Friday, August 31, 2018

Spaghetti-o's by the lantern light

On Wednesday we had the most intense storm of the summer.  The skies darkened - quietly - always a cause for notice if not alarm.  We live on the crest of a hill and our old trees were blowing sideways and dark clouds above the house were starting to circle.  

I took some comfort in the fact that the poultry and wild birds were still going about their business as if nothing was wrong.  Living without TV and without my mother (she called with all necessary weather updates: bad storms, frost threats, tornado warnings) I have pretty much no clue what is going on until we look out the window.  Which is fine on some level;  I like surprises as much as the next person but we have two children now and when we saw the circling clouds things got serious. We have had tornadoes here that have wiped out entire neighboring towns and I am old enough to remember this happening.  Then our power cut out and we realized that my husband's phone was about dead and mine had a 4% battery charge.  We don't have a land line.  Well, damn it, talk about feeling stupid and unprepared. Holding the baby I alternated between pacing and looking out the window all while maintaining a cheerful face for the oldest.

Then the rain started to come down in buckets.  I've always heard that the tornado threat has passed once rain starts to fall.  Not sure if I want to be corrected if I'm wrong.

Life is nothing if not pure adventure.  Obviously we need to secure some sort of battery powered  phone charger for the future but this time we were pretty well off to face an extended power outage if need be; easy prep food, water stored in the basement, a couple of beers in the fridge (joking, not joking) and I had learned some things from the last storm.  The lanterns all had batteries and when there was a small break in the rain I ran out to the camper to retrieve the Coleman stove, a small container of propane and a fresh lantern.  Just in case we were in this for the long-haul.  Dinner was supposed to be pizzas from scratch but ended up being canned soup and Spaghetti-o's cooked on a camp stove by the light of a Coleman lantern.  

Some times surprises turn out to be the best of our days. It's such a joy and a gift to experience something completely unexpected.  After dinner we sat on the front porch as a family because the house doesn't have much natural light and was really dark inside.  The oldest played with a dump truck, the baby napped and my husband and I talked about our favorite books when we were young. It really ended up being a lovely night.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Spicy coconut tofu with cabbage

This was going to be another magazine recipe but as I was pressing the tofu this afternoon I realized we didn't have, well, most of the ingredients.  Dang. Serves me right for cleaning out the condiment drawer.

But we needed to eat something for dinner. And we had some things in the house that kind of resembled the required ingredients....  in sort of an abstract way.  So bravely I forged on, throwing things into pans and tasting as I went, thinking as it cooled that:
1) It wasn't going to be edible. At all.
2) The husband was going to be mighty sad about the appearance of both cabbage and tofu on the same plate at the same time.  Tofu = not meat.

Well, turns out it was actually really good and he said it was one of his favorite dinners.

We need to work on the presentation.

So, to make it again:
I made a sauce of half a can coconut milk, a dollop of Thai chilli dipping sauce, some teriyaki sauce, a big spoon of honey and some abodo sauce from a can of chipoltle chilies.
Meanwhile cooking some thinly sliced green cabbage from the garden and red onion. When they were soft they went into the coconut sauce to stay warm.
Tofu was cut into thin slices, dipped in flour and fried.

Food was plated over wild rice. I remembered Anthony Bourdain teaching that in the restaurant industry, the taller a dish is the fancier it appears. Tofu was stacked accordingly and a lime squeezed over. It still looked damn depressing so I sprinkled some basil over it for color.

Turns out we loved it so much that I ended up frying more tofu so we could have seconds.  Creamy coconut, spicy heat and crispy tofu. What a fun suprise.

Update: also good with bok choy and green beans in place of the cabbage.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Thai salmon

Thank you Aldi's and Family Circle magazine for a quick, cheap and amazing dinner. The soy and thai sauce we already had (Aldi's) and the basil and onions came from the garden. I'll make this one again.

Friday, August 24, 2018

A fair, garden shame & a new recipe

We went to the Crawford County fair this week; my husband and I, the little man and the baby along with my in-laws.  It was a great time.  I had the baby strapped to me in a carrier the whole time which made it easy.  My husband, god bless him, was in charge of the oldest.  This fair is the largest in our state and there are so many wonderful things to look at.

There were two mama sows with their piglets.  This was the smaller of the two mamas (the larger sow's head was the size of a car tire - honestly I don't know what she weighed but it was actually frightening).  I love this picture because of piglet butts.  They're adorable.

All of the pigs looked fat and happy, napping in the bedding under fans.

Jacob's sheep with their many horns, my favorite.

Lovely ladies.

Watching the mounted police ride by.

My favorite guy from the poultry barn.

He was so handsome.  I love that storm cloud grey color on birds.

A Columbian Wyandotte rooster and hen.  I am looking to order a flock of these in the spring.

In other news:

It really stormed the other day and some of the purple potatoes were washed off by the rain.  We'll have these with breakfast this weekend.

A handful of tomatoes and eggs (check out the cute tiny one).  The garden has been terrible this year honestly.  It's totally covered with weeds and completely gone to hell. We are getting a very minimal amount of food from it at this point. I mean, I did grow a human being and all this summer but the garden and yard are the worst they have ever looked.  It's embarrassing and if I get some free time (ha!) I need to start tearing it down for fall because it will take forever.  As it stands we are getting the minimum of tomatoes, not enough to bother canning, and I am carrying out armloads of kale and weeds to the poultry every morning.

Airing our dirty laundry.  The yard looks horrible.  Planting all of that in the spring was important for my mental health but now it's just embarrassing.

I tried a new recipe this week from this Jamie Oliver book:

There's a recipe in here for fish cakes made with fresh salmon.  I had some fresh tilapia fillets.  I wanted to try the recipe because he has you cook the fish by steaming it in a colander over the boiling potatoes.  It worked like a charm and is a good technique to have under my belt.

They were really good and served with a tomato and olive sauce from the book.

I also baked bread (a loaf and some flat breads) and made pizza crust this week.

The baby has been smiling at me in the mornings, ear to ear and cooing.  It's the best thing ever.  Heart-breakingly wonderful.

Our oldest has been building elaborate trucks with his duplo blocks.  

That's Miss Rabbit driving.  

He is also enjoying playing "I Spy" in the car, but refuses to give a guess to the clue.  He started out guessing but now gets a bigger kick out of me answering my own clue.  I'll say "I spy something green" and he'll say "Mama, what IS it??"  Me: "It's green and tall and has leaves". Him: "Mama WHAT IS IT?!" It's really cute.  He's also calling me Mama Panda this week.  And Mama Newt (slightly less cute).

Oh, life.  I love it.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Our gold star mama has babies, again.

This bantam mama, honestly.  I love her.  The most valuable member of my poultry crew, she's such a good mom that she and her husband can stay here until they die of old age.  You might remember the pair were an impulse buy at an Amish benefit auction.  Best $4.00 investment ever, seriously.  This girl would hatch a rock if she could.  She's the best parent.  I would trust her to watch my kids. Joking? Maybe.

Anyway.  She has been sitting on some eggs that looked like they were a good bet to hatch.  Until they weren't.  Both of the eggs had detached air cells and the odds weren't looking good.  There is nothing sadder than a mama hen that sits, and sits, and sits some more - until she finally gives up.  It's really depressing.  Thank goodness the local TSC has chicks for sale right now.  I kept calling the local stores hoping for some bantams but prepared to settle for just about anything that wasn't a leghorn or a cornish cross.  Then, the store nearest to us got some easter egger pullets in.  I bought six.

Would you look at the fluffy faces?

They're adorable.

I brought them home at about 7:00 at night and didn't even bother to set up a brooder.  When it got to be dark I took them outside to the chicken coop.  Being as sneaky as possible, I took the eggs away and put the babies underneath her.  She hissed and pecked at me but I hoped for the best.

The next morning: success! 

She kept them in her little spot under the nest boxes for three days.  I set up a chick waterer in the coop, covered the litter with weeds and kale and sprinkled chick starter over it every day so she could teach the babies how to scratch.

Here's a sweet video of the family:


Today she took them out of the coop for the first time, puffing up like a turkey when any of the other birds got too close to her babies.  Her little rooster was happy to see her and he joined in feeding and watching over the babies.

If there is anything sweeter than seeing a chicken hatch her own babies, it is seeing a bunch of incubator-hatched chicks meeting a mama chicken for the first time.  These little ones had never seen, heard or been comforted by a hen in the short time they had been alive.  But immediately upon setting eyes on this hen you could almost here them thinking "MAMA! Where have you been!?"  They all sleep in a pile underneath her, with just a beak or leg sticking out from under her wing when I check on them.  It's a really sweet sight. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Canning: banana butter, jam & vinegar

Lemon and mint vinegar, mixed berry jam, banana butter & blueberry honey jam

I've done a little canning this week, nothing crazy, and wanted to record some of the recipes used to make things easier on myself next season.  I didn't get very many berries picked this year so had to work with what I had on hand.

The lemon mint vinegar came from the Ball book.  I started it steeping late last month.  It tastes just ok.  The lemon flavor is very good but the mint is kind of odd.  We'll try it this winter and maybe at some point I'll just do a lemon white wine vinegar. 

The mixed berry jam with pectin came from the Ball website.  I used blueberries, blackberries and red currants in this one.  It set up wonderfully.  (4 cups crushed berries, 4.5 tbsp pectin, 3 cups sugar).  Made a half batch, so 2 jelly jars.

The recipe for the blueberry jam with honey and nutmeg came from my copy of The Complete Guide to Small Batch Preserving.  It is also just ok.  I mean, it's a great blueberry jam but I just don't taste the honey.  Or the nutmeg. made 2 jelly jars of this.

And here's the winner:

This is the best surprise since making tomato jelly.  Oh my goodness.  Banana butter!  I was staring at a bunch of 5 bananas that had gotten shoved to the back of the refrigerator and were starting to brown and wanted to do something different. Wow! Where has this been all my life?!  It tastes like banana pudding.  Which, when put on a peanut butter sandwich or warm toast... well... heaven.

The recipe is here on the Kraft Sure Jell website. 4 cups mashed bananas, 1/2 cup lemon juice, 1 tsp produce protector, 1 box liquid pectin, 6 cups sugar.  We had 5 bananas so I made a half batch; 2 1/2 jelly jars.  Two and a half jelly jars of this bliss.  They won't last long around this house.

Up for this week: I still need to can the garlic that's curing in the garage.  We'll see what other trouble we can get into. A blueberry basil vinegar, maybe.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

A Cat in the Hat Birthday

The little man turned three a week ago.  We had a great little party with family, friends, cake and balloons.  He LOVES a Canadian PBS series called The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That.  Basically it's a nature education series and it's absolutely awesome.  Click here to watch "Show me the honey" where kids learn all about honey bees.

When I asked him what he wanted on his cake of course it was Cat in the Hat.  However (are you paying attention PBS?) no one actually sells toys or cake sets for this cartoon.  My husband and I decided to forge ahead and make one anyway.  I baked and iced the cake and he sketched out the cutouts for the Cat, Nick, Sally & Fish on card stock.  Then I laminated them using using a hot iron and photo sleeves.

The cake before the little man and his cousins totally destroyed it.  

He came downstairs, saw the cake, gasped and yelled "MAMA I NEED A FORK!!!"

Sally and Nick.

Balloons and streamers.  It was awesome.

The weather was wonderful and we spend the day surrounded by friends and family.  We set up a canopy in the back yard and put our old tent up in the corner of the garden for the kids to play in.  They were in and out of the house the whole time and had a ton of fun.

This guy was on a sugar high for about three days.  

Monday, August 6, 2018

Tiny lives, tiny dramas

There are so many things going on outside our door; tiny lives that I'm sure are filled with their own beauty and drama. It's a good reminder to slow down and stop to really look at what's all around me.

The bantam roosters from this spring are all grown up.  That beautiful orange booted one will get to stay here because he's an adorable gentleman but the black and white one will not.  He's just an ass; abuses the hens, picks fights with Nigel (who outweighs him by 10 lbs) and gives me the evil eye on a daily basis.  He's making everyone else out there miserable and he's smaller than a grapefruit.  

The south-bound end of a north-bound chicken.

This little lady has wedged herself under the nest boxes in an effort to be a mama again.  She's sitting on two eggs and both of the babies seem to be alive and well (there were originally 9 under her but none of the others were developing).  When they get close to hatching I'll call around to the TSC's near us and see what kind of baby chicks they have, buy a couple and slip them under her.  I did this last year, almost a year ago to the day and she was the best mom ever to those babies. She's worth her weight in gold to me.

But there are other small creatures around here too.

Like this little slug crawling over the garden hose.  Where is it going and why?

If you look closely, you can see the Tiger Swallowtail butterflies on the tigerlilly flowers.  How perfect is that? They love these flowers and there are anywhere from 2 to 4 of the butterflies on the flowers at any time.  They're so docile that the little man and I can catch them in his bug house just by herding them into it with our hands while they're eating.  His favorite part is letting them go.

This little one didn't have such good luck.  I found it one morning, dead in a bowl of bubble soap that we had left outside while playing.  I think it is a Red Spotted Purple butterfly - the scales fell off the upper wings but I pinned it to dry anyway and will frame it.

Back in May I gathered praying mantis egg cases and put them in the garden for some organic pest control.  They hatched, and how.  There are mantises all over the place.  They're about 3 inches long now and a blend in with the plants perfectly.  They're absolutely fearless; the tigers of the garden.

This one is staring straight at me - probably trying to decide if I'm edible.

And here's one who has already caught dinner.  It's holding a (headless) cricket *shudder*. Everyone has to eat.

Pollinators are in love with the Anise Hyssop.  It's re-seeding itself every year and we're so glad - it's absolutely covered with insects when it's blooming.  The plant smells like black licorice.  I wonder of it tastes special to the insects too.  They really do seem to like it.

This summer has brought with it a whole new world of insect discovery.  My husband and the little man found this bug in the kid's wagon.  It had the shape of a stink bug, sort of, but also reminded me of a carrion insect.  Turns out it's a baby stink bug - the nymph stage - and will be lime green when grown up.  So many changes to go through and why? For what purpose? Who knew?

Bee.  My sweet Bee rarely even comes in the house anymore.  Maybe once a day to hit up the little man for some cat treats and then she's right back out the door again.  She used to at least come home at night to sleep but no more.  I suspect she sleeps in the shed.  The neighbors leave cat food in their barn so she might be sleeping next door, although she really doesn't like their cats (who are elderly and one with a lazy eye).  No idea what she does or where she goes during the day.  It would be really fun to strap a tiny camera to her head and find out but we don't have that kind of free time. The little man had a birthday last weekend and Bee brought 2 dead voles and a rabbit to the party. So she's hunting and having fun anyway.  She likes to lay on my chest and swing in the hammock in the evening and there's always a soft bed and cat food in the house if she wants it. 

A small look at the millions of lives being lived right outside our door.