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It’s zucchini season, again!

I swear, next year, I’m only going to grow ONE plant! Instead I have 8 or 10 and they’re going nuts, as squash tends to do. I’ll have more recipes to come, but here’s one, from the “Clean” program book, that I really like.

Zucchini Mushroom Soup

2 tbsp olive oil

8 oz pack chopped mushrooms (like Crimini or Portobello)

1 onion, rough chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 large zucchini (I used one that was about 5 pounds! Maybe peel it, as the skin was kind of bitter at t his size)

water as needed

1 bay leaf

sea salt

black pepper

fresh chopped rosemary, sage, thyme or parsley (I just took branches of each from my garden and let them simmer in, then removed, along with the bay leaf)

The original recipe also calls for 6 cups of mushrooms and 2 cups of cauliflower. I used the XL zucchini, instead, because using them up was my goal. It also called for coconut oil, but I didn’t have any.

1. Heat oil and saute mushrooms and sprinkle of salt. Cook 3-4 minutes until light brown.

2 stir in onions, garlic and zucchini and cook 3-4 minutes more.

3. Add bay leaf and other herbs enough water to just cover the vegetable. (I kept it a little lower, I like thick soups) Bring to a gentle boil.

4. lower heat to medium-low and cook for 12 minutes.

5. Remove herbs, if you used branches, and the bay leaf.  Puree with a stick blender (or in the blender, after it cools). Season with salt and pepper. For a richer taste, you can add 1/4 cup of almond milk, but I didn’t.

John says it tastes like stuffing, which it kind of does because of the herbs. Working on the cleanse program, I made a big batch of this and put it into pint jars to eat all week. I made a few adjustments from Frank Giglio’s original recipe.

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Easter Eggs Au Natural-recipes for natural color

Today, we dyed eggs with natural, food based colors and had some really great results. I will admit, that some of them were woefully slow and not too eggciting in the color department, so I added a few drops of food coloring to take them up a notch. This is what we got, using Blackberries, red Cabbage, Spirulina, Paprika, and beets. Fill a 1/2 pint jar (or equivalent size cup) with the food stuffs, chopped up, pour boiling water over it, and let sit about 1/2 hour. Add 2 tbsp of vinegar. For Paprika (which was my fave color) used 2 TBSP Paprika, to 1/2 pint water + vinegar. For the Blackberry colors, smoosh them up.

Au natural takes longer, but the colors (especially on our already multi colored eggs) are beautiful!

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Zucchini Season-they’re taking over

It’s high zucchini season around here. The time when you step away from the garden for a day and come back to find this  

I’ve been diligent in using these Cocozelle Heirlooms. We’ve had them steamed, sauteed, in a creamy parmesan soup, as fritters, in a layered casserole with onions, in chocolate chip cookies, bread, as chips…I AM the Bubba Gump of zucchini!  But I grow weary, so I went in search of some new and exciting recipes to make use of today’s bounty. What I found and made was so awesome, I had to share…

First I tried my hand at hummus, which I’ve never made before. Jeez, I’ve never even used our food processor because I have an irrational fear of it. But today I am brave. And hungry. And working on a very limited grocery budget, since Farm Camp ended.  Most of the recipes I found involved tahini, which I don’t have, so I improvised with sunflower seeds.  It’s lemony and garlicky! Mmmmm  (disregard the curry in the photo-it was there for the next recipe…)

ZUCCHINI HUMMUS WITHOUT TAHINI
  • 2 cups peeled zucchini, chopped
  • 4 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 and 1/2 lemon, juice of
  • 3/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 3/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • Cayenne to taste

Blend all of the ingredients in food processor or blender. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

                                                                                                                                                                     
Next I found a recipe for Curried Zucchini soup and made a few adjustments based on my taste and the reviews I read (which said it was too thin-so I added potatoes).  It’s cheap, filling, exotic and super low cal. Not to mention good for you! And it is OH SO GOOD. I put some in former jam jars and froze them for lunches in the next few weeks.

CURRIED ZUCCHINI SOUP
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 4 tsp curry powder (very mild with this amount, I’ll add more next time)
  • sea salt to taste
  • 4 small zucchini, (or in my case, one huge) halved lengthwise and cut into 1 inch slices
  • 3 carrots, chopped to 1inch slices
  • 3 potatoes, chopped  1inch slices
  • 1 quart chicken stock (or vegetable)

  1. Heat the oil in a large pot. Stir in the onion, and
    season with curry powder and salt. Cook and stir until onion is tender.
    Stir in zucchini, and cook until tender. Pour in the chicken stock, add carrots and potatoes.
    Bring to a boil and cook until everything is softened.

  2. Remove soup from heat.  Use a hand blender, or
    transfer in batches to a blender, and blend until almost smooth.
    (if you use a blender, LET COOL before blending or the lid will blow off and leave you with a big mess or worse!) 
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Keeping it Real

“Food is an important part of a balanced diet.”  ~Fran Lebowitz

Lunch used to be a simple affair.  Mom (or grandma) would call us in from playing, OUTSIDE, to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, glass of milk and apple. Period. There were no menu options and there was no complaining. (once, when I complained that I didn’t want to eat my dinner salad, my grandma promptly poured the rest of the salad into my empty milk cup, put it in the fridge and it became my breakfast. We learned , quickly, not to complain about food!)
Once school started things changed very little. Mom was a fan of Adelle Davis, and we were sort of hippies, so I didn’t even know about processed foods like Kraft cheese or Wonder bread.  We never drank soda or had candy, except the little bit of fruit shaped beauties in our Christmas stockings (which was SO special and still warms my heart to this day because my mom searched high and low to find them until I was in my 30’s!).  Breakfast was usually oatmeal (the old fashioned way, big and chunky) because mom said we needed something to “stick to your ribs”.  Some days she would make us a Tiger’s Milk smoothie with banana to wash down our chewable vitamin C tabs (I always wished for Flintstone‘s).  Our school lunch was PB&J on whole wheat bread, usually homemade, an apple, and 2 cookies. Not 3. Not 4. TWO homemade cookies every time. We bought a carton of milk in the cafeteria to go with.

Every day, I watched my classmates blissfully eating bologna sandwiches on that fluffy Wonder bread, the perfectly wrapped Ding Dongs, or the creme filled Twinkies.  Rather than milk, they often had soda in their brown bags.

I’m not gonna lie. I resented my mom for making us eat healthy food. Didn’t she know she was ruining my social life? Friends asked me, “why doesn’t your mom buy real food?!”  I had no idea. I figured she just didn’t care enough to throw down for the amazing bread that, “Helps build strong bodies 12 ways…” 

Nearly 20 years ago, when I became a mom, it all made sense to me.  As soon as I found out I was expecting, I gave up meat and bought organic produce.  When my son (and then 3 daughters over the next few years) started eating food, it was real food.  Not those scary little vegetables and hot dogs in jars. I took whatever we were eating and blended it until they were able to chew.  As a result, all 4 of my kids will eat most anything, have never had ear infections, rarely get the yucky colds that make the rounds at school, and are generally happy and healthy little (and not so little) humans.


During my Summer Farm Camps, I have been observing the kids and their lunches. What they like and how they treat their food.  I see the difference between the kid who thinks nothing of throwing pretzels at a friend, and the one who drops her PB&J tortilla in the grass, picks it up, brushes it off and eats it. The girl who lets out a happy giggle when she opens her bento box to find big fat strawberries, and the one who takes 2 bites of her sandwich, then throws it away, calling the rest “crust”.  My favorite was the 5 year old who opened his lunch box, showed me the variety of whole and healthy foods inside and said, “see, I told you my mom was the best!”  

It makes me really sad to see kids lacking respect for their food. What it takes to grow, cook, and prepare it.  What it means to have enough money to buy it and spend the time packing it into that cute little lunch tote.  Even when I resented my earthy lunches, I knew how much it meant to be able to have it. That my mom wanted us to have the best she could offer and it was all packed up in that little brown bag, with love. 

As our kids start a new school year, I hope that we can find a way to help them appreciate good, healthy, natural foods. To appreciate having enough, and not wasting it.  And especially, to appreciate the person who packs their lunch, with love.

For lots of great lunchbox ideas, using real food, visit http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/

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Almost Sugar Free Jam for the Total Scaredy Cat Newbie

Yup. That’s me. A huge scaredy cat newbie when it comes to canning. I did it last year, but was sweating bullets the whole time, worried that I would burn myself beyond recognition, make a shitty tasting product, or, worse yet, one that would fester on the shelves until I gave it to some unsuspecting friend and they dropped dead from food poisoning!   Since none of that happened last time, I decided to forge ahead with a new confidence this week! My goal was to make a sugar free jam. Lots of recipes call for artificial sweeteners or gelatin which I feel is worse, but after asking around the homesteading community (they know everything, collectively) I learned about Pomona’s Pectin, made from citrus peel with no chemicals or artificial extras. I did use some suger, but compared to the 1:1 ratio usually called for, much, much less…you’ll see.

I went to Silva’s Organic Apple Orchard in Watsonville. They are a long time apple orchard but also have the best Freestone and Yellow Peaches you can get. Right outside their back door, honor stand, tree ripe…I just love going there and have been doing so for years. This time, I met Mr Silva for the first time. So, of course, I proceeded to make a fool of myself by asking him how many pounds of peaches would equal 2 quarts (because that’s what my recipe called for, why do they do that?). He, like me, is a farmer, not a mathematician, so he measured, with his hands, the size of a quart bottle to help give me an idea.  It was so sweet!  So I bought 10 pounds to be safe and rolled back to my street to buy strawberries at Crystal Bay Farm.  I love it there! First of all, it’s within walking distance of my place, except that hauling back the berries poses a challenge and, quite honestly, I am lazy, so I drive.  This day they also had bunches of beets, carrots and some smooth skinned avocados.  I bought 25 pounds of strawberries and a bunch of the other stuff and headed home.

When it comes to canning, I have found that the preparation is the most difficult part. Kind of like dating. Well, unless it’s a bad date, but that analogy holds true here too. The prep takes just as long whether the date, er, jam, is good or bad. Which is why I am always afraid of messing it up, wasting the time and fruit!

It is always nice, and actually fun to do this with someone else.  Good conversation and laughs ensue. My girls helped me a little.

Ok, if you have never canned before there are a few tools that you really do need. A canning pot with rack and canning tongs. I tried it last year without tongs, using our BBQ ones instead…stupid. They are not the right tool for the job and I was just lucky I didn’t get hurt.  I also got a canning funnel this time. Much neater when filling the jars. You’ll see why this matters later. DO NOT go all in and get the “canning set”. Extra crap you don’t need.

Before you start prepping the fruit, fill your steaming pot and start heating it up. You will be shocked at how long it takes to get that thing boiling, which is where it needs to be when you drop the jars in.

Get your fruit, wash it (organic is queen, I just rinse the dust off of it). With strawberries, don’t submerse them as they collect water and it changes their quality.  For the peaches, I tried dunking them in boiling water then cold water to make the skins “just slip right off” like I read about. This worked for the smaller and riper ones, but not for all. If you do this it has to be for 4 minutes or so. I think in the future I won’t bother because once you start cooking the fruit, it diminishes the good stuff. Just peel them.

Next, you need to cut the fruit up. I like my homemade stuff to look homemade. I like my jam chunky, and the whole time I am cutting it up I am humming this song.  Now you will be too!

My recipe called for 8 cups of berries. I kept track and can tell you that stemmed and chopped you will need 1/2 flat to make 8 cups (or 2 quarts).  Put the berries into a pot and start cooking them. I use a medium heat so that they don’t burn on the bottom. I used 1 cup of sugar, I know you could use less, or honey or some other sweetener, but I’m a scaredy cat, remember?  Mix 4 tsp of the tan Pomona’s Pectin powder into the sugar and stir it up.  Why? I tried just dumping the pectin into the berries and it clumps up like glue. You need for it to mix evenly around the pot, so even if you only use enough sugar to be a carrier, do it. Take the calcium powder and mix as directed. Add 4 tsp of calcium water to the pot, then the sugar/pectin mixture. Stir thoroughly often, until it comes to a boil. Let it cook 3-4 more minutes, then turn it off. A layer of foam will settle on top. This is normal, but you need to remove it. Just scoop it off with a spoon. Why? I wondered too…because foam is full of air. Air contaminates your product. The more air you leave in the jar, the shorter the shelf life. This is also why you only want to leave 1/4 inch head space on top. Feed the foam to the kids. They love it.

Now, you should have your 1/2 pint jars washed and ready. This recipe makes 10 jars. I take the jars with the tongs and dunk them into the steamer pot, which should be boiling by now. One at a time, then put them on a clean towel upside down to drain the water out. Take the lids and rings with your regular tongs, and dunk them too.Now everything is sterile and heated to a level that it won’t shatter when it hits the boiling water.
Use your funnel to fill each jar to 1/4 inch from the top. Wipe the rims off with a damp cloth. If there is jam on the rim it will affect your seal, which could allow bacteria to get in. Put the lids on then screw the rims on to just tight. Not super tight. The boiling will take care of that.  Put the jars into the rack and submerse in boiling water pot. There should be at least 2 inches of water over them. Boil for 10 minutes, then remove and set on a towel. You should start hearing the lids popping shut. You can also check them to see that the little dome on top is flat, not bumped up. Then tighten the lids down the rest of the way and let cool.  While mine was cooling, I noticed that the chunkier parts were on top and jelling, but the liquid in the bottom was looser. So I turned the jars upside down to finish cooling and they mixed up perfectly!

I also made a yummy Peach Jam! It’s a little looser and will be awesome for ice cream or in yogurt.  But it worked well on toast. So well that there was an empty jar in the table when I got up this morning!
Recipes below…

 This was a zero waste project!  Since I still had 1.5 flats left, I froze some

Made Strawberry/Peach Jam

And fed the scraps to Ginger and the pig,
who were both really, really happy.

 When John came home and saw this

He got a little tear because it reminded him of his grandma. Not in a creepy way.

Almost Sugar Free Strawberry Jam
1/2 flat strawberries
1 box Pomona’s Pectin
1 cup sugar (or other sweetener, less will work too)
10 half pint jars
Prep and cook berries, add 4tsp calcium water, stir.
Mix 4 tsp pectin powder into sweetener, pour both into boiling berries and stir well. Bring to a 2nd boil.
Remove foam from top. Fill jars and put in can bath for 10 minutes.
Almost Sugar Free Peach Preserves
5 lbs peaches (measured when they are whole) this will make 8 lbs or 2 quarts when processed.
1/2 cup lemon juice (prevents discoloration from air)
1 cup sugar (or other sweetener)
1 box Pomonoa’s Pectin
9 half pint jars
Prep fruit, cook until boiling, add 8tsp calcium water. 
Mix 6 tsp pectin powder into sweetener. Pour into fruit and bring to 2nd boil, stirring well for 3 minutes.
My peaches didn’t form a foam, but if yours do, remove it.
Fill jars and can bath for 10 minutes.
I used this recipe for the strawberry peach jam. It made 10 half pint jars.
For lots of canning inspiration, check out Punk Domestics.  Their motto is “yes you can, can!”
And for tons of great tips for beginners, The Busy Person’s Guide to Preserving Food, tells you how to preserve pretty much anything in your spare time!
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A word about eggs

Lately I have had some really interesting questions about chickens and eggs. Some from kids, who might be expected to not know the facts, but even from adults. It just goes to show, again, how far away from our food sources we have become.  so, a few answers for those who may not know…

1. What color is the egg inside this green shell? How about this brown one?
The color of an egg shell has nothing to do with anything, except the breed of chicken that laid it. Eggs come in all colors (look at my variety, here), but no matter what it looks like on the outside, the inside does not vary in looks or quality. Brown eggs are not better for you because they are brown.

2. How are your eggs different from the ones at the store?
If you have only ever had commercially farmed eggs, you don’t know what an egg is really like! USDA certified farmers have 30 days from the day an egg is laid to get it to stores. Then, the stores have another 30 days to sell the eggs.  After 2 weeks, the quality and texture have noticeably declined.  The whites will be thinner and runny, the yolks will get more pale and loose.  The USDA recommends a maximum of 5 weeks in your refrigerator before you discard your eggs. What does this all boil down to? On April 1, you could be eating an egg that was laid on Christmas. (stats from Wikipedia). Now really, do you want to eat an egg that is that old?
Currently, my hens lay 15-20 eggs a day, so we always have the freshest eggs available.
A fresh egg will stand at attention when you crack it into a bowl. If the hen is well fed with lots of greens and bugs, the yolk will be a golden orange. And the texture, when cooked, is rich and creamy.  The taste is nothing like commercial eggs!
 
3. Can hens have babies without a rooster?
Um, no.

4. Why do you keep a rooster?
So that we can have babies!

5. Can I take home one of the eggs and hatch it?
Yes, I do it all the time! Of course, this child was proposing sitting on it, which doesn’t work so well. 🙂  With proper incubation (in a humid space with temps between 99.5 and 102) a fertile egg will hatch in 21 days. If you buy a fertile egg from the refrigerated section at the store, it will not, because the egg is too old and has been chilled. If you want to hatch eggs, contact me, I always have plenty available!