Tuesday, July 30, 2013

MMMM, Milkshakes!

The daughters and I got a hankering for milkshakes last evening.  So, we did what any frugal person would do:  we looked in the freezer, the fridge, and the pantry to see what we had.

We had milk and french vanilla ice cream, but found we were out of chocolate sauce.  Not feeling like whipping up a batch, we decided chocolate shakes were out.  Then I remembered there were frozen strawberries in the chest freezer, strawberries we'd harvested from the garden in June.

Just a few minutes and a little blender work later, we had milkshakes.  For each one it was approximately 1 cup frozen strawberries, 1 cup (whole) milk, and 1 scoop french vanilla ice cream.  That's all it took.  Those three ingredients whizzed through the blender for a minute or maybe two (pulsed on the 'blend' setting) turned into some thick and tasty milkshakes.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Oh My Goodness--Raw Butter!

Let me say that I've been wanting a cow for years.  Over a decade.  Why?  Because I want to have my own milk, not stuff in a plastic jug that has come from only God knows how many cows, pumped into a huge truck, hauled God knows how many miles, dumped into an even bigger vat, and then run through all the approved processing that makes the USDA declare it safe to drink.

Yes, I'm one of those loonies.  A raw milk advocate. I have had first hand experience with drinking raw milk on occasion as a child (the occasion being when I would stay with my grandparents, who for a few years of their retirement lived next door to a dairy farm and got their milk direct from the farmer's bulk tank).  I remember that milk as being sooooo different from the milk I drank at home, milk that was from the grocery store.  It was different, and good.  Really good.  Thick.  Tasty.  And you know what?  Despite what the fear mongers will tell you, that raw milk didn't make any of us sick when we drank it.  Nope.  Nobody got sick, nobody died.  And the farmer's son, who drank it everyday was healthy too.  (And pretty darn good looking, my 12 yr old self thought :0) )

So, I am all for freedom of choice on whether or not you want to drink your milk raw or pasteurized.  Me, I'd like to be able to drink mine raw.  Or, if I want it pasteurized, to take it from the cow, into the kitchen and pasteurize it myself.  No mixing, no big truck, no highway or government involved.

Even being pro-raw milk, I don't have a cow. And I don't drink raw milk, I still get mine in plastic jugs from the store.  Mainly because a) DH still hasn't come around to the idea of having a cow at home--he doesn't want to be tied down to daily milkings; and b) raw milk is illegal to sell in Michigan: and c) even though there is a herd share program (the only legal way of getting your hands on raw milk is to own a share of a cow in a herd share program) within an hour's drive of me, the cost and weekly commute for milk is prohibitively expensive.

And so I do the best I can with what I can afford; being choosy about the exact store I buy my milk from. All milk is not equal, some brands consistently have an 'off' taste to me and so I don't buy them (one store I have, trying to give it the benefit of the doubt, tried their milk about four different times in a 4-6 year period and it always tasted not-quite-right).  I also only buy and drink whole milk.  I'm not afraid of fat.  Natural fat, animal fat, is much better for you than the filler stuff they put in the lowfat and non-fat versions of things.  Plus, our bodies (brains and joints in particular) need natural fats.

Recently, however, I found out that my sister-in-law participates in a herd share.  She and some of her co-workers who are also share owners take turns doing the weekly milk pick-up.  A milk carpool, if you will.  That helps cut the cost for her and makes it more affordable for her family.  They are loving their raw milk.

Not only are they loving the milk, they are loving the cream that naturally forms on the top portion of the milk jugs.  Sister-in-law told me that she draws off this cream with a turkey baster and makes butter out of it.

Weekend before last, DH made a trip over to sister-in-law's place to do a little landscaping work for her with our tractor.  At the end of the afternoon, she sent him home with a baggie for me.  A baggie of contraband, if you will.  It contained butter that was made from the cream from the unpasteurized milk.  Butter that is known as 'raw' butter because neither the milk nor the cream it came from were heated (cooked to pasteurization temperatures).  Raw butter is contraband because, like raw milk, the USDA deems it unsafe to consume and therefore illegal to sell or trade or even give awa.

Know what I did with that unsafe, illegal butter?  I cooked eggs in it for breakfast the next morning.  I spread it on our toast.  I even was so brash as to eat a bite of it all by itself!

Oh my goodness!  Was it good!  I couldn't believe how good!  For many years I've cooked with real butter, bought from the store.  No margarine allowed at this little place here. The box my store bought butter comes in lists cream and salt as the only ingredients in the butter.  The same things that were in the raw butter, only the cream had been pasteurized in the store bought butter.  They should have been exactly the same: cream and salt turned into butter.

But they weren't the same.  The raw butter was deeper yellow, the store butter looked nearly white next to it. The raw butter felt creamier on the tongue.  The raw butter tasted different.  I can't quite describe how it was different, but it was not the same flavor.  In a blind taste test, you would know they were not the same product.

The baggie that sister-in-law sent lasted maybe a week, and it was reserved just for eggs and toast, not for any cooking task that required a large quantity of it.

I need a cow.  I so need a cow.  I want raw butter every day.  I think I'm addicted.

Friday, July 26, 2013

What To Do With Zucchini?

First, a confession:  I seem to be incapable of growing the long, dark green zucchini at this little place here.  I haven't quite figured out exactly what it is, since they grew prolifically at my last piece of land, but they don't grow well here.  Yellow summer squash seems to grow much, much better.

And this year, thanks to a free packet of seeds marked "trial round light green zucchini" that was sent along with my seed order from one of the three companies my garden seeds came from this Spring, I have learned that apparently round light green zucchini also grow well here.

Just not the ones that look like what everyone thinks of when they hear the word "zucchini."

Well, it doesn't really matter what shape or exact color (dark green, light green, yellow) they are, they taste and cook pretty much the same.  So, now that it's High Summer and you are looking at a countertop overflowing with zucchini, what do you do with them?

If they aren't too big around yet, say, banana sized or smaller, you can cut them into chunks and use them in shish kebabs along with your peppers, mushrooms, onions, etc.  Or, if they are more like the size of a woman's wrist, you can slice them about 1/4" thick and saute them in butter or olive oil.  You can also cut them to that size, dredge in egg and breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs, and then fry them.

Wrist-sized and up can be split open length-wise and used to make zucchini boats (look up a recipe, there are tons of them on the internet.)  Or, you can julienne them and make a fantastic zucchini 'slaw' out of them (again, look up a recipe).  Take it to your next summer picnic/potluck; I guarantee it will be the only zucchini slaw there, unlike pasta or potato salads or bags of chips.

You can also shred them.  Shredding them is the most common thing I do with mine when I have a super abundance of them.  Because shredded zucchini freezes very well.  Then I can use it in the winter, when the garden has finally stopped producing them.  Or the next year, when my garden fails to produce them.  Shredded zucchini will last a long time in a deep freeze.

Shredded zucchini is the basis for zucchini bread.  Zucchini muffins (very good with bean soup, by the way.  For my recipe see "Hot Soup For a Cold Day").  Chocolate zucchini cake (see my post "Something Warm and Chocolaty From The Garden" for the recipe.)

This week I concocted a new recipe in order to use up the new to be round light green zucchini.  Also so I might better be able to convince people at the farmers market to buy them (last week everyone looked at them with suspicion and not a single person was brave enough to take one home).

What I did was take the idea of a zucchini boat and combine it with the idea of a stuffed pepper.  Plus, I used up some more of the leftover turkey in my fridge from last week (see post "An Old Concept Put To Use").  Here is the recipe I came up with:

Stuffed Zucchini

Take 4 round zucchini of about softball size.  Rinse under cold water, then place into a pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes.

Remove zucchini from boiling water and set aside.

Meanwhile, chop one sweet onion and saute in butter until translucent.  Remove from heat and place onion in a medium sized mixing bowl.

Chop some leftover turkey (or chicken would work too, I suppose) into approximately 1/2" pieces.  When you have about a cup and a half of turkey, add to bowl with the onions.

Shred about 1 cup cheddar cheese and 1/4 cup Romano cheese.  Add to bowl with onions and turkey.

Add to bowl 1 tsp salt and about 1/2 tsp pepper.

Now, get your round zucchinis, remove the stems (if they have them), and set them stem side down on a cutting board.  You will now have the blossom end up.  Cut off approximately the top 1/2" to 3/4" of the zucchini (removing the blossom end).

Once the 'top' of the zucchini is cut off, carefully use the knife to slice around inside the zucchini, but do not cut through the skin.  You only want to cut up the flesh of the zucchini, leaving about 1/4" to 1/3" 'bowl' composed of skin and flesh.  

Carefully scoop out the inner flesh (remember leave at least 1/4" around the edges) of the zucchini with a spoon.  Discard any sections with large seeds.  Chop the rest and add to the bowl with the turkey, onion, etc.

Stir contents of the bowl to mix well.  

Place each of the four zucchini into an 8" x 8" or 9" x 9" baking dish.  I put one in each corner and they fit fine.  Stuff each zucchini with the contents of the bowl.

Cover with the pan with foil and place in a 350 degree oven.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes.

And that, my friends, is how I made stuffed zucchini.  Which DH looked at suspiciously when I served it, but finished his first one and then reached for seconds!  So I consider that a success.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Let There Be Vegetables

I hereby declare it to be High Summer at this little place here.  I make this declaration because of the sudden abundance of a variety of vegetables in the garden.  We've gone from one or two things being in season, to suddenly, about a dozen different types of veggies ready for our culinary enjoyment.  Currently I am awash in shell peas, green (and yellow and purple) bush beans, new potatoes, cucumbers, beets, swiss chard, bell peppers, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, romaine lettuces, summer squash and zucchini.

More is coming soon: the corn has ears, not yet filled out enough to pick and dine on, but it has definite ears.  The tomatoes are mostly green, a few brave cherry types have become red (and consequently plucked and eaten on the spot, not even making it into the house).  The broccoli has small heads starting, as does the cauliflower and the cabbage.  The pole beans are winding their way up the cornstalks and should be flowering soon. The garlic is just about ready to harvest, and the onions are forming bulbs.

It is High Summer.  Dinner is no longer as much about "What's in the freezer and pantry I can use for dinner?" as is it "What is ripe in the garden and in need of eating today?"

We are rich right now.  Not in money, but in fresh food.

Let there be vegetables.

bush bean medley

summer squash, round light green zucchini, bell peppers and cukes

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Kayaking Diva Gets Wet!

I've been out in the kayak three times this month.

First time was on July 4th.  DH and I went on the Rifle River up north.  It was a great day weather-wise, and in spite of this, we saw no other people on the river during the three hours we floated.

It was amazing.  I like steering around other boaters about as much as I like steering around other cars on the road.  I drive mostly two-lane country roads for a reason.  I hate traffic.  So an empty river was the best possible holiday I could ask for.

The Rifle was a repeat for both of us.  DH has canoed it several times, and it was the third river (third time kayaking at all) for me last year.  It's not a real challenging river, but it does require some steering skill and a little ability to read the water if you want to stay dry.

Which I do.  Want to stay dry, that is.  Some people kayak and canoe with the intent to get wet.  I do not.  For me, it's more of "can I beat the river, or will it beat me?"  If I come off it dry, I win.  If I come off it wet, the river wins.  I'm a very competitive person.  I want to win.

I went kayaking all of five times, on five different rivers last summer.  Which was the first kayaking season of my life.  At first I was a bit trepid.  Then I figured out a few ways in which a kayak is like a horse.

DH doesn't believe me in this analogy.  He doesn't see a kayak being at all like a horse.  But I do.  Horses are one of the things in life I know best, and since they are an area of expertise for me, I try to find similarities between each new thing and horses.  When I find the similarity, I better understand the new thing I'm trying to master.

So once I stumbled across those few connections, I was no longer such a timid kayaker.   I felt less like a hostage to the boat and the water, and more like the captain.  I was in charge, not the water.  I could cause things to happen, or to not happen (like not getting wet!!).  I went on tougher rivers each time, finishing the summer with the Sturgeon, which DH considers to be an intermediate level river at the minimum, and experienced boater level in sections.

I started the Sturgeon last year with the intermediate section.  And stayed dry.  And discovered I am not a recreational floater.  I'm not in it to drift and drink and horse around with my river mates.  No, I'm bored after an hour of drifting.  Drinking doesn't much appeal to me.  And horsing around, well, that requires equines, not people.  I'm not into the whole splash and tip and dunk thing.  Mostly because they involve getting wet.  Remember, the kayaking diva does not want to get wet.  Her goal is to get off the river as dry as when she got on.

So, I went from the 'easy' (or, rather, intermediate) section of the Sturgeon to the experienced section in one day.  Yes, I stuck with the braver members of that float trip and continued on the harder section after lunch.  And I stayed dry.  (Yahoo!  And my head got bigger, and bigger. . . )

As a result, a month ago, when DH and I were invited on a canoe/kayak trip in mid-July with some friends of his on two not-for-the-timid-boater rivers (at least, not for the timid if the timid want to stay dry), I said "YES I'LL GO!!"

It is now past mid-July.  We have returned from the float trip.  I got wet.  And I lived.  And I had one heck of a good time.

It was the Little Manistee River that got me.  It beat me; I got taken by an eddy and washed into a tree lodged in the river, my boat tipped too much and I took on water faster than I could get off the tree.  The river ran at approximately 14 mph in that spot.  It was a section that is not recommended for anyone not an 'expert paddler'.  (I told you my head got big.)

view from the put in at the start of the 'expert paddlers only' section.
That is pretty representative of the width of the river
 all the way down that section, only the water picked up speed
 (and dead trees) after the put in.

In my defense (head still pretty big, despite getting wet), that part of the Little Manistee is tight and quick, with lots of obstacles.  Mostly trees in/over the river.  And the only reason the eddy got me is that the boater immediately in front of me (a member of our group) was trying to go through the approximately 3' opening between the top of the tree and the bank, and he got lodged in the opening when he hit it wrong.  With the river only being about 8' wide in that spot and the only way out plugged with somebody else's kayak, I had nowhere to go but into that dang tree.  It was right after a tight and fast curve and I couldn't spin my kayak quick enough to go back upstream until the guy got his boat free. A little ways further down we had to portage because of a tree completely blocking the river.

I firmly believe that had that other guy made it through the chute, I would have stayed dry.  Because there were other, tougher spots on that river before and after that spot, and I didn't have any trouble with them.  There were also at least half a dozen spots with trees over the river where you only had clearance if you did the limbo in your boat, and I did those fine too.  I'm glad I'm flexible enough to lay flat out on the kayak, LOL.  Sometimes you had to point your paddle out in front of you to be 'skinny' enough to fit through an opening, which meant no steering until your arms and shoulders were through.

So in my book, the river beat me, but it had assistance. Plus, every member of our five person "you must be completely insane" group to tackle that section of the river got wet.  Including DH, who insisted in taking his 16-foot canoe through it when it is only recommended for kayaks.  (What can I say; he's about as hard-headed as I am.)

The following day we did the Pine River, which has a similarly fast flow, but is wider.  It doesn't have hardly any trees as obstacles, but it does have lots of rapids.  And big rocks.  Boulder sized rocks that lurk just under the surface.  And tons of other boaters.  About a hundred other boats in the five hours we were on the river.  Boats that were constantly bumping into you, or flipping over in front of you, or otherwise generally being a nuisance.

Giant rocks and out of control boats, oh joy.  Diva mode full on.  Maybe on overdrive.  I wanted those other boats gone.  I wanted the river to myself.  I didn't want to lose to rocks or idiots.

I beat them.

Head back to bigger than it should be.  Maybe because that is one part of me that the Little Manistee didn't get wet.  I had stepped out of my kayak before it capsized, rather than getting rolled and dunked. The water was about three feet deep in that very spot. So only the lower half of me got wet.  ;0)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

An Old Concept Put To Use

It has been hot at this little place here this week.  In the 90s with humidity anywhere from 65 to 80-some percent.  I don't know if I've mentioned it before or not, but we do not have air conditioning.

This was a conscious decision we made when we built the house.  There were a number of reasons we decided against it (no ductwork with the radiant floor heat, so central air would have added much more materials and cost to the build; it's expensive to run and I don't like forking out cash to the electric company; I get cold in a/c, really, even if it's set at 72 degrees!; DS2's allergies and the added allergen-encouraging environment that ductwork brings. . . )

Which is a long-winded way to say it's been hot here this week!

Now, we're well-versed in strategies to cope with the heat.  Both DH and I (as well as our kids) grew up in houses without a/c.  For a number of years in my middle childhood, I spent a few weeks each late July and early August way down in the southeastern corner of Ohio on my paternal grandparents "farm", the home of which consisted of a single-wide trailer also with no air conditioning.  And, during my usually two week stay with them, the main activity was canning green beans.  All day. Two or three days a week. In a tin-can of a home, with no a/c, on top of a hill with only one tree, which was an ancient apple tree that while it was wide, was not tall enough to cast any shade on the trailer.  A large portion of our non-canning time was spent sitting in lawn chairs under that apple tree.

Anyway, back to this little place here and our current heat wave.  It happened to begin approximately two days after I decided to take a whole turkey (17.5 pounds!) out of the freezer to thaw.  This was a decision I made partly because I wanted a break from the summer salad-grilled meat-taco/burrito/fajita menu we'd been partaking in for over a month, and partly because meat in the freezer is getting low on grillable stuff and I felt a need to make use of some of the larger meats on hand rather than go to (horrors!) the grocery store and purchase more meat for the grill.

If you've ever put on a Thanksgiving meal from scratch, which of course would include a whole turkey that you cooked yourself, you probably know that it takes about three days for a frozen turkey of any size above 10 pounds to thaw in the refrigerator.  So, with our 90+ degree days starting on day two of my turkey's fridge-stay, that meant I was faced with a turkey that would be thawed and in need of cooking during the worst possible time to run an oven (especially for 4 hours straight!) in a house with no air conditioning.  And, being that the turkey had already partially thawed, I could not simply put it back into the freezer to await a more kindly weather forecast.

I put off roasting the turkey on the first day it was entirely thawed.  Even without the use of the oven, my house was a less-than-comfortable 85 degrees inside by dinner time.

On the morning of the second day (which, by the way, happened to be the first day of the Ag Expo at the nearby state university--of course I attended that afternoon even though the thermometer read 92 degrees at mid-day and the outdoor temperature display on the Suburban read an impressive 100 degrees when I got back into it after spending three and a half hours outdoors at the Ag Expo), I had a revelation.

My revelation was such: back in the days before air conditioning was the norm, and when people still lived on small farms and homesteads and raised (and therefore canned) a lot of their own food, a thing known as a "summer kitchen" was utilized.  This was back in the day of if you were going to eat, you had to cook it at home; there wasn't a Mickey Dee's to run to or a pizza joint that drove the food to your house when it was hot outside (and inside!).

Now, a summer kitchen was simply an outdoor area in which food was cooked (and/or canned) during the hot weather months so that this important task could get done without heating up the house to unbearable temperatures.  (85 is not unbearable, despite what the central air companies would like you to believe, or what the media might tell you: "go to a cooling station if your home does not have a/c"; it is simply uncomfortable but not deadly.)

What I needed was a summer kitchen to roast my turkey in!  I just so happen to have a patio that is shaded by the deck above it (which extends across the entire back of my house).  This patio is accessible through the walkout basement.  A perfect location--outside, and also shady in the afternoon and evening hours.  Not only that, but it possesses an outdoor electrical outlet.

I also just so happen to own an 18 quart roaster, the manufacturers of which claim you can fit an entire turkey into for roasting.  And, I also just so happen to own a portable folding table which is large enough and sturdy enough to support said roaster holding a 17.5 pound turkey.

In other words, I took what was available, called on an old concept (the summer kitchen), and I roasted that sucker for dinner on a 92 degree day!

my impromptu summer kitchen

roasted turkey
(which I forgot to truss, thus the rather risque positioning of it's legs!)

Now, you might be thinking 92 degrees and roast turkey doesn't even sound appetizing.  But we're not talking Thanksgiving-style, cold-weather, heavy-in-your-gut-menu.  We had thinly sliced pieces served with a rice pilaf.  Light, summery, yet filling.  Plus, there is a lot of meat leftover for sandwiches, wraps, turkey tacoes, brothy soups, etc.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

New Faces. . . Rabbit Stew Take Two

Back during our first years at this little place here, possibly even before we built the barn, we acquired a few rabbits.  The first was a birthday gift to DD1 from her grandparents.  A rabbit for DD2 followed a few months later for her birthday, and then the following spring, when I got a hold of a 4-place hutch off of freecycle, I bought a couple of meat does.  The idea being, we were going to raise us some rabbit stew.

Well, that was a grand idea.  What actually ended up happening was that we had baby bunnies, lots of baby bunnies, and those baby bunnies grew up.  And nobody wanted to kill them.  Well, DH wanted them killed, and I wanted them killed, but nobody wanted to be the one to actually do the deed.  You see, killing rabbits isn't exactly the same as killing chickens, which I did without qualms.  Chickens you chop their heads off in one good blow with a hatchet.  Rabbits you snap their necks, either by doing it with your own two hands, or by holding them by the hind legs and giving them a good whack on the back of the head with a pipe or other instrument.

DH didn't want to be the executioner. (Despite his deer killing prowess, he is a softie.)  I strongly doubted my ability to give a good enough whack or a sharp enough twist to get the job done humanely.  I didn't want the rabbits to suffer because of my clumsiness.

So, I gave them all away.

I should mention that by this time, it had been a couple of years since the arrival of the of the 'birthday bunnies', and that they both had met untimely ends (one terrible night we lost 2 turkeys, 18 chickens and a dozen bunnies to an attack by 'feral' dogs).  I'm not a heartless mom who would give away her daughters' pet rabbits.  The meat ones, however, were never intended to be pets, and I wasn't about to keep feeding freeloaders.

Many years went by.  It is now Spring 2013.  I'm talking to a young woman I've known since she was a first grader (she is now of legal drinking age, so I've known her quite a while. . .) who mentioned to me that her family also was too afraid to attempt snapping their rabbits' necks.  So her father puts the rabbit scheduled for the dinner table into a large bucket, and thus contained, shoots it in the head with a .22.

A light bulb when off in my head.  I could do that!!  I totally have no problem shooting things in the head with a .22! After all, that is how I dispatch chicken-killing coons and possums after I catch them at the scene of the crime.

Mental wheels turned.  Maybe I could raise rabbits again.  I could shoot them.  Quick, humane, no fumbling with necks and hurting the poor things.  Hmm.

Then one recent Saturday, I went to the local hay and straw auction hoping to pick up a few dozen bales of straw to use as mulch in my garden.  The hay and straw auction is on Saturday mornings at 10:00 and is immediately followed by a small animal auction.

Well, the straw went for more per bale than I was willing to pay (I'm cheap, hence going to the auction instead of the places that sell it for $5 a bale to the city people--my target price was under $2.50), and silly me, I wandered into the auction barn where the animal cages are kept.  The cages held chickens, ducks, guineas, a few turkeys, some doves, and--oh my!--some rabbits.

I am a sucker.  Totally a sucker.  I saw a very cute, totally too small to ever be eaten, black mini lop.  It looked just like the rabbit DD2 used to have, only with lop ears.  I thought of how she'd cried after her rabbit had been killed by the feral dogs (they had knocked the cage over and broken the clips, pushing in the side and grabbing the rabbit through the resultant hole).  I thought of how she had often through the last six or seven years mentioned that rabbit of hers.  And I thought how cute the mini lop was and how delighted she would be if I brought it home.  I also thought about the fact that we still had a couple serviceable rabbit cages stored in the barn.

I bid on the mini lop.   I won the mini lop.  Oh, I am a sucker.  (In my defense, I did only pay $4.50 for it, much less than my parents paid for pet store bunnies.)

Forgive the fuzzy cell phone pic,
 I took it at the auction to show DD2 her new bunny.

Not only did I bid on and win the mini lop, I picked out, of the meat-sized does that were in the cages, one that I liked.  She had a pretty coat, and she looked to be healthy with decent confirmation.  Not that I know much about rabbits, but I was trying to be smart.  As smart as one can be while bidding on impulse.

Meet Jane.  As in Jane Doe.  That is what I named her.  She now lives in a cage in my barn and doesn't know it yet, but will get a conjugal visit later this month from a buck belonging to the young woman who enlightened me on the bucket & .22 method of rabbit dispatch.

Rabbit stew, take two.  I won't be giving away the next batch of meat rabbits born at this little place here.  No, I will be designating a 'rabbit bucket' and putting it to use this fall.  Then I'll share some rabbit recipes.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Much has been happening around this little place here in the month of July!  Unfortunately, our internet was out for roughly a week after being intermittent for several days prior to going MIA, so I haven't been able to get online and post about some of the many things we've done.

Today, however, I'm back in internet-land, and have pictures to share :0)

July in Michigan is cherry season!  I wasn't fast enough to get any of the cherries off of my own little tree that bore this year; one evening the cherries looked more red than yellow, and the next morning they were gone!  Every single one of them!  GRRRR!  Apparently there is a nocturnal creature who loves cherries; most likely one of the local raccoons.  I will have to be more wily next year.

I did, however, get a call from my Dad, telling me that his cherry tree was ripe and loaded with cherries.  So DD1, DD2, DS2 and I showed up on my parents' doorstep after church on July 7th, buckets and bowls and cherry-picking accoutrements at the ready.

 We set to picking after a good dousing in bug spray. (Boy, were the mosquitoes bad!  Much, much worse than at this little place here; but then again, my parents' backyard is much shadier than mine--my yard trees being ten years old or less and theirs being 30 years old or more. . .)

DS2 up the tall ladder, picking the highest branches.

DD2 picking the lowest branches,
 DD1 in the red shirt getting a bucket to pick into.

I never did get an exact measure either in pounds or quarts of cherries, but we got a lot off that one tree.  Enough for two batches of jam, a pie, and more in the freezer for future cherry desserts.

some of our cherry bounty

If you like cherry pie, you would like cherry jam.  It tastes pretty much the same, minus the crust.  Imagine eating 'cherry pie' on your breakfast toast or biscuit!  At this little place here we don't have to imagine, we get to actually eat it via homemade cherry jam.

Cherry jam is simple to make.  After washing and pitting your cherries--its the pitting that takes the most time--chop enough cherries to make 1 quart (4 cups after chopping; roughly 8 cups whole cherries).  Put those in a large sauce pot, along with 1/4 cup lemon juice and 1 package pectin.  Stir well while heating to a boil on high heat.  Once the cherry mixture reaches a rolling boil, add 5 cups sugar, and continue stirring.  When the cherry/sugar mix again reaches a hard rolling boil, stir and boil for exactly 1 minute.  Then remove from heat, put into clean 1/2 pint (8 ounce) jars leaving 1/4 inch head space, cap, and put into boiling water bath canner.  Process for 10 minutes.

Voila, cherry jam!  This recipe is another tried and true one from the Ball Blue Book (mine is circa 1991, a gift from my grandmother whom I used to help can green beans when I was growing up.)

Monday, July 1, 2013

June Went

July is here.  June is past.  June went fast at this little place here.

June began with:
  • still eating an abundance of asparagus.  Then the heat and the rain came, and the asparagus went.  By the end of the first week of the month it was growing something like a foot or more overnight, and unfurling it's ferny fronds.  Time to let it go, to recharge the crowns (roots) for next season.  Goodbye, asparagus, we look forward to eating you again next spring!

  • the massacre of my little chicks.  They had only been at this little place here not even two weeks when a coon found a way to open the door of the coop and killed them all one night.  So then June nights continued with setting the live trap.  Three coons were caught and terminated in a four night period.  Farm justice.


June continued:

  • About that time, strawberries started to get ripe. First a handful, then a quart.  And right when I needed to go out of town, they really came on: putting out a quart per row of strawberry plants. I hurriedly made jam and froze several quarts of berries for future use before hitting the road.  When I got back, just in time for the last eight quarts of berries, I sold some at the farmers market, froze a few more quarts, and tried a new recipe with the last of them.

Strawberry Pie.

--Make and bake 1 crust for a 9" pie
--Take 4 oz cream cheese (half of an 8 oz box) at room temperature, and beat until smooth.  Spread evenly in the bottom of your pie crust.
--Wash and hull 2 cups of strawberries, then mash them (I use a potato masher) to measure about 1 cup.
--Wash and hull another quart (4 cups) of strawberries and leave whole.  Set aside.
--Put the mashed berries into a 2 quart saucepan and add 1 cup sugar, 3 Tbsp cornstarch, 1/2 cup water and 2 Tbsp lemon juice.
--Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a rolling boil.  It will thicken as it heats.  Boil 1 minute, continuing to stir.  Remove from heat and let this sit a few minutes to cool.
--Meanwhile, get your pie crust with the cream cheese in it, and your whole strawberries that you set aside.  Fill the pie shell with the strawberries. 
--Now take your saucepan of strawberry mixture and pour it into the pie shell over top of the strawberries.
--Put the pie in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours to set before serving. Try not to eat it all in one sitting (some of us had seconds, it was so tasty.)

This tasted really good, although I think next time I make it, I will use 8 ounces of cream cheese instead of four.  The cream cheese flavor was kind of faint with only 4 ounces, and DD2 and I decided more cream cheese would definitely add to the taste of the pie.

  • Along with the strawberries, the hay came on too.  And so did rain nearly every day.  Watching and waiting for a 3-4 day spell of dry weather for cutting hay made me feel like a woman in the ninth month of pregnancy.  I just wanted to get it over with! Finally,  a favorable weather forecast came through and the hay was cut and baled.  500 bales this year, up 50 bales from last year, down 100 bales from my best first cutting ever.  Unfortunately, it happened to coincide with a competition DS2 was in down in IL, so I was out of town when my hay was done.  Upon returning from my 'vacation' in IL, I spent several days putting hay in the barn, as well as waiting for the people who had pre-reserved some 'off the wagon' months before to come after work to pick up and pay for their hay.

  • In mid-June the farmers market started, and I attended two weeks out of three (being in IL in between).  Both weeks, it rained during the market.  That's the way it goes sometimes.  Can't complain too much about the rain, though, my hayfield is quickly rebounding from being cut and should make a good second cutting this summer, and I have not yet had to water my garden.  The garden is doing well. Corn is knee high in the 'short' spots and close to waist high in the taller ones.  "Knee high by the fourth of July" is the corn gauge around here, so upper thigh-high corn is awesome!

Although, with the prevalence of wet weather and me being out of state for part of June, the weeds in the garden are also knee to thigh high!  Not so awesome.  Must get mulch.  I've been looking for an abundance of straw and not wanting to pay the high "one bale" price for quantity.  Although, after talking to several people, it's looking like cheap bulk straw in square bales is a thing of the past.  Apparently the new larger combines used for harvesting wheat faster and more efficiently are not square baler friendly.  The straw windrows spit out the back end of a new combine are much more the width of a round baler than a square one.  Or so I'm being told.  Hmmm.  Must figure out how to get ahold of equipment for transporting round bales.

Meanwhile, it was hand weeding, pulling the taller stuff so that I could get the rototiller in to chew up the smaller stuff, and free my rows of veggies from the weed jungle that grew while I was gone.  And so June went.