Tag Archives: local food

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.

Full Moon – Melt-Water Moon Crests (Spring Equinox, Venus in Taurus)

I’ve been Spring Cleaning.
To some extent anyway.
I talked on twitter, the other day, about turning about turning the compost and the Ceremonial Piping On of The Manure from my childhood in New Brunswick. How doing that little bit of preliminary, seasonal garden maintenance was a sign that Spring had sprung.
I put the Solstice decorations away, that same day. Washed a lot of dishes. Noticed that the rhubarb was crowning.
Maybe it’s because Venus just moved into Taurus (the planet of material goods, sensuality, and beauty moving into the sign of Home, sensuality, tenderness, and all the pleasures life has to offer, whose ruler she is), or maybe it’s because it’s finally warm enough out to open the windows and let a breeze through the place, but my wife and I have both been feeling the call to Clean All The Things.
 
I’m relieved that the rent is in the bank, and has been since last week (good thing, too, since I didn’t have a lot of work booked for the second half of March), so I’ve been using the quiet days I’ve been given to putter around the house, slowly tidying and putting things away.
It feels like a solid week since I wrote a poem. That’s not a bad thing. Ebbs and flows are real and necessary. I feel like this is a recharging time, however brief it’s going to be.
We’re heading into Eat From the Larder Month, and getting the kitchen in order – especially with a week+ of full time work kicking off in a few more days – is a pretty high priority right now. Besides, getting the place a bit tidier – clean sheets on the bed, laundry done, lots of counter space to work from in the kitchen – is good for my brain. I’m already feeling more relaxed than I was two days ago when I started this little project.
 
It’s pretty cloudy out right now, so I can’t see much of the full moon. None the less – and even though the bath tub is still full of sheets[1] – I feel like I’m having a bit of a pause-for-breath moment right now. My wife is away for the weekend, visiting her partner who’s house-sitting for an out-of-town friend. I’m treating myself to a glass of shiraz and an indulgent read of a favourite piece of fanfic.
Tomorrow, there’ll be bread (and maybe muffins) to bake, kombucha to decant, vacuuming and sweeping up on the main floor, and an Easter dinner to get to at my mom’s place. But for now, I’m enjoying the quiet.
I’m also enjoying the different kind of creative that comes with home-keeping. The methodical rhythm of making yeast dough, cooling green and hibiscus teas for the kombucha, slow-roasting veggies in the oven, meal planning, putting books back on shelves, darning socks and knitting new garments one stitch at a time.
It’s like a reset button.
I know I can’t do this 100% of the time. Partly because constant entropy of Doing The Dishes feels more like drudgery than the in-and-out breath of a functioning kitchen. And partly because I need to make money (fingers crossed that Venus In Taurus will help me get some extra work booked for April, particularly on the Mars in Leo front, if you can believe it). But also because I need to take the gentle four-on-the-floor beat of a house’s steady heart and turn it into poetry, stories, crafting, the kind of creativity that produces something other than necessities.
 
With that in mind, maybe it’s not surprising that the card I pulled for my Tarot Card Meditation was the King of Fire.
 

The Creator (King of Wands) A bald person in flowing red robes holds a glowing energetic light between their hands

The Creator (King of Wands)
A bald person in flowing red robes holds a glowing energetic light between their hands


 
Otherwise known as the Mentor of Keys, the Visionary of Branches, and the Throne of Fire, the King of Wands is a glamourous artiste who dares to stand out and to stand by their creative work. Enthusiastic and innovative, this joyful, passionate art freak is bold enough (and vain enough) to take risks, take action, try something new, and put themself on display.
 
As someone who’s been making a point of submitting poetry to magazines for… four months now, this is pretty relevant to my interests. It’s a reminder to keep at that, keep working on my two in-progress manuscripts, and keep being brave and sending stuff out (without getting too demoralized when the rejection letters periodically come in).
The King of Wands is ALSO Venus in Sagittarius. Carefree, playful, happy to have built-in boundaries like geographical distance or time-bound scenes in place. This is also relevant to my interests, if only because my Venus is in Sagittarius (however-much I may act like my sun sign where the heart is concerned). It’s a reminder to play, to make time for dates with my wife and flirtations (that might or might not go anywhere) with new people.
 

~*~
 
Movement: The usual Walking Everywhere, a couple of modeling gigs that focused on Very Short poses (2 minutes or less, for 2+ hours… it’s like doing power yoga or something), but also the addition of Get Bendier stretches to my weekly routine. Monday mornings (usually) I do a few gravity-friendly stretches to help build core/lower-back muscle (like, more than just plank) and stretch the tendons in my legs. I’d like to try learning Areal Hooping (I picked that link because she’s tall… ish), and part of that means developing a little more flexibility in my legs than I currently have. Beyond that, I’m looking forward to going dancing a little over a week from now.
 
Attention: Generally speaking, I’ve been paying attention to the mess of my house and making an effort to un-mess it. It’s working, and I feel better because of it. Also, the fact that the rhubarb is coming up again has most-definitely not escaped my attention.
 
Gratitude: For the rhubarb crowning. For warm days walking with no mitts, my jacket open and my hair down. For discount foundation at the drug store. For a morning date with my wife before she left for her weekend away. For friends who will lend me gardening equipment that I don’t personally own. For lemon-pie flavoured yoghurt on sale at the health food store where I went to get yeast (twice, because I forgot the first time). For a strong body that can carry heavy loads home from the grocery store. For beautiful, beloved trans and cis baby queers being their wonderful, creative, resilient selves in the face of every hardship – you give me so much hope and joy. For a breeze from the open window. For clean sheets on the bed and clean dishes in the dish rack. For unexpected door prizes. For queer femme excitement and encouragement wrt my Femme Glosa Project. For a very full larder to draw on for the next month. For a patient landlord. For gig-employers who try to find extra work for me. For the rent already being in the bank. For the smell of humid, thawing earth, crocus leaves already poking through the topsoil. For quiet nights spent reading. For the chance to go dancing in big, fancy shoes. For a tiny bird, and a big lady, and a lot of friends who love me. ❤
 
Inspiration: I’m still working on femme glosas (hit 30 poems, not too long ago!) and attending VERSeFest on a night when two queer femmes – Kama La Mackerel and Rasiqra Revulva – were performing DEFINITELY helped on that front. I’m also working (still) on my moon-inspired chapbook, and trying to take honest inspiration from my own life, rather than being vague or trying to be “deep” or “shocking” about stuff.
 
Creation: See above, re: poetry. I’ve also finished the waistband of my eventual hand-knit thank-top/shell, and have started picking up the stitches for knitting in the round. I’ve got something like 400 stitches still to pick up, but I’ve technically started Part Two, and I feel good about that. I’ve also got Plans to make bread (and maybe muffins) and start a ferment of shiitake mushrooms (dried and reconstituted, to be fermented in salt water with thyme and garlic) tomorrow. It’s all creativity in some form or another. Wish me luck.
 
 
Cheers,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] I finally got around to soaking some stained sheets in vinegar and salt water, which I’m hoping will help get them properly clean. Beyond that, I’m not sure what to do, since bleach isn’t much of an option for colourful stuff. Suggestions welcome. >.>

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 Year New You 2016 (…and 17): Week 19 – Concrete Things

I’m doing Miss Sugar’s New Year New You Experiment in Radical Magical Transformation (again) because I find it’s a really good way to kick my own ass into getting things done. You should try it!
 
It’s been a little over eight months. I never, strictly speaking, finished my 2016 New Year New You practice, my Queen of Cups Project remains on-going. None the less, and even though a project like this is more likely to last years than to be easily wrapped up in one turn of the seasons, I still feel a bit like I’ve left a loose end flapping.
So here we are.
It’s been a whirl-wind of an almost-year. Body Time, to link back to the last post I made about this project, remains a work-in-progress BUT I keep getting better at it. I’ve pushed through tears and overwhelm and… actually been able to engage my body and FEEL THINGS, physically speaking, that I’ve been having trouble with for years. So that’s a big plus. 😀 Got a better handle (ish) on where my boundaries are and what I can do to feel like I’m taking care of myself, staying in control of a situation (not “driving off a cliff”, so to speak), and not just willfully setting myself up to get hurt.
Go me. 🙂
 
Instructions: This week’s prompt, over-due as it is, asks what (concrete) thing I can do to make my life better.
 
Tarot Card: I’m inclined to lean towards the six of fire, partly for its success connotations, for the boost of a (relatively) easy win, but mostly for its sense of abundance.
 
See, what I’m doing this week – this weekend, as it happens – is putting up 40 lbs of tomatoes for the winter. I’m just doing crushed tomatoes this year, nothing fancy, though I miiiiiight throw in some winter savoury from the garden (passion, sensuality, and sex, if you were wondering) and minced garlic (hella protection + more passionate, sexual stuff… I’m noticing a theme here). Assuming I boil off 10lbs worth of water, this should net me a little over 18 pints of crushed tomatoes, though it might be more than that. I admit, I hope so. The closer I can get this to $1/pint, the better. 😉
Canning tomatoes won’t change my life. I’ve done it too many years in a row for this to be earth-shaking. But it will make my life easier and happier in concrete ways – both right now (I like canning – shocking, I know), and over the next 12 months or so when a couple of days worth of effort (thank the gods for my food processor…) back in September will make the vegetables portion of our meals that much easier.
So that’s what I’m doing.
Wish me luck!
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Mid-July: In Which Everything Goes To Hell – A “Productive Home” Post

So! Erica, over at NWedible, is doing a Productive Home Weekly Report thing, and has invited people to chime in with their own productivity reports.
I’m… not totally fussed about tracking productivity. It feels a bit like giving myself a performance review. BUT, if I think of it as an opportunity to brag about the awesome-fun-cool stuff I’ve been doing/planting/harvesting/cooking/baking/canning/fermenting/etc chez moi that I’m really excited about… it gets a whole lot easier.
So here we go.
 
IN THE GARDEN there has been some planting, a tiny bit of harvesting, and a little bit of… building?
 
I rescued three cucumber plants and a zucchini from Certain Death in a neglected loblaws garden center… about a week ago. I transplanted them, plus one of my pre-existing but too-heavily-shaded-by-beans-and-radishes cucumbers and a couple of my probably-pumpkin plants to:
A new in-ground bed that I put together by piling up bolted mustard stems, overlaying them with some newspaper, and then emptying a bag of soil on top of everything.
They seem to be… mostly not dying? Which is sort of what I was going for. One of the (very small…) cucumbers is flowering, as is the probably-a-pumpkin (you can see both below). The zucchini occasionally tosses out a male blossom as well. I’m hoping that, by August, they will be blooming with the lady-flowers and starting to hint at bearing fruit.
 

Cucumber plants plus something that is probably a pumpkin, but might be a zucchini.  You can also see the bottom of the trellis I put up over the weekend.  We'll see if it holds and/or if anything manages to climb it.

Cucumber plants plus something that is probably a pumpkin, but might be a zucchini. You can also see the bottom of the trellis I put up over the weekend. We’ll see if it holds and/or if anything manages to climb it.


 
So there’s that.
 
I’ve given my daikon-radish “fence” a major haircut, so that the beans and eggplants and everyone else in that bed can actually get some light. This is less of thing for the Ground Cherries, which can handle a bit of shade (though my particular plant is probably getting too much from the tomatoes to produce much fruit. We’ll figure it out).
My jalapeno has three little peppers starting on it.
My eggplants have, between the two of them, three fruits developing.
My yellow bell pepper is… Let’s say I’m not holding my breath on that one…
But my tomatoes!
It’s been magnificently rainy this summer, and kind of on the cool side, so pretty much everything is moving slowly. I’m used to getting my first ripe cherry tomatoes, oh, about two weeks ago, and as of now, they’re all still green.
Which is fine. They’ll get there. Even if I’m bringing them indoors in October and letting them ripen next to an apple in the kitchen.
And look! This is my first year growing beefsteak tomatoes! I have… ANY! 😀
 
Beefsteak tomatoes, at the slightly-yellowish-green phase of edging towards ripening.

Beefsteak tomatoes, at the slightly-yellowish-green phase of edging towards ripening.


 
I’m pretty sure I’ve got at least one roma tomato, too, and the Big Tomatoes are in the ground, rather than the raised beds, so they’ve actually got enough root depth and aren’t getting themselves sick with blossom-end-rot and what-not. Hurrah! 😀 (Not that I’m counting my tomatoes before they’re ripe, or anything, but I’m hopeful, y’know?)
 
In further squash news: Danger Squirrel and company have eaten most, possibly all, of the waldham butternut and golden-zucchini seeds I planted, many months ago. But this bruiser that came up in the compost heap is, I’m fairly confident, a Fairy Tale Pumpkin:
 
Fairly confident that this is a Fairy Tale Pumpkin growing out of my compost heap, as squash are wont to do.

Fairly confident that this is a Fairy Tale Pumpkin growing out of my compost heap, as squash are wont to do.


 
Fairy Tale pumpkins are great, in that they are HUGE, and they finish ripening off the vine (like: harvest it when it’s dark green, streaked faintly with orange, at Samhain, but don’t cut it open until the rind is a milk-chocolate brown, around Imbolg). BUT they are not so great on flavour. Like ponca butternut (an ancestor of waldham butternut) and any zucchini you’ve ever left too long on the vine, a lot of their size is water. So they’re not great for things like pie or baked veggie side dishes where the squash flavour is something you care about. But they’re excellent for adding to braises and stews where the extra liquid will be soaked up by barley (for example) and the otherwise mild pumpkin flavour will be augmented by whatever else you’re cooking with it.
 
In other news!
My raspberry bush is FRUITING!!!
My raspberry bush is fruiting!

My raspberry bush is fruiting!


 
The friends who gave it to me warned me that it hadn’t fruited in all the years it had been in their yard. I said I was willing to give it a shot, as they wondered if being near other raspberries – like the ones in the alley behind my house – might encourage it to fruit.
That wasn’t what did it.
What did it was a big heap of bone meal dumped around the roots of the plant. Turns out, there was fruit (ish… proto-fruit) all along, it just needed some phosphorus and calcium to help the fruit develop into something that could actually ripen. YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!
😀
 
So I harvested a couple of raspberries from my own canes today. Hopefully more will follow.
Beyond that, I haven’t been harvesting a whole lot. There have been garlic scapes, the occasional bit of chard, a heap of snow peas(!!!) and the last of the radishes. Oh. And a sprig of mint for hibiscus iced tea. But that’s been it. I think there will need to be a kale salad in my near-future, though, as the Cavalo Nero is getting bigger, and could do with a trim.
 
IN THE KITCHEN there has been… not a huge amount of activity, honestly. And a bunch of stuff that didn’t work.
I tried to make a sour dough starter. Which started beautifully, but died very quickly, in spite of regular feeding. I think I must have been doing it wrong. (That said, if I can make a chef from scratch every time…? That wouldn’t be the end of the world…)
 
I wound up making “by any means neccessary” bread, using 1 tsp dry yeast + a cup of kefir and… you guys, it’s not good. Like, “it makes great toast” levels of not good. It looks beautiful, and smells awesome, but it tastes like, well, like a fermented milk product (which is not what I look for in a sandwich-canvas) and tends to get soggy REALLY easily.
 
Speaking of fermented milk products… my kefir got fruit flies. In the worst way. I had to toss the entire batch, plus about 1/4 of the actual grains, because I wasn’t able to separate them from the corpses of fruit flies gone to their fermented-dairy graves.
On the plus side, the grains I was able to save are still alive and kicking and making kefir, so I can keep churning out coffee cake and scones until the heat turns up in these parts. So there’s that.
 
The Ex is coming by in two weeks to collect all the stuff they’ve been storing in our basement (among other places), so my wife and I have been moving some things around. Our antique kitchen table is now The Bird Stand (it looks good there, and it means it’s not blocking the washer and dryer… not that the washer and dryer are hooked up or anything… >.>) and we are sorting out where to store all the bird food and bird toys and such-like. It’s a work in progress.
 
Which… So is the rest of the main floor. I know this section is about what’s going on “in the kitchen”, but our front room (when we moved in, it was – briefly – my wife’s workshop, and it’s been a never-quite-defined half-storage room ever since she got her own shop) is currently the staging area for both The Ex’s stuff and a bunch of items we’re holding for a friend who’s getting divorced and will need help with furniture and other stuff when the time comes. When that’s all been taken care of, we’re going to turn everything around in there, so that my desk is facing the window and the bistro set I’ve been referring to, somewhat hopefully, as “the dining room set”, will be moved into a more accessible area, so that we can actually, y’know, dine at it.
The living room is looking better than it has in a while (hurrah!) though there are still things that need touching up. The birds are fed and watered and have had their cages cleaned (and, in Fiona’s case, some of her stuff has been moved around… though not by very much. I don’t want her to get bored…), and the vacuuming actually got done, albeit not by me.
 
The kitchen, to drag this back onto the topic at hand, is still a mess. Moving the table into the living room means I’m out about six square feet of “shelf” space, and the counter is feeling the pinch (and, consequently, I am feeling the “Augh, I don’t know where to staaaaart!” that I feel whenever there’s no clear space to put something down).
I’m continuing to use up my crushed tomatoes and my salsa (I made SO MUCH last summer), but I have a LOT of preserves still to go through. Crab apple jam, pear and pumpkin butters, chokecherry-plum relish, jalapeno jelly, a jar or two of pickled beans (they’re lovely on sandwiches, but see above re: soggy bread), and a LOT of gifted preserves (delicious gifts, mind you) from other folks. I need to do an inventory, and I need to put up shelves. This might or might not be the summer that happens, but it needs to happen. I have too many empty canning jars and nowhere for them to live. Too many (Ha! Meaning two, at the moment!) fermentation projects on the go. It’s time to add more storage to the kitchen.
 
 
Anyway, so yeah. Not a whole hell of a lot going on in terms of house-hold productivity this week, but that’s where things are at. Did I mention I had a grease fire (small, put out quickly and easily with baking soda) AND boiled a pot dry today? I did. “Productive Home”, indeed. :-\
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.