Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pineapple vinegar

For Christmas a friend sent us a pineapple in a box of assorted organic fruit. We enjoyed every bite of the fruit -- the pears were ripe and juicy, the apples crisp and tart. DS especially liked the dried mango and kiwi; he's ready to try drying our own in a couple of years when the kiwi vines are bearing. But I was eyeing the pineapple. We ate it in a mixed fruit cup but the parings went into a 1/2-gallon jar with a little sugar and water.I've wanted to make pineapple vinegar ever since I read of it six years ago in "Wild Fermentation: the flavor, nutrition and craft of live-culture foods" by Sandor Katz aka Sandorkraut. I waited all this time to try it because I only wanted to use an organic pineapple since I wanted to make it using the parings rather than the edible fruit. You know, part of the making-something-from-nothing or use-it-up mindset so prevalent around the ol' Walnut Spinney homestead.

We've been making other infused vinegars with fruits and herbs we grow and so know what they've (not) been sprayed with. But pineapples aren't easy to grow in this part of Virginia though I did see at least one pineapple in fruit at Edible Landscaping last fall. In their greenhouse, that is. And while I can find a selection of organic fruit at the local grocery, organic pineapple hasn't been available. Plus, there's the whole "how far did it have to travel"-thing that's been nagging at me the last few years. But, this pineapple, this was a gift! And I was very happy to be able to make use of every last bit of it, right down to the peel.

The sweet pineapple scent and flavor of the sample I tasted today when I decanted it into a bottle already have me thinking of how a cabbage slaw will taste if I use pineapple vinegar instead of my regular apple cider vinegar in the dressing. And I'm wondering if I could sub it for (some? all?) the lemon juice in the Apple-Carrot Salad from Simply in Season. And the next time I have fresh mung bean sprouts, I'm going to try making Outrageous Dressing with pineapple vinegar. Oh, and a chicken or pork marinade with pineapple vinegar? I think the possibilities are endless. Wish my flask of pineapple vinegar was bottomless...

Pineapple Vinegar

1/4 cup sugar
Peel and core of 1 pineapple
water *See Note
thin cotton kitchen towel or cheesecloth

Dissolve the sugar in 1 quart of water. Coarsely chop and add the pineapple peel. Cover with cheesecloth to keep fruit flies out, and leave to ferment in a dark spot at room temperature. I used a small glass plate and a small sealed jar of water set on top of the parings to keep them below the level of the liquid. (Same as I do when making pickles.) Otherwise, any peel that extends above the water may grow a bit of mold.

When you notice the liquid darkening, after about 1 week, strain out the pineapple peels and discard. (compost!)

Ferment the liquid 2 to 3 weeks more, stirring or shaking periodically, and the pineapple vinegar is ready to use.

*Note: You may also start with white vinegar instead of water. The vinegar will be ready after you discard the peels. (Too Hot Tamales does it this way.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Menu plan for week of Dec 28/09

Working out a menu plan is so helpful when I bother to do it that I'm trying to make it a habit. Since I'm planning to implement an Austerity Plan for the first quarter of 2010, this head start on accountability seemed like a good idea.

We have our main meal at lunch when DH is working so that means I put today's crock pot meal together by mid-morning and we sat down to a hot dinner at noon. Kind of nice to have it over and done with -- both the planning and now the meal itself. Hope the rest of the week will go as smoothly.

Monday, December 28

Crockpot turkey and dressing (made from leftover turkey frozen in meal-sized portions - recipe below)
Fruit salad (blend of canned fruits)

Tuesday, December 29

Beef stew (potatoes, carrots, celery and onions)
Applesauce (HM)
Lettuce and spinach salad from coldframe w/viniagrette

Wednesday, December 30

Chili (make extra for freezer lunches

Thursday, December 31

Steamed shrimp with Old Bay seasoning
Hummus with cilantro and jalapenos (Trader Joe's)
Baked pita chips (HM)
Carrots and celery sticks
Yogurt dip (HM)
Pound cake with lemon curd (HM, home-canned)
Rhubarb punch (home-canned and spiked with rhubarb liqueur for the adults)

Friday, January 1

[delayed Christmas meal at Mom's - will be assigned dish(es) to take later in week]

Saturday, January 2

Shrimp curry (made with leftover shrimp from Thursday)
Peaches or nectarines (home-frozen)
Pound cake (leftover from New Year's Eve)

Sunday, January 3

Potatoes au gratin with ham bits
Green beans
Pickled beets
Baked fruit compote (peaches from Saturday, dehydrated apples and pears, etc.)
Hot rolls

Crockpot Chicken or Turkey and Dressing

4 cups cooked chopped chicken or turkey
1 box stove-top stuffing mix or a M-I-Y version with dried bread cubes and seasoning
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup water or chicken broth
1-1/2 cups milk, half-and-half or heavy cream
1 cup frozen peas, optional
butter or cooking spray

Grease 1-1/2 or 2-quart crock pot with butter or cooking spray. Combine stuffing mix and chicken in crock. Toss to blend.

Combine eggs and liquids in a bowl and stir to blend. Pour over mixture in crock pot and cover with lid. Cook on High for 2 to 3 hours. Pour peas on top of mixture about 30 minutes before end of cooking time. Replace lid and finish cooking. Serve.

Chris' Chulo

Two days before Christmas I came up with the idea to make a hat for one of my nephews. The pattern came from Marcia Lewandowski's "Andean Folk Knits: Great Designs from Peru, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador & Bolivia." The yarn came from the local yarn shop, J.J.'s Knitting Knook. While I was there I picked up green and brown wools for DH and a brighter red wool to go with the red from my stash which DS had already claimed. I'll use the same neutral for all three hats since it takes less than 50 yards per hat and the Cascade 220 I chose will do all three with some leftover.

This was the first time I'd worked with color stranding in the round. The process was much easier than I expected and I finished the hat Christmas morning thanks to DS deciding six o'clock was late enough for anyone to sleep on Christmas. Our family Christmas gathering was postponed due to the weather so I had time to block it, too. And I chose superwash wool so I don't have to worry about it felting when he throws it in the wash.

The only problem is that DH and DS both wanted that hat.

It didn't matter that I'd anticipated the problem and have yarn on-hand to make them each a hat from the same pattern. I placated DH by telling him that the thyme green I picked out for him will bring out the color of his eyes much better than the blue I chose for Chris and I explained to DS that I chose the red (his favorite color) with him in mind.

The masterstroke, though, was when I gave DH a piece of knitter's graph paper and told him he could design his own color band. He's thinking tanks and crossed sabers while DS is trying to decide between elven symbols and Warhammer 40K tyranids. As long as they can graph the designs on the paper in the space alloted and use no more than 3 colors to show the design, I promised to knit it. Wish me luck.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Primitive woolen stars

I saw similar stars on the purl bee site and set out to make several when I had a little extra crafting time due to the weather this holiday season. I think they might be nice to have on display more than just over Christmas, so I used a brown wool plaid remnant and a few tiger eye beads that I had in my stash.

I followed the directions on the purl bee page but as that site didn't provide a 5-pointed star template, I used the so-called Betsy Ross paper-folding method for making the star-shaped paper pattern.

The wool remnant had been washed prior to cutting but it wasn't truly felted. If I make more, I'll be sure to use wool that's felted enough it won't ravel as this wants to do.

I wasn't too worried about wasting fabric -- it was already a remnant, after all. But even when I don't have something in mind for the leftover bits, I can't bring myself to cut haphazardly through the middle of the fabric. So I laid the stars out, carefully connecting the pattern where possible.

I liked the process of making the stars and imagine I'll cut out more wool stars to tuck in my bag as a project I can work on away from home besides being a good way to use up odd bits of woolen fabric. But well-felted next time.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...

And if the weather forecast's right about the coming week, this stuff will still be here. Plus another few inches, perhaps?

It started snowing at 3:30pm yesterday and it still coming down. It's been steadily snowing after the first few hours of heavy snowfall. We had 6 inches on the ground by 9:30pm last night. This morning there was at least one hour without falling snow but we were at 21 inches by noon today.

It's lovely stuff but it disrupts the schedule. Today I need to turn a half bushel of apples into applesauce for the canner. Plus decide how to handle an equal number of potatoes that aren't going to last much longer -- they were stored in the backyard shed but it's gotten too cold the last week or two and I need to ready them for drying or canning before I lose them. If I had freezer space I'd make several big batches of freezer mashed potatoes and put them away like that.

And everything we go to do takes longer because of the snow. Even taking the dog out, is a major operation.

I have no pictures of DS in the snow today because he bundled up early, went outside for an hour and when he came back in said that was it for the day! At 5' tall, the snow comes up to his hips and to his waist or higher in the drifts. He came back in soaked through pants and long underwear plus 3 layers on top, not counting his down jacket. The drawstring on his "tall" waterproof boots was pulled tight yet they are still wet. Other than the drawstring, there's nothing to keep the snow from sifting down from the top. Everything's still drying by the woodstove...

As for DH, he started out this morning shoveling paths to the chickens and the sheep. The cars will have to wait. It doesn't matter about the vehicles anyway because our county road hasn't seen a plow since before we got up this morning.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent tradition

Every year I think I'll discover an Advent calendar or craft that will make such an impression we'll have to have one. One year, when DS was enamored of Caillou and we had watched the Caillou Christmas special over and over, I found a Christmas tree printed on cardstock with lift-up flaps for each day. Like the Advent calendar Caillou had in the Christmas movie, under each flap was a country name and a brief description of a Christmas tradition practiced there. It held his attention for two years but now is carefully packed away with the other Christmas decorations that never found a permanent place in our Christmas traditions.For the seventh year in a row, however, we are reading Arnold Ytreeide's book, Jotham's Journey. We know the story by heart now. Even DH who, because of work, only hears certain chapters, knows the complete story. He and DS shout out warnings about Decha of Megiddo and practically act out the storyline word for word.

For the last few years, DS has been taking his turn reading chapters or the accompanying daily devotions. And we have an Advent craft, too, as the book suggests making an Advent wreath and lighting the candles, one by one, over the four weeks of reading.

One year DS made a wreath from artificial greenery at church and we used it for a couple of years. This year he decided to make a wreath from greenery he cut. And since Holly-dog's tail has had a close call or two with the candle flames in years past, the LED votives I found on sale earlier this month seemed a sensible alternative to wax candles.

The wreath will live on beyond Advent, too, because DS has staked claim to it for use in his Warhammer 40K terrain.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

First snow

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Broccoli fresh from the garden -- In December!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Udvar-Hazy Center approval rating soars

In breaking news at the Walnut Spinney homestead, 10-year old gives a big thumbs-up to the Smithsonian Institute's Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles. He keeps breaking off his recounting of today's trip to ask, "Why haven't we gone there before?"

Today's tour and educational lab program were rated tops and, except for a short time spent napping on the long drive home in the pouring rain, he's not stopped talking about it.

The only drawback was DH's disappointment in not being able to go along. So, to compensate, DS took LOTS of pictures. And I took a few of DS's propeller design tests and other obligatory "I was there" shots, some of which are included here. Now, besides listening to the fifth, or is it the sixth?, retelling of the day's events, I just have to think of an answer as to why we haven't gone there before.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

If pumpkin pie is the #1 answer,

Then pumpkin bread is the #2 answer to "What are you going to do with all that pumpkin?" (Hmm, Family Feud flashbacks. Should probably get that checked out.)

While I finished canning the last 20 quarts of pumpkin this afternoon, DS practiced cooking. The good thing about practicing cooking is you usually have something to show for it (and eat!) when you're done. So when my DBIL showed up to get the wood-splitter and drop off a great hay and feed box he salvaged for DH, AJ could share a slice of pumpkin bread and a mug of hot chocolate with his uncle.

The recipe is easy, not too sweet but very tasty and even halfway healthy. DS was especially pleased to learn that it meets required (in other words, Mom's) dietary guidelines for inclusion in breakfast rotation, tho accompanied by a glass of plain milk rather than hot cocoa. The three of us finished a third of the loaf with ease, some will go with DS and me on our field trip tomorrow to the Udvar-Hazy Center and DH will have a few slices to take with his lunch a day or two this week. Then DS can practice making it all over again. I love homeschooling.

AJ's Pumpkin Bread

1-1/4 cup Sucanat or brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree *See Note
3/4 cup milk
1-3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup corn starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1/2 cup raisins

Cream together sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla. Combine pumpkin and milk in a small bowl. Sift dry ingredients together and add to creamed mixture alternately with pumpkin mixture. Fold in nuts and raisins.

Pour into greased and floured bread loaf pan and bake at 350°F. for 45 to 50 minutes.

*If using homemade pumpkin puree, I like to add 1/2 cup of rolled oats (aka Quaker Oats) with other dry ingredients. It keeps the loaf from being too wet and doesn't make the loaf heavy as adding additional WW flour may.

BTW, the final count was 73 quarts of pumpkin, plus 3 cups of pumpkin puree in the fridge. Glad to have THAT done and on to the next project. Don't tell me what it is, let it be a surprise.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

More canning: Pumpkins and turkey broth

Thanksgiving dinner for 15? It's a cinch.

45 pie pumpkins? Help!

Thanks to a friend who had too many pie pumpkins DH and I spent Friday canning pumpkin. And, as always, I saved the turkey carcass from Thanksgiving to make turkey broth for canning so Friday's kitchen output included 39 quarts of pumpkin plus 7 quarts of turkey broth.

DS claimed one pumpkin for carving. Why restrict jack o'lanterns to Halloween? After all, that would leave us with only 44 pumpkins. Every little bit helps, you know.

DH began cutting up pumpkins by 11 a.m. He started out cheerful and slightly goofy. In other words, normal.

He continued carving pumpkins for canning till mid-afternoon when he took DS roller skating, fulfilling a long-promised treat and leaving me with the first batch of pumpkin in the pressure canner plus several pumpkins seeded and sliced and waiting to be peeled, chopped and par-boiled.

All the pumpkin guts and peels went to the animals. The chickens scratched through the stringy seeds and the sheep and Andy found some of the peels palatable. Pumpkin seeds are a natural wormer so I'm saving some of them to grind and add to feed later in the winter, too. I'm wondering if they'd be useful in treating roundworms in T-cat. We can't keep him from indulging in small rodents and sometimes wild birds so he often shows signs of worms as often as once a year.

I used our new All-American pressure canner which is tall enough to allow a double-stack of quart jars. The first batch only had 12 quarts, though, as I misjudged how much pumpkin to heat for jarring.

The second canner held a full 14 quarts. And the last canner of pumpkin for the evening held 13 quarts. It was short one quart because we stopped after prepping 23 pumpkins so I'd still have time to process the turkey broth which had simmered in the roaster oven for most of the afternoon.

Turkey broth only requires 25 minutes for processing in the pressure canner but pumpkin takes 90 minutes and what with bringing the canner up to pressure each time, processing for the required time and then allowing for cool down till the pressure subsides, only to start the process over again, we were up till after midnight.
But I love knowing I have all those jars of pumpkin and broth ready to go into the pantry.

Since DH and DS had their monthly wargaming gathering at the county library Saturday afternoon, I decided to take the afternoon off from canning, too. I spent the time writing out a draft and winding the warp for some kitchen towels I want to weave. The 21 remaining pumpkins will keep till Monday.

We like pumpkin pie all year 'round but I don't make it with the crust. And my sister adapted a traditional pumpkin pie recipe to use half the amount of sugar and milk so DH can argue, somewhat successfully, that pumpkin pie is even suitable for breakfast.

Pumpkin Pie W/O Crust

1 quart home-canned pumpkin, drained and mashed
29 ounces commercially-canned pumpkin
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk AND 3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly oil two 7x11-inch baking dishes.

Whisk ingredients together in order listed. Pour into prepared pans.

Place in oven and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean.

Note: Substitute up to 1 cup honey or maple syrup for sugar, if desired. Make require slightly longer baking with either of those substitutions.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving dinner

As usual we hosted family and friends for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday afternoon. Ever year we try to streamline the job and this year was one of the easiest feasts we've managed.

I brined the turkey Wednesday night and, in keeping with our goal to get as much as possible done before guests arrive, went on to put green beans and a cayenne pepper pod into a slow cooker, added garden-fresh red cabbage with apples to another crock, and steamed just-picked spinach for a bowl of dip. DH made wholegrain bread and make-ahead mashed potatoes, then pared carrots and celery and the ingredients for a fruit salad. I also brewed a gallon of tea and squeezed lemons for another gallon of lemonade so they would have time to chill before serving. DS spent Wednesday afternoon at his grandmother's baking pumpkin pies, Japanese fruit pies (recipe follows) and a batch of sugar cookies.

On Thursday I roasted the turkey along with a pan of dressing while DH opened a jar of the pickled beets canned earlier this year and packages of the few items we couldn't grow and/or prepare ourselves: pimiento-stuffed green olives, black olives and a bag of potato chips. My sister brought a pan of cheese-y corn pudding and Mom showed up early to make the gravy.

By mid-morning early arrivals were snacking on crudites and dip and we all sat down to dinner, right on schedule, at one o'clock. We set butter and fruit preserves on the dining tables DH set up in the living room but, to save space, served the food buffet-style in the kitchen.

With so much of the food prep done in advance, the only thing we could think of to improve on this year's dinner would be to raise our own turkey. Maybe that's what my mother envisioned years ago when she made this wall-hanging for me?

Who knows where the name for Japanese Fruit pie originated? It certainly doesn't have any identifiably Japanese ingredients. But it's been a family favorite for over 35 years.

My mom got the recipe from a friend when I was a kid and one nephew still asks for it for his birthday. He refers to it as "Japanese Fruit Fly Pie," the name he thought we all called it when he was little. Sounds great, doesn't it?

Well, it is.

Japanese Fruit Pie

1 stick (4 oz.) butter, melted
4 whole eggs, beaten
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 cup raisins, seedless
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup coconut, flaked
2 9-inch pie shells

Stir ingredients together in order given. Pour into formed 9" pie shells. Bake at 325° for 40 minutes. To halve the recipe, halve all ingredients except butter.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

November and the garden's still going

If this were a commercial, our garden would be powered by Energizer.

Thanks to DH's gardening, Andy-the-guardian-llama's manure and those busy grub-scratching chickens, we're eating beautiful cauliflower and sweet turnips and Savoy cabbage this week. Also available are garden beds filled with Swiss chard (green and rainbow), beets, spinach, cos and buttercrunch lettuces, kale, cilantro (who said that stuff is a summer crop?) and another type of cabbage -- Early Jersey Wakefield, I think. Plus I'll be using the usual fresh herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary and even bay) from the garden to brine our turkey next week. There's really something for everyone growing in the garden as the chickens are enjoying freshly-sprouted greens which DH planted where the potatoes were earlier and Andy and the sheep get a share of turnip tops or other greens when picked.

This the first year we've planted Savoy cabbage. Usually DH plants Flat Dutch cabbage (early or late varieties) as our green cabbage and those are very good, too. The heads are large, heavy and excellent keepers. I've eaten that type of cabbage all my life and used it for everything from fried cabbage or soup to coleslaw and sauerkraut. But, oh man, those half-dozen heads of sweet Savoy cabbage that we've had this fall have knocked me for a loop. Who knew there was such a difference? I'm sure we'll still plant plenty of Flat Dutch but I'm holding out for at least a dozen Savoy cabbages, too. They are so sweet and tender we can eat a whole head of cabbage at one meal and all I did was saute it in a little garlic olive oil. My mother said the only way she could improve on it would be to fry a couple slices of bacon, use the grease to cook the cabbage and crumble the bacon over top. But then some people think everything tastes better with a little bacon...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Grape wine, step 2

When I went to check the water for the air lock on the carboy of grape wine last week, I realized it wasn't bubbling very much. Means it's time to siphon the in-process wine out and throw away the grapes and any sediment that remaining in the carboy.

Saturday morning DH set the carboy on the kitchen worktable and I set a large stainless steel pot on the floor beside the table. DH removed the airlock cap and ran one end of a piece of 1/2-inch tubing into the carboy, below the level of the floating grapes, with the other end hanging off the table into the pot. It's like siphoning gas except it's okay if you get a little in your mouth. Matter of fact, it's a good thing because it's an excuse to taste the wine and see if it's coming along as it should.

In this case, the answer was yes! It's robust and fruity. If nothing happens to alter its progress, I think it will be pretty good when it's ready to bottle in a few more months. For now, though, DH hefted the carboy upside down and poured (shook?) the grapes out, then I rinsed the carboy and we returned the wine to the jug and put the airlock back in place.

I'd been afraid that making it from the whole grapes instead of using juice would mean a real mess when it came time to do this step -- removing the grapes through the small neck opening on the carboy. But the grapes were mostly firm, solid globes and poured out without a fuss.

I almost felt wasteful throwing them in the compost as the chickens love grapes but the alcohol level in one grape (all I tasted) would have knocked a little red hen on her butt. Maybe pigs would be okay with a small batch like this but we won't have any till early next year. The dregs of the next wine fruit can go to them as DH is already talking about what we should try next because, unlike with the beer we usually make, we can grow and/or pick all the base ourselves.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome." -- Isaac Asimov

Fifi, the white Silkie hen, went missing this week. All we've found are clumps of fluffy white feathers in a long trail leading away from her favorite egg-laying spot towards the fence. She had taken to laying her eggs near the old apple tree in a little leafy spot she created just for that purpose instead of in the chicken house. It was off to one corner of our field-fenced backyard, away from where the other backyard girls and chicks typically hang out.

Our neighbor's farm pond hosts a fox den. He can watch the kits play there every spring. We've heard the local band of coyotes howl on the other side of the field behind us -- maybe 1/2 mile away. DH surprised what he thinks was a speedy coyote in the fenced backyard late one evening. Andy, the guardian llama, makes sure the sheep are up near the open barn when it's time to turn in at night. He positions the sheep between the barn and himself so he's always on guard. DS and I found a young skunk in the chick pen and, on another occasion, a full-sized skunk inside the electric poultry netting when we went out to close the houses up earlier this summer. We had a feral orange cat this summer who tried to catch the small chicks on occasion. There are predators all around us.

But secretly I've always believed they wouldn't kill any of our animals. You know, I suffered from a variation of the NIMBY or not-in-my-backyard syndrome even though earlier this summer, Petrock Trelawney's hatchmate, a little cockerel who wasn't around long enough even to secure a name such as Stewpot or Potpie went missing, too. We never found feathers or any sign of what happened to him but he and Petrock (photo on left) had developed the bad habit of hanging back instead of going straight into the house at night. DS and I would have to shoo the two of them in, sometimes resorting to waiting till they had settled into a bush or low-hanging tree branch then plucking them off their perch and stuffing them in the house. One night we couldn't find the cockerel. Either he was well-hidden (to us, at least) or he'd already been nabbed. Whichever way, he was still missing come morning so we concluded he had been devoured by some hungry animal.

Fifi will be much missed. She was the best mama hen we've had. Regularly setting on a hatch even in the coldest weather. Always shepherded her fledglings with the stereotypical "mother hen" approach. She stood up to the "big girls" and kept them from bothering her chicks. Even taking on Turkey, the naked neck hen and backyard leader, for their sake. Fifi's sometimes feisty attitude towards other chickens, her blue bill and earlobes (typical of Silkies) and her general cocky yet friendly stance towards us, her people, made her stand out amongst the other backyard girls.

At not quite 6 months old, her daughter, Snowball, hasn't yet shown any indication of broodiness or the strong personality Fifi exhibited but I hope she grows to fill the space her mother left not only in our hatching scheme but in my heart. I miss Fifi. We all do.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Garden: Still going

Mid-week, while picking more tomatoes, I spotted a perfect little bok choy bunch in the garden and told DH we'd have that for supper on Friday. So last evening when he went out in the rain to harvest it, I thought I'd just make a quick side dish to go with the defrosting chicken breasts. But when he came in with a handful of tender young green beans and a couple of yellow squash, too, I quickly chopped up the chicken and threw it in a bowl with some seasonings to marinate while I sliced a few Egyptian onions and scrubbed the potatoes. A meat and veg stir fry seemed like the best use of the available produce.

It took me about 20 minutes to get the vegetables prepped and the potatoes cooking. In less than 40 minutes from the time he walked in the door with the fresh garden produce it was on the table and we were sitting down to eat. We had crushed new potatoes instead of rice along with the chicken-bok choy-squash-green beans-and-onion stir fry. And sliced tomatoes, because we always have sliced tomatoes on the table when they're ripe from the garden.

With the rain still coming down today, we'll have more tomatoes, tomatillos, squash and green beans right up till frost. And the lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, beets, turnips and cabbage should continue till the real cold weather sets in or beyond. Our potato onions from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange arrived this week and they'll go in the ground soon. Though the Egyptian or walking onions stay in the garden year-round, I'm looking forward to trying the potato onions as they're more like a globe onion than a green onion and with careful stewardship will multiply and be able to provide for most of our onion needs within a few years.

The marinade I mixed up was a blend of soy sauce, cornstarch, gingerroot, garlic, sesame oil, oyster sauce, balsamic vinegar and sugar that I use for chicken or pork.

Stir fry sauce

1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 to 2 teaspoons gingerroot, grated
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 to 2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1/8 to 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar

Mix all ingredients together and add meat. Let sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes or up to 30 minutes. Drain before cooking.

If I don't have fresh ginger I use refrigerated gingerroot I've preserved in sherry. And sometimes I use sherry instead of balsamic vinegar but I first started using the vinegar because it's a pantry staple here and sherry isn't always at hand.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chicken update

Here's a picture taken September 1 of Fifi's latest brood of 4 chicks which hatched August 11. Mr. Fluff and Valentine, a pullet Fifi managed to hatch in 0°F. weather this past February, are also featured. At least one of the chicks, the silvery one, is a cockerel but we're hopeful the other three are pullets.

This photo was taken this morning and shows the chicks out-growing Fifi. She still takes them under her wing (literally!) and shelters them from the rain, tho. And when we had a hawk scare on Tuesday, she sounded the alarm and the chicks stayed put, hunkered under the sweet annie and peonies around the deck, until the still-hungry hawk left the area.

Fifi and family live in the backyard rather than in the portable electric netting we use for the 2 full-size roosters and their hens. She shares the small backyard coop with another of her hatchlings, a green egg layer now almost a year old, known as Bronwyn. Bronwyn is well-known to our closest neighbor as she enjoys going on walk-about regularly. Every time we spot her out of the fenced backyard, she quickly heads home without any fuss on our part but she's determined to check out the surrounding green space at least a couple of times each week.

Dolly and Turkey are two more of the backyard girls. Turkey is an extra-large Turken who sees herself as a pet instead of a laying hen. Oh, she comes up with an egg regularly but apparently believes her main purpose in life is to set on one's knee and be petted and fed tidbits. Sort of like Holly-dog with feathers. Dolly makes a very distinctive coo-ing sound and sometimes finds herself being trailed by Mr. Fluff. He usually leaves the larger hens alone but has decided Dolly's the hen for him.