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Chicken Coop Update

The first thing was to put metal panels on the roof.

A few years ago our chicken coop was assaulted by falling trees. It held up well considering that it was unable to defend itself. My remarkably capable husband managed to dispose of those trees single handedly. Well, he used both of his hands, and some homespun engineering. We didn’t notice at the time that one of the floor joists had been damaged by the weight of the fall. The roof was also leaking in places. I’m planning on incubating some chicks for the Spring but the coop had holes in the floor. So, after a few years of patches and workarounds, the time had arrived for a chicken coop update.

He covered the floor with some leftover roofing material.

My husband was the one in charge of that project, of course. The first thing he did was to cover the roof with metal panels to prevent leaks. The next step was to tear out the rotted flooring. He decided to use what we had around. So, he covered the new plywood floor with some leftover roofing material, to protect it from moisture.

Dry leaves on the floor of the coop.

We have an overflow of dirt that we’ve been spreading on the floor, so we’re switching to dry leaves. We have plenty of those piled up along a perimeter fence that need to get raked up anyway….

These curtains haven’t been working out so well.

We’ve been using some old coffee bean sacks for curtains for the nesting boxes. But the loose weave hasn’t worked out very well. They fall down and we reattach them way too often. If a box doesn’t have a curtain, the ladies don’t use it to lay eggs in. I figured I could handle this part of the project. I picked up an old curtain from the Goodwill Clearance Center. I tore it in half and nailed it up on the reinforced side, and then cut slits for each box. Time will tell if this works better.

Designer coop curtains.
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Baking Bread on Sunday

I have been using this book for more than a year now, and tried almost every recipe. The ciabatta loaves are one of my favorites.

Our family schedule has changed in a way that has made it difficult for me to bake bread during the week. So now, Sunday is the day that I make sure to indulge my love of fresh sourdough bread. Most of what I know about baking sourdough bread comes from Jim Lahey’s Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook. I have baked a few duds along the way. Patience is definitely the main ingredient. Yesterday, however, I came close to achieving perfection!

Instead of covering with a damp cloth, I put my dough in the bottom oven with the light on and a pan of warm water.

I keep my biga, (a drier, thriftier form of sourdough starter,) alive in my refrigerator. Since I didn’t remember to start some dough on Saturday night, I chose a recipe that doesn’t take as long to rise that I could still start on Sunday morning. Mr. Lahey offers two ways to make the ciabatta dough, the slow, no mix method, or the fast, use your mixer method. I used my mixer. After three hours I had a glass bowl full of bubbly bread dough that I turned out onto a board, folded in half, and cut into two loaves. I left them to rise for three hours in my bottom oven.

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My Secret Brownie Recipe

My twist on a classic brownie recipe is to add some spice and switch butter for coconut oil.

I have an old McCall’s cookbook from my mother’s house. I go to it frequently to find a standard recipe for something that I have never made before. I like to start out doing things the way everyone else does them, and making something that someone, like my husband, will taste and it will be be just what they expected it to be. But it’s just not in my nature to keep doing something the same way as it has always been done. Thus, today, I am going to tell you about two brownie recipes.

My much loved and beaten classic recipe book.
The original brownie recipe that I built upon to create something a little different…

The first recipe is the standard brownie recipe that you see in this photograph of my cookbook. I have made brownies going exactly by this recipe and they taste like…. brownies! Perfect every time. When I bake, I always use raw sugar because I just think it has so much more flavor than white sugar. (I buy it ten pounds at a time at Costco.) I also use Happy Cow butter from G&G Retail at the South Carolina Farmers Market. I’m sure that the quality of my ingredients makes them more delicous.

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Cucumber Salad

Cucumber Salad to keep in the fridge.
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Sometimes when a cucumber vine gets going some of the cucumbers grow too large and turn yellow. When that happens I cut it from the vine and leave it there in the garden. It creates the opportunity for the cucumber to reseed itself and become a late season cucumber vine. Now in late October, I have one growing in the kitchen garden. It’s good timing because just a week or so ago I finished the cucumber salad that I prepared in early summer.

Cucumbers are cooling, which I’m imagining might be good for hot flashes (waking me up early lately.) Dr. Lee told me that cucumbers are better than lettuce for women (and lettuce is very good for men). Since most everything he has told me has turned out to be helpful, I’m taking his word for that.

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Even More Ways to Preserve Eggplant

I’m always seeing hearts in my vegetables…

A month ago I was writing about what to do with eggplant because I had so many in my kitchen. In that post I talked about making fried eggplant and eggplant parmesan. When eggplant love is new it tastes so sweet and delicious. After a couple months of eating and freezing the stuff, I start to think about other vegetables again. My husband stopped watering his garden about a month ago, after he harvested everything else. He left his eggplants to their own devices while it was very hot and dry. We had almost no rain that whole time. But to our surprise, the eggplants have thrived while gardens have withered all over the Upstate.

We have trouble giving eggplant away. Our friends and neighbors mostly don’t like or never tried an eggplant and don’t show any signs of changing their minds. I was tempted to just let those eggplants go to seed, but they looked so big and beautiful; it would have been a shame and a waste. So yesterday I went down in the field and picked most of them, and also dealt with them very quickly after looking for some new ideas online and finding a couple at FreshBitesDaily.com.

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Flirting with Fermenting

Kefir starter quietly doing its thing while I’m out and about…

When I shared my raspberry soda recipe last week I was focused on the raspberries that I have been harvesting a handful at a time from my garden. I mentioned that I have used three different methods for making naturally fermented sodas. I forgot about my dalliance with kombucha, so really there were four. In the raspberry soda recipe I really just gave up some hints about how to start with a starter… but I’m not trying to keep my romance a secret. So let me shed a little light on how I’ve been spending some of my time these past few months and how you can get your own relationship going with fermentation.

When I was growing up my mother told me to replace the friendly bugs in my stomach, after taking antibiotics, by eating yoghurt. That’s probably still good advice, but it’s not the only way to get your gut right. And really, if you have a bad feeling in your gut, you should trust what it’s telling you about your intimate relationship with food. I’ve also previously talked about learning the forgotten ways of making bread. Well, commercial yeast is to bread what carbonation is to soda. Before instant rise yeast we had sourdough starter. Before carbonation (and vinegar) we had fermentation. One is like a big box of cheap chocolate and the other a petite package of tasty truffles.

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Refreshing Raspberry Soda

My raspberry crop from the last couple of days measures just over a cup. That’s not nearly enough to make a batch of jam, but good for a batch of muffins or natural raspberry soda.
I’ve been keeping my kefir grains alive for more than a year now.

About a year ago I started making naturally fermented sodas from a non dairy brew of kefir grains. I purchased the dry kefir grains in a package. I keep them fed in a quart bottle of water sweetened with a quarter cup of sugar. I use a fermentation lid inside the screw band, and fill the bottle to the very top, so that there is no air, but the gas can escape. I make a new batch every couple of days. Or if I can’t keep up with all that, I stash the bottle in the fridge until I get around to making a new batch. The quart of strained sugar water, which I pour from the bottle after 24 or 48 hours with the kefir grains, is what I use to make a variety of sodas.

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What to do with that eggplant…

Eggplants to give away…

We have an abundance of eggplant in our garden right now and were trying to give some away. But most of our friends ask us what they are supposed to do with eggplant, which they apparently don’t usually purchase in the grocery store. So, for our friends, and others who might be offered bounty from a friend’s garden this time of year, here are some suggestions for what to do with that big, purple beauty.

The easiest thing to do with an eggplant is probably to peel it, cut it into smallish cubes, boil it with some salt until soft, and strain it. You could add your cooked eggplant to a stir fry, spaghetti sauce, casserole or soup….

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Bertha’s Lemon Pound Cake

Sweet, Moist, Lemony

Bertha was my husband’s mother. Like me, she moved to Greenville with her husband. She was originally from up north, possibly New York City. She was half Cherokee and half descended from African slaves in America, but she never spoke much about her life before coming to Greenville and raising her eight children. According to her husband she was a kitchen mechanic. He would sometimes sell her pies in the neighborhood. According to my husband, she didn’t use measuring cups or spoons to make any of the many treats he so fondly remembers. But his favorite was her pound cake. I got the recipe for Bertha’s Lemon Pound Cake from my niece, and have made it many times now. In spite of it being winter, we are getting about a dozen eggs a day. One way to use up eggs is to make this cake that calls for no less than seven. So last week I made a pound cake.

Bertha’s Lemon Pound Cake Recipe

  • 3 sticks unsalted butter (1 1/2 cups), room temp.
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 7 eggs, room temp.
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3 tbsp. lemon extract
  • 1 cup milk, room temp.

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Gathering Grapes

In summer’s past we had a concord grape vine that offered us many gallons of grapes. We had enough for me to make a couple batches of jelly and also to can some quarts of grape juice. We liked the homemade (and organic) grape juice so much that we planted a few more grape vines. They are still babies, and unfortunately our original vine (that we brought with us seven years ago from California) finally died over the winter. This week I gathered together two and a half pounds of concord grapes, but I needed four for jelly, according to the recipe on the liquid pectin box.

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Grape juice, sugar and a teaspoon of pectin just before boiling point.

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