Kitchen Witchery

Previously on Herban Cowgirl Adventures

(The title of this post should be read in the clipped British accent of Giles from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”)

SO much happening here at the Green Goddess Gardens lately.  I just haven’t felt like actually writing about it.  So I’ll do a quick list.

1.  Our family bought a car.  After being without one for over 2 years.  And there was much rejoicing.

Tinted windows so we can pick our noses at red lights.

Tinted windows so we can pick our noses at red lights.

2.  I started running.  Barefoot.

So. Much. Fun.

So. Much. Fun.

3.  My Uncle Billy died.

Little Boy kept our spirits up in the hospital as family sat with Uncle Billy in his last days.  We will miss him.

Little Boy kept our spirits up in the hospital as family sat with Uncle Billy in his last days. We will miss him.

4.  We had the flu for 2 weeks.

We took lots of naps.

We took lots of naps.

5.  The Herban Cowboy built a fence for the chicken yard out of old pallets.

Ooo so fancy!

Ooo so fancy!

6.  One of our new chickens got sick and died.

The new girls.  Lucy is the redhead.  Ethel is the recently deceased.  RIP sweet girl.

The new girls. Lucy is the redhead. Ethel is the recently deceased. RIP sweet girl.

7.  We cut down and chopped up 4 trees in our backyard.

"He's a lumberjack and he's okay..."

“He’s a lumberjack and he’s okay…”

8.  I read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and can’t stop thinking about fresh, local food.

Wild onions found while foraging.  Dirty and stinky and yummy!

Wild onions found while foraging. Dirty and stinky and yummy!

9.  I knit the Herban Cowboy a Doctor Who scarf for his birthday.

Replica of the 4th Doctor's scarf from the episode "The Ark in Space."  Because that's how we nerd.

Replica of the 4th Doctor’s scarf from the episode “The Ark in Space.” Because that’s how we nerd.

10. We got a new (to us) computer, compliments of one of my beautiful aunts.

So big and shiny.

So big and shiny.

11.  I got back on a horse for the first time in 6 years.

You will never be as happy as I am in this picture.

You will never be as happy as I am in this picture.

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Categories: Cowgirl's Livestock, Fabulous Foraging, Green Goddess Garden, Just For Fun, Kitchen Witchery, Possum Living, Stitchin' Bitchin', Telling Stories, The Homestead, To DIY For | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mulberry Jelly

Late one summer at my grandparents’ house, one of their neighbors dropped by with a giant brown grocery bag full of scuppernongs (those are wild, tough-skinned, sweet white grapes, for any Yankees reading this — haha).  My MaMa looked at the heavy bag on her kitchen table and said, “Well.  Let’s make some jelly!”  We gathered supplies, boiled grapes, squeezed the pulp through cheesecloth to strain out the skins and seeds, added pectin and sugar, and poured it off into little jars.  It was the best grape jelly ever.

My MaMa always seemed to have homemade jelly or preserves on the table.  Apple or plum were the usual jelly choices, and fig or peach were the fabulously chunky preserves.

Ever since I began foraging for wild food (several years ago), I’ve wanted to make jelly.  I keep telling myself “This is the year I’m gonna DO it!”  And then I don’t gather enough, or I’m missing a crucial ingredient or piece of equipment, or I totally miss gathering what’s in season until it’s over.

Well folks, (*trumpet flourish*) this is the year I finally did it.  Yay me!

Last weekend’s mulberry picking excursion didn’t yield enough berries for jelly.  So I froze those, and Saturday we went to shake the trees again.  We gathered all we could reach, and headed back home.

Little Boy shows off his treasure.

Yesterday I gathered all my equipment and ingredients.  I watched a buttload of YouTube videos to help get the process straight in my head.   This one most succinctly explained the water bath canning process and the equipment needed:

I found a few mulberry jelly videos, but this black raspberry one was the one I ended up lifting the most from:

The one piece of equipment I lack is a jar rack for the water bath.  I’d read that you don’t really need one, so I looked up a few ways to improvise.  This video was helpful, and I adore redberrychick’s DIY style, as well as that redneck accent.  Adorable!  I want to hang out on the porch and drink wine with her:

I tried the ring thing, but I don’t have twisty ties and the jars kept falling over.  I ended up going with the folded up towel, but that ended up being wobbly and weird.  I’m getting a jar rack for next time.

Some observations of note from my jelly making process:

1.  I didn’t have cheesecloth, so instead of sending my Herban Cowboy out for some, I used a clean white cloth diaper (that had never been used for doodie duty) to strain it.  It worked pretty well, but I think the cheesecloth would be better for straining fruit pulp.  Next time.

2.  Eleven cups of mulberries only yielded 2 cups of juice.  This totally bummed my jelly high.  I had to make a half batch.

3.  I boiled my jelly too long and ended up reducing it, resulting in a VERY sticky and thick syrup.  We’ll see how this affects the final product.

4.  Cleanup sucks.  The bad news is that mulberry pulp gets everywhere and stains everything.  The good news is that it’s a beautiful shade of purple.

All those years of planning and procrastinating, the money spent on equipment, all the time spent, the cleanup work and a learning curve that encompasses stains and burns  — and I made three jars of jelly.

Three.

I should be crying in frustration, but instead I am SO excited.  The money’s already spent, now I know what to do, the jars are reusable, foraged fruit is free, I’ll be faster next time, what can I make next, somebody stop me!

Maybe I should wait until I taste the jelly before I get TOO excited.  I gave one jar to D, who had driven us all around Chatham County searching for fruiting trees.  The other two sit, with their tightly sealed lids, on my counter.  I’m supposed to wait at least 24 hours before I open one.  We’ll see if I can wait that long………

Mmmmm.

 

Categories: Fabulous Foraging, Kitchen Witchery, Possum Living, The Homestead, To DIY For | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Busy Week Is Busy

This whole past week has been much crazier and busier than I am willing to be on a regular basis.  I won’t go into detail on all the stories, but here’s the blog version….

Last Saturday, the day after our beach fun with friends, the whole family went down to River Street to see the Tall Ships.  The Herban Cowboy was performing two puppet shows with the Puppet People, and Little Boy and I tagged along for the pirates and the face painting.  It was a HOT day (sunburn for Mommy!), but SO much fun.  My mom came down and Herban Cowboy treated us all to lunch at the Boar’s Head (grilled fresh tilapia with cheese grits — I almost licked the plate).

Giant puppets!

Real pirates!

 

Halfway through the day, as Little Boy was getting his face painted, I noticed my wedding ring was gone.

Gone.

I stared off into space and very quietly had a three minute panic attack while Morgann painted a shark on my kid’s face.  I didn’t tell the guys until later.  Why spoil their day, too?

Land shark!

Sunday, I shook off the blues and we took a family trip to Home Depot to order a new stove.  My old one was down to one working burner, and we desperately needed a new one.  We looked around at a few second hand options, but my mom really wanted me to have a new one, and offered to pay half.  Which came out to about the amount of the second hand ones we’d looked at.  So despite our Possum Living inclinations, we gave a fat wad of cash to a big box corporation for a new appliance.  To be delivered Wednesday.  So no, I don’t get to feel superior that I saved the planet by buying local and used, but I will get a shiny new stove.  So it’s still a win.

Later that afternoon, we all went mulberry picking.  Our friend D came over with a big sheet for catching fallen berries, we grabbed a bucket, and headed off to search for fruiting trees.  Most of them we found were either full of green berries, or past fruiting, with empty branches and purple stains on the ground below.  We finally hit pay dirt behind a grocery store in our neighborhood.  D put the sheet down, she and the Herban Cowboy shook the tree and gathered the fallen, I pulled them by hand from the branches, and Little Boy grazed happily on the low hanging fruit.

Little Boy and D, working hard and filling their bellies.

Purple jazz hands!

 

I love picking mulberries.  Reaching through the branches, sunlight filtering through the canopy, seeing the gleaming jewels of red and purple, feeling the scratching of the leaves on my arms and face, the earth and berry juice under my feet (yes, I was barefoot).  There’s something primally joyful about picking berries from tree branches.  All the pleasure centers of my brain were LIT.  High on berry picking.  I’m such a nature nerd.

Pictured: Nature Nerd Feet

I’m going to make mulberry jam, but 1) My new stove doesn’t arrive until Wednesday, 2) I need a 10 quart saucepan and 3) I need more mulberries.  So I froze what we collected on Sunday, and there in my freezer they await their jammy, jammy fate.

Shining purple jewels of treasure!

Monday morning, Little Boy and I lazed around the house, playing games, watching DVDs and reading books.  I was tired from the weekend, and still down about my lost wedding ring.  I kept NOT hearing and feeling the metallic “clink” when my finger taps against a hard surface.  I noticed its absence.  The weather seemed to mirror my mood, with thunderstorms forecast, and dark clouds and intermittent pattery showers.

We needed to go to the bank before the afternoon thunderstorms hit, so we hitched up the bike trailer and started off the half mile to the bank.  I figured we could make our deposit and still have time to hit someplace up for an easy lunch.  Once a week or so Little Boy and I like to have a “lunch date” somewhere.  Maybe we’ll beat the rain.

On the way to the bank, I spot one of the homeless men who lives in my neighborhood.  He and his mother? sister? — they’re definitely related, but sun and wind have made it difficult to determine their ages — anyway, they live in a tent in a little wooded patch behind a gas station.  We see them when we’re walking to the Dollar Store or riding the bus and we’ve spoken with them several times.  On different occasions I’ve offered them blankets, hand-knitted hats and scarves, and lunch.  They always refuse (though the Herban Cowboy has reported that the man has asked him for money).

The woman always has nice words to say to my boy, and he likes the two of them.  Because of his affection for them, we’ve had to have the conversation about friends vs. acquaintances vs. strangers and what the safety protocols are with each category.  I don’t think they’d hurt me or Little Boy, but I do have a feeling that the man is a petty criminal and con man.  Nothing to base that on but instinct, but nevertheless, I am friendly but cautious with them.

So on the way to the bank I see the man.  He’s alone, and I realize I haven’t seen HER in over a week.  My curiosity overcomes me and I stop and ask, “I’m sorry if this is personal, but where is K?  I haven’t seen her in a while.”

He tells me she has pneumonia, and is lying down in their tent in the woods.  He was trying to find something for her to eat.  I told him I’d see what I could find.

Little Boy and I continued to the bank, all the while talking about what was happening.  I explained to him that Miss K was very sick, and she only had R to take care of her.  I told him that she was hungry and needed food before the thunderstorms came, so I thought we could give her our lunch, since there’s still food at home for us to eat.  He didn’t like that idea at first.

“Mommy, I don’t WANT to go to Kroger I want to go to lunch with you.”

“Listen,” I said as I locked up the bike outside the grocery store, “I want to go to lunch with you, too, but we do that all the time.  I don’t want to go into Kroger either, but there’s a sick, old, hungry lady who’s all alone and needs our help.  And I just couldn’t live with myself if she got even sicker or even died just because we didn’t feel like going into the grocery store.”

He considered this as he took off his helmet and followed me into Kroger.  We got chicken, black eyed peas and turnip greens from the deli, some fresh fruit, and a jug of purified water.  Then we loaded up and headed back.  Rain drops fell here and there, threatening to open up at any moment, though no thunder yet.

We gave the food to R, and continued home, making it back just before the sky opened up and sent a big, fat shower.  The whole thing shook me up all day.  I’m all for living in the woods, but I’d like to have food and good shelter and help when I’m sick.  The piles of trash bothered me, too.  What if that was my mother?  What if that was me?

It put my lost wedding ring into perspective, that’s for sure.

And then to drive home the fact that all my problems really are First World Problems, my shiny new stove arrived yesterday.

So shiny. So pretty.

 

Categories: Fabulous Foraging, Kitchen Witchery, Telling Stories, The Homestead, Unschooling | Leave a comment

Supermom in Sweatpants

My mom raked my entire front yard yesterday.  It had been bothering her.

Go Mom!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First you should know that my mother keeps an immaculate house and yard.  I do not.  I tried for years to be as clean as my mother, but I just couldn’t do it.  So now instead I just live with the shame.  It’s easier.

I’m a basically lazy person, and am happiest when I don’t have a lot of shit to do.  If I have to choose between maintaining my front yard, or watching Invader Zim with the Little Boy while I knit and drink coffee, guess what I’m going to pick EVERY TIME?  What I’m saying is, in the almost 3 years we have lived in this house, the front yard has NOT been my priority.  Ever.

Rockin' the sweatpants all DAY.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So my 60-something year old mother spent HOURS yesterday raking up more than a decade’s worth of leaf litter from the darkest corners of my ratty front yard.  Little Boy ran circles around her playing, and the Herban Cowboy was turning and raking compost, putting in the border to the kitchen garden, and helping me in the kitchen.

The cement border is salvaged from the cement pile at the dump. Compost that's been "stewing" for two years is spread on top. Time to plant some flowers and herbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent the time playing country housewife, cooking up a “mess of vittles” for the all the folks.  I made a double batch of chicken soup with two whole chickens in it, steamed broccoli, baked potatoes and sweet potatoes, sausage, and some coconut-chocolate-chip-oatmeal cookies.  The Husband made a loaf of wheat bread to go with it all.

Picnic lunch in the backyard garden. Baked potatoes with butter, bacon bits, cheddar cheese and plain yogurt. Fried sausage and steamed broccoli. Oatstraw infusion to wash it all down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a busier day than I like to have, and I was tired and stressed by the end of it all (I also had to break away for an hour to do a birthday party puppet show!), but I’m glad we did it.  Now we’ve got a cleaned up front yard, chicken soup in the freezer, leftovers for lunch, and enough bread dough to make a pizza for dinner tonight.  We even sent my mom home with soup, bread, sweet potato, and greens.

Wining and reclining after a long, long day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope she can move today.  Maybe I should call her.

 

Next on Mom's list: "Cut back those dang azaleas!"

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Lazy Dinner

Since I hate cooking, when I get busy or tired (or both), I don’t feel like making dinner, okay?  Preparing food is the last thing I want to do.  I don’t want to wash things.  I don’t want to chop things.  I don’t want to stir and sweat and stand.  It’s late in the afternoon, and I just want to sit with my feet up.  Either on the couch, knitting to a funny, brainless video, or out in the garden, with the chickens pecking around my feet.  Also there would be wine.

I want someone to make ME dinner.  I want food to magically appear in front of me, with no dishes to wash afterward.  Is that really too much to ask?

So a couple nights a week we have Lazy Dinner.  Sometimes it’s boxed mac & cheese with frozen peas stirred in.  Sometimes it’s a frozen pizza from the gas station across the street (don’t judge me).  Tonight it’s organic frozen fish sticks and steamed green beans.  Dipped in ranch dressing.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to bring myself to cook again.  (*dramatic hand to back of forehead*)

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Me, me, me, me, meeeeee!

Drank that cheap wine GURL!

I should be making dinner.  But the crazy lady I sometimes work for took Little Boy to dance class with her granddaughter (his best friend “O”), and Herban Cowboy won’t be home from work for another 45 minutes.  I have a sudden, silent hour.  So I’m drinking cheap wine and knitting up a kerchief thingy for my hair.  My old cat Mojo is curled up beside me on the couch.

Once my buzz kicks in (it’s a big glass), I’ll head into the kitchen, turn on the iPod, and sing Duran Duran songs while I fry up some country steak, bake some french fries, and steam a little broccoli.

And who cares if dinner is 20 minutes late when Mommy is so, so happy?

 

Categories: Just For Fun, Kitchen Witchery, Stitchin' Bitchin', Wise Woman Way | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Crackers

I hate to cook, but I love, love, LOVE homemade food.  Getting my guys to help in the kitchen makes everything take longer and the scope of the mess so much more epic, but it’s WAY more fun than cooking alone.  So yesterday I coaxed them into helping me make crackers.  Because rolling dough annoys the crap out of me.

This was only our second batch ever.  It’s not very difficult.  Mix up some dough, roll it, cut it, bake it.  But it does end up taking forever and making a huge mess.  The recipe is from “Diet for a New America” by John Robbins.  I’m not vegan, but I used to be, and this cookbook has survived 20 years with me for the cornbread recipe alone.  But I’ve always wanted to try the cracker recipe.  The ones we make turn out pretty crunchy, not light and crispy like a store bought cracker.  But the flavor is wonderful and they are hearty and satisfying.  I’m already hooked.

My Herban Cowboy and the Little Boy cut some shapes with a cookie cutter at first, but quickly figured out that’s a pain in the ass.  So the rest were cut with a pizza roller.  Easy peasy.

 

WHOLE WHEAT SESAME CRACKERS (we double the recipe)

6 Tablespoons plus 1/2 cup sesame seeds

1 cup water

3 Tablespoons canola (or other) oil

1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (we used half white and half wheat yesterday)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Position 2 racks in the center and the bottom third of the oven.  Heat to 350 degrees.  Spread 2 Tablespoons sesame seeds on each of three unoiled baking sheets (we worked 2 sheets at a time).

Put oil, water, and salt in a small bowl and stir together.  In a large bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder.  Stir in sesame seeds.  Add water/oil mixture and combine to form dough.  Shape dough into a ball.  Roll out onto floured surface until 1/16″ — very thin.  Use a fork and prick the dough all over to prevent puffing up.  Cut into rectangles with a pizza wheel.  Transfer to cookie sheets and bake 15-25 minutes, switching the positions of the cookie sheets on the racks halfway through baking.  Crackers are done when they are firm and light brown.

They’re good plain, or smeared with cream cheese.  I also like them with some sharp cheddar and a glass of white wine.

Little Boy helping Daddy cut cracker shapes.

The cookie cutter shapes are fun to eat, but the pizza wheel ZIPS through this step. SO much easier.

Cracka-lackin'!

He will be furious to discover I posted the duckface picture. Muahahaha....

Categories: Kitchen Witchery, Possum Living, The Homestead, Unschooling | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Baked Oatmeal

Breakfast this morning smells so good I had to post the recipe.  It’s an Amish recipe I found online at cooks.com or food.com or something like that.  My whole house smells like cinnamon right now.

So this morning I let the chickens out of their coop with a cool whip tub full of feed, threw down some kibble for the kitties, and crammed a banana into the Little Boy.  While the coffee was brewing, I threw together this:

BAKED OATMEAL:

3 cups rolled oats  (we were a few tablespoons shy of this today, so I added some shredded coconut to fill it out)

1 cup brown sugar (or less to taste)

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

2 eggs

1/2 cup (1 stick) of melted butter

2 teaspoons vanilla

3/4 cup dried fruit (this morning it was cherries and raisins)

350 degree oven.  Mix together oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.  In a smaller bowl, beat together eggs, milk, vanilla and melted butter.  Add to dry ingredients.  Mix well and stir in dried fruit.  Spread into 9 x 13 baking dish.  Bake 40 minutes or until done.

 

It’s pretty easy to whip up, and tastes like you’re eating dessert for breakfast.  We pour vanilla or plain yogurt on top, and have apple slices on the side.

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A Big To-Do

Every day there are lists.  Today’s lists include such tasks as:

1.  Make French Toast

2.  Clean syrup and egg off of entire kitchen

3.  Wash dishes

4.  Lure escaped chickens back into pen with table scraps

5.  Find where the chickens got out and plug the hole in the fence.  Again.

6.  Rake pine straw off roof of house.  Free mulch!

7.  Start blog

8.  Mulch veggie beds.

9.  Plant seeds that should have been planted 3 weeks ago.

10. Discover camera battery has 7 minutes left.

11. Charge camera.

12. Keep Facebook open in another tab like an obsessive freak.  Tell yourself everyone does it.

13.  Heat leftover veggie pies for lunch.

14.  Glad you made extra salad yesterday, aren’t you?

15.  Take out kitchen compost.  The tiny fruit flies should not have had time to breed.

16.  Miss picture of husband on roof because camera is charging.

17.  Shower.  Put on a bra and makeup and try to look pretty.

18.  Go do a puppet show.  The 3 Pigs.  For some kid’s birthday party.

19.  Wash more dishes.

20.  Dinner?  I don’t even know.  This will eventually have to be dealt with.

21.  Isn’t it time to start on the wine?

22.  Bathtime, storytime, kid into bed.

23.  How is it only 7:30?  I feel like it’s midnight.

 

Categories: Cowgirl's Livestock, Green Goddess Garden, Kitchen Witchery, Telling Stories, The Homestead, Unschooling | Leave a comment

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