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Thinking outside the (greenhouse) box. October 30, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood love the greenhouse our genius woodworking friend, Ken Burton, custom-designed and built for us when we bought our cottage home, Hawk’s Haven, in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. It’s big and bright, with a long in-ground raised bed on the low side and a long greenhouse bench on the high wall.

Ken’s goal was to make the greenhouse as solar-friendly as possible in our cold-winter climate. Glass covers the south-facing sloping wall, along with a glass window and glass door on the east and west sides. The north wall is white-painted wood to reflect the light pouring in from the south and to highlight the plants.

Under the bench, black-painted barrels hold water and act as solar collectors. And behind the north wall, a hayloft adds extra insulation in the form of straw bales for our chickenyard, while we stack wood for our woodstove beneath the loft, which also serves as added insulation..

But we think Ken’s most brilliant innovation was to use the sliding glass doors normally used for deck or patio doors as the long windows on the south-facing, sloping side. They’re double-paned for insulation and let in a ton of light. Over and below them, Ken added rows of screened pull-down windows so we could open them for fresh air and circulation (we also open the screened end-wall window and glass door).

The other day, as Silence and I were furiously hauling our bazillion plants back from the deck to the greenhouse for the winter (it’s already been in the 20s here at night, a real aberration, as we can usually leave the plants out well into November), our friend Ben was struck by an idea. Not a MacArthur “genius award”-worthy idea, no doubt, but still.

Our sliding glass doors that lead to our deck are designed so that one slides over the other, and if you wish, you can pull a full-length screen over the open door to let in fresh air. So why couldn’t you design a greenhouse wall of sliding glass doors that do that, too? One door would be fixed in place, and the other would move over it, and you could pull the screens to let in tons of fresh air to circulate, make sure the greenhouse didn’t overheat in summer, and combat fungal diseases and the like, without letting in bugs.

Three sets of doors would be plenty for most home gardeners, and what a gain in greenhouse circulation! Our greenhouse is still going strong, but if we ever need an update, we’ll see what Ken thinks about this idea. Meanwhile, what do you think about it?

What’s in a name? December 28, 2012

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A picture may be worth a thousand words (here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, we wouldn’t know), but the right name can be worth millions of dollars. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were on the road yesterday. A truck passed us that was carrying free-range, hormone-free chicken. The name of the enterprise? Free Bird. Priceless!

Christmas gifts that count. December 10, 2012

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‘Tis the season to be giving. Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I like to make our Christmas gifts count, to give things that have value beyond the gift itself. It makes us feel better about spending all that money on presents if we know they’ll not only please the recipients but support a cause we believe in.

There are several ways to do this. You could, of course, make a donation in each recipient’s name; the person will typically receive a gift card from the orgnization. OFB’s Aunt Betty likes to gift people with donations to Heifer International (last year, she appropriately donated a chicken in our name). There’s also a vegetarian/vegan-friendly version of Heifer International called Plants-4-Hunger (A Well-Fed World, www.AWFW.org). Or you could donate to the Humane Society or animal shelter of your choice, or the Southwest Indian Foundation, or you name it.

We, however, like to both benefit a worthy cause and give the folks on our Christmas list something to enjoy. So we buy cheese, fudge and (gack) fruitcake (for those who insist they like it) from the monks of the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani in OFB’s mama’s native Kentucky. The monks make everything themselves, and sales of their food support the monastery (which happens to be the one where Thomas Merton lived and wrote).

We think their mild and pesto cheeses are delicious (the aged cheese is a bit strong for us, and we typically don’t go for smoked cheeses so we’ve never tried theirs). And their chocolate-pecan-bourbon and brown sugar-walnut-bourbon fudges are out of this world. (They have other flavors—plain chocolate, raspberry, lemon, and chocolate mint julep—but we haven’t tried them; why mess with perfection?) The monks make the only fudge I’ve ever tasted (apart from artisanal fudge) that actually tastes homemade, not gluey/plastic and artificial. Ugh!

My brother gifted me with the monks’ mild and pesto cheeses and chocolate-pecan-bourbon fudge for my birthday this year, and needless to say, OFB and I were ecstatic. (I, er, actually hid the fudge in the back of the fridge so we could enjoy it at Christmas; otherwise you-know-who would have wolfed it down in a week. Hope you’re not reading this, Ben!)

OFB and I fall in the “get even, give fruitcake” category—we never met a fruitcake we didn’t hate—but OFB’s father and brother love fruitcake, as does my father, so we dutifully send the monks’ award-winning fruitcake (along with some cheese and fudge to soothe our fruitcake-hating consciences) to them each year.

We suggest that you check out the monks’ offerings for yourself at www.monks.org. And if anybody has the nerve to try the monks’ aged cheese (my parents’ favorite, yow) or smoky cheese, please let us know what you think of them. And if you place an order, make sure you reserve some of that mild and pesto cheese and chocolate and brown sugar bourbon fudge for yourself. Hey, don’t you deserve a Christmas present?

                    ‘Til next time,

                                  Silence

WordPress: What’s hot. September 15, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, chickens, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our blog host here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, WordPress, recently changed its sign-in page, so instead of going to the posts their editors loved best that day, a feature they call “Freshly Pressed” (and on which, sadly, we’ve never been featured), now you’re taken to a rather majestic-looking page that highlights a specific topic.

Our friend Ben frankly misses seeing the “Freshly Pressed” posts, but seeing the featured topics on the new sign-in page is certainly a revelation about what most WordPress blogs are about: travelogs, food, and cat photos. (Sadly, gardening, chickens, and homesteading didn’t make it. Neither did our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. And hey, what happened to dogs?! We love our cats, but equal time, please.) It seemed to me that every third post showcased in “Freshly Pressed” was about running, so it was a huge relief to see that that didn’t make the cut, either. Yet, anyway.

We love WordPress; it’s been good to us and idiot-proof (a necessary feature), even if it hasn’t chosen to showcase our brilliant posts despite years of faithful blogging and almost 500,000 views. But if we could respectfully suggest a few more categories to highlight, how about some thoughtful, intelligent posts? How about some funny, laugh-out-loud posts? How about something, anything that reaches beyond the usual suspects! Cat photos, for God’s sake.

Just a thought.

Breakfast of champions. June 8, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s breakfast time! Now that our garden is starting to give us basil, tomatoes, green onions, and even peppers, and our chickens are laying steadily after their winter break, I can make a homegrown omelette with sauteed veggies for our friend Ben’s breakfast. Try it, you’ll love it!

First, I saute the veggies, using our garden’s bounty plus some local produce. I heat canola or olive oil in a pan, then add diced sweet onion, chopped green onion (scallion), diced red, yellow and/or orange bell pepper, shredded basil, sliced mushrooms, and corn cut fresh off the cob, seasoned with a mix of fresh or dried rosemary, basil, oregano and thyme.

Meanwhile, I crack three eggs into a shallow bowl, add lots of fresh-cracked black pepper and salt (we like RealSalt or the hot seasoned herb salt, Trocomare) and beat them. Trial and error has shown that more than three eggs turn into scrambled omelette. Ditto for adding things like milk, sour cream, cream cheese, and half-and-half. Trust me on this.

Once I’ve whipped the eggs with a fork, I put two of OFB’s favorite multigrain English muffins in our toaster oven, split and buttered, to heat up. Then I set out his favorite orange marmalade and/or hot pepper jelly to put on them.

When the veggies have cooked, I push them to one side and pour the seasoned egg mixture into the frying pan. I let it set on one side, then slice it down the middle and flip the two sides over to brown. (I’ve found this is the easiest way to make a perfect omelette. If you’re uncoordinated like me, forget trying to flip the whole thing.) At this point, I toss shredded cheese (sharp Cheddar, Parmesan, Provolone, Swiss, a mix, your favorite) on top of one half of the omelette, then top it with the other half.

As soon as the cheese melts, it’s time to serve up: The perfect half-moon cheese omelette, a side of sauteed veggies, and toasted English muffins with marmalade or jelly. Yum! This serves one.

Sometimes I’ll make an equally-loved variation, substituting sauteed apples (Granny Smith apples sliced thin and sauteed in butter and brown sugar) for the veggies. OFB loves them both. Or, if I have a leftover boiled or sweet potato, I might dice it and saute it with herbs and spices and serve it up with the omelette and English muffins.

What about me, you might be asking. What do I eat for breakfast while OFB is feasting on his cheese omelette and sides? I don’t think you really want to know.

For years, I never ate any breakfast at all; I’m simply not hungry in the morning. These days, I’m apt to eat a soup made from greens, mushrooms and tofu for breakfast (type “Super Healing Soup” in our search bar at upper right for the recipe). It’s an unconventional breakfast, obviously, but it tastes good and seems to boost my health and well-being. Having it every morning (as opposed to nothing) has even helped me lose weight, as counterintuitive as that sounds, presumably by kick-starting my metabolism. I’m eating my breakfast bowl as I write, and suggest that you try making a batch for lunch or supper if you can’t face soup for breakfast.

In any case, I hope you enjoy OFB’s breakfast omelette and sides!

                      ‘Til next time,

                                   Silence

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo! May 5, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. It’s Cinco de Mayo, and that means Fiesta Night here at Hawk’s Haven! We suggest that you plug in the chile lights, crank up the Jimmy Buffett, mix up pitchers of margaritas and sangria and stick ‘em in the fridge to chill, and join the party! (And yes, it’s okay to buy that tacky parrot pinata at the grocery. Just don’t beat the poor thing to death.) Tart up the deck with some blooming tropicals, or at least with some tropical-looking blooms. And yes, why not put on that long, brilliantly colored broomstick skirt and tank top or chile-themed Hawaiian shirt and shorts? Go for it!

Incidentally, for this occasion we recommend Jimmy Buffett’s CD “Take the Weather with You,” which features “Cinco de Mayo in Memphis,” and his box set “Jimmy Buffett: Boats Beaches Bars & Ballads,” which includes his classic “Margaritaville” on the “Beaches” CD. Both are guaranteed to relax you into a party mood, even on a Monday. Honorable mention also goes to Al Stewart’s “Down in the Cellar” CD, especially for “The Night the Band Got the Wine.”

But what’s a fiesta without good food and great drinks? Our friend Ben has persuaded me to share my regionally famous refried beans recipe with you, along with two ways to serve them, and of course I have to add a few salsa recipes and our favorite drinks (including one just for kids) to the mix. Not to mention our Sunday Brunch favorite, Hawk’s Haven Huevos Rancheros. (Check my earlier post, “Come and get it: cornbread and black bean soup” for a couple of other great fiesta foods.) These are simply too good to save for once a year, so we enjoy Mexican Night at our Friday Night Supper Club at least once every couple of months, and plainer beans-and-rice fare here at home every week or two. Yum! Are you in the mood yet? Put that Jimmy Buffet in the CD player and let’s kick off this party!

           Silence’s Top Secret Disappearing Refried Beans Recipe

I call these Disappearing Refried Beans because if I make them for a gathering they have a bad habit of disappearing before I can even get any! (Our friend Ben knows better than to try that stunt.) So if you make them, make sure you save some for yourself before setting them out! I’ll be the first to admit that I love the convenience of canned beans, but you can absolutely soak your own instead, and kudos for doing it. I’m also going to say as I do with pretty much every recipe that I’m an intuitive cook who tends to just toss stuff in rather than measuring it out. I find that recipes are very forgiving in this respect (UNLESS you’re baking—don’t try this in that case unless you’re a true chef or the recipe provides options), so I encourage you to add more of what you like and less or even none of what you don’t. Courage! It’s going to be great! And if for some reason it isn’t, just serve a few rounds of margaritas or sangria before supper and everyone will love it anyway! Thus saith Silence.

3 cans pinto beans, or mix of pintos, black beans, and/or kidney beans (we’ve tried them all and they’re all good, but they will change the color of the finished dish, so be forewarned)

canola oil or butter

1 large sweet onion (Walla Walla or Vidalia type), diced

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 large green bell pepper, diced

3-6 paste tomatoes, chopped

1 heaping tablespoon black or brown mustardseeds (do not substitute yellow mustardseeds)

1 heaping tablespoon whole cumin seeds

1 heaping tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon salt (we like Real Salt)

1 tablespoon hot sauce or to taste (we like Pickapeppa or Tabasco Chipotle)

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or 1 tablespoon cilantro paste

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Heat oil or butter in a heavy Dutch oven. (This is going to take up a lot more room than you think.) Add black mustardseeds, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, and salt, stirring constantly to prevent sticking. Add diced onions and saute until clarified. Add diced pepper. Once pepper has softened, add chopped tomatoes, lemon juice, and hot pepper sauce. Stir in beans and liquid from cans (if using soaked beans, I suggest that you rinse and drain them, simply replacing liquid with water or veggie stock as needed). When beans are thoroughly heated, use a heavy potato masher to squash beans into paste. (A strong arm is helpful here; thanks, Ben!) You don’t have to squash every last bean. The goal is to get a more pastelike consistency. Keep stirring to prevent sticking. Once the refried beans have reached a thick consistency, stir in the chopped cilantro or cilantro paste and serve.

Serving suggestions: We prepare bowls of chopped green onions (scallions), grated sharp cheddar or Mexican cheese blend, sour cream, fresh and prepared salsa (see below), sliced black olives, shredded lettuce, chopped fresh cilantro, diced red and yellow bell peppers, and chopped paste tomatoes (less juicy than other tomatoes, so ideal for this), and sliced jalapenos and set them all out, along with a big bowl of rice and a platter of hot white-corn tortillas so everyone can make their own favorite creations. Our friend Ben enjoys loading up crispy tortillas with beans, cheese, and toppings, and making a separate salad with the lettuce and more toppings, while I prefer skipping the tortillas and creating a platter with rice, beans, and toppings, including plenty of lettuce. Everybody will have a preference, and that’s part of the fun of setting it all out and letting everyone make their own.

As a fabulous dip: Here’s a serving alternative: Turn these yummy, spicy refried beans into the base for a 7-layer dip. Cook them until they’re really thick, then add a layer of them at the bottom of a souffle dish or other straight-sided serving dish. Top with layers of shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream, sliced black olives, chopped paste tomatoes, and shredded lettuce, and serve with lots of white-corn tortilla chips (we like Tostitos and Green Mountain Tortilla Chips) for dipping. We like this dip best when the refried beans are still hot.

           Fresh Salsa a la Silence

1 large sweet onion (Walla Walla or Vidalia type), chopped

1 large red bell pepper, diced

3-6 paste tomatoes, chopped

sliced jalapenos to taste

chopped fresh cilantro to taste

1 teaspoon salt

splash lime juice                 

Mix, chill, and serve.

           Primo Peach Salsa a la Silence

I tweaked a salsa recipe from my CSA, Quiet Creek Farm, created by CSA farmer Aimee Good, to take advantage of peach season, when we had both an abundance of ripe peaches and a ton of ripe tomatoes. Freeze or can it in a hot-water-bath canner to use anytime, or refrigerate the cooked salsa and make a Mexican Night of it within a couple of weeks. This recipe makes a ton, so feel free to adjust the quantities down as desired or give pints as gifts.

2 large or 3 medium onions (I like to use sweet onions), diced

6 sweet red bell peppers, diced

1 large or 2 small heads of garlic, minced

1/2 cup hot peppers, sliced or diced

8 quarts paste tomatoes, chopped

6 large ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and chopped

1 1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 1/3 cups minced fresh cilantro

Cook tomatoes on medium heat in a large stockpot or Dutch oven, stirring occasionally. Saute the onions, peppers, hot peppers, peaches, and garlic in olive oil until tender. Set aside. Continue to cook the tomatoes down on medium heat until desired thickness is achieved (this may take a few hours). Once the tomatoes have reached the thickness you want, stir in the cooked veggies and peaches. Add the salt, cumin, coriander, and red wine vinegar. Add the chopped cilantro at the very end. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

To can, pack hot salsa in hot sterilized pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Seal with hot sterilized lids and process in a boiling-water bath for 20 minutes. Yields about 8-10 pints.         

Gee, it’s drink time! Let’s move on from yummy main dishes and salsas to sangria and margaritas.

              Silence’s Sangria

1 bottle dry red wine

juice of two limes

juice of one lemon

juice of two oranges

1/4 cup sugar or 1/2 cup sugar syrup

1/2 cup triple sec

slices of orange, lemon and lime         

Mix all ingredients in a pitcher. Chill and serve.

            Ben’s Knock-Me-Down, Set-Me-Up Margaritas

I find straight-up margaritas too syrupy, but our friend Ben loves them, so here’s Ben’s go-to recipe. Per glass:

2 oz chilled gold tequila

1 oz chilled lime juice (juice of 1 chilled lime)

1 oz Cointreau

4 oz margarita mix (spring for the best; we like Jose Cuervo)

Make as many multiples of this basic formula as you have guests or want to. Chill pitcher until ready to serve. Serve straight up, on ice, or in a traditional margarita glass with the rim rubbed with lime juice and dipped in margarita salt.

           Chalino Special

Try this gorgeous, cranberry-colored Prohibition-era drink as an alternative to the usual margaritas and sangria. I found this recipe courtesy of MSN and Esquire. Yum! Per glass:  

3 ounces white tequila

1/2 tablespoon creme de cassis

1/2 ounce lemon juice

1/2 ounce lime juice

1/2 tablespoon simple syrup

Shake well with cracked ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lemon or lime peel.

Finally, just for kids:

            La Palomina

Per glass:

1/2 ounce lime juice

pinch of salt

grapefruit soda

slice of lime  

Combine the lime juice and salt in a tall glass and stir. Add ice, top off with grapefruit soda and lime slice, and stir again. If you can find it, use a Mexican soda like Jarritos, but if not, try a lemon-lime soda like Sprite or 7-Up with a splash of grapefruit juice. You can turn this into a refreshing adult drink, La Paloma, by adding 2 ounces of tequila (preferably reposado) to the basic recipe.

Oops! Almost forgot those huevos! Our chickens would never forgive me if I didn’t include them.

         Hawk’s Haven Huevos Rancheros

4 large eggs

butter

1 cup sliced button mushrooms

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 large sweet onion, diced (Walla Walla or Vidalia type)

chopped green onions (scallions)

Trocamare or salt and hot pepper sauce (we like Picakpeppa or Tabasco Chipotle)

White corn or flour tortillas or buttered slices of crusty baguette

Refried beans (optional)

Sliced orange and grapefruit

Sour cream

Shredded Cheddar or Mexican cheese blend

Fresh or jarred salsa or both 

Melt butter in a heavy skillet. Saute diced onion, mushrooms, and peppers until onions have clarified and mushrooms are well cooked. Push to the perimeter of the skillet and break four eggs into the center of the skillet. Liberally sprinkle eggs with Trocamare or with salt and hot sauce. When eggs have set on underside, flip them, sprinkle with more Trocamare or salt and hot sauce. Flatten with spatula and fry hard. When you break eggs into the skillet, heat white corn or flour tortillas or buttered slices of crusty baguette, and cut slices of orange and grapefruit. If you have leftover refried beans, lucky you! Heat them in a separate pan.

To serve, mound refried beans (if you have them) on a plate, top with two eggs and a generous helping of the onions, peppers, and mushrooms. Top all with green onions/scallions, shredded cheese, sour cream, and salsa to taste, and serve orange and grapefruit slices on the side and warm tortillas or slices of baguette for scooping.

This recipe serves two generously. Make more if you’re having company, and break out those margaritas! Or maybe a pitcher of Tequila Sunrises or Chalinos. Good times!!! 

Now get on out there and celebrate!

                 ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

Earth Day in the garden. April 22, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, critters, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Every day really is Earth Day here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. Between our chickens, greenhouse, veggie beds, fruits and berries, vast container and houseplant collection, and numerous ornamental beds—not to mention a heavily wooded yard with many trees and shrubs—we keep pretty busy tending our one-acre Eden. Especially this time of year! With our early spring, like many of you, we’ve really been kept trotting trying to play catch-up.

So how do we celebrate Earth Day? By sharing. Giving extra asparagus crowns, onion sets, and “walking onion” bulbs to friends and neighbors. Potting up the lush jade plants we started from broken branch tips in our in-ground greenhouse bed the previous year. (People who get them always exclaim about how big and healthy they are. They should see the parents!) Ditto for the partridge-breast aloes, the aloe vera/barbadensis offshoots, the spider plants, purple zebrinus, plectranthus, and other container plants that root in easily for us. Back in the garden, we pot up catnip for our cat-loving friends, along with peppermint and garlic chives. If people ask for horseradish, they get it. Of course, our chickens and the denizens of our earthworm composter receive special treats to mark the day, too.

We think spending Earth Day preparing our bounty to share with others is a great way to honor our beautiful home world. How do you celebrate Earth Day?

Natural Easter egg dyes. April 3, 2012

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In the runup to Easter, we’re reprising some Easter-egg-related posts from previous years to make sure you don’t miss them. We hope you love Easter eggs as much as we do!

Silence Dogood here. Have you dyed your Easter eggs yet? If not, you might want to skip the food coloring and try these natural dyes, instead.

Onionskins: Traditional to my part of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Dutch country, are Easter eggs dyed with onionskins. Either red or brown skins can be used. (Red can yield a purplish or reddish color, brown typically yields a more orange color, a combination will give you a rich red-brown.) This practice remains so popular that you can find bags of mixed red and brown onionskins for sale at farmers’ markets and other area stores in the weeks leading up to Easter. Or of course, you can simply save your own in a special bag so you’ll have plenty on hand.

To make the dye, fill a large pot with onionskins and water and boil until the skins release their color. When the water is dark, remove the onionskins, add 1 to 2 teaspoons vinegar to fix the color, and put in the eggs in a single layer. Keep the eggs submerged with a large spoon as needed so they’re evenly dyed. When the eggs are a rich red-brown to reddish-purple color, remove them to a plate to cool.

You can use this dye on both white and brown eggs; of course, the brown eggs will take on a darker mahogany color. The result in either case is a rich, beautiful antique color that looks exquisite in a natural (undyed) basket.

Another Pennsylvania tradition is to etch beautiful designs on these eggs with a straight pin. I have some gorgeous etched eggs in my collection that are covered with flowers, birds, and etc. But if you want to etch your eggs, make sure you blow them before you dye them! These are keepsakes; it’s much too much effort to etch hardboiled eggs that you plan to eat later.

Red beet eggs. Another beloved tradition in Pennsylvania Dutch country is to make red beet eggs. These are shelled hardboiled eggs that are pickled in pickled beet juice, which turns them a brilliant pink to bright rose. I see no reason why you can’t dye the eggshells using this technique as easily as the eggs themselves.

To dye the shells, add the liquid from a large can (or two, if needed) of beets to a large pot along with 1 to 2 teaspoons of vinegar to set the dye. Bring to a low boil and add eggs in a single layer. (You’ll want to stick to white-shelled eggs for this dye.) Again, use a large spoon to keep eggs submerged and evenly dyed as needed. When the eggs have become adequately pink for you, remove them to a plate to cool.

Want to enjoy the traditional red beet eggs themselves? (Despite the color, they’re actually good.) You could make a pickling solution, but I’ve found that local cooks prefer to simply start with a pint jar of pickled beets. Shell 6-8 hardboiled eggs and put them in a widemouthed quart jar. Pour the liquid from the pint of pickled beets over the eggs, then pour the beets on top of them to keep the eggs submerged in the liquid. Screw on the top and refrigerate for 24 hours before eating. Slice on a salad like any other hardboiled egg and enjoy the extra color and tang, or be bold and try making an egg salad or deviled eggs with red beet eggs!

Turmeric. As my yellow-orange hands are reminding me, every time I make Indian food I seem to end up getting some turmeric on myself. And talk about a durable stain! Instead of lamenting the turmeric on your hands, clothes, and counters, why not turn that staying power to your advantage by using some turmeric powder to dye your Easter eggs?

Again, go with white-shelled eggs for this. Add 1-2 tablespoons of powdered turmeric and 1 to 2 teaspoons of vinegar (to set the dye) to water in a large pot and heat to a low boil, stirring, until the turmeric powder has dissolved. Add eggs in a single layer and cook until the shells have taken on a bright marigold yellow-orange color. Remove to a plate and allow to cool, watching your hands, clothes, etc. to keep the liquid from dyeing you along with the eggs!

I think the sunny color of turmeric-dyed eggs makes a perfect background for decoupaged dried flowers, ferns, and so on. But again, if you decide to take this extra step, blow the eggs before you dye them so you can preserve them as treasured keepsakes to bring out at Easter for years to come. And don’t forget to use the contents of those blown eggs to make scrambled eggs, omelettes, frittatas, or French toast!

Spinach. As anyone who’s ever cooked spinach knows, spinach water turns the most amazing emerald green. In my part of the South, I grew up eating boiled spinach topped with vinegar and salt, so it makes perfect sense to me to add vinegar to the spinach water after removing the cooked spinach so you’ll set the dye on the eggs.

To make green eggs, simply boil up a box or bag of frozen spinach or a bag of fresh spinach, reserving the cooking liquid. Either eat the spinach right away or refrigerate it and reheat it when you’re ready to slice those hard-boiled Easter eggs and serve them on top! Meanwhile, reheat the liquid, adding 1 to 2 teaspoons of vinegar to set the dye and water as needed to cover a single layer of eggs. As always, use a big spoon to keep any recalcitrant eggs submerged until they turn a lovely green. Then transfer them to a plate to cool.

Once again, use white eggs with the spinach dye. And a pale green egg would also make a gorgeous backdrop for a dried flower design, but as with the turmeric-dyed eggs, blow them first if you want to decoupage your eggs as keepsakes.

Try not to cook the eggs in any of these dyes for more than 15 minutes if you plan to eat them. And please, don’t forget your pets when you’re ready to serve up the eggs! I can say with confidence that dogs, cats, parrots, and (gulp) chickens will enjoy a slice or two of hardboiled egg every bit as much as you do!

           ‘Til next time,

                        Silence

Organic Mechanics (plus). March 26, 2012

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So far, today has been a banner day here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. First, our Buff Orpington hen, Stella, laid the first egg of the season. Our friend Ben heard the triumphant cackling from the greenhouse, and looking out, saw Stella doing the traditional victory lap around the henyard, announcing her triumph at top volume. Thanks, Stella! It’s a beautiful egg.

In case you’re wondering, after their first year—when they mature and start laying eggs in the late summer, then continue through the fall and winter—hens raised without artificial light and heat stop laying for the year when the days get short in fall, and don’t start again until the daylight lengthens in spring. During the cold months, they use every calorie to stay warm. And people say chickens are stupid! But I digress.

The second great thing was that we discovered a new-to-us potting soil, Organic Mechanics, that we’d purchased at James Weaver’s Meadowview Farm in nearby Bowers. We needed more potting soil (shock surprise), and couldn’t resist a bag that boasted great ingredients, no peat (a natural resource that’s rapidly being depleted), and “Mom Approved.” When we opened it, we were wowed by the rich, beautiful soil. We could almost hear the plants we were potting up breathing a huge collective sigh of relief as their roots sank into this gorgeous soil.

Returning indoors, our friend Ben checked out the Organic Mechanics website (www.organicmechanicsoil.com). Apparently Silence and I aren’t the only folks who were wowed by this potting soil: It’s used by three of the most prestigious gardens in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Longwood Gardens, Chanticleer, and the Scott Arboretum, not to mention the U.S. National Arboretum, the U.S. National Park Service, and the British Embassy. I don’t know what pleases me and Silence more, that we’re supporting an excellent local PA product, the anticipation as we wait to see what it does for our container plants, or the thought that all these important gardens and arboretums (and even the Park Service!) are using organic potting soil. Kudos to them, and to Mark Highland, Organic Mechanics’ founder.

Fortunately, you don’t have to live in the Mid-Atlantic region to find this outstanding organic potting soil. The Organic Mechanics website is excellent and informative, and you can order direct. Thier product line is short and sweet: Seed Starting Blend Potting Soil, Planting Mix (for raised beds), Premium Blend Potting Soil (for veggies and other food plants), Container Blend Potting Soil (for perennials and woodies), and Worm Castings.

We have our own earthworm composter, so we can attest to the incredible richness of earthworm castings as a soil conditioner and fertilizer. And of course, you can also use them to make earthworm “tea.” Here’s how Mark makes “tea” from castings: “Mix 1 pound of castings in 1 gallon of water. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds, let castings settle to bottom, then pour off a fraction of the liquid solution. Stop before pouring out castings particles, and repeat until tea turns light brown in color, then pour out any remaining castings and use as mulch.” Of course, when he says “pour out,” he doesn’t mean “throw out.” Use the liquid you’re draining off as a foliar spray or soil drench.

The third great thing about today happened when our friend Ben called up our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, to post this, and saw that we now have over 400,000 total views. We promised when we hit 300,000 views that we wouldn’t go on about this again until we reached 500,000, so ’nuff said. But you can bet we’ll be inviting our friend and resident blog historian, Richard Saunders, and his girlfriend Bridget over for a celebratory supper!

Unfortunately, by tomorrow we may not be having so much to celebrate. After several weeks of daytime temperatures in the 70s (including several days that reached 78 degrees) and nighttime lows in the high 40s and low 50s, tonight the temperature is plunging down to 26. Brrrr!!! With apples, peaches, and pear trees in bud and our pluot in full flower—not to mention our bed of greens, just peeping up through the soil, our spinach, Swiss chard, and herb transplants, and our windowbox planters of violas—we are seriously concerned. Guess we’ll have to hope for the best and see what makes it through the night.

Meanwhile, happy gardening to you all. Thanks for visiting, and we hope you have things to celebrate today, too!

Top ten ways to stop wasting food. March 22, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, pets, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
2 comments

Silence Dogood here. I was shocked and appalled this morning by an article in The Wall Street Journal with the innocuous title of “Leftovers: Tasty or Trash?” (check it out at www.wsj.com). The article turned out not to be about food preferences, as I’d assumed (though there were plenty of comments from men who hate leftovers, including one who said he’d rather eat a spoonful of peanut butter than leftovers).

Instead, it was about the massive amount of wasted food that’s thrown out in America’s home kitchens. Take a look at these stats: vegetables comprise 25% of trash in a typical home; fruit and juices, 16%; grains (presumably including breads), 14%; and milk and yogurt, 13%. Do the math, and it looks like 68% of a typical home’s trashcan is filled with food! In a world where even one person goes hungry, this is a sin and a disgrace. And this doesn’t even touch the food waste produced by restaurants, groceries, and the like. Yikes! 

Mind you, as anyone who’s taken a statistics course knows, statistics often aren’t what they seem, and this proved true in this case: “Trash refers to avoidable waste” was printed in tiny type under the stats. And what they considered “unavoidable” waste wasn’t defined.

There’s not much I consider to be unavoidable waste. It just kills me to see perfectly good furniture at the curb, waiting for the trash as it’s ruined by a downpour. Would it have killed people to call Goodwill or even—gasp—find the nearest thrift store and drop it off themselves?!

People need your old clothes, shoes and accessories. Even clothes that are worn out can be made into rags for rugs, etc. (that’s what they do with the clothing donated to those big dumpster-like bins you see around town). And here’s a tip: Buy clothes, shoes and accessories you actually like, that are flattering, comfortable, and easy-care, not clothes that fashion designers and stores want to sell you so you’ll have to constantly replace them to stay on-trend. If you buy stuff you enjoy wearing, you’ll wear it ’til it wears out (and then just be sorry you didn’t buy two).

Appliances can be donated or recycled. Plastic bags can be recycled at any grocery, paper bags can be used to hold papers for recycling or shredded and composted, and you can always buy earth-friendly grocery bags for 99 cents at the checkout and use those. (Even liquor stores now sell special compartmentalized bags for 99 cents!) You can cut down on plastic waste by purchasing water, milk, detergent, etc. in reusable containers. (Some companies deliver and pick up, you return the containers to other farms and stores, and you buy refills in your original container at others.)

Admittedly, some things do fall into the “unavoidable waste” category. I’d put used bandages, kitty litter, past-wearing athletic shoes, and toothpaste tubes in that category, though used toothbrushes can enjoy a second life cleaning grout, jewelry, or your rock collection. Here at Hawk’s Haven, our friend Ben and I shred waste paper to put in our chicken nest boxes and mix with soaked coir for our earthworm composter. We burn boxes and cardboard in our fire pit, recycle everything we can, and wear our carefully-chosen and much-loved clothes ’til they’re literally unwearable, then part with these old friends with huge regret. We save bubble wrap for winterizing the house and mailing gifts; we return plastic flats and pots to the nurseries where we bought the plants.  

But I digress. Let me give you one more stat from the article before I move on to saving food. It notes that the average U.S. household spends between $500 and $2000 each year on food that ends up in the trash. I imagine that seeing 5 to 20 Benjamins in a trash can would turn most people into dumpster-divers. Just think what you could do with that money! You could put it toward painting the house, paying the mortgage, dental care, health insurance, car repair, college expenses, a family vacation. Think about this as you plan your family’s weekly meals. Did I say plan your family’s meals?! I guess it’s time to move on to those tips.

1. Look at what you have. Make some time this weekend to go through your kitchen cabinets, fridge, freezer, pantry, and anyplace else you store food, to see exactly what’s in there. Check out all the cans, boxes, packages, and bottles. This is a good time to think about whether you’ll really use everything you have, or whether you should donate some less-popular items to a food bank or soup kitchen. Our local bank (as in money, not food) has bags in their foyer for donated food, another reason we love them. It will also remind you that you have ten jars of jelly or mustard and don’t need to buy more until all of them are used. And of course, I hope it will inspire you to think about how you can plan meals that use the food you already have.

2. Make a weekly plan. Because OFB and I subscribe to our local paper, each week we get circulars from the local groceries and pharmacies with their discounted items for the week, as well as at least two circulars with discount coupons. Because I shop at local health food stores, I also pick up sales circulars for them. So every weekend, I compare the prices in the circulars, see if anything I want is on sale, see if there are coupons for anything I want, and then make my grocery list based on what I plan to cook that week and where I should look for ingredients. To avoid food waste, you must be absolutely realistic: How many meals will you make at home, and how many will you and yours eat at school, at restaurants, at the company cafeteria, order in, or grab at the fast-food line? This is probably a fairly set schedule, so thinking it through once will probably give you a good idea about how many meals you’ll really cook at home. Use that estimate to decide which meals you’ll need to plan for, and then what ingredients you’ll need to make those meals.

3. Rotate. This means two things, both of which are helpful: First, it means that you should plan for variety. Even if you’ve made big pots of delicious chili, spaghetti sauce, or soup, you should serve them on alternate nights or every third night, not every single night until you’ve used them up. Variety is, after all, the spice of life. And second, you should keep an eye on the use-by dates of your canned, frozen, bottled, packaged, and fresh food. This sounds like a pain, and is one for about 10 minutes, but every time you buy replacements for your go-to foods, you should move the oldest cans, boxes, packages, bottles, and etc. to the front and put the newest ones in the back. Tedious? Sure. But it will not only remind you of what’s available for this week’s meals, but make sure you use what you have with no waste.

4. Share. If you find you’ve cooked too much of any one dish, and you can’t think of a way to incorporate it into something else, consider sharing it. Perhaps your neighbor would enjoy a dish. (And please, perhaps they’d enjoy it even more if you invited them to share it with you!) Perhaps your friends might appreciate a care package. But don’t overlook your pets. Our dog, parrot and chickens love fresh veggie and fruit scraps, nuts, and grains.

5. Morph those meals. Today’s beans and rice can be tomorrow’s refried bean and rice burrito. Or they can be added to a soup or stew. Todays’ side-dish greens like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard can be added to tomorrow’s soup or quiche or omelette or spanakopita or lasagna. Leftover rice, veggies and greens can make a delicious fried rice. Curries use any quantity of mixed veggies. So do salads and stir-fries. I’ve found that homemade spaghetti sauce is endlessly forgiving, so you can toss in that last bit of fresh salsa or a few tomatoes or anything you need to clean out your fridge, and it will blend and taste great. (It also makes a great sauce for lasagna and pizza. Just ask OFB!)

6. Make good food. I have to wonder if the reason so many people apparently hate leftovers is because the food isn’t that great to begin with, and is even worse when it’s nuked as leftovers. (Of course, some folks may hate leftovers because their parents insisted that leftovers were only fit for pigs. Shame on them!) If your meals are luscious and flavorful, and you warm up made-from-scratch leftovers in the oven rather than nuking leftover convenience foods in the microwave, everyone will want more. Why? Because it tastes so good!   

7. Compost.* OFB and I have a simple 3-bin composter out back made from free pallets. We also have an earthworm composter. Anything that starts to go bad before we can eat it, or our chickens can eat it, goes in our kitchen compost bucket to make rich, luscious soil for our garden beds.

8. Learn the art of food preservation. It’s really not hard to learn how to freeze, can, pickle, dry, and otherwise preserve extra food. Yes, it sounds scary, but even I can do it. And if I can do it, you can do it, I promise! It’s incredibly satisfying to preserve your homegrown harvest, whether you’re drying herbs and hot peppers, making your own applesauce or marinara sauce, or making pickles.

9. Talk first, then eat.  That amazing three-for-one deal on collards isn’t going to save you money if your family refuses to eat cooked greens. You know it’s super-nutritious. It will provide essential nutrients for everyone in the family. But nobody wants to eat them. Even I wouldn’t eat a serving of plain steamed collards (or kale, Swiss chard, or even spinach). Tell everybody you’re making a super-delicious dish. Then stir-fry those greens in extra-virgin olive oil with diced sweet onion, sea salt, black pepper, and balsamic vinegar, with some raisins tossed in for added complexity, though, and your family won’t be able to get enough!

10. Be grateful. Slow down a minute, and think what you’re putting in your shopping basket or cart. Look at the beautiful fresh fruits, greens, and veggies. Take some time to savor the cheeses and cut flowers you’re adding to your cart. Take a minute to thank everyone and everything who made your choices possible: the earth, the plants, the people who grew and harvested them, the people who painstakingly bred the varieties you’re enjoying, the processors, truckers and grocers who put them into your hands. If you train yourself to be grateful for every stalk of celery you put in your grocery cart or slice for your family’s evening salad, you’ll be much less likely to waste food.

Be a hero—save the planet. We all want to, but it can often be so overwhelming. A good, manageable place to start is in your own kitchen. Just a look at your family’s food use can start a revolution!

              ‘Til next time,

                          Silence

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