Monday, October 8, 2012

Blogging Versus Homesteading

Most of you have probably figured this out by now, but I've found that keeping up with blogging is not as fun for me as keeping up with my homesteading.  Thus the blog has fallen to the wayside.  Thanks for joining me on my fun journey for awhile.  Who knows?  Maybe I'll pick up blogging again down the road, but for now, it's become one more thing on the to-do list, so I'm dropping it.  :)  Prioritize!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Tomatoes To Red Sauce

Tomato after Blanching
Your first step to using all those tomatoes for something other than salads is blanching them.  Blanching is an easy little trick that you must add to your toolbox if you haven't already.  Following are the steps to blanching:

1.  Place tomatoes in boiling water for just 1 minute (you don't want to cook them).

2.  Scoop the tomatoes out with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl of ice water.

3.  Skins will split open (see picture above), and you just slip them off the meat of the tomato.  If the skin doesn't split open, just slice the surface lightly with a knife, and the skin will still come right off.

After you have blanched and peeled your tomatoes, next you need your Colorful Paring Knives (Google Affiliate Ad).  (or any paring knife, really)  Cut out the green spot where the tomato used to be connected to the plant and then slice the tomato in half (you will need larger than a paring knife for that cut if you're dealing with anything larger than a Roma).  Squeeze each half of the tomatoes over an empty bowl.  Then place the (mostly) seedless tomato halves in another bowl (or straight into the food processor if you'd prefer).

Skins and Seeds Bowl
Halved Tomatoes Bowl
From here you can do what you'd like with the tomatoes - make pasta sauce, pizza sauce, straight tomato sauce, whatever you fancy.  "What's the difference?" some might ask.  Pasta sauce will be a bit runnier than pizza sauce, along with taste variations that you may prefer.  Straight tomato sauce is when you just take them down to a sauce without any seasoning.

Below is my approach - don't forget I'm a bit of a free spirit, and it shows in the kitchen just like every other part of my life.

1.  Puree tomatoes (or puree it after all the cooking is done - whichever I feel like on a given day).

2.  Cook tomatoes in a pan with a bit of olive oil and fresh oregano and basil from the garden.  Add salt and pepper, of course.  Oh, and don't forget a little sugar - that makes everything taste better.

3.  Meanwhile, saute some onions and garlic (from the garden or farmers' market, of course)...maybe some sweet pepper if you want.  Then throw it into the cooking tomato sauce chunky, or puree it and throw it in (or you can do all the pureeing together at the end if you don't want any chunks).

 4.  Let it all cook down for awhile.  Throw in a little of this and that as you prefer - thyme, mushrooms, chives, whatever.  Take a walk through the garden and see what's growing - throw some shredded squash or zucchini in - no one will ever know.

5.  Now you have pasta sauce.  Throw a few fresh basil leaves on top, and it turns gourmet.  To make it into pizza sauce, you want it thicker.  Some suggestions:  drain some liquid off and keep cooking it down, add some flour, OR stir in some tomato paste from the store - your pizza still counts as homemade! 

Back to picking tomatoes! 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Make Your Own Red Sauce

We are known for calling spaghetti "noodles and red sauce" at our house.  How did this come about?  Because we never consistently have spaghetti noodles in the cupboard, but there is usually some type of pasta available.  Then, of course, there's the fact that one's never sure what kind of sauce might end up on our pasta, but if it's red, it's usually acceptable to a broader range of diners.  One day when my son was in preschool, he made me look like a great homesteader with his description of his favorite food.    Below is one of my favorite preschool stage keepsakes.

Next post will explore processing tomatoes and making red sauce.  (My apologies for the lapse of time without a blog this past week.  Somehow when life gets busy, blogging gets bumped.  I'll post the next ones much quicker.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Part 3: Sweet Potato Vines

Sweet potato bed
The sweet potato vines will always need their own bed, aside from some early spring crops like lettuce and spinach.  Early in the season, this bed felt like a waste of space.  Now, I frequently walk along the edge of the bed and trim the vines back off the paths. 

Peanut plants amidst the shade of the sweet potato vines
This year I planted peanuts for the first time and put them on the edge of the sweet potato bed.  Next year I will try giving them some more room to expand and see what happens.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Part 2:The Squash and Zucchini Plants

The squash and zucchini were one of the worst pathway-overtaking offenders this year.  They can thrive on the pathway because they grow out from the base, which is firmly rooted in nutritious dirt.  These are another candidate for softening a corner boundary of the fenced-in yard.  While harvesting the produce of these beauties does not cut back on the space they take (in contrast to yesterday's lemon grass), if I put them in a corner at the back of a path, it will be okay if they overtake their section of the path because I will not need to pass by them to get to anything else.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Photo Record Keeping for Edible Landscaping

Earlier this season, I was moaning to an urban homesteading friend (see "Sustainable Urban Living Inspiration") about how much space I was wasting in my new beds and that I needed to plan other things for next season.  In his experienced wisdom he assured me the space would fill in and that I should take pictures of the gardens once things were full size.  Then, he advised, I could use the pictures to plan my space layout for next year.  Brilliant!

Committing to edible landscaping means managing an ever-changing landscape.  The next few posts will cover pictures of several of my plants at peak size and the space adjustment plans for next year.  This will avoid the landscape looking lopsided, with lots of empty dirt one half of the season and overrun paths the other half of the season. 

Today, we will look at the lemon grass:

This gorgeous edible grass grew much larger than others I've seen - must be my rich new soil!  It is currently shading my herbal perennials, stunting their growth, and growing over my path on the other side.  Some of this could be reined in by more frequent harvesting, but we all know I'm behind on keeping up with all the produce right now.  Be looking for a post on harvesting, drying, and using lemongrass in the near future.

Since this is an annual that has a chance of surviving a move indoors over winter, I plan to uproot it in a couple months anyway.  I will either center it in a bed next year, or more likely, move it to a corner to soften the boundaries of the backyard.  I may even try to split it this winter - wish me luck!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Quail Habitat

Once again, the quail have taken more than their share of my time!  Just when I had them all settled in, I added a few more a couple weeks ago, which meant more pecking wars and hours of monitoring my attempts at safe setups.  Below is the process (a big thanks to some chicken-owning family members for guiding me through some of this):

Day One:  Introduced new quail by letting all free-range around the yard under my supervision against cats and other predators (all wings clipped to prevent escapes that would only end in death-by-predator).  Figured out which were male much quicker than last time and passed them on to a neighbor who will raise them for meat.

Night One:  All quail in original pen for a "safe" overnight.  

Day Two:  Found new quail badly pecked in the morning - one's eye was swollen over and heads of both were bare.  My only hope of their survival was letting them free range, but I had plans for the day.  So, I took my chances, let them have run of the backyard, and left for church.  That afternoon, I brought my chicken experts to the backyard for a consultation (all quail were accounted for - we rarely get backyard intruders).  The injured ones were safely hiding for recovery and the former crew were hanging out together eating my freshly planted pea seeds.  Basically, this free-ranging was just allowing them to separate, not letting them adjust to each other.  My sister and brother-in-law informed me that they needed to be forced to be in close proximity, where they could see each other but not be able to reach each other to avoid injuries.  They also said they would need to stay that way for a couple weeks.  Great!  That means building a temporary setup that is stable enough to last a couple weeks against predators.  A walk through the basement brought a brilliant idea - that metal cube organizer I have kept since college - I knew it would come in handy someday!  I rearranged the cubes so that I had two sections for quail, put bricks on top of it to make it hard to overturn, and called the project finished.

Night Two:  No problems with the setup.  Our dog chased a stray cat away first thing in the morning. 

Day Three - Day Twelve:  Uneventful.  Injuries healed over. 

Day Thirteen:  I decide it is time to come up with a permanent setup for the quail that has enough square footage for six quail to roam happily, cozy laying spaces with egg retrieval access, and ease of access for changing bedding, feeding, and watering.  I went to the basement and looked over our scrap wood, leftover metal fencing material, and leftover plastic chicken wire.  After dragging everything out and assessing the space, I am suddenly able to come up with a creative solution that doesn't require all the material and work of building an entirely new setup.  I realize that I can connect the cube organizer (that is too covered in quail filth to ever use as an organizer again anyway) and the original quail pen - allowing a space to run outside and a sheltered space with nesting holes for eggs.  I can also then add a roof to the original pen for protection from rain and snow without taking away their access to the sunshine and the rest of the natural world.  I still need to make a few improvements to make the passageway between the two fully predator proof, but I believe I have a setup that will work long term.