Sunday, October 19, 2014

Freezers...

Just when all is going happily along with putting food up for the season, the freezer died.

Yep, kaput. 

Luckily, I had a nearly cleaned out freezer in the house fridge and things had not entirely defrosted, so I was able to save the majority of the fruit and vegetables.  Some things had sadly defrosted, so it was quick decision time.  I drained the sopping cherries and put them in the dehydrator.  The remaining bag of frozen tomatoes I cooked down, ran through the sieve, and popped into the dehydrator as well to dry down into tomato powder.  And a few things, sadly, had warmed too much and went to the chickens: bacon jam, apple butter, lime pulp, frozen soup...well, they were happy.

And then more scariness.  The dang OTHER freezer, chock full of meat, decided to go on the fritz.  It warmed up to 25 degrees, and wouldn't turn on, until I called friends in a panic.  And then, of course, it clicked on and decided to run.  Augh.  Tentatively, all seems to be doing well with it, although it sounds a little odd.  Keep your fingers crossed that things stay cold and frozen in there.  I may have the freezer repair guy come out and take a look at it, should it still sound funny on Monday.

How much longer is Mercury in retrograde, anyway?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Holiday Plans

I just love this picture of my two dogs, taken last Christmas.

But perhaps, too soon?

I know.  It's not even Halloween yet.  But, to be honest, I've started thinking about the holidays.  Part of it is, I make a lot of presents, so I've got to start that early.  Otherwise, things get a little stressful.  Another part of it is, I rather like having a holiday break--one of my perks of my day job.  And it's been a bit of stressful fall thus far, but that's ok.  It makes the breaks something to anticipate.

Along the present making lines, I've been working on making wool dryer balls.  I'm thinking of packing them in little boxes, with a tiny bottle of essential oil.  And I have a stash of crafts I've made, that I recently rediscovered.  I love finds like that.  So far, I've found a couple of china cup bird feeders, and chalkboard pots, and gardeners hand scrub, and even a rather fun peanut feeder made from a slinky.  I may just pull some stuff out of the stash for myself...

I've also got a few knitting projects on tap, as always.  I was going to knit a whole bunch of hats, but I kind of lost my mojo for that particular idea.  I'll likely knit a couple, but not a whole slew.  Last year, I knitted so many presents, it was wonderful but wow, a lot of work.  I'm thinking a bit fewer knitting projects this holiday is a good present for myself.

But the wool dryer balls, those are easy peasy.  I simply made balls of wool yarn, popped them in old socks, and ran them through the hot water and a hot dryer three or four times.  And then I wound up with these lovely felted balls, perfect for tossing in with a load of laundry and taking away static naturally.  It's a great use for some very pretty but rather scratchy Nantucket wool I was gifted!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Plants, Indoors.

With the arrival of fall weather, I decided to try and save my many pots of herbs.  This winter, they will be residing in style under full-spectrum lighting (one warm bulb + one cool bulb = full spectrum on a budget), warm and cosy.

I am very fond of using fresh herbs, both in cooking and "fresh" tea.  There is nothing better in the depths of February than a mug of lemon tea brewed from lemon verbena and lemon balm leaves.  I also have ginger mint and peppermint in pots.  There's Thai basil, parsley, sage and rosemary, plus my teeny Bay tree.  With luck, they will all survive the winter and head back outside come spring to grow outdoors for another season.

Having the lights set up in the living room has a fringe benefit--not only do the plants thrive, but I get the additional bright light added to my winter days.  I'm not severely affected by the lack of light in the winter months, but I do find it helps me feel a bit less like a grumpy bear on the darkest days.  Plus, I get fresh parsley!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

You Can Never Have Too Much Ketchup

One of my favorite condiments to make is tomato ketchup.  I don't slather it on everything, but the homemade stuff tastes so much better than any of the commercial brands I've tried (even the fancy pants organic ones) that I can't help but use it up.  Not only is it great for dabbing on burgers or dipping fries into, it's also great to add to other things to make Thousand Island Dressing or fancy dipping sauces for homemade chicken fingers, fish cakes, or fried up shrimp.

Not that I would ever eat those things, oh no, not me.  I do eat the occasional fried stuff, but mostly, it's ketchup on burgers or in other stuff (like my favorite hamburger soup) for me.

Basically, I follow the recipe in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving for ingredients and processing time, but what actually goes into my homemade ketchup varies a bit.  I start with homegrown tomatoes, which were frozen whole, then boiled down in a bit of water and cranked through my food mill to remove the skins and seeds.  I put all that watery pulpy liquid into my crockpot, add 3 to 4 cups of cider vinegar (it depends on how much pulp I wind up with), add about a cup of sugar and a tablespoon or two of salt, and then comes the spices.  This last batch, I used my mortar & pestle and ground up onions and garlic that I had dehydrated earlier in the year, and then added the powder to the crock pot.  I use a vintage large tea ball to hold my spices of choice: a broken-up cinnamon stick, three whole allspice berries, four whole cloves, and a large whole star anise.  That gets plonked into the crock pot, and then they simmer down on low-to-warm for hours and hours and hours.

This last batch took 42 hours to cook down.  It was very watery, but smells and tastes incredibly fresh and robust now that it has thickened up to the perfect consistency.

Once everything is ready, I heat up my sterilized jars, pop on a lid, and process the finished ketchup for 15 minutes in a hot water bath.  I usually put my ketchup in half-pint jars, as I tend to use ketchup slowly and if I put it in a bigger jar, sometimes it goes moldy on me before I can finish it up.

If you have a stash of homegrown tomatoes, I recommend using some to make your own ketchup.  It's worth the effort, trust me!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tiny


This past weekend, I finally watched Tiny: A Story About Living Small, a documentary film about one man and his journey building his small house on a trailer. I'm so glad that I did.  Of course, now I want to build one...I already live in a small house, but the idea of having a smaller, tiny house on wheels wakes up my inner little girl who never had a "real" dollhouse.  The concept of having a small house that could be packed up and moved away is so cool to me.  Having a small space to either go and read in, take a nap in, or put up weekend guests in...now THAT would be delightful as well.  They are extremely charming as well, with a whole lot of craftsman charm and miniature porches and sleeping lofts and reading lights fueled by solar panels.

Yeah.  I think, someday, I'm building one of them for myself.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Two Days...

In two days, I'm starting a 100 Mile Local Food Challenge.  For ten days, I've committed to eating only what is produced within 100 miles of my home.  I can include ten exotics (coffee, thankfully, is on my list) but other than that, it's all local all the time, baby.

I've done a bit of homework for the past month or so to prepare for this challenge.  Namely, I tracked down a source for flour, so I don't need to use that as one of my exotics.  And I have, of course, been stashing food per usual over the summer months so I have a lot of homegrown canned goods and frozen veg in the freezer.  I've been hunting down recipes, too, for things like homemade pasta, bagels, different breads and things to do with eggs (I have lots of eggs).  I also have some barter connections, for things like apples, and a good idea of what to eat that is in season, and therefore should be easy to find.  I'm planning on hitting the local co-ops for things like local milk, winter greens (arugula, I'm looking at you, kid), and maybe some yummy yogurt.

I am a little concerned about increased food costs, what with purchasing a different milk and whatnot than I usually do, but mostly, I think I'm going to be eating what I've stocked away.  I don't eat out much, so packing lunches for work won't be any more an issue than it is any other week.  And as far as I know, no one is throwing a party or planning a girls' night out, but if that did happen, I'm opting to join in on the social eating joyousness and say to heck with the local food issue for an evening.  Like any other food mantra, being a local food purist could become very off-putting to other folks, and I certainly don't want to be one of those people

Mostly, I'm excited to try this.  The larger group that is participating across the nation during this month of October are exploring issues ranging from lack of local foods to food justice to improved health/weight loss from eating "healthier" local options to converting their neighbors to the joys of local food.  For myself, I'm curious to see if, within ten days, is it possible to avoid all foods not produced within 100 miles.  I'm thinking it will be, which is as good a hypothesis to work from as any. 

Time shall tell, right?  I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Bread Rhapsody

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” – James Beard

I am not afraid of bread.
I do not fear bread as the root of all evil.
Bread is the stuff of life, not the food of lies.
Bread does not make one sluggish, fat, or prone to muffin tops.
Bread is freakin' good, man, and you should eat it.

Good bread, that is, should be eaten as often as you can find it.  Balance it with some protein, vegetables and fruit, and you have yourself one heck of a powerhouse in your belly.  A good slice of bread with some cheese and an apple makes for a terrific mid-day lunch, on which you can power through reports, gardening, or pretty much anything else your afternoon might throw at you.

I am in love with the flour I bought last weekend.  It wouldn't be too much to say that it is life changing, although life affirming might be more apt.  You can taste that this flour, it's alive, like drinking shrub or eating fermented pickles tastes alive.  It's chewy, and nutty, dense and rich, almost unbelievably good.  I've made several loaves of bread a la the Bread in Five method.  They were wonderful.  I made a batch of bagels, my first ever attempt, and they far surpass anything you can find in the grocery store.  I would say that they are even better than the area bagel companies that everyone raves about.  (Granted, I think it is impossible to find a good bagel in the Upper Midwest, but then again, I did live in New York for a bit where bagels are the stuff of life...)  I'm glad I got 25 pound bags of the flours, because I can't stop baking with it.  I even used the All Purpose whole wheat flour in my favorite pie recipe (Cranberry Nut Pie, sooooo gooooooood) and while I admit, I love this pie nearly obscenely, it made it even. better.  I didn't think that was even possible...

Don't fear bread.
If you must fear anything about bread, fear the crap that lines the grocery aisle.
Fear the conventionally grown wheat that is sprayed with glyphosate and then harvested, processed, and made into conventional flours.
But don't fear bread.  
Bread is your friend.  You should eat some.