Thursday, July 31, 2014

Even the Porch has Purpose.

In my ongoing quest to get this joint a little less horribly disorganized, I spent yesterday cleaning the porch.

All Day.  Really.  It was pretty bad out there.

But now, it's so much better!  Whee!

This is the start of my summer kitchen corner--the vintage stove is in place!

This empty space will soon have a free-to-me fridge for ferments and seeds.

New improved canning storage, with all kinds of necessary gear.

Ernest Hemingway is soooo impressed.
Finally, a place for seed storage containers & all my egg cartons!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pretty Pantry

It took two days, but my pantry is once again an orderly place.  Through the course of the year, it had gotten a little out of control. Dry goods here, there and everywhere.  Dried food mixed with canned food, jelly and jam as far as the eye could see.

Mayhem.  Sheer mayhem.

After purging a million-and-a-half jars of really, really old jam, jelly and pickles (only slightly exaggerating here, actually) it was time to figure out some way to better order the remaining jars and boxes. Thank goodness for labels and sharpie markers!

Soups, beans, chutneys, salsa and meats
Canning rings & lids, canned veg and dried fruits.
Flours, sugar, assorted dry goods.
Jam, condiments, pickles and beets!
After all this organization, it's obvious that I need lots more salsa, canned meats, beets, and pickles.  I think I'm good on honey for a while, and I really need to eat more soup.  I've already restocked my canned beans--black, Calypso, and garbanzo--and I really should make some more of my favorite tomato-basil sauce.  That stuff is seriously good...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hot Weather & Bread

Oh, summer heat, how the garden loves you.

But oh, how you put a cramp in this baker's style.

Baking bread on an 80+ degree day is not something I enjoy, but man, do I enjoy baking bread.  What is a girl to do?

I suppose I could go buy bread, but that is never as good as the stuff I can bake up on my own.  Lucky for me, there's all kinds of information on the internet about using your crockpot as a bread baker.  Yes, the crockpot once again saves the day.  Yeehaw!  (Just FYI, I found a great resource here)

Now, I don't have room in my fridge for a bucket of dough, so I decided to bake up my favorite bread recipe and try that instead.  The picture above was taken just after plopping the round loaf into the preheated crockpot.  After a bit, it expanded and puffed and actually looked like a loaf of bread! I was so excited...and unfortunately, could not stop lifting the lid to poke at it.  Bad baker.  So, my final after-the-broiler loaf is somewhat deflated, but smells right and the texture is pretty dang good.  (I was too embarrassed by the after picture to share it.  Trust me, it looks like...squashed bread.)

Moral of the story: this technique does indeed work and does save you from having the hot oven on for a long time.  Sure, the broiler heats the joint a little, but far less than having a 400 degree oven on for 40 minutes would.  And, my favorite bread recipe did work, so huzzah!  The recipe, by the way, follows below...

Maple Oatmeal Bread from Harrowsmith's 'Country Cooking' cookbook

You'll need 1/4 cup butter, 1 1/2 cups rolled oats, 1/2 cup maple syrup, 2 tsp. kosher salt, 2 cups boiling water, 3 Tbsp. yeast, 3 Tbsp. brown sugar, 1/2 cup warm water, 6 cups of flour (I used half spelt and half AP)

Combine butter, oats, maple syrup, salt in a large bowl.  Pour boiling water over and stir.  In a small bowl, combine yeast, brown sugar, and warm water.  Stir, and then put the small bowl into the middle of the large bowl--it keeps the yeast warm, and if it foams over, no worries.

After the oat mixture cools to warm, pour the yeast into the oats and stir to combine.  Add the flour 2 cups at a time, beating well to combine after each addition.  Then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about five minutes until springy and soft.  Plop into a greased bowl and allow to rise for about an hour, or until doubled.  Then, punch down dough and knead lightly.  Divided into two equal halves, shape into loaves or put into greased loaf pans.  Allow bread to rise for another half hour, and then bake in a preheated 400 degree oven (or, crockpot on high) for thirty to 45 minutes (or about an hour in the crockpot).  Makes two luscious loaves, great as toast or decadent french toast, but also good as a slightly sweet hearty sandwich bread.

Monday, July 28, 2014

New Shed

The directions said "This kit will take 2 people 2 hours to complete."

Liars.  It took most of a Saturday--but it did only take two intrepid women to complete (and we improved upon the directions, too.)  For all the fun of putting together a giant shed-in-a-box, it's great to have a new storage space.  It can hold all kinds of stuff: holiday decorations, garden stuff, chicken gear.
I opted to put a couple old pallets on the ground, and top them with some chipboard plywood on top, to make a floor.  I had a few spare plastic shelving units, so those are on the right side with smaller bits and bobs on them.  And, now all my outdoor rakes and hoes and such are in one spot, out of the rain.  All this organization has inspired me to tackle the porch!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Good Books

Of the various community-minded projects I've decided to do, one of my most favorite is the Little Free Library.  Perched on a post in front of the house, it's cheerfully painted and tin-roofed.  It also holds a ton of books.  Really good books, by the way.  There's stuff on gardening, on goats, on greenhouse building.  There's classic food preservation manuals, memoirs in the farming-country-living genre, and treatises on self-sufficiency.  There's an impressive array of chicken manuals, and a handful of DVDs about food production, living simply, and seeds.  I may just have the greatest collection of classic 1970s Storey Living Guides this side of the Hay River.

And, it's all available for free.  That's the best part, really.  No library card needed, no late fees, no dues.  Just come, pick out a book or two, and take them home to enjoy.  Return them when you're done with them, whether that's two weeks or two years.  Come during the day or after dark, week day or weekend, and you'll find the Little Free Library is open and available to you.

I don't always see folks come by, but I know they do.  Books disappear, return, and occasionally, a new one gets dropped off.  Right now, I'm relishing the Book of Gardener Quotations.  Oh, and I snagged the copy of Stocking Up!, to see how it compares to my more current preservation manuals. (As steward, I do treat the LFL as an extension of my own bookshelves...but I don't think anyone would mind.)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Miracle of Broth

I've been cleaning out the freezers to make room for this year's harvest to squeeze in there.  It's amazing what you can find--pesto from 2011, peas from 2009.  Far too old to eat now, but they make fine compost additions.  Aside from vegetables, frozen and forgotten, I unearthed several remains of former roast chickens.  I save the bones (in the freezer) to later combine with odds and ends of vegetables and make decadent homemade broth.  Of course, when you cram multiple carcasses in there, sometimes you lose track of a few...

Anyway...I dug out the three most recent (and tossed the older five), popped them in a giant pot with onion, garlic, and the odd frond of herbage, let them simmer away, and I was left with this: four quarts of lovely homemade stock.  I followed the directions in my canning book and after cooking them under 11 pounds of pressure for 25 minutes, I have stock that can hang out on my pantry shelf until called into action.

That reminds me, I really need to reorganize the pantry shelves. I sense another project?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Bringing in the Hay

Its been a lush summer, with plenty of rain which has been making the fields grow and grow and grow.  Unfortunately for us, it's been so wet and cool that its been hard to cut the fields, let alone have the hay dry and be ready for baling.  I think if you can serve up silage, you're jumping for joy.  But those of us with flocks and herds that need hay are having a teensy bit more of a struggle. 

Lucky for me, I have a great hay connection with a local dairy farmer, who has actually been able to bale up quite a lot hay in the past week (when it finally stopped raining for a while).  I was able to pick up six fresh and lovely, fragrant bales plus two bales of straw (for chicken bedding) a couple days ago.  The Hay Hut is now restocked, much to the delight of the rabbits.  My only wish would be that our dry spell will continue, so more hay can be gathered up...and perhaps bring the price per bale down a little bit.  $5 per bale is a bit much for any budget, so it would be nice if the market would swing a bit lower as the season progresses.  Not that I begrudge the farmers an income, its just when you buy six bales and spend $30, you start to commiserate with people who have larger herds of even bigger hay eaters!  Thank goodness the rabbits don't run through their stash in a week.

I am really glad, though, that there is hay this year.  I can remember last season (or two) when rain was scarcer than hen's teeth and there was no hay.  Man, that was a whole different kind of worry.  Its nice to not have that particular one this season.  The rabbits are quite happy with their current stash.