Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Barley And His Wives

This year turned out to be "The Year of the Rooster".  It had nothing to do with the Chinese zodiac, mind you.  It was because everyone unloaded roosters on us.

One day a neighbor showed up, shortly after the incident that led to the goats being jailed indefinitely behind permanent fencing (the neighbor to the North had caught them on wildlife camera destroying his corn field).  We took a deep breath when we saw the pick-up truck pull up, and wondered what priceless food crop they had eaten now.

But instead he wanted to give us ten roosters.  His elderly mother had ordered a bunch of straight run chickens to start a laying flock, and half of them grew into a rowdy bunch of roosters.  They weren't sure what to do with them, and hoped we could take them off their hands.

We didn't have the time or funds to raise meat chickens this year, so a bunch of free roosters destined for the pot was an attractive prospect.  Arrangements were quickly made, and we found ourselves with ten roosters all of a sudden.

A week or two before they crowed their last crows and fought their last petty battles, one of Rose's friends made the unpleasant discovery that a little pet chick that was supposed to grow up to be a backyard laying hen was actually a loud, obnoxious rooster.

Barley was just barely out of the awkward adolescent pin-feather stage when we got him.  He was still peeping, but nonetheless was able to screech out a surprisingly powerful peep-crow with his little beak gaping open.  It would have meant death to put him in with the other chickens, so he was kept in a separate coop in the orchard until he grew up.

Once the other roosters were out of the way, he was moved to a moveable coop, which he had all to himself.  He would get so excited to see us arrive every day.  His crow gradually got less squeaky and more polished and professional. He added some extra doodle-doos in there at the end, too.

Just after I planted my starts in the winter garden, we started having trouble keeping the hens in their moveable coop.  The cows were in the next paddock on hay, and Sappho (nicknamed Sapphole), kept jumping out, bumping the lids off, and then going to check out the neighbor's cornfield that the goats had already ravaged.  The hens were all over the place scratching up bugs and roosting in stupid places.  Miraculously, none of them went missing - at least none that we noticed, since they all look exactly alike.  Meanwhile, they ate my entire winter garden and scratched up all the beds.

It took a week or so to finally round them all up, and they started ranging quite far.  One of them made it all the way through the garden to where Barley was housed.  Confused by seeing the other coop, she bobbed cautiously over to check it out.

As soon as he set eyes on her, Barley go SOOOO excited.  He flapped and crowed and did little dances and raked out his wings.  After his long, monastic celibacy, here was a gorgeous female (well, sort of - she was in the middle of a molt, but I don't think he was so particular) coming right for him!  It was his dream coming true.

Ethan caught the stupid hen and popped her in the coop as a sort of revenge for eating all our vegetables.  Barley went insane with joy.  He was so excited he couldn't stop dancing around in a little circle.  The hen was bewildered and not super thrilled about being the object of his attentions, but it was too late - she was stuck with him.

A few days later, another hen ranged over that way, and in she went.  Barley could hardly contain himself again.  This was beyond his wildest dreams.

In just a few days, his breast became noticeably more puffed and his strut got more swagger.  His toes barely touch the ground now since acquiring not just one, but two wives.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Cassava Stuffing - An All Local/Homegrown Recipe

There is nothing to inspire thankfulness and gratitude more than sitting down to a meal that is all home grown.  When all the sweat and worry is yours, when you have watched the seasons turn as small seeds became large plants, as chicks became pin feather-studded adolescents, and finally a flock of magnificent birds with copper-trimmed feathers, you know the fruits of labor and the incredible workings of nature that support our lives.

The Thanksgiving stuffing tradition in my family was always from store bought wheat bread.  My grandmother always used chestnuts from her tree in the back yard, but the rest was bought at the store.  Since we have been growing our own food, it always seemed strange every Thanksgiving to be roasting a home grown bird, with all home grown and local side dishes, and then to use stuffing made from ingredients grown who-knows-where and made in a factory.

Last year was an abundant year for the cassava, and I was inspired to create this grain-free, Paleo-legal stuffing recipe to reflect our locality here in North Florida.  All the ingredients can be grown locally and are in season.

Cassava Stuffing

2 quarts of water
3 cups of cassava (also called manioc, or yuca) , peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces

2 cups peeled chestnuts or pecans, chopped

1 large onion, or a few smaller ones, chopped

 1 cup dried wild plums, pits removed (raisins or dried unsweetened cherries or cranberries can be substituted - or even pieces of roselle)

1 cup butter, ghee, or lard

1 clove of garlic, grated (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

1 Tablespoon Chopped fresh parsley, or  2 teaspoons dried  

1.  In a medium to large pot, bring the water to a boil and add the cassava pieces.  Cook until they are tender, about 20-30 minutes.  Drain and set aside in a large bowl.

2.  Melt the butter in a frying pan and gently sautée the chopped onion, dried wild plums/raisins or cherries, and chestnut or pecan pieces.

3.  Meanwhile, season the boiled cassava with the garlic, dried thyme, parsley, salt and pepper.  When the onions are soft, pour the butter/onion/nut mixture over the cassava and mix well.

4.  Use like regular stuffing - stuff into a roasting  bird or you can also bake it separately in a pan for about 20 minutes at 350F.

Note:  The chestnuts are easy to peel if you cut them in half with a sturdy knife and boil them for about 5 minutes.  Drain, and immediately slip them out of their peels.  There is more information on preparing cassava here.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday!!!  Thank you for reading here!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Painting and Whitewashing

One thing that we had been meaning to do for way too long was to paint the inside and outside of the barn.  It was sheathed mostly with recycled plywood we salvaged from the brewery that supplies us with small loads of malted barley mash for the pigs.  Bare wood in Florida does not last very long, and we've been anxious to do something to preserve it better.

The problem was the paint.  I really didn't want to use toxic paint, not only because I don't want to be exposed to the volatile organic compounds (VOC's) that are so deadly, but also because I didn't want anything toxic to be brought to where all of our food comes from.

Non-toxic paint seems to be worth its' weight in gold, especially because the "local" corporate hardware stores don't supply it, and the shipping is very expensive.  The next option was to get "Zero-VOC" paint from Home Despot and hope it wasn't too toxic (none of the employees could give me any information on the toxicity of the paint other than provide advertisements that flaunted the Zero-VOC label).  All the major brands seem to offer a no-VOC version, so it wasn't a special kind or anything.

We got one gallon of the cheapest brand of the exterior paint, in white, because adding color adds VOC's like crazy.  It didn't need a primer, but required two coats.  One gallon, for more than $20, barely covered the trim, and we realized the real cost of painting it all.

So this was where we started looking into some DIY options.  Milk paint was tempting, but we don't have any milk right now, and we didn't like the idea of spending money on someone else's skim milk.  A Swedish oil paint recipe caught my eye, and we crunched the numbers and realized how much cheaper it would be - one coat, nearly all ingredients (except for pigment and zinc sulfate/ferrous sulfate) to be obtained locally and not shipped, the long life span of the paint even under harsh conditions.  The catch was that it had to be on a vertical surface of bare wood, and can't cover previously painted surfaces.  This was exactly what we needed to paint, so we got everything together and looked through all the pigments to find the least expensive one, which turned out to be brown ochre.

Making paint was amazing.  You start with a big, boiling pot of water and as you add the other ingredients, it becomes more and more like paint.  The brown ochre, rather than becoming more pale and mild as we had expected, took on the dark lustre of a chestnut.  It painted on beautifully.  The one recipe covered the entire outside of the barn, with a gallon or so left over.

The color was far too dark for the inside, however.   We decided to try whitewash for the inside, which was historically used in barns, kitchens and dairies.

Lime, salt, and water are all that are needed for whitewash.  It doesn't last as long as regular paint, and has to be redone every so often.  Still, one 50-lb bag of masonry lime cost us $11 and we used only a small fraction of it.  Unlike regular paint, which will mold and mildew unless it has very toxic things added to it, whitewash is naturally anti-microbial.  When you wash the brushes and paint-dishes off, it sweetens and mineralizes the soil instead of poisoning it.

It was a challenge to actually find the right kind of lime, the "local" corporate hardware stores having a clever trick devised where it is listed on their websites, but it is kept perpetually unavailable (perhaps it would compete with their deplorable paint choices?).  In the end we had to drive outside of town to a family-owned hardware store to find it.

It was easy to mix up, but there was some anxiety when it was finally brushed on.  It didn't cover very well.  It looked transparent and was barely white at all.  I thought perhaps successive coats were necessary, but once I turned my back and it started to cure it turned a uniform bright white.  It was like a pot boiling.  I couldn't detect the change if I watched it (yes, I was watching paint dry).

Whitewash, still curing.  It became much more white and uniform.

The character of the wood was preserved, however, as you can still see knots, or the distinctive swirls of the grain. The lime releases oxygen as it cures, and the barn felt so airy and light and clean.  It was such a different experience than the freshly-painted part that was the regular paint, which was also white, but could certainly not be called "fresh" or "airy".

Monday, November 21, 2016

Before The Frost

The first frost last night prompted us to glean what we could from the remainder of the summer garden - mostly roselle, small eggplants, and fiery-hot peppers.  A beautiful magenta amaranth plant that had volunteered in the winter garden was harvested for soup greens.  Ethan pulled up the entire hot pepper plants to finish harvesting after dark at home.  There were just too many little peppers.

The greenery on the pepper plants was just beautiful.  It was too bad the frost came before Thanksgiving, because it would have made such decorative garlands with the little peppers still on it like fairy lights.

The first radishes and greens were ready to pick from the winter garden this week.  We covered the entire winter garden last night before the sunlight had faded.  I've had so many seasons before when a light frost came and killed the entire garden - even things that are supposed to be winter-hardy, like Arugula and Siberian kale.

It is always a little sad to say goodbye to a garden - this was the final end of the summer garden.  All attention is now turned to the winter garden, and looking forward to spring, when it will be time to have all the summer plants starting again.  In a month, it will be time to start tomatoes already.  And the frosts will make the winter greens and radishes mild and sweet.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wedding Lace

Last night I cast-on for my first-ever knitting commission:  lace for a friend's wedding.  This pattern is one of those lace patterns that doesn't have the easy row of knit or purl between lace rounds, but it is a nice challenge.  Lace can feel so tedious, even if it is not so many stitches long across the needles, but this pattern (Valenciennes) is complicated enough that it keeps it interesting.

I had the hardest time trying to figure out where I had bought lace yarn for the first lace knitting, and ended up getting some of knitpick's Curio yarn, and I'm glad I did.  The first lace yarn was almost like dental floss - I think it had been starched flat.  It looked fine when knitted up, but this yarn has a pretty shine to it, and a nice feel.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Roselle Mock Cranberry Sauce

Roselle is one of those garden plants that hardly anyone knows about.  I first saw it growing at Karen Sherwood's farm about ten years ago, and was impressed as much by its striking appearance as I was with the flavor of some homemade soda Karen had made with it.

It is common and well-known in the Caribbean, Southern Asia, Southern India, and North Africa.  Nutritious and medicinal, roselle is related to okra and cotton.  It needs a long season to grow and is one of those wonderful, multi-use plants.  The stalks have strong fibres that can be used to make rope, the leaves are also edible and can be cooked like spinach, and all sorts of different things are made with the fleshy red calyxes that form after the flower has bloomed, from tea to jam.

Here in the South, Roselle was often called "The Florida Cranberry" for the tart, cranberry-like flavor of the calyxes.  A very convincing "cranberry" sauce that is simple to make a can be made from it with all local and home-grown ingredients.  I hope this might inspire you to consider making your Thanksgiving a local-food feast!


 Roselle Mock Cranberry Sauce

First of all, the red calyxes must be peeled away from the green seed pods on the inside.  They are slightly prickly and uncomfortable to handle, so you might want to wear gloves if you have sensitive hands (not me - I garden too much).  If you are shucking  A LOT of roselle, a roselle corer is easy to make and makes the task go much faster.

The corer on the left in the photo was made by gluing a 3-inch piece of thin brass tubing to a piece of wood with a hole bored in the middle.

Now you are ready for the recipe:

2 cups shucked roselle calyxes, very freshly picked
1/2 cup water (you can also use fresh-squeezed orange juice instead for a more citrus-y holiday flavor, or add sliced kumquats, etc.)

1/2-1 cup honey, depending on how sweet of a sauce you like

1.  Put roselle and water together in a sauce pan.  Bring to a boil over a low flame with the lid on.  Cook until the roselle is soft.

2.  With a blender or food processor, blend up the sauce.  Add honey to taste.  If the sauce is too thin, you can cook it down over low heat.  It will gel in the fridge if it is cooked down enough.

Notes:  Salt and pepper are interesting additions to this sauce, and give it a more savoury, almost ketchup-like flavor.  It goes well either way with all kinds of meats.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Autum Colors

One of the Marina di Choggia pumpkins we pulled out of the garden in August

Thai Red Roselle

Down here we don't get the stunning fall leaf display the way it happens up North.  There are beautiful leaves to find, but the landscape is never lit up with brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges.  Instead I am enjoying the beautiful fall colors coming out of the garden right now.

Sweet, starchy, and pungent are the flavors and foods of late summer and fall in Chinese medicine, so perfectly aligned with what is ready to harvest in those seasons - cassava, corn, millet, spicy peppers, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and super-sweet persimmons.

We finally got around to roasting one of the big blue Marina di Choggia pumpkins.  I've wanted to grow them for years, but they never made the short list of pumpkins until now.  They are so ornamental, I've had them sitting around on side tables as decorations instead of eating them.  This one was getting a little grey around the edges and finally made it into the oven.  I can finally confirm the seed catalogue's glowing praise.  It roasted up well and was very tasty.  It wasn't as sweet as the Seminole pumpkins, but it made a great savory fried pumpkin dish as leftovers. 

We got the last few bags of non-astringent persimmons from the Jonesville Persimmon Orchard last week.  They are almost too sweet, and taste like caramel candy.  I mentioned that I wished people gave out persimmons for Halloween, and Mirin piped up that he has compared persimmons to candy and come to the conclusion that the persimmons are actually sweeter.  We had been eating them in quantity (who needs candy?), but they are being strictly rationed out between us now that the season is over.

I chatted with Ken, who owns the Jonesville Persimmon Orchard, while we were picking over the last bins of persimmons and trying to supervise Clothilde as she played with Possum, the fruit guard dog (he barks at the birds).  I was trying to commiserate on the season being over, but Ken said he finds it to be such a relief not to be picking any more!  I laughed because I can totally relate.  It's so easy to drift in and pick some up, not even thinking about all the work that goes into tending the trees and harvesting.

He showed us some interesting persimmon trees that are crosses of the native wild persimmons and and Asian variety.  It resembled what you would imagine a cross between an astringent and non-astringent persimmon would be like.  The fruit was a deep, glowing orange, but round rather than elongated like the astringent varieties.  There were other interesting fruit trees, too.  Cold-tolerant bananas and mangoes, blueberries and blackberries.  He is always trying new varieties and has carefully selected ones that thrive here in North Florida.

The roselle is finally in full production, ready for turkey season.  I am determined to attempt an all home-grown Thanksgiving this year, with cassava stuffing and roselle "cranberry" sauce (stay tuned for more on that coming up!).

Ethan is struggling with the sheer abundance of the hot pepper harvest this year.  There's only so much hot pepper sauce one person can eat in a year (no one else in the family regularly douses their food with it), so he is almost at the stage where he will be begging people to take it away.

The weather is growing cooler, and the winter garden gets taller every day.  Soon the frost will bite back the bright colors and radishes and greens will fill our table.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Work Getting Done

No paying work, but meanwhile there is plenty to accomplish.  It's a wonderful feeling to come home and cross off all the things that have been done from the to-do list.  We were actually on TV a couple of weeks ago, talking for a few seconds about work!

We had mostly talked about our pig classes, blogging, the French recipes, seed saving, the Dudley corn etc, for the interview, so were sort of disappointed that the few words we said about working hard were picked out to be showcased on television to point out to the ignorant masses how insane we are.  I guess it has to be watchable, and there's nothing watchable in presenting people with an opposing lifestyle that is fun and rewarding.

(It is puzzling to me how Americans always do lip service to working hard as a patriotic value, but then sneer at something walking themselves to the corner store or growing your own vegetables because there's some physical work involved.)

And consider how many newscasters (for example) get to eat amazing grassfed steak every night?  There's definitely a work-to-benefit ratio.  Putting on layers of make-up and reading words that don't even reflect reality off a screen on camera sounds like the most awful job to me.  I just couldn't do it, even if I looked fine in photographs and got a decent salary in compensation.  I would much rather be throwing some hay/manure on my garden, or snuggling my face into Matilda's silky flank while I hand-milk us some grass-fed raw cream, butter, yogurt, kefir, and cheese.

Of course it all comes down to personal preference.  Work is not hard work if it is done with love and joy.  What is that lovely line from Kalil Gibran?  "Work is love made visible."

After a long work day yesterday, Ethan and I ended up stuck playing a terrible board game with the girls that evening.  They had begged to play, and even set up the board, but shortly into the game they found they would rather wrestle really close to the game board where dozens of sharp, tiny plastic pieces were precariously set up.

Despite her former enthusiasm, Clothilde was bored, and when she is bored she is BAD (and this is why we intend to homeschool her!).  She spent most of the game throwing herself at the little plastic pine trees where the clues were hidden, throwing the dice like she was pitching a baseball, and trying to do somersaults over the board.  It was more like being her gymnastics coach rather than playing a board game.

Ethan and I agreed afterwards that the board game advertisements in magazines inaccurately represent the reality of family game night.  A realistic photo would depict the parents nearly drooling on the table with fatigue and boredom, and the kids would all be slightly blurry.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Yarn Along: Lace

The cat insisted she be in the photo - I swear I didn't set it up around her.  It was all I could do to keep her from sitting on the lace.

I mentioned in a previous post that I had tried in vain to find lace knitting patterns on Ravelry.  I found a few, but I had expected there to be lots.  I finally broke down and went on Amazon, and discovered many books about lace knitting, including this wonderful book by Barbara Abbey (with an introductory note by Elizabeth Zimmerman!).  So I have been happily knitting lace ever since.

I am new to lace knitting, so I picked a simple pattern (Fern Leaf Insertion) to try out.  It's been fun!  I am enjoying seeing the pattern emerge row after row.  However, it isn't Sociable Knitting, like some projects can be.  I really have to focus on what I'm doing or it gets into a horrible mess and lace stitches are nearly impossible to pick up once frogged.  I made the mistake of taking it out during a birthday party once, so one panel turned out slightly different.  I managed to rescue it without having to rip it out, but it was headache-inducing.

One thing that is a little brain-twisting about Barbara Abbey's lace patterns is that she uses a different notation than I'm used to - 0 for YO, / for right-leaning decrease, 1 for K1, etc.  I tried using her notation for the first rounds, and then switched to translating it into the terms I'm used to.

Clothilde has been sitting on my lap as I typed this, and she wanted to say: