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Archive for April, 2010

We just got into the house from a rare dinner out, and I heard my cell phone beeping that I had a message.  It was my neighbor, calling to invite us over to their storm shelter.  Arkansas is under several tornado warnings at once tonight, and the storms are tracking into the Missouri Ozarks.  I’m keeping our neighbors near and far in my heart.  For now, it looks like the storm is passing north of us, so we’ll stay put, but I am so thankful that we have near neighbors who are kind enough to offer us a safe place should we need it.

Update:  Tragic news is pouring in from nearby Van Buren County and the community of Scotland, where one death and numerous injuries are being reported.  This community is near the track of the huge storms that came through in February and May of 2008.  Readers, please keep our neighbors near and far in your hearts tonight, and if you have anything to give to aid operations, please do give.  (Updated 5-1 with better news, fewer fatalities.)

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Researchers learned years ago that one of the strongest triggers for memory is odor.  I remember once walking along in Boston and catching a whiff from a shop of something that smelled like my paternal grandmother’s house.  For the seconds I smelled the scent, I was transported to her place.

Seasonal fragrances are like that too.  I think spring odors are the most provocative for me, coming out of a seemingly scentless winter.  Here in the Ozarks we went from a cold, wet winter to the musty smell of damp leaves.  Then came the daffodils and jonquils, followed by apple blossoms and jasmine and then a warmer scent of pine straw mingled with azaleas.  Soon I know the heady fragrance of honeysuckle will follow.

I’ll never forget flying into Nashville and then driving home my first June after going north to college many, many years ago.  As we drove to my hometown, the scent of honeysuckle vines in bloom was almost overwhelming, even permeating the car.  It triggered memories of barefoot days of seemingly endless summers playing with friends through neighborhoods, woods, and fields.  It reminded me of dust between my toes.  The honeysuckle scent recalled puppy love and young summer romance . . . .

What memories do spring scents trigger for you?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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It’s dessert time again.  Today’s dessert is carrot cake, perfect for using up the last of your winter carrot crop.  This rich cake is loaded with fresh carrots for good health, and apple sauce and buttermilk bring moisture without fat to the crumb.  Neufchatel cheese for the cream-cheese frosting gives all the flavor of traditional carrot cake without quite as many calories.  I also made this cake for today’s smaller families, in a 6-cup pyrex dish, about 6 inches by 8 inches at the widest point.   You could easily use a standard 2-quart Corning casserole dish if you have that instead.  And, as always, you can get all of these ingredients in organic form.

Cake ingredients and method

  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or 1/2 whole-grain oat flour and 1/2 whole wheat flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup apple sauce
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk of kefir
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2-3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Mix together the first four (dry) ingredients in a measuring cup or small bowl.  Now combine the wet ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl, starting by beating the eggs and then adding in the other ingredients, including the carrots.  Now stir in the dry ingredients and finally the walnuts.  Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 55 minutes.  If you use a toaster oven, reduce heat to 325 degrees, set the pan on a broiler liner on the lowest rack setting, and put a sheet of foil over the top, flat (not fitted). Let the cake cool thoroughly before frosting it.

Frosting ingredients and method

  • 2-3 tablespoons real butter, room temperature
  • 6 ounces neufchatel cream cheese (naturally lower fat), room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (or a dash more!)
  • 3/4 cup confectioner’s (powdered) sugar

Cream together the butter and cream cheese.  Add the vanilla.  Gradually beat in the sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, until the mixture is smooth and creamy.  Spread it on the cooled cake.  Let the kids lick the bowl.

Mmmmmmm.  Carrots. In a cake.  With frosting.  Mmmmmm.

What’s your favorite way to sneak veggies into your family’s food?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome. Please contact me via the comments if you would like permission to reproduce photographs.

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We grow a dozen or more variety of chiles–hot peppers–each year.  One mild chile that I’m growing this year for the second time is pasilla, also known as chile negro.  Pasilla bajio has a mild but smoky flavor and can be added to fresh salsas or dried and powdered for a mole sauce.  Mole is, of course, the distinctive savory Mexican chocolate sauce that, frankly, is pretty darn hard to find in our neck of the woods.  Last year I only had one pasilla bajio plant, but I am planning for lots more this year, so I hope I’ll have recipes to share this fall.  (I bought my seeds for pasilla bajio here.  No, the company’s not paying me.  I just like the seeds, plus the packages have beautiful art work.)  All chiles originated in the Americas, but they spread around the world like wildfire with the Columbian exchange.  As they spread, they diversified, each culture adapting them to specific use.

When you’re selecting chiles, think of the purpose and heat.  Hungarian wax peppers, for example, are relatively mild, and you can pick them at green, yellow, and red.  I like to use them fresh and cooked as well as pickle them.  Thick-walled jalapenos hold up for roasting.  Hatch or Anaheim chiles are large and relatively mild, making them ideal for stuffing and salsa.  Poblano peppers dry well for sauces.  Of course you could choose cayenne for red pepper flakes (although I like red peter for dried red pepper).  There’s an almost endless variety of Asian peppers.  You could also pick habaneros with their extreme heat and fruit essence, but, frankly, they are so hot that we are content to buy those on the rare times when we want their intense flavor.  Regardless of which peppers you pick, go for a little variety, and think of how you use peppers before you buy.

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All right, I know my title is cliche.  Yesterday I headed to the Buffalo National River with a college group for a camping trip, hence my lack of post.  Given that we were hit by wave of wave of thunderstorms with torrential downpours, you may think I’m feeling pretty grumpy now.  Remarkably I’m not, and I think I can owe that to the company.  Everyone on the trip took off on it knowing that bad weather was on the way.  Everyone pitched in every time someone needed hands to raise a tent.  When tents got flooded (always check for leaks before trips like this!), other folks offered tent space. When a task needed doing in the “kitchen,” it got done.  The only complaints about the weather came in joking form.  And ultimately we got to do everything that we’d planned, if not always quite like we’d planned it.  We even had five beautiful hours for canoeing the river between rain storms.

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First off, happy Earth Day! I thought about doing an Earth Day post, but other time commitments prevented me.  I’d like to direct you to a fabulous post from Herban Lifestyle about how to make Earth Day everyday.  Click here.

Frugal Living:  Get the Most out of Your Chicken Leftovers

If you’ve read here here the past few days, you’ll know that I got really excited by our spicy barbeque smoked chicken earlier in the week.  We have continued to enjoy it, each time with a little variation in its saucing to make it fit a new menu.  Monday night we had paninis with the chicken in a smokey, sweet barbeque sauce and good cheese, served alongside spinach soup in the beautiful bowls I won from Polly’s Path.

Wednesday I cut a  big bowl of fresh lettuces and endive from our garden, pulled some carrots and radishes to slice, and clipped some chive blossoms for what I called buffalo chicken salad.  I sauced some of the chicken with hot sauce and used that with bleu cheese and homemade croutons to pile on top the salad.  I did take a photo of the lettuce (see below), but an untimely phone call and then hunger distracted me from shooting the salad.

Tonight?  It’s Mr. Homesteader’s cooking night, but I hear that we’ll be having something Mexican and that he’ll be using the smoked chicken.

Do you cook whole chickens?  If so, what’s your favorite way to dress up the leftovers?

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Lettuce Lessons:  Selecting Looseleaf Seeds

This is the big bowl of loose leaf lettuce, endive, and a little chard I picked from the garden.  The red frilly lettuce is Lolla Rossa.  If you see red and green on the same leaf, it could be Lolla Rossa inner leaves, or it could be Marvel of Four Seasons.  The lime green lettuce is called Black-Seeded Simpson.  It and Lolla Rossa are so attractive that I think either of them would be lovely as a border around a flower bed.  The frilly medium green stuff is in fact curly endive, and the leaf in sort of the middle left with red rib and veins is ruby chard.  All of these lettuces and other greens are easy to grow in cooler weather, and the chard has actually survived summer heat and freezing winters twice now as well as repeated cuttings in between.  We like growing head lettuces like butterhead and batavian, but these loose-leaf lettuces are really easy to grow for cut-and-come-again picking throughout the season.

Do you have favorite salad greens?  What grows well in your area?  Do tell!

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.  Please ask me for permission to use photographs.

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Beautiful Bowls

Last week tax day was made so much happier for me when I learned I had won a bonus prize from Polly’s Path at Blogspot.  I featured Polly’s Path and especially her animals earlier last week.  When I got home from my off-homestead job on Monday, I found a box with two carefully wrapped bowls.  My husband was eyeing the box suspiciously, wondering what I had ordered.  I told him that I’d won what was in the box.  He wanted details.  I told him that a goat drew my name out of a hat.  I didn’t tell him that a human was involved too.

The bowls are the lovely creations of Tom Seelos, a Georgia potter.  I knew I had to use them right away.  I was making spinach soup, and it was perfect for these bowls, with their detailed white-glazed rims.  Yes, I said white-glazed rims; the coloration in this photo is dominated by our poor lighting, not the color of the bowls (or soup). This photograph doesn’t do the bowls justice, but you can at least get an impression of their beauty.  Thank you again, Polly!

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You may recall that on April 4 a pregnant tabby and another tabby with white spots, both looking half grown, showed up here.  I have held back on updating about them in part because I know that other people’s pets–or in this case strays–aren’t good entertainment for a lot of readers.  A few of you, however, might appreciate the update, so here it is.  We spent a few days debating whether either of the strays belonged in the neighborhood and finally could only conclude that they belonged to each other.  At first, the male seemed to have plenty of meat on his bones, but a week and a  half later, it was clear that he was starving, indicating that they had probably been dumped shortly before they showed up here.  By then, the female had had her kittens, and we had started feeding her. We have yet to see the kittens.  I have questioned a few times if they survived, but then, as tonight, I check her teats, and it’s clear she’s still lactating.  We’re feeding him too.  Meanwhile, having these needy half-grown cats hanging around means that our cats (seen here and here) are going nuts, but we feel like we can’t do anything else until we find the kittens or discover that the mama is no longer nursing.

The cat featured here is the teen mother.  Her brother has similarly short tabby fur, but he has white spots too. He also has the biggest, roundest eyes I’ve ever seen on a cat before outside a movie (think Puss-in-Boots in Shrek when he’s putting on the boo-boo kitty face), but he doesn’t like to have his picture taken (yet).  Do you need two very smart, incredibly sweet cats?  They need a home.

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We were recently fortunate enoughto inherit a family-sized smoker.  We have a nice small one that we can use on a stove top–that’s lots of fun!–but it’s pretty much limited to smoking a few servings at a time.  Today we are  using the bigger smoker for a whole chicken, and we’ve brined it to yield a recipe that reminds us of a blend of Southern barbeque from around the region.  We’ve used lots of vinegar but also lots of heat in the brine, and I added chili powder to the rub.  That means this barbeque lacks ties to any distinctive Southern soil but nicely blends our roots (North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, and Texas).

Both smoking and brining are age-old culinary tricks to preserve food.  That said, we aren’t planning on letting this chicken sit around for long!  I have never declared food “righteous” before in my life, and I don’t think Mr. Homestead has either, but both of us agreed that the term could be applied to this incredibly juicy, smoky, spicy bird.

Start by preparing your brine.

Brine

  • 1 cup canning salt
  • 1 cup tabasco
  • 4-6 whole cloves
  • 1/2-3/4 cup molasses
  • sufficient water to completely cover the bird

Boil together about 4 cups of water with the salt to get the salt to dissolve.  Now add the molasses.  Finally, add the tabasco.  Chill the mixture, and then pour it and sufficient water to cover over your bird in a non-reactive, non-plastic container that’s large enough to get the bird completely covered with the mixture.  I used an enameled canning pot, but you could use glass or stainless steel.  Note:  Had I had a pot with a smaller diameter, I could have used less brine.  As it was, I’ll be in the market for a better briner for chicken than my big canning pot, which works great for a big turkey but is wasteful for the smaller bird. Leave the bird in the brine for about 24 hours.  Now take it out and dry it off.

Are you wondering what to do with your leftover brine?  It’ll make a great weed killer.  Just be sure not to use too much, as the salt will hang around and kill nearby plants.  It’s both the salt and the vinegar that kills, although frankly straight vinegar is better than this watered-down mix.

Rub

  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Sprinkle on the rub and then use your hands to even it out and gently pat it into the surface of your well-dried chicken.  Now go smoke!

We use a chimney loaded with newspaper in the bottom to start natural charcoal, so we don’t get petroleum products in our food.chemical-free coal-starting chimney

Come on, baby, light my fire!

Once you light the newspaper, the heat spreads up the chimney, starting the coals.

Our smoker has a little door through which you can feed the smoker with coal.

A 5-pound chicken smoked with low heat and moisture will take about 5 hours to smoke with low heat.  Our smoker has a convenient dial to indicate “ideal” temperature, although an actual thermometer (registering around 225 degrees F!) would be better.  You may need to add coals a couple of times to maintain “ideal” temperature.

We added some soaked apple wood to the coals for the last hour of cooking, to produce sweet smoke.

As you think the meat is getting close to being done, use a meat thermometer to check.  Be sure to pick a thick portion of meat away from bone.  When chicken  is done, the meat thermometer should register 165 degrees F.almost there!

Mmmmmmm.  Here’s the bird.  As tempting as it may be to cut right into it, please please please let it rest for at least half an hour or so before you cut into it.  The rest time will help the moisture stay inside the bird instead of spilling out.  You can spoon the juices left inside over the top if you want to take a little crisp out of the skin.

Collect the juices left behind in the drip pan and strain them through a coffee filter to get out any ash.  You can also chill the liquid and skim off any fat, although the coffee strainer should handle that too.  What you’ll have after you’ve strained is a smoky, spicy stock that you can use to make a barbeque sauce, add to soup, and so forth.

Do you have a favorite barbeque recipe?  Do you have a smoker?  If so, what kind of food do you smoke?  Do you have questions about smoked food?  Dear readers, please add comments.

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Upcoming Posts

We had a busy day and then lost our internet connection (a regular hazard of rural life), so tonight’s post will simply be a preview of some upcoming posts.  I’ve got a darn good recipe for smoked chicken, Southern barbeque style. I’ve got a new, down-sized, lower-fat, whole-grain carrot cake.  Look too for a post on some of my other favorite blogs and their greenhouses.  I’ll also be posting “Can This Pot Be Saved?:  A Cast Iron Love Story.”

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