Friday, October 30, 2009

Pumpkin Faces, Pumpkin Seeds, Pumpkin Bars

The other day our homelearning group went to a pumpkin farm and had a fun morning.  The corn maze and the pumpkin slingshot were big hits with my boys.  (I have a feeling we will be making a sling shot like this very soon)

Since this farm had lost most of their pumpkins to an unexpected hard frost we stopped off just down the road and found another farmer cleaning up his field.  We bought two pumpkins from him and he gave the boys three more.  They set to work carving them while I took care of the seeds.

Some I saved to plant next year and the rest I roasted - a spray of olive oil on all and then some with Herbamare and some with Bragg's.

I also had some pumpkin defrosting to make this pumpkin bar recipe a friend had told me about.  I liked the recipe because it called for applesauce - something I happen to have  a  lot of on hand.

I mostly followed the recipe except I used my own pumpkin puree instead of canned so I used a bit more pumpkin and one less egg.  I also added a titch more applesauce.  I don't have pumpkin pie spice so I just used these spices to make up the called for amount - cloves, fresh ground nutmeg and cinamon.

I made the icing with a block of cream cheese, a spoonful of butter, the cinnamon and then a big dollop of honey as a sweetener.  Delicious.  The icing really, really makes the bars.

Then we had a delicious tea time while the snow came down and we were cozy  inside.

These bars are incredibly moist.  I had to cook them for about 10-15 minutes longer than the recipe called for and they came out just right.  Definitely a keeper recipe.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rose Hip Syrup and Rose Hip Elixir

E is showing more interest than ever in wild foods and herbs right now. I think finding the Shaggy Manes and enjoying them so much really encouraged him to learn even more about the plants around him. Yesterday we went out collecting more rose hips so that he could make some rose hip syrup. We found a few different recipes online and came up with this method. He took photos of the steps and was quite pleased with the taste of the end product. It seems there are a lot of bugs going around just now so we will be using his syrup this week to help ensure we stay healthy.

We decided to grind them in the food processor and then cook them for a moment in a bit of boiling water.  We set them aside for 15 minutes and then strained them.

He had to strain them several times to get the syrup clear of the hairs from the seeds.  Then he put the rose hip liquid back into the pot where he had already warmed some honey.

We all got a taste test and the rest was tucked into the fridge to be used up over the next week.

I got to use his leftover  rosehips (the ones he had after the first straining)  for some elixer.  I'm thinking they will still have plenty of goodness left in them and we didn't want to just throw them in the compost. 

I put them in a jar and added some brandy.  Stirred in some warmed honey and that's it.  I'll add it to the cupboard with my elderberry elixir and wait patiently (or not so patiently) until it is done.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Welcoming the Winter Weather

This year I'm quite happy to welcome the winter weather.  I look forward to days spent in front of the fire with the boys - learning, crafting, playing, reading, baking.  We've already got icicles hanging from the roof tops and snow on the ground. 

This is the first year in many that we haven't had to be pruning trees, raking leaves and collecting nuts at this time of year so I've had some time to knit instead.  When I finished my first pair of wrist warmers I quickly realized a second working pair would be necessary.  First I had to finish a pair for a birthday present and then I set to making another pair for myself.  After being teased by W that "these fingerless mittens are brilliant, mum...except me fingas get cold.  It sure would be nice if these mitts had fingas knitted onto 'em" (all in a strange sort of cockney type accent) I decided I would make an extra long pair for myself - sort of wrist/knuckle warmers. 

I'm pleased with the way they turned out and, by the looks of the weather, I finished them just in time.  I also managed to use up most of three skeins of yarn from my stash too. :-)

And, seeing as how there is snow on the ground and a definite chill in the air it seemed like an awfully good time to get the crock pot out - that way when we do have to go out at least we get to come home to a warm and delicious smelling dinner in the house.  This is the first time I've tried making this in the crockpot, it's a sort of black bean enchilada. 

I basically mixed up the ingredients I would use for black bean chilli - black beans, a jar of my canned tomatoes (plus a couple very ripe tomatoes I needed to use up), spices, and the veg on hand (zucchini, green pepper, corn and red onion this time) and layered it in the crock with some corn tortillas which needed to be used.

I did three layers and ended with tortillas on top.  I put the lid on and cooked at high for about 3 hours but would normally use low heat if we were out for longer.  Just before we were ready to eat I topped it with some of my canned salsa and with grated cheese and put the lid back on for 5 minutes so the cheese could melt.  That's it.  We served it with guacamole.

Love having dinner cooking away while we are doing other things and, even better, there is enough left over for dinner tonight if I cook up some squash to go with. ;-)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nettle Love

I've been meaning to do a post on Nettle since we moved here and E found a little patch of it growing down the hill.  I was thrilled when he showed me. I picked it throughout the summertime and now have lots of nettle dried and tucked away for wintertime.  It dries quickly and easily.  I have very high regard for this herb as I think it cures (or prevents) a number of ailments as well as giving a constant source of nourishment to a body. It is full of vitamins and minerals and doles them out in a very balanced way. 

This year I am also making a sort of seasoning mix (a friend's idea) with a bunch of dried herbs, veg and nettle in it.  We've used it in smoothies, hair rinses, the homemade dog food we make, for plant fertilizer, in smoothies, cooked in soup and on pizza (or anywhere you would use spinach).  We've tried it juiced with fresh apples.  Delicious...and delightfully green.  I've got nettle seed salt in the cupboard.  Nettle beer in the pantry.

But, most importantly, to me is this most basic use - I drink a quart of nettle infusion usually every day.  I know that some people don't like the taste but I credit this herb for giving me my health and energy - energy to live this life full on...the way I choose to live it - and I find now that if I miss a day or two of it when we are away that I really start to crave it.  I make mine in the morning or afternoon and, once it cools, I tuck it in the fridge to enjoy the next day when it is dark green and full of goodness.

The best source of information I have found on the many uses for this herb is in Susun Weed books.  I am a big fan of her books (so much so that I even bought one of them new and anyone who knows me knows that That is a Big Deal!). ;-)  Here are a few links about the health benefits of nettle and how to prepare the infusion.  I would urge everyone to give this wonderful plant a try.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Snow Day

This last week we've been enjoying the beauty of being surrounded by Larch trees.  I love the way these trees look at this time of year, they seem so incongruous compared to the rest of the forest, to me anyway .  Their needles are so pretty right now and also so soft.    Each morning we look out the window and the forest seems golden because of the angle of the sun.  Absolutely gorgeous!

And it's a good thing I snapped some photos when I did because Sunday morning there was some serious frost about.

I started a fire as soon as I got up and felt the tiniest bit sorry for the dog as he made his way outside, leaving paw prints in the frost.

We've been spending quite a bit of time lately chopping and stacking wood and preparing for wintertime up here.  This weekend I decided to do some of the chainsawing because I am a bit more efficient at that than I am at chopping. I fear that I'm not very good at chopping with an ax, although it might have more to do with comparison.  My husband is what would be considered an unusally large man and is able to slice through a large log with one whack of the ax and make it look like child's play.  In comparison my efforts look...well, pathetic, really.  But...I'm brilliant at stacking. ;-)

And just as we were finishing up...

the snow started coming down.  And it is still snowing this morning.

So, the boys are out having a their first proper Snow Day of the season. 

Friday, October 23, 2009

Saving Tomato Seeds

A few years ago some friends gave me some of their saved seeds for the tomato on the left.  The tomato on the right is a regular size Roma.  I've posted about this huge paste type tomato before and how they grow as big as a 1 quart canning jar. 

So when it came to seed saving this year guess which of the two I saved seeds for...
Saving seeds is fun to do and very simple.  I just scoop out the pulpy seedy part of a very ripe tomato and put that into a jar with some water.  Let it sit for a few days and then strain off the water.

Rinse a few times and you've got your seeds.

I put them on some paper to dry and that's it.  What an easy way to ensure you'll always have access to heirloom seeds.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Seasonal Food, Seasonal Eating

Seasonal Food, Seasonal Eating or Somethings Are Hard to Say Goodbye to...

This week I will make our last tomato pie of the year.  I've thought about making two and freezing them for our Solstice celebration dinner - wouldn't it be a delight to eat tomato pie in December - but I haven't got to it yet.  I've got 5 nice big beefsteaks left that have been ripening on the windowsill and it seems a shame to use them for  pie for the freezer when pie Right Now! sounds even better. ;-)

So...good-bye tomato pie, we'll see you next year.  We've enjoyed you many times this season.  So often, in fact, that we've got you just the way we want you and have perfected our recipe so that you are the most delicious tomato recipe we've ever had.  We'll miss you.  You with your delicious home-made flaky crust.  Your thin layer of home-made pesto (though store-bought does in a pinch).  Your home grown tomatoes layered with shredded zucchini.  Your bubbly topping of mayo, lots of garlic, grated cheese, salt and pepper.  You've become a favourite of everyone we've introduced you to.

We'll miss You most out of all our favourite summertime foods.  Well...except for you, plum pie.  You know we love you.  It's just that we actually put plums in the freezer just so that we can enjoy you year round so it isn't quite the same as with Tomato pie.  You understand.

And now...
Hello Autumn veggies.  Nice to see you again.  And especially nice to meet some new you, Roasted Veggies (we've already adapted this Jamie Oliver recipe by adding onions, loads more carrots and garlic as well as slices of butternut squash with the skin still on).  Doesn't it look good?

And you, cabbage salad (from A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From my Kitchen Table ).  E likes to call you "the cabbage salad that you should make if you don't like cabbage...or even salad."  And I think that is quite an apt name.  You're delicious.  We're glad you've made your way into our lives.

And welcome back our old regulars...
tomato soups

sage and squash soup

squash curry, baked squash...

squash everything, in fact.

I absolutely love being surrounded by amazingly delicious, locally grown food and feel so blessed to live where I do - in a spot that makes eating local and eating fresh so easy and so affordable.  Very blessed indeed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nettle Beer

My appreciation for nettle is so strong that when I first came across the recipe for Nettle beer I knew that I would have to try making it...and I don't even like beer that much.  Still, my compulsive do-it-yourself-ness came through loud and clear that this had to be tried.  I went down to collect nettle tops and figured my box full (all the nettle that was there) should do nicely but when I weighed it I realized that nettle tops don't weigh all that much and I didn't really have enough.  You need 2 lbs of nettle tops!!  Besides which I was loath to use all those lovely tender tops in something that I wasn't even sure would turn out and if it did turn out I mightn't even like it.  I dried my tops for winter helpings of infusion instead. 

Then along came my ever helpful and inspiring friend with a box full of her own nettle last week and she got me back on track.  (you know you've got a real friend when they are willing to pick nettle for you) ;-)

On Friday while we hosted another woodcarving class I washed and trimmed nettle and filled (stuffed full ) my biggest pot.  (I had a good laugh at the recipe instructions reading - "you will need a very large pan for this or preferably a cauldron."  Do people actually have cauldrons to hand?!?!?) 

I boiled the nettle and saved the liquid. It was a gorgeous dark colour and I started to feel that perhaps I DID know what I was doing and that I actually could make beer. ;-)

There was a slight hiccup as I tried to figure out just exactly how much yeast was 7.5 grams worth and an even bigger hiccup when I realized that I was using dry yeast not fresh.  Emergency phone call to helpful friend and all was well.

This sat at room temp for a few days and then I bottle it up.  I only used one of my special bottles, the rest I put in a wine bottle and a plastic bottle.  I was a little leery of the possibility of exploding bottles and didn't want to chance wasting my self-capping Grolsch bottles.  (Can still recall many years back when most of a batch of rootbeer exploded the old brown stubby beer bottles we used for rootbeer making)

And now...we wait.  We'll give it awhile and then when my nettle-supplying friend comes down again we will taste test it and see.