September 4, 2014

Funny Bee Story

It's been a few years since we've had honey bees at our place.  We've tried three times.  Two were bought from the store and the third swarm adopted us.  But I think that we don't have a warm enough place for them because every winter they die.

That's not the funny part.

The first time we tried honey bees on our property, we let our neighbors know.  Not all the neighbors, as required by state law, just the neighbors we know and talk to every once in a while.  Bees travel up to a mile for their pollen, so I suppose we should have talked to a lot more people.  But I figure they wouldn't know my bees from any others out there.  It's not like they have an ID bracelet that says "If found return to Brooks' Hobby Farm."

One Saturday morning, shortly after the first hive of bees arrived, the phone rings.  I answer and the lady says, "Hi.  I'm your neighbor on the north side." (Not a neighbor I usually talk with and therefore didn't know about the bees.)  She continues, "Lola said you guys got honey bees and I think they may be moving into our attic."  (Lola is our wonderful neighbor and probably mentioned it in passing.)  I replied, "Yes, we got honey bees.  Why do you think they are moving into your attic?"

I should note that in my professional career I deal with angry and frustrated people on a daily basis.  After 15 years of trial and error (a lot of trial and error), I have learned how to respond to any unknown entity without 1) being defensive; or 2) revealing anything but simple facts.  I think those are really important tack-ticks when working with neighbors regarding bees, pets, fences, trees, noise or anything else, ever.

Anyway, she asked "Do you have all your bees?"  That caused me a pause.  A hive of honey bees is like 30,000 bees.  Do have them all?  Well, let me go count them and see.  All I could say was, "I think so."

She proceeded to tell me that she was seeing one or two bees fly into and out of the attic frequently for the past few days.  She was concerned that the bees were slowly moving into her attic.  Again she asked if I was sure I had all my bees.  I replied that I would go check.  However, I told her, bees don't move homes like that.  If a hive gets too large for its home, an entire swarm of about 10,000 bees leaves the hive.  The swarm moves, all together, while drones go look for a new home.  When a drone finds a new home, the entire swarm moves in all at once.

We purchase only about 10,000 bees to start the hive. We only had them for a few days at that point, so it was highly unlikely that a swarm had left.  But since she was clearly frustrated and thinking the invasion was my fault, I said I would go check the hive and call her back.

About 10,000 bees - ready to move into the hive
I'm not sure what she thought I would do.  But what I did do was go down and listen to see if there was a lot of buzzing coming from the hive.  There was and a few bees were coming and going to gather food.  Did we have them all?  I don't know.  But odds were that we did. I call the lady back and said yes, we have all our bees.  Thankfully, she accepted that answer.  She didn't have too, but she did.  Her tone because a bit desperate.  She wanted to know what she should do.

I get it.  Most people have a healthy fear of bees.  The sound of buzzing is used in horror movies because it makes humans react and get agitated.  But the truth is that bees (not wasps) are not aggressive.  Honey bees are docile unless threatened.  Yes, swatting your hand at a bee is aggressive and it may react.  Seriously, if someone started smacking you for no apparent reason while you were walking down the sidewalk minding your own business, you would probably react too.  And truth be told, if a swarm of honey bees takes up residence in your attic, they will do a massive amount of damage!

I gave the woman a few numbers to call.  I let her know that she should work with some professionals to get the swarm out of the attic and moved into a proper home.  Perhaps I scared her a little, telling her about how much damage the weight of their honey could cause.  But she was happy to have some people to call for help.

Ok, maybe that story isn't actually funny.  I just can't get over "Do you have all your bees?"

March 4, 2014

2014 Seeds

It's that time of year again.  Actually, I'm a little late.  I've been really enjoying winter, skiing most weekends, and not thinking about the garden.  But it's warmed up and the chickens are laying again, so spring is here.  And ... the Territorial Seed Company catalog came in the mail Saturday.  Gardener porn.

Last year, I saved seeds from my corn, green beans, wax beans and pie pumpkins.  My mom saved seeds from her loose-leaf lettuce.  This will be my first time grown veggies from seeds I saved.  I hope it works out.  If it does I'll save more and purchase less next time around.

Saved corn seeds
We also culled the seed list this year.  I always get excited about trying new things and about certain veggies that I love to eat, but only fresh.  This year, we decided to only grow what we will can or freeze.  Sure I may eat some fresh, but I'm not planting something I don't preserve.  For example, fennel.  I have a couple dishes that are yummy and use fresh fennel.  For those two dishes, which I make maybe once a year each, I'll just go to the produce market and buy fennel.
Some of preserved goods
So here it is, my seed list, with Territorial Seed ID numbers:
RD750/S Amethyst Radish
SQ790/L  Black Beauty Squash (zucchini)
BN046/L Black Coco Bean (shelling bean)
SQ801/S Cube of Butter Squash (summer squash)
PE631/P Dakota Peas (shelling peas)
KL363/S Nero Di Toscana Kale
LT407/L New Red Fire Lettuce
BT133/S Red Ace Beet
CR287/S Romance Carrots
CU299/L Wautoma Cucumbers
XP702/A Yukon Gold Potatoes

All that leaves to buy at the local feed store are tomato and green pepper starts.  I always grow Roma or San Morazano tomatoes - a nice plum tomato for saucing.

February 2, 2014

Big Game Gluten-Free Dinner

I love to try new recipes!  I will take an excuse to dig through websites, Pinterest, cook books, newspaper clippings, you name it to create a meal.  Any excuse :-) We found out that Jordan's youngest cousin is allergic to gluten, dairy, eggs and citrus.  Challenge accepted!

The Big Game is this weekend.  I always make meatball subs and then try new stuff.  Here is the menu I came up with - all gluten free, egg free, non-dairy:
Meatballs (hoggie roll optional)
Cauliflower Poppers
Chocolate Cake

Please also see sources for the original recipes.

Gluten-Free Meatballs
5 cups GF tomato sauce (I used my homemade marinara)
4 T olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup GF quick oats
1/2 cup almond milk
2 lb grass-fed beef
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar (or honey or agave)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. In a large, heavy bottom sauce pan.  Bring tomato sauce to slow simmer.
2. Fry onions and garlic in olive oil until opaque.  Remove from heat.
3. In a large microwave-safe bowl, mix oats and milk.  Cook in microwave for 1 minute.  Mix in onions and garlic.  Allow to cool until you can work it with your hands.
4. Add remaining ingredients and mix well with your hands.
5. Form meatballs and place in simmering tomato sauce.  All to simmer until done through.  Remove from heat and let cool 15 minutes before serving.

Update - I think I'll cook the meatballs in the oven and pour the sauce on on the sandwiches instead of leaving the meatballs in the sauce.  The reason is the oats continue to absorb the sauce and the meatballs get mushy.  I'll bake the meatballs at 350 F for 30-40 minutes or until done through.

Cauliflower Poppers
1 large head of cauliflower
3/4 bottle of GF buffalo sauce (or spicy BBQ sauce)
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons plain almond milk
3/4 cup brown rice flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon curry powder (or cumin if you like it less spicy)
1 Tablespoon potato starch

1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
2. Spray a large non-stick baking sheet with olive oil
3. Chop cauliflower into florets.
4. Combine flour, spices and starch in a bowl and stir until well combined.
5. Pour almond milk in a separate bowl.
6. Toss a handful of florets in milk and then in flour mixture.  Place on baking sheet.  Repeat until all florets are on the baking sheet.  Bake for 20 minutes or until crispy.
7. While cauliflower is baking, heat buffalo sauce in a sauce pan, stirring frequently.
8. After 20 minutes, use a wooden spoon to turn the cauliflower.  Turn oven to broil and cook, with oven door slightly open, for 5-7 minutes or until florets start to brown.
9. Pull cauliflower out of oven and place on serving platter.  Poor buffalo sauce over all.
10. Serve immediately with celery.

Original recipe:

Update - I decided to serve the buffalo sauce on the side along with ranch-style salad dressing so people could choose what they like.  It didn't work out.  The poppers were too dry.  Next time, I'll cook the cauliflower, toss with sauce and then broil.

Gluten Free Chocolate Cake
1 medium ripe avocado
1 large very ripe banana
2/3 cup honey (or maple syrup or agave)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup plain almond milk
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon brown rice flour
2 Tablespoon potato starch
1 Tablespoon tapioca flour
2 Tablespoon corn flour
1/2 cup GF oat flour
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 F.
1. In a large bowl, mash avocado and banana
2. Whisk in olive oil, honey and vanilla.
3. Pour milk and vinegar and let sit for 2 minutes.  Then whisk together.
4. Whisk in baking powder and baking soda.
5. Whisk in cocoa powder, salt, rice flour, potato starch, corn flour and tapioca flour.
6. Whisk in oat flour. Taste and add more honey if needed.
7. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of your cake tin. Place in cake tin, then pour cake batter in.  Place in oven and bake 40-45 minute.  The top will crack and the side will pull away from the tin slightly when it's done.
8. Remove from oven and let stand for 1 hour.  Then invert onto a plate, peal off parchment paper and then flip on to another plate so it is upright.  Dust with powdered sugar if you want.

Original recipe:

Update - Jeremy and I loved this!  Very fudge-like, not too sweet.  But Jordan wanted it to be sweeter.  Next time I'll serve with whipped cream or ice cream for her.  I could frost it too, but that might be too sweet.

November 24, 2013

Turkey Day Game Plan!!!!!!

Ok.  If you've been following my blog, you have all the recipes you need to make a traditional homemade Thanksgiving meal.  But you're probably thinking, there is no way I can make all that stuff, from scratch and get it all on the table hot at the same time without loosing my mind.  Never fear!  I have the game plan for you.

First, getting the meal prepared should be part of the festivities and everyone should be involved, including the kids and the men.  The kitchen should be full of people and chatting and tasting and craziness.  Mistakes will happen and will become the talk of next year's event.

Second, I firmly believe in asking people to bring a dish.  A good guest will offer and will ask what they can bring.  Tell them exactly what they can bring.  Don't ask what they want to bring.  Say, "Thank you.  Would you bring the dinner rolls?"  But then you have to be OK with them bringing something store-bought or different than how you make it.  If you really, truly don't need anything for the big meal, then ask for people to bring appetizers or wine or a centerpiece.  Everyone loves to feel like they are contributing.

And, when someone arrives and asks "What can I do to help."  Tell them what they can do to help - chop, mash, stir.  There is plenty to do and people want to help - they really do.

Third, plan on simple dinners during the week before the big day.  Take-out is your friend.  Pizza, Chinese.  Or have "snack" dinners - crackers, cheese and apples/grapes - are good.

Here's the game plan:

Saturday, clean out the fridge.  Then go shopping and fill it back up again.  You'll probably forget something at the store so be prepared to have to go back during the week.  But under no circumstances go to the store on Thanksgiving.  If you don't have something, muddle through.  Employees deserve to be home with their friends and family, so boycotting stores on Thanksgiving makes a good statement.

Sunday make the cranberry sauce.  Either process in mason jars and store in the pantry or pour into molds and put in the fridge.  Older kids can help stir the berries, mill to remove the skins and pour into molds.

Monday do nothing.  Really, don't cook or bake anything!

Tuesday make the candied yams and french fried onions.  Candied yams should really sit for a couple of days in the fridge to let all the flavors mingle.  My dad makes this dish and does a great job with it.

Wednesday we start getting really serious.  You are going to make the jello salad, stuffing, green beans and pie crust dough (if you are making that from scratch).  At our house, my daughter, who is 11 yrs old, makes the jello salad, my mom makes the stuffing and I make the green beans (and I buy the pie crust).

Thursday play by play:
8:00am have a big, healthy breakfast and shower
9:00am make the potato roll dough and let rise for the first time
9:30am stuff the turkey and place in oven (this is for a 16 lb turkey and to eat around 3pm - turkey cooking chart)
10:30am have your husband, dad, partner or child peal the potatoes while you sit, read the news paper and have a mimosa or Bloody Mary.  Seriously, chill for 30 minutes.
11am boil the potatoes, mash and place in a buttered crockpot on "keep warm."  Then punch down the roll dough and let rise again.
Noon put out a tray of store-bought, pre-cut veggies, humus dip and crackers.  Get the green beans and candied yams out of the fridge and set near stove to bring to room temperature.
12:30  Ask someone else set the table, including putting out trivets and serving spoons.  Have your husband, dad, partner or child grease the muffin tins in preparation for the rolls.

Take a break!!  Have a glass of wine or beer.  Watch some football or take a walk or play a game with the kids. Seriously, enjoy some time with your family and friends.  This would be a good time to ask people to arrive - around 1pm.  You're in a moment of down time.  The dinner table is set and pretty.  You can actually greet people and chat.

1:30pm Back to work.  Form the rolls in the muffin tins and set out to rise the 3rd time.  Make the pumpkin pie filling, roll out the crust dough and pour in the filling (set aside).
2:30pm take the turkey out of the oven and set under a foil tent to rest.  Up the oven temp to 400 F and put the rolls in.  Also put in the green beans and candied yams (if there is room).  You can use the microwave and/or toaster oven to warm up the side dishes.  Make the gravy from the turkey drippings.
2:45pm take out the rolls, green beans and candied yams.  Drop the oven temp down to 350 F and put in the pumpkin pies.  Put rolls into a basket.  Ask your husband, dad, partner, friend to scoop the mashed potatoes from the crockpot into a serving dish, put the cranberry sauce onto a serving plate, and pour gravy into a dish.
3:00pm ask your husband, dad or partner to carve the turkey and have everyone (including guests) help place all food on the table.

Enjoy dinner!

4:00pm check on the pie and take it out if it's done.  Let it cool for a half hour, while you enjoy wine and chatting with your family and friends.
4:30pm have desert and coffee or more wine.

Make everyone help clean up! Kids can clear the table.  Adults can put leftovers into tupperwear.  Load what can go into the dishwasher and run it.  Rinse special dishes and set aside - you can wash these later or even tomorrow morning.

November 22, 2013

Traditional, Homemade Thanksgiving Dinner - Installment #8: Potato Rolls

There is one thing that you make that everyone raves about.  It's the thing you are always asked to bring.  It's the first thing to get devoured.  My "thing" is potato rolls.  The problem is that my "thing" takes an entire day to make.  So I only make them on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The recipe comes from my Grandma Charlotte Emigh.  She developed this bread recipe because she doesn't like bread that has a strong yeast taste.  The recipe does use yeast, but the end result is mild.

If you are going to make these, you need to start early on Thanksgiving day.  I usually start around 9am if we are planning on eating 3pm-ish.  And don't skimp on any step.  If you try to go with 2 rises instead of 3 rises, the result will not be as good (trust me, I've tried to speed it up and skip a tise - bad.)  If you are going to make these, do it right :-)

Grandma's Potato Rolls (makes 2 dozen)
1 1/2 cup warm water
2 1/4 teaspoon dry yeast (one packet)
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
2 eggs
1 cup warm potatoes*
7 cup unbleached white flour (or more)

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water.  Let it proof for 2 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a very large glass mixing bowl, combine salt, shortening, eggs and potatoes together.  Stir in the yeast mixture.

Mix in 5 cups of flour by hand (yes, with your hands).  Keep adding flour 1/2 cup at a time until it forms a ball that is not sticky and ready to knead.  Your hands will be a mess.  I ask my husband to add the flour while I keep mixing.

Flour a surface and knead the dough until it's smooth an elastic - adding flour as you need to.  It takes 5 - 10 minutes of work.  Consider this your exercise for the day.

While you are kneading the bread, have your husband, partner or child wash and dry the large glass bowl.  Then have them use shortening to grease the inside of the bowl.  When the dough is nice and smooth, form it into a ball and place in the greased bowl.  Use the shortening to grease the top of the dough.  Please a damp dish towel over and set in a warm location to rise.

When the dough has doubled in size (1-1 1/2 hours). Punch it down, put the towel back over and let rise again.  When it has doubled in size again (1 1/2 hours), prepare the muffin tin.  Use shortening to grease the inside of each muffin tin (don't use liners and don't use olive oil or butter - use shortening - I'm not kidding, use shortening).

Form the rolls by making three small balls of dough per muffin.  This will make them easy to tear apart and dip in gravy.  When all the rolls are formed, take pieces of parchment paper, spray one side with cooking spray and place, oil side down, over the dough.  Let the rolls rise again.  (Yep, that's rise number 3.)

When the rolls have doubled in size, preheat the oven to 400 F.  Bake for 15 minutes, watching closely. Take out when turning golden on top.  Apply butter to the top of each roll as they come out of the oven, then let cool for 10 minutes before removing from muffin tin.  Put right into a towel lined basket, cover with a towel and set right onto the table.  These are best served right away.

*The only way to speed it up that won't impact the end result, it to go with dried potato flakes instead of baking a potato.  Follow the instructions on the back for making one cup of potatoes.  I've done both dried and fresh and you really cannot tell the difference when the rolls are baked.*