Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Storing Starter Cultures

With holiday travel looming closer, I'm finding "sitters" for the cat and the chickens (we're taking the dog along), and realized I should make a note of how I take care of my microscopic "pets" while I'm gone.

Starter cultures don't usually need a babysitter if you go on vacation, but here are a few tips for keeping them healthy and happy while you're gone:

Sourdough: I generally just feed my starter and put it in the fridge, tightly covered. (I try to use up all but about a cup of the starter before I store it, just to conserve space.) When I get back, I pull it out, feed it, and give it at least four hours to get back up to room temperature and "wake up" again before I use it for baking.
You can also freeze a portion of your sourdough starter; again, just bring it back up to room temperature before you feed it. It may take a couple of days to get back up to full strength again.
Yogurt: Unless you're planning to be gone for more than a week, yogurt doesn't usually need any special treatment. It will easily last a few weeks in the fridge (although it's best if you make a new batch right before you leave, so it will be as strong as possible when you return).

Buttermilk: This is pretty much the same as yogurt; it should last just fine in the fridge.

Both yogurt and buttermilk can be dried for longer storage if necessary.

My sourdough and yogurt, all ready for their nap in the fridge while we're gone!

Monday, December 19, 2011


I don't know if I'd call this a recipe, exactly, but I've been making these a lot lately (they're perfect for last-minute suppers on busy days). I thought I'd share in case someone else was feeling the time crunch this holiday season!

tortillas (I try to make some of these ahead of time so I can just get them out as I need them)
refried beans (I keep some of these in the fridge for "emergencies" too), mixed with 1/4 cup taco seasoning
cooked chicken, turkey, or beef
shredded cheese
lettuce, tomato, sour cream, peppers, etc.

This is really a whatever-you-like recipe; I like to put a tortilla on the griddle, spread on some beans, add some meat, and sprinkle cheese over it all and cook until the cheese is melted. Then I move them onto a plate and add the lettuce, etc. (I like to leave them open-faced, because 1. the cold toppings don't slide off so easily, 2. it's lower carb that way, and 3. then I don't have to roll out so many tortillas!)


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Honey Sweetened Fruit Pizza

It's tough to think of Christmas treats that aren't completely centered around sugar. We do make cookies, but definitely not as many as we used to. One of my favorite things to make for Christmas Eve is fruit pizza. Thankfully, I've found a lightly-sweetened version that lets the natural flavors of the fruit shine through. This recipe is actually a combination of two recipes, given to me by two of my sisters-in-law, one for the graham cracker crust and one for the cream cheese frosting.

Fruit Pizza
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup milk
Mix well, roll out on a cookie sheet to 1/4 inch thickness (this is easier if you cover the dough with a piece of wax paper). Remove the wax paper and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 to 18 minutes, until golden brown.

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup honey
2 tsp vanilla
Mix well and spread evenly over cracker crust.

Top with fruit and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sourdough Stollen

Being of nearly 100% German descent, this recipe is a must-make for Christmas. I tweaked the original recipe to make it sourdough, but it tastes basically the same. We like to have it for breakfast (smothered in butter, of course!) as often as we can during the Christmas season.
Sourdough Stollen
3/4 cup dried fruit (candied lemon peel, raisins, dried cranberries, dried cherries, etc.)
1/2 cup brandy or water
Soak together at least 15 minutes.
In a separate bowl, mix together:
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey
2 cups sourdough starter
Add fruit and mix well. Shape into loaves,* then let rise at least 4 hours. Brush with egg wash (1 egg, beaten, mixed with 1 tsp water) and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

*For braided stollen, cut into two loaves. Cut each loaf into three equal sections. Roll each section into a short rope about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter and about 9 inches long. Lay these three side by side, pinch together at one end, and gently braid, loosely, just a few crossings. Pinch together the end pieces and shape with hands to make a nice oval shape.

Healthy (er) Peanut Blossoms

Peanut blossoms are one of my favorite Christmas cookies, but I'm always frustrated by the fact that they're full of sugar, rolled in sugar, and then topped with sugar-laden chocolate. Thankfully, I found this recipe for peanut butter cookies that are made with honey and maple syrup. I skip the rolling in sugar step, top them with homemade chocolate pieces, and voila! Healthy (er) Peanut Blossoms!

Healthy (er) Peanut Blossoms
1 1/2 cups peanut butter (I use Smuckers organic creamy)
1 cup softened butter
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup maple syrup*
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 eggs
3 1/2 cups flour (I use freshly ground whole wheat)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
Mix all well, then shape into 1-inch balls. Place balls 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet and flatten with a fork (or top with a piece of Super Simple Healthy Fudge). Bake at 375 degrees for 7 to 9 minutes, or until bottoms are lightly browned.

*you can play with the sweeteners as you like - use all honey, or all syrup, or less of each.

This post is part of the Meet Up Monday Link Party.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Healthy (er) Homemade Chocolates

Now that the Christmas season is upon us, I thought it might be time to share some of my favorite holiday recipes. I actually make this one all year 'round, but I use it most often in holiday treats, so I thought I'd share it here.

Healthy (er) Homemade Chocolates
1/2 cup butter (or coconut oil - gives it a lovely coconutty flavor, like a Mounds bar)
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
Melt oil and honey, stir in cocoa and salt. Mix very well. Turn off heat; add vanilla. Pour into parchment-lined loaf pan (or shaped silicone pan) and let cool in fridge or freezer. Cut into squares (or other fun shapes) and enjoy!

As I mentioned, I make this all the time, not just at Christmas. I store it in the freezer, and whenever I get a chocolate craving, I have a small piece of this fudge. It's so rich, I only need a little bit, and I don't need to feel guilty about having a treat!

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Winter Container Garden

I have officially called an end to the outdoor garden for the year (technically, I still have some beets left to harvest . . . anybody have any kid-friendly beet recipes?) but I couldn't give up completely on fresh green food. My solution was to bring in my Earthbox planter, which already had some onions growing in it from seed I'd thrown in there in the spring. To this, I added oregano, chives, rosemary, and parsley, which I transplanted from the herb garden (just dug them up and popped them in - no fancy tricks involved!) I'm not using any supplemental light (other than the normal lights we use in the evening - the planter is in our kitchen), which means the herbs are already getting pretty leggy - but that's not a problem with herbs, since the leaves and stems are what you want to harvest anyway!

I should mention that last year I tried to grow tomatoes this way, with very poor results. Even with supplemental light, they grew very leggy, and never set any fruit. Oh, well. You live and learn!

I am a little disappointed that it's made of plastic, though - but I already have it, so I figured I should use it. If this works well, I will probably pick up some nice big terra cotta pots when they go on clearance next summer.

Meanwhile, I can't wait to enjoy garden-fresh pizza sauce in the middle of a snowy winter!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Much about Mulch

This season, I tried five kinds of mulch: red plastic mulch film, a thicker silver plastic mulch, and, between the beds, I covered the paths in black landscape fabricblack plastic, or old paper feed bags (note: the links are to products similar to what I used, not necessarily the exact product. I honestly don't remember which brand names I purchased). Here's what I found:

I was really disapointed in the red film. The tomatoes didn't do very well at all (although that might be due to other factors, since the other tomatoes (some with silver mulch and some with no mulch at all) didn't do any better. But when I pulled it up this fall, I found that the weeds hadn't been bothered by it at all! They were somewhat physically crushed under it, but creeped out the sides and the holes for the tomato stems. Apparently they got plenty of water and light to thrive. I definitely won't be using that product again.

(Here you can see the red plastic film, and all of the weeds peeking out from the edges and the tomato holes. You can also see how puffed up it is from the weeds growing beneath it.
On either side of that bed are the paths covered in paper feed bags, which are obviously the worse for wear - most of the bags on the right side are completely gone. But the ground where they were is still fairly weed-free, with sure signs of a lot of healthy worm activity.)

The silver mulch did much better. This is my second year using this same piece, and it looked like it could go for another season at least. The soil underneath was almost completely weed-free, except for where a few had snuck out through the holes for the tomato stems. If I wasn't trying to get away from using plastic, I would definitely use this again.

(Here you can see the silver mulch (on right), the black plastic mulch (in the foreground on the path), and the black landscape fabric (on the far side of the path). Obviously, the landscape fabric is ruined, while the two plastic mulches look like they could survive another season at least.)

On the paths, the black landscape fabric didn't work well at all. I think this product is meant to be covered with chips or rocks, and I left it bare, so perhaps that's why I had problems. It was torn and worn through in places in less than a month.

The black plastic mulch did much better - it's a similar weight to the silver plastic mulch, and performed very well, even under a summer's worth of walking/kneeling/wheelbarrow traffic. Again, if I wasn't trying to get away from plastic, I'd use it again.

The feed bags worked fairly well - they're paper, so by this time of year they're pretty faded and bedraggled, but they kept the weeds down very well, and underneath I found quite a lot of worm castings, which I think is encouraging. You do have to make sure to overlap them very well, since they're so narrow the grass in particular will find its way to the light if they're not overlapped enough. I also catch my boots on them a lot, since there are so many loose edges. But they're free, and they're not plastic! Unfortunately, I'm not getting feed in this type of bag anymore, so I'll have to think of something else for next year.

Next summer, I'm thinking of trying paper mulch. Has anyone out there used it? What do you think?

Garden Accounting - October/November

This is the fifth installment in this series - you can see the totals for June here, July here, August here, and September here.

Since we had our first frost on September 21st, I was expecting the garden to be pretty much done, with just the potatoes and carrots left to harvest. But the herbs kept going strong (except the basil, of course) and, surprisingly, the broccoli just kept getting better and better! The cabbage worms slowed considerably (but they were still there), so that must have helped.

So, how did I do? My total for October was $185, which added to the running total so far makes $1,120! Over a thousand dollars worth of food from my little garden! (I should note here that as of this writing, November 10th (the first snowfall, which I am officially calling the end of Garden Season 2011), I harvested another $10 worth of carrots and lettuce, bringing the Season Total to $1,130. Not too shabby!)

Here's what I harvested in October:
76 pounds of potatoes
5 pounds of onions
2 pounds of chard (not counting what I fed to the chickens, about a plant a day)
18 1/2 pounds of carrots
2 bunches of parsley
4 ounces of chives
5 pounds of broccoli
8 heads of garlic (I'm saving most of it for next year)
2 pounds of lettuce

And for November:
2 pounds of carrots
1 pound of lettuce

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pork and Broccoli Stir Fry

I had a big harvest of broccoli yesterday, so I decided it was time to make this dish! This recipe is from Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Mary Enig. (For more on properly preparing pork, see this article)

Pork and Broccoli Stir Fry
Serves 4
1 pound pork, cut into small strips
1/2 cup vinegar (any type - of course I used my homemade apple cider vinegar)
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup naturally fermented soy sauce
1/4 tsp red chile flakes
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 rice or red wine vinegar
2 tsp Rapadura
2 Tbsp lard
1 bunch green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces (I used chives)
2 red peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips (I left this out entirely; we don't like peppers)
2 cups broccoli florets
1 Tbsp arrowroot, dissolved in 1 Tbsp water

Place pork in a bowl with vinegar and marinate for several hours. Drain and dry well with paper towels. Mix stock, soy sauce, chile flakes, ginger, garlic, rice vinegar and Rapadura and set aside.
Heat lard in a cast iron skillet or wok over medium high heat. Stir fry pork until moisture evaporates and the pork browns. Add green onions, red peppers and broccoli and sir fry for several minutes, until vegetables soften slightly. Add sauce mixture and bring to a boil. Add arrowroot mixture and boil vigorously until sauce thickens. Serve immediately. This goes well with brown rice.

Fall Garden Joy

As a newbie gardener, I always thought that once the first frost hit and the tomato vines died, the garden was done. So I would pull out all of the plants and call it a year. Little did I know I was missing out on nearly a third of the garden season!

This year's early frost carried with it the usual feelings of disappointment (we really didn't get that many tomatoes) and, I'll admit, relief (no more canning!) But, over a month later, I'm beginning to really enjoy my late fall garden. The broccoli is better than ever (MUCH fewer cabbage worms), the self-seeded fall spinach is really just getting going, and the onions, garlic, chard, and carrots are still going strong. Most of the herbs (NOT the basil) are still doing great (I'm harvesting parsley and chives almost daily, and oregano for our weekly pizza night. I need to repot some of them so I can bring them in for the winter, before they really winterkill.)

All in all, I'm really not missing that many vegetables - mostly just the tomatoes, zucchini, and cucumbers (the latter two I was ready to be done with anyway). I do wish the pumpkins had a little more time to ripen, but we have enough puree in the freezer to last us a good long while (as long as we don't keep having pumpkin pie bars for breakfast at least once every week like we've been doing!) The poor watermelons didn't have time to ripen at all, so we didn't get any - in our climate, they're pretty hit-or-miss - but I had to try, after we had such success last year!

Still, I am so thrilled that even now, on the cusp of November, I can go out in the garden and harvest the main ingredients for our meals!

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pumpkin Bars

These make a big batch - you bake them in a jelly roll pan. Perfect for big fall gatherings!

Pumpkin Bars
2 cups flour (I use sprouted whole wheat)
1 1/2 cups sugar (I use rapadura)
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cloves
4 eggs
2 cups pureed pumpkin
1 cup oil (I generally use extra virgin olive oil, and don't taste a difference)
Mix all and pour into a jelly roll pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until toothpick tests clean.

Top with a half recipe of cream cheese frosting when cool.

Cream Cheese Frosting
6 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla
Beat all together until light and fluffy. Gradually add 2 cups powdered sugar (I've read you can put rapadura in a blender to make it a finer consistency - but I've never actually tried it yet). If desired, add up to 2 1/2 cups more powdered sugar until you get to the desired consistency.

Pumpkin Bread

Another yummy fall treat (see why I grow so many pumpkins?)

Pumpkin Bread
1/3 cup soft butter or coconut oil
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup rapadura
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp cloves
2 cups flour (I use sprouted whole wheat)

Mix all together and bake in a loaf pan for one hour at 350 degrees.

(to make this recipe as muffins or cake, use appropriate pan and bake for 20 minutes) 

Pumpkin Cheesecake

My favorite fall treat! Of course anything with cheesecake is wonderful, but I think pumpkin is especially good! I like to have this for my birthday, which is in October.

Pumpkin Cheesecake
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup honey (may be omitted)
1/2 cup soft butter
1 egg yolk

Mix crust ingredients and press into springform pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

2/3 cup honey
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 pound cream cheese
Mix all together, and then add, one at a time:
2 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
1 cup pumpkin puree
Pour into crust and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Reduce temperature to 325 degrees and bake for 10 minutes longer, until the edges look puffed but the center still looks moist and jiggles.

1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla
Spread over cheesecake and return it to the oven for 7 more minutes.

When done, cover with an inverted bowl until cool. Refrigerate 24 hours before serving (if you can wait that long!)

Pumpkin Cookies

These are requested every year for our family Punkinfest celebration. Definitely a family favorite!

Pumpkin Cookies
2 1/2 cups flour (I use sprouted whole wheat)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup softened butter or coconut oil
1 cup rapadura (update - this recipe works great if you substitute the sugar for maple syrup!)
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all together and drop by teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes.

Pumpkin Muffins

My ten-year old son is making these for us for breakfast this morning! He had the ingenious idea to top them with chopped walnuts - yum!

Pumpkin Muffins
2 eggs
1/2 cup melted butter or coconut oil
1 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cup honey
1 Tbsp molasses (optional)
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 2/3 cups whole wheat flour (sprouted flour works great)

Mix all together, pour into muffin pans (these can also be baked in an 8x8 pan, or,  better yet, in a cast iron skillet) and bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes.

Monday, October 17, 2011


I have always loved pumpkins, and the more I grow them, the more I love them. The last few years we've had great success growing good-sized specimens, and there's really almost no work involved, other than prepping a bed for them.

Here's what we do:
Pretty much as soon as the snow's gone and it's dried up a bit (usually early to mid-May in our neck of the woods) I put the chickens out in their 10x10 chicken tractor to clean up a patch of lawn for a new pumpkin patch:

(In case you've never heard about chicken tractors, let me tell you, they're a gardener's best friend! I put the girls out on a patch of grass for about a week, and it's totally cleared (and fertilized!) Usually, a couple weeks later the grass might start coming back, so I'll put the girls on for a second treatment, and then it's good for the summer. I always make sure the patch has at least two weeks after the chickens have been on it to rest before I plant, so that the "clucker muck" fertilizer isn't too fresh (it can hurt the seedlings)

And lest you are tempted to poo-poo (*groan*) the effects of clucker muck, I took this picture last spring:

I get a such a kick out of how you can see the individual squares where the chicken tractor was the summer before. Those patches green up so much faster than the rest of the lawn, and turn out such lush, healthy grass! And this was with the chickens only on the patch for a day before I moved them.)

But back to the pumpkins:

After the hens have prepped the bed, I cover it with paper mulch (I use old newspapers, empty flour bags from my local bulk food store (the ladies there are sweet enough to save them for me), or empty feed bags, if I have them) held down with old chicken wire, weighted with a cement block every few feet (it gets pretty windy up on our hill, and if I didn't put something on top to hold them down they'd end up in the neighbor's cow pasture, the ground would be exposed, and the weeds would take over).

You do have to be careful, though, or you can end up with pumpkins growing into the cement block, like we had this year.

It's hard to see in the picture, but this pumpkin had a little square knob of flesh wedged tightly into the block. We had to cut it apart to get it out of there!)

Ahem. Back to planting:

I leave little squares uncovered, about four feet apart, and this is where I plant the seeds. Then the kids and I check daily until we see those big, fat leaves pop up:
(doncha just get all giddy seeing your plants pop up in the spring?)

Then they're pretty much on their own until fall, when the kids start counting how many green pumpkin "babies" they can find under all of the leaves. This year, we had over 40, although a good number of those won't be usable because of the early frost. I did manage to bring in a dozen or so that were ripe, though, the evening before the frost (those are the ones in the picture at the top of this post) and in the days following I cooked up some of the more ripe ones that were left outside before they got soft.

My favorite pumpkin varieties to grow are "Hercules" and "Big Max" - they're consistently good-sized, with nice, straight sides for carving. We tried "Big Moon" last year, thinking they'd be similar to Big Max, but they were much more round and flabby-looking (but still very big, and we carved them anyway). We also planted some "Jack Be Little" pumpkins this year, which the kids loved, but we only got a handful of those (I think the bigger vines shaded them out too much).

But that's it - just prep the bed and watch them grow! And then all winter you can have pumpkin cheesecake, and pumpkin pie bars, and pumpkin bread, and pumpkin muffins, and pumpkin bars, and pumpkin cookies, and . . .

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Talking Turkey (part 2)

I finally (now that the weather is cooler) cooked up our first turkey. I figured I should try one before we served a houseful of guests for Thanksgiving - but I didn't need to worry; it was delicious! Easily one of the tastiest birds I've ever eaten.* It was tender and flavorful, even with out any seasoning! I generally cook my birds plain, so that I can use the leftovers for anything I want without worrying about odd flavor combinations (and because that's how our family likes it). We all stuffed ourselves, but there's still plenty left for meals for the rest of the week - I'm looking forward to making enchiladas this weekend, and perhaps some turkey sandwiches (I don't buy lunchmeat, so we don't have sandwiches very often). Of course we had soup made with turkey stock for lunch today (I got two batches of broth out of that big carcass. Perfect fall weather food!) Ooh - maybe some Barbecue turkey pizza for supper tomorrow . . .
I definitely need to raise turkeys again next year!

*In case you were wondering, I cooked it in a covered graniteware roaster with a rack at 325 degrees for three and a half hours. I didn't do anything else - no basting, no butter rub, nothing - just popped it in the pan, breast side down, and baked it. I checked the temperature with a meat thermometer when the time was up, and it was right where it should be. The breast was tender and moist, the legs were done perfectly. It was so good!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Garden Accounting - September

This is the fourth installment in this series - you can see the total for June here, July here, and August here.

Well, this month wasn't quite as big as the last (I'm blaming the early frost, and the fact that I was gone on vacation for the whole last week of September), but I still think it was great! I do wish I'd gotten more tomatoes, but I'm happy to have harvested any - my poor plants looked so sad this year.

As expected, the tomatoes and zucchinis were the big players this month, but the herbs are also still going strong. I had to pull up quite a lot of garlic while it was still small (I was completely out, and didn't have the heart to go buy some when I had some lovely organic garlic right there in my garden! I did manage to leave a whole row of it in the ground for next year, though - the bulbs I pulled were just starting to form cloves, so I'm hoping for a big harvest next summer.)

Well, without further ado, here are this month's totals:

At the end of August, my account was firmly in the black at $560. September brought in another $375, which brings my total so far to $935 (and I still have half of the potato bed and a whole row of carrots to harvest yet. I think I may come out over a thousand dollars! I never dreamed it would be so much! I'm so glad I did this little experiment!)

Here's what I harvested this month:
4 bunches of oregano
8 bunches of parsley
11 bunches of chives
20 cloves of garlic
8 bunches of swiss chard
57 oz green beans
22 cucumbers
18 1/2 pounds zucchini
37 cups tomato sauce
10 pints diced tomatoes
2 pounds of broccoli
18 oz dried onion powder
3 whole onions
1/2 oz dried parsley
1/2 oz dried sage
16 grams dried peppermint
17 30-ish pound pumpkins
4 jack-be-little pumpkins

This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop at The Prairie Homestead and Harvest Monday.

The Pullets are Laying!

Look what I found in the coop when we got home this morning!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What a difference a day makes!

Last Wednesday my pumpkin patch looked like this:
That's 8 plants in a 4x8 raised bed - grown to take over roughly 40 feet square of lawn. This is why pumpkins aren't allowed in my regular garden! There were about 40 pumpkins in there (by my seven year old daugter's count, anyway).

This is how it looked the next morning:


This was a very early first frost for us - we usually have until at least October 1st here in Northern Wisconsin, but no such luck this year. I harvested all of the ripe pumpkins on Wednesday after I saw the forecast, and also picked all of the tomatoes, etc.

Thursday morning I went out and started harvesting the green pumpkins, figuring I could cook them up for pies and pancakes and such before they got bad.

I grabbed the biggest one I saw - which turned out to be around 30 lbs! It was fun cutting that up, let me tell you! And the "guts" easily filled up the biggest kitchen bowl I have.
I just love how it makes my 7-quart crock pot look small!

I cut it in half and put each half on the biggest pans I have (and it was still too big to fit in my oven - I had to cut one half in to smaller chunks). It took an hour and a half to roast (at 350 degrees, in case you were wondering).

When it was finally done, I roughly pureed it in my Kitchen Aid (with the paddle) (a food processor would also work great for this, but I don't like putting hot food in plastic, and haven't found any food processors with glass or stainless steel bowls).

I checked in my Ball Blue Book for how to pressure can pumpkin puree - but it wasn't listed. So I looked online, and found that you're not supposed to can pumpkin puree (you can, however, process cubed pumpkin) So I simply filled up some wide-mouth pint jars and froze it instead.

Now I just have to remember to get some out to thaw when I want to make Pumpkin Pie Bars!

100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread - Update

Well, it's been six months since I posted this recipe, and of course I've been playing with it a bit (my husband sighs that I can't make the same recipe the same way twice!) Over the summer, I've discovered:

1) The starter works better if your 1:1 ratio is by weight, not volume, which means when I feed it 1 cup of flour in the morning, I need to add about 2/3 cup of water.

2) When I make my starter this way, I don't need to add water at all to the bread recipe.

3) The bread rises slightly better when you add less salt.

4) It also tastes much better (read: the kids actully like it, rather than just suffering through it) when I add a little honey.

So, without further ado, here's my revised recipe:

100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

2 cups whole wheat flour (freshly ground is best)
1 tsp salt (sea salt is best)
1/4 cup honey (can be omitted)
1/4 cup olive oil (can be omitted - lard also works well)
2 cups sourdough culture*
Mix all together and knead well (I use my Kitchen Aid stand mixer). Don't forget to save at least 1/4 cup of starter and feed it!

Place in a greased loaf pan and let rise until doubled (this will take a while - anywhere from 4-12 hours, depending on your culture and your room temperature (it usually takes closer to 4 in my house). You can also put this in the refrigerator (covered) to slow it down (if you'd like to go to bed and finish in the morning!) but make sure it's at room temperature and fully risen before you bake it.

When fully proofed (risen), bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes (it will be lightly brown; if you stick a meat thermometer into it, it should read at least 200 degrees)

My kids prefer a softer crust, so I cover the bread after it comes out of the oven until it's cooled. If you prefer a crisp crust, tip it out of the pan onto a rack and let it cool that way.

This bread is a great "keeper." It will last at room temperature for almost a week.

*As I mentioned, I feed my starter 1 cup flour and 2/3 cup water at each feeding. I feed once in the morning, bake with it at noon, and feed it again after I take some out to bake with. If I want to build it up for a larger baking, I'll also feed it the night before I bake, or double the quantities at each feeding.

I've also found that you can put your starter in the fridge for a few days (if you're gone for the weekend, or just don't want to bake as often). Just get it out at least four hours before you want to bake (so it can "wake up" and get back to room temperature) and feed as usual.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Use That Aloe Plant!

I made the mistake once of reading the ingredients on the back of the bottle of aloe vera I'd bought at Target. I was shocked to see it listed about a dozen unpronouncable chemicals! That bottle went immediately in the trash, and the next time I went shopping I bought myself an aloe vera plant.

Aloe plants can be found at almost any store that sells houseplants (you can even buy one on Amazon) They're easy to grow, and usually pretty inexpensive. I started with a tiny (maybe 3 inches tall?) plant, and within a year or so it was over a foot high, with nice thick leaves. I give it a good watering once a week, and otherwise leave it alone. It lives quite happily next to my bathtub.

But how to make that plant into something you can use to soothe your sunburn?

I initially tried to just cut off a leaf and squeeze out the gel. What I got was a goopy, slimy mess. Yuck! So I gave up on it for a while. Then, spurred on by too much sun on a beautiful weekend in July, I did a little more research.

The easiest way I found to use aloe is to cut off a nice, thick leaf and put it in the freezer. When it's fully frozen, I cut it into chunks and store it in a glass jar back in my freezer.

When I need it, I use a paring knife to cut away a bit of the green skin, exposing the frozen clear gel and leaving the rest of the skin as a "handle". I simply rub this over the burn (I love how it's so cold, since it's frozen! Feel so good on a sunburn!)

And that's all there is to it! Easy, once you know the trick (and boy am I glad I found that trick!)

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Peppermint Power!

In June I planted three little 4-inch peppermint plants, hoping to be able to harvest a bit for soothing teas this winter:

It's September now, and I think I'll have enough for this winter's tea, and for Christmas gifts for all of my friends and relatives (and casual acquaintances, and confused passers-by . . .)

I just can't believe how much these three little plants grew! They are covered in purple flowers (which the bees don't seem to like - although the flies certainly do.) I had read that they are extremely invasive, so I made sure to plant them in their own little bed where they can't "escape" and crowd out other plants. Boy am I glad I did!

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Garden Accounting - August

Here's the August installment for the Garden Accounting Series (you can see the totals for June here and July here) - boy, is the produce rolling in now!

I ended July netting about $150, so everything I harvested this month was gravy. The biggest payer this month was the pickles (I grew the cukes, dill, and garlic, so all I had to purchase was the vinegar), which on their own saved me $145 (yup, almost as much as everything last month combined!) Coming in a far second was the potatoes at $66 (and I've only harvested half of them so far!), then the wild mushrooms (I harvested them from my yard, so they count!) and the elderberries (did you know 4oz of elderberry syrup costs $18 at my local health food store? My feeble little 1/2 cup (which made 10 oz of syrup) just saved me $45! Ka-ching!) Grand total: $409 and change, bringing my garden "earnings" for the year up to roughly $560. What a blessing this garden has been!

Here's the tally of what I harvested this month:
48 quarts of pickles
55 pounds of potatoes
20 pounds of zucchini
4 dozen ears of sweet corn
4 pounds of tomatoes
7 slicing cucumbers
9 bunches of chard
9 small onions
8 pounds of carrots
1 1/2 pounds of broccoli (hopefully my fall planting does better!)
2 1/2 pounds of beans (they're just getting going - hopefully I'll have a lot more next month)
10 bunches of parsley
6 bunches of chives
20 cloves of garlic
14 grams of peppermint, dried for tea
3 oz (dried) mushrooms
1/2 cup elderberries

This post is part of the Homemaking Link-Up at Raising Homemakers and Frugal Tuesday at Learning the Frugal Life.

For the continuation of this series, click here.

The Perfect Soup

I think I may have discovered the perfect soup. It fits all of my criteria, and more:

1) it's made almost exclusively of things I raise myself (no, here in Wisconsin I can't make my own salt)

2) because of #1, I know it's free of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, so it's good for us

3) it's full of stuff from the garden, so I know my kids have eaten plenty of veggies for the day

4) the home-raised pastured chicken stock is great for their immune system

5) the kids love it (well, three out of five . . .)

6) and it's helping me lose weight! Bonus!

This is a very simple "throw-in-what-you-have" soup. I try to include leafy greens, carrots, fresh herbs, and potatoes (and of course that nutrient-dense chicken stock!) to get all the vitamins I can into every bowl full.

Our Daily Soup
2 quarts chicken stock
4 medium potatoes, cubed
1 cup chopped or shredded carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 bunch chard or other greens, chopped
1 bunch fresh parsley (or about a tablespoon dried)
1 onion, chopped (or a bunch of chives, snipped)
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt

Boil all together until potatoes are soft, then either serve as is (for a more broth-y soup, which is how my 9yo daughter prefers it) or puree it with a stick blender for more of a chowder-y consistency (which is how the rest of us like it). Season to taste and serve (with a little shredded cheddar cheese sprinkled on top for good measure!)

We've been having this almost every day for lunch lately, and it really is helping me lose weight, without worrying about missing out on valuable nutrients my body needs. I really love this soup!

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Believe it or not, before this month I'd never had gazpacho (or any (intentionally) cold soup, for that matter!) I was intrigued by the seeming simplicity of it, so I "tested" it by ordering at a restaurant (before I made a whole batch that ended up going to the chickens). I LOVED it, so I found a promising recipe off the internet  (which I changed, of course!) and made some at home. The kids gave it mixed reviews (2 for, 3 against - but of course I intend to give them time to get used to it) but I found it just as good as the bowl I'd had in the restaurant.

I love that I can make this almost entirely from what's in the garden right now and that it doesn't heat up the house! The perfect soup for August!

1 cucumber, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups tomato juice
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
½ Tbsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Mix all in a large bowl and chill before serving. The longer it sits, the more the flavors develop.

(The original recipe also called for 2 bell peppers, which we don't like - feel free to add them if you do like them!)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Homemade Elderberry Syrup

I found these walking out to get my mail the other day - the elderberries I planted last fall finally have ripe fruit!

I gathered all of the berries (I snipped off the base of the umbel and brought it in the house that way, then picked off the fruit in the kitchen) and off of both bushes I got a grand total of - duh da duh! - half a cup. Not as much as the buckets full I saw on the sites I searched for elderberry recipes, but I suppose these are, comparatively, baby plants - I'm just grateful to have any!

After a quick search online, I found this informative site, and used the recipe there (halved, obviously) to make my very own syrup:

Elderberry Syrup
1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried elderberries
3 cups water
1 cup honey

Heat the berries and water to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 30-45 minutes. Mash the berries, strain, and stir in honey. At this point, it's ready to use (up to 1 teaspoon every 3 hours from the onset of a cold). This will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 months.

I'm planning to keep mine in the freezer until January (about when the post-Christmas colds hit) and then keep it in the fridge until spring.

Hopefully in the future, when I have more berries, I can make enough to use as "preventative medicine" - a.k.a. yummy pancake syrup!

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS.

Creamy Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup

By now you know that I’m a little strange, and I’m sure this post is not going to detract from that image. Inspired by finding cute little white mushrooms all around my yard after a recent thunderstorm, I went online to find a good mushroom identification guide. This search led me to Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois & Surrounding States. I perused this book for the last couple of days, and was inspired this morning to see if I could find any of the mushrooms from the book out in my yard.
Alas, no – but I did find a few interesting mushrooms I thought I’d check out online:

I found out that these are White Pine Boletes (Suillus americanus, for those of you who like to know such things), otherwise known as Chicken Fat Mushrooms (how fitting, right?). We have TONS of them growing under the pine trees in our front yard. Apparently they’re edible, but not anything special.

My internet search found that they were actually the Mushroom of the Month for July 2004 on UW-La Crosse professor Tom Volk’s webpage (check it out - all you never knew you wanted to know about the Chicken Fat Mushroom!)

Well, not one to pass up free food, I gathered up a all of these lovely 'shrooms that I could find and put most of them in the dehydrator. The rest I saved for supper - Creamy Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup.


Now, I WISH I could say that I went out and harvested my own wild rice, too (I do live in an area where wild rice was once abundant - I even had to go to the nearby city of Rice Lake to buy some! But alas, back in the big logging boom in the 1800s, they put in a dam that changed the lake so now rice won't grow there. *sigh*)

Anyway, as I was saying, with my lovely little boletes I made this warm and creamy soup:

Creamy Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup
1 cup wild rice, cooked in 3 cups of water
4 oz bacon, chopped
4 Tbsp butter
8 oz mushrooms, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken broth
3 Tbsp parsley
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup heavy cream

In a large pot, cook bacon and melt butter. Sautee onions and mushrooms. Sprinkle with flour and cook until the flour starts to stick to the bottom of the pot (scrape it up as much as you can). Add wild rice, parsley, pepper, wine and broth. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in cream and serve.

Just because I couldn't resist, I’ll close with a picture of a cute little baby bolete, nestled among the clover, dandelions, hawkweed, and grass under the pine trees on our front lawn:

This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade and Fat Tuesday at Real Food Forager.

Homemade Applesauce, Apple Syrup, and Apple Cider Vinegar - all from the same apples!

Although our own apple trees aren't producing yet (boo!), a friend asked us last week if we wanted to come and pick some apples off of her tree (Wahoo!) So the kids and I went over with a borrowed apple picker and went to work.

An hour or two later, we were home again with two five gallon buckets brimful of apples. The kids washed them while I quartered them, leaving the skins and cores intact and only cutting out any bruises (for "wild" apples (not sprayed) there weren't many worms at all!) Then I put the quartered apples in my smaller canning kettle, which I filled about half full of water. I boiled the apples until they were soft, and then let them cool a little before I processed them using my KitchenAid strainer attachment.
You can see in the picture that the sauce drains out into the silver bowl on the left, while the seeds, stems, and skins push out of the little hole in front, falling into the big glass pickle jar.

I used a slotted spoon to lift the apples out of the kettle, leaving most of the juice behind. When most of the pulp had been scooped out, I poured what was left in the kettle through a mesh strainer to separate the last of the pulp from the liquid.
I set the bowl of juice aside, then went back to the first bowl and ladled out all of the yummy applesauce into jars (using my stainless steel wide-mouth funnel - I was so glad I found this! I hate food (especially hot food) touching plastic!) and canned them (ten minutes in a water bath).

While the canner was boiling, I poured all of that lovely juice into a saucepan, boiled it down to about half the original amount, added honey to taste, and canned that for syrup for future pancake breakfasts (again, ten minutes in a water bath).

Now on to the scraps! Can't waste those! All of the peels and cores that had been strained out by the Kitchen Aid attachment had been collected in jars as I worked. I made sure each jar was only half full of apple scraps, then added honey and water,* leaving at least an inch of head space. In about a month, I'll have around 5 gallons of raw, organic apple cider vinegar!

So, from my FREE ten gallons of apples, I got 14 quarts of applesauce, 5 pints of apple syrup, and 5 quarts of apple cider vinegar -  over $90 worth of food!

*The exact recipe (adapted from the Nourishing Traditions recipe for pineapple vinegar) calls for a pint of apple scraps, a quart of filtered warm water, and 1/4 cup of rapadura or honey, mixed well. Cover with a towel or cheesecloth (or just the cover, loose - mine was hissing at me this morning because I'd left the top on tight after I shook it up! Fermentation is happening!!!) Stir once a day if you can.

After about a week the liquid will start to darken, and that's when you strain out the fruit scraps (you can compost them, or feed them to your chickens). You need to let it ferment 2 or 3 weeks longer, stirring it every so often, and then it's done! Easy peasy!

After reading the Sauerkraut Survivor series (and battling fruit flies in one of my jars of fermenting scraps) I'm going to  try making my ACV in heremes jars (if I have any left - I've been making lots of pickles lately!) I'll let you know how it turns out!

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, and Raising Homemakers.