Thursday, July 18, 2019

Unlimited Supply

Today's farm share was much less limited than usual. Apparently, some things are doing quite well with the rain. One of the unlimited items was pickling cucumbers. I grabbed 12, along with a large amount of shell peas and green beans. The herbs were also unlimited so I got a large bunch each of dill, cilantro and parsley.

After an early dinner I quickly made four pints of "Favorite Dill Pickles" from The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving. Since I had fresh dill I was able to use that instead of dill seeds. This is a nice, middle-of-the-road dill pickle. Not too garlicky, not too vinegary, not too sweet.

There are a lot of patty pan squashes, as well as cabbage and fennel bulbs. I am hoping to make a sauerkraut with the cabbage and fennel together. But I have so many other vegetables to deal with!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Chicken in Mole Sauce

Recently my husband was in Houston and he came back with two containers of homemade mole sauce, a gift from people he met while he was there. Mole sauce, I have learned, is regional. Every part of Mexico has their own version. This version hails from Oaxaca.

And it is SPICY. I have no idea what is in it except the seeds from the hot peppers are visible. It's dark brown and basically a paste which we were told needed to be mixed with some sort of liquid, ideally whatever the pan drippings are.

For a relatively quick dinner, we picked up a rotisserie chicken and I shredded it. Most of the meat was put into a sauté pan with a pint of turkey stock and about 1 cup of the mole sauce. It simmered and thickened as I let the liquid evaporate off. (The rest of the chicken was mixed with water and taco seasoning as the youngerchild felt the mole sauce was too spicy.) From this chicken mole, we made tacos.

Diluting the mole sauce definitely helped make the kick more manageable, and you can just detect the subtle chocolate flavor. It's terrific. I'll bet using pulled pork would be just as good.

My Bees are Confusing Me

After splitting the colony about a month ago, and making sure there were queen cells in the second half, I left them alone for a while to settle themselves out. Today it's gorgeous outside, 70's and clear, so I went to go check on them. To my chagrin there was no evidence of a queen. There were some workers, and they were making honey like crazy, but there were also a lot of drones and very rare cells with larvae. Since workers can lay eggs but can only make drones, it's a good bet that without a queen the colony will die off.

I don't have the time to get a new queen and put it in right now, as we're going away for a bit, but after a chat with my husband it made sense to see if the other colony, which was full to the gills again inside the hive, might be thinking about swarming again. That way, if I found a queen cell or two, I could move them into the second hive. I got my combiner board prepped with newspaper (the two colonies stay separated until they adapt to each others' pheromones and then they eat through the paper to combine themselves). Then I went into the main hive. My first look in showed that there was comb all the way to the back and there were gaps so the bees were hanging out above the combs and had sealed the cover on. Once I pried to cover off, I was faced with hundreds of bees just sitting on the top of the hive. I still needed to get into it, though.

In order to do so, I had to bring out my nuc box because otherwise I had no room to move comb around to see anything. There was one comb, in the middle of the hive, which I could access easily so I pulled that one out and put it in the nuc box. Then I started inspecting and basically annoying all the bees. They lashed out at me a couple of times, whenever my smoker petered out, so I would be frantically trying to relight my smoker while surrounded by angry bees. I did get stung once, on my knee, through my suit. But otherwise it was fairly okay. Intimidating, but okay.

What I found was plenty of brood cells and LOTS of honey. So much so that I didn't take out the last few combs because I didn't want to disrupt them any further and there was no evidence at all of queen cells. So, despite there being probably way more bees than the space could accommodate, they didn't seem like they were going to leave.

Ultimately I moved 4 combs with a lot of brood cells into the second hive, with the combiner board in between. This is the confusing part - I never did see Beeyoncé but as soon as I put two of the four combs in, the bees started to fan, suggesting she was there. I took the combs back out and looked again but didn't see her.

So. Either Beeyoncé is now in the second hive and they will be requeened by this, which would require the original hive to make an emergency queen, or she's in the original hive and hopefully the second colony can make an emergency queen. With luck, by the time I can get in there again, if I find either hive is queenless I can get a new one before the end of July.

Lastly, I think I will start to transition them over to Langstroths. Top bar hives are supposed to be easier but it's much harder to prevent swarms this way than with the Langstroth. Plus I am considering getting a flow hive box for the top to make the honey extraction easier since I wouldn't be getting involved with a centrifuge to extract honey. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Strawberry Tart

That looks like a strawberry, right?
Yesterday after work I made a quick tart with more of those strawberries. I made a half-recipe of pie crust and pre-baked in a tart dish for about 10 minutes. After that, I arranged about 3 cups of strawberry halves in crust, sprinkled with sugar and topped with a strawberry shaped piece of crust. The whole thing baked for about 30 minutes at 375˚F and, as soon as it came out of the oven, I brushed it with saffron syrup.

Between yesterday and today, with all the consumption of tarts and shortcake and plain strawberries, we only have one quart left!

Happy 4th of July!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Strawberry Season

This morning, before the humidity set in, the children and I went strawberry picking. Before going I carefully looked at my strawberry jam inventory and declared we did not need to pick quite so many berries as usual. We set out, only a few minutes later than usual, and even though we arrived 10 minutes after they opened there were at least 20 people in the field before we got there.

As it turned out, the picking was so good we filled seven quart containers (about 11 pounds) in a very short period of time. We munched on fresh berries and warm cider donuts, admired the bunnies and goats, and headed home.

After a college tour this afternoon (yes, we're in that stage now) we got home and I quickly made shortcake for tonight. Then I puréed two quarts of berries and made a batch of plain, traditional strawberry jam. Nice and simple. 10 jars in total, but two are half-cups.

The last thing for tonight is a strawberry soup, which will be served with take-out chicken satay and pad thai. About a quart of berries with 8 oz. mascarpone cheese, 1 cup orange juice and a generous squirt of honey, blended into a thick soup. Thicker than a smoothie for sure. Served chilled, it's a nice meal on a hot day and a good counterpoint to spicy food.

Sunday, June 30, 2019


For a friend's birthday, I made a variation of what I was told was his favorite cake: Black Forest.

First I made a chocolate wacky cake in a bundt pan. My error here was not using parchment which, in retrospect, would have a been a good idea. The top of the cake stuck a bit; I reconstructed it as best I could. I ended up using it to my advantage later as it was a great way to pour cherry syrup into the cake.

Most of a pint of homemade maraschino cherries were put into the center of the bundt cake and the syrup was poured over the cake slowly so it all would be absorbed. When it was time to serve it, I made some fresh whipped chantilly cream and decorated the top with more cherries and dried rose petals.

The cake was super moist because of the cherry syrup. The kids voted it one of the best ever.

Happy Birthday!

In Between Storms

We've had a lot of thunderstorms come through here in the past two days, and whenever the sun has made an appearance I went to the mulberry tree in the yard to pick berries. I must have forgotten how many cups of juice went into a batch of jam. I thought it was eight. Actually, it was four. So after a few days I had just about eight cups of juice, enough for a double batch of jelly. The tree is rather prolific this year.

Normally I don't like to double up jam and jelly recipes because then, if the mixture is too deep for the diameter of the pot it might not gel. Eight cups didn't seem too huge, though, so I simmered the mulberry juice with 1/3 cup lime juice and sliced fresh ginger (about 1.5 inches of ginger root, sliced as thinly as I could manage without a mandolin). To this I added two boxes of powdered pectin and 9.5 cups of sugar. All told, it made just over 13 cups of jelly. I strained out the ginger pieces when I poured the jelly into jars. Most likely, I will enter this one in the fair. It's time to start thinking about that again!