Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Seeds Are Here!

I ordered from Pinetree Garden Seeds as I usually do mainly because they are cheap and their seeds always germinate for me (what more do you need?).  I didn't order a lot of things because I still have a lot of seeds here and I mainly just wanted to get the tomatoes seeds since they have to be started so early here. It is supposed to be 70 degrees F here today and tomorrow. We don't seem to be having any winter this year which means the ticks and the plant eating bugs will likely be terrible next summer. 
Anyway, I'll start with the things that aren't tomatoes: Greyzini Summer Squash. This is the only zucchini that ever produced a few squash in my garden and I hope it will do well in the raised beds. It is a hybrid. No, I don't buy all heirlooms/open-pollinated all the time. I also got Dinosaur Kale, also knows as Tuscan Black or Lacinato. I normally grow just Red Russian Kale but have wanted to try this one for a while. It is, of course, an heirloom variety.
The rest are all tomatoes: 
Gold Nugget  is a small determinate yellow tomato that I bought for the hanging baskets that hang from the porch. I may start a few in other containers as well. 
Taxi is another determinate tomato that is a bright yellow. I have grown it before and I was not real impressed with the flavor but Phil liked it quite a lot so I am growing it again for him. It is an early maturing tomato which we need here because once our real heat and humidity sets in everything suffers. 
Tip Top is a small red tomato with a little tip on the bottom. Also a determinate. These tomatoes are good in salads and have thick walls and low water content which makes them good for tomato paste and sauces as well. I have grown this one before too but can't remember how well it did. 
Martinos Roma is our heirloom tomato this year. It is supposed to be a very good producer and also determinate as well. Being a roma it is, of course, a good paste/sauce tomato. 

These are all the seeds I will likely order this year. The rest I will get at the store. I will probably buy a few Celebrity or Patio tomato plants since they always have done well in my garden. I still have some Cubanelle seed for peppers. We do not like a particularly thick walled pepper which makes these ideal (if I can just get them to produce). I have had no luck with any type of sweet pepper in the garden for the last two years though the jalapeno peppers grow just fine.

I have already planted some leftover pea seeds (Little Marvel which grows only 2 ft tall) and some snow peas in the raised bed in the back yard. The raised bed is where I will likely put radishes, onions, spinach and kale since they did so well there last year.

I'll leave you with current picture of the garden beds that actually have something growing in them.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Ranch Dressing

I know, I am posting a lot but when I am home I have a lot more time and get to do a lot more. So this morning I made the pickled onions, took down the Christmas tree and decorations, then I got hungry and thought of that broccoli in the frig and decided to make the ranch dressing to dip it in. This recipe was posted by a member on the forum here (Thanks Char) but she didn't have any measurements for the ranch dressing and I didn't take any myself the first time I made it so today I made sure to write down exactly how much I put in it.

2 cups plain yogurt
1 cup mayo
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
chopped chives or green onion
1 tsp. dried parsley (or fresh if you have it)
1 tsp. lemon juice
a pinch of dry mustard
sprinkle of sugar (since my homemade yogurt is a bit sweet already, I could have done without this)
(I did not have any Tabasco that she said to put in it)

I shook it up in the jar but it really didn't mix it well and ended up having to use a large spoon to stir it up anyway.  It's excellent! Best homemade dressing I have tried so far. If you like blue cheese (I don't) you would likely like her recipe for that dressing as well.

Pickled Onions

So this morning I found this wonderful blog and specifically this wonderful post where they showed how to make the carrot slaw and it looked SO good but I have to have the pickled onions first. I also got to try out the Slice 0'Matic that I got for Christmas.
I have made pickled onions before but it wasn't nearly as simple as just putting the onions in vinegar with a little canning salt and letting it set for a while. I don't have a root cellar to put it in (see video) but I do have an unheated (storage) room where all the canning stuff and extra food is stored right now. The Slice O' Matic worked just fine for slicing the onions though I had to cut them in quarters to fit in it and I think it will be a great help when I have things to slice up for the dehydrator. 
So here are the pickled onions. I'll let you know after they get some time to sit and pickle how well I like that carrot slaw. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sourdough Pizza

 This is without a doubt the best pizza you'll ever eat. This makes 2 pizzas.

2 cups sourdough starter
2 tsp. salt
2 Tablespoons melted lard or shortening
2 cups flour

Mix together all the ingredients knead a little until you have a soft dough. Brush oil over your pizza pans. Cut dough into two equal pieces. Make a ball out of one half of the dough, flatten it out in your hands and stretch it into a flat circle (it won't be very big at first, that is okay). Put it on your pan and working from the center out mash the dough outwards until it fills the pan (push a little extra to the outside edge if you like). Prick the dough in several place with a fork. Allow the dough to rise for 15 minutes or so (not necessary but it looks nicer). 

Cook the crusts in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 5-7 minutes (it will not be done or look done, it isn't supposed to so only cook it 5-7 minutes). 
Spread your sauce on the crusts, add your cheese and toppings.
Bake in your oven (still on 350) for approximately 25 minutes. Today I made a combination pizza that had shredded Italian cheese, mushrooms, pepperoni, red peppers and onions on it and I made the other just cheese, pepperoni and mushrooms. 

*Cost for me was:
$1 for the mushrooms
$4 for the cheese
$2 for the pepperoni
$1 for the sauce
I had the peppers in the freezer bought when they were marked down and I had the onions and ingredients for the dough. Those all together were probably less than a dollar.

Good Morning All

I can't believe it is Thursday already! Just 4 more 'normal' days and then I have to go back to work. I would give a lot to be able to stay home like I used to but we would sorely miss my paycheck (yeah, not quite that self sufficient yet).
This morning is my lazy morning. When I realized it was Thursday I also realized how I hadn't really gotten a chance to relax yet so this morning is for relaxing. I did work a little bit on my spoon but I find carving is very relaxing anyway. I have some more wood to work with but haven't decided what to make yet.
This afternoon likely won't be for relaxing. I still need to clean out the empty quail cage and there are still raised beds that need filling and other raised beds that need building- not that I have anything to build with but you just never know until you get looking around. There's a lot of junk in the yard, I might find something, then again I might find a whole different project to do; you just never know.
I did want to come on this morning and show you all what I did with the sourdough starter that I took out to replace yesterday. I used it to coat some pork loin for supper with. Sourdough starter makes a really wonderful breader for fried chicken, pork or steak. Instructions are here
. Tonight I think I am going to make pizza with the sourdough I replace if I can find my recipe.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Spoon Day

You know I often say that I really want to make or try something and sometimes I get to try it right off and at other times it may be years before I actually get to do it, but it is always in the back of my mind. I can show you a web page I printed up six years ago on how to weave a straw broom, I haven't gotten a chance to try it yet but it is a project that is still waiting for that 'someday'. Today was a 'someday' it was spoon day. Phil had gotten me some wood craving knives for Christmas because I had told him that I really did want to try making a spoon. Then yesterday he brought me home a couple pieces of wood. One looked like a spoon to me.
It's not quite done but it is as done as it is going to get for today. I am fairly pleased with it.I still need to cut down the handle some more and sand it lots more. I used no electric tools on it, just my carving knives and my new hatchet.
Michelle had been coming in with her comments about how rough it looks. I asked her how many people she knew who could make a wooden spoon. She decided it looked pretty good.  Let's see, her accomplishments today were to play her new video game. Mine were 8 quarts of potatoes canned, 5 1/2 pints of apple jelly (ok, it is probably syrup but I tried ), a new wooden spoon, and several different herb seeds planted (on the windowsill ) besides the usual chores.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pine Needle Basket Part 4-Finished!

This is where I stopped working on the pine needle basket the last time (and I took a long break from working on it). Today I finished up the sides and started working on the top. Around the edge of the top I like to do just a solid ring of the crochet cotton. Like this:
This takes FOREVER! When I run out of string, I knot it and try to slip the knot under the previous strings. I do the same thing when starting a knot. Once I finally get all around it, I sometimes add beads. I start a knot under the top strings again, then I go out through the side to put on the beads then back through the strings until I get to where I want the next beads etc. 
Finally done!

I think it's a berry picking basket.

Sourdough Starter

Sourdough bread was first recorded being used by the Egyptians around 1500 BC. It likely started as an accident, flour and water left out too long that produced a starter which caused a rise in the next loaf of bread that the Egyptians found they liked and continued to work with.

I haven't had a sourdough starter since the last one went bad some time ago and I have definitely been missing it. Today was the day to start a new one. I have read about and tried several different ways to get a starter going, from starting with store bought yeast to creating a starter with wild yeast to using potato water. I really never found very much difference in the finished product no matter how the starter came about.

Sourdough starter is simple to make. For this one I just combined equal parts flour and water, a couple teaspoons of yeast (I buy my yeast in 1 lb packages. If you don't you can just use one packet of yeast) and a few pinches of sugar. I'll let it sit and get bubbly until tomorrow (I covered it with a clean white cloth and wrapped an elastic around it) then I will remove a cup of starter(use it for something) and replace it with a cup of water (lukewarm) and a cup of flour. I will keep taking some and replacing it frequently for a couple weeks. Each time I stir in more flour and water I will make sure to wipe around the inside of the container as close to the starter as possible with a paper towel.

Starter can be used to replace the liquid in most baking recipes. I particularly like it in pizza dough (I'll make sure to post this recipe next time I make pizza), as chicken/pork/steak breader or in waffles or pancakes.

Build Your Own Earth Oven

This is a book my son got me for Christmas. I would very much like to have an earth oven someday and this book definitely tell you how to build one. It seems a very simple process but I really think I will read over the whole book before I attempt it. Mine, however, would not be nearly as fancy as the one of the cover (there are some color picture inserts in the middle of the book that show earth ovens that are more artistic). I just want the simple earth oven like the one on page 33 of the book.
Although what I would really like is to have one with the fire underneath. It seems that is not as easy as one with a fire right inside and I'll have to read up on it some more. 
To make one of these you basically need sand, clay (got enough clay here in GA!), straw, glass bottles and water. You can use bricks, stone etc. for the bottom if you wish. You also need some way to cover it and keep it out of the rain, but a tarp will do until you find or build something else. 
The book also includes chapters on how to make your own mud bricks, making sourdough, cooking in your earth oven, other types of ovens and kilns, making utensils for you oven, etc. 
It's a small but very good book and I shall be collecting up materials to see if I can get one of these made.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Country Lore and Wisdom

This book is one of the things I got for Christmas. I seriously doubt I will ever get it all read. It is a thick, BIG book.  You can just pick up this book turn to any page and find all sorts of interesting, self sufficient things that you want to try.
It is definitely a collection. What is surprising when you read it is that some of it uses old methods to make something and on the next page there is something that needs an electric tool. For instance, I was amazed at one small part that told how to make drinking glasses from wine bottles. It involved tying a string around the bottle soaked in alcohol, setting it on fire and then pouring cold water in the bottle (yes sounded a bit dangerous and if I ever try it I will have some kind of protective gear on).  However their method of making yogurt involved a yogurt maker (I have never needed one of those to make yogurt).
Anyway, there are definitely THOUSANDS of useful things in this book to help you be more self sufficient but it isn't a book that you can sit down and just read through; it is more like an encyclopedia.
One thing that I was very surprised to see was that their wasn't an actual section on growing vegetables. It did have a section on planting by the moon and another that told the history of several vegetables but no actual gardening or what soil conditions each vegetables likes. Not that you'll miss it. There are too many other things to read about in this book to keep you busy.

Friday, December 23, 2011

More Christmas Baking

Even though my peanut butter blossoms with the stripped mint kisses were pretty, to me (since I hate mint) they just weren't quite as good as the ones with chocolate so had to make some more. Michelle has eaten lots of them already! 

And I still had a few zucchini left and made some bread with them.

I picked a few more tiny heads of broccoli in the garden and was very pleased to see that a few of the cabbage really are heading up good. We had record temperatures here yesterday when we hit 77 F.  I picked a few weeds, fed my animals and am now in the process of making yogurt since I am almost out of that and I am out of ranch dressing which takes yogurt to make. I hope all your Christmas baking/cooking is going well.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The History of Eggnog

There are a couple of different theories on how eggnog came to be. In Europe there were several different varieties of milk and wine punches, but in the New World rum was used in place of the wine. Rum was commonly called "grog" so what started as "egg n' grog" may have over time changed to "eggnog".
Another theory is that the "nog" in eggnog comes from the word "noggin" which is a name for a small wooden carved mug that rum was served in.
Either way eggnog soon became a popular drink throughout the Colonial America. It was not kept just for Christmas, however, but made in large quantities for several different holidays and occasions.
George Washington himself had a liking for eggnog and made a very stiff drink using rye whiskey, rum and sherry.
The eggnog that I made last night at my house was non-alcoholic.Here is my recipe:

3 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. imitation rum flavoring
2 egg whites
3 tablespoons sugar

Combine milk and cream; scald.

Beat 1/3 cup sugar into egg yolks. Add salt; slowly stir in milk mixture. Cook in double boiler over hot--not boiling--water until it coats the spoon. Cool. Add vanilla and rum flavoring.

Beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually add the 3 tablespoons sugar, beating until soft peaks form. Fold into milk/egg mixture. Grate some nutmeg on top. Chill in refrigerator 3-4 hours. Can be topped with whipped cream.

This was so good! Of course, this recipe does involve raw eggs and the dangers associated with using them. Try this recipe at your own risk. I have heard pasteurized eggs are recommended though mine came from my back yard.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

This Weeks Harvest

It rained last night and this morning so when it cleared tonight I went to check on the broccoli and could see little white tips so knew that I better get them picked. They are so small but since I have never gotten broccoli out of that garden and these grew in the raised beds which only had some half composted compost and half a  bag of manure/compost from the store, I say this harvest is promising good things to come.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Apple Sauce and Juice

Yup, I got a lot of apples this week. There are about 22-23 lbs of apples here. As I mentioned I had just opened the last jar of applesauce the other day so it was time to make some more but I really dreaded peeling all those apples so I looked online and found I didn't have to. I washed and cut up the apples in slices and tossed them in a pot with about an inch of water in it.
This was just the first batch. I did two of these pots full and still have a bunch of apples left. I cooked these until they were soft and in the meantime got out my Presto Strainer ($10 at the flea market years ago). 
When the apples were soft enough I drained the juice in a colander with some cheesecloth in it (you didn't really think I was going to waste all that lovely juice did you?) and then ran the apples through the strainer. 
Most of these apples were Red Delicious which made the nicest, sweet, pink applesauce. For each pan full I added just a half cup of sugar.  I then put it in jars (pints) and water bath canned it at for 10 minutes. 
The juice was also so put into jars (quarts) with just a quarter cup sugar for each batch. Two of the quarts I water bath canned for 10 minutes the other two and a half  (I used a regular jar since I was out of jars) I left to put in the frig so we can drink some today and tomorrow. 


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Is Winter Here?

The trees seem to think so...
Yes, we live on a hill, this is the front yard though it evens out just below this where the garden is.  

Phil and I spent some more time today filling up the compost bin again since the last leaves had settled.
The thermometer says 60 degrees F.  but it felt a whole lot warmer pushing that wheelbarrow up and down the hill.  I did stop for a while and check out the garden while down there. Each broccoli plant has a tiny head but this one is the largest so far and it is only a couple inches across. It is just too soon I think; too warm here. Last week we were in the 70's for several days.
The spinach is large enough to pick if we wanted to but I will let it go another week or so . 
I think this cabbage might definitely make a head. It is closing up in the center some but it is really hard to tell, for me anyway, with cabbage. I have had them look good before and then never do anything. 
Besides the garden all the animals are doing fine except for one pen of quail which were completely eaten in 2 days. It is possible it was my own cats. One night one of the feeders fell off(or was knocked off) of the lower cage and several quail managed to get through the hole (it is a metal feeder that hangs on the outside). I believe once the cats got a taste for them they realized they could get through the hardware cloth doors if they pulled on them. I think it might have been two cats in particular since they mostly live out in the back shed. The quail they got were in the bottom cage. I have secured the top cage and they have not bothered it and none of the other birds have been bothered either. I also set the traps which caught my the two cats, (sigh--they seldom get caught more than once). I reset the traps with eggs since the cats will not eat them unless they are cracked but raccoons, of course will. So far nothing which is why I think it might have been the cats. I will fix better doors on the lower cage before I put quail in it again. I can't say that I blame the cats at all since it was me who apparently did not have the feeder wired securely enough on the cage. It is only natural for them to chase birds and eat them. I am now giving them a few eggs a day out there to make sure they are getting enough to eat (these two cats are kind of the outcasts; one is a female who is terribly small and the other is a male who ran away for a while and came back real thin and the other males didn't know him anymore so he was attacked at first, so he hides in the back shed where I will protect him whenever possible. He is not thin anymore and is getting large so soon will not need my help anymore. Cat tales-I have a million of them). 
Anyway, this is not a tragedy, just a few quail lost. I just moved 4 more out of the brooder and there are 6 more still left in another brooder. 

On to other things.
Today we went shopping and, as usual, we stopped at the thrift store. I got this lovely blue pitcher. I think it is so nice. Perhaps I will use it for gravy sometime, I don't know, but I liked it and couldn't leave it ($1.49).

I also got this lovely candle holder. I have a couple different ones of these kind of candle holders. It is possible I may never use them but if I need them they will be there ($2.49). 
I also got an old Cooperative Extension Bulletin (1982) on Sausage and Smoked Meat(25 cents). It is a very nice booklet with lots of recipes and drawings of several ways to make a smoker. Phil found it for me- he knows what I like (now if I could just get him excited enough to build one of those smokers...).
In the grocery store there was actually some hamburger that we could afford this week (2.29 lb) which was a nice surprise and there were apples. Phil looked at me funny when I got a big bag of apples (about 20 lbs) but I just opened out last jar of applesauce and our apple tree (if it even lived through the chickens digging it up--and I am doubtful) will be several years before it makes apples. Tomorrow will be an applesauce day and maybe apple pie filling. I'd love to try jelly again but it never seems to work with the pectin we can get these days and I hate to waste my time. We'll see. 

And the last thing I want to leave here is a little tip. I had several Christmas boxes to send through the mail this week and I like to reuse boxes and I didn't have any brown paper to cover them with. I found myself wishing that the stores still used paper bags and then it came to me that I have plenty of brown paper. My feed bags are made of it and they are double layered so if I used the outside layer it wouldn't even have feed dust on it, just have to turn the outside in to avoid the writing on it. It makes perfect and strong packaging paper.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

More Cookies...

It's not my fault that the other kids wanted some too and Phil and Michelle had ate a lot of them so I had to make more. They are all far away from home and if I send just a little bit of home to them...well, it makes me feel better anyway. Boxes will be headed their way tomorrow while Phil and Michelle are scarfing down cookies here too.

Peanut butter cookies

Hershey's Kisses cookies. I did not realize these were mint flavored (sorry John, I wanted chocolate too).

Now these next cookies were supposed to be oatmeal cookies until I found out I had used all the oatmeal for something else after I had already made the rest of the batter. What to do, what to do? Well, I added a quarter cup of cocoa and cracked and chopped some pecans (another quarter cup or so) and we now have Chocolate Pecan cookies. 
They're pretty good actually.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The History of the Cookie

Today I am baking cookies. This year we will have mini M&M cookies and chocolate peanut butter chip cookies. Baking cookies is something I do before Christmas every year. It started as a way to make the time go faster for the kids an it quickly became a yearly thing.

The word "cookie" comes from the Dutch word "koekje" which means "little cake". According to historians cookies came about because when baking cakes women would bake a small bit of batter to test the oven temperature.

For more on the history of cooking you should read Linda Stradley's article here.

Ok, so I might have overdone it just a little bit this year. This is my big cookie jar which I usually fill (after everyone eats some) with a few left over. This year I have that one full plus had to go get the huge cookie jar (it hasn't been used since I got it) and then there were still 5 or 6 that couldn't fit.
And believe it or not, I originally had planned to make peanut butter cookies as well.  

Saturday, December 10, 2011

How Fast They Grow

These were all babies this spring and here they are now. The two ducklings.

The quail. I really liked the picture of the sun coming through the cage:

The chickens:
The Japanese bantams
This was just a cute picture of the cats raiding the dogs dish but the white cat is this years spring kitten.