Thursday, July 16, 2009

Massive photo update part four!

DOGGIES! Nuff said. :)

Massive photo update part three!

CRITTERS WHO EAT MY PLANTS! The deer have all but destroyed the sunflowers. Every time they valiantly sprout new leaves from their pathetic stubs, the deer come along and strip them bare again. They also sampled my yellow squash plants next to the sunflowers, although they didn't seem interested enough to eat much. I need to get some pictures of the deer, there are several regular customers who frequent my sunflower buffet and aren't particularly afraid of humans. 

Now these guys... these guys are AWESOME. I've never seen them before, but there were four of them hanging out on one of my dill plants. I left them alone, because they afforded me some really great pictures and I felt like they were probably butterfly caterpillars. I did a little research and feel pretty certain they're black swallowtails. Exciting!

They were all just hanging out,

except this guy, who was going to TOWN on these dill flowers! It was a moment of pure nerdy joy to watch him happily munching away.

Massive photo update part two!

GARDEN! So much activity in the garden lately. First... SOMETHING is killing my tomatoes. According to several websites I've been reading, it's either early blight or verticillium wilt, likely triggered by the weeks of record-setting rainfall we had earlier this summer. I can't figure out which, but neither have a good prognosis. The remaining fruits are still edible but the disease will likely kill the plants soon. I sprayed them with an organic anti-fungal spray containing copper, hoping to salvage them, so we'll see.

In far more cheerful news, my watermelons and lone surviving cantaloup plant are thriving. I planted them out by the driveway because there was simply no more room in the garden, and the sunflowers we'd planted there before had either been dug up before sprouting or, more recently, chewed to shreds by deer (see next blog entry for photo evidence). 

Daisy meandering.

My dad bought a few disease-resistant tomato seedlings that were on clearance at the local garden store, though at this point they were less seedlings than half-grown plants (one has a tomato already). I pulled up the peas and their little trellis, as they were starting to dry up and die, and planted the new tomatoes in their place. The garlic is long gone, after I realized how late I'd planted them I pulled them up rather than have them waste space, and put a horseradish plant down (mostly for fun, I have no idea how to grow or harvest horseradish). The eggplant are huge and already have one or two fruits each. The beans will probably be done soon, and I'll probably leave that space to put down another row or two of broccoli in August. I'm already planning out next year's garden in my head, making adjustments and trying new plants.

Massive photo update part one!

I've been unusually inclined to spend time in the kitchen lately. I think I've been inspired by the abundance of fresh yummies coming out of the garden and the farmers markets lately. The whole general concept of a more simple, frugal, self-sustaining lifestyle has been on my mind for a long time now, and I've been trying to make changes here and there to move in that direction. So my most recent endeavor involves buying less pre-made, packaged food, and instead making what I can from scratch. In my last post I mentioned the unsuccessful ricotta experiment, and the moderately successful no-knead bread... I haven't given the ricotta another go, but...

I gave a new bread recipe a try and made two tasty loaves,

made another no-knead loaf which turned out beautifully,

and made fresh, delicious, homegrown SALSA!

Chips and salsa are easily my favorite snack, and I buy a jar of Tostitos salsa probably once a week. They cost around 3 or 4 bucks, and I always thought they were tasty until I mixed up some homemade. This stuff blows store-bought salsa out of the water, and that's not because I'm a wizard in the kitchen. It's incredibly simple to make; the reason it tastes so freaking good is just because the ingredients are FRESH, homegrown and natural! I've made 4 batches so far and we've blown through several bags of chips (oh yeah, next projects involves homemade tortilla chips).

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Well hello blog, nice to see you again.

Yesterday I was feeling rather optimistic and took on two kitchen projects that I've been wanting to try for a while. I decided to try my hand at making ricotta cheese and no-knead, whole grain bread. 

Now, food-related projects tend to go badly for me when they involve a recipe. I'm pretty awful at following written directions, because of my ADD and general impatience. But it's become very important to me to start making more of my own food, particularly expensive and frequently purchased items like cheese and bread. Eventually my goal is to have a little homestead with my own chickens and goats, and maybe even a miniature cow, for eggs and milk. But that's another blog entry.


The ricotta recipe I used was supposed to yield about a cup of cheese. I wound up with more like a tablespoon. Having read on several different websites that this was by far the easiest cheese, that it was a joy and pleasure to make, and that basically a monkey could do it... well, it was a bit discouraging to see the results. I figured there were several places where I could have gone wrong. First, I used 2% milk instead of whole. I only did this because one website said it was fine to substitute, but who knows. Second, I scalded the milk on the bottom of the saucepan (in spite of my frequent stirring). I'm not sure if this would really affect the end product or not. Finally, and I think most likely, I don't think I waited for the milk in the saucepan to come to a full simmer before adding the lemon juice. I saw the bubbles start, and promptly dumped the juice in. When it didn't coagulate immediately like the recipe said it would, I had a feeling I'd jumped the gun. 
I got enough to mix in to a little bowl of blueberries, at least. Oh, and I can't believe how freakin' hard it was to get this stuff out of the damn cheesecloth! Maybe because the curds were too watery, maybe because I squeezed too hard when trying to get the last of the water out, but my goodness that was a frustrating episode. Practice makes perfect I suppose, but it's frustrating to be unsuccessful when you practice on expensive organic ingredients. 
On the plus side, I got a nice amount of whey which I used to make breakfast smoothies. Delish.

I fared far better with this project. Behold, my ugly, yet tasty loaf o' whole grain bread:

It didn't rise quite as nicely as I'd hoped, but for a first attempt it turned out decently. The bottom got a bit burned, but it still tastes pretty damn good. I had a moment of panic when somehow, a piece of saran wrap somehow got stuck to the dutch oven and wound up on the 500 degree oven rack. I'm not exactly good at thinking on my feet and I had no idea how I would get this gooey, stringy plastic out of a hot oven, and I envisioned the plastic gluing itself to the oven floor and the burning smell permeating everything that was cooked from then on. Fortunately I was able to pull almost all of it out with some tongs, and there was a slight smell of melted plastic but it didn't permeate anything and the bread turned out fine. WHEW.