Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Some Successes, Some Failures

Dehydrating blueberries -- bah!

I tried dehydrating blueberries once before, a few years ago, and they turned out as inedible dark blue pebbles.  It took me this many more years to give it another try.

Read up on ye ol' Internet on how to do it along with perusing our three or four books on dehydrating.

Nope, I was not going to puncture each berry with a toothpick or sharp point of a knife before placing them in the dehydrator.  Next best option (guaranteed to work -- uh-huh, sure) was to immerse the berries in boiling water for 30 seconds before spreading them out on the trays. 

I had 17 cups from our more recent good-sized harvest.  Cleaned them as usual and then gave them the 30 second baptism in the hot water.

From my research I was prepared for them to take a long time to dry.  These pictured above had been drying for 24+ hours.

Nowhere did I find it suggested that I might have to sort the berries into size categories before drying.  (Makes sense, but just how long would that little project take?)  The smaller berries were turned into crispy cinders while the bigger ones were still squishy and wet.  It was impossible to remove the smaller berries earlier than the larger ones they were mixed in with because they were stuck like glue to the trays.

I finally decided to scrap the whole project, even though I whined a lot over losing 17 cups of what were once lovely blueberries.  How long did it take to carefully scrape (so as to not damage the stainless steel screening on the trays) all remnants of this fiasco from the eight trays?  You don't even want to know.  I still have to wash the trays (thank heaven for our big utility sink in the garage) which should be fun, too.

* * * * * * * * * *

But not all this week has gone the way of the great blueberry debacle.  Out in the garden our slicing cucumbers continue to produce at an almost alarming rate, so I've been able to make many more jars of kimchi.

This fermented vegetable mixture should keep in the refrigerator for months (some sources claim years even -- yikes!), and give us countless health benefits well into the winter.  The very best part of this deal is that the kimchi tastes really good!

This is our pretty little Annie who was born with her right foot completely folded under so it looked as though she had only half a webbed foot.  (You may recall we were able to successfully splint it so she had no permanent damage.)  We don't believe it was a genetic deformity, but rather from being positioned in a bad spot as she developed in the egg, so she's going to be one of our "keepers" this fall and hopefully will turn into a fertile, good mother goose in the future.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Stuffin' Them Peppers!

I've had requests for making and freezing my stuffed peppers so here goes.  First the recipe:

Stuffed Green Peppers

2 cups of uncooked rice
Cooked in whatever method you prefer

2 pounds lean ground beef
2 medium onions, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup salsa
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 - 15 oz. cans tomato sauce

Approximately 16 sweet peppers, green or red
Shredded cheese of your choice

Cook the rice until well done.  (I like to use half wild rice, half brown rice.)

Brown the ground beef in a large skillet.  Add the onions, garlic, salsa, seasonings and tomato sauce and mix well without further cooking.

At this point since my skillet isn't big enough to hold the rice, too, I transfer the meat mixture into a stock pot, add the cooked rice and mix well.

Either before or after you prepare the meat mixture, prepare the peppers by slicing in half, seeding and removing membranes so each half of the peppers can hold a nice amount of the meat mixture.

I cut my peppers in half top to bottom, so I have close to two identical halves.

Then blanch each prepped pepper half in boiling water for just three minutes.

Remove immediately and place in cold water.  Our well water is extremely cold so I use it rather than submerging the pepper halves in ice water to cool.

Drain pepper halves cut side down.

Next I lay the peppers out, cut side up, on large cookie sheets and slightly mound a portion of the meat mixture in them.

Into the freezer the stuffed peppers go until they're fairly well frozen, then they're either wrapped in freezer paper or put into freezer bags for storage.

When I want to serve some for dinner, I take them from the freezer several hours before the meal, put them into a shallow baking pan and let them defrost (they're really hard as rocks right out of the freezer) on the counter.

Before baking, I sprinkle grated cheese over the top and bake uncovered in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

To make the process less daunting, I like to cook my rice and prep the peppers (but not blanched) the night before.  Then the next day I make the meat mixture, blanch and stuff the peppers, freeze and wrap.

The last batch I made I had 22 peppers, but they were all medium to small in size.  The number of 16 peppers noted in the above recipe would be about 16 medium to large ones.

I've been tweaking this recipe for years, but I think I have it the way I like it now.  Needless to say, you can change any of the seasonings to suit your own taste or cut the recipe in half if you don't want to make so many of them.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask and I'll be glad to clarify anything that isn't clear. 

Kristen, sorry it took so long to get this to you.  Bobbie, you certainly can used defrosted ground beef in the recipe.  That's what I always have.

Friday, August 26, 2016


This morning I walked around to the far side of the pond to see if I could get pictures of the geese and ducks paddling around.

Some of the geese were the only ones in evidence.  Upon noticing a big, bad figure stalking around the outside of the fence, they immediately set up a "Danger, danger, stranger danger!" squawking.

When I started talking to them, and they recognized my voice, they came right over to me . . .

. . . to see if I had any food say hello.

The pond is going down, down, down and sadly needs a fresh infusion of water.  We've had no rain for a while now, but there's the possibility of some tomorrow . . . fingers crossed.  The water fowl and the garden would welcome it.

I'm elated to report that our day time temperatures have dropped quite a bit in the last day or so, the humidity is lessening and sleeping at night has once again become comfortable.  Hooray for this first little glimpse of autumnal weather! 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Another Sweaty Day But A Good Day

I had a really good day today.  (I can say that now after the sweat has stopped running toward the floor from all parts of my body.  TMI?)  Yep, I was out in the garden for much of the day, but got bunches crossed off my To Do List.

My zucchini plants (both of them) have stopped producing.  Just plain stopped.  And the leaves haven't been looking too good either.  Nope, no evidence of insect damage.  I thought all squash liked hot weather as we've been having so what's the problem?  I gave the plants some attention, a trim removing yellowed leaves and a chirky pep talk.  We'll see if that does any good.

Staked up a couple of (still headless) broccoli plants that were beginning to lean.  Since they prefer cool weather -- of which we've been having none -- that may be the problem.

Pulled out my green and yellow bush bean plants.  Harvested the last of what I wanted yesterday and now I have plenty in the freezer for our year's supply.  Threw half of the plants into the poultry yard, and saved the rest for our daughter to take home to her chickens.

I had planted a couple hills of "assorted gourds" that I thought would be nice to have for fall decorating.  These tiny white pumpkin-like things are the only "assorted gourds" that are growing.  If I remember, the same thing happened last year . . . and I used the same packet of seeds this year.  (I expected a different outcome?)

Pulled the last of the Sweet Pea vines that died on me prematurely.  Better luck next year, eh?

Staked up an apple tree branch that was hanging mighty low because of all the apples on it.  Not a bad problem to have.  We even "thinned" the apples when they started to form earlier this season.  Can't complain about the apples not developing well this year, can we?

Weeded the little 10' x 16' plot in which we've got our experimental dwarf apple trees planted.  How do weeds come up so easily through a thick mulch on the ground?  Not fair, I say, just not fair. 

Dead headed the bachelor buttons, marigolds, cosmos and zinnias.  Don't know if they feel better, but they sure look better.

When our strawberries are done bearing, we always mow them down with the lawn mower so they can make a burst of new growth before going into dormant winter time.  We did this a couple of weeks ago and they've made a lot of regrowth in just that time.  The weeds that had popped up in the patch were quite impressive, too.  So I attacked them this morning and now the area is looking good again.

You may not be able to tell it from this picture with nothing to compare the size of them to, but it looks as though our onions are going to be of a right good size this year.  This is one of the three beds of them.

This is a couple of my fall planted cauliflowers.  The plants are all of about 3" tall.  I keep thinking maybe they'll really take off . . . one of these days.  (Go, little plants, go!  You can do it!)

And here's the bed of fall planted greens:  lettuce, spinach, mizuna mustard, arugula and Swiss chard.  I've had it covered with a frame of shade cloth in this continuing hot weather.   (Does the terrible angle of this picture make you dizzy like it does me?)

I made two more jars of my Minnesota Kimchi.  They're now doing their thing on the counter for a few days.  We've already gone through a first jar, have another in the fridge and now have these two more coming along.

The one thing still remaining on my list is harvesting the ripe blueberries which could have been done today.  My rationale is that I had to save something to do tomorrow, right?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Rainy Saturday -- Yay!

The sky looked very much like rain this morning when we got up, so even before faces were washed or coffee was consumed (yes, we both were quite stunning, you can bet) we grabbed bowls and went out to the blueberry patch to harvest the ripe berries.  We got a little over six and a half pounds of the blue gems picked before the rain drops started falling on our heads.

Back inside I sat down for some work cleaning and sorting them.  I kept two cups out fresh for a Blueberry Cream pie "someone" in this house requested for tomorrow.  Also a container for fresh eating in the next couple of days went into the refridge.

Smooshed up four quarts for a batch of jam (which just came out of the canner), and put the rest in the freezer.

Remember last year when my green pepper plants kept dying one after another?  I never did figure out what was killing them, but as a result I managed to get only four and a half (some must have had to eat peanut butter and jelly that night) servings of Stuffed Green Peppers in the freezer.  Well, this year the pepper plants are hale and hardy and are producing their little hearts out so I made a double batch of stuffed peppers yesterday, and another one today.

When the batch from today is frozen solid and wrapped for storage, we'll have thirty meals worth.  To which my dear husband said, "You will make more yet, won't you?"  'Tis one of his favorite dinners, and he would eat it a couple of times a week with no complaint.

I just took this pic while standing on the back porch looking across the yard.  (The rain is still coming down steadily and is so very, very welcome.)  See those orange leaves just to the upper right of center?  They are on a little scrub bush we call a Moose Maple up here, and it's always the first to turn color when we start moving toward fall.

Best of all, the rain has arrived with dropped temperatures and it feels so good!  Bring it on, I'm ready to be able to snuggle in bed at night with the covers up to my chinny-chin-chin!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What's Happening in the Garden?

Well, for one thing, we have one broccoli head forming on our late planted broccoli.  This head is about 4" across right now.  So why is it that this one plant looks like this . . . and none of the other (same aged) plants have even started forming heads yet?  'Tis a mystery.

Blueberries and beans are the main crops coming in right now.  To date we've harvested a total of 40-1/2 pounds of blueberries.  Considering last year all we got was about 2 quarts, I'd say this is a better year.  A way better year.  And there are LOTS more still to ripen.

My bean row has gone all flopsy-mopsy on me.  I think the hot weather has made them grow so tall and lush that they can no longer stand upright as respectable bush bean plants should do.  No harm done, but it does make for harder picking when it comes time to harvest.

This is my fall planted bed of shell peas.  Coming along nicely . . . but quite a long way from harvest, wouldn't you say?  Those are giant snapdragons in the center that I didn't have the heart to yoink out when I cleaned up the rest of the bed so I could plant the peas.

Wowzer, will ya look at this apple?  It's one of quite a few on our new, intensively planted dwarf trees.  It's pretty close to full-size already.  Gads, could it be we might get a decent harvest of eating apples, like matured with flavor and everything, this fall?

This one of the little pie pumpkins.

And here are a couple of the big, jack o' lantern pumpkins.  A fur piece from full-size (about bigger than a basketball right now) and orange in color, but they've got time yet.

We had a bear prowling around last night.  He first tested the heavy plywood top of the box we keep our recycling materials in (tooth marks on the edge), then he opened it and checked out what was inside.  We keep all the cans, bottles, plastics, etc. well rinsed out precisely so the aroma doesn't attract bears.  He chomped on a couple of the plastic jugs and then apparently went looking elsewhere for something tastier.  Considering the extensive damage bears can do, we were very glad we had no real damage.  Makes us glad the birds (and honey bee hives!) are inside enclosures behind electric fencing at night!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Fermenting Success!

Fermented foods are so good for us, but I have a requirement that any food we consume (yes, even that which contributes to our health and well-being) has to taste good.  Yeah, a strange concept, I know, but my tummy simply rebels if I try to eat anything that is "good" for me, but tastes like something a starving person on a desert island would have to eat to sustain life.

In the past (especially when we have fresh-out-of-the-garden produce), we've been experimenting with different recommended recipes for fermented foods.  Last year, Papa Pea came up with a dandy fermented pickle that was really good, and we have three half-gallon jars of pickling cukes fermenting on the counter as we speak.  

But I admit, most of our attempts at fermenting food have been about as tasty as swallowing a big spoonful of cod liver oil.

This year, because of all the hot weather, we have a glut of slicing cucumbers so several days ago I experimented with using them as the main ingredient in a jar of fermented veggies.

After sitting on the counter at room temp for three days,  it was ready for taste testing this morning.

And, wahoo, I did it!  This attempt is actually very tasty.  Although all we need to ingest regularly to gain the benefits of a fermented food is about 1/4 cup a day, both hubby and I said we could eat this latest concoction as we would a coleslaw or cold salad on our plates.

So if you care to give it a go, here's my recipe . . . as of yet without a good name.  Any suggestions will be appreciated.

1-1/2 slicing cucumbers (each about 7-8" long), chopped in small  
1 medium carrot, grated
1 medium yellow onion, chopped in small pieces
1 sweet red pepper, chopped in small pieces
1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/4 cup whey
Water as needed

Combine all ingredients except sea salt and whey.  (I used the whey drained from making cottage cheese.)  Place veggie mixture in a quart jar and press down.  If you need more veggies to fill the jar to about an inch from the top, add more cucumbers.  (Since my cucumbers were fresh from the garden, I left the skins on them which added more color to the mix besides being nutritious.)

In a small bowl, mix together the sea salt and whey.  Add to the jar.  Then add enough (non-chlorinated) water to cover the mixture, leaving one inch free below the rim of the jar.

Cover tightly, set on counter at room temperature for 3 days.  (My mixture did "expand" as the fermentation process worked, and I had a little leakage so it might be a good idea to place the jar in a pan to catch the liquid.)  Transfer to refrigerator.

I'm assuming this mixture will keep for several months in the refrigerator (if it should last that long) as most fermented foods do, and the flavor will most likely only improve over that period.

You can bet I'm going to make several more jars to have in the fridge for us to consume as we go into winter this year.  Plus, I'll be able to profitably use all these great slicing cukes that are taking over the house!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

In, Around and Out of the Garden - Part Two

Back to our tour (the good, the bad, and the ugly) of the garden.

In my never-ending attempts to foil the dratted cabbage moth from laying eggs (which then develop into worms --- eeuuw!) in my broccoli and cabbage, I started seeds for both inside the last half of June and set out the started plants on July 2nd.  (I did this late planting hoping to miss the stage when the cabbage moth is out and about doing the dirty deed of making my vegetables wormy.)  Tiny heads are just now forming on the broccoli plants and things look A-OK so far.

This is part of a double row of about four different varieties of the cabbages I set out, again, much later than usual.

My Sweet Pea flowers are another disappointment this year.  All the plants on both sides of the trellis germinated, but slowly and surely, all of them on the left end of the trellis have died off.  (My picture is not good, I know, so you may have to use your imagination a little.)  I'm getting enough of the wonderfully fragrant blossoms to keep a small vase of them on a bathroom shelf, but not the plethora of flowers I would like.

Several days ago harvested all of the garlic.  Above is the Siberian of which I got 18 huge bulbs.

The Blanak outdid itself producing 42 bulbs.  Now if they all cure well, we will have garlic to use, garlic to share, garlic to ward off vampires, and garlic to save for planting this fall.  (And probably still some left after that.)

We're in the midst of our blueberry harvest right now.  So far, they haven't been bothered by the birds as they were last year, and we're looking forward to lots and lots of berries for fresh eating, the freezer and jam.

The raspberries.  Oh, sadness and woe.  We got one small first harvest of ripe berries, but successive raspberries picked have been loaded with (((shudder))) little, white worms.  Hubby did some quick research and he thinks they are the larvae of the fruit fly.  Just goes to show, some garden produce does fantastically well one year, not so good the next year.  A new patch with new raspberry plants is on the schedule for next year so we'll keep our fingers crossed for a resupply of those luscious, red berries then.

All in all, the garden is producing like crazy, and I'll admit I'm p-double-ooped right now.  Being out in the garden picking and harvesting would be much easier if it weren't so darn hot and muggy.  But then, maybe the garden wouldn't be growing so well, now would it?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

In, Around and Out of the Garden - Part One

When ordering seeds this past winter, I was excited to find an old heirloom cauliflower that was "self-blanching."  The leaves naturally fold in and over the developing head making it unnecessary to gather the leaves and manually tie them up and over the cauliflower.  Well, pffft.  My cauliflower apparently didn't get the memo.  The heads have started to form (not nice, tight heads as one would desire, but ugly, separated kernels) right out in the open so I've had to resort to tying them and hoping for the best.  Truth to tell though, cauliflower likes to mature in cooler weather and our weather has been anything but "cooler" so that may be contributing to the lack of its cooperation.

Zinnias, as opposed to cauliflower, love hot weather and the plants forming a row along the north side of the field garden are blooming their little heads off.

I've squeezed my jack o' lantern pumpkins and my little pie pumpkins into less space than they would really like so I got the bright idea to train the pie pumpkin vines to climb up and over this arbor trellis.  The vines have made it to the top and are doing a good imitation of Jack's bean stalk and are now reaching for the sky.

My annual tepee trellis with morning glories planted around it has been a bit of a disappointment this year.  I had very poor germination of the seeds and it took forever for them to get up enough gumption to start climbing up the trellis.  It should be solidly covered in morning glory vines (and blooms) by now, but it's not.  Also, the carrots planted in the bed on either side of the trellis are not nearly as lush and full as they usually are.  Some of the green tops are tinged with brown.  Maybe too much hot weather this year coupled with not enough moisture?

I think this little volunteer nasturtium that has been peeking at me out from under my bean plants is so sweet.  And, yes, I need to pick some of those big beans.

The Sugar Snap peas planted this spring on this cattle panel trellis in the middle of this raised bed were all done a week or so ago so I pulled the vines and unceremoniously dumped them in the compost pile.  Before I took down the trellis, it occurred to me to try another crop of the edible podded peas to see if they would mature yet this season.  (Those are kohlrabi plants on either side of the trellis.)

That's all for tonight.  Time to go help close up our thousand head (give or take a hundred) of poultry.  Part Two of the garden saga coming soon!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

This Post is Strickly for the Birds

A whole gaggle of geese.  (And a rooster.)

Two male Cayugas on the left, two adult male Muscovies on the right.

Everybody gets a pan of food.  The adolescent Muscovies are over to the left of the picture.

Of course, the bossy geese have to go to the Muscovies' food to see if it might be better.

Everybody scatters.  Don't worry, there's always enough food for everyone.

"I sure wish someone would get me some fresh water."

This handsome fellow is Skidmore from our Oklahoma batch of geese.

And this little sweetie is Ado Annie.  Papa Pea has them trained to his voice, and she's looking to see what he has to say.

Next I'll try to take some pictures of the waterfowl in the pond.  They do seem to enjoy it these hot days and have lots of fun splashing around.