Categories
Kitchen Garden

Hatch Chili Sauce

Hatch chili sauce using a blend of Hatch and Guajillo chilies.

A variety of dried chilies waits for me in the pantry. Yesterday I made chili sauce with the rest of the Guajillo chilies I grew, and some Hatch chilies from the grocer. It is a bit of a production yet this chili sauce is great on just about anything.

First put a kettle of water on to boil. Stem the chilies and split them to remove most of the seeds. Place them in a bowl and pour the hot water over them to enable them to hydrate. Cover with a plate to hold them under water. Soak for at least an hour or until they are flexible.

Place the chilies in a blender with a cup of the soaking liquid. Add whole garlic cloves, at least one large head. Add pepper and Mexican oregano. Blend until it is as smooth as possible.

Place a tablespoon or so of peanut oil in a frying pan and heat. Using a strainer, pour the sauce mixture into the frying pan, pushing as much through the mesh as is possible using a spatula. Set the strainer with bits of chili skin aside and stir the strained sauce.

Add a dash of salt and a teaspoon of sugar to bring out the flavor of the chilies. The idea is not to sweeten the sauce, but to make the chilies taste more fruity.

Stir and mix, mix and stir over medium low heat. Reduce the sauce until it is the consistency of a thick tomato sauce or tomato paste. Use the soaking liquid to dilute the sauce if it gets too thick. Make it the consistency you want.

Put it in a jar, refrigerate, and use it like you would any hot pepper sauce. If I had summer greens, I’d make a taco filling with it along with black beans. I’m the only person in our house who eats spicy things. All the same this Hatch chili sauce won’t last long.

Categories
Kitchen Garden Sustainability

Going Home — Local Food

Garden April 20, 2020

Like most people, I want a decent meal when it is time to eat. In 2012, I launched a major study of the local food scene and was not disappointed in the results coming into and out of our kitchen. By working at a number of farms, growing and expanding our home garden, and participating in legislative advocacy, I learned so much about where food originates and conditions which engender growth of a variety of fruit and vegetables.

The impact of local food systems on our home life reached its peak in development of the kitchen garden idea. Now that the work is finished, I have less interest in writing regularly about food. It is an assumed part of a background against which I pursue other interests. I’ve learned what it means to know the face of the farmer. I maintain an interest in doing so. I just won’t write about it as often. Mainly, others are doing a better job of writing about our food system.

Food is basic to a life. It is not the most important thing. I am glad for the work I did, yet I feel it is finished. It is time to concentrate on more important aspects of life. It is time to keep a focus on life closer to home.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Vegan Apple Crisp

Vegan apple crisp.

It’s the end of apple season and with a vegan in the house, using butter in a dessert is out the window. I took the apple crisp recipe from my hand written cookbook and modified it after reading a couple of vegan recipes. The first test batch didn’t meet standards so I tweaked it and came up with this keeper.

Vegan Apple Crisp

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Shelf positioned so the baking dish is in the middle of the oven.

Filling:

  • 8 good sized apples
  • 2 tbs wheat flour
  • 2 tbs lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup apple cider or juice
  • 3 tbs arrowroot (mix together with lemon juice and apple cider)
  • dash salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger (fresh if you have it)
  • a few grates of nutmeg

Grease the baking dish. Reserve the arrowroot mixture and mix everything else in a mixing bowl. Don’t beat it to death! Add the liquid and incorporate. Pour into the baking dish.

Topping:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup each of wheat and almond flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • dash of salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Using a pastry blender mix everything together and make sure it is well incorporated. Don’t beat it to death! Sprinkle on top of the filling and bake for 30-35 minutes, making sure the topping starts to brown.

Philosophy of cookery. Peel and slice enough apples to fill whatever baking dish you want to use. Mine is 9 x 13 x 2 inches. Adjust the amount of topping to match the amount of apples. The batch can be doubled or halved. It would likely freeze well in an airtight container.

Categories
Living in Society

Exiting the Work Force

Leaves from the maple tree fell all at once.

We often co-exist with an illusion we have unlimited time to live our lives. Living each moment, our fundamental outlook is there will be another. Many of us believe that each new moment has the potential to be better than the one in which we find ourselves. It may be true, yet there are limits.

When I retired April 28, 2020, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, I wasn’t ready. I looked forward to getting dressed in my uniform (jeans, a shirt with the company logo, and hard-toed boots), driving across the lakes in my 1997 Subaru, and working an eight-hour shift that had a unique yet recurring set of variables that demanded something from me but not a lot. It was a retirement job to pay bills until Social Security kicked in at the full rate. I exited the work force with eyes open to avoid contracting the coronavirus.

I want another source of steady income.

If I return to the workforce, it will be on my terms, avoiding any public-facing job because of infectious diseases living in members of the public. That was a lesson of my last employment. I spent a lot of time sick before the pandemic because of contagious people.

While transferring files from my 2013 CPU to the new one I found file folders with ideas for earning money. Some of them brought income, yet not enough to rely on them without other sources. Having retired from my main career in 2009, I spent time exploring alternative forms of employment that would help pay the bills. It was a mixed bag, the best part of which was meeting so many people. A fellow couldn’t live on it.

We have a decent home life. I improved my gardening and cooking, and I’m writing more. I am focused on being a better photographer. I don’t view any of these activities as sources of income. If I have an abundance from the garden I may sell it at the local farmers market or donate to the food bank. Freelance writing brings something in, but it is lowly paid work. I would rather enjoy this creativity for what it is: a regular decent meal with ingredients I grew, and a legacy of writing. From time to time a subject gains a broader readership, as in the recent school board election coverage. There is personal satisfaction in it and that’s enough.

I resist commercializing our home life. A life worth living has some privacy. I enjoy creative outlets provided by gardening and meal preparation, opinion pieces to newspapers, and posting photos on Instagram. I attempt to refrain from stupid stuff on Twitter, which is my main place to mouth off. I am careful about what I say and depict about our private lives on those platforms.

What will I do with this moment? Write a few more words, edit, then hit schedule so it posts at 5 a.m. comme d’habitude. I look forward to breakfast as it’s been 11 hours since eating anything. There are onions and garlic from the garden… and a half used jar of Guajillo chili sauce I made. I’ll concern myself with breakfast just as soon as I finish this post. The anticipation makes life worth living.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Gleaning in Mid-October

Five gallon bucket of mostly peppers: Guajillo, jalapeno, Serrano and sweet bell.

Some parts of Iowa had a frost warning last night but not here in Big Grove. At 3 a.m. ambient temperatures were in the 60s and all was well with the gardening world.

That is, except for little green worms devouring kale and collards as they do at the end of season.

Kale plant with little green worms.

Despite the kale infestation there was plenty of chard for the kitchen as I gleaned the garden Friday morning. The season is bound to be over soon, even if exceptionally warm temperatures due to climate change extended it.

Chard, Guajillo chilies, eggplant, bell peppers and tomatillos drying on the counter.

There were a few tomatoes, mostly small versions of Granadero which produced well this season. The tomato patch is ready to be deconstructed, the fencing rolled up and stored for winter. The question is when I’ll feel like doing it.

Jalapeno and Serrano peppers drying, along with other garden items on the counter.

Partly because of the long season there are many peppers: Guajillo, jalapeno and Ace bell peppers grew better this year than ever. I’ll prepare Guajillo chilies with garlic and apple cider vinegar as a condiment for storage in the refrigerator. The jalapenos are a bit of a surprise as they didn’t produce much earlier in the season. They are big ones, so that increases the possibilities for cooking. My jalapeno needs have already been filled so I’ll have to get creative.

At the end of Friday I picked some basil for pizza making. Basil went into the sauce and whole leaves on top in a pseudo-Midwestern version of pizza Margherita. Fresh mozzarella would have been better, but we make do with what we have. If I try this again, I will wait to apply the basil topping until about a minute before cooking is finished. The pizza was eminently edible. This from a man who at a younger age would eat leftover pizza from a box left overnight in the living room.

Midwestern-style Pizza Margherita.

There is at least one more pass through the garden to get Brussels sprouts and maybe some more chard. The herbs under row cover could use another picking. There are plenty of pepper flowers but it seems unlikely they will make it to fruit. It’s been a good garden season and even the gleaning was bountiful. As fall turns to winter, I’m ready.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Fall is in the Air

Ash and Maple trees starting to turn, Oct. 7, 2021.

It may be a while before the first hard frost. Peppers, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, and greens continue to grow in the garden. I want one more picking of Red Delicious apples before letting the rest go to wildlife. Fall is in the air and hopefully rain will come with it. It remains exceedingly dry.

Wednesday I mulched the garlic patch so planting this year for next is finished. I won’t start onions and shallots until late December in channel trays under a grow lamp. As I look to 2022, this year has been a great one for our garden.

For now, accept it that fall is coming and with it a an eventual end of the growing season. We live on the edge between abundance and scarcity. Hopefully we’ll have enough food between the pantry and commercial shopping to last until spring. One never knows in a time of climate change.

Categories
Home Life

Soup Night

Fallen apple, September 2021.

I brought a generous pound of potatoes and two pints of canned vegetable broth from downstairs. There was an almost forgotten patch of leeks in the garden so I made leek and potato soup for dinner. With some sliced apples from our tree, spread with peanut butter, it made a meal.

It has taken some work to get the soup right. While sauteing the leeks and diced onion, seasoned with salt, in some of the vegetable broth I peeled and cut the potatoes into a half-inch dice. I added them to the leek-onion mixture with enough broth to just cover them. The Dutch oven simmered on low heat until the potatoes were soft.

Next I added a tablespoon of arrowroot powder mixed with water, then a cup of oat milk, and then two cups of frozen corn. It simmered a half hour. I added sliced chives from the garden and it was ready to serve. We don’t blend the soup to get a smooth texture, although one could. The key is reducing additions of cooking liquid so the soup thickens. Arrowroot helped.

I finished reading Poet Warrior: A Memoir by Joy Harjo this morning. Harjo is poet laureate of the United States. It was moving in a way other memoirs have not been. It had me thinking about my own life and how it differed and was similar to hers. Now that I’ve tended to my mother’s death bed, reading her story about her mother’s death resonated. I had not previously known of her connection to the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. Maybe what she learned there makes it easy to relate to the narrative. Highly recommend.

Our vehicle is in the shop getting a wheel bearing changed. The mechanics work was made difficult by rust formed on the chassis and undercarriage during our 20 years of ownership. They can do this work, but parts are becoming less available. “It’s not a long-term keeper,” my mechanic said of the vehicle. This is the second or third conversation we’ve had about the rust. Now I’m asking the question, “what kind of vehicle does a septuagenarian need to make it until he can no longer drive?” No answers yet, but thoughts.

The future of transportation is electrification, especially for passenger vehicles and light trucks. If I planned to keep a vehicle for a few years, then trade it, I would have no issue going electric now. We didn’t win the lottery last night and can afford to buy just one car to last. Electrification of automobiles is in transition presently, so as technology develops, who knows if what goes on the market today will be eclipsed by newer technology tomorrow? Well we do know. It will be eclipsed because there will be issues. I’ve worked with Original Equipment Manufacturers enough to know this.

I’m leaning toward a new Toyota Prius which operates with excellent fuel economy and has been on the market long enough to have bugs worked out of it. It is the right size for the two of us and I’ve ridden in them with friends on many occasions. We have a dealer in the county seat that posted a starting price of $28,814. Pricing is negotiable and dependent on specifications. I’d rather just keep the car we have but if repair parts are unavailable and the undercarriage rusts through, our hand is forced.

Once the wheel bearing is replaced we should be good to go for a while. A while may be all we have.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Apple Time in Iowa

Jonafree apples at Wilson’s Orchard and Farm, Sept. 17, 2021.

Large commercial farms in Iowa don’t grow apples the way they did. Iowa is mostly a corn, soybeans, oats and hay state when it comes to field crops. People don’t often grow apple trees at home either. Apples remain the most significant Iowa fruit crop and there are plenty around if you know where to look.

My backyard apple orchard has five trees. This year two varieties produced, Red Delicious and Earliblaze. Besides eating them fresh, I made apple cider vinegar and applesauce from Earliblaze, which were ready first and are done. I just started the Red Delicious harvest and made apple butter, and apple sauce from them so far. Preserving apples will get us through next year when the harvest is expected to be light. This year we have all the apple nutrition we can use with our own apples. Food in a kitchen garden is about more than nutrition.

To get more variety I went to a local orchard where trees are loaded with fall crop apples. Many varieties are ripe and ready to pick now. It was easy picking as the crowds had not hit them the way they will once autumn arrives Sept. 22.

“The full docket for apples this week includes Crimson Crisp, Jonathon, McIntosh, Cortland, Jonafree, Golden Supreme, Honey Gold, Honeycrisp, Song of September, Blondee, Burgundy, Bonner, Sansa, Cortland, Gala, and Ginger Gold,” according to the weekly marketing email from Wilson’s Orchard and Farm. In addition to apples, the farm began growing pumpkins and flowers which add to the scenic experience. In addition to picking apples I got in my daily exercise walking up and down the hills.

My goal was to come home with six or eight Crimson Crisp apples plus a few other varieties. (I planted a Crimson Crisp apple tree in the back yard and it hasn’t begun to fruit). I came home with a bag full of half a dozen varieties, plus some Honeycrisp for home storage. The flavors are distinctive in each, worth savoring.

People do it all the time yet I don’t know how they eat apples produced in other states and trucked into local grocery stores. Nutritionally they may meet requirements, but OMG! With all the locally grown apples and their diverse, often marvelous qualities why would you? As we eat through the ones I brought home we share and discuss each one. It is an experience of Iowa’s apple season and part of our local culture. At least it can be.

Apple time signals the beginning of autumn and the end of the growing season. It will be a rush to get everything done before snow flies. The main work of food production moves from the vegetable garden to the kitchen as bushels of apples become available. Apple time in Iowa connects us to the cycles of the season. Although the seasons have changed due to planetary warming and the greenhouse effect, we enjoy what persists during apple time.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

My Cookbook

My handwritten cookbook.

During one of our vacations in Stratford, Ontario I bought this bound blank book for reasons then unknown. Eventually, beginning in 2000, I wrote down recipes in it and today the pages are more than half filled.

They are the kind of recipes that are more than improvisational knife and spoon work with me standing in the kitchen, checking the refrigerator and pantry, and whipping up a couple of things for supper.

I return to the cookbook regularly.

First pick of the Red Delicious apples, Sept. 12, 2021.

It is apple time in Iowa and someone asked for apple butter. The first pick of Red Delicious apples will go toward that. I have older jars stored on the shelf but when I gift apple butter, I want it to be this year’s batch.

In 2010 I entered my recipe for apple butter in the cookbook. Back then I made something out of every apple harvested. It was a lot of apple butter, apple sauce and dried apples. There are still a couple old jars hanging around. (They need to be pitched).

Today I give away apples I won’t use. One year I gave 350 pounds to a community supported agriculture project for their members. Another I donated to the food bank. I also offer them to neighbors if interested. The idea is to bring enough into the house to make sure the apple products will last for two years until the next big harvest is expected. I’m done with overshooting that goal, except for apple cider vinegar which keeps a long time.

I have hundreds of printed cookbooks and likely a recipe for every growing, crawling, running, flying, slithering, and swimming thing in the ecosphere. I keep my faves nearby: Rick Bayless, Mario Batali, Julia Child, Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker. I always return to the red-covered bound book I wrote myself for the good things in our life.

Happy cooking!

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Pepper Time

Variety of garden peppers.

As we turn toward autumn tomatoes are finishing and peppers are coming on strong. I put up a lot of tomato product and am well-prepared to make it until next August. There is always a question of what to do with peppers. This year there are some new ideas.

Pickled jalapenos and hot sauce are traditional. I’ll also grind up what remains of hot peppers and mix it with salt and apple cider vinegar to use in lieu of fresh peppers in cooking. This worked last year so a repeat is in order.

Hot sauce and pickled jalapeno peppers.

I am backlogged with dehydrated hot peppers so no more this year. The main use is to grind for red pepper flakes. I have plenty on hand. I will re-hydrate the old ones next spring and use them to deter pests in the garden.

I grew Guajillo chili plants. The yield wasn’t what I hoped but will roast what there is, skin and coarsely chop them, and mix with apple cider vinegar, salt and garlic to use in Mexican-style cooking. I buy a commercially prepared version of this, so the idea has been in the works for a while.

Bell peppers will be cleaned, sliced in half and frozen in zip top bags. I don’t need many of these as there are some remaining from last year. The main use for bell peppers is for an afternoon snack. At two per day I could make it well into September with fresh ones for out of hand eating and cooking.

Arrival of pepper time also means the end of the garden is near. It’s hard to believe we’re already at that point in the growing cycle.