Sunday, July 31, 2011

Eggplant -or- Why Does Baba ghanoush Have To Be So Ugly?

 If you're like most people, you don't really like eggplant.  That is unless it's breaded, fried, and covered with sauce and cheese.  I hear you.  It's weird.  It has a strange texture, color, and small when it's raw.  I wasn't a super fan of it growing up and didn't pay too much attention to it when I was an adult.  When I started getting buckets of it from my farm share, I figured I would try to find another way to eat it other than eggplant Parmesan.  By the way I use the recipe from the Joy of Cooking and it is wonderful. 

You can bread and fry the eggplant pieces and then freeze them.  Then all winter long you can pull out a slice here and there and put them on pizza, make eggplant parm or eat them with ranch dressing like my friend used to do when she was little...or not. 

However, if you've ever fried eggplant you know that it soaks up oil so effectively that I'm kind of surprised they didn't use it in the Gulf.  I don't really need to have that much breaded and fried stuff in my life so I ran a series of eggplant experiments.  First I made this really delicious dip with eggplant and butternut squash.  You actually make it in the slow cooker. It is really tasty but it doesn't freeze well.  So that was out. 

Then I started making Baba ganoush.  Seriously, this stuff is all gray and weird looking, but it is really yummy, but I expect that doesn't freeze too well either, so it's not really a preserving methods. 
This photo is from One Green Tomato.  I use her recipe, and I know what you're thinking, "that doesn't look ugly."  Well, she's a really skilled photographer, so don't be fooled, people don't want to eat gray food unless they already know it's delicious.
Then I came across a recipe in the book Preserving the Harvest for roasted eggplant and roasted red peepers layered with basil in an oil and vinegar garlic dressing. The first year I made twelve jars and thought, "What the Hell am I going to do with twelve jars of canned eggplant?"  I'll tell you what, eat the ever-living life out of it!! It is so good.  Even though it's made with vinegar it doesn't really taste pickled.  You can use them on sandwiches, pizza, salads, or chop it up or blend it in the food processor, spread it out in a shallow pie pan cover it with feta cheese and warm it up as a spread for pita chips or bread.  This stuff is incredible.  I gave a jar to my husband's grandfather for Christmas and he loved it.  I planned to make cases of it the following year (last year) but we didn't get a lot of eggplant, I'm not sure I got to make any.  This year I'm on it, though. 

Another thing I want to try my hand at is caponata.  Seeing as though this is a Sicilian dish and I am Sicilian by marriage I figured I ought to.  People say it freezes well, and I believe them.  It ca also be canned, and everyone seems to love this book for the recipe.  I'll let you know how it goes. 

Happy Eggplanting!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Can Stilts

When I was little my mother used to make us toys out of junk.  This was before it was the hip thing to do.  I loved coffee can stilts the best.  She would use the big cans of coffee.  These are pretty hard to find these days as large amounts of coffee now come in plastic tubs with a handle.  When we ordered huge cans of coconut milk from our coop I was all psyched to make the stilts for my kids.  It's taken quite a few months to get through enough coconut milk to make a set for both of them but today was the day!!
My super safety-conscious five-and-a-half-year-old asked me, "Are these safe? 
"No," I said, "But when I was a kid fun was really dangerous."

Wild Wednesday


Do you have this plant in your yard? I bet you do. It's a common weed. The leaves are thick and if they are not mowed down they get pretty big. This plant is a super healer. It can be used of all sorts of things . It's great for wounds, bruises, eczema, and rashes of all kinds. It can be used fresh or dried in a poultice, in tincture form, or in oil. I prefer to use it in oil form as the base for salves.
To make the oil simply grab yourself a mason jar (or similar) and fill it two thirds full with cut up plantain. I use the entire aerial portions of the plant...the leaves, stems and flowers. I cut the pieces pretty small (the more cell surface that gets in contact with the oil the better) and cover it with olive oil. If you can afford it, use organic oil, but otherwise just use the best you can.
I have read a lot of conflicting advice about the best way to steep herbs in oil. Some people heat the herbs and oil in an oven at a very low temperature for a few hours. Some people let it sit in the sun. Some put it in a paper bag and let it warm in the sun that way. I don't like the idea of the sun hitting it directly, nor do I like the idea of turning my oven on in July, so I generally will either put it in a paper bag and set it in the windowsill, or I will just set it out of direct sunlight on my kitchen counter and let it sit for one week, and then strain it out. It should be a great color green.
You can now use this oil for rashes, eczema, bruises, or scrapes. Or you can melt it together with some beeswax and make an oil.  I will have a tutorial on this in about two weeks. 
A couple other herbs that make great oils to use on their own or as a base for a salve are Yarrow and St. John'sWort.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chicken Coops

We built more chicken coops.  We've been through quite a few designs and placements.

The first one we built was a chicken tractor.  A chicken tractor is a great design that lets you carry or drag your coop around your garden or yard, letting your chickens get at eat, de-bug, and fertilize a variety of different areas on your property.  We were starting with 6 chickens and felt this was a good design.  Problem was our design was a little heavy...especially after I shingled it with leftover roofing shingles to make it look adorable.  It took like four people to move, so it didn't work out so well.  I have since taken the shingles off, and we do use it, but primarily in the spring/early summer when we get new chicks.  It is just the right size for the little ones.
The second one we built was a more typical stationary shed-like coop.  It was going in the back yard which tends to get really wet.  So I had the great idea to place it on a platform 4 feet off the ground.  Then we made a metal cage that went around it.  It was like the chicken Thunderdome. The chickens had the coop, a bit of the platform and the entire underside to roam around in.  The platform is 8x8 feet and the coop is 6x4 feet.  We had to walk on a plank to get the eggs, couldn't get into the bottom if there was any need and the chickens didn't have quite as much space as we liked.  So my (wonderful) husband and some (amazing) friends dismantled the coop (it was built in sections, so this wasn't so bad) took it off the platform and lowered the cage to the ground which then served as the run.  This has been working out pretty well, except that the area that they were using as the run, which is 8x8 feet is spent.  There seems to be no amount of hay or wood chips that will keep it from smelling.   I guess we could dig it all out...but I just don't want to go there.  So we built another coop. 
This is the best one yet.  So easy to make, we finished it in an afternoon--or could have if we didn't have kids.  It's built like a mini hoop house.
First we made the frame out of 2x4's it is about 10 feet long by a little less than 4 feet wide.  We left the end pieces long so we could use them to carry or drag it around (which is a breeze!)
Then we bent four pieces of  re-bar to form the hoops. My husband suggested we bend them like this.  I told him I would bond with him some other way.  We ended up bending it by putting the end against the curb.  We also tried just putting it into the frame and bending the other side in.  Both ways worked fine. 

We attached the re-bar with two pieces of metal strapping.
Then we attached the wire fencing.  This is a bit tricky because you need to take metal wire (with spikes on it) and curve it around the frame. It doesn't want to do what you say and you will most likely get your hair caught a few times and if you get a little frustrated you run the risk of looking like you're in a fight with a role of metal fencing.  Which is funny for everyone but you.  But once you have the hang of it, you'll be fine.  Also, once the first piece is up the others sort of get in line and you have something to attach them too. The important thing here is to remember not to space your four pieces of re-bar farther apart than the width of your fencing.  We had four foot wide fencing so we spaced them at just under four feet so there would be some overlap.  This makes attaching the fencing a little less ridiculous. 
We stapled the fencing to the wooden base and "tied" it with 16 gauge wire to the poles. 
We made the ends by bending the fencing over the sides and sort of sewing it with a smaller gauge wire to the re-bar.  I had to make something of a patchwork because I was running out of fencing and I wanted to use all my scraps.
The hardest part was the door.  I have tried two different styles.  One I made with a piece of chicken wire folded in half and then framed at the bottom with two pieces of wood.  The wood weighs it down.  I then screwed two pieces of wood together over the "wall" part of the front and left some screw heads out about a half inch.  I just pull the chicken wire door over the screws to close it.  it works pretty well.  I did the same basic thing for the other door except I used a different kind of wire that is more sturdy but has larger holes.  I recently tired to put in my pullets, but found out they were still too small for it since they could just walk out of the closed door.  Lame.  I will either have to wait until they are a bit bigger or put a smaller wire over the door.  I think this is what I'll probably do so I can also keep small egg-stealing animals out. 
For the perch I just took a small tree I had cut down and screwed it into a small piece of wood.  The fencing is sandwiched in between.   It is a little wobbly and I wasn't sure if the chickens would fuss, but they don't seem to mind. 
As for the nesting box.  I will be basically building a little nesting box book shelf.  It will be attached at the bottom between the two sides of the frame.  Access is granted at the back by little "doggy flaps" in the wire.  I cut it out and then attached a larger piece with metal wire .  This can be lifted up to get the eggs. last!

On a similar note. One of the ladies in the new flock--the only barred rock out of the bunch of reds--was adopted by my oldest daughter.  She has been named "Mackie" and was living in the kitchen for a little while.  I used an old picnic table that I found in the trash and brought home.  It had fallen apart as we were taking it out of the truck.   I used a bunch of scrap wood and some nice purple paint to make this chicken a very fancy chicken chalet.

 My little one is playing in it before I painted it purple.  She's sitting in the nesting box, but hasn't laid any eggs.