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Archive for September, 2011

Sometimes you need a Break

Have you ever felt like you were looking down a looong tunnel with little to do but head forward? Okay, that might be a little melodramatically bleak, but in the right light fall can feel like that to me.

I know that winter is coming, and while I love the first six weeks of winter here in Michigan, I also dread the February doldrums. … Slogging through knee deep snow crusted with ice that’s almost, but not quite, thick enough to support your weight… filling horse water buckets for blizzards and spilling water down your pants only to freeze in place moments later, wind-burned cheeks that peel and sting, canceling entire workdays due to windchills in the -20’s… Yes. Michigan winters can be intense.

This time of year I’m stuck trying to keep myself focused on the beauty of fall. It can be difficult, though! Each day another part of the garden gives up the ghost, flopping over and surrendering to the earth. “I give up!” cry the squishy tomatoes. The basil begins to blacken with the chill nighttime air and the raspberries turn into little red mushy … mushes… on the cane because it’s just so darned wet out. It’s difficult to step back and look at the positive things that come with fall sometimes. Sure the leaves are turning and the apples and pears are there, and I admit for the most part that is enough for me. This year it just seems like since I’ve been preserving more than ever I am more aware of the fact that the wonderful, exciting and colorful fruits that I’ve been filling my life with are about to only exist in their preserved forms. I think Susy is right – it is definitely important to focus on eating, enjoying and appreciating the produce while it is in season. I must remember this for next year!

Anyway, so yesterday I took a vacation. I was overwhelmed with the plucking of pears and the scrounging for un-damaged tomatoes.

It was sporadic. We left early in the morning. I doubled up the sheep’s hay, closed up the barn except for the chicken door and we were off with the sunrise, driving towards western Michigan to visit my aunt, uncle and my cousin who is in visiting from England. This was the perfect escape to really appreciate Michigan at it’s finest. The weather was dreary and miserable, but when the storms are blowing right off of Lake Michigan it is surprisingly easy to ignore the misery and to get caught up in how gloriously powerful a large body of water can be, especially when it’s broody.

My cousin, Sarah, took us to one of her favorite spots on the lake. It was a beautiful hike through glacial hills and out onto dunes before the landscape gave way to the pounding waves of Lake Michigan. The mist was blowing in waves of its own through the air, mimicking the cresting undulations along the shoreline.

As I stood on the edge of the lake, trying not to squeal as the water lapped my nearly-blue toes, I realized that yes winter is on it’s way, and nature is ready to let loose, but there is beauty even in the cold, wet and grey. It makes the colors richer and certainly sharpens the senses. A day trip was exactly what I needed to help me come home refreshed and ready to start prepping for the winter.

Of course today is rainy and miserable as well and I am once again soaked to the bone – Michigan throws these days at us a lot this time of year – but I feel like I’m able to look at the impending cold and dark as less of a threat. It’s just another kind of beauty and without the dark and cold we couldn’t have the wonderful bounty that the warm seasons bring.

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Last week we talked about Why you wouldn’t just eat an egg?, instead of a processed bowl of cereal full of sugar and GMO ingredients. I mentioned that we eat custard for breakfast or snacks and a few people requested recipes. The custard we eat is a bit different than what you may be used to since I make mine barely sweetened (it is breakfast after all). Most people view custard as a sweet treat, but it can be made very nourishing with a few tweaks. It is the ultimate simple nourishing breakfast, if made with eggs, milk, spices and the tiniest bit of natural sweetener. If your family members are sweet lovers, you can always give them an extra spoonful of maple syrup on top of the custard, but really do try to wean them off eating sweets for breakfast, even of the natural kind. If you simply like things sweeter, double the amount of maple syrup or honey in the recipe below.

Custard couldn’t be easier to make, it mixes up in a flash and then spends the majority of it’s time in the oven while you can do other things (like read blogs). I often mix mine up in the evening pulling it out of the oven right before bed to cool
overnight.


There are a few different options for making this custard. If you want to make it super quick, simply whisk all ingredients together, pour in dish or cups and bake. If you want extra flavor and nutrition, steep milk with vanilla beans and true or sweet cinnamon sticks*.

BASIC NOURISHING CUSTARD
(recipe is easily halved, but believe me, you’ll be wishing you hadn’t)

6 eggs, from pastured chickens (or ducks which have larger yolks & make creamier custard)
1/4 cup organic maple syrup or local raw honey (double this for sweeter custard)
2 teaspoons organic vanilla or 2 vanilla beans**
4-6 sticks of true or sweet cinnamon*
5 cups whole raw milk
dash of salt
organic ground nutmeg or cinnamon for top if desired

Preheat oven to 325 F for dish or 350 for cups.

If you want extra healthful and flavorful custard, steep milk with vanilla beans and cinnamon sticks (see below for sourcing for these). Whisk eggs, maple syrup, and vanilla if using in bowl, stir in milk. Pour into a glass baking dish or six custard cups. Sprinkle top with nutmeg or cinnamon if desired. Set the baking dish(es) in a pan of hot water, as you can see by my photo, I use 6 small Pyrex Rectangular Glass Containers nested in a rectangular glass baking dish for large single servings. Bake large dish at 325 degrees for 1 hour; bake cups at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes. Custard is done when a knife inserted off-center comes out clean. Serve warm or cold, add an extra drizzle of maple syrup if you want it sweeter.

You can also make this even more healthful by adding some pumpkin to make pumpkin custard. Essentially all you need to do is swap out half the milk for pureed pumpkin. What a wonderful way to get a serving of vegetables first thing in the morning.

What’s your favorite nourishing breakfast?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping and more; I also blog at Eat Outside the Bag blogging about all things food & cooking. You can also find me at Your Day Magazine, Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.

*true or sweet cinnamon is different than the regular cinnamon you buy at the store (unless you have access to a hispanic store), it’s much sweeter, less cloying, and blends so much more beautifully with sweet dishes like this one. You can buy organic true cinnamon from Mountain Rose Herbs for a great price, I always have a big bag on hand. Cinnamon is a healthy addition to your diet, containing lots of manganese, calcium and iron. It also contains trace minerals that help regulate blood sugar. Here’s some great info on the health benefits of cinnamon.

**Vanilla beans can be quite pricey in the grocery store, but if you buy in bulk from Saffron.com it’s very nicely priced. Vanilla is also a healthy addition to your diet adding a wide variety of minerals and vitamins, it’s a natural anti-depressant and it help you relax (good for nighttime beverages). Here’s a great article about the health benefits of vanilla. You can also rinse and dry vanilla beans after using them in this recipe and throw them in your sugar crock to impart flavor. Or add to a bottle of brandy, bourbon or vodka to make your own vanilla.

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Radio food

On Sundays I listen to the radio.

All day. I turn on NPR and cook while listening to Krista Tippet, then Weekend Edition, then the local Chicago gardening show The Mike Nowak Show.  After Mike I’ll haul my little portable radio out to the porch, crank up the volume and garden while listening to Bob Edwards, then Tavis Smiley, then Marketplace, then back into the kitchen for more cooking to the BBC and All Things Considered.

It’s my favorite day of the week.

On hot days my husband walks into the steaming kitchen after church (he’s a church musician–how’s that for irony), looks at my sweaty hair, turns on the exhaust fan, and disappears to cooler climes. On cool days I wonder what I was thinking when I made jelly two weeks ago while it was 90 out.

Last week I baked–crackers, scones, pita, and cobbler. This week it’s stovetop and preserving.

Freezing tomatoes with Krista Tippet
“On Being” had the usual thought-provoking discussion, this week about the political life of the observant Jew. While having my mind bent in unexpected ways (a hazard of this program), I processed some of those end-of-season tomato dribbles, when you don’t have quite enough to making sauce. Boil a pot of water, and blanch tomatoes a couple at a time by dropping them into the boiling water for about 20 seconds. Cut them into handle-able chunks, slip off the skin and scoop out the seeds. Then just throw them in quart-size freezer bags and stick in the deep freeze.  A quart is about the right amount to throw into a stew or pan gravy in the dead of winter. Now, you could throw those seeds and skins into the compost, but you can also run them through the food mill; you’ll get about 6 oz of lovely fresh tomato juice for every quart or two of tomatoes. I was going to save this morning’s cupful for risotto, but I ended up drinking it instead.

Apples and Mike Nowak
The Mike Nowak Show was apple processing, while learning about tree keepers, climate drift, mulch, and compost. All responsible gardeners, of course, throw their vegetable scraps on the compost. My neighbor in fact just tosses scraps over the side of her porch; a little disturbing but fortunately they appear to be vegetarians, so they aren’t tossing any bones.

But you don’t really need to compost vegetable scraps, or at least not yet. Any fruit or vegetable scrap can be used for stock. Right now, I’ve got a two-quart pot of apple peels, fresh sage and green peppercorns going. I’ll use it to make risotto tonight. On the other burner, apple sauce. I used 2 Early Golds, 4 large Granny Smiths, and 6 (8? oops) Cripps Pink. The Cripps are really too delicious to cook with-they have an amazing honey sweetness, but this is what I had so into the pot they went. Juice of one lemon, 1/8 teaspoon of salt and a quarter cup of honey.  Then just simmer until the apple pieces have broken down. Can it as is, or run it through the food processer  for a smoother, chunk-free sauce. I still had nearly a pound of peels and cores, so those are going into a bag in the freezer for a future stock, maybe for a potato or squash soup.

Bob Edwards helps with the Salsa Verde, eggplants and heat canning
It’s raining, so Bob Edwards is inside today, talking to an author of fantasy books. I shelled and halved about a quart of tomatillos, halved a jalapeno and scooped out the seeds (so the salsa won’t be too hot), peeled and halved two medium onions then broiled them for a few minutes, just until they started browning. Once cooled, the vegetables, a quarter cup of cilanto, and jalapeno peppers all went into the food processor with the juice of half a lime. Process for about a minute, or until the pepper is chopped very fine.  Salsa verde is not just for chips, either. It makes a wonderful ingredient in meat loaf or chili, as a sauce for chicken (fantastic mixed into the pan gravy), or as a pizza topping.

The salsa and the apple sauce went into a heat bath. I tend to can in tiny batches; not very efficient or sustainable I suppose, but I don’t get the harvest necessary to do giant batches all at once. So I tend to do six to eight pint and half-pint jars at time. This time I had two pints of apple sauce and two 1/2 pints of salsa, plus a 6-oz jar of salsa to eat right now, with my contraband tostitos (don’t tell October Unprocessed).

The eggplants I just roasted for freezing.  Using a cookie sheet with raised edges, quarter or slice the eggplants, dredge with olive oil and bake at 350/170 for 35 minutes. Allow to cool, then skin, and freeze, one eggplant per 1 quart bag. Mid-winter fresh eggplant for risotto , bharta, or baba ganoush. The freezing breaks down the cell walls too much, so this is not as effective for something like lasagna or ratatouille.

As soon as the jars are done, I’m heading off to see some urban chickens. Thanks for listening to the radio and cooking with me!

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Sunday photos: vistors

This is Skye. I call her Corndog because in past years she’s always gone straight for the corn, I think because she knows how attractive she looks sitting in the dappled shade.  She comes by every now and then to scare off rabbits (which actually come to think of it, she isn’t very good at) and race around the grass paths. Corndog wasn’t really interested in the corn this year, so we’ll have to rechristen her “Strawdog”  –Xan

***

Here at Chiot’s Run, the gardens are named after our resident dog Lucy (Chiot is puppy in french). We picked Lucy up at the dog pound the month after we purchased this house. She loves being outside and spends most of her days lounging in the shade in the front yard.


We also have two garden cats. The black one, is the kitten of a feral cat that showed up 2 years ago, she lives in the garage and spends all of her time outside. Dexter, the resident fat cat, showed up on our doorstep a few years ago and used to be an indoor cat. He is happier when he can spend his days outside, so how he’s an indoor/outdoor cat. Spending most nights in the house and his days out in the gardens.



It really is great to have pets in the garden, they are such great companions. They also do their part helps keep some pests away.

Do you have any garden companions?

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Collecting Simple Pleasures

It seems to be part of the territory, with many if not all homesteaders, that we like to collect things. It could be practical things like canning jars or antique pillows. It could be things you keep for aesthetic value like old broken farm implements, unique thimbles or unusual rocks. It could even be something as immaterial as ideas or skills, or even philosophies. My husband and I collect lots of things. We are definitely not as simple or practical as some other homesteaders are. We collect mostly antiques: children’s books, taxidermy, working farm tools, frames… One of my absolute favorites is our antique spoons.

They can be practical and aesthetic. Each one has a different feel to it; the antique bowls are often designed and suited for specific foods. I use most of the spoons my collection regularly in place of our normal, more utilitarian spoons, but some of them are too fragile or special to put to daily use.

So on this chilly and rainy Michigan day I thought I’d share some of my favorite spoons from my collection in the hopes that it might inspire you to share some of your collections as well.

Some of the spoons are simple and tarnished. I’m drawn to them by their simple curves and design. The spoon on the right is some sort of Victorian melon spoon, I believe. It has smooth scalloped edges for cutting into the fruit, but isn’t pointed like a grapefruit spoon would be.


This one was an amazing find in New Hampshire. The photo is pretty bad, but it has a ship as well as decorative fish and a scalloped shell for the bowl of the spoon. It’s from the early Victorian era – maybe slightly earlier.

These three spoons are new acquisitions that show three distinct periods. The left is Asian-influenced early Victorian (1846), the center is a floral high Victorian and the right is a simple turn of the century Art Nouveau lily pattern. I love that each one is a very clear example of the aesthetic preferences of the eras from which they come.

The two spoons in this photo are polar opposites of each other. The right is a fruit themed jelly spoon handed down to me by my mother from her family. I don’t know much about it, but I’m pretty sure it’s a mid-Victorian design. The simple spoon on the left is probably my oldest one – some time in the late 18th century. It’s simple and delicate design and dark patina lead up to a small design on the handle that alludes to the era so beautifully depicted in the Jane Austen novels.

One of the most lighthearted spoons I have ever found is a contemporary children’s spoon depicting a little bunny holding a daisy. I couldn’t help but share it – it’s just so cute! It’s also a small spoon, so it’s particularly nice to use when eating ice cream.

Do you collect anything Practical, Impractical or Immaterial? Why do you collect them?

Want to read more from Tanglewood Farm? Check out Emily’s blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice where she writes about her experiences with her gardens, her livestock and her leased historical home in SE Michigan.

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I heard the new commercial for Kashi cereal the other day that claimed “More protein than an egg” and I thought to myself “why wouldn’t you just eat an egg?”. After all you’d be eating REAL food, in it’s simplest and most natural form instead of a product made who knows how long ago, in a factory from GMO ingredients (Soy & Canola) and loads of sugar (a bowl of Kashi contains a little over 3 teaspoons of sugar). An egg would be cheaper, healthier, produce less waste, use less energy and if you purchase it locally or keep your own chickens, it’s much better for your local economy.

Here are the ingredients for Kashi Seven Whole Grains & Sesame Cereal: (Whole: Oats, Long Grain Brown Rice, Rye, Hard Red Winter Wheat, Triticale, Buckwheat, Barley, Sesame Seeds), Textured Soy Protein Concentrate, Evaporated Cane Juice, Brown Rice Syrup, Chicory Root Fiber (Inulin), Whole Grain Oats, Kashi Seven Whole Grains & Sesame Flour (Whole: Oats, Long Grain Brown Rice, Rye, Hard Red Winter Wheat, Triticale, Buckwheat, Barley, Sesame Seeds), Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Honey, Salt, Cinnamon, Mixed Tocopherols (Natural Vitamin E) for freshness.

Ingredients in an egg: hopefully grass, insects, organic grains, and lots of sunshine. It’s worthwhile to seek out a local source of free range eggs because they’re much healthier that regular battery cage hen eggs (here’s a great article from Mother Earth News about free-range eggs). If you think about what an egg is, you’ll realize it’s really a perfect complete food. An egg contains everything needed to nourish a chick. For more in-depth information on the health of an egg, read this great article at World’s Healthiest Foods.

Eggs contain: tryptophan, selenium, iodine, vitamin B2, B5, B12, mylobdenum, phosphorus, Vitamin D, lutein and they’re a great source for choline – something 90% of Americans are deficient in. Eggs contain vitamins and minerals that help reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts, those that help prevent blood clots, many that are good for your heart.

Eggs are also fantastic because they are so quick to make and they can be cooked up in a variety of ways. Mr Chiots and I eat eggs every morning for breakfast and never get sick of them. Sometimes we have the traditional eggs with bacon and potatoes. Other times we enjoy them scrambled. Eggs also pair perfectly with vegetables, making it a great way to get more vegetables into your diet (something most of us should be trying to do). We paritcuarly enjoy eggs poached on a bed of kale, other sauteed vegetables, or a savory tomato sauce. Eggs can also be made sweet by being baked up into a classic plain custard or mix in some pumpkin to add even more vitamins. These little bowls of goodness are perfect for a quick breakfast or snack on the go!

Not only are eggs much healthier, at roughly 15-25 cents each for local pastured eggs here in my area, they’re also much cheaper than a bowl of cereal – especially if you pair them with homegrown vegetables. When you figure in the quality and freshness of the product you’re getting, it blows cereal out of the water!

Food is generally most healthy when it’s the least processed (with the exception of fermentation, which usually increases the availability of vitamins – think sauerkraut, yogurt, sourdough bread, etc). The protein in textured vegetable protein does not equal the protein in an egg. Maybe it does on paper, but it doesn’t take a chemist to see the nutritional superiority of an egg.


Would you rather get you protein from an egg laid by a chicken running around on a farm in the sunshine, or from soy that’s been turned into Textured Vegetable Protein: TVP is made from high (50%) soy protein soy flour or concentrate, but can also be made from cotton seeds, wheat and oats. It is extruded into various shapes (chunks, flakes, nuggets, grains, and strips) and sizes, exiting the nozzle while still hot and expanding as it does so. The defatted thermoplastic proteins are heated to 150-200°C, which denatures them into a fibrous, insoluble, porous network that can soak up as much as three times its weight in liquids. As the pressurized molten protein mixture exits the extruder, the sudden drop in pressure causes rapid expansion into a puffy solid that is then dried. As much as 50% protein when dry, TVP can be rehydrated at a 2:1 ratio, which drops the percentage of protein to an approximation of ground meat at 16%. High quality TVP can be mixed with ground meat to a ratio of up to 1:3 (rehydrated TVP to meat) without reducing the quality of the final product, sometimes improving it if the meat used is poor. TVP is primarily used as a meat substitute due to its very low cost at less than a third the price of ground beef, and when cooked together will help retain more weight from the meat by absorbing juices normally lost. (source: Wikipedia)

What’s your favorite way to enjoy an egg?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, maple sugaring, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Ethel Gloves, Grit Magazine, and you can follow me on Twitter.

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Equinox

Of the lunar events that mark the calendar, I think the fall equinox is my favorite. There is such a sense of balance as the garden stands poised between summer and winter. There is still food to harvest, and a few 3-season flowers like cleome and black eyed susans won’t give in to the cool nights. The main color has changed from the neons of summer to subtle reds and purples of fall. The canterbury bells, whose blue insistence marks the beginning of July’s peak, have formed hard seed pods and the leaves are turning yellow. The delphiniums and baby’s breath breathe one more bloom into the chilly morning air. The banes are flowering— bugbane, fleabane, wolfsbane, leopardsbane.

The goddess sends her winter scouts in the guise of spiders the size of a finger joint, and the cicadas scream out one more chorus before the chill takes them underground. The morning dew has that heavy cold sparkle that says “I want to be frost”.

I tend to extremes, so it’s not really in character for the fall Equinox to be my favorite of the earth holidays. I’m not a compromiser; Libra and her scales just annoy me— it’s ONE way or the other,_ f*ck_ compromise, I’m right. My brother,with an Equinox birhtday, is a classic Libran compromiser. I can’t imagine how awful it must have been for him growing up stuck in a household with a dour and whiny Capricorn (me), a flighty Gemini (my mother) and a choleric Aries (my father).

My family, come to think of it, matched the sun cycle- two Solstice and two Equinox birthdays: winter, spring, summer, fall. There’s a novel in there somewhere, or a mythology. Perhaps the eventual implosion of that family unit is the reason I’m a gardener- a garden matches the eternal with the ephemeral. It is something you can both keep and consume. A family that consumes itself, like mine did, has no replant; you cannot save the seeds and start again.

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