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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Tapping is over; mud season is here.

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Tapping for this year is over. Technically it’s still the season in our neck of the woods however the barn is due for imminent removal so this year we’re cutting it short.

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The boys and I went around collecting the last of the sap to have dripped into our buckets. The color of the sap varied bucket to bucket but overall it has darkened – a sure sign the season is coming to an end. We’ve had quite a haul.While it’s hard to say for sure, due to already having doused many pancakes, waffles and sausages in syrup, but I’d say we’ve produced a gallon this year.

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End of the season sap waiting to be boiled down.

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Early season sap waiting to be collected.

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This is my “boiling it down” set up (sans snow which I normally pile up around the buckets to help keep them cold). That’s  an electric pressure cooker which I set to “saute”. That keeps the sap simmering away. Every so often I add a bit more sap and make sure the pressure cooker hasn’t automatically switched over to “keep warm”. Once the sap has cooked down quite a bit I bring the sap in, to the stove, to finish  it off.

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Once the syrup has reach the proper temperature I strain it through a jelly bag to remove any last impurities. Then I bottle it  into sterilized jars, or refrigerate or freeze.

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Jars cooling.

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A batch.

I can already tell the maple syrup won’t last us all year but it will certainly make a dent. We’ve certainly had a lot of fun throughout the process!

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Breakfast Bacon

I love pigs. They’re smart, friendly, and they can be a great resource to any homestead – turning unusable food scraps into food and they are great at turning up soil and removing tree stumps. Admittedly, they can also present a challenge. They can eat a lot, they’re smart, persistent, and strong (that can add up to escape). So what makes it all worth while?

Pork.

Or more specifically pork tenderloin, chops, roasts and….bacon.

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Bacon comes from the belly of the pig. I wish I had a decent photo of Mercedes. She is growing into such a bacon pig! Long and well-built. What makes bacon bacon is the curing process. The curing process adds flavor and can help preserve the meat too. Most store brought bacon is cured using sodium nitrates. The way I do it does not.

Here is the way I make it most often:

Place a side of bacon in a bag or dish large enough to hold the bacon. Mix together 1/3 cup maple syrup, 1/3 cup brown sugar and 1/3 cup kosher salt. Coat the side of bacon with this wet cure; seal bag or cover dish and refrigerate.

DSCN8387The next day flip the side of bacon and return to the fridge. My bacon is skin on. You can cure bacon with or without the skin. I prefer to leave the skin on until right before slicing.

DSCN8400Everyday, once a day, turn the bacon. You’ll notice the meat firming up.

DSCN8413After 7 days remove the bacon from the wet cure and allow to dry on a cooling rack in the fridge for a day. Now if you have a smoker I’d smoke it. However, I do not so I go the liquid smoke route.

DSCN8531First I brush on a thin coating of liquid smoke. A little goes a long ways. A quick once over starting at one end working towards the other as to not miss a spot does the trick. Then place in a low oven. My oven (a gas range) doesn’t actually have any markers under 260F so I have to guesstimate, with the help of an oven thermometer, to get 180F.  Leave the bacon in the low oven for several hours – until the bacon registers 150F.

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Cool and slice. A meat slicer will give the thinnest most even slices but with a little patience and practice hand slicing can do a fair job. Fry up a few slices and refrigerate or freeze the rest.

DSCN8562I have to admit that home made bacon is a bit different than store bacon. It looks a little different and it’s a bit chewier. Not using sodium nitrates mean the pork is a little less pink and tastes a tad more porky. I find it helps to fry the bacon over a little lower heat than you might normally fry up bacon as to avoid burning it. That said, it’s still delicious!

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Cooking from Nourishing Traditions :: Chicken with Cream Sauce

As you might know, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon is more than just a cookbook. All too often I open up my copy of NT with the intent of perusing the recipes; instead I find myself reading the articles. I’ve learned a lot but I’ve found that I haven’t made that many of the recipes from Nourishing Traditions. So, starting with this post, I will (try to) regularly make a recipe from NT and post my results. Today’s  post will be from the poultry section (page 281): Chicken with Cream Sauce, a variation on Basic Baked Chicken.

Now the original recipe calls for one chicken cut in pieces, brushed with

  • 2 Tlb Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tlb melted butter (or oil)              – mix these three together
  • 1 Tlb dried tarragon

and baked. However, in an effort to speed things along and lessen the number of pans to wash I opted to use boneless chicken breasts, sliced then brushed and sauteed. This time around I also added in some chopped mushrooms to saute. Once the chicken is cooked either put it aside while making the sauce or cook the chicken a bit less and finish cooking it while the sauce reduces.

The sauce:

  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup piima cream or creme fraiche or sour cream
  • 1 Tlb gelatin (optional)
  • salt and pepper

Mix the above together, stirring to incorporate any drippings. Cook till the sauce has thickened. If you put the chicken aside add it back in and make sure it’s hot then serve. I think it goes well with egg noodles or over rice.

I’ve made this 2 or 3 times now. This last time I didn’t have any dry white wine on hand so I used the juice from the preserved lemons to taste and left out the additional salt.

I like this recipe more than I thought I would. It’s a delicate lightly creamy sauce, a touch sweet from the tarragon yet balanced just enough by the mustard. I love the sauce over rice. So creamy -almost risotto-y. I liked the addition of mushrooms as well. My 4 and 2 year olds like it but the husband not so much- he’s not really a light slightly sweet creamy sauce kind of guy.

I really recommend going stove top on this recipe. NT calls for a 2 hour baking time for the chicken before making the sauce, using sliced boneless breasts (and my pressure cooker to make the rice in 10 mins) this meal is an easy 30 min meal.

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Taco Seasoning

We love tacos! Plus they’re fast and who doesn’t love a meal that’s quick and easy to prepare? But have you looked at the ingredients on the prepackaged spice mixes? There are more than just spices in there-things like maltodextrin, monosodium glutamate, and silicon dioxide are common. Definitely not ingredients I want to be feeding my family. And if you raise your own meat or try to buy naturally raised grass-fed beef tossing such ingredients in might feel a bit like ruining a perfectly good meal.

Luckily there is a solution-and it’s easy:make your own taco seasoning (cause if you want it done right you have to do it yourself ya’ know). I mix up several batches at once so I can just add it in and not fiddle around trying to find all the spices and measure them out when I could be slicing lettuce.

Like the prepackaged stuff just toss it in with your browned meat and a little water.

Now if only I could replicate those crunchy corn taco shells (gmo free).

Here’s the recipe from the link above @ allrecipes.com

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, mix together chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, oregano, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. Store in an airtight container.

Enjoy!

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Preserving Lemons

I love having fresh lemons on hand but, alas, lemons do not grow in Maine and my local market doesn’t always have organic lemons. Enter preserved lemons. All you need is:

Salt

lemons, a jar and a knife

Cut lemons into quarters, sprinkle generously and completely with salt and pack into jar-pressing to release juices. The lemons should be submerged.

Just let the lemons sit out for several days-I do about 3 days ( *see note below). The lemons should smell great and the peel softened. Store in the fridge and use whenever lemons are called for- the juice as well as the whole lemon is usable. Hold back on the salt  tho- these are salted lemons after all.

Coming up: I’ll share several recipes in which I use preserved lemons.

Editing: I just want to add that you can rinse the finished lemons to cut back on the salt if desired. Also, preserved lemons are not traditionally stored in the fridge. I’ve begun to leave the preserved lemons out -saving fridge space- and I have to say they keep getting better.

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