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  • Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

    A few tomato portraits from this season. It’s been a few years since I’ve taken fruit and vegetable portraits—err, looks like I filed a kombucha post in the wrong category as you will see if you click through that—and I got around to doing a few one day before canning a few weekends ago. Hopefully I can get out and do some more this summer!

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    Togo Trifle/Togo Trefle: These tomatoes have been fairly prolific this season but they have also been targeted heavily by the leaf footed bugs and as such I’ve had a ton of them rotting on the vine because of those pesky insects.

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    Rutgers: This tomato isn’t super special looks-wise but it does taste good and does make an easy tomato for blanching, peeling, and canning

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    Paul Robeson: Another tomato suited for canning, this one tastes good and has been the more prolific dark or chocolate type varieties in the garden this spring.

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    Cherokee Purple: I have not been getting many of these as I would have hoped for this season. In fact, most of the beefsteaks have under-performed this season.

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    Arkansas Traveler: This is looking a little more red than pink and I’ve not been getting many of them, either.

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    Pattison squash: Before the squash vine borers got to town on the squash vines I was able to get two squash off the vines. They are storing well on our cabinet and we’ll eat them soon.

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    I started making kombucha in August of 2013 (and side note to that post: A 10pm run to Walgreens for sugar? Oh man, I miss those days of randomly running out to the store at weird hours. That *does not* happen now with a toddler. Making kombucha at 10pm also does not happen!) and I’ve kept it up on and off in the years since. Brewing and drinking kombucha is definitely cyclical, with months of being very interested in having the drink around and other months where the batch sits in the closet just hanging out until I’m in the mood for a new batch.

    For those months that the brew just hangs out, the batch becomes very fermented and basically turns into a vinegar. Some people will take this vinegar and turn it into salad dressings but others will turn it into a shrub. Shrubs are typically made with drinking vinegar, like a high quality apple cider vinegar, but there are now recipes and variations for kombucha shrubs. Google will get you several recipes to get ideas but I gleaned my idea from the Cultures of Health blog.

    Since we’re still flush with fresh blackberries from the garden I took a generous handful of blackberries and put them in a bowl with about a 1/2 c of sugar, smooshing it all together with a fork and then let it sit for 5-10 minutes. I then put that mixture into a quart Ball jar and filled the jar with my overfermented kombucha, put a cap on it and then put it in the fridge for about four days. On the way home from work I picked up a bottle of club soda and tested out my drink one evening before dinner.

    I used a fancy wine glass for effect and mood, pouring about a 1/4-1/2 c of the shrub in the glass with another 1/2 c of club soda. I was very pleased with the results: a slight tangy flavor with just the right amount of sweet for a great refreshing summer drink. You could switch out the club soda for rum or maybe vodka if you want to go with some alcohol; I’m even thinking the right white wine might even be good for this mixture.

    If you want to try a more traditional vinegar shrub you should check out Lisa’s rhubarb syrup shrub recipe she just posted!

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    Kombucha
    If you’ve been reading here for any length of time you may remember when I got into kombucha. I let my SCOBY go into the compost when I was pregnant and for much of the year after Forest was born but, I think it was last summer, my SIL gave me her SCOBY because she wasn’t doing much with kombucha at the time. Well, it molded quickly and I had to chunk it. I ended up ordering another SCOBY from Kombucha Kamp and had success with it for 6-8 months. There were some down times when I wouldn’t be interested in brewing and would let the SCOBY just hang out for a month or six weeks before I’d revive it.

    Well, back in early January I’d renewed my interest and had just brewed some tasty pineapple flavored kombucha and wanted to make more. Well, MOLD! Again. So, I threw the SCOBY into the compost pile and asked my mom to bring me a bit of her SCOBY when she came to visit us the next time. Mom and Dad were here over the last weekend and so my kombucha is now revived! I even bought some fancy schmancy bottles that were on clearance at Target to make it all that more enticing to take with me. There’s just something about having a special drink in a special bottle that makes it easier to sip and take with you.

    Now, to wait two weeks on that first ferment!

    Sauerkraut
    It’s been about three years since I’ve made sauerkraut. The first time was four years ago and it was really fun to see the process take place. Previously I had let the cabbage ferment for about four weeks but this time I only left it for two. It has just the right sour but plenty of crunch which was something that was missing from the last two ferments I did. I let them go just a little too long, I think.

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    Fermented Radishes
    We have radishes that are beyond ready to be picked in the vegetable garden. I’ve been pondering what to do with them as we’re not very good at eating them fresh. Frankly, we both think we need to do better about eating what we grow. I think we did so much better when we were eating vegetarian meals primarily. Now, not so much. Plus, there’s that toddler that now occupies our house; he makes things a smidge more difficult during meal planning for the week.

    Back in December I did a traditional pickled radish mix with some of the radishes in the garden. I’ve been eating them with my boiled eggs on occasion, and it pairs great with them; a nice salty/vinegar combination. In an effort to try something different I began reading up on small batch fermenting. There’s actually several different options for using Mason/Ball jars as fermenting vessels but I opted to use the Mason Tops Pickle Pipe and Pickle Pebble to try my experiments.

    I started a ferment using this recipe last Wednesday and tried my radishes on Saturday. They had just a bit of tang but I wanted a little bit more so I left them for a few more days. I will give them another whirl soon! I’m very excited about the ease of this small batch style of fermenting.

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    Fermented Peppers
    Since I was excited about the radishes I got into a let-me-ferment-everything mode. We had a pepper plant that lasted through most of our mild winter, up until an actually decent sub-freezing night or two at the end of January. Chris and I went out there and pulled the ripe peppers off of the plant so he could plant potatoes in that spot a few weeks ago. The peppers have been sitting in my fridge since then with the plan that I was going to dry them. The problem is we already have a bunch of ground, dried pepper that I made the summer before Forest was born and we’ve barely used it. Why did I need more of that?

    So, I looked up fermented pepper recipes and came up with A Great Idea! Homemade Tabasco!! Yep! I followed this recipe and cannot wait to see how it turns out in a few months! We definitely use hot sauce around here and it would be really cool to have something like this, a good alternative to using peppers. We love to grow peppers but definitely have trouble using them.

    Mead
    I asked Chris for a mead kit at Christmas and I got one. The problem was I felt completely inept as even thinking about starting a batch of mead without doing a lot of reading and YouTube watching first. I still have not started my batch of mead yet because I’m terrified about ruining our honey. I ended up ordering a book about making mead since I felt the directions that came with the kit were lacking, and have started watching some YouTube videos. In the end, it doesn’t seem terribly hard but the biggest thing is to sanitize, sanitize, sanitize before hand.

    I’m hoping in a few weeks I will get a batch of mead started and will report back to you on that then!

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    It’s taken awhile but I am slowly feeling like I can begin doing my old kitchen experiments once again. I may not be getting wild hairs on a Friday night at 8pm to make homemade pasta (done it!) but I feel like I can tackle some small projects in the kitchen once again. Suffice to say, the last 15 months have been hard, the first 9-12 months of that the roughest. An adjustment period. Some of the more curated blogs and social media sites are very great about depicting the ability for a new mother to keep up with her old ways, or even a mother with a new baby and several other small kids at home, but the messy side is hardly ever shown. The tears, the feeling of being rushed to accomplish some big goal, instead of being able to enjoy it, the frustrations, and the feeling of losing oneself…you don’t see that.

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    Chris, thankfully, stepped into the role of chef for most of these last 15 months. This was mostly due to Forest’s need to nurse as soon as we got home from daycare each evening. For months and months, until he was probably almost 9 months, he would take forever to nurse and then he would fall asleep as, usually, would I. Chris would make dinner and then after I would do the dishes. I don’t mind doing dishes, I honestly almost enjoy the satisfaction of getting the dishes washed and either loaded into the dishwasher or put into the other side of the sink to wait for loading. But, Chris’ chef hat was getting worn down and so I’ve been pitching in here and there when I can. I still opt for easy because there’s no time for frou-frou stuff at the moment, aside from weekends. And weekends, well, half the time we’re off doing something and still come home needing something easy.

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    I planted a lot of radish seeds back in October and most were beyond ready to harvest. I’m not a huge fan of eating radishes raw but I thought it would be fun to pickle them. Several years ago when we were still childless and had gotten back into gardening after being long distance backpackers/field workers without a home for awhile, we were canningaholics and canned so many pickles and jars of tomatoes that we never ate all of the stuff we canned. I even canned peppers…that went into the compost later. Yeah, we had a problem.

    IMG_3796
    So, I had the radishes and shredded them up with some onions and carrots—those from the store—and pickled them in the brine that was my grandmother’s recipe. No sweet pickles for me, which is what many radish pickle recipes on the internet call for. After that, I had a hair to make lemon curd. We’d recently recieved a few lemons from two different people and weren’t going to be doing anything with them anytime soon. I’ve been putting store bought lemon curd in my morning oatmeal on occassion and thought that it would be a nice treat. Also, it seemed easy. Something exotic but attainable.

    IMG_3797
    Best of all, I found a recipe that used honey. I put to use some of the honey from our hive.

    IMG_3798
    Five egg yolks, half a cup of honey, a stick of butter, and some lemon juice later, I ended up with lemon curd. Kind of. It certainly didn’t set like it was supposed to, though the blog recipe I followed suggested it might be runnier than a typical lemon curd made with sugar.

    IMG_3799
    It did end up setting a little more in the fridge and I’ll likely have to freeze the extra to use at a later date, because that’s a lot of lemon curd!

    The moral of this story is…life gets in the way sometimes but things start to come back. The urge to be how you used to be returns. While the wild ways you might have lived pre-child might not be there, for awhile at least, you’ll get glimpses of it. You might need the help of a cartoon or three, but you’ll get there in between all of the toddler maneuvering.

    Coming up on my wild kitchen experiments for 2016: I got a bread making book for Christmas AND a mead making kit!! Bread and wine, y’all.

    PS: Episode 3 of the podcast is out!

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    The first thing we cooked on our new grill was pizza. I had seen several people blogging about pizza on the grill and had been intrigued for awhile.

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    We use a dough recipe from a Pampered Chef book that is usually made on a pizza stone, but it worked well on the grill.

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    Bubbling up nice!

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    A little olive oil on the top side…

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    And then flip it over!

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    The process is incredibly fast, so you really need to be on top of your game and have all ingredients ready and on hand.

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    Pizza!

    I’ve now had grilled pizza three times in the span of two weeks and I am throughly sick of it. I know Chris isn’t, but the smell of pizza has gotten to me and the whole thing grosses me out at the moment. Such are the whims of pregnancy cravings and aversions.

    For the uninitiated into what kombucha is, here’s a run down.

    kombucha
    Last week when I was at my parent’s house for my grandmother’s funeral I mentioned to my brother and sister-in-law that I wanted to try their kombucha. Stephanie, my SIL, had received a ‘mother/SCOBY’ as a present for her birthday. They’ve been happily brewing kombucha ever since! Now the SCOBY has split enough that she could share so I was gifted a jar of fermenting tea and SCOBY. Last night was my night to pour it into Ball Jars and flavor it how I wanted and start a new ferment. I opted to keep the new ‘baby’ with the original mother that was started for this batch until I can get a second jar to have two batches going simultaneously.

    kombucha1
    Of course at 10pm when I was boiling water to get this whole thing started I realized that I was out of sugar! Sugar is what the SCOBY feeds on so I made a late night visit to Walgreens hoping they had sugar, which thankfully they did. Next time I will not do this process at 10pm, it took too long to wait for the tea to cool down, I had to throw it in the fridge and toss a bit of ice in it to get it down to room temperature so I could just go to bed!

    Anyway, I poured off two quarts of the original fermented batch and flavored that with a peach in one and then hibiscus flowers in the other. I had about a pint left so I poured that off and stuck it in the fridge to sip on while I waited for the flavored ones to ferment for a few more days. Kombucha at the store is on the pricey end and I only get it as a treat now-and-then so I am excited to have my own brew going now! I’m glad my bro and SIL shared!

    Fig Season!

    Fig Season!

    It’s fig season around here, or just starting up really. I tried one out about a week ago and it wasn’t quite ready yet…but now, now we’re talking. Last night I walked back and forth under the fig tree as I passed by doing garden and yard chores and would snag one off as I passed. A deliciously fresh desert! I also noticed some other garden animal had enjoyed one too as it was half eaten on the stem!

    Last year we harvested from the community garden. I’d forgotten we’d done that around the same time we’d closed on our house. We’ve been here a year—time flies!

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    Germanjohnson2

    self

    My kitchen does not have good food photography lighting so I apologise for the dark tomato shots there. I finally carved into the German Johnson tomato, the only tomato off of that plant so far, that had been sitting in my fridge for several days. It was high time, too. I only ate the two slices but I think I’ll polish the rest off at dinner, only after I save some seeds. It is definitely one of the larger tomatoes I’ve grown so I think I’d like to try again with this variety next year, though if it is a poor producer once again it is being struck off my list of tomatoes to grow.

    What’s aggravating mostly is that we bought this plant (and one other) as a fairly tall transplant while all of the other tomatoes we’ve grown have been from seed and some of those have produced many more tomatoes than this one did. This is despite us planting them in the ground later than we intended. Texas summers are not conducive to tomato growing due to our nighttime temps staying above 70* which is too high for tomatoes to set fruit. But, with the cool front we received this weekend I was kind of hoping, probably wrongly, that perhaps with the lows we had in the 60s overnight for a few nights that I might get a second round of tomatoes.

    Many people try to over summer their tomatoes here, getting through August and even September in order to get a Fall crop of tomatoes. I’m thinking of trying this, but it’ll depend on how July goes along with rain. Most likely I will start some more seeds in late July to transplant a few plants for Fall. We’ll see. I really miss growing tomatoes in south Florida, it really was awesome to be rolling in them from December to mid-April.

    Are you growing tomatoes? What kind and how are they doing?

    pesto4
    The collards were starting to bolt and I decided that I wasn’t in mood for boiling up lots of collards for dinner one night and instead wanted to do something different. In passing on a blog somewhere I’d remembered reading about collard green pesto. Sure enough there were a lot of recipes and I decided on this one to experiment with. I modified it using walnuts instead of pecans and eliminating the olives, but for the most part I followed the directions. Pesto is forgiving and very pliable, I think you could use any kind of green for a different result.

    pesto3
    All of the collard leaves were not picked, but I did get a giant handful of them. Once you blanch the greens, they soften up quite a bit and easier to blend. Note, I also took the ribs off of the leaves.

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    Blends up well!

    pesto1
    That bunch of collards and the rest of the ingredients only made six little tubs! I think I could probably get three more with what is left outside on the plants. I’m trying to let the plants go to seed so I can save seeds for fall use.

    I definitely recommend trying some pesto made with collards sometime; I think chard or kale would be nice as well!

    Two years ago I embarked on this experiment of going full on vegetarian. Initially I thought I’d just try it for a few months but then I chose a weird time to do it, jumping in when Chris and I went and did field work for three months. Not exactly an ideal time I came to find out once I started eating at restaurants. My delusional idea was that it would be easier to try this without cooking….boy was I wrong! Restaurants are the most difficult place to be vegetarian.

    Well, here it is two years later and I’m pretty much a committed vegetarian. I’ve dabbled in the not-so-healthy vegetarianism too, loading up on cheesy, greasy items, probably eating too much rice and pasta, but I’m working on cleaning that up. Pairing the clean diet I’m trying to get back into a regular workout routine. Going from being extremely active to sitting for 8+ hours a day has not been good.

    During these two years I’ve read and listened to a lot of food and foodie related items. I’ve learned a lot about our food system and have committed to being better about buying locally at two farmers markets that are near my house when I can’t grow something or for eggs (now I’ve been getting coffee too!), and attempting to buy organic or in season as much as I can at the grocery store. Now, not everything is organic or in season but I do my best. Chris and I had a discussion in the middle of the store back in early December about some butter. I wanted the organic store brand butter and he wanted the brand that said “Go Texan” which is a symbol for supposedly locally made products. I definitely agree that sometimes local might be better than organic being shipped across the country but once I got online I found out that the final product butter *was* made in Texas but the brand itself was owned by a conglomerate and likely received shipments of milk from all over the southeast. Chris attempted to get more information from the manufacturer but I don’t believe he ever heard anything back.

    Now that’s a little bit off the vegetarian thing but what being vegetarian has done has really just made me think about food and where it comes from even more. I watched Forks Over Knives and it hit home for me because heart disease is prominent in my family and I hope that being vegetarian will help me in preventing any problems that could be lingering down the road for me.

    Of course there’s the environmental issue, but even bringing together knowledgeable folks to weigh in their opinions, there’s plenty of discourse in that. I think what resonates most is eat whole foods and eat as locally as possible….organic if you can. Or you know what Michael Pollan said, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

    Which brings me to ‘fake’ meats and the like. I don’t really buy them all that often. Sometimes we buy ‘beef’ crumbles to put into spaghetti or faux sausage for our Zuppa Toscana recipe, but in general I don’t buy it. Though I do have a weakness for Quorn Chik’n Nuggets and I think in the vein of fake meats Quorn products are far superior to any of the soy based fake meats. But I do treat them as junk food and don’t use them often, maybe once every few months. I don’t eat or like soy dogs or the soy lunch meats, they are pretty much disgusting and I don’t know any vegetarian who likes them (speak up if you do!). I’d rather just eat a veggie filled sandwich instead of fake meat, though I do like black bean burgers. Amy’s trumps Morningstar in this department. I have tried making my own, which means they don’t have soy protein isolates, but I’ve only done it once and I really need to spend more time and make more to freeze. Actually looking at Amy’s ingredients it appears they don’t use soy isolates/concentrates and instead use mostly whole ingredients. Anyway, that’s for the folks who get all woozy about soy…and I’m not even going to touch that subject because while soy is everywhere (oil, proteins, other weird things),and I tend to try to avoid it when it is added in things I don’t think should have it, I’m not against eating it in more whole forms.

    As for taking it to the next level and going vegan, I don’t forsee going that route any time soon. I like cheese and I like eggs and I don’t have as much of a qualm about them as I do eating meat. I will probably try to reduce my cheese intake and would like to try to finding more organic and local cheeses, but since I can generally source yard eggs around here I don’t feel bad about eating eggs at all. Sometimes I’ll buy the organic eggs at the store if I can’t get to the farmers market, but that isn’t as common now that I found out I can generally get to a farmers market weekly.

    I have eaten meat during these two years. Sometimes I order something and it comes with meat (damn you Mexican restaurants and your sneaky enchilada sauces or beans!) and so I eat it or give it to someone else, and of course I will look the other way for broths in soups if needed at restaurants. I also definitely look forward to my birthday because that’s my sushi day….mmmmm! And if Chris catches fish I will eat and appreciate eating the fish. I don’t miss meat on most days and I could definitely do without chicken for just about ever, but what tempts me most is ribs, pulled pork, and brisket. And sushi. Or turkey at Thanksgiving. Sometimes I have a bit or slice of something and then my taste is sated and I’m good for another year.

    Will there come a time when I don’t do this at all? Maybe. I don’t know yet. This is a one day at a time thing for me. But what I do know is that I do appreciate the bountiful selection of vegetables that are out there and the different ways to make it into something delicious to eat for a meal.

    Oh, one other thing, I don’t take supplements. I hate vitamins and they make my stomach upset, but I also believe in eating your vitamins through food instead. I know there’s the worries about B12 and while I haven’t had my blood tested, I don’t feel as if I am deficient in anything. I think I will try to get an updated blood test soon though as I haven’t had one done in many years. I guess this turned into a bit of a rambling post instead of the structured one that was going on in my head, but if you have questions or comments please feel free to ask away!

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