The New Home Economics


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Rabbit damage

It’s been a rough winter for the varmints living under our deck. Early, deep snowcover meant a scarcity of food for them for months. Now the snow is finally receding (note: not totally gone yet), and they are having a field day with my perennials.

Note the stripped bark from the top parts of these rose bush branches. Fortunately I always cut the them back to the green part every spring anyway.

A few weeks ago I pruned my crabapple tree, and I was super lazy about cleaning up the branches. I basically just piled them up and left them there. I am so glad I did now, because the rabbits have been feasting on those as well. Apple branches must be extra delicious. I like to think this pile of branches might be saving a perennial or two. I am seeing lots of damage everywhere, but nothing fatal except my grape vine, which probably wasn’t going to survive the winter anyway.

I may assent to Adam’s offer to get one of his old “wrist-rocket” slingshots from his parents’ house.  Apparently he used to kill striped gophers with one shot when he was a kid. Hasenpfeffer could be an Easter dish, right?

Somebody’s mocking me.

Ending on a positive note: look at those swelling magnolia buds. Spring is coming! Really, it is.


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Starting seeds? Peat alternatives

If you’ve done any gardening, you’ve likely read that peat moss is a great soil amendment. It is. However, peat moss is–surprise!–not a great choice if you consider the source. Peat bogs are fragile ecosystems that sequester a lot of carbon from the atmosphere, and, like other swamps and watershed areas, help purify run-off water before it can get into our streams and rivers.  Now, the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Growers association will tell you that peat bogs can, in fact, be restored. I hope that’s true, but I’m trying to move toward using byproducts instead of, well, products.

Fortunately Mother Earth Gardens, right here in south Minneapolis, is a great source for sustainability-minded gardeners. I picked up some peat-free seed starting medium yesterday:

It contains coconut husk fiber, “forest products,” parboiled rice hulls, and worm castings. It has a real nice texture and the added bonus of not puffing up all weirdly like the peat-based seed-starting mixes do when you add water. Now, neither coconut husk fiber nor rice hulls are exactly a local product for me here in Minnesota.  (Neither is peat.) But they are byproducts, so that’s an improvement.  Will they work?  I’ll let you know.

I’m keeping my seed starting modest again this year, with just one flat on top of the refrigerator under my JumpStart light system. The plantable pots are also made of coconut husk fiber, also called “Coconut Coir.” I plan to buy several peppers and tomato plants at the Friends School Plant sale; they always have a good variety of heirlooms.

Another thing I’m trying this year:

Now that my pickle fridge is almost empty (boo!) I have another flat of recycled plant and yogurt containers chilling out in there.  I plan to convert my boulevard to all native prairie plants this year, so I’m starting some of those seeds, too.  Here I have 5 each of Prairie Blazing Star, Butterflyweed, and Little Bluestem.  Chilling seeds like this is called stratification — it fools the seeds into thinking they were lying under snow all winter.

I also plan to pick up some more prairie plants at the plant sale in May, but starting a few of my own will reduce my bill a bit.  After they chill out in the fridge until the early part of April, I’ll move them out onto the deck to get them sprouting.  (I’ll most likely have to take them in every night for the first few weeks at least.)

Planting fever is upon me!


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Recipe: Grass-fed barbacoa

I have a Chipotle weakness. Adam made his own slightly healthier version of their barbacoa tonight.  Here’s his recipe:

Adam’s Barbacoa
1.5 lbs grass-fed beef short ribs
3 T. neutral oil for frying
3 c. stock (beef or chicken is fine)
1 c. canned tomatoes, with liquid
1 onion
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tsp. chili powder
3 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. oregano
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F). Season the short ribs with salt & pepper on both sides.  Heat oil in Dutch oven over med-hi heat. Sear meat on both sides, remove meat from pan. Add onion to pan. When the onions start to soften, add the garlic and spices.  Stir for a minute or two, then add stock and tomatoes and bring to a simmer.  Taste, then add salt & pepper and more spices accordingly.  Add the meat back in, then place the cover on the Dutch oven and bake at 400 degrees for 90 minutes, checking after 60-70 minutes to make sure it’s not too dry.  (You  could add a bit more stock if it seems dry.)  Pull meat apart with a fork.

We ate this on sprouted-grain corn tortillas with grated cheese, simple guacamole, and lacto-fermented banana peppers. And home-brewed beer!  So good, the kids asked for 2nds and 3rds (not of beer, silly).


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Rendering duck fat

I always make a point of looking in the frozen meat section at Seward Co-op because it usually has a nice traditional foods-minded surprise or two.  I’ve found various different kinds of liver, chicken feet, homemade fish and chicken stock, and lard there.  Today: two packages of duck fat!  I took the smaller of the two, not knowing what to expect.

A little research revealed that duck fat, like lard, must be rendered.  It did take a couple hours, mostly unattended.  Also, it didn’t have nearly the strong smell that the pork lard had. The kitchen just smelled vaguely chickeny.

I used this method:

1. Place cut-up pieces of duck fat in water.  About 2 c. water for 1 pound of duck fat. I probably could have gotten by with slightly less water.

2. Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat until all the water boils off and the cracklings start to get browned.

3. Drain through cheesecloth into half-pint jars. I’m not sure how long this will keep in the refrigerator, but I’d guess 4-6 weeks at the most. Hence the tiny containers. Extra containers can go in the freezer.

Yield: 1.5 half-pints of duck fat (or, nearly 1 pint).  We used it to fry some potatoes and patty-pan squash for supper, and they turned out great.  The ever-so-slight chicken flavor was only detectable in some bites, and it was not unpleasant at all. This experiment went much better than my lard one!

Apparently, duck fat is a very gourmet, very French thing to use in cooking (even Jamie Oliver recommends it). Traditionally in Germany they also made schmaltz with duck or goose fat — a butter replacement that they spread on bread, apparently. I’m reading a book about traditional German cooking right now which may lead to both the roasting of a goose and the making of some schmaltz. (I already make sauer kraut on the regular basis so I’ve got that covered.) The schmaltz recipe in the book calls for an apple and an onion to be cooked with the fat and discarded with the cracklings.

Our supper tonight: potatoes and patty-pan squash cooked in duck fat with thyme and orange zest, plain couscous, and a massaged kale salad.  A yummy way to celebrate the start of Daylight Savings Time.


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Pruning my crabapple tree

I pruned Mrs. Crabapple this morning, something I’ve never done before.  The tree was covered in watersprouts, which are tiny little branches that just shoot out all over the place and make the tree look hairy.  They also suck out energy, water, etc. from the tree, which will harm fruit production. Maybe that’s why we didn’t have as many crabapples in 2010?  I dunno, but I gave it a shot this morning.

BEFORE:
AFTER:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, it helps that the sun came out, but it looks better, right?  Here are a couple of close-ups so you can get a feel for what watersprouts look like:

Now my tree is covered with these ugly battle scars.  Watersprouts aren’t necessarily a sign of a sick tree, but I’m not totally sure, in this case.  Gardeners, any thoughts?


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Happy Birthday NHE!

I just realized I’ve been writing this blog for two whole years now!  In case you haven’t been reading this since the beginning, this blog was inspired by a project that I did with some other people who are a lot smarter than I am, The New Liberal ArtsCheck it out!  A great, thought-provoking little read.

Just for fun, here are my top posts of all time:
Recipe: fermented salsa
Recipe: Easy, no-knead whole wheat bread
Cooking with lard
Welcome (my first post!)
Buyer-beware: ultra-pasteurized milk

Shoot, those are all food-related posts.  My personal favorite posts are all garden-related.  Anyway, thanks for reading!  Any requests?  More recipes?  Less gardening?  (Fat chance, if so!)