New Year’s Resolve… Reinvented

Source: New Year’s Resolve… Reinvented

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Spiced Zucchini Bread

zucchini bread

This recipe is the product of 2 years of trial and error. Finally, finally I have hit on the perfect blend of spice and fruit and all things wonderful. It is THE best, hands down, zucchini bread to ever be made anywhere. You think I jest? Give it a shot!

  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup apple or pear sauce
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • grated rind from one orange
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1-1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground clove
  • 3-1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups of freshly shredded zucchini
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. Grease 2 standard size bread pans or 5 mini ones.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together everything but the last 3 ingredients.
  4. Stir in flour.
  5. Stir in zucchini and nuts.
  6. Bake for 1 hour for standard pans and 40-45 minutes for minis or until tester comes out clean.

Now make yourself a pot of tea, put your feet up and enjoy!

For the Love of Eggplant!

Ratatouille use this one

Whitney’s Rustic Ratatouille

 

I am forever amazed by the number of people who claim to dislike eggplant. When pressed for a reason, most do not reply in a way that I find satisfactory, so I push: “When was the last time you had it? How was it prepared?”

After hems and haws and vague guesses at remembering a date, I finally conclude that they’ve never even tried it. Either that or their Great Aunt Nenica Penica boiled it until it was mush, added no seasoning whatsoever, and served it to them when they were wee children.

I will give you this: eggplant is not a vegetable that most of us grew up eating with any regularity, unless of course you are of Mediterranean or Asian descent.  Then you certainly understand the glory of the aubergine. This magnificent fruit, once referred to as the “mad apple” upon its discovery in Europe, was thought to have its origins in India, pre-dating written history. By the fifth century it popped up in Chinese record, by the eighth, the Moors were savoring it and, by the thirteenth, the Arabs possessed it’s’ glory. Two hundred years later it was discovered by the Greeks and Romans. It tore through Northern and Eastern Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; however, not until the early 1900’s did it show up with any regularity in American cuisine (even though Thomas Jefferson is oft credited with bringing it to our soil many decades earlier.) So, perhaps I can understand how we as a country may still fear its bounty. After all, we have only seriously been experimenting with it for a hundred years; a trifling amount of time in the history of man.

Yet I feel compelled to remind my fellow countrymen, we are Americans! We are adventurers! Our very roots lie in the soil of other lands where they have appreciated and valued the culinary contribution of the eggplant for centuries. Let us tap into our cell memory and rediscover why our forefathers brought this gorgeous, plump, deep purple prize to the New World. They must have known something that we don’t.

Eggplant season is from July-October and like all other produce, best used when in season. I can give you is Ratatouille, which is a mélange of the celebrated aubergine, squash, zucchini, red and green peppers, onions, tomatoes, black olives, garlic, and assorted spices married together and bound by the wondrously flavorful olive oil. Once you make the basic recipe, you can serve it in a myriad of ways that will only make you love it more and more. I have served many a guest Ratatouille and at first vaguely describe it as vegetable dip. Not until they express their glowing praise, do I confess that it is in fact…eggplant. Ratatouille is the perfect dip (served cold or room temperature) accompanied with crackers, slices of crusty bread, or even corn chips. It can also be served hot and tossed with pasta. Garnish this dish with freshly grated parmesan cheese. For late summer when you are still religiously grilling fish outdoors, consider paring it with a salmon steak or halibut fillet. As an appetizer I like to pack about ¾ of a cup into individual ring molds and top it with baked goat cheese rounds (served warm or at room temperature.) I even use it as the filling for a Mediterranean omelet with a sup son of grated parmesan.  Now I ask you, is their any reason left that you shouldn’t join history and embrace the scrumptious eggplant for yourself?

And added bonus for us is that ALL of the veggies and herbs sans the olives are grown in our own garden or purchased at a neighboring farm.

Whitney’s Rockin’ Ratatouille

Serves 4

  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  •  3/4-pound eggplant, cut into ½” pieces (about 3 cups)
  • 1 small zucchini, scrubbed, chopped into ½” pieces
  • 1 small yellow zucchini squash, scrubbed, chopped into ½” pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • ¾ cup halved,  black olives
  • 3/4 pound small ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 ½  teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 cup shredded fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

1.   In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over moderately low heat, add garlic, onion, and stir until onion becomes translucent.

2.   Bump up the heat to med.-high and pour in the remaining olive oil. Add the eggplant and continue to cook for 7-8 minutes until soft.

3.   Add zucchini, squash, the bell pepper, and olives stirring occasionally, for about 12 minutes.

4.   Add tomatoes, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

5.    Add oregano, thyme, and coriander. Salt and pepper to taste, and continue cooking for 1 minute. Stir in the basil. The ratatouille may be made 1 day in advance, kept covered and chilled, and reheated before serving or allowed to come to room temperature, depending on your preparation.

6.    Sprinkle with cheese right before serving.

Finding Home

109 year old farm house

We’ve started out search for the perfect ten-plus acres for our homestead!  Yay, Pioneers! On the surface, this is fabulously exciting. Yet, in reality, it’s just plain exhausting.

Like any house hunt, there are a plethora of things to take into consideration. What is the shape of the roof?  What is the neighborhood like?  Are the schools any good?  How secure is the septic? On and on and on we go. Now add homesteading to the equation. What’s the soil like? Is the well pumping enough water per minute to give you confidence there is a vast underground supply? Is the land so reasonably priced because it’s smack in the middle of a flood zone? Head. Throbbing.

The elder generation of pioneers, Mosses and Poppy, have been out twice doing  a little reconnaissance. Their first stop took them to a mini-farm with 12-plus acres, 2 homes and more outbuildings than you can shake a stick at. What they found was that the only hope for the original 1910 ranch house was for a match to land on it. Moses and Poppy are not prima donna home buyers. They have bought their fair share of fixer-uppers and aren’t afraid of putting some elbow grease into the manse to make it a home. It helps that they both have a history in real estate. They are not rubes in the realm of relocation.

Round two took them to six different properties in a forty-five mile area. They came home looking like they’d been through a midnight bombing and six months in a prisoner of war camp. Moses walked through the front door and went straight to her bedroom where she slept for fifteen solid hours. Poppy gave us the scoop. The first 5 houses were not to be considered. Clearly the photos and info garnered on the farm website where we researched were a bit doctored. As in, no way did a 5′ x 2.5′ crawl space with no windows count as a bedroom. And while tell of a gorgeous barn, original to the farm, sounded ideal, in reality it was held up entirely by the blackberry bushes and poison oak that snaked its way through the weathered boards. One of the houses was still on oil heating from its origins. Two were so completely isolated from the world you could hear the dueling banjos on the breeze. One was so close to the main road that if you took too large a step leaving your front door, you were in jeopardy of getting run over by a passing manure spreader. The last property, he confessed, was either a maybe or they were just too beaten down by the others to know. We made a plan to take a family field trip to the “maybe.”

The “maybe” was located in a rural farming town that has a pretty good rep. There are fewer than a thousand souls in residence and probably a hundred times as many sheep. The terrain was breathtaking! Rolling hills, farm land, rivers, woods. All I could think of on the ride there was that I was on my way home, I knew it. When we pulled up to the property I experienced a feeling of reserved optimism. We hit the barn first. Loved it. Big enough for necessary storage but not so big as to overwhelm. On to the house. It was attractive from the outside but inside was like the seventies threw up all over the eighties. The space was great though. Over three thousand square feet with a very workable floor plan for our family of six. Wrap around porches on both levels that overlooked the woods expanded our outdoor living space. There was a nice wood stove and fireplace.

On to the outdoors! We knew that the forest acreage outnumbered the farming acreage but were surprised  to see how little 3 acres of cleared space really was. I would guess that in reality it was more like an acre an a half. Clearing the woods for planting would be a huge chore. Then the husband noticed the shake roof surrounded by large trees and shook his head. No way. Our last home in California was nearly consumed by the San Gabriel fires. Pass. The ride home left us shell-shocked.

Our lovely realtor further complicated our choices of towns by declaring one full of pot-heads (and that was just the town council), one was full of ex-cons, another had a meth problem and another still seemed to have a reputation for incest. Are. You. Freaking. Kidding. Me? One of the two towns she recommended had a school system that was below the state average, nixing that possibility. The town we are in has great rural area but not much for sale in the 10 acre arena and we are looking at twice the price for it. No longer living in California means that our income opportunities are not the same, therefore, paying a million dollar price tag to homestead seems a bit absurd.

Anyhoo, that’s the update from the Pioneer homestead hunt. We are taking a break for a couple weeks and trying to rebuild our intestinal fortitude to hit it again. All good vibes, prayers and happy energy you want to send our way is welcome!

Spiced Pear Butter (OMG!)

Spiced Pear Butter is one of my all time favorite treats and if it was easier to make I’d give it to all of my loved ones and then roll in it. Alas, it’s a bit of a dilly to make. Not hard, but very time consuming and a bit expensive for the yield. Having said that, it is well worth it for your own private stash or for that lovely person who gifts you with one of their kidneys/lungs/other vital organs. In just over 6 hours, I have created 12-1/2 pints of ambrosia-like wonder.

pears 15

Ingredients:

  • 12 pounds of organic pears (unpeeled) cored and cut into 1″ chunks. This is about 16 pounds before cutting.
  • 1-1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 6 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4-1/2 cups of sugar
  • 12 orange slices
  • 3 lemon slices
  • 16 whole cloves
  • 6 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt

About 16 pounds of organic pears.

About 16 pounds of organic pears.

You will want 12 lbs. of cut up chunks.

You will want 12 lbs. of cut up chunks

Look at all that lovely compost/ chicken food!

Look at all that lovely compost/ chicken food!

 

 

1. Combine pears, wine and lemon juice in a very large stockpot and cover. Simmer about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until the pears are very tender.

 

Nice and tender.

Nice and tender.

 

2. Force through a food mill to remove skins.

 

Food mill.

Food mill.

 

3. Return the puree to the heavy stockpot. Add remaining ingredients.

 

pears 8

 

4. Stir over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium and boil gently until mixture thickens and begins to mound on the spoon. This takes between 2-3 hours (depending on your heat). Stir frequently to keep mixture from scorching.

It's done!

It’s done!

 

5. Discard fruit slices, cloves and vanilla beans. Spoon into sterilized canning jars, filling to 1/4″from top. Wipe rims, place lids on and submerge into boiling water bath.

Ready to go.

Ready to go.

 

pears 14

Ready to bathe.

 

Drum Roll please……………………..

pears 15

Heaven!

The Commandments of New Pioneering

 In the last five years I have grown up (although  I might actually be  1/4″ shorter), out (little heavier) and in (soul growth… the hardest!) Here are just a few of the insights I hope to raise my little girls with.

    1. Don’t judge others. This will always come around and bite you in the butt. Always.
    2. Jealousy is a waste of energy. You never know what someone else’s life is really like.
    3. If I dislike you on sight, chances are we are destined to become great friends.
    4. If your underwear is tight, buy a bigger size or lose weight. Feeling bad about yourself is an unnecessary step.
    5. It is never too late to apologize. 20, 30, 40 years… go for it! Your soul will be lighter for it.
    6. Like a tomato garden, pluck the suckers out.
    7. Everything has value to someone.
    8. You are not what you own. Stuff comes and goes– love and kindness last forever.
    9. All the crap makes for a more fruitful garden.
    10. Hard work always pays off.
    11. If you are going to kill it, eat it. This does not apply to slugs or other irritating garden bugs.
    12. Don’t buy it if you can grow.
    13. Buying it new is a waste of money.
    14.  Everyone has a story you can learn from. Listen.
    15. Weeds that can be turned into wine, coffee and salad greens are not weeds. They are wonders!
    16. If, on a quiet country night, you are inspired to write a book, write it! Check out Mama Pioneers inspiration. She Sins at Midnight.
    17. Every single moment of life is a gift. Treat it accordingly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When Barbie Chickens Come Home to Roost

Chicken poop on the patio

Hanging out on the poopio.

I recently reread my New Year’s resolutions and have come to a profound realization. That being, I will be lucky to accomplish all of my goals for this year by 2020. Apparently owning a Wonder Woman costume (don’t ask) isn’t the same as being Wonder Woman. Crap.

While pondering the list, we decided that the chicken vs. duck dilemma was the first one to take on. For obvious reasons, like we had a friend that offered us chickens. Sealing the deal was the gossip that ducks are filthy, filthy animals.

Our friend and guru Chris, from Celestial Farms in Jefferson, asked what my criteria for chickens was. I told him I wanted pretty birds that laid pretty eggs. After much laughter, he informed me that rugged pioneer women are not interested in pretty, just functional. To which I asked, “Why can’t they be both?”

The girls pondered for days what to name their new pets. Jimmy voted to name them after Scooby and the gang. They weren’t interested. I wanted to name them after my favorite chicken dishes, Picata, Parmasan, Paprikash etc. which worried them that I was planning on eating their pets. Then, one morning it came to them, Barbie Princesses! So we welcomed, Odette (Anna’s particular pet), Anika, Analise, Rapunzel and Erika to our household.

 

Odette

Odette, pecking at the window to see if Anna can come out and play.

We have come to love these darling, dumb birds. They entertain us endlessly with their theatrics. Nary is an egg laid that isn’t followed by the most outrageous noise you can imagine. The bock, bock, bock, bock, bagock!!! to let you know that once again they have produced a key ingredient in our diets. And in appreciation of their efforts we hand feed them table scraps and Cheerios. We let them free range around the backyard before the gardens went in, renaming the patio the poopio, for obvious reasons. Now that they are confined to their pen until we harvest, we have moved their home in order to triple the size of their wandering area.

Are our chickens spoiled, you ask? Of course, they are named after Barbie princesses and must be treated accordingly.

Finally, Dirt Under My Nails!

dirty manicure

I can finally quit painting the dirt on… it’s go time!

I have been itchy, itchy,  to get out in the yard and start doing something (anything) towards cleaning up for spring planting. Alas, with all the snow and rain we’ve had it was not meant to be; until today! Yes, that’s right, today I weeded until my hamstrings threatened to snap from disuse. I didn’t actually weed the gardens as I would need waders to slop my way to them. But I did do the front yard, effectively bringing a bit more curb appeal to the neighborhood. You’re welcome dear neighbors, I aim to please.

During out last day of no precipitation, we put up our little green house and we are in the beginnings of filling it with starters. I can almost taste the tomatoes. The fruit trees and bushes are budding and if shouting at them could make the fruit appear any faster I’d be out there day and night cheering them on.

Folks, the time is upon us. We now have an extra hour of daylight, the seed packets are arriving and I’m in a dither to start growing the best tasting food, ever! My manicure has been looking way to polished from months of dirt deprivation and I can happily report that my hands are starting to look a shambles (as nature intended) after today.

There are only three months left to Fresh Blueberry Pie! What are you hankering for the most?

Bunny in my freezer

bunnies

No one with a heart beating in their chest could possibly look at this picture and think, “Man, do they look delicious!” I grew up in the era where little children ran around with rabbit’s feet for good luck and did not think my fellow grade-schoolers barbarians. I actually coveted the rabbit fur coat of friend and not once imagined the skinning of these creatures as part of the process. Yet when the thought of eating rabbits hits, I am positively overcome with sadness and revulsion. A quick recap, you can carry their feet out of superstition and wear their lovely fur and I’m fine with it. Eat them and I freak out.

Our friend, Chris, who is Mr. Sustainable, surprised us with a cooler full of wonderful meat from his farm this summer. Grass-fed,hormone-free beef, free-range chicken and you guessed, one little bunny. I was delighted  for the the beef and poultry but the bunny? I tried to give it back. Ignoring my protestations of, “But I won’t eat it. I won’t even cook it. You monster!” He informed me that I was no kind of pioneer if I could not eat a rabbit. He doesn’t call them bunnies, which probably makes it easier for him, heathen.

According to WeEatRoadKill.com (not a real site), bunny tastes a lot like chicken. The question lingers, why not just eat chicken then? We are already used to eating chicken, why branch out? The smarty pants response is, what if chickens weren’t available? What if  the only thing around was rabbit? My answer: what if horses fly and leave gigantic piles of poop on top of my house? Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it, hmm?

Yet I take this whole bunny in my freezer thing as a personal challenge to prove my worth as a woman of the earth, pioneer stock if you will. You could double dog dare me to eat it but I wouldn’t budge but challenge my grit and I’m pissed. How am I going to do it? I think I’d have an easier time eating my neighbor’s guinea pigs, cause let’s face it, they aren’t “bunny” cute. Don’t panic Jen, I won’t eat them, I’m just saying…