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.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Grapes - juice, jelly and wine

The grapes came in three batches this year -- most of what we picked were concords and all were growing within a 2-mile circle but they ripened over several weeks instead of all at once. A change from the last few years.

The first batch, picked from my mom's two grape vines, we turned into grape juice just like last year. We put up a little over 40 quarts. The next batch, a little over three 5-gallon buckets full, came from vines at my sister's old house. No one wanted the grapes so we picked them, used one bucketful to make grape jelly and gave the rest to some friends for making grape juice.

While we were picking my sister's grapes we exchanged greetings with a neighboring friend and got to talking about what we'd do with the grapes. She's a winemaker and before we knew it we decided to take the carboy we use for beer-making out of storage and try our hand at a batch of grape wine, too. Since we'd already promised those grapes to some other friends, we waited till the last vines we usually pick were ready and used them to mix up a small batch of concord grape wine.

The recipe is very straightforward. After rinsing and stemming, we measured grapes by the quart and added the same number of quarts of water to the carboy as we did grapes. The sugar was calculated by cup with a measure of one cup to each quart of grapes used. We were advised if we wanted a slightly sweet wine to increase the sugar by roughly a scant 1/4-cup per quart or no more than four cups to 5-gallons of combined water and grapes. The wine yeast we used, Red Star's Montrachet, was what I already had on hand from an earlier field trip to Dinosaurland.

After combining the grapes, sugar, yeast, and water (mixing the yeast with a little of the water first), DH moved the carboy from the kitchen worktable to an empty corner in the home office. It's far enough from the woodstove to stay relatively cool come cold weather yet in a spot where I see it every day so can monitor the water level in the jar in order to maintain the necessary airlock. The first day or two, I found myself talking to the dog only to discover she wasn't in the room. The sound of the air escaping from the tube into the jar of water is the same sound Holly-dog makes when she's asleep and dreaming -- little ruff, ruff, ruffs emanate from that corner all the time now.

So the fruit and sugar went into the carboy on September 19. It wasn't particularly difficult to prepare though none of my funnels were the right size to channel the grapes into the narrow opening on the carboy. I did that slow but steady job by picking up grapes by the handful and letting them roll into the jar using my other hand as a shield. When DH tried it grapes bounced everywhere but into the carboy so I did the grapes then he handled the sugar and water with yeast. I've been assured that it will look terrible, what with fermenting grapes and all, before we get to the next step in roughly three months but our adviser promised to come help with that...

Here's what it looked like today, the fourth day of fermentation. And below are a couple pictures of DH and DS from last week, picking the last of the summer (wine) grapes.