Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Zucchini Season

The farm share seems to have experienced an early abundance of zucchini and summer squash. In anticipation of getting a lot more in the next few weeks, I decided to make zucchini relish today. I won't be making the cucumber relish that, in the past two years, won first place at the fair so zucchini relish will have to do. And, I do plan to enter this in the fair instead.

Using the zucchini relish recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, I chopped all the vegetables into a medium dice and put them in salt water for three hours. Then I cooked them with vinegar, sugar, water, and spices for 10 minutes. Lastly, I put them into four 8-oz jars and five 4-oz jars. The 4-oz jars will get added to my gift stash which, now, is at 18 jars. Two will be set aside for the fair and the rest are for us!

For fair purposes: 6 cups of zucchini and summer squash, 2 cups onion, 1 cup each red and green peppers. The liquid and spice measurements are the same as in the cookbook.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Another Round of Pickles

Since I won't be getting down to the farm where I sometimes buy pickling cukes anytime soon, I'm making an effort to pickle every cucumber I get from my farm share instead. Today's share had 2.5 pounds of cucumbers so I was able to make a half-batch of bread and butter pickles. Again using the Old Fashioned Bread and Butter Pickle recipe from The Joy of Pickling, I made two pints and three half pints. Two of the half pint jars will be set aside for the fair.

Tomorrow I'll take the zucchini and summer squash from the share and make zucchini relish. Hopefully there will be enough of that to enter into the fair as well.

You Won't Like Us When We're Angry

This morning, the first sunny morning in several days, I checked on my bees.

First I got into the nuc colony. I found capped honey, open honey, capped worker cells which just might be the ones I put in there 3 weeks ago, and new larvae. Which implies there is an active queen. I am checking with the local beekeeper discussion group about that. I still didn't see her. But they were nice, and polite, and I was able to see every comb before I closed them up. Minimal drama.

The hive was another story. I got into it from the back end, where there are still 5-6 open bars, and moved them out so I could slide the rest down and see everything. There were three bars full of capped honey. More than enough to get them through the low nectar flow parts of the summer and maybe there will be some to spare for me at the end of the season. There is plenty more honey building up in there. There were larvae, and lots of busy workers and not as many drones as before. I skipped the 3 combs that I know are fully crossed and impossible to move and went a little closer to the front of the hive to pull out another comb that they were just building. That was the empty bar I'd put in when I checkerboarded the hive. Well. As I pulled it out all of the sudden the hive became an angry, loud, absolutely freaked out mass of bees. I had about a thousand bees around me in an instant. Time to go.

It took a while to get them all settled enough to get the bars back in place with the least amount of bee lives lost. One stung my glove (new ones, leather, and WAY better) and I watched it struggle until it flew away, leaving its stinger and drop of venom on my glove. I closed everything up eventually and beat a hasty retreat. Thank goodness I had my gear on today!

What I did not see: queen cells of any kind. I think the danger of swarming is gone. Now I have to figure out what to do with my new box of bees. Do I combine them, which involves finding the weaker queen and killing her? Finding the queen is not my strongest skill, to put it mildly. I might give them away, which would absolutely require someone with an open bed pickup truck as I am NOT putting them in my car. The other thought would be to get a second hive, which is not something I planned for.

The new queen has been dubbed Queen Beeulah. Long live the queen!

Monday, July 11, 2016

An Audition of Sorts

When I finished the Pastry Program at school, I chatted a bit with the director of the Recreational Program about teaching an introductory canning class. It seemed to be something they weren't currently offering and when I speak with people about canning they often asked how to do it. So I thought maybe I could use my experience and, via the culinary school, teach a recreational class or two. 

Before I could be approved to teach I had to lead a demonstration of what I might be doing to a few of the people who organize the classes. I decided to make strawberry jalapeño jam as it's not just a plain fruit jam and it allows for a conversation about improvising. I brought all my equipment, ingredients, and a bunch of my cookbooks as well as some finished products for the audience to sample. 

There was something that was going on in the kitchen this morning that was supposed to be done by the time my demo was scheduled but things didn't quite go as planned. The kitchen behind me hummed with activity (and smelled amazing) as chefs prepared for a big event tomorrow. Since I like that level of busy-ness I didn't mind at all. I did have to use the front demonstration stove which is electric. I haven't used an electric stove in decades! It was an adjustment but I managed. I got everything ready to go ahead of time so it would be more like a cooking show and then people didn't have to sit around and watch me chop.

Ultimately, I made eight jars of strawberry jalapeño jam (I kept two) and got permission to teach the class. Yay! I even spent some time helping out with dishes for the group doing event prep since they were stacking up. It felt really nice to be back in that kitchen.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Whenever I Can

Why does it seem that with each passing year I am busier and busier?

There's a lot of work and logistical stuff coming up and it makes it harder for me to find time to can things, particularly if I want to get large quantities of pickles made or things like that. Foraging isn't really an option; last year was so good I think this year the trees are recovering. I'm not finding any mulberries, really, certainly not enough to make into jelly. Our tree is almost bare and none of them ripened before they fell. We might not have time to get blueberries this year, either. The only thing I see a lot of these days are elderberry flowers which hopefully means that there will be lots of berries this fall. I could use more jelly and syrup. However, my collection of things to enter in the Fair likely won't be that broad, I guess!

What I do have is the farm share and, today, I brought home 2 pounds of pickling cukes. As we had just opened my last jar of bread and butter pickles I decided to make some more. The cukes, plus a shallot and a small onion, made 3 pints of pickles. I use the basic recipe in The Joy of Pickling and it is the one I like best. As soon as I got back from the farm I sliced the cukes and onions, set them in salt and ice for four hours, and then made the brine and packed them into jars this evening. At least we'll have three pints for ourselves! We'll see what I get in the share next week that maybe I can turn into another batch.

Also in the share: one head of lettuce, 2.5 pounds of summer squash (I chose patty pans and zucchini), bok choy, escarole, kale, fava beans, shell peas, parsley, cilantro, and dill (I brought home the flowers but I'm not sure I'll get to use them. They're pretty, so they can just hang out in a vase). I skipped the sunflower, other herbs, and trying to find the last of the snow peas. Finding the shell peas was hard enough; this is certainly the last week for them.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Series of Small Dinner Parties

We haven't done this in a while: have company for dinner more than once a week. Last night Lisa came by and we had grilled chicken marinated in yogurt, plus zereshk polo which is Persian rice with barberries. I have never gotten the tadiq to do this so well before. It just fell out of the pot, with all the rice in a pot-shaped disk. The difference is, I think, that I added some oil to the butter before I put the rice in. The barberries we brought back from Halifax. I'd never seen the right kind of berries around here so I bought enough to last me for years. Barberries are super tart and have to be cooked with a little sugar before steaming in the rice.

Tonight with another friend we had the grilled octopus I've been marinating for a few days. I used this recipe from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook and it was so delicious! It was served with homemade bread, baba ganoush which I made this afternoon, the marinated fava beans from the farm share, and roasted summer squash. To round out the theme, our guest brought Lebanese pastries which are like baklava but round with pistachios in the middle. Like these.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Cooking Non-Stop

Braised Octopus
At least, it feels that way. After making all the jam yesterday, I went out to pick up the farm share. This week we started to get zucchini and summer squash, plus kale, lettuce, scallions, bok choy, cucumbers, shell peas, snow peas, fava beans, Swiss chard, spinach, and herbs. The strawberries and snap peas are done for the season.

When I got home I shelled the peas and the fava beans and was able to get the fava beans blanched and marinating. I used the greens from the scallions, plus oregano, tarragon and parsley, to braise four small octopi in preparation for marinating them and then grilling them on Friday. (Also for Friday, I will make Baba Ganoush and grilled summer squash. And the fava beans will be a nice addition.)

For dinner, I made a huge salad with shelled peas, strawberries, lettuce and cucumber. There was strawberry shortcake for dessert. After eating plenty of fresh berries, we have almost none left from that 11+ pounds we picked yesterday!