Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Creative Wood Stacking, a Video, and a $500 Recipe

Happy 12-12-12. A thousand years till that happens again!  Lots of random things to share.........

A friend who is aware of what a big role firewood plays in our lives here in the mountains sent these along today and I couldn't help but lead with them. We burn it up so fast this time of year that there isn't much use in getting artistic with the stacking but I love the inset crate idea so I'll be brainstorming a way to incorporate that!

More photos to share...... I already did a post on our local apple press event but I had forgotten that there are actually two community apple squeeze events in Quincy now.  At this first one, our 6 year old was in charge of the camera and I love the slightly different perspective his photographs provide.

All photos by L.G. Kusener

The next thing I'd like to share is a simple recipe I created for a recipe contest I entered. I learned about the contest in a magazine I subscribe to. The contest required that the recipe have only 5 ingredients, one of which is chicken. Salt and pepper and fat for cooking were bonus ingredients. I had to make dinner that night anyway so I submitted the following recipe and won $500. I was delighted!

Chicken and Green Olives with Apricot Shallot White Wine Sauce
Serves 4

An easy weeknight preparation that utilizes the much loved fruit/meat flavor combination.

About 1 pound (6-8) chicken breast tenders
freshly ground pepper
1 T. olive oil
1 t. butter
¾  cup thinly sliced shallots
¾  cup white wine such as chardonnay
½  cup apricot jam (note that cherry, peach, or plum jam, or even orange marmalade work equally well here)
¾ cup of pitted ripe green olives                                                                              

1.  Season chicken breast tenders or thighs with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Sauté chicken until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Set aside on a plate. When cool enough to handle, cut into bite-sized pieces.
2.  Add shallots to the hot skillet and sauté 4 minutes until soft and browned. Add wine and stir to deglaze skillet. Add jam and stir mixture until it smoothes out and begins to bubble. Add chicken pieces and olives, stir to coat and turn off heat. Serve with pan sauce.
I like to serve it over basmati rice. The last time I made it I used some homemade peach jam from last summer and vegetable broth in place of the wine and it was even better than the original. The recipe will be part of an on-line cookbook available soon and I will post the link to it here on the blog.

If you have a spare 4 minutes, this video that pokes fun at foodies and the high-end grocery store, Whole Foods, is highly entertaining:
It's gettin' real in the Whole Foods parking lot!
That is all for now.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Experimenting with a New Format as the Rain Comes Down

Hi there. We've had 6 inches of rain in the past 48 hours. It is really nice. I love the sound of it hitting the roof and gushing through the downspouts. There is comfort to being inside, warm and dry. As I begin my second year with Farm Girl Blog, I've decided to experiment with a new design and layout. This new template is just a slightly altered stock template offered by Google. The only glitch I have noticed so far is that sometimes when I open my website it is missing some elements. If you click on the Farm Girl Blog title at the top of the page it re-loads and the elements are present. If the words Farm Girl Blog are orange, that is as it should be. If not, please click on it to re-load page.

Thanksgiving is hands down my favorite holiday of the year. Just the fact that there is a holiday called thanksgiving is pretty cool. I love it for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that it has escaped commercialization for the most part. Our family had a lovely 5 days in western Sonoma County that included a traditional feast and jaunts to the beach where we enjoyed unseasonably warm, sunny weather.

It was my first gluten-free Thanksgiving dinner and it went fine. No stuffing, gravy, or pie. No worries. Yes spicy fennel almonds, cranberry sauce, turkey, roasted sweet potatoes, beets, onions, carrots, wine and chocolate truffles!

I made these as a gluten-free dessert option:

Well, whatever. I was going to post a recipe for a spicy pumpkin fish coconut curry I threw together the other night inspired by a visit to a Himalayan restaurant in Sebastopol over the holiday. That is why I lead with the pumpkin photo. But truth be told I took no notes and would be approximating and generalizing at every turn if I tried to share a "recipe" with you. But these truffles, on the other hand, are super easy and straight-forward with only a few ingredients so I will share how to make them, hereby firmly securing my new identity as a bit of a chocoholic. I swear this is a brand new development in my life. Isn't it fascinating how our food interests and passions can evolve and change throughout our lives?

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Dark Chocolate Truffles

6 oz. (1/2 12 oz. bag) semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 oz. (1/2 12 oz. bag) bittersweet chocolate chips
6 T. organic virgin coconut oil (your local health food store or here)(I think I will receive a discount coupon if you purchase anything through my links.)
4 T. water
1 t. vanilla (other options: 1 t. brandy, 1 t. rum, 1/2 t. almond extract)
pinch of sea salt
For rolling truffles: toasted shredded coconut, cocoa powder, crushed nuts (pecan, pistachio)

Note: I don't have a double boiler so I just use a stainless steel bowl set over a pan of simmering water.
Melt the chocolate and the coconut oil with the water in a double boiler or as described above while stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in your extract and salt of choice. Transfer chocolate to a shallow bowl and let cool in refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours. Scoop into balls and place on parchment or waxed paper. At this point you can roll the truffles in cocoa powder to coat. When I am using coconut or nuts, I find that I need to warm the truffles slightly with my hands to get the coarser toppings to stick. Makes 18-25 truffles depending on size of scoops. Store in airtight container in refrigerator. Bring to room temp. before serving.

Virgin Coconut Oil, Gold Label - 1 quart

Here are photos of the pumpkin curry creation anyway.
Let me know what you think of the new format. Good or bad....I'm not emotionally attached: )


Friday, November 16, 2012

Thankful for the Bounty

The fall apple press event put on by The Dawn Institute is easily our favorite event of the year in Plumas County. And that is saying a lot. For a county with such a small population, Plumas has a lot of outstanding events. 
The apple press is a harvest festival, a celebration of bounty. I love that about it. The most obvious manifestation of bounty is the apples themselves. People arrive in cars and pick-ups loaded down with boxes and bags of all different colors, sizes, and varieties of apples. Some from their own trees or orchard, some off a neglected roadside tree or an elderly neighbor's, etc. If you don't have another source you can pick apples from the trees on site. Apples, apples, apples! They are beautiful. The fall afternoon lighting that usually graces this event is a sight to behold.

That's a regular sized dinner fork resting on
those tiny bite-sized beauties.
The copious compost that results from
the pressing is another form of bounty!
Another expression of the bounty that characterizes this event is an incredible potluck feast! The homemade dishes, obviously created with care, fill the tables to overflowing. The food is colorful, healthful, seasonal, homemade, homegrown, creative, and delicious.

Folks gather at a rural location consisting of a small, one room community center at the edge of an old apple orchard. We gather to pick and press apples. We gather to enjoy the food. We gather to listen to the live music performed by local musicians. We gather to enjoy the sun and the outdoors. But we gather, first and foremost, simply to be together. The many children run and play with zeal and joy in the orchard. There is much laughter and conversation. We gather together to celebrate another year gone by and our amazing good fortune.

Quality control.
Young and old spend an afternoon together at the apple press.
Note the lighting!
Oh, and last but not least, there is juice. A bounty of juice. You have to work a bit to get it but that just makes it taste all the sweeter: ) We froze some for winter enjoyment and I set 2 and a half gallons to fermenting in 3 separate batches to try my hand at hard cider. I'll let you know if the results are worth sharing the method in a future post.

Enjoy your bounty!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pumpkins and Fudge

Happy Halloween!! 
My son is in first grade. His teacher's husband grows pumpkins competitively. Of course his class had a special field trip to the otherworldly pumpkin patch. It really did take my breath away as we rounded the corner and the mountainous pumpkins came into view rising above a vast sea of equally impressive sprawling green vines. The children were beside themselves with wonder.

One of the pumpkins was grown to compete for sheer size/weight. At the height of the growing season it was putting on over 30 pounds a day! It ended up weighing in at an impressive 1115 pounds which earned it 12th-place in a northstate competition in Sacramento. The 1st-place pumpkin was around 1600 pounds. The bright orange one pictured above, although substantially smaller, got best of show for attractiveness and won a $650 prize.

I took lots of photos and made a poster for the class. I'm so thankful that I have the time to do whimsical projects such as this if the urge strikes.
And then there is pumpkin fudge. In our quaint little downtown there is a drug store. It has been there since the 1800s. It does not have a soda fountain but it does have a "fudgery" (corner where fudge is made). This time of year they offer some seasonal flavors, one of which is pumpkin fudge. My parents first tried it 7 years ago while housesitting for us and they LOVE it. I make sure they get a slice of it each year which they say they can devour in just one evening. 

I don't know how they do it. I definitely have a sweet tooth but to me fudge has always just been too much, almost sickeningly sweet. And now with a diet free from gluten and virtually dairy-free, traditional fudge would be out of the question anyway. 

How about some healthy vegan fudge - a Halloween treat for the gluten and dairy sensitive? Don't worry it is still rich and creamy and chocolatey and sweet, just not tooth-achingly so. This recipe uses coconut cream concentrate and coconut oil in place of butter and cream. (I've been using a lot of coconut oil recently. Subject of another post.) If you look at this blog's October posts, you would think me a chocolate fanatic. Chocolate hasn't really played all that big a part in my life - until recently. I'm pretty into chocolate right now. Dark chocolate. Christmas is coming. Bring it on.
 Vegan Fudge
Ingredient list:
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup warm water
3 T. coconut cream concentrate
1 T. coconut oil
1 cup chopped walnuts*

Mix all ingredients together except the chopped walnuts and stir for a couple minutes until smooth. Add walnuts and stir to combine. Pour into a small dish or pan. Mine was a 4" x 8" ramekin. Chill until set. Cut into squares and store on waxed paper in the refrigerator.
*walnuts can be raw or lightly toasted

Note/Update: I have made this fudge a few more times now and have taken to adding 1/8 t. cayenne pepper, 1/8 t. ancho chili powder, and 1/4 t. cinnamon, and a pinch of sea salt for a delectable spicy Mexican chocolate twist! Oh my, you should try it.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Yes on Proposition 37

California has a proposition on the ballot this election cycle that would require the labeling of foods sold to consumers that contain genetically modified organisms. Typically when I receive my vote-by-mail ballot and pamphlet, it is the first time I have heard of many of the propositions requiring my consideration. Not so for Prop. 37. I can proudly say that I helped get it on the ballot through the initiative process, along with thousands and thousands of other California consumers and voters to whom this is an important issue. We circulated and signed petitions. We donated money. We are insisting on the simple right to information.

Last weekend, I was wearing my "Yes on 37" button when I ran into some friends. Our isolated mountain town is full of "Yes on 37" yard signs. I have NEVER seen a sign or a button saying no. My friends joked that they were starting a "No on 37" movement since there really didn't seem to be one; at least at the level of the people. Remember, corporations are NOT, in fact, people. We stood on the street in front of our food cooperative inventing slogans for the no campaign. "Ignorance is Bliss!" "I Don't Want to Know" "Keep Me in the Dark" "Treat Me Like a Mushroom (Keep Me in the Dark and Feed Me Sh*t)" "No on 37 - TMI!" We laughed and laughed at the thought of it.

We don't watch television at our house so I have not seen any of the ads either way but today I came across this video on YouTube that takes the same tack as my friends and I did the other day. It is less than 2 minutes long and great. Watch it here:

Enjoy and remember to vote Yes on 37 if you are a California voter!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Channelling My Inner Baking Goddess

I started baking as a girl. It was like magic to me. I could mix a few cupboard ingredients together and transform them into a warm-from-the-oven delicacy with minimal effort. If I am honest, I know that my love of baking has been rooted in my love of eating really good bakery. When I first discovered that I had developed a problem with digesting gluten (hmmm.......which maybe isn't so surprising considering my love-affair with flour), I went on a baking spree. For a month I baked like crazy, experimenting with different flours and trying to recreate all of my bakery favorites without the gluten. Some things came out great, even better than their gluten-ous counterparts. Other things, not so much... I think I just needed to reassure myself that I would still be able to bake and to enjoy bakery even without gluten in my life. 

At one point I went to a gluten-free workshop here in town. An uber-healthy woman in attendance made the comment that, "You know, you don't HAVE to try to replace all of that bakery stuff just because it's what you grew up with." Oh. Yeah. I think she is right. You don't have to. A move away from gluten can be a move towards a healthier diet if you don't. I've noticed that many of the gluten-free cookbooks out there focus on recreating those flour-based treats of our childhood. Many of them have cupcakes on the cover.  

I seem to have retained a love of baking that extends beyond wanting to indulge in bakery. When my dear friend requested that I bake her a cake for her birthday recently, I immediately replied, "Yes! And can it have gluten in it?" Gluten-containing wheat flour really is wonderful to work with. Gluten is great stuff as long as you can digest it uneventfully. She asked for chocolate.

High quality, fair trade, dark, rich, real, chocolate is good. I try to eat a little bit every day for my health. ;-) But other than that, I don't consider myself a chocolate person. For instance, I would always choose vanilla over chocolate ice cream and oatmeal raisin cookies over chocolate chip ones. I'm usually not a chocolate cake fan but once or twice in my life I've had a chocolate cake that was so moist and rich and delicious that I loved it. So when asked to bake a chocolate cake, I began a search for a death-by-chocolate kind of a cake that might possibly rival those I've enjoyed in the past.
Guess what? The most promising recipe I found in my collection of cookbooks did not contain any flour!! Yippee! I would be able to bake my cake and eat it too!! 

I had a wonderful time baking it and decorating it and tasting it and presenting it to the birthday "girl". This is really a yummy chocolate cake. Even if you don't like chocolate cake, you might like this cake. There aren't many ingredients but I'm not saying it is super simple to make. Excellent paired with port.

Chocolate Cake (Gluten-free!)
from Vineyard Seasons by Susan Branch

16 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips (I like Guittard and Ghirardelli)
1 cup unsalted butter (you can try a vegan alternative here such as Earth Balance)
9 eggs separated
1 cup of sugar
cocoa powder for dusting

Pre-heat oven to 350º. 
Butter a 9" springform pan; line the bottom with buttered wax or parchment paper; dust pan with cocoa powder. Slowly melt chocolate and butter together in a heavy saucepan over low heat; cool. Meanwhile separated eggs into two large bowls. Beat the yolks for about a minute; slowly add sugar and continue beating till thick and lemon-colored. Beat egg whites until they just begin to peak. Add cooled chocolate mixture to egg yolks and blend thoroughly. Pour the chocolate and yolk mixture into egg whites and fold gently until completely blended. Remove 1/3 of the batter to refrigerator and cover. Pour rest of batter into prepared pan and bake 40-45 minutes. Cool 1/2 hour before turning out onto serving plate. Remove paper and frost with remaining batter. Decorate as you see fit.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Canning Apple Sauce and It's Looking More and More Farmy Around Here

The score is 2-nothing Reds
No, those are not our chickens but yes, that is our backyard. Our neighbors acquired some chickens this year and now they are regular visitors to our yard. I'm curious to see how they will fare over the winter. Perhaps we can learn from their successes/failures and try keeping chickens ourselves one day. They had intended to purchase 6 hen chicks but one turned out to be a rooster, much to their dismay. Now there is even cock-a-doodle dooing in the neighborhood. Very farmy indeed.

It is the first day of October. While the nights have been appropriately chilly, it is predicted to hit 98 degrees in Quincy today! And this at 3500 feet above sea level. It has been over 100 in the valley. Some people are complaining, but not yours truly. I know the cold is on its way so I continue to steep myself in the heat, letting it permeate through my body and penetrate my bones, as if by doing so it may help carry me through the winter to come.

Similar to the grape harvest this year, our apples had to be stripped from the tree all in one go due to bear activity. The perfect ones were saved for eating and the rest were cooked into sauce and canned.

Y'all know how to make and preserve apple sauce right? Again, I was so impressed with the amount of traffic to my peach salsa canning post that I wonder if there isn't a resurgence in interest in canning. I myself am a beginning and rather lazy canner but apple sauce is truly simple. The most time consuming and labor intensive part is peeling and coring all the apples. This can also be a nice relaxing activity if you allow time for it. I have great memories of an apple sauce making day with friends last fall. We sat around an outdoor table peeling away the afternoon.

Warning: This is a basic method, not a recipe.
-Once your apples are peeled and quartered squeeze a lemon over them. 
-Put them in a large pot with an inch or two of water and put over medium high heat on the stovetop. Add more water if necessary.
-Cook, stirring occasionally until the apples are tender. 
-Let cool down to warm from hot. 
-Ladle cooked apples and juices into a blender in batches and blend until smooth. 
-Return to pot or saucepan and bring to a simmer. 
-Add sugar and cinnamon to taste. 
-Turn off heat and ladle apple sauce into clean jars. 
-Place lids that were sitting in warm water onto the jars and tighten gently (oxymoron?)
-Lower jars into boiling water and "process" for 10 minutes.
-Remove from water and place on a rack to cool. 
-Wait for popping sounds to indicate the lids have sealed. 
-When the jars have cooled, check that the lids are concave, indicating a good seal.
-Store in cupboard until needed on pork or pancakes or whatever.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

2012 Stephan Way Chardonnay

If you have been following my blog you know that last year our neighbor Marilyn's grape vines produced such a profusion of grapes that I was persuaded to try making wine from them. You can read about last year's wine making adventures here and here. Mistakes were made and lessons were learned but the project was enough of a success that I was more than happy to give it another go this year if the grapes cooperated. Well, they did. It was another abundant year for the chardonnay grapes. See photos.

This year there was competition for the grapes from a neighborhood bear. Marilyn called with the news that it was now or never. The bear was visiting nightly and soon all the grapes would be eaten and the vines destroyed if we didn't pick now. I came the next day with my black bucket and we spent 2 hours doing our best to empty the vines of grapes before the bear could. 

It was a month earlier than we harvested them last year. At first I was worried that we were hurried into a premature harvest but I don't think that was the case. This year's weather was much different than last year's with an early warm spring rather than the extended winter of 2011. In fact, later, when I checked the specific gravity (SG) of the juice it was slightly higher than last year's, indicating a higher sugar content.

We ended up with 84 pounds of grapes from the four old vines. This yielded over 6 gallons of juice. Last year I stomped them to free their juices from the skins. This year I borrowed a small fruit press. After one awkward attempt with a few pounds of grapes in the press, I returned to the tried and true stomping method. It is actually quite sensual and enjoyable as well as being efficient. I chatted with my mother on the phone as the grapes relinquished their nectar underfoot.

Five and a half gallons of juice was set to fermenting and today was racked to a secondary carboy where it will remain for the next six weeks until it will be racked again. Racking is simply siphoning the wine off of the lees (sediments) into a clean container.

Marilyn, who turns 80 this year, is delighted with the process and with the prospect of sipping 2012 Stephan Way (our cul-de-sac's name) Chardonnay in the spring sunshine of 2013, as am I!

Cheers and enjoy!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Got Zucchini? Just Add Sausage!

Hi there. I haven't posted for a while. I figured traffic would have decreased to my site since I haven't been as prolific. A couple days ago I logged on to the statistical side of my blog to check my theory. Boy, was I surprised. Traffic is up and it's all about one post. Canning Peach Salsa and the Seduction of Real Life has received more pageviews than any other post on the blog by far. I can attribute this only to the timeliness of the post; right at the height of peach season. When people do a google search for "canning peach salsa" up comes a link to Farm Girl Blog.

It was with this in mind that I titled this post. Perhaps people are wondering what to do with a surplus of zucchini this time of year. Ours are actually on the decline as the nights grow cooler. One of my favorite meals this summer is super simple and goes as follows: Sauté an onion for 5 minutes in an iron skillet in some olive or coconut oil. Add a couple cups of chopped zucchini and a clove or two of chopped garlic and sprinkle with just a little salt. After another 2 minutes add two of your favorite quality sausages sliced into rounds. They can be spicy or sweet. Sauté for 8 more minutes until the zucchini is tender and the sausage begins to brown. Serve in a shallow bowl topped with chopped fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes. Serves 2+.  I probably made this 6 or 7 times this summer but never took a photo. Zucchini also tastes great stuffed with a sausage mixture and baked. 

Next post coming soon: 2012 Stephan Way Chardonnay 

Enjoy these last days of summer!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Fire Rages On

The "Chips" fire from our front window
And on another day.....
The Chips Fire began in the Feather River Canyon NW of Quincy on Sunday, July 29th. When fire personnel arrived on the scene, the fire was 15 acres in size. The fire has now burned over 50,000 acres and it is still burning. Check out a NASA satellite photo of it here. When I worked for the Forest Service at Lake Tahoe, I saw the Fire Management Officer (FMO) pull out all the stops when a fire started in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Those first hours of a fire a crucial and this man was fearless in his conviction. In a world-renown tourist destination full of million dollar homes, a large scale wildfire is unthinkable. In South Lake Tahoe in 2007, the 3100 acre Angora Fire destroyed 242 residences and 67 commercial structures, and damaged 35 other homes. It was among the top half-dozen most costly fires in the U.S.

Now that the Chips Fire has grown so large and cost so much in dollars and habitat destruction, etc., it is tempting to be critical of the early management of the fire but in all fairness, conditions were not on the side of the fire fighters. We had a light winter and the fuels out there were dry to begin with. Add to that high temperatures, steep terrain, extremely low humidity, and afternoon winds and you've got yourself a problem.

The communities to the north of us have bore the brunt of the smoke but we have had our share as well. There are good days and bad days depending on the winds. On the bad days ash rains down, the sun is cranberry colored, and we keep all the windows closed to avoid breathing the thick, particulate-filled air. It can be rather surreal and oppressive. On good (for us) days the smoke stays to the north as seen in the photos above and we are in the clear.

On clear days, I hike when I can. Here is a photo of the fire from the top of Spanish Peak off the PCT:
Another day the smoke moved in during my hike up and when I got to Spanish Peak, I was in a white fog of smoke with hardly any visibility.
A clear day at Gold Lake
Seaweed snack
So life goes on, despite the fire. Our stream of house guests has come to an end for the time being. Below is an image from our last set of friends' visit. A truly summer scene.
Sandals left by the back door in between trips to the creek and strolls to town
And this last image from our back patio of mead and wild blackberries, geraniums and a new yard sale table in use. Speaking of blackberries, they are coming on strong here now; earlier than in most years. Leo and I go blackberry picking every other day or so. Sweetness......
Enjoy and if you have clean air, take a deep breath and be thankful!