Sunday, March 14, 2021

Taste of Travel - Spain: The appetizer

Our amazing local librarian received a grant to run Taste of Travel, a little group free to anyone who signed up. Everyone was to receive a special spice or spice blend for each country and a cookbook, Taste The World. You all know how I feel about cooking and books, right? Despite currently taking a six week intensive Charlotte Mason Bootcamp that has 6 days of homework and participating in two different Bible Studies, I couldn't not do participate. Who said life was slower when you can't go anywhere? At least I don't have to milk until Cocoa gives birth in April!

The group meets via Zoom every two weeks and talk about the books, movies and recipes prepared. Two weeks isn't very long to read a book or try lots of recipes but it does keep me stay on task! Researcher that I am, I promptly requested at least three different cookbooks from the library, along with numerous memoirs (primarily about the Camino de Santiago), and The Way DVD.

I started four books and am hoping to finish at least one by this Wednesday when the group meets: It's Not About the TapasHomage to CataloniaOrdinary Magic (audio via Scribd) and The Pilgrimage. I am most of the way through It's Not About the Tapas, although not necessarily because it is the best. I am looking forward to finishing all of them because on Thursday I will need to move on to Japan.

After starting the books, the movie came in and (if you know me at all), you know I couldn't wait. Hoping it would have beautiful panoramic scenes, watching it on the laptop made me cringe. Thankfully, I am blessed to have friends who don't mind me inviting myself over. And oh, am I so glad that large flat screens exist even if we don't own one. The only drawback is I realized that I might be getting old and sentimental. Feel free to reassure me that I am not the only who laughed and cried many times during The Way. The end left me feeling grateful, contemplative and deep wanderlust. It is not a movie I will probably watch again and yet I know that it is the kind of movie that will stay with me for a long time.

After watching one of the characters try many different foods and countless glasses of wine, I was ready to start cooking. I decided to use Sunday as our feast day so the night before, Little E and I made made our steak marinade and Spanish Toasted Almonds from The Latin Road Home by Jose Garces

He melted the 4 TB of butter in a our skillet until it stopped bubbling (this apparently removes any water from the butter. Who knew?) before tossing his 2 cups of raw, unpasteurized Spanish almonds in. 

Little E stirred the almonds until they made the kitchen smell amazing and the butter turned brown. Then together we dumped the almonds onto a lined baking sheet (paper towels or a cloth) and sprinkled with salt. 

It was hard but we let them mostly cool before demolishing them. Thankfully, I have been spending extra time when our Misfit Market produce box and cutting up the veggies all at once allowing me to be able to throw together a quick meal of toasted almonds, fruit and veggies with homemade soft cheese. The only thing missing was fresh crusty bread with balsamic vinegar to dip in, although that might be too French.

Next time, I think we will try them sprinkled with everything bagel seasoning. Supposedly the almonds will last for a while at room temperature. I doubt we will try it as they taste awfully good fresh. Or the following morning with my morning coffee. The rising sun, a cup in my hands, Spanish almonds and a few minutes dreaming of the Camino was a pretty good way to start the day.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Piglets before Sugaring?

It is February up here in snowy Upstate New York. In years past, it would be sugaring season but alas, like so many other things, spring has decided to make us wait just a little longer. Perhaps it is a pause we all need, a longer hibernation, a reminder of days when winters lasted just a little longer, and we all just needed a little more time to snuggle in and surround ourselves with family, fire and comfort food.

January and early February usually send forth a couple of 50 degrees days, bringing exciting cries of joy and brilliant smiles. The kids produce shorts and shorts sleeve shirts (I swear I packed last fall!), while parents exclaim "It's not summer! Grab a sweatshirt!" or "put on some shoes!" I can already see my kids running away or reciting "Mud" by Polly Chase Boyden in an attempt to make me forget they are trying to run out the door with bare feet. Alas, it is often in vain and really, who wants to dampen such pure joy. When did we as adults lose the ability to look at these small gifts and think only of even warmer days? Many of us homesteaders, just smile and enjoy our coat-free walks to the barn to milk. We smile at the sky and whisper words of thanks. We trudge through the slush and peek at our beehives. Are the bees making their cleansing flights? We won't know if they will make it until spring but if we see them, it is a glimmer of hope, visual proof that they are still hanging on just like us. 

This year our piglets arrived a month or two early. I have a strong preference for the Tamworth breed. Tamworth is a bacon breed and every year that we have had Tamworth we have had a great harvest of bacon. Our first year with piglets went fantastic, we enjoyed our mix breed piglets both on the land and in the pan. Somewhere over the next two years we had a mix that we did not find delightful and it started a bit of snobbery on my part. If they weren't Tamworth, my answer was no thanks. As a result, we always had plenty of bacon. Unfortunately, they do not have large pork chops. There is always a trade off and this was one I have been willing to make. 

Last year, through a small miscommunication, we ended up with purebred Berkshire piglets. Have you ever whined to yourself over small mistakes? I mean, really, lamented a situation where it wasn't called for? It was a complaint born from fear - fear of no bacon and fear that I hadn't learned from a previous mistake and never would. So I berated myself in my mind and joked about my mistake with others. All the while, I forgot to be thankful that in the winter, no matter what happened, we would be fed. I forgot the be thankful that our well had enough water for all our animals. I forgot to be thankful that these were the friendliest, least aggressive pigs we had ever raised. Guess what happened? We ended up with almost no bacon but huge, beautifully marbled pork chops. 

I had to butcher in the middle of summer because they were ready and the pig food was pretty much gone. A friend who was going butcher with me, sold her house and had plans of moving. Summer? For butchering? Mild panic set in. What about hanging? What about flies? I cannot control the weather. (Please contain your shock!) We considered working with an awesome local butcher and paying for slaughter and hanging in his aging room. We considered the root cellar/cold storage room that we discuss yearly. We put it off a week, then another couple of days.

And then... one of the pigs learned to escape the Premier netting fence we bought. With a sigh, I knew it was time to butcher. Ask and you shall receive. July provided a couple of nights with a high of 45/50 degrees. My friend and I slaughtered as the sun went down. We butchered starting at 6 am. We were done by 10 am, 10:30 with the packaging and 11 am with our EQ measuring and curing. Then we did it again a day or two later. The following week, the other two were finished as well. It was exhausting. I skipped making sausage and cut everything into pulled pork bags. I even said yes to not one but all four children (including the five year old) who wanted to help cut, chop and bag. As I continue to pull our meat out for dinner, I smile at the cursive of my six year old or eight year old. Being in complete control was not an option and I am a better person for it.

This year, I stumbled upon Tamworth/Mangalitsa mix. They would be ready in February. This time, I wasn't too worried. These pigs will take a bit longer to grow so starting earlier will be necessary if we don't want to be butchering during hunting season, which is closely followed by birthday season around here. I emailed about for four. They were ready to pick up Feb 1st, two weeks earlier than I expected. Now insert whatever can go wrong... oh wait, I am learning that "what can go wrong" is not the best approach to life. This may not go as planned - a broken hand (not mine), a mix up at the feed store, a huge snow storm -  but the adage about a door closing means I need to get better about looking for the open windows. 

Homesteading, farming, life with animals and any other name we give it is always a learning experience. It is always a growing opportunity. I would love to say I am a motivated girl who loves being outdoors every chance she get but I am not. If I didn't have to milk my amazing cow Cocoa, I wouldn't go outside many days in the winter. Once I am outside though, I never regret it. Now one of my sons, he is an outdoor-every-chance-he-gets kind of person. The world needs these people. They also need people like me who want to stay in and read or cook or make cheese. I, on the other hand, need the world where animals need daily care. I need to get outside my comfort zone and grow. Some days that is so easy, like spring mornings as I walk past the daffodils or fall pre-dawn to go hunting. Other days, it is raining or really hot with flies that bite. I need all these days and all these reminders that life is not meant to be easy, it is not meant to be flat. Life needs to be felt in order to be a life well lived. 

So while sugaring season hasn't started, I need to look forward to a few more days of warm comfort soups, good books and remember my limitations physically, my skills and the amount of free time I possess. As many parents know though, if you give a homesteader too long a winter, she is going to dream of spring and summer. And if she is dream of spring and summer, she is going to spend too much time perusing the seed catalogs. And if I spend a lot of time perusing the seed catalogs, I will probably forget all these things... I mean other homesteaders, not me, I am learning from my mistakes. Mostly.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Chinese New Year and Cookies

Yes, I realize Chinese New Year has passed a while ago this year. Every year I want to celebrate with the kids because it comes at a perfect time for our family. Our family holiday begins in November with a birthday and then Thanksgiving and continues on with more birthdays, Christmas and the twelve days of Christmas, New Year and another birthday at the end of January. And then like a sneaky child, Chinese New Year arrives and I am left wishing I had more time and energy to make it the fun celebration it could be. The making of a tradition for our family. Except we aren't Chinese. And I never celebrated in school or growing up so I am always left wishing and wondering if I missed an opportunity.

This year I realized something though, Chinese New Year really is the perfect start of our new year as a family. Before that, we are still in holiday mode. Extra plans and fun before Chinese New Year are futile. So I decided to stop making myself crazy trying to start our new year on January 1st. No longer will I try to have my goals planned out by January 1st. No longer will I feel like if we don't have the house clean and ready for the new year on January 1st we are some how not doing it "right." Starting this year, I didn't start thinking about my new year goals until Chinese New Year. Because January 1st is just as arbitrary as Feb 5 or July 19th. We start our school year on August 15th because the local district has us end our school year on June 30th. Are these not just dates picked? At one time the school year ended at planting time but no longer. So this year, I have given myself permission to start our year on another day and another time. It is a little freeing. Try it. Decide to start something today, just because. Maybe a week without sugar or a weekend of saying yes to making time for yourself.

In January, as I talked myself into accepting a new year starting on a different day, I knew that it was also my excuse to celebrate Chinese New Year with the kids. So this year we decided to study China for the month of February. I didn't require us to do everything at specific times and days and we probably did it all wrong but we had a great time doing it. We listened to stories, read books, made crafts and of course decided to cook! We also got some great postcards from China and enjoyed a monthly letter from Isabelle from China. (Letters from Afar)

Now even before our study of China began we have been enjoying exchanging postcards with other people all over the world through Postcrossing. In the month of January, we got an interesting recipe postcard from Singapore.  We made sure to check out different Chinese sweets as well but we kept coming back to this recipe. It hung in the kitchen taunting us. No, it wasn't from China but they sounded tasty and I am usually pretty easily talked into making cookies.

Singapore Christmas Surprise Cookies

80 g. organic old-fashioned oats
1 large organic egg
50 g. organic cranberries (we use Eden Brand)
50 g. organic pistachios
2/3 c. maple syrup
90 g. organic butter, melted
150 g. organic all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 325.
2. Grease a baking sheet with butter.
3. Whisk butter and maple syrup.
4. Whisk in egg.
5. Stir in the flour, baking soda and oats.
6. Mix in cranberries and nuts.
7. Drop tablespoons of batter onto baking sheet. Decorate with more cranberries and nuts if desired.
8. Bake for 12-16 minutes until puffy and lightly golden.

These cookies were pretty good. I think I liked them more than the kids. They are more of a tea cookie than a sweet dessert cookie. It may sounds odd but it reminded me of the kind of cookie grandmothers would have and serve with an afternoon tea, a little English and a little proper. While they are on the drier side, they weren't so dry you couldn't just eat and enjoy them. Give them a try and let me know what you think and Happy New Year!

Note: I use a food scale for a lot of my recipes. Since this was offered to me using grams, I just changed my scale to accommodate using grams instead of ounces.I didn't convert it but I will next time.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy 2019

Happy New Year!

These past many months have been very full for me but I have been missing everyone terribly. So mu first goal for the year is to start writing again. So many wonderful changes have happened on the homestead and I look forward to sharing the, in the upcoming weeks.

I am also excited to get back to cooking new recipes. These last almost 20 months I have been shying away from new recipes and concentrating on eating fresh and not wasting. That has been great but sometimes new recipes need to be added or we get into a rut. I tried a new recipe tonight and the push back I got from the kids reminded me that staying with our favorites can also limit us. Granted the recipe wasn't blow your socks off great, it certainly was edible! It was mashed butternut squash with garlic, onions, bacon, brie and spinach. I know it sounds weird but it was ok. The bacon wrapped venison was much better, as was the homemade bread. I digress.

As we begin the fresh new year, I hope to get back into the writing and reading. Happy 2019!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Chocolate & Toasted Coconut Maple Muffins

I know February is short but goodness it flew by. We had a nice stretch of warm weather and the sap was flowing. The days were beautiful. I planted some small garlic bulbs from the scapes that I didn't get around to planting last fall. It even got so warm that we were able to get back into the three remaining bee colonies and make sure they were alive and give them some food in case they need it. Needless to say, the days all ran together. The one consistent thing? Muffins.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Chocolate Maple Pudding and Goals

Oh February, how you  tease me with your warm weather. The days are getting lighter and warmer but that cold dampness is still in the air. Sap season has started so spring is on it's way and just like every winter, I have big dreams for being outdoors and the garden.

For the holiday of love, we decided to indulge in some dark, delicious chocolate pudding. Yum!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Hello February 2017

So let's just let a snowy wind blow away my missing week or two. Have you seen the snow outside? My goodness it is almost 2 feet deep! The chickens are not impressed. The children on the other hand are thrilled.

I am thrilled to say that I did in fact keep our grocery budget as well as every other budget we set. So this post is going to be a purely a goal update but I promise to get back to delicious recipes very soon.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Sausage, Beans and Goals

Sorry I missed you last week. I got knocked down by a terrible head cold. When I finally started to feel human around Thursday, it was just in time to cook and clean for L2's birthday. So now that I am feeling better, I am playing a bit of catch up. Thankfully the weather has been lovely so the kids haven't been under foot while I do laundry and dishes. The quiet house has given me some unexpected and welcome time to enjoy The Dave Ramsey show with minimal interruptions.

If you have never listened to his show, or read any of his books (I am currently reading The Total Money Makeover), his show is definitely inspirational. It has been inspiring me to continue working our budget without coming up with creative ways to cheat or talk myself out of it. For now though, I have been sticking to all our goals.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The 2017 Grocery Budget

As part of my goals for 2017, my handsome husband and I decided to try a "No Spend" exercise for 4 months. The main goal was just to not buy anything unnecessary. I really wanted to try it because I wanted to pay down some of our debt and I, if I am being completely honest, I have been feeling very out of control in regards to my spending. Sure, we are paying the bills every month but I know that I have been spending money without too much thought on things from groceries to books. So the No Spend time was really about getting back in control.

Now, I happen to have a brilliant friend who continues to inspire me in pretty much every way possible. We have always been able to chat about money and goals and all those other possibly uncomfortable topics, something which I am eternally gratefully for. So as we talked about my hopes for No Spend, I just kept rambling and rambling and rambling (thankfully she is also an amazing listener with the patience of a saint). As I babbled I began to realize that there was more to it than simply debt. I began to realize it was about feeling overwhelmed and incompetent. I mean, the solution to not having debt is pretty simple, right? Don't spend more than you have. So why was I feeling so out of control?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy 2017!

Oh my goodness it is a new year already. I have spent the last couple of months thinking, oh I need to post this amazing (insert whatever I just made, pie, cookie, etc.) recipe! Only to look down and there is nothing left to take a picture of. Optimistically I then think, oh I will make it again this weekend and write down my changes and take pictures... can you guess what happens? No? Seriously? Okay, I know you know. Anyway, the holidays flew by and now it's the start of the new year, again. So many little changes and big goals are racing around in my mind. It can be rather overwhelming to think about all the things I want to get done. A year is a long time and yet, it is only a year.