Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Happiness is a New Cookbook

     On my recent trip to the Portland area I picked up a new cookbook, "Recipes from the Root Cellar",  by Andrea Chesman.  The primary reason I was attracted to this book was that it has more than 30 winter squash recipes. We currently have a very good supply of winter squash, in spite of the number of squashes I have given to friends and family. My goal is that none of them will go to waste.  I thought I might be able to sell Linda on eating more squash if I can find a few more recipes that she likes.  Up to now, as far as Linda is concerned, I've been a one trick pony when it comes to squash. She really likes a squash soup that I make, but hasn't liked much else in the way of winter squash. I guess that I should say two trick pony as she does like pumpkin pie, regardless of what sort of funny shaped "pumpkin" I use to make it.
One recipe down, a few hundred to go. 

    My first attempt from the new cookbook was something called Whipped Winter Squash on page 197.  The recipe called for one large winter squash, but their suggested varieties included butternut, buttercup, and red kuri, none of which are large squashes in my book.  I would consider a blue hubbard and larger to be large squashes. So I used what I consider to be one medium size Oregon Sweet Meat squash.  The squash is split, seeds removed, and baked in the oven for 60 to 90 minutes until it is done.  The cooked squash is separated from its skin. Then add 4-6 tablespoons of butter, 4-6 tablespoons of maple syrup or honey, and 3-4 tablespoons of either whole milk, half and half, or light cream. This mixture is then beaten with a mixer and salt and pepper are added to taste.  I was very happy with the results. Linda liked it too, but I think I probably ate most of it. That puts me up to three squash recipes that Linda likes.  The next recipe I planned to try was Winter Squash with Caramelized Apples.  I think a girl like Linda who loves caramel apples is bound to like that one.

    A good friend dropped by the Beez Neez yesterday and left me a nice bag of beets.  The squash recipe will have to wait until after I make borscht.  This led me to discover a flaw in my new cook book. Their borscht recipe did not include cabbage in the ingredients.  I think I will stick to the borscht recipes in my two Russian cookbooks, all of which include cabbage. I did find a recipe for Harvard Beets in the new cook book which I am going to try.

  I made a very simple borscht using the following ingredients:

1. One chopped onion, sauteed in butter.
2. About two pounds of beets, boiled for about 40 minutes, skins removed and cut into fairly small pieces. I saved the liquid in which the beets were cooked to add to the borscht as it makes a big contribution both in color and flavor. Normally I cut the beets into thinner pieces than seen in the bowl of borscht below, but I sliced up the beets after I had sliced my thumb so I was a little less thorough.
3. One quart of chicken stock
4. 1/2 head of cabbage, shredded.
5. Salt and Pepper to taste.
6. One dollop of sour cream added to each bowl of borscht as it is served.

     Normally I would also use garlic, but I cut my thumb doing the onions and was not in the mood to slice anything else it it wasn't absolutely necessary. I even enlisted Linda to shred the cabbage for me.  It turned out very well so it didn't seem to miss the garlic.  Linda and I both found it to be delicious.
I love the wonderful color of borscht

Friday, November 14, 2014

Preparing the Garden for Winter

     I'm in the process of putting my garden to bed for the winter. First I cover it with cardboard, then add about six inches of leaves and loose straw.  I prefer to use leaves as much as possible, but straw also works very well. The Beez Neez generates a great deal of cardboard. Using it to mulch the vegetable garden is a great way to recycle it. I got a really good deal on straw from a friend at church.  I used some some of the straw as bedding for the goats, the chickens and the ducks. However, most of the straw will end up as mulch in the garden.  I top off the mulch some time during the winter or early spring with a layer of well composted horse manure.  I get the manure from a friend with a horse farm. They have an air injected compost system that results in well finished compost that is practically weed free. By the time I plant in the spring, all of the cardboard has disintegrated, the worms have moved the organic matter all around. The soil in the garden beds is soft and fluffy without the need for a rototiller. Best of all, there are very few weeds.  There is some labor involved in spreading the cardboard, leaves, straw, and compost.  The nice thing about it is that I can spread out the labor through the fall and winter. It doesn't have to be done all at once and there is less that has to be done in the spring.

   This method of garden preparation is called sheet composting. I read about it in a permaculture book and started using it about three or four years ago. I have been amazed by the results. Previously I had prepared garden beds in the spring with a rototiller.  Since I don't own a rototiller I had to make arrangements for a rental or to pay someone else to do it. Since we generally have wet spring weather, the ground can't be worked with a rototiller until it is getting pretty close to planting time for many crops. This meant I often was planting my garden later than would have been optimum. Using a rototiller also resulted in very weedy gardens, especially for a new garden area. The rototiller breaks up all of the grass roots into many pieces, many of which survive the rototilling process and grow back with a vengeance. It seemed like I could never get ahead of the weeds.

    I read a very interesting book a few years back, called "The One Straw Revolution". It was written by a Japanese man who was a college trained agronomist.  He was troubled by some of the things he observed in modern agriculture and began experimenting with traditional Japanese agricultural methods on their small family farm.  He was able to produce higher yields of rice using traditional methods than his neighbors produced with the expensive use of tractors, chemical fertilizers, etc.  I need to read the book again as I don't remember many of the details. I seem to recall that the primary way he maintained the fertility of the soil involved mulching with straw, hence the book title.

    I have decided to plant a larger corn patch next year.  I'm anxious to try out a new variety of indian corn called Mandan Red Clay.  It is used to make parched corn. You heat it in a pan and it pops, but not quite like popcorn. Its like something in between popcorn and corn nuts. Linda bought a variety pack of various healthy snack foods from some mail order place. Included in the variety pack was a package of parched corn.  It was really quite tasty. Linda and I both liked it.  Then I noticed that one of my favorite seed companies, Uprising Seeds (located in Bellingham, WA), now carried a variety of indian corn specifically designed for parching. It is also a short season variety so it should do well in spite of our cooler Western Washington summers.

     A larger corn patch means I will also have more room for the winter squash to spread.  This year I had planted my squash on one side of the corn patch and the squash spread completely through the corn and traveled 15 feet out of the corn on the opposite side.  I grew two varieties, Oregon Sweet Meat and Red Kuri.  The Oregon Sweat Meat I started from seed. I bought the Red Kuri as plants from a local nursery. The Oregon Sweet Meat did alright, but I only got a total of five squash from four plants.  I harvested a total of 17 squash from my four Red Kuri plants.  It is entirely possible that the Red Kuri did better simply because of the head start.  The Oregon Sweet Meat produces larger squash, but I don't really consider that to be a benefit.  I'd rather have more of the smaller squashes. The smaller size of the Red Kuri is much more convenient for most people. Both varieties are in the Maxima group of squashes that includes Hubbards, and they both are good keepers. They won't interbreed with squash from the other three squash groups which makes it much easier to save seed. As long as I only grow one maxima variety they should set true seed. I don't have to worry about them crossbreeding with my zucchini.  I have decided to plant the Red Kuri next year because they are a convenient size, very productive, and are good keepers,  They are also very pretty and the harvested squash look quite decorative on the front deck.

Red Kuri and Oregon Sweet Meat winter squash
    As part of my garden preparation I took down my bean poles and removed all of the vines from them. While I was at it I collected the mature pods that had escaped harvest when I was canning green beans.  The pole beans become such a jungle that it is impossible to harvest all of the beans for canning. Many pods manage to hide and grow to maturity.  I picked the mature pods in order to save seed for the following season.  I've grown Blue Lake pole beans for the past few years. I don't know that it is the best pole bean available, but it is an open pollinated variety so I can save the seeds.  I planted eight hills of pole beans, about four or five plants to each hill. It only takes about six bean pods to give me enough seed for next year's garden.  I canned seventy-two pints of green beans from those eight hills of beans.



Monday, November 10, 2014

On Vacation in Portland

    I took the train down to Portland this past week to spend some time with family there. The train tuned out to be an adventure in itself. The train hit a deer somewhere between Kelso and Vancouver. The deer got its revenge by taking out an air hose and attached fittings which made both the train's brakes and the restrooms nonfunctional.  Since the fitting were damaged as they were ripped loose, there was no easy fix.  Personally, I am very much in favor of not trying to move a train with no brakes. I'm reminded of several songs about trains without brakes, such as "The Wreck of the Old Ninety-Seven". Those songs never have a happy ending for either the train or its passengers. We sat there on the tracks for about 4 hours until the next southbound Amtrak train came by. They then transferred all of the passengers to that train, after which we had a relatively short ride into Vancouver and Portland.  The train was still a great deal in that as an official senior citizen my ticket only cost $28.90. I would have packed more snacks if I had known the trip was going to take 8 and half hours rather than the scheduled 4 hours.

    Some of the highlights of the Portland trip included the following:

1) A visit to Powell's in Portland (one of my favorite bookstores) with my daughter Rachel and her children. A happy time hanging out with fellow book nerds.
I found this treasure at Powell's to add to my Italian Harry Potter collection

2) Not one, but two lunches at Ochoa's mexican restaurant with the Kangs, featuring their wonderful carne asada tacos,  beef tongue tacos and orzata.
Chilling at Ochoa's with the Kangs

3) Two days of serious family history work with Sarah and Chloe Kang. This included the addition of six new stories to family search pertaining to great grand parents Enos Henry Sinor and Lillie Etta Heiskill.

4)  A serious craft day with Rachel and her friend Heidi preparing nautically themed centerpieces for the upcoming Farmington Elementary Dinner and Auction. This included teaching Rachel how to whip the ends of a rope so they don't unravel. I almost felt like a scoutmaster again, although I only had to teach Rachel once.  Your average eleven year old boy needs to be taught a skill like that five or six times for it to stick.

5) Watching Elise and Hannah Kang play in their final 2014 soccer games. (Sadly, they both lost) It is a lot more fun to watch them win than to watch the games which build character.

6) Two evenings of fine dining with the Arnett's on Chet's wonderful homemade Chile and Jambalaya.

7) A fun afternoon teaching Chloe Kang and her younger sisters how to make pies. We made a pecan pie for the family and an apple pie which was owed to one of their friends.
Chloe Kang with her first apple pie
Chloe's personal touch in decorating the pie crust
Southern Honey Pecan Pie

8)  A fun Friday evening jam session playing with Chet and his friends. Other than the drums, I was the only one without an amplifier attached to his instrument. I was actually pretty happy about that as it allowed me to jam away quietly as I practiced some unfamiliar chords.

9)  Sharing elephant ears with the Arnetts at the Portland Saturday Market. My favorite booth at the market was a fellow who made long bows from a variety of interesting woods, including Osage Orange and Hickory.    

     On Saturday afternoon I met up with Linda at the Marriott Hotel near the Oregon Conference Center. She had driven down with grand daughters Hannah Yaden and Madelynn Veatch to attend the LDS Time Out for Women and Time Out for Girls events with Sarah and her three older girls.  I drove home with Linda and the girls, making much better time than the trip down on the train. I have to give a special thank you to my good friend Quentin who did a return engagement at the Beez Neez, allowing me the luxury of being sick for a few days, then to enjoy a week long vacation with loved ones in Portland.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Enjoying the Evergreen State Fair with Grandkids

    This past August I spent a fun Saturday afternoon at the Evergreen State Fair with the Veatch family. So many things at the fair are just a lot more fun when shared with grandkids.  The Veatch family seems to prefer starting their fair experience with the rides, my least favorite part of the fair.  However, it was fun watching the interaction between grand children as they attempted to persuade one another to go on one ride or another. Some are clearly more adventurous while others are of a more cautious nature. Its always more fun to go an a ride with someone, but the kids' preferences in rides varied wildly. Madelynn is a serious thrill seeker who is game for about any of the scarier rides. Abby wanted very much to ride the ferris wheel while Madelynn was uninterested in such a tame ride. There were serious negotiations taking place. I finally broke down and paid to ride the ferris wheel with Abby so she would have some company on the ride. I think that is the first time I have ever been on one of the rides at the Evergreen State Fair in the ten years or more I've been attending the fair.

Grand daughter Abby  enjoying the Ferris Wheel

Grand daughter Madelynn waiting patiently below

     I watched Conner and Natalie go on a few of the kiddie rides as we enjoyed some fair scones with raspberry jam. Other than the scones, I didn't indulge in the other fair food offerings.  I'd had about six recent visits to the fair to get most of my desire for fair food out of my system.
Grandson Conner on the Carousel 

    We took a brief trip through the beef cattle barn and saw an absolutely huge Hereferd bull. I've always thought Hereferds are the prettiest breed of beef cattle. My good friend Quentin has a strong preference for Angus cattle over Hereferds as he found them to be much hardier in Wyoming's rather harsh climate. I would guess Hereferds are better adapted to milder climates than Wyoming.  A bit earlier I had passed by the bull as his owner was sitting there caressing the bull's head and scratching behind his ears. He seemed to be a pretty gentle beast for being so large. On the other hand I noticed that he still had a ring in his nose.

    The kids particularly enjoyed the rabbit barn and watching the dogs go through an obstacle course. I think 4H is a wonderful program. I wish more of my grand kids were able to participate in it. Ultimately we found ourselves watching the Aztec Indian dancers. who put on quite a show. When they reached the "audience participation" portion of their show it was no surprise that several of the adventurous Veatches were willing participants. However, I was surprised that Conner so willingly accepted the invitation from the big scary Aztec dancer and walked out into the dance area holding his hand.
Conner on the dance floor

Mike and Tina getting in touch with their inner Aztecs