"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sweet Corn and Sweet Memories




If you’ve never had sweet corn Mexican style, you really have to try it. When I was a child, we rolled our fresh boiled ears of sweet corn on top of a cold stick of butter, unwrapped and set on the table for that purpose. The hot corn melted a deep divot in the butter, making each subsequent ear easier to baptize. Then we sprinkled the ears with salt and went to town. 

There’s nothing wrong with that “recipe.”  I believe it was Garrison Kieller, in his wonderful memoir Lake Wobegon Days, who first asked the question “yeah, sex is great, but have you ever had fresh sweet corn straight from the field?” I will not go on record as to my preference, but I will affirm that fresh sweet corn bathed in butter and sprinkled with salt is one of life’s great pleasures. 

The kind of super-sweet hybrid corn we enjoy in the states  was more or less unknown in Mexico until very recently. Traditionally, all corn grown in Mexico for human consumption is what we know as “field corn” and generally used as animal feed. A little more scientifically, it’s known as “dent corn” for the little dents that develop in the center of each kernel as it dries. This is the corn that Mexican families grow, dry on the cob, twist the kernels off and store in buckets, and eventually turn into nixtamal and grind into masa to make the staple Mexican food, tortillas, all year round. There are literally hundreds of varieties - white, yellow, green, blue, red, black, and speckled. 

While most of the harvest is let to mature and will be used as described above, some of it is picked “tierno,” or “tender,” and eaten fresh. It is nowhere near as sweet as our hybrid corn, but it has a toothsome chew, and a satisfying heft that fills you up as sweet corn does not. It’s a complex carbohydrate, for sure. 

In Mexican Spanish, a fresh boiled ear of corn is called an Elote. It’s one of the most common street foods, served slathered with mayonnaise, squirted with fresh lime juice, sprinkled with chile powder, and rolled in grated cotija cheese. The same assemblage of flavors can be served in a cup, made up of the kernels of corn cut from the cob and then dressed with the same toppings. In this form it’s called Esquites, and it’s my absolute favorite Mexican street snack. 

One of my finest memories is sitting on a wrought iron bench in Oaxaca’s zocalo on a fine summer evening, eating esquites and watching dozens of well-dressed couples of a certain age dancing to the music of a marimba band. One of my greatest ambitions is to be one half of such a couple, on a fine summer evening a score of summers hence. And lord, I hope there will be esquites to revive me after I tire of dancing. 


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Blackberry Blessings



Thursday, August 1, 2019

Preserving Log Update 8/1/19



Just a quick list to try and record most of what I've done this spring/summer before I forget:

- Cheese - approximately 20 lbs hard storing cheese. I'm not counting chèvre or other soft cheeses because those get eaten right away. Some of the hard cheese has been given or traded away, but I still have about 12 pounds in vacuum sealed 1-pound packages in the small fridge.

- Salsa - about 6 quarts. Really want to make more but I broke my fancy expensive blender canister. by leaving a spoon in it. Frustrating because I have plenty of ingredients for another 6 quarts right now, and I'm not sure what I can do with all those tomatoes instead, without a blender.

- Plum butter - on the stove right now.  A friend invited me to get plums from her tree, which is nice because we don't have any this year. I don't know what kind of plums these are - small, round, red, and sweet fresh but very tart when cooked down and pureed. I had to add quite a bit of sugar. The tree itself is gorgeous; very tall, and the leaves are as purple as the plums. Making about 8 pints, which is probably more than we can use. I would prefer to dehydrate, but these plums are clingstone, and when I try to pit them they turn to mush in my hands. I am dehydrating one load whole, pits and all, just as an experiment. But so far they've been in the dehydrator three days and no signs of getting dry enough yet.

- Pickles - two gallons kosher dills

- Six loaves zucchini bread in the freezer. I use James Beard's recipe (with less sugar) and its delicious and it freezes beautifully. However that only used up two zucchinis and they're six more on the kitchen table.

-Eight quarts frozen raspberries, two gallons frozen strawberries, 1 gallon frozen blueberries. Theres still time for more blueberries, and of course blackberry season is just starting. I want to lay in several more gallons of berries.

- ICE CREAM! good way to use up extra milk and eggs. I borrowed an ice cream maker from the Gleaner's Pantry and make two quarts of raspberry ice cream, and two quarts of rhubarb-vanilla (my rhubarb plant is still going strong). That reminds me -

- 5 bottles rhubarb wine. I tasted it when I bottled it and it was pretty decent. Hoping the bottled stuff turns out well after a few more months.



James Beard's Zucchini Bread

I reduce the sugar and oil both. by about 1/3, without ill effects. 

INGREDIENTS

    • 3 eggs
    • 2 cups granulated sugar
    • 1 cup vegetable oil
    • 2 cups grated, peeled raw zucchini
    • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 3 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/4 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
    • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

PREPARATION

    1. Beat the eggs until light and foamy. Add the sugar, oil, zucchini, and vanilla and mix lightly but well. Combine the flour, salt, soda, baking powder, and cinnamon and add to the egg-zucchini mixture. Stir until well blended, add nuts, and pour into two 9 x 5 x 3 inch greased loaf pans. Bake in a preheated oven at 350°F for 1 hour. Cool on a rack.




Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Fermentation Files (Pickle-Palooza)




I’ve been doing a lot of fermentation lately. There was the rhubarb wine this spring, which I bottled a few weeks ago (and sampled while I did, of course). I made a really amazing batch of curtido, which is basically sauerkraut with Latin flavors. That’s a little simplistic, but not wrong exactly. 

Curtido is heavily salted shredded cabbage with shredded carrots, thinly sliced red onions, oregano, and jalapeños (if you like). Traditionally it is barely fermented - just about the level of fermentation you’d expect if you made it the day before and then left it out unrefrigerated in a hot central-American climate. I made curtido but then packed it into a half gallon jar and pounded it as you do for sauerkraut. Two weeks later it was sour and delicious, the cabbage wilted but still crunchy. I just finished that batch yesterday, piled on top of black bean burgers slathered with mayonnaise. Delicious. 

A friend gave me a ten pound sack of organic red onions. I didn’t know how to use those up, so I asked in my Facebook group dedicated to fermentation if anyone had fermented red onions before. The response was enthusiastic, so I went ahead and tried it. I added several sliced Serrano peppers, because my goal was something as spicy and yummy as the pickled red onions you find as a condiment  on every southern Mexican table. I was very pleased with the result - but I thought the spicy pink brine was even better than the onions themselves. 

My favorite ferment will always be kosher dill pickles. Nothing is as satisfying as a salty, crunchy cucumber spear alongside a well made grilled cheese sandwich. We all love kosher dill pickles here, but even so I made too many last year. Too many being about five gallons. Eventually, they did all get consumed, but by November they were no longer as crisp and appetizing. Instead of eating them out of hand, I chopped them and put them into tuna salad or potato salad. 
This year I’m making two gallons. I imagine sometime in late September we will all be wishing I made more. 

And then of course there’s all the cheese I’ve been making... but that’s really another post. 

I encourage anyone who has ever been interested in lacto- fermenting to give it a go. It’s really entry-level food preservation. It’s low-risk and high reward. Here’s a neat chart I found in my Facebook group to help you get started. 









Thursday, June 20, 2019

Papa Fix-it-All

Tuesday a local, recommended appliance repair professional came out to our house and told us “you need a new fridge.” Homero told me he wanted to try to fix it. I rolled my eyes and said I’d give him two weeks, then I was buying whatever fancy fridge my heart desired. He ordered a $12 adaptor from Amazon that allowed him to refill the Freon. Today it came in the mail - two hours later and the fridge is cold again. 

He really lives up to his nickname “Papa fix-it-all.”

On an only slightly related note, I was absolutely certain that Freon was an element, one of the noble gases. I was so sure I told my family “I’d bet a hundred bucks right now. It’s on the right hand side of the periodic table of elements.... i think it goes Helium, Boron, Freon.....”


Homero: 1
Aimee:0 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Homero’s Birthday 2019


Carne asada. There’s no carne in this picture- just the traditional accompaniments of grilled nopales (cactus paddles) and green onion, along with the more American corn on the cob 




This handsome bench, along with another just like it, was my present to Homero. They were made by a local artisan - a guy who would probably find that title pretentious. Beautiful workmanship. They are all joined, made without nails. 




Nopales and cebollitas





Just a few of many accompaniments. Pico de gallo, salsa verde, queso botanero, and tequila :) 

It’s 2 am and I’m done, having worked since 9 am to make this a great party. I’m going to sleep and for god’s sake, homero, please remember to put out the fire with water.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Fermentation Files, Spring 2019



Spring finally sprang, and we’ve had a few weeks of beautiful weather. The grass grew all at once, the trees blossomed, and the rhubarb plant went wild. 


I love rhubarb, it’s exactly the kind of low maintenance perennial I want to fill my property with. But it is seriously prolific. By mother’s day I had already exhausted my family’s patience with rhubarb crisp, rhubarb pie, and rhubarb quickbread. So today I decided to start another batch of rhubarb wine. 

Last year’s rhubarb wine came out pretty good - dry, light pink, and quite quaffable. It’s nice to be able to start a wine in springtime, because most homemade fruit wines are only possible in the fall - blackberry, plum, hard apple cider. Rhubarb can be started now, in May, and be ready for drinking in September when the other wines are just getting started. 





It’s cheese season. The mama goats still have nursing babies on them, and will for the next few weeks. So I’m only getting about three quarters of a gallon daily, but that’s still plenty for making some cheese. 

This year I decided to switch up the cultures I usually buy.  In years past,  I have bought an all-purpose mesophilic starter that says it is suitable for chèvre, queso fresco, feta, and cheddar. And it is suitable for all those purposes.   But this year I decided to spend a little bit more for a fancier culture from France, and I’m so glad I did. My chèvre is leaps and bounds better than last year. It’s smooth, tangy, and delicious. It was a big hit at mother’s day brunch. 

Tonight I’m making cheddar with the same culture. I’ve made two batches of hard cheese before now, and they have been drying in the shelf during this nice dry weather. Today I broke out the vacuum sealer and sealed them up for long term storage in the fridge. That’s the best system I’ve yet found for keeping hard cheese at home without molding. It’s not ideal - the cheese doesn’t “breathe” if it’s vacuum sealed - but it does keep the cheese from molding for a good six months, which means we can enjoy cheese in December. 


Sunday, April 14, 2019

A Low Ebb (Spring of Fools)


I am not digging having a farm at the moment. 

It’s wet cold and windy and disgusting and muddy and the forecast suggests it will continue like this through the foreseeable future and likely until well after I have run screaming into the distance. 

The barn is still full of winter’s deep litter because nobody here is strong enough to muck it out, except my husband who refuses to let me pay someone to do it, but who also refuses to do it himself. “As soon as I finish this engine rebuild; as soon as I finish this transmission; as soon as everybody picks up their cars and I can take a couple days off...” As soon as Hell freezes over, he means, because Homero hasn’t taken a day off in months. Meanwhile, all I can do is keep throwing down fresh straw and making the whole problem deeper and more difficult to deal with. 

The Tom turkey is a vile monster who has injured two of the hens so badly that they needed to be isolated in the mama barn to recover. One of them appears to have a broken leg or something - she can’t stand up at all and so I’m afraid she has to be put out of her misery and into our freezer. The Tom, meanwhile, is angry about his missing hens and attempts to attack us whenever we step into the barnyard. He’s at least twenty-five pounds, better than knee high, and I’m not ashamed to admit I’m scared of him when he is hurtling towards me at top turkey speed, intent on battle. 
He’s going into the freezer too, as soon as Homero has time to do it, because I’m not going to try it myself. 

All the baby goats are sold. But it looks like we might lose another one. A couple who bought two bucklings took them to the vet to be disbudded Friday. I had told them that I don’t disbud, and tried to lay out the pros and cons fairly, but leaning towards leaving them alone. They decided to go ahead. And now one of the babies is in a bad way. His little brains are fried. He just stands in a corner and cries, can’t nurse or anything. 

I went to the vet for antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medicine, and steroids. This morning he’s unchanged, and I don’t think he’s managed to nurse. I can’t get a bottle into him either. He probably needs some tube feeding, but I’ve never done that before and am scared to try. Only good news on that front is that the new owners are very understanding. They trust that I’m doing my best and say they won’t blame me if I accidentally kill him while trying to tube feed him. 

Christmas, his mother, is once again being a shitty mom. She’s never really been a good mom - she kids easily and throws beautiful babies but she won’t let them nurse. Needs to be held. I’m sick of wrestling with her. Thinking I might try to sell her as an in-milk doe to somebody who just wants milk but not babies. 

Overall I’m feeling extremely dispirited and unhappy. I’m thinking it would be extremely nice to live in a little condo in the city, just a cute little one bedroom in a smaller building near some good restaurants and nightlife.

A building that doesn’t allow pets. 





Monday, April 8, 2019

......Or Does He? (Warning: Graphic Photo)


First, please enjoy this photo of adorable, healthy baby goats frolicking in the springtime, all right with the world. This is the reality for 8/9 babies born this year, and that’s not such a bad outcome. 

But now - 



This photo of the bite inflicted on baby number nine by my very own dog. There’s a story here - hold on before you condemn the canine. 

The last mama goat to give birth was Polly, last Thursday evening around 5 o’clock. She had a lovely set of twins, who both stood up and nurses with no problems, a boy and a girl. I was thrilled. However, when Homero went out the next morning to do chores, he found another baby in the ground, still wet and gooey, who had apparently been born quite recently. 

For those of you who aren’t goat breeders, it’s not normal at ALL for there be such a long delay between kids. No matter how many kids are in there, a normal birth usually takes an hour, maybe an hour and a half, tops. So this little guy was off to a rough start. It seemed he had aspirated some amniotic fluid. His lungs rattled and he was very weak. He couldn’t stand up by himself, and his mama ignored him. 

That’s a bad sign. I always pay attention to the mamas, they seem to be able to tell better than I can when a baby is not very viable. However, he was alive, so we went to work to get some colostrum into him. Throughout that day we bottle fed him every hour or so, and although very weak and coughing, he was getting some down. 

But there was clearly something wrong with him. His head was swollen, whether from the hard birth or whether malformed in some way was hard to tell. He stayed standing if we stood him up, but he couldn’t get up on his own and he didn’t try to walk. 

We had plans to go away for the weekend. I asked my good friend K., goat rescuer extraordinaire, if she wanted to try to care for him over the weekend. I let her know he was poorly and might not make it. She did want to, and in her usual way she went to work on him. 

She noticed, however, that he seemed to have a small wound on his leg. When she washed it and shaved him, it turned out not to be a small wound after all but a pretty serious dog bite. Overall the weekend, it got infected despite her care. When we got home, she let me know she thought the baby was suffering. 

I picked him up and took him to the vet. My gut instinct told me that the little guy was in his way out and I thought he should be put down, but I wanted to give the vet a chance to weigh in. There’s always a possibility he or she might say “no, no, all he needs is a course of strong antibiotics.” 

But my instinct was right. The vet told me his leg was actually broken, and that he seemed to have some neurological damage as well, whether from the hard birth or for whatever reason. His lungs were crackly with pneumonia. He had several complex problems. It went far beyond a course of antibiotics. 

And truthfully, that’s about all I was willing to invest in this kid. Even if he lived, he was still marked as a meat animal. If he wasn’t going to enjoy his year or year and a half on earth as a happy, healthy member of the herd, then it’s better to put him out of his misery right away. Which is what we did. 

As for Haku.... well, I’m fairly sure he wasn’t trying to kill the baby. After all, if a 95 pound German Shepherd wants to kill a newborn baby goat, he generally can do it without much effort. And Haku is so very, very gentle with the babies. He only wants to lick them all over. My guess is that he was attempting to help. 

Baby goats hide. In the barn, they hide behind hay bales. That’s their instinct. When Homero found this little guy he was hidden behind hay bales. I think Haku was trying to drag him out of his hiding place. My sister has a livestock guardian dog and she told me that he once injured a baby goat doing exactly that. 

In any case, there is one less baby goat in the world now. Poor little guy. But it’s good news for his mama, who now only has to raise twins. 






Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Haku Loves Baby Goats





....... or maybe he’s just checking to see if this baby is as tasty as he looks. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Four is Too Many




Christmas gave birth this morning, unaided, to quadruplets. They are all up and nursing, appear to be full term and healthy, and of course as cute as all get out. Three bucklings and one doeling. 

I’m not thrilled. Four is too many for a mama to raise alone. Having only two teats, even if she produces enough milk for all four (doubtful), the stronger kids will hog the teats and the weaker kids will starve. I’m going to have to pull a couple and bottle feed them, and I HATE bottle feeding. 

If there is anything in this world more frustrating than watching newborn kids try to stand up and nurse, it’s trying to get newborn kids to take a bottle. I’ve managed to avoid it most years, but I don’t think I’ll be able to this year. 

Christmas did NOT look big enough to have quads inside of her. I was expecting twins. She’s never had more than two before. 

Now I’m terrified for poor Flopsy! She’s twice the size of Christmas. She must have, like, nine in there. 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Scary Birds, Scary Eggs



The turkeys have finally started laying. I guess it took them a long time to settle down, after their repeated escapes and the traumatic process of catching them - traumatic for both the birds and for us. These mixed-breed birds are large, strong, excellent flyers, and very wild. I sustained several nasty scratches trying to catch them, including a six inch one across my cheek and jaw that I thought was going to scar. 


Which explains why, when I saw the eggs, I went back to the house for reinforcements in the form of Paloma and a kitchen broom. I made her stand at the entrance to coop and distract the turkeys with jabbing motions and loud gobbles, while I collected the eggs. It involved a certain amount of kicking, but we made it back to the house with the eggs intact and without letting the turkeys escape again. 

Hopefully, the turkeys will hatch it chicks this year, but so far I haven’t seen the Tom turkey do anything resembling an attempt to mate. When I open these eggs, I ought to be able to tell if they are fertilized or not. If so, I’ll leave future nests alone until I can tell if a hen is brooding them. If they aren’t fertilized, we’ll eat them. 

Paloma isn’t thrilled about that. I told her turkey eggs taste just like chicken eggs and once they are scrambled she won’t be able to tell the difference, but I don’t really know if that’s true. 

Guess we’ll find out! 




Thursday, February 28, 2019

Turkey Tale and Maybe Bears



These are our new turkeys. A neighbor was selling off her entire menagerie, and we got these pretty mixed breed ladies. She said they were layers, and went broody, but they haven’t laid any eggs here yet. They spent the first couple weeks locked up in the coop, and then we let them out into the barnyard. I always prefer to let my poultry free range if possible. 


It isn’t possible, however, with Haku around. The very first morning they were out, he chased them and scared them, and they flew away over to the neighbor’s property. I really don’t know what I’m going to do about that dog. We’ve had turkeys and chickens for years, and he’d gotten quite good about not chasing them, but we haven’t had any poultry in about six months, and I guess he “forgot.” I’m very worried about the future baby goats. That, however, is a worry for another day - a day about six weeks off. 

The turkeys spent two nights roosting in a horse chestnut tree on the fence line between the neighbor’s yard and Homero’s shop. We put out food for them, but when we approached, they retreated. They are good fliers. There wasn’t much we could do except wait and hope that they’d come back on their own. I wasn’t sure if they’d been here long enough to think of this place as home, but apparently so, because this morning they were back in the barnyard. 

We still haven’t been able to catch them and get them back into the coop, though. We’ll wait for dusk and hope they roost in the barn, then we can sneak up on them. I found a Tom turkey for sale nearby, and I’m going to get him tomorrow. If their former owner was telling me true, maybe they will hatch chicks this summer. That would be cool. 

While we were beating about the bushes along the fence line, Homero found something odd in an inaccessible corner. A sturdy cattle panel - heavy gauge! - has been severely bent, wrenched up off the ground more than two feet, making a big gap. It looks like it got hit by a car, but there’s no access for any vehicle - it’s deep in the brush.   



Last summer, while we were in Mexico, a friend of mine was coming by three times a week to make sure everyone had water and to enjoy the cherries and plums that we were missing out on. She told me she saw bear-scat a couple of separate times. Normally I’d be skeptical, but this particular friend grew up in the Yukon, and she knows bear scat. Also, there were multiple sighting of a young black bear within a couple of miles of our place. Maybe this is how the bear got through the fence. I really don’t know what else might have done it. I would have guessed a bear would go over a fence, not under it, but what do I know about bears? Not much. 

Haku, meanwhile, is on house arrest. 




Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Snow for Days (Sno-Crastination)



It’s a repeat of 2017 - snow up to the roof. This picture actually taken yesterday; it snowed more overnight. It’s been snowing on and off for a week. It’s still snowing right now. Or at least I think it is - the wind is high, so maybe it’s just blowing the same snow around. It’s hard to tell.



The drift outside Paloma’s sliding glass door is taller than the dog. 

It’s hard to guess how much snow actually fell, because of the incessant wind. There are bare patches, and there are shoulder-height drifts. That same wind makes it RAWTHER unpleasant to go outside. So, we aren’t playing in the snow or making forts or having snowball fights, we are huddled inside around our eletronic devices. 

Other snow-day activities: Downton Abbey marathon; bread baking, making valentine’s day cards with scissors and glitter glue; teaching the kids to play gin rummy. 

Snow-day activities I ought to do but most likely won’t:
Clean the fridge; fold laundry; sort the snack drawer and cabinets; take pantry inventory. And the biggie - taxes. 

I will have to go outside of course. The animals need liquid water and more hay. Our new turkeys are shut up inside the mama barn and they need food and water. The goats need more hay. I’m not looking forward to chores this morning. 

Update: My wonderful husband did the chores





I must be old. I’d much rather watch the snow through the window than go out and be in it. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Jelly Fail and Jelly Lessons



Pepper jelly


I am not an expert canner. I do a lot of water bath canning - at least, “a lot” statistically speaking. Most people don’t can at all anymore, so I’m on the upper part of the curve by default. In my circle, there are still a fair number of women who “put up” a significant portion of their family’s food every year. These women count their canning jars by the gross - I count mine by the dozen. My best estimate for my current supply is eight dozen - two thirds filled, one third empty. 

Nonetheless. Canning is a regular part of my kitchen activity. I can at least once a month year round, thanks to the Gleaners’s Pantry, and in the high season I might can once a week. This week, the Gleaners’s Pantry offered up beautiful peppers, and so I decided to make pepper jelly. 

Pepper jelly is an under appreciated condiment - it’s delicious and beautiful both. It makes an excellent Christmas present. At the end of the day, though, it’s jelly. And I’m not good at jelly. Judging by the number of websites devoted to helping people master jelly and/or fix jelly gone wrong, I’m not the only bad-at-jelly canner our there. 

Jelly, it seems, is rather finicky. Jelly requires a level of kitchen precision more often associated with wedding cakes or soufflés. By which I mean, I guess, the willingness and ability to closely follow a recipe, including actually measure all the ingredients and being in possession of a thermometer.

I have a thermometer - I’m both a nurse and a cheesemaker - but I cannot, for love or money, closely follow a step-by -step recipe. Therefore it follows that my jelly often refuses to gel. Today’s pepper jelly seems to have done just that.

While I was searching the internet for reasons my jelly might have failed to gel and for ways to repair a failed jelly, I learned a whole bunch of things I did not know about jelly. Most of those things only served to reinforce my suspicion that I may be congenitally incapable of the precision and consistency required, but in the firm belief that the information may be useful to others, I offer some of the tips I learned here:

- when removing the jars from the water bath, try to keep them vertical. Set them down gently. Any jarring motion or departure from the vertical can interfere with gel formation.

- leave the jars alone for two full days. It can take that long for the gel to firm up. Really!

- try putting a jar in the fridge. Cooler temps can help. 

If none of this works, you can open the jars and re-do the entire process. But holy mother of god, the instructions for determining what went wrong in the first place and how to correct it read like a third-year chemistry exam. Apparently, gel formation relies on a complex interplay of the variables Acidity, Pectin, and Temperature. Hence the whole following recipes thing. 

Here’s a list of sites that provide detailed instructions, but to be honest, my favorite advice is “call it syrup and move on with your life.”