January 28, 2011

Today's Seeds Started

Today was a big seed starting day. Second round of Solanaceae and first round of many other things. Here's what got seeded:

Red Cherry, 6
Arkansas Traveler, 6
Seeds in the greenhouse a few years ago.
Green Velvet, 6
Rosso Siciliano, 6
Plum Lemon, 6
Cherokee Purple, 6

Greens and Lettuce
Tatsoi, 12
Marvel of 4 seasons, 16
Gailan Queen, 8
Da Ping Pu, 8
Jericho, 6

January 24, 2011

House Guests

In addition to the dog, the chicken who broke her foot, and the spiders, we have quite a few lizards living with us in the house.

This is one of the two lizards who reside in the living room.

This guy lives in our bedroom window. There is a gap at the top of the screen so I know he's not trapped... I think he just likes it where he is. When it's cold outside, he sits on the aluminum window frame (I assume because it's warm). On a nice day he hangs out on the screen. I suspect he discovered that at night the light attracts insects through the screen so all he has to do is sit there and munch. He's going to get very fat.

There is a large lizard living in my office but he's squirrely and hard to catch with the camera. Maybe one day you'll get to meet him.

January 22, 2011

Spring Greens

Sometimes in spring (or late winter which is kind of early spring here) the fresh growth looks so good and juicy I want to eat it. Seriously, I am tempted.

Lucky duck (Or chicken, as the case may be). She gets to munch it all day long.

Yum yum yum.

Oh! She's on to me! She knows I covet her grass.

And now she's ignoring me. Maybe I can sneak some grass while she's not looking...

January 16, 2011

Thinking About Plastic Reusable Canning Jar Lids

I have an aversion to plastic, particularly in the kitchen. So, when I first saw these plastic reusable canning jar lids, my response was "well, that's stupid!" They're BPA free and are intended to replace conventional metal lids which, as you may or may not know, have a plastic coating inside (damned if you do and damned if you don't). But of course, BPA aside, they're still plastic and plastic is still toxic. Phthalates, dioxins, and BPA are not the only things leaching out of plastic that we need to worry about, they're just the ones we know about. 

So my plan has been to transition to all glass canning jars from Weck. But of course I can't do it all at once. This year I want to grow and can all my tomatoes and green chilies, plus the regular round of strawberry jam, blueberry jam, pumpkin butter, and assorted other pickles, chutneys, and preserves. I roughly calculated that I would need 100, 1L. Tulip glass jars from Weck (their Tulip shaped jars are the cheapest per ounce) just for tomatoes. That's about $350 worth of jars. I won't can green chilies or jam in 1 L. jars (because that's ridiculous) so I'll need a large quantity of other, smaller sized glass jars. I haven't done the whole calculation but I'm sure we're approaching or beyond $1000 in jars. And in future years I hope to grow and can all my pumpkin, fruits, and tomatillos so I'll need even more jars.

Which brings me back to reusable plastic lids. Even if I invest in some Weck jars this year, I'll still be doing a lot of canning in standard Mason jars which means I have to use either the normal metal, one-use lids (which have a plastic lining) or use reusable plastic lids. Can you guess where I'm going with this?

I'm a convert, although I have reservations. Eventually I'll be using all glass for canning but for the moment, if I have to use plastic, I might as well use plastic I don't throw away. It's definitely the "Non-Disposable, Low Waste" choice. However, I do think there is an opportunity here for a manufacturer to make all metal or glass reusable lids that work with the rings on standard canning jars.

And, as a side note: I do use one piece plastic lids for dry food storage and freezing food in Mason jars. I'd rather use zinc lids or something similar but they don't exist any more. One day I might have enough Weck jars to use them for non-canned food storage but I doubt it. Since the food never comes into contact with the lid and I put the lid on the food when it's cold, I don't think there is too much cause for alarm.

What are your canning issues and solutions?

January 14, 2011

White Bean and Kale (or Mustard Green) Soup

This is a new favorite (and quick) soup I threw together the other day with some cooked navy beans I had in the freezer, kale and mustard from the garden, and some other stuff. It was great so I'll try to reconstruct it for you. As with all my recipes, amounts are approximate... if you love greens, put more in. If I call for too much garlic, use less. And if you want your soup more or less soupy, adjust the amount of beans or liquid. 

While you could make this soup with spinach or cabbage I really recommend mustard and kale. Unlike spinach or cabbage, mustard and kale are bitter and they make a nice foil for the creamy ingredients in this soup.

White Bean And Kale Soup

1 onion, diced
1/2 head garlic, minced
Mustard greens soaking in the sink.
3 tbl. olive oil and/or butter
2 stalks celery, diced
1 qt. cooked white beans, undrained
2 qt chicken broth, beef broth, water or a combination
ham or bacon to taste (optional)
1 bunch kale, mustard, or other greens, cleaned and chopped
grated Parmesan cheese or Parmesan rind to taste
pinch freshly grated nutmeg

In large soup pot saute onion, garlic, and celery in oil and butter until just golden. Add undrained beans and broth. Simmer while cooking bacon or dicing ham... how much you use depends on how much meat flavor you want. Add ham or bacon to the soup and Parmesan rind if using. Simmer 15 minutes. Stir in greens, grated Parmesan, and nutmeg. Continue simmering until greens are just wilted, about 5 minutes.

This recipe is also a part of Pennywise Platter Thursdays at The Nourishing Gourmet :-)

Recipes From The Blogasphere

(First of all... how do you spell "blogasphere"? One g? Two gs? Is it blogersphere? Or blogosphere?)

Ah-hem. Anyway... Here are some recipes, from the vast collection of food related blogs in the segment of the internet we might decide to label if we could figure out how to spell it, that I want to cook soon:

Saag Aloo. Have I mentioned how much I love Indian food? Check out Mallika Basu's blog. It is scrumptious.

Butternut Vanilla Jam. I just discovered Putting Up With The Turnbulls and I can't wait to read through it all. And I have 4 butternut squashes staring at me from the counter.

Preserved Lemons. Citrus season is upon us. Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook also teaches me neat-o things like how to cure meat or cook wild hog.

Chiles En Nogado. We've talked about how much Homesick Texan rocks. And... she's coming out with a book!!! (I am not one to use multiple exclamation points willie-nillie but I think this warrants it.)

What food blogs do you love? What new recipes are you going to try soon?

January 13, 2011

Our Favorite Meals

I aspire to be a meal planner but I just can't make it happen. However, we do have some favorite meals and snacks which we eat all the time. I like to keep a list so when I'm feeling brain dead we still eat dinner.

Soupy Things...
Tomato Soup. Super easy.
Vegetable Stew. Anything goes.
White Bean Soup with garden fresh kale or mustard greens.

January 12, 2011

It is (Was) Time To Start Tomatoes (In Coastal Texas)

The average frost free date in my garden is March 15. For the first spring planting I find starting my Solanaceae seeds 12 weeks in advance works best. I've seen garden guides that instruct you to start your tomatoes 8, 6, or 4 weeks before the last frost. 8 weeks would work, 6 weeks is cutting it very close in my opinion and you'd have small plants. But 4 weeks! That is unreasonable. 

Giant peat pellets, compressed and inflated
(Later on in the season when there is more warmth and more sun the seedlings grow faster and therefor the time they need to grow for transplant is shorter.)

But back to December... counting back 12 weeks from March 15 we get December 15 as the first seed starting date for tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers! Of course I'm late this year (another good reason to aim for 12 weeks, that way even if you end up with 8 weeks you're still going to have nice sized plants for spring). I like to start mine 12 weeks early for two reasons. One, I have larger plants to put in the ground and with tomatoes, a larger plant means more stem to bury and more buried stem means more roots. Larger pepper transplants mean that I'm eating stuffed jalapenos earlier. The second reason is that, while Mar 15 is our average frost free date, some years we have very mild winters and I can put the tomatoes in March 1 easily or even as early as February with frost protection. If I have sizable plants I have more flexibility because they're less sensitive to cold.

In the past I've used peat pellets, peat pots, and standard black plastic cell packs of various sizes. Some years I grew thousands of plants in a greenhouse, others I only had a few so I kept them inside, and other years I started seedlings under lights. 

Greenhouses can be tricky in our climate and I have a small one which is harder to use than a big one. Here it is not unusual to have a 35 degree plus difference between high and low. Unless you have a large volume of air plus a significant thermal mass to help regulate temperature fluctuations you end up running out there all day long to ventilate or to close up the ventilation and it can't stay warm through the night without supplemental heat. Seeds require consistent temperatures for germination - large fluctuations prevent germination. This year I'm planning some projects to make the greenhouse more useful, but that is another story.

So here is how I start seeds:

Bread Before and After (100% Whole Wheat)

Bread doing its final proof on the board.

Bread after the oven, minus the two rolls I ate.

January 8, 2011

And The Winner Is...

...Emily from Sincerely, Emily! Thanks for playing! Email me you address (email can be found in the sidebar) and I'll send you your pie.

Well that was fun :-) What should I giveaway next?

January 6, 2011

Reminder: Easy As Pie Giveaway - Ends Saturday

Hey folks, remember to enter the Easy As Pie giveaway for your chance to win one chocolate cream pie mix and one coconut cream pie mix. Winner will be chosen Saturday.

January 3, 2011

Silly Birdies

Why do my chickens like to perch outside but never in their house? Instead, they sleep in a heap.

Garden Goals

Since I'm starting vegetable plants for spring I've been thinking about my garden goals this year. After I stopped farming our land I had a few years of very small (tiny) gardens. Part of the problem was simply that I had to get another job so I didn't have time and energy to grow much food. However I think mostly I was just very sad. I had anticipated problems and obstacles in staring my small farm, but I did not anticipate freakish amounts of rain. 

But I'm all better now (I've stopped beating myself up over my failure... there is really nothing I can do about 90+ inches of rain in 9 months) and ready to approach the garden in a professional manner again. I don't plan to sell produce, although I've had a few people let me know that they'll buy any extras, but I do plan to get back to growing in a professional way. This means carefully scheduling seed starting, transplanting, direct seeding, etc. (so there are not large gaps in production), choosing varieties intentionally (less "oh this looks fun" and more "I know this tomato produces well in this area"), collecting data on the harvest (so that over time I can compare varietal performance, effectiveness of techniques, location, etc), cover cropping, and crop rotation (actually having a plan about where things go). A professional grower (as opposed to a casual gardener) has a plan, works the plan, keeps records and uses all that info to inform next year's plan.

My production goals for this year are simple:
  • Grow the tomatoes we need for the year. We eat a fair amount of canned tomatoes. I'd like to grow and can everything we need. Food storage is going to be a challenge.
  • We also eat a ton of canned chilies and pickled jalapenos. I'd like to grow and can our year's supply. 2010 was a great pepper growing year for me.
  • Beans! We are huge bean eaters. Grow, dry, and store our beans for the year.
  • Garlic. I grew great garlic in TN but I have not grown good garlic here. We go through 3 or 4 heads a week every week of the year. Lets call it a low 150 heads of garlic a year. 
  • Grow enough luffa to replace our purchased scrubbie pads.
  • Develop an effective rotation plan for the new flock of chickens in their fancy new mobile house.

Eventually I'd like to grow all our onions, parch corn, potatoes, and sweet potatoes as well. Since we live in such a mild climate we eat out of the garden all year. It's not critical that we have a winter store of food. However, the foods I've mentioned we use unseasonably as the basis for our meals which are otherwise filled with fresh garden produce.

What are your garden goals this year?

January 2, 2011

Props To "Cooking Light" For Changing Their Stance On Eggs

For the past few years the magazine Cooking Light has mostly just ticked me off. Their premise, that one should become healthy by eating lean meat and low fat dairy, I think is wrong headed. The emphasis on lean chicken breasts in particular makes me crazy. Seriously, how many lean chicken breasts does one person want to eat?

That is slowly changing. Recently (I wish I could be more specific but I couldn't find it... certainly within the past two years) Cooking Light had a short article on eggs in which they partially revised their stance. They said the cholesterol in eggs isn't so bad and since eggs are so nutritious you should definitely eat them. But then went on to say that you should limit yourself to one a day so that you don't consume too much cholesterol! Everything in moderation, right?

I found this very irritating. They had the evidence right in front of them but were too cautious to really come out and make a stand which would contradict what "everyone knows" about eggs and cholesterol. 

However, this month, the very first article after the letter from the editor and the letters to the editor says this:

January 1, 2011

Easy As Pie - Review and Giveaway!

Easy As Pie is the brain child of an old friend in Charleston, South Carolina. She makes cream pie mixes in 5 flavors. Right now Chocolate Fudge, Banana Pudding Pie, and Coconut Cream Pie are available for order. Each package includes pie filling mix and meringue mix with instructions for both stove-top and microwave preparation.

My mom gave me three of the mixes so for NYE I used the Banana Pudding Pie mix. Now, since I am incapable of following a recipe to the letter and since I didn't have bananas or Nilla Wafers I substituted 1 3/4 c. pureed strawberries for the water and made a Strawberry Cream Pie instead :-) 

Unfortunately I don't have a picture, but OMG, what an incredible pile of meringue! My husband, as a great lover of "calf slobber" (as my grandfather used to call it), was ecstatic. The pie had a nice strong vanilla flavor (and berries in my case). For me it was a touch too sweet, but then I normally use half the sugar a recipe calls for so I don't have average tastes. As my mom pointed out, since the instructions require the addition of shelf-stable ingredients only, this is a perfect pie mix to bring camping or to your electricity-free cabin in the woods. The ingredients are all things you've heard of and don't include corn syrup or hydrogenated oils.

Now for the giveaway. If you're interested in receiving one Coconut Cream Pie and one Chocolate Fudge Pie mix from Easy As Pie, just leave a comment below and I'll choose a random winner on January 8. Please, one entry per person.

P.S. Dear person who wins... I opened the chocolate package to see what it looked like inside before deciding to make strawberry. The mixes inside are in separate sealed bags so there is no risk of cootie transfer. I just don't want you to worry when you receive your mixes and the chocolate has been opened. Enjoy your pie!

On Holiday Food, Family, and Velveeta Cheese

While catching up with friends post-holiday this year I noticed a trend. 

Those of us who normally eat crazy stuff like raw cheese, tatsoi, and pastured eggs can become frustrated when we spend the holidays with parents or relatives who believe healthy means low fat or that cheese dip should be canary yellow. If you spend enough time eating things cooked from scratch with whole and wholesome ingredients, both the mind and the body rebel when you consume the foods of childhood: the green been casserole made with canned condensed soup, the GMO tortilla chips dipped in Velveeta queso, or the wiggly Jello salad complete with marshmallows and Cool Whip. What is a body to do?

All this reminded me of an op-ed piece by Andi McDaniel I read in the Washington Post a few years ago. Andi is a friend of mine from college, journalist, blogger, big thinker and all around cool gal. She was nice enough to let me reprint her insightful piece for you to enjoy.

Mom's Cooking, So Hold The Arugula
by Andi McDaniel
I confess. I’m one of those “thoughtful” eaters you’ve been hearing so much about — the ones interrogating the arugula in the produce section or scrutinizing the ingredients on each box of Annie’s mac and cheese. When there’s a traffic jam in Aisle 3, it’s usually us, commandeering the tortilla chips, weighing the question of local vs. organic against any number of other eco-socio-ethical concerns.
I shop like this because, according to what I’ve learned from books such as “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “Fast Food Nation” and from spending two summers working on organic farms, it’s the most effective way to “vote” for a healthier food system.
But for all my pondering in the produce aisle, there’s a point where I draw the line. The few times a year when I visit my folks at my childhood home in suburban Chicago, you won’t hear me talking about food miles or the sheer horror of a transcontinental February tomato. When Mom’s cooking, I check my dogma at the door.