Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Being Thankful, Old School Style

This week is Thanksgiving in America.  In the spirit of the harvest festival, I'd like to turn the blog over to my husband who is the principal gardener in the family, with a big thank you for providing me with fresh vegetables from which to cook delicious meals.  

Jess gives me too much credit, she helps too, except when she adds pieces of plastic to the composter.   
Name: Green Bush Beans - We had a lot of success with bush beans this year.  I was pleasantly surprised by the harvest as last year we only grew pole beans, and I was utterly convinced that a plant that grew to over six feet high had to produce more than a plant that grew a measly 12-18 inches.  But, that logic, as my logic often does, proved incorrect, and we ended up getting a robust harvest of beans that rivaled the one we got from our pole beans last year, and without as much effort.  The picture above, if you can believe this, was what I picked on one day in July.  And, the bush beans provided that many beans three or four times a week for well over a month.  Bush beans, and their taller cousin the pole bean are, in fact, a most generous crop.

Storage Method:  Sadly Jess and I failed to store them properly.  Generally we can eat as much as we harvest, but we ended up losing some beans to rot before we could eat them.  In the future, we should salt them for better storage.  But the trick is you must salt beans when young and tender, otherwise bad things happen.  I've also been told a pickled bean is worthwhile, but we have yet to pickle any of ours.
Name: The Beet, or as more generally known, the lonely beet.  John Seymour, a personal hero of mine, believes Americans disrespect the beet because we only have the imagination to boil them "within an inch of their life" and sadly he seems correct.  No one I know knows how to cook a proper beet, which is sad because it's easier than Paris Hilton (or is Kim Kardashian a better reference these days, especially since she's available?).  Bake them in aluminium foil until soft, peel off the skin, add salt, pepper, and olive oil, and you'll have a delicious, colorful, hearty, and highly nutritious snack that has the added benefit of turning your urine a pretty pink color the day after.  What a wonderful vegetable (truth be told it's my personal favorite).  Oh, and did I mention the greens are also delicious?  Heat them up in a pan with a little olive oil and you're good on iron and pretty much all other minerals for the day.  No wonder Dwight Shrute loves the crop.

Storage Method: As anyone worth their salt knows, beets are stored best in a cool, dark place, preferably in moist sand.  Dust any dirt off of them first but don't wash them in water before storing - only a sucker would be so foolish.  If sand is not an option, consider putting them in a cooler in a cool closet.  They'll store for months like that.
Here's a little sampling from the early summer harvest.  Some broccoli, which I screwed up by planting too late here in middle Tennessee and it got baked in our June sun.  Damn that Mason-Dixon line.  Also pictured is a delicious cucumber (I prefer the ridge as opposed to the smooth variety because I don't like removing the male flowers from anything, if you're a guy, you understand).   Jess informed me some people might not get that joke, so to clarify, smooth cucumbers you need to remove the male flower to ensure growth whereas ridge cucumbers you'll want to keep the male flower on.  Why you ask?  I don't know, but that's what John Seymour says to do, so I suggest you do it that way.  Also you can see a beet, aka the lonely beet (pun totally intended here).  My thoughts on beets have already been shared, but one last anecdote.  I don't know if they are super smart or just like the pink urine, but I learned in a harsh and highly unfortunate incident that deer love beets.  They stole half of my spring crop from me this year.  I didn't get too mad though, it's their world too, and have you seen a young fawn?  If you have a heart at all, then you couldn't get mad at a creature that comes into the world that adorable.  Anyways, the fall crop I covered in some deer netting (a large spool of it can be had at TSC for about 10 bones) and the crop survived.
Name: Brussels Sprout. Jess loves them, I hate them.  If you are married though, you'd know why I grow them.  A happy Mrs will get you pretty far in life.  I personally think Brussels sprouts taste like a cross between switch grass and the sole of a rubber shoe right after a trek through the local cow pasture, and that's when they've been covered in maple syrup and cooked with bacon.  You know if bacon doesn't make something taste like heaven, it's doomed from the get-go.  This is from our early spring harvest as I kept the sprouts alive all through last winter (I know, gardeners in Canada are moaning with jealousy), and they arrived in early spring in full glory, errr grossness.  The only redeemable aspect of the sprout is that there is a rare food on the earth better for you.  So it's at least got that, and the love of Jess, which is why it has a place (albeit a small one) in my humble garden.

Storage: Sadly, I have to confess ignorance here folks.  We stored ours in the crisper and they kept long enough to be consumed (or in my case disgruntledly ingested)
Name: Tomato.  The staple of gardens everywhere.  They take a decent amount of work.  The trick is getting the proper ratio of fruit to leaf.  The leaves need to be trimmed to ensure your tomato plant is putting energy into fruit not leaf production.  The tomato is no beet, you can't eat its greens.  No disrespect to the tomato though, no garden, kitchen, or food fight is complete without it.

Storage: Obviously tomatoes don't keep too long.  Interesting fact about store bought tomatoes and how they solve the tomato storage problem:  Almost all store-bought tomatoes come from Florida or California, and big farms have genetically modified them to be harvested whilst green and hard as a baseball.  This allows ease of transport to destination, where they are often treated with a chemical to turn them red and stuck on a shelf to look like they are fresh.  That's not only depressing to think about, but to taste too.  Jess and I've gotten to the point we can barely eat tomatoes bought at the store.  They have as much flavor as Al Gore circa 2000 (I'm talking the time when he had as much personality as a toaster, not this post Inconvenient Truth Al Gore who has clearly, like Phil Collins, been captured by aliens and returned to earth in a martian pod that is made only to look but not act like Al Gore).  Anyways, our delicious, fresh garden tomatoes are best eaten while fresh.  We lost some because of failure to can quick enough, but when we got around to canning, it turned out to be a fun experience.  Thanks to one Yvonne (a woman who knows a thing or two about farming as she grew up on a Canadian farm with her 11 - not a typo - siblings) who taught Jess and I a thing or two about canning.    
Name: Potato.  Potatoes (did I spell that right Mr. Quayle? - what is up with me and these 1990s VP references) like their more colorful cousin the tomato, the potato is a member of the solanaceae family, which I'm not sure why that matters, but it did give you the chance to say "solanaceae" - a super fun word to say.  This was our first foray into potatoes and it was a bit of a mixed bag, err burlap sack.  As you can see we had some that came in real nice, but these, unfortunately, proved the exception not the rule.  A bit disappointing to be sure.  The problem, best as I can tell it, was the clay soil.  Clay soil is a big problem here in Tennessee (and here the Canadian gardeners scoff at soil and I gently remind them about the winter climate to put their pretensions in their place), and I unfortunately did not treat the soil with some sand before I put in the taters.  Live and learn.

Storage: Obviously a clamp is the best method of storing potatoes, but we didn't have enough to warrant the clamp - which sounds kinda dirty so maybe it was for the best- so we just stored them in a cool, dark pantry in a wooden box.  They kept until we ate them and they lasted just in time for the fall turnip crop to arrive.  Segue...
Name: Turnip.  A pretty veggie no doubt,  You will see that my turnips have a big purple top, which was the result of me planting them a little too high.  Luckily this won't hurt them, but turnips get purple wherever the sun hits them, which is why mine pop with so much color this year.  The turnips have been great, our harvest proved one of the more bountiful of any crop this side of the green bean.  Turnips also have the added benefit of having an edible green, if you like something as bitter and intolerable as an ex-spouse.  We tried the greens, once, and Jess refused to make them again.  I didn't think they were that bad, certainly not as bad as brussels sprouts, but I did have to admit they were not that good.  Ever since the great turnip green incident of fall 2011, the chickens have been the recipient of all the greens from the garden.  Oh, and the dogs got some too (see Jess' previous post).  

Storage: Turnips are best stored in a cool, dark place, much like tomatoes.  Straw is a preferred method of storage.  I have mine, as you can see, in wooden crates tucked in a dark corner of the pantry.  They've been in there for about a month and are keeping pretty well.  They get a hint dried out. I have yet to notice.  That might be the kitchen-talents of my lovely wife, I'm not sure. 

Not Pictured: Corn, carrots, pumpkins (which met an untimely end), peas, and probably something else I am forgetting.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dog Food

Tonight Emmy and Oatmeal are eating Poached Salmon with Pumpkin, Peas, and Turnip Greens. Cooking such a yummy meal seems like a very altruistic thing for me to do, doesn't it? Then you realize that Ben will make me eat said turnip greens if I don't figure out a convenient way to dispose of them. Turnips are tolerable.  Turnip greens are the most vile "food" on earth. And I've eaten tripe...

Poached Salmon with Pumpkin, Peas, and Turnip Greens

1 Salmon Fillet (checked for pin bones)
1/4 c Peas
As many turnip greens as you can safely put in a pan without Ben giving the stink eye
4 T Canned Pumpkin
3/4 c Cool, Fresh Water
*Correct dosage of dietary supplement made specifically for dogs on a homemade diet

Place peas, turnip greens, and water into a saute pan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Place salmon fillet in the pan. Cook covered for 5 minutes or until desired doneness.  Let the salmon cool until it will not be too hot for your pooch's tongue and then stir in the pumpkin. Serve in a metallic bowl placed lovingly on the floor while your pup freaks out with an intensity usually reserved for heroin addicts. Serves two, thirty pound dogs.

*Consult a vet before starting your dog on a homemade diet.

An Introduction of Sorts

My husband Ben and I moved to a small farm a little over two years ago.  We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  Our desire for "the simple life" resulted in one that is far more complicated than we had imagined.  Every day we learn something new and, in result, we've become two quite handy individuals. But let me backtrack...

Ben and I moved from Atlanta, Georgia with my best friend, Emmy, who also happens to be our dog. We've always been city people, we love to go out to eat and go to shows.  People often ask why we decided to move to the country. Honestly, I really don't know. It happened gradually: I started cooking and decided that I really enjoyed it. I started knitting and sewing and discovered that I was quite skilled at those things.  I think a lot of my interests stem from watching my parents.  My dad is the most capable person I've ever known. He's more impressive than MacGyver except that his projects never end with him mussing up the hair of a small, ragged boy who he saved from impending doom. My mother is the most amazing cook, an artist and an astoundingly talented person. She's sort of a jack-of-all trades. There's really nothing she can't do.  With parents like these, I sort of assumed that I would be naturally skilled at the art of home maintenance, gardening and raising animals. But Ben and I are finding that everything takes practice, patience, and lots of good humour.

In my mind, this blog will be an account of our attempts at living a more self-sufficient existence. In the last two years we've removed way too many load bearing walls from our farm house, started a rather stellar garden, and got a couple of laying hens. But there's more to come. I would like to start raising bees, and possibly some goats or (maybe) get a couple of horses. Along the way, I'll share tips and tricks that I've learned as well as original recipes, and sewing and knitting patterns.