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.