Thursday, December 3, 2009

Clearing the Thanksgiving Leftovers

One of the problems with Thanksgiving is the grocery shopping: I always end up with left over celery. It takes up space in my refrigerator goes bad before I can ever use it up.

In addition to having leftover celery, I recently found baby portobello mushrooms for $1.79 (1/2 price) and button mushrooms for $.75 (regularly $1.99) at Kroger and purchased several packages.

So today was "clean out the refrigerator" day to get rid of leftovers and to process the veggies before they go bad.

I chopped the celery and bagged it and sliced and sauteed the button mushrooms and the baby portobello mushrooms. I chopped the last of the leftover turkey; half went into tonight's dinner (turkey and noodles), while the other half got bagged for future turkey enchiladas. One benefit of sauteeing all those mushrooms was the leftover mushroom broth--which I put in a pint canning jar, labeled, and moved to the freezer, along with all the bagged vegetables. The mushroom broth will make some awesome mushroom gravy at some point in the future.

My next project: cranberry bread and cranberry dessert bars to finish off the fresh cranberries I still have in my crisper...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A (Mostly) Organic Thanksgiving

I believe it was President Herbert Hoover who promised America "A chicken in every pot." Figuring turkey was close enough, I named my free-range, locally raised turkey "Hoover" in his honor. And Hoover was mighty tasty this Thanksgiving!

The fact that I named my turkey has weirded out a few people. And frankly, I would have gone to pet him (or at least see him) before his demise if he had lived a bit closer. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma (which I am currently reading), has mentioned that consumers are very much removed from the "animality" of our food due to our industrialized food system. Our cellophane-wrapped, styrofoam-packaged meats look very little like the animals from which they originally were carved, and we don't even call our meat the same thing we call the animal itself. Pig becomes pork, cow becomes beef or veal; only chicken and turkey seem to maintain any resemblance in name or look, and even then, they are often lumped together as poultry.

Just as missiles and machines and computers have made war morally easier in some ways (it is easier, for instance to send a missile flying overseas at a target where unnamed, unseen foes lurk rather than to look a foe in the eye while you gut him with a bayonet), our industrialized food system has made it morally easier for us to eat meat; after all, as a rule, consumers don't have to look their Thanksgiving turkey in the eye before slitting his throat.

By naming Hoover, I was trying to get a little closer to my food. Animals give their lives daily to help sustain us, and somehow it just seemed respectful to give him a name. I feel like I owe it to the animal to appreciate its sacrifice, and knowing that Hoover was happy, running around in a grassy area, living a turkey life before becoming my meal makes me feel better about eating him in some bizarre, ironic way.

This summer, I want a chance to at least watch a chicken slaughter, if not actually participate in one. If I can't bring myself to look a chicken--or turkey--in the eye before slaughter, I don't think I have the right to eat it.

In addition to Hoover, most of the rest of the meal was made of organic or pesticide-, hormone-, and antibiotic-free ingredients.

The candied sweet potatoes and garlic-parmesan mashed potatoes were made from farmer's market potatoes. The herbs used in the dishes were insecticide- and pesticide-free herbs from the farmer's market and my own garden, dehydrated and stored in spice jars for use in cooking. The raspberries in the White Chocolate Raspberry Bread Pudding (pictured) were organic, purchased at Meijer. Only the cranberry sauce really wasn't organic-based; I couldn't find organic cranberries anywhere!

More and more, I am moving to organic--or beyond organic--foods. It's easier than people think, and not as expensive as they might expect, particularly if consumers watch stores for organic food sales and then stack coupons.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Onion Chopping Block

You might remember an earlier post of mine about chopping onions. I chopped 5 pounds of walla wallas, leaving the entire house smelling of onion. Fumigation with various de-scenters didn't help much.

I think I found the solution for only $20 at a garage sale--a potting table! The hole in the table portion houses a plastic tub for soil, although I'll be using it for chopped onion. I'll be able to go outside and chop to my heart's content (I will probably don goggles this time) without smelling up the house!

It will also come in handy during planting season as I am starting seedlings and repotting.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back into the Garden...

It was sunny and 70+ degrees today, so I decided it was probably time to hit the garden and yank out the sunflower, okra, and tomato stalks and throw them on the burn pile. I managed to get out the sunflower and tomato stalks, but couldn't budge the okra stalks (picture at left). I had forgotten how thick they get and how tightly they hold the ground, unlike the sunflower stalks, which are a bit easier to remove. My low back was already hurting a bit from lugging boxes of books around inside to put on the Ikea book shelves, so I didn't have much oomph to put into the okra. I'll have to see if I can talk hubby into digging them out for me.

A few days ago, I decided it was time to harvest the last of the green peppers, no matter how small they still were. I had diligently covered them with kitty litter buckets at night and on days when the temperatures were supposed to get near freezing, and they had been uncovered for several days where lows were in the 40s. But then, when I went to harvest them, they clearly had not survived the cold, wet weather (picture at right). The plants were shriveled and brown, and the peppers were a sickly green, wrinkly, and sporting black rotting spots. Only a week before they were green and healthy looking. [sigh] The moral of the story is, I guess, to plant green peppers much sooner in the season. I knew it was a crapshoot when I planted them, but I was hoping to get at least one pepper! At least I have several bags of diced green, yellow, red, and orange peppers I nabbed at the farmer's market over the summer.

Once I had all the sunflower and tomato stalks on the burn pile, I took one last quick survey of the garden. I need to rake the grass clippings and compost a bit more evenly over the garden (a job for another day, because the garden is still a bit muddy). It's a very different sight from the lush, green garden of summer.

But wait...are those onions?

Yes! They are! I couldn't believe my eyes. The cold and wet had taken out my precious pepper plants, but the white onions I couldn't find because of all the other encroaching plant cover were growing up through four inches of grass clippings, and looking pretty healthy at that! I wasn't sure at first whether they were onions or shallots (I never did find my shallots), so I dug a couple up. They were small white bulb onions. The outer couple of layers were slimy and clear--probably destroyed by the cold--but the rest of the bulb looked healthy. They were too small to do anything much with, so I left them to rot in the garden, to provide nutrients for the soil for next season. What amazed me is that they had about 12 inches of green on them from the top of the bulb to the tip of the green! They really wanted to get to that sunlight!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Free Chicken from KFC on Oct. 26...But Do You Really Want It?

You probably remember that not long ago, KFC offered a coupon for a free grilled chicken meal that Oprah promoted. And then KFC ran out of chicken. People who held the coupons but didn't get the chicken meal were promised rainchecks.

Well, in a recent Associated Press article posted on Yahoo News, KFC has a new offer, no coupon needed: one piece of grilled chicken for each customer tomorrow (Monday), October 26. According to the article, "KFC executives are pinning hopes on grilled chicken to build stronger U.S. sales by winning over health-conscious consumers turned off by the chain's fried offerings."

So...if I am reading the subtext of that statement correctly, KFC is implying that its grilled chicken is healthy? I could tell you what I think of that implication, but I think it better if you arrive at that decision for yourself. In fact, you can get the information from the KFC Web site's Nutrition tab. Under Nutrition Guides, click on the link for the KFC Ingredient Statement.

For simplicity's sake, I've copy and pasted the ingredients from that KFC Ingredient Statement below for the grilled chicken--but you are welcome to verify the information. Here is the list:

KFC® Grilled Chicken
Fresh Chicken Marinated With: Salt, Sodium Phosphate, and Monosodium Glutamate. Seasoned With: Maltodextrin, Salt, Bleached Wheat Flour, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Cottonseed Oil, Monosodium Glutamate, Secret Kentucky Grilled Chicken Spices, Palm Oil, Natural Flavor, Garlic Powder, Soy Sauce (Soybean, Wheat, Salt), Chicken Fat, Chicken Broth, Autolyzed Yeast, Beef Powder, Rendered Beef Fat, Extractives of Turmeric, Dehydrated Carrot, Onion Powder, and Not More Than 2% Each of Calcium Silicate and Silicon Dioxide Added As Anticaking Agents.

I don't know about you, but I generally don't marinate my chicken in sodium phosphate and monosodium glutamate. Oh, and then season it with monosodium glutamate, chicken fat, rendered beef fat, and anticaking agents. Yum.

You go get your free, healthy, grilled chicken if you want. I think I'll just cook and eat one of my frozen free-range chickens without MSG and anticaking agents.

Loading the Freezer

I spent some time in the kitchen today doing a bit of rearranging. I put all the jars and bags of frozen food into the chest freezer, leaving mostly meat and some other odds and ends in the fridge freezer. It took 3 pictures of the freezer to get in all that I have preserved this summer. Keep in mind that I've already supplied several friends with food from the freezer and have used some of the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes now to cook with.

On the left, you'll see the bottom area of jars are stacked about two deep; the tray to the right of it slides over the top.

In the second picture, you see the more recent foods preserved (I want to make sure I eat the oldest first, moving to the most recent last). Some of the jars are stacked 4 high. I couldn't stack all of them that high, because in some of the smaller jars, I didn't leave enough head space, which caused the metal lids to puff up. When I use those jars, I'll toss the old lid and use some of the Ball plastic lids I picked up at Rural King.

Next to the jars, you'll see I have some of the shredded zucchini. I still have a LOT of bags of zuke shred, slices, and chopped pieces for winter soups and breads. Oh, yeah--and you'll see some chapati (whole wheat) flour I bought at the Indian grocery store. Reasonably priced and much healthier than white flour.

The last picture shows the freezer section that contains more chopped zucchini, the 5 lbs. of onion I chopped earlier in the summer (I've used a bit of that already, too), several bags full of 1/2-cup packs of chopped green, yellow, red, orange, and gypsy peppers, a pack of sauteed button mushrooms and a pack of sauteed portobello mushrooms. I picked up a couple of packages of oyster mushrooms on manager's special yesterday that I need to sautee and add to these.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with this summer's preservation efforts. We won't have enough food to keep us through the winter, but we'll certainly have enough to supplement what we have to buy at the store. Cooking is much easier, too, when you don't have to take the time to saute mushrooms or chop onions--just open a bag and dump them in!

Next year, I need to get more organized about preserving. That will give me something to blog about this winter: changes I'm going to make to simplify or make more efficient the food preservation process.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Bug Yeller

I know she looks sweet, but she is really quite fierce. Well, not fierce, exactly. Her name is Davita, but she goes by various other names that may not be repeated here. She can be quite loving, but what gets her into trouble is chewing on anything that looks like a string. That includes string, iPod earphones, electrical cords, fringe, sweat pants ties, shoestrings, yarn, and more.

Her role in our little homestead is to yell at bugs. She doesn't really catch them, although if they are slow enough and within reach, she might eat one occasionally. Mostly, she just yells at them in this strange, chatty, broken squeak.

The problem is this: the bugs don't listen.

We still have some flying gnats, although I've trapped and drowned most of them with my apple cider vinegar trap. I expect they'll be gone soon. But now, of course, we have the Asian ladybeetles attempting to invade. In fact, our sliding glass door strip is littered with their dead bodies.

I'm still nursing my pepper plants along in what's left of the garden. Each has at least one pepper growing on it, and a couple of them are soooooo close to being large enough to pick! I've had the kitty litter buckets off of them for the last few days, and as long as the temperatures stay in the 40s-60s range day and night, I'll let them breathe. I'm watching carefully for any impending frosts, and will probably simply cut my losses and pick the peppers before then.

Tonight I chopped up 12 peppers--9 green and 3 gypsy peppers--from last weekend's farmer's market. They're in the small freezer in 1/2-cup packs, and tomorrow I'll put the bags in a larger Ziploc in the chest freezer. I also purchased several herbs at this weekend's farmer's market: parsley, sage, rosemary, and lavender (nobody had thyme, so I can't sing the song). The sage is spinning in the dehydrator as I write this; tomorrow, in will go the lavender. I don't like to dehydrate more than one herb at a time; I want to concentrate their oils and scents rather than mix them. I am, however, looking forward to trying some recipes with lavender, perhaps even some lavender sweet tea. Mmmm.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Of Geese and Gardens

It is always a sad day for me when I see geese migrating. I know what that means...winter is on its way.

While I am happy to be slowing down on the food preservation (and will be happier still when I get rid of the last of the gnats that are plaguing our kitchen right now), it's sad to see the garden lose its foliage and color. In fact, that's one of the things I dislike so much about fall and winter; once the leaves are done turning, the sky and land turn gray and seem to stay sunless and gray until mid-March.

I put up 5 1/2 pints of tomato sauce tonight, the last batch of tomato anything I'll be freezing for the season. I did cut the heads off the sunflowers and will try hanging them in the garage to dry, but it may have been a bit too early to cut them. I didn't have much of a choice, since we have had dire frost warnings lately.

The only item left in the garden that's producing at this point are my pepper plants. I covered five of them with kitty litter buckets to protect them from the frost and left two exposed. I was so tired by the time I got the five buckets out and cut off the sunflower heads (it was 41 degrees and I had a raging head cold), that I gave up on the other two plants. I feel bad about that, but a person can only do so much. I peeked under one bucket yesterday, and the little peppers seem to still be growing. We'll see, I suppose. One pepper: that's all I ask. Give me one pepper from my plants this year!
Yesterday, hubby and I did a bit of garden work. He mowed the yard and bagged it, dumping the mowed grass and leaves into the garden for winter mulch. He also took down the garden fence and pulled up the fence stakes.

My work took place in the garden itself. I pulled up all the tomato plant stakes and separated out the good stakes from the bad stakes. Bad stakes went into the burn pile; good stakes went into the garage for next year. Bamboo stakes I will never use again--I nearly put my eye out on one of them when I was harvesting tomatoes about a month ago. Plus they don't bear weight very well: they bend. The green bread ties (well, they aren't really bread ties; they're much longer. But they look like bread ties) are NOT going to be used next year--they cut into the tomato plants as the tomato plants grow and have to be pulled off the stakes at the end of the year. I'll have to try something softer, more pliable, that can simply be allowed to stay in the garden to become compost at the end of the year.

I used the compost from the compost bin and the still-rotting fruits and veggies in the bin to layer over part of the garden. Then, newspaper shred over that, and the grass and leaf clippings on top of that. Some of the garden still isn't covered, but I have more time to do that before winter sets in. If, that is, we get one more good mowing day in at least. I still have to take down the okra stalks, too.

I definitely need to pay a lot more attention to my compost bin this year. I basically ignored it this year and didn't get the amount of compost out of it that I should have and could have. I'll make a checklist over the winter based on my blog entries of things I want to do differently for next year's garden.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Slice 'Em and Dice 'Em...But Then What?

Yesterday I hit the farmer's market. I had planned to purchase more pork and chicken from my favorite meat vendors, but Twin Oak Meats and TJ's Free-Range Poultry weren't there. (The other meat vendors who were, unfortunately, finish their cows on corn. No. No. No.) They're excused, though, because it was a crappy day--rain off and on, chilly, and overcast. Not many customers were there, either. I was feeling better (had a fever all day Friday from some unknown bug) and decided to brave the weather anyway.

So I bought some lovely peppers from Blue Schoolhouse Farm and some tomatoes to supplement my recent meager harvest. I bought the tomatoes from O'Rourke Family Farms, and they have some lovely Valencia tomatoes--the big orange ones in the picture. They are almost Beefsteak-like in their meatiness and juiciness, but a bit sweeter and maybe even less acidic. At least it seems so to my lay palate.

One of the things I love about the farmer's market is the friendliness and generosity of the farmers. Often you can get a deal without even asking for it! Buy enough, and they'll often throw in some slightly damaged or overripe goods that are still perfectly fine. In this case, Mr. O'Rourke (I'm making assumptions here) threw in some tomatoes that had spilled on the ground, keeping him from selling those to a customer. I wash my tomatoes anyway before processing, so it was no biggie to me. Thank you, O'Rourke Family Farms!

Now here's the problem: what do I make with all these tomatoes? I skinned and diced them this evening and put them in the refrigerator until tomorrow. I've ruled out salsa--I already have more than I can probably eat over the winter. The plum tomatoes I'm saving to add to others I harvest from my garden (no frost yet) or buy at farmer's market; I'll turn those into tomato paste. I don't use tomato paste very often at all, so I don't think I'll need a lot. The rest of the tomatoes will either become chili sauce (although again, I think I have more than I can eat), tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, or perhaps both. I do know I won't have many more tomatoes from the garden for a batch of anything, and there are few tomatoes at farmer's market since tomato season is essentially over.

But maybe I should turn the diced tomatoes into something else. Any suggestions? I'm new at this food preservation thing, so I'm open to advice from you more experienced gardeners.

Oh, and by the way, the 9-grain bread turned out really well. I love breadmakers!

Attack of the Killer Wasp Babies

I've mentioned hornworms before and provided pictures, but those hornworms were healthy (until I picked them off and threw them into the sun for the birds, stomped them, hit them with a dropped rock, or placed them in a spiderweb). I haven't seen any healthy hornworms in the garden for a little while, and the picture at left provides some evidence for why that may be so.

This hornworm is dead. See the little white things hanging all over its body? Those are the parasitic wasp eggs I have mentioned. You can't tell from this picture, but these eggs were actually wriggling when I took this shot. See the brown marks all over the hornworm? Those are where other egg sacs were attached; then the wasp babies actually hatched and breakfasted upon Mr. Hornworm.

When you see a hornworm with wasp egg sacs, you are supposed to leave it, so I did. Feed on, little babies!

Warm Applesauce for a Chilly Day

Thankfully, the cloud cover once again kept the temperature from going low enough to frost. But it has been chilly and rainy off and on today, a dreary fall day.

Which made it a good day to take the Gala and Golden Supreme apples I got from Country Mist Orchard and turn them into applesauce. I started the endeavor a bit late, and finished up about midnight.

I made two batches: one with the Gala apples, using brown sugar; the other with the Golden Supreme, using granulated sugar. They both have a very nice flavor, with the Golden Supreme being slightly sweeter, yet mild. I made triple batches of the recipe for each of the two varieties, and ended up with 4 1/2 pints of each sauce. The recipe comes from the Betty Crocker Cookbook. I leave the skins on my apples for extra fiber and leave the apples somewhat chunky. I don't care for the completely smooth applesauce; it reminds me too much of baby food.


4 med. apples
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. packed brown sugar or 1/3 to 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

Heat apples and water to boiling over medium heat; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally to break up apples, until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Heat to boiling; boil and stir one minute. About 3 cups.

In addition to the two batches of applesauce, I sliced up most of the recently picked okra and started the dehydrator. By tomorrow, I'll have lots of dehydrated okra slices for soups and stews this winter. I already have half a jar full (shown on top of the dehydrator). And no, I don't run my dehydrator with the jar sitting on top.

I'm also baking a loaf of 9-grain bread, which should be done by 2 a.m., about the time hubby gets home from his rock band gig. The kitchen is fully of that wonderful yeasty bread smell right now and is making me quite hungry!

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Last Harvest of the Season?

It is supposed to get down to 35 degrees tonight, which is very close to frost temperatures. If it frosts, my garden is finished, so even though I didn't feel well, I got outside this evening and harvested what I could.

My tomato plants have just about stopped producing altogether, and the little bit of color you see in the picture at left comprises the remains of tomatoes that worms, grasshoppers, and other vegetarians have left me.

Still, I managed a small harvest today: 2 Best Boy, 1 Genovese Costoluto, 10 plum, 1 yellow, 3 purple, 2 Orange Banana, 1 Beefsteak (albeit with some flesh wounds from some critter), 2 Brandywine, 101 Sun Sugar, and 6 Sungold Select. The tomatoes are scarred, eaten on here and there and, in some cases, really picked a bit too soon. I'll need to place them in the windowsill to ripen, but I thought it best to bring in any that had the potential to ripen so they weren't wasted by frost.

In addition to the tomatoes, I ended up with 2 green onions (I planted these very late as seed, and although I planted an entire row, the cucumbers choked them out and only two survived), 11 okra, and a last handful of green beans.

What saddens me the most about this harvest being potentially the final harvest of the year is the fact that my pepper plants are just starting to produce peppers. I have baby peppers on each plant, some larger than others, and would like to see a few of them grow into a more edible size. Even if we don't get a frost tonight, I fear that a frost is just around the corner. I mean, look at this little guy, trying so hard to grow! But you can see that the plant itself, while green, is showing some signs of disease, probably brought on by the overabundance of chilly rains lately.

Also, I'm sad that I won't get any sunflower seeds. The heads are heavy with seeds, but the seeds won't have a chance to finish and their shells harden before a frost comes along. I was really looking forward to roasting those seeds for winter consumption.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Hope There's Chili Sauce in Heaven

Tonight I cleaned the now-ripe tomatoes from the window sill, took the previously washed tomatoes out of the refrigerator, and cored, peeled, and diced them for--you guessed it--another batch of freezer chili sauce! (The recipe for this scrumptious sauce is provided in my previous chili sauce post.)

I took a picture of the diced tomatoes before I added any of the other ingredients. I wanted to show the variations in the coloring from the different heirloom varieties that combine to make this sauce. I like knowing that my chili sauce is special, created from tomatoes that have been grown for years, perhaps even centuries, the seeds passed from one farmer to another. Who knows how old some of these varieties are! The combined flavors make the chili sauce different every time, which adds to its specialness.

After adding the remaining ingredients, I brought the mixture to a boil at about 8:30 p.m., which means I'll be periodically stirring to keep the sauce from burning on the bottom (although the nonstick surface of the pan is a tremendous boon in that regard). That means I'll be up until about 11:30 this evening stirring chili sauce, but oh my, it is definitely worth it! I did take a nap today, so I'm good to go.

The pungent smell, a mixture of cider vinegar, tomatoes, and the sweet odors of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and more, are already wafting in from the kitchen as I write this, and I think Heaven can only be heaven if there's chili sauce.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Peaches, Salsa, and Chili Sauce...Oh, My!

I've been trying to get peaches for about a month of farmer's markets, but every time I get in line, they run out of peaches before I can get any! The farmer only has apples left.

Of course, last Saturday when I went to the farmer's market for Gala apples, they were out of apples and only had peaches! Mildly disappointed that apparently Gala season is over, I bought a bag of peaches and let them ripen for a few days on the counter. Then I peeled and sliced them, added a small amount of sugar, and froze them. Hubby and I ate some of them tonight over pound cake, and they were delicious! Canned peaches (from the store) have nothing on these peaches...a little bit of heaven!

I also made another batch of salsa, ending up with 5 1/2 pints. I have enough salsa now, so I'll have to turn my tomatoes to other endeavors. Like tonight's chili sauce.

I don't know why I thought of making chili sauce, but when it crossed my mind, I knew I was going to make it, no matter how much trouble it was.

For a while--I don't know whether it was one season or more than that--Mom was into canning. I remember her making dill pickles, canned green beans, maybe some other things. Mostly, though, I remember the delicious chili sauce she canned from our garden tomatoes. We used to eat the chili sauce on hot dogs primarily, and I would always spoon it on the hot dog liberally. I don't eat hot dogs today, but I bet it would taste good with bratwurst!

Unfortunately, I don't have her recipe, so I went hunting online for a freezer recipe. I found one on a site that claimed to be from The Joy of Cooking. I own that recipe book, but never looked to see if it is indeed the same recipe. I followed the online recipe, but cut it down to a more manageable size. The original recipe called for 20 pounds of tomatoes, but since I do not yet have a food scale, that wasn't going to work. Plus, I was pretty sure I didn't have 20 pounds of tomatoes. I cut it down to 8 cups of tomatoes (that's after they are cored, skinned, and diced, mind you), and it made a reasonable amount: 4 pints.

As I was reading through the recipe, alarm bells went off. When I think of chili sauce, I think of a slightly warm, tomato-y mixture with perhaps some onions and green peppers in it. This recipe called for those ingredients and other ingredients one would expect. But then it called for a whole host of weird ingredients--at least they seemed weird to put into chili sauce: brown sugar, allspice, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. I looked at a couple of other chili sauce recipes, and these ingredients showed up there, too. So I thought what the heck, I'll give it a try. The worst that could happen is the batch turns out nasty and I dump it out and have wasted some produce and 4 hours of my time.

Once the concoction started cooking, though, I was back in my childhood, savoring those chili-sauce smothered hot dogs. And when the batch was finished, it was delicious! So, I share that recipe with you here.


8 cups tomatoes (after coring, skinning, and dicing)
1 1/2 green peppers, seeded
3/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 large white onions (I used sweet walla walla onions I had previously chopped and frozen)
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup cider vinegar
2 1/4 tsp. coarse salt (I don't know what this means, so I used my salt grinder salt)
3/4 tsp. black pepper (ground that, too, since I was using grinder salt-lol)
3/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. celery seed
1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard

1. Core, peel, and dice tomatoes.
2. Dump tomatoes into a nonstick or enamel-coated pan (you don't want the tomatoes to react with metal).
3. Add the remaining ingredients.
4. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer on low, stirring occasionally to keep from burning on the bottom.
5. Continue simmering until mixture is thick, about 3 hours.
6. Place the pan in a bowl of ice water to cool the mixture quickly.
7. When cool, transfer to freezer-safe containers (I prefer freezer-safe canning jars) and freeze.

Catching up the Harvests

It's bad enough that we have soybean aphids plaguing us outside here in Central Illinois, but worse is the fact that I have fruit flies or gnats in my house. I've harvested three times this week, and I can't keep up with the produce...which is good news for the fruit flies, because they get to feast until I get the food processed.

At left you see harvest #1 (Monday): 4 Brandywines, 1 Peach Tom, 1 Orange Banana, 2 greenish yellow, 6 purple, 8 plum, 21 Sungold Select and 53 Sun Sugar tomatoes. Oh, yeah--and 5 okra. I read that I could dehydrate okra to use in soups, so I experimented with these five. I sliced them thinly, placed them on the dehydrating tray, and--voila!--24 hours later, I had tiny little withered okra slices. The dehydrating worked well, and I stored the dehydrated okra in a canning jar.

Harvest #2 (Thursday): I didn't feel like picking sun sugar tomatoes again, so I skipped over those. We had gotten some rain we've been needing, and the tomato plants seem to be perking up again. As long as they are making fruit, I'll continue to find uses for the tomatoes! At this point, since I've been making tomato sauce and salsa, I'm just combining all the varieties together. The flavor of the finished sauce or salsa is different every time depending on the kinds of tomatoes that went into the sauce, but it's all good. This haul brought in 10 more plum tomatoes, 1 Genovese Costoluto, 3 Orange Banana, 3 Brandywine, 2 greenish-yellow, 4 Best Boy, 2 Yellow, and 6 purple. Plus, I harvested a handful of greenbeans (I'm not going to count them, sorry) that I cooked up for dinner. They were very tasty! The green beans were hiding beneath the zucchini, and now that those plants are gone, the green beans are taking off. I only have a couple of good plants (thank you, bunnies), so I'll be lucky to get a couple of meals worth.

Harvest #3 (Sunday/today): As you can see, the tomatoes keep on coming, thanks to the recent rain, and the okra is now producing well. Today's take included 2 Beefsteaks, 2 Brandywines, 3 Best Boys, 1 yellow, 1 Peach Tom, 2 Orange Bananas, 12 plum, 2 purple, 22 Sungold Select, and 74 Sun Sugar tomatoes, with a side of 20 okra.

I've got another layer of okra dehydrating (some of the larger okra), and tomorrow I'm going to fry up some okra for dinner. Meanwhile, I got all my tomatoes washed, and the ones I haven't processed yet are in the refrigerator, protected from the house gnats.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Recipe: Fresh Garden Salsa

I was talking to my friend Teresa yesterday about the salsa I made and she asked for the recipe. Since I was going to be making another batch, I figured I'd take a photo and then offer up the recipe.

The basic recipe comes from a small book in the Learn How Now! series titled Super Salsas. I was looking for a good, basic recipe, and of all the recipes I looked at in my various recipe books, none seemed quite what I was looking for. They always seemed to have at least one ingredient that just didn't seem to belong. Their recipe is called "One Basic Recipe = Infinite Variations." I'll give you the recipe below, but true to form, I adapted it, so I'll offer my adapted recipe below theirs.


4 medium tomatoes
1 tsp. garlic
1/2 c. red or white onion
2 roasted jalapenos
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 tsp. salt

1. Dice tomatoes, mince garlic, and chop onions.
2. Wearing gloves, seed and chop roasted jalapenos.
3. In a large glass bowl, mix all ingredients.
4. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.

Here's my adapted version:


4 medium tomatoes
1 heaping teaspoon minced garlic (I get mine at the dollar store; it's the minced garlic in its own juice, not the dried minced garlic)
1/2 c. chopped green onion
Old El Paso or other brand chopped jalapenos to taste
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 tsp. sea salt

(This makes enough salsa for 2-4 people who are healthy salsa eaters. I triple the batch so I can freeze some for later use. I'm not sure how the frozen salsa will turn out--it's an experiment.)

1. Core, blanch, and peel tomatoes. (I used several varieties of tomatoes for the triple batch I made: Brandywine, Plum, Yellow, Valencia, and Best Boy. Any tomatoes will do if they are fresh; if you are trying to make this salsa in the winter when the only tomatoes available are from the grocery store, I recommend experimenting with canned diced tomatoes.)
2. Dice tomatoes and dump into a glass bowl.
3. Add minced garlic, chopped green onion, jalapenos, lime juice (by the way, for the triple batch I only increased the lime juice to about 2/3 of a cup), cilantro, and sea salt.
4. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

If you can't eat jalapenos (I love jalapenos, but they do not seem terribly fond of me), try using chopped green chiles instead.

WARNING: If you are going to touch jalapenos, whether you will be roasting them or using the pickled ones, WEAR GLOVES. Jalapeno oils tend to stay on the skin even after repeated washings, and I can tell you from experience that jalapeno juice in the eye is NOT a good feeling. I have found, though, that if I get some jalapeno juice on my hands, the Veggie Wash that I use works very well at removing the oils!

Experiment with the recipe and have fun! The salsa is very fresh tasting--better than anything you'll find in a restaurant.

Natural or Unnatural? KFC Honey Sauce and Buttery Spread

Ladies and Gents, it's time once again for that delicious game show, Natural or Unnatural? But before we get to today's product, a story.

I stopped at Kentucky Fried Chicken on the way home on Friday since I was too tired and lazy to cook. I ordered a couple of 2-piece meals, and the window attendant asked whether I would like butter and honey.

"Sure," I replied. After all, I love butter and honey on biscuits; why would I say "no"?

Once home, I unpacked the plastic bag (which I will reuse, of course) and found the honey and butter packets. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the packets were labeled honey sauce and buttery spread!

What's that, you say? Unnatural? Because of the words sauce and spread? Well, that very well may be, but you can have spreads and sauces made from entirely natural--really natural--ingredients. (Reminder: When I write natural, I mean ingredients that are grown in nature as a plant or animal.)

But you are right that words such as sauce and spread may be indicators that what you are about to eat is either non-food or that it may contain ingredients that aren't grown in nature. Let's take a closer look at KFC's honey sauce to see what we find.

If we look closely at the printing on the back of each packet, we find that the honey sauce contains the following ingredients: high fructose corn syrup, sugar, corn syrup, honey, caramel color. Notice that honey is the fourth ingredient, after HFCS, sugar, and corn syrup. HFCS, of course, is unnatural; sugar is fine. Corn syrup--I'm not too sure about how it differs from HFCS, although I have read it is not as bad for you. Caramel color--why would you need caramel color for honey? Isn't it already that color?

To determine what ingredients honey contains, I took a look at one of the jars of honey I purchased at market. Here's the ingredients list: honey. I looked at another container of honey I purchased at a stand in Florida that contains tangerine essence and found these ingredients: honey, tangerine oil. No HFCS, no sugar, no corn syrup, and definitely no caramel color. Needless to say, I didn't eat the packaged sauce and instead used the honey in my cabinet.

On to the buttery spread. The word spread, of course, makes one suspicious right away. The fact that no ingredients are shown on the packet is disturbing, too. So I visited the KFC Web site and clicked on the Nutrition tab. I clicked on the KFC Ingredient Statement link, which pops up a PDF document with a list of ingredients for each of their menu items. Um, guess what isn't listed? You got it: the buttery spread (I didn't see honey sauce on there, either).

By the way, I recommend taking a look at this sheet. The only thing natural on the entire page is the sweet corn--the ingredient listed is corn. Other than that, you are looking at a whole lot of unnatural stuff and preservatives. For example, do you make biscuits at home? I bet you don't use most of these ingredients when you are making them: Enriched Flour Bleached (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Partially Hydrogenated Palm Kernel, Soybean and Cottonseed Oil, Buttermilk, Sugar, Baking Soda, Salt, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Nonfat Milk, Sodium Caseinate, DATEM, Whey Protein Concentrate, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Whey, Wheat Protein Isolate, Natural Flavor. Liquid and Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Salt, Soybean Lecithin, Natural and Artificial Flavor, TBHO and Citric Acid Added to Protect Flavor, Beta Carotene (Color), Dimethylpolysidoxane, an Anti-foaming Agent Added.


Striking out on the ingredients list, I took a look at the KFC Nutrition Guide. No mention of buttery spread (or honey sauce) there, either. So, I called the KFC hotline provided on the Web site: 1-800-CALL-KFC. From about 7:35-7:40 p.m., I spoke with Madison, the very nice woman who answered my call. She attempted to call up butter spread on her ingredients list, but she didn't have that information, either (nor did she have the honey sauce information). She took my cell number, name, mailing address, and e-mail address and indicated that she would report this to someone in upper management and ask him or her to e-mail the information to me as soon as possible. When I receive that information, I will update this blog.

Until then, I'm not eating the buttery spread.

UPDATE 10:20 pm Sunday, Sep. 20, 2009

I received the following e-mail from KFC Customer Service:

Thank you for your request in regards to obtaining a KFC ingredient list on our menu items. It is always a pleasure to hear from one of our loyal KFC customers.

Per your request, please find a link that will allow you to view our ingredient list.

I tried to reply to their e-mail with a note, indicating that their buttery spread is not on the ingredients list, but the e-mail was returned for failed delivery.

Kudos to KFC for getting back to me so quickly; unfortunately, this still ranks as a Customer Service FAIL in my book.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Yesterday's Harvest; Today's Market Purchases

While I was out taking pictures of my creepy bug infestations yesterday, I also grabbed a few tomatoes that caught my eye: A couple of brandywines, a Best Boy, and a plum tomato.

I was very pleased to note that my pepper plants are getting blossoms on them now. I am worried, however, that I won't get peppers from them quickly enough to beat the frost. We'll have to see. I don't know if I have the energy to build a cold frame for them--I'll have to do some looking online and see what it takes. I just planted too late, I think, but time will tell.

I stopped by the Bloomington Farmer's Market today and picked up some Italian flat-leaf parsley, some Ropp cheese (cojack; garlic-bacon cheddar, and tomato-garlic-basil cheddar), some beets, 4 anjou pears, some salad lettuce, some heirloom tomatoes ($1 a pound for defectives, many of which had hardly any defects) for salsa making, some green, yellow, and red sweet peppers, and a bag of peaches. The peaches are huge, and I hope they are sweet! The crap they call "peaches" in the store are never ripe when you buy them, and if you try to ripen them on the counter, they go bad overnight. Blech. All of what I purchased was fresh, herbicide- and pesticide-free, and from local farms. I also purchased another 1.5 pounds of bacon made from pastured piggies. Yum!

I'm hoping, too, that the sunflowers, which are now all open, will develop their seeds before the frost. I'd really like to be able to roast sunflower seeds this year.

I need to order a cover crop for the garden. I'm thinking hairy vetch instead of winter wheat, to help break up the soil. Any suggestions?

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Downside of Gardening: Bugs

The tomato hornworm has to be the creepiest caterpillar I have ever seen. I love wooly worms; in fact, when I see them, I crouch down and pet them, feeling their soft prickly backs. There is something very cute about these wriggly little ground teddies. (They remind me of bears for some reason.)

The tomato hornworm is the exact opposite. It has no fur, just white lines on its smooth green hide that look almost like creases (I try not to get close enough to find out for sure), or perhaps even war paint. They have a little red spiky cowlick on their rear end; the front end looks eyeless (again, I'm not going to get close enough to find out). What is most horrifying about this worm is the combination of its seeming eyelessness and its teethy mouth. [shiver] These things give me nightmares. They remind me of the sandworms in the movie Dune. And yet, to get them off the plant, I have to pick them off, and I'm always afraid that I'm going to squeeze too hard (they grip the tomato plant stems strongly, and are hard to dislodge) and be rewarded with a handful of green goo.

Earlier in the season I found about 5 and blogged about them; yesterday, I picked 6 off my tomato plants and threw them far into the yard in the sun, hoping that, like vampires, they would turn to ash in the sunlight or, even better, be spied and eaten by birds. I like birds. I don't mind feeding them. Today, I found this one and one other. Back to the hornworms in a moment.

Another creepy bug that I have battled before (clearly to no avail) is the Japanese Beetle. They are once again (or still, I'm not sure which) copulating in my greenery; unfortunately, this time they have picked my okra plants as their conjugal beds.

If you look closely, you'll see we have a couple of stray beetles who have either just finished having sex, are about to have sex, or have no interest in sex; you have a couple in the lower right caught in the act, and upon an even closer inspection, you'll see a buggy menage a troi happening in the upper left of the leaf. The only thing worse than thinking about bug sex is imagining one's parents doing it. [shiver]

And now, back to the hornworms. The only good hornworm in my book is a dead one--or one with parasitic wasp egg sacs all over its body, which will soon hatch and eat the worm. Second best is a hornworm that is about to become spider food.

I know spiders are good for the garden, but this one--a wolf spider, maybe? I don't know--is too big for my comfort. I've never really cared for spiders, and the bigger they are, the less I care for them. I have to pick okra around this sucker somehow. [shiver] It does make me wonder, too, if this monster is living in my okra, are there others about? Just thinking about that is giving me goosebumps and making my skin crawl.

I'd feel kind of sorry for the grasshopper, who was apparently dinner, but he's kind of creepy, too, all wrapped up in his spiderweb blanket, his arms across his chest as if he were lying in state in an invisible casket.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Using Up My Tomato Stash

I washed up my tomatoes from the last few harvests, tossed a couple that had gone bad, and then peeled them all. At first, I thought I might turn them all into salsa, but then I worried that the salsa might not turn out, and I would hate to waste all those tomatoes on nasty salsa. So I split the batch, turning half of them into tomato sauce and the other half into salsa. I was very happy with the flavor of the salsa after refrigerating it for about an hour, so I went ahead and put it into freezer jars (although one of the pint jars ended up in the refrigerator for tomorrow night...I just have to get some chips to eat it with). I ended up with 3 1/2 pints of tomato sauce and 3 1/2 pints of salsa.

I still have some tomatoes left over, ripening fully on the window sill, so I may go ahead and make another batch of salsa in a few days, adding to it any other sizable tomatoes from the garden.

Now, if I could only figure out some way to freeze the overabundant sun sugar tomatoes without going through the peeling process...

Squash Bugs Are Called that Because They Deserve to Be Squashed

I managed two harvests this week. Monday I pulled in the last 3 zucchini, and then pulled the plants. The leaves were completely covered with powdery mildew, although the zucchini themselves were fine.

And then, when I pulled up the plants, I found something I hadn't missed at all.

Squash bugs. [shiver]

These creepy crawlies look almost spiderlike, particularly when they are small, and can quickly devastate your squash plants. I didn't think I'd have to worry about them this year, since this is the first year of squash plantings. How wrong I was! I'm just thankful the zucchini was at the end of its season before they presented themselves.

In addition to the three zukes, I managed a handful of green beans--the first (and perhaps even the last!)--as well as several more tomatoes. The tomatoes are clearly losing steam, and I didn't think I'd feel this way, but I'm a bit glad. I hauled in 2 Peach Toms, 3 nameless yellow tomatoes, 4 Best Boy, 1 Beefsteak, 1 Costulouto Genovese, and 4 purple tomatoes--not sure what kind. I've been calling them Brandywine, but today I realized they aren't. I also harvested 95 sun sugar tomatoes and 11 Sungold Select.

Today I harvested a second time this week and picked my first 9 okra! The okra plants are tall and strong, despite the chewed-up parts of several leaves where the Japanese beetles have been feeding. We can't seem to get rid of those little buggers!

I also harvested 7 plum tomatoes of some kind, 3 Peach Toms, 3 Beefsteak, 4 Brandywine, 3 purple tomatoes, 2 yellow tomatoes, 3 Best Boys, 101 Sun Sugars, and 16 Sungold Select.

My goal tonight is to make a batch of salsa and what will probably be the last batch of tomato sauce this season.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Freezing Frenzy

One of the hardest parts of this experiment called "Playing in the Dirt" is finding the time and energy to cook, process, and put away the harvest food before it goes bad.

I managed tonight to process the tomatoes into tomato sauce (8 pints) and also ended up with 4 pints more of diced tomatoes. The Best Boy tomatoes seem to work best for dicing, while the meaty Beefsteak tomatoes work really well for the tomato sauce. I threw into the tomato sauce this time the few Costoluto Genovese tomatoes I had as well as several Orange Banana tomatoes, which are very sweet and meaty. Interestingly, the flavor of the tomato sauce is very different this time--definitely sweet. I think when I make tomato soup this fall, I'll use this particular batch of tomato sauce. I think it will make very tasty soup to accompany my grilled cheese sandwich! The round dots on top of each jar are labels that I've scribbled the contents, month, and year on so I can identify the frozen foods and also know which to use first.

I also put up most of the rest of the bread and butter pickles, which have been curing in the refrigerator for about a week. Unfortunately, I ran out of jars before I could get all of them put up, so I moved the rest into a smaller container until I can pick up more freezer jars. I did have one marinated artichokes jar on hand that I had just washed, so I used that for some pickles for the refrigerator--I'm not certain that the jar is freezer safe like the canning jars.

I'm pretty happy so far with what I've put away in the freezer for winter. I feel a bit like a squirrel preparing for the cold, foodless months, but at least I know where I hid my food.

Tomatoes Fizzling Out

The unseasonably early cool weather--including some nights in the low 40s--and too much rain has definitely caused my tomatoes growth to come nearly to a complete halt. On Monday, I was only able to nab 3 Best Boys and 2 Beefsteak tomatoes. The zucchini, of course, will never die, and I managed to get two more of those picked. I also decided that before the next series of rainstorms moved in, it might be wise to dig up the onions. I can't believe how tiny they are! I've got 5 white onions (which might add up to one whole onion) and 38 yellow onions, some of which don't look much bigger than the sets I planted. I'm not sure what went wrong, other than perhaps I planted them too late in the season (very likely). I will definitely be reading up on onion planting over the winter so I can have a better crop next year.

Today I went out to harvest again, and true to form, found 3 more zucchini. Can I take a contract out on these plants legally? Sheesh! I also hauled in 163 sun sugars, 13 Sungold Select, 2 Costolutos, 1 Peach Tom, 1 Mystery tomato, 9 Best Boy, and 12 Brandywine. I'm having to pick the tomatoes a little earlier than I'd like because the bugs and other critters seem to be gnoshing on them as they begin to ripen. I placed several on the windowsill and, in a day or two, they'll be just fine for slicing. I think that unless we get a warm, humid spell, my Beefsteaks are about done producing. Sad--those are my favorite! I think I'd like to get one more round of BLTs eaten before summer fades away.

Zucchini: 110
Cucumbers: 178
White Onions: 6
Yellow Onions: 40
Sun Sugar Tomatoes: 1,123 (broke 1,000: woot!)
Beefsteak Tomatoes: 56
Best Boy Tomatoes: 64
Cosmonaut Volkov Tomatoes: 2
Sungold Select Tomatoes: 40
Peach Tom: 4
Brandywine Tomatoes: 20
Orange Banana Tomatoes: 3
Costoluto Genovese Tomatoes: 6
Mystery Tomatoes: 4
Herbs: cilantro, mint, dill