Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Kale chips

Finally had a chance last week to try another suggestion from Mary T. Bell's "Food Drying with an Attitude: A fun and fabulous guide to creating snacks, meals and crafts" and made a double batch of kale chips in the dehydrator. I've seen mention of these things for a couple of years but didn't get around to trying them till now -- wish it'd been sooner as they are GOOD!

They're crispy, almost melt-in-your-mouth light and slightly salty. I followed Bell's directions and used a vinegar, olive oil and salt mixture to coat the chips before drying but DS suggested trying Old Bay seasoning next time. I can think of several seasoning blends worth trying but I'll have to wait till late summer as the chickens finished off the wintered-over kale when they were on the last garden section.

Besides rinsing any sand from the kale, I chose to remove the tough stem that runs up the middle of each leaf. They can become hard and tough after drying. But I did save them as Bell recommends and dried along with the kale chips, then ground to a powder, they'll make a tasty addition (like last week's post about ground carrot peels) to soups or other dishes. I'm thinking I should add a spoonful of the powder to the next batch of vegetable dip we make...

Kale Chips

4 cups kale (stems removed)
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon salt (I recommend reducing the salt, maybe by half?)

Cut kale leaves cross-wise into 1- or 2-inch pieces. They'll shrink while drying so don't worry if the curly leaves look over-large to start.

Mix vinegar, oil and salt together and pour over kale pieces in a bowl. Toss to coat. Let sit for about an hour, tossing every 15 minutes or so to make sure all surfaces are coated. (Bell recommends putting a weight like a large plate on the kale to press it into the liquid seasoning -- this would relive much of the tossing I had to do but my container wasn't shaped to allow this.)

Spread the kale pieces on the dehydrator shelves and dry at 125º-135ºF. till kale is crispy-dry. Depending on variables, it could take from 4 hours to overnight. Mine took about 8 hours to get to the right crispness.

Notes: I liked the cider vinegar but think any vinegar would work. Red wine or a flavored vinegar, like garlic, would be good, too. If you double, the recipe (I did), don't double the salt (I didn't and I was glad).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

When 10 pounds of carrots yields 24 ounces

Stopped at the grocery the other day to get olive oil (50% off regular price--YAY!) and found they had two pound bags of organic carrots marked down to 50¢. The store often has fresh produce marked down as it "ages" but those carrots looked as good as (if not better than!) the ones in my refrigerator crisper at home. So I bought 10 pounds.

When I got home I set DS to washing, then peeling them. I put a big pot of water on to boil and pulled out a knife and cutting board. DH brought the dehydrator in from the garage where it's stored in the off season.

First the peels went in the dehydrator on three shelves. Once upon a time I would throw them in the compost, then I learned to put them in a bag in the freezer along with onion skins and celery trimmings. Those vegetable scraps make an excellent addition to chicken broth fixings. When the broth's ready, I just strain out the cooked vegetables and then they go to the compost pile.

But having a dehydrator has changed that. Now when we need to peel more than a couple of carrots (the chickens get the small amounts) or other vegetables like onions, I dry the peels and grind them to make vegetable powders. You know, the basis for those seasoning blends that can cost a dollar an ounce at the store.

So this week, $5 worth of carrots (10 pounds) yielded 4 ounces of dried carrot peelings (small jar on right in photo) and right at 20 ounces of diced dried carrot pieces (quart jar on left in photo). I blanched the diced carrot before drying but not the peels. The pieces are perfect for adding to soup.

The peels were dried in their long form, just as they came from the carrots, but I crumbled them after drying to reduce their volume. Once I'm ready to use them in powder form, I'll either crush with the pestle and mortar or run them through a little electric coffee grinder. When I first started drying vegetables suitable for making powder, I made them into powder as soon as they were dry. But I don't add any anti-caking agents such as may be found in many store-bought salts or seasoning blends and even though I might vacuum seal the jars, I found the powder could make like a rock and become so hard I had to chip it out of the jar.

Dehydrating the carrots was a good warm-up for the coming growing season. Now that the dehydrator's out on the counter again I'm thinking about what else I want to preserve. There's rhubarb ready to pick and we're out of fruit leather so I think a batch of rhubarb juice for punch and the remaining pulp for fruit leather is a good idea. Also plan to can 10-15 pounds of dry pinto beans and a smaller amount (3 pounds?) of black beans later today. Just seemed like the thing to do as I have a ham bone to use up in the pintos and if I get out the canner for them I might as well do the black beans, too. So back to the kitchen for me...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Seedling update

The tomato seedlings have grown since we first transplanted them into newspaper pots on April 1. Although the nights have been chilly, with frost warnings, it's warm enough during the day to set the aluminum pans of seedlings outside on a wooden display rack (salvaged at the end of the growing season several years ago from Home Depot's garden center). The rack stands in a protected spot along a house wall and under the eaves. Gathers all the warm sun but keeps most of the wind off the seedlings. I think they like it. And I know it does them good to have real sunshine and just enough wind to build stem strength.

The hillbilly tomatoes are easy to spot with their distinctive leaf form. One can really see why they're called potato-leaf tomatoes...

The first seedlings, cabbages, lettuces, onions, lavender, broccoli and cauliflower are spending all their time outside now. Some have been planted in garden beds and some are waiting their turn, resting in their newspaper pots, on the warm soil in the cold frames. At the rate they're growing, we should have enough lettuce for a salad by the weekend.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Saturday night at the drive-in

This was opening weekend for Hull's Drive-in down in Lexington. It's the country's only community-owned, non-profit drive-in and we've been members and supporters (and sometime-volunteers) of Hull's Angels since the beginning, 1999. But it seems we rarely get to go to the drive-in. Saturday night all the planets must have been in alignment because we made it.

Hull's is such a local favorite that even though we hadn't planned to meet up, some friends were already there and waved us into a spot next to them. Another family we know was on the other side so we had lots of visiting to do while the kids played ball and Frisbee in the grass in front of the big screen.

Growing up, when my family went to the drive-in, we made popcorn at home and put it in paper grocery sacks to take in the car. When we were all at home, we even took two bags, one for the front seat and one for the back. I normally try to keep that tradition alive but since I had a fiber guild meeting Saturday morning and DH was bottling apple butter with some friends, we ran out of time for food prep. Fortunately, Hull's has a great snack bar staffed by Hull's Angels volunteers.

It was a beautiful day for the drive-in and we started out sitting in front of the car in lawn chairs. That was great for visiting but when the sun sent down, the air cooled off and though we all wore jackets and some (me!) had blankets, we three ended up watching the movie from the car. There were many hardier souls who stayed out in the open, however.

We stayed for the first feature and, at DS's request, the short animated clips that have been shown between features for as long as I can remember but while DH and I might have enjoyed the second movie, it probably wasn't a good choice for a ten year old so we headed home. We have high hopes that we can make it back to Hull's later this summer. Just gotta get those planets in alignment again...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The guinea who wouldn't leave...

Mr. Guinea is still here. He roosts in the smoke tree every night but gets back in the pen before we're up at daybreak to open the portable coop doors. He spends his day mixing with the chickens though the roosters tend to give him a wide berth.

Yesterday the neighbor from over the hill came by late in the afternoon to let us know one of our guinea fowl was over at his farmhouse. Wait, we don't have guineas.

After explaining the situation and discussing where the wanderer could possibly have come from initially, I went back to hanging clothes in the backyard. DS agreed that the guinea had come to us on the move and that was their nature so we were saddened but reconciled to losing Mr. Guinea.

When I finished with the laundry I came in grabbed a pan of extra buttermilk and a few oats I'd prepared for the chickens and headed out front with it. DS went along to turn off the charger. Surprise! Coming around from the back of the pen was Mr. Guinea (or Newt as DS's taken to calling him). He'd come "home" in time for tea.

DS swung the netting gate open and I led the way into the pen with Newt right behind. He immediately went for the buttermilk just like the hens while the roosters hung back though I did see Brownie with a white mustache after a few minutes.When should we stop considering Newt Guinea a guest and assume he's a resident?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Just like her mama?

Snowball, the white silkie in the backyard, went broody this week. DH slipped a few fertile eggs taken from the electric netting flock under her this morning so we may have chicks by the end of the month.

She's still just a pullet, not quite one year old, but she's already following in her mama's footsteps. I'm so proud.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Can we keep him, Mom? Please?!

Yesterday morning we heard a commotion coming from the chickens in the electric poultry netting. While DS and I went out expecting to witness an imminent predator attack, we instead discovered a guinea fowl walking around the yard near the chickens penned on the garden.

The roosters were trying to get the hens under the portable coop or feeding station and were glancing nervously over their shoulders at the marauder who was answering their danger-danger squawks with his own loud chit-chits. Once we were on the scene the hens began to quiet down and came out for their share of the chicken treats DS had grabbed on his way out the door. The guinea cockerel came closer to the electric netting and, after DS turned off the charger and I held up one of the fiberglass posts, went into the pen with the chickens.

Well, I didn't know what else to do with him and that seemed like a good option at the time.

After watching them for a few minutes and determining the guinea wasn't planning to take advantage of his size and bully the chickens, we went back to our regular chores. Throughout the day we checked on the guinea and I called a couple of neighbors to see if we could locate the guinea's owner, even calling the SPCA in case he'd been reported missing, but no luck.

The guinea made his chit-chit call almost all day. It was loud enough to be heard in the house but didn't seem to indicate any distress on his part. He mainly paced along the half of the pen the chickens alloted him. Once or twice he wandered near the feeders and waterers but mostly kept his distance. The roos definitely kept theirs! Anytime the guinea moseyed their way, the roosters practically ran over the hens to get out of his way. But he never offered them any violence or really seemed to notice them as individuals at all. By evening we'd discovered he particularly liked chicken scratch and that he stopped making his call while eating.

At dusk, DS and I donned long-sleeve jackets and gloves, expecting we'd have to bundle him into the portable coop when it was time to close the doors. But DS spotted the guinea near the top of the smoke tree when we went out. The smoke tree is near the garden but well outside the netting so he had to have flown over the fence and then up into the tree. He was about 15 feet off the ground and close to the end of a slender branch. Of course, the leaves aren't out yet so he was very exposed but we decided to leave him there for the night.

It stormed here last night. Lots of wind. Caused Holly-dog to push our bedroom door open and squeeze into her favorite spot for riding out storms -- under the bed. I woke up worrying about the guinea. DH promised he'd go looking for him in the morning.

This morning just after sunrise when DH went out to open the coop, the guinea was already down from the tree and back inside the ring of netting. He's decided he likes it here, I guess. And DS has gone from asking "Can we keep him?" to "Let's order some guineas when we order the baby chicks!"

Below is a video I shot when he first went into the chicken pen yesterday. Even with the sound of the breeze, you can clearly hear his chit-chit call over the usual clucks and crows from the chickens.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Two months and I'm learning to be thankful for the first housefly of the season...

On February 4, DS, accompanied by DH, attended a Carnivorous Plant Workshop at the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum and Botanical Gardens at JMU. He came home with a terrarium in which he'd planted five carnivorous plants (a venus flytrap, pitcher plant, and, I think, three sundews) provided by the workshop presenter. He had notes on how to maintain the terrarium -- when to feed, ideas on what to feed, how to collect snow or rainwater for watering, lighting needs, everything except a supply of insects.

We still had snow on the ground that week and by the end of the next week we had another foot added to it. Where's a bug when you need one?

DS's tried growing carnivorous plants before. For several years he would save his allowance for a few weeks before the local farmer's market opened for the season and purchase a venus fly trap from one of the market gardeners. Unfortunately, though he assiduously cared for each one and reported back to the seller whenever we went to the market, none survived more than a few months. These are looking better.

The venus flytrap set a flower stem, one of the sundews is blooming and the pitcher plant has a big beautiful new pitcher. Or whatever you call it. The part that catches the bug.

The main difference seems to be DS collected snow for melting or rainwater for watering the plants. Previously, we used our well water, thinking that was better than the treated county water. Seems we forgot to take the minerals in the well water into account, neither the public water supply nor most well water is good for these guys.

Now the only problem is finding insects for the plants. I'm assured that once summer arrives the plants will earn their keep by dispatching fruit flies but for now excitement comes from finding a slow-moving housefly buzzing around early in the season.

(Photo below is current. Note decomposing apple bit in lower front, resting on, I think, a Lego. According to DS, it's supposed to draw in unsuspecting fruit flies... I'm not sure what purpose the Lego serves. Maybe it keeps the soil from getting gooey? Photo at top of post is from early March.)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Tomato seedlings

This is what the tomato seedlings looked like on Thursday, April 1. Here's what they looked like today, Sunday, April 4. I'd recognize them anywhere, how about you?
Yesterday was so beautiful; I wanted to set out the seedlings to take their chances rather than keep them cooped up under the indoor lights. These days with temperatures in the 80s are so hard to resist. But with effort, I remember that our last frost date is often in early May and, only a couple of years ago, we had a hard freeze on May 30. So I resist temptation tho flowering bulbs are everywhere and the redbud trees, Nanking cherry bushes and tulip tree are exploding with blossoms.