No, I Haven’t Quit My Day Job

cream-soap

 

Apparently, a little clarification is needed. Yes, some of my friends and family have been wondering about seeing me peddle wares on Facebook and Instagram. No, I have not closed up my 9 to 5 business of the last 15 years.

Here’s the deal.  I like to make stuff. The problem is I make more stuff than Bart and I can use.  You only need so many scarves, which is a problem when you’d like to keep knitting, but you’re hooked on high-end handspun, hand dyed, really super expensive art yarn made by your dealer talented friend in Iowa.  Then there’s soap.  I usually make batches of soap that result in about 14 bars, and I don’t like to limit myself to just one scent.  Are the 5-10 different bars of soap in my shower really necessary? Bart produces gallons of maple syrup each spring, and it’s more than we can eat by ourselves, so we get rid of some of it.  I collect herbs and spices like some women collect shoes and purses. I grow them, buy them, pickle, infuse, and smoke them.  No, no!  Not that kind of smoke!  As in, I put them in the smoker with wood chips, and make them taste smoky. The list of stuff I make is mind numbing. It’s getting out of control, but I really don’t want to stop.

Anyway, I decided the solution was to revamp my old Etsy store, and try to sell my surplus, so I can justify continuing to make more stuff.  I hope it works, because I really don’t want to curb my hobbies. You can find a tab for the Etsy store at the top of the page. I’ve got more stuff to list, but I still need to take pictures.  Mulled maple syrup will be added shortly.

So, yeah, to answer the question, I still have my day job.

 

scarf-1

Ancho Chili Powder – Seed to Jar

poblano-powder

 

Technically, this is easy peasy. Throw dried ancho in a grinder and pulverize. Viola! Chili powder! I hope I never have to resort to store-bought powder again.  I wish you could smell it! It has a wonderfully fruity pepper aroma, like nothing I’ve ever found in a store.  I opened the grinder, took a big sniff, and immediately did this weird sneezy cough thing.  There is so much more going on in this simple powder than I could have imagined.

As far as easy peasy goes, I’ve decided to give myself a little more credit. This was a project that took some time, patience, and a little elbow grease.  I chose an heirloom poblano seed last winter, and planted the seeds back in early March.

 

sprout

 

pepper-seedlings

 

At the end of April, I turned over a cover crop of rye and vetch in my raised beds.  I hand dig all 4 of my raised beds, and by the time the cover crop had decomposed into the soil enough that I could plant, I had dug each bed a total of 3 times.  It’s a great way to start getting back into shape in the spring, and I’m usually a little sore at first. By mid May, I had transplanted the poblano pepper seedlings in the ground.

 

cover-digging

 

By the beginning of August, I was picking and roasting green chilis for the freezer

 

poblanos

 

Here I am in September, and the peppers have finally ripened to a beautiful chocolate.

 

anchos

 

This past weekend, I halved and seeded them, and put them in my dehydrator. After a couple of days, they were shriveled, semi-crisp, and almost black.

 

polanos-dried

 

I’ll admit, I had my doubts when I put them in the grinder.  Who would have believed the powder would come out looking like this? One smell. One taste.  THIS is why I bother to do so much of what I do. This is what knowing where my food comes from is all about.  Now, whenever I cook something using this powder, I’ll be reminded of 7 months, from seed to jar, of what’s involved in producing a simple staple spice I keep in my cupboard.

 

poblano-powder

 

Now that I’ve finished this post, I’m off to use my spectacular ancho powder to make up a batch of my Tex-Mex blend.

 

taco-seasoning

Food Traditions

harvest

This isn’t exactly a rant.  More random musings from the garden and kitchen. Plus, I’m writing this more for the sake of journaling, than thinking anyone is going to benefit from anything I have to say.  It’s a very hot muggy day, and I’m trudging back and forth between the garden and kitchen, taking breaks to cool off while I finish planting my fall garden – peas, beets, carrots, spinach, pak choy, lettuce, cabbage.  If I don’t finish planting this week, it’s going to be too late.

It always feels a little strange to be planting at the same time I’m dealing with the glut of a late summer garden.  I’ve got a bumper crop of poblano peppers and eggplant this year.  Once it cools off this evening, I’ll fire up the grill and get the peppers charred, and will work till bedtime getting them peeled, seeded, packaged, and in the freezer. This is just the first batch. There are more left on the plants than the number I picked this morning.

poblanos

Anyway, back to my musings. While I’m taking my indoor breaks from the garden, I’m going through old cookbooks and a few articles, planning a couple of new ways to preserve my red roasting peppers and eggplant.  As I’m reading about making Serbian Ajvar, I find myself comparing my new fangled American preserving to Old World  preservation. Old food traditions exert a strong pull on me.

As much as I love modern conveniences and technology, my heart thrills to explore old forgotten, labor intensive methods of food preparation.  I prefer my mortar and pestle to my food processor, my big chef’s knife to about any gadget you can name, and I never recoil from a recipe that calls for 30 minutes of slow heat and stirring, or something that requires several stages of preparation over a period of days, or even weeks.

Another aspect of old traditions that appeals to me is community.  My time spent preparing my harvest is solitary, and I know it can’t be helped, but something inside me screams that this isn’t right!  This isn’t the way it should be done.  Historically, communities have come together to harvest and prepare the fruits of their labor. Grandmothers, mothers, and daughters, passing down recipes and methods from one generation to another, sitting together talking, sharing stories and wisdom as they snap, peel, chop and grind.

I’m conflicted. Sometimes I think I’d give up this world I live in for an older way.  And I don’t mean that in a “cranky-old-lady-reminiscing-about-the-good-old-days-like-they-were-better” kind of way. I think  something’s been lost that we’ll never be able to get back.  But, this is the world I’ve been given, so I’ll just keep learning what I can about old methods, and choosing to do things the hard way.

A Cautionary Tale

latch

 

It’s been a while since I’ve felt like writing. Life is messy, and sometimes blogging falls by the wayside.  This morning I feel like writing, because the house is quite, I have no one to talk to, and I just scared the crap out of myself.

My husband, Bart, was out till the wee hours of the morning bowfishing with our son, Kuyler, who came home to spend some time with his dad on Father’s Day.  They will be sleeping in quite late today.

I was up bright and early with the sun, and went out to do my morning chores in the barn. While I was feeding chicks and changing water in the brooder, I pulled the door closed behind me, so no chicks would get out. I stood there looking at the door feeling stunned.

I never pull the brooder door completely shut, because there’s a latch on the outside. It’s a very sturdily built cage about 4’x10′, about 6′ tall, enclosed with 1/2″ hardware cloth.  I was locked inside with 25 baby chickens!

I had no idea when the guys would be waking up. And even when they did wake up, they weren’t going to be looking for me, because I’m always off doing my own thing.  I don’t carry my cell phone around the farm with me, so it was in its usual place on my desk in my office.

I stood there in my cage, contemplating several hours keeping company with the chickens. I’m not sure I can describe those first few minutes while I was still absorbing my situation, before my head started working out possible solutions.

 

brooder

 

I wasn’t too keen on the idea of trying to kick out the hardware cloth. When Bart builds something, it doesn’t come apart easily, and the hardware cloth wasn’t simply stapled in place, but fastened with heavy-duty U nails.  Then I noticed the piece of wire I use to hold a gate shut (pictured on the right hand side of the cage).  The wire is threaded through the hardware cloth, and then wrapped around the wire of the gate. I have the gate in place to prevent the hens from trying to nest in that corner.

It took me about 10 minutes, but I was able to pull the wire through, and then use it to jimmy the outside latch.  For a while, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull it off.

The moral of this story?  I’m still thinking about it.  I have looped a piece of wire through the latch, and run it inside the cage for now.

 

latch

Fire Cider – A Traditional Herbal Remedy

fire cider

 

Fire cider is a mainstay in my herbal arsenal against winter crud. I toss back a shot glass of this immune system boosting tonic every day.  On those occasions when I can tell my immune system is messing around with a bug, I tend to toss back more than one shot a day.  Made with raw vinegar, honey, and pungent herbs and spices, it’s a spicy, tangy, savory, sweet and sour concoction that’s tasty, as well as good for you.

A couple of points of interest, if you’re like me, and like more than less information (otherwise, just skip the next few paragraphs to the recipe below):

Earlier this year, the University of Nottingham in the UK published an interesting experiment. They reproduced an ancient medieval remedy containing ingredients similar to those used today in fire cider – garlic, onion, wine. Wine in medieval times tended towards the sour, acidic end, and wasn’t what we are accustomed to in modern times. The microbiologists conducting the experiment were “genuinely amazed” by the results, and many modern folk herbalists felt vindicated.

Also of interest, is an unfolding legal drama surrounding fire cider.  In a nut shell, three small business owners, all herb farmers, have been sued by Shire City Herbals over the use the name “Fire Cider”. If you read about the background of fire cider, you’ll understand why herbalists (myself and my business included) have rallied in support of the three women being sued. Back in 2004, my business was served a cease and desist over an herb I was selling as a soap making additive. Not in a financial position to be a part of a class action lawsuit taking place surrounding the herb, I quit selling it.  I’m happy to say, the class action lawsuit was won, and the name “rooibos” is now public domain.  As a long-standing traditional remedy, I hope fire cider will enjoy the same outcome.

It’s not uncommon for herbalists to add their own twist, and there seem to be as many recipes as there are herbalists. The basics we all seem to stick with are garlic, onion, horseradish, ginger, vinegar, and honey. Many add hot peppers.

I’ve put a few twists of my own on the recipe.  I use my own homemade raw kombucha vinegar in place of cider vinegar. For a little brightening flavor zing I like to add lemon slices. I’m dealing with osteoarthritis, so I’ve added turmeric for its many health benefits. I also throw in two or three astragalus root slices. Astragalus is effective against viral infections, helps boost the production of white blood cells, and promotes interferon production in the body.

I don’t measure, and honestly, I don’t think it matters for a recipe like this. I tend to throw something like equal-ish amounts of the onion, garlic, horseradish, and ginger into a big jar.

Fire Cider
Onion
Garlic
Horseradish root
Ginger root

Optional Ingredients:
1 or 2 cayenne or other hot peppers
1 or 2 tablespoons turmeric powder (or chopped root, if it’s available to you)
1 or 2 sliced lemons
2 or 3 astragalus root slices

Raw apple cider vinegar
Raw honey

Peel and chop onion, garlic, horseradish, and ginger.  Place in an appropriate sized jar. I make mine in a gallon jar.  Add optional ingredients.  Add enough vinegar to cover ingredients by 3 or 4 inches.  Cover with a non-reactive lid (line metal lid with plastic wrap), and let the whole mess sit for about 4 weeks. Strain and mix the resulting liquid with honey to taste.

fire-cider

 

 

A Garden of Another Kind

 

Most years, these would just be a couple of big boxes of dirt where a couple of different women are going to plant some stuff.  However, this year they mean something special to me.  This one is located in a community garden in Utah, where my daughter-in-law, Britni, is learning to garden for the first time in her life.

 

brits-raised-bed

 

This one is located at my place in Indiana, where I will be gardening yet again, as I have been since I was Britni’s age.  Yes, I know, I need to mow my grass.  Deal with it.

 

raised bed

 

She and I both turned the soil in our cross-country gardens today, and chatted with each other online and shared pictures afterwards. We are going to be sore together as we flex muscles we haven’t used much over the winter.  Britni has been asking me gardening questions over the last couple of months, and we’ve had conversations about what we were looking at in our seed catalogs, and how to prep soil. We’ve talked about worms, compost, and how to support tomatoes in small spaces.  Neither of my boys showed any interest in my passion for growing things, and I’ve always been OK with that.  However,  it wasn’t until Britni sent me the picture of her efforts today that I realized how much I’ve always wanted to be able to share and pass on what I’ve learned over the years. So, as Britni plants her first seeds this spring, I think of what Gertrude Jekyll said, “The love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies, but grows to the enduring happiness that the love of gardening gives.”

 

Dutch Baby

Dutch Baby

Yeah, I know, the internet doesn’t need another Dutch Baby recipe, but I’m doing it anyway.  I like to make a Dutch Baby for Sunday brunch, usually paired with some sort of quiche.  On this particular Sunday, it was served with fried apples and a bacon and leek quiche. As usual in the winter time, the chickens have slowed down on egg production.  However, thanks to a goose who decided to lay eggs all winter long (this is not the norm), I’ve had no shortage of eggs, and a Dutch Baby is a good way to use up some of the glut.  I’ve scaled back my recipe to serve 2-4 people, from the original recipe which was baked in my huge 12″ cast iron skillet.

Dutch Baby
3 eggs (or 1 goose egg)
1/2 cup flour
scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter

Pre-heat oven to 375°F.  Whisk eggs, flour, salt, cinnamon, milk and vanilla together. Melt butter in preheated oven in an 8-9 inch cast iron skillet, taking care not to burn the butter.  I’ve been told that it can also be baked in a baking dish, but I’ve never done it, so can’t vouch for results.  Pour batter into the pan with the butter and return to the oven.  Bake 20-25 minutes, or until it has climbed the sides of the pan and the edges are browned and crisped, and the center is no longer moist.

Fill the Dutch Baby with your filling of choice.   My fried apple filling is simply sliced apples fried/softened in butter, and finished off with a couple of squeezes of fresh lemon juice, and brown sugar or maple syrup to taste.

Fillings can be sweet or savory.  I’ve been thinking about trying a cream cheese filling, and I’d also like to try some sort of herbed mushroom-green onion filling. The possibilities are limitless: caramelized onions and Swiss cheese, wilted arugula and goat cheese, avocado-tomato-cilantro. I could even see going into something a little heftier and filling it with one of my favorite meat salads (think thinly sliced lamb and greens with a cumin vinaigrette), or something chili relleno or chicken enchillada-ish. Ooo-ooo!! I just thought of something else … in the spring when I go foraging …… ramps and morels!

Baked Custard

custard

 

Thanks to a goose who decided to lay eggs out of season, custard has become a household staple this fall. I’ve been told it’s not unheard of for a goose to lay in the fall, but this girl is being ridiculous, and has been giving me two or three eggs a week since the beginning of October. So, I’ve got goose eggs, chicken eggs, and plenty of milk from my herd share.

 

sitting goose

 

Custard is one of my husband’s comfort foods, and he claims mine is the best he’s had — even better than his mom’s!  It’s pretty simple, but there are a couple of tricks.  It’s important that you know your exact oven temp (most people don’t realize their oven isn’t properly calibrated).  I use an inexpensive little oven thermometer I picked up at a hardware store.  My oven has to be set to 395 to actually reach 350.  Another trick is interpreting the “jiggle” when the custard is done.

Baked Custard
1 goose egg (or 3 chicken eggs)
3/4 cup sugar
2-3 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups whole milk

Preheat oven to 350F.  Thoroughly combine all ingredients, making sure sugar is completely dissolved.  Pour custard mixture through a fine mesh sieve into custard cups (this ensures that you won’t have any weird unincorporated eggy spots, and guarantees a smooth, silky texture).  Place custard cups in a shallow baking pan, and pour hot water into the pan to at least 3/4 the way up the sides of the custard cups.  Bake for 28 minutes. Yup, 28 minutes in my particular oven. If I go 29 minutes, it’s overcooked.

 

custard steps

 

You may need to adjust your baking time based on your individual oven, so it really helps to learn to interpret the jiggle.

It’s very easy to over-bake custard. If it’s over-baked, instead of being silky and creamy, it will have light rubbery/eggy texture.  Also, some of the liquid will separate from the mixture, contributing a watery texture.

When you take it out, it should jiggle like loose jello, and you will swear it’s not done. Also, if you insert a knife and it comes out clean … it’s over done.  However, if you chill it in the fridge overnight, it will set up to a nice creamy consistency. Personally, I like to let it chill a good 24 hours for the best texture.  It’s amazing how many recipes on the interwebs call for baking for almost an hour, or until a knife comes out clean.  With the amount of misinformation out there, it’s no wonder so many cooks are intimidated by custard.

Sprinkle with a light grating of fresh nutmeg right before serving. And….. the custard was gone before I finished putting away my camera.

 

custard bite

Roasted Poblano & Queso Fresco Tacos

pablano-queso2

 

This was one of those lunchtime accidents. It’s going to happen again, but the next time it won’t be an accident. I was scrounging through the fridge for something for lunch, and I’m a little shy on leftovers right now.  There were some corn tortillas I made the other day, and some leftover roasted Poblano peppers.  I made a batch of queso fresco this morning, but it was still sitting in the mold under a weight.  I got into it anyway, and it crumbled, which was perfect for these impromptu tacos.  A generous bunch of cilantro, and a squeeze of fresh lime, and I had lunch!

It’s amazing what you can do with leftovers!  I just had to share, and now I’ve got to go back to work.

 

 

Mexican Style Pork Roast for Carnitas or Posole

Mexican pork roast

 

Today is a cool, rainy day, AND my day off, which means I’m off the hook for any outdoors work.  It’s a perfect day for cooking and puttering around the house.  By lunch time, I had already put a pork roast in the slow cooker for tonight’s dinner (which will also provide another meal for the weekend), restarted some kombucha which had gone too long and become vinegar (now I have more than half a gallon of very useful raw kombucha vinegar – I’m thinking it’s time to make more fire cider), caught up laundry, did a few website updates for the business, and started a new batch of buttermilk from a gallon of raw milk that was just beginning to sour.

Which reminds me …. I’d like to plug the co-op of which I’m a member, Fry Farms Co-Op.  If you happen to be a reader in the Ft. Wayne/Columbia City/South Whitley area, this co-op is a great source of organic pastured chicken and pork, grass-fed beef, eggs, produce, and a raw organic milk/products herdshare program. An added bonus is the prices are some of the best to be found in the area for food of this type and quality.  I’ve been very pleased with my membership.  I place my orders on their website, and pick up my orders every other Wednesday evening at their Columbia City, Raber Road drop point. They also have a couple of pickup locations in Ft. Wayne.

Getting back to the purpose of this post … my pork roast.  This is on the menu because the girls at my local Mexican grocery keep telling me how much they love a traditional Mexican soup called Posole.  They made it sound so good that I’ve decided I really must try it. I’ve done a bunch of research online, and gotten a few tips from the Mexican girls (who tell me things like, “Well, my grandmother always throws a couple of chicken feet in with the broth). I think  the soup will probably fit very well with the way I cook one meal leading to another. Tonight I’m going to use some of the shredded roast pork along with homemade tortillas for tacos, which will be dressed up with cilantro, avocado, lime, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Traditionally, recipes like this use some sort of shoulder cut roast (picnic, boston butt, pork shoulder), but I had a 3.5 pound fresh, uncured bone-in ham roast, so that’s what I used.

 

Mexican style pork

 

Mexican Style Pork Roast
Pork Roast
Large Onion, roughly chopped
Head of Garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 Tablespoon ground cumin (freshly toasted and ground is best)
2 Teaspoons Mexican Oregano
2 Teaspoons Salt

Sear roast on medium high heat (I know, this doesn’t seal in moisture, I do it because it helps contribute to a rich broth, thanks to the Maillard reaction), and I’m going to need a nice both for the Posole I make later.

Place roast in a slow cooker, de-glaze searing pan with water, and add water to the slow cooker.  Add chopped onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, and salt.  Add hot water to cover roast (the picture above shows how much water I added).  Slow cook roast for several hours until the pork is tender and falls apart easily.  Cooking time is going to depend on your slow cooker.

For the tacos, I’ll shred some of the meat, and maybe even fry it so it’s officially carnitas –  maybe not – depends on how I’m feeling by the time I’m done making the tortillas.  The rest of the meat and broth will be saved for making the Posole this weekend.  If all goes well, I’ll post the results later.

Completely unrelated – here’s a bonus update on the goslings.  We were doing selfies in the pasture yesterday evening.  Yes, I know, I’m a goof.

 

goose selfies