May 26, 2010

Green Gardens

The raised beds are finally completely planted.  Now, it's just maintenance and harvest.    Bed #1 contains two short rows of string beans (not primal in some camps, but I have no problem with eating them once in a while).  There are a few bug bites already, but the beans will produce and be picked several times before too much damage is done.  When they are done, they will be replaced by some beets and/or radishes. I do not use pesticides in my garden.
The rest of this bed contains two eggplants, parsley, bronze fennel, cilantro, thyme, and some volunteer dill from last year.  The beds are edged with parking bumpers which are cheap and very durable and non-toxic.  The soil is from composted chicken and horse manure dressed with vegetable scraps from the kitchen.  I also lace it with peat moss which helps to hold in moisture through those hot dry days.
Bed #2 contains six heirloom tomato plants (from Landreth seeds).  I am fortunate to live within 6 miles of their seed warehouse and they have an annual heirloom plant and seed sale.  I picked up a couple of flats of plants, herbs, and a few seed packets last weekend.  This bed also contains four pepper plants - two hot, two sweet.  The nightshades seem to do well together.  I plant the peppers on the west side of the bed, so that their smaller height won't block sun from the tomatoes.  I'll stake the tomatoes as they grow, though I have one cute little iron cage that my neighbor's son welded last year.  I guess he got tired after doing one, since he hasn't made any more for me to buy.
Bed #3 contains snow peas (all pod, no peas), turnips, and onions.  The owl and webbing are attempts to keep the chickens from scratching the young plants away in search of bugs.  They work fairly well (at least the webbing does) and once the plants grow a bit, the chickens leave them alone.  

Bed #4 contains hollyhocks in the back (purely decorative), some lavender, and several rows of mixed lettuces.  I will cut and pick them for a good while.  Black-seeded Simpson lettuce will grow well into the summer without bolting. There are a few fingerling potatoes planted in the corner as well. The lettuce will grow quickly and be harvested and pulled in time to allow the potatoes to grow and a late fall crop of lettuce to be planted. The potatoes will be covered with straw as they grow.
Bed #5 was just planted last weekend.  It contains several types of squash (pattypan, zucchini, summer yellow,  There are also some cucumbers in there.  You can get a surprisingly large number of plants in these beds and the advantage of concentrating the planting is that once the plants are mature, they shade out any weeds.  The raised beds allow the soil to stay soft and workable.  Never step in the beds and weeds will pull out easily!
And, finally, a shot of "lion" Woody, stalking prey through the jungle (asparagus patch).

May 18, 2010

Sweet Potato Hash with Crystallized Ginger

     We are lucky in this area in that we have access to lots of local farm products.  Our local farm market had huge locally grown sweet potatoes for sale a couple of weeks ago.  I bought a large dark red-skinned one, easily 6 inches long, and a white sweet potato, which was very long and narrow.   I also had some hot sausage made by local Amish from Tamworth pigs pasture-raised.  It is delicious.  So, as is usual, I looked around the cupboards for something to make for dinner and decided to use the sausage and sweet potatoes.  It is a cool, rainy day and this combination seemed to be the ticket to warm us all up.

I put some coconut oil in a frying pan, cut up the sausage, and let it cook slowly in the pan.  As it was gently frying, I cut up the two huge sweet potatoes into 1/2 inch chunks.  I chopped up an onion in chunks of the same size.  Looking through the cupboards again, I added some dried sage and chopped up a few pieces of crystallized ginger I had bought on a whim several months ago.  There is a small amount of sugar on the ginger, but it couldn't possible amount to more than 1/8 of a teaspoon.  I suppose if you were manic about sugar, you could rinse it off first.

Once the sausage was browned and cooked, I removed it to a plate and added the sweet potatoes, onions, and ginger to the pan.  I added salt and pepper, sage, and ginger and let the mixture fry in the oil from the sausage.  Because of the smaller chunks, it only took about 10 minutes.  I covered with a lid at first, then removed the lid to let out the excess moisture.  While it finished, I made a little side salad of local baby greens and some not-so-local vine tomatoes.

I made a huge pan and all of it was gone at the end of dinner.  There are three of us - me, husband, home-from-college daughter. It apparently was very good.  :)  I put the recipe for the hash on the recipe page.

May 08, 2010

Maryland Crab Cakes - The Real Ones

I grew up in Maryland and that means I grew up eating steamed crabs in the summer.  Not the ones steamed or boiled in some flavorless water, but the ones that are steamed with Old Bay Seasoning and maybe a beer thrown in for good measure.  They are best eaten hot from the pot covered with Old Bay and best enjoyed with a cold beer.  Newspaper is spread on a picnic table and a bucket of soapy water is settled nearby for messy hands. Big rolls of paper towels are here and there to wipe fingers before picking up your bottle of beer (these days I go for gluten-free beer).  The best meat is in the body of the crab but kids just learning start with the claws. The body can be picked and pried apart with bare hands and the judicious use of a kitchen knife.  The claws are disassembled with the swift whack of a crab hammer or the handle side of a knife. Oldtimers eat the "mustard" but some of us just prefer the white moist meat.  And we all know to avoid the devil - the gills. Unfortunately, my brother-in-law from Massachusetts found that out the hard way.  There is some etiquette to eating crabs - the leavings are piled somewhat neatly near your spot.  At the end of the feast, if there are any crabs left, you pick the remaining crabs and save the meat for crab cakes and Maryland crab soup. 

There is a lot of debate about the best crab cake recipe.  Some use bread crumbs for filler, but it is not necessary and the cakes taste better without them I think.  When my mother died in 1999, I was lucky to be able to gather several of her oldest recipe collections, handwritten on old plain pages in a book simply entitled "Recipes" or written on index cards with stains from years of use.  I collected all the recipes into a book on my computer and which I printed out for my siblings to have. The recipes are those handed down through several generations, often called things like Grandmother Edwards' Chocolate Cake or Dot's Gingerbread.  Many of them are for baked goods and are decidedly not gluten-free or primal without a lot of manipulating.  In the oldest book, there is a recipe called Maryland Crab Cakes and unlike the many cookie recipes, it is totally primal.  It is on the recipe page, but here's a picture to whet your appetite:
And yes, they are good and they are true Maryland Crab Cakes.  I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.  I paired them with some Bok Choy sauteed in the same pan afterwards, but a good cole slaw would be more authentic and a little yellow mustard on the side is never a bad thing.

May 01, 2010

Country Life

 It was an unseasonably warm day (88 degrees) but the humidity was gloriously low and a breeze was blowing, so it was time to get outside.  I brushed two extremely hairy ponies first thing in the morning to try to get some of the shedding under control  Yeah right.  Still tons of hair to go, but they looked better without some of it at least.  Dark brown Shetland Pony is Heidi.  Lighter silver dapple Shetland is Chloe, her mother.  These two girls have to stay off the deep pasture for their health, but they get to go in and out of the barn and dry lot as they please, so it's a fair trade.    The three boys get to go out to the pasture.

Next on the agenda was to clean the hen house. Sounds worse than it is.  I put newspaper on the floor in a large metal tray which catches most of the droppings, so it is mostly just wrap and roll, and sweep out any remaining mess.  This goes into the compost pile with horse manure to make a wonderful black compost for the garden (pics coming up).
     Third job of the morning was to take said compost to the raised beds, which are, unfortunately, about two acre's worth of yard away.  I shoveled two wheelbarrows full (this is a huge wheelbarrow, not the little green kind) and wheeled it over to the beds.  I topped off two of the beds - the other three were in good shape.  In the meantime, my husband was off running errands, which included picking up a bale of peat moss for the beds as well.  The peat moss helps keep moisture in the beds if you mix it in well with the soil.  If you leave it on top, it will form a water-impenetrable barrier, so be sure to mix it.  The five beds are now ready to plant!
The manure becomes rich and black soil as it composts.  Perfect for raised beds.  This is the soil in the beds, mixed with peat moss.

The next job was to lug two 50 lb bags of low starch horse feed (yeah, the horses eat low carb, too) and another 50 lbs of bird seed (I use this for supplemental chicken feed) to the barn and put them in their respective cans.
Crookey Beak (my favorite hen) follows me everywhere and all the chickens gathered to see what I was doing.  So did the cats.  So did the dog. I sometimes feel like Dr. Doolittle.  My cats are quite the carnivores, but they have never bothered the chickens or even the peeps.  Same with the dog.  It's as if they know "family" from "others."
Next job was to pick asparagus.  It's almost done for the season.  I have several bunches already in the refrigerator waiting to be blanched and frozen for omelets and crustless quiches later in the year.  We will have fresh tonight on the grill maybe.
    I did eat some lunch in there somewhere and also did three loads of laundry.  Finally, it was time to get the boys back down from the big pasture for the evening.  The little silver bay is Quincy, another offspring of Chloe. The Appaloosa is Snickers.  And, finally, the gray (OK, white) Welsh pony is Chanteclere (Clary for short).

They are happy to come in for a little bribe of low-starch feed.  That's my day so far.  Time to watch the Kentucky Derby.  I'll leave you with a photo of some asparagus.