Mom, Wife, Chef, Gardener, Dog Wrangler, Mom, Writer, Friend, Daughter, Sister, Mom, Creative Problem Solver, DIY Chick...figuring out life one day at a time.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Mom/Gardener: Rhubarb extravaganza

So, since I haven't posted in a few weeks, here is a rundown of my spring/early summer project: using up the several tons of rhubarb that grows in my yard each spring.
rhubarb plants

First off, luckily for me, rhubarb stalks will keep a week or two in the crisper drawer. That said, once I got a few strawberry rhubarb pies out of the way here's what else I did.

Orange-Rhubarb Compote
I decided to try out a sweet-tart-savory compote since I've read several recipes/articles about them. I just made up my own recipe though.
Start with a bunch of cut up rhubarb
Here is 8 cups of it.
Chuck it into a pan, add the juice and zest of two oranges, about 1/2 cup sugar, a tsp of salt and two or three star anise pods. Cook it until it is golden and jamy.

Then cool slightly and ladel into jars. The chutney is sweet/tart/spicy and very very yummy.

Stop for a minute and admire the beautiful rhubarb. Isn't it pretty? I love the red-green speckled stalks, so crisp and colorful.
Okay. So, still tons of rhubarb.  Good news, rhubarb freezes and thaws really well. So chop a bunch of it up and freeze in single layers on baking sheets, then place in freezer bags. Yay, rhubarb desserts for the rest of the year! (I have 3 gallon ziplock bags of it in my freezer as we speak)
Finally, try out a new recipe.
Sunken Rhubarb Cake
This is the recipe I used right here.You roast the rhubarb, then place the rhubarb pieces on top of the cake batter and bake.
The rhubarb, orange and almond all compliment each other really well, the cake is crumbly, moist and not too sweet. Definitely a winner.
sunken rhubarb cake

sunken rhubarb cake slice, tempting, no?
So there, that should keep me in rhubarb for awhile. Also, of course, I should mention the large amount of strawberry rhubarb jam I have made and will still make.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mom/Gardener: Think Spring

So it's official, according to the news April 2011 was the coldest April on record for our state. When you live at roughly 2200 ft elevation, that translates to a lot of 20 degree nights and barely 40 degree days. Needless to say I have been feeling like Spring is some far off, unreachable thing that will never, ever happen. Just like when you're a kid waiting for Christmas, only I've had enough of snow, thank you very much. Last week we had the miracle of a beautiful, sunny 52 degree day and I said "enough is enough" and I went to the garden store. One bag of potting soil later and I have officially started my herbs and lettuces in pots on the porch.
porch garden
It doesn't look like much now, but give it a couple of weeks, it will soon be beautiful and edible. Which is pretty much my criteria for growing anything. If I have to choose between edible and ornimental, I choose edible, which totally explains why the only flowers growing around my house are day lillies that some previous owner planted, they keep coming back no matter how much I ignore them.
Anyway, it felt so good to be out in the sunshine, the dogs sunning themselves on the porch, the baby playing in the grass, me filling pots with rich dark soil and sprinkling on seeds. It gave me the spring fix I needed.
There are other signs of spring around here too. For instance, in our back yard, six big green leafy mounds of rhubarb are getting bigger day by day.
I did not plant these, these giant rhubarbs were a very happy surprise the first spring we lived in this house. Some previous owner planted them and they come back strong, year after year. Last year I canned some awesome strawberry-rhubarb jam, not nearly enough of it though. I am looking forward to getting a big batch or three of it going in a couple of weeks. Not only is it delicious, but no one I have met gets sad if presented with homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam as a present.
One of my husband's favorite signs of Spring poked their little heads up this week too. While walking along a trail near our house my son and I came upon a big patch of morels. We live in good mushroom country up here, and even though I tend to be a little unadventurous of a mushroom hunter, there are a few obvious ones I enjoy hunting for, morels and chanterells mostly, both of which grow really well in the forests up here and more importantly are really hard to mistake for anything else.
mushroomy goodness
This particular patch, this early in the season, was of small mushrooms, but I think they are better the smaller they are. They are less likely to be buggy or too wet, and they are easy to cook, nice little two bite morsels. When cooking morels you need to forget the conventional wisdom of grocery store mushrooms that says "don't get them wet." you want to soak morels in several inches of water to get all the dirt and things out of all those little crags and furrows. After a nice long soak, drain them in a colander then place them on a towel to soak up the last of the water. Then you can dredge them in seasoned flour and give them a quick fry, or saute them with asparagus and peas for an all-things-spring vegetable medly.
The final, for now, important Spring development is that the chickens finally have their new home. My industrious husband spent two days converting an old outbuilding into a chicken coop.They love it in there, there is space to move around, some of the Rhode Island Reds are already checking out the nesting boxes, now all they need is their outdoor run. We have to transplant a few of the aforementioned rhubarb plants in order to build their run, but hopefully the rhubarb will survive the move, I have lots of family members who will be dissapointed come the holidays if I run out of strawberry-rhubarb jam.
Hey Mom, its sunny outside!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mom/Chef: Pineapple love

This is a pineapple.
According to Wikipedia (which everyone knows is totally true all the time) it is an herbaceous perennial originally from South America named for its resemblance to a pine cone. If you put it next to a baby in the shopping cart they will stare at it as if the pineapple were from outer space, tentatively reach out to touch it then pull back just before they do, several times, then they will try to knock it out of the cart.
I know this because my local grocery store had piles of these herbaceous perennials on sale for 99 cents each just this weekend. Not being one to turn up my nose at such a deal I naturally bought one. Once home, there are many things you can do with a pineapple, other than chasing the baby around the house with it. For instance, you could cut it down into quarters, trimming it up and getting it into a much more usable state, then say, slice up half of it and use it to make a pineapple upside down cake.
Like this.
Though you may want to remember to take a picture of it before you and your family eat most of it, a picture of a half eaten cake like this doesn't really inspire your audience, now does it?
Anyway, I used this recipe here which I borrowed from America's Test Kitchen. Only I didn't cook the pineapple first, just layered it in the bottom of cake pan and then cooked the butter and brown sugar for a few minutes until it was all melted together then poured it over the pineapple, then I went on with the cake part of the recipe as written.
You could also take on of those pineapple quarters and use it to make Sweet and Sour Chicken. Just chunk up the pineapple and set it aside. Cut up a few chicken breasts or thighs into bite sized chunks and place in a bowl. Put some salt, pepper, cornstarch and Chinese 5 spice into the bowl and toss it all together, then place the coated chicken pieces into a hot wok, after of course, you've put in about half an inch of oil in the wok. Cook the chicken until cooked through and crispy, then scoop it out of the wok and place it on a plate to the side. Pour most of the oil out of the wok, and dump some diced onion and diced red or orange or yellow bell pepper into the wok and cook until it all starts to soften. While the vegetables cook, get out a bowl or measuring cup and throw in some ketchup, sweet chili sauce, white vinegar, pineapple juice (or orange juice if you don't have pineapple juice) salt and cornstarch. Mix it all together and taste it to make sure it is properly sweet and sour. Now pour the sauce into the wok with the vegetables, add the pineapple chunks, and the chicken pieces and let it simmer until the sauce thickens and everything looks awesome. Serve it over rice. It might look a little something like this:
You know what would also be good in there? Cashews, but maybe that's just me.
What, you still have one quarter of that pineapple left, you say? Well, it's breakfast time, how about a smoothie? In a blender, place a handful or two of ice, the diced up pineapple quarter, one banana, and 1/3 of a can of coconut milk. Also a little more pineapple juice, or just water. Blend blend blend, and ta-daa, pina colada breakfast smoothie!

Or, you know, if it isn't breakfast, dump some rum in there and call it tiki time! It's all good with pineapples.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mom/Chicken Farmer: teenage mutant ninja chickens

Okay, not really. But at four weeks old, our chickens are officially teenagers, and like teenagers everywhere they are noisy, eat a lot, and they stink. We have to go down three times a day to give them new food, which may have to do with the fact that half of them are Cornish Crosses, meaning they are genetically engineered to eat and gain weight fast, but still, they eat a lot.
They are big now, and starting to lose their down and grow in their big chicken feathers, which makes them look weird and patchy.
What do you think you're looking at?
Also, something I was not prepared for since I didn't grow up around chickens or anyone who had them, was how strongly they smell. Their first day with us we had them in a large side closet in our house, this lasted exactly 24 hours. By that time we were all sneezing, had itchy, watery eyes, and were begining to second guess this whole chicken thing.
So down to the basement they went. This has worked out better, though after two weeks they started  smelling strongly enough that you could smell it in the house. Now it is bad enough that I am keeping windows open as much as possible during the day to air out the house. This is after we already change out the litter and clean their cage every other day. Needless to say we are getting tired of this. On my husbands next days off we are going to run electricity out the the shed cum chicken coop and get those smelly birds out of the house. Sadly it is still getting down into the 20's and 30's at night here so they have to have heat lamps out there. Also, another reason they have to get out to thier coop is that they are getting too big for their cage. Our large breed dog kennel was once plenty big for 15 chickens, but no more.
crowded chicken jail
So, chicken raising has its downsides, but I am still optimistically looking forward to our very first freshly laid egg and our first home grown chicken dinner.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mom/Pensive: 2 am reflections

So I can’t sleep. This is not new but is worse this week than normal. We had a very successful 1st birthday party for my son; here he is eating his birthday cupcake.

As fun as it was, it was also overwhelming and exhausting. 25 people crammed into our house, a baby not used to so much action and attention, we all came out the other side of the weekend sick. I started out last week up and down all night with a feverish baby, and ended the week with me up two nights in a row with a baby who had a cough and a nose too stuffed up to breathe out of. Thank goodness for baby Vick’s Vapor Rub, it got us through the worst of it. Now, tonight the baby is sleeping quite peacefully but I am here at 2 am because I have been up all night coughing. Not just an occasional cough, but huge, body wracking, have to run into the bathroom and cough a lung up cough. I haven’t been able to do more than doze fitfully because I am up once or twice an hour coughing. If my town had a 24 hour anything I would be there right now buying cough syrup. I know that there are one or two plain cough syrups without decongestants or anything that are fine for nursing moms, though one more night of this and I might say, ‘sorry kid, no breast milk for you’ and down some Nyquil. Ahhh, Nyquil, such fond memories… For now I am trying out peppermint herbal tea with LOTS of honey and lemon: honey to soothe a very sore throat and peppermint and lemon to (hopefully) strip the mucus out so the coughing eases up enough for me to sleep.
 Anyway, color me miserable. Now, it is not as dire as you might think, I actually got two solid, blissful hours of baby free sleep this morning when my mom, who was visiting for the weekend, and my husband took the baby and let me go back to bed. But two hours doesn’t make up for two weeks of too little sleep, because the baby was sick the week before the party too. I have found that I have reached a point where I have gone past stressfully tired, cranky tired, tearfully tired, and have come out the other side into a sort of Zen exhaustion. I am just accepting it and moving on. What I am not so accepting of is the unfairness of how the baby and the husband are both over the worst of this cold and I am still in the thick of it because my body literally cannot get the sleep it needs to heal. Between being up and down all night with a sick baby and up all day alone with him I am finding it impossible to get any rest. This is not just indicative of this last week; it is becoming kind of a theme. Is this parenthood? Do I get to be literally sick and exhausted for the next several years? Is this why 90% of the victims on “What Not to Wear” are moms? Is it because we aren’t allowed to sleep and become mom-zombies who are too tired to dress themselves in anything other than yesterday’s sweats or ripped jeans?
Now don’t get me wrong, I love being a mom. I wouldn’t give my son up for anything; you can pry him from my cold, dead, mom-zombie hands because you are not taking him from me while I am alive. But is there any room for any kind of balance? I’m beginning to fear that the urban stereotype of the suburban mom who doesn’t have a single hobby, interest or thought in her head other than the kids is not so much a stereotype as much as a truth. That scares me a bit. Not enough to never have another kid, mind you. I still think the baby needs a sibling, probably within the next two years. But still, if I don’t find the balance before then, I may very well end up a mom-zombie, constantly sick from lack of sleep, so tired that when I do get a night of blissfully sleeping baby I still can’t shut down and take advantage of it. Worrisome stuff.
Well, on a happier note, this tea thing seems to be helping a little, I haven’t had a coughing fit in half an hour, so I’m going to go make another mug and head back to bed. Maybe I can still catch a few zzzz’s.
mom-zombie and the birthday boy

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mom/Chicken Farmer: Chicken Day!!!

Today is the day! This morning, bright and early, we took the half hour drive into the nearby 'big' town to pick up our chickens. We are now the proud parents of 10 Cornish Cross and 7 Rhode Island Reds. I am naming the Cornish Crosses 'Dinner #1, Dinner #2, etc. to remind myself not to get too attached. The Rhode Island Reds I will name as they grow and become distinct personalities, since they are sticking around. We have a shed all picked out to be converted into a coop, and a nice warm brooder for them tucked into the closet. We were going to put them out into the shed, but we haven't run electricity out there yet and it started to snow again today! Apparently the 50 degree sunny weather yesterday was nature's April's Fools joke on us, because suddenly there is a fluffy white blanket covering what only yesterday was my muddy, early spring yard.
Chicks explore their brooder.
Everyone loves the chicks. I'm sure the dogs just want to eat them, but they are being pretty good about not hovering over the brooder, they only check on the chicks once or twice an hour, when they've forgotten what that cheeping noise is and have to find out. The baby, okay not baby, almost-one-year-old, finds them fascinating. He likes to stand at the cage, hang onto the bars and squeal at the chicks, which thankfully doesn't seem to bother them.
Speaking of the almost-one-year-old, he is going through a super clingy, only wants to be in mom's arms or playing with mom, scared of almost everyone else phase. This does not bode well for his birthday party next week. Also it means I have been writing this post in two minute incriments over the course of several hours.

more of the cute chickens.
Anyway, it has taken me so long to write this post that I have forgotten where I was going with it. To sum up: yay chickens! Here is a cute picture to wrap it all up.

Look Mom, Chickens!!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mom/baby chef: finger food finds

So I'm just going to ignore how long it's been since my last blog and jump right into it. My son has decided this last month that he doesn't want his pureed baby food, he only wants what his dad and I are eating, and he wants to feed himself, thank you very much! So I have been struggling to find baby friendly finger foods that will give him a healthy variety of the stuff he needs. Pasta, rice and bread are big hits, as is cheese. Also avocado (he is his mother's son, after all) and one morning he ate 3/4 of an entire banana by himself. He found the act of getting to take bites off of it really fun, unfortunately the resulting constipation reminded me that bananas are occasional treats, not for every day.
Last night I was struggling to figure out what to make for dinner that would allow me to use what I had at home and not run to the grocery store for one or two items, a bad habit I am trying to break. I ended up throwing together a pasta with lemon, capers, canned salmon (something that I have way too much of thanks to WIC) frozen peas and cherry tomatoes. It turned out surprisingly good, the bright flavors of the lemon and capers covered up the dull canned flavor that the salmon had. Imagine my surprise when the baby loved it too. I don't know why I didn't think of frozen peas before for him, but I guess I thought they would be a choking hazard, always the first thing I consider before introducing him to a new food. But peas are the thing now, and I'm happy because they are inexpensive and healthy, not to mention easy. Here is the rough recipe for the pasta I threw together, it is yummy, easy and inexpensive all good things for busy, tired mommies. Not being in blogging mode lately I didn't get any pictures of the dish, but here is Connor enjoying leftovers for lunch today showing you how he feels about the dish.
Peas, salmon and pasta are yummy!
Easy lemon salmon pasta toss

1/2 - 1 pound pasta depending on how much you want to make
2 cans salmon, drained
1/4 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 cup cherry tomatoes
fresh herb of your choice, I had tarragon. Basil and dill would be great as well.

Boil pasta according to package directions, save 1 cup of pasta water before draining.
In large skillet, heat some olive oil over medium heat. Saute onion until it begins to soften, add garlic and capers. Saute for a few minutes until garlic softens, then add canned salmon, cherry tomatoes and zest of lemon. Cook until salmon heats through and tomatoes begin to burst. Stir in pasta, pasta water, lemon juice and peas. Stir until most of moisture is absorbed, season with salt, pepper and herbs to taste.

Coming up in April, baby's first birthday and our first ever chickens!