Over the Summer {Garden 2015}

The last time I posted about the garden seeds were just sprouting! We’ve had a full summer and a few frosts since. Only the hardy greens are left; the end of the season always revives my appreciation of having fresh veggies right outside the door. With the coolers temps here stews and braises are a welcome way to use those veggies too!

 

Chickens, Eggs and Breakfast Meats

This little girl just loves animals! Cats, chickens, what have you, her little hands go out and she “calls” them to her, in the chicken’s case a little grain brings them running.

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The boys are excitedly locating nests that the chickens have tucked away here and there. Finding an egg is like finding treasure! If you are lucky, you’ll find one of Sunbeam’s eggs (the only chicken who lays blueish green eggs). Then, you just might have to cook it up immediately (!) lest anyone else eats it first. Supposedly they tastes better.  We’re still in the enjoying stage of having “lots” of eggs. Scrambled, poached, hard boiled…you’d be amazed how many eggs these guys go through, and at how good Noah and Ezra have gotten at cooking eggs!  We even made up a new way to cook an egg in a nest with out bread: make a circle out of sausage and add the egg in the middle.

   

While we’re on the subject of chicken and breakfast meats, if you haven’t tried  bacon wrapped chicken you need to… tonight.  We prefer smaller pieces of chicken which need about a 1/2 of a slice of bacon wrapped around it. Place in an oven safe dish and roast till done. Don’t be afraid to chop up some veggies and cook them up in the rendered bacon fat. Just don’t count on leftovers.

 

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Using the Past to Plan the Future

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A bit too much snow still…..

I have finally added up last year’s garden totals. Spring is officially here- not that it looks or feels like Spring- and it’s time to start planning next year’s garden in earnest. Last year was the first time I kept track of the weight of (almost) everything that came out of the garden. As you may recall, we had to replant the garden last year because we lost some things (like the majority of the potatoes) to, mainly, the chickens. This year, all the fences are in place (and we have no goats) so hopefully losses will be kept to a minimum! Nonetheless, we didn’t do too bad and a few things did phenomenally. Still, I hope to plant more of most of the following things this year.

*to keep it simple I’ll just add a * to signify that at least a pound of this item was not weighed before we ate or gave away it – not counting snacking in the garden.

Radish- 1.5lb

Kale- 13lb*

Lettuce- 7.5lb

Spinach/Swiss Chard – 3.5lb*

Beet- thinnings only -1.25lb

Peas (sugar snap)- 2.25lb

Peas (shell peas in pod)- 6.87lb

Parsley- 1.68lb*

Basil- .5lb+

Onion- thinnings only- 1.25lb

Red Onions- 6

Pac Choy- 10oz*

Carrots-30lbs

Beets- 7 bunches

Broccoli- 1lb 10oz*

Arugula- 9oz*

Thyme- lots

Turnip- 5lb

Green Beans- 3lb

Patty Pan Squash-2lb

Cucumber- 5-6

Tomatoes- 2- 5 gal. pails

Potatoes- milk crate sized box full

Pumpkins- 50+

Celeriac- 4 large & 2- gal ziplock bags of small ones

Cauliflower- 7 heads

Cabbage- 3 or 4 medium heads

It would be interesting to figure out how much it would actually cost to buy all that!

Changes for next year:

Cucumbers just didn’t have enough time so starting some indoors this year, along with cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, if I can find the room for them.

Do an earlier 2nd planting of broccoli, green beans, peas, and pac choy.

Carrots got us through half the year so double on those. More potatoes, onions and winter squash. Fall turnips, pac choy.

Try growing sweet potatoes. Finally get asparagus crowns, maybe raspberry canes?

Had trouble with flea beetles last year so planning on planting some mustard as a decoy crop.

 

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Venison Tacos {Neck Roast} 

 What to do with a venison neck roast?

We found ourselves asking just that recently. Since roasts are always best fork tender I decided to use the pressure cooker to cook the venison; then shred and season the meat for tacos. Neck roasts are a great choice for shredding because the grain of the meat naturally runs through the thickness of the roast (as does beef tongue, if you’re looking to be a bit more adventurous). An oven or slow cooker will work just as well, but it will take far longer.

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This roast was still a little frozen but the pressure cooker can handle that.  After browning I added a sliced onion and, for this recipe, I added beer to flavor the roast as it cooks. Normally I use broth and you can, with equally delicious results, if you’d prefer not to use beer.

IMG_0422IMG_0430Now here’s the most important bit- cook until fork tender (in other words cook until you can easily push a fork into the roast. Even in the pressure cooker this took over an hour, if you opt for the slow-cooker or oven it will take all day.

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Let the roast cool enough to handle. Then using two forks shred the venison, pulled pork style. Once shredded add taco seasoning to taste. If your roast is large enough remove  a portion of the shredded meat before seasoning and add barbecue sauce to that bit. It freezes well too.

Now make your self some tacos!

(Leaf lettuce works great for rolling up grain free tacos too).

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Megan loves tacos too!

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A Quick Knit and Bacon Experiment

Sometimes a quick knitting project is needed. Something you can finish in a day, maybe two. Molly needed another winter hat so it all worked out quite well. Molly is at the stage where hats are a fun game. I put the hat on her head, she swipes it off and waves it about. Sometimes she tries to put it on herself. Don’t think of helping her cause then she’ll pull it back off and it starts all over.

I had some leftover yarn from this BSJ and a pattern for a cute hat. I lost the pattern though (!), so I just made it up as I went along, ending up with an elvish hat. The older brothers just love all things elf related so they’re excited about the prospect of Molly outgrowing said hat and having their stuffies get to wear it. In fact, Molly’s hat went for a round of trying on and has disappeared. SO, no cute photos of Molly “in” her hat.

As not to leave you photo less I’ll share with you a recent experiment in our bacon curing. Normally I cure our sides or bacon in the fridge with just maple syrup, brown sugar and salt. No nitrates.  I think I’ve done several posts on how I make it previously if you look under recipes. It’s good but, not like store bacon. I thought it was possibly the nitrate factor. Celery is a natural source of nitrates and I had plenty of celery in the garden. I made one half with added juiced celery and one without.

DSCN8258Without (above)

With (below)

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We cooked up a couple of slices of each. They were tasty and pretty close in flavor. Although, we both thought that maybe, the one with celery was better; a little deeper in flavor. We would have cooked up a bit more for comparison’s sake but Sasquatch, that little puppy Megan had last year, snatch up the side of bacon and devoured it. So we’ll be trying that again and keeping a better eye on the dogs.

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Smothered Pork {In the Kitchen}

 As you may have surmised, from all the semi-recent pig photos, we love pigs and like to raise our own pork. Since we butcher the pigs ourselves we get the WHOLE hog. There’s a lot of meat there, especially in the form of hams.  My preferred way to deal with all that ham is to cut some of the ham up into ham steaks.

DSCN8344So, what to do with all those ham steaks? We like them best prepared like smothered pork chops (except I often substitute ham steaks for the pork chops, those we like best breaded with parmesan and sage).
Smothered pork is simple to make. Basically, cover your pork with sliced onions, add a touch of herbs and surround with broth to add moisture and flavor while baking. It sounds too simple to be true but the resulting meal is tender, flavorful and there’s gravy!

The Recipe In Detail

  • 4 pork chops or equivalent in ham steaks
  • 4 slices bacon, optional but recommended
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups broth
  • salt and pepper

Using a stove top/oven proof pan, large enough to hold the ham slices (or pork chops) in one layer, brown the pork slices. Feel free to cook a couple of slices of bacon first, reserving bacon to crumble and serve on top of the finished dish and use the rendered fat to brown the pork on both sides.

Add enough sliced onions to cover the pork and saute till they start to brown (remove pork from the pan if there’s not enough room, when you return them to the pan place the onions on top of the pork).

Add a sprinkle of thyme, perhaps a bay leaf, salt and pepper. Add enough broth to cover the pork and onions (we’ll cook this down later to make a delicious gravy). Cover and bake till fork tender, add liquid if the broth dries up during this time. This is the most important step. If you don’t cook the pork long enough to be fork tender, and it can take a while, then you won’t get tender, delicious, eat it with just a fork results.

Now, uncover and allow the broth to condense. The onions and meat will develop a deep golden color. Make sure you will have enough liquids to make a gravy, add broth if needed.

Make the gravy. Transfer broth/pan juices to a stove top saucepan and thicken to make a gravy. I use arrowroot powder but cornstarch or flour is commonly used.

Serve with gravy and crumbled bacon on top. I often serve with mashed potatoes (with some of that gravy on top) and veggies.  Since the oven is on anyways, I like to braise pot of collar greens in chicken broth for my vegetable. Peas are common too.

Adding apples in along with the onions is also super delicious. Here’s a photo of that:

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Miss Molly Stark’s Offset Wraplan

 

DSCN8282Molly Stark is on the move! Crawling, climbing, cruising…she’s investigating the world. In front of the kitchen window is where Molly likes to stand and observe from. We’re in the kitchen a lot. The chickens, dogs and cats seem to always be hanging out around there too; I’m sure they’re quite amusing to watch.

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 I finished this sweater almost two weeks before Molly Stark was born. A larger version of this sweater she looks so cute in. The neck is a little too wide but I think she might grow into it and it won’t seem quite so loose. If you happen to be reading this and you think you might knit an offset wraplan I recommend making the neck opening a little smaller and cutting back on the number of buttons. Not by too many, buttons definitely add to the sweater, but it’s hard to find 9 and that many really isn’t necessary. I managed to find these pink ones with little gold lambs on them.

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This isn’t a sweater I made but here’s Molly Stark in her spot, looking out the window, anyways.

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sharing with KCCO and Yarn Along

In the Kitchen {Herbs}

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use Rosemary sprigs as flavorful skewers

 We’ve been enjoying fresh herbs from the garden, mainly parsley, thyme and basil right now, and drying some to use during the winter. They’re flavorful and it’s much cheaper than purchasing them at the store. When cooking just remember that dried herbs are about 3 times as strong as fresh. During the summer I use fresh herbs and during the winter I use dried; substituting one for the other as needed.

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  Parsley was one of the first things in the ground and it’s still going strong. I grow it in mini rows then I cut it and let it grow back again. This method is super easy and prolific!

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This year I tried planting thyme in amongst the carrots while Noah planted some thyme indoors. It’s astounding to compare the two. The outside plants are robust, dark green with large leaves; the indoor plants just don’t look like they’re doing as well. They are small, scraggly and pale. I pick as much fresh thyme as I like whenever I need it during  the summer. When I harvest the carrots I’ll harvest the thyme too and dry it. I use thyme a lot, especially on roasted meats and veggies. I use oregano nearly as often. I have a  container of oregano and two rosemary “trees” indoors too, and while they’re not quite as robust as they would be outside, they’re doing well enough until I can decide where I’m going to transplant the oregano (the rosemary I keep indoors because of our low winter temps). It’s a hard decision because, like mint, oregano has a tendency to spread and the longer it’s there the harder it is to remove.

As for the basil, I only pick a few leaves here and there so it will keep growing strong. Eventually, I’ll make some pesto and I’ll ferment a jar full (at least) as basil takes on a wonderful liquorice flavor when fermented. I also planted some sage and dill this year. It’s not ready for harvesting yet but I look forward to having some on hand for pickling, stuffing into fish, and maybe making up some gravlax!

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Slowly, I’m expanding the list of seasonings I grow instead of purchase. Other than salt and pepper the herbs above are my most used seasonings. I’ve also made onion and garlic powder by dehydrating them and then processing the dried veggies in a blender. The flavor is fantastic! I’d like to get some perennials going (maybe alongside those chives?)  and I wouldn’t mind trying to grow some chamomile (soon!)

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sharing with Fight Back Friday

The First Steps

 I try to use as much as I can from what we are able to produce for ourselves. We produce eggs, some of our meat, goats milk (for a few more days before they are off to a new home) and veggies. The garden just might be the largest source of our food, well, eggs are abundant and full of protein. Either way, the garden is certainly the cheapest, most varied and most convenient way to feed ourselves. I can be assured that our veggies are organically grown, and are clean and fresh.

DSCN6925When you grow your own food you’re part of the cycle. You plant the seeds, care for the plants, harvest the veggies. You know the struggles of pests, droughts or too much rain, and the joy of rain when you need it. You know the importance of beneficial insects (or reptiles, e.g. snakes and toads) who eat those pests and/or pollinate your plants. Food doesn’t just magically appear on the shelves nicely packaged. Real food involves dirt, animals, including insects, blood and guts, sweat and even some tears of frustration and loss. This is the reality of life.  DSCN6922

Perhaps even more importantly, is the link between our food and our freedom. We all need to eat but if we can’t produce anything to eat ourselves we are utterly dependent on those who do produce food and subject to their whims. To quote Gene Logsdon: “[We must] realize the danger of depending absolutely on politically motivated governmental processes for food, clothing and shelter. In the world we must live in from now on to produce our own food is the beginning of independence and to accept that responsibility is the first step toward real freedom.”

So we try. We’re nowhere near producing all of our own food but, we’re taking our first steps- and getting a little steadier on our feet. Our kids are learning that ultimately food sprouts from the earth, that sunshine and rain are equally important and that not all insects are “bad”. By growing our own food we avoid pesticides, GMOs, high fructose corn syrup and overly processed (and packaged) products. Here are a few ideas to get the most out of your garden.

  • Start small – don’t get overwhelmed.
  • Grow what you eat. You’ll know what to make with it and you won’t have to buy it.
  • Leafy greens grow quickly and are packed with vitamins. Plants like lettuce, spinach, and kale can be picked and will grow back repeatedly.
  • Plant more than once. Get two harvests, or more… arugula and radishes grow fast (about 30 days to harvest). This leaves lots  of room for trying again if you lose a planting to misfortune.
  • Thin your seedlings for larger and healthier plants. Some seedlings can be replanted further apart or eat those thinnings. Try beet seedlings in salad or, if the thinnings are older, use the greens as you would spinach or swiss chard. Onion thinnings are similar to chives or green onion tops, try them in a potato salad.
  • Examine what you’re tossing. I’ve always thought radish and carrot tops were suppose to be tossed. Not so! Radish tops can be roasted. Try this carrot top pesto next time you roast carrots.
  • Feed your scraps to your livestock. No livestock? How about a worm bin, or compost it.
  • Remember it all starts with the soil. Healthy soil = healthy plants.
  • Try, try again. Goats eat your plants? Chickens eat your seeds? Garden in too wet or too sunny of an area? And, that’s just in the last two years. A new (fenced!) garden area is paying off. There’s always more to learn- from failures and from successes.

 

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sharing with Fight Back Friday and Fat Tuesday and Farmgirl Friday

 

 

Three!

 

DSCN6558Ishmael is three!

What a fun day we had. The older boys arranged some games to play with Ishmael and we read Ishi’s favorite book: Let’s eat! Taking time to carefully study the birthday party scene. I think three is the first birthday when they can understand and fully embrace that their day is, well, their day. As per tradition we hung the birthday banner, set the table (with the blue table-cloth), lit a candle and ate the birthday boy’s requested meals: mac and cheese for lunch and for supper: roasted chicken with baked potatoes, corn and a salad (from our garden). And, of course, there was cake (blue cake), presents and three boys happily playing together (Molly wiggled about excitedly).

Ishmael always loves to help in the kitchen so rather than having the birthday cake make a surprise appearance Ishmael helped to make it. Of course a cook in the kitchen needs an apron. We have only one child’s apron and you can imagine the scene when two or more boys want to help. So I made Ishmael his very own apron. He picked out the (blue) dinosaur fabric from my stash. I had some matching yellow fabric that I used for the bias tape, which also is the neck and waist tie.

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While I had the sewing machine out I made him a zippered pillow case as well. It turned out nicely. The fabric has cute animals on it and I found a matching zipper which I managed to sew in successfully. Sorry no photos of it or the birthday party because my camera is lost.Cross your fingers we find it soon!

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KCCO

 

Because We Like To Eat

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After a long winter I’m still feeling a bit spoiled when I gather our daily harvest: a half-gallon of goats milk and almost a dozen eggs. Now I can make a huge (9 eggs!) omelet for the whole family and not think twice about whether or not I’ll have enough eggs for the rest of the week.  Since the snow is gone the chickens are free ranging, upping the vitamin content of their eggs, and finding a good bit of their own food. Plus, they always get a pailful of kitchen scraps. The chickens see us coming and gather ’round for their treats.

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Indoors we have only a few types of seeds started. This is mostly due to the lack of space, or a least space that has decent lighting and is where little kids can’t (inevitably) spill the containers. We did start some sweet peppers (man, do we have some pepper eating fiends around here!) as well as cauliflower, a couple of cucumbers, and some melon.

To maximize our growing season, and space, I made a cold frame out of an old wood box and some windows that came out of the barn.  I filled it with composted bedding and a good inch thick layer of worm castings (plus worms) from our worm bin. We have mostly lettuce in there for now.

DSCN6270Then we have the old pig pens. I like planting in these because they’re well fertilized, fenced off from the goats and No Grass!

DSCN6224 So far we’ve started planting our cold tolerant plants: peas, spinach (or were those sprouting broccoli seeds?), kale and radishes. We’re still 3-4 weeks out from our last frost date so I don’t want to get too carried away.

Here’s hoping the garden will start producing before we’re completely sick and tired of eggs!

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Best Ever Pecan Waffles {GF/SCD}

Have you ever tried to bake up some grain free goodness? Likely you ended up with grain free but not so good results. I know I have. Every new grain free recipe feels like a gamble. How will this recipe turn out? Good? Edible but not quite like the real thing? Or just a huge waste of time and ingredients? This time fear not. These pecan waffles are the best!

DSCN5903I adapted this recipe from Eat Well Feel Well. Eat Well Feel Well is one of my favorite grain free, and Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) complaint, cookbooks. If I’m trying to maximize my chances for tasty grain free results, or make a special meal, this is the cookbook I turn to. These pecan waffles are quite filling. For the best results use a food processor or blender.

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Pecan Waffles

2 cups unsalted raw pecans (use soaked nuts if you can), or pecan meal

4 eggs

1 stick butter- melt 6 Tlbs for the waffles. Use the rest for greasing the waffle iron.

1/4 cup honey

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp baking soda

pinch of salt

Preheat your waffle iron. Warm up your oven (200F) if you want to keep them warm or just serve as they’re ready.

If using whole pecans grind them into a fine meal in the food processor, otherwise place the pecan meal in the food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients. Blend well-till smooth and then run the food processor a bit longer for best results.

Grease your iron. Add 1/4 cup batter and cook until the waffle is golden brown. Keep warm or serve. These waffles cook a little faster than regular waffles so keep an eye on them until you get a feel for how long they take.

Top with honey cinnamon “syrup” and bananas sautéed in butter and a touch of coconut oil. For the syrup combine 1 cup of honey with 1 Tlb cinnamon.

Freeze any leftovers. I think they’re tasty right out of the freezer but you can thaw them and reheat them as well.

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Enjoy!

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sharing with:

real food wednesday, gluten free wednesday, fat tuesday

fightback friday

Play Dough

  Here’s one for the kids.

This play dough recipe is quick, easy, and handles just like the store brought kind. Plus, it doesn’t leave your hands and table covered in salty (or any kind of ) residue like so many homemade recipes for play dough do. A  batch of play dough would make a great sugar-free addition to any spring – or birthday – celebration.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1 Tlb veggie oil
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar

Combine all the ingredients in a pot on your stove top and stir till you have a thick dough. Remove from heat and knead smooth.

Add food coloring of your choice to color, and glitter, if desired.

This recipe can be doubled (or tripled but you might need a bit more muscle to really stir it)

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sharing with KCCO