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Archive for October, 2012

Well, I looked out my window, and discovered that winter has properly arrived:

 

 

Lately, we’ve been craving heartier food – root veggies, meat, and big bowls of stew – our bodies have known for a while that winter was coming.  We’ve been cooking up a storm, and Baby M’s ever-growing list of allergies and sensitivities has meant we’ve needed to be creative in our culinary adventures.  We can’t eat beef, dairy, or soy.  Cabbage, eggs, wheat, almonds, sunflower seeds, and beans are all questionable, and need further testing, so we are avoiding them at the moment, as well.  These restrictions eliminate many of our favorite go-to recipes, which has led to the invention of a whole bunch of tasty new recipes…ones that I suspect will stay in frequent rotation even when (if?) Baby M outgrows his allergies – they are that good.  In fact, some of them I could see becoming new comfort foods around here.  Two recent hits have been Stuffed Pumpkin and Pork and Sweet Potato Stew.

 

Stuffed Pumpkin:

 

I start with a proper pie pumpkin, partly because they are sweeter, and partly because that’s what we have grown.  They tend to be smaller than jack-o-lantern pumpkins, so the recipe may need to be doubled if you want to use a bigger pumpkin.  Also, I tend to cook big pots of rice, then use them in multiple recipes; I often cook the rice in chicken stock to give it some flavor.  If you are using plain white rice cooked in water, I recommend dissolving a bullion cube or two in a small amount of boiling water and pouring it over the rice mixture, or your stuffing will be pretty bland.  If you are gluten-free, watch the sausages, as most seem to have some sort of gluten-y ingredient like bread crumbs.

 

1 pie pumpkin

1 onion ( I happened to use a red one the day I took the picture below, but any kind will do)

4 stalks celery

2 farmer sausages or garlic sausages

4 cups cooked white rice (preferably cooked in chicken stock, as noted above)

2 tsp poultry seasoning (a generous amount, to taste)

1/2 tsp black pepper (or more, to taste)

salt to taste

 

Cut the pumpkin in half, and scoop out the seeds. Set in a roasting pan or on a cookie sheet. Chop the celery and onions finely. Chop the sausage into smallish bite-sized chunks (I cut it into 1/4″ half-rounds). Mix the sausage, celery, onions, and spices into the rice, and stuff this mixture into the pumpkin halves. Bake, covered, at 350 for 1.5 to 2 hours, until pumpkin is soft.  We usually use a roasting pan, but have faked it with a cookie sheet and some foil on one occasion.  You can remove the cover for the last 30-45 minutes of cooking time if you like crunchy bits – sometimes we do, and other times we don’t – it’s completely personal preference.  If there is stuffing mixture left over, put it in a covered baking dish or make it into a packet using aluminum foil, and bake it alongside the pumpkin; it can be used when you are serving.

 

 

 

Pork and Sweet Potato Stew:

 

This was last night’s hit.  We were not feeling like spending a lot of time in the kitchen, and needed something that we could just throw together and ignore.  We had pork in the freezer that needed using up, and we came up with this gem:

 

4 thick pork chops, cubed (we used pork chops, because that was what was in the freezer needing to be used up.  You could also cube a pork roast or tenderloin.  Just make sure there’s at least a couple of pounds of meat)

2 large sweet potatoes, cubed

2 large onions, chopped roughly

4-5 stalks celery, chopped

2 chicken bullion cubes, dissolved in 2 cups boiling water

3 bay leaves

1 tsp sage (or more, to taste)

1/2 tsp black pepper (or more, to taste)

salt to taste

 

Put all ingredients in a large roasting pan. Cook in oven, covered, at 350 F for about one hour, or until sweet potatoes are soft and the pork is falling-apart done.  You can eat this with bread, like my husband does, or have it over rice, which is what I did, or just enjoy it as-is.  This is really a spectacular meal for such a short ingredient list and for such easy preparation!

 

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Back in the 2011 garden, we bought a few packets of soup-type beans, and planted a few experimental rows.  Then, things got hectic, and we just pulled the plants the night before the first frost, roots and all, and hung them upside down in the pantry to dry out and await shelling.  Of course, the busyness never ended, and the beans did not get shelled.  Until the last couple of days, when I finally decided to clean and organize the pantry!  So, here it is:  an extremely belated report on the dry beans from the 2011 garden (with pictures):

 

 

We planted four types of dry beans, plus chick peas.  The chick peas were a total bust; they had developed decent-sized pods, but the peas themselves did not fill out at all, and were just teeny lumps inside those huge pods.  It might have just been a bad year, or we may have gotten a variety that needs a longer season than we have; however, I am pretty sure that there are farmers in Saskatchewan growing chickpeas, so we’ll probably give them another try, eventually.

 

The Papa de Rola were probably the prettiest bean, but were unfortunately the lowest-yielding:

 

 

 

The red kidney beans did okay, but again, not a spectacular yield:

 

 

The Jacob’s Cattle beans are also gorgeous, but again not all that high-yielding:

 

 

 

The highest yield was from the Pinto beans:

 

 

It took me maybe an hour and a half (interrupted by a screaming child on two occasions, so I am not certain of the exact amount of time) to shell all of these beans.  A fair bit of work, but not bad for several meals’ worth of beans.  I started out being kind of disappointed at how few beans there were, but then I thought about it for a bit – we planted a standard sized seed packet of each type (so basically a small handful of each), then did not water the beans at all, and hardly weeded them, either.  They probably would have all had much better yields had we taken proper care of them.  Although they take up a fair bit of garden real estate (we made a row per packet, and each row was probably 25-30′ long), we have the space to grow these, and they increase the fertility of the garden, being a nitrogen-fixing legume.  Also, the goats love to eat the leftover plant parts, even dried!  I am plotting to grow maybe two or three times as many rows next summer (or maybe even more!), and will trial some other varieties, to see what we like best – I would like to have some sort of black bean in the garden, too.  Like most of the other garden stuff, it takes a surprising amount of work to grow your own, and it shocks me all over again at how cheap grocery-store food is.  However, considering they taste great, go in about half our recipes, and keep more or less forever, dry beans will stay on our growing list.

 

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Spaghetti squash is amazing stuff.  It seems to do well in our difficult zone 2, low-rainfall garden, without additional irrigation.  A few plants yield more squashes than we eat in a year; last year, we got something like 20 squashes off 3 plants.  This year, nothing did very well, due to being planted late, flattened by a major storm, and barely weeded (if at all) through the summer; however, we still got a few squashes off the sole surviving plant.

 

The other thing that impresses me about spaghetti squash is it’s staying power.  We just, and I mean just tonight, disposed of the last of last year’s squash.  Squash we harvested approximately 13 months ago, and left sitting in a spare room through the winter and the heat of summer, with no special attention whatsoever.  In fact, I guarantee they were not in ideal conditions for any part of that storage, really – too humid for part of the time, and too warm for the rest.  We threw the last two in the chicken coop; one had soft spots, and the other had seeds sprouting inside, plus was going soft.  Mostly, we had been keeping them around just to see how long they would last, at this point.  However, we cooked and ate one about a week and a half ago, and it was fine.

 

Spaghetti squash is easy to cook; just cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and bake it, cut side down, for an hour and a half to two hours (for a large-ish squash) until the flesh is soft.   Then, you can use it like spaghetti – the flesh pulls apart in spaghetti-like strings, hence the name.  Another option is to cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, stuff it with something tasty (we usually use leftover spaghetti sauce, cut about half and half with cooked rice), and bake it cut side up for about the same amount of time.

 

I have to say, I highly recommend this one for Canadian Prairie gardens; easy to grow + tasty + long storage life = a winner in my books!

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I am not detailing the harvest from the acreage, this year.  We were gone when we should have been planting (due to the birth of Baby M), and gone when we should have been harvesting (due to my sister’s wedding), so our garden did not amount to all that much.  We have half a small rubbermaid container of carrots, about as many beets, and perhaps twice as many potatoes.  We managed to put away some peas, and a fair bit of fruit, but I have not done any canning at all.  I bought my pumpkins from the farmer’s market, and was given a bunch of squash by neighbours.  Mom is bringing us a few things from her own garden surplus, and Hubby’s mom did the same earlier in the year, so it’s not like we’ll starve (fat chance) or be reduced to *gasp* buying carrots or anything.   Our onions did really well, though, and we got a decent harvest of tomatoes.  Sort of.

 

We harvested the tomatoes on Sept 8th, by pulling the plants by the roots, then storing them on the basement floor to ripen while we were gone to my sister’s wedding in Alaska. We did not do anything more with them until approximately 3 weeks later.

 

Not sure of the exact harvest weight, but a significant percentage (maybe close to half) had gone bad in the 3 weeks they were on the floor. They probably should have been hung up, as the side of each plant not touching the floor had significantly fewer rotten ones. Also, Hubby did not realize that the Black Krim toms were supposed to look like that, and he disposed of several which were probably fine. Similarly, he did not realize about the Green Zebras staying green, so we failed to pick numerous ripe tomatoes on time before they rotted. Note to self: let Hubby know when you’re planting unusual varieties that may perform differently from usual expectations.

 

Hubby is eating the cherry tomatoes as they come ripe, and quite enjoying them.

 

I cut up a roasting pan full (and I mean overflowing full) of ripe tomatoes, and roasted them at 250-275 for about 15 hours over two days. I was scared to leave them unsupervised overnight, but actually I could have done so without worries, early in the process – they don’t seem to need a lot of stirring until after they have reduced by about 30-40%. Next time, I’d chop them in the afternoon, and throw them in the oven in the evening to cook overnight and all the next day. Then I’d process them the next afternoon / evening.

 

I processed the roasted tomatoes after they had reduced to less than 50% of their original volume, and started to get a bit browned . Processing involved throwing the pulpy mess into the food sieve and mashing through until all the pulp was separated from the skins and seeds. That took maybe 15 minutes. This year, I then packaged it in ziplocs and threw it in the freezer; it could also easily be canned. I just did not have enough to bother with running the canner. I got 5 cups of tomato sauce that was about halfway between the consistency of commercial tomato sauce and commercial tomato paste – quite thick. I packaged it in 1-cup containers, as I think I will likely thin it down with water for most recipes. The flavor is very intense.

 

This was SOOOO much easier than peeling, seeding, chopping, and boiling (especially with trying not to burn) like we did back in 2009; I could actually see trying to process multiple bushels this way, especially if you had enough deep pans, like roasters and cake pans. It would be most efficient to fill the oven with as many pans as would fit, I think, and you still wouldn’t be left with an overwhelming amount to process in the end. In fact, you would need several deep roasters going just to get a canner load worth of finished sauce.

 

This used up about 40% of our tomatoes (and all of the ripe ones, except cherry toms for Hubby). If the rest ripen in large enough batches, they will receive the same treatment.

 

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The gift economy is a situation where people function without money or barter, but rather give away their surpluses to each other, with the reasonable expectation of getting something back eventually, and keeping things roughly even.

 

Bartering is making an explicit trade for items or services, without money.

 

While we were away in Alaska, we had the 16 year old daughter of a neighbor watch our livestock for us.  We never did agree on a price before we left; she was reluctant to talk money.

 

What does this have to do with barter or the gift economy, you ask?   Well, you see, while we were away, Hubby and I talked it over, and decided approximately how much we thought the girl should be paid.  When we were assessing that, we considered the actual work she was doing, our own level of need (desperation) for someone to do the work, the difficulty of finding someone reliable to watch our place for us, and how much we valued our relationships with the girl, her parents, her aunt and uncle, and her grandparents, who all live in our community.

 

When we got home, and I called the girl to see about paying her, she quoted a price within a few dollars of what Hubby and I had decided to pay her anyways.

 

I had always felt that a gift economy would not work very well in our current culture, because our culture encourages people to be greedy and selfish, and only look out for themselves.  However, based on a sixteen year old girl coming up with a price that values our relationship as much as her labor, and us coming to a price that values our relationship as much as our money, I think it may be possible, after all.  In our relationship-based transaction, everybody was quite satisfied with the result, and felt the deal was fair.

 

Thinking about it a bit more, we’ve been gifted bushels of grain from local farmers, too, for our goats and chickens; in return, we’ve gifted back cartons of eggs and pints of jam.  We’ve received vegetables, help moving, and lawn mowing, and given labor and preserves in return.  None of this was really formally bartered; rather, people assumed that they would get something back, eventually, when the time came.  And, so far, they (and we) have.

 

In a similar vein, my father is in the process of building a house, and is temporarily living in a place where he does not have enough space for his vehicles.   We volunteered to let him park them on our acreage for the winter.  We did not want anything for doing this; we value our relationship with Dad, and wanted to help out.   However, Dad wanted to return the favor, and has hauled away decades worth of accumulated garbage that was sitting around the acreage – old appliances, half-rotten furniture, boxes of empty bottles, worn-out tires…junk that we inherited when we bought the place, and that we have not had any way to remove.   It is a huge relief to not have to figure out how to get rid of all that crap, and we feel like we got the better end of the deal…by a long shot.   Dad maintains that HE is the one who is coming out way ahead.

 

So I am now revising my opinion on the gift economy.   In situations where there are long-standing relationships, or the expectation of long-standing relationships developing, and where everyone involved values those relationships, a gift economy could work out very well.  Without stable relationships, however, and a certain level of trust, I still think it would fall apart pretty quickly.  So far, I have to say, accomplishing things within a community where relationships are valued, is much more relaxed than trying to hire or accomplish some of these things in the formal economy.   We’re fortunate to live in such a stable, tight-knit community, where bartering and gifting work out so well.

 

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