Monday, April 30, 2012

Another Sunny Weekend

Saturday dawned a beautiful, sunny day in Sonoma County.  After staying up way too late the night before, I awoke to the sound of both of my alarms going off - one had been playing the radio for an hour and I hadn't noticed.  On weekends I allow myself to "sleep in" until 6:00 am.  The 5:00 am alarm had still been set, but wasn't as loud as a weekday morning.  I laid there for a moment, thinking about curling up to go back to sleep, and then ... Zeus crowed from across the room.  It was definitely time to get up.  One of the projects planned for the weekend was getting a chicken coop built for the chicks to go outside.  It's well beyond time.

I decided that it is also well beyond time to mix and mold some more goat's milk soap.  I'd been putting it off for a while, because I had the brilliant idea to purchase the last order of glycerine in bulk.  I didn't realize until it was delivered that the 25 pounds would come in One Huge Block, and not in the neat one-pound blocks I'd been used to.  It was a daunting task ahead, but since I'd successfully cut off a couple pounds before, I knew it was definitely possible.  This is one huge block o' glycerine.

I ground some anise seeds to put into the soap.  I love the smell of this soap and hope that it will work well on the web site.  This will be the first time I've listed soap on the site, so my fingers are crossed!

Bette brought down some more plants, so I got the rest of the tomatoes into two beds now, and we are working toward getting more raised beds completed so we can plant the rest.

The yellowjackets are still trying to build nests in the pickup, and I am knocking them down when I find them.  We bought a couple of traps, but they aren't attracting anything.  This is the first time I've ever had that happen.  I kept moving one trap closer and closer, until I finally decided to do this.

I've added more attractant to the bait and will see what happens this weekend.  I don't know why the trap isn't working!

Zeus waited to crow until 7:00 am Sunday morning, so he wasn't my alarm clock.  It's so nice to add to my morning routine a walk to the garden to tend to the new plants.  There's still so much left to do, but we are making good progress.

Sunday is Farmers Market Day in Windsor!  This seems to be the only day that Becca asks me to be sure to wake her in the morning and not allow her to sleep late.  We both look forward to going to the market.  We tried some breakfast burritos there, which we both found to be too bland.  That's probably a good thing, since I should be making them at home myself before we leave.  There were tons of plants, and my daughter and son-in-law picked some up (they met us there).  We brought home some beautiful Meyer lemons so Becca can make her wonderful lemonade.  These were organic Meyer lemons at half the price of "normal" lemons at the grocery store.  Bargain! 

We split up for the ride to my place, with Becca riding with her sister and brother-in-law, as we were going to work on a chicken coop.  When I got home I immediately noticed that one of my favorite, everyday use, cowboy boots was missing, and I had a sinking feeling.  I looked in the other room and found ... half of it.

I did a lot of yelling, and put Breezy in her crate outside.  I couldn't stop crying.  She used to be an awful shoe-chewer when she was a puppy (and destroyed a loveseat and chewed on the corners of walls), but in the ensuing many years she appeared to have broken that habit.  I don't know what has gotten into her to make her revert these last few weeks.  I use these boots every day and I don't know what I'm going to do without them.  On our way to the farmers market earlier in the day, I was even thinking I should check the soles when I got home to see if they need upkeep, because I wanted them to last a good, long time.  I guess that's not going to happen.

On a brighter note, my daughter and her husband arrived with Becca soon after to help us build a chicken coop.  They offered some comfort and several hours of distraction, which helped a lot.  Using scrap wood that I had around, Cory lead the design effort to put together a sturdy, comfortable home for the Americaunas.  The other chicks will join them when they're a little bigger.  Every time I look at it, I am so pleased with what we accomplished!

Becca went in the house to get Zeus and Persephone, and came out with one perched on each hand.  Just as she exited the house with them, the radio station played the song that she and Jessi had been waiting for to win tickets to a concert.  She rushed over, we opened the coop, and she rather unceremoniously placed them into their new environment.  I quickly opened the door again and saw them just huddled on the floor of the coop, looking frightened.  I reached in to pet and soothe them, and soon after they stood up and walked slowly out of the door.  They were immediately happy, scratching and pecking, eventually chirping.  It was a bit of a challenge to get them back into the coop later in the evening for their safety overnight, but we did.  I worried about them all night, and checked on them several times before going to bed, to make sure they were okay.  They're able to be in the cooler temperatures now, but aren't used to it yet.  I felt bad for them, but was relieved that the two biggest chicks were out of the house.

Being outside most of the day, on my feet and walking and carrying, etc., made for one tired mama.  It was all we could do to put some pasta together for dinner, then after showers hit the sack.  The tiredness and soreness was pleasant, though, after a day of fun, family, and projects completed well.

A short update on the hot chocolate mix I assembled earlier in the week.  On Friday morning, I used the homemade mix in the girls' morning mocha and hot chocolate, and didn't say anything about the change.  Becca asked me Friday night on the way home if I'd used it.  I told her yes, and asked if she liked it.  She said it was better, and that she liked the salt.  I hadn't even told her that I thought it was too salty.  Starbucks has been making a salted caramel hot chocolate, so I guess salt, chocolate and caramel all work together well.  It appears that I can use the homemade mix without objection, thank goodness!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Happy Friday Gardening!

Our home is located a little over a half mile from the main road, up a winding, somewhat paved drive.  It is a great way to start the day, as often we spot wildlife (deer, squirrels, coyotes, bobcats, skunks, wild pigs) and get gorgeous views of spectacular sunrises, or the fog hanging in the valleys or playing with the tops of the high hills and Mount St. Helena.  On those rainy, blustery, awful, muddy days, it can be an adventure, but the good times always outweigh the challenges.  The mailbox and gate are at the road, and I stop to let Becca get the mail and open the gate.  Thursday afternoon, she came back to the car with the mail - and a butterfly on her hand.

(Yes, that is a henna design on her hand.)

Becca said the butterfly was lying flat in the roadway, and she thought it was dead until she saw it move its wings.  She gently picked it up, and was so excited, because she's never held a butterfly before.  It flew while in the car, so we knew it was okay, and Becca freed it when we got to the house.

Friday dawned clear and cool.  There's not enough time on Fridays to do any major cooking, so with the weather being so good, it was time to get outside and get busy.  I had wanted to make Eggs Benedict, but Becca used all of the eggs (and butter!) in her cupcakes the night before.  Yes, Roxie lays eggs, but that's one a day.  When the chicks start laying (we'd better not have any more roosters!), we will catch up more quickly.  Croissants appear to be a huge undertaking, so as I looked through and rejected recipes it became clear that I was really needed in the garden.

It was going to be a warm day, but these days there's no way I'll work outside in sandals.  The boots went on right away.

My first "weapon" of choice is the weed whacker, of course, to drop down some grass as I made my way to the garden.  I got a lot accomplished, and I "rediscovered" the rosemary bush that had been overgrown.

One thing that happens when putting plants in a greenhouse is that they don't get the benefit of the rain and overnight fog, so I gave the seedlings in there their daily dose of water.  I took a closer look at the tray holding the mixed up plants from when I'd dropped it, and I noticed two cucumber seedlings that were in the wrong place.  I can't tell yet if they are lemon cucumber or regular, but as long as they're in the general cucumber area and are planted appropriately, we'll figure it out soon enough.  This tray is like a puzzle, as I move the pieces around when their place is recognized.

After getting out of the sauna of the greenhouse, I turned to the garden beds.  My hope is that we'll be able to plan ahead and have a thriving winter garden and fresh produce year-round.  This winter, the garden was untended, so except for the kale, collards, parsley and onions, everything was gone.  Weeds had overtaken some of the bare spaces and soil had compacted and/or washed out.  I turned the sprinklers on to moisten the soil while I went after grass surrounding the beds, and then got to work with hoe and hands to get the weeds out.  I added more soil to one bed, and planted our first two tomato plants!  I added the support cages and set the sprinklers, then stepped back to enjoy the sight.

These plants were purchased at last weekend's farmers' market from the Windsor Community Garden.  One is an Early Girl and the other, Cherokee Purple.  

I turned to another garden bed to pull weeds, and discovered that last year's cilantro had reseeded itself.  I carefully cleared around it so we don't accidentally pull it later.  I have some seedlings I'd picked up at the high school Ag Department's plant sale, so I'll add that next to it so there will be no doubt what's there.

As I picked up and put away tools and pots, I noticed Star pouncing, very attentive and energetic, on top of an old tarp.

I'm sure that his new playmate was a lizard or toad, but I didn't want to disturb his play, or get too close to find out, so I let him have his fun.  The good thing is there was no rattling sound.

There was still plenty left to be done, but by now it was noon, the sun was hot and I was hungry.  The quiet coolness of the house was refreshing and wonderful.  After scrubbing the garden dirt from under my fingernails, I reached into the fridge and pulled out a little bit of yesterday's potato salad. Probably not the "best" as a standalone meal, but a little bit of it hit the spot.  Then it was time to relax with knitting until time to start the  trip to my parents' house for "family dinner" night.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Hot Cocoa and Sourdough Kinda Day, and Looking Forward to Summer

The morning dawned cloudy, but no rain while I fed and moved the goats.  Just before we left for school, the skies opened and it poured.  By the time I got back home, it was sunny with clouds on the fringe.  Then cold wind, then sunshine.  The forecast called for rain, but the sky didn't seem certain of what it wanted to do.  Neither was I.

I stopped by the feed store to get chick feed.  Those babies eat so much!!  I'm anxious to get the coop built and get the Americaunas outside.  They're too big for their enclosure, and there's just something not right about a rooster crowing in the house.  It doesn't even help wake Becca in the morning.

Big John's Market was next, as part of my quest to find organic and/or non-GMO cornmeal.  They have Red Mill cornmeal, but after reading all four sides of the package and checking to see if there was anything on the bottom, there was nothing there that made me willing to use it.  There was a purple corn flour that was organic, but nearly $20 for a small package didn't seem right.  After all, one of the reasons that I'm trying these recipes out is to try to save money.  When I got home, I checked online and found that Red Mill and King Arthur Flour both have organic cornmeal available online, though King Arthur's listing told me that they're sorry it's not available.  That's okay, because King Arthur's cornmeal is much more expensive than Red Mill, and Red Mill actually has it available.  I hate paying shipping for something that might be available locally, so I'm going to check Oliver's for it, and also ask Big John's if they will start stocking organic. 

The sourdough starter I've been working with isn't working, so I dumped it and intend to start a new batch, this time with starter from San Francisco.  Let's hope this works better.  I think that the warmer days will help, as it has been pretty cold here, and we don't centrally heat the house.

The next recipe to try in Make the Bread, Buy the Butter is hot chocolate mix.  I'm not a big fan of the stuff, though Becca likes it, and I do use it when making mochas and hot chocolate for the girls in the morning.  (For those of you who don't know, I include Sophie, who car pools with us to school, in these treats because I really love her.  Her birthday is the same as mine, so that makes her practically family, too, right?)  I really don't like the soy in the mixes available (even Ghirardelli's "ground chocolate" has soy!), so this is a good option to get away from that.  The recipe is super simple, and Jennifer assures me in the book that it's better than store-bought.

Assembling the three ingredients was easy.  Trying to sift them into a bowl, was a P.I.T.A.  The chocolate was getting all over the place, and the brown sugar wouldn't go through the sifter.  I finally turned over the sifter and dumped the mess into the bowl, using a whisk to mix, and my fingers to pick up and crush any errant small lumps of sugar.

I was eager to try this and heated some milk, then carefully measured in the chocolate mix and the vanilla.  It was a little salty to my taste, but otherwise good, and definitely better than Swiss Miss or Nestle.  It's hard for me to judge, since I don't really drink hot choc--  Well, I could put some coffee in there.......

Yes.  This is going to make a good mocha, using a little less salt next time.

When I took the little bit of time I had on Wednesday (the English Muffin Fiasco Day) to knit, I caught a show that's new to me on television.  It's called "The Chew," and appears to be a bit of a wacky morning talk/cooking show.  Talking about cooking.  Or cooking while talking and goofing around is probably more like it.  There was a potato salad recipe I'd like to try, so I decided to give that a go.  Easy, summer prep-like, and not likely to burn the house down.

The recipe can be found here, and I've also listed it at the bottom of this post, correcting the typo error from the online version, and eliminating the instructions for a simple roast beef sandwich.  Yes, I like bacon, almost anything with bacon in it.  In fact, the other night, Becca and I had a pasta dish with homemade sauce made from diced tomatoes, onions, and garlic, with wine and BACON.  Heaven.

The potatoes went on the stove to boil, and the bacon in the pan to fry.  At just the right time, I got an invite to go meet Bette's new dog, Jake.  Isn't he pretty?

He gets along great with baby goat Hope, too.

By the time I got back home, the potatoes were cooled and ready to cut.  I folded the mayo mixture into the potatoes and tasted it.  It's good!  Is it different from other potato salads I've made?  Yes, a bit.  I like the few differences.  I've never used red potatoes in potato salad before, and I like the texture.  The dressing seems lighter (I admit that I used about twice as many potatoes as the recipe calls for), and I love the bacon surprises.  "Oh, yeah!  There's bacon in here!"  (I would probably add more bacon next time, especially since I doubled the potatoes.)  I realized later I'd forgotten about adding the corn.  Der.  I'll try adding that next time.

By the time I'd eaten the potato I'd set aside for brunch and put the salad in the fridge, it was time to get out of the kitchen again, and head out to pick up kids at high school.  After coming home, Becca, as typical, didn't want to taste the potato salad.  When she did taste it, cautiously, she asked for more - enthusiastically.

I saw a mouse in the hen house, lying in wait under the area where Roxie's eggs drop safely where she can't peck them.  It snuck up to try to get the egg I was reaching for and gave me a scare!  I'll pick up some mouse pouches with Balsam fir (called Fresh Cab Mouse Pouch) to see if that'll keep them away!  (You can find the pouches on Amazon, but your Ace Hardware store will likely have it at a much lower cost, without added shipping.)

Becca made four dozen lavender cupcakes to share with her Visual Fine Arts class.  One of these days she'll need to make some to keep!  I noticed our lavender bush is blooming, so we'll gather the flowers from now on so we don't have to buy them.  One small package goes a long, long way, but it is expensive.
Red Potato Salad with Bacon

1 pound Red-skinned New Potatoes
3 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
1/4 cup Bacon (crumbled)
1/4 cup Scallions (thinly sliced)
1 cup Corn (fresh or frozen and thawed)
4 Hard Boiled Eggs (peeled and chopped)
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Place the potatoes in a large pot of seasoned water. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are barely tender when pierced with a knife. Drain and let cool.

Quarter the potatoes and place in serving bowl.

Mix together the dijon mustard, mayonnaise, bacon, scallions, corn and hard boiled eggs until mixed and then fold into the potato salad to serve. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I Should Have Followed My Instincts

I woke up ready for an easy day.  No motivation to do anything, just wanting to work on my knitting, maybe make some granola.  Becca's friends at school are going nuts (no pun intended) over the granola, so I sent the rest of yesterday's batch with her ... she's going to see if she can sell it.  (If I had a coffee cart, the kids would fall over themselves to get goat's milk mochas with cajeta.)

I kept checking the yogurt and it was still thin.  It's so thin that it can't even be strained into "Greek yogurt" because all of the yogurt passes through even doubled cheesecloth.  It could be a good smoothie type drink.  If I want to eat yogurt with a spoon, I'm going to have to investigate this further.  It smells and tastes good, though!

Before I could start on any cooking projects, the technician from Dish Network appeared.  I love it when I'm at the beginning of a utility window.  The projected time was 8am to noon.  Super nice guy.  While he was running the tests on the system (it quit working twice yesterday, then of course was working fine this morning), we chatted and discovered that both our kids are in Ag science classes at SRHS, and his kid is raising chicks, too.  We had a good conversation while he did his work about schools, ArtQuest, beer brewing (he is), cheese making (I am and his wife wants to), the best places to get the stuff, goats, chickens, Sonoma County.  What a fun way to start the morning. 

Granola was on the kitchen menu, but I skipped hash browns, pancakes, and waffles, which were the next recipes I'd bookmarked in Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.  I've made them from scratch before, and if I want to in the future, I might try Jennifer's recipes.

English muffins, though, now that's a new one.  I decided to put the ingredients in the bread machine to make the dough and try this one out.  I planned that while the dough was rising and the granola baking, I could work on the knitted shawl I'm making.  I'm excited about getting near the end, as this has been a project I've worked on for weeks, a huge lace shawl made from Angora and silk yarn.  I hope it turns out good!  It's hard to tell, because I'm knitting it on circular needles at this part of the pattern.  Becca says it looks like a yarn diaper on the needles.  She's got a point.  So much of a point that I'm not going to post a picture of the work in progress.

I started the English muffin dough and granola, and then I got distracted by the leaves all over the back patio.  So I got the leaf blower out instead of picking up the knitting needles.  That didn't take a whole lot of time, so I got knitting when I came back in.  It looked like it was going to rain soon anyway.

I think I should have listened to my intuition and not gone into the kitchen for anything other than the granola and my morning coffee.  The dough for the muffins turned out light and beautiful.  It was easy to roll.  Then everything went wrong.  I think the skillet was too hot.  The first batch into it burned almost immediately.  I cleaned and cooled the pan a little, but they still cooked too quickly.  Smoke filled the kitchen and living area.  It stunk of burnt cornmeal.  The recipe says to heat a cast-iron skillet very hot and then decrease the temperature to medium after adding the muffins.  I don't know what kind of cast-iron skillet Jennifer was using, but mine holds heat for a long time.  I looked at two other recipes online and both say to cook the muffins over medium or medium-low heat without super-pre-heating.  I had four muffins left, so I cooled the skillet down more and tried again.  I opened every window in the house, the reek of burnt cornmeal filling the air and overpowering the lovely cinnamon-maple-sugar scent from the granola.

I thought, "I'm going to smell wonderful when I pick the kids up from school, aren't I?"

I then thought, "I have a headache."

I proceeded to burn the last four muffins, and was absolutely, positively done.  I hadn't bought cornmeal yet, so I had improvised (dumb move!) and sifted the purple cornmeal out of the mix I had from Bridgeton Mill.  It was probably too coarse, and contributed to the burn. 

I shelved this recipe for when I have regular cornmeal, then hit the shower, and went back to my knitting, which I should have done in the first place. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It's a Yogurt and Granola Day

It looked like it had rained overnight.  The ground was damp, but from the clouds and drizzle, it was clear that this was just a wet, wet night with no real rain.  The damp grass meant that it was worthless to try and whack wet weeds, so the focus was indoors right away.

I sent the rest of the granola with Becca to school, so making another batch was on the agenda for the day.  I added cinnamon to this batch, and it smelled and tasted even better.

The next Make the Bread, Buy the Butter challenge was yogurt.  I've made yogurt in the past, using a crock pot method.  It was really good, but always a bit too thin.  I am hopeful that Jennifer Reese's recipe will provide different results.

One of the things I really enjoy about Jennifer's book is that she tells stories throughout, and adds comments in the recipe and instructions.  It's like having a friend in the kitchen with you while you're making these.  Well, okay.  An imaginary friend, since I don't really know her and she's not here.  At least I don't answer the voices in my head.

She says that you can either "stir the milk constantly to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan, or spend five minutes scrubbing when you're through.  Your call."  I'm lazy.  I don't want to do either.  I also make cajeta (caramel sauce) every week, so I know how to heat milk to the verge of a boil without burning it, so I set the pan on the stove and turned the dial to the "cajeta setting," stirring occasionally when I thought to check it.

One minor complaint here.  If a temperature can be given for when to add the culture, why can't a temperature be given (or at least a range) for when to stop heating the milk?  "On the verge of a boil" is probably a different feel for everyone, and I don't know if my "on the verge" was the same as Jennifer's.

The milk took its sweet time cooling because I didn't bother to put it in an ice bath.  There was plenty to do while waiting for it to cool to the right temperature, like go out to the garden and dig weeds out of the now-moist garden beds to get them ready to plant.  If the weather is right, we should be able to get tomatoes, radishes, and corn in this week.  Those seedlings, especially, are rarin' to go.

Larry took care of some burn piles so the snakes won't have easy places to hide.  Traz stayed in the box.  All in all, it was a pretty darn good day.

Oh.  Did I say previously that the cinnamon cajeta was a guaranteed success?  It. Was. Not.  Problems happen when you step outside those last minutes of simmering cajeta, because the water line got busted and you saw a rattlesnake.  It tastes fine, but is more like a thick candy than a sauce.  At least I didn't burn it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Crunchy Goodness

Monday morning dawned.  Sort of.  The sky lightened to grey.  This was a misty, foggy Sonoma County morning.  And it was still beautiful.  Damp mornings like this invite bread-baking and things done indoors.  They encourage you to listen to the quiet, and every sound seems muffled.  There's always a peaceful feel to the morning air at the ranch, but each season has its own rhythm, it's own feel, it speaks to you differently.

Weed whacking is going to be ongoing for a while, and Monday was no exception.  Back yard and near the barn this time.

I hadn't made bagels in about a week, and the kids were sad and missing them.  This was the perfect morning to start a batch early.  The last time I wrote about this King Arthur Flour recipe, I said I was going to modify it.  I did, indeed, and discovered that sometimes a good thing is best left alone.  I won't change the ingredients in this recipe again, except perhaps to add to it (cheese!).  My previous suggestions about handling the dough are still good.

Cornbread is going to have to wait still.  I went to the regular grocery store to find cornmeal, and there's nothing organic or trusted or guaranteed GMO free, so I will wait until I can get to Big John's and see what they have available.

The chevre turned out so good that I have decided I will not make cream cheese anymore.  Chevre is better!

Since I've skipped cornbread for now, granola is the next recipe in Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.  It looked really simple, and all the ingredients needed were at hand.

Oh. My. Goodness.  I tasted it before I put the granola into the oven.  I could have eaten it all right then!

The house smelled like toasted oats, brown sugar and maple for an hour.  When the granola was done, I couldn't wait to taste the golden brown, crunchy goodness.  Success!  I added 1/2 teaspoon of orange zest to the recipe just because I thought that would be good.  It gives it just a slight hint of orange that goes well with the rest of the flavors.  I skipped the wheat germ and coconut because I didn't have any and I'm not a big fan of them.  The nice thing about this recipe is that it can be tailored to your taste.  Fabulous!

The timing was perfect, and the bagels were ready to go into their water bath immediately after the granola was done.  (I can hardly wait to break out the chevre to top a fresh bagel with.)  Tuesday's venture is going to be yogurt, and I am looking forward to putting some of this granola on top of that!

I brought a quart jar full of the granola in the car when I picked Becca and Sophie up from school.  By the time they got in the car, 1/4 of it was gone.  By the time we got home, only 1/4 was left.  The granola is a big hit, and the kids are talking about selling it at school.

Monday night I did the regular chick head count and again came up one short.  Traz had somehow gotten out of the box, which is more than four times her height, and found her way past the bird netting over the top.  I secured it more carefully with clothespins.  There's a cat in the next room and dogs in the house.  I think Traz doesn't really understand how safe she is in the box.  I'm looking at chicken coop plans so that we can get one built and get the chicks outside when the weather's better.  Now that they are bigger, they are anxious to explore.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Long, Hot, Busy Weekend

Saturday morning, bright and early.  The air is cool, but foreshadows a scorcher day.  This is the time to get the goats moved and milked quickly and start in with the weed whacker.  There is still a lot of grass to cut down, so the rattlers don't feel comfortable on my turf.  This is war.

There's a war on another front, as well.  Over the last few days I've observed and knocked down several new yellowjacket nests in my pickup truck, on the building next to our house, and in the grain shed.  I set one trap Saturday, but too far away.  I moved it closer on Sunday and added another one.

We had a birthday party planned to attend in the afternoon, and my daughter and her hubby were bringing a new mattress up for Becca's bed, so I worked more outside early and started moving the old broken pool, getting it cleared out and ready for disposal.  The new mattress is very much appreciated by Becca!  She's been sleeping on a futon for a long time, and those just aren't comfortable.  She really enjoyed a restful night on Saturday.  The bed is now twice as tall as it was before, and Duncan, our Scotty, was tired at the end of the day.  He just couldn't get up the gumption to make the double leap to the top, so Becca needed to give him a little boost.

After the bed install and a walk around the garden, then the discovery of a black widow spider near the front door (eek!), Becca and I took off for her friend Saul's house.  I love it when we get invited to parties there.  His parents are so sweet, and his mom makes the Best. Food. Ever.  Last year it was tamales.  This year, I couldn't keep away from the sweet green salsa.  I have to find a recipe that comes close, because I'm still craving it!  I loved that it was smooth and rich, almost glossy, but also had little chunks of onion and radish, and plenty of cilantro.  Saul brought out his cotton candy machine and we made some from hard Jolly Rancher candies.  I'd never heard of doing that before.

Besides the good company and food, I love wandering around their property, enjoying the chickens and pigeons and peacocks.  There are a couple dozen or more fuzzy little chicks peeping, hanging out with their protective mamas.  I am fascinated by the rare albino peacock they have.

As evening approaches, every single day he goes into an open area to spread his tail feathers, preen, fluff, and turn slowly and majestically around so we can admire him.

Part of the fun was a short walk to the creek, where the kids waded and skipped rocks.  Becca is really good!  She got five skips out of one.

By the time we got home, we were pleasantly tired, sweaty and ready to relax.  We had to take care of the animals first, and after chores we settled in with ice water and iced tea.  I was too tired to even pick up my knitting.  We watched a television program and talked about the day, then hit the sack.

I "sleep in" until 6:00 am on the weekends, and the sun was shining brightly when I awoke Sunday morning.  I love these long summer days!  The air was cool and crisp and fresh, and just right to do chores without the need for even a sweater.  Just out in the morning breeze in a tank top and jeans.  Of course, I had to have the cowboy boots on, because rattlesnakes are always on my mind now when I'm outside.  I did some more weed-whacking in the field next to the big goats.

I woke Becca, who was in a much better mood Sunday morning!  The new mattress really helps her.  It was time to get ready to go to the farmers market opening day in Windsor.

I was surprised when we arrived at the market in Windsor.  Cars were lining up on Redwood Highway to turn into our usual parking area, and there were no parking spots to be found at all.  I was a little disappointed at the two-block walk we needed to make, because I was planning to bring plants home from the community garden.  When we got to the edge of the market, I was amazed again at how many people were there!  The aisles between the stalls were so crowded that we had to thread our way through.  I was like a kid at Disneyland, wanting to stop constantly, and Becca had to remind me of our established routine and "farmers market rule" several times:  Walk one end to the other, and taste your samples and make your purchases on the way back.

There were a lot of vendors that we recognized and were happy to see again.  We greeted the farmer whose wife always makes the best gypsy pepper jelly at the end of the summer.  We got to meet her for the first time, and they told us there are six jars left that they forgot to bring, but they'll bring them next weekend.  We saw the biegnet booth, with puffy, decadent, fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar that gets all over your clothes and face.  Our favorite dairy farmers had their cheese out with samples.  The cute pony-tailed Johnny Depp look-alike with our favorite farm stand was there, as well.  He is so enthusiastic and proud of what he is doing, and always has the best basil.  We bought some artichokes from him, picked fresh that morning.

There were a lot of new faces and booths, too, though we were sad to see some of our favorites missing.  I know that means that they are enjoying success that makes it not worthwhile for them to attend the farmers market, but we miss them.  The most recent loss was Mama Tina's ravioli.  She has been doing really well over the last year, and has been able to get her products into local restaurants and grocery stores.  I'm happy to be able to pick up her ravioli at Big John's Market in Healdsburg (until I perfect my own!), but am sad not to be able to visit with her on Sunday mornings.

We filled our market bag with cheese, honeycomb, and fresh veggies, and then grabbed a couple of tomato plants from the community garden.  When we got home, hot and tired, we unloaded our things and then Becca made some lemonade.  We'd forgotten to pick the lemons up at the market and stopped by the grocery store on the way home.  A big mistake.  The organic Meyer lemons at the market were half the price of the regular ol' lemons at the store.  You can bet we won't forget next week!  Becca had to work on finishing a school project while I got to relax for and knit for a while.

I checked on the chicks later in the day, and when I did my head-count of the newest chicks, I was one short.  There was a moment of panic, as I started to look at the floor, then I heard a sound near the top of the box.  There was one of the Rhodies, perched on the metal guard wires on the heat lamp, having found a good roost.  Thank goodness it was a warm day, so the lamp was turned off!  I laughed when I realized that this is the chick we've named "Traz," short for Alcatraz.  She's an escape artist, and I knew that we'd have to remind her constantly that she was not going to be able to escape.  The netting went over the top of the box immediately.  Traz will keep us on our toes!

My evening inspection of vehicles and buildings showed more new wasp nests to knock down.  The traps have nothing in them at all, and I keep moving them closer to the house and activity.  I like to keep traps as far away from us as possible, but these guys are intent on making their nests right next to us, so I have to move them closer to the house.

It is definitely springtime on the ranch.  The carnations are really starting to bloom, and their scent can now be enjoyed on the breeze, just by walking out the door.  These are the best-smelling carnations I've ever encountered.

Happy Earth Day!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mixed Results

After the notification of rattlesnakes lurking, the work on clearing tall grass near the house became much more pressing.  The garden area is in pretty good condition, so that can wait for a day.

The forecast on Friday was for 80+ degrees, so it was clear that anything that needed to be done outside had to be done early.  I moved the three dwarf goats to their temporary "grass clearing pen" near the blackberry bushes to let them get part of the job done.

I then double-checked the truck to make sure I'd gotten all the hornet nests the night before.  All looked clear.

The weed whacker came out at 8:00 am, and I cleared grass immediately near the house until the batteries needed recharging.  The sunflowers in the greenhouse need sunlight and dirt now, so I got them into a spot where they can grow tall and produce their seeds.  I started working on getting the rest of the water out of the pool that got a hole in it and is unusable, but bees started flying around my head as I worked and wouldn't go away.  I decided that that job was better left to another time.

I was sure that I had cornmeal from the Bridgeton Mill in Indiana, but was disappointed to see that it was cornbread mix.  By the way, here's a picture of the Bridgeton Mill, bridge and waterfall.  It's a great place to visit if you happen to be in Indiana.

The mix would have been fine, but I wanted to make the next recipe in Jennifer Reese's book from scratch.  I put some milk on the stovetop to make cajeta and took a look at the next recipe in the book.

I've made mayonnaise before and will probably try Jennifer's recipe, but what really intrigued me was the "milk mayonnaise" which is a Portuguese condiment.  I know my eggs are "safe," but I always worry about making things at home with raw eggs.  I might get over that.  I used to be nervous about raw milk, too.

The recipe for the milk mayonnaise is in Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, and also online at this link.  For me, it was a colossal failure.  I carefully followed the instructions, using the immersion blender, and even going so far as to grab the insert from my food processor that will slowly drizzle oil into the bowl for optimum emulsion.  I spun that concoction for a long, long time, until I felt the handle of the blender start to overheat.  I stopped the blender.  I had slightly thickened milk that tasted like ... garlic infused, oily milk.  It may work for you, but for me it's a fail, and I am going to get over my squeamishness about raw egg mayo.

The good news is that the cinnamon cajeta is a guaranteed success.  I make vanilla cajeta every week, but am making a special cinnamon batch to bring to a birthday party on Saturday.

Ending on the rattlesnake note, after making the cajeta, I noticed Larry mowing the field below where I put the dwarf goats.  I needed to put them back into their regular pen anyway, so went out to do that.  I heard a clank/crash and thought he might have hit a water spigot that hides over there, and sure enough he later came back and had to turn off the water to fix it.  He asked if he could borrow a shovel, and as I walked toward the barn to get one, I saw a big rattlesnake in front of me, heading toward the grass near the barn.  I alerted Larry, who tried to kill it, but it escaped and hid where he couldn't get to it.  Not a good feeling!  Since then, we've spotted and killed one more.

We are watching our step!

My Little Chickadees

Becca and I had planned on getting some Rhode Island Red chicks for her final science project of the year.  That's one great thing about her taking an Agriculture (Ag) based science class in high school.  No volcanoes or projects like that, the kids get to raise something.  It could be chicks, or plants, or even a goat, pig, or steer.  There are barns at the high school so some of the larger animals can stay at school.

About a week before the Rhodies were due to be hatched and delivered to us, Becca and her friend Sophie caught sight of some Americauna chicks at the feed store.  Those are harder to come by, and there they were.  Americaunas have beautiful markings, but more than that, they lay green and blue eggs.  I've always wanted to have some!  Since we were preparing to have chicks in the house anyway, I agreed (somewhat eagerly, I admit) to get them.  I asked the guy at the store if the chicks were all sexed, and he said that they were as much as possible, but it's hard to tell this young.  He assured me that 95% of the chicks were hens.

We brought home Athena and Persephone (Percy for short).

They grow fast!  The following photo was taken at just about a month old.  At nearly six weeks they are even bigger now.

We've been hearing odd noises from the chicks in the morning lately.  I thought at first they were learning how to cluck, growing out of the cheep and peep.  It hit me yesterday, when I heard the rhythmic and repetitive sound, that one of the Americauna chicks is probably a rooster.  I like roosters, though I am disappointed that this means 50% fewer blue and green eggs.  The good thing about this is that we'll have more farm music.  I love Foghorn Leghorn's crows greeting me in the morning.

Friday, April 20, 2012

From the Middle East to France, and Dangers on the Ranch

The recipe that follows pita bread in Make the Bread, Buy the Butter is, of course, hummus.  I've made hummus before, from a recipe found here, on a blog by Jonah Lisa Dyer.  I thought that the hummus I turned out from that recipe was okay, but I wasn't thrilled with it.  She did make me laugh at the thought of even contemplating removing skins from chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and had good suggestions on how to make it really creamy.

I decided to try Jennifer Reese's recipe for hummus.  The night before, I rinsed and put the beans into a pot of water to soak overnight.  Bright and early the next morning, I rinsed them again and set the pot to boil.  It's supposed to simmer, which is - I think - a safe thing to do when I drive the kids to school (my carpool morning!), so I set it low and slow and left.  When I came home, the water was hot, but not simmering, so I had to bring it up to speed again, because the beans were still hard as rocks.

I wish that the beans had done their thing while I was out, because I don't really appreciate the smell of simmering garbanzos.  It's not "bad," per se, but it certainly doesn't bring to mind the scrumptious hummus that I'm sure will be made from them.

There are differences in these two recipes.  One is that obviously my most current venture into the Land of Hummus was twice as large as Jonah Lisa's.  She used canned beans, and though I used cooked dry beans for that recipe, it wasn't the whole one-pound bag like I planned this time.  If you make hummus from a pound of beans, I hope you have friends to give it to, a family that will eat it up like maniacs, or a freezer.  It's a lot of hummus.

Jonah Lisa suggests creaming the tahini and lemon juice at the beginning, then adding the other ingredients, saving the beans for last, and I agree with her that that method works best.  I also use a food processor and not a blender.  I think it works better, and I'm lucky to have one that my awesome eldest daughter, Jessica, gave me.  I like the cumin in Jennifer's version.  It's one of my favorite spices, and one that I fell in love with when I discovered a recipe for Grilled Chicken with Fresh Herbs and Farfelle in an issue of Cooking Fresh magazine.  It's a summertime staple, so I'm sure I'll share soon!

The last time I made hummus, Jessica had cooked beans and had 1/2 pound left over that she gave to me.  Yesterday was the first time I'd gone from ground zero to hummus, and I was feeling frustrated.  At hour 2.5 of simmering the gol-durn beans, they were still hard, so I started warming milk to make chevre.  It all starts with a gallon, yes, a whole gallon, of milk. 

I'd never made anything using this much of my goat's milk, so I was a little nervous at first.  This is silly.  If I mess it up, there's more brewing right outside, and there's about another two gallons still in the fridge.

About the time that the milk had heated to the 86 degrees that was needed to add culture and rennet, the garbanzo beans had finally softened.  I drained and cooled them, then started to assemble the ingredients to make the hummus.  The pot of cultured milk went onto a heating pad to keep it at temperature for 12 hours.  That's going to be a late draining at 10:00 p.m.  Note to self to start chevre earlier in the morning.

I got anxious when I couldn't find the tahini immediately.  I dropped extra bucks to get organic because, though Jennifer has a recipe for making tahini, I haven't even attempted that yet.  Mixing the tahini and lemon juice creates a frothy concoction.

I was anxious to add the rest of the ingredients and get whirling!  In went the spices and garlic and olive oil.  I started adding the beans a handful at a time.  About halfway through I realized ... I should have checked the capacity of my food processor bowl before making this recipe.  I really should have known.  I filled it as far as I could, did some juggling around, mixing and removing and remixing, tasted it, and liked the intense garlicky and nutty flavor so much that I didn't want to add the last 3/4 cup of beans.  It was creamy and just fine the way it was.

I had a mess to clean up, the chevre was still staying warm, and I had a ton of work to do in the garden, so I took off the apron and tossed on the old clothes, gloves, and hat, grabbing the weed whacker on the way out the door.  I also grabbed the leftover beans, because the chickens love chickpeas!

I am making good progress in the garden.  The tall grass, weeds, and thistles that had regrown after the last rain are cleared, the greenhouse is nice and steamy (I have to take off my glasses before entering!), and I'm getting the soil softened so I can dig out some weeds in the raised beds.

After picking Becca up from school, my neighbor's brother stopped by to warn us that he'd seen three rattlesnakes that day.  He is really concerned, because normally he sees three in a whole season.  Later, Bette texted me to let me know that she'd seen another near her goat barn.  Feeling on edge already, when the day cooled, I went out to see if the yellowjackets I'd seen hanging around the pickup had made any nests.  I carefully opened the driver's door and saw that a nest was being started in the door jamb, just where it'd been last year.  I left that open and popped the hood.  The passenger door was clear, and after I carefully opened the hood I got a chill, seeing one, two, three yellowjacket nests under there.

Becca and I made a quick trip to the store to get a trap.  As she got out of the car she screamed and started flailing her leg, stomping the ground.  A yellowjacket had been on her ankle!  When it was time to leave, she really wanted to walk the six miles home, and did NOT want to get into the car.  We had no idea if it'd left or not.  It took some firm coaxing and an examination of the car to get her in, and a promise to stop if she saw anything.  Half a mile down the road, she started yelling - it was on the floor, walking around.  We pulled over and dispatched the creature, and made it the rest of the way home without incident.  By now the day had cooled, so I knocked down the nests, discovering two more that had been barely started.  The hood of the truck is open today and I'll keep an eye out.

As creepy and nerve-wracking as these things are, rattlesnakes and yellowjackets, and bobcats, raccoons and skunks and other creatures are just another part of the country living we enjoy.  Learning to live with and near them, and encouraging them to stay away from my place, is a balancing act.  Extra vigilance is a small price to pay for a place that I enjoy spending more time outdoors than in, can enjoy fresh air, grow good food, and not hear traffic, arguments, or sirens.  I fall asleep to the sound of coyotes in the hills, and appreciate that life here is darn good.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Pita Bread Looks Funny

Yesterday I remembered something.  There is a reason that my rolling pin stays lonely and forgotten in the kitchen drawer.  I haven't made sugar cookies since high school, because my rolling pin skills stink.  I pulled it out yesterday, forgetting those long ago days of misshapen and torn pie crusts and inept looking cookies.  The next recipe bookmarked in my new book was pita bread.

My dear friend, Jill, apparently has been paying attention to the stuff I spew on my Facebook page.  She sent me the link to a great book, knowing that I would be interested.  (I love you, Jill!)  Marin County wife and mother loses her job, and decides to find out if it's cheaper/better to make or buy some grocery items.  Jennifer Reese is a woman after my own heart.  She is bolder than I am (and has a very understanding, patient, and accommodating husband!) in that I don't believe that I will cure my own bacon "from scratch" or eat one of my chickens unless there is a horrible catastrophic event and there are no grocery stores or butcher shops left in the world.  After reading the book description, I decided that I wanted to read Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.  Jennifer makes this a romp through the grocery store and her kitchen ... and her back yard and neighborhood, as she brings home goats, chickens, and even bees, and tests her recipes on her patient (if often skeptical) family.

I want to - and will - try most of the recipes in this book.  I read it cover to cover (well, as much of a cover as you can find on an e-book) and then started going back to the bookmarked recipes that I want to try.  I've made a few that I haven't blogged about, but I recently decided to get methodical about this and start from the beginning, working my way to the end.  As I hit those recipes I've already made, I'll tell you all about them.

You might think I'm on a bread kick, but really, I just happen to be on that chapter!  Yesterday's adventure was pita bread.

According to Jennifer, the key to making pita with pockets is a hot-hot-hot oven with a hot-hot-hot pizza stone.  Thank goodness I didn't decide to try this in July.  As it is, heating the pizza stone on the bottom rack of my oven yesterday morning burned off all sorts of missed things that I didn't know were in there and would smoke up the house.  It was a cool spring morning, so opening the windows wasn't a problem.

I futzed with the rolling pin.  The dough stuck to it.  I floured.  I got flour all over.  I forgot to wear my apron.  I got impatient.  I realized that 16 pitas from this recipe at 1/4" each was too many, at least for the dough I produced.  I modified the amount halfway through the dough.  Most of my pita circles weren't exactly circles, but I put them on the hot baking stone anyway.  I waited impatiently for eight minutes.  I didn't peek.

There are definitely pockets in my pitas.  They look like little bread balloons, but I think that's okay.  They aren't flat, plastic-packaging- and store-shelf-ready, but they are probably closer to the original concept than today's store-bought pitas, which often tear apart as you try to open the "pocket." 

Most of them aren't circular, but they taste ...


Especially with homemade cream cheese stuffed into the pocket.  Hee.  I'll bet that when I learn to make them the proper size they might even be a great substitute for hamburger buns, and we can stuff that Amazing BBQ Pulled Chicken inside!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Accidents "Happen," but They Still Suck

A few weeks ago I started seeds indoors in these handy little trays with peat pods.  I planted 140 pods.  I very carefully labeled each row, using the label maker to put stickers on the lids, and hand-writing the names of the plants on wooden stakes to put into the ground when they're transplanted.  I tended them, and eagerly watched them sprout.  I moved some of the faster-growing seedlings to little pots in the sunshine (watching them bend eagerly toward the window) and made sure everyone was doing fine.  I was fascinated by the way some seeds sprouted so quickly (radishes first, of course), and how others take their own sweet time (loofah, where are you?).

This weekend, my dear neighbor, Bette, found a small greenhouse for us to use in our shared garden.  Yesterday I took a look at what it would take to put it together and found it would be really simple, so I forged ahead.  (I'm sorry I didn't let you know so you could play, Bette!)  It's cute!

After school, Becca helped me bring the seedlings and peat pods out to the greenhouse and lay them carefully on the shelves.  I noticed that one of the trays had too much water in it, so I gently lifted it and started pouring the excess out of one corner.

Then it happened.

Suddenly, the tray tilted forward unexpectedly, falling out of my hands.  The wire shelf tumbled, the tray fell, and pods rained onto the ground.  There was nothing we could do but stare for a moment in shock and dismay.

I recognize some of the seedlings that have started, because I've been enjoying watching them grow, but many have no sprouts yet, so Becca and I guessed as best we could about where things had fallen and where they might belong.  I am sure we got some wrong.  Just looking at those carefully prepared labels made a lump grow in my throat.  We will have to set aside a plot for the "mystery box" and see if we can deduce what the plants are as they start to grow.

The good thing is that 70+ seedlings are still labeled correctly!  We will also have a game to play of "Name That Plant" for the next few months. We'll just have to make that fun.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bread and Cheese

When I took a look at what I made yesterday, I wondered if I was really making strides toward a "healthy lifestyle."  Despite the "high fat" and "carbs" and calories in bagels and cream cheese, I think I still am.  It's not like these are all we eat, but we enjoy them, and the ingredients are fresh, wholesome, and readily available.  Becca is not big on eating breakfast, but I can send a homemade fresh bagel with her to school (and two for her friends!) and she'll have something to eat at break time.  I am also certain that these are far better tasting and better for us than their grocery store counterparts.  Commercial cream cheese has lots of additives, as does bread.  I was shocked to discover last year that most commercial breads contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  Some companies are making the move away from this ingredient, as evidenced by packages that now state in bright, bold letters that their product does not contain HFCS.  The worst offenders are hot dog and hamburger buns; it's hard to find them without HFCS, though I believe it's Orowheat that offers a potato hamburger bun that is delicious and HFCS-free.  We like to use those buns for our Amazing BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches, that I'm sure we'll be making as the weather warms.  I'll be sure to share the recipe when I make it next.

I'm getting the bagel recipe "down."  When I first started making bagels this year, I used the recipe that came with the bread machine, since I am using the machine to mix and rise the dough.  Yesterday, I used whey left over from last week's cream cheese instead of water, and made a different recipe using non-diastatic malt powder (from roasted barley) from King Arthur Flour.  The malt powder replaces the processed white sugar in the dough recipe, and the bagels turned out shiny, with a nice, chewy, slightly crispy crust, tender and soft inside.  The recipe can be found here at the King Arthur Flour web site.  These bagels are massive, so I will probably make a dozen from this recipe in the future.

Today I an omitting the sugar from the water bath to see if that makes any difference.  I've also discovered that it's a good idea to lightly flour the surface you put the dough on (it is very sticky, but you don't want the bagels to be too dry either), and form the dough into the bagel shape before the 30-minute resting period.  Place them on a lightly greased baking sheet and stretch the holes out a little again, if you wish, before boiling.  After the water bath, you can drain them on a clean dish towel, re-grease the sheet, and bake.  I prefer the poke-the-hole in the middle method over the make-a-rope-and-stick-the-ends-together method.  It makes a much more uniform looking bagel, with no risk of it coming apart at the seams.

Ah, greasing the baking sheet.  I like using the spray oils, because it allows a light coating without too much mess or waste.  I don't like having to buy the cans all the time, though, which is expensive and wasteful, and most, if not all, of the canned oils contain soy.  I discovered a great little spray bottle that I can fill with whatever oil I want to use, and am tickled to finally be free of the metal spray cans.  I found the Prepara food mister at a local kitchen store.  If you cannot find something similar, you can follow the link above to order online.  I use this all the time!

Once the ingredients are on hand, making cream cheese is so easy.  It is not for fast-food types, because it won't be ready for approximately 24 hours.  The wait is soooo worth it, though!  Here's a picture of this morning's freshly drained cheese.  I'm working on my photo taking skills.  Really, I am.

A few weeks ago, my daughter, Amanda, and I took a fresh cheese class through the local JC, taught by author Mary Karlin.  Amanda was sweet enough to surprise me with a copy of Mary's book, Artisan Cheese Making at Home.  I now have all the information available to go from the fresh cheeses we beginners learned to any type of cheese I want to make! Next on the list is chevre, a traditional goat's milk cheese.  I've made it before, from another book, but it was always hit-or-miss; I never knew if it would work out the way I wanted it to.  Hands-on with Mary in the class, I now know that I can make an awesome chevre.

The bagels are in the oven and the cream cheese safely in the fridge away from Breezy.  I'm looking forward to my bread and cheese breakfast!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Learning (Or Remembering) Something New Every Day

Please allow me to introduce you to Breezy.

Breezy is an 8 1/2 year old Shar-Pei/American Bulldog mix, who still in many ways acts like a puppy.  She's no lap dog, but will climb up into Becca's lap.  She also has bad doggy habits that just won't be broken, as many dogs do.  If given the opportunity to get outside unleashed, she will take off running and evade you until you bring a car to her and open the door.  She pees when excited, so we learned quickly to take her outside as soon as we come home, and as soon as guests appear.

Breezy is also a chow-hound.  She will eat nearly anything, especially if it's human food.  She is a living garbage disposal, though most of what she eats is not garbage.  I've left a 10-pound-bag of apples in the kitchen while going out to the store, and come home to find them all gone.  Tomatoes, chips, especially butter, anything, although I've found she does leave whole onions alone.  Becca is also a child who can honestly use the excuse that her dog ate her homework.  Breezy has yet to tear apart homework before it's turned in, but she recently demolished a sketch book and daily planner that she pulled from Becca's unzipped backpack.

Last week I was soooo excited to have made my first batch of awesome cream cheese from our goat's milk.  I'd been enjoying it and we were about halfway through the batch when we left in a rush Saturday morning and came home to find that Breezy had eaten the rest of it.  I'd forgotten to put it back in the fridge, and even though it was in a sealed Glad-brand storage container, it was gone.  Breezy hadn't been able to get the seal off the top, but that didn't stop her from chewing through the corner of the container to get to the scrumptious cheese inside.

The obvious lesson learned was to double-check the counter tops when leaving the house.  The next lesson hit me like a bolt of lightning.  If I had put the cream cheese in a glass container, Breezy would not have been able to chew through it.

A friend on Facebook recently posted a link to an article, "What's Really Making Us Fat?" that contained a lot of food for thought.  Many of these things I'd already known about and had been taking steps to address in our own food consumption.  What hit home for me while reading this was that I had to wean myself off of plastic ware.  I've long been uncomfortable using it to store food, but it's everywhere, and as a child of the Tupperware Generation, it was as commonplace at home as a carton of milk in the fridge.  Petroleum is used in the manufacture of plastic.  Do I really want to surround my carefully-made organic food essentially with gasoline?  No.  And I have to stop cold turkey, now.  I'd previously decided to use up what I had and slowly replace it with glass, but Breezy showed me that there's no time like the present to get this stuff out of the kitchen.

She might be a dumb dog sometimes, but she taught me a lesson! Now to make more of that cream cheese...

Friday, April 13, 2012

Back to Basics

One of my goals is to prepare most of our food at home from scratch, using the freshest ingredients, and avoiding processed foods as much as possible.  These should include a majority of foods grown right here on the ranch.  Walking through most grocery stores these days is like walking through a food mine field, surrounded by highly processed, artificially flavored and preserved, and genetically modified foods.  The more I learn about the modern factory foods, the more I want to avoid them.

A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted ranch dressing.  Real ranch dressing.  Not the stuff in the unused bottles that linger in my fridge (I hate to throw away food, but this isn't really food, so I think I need to!).  My thinking reverted to ingrained patterns - "Aw man, I don't have the Hidden Valley Ranch packet!"  I rarely buy it anyway, so it's not like a staple in the house.

Then I thought, "Wait a minute.  That packet had to come from somewhere, right?"  I began the search for a from-scratch recipe for ranch dressing to see what was in that packet, and came across a great cooking blog at  Her ranch dressing recipe, here, turned out to be marvelous and easy!  The best part of it all was that I could go outside to gather the chives and parsley from the garden, and know that when our garlic is harvested, mayonnaise made (from our own eggs), and sour cream made, that I could make virtually all of this home-grown.  (Now to get that olive tree and learn to press ... hold on there, Laura, one thing at a time...)

The dressing was marvelous, and even my 14-year-old finicky daughter was pleased!

This morning, I noticed that we are getting low on that dressing, and also on the sour cream that I made last week.  It was such a good feeling to whip up the dressing without even needing to look at the recipe, and then to start another batch of sour cream, again without having to look at the recipe.

The coolest thing about the sour cream is that I need NOTHING outside of the ranch to keep it going.  I skim cream off the top of the goat milk in the fridge (we get a scant 1/4 to 1/2 inch at the top of each 2-quart jar) and add a tablespoon of the previous batch of sour cream to continue the culture.  Let it sit for a day, and voila!  We have more sour cream.

I was quite pleased with that cooking adventure this morning.  Now to make mayonnaise, and hope the chicks start laying on the early side of the 4- to 6-month estimate for them, so we can have more eggs than the mostly-one-a-day that Roxie the Rhode Island Red hen gives us.