3.31.2014

The Best Ever Banana Muffins - Recipe


One of the first recipes I put up on this blog was my grandma's banana bread recipe.  That was four years ago and it is still a favorite.  In the last year or so I started to make the same recipe as banana muffins.  The main benefit is they bake faster.  Start to finish these muffins take just half an hour, making them excellent for breakfast.  I like to make some scrambled eggs when they are just about done baking.  Add a cup of coffee and I'm a happy mama.

The Best Ever Banana Muffins

Yields 12 regular sized muffins

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar (I prefer evaporated cane juice sugar)
2 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cup unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed ripe banana (two bananas)
1/4 cup walnuts or pecans (optional)
1/2 tablespoon buttermilk*

*If you don’t have buttermilk on hand add a couple drops of lemon juice or vinegar to milk or use sour cream in the same amount.

  1. Start by setting out the butter and eggs. Bringing them up to room temperature will make the batter better. Let them sit for at least an hour at room temperature. If you are in a hurry, microwave the butter for 10 seconds and stir it to distribute the heat. Try not to liquefy the butter, the goal is soft, but solid. And in the end cold eggs, won’t make bad bread.
     
  2. In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg, vanilla and buttermilk and mix it until smooth.
     
  3. In a large bowl mix together all the dry ingredients.
     
  4. Add the dry mixture and the banana to the butter mixture, adding a little at a time and mix after each addition. Stir in the nuts. Ideally you will mix just until all the ingredients are moist, there should still be lots of lumps. Over mixing will react all the baking powder and soda. This makes the texture of the bread dense and heavy. So less work equals better bread. That’s the way it should be.
     
  5. Pour the batter into greased or lined muffin tin. Bake at 425 degrees for 18 minutes or until a sharp knife poked in, comes out clean.
     
  6. Remove the bread from the pan immediately to avoid soggy crust. Let the muffins cool on a rack for at least five minutes before serving. When cool, cover and store.

3.27.2014

Planning to Preserve 2014


Over the last four years my cooking and food goals have evolved.   First, I worked out how to eat healthy on a budget.  Next, I wanted to put by part of our yearly food supply.  At the start, I couldn't grow it myself  because we lived in an apartment the first three years in Indiana.  Instead, I took home extra from the vegetable garden which was part of the arboretum I worked for, as well as, the farmer's market.  I look back at those blog posts and see my early attempts at canning, dehydrating and foraging.  There was a learning curve.  The first couple years I did small batches without ever putting enough by for the winter.

Remember when I used to think this was a lot of tomatoes in 2010?


This is about a third of what I put up last year:



I left my arboretum job a couple years later when my husband got a position as a professor and we moved to our current small town in northeast Indiana.  Before we moved I contacted a couple farms and gardens nearby and asked if I could volunteer.  Hawkin's Family Farm let me come out and work for food that first fall in 2011.  That was also the first year I put up a significant amount of food and I decided the next year I needed a plan for putting food by.

During the winter of 2012, when I was pregnant with June Bug, I created a full blown plan to preserve.  I had spread sheets and calculations of how many canning jars, pounds of tomatoes and how many batches of pesto so we wouldn't have to buy any for the two, soon to be three of us, for a year.  I needed that kind of intensive planning to know what it would take to reach my goals.

My first plan to preserve post can be found here.  This is the calendar I kept on the fridge that summer to remind me how much I wanted, of what and when:



Last year, 2013, I was a little lax.  I looked at my previous year's plan and aimed for a similar amount of food put by with some small adjustments.  It is March of 2014 and we are running out of things; a little more planning could have made the difference.  This year I am back on the saddle making another full blown plan to preserve.

I started by looking back over my notes from the last three years.  I have a notebook with lists of what I was canning, freezing and preserving over the summer and fall for each year.  I put those in a spread sheet and made notes; which foods were enough, too much, when we ran out that type of thing.  I also added a section of things I would like to try.  I'd love to put up more frozen fruit and make my own hot sauces.  I'd also like to get into cool, dry storage for root crops and winter squash.

I looked back at my list and figured out which produce we would grow, which I could get from the CSA and which ones I could buy at the farmers market or from other local farmers.


Our home garden is still fairly small, just three beds equaling 263-square feet.  If I wasn't due with our second baby in June, I would have pushed for expanding as we have used maybe a sixth of the potential space in our side yard.  The large sunny side yard was a selling point for this house!



This year I plan to grow in our home annual vegetable garden:
  • Winter squash (dry cool storage)
  • Cucumbers (pickles)
  • Blue Potatoes (dry cool storage)
  • Onions (dry cool storage)
  • Cherry and paste tomatoes (dehydrate and can)
  • Basil (frozen as pesto)
  • Zucchini (frozen)
  • Lettuce (only for fresh eating)
  • Spinach (frozen)
  • Broccoli (only for fresh eating, I'm not putting that much in)
Some vegetables I will be able to get from Hawkin's Family Farm CSA.  When crops are plentiful I often get the option to pick as much as I am able and then split it with the farm.  From the last couple of years I know I can count on green beans, beets, chard, peppers, more tomatoes and grapes.  

Last year I harvest two 5-gallon buckets of grapes and split the juice with family who grew the grapes.

It is also important to be flexible.  Sometimes there is an unexpected bumper crop and I have to be willing to take advantage when possible.  Last year I passed up a bunch of bell peppers because we were doing a lot of hosting and I just didn't feel like I had to the time to process them.  I still regret that a little. The year before I cashed in and we had frozen chopped pepper on hand all winter.  This year I did take advantage of the grapes at Hawkins Farm.  They didn't have time to pick or process them so I made a couple batches of jelly and juice and split it with the family.

Do you want to see it?  I've boiled down my plan into one spread sheet.  Here it is (click chart to enlarge):



2.17.2014

Fruit Trees and Perennial Edible Garden Plants

Back in July I showed you what our vegetable garden looked like, and promised to show you the food crops that weren't in neat rectangular beds.  I finally got the gumption together to finish the tour even though it is now November, February.... and there is snow on the ground; a lot of snow on the ground.  At least I took photos during the summer.  Remember what summer looks like?

Here's what we've got: peach and cherry trees, blueberry bushes, asparagus and rhubarb.  All of these came in one order from Stark Bros. in early April.

The peach is in the left foreground and the cherry is behind it further to the left in this picture.  The shrubby bush up next to the house is a red bud (Cercis canadensis).
Peach and Cherry Saplings

We ordered two year-old whips bare-root from Stark Brothers during the winter and they arrived in April.


When you order bare-root you get what look like twigs that need to be soaked in water for a day or so to re-hydrate them before planting.  That's what's happening in the photo above.


Being from Iowa we were very concerned about cold tolerance since peaches almost can't grow in a zone 5.  In fact, I wouldn't have even tried to grow a peach in Iowa.  It's just too cold.  I didn't want to plant a peach only for it to die, so I chose a variety called 'Reliance' that boasted of being able to handle Zone 4 winters.

I should have asked around for suggestions, but the farmer's market was closed for the year when I decided to order.  This summer, after the peach had been in the ground several months, I asked a couple of the homesteading type vendors and found out that 'Reliance' doesn't taste very good.  In the middle of Indiana, I should have gone with 'New Haven' which is supposed to be tasty and cold hardy enough for our Zone 5b.  Jeff suggested we go for a second peach tree so we could get a 'New Haven', but I'm not too keen on taking up more of our yard.  My concession is, if this tree doesn't make its first winter we'll start over with a 'New Haven'.

Both the peach and the cherry are grafted on to root stock that will keep them dwarfed to between 10-15 feet tall and wide as full grown trees.  We'll do additional pruning and shaping as they age to keep them a size we can easily manage.


The cherry I picked is 'Montmorency', a sour cherry, again chosen for its cold hardiness.  I hope this is a good one flavor wise.  I haven't heard anything good or bad about it yet.

Both of our little fruit trees went in the ground in April and leafed out nicely in about a month.  We did have some issues with Japanese beetles making meals out of the tender new leaves.  Jeff and I both got in the habit of walking by and picking off the pests a couple times a day.  For such little trees that was doable.  In the future, as the trees get bigger and more established, a little Japanese beetle damage won't matter anyways.

We also had some mysterious bug that ate the tip off almost every branch.  Not sure what that was, but it stopped and the trees are still alive.

We did water at least once a week if there wasn't rain.  We will continue to water through next year then only when conditions get droughty.  With any luck we should have our first fruit in three to five years.

Rhubarb 


We planted four rhubarb plants, a variety called Starkrimson (r), a basic rhubarb plant with red stems.

Three of the bare-root crowns we got were large and plump and one was a puny little thing.  The runt of the litter took a while to catch-up and by mid-summer it was as large as its fellow rhubarbs. In the picture above you can see the little guy on the far left.

Later in the summer the rhubarb that was farthest from the cement patio was the undersized one because the other three got water from the kiddie pool.  The little pool came out during the hottest, driest parts of summer and since we emptied it to change of the water regularly the rhubarb and other plants on the edge of the patio benefited.

We didn't harvest any rhubarb this year.  Next year we might take just a couple leaves in June, and it won't be until the year after next that we can harvest regularly.  These perennial plants need a couple years to grow to full size before you can reap regular harvests.

Asparagus


I thought I was ordering 5 sets of 2 crowns of asparagus but I was actually ordering 5 sets of 10 crowns, so instead of getting 10 plants we got 50.  Whoops.

On the recommendation of Hawkin's Farm, I bought 'Jersey Knight' giant asparagus which is the same variety they grow.

Jeff digging the trenches to plant the asparagus.  

I gave away five plants, but the other 45 all made it into the ground on the north side of the house.   In April, I spent several days moving the ornamental hosta, coreopsis and fern to other parts of the yard to make room for Jeff to dig trenches to plant the asparagus.  Then we watered and kept watch through May until our first thin spears poked their way above ground. By the end of summer we had a mass of ferny asparagus fronds waving on the back of the house.

The asparagus looked healthy all the way up to our first hard frost in November.  I think the north side of our house will suit it just fine.  The north side is shadier when you live north of the equator. While that could be a problem for an annual vegetable, I suspect the perennial asparagus will like it just fine.  That will even give it a little protection from the hottest parts of the day.

Again we won't be harvesting for a couple years, but I'm looking forward to those early spring meals of grilled asparagus.

Blueberries

This is the only photo I could find of our blueberries.  I think I was so distraught by the red leaves that I didn't take any photos until November when the leaves should have been turning red!

Without sufficiently acid soil we are rolling the dice with four blueberry bushes.  I selected the Blueberry Patio Assortment from Stark Bros which includes two 'NorthCountry' and two 'NorthBlue' bushes.  These guys are only 2-3 feet tall and wide so we planted them by our side door.

To be honest, the blueberry bushes aren't looking real hot.  The leaves were a reddish green which is a sign that the soil isn't acid enough.  We dug a bunch of coffee grounds under the plants hoping that would be enough.  I bought some soil acidifier recently to add to the soil this spring in hopes of helping them along.

With lots of luck we might have some berries next year or the year after.

I'm crossing my fingers that all our perennial fruits and vegetables are protected under the massive amount of snow we have had this winter.  We are less than two inches away from being a record breaking year of snow for Northeast Indiana.  Good grief, finishing this blog post just makes me that much more impatient for spring!

1.07.2014

5 Kitchen & Garden Things I Learned Last Year & 5 I Want to Learn This Year



1.  The best use of a dehydrator is cherry tomatoes. 
No matter what other things I dry: herbs, fruit, other veggies, the thing we always wish we had more of is dehydrated tomatoes.  And since cherry tomatoes don't make great sauce and the plants are amazingly productive for such a long time during the summer we just keep the dehydrator full with halved cherry tomatoes August until frost.

7.22.2013

What our July Vegetable Garden Looks Like

Here's our empty side yard before we put in the garden this spring.

We moved just over a year ago into our little yellow Victorian house.  Last summer I had a baby and plotted what we would put in this year.  My goal was to grow the most micro-nutrient dense foods (bright colors all the way through) that we could put up for winter and didn't get enough of from our CSA.



This year we broke ground on our first garden plots.  It took longer than we thought to cut through the sod and turn over the soil so we didn't put any seeds in the ground until May 18th.  (Our frost free is May 1st here in Indiana.)