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Friday, November 26, 2010

Frost Bites

While the rest of the world, I assume, was out battling for the best deal on cheap landfill stuffing, I was happily hoeing away in the garden today. It was beautifully sunny, and just warm enough to get some cleanup done after the first bout of frost hit during the last few days. There's something kind of sad about the first day in the garden after the frost, when you have to handle all of those dead plants that you so lovingly raised and cared for during the spring and summer.

The poor tomatoes were trying so hard to put out more fruit, the Roma was absolutely loaded, but unfortunately they were all pretty green. I picked a big bowl of green ones before frosty day one, thinking that the nearly ripe ones could ripen on the counter and the rest we might try fried. I've never tried fried green tomatoes, but Lee was all for that idea since he loves friend (ugh) food. Give him a menu with a million choices, and he'll zero in on the fried item.

The frost also clobbered the morning glory vines, so I gathered the last of the seeds and began to dismantle the vine off of the wire fence. This ended up taking a lot longer than I had originally anticipated and I almost totally forgot about lunch. I grabbed a quick bite of Thanksgiving leftovers, and then went right back out to get as much out of the light as I could, especially since the radio announced that it is supposed to rain tomorrow.

Our most sassy and daring hens, Red and Salt, flew over the fence into our neighbor's yard, so I lost a little time climbing sneakily over the fence (no one was home next door) and grabbing the squawking birds, tossing them back over into my yard and scrambling back over the fence. Those darn birds! I clipped their wings, even though I hated to. I know that if they ever flew over the fence when the neighbor was home, we'd probably get some complaints (our neighbor's yard is immaculately manicured.) In the end, I only cleared half of the fence. I probably gathered a pound or two of seeds without exaggeration!

Salt and Pepper clearing the new flower beds.
Finally, I cleaned up the last of the squash and pumpkin vines and started digging new flower beds in the "lawn" part of the backyard. I've been trying to shrink the size of the lawn so we can save time and energy from not having to mow as much. I'd really like to be rid of it all, but I have to compromise and share the yard. Anyway, the extra flower beds around the entire perimeter is my passive aggressive way of cutting the lawn space. And I'll just keep expanding those beds until someone complains. Hah. Our hens, Salt and Pepper, helped to dig up the new flower beds.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Boobs?

Just a moment ago I was organizing my cookbooks, when I quickly thumbed through one of my grandma's old cookbooks, appropriately titled "Grandma's Cook Book" though it was written by someone else's grandma, a lady who went by the name of Rose Santich from Rock Springs, Wyoming. Apparently my grandma got an autographed copy, because on the inner cover it's signed "Hope you enjoy my book" and dated Aug 6, 1979. Rose writes in her introduction that Wyoming is a melting pot of nations, and that there was as many as 51 different nationalities in her small community. She explains that her own nationality is Croatian, but that she has included many recipes from other countries- those that she felt were the best from each. It ends with a sweet dedication to her grandchildren, "I hope my grandchildren will find as much in these special recipes as I have had in collecting and using them for the past forty years and in recording them for their use."

Funny thing is though, as I was thumbing through, I thought I saw the word "boobs." Chalking it up my tired eyes blurring the letters of some other word, I casually skipped back a few pages only half expecting to find what I thought I saw. Sure enough, there was the word boobs under the rolls and bread section. My eyebrows lifted at the hilarity of it, a recipe for boobs in a grandma's cookbook? Who would have thought? 


I've tried a few of grandma Rose's recipes, and I love many of her cookie recipes, but I have yet to make an attempt at cooking boobs, so I can't really tell you how they are, or even what they are for that matter. I tried looking them up on the web and only found porn and breast cancer links. If you'd like to taste some boobs though, I'd love to hear how they turn out. Here's the recipe:

Boobs

5 1/2 cups flour, sifted
3/4 cup powdered milk
2 cups warm water
3/4 sq. melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 beaten eggs

Sponge:

1/2 cup warm water
1 yeast cake
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp flour

Mix sponge ingredients together and let rise. Beat eggs in bowl; add sugar and salt. Mix well. Add melted butter and milk, which has been mixed with warm water, and sponge mix, then add flour, a little at a time, beating all of the time until all flour is used. Beat about 20 minutes, then let rise until double in bulk. Turn over onto floured cloth and knead it in cloth (easy). Put back in bowl which has been washed and greased. Do this the same way 2 more times. The third time, turn on floured cloth and pay it out with your hands, not rolling pin. Cut with large size glass and fry in deep fat in electric frying pan.

Monday, November 8, 2010

My First Canning Experiment

I'll admit, I've been a little reluctant to get my feet wet in the canning waters. Not sure why, other than it just seemed like a big amount of prep and possibly a bigger amount of mess and I was just never ready to put in the time. I was always missing some key ingredient and I couldn't can whatever fresh fruit I had at the time because by the next trip to the market it was less than fresh. Then the next time I'd have something new and fresh to can, I would be missing a different key ingredient for that recipe. Getting tired of this crazy cycle, I just decided to make something pretty simple for the first go-round: pizza sauce. Not all of the tomatoes were fresh off the vine, but they were fresh enough.  Besides, you can't tell me that the store bought canned tomatoes are all cooked the day they are picked. I am sure those tomatoes sit around for days before they are processed.

The canning process was a little hard to figure out at first. The instructions on the canning box seem to be written backward to me, then I realized that I was reading it backward. I was almost afraid to touch the jars after I washed them, afraid of contaminating them. I didn't realize that everything was going to have the hell boiled out of it anyway, so it really didn't matter. After I got the jars filled with sauce, it seemed like a relatively easy task. I wasn't sure what I had been so afraid of. Then after the jars were processed and I set them on a rack to cool, I began to fret once again. I noticed that some of the jar lids looked wonky. After they cooled for a couple hours, I noticed right away that some of the lids looked suspicious, and with a slight touch they popped right off. I poured those contents into freezer bags and tossed them in the freezer. Out of ten half pints, I ended up with six well sealed jars of pizza sauce. I didn't think it was as bad I had originally feared though. I didn't think any of them would take.

Next, I am going to see about learning to make pomegranate jelly with Lee's mom so that I can see how it's all supposed to be done. There are some things that you just feel better about learning in person rather then going step by step from the pages of a book.

Yesterday I felt like my kitchen had been turned into a pizzeria, as I also made several gluten free crusts to freeze for the wheat- intolerant child of the house, Rowan. Unfortunately his mum is a convenience-food sort of gal and doesn't do a whole lot of made-from-scratch at her house, which means that they never get pizza since gluten free pre-made pizzas are hard to find.  He's always super excited when we make it. I think he asked a dozen times last night if it were ready yet. In fact, he and his brother were so excited about it that they ate more than they normally would have and overstuffed themselves, by the end of dinner they were half asleep from chewing exhaustion. There is absolutely no pizza left today.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Farm City

Today I finished the book Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. It was a page turner for me. The setting was Oakland, and having lived there previously I'm surprised and disappointed I never heard of her farm. It was interesting to imagine a farm in the big city and I could easily imagine and relate to a lot of what she wrote about. I found myself nodding my head or thinking, "yep, that's about right" when she would mention something that reminded me of my own experiences in Oak Town, like her neighbor living in the warehouse, her other homeless neighbor living in abandoned cars, the monks, and the other one-of-a-kind characters that you could only find in a place like Oakland. I think the craziest part of it all, was that she went all out and raised pigs. Not pet pigs, not potbellies, but full-on porkers! Novella is much braver than I though, because she was raising her animals mainly for meat. While I respect people who kill their own food more so than those who buy it in a grocery store, I know that I could never do this myself and so my diet will remain mostly vegetarian. (I will sometimes accept a bite of steak or chicken if I am a guest and I know the meat was humanely and organically raised.) I'm a big chicken, so I don't eat my own, heh.  There is an excellent bibliography and I can't wait to track down some of the books listed in it. Novella is still in Oakland, still farming, and even has a Pop Up Farmstand that you can visit.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Homemade Bread

When you've been to France and have lived in the Bay Area just down the street from an artisan bakery, well, you do become a bit of a bread snob. No longer does prepackaged supermarket bread cut it unless you don't have any other choice, or maybe you are just too lazy to make your own. I think both are the problem for me, but mostly the latter. I even have a bread machine in the cupboard collecting dust. Lately, I've been having bread cravings. Like good bread cravings. Fresh bread cravings.

When Lee offered to treat me to Jamba Juice last night on the way home from working on the movie set, I looked down at my gut filled with Halloween candy and I asked if I could pop into Barnes and Noble next door to get a magazine instead since it would be about the same price. He shrugged and said sure, then put in his order for his Pumpkin Smash smoothy. He wasn't going to give up his smoothy for a magazine. (I swear he's a pumpkin nut and has been driving me crazy lately about cooking everything with pumpkin. I even had to debate with him about not using the kids' Jack-o-Lanterns for pumpkin pies and soup!)

I grabbed up the latest copy of Mother Earth News, and then saw that the bookseller was also stocking a wide array of similar magazines, including a special "Country Skills Series," also from the publishers of Mother Earth News. I had a hard time walking away without a copy of each, but I decided that I definitely couldn't pass up the Guide to Homemade Bread because the cover promised 3 DIY bread oven plans! I've been wanting an outdoor adobe bread oven for a long time now.  So that, and the 131 bread  recipes, sealed the deal. Slurping what was already the last of his smoothie (yeah that didn't last long), Lee looked at the two magazines in the crook of my arm and mumbled through the straw in his mouth that he had only agreed to one. I assured him that I'd get the other one with my own money. Then I showed him the bread magazine and his eyes popped. Suddenly the price of two magazines didn't seem like a big deal.

I'm looking forward into trying out some of the bread recipes, especially now that the house is cold and a warm oven is more than welcome. The lingering summer heat we experienced this year was such a baking turn off! Glad it's finally on it's way out... now that it's what?  November!?  Yeah, and the leaves are just now turning color.

I'm also looking forward to planning out a bread and pizza oven. If you've never had a wood fired pizza, you are so missing out!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Chopping Down the Sunflower Forest

The last few days were spent clearing the dead garden debris, mostly squash vine tendrils & giant sunflower stalks.  Some of those stalks were close to three inches in diameter and 15 feet tall! One had a face that spanned about 20 inches side to side. Just the seeds from that one flower will replant my entire sunflower garden next year, with tons to spare!

We carved up the Jack-o-Lanterns that we grew. The boys had fun, but the big, thick pumpkins were a bit much for their little hands.  After the lid cutting and gutting, they really only had enough energy to cut out eyes before they sat down for a rest and a snack while Lee and I continued on. In the photo to the right you'll see mine on the top right with Rowan's below it. Lee's is on the top left side, with Liam's below it. It was a fun day, but the carving took a lot more time than we had anticipated, so we had to rush to get the boys fed, dressed, and ready for trick-or-treating.

Oh, and my favorite part about carving pumpkins is saving and roasting the seeds (after setting aside enough for next year's crop.)  I soak mine in brine for a couple of hours, drain them, and then add some olive oil (just enough to coat them) and spices and bake for about 40 minutes to an hour to get the shells nice and crunchy.  Here's a couple of spice combinations I tried this year:

Savory

2 tsp of Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp of garlic granules
1 tsp of sea salt

Autumn Spice

1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice