trial and error edition

I've tried making mayonnaise at home so many different ways; whole eggs versus yolks only; dry mustard, Dijon mustard, no mustard; all olive oil, half olive oil, half canola oil; vinegar instead of lemon juice; by hand and by blender; black pepper or no pepper. You get the idea. And the thing is, I've never really been happy with it. It either tastes too overwhelmingly olive-oily or has a hint of too spicy bitterness as an aftertaste from the mustard, or is just otherwise "off."

Perhaps I'm too picky. Or maybe growing up on "un-mayonnaise" (a.k.a. "Miracle Whip") has ruined me for life, and I have no concept of what real mayonnaise is supposed to taste like. I don't know. All I know is that I have daily fresh eggs and a potted lemon tree, and therefore I really can't bring myself to get store-bought mayonnaise that I know has inferior quality ingredients. I'm certain this makes me a mayonnaise snob.

And being a mayonnaise snob means I - ahem - am running out of money for organic oil by the cup for my little experiments.

A beautifully-textured whole-egg blender mayo. It looks great and
Look at the color of this egg yolk mayo! Gorgeous! Too bad I broke it :( That means my emulsion separated because I added to much oil at once, I think.
My current version, which is much, much better. I won't say it's perfect, but it saves me from avoiding recipes with mayonnaise in them.

Here's my ever-evolving homemade mayonnaise recipe, which I'm giving you mostly as a way to solicit your opinions and advice:

1 whole egg, at room temperature
a dash of salt
1-2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-2 teaspoons honey
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Up to 1 Cup of oil (3/4 Canola, 1/4 Extra Virgin Olive Oil)

1. Add the egg, salt, and about half of the lemon juice to the bowl of your food processor.

2. Blend for a minute or so.

3. Begin adding about half of the oil very slowly in a thin stream.

3. Continuing to blend, add half of the Dijon mustard and honey.

4. Slowly add the remaining oil until the mayonnaise is your desired thickness.

5. Stop blending and taste. Add more salt, lemon juice, honey, or mustard as you see fit. Blend another 30 seconds or so after any additions.
Do you make your own mayonnaise, friends? Would you be willing to share your thoughts and tips?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

in my kitchen

It's been a busy week in the kitchen here, trying some new things and remembering some old.

Here's a look at what I've been up to! This week, I:

:captured the elusive sun in a pitcher of tea

:experimented with ground up egg shells for the chickens (and found the grinding very therapeutic)

:made a stir fry with the last winter vegetables

:turned apples into applesauce for the baby girl

:peeked over to glimpse the ever-blossoming baby-doggie bonding

What's cookin' in your kitchen these days?

Friday, February 10, 2012

adventures in butter-making

I'm learning how to make butter. It's actually quite simple, but as with all new things, it takes a bit of practice to feel comfortable with the process. Sometimes I get so caught up in the researching of a new skill, that I work myself up into thinking it's too complicated. And then, when I decide to put down the books and just do it already, I'm left wondering what I made such a fuss about! And so it was with my recent butter-making adventure.

note: try to refrain from licking the buttery goodness (from your utensils, fingers...the bowl) between each step. Do as I say, not as I do.

1. Let a pint of fresh heavy cream sit out on the counter for an hour or so until it comes to room temperature or thereabouts.

2. Using a food processor, blend the cream for 5+ minutes until the solids and liquids separate.

3. Drain solids in a strainer, over a bowl, for a few minutes. Collect and save the liquid from the bowl - it's buttermilk!

4. Transfer the butter to a bowl and rinse it a few times.

5.  Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

6. Squeeze as much remaining liquid out of your butter as possible.

First I tried this:

And then this:

(yes, that's a hand print)

And this:

And finally back to this:

I'm not sure what the best way is for this last step, although kneading and squeezing it with my hands seemed to get the most liquid out. It was a bit slippery, though.

But in the end, there it was: Butter! Lick away.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

a pumpkin for the chickens

My nephew, who is always looking for something to give to the animals, had an extra (extra large!) pumpkin that was never carved as intended back in October. It sat and sat in our cold mud room until I could get around to cutting it up and distributing it among the goats. But then I read how very good pumpkin is for the chickens, and decided this would be a welcome fresh treat for them during these snow-covered winter weeks.

When I cut up this huge pumpkin, it reminded me of the story James and the Giant Peach. Couldn't you just imagine a community of talking bugs living in here, waiting to take you on some great adventure?

 The chickens devoured this beast of a squash as soon as I brought it over.

So as not to let me forget how very much they love pumpkin too, the goats called and called until I brought them the other half to share.

I'm planting extra pumpkin seeds in the garden this year, that's for sure!
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