Have you ever come across a food that was so simple, but yet hugely delicious?
I was growing one little plum tomato plant this summer and it managed to yield a large amount of fruit. I didn't quite know what I should do with all these beauties, so I did what I normally do: search the Saveur site until I find something I like. There isn't always something that matches exactly what I want, but this time there was.
I really could have just pointed you in the right direction and called it a day. But, it was one of those moments where I had camera in hand, and a few extra moments to spare.
I have seriously been eating these roasted tomatoes with everything. Normally they get slipped onto a sandwich of toasted sourdough with ricotta. They also get tossed in a garden salad for a light dinner. The next option will be in a pasta or gnocchi dish, but the possibilities are endless.
If you know me by now, you understand the thrill I get making something that comes completely from my own garden. In this case all the tomatoes to start, and all the fresh herbs sprinkled on top, came from my backyard garden.
My basil plant is just on it's way out, but I managed to snag a few leaves. I cannot live without parsley so that goes without saying. And instead of mint I opted to go with some golden oregano.
Not a lot goes into making these roasted tomatoes and they are worth every bite. The first time I made these (yes, I had so many tomatoes that I made a second batch) it was for a dinner party, and we put them on top of this Feta Tart. Want another direction, make that tart! Also wonderful on its own or with toppings. Another little substitution I decided to make was my Meyer Lemon Salt. Want to make your own easy peasy citrus salt, Local Kitchen, shows you how.
Roasted Plum Tomatoes
Inspired by Saveur, Oven-Roasted Plum TomaotesPlum tomatoes (I didn't take the seeds out)
Extra virgin olive oil (or avocado oil works well too)
Freshly ground black pepper
Coarse Meyer Lemon sea salt
Fresh parsley, basil and golden oregano (or whatever herbs you have on hand)Preheat oven to 250°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Cut your plum tomatoes in half and arrange them on the baking sheet, cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sugar and freshly ground black pepper. Bake in oven for about 3 hours until the tomatoes are shriveled and wrinkly. Transfer the tomatoes to a plate and let them cool slightly. Before you are ready to serve, sprinkle on the sea salt and freshly chopped herbs. Perfection!
*I keep my extras in an air tight container in the refrigerator. You can pop them in the microwave for a few seconds to heat them back up again.
The time has come. The table is covered with fruit and vegetables waiting to be transformed into perfect little jars. Summer peaches, tomatoes, cucumbers and ground cherries. I purchased a bushel (is it a bushel?!) of peaches. A lot of peaches!
This salsa, let me tell you about this salsa. I fell hard in love. The jars from last year were only opened upon special occasion and with great hesitation. Now it is time to restock. When I purchased my bushel of peaches they were not quite ready. Processing them is so much easier when they are perfectly ripe. The skins just peel right off, without having to blanch them. But, you have to know exactly when to strike. It just so happened they were ready on a day when I almost started attempting a cucumber pickle. Finally now with seven pints of peach salsa behind me, I can feel comfortable knowing I can summon a jar in the middle of winter for a peachy fix.
The day I made up the peach salsa I really wasn't feeling the camera. Normally I like to get several photos of " the process" but this time you'll have to just trust me. This salsa is more of a, little-bit-of-this, little-bit-of-that, kind of recipe. I tried to put the amounts of everything below, but most of what you will read is totally adaptable. Don't like cilantro? You're crazy if you don't, but you could leave it out. Substitute the types of peppers or onions. Whatever you do, just don't change the peaches.
That, yes THAT, down there. My very first egg! It may not be that exciting to many, ok most people, but I can tell you there is nothing like the feeling I got when I saw it sitting perfectly in the nesting box that day. I'm guessing it belongs to Sunny, and she has given me an egg every day since. Something else that is pretty special, is that this egg turned out to have a double yolk. You'd probably never come across one, especially if you buy your eggs from the store. But for chicken keepers it's a fun little every-so-often surprise. I just didn't expect to see one that soon, and certainly not on the her very first try. Way to go Sunny, one more reason why you are our favorite. Shhhhh...don't tell the other girls.
My rhubarb is doing great. Now that the weather has cooled down a bit new stalks are sprouting forth. Two more years, only two more years.
I love saving seeds for next year. I feel so much closer to the process of growing the food we eat. Feels like I actually know what I'm doing, but I do, and with each year I learn more.
makes 6-7 pints
About 12-15 large yellow peaches, pitted, skinned and roughly chopped
2 large onions (or 4 medium), minced
2 bunches of fresh cilantro, chopped
1 head of garlic, minced
4 red bell peppers, minced
6 jalapenos, minced
Juice from 5 limes
3/4 cup organic cane sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
pinch or two of ground cayenne pepper
1 cup white vinegar
Prepare your water bath canner and jars.
Place all the ingredients into a very large pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1-2 hours, stirring often to prevent burning. The salsa is ready when it has reduced in size by one third and no longer looks watery. Taste some of the salsa occasionally to see if it needs more salt, pepper, spices or sugar. Ladle the hot salsa into prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Let jars cool completely and store for up to a year without rings.
*This salsa improves with age. Try hard to wait until you are well past the end of summer to open and enjoy that first jar.
Finally home after a beautiful week in the Catskill mountains. I was longing for home, but my heart still always aches to say goodbye. A full week without internet, phones, computers and tv, can be at the same time both liberating and unsettling. There is no escaping the voice inside your head. No escaping that yearning desire to remain forever unplugged from a disconcerted world. It takes time to readjust back to life the way it was. Perhaps that's why we continually seek for that place where we can simply enjoy every fleeting moment without distraction.
We took so many walks through the woods around the lake last week. A very wet summer created a wonderland of mushrooms and berries. We found wild blueberries, black raspberries, blackberries and wine berries. I collected and identified more mushrooms then I have ever seen in one place before, some of which were edible. We caught frogs and salamanders, and two little boys practiced fishing on the lake every day. Life was simple. Life was good. Such as every vacation should be.
I arrived back home with only a day to prepare for an upcoming party with some friends. There are always shortcuts to take when it comes to party food, but the one thing I will always make from scratch is dessert. I quickly churned some cinnamon ice cream, and found a simple plum tart recipe. It turned out to be delicious, and we at the whole thing that night. The next day I was thinking about how easy it would be to make the recipe gluten-free. In the case of this tart, the only thing that needed changing was the type of flour.
Plums are not normally my favorite type of fruit to eat fresh. The skins are very tart and the insides can be a bit too mushy. In my mind, plums are always better cooked or baked. The skins soften and the sweet flesh melds into the surrounding dough. The first time I made this tart I used regular flour, but the second time around I used a homemade gluten-free all purpose blend. Sometimes the change in flour will hurt the final product, but in this case the gluten-free flour added an extra depth of flavor that made it far superior to the original.
A final dusting of cinnamon sugar is all you need to snag a gentle reminder of the coming fall. The sweet spicy scent filling my kitchen was enough to make me wish away the rest of this summer entirely. But for now, I'll just dream of cooler nights with star filled skies.
Gluten-Free Plum Tart
makes one 8" x 8" tart
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, divided
1 cup all purpose gluten-free flour
2/3 cup + 2 tablespoons organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
6 tablespoons milk (any kind - animal or nut)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 lb firm plums, pitted and cut four ways
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease and flour the inside of a 8" x 8"baking dish, and set aside. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, 2 tablespoons of sugar, baking powder and sea salt. Using your fingers work 4 tablespoons of butter into the flour mixture until pea-size pieces form. In a separate small bowl whisk together the milk, vanilla extract and egg; add to the flour mixture and stir with a spoon until just combined. Transfer dough to the prepared baking dish and spread the mixture so it completely covers the bottom of the pan. Arrange the cut plum slices in the top of the dough, pushing them down slightly. Mix together the remaining sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle on top of the plums. Dot the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter on top of everything. Bake until browned and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before slicing and serving with or without a spoonful of ice cream.
Salt Preserved Herbs/ Bread and Butter Pickles/ Dried Cress Seeds/ Lacto Lemon Cucumbers/ Yellow Plum Jam with Vanilla
There are weeks that go by when I'm more interested in trying recipes from some of my favorite books and websites, rather than working on my own ideas. Although, this year I have definitely toned down my canning projects by working in smaller batches. I've also been freezing a large portion of fruit, thanks to a brand new chest freezer. By freezing most of my fruit, I'll be able to make more jams and jellies when the weather gets a bit cooler. It also saves me from having to put up everything all at once, so we can enjoy more time outside.
If I had to use one word to describe this summer it would have to be, mild. We had a few bad days of heavy rain and wind, but overall the humidity has been low and comfortable. With all this beautiful weather my garden has kicked into gear, and is bursting at the seems. Herbs are unruly, cucumbers are spreading, and tomatoes are finally starting to ripen.
So here's a little update from the backyard, and some links to the fun recipes I've been working on over the last few days.
Lemon cucumbers have got to be the prettiest variety I've ever grown. They spread like crazy, and the few vines that I have are producing more cucumbers then I know what to do with.
Thankfully, I planted some flowering dill this year, in hopes of using it to make pickles. The flowers just started to turn to seed, at the same time a few of the lemon cucumbers were ready. I picked a few wild grape leaves and decided to go with a lacto-fermented dill pickle. I used this recipe and added 2 tablespoons of whey to speed up the process. I'll have to let that ferment for a while before I can let you know how they turn out.
My girls are getting so big. I am still amazed at how they continue to develop. Their colors deepen, and their combs and waddles get larger by the day. Even though I'm still another week or two away, I can't help but check the nesting boxes every day in hopes of seeing that very first egg.
One of my all time favorite spring green is curly cress. Instead of pulling out the now overly bitter greens, I decided to let them go to seed. The plants eventually turn brown and right before the seed pods open I collected them so they can be stored and planted again next spring.
Each of my four varieties of tomato have started to ripen. I'm getting super excited for tomato season, but also a bit worried. I didn't have enough canned tomatoes to last us through this last year. I'll be devoting all my efforts this next month to tomatoes, and I'd like to shoot for about 400 pounds, which sounds quite ridiculous.
This is Luna, the devil chicken. Ok, not really, but she's definitely not my favorite. Every family has one, and Luna is ours. She is our only Easter Egger who sports a beard (cute, right?), but she is also the only one in the whole flock that will peck at me. Yes, peck at me! Not just towards me on accident, no, she pecks at me with intent. She also refuses to go back into her coop after free-range time. The allure of meal worms and sunflower seeds are not enough for this girl. Most days, my oldest son and I have to chase her around the yard until she gets close to the coop. Once we have her cornered, I gently scoop her up, which then causes her to make enough noise to make my whole block think I'm killing a chicken. I have on many occasion, gently reminded her that if the attitude continues after she stops laying eggs, she'll find herself in a big ole pot.
My Mexican sour gherkins are doing great, and they are starting to look like mini watermelons now. The ground cherries are also coming along nicely. I can't wait until both of these plants are ready for harvest.
I also wanted to give some bread and butter pickles a try this year. I specifically planted pickling cucumbers for recipes like this one. This recipe only uses one pound of cucumbers and will make enough to fill a one quart jar. I used up all of my cucumbers that grew in funky shapes since you have to slice them anyway. I love to grow all my own fresh herbs year round, but when they are outside they grow more rapidly. There is a recipe in Preserving by the Pint, that I was interested in trying. You chop up a few ounces of herbs and add coarse salt. The salt preserves the herbs so that you can keep them in the refrigerator indefinitely. I'm looking forward to adding some of this mixture to soups, stews, roasted veggies, and anything else I can think of. It is so strange seeing pictures of my own chickens on my site. I actually thought that I wouldn't be able to have chickens until we moved to a larger piece of property. Even though there is no mistaking where I live, if I sit in the grass with our fences blocking the view of the surrounding houses, I can daydream about living on acres of farm land. We actually are currently looking for that perfect place, but finding the amount of acreage we want in New Jersey, is no easy task. I also made up some Yellow Plum Jam with Vanilla from Preserving by the Pint. It makes only 1 pint of jam and uses only one dry pint of yellow plums. I know I have said this before, but if you are interested in preserving you really need to pick up this book. Working in smaller batches allows you to try more recipes, without taking up so much time and space. I do feel bad that I don't have lots of extra jars to share with friends and family this year, but working in smaller batches has been wonderful, because I feel that I can try many more new types of jams and jellies.
Hope you are all having a wonderful summer! Maybe I'll have a great new recipe to share soon, but in the meantime we'll be outside, exploring.
So have you ever heard of a Wineberry before? Me neither, until I took some awesome foraging classes this last spring. They are quite unmistakable, probably one of the easiest wild edibles to identify. If you look below, this is a picture of what I saw in my class. Red stalks that are covered in stickers and clusters of buds on top. If you were to touch the buds you would notice they are slightly sticky. A very beautiful but intimidating looking plant, right? There is lots of great information about wineberries on the internet. And lots of great recipes too. They are actually a type of raspberry that was imported into the United States and quickly became an invasive species. It seems that New Jersey is one of the lucky (or unlucky depending on your perspective) places where wineberries took hold. Even though they are readily available, I highly doubt you will ever be able to purchase them in a store or farmers market. The berries are highly perishable and very fragile. To top it all off, the process of picking wineberries is unlike anything else I have ever experienced. Are they worth it? Absolutely, but you'll have to decide for yourself.
I actually sought out wineberries this year thanks to some advice from a friend. She knows just how wonderful these sticky berries are, and was kind enough to share her spot with me. If you are a forager, this is normally something that is just not done. But, I quickly learned why sharing a wineberry spot is not such a big deal.
When I arrived at her spot I noticed it was completely covered in berries, and I was so excited to find them that I jumped right in without hesitation. Now, my friend told me to wear long pants and long sleeves, which I followed, sort of. I had long pants but no long sleeves, and I decided to go with sandals for some stupid reason. Big mistake! I am now covered in scratches all over my arms and feet.
The next thing that makes foraging for wineberries uncomfortable is the stickiness of the berries. With so many berries around, using both hands is unavoidable, so be prepared for sticky and slightly itchy hands. The next component is the timing of these berries. The middle of July in New Jersey, means temperatures that can be well over 90°F, with humidity levels that make it feel like you are walking through an Amazon rainforest. At this point there are so many bugs out, you will more then likely be picking berries and swatting bugs at the same time. Doesn't that just sound like a wonderful walk in the woods? When I just couldn't take it anymore, and I was completely drenched in sweat with sticky hands, scratches from head to toe, and pulling bugs out of my hair, I ran for the car, sped home and immediately jumped in the shower, phew!
I can now say that I understand why wineberries are not sold. If I had to sell a quart of wineberries to someone I would probably charge them upwards of a hundred dollars, probably more. These berries are so delicious, but the process to get them is quite frankly worse then hell. Don't get me wrong, I had so much fun gathering these berries. There is some sort of primal satisfaction that must stem from our hunter/gather days, that make picking and eating wild edibles so rewarding. Either that, or I am just completely off my rocker.
Speaking of which, you also might be wondering why the heck I have a picture of a quarry in this post. Well, if you are local, it is a little clue to the location of our wineberry spot. Even among acres and acres of wilderness and hiking trails, New Jersey is still, Jersey. It is still a cool view though, and little boys love to watch trucks.
My head was spinning with what I should do with all these "expensive" berries. I really wanted to preserve them, but finding enough information about the levels of pectin they have was difficult. I know I have been making lots of jelly lately, but that is really how I wanted to go. The seeds in these berries aren't as bad as most, but I really just wanted the essence of wineberry to spread on my toast or crepes. My heart was set on jelly, so that's what I made.
I made up the jelly that night, but I also went the next day to grab a few more berries for one more recipe that I found online. I decided to go with some Wineberry Cordial. You can find the recipe here. And I'll be sure to let you know how it goes once it is finished. As for the jelly, it is the best I have ever made, and the taste is incomparable. Since I only have a small amount of jelly you can be sure I won't be sharing any! *Except for the jar that my friend gets for sharing her spot.
Makes a little over 1 pint
1 quart of wineberry juice (I forgot to weigh my berries - I would just collect as many as you can!)
3-4 cups of organic cane sugar
2 tablespoons commercial powdered pectin
Prepare your jars and lids. To make your winberry juice, slowly heat the berries in a large pot with 1/2 cup of water. Gently boil the berries until they becomes soft, about 5 minutes. Strain out the juice by using a fine mesh cheesecloth and hanging it up to drain completely. Place all the juice back in in a clean pot. Bring the juice to a boil and add the sugar. Stir until it dissolves. Add the pectin and boil until the juice hits the jelly set point. The metal spoon test is the best to use in this case. Fill prepared jars within 1/4 inch of the top. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
It was one of those beautiful mornings. The one where I dash off in a hot sports car (my husbands), while he watches the boys. With only a few hours, what could I accomplish? It is always about the greatest amount of accomplishment. Hours are precious and alone hours are even more so. Over the last few days I'd been thinking about berry picking. Little boys get bored really fast, and berry picking takes time, lots of time. In my mind there really was no doubt where I wanted to go.
Riding through the morning traffic rush, with no need to worry about arrival time. Blasting the music with the windows open. It's all a matter of perspective when you're a mom. A small moment to remember yourself amongst the bees and the berries. I couldn't have asked for more on a random Wednesday morning.
If I could live in this picture forever, I would. Rows and endless rows of raspberries, a cool breeze and soft white clouds overhead. Can't you picture a little stone cottage covered in ivy, just around the corner?
I found two other women in the fields, just as excited about black raspberries and currants as me. The older woman and I started talking about preserving. She told me about her favorite jam combination of black raspberries and currants. I smiled to myself. I could only hope that thirty or more years down the road, I'll be doing the same thing. Schooling some young (ok, relatively young) woman on the ways of jams and jellies.
So when I got home and looked at all my beautiful berries, I started thinking about what to do with them all. I kept going back to that raspberry currant combination. The women I spoke to said she left the seeds in her jam, but I just can't do raspberry seeds. It's not my thing, too much crunch. I soon discovered that the currants have seeds that are just like raspberry seeds. So in my mind, jelly was the way to go.
Do I use all my currants? Black or red raspberries? Finally, I settled on one quart of red raspberries and one quart each of white and red currants. Since they have the exact same requirements and high levels of natural pectin, this one would be easy.
Ever get that feeling you're being watched?
And don't forget the cubes of Meyer lemon juice and zest. I planned it all out a few months ago. Six cubes, means six different jams or jellies that get a lovely boost of Meyer lemon goodness. One of these cubes is earmarked specifically for this!
--I am going to assume that if you are attempting this recipe, you already know how to can. If not, I would suggest going over proper canning procedures before attempting to make jelly. You need to have a clear understanding of when your jelly has achieved a good set.
makes 2 pints
1 quart red raspberries
1 quart red currants
1 quart white (or champagne) currants
1/4 cup water
3-4 cups organic cane sugar
Zest and juice from 1 Meyer lemon (fresh or frozen and totally optional)
Wash and stem your fruit. In a large pot combine the raspberries, currants and water. Slowly bring to a boil, gently crushing the fruit with a masher. Gently boil the fruit until it becomes soft, about 5-10 minutes. Let the mixture cool slightly and pour it through a strainer. This should give you approximately one quart of juice.
--If you want to make really clear jelly place the mixture into cheese cloth and hang it up to allow just the juice to drip out. I really don't care how "clear" my jelly is, so I just take the quickest way and use a strainer.
Clean out your pot and add the juice back into the pot. Heat the juice to boiling and add the 3-4 cups of sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves and then boil rapidly without stirring or skimming until the jellying set point is reached. Best way to know if you reached the correct point is to use the spoon test.
--Mine hit point just before reaching 220°F
Remove the jelly from the heat and skim if necessary. Fill prepared jars within 1/4 inch of the top. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
This year the rhubarb was late and strawberries later. The perennials seem to be a little hesitant to wake up after this last winter, and I can't say I blame them. Last year by this time I had three different types of strawberry and rhubarb jam made and preserved. While I was able to finally get my hands on some rhubarb, I really didn't manage to get much. Strawberries still seem to be a bit of a contest. The fields have been picked clean by hungry localvores, and the remaining berries struggle to ripen. I managed to save away some berries for this epic roasted strawberry rhubarb jam, but I have been craving something a bit less jammy and more pie-like, in the last few days. Actually a pie would have been great, but pie making is not one of my stronger skills. I tend to prefer tarts or more specifically a galette. One dough, push up the sides and bake. Cross your fingers that the filling doesn't spill too much, but otherwise easy peasy.
Thanks to a rainy morning I finally got a chance to bake up a galette. Even if this is the last time I get fresh strawberries and rhubarb this year (I sure hope not), I couldn't think of a better way to use them. This recipe is straight from the food and wine website. I think I only omitted one thing and added one other. A galette is really not something you go around altering, which sadly for some, is the reason I chose not to go the gluten-free route. Gluten-free pastry is really not the best, but cookies, cakes and bread are a whole different story. Sometimes the gluten just needs to stay where it is (as long as you don't have serious allergies), and I'm sure all our adventures outside will help it and all those fat and carbs, from taking up residence in my thighs. Sometimes you just need to splurge a little, go ahead, it will be ok!
I don't think this galette could have come out any better, which is why I'm sharing it with you today. Flaky crust with a sweet and tart filling. Pie, without having to be pie. More rustic looking, right? You could always whip up some cream to go with this, but it can also stand well on it's own. If it wasn't going to be a spectacularly warm sunny weekend, I'd try making some of my homemade mascarpone to see if that would go well with it. Perhaps it will have to wait for another rainy day.
Strawberry Rhubarb Galette
slightly adapted from food and wine For the pastry:
1 1/4 cups of flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks (5 oz.) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
5 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
1 pint of strawberries, sliced
1 pounds fresh rhubarb, sliced
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juicelarge pinch of ground cardamom
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small piecesIn a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter, and use a pastry blender to cut it into the flour, until it is the size of small peas. Sprinkle the water over the dough and toss it together with a fork. Use your hands to press the mixture together in the shape of a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes or overnight.Preheat your oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Sprinkle a little flour on the parchment lined baking sheet and roll out the dough to a 16-inch round. Refrigerate the dough on the cookie sheet in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Wash and slice your strawberries and rhubarb. Place the sliced strawberries and rhubarb in a large bowl. Add the sugar, lemon juice, cardamom (if using) and vanilla, mix until combined. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and spread the strawberry rhubarb mixture in the center of the dough, within 2 inches of the edge. Fold the edges over the filling. Lightly brush the dough with milk. Dot the filling with small pieces of butter. Bake the galette in the oven for 1 hour, or until the filling is bubbly and the crust is golden brown. Let the galette cool slightly before cutting.
Every year my children grow and so does my garden. We are firmly planted in years two and four, but despite the challenges of age, my ability to get work done outside increases. They grow from helpless wobbly walkers to independent preschoolers, with less and less need of support. I suddenly gain the ability to dig, till, plant and weed, all while two little boys find trees to climb and forts to make. My backyard has never looked better and my garden is neat and tidy; an accomplishment I could never visualize during those long summers stuck inside, nursing an infant.
I don't consider myself a expert in gardening. My unorganized direct sow style puts me a bit behind on the harvest calendar, but I'm still able to grab some tender greens before they bolt. With two boys busy at work getting dirty, I can cut a few handfuls of greens and throw together a quick garden salad. No need for fussy dressing, just some avocado oil, grated pecorino romano, salt and pepper. We all know that simple is sometimes best, and we most definitely want to really taste those homegrown greens.
Early this spring I threw down some seeds of kale, cress, chard, lettuce, peas, beans and beets in one section of the garden. When we play outside I can tell exactly when nap time has arrived because the shadow will move to the very edge of this section, covering all the tender greens in a nice cool shade. My little guy sleeps while my oldest and I let the chickens out for some free range time. They make a mad dash for the yard, and gobble up as many greens as they can before moving back to the shaded corners, to scratch through leftover leaves in search of tasty bugs.
The worms in my vermicompost are probably better fed then most people are. As far as I can tell they are doing their job because I have to continue adding scraps every few days.
My poor little raspberry bush took a beating this winter but there are already berries forming on some straggly looking branches.
I have four varieties of heirloom tomatoes doing great, one of which is a minibel. My hopes were to replace the hydroponic plant that is on its last leg, with one that will grow outside. Most of my hydroponic plants now have counterparts in the garden, so I can break down the systems and give them a good cleaning.
The little sproutlings below are Mexican sour gherkins and next to them I planted ground cherries. I'm really hoping that at least one of these works out. Only time will tell.
The lilac blooms have come and gone, but I did manage to cut a few to bring inside.
makes as much as you want
Assortment of tender greens: Kale, Chard, Cress, Arugula, Spinach and Lettuce.
Handful of cherry tomatoes, larger ones cut in half
Drizzle of avocado oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Pecorino romano, freshly shaved
Wash and dry your cut greens. Arrange them on a plate with a handful of cherry tomatoes. Drizzle on some avocado oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and shave some pecorino romano over the top. Enjoy!
When I became interested in chickens a few months ago I did a lot of reading. My husband calls me, "a one track mind." I like to think I am a good researcher. Either way, one of my favorite sources of information was to read blogs from other women who also took the leap into raising chicken. I think it is easy enough to say that backyard chicken keeping has become more then just one aspect of the urban agriculture movement. It has become part of many different movements involving regular people who want to know where their food comes from, and to be in control of some aspect of it. In a lot of cases, people who are passionate about the local food movement have started growing small gardens and raising chickens as a way to become greater involved. We support a local organic farmer through a CSA each summer, but being able to supplement this food with our own homegrown vegetables, herbs and eggs makes me feel not only part of a movement, but part of a push toward social change.
I can't tell you how many people, after finding out that we are raising chickens, will ask questions such as, "Are you going to eat the eggs?" I think we have become so far removed from what we are consuming that most people really don't even know how the items they are purchasing, get to the grocery store. When did we stop associating eggs in pretty plastic containers to the chickens that are actually laying them. Why should our children view chickens as animals they see in a zoo, instead of a pet that will give them a healthy daily reward for the food, water and nice clean home given in return. This is one of the reasons I want to continue writing about my experience raising chickens. If it weren't for the many other bloggers and website resources that wrote about their experiences, I might have continued thinking it was impossible to raise chickens in my own small backyard.
Over and over again you will find that the ladies who started My Pet Chicken, created one of the greatest resources for backyard chicken keepers around. That is where our girls came from and where we purchased our backyard coop. We got the "All-American Coop" which allows you to decorate and paint it however you like. Once my coop was all set up and ready I took a picture to share with the people at My Pet Chicken. Traci, the CEO and co-founder of the company, liked it so much she called me one day to see if they could use the picture on their site to inspire others. In return she was nice enough to send me a signed copy of her book and some treats for our girls. I can't say enough nice things about this company and it seems that many other people feel the same way, even our Martha! One of the first things I learned about chickens is that they all have their own personalities. I'll admit that I always thought of chickens as dumb animals that functioned instinctively the same way. On their first day home I quickly learned this is not the case. They are fun and interesting animals that have the ability to show affection like any other pet. The next three pictures are of our Weird Sisters who are easter eggers. In a few months we will get to see what color eggs they will lay and all our hard work will pay off in the form of organic, free-range, GMO and soy free eggs. Pretty nice, right?!
This is Phoebe who seems to be growing at a slower rate then the others. She is the smallest but definitely the loudest and most daring of the bunch. She spends all her time digging for bugs or exploring behind bushes away from the others. She will loudly proclaim that she doesn't like being held and is the only chicken that looks like she is wearing some heavy "date-night" makeup.
This is Luna and she is sweet, showy and sassy. Always has her tale feathers up and struts around as if she is in a pair of heels with a drink in hand. She is a great forager and loves to eat greens. She prefers the protection of her older sister Cara, and follows along with her wherever she goes.
This is Seline and she is quiet, calm and wise. She prefers to take the lookout role. She will watch the sky while the other girls forage and eat. Every so often when something bothers her she will give a little purr and the others will stop and look up until they determine everything is safe. We think her coloring makes her look like a hawk more then a chicken. She definitely has the quiet grace of a hawk.
And here is Sunny and Cara the two Red Stars. They have even more personality then the easter eggers and they are more likely to approach me. They will either climb up on my legs if I am sitting down, or sit on my shoulder for a better view. They put up with my boys more then the others, allowing them to pick them up and give them hugs. They are a week older then the easter eggers and will most likely start laying eggs much sooner.
I decided to put the girls outside because the weather has been warming up and their little brooder box became way too small and stinky. My kitchen and dinning room smelled like chickens so I decided it was time. The first night I tried, but brought them back inside because they looked cold. But the second night they were all sleeping soundly next to each other. As much as I loved them as baby chicks, I am so much happier they are outside. Every morning I head out to change their water and fill up their food dish. They get free-range time every afternoon and they are hysterical to watch. Our coop sits next to our garage so from my side window I can see what is going on without walking outside. A little feature I'm sure I will love in the winter time.
Here are a few things I have learned about chicks so far:
- They can EAT. In fact they can put a college boy to shame. I had to order 60 pounds of chick feed for the five of them for the recommended first eight weeks. They seem to be going through less of it now that they are outside and eating weeds and bugs, but they can sure eat. While they were in the brooder they would waste a ton of food by knocking in onto the floor. Now that they are older I have noticed less wasted food. You also have to provide them with properly sized grit when they start eating food other then the chick feed.
- Sometimes when chicks sleep they look like they are dead. Yes baby chicks actually lay on the floor, sort of like a dog does. They will stretch out their legs, little wings and have a floppy little head that will make them look like they are dead. They are also narcoleptic when they are little. They will be bouncing along cheeping and then the next minute you'll find them taking a nose dive to the floor and they will sleep standing up. At first I thought something was wrong but quickly learned this is just one of the reasons chicks are so much fun to watch.
- They smell. A lot. They smell like chickens and their poop smells worse. Making sure they have fresh bedding takes care of this, but I really didn't realize how much they smell. If you are not into cleaning up really stinky poop I suggest staying clear of chickens. Or small humans for that matter, but at least they will use a potty one day. Still waiting on my youngest to reduce the amount of poop I come in contact with each day.
- They get bored so making sure they have time outside their cage each day is essential. If they can't come out because of the weather you can provide them with treats to keep them entertained and happy.
- They move faster then a toddler on gummy bears. That action mode on your camera is a must. Those heads and feet are constantly moving and pecking. So if you want good pictures take a whole bunch so you have plenty to choose from.
- Their care is really only slightly more involved then caring for rabbits (I have two rabbits by the way). If I needed to I could leave them for a weekend with plenty of fresh water and food and not have to worry. For long trips I will need to find someone to check on them, refresh water, let them out to free-range and collect eggs. But I will see how that whole process goes when we get to that point. Right now since they are little and have plenty of room in their coop, I could easily see leaving them for a quick weekend trip.
I can just see a little Cara thought bubble saying, "What are fresh eggs?"
Did you also know that chickens need to take dust baths to keep their skin and feathers healthy and free of bugs. And it seem to be a communal thing, like the Romans. Dust baths are so much fun to watch. They lay on the ground and push the dust up into their feathers and then shake their bodies to get it all over. Then they rub their heads on the ground just like a dog rubbing his face in the grass. So much fun to watch and they seem to do it almost every day. They also take lots of time to clean and arrange their feathers throughout the day. I'm guessing that I am not the only person that has a fascination with watching animals clean themselves.
So that is as much as I have learned so far. I'll let you know how it goes and of course I'll be sharing those first egg pictures. The amount of effort that goes in to raising chickens is really quite easy. There is definitely a lot to learn, but after you have the basics down it becomes lots of fun. In my mind they are a "pet with benefits" and I would recommend anyone raising their own if they are interested. You don't need to have a whole farm to get enough eggs to feed your family. I'll be sure to let you know if these five will provide enough for my family of four each week, which I'm sure they will. Backyard chicken keeping is something everyone can do if you want to give it the time and effort. And I can tell you that my experience so far has been worth it (and we don't even get eggs yet!).
For a few days now I've been contemplating my lack of updates. Not long ago I decided to free myself from the stress of regular posting, because it makes the whole adventure seem too obligatory. Granted, setting schedules does have benefits, it's just not something I'm interested in at the moment. I must admit, I've been spending a lot of time watching the "chicken channel." Not to mention the weather has been gorgeous lately. There really is no better distraction. In the mornings I water the garden and set up the pool for the boys. In the afternoon we let the chickens free range and scour the backyard for bugs, while we enjoy some ice pops. My favorite blue hammock soon becomes a place where imagination takes us on long lazy adventures to the clouds. Later we light a fire to roast some marshmallows, and wind up laying next to each other watching dancing embers late into the night. I plan on getting every ounce of outside enjoyment I can, because in a few weeks the temperatures will rise and sitting on my patio in a sweater enjoying a cool breeze, will be a thing of the past. Today we were forced inside because of the rain, but in no way do I consider this a loss. My rain barrel will be full tomorrow and my pantry will be stocked with shortbread cookies. I finally got the chance to use the rest of my black walnuts and was granted a little reminder of last years fall fun. It is amazing how certain smells can bring you right back to a particular time or place. It's one of the reasons why preserving flavors from each season is so enjoyable.
I guess baking has been on my brain lately. We haven't installed our air conditioning units yet, and I'd like to try and keep it that way until June. It really is nice that we only need the AC for two or three months of the year, and it makes getting a central system seem like a complete waste of money. But I'm getting nervous about how much longer I'll have to use my stove. Without central air the use of the stove or the laundry dryer becomes almost impossible. It's time to get all the baking out of my system and get as much bread in the freezer as I can. I guess it was stupid of me to start trying to catch some wild yeast. And catch some I did! Better late then never, I guess.
Lazy? Yes, I think I would say we have been lazy of late. Sometimes lazy could also be considered, quietly appreciating a momentary slowing down. Summer is when the weekends fill of activities. Fishing trips, foraging classes and basket making, among many other things. With so much to look forward to, siting outside on our patio to watch the rain, might be just what I need. Warm rainy days are supposed to be perfectly lazy and they are absolutely appreciated.
Black Walnut Shortbread Cookies (Gluten-Free)
makes 4 dozen
2 cups gluten-free flour blend (recipe below)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup cane sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup toasted and chopped black walnuts (or finely chopped regular walnuts)
Extra sugar for topping
*Maple sugar glaze (powdered sugar mixed with grade B maple syrup)
Grey sea salt
In a bowl combine the gluten-free flour blend with baking powder, salt and ground nutmeg; set aside. In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the softened unsalted butter with sugar until smooth. Add the vanilla extract and egg and continue to beat until combined. With a spoon stir in the chopped walnuts and the flour mixture until you can form the dough into a ball. Divide the dough into two pieces and shape into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Take the dough out one at a time and roll out on a floured surface (this is where the extra gluten-free flour blend is helpful). Cut dough into shapes and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle some extra sugar on top of each cookie. Bake in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes or until the edges get slightly browned. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool. Drizzle on some maple glaze and top with some flaked grey sea salt. Store cookies in airtight container.
*I don't have an exact recipe for the maple sugar glaze. The best way to achieve a type of glaze like this one is to start with 1 cup of powdered sugar and slowly add the maple syrup until you get a consistency you like. Don't make your glaze ahead of time because it will harden as time passes.
Gluten-Free flour blend
1 1/4 cups sorghum flour
1 1/4 cups oat flour
1 cup sweet rice flour
1 cup tapioca flour
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
In a bowl whisk together all the ingredients. You will have extra, so store it in an airtight container.
Ok...just one chicken picture!