Saturday, July 31, 2010

Frivolous Friday...All the Wrinkled Ladies

Zucchini Week has been so here's something to lighten things up. I love this video, especially the more mature gals dancing in the background. Totally see myself and some friends doing this for a talent show at our retirement community in about 40 years or so. Or maybe my sisters will dance with me...

Gals you are all beautiful and God loves you very much no matter how many wrinkles you have!

Thanks to Julie L.!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Zucchini Week - The Best Chocolate Zucchini Cake...Really THE Best!

Day Five of Zucchini Week and we've finally gotten to the good stuff - dessert!  I love dessert!

Before I get to the recipe for the best zucchini cake I've found, we need to learn a little more about zucchini.  Sorry.  It's the Mom in me; we can't just make a cake, we need to learn what exactly we're using to make the cake.  You want to know what you're eating, right?

I've done a bit of research this week and found out something very surprising.  Zucchini is a member of the squahs family and it is a fruit, NOT a vegetable.  If I had remembered the botany I studied with my younger kids this year, I would have known this already.  Those big green clubs growing out in our garden are the seed containers of the zucchini plants and everyone knows seed containers are the fruit of a plant.  If we want to get really technical, the zucchini is the "immature ovary" of the plant.  (Thanks wikipedia!)

Zucchini or versions of the zucchini we know and love here are grown all over the world and eaten in a variety of ways.  In fact, the blossoms on zucchini plants are loved as much as the squash itself.  It seems they originated in Mexico and have since migrated around the globe, only arriving in the United States in the early 1900's probably coming with Italian immigrants.  If you have a British friend, they'll call a zucchini a courgette.  Isn't this all so interesting?  Even food has history!

One more thing, I always wondered about the nutrition of a zucchini.  They are a vegetable (fruit, whatever) so I knew there were at least a few redeeming qualities to them.  But they seemed to be comprised of so much water, I wondered if there could be room for any great nutrients in there?  Guess what?  They contain lots of good things for us!

In just under 1 cup of fresh zucchini, you get decent amounts of folates, riboflavin, manganese, potassium, Vitamin A.  It also contains very helpful amounts of magnesium and Vitamin C.  As a bonus, this amount of zucchini only has 17 calories, little fat, no cholesterol and a bit of fiber.  I tried to do some research on whether freezing zucchini changes it's nutritional content.  It seems a few of the nutrients might take a bit of a hit, but not that much.  Hooray!

So, after all this, I say, "Let them eat cake and throw some zucchini in it!"  I've tried several cake recipes using zucchini and this one is my favorite.  I love the combination of chocolate and spices it has.  Enjoy!

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
from "Taste of Home," August/September 1998, "Men Who Run the Range"

1/2 c butter, softened
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 3/4 c sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1/4 c cocoa
1 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t cloves
1/2 c sour milk  (1 1/2 t vinegar or lemon juice, plus milk to equal 1/2 c.  Let it sit for a few minutes.)
2 c shredded zucchini
1/2 c chocolate chips
1/2 c brown sugar

In mixing bowl, cream butter, oil and sugar.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Combine dry ingredients in separate bowl.  Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture, alternately with milk.  Mix well.  Stir in zucchini.  Pour into a greased 9x13 pan.  Sprinkle with chocolate chips and brown sugar.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. 

Only one note about this recipe - I don't mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.  Doing so would make one more dish and that's just not my style.  I just add the cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and spices to the creamed mixture and mix for a bit.  Then I add the flour alternately with the milk.  It's worked just fine every time.  Oh yes, I also add some cinnamon to the topping as well.  Guess that is two notes...

Happy Eating!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Free Digital Camera - That's a Good Deal

Last month, our digital camera bit the dust on the first day of our vacation.  Sigh.  I was sad, but thankfully we were on vacation so it was pretty easy not to be too sad.  It's a silly thing to be said about, I know.  But I knew there were moments I'd miss recording.  These Young'uns keep growing way too fast.

Running out to buy a new camera isn't in the family budget, but amazingly, we got a brand new digital camera yesterday thanks to the MaxPerks Reward program at Office Max.  What a great thing!

Here's how it works: you sign up, buy things you need either in store or online, get MaxPerks money put into your MaxPerks Reward account, use the money in your account to buy other things you need at Office Max.  Pretty simple, right?

But wait...there's more.

Every so often, Office Max has a crazy sale and you can earn lots of MaxPerks reward money.  Last Fall, Office Max had a special going and I bought 2 cases of printer paper, a box of file folders and a box of those cardboard file boxes.  I bought it all online and shipping was free.  The total came to about $50.00 which is not exactly a great deal on the surface.  However, Office Max put all of the money I spent on the purchase into my MaxPerks Reward account.  So, it's like I got all those things for free...kind-of.

Then in January, they had another crazy sale just like the one above.  This time I got 2 more cases of paper, a box of legal envelopes, a box of Sharpie markers and a box of manila envelopes.  Again, all delivered to my door with free shipping.  This time, however, I didn't spend a dime out of my pocket.  I spent the money in my MaxPerks Rewards account and I received all of the "money" I spent on this current purchase BACK into my Max Perks account.  Do you see where this is going?

In between then and now, I also brought some old printer cartridges into Office Max.  They deposit $3.00 in my MaxPerks account for every cartridge I bring to them.  You can bring in 10 cartridges each WEEK - that's $30.00 per week, if you could get your hands on that many used cartridges.

So yesterday, I went into Office Max to look at backpacks.  MaxPerks Rewards "money" expires after 6 months, so I needed to spend my money.  If you buy a backpack at the store this week, you'll earn your entire purchase back in MaxPerks Rewards (limit of 2).  My plan was to "roll" my Rewards money and get some nice backpacks in the process.

When we got to the store, I had to walk by the cameras on the way to the backpacks and there it was - an awesome camera on sale BIG time - just waiting for me.  Needless to say, I didn't even look at the backpacks.  The MaxPerks Rewards in my account covered the whole amount of the camera.  I was actually a bit giddy and grateful.  I've said a few prayers about the camera.

So, for $50.00 and a bit of time, I've gotten 4 cases of paper, file folders, business envelopes, manila envelopes, file boxes, Sharpie markers and a CAMERA since last Fall that's a good deal!

Zucchini Week - Time to Start Shredding

Part of Mt. Zucchini here on The Little Farm
(Yeah!  We got a new camera - for free!)

Day Four of Zucchini Week and Farmer Ron harvested three more of the weapons, I mean beauties, out of the garden.  Do you know what this means?  It's time to start shredding zucchini.

When the zucs started coming fast and furious around the Little Farm, we eat lots of zucchini in lots of different ways - soups, pasta, salads, muffins, desserts - as soon as its harvested.  But there is no way we can eat all of them.  That would be as impossible as trying to keep myself from eating the bar of Lindt Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt hiding from my family in the cupboard.  It just isn't going to happen.

Nope, when we start to get buried under a mountain of zucchini, we get out the food processor and shred the things.  You can shred them with a hand grater, too, and I did for years before my good friend the food processor arrived.  After shredding them, I put them into Ziploc bags in 4 cup portions and off to the deep freeze in the basement they go.  Last summer, we ended up with 180 cups of shredded zucchini down there.  That's a lot of zucchini.  Guess what?  There is none left now!  Yep, we went through it all.

Lots of the shredded zucs ended up in the muffins we ate over the winter, but a good deal of it was snuck into various other foods to give them just a bit more nutrition and bulk.  Saucy Italian dishes and soups are the other places the shredded zucchini end up the most.  No one guessed they were having a little zucchini in their lasagna, spaghetti sauce or chicken soup.  He he he!  (That's my evil Mom laugh.)

A warning about shredded zucchini that's been gets really mushy and VERY watery.  If you're using it in a soup or sauce and need some extra liquid, just dump the whole bag in.  If you don't need more liquid or you're using the zucchini in muffins or cake, you HAVE to drain off the water before you use it.  Draining it is easy, just open a smallish hole in the Ziploc bag and squeeze.  You'll be amazed how small the amount of zucchini in the bag is once all the water is gone.

Sometimes the shredded zucchini doesn't head to the freezer.  Last year, I used some of it to make Mock Zucchini Apricot Preserves. Turns out Mock Zucchini Apricot Preserves is just another way of saying, "delicious!"  I loved it on wheat toast.  Mmmmmm.

Mock Zucchini Apricot Preserves
from "Meals of Grace," a cookbook by the lovely ladies of First Baptist Church in Merced, CA
makes 4 pints

6 c. shredded zucchini
1 c. water
6 c. sugar
1 20 oz. can of crushed pineapple
2 T. lemon juice
1 6 oz. package of apricot jello

Wash, peel and shred zucchini.  Put into a large pot, add water and boil for 6 minutes.  Add sugar, pineapple and lemon juice and boil for 6 more minutes.  Add apricot jello and boil for 6 more minutes.  Pour into jars and seal.  If you are going to eat the preserves soon, you can just keep them in the fridge.  If not, process these in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Tomorrow we get to the good stuff - Chocolate Zucchini Cake and more!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Zucchini Week - Raw Corn and Zucchini Salad

from Everyday Food at

Day Three of Zucchini Week and we've moved on to salads.  To be honest, I haven't ever made a cold salad with zucchini.  Never thought of eating it raw, but I wanted to cover all the zucchini bases this week so I went searching for a good salad recipe.

I didn't have to look any farther than the magazine rack in the bathroom (is this too much information?) and my June 2010 issue of Everyday Food from Martha Stewart.  I love this magazine!  It's only about healthy food and cooking (no decorating, pets, cleaning...just food), has recipes that contain everyday ingredients (no rare mushrooms that only grow under bamboo in Chinese forests) and the subscription price is great.

I made Raw Corn and Zucchini Salad for dinner tonight and got 2 thumbs up from the Big Guy and 2 of the Young'uns.  I loved it too!  Very fresh, almost sweet.  It is definitely going on the summer menu rotation.  As a bonus, it took me less than 10 minutes to put it together.  We had it with BBQ chicken in the crock pot - great combo.

I actually modified the original recipe (surprise) below quite a bit because we didn't have 2 of the ingredients.  The recipe from the magazine that got my creative juices going is listed below, I'll be trying it soon!  What I actually did with the recipe is farther down.

Raw Corn and Zucchini Salad
from Everyday Food, June 2010
serves 4

3 ears of corn, husked
2 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
2 T fresh lime juice
2T olive oil
2T cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper

Cut off tips of corn.  Stand an ear in wide, shallow bowl.  With a sharp knife, slice downward to cut off kernels.  You should end up with about 2 cups of corn.  Dump corn into a medium bowl.

Add sliced zucchini, lime juice, olive oil and cilantro.  Mix.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Eat away! 

Here's what I did with my version:
-used corn from my freezer.  It was fresh off the cob last September and worked great!!
-used the juice of 1/2 a lemon instead of the lime
-skipped the cilantro
-julienned the zucchini, instead of slicing it.  My goal was to make it look less like zucchini for my non-zucchini lovers.  The disguise didn't work too well, but I really liked how it looked.  Julienne basically means to cut into VERY thin strips like matchsticks.  It's a big pain to julienne veggies with a regular knife.  I used my new favorite kitchen tool to cut mine.  It's like a vegetable peeler, but it has little "ridges" (not sure what to call them) on the blade that cuts the veggie into matchsticks.  It is so much fun!  Makes stir-fry easy, too.  You can check it out here. 

I used some of my Swagbucks (so they were free!) to get the set and love all three of them.  The serrated blade works great on mango and kiwi and such.

Happy Zucchini Eating!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Zucchini Week - An Ode to Zucchini

There is even poetry about these amazing things!

An Ode to Zucchini

It was an an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny

silver striped green zucchini.

While we slumbered, what went wrong?

Overnight it's two feet long!

Zucchini Week - Veggie Pancakes and Spaghetti with Zucchini and Lemon

Welcome to Day Two of Zucchini Week!  After looking through my recipes, I'm having trouble narrowing down what to share with you.  Who knew I've cooked so much zucchini over the years?  (Not me!)

Today, I'm giving out two recipes - Veggie Pancakes and Spaghetti with Zucchini and Lemon.  Both of these are vegetarian recipes.  However, they do contain dairy and eggs.  The whole family here on the Farm likes the Spaghetti recipe.  The youngest Young'uns are not so found of the pancakes.  Ron and I love them.

So, without further ado...

Veggie Pancakes

3 cups veggies, grated or finely chopped  (Use whatever you have - our favorites are zucchini and carrots)
1 cup potato, grated
1/2 onion, grated or diced fine
4 eggs
1/2 to 1 cup bread crumbs (if you don't have these you can use crackers or flour)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated cheese

After grating the veggies, stick them in a colander and let them drain for 15-30 minutes.  Press the veggies a bit to get out any extra water.  Dump veggies in a bowl add eggs, salt and pepper.  Mix.  Add bread crumbs and mix until dough forms.  This won't be a dough like bread dough - it will be very wet.  You just want it all to be sticking together and not really runny.  Add cheese and mix again.  Form into patties and cook in a frying pan (might need a bit of oil on the pan) or on an electric griddle.  Feeds 4 people.  I double this for sure when I make them.

A few notes
-a food processor makes this one much faster
-feel free to add fresh herbs
-we usually use cheddar cheese but others are great too
-never buy bread crumbs! I save the heels of our bread in a bread bag in the freezer.  When the bag starts to take over your freezer, I run it through my food processor.  Viola!  Bread crumbs.  You can put them into a Ziploc bag and keep them in the freezer until you need them.  I've also spread them out on a cookie sheet and baked them at 300 for about 10 minutes or until they were crispy.  I freeze them this way too.
-these aren't nearly as good if you use all flour when making them, but using some to firm up the dough is fine
-you can make a Greek version using all zucchini, some mint, and feta cheese.  Oh my yummy!

Spaghetti with Zucchini and Lemon

1 lb spaghetti or linguine
1 T olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
6-8 small, tender zucchini, sliced (about 4 cups)
dash of salt and pepper
juice of 1 lemon
6 large fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
1-2 cups grated cheese, Parmesan is best, but mozzarella will work

Cook pasta according to package directions. 

While pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet.  Add the garlic and zucchini and saute over medium high heat until the zucchini begins to brown.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Add lemon juice and basil, stir, and remove from heat.  This should be done just before the pasta gets done.  Drain pasta and toss in a big bowl with about 1 cup of cheese.  Top with the zucchini and serve right away.  Serves at least 4 people.

A few notes
-this one is really fast to make!
-dried basil works, too
-to cut fresh basil - stack the leaves and roll them then cut across into thin strips
-the zucchini mixture (without the pasta) works great as a side dish, in soup with chicken broth or even in an omelet

Happy Eating!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Zucchini Week - Come and Celebrate!

It's that time of are in the garden one day and everything looks good.  You go out the next day and trip over a green thing the size of your thigh hiding amongst the zucchini vines!  They are amazing things those zucchini. In fact, I think there is probably a PhD thesis somewhere waiting to be written on the extraordinary growth abilities of these squash.

We've begun harvesting zucchini here on the Farm - 5 last week and at least 4 more ready tomorrow.  And they'll just keep coming.  Did you know August 8th is national "Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor's Front Porch Day?"  I'm not making it up.  You can google it yourself.  Long about August 8th, we'll be ready to take part in the festivities.  For now however, we've got all sorts of ways to use up our bountiful supply of zucchini. 

So this week has been declared "Zucchini Week" here on the Little Farm.  (Cue music here.)  I'll be posting a zucchini recipe and maybe even some zucchini facts and fun all through the week.  Hopefully, these posts come just in time for you, as your garden or CSA box are probably starting to overflow with your own zucchini. 

Our first recipe is for Summer Garden Zucchini, Tomato and Cheese Casserole.  It's a pretty long title and it doesn't sound all that great, but oh my!  It's delicious and SO easy.  The whole casserole thing is rather misleading, too...maybe I should rename it someday.

Summer Garden Zucchini, Tomato and Cheese Casserole

4 medium zucchini, sliced thin (I never know what is meant in recipes by medium zucchini...I usually think zuc's about the size of my forearm are medium but that's just me)
3 big tomatoes, sliced thin
a white onion, sliced thin
dried or fresh oregano and basil
salt and pepper
olive oil
parmesan cheese, grated (The real wedge stuff is best, but you can use the cheese in the green bottle as well.  I totally understand the food budget sacrifice thing.)
shredded mozarella cheese
chicken breast (cut into strips) or boneless chicken thighs (I usually use thighs.)

In large frying pan, saute oil with onion and zucchini until it's soft but not squishy.

Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add few dashes of dried oregano and basil.  If you are using fresh, and this time of year you should be, I'd use about 2T of each.

Put zucchini mixture into a 9x13 baking dish with slices of tomato on top.  Sprinkle with some parmesan cheese.  Then sprinkle with some mozarella cheese.  You decide how cheesy you like it.

Take the pan you sauteed the zucchini in and saute the chicken until golden brown (flip it part way through).  Place the chicken down in amongst the veggies in the 9x13 pan.  Sprinkle with a bit more cheese.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes.


This turns out VERY moist with lots of broth around the veggies and meat.  You can serve it many ways - as a soup, over pasta, over rice or just as chicken and veggies (leave the juice in the pan).  We usually eat it over pasta or as a soup.  If you go the soup route, please, I beg you, please have some good bread to eat with it.  Using the bread to soak up some of the juice as you eat is just amazing.  One of the great tastes of summer.

Until tomorrow...

Need an easy and good bread recipe?  Check out this one...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Update on the Gals

Sorry to have left you hanging about the chickens!  It's been a crazy couple of days here on the Farm.  Lots of the usual - cooking, cleaning, laundering, playing, hugging and bathing, plus a bit of chauffeuring children, Mary Poppins watching and, big news...painting at the new church.  Yes, Emmanuel Church will meet in it's new location tomorrow morning.  Praise God!

Now you see why I haven't sat down at the computer...

The Gals appear to be fine!  Yeah!  So far, so good.  We've only gotten one egg in the past two days, but that's be expected I would think when a chicken has had a brush with death.  At least I know laying eggs would be the last thing on my mind in such a situation.

On Friday morning, it was raining pretty good (again!) but all of the ladies made an appearance under and outside of the coop.  As the sun came out, they all got braver and made the rounds of the chicken yard.  They are moving a little slower, it seems to me, and look pretty bedraggled due to all the missing feathers. But they are still alive and kicking and for that we're very grateful!

We did have a few scares on Friday, but there were just false alarms which actually turned out to be pretty funny.  Every so often during the day, one of us would look over in the direction of the chickens and notice one laying prostrate (a very un-chicken like position) on the grass.  Naturally, we thought the poor Gal had succumb to her injuries and gone to the big Coop in the Sky.  This was not the case.

If we walked out close to the chicken yard or just watched for a couple of minutes, the chicken would pop back up and start doing her thing.  It was a bit humorous to watch. Guess they just needed to take a little rest.

We had a couple of extra 9 year old boys here on Friday.  They had been told about the drama of the night before and had surveyed the blood and gore as soon as they had arrived.  The possibility that Farmer Ron might have to help one of the Gals out of her misery was dangling in front of them all afternoon.  Needless to say, they watched the chickens quite closely. 

A couple of times when the boys looked over and saw one the Gals playing possum on the ground, they all went running to the garage for the shovels...thinking there was going to be a chicken funeral.  They were happy, but also a bit disappointed when the spunky Gal jumped back up.  I love boys!

We don't really have anything to compare our chickens to, but it seems we've got some pretty tough birds here on the Little Farm.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tragedy on the Little Farm - Rain, Chicken Feathers and Tears

Rain, chicken feathers and tears.  It hasn't been the best day here on the Farm. 

First of all, it's raining...again.  We've had so much rain in our area this month that everyone in town is making Noah/ark jokes.  I kid you not, I heard one on the radio this morning, at the gas station and from the Big Guy.  Surely, this is a representative total.

More rain means more flooding in the garden.  We have 7 raised beds in the middle of our garden which are water logged, but still doing OK.  However, the perimeter of the garden is just on the regular ground and it's a big muddy mess.  The tomatoes in this section look pitiful.  The lettuce was doing so poorly we pulled it out between storms and the kale is...well, the kale is just plain sad.  The zucchini in our side plots, however, are doing fine.  Good ol' zucchini.

So, the garden is suffering.  We've gotten 3 ice cream pails full of beans, a few green peppers, some swiss chard and 5 zucchini so far.  This is great, but things look somewhat dismal out there.

The big tragedy on the Farm today concerns our chickens.  The poor, poor gals (and I am not being sarcastic here).  The chickens were attacked by one of our neighbor dogs - some sort of terrier breed, I believe.  It was awful.  There are feathers everywhere in their coop and fenced in area.

About 6 pm, Jacob, our second son, looked out the window and yelled.  He saw one chicken flying over the side of the fenced chicken yard and what looked to be a cat running around the bottom of the coop itself.  Jake is a get 'er done, common sense kid.  His first reaction was to yell for me, grab his BB gun (kept conveniently on our back porch, call the dog and run out the door.  I appreciate his quick thinking more and more as he gets older.  If something is going down, I want Jake on my side.

I ran out too and what we found wasn't pretty.  The dog was running out of the bottom of the coop and running around the big fenced-in chicken yard.  There were feathers strewn about under the coop and all over the yard.  Some were in large clumps.  Two chickens, Marshmallow and Mrs. Chicken, ran quickly up into the coop.  The other two were nowhere to be seen.

Jake began walking around our field and our neighbors yards.  He quickly found ZZ (the black and white striped gal) hiding in some vines by a fence.  She was the one he'd seen flying over the fence and who seemed to have the biggest clumps of feathers lying about.  He picked her up and put her in the coop.  We both looked about for Goldie (golden colored) with no success.

Jake, Mr. Observant, knew who the dog belonged to.  The dog had a leash dangling from his collar, so I brought him home while Jake kept searching for Goldie.  I told our neighbor only that the dog and gotten into our coop and chewed up at least three of the gals pretty good.  He was very kind and offered to pay for whatever he needed to.  I told he we'd get back to him, but not to worry.  I mean, it was a dog, an animal.  They do stuff like that.

Where was Farmer Ron in all of this?  At a soccer game, of course.  'Tis the season.  He pulled in about 30 minutes after all the commotion.  We looked over the gals again and decided to let them be for the night.  We were pretty sure that if Goldie could make it home she would.  Chickens are pretty chicken and they if do get out of the coop and yard, they always come back when it starts to get dark.  She showed about 45 minutes later and seems to be fine.

The tears were from Ellie.  She and Zach (young'uns numbers 3 and 4) love the gals the most.  They actually do most of the care taking without being asked.  They're good kids.  Zach was sad, but stoic.  Elle Belle let it all flow.  I didn't shed any tears, but it did make me sad, too.  Some of you know this, but I have no great love (OK, no love at all for animals).  However, something is different about the chickens...  I haven't sorted it all out yet, but I think it has something to do with the fact that they feed my family and are, somehow, part of it.  Those gals help me in my attempts at being a good Mom.  Sounds a big goofy, but there it is.

How will this tragedy play out is yet to be seen.  Chickenwise, not sure what Farmer Ron will find when he heads out to the coop in the morning.  And you can be sure that he'll be the one taking the first look.  I won't do it and I won't be allowing Zach and Ellie to do it either.

Neighborwise, this will be an opportunity to get to know them better.  The family keeps to themselves and we've yet to really get to know them.  We've shared a lot of waves and "hellos," but not much else.  These aren't the best circumstances, but it's certainly forcing some contact.  I pray we handle it in a God-honoring way.

So, there you go...Tragedy on the Little Farm.  We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fiesta Corn Relish - Let Canning Begin!

Canning season started today which is exciting and a bit daunting at the same time.  Exciting because I love taking veggies (especially ones from our garden) and turning them into jars of lovely things to feed my family all throughout the winter.  Daunting because canning is a bit of work.  I'll be logging quite a few hours in the kitchen over the next two months, but when it's all done, I'll have shelves of good food ready and waiting.

Today I made Fiesta Corn Relish.  This is a new one for me, but what I tasted is delicious!  Kind-of a cross between a true relish and a somewhat vinegary corn salsa.  It'll be great added to tacos or nachos.  I'm sure I'll add it to black beans for a quick salad.  The relish will also be tasty along side some pork or beef.

Just in case any of my fellow Mid-Westerners are experiencing garden envy because you haven't gotten any corn out of your garden yet, don't worry.  We haven't either.  The corn I used today was some I had cut off the cob and frozen last summer.  A very generous friend gave us a TON (not really, but it was close) of fresh corn which we ate and ate.  When we'd eaten our fill, we froze the rest and enjoyed it all winter.  Amazingly, there is still a bit left.  I need to defrost my freezer before I fill it again, so my solution to using up the corn was to can it up.  Actually, not many of the ingredients I worked with today started in our garden, only the jalapeno peppers.  This will change as the season goes on.

Fiesta Corn Relish
makes about 2 pints

5-6 ears fresh corn
1 hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped (leave the seeds in if you like it really hot)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 c cider vinegar
3/4 c sugar
1/2 c red onion, chopped
1/2 c sweet red pepper, chopped
1/3 c green onions, chopped
1 t ground cumin
1 t pickling salt
1/2 t ground black pepper
2 T cilantro, chopped

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat.  Add corn and cook for 6 minutes.  Drain and cool until you can handle it.  Cut off the kernels until you have 4 cups of corn.  Put the corn into a large pot (not aluminum).

Add hot pepper, garlic, vinegar, sugar, red pepper, red onion, green onion, cumin, salt and pepper to pan with corn.  Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat and let it boil gently for 20 minutes.  Stir in cilantro and cook for 2 more minutes.  Take it off the heat.

Ladle the relish into hot jars and process for 15 minutes using standard canning procedures.

Frozen corn can be used as well.  Just make sure to cook it before you add the other ingredients.

I quadrupled this recipe and ended up with 7 pints canned and about 3 more pints in the fridge for eating in the next couple of weeks.  I would have processed the rest in hot water, but I my canning pot only does 7 pints at a time and I ran out of time to process that last 3 pints.  Drat that soccer!  It's OK though because my oldest two sons are gobbling it up with tortilla chips as we speak.

By the way, I found the recipe for Fiesta Corn Relish in The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving.  I discovered this book at the library and am loving it so much it's made it's way into my cart at Amazon.  Someday...

Yum!  Yum!  Yum!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Your Shower Costs HOW Much?

First off...If you are my Father, please stop reading this post immediately.  There are lots of other things on this blog for you to read.  Thanks, Dad.

OK, now that he's out of the way, we'll continue.

Have you ever noticed how the older you get the more you remind yourself of your parents?  Maybe it's just me, but I seem to be turning into Dad and Mom a bit more each year.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, in fact overall, it's probably a great thing in my case.  My folks are quite wonderful people.  But it does take me back a bit to hear words come out of my mouth, usually directed at one of my children, that I know I heard the same words about 25 years or so ago directed at me.

Take showers.  (I hope you do TAKE them, but in this instance, I mean "Think about showers.)  The older the Young'uns have gotten, the more I find myself knocking on doors and yelling sweetly calling, "Time to get out of there!"  I typically walk away from said door muttering something like, "What in the world are they doing in there?" or "We need a timer in the shower."

These are things I know my Dad yelled said sweetly to me umpteen years ago or more.

When the long showerer exits the bathroom, all rosy and clean from their sauna, I commence with the "Why You Don't Need to Take Such Long Showers" Speech.  It's one of my best, if I do say so myself.  I've gotten it down to the point where I can make the speech last for as long as the offender has been in the shower - just to help prove my point.  In the speech, I try to cover all aspects of the evils of long showers - the wasting of water, the wasting of gas to heat the water, the fact that others need the bathroom, the lack of warm water left in the water heater for others, etc.  Up to this point, I've included general statements regarding the cost of long showers and the toll such showers take on the family budget.  I've never been able to back up these references with cold hard facts...

until now.

I've found an online Shower Water Use Calculator!  Oh the joy!  Using this calculator and copies of our current water and power bills here on the Farm, I was able to quickly determine the cost of a certain son's showering habits - about .46 per shower.  (Am I the only one who finds such things fun to figure?)

On the surface, this doesn't seem to bad, but let's multiply this out a bit.  If only one shower is taken by this guy each day, that comes out to $3.23 per week, $13.85 per month and $168.53 per year.  If all of the Young'uns develop the same habits as they get older, we'll be paying almost $2,000.00 each year to wash their bodies.  "Ouch," says the family budget.

The Shower Water Use Calculator is easy to use, does all the math for you, has explanations about the numbers you need to enter and has even done some research on averages for where you live.  Pretty amazing, especially for the math challenged like me.  I share the basic calculator here as a service to other parents who might also give the "Why You Don't Need to Take Such Long Showers" Speech from time to time.  If you'd like to do a bit more figuring, there's a great addition to the Shower Water Use Calculator which will help you figure the energy used by each shower at their website, here.

Also, Dad if you've not followed my request and gone ahead and read this post anyway, I'm sorry in advance.  You're probably going get out those old utility bills I know you've still got in your office and figure out how much you spent on showers over the years for three teenage girls.  It's going to hurt.  Just know, our cleanliness contributed greatly to each of us being able to snag such great husbands who took us out of your home and, really, saved you a BUNCH of money every since.  I guess those long showers could be seen as a good investment...

PS- I love you Dad!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Kombucha...It's What's Brewing on the Farm

I'm a home brewer.  Not a home brewer of the traditional home brew type, much to the Big Guy's dismay.  But a home brewer all the same.  We're brewing kombucha here on the Farm.

Komb-whatcha, you ask?  Kombucha.  Here's the dictionary definition:

n. A lightly sparkling beverage made by fermenting black or green tea and sugar with a culture of various bacteria and yeasts.

I first read about kombucha in a catalog from the Bulk Herb Store.  For some reason, I found it intriguing.  It sounded like an interesting experiment - taking two regular everyday things like tea and sugar, combine them with some mysterious bacteria and yeasts and get something new, supposedly yummy and maybe even good for us.  Hmmmmm...

Kombucha popped up in my other readings online and in Nourishing Traditions.  It seems lots of folks find the drink helps with any number of ailments from skin problems like acne to cancer.  I was mostly interested in kombucha's probiotic qualities and the claims that it helps give some increased energy (for some reason a bit more energy is always something I'm looking for).

I was game to give kombucha a try, but there was a catch.  You can't just brew some tea, add some sugar, throw in some yeast and, viola, get some kombucha.  You've got to have special bacteria and yeast; you've got to have a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) or mother or mushroom as they're also called.  To be honest, I'm not all sure what magical bacteria in a SCOBY, I'm just trusting the system on this one.  So when I "overheard" a conversation between friends on facebook regarding SCOBYs, I butted in.  Isn't facebook great?  It's the one place in the world where it's not impolite to interrupt a conversation.

One of the said friends graciously agreed to share one of her SCOBYs with me.  Every time a batch of kombucha is brewed, a new SCOBY or "baby" is produced.  Isn't that amazing?  Thankfully, this friend has a great blog, Common Sense Homesteading, which had all the directions I needed to get my home brewing experiment going.  She also has helpful explanations about the science of what's happening during the whole process.  If you are interested is how to make kombucha and see some great photos, go here.  She's said it much better than I ever could and, besides, my camera is broken so I've got no photos.

I gathered my materials and off we went a brewing.  Ten days later, we drank our first kombucha and it was pretty good.  The kids aren't big fans, but the Big Guy and I have been drinking some everyday since.

Currently, our fourth batch of kombucha is sitting on our kitchen counter.  Let me say that the mother and baby (the old SCOBY and the newly forming SCOBY) are not the most attractive things to have sitting on your counter.  Think tannish-slimy-pancakey-placenta-like looking thing floating around in a big pot of tea and you'll get a pretty accurate picture.  I could put them up in the cupboard, but I think it's rather fun to watch the fermenting take place.  Besides, it's certainly a conversation starter and most folks don't think we're freaky enough yet. So, it's helpful on the counter.

We drank our first batch straight, no flavoring.  I tried adding a bit of fresh ginger to brew number two (yes, I have read a lot of Seuss over the years).  It was good, but I think I went a bit overboard on it because it was pretty spicy.  Batch three was again plain and was the most bubbly so far.  Very yummy.  The Big Guy has requested I try the ginger again with a bit lighter hand.  So, the plan for what's currently brewing on my counter is to flavor some with ginger and the rest with some frozen blueberries.

Have we noticed any big miraculous changes in our health over the past weeks?  Well, as a matter of fact I have.  Check out this photo the Big Guy took of me last weekend:

How amazing is that?    Seriously, neither of us have noticed any dramatic differences, but I'm not willing to say that it hasn't been helpful either.  Right about the time we started drinking off our first brew, I was told I had severe anemia and started taking iron supplements.  One of the side effects which come with such supplements is, um, how to put this...internal stoppages.  Without telling you more that you really want to know, let's just say such stoppages haven't been a problem.  I'm chalking it up to the kombucha along with my gorgeous new blond hair and amazingly straight white teeth.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Getting Ready to Can - Reusable Canning Lids

OK.  This photo is of a snap pea, not a green bean.  My camera recently broke so there are no bean photos for the moment.  If you squint your eyes a bit, the pea will lengthen and look bean-like.  I promise.

We harvested our first green beans this week!  Oh the joy and deliciousness!  It was pretty much unanimous around the table last night that green beans just picked and steamed with a bit of butter on top is one of the best vegetables of all time.  Yum.

The beans currently ready to be harvested are just a trickle right now.  By the end of this week, it will be an onslaught.  This means I need to start thinking about canning.  I don't actually can plain green beans.  Canning green beans means using a pressure cooker and, to be honest, this device frightens me.  Something about amazing high pressure and boiling water and me a wimp.  Maybe someday when I'm older and more mature, I'll be able to handle it.  Besides, everyone around here prefers frozen green beans.  So, we'll freeze a bunch.

The beans we do can are pickled first.  Dilly Beans.  Yum. Big Yum.

Dilly Beans might just be a Midwest thing because I'd never heard of them until we moved to Wisconsin, but those little things are tasty and easy to can.  No pressure cooker is required because Dilly Beans are pickled.  Pickling involves vinegar which is an acid and high acid foods like tomatoes and pickled things don't need a pressure cooker.

All of this canning stuff was foreign to me four years ago when my dear friend Jessica took me under her wing and taught me to can.  Her lessons opened a whole new world to me and have allowed me to help feed my family well.  Jessica is a kitchen adventurer, too - she can use a pressure cooker. 

I'm not going to attempt a "How to Can" blog post because the internet is filled with great sites that can teach you all you need to know.  I do plan to post about the things we're canning here on the Farm, including the recipes.  I'd also be more than willing to teach someone how to can if you live in the area or want to fly in for a visit...hint hint those in the West or South.  Just ask - canning with other folks is great fun!

Back to my thoughts about getting ready to can...I've acquired more jars in the past few months so things are looking good in that regard.  I think I have about 50 quart sized jars and 30 or so pint jars empty and waiting in the basement.  Now my thoughts have moved to lids.

The lids on canning jars are what make the seal.  They are metal and have an inner rim of reddish plastic which heats up and makes the seal on the jar.  Very key in the whole process.  However, the lids are the one thing about canning that has bothered me.  They aren't reusable.  One use and you have to toss them.  This seems to fly in the face of canning where you grow or get fresh food, grab a jar and rim (both reusable), do some work and are rewarded with a useful thing of beauty.  When you get hungry and pop off the top on the work of art, you've got to throw said top away.  It just doesn't seem right.

OK.  The lids are reusable for some things.  I could use them to make some sort of punch art Christmas ornament with a ribbon hanger glued on.  But I don't and I probably won't...ever.  So, then I've got that guilt to live with.

I've found a solution for canning (and undone craft guilt)!  The Tattler Reusable Canning Jar Lid!  Oh my goodness!  Not only are they a dream come true, they've got an awesome name, too.  I mean, come on, The Tattler.  That's a great name.

According to their website, the plastic lids and rubber seals can be used for 20 years.  I took the time to read reviews on several blogs and the Tattlers seem to be the real deal.  They are more expensive than regular lids at the start, but they'll be cheaper in the long run.  Also, regular canning lids have BPA in them.  Something I prefer to avoid, if possible, when feeding my crew.

All in the Tattlers seem to be a good investment.  Besides, I'll get non-crafty guilt monkey off my back, too.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pizza on the Grill - How to Beat the Kitchen Heat

We love us some pizza here on the Farm.  In fact, I make pizza for dinner once a week.  This is about my personal pizza eating limit.  However, I could probably make it three times a week and everyone else would be happy.

I love making pizza because first off, it makes my family happy and, second, it's just plain yummy.  Throw in that it's a budget friendly meal and you've got a winner in my eyes.  We top pizza with just about anything around here.  Like soup, pizza is a great way to use up all the little bits of meat and veggies sitting around in those little plastic containers in your fridge.

Unfortunately for my family, we haven't been having pizza making weather in the past week or so.  Hot, humid weather doesn't make we want to crank the oven up to 450 degrees for any period of time.  Ugh.

But, much to the joy of the family, we had pizza this week even with the heat and humidity!  I made pizza on the grill!

Oh. My. It was good.  And very. Very. Very. Easy.

I'd seen grilled pizza in magazines for years and wanted to give them a try, but somehow, it just all seemed beyond me.  Apparently, I wanted to try something new more than I wanted to turn on the oven.

You can make pizza on your grill.  Here's how:

-Make your favorite pizza dough (or buy some at the store).
-Cut the dough into balls and roll them into personal sized pizza crusts.  I laid two crusts side by side on a plate, covered that layer with a piece of waxed paper and they repeated the process.  This worked ok.  The dough stuck to the waxed paper sometimes.  Next time, I'll use saran wrap or just lay them on a big greased baking sheet or two.
-Get your toppings together.  You'll need olive oil and salt and pepper for sure, plus whatever you else you want.  Maybe some mozarella cheese, some veggies, some meat or a bit of sauce.  If you use sauce, go easy on it.  Using a heavy hand on the sauce will give you a soggy crust.  If you haven't ever tried pizza without regular sauce, give it a shot.  You'll like it! Also, try to slice your toppings pretty thin so they'll cook fast.
-Head out to the grill.  We have a gas grill.  If you've got a charcoal one, you're on your own for getting that thing ready.  I've never done it in my life.
-Put the grill on high and let it sit for a bit.
-Spray or brush oil on the tops of the crusts.  I used a oil sprayer thing from Pampered Chef.
-Take two crusts and place them on the grill oil side down.
-Let the crusts cook for 1-2 minutes.  They'll start to get a bit bubbly.
-Right before you flip the crusts, put oil on the side that is up.
-Flip the crusts.  Let them cook for another minute or two. 
-Place on your toppings. 
-Let them cook for another 3-4 minutes.  If it looks like your toppings need a bit longer, move the pizza up to the rack above your main grill.
-Slide off your pizza and try to let it cool a bit before you start devouring it.

It's really that easy!  The meal was made even easier because we ate on paper plates outside at the picnic table right by the grill. big dishes and no floor to sweep.

Eveyone here gave grilled pizza two big thumbs up!  They were happy to hear me say we'll be putting it on the menu at least once a week this summer.  I'll let you know what sort of topping combos we come up with and I'd love to hear any you might have as well.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Gals Are Back on Their Game

Marshmallow, the deluded hen, is the one wearing the white feathers.

Did you notice the number over on the Egg Count?  The Gals have laid 306 eggs (Give or take a's hard to keep count some days when 3 different Young'uns keep checking for eggs.  Especially when one of the said Young'uns is 2 years old.)  We've had them since March 19th.  So, that's about 2.8 eggs per day.

We used to get about 3.2 eggs per day.  However, about a month ago, the Gals went on strike for some mysterious reason.  We went from getting at least 3 eggs per day to getting zero - bam - all at once.  After ruling out a curious little neighbor gal and aliens, our working theory for the lack of eggs was molting.  However, now that some time has passed and we don't have a group of partially naked chickens running around, we're pretty sure this wasn't the case.  The interruption in egg production seems to be just that - an interruption because things have been pretty much back to normal for about a week or so. 

The weather around the time the Gals stopped laying was uncharacteristically cool and cloudy.  Hens slow down their laying as the days get shorter and cooler.  Could this be it?  Who knows?

We do have one chicken who has been acting strange ever since the strike began.  Her name is Marshmallow.  She's our biggest Gal and laid eggs the size of bowling balls.  OK, not really bowling balls, but they were HUGE!  Marshmallow is still on strike.  We know because we haven't had any massive eggs since June 15th.  She doesn't venture out of the coop much, but prefers to spend her days sitting on the eggs the other Gals lay.  She's still eating and has bright eyes and comb, so our best guess is that she's "brooding."  A hen who is brooding sits on her eggs in order to keep them warm so they'll hatch.

Ummmm, poor Marshmallow!  We may have to have a little chat about the birds and the bees with her...there are no roosters here on the Farm.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fourth Verse Might Be the Best

The Star Spangled Banner.  If you've ever gone to a sporting event, you're probably familiar with the song written by Francis Scott Key in 1814.  Hopefully, you've sung it at other times, too. 

Did you know the song has FOUR verses?  We usually just sing the first, which to be sure, is a great verse.  However, I think the fourth verse might just be the best...

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Praise the Power who has made and preserved our nation.  Thanks to those freeman who have stood between our homes and the desolation of war.  These are what we should be celebrating as we gather today.
Happy July 4th!