Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve

Today's projects were to make a couple of pies (for tomorrow) and prepare our Christmas Eve feast. I'd made the pie crust and roasted the sweet potatoes for a chocolate sweet potato pie already so all I had to do was roll out the crust and mix up the filling. I got out of work early today and that allowed me time to get the pies done before the ducks had to go into the oven.
Chocolate Sweet Potato Pie
The ducks are becoming our own tradition, which is terrific. The traditional Christmas dinner at my parents was always beef tenderloin and baked stuffed shrimp. Instead we have gravitated to duck which my husband always roasts to perfection. This year he roasted 2 ducks, enough food for the four of us and some meat set aside for soup. The bones will be made into stock, the livers into paté, and I have almost 4 pints of rendered duck fat for cooking.

When we stopped by the grocery store this evening they were out of eggnog. This was a calamity! Fortunately, I found this recipe for eggnog which was really terrific. I only made half the recipe and the other changes were that I used half and half instead of light cream and we used cognac instead of rum.

The elderchild artfully folded the napkins for our Christmas table. None of us wanted to unfold them, they were so nicely done.
After our lovely dinner, we ate ice cream (eggnog and peppermint-hydrox flavors) and watched The Year Without a Santa Claus. Tomorrow, the presents!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tools of the Trade

Remember how, at the beginning of 2015, I wrote about changing jobs and going back to school? Well, the going back to school part is finally happening. It's been a long process as I had to wait to get settled in my new job and for there to be enough staff physicians to free up enough time. Then I had to apply and wait for the final confirmation, which was last week.

Don't get me wrong. I love being a doctor. But it has become clear over the years that life has more to offer. People develop additional interests and passions. Sometimes people change gears entirely. I almost did that but then in my new job I was rejuvenated and reminded of what I love about practicing medicine. Connecting with people, bringing comfort, reassurance and care. Working with talented people who share these priorities in a supportive environment that allows for one's personal and professional lives to thrive. Where I am now provides all that, giving me time to finally do this thing for me:

I am enrolled in the Certificate Pastry Program at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. Orientation is in two weeks and classes start shortly after.

Today was my uniform fitting and I brought home almost all of the equipment. My coats and chef knife will come later but this is the bulk of it. As soon as I have the full uniform I will post a photo. For now, this will have to do.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Wee Little Lemons

Tablespoon for scale
The other day I brought a holiday gift to our mason and his family. It was nice to see him, as always! He took me out to the greenhouse and picked 4 tiny Meyer lemons off one of his trees and handed them to me. It was just enough for a half-batch of curd.

This morning I zested the lemons and squeezed them, getting 1/4 cup of juice. To this I added 3/8 cup sugar and 1 egg and whisked over a double boiler. Once that was properly mixed, I added 4 T. of unsalted butter and continued whisking and cooking until it was thickened. I now have two tiny jars of curd, about 4 ounces each. I won't be canning them; they can stay in the fridge and I expect they'll be eaten in a few days.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Still Very Warm

The other day it was 65 degrees. Yes, mid-December. All of us in New England are just waiting for the other shoe to drop. It's like we're collectively shaking our heads, saying, "We are SO in for it next month!" However, the bees are probably the most confused. We went to check on them and my husband took some photos of them flying around. I can't tell if they are foraging as there really isn't anything for them to forage. They were flying slowly. Several of them landed on us and just sat on us for a while. They are eating the fondant and likely some of their own honey and are still numerous. There is plenty of fondant left. I have high hopes they will make it through the winter.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Not Quite Right

Ever since Lisa sent along this recipe for gingerbread cookies I've wanted to make it. Well, the cookies plus the royal icing are truly an all-morning affair. I think it took me three hours to make all the cookies and ice them.
First, the cookies. Lisa said the dough was sticky and she was right. Also, the only holiday-themed cookies cutter I had was a star. As I didn't have enough parchment paper to make it easier, I needed to find a way to transfer the stars to the cookie sheets. I used a pastry scraper. In the beginning they ended up looking like starfish that were running away from something. As time went on, the dough became a little less sticky and it was easier to transfer them and then they looked more as intended. Also, I baked them for only 9 minutes after the first batch which, thankfully, was the batch that looked like fleeing starfish, came out a little toasty.  Some of the more toasty ones became my practice cookies for the icing.

The cookies cool very quickly and so I was able to do the icing at the same time. I probably could have used a wider tip on my decorating bag but I have limited options. Regardless, I made many variations on a star pattern and here they are.

Why is it not quite right? Well, I'll tell you. I spend a chunk of time this morning at the store picking out little tins that were not dented from a larger supply of very dented tins. Yup, you guessed it. The stars don't fit.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Again With the Cranberries

Today's batch of Cranberry-Rhubarb Compote does not contain ghost peppers. I now have another 9 jars for my gift stash. Hopefully I can make some cookies tomorrow; I am hoping to send both jams and cookies this year. More later!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Cranberry Problem

If you looked into my spare freezer you would think I have a serious condition with regard to cranberries. I keep buying them when they are on sale and tossing them in the freezer, figuring I'd use them eventually. Well, I think I have 8 bags in the freezer as of today. Fortunately, it's the time of the year for making Cranberry-Rhubarb Compote and filling out the gift stash. My list is maybe a little smaller this year but I'm sure I'll keep coming up with names so I'll likely be back up to the 60+ jars needed in no time.

Today's double batch of compote is spiced up with 1/2 teaspoon ghost pepper powder (thanks to Roxanne) and came to a total of 9 half-pint jars. They are processed for 15 minutes in the boiling water bath and then rest for 5 before cooling. This brings the gift stash up to 38 jars. I have enough ingredients for another double batch of this compote which I'll make another day, without the spice.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Timeline

8:00 am: Get out of bed. Make coffee. Discover we are out of our favorite coffee, the one we have shipped to us 10 pounds at a time. Order coffee. Get the turkey and the stuffing out of the fridge, find the turkey roasting pan.

9:00 am: The brined turkey is now stuffed and will go in the oven at 10. The pumpkin pie is returning to room temperature and is hanging out next to the apple pie (made last night), waiting for their photo op. The rest of the stuffing is in a baking dish. A very large papaya has been cut. The papaya has nothing to do with our Thanksgiving feast, I just felt like buying it. I'll have some for breakfast shortly.

10:00 am: The turkey is in the oven. The pumpkin bread has joined its flashier brethren on the table. Potatoes have been peeled and are waiting in a pot of water until close to dinner. Turns out, neither of my children like papaya. We have a lot left. The dining room has been cleared of all the books, papers, magazines, and random projects that have accumulated there over the last few weeks. The stand mixer's bowl and whisk are now in the freezer for when I need to make whipped cream for the pumpkin pie.

10:30 am: Remember that there is a parsnip to go in with the potatoes. Peel, chop and add. Waiting for the dishwasher to finish so I can get a pot to cook the broccoli in. Usually the creamed broccoli is made days in advance but this year it seemed OK to wait until the day of the party.

11:30 am: Creamed broccoli is made and resting on the stove, over the back burner so it gets the heat from the oven to keep it warm. Dishwasher emptied. Tablecloth on table, centerpiece centered. I've been told by my Mom not to set the table until she gets here because she has something for it. Holding pattern for now, I guess, but I will get the nice china out and ready.  Off to take a shower.

12:30 pm: The china and silverware are out of storage. The foil is off the turkey and the house smells wonderful.

1:30 pm: Made the canapés. Honey goat cheese and cream cheese blended together and then piped onto crackers, topped with bacon jam. Lesson learned - the disposable pastry piping bags are Not Reliable. Cheese squirted all over the place so the canapés are not as pretty as visualized. Parents have arrived. New leaf runners are on the table and the table is being set. Potatoes are boiling. Sweet potatoes have arrived and need to stay warm.

2:30 pm: The turkey is out of the oven. I repeat, the turkey is out of the oven! Potatoes mashed. Extra stuffing now in the oven to bake while the turkey rests.

3:00 pm: Time to eat! The turkey is carved, the sides are ready, the pies are now warming in the oven. Here is the gloriousness that is our feast:
3:30 pm: We are completely stuffed.

4:00 pm: PIE! The whipped cream is made and everyone gets some apple pie and a few people even have room for a slice of pumpkin.

4:30 pm: My parents head home and we start in on the dishes. The dishwasher is on it's third load for today and we're still not done. Time to relax. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

It's That Time of Year Again

Pie season!

Actually, Thanksgiving. But really isn't it all just about the pie?

Today I made 2 pumpkin pies. Since I'm working tomorrow I wanted to take one in and have one ready for our big dinner on Saturday. I already made pumpkin bread last week, I'll start the turkey brining tomorrow night, and make the stuffing and the apple pie on Friday. The rest will get made on Saturday morning. It is all under control.

Here are the pumpkin pies. Instead of evaporated milk I used less sugar and then used a combination of egg nog and sweetened condensed milk. (Note to self, open the can completely, don't make the little triangle holes. It doesn't pour out easily. I always forget.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Frozen honey and bees.
It's been getting down into the 20's at night over the past few days and it is time to insulate the hive. When I went out there this morning to do that, I didn't see any bees at all through the window and I got a little worried. I reasoned that since I didn't see a huge pile of dead bees on the floor of the hive they must be in there somewhere. Sure enough, as I was working they started moving around and coming to the window.
Fondant boards on the right.

First I took the hardware off the window panel and set all that aside. Then I opened the hive and checked on the bees. The honey in the combs looked frozen but I suspect the freezing point is quite low so it was probably just sluggish.  Then in order to put the fondant boards in I took out a little bit of wax that was unfilled and not really in the right place. It was so cold it was brittle. The fondant boards went in and I moved a partly made, partly filled comb behind it. The false back went next and then I added some spacers to make everything fit correctly.

After that, I put the foam on top of the lid and then put the panels on the sides. It would have been easier with 2 people but I was able to get the back and side panels on and then I could work on the front. Since the front panel closes up most of the entrance and the bees had started to come out by then, I had to shoo the bees out of the way so I could get the panel on without hurting them. Once I got the bungee straps together I was able to shift the panels into the proper position. Then the roof went on over the top insulation panel.

Now that I have the panels up, though, it will be almost impossible to check on them. I have to have faith that they have enough to eat and will survive.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Apple Kuchen

My neighbors across the street have a Granny Smith apple tree and were kind enough to give me some apples. We'd had a conversation a little while ago about how well all the trees did this year and that they were inundated with apples. The other day my doorbell rang and there was my neighbor with some apples! (These are different neighbors than the ones with the apple tree that broke under the weight of its apples.) I'd wondered what to do with them and then we were invited to another neighbor's' house for dinner so I thought to make a kuchen with apples rather than peaches.

The kuchen base is:  1 stick of butter, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 egg and 1 tsp. vanilla, beaten together, and to which 1 cup flour, 1/2 tsp. baking powder and 1/4 tsp. salt are added. The batter is pressed into a greased springform pan and then the fruit is placed neatly into the batter. Then the fruit is sprinkled with 3 T. sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon and baked at 350 for 30-35 minutes.

I'd been warned that these apples had a tendency to cook down quickly so I think that the short baking time was better as they held their shape but were still soft.  One could serve it with ice cream but it really didn't need it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Don't Say a Word

Sorry so dark!
Tonight for dinner we had goat cheese and roasted tomato ravioli with a mushroom cream sauce. And the 10 year old ate it.

Yeah, you read that right. It was a sauce containing eggs and mushrooms. We just didn't say so. It was a huge hit, even if the sauce "broke" because the heat was too high. Here's how I made it:

Mushroom Alfredo Sauce

2 T. mushroom powder (I used the dried suillus mushrooms)
1 cup heavy cream
3 eggs, beaten
salt and white pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg

The eggs, cream and mushroom powder were slowly heated (not slowly enough, note-to-self!) with the salt, pepper and nutmeg until thickened. While it was resting I made the ravioli. We've found that the 10 year old's favorite ravioli has chicken in it but if I can't find those, the goat cheese and tomato ones are a good option. I thought the hotplate was as low as it could go but apparently it was still too hot and the eggs cooked a bit. You can tell by the photo that the texture was off. The taste was perfectly fine. If I wasn't trying to keep the mushroom powder a bit of a secret I might have added more. Or chunks of mushroom. But this was just right for today.

Don't say ANYTHING!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Perfectly Matched

Bacon jam and honey goat cheese. 'Nuff said.

Horse Cookies!

As in, cookies for horses. What were you thinking?

I finally had a chunk of time to thaw out those spent grains from the last batch of beer, and make a batch of horse treats. I drained the grains in a colander but not enough as you'll see in a bit. Here's the recipe:

6 cups spent grains
4 carrots, shredded
2 cups molasses + honey (any proportion will do)
1 bag Canada Peppermints, broken into pieces
5 T. coconut oil

L-R: First, second and third batches. See the difference in color and shape?
Here's where things got interesting. The mix was very watery, but I tamped it down into mini muffin tins and baked for 50 minutes or so at 325. The sugary liquid boiled over and caramelized and the cookies were too soft. While that was going on, I tried a different approach; for the second batch I squeezed the liquid out of handfuls of the mix and placed the little balls on a cookie sheet. Those were baked for 40 minutes. What I found was the first batch was so soft that when I took them out and let them cool a bit, I couldn't get them out of the muffin tins without them breaking. So I took each one, squeezed it into a ball, and put them each onto a cookie sheet and baked them again for about 20 minutes, trying to dry them out. The second round, squeezed out but not in the tins, fell apart in the oven. When they came out I took each one, formed it into a ball again, and put it on the cooling rack. 

The last batch worked the way I wanted it to: each handful of mix was squeezed out and then pressed into the muffin tins and baked for 40 minutes. Then I turned the oven off and left them overnight to finish drying out. This morning they were the correct shape and consistency. Now I know!

Mocha got to eat the grain crumbs from the second attempt - he can't eat a lot of these because the sugar content is so high, but he certainly approved of them!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Icelandic Lamb Soup

Yesterday I had a full afternoon available to make soup. I had a fridge full of turnips, carrots and cabbage plus a bowl of potatoes on my table, all from the farm share. This Icelandic Lamb Soup uses it all.

Since I had A LOT of turnips I thought I'd make a triple batch of soup. I purchased 6 pounds of lamb and also dug out some frozen lamb bones from my freezer to toss in. This simmered for about an hour and then I added the vegetables. After we had some for dinner, the rest went into the fridge overnight.

Today I skimmed the chilled fat off the top and reheated the soup. I was able to fill the pressure canner with 14 pints of soup and I still have about 4 more servings in the fridge. Three batches is lots of soup.... Anyhow, the pints were canned at 10 pounds for 75 minutes and now I have no excuse not to take lunch to work!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fondant for the Bees

As part of the winterization of my hive, which seems silly considering it's going to be in the 70's today (I know, it's a fluke), I made fondant boards for the bees.

Most of the information about making candy boards or fondant for the bees is for Warre or Langstroth hives. There isn't as much about top bar hives out there, at least not yet! Anyway, some searching online a while back made it clear that since I couldn't put the sugar or fondant on the top of the bars, I needed to have or make some kind of frame and put the fondant inside. That way, they could hang with the combs. First I went back to the company which made the hive. I purchased 2 combiner boards which look like false backs but with a big hole cut out of them. These are generally used to combine two colonies in one hive. I thought I could repurpose them for candy boards.

Next, I scored some wire mesh from Lisa who had some left over from a project. I had been thinking about getting the fondant into the holes on the boards and then putting the wire over on each side afterwards but she suggested using it more like rebar. An excellent idea! I stapled the mesh to one side of each board, like so:
This morning I made fondant based upon this recipe: How to Make Fondant From Table Sugar. I cut the recipe by 1/4 so I used 2.5 pounds of sugar, plus 1 cup of water and 3/4 tsp. of lemon juice.
Once the syrup had cooled to 200 degrees, I added a teaspoon of the bee essential oil mixture and put it in the stand mixer for a while, until it was white and smooth. Then I poured the fondant into the two molds. The amount I made was perfect for the 2 boards, which I had hoped would be the case but one never can tell.
When it's time for me to put the insulation panels on, in about a month, I'll pop these in as well.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tasting Demo

My husband's coworkers, after hearing him rave about my canned goods, asked for a tasting. Today I brought 8 different things to sample, which we set up at a table during lunchtime. This way, people could just wander over. I brought:

Preserved garlic which was, by far, everyone's favorite.
Sweet Fiddlehead pickles. I'd brought 2 jars, we finished 1 and didn't open the second. Popular.
Bread and butter pickles, which also got some rave reviews.
Zydeco beans, nice and spicy.
Salsa verde, not as popular. I suspect that if I'd had the right chips to go with it the jar would be finished.
Crabapple jelly; people who like apple jellies liked this a lot.
Elderberry jam which was my husband's favorite, I think.
Strawberry Lemon Marmalade; this one surprised me at how much the lemon flavor stood out when compared to when I first made it. It was very popular.

It's nice to get some feedback from people who don't often get to eat the foods I prepare.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Turkey Chili

Since the younger child will eat all things poultry, even if they contain "flavor," I decided to make chili with ground turkey rather than beef.

3 pounds ground turkey
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup green peppers, diced
1 pint tomato sauce
1 quart plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
4 cans kidney beans, drained
1/4 cup chili powder

Simmer for several hours. I decided not to add jalapeños or any extra spice and I am pleased to report that, except for the beans, the younger child did eat it. However, the bread boule was the larger portion of dinner.  We topped the chili with shredded cheese, sour cream, and some chives/field garlic from the yard.

There was enough left over to can 2 quarts of chili and leave some in the fridge for meals this week. The chili was canned in the pressure canner for 90 minutes at 10 pounds.

Bacon Jam

Roxanne and Donna and our bacon jam!
A while back, Roxanne asked me if I knew how to can bacon jam. I figured it required a pressure canner, which she did not have. So we came up with a plan to make the jam together and can it as a way for her to learn about pressure canning and for both of us to have bacon jam. I'd wanted to make this for quite a while. There are all sorts of recipes on line for this; here is the one we used:

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups finely chopped shallots (from 3 large or 8 small shallots)
  • 4 small cloves garlic, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar

Directions

  1. Spread half of bacon in a single layer in a large skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until browned, 20 to 23 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Remove fat; clean pan. Repeat with remaining bacon, reserving browned bits and 1 tablespoon fat in pan.
  2. Add shallots and garlic to pan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add chili powder, ginger, and mustard and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Increase heat to high; add bourbon and maple syrup. Bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits. Add vinegar and brown sugar and return to a boil. Add reserved bacon; reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid reduces to a thick glaze, about 10 minutes.
  3. Transfer mixture to a food processor and pulse until it has the consistency of a chunky jam. Refrigerate in an airtight container at least 1 hour and up to 4 weeks.          
However, instead of refrigerating the jam, we put it into jars (note to self, that whole recipe makes only 3 cups of jam!) and pressure canned it at 10 pounds of pressure for 75 minutes. I have one jar, Roxanne has one jar, and she is sending the third to someone on a cooking show to see if he likes it. I'm sure he will, it's really good.

[And, Kristy, if you're reading this, I know you've wanted some of this for a while, too. I can make more.]

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Brr!

It's been really cold this weekend, below freezing at night, and I wondered how the bees were doing. Both days when I checked them they were staying put in the hive. It's the first time I've been out there and not seen them flying around. This morning it was cold enough that they had pulled themselves into the middle of the hive and I was finally able to get a good look at the comb from the window. If you look closely at the photo you can see honey all the way out to the edges and many capped honey cells. This is a Very Good Sign. All the combs I could see through the window looked like this. I will still make them some food to add in when I put up the insulation panels (more on that later, when I make the fondant) but I'm feeling better every time I check that they'll actually make it through the winter. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Where Could I Have Put It?

Last time I made yogurt from starter, I had several packs of bacteria in the freezer specifically for it. As I haven't made yogurt in a while I figured I'd start up a new batch. I got the milk, heated it up, and started to look in the freezer for the starter. It wasn't there. I tore apart both freezers in between stirring the milk. Nothing. I found all my other cheese-making bacteria, and got a pretty good inventory of what I do have in the freezers, but did not find the yogurt starter. I have no clue where it went!

While the milk was sitting on the stove at 170-180 degrees, I ran to the store to get a container of Skyr to start the batch. It's not my favorite but it's reliable and it'll do until I find the packages of starter. Which I'm sure I'll find, now that it's not urgent that I do. Running to the store is a little complicated these days, as they say they're going to do the final paving of our road today and I had to park the car far away. And put it back in its far away spot when I was done.

Now, where could I have possibly put that package?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Penultimate Farm Share

Yesterday's farm share pick up was heavier on the squashes and fall greens, lighter on the tomatoes and beans. Here's what I brought home: 1 head each of lettuce and escarole, some braising greens, as much kale as I could carry (the greens and kale are going to Mocha), 1 qt cherry tomatoes, 1/2 pint raspberries (which is impressive, considering how late in the season it is), 2 butternut squashes, 2 acorn squashes, 1 delicata squash, 2 heads of garlic, 3/4 pound carrots, 1 bunch Hakurei turnips, 1 bunch broccoli, 1/2 peck apples, and I didn't bring home the purple top turnips, herbs, Daikon radish and green beans. The beans and all the herbs, tomatoes, tomatillos and hot peppers are, at this point, whatever you can glean in the fields and, while it was a nice day to be out picking, I just didn't feel like I was going to get enough to make it worthwhile. I'm still working through last week's farm share too. I have 2 big bowls of squashes on my dining room table, along with a bowl of popcorn that is finishing its drying out time before we can pop it (January).

I plan to make some escarole soup on Thursday. Last night for dinner I served the raspberries and also used up the green beans and potatoes from last week. My younger child doesn't like potatoes in any form other than potato chips, so I made one potato into very thinly sliced chips and served the rest mashed. The chips were almost too thin, I used the 0.5 mm thickness on the mandolin, so maybe 1 mm would be better?

After I left the farm yesterday I went up to the fairground to pick up my entries and my ribbons. I was also picking up everything Roxanne had entered. It's a good thing I brought a bunch of boxes. I had to make 2 trips to the car with another person helping me! She entered a LOT of things. It is always so strange to see the fairground when it is empty and things are being broken down or boarded up until next year.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Little More Manageable

It looks like the bees are judging the drone!
This morning I used a half-peck of apples to make 3 quarts of applesauce which are in the canner. I am still deciding what to do with the Daikon radishes - what I want is those yellow radish pickles I can get at the Japanese and Korean grocery stores. But I'm not really finding recipes for those although I think they are the rice bran pickles. Not sure. What I am finding are recipes for carrot and radish pickles and I have another recipe for pickled radishes or Hakurei turnips. Maybe I can mix the two together, but I have a LOT of both and that would be way too many pickles for something I can't even put in a canner. Fortunately, they'll keep while I figure that out. The fridge is definitely more manageable now, with space to actually see what's in there.

Just now I went out to take out the feeder from the hive. The bees are more active now and I think I saw a drone get evicted. I did have bees all over my clothes and in my hair again, but they didn't seem to really care about me all that much. There is definitely honey in there, but I will be making some sort of sugar cake or fondant before Thanksgiving so I can include some when I put up the insulation panels.

Also, I decided not to put black walnut bits in with the applesauce. Now I have to think about what to do with those....

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Projects in the Queue

There have been a few projects I've been saving up so I could work on them while I waited for the boiler maintenance service today. First of all I made a batch of hot pepper sauce, using about 25 banana peppers, a few jalapeños, habañeros, and Thai peppers. These were ground up with 1 pint of vinegar, then boiled with 1 pint yellow mustard, 3 cups of sugar and 1/2 T. salt. Once the mixture boiled, a small amount of flour and water was added as a thickener. I ended up with 7 jars, all different sizes, or about 8 cups of sauce.

The other project for today was pickled beets. I had some golden beets in addition to the usual red ones and made 3 quarts of pickled beets. In previous years, the random golden beet would look ghostly in the jar. This time, I put all the golden beets into one jar so they wouldn't look as weird.

Other projects for another day: applesauce and something with the Daikon radishes I have from the farm. Then I'll be caught up for a little while, at least!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Last of the Zucchini

As the farm share is winding down for the year, there are fewer of the "summer vegetables" and more winter squash, potatoes, kale and other late greens. It's a good bet I won't be getting any more monster zucchini so I took my last two and made another double batch of chocolate zucchini bread. I think we'll have one for breakfast and I'll take one to work, leaving another 2 for the freezer. Eventually I'll move on to pumpkin bread but, for now, I have to clear out the vegetable drawer.

Also today I shelled and toasted all the black walnuts. This yielded at least a cup, if not a little more, of nuts. Last year I put them in maple syrup, we have used the walnut-infused syrup but haven't eaten the walnuts. I might put these into applesauce again, or maybe I'll find some baked good in which to toss them.

Lastly, I had lunch with Roxanne today and brought home some of her home baked goodies that she'd made for the fair. The cookies were especially wonderful! It's clear to see why they won first place. Yum!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mouseguard Installed

video
I know what my husband is really saying in this video:  "WHAT are you THINKING?"

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Great Day at the Fair!


Dill Pickles, Apple Jelly, and Sweet Pickle Relish
It's a really cold day for the Fair, but that didn't stop us from heading up there to see how I did with all my canning entries. I'm so pleased to report that I won a ribbon in every class I entered. There was even some consistency in that 2 of the items were also entered in the Fair last year and they won the same place each time. I am also pleased that my friend Roxanne won lots of things, too, including the gift basket category; her basket was just beautiful. And she won not just in canning but in baking as well - cookies and cake!
Mulberry Jelly
Strawberry Jam

Bread and Butter Pickles

Blueberry Jam

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Flora and Fauna

This morning started out bright and early with a birthday celebration...at 6:30 am. The elderchild is now 14 and requested red velvet cupcakes. While it was still dark we breakfasted on a croquembouche of cupcakes:
After work I went to the farm to pick up the share. Hard to believe there are only 3 weeks left! Here's the flora part: 1/2 peck apples, 1 bunch flowers, 1 watermelon, 2 each acorn and carnival squashes, 1 head of lettuce, broccoli, arugula, beets, radishes, purple top turnips, Hakurei turnips, zucchini, garlic, hot peppers (I could only find 5, they're basically done for the season), lots of kale, tomatoes, parsley, 1/2 pint raspberries, green beans, and popcorn. I now have 3.5 gallons of tomatoes in the freezer and a bunch of projects for next week. For dinner we ate the green beans and had a salad along with our steak tips and pasta. And more cupcakes.

Now for the fauna:  while I was at the farm I saw several field mice and heard even more. I startled a little mouse in the green beans and it ran in 3 different directions, clearly flustered, until it finally picked a direction to get away from me! When I got home I went out to feed the bees. This is the last time I'll put in a jar of syrup; when they finish it I'll take the whole feeder out for the season. While I was out there I heard something rustle and looked over to see a fox about 50 feet away from me. A big one, too! Keep in mind, I live in a fairly urban environment. Others who have seen the fox lately theorized that all the construction has disrupted their habitat so they're more active and visible. Lastly, I saw a bunny in the middle of the road while I was driving (no worries, he got out of the way). Lots of critters!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Changing the Feeder - Video

When we re-leveled the hive last weekend my husband took some video of me getting in and out to change the feeder. Well, Google Auto Awesome very kindly made a little video story of the adventure, complete with peppy music. To get the sense of what it actually was like, turn the sound off and imagine a lot of buzzing.
video

Salsa and Beer

Today I'm home waiting for a package so I made sure I had enough projects to do. I made 2 batches of salsa. First a batch of garden salsa (red and yellow tomatoes, scallion and onion, green peppers and jalapeños) and then a batch of tomatillo salsa, which finished the tomatillos. I don't think I'm going to get much more of those from the farm so it seemed wise to start to use them up. We're going camping tomorrow and I wanted to have some salsa to take.

Last night we tasted the beer to see if it was ready for the "Homebrew Showcase" at my husband's work. Even though we bottled it last Friday it was, amazingly, ready. We squeaked in under the wire this year! The difference between the 2 half-batches is noticeable, both the aroma and the taste. The beer with the added hops is definitely a deeper hops flavor. I prefer it. He'll take 2 liters of each in tonight and we'll get some feedback from people there.

I still have some apples to contend with, as well, as beets, another monster zucchini (I took 2 the other day and made 4 loaves of chocolate zucchini bread, 1 for dinner, 1 for work, 2 in the freezer), and a whole lot of squashes. But I think I'm going to take a little break soon. After I make more apple cake.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Working My Way Through

Today I started to tackle the apples my family picked last week. I made a double batch of apple cake which, unfortunately, suffered from me getting distracted by fixing the hive. There was a little singeing around the edges. Fortunately, it was easily cut off and the rest tasted fine. I might have to make another batch, though, as we ate a fair amount tonight and some is earmarked for work. What I need to remember (Hey! Note to Self!) is that the oven is too hot on the edges and I should not overfill it.

Why did I get distracted by the hive? I went to swap out the feeder and discovered the whole thing was significantly tilted and the legs had moved. My husband had been planning to swap some of the bolts in the legs for carriage bolts with locking washers so they wouldn't slip anymore. Now seemed like a very good time to get that done. I didn't mind being that close to the hive but he was not as familiar with having the bees inches from his nose. He seemed a little tense while he was shifting the hive back and forth as we leveled it. I think he was glad to get through that unscathed. Without his help, there was no way I could have leveled the hive and I'm so appreciative of his plan to fortify the legs of the stand.

Once we got that taken care of, and the cake out of the oven, I made a batch of applesauce - 14 larger apples made 3 quarts of sauce which is smooth (food mill) with white sugar. The last few things I did today were the second batch of grape jelly and then I warmed up the remaining almost 4 cups of grape juice, added some sugar, and then cooled it down so we could drink it with dinner.  For dinner, we grilled the last piece of venison from the freezer.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Late Night Bottling

After dinner this evening we bottled the beer we've been brewing. We'd split the batch in half and added fresh ("wet") hops to one half. After a week, it was time to bottle. First we tasted and bottled the half-batch without the extra hops, this was about 9 liters. Then we racked the half-batch with the hops into the other carboy and bottled that. Again, about 9 liters. The half-batch with the extra hops tasted smoother, almost sweeter, than the other. It'll be interesting to taste it again when they're ready to drink.

Also today I made a batch of grape jelly using 5 of the cups of grape juice I made a few days ago. I have enough for another batch which I'll try to get to in the next few days. I still have almost a half-bushel of apples to work with and some zucchini for another batch of chocolate zucchini bread but I just don't have those big chunks of time right now.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sometimes, Plans Change

Today I was going to make grape jelly. I have over 13 cups of grape juice prepared, and that's enough for 2 batches of jelly plus some for drinking. I bought sugar and jars. And then I went to pick up my farm share.

In the share, I could get peaches and pears in addition to the usual fruits: melons and raspberries. As the allotment of berries was only 1 cup, and I had all these lovely fresh peaches, I was reminded of peach melba jam and thought maybe I'd make some. That means putting off the grape jelly, and the applesauce I was also thinking about making, but that's OK. Those ingredients will keep longer than the berries and peaches will.

The berries, when crushed, made about half a cup. To this I added 3.5 cups of peaches, 2 T. lemon juice, 5.5 cups sugar and a package of pectin. This made exactly 6.5 cups of jam.  Last time I made this flavor, I used more raspberries than peaches and one couldn't even taste the peaches. I am not sure I can taste the peaches this time, either! Maybe it needs to mellow out some.

Tonight for dinner we will have the last of the portions of paté I made, with the cornichons and the spruce paste, along with cheese, bread and fruit. After spending over an hour in the sun picking vegetables, I'm worn out!

Edit: After dinner, I got the 20 small tomatoes peeled and into a quart jar in the canner, just as I did last week. There are just too many tomatoes for us to eat and I found these jars of peeled, whole tomatoes really useful in the past year.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Now They Have Something to Protect

And getting into the hive just got harder!

Last night I went to a class about winterizing my hive. It was nice to see my beekeeper friend again, and meet new people with lots of experience to share. I learned some things about when to stop feeding, when to start putting the insulation on and how to manage things like mice. Yeah, that's right. MICE. I do not want to open my hive in the spring and find a dead mouse. I will be purchasing a mouse guard soon.

Anyway, they recommended I examine the hive again, now that I've been feeding them for a month, to see if they have made honey. This morning I put on all the gear and went out there. I tried the GoPro again but I still did it wrong and have no video! That's OK. I saw what I needed to see: that they are making honey, there were lots of capped honey cells and even more open honey cells. There are very few larva. I only saw one, but I only examined 5 of about 11 combs. The bees were getting fairly agitated and getting into my sleeves again so I decided I'd seen enough and left them alone. The false back got moved closer to the combs so it's just behind the feeder. And I got a little honey on my prying tool; it tasted a bit like the essential oils from the syrup I'm feeding them. If I can keep going with this for a while, then I think they'll have enough food at least.

After going raspberry picking with one of my coworkers this morning, I'm now getting the grape juice extracted from the grapes. I had 1.5 pounds of wild grapes and 6.5 pounds of Concord and Zinfandel grapes so I mixed them all together with 8 cups of water and they're simmering. I'll strain the juice overnight and then, depending on how much I get, will make 1-2 batches of jelly and maybe some canned juice.

The raspberries are for eating. The kids will be happy.

Monday, September 14, 2015

More Eggplant and Other Updates

This afternoon, I made another batch of eggplant caponata. This one had both celery and peppers, as well as red onions and both kind of olives. The batch made 3.5 pints of caponata. I suspect I'll be getting more eggplants from the farm soon so should be able to make even more!

Also, the kids and my husband went apple and peach picking yesterday, so last night I made a peach crisp with half the peaches and this afternoon I made apple dumplings. Each dumpling is pie crust wrapped around a peeled, cored apple that has butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg shoved into the core. Here's what I discovered: it is much easier to roll pie crust into a circle rather than a rectangle. Also, the recipe called for a sauce of butter and sugar; there is no way this needed that much extra sugar! Also, wrapping the apples is pretty fiddly work.

I received another dozen eggs from my friend at work and will bring her a jar of bread and butter pickles in return. I made a carbonara sauce for dinner and served it over mushroom ravioli and chicken and cheese ravioli. It always tastes so much better with fresh eggs.

Tomorrow night I'm going to a beekeeping class about getting the hive ready for the winter. I think it'll be helpful. And I'm looking forward to meeting other bee enthusiasts and becoming reacquainted with the ones I already know!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Fair Season

While I was at work today my husband did me a very big favor. He and the kids drove up to the Fairgrounds and dropped off my entries for the canning competition. I had not planned on the Fair drop off schedule when the work schedule was set up. Whoops. They also met up with Roxanne and she sent a few jars of goodies and 2 bottles of homemade Limoncello back for me. The Limoncello is MIGHTY TASTY. Wow. (Thanks, Roxanne!)

Now that I'm home, I'm getting dinner organized, but first I had to check on the bees. It was time to change their jar of food. I'm better at getting in and out of the hive pretty quickly but as it is a sunny and warm day the bees were pretty active. They did get a little annoyed at me but I stayed as still as possible and they evidently decided I wasn't a threat.  Tuesday I'm going to take a class about how to winterize the hive.

At least I'm not working the first weekend of the Fair. Because I don't think I can wait too long to see how I do!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Lovely Scents

Today was the big day:  I took my Pediatric Recertification exam. We have to do this every 10 years. And I'm tired. Afterward, I got home with enough time to do a little foraging on the bike path. Something I felt might make me feel less stressed out. The hops and black walnuts smell so lovely this time of year!

In keeping with the theme that every tree and plant (except blackberries, for some reason) has done really well this year, the hops and the black walnuts on the bike path were plentiful and easy to reach. I picked almost 50 black walnuts off the trees and didn't have to resort to picking up any off the ground. The squirrels chattered their displeasure at me the whole time but, trust me, the trees had plenty to spare. Once I ran them under the wheel of the car, only 3 were bad. They're drying in the garage.

As for the hops, I picked a bag full and I timed it just right and most were fresh and green. We had been planning on using the hops from last year, which were oasted and in the freezer, but decided instead to try the "wet hops" technique of adding them in fresh. After coming back from the Town Day Fireworks, we split the beer into 2 containers; half will stay just as the kit instructed and the other half gets the fresh hops. Next week we'll bottle them and see how they taste. I'll keep those other hops in the freezer for the next time.

Lastly, I cleaned out the basement and brought everything to my neighbor's house; we're having a neighborhood yard sale to raise money for a traffic calming study and it seemed like a good opportunity to get some things out of the house. Since I'm working tomorrow, I figured it'd be easier to drop it off today. I think it's going to be rather big.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

At Least I Got One Done

Today I didn't get a whole lot done, as I'm super tired from studying and the inevitable adjustment of the kids starting school again. But I currently have 7 cups of tomatillo salsa in the canner. All I had to do was get cilantro while I was out; the rest of the ingredients were mostly from the farm share. I used 10 jalapeño peppers from the bag of them I have in the freezer. Before I cooked everything up, the vegetables were roasted under the broiler for 7-8 minutes. Then I cut open the jalapeños and scraped out the seeds. It's still pretty spicy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Fast and Furious

Everything is ripening on schedule this year which means all at once.

This morning I dashed off to a friend's house to pick her grapes. She has Concord and Zinfandel grapes growing on a fence and they are well established and do very well. Sadly, she is selling this wonderful house and yard! Knowing this was going to be our last year to enjoy these grapes, I picked over 6 pounds. We'll see how much juice they give me; right now they're in the freezer. I have too many other projects and they do well if you freeze them first.

After that, I immediately went to the raspberry farm and picked 3 quarts of berries in about 30 minutes. There are plenty more, and I do plan to go back next Wednesday with someone from work, but I wanted to get a batch of jam done as it's going to rain tomorrow. Three quarts was enough for a batch of jam, I left the seeds in for one of the quarts and strained out the rest so it's not too seedy but certainly not seedless. It is too late, however, to enter this in the fair, so I can't test my theory that the judges like their jam with seeds. Anyway, I was able to get 9 cups of jam (7 half-pint jars and 4 half-cup jars).

Yesterday's farm share was even more out of control than usual: blackberries and raspberries (eaten), a cantaloupe (also eaten), watermelon, 3 quarts of cherry tomatoes, 20 field tomatoes, 3 pounds of regular tomatoes, kale, collards, tat soi, parsley, 8 tomatillos, onions, garlic, 3 pounds of zucchini, golden beets, broccoli (eaten), a delicata and a spaghetti squash, and 10 hot peppers. I skipped the flowers, herbs, and husk cherries. After making the raspberry jam today I peeled and canned the 20 little tomatoes (I got the ones that you see in the store labelled "Campari tomatoes" so they were small and all about the same size). I was able to cram them into one quart jar. The other 3 pounds of tomatoes are in the freezer so they can be made into sauce eventually.

The mason stopped by tonight with gifts from his garden: celery, chard, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. Yum! I can make more caponata soon!

Also on the agenda this week: tomatillo salsa, once I get some cilantro, chocolate zucchini bread, seeing how the hops and black walnuts are doing, and taking my once-every-10-years board recertification exam. Oh, and working the weekend. My husband will take my fair entries up this Saturday as I won't be able to get out in time. I've entered 7 classes this year: Dill Pickles, Bread & Butter Pickles, Sweet Relish, Strawberry Jam, Blueberry Jam, Apple Jelly and Other Jelly (Mulberry this year). The fair opens October 2.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Spent Grain Bunny Treats

The last time we brewed a batch of beer, which was, sadly, over a year ago, I attempted to make bread with the spent grain and it was a disaster. I don't really know why, but it was. The bread didn't rise or bake all the way through or something and it was a gelatinous mess. This time I'd planned to make horse treats with the spent grain, but my husband wondered if I could make treats for the rabbit as well. I did a little research and made these:

Bunny Cookies

1 cup spent grain
1 pureed carrot
1 T. honey
some raspberries and blueberries
1/4 cup flour

This was mixed up and then spooned onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and baked at 350 for about 30 minutes. After they'd cooled a bit, I brought one to Mocha. He sniffed it and licked it a few times, then turned his back on me. I put it in his bowl. About 5 minutes later he went over to his bowl, dragged out the cookie, and ate some before he accidentally dropped it. It took a few minutes for him to find it again, but when he did he ate some more. I guess he likes them! However, for future reference, I think it'd be better to use dried fruit rather than fresh.

The beer itself is the "Hophead Pale Ale" kit, and when it's time to do the second rack we'll split it, so half will get the foraged hops and half won't. This way we can see what they add to the flavor. The only other difference with the kit this year is that we added Irish Moss as a clarifying agent which we hadn't done before. I also boiled about 3 gallons of water ahead of time and kept them in the fridge so we had enough sterile water to top off the brew. Starting SG is 1.042 at 72 degrees.

The rest of the spent grains are in the freezer; when I have time to make horse treats (and more bunny cookies) I'll thaw them.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

More Free Fruit!

My neighbors with the apple tree had asked if I wanted more apples. Why yes, yes I do! So I stopped by today with a jar of apple jelly from their tree for them, met their wee new granddaughter, and then picked 6 pounds of apples just from the branches hanging over their driveway. When I got home, I chopped them in half, cooked them with a little water and then ran them through the food mill. To the sauce I added about a cup of brown sugar and some cinnamon. They're currently in the canner: 2 quarts and a little more for me.

Also today I swapped out the bee food jar. The bees were a little more active today, one even landed on my leg (oh, yes, I was without the protective gear today) and made me a little nervous but soon left. There were about 10 bees attached to the lid of the jar, I managed to swap the lid to the new jar of syrup without disturbing them too much; they were still on the lid as I put the jar back in the hive. All in all, a relatively quick and certainly painless bee tending experience.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

More Vegetables

With yesterday's farm share pick up, my vegetable drawer is rather full. Since we just can't eat that much, it's time to start making things with the veggies. First up, a batch of caponata. For this I had 2 eggplants, so I scaled the recipe up by 1/3 and used 4 peppers (instead of celery), 4 small onions, 4 tomatoes, and the last of my Kalamata olives. I didn't have any green olives for this batch. This made 3-1/2 pints of caponata and I'll take one jar to my parents' tonight.

The next thing was another 2 quarts of green beans, which are currently in the canner in 4 pint jars becoming "Zydeco Green Beans." Essentially, they are dilly beans without the dill. Instead, there is garlic, mustard seed, and a chili pepper in each jar.

The farm share is a bit out of control: 1 spaghetti squash, 1 pound of carrots, 1 bunch of beets, 1 head of lettuce, 1 bowl of arugula, 3 heads of garlic, 4 onions, 8 peppers, 2 quarts of green beans, 1 bunch parsley, 2 quarts blackberries, 1 quart peaches, 2.5 pounds of summer squash, 30 leaves of kale, 1 quart cherry tomatoes, 2 pounds of regular tomatoes, 8 tomatillos, and I didn't even get the flowers, husk cherries, basil and seasonal herbs. As soon as I got home I made a salad for dinner, used some of the tomatoes and onion in our enchiladas, and baked a peach and blackberry crisp. Which was dessert and breakfast. The berries had been too squishy to eat straight so I needed to bake with them. I contemplated a peach-blackberry jam but the crisp seemed a better option.

I've been keeping an eye on the bees, and have made a pint of "Bee Food" concentrate: sugar, water, lecithin, lemongrass oil and spearmint oil. This is added to the sugar syrup, 1 tsp. per quart. When I replace the quart jar tomorrow afternoon, that will be the first time they get it, hopefully they will like it. It's supposed to give them some essential nutrients.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Foraging When I Can

Yesterday was a pretty good weather day - 80's, a breeze, not too humid. Today we have thunderstorms. We were supposed to go camping this weekend but it's looking like that is a no go as this rain is supposed to continue all weekend. As our friends with whom we camp said, a passing thunderstorm is one thing but who wants to put up a tent in the rain?

Anyway, that same little voice that nagged me about the blueberries was after me about elderberries, too. The flowers had been so prevalent that there had to be tons of berries, the voice reasoned. And the voice was right. Yesterday I went back to my favorite elderberry shrub and the berries were ripe, plentiful and huge. I picked a whole bunch and came home and got them set up to extract the juice. I got about a quart of juice out of them. As I still have elderberry syrup and 1 jar of jam (of which I'm not fond because of the seeds) I decided jelly was the way to go.

This morning I mixed the 4 cups of juice with a little over 1/4 cup of lemon juice, 5-1/2 cups of sugar and 1 package of powdered pectin and came out with 7 cups of elderberry jelly. It still has that slightly earthy taste which I like.

Also this morning, I am pressure canning beans. I had about 4 quarts of string beans from the farm share and, as I already had dilly beans, I thought maybe pressure canning them might work. I don't really do a lot of vegetable canning this way, probably because I have an aversion to canned vegetables after eating a lot of elementary school lunches. Something about the metallic taste/smell, I think. Anyway, maybe glass jars are better? We'll see. Three quarts of beans, cold packed, are currently in the canner.

Another thing I did yesterday was put a jar of sugar syrup (3 cups sugar, 3 cups water) into the hive in my hacked together feeder. I used a plastic take-out tray and some bamboo skewers, cut to fit, to make a base for the jar of syrup. Using a nail I poked tiny holes in the lid for the bees to sip from. The base holds the jar up so the bees can get underneath it to drink. I went to check on them at the end of the day and they'd taken about 1/4 cup, maybe more, of the syrup already. This way I can make more syrup and just swap out the jars and hopefully a little less often than what I was doing in the beginning. There is a product called Honey B Healthy that contains essential oils for the bees, I purchased the ingredients online and will start making some when they arrive. Apparently one adds about a teaspoon of this mix to each quart of syrup and it's good for them. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Frugality

From one 9-pound batch of free apples I made: 12 cups of apple jelly, 2 quarts of applesauce and 1 quart of sweetened apple juice. Not bad!  I plan to enter the apple jelly in the fair so for fair purposes: 7 cups prepared apple juice (9 pounds apples, 9 cups water, simmered and then strained through cheesecloth), 9 cups sugar, 1 box Sure-Jell pectin. Prepared the usual way, processed for 5 minutes. For the applesauce, I took the leftover pulp from making the juice, ran it through the food mill, and added about 3/4 cup sugar and 1/2 cup honey. I feel very frugal, having made all these things from one gift of apples.

Speaking of fruity gifts, the peach crisp was lovely for breakfast!

I also started the kimchi fermenting this morning. The cabbage was drained and the brine saved. Then the cabbage was mixed with scallion, ginger, red pepper, salt and sugar and packed into a 2 quart jar. The brine was poured over the top and then the rest of the brine is in a ziploc bag in the mouth of the jar to keep the vegetables below the brine. Shouldn't take more than a few days to ferment. I have warned my kids about the smell.

I am too tired today to get to the green beans, maybe tomorrow!

What I did have the energy for was to go "bar by bar" and inspect my hive. What I found was a little disheartening. There were plenty of new bees, larvae, and pupae, but almost no nectar and no honey stores. I got worried and emailed my beekeeper friend. She suggested I feed them from this point forward as there isn't a lot of nectar around right now and they're going to need it. I have an idea to make an easy feeder so I'll work on that tonight and set it up tomorrow. That way I won't have to feed them every other day. I was able to completely disrupt the hive by moving every single comb without getting stung so that's good, at least. I would have a video to share except that I don't seem to know how to work the GoPro. Next time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Gifts from Nature and Neighbors

If it seemed in my last post that I had a lot of things going on, well, they just multiplied!

Continuing the theme of an epic year for fruit, my neighbor's apple tree, which they had in recent years pretty much given up hope of saving, had so many apples on it that one of the limbs broke off from the weight. She offered me as many apples as I wanted, so I got about 9 pounds yesterday and proceeded to simmer them with water to make apple juice. I let them strain overnight in the fridge and the plan is to make apple jelly and maybe applesauce with the leftover pulp. Which I would have done today except for the peaches.

At work today there was a bag of peaches with my name on it! The nurse with whom I swap jam for eggs had been picking peaches at a friend's house and very kindly thought to bring me some. There were enough little peaches to make a batch of jam (since I didn't have almonds I added a teaspoon of almond extract after the hard boil, but each jar does have a maraschino cherry - homemade, of course) and a small crisp. I will bake the crisp in the morning for breakfast, right now the peaches have a little sugar and lemon juice on them and are waiting for the topping.

Also today, I picked up my farm share. I still have a quart of green beans left over from last week, and picked another 3 quarts. I think I might try pressure canning them, in case they taste better than beans in the metal cans. Hopefully I can get to that tomorrow, in between checking on the bees and making all the apple jelly and sauce. And kimchi. Did I mention I started a batch of kimchi? No? Well, that too. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Many Balls in the Air

Today there are a bunch of updates on several ongoing projects:

Bees: they are doing well. It appears they are about 1/3 through another comb. There are so many bees out foraging that they arrive back at the hive at a rate of about 3-4 bees per second. The pollen they carry ranges from white all the way to a deep olive green, which might be an aster species. I'm worried, though, that they won't have enough time to build up their honey stores before the fall. Unless something amazing happens in the next month, I will likely have to feed them over the winter.

Grapes: while we were at the Y last week I noticed some tiny wild grapes. This week I picked about 1.5 pounds with the help of my younger child. While not enough to do anything with at the moment, they are washed and in the freezer waiting until I have at least 3 pounds so I can make jelly.

Cornichons: the recipe for these said they would be ready in a month, so I made a date on the calendar for today. I thawed some paté and spruce paste and we had that, with the cornichons, cheeses, bread, grapes, and chilled steamed green beans in a vinaigrette, for our dinner. They were spicy and crisp, mmm! The grapes were weird - elongated pointy things called "Witch Fingers." Have you ever seen them? Well, as I've previously mentioned, I'm a sucker for unusual foods or if they have limited availability. They taste like any other grape. Which is a good thing.

Pickles and jam ready to be gifted.
Wintergreen ice cream: I made brownies today, partly for us and partly for the guys who are still toiling away on our water main. This morning they started to work in front of the driveway before I knew they were there and so I had to go rushing out and ask them to stop long enough for me to get my car out. They were kind enough to do so (my heart sank as I ran out and watched the backhoe take a huge bite out of the pavement...but not so much that I couldn't get my car over it) and I reciprocated with lemonade and brownies. As before with the zucchini bread, the empty plate and pitcher were at my door within about 2 minutes. Anyway, we had brownies and wintergreen ice cream for dessert.

Gifts: we have two sets of new neighbors, next door and across the street. I brought each of them a few of jars of jam and pickles. I hope they feel welcome. Moving to a new place can be pretty overwhelming!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Back for More

Because this year has been so epic for fruit in our area, I have had a nagging little thought in the back of my head:

"Blueberries. You need more. When nature cooperates, you should stock up. Go get more."

The trouble has been finding the time and a willing helper-child. Our weekends have been filled up with work and travel so any trips to the blueberry patch would have to be on weekdays, and I have somehow managed to book my weekdays rather full. The kids have been at camp and then home and, because they were at camp, not so excited to leave the house again. Today I managed to make enough variables come together; I got out of work early, the weather was good, and the elder child was willing to go with me. We got to the blueberry bushes around 3 pm and left at 5. In that time the two of us picked 2 quarts of berries. In basically the same area we were at before, and not really having to move around at all. They are still so plentiful, and even sweeter than before. Must have been all that sun.

After consulting with my kid we decided I should make another batch of jam rather than put them all in the freezer. There were enough berries to do that and add 2 small bags of berries to the freezer stash. Now I'm on the lookout for elderberries. I'd like to make some jelly this year. The jam was too seedy. They should be ripe soon.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Pickle Relish

Last year I made this recipe for golden pickle relish and it won first place in the Topsfield Fair. No pressure or anything....

Yesterday I mixed 6 cups of cucumbers, 2 cups of red onions (Red Long of Tropea, to be exact) and 2 cups of chopped green bell peppers with salt and let it all sit. Today I drained the veggies, mixed up the spices, sugar and Clear-Jel with vinegar and brought it all to a boil, then added the veggies, boiled again, and put it into jars. I used 5 8-ounce jars and 7 4-ounce jars, so I could start this year's gift stash.

Also, I started another gallon of yogurt. I've lost count, this is either batch 6 or 7 from that original packet of starter.  It'll be ready tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Quick Batch

Today's farm share pick up was interrupted by a massive thunderstorm...

While I was getting the already picked items, it was getting darker and darker and thunder was rumbling. I was told it had been rumbling for over an hour, so I figured I still had time. I went out to pick 2 quarts of green beans. The lightning was getting closer and closer! Just as I was finishing with the beans, the first large drops began to fall. Most of them missed me, they were so sparse. I started walking to my car, wondering if I could get the 1/2 pint of blackberries or maybe some dill flowers. By the time I got to the dill field the drops were coming more frequently. Halfway back to my car, the sky just opened. Whoosh. I was soaked in 3 minutes flat.

Once in my car I drove home, wondering if I was going to end up like those people you read about who have a tree fall on their car. They were really waving around in the wind! Fortunately, I made it home without incident and, by the time I got to my town, the rain had stopped. My husband wasn't as lucky; he was about to head home on his bike when the hail arrived. He ended up taking the subway.

After dinner I made 2 pints of dilly beans with 1 quart of the green beans. The other quart will be for dinner tomorrow night. For tonight's dinner I was able to use most of the farm share in the form of potatoes and salad. All that is left are a few cucumbers and carrots, one bell pepper, a head of garlic and some cabbage. Where did the rest of it go?  Into a batch of golden pickle relish, the same recipe which won first place last year in the Topsfield Fair. (For fair purposes, 6 cups cucumbers, 2 cups green pepper, and 2 cups red onion.) The vegetables are resting with salt until tomorrow and I'll finish the batch then.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Gearless!

Drinking some water off a mint leaf.
The last time I went into the hive I misplaced one of the spacer bars and I've been meaning to put it back in the right spot. However, I haven't really wanted to bother the bees, who are still transitioning through their various roles. Frequent peeks through the window have revealed that the combs are getting larger and they have been working on a new comb, although I don't see any evidence yet of honey or brood in it. Anyway, it was nice out today and I thought it might be a good time to fix that spacer but I didn't want to put on all the protective equipment. I figured, it was a small job, maybe I could go without the gear? Turns out, I could! I don't think I'd pull out a whole comb without gear or harvest honey or anything, but I can make a small tweak without too much fuss. That is nice to know.

Tonight for dinner I made the chicken tortellini with alfredo sauce but I ground up some kale in with the eggs so the sauce was green and full of kale. Even the 10 year old ate it, in small quantities. We also had sautéed zucchini, onion and garlic scapes to mix in, and the last of the carrots and most of the cucumbers from the farm share. I'm left with some turnips, one onion, 2 small cucumbers, cabbage and Napa cabbage, and a small amount of Swiss chard. The rabbit eats the chard and the regular cabbage so he's good for a few days at least!

Oh, and exciting news! We ate a few grapes off my Concord grape vine after dinner - they are ripening and we'll get at least a few more before the squirrels do, I hope.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

More Baking Than Canning

In addition to our weekly farm share, sometimes our mason drops by with vegetables from his fabulous garden. Usually zucchini is one of the things he brings (along with celery, green beans, basil, tomatoes, peppers and sometimes eggplant - it's really quite wonderful) and they're generally the very big ones. Each one makes about 3 cups of shredded zucchini, which means they are perfect for chocolate zucchini bread. Since I had 2, the other day I made a double batch - 4 loaves. Do you know why this recipe is so great? Because the 10 year old asks me to make it. Knowing full well there is zucchini in it.

One loaf went to my next door neighbors who had just returned from a month away. Another went to the construction workers in front of our house. They are replacing the water main on our street with a new 3-foot diameter main, complicated by old pipes, traffic, heat, and the fact that the entire neighborhood is mostly ledge. For the past week I've had to either make a date with them to leave my driveway or get my car out really early and leave it out on a side street all day. Anyway, they've been super nice. I brought a loaf of the bread to them, and said they could leave the plate on my steps when they were done. Not TWO MINUTES later, the foreman appeared at my door with an empty plate. I was highly amused.

The other two loaves were for us, and one was finished that day - eaten for both breakfast and dinner. See, it's a vegetable, right? So it's perfectly fine for dinner!

Last night we'd stopped by the local peach farm so I bought a quart of "seconds" as well as a quart of peaches for eating. I made the seconds into a peach cobbler which we ate for dessert. (Note to self, use the 9x13 dish, not the Corningware.) We tried it with the spruce ice cream - not bad, but I think I might like to try it with the wintergreen ice cream instead. If there is any left by the time I get home from work today!