Friday, February 28, 2014

Harvest Totals 2013 vs. 2012

It seems a million miles from gardening season what with the astonishing amount of snow covering all the vegetable beds and all, but I don't care.  We've got our seed order in.  We're sketching out plans.  We're getting ready for all the joys and toil of the vegetable garden once again.
We're still working our way through our haul of garden bounty from last season.  Some things are all gone--the potatoes and garlic for instance.  Others are rapidly dwindling--such as the tomato sauce, cherries, peppers, and onions.  Some we still have quite a lot of--applesauce, grape juice, and sage.  Matt has mentioned we were going to have to start actually buying produce regularly again though.  Drat.  We're always looking to postpone that enviable time of year a little longer until the day we can actually grow enough and store enough to make it a whole year through.

We typically center our meals around whatever is seasonally available.  This winter we've eaten a lot of stir-fry and soups centered around carrots, peas, and onions.  In the summer we grill zucchini, eggplant, peppers, and the like nearly every night.  We do buy produce throughout the year, of course, but only what is on super-discount.  If its not marked down we can almost always learn to live without it.  As a result we get the sporadic treat of variety beyond what we've homegrown--mushrooms, red bell pepper, satsumas, sweet potatoes.  Its a wonderfully interesting, affordable, and delicious way to eat well, if you ask me.
I look forward to spring foods--like fresh spinach. (Though we do still have a couple pints worth from the 2013 garden in the freezer.)

I look forward to summer foods--like grilled zucchini.  (Though we do still have a good number of bags from the hard-to-keep-up-with 2013 harvest shredded up and frozen.)

I look forward to autumn foods--like new potatoes and peas. (Though we do still have a few pints of peas from the 2013 garden frozen as well.)

I look forward to winter foods--like roasted butternut squash. (We're down to the last one at this point.)
Its fantastic.  It makes me happy to be developing such self-reliance and seasonality.  It encourages a varied, diverse, colorful diet which, I think, is the healthiest diet there is.  The foods taste the freshest and tastiest and I never tire of them from overindulgence--they're each a special season of wonder, each in its own time.
In our planning and dreaming about all that this upcoming gardening season holds we calculated our past year's bounty.  As is probably the case every year some crops did gangbusters while others we've had success with in the past inexplicably shriveled or under-performed.  Our potatoes and tomatoes were pretty sad and pitiful, as the tabulation shows, particularly when compared with the 2012 harvest.  Of course, those would probably be in my top five all-time favorite vegetables.  Of course!

On the other hand, as I mentioned, our zucchini was almost hard to stay caught up with!  We were eating zucchini like crazy people and discovered you can slip it into just about any dish that usually calls for potatoes.

Every year is an experiment and an opportunity to try new crops and new techniques or fine-tune familiar ones.  The multifaceted return on the endeavor is worth more than the money saved by a great margin.
2013 Garden Totals

Spinach – 17 lbs, 10 oz
Chard – 9 lbs, 6 oz
Kale – 8 oz
Total Greens:  27 lbs, 8 oz

Beets – 4 lbs, 7 oz

Broccoli – 13 oz
Cauliflower – 5 lbs, 8 oz

Peas – 4 lbs, 14 oz

Strawberries – 7 lbs, 12 oz

Rhubarb – 5 lbs

Garlic – 5 lbs
Garlic scapes – 1 lb, 13 oz

Chives – 1 oz
Onion – 42 lbs, 7 oz
Leek – 5 lbs, 1 oz

Yellow Zucchini – 24 lbs, 15 oz
Green Zucchini – 8 lbs, 6 oz
Light Green Zucchini – 34 lbs, 5 oz
Total Zucchini: 67 lbs, 10 oz

Butternut Squash – 22 lbs, 14 oz

Carrots – 40 lbs, 5 oz

Yukon Gem – 6 lbs, 12 oz
Norland Red – 9 lbs, 1 oz
German Butterball – 3 lbs, 8 oz
All Purple – 4 lbs, 14 oz
French Fingerling – 1 lb, 12 oz
Kennebec – 10 lbs
Total Potatoes: 35 lbs, 15 oz

Hutterite Beans – 2 oz
Rattlesnake Beans – 13 oz
Red Mexican Beans – 1 lb, 6 oz
Yellow Indian Beans – 1 lb, 6 oz
Total Beans: 3 lbs, 11 oz

Eggplant – 5 lbs, 15 oz

Tomatoes – 50 lbs, 13 oz

Tomatillos – 2 lbs, 8 oz

Hot Mexican Bell Pepper – 3oz
Hot Wax Pepper – 9 oz
Cayenne Pepper – 12 oz
Habernero Pepper – 2 oz
Nardello  Peppers – 2 lbs,  1 oz
Carmen Peppers – 4 lbs, 4 oz
Golden Bell Pepper – 7 lbs, 10 oz
Red Bell Pepper – 2 lbs, 2 oz
Baby Bell Pepper – 4 oz
Sweet Cherry Pepper – 6 oz
Total Sweet Peppers: 16 lbs, 10 oz
Total Hot Peppers:  1 lbs, 10 oz

Grand Total: 358 lbs, 3 oz
2012 Garden Totals

Snow Peas – 12 oz
Eatin’ Peas – 3 lbs, 12 oz
Total Peas: 4 lbs, 8 oz

Kale – 6 lbs, 8 oz
Spinach – 7 lbs, 8 oz
Chard – 4 lbs, 13 oz
Arugula – 8 oz
Total Greens:  19 lbs, 5 oz

Onions – 17 lbs, 11 oz

Purple Long Eggplant – 2 lbs
Black Beauty Eggplant – 6 lbs, 2 oz
Total Eggplant:  8 lbs, 2 oz

Black Krim Tomato – 17 lbs, 14 oz
Cherokee Purple Tomato – 33 lbs
Mountain Boy Tomato – 23 lbs, 3 oz
Earliest Paste Tomato – 33 lbs, 10 oz
Roma Tomato – 21 lbs, 15 oz
Old German Tomato – 8 lbs, 11 oz
Peach Tomato – 16 lbs, 11 oz
Tangerine Tomato – 16 lbs, 6 oz
Total Tomatoes:  171 lbs, 6 oz

Mountaineer Squash – 58 lbs, 7 oz
Butternut Squash – 4 oz
Buttercup Squash – 1 lbs, 11 oz
Kambucha Squash – 7 lbs, 12 oz
Total Squash: 68 lbs, 2 oz

Strawberries – 1 lb, 3 oz

Bell Pepper – 7 lbs, 7 oz
Banana Pepper – 2 lbs, 2 oz
Nardello Pepper – 5 lbs, 5 oz
Jalapeno Pepper – 2 lbs, 3 oz
Cayenne Pepper – 4 oz
Total Peppers:  17 lbs, 15 oz

All Blue Potato – 34 lbs
Russet Potato – 18 lbs, 12 oz
Fingerling Potato – 41 lbs, 6 oz
Mountain Rose Potato – 3 lbs, 1 oz
Yukon Gold Potato – 10 lbs
Total Potatoes:  107 lbs, 3 oz

Carrots – 20 lbs

Grand Total:  435 lbs, 9 oz

Undoubtedly a few harvests here and there were, for whatever reason, not recorded.  I know for a fact we harvested golden and red raspberries in 2013...but since they all got gobbled up before they made it into the house for weighing they are completely omitted on the list.  But, its a ball park estimate that helps us gauge our progress or lack there of.

Gosh, I hope the tomatoes are better this year.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Be Kind. Be Gentle. - Inspiration Thursday

"Our job is not to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world.  Our job is to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless." - L.R. Knost

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Simple Woman's Daybook - February 24, 2014

Outside my window...there is more snow again.  This has been such a snowy winter.  Montana might be known for snow (I sure know we had heaps of it when I was growing up in northeastern Montana), but Billings is not.  Billings is an oasis of sunshine and 45 degree days in a sea of cold and snow mountains and plains.  Or that is USUALLY the case.  Not this year.  Sure is pretty though.

I am thinking.... maybe I will get a cat instead of chickens.  Or maybe both.  Or neither.  Arggggg....I just can make a decision when it comes to animals in my life.

I am thankful for... having so many friends I feel I don't have enough time to see them all.  I have a list on my whiteboard of people I am long overdue for visiting with.  I managed to check Derek and his family off the list over the weekend.

From the kitchen...are empty bags of produce as we use up our rapidly dwindling supply of homegrown and dream of spring.  The potatoes are gone.  The garlic is gone.  The onions are next.  

I am wearing...  a black dress with a grey checked pattern that once caused my friend to remark "You're looking rather Amish today."  Which was not the case, but made me laugh.

I am creating... my first dress without a pattern.  Or rather, I am disassembling a dress from my closet in the hopes of making a pattern from it.  This is dicey sewing territory for me, but I am hoping to be up for the challenge.  I really like this dress and was hesitant to start ripping it apart, but its been mended in five places already so I figure if its a total failure I am only out a dress that was falling apart and not "nice" enough for work anyways.  Since I am so hard on my clothes I don't have a shortage of bumming-around-the-house-and-yard clothes.  Here is hoping!

I am going... to Vegas this year.  And the Grand Canyon.  And Zion National Park!  But, not for a long while yet.  But, we're pouring over the guidebooks and websites.  Oh, how I can't get enough of these national parks.

I am reading... Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World which is endlessly interesting and taking me more than a month to read, for some reason.

On my mind... my job--its has pros and cons, like pretty much everything in this world--and how in general I can't believe I get paid for this.  If only I was a little better paid for it.....but, I didn't get into libraries to make millions, I guess.  Heck, I don't know that I'd even want millions.  Its a dream job for me.  Now I just have to figure out if I really want to get my Masters in Library Science so I can move on up the library ladder as the years go by.

Around the house...  we had the laziest weekend I can remember.  Matt is working on one project or another from the moment his feet hit the floor until the evening meal.  I can't claim to be quite that ambitious, but I never have a lazy weekend like this last one.  We played board games.  That was pretty much it.   It was nice.  I am going to remember it come summer time when I am overwhelmingly busy with all the joys of that season.

One of my favorite things... sharing homecooked meals my friends.

A few plans for the rest of the week... mail my grandmother a birthday card, meet a potential caterer for our wedding, Bunco with my library friends, and probably more games of Ticket to Ride, our newest and current favorite board game.

A small window into my life...
A gathering of cousins (Loren, me, and Patrick) for a birthday celebration at the start of the month.  I love this photo because we all were so happy and full of laughter.  I am so happy I can't even hold my head up for the laughter.    I am glad to have my cousins living locally now.  I hope we spend much more time together, like this.  
 This format come from the Simple Woman blog.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Golden Chili Creation

Once, years ago, I went to a chili fundraiser for Relay for Life.  One of the offered type of chili was "White Chili."  I had never heard nor seen such a thing before.  It looked like chicken and beans swimming in milk.  I didn't try it, but did tell Matt about it when I got home.  At which point I learned that apparently I am the last person in Montana to learn about white chili.

This conversation led us to look up the definition of chili in the dictionary as I was convinced that all chili has tomatoes in it.  Turns out I was wrong.   According to our dictionary, chili can be just about any dish, usually a stew, seasoned with chilies.   (As a random side note that is when I learned about the incredibly cool looking Chile Pine also known as the Monkey Puzzle tree.)

After this exchange Matt told me he was going to make white chili.  I was highly skeptical--highly.  But, oh man, was I really wrong on that one!  It was fantastic!!   I happily ate the leftovers for days afterward--choosing to eat it several days in a row when there were other lunch options available to me.  But, it was not white.  It was brown.  I guess vegetable stock is just a lot darker than chicken stock so even without the tomatoes it ended up distinctly not white.

Regardless of how tasty it was Matt wasn't willing to settle for brown chili.  That was too close to normal, red, tomato-based chili, I guess.  So he tweaked and fine-tuned his recipe.  I was happy to taste-test, as usual.

And in the end we came up with Golden Chili instead of white chili.  Its not brown.  Its not red.  But, its not white either.  It has a nice straw or honey color to it.  And it tastes just delicious.  It has the wonderful spice of chili and the almost salty taste of miso.   It also has a hint of a flavor that I'd almost describe as sour--but in a really, really good way.  Its from the lime juice and wine, I am sure.  It triggers some sort of salivary response in the mouth near the mandible joint when I eat it.  Its pretty crazy, actually.  Matt likes it, but I can't get enough of it.  In fact, I suggested we eat it for breakfast this morning--which we did.

Golden Chili
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T olive oil
2 C white wine
8 C chickpea miso broth (1/2 T per cup water)
4 T lime juice
2 T cumin
2 T chili powder
1 T crushed red pepper flakes
2 t hot sauce
1/2 t salt
1 C frozen corn
4 C white beans, cooked

Saute onion in oil for a few minutes, until starting to get tender.  
Add in garlic and cook another minute or two.
Add remaining ingredients and heat thoroughly 
Let simmer 10-20 minutes.

We found that chickpea miso makes for a nice, light, golden broth to use in this chili.  Other light misos will also work just fine.  However, since this chili contains miso it should just be heated through and not be brought to boil because the high heat will kill the beneficial enzymes in the miso.  Of course, if you're not worried about the importance of enzymes this point is not so much of a concern.

I have yet to take a photo of this lovely concoction that does it justice though.  I have tried.  The beans and corn tend to sink to the bottom of the bowl and so it just looks like golden broth flecked with contrasting bits of red peppers.   So, you will just have to use your imagination, I guess....or give the recipe a try.

I've still never had a truly white chili.  But, I can live with that.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Garden Sink - Free Lumber

My friends, Chelsey and Dan, are opening a sandwich shop in town.  As a result they are doing some remodeling to the building in which they are opening the shop.  A few weeks ago Chelsey posted a photo of the lumber they were ripping out stacked in a big ol' construction dumpster.  They'd tried to get their contractor to take it and use it in the remodel, but they wouldn't.  As soon as I laid eyes on the photo I told Chesley I would be super, super excited to come reclaim the pile of boards for my own purposes.  So, we borrowed Matt's dad's pickup and spent a couple hours dumpster diving.
We ended up with two good sized loads of lumber--most of which looked virtually brand new once we pulled the nails and screws.   It was an amazing windfall for us.  We have several projects lined up for it including repairing the privacy fence on our patio, building raised beds around some of the vegetable plots, constructing a small greenhouse, and, as you will see below, building a frame for our garden sink.
And by "we," I pretty much mean Matt.  See, Matt claims he isn't a carpenter of any sort, but I think he is selling himself short.  He may not have extensive experience at it, but he certainly is capable.  I've seen him build a few things over the years.  And when he got the lumber from Chelsey he promptly pumped out this garden sink in a matter of two days--from design to finish.  He was so pleased with how well it turned out.  Its even level all the way around--a point he proudly demonstrated for me.
The only part I really helped with was procuring the boards and pulling the old nails.  Of course taking photos the whole while...because that is me.  Doesn't this screw cast an awesome shadow?!
As I've explained in the previous post about the garden sink it is an incredible tool for those who grow their own food crops on a couple of important fronts.  One, all the rich nourishing soil that clings to freshly picked produce stays outside where it belongs instead of washing down the drain. Two, wash water can be captured in five gallon buckets under the sinks and used on the garden rather than just washing down the drain.  Three, plant material (think carrot tops or woody kale stems) can be collected during wash time and put directly in the compost pile without making a journey inside first.  The garden sink saves soil, water, and mess.  Win, win, win.    The shelf underneath for storage (and buckets of water) will prove a very nice addition, I am sure.  Matt built it at a standing height, too, which will be much kinder on the back than the previous set-up.

We've used our garden sink--balanced on the arms of patio chairs--since October 2012 and it has been great!   Needless to say this permanent frame is a tremendous improvement both practically and aesthetically.  The sink, section of counter-top, and many of the nails came from the Habitat for Humanity Restore.  The lumber all came from Chelsey's dumpster.  The plumbing components (that allow the sink hoses to connect to a regular garden hose) and the remaining nails came from our local hardware store.  That all adds up to make it project we feel really good about.
I should have moved it to it permanent home outside before photographing it, but....I was too excited to wait until the snow was gone.  The pile of lumber for other projects is stacked behind the sink...waiting....
Project one: garden sink -CHECK!
Project two: greenhouse -DESIGN PHASE HAS COMMENCED!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sprouting and Springtime

Spring must be around the corner now.  I base this on the fact that it is once again the time of year where the grow lights are hung in the basement workshop.  We've started our first batch of seeds for the garden, most of which have germinated swimmingly.  We need to buy new cauliflower seeds as we're still using the last of a packet from 2011 and the germination rate has been downright dismal.  I am not sure even a single cauliflower seed has sprouted, actually.  We're also trying to stagger our seed starting more this year than we have in years past.  We hope this will provide us with a more slow-and-steady supply of veg as opposed to, say, all of the cauliflower being ready at the same time.  By staggering when we start our seedlings we also hope to have better success with them should some plants prove less than vigorous.  Last year we had a bad time with our tomato seedlings and by the time we got a second batch planted and ready to go outside it was pretty much too late in the season for them to be highly productive.   We're thinking its better to just start a dozen each week for several weeks than to start all of them at once.  We shall see.  That is one of the great things about the garden--every year is a chance to try new crops or techniques, to learn from the past and try new things in areas that didn't work as desired.  Its a perpetual experiment.  I like that a lot.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Be You - Inspiration Thursday

Masks by Shel Silverstein
She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid,
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by--
And never knew.
If you ask me, the lyrical, whimsical poems of Shel Silverstein so often contain the perfect combination of humor and insight.  How often do we hide or at least downplay our true selves in the interest of wearing a mask that allows us to fit in with all the other people in their own masks?  I fear it is far too often.  I know that I can be guilty of it from time to time myself.  It can be a challenge though to put yourself out there like that.  To open yourself to the world.  It easy to go with the flow of popular culture--to lose yourself in the safety of the crowd.  But, I think it so important to be true to your real self--to be you to the fullest that you can be you--even if that means swimming upstream.  Who knows what other wonderful souls might resonate with yours when you do?   Who knows what might be missed if you don't?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Feeling Sick and Loved

I was away from home for a library conference Thursday through Monday.  It was only supposed to be through Sunday, but we got hit with another winter storm and the roads looked bad, so I stayed an extra day.  While I was away I was also overcome with a real nasty cold.   The conference was in the same town where my dad lives though so it was okay.  I got to spend a little more time with him and my stepmother...even if I was sniffly and feverish.

When I finally made it home on Monday I was just feeling absolutely worn out--I hardly ever drive and find the experience taxing enough even with the best of weather and when feeling on top of my game...which I was decidedly not.  I was ready for bed--rest is the best medicine if you ask me.  Rest and tea.
So, I was quite touched when I walked in the house and saw that Matt had the covers turned down on my side of the bed and all the tea fixings lined up for me on the counter.  What a sweetheart!
And then he got home from work and made chickpea miso noodle soup with fresh noodles.  This is the sort of veg equivalent of chicken noodle soup for those not feeling well.
And I am feeling a bit better today.  And very well cared for.  Who needs Valentine's Day...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Garlic-Ginger Yam Ravioli

Once we discovered the secret to perfect pasta Matt and I made ravioli several times over the course of a couple weeks.  While I liked every filled we tried I think this garlicy, gingery yam filling was the best.  You could just eat the filling plain--it was that good.   Like the pasta, this recipe inspired by the Plumb cookbook--but Matt couldn't bring himself to use the amount of fat it called for.  It seemed absurd.  And the recipe certainly wasn't lacking for awesomeness when the amount was drastically reduced.
Ginger-Garlic Yam Ravioli Filling

3-4 red-skinned yams 
1-2 T olive oil
2 T fresh ginger, chopped
2 T garlic, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
1 T sugar
1 T Earth Balance margarine, melted

Half yams lengthwise.
Place on baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.
Bake at 400 degrees F for 45 minutes or until very soft.
Saute garlic and ginger in olive oil until lightly browned, about two minutes.
Put in a bowl with yams, and the oil they cooked in and mash.
Mix in sugar, butter, salt and pepper.
Stir well.
Place a teaspoon of filling in the middle of each cut circle of pasta dough and seal with a dab of water.
We are going to make a whole bunch of different types of ravioli to pop in the freezer for those days where we just don't have the time or ambition to cook up something.  They cook very well from frozen.  Huzzah for delicious freezer meals!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Food, Cheer, and Song - Inspiration Thursday

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold it would be a merrier world."
-Thorin II Oakenshield, a fictional character in J.R.R. Tolkein's 1937 novel The Hobbit.
I am not really that big of a Tolkein fan, I must admit.  His work is great, don't get me wrong, but I am just not much of an elf, wizard, dragon, fantasy-type reader.  That said, I think this dwarf is really on to something...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Spinach Pasta

This recipe is really more like three recipes.

See, we've made pasta for years, but we learned a fabulous technique last year (from the cookbook Plum by Makini Howell) that has really, really improved our pasta making (and eating) experience.  That discovery would be the use of "egg" foam.
Spinach pasta with sauce of homegrown tomatoes, onion, peppers, and garlic.
Since we're vegan-types we've always just skipped the egg in our pasta and it really did always work out just fine.  BUT!  But, with the egg foam the dough is more flexible and forgiving to work with than without it.   I also think the pasta has a slightly nicer texture to the tooth.  And with green egg foam the pasta can be made a most fantastic grass green color, too.  Its so pretty and so tasty!
Fresh Spinach Pasta
2 C flour + extra for working
1/2 C green egg foam (see below)
1 T olive oil
pinch of salt
2 t water

Put flour, egg foam, oil, and salt into a food processor.
While the food processor is running add the water.
It will look flaky, but will start to come together into a dough.
Stop the food processor after about one minute and check the dough.  It should be slightly crumbly, but it should hold together when pinched in the fingers.
Knead on floured surfaces for a few minutes until it forms a smooth, round ball.
Put in fridge one hour in a sealed container so it doesn't dry out.
Roll out and cut into noodles.

Making egg foam is easy.  Making green egg foam adds an extra step, but is still incredibly easy.

Green Egg Foam
2 T egg replacement powder (such as Ener-G brand)
1 C spinach water (see below)

Put egg replacement in small sauce pan over medium-high.
Whisk until is starts to thicken, about two minutes.
Ideally it should fluff up to 1 1/2 times the original amount.

Its a pretty incredible transformation that the egg replacer undergoes, too.  No where on the box of Ener-G do the instructions say to put the mixture over heat.  And that's a real shame because it is much more viscous and egg-like when combined over heat.  Its remarkable.  We don't use egg replacer much at all, really, but I think that we're pretty sold on it from here on out for pasta making.
The spinach water, after being processed in the blender, was the most beautiful, deep, emerald green.
Spinach Water
4 C spinach leaves
1/2 C water

Heat water.  Boil spinach until wilted, about 15-30 seconds.
Drain, but do not squeeze out excess water.
Add spinach and water to blender and process until smooth.

Of course, this pasta recipe works superb in all its egg foam glory without the colorful addition of spinach, too, if a more basic pasta is desired--just use plain water instead of spinach water in the egg foam.