Thursday, December 18, 2014

Making Butternut Squash Soup

Now that the days are cool and the weather kind of dreary, overcast and with nightfall coming earlier, comfort foods are king.  Things like gumbo, chili, beef and vegetable soup, stews, rice & gravy, etc. provide nourishment and warmth.  After a long day, sitting down to a plate or bowl of any of the items I mentioned above is filling and satisfying.

One of the things we've added to our repertoire is Butternut Squash Soup.  My butternut squash crop was a total bust this year.  It grew and sent out long vines and flowered like crazy, but the squash on them either didn't set or they grew to about four inches long and withered and rotted.  I'll try again next year.  Since we didn't have a harvest, we did the next best thing and purchased a case of organic butternut squash from Azure Standard, a co-op we belong to.

So let's make some butternut squash soup!  As you can see I've cut the squash in half and seeded them.  I'm saving the seeds to plant next year.  Perhaps this will be a better batch.  I'm also going to add some composted cow and chicken manure to add some richness to the soil in the raised beds where I plant my vining squash.

Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds
Now we'll arrange the squash, 'meat-side' down in a baking pan with water on the bottom and put in an oven set at 350 for about 30 minutes.  

Baking the squash
When the timer goes off, we remove them from the oven and allow to cool for a bit until we can handle them without burning our fingers.  The flesh of the butternut squash is a beautiful golden-orange color.

Lovin' from the oven
Now we'll get a spoon and scoop out every last bit of the squash from the hard rind of the butternut squash.  It doesn't take long and pretty soon you'll have a big pile of squash which will serve as the base of your soup. 

Removing the squash from the rind
Meanwhile, in a stock pot, get 2 Tablespoons of butter, two cloves garlic minced, and once cup of onions sauteing. 

While the butter, garlic and onions are getting "happy" in the pot, we picked some jalapenos and some carrots (1/2 cup sliced) from the garden and began slicing them up.

Processing some fresh veggies
We added the carrots and peppers to the pot along with a half teaspoon of ground cumin, a half teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of pepper.

All the veggies in the pot, except for the squash
Earlier in the day, Tricia took one of our chickens out of the freezer and began to boil it.  After a long while, it rendered some nice, rich, health-inducing chicken broth.  We added 1 cup of the beautiful broth to the veggies in the stock pot and cook until the carrots are soft.

Adding chicken broth to the stock pot

All the carrots, onions, garlic, butter, peppers, and seasonings now get poured into the food processor and we run it until the contents are processed.

We then put the butternut squash into the food processor and pureed it until it was a creamy consistency.  Don't worry about washing the food processor.  It'll all be together in a minute.

Pureeing the squash
We poured the pureed squash into a dutch oven.

We poured an additional three cups of our chicken broth into the dutch oven that contained the squash.

Broth added to squash
Now we go ahead and add the pureed carrot/broth mixture to the squash in the dutch oven and stir it all up to incorporate the flavors.  Then heat it all up.

All coming together

Once the soup is nice and hot, turn it off and add 1/4 cup of some fresh heavy cream from the jersey cows and stir it up.

The cream of the crop
Now all we need is a ladle, a bowl, a spoon, and some fresh cut up parsley to garnish the top.

Homemade Butternut Squash Soup
It is so creamy and delicious.  While it tastes like something you got a a fancy restaurant, the fact is - it's a simple dish with only a few wholesome ingredients that anyone can make at home.  Make up a pot of homemade butternut squash soup. Your taste buds will thank you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

This is Hard to Write...

This is hard to write and hard to talk about, but that is part of what this blog is about - to journal our thoughts, our victories, and sadly, our struggles in managing a small, diversified homestead farm. Tricia and I have long said that this adventure is a learning process, one that has its fair shares of exuberance and victories where you feel like you are on top of the world AND one fraught with disappointments and difficulties where you feel like you're in a valley.  This is one of those times.

On April 6, 2013, we embarked upon a new adventure that we chronicled in this post: Nellie in which we rejoiced in a new addition to our family when we purchased a lovable Nubian Dairy goat named Nellie.  Since that time Nellie has become like a member of our family, yielding gallons and gallons of goat milk that we use primarily to make kefir.  She gave us many smiles and laughs along the way. She also gave us Annie, her little girl:

Annie's all grown now and it was time to bring Nellie and Annie to be bred by a Nubian billy goat and we recently discussed that trip in This Blog Post.
Nellie (foreground) and Annie (background) ready to go
We received a call earlier this week sadly informing us that Nellie had died.  There. I said it.  We don't know how or why and we certainly don't blame the wonderful people looking after her.  There were no marks from predators and no signs of sickness.  It just happened.  It's one of those things that you turn over and over in your mind wondering what we could have done differently, wondering how this could have been averted or what type of learning experience we can take away from this tragedy. Sometimes there are no answers.

We know that we provided her with a good life.  She was a happy goat and it saddens us that when we go to pick up Annie, Nellie won't be returning to Our Maker's Acres Family Farm.  As I write this I can almost hear her bleating "behhhh" and the jingling of the red bell that we had hanging around her neck as she would run to the barn for her daily milking.

There is a phrase in French, C'est la vie, that means "That's life."  It's true.  Bad things just happen sometimes that we can't change.  Although hard to accept, it's just the way things are and you keep pressing on.  Life is a cycle that sadly includes death.  We fully understand that she's an animal. She's not human and as special as she was to our family, her life is not as valuable as human life.  Our job is to be good stewards of the animals and land that the Good Lord has given us and we believe we've done that, but that is no consolation for losing her and doesn't assuage the sense of loss we have. This isn't the first animal we've lost and it won't be the last.

RIP Nellie
The Millenials have a term they use when something is really good.  They call it GOAT.  That acronym stands for Greatest Of All Time.  RIP Nellie.  You were the GOAT and we will miss you! 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Making Kimchi with Bok Choy

We've produced lots of bok choy this fall and have really enjoyed its crunchiness, flavor, and health benefits.  We have a full row of it and it was planted close together and not spaced.  It is a resilient crop and fast growing.  Out of everything planted in the Fall Garden, it's the first thing that's ready for harvesting.  It was planted last year for the first time and has become a mainstay in our Fall Garden.

The row of bok choy
A few warm days has induced the bok choy to bolt.  Bolting is when the crop sends up a shoot that contains a flower.  In effect, the plant is trying to produce seed to ensure that there will be more bok choy next year and the year after.  We have discovered that bok choy is more tender and tasty before it bolts.

The flower of the bok choy
So that means we'd better either start eating even more of it, give it away, or preserve it.  I picked four or five plants and decided we'd try something new.  We always make sauerkraut, but we've never made the Korean equivalent - kimchi. Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish made with fermented vegetables.  In this case, we'll use bok choy, instead of cabbage to make it.  Bok Choy is, after all, called Chinese cabbage or Chinese greens by some.

Bok Choy Harvest
We got the recipe from Nourishing Traditions, a cookbook put out by the Weston A. Price Foundation and written by Sally Fallon.  While I was out in the garden, in addition to the bok choy, I selected some fresh carrots and radishes to add to the mix.  Yum!

Fresh radishes and carrots
The other ingredients besides bok choy (continuing clockwise in the photo below) was fresh green onions from the garden, ginger, carrots, Criolla Sella pepper flakes, radishes, sea salt, whey, and garlic.

The Ingredients
I popped all the bok choy into the food processor and chopped them up real good. The greens transformed into a deep green chopped salad that was heavy with liquid.

Chopped Bok Choy
After removing the chopped up bok choy, I shredded all the other vegetables in the food processor, making a slaw-like amalgamation of veggies.

A multitude of shredded vegetables
I added four tablespoons of whey and one tablespoon sea salt that will act as the preservative.  Whey is a by-product of making cheese or yogurt and we save it in jars in the fridge for lacto-fermenting vegetables.

Adding the whey
After mixing it all up thoroughly, I took a wooden mallet (meat tenderizer) and began scrunching (is that a word?) the mixture all together, bruising it and releasing all of the juices contained int the vegetables.

It's Hammer Time!
I then spooned the kimchi into two wide mouth jars, leaving an inch head space at the top of the jar and then sealed them tightly.  We'll leave these at room temperature for 3 days.  It looks a little scary, know, but we're going to give it a chance...

Letting the kimchi sit for 3 days at room temperature
At the end of 3 days, we'll move the jars to the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process.  I noticed last night the lids were bulging a little, letting me know that the fermentation process is well underway.

So I don't forget...
Once you move the kimchi to the fridge, you can begin eating it, but I'm told that it gets better with age.  A friend of mine who is of Korean descent told me one time that kimchi is delicious, BUT that it packs a powerful smell.  In fact, his wife wouldn't let him eat it in the house.  He had to open the jar and eat it outside.  This is going to be an interesting experiment.  (We might open the jar outside!!)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Making Tangerine Juice

We have several citrus trees planted around the house - satsumas, tangerines, and navel oranges.  In the early Spring, if you can't locate me, look for me around the citrus trees smelling the blooms.  The fragrance is intoxicating.  There's no smell like it.  Around this time, though, it is time to harvest the fruit off of the trees.  We normally wait until we've had a few frosts to begin picking as we've read in several publications that the first cold snaps cause the citrus to get sweeter and more juicy.

Today, we'll harvest some fruit off one of our tangerine trees.  We've picked a few off the trees here or there and amazingly discovered that Rosie, our Jersey cow, loves to eat the peelings.  So we stood by the fence eating tangerines and handing the peelings over to Rosie to dispose of.  Nothing was left to compost.  Reminded me of the 'Jack Sprat' nursery rhyme:

Jack Sprat could eat no fat.His wife could eat no lean.And so between them both, you see,They licked the platter clean.

A number of years ago, I was picking satsumas off the tree and my neighbor remarked that I was doing it all wrong.  I didn't know there was a right way and a wrong way to pick citrus, but I was mistaken.  If you just pull the fruit off the tree, many times you'll get something that resembles this:

Let 'er rip (if you're gonna eat right away)
Can you see how ripping the fruit off the tree tears a piece of the peeling off, exposing the underlying fruit?  If you don't eat it right away, it will dry out and become hard.  My neighbor taught me to twist the fruit until it snaps off.

Let's twist again (like we did last summer)
By twisting (with apologies to Chubby Checker), it doesn't tear and you'll have a little "button" instead of a tear.  
Picking Perfection
So after I did a lot of twisting, I filled up the cake cover that I was using for a harvesting bucket and set them down by some purple flowers and loofahs that were drying in the sun on the back porch. The colors just jump out and grab you...

Brilliant Orange color!
I went inside and began slicing the fruit in half as I decided I would make a pitcher of fresh squeezed tangerine juice.  So juicy!

Sliced Tangerines
In addition to the cutting board and knife, I assembled the juicer, a strainer, and the pitcher and got busy.

The assembly line

These little boogers were full of juice.  They had a few seeds, but the strainer caught most of those before they went into the pitcher.

Extracting Tangerine Nectar
As you can see, it didn't take many tangerines to fill the pitcher.  Were they ever juicy~

First pitcher of tangerine juice
The color of the tangerine juice was almost a neon orange and the scent was nice.

I put the pitcher into the refrigerator and allowed it to get to 38 degrees and then poured myself a glass.  Wow!  So sweet and tart at the same time.  Absolutely delicious!  We'll be juicing a bunch of them as we have several trees left to pick.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Darn It!

Darn it is an expression I often use when things don't go well.  Either that or dang it.  It is much nicer than alternative expressions.  I was thinking of the other definition of darn, though, after looking at a pair of my 'work' socks on the counter.

  1. 1.
    mend (knitted material or a hole in this) by weaving yarn across the hole with a needle.
    "I don't expect you to darn my socks"

These socks have seen their better days
You might notice that these socks have the little Polo label on them.  Ralph Lauren, in designing these socks, probably didn't envision them becoming a 'work' sock, but that's what they've become. My mom bought these socks for me in the summer of 1984 for me to wear in college.  I had purple ones, gold ones, red ones and the green ones.  The green was once much more bright and had A LOT LESS wear on them! Unbelievable that a pair of socks has lasted for 30 years.

But now, it is time to retire the last pair of Polo socks I'll probably ever own.  I think this pair is well past the point at which 'darning' them would help!  Does anyone darn socks anymore?  In today's disposable culture, probably not.

Where's my darning needle?
We have a progression for clothing at our house.  Once clothes are too worn or faded or unfashionable to be worn in public, they become 'work clothes' and move from the clothes hanger to the work clothes stack in my closet.  The animals don't care that your clothes are stained or have holes in them or are faded.  Once they've become too atrocious looking to even wear in front of the animals (and that's pretty bad), they move to the 'rag drawer.'

We use a lot of rags for all sorts of cleaning jobs and have a drawer in our utility room that has plenty of old socks and cut up T shirts in their final stage of usefulness.  These green Polo socks, in their final installment of their 30 year existence, will be a rag to clean the tires when washing the car or as a rag to clean up after changing the oil.

Holy Socks
If these socks could talk, they'd have a few stories to tell about college life 30 years ago all the way to milking cows and tromping through mud and cow poop and now wiping used 10W30 motor oil from around the bottom of the engine block where the new Fram oil filter is about to be installed.  Quite a fall from grace, I might say, darn it!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Penelope's Flight

Penelope is the pea hen that adopted us.  She just showed up one day and has never left.  Of course we couldn't catch her if we wanted to.  She has a wide wingspan and can really fly.  She roosts in a tree about forty feet up in the air so she is safe from predators.  She'll either fly up from the ground and hop limb to limb until she gets to her spot or she'll fly up to the top of the barn and then fly over to her roosting tree.  We have a weather vane with a rooster on it on top of the barn and sometimes I wonder if Penelope and the rooster on the weather vane chat it up when she's up there.

Penelope is really a regal looking bird!

Penelope, the pea hen
Our chickens' wings are clipped so they pretty much stay in the pasture, but Penelope...  Well Penelope is free to come and go as she pleases.  She is quite a flyer. She's about the same size as a goose and when she gets those wings flapping, she can go anywhere.

I don't know what happened today, but she was in a very energetic mood.  I was in the side yard filling the dog's water bucket when I heard a strange noise and looked up just in time to see Penelope flying like mad, darting in and out of live oak branches and making all sorts of sounds I've never heard her make before.  She flew right past me about 15 feet in the air and landed on the roof our house.

Up on the roof
She strutted up to the very top of the roof.  What was she up to?

A nice vantage point
Once she got to the top, she gracefully walked to the top and took her station there, erect and purposeful.

A living weather vane
The best I can figure is that Penelope is auditioning to be the weather vane on our house just like the rooster weather vane on our barn.  Although I like her up there on the roof because she is quite stunning to look at, I'm not convinced that she's a functioning weather vane.  The jury is still out on that.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Bug's Life

A few days ago, Tricia and I poured a cup of coffee and walked around the yard. Sometimes we move so fast doing all sorts of things, that we just enjoy slowing down and taking the time to observe our surroundings.  Sometimes some of the most interesting things are right under our noses, but we don't take the time to observe and take it all in.

As we were walking, I happened to look up toward the eaves on the northern side of our home and something caught my eye.  It looked like a swarm of bees that was "bearding" and had attached itself to the side of the house.  Wow, are we being taken over by more bees?  I like our one colony, but I don't want more...

What is this?
As I looked closer, I noticed that whatever it was, it wasn't only on our roof, but on the side of the house as well.  And it's not bees.

It's a bug
As I looked a little closer, I saw exactly what they were: they are Leaf Footed Bugs and there are hundreds and hundreds of them.  In the close-up below, you can see why they are called leaf-footed bugs.  They have little thing on their back legs that looks like a leaf.  Sort of cool looking, but if you grow tomatoes or citrus, you know that these things are wretched creatures.

Leaf footed bug
Like a plague, they arrive and feed on your crops.  They are related to stink bugs and have a piercing mechanism on their mouth that allows them to pierce vegetables and fruits and suck the juice out of them. Their natural predators are birds, spiders and assassin bugs. 

I learned that the reason that they are piled up like this is that in the fall they bunch up in the piles you see above and below to overwinter.  Those groups are called aggregations, but I think I'll call them aggravations.  If they are still there this evening, I'm going to kill them all so they won't be around to inflict pain on my tomatoes and citrus in the spring.

RIP Leaf footed bugs
All these bugs might make you think that we have plagues of insects in Biblical proportions that sweep through and devour our crops, but believe it or not, there are some good, beneficial insects around our place.  Take for instance this fellow:

Let us prey!
A Praying Mantis!  He was on the bricks right below the leaf footed bugs.  And there was another out on the gate post going into the pasture.  They are such curious looking bugs!

The Praying Mantis
They don't actually pray (that I know of).  They actually prey on other insects like mosquitoes, flies, crickets, and moths.  The link I posted above says that they have been known to kill lizards, small mammals and hummingbirds.  Wow!  That would be something to see!

While I want to reduce the population of leaf-footed bugs, I'd certainly like to see the Praying Mantis population increase substantially.  We need more good bugs around the place.  We don't use pesticides so having a bunch of praying mantis' around would be a good thing.  If you look in the background of the picture above, you can see the green of the fall garden.  Perhaps this Praying Mantis hanging out on the gatepost is letting me know that he's raising a brood of beneficial insects to help me control the bad insects.  We'll see...

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