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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Garden and Chicken Updates

It is going to be near 90 degrees today! Our gardens are going to love this weather as will our chicks. Today, Andy is planning to construct two raised gardens, where we will plant melons, cucumbers, cooking beans, corn, and popcorn. We are behind in this process because we were unsure we'd go through with these new plots due to pending summer travel plans  (which have now officially been cancelled).

Last weekend, we finished off the main garden with 25 tomato plants (beefsteak, cherry, and Roma combined) and 8 pepper plants (sweet, medium, and hot!). All but one pepper plant are flourishing. Two weeks ago, Andy planted approximately 40 feet of three different types of potatoes. They are coming up and decorating the garden with their various shades of purple and green foliage. Earlier this spring, we planted a row of carrots, a row of kale, and a row of beets. Of course, the garlic and raspberries have their place and are thriving.For all of your gardeners, how do you know what is a carrot and what is a weed? I'm doing my best to keep up with the weeding, but there are several carrot-top-looking weeds coming in along with the carrots. I'm having a hard time distinguishing between the two; in fact, I don't even know that we have any actual carrots coming up! Help!

In our side garden, we've planted basil, summer savory, rosemary, sage, curly parsley, flat-leaf parsley, ground cherries, and for the first time ever, sunberries. Has anyone ever tasted sunberries? We bought seeds on a whim, so we're very curious to try them. We also planted a few extra tomato plants, and we're still planning to plant lemongrass, peppermint, and cilantro.

Up in front, we have a box of Swiss chard growing. And our asparagus bed is looking fabulous. Next year, we should be able harvest asparagus. For the last season, this year, we utlized the space between the rows for planting.  Currently, 66 onions are happily growing in the asparagus bed. Next year, awesomely, there won't be room for any extra plantings there!

Now, to the chicks ~ they are a real pleasure. One of them is exhibiting major rooster-like signs. He has a  large comb and has started to try to crow. Luckily, he is the more affectionate of the two chicks, so I think we'll have a sweet, loving rooster on our hands. He is officially named "Zappa" after Frank Zappa. Our other feathery friend, we believe, to be a girl. Mostly because "she" hasn't exhibited any of the signs of roosterhood that Zappa has. She is named, "Ani" after Ani Difranco, of course. Do you notice a pattern or theme regarding the choice of names? Suggestion for the next batch of chicks??

Ani and Zappa love the outdoors, but interestingly enough, when we are out there, they tend to just want to sit on my lap and be held. Zappa especially likes to sit in my hand while I nuzzle under his chin with my other hand. He quickly falls asleep during this ritual. They are the best of friends; if Zappa is getting the love, Ani feels she must jump up and cuddle in too.

It's oddly heartbreaking to put them back in their cage when we want to come in. They chirp nonstop as we carry them back . To accomodate their growth, we've transferred them from our smaller cage into a large Tupperware container  with hardware cloth on the top. When we're home, they enjoy the skylights in the living room while the cats try to determine if the peepers are lunch or entertainment! :)  The chicks are scared of the dark. At night, we've tried turning off the heat lamp (now that they're okay at room temperature), but they cry and peep, and so, I haven't been able to officially turn off the bathroom light for the whole night.    Soon!  

Zappa and Ani falling asleep on their new outside "toy."

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Asparagus to Zucchini Cookbook Rocks: Two Awesome Recipes in One Week

With our first CSA box being delivered last Saturday, we decided to try a few new recipes. Of course, the first resource that we grabbed was the From Asparagus to Zucchini Cookbook. Our first delicious surprise was a beverage - Rhubarbade. After an awesome five-mile run last week, this drink quenched every bit of my gigantic thirst. I also imagine that it would be great on a hot, sunny day with a little vodka and ice! :)

To make it:
1. Puree rhubarb in a food processor or use a juicer.
2. For every two cups of rhubarb liquid, add 3/4 cup (or more or less to taste) of a sweetener and 6 cups of water. We used sucanat (non-refined cane sugar).
3. Stir until sugar or other sweetener is dissolved.
4. Serve iced. Yum!

The other sweet surprise that we had was from the same cookbook. Meet Parsnip Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Icing! Check out the From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce for the full recipe. Let me just say: the addition of the dried cherries and chopped walnuts on top of the frosting was perfect!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dump Soup

After seven years of having a CSA box and several years of having a garden, there have been numerous occasions when we've let produce go bad!  Over the last couple of seasons, we've found that throwing the cookbook aside and letting intuition take over is sometimes the best way to utilize all the veggies or fruit that we  have on hand.

Tonight, in the wake of the CSA season officially starting, the mad scramble to clear out our freezer in order to make room for the bounties ahead began. We raided our freezer and dumped its remaining bags of produce into a pot along with some dried lentils and curry powder to make a "soup of the week" to get us through Friday.

Years of experience have shown us that the following items  help in getting the most out of  our produce. Our palette lends itself to ethnic cooking, so for us, these items are very useful for us to have on hand:
  • dried lentils
  • dried cooking beans (black, red, etc.)
  • wild rice
  • quinoa
  • chili powder (including cayenne and ancho peppers)
  • curry powder
Tonight, we "dumped" the following into a pot:
  • four cups of frozen cherry tomatoes
  • three cups of frozen green beans
  • two cups of shredded overwintered parsnips
  • three and a half cups of green lentils
  • loads of curry powder (to our liking!)
  • roughly seven-eight cups of vegetable broth and water 
A general rule of thumb is to add two cups of liquid for every cup of lentils.

The nutritional information for one cup of this fast food is below:
Nutrition Facts
soup - 5/11/10
Serving Size: 1 serving
Amount Per Serving
Total Fat0.1g
      Saturated Fat0g
      Trans Fat0g
      Dietary Fiber9.4g
Vitamin A 11%Vitamin C 37%
Calcium    7%Iron 20%

If you're a first time CSA member or gardener, or you're still wondering how you'll use all of the produce you have, we encourage you to let your cooking inhibitions go, and just begin throwing food in the pot!  Usually the results are not only tasty, but good for you!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Holiday All Of Our Own: The First CSA Box of the Year

Mother's Day and Our First CSA Box of the Year: Two Holidays in One Weekend! Getting our first Harmony Valley Farm CSA vegetable box of the year has become our own little food festival! The anticipation of spring ramps, sweet asparagus, lemony sorrel, and tangy rhubarb begins mid-February, so by the time the first spring box arrives, we've usually idealized, planned, and discussed our intentions for the CSA season to exhaustion!

This year our CSA box goals include:
  • creating a menu for the week immediately after picking up the box, and then, subsequently, freezing or preserving all the produce we will not use during the week
  • making a "dump" dinner on Thursday or Friday evening in which we use all little leftovers in one dish; this week, on Thursday, we plan to make a stir-fry using all the little bits of asparagus, ramps, and other vegetables we have left
  • making a "lunch of the week" on Sundays, even during our summer vacation, to stay healthy and to make the best use of our CSA box.
This week, we received:
ramps (yum!)
Hon Tsai Tai
saute mix (really missed this!)
French Breakfast Radish

Right after we picked up our box, we went to the Willy Street Co-op for their Brats in the Lot event, sat down with that and a coffee, and made the following menu:

Saturday night: Salad made of spinach, ramps, asparagus, sorrel, radishes, chives, and a homemade lemon vinaigrette (Andy's parents brought the main course!)
Sunday: Grilled trout and sauteed hon tsai tai
Monday: Veggie burgers and grilled sunchokes
Tuesday: Parsnip Patties (found in the From Asparagus to Zucchini Cookbook (aka the A to Z Cookbook) and saute mix
Wednesday: OUT
Thursday: Stir Fry (dump dinner)
Friday:  WE'LL SEE!

Lunches: leftover squash soup (squash from our freezer)
Breakfasts: oatmeal and raisins (obviously not from our CSA box!)
Other: Rhubarbade (from A to Z cookbook)

As a CSA member and as a gardener, the A to Z cookbook is essential; it has become the cooking Bible to use. What cookbooks really assist you in using up your produce? And, those of you who have CSA boxes, what's your favorite spring goodie?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Peep, Peep: Our First Chickens

Monday night marked the first night that we officially went to bed as chicken parents. Yes, we are effectively calling ourselves "chicken parents." I never would have thought that I could hold so much affection for poultry, but it's hard to be rational with such sweet little beady eyes and such endearing cocks of the head looking up at you. We are smitten for these guys...or girls?
To be honest, we know nothing about raising chickens. Last Friday, Andy's colleague, Teresa, told him that she had a chick whose little "buddies" were pecking at its feet - pretty much all-out bullying him/her. One of its toes was pecked off, and it seemed a dire situation for this particular fella (or lady?).  Andy agreed that on Monday, he'd take the chick along with a friend. All weekend long, we waited in anticipation, and finally Monday, we met our feathery friends.

When I returned home from work, Andy was admiring the elaborate cage he had set up with chicken wire, roosting branches, and lots of space. He placed a thermometer on the cage to monitor the heat and a red lamp over the cage to ensure the chickens' warmth. The chickens frolicked around, peeping excitedly as they tripped over their water dish and pooped in their food.
I couldn't resist! I  had to take them out. They responded pretty well ~ they continued to peep and were very tolerant of being man-handled. After we put them back in their cage, the trouble began. Our little white-headed fella/lady started burying him/herself in his/her pine shavings. He/she looked very cold. The thermometer read 85 degrees, the perfect temperature for 3-week old chicks. We madly searched the Internet for answers! What was wrong with our feathery furrballs?  Several diagrams that came up on the Internet revealed that the chickens might be feeling cold due to a draft (the cage we were  using was made of wire), so Andy dismantled his cage invention, and we put the chicks in our yogurt fish aquarium to guarantee they'd stay warm enough.  We went to bed unsure that we'd be able to sleep, worried that our new babies wouldn't make it through the night (Can you imagine if we had human children? We'd for surely be insomniacs!).

Well, they did live through the night, and no - we still don't know if we have two roosters, two hens, or one of each. Either way, I'm pretty sure we'll be keeping them both. Over the last four days, we've spent sunny evenings with them outdoors (they're amazingly talented at located almost invisible worms!) and rainy nights with them indoors. They are quite amusing. Even our cats think so: the chicks put the fear of God into Carmen (she runs away and hisses at the sound of one their peeps); they are a curiosity to Benson; and, of course, they look like dinner to Tucker.None of us can even remember what life was like before chickens.