Real Food Mama

Musings about cooking, eating and everything in between.

Frantically Cleaning up! July 21, 2013

Filed under: Animal Husbandry,Events,Garden Fresh,Home Made — realfoodmama @ 3:16 pm
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So….next weekend (July 29th to be exact) is the local garden tour here in Santa Fe. Home Grown New Mexico, in cooperation with Edible Santa Fe, will be hosting this tour as an opportunity for local gardeners and enthusiasts to view a variety of different set ups here in the drought stricken southwest. Luckily for all attendees, my wreck of a yard is on the tour this year! Yahoo!

Unfortunately, my back yard has a tendency to dissolve into chaos without really trying, so this weekend has been designated “clean up weekend” with the expectation that it will actually continue through Friday and become a clean up WEEK. Pretty sure the baby daddy has already made three trips to the dump…

In all honesty, though, the “clean up” is really more of a beatifying than it is an actual cleaning. Things like making sure the weeds are below ankle level and ensuring that the fly population down by the goat pen is manageable – or at least well dressed. In addition to cleaning up and organizing we are also going to be installing a lovely piece of art work that has been relegated to the basement of a family member for the better part of two decades. Made years ago by the woman who I consider my second mother, the piece is a gorgeous “map”, made from slate and hand painted with poetry. It was decided that the piece would be placed in the orchard, a part of the yard that gets little foot traffic, and would provide a nice little meditative place to sit and enjoy the sounds of our urban farm. I fully anticipate actually using it even, long after the hordes of Santa Feans have left. The installation will not occur until Wednesday of this week, but I will endeavor to put up pictures of it as soon as we have it down.

And while I am nervous about potentially hundreds (OMG HUNDREDS?!) of people traipsing through my yard and eliciting curious glances from the goats, I am feeling quite privileged to be on the tour this year so I can share my version of self sufficiency with the public at large. Hopefully those of you who are local can swing by! Until then, Happy Eating!

 

Tomato Tragedy! May 19, 2011

Our tomato plants did not fair well with the transplant from pot to garden plot the other day, and now it looks like we are expecting weather in the low thirties this evening which, I am afraid to say, may be the final blow to the already stressed plants.

I will be really disappointed if they don’t survive. We had four different heirloom varieties and I have been fantasizing about all the things I will be able to do with them come late summer. At this point it really only looks like about three of the plants will pull through, but I haven’t entirely given up hope yet. Of course, we will have to see how things are tomorrow morning after our cold snap. I fear the worse.

The most distressing part about this, of course, is the fact that I like to think that our gardens can feed us. This is probably unreasonable regardless of circumstance, but when something like this happens it really highlights how fragile the balance is. If we WERE totally dependent on the garden, we would now be down a whole crop. And while that isn’t necessarily the end of the world, it does mean that one of the best foods for canning and preserving would be completely missing from our winter cupboard. It makes me really appreciate and understand how hard it is, and how much luck goes into, being able to survive without the convenience of readily available supermarket variety food.

It is easy to forget that even our farmer’s at the local farmer’s market here struggle with that and are also subject to the whims of nature, regardless of their experience or skill at keeping their crops happy and alive. Just this year one of the local tomato growers lost almost all their plants due to a natural gas shortage which killed the heaters in their greenhouses. So please, think good thoughts tonight while the temperatures dip. I am hopeful that the plants will pull through, but if not I will have to replace them with some other varieties. I hope that your gardens are doing well in spite of the weather here!

Happy Gardening!

 

Spring has Sprung! May 16, 2011

Filed under: Eating local,Garden Fresh,Recipe,Uncategorized — realfoodmama @ 5:50 pm
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There is nothing quite like finally have warm days after a long winter. The rise of spring and the desire to spend days outside always seems to be accompanied by certain cravings. I can’t eat salad when it is snowing, but as soon as April and May roll around all I can think about is spinach and lettuce and arugula. And don’t get me started on things like asparagus and rhubarb! I’m making myself hungry just writing about it…

According to Chinese Medicine, spring is the time for cleansing and for renewing. The liver, the organ responsible for the smooth flow of qi, loves spring and can be both nourished and frustrated during this time of year. Wind, another spring favorite especially here in Santa Fe, is another symbol of the liver. As a result, many of those spring cravings can be linked to the bodies desire to naturally detoxify and move all that rising energy!

Great spring foods can also be found in the oddest of places. Dandelions, those pesky weeds, are a great spring tonic. Pick the greens (making sure they haven’t been sprayed!!) and add them to your salad for a nice change. As previously mentioned asparagus can act as a diuretic, pulling toxins out of the body with the excess water. Rhubarb, another favorite of mine, also has cleansing actions and can be a great addition to spring treats – like a fabulous rhubarb pie, for example!

There are lots of great greens and other things that I have missed over the winter and I encourage everyone to get out to your local farmer’s market to get some. One of my favorite ways to get all the spring veggies together is to make a nice pasta primavera (remember, primavera means spring!). Here is my version of the classic dish.

Pasta Primavera

1 lb home made pasta, or dried pasta of your choice
1 C asparagus, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 c onion, diced (approx 1/2 medium)
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 c summer squash or zucchini, julienned (approx 1 small)
1/2 c red or orange bell pepper, julienned (approx 1 medium)
1/4 c carrot, julienned (approx 1 medium)
1/2 c Parmesan cheese
1/2 c heavy cream
2 TBSP olive oil

Begin by placing the pasta water on to boil. While you wait, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat until aromatic. Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the asparagus and carrots and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the carrots soften and the asparagus starts to change color. Add the peppers and the summer squash and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are done. Add the heavy cream and the cheese and stir to mix and turn the heat to very low. Add salt and pepper to taste.

When the past water has boiled add your pasta and cook until al dente. Fresh past should only take a minute or two, but dried pasta usually takes between 7 and 10 depending on the style. Strain the pasta and add the noodles to the pan of sauce. Toss several times to coat the noodles and serve!

Happy Eating!

 

So many plums! October 13, 2010

Filed under: Baking,Canning,Garden Fresh,Home Made — realfoodmama @ 2:11 pm
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This year most of my fruit trees were frozen in a late frost, however the one tree that did avoid the worst of the cold weather has managed to produce a bumper crop. We have two plum trees in the yard, one of which is a beautiful, but very overgrown, mother. The other is a daughter offshoot that hides in the shade of our yard and generally gets overlooked. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of the fact that it was carrying fruit until about a month ago when I looked closely and realized the branches were laden with small, purple globes.

Since we purchased the house with established fruit trees, I am not sure what type of plum these are, however as they’ve ripened they have developed a lovely sweet-tart flavor and have a rather eerie green flesh. Yesterday we processed about ten cups in order to make what turned out to be nearly a gallon of preserves and we only used a third of the plums! I honestly have no idea what we are going to do with the rest, but I am hoping to find some recipes for plum cakes, puddings, pies, tarts…you get the idea!

Suffice it to say the bounty is pretty impressive and I am hopeful that as our fruit trees mature and we learn more about taking care of them we can avoid a frost kill like the one that happened this year and actually be able to harvest some apples, pears and apricots from the other trees in our mini-orchard.

Until then, however, any and all plum recipes are appreciated and I will definitely share my plum experiments as they occur! Happy Eating!

 

Oven-dried zucchini August 13, 2010

Filed under: Food Storage,Garden Fresh,Home Made,Recipe — realfoodmama @ 3:24 pm
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The results!

My first attempt at oven drying anything was met with pretty fair success, if I do say so myself. Although I was somewhat astounded by the end result. When you cut up two pounds of zucchini and end up with barely a cup, it is a bit of a shocker. Of course, zucchini being 95% water (or thereabouts) makes it shrivel up pretty good. According to the Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving, 20 lbs of zucchini dried makes barely two pounds of chips.

Fascinating, but somewhat anti-climactic.

Suffice it to say, the process was very straightforward. I winged it a bit, but it all seemed to work out. Using what I read from the aforementioned Ball Book and some articles on the internet, I decided to slice the zucchini into 1/4 inch slices. I then lay them on a cookie sheet and set the oven at 175 degrees, which is as low as mine will go.

I also kept the oven door open in order to facilitate the actual dehydrating process, versus cooking. The airflow provided is necessary in order to keep the moisture from recirculating back into the zucchini. If I had a convection oven this might have been an unnecessary step, but sadly I do not have a convection oven and so I simply kept the oven door open about half way.

The whole process took nearly 4 hours and I was obliged to continuously flip the zucchini rounds in order to dry them evenly. If I had a cookie sheet with a rack I probably would not have had to do this step, but again…like the convection oven issue, I didn’t. Regardless, it worked quite well. I did notice however that the pieces that I had cut too thin started to brown and I decided that they were moving too far into the “cooked” spectrum to really qualify as dried. As a result I attempted to add them to burritos for dinner that evening…which was a spectacular failure, I might add.

Regardless, the point of mentioning it was that while some sources might tell you to cut the slices as thin as 1/8 of an inch, if you are using an oven to dry your zucchini I highly suggest to cut things no thinner than 1/4 inch otherwise you may end up with burnt chips.

I will be reattempting the drying routine tomorrow as I still have four zucchini in my fridge, even though I have dried and baked copious amounts and my plants are suffering from an insect invader that is slowly killing them. I do love the abundance of summer squash!

Oven Dried Zucchini

Zucchini
cookie sheets, with racks if possible

Cut the zucchini into 1/4 inch slices, trying to cut them as evenly as possible. Place the slices on the cookie sheet or rack, spacing them relatively close together as they will shrink as the process goes on.

Place in your oven at it’s lowest setting (mine was 175 degrees) and leave the door open at least half way. If your oven door will not remain open half way on its own you may have to rig it. I would not recommend leaving it open all the way and you cannot have it closed altogether either.

Leave in the oven for 4 – 4.5 hours, turning regularly. The zucchini is done when it is no longer flexible. Let cool completely before storing.

Happy Eating!

 

Garden Update and all the work involved! August 9, 2010

Filed under: Garden Fresh — realfoodmama @ 3:00 pm
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Sad SquashSo the garden is doing fairly well at the moment with one notable exception; that is the squash. The vine borers have infiltrated pretty much all the plants. The zucchini and the pumpkins have rooted along the vines which basically means that if the main plant dies the vine will live, but I am pretty sure our days of excessive zucchini are behind us already.

As for the rest, I am hoping that the plants survive long enough to allow some of the fruit that has set to reach maturity. The constant application of BtK (a bacterial agent designed to kill caterpillars and other larvae) seems to be mitigating the damage somewhat, however in general the plants look sad, as indicated by the picture.

Aside from that however, things are doing well. The corn survived the windstorm with only one accident – the tallest was broken, but seems to still be alive so I am hoping it will germinate and produce some ears regardless of its hunched over appearance. Additionally the tomato plants, while completely out of their cages, seem to be setting fruit and doing nicely. The green beans are producing in a somewhat mind boggling quantity and every time I go out to pick beans, which is daily, I find ones hiding that are near mutant size.

All of this abundance has resulted in regular blanching and freezing of beans, and while zucchini bread has been made more than once…or even thrice…I am trying a different way of storing the zukes today. I am hoping to dry slices and then put those up for future use in soups and stews this winter. They would add great flavor to stocks and it seems like a better use for them than bread, mostly because I hate baking when it is this hot out.

Although it should be noted that since I don’t have a dehydrator, I will be drying the zucchini in the oven. However, instead of having it on at 350 degrees for an hour, it will be on at 175 degrees for an hour which I suspect will make a significant difference.

In order to counter the somewhat depressing picture of the squash above, here are some other garden pictures that are much more representative of what the majority of our harvest is beginning to look like.

The tomato forest

Tomato Forest

Corn

Potato Patch

 

Plum Preserves – Near Tragedy! August 3, 2010

Filed under: Canning,Garden Fresh,Home Made — realfoodmama @ 3:39 pm
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Plum PreservesYesterday we started processing the plums I mentioned in the previous post. We are making very simple plum preserves – not jelly or jam. The primary difference is the sugar content and the end consistency. Preserves are basically cooked fruit with a bit of sugar, whereas jam and jelly requires a thickening agent.

In order to make the preserves we simply halved and pitted the plums yesterday, then we layered them with sugar and let them sit for about 8 hours. We cooked them a bit last night and then refrigerated them overnight mostly because we didn’t have time to can last evening. This morning we took them out and put them back in the pot, added a bit more sugar as they were pretty sour, and then put them on a low heat in order to thicken and cook down a tad more as there were still some pretty big chunks of plum.

This is really a very long lead up to the near tragedy that occurred this morning shortly after I placed the plums on the heat to cook. We had just arrived home and of course, some chickens had escaped and one of them was hiding so we (mostly I) got completely sidetracked looking for the rogue chicken. Then my two year old started having a melt down and I basically neglected the plums.

I came back in and went to stir them only to discover that I had completely scorched the bottom of the pot! I was in near tears…okay, I was in actual tears…because I was convinced I had ruined the entire batch. So much time and effort and work…from picking them to washing, to cutting to cooking…etc.etc…and here I had ruined them in a vain effort to find a damn chicken.

Luckily for me my mother is slightly more level headed and we simply ladled the top of the jam off into a bowl and dumped the scorched part. We only really lost about a quart – which sounds like a lot, but we still have over a gallon which will make lots of preserves.

Suffice it to say, the pot of plum deliciousness is now sitting on the stove over a VERY low heat and is being stirred constantly. The picture is of the plums as we were ladling them off the scorched pot – the color was so beautiful I wanted to capture it.

Happy Eating!