Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Stuffed Pepper Saga

When I got married, I couldn't cook. Could not boil water. My mother-in-law (no doubt fearing for her son's life) gave me a small Betty Crocker cookbook entitled, "Good and Easy." I could read and follow directions fairly well, so I was off and running.

One of the first things I learned to make, that was a little special, was stuffed green peppers. That became a mainstay to serve when having company over for dinner. They looked good and everyone seemed to like them. But then I decided the filling was lacking something (I personally was never crazy about it), so I started fiddling with the recipe. Can't tell you how many filling recipes I tried over the next few years, but finally did settle on one that Roy thought was great and I was happy with . . . until this last winter.

Maybe I should back up a little in this highly engrossing tale. One year when I had a bumper crop of green peppers, I decided to try freezing the stuffed peppers. Worked out great. What an easy meal to have in the freezer. I had only to remember to set them out on the counter to defrost during the day, then put in a covered casserole dish for a half hour in the oven, and voila! Quick, simple, yummy dinner dish . . . for family or company.

Last year, the garden again bestowed us with an abundance of green peppers so I made and froze (waaay too many) stuffed green peppers. This past winter we ate them so often that I decided (once again . . . boy, am I a pain) I no longer liked my filling recipe.

Fast forward to this year, and let me digress a little. I have unsuccessfully tried forever to get my home grown green peppers to turn red. Supposedly when they do, the general nutritional content is higher. They taste sweeter and sure are purdy. (I know the sweet red peppers are a lot pricier to purchase, too.) Well, lo and behold, look at what I'm getting from my garden this year.

And there are a lot of them. Wahoo! I'm not going to waste one of them and since we can only eat so many fresh, I'm back to making up and putting a bunch in the freezer. But not without a new, scrumptious, luscious, you're-gonna-love-this-filling recipe. Knowing I was going to have lots like the ones pictured above to harvest shortly, I once again did some research and came up with a filling recipe that sounded good.

Yesterday I got out my biggest bowl and mixed up the recipe that was supposed to stuff 24 peppers, or 48 halves. (Honest, that's what it said.) Unfortunately, I wasn't the brightest cook in the kitchen in that I blanched all 24 peppers thinking . . . well, that the filling would fill 24 peppers. Only had enough filling for 12 peppers, or 24 halves. Whoops. Did I figure wrong? Nope. Went over the recipe carefully two times and I had the called for amounts of each ingredient. Without making a trip to town to buy more ingredients and starting over again, I was definitely short filling mixture.

So what to do with the 12 (unfilled) blanched peppers? I chopped them up and froze them on cookie sheets, then packaged them for the freezer. I can use them in soups, casseroles, stir fries and such. Crisis averted.

Back to the stuffed peppers. Here's a shot of them individually stuffed, frozen and getting packaged up for the freezer.

I kept a sample out for dinner last night and . . . TA-DA! The filling is the best I've ever made and dear (always hungry, easy-to-please) husband thinks so, too.

Whew! It's an exciting life I lead. My mother-in-law would be so proud of me.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Last Delivery

This is our last market garden delivery to the restaurant for the season all packaged up and ready to go. Bags of lettuce, green slicing cucs, lemon cucs, sweet Antohi Romanian peppers, and cherry tomatoes. There will still be more to harvest from the garden in days to come, but the gardener has hit a wall and decided it's time to call it quits on the market gardening. I'll give anything else away or preserve it for our own use . . . at my leisure. (Leisure? Hold on a minute while I go look that word up in the dictionary. I think I've forgotten what it means.)

Market gardening was an experiment for us this year and we've learned a lot. As with so many things in life, it had its pros and its cons. Under pros I have to list lots of compliments on our produce from the kitchen staff in the restaurant, their willingness and eagerness to take whatever we brought them, the knowledge that we can produce a very marketable product, extra income generated while having the comfort of "working from home", and knowing that we have the capability of growing more than we need just for ourselves.

Probably the biggest con is that it took so much more of my time than I would have guessed. Who knew? I could have hypothesized on the time angle from here to eternity, but until I actually did it, it would have just been conjecture. There was more time involved with starting all the seeds, transplanting a couple of times, planting in the garden, weeding, mulching, erecting supports, tying up, watering and harvesting. Ah, the harvesting. The harvesting and preparing for delivery. Much, much, much more time spent on those two aspects of the whole shebang than I ever would have imagined. The extra income brought in was appreciated, of course, but it turned out to be pretty paltry when spread over the extra hours (and hours and hours - have I mentioned it took more time than I'd anticipated?) I spent in the garden this year.

I'm not sorry we did it as we've been kicking around the idea of raising something for market for many years. And it was not a bad experience by any stretch of the imagination. I survived. I'm still upright. I still love gardening with a passion. But I have made the decision to pull back in, streamline and simplify the garden for next year in order to grow just enough for our own use and, okay, some extra for those nearest and dearest to us.

And when we get the urge to do some more market gardening (and you can probably bet your sweet bippy [anybody out there remember "Laugh In"?] we will), I'm pretty sure we'll concentrate on a product that maximizes the return on time and effort expended. Raspberries? Strawberries? Tomatoes? It sure won't be green beans or lettuce or cucumbers. As they say, I may be dumb, but I'm not stupid. I hope. I think. Please help. Somebody perform an intervention if I ever plant so many green beans again.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Farm Report

Don't I wish this really was an honest-to-goodness Farm Report. If Roy and I had been born a hundred years earlier (possibly even just 50 years earlier), I know we would have lived on a sustainable family farm somewhere in the depths of farm country. But our life is here and now, and a mighty good life it is, so a more accurate title for this entry would be Small Homestead Report.

A view of some of the garden beds with the cold frame covers up for the day . . . which blocks the view of the garden beds!

Part of the field garden which looks pretty good yet.

Comin' up fast on the last of September we are and we've avoided even a light frost in our neck of the woods. The garden is still unbelievably lush and green looking for the most part.

These are a couple of the full-sized heirloom tomatoes we've been getting from the garden. One sitting in a cup measure to give an idea of size.

The tomatoes are slowly ripening, I'm still harvesting slicing cucs, lettuce, Swiss chard, cabbage, cherry tomatoes, and sweet peppers. I could be picking beans and pickling cucs if I wasn't already up to my ear lobes in them. We've got potatoes and carrots that we're leaving in the ground a while longer.

We're still getting a few blueberries. These were picked yesterday - about 3 cups.

Two female ducks; Mini Silver Appleyard on left and Khaki Campbell on right.

Geese gobbling up food, as usual. American Buff on left and Shetland female on right.

Proud rooster decked out in all his finery. A molting hen who wants to run away and hide. She's having a very bad feather day.

The ducks, geese, and chickens are all doing well. Chickens are molting a bit as expected this time of year and egg production is down some. 'Cept for our crazy little banty hens who have hardly laid an egg all summer and have now decided to start poppin' 'em out like crazy.

Our two full-sized mama hen chickens who were sharing a nest of eggs have just one little chick. (Two others did hatch but didn't make it.) The little one who made it looks for all the world to be a Bantam (yes, we do have one Bantam rooster) as he/she doesn't look any bigger than the day he/she hatched out over three weeks ago. The two mamas are so protective they refuse to let me get close enough for a picture.

Roy took a quick walk by the bee hives a couple of days ago and came in to report that there was a HUGE mound of dead bees outside our strongest hive. What happened? What could have caused such a die-off? Two possibilities come to mind. The bees could have gotten into some nectar of plants that had been sprayed with poison. But if that were the case, wouldn't the bees in our other hives have also been affected? The other really scary possibility is the fact that there are one or two beekeepers in our county who we suspect have brought in mite-infested bees. The bee mites are currently a serious problem in virtually all parts of the country. We, along with a group of other concerned beekeepers, originally obtained mite-free bees from a unique, uncontaminated area in Ontario. If, indeed, our heretofore healthy bees have come in contact with those few unhealthy bees, we are in big trouble. Bees are so important to our crops and gardens. I know my garden has gotten better and better for several years now and I attribute much of it to our bees.

I didn't think about taking a picture of the dead bees until too late. When I got out there, the ever-efficient bees had cleared the carnage away and there was nothing unusual left to photograph. When Roy took the hives apart for a really good inspection a few weeks ago, he said that he didn't think we'd be able to take off any honey this year. The bees would need all they had to winter-over. He recently spoke with a very successful beekeeper of 40-some years who lives over the border in Canada. She said this is the worst year for bees she's ever had.

Even though we've had strangely warmer than normal temperatures (both day and night) lately, the calendar tells us that a different season is coming and we need to tend to those important outside chores in preparation for winter. Duck, geese and chicken houses and pens need to be cleaned and readied, any painting or jobs requiring warmth need to be done now. We've got one side (a big side!) of the garage that still needs to be sided and painted. Window boxes and potted plants should be emptied, and there's always more wood to be worked up and sheltered. Roy wants to do some brushing and mowing in the woods in preparation for winter logging of firewood he'd like to do. It's time to finish the shoring up of our stores of livestock grain and feed for the winter. The annual job of mowing the weeds and volunteer saplings on either side of our quarter mile long driveway needs to be done so the ditches and drop-offs can be seen when snowplowing.

Well-gosh, I think by giving this "Farm Report", I've just made a jim-dandy list for us to work from in the next few weeks of good weather. And, oh yeah, it sure would be nice to squeeze in a few day trips to get out and hike and paddle and sight-see and enjoy our gorgeous fall scenery during what I think is the most enjoyable weather of the year.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Technology is Great - When It Works

We had one whopper-doo of a storm night before last and since then our hi-speed internet service has been kaputz. Repairman isn't scheduled to arrive until next Wednesday. So temporarily I'm back on dial-up. Don't know how much luck I'll have with this post and/or pictures, so bear with me.

Nothing close to a killing frost yet up here in the near-tundra. Here's a nice looking Red Kuri squash in my garden that's about 8-9" across. If only it has time to turn red.

I have so many lovely, large pumpkins. This one is at least 36" around. But again, time to mature (pumpkins really should be orange, right?) is needed.

I was supposed to be away from home all day today but there was a change of plans at the last minute so I'm regrouping and hoping to make it an applesauce-making day. Won't the house smell good then! What a great time of year.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Monday, Monday

Lying in bed last night, before I fell asleep, I made the decision that I wasn't going to do anything today except for three things: 1) the weekly laundry, 2) make and can applesauce from the two grocery bags full of apples waiting for me in our cool garage, and 3) get my ironing done while watching 'Dancing with the Stars' tonight.

It's now 4 p.m. as I write and I do have the laundry done. (Hurray for our side!) I started that as soon as I was outta bed this morning and worked on it all during the day. Haven't even looked at the apples yet and I sure don't want to tear into that project now. That needs to be a first-of-the-morning started project to insure completion in a day.

So what the heck have I done today? First off . . . well, I don't know what's come over me. I never used to be that thrilled by pumpkin pie even thought it's always been my daughter's favorite. (To paraphrase Garrison Keillor, "The best pumpkin pie you've ever tasted is not that much different than the worst one.") However, in the last year or so, I've found myself craving pumpkin pie. And what's more appropriate for this time of year? The devil made me do it. I just HAD to make one!

As soon as the pie was out of the oven, I took a quick, short run to town with only two stops. We were out of bananas and I really don't enjoy my fruit smoothie for lunch without the banana for thickener so I dashed in and out of our whole foods co-op for bananas. And a red kuri squash. And a couple of lemons. And some black pepper. And a short chat with the produce manager who I haven't seen for a while. Then I swung by the library drop box to chuck in multitudinous audio tapes and a few books that were getting close to their due date.

Zipping back home, I was struck by how pretty our driveway is beginning to look with the fall colors becoming more and more evident. We don't have any maples, other than two we've planted by the house, on our property (not many deciduous trees actually) but I still love the look of our driveway in the fall. I stopped to take a few photos as I drove in.

Then Roy asked for my help in moving three canoes and a kayak. One end of our canoe rack had collapsed so we had to move the boats so he could do some repair work.

Roy had said he was going to go into the lumber yard for some supplies during the day so I sat down at my desk, paid a couple of bills and got a deposit ready for him to take in when he went.

Checked e-mail and answered a few that needed attention. Boiled some hot dogs (chicken franks) to use in the casserole I'm making for dinner tonight. Washed eggs that were waiting in the egg basket. Watered the houseplants. Did what seemed to me to be a rather large batch of dishes. Why are there so many dirty dishes? There are only two people living here! Made a little lunch. Noticed the zinnias on the kitchen half-wall were looking a little worse for wear so dumped them and went out into the garden to cut a new bouquet. Got bread out of the freezer. Remembered a pot of artificial fall mums I usually put on top of a storage unit that's right inside the back porch entrance . . . some decoration looks nice there but it's too dark to keep a potted plant, not enough light . . . so I went back to the storage shed to get the mums.

Well, you're getting the idea of how a day can be frittered away doing things that do need to be done, but don't seem to amount to a hill of beans at the end of the day. And why I sometimes never seem to get to the "big" projects.

I just came in from helping Roy put the three canoes and kayak back onto the repaired canoe rack and if I don't stop this and go whip up the casserole and get it into the oven, we won't be eating at a decent time tonight. And then I won't be set up and ready to iron while watching 'Dancing with the Stars'. Oh my, what a full life.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Really Good (Wood) Day

Yesterday Roy and I hooked up our high-sided trailer, loaded the truck with wood cutting tools and headed out to our daughter and son-in-law's place to work for the day with them gathering some wood for their woodshed.

A large area had recently been logged less than five minutes drive from their home where the loggers left their usual pile of "tops" (the tops of trees which are too small to take for saw logs). They told W and T they were welcome to take any of these for firewood. So this is the area where we set up to cut wood.

The guys first cut the wood in appropriate sized pieces and then threw them out into a pile close to where W and I could back up their pick-up. The guys would take a break from chain sawing to help us load the pick-up. W and I would then drive to their place and unload the wood into a pile right outside of their woodshed where T will do any more necessary cutting or splitting and stack the wood inside the shed.

Of course, their two dogs and our one were part of the work crew, mostly getting in the way and making a general nuisance of themselves. Sometimes W and I took them with us in the truck on our many trips back and forth, and sometimes they stayed to "help" the guys.

The day was gorgeous. Beautiful fall scenery everywhere you looked. Perhaps a smidge warm for that kind of physical labor, but not too bad. But what was bad was (hear music from "Jaws" here) . . . the Gnat-Hatch. Wouldn't ya know it. 'Twas an odd happening that none of us could figure out, especially for this time of year. There were millions of the little, super-irritating things all over the place. The only saving grace was that they weren't of the biting variety. But they did persist in flying into our eyes, mouths and up our noses. Gak, gag, ugh, yuck, eeeuw! I even had a couple sneak down into my bazoom area. W swore she had one . . . well, I shall refrain from describing where she thought she had one.

Here are T (son-in-law) and W (daughter) at the cutting site. T seemed to be especially attractive to the gnats. They went after him with a vengeance.

What was going on here? Perhaps a moment of marital strife?

T in action with the chain saw.

Roy bends down to pick up wood he's just cut.

Roy tosses wood out to pile.

T, me and Roy loading pick-up.

This is Tucker, a Cardigan Welsh Corgi, one of my granddogs. You can't tell so much from this picture, but he is built like a brick sh . . . well, never mind. I call him a German sausage stuffed with concrete. He weighs as much as Maisy, his sister, who is a Golden Retriever. Corgis are know as being couch potatoes who get fat from avoiding exercise. Tucker is like the Energizer Bunny and is SOLID muscle from the tips of his perky ears to the tips of his toes at the end of his tree-trunk 6" long legs.

I never managed yesterday to get a picture of our dog, Zoey. She's a huntin' dawg, ya know, and she, as usual, went crazy in new territory exploring all the great smells. When we went back to the house for dinner, she wouldn't come inside. (Okay, she's a little afraid of Annie Blue, W and T's tiny cat.) She stretched out on the gravel driveway in the setting sun and looked for all the world like road kill. Exhausting day. Great day, but exhausting day.

Uh-oh, this does NOT look good.

W finally resorted to a head net because she was swallowing so many gnats.

Maisy in truck with us taking a load to woodshed. She's pouting. She's saying, "I didn't want to ride back home to the woodshed. I wanted to stay with the guys to help. It's more interesting out there."

This is a sign W and T put up on the drive into their place. You may not be able to read it, but it says, "Go Away." This is their tongue-in-cheek way of wishing for a simple, uncomplicated life which is rather oxymoron-ish as they are both charismatic, fun-to-be-with people who have a multitude of interests and busy social life.

W took this shot of the colorful leaves lining their driveway.

Here I am standing in the bed of the pick-up unloading a load onto the wood pile outside the woodshed.

And the pile grows higher, and higher, . . . and higher!

Here are Roy and T unloading the very last load from the high-sided trailer. When W saw this picture, she said, "Which one is the dumb one?"

Ah-ha! T is definitely wising up; notice his log is hollow.

Okay, we're inside, our hands are washed, and the gals are making pizzas for dinner.

Okay, they're inside, their hands are washed, and the guys are . . . relaxing. That's fine as they definitely had the more taxing jobs of the day.

Even though W's birthday was 2-1/2 months ago, she had never received her Coconut Creme birthday cake. (Don't ask; things have just been too crazy this summer.) I managed to get the cake baked and took it out with us yesterday so after our truly yummy pizzas, we had birthday cake.

I was taking pictures, and the guys were anxiously waiting with forks in hand so she had to light her own candles.

I like a gal who can really get into singing "Happy Birthday" to herself.

She's a happy girl. She finally got her birthday cake, and she has a big pile of firewood outside her woodshed.

What a great day we all had. Putting up wood may be hard work (and we won't mention The Gnat-Hatch again) but with four people all working together, laughing (and moaning and groaning about body aches and pains) and enjoying themselves, it made for a really good day.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What Can I Say?

Sometimes it just seems like the best thing to do is to get into your bed, scootch and roll around until you find just the right position, forget everything, and take a nap.

I think I could learn something from her.

(Is she smiling?)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fall, Fall, Beautiful Fall

This morning Roy did his last weed whipping session of 2008. (Not that he's real broken up about that.) Low temp overnight was 38°. Outside, that is, of course. Inside it was 66°, a smidge better. This inbetwixt and inbetween time of year is too warm to think about having a fire in the wood stove overnight, but getting up and going mornings is not as comfy as we might wish. Does kinda make you move fast from jammies to dressed-for-the-day though. Now if I were organized, I'd have oven breakfasts planned so I could pop on the gas stove upon arising which would spread some warmth through the house first thing while providing us with a yummy first meal of the day. (Sure sounds like a good idea, doesn't it?)

After lunch today, Roy was putting the date on a jar of kefir he made. September 15th. The lovely month of September IS HALF OVER! Wait. Stop. Just hold on a dadgum minute there, pardner. How did that happen? Easy. I just have to look at my schedule for the rest of this week, and I know in two shakes of that little lamb's tail, it'll be the weekend already. If someone could just figure out how to slow down time . . . .

Slow down time so fall would last until, say, December 1st? Fall is my favorite time of year. But my bio-rhythms may be a little whacky. I always feel energized in the fall the way most people do in the spring. And most of the good things that have happened in my life have taken place in the fall. I met my husband, got married, got pregnant, moved to Minnesota. No, no, no, not all in the same fall!

Having just said the above (me with all this energy running rampant), I have to admit, I'm having trouble getting out of bed these mornings. I don't know if it's the change in temperature (so warm and comfy under the flannel sheets), or that I need some rest and recuperation from a physically busy summer, or the change in time of sunrise. I suppose I should relax and not be concerned. It's just that hiring the crane to come in every morning to haul me up and out is getting expensive.

There is such a different feel to life when the fall season arrives. Waning light dictates a change in our daily schedule, we wear different clothing, I cook and serve different foods this time of year. Even my summer beverage of choice, Mike's Hard Lime, doesn't have the appeal it did for the past three months. Now it's on to the shots of straight bourbon to keep me going. Where do you think I get the energy? And why I have to sleep in mornings?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Pickles - The Old-Fashioned Way

When I was a little kid, my grandmother always made a big crock of pickles each summer. The crock was kept in a closed room off the back of her kitchen that was called "the cold room." For the most part, it was used to store out-of-season clothes and it was off-limits to me, my brother and our eleven cousins that frequently spent time at Grandma and Grandpa's. None of us were allowed to go into the cold room and dip into the crock ourselves, but as a special treat we would ask Grandma for a pickle, and she always found a nice, big one for whomever asked.

I have a vivid memory of taking my pickle, going out to the cool, front screened-in porch to lie on the swing there, staring up at the beadboard ceiling while savoring that oh-so-good pickle, and thinking whatever thoughts and dreaming whatever dreams a 7 or 8 year old in the 1950s did.

Why, oh, why didn't I get Grandma's crock pickle recipe? Most likely, she didn't have a recipe, but I could have gotten the basics from her so I could try my hand at making them.

Roy has frequently suggested it would be nice to do some old-fashioned pickles in a crock but I've kinda ignored him and continued to make our pickles in quart jars using the water bath canner method because I knew that worked. This year, with our abundant crop of pickling cucumbers, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Earlier this summer, he did a little light-weight researching and came up with a method for making crock pickles. Here's a shot of the crock sitting in a corner of the cool basement.

He said they would be ready to taste after fermenting in the brine for about 1-1/2 weeks. This week the time was up so we sampled.

Well, I'll be horn-swoggled. They are really good. Now they'll continue to ferment and get even better tasting, he assures me. With this success under his belt, he was encouraged to try yet another batch.

I volunteered to help by gathering and washing the dill and preparing the garlic.

Here's a bunch of cucs in the sink ready for washing.

And washing. And washing. And washing.

Finally, cucumbers and garlic ready for the crock.

Into the crock they go.

Then down to the basement and we patiently wait while they do their thing, turning into tasty, crispy, crunchy pickles like Grandma used to make. ('Cept I think this batch has more garlic in it than Grandma ever thought of using!)