Monday, August 20, 2012

A Little Great Depression Frugality

I have no tv, but I really love food shows. I read cookbooks cover to cover like novels, so this shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. I've been filling the TV void with youtube cooking shows like My Drunk Kitchen (hilarious, but understandably has little value as a cooking primer), Heavy Metal Vegan Cooking (also funny, but with actually useful recipes. I plan to try the "Seitan with Satan" recipe this week), and Cooking From the Great Depression.

That's my favorite. In these short videos, Clara tells little stories she recalls from the great depression while cooking very simple meals from the era. Some are horrible sounding - "cooked bread," for example, is old stale bread that you poor hot water over until it's soggy. But others are innovative and lovely, like this simple Italian Ice recipe that wards off the heat for pennies (see below). All inspire me to think about how I use stuff in my kitchen to best effect. Here's how I went for frugality yesterday.

"Seitan With Satan"

"Italian Ice"

Last week when I blanched the dozen ear of corn and put the cut kernels in the freezer, I didn't toss the corn cobs in the compost. Instead I stowed them in the freezer for corn chowder. And indeed, the start of this broth (6-8 corn cobs in a pot of water) is pretty sad looking. But if you let the pot simmer a while, and periodically scrape the ears with a fork, the corn remnants produce a milky, sweet broth when combined with onions, garlic, salt, and a few herbs.

Pauper's Soup
Depressing Carrots
To that I added all the saddest veg from the crisper, like these carrots that have been rolling around long enough to grow new albino greens at the top. Tops and tails of these don't get tossed though, they go into my veggie stock reserve bag in the freezer along with onion skins, sad little herb stumps, and really anything that isn't in the cabbage family. When the bread bag is full of these bits, I know it's time to make a pot of stock. Some people buy new, lovely carrots and onions for making stock, but you throw them out when you're done and it feels like a huge waste. I'd rather use a boullion cube at that point.

Stock bag stowed in the upstairs freezer

Once the veggies are tender, throw in one ear's worth of corn kernels, and it's a feast made for a king. Particularly when it's paired with homemade herb crackers (the recipe for which, I acquired from Straight from the Farm.) You can get it here, but note that I used whole wheat flour instead of white and they were mega-awesome.

La Gourmande!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Berry Picking and a Day of Putting Up

As I'm sure I've mentioned one million times, I missed raspberry season this year. It was early because of the heat, short because of the rain, and I just missed it completely. Raspberries are one of my favorite foods, and I used to purchase 20 frozen bags of raspberries per year to mix with yogurt or granola, bake into fruit crumbles, or just eat like candy.

I now understand that these raspberries from Dole are grown in Chile or somewhere equally far from home, by people who make 20 dollars a week, on land that should be used to grow food for people nearby. I understand that the price of 4$ per half gallon is artificially low, paid for by government subsidy and human exploitation.

SO: raspberries have become a luxury. You can imagine, then, how horribly sad I was to have missed them. Particularly because most farmers I spoke with don't expect a fall crop this year either because of weather. I've been calling U Pick berry farms in the county, and most are closed this year because the season is so bad, but I finally found an open one at Reilly's Summer Seat Farm!

Alex and I picked six pints of raspberries today and two pints of blackberries!! It was a berry miracle. It was hard work, so I understand why the berries are so expensive at market. The ones we picked ourselves were still expensive, since these berries are pretty much the only game in town, but so worth it. I made four pints of raspberry jam today (out of half pint jam jars as per usual) and one pint of blackberry. They look glorious cooling on the counter.

I also needed to deal with the abundance I bought at the market yesterday, so I cooked and froze 12 ears of corn (just the kernels,) and put together a pico de gallo salsa for the freezer. I had a lot of cilantro left, so I hung one bunch to dry, and chopped and froze the other in ice cube trays to be added to soups and indian dishes all year.

I still need to deal with another 6 ear of corn we bought today, and a dozen HOT red chile peppers that I think I'll roast and freeze to add heat to dishes all winter. I had a terrible time drying peppers last year - our air is too damp. It broke my heart to toss them when they molded.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Fall Days

Yesterday and today both, the temperature crept below 60 degrees. I wore socks and long pants in the house. I know it's not permanent, but it feels that way a bit. My cooking has shifted dramatically as a result.

I made chili, quinoa with faux chorizo, and potatoes and rutabaga au gratin. Alex bought a whole local chicken and roasted it last night. This morning, I baked apricot tea cakes for breakfast and ate them with the first new apples acquired at the farmer's market.

I am not ready for this, so the tomatoes, corn, and cucumbers will be back on the menu soon, I'm sure.

It does make me realize that I need to start thinking about making the house warmer for winter. The HVAC system at the house is such that the furnace needs to be on constantly just to keep the house around 65 degrees, while it'd rarely get below 55 if we had it completely off. The attic is where Alex spends a lot of his time playing video games and doing work for his brother, and that has no heat at all. While it never got hot enough this year for the attic to be uninhabitable, I suspect the same won't be said for winter and the cold. So now's the time to consider efficient space heater options.

Vornado has some cool ones that are relatively inexpensive, and will double as fans in the summer online. I think a couple of these should work for this year. I'm very interested in a wood burning stove insert for the fireplace, but they cost about 1300$, which I can't swing or justify presently.

Come back, summer sun!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Retaining Wall is nearing completion!

During a break in the rain, we finished the wall. It looks pretty good all things considered. This is the third time, at least, that a wall has been erected with these stones. I'm hoping it's the last for about 15 years. 

We paid a friend of a friend to lug 3 tons (i.e. 6000 lbs) of gravel up the hill and dump it behind the wall. He was tired, sweaty, bloody, and bruised by the end so I'm glad we overpaid a bit. It's the first time we've paid anyone to do ANYthing at this new house, and man was it worth it. 

I think Alex felt weird hanging out inside while someone toiled at his house, but it would have taken the two of us 3 days of brutal work to do this job.

Alex did dig the drainage trench while Chris was lugging rocks. This will help take the pressure off the wall when it rains, which it does every day. 

Meanwhile, I lugged a few extra stones to outline the new melon bed we're planning for next year. We're doing it now so we can make the soil nice for next year. That, and we have tons of dirt and nothing to do with it. 

All that's left is to shovel some dirt back in, and clean up our mess of a yard. "Easy," she says with some reservation.

Blossoms around the yard

I pay very little attention to the flowers in my yard. Mostly because I give little thought to stuff I don't eat. However, my squash vine has a million buds, and very few squash, so I wondered what's up. Turns out there are both male and female squash blossoms. The female blossoms have tiny little fruits underneath while the male are on long stems, but the females need pollination to continue in fruit production. I think the butterflies and bees in my yard are down on the job.

This got me thinking about all the other flowers in the yard, so I rounded up some images.

Marigolds, protecting the tomatoes

Male squash blossom

Female cucumber blossom

Rose of Sharon

Daisies, which dot the yard since we rarely weed whack

I think this is purple gayfeather, but don't know for sure since it came with the house. It's great at attracting bees, so I'm glad it's so near the raised beds.

Amaranth - almost ready to harvest!!!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Approximate Harvest Tally So Far

I don't have a kitchen scale. I also have a propensity to pop my harvest into my mouth before it even makes it into the house. As such, these numbers will only ever be approximate.

Snap peas: 1/2 gallon
Spinach and Spring Greens: 6 gallons
Carrots: 3 (haven't pulled the bulk of them yet)
Eggplant: 1 lb
Rutabaga: 2 lbs
Jalapenos: 4
Russian Pickling Cucumbers: 6 lbs
Lemon cucumbers: 8 lbs
Big Tomatoes: 30-35 lbs
Cherry tomatoes: 7 pints
Edamame: 1 cup :-(
Dried soy beans: 1/4 cup
Dried Calypso Beans: 1 cup
Dried Hidatsu Beans: 1/2 cup
Basil: 2 gallons
Purple string beans: 1 gallon
Green Beans: 1/4 gallon
Kale & Collards: 4 gallons
Cauliflower: 1 HUGE head (1.5 lbs)
Blueberries: 1 pint
Sweet Green Peppers: 2

Yet to harvest:

Corm (not looking good)
Brussel Sprouts
Tender Herbs

Failures/Too Young to Produce:


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Of Toilets and Toil

We have the first row of the retaining wall down, which is exciting. And we've found help to load the gravel when we're ready in the form of an unemployed friend of a friend who needs the money. Lovely.

But wait! Something's got to throw a wrench in our plans. This time, it was our toilet. As though punishing us for cleaning the bathroom, right after we mopped the floor, the toilet started leaking yucky toilet water from the bottom. Just a bit, but any toilet water on the floor is too much.

We thought it was the wax ring, which Alex has replaced many times in his previous life as a tiler. So we headed to the Lowes, grabbed a 4$ wax ring kit and got down to business. We jockeyed the toilet about a quarter inch when BOTH of the screws holding the tank to the bowl just snapped. Right in half. The nut and the part of the bolt inside the tank was rusted solid, and there was nothing outside. So, back to Lowes we go to get new bolts. On the first try, the bolts leak terribly. On try number three we get it right-ish and put on the wax ring and put the toilet back.

I should mention here that moving the toilet means there is open sewer in your house. It smells as awesome as that sounds. And yucky toilet water gets everywhere. And you have to scrape off the old wax ring, that's been leaking for a little while, so it has some old crap (literally) all over it.


Anyway, we do all this, and the toilet was still leaking as of last night. This morning the problem seems fixed, but I'm not really buying it, so we're heading back to Lowes again to get the proper kitchen & bath caulk to use around the edge of the toilet.


The culprit. After everything's been disinfected and put back together.

In Sunnier News:

Our daily harvest is still looking lovely.

I scored a huge load of perfect peaches at the farmer's market to be jammed and frozen today.

So many early girls that we can't eat them fast enough, and one baby eggplant

A friend bought box of HOT banana peppers that I pickled in return for one jar. We're already out of pint canning jars for the year, so these babies went in 1.5 pint jars. Alex refused to wear hand protection while chopping these suckers and two days later, his fingers still burn. 

Even the worst toilet day doesn't seem bad when I can eat fresh Caprese with Basil microgreens for every meal. And I do.