Friday, July 24, 2009

Zucchini invasion!

Our first 'quantity' zucchini harvest awaiting the knife...

It’s that time of year again. You know, where people who live in rural areas start locking their car doors for fear of finding extra zucchini squash left on their front seats. I’ve pretty much always loved zucchini. I remember my mom growing a few plants, and I remember her saying that they were easy to grow, but I don’t remember bumper crops. My guess is that she had them, but that she found ways of disposing of them before they took over the countertops where I might have noticed them.

The last three summers that I’ve been gardening, we’ve only had a few. I had two plants in NC, but didn’t get a great crop due to lack of sun in the area of our garden. Last year, we had 3 plants, but again – not much of a crop. We planted very, very late though – and we weren’t great about watering.

This year, it’s a different story. My guess is that our success is partly due to experience and good weather, and partly due to the fact that I actually have been known to say “I don’t think you can EVER have too much zucchini”. Oops.

The above picture is our first crop. Since then, we’ve had that same number of squashes on our counter twice – and the size of them is increasing. In fact, yesterday, my H picked a couple of ‘baseball bat’ ones! Luckily, I’ve got tons of ways I plan on using them up.

Last weekend we dried slices in the dehydrator. It was quite quick and easy. I just sliced them using the mandolin slicer, laid them out on the trays, dusted them with seasonings and set it to dry. In about 10 hours later, we had chips! I did one tray of garlic, salt and pepper, one tray of adobo seasoning, one tray of hot adobo seasoning, one tray of just sea salt and 4 trays of plain. They were all delicious! Next time, I’m going to try a rosemary garlic combo and perhaps a barbeque type. I’d also love to try one with Tabasco, but I’m not sure how to do that yet.

Then I used up a few zucchinis in some baked goods. I made lemon zucchini muffins and cranberry walnut zucchini bars (brownie style), both of which were delicious! Lastly, my H made a zucchini and linguini baked casserole that is pictured below.

The zucchini casserole just after it came out of the oven.

This delicious recipe was from The Victory Garden Cookbook and is the second successful recipe we’ve made from that classic book. The casserole was made with my H’s homemade ricotta (or farmer’s cheese), spaghetti, sausage and tons of diced zucchini (we had no linguini on hand). We are still eating the leftovers!

This coming weekend, I’m going to make zucchini chocolate chip cookies, another zucchini bread recipe, zukamole (guacamole with zucchini instead of avocado), and a mock crab cake recipe that uses zucchini instead of crab! I will also be dehydrating more chips and a bunch of shredded zucchini so that we’ll have plenty to use come next winter. I also often toss diced zucchini pieces into pasta sauces or chili just to up the veggie-factor, so I may dehydrate some in cubes as well. We will also be eating it – sautéed, grilled, roasted - all YUMMY!

See, zucchini is so damn versatile that I just don’t see how it’s possible to have too much!! I’ll probably be eating those words (mixed with pureed zucchini) in about a month. ;-)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Making ricotta!

Scooping the ricotta cheese curds out of the whey on the stove.

Last month, my husband made a great batch of fresh ricotta cheese from our goats milk. He did it using apple cidar vinegar (store bought but perhaps we can make our own this fall) and it was surprisingly easy. I don't remember all the temperatures or specific steps, but I can outline a general recap using the photos I snapped during the process.

Basically (like most cheeses), he heated up the milk and then added the vinegar. Once it curdled, he began gently scooping out the curds as shown in the above photo.

Ricotta curds in the cheese-cloth lined collander.

The curds went directly into a cheese cloth lined collander set in a stainless bowl. Because this is a soft cheese, the curds were only strained for a short while and they were not pressed at all. After straining, he stirred in a little salt and a little melted butter. Voila! Fresh ricotta!

Fresh ricotta cheese - ready for the lasgna!
We stored the ricotta covered in the fridge. I did taste it and it was more light and delicous than the store-bought variety. The next day, he made us a big pan of lasagna with the ricotta and it was delicious! The next goal will be to make our own mozzarella for the lasgna. And then...when the tomatoes are ripe - our own sauce from our backyard! Mmmm, I can't wait! Maybe that can be a goal for when my parents are visiting in August - truly homemade lasgna.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Show and tell

This is our new bedding. I'm so excited to have a bed that looks inviting again! I'm not normally into the 'country' style, but there is no denying that it fits in this house.

Stirfry made with veggies from our garden. I was experimenting with an asian flare and some odd vegetables: peapods, swiss chard stalks, kohlrabi, garlic scapes, onions and broccoli. The only thing we didn't grow ourselves was the broccoli - that came from the farmer's market.

Our first zucchini! I made a saute using traditional green zucching and an unusual yellow zucchini. The green was delicious - the yellow was overpoweringly strong. I think we'll let the next batch grow a little bigger before harvesting. That'll take what, a day? ;-)

Artichokes! Our neighbors gave us a bucket full of artichokes from their garden. They are obviously not the green globe variety, but with any luck, they'll be just as tasty. The are certainly dangerous - those spines are sharp!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Seeking simplicity

Red blackberries (or perhaps logan berries?) - these are just ripening, ahead of the blackberries. They taste like tart raspberries and I'm thinking that they'll make a amazing pie or jam.

As I sit here and type this on a fancy laptop, using wireless internet, while drinking imported coffee (sort of – imported from Hawaii) and wearing New Zealand wool…I can’t help but feel like a bit of a hypocrite. A big part of our ‘Simple Metamorphosis” is the idea of simplicity. Scaling back on things to make life simpler and ultimately, easier. This sounds like a virtuous endeavor, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Part of this movement for me was disposing of the ‘disposable’ lifestyle. This means that I refuse to buy clothing items that fall apart after a few washings or tools/equipment that are not built to last. Sometimes this means buying things that are not made in the USA. If I can find local products to rival the quality of the products I am buying from overseas, then I’m willing to spend a little more. Unfortunately, it’s often not a cost issue, but an availability issue. We bought a cream separator made in India because it was the only hand-crank one we could find. I have a lot of clothing from Ibex and they source their wool from New Zealand (though many of the items were at least made in the US) because there is just not as much US wool available (though, this is changing). I figure that buying one, good quality item once (even if made overseas) is better than buying a crappy item and having to replace it over and over again as the discarded versions end up in a landfill.

In addition, I struggle with wanting to use hand tools for everything. I’d like to always choose a whisk instead of a mixer, a hoe instead of a tiller, a bicycle instead of a car, a paint brush instead of a sprayer, and a goat instead of a lawn mower. The problem arises in our ever too dwindling time. Doing everything by hand takes much longer. And goats don’t mow lawn very well, either. ;-) So in trying to find a balance between work and play and between the office and the farm, we’ve made some compromises lately. In retrospect, I think we’ve done a little too much compromising. I can joke that we are ‘stimulating’ the economy, but in reality, we are getting away from our original purpose.

In the past month, we’ve bought a gas-powered weed trimmer (the rechargeable electric one held a charge for a whopping 15 minutes!), a riding lawn mower and a power painter. We are also talking about buying a gas-powered chain saw because when H gets the opportunity to go ‘logging’ with our neighbor for firewood, our plug-in electric one is not going to work. While all of these tools have saved us massive amounts of time (particularly the painter) that can now be spent on other pursuits, it’s still hard to come to terms with the consumerist spin that our life has taken, lately.

How does one effectively simplify? I guess that in our case, selling the farm would help. We could get out from under the mortgage that forces us both to keep our existing jobs. If we didn’t have that debt, living off a small farm income might be possible. Of course, having sold the farm, we wouldn’t have that small farm income to rely on, would we? We could continue as we are (with two full time jobs), working towards a day in the future where the mortgage is paid off, but to manage both, we need to make some compromises (like buying time-saving tools). There isn’t much else that we could do without – we have internet because my husband works from home, so it’s required. Our only magazine subscription is to Mother Earth News (the other two we get: Cooks Illustrated and National Geographic are gift subscriptions). We can’t give up our social life, our travel, our ‘toys’…because we don’t have any. We can’t consolidate debts to pay them off better because we don’t have much else besides the mortgage.

When I break it down into its small parts, it’s obvious that we are living pretty simply for a typical American couple with two incomes. I guess I’ll have to be satisfied with doing the best we can as we strive to improve. I’ll take solace in the fact that nothing we’ve bought has been superfluous…and that someday, when neither of us has full time jobs, we can work towards cutting our grass with a scythe and washing our laundry by pounding it with rocks in the stream.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Honey harvest!

One side of the frame full of capped honey.

So this weekend, my husband harvested our very first honey from our bees! He was waiting for them to basically fill the hive, so that they wouldn't be short come winter before we took any. Even then, we only took one frame and replaced it with a blank one so that they could immediately work on filling it up again.

He brought the frame into the kitchen were we took some photos. It is amazing how heavy it is! And so neat looking, too. (click on the photo to see it larger)

The flip side of the same frame from above - before honey comb removal begins.

Then he set about scraping all the honey comb off the frame. He put a small section into a plastic container to give to our neighbors, and the rest went into this stainless bowl. He then proceeded to mix it, making sure all the comb was well broken up.

Comb and honey are deposited in a bowl as they are removed from the frame.

Then he filled a 2 quart ball jar with it, stretched a clean nylon stocking over the opening, secured it with a ring and then inverted the jar on a second clean jar and taped them together.

About to begin straining!

About 5 minutes later, honey was already straining through the nylon hosiery and into the bottom jar - free of wax. When it's done (about 24 hours in a warm spot), we'll transfer the honey into small jars for storage and figure out how to clean up the wax. That'll also get saved for other uses.

The honey was delicious. It actually had a hint of flavor to it, but I can't place it. My first thought was almost a tangerine type taste, but that wouldn't make any sense. I'll just have to try more later (and keep trying) until I figure it out! ;-)

Bee's rock!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The calming effect of lists

Maggie doesn't make lists...but she does have a calming affect on me.

18 months ago, my husband and I learned of peak oil. A year ago, we relocated to the PNW and bought our 'homestead' (if you can call it that: a somewhat isolated 1 acre plot out in the country surrounded by large farms). When we moved here last spring, we saw the gas prices going up and the economy coming down. We felt tremendous pressure to get 'set up' for the worst. We scrambled to buy the house, get in a very late and meager garden, harvest every last apple and pear that we could, and acquire all the 'tools' we'd need. We were suburban DINKs who had no idea where to start and we were horribly overwhelmed. We'd make runs to Coscto to stock up on any food that we felt would keep regardless of if we'd ever eat it. I readily gave up new clothing and shoes (and sold my 'fancy' car) so that we could afford a water filter, cords of wood and fencing for the goats. But, I felt like I was in a constant state of panic. When I broke down one afternoon because I couldn't get the apple cider press to work and I thought the hundreds of pounds of apples we'd washed and readied were going to go to waste, I knew I’d hit a turning point. I knew then that I needed to take a step back.

Eventually, we came to realize that we couldn't do it all at once. We were only two people and we both had full time jobs. We also realized that if we didn't put in 100% (or more) at work, we'd be in danger of losing those jobs. Some things on the 'farm' would have to wait.

We ended up making a huge list of all the things we needed and wanted. This list included things like a grain mill, a pole barn, a well, a pressure canner and even tile to resurface the counters in the kitchen and the bathroom. Then we spent some time prioritizing that list. We divided things into what we needed and what we'd like to have: things that were necessary and things that were a luxury. We also took the time to decide if we could make do with some things to allow us time to save cash for others. This list was constantly changing - the day we found out that our siding was trashed and had to be replaced, the entire list shifted around. Then we discovered that water damage over the front overhang was going to require another shift so that we could pay for the repairs. A larger tax refund than we'd ever before seen allowed us to shift again (in a good way).

We still use this list. Every time we think of something else that would make our lives easier, it goes on the list before we make the purchase. And every time we stumble upon a deal, it helps us knock one more thing off the list and a chance to shift things around once again. For example, we really need a small barn. We need a better way to keep and separate the goats (particularly before the next kidding season). We also are pretty sure we are close to needing a new roof on the house. These things will go on the list and get prioritized appropriately. There is also an advantage to this in that it allows us to keep track of how far we’ve come. Nothing gets deleted – things just get crossed off. This also gives me a sense of purpose. I can forgo buying a new sweater knowing that we have a goal for something I do want more (like a barn) and that each sacrifice gets us one step closer.

Over the past month, I've been slacking on the list-making. Not only adding things to the big one, but just my little day to day lists. My husband makes fun of me because I am constantly making lists. My boss just discovered that I do this and joked that his wife will put something she's already done onto a list just so that she can cross it off. Yep, I do that too! While the idea of listing out all the things that need doing sounds like it could seriously stress a person out, it has the opposite effect for me. Once it's on paper, I don't have to hold it in my fore-brain anymore. I'm free to think of other things. Plus, having it all spelled out means that I can effectively prioritize the things that need doing and therefore make the most of my time.

I have no idea why I got away from this habit lately, but I now realize that it is a MAJOR contributor to my stress-levels. I've been making small lists again and I'm about to organize one for all the things that need doing into one big pile. I also think I need to update the list of items to accomplish in my sidebar as well.

Even thinking about making a new list is helping me relax. Good, just in time for the long weekend! ;-)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

One thing leads to another

A somewhat limited view of our garden area before there was a garden.

Despite what I said in my 'end of rope' post from a couple of weeks ago, things are going well. I had my little breakdown and as I normally do, I dusted myself off and got back to work. We've made some nice 'sanity saving' progress since then.

First of all, we have been slowly fixing things up around the house. I realized that having a half-done home makes me antsy, so this has definitely helped. My husband has also put some of his focus into getting the outside of the house fixed up, so he's been working on painting. This will be a big project for us this coming weekend (see to do list).

Lastly, we've shifted from predominantly planting to predominantly harvesting in the garden. As evidence of this, I present the following picture story....

First, we start with what you see in the above photo - a field.

Then we build boxes and fill them with dirt and seeds. Water regularly.

Wait a few weeks to get this:
The boxes are overflowing with greens! Swiss chard, kale, spinach, lettuce, mustard greens...

Which leads to this:

Freshly harvested and washed swiss chard

Which in turn, leads to this:
Swiss chard and artichoke dip

And this:
Swiss chard and tuna salad

And through a trade with friends for their abundant cherries, this:

My first ever cherry pie!

It was delicious, but I think I can do better and a different friend has promised me some sour I'll get a chance to try again later this month.

In the meantime, we are working towards giving away or eating as much of our harvest as we can (much to the delight or pain of our digestive systems!) so that nothing goes to waste. When all else fails, I dehydrate the item and hope to find ways of using it later on when things are less hectic.

Towards that end, this is our tenative to do list for the coming long weekend -

Harvest as necessary
Put up bean arch and cuke trellis
Transplant the last seedlings from the greenhouse
Add mulch from goat shed
Mow lawn

Finish painting the trim
Scrape the eaves in prep for painting
Pressure wash anything not already done (including the deck)
Tape plastic over all "non-blue" items
Rent sprayer and paint everything not covered!
Order house numbers
Put up dining room lighting

Worm goats
Clean out goat shed for mulch
Set up cross-fencing
Wash milking stand

Definitely one and maybe two bike rides
Set off fireworks on Saturday

And that's it. Not bad for a three day weekend's worth of work, right? I'm confident that we can get all this done without too much headache.