Saturday, January 30, 2010

Waiting for Spring

More and more dirt is visible between the shrinking patches of snow - but for how long I don't know. I'm sure winter isn't done with us yet, and I'm glad, too. The last two winters were extremely dry, so it's nice to see these series of storms come through regularly. My fall-seeded arugula has sprouted under the snow, and with a bit of sun the tiny plants are starting to turn green. I've got wire over it, hoping the quail won't find it for a while yet. Last year's leeks are still in fine shape, except that some of the chickens have found them, and have been munching on the tops a bit (more wire keeps them from digging them up completely). The walking onions are starting to send up some green sprouts too, but no garlic, shallots, or spinach visible yet.

I'm sure the stresses of the dry past two winters contributed to my losing a nectarine tree to borers last year. I'm still waiting to see if my pie cherry tree can recover, but haven't had to worry about trying to get water to my trees this winter. Now, if only the cold weather will stay until real spring comes. February warm spells followed by May snowstorms are all too common around here, making a fruit harvest an iffy project every year.

Inside the house, the small batch of apple cider is still fermenting. I didn't add any sugar to this batch, since it's destined for the vinegar jar, but the apples had softened and sweetened in storage - fruit sugars now still feeding the bit of yeast I added.

Outside, a bit of sun this morning and temperatures above freezing led me to think I might be able to get some sheets to dry out on the clothesline. By afternoon, I've lost the sun, but they still might dry. The chickens come running when I step out onto the deck to go see if I can bring the sheets in - she might have food!

The sheets are still damp, but I do throw a few handfuls of corn out for the chickens. More and more of them are starting to resume laying eggs as the days lengthen. Eating corn helps them stay warm at night in our unheated coop, but I want them to start eating more of the laying crumbles. Three eggs in the nest boxes today, plus a fourth they broke. I've got eggshells saved up in a jar in the house - I'll have to get them crushed up and start feeding them back to the birds. Earlier this morning I saw one of Missy's girls standing in the doorway of the old doghouse under the black walnut tree. Missy, now gone, was a notorious nest hider, and passed that trait on to some of her offspring. So I look inside the doghouse, and sure enough, there's a fresh green-shelled egg (we had an Amerucana rooster for a while) lying on the floor. I'll have to start checking in there regularly now too, I guess.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Name That Culture

Pete lives in our refrigerator. Pete came here almost 20 years ago, but I'm sure he's much older than that. As a newlywed, and new to the neighborhood, I frequently saw an elderly neighbor walking her dogs past our house, so introduced myself. She lived in the house down the street with a wonderful garden. Her husband did the gardening, she did the cooking, and although now long retired, used to run a local catering business. We became good friends. She could see me out in my garden from her kitchen window, and when I'd come in for a break and the phone would ring, I could bet it would be Mae.

But I was talking about Pete, wasn't I? As a newlywed, my husband used to reminisce about the wonderful sourdough waffles his grandma used to make, asking if maybe I could learn to make them. His grandma was long gone, and his mom didn't bother with sourdough anymore either. But I happened to mention it one day while over visiting with Mae. She pulled out her jar of starter out of her refrigerator then and there, filled up a pint jar, and gave it to me along with instructions and a couple of recipes (I've also found Adventures in Sourdough Cooking & Baking, by Charles Wilford, a great resource for additional recipes). I have no idea how long she'd kept that starter going, but I'm betting it was decades. She also told me that, since the starter needs to be cared for and fed regularly, I should also give it a name just like any other house pet.

And so, Sourdough Pete came to live with us. What got me to thinking about all this, however, was that last night I realized I have another culture living here now that needs to be fed and cared for. There's a gallon jug of apple cider fermenting away on my kitchen counter, destined for my vinegar jar up in the cupboard. And it's the mother of vinegar I got last fall that will make it happen. I've heard about the folklore saying to name your sourdough starter, but never anything about vinegar mother. But I figure it's the same principle, and I certainly don't want to discriminate. So I've decided to name my vinegar mother Jolene, and hope she'll have a long and happy life here with us too.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Just Checking In

Not too much happening outside. The snow finally melted a few days ago - long enough for me to see that some arugula seeded last fall had started to sprout. And then another series of storms moved in. We got about 3 inches of wet sloppy snow yesterday, a bit of blue sky today, and then the clouds moved in again this evening.

I've been checking on the produce in the cellar, and most seems to be keeping quite well. I separated the storage apples last fall by keeping ability and possible damage. Today, we pulled about 1/2 bushel of ones that I didn't think would last very long and crushed them for a small batch of cider. We only had to toss about six of them as complete losses, and do a bit of trimming on a few others, but they had held in amazingly good condition. They'd softened and sweetened quite a bit. Just hand-squeezing the bag of apple mush, we got about 5 quarts of juice, and then the chickens got a real treat.

I've got almost a gallon of the juice in a glass jar with a fermentation lock on it, sitting on the kitchen counter, and it's already started to bubble. My first batch of cider vinegar turned out really good, and as soon as this gallon finishes fermenting I'll bottle what vinegar I have and start another batch. The rest of the apple juice is in the refrigerator for drinking fresh.

I haven't been able to get outside much, with all the storms coming through, so I've been playing inside on the computer. Obviously, though, I haven't been working on my blog posts, although I do still manage to get my contributions onto the SGF Co-op blog whenever it's my turn. Instead, I've been playing on FaceBook - as my sister says, "it's not a social net-working site; it's a social not-working site." Ah, well - what can I say?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Zucchini Brownies

After seeing that zucchini in my last post, the Girl in the Pink Dress asked for more zucchini recipes. In early summer, when we have lots of small, fresh-out-of-the-garden zukes, they'll usually end up either in a quick sauté with garlic and onions, or breaded and baked into zucchini sticks.

This time of year, they often end up in soups and pasta dishes. But it sounds like Girl's really looking for "hidden zuke" recipes (sounds like her husband is a lot like mine). Zucchini hides well in baked goods. After quite a bit of experimenting, I've ended up with a great muffin recipe. The secret is using dry milk instead of adding any more liquid.

Even better than those, though, is a brownie recipe my Colorado sister sent me. Even though this makes a big panful, I'm lucky to get a piece or two from
Mr. Pickymy sweet husband. Sis doesn't blog, so I'm gonna post her recipe:

Zucchini Brownies (the cake type)
1¼ cup sugar
2 cups whole wheat flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons baking soda
½ cup applesauce (or can substitute oil)
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups shredded zucchini (I use the big holes on a box grater)
½ cup chocolate chips (optional)
½ cup chopped nuts (optional)

Mix liquid ingredients into dry, adding zucchini last. Stir in optional ingredients if using (I always do). Spread the thick batter evenly in 8" x 11" greased pan. Bake 25 - 30 minutes, 350º - until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The January Cellar & Pantry

Even though the past summer wasn't the best in terms of garden output, we're still eating pretty good around here. On my latest trip down into the cellar I brought up one of the last two fresh zucchinis. By purposely letting the last few zukes of the summer grow to club-size, they'll store, unrefrigerated, for a few more months. The skin has turned almost completely golden, but the flesh is still firm.

The black-eyed peas from New Year's Day are gone. I've been cooking up crockpot full of a different dried legume regularly - adding no seasoning at the time so I can then incorporate them into different recipes during the week. This week's legume is garbanzo beans. Using some of them, along with part of the zucchini, home-canned tomato sauce, storage onions, garlic, and carrots, frozen bell peppers, spinach, and pesto, I made up a minestrone-inspired stew (I put quinoa in it instead of pasta - thickening it into stew consistency, plus adding protein). Chopped fresh tomatoes (can't compare to summer tomatoes, but the last of my paste tomatoes, harvested green, eventually do turn red in storage) made a nice garnish on top at serving time.

This afternoon, we had a potluck/brainstorming session at work. Everyone brought munchies and snacks, so I put together a dried fruit platter from my pantry. Clockwise from the top, there are sliced nectarines, plum halves, raisins, pumpkin pie leather (actually, from a big pink banana squash - even better), and pie cherries, all home-grown.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Ok, Might as Well Start Writing Again

I like to take a bit of a break from posting every now and then. I wonder if it's better for those reading to have something for them to read every day, or if I don't really have anything to say, then don't. Actually, I've been quite busy - just either don't feel like writing it up, or haven't re-sized and labeled the photos that I've taken, and don't want to post without them.

Then, too, when I do take a break from writing, sometimes it's hard to get back in the habit again. Ah, well, it's not like I'm looking to set any readership records, anyway. I started this blog mainly as a way to let my mom and sisters know what I was up to, and am still amazed that it's caught the eye of so many others.

So, a brief catching up: we got the batch of beer bottled, and it should now be ready to move from bedroom down to the cellar. The Christmas decorations are all put away, and I'm washing the linens today. Red and green looks right during December, but it's a bit too strident after New Year's. While the days are still short and dark, I really like the coziness and simplicity of red and white. I've got a few projects to finish, and more lined up, and am looking at some more volunteering activities. The seed catalogs are coming in, so I've got some planning to do - figuring out if I need to order anything. I wish you all health, wealth, and happiness in 2010.