Thursday, September 30, 2010

What I've been up to

Recently hubbie and I were watching "Dances with Wolves".  There's a line in the movie where Kevin Costner's skeezy guide looks at a skeleton, which has an arrow in it, and laughs himself silly.  "Somebody back east is sayin' 'Now why don't he write?!?'".

That line made me cringe.  I bet you've been wondering that same thing about me.  I've been thinking about you guiltily, cringing that I haven't blogged.  Maybe I should have declared September an off-month, given how busy canning has kept me.

Well, I haven't been idle, that's for damn sure.  I'm in good company in feeling that I'm about sick and tired of canning for the season.  It doesn't seem fair that in the season when I have the most to write about, I also have the most to get done.  I've been working my arse off and I'm ready to kick back and read a book.  Or 7 books.

Lately I've been feeling like the ant in Aesop's fable.  My hubbie has suffered terribly from sleep apnea over the past few months and has been a walking corpse, whereas this is the season when I can barely hold still for the preserving that needs to get done.  I'm not mad at him - in fact he recently saw a specialist and is feeling better - I'm just plum tuckered out.

As you can see, I've gotten quite a bit of canning done.  I love walking into the storage area, a wall of our laundry room that we devoted to my canning, and feeling a sense of deep accomplishment.  The jars are so colorful and pretty, and hold such promise of homemade foods over the winter.

From top, L-R:
1. Various jams, Apricots, Peaches, Potato-leek Soup
2. Sweet pickles, Beef broth, Chicken broth, Corn
3. Asparagus, Curried carrots, Green beans, Tomato Sauce

From top, L-R:
4. Beets (gift), Dilly beans, Pickled yellow squash, various salsas, sauerkraut
5. Jalapenos, Roasted Red Pepper pickles, Pears, Dried tomatoes in olive oil (not canned), plain dried tomatoes
6. Dill pickles (gift), Whole Tomatoes, Boysenberry cobbler filling, Peach nectar, Peaches

See the little green labels?  I put those up so that I could send hubbie in for things and he wouldn't get frustrated by not knowing what's where.  In case you're wondering about the curtains, that's to protect the jars from sunlight, such as it is here in WA State.

But wait... there's more.  To the left of the shelves shown above is a set of narrow shelves.  The room is too small to get all of the shelves in one shot.
From top, L-R:

1. Chocolate-raspberry jam, Curds, Orange Marmalade, Low-sugar jams
2. Blueberry-citrus conserves, Fig preserves, Strawberry & Strawberry-rhubarb jams

From top, L-R:
3. Applesauce, Vanilla-Peach Jam
4. Cherries, Boysenberry syrup
5. Plum sauce, Red onion marmalade

From top, L-R:
6. Raspberry vinegar (never ever again will I need to make any), Tomato Jam
The greenish jar with the chunks is dill pickle chips.

Yet to be canned are:
  • a fresh batch of sauerkraut
  • tomatilla salsa (aka salsa verde)
  • pumpkin cubes.
As I finished up this blog post I got curious, so ventured to the back porch to get an estimate of jars.

There are roughly 300 jars of food shown in these pictures.  Wow.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Egg production down the tubes

Our hens are exploding.

One morning I went to the coop to let them out and there was a puddle of yellow feathers beneath Curry.  She's in a hard molt, which means that her body is replacing all of her feathers.  It's weird how her feathers seem to all fall out at once.

This pic was taken a few days into her molt.  You can see how scruffy she looks.  Since the pic below was taken she has lost all of her tail feathers. 

The normally friendly bird doesn't want to be touched or picked up.  A friend of mine suggested that maybe their skin feels like our fingers do when we've cut a nail too close to the quick.

A few days later, I opened the coop to find a puddle of grey feathers: Animal now looks like a wrung-out grey rag.  She's lost quite a bit of her roundness and seems unhappy, too.  Poor thing.

Just this morning there was a new feather puddle in the coop, this time a black one.  Scooter, our silly little Polish, is molting.  And her Polish sister, Beaker, is broody again. 

Molting and broody hens don't lay eggs.  Gwen, the head hen who suffered a broken, then infected, toe last spring doesn't lay anymore either.  Well, that's not quite true.  Her "eggs" lack shells.  I keep hoping that she'll molt because I've read that a molt will reset the egg shell production in a bird with this problem.  But if it doesn't, Gwen will continue to have a home with us as a pet.  We won't kill or eat her.

That effectively takes 5 of our 9 hens out of the laying rotation.  We're getting just 1 or 2 eggs/day, though I've had an occasional 3-egg day.

Miss Piggy looks terrible and I haven't seen one of her eggs in a while.  I've noticed that the molting hens stop laying about a week before starting to lose feathers so it's pretty likely that her glossy coat of feathers will start falling off pretty soon, too.

  • Nugget
  • Croquette
  • Dozer
  • Miss Piggy...?

Not laying:
  • Scooter
  • Beaker
  • Curry
  • Animal
  • Gwen

For now I'm hoarding eggs.  We've got about 5 dozen in the fridge but I'm not selling any more until I'm confident we'll have a regular supply again.  We've only have 1 other bird go through a hard molt and we didn't get eggs from her for about 3 months.

Weather forecasters are predicting a La Niña winter for the Pacific Northwest, which means cold and wet.  "In the rainy Pacific Northwest, La Niña winters seem to bring even more rain and snow than usual."  If the girls' hard molts are any indication of the winter we're going to have, I'm awfully glad for the food I've been preserving and for my 3-mile commute!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Challah, T-town!

Challah, T-town!

This was taken on my way back to my office from the downtown farmers market.

And for locals, yes, I rode the light rail from Antique Row to UWT.  My basket was h-e-a-v-y with eggplants!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Things to come

Do you have a favorite farmers market vendor? Ask them if they sell things during the off season!

My fav meat vendor is going to take orders during the market's off season (Oct-June).  She'll meet people near the summer market every other week with peoples' orders.  I'm thrilled because this means that we can have local meats - without a middleman - year-round.

I've been so busy lately putting food up for the end-of-season that I haven't had a spare moment to write a post.  But never fear - here's what I've got planned in the next few days:
  1. homemade bacon (meat from the aforementioned farmers market vendor)
  2. finishing touches on the "Fun with Fermentation" series
  3. lots of canning: corn, tomatoes, pears, pickles, sauerkraut
  4. a tomato-less lament
  5. test-run of a Julia Child recipe calling for 2 cups of sauerkraut
  6. ratatouille
And yes, the homemade bacon did make me feel like a culinary rockstar.

Deets to come.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Windows and cursing

My house was built in 1924 and is a late Craftsmen.  I bought it just 6 months before meeting my husband and it's the best purchase I've ever made.  It's not big, fancy, or particularly distinctive.  There are plenty of places where TLC is required but it's our home. 

In its lifetime my home has provided shelter to dozens of people and pets, seen children become adults, witnessed questionable taste in wallpaper, survived several good-sized earthquakes, endured poorly considered remodels of the kitchen and bathroom, and even housed a pack of college-aged boys while serving as a rental.

Despite the attempts by countless vinyl window companies over the years my home still has its original windows.  When I bought the house in July 2003, I took possession to discover that the windows were painted shut on the inside, painted shut on the outside, and the storms were painted on.

Most of the windows are in decent shape, though painted too many times.  I cut open the lower sashes when I bought the house but didn't realize that the top sashes were actually functional until recently.

The sash cords of the window in the back bedroom both broke this summer, allowing the lower sash to fall and breaking the glass.
Hi, chickens!

A curse upon the head of anyone who paints a window shut.  I hope that the AC in your car breaks on the hottest day of summer.
I had to cut the paint with a razor blade, pound it with a block and hammer, and coerce the upper sash down.  That orange goop is paint stripper.

I curse all people who paint window hardware rather than remove it.  May insouciant nursing home maintenance men dribble paint on your head when you're ancient and mute.
    Why paint a sash lock?  Why why why??
    The left pulley is unmolested (but the sash was painted shut over it) while the right pulley has been painted several times.  Don't do this, people.  Really.  This is what it looked like after a lot of scraping and stripping.
    This sash cord probably broke because it had been painted.
Damn you, lazy guy who installed the windows of my home in 1924, for not finishing the access panels to the window weights and forcing me to cut them open with a saw that was fitted with a metal blade and borrowed from my neighbor.  May you get to the toilet in time 92% of the time.
    I tried to cut it open by hand (see the light-colored vertical line?) before giving up and begging a tool from our awesome neighbor.
You, who failed to build/order a storm window for the one window in the entire house that gets the full brunt of the weather coming from the southwest, shall always be a day late or a dollar short.
This is the window after significant scraping.  The wood damage could have been avoided with a storm window.

And you, who painted over the weathered wood without prepping it, may seagulls poop in your convertible.
Again, more scraping revealed a sill in terrible shape.  The previous owner hired someone who painted over the problem rather than fix it.  I'll have to finish sanding it, fill it, then prime and repaint it.

The broken glass was the final straw: I couldn't allow another winter to trash the window and its frame. While G-man was in Virginia on a business trip I decided to tackle the project I've been meaning to do, but been afraid of, for 7 long years.

I pulled the stops off.

I stripped paint.

I removed the lower sash and cut the upper sash open.

I cut and pried open the poorly done access panels to reveal the weights.

I used a screwdriver bit as a pilot cord and replaced the sash cords.

I listened to our nexi-door neighbor's 5-year-old jabber at me all day: "Miss Jenn, what are you doing?  Miss Jenn, is that Curry?  Miss Jenn, would you get me an otter pop (WTF??)?  Miss Jenn, what are you doing? Miss Jenn, can I hold a chicken?  Miss Jenn, why did you get a dog?  Miss Jenn, what are you doing?  Miss Jenn, why are you drinking?"

OMG.  She never shut up!  My mom says it's vengeance from the now-dead neighbors I irritated as a little girl.

I've gotten new glass for the window and stripped the old paint.  I still have to reglaze the window, sand and repaint the lower sash and sill, strip and repaint the stops, seal the gaps with caulk, and put the window back together.  If we really get our act together, maybe we can build a storm window by October, which is when we normally put the storms up for the winter.

Thank goodness this was the worst window.  It was in rough shape but none of the other windows are this bad.  I'm not done but now have the confidence that I can refurbish the others as needed.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Wedding anniversary

Today is our first wedding anniversary.  In honor of this year of mariage, I want to share some pictures from our honeymoon in Hawai'i.

 Near Kaneohe

Windward coast somewhere


 Native lizard

(the beach where we stayed was home to no fewer than 6-8 sea turtles, some of whom we named)

 "Our" beach - we rented a studio in a private home on the beach and saw people on it just twice during our week there.

How pineapples grow.

Sunset on from the North Shore
(Is it any wonder we painted our house bright blue and used orange accents upon our return from our honeymoon?)

Happy first anniversary, honey.  You bring out the best in me.  May we enjoy many more anniversaries.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Purple veggies

When I pulled up all of my potatoes I made a nice little discovery: the purple beans I had planted were just 8" tall but covered with beans.

OK, this was the entire crop.  But aren't they pretty?

I pulled up a few of my "Cosmic Purple" carrots.  They're still small but check out this color.

I've left the rest of them in the ground and will plant a fall crop in the front yard in the hopes of getting more out there.  Last year I regretted not having planted more carrots.  Home-grown carrots are just so... so... "carroty". 

The orange carrots are basic Nantes variety, nothing special, but still tasty.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Review of a garden tool

My mom spends her springs in the mid-west and usually returns with an implement of some kind for my garden.  Last year she brought me a tote similar to this one.

I love the tote and use it all the time for shopping at the farmers market and grocery store (added bonus: no touching icky store baskets!).  People always stop me and ask where I got it.  It even has a pocket inside for car keys and a small wallet, items which would otherwise get buried by the haul.

This year my mom gave me this.  It's sort of a leatherman for a gardener.  I wish I still had the package to tell you the brand.

It has clippers...

... a saw and a knife...
... a "weeder" and a serrated knife/bottle opener:

The bottle opener especially cracks me up because I don't drink beer.  But I could come to the rescue of a neighbor in their yard who finds himself sans opener!  I guess it could be used to open garden chemicals.

Oh look.  You can see my toe in that last pic.  My pedicure was pretty until I got paint stripper on my toe while refurbishing my windows.

I have used this tool several times but wouldn't recommend getting it (sorry, Mom). 

The not-great:
  • The green plastic cover slips off with very little effort.  There are small metal disks that cover the pins on which the blades pivot.  Those covers come out when the green plastic cover slips, getting lost in the grass.
  • The clippers are hard to use because they open too wide to use comfortably in one hand. 
  • I used the saw to hack away at my neighbor's butterfly bush that was encroaching on my tomatoes.  With such a short blade it's hard to get any sort of traction in the branch before you have to change directions.  That said, it did work but took a lot of effort.
  • I'd be afraid to use the weeder tool for 2 reasons: 1) I am not confident that the tool could stand up to the leverage required to get a stubborn weed out of the ground 2) I wouldn't want dirt to get into the tool.
  • I have no idea what the serrated blade on the bottle opener is for that the saw couldn't do.
The good:
  • I've been leaving the tool on my front porch.  When I go to the front veggie gardens to cut a squash off the vine, saw off broccoli head, or snip some herbs, the tool has been very handy.  That's been useful because I keep my garden tools in the backyard.
  • Its small size and fold-ability mean that you can't hurt yourself on it.
In summary, it's a OK tool but not one that you should buy for yourself.  I doubt it will withstand the type of abuse heaped upon normal gardening tools but for harvesting things from my kitchen garden it's been fine.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Tastes like chicken

We've been buying all of our food at the farmers markets.  My favorite vendor is Lisa from Lucky Pig Farm and her adorable 7-year-old son named Calvin.  Lisa is so friendly and talks lovingly of her animals and farm.

G-man and I rode our bikes to the market and I decided to get some chicken from Lisa.  Unfortunately I got a flat tire on my bike.  Luckily there's a bike store right near the market, so I left my paid-for chicken with Lisa while my tube was replaced. 

When I returned to get my chicken Lisa was busy.  I enlisted Calvin to retrieve my chicken, then G-man and I rode home.

For dinner we'd decided to cook the chicken and accompany it with roasted corn and potatoes from our yard. 

G-man roasted the chicken and I never saw it until it hit the plate.  When he served it I asked where the drumsticks were. 
"There weren't any," he told me.  "It was just the breast meat."  I scratched me head. confused: the chicken I'd bought had had legs and wings.  "It wasn't 2 pounds, either."  I'd bought a 2-pound chicken.  2+2 wasn't equalling 4.

Oh well, the meat was hot and on our plates, so we dug in.  It was good and tasted like chicken.

The next day Lisa called me: Calvin had given us another customer's rabbit loin.  Lisa had frozen it for us and would bring it to the next week's market.  She told me that Calvin was horrified and had cried because he didn't want me to be mad at him.  I'm sure that he has seen some people's faces when they walk by the stand and cringe at the "fresh rabbit" sign.

Calvin and I hugged and made up the next time I saw him.  I assured him I wasn't mad at all.  Hey, I've lived in France, home to equal-opportunity meat eaters!

Tonight we're going to eat that chicken I bought.  I've seen it: it has 2 legs and 2 wings and it's definitely a chicken.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Corgis shed. A lot.

When we got Rosemary her breeder said, "you do know that every corgi's first job is to shed, right?"  I muttered something to indicate that, yeah yeah, I knew, I had cats, and shedding was not unknown in my house.

But I only knew in a strictly academic sense.  Holy moly that dog sheds non-stop!  It's rather impressive.  What's weird, though, is that she only seems to shed white fur.  She's russet, black, and white.  Where is the rest of the fur going? 

Do I want to even know??

We've been grooming Rosemary frequently using a furminator and yet the furballs are everywhere: under the furniture, skittering across the hardwood floors, gathered on the stairs of the back porch, in the car, on the cats.

This is our female cat, Mira.  Even she is subject to Rosemary's shedding.  Last weekend I found Mira with a small hairball on her eyebrow.

She was not amused.

By the way, did I tell you that Rosemary is famous?  She appeared on the local news station for a dog shampoo sponge review back in March.  It's rather strange to watch her, knowing that's the same dog that has worked her way into our hearts but that we weren't even thinking about getting a dog at that time.

Isn't life funny?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fun with fermentation, Part III - sweet pickles

Today marks day 3 of fermenting food, though truth be told I did these sweet "icicle" pickles at the same time as yesterday's dill pickles.

50-75 small cucumbers, trimmed, scrubbed, and cut into quarters the long way
pickling, canning, or kosher salt
white vinegar
pickling seasoning
white sugar

Non-reactive container large enough to hold all the cukes, brine, and plate or baggie
EITHER a plate and jars filled with water OR plastic baggies filled with brine

Like all food involving fermentation, this recipe takes several weeks to do.  Take it a step at a time and don't get overwhelmed by the fact that the steps are spread out over a long time.  Each individual step is easy and quick.

Day 1
Like yesterday's post, scrub and trim the blossom-end off the cukes. 

Left pic shows the stem end (darker, puckered "wound" where the stem was) and the right shows the blossom end (lighter, healed "navel" where the blossom has fallen off).

Bring the water and salt to a boil.  Pour over the prepared cucumbers, place the weighted plate or brine-filled bag, and leave this whole brew for 3-6 weeks.  Check daily for scum or mold and remove as necessary.  Like the dill pickles and sauerkraut, the time needed to ferment will depend upon the temperatures where you are.  They're done fermenting when they stop bubbling.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fun with fermentation, Part II - dill pickles

My grandma gave me this 6-gallon pickle crock a few years ago.  This picture was taken in 2008 when I made my first batch of fermented dill pickles.  It was a LOT of pickles and it's taken us 2 years to eat and share them.

This crock, a Pacific Stoneware made in Portland, OR, probably belonged to my great-grandmother and could be as much as 100 years old.  My mom remembers her father making dandelion wine in it when she was a kid.  It sat unused in Grandma's basement for 40 or more years until she handed it to me.  It's in good condition, with no chips and just hairline fractures in the glaze.  It weighs a TON.  It still holds water.

And because it still holds water, it's good enough to hold brine for pickles!

Fermented pickles take a lot more time than pickles that get all "dilled up" in the jar.  Most people can pickles and let them sit for a couple of months to get their full flavor.  I prefer the tang of a fermented dill pickle.  It's time-consuming to make but well worth the effort. 


50-100* medium and small cucumbers, scrubbed and blossom-end trimmed off
16 cups water
2 cups vinegar
1.5 cup salt
1/4 cup pickling spices (make your own or buy it in bulk to save money)
3 large bunches of dill (find a neighbor whose dill got out of control, and offer to take it off their hands)
6 cloves of garlic (optional)
Dried chilis (also optional, for use when canning and not for the fermenting)

*Cucumbers are sold by the 100 at the farm stand I frequent.  I made about 115 dill pickles because I'd also bought cukes for sweet pickles and had too many to fit into the container.

5 gallon bucket, scrubbed spotless
EITHER a plate & quart jars filled with water OR a plastic bag filled with brine

Bring the water, vinegar, and salt to a boil, then allow it to cool to room temperature.

Trim the blossom end off your pickles.  It's the end that looks like a little brown navel.  There's an enzyme in the blossom that makes pickles soft, which is why you trim it.  Scrub with a brush to remove all dirt.

Place the pickling spices and half of the dill into your bucket.  Place the cucumbers on top and tuck in the dill and optional garlic as you load the cukes.  You don't want anything to float to the surface and be exposed to air when you add the brine. 

Pour the brine over the cukes, then place either the weighted plate or the brine-filled bag on top to prevent the cukes from being exposed to air.  If they're exposed to air they will rot rather than ferment.  That's a bad thing.

Now you wait.  Check the brine daily for signs of scum (you can see a little floating white stuff in the top picture).  Remove it with a slotted spoon or sieve.  Depending upon the temperature where you are, it can take as little as 3 weeks or as many as 6 to fully ferment.

When the cucumbers have stopped releasing bubbles it'll be time to can them.  If you don't want to can them, you can leave the pickles submerged in a cold place for up to 6 months.  But you'll still get scum on the surface so it's easier to just can them to make them shelf-stable.

By the way, when I bought my cucumbers at the farm stand they were selling quarts of hand-made pickles (not the fermented kind) for $13.95.  My pickles were $16.95/100, plus the cost of the vinegar, salt, pickling spices, dill, and canning lids.  I'll probably can about 10 quarts for maybe $21.

See the rest of the process here.