Heirloom tomatoes from my garden

Monday, September 4, 2017

Labor Day Break...

Happy Labor Day!  I am writing this blog after a 4-year hiatus.  I really meant to keep blogging, but life happens.  After getting gainful employment again, things have been busy.  At the beginning of summer of 2014, my right foot/ankle started hurting and after putting up with the pain that seemed like it would not go away, I finally saw the doctor and was told I have torn both tendons on the outside of my right foot.  Not sure how that happened since the pain did not follow an immediate injury.  So, surgery it was (9/14/14) and I had to stay off that foot for at least 6 weeks.  My boss was great and I worked remotely from home.  Needless to say, the garden was left to nature.

However, when I was able to get up and get around, I made a trip out to the garden to look over the damage.  My husband had told me it was "completely dead," but upon inspection, I found some parsley, arugula and chives going strong.  However, I really couldn't work in the garden much.  So it wasn't until spring of 2015 that I really worked the garden much.  I tried to grow some melons but there were quite a few rodents that helped themselves to the melons and so I didn't get any that season.  Mother Nature must have taken pity on me because the following summer season (2016), I did not plant any melons but had the most wonderful watermelons grow atop the compost pile - not a scratch, nip or bite on them.   And, that fall, I had some volunteer cantaloupes in my hybrid hugelkultur bed as well as volunteer Armenian cucumbers.

This year my left knee started giving me fits and on June 14, 2017, I had an arthroscopy done.  They wanted me up and at 'em in PT - 18 sessions all told and I am still working remotely from home for half days.  My mornings are for excercising and working in the garden.  My compost pile has tripled in size as we are composting as much as possible and getting spent coffee grounds from a couple of places in town.  We also cleaned up the garden - there was plenty of biomass for the compost pile!  I was able to harvest 55 gallons so far of finished compost from the oldest part of the compost pile and will be harvesting more shortly.  The 3 ft by 25 ft bed had been infiltrated by Bermuda grass and I enlisted the help of my husband to assist with the cleanup.  Our 4 ft by 25 ft bed had mostly rye grass and some weeds with a little Bermuda but it was much easier to clean that one up!  Because the level of soil had dropped so much in this bed, we opted to buy so

Monday, April 20, 2015

Gluten-free Soft Sandwich Bread

2 cups Deb's Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix
1 cup of Bob's Red Mill Gluten-free All-Purpose Flour Mix or similar
2 tsp xanthan gum (this is in addition to the xanthan gum in the flour mix)
4 tsp baking powder (reduce or omit if baking at high altitude)
1 tsp sea salt
3 tablespoons light brown organic sugar
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm but not hot (about 95 degrees F/35 degrees C) milk
2 teaspoons vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 extra-large eggs (about 1/2 cup/120 ml), room temperature
extra olive oil and tapioca flour for the pan

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F/190 degrees C/Gas Mark 5.  Oil and flour a 9 in by 5 in by 3 in loaf pan (standard US loaf pan).  I use a silicone or glass pan.

Place warm milk into a small bowl.  Whisk in 1 tablespoon of sugar until dissolved.  Whisk in yeast until dissolved.  Set aside to proof (about 5-10 minutes until foamy).

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, salt, and the remaing 2 tablespoons sugar.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place eggs, olive oil, and vinegar.  Beat for a few seconds to combine.  Add the yeast mixture.  Beat a few seconds more to combine.  Add the flour mixture.  Beat on medium high for 3 minutes.  (This is important to develop the gum strands - for texture in the bread.)

Scrape mixture into your prepared loaf pan (it should be a very thick batter) and smooth the top.  Place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise until about half again its size in bulk (not quite double)–about 30 to 40 minutes at sea level.  Basically, you want it to look a bit puffed up.  On top of the stove while the oven is preheating allows the oven’s warmth to help the bread rise.  It should only rise to the top or a bit above the top of the pan.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes under a tent of foil.

Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 5 minutes.  Then carefully turn out onto rack to cool completely.  The bread is doing its last bit of baking during the cooling process, so don’t cut into it until it has cooled completely.  If you do, the bread might be gummy inside.

Deb's Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour Mix

1 1/4 cup sorghum flour, fresh ground
1 1/4 cup buckwheat flour, fresh ground
1 cup tapioca flour
1 cup sweet [white] rice flour (also known as "glutinous" rice flour)
1 cup millet, fresh ground
1/2 cup amaranth flour, fresh ground
2 level tsp. xanthan gum

Mix together and store in a cool, dark place for about 6 weeks, or in fridge for up to 4 months or in the freezer for 7 months (or even longer).

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Learning to live gluten-free

Recently, my husband was told he might be a Celiac.  Looking at the laundry list of symptoms, I came to realize I actually seem to have a lot more of the symptoms than he does.  Adding to that, I am the one that cooks and largely shops for the kitchen.  I would much rather just adapt to living gluten-free than have to fix food for each of us and I have been tinkering around with some gluten-free ("GF") cooking - mainly trying to bake breads but haven't had what I consider much success.  The breads are dense and sometimes come out wet in the middle and well-done on the outside.  

We donated unopened gluten containing food items to the local Salvation Army food kitchen and distributed partially used items to friends and family who don't have any problems.  Suffice it to say it was a LOT of stuff.  When you start thinking of cutting gluten from your diet, it becomes clear just how ubiquitous gluten is in our foodstuffs.  Aside from that, we have been following a largely plant-based diet these last 2 years.  Getting rid of gluten cuts quite a range of vegetarian meat replacements out of one's diet.  But not to fret, we will endure this as well.

Anyway, I was commiserating with my spouse about the lost joys of pizza, french bread...you get the idea.  I was searching the internet for recipes and came across one for Farinata Genovese on www.cinnamonspiceandeverythingnice.com.  The recipe is an adaptation from one of Mark Bittman's recipes.  Farinata is a Ligurian (province of Italy) flatbread made with chickpea flour.  It's very simple as you basically mix a little chickpea flour with water, salt and olive oil and let it rest for at least an hour and up to 12 hours.  I'm thinking that since I loved the recipe letting it sit for an hour, I wonder what letting it sit for 12 will do for it.  Ok, on with the cooking!

Farinata Genovese with Eggplant, Squash and Peppers

1 cup Chickpea Flour
1-3/4 cup Water
3/4 teaspoon Sea Salt or 1/2 teaspoon Table Salt
1 teaspoon, ground Black Pepper
At least 5 tablespoons Olive oil, divided (I used my garlic-infused olive oil)
1/2 large Onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh Rosemary
1 eggplant, sliced
1 zucchini squash, sliced
1 yellow crookneck squash, sliced
3-5 small brightly colored sweet peppers, sliced
garlic powder, granulated
smoked mozzarella cheese

1.  Mix the chickpea flour with the salt.  While whisking, add 2 TBS of the oil and then slowly add the water.  Once mixed, cover and let the mixture sit for at least 1 hour up to 12. 

2.  While the chickpea mixture is resting, prepare your mise en place.  Wash and discard the ends of the eggplant.  Slice the eggplant into 1/4 inch rounds.  Lay the eggplant onto a platter and lightly salt the tops of each layer when building the platter.  Treat the squash the same way as you did the eggplant but add some garlic powder as well as salt.

3.  Heat about 1 TBS of the olive oil in a large cast iron skillet and spread it around.  When the skillet is hot, add one layer of squash to the skillet and saute about 1 minute.  Flip the squash and cook another minute.  You are looking for a nice sear on each piece.  Place the cooked squash on a clean platter.  Proceed in this manner until all the squash is cooked.  You may have to add 1 TBS of olive oil between each batch.           

4.  Cook the eggplant in the same manner as the squash was cooked until all the eggplant is cooked.  

5.  Preheat the oven to 400°F for at least 8 minutes.  

6.  Add about 3 TBS of olive oil to the skillet and saute the thinly sliced onion until brown and caramelized but not burnt, about 1-2 minutes.  Spread the onions evenly over the bottom of the skillet.    

7.  Stir the chickpea mixture and add directly over the onions in the skillet and swirl to make sure it covers the entire bottom of the skillet.  

8.  Place in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes or until golden and the center is cooked.

10.  Bring the skillet out and sprinkle the ground black pepper and rosemary over the baked farinata.  Drizzle olive oil over the base.  Layer the seared eggplant over the base.  Layer the squash over the eggplant.  Spread the cut peppers over the squash.  Grate enough smoked mozzarella cheese to make a thin covering over all the vegetables.  

11.  Return to the oven and bake an additional 8 minutes at 400°.  

12.  Cut the finished farinata and serve in wedges while hot.  

4-8 servings; serve with a crisp green salad with a lovely balsamic vinegarette.   Buon appetito!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Third time is the charm...

Well folks, as of October 3, 2013, I have joined the gainfully employed workforce once again, this time at the same firm that laid me off in November of last year.  All I can say is that at least they hired me back and that should do wonders for my re'sume'.   Hopefully, this is the last job I will need, but if I need another job, they will see that S&L hired me 3 times and so it wasn't due to poor performance, just economic times!  

I will say that since the first (and only other time) I was laid off, employers choose prospective employees much differently than what I had been used to, in that they don't seem to want to meet prospective employees on a face-to-face basis unless there is something awfully special about their re'sume'.  I have never had as much trouble getting in front of someone as this past year.  I even tried getting an online gig, but all I got for my trouble there was someone trying to scam me.  Plus, I wonder what the employers were thinking...were they looking at my re'sume' and thinking they didn't want an old gal?  As it turns out, I am replacing a "younger model" who was very unreliable.  They could not depend on her showing up.  As I am cleaning up the aftermath of her unreliable work ethic, I'm not altogether sure she was as good at the job as they thought she was.  They were fed up.  So, I am working again.    

The bad side of getting employed now is that my vacation time is now on hold until I garner enough time to take one at work.  So, for now I will just put my head down, nose to the grindstone and get the job done.  Can't say I won't be enjoying the new found financial freer (not freedom) time.  Getting a real paycheck should help a LOT.  Once I get caught up and we are on a level playing field, I think I might see if I can get a couple of freelancing gigs I can do in my off-time to help better with the finances.  Maybe offer a records retrieval service that I can run from home and when it comes time to sell the house, I can take the job with me.  We will see...

Anyway, those are my thoughts for now.  Later!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Fall is here!

Thought I would post something as I've been looking through various recipes in which to use my Armenian cucumbers and snake gourds.  Speaking of the Armenians, I finally used up the 8.2-lb giant in some Phuket curry and Asian style marinated cucumbers.  I now have 4 pretty big Armenians that I need to use and am thinking half of them will be curried (but this time a yellow coconut curry) with the snake gourds (3 waiting and 4 in the garden getting bigger every day)!  Although the Armenians did get some damage from the aphids, they stood up to the aphids and the heat really well.  The aphids really didn't bother the snake gourds all that much and they seemed to love the heat.  I have lots of seeds that I harvested from the giant Armenian and will save more from the 4 that I have waiting.  The snake gourd I will have to let a couple of them get way past eating condition to save the seeds apparently as they need to be almost rotten for the seeds to be viable.

We've been eating on the beans pretty well and really haven't had enough to freeze or can, unless we just don't eat them.  The yard long beans give a nice portion with just 4-5 beans!  I have to make a note that the yard long beans really don't seem to like the heat as they have been doing much better with the cooler temps.  

It rained pretty good here today, my rain gauge said 1.2 inches!  My tomato, pepper and eggplant starts have been out on my potting/puttering bench for most of the week and are doing pretty good.  When things dry up I guess it'll be time to clear the garden of spent plants and put the starts out along with potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, parsnips, radishes (I like the daikon), onions and parsley.  I also need to plant some lettuce and all the brassicas I can get out there.  Oh, and peas!!  I'm thinking to plant cover crops of some type of beans which should do okay until about November or middle of December unless we get some cold weather.

I have really been pleased with the kales, mustard and lima beans.  I picked a nice amount of lima beans in two days and hope they will set another crop before it's time to pull them up.  The kale and mustard should make it through the winter.  I want to plant some arugula too.

I also need to screen compost bin #2 to add to the finished compost bucket and get that spread over the beds.  Then we can leave #1 to settle and finish while we are filling up #2 again.  All in all, I think the two compost bins have been a good investment especially with the help of the black soldier flies!!  The resulting compost is rich, black and spongy and has a nice fungal smell.  The garden will love it!

Well, that's enough for now!  Toodles!


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Time flies

Boy, times sure flies!  I've been busy working at home and busy with life in general, looking for work, working the garden, working on cleaning and packing up the house.  I am looking forward to a week of vacation on our property in the San Luis Valley to visit our little "home away from home" aka a 32-year-old 28-foot RV that has been bravely weathering the elements all alone in the wilderness on our back 40.  Last visit was about 2 years ago and for the second year in a row, we have arrived to very few signs of rodent entry but plenty of dead bugs (flies and moths).  Not sure what they find so irresistable to risk becoming dried up little mummies in the RV... maybe the leftover smells of my cooking?  It couldn't be much else as we leave no food or moisture behind. 

Anyway, it had been really nice to escape the heat of Texas (try 110 heat index) and get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life in the city.  Not that Denton is a big city, but compared to life on 40 acres in the south part of the desert valley - two different worlds!  Not to mention that I have to learn how to cook at high altitude when we go up there - it's 8900 feet above sea level and things just don't cook the same.  For example...

I decided to try to make some rice (brown) pudding and cheat by cooking the rice in the milk (in this case, vanilla almond milk) we brought with us and it took the rice almost 3 hours, yes that's right, 3 HOURS, to become al dente.  I brought it home to try to rescue as its certainly not creamy.  Also, when things come to a boil it takes very little heat to keep it going and when you take it off the heat, it cools off very quickly.

Last summer the heat sure did a number on my garden.  Got a few cucumbers, okra, basil and mustard and by this time last year I was getting arugula, but it was SPICY! Two tomato plants and most of my pepper plants made it through but by fall they were not doing much.  I remember thinking about plowing it all under and starting over except the arugula.  Well, this summer despite the heat, which was actually a bit late and we're still having higher temperatures, we have had quite a few nice cruciferous salads as well as some amaranth, cucumbers (mostly Armenian), beans, tomatoes, peppers, basil, dill, coriander/cilantro, fennel, onions, garlic, peas, lettuce, potatoes, Lamb's Quarters, purslane and spinach.  The cucurbits (cucumbers, melons, pumpkins) have had a rough summer though.  The aphids really hit them hard, some so badly I had to pull them up.  I released lady bugs and have seen a few adults and nymphs that look like little red and black alligators gobbling up the aphids.  In spite of this, I had a monster Armenian hide out until I found it weighing in at 8.2 pounds!  That was about a week ago and I'm contemplating how I'm going to use it.  Probably going to end up any number of things be the end of it.  I have been waiting for the temps to cool enough that I can stand to be out there pulling up things that need to go and planting new stuff like more brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, mustard, collards and the like).  Also, it's time to put in the root crops like potatoes, turnips, parsnips and carrots.   Several weeks ago, I started some new tomato plants and need to get them put out.  I have a couple of Roma tomato plants that I direct seeded that came up and look pretty good.  The Chocolate Cherry and Lemon Boy varieties have picked back up and the peppers as well.  The amaranth is in bloom as it is a burgundy type and is very pretty.  I'm just waiting for the seed to mature.  

I planted a few Jerusalem artichokes for the first time this year.  Was too late to order them from the seed catalog, but I found some at the grocery store and planted them out.  They have just begun to bloom and are so tall that I had to stake them and tie the group up.  I think one of them is almost 15 feet tall!!  I can't wait for harvest time.  I'm getting the new flush of beans, limas are coming on, the yard long beans are doing well and the tomatillos are ballooning up pretty well.  The asparagus is all ferned out and I can't wait until this coming spring when I can harvest some!!!

As I write this blog, I am waiting for my first loaf of gluten free bread to proof.  My sister Angel makes this bread in honor of our sister Renee as she is gluten intolerant.  I decided to give her version a try to celebrate the almost year long hiatus that my oven took.  I apparently burnt out the control panel cooking something that boiled over.  So, for the past year or so, I have been trying to do without an oven.  You sure don't realize how much you use the oven until you don't have one!  I tried "baking" a loaf of bread in my crock pot and while it wasn't a total loss, it was less than desireable.  For the most part, we have relegated ourselves to eating tortillas and bargain rack bread.  So, if I am successful in baking a nice loaf of bread, I will be ecstatic!

Well, I better get going.  Later!!