Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gnome Socks Are Finished

Here they are, ready to keep my little tootsies warm. I just love these socks. They make me happy! (click on photo to enlarge)

What took me so long? I had to set them aside while I knit a vest shop model. I'd show a picture of it, but I have to re-do the arm holes. They're a bit too loose.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ikea Scouting Trip

Monday morning, Rick and I headed up north to Ikea. I was looking for some type of kitchen counter/storage unit. And I think I've found the solution to my lack of cabinet and counter space. I plan on purchasing this Ikea Varde Base Cabinet. It will fit perfectly along the far kitchen wall, under my hummingbird & trillium print. While there I picked up this cool, inexpensive shelving unit. It will stand in front of the kitchen window and house all my potted plants.

I also picked up this nifty socktopus, to use for air drying socks.

Then, Monday afternoon, I drove all over Puyallup buying up a couple more attachments for Gladys. I got this Ice Cream Maker (brand new, in box, for $25)

and this Fruit/vegetable strainer. The later will come in handy, very soon, for making more spaghetti sauce. I need to hurry and get on that, as the tomatoes have outgrown the platter and are fast becoming a tomato mountain.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hang On Little Tomato(es)

Is there anything lovelier than a platter of ripening tomatoes? Maybe. But nothing is coming to mind right now. Unlike my potatoes, the tomatoes have not disappointed. Even with our soggy spring and summer, and very short growing season (this year), they have produced a prolific amount of fruit, which is finally becoming ripe.

As soon as I see a hint of orange, I pluck them and bring them indoors to ripen in the kitchen. Safe from marauding insects, slugs, or an early frost. I raised these tomato plants from seeds and gave them lots of organic love. In return I've been rewarded with many sweet little tomatoes to enjoy. Speaking of enjoyable, please click on this link, 'Hang On Little Tomato', to listen to one of my favorite songs from the band Pink Martini. Listen all the way through. There is quite a long instrumental lead in, but the song is charming and will transport you back to a time when music was more than noise and screaming.

Disappointing Potato Crop

Yesterday was bright and sunny. The prefect opportunity to dump out the potato garbage cans and see if any potatoes were in there. The potato vines had died back which signaled the time was right to harvest.

Unfortunately there weren't many spuds lurking beneath the surface. There were quite a few russets, but they were all rather small.

The yukon golds were larger in size, but there weren't as many of them.

Better luck next year. I'll also add a couple more garbage cans.

Zukes & Soup

I'm getting a bit behind in my blogging. This time of year gets busy, for me. The yarn shop demands much more of my attention in the fall and winter months. But I am still trying to make use of my garden. The zucchinis are once again growing faster than I can use them up. They never go to waste, since the chickens and the red worms love them, but I need to preserve some for the humans, as well. This is my first attempt at dehydrating zucchini. I sliced then thin, using a mandoline. Here are 4 racks full, ready to be dried.

And here they are, all dried and in jars. I will add them to soups throughout the winter months. These were 2 good sized zukes. The jars are small. Both smaller than pints.

And here is a picture of the basil that I had previously dried. This is 4 racks of basil, condensed down to one spice jar.

Fall is also the time when I dust off the crock pots. Here I am making some split pea soup. Before cooking for 10 hours.

And after. Errol and I are the only ones in the family who love this stuff. More for us!

SPLIT PEA SOUP (in crock pot)

1 lb split peas (washed, picked over, and drained)
2 smoked ham hocks with lots of meat
2 quarts water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 dried red peppers (optional)

Combine in the crock pot and cook at low for 10 hours. Remove ham hocks, cut meat from bones and chop into pieces. Return meat to soup. Serve and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Let's Grind Some Meat!

Thanks to my dear friend, Scarlett (not her real name), I am now deathly afraid to eat ground beef from fast food restaurants, or even the grocery store. I want to be sure just exactly what part of the cow (or pig) I am eating. This really put a damper on my summer barbecuing. I usually love fixing burgers. But not this year. I have been planning to begin grinding my own meats but had not had the tools to do so. Until now. The pasta extruder, I got for Gladys, includes a food grinder. Woo hoo! Here she is, wearing the latest attachment.

And here is my victim. This week's special at Market Place, a 3 lb. Beef Rump Roast.

Grinding meat with the KitchenAid is ridiculously easy. Here is the very first ground beef making its exit. Squee!!! (I don't know why I'm getting such a kick out of this?)

I did have one minor hiccup when I foolishly fed some grisly stuff in and it gummed up the works. It was kind of like trying to grind a rubber band. I had to dismantle the grinder, remove the nasty stuff, and I was right back in business. Here is my lovely bowl of ground beef. No noses, ears, innards....or other questionable additions.

I used my Freecycle vacuum sealer to get the beef all ready for the freezer. I have two 1 lb. packages and two 1/2 lb. packages.

And here is another Freecycle find, a genuine Foley mill. As my friend Kristine would say, this one has been well trained. It does have a bit of rust on it, but I think it will be just fine. And you can't beat the price. I'll clean it up with steel wool and give it a rub down with some food grade mineral oil.

I leave you with a gratuitous shot of tonight's dinner. No, the pork chop is not bloody. I like to douse my pork chops (and fried chicken) with a liberal sprinkling of hot sauce.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fresh Pasta & Sauce

Have I mentioned that I hate my kitchen? Well, I do. It is incredibly frustrating to have to cook, from scratch, in a Barbie kitchen. I have all these cool tools and absolutely no where to store them. When we purchased this home we were aware that the kitchen was small. But at that time I was not really into cooking. Things have changed a lot in the past 4 years. When I retire, my house can be small, but it will need to have a huge kitchen. With lots of counter space and a large pantry. Until then I'll have to make do with what I have. Monday is always "bread baking day". I also wanted to use up the ripe tomatoes from my garden and play with the pasta maker. First up, the tomatoes. I only had 6 to 8 of them, so could not make a very large batch of sauce. I blanched them, removed the skins, and chopped them in the food processor.

Then I put them in a pan with some seasonings and simmered them for a bit. The resulting sauce was delicious. I decided to freeze it so I could share it with the rest of the family at a later date.

Next up? Pasta. I need to start taking full advantage of my KitchenAid. I've never really made pasta, before, so was a little reluctant. But here goes. I mixed up a batch of dough and let it rest. Yes, it's very yellow. Fresh, home grown eggs have dark orange yolks.

Next I attached the pasta roller to Gladys.

I rolled out the sheets of pasta and placed them on the drying rack.

Then cut them all into spaghetti.

My dough was a tad too wet, so next time I will use one less egg. The sticky dough made it hard to separate the strands of spaghetti. But it turned out fine and I enjoyed a nice bowl of pasta with some of my home made pesto.

I froze the remaining uncooked pasta. We'll see how that works. If it is successful I will make and freeze larger batches.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Indoor Clotheslines

With no end to the rain in sight, it is time to bring the clothes drying operation indoors. Last spring I relied on my 2 large Ikea drying racks, placed in the living room. But the teenage daughter complained that the house looked like a third world village. And the shirts, hanging on hangers on the shower rod, annoyed the husband. But where to put everything so it will be out of the way? The only indoor space large enough is my craft/really messy room. This is where I keep all my "stuff". And you can probably imagine that I have a lot of this "stuff". Spinning wheels, looms, knitting machines (which I've never used), spinning fibers, boxes of fabric, record albums (I adore vinyl), books, name the fiber processing tool and I bet I have it. Unfortunately I do not have time to use any of it. So here it sits, much of it going unpacked for the past 5 years. And it isn't tidy, either. This is the room that may cause me to be featured on 'Hoarders'. Yesterday I set about clearing a large enough space to set up my indoor/outdoor clothesline. I absolutely LOVE this thing. It folds up like an umbrella, for storage, but unfolds to an almost full sized clothesline with a stable tri-pod base. Sorry for the terrible photos. I'll take better pics once the room is more presentable.

And here is my portable clothes rack on wheels. This was a freecycle find. I will use it to dry shirts on. If you have them on the hangers you just transfer them right into your closet when dry.

Between those 2 items, and my Ikea racks, I should be able to successfully air dry my laundry over the winter. The only problem I can foresee would be too much moisture in the air. But we have gas heat and usually have the opposite trouble. Maybe this will balance things out? Time will tell.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Chicken Winter Home

Well, I'm back down to 3 chickens. No, the bantams weren't misbehaving. But I realized that...

A. I was doing twice the amount of work, and buying double the amount of feed....for nearly the same amount of eggs.

B. Pulling a chicken tractor around on nice lawn, and pulling it around in the mud, are 2 entirely different things.

Bantams don't lay nearly as often as production birds. But they eat about the same amount. The whole reason I wanted the little girls was to breed them. Since I can't have a rooster, that is out. Also, the lawn has stopped growing and the rainy season is upon us. The space under the chicken tractor has become a mud pit. I sold the (now healthy) bantams for double what I paid for them and today I moved the big girls over into their winter quarters, the kennel run with the attached coop. This was no easy task....moving them. I had to figure out how to get them out of the tractor, one at a time, and across the yard to the chicken run. I kept them in the coop part of the tractor until I was ready to make the transfer. The first hen (the black star) was easy, as she was on the roost right next to the door. By the time I was ready for the second hen, they had figured out something was up, and were not cooperating. The coop section of the tractor is deceptively deep. I had to open the door quite a bit in order to grab one. This allowed Joanie (the leghorn) to make a run for it. She got out the door and ran through the rhubarb. I was thinking I'd be in for a chase when she suddenly squatted and assumed the submissive posture. Which was odd as I was a good 6 feet away from her at the time. She just squatted there until I came and scooped her up. Maybe she realized she was out in the big world and got a little panicky. She's used to being penned in the small confines of the tractor. The third hen (the production red) was easier to grab and move. Once they were all 3 in the run they began, almost immediately, to get a good dust bath. They all smooshed in together, rolling and tossing dirt over their backs, all the while making chicken purring sounds. Yes, chickens purr when they are happy.

Note to self: White chickens in the muddy Pacific Northwest? Not a good idea. I don't think Joanie will ever be white again. The plan is to put the chicken tractor up on blocks for the winter. The girls will go back into the summer quarters once the weather permits.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Rice-A-Roni Casserole

This is a family favorite. Also affectionately known around our house as "ugly casserole". I don't remember where I oringinally found this recipe but I've been making it for over 15 years. Everyone in the family loves this stuff. I hope your family will enjoy it, too."

1 lb ground beef
2 (6 1/4 ounce) boxes Rice-A-Roni Fried Rice
2 (10 1/2 ounce) cans cream of mushroom soup
4 cups hot water
1 (6 ounce) cans Durkee French fried onions

Brown beef in a skillet; drain off grease.
Place drained beef in a large bowl. Add seasoning packets from rice mix, soup, and water. Whisk until thoroughly blended. Mix in rice and noodles from boxes.
Place in a greased 9 x 13" glass casserole dish or divide between 2 smaller casserole dishes.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour. This will depend on the size of baking dishes used. You'll need to stir the casserole once or twice during baking, making sure to scrape the bottom of the casserole, so the rice isn't sticking.
Sprinkle the onions over the top for the last 3 minutes.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Getting Ready For Fall & Winter

I've spent this weekend readying the backyard for the fall and winter. First I had to clean out the garage to make space to put things. I had fleeces in there from back when I had sheep. That's been over 5 years. Something tells me I'm not getting to them any time soon. I started pulling them out, to give away on Freecycle, and I couldn't believe what I had. Boxes, and boxes full. I kept a third of it. Things that I couldn't part with, and still managed to fill up 2 spinners' cars with the rest. Bet they were happy. Now I have room on the garage shelves to put my canning jars, and all my gardening pots. And there is room in the garage for the barbecue, table and chairs, etc...that need to be stored away. I've also begun buying up some galvanized garbage cans to store chicken feed, diatomaceous earth, Those cans are pricey, so I'll get one per week until I have enough. Got to keep rodents out of things. The husband spent this weekend building a nice platform to hold my rain barrels.

He just has to hook them back up. They were sitting on cinder blocks, but the ground settled and they were falling over. Now they'll be secure. And look what I found on Craigslist, for FREE! Over 50 medium sized clay pots (these are just some of them). That would be over $150 if bought new. Someone had listed them yesterday, and put them out next to the alley for anyone to take. I just saw the ad, this morning, and couldn't believe they were still there. FREE is the best type of bargain!

I will store them away to use in my greenhouse, once I retire and actually have a greenhouse.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Diggin' the Gnomes

I've been plugging away on my gnome socks. I am knitting these 2-at-a-time on one long circular needle. I also knit the cuffs "inside out" so the stranded color work would be looser. Needless to say, I had a few interesting moments. But it all worked out in the end. I am not fond of weaving in a bunch of yarn ends, so the gnomes will only be on the cuffs of the socks. The rest will be plain ol' boring gray.

Here is a close-up of the little darlings.

I hope to knit a yoke sweater, to match. Will keep you posted. I am still adjusting to my schedule change. By the time I get home at night, and cook something for dinner, it's already bed-time. That's the drawback to cooking from scratch. It takes a lot of time. Here is the quiche I prepared last night. Fresh eggs from my girls, and chard from the garden.

Monday, September 6, 2010

More Chicken Drama

It's funny. I've had chickens before and never had a problem. I raised mostly Rhode Island Reds, with some Australorps and Ameracaunas thrown in, when we lived in Spanaway. I had chickens for years. Never wormed them, or used mite dust. Never had hens beating on others. Everything went smoothly. Then we moved to the city and I haven't had chickens in about 5 years. I missed them, so decided to get myself some city chickens. First it was the 3 standard production girls. They all came from the same seller. They now live in a smallish chicken tractor. And they are healthy and get along fabulously. Then I decided to add some bantams to the backyard. They have a nice sized run (6x6) and their own fancy little coop. And they've been nothing but trouble since they arrived. They've had mites, lice, worms....and they beat on each other. I thought bantams would be sweet little chickens. Not so, in my experience. I recently sold the 2 Frizzles to the same lady who bought the chick trio. Why? Because I went out one day and discovered one of the Frizzles missing masses of feathers and her back all bloody. The 2 of them didn't come out of the coop for 2 days. I made the decision to rehome them. I suspected Pinky was the culprit, although I didn't witness the attack. What sparked it? I think it was a brawl over some zucchini. Now I am down to just 3 bantams and all seemed peaceful until today, when I noticed that Ebony was chasing Pinky and pulling the feathers from her back. Not that I feel too sorry for Pinky, as she's been a bully, herself. But I have had it up to here with the bantam bitchiness. I had read online some suggestions for dealing with bully hens. We'll see if they work. I went into the run, grabbed miss Ebony and put her in a submissive posture with her little face in the dirt and picked at her back with my hand. I didn't pull her feathers (this time) but I made sure she knew I meant business. Then I stuffed her little behind into the cat crate and left her in the run. She had a "time out" for an hour while Reggie, and the other hens, looked on.

I don't know if her punishment worked, but I didn't see her misbehaving anymore, once I let her out. I left the empty crate in the run, as a reminder.
The chickens aren't the only ones who are naughty. Reggie knows the cat isn't allowed on the bed. But they have worked out a deal. If I'm outside, or in the basement, Reggie lets Singha up. Then, as soon as he hears me come in, he starts barking and Singha jumps down. When I go feel the bed there are 2 warm spots, so I know what they're up to. Today I bought a full length mirror to hang in the bathroom. Right now it is propped up against a wall. Poor Reggie can't figure out how to get to that "other dog" in the mirror. He tries looking behind it, scratching at it & barking at it. Finally he just lays down in front of the mirror and cries. Why won't that dog come out and play? It's hilarious.
The garden is keeping me busy, as well. Look! I finally got 4 orange tomatoes!

They should be red in a day or so. Can't wait for my first BLT of the season. And I pulled up my basil plants, today. They keep trying to bloom and the leaves are turning tough. I picked off the more tender leaves and am dehydrating them. I shouldn't have to buy any basil for a while.

I've begun knitting the Gnome Socks, but will leave that for another post.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fall = Socks

Summer was all about chickens and gardening. Now that fall is in the air I am in a knitting mood. I've begun a vest, out of Noro Kureyon, and am cranking out some new socks to warm my tootsies. I will soon finish up my second pair of worsted weight boot socks, and I think it's time for something a bit more colorful and challenging. But what? Then I spied these adorable Gnome Socks. My apologies to the designer, but all I desire to use is the gnome chart and I can figure that out from the picture. I must knit some gnome socks! I am always teasing my husband, with his long gray beard, that he's my giant garden gnome.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Oh, Pickles!

I had picked up a small pot of homemade pickle cucumber starts from the Farmers' Market, back in early July. Well, those 3 little starts have gone crazy in my backyard. So far I have 10 of these little pickling cucumbers, with more on the way.

I had seen a recipe for refrigerator Bread & Butter Pickles on the Down-To-Earth blog. I have tweaked it a bit, to my tastes (I don't want mine as sweet). This was the perfect opportunity to try out my Pampered Chef Mandoline, another Craigslist bargain. I paid $10. The previous owner couldn't figure out how to use it. It is a little fussy but what I like about it is you'd really have to try hard in order to cut yourself on it. Its very safe, which is good for a klutz like me. And it slices really thin.

And its quick. I had a bowl full of uniform slices in no time.

I also sliced up a small, sweet onion to add.

I placed the onions and cucumbers in a big bowl and sprinkled them liberally with 2 TBS. of salt, mixed it all in well, and left it for 4 hours. Then I rinsed the salt off well and drained it in a colander while making the pickling liquid, as follows.

8-10 pickling cucumbers, sliced very thin
1 small sweet onion, sliced thin
Place the above in a bowl, sprinkle with 2 TBS. salt, mix well, and let sit for 4 hours. Rinse well to remove the salt and drain in a colander while making the pickling liquid. You'll also want to sterilize your jars in boiling water and heat your lids in hot water, as well, although not boiling water for those. You can use any jars for this, as long as they have lids. They need not be canning jars. I saved old pickle and jam jars.

Place the following in a saucepan.
1 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 Tbs. mustard seed
1 1/2 Tbs. celery seed
1 cup sugar
3/8 tsp. turmeric
a heaping 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
Bring to a boil, lower heat, and stir and simmer until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat.

Fill prepared jars with cucumber mixture. Pour in the pickling liquid. Add one dried red pepper per jar (optional). Seal with the lids. Allow to cool down before placing in the refrigerator. Wait at least 3 weeks before eating. They should last 4 months in the refrigerator.

I had so much fun with the mandoline, I decided to use it on some zucchinis and make Zucchini Pie.

And I leave you with a view of the sunset, from my backyard. Take beauty where you can find it.