Friday, October 21, 2016

Local is Better, Homemade is Best - The Salsa Version

At Matt's birthday party last month we had three kinds of salsa.  One (Field Day) is mass produced.  The second (Kenny's) is locally produced.  The third was Matt's homemade tomatillo salsa.
It was pretty swell how universal the reviews were.  Matt's was the best.  Hands down.  Everyone agreed.  Kenny's was the second best.  Field Day took up the rear.  I wasn't surprised, really, but it was gratifying to know it wasn't just me and my opinion on the matter.  The smaller the batches and the more local the ingredients the better the end product, almost always.
At the end of the night the only one that was all gone was Matt's--though to be fair his jar was only 8 oz whereas Field Day and Kenny's are both pints.  We really should preserve some of that salsa in larger containers, for sharing occasions.
We only had two tomatillo plants this year, but they managed to put out more than 20 pounds of fruit.  Most of it we made into salsa, but Matt saved some to try an experimental tomatillo enchilada sauce that was bright and citrusy and rather amazing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Women (including me) Brewing Beer

I brewed my third batch of beer last week.

I realized that brewing was totally something I could do and since Matt is the primary gardener and tie-dye artist I figured it was a way I could lend him a hand over the busy summer months.
It seemed appropriate, too, given that I have read and heard more and more lately about the role of women brewers--both historically and to the present day. I've read a few articles about female brewers (here, here, and here, if you are interested in reading a few yourself).  While brewing is certainly a male-dominated industry/hobby today that dominance is a fairly recent cultural shift.  Beer brewing used to be just one of the many household and culinary tasks preformed by women.  So, I started brewing.  I like beer, period, plus I am pleased to join this long lineage of women making beer.

Of course, my first beer--a kolsch--was rather unpleasant.  Some bottles were passable.  Others would be so funky I didn't even want to drink it.  My second beer--a honey brown--was better.  Not as yummy as I'd like it to be, but a significant improvement over the preceding brew.  Fingers crossed on this third one--a tangerine pale ale.  The brewing process went really well and I am rather optimistic about the end result--though I am still a couple weeks out from sampling.
And, while I am on the topic of homemade boozy things--we recently polished off the last glass of 2015 apple wine.  Matt has seven gallons bubbling away for the 2016 batch.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Things I'd Have Never Tried on My Own, Like Lentil Loaf

Back when I ate meat I never really liked meatloaf.  I know a lot of people think it is a wonderful dinner option, but I did not.  Not at all.  I didn't like it when my mom made it.  I didn't like it when my step-mom made it.  I didn't like it when the cafeteria made it.  I could eat it, because as a kid one sort of has to, right?  But, it just wasn't my bag.  I never ate it again once I moved out on my own.  Naturally it follows that I never considered trying to recreate this classic American comfort food once I stopped eating meat.  It wasn't something I was missing whatsoever.  I wanted to figure out a way to make "meat"balls for my spaghetti, but I doubt that making "meat"loaf ever once crossed my mind.
However, I may have changed my tune, thanks to a dinner date with one of Matt's old friends this summer.  When Jill and Alex had us over Jill made us a scrumptious, veggie-packed lentil loaf from The Simple Veganista, a blog I'd never heard of previously.
In full disclosure I must admit that I've never really made it as the veganista does.  (Shocking, I know.)  Unless I am baking I pretty much find following recipes to the T impossible (and unnecessary).  So, I've never made the loaf with gluten-free flour for instance.  I don't own garlic or onion powder, so I always skip that.   I have found it to be a rather forgiving base recipe from which to work though.  It is highly adaptable.  I've mixed and matched veggies to suit what was on hand.  Last time I had a boatload of cabbage, for example, and no carrots or celery--so I just went with that, sauteing the cabbage well before mixing it with the lentil mixture.  Turned out just as yummy as usual.  I've tried different spices, taking the loaf in new directions that way.  My favorite variations though have been with the glaze on top--we have a bottle of pomegranate infused balsamic that makes an absolutely heavenly glaze.  I'm making it like that from here on out--until that bottle is gone.  I've also used tomato sauce instead of ketchup...since I don't love ketchup and Matt hasn't gotten around to making any yet this fall.  I've also skipped the glaze entirely and substituted gravy.  The loaf topped with Zippy Corn Gravy was a very happy pairing.

It goes perfectly with herb roasted potatoes--freshly dug from the garden.  And lots of other things, too, of course.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

PINK Applesauce and Botched Pie Filling

We were late in picking apples this year with the result that our usual go-to apple trees were already done for the year.  I'd noticed a handful of trees still laden with fruit while riding my bicycle across town though and so all was well.  The trees ended up being McIntosh (or some very similar variety) with brilliant red skin. I guess we should have seen it coming--there was the year of green skinned apples and rather green applesauce, after all--but we were still quite surprised when the applesauce turned out pink.  Like PINK pink.  We think it is rather pretty.  Tasty, too.
We reserved a bushel of the McIntoshes for pie/crisp filling, but that didn't play out quite as well as we might have hoped.  We had one quart jar break in the water bath and inadvertently overfilled the first half dozen jars resulting in their not processing properly.  Oops.  Fortunately for us, we live in the era of the freezer so we're going to pop the questionable jars in the freezer and see how that works out.  From what I've read online it should work fine, though the apples may be slightly overcooked since they were bath canned and will be reheated in pie or crisp form.  Still.  It's worth a shot.  Otherwise we're going to have to eat six pies this weekend.  ;)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

This Seasonal Life

"Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen;
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time, not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after the planting,
after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes."
                     - Marge Piercy
The robins and waxwings have arrived to denude the Mountain Ash of berries.  The apples have been pressed and processed.  Jars of preserves have filled the shelves downstairs.  Bags of onions and garlic are put away.  It is remarkable to me how these simple facts are harbingers of winter coming, of change, of the seasonal nature of things.  Of life.
The spring flowers came and went with showy fanfare.  We dropped in at Le Hardy for our annual harlequin duck encounter.  We had our tie-dye gigs--SpringFest, Summer Fair, Harvest Fest, and so on.  There was the garden bursting with weeds, as well as produce, and us struggling to keep up with it's vigor.  Yellowstone and hiking adventures abounded.  We were able to revive the annual late summer megavaction, following a one year hiatus.  We both celebrated birthdays.
One thing after another--new and different each time--they follow each other on and on.
And now.  The first snow.  What a beautiful life.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Good Eats From the Garden

I found a quote from Matt which I'd scribbled onto a random notepad.  I have no idea when he said it, but I smiled stumbling across it yesterday.
"Gardening is so badass.  I didn't even have to go to the grocery store to eat this good."
Homegrown Italian Night:  Corn, sweet peppers, eggplant, onions, and tomatoes, served with gnocchi made from homegrown potatoes.
Homegrown Thai Night:  Hot and sweet peppers, onion, eggplant, garlic, and Thai basil (served over decidedly store-bought jasmine rice).
I have to agree.  Over and over again.  Which reminds me:  No-Shop November is coming, if you want to stock up on the flour/oil/salt-type staples and join in!  For more info on NSN try here or here.
Man, talking about November already...  What a fast and fun year this has been!  It is hard to believe how quickly the seasons have passed!

Friday, September 23, 2016

The DIY Cat Scratching Pad

The first draft of this post was crafted long, long ago.  Back before Johnny moved in.  So long ago, in fact, that it contains photos of a beardless Matt!  Thank heavens those days are over, but the cat scratching pad is still going strong (now serving two, even), so I've finally come around to publishing it.
When we adopted Ginger she came with a scratching post.  She works on it several times a day and soon we noticed that she wasn't getting as much resistance for all her efforts--the carpet covering the post was worn out.  We checked out the scratching posts at the pet store.  They were surprisingly expensive, we thought.  There were a number of cardboard models which immediately piqued Matt's interest.  "I could make one of those."
So, he set at it.  Using a box cutter, glue, and some salvaged cardboard boxes he quickly made a section of cardboard scratching pad for a trial run.
After many months of use we concluded that the DIY scratching pad had passed the test--though it obviously needed to be bigger.  I mean, Ginger could hardly stretch out on it.
Johnny, once she moved in, did demonstrate for us how it was the perfect size for wrestling with though.  So there is something to be said for a smaller size, too.
Following the success of the test model we set about making our scaled up version.  I brought home the lid to a box of printer paper from the library.  By cutting down the sides we made a short little tray to use as the base.  I glued together a second section of cardboard strips, which filled out the remaining space in the box lid.  The short edges of the box lid keep the cardboard in place as the cats roll, scratch, and nap on top, though I did glue it down with a little Elmer's glue, too.
It isn't much to look at, really, but it sure was easy and fast to make.  Ginger starts almost every day with a pit stop on the scratching pad before heading outside.  Johnny appears to think it is one of the swellest places for a nap.
We are pleased that they seem to approve of our humble little homemade product--especially Ginger and especially with tissue paper on top for the shredding and kneading.  If tissue paper AND catnip are involved it is hilariously popular place.