Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.


Posted on | August 24, 2016 | 1 Comment

Are you kidding me?  It’s August?  End of August?

I had some suspicion that summer was full on when I went from gleefully eating a tomato sandwich 3 times a day to averting my eyes from the rows of tomatoes slowly starting to rot on the counter.  I should have realized summer was at its peak when every meal involved some combination of bread and veggies from the garden—tomato pie, pesto pizza with roasted peppers, brushetta, eggplant panini.  The Other Half started cooking himself a pound of venison sausage every weekend and nibbling on it throughout the week for a protein fix.  And everyone ranted and raved ecstatically when I made meatball subs one night in an effort to finish off the crockpot full of homemade tomato sauce.

Although in their defense it may not have been the sudden appearance of meat that they appreciated as much as the fact that I made dinner itself.  ’Cause the night before I just sat on the couch with crackers, cream cheese, and a jar of  freshly made hot pepper jelly.  As everyone wandered in looking for dinner, I looked at them blankly and continued to shovel in creamy, sweet, spicy goodness without comment.  And the night before that they came in to find me eating a homemade chocolate cake smeared with coconut pecan frosting (don’t get excited—it was box cake mix and a tub of store frosting).  Which, at least, counts as cooking.

The point is that I should know August is here when I am frantically scouring pinterest for new veggie recipes and when the dinner routine fades away into random grazing.  (Why do those people need dinner every night??)  And the end of August is definitely here when I finally give up on using up the overflow of veggies and start searching for canning recipes instead.  I would share that hot pepper jelly recipe but it ended up being a combination of several recipes because I had one kind of pectin and the original recipe called for a different kind of pectin.  Herein lies the problem with canning—the entire activity involves substances and processes that no one understands anymore.

Do you know what pectin is?  No, no you don’t.  I mean, you know the pectin turns the sauce into jam or jelly but you have no idea really how or why.  And you can check Wikipedia, but….

“Pectins, also known as pectic polysaccharides, are rich in galacturonic acid. Several distinct polysaccharides have been identified and characterised within the pectic group. Homogalacturonans are linear chains of α-(1–4)-linked D-galacturonic acid. Substituted galacturonans are characterized by the presence of saccharide appendant residues (such as D-xylose or D-apiose in the respective cases of xylogalacturonan and apiogalacturonan) branching from a backbone of D-galacturonic acid residues. Rhamnogalacturonan I pectins (RG-I) contain a backbone of the repeating disaccharide: 4)-α-D-galacturonic acid-(1,2)-α-L-rhamnose-(1. From many of the rhamnose residues, sidechains of various neutral sugars branch off. The neutral sugars are mainly D-galactose, L-arabinose and D-xylose, with the types and proportions of neutral sugars varying with the origin of pectin.

….it probably isn’t going to help .

Our grandmothers understood pectin, (They made that crap from apples, people, apples!) but we just buy it from the store and add it to our recipe.  And if we don’t have the right kind of pectin for our recipe—because it comes in liquid pectin, regular dry pectin, low sugar dry pectin, no sugar dry pectin, freezer jam pectin, or low methoxyl pectin—then we have to wing it. The first batch came out a bit soupy but the next batch was fine.  Go figure.  In any case, it was good for eating over cream cheese in lieu of making dinner.

In addition to peppers I had baskets of tomatoes to use….

so I combined the 2 in a recipe for Tomato and Pepper Chutney. Which was tangy, sweet, a little bit spicy and, just like the recipe claimed, ready in an hour.

The rest of the tomatoes went into a tomato soup recipe specifically chosen because:

1.  it did not require scalding, peeling, or deseeding tomatoes

2.  it used up a bag of sprouting onions in the onion bin

3.  it freezes flat so that it doesn’t take up any more cans or pantry space

4.  I got to use my immersion blender.  Wheee!

It was like the universe peeked into my kitchen and handed me a perfect recipe and an easy healthy meal for weeknights this winter.

That still left me with several baskets of peppers—some sweet, some hot, and lots of unlabeled unknown surprise varieties.

I went back to the hot bath with Habanero Jalapeno Jelly that is not for the faint of heart (or tongue!) and a Hot Pepper Honey Mustard that I cannot stop putting on sandwiches.  For the record, my version used 40 Hungarian wax peppers instead of 40 banana peppers so it’s a bit spicier than the original recipe.

Next I charred a batch of red and green bell peppers under the broiler.

Then used them for Roasted Red Bell Pepper Pesto….

and Roasted Green Bell Pepper Pesto.  Both of which froze up nicely in ice cube trays.

The rest of the garden basil went into regular old fashioned pesto. The best part of the bell pepper pesto is saving money by leaving out those expensive pine nuts!

The last of the roasted peppers are for roasted green pepper soup.  I don’t expect this to be a big seller at my house so I am serving it alongside pork tacos with salsa verde (because salsa verde is the only recipe I can find to use up my tomatillo crop).  Perhaps I will put it in shot glasses like the amuse-bouche of soup that The Other Half and I had once at a fancy restaurant.  We went around and around for a while discussing whether the tiny glass of thick creamy liquid brought out with our drinks was soup or dipping sauce or a joke from the rich people sitting around us who realized we were just rednecks with a gift card.  Eventually we knocked it back and realized it was, indeed, soup, then we laughed so hard we almost snorted it out through our noses because it was soup in a shot glass.  And because,well…we were rednecks in a fancy restaurant.

I was out of ideas for the rest of my hot peppers.  So I settled for the same trick women have been using with hot peppers for centuries.  I hung them to dry so that I didn’t have to worry about it for 3 or 4 more months.  I got out an upholstery needle and some twine and strung garlands of jalapenos, Thai, poblano, cayenne, anaheim, and habanero around the kitchen windows for sun and eventually, lots of dry heat from the woodstove.

So maybe August sneaked past me.  And I only have a couple days to get back-to-school and back-to-dinner-time.  Every.  Freaking.  Night.  But with all the red and green garlands around here I’m at least 3 months ahead of time for December.

Which is good.  Because, according to the garden, I have oh, probably 20 minutes before I have to start canning and freezing again….

Happy Birthday, America. The Home Stretch.

Posted on | July 24, 2016 | 1 Comment

We had only 4 days left and, for the first time, the kids started asking when we were getting home.  Oh, it wasn’t all love and endearments until that time.  Some of them desperately needed some alone time.  And took drastic measures to get it.

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Happy Birthday, America. The Wild West

Posted on | July 21, 2016 | 1 Comment

We drove through Grand Teton National Park as we headed through Wyoming.  We didn’t stop as I figured I couldn’t summon any more enthusiasm from the kids for hikes and waterfalls and mountains for a few more days.  It was odd how quickly we developed nature fatigue—-one week we were ooohing and ahhhing over the buffalo and the next week they were just getting in the way;  one day we wanted to get as close to the falls as possible to feel the spray and climb on the rocks and the next day were were happy to just pull in at an overlook.  Breaking up the trip with cities was definitely a smart part of my plan and this time we were on our way to Jackson.  But driving through the Tetons and the Jackson Hole valley along the Snake River still provided a whole lot of scenic appeal.

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Happy Birthday, America. Bear Territory.

Posted on | July 18, 2016 | No Comments

We stopped at Mount St Helens visitor center on Spirit Lake Highway on our way out of Washington state.

The video and the interactive displays had lots of information on the eruption. The pictures of the volcano before and after its eruption in 1980 were startling but the damage was easy enough to see with the naked eye.  Just outside the center was a view of the volcano with its top almost completely blown away.

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Happy Birthday, America. The Other Side.

Posted on | July 17, 2016 | 3 Comments

We spent the night in Cut Bank, Montana, in the Glacier Gateway Inn and we felt the chill of changing elevation.  Oh, sure, we shivered a bit in the Windy City—the sidewalks of Michigan Ave can be heavily shaded by the towering buildings and serve as a perfect wind tunnel for lake breezes.  But this was the crisp cold and cutting wind that dropped temperatures in the 40’s at night.  In mid-June.  Brrrr.

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Happy Birthday, America. Following the Buffalo.

Posted on | July 14, 2016 | No Comments

The next morning I left my family sleeping and ate breakfast at the State Game Lodge, where President Calvin Coolidge and his family spent their summer in 1927.

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Happy Birthday, America. This Is What We Came For.

Posted on | July 13, 2016 | 1 Comment

If there’s one piece of advice that I can give you about visiting the National Parks, it is this:

Do NOT start with the Badlands.

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Happy Birthday, America. In The Middle.

Posted on | July 11, 2016 | 2 Comments

We woke up in Dubuque, Iowa and hit the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium for the day.

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Happy Birthday, America. Going Back.

Posted on | July 10, 2016 | No Comments

I went to college in northern Indiana and Chicago, Illinois so I knew when the land started getting flat that we were getting close.

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Happy Birthday, America. Revelation.

Posted on | July 7, 2016 | 2 Comments

Our first stop in Louisville was Churchill Downs.  Now we are not actually fancy enough people to be fans of horse racing.  As a matter of fact, before the trip I tried to get the kids interested in the Kentucky Derby to no avail.  I talked about elaborate hats and famous horses and Middle just kept asking, “When will we get to the Seattle Seahawks stadium?”   That’s what I’m working with, people.

So back in May I picked up a movie to make the trip to Churchill Downs more meaningful to them.  I tried to get the documentary Thoroughbred: Born to Run , but it wasn’t available at the local library.  Then I hoped to borrow Seabiscuit or Secretariat but the only DVD on famous horses I managed to track down was the Disney flick 50 to 1.  50 to 1 is not Disney’s best work but it is about a redneck who kind of lucks into training a horse that lucks into a Derby run.  Since we can certainly relate to rednecks and occasional dumb luck, it was a good enough choice and it gave the kids some idea about horse racing as well as Churchill Downs and its storied place in the sport.  It was also based on a true story so it counts as a documentary minus the boring parts.

But after driving alongside lush green Kentucky pastures, miles of beautiful white fencing, and expensive horses frolicking in fields, it was a bit surprising to find Churchill Downs in the center of the city surrounded by low end neighborhoods and gravel overflow parking lots.  However, the museum and the tour more than made up for what the location was lacking.

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