Sunday, September 26, 2010

Rain, and more rain

Yesterday was gorgeous. Not a cloud in the sky. Aidan was mostly better from his beginning of school cold. Heidi was home from college to celebrate her b'day (next Friday) and bring back Grace's car (probably the REAL reason she came home). Grace got in from China--she's here for a brief visit to gather all the wedding presents still here (as she flew away without them after the wedding). Becca and Seth came over for dinner and we had a rousing good time. Lots of food and especially lots of cake. Since it is Grace's b'day next Monday we had a combined birthday bash. Steve made a gluten free chocolate raspberry cake and I made a combo birthday girl cake--angel food cake with german chocolate pecan frosting. Cake+ice cream+ silly kids+many world problems to solve=lots of fun and energized conversations.

Meanwhile while we were celebrating the rain came back. It drenched the laundry and brought back out the slugs. Seems like November around here only a little the 50-60's instead of the 40-50's. Other than that, not much cooking in these parts. All these pictures are from yesterday. PS sorry the pictures are in the wrong order. I was having trouble moving them around and well, this is what you get. xo

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The best laid plans....otherwise known as Tomato Craziness

This year I had plans, big plans. I was going to grow an entire year's worth of tomatoes and maybe more. I has plans to can, freeze and dry them and make all kinds of other tomato goodness out of them. I did it last year. Why not this year? But then came the summer and the rain and the severe lack of heat. And then the blight. All my happy planning, planting and tending grew luscious lively green plants and three ripe tomatoes. Pathetic.

For awhile I moped around feeling very sorry for my tomato loving self. But then I pulled myself together and started making trips to the farmer's market and buying organic tomatoes by the lug. AFter a couple of weeks I had processed 125 pounds of these red beauties. Right after the Weston-Price buying club I recently joined had a tomato buy. A dollar a pound for 2# (cosmetically challenged) organic tomatoes. How could I beat that? So I bought another 40 pounds. And then, I got an order I had placed a long time before from our organic fruit guy and brought home another 40 pounds of the best non-homegrown cooking tomatoes I have ever tasted. Okay. I admit I got carried away...but honestly we will eat them and be glad. Already we have had two homemade pizza nights. And there will be more to come I am sure.

I bet you are wondering what I did those 200+ pounds. It went quicker than you think.

First, I washed and ground the original 100 pounds in my cuisinart. I put the ground tomatoes in quart ziplock bags and froze them as is for cooking. It takes less than an hour to wash and process 25 pounds. Pretty darn quick.

Next I dried the remaining 25 pounds of farmer's market tomatoes using my tomato chip recipe which is detailed in the Fifteen Minutes of Heaven post if you scroll down here
It takes me less than an hour to prepare 25 pounds for the dryer and a few minutes here and there to check on them.

After that, I started getting creative. With 10 pounds of the buying club tomatoes I made a tomato paste from a recipe shared by somebody in the club. I guess the recipe was originally created by Bruce Naftaly of Le Gourmand in Seattle. It is simple and delicious...thank you Elisabeth for sharing and Bruce for creating..

Tomato Paste

2 lbs paste tomatoes
1/2 c or more red wine

start with 1/2 c of red wine. add tomatoes and cover. bring to a boil.
once boiling, uncover, and reduce heat to simmer. simmer about 60 min.
put through food mill. should yield about 1 c of paste.

It took me a little longer to cook it down but I started with regular tomatoes and not the paste tomatoes. I suspect it took twice as long to cook. I also added a titch of himalayan salt.

While that was cooking I sliced up the remaining 30 pounds and half dried them. This was a recipe from another friend that I tried last year and loved. It is simple to do and makes cooked tomato sauces divine...somehow the double drying and freezing technique makes the flavors extra rich. It took me a little over an hour to do 30 pounds.

Half-dried Tomatoes

Slice tomatoes in four even slices and fill the dehydrator. Let them dry about half time so they are smaller but still are fleshy. I would tell you how long but each dehydrator is different. Then carefully move the half dried slices to cookies sheets to freeze solid and then put them in ziplock bags in the freezer. This extra step ensures you can just grab a few when it is time to cook. Use liberally when cooking with tomatoes. (Can't get much easier than that!)

And finally, today I got even more adventurous by making the last 40 pounds of tomatoes into the roasted tomato sauce recipe from my new friend Heidi P. Of all the tomato recipes I made, these smell the best. Again, this is a super easy recipe that just takes time and patience.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Cover the bottom of a pyrex or other thick baking pan with paste tomatoes that have been sliced in half the long way. Make a thick pile, about as much as the pan can hold.

Drizzle olive oil and himalayan salt over the top and then sprinkle with fresh herbs (I used basil, oregano and thyme).

Add liberal amounts of fresh garlic cloves.

Bake at 220 degrees until all the extra water is gone. Stir occasionally and keep cooking on a low heat until the tomatoes are the consistency that you like. You can cool and then freeze in useful amounts or can if you like. If you can remember you will need to add citric acid to acidify for safety. With the herbs and garlic and oil, I figure I would rather be safe than sorry so I froze it.

I am sure there are many other delicious ways to preserve tomatoes for winter. What's your favorite way?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Queen of the Flies

I love September. I love harvesting from the garden. I love pickling, jamming, jarring, cooking, and freezing all that I harvest. I love watching my pantry and freezer go from full to bursting. I love the smells. I love the colors. I just love September. But what I don't love are the flies.

Seems like every September we have too many flies around here. Buzzing and hanging off the walls watching everything I do. Landing near me, on me. Yuck. I don't like to think about it and I don't like to deal with it. But that doesn't make them go away. And this year, because it is so cold outside we have even more than usual. I feel like Queen of the Flies (not to be confused with Queen of the Bees which is a movie you really should see when it comes to your town!)

Usually I have a live and let live sort of temperament when it comes to bugs. This year, however, the flies have finally gotten to me. Armed with the ZAPPER (a wonderful electric orange tennis racket), I have been wandering around the house zapping all the flies I can get. It makes a horrible sound and smell and makes me feel even worse (though I suppose the fly wins in the feel bad department). I just couldn't take it anymore. I have become a mass murderer of flies. I would give you photographic proof but that would embarrass me too much. Owning up to it is about all I can take.

So welcome to my life this monday morning....amazing tomato paste simmering on my stove and me ducking the fly bombers.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I'm back--hopefully

Well, I admit it. I disappeared from the blogosphere. Completely. It has been months and I haven't even opened this blog page once. I didn't even know how long it had been. I have been busy. Honest. And maybe not in the mood. But today, I am back.

Let me explain...the last time I posted it was right before Aidan's birthday. So there was the birthday. And that happens at planting time, so there was planting, digging and hauling of compost to be done. And then I went to Brazil for a couple of weeks so there was the getting ready for the trip, the trip and the recovering from the trip. (It's a big trip!) And then right on the heels of Brazil was THE WEDDING. The wedding took weeks to get ready for and recover from. And in those weeks there was also the family reunion--FUN. Loved that. Though I did feel SUPER guilty about how hard the wedding ended up working everyone. I really didn't get that in advance and I apologize in reverse.

And then there was catching up from the wedding and reunion and the trip...meaning my garden went to hell from neglect. And then there was a busy summer full of day camp (not that I do any of the work but it does mean a LOT of extra people in my space all the time). And then school started and I was still trying to salvage my garden and fill our pantry and freezer. Did the latter two but the garden is just a mess. One big pile of buttercups. (See the previous post if you want an explanation.)

So that leaves me here, today. Ready to be back. And with not much to say except one big whiney apology. Can you forgive me? Hope so.

The most exciting thing that has happened lately (besides everything I was whining about up there) is the cow went on walkabout. Steve went to feed her yesterday morning and NO Brigid. Now this is a girl who LOVES her food. I have seen her literally charge down a pasture to get a handful of greens that are dangling over the fence. She loves to eat.

So let's just say she has never, ever missed breakfast before. When she didn't show up, Steve was alarmed. He trekked all over heck and gone (meaning through the blackberries and woods) as fast as he could (he was rapidly getting late for work) and couldn't find her. Naturally I was appointed relief chief cow catcher.

I wasn't too worried for some reason and I had a LOT of things already on my list so I decided to let her wander home on her own and give her a few hours to do so. I adopted this attitude partly because I know how hard it is to get her to do anything she doesn't already agree to and I figured if she was dining in the woods, she wasn't going to leave until she was done.

After I got back from my 347 errands and things to do on the official 'things to do list', I ate lunch and went a looking. First I looked from the car because before when she has jumped the fence she has found her way through the woods and onto our neighbor's lawns. I don't think they like that too much. These neighbors are also far enough away it is much quicker to look by vehicle than on foot. She wasn't anywhere to be found on the road back through the woods, so I came home put on my big blackberry-proof boots and headed out into the woods to look. First of course, looking to see if she was back. She was not.

I traipsed through all kinds of thickets and brambles and open spots of woods (ahhh). But of course, NO COW! I had visions of search and rescue teams fanning out in the 2 million acres of woods that are adjacent to our house and of never finding the cow. My imagination was going wild. The more arduous the walk through the blackberries became, the more dramatic my imaginings were. Let's just say I came up with some pretty amazing scenarios...including rescuing cows by helicopters for one.

After a LONG time, I was just about to give up. I went back to the barn to give Mattie a great big hello (she was standing in her stall quite happily) when who should poke her innocent nose out of the other barn door and peer at me with those big brown eyes of hers--Brigid.. And to tell you the truth she was looking much more ornery than innocent.

I guess I can say alls well that ends well but honestly cows can be worse than goats sometimes.