Monday, December 24, 2012

Twas the Day before Christmas

So, on a whim, I snagged the latest copy of Mother Earth News a week ago.  Try a new bread recipe for myself?  Well, yes!  So, when I had Christmas Eve off I knew I had a mission.  I had actually made blackberry juice for jelly earlier this fall and put it in the freezer.  From September up until now I felt as if a fuse had been lit in my life and things went into overdrive.  I had one opportunity or success after another (and I can ask for NO better problem to have really) but boy was it a whirl wind.  Now I finally got to try out the preserves recipe I've been toting around.

I never did try out that recipe in the magazine!  I didn't have some of the ingredients so I just made one up.  To my dismay, it seems the food moths got into virtually all my flours so I inadvertently had to clean out my baking cabinet.  My bread ended up being a oat, flax seed, whole wheat/white mix.  Still tasted good!

I had two recipes I wanted to try.  The first I did was for blackberry jelly.  Jelly has no seeds.  Jams and preserves retain the seeds.  The blackberry juice cooked up so pretty.  Any fan of blackberries will appreciate the sweet dark rich abyss bubbling on the stove top.  

I had just enough blackberries left in the freezer to also do a batch of jam.  Woohoo!  Now there is room in my freezer to stash other things.  It was surreal to be canning my jam and then look out the window and see snow falling.  How lucky we got today to actually have a white Christmas Eve!

It's been a while since I've updated on the goats but they are doing well.  We switched them over to the garden yesterday and put up the temporary shelter.  I wish I had more photos but they didn't stand very still and it was getting dark.  Vada is turning into a little ham.  She kept hopping up on my legs and putting her snoot into the camera lens.  I managed to snap one good shot that wasn't snuffly or blurry.

Say Goat Cheese!

~~~Happy Holidays, Everyone! ~~~

Monday, June 25, 2012

Delicious Fox Grape Forage

Here in Virginia, and particularly in my part of Appalachia, it has become a popular venture to open up wineries in the sloping mountainsides. Many wineries that rely on European and North American grapes owe a debt to the Southern Muscadine or Fox Grape. This wild cultivar of the south is resistant to many of the diseases that plague most domestic grape stock. Considered a weed by most for its tenacity and ability to choke out other plants and over run fences and creek beds, many don't know the secrets of fox grape wine, jelly, and jam. I myself find it hard to gather enough grapes from our tough scrubby vines as they love to climb up high into the trees of dip into the creek in the back yard. I did however come to enjoy the leaves when I was trying to make Vietnamese leaf-wrapped rolls and found myself without the traditional Betel leaves. The recipe said "if you lack for Betel use Grape instead". I wondered if it would be okay to use the Fox Grape leaf. I know of the domestic varieties being used but never heard of anyone cooking with Muscadine Grape Leaves. I tried it out two years ago and Fox Grape Leaf Wraps have become one of our favorite harbingers of spring and summer and we look forward to it every year.

First recognize your quarry and grab your basket for the harvest!  I have a few different places that I gather on my property so I'm not taxing any one plant.  I doubt I could over harvest them as they really do grow like weeds but I try to be sustainable all the same.  Look for full leaves ideally the size of your palm but slightly smaller will do for tiny portions.  Try to get leaves that haven't been riddled with holes, splattered with bird poop, or had bug eggs laid on them.  Pretty obvious but . . . anyway, I look for leaves that have an attractive middle green color and have a flat, not shiny, color.  They are young enough to be savory but old enough not to fall apart during wrapping.  Brand new spring green leaves that still have a sheen on them will tear easily while wrapping.  Older leaves that are a dark green color can harbor tough strings in the veins that are not fun to eat.  I find that I can make 30 rolls from one pound of meat.

Gather your grape leaves, rinse them in the sink, and then soak them in a bath of water for 20 minutes to a few hours in the fridge.  I find I can gather the leaves in the morning when it's cool and not as buggy, mix the meat, and then stash it in the fridge and it is ready and waiting by the time dinner time rolls around.  For the meat filling, you will need:

*1 pound of ground pork
*2 cloves of garlic minced
*2 tablespoons of minced lemongrass
*2 shallots minced
*1 teaspoon of curry powder
*1 teaspoon of oyster sauce
*2 teaspoons of fish sauce
*1 tablespoon of corn starch
*2 teaspoons of sugar
*1/4 teaspoon of salt
*1/2 freshly ground black pepper

I mix all the seasonings together in a paste first and then kneed it into the pork like meatloaf.  If I don't have everything readily available, there are some suitable substitutes you can use.  I rarely have shallots just hanging around.  I went to the Spice Diva and scored some dried shallots.  (I adore their apothecary style storefront!)  I use a tablespoon per "shallot" called for in a recipe.  In the photo above, I substituted scallions.  If needed, I'm sure you could substitute hoisin for oyster without noticing too much.  Once your filling has been prepared, let it rest for an hour in the fridge.  Take this opportunity as well to toss 5 or 6 bamboo skewers into some water to soak.

While your leaves and filling rest in the fridge you can whip up some delicious dipping sauce!  You will need:

*1 teaspoon of hot pepper flakes
*3 medium cloves of garlic
*1/4 cup of sugar
*3 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lime juice
*1 tablespoon white vinegar
*3 tablespoons of fish sauce
*1/2 cup of water
*1/2 teaspoon of salt

First, dissolve the sugar and salt in the lime juice, white vinegar, and fish sauce.  Next, mince the garlic and crush with the side of the knife to make a finely minced paste.  Add to sauce along with pepper flakes.  Add pepper flakes and set aside to wait for grape leaf rolls!

Now we are ready to start assembling!

Step 1:
Place your grape leaf on a flat surface and spoon a tablespoons worth of filling in the center.

Step 2:
Roll the bottom end near where stem was up.

Step 3:
Tuck sides of leaf into the roll as you would a little burrito.

Step 4:
Continue roll with sides enclosing meat filling.

Step 5:
Tah-Dah!  You've completed your grape leaf roll!

Step 6:
Now, skewer the little bugger on a bamboo skewer and keep trucking until the leaves run out or the filling runs out!

Now, your little green army is ready to cook.  Eeew!  That dirty hippy doesn't wash her pans!  No, my pan isn't dirty.  It's seasoned.  Stop judging.  I keep this one for things I know are going to make a mess.  Think of it as the battle ax veteran that holds your little green army together.

Go ahead and brush some oil on both sides of your grape leaf rolls.  I use olive oil.  These are fantastic on the grill but if you don't feel like firing up the briquettes you can fire up your oven to 400 degrees and cook for roughly 10 minutes until they look like this:

Trust me, it smells like heaven.  You might be inclined to say, Wow, that was a crap ton of work.  I don't know if I want to do all this again. and then you'll taste them and say, Wow, when are we going to have these again!!!  Later on during the winter when the snow flakes are drifting softly down you'll sit by the window and think, I wish I had a fox grape leaf roll right now.

I serve these up on a tray alongside fresh veggies like cucumbers, lettuce, carrots.  Most any vegetable that you like to consume raw will compliment these and taste great with the dipping sauce.  Enjoy!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Odin & Vada

Remember those cute babies that I posted about earlier in April?  It is now time for a formal introduction.  I don't go to church anymore but that doesn't make me a less spiritual person.  In fact, (because I know everyone is just DYING for me to go into my own spirituality.  Enjoy this.  This is for you.) I have always felt more spiritually alive in the fields of my family farm, overgrown back roads forests, and scrambling blackberry thickets than any church I've had the opportunity to attend.  That said, it's no surprise that I've ended up with hobbies that require me to constantly be outside and in the brush.  I do hold to some habits that would be perceived as superstitions and introduction is one of them.

Many cultures have ceremonies and rituals that include a waiting period for giving a baby a name.  The Jewish ceremony of naming a baby occurs 8 days after or at the first Sabbath (for girls).  Ghana culture also dictates waiting for 8 days until naming a child.  Hmong have a ceremony called "Hu Plig" or soul calling which takes place 3 days after birth in which the name of the child is officially conferred.  Until then, "a baby was not considered to be fully a member of the human race," (Anne Fadiman, "The Spirit catches you and you fall down"1997)  All of these stem from the practical aspect that you "don't count chickens until they hatch" and even then some.  Infant mortalities these days in humans are not what they used to be, at least in this country.  Animal husbandry is still a tricky business so I am superstitious and usually keep quiet on any new venture until I'm satisfied that things have settled into a normal rhythm of existence.

Meet Odin!  He's the little brown boy who is going to knock around with Legend when we aren't there.  I wanted to keep his horns and they are growing at a much faster rate than his sister's.  At first, I chose his name because we had just seen the movie Thor and found Norse mythology that I know nothing about to be exotic and interesting.  I can't wait to start painting 8 legged horses.  Anyway, Odin is living up to his name sake because his cry is piercing and people in Waynesboro could probably identify Odin by now.  I think he will be known as "Odin Broketail" because his little tail is turned to the side.  It was probably broken at birth because the photos of him when he was a day old show his tail cocked to the side like that and I can feel a knot in the bones.  It doesn't seem to bother him and he'll wag it all the same. Though we left his horns intact other things were not to be . . .

Here's a picture of us hanging out on the porch swing after he got neutered.  He's a 20 lb. chunk and was still groggy when we got back from the vet.  I didn't have the heart to toss him back in the pasture while he was stumbling around so we sat on the porch for a while to sleep off the anesthesia.

The staff at the vet's office were intrigued by his little "horn-staches" as I call them.  He still has little tufts of hair growing from the tips of his horns.  They will fall off eventually but the staff said they've never seen that before.

Odin was so knocked out that he drooled on my arm on the way home.  After a while, he was back to his old springy self and was bouncing around in the pen with his sister.

His ears still turn up like little tacos and we call him "taco ear" sometimes.  He's growing fast and I'm sure soon we'll have trouble picking him up like this.  He never would drink the bottle after we got him.  His sister started off well but he didn't want to have a thing to do with the bottle.  It was frustrating and one of the reasons I didn't want to post about my new goats because if one wasn't eating there would be trouble fast.  He's gotten fat and growing tall and fighting with Legend over the grain bucket.  The vet said he was doing well too so my fears have subsided.

Meet Vada!  She looks very similar to her mama.  I chose my grandmother's middle name for her.  It is germanic for "ruler" in the feminine.  She is not as boisterous as her brother and not as big but she's proven to be more of a climber and jumper.  If I'm trying to keep Odin out of Legend's grain and vice versa, she'll try to hop up on my back or shoulders for attention.  It's really a goat rodeo.  Maybe it's the Kirin in her.

We initially started out with plastic soda bottles.  Because they were young we were starting out with Pritchard Nipples.  These had threads that you screw on to a plastic soda bottle.  I don't really like to use plastic anything very much but we wanted to give it a try.  Needless to say, we got milk everywhere but in the goats.  It was a mess.  I had gotten some black rubber nipples just in case and thank goodness for that.  Pat got some beer bottles down from out beer making kit and I laughed because they were Kirin beers.  They work great and heat up nicely in a water bath.  

Vada all but mows you down for her bottle now.  We usually have a towel around because she gets a milk foam around her mouth that she'll shake everywhere and wipe onto you.

She's gotten into the bad habit of running through the electric fence wires because she is small enough to fit through the gaps.  That is the only time she will try to get out of the fence.  If she sees the bright color striped bag we carry her bottle in coming down the path, all bets are off and out she'll pop through the fence.  Bad baby, Vada!

We will probably have to widen their area soon because the little (and big) munch machines have cleared their area out pretty well.  By next year it probably will be a pasture instead of an overgrown brush.  I thought we would end this story with a shot of everyone together but when everyone got lined up, of course, they were all facing me with the tail end.  Typical goat.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Accumulation of Wealth

One of my favorite hobbies is in season right now.  Here's a shot of the first black raspberries of the season along with the last strawberries of the season.  They rest in my little basket under the bleeding heart.

The strawberries are beautiful and I'm surprised that I've harvested as much as I have from my small 3'X4' strawberry bed.  We don't spray or have a bird net but we seem to do okay with the harvest.  I couldn't believe how delicious and easy peach jam was to make so I'm trying to save enough strawberries for some jam.  So far I've saved about a quart and a half (2.5 lbs.) from my little bed but the recipe calls for 5 lbs. so I'll probably grab some more strawberries from the farm up the road.  By the way, I'm all excited because I've been published in a canning article in June's edition of Mother Earth News!  Check it out at this link: 


Here's a shot of my sunny happy strawberry plants in their small area of the yard.  I was especially happy to find this gem peeking out from under the leaves.

I knew what was coming ever since I saw the flower.  I've seen it happen with my mortgage lifter tomatoes.  The flower itself looks as if two or three flowers were vying for the same stem like Siamese twins.  When this occurs, you can bank on a rather large and tasty fruit if you can get it to ripen before the bugs or animals get to it. 

This lovely specimen rests in my husband's palm.  Pretty impressive for no spray, no net, organic backyard gardening!

Lastly, my black raspberries!  These have been resting in my freezer since last season.  I've been dreaming of making more black raspberry wine and now I'm finally getting around to it.  It's funny how these types of activities give me a sense of normalcy and comfort.  I guess they seem like a continuation of life since my mother and grandmothers performed these sorts of tasks and I have fond memories.

The more I thought about this concept the more I realize this lifestyle has hidden benefits.  The strawberries I gathered this year were from the plants that I had saved from last year and their babies.  I had twice as much as I had previously.  The black raspberries that I've gotten over the last few years came from wild plants I discovered when I moved in with my husband and have cultivated them and saved them from the lawn mower over the years.  Berries are tedious.  They don't all become ripe at the same time and most of the time you have to visit the plants every other day to collect what has ripened and wait for what hasn't.  As I tip toed over fox grape vines and through spider webs that exist along with my raspberries, my thoughts began to inevitably wander to my own personal life goals. Sometimes I feel down about where I thought I would be and where I would like to be in life.  Sometimes I feel down about my anemic savings account that I work hard to grow.  Taking those berries out of the freezer to prepare for wine answers the dim questions of doubt that nag the back of  my mind.  As quart after quart of frozen berries tumble out to pile in a treasure trove in my large metal bowl, I feel a smile spread over my face.  If I just continue to steadily contribute to my stock pile and keep my eye on the prize, my efforts will pay off and one day I will have a big bowl of riches.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

My own mushrooms

I had forgotten all about the fact that I owned a mushroom log.  Pat and I scored one at the Garlic Festival last October.  I bought one that already had fruiting bodies on it so I knew it had produced before.  The ones that were on it were about the size of a silver dollar.  The ladies who sold it to us said we could force it to produce if we wanted to by soaking the log in our bath tub overnight.  You know me, I just tossed it near the path in our woods amongst the bamboo and let nature take her course.

I was snapping photos of my garden and our hops vines when I decided to go visit the creek.  Everything was speckled with fallen choke cherry petals and something caught the corner of my eye.  My brain went from oh, yeah to Holy $h!# in roughly two seconds.  Not only had my mushroom log begun to produce again, it had popped out the mother of all shiitake mushrooms.  It was the size of a saucer and, as you can see, pretty much matches the diameter of its mother log.  I guess what my brain really exclaimed was Holy $h!!#ake.  Heh, okay.  No more stupid jokes.

I wasn't the first one to find the bounty.  I knocked two tiny slugs off the underside.  The photo shows the holes they had already eaten into it.  
:-(  Also, all of those tiny black flecks in the gills are insects.  I was not giving up my mushroom, though.  I popped it right off the log and headed back to the house to claim my reward.

I had been wanting to buy some fresh mushrooms to put on pizza and now I know why I waited.  

Now, I know what you're thinking: Eeeeww!! That nasty hippy is eating all those bugs and slug spit!!  Look, I'm all about nature but I gots my limits.  Even though convention says you should not wash mushrooms, I rinsed this bad boy under the faucet and washed all the nasty little buggies away.

See? No buggies. And he's resting next to his new best friend, Garlic.  Too bad his arch nemesis, Carving Knife, is lurking in the background.

Holy cow, did this turn into yummy!  I think I'll call it the Marco Polo.  I made a white pizza but I didn't have any spinach.  Instead, I had some chinese broccoli or gailan. That complimented the shiitakes sauteed in garlic.  I had a garlic and herb cheese spread from Integral Yoga along with some kalamata olives, fresh mozarella, and fresh basil from said fine establishment.  Add some onions and parmesan and OMG!

I love you, mushroom log!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Spring Goats!

Spring has arrived and with it new friends!  Some friends of mine have dairy goats and I want some friends for Legend so here they are, newly born just yesterday!  Scottie is a good mom but she's also very tolerant of us handling her babies.  She gave birth to a little girl and a little boy.  Twins! Whew!

Here is cute little soft white girl!  She's got the prettiest little black stripes down the front of her face.  Her little ears are speckled with pepper.  Her whole body is white.  Only her head and some of her neck has splashes of black.  She's got virgated hooves as well.

She stuck close to mom and nursed most of the time I was there.  I couldn't blame her.  She's notably smaller than her brother.

Here is her brother, cute little soft brown boy!  He's solid brown except for a streak of white across his belly and his speckled ears and face.  He's got a black dorsal stripe with black guard hairs that remind me of a rabbit or squirrel.

He was very full of himself and came right up to greet me.  Granted, I'm hard to miss in my fuchsia rain coat.  He was as soft as a little rabbit.  Both of them were very downy!  The tips of his little ears were still folded.

He decided my fingers made for very good nibbling.

Legend will be in for a surprise.  "Huh? Babies? Who said anything about babies? I didn't say anything about babies."