Friday, August 31, 2012

SPIDER!!!

from spiders.entomology.wisc.edu
I have a mild infestation of grass spiders here.  At first, I thought that they were all wolf spiders, which I do NOT like as they are aggressive and bitey, but then I realized that they were weaving funnel webs.  As far as I knew, wolf spiders didn't make webs--they hide in a hole and leap out at you, gnashing their mandibles and waving too many furry arms.  So I did a little research, and found that my crawlies are in fact a form of harmless grass spider known as Agelenopis utahana.  That made me feel a little better, as their mandibles are too small to bite me.  They do, however, leap out of nowhere and run really really fast, which is still EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEKKKKKKKK! material in my book.

When I say I have an infestation, I mean that they are everywhere.  Outside, they are in each of the coops, in the rabbit barn, in the garden, in the hoop house, in the car hut, in the solar dehydrator, in the trees, in the wood pile, everywhere.  They are also in the house, which I really don't like AT ALL.  A spider here or there, hey, that's not a problem.  But having several in the bathroom, under the beds, in the kitchen, hiding in drawers, under the sink, in my beer bottling bucket, in the bookshelf....that's way too many in the house, dang it.  Apparently, we have been having primo spider breeding weather this summer, and so I have many little friends with multiple eyes living with me now.  Eight legged roommates, what fun.

At first I scooped them up and stuck them outside, but then they kept coming back and bringing their cousins.  Now, I smash them with a shoe or whatever is handy.  Cruel, I know, but when you find ten in ONE DAY in your house, it is smashing time dang it!

Did I mention that these are really big spiders?  The smallest I have found was the size of a quarter.  I have found multiple that are the size of a fifty cent piece or larger.  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!  Try finding one of those in your bed when you are ready to crawl into it, and tell me how long you'd not start smashing.  (Huge spider in bed = not sleeping in there that night, nuh uh, no way)

If the old saying "kill a spider and it will rain" is actually true, I'd better get out and start building that ark.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

It's So Hot....

Sounds like a joke, doesn't it?

It's so hot....my chickens fried!

It's so hot....the rabbits shaved themselves!

It's so hot...the eggs cooked in the coop!

Ha. Ha.  Hah.

Here comes the end of August obligatory heat wave: It's supposed to be right around 100 degrees tomorrow.  Of course it will be that hot...I have to spend the whole day driving around in Lucille Laverne for back to school fun-ness.  Yippee!  It always seems like when it is (a) back to school time and (b) Minnesota State Fair time, the weather goes from a pleasant summer-into-early-Fall cycle back to Hellish Depths of July Hot Factor 10.  Bleah.

Anyhoo, here I am camped out in the AC of my tiny house putting off going outside to tend the rabbits and water the garden.  The dogs seem so happy--I think they had given up hope of my ever returning home to cool off "their" house by the time I got home this afternoon.  (Oh yes, I live to serve the whims of my doggies, haven't you realized that yet?  The cats can fend for themselves...and usually do.)

In other news, I am one step closer to starting a video podcast here in Chicken Lady Land.  Wahoo!  Or you may be screaming and wailing, afraid of what might be revealed...worlds colliding!  Worlds. Are. Colliding!  I know, sometimes imagining the way things are around here is more fun than actually seeing how things are, but I promise you:  There will be plenty of obligatory wacky and zany mayhem for you to witness.  Yay!!!  Back to the whole "one step closer" thing, I received a teeny handheld DVR camera in the mail today, all wrapped in a foam sandwich and ready for an SD card and some batteries.  I can hardly wait to try it out.  Phoebe the Paparazzi Shy Coon Hound is already just thrilled about the whole prospect.  Sorry, Mr. DeMille, she's not quite ready for that close up.

That's the news from the farmlette for today.   I suppose now I have to peel myself off the sofa and go back out into the butt-cheek-sweat-inducing late afternoon heat.  Watch me go.  Whooo.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Chicks Dig Sweet Corn


At least my "chick" chickens do.  I was finally able to harvest a few ears of bicolor Ambrosia sweet corn from my meager, tilted corn patch in the back garden.  It looks really good--and if the way the girls tore into the deformed ears they got to nosh on is any indication, they are pretty tasty as well.  I'm hoping to find out for myself as soon as the couple of ears I saved for myself are done steaming on the stove.

I learned some valuable lessons from this year's endeavor in sweet corn growing. 

One, rampant tunneling mole activity will cause the corn to fall over.  Repeatedly.  This cannot be helped, as the mole will go where he wants to go, and really, as long as he is staying out of the beets, who can complain?

Two, planting corn with pole beans is an attractive idea.  Doesn't it just sound so bucolic and divinely inspired?  I'm sure it is, if your corn grows to ten feet tall and has stalks made of iron.  Pole bean vines are insanely strong, and drag the (already tunneled beneath) corn over sideways.  The vines also wind around the developing ears, choking them off and giving what grows the appearance of mutant vegetables that may make you run in terror.  It looks like someone did unauthorized genetic manipulation out there.  Attack of the mutant corn babies! 

Three, growing squash in the general mess is really not a good idea.  I have some pumpkins and such in there.  Somewhere.  I think.  I saw something once that appeared squash-like in the depths of leafage.

Ultimately, there comes lesson #4:  Sweet corn, mutant or not, is worth the saga of growing it.

Of course, if I grow a third head after eating dinner, that might change lesson number four's perspective.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Goings On

Ahh, another day in the life of the farmlette!

It's been fairly busy around here, with various chores and projects and canning and reading of textbooks.  The last bit isn't so exciting, but as I can do the earlier three in between chapters, all is not lost.  I've resumed baking bread for the year, as summer is generally too hot to contemplate running the oven for a prolonged period of time and I can zip over to the local bakery-slash-bulk food store once a week and grab one of their fabulous loaves.  It is now a mission for me to recreate the wonderfulness that is their Cranberry Walnut bread.  Mmmmmm.  Yummy!

So far this morning, I've done this:





I hate peeling tomatoes for canning recipes, so I go all cheaty with this wonderful Tomato Basil Simmer Sauce recipe and cook the unpeeled, unseeded tomatoes first and then run them through my food mill.  I heart my food mill.  I may never peel another dang tomato again!  So far, I'm at the chopped-in-the-pot-cooking-until-soft stage of the saucing process.  This should use up the last of my basil for the season, and make a good dent in my oregano, thyme, and parsley crops as well.




Day two of checking the alcohol content of my first batch of home brewed beer.  I think it may be done, but maybe it isn't, so I'm doing a couple consecutive days of alcohol content checking to see if they stay the same.  According to the directions, if they stay the same, it is ready for bottling!




The seals are good on this batch of Carrot Cake Jam, which smells heavenly and was really easy to make.  The hardest part was shredding all the carrots, which I do old school style with my handy box grater.  I think it builds moral character to use the old tools, instead of relying on technology all the time.  (Or so I tell myself, in my old school, low tech kitchen.)  I wound up with eight half-pints of goodness, so these should be great for presents come the holidays as well as enough for me to enjoy on my own toast.  I think it would be good over rich vanilla ice cream, too.  Mmmmmmm.

Well, I should get back to reading a chapter or two, and check on my simmering tomatoes.  There's knitting group this afternoon, and chickens to check on, so I'm off like a dirty sheet in the wind!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Infamous List

Waaaaay back at the beginning of summer, I thought up a crazy To Do List.  It was very ambitious, but check it out, I actually got a bunch of it done!


The Chicken Lady's Insane 2012 To-Do List
1. Build a hoophouse.
2. Plant items in the hoophouse.
3. Install minidrip or minisprinkler watering system in the hoophouse.  Not quite for this year, the jungle needed far more flow to support it, so I just resorted to flooding it with the garden hose periodically.
4. Find a bunch of bins to grow potatoes in.
5. Plant potatoes.
6. Refill with dirt AND weed out the front raised bed garden.
7. Get a lot of shredded bark. And that means A LOT.
8. Spread shredded bark all over the slowly eroding bare yard before it washes away completely.
9. Clean out the rabbit barn, and install more worms for vermicomposting under the cages.
10. Build many sturdy yet inexpensive chicken tractors, enough to house 200 chickens.
11. Seriously redo the front perennial garden, which has become all weeds and rougue invasives.
12. Till back garden. Many times.
13. Put something in the cold frames, so they have a purpose instead of being decorative.  I opted to compost in them this year, to rebuild the depleted soil.  Plus, it makes an excellent excuse as to why I can’t plant anything in there right now.  Whoot!
14. Rebuild the fire pit in the back yard.
15. Till up new gardens against the back fence and install trellises to support the zuchinni. Well, I went with cucumbers back there, which did ok until I kept forgetting to water them in this drought, and they became too bitter for my tastes.  The chicken loved them.
16. Decide where the heck the cucumbers will grow this year.  Plant into dry sink! Alas, the dry sink remains empty of plant life.  Sure looks cute, though.
17. Install fencing panels for the new chicken yard, and install a chicken door on the big pink shed.
18. Buy more paint in Phlox and Pigeon.  I actually found that I already had some.  Ha ha.  That's why you clean up the porch before you write things on the list.
19. Buy hot pink spray paint in quantity.
20. Make two old decrepit garden carts into cute planters, meaning a visit to the greenhouse!
21. Don't forget to buy a whole lot of potting soil, like you did last year.
22. Establish a third compost heap.
23. Plant new trees in the back orchard.
24. Weed the strawberry bed.
25. Dig out the blueberries, that aren't alive or growing at all.
26. Decide what small fruit may survive better than the blueberries did (umm, more strawberries?)
27. Clean out the chicken run, and build them a dust bath corner.  Going to be done TODAY.  Really.
28. Dig a dust bath area for the new chickens by the big shed.
29. Plant the vegetable garden on time, so things actually have enough time to grow.
30. Fertilize things so they actually grow and are healthy.
31. Research and implement fly control measures for the chickens and rabbits.  Soooo…had an infestation of wolf spiders around the joint, and they eat copious amounts of insect life.  It is fantastic, but a bit freaky when they leap out of nowhere in all their furry legged, creepy glory.  Cue full body shudder!  Ehhhheewwwww!
32. Build a "pond garden" in front, complete with fish and fountain.
33. Figure out how the black water trough that is the "pond" will be disguised (faux rock?)
34. Reblack the inside of the solar dehydrator with oven-proof spray paint.
35. Find a source of small hay bales and small straw bales, to avoid overusing the current suppliers.
36. Design a cat run...which may just be wishful thinking.  Yeah, ummm…definitely wishful.
37. Research lawn options that don't grow above four inches.  Ditto for this.
38. Win the lottery so I can afford to rip up the current lawn and replant the no-mow option.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha!  Right….
39. Restring the clothesline.
40. Fill in all the remaining dog-dug holes.
41. Invest in another weed whipper, one that has a better charging capacity so it doesn't punk out.
42. Find a local source for garden strength vinegar.
43. Buy some more hot pepper wax spray to deter the wild rabbits.  NO rabbits outside this year.  I believe something in the area is eating them, and it’s not me.
44. Come up with a weeding schedule, which may be the only way I actually weed as I should.
45. Round up some chicken crates for transportation purposes.  I opted to just borrow them.  Oh, and use old dog crates.  It worked.
46. Trim the weedy starts from around the box elder trees.
47. Don't forget to plant the new raspberry bushes.
48. If the grapevine really is dead, plant another one somewhere else.
49. More support for the climbing roses!
50. Mow the lawn regularly, until the lottery is won and the lawn is no more.

Not bad, eh?  Okay, gotta go and take care of those chicken chores .

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Got Books?

I do!  A lot of books.  Soooooo many books.  At times, it seems a little excessive how many books I have.  Well, maybe not excessive, but I certainly could share a few gems with others.

A while back, I heard a wonderful discussion on Wisconsin Public Radio about something called the Little Free Library.  This is a library, tended by someone who goes by the title of "steward", that lives in the front yard and is accessible to all and sundry 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, who need a good read.  "Take a book, leave a book, share a book" is a wonderful motto, and describes the LFL movement beautifully.  This organization was started as a memorial to someone's mother (a former librarian), and now has little libraries in neighborhoods all over the world.

My little village lacks its own library, which I think is such a sad thing.  While expensive to run, libraries are a vital part of a community--right up there with the post office, the bank, and the corner cafe.  Unfortunately, I don't have the million or so dollars that it takes to endow a library for perpetuity, so I'll start with this:






I found this great cupboard at the ReStore in Cameron, and after a coat of spray paint and a little tidying up, it looks perfect as a little neighborhood-friendly library.  It's heavy on the chicken/gardening/cooking side of things right now, with a few mysteries and general good reads thrown in for good measure.  I envision all sorts of books coming to visit, and then going out to friends in the community.  After that, maybe they will come back, to be borrowed by other people, or other new books will come to stay for a while.  I can hardly wait to find out what happens!  No late fees, no due dates; just come and borrow, and return when you are done...or pass them forward and leave something different for others to find.  I love, love, LOVE this concept!

Eventually, I'll be registered and have a little sign with an official number, and then this little library will be found on an official map that you can find on the LFL website.  For now, my little library will just live by word of mouth.  So many good books, so little time to waste!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sources of Inspiration

When I post these lovely recipes that I use to can up the good bounty that is rolling out of my garden, I often get an email or a comment asking, "Where is that from?"  I thought a little blog post about where I find my inspiration for canning, gardening or chicken-rearing might be in order, as well as some of the books I couldn't live without!

To start with, there are several blogs that I love for both gardening and canning resources:
  • A great canning site, Food in Jars is a fantastic resource for both recipes and guidance on safe canning procedures.
  • My online friend Kathie has a wonderful little blog, Two Frog Home, where she shares recipes, ideas for preserving the harvest, and some great ideas for simple living.
  • Canning Across America is a fun read for both recipes and stories from other canners around the country.  Unite with all those mason jar aficionados our there here!
  • A host of gardeners share what is going on in their humble backyard or community garden plots at Tend, with periodic updates from several different authors.  It is nice to hear about what works and what doesn't from other folks out there in the trenches!
Anyone who comes to visit my house will likely notice the massive horde of books that I have on a collection of bookcases.  If there was one thing I could change about my house, it would be to line every single wall with built-in bookshelves.  Wouldn't that be cool?  Ah, well.  Maybe someday when I win Megabucks.  In this collection of books, there are some gems that I simply couldn't be without.  All can be found on Amazon.com, but you might luck out and find a copy at your local thrift or used book store!

  1. Top pick:  The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery is a terrific resource with information on just about everything (and anything) you'd want to know about living a hands on kind of life.
  2. Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs is a nice book, although it doesn't explain a whole depth of medicinal resources.  I've found it helpful to discern what herbs I had growing already in my yard (hello, borage) as well as trying to figure out why certain herbs weren't growing well.
  3. I use jam recipes from Well Preserved by Joan Hassol all the time.  Small batch, simple ingredients, absolutely fail-proof: simply perfect!  It is like reading a story, as well, as beautifully written essays are included in each seasonal chapter.
  4. No kitchen should be without a copy of Ball's Complete Book of Home Preserving, which builds on the classic, shorter Blue Book with unique and flavorful recipes to preserve the harvest.
  5. A new acquisition for me, I think the Dehydrator Bible will really help me to make the best use of my electric and solar dehydrators.
  6. For help with the chickens, I rely on The Chicken Health Handbook to diagnose both behaviors and ailments in my little happy flock of hens.  They do a pretty good job managing their own pests and illnesses, but occasionally I need the reassurance that it isn't some dread disease or other affecting the girls!
So there you have it:  The essential list of resources by the Chicken Lady.  Hopefully, you all find them helpful, too!  (Incidentally, by clicking on the highlighted titles/links it will route you to either the site or to Amazon where you can find your own copies.  Have fun building your library!)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Literary Red-Heads?

It took me a while, but I finally named the four Rhode Island Red hens in the Big Shed Coop:

Meet Mrs. Weasley, Anne of Green Gables, and Elfrida.
Not to be left out, Pippi Longstocking.

I thought the names of some infamous red-heads of popular literature fitted my girls, who have funny little personalities and amazing combs.  Check out the comb-flip that Elfrida can manage:


Who needs Pantene, right?  Whooo!

They join the illustrious company of Oprah, Maya Angelou, and Harriet Tubman (the camera shy Jersey Giants) and Honey, Sweetie and Lovey the friendly Amber Links, who think I am their rooster-mistress.

The lovely Lovey, who purrs at me from afar...

Channeling a Kitchen Goddess


All bow down before Julia Child.  Bow down, I say!

I grew up watching Her Greatness on PBS (one of the only channels we got with our old school aerial antenna), along with Jacques Pepin, Jeff Smith (aka The Frugal Gourmet), and Marianne Esposito of Ciao, Italia!  Before I knew what an omelet was, I was in love with the lovely Ms. Julia.  I like to think that she would get a kick out of my cooking style, which is definitely of the "make it look nice and they'll never know you dropped the pan on the floor" variety.  She'd likely be appalled by the lack of organization in the kitchen, though.  Don't you just love those outlined spaces for each of her pots and pans on the peg board wall?  What a stitch!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fun With Labels


Sometimes, It's Easy Being Green





That is, if you're a tomatillo.

My tomatillo trees are starting to set fruit, just not very many of them.  I picked three today...and there isn't much that you can do with three tomatillos.  Make a tablespoon of dipping sauce?  I don't think so.

Luckily, today was Farmers Market Day.  The dogs refused to be left behind, so I stuffed them into Lucille Laverne and off we went.  Halfway there, I realised that I should have brought a jacket.  Some random cold front blew in from Canada, and the temperature dropped (I kid you not) 10 degrees from the time I left the house to when I arrived at the market 20 minutes later.  Brrrr.

For all that it was chilly and windy and grey out, the market was packed as usual.  I had to elbow some old woman who tried to cut in front of me in pursuit of some garlic.  Back off, b*&%h, those cloves are mine!  This may seem unnecessarily unruly to some of you, but when it is the height of canning season, it is all about who gets first dibs on the veggie perfection-selection.  I pack cash, and plenty of it, and I'm not afraid to say the words every farmer wants to hear: "I'll take it all."

I swear, their eyes glaze over with sheer joy.  They can hardly believe their ears.  Really?  She really wants to buy this glut of tomatoes I carted all the way from Shell Lake?  Wooohoooooooo!!  My favorite little Hmong family almost ran each other over in their excitement to pack and weigh all the plum tomatoes they had in their van.  I wound up with thirty pounds worth, plus some garlic and cherry bomb hot peppers.  They made me take a sackful of jalepenos as well, and kept trying to ply me with kohrabi and carrots.  I just love them:  Mom and Dad and a handful of kids of various ages, all so sweet and friendly.  Sometimes Grandma comes along too.  She doesn't say much, but she and I are kindred spirits in our love of the humble turnip.

I bought the lady next door out of her tomatillos.  I couldn't resist them, and besides, I needed to add a few to my three that I picked this morning.  I wound up with ten pounds worth.  Well, like I said:  I needed to add a few.  Ten pounds is a few, right?

After a stop off at my friendly bakery stand for a snack, some bread, and a fancy-dancy lemonade, it was time to head home and start putting up my gardeney goodness.  I opted to make some salsa verde, possibly my favorite sauce on the whole planet.

Next to ketchup.

It's a super simple recipe, and when it cooks down for about an hour, you end up with pints and pints of this:



Ooooh.  Ahhhhhh.

Super Easy Salsa Verde

You'll need: a few pounds of tomatillos; onions; one head of garlic; hot peppers*; vinegar; water; salt; cumin; coriander; cilantro or flat leaf parsley; oregano.

This is not a quantity specific recipe, because it is hard to come by many, many tomatillos.  I lucked into a buttload, but you may have less luck.  Anyway, say you at least find two pounds of tomatillos.  Husk them and put them into a large nonreactive pot.  Decide how much onion you want to add.  I recommend at least one whole onion, chopped up fairly small.  Again, decided how much garlic you want in the mix--at least a couple of cloves, smashed and peeled and flung into the pot.

*Here's the hard part, where you have to decide how hot to make this.  Feeling meek?  Maybe put half a jalepeno in there.  Feeling wild?  Get a serrano, jalepeno and possibly a little habanero in there.  As for myself, I whacked up a couple of hot wax peppers, a couple jalepenos, and three or four cherry bombs.  I think it will have a good rounded level of heat.  Of course, I may have overestimated things and wind up with a Green Heat Wave, but I think I can live with it.

 Add your salt, cumin and coriander (ground is best).  Maybe a half teaspoon, maybe a whole teaspoon?  You decide.  Take a handful of fresh cilantro or flat leaf parsley, and a smaller handful of fresh oregano.  Chop them up pretty well, not exactly minced but close to it, and toss them in.  Now, decide how much liquid you want.  I recommend three parts vinegar to one part water.  So, say you want to add four cups of liquid total: that would be three cups vinegar and one cup water.  Add it to the pot.

Bring your heat up to a good boil, and then lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.  After the time is up, your tomatillos should be soft and squishable.  You can either transfer to a blender or a food processor and whirl until smooth, or use a stick blender like I did and smooth everything right in the pot.  Return to an active simmer for another fifteen or twenty minutes, so sauce can thicken slightly and the flavors can get all happy together.

After you've done the simmering thing, ladle the salsa into hot pint jars, top with a hot lid, and process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes.  Allow to cool, then check your seals and store in a dark place.  This goes great on top of burritos, nachos, or on pastor-style pork dishes.  It is also good on chicken, so knock yourself out experimenting with its many uses.

Using ten pounds of tomatillos, I wound up with 8 pints and one quart of salsa verde.  I hope its enough....

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Getting Soapy

I found myself in a crafting mood today, and wound up at a local crafters' paradise, Bargain Bill's.  This store has 2000 square feet dedicated to All Things Craft.  They also have a year-round Christmas section, but I managed to avoid wandering in there.

Of course, with that much of a crafty selection it can be hard to weed out some of the choices.  I opted to not do painted wood objects, or gather up more yarn, or some kind of foam letter project.  I didn't want to do scrapbooking, and beading wasn't quite where I was at....and then I found it. 

Soap making.

Now there's a project that I've actually been wanting to do for a while, although the actual making of the soap base makes me nervous still.  I was pretty sure that the melt and pour stuff wouldn't eat my skin off (as an inadvertent mishap with lye in the mix might), and it would let me play around with things like coloring, essential oils, and "additives".  Ooooh.  Things you can mix in to make your soap prettier.  That's what I'm about!

I swear, this is soap making for idiots, it's so easy.  I love it!  Sometimes, it is just nice to have an instant gratification project to pull out and play with.  Essentially, you start with a big block of soap base (I chose an olive oil based soap) that you cut into individual cubes:






Then, you put the cubes in a pyrex bowl and microwave, stirring occasionally, until it is all melted and smooth and very, very hot.  That's when you get to add fun things like color, scented oils, and other stuff.  I amassed a little collection for my starter kit.





Not pictured is the tub of oatmeal I pulled out of the pantry.  I do love a soap with oatmeal in it!

Anyway, once you've mixed everything in, you pour your soap into a handy dandy mold:




I can hear you all thinking, Hey, isn't that a tin bread loaf mold?  Yes, yes it is.  There were some smidgy little cute molds for quite a few dollars, but all I wanted was a loaf that I could slice into bars.  I decided that tinfoil bread pans would be perfect for the job.  Lo and behold, they make a great mold that is easy to turn the hardened soap out of.  After 20 minutes or so, this is what you wind up with:





Tah dah.

With my handy kitchen knife, it is easy as pie to slice into bars:

This batch is Tangerine & Lychee, with oatmeal and granulated orange peel.

I love this one!  Red Currant & Thyme scent, with oatmeal.  Plus, it's pink.  Whoo!


I am working on a third batch now, which is Sandalwood with cinnamon and oatmeal mixed in.  It smells really, really good--but it did wind up kind of brown in color.  Still, it should be fun to scrub up with!

Not bad for a first try at soap making.  It really was simple and fun to do.  Now, to muster up my courage to make my own soap from scratch....well, maybe I'll stick with this for a while!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Becoming the Alewife

If you read this little blog regularly, you'll remember many moons back when I posted about purchasing a nifty beer brewing kit from WindRiver Brewing Company, a local business specializing in making homebrewing accessible to all of us neophytes out there in the wilderness.

My little kit has patiently waited for the day when I would break open the tape on the packing box and start making my own bottled beer.  Today was that day.  Partly because it just felt like a day for a fiddly cooking project, and partly because I needed the fridge space being taken up by the brewing ingredients for homemade refrigerator pickles.

We all find our motivation somewhere.

It was a splendidly long project, involving dipping of grain-filled supersized tea bags, repetitive stirring of tar-like syrups, and the precise addition of a dried bat wing...well, no bat wings, but you get the idea.  This definitely is a process for a day when you don't have to rush out and run errands, because there is no speeding up the brewing process.  Apparently, if you try to rush things, your beer will be undrinkable.  And that, my dears, is unthinkable!  Har har.

Along the way, I took a few pictures to add as a photo essay:

After adding the specialty grains, it starts to look like a murky tea.

Dip...dip...dip...plunging the sack of grains!
No, these are not off-brand breast implants.  This is the malt syrup you add to the initial grain tea.

Very shiny bags of bittering herbs, aroma hops, and brewing yeast: All added at specific times in the brewing process.

After the slow boil is done, you can measure the initial alcohol content using a hydrometer.  This nifty device also lets you check to see when fermentation is finished, and comes with the kit.

The wort, or unfermented beer mixture, is poured into the fermentation bucket.  Note the nifty fermentation lock on top!
 I can't wait to see the fermentation lock start bubbling away, indicating that the happy yeast cells are multiplying and making my wort into beer.  The house smells like hot grains--actually, it smells kind of like brewed coffee, but different.  I wonder if it would be easy enough to brew up a homemade batch of ginger ale?  Root beer?  Maybe sarsaparilla?  Oh, the options!


Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Roast





My tomatoes are finally starting to catch up with the productive hot peppers.  In celebration, and with a contribution of some hot peppers and tomatoes from my friend Trudy's garden, I decided it was time to make a batch of my most favorite, spicy and flavorful hot salsa:  Roasted Tomato Salsa.

This salsa is not for the faint of heart, as I combine fresh hot peppers with roasted dried peppers.  It also requires roasting of the onions, garlic, and tomatoes that come together to make an epicenter of culinary goodness.  A slosh of this on a plain old bean burrito or cheesy quesadilla makes a quick meal something extraordinary.  I found the original recipe in the Ball Book, but have modified to make it a bit more...potent.  You could make your version more so, by changing up what varieties of hot peppers you use in your combination.

Habaneros, anyone?

Roasted Tomato Salsa

You'll need:  roughly five pounds of tomatoes, plum or mixed varieties; two medium onions, your choice of color (I used one large white, one small yellow, and one small red); two heads of garlic, cloves separated; 20 dried chile peppers; six to eight fresh hot peppers (I think I actually put in 12 or so, a mix of Hot Wax, Jalepeno, and Cayenne); two cups boiling water; two cups vinegar (your choice of cider or white); two teaspoons sugar; two teaspoons salt.

Start up your broiler, and prepare roasting pans (I use cookie sheets with wire cooling racks across them).  Core tomatoes and place on pans.  Peel off outer onion skin, and place onions on pan (you can halve them if you like).  Place fresh peppers on pans, as well as cloves of garlic.  Pop under the broiler until blackened, about 10 minutes.  Remove from broiler, and put the tomatoes and peppers into paper bags to cool (close the bags, too).  Cool the onions and garlic. 

While you're broiling away, preheat a cast iron skillet over medium heat until very hot.  Toss in the dried chiles, and toast them until they get pliable and look oily.  A note of caution:  the hot dried chile peppers will release an odorless, noxious gas that burns your breathing passages and eyes.  I recommend doing this step under a fume hood on high, while wearing goggles and a breathing mask.  I never remember to do this, and wind up remembering why this is good advice...as I cough and hack and flee the kitchen.  The gas lasts quite a while in the air, so perhaps, do as I say, not as I do.  Anyway, once they are toasted, pop them into a large bowl and pour the boiling water over them.  Stick a small plate into the bowl and use it to squish the peppers below the water level.  Allow to sit for ten minutes, then pour water and peppers into a food processor.  Whirl until completely pureed.

You should be able to peel and chop the roasted tomatoes about now, as well as the peppers.  I leave all the seeds in the peppers, which makes this salsa very hot.  You can remove some of the seeds if you like (you wimpy person, you).  Chop the roasted onions, and squeeze out the roasted cloves.  Put everything into a large nonreactive pot, along with the vinegar, sugar and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat.  After cooking for a few minutes, I break out my immersion stick blender and give everything a good whirl.  This is supposed to be a rather liquid salsa, but a few chunks are okay too.  Continue to boil for about 10 minutes, to thicken the sauce a little bit.

Transfer hot salsa into hot jars, and top with a hot lid.  Tighten the bands, and place into a water bath canner.  Process 20 minutes for pints, and 30 minutes for quarts.  I got about 6 pints of salsa from my batch, with about a quarter of a pint remaining that is "aging" in the fridge.

If you hear distant screaming and see smoke coming from this direction, you'll know that I tried it and it was hot enough.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sliding Towards Fall

It's begun: that slow slide toward the next season, the cool weather of fall approaching. The past couple of evenings, the air has turned crisp as the sun sets.  Having two quilts on the bed is again mandatory, to ward off the 4 AM chill that breathes in delightfully through the open windows. The chickadees have started making their winter-time songs.  And as I drive along the back country roads, here and there you can spy a rogue branch, gleaming bright red or orange amongst its green brothers.

The garden is still growing strong, although the rest of the corn has decided to recline amongst the sprawling squash and climbing bean vines.  I don't know whether the vines pulled them over, but the tunneling mole certainly hasn't helped matters any.  The ears are still ripening, so I suppose it doesn't matter if they are sideways or not.  The second crops of bush beans, winter greens and peas are doing well, and my root vegetables are starting to bulb up.  I finally have successfully grown carrots!  It is so exciting to see the long orange roots emerging from the ground (and they taste deliciously sweet, too)!  Every day, more tomatoes ripen in the steamy hoop house.  I am looking forward to spending some sunny days in there in the winter time, basking like a lizard in the solarized heat.

With the meat chickens processed and in the freezer, my days are slightly less occupied with chicken chores.  I still have plans to do an overhaul of the Little Coop's yards, but that can be done this weekend (or next) on a sunny afternoon.  It is so nice not to have to haul around food and water to the birds in the fields, but it was a good experience for the most part.  When the time rolls around to next spring, I think I'll be ready to do it all over again.  Although with a few modifications...there's always something to be "improved"!

The sun is shining and the laundry is done in the washer.  Must be time to get out there and enjoy the day.  The garden is calling...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Basil Inferno






I am currently blessed with a glut of ready basil and hot peppers.  I have made and frozen more batches of pesto than I need for the year, and while I do have plans to make large amounts of salsa, none of my tomatoes are keeping pace with the peppers.  I've been blanching, mincing and freezing the peppers for later use, but after a foray into the hoop house this afternoon, I discovered three more jalepenos and two large Hungarian hot wax peppers.  Oh,  my.

What is a girl to do?

Whip up a batch of fiery jelly, of course!

Taking a recipe from the Ball Canning Bible that I read like a novel this time of year, I decided to try a batch of Basil (Hot) Pepper Jelly.  I modified it a bit, as I had no fresh red chile peppers on hand, but I think it is going to be fantastically hot.  I do love a hot jelly.  They make a great condiment for savory tarts, or on top of cream cheese or chevre-laden crackers.  Mmmmmm-hmmmmm yummy!

Cris' Many Pepper Hot Jelly

You'll need:  three or four large Hungarian hot wax peppers; three jalepeno peppers; four or five dried red chile peppers; one small or half a large red onion; a handful of basil leaves; 3/4 cup white or cider vinegar; 3 cups of granulated sugar; and one pouch of liquid pectin.

Slice the hot wax peppers into thin rings.  Mince the jalepenos finely, and with a sharp knife whack the dried chiles into small bits.  I never seed my peppers, as I like this jelly to be really hot.  Mince the onion finely as well.  Roll the basil leaves together into a little wad, and then slice the leaves into thin ribbons. Put the peppers, onion, basil, and vinegar into a large nonreactive pot.  Stir in sugar, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add pectin, bring to a boil and boil hard, stirring constantly, for one minute.  Remove from heat, and skim off any foamy bits.  Pour into prepared jars (my batch made two pints), top with hot lids and tighten the bands.  Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.  Cool for about 10 minutes, then swirl the jars gently to disperse the veg pieces in suspension (otherwise, they float to the top!)

Eat with caution, this stuff is nasal-passage-in-flames-HOT!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Yeehaw! It's Round-Up Time!

courtesy of fivegreenacres.wordpress.com
I was in the middle of a delicious dream when the alarm fired off this morning.  It was something nice, involving eating something good in great company...and then it was gone, just like that, and I was laying there in the dark, under a warm blankie, faced with the stark realization that it was 4 AM and I needed to get up.

So, so wrong.  On so many levels.  Even the dogs were appalled.

It needed to be done, though.  The Great Chicken Round-Up of 2012 was due to start at 5 AM, and before I faced 150-plus projectile pooping distraught chickens I needed a serious amount of coffee in my belly.  Thank goodness for espresso grind coffee in a french press.

I haven't been up that early in many a day, and once I perked up a little, it was absolutely lovely.  Still and quiet, I could hear the water flowing over the spillway at the dam on the river a half mile away.  Venus shone brightly in the sky, just above the eastern horizon where a pale glow suggested that perhaps the sun was thinking about rising.  The quarter moon was fat and bright, and a slight whisper of sound above me suggested that the resident bats were heading home to their roosts beneath the siding on the west side of the house.

It nearly made it acceptable to be up so early.

And then I managed to hit a deer on my way to the first tractoring site.  It did no damage, but I think I hit the young buck squarely on his backside, and I couldn't find him in the ditch when I stopped to check for any damaged lights.  So maybe he did okay and it wasn't as hard of a hit as I thought, but I still felt pretty crummy about it.  Darn thing shot out of the cornfield when I was right on top of him, and between the momentum of Lucille Laverne plus the trailer I was towing there was no way to stop.  Sigh.

Luckily, that was the only down moment of the morning.  The rest of the Great Round-Up went well, if a bit messy (poo in the hair.  Poo. In. The. Hair.), noisy (shrieking chickens!!!), and hard on the body (between a couple well placed nips, a good scratch from budding rooster talons, going inside the tractor and wearing it like a hat, and chasing loose escapees through prickly thistle, nettle, and burdock).  It took a good two and a half hours, but the crates got loaded and I made it to the processing place in Clear Lake before 8 AM.  Nobody fell off the truck, and no further deer decided it was time to commit suicide as LuLa travelled the backroads and byways.  I rounded out the morning with dispatching a couple of sick chickens who I decided not to send off with the others (they had suffered some severe bites when the others got heat stressed and decided to take it out on them, and my homeopathic remedies didn't do the trick), returning the borrowed trailer, and hosing out the back of the truck. 

It reeked.  Many chickens pooping in a black-plastic lined truck bed does not make for a happy smell.

In a few hours, I'll be heading back to pick up the finished chickens and then making a couple of deliveries to folks who are taking some of them off my hands.  It looks like all the coolers in the neighborhood decided to throw a party in the car hut.  Next thing you know, the neighbors will be coming over to see if there is hidden Leinie's beer in them.  Won't they be surprised to find plucked chickens on ice?

Cluck cluck.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

And The Verdict Is....





If you run in canning circles, you've probably heard of these nifty, Made In the USA, reusable canning lids called Tattler lids.  I've been hearing about them for a couple of years, and read on various blogs about how great they work.  But I was a bit leery.  I mean, reusable?   Really?  Hmmm.  And how do they seal?  With all the work I put into preserving the harvest, the idea of lid failure and massive food spoilage haunts my dreams.  Nightmares, I tell you, sheer nightmares!

Well, faced with a vast array of empty glass jars all needing lids, I decided it was time to give these "amazing" reusable lids a try.  I did a bit of online research, and found the best deal from the manufacturer's website (www.reusablecanninglids.com) on buying multiple boxes of twelve lids with rubber rings.  The directions are pretty simple to follow, and the lids appear to be sturdy plastic which is BPA free.  All you need is the band, which I have oodles of, to hold the lid on tightly.  The directions also recommend tightening the band immediately after removing the jar from the canner; I don't know if this step is essential, but it felt like a good idea to actually follow the directions the first go around.  They also say to let the lids stay undisturbed until the contents have completely cooled, which is always good advice.

I've used them on eight jars so far, and eight of eight lids and rings have worked like a charm.  They look like a little squished sandwich sealing the jar:


Time will tell if the seal will hold, but so far all signs are positive.

My judgement is:  Great idea, and looks like they work as advertised.  I love the idea of recycling not only the jars, but the lids, too!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Summer Means Watermelon

I love watermelon.  Sweet, juicy, those teeny seeds you can spit at whoever or whatever is nearby, fat and green-striped...what's not to love?

Unfortunately, they are rather difficult to grow in my garden.  Usually, summers here are too short and too chilly to grow the big green monsters that I love.  Oh, you can grow small, cold climate varieties, but they seem insipid to me.  Not the sweet, sugary melon I love, by any means.  Plus, they vine all over and when you have a small yard with a lot going on, it is hard to dedicate the garden space for something that likely won't yield any fruit.  Sigh.  It is one of the greater sadnesses in my life, this lack of watermelon growing ability.

All is not lost, as the farmers market I frequent pulls in watermelon grown on family farms, in climates where the big ones can grow.  (I'm talking Michigan, here.  Not Guatemala.)  The down side is, well, I live alone...so buying an entire watermelon usually has wound up in half of it going to the chickens.  The girls love it almost as much as I do, but it just seems a bit sad to miss out on melon.

Imagine my joy when I found a recipe that used up exactly half of the big watermelon I bought yesterday!  Oh yes, it was a beautiful moment when the angels sang and white doves flew in a peaceful sweep across a field of golden...watermelons.

Well, perhaps not.

It was still a glorious moment.

This morning, using half of my lovely coveted watermelon, I made Watermelon Jelly.





Yes, you read that right.  Watermelon.  Jelly.

Isn't it pretty?  So pink-ilicious.  I can hardly wait to try it.  (It needs to gel some more.)

I think this will be wonderful, when the cold winds blow and the only watermelon to be found is ridiculously expensive, from a foriegn country, and tastes like old socks.  See?  Jelly is a much better alternative.

Watermelon Jelly (from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving)

You'll need: 6 cups chopped watermelon, rinds removed; 1/2 cup white wine vinegar; 4 Tablespoons lemon juice; 5 cups granulated sugar; 1 stem of lemon grass, chopped *or use a little bunch of lemon verbena leaves, which I got from the garden, chopped finely*; 2 pouches of liquid pectin.

Place the watermelon in a large nonreactive pot, and mash with a potato masher.  Bring to a low simmer over medium-low heat, simmer for five minutes.  Remove from heat and crush thoroughly (I used my immersion blender), then pour into a damp jelly bag set over a large bowl.  Allow to drip for two hours.  Measure out 2 cups of watermelon juice, and put juice into nonreactive pot.  Add vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, and chopped herbs.  Bring to a hard boil over high heat, then add the pectin.  Stir constantly and boil hard for one minute.  Remove from heat, skim off foam, and pour into hot jars.  Fit with lids and bands, and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

This should make about 6 small half-pint jars of beautiful pale blush jelly.  You could always save the rind and pickle it, but the girls had to get their cut so mine went out to the chickens.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Getting Herbal

My newly replanted herb bed is growing like mad, which is wonderful...aside from the continued issues with weedy rogue mint that likes to pop up everywhere.  I use quite a bit of herbs in my cooking, from chopping them finely to add to salads, plunking a sprig into a glass of cool water, to stuffing into a chicken for roasting into dinner.  There is no way I could use all the bounty fresh, so periodically I wander outside with a pair of shears and trim bundles for drying.


Bound with some spare cotton string, each of the bundles of herbs needs to be hung in an airy location, where they will get maximum air flow with a minimum of direct sunlight.  I've found that this door frame, at the end of the stairs and next to a lovely bookcase filled with treasured novels, is perfect.  Today's haul includes (from left to right): spearmint; tarragon; thyme; oregano; sage; loveage; and lemon verbena.

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To make it easy to hang them, I tie a simple open loop with the end bit of string, and hang the trussed herbs from picture hooks.  Since my most of walls are plaster over concrete block, I can't use these to hang picture frames (thank goodness for Command hooks!) but they work perfectly for this application.  I wound up with a jar full of these little goodies, and it is nice to find a use for them!


After air-drying for a week or two, all that is left is to crumble up the dried leaves by stripping them off of the dessicated stems and put them into recycled glass jars.  I find it is a good idea to clearly label what's inside the jar, as dried herbs can be deceptively "same-y" in scent and appearance sometimes.  These will be tucked away into the pantry-closet, and used for cooking blends, teas, home-made salves, and of course, cat toys.