Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Three Sisters Garden: Cultivating History and Companionship | Red, White & Grew™ | Pamela Price

The Three Sisters Garden: Cultivating History and Companionship | Red, White & Grew™ | Pamela Price:

'via Blog this'

This is a great little article/blog entry from Julie at Garden Delights (per the post). She writes about how to teach and plant the Three Sisters Garden method (beans, squash, and corn). She has links for homeschoolers, links for gardeners, and information galore. Enjoy!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Pasta making

Today's guest post is brought to you by Christopher Johnson. Thank you, Chris!

You sit down for a "pasta" dinner. From a box it pours. 8oz of extruded noddles dropped into boiling water. 7.5 minutes later you drain it, add some powdered "cheese", butter and milk. Mac & Cheese, the food of college students and other poor kids for years. Still a comfort food for me.

But that's not what this post is about. This is about too much time and too much effort to make something that makes B. (Allyson's 'sis') go "Yummy!" for leftovers eating for lunch the next day.

20+ years ago I decided I wanted to make home made pasta. To that end I bought an "Atlas 150" pasta maker. I remember it as having multiple attachments but today, 2 divorces and 8 houses later we found that pasta maker. Only the base machine and one set of cutters remain. The handle and clamp went missing at some point as well. I find that a standard C clamp will work and an adjustable wrench driving a screwdriver works for the crank/handle. 2 minutes on the net and I have the instructions for the machine.

So I mix up a batch of dough. I follow the instructions and end up with something not quite right. I feed that through the machine, hang the pasta out to dry, and find that everybody loves it. Success breeds success and positive feed back leads me to make more and more.

A few days later, I made my second batch of home made raviolis. From scratch.

So the starting point is the pasta dough.

3+ cups of white flour
1/4 cup of olive oil (optional)
4-5 eggs

In general it is 1 egg per 3/4 cups of flour.

Put the flour in a high sided mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and add 3 eggs and the oil. I'm not really sure how much difference the oil makes, but I like the results so I'm not changing anything right now.

What's this well thingie for? Well if you add a powder to a liquid the powder often gets coated and you end up with "powder bubbles". Also, if you wet the sides of the bowl the flour will stick to the sides before you have a dough. By making the well you keep the liquids from the sides and bottom of the bowl. As you start mixing you add flour at exactly the right rate with the liquid moving from liquid to batter to starting to turn into a dough. It is at this point you add the rest of your eggs.

Photo by Allyson Szabo
Continue mixing, pulling more flour from the sides of the well until all the flour is mixed into the dough. The dough should be starting to turn stiff. Scrape your fork clean and put it aside. Using your hands start a simple kneading in the bowl.

Kneading is the process of working the gluten in a flour into long strings. When the dough is at this stage you'll be using just your finger tips to fold the dough over, rotate and press down. The goal at this point is to get almost all of the flour worked into the dough. When this starts to be difficult it is time to turn out the dough.

The counter you use should be at a height such that the heels of your palms are touching the counter top when you are standing straight and your hands are one on top of the other. You'll be using most of your upper body to knead so a comfortable height is important. If the counter is too high then get yourself a stool.

After you turn out the dough use the fork to scrape as much from the bowl as possible. It doesn't matter if the stuff coming out of the bowl is yucky looking. dry flakes or even crunchy flakes. It will all turn into wonderful dough.

Now you are kneading in earnest. Fold the dough in half, far edge towards you. Turn the dough 90 degrees counter clockwise. (If you turn it clockwise then you'll have to use the left handed pasta makers which are much harder to find). Put the heal of your hand at the forward edge of the dough and PRESS down and away. You want to flatten and stretch the dough. Fold, turn and repeat.

As you turn the dough ball pull those little bits of dough in under the ball. This will work that flour into the dough ball. If you find that the dough is tacky then just work in a bit more flour. You put the flour on the counter top and pull a little bit into the ball with each turn of the dough ball.

You NEED to knead the dough for at least 6 minutes.

Take the dough ball and put it into a plastic bag and put it into the fridge to rest.

If you are kneading and the dough is not fighting back you haven't been kneading it long enough. This should be work.

Now the resting is to allow the gluten to relax. This makes the next step much easier and better.

Ok. Now that the pasta dough is busy relaxing it is time to make some filling. I use a recipe I got from AllRecipies.com. Of course I don't actually use the recipe they have but something close.

4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese.
1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese
8oz of ricotta cheese
1 Egg

Use a fork to break up the cream cheese. Add the egg and ricotta cheese. Mix until there are no lumps of cream cheese. Mix in the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.

Mix well until the entire thing seems smooth.

At this point cover the bowl and put in the fridge to cool. The cream cheese will firm up the entire mixture.

Pretty soon you are going to be ready to make your ravioli. There are lots of ways of forming them. The cheapest and oldest method is to use a pasta cutter. This is a semi dull wheel that has ridges in it. You roll out your pasta as flat as required, put little balls of filling on center, cover with a second sheet of pasta, then use the roller to cut the pieces apart. Find something on google if you really want to do it this way.

I use this. It costs about $20.00 and is left over from long ago.

At this point the pasta has rested long enough. Take it out of the fridge. Cut the ball into equal size pieces, one for each egg you used.

Photo by Glen MacLarty
Put all but one piece back in the bag. Flatten the remaining piece with your fingers. Feed it through the pasta maker at setting "1" (the largest) This should make a sheet about 10 inches long and 4-6 inches wide (150mm is the max size). Fold the sheet in half and feed through again. This will spread the dough out and continues the kneading process. This time fold in thirds and feed through short side first. The goal is to make the sides nice and straight. Two more passes folding in half each time and you'll have a piece of dough 10in by a little less than 6in.

Now set the pasta maker to "5". Some people think you have to go from 1 to 5 via 2,3,and 4. You don't and shouldn't. It just makes it easier to tear your dough.

You should end up with a sheet of dough around 36in long which is great.

Take your ravioli form and spray it with some non-stick (Pam). Take a cookie sheet and put a light coat of non-stick on it as well. Now gently put the pasta sheet over the ravioli form (the piece with the holes in it.) Make sure that the pasta sheet is wide enough to totally cover the form. Next use the depression maker (the plastic piece) to make small depressions in the dough on top of the pasta form.

Take your filling from the fridge and start putting 1/2 teaspoon or so of filling in each depression. Don't over fill or the ravioli will "pop" when you close it up. If you under fill it all it means is that it won't have as much yummy in it.

Photo by Cyclone Bill
Now comes one of the fun parts: take your finger, dip it in water and gently paint along each edge. That's the 3 long and 13 short lines. Take the dough and fold it over so that it completely covers the form. Take your rolling pin and press down at the ends and in between each pair of raviolis. The idea is to keep the filling from being squeezed out if you overfilled. Once this is down gently roll out along the top. You want to press down hard enough that you cut the dough with the raised ridges of the form.

At this point you should be able to peel the unused dough from the form. If you have a piece long enough to cover the form save it. The scraps get balled up and put back in the bag for re-use.

Flip the form over and gently press each ravioli out. You should now have a dozen beautiful hand made raviolis. Place them on the cookie sheet(s).

Repeat until you run out of filling or pasta.

After they have been drying on the sheets for a while, flip them over so both sides dry evenly.

I make a double batch of filling for the 5 egg pasta dough and ended up with 72 raviolis with filling left over but not enough dough for another 12. 6 eggs worth would have just about done it.

To cook, bring a lightly salted water to a boil. Add raviolis, about 7-10 per person. Cook for 7-9 minutes.

Drain and serve under a sauce. We've used a white cheese sauce and a tomato sauce both were wonderful.

rocket stove mass heater

rocket stove mass heater:

'via Blog this'

Wow, doesn't this look interesting? I am going to have to do some more investigation into these rocket stoves. I've used a miniature thing that's similar for cooking up at camp (a cleaned tin can with holes in the bottom, stick fire inside), and it's worked quite well. Interesting...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Corn insecticide linked to great die-off of beneficial honeybees

Corn insecticide linked to great die-off of beneficial honeybees:

'via Blog this'

"The authors suggest that future work on this problem should focus on a way to prevent the seeds from fragmenting inside the pneumatic drilling machines." (from the linked article)

Oooooor... perhaps they could just stop using the insecticide that is causing the death of all our damn honeybees! *facepalm*

Please send donations of seeds, gardening supplies, gardening information, and money!

Please send donations of seeds, gardening supplies, gardening information, and money!:

'via Blog this'

This charity gives out seeds to families who are hurting and wanting to grow their own food. It's a GREAT charity. They're needing some help, and some visibility. Give if you can, and reblog if you can't, please!

From their website:
The Dinner Garden provides seeds, gardening supplies, and gardening advice free of charge to all people in the United States of America. We assist those in need in establishing food security for their families. Our goal is for people to plant home, neighborhood, and container gardens so they can use the vegetables they grow for food and income.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Real Food Tips: 7 Reasons I Hate Artificial Food Dyes « 100 Days of Real Food

Real Food Tips: 7 Reasons I Hate Artificial Food Dyes « 100 Days of Real Food:

'via Blog this'

We have already been cutting a number of things out of our diets (aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, anything "hydrolized", etc) but because we didn't seem to be having issues with food dyes, I just assumed it was fine. Now I'm reading this article (and I trust Lisa Leake, because she's done this) and I'm thinking, "Do I really want to feed the kids (and myself) petroleum?"


Friday, March 9, 2012

Environmentally friendly cleaning and washing

Environmentally friendly cleaning and washing:

'via Blog this'

How about that! Cost is always the major factor in making products of ANY kind. Learning that natural products are prohibitively expensive means that the public can vote with their pocketbooks as well as their feet. We can choose to pick up things that are good for us, even if we have to budget a bit tighter... and in the meantime we can also tell people we WANT those items and please find gentle and respectful ways to make them cheaper for us.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The smell of dirt.

I love getting ready for spring and early summer. The sun is brightly shining outside, and everything is melting. Though it's cold out there, you can feel that the warmer weather is on the way. With warmer weather comes seedlings and raised garden beds and fresh herbs and vegetables! I've been slowly planting things like tomatoes and green peppers in egg cartons and little pots, and storing them in the warmest spot in the house - right near our wood stove (which goes about 22 hours of the day) and in a bright, sunny place on a spare table. I keep the things that aren't yet germinated inside big plastic tubs (thank you Wally World) that are clear. They create a kind of greenhouse, and better yet, they're stackable! This means I can get more things onto my little table for sprouting in the sunlight!

I can stack inside the tubs, too. If you look closely, you can see that I have created a second layer to put plants on, by nestling a wire cooling rack with TALL legs in there. Everything still gets sun, but they're all carefully stacked so I can put more into a smaller space. I can also move the boxes (I currently have two but I think one more will be going into rotation next week because I have hollyhocks that need planting too), put them out flat, and store even more plants (already sprouted) on top of them. It's a real win-win situation, one I'm rather proud of figuring out, even if some of the idea came from Pinterest...

This morning I've planted two types of broccoli. I only need two plants of each, but some of the seed is older so I'm hedging my bets by planting extras of those. I have four egg cups each of a broccoli hybrid (though one NOT owned by Monsanto - ptuey!) and four of a heritage OP Calabrese broccoli. We'll see how they do. If they all come up fine, I'm sure I'll figure somewhere to put them... The other little four pack you see there (very right hand, blue flowers) is of Forget-Me-Nots in a  beautiful blue color. Again, these are old seed so I'm trying them out. If they germinate, I'll be planting the rest of the packet directly outside (they tolerate frost well, especially during germination). I am so pleased with the variety of flowers I have available to me this year!

I have hollyhocks, more forget-me-nots, marigolds by the dozen (which is good as I like to plant them around the garden to ward off pests), four different kinds of morning glory (which I'll be using to make the kids a "living fort" this summer!!), bluebells, and dozens of others. I'm not sure where I inherited these all from but wow, it's fun organizing them!

Originally all the seeds were sort of stuffed into the cardboard box you see (labelled "seeds for 2012"), because it was the best place to keep them while we were moving. Now that we're settled, however, I wanted them in a nicer place. Last year sometime, our friend Miss T gave me a beautiful garden box, sort of like a toolbox but designed for holding seeds and such. I managed to find that box this morning when I was looking for something else, and I also found sis's gardening bag (you can see it in some of the pics above; it's green) which was full of kids' gardening gloves and a wide assortment of hand tools. Yay!

I organized everything. The seeds were put into the garden box, all separated into herbs, veggies, and flowers. The ones that are open because they're already in my little greenhouse boxes were put into the drawer below the box part. My masking tape is there for labelling things, my scissors are there for cutting open seed packets, and my big black marker is there for writing on things.

I just can't wait for our snow to melt. I'll be working on digging the raised beds soon. I'm going to be digging the outline and pulling off the sod, and then hubby will rake out about a foot of dirt from the spot with the backhoe's shovel. The hole is going to be filled with punky wood, branches, etc. which will slowly compost and also help to keep water in the roots of your plants. The dirt goes back over the top, and whatever doesn't fit (hopefully a lot of it) will get mixed with sphagnum moss and potting soil and good clean compost, then put into the frames of the raised beds.

Come on, Spring! Hurry up!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Getting ready for spring.

Egg cartons as seedling containers.
It's that time of year again, when the days are getting warmer, and the nights are still cold but not quite as cold as they used to be. There are surely a few nights that dip down mighty chilly, but for the most part we're in an upward temperature trend. Next week our neighborhood is supposed to reach the mid-50s! That means it's time to really start looking at what seeds need to be started indoors. By mid-April, only six weeks away, we'll be putting some plants outside, and by the end of April we'll be planting things right in our new raised beds (that aren't yet built LOL).

Your friendly Freehold author.
Yesterday and earlier today we picked up quite a few of the remaining seeds required for indoor planting. The tomatoes are sitting in the window, hopefully ready to spring up any second, though there's nothing poking through just yet. I suspect it's still cool for them, though I decided not to pull out the heating pad to force their germination. We'll see what happens in another week. All the herbs that were planted are doing great, though, and coming up gangbusters. It's almost time to re-plant them into slightly larger pots, in order to encourage them to be a bit hardier when it comes time to stick them outside.

Egg cartons vs. commercial pots.
I've been saving up our egg cartons for months now, in preparation for spring planting. Here you can see the egg cartons filled with dirt, alongside some commercial pots that hubby got me today at Big Lots. They look almost the same, although the egg cartons use a bit less dirt. For seed starting, they're GREAT. The girl twin and I spent a half hour filling several egg cartons and several commercial pots with good potting soil that was pre-moistened by me. Then I set about compressing the soil just enough to be a good medium for holding flower and herb seeds.

Making holes for marigolds.
I started out by putting a couple of holes into each commercial pot using a pencil. I was planting marigolds first, and they have to be planted the right way up (the tufty end should point up, the pointy end down), and so its easier to get them in the right direction if you drop them in a little hole. After filling the holes, I scrabbled a bit of dirt over them, and they were done (30 pots filled). I then moved on to Shasta daisies (12 pots), cosmos (12 pots), snapdragons (10 pots), and petunias (22 pots). Hopefully they'll all flower beautifully and in a few weeks we'll have perfect little plants to put out into our flower garden!

Green peppers in egg cartons.
I also got a start on some other things as well. I started six green pepper plants, 2 sage plants (common), and 4 sweet basil plants. I have genovese basil for later on, but that's a direct sow basil rather than one to start in pots indoors. I can't wait to see all the little green heads popping up and greeting me each morning as I water them! I'm more than ready for spring to be here, and if the snow would just melt, I'd get myself outdoors and start turning over the sod and preparing the sites for the soon-to-be raised beds! I did get new tools: a hoe, a metal rake, and a spading fork, all designed to make the working of the garden a real treat this year.

My "greenhouses" for herbs and flowers.
I don't have the luxury of a greenhouse, and this year the porch is not prepared to hold plants this early (just screens with no plastic covering them means the porch is not the least bit warm and is often colder than "outside"). I'm not giving up, though. I have used cleaned and sanitized deli chicken containers as mini-greenhouses, and I am also now using clear plastic bins from WalMart. We had been using these to store our Christmas decorations, but switched to a much sturdier box for that this year when things got put away. The clear boxes (somewhat cracked in places, and not quite up to holding heavy stacks of things anymore) are just perfect as mid-size indoor greenhouses, and they're stackable to boot! Because they're waterproof, I can pour the water down the side of the container, thereby watering my precious seedlings from the bottom, as they should be.

I'm excited and happy to have had my fingers dirty today. There's a smell of fresh dirt in the house that just makes me smile. Even though it will be a week or more before I see any of the results of today's work, I know the potential lies dormant in those little cells of soil. That is REAL magic at work, folks.