Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More Sea Lettuce!

The girls and I went to the beach the other day and manged to find amazing amounts of sea lettuce.  I brought it all home, rinsed it and hung it to dry on our laundry rack.  This may or may not have been a good idea (little pieces ended up sticking to it).  After it was dry my littlest one and I shoved them into mason jars.  I now have four pretty packed mason jars full of seaweed.  It might even me more than enough for the whole year!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Fruit Leathers

So, during the season for strawberries I made jam, froze a couple of pounds, and let my kids have strawberries as a vegetable side dish for dinner for about two weeks.  I quickly came to realize that the 8'x4' patch we have is not suitable for all our strawberry loving needs.  I looked around to find a place in the area that offered pick your own organic strawberries.  I was directed to Land's Sake, an amazing nonprofit public farm working for education and conservation.  So we trotted down there, bright and early with our picnic basket in hand to pick a boat-load of strawberries and have a generally fun day.
I managed to pick two quarts, which, while not so bad, was not the idea I had in mind.  I had the idea that we would be out there for at least three hours, all of us (including my two-and-a-half-year-old) working like professionals to acquire the 12-15 pounds we would need for all our smoothies, yogurt pops, and oatmeal for the entire year.  But I usually make the mistake of imaging what I could do without kids running around, needing to go to the bathroom, wanting to see chickens, etc. 
"Girls we have chickens at home...don't you want to come over here and pick more strawberries...girls?"
"Ok, you're sure? Just checking because we can totally go back to getting my to do list done if you want."

When we got home, I just couldn't bare the thought of boiling the strawberries.  I also kind of didn't want to freeze them.  After resigning to the fact that I wasn't going to get a year's worth of strawberries out of the season I figured I may buy organic frozen strawberries and didn't want my precious picked beauties to get lost in the shuffle.  After hemming and hawing and talking to my friend, I decided to make fruit leathers out of them!  It's practically like eating them raw! (Nutritionally speaking, of course).
I pureed them in the blender, oiled my dehydrator tray with a little olive oil and poured it in about 1/4 inch thick. 
 Then I let it dehydrate overnight.  It was too long!  They were more like strawberry chips than leathers.  How disappointing!  Then the kids came running in and were all like, "What's that? Can I have it? Can I have two?"  So it is acceptable for its target market anyway.
This is the first batch. I think I didn't put in enough puree.
 The next batch came out more leathery.  I used my canning head-space measurer thingy to check the thickness of the puree.  I found that I did have to flip it to dehydrate a couple of patches on the underside that just didn't want to dry.  All in all a success.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Wild Grape Leaves

I love stuffed grape leaves.  My love affair with this Grecian treat started of all places at the Willowbrook mall in New Jersey.  I am sort-of from New Jersey a little.  Anyway, in the food court there was an eatery called Athenos or something like that.  They had an amazing stuffed grape leaf salad.  I'm not sure what would have compelled me to order a salad topped with little green logs filled with who-knows-what at 12 years of age, but I did and I've been hooked ever since.

I happen to have a massive amount of grape vines growing in my back yard.  I have something of a teeny tiny wilderness back there and they thrive.  The vines thrive not the berries, there's not enough sun for those.  So, in trying to use everything I have at my disposal I decided to go and harvest some and try my hand at making these little tastes.
 This is a little bit of my wilderness, what isn't grape vines is goutweed a nasty invasive. 

I checked out out this site, consulted Steve "Wildman" Brill's book, and looked up a recipe in the Joy of Cooking, melded my new knowledge and came up with these! 
 The first thing I had to do was collect them.  Grape leaves are best tasting in the spring and early summer. I'm not sure what happens after that, but my guess is that they become tough.  Once they start wearing leather jackets and carrying switch blades it's best to stay way from them.  Medium-sized ones are preferable, not too small to roll up but not too big and tough.  You do need some big ones though, so that you can line the pan and cover the stuffed ones (more on this later).  I just took a bucket and picked all the good ones I could get at easily.  I ended up picking about 100 leaves in no time at all.  (I think I also got about 100 bug bites).
Be careful to inspect your leaves, this one had some sort of hatching beetle on the back of them, and the one below shows the trail of leaf borers.  They're just bugs, but if you want your meal bug-free take a close look at your leaves.

I sorted them into leaves to roll, and leaves too big, too ripped or too small for the pan.  Then I prepared a filling.  I used white rice, amaranth, chopped walnuts, chopped dried cranberries, and onions and a couple dried figs.  (I'll have the full recipe at the bottom along with how to freeze them for later use). Then I prepared the leaves.  Steve Brill says he just rolled them up with a filling and pressure cooked them.  I didn't try, but I suspect that without cooking the leaves a little bit it would be difficult to roll them up without tearing.  The joy of cooking says to soak them for an hour in hot water because they are assuming you're using jarred leaves.  So I just steamed them for about a minute or so.  Even this I think may have been more steaming than I needed and next time I plan to cover them with very hot water for a minute or two. 

Then you simply take a spoonful of the filling, place it on the base of the leaf (where the stem would be), vein side up and roll it up like a burrito! For those of you who have never made a burrito or are inept at rolling them (it happens, don't feel bad) that would mean: roll it up so the filling is just covered and then fold the sides over and continue to roll so the sides are all tucked in and it's like a neat little package.

 Place them seam side down in a pan you have prepared by lining the sides and bottom with grape leaves.  This took about 5 large leaves for my #8 cast iron skillet.
 Place all your little grape leaf rolls side by side all snug and then pour stock or water over them, drizzle them with olive oil, cover them with more grape leaves, weight them down with a plate and cover the pan.
The Joy of Cooking says to cook them for about 30 minutes, but they were using raw lamb and I wasn't so I cooked them for about 15.  After that, take them out, put them on a plate and let them cool down completely.  I sprinkled them with a little vinegar so they would have the taste that I'm used to.  They came out really great!

There's the recipe: Makes about 10 Stuffed Grape Leaves

20-25 Fresh Grape Leaves.  10 medium sized ones to roll and 10-15 to line the pan.
1.5 cup cooked white rice
1 cup cooked amaranth (I thought I was using quinoa, while I was cooking it, realized it was amaranth, so I think you could use either!)
1/4 cup finely chopped onions
1/4 cup walnuts chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries chopped
5 dried figs chopped (you could leave these out if you don't have them, I thought it was a nice touch.  You can also use any dried fruit you want)
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup water or stock
4 tablespoons olive oil

To prepare the filling:
Mix the amaranth and rice together with a fork.  Amaranth* is a bit sticky and porridge-y, it's not really tricky or anything, but the goal is to separate the amaranth into the rice so there are no clumps.  Saute the onions in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until tender, add the dried fruit and walnuts and saute until fragrant.  Mix the onion mixture with the rice mixture.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

Prepare your pan:

Prepare the leaves:
Stack up ten leaves (11 is you think you might mess up!) and lightly steam them.  Really only steam them for a minute.  Their color will change to a dull green.  You can try to place them in a bowl and over them with hot but not boiling water until they change color and then strain them.  I haven't tried this yet, but I think it will work. Take one leaf at a time and place vein side up, stem side toward you on a clean surface.  Put a spoonful of filling on the end and roll up, folding the sides over as you go. Place them seam side down in the prepared pan.  Once the pan is full with your 10 rolls pour 1 cup of stock or water over them and drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Cover with the rest of the leaves, weight them down with a plate and cover with a lid.  Cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.  Remove them from the pan and let cool.  Sprinkle with vinegar if you desire and enjoy!

To Freeze:
 Take 25 leave and  stack them.  Roll them up and tie with a string.  Dip them one at a time into boiling water for a minute to blanch.  Let cool and put them in a plastic bag.  Press out as much air as possible (I actually vacuum sealed them) and pop them into the freezer.
This was so super easy that I really really hope that it's works!

*Amaranth is also a super food, filled with good for you stuff like lots of protein.

Monday, June 14, 2010


I have three beautiful bushes of lavender that I have had since I was fist a Momma.  They were in containers in our first apartment as a family, and now that they have been allowed to rest in the ground for about three seasons, they are gorgeous!
These will be hung to dry and used in baths salts, poultices and given away as gifts in the form of eye pillows, most likely!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Little Friends

 When I was a kid I had a collection of short stories that I really liked.  I Wish to God that I could remember what it was called or even the name of one of the stories in it.  I could go into relatively great detail (relatively for a memory that is 20 or so years old) about the stories themselves and can still remember many many of the illustrations, but alas, I'm not sure it would be enough to find the book.  There was a story about a couch that was really a fat man, a story about a girl who held up a blue scrap of fabric to a rainy sky to make a patch of blue, which I think may have been the name of that story.  There was a story about a wizard, one about a kite...  One of the stories was about "people" who were household objects...wooden spoons, clothespins, stuff like that.  I can still see the clothespin family in my mind and had always wanted to have them.  So, recently for a project to do during a Ladies Craft Night, I made some! (For Athena, of course.)

Strawberries Are The Jam!

Last year we prepared an 8'x4' just for strawberries.  They are June bearing sweet beautiful tasty berries.  They started ripening about two weeks ago, and the kids have been snacking.  Athena is especially fond of using a knife (very exciting) to cut them into minute pieces and eat them out of a bowl. Unfortunately we don't really have enough at this point to let them snack at will.  My oldest will happily eat a green strawberry, so she can clear a crop faster than a murder of crows.  We do have a couple of patches of wild strawberries where they have free range. We hope to plant more June bearers and ever bearers in the future.  But for now, this is what we have and a couple of days ago I had enough to make twelve jars of jam! I am also freezing the berries whole to use in smoothies.  I think that we will probably end up going to a pick your own and getting a bunch for freezing and jamming this week. 
We had about 8 cups mashed which was enough for a double batch..  I use Pomona's which is activated by calcium and so you don't need a lot (or any) sugar to make the jam jam.  (Sorry, I can't seem to help myself). I use the inversion method to seal the jars.  It's my understanding that this means I can't enter my jam j-ahem-in any fairs or contests?  I guess this has something to do with bacterial. But I have seen old pros use this method and I can't bear the thought if boiling them again! However, after double checking my facts just now, I am adequately paranoid* and will probably process them in a water bath, given that we give a lot of jams away as gifts. 

*When the inversion process does work, the vacuum seals of filled jars still tend to be weaker than those produced by a short boiling water canning process. A weak seal is more likely to fail during storage. In addition, the headspace of the jar may retain enough oxygen to allow some mold growth if airborne molds contaminated the surface of the product as the jar was filled and closed. More complete removal of oxygen from the headspace also offers some longer protection from undesirable color and flavor changes with some types of fruit products.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Trade Off

 Ugh.  Well, we're in a little over our heads.  Again.  This is something that seems to happen to us a lot.  We get excited.  We see an extremely pleasurable end product.  Then we try to run and leap over all the learning that has to come before in order to actually achieve that extremely desirable end product.  Usually it happens with animals.  More than once (I hate to admit) we acquired animals and then scrambled to build, find, expand the home for said animals.  It is very easy to see, with alive things, that you have missed a couple of steps, chickens get cramped, bunnies have babies, and lettuce bolts.  For this very reason we decided not to get any additional animals this year and just focus on preserving our foods and getting our yard ready for more planting ability.  We did plant quite a bit.  We ordered our seeds and made a little calender during the cold and easy-paced winter months (the calender has been completely ignored).  We built cold frames and started our seeds in them and under lights in the kitchen.  We even rented a community garden plot again at a local land trust in hopes of having better luck with our tomatoes this year (last year's attempts got gotten by the blight).

Well, many of the things we started from seed indoors looked wimpy,  and a bunch of the things we started in the cold frames needed/needs to be transplanted and just hasn't yet.  I'm not really even sure why.  I guess I don't really have a lot of time to do that sort of thing.  But I'm not really sure at this point what I am doing instead.  I guess taking care of my kids?  They're practically feral, so I can't imagine that it's taking up that much of my time.  For a while I was getting up at 5:30, an hour before the family, so I could do some outdoor things in peace.  It was really, really nice, actually.  I felt like I was getting some time to myself and getting some nagging projects done.  But then I started wanting to not get up at 5:30 am and instead sleep in (until 6:30).  What a looser.  So I guess I will have to get back on the "getting up like a crazy person or a runner (same thing) at the crack of dawn" thing and transplant some basil and zinnias.

We have deiced to forgo the garden plot.  Although it's in a place that I frequent with the children and it's only a mile away, so not far for us to walk, it seems unlikely that I will be able to walk there everyday at a regular time to water, weed and harvest.  It's a little too much strain on my primary job which is parenting.  I know there are some super women out there who do it and any tips would be great.  But I am not She just yet and if I have to do the garden march of tears everyday my children will get yelled at, ignored, and have a generally cranky mom.  It's just not the holistic nature-y childhood I'm trying to cultivate for them.  We have also decided not to stress too much about the things we have started and could be harvesting by now.  Instead we've deiced to just get the yard ready to plant in the fall for our winter greens and carrots and things like that.  We put the unused seeds in the refrigerator and will just wait until next time to try again.  We are a part of two farm shares this summer and should have plenty of produce to eat and preserve without trying to learn so quickly under summer pressure.  I mean, we seriously still don't know all that much about cultivating soil.  Again, with the house for your alive things! 

 Last year we purchased the Rail Road ties to the right for a ridiculously cheap price.  This year we are planning to make four beds about 3.5'x9' in this spot to give us more gardening space.  My husband is holding up the root of a forsythia that was in our way.  I have so many of them, and am not such a big fan to begin with so I deiced we would just dig it up without trying to transplant

There is just so much to learn, and I am so impatient to know it all now! But I don't.  And we've only been learning in earnest for two or three years.  In that time we have learned a lot. I can remember being around seven months pregnant with Athena and kind of panicking about teaching her about wild edibles and herbs.  I felt really hormonal about her not loosing this ancestral knowledge about the earth and its cycles.  Something I was determined to teach her, and that I would have to learn in like TWO MONTHS! I'm not sure if you know this, but a few minutes after they are born they start wondering about when nettles grow and the various ways to prepare them, as well as their health benefits.  It's a fact and you'd better get ready.  Anyway, I managed to take it one step at a time, and I can now safely pull together a wild meal as well as cure bug bites, open wounds, skin rashes and lighten the flow of a heavy period.  As a family we're getting there.  To my delight my kid could tell the difference on sight between peppermint and spearmint at the age of three. They are definitely picking up a sense of the earth's timing and offerings. There is just so much more to learn.  Perhaps the lesson in this, as in all things, is to be contented or even joyful with the process of learning.  Because surely, if it's done right, that never stops.
I guess I'm not willing to miss watching  Athena help her little sister "birth" her baby cat, even if it means a slower learning curve and less homemade ketchup.