Tag Archives: Eat From The Larder Challenge

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – End of Week Four / End of Month Wrap-Up

Hey!
So it’s May! Well into May, by the standards of a post that I theoretically should have written a week ago, but here we are.
Eat From the Larder Month is OVER! YAY!

Rappini (I think) – front, left.
Peas (for sure) – right, back-left.


Much like the last time I did this challenge, I’m not feeling the press to go out and stock up on groceries because we’re still doing just fine for food.
Part of that, of course, is that I made the decision to continue buying eggs and milk (and coffee and tea) through the month, as needed, but a lot of it is just… I have a big kitchen, two freezers, and enough storage space that I can house a considerable amount of food supplies at any given time.
The other reason – which is a recent development – is that the perennial garden veggies (along with a TONNE of daikon radish seedlings) have been waking up and getting big enough to harvest. So I’ve been able to add dandelion greens, nettles, Vietnamese garlic, and chives to our meals. I made Pasta (Mostly) Primavera for Beltane Dinner, and it was lovely. It also used up part of my last bag of frozen peas AND a bunch of frozen zucchini (I still have some left), which was nice.
 
Stuff I made during the final week (and a couple of days) of April:
Bread (it’s been really good to get back into that habit)
Vegan brownies (that need to have some mashed beans added, but were otherwise delicious)
Soup ft home-made stock, “wild” garden greens, and glass noodles
Alfalfa sprouts! (A couple of friends gave me seed packages for sprouting, and I finally got around to try it!)
Strata ft home-made bread and Vietnamese garlic greens, along with cheddar, parmesan, and a slice of our (March) Meat Of The Month Club prosciutto
 
Things I’ve Learned This Year:
1a) While I’m happy to make vegan food (or vegan “adjacent” food, as is sometimes the case) every now and then, for pot-lucks or because I feel like it or something looks like it’ll taste good, the thought of cooking it because I “have to” due to not having any animal protein available is just awful. It feels like some kind of weird culinary punishment for not planning well enough in advance. I know that’s messed up, and I’m not knocking anyone else’s dietary decisions, but holy moly do I ever NOT want to eat a diet that is so heavily dependent on beans and grains. Maybe that’s just due to one lousy experience with whole oats early on in the month, but it’s really, really sticking.
1b) I need – or at least want – to buy another half-pig from a local farmer who raises their animals kindly. (And would be open to trading some of said pig, pound for pound, in exchange for duck, roasting chicken, beef, moose, or deer – but not sheep or goat, because they’re hard to digest for Some Reason – so that everybody gets Extra Variety in their freezer). I feel a lot less crappy and hypocritical when I’m eating animals who were raised under good and humane conditions, and I’m very sure I’m not going to stop eating animals, so that’s my option.
2) We still go through a pound of cheese per week.
3) I loooooooooove yoghurt, and am so freaking happy that I’m able (or that my instant pot is able) to do so now. 😀
4) Barley remains my favourite whole (and also polished) cooking grain. Baking grain is still polished, all-purpose wheat flour, hands down, but barley is a queen when it comes to long-cooking dishes. Chewy. Drinks a lot of water without getting mushy. Takes of flavours reliably. Hearty and filling. Easy to get ahold of. Grows well in Saskatchewan, so it doesn’t have to be imported, even though it would be nice if Ontario grew more of it.
5) I will probably not be putting up vast quantities of crushed tomatoes this September. I have so many pints still to go through. While I’m happy to continue using them them up over the next few months, the tomatoes I finished were from September 2016. I still have something like 18 pints of crushed tomatoes from last September to use up, and that’s not likely to happen. I suspect that this year’s preserving goals will be more along the lines of blanching and freezing (and maybe drying) All The Things to make including them in dinners that much easier. Doing vinegar-pickled (so water-bath-canned, rather than lacto-fermented) root veggies and blanched-and-frozen root veggies AND greens, will most likely be my priority, rather than crushed tomatoes.
6) I hate, I hate, I hate austerity. I talked a bit about this at the end of Week Two, but good grief. I made a really great stew, and we ate it for a week, and we were both just so sick of it by the time Friday rolled around, we could barely stand to look at it. I think about all those jars of tomatoes, the pounds and pounds of sunchokes still in the freezer, and I just think “Eugh. I don’t wanna” (which, okay, with regards to the sunchokes, isn’t entirely out of line, given what they do to my wife’s stomach, but I don’t want to waste them either).
 
…I’m not saying that the practice isn’t a good one. That figuring out how to make the same six ingredients taste interesting and palatable for many days in a row isn’t a good idea to do while the safety net is in place. It is. I’m saying that I hate it, and that if I learn (and re-learn and re-learn) anything from this exercise, it’s that my food storage plans MUST include a LOT of variety and, frankly, a lot of convenience food – if, by “convenience food”, I mean stuff that gets made in bulk, in advance, (pressure canned mashed winter squash, chick peas, stewing beef, and pumpkin seed butter, big bags of dried kale and culinary herbs, dry sausage that I can keep in a jar on the shelf and chop up to get a lot of flavour from a very small amount of ready-to-go meat, vast quantities of frozen greens, peas, and already-chopped winter veggies, cider-pickled carrots, rutabagas, and beets) so that when I have to make dinner (that basic skill of resilience that Erica talked about when she first devised this challenge), I can make something fast and healthy (or at least healthy-ish) and lush-tasting without having to think about it.
 
Stuff I was overjoyed to find in my freezer, and which made life easier and more delicious:
Zucchini
Peas
Rainbow Chard
Other frozen greens (kale, wild greens mix)
Butternut Squash
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Sausages
Pork chops
Pork shoulder roasts (two of them)
 
Three of these are pork products (see above re: Get another half a pig). Of the rest, I can definitely grow and/or wild-harvest the rainbow chard and other greens and can probably grow (and definitely acquire for cheap, when in season) the summer and winter squashes. Peas, broccoli, and cauliflower are way more likely to be bought pre-frozen from the grocery store, but they are wonderful too.
Additionally: Frozen OR jarred-pickled peppers of various kinds have been an excellent addition to one-pot meals, and I was really glad to have both on hand. Also, while this year has not been a good year for stuffing ourselves with sunchokes, I maintain that having pre-prepared starchy tubers available in the freezer OR on the shelf (pressure-canned or water-bath-pickled with vinegar) is a great way to make myself eat them. I have determined that I’m far more likely to incorporate a spoonful of salty lacto-fermented beets or half a pint of vinegar-pickled rutabaga than I am to peel and dice them fresh for inclusion. With that in mind, I think it would be wise for me to stock pressure-canned (yes, I know you lose nutrients) and/or frozen root veggies even when they also cure well and will keep for a long time without any prep at all.
 
Anyway. Those are my thoughts. We’ll see what I carry forward. As generally happens at this time of year, I’m more excited about planting veggies and harvesting wild greens (totally going to lacto ferment some dandelion greens in short order) than I am in worrying about too many sunchokes still left in my freezer. I’ll figure something out, I’m sure. For now, off to eat sprouts, pick greens, and probably roast a chicken.
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – End of Week Three

Ha.
So, in the name of spring cleaning and getting the kitchen a bit less cluttered, I re-boxed all the empty mason jars and, in the process, I took an inventory of my home-jarred… stuff.
Ye gods.
I have over 20 pints of crushed tomatoes still to go through.
Also over a dozen jars of sweet preserves (fruit butter, jam, fruit curd) and six jars of choke cherry relish.
 
It’s a bit of a shock. I knew I had at least a dozen pints of tomatoes, but I didn’t realize I had so much more. Same with the sweet preserves.
 
So, to the surprise of nobody, Fabulous Friday Dinner involved both crushed tomatoes AND choke cherry relish. On a similar note, an up-coming pot luck dessert is going to feature some rose-chili jelly (which was a gift from a friend, not something I put up) and I’ll probably be adding choke-cherry sweet preserves (either Goblin Fruit jam or choke-cherry curd) to my home-made yoghurt for breakfasts and/or snacks.
 
None-of-which will get me anywhere near finished all of this stuff, but at least I know I’ve got it and can plan accordingly.
Heh. I have to admit that the combination of choke-cherry relish and crushed tomatoes worked out really well. Like: Substantially better than I expected it would. (I expected it to be okay. I did NOT expect it to be delicious, which it totally was! Woohoo!)
 
I took a morning to look after the ferments, earlier this week. The fermented previously-frozen-sunchokes are… weird. They are mushy. Which is probably to be expected, given that they started out as blanched (therefore softened) already. They don’t smell weird. They smell like sunchokes that have been fermented with a little bit of tumeric. But the texture is… more than a bit unappetizing.
My plan for them is to (a) strain them out of their fermentation brine, then soak them in some cold water, before (b) adding them to a long-cooking dish like a braise or a slow-baked chickpea stew (most likely also featuring crushed tomatoes… to the surprise of nobody).
Fingers crossed that it works!
 
Things I’ve made this week include:
 
* Yoghurt – cultured for 10 hours, rather than eight, which worked out really well. It’s thick enough to be the semi-solid yoghurt Of My Youth, but also thin enough that, if I add a liquid sweetener like maple syrup or pomegranate molasses, it basically becomes a lovely, mason-jar-portable protein drink. I’m hoping to use goblin fruit jam in a similar manner, though I’ll need to thin it with water or something for that to work. 🙂
 
* The above-mentioned stew – 1 pint crushed tomatoes, 1C choke-cherry relish, left-over potatoes-carrots-onions-cabbage from last weekend’s pot roast, dregs of a bottle of red wine, 1 pkg stewing beef that needed using up, pot barley, onion, dried garden nettles, dried garden sage, rosemary, frozen winter squash, and the last of the (non-garden) frozen kale.
 
* Three loaves of bread + a batch of chocolate chip cookies. It’s felt really good to be baking regularly again. The bread is turning out well. I feel accomplished when I make it. The cookies are a bonus – though it’s nice to fill the oven so completely when I’m baking. No wasted space/heat! 😀
 
* A lot of pot dishes (fried rice, stew, and pasta) featuring left-over roast pork, garlic, and last summer’s frozen zucchini & frozen (garden) rainbow chard, which has been SO lovely. I knew I had some somewhere and I’m SO glad I was able to find them.
 
We’re heading into Week Four. The garden, in spite of a a two-week very cold snap, is starting to wake up. The chives are up (both garlic and onion), the Vietnamese garlic is sprouting, both varieties of rhubarb are poking their heads above ground (and were not deterred at all by the sub-zero temperatures and inch-thick ice from freezing rain), and the dandelions are starting to leaf as well. Which I don’t expect to be harvesting wild greens or early herbs until Beltane (if not slightly later), it’s still really heartening to even see them coming back.
 
Goals for this week include:
 
* Use up 2 litres of crushed tomatoes. (I’ll still have, like, 8 litres left. BUT it’s a start. And there won’t be any fresh tomatoes for months, so…)
 
* Make some kind of jam thumb-print cookies (mix the jam with a beaten egg… I think that’s how to do it) to bake along-side a covered dinner braise/roast in order to (a) not waste the space/heat, but also (b) use up another cup or two of sweet preserves.
 
* Do a breakfast-for-dinner meal where we eat pancakes made with fruit butter and yoghurt.
 
* Maybe, if I’m feeling Very Adventurous, try sprouting something? (Two different friends have given me seed sprouting mixes, and I want to try them out)
 
* Make an excellent (fingers crossed) batch of vegan brownies for the above-mentioned pot-luck. They may or may not be gluten-free though…
 
Wish me luck!
 
 
– TTFN,
– Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – End of Week Two

I have totally bought groceries this week.
Sure, some of it was the stewing beef for a meal I’m making a friend.
But a lot of it was just being too tired to cook in the evening (and so eating the lovely fried egg sandwiches my wife made for us) and then not packing the yoghurt for lunch.
 
Which has me looking at why I’m doing this challenge.
I mean, yes, the whole point is to eat through as many preserves as I can swing, and remind myself that I know how to cook Real Food from scratch, so I’m not (I’m NOT, dammit) going to beat myself up for deciding that I’m not willing to starve for this when I can drop $3 and keep me in discount muffins (which I hid in my temporary desk drawer) for the better part of a week.
But it does have me thinking about Voluntary Austerity.
Both in the sense that Ms Sugar talks about in her book about Glamour Magic – where it’s a tool for making deals with gods and a means of upping your own intensity (which gets you Noticed by humans and non-humans alike) and getting clear on your goals. (Uh. I think). And also in the sense of “doing more with less” in order to prove a point, reach a goal, or learn a new habit… which is more what this challenge was about when Erica came up with it, years ago.
 
Readers? This will come as no surprise to anybody, but: I HATE austerity.
 
Calamity Jane, over at the Apron Stringz archive, has a whole THING about austerity. I can recognize and respect the goals of using less, being less stuck on the materialistic/treat cycle, being more production-oriented than consumption-oriented. I am those things, most of the time. But I want my “use less stuff” to be pleasurable, rather than a demoralizing grind.
I want to look at my larder and say “Okay, I’m limited to what I’ve got here. Let’s make some magic” rather than “Okay, I’m limited to what I’ve got here. Ugh. This is gonna be so gross…”
 
Case in point, and part of what got me thinking about this stuff: I have a tendency to hoard food. I look at the pork shoulder in my deep freeze and go “I should save that for later, when we might not be able to get another one” rather than going “I should cook this and make a week+ of delicious stew and stir-fry dinners with the vast quantity of left-overs it’ll generate after the initial braise”.
Which means I “save” the food I want to eat, and aim to try to make stuff that I only sort-of want to eat, just to get rid of the less-tasty stuff first.
Largely because of this tendency, I made the mistake (“mistake”) of cooking whole oats (rather than, say, potatoes) early on in the week. Whole oats are great. They cook in 20 minutes (uh… in theory) and they’re chewy like short grain rice. But they’re a bulk food buy and, like buying brown rice in a big sack, sometimes there’s chaff mixed in with the grain. Either that or they take longer than 20 minutes to really cook through.
Frozen turkey, that I’d cooked and put in the freezer six months ago, cooked with oats, red lentils, carrots, pickled sunchokes, cabbage and a mix of chicken stock and white wine. The flavour was excellent. But the mouth-feel of the oats-and-lentils was AWFUL, and did not improve with time.
I ate that stuff for three days, and I am not happy about it.
 
Look. I want to be able to make delicious dishes that feature grains and beans heavily. I want to incorporate whole oats into our household diet in at least a semi-significant way, because eating Ancestrally, is both a good way to connect with your beloved dead (especially the ones far back enough that you never knew them in life), AND a good way to give your body what it needs, by eating what YOUR body would have been eating 1000 years ago and learning to get the best out of.
In my case, that means oats & barley, lots of different wild greens (nettles, dandelion, wild grape leaf, plantain, sow thistle, garlic mustard, wild mustard, wild amaranth, garden/sheep sorrel, etc), bread with oats & rye in it (I am totally sticking to wheat though, because I know how to do that reliably), lots of different bramble-berries (red & black currants, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, rose-hips, hawthorn berries, and their relatives), kale & turnips, lots of different kinds of meat (everything from fish & shellfish to cattle & pigs, to deer & elk, to rabbit & duck), and tonnes of dairy.
 
Anyway.
With that in mind (uh… ish), I’ve been cooking with wine and whey this week, as well as lots of frozen kale. Which is the other thing I’ve been reminded of, and am resolving to Do Better At this summer: Frozen greens (and fresh greens) are basically the best thing ever, and I need to be on top of growing them from scratch, and freezing batches of them on the regular.
To that end, I started 17 chard seeds (and 3 snow-pea seeds) in peat pots today. They’re old seeds, but I’m hoping they all germinate. I want to have chard starts already growing when I go out at Beltane to rake over the raised beds and dig out any further quack grass that might have tried to start in the past month.
 
This week’s menu has not included much of what I had originally planned out, but HAS included:
Home made bread
The above-mentioned turkey-lentils-and-oats casserole
The above-mentioned giant pork roast (the left-overs of which will feature in a lot of next week’s meals, I suspect, as 3/4 of it is in the fridge and ready to be treated like an ingredient)
A chick-pea stew (made, in part, for a friend who’s having a rough go) – which WAS delicious, fyi (Maybe the answer to my problem is to just stick with barley, rather than oats? I’ll try it and see, next week!), and used up a litre of crushed tomatoes.
A beef stew (made, in part, for a different friend who just got out of the hospital) – it was also delicious, albeit a lot spicier than I personally like (My wife was like “This is how food should be!” to-which I responded “My lips are tingling, this is not a good time!”) My friend, however, makes her own hot sauce from carolina reaper peppers (which I gather make Scotch Bonnets look like Jimmy Nardellos), so she’ll probably enjoy it, even if she finds it a little tame. It used up a litre of salsa, too, which was a help.
AND
Home-made yoghurt – I mentioned trying out my instant-pot last week, and the yoghurt function does, indeed, make yoghurt. Very mild yoghurt, with a lot of whey, at the default setting,but still tasty. Will try to culture it for 10 hours instead of 8 next time, but for now I have almost-drinkable yoghurt that, if I think it out with some berry juice (from thawing frozen berries), I basically get “yop”, and it’s lovely. No sweetener required.
 
We’ll see how next week goes. For now, I think I need to bake a thing – probably a double-batch of rhubarb muffins – so I can bring some to my friend, along with that beef stew and a loaf of bread.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – End of Week One

So. Week One has come and gone, largely without a hitch.
Which is a good thing, because Week One is the easiest week of the challenge and should go without any hitches at all, especially given that I’m doing this challenge on “easy mode”. However it’s also a not-so-good thing because there was, in fact, a hitch.
I got an unexpected extra half-day of temp work this past week (YAY!!!), and duly packed myself a lunch for the hour-long commute between my morning modeling job and my afternoon office job (inter-provincial busing is, uh… special), woke up to an inch of sleet on the streets and, in the rush to get out the door to catch a substantially earlier bus? Big surprise, I forgot my lunch at home.
So I bought my lunch on Wednesday.
Bit of a disappointing beginning there.
BUT!
Beyond that, things have been going fine.
 
My pre-planned meal ideas are working and proving to be at least a little bit versatile.
There’s now enough room in the freezer (thanks to the litre of frozen sunchokes that I thawed out and started fermenting – see below) for me to stock-pile an extra loaf of bread, which means we’ve been eating home-made all week, and nothing has gone moldy (yet), which is fantastic. I’ve made five loaves of bread (we’ve eaten three of them, the other two were made yesterday, along with pancakes and cupcakes).
The previously-frozen sunchokes are fermenting nicely. At least that what it looks like. I’ll start using them in cooking… probably around about Week Three.
The reconstituted mushrooms… don’t seem to be bubbling all that much, but nothing smells weird, so I’m holding off judgement for another little while. I did take the opportunity, once the sunchokes started bubbling, to add a little more of the sunchoke brine to the mushrooms, in the hopes that it’ll help it to take off. We’ll see what happens on that front, but hopefully this time next week, I’ll be telling you that my mushrooms have started to bubble.
The slight up-tick in vegetarian-adjacent dishes (I say “adjacent” because the stews and similar aren’t really vegetarian. I’m still using animal fat and bone stock to cook this stuff, even if the protein is coming from beans and grains) isn’t hurting us any, even if they do leave me feeling a tad hungrier than the same dish with a little bit of tuna or diced pork thrown in would do[1].
I’ve made chocolate chocolate-chip cupcakes and filled them with choke-cherry curd. This didn’t work out quite like I expected – it’s not like putting a dollop of cheesecake batter in the middle of a cupcake, and the curd just kind of got absorbed by the rest of the cake. But it was delicious, none-the-less, and I have no regrets.
I’m remembering to reach for pearl barley, polished rice, and whole oats (oat groats) rather than pasta, as my current go-to carbs, but will need to start pre-soaking great northern and/or black turtle beans soon-ish because, while I’ve got plenty of jarred chick peas and a a few meals worth of Spare Lentils[3], I’m going to run out of those pretty quickly.
 
Which brings me to: I have an instant pot.
Yes, really. A while back, an absolute sweetheart of a friend straight-up bought me an Instant Pot because I mentioned that I wanted to try making yoghurt in one, and they decided they wanted to do something nice for me.
(You guys. My friends are fucking amazing. Did I mention? Holy moly!)
You want to know what an instant pot can do, aside from make yoghurt? It can “pressure soak” beans. Basically, this is the same as bringing dry beans to a boil and then letting them sit, covered, for an hour, before rinsing them and cooking them in new water for the standard cook time. It just takes a lot less time. Which, if you’re staring down a chili dinner, and the tin of beans you thought you had turns out to have been used last week… Is a gods-send.
 
Today, however, I’m using it to make yoghurt. First time out of the box (finally).
Seriously. I’ve tried making yoghurt at home in my parents’ 43-year-old yoghurt maker and… it doesn’t work. Possibly because it’s just a very, very old heat-sleeve that goes on the fritz a bit. Or possibly for Arcane Reasons that I can’t figure out. But the yoghurt I’ve managed to make has been desperately watery unless I add a thickener, like extra powdered milk, and that messes with both the flavour and the texture. Good for cooking, but not very great for breakfast[4].
Fingers crossed that it lives up to its reputation, because I’ve got lots of frozen fruit available, and I’d love to bring pints of fruit yoghurt for lunch on at least a couple of days during this coming week of temp work.
 
Anyway.
Meals for this week have included:
– Braised pork chops with root veggies (carrots, onions, sunchokes), red lentils, cabbage, and dried cranberries
– Pasta with tuna, frozen peas, and cheese sauce (this is a regular at our house, and will continue to be so)
– Turkey stew with pickled root veggies, whole oats, green lentils, and crushed tomatoes
AND
– Chickpea stew with green lentils, pearl barley, crushed tomatoes, dried cranberries, cinnamon and curry powder
 
Meals Ideas for the coming week include, but may not result in:
– Veggie Stew 2 ft a significant amount of vegan (bean-based) sage pesto and, therefore, probably frozen squash, frozen cranberries, and some pre-soaked great northern beans, along with maybe pot barley or, if I have any left, some wild rice (unlikely). This one will probably also have a splish of either white wine or cider vinegar thrown in.
– Pumpkin/Cauliflower “curry” (jar of chick peas, fried onions, frozen pumpkin OR frozen cauliflower florets, quinoa, frozen greens… maybe some coconut milk, and curry powder).
– Stir Fry of onions, reconstituted (non-pickled) mushrooms, shredded cabbage, and marinated firm tofu fried and added to a mix of white basmati rice, red lentils, and frozen greens. This will probably also involve some grocery store hoisin sauce and/or Terrifying Hot Sauce, since I’ve got it.
– Some sort of black bean veggie chili, of which I’ll be making 2-4 extra servings for a friend who’s just got out of the hospital. Some of my frozen winter squash is going to end up in here, along with a couple of pints of crushed tomatoes.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] I really don’t understand how the addition of 1C or less of meat to a generous four serving meal (which works out to a maximum of two ounces of meat per serving) lets me feel sated and keeps me from feeling dizzy or hollow when the same meal, minus that 2oz of animal protein, leaves me hungry enough to get stomach cramps, even when I’m deliberately mixing beans, grains, and fats to make sure that the vegetable amino acids are bio-accessible to my non-herbivore digestive system[2]. It’s weird, especially since other folks do BETTER on a beans-and-grains heavy diet, rather than getting sick more easily under those circumstances. But that’s my body for me.
 
[2] Although my non-herbivorousness has more to do with not having a stomach that can get protein from grass & leaves than it does with needing to remember to add fat to anything (whether that’s beans+grains / nuts & seeds, OR extremely-lean meat like rabbit) to be able to get protein from PROTEIN.
 
[3] One of the ways I up both the amino acids and the fibre content of a stew, braise, or other pot dish is to do 1/3 quick-cooking (no soaking needed) lentils to 2/3 grain of a similar cooking time –> So 2/3 C pot barley or long-grain brown rice to 1/3C beluga black lentils, or 1/4 C red or green lentils to 1/2 C pearl barley, oat groats, quinoa, or white basmati rice.
 
[4] Having grown up on yoghurt made in the above-mentioned 1970s-era yoghurt-maker, I’m aware that it will be grainier, and a little bit thinner, than the stuff I get as my live culture starter from the grocery store. That’s not what I’m talking about.

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – Kickoff (beginning of Week 1): A Productive Home Post

So, normally (for a given value of “normally”), I’d hold off posting anything more about Eat From the Larder Month until the end of Week One. BUT I’ve been doing a bunch of “productive home” stuff today, and I wanted to talk about it in the context of starting this challenge off.
 
It being only April 2nd, and yesterday having been Easter Dinner at my mom’s place, we aren’t exactly noticing anything yet on the “I’m not buying groceries” front. So this is more about planning and routine maintenance than anything else.
 
I spent a small chunk of the other day – while at the laundromat, no less – writing up meal plans (or at least “meal ideas”) based on what I thought I had on hand. Of course, to the shock of nobody what-so-ever, there are things I thought I had that I don’t have, and things I thought I was very nearly out of that are highly available. For example, I have NO frozen broccoli, but a LOT of frozen peas, to work with in the freezer. I have more tinned soup than expected, but a significant margin, but pretty much no ground meat (so I can cross “meatloaf” off my meal ideas list).
One of things I have that I wasn’t expecting is, as it happens, soup bones. I thought I’d used them all up, last batch, but NOPE. Turns out there’s a whole other bag of them in the freezer. Which is good, since the batch of stock I made the other day is… on the watery side, and I’d like to be able to boil it down a bit more without having feeling like I should be hoarding it instead. It’s nice to have the option of making more.
 
I made notes about which nights I need to cook something quickly that can also stretch to feed four people – I’ve got seven days of temp work coming up (thank you all the gods!), and know myself just well enough to know that pre-planning those meals, at least a bit, will make my life a LOT easier when I’m frazzled from working multiple back-to-back days of 9-5 (which is not how I usually do).
 
Thanks to a small heap of slow-but-steady spring cleaning that my wife and I have been doing, my kitchen is a lot more functional than it has been. Which feels pretty great, I have to tell you.
Consequently, I’ve got three loaves of bread (not to mention a trifle – which is an easy way to use up the last of a very, VERY stale cake I had lying around) just out of the oven and have been taking care of the ferments this morning:
 
I decanted the kombucha and set up a new batch (and put some of the older kombucha mothers in the compost, because it was getting so that there was more SCOBY than beverage in my fermentation jar, tbh). I’m kind of wondering if I can make vinegar (like, say, red wine vinegar or something) using a kombucha mother. I mean, vinegar is a zillion times less expensive than the alcohol it’s made from (probably because the wine or brandy or whatever you start with doesn’t actually have to taste good, it just has to be fermented enough to function) but I’d kind of like to try making it anyway. Maybe if I ever make cider from wild-harvested apples (six months away at the most unreasonably optimistic of possible attempt-dates), part of it can be re-fermented into vinegar, just to see if it works.
 
Transferred the last of the pickled as’kebwan’/sunchokes to a 2C mason jar in the fridge, and re-filled the fermentation jar with big chunks of blanched-and-frozen (still frozen) sunchokes from the freezer. I have SO MANY, you guys. We’ve been going easy on them, for Tummy Reasons, but it means I have something like 8+ litres of frozen sunchokes on hand and I just… I’m not sure how to get through them all. So I’m trying to ferment them (I used the old brine from the original raw ferment, so it should be inoculated with the right bacteria already, even though the veggies themselves have been killed off by the blanching), just because it will help deal with the inulin and make them easier to digest when added to stews, braises, and pot-roasts. I really hope this works out, you guys. O.O
 
I set up another fermentation experiment. Specifically, I’m trying to do lacto-fermented mushrooms. The main purpose for this is to make adding mushrooms to dinners quick and easy while relying on the dried shiitakes (or, well… something kind of like shiitakes) that I pick up by the Huge Bag every couple of years from the Chinese grocery store up the street. I find, if I just reconstitute them, they don’t always work so well, so I thought I’d try lacto-fermenting about a dozen of them (reconstituted, rinsed, and well-drained) with some thyme, just to see if they work well when added to savoury dishes. Seriously, this is why I lacto-ferment stuff, most of the time. It’s to get “annoying to prep” stuff – like beets, which are kind of messy when you peel them – into a state where I will reliably use them in stuff instead of just avoiding them because they’re messy/dirty/tough or whatever. I’m considering pre-slicing a bunch of carrots and just storing them in a big Tupperware of water in the fridge, for exactly that reason.
 
The plan for tonight is to make a turkey stew using already-cooked turkey from the freezer, plus a bunch of root veggies (some fermented, some not), some crushed tomatoes, and a splish of shiraz. Between that, the trifle, and the bread (I’ve eaten my way through half a loaf already, tbh) we should have a good dinner.
 
But First: I’m having a hot bath. It’s been too long, and I want the heat to soak back into my bones.
 
 
TTFN,
Melaid the Birch Maiden.

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – Week 0

So. Spring Equinox has come and gone (and it’s clearly past time for me to change up my Seasonal Decorations…). Meltwater Moon is only days away from full. I’m cautiously starting to think that maybe Spring Has Sprung (barring, y’know, an April dump of snow, which usually happens even if it generally gets gone in short order again) and I’m eyeing Preserves.
I have something close to two dozen pints of crushed tomatoes, put up last September, that I have yet to use.
I’ve also got sweet preserves (goblin fruit jam, chokecherry curd) and a LOT of frozen veggies – especially sunchokes, which my wife’s been having trouble with this year – still to eat through.
As such, I think it’s time for another round of the Eat From the Larder Challenge.
 

A collection of half-cup and one-cup mason jars full of savoury preserves, made by me.


 
As you may recall, the Eat From the Larder Challenge was invented by Erica, over at NWEdible, as a way to clear out some pantry space (and also prove that it could be done) before the impending influx of garden produce that, for a chick living in Seattle, was already starting in April and would only take off further once May hit.
I’m not in Seattle.
My growing/foraging season starts a solid 3-4 weeks later than hers does. But the challenge, itself, is a good way to remind me that actually, yeah, I know how to cook.
Which I haven’t been feeling, of late.
Honestly, I’ve been feeling like a crap home-maker lately – the place is a mess and I think I’ve made bread all of twice in the past six weeks when I’m used to thinking of it as a thing I do every week. I’m hoping that throwing a bit of a creative challenge my own way will – in addition to clearing out some freezer/cupboard space – get me excited about, AND back in the habit of, cooking from scratch in ways that go beyond boiling rice or roasting a chicken.
 
Right now, I’ve got a new batch of soup stock on the stove. Usually, when I make stock, it’s bones and maybe a few herbs and water. This time I’ve added a couple of branches of garden sage (dried), the better part of a jar of crushed tomatoes, a cup or so of white wine[1], some dried mushrooms, and a couple of handfuls of papery dried onion skins. I’m hoping to get at least 12 pints of stock out of this, ideally closer to 16, and I don’t think I have nearly enough bones to make a good, thick, “meat jello” stock in that quantity. So I’m adding extra stuff that will bulk up the umami factor (tomatoes, dried mushrooms) and otherwise add some flavour to what might end up being really watery. It’s not ideal but, having drawn up 30 dinner plans using what I (am pretty sure I) have in the cupboards and the freezer, I know a solid six (minimum) of those meals will be tastier (by our standards) if I cook the grain and legumes in meat stock.
 
Anyway. Rules for this year’s challenge:
1) Focus on using up the meat and frozen veggies hiding in the deep freeze, where I consistently forget about them now that I’ve got bags of beets and onions crowding the top (aka: the door) of the freezer.
2) Try to include lentils or other legumes in as many dishes as possible because (a) fibre, and (b) stretching the meat components of the meals that much farther while still making filling, delicious dishes.
3) I am allowed to buy milk/cream, eggs, wine, and Ethical Coffee (though I miiiiiiiiiiiiiight not need the coffee) during the month of April, though I should still try to limit these items (like: don’t make every dinner a quiche, right?). I can stock up on cheese ONCE, if (and only if) it’s on hella discount. I can also buy Ethical Chocolate, but not more than one bar per week. Restaurants/coffee-shops for socializing are allowed, but really REALLY need to not be relied upon.
4) Focus on making sweets at home! I have tonnes of flour and a lot of different sweeteners, including the above-mentioned sweet preserves. Oatmeal mixed-berry muffins, fruit-curd pies with shortbread crusts, peanut-butter & chocolate-chip cookies, rhubarb-cranberry crumbles/crisps/etc!
 
My April is looking pretty lean in terms of modeling work right now. That’s normal, and I’m lucky to have a week+ of temp work lined up to help make up the income I need. But it means I’ll have lots of time to get creative in the kitchen.
Thank goodness.
I’ll need it, but I’m also looking forward to it.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

New Moon – Melt-Water Moon Begins (First New Moon After Spring Equinox)

First New Moon after Spring Equinox is in Aries, Venus is in Retrograde, and we’re all revisiting old mistakes and lessons learned. Spring (and light, ye gods, finally!) has hope dripping from ever budding branch, every thawing snowbank. There are green things lifting their heads out of the ground. Last night was misty with evaporating ice. I went out with my coat open today.
I’ve spent the last few months – since shortly after my last Lunar Cycles update, actually – building new friendships and strengthening pre-existing ones, tightening the knots that bind my community together.
This is one of my favourite thing to do.
My wife asked me, last weekend, what would chuff me to death about an item. Like, if I found something fantastic at a thrift shop and then found out something about it that made it even more special, what would that something be.
And the answer I came up with boiled down to “This item connects me to someone I already care about”.
I love my “Babylon” perfume oil because it smells like a chocolate dessert. But I love it that much more because Miss Sugar made it, and decided to send it to me out of the blue.
I love my fermentation crock because it lets me do fermentation experiments in the kitchen (like the sour kraut I’ve currently got bubbling away[1] on the shelf), but I love it even more because it’s a hand-thrown piece of pottery made by a neighbourhood femme who is even more DIY and Nurturing than me (yes, it IS possible).
I love my funky, flared black cotton pinstriped skirt because it’s “professional” enough to wear to an office, and “edgy” enough to wear everywhere else, but I love it even more because it used to belong to a friend of mine who I don’t get to see very often.
I love my leather trench coat because it’s warm and practical and lets me Flag every time I leave the house. But I love it even more because it was a originally a courting gift from my mom to my dad, and I inherited it after he died.
I love my drop spindle because it lets me spin yarn anywhere, any time, but I love it even more because my wife made it for me.
I love my snail coffee table because, hello, it’s a coffee table shaped like a giant wooden snail! But I love it even more because it belonged to my grandmother.
I love the plants in my garden because they’re beautiful and they feed the bees and/or me directly, but I love them even more because they’re transplants from the gardens of my inlaws, my still-loved ex, my closest friends.
I’m delighted that our fridge and stove came from the kitchen of a deceased former-neighbour of my wife; that the desk at-which I’m typing this once belonged to my metamour’s father; that my kefir grains came from one femme friend and are currently fermenting milk in a jar that I originally got when another fem taught me how to make sour kraut – in a kitchen full of other witchy queers, no less – for the first time. The stories of connection, the stories that are connection, that’s what makes them special to me.
 
Horoscopes of late – because of the Venus Retrograde, which is all about checking over patterns in your relationships (to abundance, to material things, to beauty, to sex, to other people, especially romantic and sexual connections, but not only so) – have been asking me “What do you want (to be / to have)?”
 
Some Answers:
 
I want to have the kind of romantic relationships where I can trust myself to maintain healthy boundaries – the kind that allow for exploration and curiosity but that aren’t all about leaping off the cliff of attachment and hoping I don’t smash on the rocks (take a calculated risk – leap off the cliff having invested in a Wing Suit and mapped out a route with a variety of safe landing points on it)
 
I want to have many overlapping, inter-generational circles of friends that, really, are one huge circle of interconnected other circles that all relate to each other; a well connected network of networks, a zillion friends-of-friends who are linked to, and can call upon, each other, who show up for Solstice parties and pot-lucks, sewing circles and bulk-food-buying clubs, sick days and child care and ride-shares and crash space, who show up for each other.
 
I want a productive home, wherein I am a productive home-keeper. Lots of chosen family & nearby friends over for drop-in dinners, pick-up musical jams, crafternoons, brunches, and emotional support (but also who offer support to ME); lots of culinary and crafty projects on the go in the kitchen and the sewing (fibre arts in general) room; clean laundry on the line and the smell of fresh bread in the kitchen; stew in the slow-cooker, pasta on the stove, sausages & veggies on the barbecue, with enough for an unexpected guest or two to drop in; winter squash, cooking greens, herbs, tomatoes, sunchokes, tree fruits[2], berries, and rhubarb running riot in the backyard garden.
 
Heh. I feel like I have a long way to go on that last one. Two years ago, I was putting in my raised beds (about a month from now), planting more kale and chard than I knew what to do with, and routinely making bread and stock from scratch. Right now, in spite of having (at last!) a compost heap of my very own, I feel very much like I’m behind the (magic?) eight-ball when it comes to home-keeping. We’ve been eating quick-prep foods – pasta, sandwiches, 20-minute onion and/or noodle soup from the giant batch of stock I made two months ago, stuff from boxes – frequently and I feel a bit like I need to change up what I’m canning… and possibly borrow my friend’s pressure-canner (in exchange for a batch of canned chick peas, or something) in order to put up more “read to eat in minutes” dishes, because my plan from last year – to make a zillion ragout-type dishes using salsa, beans, and leftover meat… isn’t working so well.
 
April is just around the corner, and for the first time in years, I’m not sure if I’m really going to do the Eat From the Larder Challenge this time ’round. I mean, we could definitely do it. We have tonnes of food – including a slew of sunchokes that are still buried and waiting for the raised beds to thaw enough for me to dig them up – but what I have a lot less of, this year, is time. Getting home at 7pm and needing to launch into a FAST dinner for two very hungry, worn out people… that leaves a lot less room for creativity than having hours of “free” time in-which to wash dishes (to keep the kitchen functional), scratch-bake coffee cakes, bread, crackers, and savoury crepes; or long-cook dishes like roast chicken or braised pork hocks.
 
That doesn’t mean I won’t try to use up my preserves – bake turkey wings with salsa & serve them over rice, make new batches of stock from the (numerous) bones in my freezer, bake bread and/or muffins on the weekends, slow-roast the giant Fairy Tale pumpkin that I still haven’t cut open (I bought it back in October, and it’s ripened to a gorgeous milk-chocolate colour) and use it in curries and veggie-roasts, make rosee sauce using jars of crushed tomatoes and spooning it over pasta with frozen greens and diced leftover pork – all of this stuff is definitely on the list of things to do. But I’m also willing to go waaaaaay easier on myself if I decide to buy Box Lasagna or Freezer Pizza, or even discounted smoked hams, in the middle of the month. And that means that, this April, I will be less “eating down the larder” as a challenge to myself, and more just… business as usual.
 
Right now, business as usual involves a pork roast + mushrooms + root veggies (carrot, onion, celeriac, potatoes) + the last of my garden’s winter squash (a gorgeous, meaty butternut – long-keeping veggies for the WIN) cut into quarters roasting away in the oven. There will be apple cider with dinner[3] and – probably – ice cream for dessert.

~*~
 
Motion: Now that the ice is pretty much gone (Halleluia!), walking is a joy, as well as a means of getting around. I’m choosing to walk places more frequently now, which is really lovely. Additionally, I’ve been out dancing recently (and will be again, this Saturday), and have been doing a lot of modeling work that’s involved very short poses – like multiple hours worth of two-minute poses – which is proving to be a nice work-out and is helping to limber up my back. (On that front, the MRI turned out well, and I have additional Back Exercises to do, so I’m doing those too). Soon there will be raking the raised beds and turning the compost added to the list of ways I’m moving my body on the regular. 😉
 
Attention: I’m paying attention to boundaries and behaviours, particularly my own. Moving cautiously forward, trying to be excited/curious instead of fearful when it comes to trying new things, especially with what one could optimistically (hopefully not too optimistically) call my romantic life. Trying to balance hope and desire with a realistic understanding of reality, and choosing my own actions accordingly.
 
Gratitude: A wife who thinks I’m beautiful and who goes on dates with me. Deep discounts on turkey, pork, and root veggies at the grocery store. New friends (witchy friends, femme friends, cute friends who flirt with me, recently-moved-back-to-Ottawa friends) to have adventures with. Afternoons spent knitting with kinky pals. Green things poking through the earth. Rain, not snow. People who answer my questions thoughtfully and kindly and make space for me to feel my feelings and be vulnerable with them. Temperatures above freezing! New books of poetry to read! New lipstick to wear. Crows in the garden! Going to the Against Me show last Friday and seeing half my queer neighbours there! Longer days and shorter nights! Hope. HOPE. HOPE!
 
Inspiration:
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha’s poetry, as always, reminding me How To Boundaries and asking me “What Kind of Ancestor Do You Want To Be?”. Also: I’ve started using Pinterest again, making “Dream Home” boards because I find that Telling The Internet is a bit like Telling The Bees, and you can make magic happen by calling things in by using this stuff with your Intentions turned on. Plus it’s just nice to dream and play like this. 😉
 
Creation: Wrote three poems today, including a Glosa. Two of them are pretty good. One of them is… probably more than one poem, and will need to be edited and re-constructed in order to see what’s what. Recently learned how to turn a sock heel! 😀 Working on re-prioritizing my writing, as I totally let that slide for, like, practically a year. Time to get back in the boat.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad, the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] This is batch #3. Batch #2 went moldy and gross – though, underneath the layer of Ugh, the result was actually just fine. Mushy, but fine. Smelled like sour kraut, rather than mold or something rotten. So there’s that. I’m keeping a better eye on this batch. Fingers crossed!
 
[2] Despite renting out house, we are considering planting a super-dwarf cherry and/or a super-dwarf three-variety apple in our back yard. The western and southern exposure would mean (eventually) lots of fruit for canning, baking, fresh-eating, and sharing with Our People, so… if we can swing it, we’ll do it.
 
[3] We’ve been doing A Tasting – so far Thornbury kind of sucks, but Forbidden (from Coffin Ridge, which is also a winery, and located in Annan Ontario) is delicious – “chewy” with an almost apricot under/after taste. Recommended! Tonight it’s “501 Streetcar” from Brickworks Cider House in Toronto – I’m looking forward to trying their peach cider when it comes out.