Tuesday, September 1, 2020

High Summer in Olympia

 'Maters in the window sill. The Black Crims and Black Sea Man tomatoes (both "Russian" in origin) have outdone themselves for us this year! Tomato sandwiches and salads galore. It seems that the recipe for success in the Pacific Northwest is to grow a variety of tomato, melon, etc. that was designed to survive in Canada, Minnesota or Russia. 😄 

Saturday, August 31, 2019


....or onions, however you prefer to say it. This year, we've got 'em.

We had to harvest our onions and shallots earlier than planned this year, primarily because we have some very hungry bunnies who have infiltrated our garden and have completely destroyed the carrots, peas, beets and beans, nibbled the potatoes down to a nub and might have claimed our precious onions next. Sure, people say that they won't eat alliums (garlic, onions, chives, etc.), but let me just tell you, these bunnies will! In fact, they slayed my first planting of garlic chives (and my hostas, pineapple sage, parsley) before I replanted them in a very tall pot that they cannot access. I am being undone by 4-ounce fluff balls, and that is annoying.

So today I started processing some of our onions and shallots. Whoa, Nelly! My house smells.... pungent.

Half of the onions are getting chopped and frozen, just under half are being dehydrated for seasoning and soup bases, likewise the shallots. The funk coming out of my dehydrator right now is eye-watering.

Up next, Padron peppers! I don't especially look forward to the resultant air quality that their processing will produce either, but there are bigger issues here - the "spicy hands". If you've ever prepared hot peppers at home, I know you know what I'm talking about. The capsaicin gets on your hands and anything you touch with your hands - eyeballs, nose - not mention when you visit the bathroom. IT IS BAD NEWS.

Gloves are an absolute must to avoid the spicy hands because no amount of soap & water, baking soda, milk, yogurt, vinegar or anything else will completely remove the oils. My hands were so fiery last time I processed Anaheim peppers (which aren't even that dang spicy) that I literally couldn't sleep.

So, learn from my fail and proceed with caution, fellow kitchen garden geeks! Happy harvest!

Monday, August 19, 2019

Summer Catch-up

It has been another strange Summer here in Western Washington. We've had a few 90+ degree days, quite a few 80+ degree days, and as of late, a lot of meh 70ish-degree days with overcast skies and relatively high humidity. The garden is as confused as I am.

We've been fairly fortunate so far this season, in terms of wildfires and the resultant smoke and pollution. They have been fewer and smaller in our state this year, which is a huge relief to everybody.

So the air quality is decent, but the humidity/heat/rainfall has been all over the map. Add to that that we've had a massive wild rabbit boom this year, and the sad state of my garden and it's output are thus explained. Even the zucchinis are under-performing this year. What the....???

The plants that are providing for us this year are our two remaining apple trees (two were lost in "snowmageddon"), our pear tree, the Himalayan blackberries that have enveloped the chicken yard, the pumpkins, the rhubarb, my porch-pot herbs (assorted thyme, chives, oregano, rosemary and pineapple sage) and the weeds, both good and bad.

Scabby Apples, variety unknown
A *volunteer* rhubarb!

The nettle harvest was decent, and made a good dozen jars of nettle pesto for the freezer. The broad-leaf plantain has also given plenty of itself for use in our soaps. The not-so-helpful weeds have been working overtime to try and take over the pasture - Canada thistle, tansy ragwort, and, my frenemy, the Himalayan blackberry, are trying the hubs' patience and doing a number on his scythe.

We've been getting about a five gallon bucket's worth of apples daily in the form of windfalls alone. The piggos are very much enjoying the bounty. Just the thought of trying to process those apples into something like juice, cider or jam wears me out, so I've more been more than happy to pass them along to the pigs, who will magically transform them in to bacon and chops for me instead.

Kevin Bacon, Hereford/Berkshire, 220ish #
 Jimmy Dean, Gloucester Old Spots, 190ish #
Both approx 7 mos.

Kev-Kev and Jimbo scarfing some apples

Our neighboring blueberry farms are having a great season, and I need to stock up before they're done for the year, but I just haven't mustered the energy to get myself down there yet. I know the window of opportunity on nabbing a lot of these fleeting harvesting and foraging opportunities is closing, so I need to hustle my bustle and get those goods socked away before this Summer officially peters out.

Blarg! Time to get out there and get 'er done. :P

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Recipe: Duck Egg Noodles

These simple and delicious, homemade egg noodles, made using our Muscovy and Black Swedish duck eggs, were a hit with the whole family! I added 1/4 cup of blanched, finely chopped stinging nettles to this batch as well, as I had them on hand. You can take or leave the addition, or substitute your family's favorite fresh herbs, kale, citrus zest or a bit of beet or pumpkin puree to mix things up a bit. 

Fresh duck egg and stinging nettle noodles.

An eggy windfall - where it all begins!
Duck Egg Noodles

-3 cups all purpose flour (plus extra for rolling out)
-2 whole eggs
-4 egg yolks
-2 tsps salt
-2-3 tbsps water, more or less*
-1/4 cup blanched, well drained, chopped stinging nettles (or chopped herbs, kale, etc.) *optional*

Start with your flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle for your eggs & yolks. Gently scramble the eggs with a fork, slowly beginning to incorporate the flour/salt mixture. Once the eggs and dry ingredients are well mixed, begin adding water in small increments, kneading and squeezing the dough together after each addition. Continue adding water as needed to the dough to reach your desired consistency. Now it's time to fold in the nettles. Knead them into the dough well, until the are mixed evenly throughout. Allow the dough to rest for at least 10 or 15 minutes before rolling out. I run my dough through the pasta roller attachment on my Kitchenaid mixer, rather than rolling the dough out by hand.** 

After rolling out into sheets, I let the dough rest/dry again for at least 10 minutes or so before cutting into individual noodles.

I most often use the fettuccine attachment to make the final cuts, but rolling and cutting by hand with the kiddos is just as good a method (if a slightly messier one) for getting 'er done. 

I freeze any pasta that I don't use immediately by laying the finished (uncooked) noodles in a single layer on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and popping them in the freezer until thoroughly frozen, then transferring them to gallon freezer bags for storage. If you skip the cookie sheet step, and put them straight into the bag, you may end up with a giant noodle octopus rather than nice, individual noodles. ;)  I've had mixed success with drying them, but you're welcome to give that a go if your freezer space is at a premium.
*Because duck egg whites are significantly more viscous than chicken egg whites. You will likely need more water (or other optional liquid/puree, if using) than the 2-3 tbsps called for here.

**If you'll be using a similar pasta making attachment, I recommend starting at thickness setting #1, and running the dough through again on setting #3, and lastly, #5. Eggs noodles are meant to me a little beefy and chewy, so thinning them out further is just not necessary, and makes a lot more work, in my humble opinion. ;)

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Spring Foraging Begins!

Spring is a wee bit late in coming this year, thanks to a mamma-jamma of a snow fall in February burying everything for a week. But it's here now - better late than never!

Last year was a whirlwind, so I didn't get around to many of the springtime activities that I/we usually do - fishing, mushroom hunting, wandering through the woods, and picking stinging nettles. I more than exhausted my cache of nettles - and the two whole morels we found last year - so I had to, had to get 'er done this year.

This is today's haul, from the southern side of our property. Eight ounces of delciousness!

Do you suffer for your art? Well, my fingers feel weird, if that's what you mean. 
Half-a-pound isn't a bad afternoon's take. I have my eye on another nettle patch down the road a piece that looks pretty promising. Believe it or not, it's entirely possible that someone will have already nabbed them by the time I get down there with my trusty scissors. Olympians are nuts for wild foods!

If you're unfamiliar with the many uses of the humble stinging nettle, please check out my blog post from a few years back about making nettle pesto & nettle egg noodles. This year's leaves will probably end up as both of those things, plus I may dry and powder some to use as colorant in our homemade soaps. It depends on both my ongoing energy level and whether or not someone has already hit that patch I've been scoping out.

Friday, March 22, 2019

The New Pigs On The Block - 2019

So begins the saga of Jimmy Dean and Kevin Bacon.

Jimmy is an 8 week-old Gloucestershire Old Spots barrow, weighing in at a solid 30 pounds. His likes are bossing his brother around, eating slops and pooping profusely when being held.

Kevin is also 8 weeks old, a Hereford/Berkshire mix, also 30ish pounds. His hobbies include napping in heaps of straw with his bro, having his chin scratched and pooping profusely while being held.

These two.

More adventures with Jimbo & Kev coming soon. 

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Art & Science of Meal Planning - Part One: Seasonality & Budget

Our family is just the four of us* - The Hubs, The Teens, and lil' ol' me. So you might be surprised how involved planning our meals and buying our food can get. When I actually took a minute to stop and think about all of the elements that go in to planning my family's meals and groceries I was kind of surprised by how many factors were involved.

The things that influence how I plan and how I shop for my family's food:

  • The Season
  • Our budget
  • Our schedules
  • Specific health/dietary needs of family members

Four items - that's not too much in the way of a list, is it? Well, each item contains complexities of it's own. For example - Seasonality. It not only influences what is available for purchase, but the quality and price of the item. It also greatly influences our family's tastes - Fall and Winter call for roasts, casseroles and soups, whereas Spring and Summer are barbecue, salads and stir-fries.

A few of the staple Fall & Winter menu items for our family are things like shepherd's pie, beans with ham hocks and cornbread, green chicken curry, tikka masala, pot roast and potato soup. Basically, hearty fare that is meat and root vegetable intensive.

The Spring and Summer would typically be lighter and fresher - garden salad with roasted salmon or grilled steak, chicken stir-fry with brown rice, baked bone-in chicken with pasta salad, fresh spring rolls, carne asada tacos.

Then you throw the budget in the mix.

As loyal adherents to organic and sustainable farming practices, both on our own farm and in the products that we purchase from other sources, we spend a fair chunk of change on groceries - especially meat and seafood - to support environmentally-friendly and sustainable ranches and fisheries. That translates to us eating less meat and seafood than a typical American family.

As such, I try to be very thoughtful in my meal planning, choosing quality over quantity, without forgoing taste or nutrition in my meals. It complicates my life a little, but I recognize that it is the best choice for all concerned in the equation.

So this means that while I plan my meals around the "protein" element, it doesn't represent the bulk of a given meal. I try to balance the relative expense of the piece of meat or fish with a lower cost, but still healthy and well balanced side dish/dishes. A small portion of steak with a lot of green salad, nuts and veggies on top, or a pound of ground beef with potatoes, carrots, celery, mushrooms and onions in a shepherd's pie. With ravenous teenagers in the mix, stretching a pound of hamburger to feed and satisfy a family of four can present a challenge. Buying meat in bulk from local buying clubs (mine sources its beef/pork/chicken & seafood from local sustainable ranches, farms & fisheries) or growing your own are both fair ways to trim the grocery budget, but both involve fairly substantial upfront costs. Below is the spreadsheet I made for tracking "Pig Expenses" last year.

Like a ding-dong, I didn't note anywhere on my spreadsheet what the final hanging and the cut/wrapped weights were for our pork, but suffice it to say that the take-home cut & wrapped weight was in the neighborhood of 150-200#. Based on that guesstimate, our homegrown pork cost us roughly $6 to $8 per pound, which is on par (and maybe a little cheaper, considering you get the full spectrum of cuts) with sustainably, non-medicated, non CAFO pork sold in farmers markets and butcher shops. It ends up being a fairly intense and expensive six months raising the pigs from weaners to the freezer, but the pork lasts our family of four for a year, eating it 3+ meals per week.

*At the time that I started this post, all four of us were still at home full-time. Now the big kiddo is away at college for 8ish months out of the year. When she is home though, she still eats like a viking. ;)