Garden to Pantry

July 31, 2013

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UntitledFirst apples of the season.

Canning and freezing season has begun! This summer's first ripe apples have fallen, so I've been freezing applesauce, and prepping my canning jars, lids, and bands for pickles and jam. We've definitely had a warmer summer this year because I don't typically start this process until mid-August.

Right now, my kitchen is crowded with active, bubbling, lacto-fermenting science experiments. I've been slicing and grating all sorts of garden treats to go into my jars of sauerkraut, fermented dills, carrot-beet pickles with ginger, and other interesting concoctions. With all of this probiotic goodness happening all around me, I decided it was time to grow a scoby for kombucha, too, since I've been drinking it on a regular basis, and it's an expensive habit if you buy from the store.

Right now, I'm preparing a post for sauerkraut to share with you all. I got the idea after posting a photo on my Facebook page, which generated some interest in the procedure. Honestly, the process is so simple that it almost doesn't need a recipe, but I hope it'll be helpful for those of you who are like me, and are new to lacto-fermentation. What I've learned since making my first batch is that not only does sauerkraut have a long history as a pantry staple, but it's not uncommon for folks nowadays to have a crock fermenting on their counter as well. I had no idea!

So here's to joining the ranks.

Summer Knitting

July 26, 2013

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It's not cold enough to wear socks right now, but I've been knitting them like crazy. I finally found a really simple, free pattern on Ravelry that I like enough to knit over and over, making little variations here and there. I still have about four pairs of socks worth of yarn left in my stash, so I'm hoping to bust through it all, and be done by the end of summer. Come fall, it'll be nice to have some nice wool socks for my feet. But these aren't just for me. I recently found out that if I knit my socks nice and roomy, Matt can wear them too.

If you're looking at this site through a reader or a mobile device, you might not notice the changes, but I'll be tweaking a few things here and there for the next few days. I thought it was time for an update and some organization. Also, I'm changing the width so I can add larger photos, but I don't think I have the patience to go through and resize everything I've posted before today, so bear with me. Things might look a little strange for awhile.

Chocolate Nut Date Bars

July 23, 2013

Chocolate Nut Date Bars

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Matt and I were in the middle of our first Whole 30, and that I’d let you know how it went once it was over. Well, this is how it went:

The Bad:
  • I was low energy, and dealing with sugar withdrawals, but emotionally psyched for the first 4-5 days.
  • I was super low energy, and super emotional and irritable on days 6-15.
  • By day 16 or 17, my energy shot right up, and my cravings for snacks and sugars drastically decreased.
  • On days 21-24, we both started experiencing some nasty food-poisoning-like symptoms due to the lining in our stomach and intestines repairing themselves. It was awful. We felt awful. We weren’t hungry at all, and the idea of eating more protein made us both nauseous, so we stuck to mostly eating fruits and vegetables to get by.
  • On day 24, we finally gave in out of desperation and bought some Whole 30-approved digestive enzymes. We started feeling better instantly.
  • On day 28, we went on a weekend beach trip with some friends, and decided to cut our Whole 30 short by a couple days so we could indulge.
  • On day 30, I was suffering from our indulgences. It didn’t feel good, and I wished I’d never done it.

The Good:
  • We both lost around 15 pounds (and still losing).
  • I’ve had a chronically achy and swollen ankle for years due to multiple sprains and fractures, and the swelling and pain is gone.
  • I had my first pain-free menstrual cycle, ever.
  • I’ve got tons and tons of energy.
  • I sleep deeply.
  • I now think of vegetables as a main component of my diet rather than just a side.

So here’s the thing. The Whole 30 program was supposed to be an experiment, and if it went well, it would be a launching point for switching over to a paleo diet. I wasn’t totally sold on the idea at first, but I can’t deny that the results, despite initial unpleasantries, have been worth giving up some of my favorite foods.

I’m not saying I’m going to be 100% paleo for the rest of my life, but for now, that’s the goal. The way I feel when I eat this way is drastically superior to the way I feel when I eat grains, dairy, and especially foods high in sugar. I can actually feel the way foods make me feel now that my body is starting to heal itself. For instance, I experimented with dairy a week ago with a little ice cream, and felt a terrible sugar crash 30 minutes later. That’s something I probably wouldn’t have noticed before.

So, for now, the types of recipes I share here will be paleo-friendly. Recipes like these Chocolate Date Nut Bars, which are somewhat inspired by Larabars, and definitely inspired by my intense love of chocolate & peanut butter. Unfortunately, peanuts are an off-limits food for me right now, so I’ve been playing around with a combination of roasted almonds and cashews, and it is just as rich and delicious. These truly satisfy my chocolate-nut cravings, but I’ll definitely have to give them up the next time I do another Whole 30 because, although they're technically compliant, they feel like dessert.

Chocolate Nut Date Bars
1/2 cup raw unsalted cashews
2/3 cup raw unsalted almonds
1 cup dried dates
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Salt, to taste

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Chocolate Nut Date Bars

Pour your nuts into a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer and roast in a preheated 350°F oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, and let cool for ten minutes.

Pour your nuts into the bowl of a food processor, and process until they have formed a paste. Add in the rest of the ingredients, and pulse until mixture is uniformly crumbly.

Chocolate Nut Date Bars

Line a small baking dish with parchment or freezer paper, and press the mixture into the pan so that it's even in thickness throughout. Cover and place in freezer for 30 minutes.

Remove from freezer, and using the edges of the parchment or freezer paper, remove from baking dish. Cut into evenly sized bars using a knife and set aside.

Chocolate Nut Date Bars

Cut the parchment or freezer paper into strips, and wrap your bars. Store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to two months.

Week 16: The Chicken Coop

July 17, 2013

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Back before we ever brought our chicks home, the plan was to have our coop finished by the beginning of June. We knew these birds would grow fast, and we wanted to make sure we could accommodate their need for space.

As it turns out, and as most things turn out, we missed our deadline by a couple of weeks due to unforeseen circumstances (rain), but we weren't too far off. By the third week of June, our chickens were moved from the basement into their new outdoor dwelling. And although the chicken coop is still a work-in-progress, all of the necessary stuff is finished, which means we can take our sweet time on the rest.

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We started this project with the hen house. One of the things we acquired when we bought our home exactly one year ago was a large dog house that was the perfect size for chickens. It needed some work, of course, but we decided to make it the basis for the whole design.

The nest box and trimming were made from scrap wood from an old bathroom built-in that was torn out at the beginning of the year, and the stand that the hen house sits on was made from scrap materials we were able to scavenge from Matt's parent's house. It took four people to lift the hen house up on its stand, but once it was up there, we were able to attach the nest box, doors, and window flaps.

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We knew we would want windows on all four sides for ventilation, which meant we were going to need to get creative. Especially on the side with the main people-door, pictured above. To deal with our lack of space on this side, we decided to install smaller windows inside the doors so we could keep the window flaps open on hot days and nights. Honestly, we went back and forth on the decision for this design for awhile, wondering if we were being a little excessive, but ultimately we are both really glad we constructed it this way. And so are the chickens, who have only now begun to adjust to the hot weather.

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The inside of the hen house is really simple. You can't see it in these photos, but the floor is lined with super cheap vinyl tiles that are self-adhesive. Over those, we've added a layer of pine shavings, which really help with odor issues. I'm just using the same pine shavings here that we were using with our brooder, but I may switch to straw at some point if it seems easier.

On the left when you open the hen house doors you can see the small chicken-sized door that leads out to the rest of the coop. Behind that is where we keep their food and water containers. They don't use these much, but we keep them fresh because we want to make sure they can access their food, and especially their water, at all times.

On the right are the nest boxes, and the ramp leading up to the perch. Most of the girls don't even use the ramp because they can jump to the perch without any difficulty, so it's almost exclusively built for our super big, super clumsy chicken, Starbuck. Bless her heart.

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Back behind the hen house, you can see there's another small window that we've been keeping open on warm nights for extra ventilation. You can also see that the chicken run extends three feet past the hen house. That's because we're in the process of building an enclosure back here for storage. In this picture, all you see is another small water fountain, but this is where we'll eventually keep our extra bale of hay, the chicken feed, and some tools.

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As for the inside of the coop, the first picture shows our ramp leading up to the hen house. To build this, Matt bought a 1" x 10" x 6' board, and nailed in some twigs from around the house. It's not the most attractive ramp in the world, but it works.

Under the hen house, we've got the main food and water dispensers. Both are sitting up on round concrete slabs, but they're also chained to the underside of the hen house for extra support and security. If there's one thing I know about these chickens, it's that they knock everything over, so we wanted to make sure they couldn't do that with their food and water. Especially if we need to go out of town for a day or two.

The last feature of the inside of the coop is the tiered perches that we built to utilize the height of the coop. I'm 5'5", and I have to duck down to enter the 5' entryway, but once I'm inside, I can stand straight up with plenty of room to spare. That's because the apex of the roof is at least 6' high. So, because we wanted to make sure all of that vertical space wasn't wasted, we've decided to build perches along the walls with old branches from trees we've had to cut down around the house. We've only got a few perches set up so far, but we'll continue to add over the years.

Afterlight

It needs to be said that we got really lucky with the materials we used to build this thing. Most of it was made from scraps found here or at Matt's parent's house, including the roofing material. We used gift cards to buy most of our hardware cloth, so the bulk of the expense went toward wood from home depot, nails, staples, and paint. In total, we spent less than $500 on the whole project, which is pretty amazing when you consider that some of the tiny coops you find at your local feed store cost just as much.

With all said and done, if we could change one thing about this coop, we might've built it a teensy bit smaller. It's a huge space for just four chickens to occupy, which is the number limit you can have in my city before you need to get a permit. Still, we're very happy with how this project turned out, and are looking forward to adding some decorative detailing, especially garden boxes, a hand-painted sign, and some stenciled lettering, in the future.

If you have any questions about the coop, feel free to ask in the comments and I'll do my best to answer. Also, I've got a set on flickr containing pictures from the whole process, so feel free to check that out as well.

Garden Notes

July 10, 2013

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Nasturtiums
Paris Market CarrotsDanver Carots
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KaleYukon Potatoes
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-We have or first green tomato! It is either a Boxcar Willie or an Abraham Lincoln. I'm not sure which.

-My MIL gave us most of our tomato plants, nine in total (3 Boxcar Willies, 3 Abe Lincolns, and 3 Pruden's Purples), which were all heirlooms grown from seeds from her garden last year. They're growing well in the ground alongside the two cherry tomatoes (Yellow Pear) we brought home. That's 11 tomato plants total. I've got half of them growing in our front, south-facing yard, and half in the backyard to see which location flourishes best.

-We're growing three types of carrots: Danvers, Dragons, and Paris Markets. We planted their seeds in trenches with our radishes. This method seems to have worked well for us, so I'll definitely try it again next spring.

-This is my first year growing nasturtiums, zinnias, kale, bush acorns, and melons. So far, so good.

-This is also my first year growing sunflowers, night phlox, and poppies. So far, so bad.

-In the late winter and early spring, container gardening on our front deck is great for cooler weather plants. By the time late May/Early June rolls around, however, the sun is way too intense, so we'll need to relocate those containers to the back deck for more shade. Poor peas.

-I was worried our backyard would be too shady for most sun-loving plants, but although it doesn't get much sun in the winter, it's definitely too intense for salad greens now. My arugula, spinach, lettuces and endives are all bitter and bolting like crazy in this 90° weather we've been consistently having.

-Our pepper plants are flowering already! This is the first time in the last three years that we've had such warm weather so early here.


So that's my garden so far. I'm still planning on planting a few more vegetables, and experimenting with some herbs and flowers in garden boxes and containers, but I'm pleased with how well things are growing so far in this new place of ours.

How's your garden this year?

And Suddenly it's July

July 4, 2013

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 Pickling Spice Mix

Happy 4th of July, friends! I had my 29th birthday on the 20th of June, and ever since then, time has been slipping right out from under me. I guess that's how summer usually goes, though, isn't it?

If you have a moment, there are a few posts written elsewhere that I'd like to direct your attention to. The first is for my pickling spice blend recipe here, which was recently requested by a reader. I use this spice blend for most of my non-cucumber-type pickles, such as pickled onions or carrots.

The second is for my guest post for whipup.net, which was hosted by the ever-inspiring Lola Nova. For those of you who are familiar with WhipUp, you'll already know about the tragedy surrounding the founder of the blog, Kathreen Ricketson, and her family. I heard about this devastating news shortly after I wrote my post, and my thoughts immediately went out to Kathreen's two children. Fortunately, some thoughtful folks have set up a way for us to help by donating to their trust fund. For more information, check out Lola Nova's latest post here.

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I know I've promised you a tour of the chicken coop, so I'll try my best to get that post ready for you by next week, as well as a progress on our garden. It's coming along quite nicely! Until then, I hope you all have a nice 4th of July weekend.