summer greens at Mountain Glen Farm

summer greens at Mountain Glen Farm

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Roasted Veggies

Yesterday I made a recipe that I had made only twice before; Glenn loves it, it is simple, so I will keep making it.

The recipe is from the September 2011 issue of Country Living magazine.  It is called Roasted Tomato Sauce.  The roasted vegetables are pureed and the resulting sauce is used on pizza.  But...

The first time I made it, I used the pureed sauce on pasta - delicious.  But, Glenn thought the vegetables, right out the oven, would be tasty as a side dish.  So, I put my own spin on the recipe and now create roasted veggies - no pureeing necessary.  And, the recipe got even easier to prepare.

cut-up  veggies

I fill a 9" X 13" baking dish with our homegrown, fresh from the garden tomatoes, green peppers, and onions - cut up, of course.  Add olive oil, seasonings, and bake.  How easy!  Basically, the oven does all the work; but, I guess, the fresh veggies are the stars. 

What aroma! Rich and spicy, but not too spicy.  What flavor!  Full and savory.   And, the appetizing color - a perfect addition to any meal. This dish does not last long in our house.

roasted veggies - Spoon me up a serving, please!

Roasted Veggies is a 'keeper' in my recipe notebook.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Small Town America - Steeles Tavern

Do you think Small Town American is an icon of the past?  Think again. 

I live in a rural area of Virginia.  I am surrounded by many, and I mean many; small, and I mean small, towns.

The closest town to our farm is Steeles Tavern.  Steeles Tavern is located on a fairly busy state highway, yet the town is quite modest; bordering on non-existent - literally a post office, an auto parts store/shop and an antique shop.  That's it - no grocery (a milk & bread  market  closed years ago), no gas (stations are nearby, though), no bank - not much of anything.  And, I like it like that!

Steeles Tavern
(post office on left, auto parts store on right)

The U.S. Post Office (let me be clear, I did say U. S. as in United States) opens at 7:00 AM and closes at 3:15 PM.  Oh, by the way, they close between noon and 12:30 for lunch, as well.  Can you imagine...a post office closing for lunch?  I can - most of them around here do. The challenge is remembering which post office is closed when, so as to get to the one that might be open at the time I want to buy stamps - it can be quite confusing as each office has a different schedule.  I have gotten it wrong many a time, too.

antique shop

The upside is that there are no traffic jams in Steeles Tavern - nope, never.

Now,  the parking areas of both the post office and the antique shop can be crowded at times, though  - the post office with locals touching base on the daily gossip/gab (I rarely use this post office - too gossipy for me and it is not my post office for my mailing address)  and the antique shop with tourists driving by looking for a 'good' deal.   

I did go to an auction, once,  in Steeles Tavern when I lived in the south end of Rockbridge County near Natural Bridge.  That was over 23 years ago.  I bought an old, handmade wardrobe which I continue to use today.  When we moved north, it was like that wardrobe was returning home, where it belonged.

And, that wardrobe brought me to a place that is definitely home, definitely a place I belong.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Harvest 2011 - Concord Grapes = Jam

This was our first harvest of Concord grapes since planting our vines, so it was purposefully small as I cut off  about half of the initial grape clusters to aid in the growth and vigor of the young vine. 

I have been checking on the progress of these grapes all summer; stealing a grape or two, in passing, as they ripened.  Boy, what intense flavor in just one little grape - full essence of Concord!

Yesterday, I discovered small bumblebees sucking the juice out of my grapes - I took this as a sure sign that the grapes were ripe and ready for harvest.  I immediately cut off all the purple clusters, leaving a few of the green/reddish bunches - the bees could have these.

Jelly or jam?  I decided on jam due to the limited harvest.  I needed all the grape I could muster to get the required six cups of processed grapes.  Plus, jam takes less time - no need to wait for the juices to filter through a cheesecloth.

I picked each grape off the stems, washed them, and pulverized them in my food processor before putting them into the pot for cooking.  Adding the pectin, a sliver of butter, plenty of sugar; I stirred constantly to a full boil, then ladled the hot reddish-purple and so grapey an aroma into half-pint jars and placed them into a hot water bath as the final step. (Or is the final step eating?) Yield was suppose to be 9 jars, I ended up with 12.  Go figure....I usually end up with less than the amount stated, so I felt I was ahead this go around.  Coming out of the hot water bath, the jam had turned, as if by magic, its recognizable deep purple color.  And, I thought Welch's just added food coloring.

There was just enough of the jam left, that did not make it into a jar, to taste test on several slices of rye bread - yummy!  I am glad for those extra 3 jars now.

Next year, we should have a large enough harvest to make not only more jam, but wine, too!  Watch out Mogan David....

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Harvest 2011 - Cantaloupes - This Year's Underachiever

Cantaloupes have always been a very iffy fruit for us to grow.  Over the years, we have had varying degrees of success/failure. But, we continue to try growing this delicious fruit every year because we relish a flavor-packed cantaloupe.

Some years the vines grew well but did not produce a single melon, and other years the vines were wimpy and infected with insects resulting in a lean crop. On very rare years, the vines were vigorous and the fruits large, healthy and sweet - this is not one of those years.

Looks tasty.....

The vines started out well, and became even more encouraging as many little green fuzz balls developed from the ends of the small, yellow blossoms.  As the days ticked off,  those green balls grew and ripened into full-sized melons hiding among the dense, green foliage. (Over 12, which is a respectable harvest in terms of quantity, for us.) This is the year, this is the year - we thought.

Unfortunately, the melons matured; but the flavor did not.  As I cut open the nicely rounded cantaloupe, I discovered that there was nothing firm and sweet about the flesh; pale, bland and mushy would be more to the point. YUCK! A second melon improved in taste, but not by much.  This is not the year - no robust, so sweet and so satisfying, cantaloupes.

Just because we grow our own fruits and vegetables, does not mean that everything produced is going to taste good.  Most of the harvested produce does taste exceptional,  but not all. These cantaloupes - case in point!

Better luck next year...yes, we will be trying yet again!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene

9:15 AM -  a light shower out of the east - the first noticeable trace of Hurricane Irene.

The morning remained on the dark side as the clouds continued to move into our area.  Usually storms and rain from the east are a rare occurrence here; except, that is, during hurricane/tropical storm conditions.  The early, calm air provided a mood more tranquil than one of alarm, which I was  anticipating. From time to time,  a slight wind blows  carrying  an odd odor; one that I cannot distinguish.  The air is warm.  Suddenly a hard rain, and then it stops - just as sudden. 

Hurricane Irene, heading from the Caribbean north along the entire eastern coast of the United States, is tracking a bit too far east for any major impact here on the farm - that is good and bad.  We certainly do not desire to suffer any damage which might have been possible;  but the addition of rainfall would have been a boost to our lingering drought.  Thinking it through, what is another week or so of drought compared to the possible alternative?

My eastern view is now completely obliterated under dense cloud cover.  I can see the movement of the lowest clouds moving in a southerly direction between me and my Blue Ridge Mountain view.  The clouds roll over each ridge, one after another, as they engulf yet another peak. The closest mountain, just beyond our pasture, is still visible - probably, not for long.

I continue to watch the rapid changes - the mountains fading from view.  Our surroundings remain calm.  There is a peace.

Mid-afternoon, the winds pick up.  I am starting to get nervous. Now, we wait....

Note:  During the early evening hours, we received a few more heavy wind gusts and a bit of light rain as we were located on the extreme left edge of the hurricane influence, here in Virginia.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Not Quite A Plague, But Almost

This summer's grasshopper population is the largest I have ever experienced -  not quite a plaque, but it certainly comes close to one.

bluebird house/fence post covered with grasshoppers

The grasshoppers are everywhere, and I mean everywhere - hanging out, or worst yet, eating my plants.  They strip the foliage off many of my perennials; and some, eat the flower buds and petals.  My flower beds are just about colorless.  At any rate, many of my plants are ragged-looking and some, only stems remain.   Each summer, I always get some grasshopper damage to my gardens, but this season has been the most ravaging, ever.  Witnessing my plants being devoured, bite by bite,  does not make me happy. 

tomato leaves completely consumed

on tv cabinet

In addition to observing the grasshoppers on the plants; they are also on fences, on the decks, in the dog food bowls, on windows, on the vehicles -  just everywhere.  Oh yeah, the grass is full of them. You cannot walk outside without getting hit by a flying grasshopper; more distressing, one landing on your bare arm or leg - yuck!  They even jump into the house when a door is opened.  I find them on furniture, on walls and name it, they are there.

on kitchen counter

The upside...

Glenn easily catches grasshoppers near the pond's edge and throws them into the water as live fish food.  Glenn can spend hours feeding the blue gill.   He is quite entertained. The blue gill love to eat them and will even jump out of the water to grab a grasshopper in flight. The blue gill are happy.  

Also, we have several wild turkey populations on the farm.  Each group, around 16-30 birds, can be seen moving in a straight line through the pastures, eating grasshoppers.  The turkeys are happy.

Yes, this too will end; but it has been a long, and prolific, grasshopper season. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cleaning the Barn Continues - Stall, Tack Room/Feed Storage

The cleaning of the barn continues, slowly.

This past week Becky cleaned another 1/6 of the barn - the stall and the tack room/feed storage area.  Both look fabulous - clean and orderly, for a change.

The  last time the stall was used was when Becky purchased 30 day-old chicks in April 2010.  We still had our old laying hens in the chicken house, so the chicks needed a place to grow.  The stall was perfect - safe from predators and an outside door for fresh air and sunshine. After the chicks grew and moved out, the stall remained unused and uncleaned.  Becky removed everything - old hay, chick feeder, cobwebs.  The stall is ready for its next occupant.

The tack room/feed storage area gets an annual cleaning, believe it or not. (see photo below, left) The tack gets dusty from the feed.  And,  the storing of the feed sacks always seems to be haphazard.  Glenn is the main culprit here as he is the one who can throw around the 50 pound sacks of feed.  But, once a sack is empty, he just throws it on the floor.  A year's worth of empty feed sacks is quite a pile.  Then there is the miscellany of fencing supplies that adds to the clutter.  This room is not very big.

So, Becky removed everything and cleaned - got rid of  the cobwebs, swept up the dirt and wasted feed from the floor, and hosed down the entire room.  She cleaned the tack before organizing it on the shelf and hooks, took the old paper feed sacks to the burn pile, threw the junk in the trash.  Fencing material is finding a new home.  Glenn neatly stacked the bags of feed, minerals, and sea salt. Voila - clean and tidy.  Now, to  keep it that way....c'mon guys, we can do it!

Another 1/6 of the barn complete...only 2/3 left to clean and reorganize.  Will we make the goal (end of August 2011) I set?   No, not in any way, shape, or form. 

September 2011, anyone?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Earthquake in Virginia

Yep, we had an earthquake in Virginia this afternoon (8-23-11) and I missed it.  I mean I missed the movement of it.  I was actually outside doing a bit of rock 'n rolling on the riding lawn mower.  I missed the motion, but my lawn looks great in spite of the continuing drought. 

My daughter Becky was at home, inside, resting from a morning of hard farm labor.  She experienced the entire earthquake. 

When I finally did drag myself into the house (emptying grass bags is exhausting), she immediately asked if a jet (one of those low flying, military training ones which frequent our sky) flew over.  I said I was unaware of any jet as I was in deep concentration making sure I was cutting grass and not accidentally mowing down one of many perennials - there are a lot of curves to my lawn.  "Why?"

Becky went into her version of the event.  (I have since received several e-mails with other personal experiences - I have nothing to share, as I missed IT!) She said the windows rattled, the floors shook, and the clock chimed.  But, did she run out to tell!

Later, Glenn called before retuning home from a job.  I asked if he felt the quake.  He had not as he was logging, running the yarder, and rockin' even more than I was.  I was not alone in missing the event.

I saw our walls moving during an earthquake I experienced when living in Idaho.  I felt the 12-story apartment building sway in July 2010 during an earthquake in Anchorage while we were visiting our son.  But, I missed the August 23, 2011 quake in Virginia - more than a little disappointing. 

But, my lawn looks great!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Harvest 2011 - Tomatoes, as in Canning

My annual 'canning of the tomatoes' is an indisputable signal that summer is near end - one of those bittersweet moments, for sure.  In fact, I think there was a bit of autumn in the air today.  I felt the edge.

Roma tomatoes - the only tomato to grow!

Glenn gathering tomatoes for canning

Canning tomatoes is an all day process for me, starting at 8:00 AM; with the thorough cleaning  of the kitchen (especially the work counters and stove), assembling all the canning supplies, gathering the ripe tomatoes from the garden - Glenn's usual job (Roma is by far the best tomato variety we use - a good all-purpose tomato - rich, firm, not watery - let's just say it is our only tomato of choice) , washing the tomatoes, and the  preparation of the tomatoes for the actual canning.

 I cut up and puree the entire tomato (pulp and skin minus the stem and blemishes - yes, more chicken food) in a food processor.  The puree is boiled for between one and two hours depending on the water content.  I want to reduce the amount of liquid in the puree.  As the tomatoes boil, tomato aroma permeates the entire house; even with many windows open.  The hot puree is ladled into glass canning jars, and  processed in a hot water bath for about 30 minutes.  The jars are removed from the hot water bath and placed on a protected surface to cool.  Loud pops can be heard as the lids seal to the jar tops - the number of pops should equal the number of jars withdrawn from the hot water.  I count seven - all lids are sealed.

The tomato-filled jars lined up on the counter always look so charming, and seem like a link to the past. My mind wanders to days gone by, those special summer days, the memory makers.

8:30 PM - the last batch of jars come out of the hot water bath - done!  Except for the extensive post clean-up, that is. My kitchen is a mess, but I need to put my feet up and rest.  My canning task started about 12 hours ago, and I finished with 20 quarts of tomatoes.  Are 20 quarts worth all that time and effort? betcha!

At the end of the day, those jars represent a lot of work; from seed to final product of canned tomatoes.  And, they represent a huge amount of satisfaction.  Best of all, they contain a whole lot of tomato flavor to savor throughout the fall, winter and spring - until fresh tomatoes are, again, available. In anticipation, the the jars of tomatoes are safely stored in a cool, dark area of the basement ready for our use.

Spaghetti sauce, taco soup, chili, beef stew....let's fetch a jar of our canned tomatoes!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fresh Corn Salad

Lately, I have been cooking, baking and preparing a lot of food. The main reason - the garden is currently providing many fresh vegetables and fruit.

I urge you all, if you don't already, to plant a garden for some of your fresh produce needs.    Even if you have limited space, growing a few of your favorites veggies can be so rewarding and can provide you with flavors you can never purchase at a store.

I  came across a recipe for Fresh Corn Salad in my June 2011 issue of Better Homes and Gardens.  (Note:  This is not an endorsement -  I have recently canceled my subscription to this magazine).  The ingredients include:  fresh sweet corn, grilled; fresh tomatoes; cucumbers; onions; green pepper; jalapeno pepper (which I left out because I do not like 'hot') - all of which I have fresh, growing in my garden. I replaced the listed balsamic vinegar with my homemade tarragon vinegar which I prepared last year and never had a chance to use.  So, I thought I would give it a try.  I was not disappointed.

Once all the ingredients are mixed; then the salad marinates before serving.

Rolled in a soft taco shell, I used this salad with baked halibut.  I also served it as a side with sandwiches. 

This salad not only looks appetizing, but it tastes delicious, too.

This Fresh Corn Salad looks so festive;  like summer in a bowl. 

Grab a fork and enjoy a bite of summer!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Good Old Days (refrigerators)

Last evening, Glenn and I (and Jake and Buddy - like always) went to the pond.  The days continue to be  hot with the evenings/nights cooling to chilly.  The water temperature reflected that cooling, but is still tolerable.  As we swam, we would call out, "warm spot" or "cold spot".

Does this look like a refrigerator ready to go out to the proverbial 'pasture'?

What should be  a  cold spot is our refrigerator; it was not.  Our refrigerator died on Thursday.

So, we spent the entire day of Friday looking for a replacement. 

I went with a list of my specifics:  black; textured; exterior ice/water dispenser (Glenn constantly uses this feature); adequate interior cubic footage; inexpensive; and most important, will last 20+ years.

I was told by the salesperson that no refrigerator is made to last 20 years any more, it is more like 7- 10 tops (at least he was honest); and that texture is passe, finishes are now upgraded to smooth. Smooth is great new and unused, but add a dent or everyday fingerprints, and it becomes an eye magnet with each passing.  Also,  I am not one who will constantly be wiping those finger smudges.  Glenn is notorious for opening up the refrigerator with wet or grimy hands.  He insists his hands are clean, but I have proof otherwise.

After spending/wasting the entire day (way too much time) looking, we returned home without a purchase.  After reviewing the options, from memory, in our kitchen, we finally did decide to purchase  the only black, textured refrigerator available. It was also the least expensive.  The next choice was twice the money.  In conclusion,  if this refrigerator lasts 5 years, we should be satisfied. 

our new 'Black Beauty'

I made a phone call, near closing time, to order the refrigerator, and was asked to be called back as B, our salesperson, was with a customer.  B called back after closing, took our order, and guaranteed next day delivery.  The refrigerator was to be delivered on Saturday between 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM.  The refrigerator was delivered promptly at 1:00 PM.   I give an A+ for service.  And, I will also be calling the store manager with positive comments. I want to make sure I give credit for  this exceptional service - it is so rare these days.

When I was growing up, I remember hearing people comment about refrigerators lasting 20-50 years. (Yes, it was relevant talk back then - a big deal)  A down grade to 10 years is progress? 

Why are we accepting less when we know more is possible?  Why, as consumers, do we not demand more?  Why have our standards decreased with increasing regulations?

I remember when doing good work was praised, providing good service was the norm, and a dollar spent actually resulted in a dollar's worth of goods. 

I guess that is one reason those days are referred to as 'the good old days'.  

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Homemade Potato Rolls

I am baking again!

Glenn's favorite bread is actually my homemade potato rolls. 

The first time I made them, we (the two of us) ate the entire batch - 32 to be exact.  They are soooo good.  Using our homegrown potatoes and fresh eggs must be the secret.  At least, I hope it is.  In any case, once out of the oven, the rolls do not last long as they are soft, fluffy, and just down right tasty.

straight from the oven,  potato rolls cooling on wire racks

This recipe is made quite frequently!

Depending on the amount of potato and flour (never the same measurement from batch to batch) used,  the resulting number made varies from 32 to 38 - that is a lot of potato rolls.  But, we manage to eat them in short order, before any go stale or mold (no preservatives here).

Today, we had them with a halibut sandwich filling I made.  Glenn enjoyed five, Becky (who is not a fan of halibut) ate four, then took leftovers home.

Me?  I did not count.....

Friday, August 19, 2011

Harvest 2011 - Pole (green) Beans

Generally speaking, growing your own vegetables is a boost to your budget and to your taste buds.

We have undeniably planted an adequate amount of pole beans.  We have been eating the beans fresh for weeks, freezing every bit of surplus, and eating more beans.   Our bean budget is in good shape.

Personally, I do not even like beans.  As a vegetable, beans are one step above the cucumber in terms of my taste  satisfaction.  I have to admit, they have more flavor than a cucumber, but one that is about as gratifying.  Remember, I am a sweet corn enthusiast.

Glenn, on the other hand, likes beans; so we plant beans. 

And, when you plant beans, you usually harvest quite a colossal amount - you cannot avoid it, unless you do not plant beans at all.  We try to slow the harvest down by checking the vines every other day rather than daily as is essential.  This practice results in a bucket of beans suitable for the chickens, but it does not slow down the production. The beans are over-mature (you  can see the bean seeds developing inside the pod) and not fit for human consumption.  All I can say is that our chickens must be super healthy with all the vegetables they eat per diem.  And, they do not complain.  They seem to flourish on their diet supplemented with veggies.

What I do like about the freezing process is that it is very easy - clean the beans, snap off the ends (to chickens), snap the beans into 1-2" pieces, blanch in boiling water, bag and freeze.  The blanching treatment turns the beans from their dull garden green at picking to a brilliant emerald green as they come out the water - oh, so pretty and if I do say so myself, appetizing.

I will admit, I have eaten some very good fresh bean-based dishes. The latest was just last week when Glenn saw a recipe on a bread crumb container - Good Value brand (continuing the budget-minded theme).  It was simple.  Two pounds of green beans (cooked until tender), butter, bread crumbs and seasoning. For a non-bean lover, this recipe was tasty.  The only downside was that two pounds of beans makes enough beans for at least a week's worth of dinners for two. Fortunately, the leftovers were just as good, if not better, than the dish prepared fresh.

But, next time, I will certainly cut the recipe in half.  Three straight days of beans is quite enough for me, thank you.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Harvest 2011 - Apples = Pie

The apples have been growing all summer.  The trees have been stressed by cicadas and drought.  As a result, the fruit is smaller in both size and quantity than in past years; but I use what I get and I am happy.

We have two Yellow Delicious trees and one Stayman (the pollinator).  The amount of actual fruit each tree  produces varies from one year to the next, but there is always enough to provide and satisfy our needs.  In addition, the apples (usually the damaged, soft, decayed) are shared with the chickens, the horse, the llama, and the cattle.  Bees, birds, and once I even saw a squirrel scurrying away with a large, green apple held tight in its mouth - maybe thinking it was a walnut (Buddy thinks the small apples are tennis balls for his games); partake. Remember my mantra, "Nothing goes to waste on the farm."

At the moment, the windfall/free fall apples are being harvested. There are so many apples on the ground, the trees almost look bare, of fruit that is.

Birds have a unscrupulous habit of taking only a peck or two, just enough to start the rotting process on a firm apple.  This creates the opening the bees need to enjoy the juicy flesh.  If I collect these particular apples early enough, exerting care not to get stung while gathering,  I can still utilize them in my baking by cutting away the spoiled parts.  The ruined parts are, again, treats the chickens.

Did I just mention baking?  Ripe, Yellow Delicious (as the name implies) are so delicious eaten fresh, but what is even more delicious is an apple pie - yep, there goes my mouth - a bit of drool sliding out the side.

I grew up on apple pie, thus; it has been on my favorites list for many, many years.

Last year, we had such a huge apple harvest that it seemed like I was baking a pie daily as I tried to keep up with the supply of fallen apples.  And, of course, once baked, we felt obligated to eat the entire pie the same day.  After all, fresh is fresh.

Now, when I say pie I do not mean pie baked in one of those skimpy 8" glass pie plates.  No, not me.  I make a real apple pie.  I use a 9" X 13" x 2" Pyrex baking dish and prepare a recipe for three crusts, not the typical two.  If I am going to take the time to make a pie, it might as well be a generous pie. 

I peel the apples and the peels go directly to the chickens, of course; or in some years,  I use them to make jelly.  Then, the resulting mash goes to the chickens.  Can you imagine, I even reuse parts of the apple.  (insert mantra here)

This season, I ran into a slight problem.  My pastry cloth, which I have been using to roll out pie crust for over 30 years, needed to be replaced as it was no longer possible to remove the embedded 'lard' - not with any amount of detergent.  So,  off to the store on a simple task - not!  I guess I am old school, but pastry cloths were not to be found anywhere.  They have been replaced by a large piece of plastic that rolls up for storage.  I had no choice, no matter how buying such a new tech gadget was against my traditional baking habits, I had to make my pie.

Well,....this high tech plastic sheet is amazing!    The ease of rolling, no sticking of the dough, faster clean-up.   What took me so long???  I guess new sometimes does mean better.  But, I am still using my Mother's rolling pin.  Some habits, some baking tools are not meant to be changed, improved.  As for the pastry cloth - retired!

As I make the pie, I hold back a cupful of the sliced and spiced apples to place in the leftover trimmings of crust, making what I call a small, test tart.  The tart cools before the pie, so it is eaten first.  If the tart tastes good, so will the pie. The tart is eaten in seconds, the pie is close behind.

As  I enjoy an ample piece of freshly baked, apple pie; I think about all the pleasure those trees have given  me over the course of a year. 

The sight of beautiful bare, gnarled branches etched in the winter sky; the deep pink buds opening up to fragrant, white petals floating on the breezes of spring; the lush green foliage providing a bird's stick nest its privacy; and the pea-sized fruits developing into the firm, sweet, flesh of a fully-mature apple.

The simple apple tree tenders so much joy.