CALIENTE! Posts from the Vault

EDITOR’S NOTE (aka words from MOI): In doing a little blog cleanup, I noticed we have 10, count ’em, 10 out-standing draft posts! They’re just sitting there behind the scenes, collecting dust on their little periods and exclamation points. One of them is this gem, which I wrote out specifically so I could re-create my favorite canning recipe of the past two summers. Read on and savor the mental image of a balmy late-September day, when this post was initially drafted!

In addition to drinking beer in the fall sunshine with friends and hanging with the chickens, I also canned a couple more jars of hot peppers today. Since I talk so much about how freaking amazing they are (and since I’d like to have a good record of the actual recipe I use), here’s the secret recipe. Shhh… don’t tell.

HONEYED HOT PEPPERS OF MAGIC AND DOOM
– 1-1.5 pounds hot green peppers (cayenne, jalapeno work well) or a mix of hot and not-hot
– 3 cups cider vinegar (sometimes I do half and half with white vinegar)
– 1 cup water
– 1 tbpsn kosher salt
– 1 tbpsn honey
– 1 bay leaf per jar
– 1 clove of garlic per jar
– a dash of whole peppercorns per jar
– a dash of whole allspice per jar (if you’ve got ’em)

Slice peppers into 1/4″ to 1/2″ rounds and set aside. Dissolve honey and salt in vinegar and water and bring just to a boil. Prepare water bath canner and 1/2-pint jars. Once all is good to go with your canning setup, put 1 clove garlic, 1 bay leaf, dash of peppercorns, and dash of allspice in each jar, stuff with peppers, then ladle vinegar mixture in to 1/2″ headspace. Repeat until all your peppers are gone. Then bring water bath canner to a boil, boil for 10 minutes, let sit for 5 minutes in water bath canner, remove to towel, let sit overnight… then SCARF THEM DOWN.

20111029. final harvest!

Mmm… Tastes Like FALL Up in This Piece!

I don’t know about you, but I love rediscovering fall/winter favorite food-stuffs. You’ve just spent the long, hot, dry summer sweating it out, caring for sick chickens, watering garden plants just enough to keep them alive, brown dead lawns crunching under your feet, and sucking on cheapo generic Popsicles all summer just to keep your brain liquids from boiling.

Suddenly, almost inexplicably, the temperatures start shifting. The sun drops lower on the horizon. Frost revisits your backyard and your breath each morning. And suddenly – MIRACULOUSLY! – hot tea and slippers replace generic Popsicles and sweaty cutoffs.

Therefore, it is with great joy that I have found the need to write this blog post. Yes, NEED. I needed to write this entry to document some of the amazing fall recipes I’ve found – and want to be able to RE-find this time next year.

First up: two words. SCALLOPED TURNIPS. I grew both beets and turnips for the first time ever this year. The beets were an immediate win. The turnips, however, required a little more work to fix up in a tasty, non-bitter fashion.

20120811. Mutant turnips!

20120825. TURNIPS.

But oh, people, I have found the most magical turnips recipe ever, courtesy of Simple Recipes. The only substitutes I made were to use soy milk instead of milk, layer on a whole lot more turnips and onions, and add a nice cushion of shredded cheese (YUM).

Next on the list: the best drink to sip in front of a toasty fire. THE NOR’EASTER. Here’s how the magic happens: Combine 2 oz. bourbon, 1/2-oz. maple syrup, and 1/2-oz. lime juice in a shaker. Fill with ice, shake, strain. Top with ginger beer. Drink. Make another.

NOR'EASTER, the best fall drink ever.

And finally… ROASTED CAULIFLOWER. This is a winter staple. Sometimes, roasted cauliflower and a beer = dinner. This time around, it was roasted cauliflower with an orange pepper that wasn’t doing so hot and a little dried rosemary from the garden.

20121113. Tastes like fall.

In short… HAPPY FROSTY BREATH-TIME, BITCHES! Snuggle up in a handknit sweater with a doggie on your lap, and let’s all hunker down for the winter together.

20121104. We are the best snugglers.

Beets: Making Everything Better at the Space-Farm Since 2012

Last year, okra was our big sleeper veggie. We planted them on a whim, not really knowing what to expect (or how to eat it), and by the end of the summer, we had six plants ranging in height from 6′ to a whopping 12′. And then the gumbo! Oh, the gumbo. Okra + andouille + chicken + hot peppers + a bunch of other deliciousness thrown in a crockpot = pure gumbo magic.

This year, I discovered the awesomeness of beets. For real, I love them. If you have some preconceived, long-seated notion about beets, I think you need to come over to my house and let me cook you up some roasted beets and sweet potatoes with a starter of pickled beets. Plus, they make everything a beautiful shade of fuchsia (EVERYTHING – your hands, the counter top, a nice little trail across the floor where you dropped one and it went rolling away, etc.).

20121005. Root veggie backyard (ad front yard) haul.

The last big root veggie haul from the back and front yards.

The secret: boil them ’til they’re soft, wipe the skins off, then throw them in for another 10 minutes with your already roasting root vegetables. Yum.

20121011. Last of the beets.

20121005. Beets, sweet potatoes, and yellow carrots, all from the garden.

Everything in this pan was produced in our yard (except for the olive oil)! Yellow carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, and herbs – all of it grew up roughly 50′ from where it was eaten.

So, garden friends, what was your favorite surprise in the garden this year? What can you not wait to plant next year?

The Best Chicken Soup EVER?!

I am currently making chicken noodle soup with the broth from the chicken I slaughtered and processed with my own two hands back in July. If that’s not badass, I don’t know what is. In case you were wondering, it smells like magic. Chicken-y magic.

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.

In honor of soup, I give you this amazing song, which I know (and sing regularly), word for word.

Canning Report, August 2012: “I Yike Apple Toss”

First and foremost, be sure to add Jenna and her lovely blog, Upcountry Living, to your blog roll! We have a little collab going (that’s what the cool kids say, right? collab?) of guest posts. Check out our guest post on her blog, “Chicken FAIL,” and stay tuned in early September for a report right here from our best (and, admittedly, our only) buddy in Maine!

Next up: August canning report! Seeing as it is now September, you can see I’ve been a tad behind on my canning reports. With all the chicken telenovela drama we’ve been having, the canning reports have dropped to the wayside a bit. Who cares about canning reports when UFOs are flying out of chickens’ backsides and the little death defying jerks are breaking out and braving the wilds of So Bro?!

August:

    • Honeyed Hot Peppers (3 half-pint jars): Yes, more honeyed hot peppers! Now that it has rained a bit again and the temperatures are cooling, the peppers are finally taking off. This recipe is perhaps one of our favorite foods around here – we put them on burgers, huevos rancheros, egg sandwiches, tacos. They are fantastically hot.

20120825. Honeyed hot peppers.

    • Roasted Tomatoes (4 half-pint jars): I will admit, I am lazy when it comes to tomatoes. Peeling seems like a horrible pain in the tookus. Plus, I discovered last summer that I absolutely love the sweetness of roasted tomatoes. So instead, I roasted a big batch of Romas, then added the appropriate amount of lemon juice and canned them based on a different basic tomato recipe. I hope we don’t get botulism.

20120812. My grandma's chicken, roasted tomatoes, honeyed hot peppers, and Thomas Jefferson.

  • Apple Sauce (10 jars and counting): What can I say… in the immortal words of my favorite uncle, Kyle, I yike apple toss (Kyle didn’t utter a word until he was about four years old. The first thing he said was, instead, a sentence: “I yike apple toss”).  I have probably one more batch worth of apples in the fridge, too, so there will be more apple sauce. Oh, yes.

July:

  • Pickled Beets (3 jars)
  • Honeyed Hot Peppers (5 half-pint jars, plus some)
  • Cinnamon Blueberry Jam (9 4-oz. jelly jars)
  • Garden Herb Blueberry Jam (2 jars)
  • Rosemary Jelly (8 half-pint jars)
  • Hot-Cumin Pickled Summer Squash (4 jars)
  • Turmeric Refrigerator Pickles (4 jars)

June:

  • Bread and Butter Pickles (4 jars)
  • Honeyed Green Hot Peppers (2 jars)
  • Pickled Beets (2 jars)
  • Classic Pickle Spears (3 jars)

There’s Apples in the Trees, Let’s Take All that We Need

With some fantastic rains, temperatures solidly back in the double digits, and evenings dropping down to the 70s and even 60s, suddenly life is flowing back into everything. The garden, the grass, the chickens, and, yes, even me.

I’m starting to think wistfully of my scarf and cardigan collection, of jeans and chilly mornings wandering the last days of the farmers’ market with a steaming mug of coffee in my hands. I’m fantasizing about these things, really. While I hate to wish away time, I am quite content to get lost in daydreams that include the smells of crunchy leaves, wood smoke, and wool sweaters.

With these daydreams in mind, Chris and I ignored the fact that the temperature would get up to 91 degrees last Saturday and braved the beautiful orchards of Anderson Orchards, just west of Indianapolis.

20120825. Anderson Orchard.

20120825. Anderson Orchard. Right about when Chris was saying, "This is the dorkiest thing ever."

I have had visions of making more apple sauce than I know what to do with since last fall when we left the orchard with over 20 pounds of apples. I made jar upon jar of apple sauce and the best apple butter I’ve ever had (with a few apple crisps thrown in for good measure and to keep me going through all that canning), and we still ran out fairly early in the winter.

20120825. Anderson Orchard.

Chris’ new favorite joke: “What’s the favorite dessert of gang members? APPLE CRIPS.”

20120825. We picked a peck.

A peck of apples: 12 pounds, to be exact. We came home with TWO of these.

Fast forward to tonight and round two of apple processing. I got through 3/4 of one bag last Saturday. First, I busted out the trusty apple peeler/corer/slicer tool of utter MAGIC my parents gave me for Christmas last year.

Then, I peeled. Oh, how I peeled. I peeled like there would never be an end to the apples I had to peel, like peeling was my new purpose in life. And it was good.

20120830. More apple sauce.

My apple sauce recipe calls for water and apples – that’s it. The step by step: peel and core six pounds of apples. Throw into large stock pot with 1.5 cups of water. Boil for 30-40 minutes, stirring often, until the apples are broken down and fluffy-awesome. In the meantime, prep your water bath canning getup. Blend the liquid-magma-hot apples to your desired consistency in a blender, return to stock pot, and simmer gently another five minutes. Ladle into hot jars with 1/2″ headspace, then process in water bath canner for 15 minutes. Let sit for five minutes in the water bath canner, then remove to a cutting board for 12 hours. Label/store and/or guzzle said apple sauce straight from the jar.

Other signs of life and of impending fall: drying Northern Sea Oats grass seed to plant along the back of the house.
20120825. Drying Northern Sea Oats seeds to plant in the backyard.

Worm feasts of turnip and carrot greens.
20120825. Snacks for worms.

Baseball-sized turnips!
20120825. TURNIPS.

Sunflower parties.
Happy.

So far, we’re up to 10 jars of apple sauce. I think another trip to the orchard is in order to do up apple butter. Apple butter or bust! Apple butter til we puke!

Canning Report, the Last of July 2012 (aka the Month that Would Never Die)

Not gonna lie: this has been kind of a rough month.* However, with the turning of the calendar page in just two more sleeps, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic that maybe, possibly things will get better in August. With tentative joy, then, I give you… THE FINAL CANNING REPORT FOR JULY, which features a lot of delicious repeats.

July:

    • Pickled Beets (3 jars): The first batch of pickled beets were so delicious, I planted a ton more AND made a trip to the farmers’ market for two big bunches of them. We cooked up the greens over a couple of different nights, then pickled three jars of beets. Totally worth the $6 I paid to the local farmer.

20120715. BEETS.

20120729. Rosemary jelly, honeyed hot peppers, and thunder dome.

Left to right: Thunder Dome, rosemary jelly, and honeyed hot peppers.

Also canned this month:

  • Cinnamon Blueberry Jam (9 4-oz. jelly jars)
  • Garden Herb Blueberry Jam (2 jars)
  • Rosemary Jelly (3 half-pint jars)
  • Hot-Cumin Pickled Summer Squash (4 jars)
  • Turmeric Refrigerator Pickles (4 jars)

June:

  • Bread and Butter Pickles (4 jars)
  • Honeyed Green Hot Peppers (2 jars)
  • Pickled Beets (2 jars)
  • Classic Pickle Spears (3 jars)

*I should add that there have also been awesome things going on this month, so it’s not all bad. We’re happy, we’re alive… we’re just a little worn down at the moment. Nothing to see here!

How to Do Nearly Everything Wrong

I’m pretty convinced that we have been doing everything wrong this year. There is really no reason to try to comfort us and tell us we haven’t. This probably says more about my own chronic self-doubt and second guessing than anything (weird when you compare that to my general must act now/impulsive attitude), although re: chicken raising, I’m pretty certain we have, in fact, done everything wrong.

I just hope we make it to the other side to write an undoubtedly HIGH-LARIOUS book about how wrong we are. As it is, we have an upper respiratory thing going on right now with the chickens because we were idiots who thought Beaker needed a flock more than she needed quarantined, healthy chickies to join her.

And that’s just the start of How We Have Done Things Wrong.

I can’t think of that now, however. We did things wrong, we will learn from it, and now we just have to make the best of it and hope that all of our chickens end up being strong and tough and full of spunk. So far, they are all hanging in there famously and, aside from a few runny noses and a LOT of chicken disease research, they all seem fairly happy with each other and in general.

Fingers and all other pink parts are crossed (along with electrolytes and yogurt and frequent/obsessive checking) that we didn’t set these girls up for failure and doom. I hope I’m not reading this entry in another month and kicking myself for not DOING MORE (see? there’s that good old self-doubt and second guessing coming in).

In keeping with this whole half-empty/half-full theme I’ve got going tonight…

Sad Trombone
My pitiful little carrot (note that it is supposed to be that color… just not that misshapen and totally squishy).
20120712. Carrots are not my strong suit.

Dying yellow squash plants, which is heartbreaking since the cumin-pickled squash I made a few weeks ago is THE MOST DELICIOUS THING EVER (along with pickled beets… they can share the title, right?).
20120711. State of the garden address.

And… our absolutely Swiss-cheesed green beans. This is the second year in a row they succumbed to some unseen pest long before I got anywhere near sick of green beans. Boo, bugs! Boo, I say.
20120711. State of the garden address.

Walking on Sunshine!
However, as per usual, the good things outweigh the bad by so very much. For instance, we have a perennial garden in front that attracts bees and birds and my own two eyes all the time.
20120706. Sunset sunlight.

We have a cat named Boombox, who I am convinced is the most awesome cat in the universe.
20120705. Stoic Boombox knows this (heat wave) too shall pass.

We have chickens who, diseased or not, are both gorgeous and friendly.They even get along with each other now, just a week and a half after first meeting.
20120706. Beaker, new gray Easter Egger, and the three wees.

We have dragonflies and tomatoes out the wazoo. I’m thinking there are so many dragonflies this year because we have been watering the garden on occasion through this drought (it hasn’t been this bad in 104 years, I was informed by the radio today) and because we keep a low water dish out amidst the perennials in front of the house. Bees, wasps, birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, and dragonflies love us this summer.
20120711. State of the garden address.

We also have the “three wees…”
20120706. Chris and the three wees.

And tomatoes like stoplights.
20120711. State of the garden address.

We also have an amazing way to eat up my proliferation of cucumbers: Adrienne’s Cucumber Salad. The cukes are finally coming back after the 100+-degree temps killed off most of their blooms. Also, sometimes you just have to pair your cucumber salad from the garden with square burgers from the freezer. It’s like when you have a nice steak, and all you’ve got on hand to pair it with is Carlo Rossi. Don’t judge.
20120711. Sometimes, you just have to pair that deilicous garden cuke salad with nasty square burgers.

Long live the cuke!
20120711. State of the garden address.

Finally, I’m super excited to pair edibles with our inedible landscaping. I ran out of room in the garden, and after pickling my first beets earlier this summer, I decided I needed moremoreMORE beets… and turnips, as long as I was at it. Here are the rings of turnips and beets on the front of the house.
20120711. State of the garden address.

How’s that for the most roller coaster-y, bipolar entry ever? It’s been a wild ride this summer, and I’m just holding on.

Happy Pesto Day!

I have declared a new holiday – Pesto Day! The actual date changes each year since pesto day is really just a celebration of the first day you have enough basil in the garden to make a decent dollop of the delicious stuff. Here in scorching hot Indiana, today was that day.

After harvesting the basil this morning, I had to go on a hunt of the bookshelf for my super basic, super delicious pesto recipe. No, it’s not in a cookbook. Let’s see, where is that dang book? Here it is!
20120527. Where the pesto recipe lies.

Turn to the last page, and there we have it – the “recipe,” pulled off some random website last summer and jotted into the back of the book I was reading at the time. Thankfully, I made pesto so much last summer that I still remember which book holds the ingredients.
20120527. Happy Pesto Day!

I think it’s time to have it in another, easier to find location, don’t you?

Garden Pesto:
– 2 cups basil
– 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
– 1/2 cup olive oil
– 1/3 cup walnuts (cheaper than pine nuts, yet oh so tasty)
– 3 cloves garlic, minced
– Salt and pepper to taste

Throw in a blender, blend it until smooth, and smear it on some crusty bread for instant deliciousness. We also discovered last year that you can freeze pesto in an ice cube tray and store the pesto cubes in plastic bags in the freezer to be thawed out later. There is nothing like fresh garden pesto tossed with some fresh pasta in the middle of December.

Chris just walked through the kitchen and said, “Mmm… pesto burps.” A Happy Pesto Day to all, and to all a good night!

Fake Cocktails and First Salads

Have you noticed I haven’t been talking about the garden much lately? That would be due to the fact that the seedlings in our office, resting peacefully under lights, getting plenty of water and warmth, etc. etc., blah blah blah, are NOT GROWING. I’m very disappointed and am starting to get mildly frantic because WHAT WILL I PLANT IN MAY?! I have a bunch of seedlings that have one set of leaves and refuse to get bigger.

Note: This is really all my fault. I packed the planters in on each tray, and they stayed too wet for too long. Lesson learned. I’m hoping against hope I can rectify the situation, because I really don’t want to have to go out and buy plants. That would be ridiculous, people.

However, the plants that are in the backyard already, particularly the lettuce and peas, are doing superbly well. So well, in fact, that I was able to eat my first salad tonight, completely from the backyard. I never knew lettuce could be so good.

20120421. Lettuce from the backyard - first salad of the season.

20120421. Lettuce from the backyard - first salad of the season.

To go with my salad, I had a fancy fizzy water – club soda with homemade lavender simple syrup, using dried lavender from last fall’s plants. I say “homemade,” but simple syrup has got to be the easiest thing in the world to make. It’s not called simple for nothin’ – ba dum bump CHING. Want to know how hard I slaved over the stove last night? Here you go:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons dried lavender leaves, flowers, or whatever you’ve got

Combine ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 5-10 minutes. Turn off heat, and let syrup cool. Pour into a pretty bottle using a fine sieve to strain out the plant bits. Throw it in the fridge. Mix with club soda (or club soda and vodka) to your heart’s delight. Garnish with a sprig of fresh lavender if you have some on hand. Enjoy.

20120421. Lavender simple syrup + club soda = love.d of the season.

While I am apparently awesome at killing seedlings, I am fantastic at raising chickens. Really, when we go on excursions to the outdoor run, they think I’m their mother, pecking around underneath me, eating grass and peeping contentedly. Yeah, I am probably not going to be able to eat these girls ever. We’ll have four very pampered 12-year-old chickens hobbling around the yard with their little chicken walkers and chicken hearing aids.

20120420. Me and Henrietta.

Henrietta and Yolko are the two friendliest and most cuddle-able at this point.

20120420. These expressions kill me.

The chickens give good face.

20120420. These expressions kill me.

Yolko, you are KILLING me.

Here I am, playing the role of mama hen on their first trip outside. Just look at those girls, all lined up. Heart. Melting.

20120415. Right before Beaker pooped in my hand.

This is right before Beaker pooped in my hand. Ah, chickens.