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.