Friday, October 24, 2014

Green Thumb vs Green Fingers

 I'm doing a bit of reading this week while away from the gardens & came across this short piece that I thought I'd share with you.

"A person with a 'green thumb' of course has a natural talent for gardening. However, the origin of the phrase is hard to pin down.

In Britain, the idiom for such a person was one with 'green fingers'. Some believe the name originated with King Edward I, who had a great passion for gardening. According to legend, the king enjoyed fresh green peas so much that he engaged several serfs to keep him supplied. The serf who had the 'greenest fingers' from many hours of shelling was always given a prize.

In the United States, the phrase 'green thumb' seems to date to colonial times, when tobacco provided a major cash crop for early Americans. Farmers handpicked the flowers from the crops to increase the size & weight of tobacco, using their thumbnails to simply cut the stem, which after some time could turn their thumbs green."
 (found in my current reading material: The World's Most Fascinating Flora - the Big, Bad Book of Botany by Michael Largo)

Thought I would share that with you - in case you've ever stumbled across either or expression. I'm going to delve more into this book to see if there are other interesting tidbits or facts - gardening related or otherwise...

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Sweet & Sour Kind of Day

~ lavender honey in the works ~
Today is a dark & stormy day out on the coast. Some of us are calling this the first 'winter' storm. Huge amounts of rain & ferocious winds which mean it is a day for indoor projects!

My first winter project was to make a batch of flavoured honey... I made a citrus honey last year that was extremely interesting in flavour - mostly because it fermented, I believe, due to the extra added liquids from the lemon & limes. This year I wanted some more lavender honey.

So simple to make! I had just finished drying my last harvest of lavender & put about 1 cup of whole blossoms into a large jar - covered it with honey & then gently warmed it all in the microwave. Stir it around & let it steep for a few days or a few weeks (depends on how intense you want your flavours) & there you go - flavoured honey!

I usually strain out the herbs by gently reheating it & pouring it through a strainer into a clean jar, but with honey - that gets really sticky very quickly. I might scoop out the herbs (as they will float to the top of the jar) & use this thick, gooey mix as a coating for on top of roasted salmon or chicken. The rest will be used in teas & other recipes throughout the winter. Honey is a great item to have in your pantry - super healthy!! I tend to go for the unpasteurized varieties which still contain a little bit of the 'extra goodness' from the bees & pollen.
~ sage apple cider vinegar ~
Next on my list was to strain out & rebottle my herbal cider vinegar. Earlier this spring I had made up a large batch of marjoram vinegar & that one went very well with my brines & marinades.

At this time of year, the marjoram had already been harvested for drying for use during the winter, so I pruned back my large sage shrub & brewed up a batch of sage vinegar.

Try marinading your chicken breasts for about 20 minutes a side in a dish with some cider vinegar. Then bake or bbq it as you normally would. There is an extra sweetness to the chicken & the meat is super-juicy!

My favourite is to brine a whole bird overnight in a mix of salt, water & cider vinegar, rinse off the next morning & let sit in the fridge til it's time to roast it. Amazing flavour!

~ fruit vinegars ~
I also have a couple batches of fruit vinegars that I like to sell to the local foodies at the beginning of the holiday season.

The first is a fresh raspberry white wine vinegar - since this year was such a great berry year, I added extra raspberries to the jar & the result is an intense raspberry flavour. I like to strain the vinegars many times through cheese cloth so that the end product is clear with as little sediment as possible. I might do one more strain before rebottling in time for the Craft Sale at the end of November.

The other fruit vinegar is a deep fruity-herbal blend of salal & rosemary with red wine vinegar. Every year it is different, depending on the amounts of salal juice & fresh chopped rosemary I put in the jar. Some years I'll add a touch of balsamic vinegar or maybe even a 'secret spice' to mix up the flavours. This is a great vinegar to have for salad dressings - add a bit of dark fruit jam, grapeseed oil, Keene's dry mustard, salt & this vinegar... voila! You'll never go back to store bought salad dressings again!

Now the house smells a bit tangy from working with my vinegars, but I'm going to sit in front of the fire with a cup of tea & a spoonful of lavender honey! Perfect way to spend a quiet Thanksgiving Day out on the stormy west coast...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

The sunrise this morning was spectacular & the ducks hardly noticed. Hopefully the rains hold off for at least part of the day so raspberries can be harvested for fresh eating with friends & family on this long weekend.
Blessings to all of you - may your gardens grow with the return of the rains, may the weeds appear only where you want them & may you remember the lessons that Mother Nature continually & gently & with humor, always teaches us.
Happy Thanksgiving!!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Alternative Processing of the Harvest - Part 3.1 & 3.2

~ lox with sugar & lime ~
 Wednesday night I removed my sockeye lox from the fridge, unwrapped & removed the salt/sugar crust & rinsed it off. I put the fillets back into the fridge for the night after a small sample - which was really salty!

The next morning I sprinkled the fillets with sugar & grated lime & the juice from the lime in the hopes that this would add some interest flavour & help reduce the salt (did I mention it was really salty??)

~ lox vac sealed ~
After work on Thursday I came home & vacuum sealed the fillets (cutting them into smaller portion sizes) & I put them in the freezer with the rest of the salmon.

I have the whole winter to become creative with my salty cured fish...

~ tomatoes, cream cheese, spinach, lox & balsamic vinegar ~
 Thursday night's dinner was spur of the moment - sliced tomatoes with cream cheese, spinach & lox & then a drizzle of balsamic vinegar... ooo - heavenly!!

~ lox sushi ~
Tonight's dinner was a bit more time consuming. I was craving some fresh made sushi & thought that the blended flavors of wasabi & the lox & fresh veggies would help tame that salty bite.

~ lox sushi ~
Of course, I didn't have the proper sushi rice (Jasmine works just fine with sushi seasoning!) & I've misplaced my sushi roller (a towel &/or saran wrap works just as well!)

A very simple meal of avocado, yellow pepper, greens, wasabi mayo & sockeye lox rolled in seasoned rice with a gluten free tamari soy alternative sauce & chilled white wine...

Happy taste buds & happy tummy & I think solitary dinners like this are going to be much more frequent since it takes very little time or effort to whip up!
~ lox sushi with tamari & white wine ~
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!! 
Traditional turkey dinners or West Coast Seafood dinners such as this!! 
Enjoy your food - Celebrate your Family & Friends & Keep Growing & Experimenting!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Alternative Processing of the Harvest - Part 3

~ whole sockeye ~
 On Sunday I had pulled out a bunch of coho to be brined & smoked. I also had this sockeye that I wanted to try something new with. Someone suggested lox after I mentioned I would like to learn how to cold smoke process my fish but didn't have the equipment.

Lox is fish that has been cured with salt & sugar & a herb (usually dill) & other seasonings (depending on the chef). I decided to experiment once again!

~ remove fillet ~
First I had to remove the fillets from my fish. I finally learned how to fillet in a very simple & easy fashion this year. I'm still learning the delicate art of cutting as close to the spine as possible & how to remove the belly bones & other little bones. Key is a very sharp knife & I also learned that if the fish is still slightly frozen, that helps immensely!

~ sockeye & thyme ~
I kept the fillets rather large - I can portion them up once the process is done & vac seal them for the winter.  I love the colour of sockeye!

Since I didn't have dill this year (yes, I was able to finally grow it, but it was more ornamental than practical...) I decided to use thyme. Hope this works!
~ coat in salt & sugar & pepper ~
The recipe calls for equal measures of salt & sugar (ie: 1/2 cup of each) & then some fresh ground black pepper (~ 2 Tbsp).

~ add thyme ~
Place the fillet on plastic wrap & coat in the salt-sugar mix.

Place a large amount of herb on top & then wrap the fillet in 2 layers of plastic wrap.

Some recipes call for daily flipping & daily unwrapping & basting in the liquid that comes out & for a weight to be placed on top... But the idea is to leave it in the fridge for 24 to 72 hours. Again, it will depend on the chef as to what the end product will be. I'm trying to keep it simple - I flip the fillets in the morning & again in the evening & I do have a weight on it.
~ lox almost ready ~

I decided to see how the curing process was coming along, so this morning I unwrapped one & cut a thin slice off the end. Would have tasted better if I had rinsed it off (ooo salt & pepper!) but I think it's coming along & I'll more than likely unwrap, rinse & dry off the fillets tonight after work.

Fingers crossed - I've had lox before, but it was a cold smoked product. Will let you know how this curing process works & if I need to do some more research & refine the process. So much easier than brining & smoking & canning!! But then again, I'm always keen to learn something new & experiment in the kitchen!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Alternative Processing of the Harvest - part 2

~ slow boil ~
I stumbled across home made molasses last year by complete accident. I had several batches of salal jelly that refused to set, so I emptied all the jars into a pot & slow boiled it until I reached the jelly stage (a more traditional method of making jams & jellies - one I don't use too often because I'm not that patient...)

The end result was a very thick & syrupy dark jelly that tasted very much like molasses!! Was amazing & disappeared pretty quick as gifts to friends & family.

This year I recreated the product on purpose but used blackberry, loganberry & a currant jam - all which had not set well or I wasn't satisfied with the end result the first time around. I did throw in some salal juice. The pot was very full...

After about 4 hours of slow boiling & stirring on occasion, I was rewarded with 9 jars of heavenly fruit molasses! It can be used in baking - just like regular molasses, it can be used in bbq sauces or marinates for meat, you can eat it just like jam if you really want... a deep smoky flavor is brought in by the use of black cardamom & allspice & juniper berries. There is a tartness from the loganberries & the salal & blackberries blend very well together.

I can't wait to hear what others use this for - I'm going to be experimenting with a couple jars myself this winter & hope to have a few suggestions for next year!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Alternative Processing of the Harvest - part 1

~ smoked coho ~
 I'm still working on processing food for the coming winter months. One of my staples this year will be the fish I caught just outside the harbor our little community resides in.

Today I hot smoked some coho caught earlier this summer. I filleted the fish, cut them into manageable chunks & last night put them in a brine: salt, sugar (I used white this time), water & some other seasonings (tamari & Chinese pepper).

The amounts of my brine always vary - never the same product, which makes it interesting - I'd rather not get bored with my food! This time, I used a little bit more sugar than I would normally use & the end product is definitely sweeter than previous batches. I quite like it.

I brined the fish over night in the fridge & early this morning I drained & rinsed them off. After sitting on the smoker racks with a fan blowing on them for a few hours, I put them in the little smoker with hickory chips for about 2 1/2 or 3 hours. I was rewarded with a moist, sweet & flavorful fish!

They are now sealed in vacuum sealed bags & back in the freezer for simple & easy dinners or appetizers during the winter. Great with cream cheese & cucumber or flaked on a salad or just as is! Yumm!!

Friday, October 3, 2014

First Harvest of Winter Squash

~ winter squash ~
Well, I seem to have misplaced the package of seeds that this particular squash came from, so I'm not able to share with you the variety!

That's sort of been the theme for my gardens this year... But the squash plants most certainly enjoyed growing in the pig manure that was applied to the bed last year!! The vines were growing all through the yard & into the neigbhouring bed & up the fence installed for the marionberry plants I got this spring.

Here's a tip: grow your squash vertical! You might need to support the veggies once they set & get growing so they don't rip off the vine or pull down your support structure, but it is such a space saver & keeps the squash out of the way of slugs & bugs (& ducks) & prevents rot spots.

I've got a few more out there & will stagger my harvesting - just in case they will grow a little bit more if this wonderful Autumn weather (sunshine & heat) continues...  Can't wait for roasted squash this winter!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

When Grooming is too Close

I came home the other day to find that the ditch clearing machine has once again cut things to the quick - and right to the fence... Looks horrible & has removed the wild, wooly look to the place and ALL the privacy the front yard had.

I should be used to this by now - happens every 3rd year... But it's still a shock to come up the hill & view this! I'll work on cleaning up the fence line a bit more - needed to be done anyway since the brambles are growing through the fence & trying to take root in the yard.

I'll have to make more of an effort to plant shrubs on the inside of the fence line so that things don't feel so naked each time this happens.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Best Lavender for the Wet Coast

~ Spanish lavender ~
I try to hold off harvesting the last of the flowers at this time of year in order to give the remaining insects a little bit more food to get to where they are going. But the lavender was just perfect for harvesting!

Spanish lavender seems to be the best lavender - at least in my yard - for the wet coast. It grows tall & lanky - which allows the air to move through the branches & dry the plant out, especially important during the winter when the cold & the rains come in.

I cut this bouquet & pruned the plant back in preparation for winter. I know I pruned the plants hard this spring because they do suffer a bit from the frosts & any snow fall (maybe I should cover them this winter...) but it's so great to have lavender at this time of year! Next month I'll put plastic over top my other lavender plants (English lavender) in order to keep them from becoming water logged.

I'll dry the buds & then grind them up for use in my herbal salts (edible) or in a bath (put the buds in a cloth sack under the hot running water) or I might even steep the buds to make lavender jelly or a simple syrup for baking or cocktails in the winter.

I like to brine my chickens with dried lavender buds & then when I roast them, I'll grind up some more lavender & put a salt-lavender crust on the meat. Great flavour for the winter!