Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Planning for spring

The winter garden (1)
The weather outside is definitely frightful. We're in the midst of a snowstorm as I write this! Still, we're snug inside, with plenty of wood and oil, and food in the pantry. January is also the time for planning the garden. There's so much to think about, and so many catalogs to go through. Part of my own catalog-peering was sidetracked, though, when I received 24 packets of seeds for my birthday, plus the IOU for both asparagus and strawberry crowns!

Yesterday, I set down to planning. The first thing I did was look up each seed to see when it needs to be planted. Most of them give you an answer that requires a bit of math. You'll see something like, "Plant after all danger of frost is past." Or better yet, "Plant indoors five weeks before last frost date. Transplant to the garden two weeks after last frost date." It's frustrating, but it's worth the fuss of going over the calendar and writing it all down.

My planting season starts outside (believe it or not!) in March sometime, "as soon as the soil can be worked." That means as soon as my raised beds can be hoed properly, it's time to plant my peas and some of my beans. I'll tuck them into the soil about an inch deep, then mulch over them to keep them safe.

Seed packages (2)
In March, my broccoli will be planted in flats indoors. They need to grow for six to eight weeks before they go outside, and they also need to be transplanted outdoors about four weeks before the last frost date. That means that I take my last frost date (May 20 for my area) and count back four weeks (April 22) to figure out when my seedlings will be transplanted outside. Then I count back a further six to eight weeks to figure out when to start them indoors (in the March 4-11 date range).

I then have tomatoes that get planted in flats on April 7, chives on April 20, spinach that goes right outside on April 20, and bunches of other things right up until our last frost date of May 20. The very last thing to go into my garden will be my cucumbers, which need very warm soil. They'll be put into the ground on June 3. Each of the dates I figured out went into my Google calendar and my paper desk calendar. Each day as I sit down to work, I'll be able to see what needs to be done that week in the garden.

Once I knew all the dates they had to be planted indoors, then transplanted outdoors, or planted directly outdoors, I sat down and went over all of them again to figure out when I ought to start looking for harvest. Each seed packet tells you the number of days until harvest (for example, my Amish Paste tomatoes mature in 81 days). The harvest days go onto the paper calendar but not into my computer one, because it's much less exact. For instance, my dill will mature in 60 to 70 days, however I might find that parts of it mature faster or slower, and I'll probably begin pulling some of the baby dill long before it reaches maturity. I might also choose to pick a few green tomatoes in order to make a green tomato pie or fried green tomatoes.

My cork board
Now that I have all my planting dates figured out, I pegged the packets up on my cork board in the right order. As each seed's time comes, I'll pull it down and plant it indoors or out, depending on what it needs. My next seeds are always right there, ready to be pulled down and planted when the time is right. This keeps me organized, and I don't have to search high and low for my seeds. I know others who use a shoebox or other smallish box to keep the seeds organized, with the "next to be planted" at the front. Whatever your personal method, the more organized you are the easier your spring and early summer will be in the garden.

I spend less time planning out my actual beds. Last year I made elaborate "to scale" models on graph paper. The first problem came when my model said "rectangular raised bed" and reality provided me with a tractor tire. It all went downhill from there. Everything still got planted, of course, but it was all in different places in the garden.

Plans from 2012
This year, I'll make up my model to match my current garden, with room for adding new beds when I create them. Then, as I fill up each bed with seeds and seedlings, I'll enter them onto my "map" of the garden. This gives me a visual of my lovely garden, and lets me do minor planning from in the house.

There are other things I need to keep in mind while in the garden. Certain types of plants don't do well together, and others prefer one another's company. I don't want to plant my watermelons beside my cucumbers, as I don't want to find a foul tasting hybridized mix of the two growing somewhere. Different types of winter squash must be kept apart, too. If you plan on saving seeds, you probably shouldn't plant different breeds of tomatoes near one another, either. When you have a small garden, that can make planning quite complex as you try to shuffle things around to make space between veggies that dislike one another.

I can't wait for March!

Listed on the Backyard Farming Connection Hop #17 (click here to enter).
Listed on Eco-Kids Tuesday (click here to enter).
Listed on the Homestead Barn Hop #97 (click here to enter).

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site! 
 
You may also be interested in:


Mara's Pasta - last chance to win!
Review #2 - Mara's linguine
How to cook a wild turkey
Review and giveaway!
How to: perk coffee

1) Image by Ladyheart / morgueFile
2) Image by xandert / morgueFile

Monday, January 28, 2013

Mara's Pasta - Last chance to win!

Mara's Farfalle pasta in pasta salad
Last week, I had a day where things were just moving way too fast. We all have those days. Someone had put pork on for a pulled pork dinner, thank heavens, but I needed to find side dishes that would satisfy the crowd, and quickly! Then I remembered that box of farfalle (bow tie) pasta that was left to review. Mara's Pasta to the rescue!

Mara's Farfalle
While I was toasting the buns, I threw the box of bow ties into a pot of boiling water and followed the directions. I wasn't sure what the result would be like. I've always used tri-color pasta for salads before, and this was "plain old whole wheat," so I'll admit I wasn't expecting much.

After the pasta was ready, I ran it under cold water for a few minutes to chill it (I did say I was in a hurry!), then tossed it into a big bowl and threw in some broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, cucumber and cheese cubes. A quarter cup or so of ranch dressing went over the top and was well mixed in. It looked pretty decent, and I was pleased with myself as I put it on the table.

I wasn't expecting people to like it. I was WRONG. Only our seven year old boy didn't like it; he ate all the vegetables and left the pasta. Everyone else had a healthy serving, then went back for more. Hubby even took it for lunch the next day, something he never does!

Pasta salad at its finest
The bow tie pasta came out perfect. It was chewy without being either crunchy or too soft. The strong flavors of the veggies and dressing paired very well with the slightly wheaty flavor of the pasta itself. The texture of the pasta was perfect for a pasta salad. On top of all that, it was just plain pretty! It looked beautiful on the table, and the taste was great. It paired extremely well with our quick pulled pork sandwiches, too. This is definitely a pasta we will buy again.

Of all the Mara's Pasta types we tried, the farfalle was the best in my opinion. Despite the boy child's distaste for it, it was well loved by everyone else including our white bread loving member. The other pastas were good, but the bow ties were excellent.

In second place we have the spaghetti. Served with a sausage tomato sauce, it was pleasant both in flavor and texture. I found that we need to cook it a bit less than is mentioned on the package, for our own preferences.

The linguine was delicious but had a very heavy wheat flavor which brought it in third. If you like that (I do, but others in the family are less happy with it) then you'll adore this style. Paired with a stout sauce such as a tomato or other heavy meat sauce you will enjoy it. More delicate sauces like my alfredo might not do so well.

Mara's Pasta is well worth picking up unless you are a die-hard pasta maker yourself. While we generally seemed to prefer hubby's home-made pasta to the Mara's when we had it, we still enjoyed it and it was a LOT less work to make Mara's! For convenience sake alone it is worth picking up. Since it's 100% whole wheat pasta and doesn't contain any chemical yuck in it, it's pretty much guilt free, too. And if you want to make pasta salad this summer, buy the farfalle!

Enter the giveaway soon! At the time of this posting, there's only nine hours left, and in the grand scheme of things, not many entries. You have a good chance of winning a box of this lovely and flavorful pasta to try in your own home.


Mara's Pasta can be found in the following places:

Mara's Pasta Home Page: http://www.maraspasta.com/
Mara's Pasta Online Store: http://www.maraspasta.com/products-page/
Mara's Pasta email subscription: http://bit.ly/TdMwfX
Mara's Pasta Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MarasPasta
Mara's Pasta Twitter page: https://twitter.com/#!/MarasPasta
Mara’s Pasta Pinterest board: http://pinterest.com/maraspasta/

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: Mara's Pasta provided me with a free sample of this product to review, and I was under no obligation to review it if I so chose. Nor was I under any obligation to write a positive review or sponsor a product giveaway in return for the free product.

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Review Number Two - Mara's Linguine
How to cook a wild turkey
Review and Giveaway
How to: perk coffee
Swiss Chard and Lentil Soup

Friday, January 25, 2013

Review Number Two - Mara's Linguine

Mara's linguine in the pot
We had three types of pasta given to us for review by Mara (and you could win a box of pasta as well - see the contest link below!), and so I decided I would try three different recipes with them. The second of the pastas to be reviewed was the linguine. I will admit that, going into this, I thought the linguine would be our number one favorite. Our family loves linguine, and I took the opportunity to make alfredo sauce and steam up fresh broccoli. Topped with fresh roasted chicken and parmesan, I didn't think there was any way for this one not to be a winner!

We didn't have time to make fresh home-made pasta to go with this meal, and that was okay. This test was less about ranking Mara against our pasta, than it was about making a quick dinner that was also healthy and enjoyable by the family. We all have those moments when we'd rather do anything but cook, and boxed pasta solves a lot of those dilemmas in our family. I paired Mara's up against a regular, durham wheat based pasta from the store.

The two pastas
The white spaghetti was ... well, it was store bought spaghetti. It was soft, uniform, smooth, and largely tasteless. Mara's linguine was rustic and rough in texture, and had a very strong wheat flavor that was not unpleasant, but completely overwhelmed the delicate sauce. The alfredo sauce was not "big" enough to compete with the whole wheat noodles, and so the result was not as happy a combination as I had hoped it would be. Almost everyone at the table agreed that, despite being plain old store bought, the white spaghetti won this particular competition.

The boy loved it!
ALMOST everyone agreed, though, meaning it was not unanimous. Our seven year old (autistic!) son thought it was really good, and chowed down on it, even going back for seconds. He knows that a lot of store bought stuff makes his autism worse, and so when he could see that there was only one (good) ingredient in the Mara's pasta, I think he relaxed enough to really enjoy it. Of course, he likes most pastas as a rule, anyhow. Still, he gave the linguine two enthusiastic thumbs up, where the rest of us were more luke-warm about it.

Linguine with afredo sauce
It was not a total loss, though. Because we did not eat the entire pot of linguine, someone took it for lunch the next day so as not to waste it. Paired with the leftovers of the spaghetti sauce from our last taste test, I was informed the Mara's linguine was much better. It seems that a very strong flavored or textured sauce is needed for the linguine to really stand up as a good noodle, at least in our home. It was good to get the feedback last night, though!

Our next taste test was a huge surprise, and a pleasant one. Read early next week to find out what our family's opinion is of the Mara's bowtie (farfalle) pasta!

Mara's Pasta can be found in the following places:

Mara's Pasta Home Page: http://www.maraspasta.com/
Mara's Pasta Online Store: http://www.maraspasta.com/products-page/
Mara's Pasta email subscription: http://bit.ly/TdMwfX
Mara's Pasta Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MarasPasta
Mara's Pasta Twitter page: https://twitter.com/#!/MarasPasta
Mara’s Pasta Pinterest board: http://pinterest.com/maraspasta/

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: Mara's Pasta provided me with a free sample of this product to review, and I was under no obligation to review it if I so chose. Nor was I under any obligation to write a positive review or sponsor a product giveaway in return for the free product.

Shared at the Homestead Barn Hop #96 (click here to enter).

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

How to cook a wild turkey
Review and Giveaway
How to: perk coffee
Swiss Chard and Lentil Soup
Winter Wonders - making a planting schedule

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How to cook a wild turkey

Wild turkey (1)
Wild turkeys are nothing like their fat commercialized cousins. They live in the forests around New England like kings, and indeed, they are rather majestic. They can fly and are very impressive when in flight. They don't need help from a farmer to produce offspring. They're decidedly NOT fat, either. Cooking a wild turkey is similar to cooking a commercial one, but very different at the same time. You have to be more careful with a wild turkey, and the cooking time is shorter, too.

Ready for roasting
We were lucky enough to get two wild turkeys just after the season ended, from a friend who had more turkey than freezer space. I gladly took them off his hands, because nothing beats the flavor of wild turkey. It's so different from the pale, big breasted things you get at Market Basket!

The first thing you'll notice is that our turkey looks a lot more like a chicken than a turkey from the grocery store. Wild turkeys do not have massive breasts. They also don't have any white meat, so be aware of that. The breast meat is much lighter in color than the rest of the bird, but it's all dark meat, make no mistake. The skin is a bit more yellow than store-bought birds, and in this case, the wings were removed before we got it into our pan. The bird itself weighed about 10lbs or so, and this one was male, so I'm told (the other one we have was female).

Bread for stuffing
We like stuffed birds, and so I made a bread stuffing for our wild turkey. You may prefer a rice stuffing, or something entirely different. When cooking wild bird, however, never leave the cavity empty or you will end up with a terrible gamey flavor throughout your meat. Stuff it with a quartered onion, if nothing else, then discard the onion when ready to serve.

Add butter and an egg or two
For my stuffing, I used the bread ends from a 12 grain loaf that were starting to go a bit stale. I cut the bread into cubes about an inch in size, then mixed in a couple tablespoons of butter and two eggs. Some people like to add in the liver of the bird, or even beef liver, and I have done this in the past for a very delicious stuffing. Since I didn't have the liver, I couldn't do that this time. I added a variety of spices (celery seed, salt, pepper, paprika, minced fresh garlic, and dehydrated onion flakes).

Add the spices
Stir it around a bit, then add in just enough freshly boiled water to moisten the entire thing. It should look a bit mushy without having standing liquid. If you add too much water, you can toss in a few more bread cubes. Not enough water is solved by pouring in a bit more. Mix it all up very well until it's quite mushy but sticking together almost like a thick, lumpy batter. Allow the stuffing to cool enough to put your hands into it, because it's much easier to stuff a turkey with your hands than with a spoon!

Making it self-basting
Wild turkeys do not come with pop up timers (although you can buy them) and are not self-basting. However, you can easily make your turkey mostly self-basting by adding bacon to the top of it! Once your turkey is in the pan, breast up, and you've stuffed it, spice up the skin however you like. Then carefully lay three or four slices of bacon (I used three, split in half) over the majority of your turkey. As the turkey cooks, the bacon will drip grease, basting your bird for you. The bacon also adds a touch of flavor and seems to pull out any gamey taste, as well. And... well... it's BACON.

I roasted my turkey in the Westinghouse cooker for several hours. I cooked it at a very low temperature, about 250F, for just about six hours total. For the last half hour, I put the pan into the oven and finished it off at 350F, to brown the breast skin and crisp it up. I wish I had photos of the finished product, because it was quite lovely and moist, but we gobbled it up so fast that I forgot to take pictures.

By cooking the turkey with the bacon over it, I avoided most of the basting. I did go and baste about twice or three times, right near the last hour. I wanted to make sure the flavors were distributed well. When I put the bird into the oven to brown, I shoved the bacon off, exposing the skin underneath. It crisped up beautifully.

Wild turkey has a much more earthy flavor than commercial turkey. You know it's wild. It isn't offensive at all, but the flesh has a different texture. It's a bird that lived a free life, not one in a cage or a small box, and its meat reflects that life.

When cooking any game, always double-check before you begin cooking. Make sure the innards are fully cleaned, and salt it if you feel it necessary. This bird still had a bit of lung in the upper cavity, which isn't unusual (it happens with commercial birds, too!) but would taste pretty funky if left in to cook. Even deer steaks or roasts should be rinsed very well and patted dry with a towel. With a bird, you want to get inside with your hands and feel around for anything that doesn't seem right.

What's your favorite game meat? How do you prepare it?

NOTE: Don't forget about the Freehold giveaway! The contest is open until January 29th, so enter now!

This post was shared at the Homestead Barn Hop #96 (click here to enter).
We're also listed on the Old Fashioned Recipe Exchange 1/29 (click here to enter).

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Review and Giveaway
How to: perk coffee
Swiss Chard and Lentil Soup
Winter Wonders - making a planting schedule
Winter Wonders - the seed catalog


1) Image by imagefactory / morgueFile free photos

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Review and Giveaway!

My beautiful box of Mara's Pasta!
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to receive a box of Mara's Pasta for review, and I accepted with a joyful squee. I have wanted to try Mara's Pasta for some time now, and with money being tight, I hadn't been able to. Being chosen to be a reviewer was amazing and wonderful!

Even the box is pretty
I have decided to draw out my review into three posts, since I was sent three types of pasta to taste: spaghetti (today's post), linguine (later this week), and farfalle (next week). I am also doing a taste comparison with some of hubby's home-made whole wheat pasta. He upped the ante for this first taste test, as well, creating not only a whole wheat pasta comparable to Mara's, but a tomato-basil pasta as well. He was determined to "win" the contest and be declared the most tasty pasta in the house.

Spaghetti, a la Mara
The first challenge was with Mara's spaghetti, topped with a cheater's sauce (a jar of organic spaghetti sauce spiced up and with browned sausage meat added). Mara's pasta comes in a plain brown box, and inside the box is a plastic wrapper to keep the pasta together. A couple of pieces were broken, but that was it. Compared to store-bought spaghetti, it was in much nicer condition. I liked the plain box, and I appreciated the simplicity of the ingredients list.

Ingredients: whole wheat
As you can see, Mara's Pasta is made with 100% whole wheat flour, and nothing more. It's a very dark colored pasta, with a smooth, silky texture when dry. When I opened the box, there was a slight scent of whole wheat, but nothing overpowering. The pasta looks extruded (meaning it was pushed out of a pasta machine as opposed to cutting it), but beside my store bought white spaghetti it looked rustic and much more tasty. It was also a lot smoother than the pasta that hubby made, as his is cut and not extruded.

The three contenders
Hubby's whole wheat pasta was made with home ground flour (we buy wheat berries and grind our own) and egg, and the tomato pasta was home ground flour, egg, and tomato-basil powder we made over the summer from our own tomatoes. Our wheat is hard white winter and grinds up quite fine. We use it in pastas and breads and doughs of all kinds, sometimes alone and sometimes in conjunction with store bought all purpose flour or "better for bread" type flours, depending on what we're making.

The tomato-basil pasta
We had two children (our 7 year old twins) and four adults doing our taste testing for this challenge. Among the adults, the tomato-basil was the clear winner, but we also considered it slightly a cheat since it was up against a plain pasta. Hubby did manage to pull off a rather lovely, smooth pasta. He mixed together spaghetti and linguine shapes because of issues with his manual pasta machine, but the flavor was pretty good. Surprisingly, while the children didn't dislike it, their favorite was the Mara's Pasta!

Mara's spaghetti
Mara's spaghetti was smoother and cooked much more evenly. I over-cooked it slightly, so if you like your pasta el dente, try it at eight minutes rather than the suggested ten. There was absolutely no clumping in this spaghetti, which was nice. I didn't stir it over-much, because I wanted to see how it performed. Hubby's spaghetti did clump a bit (the plain whole wheat one a lot), despite dedicated stirring and attempts to keep it separated. The Mara's spaghetti was also more evenly sized, and fatter than hubby's. It held the sauce well, though didn't absorb it like some pastas do.

Hubby's plain wheat pasta
The plain wheat home made pasta came last for everyone, mostly because of the clumping. Usually when we make pasta at home, we cut it and boil it right away. In an attempt to make our little contest a bit more fair, we decided to dry hubby's pasta overnight, and it was not properly separated on the drying rack. The kids didn't like it at all, and we adults were not over-fond of it either. I suspect if it had been less clumped we would have enjoyed it more.

Spaghettis with sauce
I've never been big on commercial whole wheat pastas. They always have a gritty texture to me, and sometimes the wheat flavor is overwhelming. This was not true of Mara's pasta, at all! The texture was very close to white pasta, but without the mushiness and nasty ingredients. I will definitely buy more of the Mara's pasta for those nights when we're not in the mood for or don't have time for making our own. Even our resident "white bread lover" was fine with the Mara's pasta, and that's a huge win in our family. Normally she puts up with our healthy whole grains, but her opinion of Mara's spaghetti was that she'd readily eat it again.

Mara's Pasta can be found in the following places:
Mara's Pasta Home Page: http://www.maraspasta.com/

Mara's Pasta Online Store: http://www.maraspasta.com/products-page/
Mara's Pasta email subscription: http://bit.ly/TdMwfX
Mara's Pasta Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MarasPasta

Mara's Pasta Twitter page: https://twitter.com/#!/MarasPasta 
Mara’s Pasta Pinterest board: http://pinterest.com/maraspasta/
The giftbox you may win (1)
Now, what you've all been waiting for: the giveaway! Mara's has agreed to give a box of pasta to one lucky winner. To enter the contest, follow the Rafflecopter rules below. The winner will be required to provide me with their email address, name, and mailing address (no P.O. Boxes, sorry), which will allow us to send you the pasta. I heartily suggest you enter, because this pasta is delicious!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: Mara's Pasta provided me with a free sample of this product to review, and I was under no obligation to review it if I so chose. Nor was I under any obligation to write a positive review or sponsor a product giveaway in return for the free product.

This post was shared at the Homestead Barn Hop #96 (click here to enter).

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

How to: perk coffee
Swiss Chard and Lentil Soup
Winter Wonders - making a planting schedule
Winter Wonders - the seed catalog
Mexican Meatloaf

1) Image courtesy of Mara's Pasta

Monday, January 21, 2013

Dear Lissy: Simple Gifts 100% Whole Grain Bread: **Detailed Recipe**

Dear Lissy: Simple Gifts 100% Whole Grain Bread: **Detailed Recipe**

I found this recipe via the Homestead Barn Hop #95, and I am *really* looking forward to trying it out. It's a bit complex, not necessarily something to try as your first loaf, but if you've done any baking before I would suggest you pop over and take a look. I think I might make this on Wednesday afternoon!

Friday, January 18, 2013

How-to: perk coffee

Morning coffee (1)
There's something wonderful and special about having fresh ground coffee in the morning. I am one of those coffee drinkers who really requires that first cup, but can then proceed with the day and not touch another drop. I sometimes indulge in a second cup mid-afternoon, but not always. I love the dusky, hearty scent of freshly ground beans, and the unmatchable flavor when you brew them into that dark, rich liquid. Add cream and sugar, and there's just nothing else like it in the world.

In an emergency or while camping, knowing how to make coffee without power is a skill that will be much appreciated by those around you.  Ignoring the lack of electricity and being able to whip up a batch of steaming hot brew will gain you many bonus points with your family and friends.

Beans
Start with some good quality beans, if at all possible. In a real emergency, you may have to make do with pre-ground, or even scrounge for substitutes like dandelion or chicory root, but let's assume you have the beans in long-term storage, ready to be pulled out. Your best long-term storage beans are ones that are dry, without the oil that you see in the picture to the right. The oil in coffee beans can go rancid relatively quickly (within days in warm weather, or months in cold weather). Dry roasted beans last longer and stay fresh longer.

My grinder
You will need to grind your coffee beans in order to make it possible to brew with them. The best method is to use an old fashioned hand-cranked coffee grinder. In my house, this is the only way we grind coffee, and the children argue over who gets to do it next! Look for hand grinders at yard sales and estate sales, as the older ones are much better (in my opinion). Old coffee mills use burrs, metal plates with bits sticking up to grind the beans into granules. Newer mills, especially electric ones, often use blades instead. Blades simply do not release the right kind of oils for a good cup of coffee. Ebay has quite a few antique grinders listed, although prices can be quite high. Places like Lehman's also sell brand new but old fashioned style coffee grinders, if you prefer to buy new.

The tension screw
One of the best things about a coffee grinder of this type is that, in a real emergency, it can be cleaned out and used to grind grains and beans into flour. It won't be perfect, but it will be functional. The secret to using an old fashioned style grinder is the tension screw. The tighter the screw, the finer the grind of coffee (or flour). For a French Press style coffee maker (another non-electric method of making delicious coffee), you want to have an incredibly fine grind, almost like a powder. For our purposes, though, in a percolator you want to have a fairly rough grind. In fact, in a pinch you could even just smash up coffee beans by putting them into a plastic bag and hitting them with a rolling pin. I don't suggest this, though, as your coffee won't taste nearly as nice as grinding it.

Freshly ground coffee
My grinder is easy to use. You put the beans into the top glass hopper and up-end it onto the grinder. Turn the tension screw until it's very loose, then grind away with the handle until all the beans are gone. Lift the hopper and poke any loose bits down into the grinding mechanism, then grind again until the burrs run free.  Tap the cast iron side lightly to release any bits of ground coffee sticking to the burrs, then remove the glass catch cup from below and there's your ground coffee. I always like to take a moment to smell the coffee when it's freshly ground, because the aroma is unbelievably good. It's almost (but not quite) better than the coffee itself.

The stem
Now we turn to the coffee percolator itself. You may be familiar with the percolator from the standard blue Grainiteware camping version that is in most stores today. The one I own is Farberware, a stainless steel version that cleans up and stores well when not in use. The kind of percolator doesn't really matter, as the process of perking coffee is pretty much the same across all the different brands. Inside the pot, you'll find a few interesting looking pieces. There will be a stem with a base that has a hole in it, and a spring part of the way up. This is the piece that allows the liquid to actually "perk" up into the coffee basket. Pressure builds up below the stand, creating bubbles which push the liquid up the stem. The liquid spurts into the clear knob on top (where you can see it) and then falls down into the coffee basket, where your grounds are.

Basket and lid
The basket itself is usually stainless steel, and has very small holes at the bottom and sometimes along the side. They're too small to allow the coffee grounds to escape, but small enough for the liquid to pass through. The lid also has holes in it, allowing the liquid in but keeping the coffee grounds from spouting all over. With an electric drip coffee maker, water comes out of the reservoir and falls into the coffee basket, where it filters through the coffee and into the urn at the bottom. In a percolator, you are actually running the liquid through the coffee grounds in the basket several times, circulating it to make a stronger cup of coffee. Keep that in mind as you load  your basket with ground coffee, and be conservative in the amount you use.

Basket and lid on the stem
That coffee you just ground can be put into the basket now, in preparation for making your coffee. To do this, take the basket off the stem and place it on your counter top. Take the lid off and set it aside. Now pour one to two teaspoons of ground coffee per 8oz of water  you'll be using. Give it a shake to settle it evenly in the basket, then put the lid on. Pour your water into the body of the percolator, being sure to keep the top of the water below the bottom of the basket by at least a half inch. Place the stem into the pot, then carefully fit the basket and lid onto the stem. The whole thing goes onto a stove burner or over a campfire. If you're doing this over an open flame of any kind, watch the percolator carefully during the entire perking process.

Ready to perk
Bring the heat up under the percolator and let the water come almost to a boil. The bubbles will cause the liquid to start circulating, which will make your coffee. When the perk starts to happen, keep an eye on the color of the liquid. When it starts to turn brown, set a timer for ten minutes. You may need to turn down the heat once the perking has begun, or move the pot farther away from the flame if you're doing it over a campfire. You don't want to have the coffee at a full boil because it will make it bitter.

Freshly perked coffee!
At the end of your ten minutes, turn off the heat and move the percolator away from the heat source. Once the coffee stops perking up into the clear top, you can take the lid off and carefully (using hot pads or a towel) remove the basket and stem entirely. Your coffee is now ready to be enjoyed!

As I mentioned above, the coffee out of a percolator is much stronger than that from a drip coffee maker. There are reasons for this, mainly that you're circulating the coffee through the grounds rather than just passing water through them once. You may need to adjust the amount of ground coffee you use, and the length of time you perk for. Play around until you get it to just the right flavor and strength.

Making perked coffee is a skill, and it takes practice.  Your first pot is likely to be rather sludgy in consistency, but don't be discouraged. Like most emergency skills, this is one to practice now, before an emergency hits. That way, when the time comes you'll be prepared. Believe me when I say, that first miraculous pot of coffee made during a power outage will make you one of the most popular people in your house!

Shared at the Homestead Barn Hop #95 (click here to enter your own post!). Also shared at the Backyard Farming Connection Hop #16 (click here to enter!) and at the Old Fashioned Recipe Exchange 1/22 (click here to enter!).

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Swiss Chard and Lentil Soup
Winter Wonders - making a planting schedule
Winter Wonders - the seed catalog
Mexican Meatloaf
Lentil Soup is a new favorite 

1) Image by Seemann / morgueFile free photos

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Swiss Chard and Lentil Soup

Garlic, onions, carrots
Similar to my Lentil Soup of January first, this soup is hearty and delicious. It even looks the same during preparation, for the most part. The flavor and texture, however, is vastly different. When I made this soup for myself last week, I was just coming out of a bout of stomach flu, still shaky but very hungry. I had gotten past the toast and applesauce stage and wanted real food, and by "real food" I mean healthy, well cooked whole foods. I opted out of meat for a few days, and stuck to getting my protein from legumes and TVP.

Sautéing the vegetables
This soup has a surprise ingredient at the end, one which I thought was rather odd. I tasted the soup both before and after adding it, and was pleasantly surprised. You may be tempted to leave it out, but don't. It adds the finishing touch to this that makes it unique and delicious.



Adding chard and lentils
Swiss Chard and Lentil Soup
   - based on a recipe from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups by Brother Victor-Antoine  d'Avila-Latourrette

Ingredients:
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large carrot, cubed
  • 1/2 cup lentils
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 small bunch swiss chard leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 bouillon cubes or packets 
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
Add broth and simmer
In the bottom of a soup pot, pour your oil and heat it. Lightly sauté the garlic, onion and carrot until they turn a golden color. This takes about five to seven minutes. Don't rush this part, because it lays the foundation for the soup's delicate flavor. Also, don't skimp on the olive oil. Four tablespoons seems like an awful lot, but the oil has its place in the soup as well. If you want, you can substitute avocado oil or flaxseed oil for the olive oil, but whatever oil you use, pick an excellent quality one rather than a cheaper brand.

The secret ingredient
Add the lentils, water, chard, and bouillon cubes or packets. If you want to use your own broth, simply replace the "water and bouillon cubes" with "broth of your choice" and carry on! Cover the pot and cook over a medium heat for about 35 minutes. Depending on the kind of lentils you use, this could take 30 minutes to 45 minutes. The lentils should be soft when chewed, but still hold their shape. Check frequently after the 25 minute mark. If you're not sure, let them simmer a further five minutes, because for this soup, a bit long is better than a bit short in timing.

Add the vinegar, salt and pepper. Stir it all well, and simmer for another ten minutes. Serve hot, with a side of bread or some crackers.

Swiss Chard & Lentil Soup
This is, like all of Brother d'Avila-Latourrette's soups, incredibly easy to make. The addition of the vinegar at the end really makes the flavors pop. On my somewhat delicate stomach, it went down easily and digested fine. I used a Goya bouillon packet rather than my own broth, simply because I was still not quite well and didn't want to fuss around in the kitchen for too long. If I were to make it again, I might use my own chicken broth instead of the bouillon, though!

Linked to from the Old Fashioned Recipe Exchange #115. Want to enter? Click here!
Linked to from The HomeAcre Hop! Want to enter? Click here!
Also shared on the Homestead Barn Hop #95 (click here to enter!) and the Backyard Farming Connection Hop #16 (click here to enter!).

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Winter Wonders - making a planting schedule
Winter Wonders - the seed catalog
Mexican Meatloaf
Lentil Soup is a new favorite
Oyster Soup from the Little House

Monday, January 14, 2013

Winter Wonders - Making a planting schedule

Last week, I wrote about how fun it is to page through the newly arrived seed catalogs. I talked about the process of deciding what you wanted to plant, and figuring out how much of it you need to have on hand. Once you've gotten all your seeds ordered, you have to figure out when to plant them, and where to plant them. You have to know whether to start them indoors or put them straight into the ground in your garden. You need to be aware of whether they need full or partial sun, which means knowing what types of plants are growing next to one another.

When figuring out planting dates, the first task we have to complete is finding out our last frost date for the winter. According to the almanac, here in New Hampshire our last spring frost date is around May 20th, and we have a growing season of about 124 days.

Our seed catalog tells us that tomatoes take 40-60 days to mature, and do not do well until the soil temperature hits about 60F. This means that planting tomato seeds directly into the ground is going to yield few, if any, tomatoes. We'll need to start this indoors. We know that by Memorial Day the soil is about the right temperature, and our seed packets will tell us that sowing about six weeks before the last frost date is just about right. Counting six weeks back from May 20 puts us at an indoor sowing date of around April 1 through 8.

If we sow our tomato seeds indoors between April 1 and 8, by May 20 they will be ready to start hardening off (putting them outside in the sun for a couple of hours a day). By May 27, Memorial Day, we can be assured that they'll survive. If we do happen to have a frost past that date, and it sometimes happens up here in the North, we can cover our seedlings with floating row covers or tarps, or even an upturned bucket for the night.

We also know tomatoes need full sun in order to produce well. This means we have to make sure that they aren't shaded by anything else in the garden. If you plant something tall near tomatoes (like sunflowers, for instance), be sure to put the tomatoes on the sunny side, so the towering flowers don't hide them from the sun.

Each plant you want to grow needs to be given the same attention to detail, counting back to plant dates based on the last frost date. Some vegetables, such as peas, actually enjoy a little frost and will sprout better in cooler soil. Read the information on the back of each and every seed packet you purchase, and read up on the plants on the internet, too. If you're still not sure, call your local Agricultural Extension and they will have the answers you need.

When planting indoors, remember that you will need to water frequently. Some seeds may need special circumstances in order to sprout properly. These might include overnight chilling in the fridge or a snow bank, a warm seed mat to raise the temperature, or a breeze to make the stems work out once they do sprout.

I've found that putting plants into clear plastic bins works wonders for sprouting and growing. Drill a few holes in the side for air circulation, then put your seed pots into the plastic bin(s) and put the lid on. The miniature greenhouse will help keep moisture in and temperatures fairly steady. They also allow you to pick up your seedlings, en mass, and take them outside on particularly warm or sunny days, or move them from window to window as the sun moves. Watering can be done from the bottom (something important for seedlings, as it encourages root growth downward) simply by pouring water into the bins and letting it soak up into your plants. Don't let the seedlings sit in the water, though - pour it out if they haven't absorbed it all in 30 minutes or so. Too much water can encourage mold growth.

Once you know all the dates you ought to be planting on, write them onto your calendar or in a prominent place. I put mine both onto my desk calendar, and onto my Google Calendar (which emails me 24 hours beforehand to remind me to do things!). I know when to plant things indoors, when to move them onto the porch to harden, and then when to plant them out in the garden. I also make note of where in the garden they should go, so that when the time comes it's just a matter of going out, digging up a spot, and putting them gently in their new home.

The more planning you do now, the better your garden will be in May. Once spring rolls around, you'll be busy with other things, and there won't be as much time for all this planning. By putting the time in now, you save yourself time and effort later!

Linked to from The HomeAcre Hop! Want to enter? Click here! Also shared at the Homestead Barn Hop #95 (click here to enter)!

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Winter Wonders - the seed catalog
Mexican Meatloaf
Lentil Soup is a new favorite
Oyster Soup from the Little House
Winter is here!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Winter wonders - the seed catalog

Catalogs galore!

January is one of the best times in the world for people who like to dream of gardening. There's not really anything outdoors to be done, at least in New England, but you can sit and dream and plan to your heart's content. January is the time when the seed catalogs start arriving!

So far, I've gotten eight of them, and I'm expecting several more over the next couple of weeks. I have the "standard" one, Burpee, because there are a few things I like to buy from them even though they're known to consort with evil corporations like Monsanto. They do carry some organic seeds now, too. I have Miller Nurseries as well, which is largely for fruits and perennial vegetables. The third normal catalog I get is Gurney's and I very rarely buy anything from them. However they sometimes send me $10 off coupons with no restrictions, so I'll go buy exactly that much (including shipping) so I get something for free. I'm wary of Gurney's though, as they do sell seeds tainted by the GMO monster.

My favorite catalogs are the specialty ones, though. Sow True Seed, which covers tons of stuff and comes out of Asheville, NC, has so many amazing items to choose from. Bountiful Gardens, too, has a great selection. Then there's Territorial Seed Co., Johnny's Selected Seeds, and Seed Savers Exchange. The best part about these catalogs is that they're all open pollinated seeds, Heirlooms or organic (or both). I don't have to be careful and check every item for GMOs and connections to Monsanto because I know these companies stand head and shoulders above the others, ethically speaking.

Seed Savers Exchange
For pure viewing pleasure, Seed Savers Exchange is my absolute favorite. It's a glossy color catalog, and everything in it is certified USDA organic. They have a lot of Heirloom varieties available. There's a certain joy knowing that you're planting the same variety of seeds as your grandparents did, or their parents. The harvest may be a bit smaller (or in some cases, a lot smaller) than their non-organic and modern brothers, but they make up for it in flavor and beauty.

Reading a seed catalog can be done in a variety of ways. Usually the beginning of January sees me simply paging through them, taking in all the images and some of the information. If there's anything really special I'd like to try, I'll mark it (I keep a highlighter with my catalogs!), but generally that happens later in the month.

By the end of January, I being to yearn for the warmer weather to arrive so I can put seeds out. Just as soon as the snow goes and the soil can be worked, I remind myself, I can put peas and beans out there! I start going through the catalogs in a lot more serious manner.

First, I decide on the basics. What do I always have in the garden? Tomatoes for sure, and beans, peas, cucumbers, and a variety of herbs. Do I have any of those seeds from last year that I need to use up? I check my box of seeds that sleeps in the liquor cabinet, to determine if I have left-overs from last year or seed I put away from my own crops. The remaining items on my list become the basis of my seed shopping list.

The second thing I do is figure out how many row-feet of each thing I will be planting. My raised beds are ten feet long, but with peas and cucumbers I plant on both sides of the trellis I use to hold them up, so I have to double the number of feet I need to purchase. The catalog tells you how closely you can plant things, and you can also check against the square foot gardening list to see if you can squish into a smaller space.

Once you know how many row-feet you need, and how many seeds you can plant per row-foot, you can calculate how many seeds you need. Always buy a few extra, just in case you decide to stagger your planting (a great idea for beans and peas) or you have a few holes in your row because of predators.

Information from a catalog
Each entry in your seed catalogs will have similar information. There will be a number, sometimes with a code attached (the 'key' will be listed somewhere else in the catalog), and this is the number you use on the order form. There's a name, and then a bit of history. Some background about the growth of the plant will be listed, along with some new vocabulary words: parthenocarpic, for instance, and gynoecious, along with others. If you aren't familiar with a term, go look it up. Google is your friend!

Info about a Thai pepper
Some catalogs have more information, including what the crop looks like, how prolific it is, and personal anecdotes. You can find out about the flavor, any problems that are known, and how long it takes to grow to maturity. At the bottom of each entry will be the price for the seeds. Some stores sell only one size, but others have a variety of sizes you can choose from, ranging from "sampler" (a handful) to pounds.

Have fun with your seed catalogs! Make lists: what you need, what you want, what you expect to purchase. Figure out where each item will go in your garden. Even in the snow, you can go size things out.

By the beginning of February, you should be ready to put your order(s) in. Sometimes I can find everything I want in one catalog, but often I purchase from two, plus pick a few small packages up at the local Agway or seed exchange. Once everything is ordered, your work really begins!

Next week we'll talk about ingenious ways of making a sprouting and planting schedule, and how to get organized before the spring rush hits! (Added Jan 14: Click here to read about planting schedules!)

Listed on the Homestead Barn Hop #94!
Linked to from The HomeAcre Hop! Want to enter? Click here!

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Mexican Meatloaf
Lentil Soup is a new favorite
Oyster Soup from the Little House
Winter is here!
Beef Barley Soup