Sunday, June 3, 2012

Summer Joys

There are some things that should never be eaten out of season. One of them is yellow squash.

I have several delicious recipes for this wonderful, bright vegetable (or perhaps it's a fruit), but my favorite is very simple.

Speckled Yellow Squash

Pick one medium to small tender squash for each person eating. If the plants get ahead of you, it is better to pick the older mealy squashes and just compost them, than it is to try and save them and eat them. The more you pick from the squash plant, the more it will produce.

Rinse the squashes quickly under cool water just brushing off any little hairs and dirt from the garden. Slice it about 1/2 centimeter thick  and put the blossom end and the stem end in your compost bucket. Peel and Chop 1/2 of a medium sized yellow onion for each squash. Melt 1 teaspoon of lard or bacon fat in the bottom of a heavy cast iron pan, skillet, or pot on medium heat. Add the onion to the hot grease, and saute until just beginning to go translucent. Add the squash slices and sprinkle with sea salt to taste and continue to saute this until just limp and onions are sweet. Spoon mixture into a bowl and top with one teaspoon to 2 tablespoons of pesto (freshly made if possible). Stir to spread those green sprinkles. Serve hot as a side for grilled steak, chicken or pork.

Favorite Pesto

The pesto recipe I like best does not have pine nuts. I use about a cup of basil leaves (from my own plant), about 2 cloves (or more) or fresh garlic, 1/2 cup of soaked and dried walnut meats (from my walnut trees)*, 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon of olive oil (or 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of walnut oil), 1 teaspoon of sea salt, 1 teaspoon of whey (left from making yogurt cheese). Blend in the food processor until really mushy. Pack into a small glass jar and either leave out over night to start fermentation or pop it into the frig. A little of this goes a very long way.

I also like to use the pesto as a spread on burgers or steak.

* I've also used soaked and dried pecans when I ran out of walnuts.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Where does your food come from?

Yesterday I took the day off from work and traveled to Fredericksburg to attend a 4-H Livestock Auction. My friend, Emily, her husband and their flock of children are all very involved in two things: raising pastured beef cattle and 4-H. They invited some special guests to come to the show and auction and a buyer's barbeque to support their kids' efforts and with the hope of at least breaking even on the effort of raising these creatures to market size.

It was my first time attending a livestock auction. It probably won't be my last.

I confess I missed the early morning Showmanship for the pigs and the cattle because I took advantage of having the whole day off and the trip to Fredericksburg and ran a couple of errands first. But I did get to watch the Showmanship presentations for the lambs and goats. I was able to walk around in the lower level of the auction house and meet all the animals and talked to a good number of young people about the animals they had raised. I went upstairs in the auction house and got registered and was given my bidders ticket (a card with your number on it).

After the kids had shown off their ring skills and the judge had determined which animals were closest to the the ideal for market and the ribbons were awarded; the entire even was dismantled. The show ring was taken apart, all the tents were folded up, the deep layer of mulch was pushed into a giant pile by a little tractor and suddenly, the parking lot got twice as big and everyone's thoughts turned to the business aspect of this event.

But first we got to eat. Everyone present headed off to the Buyer's Barbeque where we were joined by even more people. This event was catered and featured two different kinds of barbeque (pork and beef) and slaw and macaroni salad, beverages and some condiments. It was all freshly prepared. I skipped the macaroni and the buns, but sampled both BBQs and the slaw.

Then, we all went back to the auction house. I could not help but think of the Roman Gladiators as I settled myself high up in the stands that surrounded the pit. The pit is about 15 feet across, may less. It is backed by the auctioneers platform and there is an entry gate on their left and and exit on their right. the space runs across the front of them in a semi-circle. Down in this pit were three men who were assistants to the auctioneer and who helped identify bidders and then who worked those bidders to bring the prices higher.

The animals were brought into the ring by the young person who raised them. They were introduced and the bidding began. Being a 4-H event, many of the participants recruited bidders and local businesses from the various counties represented attended the event including banks, utility companies, farm insurance companies and others. They came with a set amount of money that they could donate to the cause of supporting these young people and their programs, and it was a generous amount for bids on many of the animals soared into the thousands of dollars very quickly. There was on very cute young lady with a very homely goat weighing in at about 100 pounds who fetched in about $1100. It was both impressive and frightening because I wanted badly to bring home affordable, but high quality meat for my family.

Fortunately, the bidders brought in by the Simpson family, who I was there to support, arranged for everyone there to bid on very specific animals. In the end, despite other animals bringing in upwards of $5 or $7 a pound, I bid and won at just $1.50 a pound. There was tax added on but in the end, I had a lovely pastured steer weighing in at 1185 on the hoof for a total price of $1821.94.

The Simpsons provided transport from the auction to the butcher in Faulkier County the next morning. Emily Simpson worked with me over the phone the week before to set up the cut sheet for the butcher and I will be calling tomorrow to find out what the final hang weight is going to be. The butcher charges a kill fee around $50 and then charges a processing fee somewhere around 45 cents a pound. Emily advises that the hang weight is normally around 50 to 60 percent of the live weight. So, I'm hoping for about 600 pounds of meat in the end.

This will be split with my sister and then, out of my half, my parents want some and my friend in D.C. also wants to purchase some. If we get a decent amount out of it, we will give it another go next year.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Steer Auction coming up

I have commited to purchasing a whole steer. I'm scared to death. This is a huge investment. My sister has commited to purchasing 1/4 of this critter from me. I had orginally committed to buying 1/2 a steer from the child of a friend of mine (4H kid). But seeing how quickly Ken and went through 1/2 a lamb and 1/2 a hog, I realised we really needed more than 1/4 of a steer.

The auction is Wednesday, May 9th. I've taken the day off from work so I can go out there early and get my feet on the ground.  One the steer is purchased, it will be shipped off the processor and made into meat.

It will be interesting to see if I can get a whole steer in my freezer (we are talking somewhere around 1300 pounds of meat!) My sister will come and pick up 1/4th of it but it will still be a lot of meat in the freezer. But since my cost is going to be somewhere around $2 a pound plus processing, I'm feeling that I'm getting a good deal on organic, pastured beef.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Garden Progress

We planted very early this year. But it has been, over all, unusually warm this year.

We are also managing three different gardens (well, four, if you count the flower gardens).

I'm hoping to also toss together a quick and dirty herb garden using a simple raised bed. Ken is thinking seriously of expanding our vegetable gardening at the last minute by expanding the straw bales. He really wants to put in more green beans, peppers and egg plants.

I had hoped we would be eating lettuce by now, but we've had a spell of cold and dry weather that is seeing temperature dips into the mid 30s (just above freezing), and daytime temps in the mid 60s. Stuff has sprouted but appears to be waiting for a stretch of deeper warmth. We've been covering the tomatoes and hot peppers at night with a tarp but while they are surviving, they seem to have stalled in upward growth for now.

My purple cabbages are doing the best and in the garden in the front of the house with a southern exposure and protection from the house to the north, one row of squashes have come up and and the other row just hasn't. Rather odd. The cauliflowers there are doing very well.

I planted spinach in pots last week. I probably should have put it in before or at the same time as the lettuce, but it will be interesting to see if potted greens do better or the same or differently from the straw bale grown.

In the root garden, which was covered in cut hay most of the winter (it was one of the sites where we fed the sheep), the ground is staying moist despite drought. We've not had rain in over two weeks and none is expected for a least another five days. This garden used to be my herb garden and was deeply enriched over the years with compost and mulch. It is in this area we planted all of our root vegetables this year: parsnips, carrots, beets, turnips and radishes. We also stuck up and trellis in the middle and put in some cucumbers. The beets have come up and the the turnips and radishes are just starting to poke up. There is no sign yet of anything else, but I think the ground is still cold.

From the perspective of the worm

I found this short talk very interesting:

Different Perspectives

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pulled Pork and Purple Cabbage and Pinching Pennies

Last year I failed to use all of my annual leave from my job. I actually had to give up leave I had earned because I did not use it all in time. My boss told me that this is not acceptable as my mental health is more important than my finishing a report. Okay. I believe her. She's been doing this work longer than I have.

So this year, I put in for one Friday off each month along with my normal family vacations. Even to me this sounds like a lot of vacation time. But, I've been working a high stress job with the same organization since 1993 and due to budget cuts haven't seen a raise in over 5 years. To be honest, had I not gotten a promotion, back in 2006, I would still be making the same rate of pay I was making then. Basically, the state employees have not seen a raise in over 10 years. So, I'm glad I have vacation time that I earn each year.

So, what does all that have to do with this blog? Well two things, I can take one Friday each month and work on food prep; that's 12 extra days a year I did not have before to take care of large food prep issues like canning tomato sauce, butchering meat, planting gardens, etc. It also means that I need to do all of my food prep on a budget. A budget that is getting tighter due to rising gas prices and an office that is not getting closer to home. I seriously need to sit down and crunch some numbers and figure out if early retirement might save money by cutting down on the clothing and gas costs. Heck, we might even be able to get down to one car which would be a huge money saver.

In the interest of pinching a penny, I decided that one of the pork roasts we recently put in the freezer from our purchase of 1/2 a pastured hog; needed to stretch out over several meals. Making pulled pork seemed to be the first step in this and the plan became to make four meals for 2 people from one 2 pound pork roast.

This adventure in fine dining started yesterday with pulled pork. The roast, still frozen, was put into the slow cooker with the following ingredients:
  • 1 cup of cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup vermouth
  • 1/2 cup mead (had some left over)
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper (I should have put more)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
Went in on high for four hours and then dropped to low for four hours. No peeking. Just turn it down midway through the process. At the end of 8 hours, I took it out and cut it into four pieces.

The four planned meals are: Barbeque Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Fermented Red Cabbage, Pork Perogies, Pork stirfy with veggies, and Pork Egg Fu Yong.

So the first meal is the Barbequed pulled pork sandwiches with Red Cabbage Ferment.

Red Cabbage Ferment lives in my frig at all times. It is my go-to condiment when I need a ferment for a meal. In this case, I also get to use fermented Ketchup. I pulled the pork meat apart with forks and pulled out the very large bits of fat and minced them and stirred them back into the meat. This goes into the oven on warm while I prepare the sauce.

So, to make the BBQ sauce:

1 cup of fermented ketchup
1 teaspoon of liquid smoke (I make my own soy free version and will share that recipe later)
1 tablespoon of organic tomato paste
1 tablespoon of raw honey
1 tablespoon of blackstrap molassas
1 teaspoon of ginger minced very fine
1 teaspoon of hot sauce or cayenne pepper (I used the pepper)
2 teaspoons of minced garlic\
2 tablespoons of cider or fruit vinegar (I like cherry vinegar myself)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix with a whisk. Taste. If too tart, add more honey; if too sweet, add more vinegar. If you are grilling with this, you may want to add more honey because it will carmelize in the heat and become thick and crunchy and wonderful but lose some of it's sweetness.  In this case, I'm just using it as is and stirring through the pulled pork.

To plate this dish for presentation as they say in the foodie world: Put down a layer (1/2 cup or so) of the red cabbage ferment on the plate. Put a cup of the sauced pork on top. Mince up some fresh parsley and sprinkle over the top. Put two or three homemade bread and butter pickles on the side with carrot and celery sticks. If you have a bread eater in the house, toast up a sourdough bun and spread it with a little brown mustard and serve it on the side. Diner gets to assemble his or her own sandwich. In my case, since I've given up bread, I just stirred the red cabbage into the pork and ate it straight off the plate. I also gave myself extra pickles and veggies. Good eats.

Serve with a dark beer or lemonaide or mix the beer and lemonaide and make a Shandy.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Purple hands and baby plants

It's been an interesting Winter. We had, for us, an early hard frost just before Halloween (or as I call it, Samhain - Pronounced "Sow-wain".). Then, it seems like there was to be no snow. We finally got about two inches which did not stick on the road at all but was pretty to look at. That came at the very end of February. Then it decided to get warm. Today, St. Patrick's Day, is 84 degrees! So here we are, mid-way through March and my husband and I planted out tomatoes today. When I first moved here 22 years ago, we did not dare to put out tomato plants until Mother's Day. We may still get a cold snap, but a sheet of plastic is at ready to cover the plants we put in today. In any case, I really am beginning to feel like global warming has come to Virginia and perhaps I can now grow things like Brussels sprouts and pineapple.

So, what is in our straw bale garden?
  • 15 tomato plants (all but 3 are paste tomotos to be made into sauces, catsup and chopped.)
  • 4 Cayenne Pepper plants. I will dry the peppers for use throughout the year.
  • 6 green cabbages
  • 6 purple cabbages
  • 6 broccoli plants (there are six more not yet ready to be planted out)
  • 6 cauliflower plants
  • 6 celery (with 6 more in the wings for round 2)
  • a 4 foot row of butter beans (Ken's favorite)
  • a 4 foot row of bush green beans
  • a 6 row of sugar snap peas
  • a 6 row of flat peas. These are actually planted one on each side of a support net.
  • a 6 foot row of butter crunch lettuce
  • 12 collard plants
  • 12 kale plants
  • a 4 foot row of sorrel
  • a 4 foot row of winter crunch lettuce
What we will be planting in the garden on the ground (formally an herb garden consumed completely the by sheep) will be our ground plants: carrots, yellow onions, red onions, garlic, leeks, parsnips, turnips, beets, and potatoes. In the front garden bed where we thought we were going to have spring flowers this year, but which failed to appear, we are going to plant all of our vine type plants: cucumber, summer squash, butternut squash, pumpkin, and acorn squash. At the ends will go the zucchini plants. All of the herbs (basil, dill, parsley and thyme,etc) we will tuck in among the flowers. I may stick a few odd cucumbers into the flower gardens as well for ground cover and just a few more sources for making pickles. Most of my flowers are either medicinal or dye plants anyway. We eat the flower buds from the daylilies by stuffing them with sausage, dipping in an egg batter and frying them. The rose petals are collected and dried and sometimes find their ways into beverages or as decorations on desserts.

I hope to also have a fall garden with some root veggies and things like cabbages surviving under row covers well into December.

As things are harvested, if we can't eat them, I will blanch and freeze or, in the case of kale, sorrel,  and collards, dry and add to soups and stews all winter.

Oh, and the purple hands? Our Spring has not exactly been dry. Soggy would be a better descriptor. As a result, my poor sheep have been standing on damp ground since December and their hooves (really just toenails) have grown and become very soft due to the moisture. As a result, there seems to be a touch of foot fungus when I looked at their feet last weekend. Ken helped me upend them today so I could clip their overgrown toenails and while they actually looked pretty good and free of fungus today; I took the precautionary step of spraying their newly trimmed feet with Blue Cote (it's a fungicide and also a treatment for wounds). As usual, I managed to get more on myself than the sheep so now both of my hands are dark purple and no matter how hard I scrub, the stuff just doesn't want to come off. I"m hoping it will have at least faded by Monday when I go back to work.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Don't be a sour puss about vinegar

I've read several folks disparage pickles made with vinegar. I'm not sure why. I suspect it's because they are using dead vinegar. Or, they are using the wrong kind of vinegar to pickle. Cider loves cucumbers and that's all that needs to be said about it.

Many living foods like Kefir, Kombucha, and Yogurt, buttermilk and others have their own culture. Like sour dough starter, vinegar culture, is probably floating around in the air of your home.

I love vinegar and use it in many recipes: salad dressing, marinade for meat and fish,as an  ingredient in salsa or other chutney. It can be used to help a non-yeasted bread rise.

So, how do you start your vinegar? The fully developed culture is called a "mother", by the way, and can be used as a fast start for your next batch. But you don't have to have a mother to grow vinegar.

Okay, this sounds rather simplistic, but I always start a new batch with a good bottle of wine. Many wines already have a vinegar culture included and you will know one as soon as you open a bottle of wine that has "turned." But what if you don't want to wait to find that "off" bottle of wine vinegar? I say harvest it yourself.

If you want white vinegar, use white wine; if you want red, use a red wine. You want apple cider vinegar? Use apple cider! I have also made vinegar from left over mead (which is a honey wine). My most favorite vinegar for salad dressing uses a base of blackberry mead. I plan to use some of our next batch of strawberry mead for a vinegar if I can manage to smuggle away a bottle of it before the hoards guzzle it down.

Now, here is where I sound a bit mad. As a home brewer of mead, Kombucha and Kefir; and sour dough starters in addition to all the various vegetable ferments we eat; I have discovered there are way too many odd yeast bestiaries milling around in my kitchen. The vinegar bestiaries, literally are crowded out and do not thrive inside my kitchen. So, I raise my vinegars in my shed. This is the same area that is occupied by the sheep, so I have to be careful that the vinegar is tucked away safe and left alone while it grows.

I'm not sure, but I believe that like a certain cheeses or sour doughs, the secret to success is location, location, location. Some molds and yeast just gravitate toward certain environments. I've grown vinegar mothers successfully in my bedroom as well. But the best tasting ones come from the sheep shed.

So, how do I grow the mother? If starting without an existing mother, I pour an entire bottle of wine/cider/mead into a gallon glass jar across the back of a wooden spoon to make sure it is well exposed to the air. Then, I may even whisk it a little to get some nice air bubbles into it, or put a lid on and shake it really well. I normally perform this trick in my kitchen, but I have done it while balancing the jar on a board set across the wheelbarrow in the sheep pasture.

Then I take a linen napkins or handkerchief (I buy antique ones to use for these antique food brewing methods because I know they are really linen and not some odd plastic fabric), and tie it down with a big rubber band or a bit of twine. Then the jar goes out to the shed and is tucked in between two bales of straw up on a shelf back in the corner. I leave it there for about 2 weeks.

After two weeks I give it the sniff test. If it smells more like vinegar than wine, I start to believe we are getting somewhere. I hold the jar up and look through the liquid. I'm looking for some of those floating weird looking yeastie things you see in a Kombucha batch. They look rather like floating man-of-wars with a few tendrils hanging down. This will eventually grow into a full blown mother.

If I want a mild vinegar, I can bring it in and bottle it (usually into pint jars but sometimes quarts). I put on a top and set it in my pantry.. Shutting down the oxygen seems to slow the process at this point. If I want a strong vinegar, I may add a little more wine or boiled/cooled water and let it keep growing.

A fully developed mother looks and feels like a slime football. It floats around in the middle of the vinegar that feeds it and will eventually stop growing. You can pull out the mother and pull her apart or separate with wooden spoons and share her with friends. Having a mother already established makes vinegar growing very easy and much faster. I've had one mother live in red wine for about 8 years now even though she has been ceremoniously cut up into pieces annually. I just put a hunk of her back in the jar and pour another bottle of wine over her after harvesting the last bottle she transformed.

I have more trouble with the cider mothers but they also seem to like my sheep house. The whites are the fussiest and only want to live in my bedroom; but they are the divas.

The vinegar will grow the fastest in warm weather. It seems to stop completely when it gets cold. It does not like to freeze, so I bring them into the house and they live in my laundry room in the winter.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Chili and Chocolate

The weather here has finally decided to become seasonal. At least for a day or two we are experiencing cold air and stuff coming out of the sky. With any luck, we will see a nice little dusting of snow tonight. After that we are back to Spring like temperatures. But to celebrate our winter, I decided I would make Chili.I make mine in stages and add ingredients at several times throughout the cooking period of four hours. That's why I don't toss it all into a crock-pot at the beginning of the day and walk away. If you have a weekend afternoon at home, and want a deeply warming and filling meal. But this is definitely a one pot, one cutting board, one chef knife and a wooden spoon kind of a meal. Easy clean up is always a plus in my book. I don't think you can do much better than a big bowl of chili topped off with freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese and an ice cold beer after a day of fixing fences or some other vigorous outdoor activity in the cold. .

So, what's with the chocolate? I guess I make a Peruvian version; or at least a South American version, because I like to add some coco to my chili. Like a mole sauce. I can't figure out how to get that accent over the e on the mole, but believe me, with this dish, it's there.

If you are eating locally, and you've grown a garden the previous year with most of these ingredients, you are in pretty good shape. You can use dried celery in this dish. Just soak it in the wine for about an hour before starting. The only "out of town" ingredients in this for me, is the sea salt and coco powder, but the brand I have is free trade. I got the corn grits from the gift shop at Strafford Hall. Locally grown and locally ground. I keep hoping they will grind other grains as well. Since I live at the Chesapeake Bay, I'm going to keep seeking ways to get salt locally. Seems like there should be a way.

feeds 4

1 pound Pastured ground beef
1 teaspoon of bacon grease if needed (see below)
1 pint beef bone broth
2 large yellow onions, chopped large
1 stalk of celery with leaves, chopped fine
3 small garlic cloves, minced very fine
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup corn grits
2 tablespoons real butter
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons of organic coco powder
Sea salt to taste
1 jalapeno pepper (set aside for now)
1 to 2 cups of shredded sharp cheese  (set aside for now)

Okay, First of all, this list is out of order, so follow me along here. The pastured beef should be fairly lean, start out browning it in a large cast iron pot. If it is too dry, add 1 teaspoon of bacon grease. When the meat is about halfway cooked, add your celery and onion. Cook them over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Now, add the minced garlic. Stir until you can just smell it start to sweeten, don't brown the garlic or it will become bitter. Now add your red wine. Stir it in well, turn the heat to low, put the lid on the pot, and walk away for 1/2 hour.

Pull all your seasoning together including the coco powder, but not the jalapeno. Sprinkle all the seasoning over the now, very mellow meat and veggie mixture. Stir it in well and then add the beef broth. Taste it. Add a little salt. Put the lid on and let it simmer on low or med low for about an hour. Come back and again taste for the salt. If it needs more, add it at this time. Again, let the mixture heat on low for about a two hours.

Okay, you are getting close to meal time (about an hour out) and folks are starting to ask about what smells so good. Now, it's time to add the jalapeno. Cut off the stem. Split it down the middle. If you know you and everyone you are feeding likes it HOT, mince up everything including the seeds and just toss it into the chili and stir. If you aren't sure, scrap out the seeds. Put them aside. Very finely mince the jalapeno pepper. Add two teaspoons to the chili. Stir. Taste. Taste again in about 15 minutes. If it's not hot enough, add another teaspoon or two and keep adding every 15 minutes or so until you are happy. If it's good for you, put the rest of the minced pepper in a small jar and top it off with a nice vinegar. Store in the frig. You can use it to pep up other meals as needed. If you like your chili mild, but you have a heat seeker in your family, leave out the minced jalapeno next to the cheddar cheese and they can add their own version of hot when they get their bowl for dinner.

You will have noted long before this, that this chili seems sort of runny. One half hour before you serve, stir in the corn grits. Put the lid on. Keep temperature on low. The grits will thicken the chili and add quite a bit of substance with a minimal of carbs -- you are, after all, splitting one serving of grits between four servings of chili.

Serve in big bowls and top with the shredded cheese.

If you cannot eat corn, decrease the broth to 1/2 pint. Add one tablespoon of Arrowroot powder at the same time you would have added the grits.

I serve this with canned figs topped with cream for dessert.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Wine and Cheese

I am most fortunate to know lots of wonderful people. One of my most favorite is the young lady who helped me challenge my notions about healthy eating and who introduced me to the Weston A. Price Foundation. I have not asked her permission to use her name, and she is a very private person, so let's just call her my angel and leave it at that.

Anyway, my angel and I decided that we needed to get together and visit some agricultural operations. We picked the new farm connected to Sally Fallon; the P.A. Bowen Farmstead. Now, my angel lives in Washington, D.C. and she is right in the heart of it. Following my GPS instructions, I got to tour some interesting parts of the inner city. It was interesting to me to see so many people outside on a dreary February Saturday morning. Where I live, you just don't see folks outside en masse. You might see one or two people tending to chores and perhaps some children out riding bikes in the yard, but you just don't see lots of people out walking places, leaning on porch rails and socializing outside in the dead of winter. I recognize that many of the people I saw may not even own cars and rely entirely on public transportation. I saw many of those rolling grocery carts being pushed along the sidewalks: some filled with laundry and some with groceries. Almost no one walked alone. It reminded me of the year I lived in Chicago and I suspect D.C. has moved strongly in that direction. My angel does not own a car and while she occasionally rents one, she relies on public transportation for 99% of her travels.

I knew that there would not be a farm tour on the day we were visiting the Bowen Farmstead, but we were primarily after groceries that we could not normally find at home. I was seeking chicken feet for use with my chicken stock. My angel was just looking for whatever looked good.

I did not see chicken feet in the freezer when we arrived, but I did find some scrapple (liver pudding) that had NO fillers! I cannot tell you how exciting that was. I did ask about the chicken feet and low and behold, the gentleman running the counter went back into the rear of the store and found me some. He also found some pastured chicken eggs for my angel. She stocked up on some of the frozen ground meats as well.

Then we sampled some of the farm cheese. Oh my, oh my! Wonderful raw milk stuff this was. I seem to remember sampling four different types. I purchased a wedge of Creamy Dreamy Cheddar and a wedge of Barely Blue. What I really liked was the arrangement in the refrigerator. Each wedge was lined up behind a dated label so you knew exactly when it had been processed and how long it had aged. Since the dairy herd is in it's resting period, these cheeses may be some of the last of last year's products. All the cheeses were aged over 60 days.

Also in the coolers was Kombucha. I purchased two bottles. Yes, I know, it was crazy; but they were flavors I had not yet found locally, I was thirsty and I didn't feel like going out to the car to find the bottles I had brought along.

But something was missing and my angel pointed out that with such wonderful cheeses, we needed wonderful wine. That's when we discovered a card on the country for a little winery, which the store fellow told us was not too far away.

Well, thank the Goddess for my little Magellan GPS or we would have been forever lost in the farmland of Eastern Maryland. But we did have faith in the little gadget and she did a stunningly good job of directing us to The Romano Winery. What's interesting is that the only clue that there may be a winery there are the neat rows of grapevines you see as you come around the corner. There was no sign. There was no obvious building that appeared to be a wine tasting room or even a production area. But there was a fellow on a tractor and we turned into the driveway and drove up the hill to what was clearly the family home. We drove past a garage like building that had a neat little collection of bee hives out front and I wondered if perhaps they also brewed mead.

We parked, got out and actually called the number on the card. The lady who answered the phone advised that they were not open today which we understood. But as we were discussing what we could do with out time next, up the driveway came the gentleman on the tractor. We told him how we had found the place and why we had come. He asked us to hold on for a moment, dashed into the house and returned a few moments later. He told us to just go right in and his wife would set up for us.

So, we rang the doorbell and were greeted by the most lovely person. Her name is Jo-Ann and it turns out that the chap on the tractor was her husband, Joseph. She welcomed us into her home and did an outstanding job of leading us through the tasting of their wines. I have to tell you, these folks have made some very good wines. My angel and I purchased several bottles. We also purchased honey. We got to visit their former garage, now converted into a production room. Neat folks. Neat place. Highly recommend it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Greens, glorious greens

My favorite side dish with meat is a salad.

I like to get some lettuce grown locally in one of those high tunnels. It's usually a mix of baby romaine, spinach, and some bib lettuces. Then I add some frozen green beans or peas. Yep. Frozen. I thaw them first, but they have already been blanched before freezing and are crunchy and bright green. I will then add some sprouts, cut up a raw turnip into julienne strips and then top it off with some mixed crispy nuts and a mix of cold expressed olive oil and kombucha or a nice red wine vinegar. Salt, pepper and dive in.

My second favorite side dish is turnip greens cooked at a low temperature with a little bacon, onion and a diced turnip.

Third favorite is collard greens with the stems removed and again cooked slowly with a little bacon fat, vinegar and salt and pepper.

Finally, I love to go out and walk the edges of the farm fields and pick something known locally as "cresses". I believe these are wild mustard greens. Picked young, they cook up tender and make wonderful additions to any soup or stew.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Have a heart... or two

When I purchased half a lamb from a local shepherd this Spring, I asked her if it was possible to get the liver, heart and kidneys. Since I was only getting half, I didn't know if the organs would be split between the purchasers. Turns out not many people know what to do with the organs.

I have to say, this was the best lamb I have ever eaten and this coming year Ken and I are purchasing a whole lamb and my sister is buying a half. 

But there is only one heart per animal that does not really provide enough for two people. So, the one lovely little heart I had remained frozen in my below 0 chest deep freezer.

But then I found a source for chicken, duck and turkey from another local farmer. Turns out this farmer also raises sheep and pigs. I asked if by any chance he had lamb liver, heart or kidneys. He did! When I offered to buy what he had, he gave it to me for free! He said no every asks for it. I told him I will take whatever the other don't want. We love innards! It helped that I purchased several chickens and a leg of lamb (for my mom). I will certainly go back, as all agreed that it was the best chicken any of us have ever eaten. I can't wait to try his duck.

There is always a back story here, it seems... but today I pulled out two hearts to thaw while I went to my spinning and weaving guild studio where I'm warping in preparation to weave some baby blankets. I had a notion to make stuffed heart as I made two loaves of sourdough bread yesterday and while they are actually fine and fairly light with nice air pockets, I should not have made two loaves but one to get the height my husband likes for his sandwich bread. So, I had two relatively flattish (is that a word), loaves of bread that taste fine, but make for small sandwiches and toast slices.

I have been trying to cut back on bread (carb) consumption to get my weight down. I've lost 4 pounds in two weeks, so I figured a little stuffing just today would not be too bad. I will leave the left overs to my hubby and I can go back on my diet tomorrow.

I was also more tired than I thought I would be after my work at the studio, so I did not bother to actually stuff the hearts. Instead I cut them into slices and layered them into a casserole.

Hearts for Two

2 lamb hearts - sliced
3 slices of bacon
1 stick of celery, chopped small
1 carrot, chopped fine
1/2 red onion chopped fine
3 button mushrooms, chopped (or mushroom you have available)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 slices of whole grain sourdough bread (day old is good), torn up
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons duck fat (or bacon fat)
2 teaspoons thyme (dry)
2 teaspoons parsley (dry)
1 healthy pinch of rubbed sage
1 cup broth (chicken, lamb or beef)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Put the torn up bread in a casserole dish that has a lid. Melt the duck fat in a heavy skillet. Chop up the veggies while that is melting. Add onion, celery and carrot and mushroom to the fat. Cook over medium heat until veggies are well wilted. Stir into bread. Put sliced heart into the skillet and add the garlic. Cook just until the heart starts to loose red coloring. Add red wine. Sprinkle thyme, parsley and sage over the stuffing while the meat is cooking. Add garlic, salt and pepper to the meat cook until there is no more pink in the heart (about 3 minutes more). Pour meat mixture over the bread. Pour broth into skillet and bring to a boil. Pour this over the heart and stuffing. Do not stir the heart into the stuffing. It should be a layer on top. Top the heart with  the raw bacon pieces. Put the lid on the casserole. Cook at 325 for 2 hours. If your casserole is very full, you may want to put it on a pan with an edge so you don't mess up your oven as it will bubble over

When done, scoop out onto plates. Serve with a green salad or lightly steamed green leafy vegetable or green beans.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

$125 for a year's worth of veggies

I just placed an order for seeds from Annie's Heirloom Seeds. Ken and I are going to try and grow all of our vegetable groceries for the coming year. We will still need to find places to fill our fruit needs, but assuming we have a decent year, we should have plenty of veggies.

We plan to plant a few things over at my parent's house as Mom and Dad are not able to do a lot of gardening themselves anymore, but have garden beds in place that just need some tending. It will give Ken and I a good excuse to go check on them at least every other day (they feel that they are being a bother to us when they are sick or need help, but they are my folks, after all...).

I think we will plant asparagus and some of the other long term veggies over there including some root veggies like turnips, carrots and some potatoes.

At our house we will be using our usual garden bed and double it's size. We are also going to do some experimental gardening by using straw bales for planting.

We both got into a bit of a giggle fit yesterday when I told him that I had put a gallon jar in the bathroom because it was going to be time soon to start collecting our pee for the straw bales. To read more about straw bale gardens read here. We would use the urine for the nitrogen for the straw bale conditioning. We also have two 25 gallon compost bins that are just about ready to be dumped out. I also have access to all the cow and or horse manure I could want.

I have learned with sheep is that they have great manure for composting, but it's a pain to collect the stuff. I use the deep bedding from their little house but they don't pee and poop in there much. I'm hoping to get more out of the shed this Spring since we have started feeding them in there each morning.

Over all, I think I got a pretty good deal on about 25 different vegetables all for $125. I still need to get the seeds started as soon as that package arrives and will need to invest in some potting soil, but I've been saving toilet paper and paper towel tubes for a year. These will be cut down and used, along with egg cartons, as starter pots. So, soon I will be engaged daily in nurturing the tiny green babies.

But how nice in the coming year to be able to grow almost all of my own veggie groceries for  the year for just a couple of hundred bucks. This is about 1/4 of what I pay for grocery store veggies for the year and about 1/3 of what I pay at an CSA. And I get to pick only what we want to eat and I will freeze, dry and can enough to get us through the winter. At least, this is the plan.

There are a few things I do not plan to grow: melons, corn, eggplant. We have not had luck with any of these veggies in years past, so I will buy these in season when I can find them at a good price organically.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mushroom Broth

I love mushrooms.

There is something magical about these fungi. I learned recently that we don't even see most of the mushroom, that what we eat is just the equivalent of the seed pod or flower of the actual mushroom. Most of the mushroom is the rotting stuff it's growing in. Tree mushrooms like oyster mushrooms, hen of the woods, and shitake grow inside the dying or dead tree. Like gossamer tentacles, the mushroom sends out feelers throughout the softening wood, helping to make it break down even more. When conditions are just right (temperature, moisture, light levels), the mushroom pushes out a cap or shelf that carries the mushroom's version of seeds.

Ground mushrooms, like puff balls, morels, and button mushrooms need just the right soil, light, temperature and moisture conditions to survive. Truffles actually never really reach the surface and must be dug up.

In any case, mushrooms do have some healing properties. They also provide minerals and vitamins.

I love freshly picked and gently washed or brushed mushrooms, sliced and sauteed in a little salted butter.

But one of the things I missed the most by removing commercially prepared foods from my diet, is condensed cream of mushroom soup. Crazy, huh?

So, what to do about it? Could I make it myself? Can you? Of course you can! But it is one of those food items that takes a long time and has several steps.

The first step is making mushroom broth. Right here you get to make a decision. Do you want vegetarian mushroom broth or beef based mushroom broth?

The difference is only in the liquid.

What kind of mushrooms do you want? Well, since I don't know what you have available, I'm just going to tell you it doesn't matter. Use the type you have the most available. Mix them up.  You can use mushrooms that are just a tad past prime, so you may be able to get them cheap!

Okay, so let's get started.

Mushroom Broth
  • 2 pounds of fresh mushrooms. 
  • 2 tablespoons of salted butter (pastured is best)
  • 2 cups of clean water or beef bone broth
  • 1 yellow onion, minced (optional)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced fine
Clean the mushrooms by gently brushing off the dirt. If really muddy, you can wash them with a quick rinse of water, but dry them immediately. Melt the butter in a large heavy pan (I like my cast iron stew pot for this) over low heat. Add the onion if you are going to use it. While those are starting to meld, chop the mushrooms (or not, if you like chunky soup).  Add mushrooms. Stir around a bit. Turn heat up one notch. Stir a bit more until the mushrooms start to sweat. Add the minced garlic. When you feel the first hunger pang, add the water or broth. Stir once or twice to unstick the bottom stuff.  Put the lid on the pot. Turn it back down on low and walk away for a hour. Come back and taste to make sure you are happy with the flavor. At this point I may add any or all of the following:

  • Salt
  • White pepper
  • Black pepper
  • Sherry or Red wine (or a beer or white wine or mead.... whatever I have on hand or in hand)
  • A very scant dash of Smoke
  • Paprika
  • Sage
  • Thyme
Stir in the additions you would like and stir, put the lid back on and walk away again for an hour.

Come back taste again. Make adjustments you feel are needed and then either eat it or ladle out into a glass container or containers (jars) and refrigerate. If you want to go the next step and make creamed soup, you will need to measure out 2 cups of mushroom broth. Put aside. Measure out one cup of milk or, if you want real decadance, 1/2 cup of cream and 1/2 cup of milk.

In your pan, melt a tablespoon of butter. Add a tablespoon of flour (wheat, rye, cornstarch, arrowroot powder,... whatever you use for thickening). Stir the flour into the melted butter. Add another teaspoon of butter or coconut oil. Stir over low to low medium heat until the flour absorbs all of the oil/butter and is just starting to toast. Pour in one cup of the broth. I use a whisk at this point to avoid lumps. As soon as this starts to thicken, add 1/2 of your dairy. Whisk, whisk... again, as soon as it starts to thicken, add more broth. Finally add the rest of your dairy and the remainder of the broth. Whisk, whisk, whisk... keep the stuff moving so it doesn't stick. Eventually, it will reach the thickness you want.

Mind you, this is not condensed cream of mushroom soup, so it won't be THAT thick.

Use this in your favorite recipe (green bean casserole, mushroom gravy, topping for baked chicken or meatloaf) or just eat it like soup.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Broth for Breakfast

I prefer to get my meat with bones included. Two reasons for this: the meat cooked with the bone in tastes better. And the second reason is that I can make broth from the bones.

Whenever we eat a hunk of meat with a large bone attached, my husband knows that he will see it again and he's finally learning to put it in the freezer with the rest of my left over bones. Turkey, chicken, duck, beef, lamb, and ham bones are all prized bits. Entire fowl have been known to become broth in my house. I use the left over bits of meat that come off as salad meat if it only gets a one day simmer. If it goes into a 3 day simmer, then it becomes pet food.

So a simple recipe: Put bones with bits of meat attached into a stainless steel stock pot with a lid. Chop a yellow onion in half -- don't peel it first. Toss in a stick of celery with leaves attached. Put in a teaspoon to a tablespoon of black pepper corns (don't grind them). Add a tablespoon of sea salt. Add a whole carrot. Just wash it, don't peel. DO NOT add cabbage, garlic or other strongly flavored vegetables. Add enough water to top the pot ingredients by 1 inch. You should get at least a gallon of water in there if not more. Add a 1/2 cup of strong vinegar. Put on the stock pot lid. Turn heat up to high until it reaches a boil. Give it a stir and turn the temperature down to medium low so it drops to a simmer. See if you can get the temperature even lower and keep it simmering. Put the lid on and go away.

Seriously just forget about this pot. Go walk the dog, visit your livestock, go to work. Eight hours later you can taste your stock.Stir it well and pour the fat off the top of your spoon.  The broth will probably feel a little "thin." Put the lid back on and let it keep working. Go to bed. Get up, stir, and taste the stock. If it still tastes "thin" add a cup of red wine or white wine or 1/2 cup of sherry. You can add a little oregano, savory, sage or a bay leaf at this point. Go away for another four hours. Stir and taste. Leave the lid off and let it go another 4 hours.

You can take it off the stove if your family insists at this point. They might because this stuff will smell like heaven and they will find themselves hungry for days and not really understand why. I like to try and go a full 72 hours simmering. At this point the bones actually have started to dissolve. All that wonderful calcium will go into the liquid.

Some folks like to clarify their broth. I don't worry about it. Pour the broth through a sieve into another large pot or bowl. If you want to can it, now is the time to do that. Meat broth must be pressure canned at 11 pounds pressure for 65 minutes if canned in pint sized jars. Don't water can meat broth. I also freeze broth in glass jars. I have lost a few jars to breakage doing this, but most of the time there is no problem.

I also will keep a large container (1/2 gallon jar) of broth in the frig for as long as it lasts. Some mornings I have a smoothie for breakfast with a raw pastured egg, raw milk yogurt and a little local honey, some frozen fruit or bit of fresh fruit. But I only have that in the summer. In the winter I have a mug of broth for breakfast. I heat about 1 1/2 cups on the stove and add a teaspoon of coconut oil and heat until the oil melts. I can drink it down and head off to work and be very happy until lunch.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Liver for Liver haters

When I was a kid, my mother dutifully cooked liver and onions every week until the government scientists told her this was a bad thing and she stopped.  About the same time, she cut down on the use of egg yolks, went to skimmed milk (powdered at that), and moved us all onto processed vegetable oils and margarine and took us away from butter.

We kids really missed real milk, butter, cheese and eggs. The liver we were glad to see was off the menu list because, frankly, my mother made liver into shoe leather and it tasted more burnt than anything else. Dad also liked his steaks well done, so that's how all of us go our meat.

So, how did I come to love liver?

I think my body craves it, for one. But I came across a great suggestion in several places that made me realize that mom had missed two critical points that makes liver taste great. Now, to be fair to my mom, my husband reported that his mother also cooked liver the same way my mom did, and he hated it as a child as well. It wasn't until he went into the military that he came to appreciate that someone out there could work miracles with the stuff. But he had also been taught that liver was a no-no and so it was eliminated from his diet when he was young. His first wife did not like liver (maybe her mother cooked it like our moms) and so she never experimented with it either.

There is one secret above all others, that makes liver lovely. Soaking in milk. And you throw the milk away! All the icky flavors leave the liver with that milk.

Now, I cringed at the idea of tossing out this milk marinade. Milk, for me is a precious commodity. I really had a hard time "sacrificing" a quart of milk only to throw it away. But I have come to realize two things: Liver is a sacred food and it needs to be treated that way.. Milk is reproduced by the cow (goat or sheep) on a daily basis so long as you keep milking. Each animal has only one liver. You get one harvest from each animal. There are other one shot only cuts of meat: The heart, the tongue, kidneys (they come as a pair), the tail, the brain. Hmmm, all of those are considered sacred foods. All need some sort of specialized handling care to make them really palatable. (Yes, I know there are folks who eat liver and heart raw, but even that requires something special).

So, how do I prepare liver?

Liver of the Gods
Serves 4
  1. 1 pound of liver (pork, beef, chicken, lamb)
  2. 1 quart of sweet milk (this is actually enough to soak two pounds, but it's a stretch) ** this is the only thing I buy store bought milk for now, rather than use my precious raw milk.
  3. 1 teaspoon sea salt per pound of liver
Rinse the liver under cool water and then rub it with the salt. Cut into bite sized pieces. If you have little kids, make little pieces. Put into a glass or ceramic bowl and pour the milk over it and give it a stir. Cover with a plate and put in the frig. I usually do this in the morning and let it sit all day, but if I forget, I give it at least an hour before I cook it.

About 30 minutes before your ready to eat, put on some rice or potatoes. I like it over rice. My hubby loves it over mashed potatoes and like my mother before me, I usually try to keep my hubby happy, so we usually eat it with mashed potatoes.

 Stage Two:

1/4 bacon cut into same sized pieces as the liver
1 yellow onion chopped
1 stick of celery chopped
1 tablespoon of a thickener (any kind of flour, tapioca starch works well for gluten free)
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
2 cups of milk (new milk, not the stuff you soaked the liver in)** I use precious raw milk for this part.
3 tablespoons of minced parsley

Fry the bacon bits in a skillet large enough to hold all the ingredient except the rice/potatoes. When some of the fat is rendered out, add the onion and celery. Cook until the onion is translucent. Measure out your thickener/flour. Measure out your milk. Put to the side. Now, remove the liver from the soaking milk.
Put the heat on medium. Add the liver pieces to the skillet. add the salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes. The meat should still be a tad pink. Sprinkle the thickener over the meat and stir that around for about 2 minutes. Pour in the 2 cups of milk. Stir, stir. As soon as the gravy bubbles. Remove from the heat. Cover. Get your potatoes mashed or get the rice finished off. Call everyone to the table.Stir the gravy one more time. If you serve at the table, sprinkle the parsley over the meat/gravy in the serving dish. If you eat like we do and dish up plates ta the stove, put a serving of rice/potato on the plate or bowl, ladle over the meat gravy and sprinkle the parsley over each serving.

I promise you the liver will be tender, mild and very satisfying prepared this way.

What to do with the soaking milk? Well, don't give it to the dog. Trust me. The dog will love it -- at first and drink it all up. Then dog will be sick. This is WAY to rich for the dog. I have given a little bit to my elderly cat (about 2 teaspoons) and she liked it too. Usually, I put it down the drain with a little thought of thanks to my septic fairies. But I think this could also go out in your compost as it's got a lot of blood goodness in it. I'm open to any suggestions because I just hate the idea of wasting the milk.

On the other hand, it makes it possible for us to eat liver weekly and enjoy it, so it's not such a waste after all.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Kombucha Challenge

I should have jumped right on this and shared with the world right away but I was neglectful of my poor blog. I'm doing the Kombucha Challenge for January.

Kombucha, a fermented tea, has many followers. Frankly, the stuff just tastes good and is a great substitute for sugary sodas or even diet sodas. It's fermented, so it carries many positive pro-biotics.

My goal is to use the KT (Kombucha Tea), to replace most (if not all) of my coffee. Then I'm going to start substituting KT for all but one glass of wine in the evenings.

Up to now, my brewing of KT has been very simple. Boil water, add teabags (I use organic tea), add organic sugar. Let cool to room temperature and then add the SCOBY (Symbiotic Collection of Bacteria and Yeast). Or maybe that C stands for Combination. I would let is sit in a nice quiet spot for about 10 days and then drink a little mixed with water (and usually some sort of stevia to sweeten it up a little).

My husband thinks the SCOBY is the most bizarre thing he has ever seen and cannot believe I drink the liquid that emerges from under that white mat, but he's rather conservative that way. He doesn't know it, but I use KT instead of vinegar in our salad dressing and I often use it for vinegar substitutes when I make bread, marinate meat or make other sour sauces. I think cooking it probably kills the pro-biotics, but since it's easy to brew, I have a lot of it. 

But I'm learning there is a way to put the KT into a secondary fermentation using swing cap bottles and adding a flavoring agent (like a flavored herbal tea), sealing it off then letting it sit for another day or two before refrigeration. I have lots of wonderful herbal tea flavors to try out (and fruits). 

Now, I'm waiting on a case of swing-top bottles.

I've also ordered a water crock with a spigot so I can set up a continous brewing station in or near my kitchen. My kitchen counters are pretty full, so it may end up living on the table in my family room. 

And I'm drinking my KT every day, several times a day!

Go check out the Kombucha Mama!