Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Epic Taco Salad

Keith came home from his trip last night, just in time for dinner. He'd asked for taco salad. So I went all-out and made the most epic taco salad ever. It was fabulous!


Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped (use cilantro if you like it)
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Tiny pinch of sugar
1/2 cup olive oil

Meat Mix:
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 a small sweet onion, diced
5 or 6 baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 fresh hot chile pepper, minced
1 Tbsp chile powder
1/2 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp chipotle powder
1 lb ground chicken (or beef)
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
Salt & pepper to taste

1/2 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1 ear of corn, kernels cut off the cob
1 cup black beans (see note)
Salad greens, rinsed and dried
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Avocado, sliced
Carrot, shredded into curls with a peeler
Freshly-grated cheddar cheese
Pumpkin seeds

Tortilla chips (see note)

Note: You can use canned black beans, but I soaked and cooked dry beans in boiling water with salt, dried savory, and hot sauce. They were so much more flavorful than canned beans! And they required no active time; they just simmered while I did other stuff around the house. On the tortilla chips, you can use packaged ones, but I cut corn tortillas into eight little triangles each and fried them up in a mixture of peanut oil and schmaltz, then sprinkled them with salt as they drained. They were perfect for scooping up bites of salad!

For the dressing, whisk together everything but the oil in a small bowl. Steadily whisking, add the oil in a thin stream until blended. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to a day to let the flavors blend.

For the meat, heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Toss in the onion, mushrooms, hot pepper, and spices; saute for a couple of minutes until the onion starts to soften. Add the ground meat and keep cooking until it's mostly cooked through. Stir in the tomato sauce, season to taste with salt and pepper, and continue to cook until the meat is done and has soaked up the sauce. Transfer to a bowl and rinse out the skillet (it doesn't have to be perfectly clean, just rinsed and wiped out).

Melt the 1/2 Tbsp butter or oil in the skillet, then add the corn kernels. Saute for a minute or two and then remove from the heat. (Sure, you could use canned corn here, but the fresh corn is so delicious this time of year!)

Loosely chop the salad greens and put them in a pretty glass serving bowl. Top them with the meat mixture, then the corn, then the beans, tomatoes, avocado, carrot curls, cheese, and pumpkin seeds. Set this in the fridge for up to an hour, until you're ready to serve dinner.

When you're ready to eat, give the dressing another good whisking and drizzle about half of it over the top. Save the rest for another salad on another day. Serve the salad with tortilla chips on the side.

We had ours with homemade peach ice cream for dessert, and a nicely chilled rose. Perfect for a hot summer evening!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Who crowed?

Was it youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu?

The chicks will be 15 weeks old on Tuesday. Most of them are Cuckoo Marans, and I've been reading lately that Cuckoo Marans make the most delicious and succulent meat bird! Yay! They also lay gorgeous dark chocolate-colored eggs, so the one lucky survivor out of this batch should make a nice addition to our egg basket.

Everyone tells me I should be able to tell by now if I have a rooster in the bunch. But I can't. So, about a year into chicken-keeping, I am finally asking the question that every novice chicken-keeper asks: Do I have a rooster?

The main reason I ask is because I haven't noticed any of the telltale signs. No saddle feathers, no spurs. I've only heard one crow, and of course I was changing the laying hens' water at the time and wasn't looking, so I have no idea who crowed (and yes, I've read that hens will occasionally crow too, so that's not necessarily an automatic rooster sign). The other reason I ask is because I'm pretty sure of the Marans and the Cochin - they look pretty hen-like, with one minor exception - and I fear that the Australorp may be my late-blooming cockerel.

It figures. A purebred Australorp was the ONE breed I really wanted, and we only got one out of the eggs Lana hatched... out of seven chicks, it figures that the one I really wanted would be a rooster I can't keep.

But that's not definite! You tell me what you think! (And I apologize in advance for the picture quality - it's pretty difficult to shoot chickens with a digital camera, as they don't stand still for long and the stupid camera has a delay on it.)

Here's the two most likely candidates. Of the seven, five are obvious hens. These two we call The Comb and The Australorp.

The Comb has a pretty roosteresque personality - large and in charge. It's by far the biggest of the chick flock, and sports one really impressive comb and wattle. The only thing is, Jane (our Rhode Island Red) also has a dominant personality and a spectacular comb and wattle, but she is most definitely a laying hen. And going by The Comb's wing feathers and body type...

...I'm kinda thinking she's a hen after all.

Which leaves us with the Australorp. No saddle feathers that I can see, but there is that proud stance...

...and that spectacularly beautiful upright tail.

But what about the wing feathers? They don't look like long, pointed saddle feathers to me.

So what do you think? Rooster-in-training, or a very pretty pullet?

UPDATE: The word is in from the experts - BOTH of them are roosters! DARN, DARN, DARN on that Australorp. The Comb... eh, looks pretty tasty, doesn't he? We'll freeze him for a nice company dinner! (Now I want to go doublecheck the other five.)

2nd UPDATE: This morning I woke up with the cock's crow. Literally. It's another week or two until slaughter time; I hope my neighbors don't lynch me first.

Groupon Deal!

If you haven't joined Groupon, it's a neat little system. Every day they offer one terrific deal on something local (like a restaurant or a store), and if enough people sign up to buy it, then everyone gets that deal. There's a different Groupon system for different areas, so if you live in Portland you see Portland deals but if you live in L.A. you see L.A. deals.

Well, today's Portland deal is a $20 gift card to the Urban Farm Store for $10!

I've mentioned The Urban Farm Store here before - it's a fabulous shop. They have everything you need for gardening, backyard farming, chickens, cats, dogs, home-brewing, bee-keeping, and more. No, I am not being paid for this post! Haha. I'm just a big fan and since Groupon has that deal on today, I thought I'd share.

I'm taking a sewing class today and I'm VERY excited about it. Can't wait to start making clothes I actually LIKE! (They do not make dresses for hourglass figures anymore, lemme tellya.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Quick Pics

Just a picture-post to facilitate the catchup.

First, last night I made a grassfed pot roast for dinner, for no apparent reason other than the fact that they had the beef at the farmers' market and roast was (obviously) the cheapest cut. I simmered the roast in the crock pot all day. To go with it, I smashed some purple and red new potatoes with parsley and paprika, and made a salad of speckled lettuce, snow peas, and fried squash flowers. Mighty tasty. I didn't get a picture of it because my friend and I devoured it while watching Chungking Express.

Pineapple would've been the perfect dessert to go with that movie, but alas I was out of fruit (I'm always out of fruit because I eat it all the day I buy it). So I took an empty pint basket and jogged across the street, where an abandoned house sits behind a chainlink fence that supports a massive blackberry bush. The blackberries there are still slightly underripe and tart, just the way I like them best! So I filled my little pint basket for free, listening to the music from my own windows in my bare feet, and trotted back home to wash and dry my dessert.

I've also gotten some tasty bounty from my own yard. Out of my five blueberry bushes, three are an early-season variety and two are a late-season variety. So those two are still covered in little green blueberries, but the other three have been producing extremely well for their small size and young age. Let me tell you, if you've never had blueberries freshly picked and still warm from the sun, you've never had blueberries, period!

And a final picture that I got the other day, when I caught Lana and Lucy working on my breakfast. Keep up the good work, ladies!

Speaking of chickens, the seven chicks were 14 weeks old yesterday. I'm calling tomorrow about renting processing equipment, and it looks like that date they have with the sharp knife is fast approaching. Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Bad Blogger! Bad Blogger!

I haven't posted in forever and I'm sorry. I got back from L.A. and have been hunting for a job, getting the garden going (ooh, lots of winter squash coming soon!), blah blah...

I messed up when I planted my Three Sisters all at once. Apparently the corn needs a head start. I have two kinds of corn coming up nicely, but the pole beans are coming up much more quickly and now they're falling all over the place because the corn isn't tall enough for them to climb up. Oops. We live and we learn.

The weather has improved and it's beautiful summer out. Not too hot - a couple days in the 90's, a few in the 70's, most in the lower 80's - and a lovely sun in a brilliant blue sky. We still haven't seen the first tomato yet, but the farmers' market today was loaded with young summer squash, zucchini flowers, berries of all kinds, fresh local cherries, baby chard, lettuces... even if summer's off to a late start, we're doing all right.

I got some Bing cherries today that were just perfect. So I ate a few of them, but I preserved most of them for Thanksgiving or the holidays. I made a simple syrup with a little sugar and water, and simmered it with lemon juice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla beans; then I stirred in some brandy, packed the pitted cherries into a pint jar, and poured over the sweetened spiced brandy. That jar went into the fridge, where it will hang out until Thanksgiving, at which point we will have the most delicious spiced brandied cherries, and spiced cherry brandy too!

I'm sipping the leftover spiced brandy right now and it's delicious. The best part of canning is enjoying the leftovers while you look forward to the future.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Leavin' on a jet plane...

So of course I get all the dirt in the raised beds, get everything planted and perfect, and... I have to go out of town.

I'm jetting down to L.A. - oh, that's right, I of all people am actually flying - to spend a week with my beloved husband, who's on a long job there. Which is fine, it gives the seeds a week to get settled and germinate without me hovering over them every day! Hopefully I'll come home to thriving baby plants that are not weeds. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, I am happy to report that if one has to go through an airport at all, Portland is the best one. There were no lines so I got through quickly, and I'm now chilling out at a local organic brewpub near my gate. I've got my fingers crossed for a quick, easy flight. (And I already can't wait to be back home in my garden with my chickens and cats!)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Indeed, Mr. Williams.

so much depends
a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

- William Carlos Williams

I know a lot depends on MY red wheelbarrow, even though my chickens aren't white. What you see in the picture there is five cubic yards of four-way dirt; this is a mix of topsoil, peat, cow manure, and sand, blended into the perfect "black gold" you need for raised garden beds. Given the crappy nature of our soil in the back yard, we have to install raised beds and bring in dirt, and our first dirt delivery arrived on Friday.

Keith built the big raised bed a few months ago, but we didn't have the money to fill it until now. The bottom of the bed was lined with newspapers (to kill the grass) and covered with the mucked-out litter from the chicken coop (pine shavings and chicken doody, great for the garden). And once the dirt got here...

I started shoveling.

Yep, I've been moving that dirt, one shovelful at a time. And I'm not done yet.

Five cubic yards of dirt doesn't sound like much, but it's enough to fill a raised bed that is about 140 sq ft, by more than a foot deep. I'd be done now, except for a snag I hit when a couple of screws turned out not to be long enough, and part of the bed buckled under the weight of the dirt. So I have to fix that and then move the rest of the dirt in.

But I'm almost done! There's only a small pile of dirt left in the front now. Tomorrow I have to go to work, and then it looks like my Fourth of July evening is going to be spent moving the rest of this dirt into the back so I can get something planted in it finally. Better late than never.

And thank heaven for that red wheelbarrow.