Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Twelve Days of a Peter Creek Farm Christmas

Since we are 9 days away from Christmas, this is the perfect time to bring you the 12 days of a Peters Creek Farm Christmas.   Yes, perfect timing for someone who is the ultimate Christmas procrastinator.  I have been known to do my Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve although I do believe that I may do most of my shopping tomorrow while saving just a little bit for next week.  Heck, Christmas cards will have to wait until next week too as weekend plans are full.  I do have the Christmas tree up and decorated though.  It was actually put up early last week.  Some kind of record for sure.

As the year draws to a close and the snow covers the ground, we surely wish all our family, friends and customers a safe and joyous holiday season.  So without further ado, we bring you the 12 days of a Peters Creek Farm Christmas.

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me......
12 winter coats.........  (just a sampling on the hall tree in the dining room.  Really, we have one whole closet in a spare bedroom full of coats.  How do two people collect so many coats?)
11 antler sheds ..........   (probably more than 11 in this basket.  It's possible to collect a lot of sheds when you live on a farm for 14 years.  To this day, I still think antler sheds are one of the coolest things to find in the woods.)
10 frozen squirrels.........  (yes, we really do have 10 squirrels dressed out and wrapped and in the freezer.  I counted them.  Strange but true facts.)
9 pairs of boots........  (here they are.  You can count them.  Only slightly behind the winter coats.  There are summer hiking boots, winter hiking boots, rubber hunting boots, rubber barn boots.  Ok you get the picture.)
8 barn cats .........   (do you know how hard it is to line up 8 cats?  You get a picture of 2 of them.  And how the heck did we end up with 8 cats anyway?  I remember when we had 2 cats.  10 years ago.  Yes, they are all "fixed", vaccinated and treated for fleas every month.  They are owned by a veterinarian after all.)

7 red tractors .........  (yes 7, if you count the little Wheel Horse lawn tractor that I use to haul chicken feed and the riding lawn mower.  And yes, they are all red.  And yes, all except 3 of them are buried in snow right now.)
6 peach trees ..........  (did you expect more of a tree instead of a twig?  It is winter after all.  And we just planted these trees last year.  Time will tell if all 6 make it through the winter.  A couple were looking kind of iffy in the fall.  Spring will let us know if they live or not.  I love the animal tracks in the picture.  It was pitch black when I took the photo and I had no idea the tracks were there.  Heck, I couldn't even see the tree in the dark.  I don't know what made the tracks.  Maybe cat since the tracks are small and we do have 8 of them running around the place.)

5 kinds of corn ......... (well, this wasn't one of them.  heehee!  Just a free sample of seed that Mike got at the recent fruit and vegetable growers convention in Grand Rapids, MI.  But he really did grow 5 different varieties of sweet corn last year so it fits in the song.)
4 laying hens .......   (sigh.  So weird only having 4 chickens right now, but here they are.  Come spring though, there will be new chicks on the farm.  Stay tuned.)
3 deer heads .........  (again, hard to take a picture of all three because they are on various walls of the living room.  But happy to report that all three are sporting Santa hats this year.  I had to go out and buy one for the newest deer mount.  Ok, just trying to keep things festive in the living room.)
2 beagle dogs ..........  (awwwwwwwwwwww!  Aren't they cute sleeping side by side.  I love these little hounds.)
And a brittany dumb as can be ..................  (fits the song and the dog.  Don't worry, I love Molly too.  Let's just say she is really good for comic relief.  Although a summer picture, I think this really brings out her dumb look the best.)
The End

Monday, December 13, 2010

Snow storms, chili and chocolate raspberry cream cheese pie

I took full advantage of a snowy nowhere-to-go day.  Last week was nothing but go go go.  Got the house decorated for Christmas and cleaned up for company last week.  Went to a live music show in Pittsburgh one night and to my office Christmas party another.  Woke up yesterday morning with a sore throat and a head cold.  So I declared today "do nothing and rest day".  Feeling much better now.  But the wind is howling outside and the snow is flying.  The picture is the view out the front window looking across the street at our mailbox.  Even the mailman must have thought the weather was awful outside as we didn't get any mail today and we ALWAYS get mail.

After I caught up on some much needed sleep, I decided a pot of chili was in order.  I really like white bean chili so I read a few recipes, found one that sounded like a good base recipe and then as usual I changed most of it.  I had 2 cup portions of cooked squirrel meat all ready to go in the freezer, but shredded or cubed chicken would work just as well.

White Bean Squirrel Chili

1/2 cup diced sweet onion
1/2 cup diced green pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil

1 can Cannellini beans drained
1 can black beans drained
1 can corn undrained (I used a pint of frozen homegrown sweet corn with the liquid)
1 can diced tomatoes undrained
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder (could use fresh garlic and saute with the onions and peppers, but I didn't have any)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups shredded cooked squirrel meat

1 1/2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese

Saute the onions and green peppers in the olive oil until crisp tender.  In a crockpot, stir together the beans, corn, tomatoes, spices, meat, chicken broth, onions and green pepper.  Cook on high 3-4 hours or until hot and bubbly.  Add cheese right before serving.  Still until the cheese is melted.  Serve in bowls.  Add a spoonful of sour cream if desired.  I served this with a loaf of beer bread, but of course any bread or biscuits would do.

For dessert I made a chocolate raspberry cream cheese pie.  I had made this recipe before, but I couldn't find it so I just winged it.  Figured I would write it down here so I could find it later when I needed it.

Chocolate Raspberry Cream Cheese Pie

1 prepared chocolate graham cracker crust
1   8 oz. pack of cream cheese
1/3 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of seedless raspberry preserves
1 cup of melted semi sweet chocolate chips
1   8 oz tub of frozen whipped topping thawed

Beat together cream cheese and sugar into smooth.  Then beat in the raspberry preserves.  Then the melted chocolate chips.  And finally the the whipped topping.  Spread into the prepared graham cracker crust and chill in the refrigerator for a couple hours.  In the summer, I usually garnish this with fresh raspberries.  Today though was all about making a simple dessert.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The transition to winter

One of the goals I had when I started to write this blog was to chronicle the changes that happen from season to season.  Something that I could look back on and remember things like when was the first snowfall of the season, when did I see migrating swans for the first time in the fall or when did I hear the first turkey gobble in the spring.  I was pretty good about keeping up with the changes in the garden over the summer, but the rest has gone by the wayside.  I guess a busy life is the only thing I have to blame.

I suppose what triggered all this was that I shut off the water to the barn today and drained the water line.  December 2nd seems late to be doing that, but since I've never kept track of such things, I guess I really don't know.  I do know that we have only had a few inches of snow a couple times which is highly unusual for us.  All it is going to take though is a simple shift of the wind.  As I type this, Buffalo, NY is working on their third foot of snow in the past day.  If the winds across Lake Erie shifted just a bit, that could be here.  It will be here.  It's just not here yet.

Mike has been busy with winter projects.  He is continuing to do research to put up a second high tunnel in order to be able to start some plants early and continue later in the season.  He really needs a front end loader and has been doing a lot of shopping around to get the best deal he can.  Next week is the vegetable growers convention in Grand Rapids, MI and Mike will be attending that show once again.  More seed catalogs have been showing up in the mail.  There is lots to do in the winter.  It just does not need done with the same urgency that seems to go along with summer jobs.

The picture above is one I took while out in our woods yesterday.  Two days ago we got a boat load of rain and then overnight it turned to snow.  Our land is pancake flat and our soils are poorly drained.  The woods were covered in standing water.  I often think about the ground dwelling animals at times like this.  It must be quite the hardship for the rabbits and the groundhogs and such.  There are small havens of higher drier ground scattered about.  I wonder if they all gather together and tolerate each others presence during such tough times.

I did see a good sized flock of turkeys while I was out.  I had been seeing hen/poult groups of around 10-12 birds, but this flock was larger.  I wasn't in a position to get a good count though, but I'll bet the smaller hen/poult flocks are starting to come together to make the larger winter flock that will stay together until breeding season starts in the spring.

This week is deer gun season in Ohio and Mike and I have been out a little bit trying to refill our venison supply that was lost during our the death of our chest freezer this past summer.  Deer sightings have been few and far between though.  The fall of 2010 has been marked by one of the best mast crops in recent memory.  It has really changed where and when deer are feeding and moving.  Good for them and really for all the critters that feed on acorns and other nuts. 

And about the swans...... well it was two weekends ago that I first started to see the large flocks migrating.  There is something so beautifully distinctive about hearing a flock of swans approaching from a distance and getting closer and closer until the sky above is graced with large silver white wings.  This is nature telling us that winter is here. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rabbit dogs and easy baked rabbit

30 years ago, I would have never thought I would come to love beagles so much.  I have always loved dogs and I have always been particularly fascinated by working dogs.  And it is not just one kind of working dog that I love to watch, but everything from the Alaskan huskies that run the Iditarod to the seeing eye dogs for the blind to the border collies that herd sheep.  The beagles entered my life thanks to my husband Mike.  Mike grew up on a farm in southern Ohio and as is typical for life on the farm, sons grew up hunting with their dads.  Mike always talked about a beagle that he had as a kid and how they enjoyed rabbit hunting on the farm.  So maybe 15 years ago, I bought him a beagle from champion field stock and Mike and I would take him out on the farm and hunt rabbits.  That is when I really started to become fascinated with these small hounds.  I find it totally amazing that through selective breeding man has bred a dog that will smell a very particular smell and bark at it and trail it.  While rabbit dogs do need training to listen to commands, they need no training to bark at the smell of a rabbit running on the ground.  Amazing.

That first beagle is long gone and now we have two beagles.  One is an older female named Gabby.  I picked her up at the local animal shelter about 3 years ago.  I really just wanted her as a pet, but the fact that she will hunt rabbits is a plus.  Our second beagle is a year old male named Buddy.  Earlier this year, we got Buddy from a friend of Mike's brother Mark.  I spent the summer letting the beagles run rabbits in the weedy creek bottom behind the house in order to get them ready for rabbit season.  I love just sitting back and listening to the hounds work.  It is so important that working breeds of dogs get to do what they were bred to do or if that is not possible, then they need to do something of equal importance.  I am digressing here a bit, but dealing with poorly behaved dogs every day, the number one reason that dogs get in trouble is they have way too much energy and they get way too little exercise.  And no, letting them roam by themselves in the fenced in backyard is not exercise for a highly energetic working breed of dog.

I've talked before about the importance of knowing where your food comes from.  Of course, since I raise chickens, we always have plenty of chicken in the freezer.  But we also eat a lot of wild game that comes from the farm.  Everything from deer to wild turkey to rabbit to squirrel gets eaten in our house.  Wild game is a nice healthy lean source of protein that is plentiful and doesn't require animals being raised in a large confinement facility.  Hunting also get me outdoors (which I love) and gives me a sense of being connected to nature.

But this blog is supposed to be about rabbits.  I baked a rabbit a couple days ago that probably was the best rabbit I have ever made.  The best part is that I did not follow a specific recipe, but instead, I just threw some ingredients together that I thought sounded good.  I must admit that I was looking for a way to prepare this rabbit that was easy so I did use a jar of prepared gravy from the store.  This is kind of cheating in a way, but it sure was tasty and made my life simpler.  I was so busy this past weekend that dinner prep needed to be quick and easy.  The other thing I did with this rabbit that was totally new to me was to slow cook it in the oven instead of the crock pot.  This worked very very well.

So here is my recipe for Easy Baked Rabbit:

1 rabbit cut into serving pieces
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 thick slice of onion cut into large pieces
2 slices of maple bacon
1/2 jar of prepared beef gravy

Put the rabbit pieces in a plastic bag with the flour and shake to coat.  Transfer the rabbit pieces to an oven cooking bag and arrange in one layer.  Sprinkle the garlic powder, salt and pepper over the rabbit pieces.  Put the onion pieces over top the rabbit next.  Then lay the strips of bacon over the rabbit.  Pour the 1/2 jar of gravy over the rabbit pieces.  Seal the oven cooking bag and baked in a preheated oven at 250 degrees for around 5 hours until the meat is falling off the bone.  Remove the rabbit pieces from the bag and pull all the meat off the bones.  Scoop out the gravy, onion and bacon from the cooking bag and mixed with the deboned rabbit meat. 

This works well served over rice.  I had made some brown rice, cauliflower and cheese casserole using a green cauliflower from our garden so I served that along side the rabbit.  It sure was very tasty!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sustainable Agriculture

Playing a little catch up here today.  First, today was the first Countryside Conservency winter market at its new location at Old Trail School.  Mike said it was very well attended and they had a good day.  The cold tolerant crops in the garden are still doing well so we had beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower to take the market.  Steve had a lot of winter squash, broccoli, potatoes and popcorn among other things.  It is very nice to see the winter market well attended.  Mike will probably be missing most of the markets as soon as the ground freezes, but so far that hasn't happened yet.  We still have some wheat flour and that will probably go to some of the winter markets and perhaps to a couple people who run wintertime CSA programs.

I spent most of the day catching up and doing chores around the house.  Finally had time to make a loaf of bread.  Making bread is definitely a wintertime activity for me.  Summer is usually way too busy.  Plus with Mike going to market every weekend, he is able to purchase bread from one of the vendor's at the market every week.  Of course, I forgot that Mike buys a loaf at market even though he has bought a loaf every single week all summer long.  So now we have two loaves of homemade bread sitting on the counter. Still, it was nice to have the smell of fresh baked bread coming from the kitchen today.

Last month, Mike wrote a blog posting about sustainable agriculture.  Well, I am finally getting around to posting it along with some pictures he (and I) took over the last couple months. Take it away Mike ...........

The license plate on my pickup truck is one of the special plates one can purchase from the BMV that cost extra. The extra money goes towards a state program that supports the driver’s pet cause. Mine supports sustainable agriculture. I would think all people in Northeast Ohio would support sustainable agriculture. Who has not seen a picture of slash and burn farming in the rainforest and cringed? But what is sustainable agriculture and what are some of the things we do to sustain our farm?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines sustainable agriculture as farming that:

1. satisfies human food and fiber needs;

2. enhances environmental quality;

3. makes the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources;

4. integrates natural biological cycles when appropriate;

5. sustains the economic viability of farms and

6. enhances the quality of life for farmers and society.

I recently planted cover crop on some fields where I had early crops planted. Cover crops are often called “green manures” for their use in improving soil quality. They can be used to add organic material to the soil, add nitrogen to the soil in the case of legume cover crops, improve soil microbe activity, nutrient recycling, soil aeration, weed and pest suppression and erosion control. I planted a mixture of hairy vetch, tillage radishes, rye grass and crimson clover. All add organic material, the vetch and clover will add nitrogen and the radishes have very deep roots to loosen any soil compaction. These will tolerate the cold and be incorporated into the soil next spring. Taking care of our soil is just one of the things we do to practice sustainable agriculture.

Here's Mike disking up the area of the garden where cover crop will be planted.  I must have taken this while out walking the dogs around the pasture because Mike and his tractor look so far away.

After preparing the soil, Bill came over and planted the cover crop.

Closer view of the grain drill

And a few week later, tiny little plants popping up in rows

Here's the wider view of the cover crop coming up

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pumpkin Puree

We've had our first killing frost the first of November.  That is so incredibly late for us.  Most of the plants in the garden have died, but it takes more than a measly little frost to kill the cold tolerant plants.  We are still picking beets, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, , celery and cabbage to sell.  Plus there are small amounts of things like broccoli and celery root that Mike and I can eat ourselves.  The Peninsula market is done, but the Shaker market is still going so we still have an outlet for our produce.  In addition we have a wholesale order this week for 150 bunches of beets and 150 heads of cauliflower.  Pretty sweet!

Some of you heard about the great pumpkin disaster last week.  Kay from Covered Bridge Gardens gave Mike an heirloom variety of pumpkin for me to turn into pumpkin puree to use for pies and such.  Mike got the pumpkin on a Monday, but it had to sit on the counter all week until I could find time to mess with it.  Mike was sitting in his recliner and I handed him the pumpkin so I could take a picture of it.  Neither of us realized that the pumpkin had rotted inside and while Mike was holding it, the pumpkin burst spilling all the seeds and rotten liquid all over his lap.  In hindsight, I guess I should have still taken the picture.  Instead I made him sit there covered in goo until I could clean most of the mess before any more of it dripped down into the inner workings of the recliner.  Yeah, that was fun.

So a couple days ago, Mike came home with pumpkin #2. These heirloom pumpkins are really cool looking and way bigger than a normal pie pumpkin. The pumpkin looks good in this picture, but I am thinking that a certain farmer really needs a new shirt for Christmas this year.  But on to the pumpkin puree.  It is VERY simple to make homemade pumpkin puree.  A little time and love for good homemade food is all it takes.  Oh and a pumpkin that isn't rotten in the middle.

First I cut out the stem and cut the pumpkin in half.

Next, clean out all the seeds and fibery strands of goo (that is the technical term you know).

Put the pumpkin cut side down on a baking sheet lined with foil and sprayed with just a little cooking spray.  Bake in a 350 degree oven.
Cooked it until the pumpkin was soft.  I read one recipe for homemade puree that said cook for 45 minutes.  Are you kidding me?  A baked potato takes longer than that in a 350 degree oven.  This was a big pumpkin.  It took 2 hours to bake.  Last night was a work night and the pumpkin finished baking kind of late as in after 9pm which is after my bed time.  So I just set the pumpkin on the stove top and came back to the next step this morning.

The next step was to cut the rind away from the flesh.  I put all the soft baked flesh into a big mixing bowl and used an electric mixer to whip it into a smooth puree.  A food processor would work too, but the beaters on the mixer are easier to clean I think.  Then I lined a colander with coffee filters and put the puree in the colander over a large mixing bowl.  There is a lot of water in the pumpkin flesh that needs to be drained off.  I just left this set in the refrigerator all day and when I got home from work, it was ready to pack and freeze.  Unfortunately I am out of freezer containers, so off to the store tomorrow and I will finish tomorrow.  I pack the puree into 2 cup portions.  This is the right amount for one pie or two pumpkin rolls. We will be enjoying pumpkin baked goods all winter long.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

W(h)ine and cheese

This is the part of blogging that is totally self-indulgent.  Probably a bore to the reader, but very cathartic for the writer.  Tuesdays are my late day at the clinic.  Sometimes I get out by 6pm, but often it is later.  Today I had the extra pleasure of having to run to the grocery store after work.  A short trip, but still it had me getting home at around 7:45pm.  After being gone for 11-12 hours, the first thing I want to do when I get home is sit.  Oh sitting sounds so good.  But I know me and I know if I sit, I am done for the evening.  Animals come first.  Every Tuesday it is the same.  I come home and inside my head is this incredibly whiny voice that is complaining about having to do evening chores.  It is funny how I struggle with this every Tuesday.  Seems as though being tired = being whiny inside my brain.  In the summer it is a little easier because it is warm and light outside.  But today, it was chilly and rainy and dark.  But I went outside to feed and water the chickens because I have to.  Because they can't take care of themselves.  Doing the chores in the morning is way more distasteful to me then just getting them done in the evening.  My brain says "just get it done".

And every Tuesday it is the same.  I get home from work.  I want to sit. But I go out to do chores.  And when I get into the chicken pen and it is dark and quiet, I hear this quiet cooing from the roost.  It is one of the most beautiful of all sounds.  It is the sound of contentment.  To know that the animals you care for are content is a beautiful feeling.  My soul is healed and the whining is gone.

So to celebrate my incredibly whiny voice that was mellowed out by the simple purring of chickens on the roost, I decided to open a bottle of wine to have with my 8:30pm dinner.  River Rouge from Chalet Debonne winery.  Here's a trivia question for you: how many wineries are  there in Ashtabula County?  There are 17.  Or least according the web page.  All along the south shore of Lakes Erie and Ontario is winery country.  It's not like California wine.  But whenever possible, I like to support the local wineries.  I just don't advertise it much because even though I love a glass of wine with dinner, I am no wine connoisseur.  Tonight's pairing with the wine was leftover chicken taco burgers with pepper jack cheese.  They were entirely homemade chicken taco burgers starting with butchering my own chicken, but for some reason that pairing just seems odd.  It works for me though and in the end, that is what counts.

Monday, October 25, 2010

And the growing season goes on.... and on...... and on......

As October draws to an end, it is hard to believe we have not had a killing frost yet.  Average for this area is the first week of October and some years, we have one in late September.  Many of our farmer friends in counties south of us have had one, two or even three killing frosts.  Of course, only the first one counts.  We have had a couple of close calls, but yet the growing season goes on.  We are not complaining.  Just amused.

Today Ed picked a goodly amount of green bell peppers and hot peppers and Mike took them to the produce auction in Middlefield.  This is the last week of the auction with Friday being the last auction of the season.  We still have lots of cabbage and cauliflower coming on too.  Just amazing.  We even picked some of the last picking of green beans last week.  The sales at the farmer's markets have been way over the comparable weeks from last year because we have so much more produce to sell.

I have actually taken the last 6 days off of work at the clinic just because.  I have had a lot of play time in the woods, but I've done a few barn chores such as getting new plastic up on some of the old broken windows on our old bank barn and cleaning out the culvert drain in the ditch in front of the barns.  Sounds like fun!  I still need to butcher the last 8 laying hens which I should have done this past weekend while the weather was so nice, but that was just not a job I could bring myself to do while on vacation.  In my final vacation evening, I took the beagles out for a spin.  They had fun tracking a rabbit round and round the woods until I had to put an end to their fun and call them in for supper. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

And then there were eight

The final eight laying hens.  The pens look so empty with just eight hens.  Normally I keep about 35-40 hens in this barn.  Last Sunday, I butchered another group consisting of 8 hens and 1 rooster.  Instead of keeping these birds whole, I deboned all the thigh, leg and breast meat and stored it in the refrigerator until I had more time to work on it, which turned out to be today. 

Today's project was to get all the meat run through the grinder and then packaged into either 1 lb. packages of ground chicken or into packages of four 1/4 lb. chicken burgers.  Funny how colorful the ground chicken meat is with both white and dark meat all mixed together.  The leg and thigh meat of those old hens is particularly dark in color especially compared to the 9 week old meat chickens.

I love having these pre-made patties to throw on the grill at a moment's notice.  They only have to thaw enough to separate which isn't very much since I pack them with wax paper in between the patties.  These make such a nice healthy burger and it's a good way to use the meat from those old hens.  I believe I put 7 packages of chicken burger in the freezer today.  I had a pound and a half left over that I made into chicken taco burgers and cooked them on the grill tonight for dinner.  Mike told me tonight he really likes these chicken taco burgers.  Thanks honey!

The other part of dinner was some homemade cream of veggies soup.  Mike had brought some celery root up from the garden a couple days ago.  I have never ever made anything with celery root before and since it is soup season, I thought soup seemed appropriate.  I very loosely followed this Food Network recipe for Cream of Celery Root Soup.  I cut up four approximately 1/2 lb. celery roots although after peeling, I'm sure there was a bit less.  I also had 6 small leftover potatoes from our garden that I wanted to use up. so I cut those up too.  The potatoes are on the left in the picture and the celery root is on the right.

Then some celery, onion and garlic.  I only had one quart of homemade chicken broth in the freezer so that is all I used.  I did use the amount of celery salt called for, but did not have any white wine so I left that out.  I cooked the cut up vegetables in the broth in the crockpot on low all day. 

When cooked, I ran the veggies through the food processor, added them back to the broth, added the cream and turned the crockpot on high for about 30-40 minutes.  It tasted pretty darn good, but both Mike and I decided it needed more salt and we are not big salt users.  The final amount of soup was probably more than in the recipe due to the extra potatoes and extra celery I added so needing a little more salt would make sense.  Perhaps if I had used regular salt rather than celery salt, that would have been enough.

While I was inside cooking and staying warm, Mike continued picking and boxing produce for today's Fresh Fork order.  Yes, we are still picking.  We have just barely avoided two frosts in the last couple weeks.  Lots of other farms that sell at the farmer's markets we go to have got hit by the frost, but not us.  Yet.  Only a matter of time, but we will count our blessings that we are still able to pick produce this late into October.  Today's order was 140 lbs. of Brussels sprouts, 180ish turnips, 280ish celery roots, 20 heads of red cabbage and 20 bunches of golden beets.  The garage served as temporary storage until Trevor showed up with the truck.  Nothing like loading the truck in 45 degrees and rain.  Such is October in northeast Ohio.  Tomorrow the weather should be more of the same.  Mike and Ed get to pick for Saturday's market.  Have fun fellas! 

As a side note, I can hear ice pellets hitting the window as I sit here and type this blog.  Won't be long until the "s" word creeps into the forecast.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Kicking off soup season

Definitely one of those days that I was thankful to be working inside at the clinic.  I got home from work and Mike was sitting in his easy chair with a big mug of hot tea and told me he had changed clothes three times during the day.  Picking produce most of the day in 55 degrees and rain is not pleasant.  But the show must go on.  Nice order to Fresh Fork this week.  Golden beets, cucumbers, green cauliflower, Swiss chard, and summer squash. 

I was a little luckier doing evening chores outside and came through without having to change my clothes even once.  Then I decided to walk the two beagles back to the garden and pick some broccoli to steam for dinner.  I almost made it to the culvert over the creek behind the house when a loud clap of thunder sounded off.  Oh boy!  Nothing like heading back to a wide open field with a thundershower looming overhead.  But the dinner show must go on too and I needed broccoli so I quickened my pace, picked some broccoli without hesitation and back to the house.  Just a bit more interesting than shopping for broccoli at the grocery store.

The other part of dinner was some homemade chicken and noodle soup.  This is a very easy process, but it is spread out over several days.  Ok, maybe the VERY first part is not that easy.  Well actually it is easy once you have done it a few times, but you have to have a live old laying hen on hand.  Most will probably just purchase an already butchered chicken at the store.  Monday I started butchering my old laying hens.  I let them lay for three lay cycles (approximately 3 years) and then butcher them and replace them with younger hens.  So Monday I butchered a hen (actually 9 of them, but it only takes one to make soup).  Tuesday was my long day at work so the chicken just sat in the refrigerator waiting.  Wednesday I put the chicken in the crockpot with veggies and seasoning and covered with water.  Cooked it all day.  Removed the chicken and deboned it.  Poured the homemade chicken stock into a large pot and put into the refrigerator.  Today,Thursday, I took the pot of stock out of the fridge, skimmed off fat and then strained the stock through some cheesecloth to take out all the dirty looking particles left behind from cooking the chicken.  Brought the pot of stock to a boil.  Added noodles of choice to cook.  Added cut up deboned chicken into the pot of cooked noodles and stock and presto!  Homemade chicken noodle soup.  Mike said having hot soup for dinner was perfect after spending the day outside in the cold rain.  Soup and chili season has officially begun.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

That was a close one

Has it actually been 9 days since I have written in my blog???  Holy freakin' cow!!!  Well, all I can say in my defense is that first me and then Mike, picked up the cold virus flavor of the month.  I've been totally wiped out and just trying to hang on to everything that needs to be done at both the clinic and at home.  All is better now though and we are both feeling our old selves again.  Maybe I should say our middle aged selves.

This is the time of year that us farmer's watch the forecast like hawks.  One day we are picking produce and the next day the growing season is done.  Literally.  Our first frost warning was last night.  At 9pm it was 40 degrees, the sky was crystal clear filled with stars and there was not a breath of wind to be had.  You could just feel the cold bite to the air.  When I got up at 5:30am, I took the dogs out for a walk and went back to check the thermometer on the maple tree behind the house.  32 degrees.  There was ice on the windshields of our vehicles.  Right before sunrise as the first light is breaking, that is when the temperature often drops to its lowest point.  We were both wondering what was happening in the garden.  Fingers crossed that the black plastic that is underneath most of the plants would hold some heat.

This is how the back yard looked when I left for work.  The sun had been up an hour so there was only frost in the grass in the low spot down by the creek.  The hillside in the sun was free of frost.  Had it melted?  Or did the frost not touch the higher ground?  Well what do you know? The garden looks pretty much unscathed.  Just a little bit of frost nip on a few of the peppers and a few of the eggplant, but the rest looks very much unharmed.  Whew!  Next chance for frost is looking like this coming Saturday night.  Actually this is quite good for us because our average first frost date is the first week of October.  Every day that goes by without frost is a blessing.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Eat Local Challenge Day 3

Well fall is surely here.  The weather theme for the past 3 days was cool and wet.  It's not so bad when cool and wet fall on days I have to work, but it is down right annoying when they fall on my 3 day weekend.  There was a brief break this morning so I spent about 3 hours hiking around the Dorset Wildlife Area near our house.  Exploring these woods is something I have wanted to do for some time and since the wet made outdoor chores like lawn mowing impossible, I decided to grab the opportunity to go for a walk.  When I got back to the house, the rain started up again and so I did the next best thing which is to start making food.  We were almost out of cookies so a batch of chocolate chip cookies came first.

Then batch number two of apples from the farmer's market went into the crockpot to make applesauce.  These were Jonagold apples this time, a much firmer variety than the McIntosh.  They went through the peeler, corer, slicer contraption in record time.  I love when things work like they should!  Even the finished product looked better than the first batch. 

Next dinner and the eat local challenge meal.  Once again, not 100% perfect, but pretty close.  Mike took some bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, hot and semi hot peppers over to the Middlefield Produce Auction this afternoon and when he got home it was getting dark.  And raining.  So I sent him out to the garden to get some sweet corn and bell peppers for dinner.  What a good sport!  One dozen ears of sweet corn were picked, husked, kernels cut off the cob and put into a pan to make a new recipe from the Southern Ground Cookbook called "Heavenly Creamed Corn".  Then I cut up a couple boneless skinless chicken breasts from the chickens we butchered last weekend.  Stir fried the chicken and set aside.  Then I stir fried the red, yellow and green bell peppers that Mike had picked.  Added the chicken back in along with some pineapple and sweet & sour sauce.  Served the stir fry over some brown rice.  Dessert was apple crisp made with apples from the local farmer's market.  Mike said that even though the rice wasn't local, it was wet enough outside that it looked like we could grow rice.  Sounds good to me.

Tomorrow's eat local challenge might be a challenge.  We have some leftovers that have to be eaten tomorrow, but it does include some potatoes from our farm.  I wanted to make some homemade wheat wraps for my sandwich tomorrow, but with the cookies and the applesauce and the creamed corn and the stir fry, well for some reason I just didn't get it done.  I'll see what I can come up with when I wake up and start fussing around the kitchen tomorrow.  No need to be too prepared.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Eat Local Challenge October 2-8

The Ohio Department of Agriculture is sponsoring the "Eat Local Challenge" this week.  It started yesterday and runs through October 8th.  The goal of the challenge is to  "plan and prepare one meal every day using foods that are made, grown or raised in Ohio".  Being generally out of the news loop as usual, I just found out about the challenge in the middle of last week.  No matter, I decided to jump right in and take the challenge.  So here I am on day 2 and having mixed results.

Yesterday I had plans to go to a dinner to benefit the local humane society so I decided to choose breakfast as my challenge meal.  I did pretty good, but not 100%.  I made an egg sandwich using one egg from our own hens.  The cheese and the bread were both purchased at the Howe Meadow Farmer's Market in Peninsula, OH.  The orange juice I had was sadly not from Ohio.  If I had time to think ahead, I should have gone out to one of our local orchards and bought some apple cider.  So not too bad, but not perfect.

So day 1 of the challenge got me to thinking a lot about where our food comes from.  I have decided that it is going to be nearly impossible for me to make a complete meal just from Ohio products.  Oh I could do it I suppose, but the meal would be pretty bland.  Back in the summer, I had a source of fresh herbs and since I didn't know about the challenge then, I made no preparations to dry herbs for later use.  So if I made a meal today, I could not use any herbs, spices, salt, pepper, etc.  How about baking powder or baking soda that I use for my baked goods?  Nope, couldn't use any of that.  It would be a very basic meal using just local products.  I couldn't use my normal olive oil for stir fry.  And while there are some Ohio companies that make their own chocolate, I would waste a whole lot of gas to buy some.  But I guess when it comes down to it, all this thinking is the point of the challenge.  It makes you really appreciated the food system we have in place. 

Back to the challenge.  Day 2 was a mixed results day.  I did not prepare one meal with local food, but instead had at least one or two items each meal that were locally grown or made.  For breakfast, the eggs came from our farm and Mike made toast with bread from the farmer's market.  For lunch, I had a BBQ squirrel wrap sandwich (ok weird, I admit, but true and tasty) with squirrel from our farm.  I also had some watermelon from our garden.  Mike made a toasted cheese sandwich with farmer's market bread.  For dinner, we ate fried chicken made with chicken from our farm, the salad had tomatoes and cucumbers from our garden and farmer's market cheese.  The milk I drank came from United Dairy which is an Ohio company I am pretty sure.  Homemade chocolate chip cookies for dessert.  I'm not really sure though if homemade cookies count though as the only ingredient that was local were the eggs.  Everything else came from the grocery store.  Although I if had purchased homemade cookies from a baker at the farmer's market that would count.  So I am going to count my own.  *grin*  Overall, not bad, but I could have done much better.

Depending on how my day goes tomorrow, I may take a drive through the county and see what goodies I can find to add to the challenge. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Monday apples

It is late September and it is apple season!  Two weeks ago I bought a couple peck bags of McIntosh apples from a local grower that sells at the farmer's market in town.  Monday was my day off of work and my day to put the apples to good use.  One of the things that Mike LOVES is home made applesauce.  I usually use free apples from our own wild growing apple trees, but this year we had a late freeze that killed all the blossoms.  Oh well.  That just gives my business to a local farmer.  Apple sauce is one of my favorite things to make because it is so easy.  Normally the task is made so much simpler by the good ol' apple peeler/corer/slicer.  It is a wonderful tool that no apple lover should be without.  Unfortunately, I forgot how soft McIntosh apples are especially after they sit for two weeks in the house.  They would not peel cleanly at all without gumming up the peeler.  I even tried to put them in the freezer for a bit to firm them up.  No luck.  So I peeled them by hand and then ran them through the corer/slicer.  It still was about twice as fast as doing everything by hand.  I love that little contraption.

After slicing, I just load everything into my slow cooker which holds about 20 cups of sliced apples.  Add 1 1/2 cups of sugar, 1 1/2 tsp of cinnamon and 1/2 cup of water.  Cook on low all day long.  Stir.  Pack into pint freezer containers and off to the freezer so we can enjoy fresh apple sauce all winter long.  That 20 cups of apples cooked down to 5 pint containers.  Not a lot, but it is so easy to do that I don't mind doing a second batch when I get some more apples.  I will probably pick a firmer variety next time so I can run them through the peeler too.  I have used so many different varieties of apples to make apple sauce that I cannot remember them all.  They all seem to work just fine.  Maybe I'm just not picky.

I had 7 apples left over after filling the slow cooker so what to do?  Make apple crisp!  I used a new recipe I found that uses real maple syrup as the sweetener.  Boy was it ever an easy recipe to put together and it tastes great.  I found it on the web site and it is called Maple Apple Crisp.  I read some of the reviews and used 1/2 the butter it called for and just a little less maple syrup and it turned out great.  We buy a 1/2 gallon of maple syrup every year from a local dairy farmer that has a sugar house and makes and sells his own maple syrup.  I LOVE real maple syrup.

 With the slow cooker doing its job, I turned my focus to the chickens.  I had enough whole chickens frozen from July's batch so this time around, I cut up 8 chickens and put them in packages.  4 packages of 4 boneless skinless breast halves, 4 packages of 4 thighs/4 drumsticks and 2 packages of 16 chicken wings.  Our freezer is filling up and looking much more respectable.  Yes I am still lamenting the loss of all our frozen food during the death of our last freezer in July.  I'm getting better now.  All I need is some venison and everything will feel normal again.