Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hazelnuts A Go-Go!

I subscribe to Freecycle, an excellent service designed to keep things out of landfills and circulate items within the community. If you have something to get rid of, you post to the list and everyone gets an email about it; whoever wants it can come pick it up. If there's something you want, you post to the list and often someone else will have it and give it to you. There are drawbacks, namely my email getting bombed with zillions of messages a day, but every once in awhile something like this comes up...

Free hazelnuts. Yes, really.

A lady had a small orchard of hazelnut trees and decided she'd rather the extra nuts went to people than squirrels. All we had to do was drive out and gather them. So on Saturday morning we woke up early and took a lovely drive out to the country, about 30 minutes from our house. It was a gorgeous early fall day, cool but sunny, except in the shade of the little apple/hazelnut orchard.

Hazelnuts look like this when they grow on the tree:

And then when they're ready for harvest, they fall to the ground, and whoever wants them just gathers them up.

So that's what we did!

We got two five-gallon buckets full. Ten gallons of hazelnuts! For free! We estimate that's at least $150 worth of hazelnuts. Score!

Once we got them home, we had to dry them out a bit before we could eat and store them. We still don't have any furniture in the spare bedroom, so we spread out a sheet on the floor and put two little space heaters in there to get the temperature up around 100 degrees.

They're hanging out in there for a few days; we're told it should take about a week. So this weekend they should be ready.

I'm making hazelnut pumpkin butter first!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pimp My Coop

(With apologies to MTV's "Pimp My Ride.")

Back in August when we took in Lucy, Doris, and Bette, we also took in their coop. We were going to build one, but the girls' original owners offered us the coop as well, and it was cheaper to rent a U-Haul and take that one than to build a new one from scratch. Took less time, too. The catch is that it was meant only as a place to sleep and lay eggs; the hens would spend the day just free-ranging. We learned the hard way when we lost Bette that a bit more protection is necessary.

So every morning we'd get up first thing and move the girls from the coop into an enclosed run that we'd already fixed up. Then every evening, we'd have to move them from the run back into the coop again. Once Lana and Jane joined our flock this became an odious chore. They didn't like to leave the run, but we couldn't let them sleep in there because of nighttime predators, so we'd have to catch them. All the many ways of catching them involved wings flapping in our faces and chicken doody on our jeans, so we were eager to leave it all behind. We decided to go ahead and build an attached run onto the coop, and renovate the coop itself while we were at it.

Here's the coop as it started out:

And here's what we ended up with:

It had to be painted anyway, since the original owners just painted the bare plywood without priming it first and the wood was already starting to warp. We also hooked it up with electricity! It now has a 40-watt light bulb on a timer in there, to keep them laying through the winter. Apparently the shorter days signal hens to slow down their egg laying (or in some cases, stop altogether); when the light comes on early in the morning, they don't realize the days are getting shorter so they keep on laying. Right now we have the timer set so that the light is on automatically from 5:30-7:30 am.

Note the little wooden eggs in the nest boxes (along with one of Lucy's own). Lucy and Doris were digging holes and laying eggs all over everywhere until we put those eggs in the boxes. Immediately they cottoned on to what the boxes were for, and they haven't laid anywhere else since. Supposedly the fake eggs may also stimulate Jane and Lana to start laying; they're still freeloading for now, though Jane is starting to look like she might give us an egg soon.

Keith also designed the run with a large door so that we can get in there if necessary. This is also how we let the chickens out to free-range when we're in the backyard to watch them. The top part of the door gets pretty dirty, so I painted it black; I did this on the ridges around the front doors too, for the same reason. The ladder inside might look homely, but it's how we get our sleep now! The hens go up to the coop in the early evening by themselves, and let themselves out in the morning.

By the way, I know it looks really filthy in there. It isn't what you think. Before moving the coop and run into position, Keith dug a large hole and lined it with chicken wire, which he topped with loose dirt and then we put the coop and run on top. The underground chicken wire keeps predators from burrowing in. We topped the whole shebang with rice hulls, but the hens have turned up all the loose dirt underneath so it looks like we don't clean their space. Soon we're going to replace the rice hulls with hazelnut hulls or some other litter that isn't so messy. It's a pity we can't just lay sod in there - it would look so much nicer, but the girls would tear it up.

Anyway, here's what it looks like with the door closed.

A back door lets us access the area underneath the coop where the feeder and waterer are. The feeder hangs from the underside, keeping it elevated so they don't kick (as much) litter into it; the waterer was too heavy for that, so it sits on a cement block. Also note in this picture how the electrical wire comes up from the ground; it actually runs from the back of the house, but you can't see it because Keith buried it. It winds from the house, along the deck, along the shed, and around the back of the coop, only to emerge neatly and discreetly where needed. Clever work!

The roof opens up too, so that we can easily reach in for eggs, change the timer, etc. Originally this roof leaked like crazy in the rain, because there wasn't anything to cover the seam between the stationary and the moving part. We had a tarp over it for the summer, but that made it difficult to open the roof. So Keith got the idea to fit a piece of flexible vinyl over it and caulk that down. He also put a nice sturdy lip on the front of the roof so that rain would drip straight down and not run down the roof into the coop.

So that's our new pimped-out chicken coop. I did some of the work and it definitely took a little time, but I think big props need to go out to Keith for his hard work and ingenuity here. He pulled this off with scrap lumber and no construction experience, and saw solutions where I never would have. So kudos! The hens are already showing their appreciation.

And now that it's all done (just in time for the rainy season!) and we can sleep in, relax in the morning, or go to dinner without having to be home at dusk, keeping chickens is even more fun. Now all we have to do is toss them our kitchen scraps and check their water every couple of days, and collect those tasty eggs!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fast, Cheap and Easy (I Like My Cornbread Like I Like My...)


I keep hearing insinuations that Keith and I put massive effort into our food all the time, that we eat huge fancy meals every day. I thought I'd set the record straight here! We do eat good, home-cooked food for the most part (though I have to confess a weakness for Annie's Mac & Cheese and Pizza Roma). But it's usually not fancy. You just hear about it when it is, because I'm proud of a special occasion.

Tonight was a far more typical night. We had blackeye peas and cornbread for dinner. Sounds homely, but it was delicious, healthy, and hearty. The trick to a simple frugal meal is to do it right from scratch; it takes maybe an hour of mostly passive time to cook, which admittedly is longer than microwaving something, but it's worth it. These blackeye peas were pretty simple, just simmered in broth with balsamic vinegar and pepper flakes and then topped with a little bit of grated cheddar cheese. The cornbread... well, I'm feeling generous, so I'll share a cornbread recipe that took me years to perfect. Enjoy this cornbread - it's never once let me down.


1 Tbsp canola oil (see note)
1 c cornmeal
1/2 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 c honey
1 c buttermilk (or 1 Tbsp cider vinegar + milk to equal 1 c)
1 egg

Note: If you have a cast-iron skillet, put the oil in it and stick it in the oven to preheat right along with the oven. If you're making this in a regular pan, then omit the oil and understand that the cornbread won't have that nice crispy crust on the bottom.

Preheat the oven (and oiled skillet) to 425 F.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl with a fork or whisk. In a separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients (I usually just mix them all right there in the measuring cup), beating the egg into the honey and milk. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and give it all a quick stir just to moisten it. Don't overmix! Some lumps are okay. Pour it all into the preheated skillet and bake it for half an hour or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

See? Not fancy, not hard, just quick and delicious and dirt-cheap. You can't get better than that.

UPDATE 3/18/11: Some friends of mine have gone gluten-free and I tried making this recipe with brown rice flour instead of wheat. Since the cornmeal dominates, the wheat isn't necessary, and I've repeatedly found that it's actually better with rice flour. So if you're not into the gluten thing, no worries, and if you normally eat wheat, try something different and enjoy the surprise!

"I'm from the government..."

Here in Portland, we have the most delicious tap water in the country (and yes, I know Memphis makes a similar claim but when I go home to visit, that stuff tastes like pool water from all the chlorine). It's been proven in study after study to be the cleanest metropolitan water in the USA. This delicious, clean water comes from an open reservoir (see pic) located in a wilderness area with no humans, no cattle, and hence no threat of harmful contamination. The sun's natural UV radiation kills dangerous bacteria, and good minerals flourish in this environment. This system has worked since the reservoir was built in the mid-1800's and continues to work well today.

Enter the government, and its corporate backers.

Now the EPA, at the urging of a multinational corporation called Montgomery Watson Harza Global, Inc., has decreed that our water be buried, filtered, and chemically processed, at a cost of several hundred million dollars. You can read all the background here, but the long and short of it is that we stand to pay three or four times the price for inferior, potentially dangerous water. This isn't a sexy issue like abortion or health insurance so it's not making the news, which means it has quietly built up a momentum that is going to be difficult to stop now. Moreover, the proposed water changes seriously threaten Portland's world-famous independent brewing industry, as you can't make good beer without good water (excellent explanation here).

Coincidentally, when this came to my attention I was in the middle of reading an excellent book with the beautiful title Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal. Written by Joel Salatin, a true prophet of the modern age, this book is not only about farming; it's an indictment of big-government interference and the way it destroys innovation. Call me a conspiracy nut if you will, but we live in a day and age where the rules of commerce have been arranged to favor the large multinationals at the expense of smaller independents. Newcomers can't even get started in many industries, and smaller businesses are pushed out of existence by complex regulations.

In no area is this as problematic as it is with food and water. Our most basic needs are now threatened by an Orwellian "food safety" system that poses an unprecedented risk to actual food safety. Why take the cleanest water in the country and destroy it in the name of safety? Why prosecute Amish farmers under a system supposedly meant to protect consumers from diseases that proliferate in the corporate system, not on independent family farms? Meat and produce from independent farms has been demonstrated time and time again to be cleaner, more nutritious, and safer than anything from the corporate system (to say nothing of its superior flavor). Grass-fed beef has ZERO E. coli in its system; in fact, you can even destroy E. coli in a corn-fed cow by switching her to a grass diet for a mere two weeks before slaughter. But changes like this aren't required or even mentioned by government agencies, because they would cost Con-Agra too much money.

So children die, and innocent vegetables like green onions and spinach wind up contaminated by animal diseases somewhere in their journey through the factory food system. Why does the FDA/USDA respond to what is clearly a corporate-food threat by working harder to make us more dependent on corporate food? And why does the EPA respond to a clean, healthy water system with a mandate to destroy it?

Ronald Reagan (himself a questionable friend to the little guy) once said, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" We're hearing those words all too often now, and all of us should indeed be terrified.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

So much for autumn.

So here it is on the first day of autumn and we're breaking yet another temperature record here in Portland with a high of 97. Sigh.

At least that means it's warm sunny weather for all our outdoorsyness today. We had a trillion errands and now I've got to do some gardening this afternoon, and finish painting our chicken coop. (Shyeah. Like I'll ever be done with this chicken coop project. Doubtful!)

The day started with a trip to the vet for my mamakitty, Roxy, who has gained an astonishing amount of weight. For those who are new, back in March we adopted a homeless pregnant kitty who still looked like a kitten herself. On April 4 she birthed six kittens, including a tiny runt who couldn't push past her brothers and sisters to nurse and had to be bottle-fed by us. We kept Roxy, the runt (Fry), and a boy kitten named Davey. Roxy lost all her babyweight quickly and reverted to a very small, svelte 7.5 pounds. Since weaning her kittens, being spayed, and moving to the house, she has ballooned to almost 10 pounds and has a rather alarming matronly look about her. So as of today, she's on a diet, poor gal. And Davey has to be on probiotics, and Fry still needs extra food, so it looks like we're going to have to start feeding all three of our cats separately. You know, just because life isn't complex or demanding enough around here.

And speaking of feeding animals, our hens have outgrown their little chick feeders and they keep knocking them over. We now need to install large hanging feeders on the underside of the coop, so we went to the Urban Farm Store (my favorite store!) and bought them. I can't figure out how to get the lid on the feeder, because I'm an idiot, and the water regulator isn't working so it just overflows gallons of water all over the chicken run. Our afternoon agenda now demands that we resolve this problem.

We also bought some asparagus starts at the UFS so I can start our asparagus patch in the front yard. Yay! We won't be able to harvest any asparagus until 2011 but it should be worth the wait. And in the meantime, next year, it'll look pretty... and the important thing is that it's another patch of grass GONE in our Quest To Eliminate the Lawn.

Further continuing the quest today, we dropped by the Portland Nursery to spend some of a gift card we got as a housewarming present. We got a handy-dandy little weeding tool and some completely frivolous iris and crocus bulbs - no, we can't eat them, but dammit I want pretty flowers in the spring. And anyway they attract bees. Bees are important, right? *innocent look*

We also got an obscene quantity of garlic to plant, which knowing us is still not going to be enough garlic. We were going for more vegetable starts but we decided to come back later and spend the rest of the gift card once the first raised bed is built. And that's going to have to wait until the next job comes through for both of us as funds are getting tight.

So it's a day of drama and melodrama and hard work. Tonight I really need to put up some pumpkin seed pesto sauce, pumpkin butter, and pumpkin gnocchi. My list of "preserves to can" on the fridge is getting ridiculously long but I haven't gotten around to it for awhile. Maybe when winter comes I'll be able to sleep in once or twice and lounge about reading... but there's no sign of winter today.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Happy New Year 5770!

L'Shana Tova to all the Jews! May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

We celebrated Rosh Ha'Shanah at our house with, what else, dinner. Apples and honey are traditional, as are any sweet foods for a sweet new year. We had roast chicken, cheesy hazelnut-stuffed apples, collard/kohlrabi greens, delicata squash in an herbed glaze, and a homegrown tomato salad. For dessert, we dressed up the apples-dipped-in-honey standby with a lovely little apple tart. I made the pastry, Keith made the filling, and we had a great time making a dessert that was surprisingly low in sugar and flour; as baked desserts go, this one was pretty good for you! Spiced apples in a potato pastry, topped with light sour cream and honey. Mm-mm-mm.

I'm off to get ready for services today... quite late, but oh well. There's a synagogue in town I've been meaning to check out since we moved here. In a new house at the dawn of a new year - what better time?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Flexibility, Serendipity...

A couple days ago, my father sent me a box of goodies from his garden, which is almost entirely hot peppers and experimental sugars. I got some sugar beets, stevia, and a hilarious variety of sugar cane which looks exactly like marijuana and will get me arrested if I try to mail it again. I also got an assortment of hot peppers, including a lovely bright orange habanero and a couple other varieties I didn't know before. I promised to make chile chutney and send some back; Jamie Oliver's got a great recipe for chile chutney and I wanted to try it.

I collected a few ancho chiles from my own garden, which has been prolific in other departments but disappointing in the chile department due to our cool wet weather here. And then I began a day which felt like an "I Love Lucy" episode, but which turned out to create one of those delightful little kitchen accidents that result in something better than what I was going for in the first place.

Step one was light the grill to roast the peppers. Cook's Confession: I totally fail at charcoal grills. I love the flavor, but I was just never taught the fine art of charcoal grilling; I think it's a guy thing. Keith wasn't home so I gave it my best shot, but half a bottle of lighter fluid, one singed eyebrow, and a pile of dead coals from a gust of wind later, I gave up and retreated inside. I roasted my hot peppers in my cast-iron skillet on the stovetop.

I still intended chile chutney, but I can never follow a recipe exactly; I have to mess with everything. On this occasion I remembered some tomatoes from my garden that were peaking. I skinned them, threw them in the food processor with the chiles, and got... liquid. Right. Because tomatoes are juicy, especially when they've just been blanched and skinned. Derrr.

By this point I was already caramelizing onions with rosemary, cinnamon, smoked salt, and pepper. I poured in the tomato-chile liquid, along with the balsamic vinegar called for in the chile chutney recipe, and some honey. As it came to a boil I looked at it and realized it would never be chutney. It might, however, be a decent ketchup.

I tasted it. Yes, a pleasantly spicy, slightly sweet balsamic ketchup! I simmered it for awhile, occasionally adding things - too spicy, so a bit of cider vinegar; too bland, so a sprinkling of garlic and paprika and some more cinnamon; not as spicy as it was, so a squirt of sriracha. Finally I got it all balanced, then realized if I made ketchup out of this thin liquid, I might have four ounces of it by the time it cooked down. I wanted enough for me and dad to each have a jar, at least. So then I had another idea - what about jam? After all, the tomato-chile jam was good. So I stirred in a half a packet of pectin and yanked up the heat, boiled the hell out of it for a minute, and canned it.

I got two 8-oz jelly jars full. Once they were cool I checked it out. Basically, I have BBQ sauce, at least in the flavor. It's a very nice BBQ sauce if I may say so! Spicy, sweet, and a bit zingy. It had me reaching for my water glass. I think it'll be great on a grilled cheese but it could also work as a spread on any kind of sandwich.

It's a bit too thick to be called BBQ sauce though. It has a jam consistency. It could be thinned with a little water or apple juice, and then brushed on grilling meat. Or it could be stirred into gravy or another sauce for flavor. It could even be spread onto a steak after cooking. I'm not really sure what to call this odd little product, even though I can think of uses for it. It's a quirky animal that doesn't quite fit in.

Got to say, though. It tastes mighty fine.

Hurray for life's fortuitous accidents. Viva la experimentation!

Grape Jelly: A Photo Essay

As you know, I've been canning like Ma Ingalls this summer. I did a bit last year and I've done a little canning before, but this summer I've been especially busy (considering we're eating it all just as fast as I can can it, which kind of misses the point of canning but whatever). It only started to feel like real old-fashioned canning, though, when we began The Concord Grape Jelly Project. Click on any picture here for a larger version.

There's a house down the street from us, for sale, and as far as we can tell no one's living there. On a recent walk, we noticed a long fence on the property that was completely covered with perfectly ripe Concord grapes. These little grapes are famous for the jelly and juice you get at the store; people tend not to purchase these grapes whole, as they have tough little skins and large, crunchy, acidic seeds. I like to eat them myself, but not many people do. Their flavor is excellent for processing though.

So Keith devoted a couple of days to harvesting and came up with several baskets full of lovely little grapes.

We put on "Firefly" and kicked back to pick and sort all those grapes. The little shrivelly ones, the overripe and underripe, went into one bowl for the chickens (who love them), the vines went into a bag for the compost heap, and the good grapes went into many large bowls (and my tummy).

Next I had to take a potato masher and squish all the grapes up. Would've been fun to pile them up in a tub and stomp them like Italian wine grapes, but I didn't want to mess up my pedicure. About halfway through mashing them, I added about half a cup of water.

The mashed grapes then need to come to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. This looks kind of nasty, but it makes the most delicious smell - I can't even describe it. It's a sweet, earthy, kind of childish smell. I think it comes from the yeast bloom on the grape skins.

After this I had to strain the hot squished grapes thoroughly through clean pantyhose. I didn't get any pictures of this part, but let me tell you it is damned messy. I did some, Keith did some, and for a couple of days we both had purple hands. The countertops were stained and had to be bleached, and thank goodness I had on a black shirt. The dried solids went into the compost heap, and the strained juice went into many jars. It didn't come out looking like grape juice at all; it was a bright pink color. And it didn't taste like the grape juice you want to drink. It was very acidic, tart in the way that's unappealing to a gal like me who eats limes by themselves, and not at all sweet. The juice had to sit out on the counter overnight.

At this point more solids sank to the bottom, so the juice had to be strained again. Then I poured it all into a pan and turned on the heat. This has to be made one batch at a time or it won't set right. I used four cups of juice per batch and stirred in four cups of sugar (yeah, it needs to be that much to jelly and also to keep it from spoiling; most people use even more) and 2 Tbsp lemon juice just to be safe. I brought it all to a boil...

And here's the cool part, which I couldn't get a good picture of. At the moment that it starts to boil, the bright fuschia color instantaneously turns to dark purple. I have no idea how or why this works but this is what happens. It's amazing, it's incredible, it's alchemy! This is why I love canning.

I have several jars put away already and still more to do; I'm going to try and finish up the rest of it today. The grapes have all been harvested, so there's no more to do once I finish this. It's been a fun project, though I'm now drowning in more grape jelly than I can ever use. But here's the reason I love Portland - there will be a preserve swap at the end of the month, where I can trade my extra jelly jars for lots of other interesting things that other people have made! This way I can fill out our larder without eating too much of one thing or spending any money. I can't wait to see what I can trade for.

In the meantime, I'm happy to report that this jelly tastes excellent with peanut butter. Welch's really just can't compare.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


We woke up to a beautiful day today. It's sunny, and gorgeous right now but going to be hot later; they're predicting a high of 94. (So much for last week, when it was autumn.) It's a great day for a cookout, though! People will be potlucking drinks and/or side dishes, but here's what we're making. I made the cherry-chipotle BBQ sauce myself a little over a week ago and it's delicious, so I'm looking forward to using it.

Chicken Grilled in Cherry-Chipotle BBQ Sauce
Vegetarian "Chicken" Skewers with BBQ Sauce
Grilled Baby Eggplants & Sweet Onions
Spicy Balsamic Bean & Corn Dip
Keith's Semi-Famous Guacamole
Fried Green Tomatoes (from the garden!)
BBQ Beans
Tomato Salad (also from the garden!)
Apple-Kohlrabi Slaw (Kohlslaw?)
Homemade Pickles
Fresh-Picked White Grapes

Now that I look at all that, I wonder that maybe we're overdoing it.

...Nah. Too much at a cookout? Ain't no such thing.

If you can't be here, try this recipe for kohlslaw. If you can't find kohlrabi, try jicama or throw in another apple.

1/3 cup Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cabbage, coarsely shredded
2 apples, cored and shredded
3 carrots, shredded
2 kohlrabi, peeled and shredded
1 small onion, minced

Mix up the dressing in a small bowl and the veggies in a bigger bowl. Pour the dressing over the veggies and combine. Chill for a couple hours until ready to serve.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Food Insecurity on 9/11

Well, here we are, eight years to the day since the dawn of our Brave New World. I remember like it was yesterday - how the patriotic response was to go out and buy an SUV, buy new furniture, fill up your gas tank as often as possible, spend money. Didn't matter if you had the money or not, just spend. The credit explosion led to the credit collapse and now here we are in an "economic crisis." You'd think we'd have learned about thrift and responsibility.

But no. According to Fox, frugal Americans are now the enemy, directly responsible for our slow recovery. It's still our patriotic duty to spend money we don't have and become ever more dependent on the corporate system. Meanwhile Congress is working hard to render us even more dependent on a larger, industrialized agricultural system with the tragically misnamed Food Safety Enhancement Act. (Read more here.) Even though the USDA has agreed that centralized, long-distance industral production is one of the greatest threats to food safety, this bill (which has already passed the House and is before the Senate as I type), would further centralize production and drive small farms out of business.

Worse yet, it doesn't differentiate between commercial and home production, so this "Administrator" to be determined would have the right to enter your own home kitchen or garden with no judicial oversight and hold you to the same standards as industrial food exporters. If that's not unconstitutional I don't know what is, but Con-Agra and Monsanto can afford to keep it away from the Supreme Court for long enough to drive small independent farmers out of business.

It should go without saying that any "Food Safety Enhancement Act" supported by Con-Agra and Monsanto is not going to be about food safety at all.

We know already that the proper response to economic crisis is to tighten our belts, and the proper response to a food safety crisis such as the current one is to take responsibility for our own food production. But Corporate America is working hard to make money by convincing us all that black is white. It began the full-force push eight years ago today and now it's poisoning not only our food, but our Constitutional rights and our way of life.

Contact your Senators today and tell them to vote against HR2749. Our lives depend on it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Aww. I'm blushing!

What a nice suprise to wake up to! I was just sitting here sipping my coffee and making my usual morning rounds of the internet when I happened upon my own fried green tomatoes on Fab Frugal Food. I really enjoyed making those and sharing them with Anne when she was here a couple weeks ago, and so pleased that a mere gluten sensitivity led us to such serendipity. Chickpea flour really does make excellent fried green tomatoes, so much more flavorful and crisp than wheat flour. I'll be making them again for our housewarming party this weekend. Thanks for the shout-out, FFF!

I didn't finish all of my preservation agenda yesterday because we got sucked into the first three episodes of "Firefly," an excellent space-Western series from 2002 that we're only just now getting to. The good news is that we got at least ten pounds of grapes sorted and picked from the vines while we watched it. The bad news is that now I have to make even more grape jelly. Yesterday I made seven jars of it, all of which jelled perfectly. I've never made Concord grape jelly before. It's a very messy endeavor but a fascinating one! The juice starts out a bright fuschia color, and then - just as it starts to simmer - it suddenly turns into that dark purple jelly color all on its own. Trippy! I took pictures all along the process and will post about them later this evening.

I also roasted and pureed a sugar pumpkin and saved enough seeds to cover four plates. All the seeds are currently drying on top of the refrigerator and anyone who wants to plant a sweet pumpkin plant next year should let me know, because I have seeds aplenty. This many organic seeds would've cost us at least $50 from the store, possibly more; the pumpkin I collected them from cost $1 at the farmer's market.

Also yesterday I invented my own recipe for strawberry-rhubarb jam, spiced with allspice and cinnamon and the slightest dash of cardamom (which goes beautifully with rhubarb). It turned out a bit thin and runny, despite the pectin I added, but it tastes good anyway and it's still usable as a jam. It might also be good on top of ice cream or drizzled over chocolate cake if I have any dessert functions to use it in the future. It made eight jelly jars' worth!

Tonight I'm going to try to finish that maple pumpkin butter, and juice the new batch of grapes so they can sit overnight for jellying tomorrow. I also received a small shipment of various peppers from my dad's pepper garden in Mississippi, which I hope to round out with my own anchos and turn into a balsamic chile chutney using Jamie Oliver's recipe. Meanwhile I still have two more boxes to unpack and I need to clean the house before our housewarming party on Saturday, and I have some writing and film projects requiring my attention. I really can't believe I used to suffer from boredom. Lately there are just not enough hours in the day.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Self-Preservation, Another Round

The Oregon meal was excellent, if anyone was curious. I took video of some of the food preparation, and still need to get a couple more shots but I'll be uploading the video soon. It should be a cute little project.

Then last night I made this incredible peanut sauce over brown rice, sauteed spinach and chard, and cubed lemon-baked chicken. I really can't get over how good it is - we all but licked the bowl. Later tonight I'm braising collard and kohlrabi greens (with crockpot blackeye peas and creamed corn from scratch) and there's enough sauce left to drizzle over the greens... mmm, I'm already drooling.

Meanwhile I'm having another preservation day today. We harvested another pumpkin yesterday, so even though I already have 10 cups of pumpkin puree (five cans' worth) in my freezer, I've got two more pumpkins to process. I'm saving the seeds from the sweet one, and I'll also be saving seeds from my ancho chiles. I need to put a huge bowl of cherry tomatoes in the dehydrator for dried tomatoes later in the year - they won't be "sun-dried," but they'll taste just as good when I'm dying for tomatoes in the winter.

My canning agenda looks like this:
Maple Pumpkin Butter
Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam
Concord Grape Jelly
Salsa Verde
Lavender Jelly
Rosemary Jelly

And my freezer agenda looks like this:
Pumpkin Gnocchi
Pumpkin Puree
Diced Pumpkin (for chili and stew)
Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Better get cracking. I've got a long day.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Oregon: The Meal

Tonight, for reasons which I shall explain in another week or two, I'm making a special dinner to celebrate Oregon's local bounty. Sure, a cookout is probably more common for Labor Day, but it's still raining off and on, and the good late-summer/early-fall produce is in. Here's the menu...

Rogue River Bleu Cheese
White grapes from my own grape vines
Argyle Sparkling Wine from the Willamette Valley (pinot noir and chardonnay blend)

Pumpkin Quiche
Homemade Sour Rye Beer Bread
Salad Greens topped with Dried Hood River Cherries, Hazelnuts, and Homemade Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette
Local white wine TBD or Deschutes Beer

Chocolate Bundt Cake with Chipotle-Hazelnut Praline Glaze
Fresh-Ground Decaf Coffee with Hazelnut Milk

The quiche will have a handmade savory crust with ground hazelnuts and nutmeg in it, and it'll feature eggs from my chickens and a pumpkin I harvested and pureed the other day (I got 12 cups of pumpkin puree from this one pumpkin and there are plenty more on the vine, argh). The sour rye starter has been fermenting for about two weeks now and it has a lovely beery smell, and we dried the cherries ourselves in July after our friend brought them back from a wedding she attended in the cherry orchard. The chocolate, okay, the chocolate came from Peru (a friend brought it back a couple of years ago and it's kept nicely in the fridge) but the hazelnuts and chipotles are local, as well as the flours and some other ingredients, and I'm in love with my Bundt pan so I'll take any excuse to use it.

I don't often do Gourmet Cuisine (however gourmet this is), so I'm excited for this one. I'm about to start the pie crust this morning and I'm still waiting for the chickens to give me one more egg for the quiche. Meanwhile Keith is hunting down that missing camera cable - this is one dinner we're definitely going to want pictures of!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Autumn? Already?

Labor Day isn't until tomorrow, but it feels like autumn today. It rained all night last night (on the skylights over our bed, making the loveliest sound), and this morning we woke up to a chilly, windy, wet world. We went early to the farmer's market during a break in the rain; all the beautiful winter squashes were out, in every shape and color. We bought a sugar pumpkin (my own pumpkins aren't sweet and we want to save the seeds from a sweet one), as well as a butternut and two delicatas. We also got a few chayotes, which I've never heard of - I'm always excited when I discover a new veggie or fruit, and it just keeps happening these days.

In the fruit department we scored a great deal on the last (very ripe) strawberries, so I'll be canning some strawberry-rhubarb jam this week, and some sugar plums, which we'll probably just eat while their visions dance in our heads.

Lemon cucumbers were fifty cents a pound and I still have a huge bowl of my own cherry tomatoes in the fridge, so I'll be adding a sweet onion and making another cucumber salad today. But now that it's cold and windy and raining again, I think this will be the last one. It feels like the first of many rainy fall days that we'll spend just like this, me cooking and canning while Keith reads a book and we listen to the sound of the rain on the porch roof through an open window.

At least he got a chance to start on the grape harvest while I made lunch. Our own little seedless white wine grapes are ready for the picking - at least, the ones we haven't already devoured - but he started the harvest down the street, where an unoccupied home for sale has a long fence laden heavily with beautiful dark Concord grapes. He's gotten a huge basketful already and there's plenty more to pick! I'm definitely making jelly, and I'm looking to see what else I can do with all these grapes. Is there anyone out there who actually likes raisins?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

National Chicken Month

Apparently yesterday was the beginning of National Chicken Month. This conceit of "the chicken industry" encourages retailers to promote sales of chicken meat and eggs by using the National Chicken Month logo, and also by providing recipes at the point of sale. Nowhere in the online literature could I find a reference to the health benefits of growing your own. I don't need to say that there wasn't a mention anywhere of the completely appalling conditions that factory chickens are subjected to, or any suggestion that they might be improved.

So I'm just going to celebrate National Chicken Month in my own way. Yesterday we had that amazing lunch of grass-fed, organic chicken from an actual farm, and meanwhile my own girls are loving life. Jane and Lana still aren't laying yet, but they've become a lot easier to get along with since their wings were clipped. Doris and Lucy are laying almost every day, and enjoying the times when we let them out to range all over the yard. It makes me ridiculously happy to see my hens with their big feathery bustles, happily scratching up the dirt for bugs and pecking at the grass. They go crazy for bruised peach slices, tomato skins, and other kitchen scraps. They even love cheese and their own eggshells. When I have a treat for them I only have to call, "Heeeere chickchickchick" and they run to me as fast as their funny legs will carry them.

Then I remember the chickens in the factory farm in Food, Inc. and my heart aches. The laying hen has the worst life of any animal in the factory system, worse even than the cows in CAFO's who stand knee-deep in their own waste eating food that makes them sick. It's no wonder their eggs taste terrible and have no nutritional value.

So forget about the industry's "National Chicken Month," and instead take this opportunity to seek out some real chicken, real eggs. Support the home growers and the small farms. They're near you, wherever you are, just an internet search away.

And in the meantime, enjoy this terrific video on backyard chickens from the Today Show!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mmmm, roast chicken (and no, it wasn't Jane).

Four words: Chicken Dinner For Lunch.

One word: Wow.

I've always wanted to learn the fine art of roasting a whole chicken, but I've never gotten it exactly right before today. I got a young, grassfed, free-range chicken a little while back and thawed it a few days ago with the idea of making a chicken dinner when Keith came home from L.A. He got in late and didn't want it on Sunday, and then yesterday I was busy, so today we thought what the hell - let's just have it for lunch. We like to have a bigger lunch and a lighter dinner anyway, for health reasons.

So, inspired by this recipe at Epicurious, I roasted that little chicken. Got the oven all nice and hot while I rinsed the chicken and patted it very dry with paper towels, and then sprinkled it thoroughly with fresh-ground pepper and black smoked sea salt. Stuffed the cavity with a few cloves of garlic and a sprig of rosemary, just cut from the yard. I roasted it that way, making sure to keep the oven tightly shut the whole time, and then when it was done (about 70 minutes), I pulled it out and moved the chicken to a plate. I stirred more fresh rosemary into the pan juices, along with a big spoonful of Dijon mustard, and basted the chicken with that while I let it rest. I basted it a few times while Keith grilled several ears of corn and then we filled our plates with chicken, grilled corn, and a nice little tomato-cucumber salad. We ate on the porch, and after lunch I picked a bunch of grapes from the vine and we shared the fresh grapes in the nice weather.

The rest of the chicken is ready for use in other meals over the rest of the week, and I just filled a gallon-size freezer bag with grilled corn freshly cut from the cob. Keith laughed that it was a lot of grilled corn. But in the winter, when I throw a handful of grilled corn kernels into a hearty beef stew to enjoy on a rainy night, I'll see that date on the freezer bag and remember this sunny late-summer day when Keith fired up the grill and we enjoyed this lovely meal on the porch. This is why I like food preservation, after all. "The day I put the can in my cart" just doesn't carry the same kinds of memories with it.

I deeply regret that I wasn't able to photograph this chicken. We're still unpacking, and someday I'll find my camera cable and this blog will have pictures again. One fine day...