Monday, September 17, 2012

Yes, we can!

Whatever you choose to call it - canning, preserving, putting up - I'm into it. I used to be pretty intimidated by the idea of preserving food, it just seemed so, well...domesticated. So, I started out with one of the easiest things you can make...applesauce. It made me feel like, okay, wow. I did it. I didn't realize how easy it was going to be, clearly! Then, later I moved onto jams, jellies, tomatoes and pickles. For the last few years, I've made some pretty darn good fig jam. I sold a boatload of it last year and didn't save any for myself...that's not gonna happen this year. I've already hoarded some...

It's such a bummer when those gorgeous, flavorful, locally grown fruits and vegetables are gone...womp, womp, wommmp. You walk through the farmers market kicking yourself - shoulda coulda woulda. But it doesn't have to be that can savor it! You probably have a friend who's always posting on Pinterest or Facebook about canning and other DIY projects. Ask them to help you get started - working with an experience canner is a great way to learn. Or, jump online and Google what you'd like to make, watch some videos, get yourself the gear (or McGyver your own) and your ingredients and recipes - cucumbers (I love pickles), radishes, tomatoes, apples...etc) and go to town. Get 'er done!

I found a super simple way of canning tomatoes via my very, very, very favorite food blog, the kitchn. As you will see if you click on this link, you just put fresh tomatoes in a roasting pan under the broiler for about 8-10 minutes on each side and just let them cool...then they peel very easily.

Then, onto the canning part...grab your jars and lids and boil them in a stockpot for about 15-20 minutes. Pull the jars out using a jar lifter and let them cool a bit. Fill the jars with the tomatoes, put the lids on and submerge the filled jars in the boiling water for another 20. Using your jar lifter, remove the filled jars from the boiling water, let rest and cool on a kitchen towel. This is the important part: you will hear each one seal with a "thump" sound. They don't all do it right away...don't panic. Sometimes they can take as long as an hour or longer to seal.

Can't wait to get a big 'ol load of tomatoes from the farmers market this weekend. It's gonna be so much fun - a canning partay in Hampden. I'm also going to make this tomato basil jam - oh, my!

Whatever you're preserving, be sure to do your research and follow directions very carefully to be sure you're working safely. This is not a project where winging it will work. This is especially true with tomatoes. Here is a great book to help you along the way - Food in Jars - I want it!

Grab a friend and put some stuff up! Come winter, you'll be glad you did.

Monday, September 10, 2012

My favorite time of year

Fall is the best. Just this week, there's a slight chill in the air, football season is here (and WOW, baseball is still cool is that? Go O's!) and soon, the leaves will start their gorgeous transformation. Fall also brings on heartier cooking - for me, it means lots of roasted veggies, soups, stews and other comfort foods. Go to any local farmers market and you'll see squash, pumpkins, beans, apples, greens and much more.

At the Waverly Market, I love to visit the bean man, Thomas McCarthy. He's the quiet, unassuming man with a warm smile who sells the most amazing fresh, shelled black beans, chick peas, butter beans, white beans and more. You can make so many great soups using beans - and if you add greens, you add a whole lot of flavor and vitamins, too. I like to make white bean and ham soup. Soups like that are easy to modify based on what you have on hand. I usually try to use fresh beans and rainbow chard - stalks and all. Yummmmm. Also, Cook's Illustrated's white chicken chili is a big favorite - and has a nice kick from THREE kinds of hot peppers. Whoa!

Last week, I got yellow spaghetti squash from my CSA. Wasn't sure what to do with I asked my 'go to' gal, Joan Norman of One Straw Farm for some advice. She said to prepare it like butternut squash (cut it in half, remove the seeds and roast for 40 minutes.) Once done, use a fork to scrape out the inside of the squash. It shreds easily and has a consistency like spaghetti (thus, the name...duh.) When I roasted it, I added honey, sea salt and olive oil and it makes a great side dish. And, once I remove the flesh, my backyard chickens get to enjoy the skins!

Whether your favorite fall dish is mashed sweet potatoes, turkey chili, butternut squash soup or something else, get to that kitchen! Host a supper for friends, share with neighbors or freeze the goodness for enjoyment later this winter.

Here are a few of my fave fall-esque recipes:

mashed sweet potatoes
pappardelle with butternut squash and blue cheese
cheddar corn chowder
white bean and rosemary soup
beef chili with kidney beans
butternut squash risotto with sage and saffron
perfect pot roast

What are some of your favorite fall dishes?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The hard part

Loss is a part of having pets. If you've ever lost a pet, you know. It's brutal. Even with chickens.

Over the course of about a week, a predator killed all three of my new backyard chickens. They were two months old and had personalities, names and favorite snacks. As I found each one dead over the course of week or so, I became more and more discouraged. I kept thinking, this is nature. Farmers deal with this stuff all the time. Still, I stood over that little coop and cried.

I knew going in that a hen's time in the coop is limited. They can lay eggs anywhere from two years on up...sometimes as long as seven years. That's pretty rare. I have been thinking a lot lately about what to do when egg production slows down. I am hoping that one of my friends out in the country will take them in and let them stay through their golden years. Or maybe I can find a place like this chicken sanctuary in Portland. Wherever they end up, once they're gone from my care I understand that I won't have a say in what happens to them. I just know that I cannot end their lives. I just can't. I guess I'd be a terrible farmer. I'm sort of a faux farmer...but, I love my girls.

The older three hens (a little over a year old now) are each laying about 4-5 eggs each week and it's the perfect amount of eggs for my household between just enjoying them for meals and also using them in baking. I also trade fresh eggs with friends sometimes. Those girls are very attached to me...or maybe like any other pet, it's all about the food? Either way, they follow me around...telling me stories of their day and they make me so happy. They free range all day and my neighbors tell me they like to hear them in the morning, subtle clucking and the occasional squawk when they've laid an egg. When I'm home, my yellow lab Henry hangs with them, too. Usually they just ignore each other...I really lucked out there. Many of my friends say their dogs would not be so patient or sweet. Henry's downfall? His love of heirloom tomatoes.

Some people say giving farm animals names is not the best idea. But, hey, I live in the I figured why not. But names create identities, attachments and expectations and that certainly complicates things when you have a tragedy like my recent one. My older three hens are named Millie, Dottie and Edie - my little old ladies. Next flock will probably not have names...maybe just nicknames that I use when I'm out in the yard with them. My mom grew up on a working farm in Harford County and she names next time. We'll see, I guess.

I'm learning so much. And even though it's been really hard at times, I'm in. My friends call me the crazy chicken lady. And there you have it.