November 28, 2020

Last Post of November: A Little Fall Color

Before November comes to a close, I wanted to show you our fall color because it's almost too late! But things seem on a slower time table this year, and we still have leaves on the trees, which isn't typical for November. These photographs have been taken throughout the month.

Most of our trees yield yellowish brown in fall, so our little sparks of color here and there are a real treat. How's the color in your area?

November 25, 2020

Thankful For...

When someone ask you what you're thankful for, what comes to mind? People? Things? Circumstances? In reflecting on that question, I'm realizing that this year, I'm thankful for something different. I'm thankful for a lesson learned. It's something I've always known intellectually but have never been able to actually own. That may be an odd thing to be thankful for, but hey! This is 2020! 

What's the lesson? It's that I'm the guardian of my eyes, ears, heart, and soul. And that means I'm the guardian of my emotions. No one else, me. I can feed my emotions things that keep me in a worried, fearful dither, or I can feed my emotions things that promote well-being and calm. I choose. I choose what I look at, what I listen to, and what I think about. 

Have you ever noticed the connection between thoughts and emotions? Thoughts can either be presented to us from outside sources (through seeing and hearing), or they can be memories. Sometimes we simply set these thoughts aside, but how often do we have emotional reactions to them? Our emotions keep us thinking about them, and our thoughts feed the emotional response. Have you ever found yourself caught in this cycle and wondered, why am I doing this to myself?

I have! And this year, I'm finally learning to say to myself, "Quit it! Quit beating a highway down neural pathways that don't take me where I want to go. Stop feeding thoughts that destroy my peace and rob me of my sense of well-being, especially for things over which I have no control. Choose to focus on something else. Choose things that are worthy of being dwelt on and ignore the rest."

I'm not saying I've perfected this yet, but this year, I've made a lot of progress toward learning that I'm in control of my thought life, not my emotions. I'm exceedingly thankful for that.

Thankful For... © November 2020

November 21, 2020

Haybox (aka Thermal) Cooking

I'm always on the lookout for methods of alternative cooking, so I was quite intrigued when I learned about the haybox cooker. I was also surprised that this new-to-me idea is actually a very old method of cooking! Haybox cookers (also spelled hay box) are sometimes referred to as wonder boxes, fireless cookers, or thermal cookers. They cook food by using retained heat. In other words, the food is partially cooked first, then allowed to finish cooking in an insulated container.

Early haybox cookers were wooden boxes which used hay as insulation. People still use hay, but wool fleece is popular too. The box itself can be anything from wood to a thermal bag. They tend to be susceptible to moisture build-up, so probably the only thing that wouldn't last long would be cardboard. Dan made my haybox from an old travel cooler and leftover foam board from our pantry insulation project.

The cooler is from Dan's trucking days. Plugs into a cigarette
lighter and keeps food cool without needing to replace ice.

We had quite a few foam board scraps left from our pantry
. As you can see, he cut them to fit a particular pot.

Two more pieces of foam board cover the top of the pot.

The other day I tested it out by cooking rice. To get the cooking started, I used my rocket stove.

I bought this little camping stove years ago and can no longer find the website. So much more convenient than campfire cooking, although it constantly has to be fed to keep it going. That's why it pairs nicely with the haybox cooker!

My recipe for rice is one cup brown rice and one pint of bone broth.

After the rice was allowed to simmer for about ten minutes, I put the pot in the haybox.

I had no idea about timing the cooking. Some
sources say one hour, some say several hours.

Then I covered it up, closed the lid and waited. It's hard not to peek, but every time the cooker is opened heat is lost, so it's best not to open it if at all possible.

After about an hour and 20 minutes in the haybox, the rice looked to be pretty much done. It was, pretty much done, and was edible, but it could have gone a little longer. I'll do that next time. 

I see a lot of use for this kind of cooking, all seasons. I'm not always around to tend to a wood fire, so this is the perfect solution for one-pot meals. Summer too, when we often have clouds rolling in during the late afternoon. Those clouds mean my solar oven stops cooking. The haybox will be the perfect way to finish up whatever I've got going for dinner. 

If you're interested in more, there are tons of websites and videos on haybox cookers, all easy to find with a simple search. There's also a free cook book by Margaret J. Mitchell, entitled The Fireless Cook Book. It was originally published in 1913, but is now public domain and available for download at the Internet Archive. Amazon has an inexpensive paperback option, which I recently ordered, along with a more recent publication, Fireless Cookers Haybox Cookers & Retained Heat Cookers by George Eccleston. I ordered it too and will give you a review of both books soon.

November 17, 2020

Sweet Potatoes, Rice, and Peanuts

First frost is the decisive end of the summer garden. We had two light ones back-to-back at the beginning of the month, and although they weren't killing frosts, they did enough damage to set fall harvest in motion.

The first thing on my list was sweet potatoes. I waited as long as I could, since the bed in the garden never seemed to grow well. Of my two plantings of slips, these were planted first (April 5th and 6th). But that particular bed is at the top of the garden and has never held soil moisture well, so the plants never grew well, even with my inverted bottle waterer experiment.

Photo from last August.

The sweet potatoes in the African Keyhole Garden, on the other hand, did fantastic.

The slips in the keyhole garden were planted June 9th.

The difference in the harvest is just as amazing. 

On the left are the largest from the keyhole garden.
On the right are the largest from the garden bed.

It wasn't a huge harvest because my slips were late to grow, but I'll take whatever I get and be thankful for it. 

Another surprise was my rice. We planted a small plot of it last June, and I admit I was doubtful about the seed, which I saved from the previous summer. I'm pretty sure I harvested it too early, so I doubted it was mature enough to be viable. Amongst the (unwanted) volunteer grasses, I assumed it was a no-show. Dan even mowed the patch, and I never watered it, even during our hot dry spell. What a surprise to finally realize I had scatterings of mature rice plant growing there!

I hand harvested these by cutting off the heads. The yield was a bowlful.

Rice harvest so far.

There are still a few unripe rice plants, but even so, I won't get much of a harvest. But at least it's a seed crop for next year. 

Lastly, my peanuts. They're supposed to be harvested when the leaves start to turn yellow and about 70% of the nuts are mature. Well, the plants never yellowed, but they did suffer some frost damage. I checked on them the other day and discovered that between soggy soil and a return to summer-like temperatures last week, they were starting to sprout! So I pulled them.

One thing I observed is that where the vines laid on the ground, more peanuts grew.

That gives me information about how to increase production next year.

The last step is to dry them, and I hope that stops them from sprouting so I can have seed to plant next year!

Of the summer garden, my Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes and Cornfield pole beans are still producing. 

Neither got much frost damage. Looking at the weather forecast, however, I suspect that will come to a frozen end soon. 

November 13, 2020

Learning How To Make Ghee

I don't get a lot of cream from my goats' milk, so I've adjusted how I use it. That means, it accumulates faster than I can use it, so I end up storing it in the freezer. When I want cream for ice cream, whipped cream, cheesecake, or butter, I defrost what I need. But eventually, I need the freezer space for something else, and that's what got me thinking about learning to make ghee.

Butter is fat plus a little remaining water (as whey) and milk solids (proteins). Much of this is washed out in the last step making butter.

Washing goat butter to remove residual whey.

Even so, some of these remain and that's what can give old butter an off-flavor. It's also why butter smokes when heated too high. If the water and solids are removed, however, the result is pure butterfat, which is shelf-stable. It can be stored for months without refrigeration and has a low smoking point, making it a very useful product. There are two forms of this - clarified butter and ghee. Ghee has a nuttier flavor because because the milk solids are browned a bit after the butter melts. Clarified butter is commonly used in French cooking, while ghee is used in Indian cuisine.

I'm not an expert at ghee making yet, but I'm starting to get the hang of it; at least enough to share some pictures and explanations. It starts with unsalted butter. Plop it in a pot and turn on the heat to medium. Then watch for three things: fine foamy bubbles, large airy bubbles (from simmering), and the milk solids floating to the top of the simmering butter. The foam forms first.

After it melts, it begins to bubble and foam. Stir gently and watch.

In every tutorial I've read or watched, the bright golden yellow color is mentioned somewhere along the way. I'm using butter made from goat cream, so I won't get that beautiful color because goat milk lacks beta carotene. It's the beta carotene that gives cow butter its yellow color. My goat butter and butter products are very pale in comparison. The color variations you see in this series of photos are due to whether or not the camera auto-flash engaged.

The simmering butter is stirred gently until the foam dissipates and the milk solids form and float on the surface of the simmering butter. Turn the heat down to medium-low.

As the foam (fine bubbles) disappears, the milk solids begin to rise and float.

For clarified butter, you can skim the milk solids and then strain the melted butter through cheesecloth. For ghee, simply stop stirring and continue to watch. Soon it looks like this...

The milk solids sink to the bottom of the pan.

If you look carefully, you see surface bubbles, but
also the milk solids lying on the bottom of the pot.

Now the milk solids are allowed to brown until the butter starts to foam a second time.

When the butter starts to foam again, the ghee is done.

Then it's removed from the heat and strained.

I use a fine strainer, but several layers of
cheesecloth would improve the product.

Some people actually discard the browned milk solids, but I would at least feed them to the chickens! Others recommend them as a popcorn topping, and they'd be good in an au gratin topping too. I've eaten them myself because they're too tasty to waste.

I spent too much time fiddling with the camera, so my scrapings are a little
dark. Usually, they are more of a golden brown, but at least they didn't burn(!)

The jars are then lidded and placed on a pantry shelf for storage.

Maybe a little difference in color depending on the browning of the milk solids.

The ghee on the right is the batch made in the photos. The jar on the left has been stored in the pantry since April. It's my test batch for non-refrigerated storage.

The other day, I made some from unsalted cow butter because I was curious about the color. Here's how the two compare ...

Cow ghee on the left, goat ghee on the right.

For the uninitiated, I'm pretty sure the one on the left looks more appealing.

A pound of butter yields about a pint of ghee. It can be used the same way butter is, and since it doesn't smoke when heated, is excellent for sauteing. Plus, it frees up room in the freezer. 😺

Any ghee or clarified butter fans out there? What's your favorite use for it? Recipes?

And here we go again, another shameless plug for one of my little how-to eBooks. This time for the revised edition of How To Get Cream From Goats's Milk: make your own butter, whipped cream, ice cream, and more. It now contains more photos, more information, and updated links. It includes how to make clarified butter and ghee!

For more information or where to buy, click here
Learning How To Make Ghee © November 2020

November 10, 2020

Fall Foraging: Rose Hips

We have wild roses everywhere. In some ways they are a nuisance, but they are also useful, so over the years we've thinned them out. I still have several areas, however, where I gather rose hips.

The wild rose hips are tedious to gather because they are so small. It takes a while to get a worthwhile amount.

Over the course of several weeks I was able to gather and dry a pound. A quart jar holds them nicely and looks pretty on a kitchen shelf.

Occasionally, I make tea. 

Crush gently.

Simmer a tablespoon in a pint of water for 10 minutes.

Very tasty with a drizzle of honey.

Rose hips are traditionally used in cough remedies or to treat diarrhea. And of course they are rich in vitamin C. I also feed them to the goats!

I have some rugosa roses too, but they've been taken over by honeysuckle and Virginia creeper. Hopefully, this winter I can rescue them. 

Anyone else collect rose hips?

November 7, 2020

Pecans Galore!

We're having our best pecan harvest ever, although it started out pretty ordinary.

Pecans started dropping in late September/early October. Every day we'd scour under the trees for windfall.

I picked up a pocketful here and a handful there, and over the weeks managed to find and collect quite a few.

By weighing them in batches I learned that a 5-gallon bucket holds about 20 pounds of unshelled pecans.

Then came tropical storm Zeta. We only got about 2.6 inches of rain, but the winds were so bad we kept looking for tornadoes. After it was over Dan counted five new downed pine trees in our woods. The winds also knocked down a lot of leaves.

And! A ton of pecans! 

Here's what Dan and I picked up in one afternoon.

And we're still picking them up! Every day more drop. The best harvest we've ever had.

In fact, this year I need to find someone who shells them. It's too many to do by hand. 

November 4, 2020

Fall Foraging: Mushrooms

Our home mushroom growing attempts have not been successful. Yet, wild mushrooms so very well! Which got us to thinking that maybe we should learn something about mushroom identification.

After one of our rainy spells, we found this next to the driveway. . .

This is Hen of the Woods; kin to Chicken of the Woods but not as colorful. I gathered some for dinner.

I sliced them up

and sauteed them in olive oil.

They had a good flavor, but they weren't as tender as the button mushroom I buy at the grocery store.

Then we had another hot dry spell and no more mushrooms until it rained again. This same patch of hen of the woods grew back.

This time, I decided to dehydrate them and make mushroom powder.

I harvested about one pound and put them in the dehydrator at the vegetable setting.

By the end of the afternoon they were crispy dry. Then I powdered them in the blender.

One pound fresh filled about a third of a pint jar. So it would take about three pounds of mushrooms for a pint of mushroom powder. If I find more, I'll make more.

Mushroom powder with a few flakes.

Not exactly an appealing color, but it smells really good. I'll use it in gravies and soups this winter.

Anyone else foraging fall mushrooms?

Fall Foraging: Mushrooms © November 2020