Eighth of an Acre Bounty

Random thoughts and anecdotes on cooking, critters, gardening and life on our small city lot.

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July 10th, 2009 · 1 Comment

I’ll be in class all weekend so there won’t be any new posts. Look who I caught outside the bathroom window the other day, just chilling and contemplating the peas…

I hope you all have a relaxing weekend.

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Summer meals

July 10th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Pardon the poor picture quality, but I was hungry and there wasn’t much light left so the camera flash left everything a bit overexposed. It occurred to me that I have all but stopped cataloging  some of our meals. With canning and growing season well upon us, the daily food preparation takes a backseat. Add to that the fact that during the summer we don’t usually eat dinner until the sun starts to fade (8 or 8:30) means when dinner is finally cooked there is little time to snap pictures before we wolf it down.

Last night’s meal was in many ways the epitome of all that is good in the summertime. Two pork chops from Whistling Train were rubbed with fresh minced sage, garlic powder, salt and pepper and seared on the cast iron griddle. A pseudo-succotash comprised of peas, purslane, squash, squash blossoms, garlic and young (still green) coriander went alongside a few griddled grit sticks (don’t quite know how else to describe them – leftover grits that I had chilled in a bread pan in the fridge overnight) that had been mixed with fresh herbs and cheddar cheese.

The night before we had chicken heart stew.  We had several bags of chicken hearts left over from when we went out to Laura’s to process chickens earlier in June. I ended up with the majority of the hearts, feet and liver from the 79 chickens we butchered that day. The subsequent days were dedicated largely to making an amazing stock from all those feet and making a bourbon pate from the livers (both were canned to save freezer space). All of that took some significant time so I bagged the hearts in smaller portions and stuck them in the freezer until I could figure out what to do with them.

I doodled about on the internet looking for inspiration and came across a forum thread that mentioned a Puerto Rican stew. It had been a rather cool day and stew sounded good so I took inspiration from there and went rummaging around to see what I could put together. I pulled  a half bag of dried hominy out of the cupboard and set it to soak a few hours before. I diced up the remainder of a red onion that had been lanquishing in the fridge, grabbed a quart jar of the green tomato enchilada sauce I canned last year (pic here) and a two quarts of chicken stock. While all of the above ingredients simmered with the chicken hearts and a bit of additional cumin, I picked and washed a large bunch of purslane to be thrown in at the last minute. The result was hearty, delicious and perfect for that evening. The purslane added a great lemony accent to what was a very savory stew.

We’re eating good around here now with the garden in full swing. Pole beans are climbing up thier poles, the peas are slowly finishing and broccoli and cabbage heads make themselves ready. I’ll have to harass Gary to make a post on his 3 sisters garden out front – we ate the first squash from there this morning.

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We’re blooming

July 6th, 2009 · 17 Comments

That earlier picture  of the sunflower bud? It is no longer just a promise

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July 1st, 2009 · 1 Comment

The Friday before last, we went to a local u-pick strawberry field and walked away an hour later with 28 pounds of strawberries. I froze several bags for use later in the winter and I also immediately baked up some shortcake for dessert that evening (real shortcake, not that angels food sponge-like substance you get at the market). I reserved some fresh and some frozen berries for my parents and had the remainder to play around with.

I ended up making a strawberry-black pepper jam and a strawberry-lemon marmalade. Both turned out quite well for my first foray into jam making. I’ve been canning food for years, but somehow never got around to making jellies or jams. We aren’t really breakfast eaters around here and jam or jelly has never been on the shopping list so I suppose it just didn’t occur to me. But – there is more than one use for jam, and Gary does go on PB&J kicks every once in a while.

The first two tries were made using powdered pectin, quite successfully, but I started getting curious about naturally made jams (without added pectin). I was flipping through the Ball Blue Book when I saw a recipe for grapefruit marmalade and I realized that I still had a good number of pink grapefruit in the closet from a bulk purchase earlier this year. The grapefruit marmalade was a two day process, but I am happy to report that it was successful as well! It set up perfectly and is a nice balance of sweet and hints of bitter. I’m thinking it will be great incorporated as a glaze for one of our ham roasts from the half pig we got earlier this year.

By far the easiest little experiment is in the half gallon jar in the picture above. After years of talking about it, this year I am actually experimenting with making fruity booze. The strawberry liqueur is my first attempt. If it turns out allright, by the end of the year I hope to have a little variety of strawberry, raspberry and blackberry liqueuers to bottle up and gife as gifts for the holidays. The assembly was quite simple. I looked up a number of recipes and ended up with a baseline idea of how to approach this. After washing and stemming the strawberries I filled the half gallon jars full of berries. I then poured sugar over the berries (I eyed this, perhaps 3/4 to 1 cup?) and filled to the top with vodka. After a few days the berries had given up most of thier color to the liquid. I plan on keeping teh berries in the vodka for 1-3 months and then I will strain and rebottle the liqueur. I also did the same on a smaller scale with gin. I like gin quite a lot, but know that others are not as fond of it – so I may just reserve those jars for myself and other gin lovers (that is assuming any of it is palateable).

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In Pictures

June 27th, 2009 · No Comments

Sunflowers full of promise


Boy in the garden, planting lettuce in the shade.

A bee with deformed wings. The result of mites, or simply worn out?

A theme apparently developed here, this concludes the furry section of our picture show

A garden intruder, looks like your standard cabbage looper – but check out that red racing stripe along its side. Any body know what this is?

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On saving seed

June 25th, 2009 · 1 Comment

I am letting several bright lights chard plants go to seed this year. These particular plants survived our insanely cold and snowy winter without any protection, so in my book they are survivors and it would be well worth keeping thier progeny around. We save some other seeds around here each year. Obviously the simple stuff like tomatoes and arugula, and Gary saved some cabbage seed last year as well. But here is the issue with the whole ‘urban’ self sufficiency thing. I need more room!

While the chard plants above are beautiful in thier own right – they are taking up a LOT of summertime growing space. I have to constantly do a cost/benefit analysis of the items in our limited garden space. Letting this chard go to seed means we will have plenty of seed for successive years. That seed will feed us well and ideally for a longer period of time since we have selected for plants that showed the most resilience in the cold. But for now, that chard is taking up the space that my tomatoes would be occupying. It is a constant assessment and reassessment game. Delicious fresh greens in the fall and winter means that many fewer quarts of ruby tomatoes for this year.

For the most part I think I am reconciled to mostly just saving seed for annual plants. Those plants that take 2 years to produce seed simply don’t pay back enough for the space they occupy on our little eighth of an acre.  All of this garden economic theory aside, I do get a simple joy out of watching the full life cycle of these plants. So many of our crops we harvest and consume without a thought to what they may look like at the peak of thier maturity. Sometimes it becomes an entirely different animal alltogether…

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Got Pie?

June 24th, 2009 · No Comments

Despite my promise to post more frequently I’ve failed. You see, I’ve been busy making pie. In fact, the whole household got wrapped up in the pie making for a day or two. You can see Gary’s documentation and newly developed (soon to be patented) pie holder for all this pie here. These pies above are all rhubarb-blackberry pies, made for my cousin’s graduation party from our own backyard rhubarb and blackberries that we picked last fall. Gary was charged with delivery of the pies (since I was going to be at my permaculture class and arriving late to the party) and took his job very seriously.

Eleven pies in total were made, in addition to an asparagus, provolone and egg tart for the permaculture class. (God, the food we eat every class! It has evolved into a full blown potluck each day and I can’t even fully convey the deliciousness that is laid out on the table each morning. There is something to having a potluck with a bunch of gardeners I tell ya). I spent most of Friday cooking, and Gary spent the day making pie racks – what a team, eh?

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New Neighbors

June 23rd, 2009 · 17 Comments

Gary made this sweet little birdhouse a few years ago from our old fence boards. The first year we set it close to the patio and a pair of chicadees moved in and set up house. We watched thier comings and goings all spring until one day we woke up to a massacre. Nin had decimated the chicks as they tried out thier wings for the first time. (No need to lecture me about the impact of domestic cats on wild bird populations, I struggle with it already. She is the only real hunter of the three cats, and even then she is pretty half-assed about it).

After the slaughter we moved the birdhouse up along the fence and further out of her ‘goatpath’. Bad news travels fast and no birds have set up a home since that summer. Just the other day, I noticed a bunch of winged activity around the entrance, but it was not of the feathered variety. It appears that bumblebees have taken over the birdhouse and now have a nest going. Perfect!

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Hot in the city…

June 4th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Unseasonably warm weather has our fair city projected to hit 90 degrees this afternoon. Thats right, 90 degrees, in the first week of June. The last 3 weeks have been noting short of remarkable in the heights of temperature reached and lack of precipitation. After whining all winter, I was more than happy to don shorts and a tank top and glory in the warmth, but now I am beginning to worry that the garden isn’t getting that good dose of rain we usually get in May/June to take it through the reliably dry months of July-September.

The warmth has pushed my Oregon Trail Shelling Peas into an abundance of blooms within a matter of days. Likely a good thing as I didn’t set up an appropriate trellising system for them this year, and last year’s cold spring had them growing to heights of almost 6 feet before setting a single flower. This year’s heat promises to keep them at a more manageable height while still promising a harvest.

The Mr. Big peas have already set pods (a 60 day vs. 100 day variety) and boy are they tasty (and short!). Dahl the chicken has gone broody again. This is the second time this year. I am contemplating either finding some fertilized eggs for her this time, or perhaps picking up a chick from the feed store for her to mother. She might as well make herself useful if she is just going to sit on her butt (belly?) all day. Mother Earth had an article this month in which the author had (successfully) experimented with setting a bunch of cornish cross (meat) chicks under a broody laying hen, and let the hen raise the meat birds instead of fussing with a brood box and separating the birds. It’s got me thinking with the red hen just sitting there….

We are scheduled to head up to Laura’s this weekend to help in the processing of the 79 meat chickens she has been raising for our household, her own freezer and several other local families.   Thankfully the forecast has adjusted down to the 70’s for Saturday.

Gary and my father weren’t so lucky with the weather earlier this week. My dad came over to go through the bee box with us and do the weekly check. I was more than happy to pass off the responsibility to him and Gary, letting them crawl into the hot monkey suits on an 88 degree day. The bees continue to be incredibly docile, further making me wish I had just bought a veil instead of the full getup. They are thriving in this heat and put on a daily show for us.

I think I am off my little mini-vacation from blogging now, and have more stories to tell at some point. The next few months have incredibly filled up with various engagements, celebrations and appointments so I suspect I won’t be nearly as regular in posting as when nothing is going on. It feels good though, I love this time of year and things are happening!

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A commencement speech for the planet

May 28th, 2009 · 1 Comment

“Hey, Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating…”

Go here to read the entire text of Paul Hawkens address to the University of Portland.

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