Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Just getting by...

I'm pretty much on auto-pilot this week. Confession: I'm tired. I'm somewhat cranky. I feel fat. I feel like I'm coming down with something. Can you hear a squeaky violin playing somewhere in the background? ;-)

In all seriousness I'm just "getting by" for the next 48 hours. This week is the last week of my job. Hopefully forever. I can just TASTE the freedom but... I need to make it just a little while longer. Then I will have (hopefully) two months to rest, play, work, and prepare for Baby. Then, according to some, my life will be over. Others say then life will just begin. I'm shooting for somewhere in the middle .

No pictures today. Nothing particularly fun. I can report that the last of the figs have been picked for this year . Those %#%! grackles were merciless. I don't mind sharing some of my figs with birds (especially sweet sparrows or morning doves) but grackles are the worst. They take ONE BITE out of a beautiful, ripe fig and then leave the rest. And they say humans are wasteful... Fortunately the chickens still get to enjoy the half-eaten figs and I have enough to put away one more batch of fig jam, along with some leftovers to just EAT. Then back to the grapes.

It IS interesting, never having really done intense preservation methods before, how much you are at the mercy of the weather and time. I used to think that only applied to gardening itself, but it applies here too. Fig season is short anyway and the birds make it shorter. You only have so many days to harvest, and then put them away (or eat them!) before they are chicken snacks (figs do NOT have a great shelf life). Same with the grapes. We are getting close to their overripe stage so I MUST move forward and pick them this week if I'm going to do anything productive with them. Since I harvest the wild grapes from land belonging to other people, this takes some coordination. But after that, the rest of my plans are on a more relaxed timeline. I foresee being done with grapes and figs by early next week. I think.

Incidentally I just realized this reads as if I view all this as a drudgery. I do NOT! In fact, I'm merely begrudging the fact that for now, for this week - I still have a job and can't do all the things I really WANT to do. I'm being called to a higher work but held back by a few strands of obligations that I'm anxious to finally sever. Just a few more days.... :-)

Last thought: Remember my lofty weekend list? Um, yeah... I think half of it was accomplished. But that's ok, my weekend list is usually the jumping off point for the week's list. And besides... I'll have more time soon!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Scratch, scratch, scratch...

So yesterday I went from this:

To this!

That's what about 10 lbs of wild Mustang Grapes will get you. That and itchy hands. I had always been slightly derisive of people with skin issues. I've heard people complain about the notorious "fig itch" from fig leaves, warning to wear long sleeves and gloves. HA! I boldly go in amongst my Fig Jungle wearing a sleeveless top and barehands. I think my smugness has been due in part to having what has been described as "delicate skin" because I'm extremely fair-skinned. Puh-leaze... my skin may have that look but c'mon, it's Irish skin for a reason; it has a heritage of grubbing for taters in the cold dirt. It's pretty hardy. I had also received many warnings about the high acidity level of Mustang Grapes, proclamations as extreme as the grapes burning the skin of your hands. I did take some gloves but never put them on, never had a single issue during the picking or after.

That however changed in light of actually CRUSHING the grapes. It's not too bad but oi vey, yes, it ITCHES!!!!

But when I look at that row of pretty little sparking bottles of jelly, it's worth it :-)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Garden Nerd Alert!

Just to amuse you (and because it's Friday and work is BORING), I've drawn a little "yard map" to give you an idea of the space I have with which to work. I have no idea how well anyone can see this but here it is:

I know I SAID that I want to use this weekend to focus on the accomplishments we've done in the last few months BUT I can't help but make a list here of what I still want to do in the near future (being fall):

2 semi-dwarf apple trees
1 or 2 peach trees
Any other fruit trees I can fit
I keep thinking that I need to plant the lemon, lime, and apricot eventually or they won't do much but WHERE? How do I keep sunny areas for garden AND plant a gazillion fruit trees? Thoughts?

Also hope to do some more decorative herb beds, but that's easy stuff and plenty of room to squeeze those prettily around the yard.

Yes. I am a Woman Obsessed.

This and That...

Just a quickie little post. I spent all of Monday evening making fig jam and between that and work and the little watermelon I'm carrying with me 24/7 it seemed to do me in for several days. MUST remember that the whole "barefoot, pregnant, working in the kitchen" thing doesn't work for me - my flat feet have to wear shoes! Ugh! Not that I haven't been somewhat productive - Tuesday evening was spent picking wild grapes (and I didn't take my camera, I'm disgusted with myself) out of which I hope to make several batches of jelly and if I get really, really brave - some wine. Wednesday I reveled in the peace of a summer rain that brought joy and happiness to all of us dried-up raisins in S. Texas. Thursday... What did I do Thursday??? I crashed and burned. Oh and I finished my first new fictional read in a long time (lately I've been more of a "books of information" reader), Alas Babylon by Pat Frank (a most excellent book! Suprisingly enjoyable given the topic).

Fortunately I woke up somewhat recovered and I'm trying to get myself in gear for a weekend jam-packed (ha!) full of plans. Here is my Wish List of what I hope to get done. Maybe.

·Make watermelon jelly.
·Possibly get started on watermelon rind pickles -- I hear they are great but honestly, what does one DO with watermelon rind pickles??? Does anyone know?
·Make another batch of fig jam.
·Make several batches of grape jelly.
·Clear out Garden Plot #1 of summer remains, add some manure yum to the dirt, and set it up for a few weeks of sun solarization.
·Prep for Garden Plot #2
·Finish the most long-winded "simple" project I have undertaken this year, what has become known as the Infamous Orange Tree Redo (will have pictures of that soon).
·Finish up the Kitchen Reorganizing Project and have it nice and clean and smelling yummy by Sunday evening.
·Start making some serious headway on the Study Reorganizing Project (which I've started in small spurts of available time).
·Get some progress done on a gift project that has been in the works forever and MUST be done in the next week - a corkboard made of wine corks as a gift to my boss.
·General straightening of the house and those mundane little tasks that make life during the week easier (menu planning, gathering of food from the Farmer's Market and store, etc).
·Really, really need to clean and move the chicken coop (NOTE: this has been on my list for weeks and see how it is still on the BOTTOM of the list?)

Whew... I'm tired again looking at this list. We shall see what actually gets DONE ;-) I would actually love to also make some chicken stock but I don't think I can handle THAT many pots on the stove all at once. Even I have a limit.

Lastly, I feel that I need to take a step back and really look at the yard and space, and consider not what needs to be done next, but enjoy and appreciate all that has been accomplished for the first half of the year. And because I can't do anything without going all Nerd Brain, maybe make a yard map. Oooooh I love maps.....

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Saucerful of Heaven

A word on desserts: Despite my last post on ice cream, we don’t do a lot of desserts in the house. I definitely have a sweet tooth but I try to be careful for a variety of reasons (weight, some blood sugar issues in the family, etc). More and more I’ve been turning to exclusively maple syrup or raw honey as a sweetener for all my cooking. The only exceptions to this is my single daily cuppa coffee and when I make jam/jelly – for those things I still use sugar (albeit organic). I have also been trying to keep desserts simple and incorporating more fruit or natural things (as opposed to a pastry, or something processed). Lastly, I only “make” a dessert about once a week – as a special treat to perk up the middle of the week (not counting my yogurt & honey escapades - that's a PROTEIN snack! Right? RIGHT??!!).

Last week when the figs were first ripening I came up with this decadent little dessert. I did a some research and pulled together ideas from my various foodie websites but the final result is my own creation.

First I cut some figs in half -- aren't cut figs strangely luscious and sensual???

Meanwhile I melted some butter and honey together with a dash of a few spices (you could probably insert just about any spice here like cinnamon, allspice, anise, etc). Then I put the fig halves in a small baking dish and drizzled the honey/butter mixture all over them. THEN I topped them with the teeniest, tiniest dollop of my yogurt cheese. I roasted them for about 15 minutes in the oven and then... voila! A little saucerful of heaven for The Mister and myself :-)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A little bit of yum

Must. Stop. Eating. So. Much. Ice. Cream.

I have always had an ice cream addiction but lately it's gotten to be a BIT much. Plus I need to add more protein to my diet. I still get a pint for the weekend but here is my new "healthy alternative" dessert to satiate my need for delicious creamy decadence during the week. Plain whole-fat yogurt mixed with local honey. Next time need to try it with vanilla. OOOH and maybe crushed figs!!! ;-)

It isn't Caramel Cone but it's a heck of a lot better than ice milk (BLECH!!!)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Homemade Laban Cheese

I made a comment on Facebook the other day about making some homemade cheese. So just a quick blip on that cheese... I make it out of yogurt although it can also be made out of whole milk, buttermilk, and kefir. Making it out of yogurt gives you the texture of cream cheese with an every so slightly sour taste - think of it as a hybrid between cream cheese and sour cream.

Tidbit of the day: To make it specifically out of yogurt creates a cheese commonly used in the Middle East called Laban Cheese.

Rather than recite all the instructions, I'll simply direct you to one of my favorite Foodie sites, Cheeseslave

Here is a picture of my Laban cheese when it is finished:

Moms, this would be a fun EASY project to do with the kids!

One caveat - you must use PLAIN WHOLE FAT dairy. A little blueberry cup of "yogurt" isn't going to work. If you can get raw dairy, even better. When I can't get raw milk to make my own yogurt, I use Strauss yogurt out of CA. It's pasteurized but the cows are primarily grassfed and hormone/anti-biotic free.

Someday I hope to do more cheesemaking someday but this is about as much as I can do with my equipment and knowledge... so far ;-)

It's a figgy sort of day...

So... remember when I posted this picture of my fig tree earlier this year?

Check it out now!!!!

Funny thing about this fig tree... I've had it for years and years but it never did anything fruit-wise. Back in February 2010 I told it if it didn't start producing figs it was going to be chopped down to make room for a GOOD fig tree. Sure enough, about a month later, some of the branches of a looming chinaberry tree came off and some figs appeared! I guess the poor tree was choked off from the sunlight figs love so much. THIS February the ENTIRE chinaberry tree was chopped down and the fig tree is going CRAZY!!! Figs are amazing things, considering we've had basically zero rain for months the figs are still there. Perhaps not as plump but happy enough. We are now in fig season so I've been going a-figging.

Peering through the fig jungle!

So expect some figgy posts the next few days... I'm making fig preserves, fig jam, fig desserts... Fig season is so short and so precious, it really only lasts just a few weeks. But hopefully I'll be able to capture enough figs in jars to brighten up a rainy winter morning. And of course, I'm sure a few figs will just end up popped into my mouth as well ;-)