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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Quintessentiallly Summer: Grilled Veggie Sandwiches

Isn't it mind-boggling how fast summer flies?  I am a warm/hot-weather girl. About 98% of my hobbies require weather that involves no snow, so as the calendar creeps back towards winter, I begin having almost palpable anxiety. Every year, right around August 1st, it seems I panic ~ wanting every day and night to be quintessentially summer. 

Well, two days ago, the stress set in. I realized I'd be turning another year older in a few weeks (eeks!), school would be in full swing - meaning my "free weekend time" would again consist of grading papers, and the weather would take a nasty (in my humble opinion) turn towards the bitter cold. I guess time gives us perspective. Perhaps if the weather were beautiful all of the time, I would take it for granted and not give each and every day the attention it deserves.

So, with all of this in mind, on Friday evening, we had a lovely, perfectly summer experience. We put a blanket down in a shady part of the yard, got Franklin the puppy settled, and snacked on cherries, veggies and humus, and melon...and, of course, sipped on wine. I read mindless magazines, and Andy took a nap. Then, we fired up the grill to make veggie sandwiches with cream cheese. This meal was an attempt at recreating my absolute favorite sandwich in Madison, the West of the Andes sandwich (don't forget to ask for cream cheese!) at The Weary Traveler.

What's great about this type of meal (if you're not going for absolute recreations) is that WHATEVER might be in season at the time works.

We grilled carrots and beats and topped them with fresh arugula, tomatoes,avocado, and cream cheese and squashed it all in the middle of a hearty burger bun for this night's version, but later in the year, perhaps it'll be grilled winter squash and beets with fresh spinach and blue cheese. Who knows? The fridge and the season will be the deciding factors.

On the side, we served grilled baby bok choy. Delicious.

Despite my all-things-good-end-with-summer fear, I do look forward to the tastes of each season. Fall  brings veggie chili. Winter brings black bean soup. I can get excited for those. I just need reminders! ...until cold temps, another birthday and another school year creep in though, I'm going to try and make each day quintessentially summer.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mouth-watering kraut: step one

Franklin (and the chickens) wanted to eat all our cabbage!
Is it odd that I have a head-full of memories associated with sauerkraut of all things?  Whether or not it's strange, I get nostalgic for this nearly calorie-less, antioxidant-packed food. As a child, I absolutely loved sauerkraut-and-sausage night. My freshmen-year college roommate and I bought cans of Frank's kraut to eat with Ritz crackers. It was nearly guilt free. Plus, it was salty and cheap. Our floor mates didn't appreciate the smell....but I recall many "deep" conversations (mostly about boys) occurring over a package of buttery crackers and a tin can of fermented cabbage. And, I remember wanting so badly to have salty, "real" sauerkraut on my travels in Germany to find (to my disappointment) extra spices in the mix. Apparently, my perception of "real" is the Americanized version?!

My tin-can sauerkraut was divine and beyond satisfactory until Mom and Dad brought home a homemade jar from their friends' house. This duo canned a cupboard full of sauerkraut from their garden every year. When we were fortunate enough to obtain a magical Ball-jar full, I couldn't keep my fingers out. I paced back and forth from the living room to the kitchen continuously on several occasions to sneak a finger full.I found a near substitute in Bubbie's Sauerkraut, but I've nevertheless longed for the homemade-by-someone-I-know kind.  Hence, I was more than excited when we decided to finally buy a crock to make fermented foods. Today, we harvested three heads of our cabbage. We shredded those three along with two that we had saved from our CSA boxes.

We washed all five heads, cut out the cores, shredded the remaining cabbage, and got the crock ready.

Then, we put roughly three  handfuls of cabbage in the crock, added about a teaspoon of pickling salt over the top, and then repeated the process until all of the cabbage was inside the crock.
Salt/cabbage mix
 Next, we used a plate to cover and weigh down the cabbage and salt mixture. Then, we put a heavy, full glass jar on top of the plate and covered that with a damp towel.
Waiting ...
We'll be keeping an eye on this for a few weeks, I guess. Then, hopefully, everything will meld together the way it's supposed to, and we'll be processing quarts of kraut.

My mouth is honestly watering just thinking about it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Garlic 2011

We harvested 45 heads of antioxidant goodness today. These were planted back on October 24. For the garden how-tos and health information, check out that entry.

Seems that we're about 2 weeks behind in terms of harvesting just about everything this year, garlic included. The spring was so randomly windy and cold.

Anyway, what to do with this favorite herb of ours? Pickle? Roast and freeze? Dehydrate?  Do you have any favorite ways to keep loads of garlic well into the fall/winter? Please share.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Heat Wave: shade for the chickens and "Spearjitos" with raspberries for the humans

Wisconsin is under an "excessive heat warning" for the better part of this week. I like the heat, the sweat, the lethargy I feel when it the heat index is +100. My chickens, on the other hand, are not fans. The poor ladies and their gentleman have serious needs during the dog days of summer. Like dogs, chickens don't sweat, so they cool themselves off by panting; their mouths were agape today, and their eyes seemed to be pleading with us.

We are by no means experts on this topic, so if you have more suggestions, please share. However, we monitored our flock all day, and we took care of them by doing the following:
  • We filled their water containers with ice and water and updated with ice throughout the day.
  • We gave them extra dishes of water.
  • We fed them frozen "treats." We simply had put a few pieces of fresh fruit in the freezer early in the morning, and we also took out some frozen veggie scraps that we had been saving for stock. As the treats thaw, they get soft, and the chickens are delighted to eat them.
  • We provided them with shade. The vines and trees we planted in their run are now providing some, but in prior years, we'd put up a tarp on parts of their run to provide a bit.
  • We sprayed their run and their coop with cool water. Our chickens don't seem to really enjoy this process when it's happening, but they get over it quickly as they realize they're not quite as hot.
  • We took them out for a few hours into a much more shaded area of our lawn. This seemed to actually be the pivotal moment for them today as they eventually settled down to rest in some random spots of sand.
The chickens cannot be left to fend for themselves on days like these. Depending on their breeds, it is dangerous to leave them to their own devices. We have Easter Eggers and Barred Rocks, which are both heavily feathered birds, suitable for winter climates such as ours. In the midst of a seven-day heat wave, however, all their hardiness is a call to action for us. Here are some pics from our Sunday afternoon spent with them under the trees.

Notice Rocky's gaping beak: a sure sign your chickens are HOT!
About an hour into the Sunday afternoon respite under the trees, the chickens seem a bit more comfortable.
Even Franklin, the dog (under EXTREME supervision) got to hang with the chickens.

Prudence is contemplating whether to make the trek over to the sand. She ponders that the sand bath idea is a good one indeed.

As for the humans, we picked raspberries and spearmint and made and enjoyed what we're happily naming "Spearjitos." This drink is adapted from the commonly known Mojitos, but why spend money on mint when you have spearmint growing in your own backyard, right? Over the last week, we've experimented with the best recipe for these, using club soda or tonic water and varying amounts of the other ingredients. By far, last night's version was the best. To make your own "Spearjitos", try this:

white rum
tonic water

1. Inside serving glass, muddle together spearmint (around 1/4 cup per glass) and limes (around 1/4 of a lime per glass) and a Tbs of sugar.
2. Fill glass with ice (on top of muddled mixture).
3. Add two shots (or more!) of white rum.
4. Top off with tonic water. Club soda works too, but the drink isn't as tasty (in our humble opinions).
5. If you have them, top with fresh berries.

..and, of course, the doggie got lots of water and attention all day as did the kitties.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Dessert Worth Your Time at the Gym

There are many desserts which, for me, don't equate the time at the gym or on the pavement that will be needed to get rid of the fat and calories consumed. However, the dessert we served up on the Fourth of July was not one of those.

We made (drum roll, please....) Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream and Homemade Lemon Thyme Ice Cream served over Batch Bakehouse's Lemon Pound Cake (grilled), topped with our freshly made mulberry sauce. It was as good as it sounds.

So...the ice cream. Pretty straightforward. If you've been following our ice cream adventures, you know we consistently use the same custard recipe and then add the fruit/flavor once the custard is cool. The lemon thyme recipe is linked here, and the strawberry ice cream recipe is as follows:

 6 cups of hulled strawberries
1.5 cups of sugar
1.5 cups of half and half
1.5 cups of heavy cream
4 egg yolks

1. Hull and chop the strawberries. Mix with 1 cup of sugar. Let this sit for at least 4 hours (preferably overnight).
2. Whisk egg yolks with the remaining half cup of sugar.
3. Warm the half and half in a saucepan, stirring constantly so not to burn. When the half and half starts to foam, remove from the heat. Slowly pour this into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly as you pour so that  you don't cook the eggs.
4. Once combined, put egg mixture back into saucepan. Warm over low-medium heat, stirring, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon.
5. Remove from heat. Stir in the cream.
6. Cover and cool overnight.
7. Remove half of the strawberries with a slotted spoon. Put into a separate bowl and save for later use.
8. Mash the other half of the strawberries to form a syrupy sauce.
9. Mix syrupy sauce with custard. Use ice cream maker as instructed.
10. Once ice cream is formed, spoon into a freezer-safe receptacle.
11. Mix in the reserved strawberries and freeze until ready to eat!

Mulberry Sauce (recipe makes about 1.5 pints)

4 cups mulberries
3/4 cup of sugar
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1/2 cup of water
1 Tbs. cornstarch

1. In a saucepan, pulverize mulberries, creating a saucy consistency.
2. Stir cornstarch into water in separate bowl.
3. Combine cornstarch-water mixture, lemon juice, and sugar into the pulverized mulberries.
4. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and cool.
5. Strain sauce to remove seeds. Store in container. Serve cooled over ice cream (or pancakes or french toast, etc., etc.)

Then, to assemble this massively delectable delight:
1. Cut pound cake into 1" thick slices. Brush with butter and grill over hot fire for 2 minutes each side.
2. Put pound cake slices into serving bowls. Top with ice cream(s). Finish with mulberry sauce.

YUM! YUM! YUM! YUM! YUM! YUM! ...and I'll be with you in spirit at the gym tomorrow.