Thursday, September 26, 2013

Now We're Talking Chemical Free: Mr. FC&G Battles the Squash Bugs

Oh, goodness, dear readers; I forgot all about this one! Today I was downloading pictures from my phone, and I came across this ugly little specimen, and it reminded me of a story I wanted to share with you.

A couple of weeks ago, as our squash crops were maturing, we developed quite a squash bug infestation.  You know those ugly, gray, angular bugs?  You know, these guys?  They make my nose itch just to think about them.

Well, we are pretty serious about not using chemical pesticides around here, and we've done a pretty good job controlling pests with beneficial nematodes and plain old "manual mechanical" methods (that is, picking bugs off and squashing them).  But there was no way I was getting near enough to squash these with my bare hands, and we had far too many of them in any case.

Enter Mr. FC&G.  One morning, I saw him inspecting the plants, and the next thing I knew, he was out in the garden vacuuming up the squash bugs in his old shop vac, leaving them to die inside before emptying them out.  He was very seriously and thoroughly vacuuming each leaf, stem, and cluster of bugs on the ground, until the garden was more or less clear of the critters.  And our squash harvest went off without a hitch.

So back off, ladies.  He's all mine.
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Friday, September 20, 2013

Amish Cinnamon Bread

"Oh, so baking has replaced gardening," Papa FC&G commented to me this week.

He's right.  With only a few crops left in the garden, I seem to be using my nervous food-creation energy to bake.  And this week I'm making recipes that friends have shared on Facebook.

This is a recipe making the rounds that is unattributed, but the name is Amish Cinnamon Bread.  I have adapted it slightly to make it mix up easier.  The recipe is huge, enough to make two loaves, but it is easy to half. Then again, with the speed with which we ate the first loaf, maybe it would be more efficient for me to make two loaves at once anyway, even though there are just two of us!

Amish Cinnamon Bread

1 c. butter, softened
2 cups sugar (I used half turbinado and half granulated)
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk or 2 cups regular milk plus a splash of vinegar or lemon juice
2 t. baking soda
4 cups flour

In a large bowl, mix together all but the flour until the ingredients are well-mixed, then gradually add flour.

In  two greased loaf pans, pour about half of the batter (1/4 in each pan), then sprinkle granulated sugar and cinnamon across this first layer.  (The original recipe calls for 2/3 c. sugar and 2 t. cinnamon mixed and divided between the two, but I was not that exact.)  Top with the remaining batter, and sprinkle more of the cinnamon/sugar mixture across the top.

Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes or until tester comes out clean. (I needed every bit of 50 minutes in my oven.)  Let cool for 20 minutes before removing from pan.

The Analysis
Fast:  Yes, this recipe mixes up very quickly, especially if you aren't too worried about whether or not you're adding "too much" streusel topping!

Cheap:  As with all baked goods, buying organic butter and pastured eggs bumps my price up a bit, but I still think I'm well under what a bakery loaf would be.

Good:  As I indicated, we finished this loaf in less than a day.  I really should make another for the weekend for our breakfasts!  (This kind of thing would also have been right up my alley for a before-school breakfast when I was a kid, so that's an idea for those who have picky eaters in the house.)
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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Squash Snickerdoodles

This was a great year for squash here on the microfarm, which leaves me with the happy problem of finding ways to use it up.  The biggest producer, by far, was the butternut squash, so I'm always on the lookout for butternut-friendly recipes.

This is a version of a recipe making its way around Facebook (and credited to Annie's Eats).  The original recipe calls for pumpkin puree, which you certainly can use.  I used pumpkin butter in one batch just to use a jar up, and that worked as well.  But the butternut squash gives the cookies a milder flavor that is a nice alternative; you may wish to boost the spices a bit when you use the milder squash.

Squash Snickerdoodles
3 3/4 c. flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg (freshly ground is nice)
1 c. organic butter, melted
1 c. turbinado sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. squash puree
1 egg (free range/pastured is nice)
2 t. vanilla extract

Cut squash in half, remove seeds, and place face down in baking dish partially filled with water.  Bake squash at 350 until flesh is soft.  Let squash cool and remove the flesh.  (This can be done the day before if you wish.)

Combine all ingredients but flour in a mixing bowl and mix with immersion blender until creamy.  Add flour.  You may need to add additional flour if your squash is particularly juicy or if you wind up using a bit more squash.  In that case, boost the spices a bit.

Chill dough, then form dough into balls about the size of a golf ball.  Dip in sugar mixture:
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
dash of allspice

Place balls on cookie sheet and flatten with a fork.  Bake for 12-15 minutes or until done.  (Start checking at 10 minutes until you figure out how much time your squash needs to bake up -- juicier squash requires a bit more time.)

Yield: 3-4 dozen cookies
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Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Hope Chest

When I was in college and in my 20s, I had a hope chest in which I kept items that I was saving for my eventual marriage.

Now, I know some readers think that's a delightful old tradition, and I know an equal number think it should have been thrown out with corsets and male-only voting.  But nonetheless, I had one.

There wasn't much in it, and it honestly wasn't even a chest.  When I bought my first house, I kept my hope chest items in the bottom drawer of my china cabinet.  I only had a few things, mostly good serving ware that I had no use at the time for but wanted to save for use at future family holidays.  But the important part of the "hope chest" is that it allowed me to enjoy my dream of being married and having a household that I would fill with things I would enjoy using.  It gave me pleasure.

Well, I realized the dream of finding Mr. FC&G, but I have recently started my hope chest anew.  As we dream about our eventual retirement in Key West, we certainly have the practical considerations put together in the form of retirement and savings accounts that will help us fund the dream.  But I have also started to collect the things we want in our future beach house.

Above you will see one of my "un-quilts," done up in colors that I hope will find their way into our future home.  It is now part of my hope chest.  And this hope chest is entirely metaphorical -- I don't have a special place to put these things, and, indeed, I will start using them right now.  This un-quilt is currently sitting on the bench at the end of our bed, and we will certainly use it for summer picnics and the like.

But its purpose is far larger.  Every time I look at it, I get a renewed surge of energy for working toward our dream.  It is keeping my hope alive, and that makes it part of my hope chest.

What are you doing to sustain your dreams?

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

How Much Does a Garden Grow: August 2013

If you've been wondering where I've been this week, I've been updating my garden spreadsheet.  With pages and pages of handwritten harvest notes, it took some time to quantify the bounty of August.

The garden became profitable during the first week of August, and we ended the month in the black by over $300.  This means that, had I purchased all the produce I have harvested this year so far at a grocery store, I would have spent $595.47.  Even with the $278.70 expenditure on garden seeds and supplies in the tally, I have thus far carved $316.77 off the household budget.

Some highlights of the month:

  • Even with this being a fairly mediocre tomato year due to the cool, wet summer, I still show all of my tomato varieties to be profitable, with each variety producing more in retail value than I spent on the plants.  The big producers for August were the Italian (168 ounces) and Big Daddy (114 ounces), although the Brandywines and Ox Hearts appear poised for a later showing.
  • This has been a fantastic cucumber year!  Through August, I harvested 1216 ounces (76 pounds), for a total harvest of $195.43 in value.
  • Zucchini have also been wonderful, with a harvest of 594 ounces (37.125 pounds) and a value of $124.74.  In fact, the garden would have been profitable with these two crops alone.
  • Basil was another important crop, with 49 ounces worth $49 coming in through the end of August.  As I mentioned previously, I am now comparing my basil prices to what it would cost to buy fresh basil leaves at the local market.
  • In lesser crops, August saw the harvest of our first apple from our dwarf trees.  It also saw us harvest a few ears of corn, which were yummy until the squirrels started beating us to them!
  • The butternut squash harvest finished up at 177 ounces (9.188 pounds), a value of $33.63.

September is starting with robust harvests as well, so we are nowhere near done with our total garden profit.  I'm so happy that this year has been so much better than the past two with their heat waves and drought.

Finally, you may wonder why I am comparing my prices to retail rather than farmers' market prices, which can sometimes be lower.  This year, I am achieving some consistency by taking only retail store prices in an attempt to demonstrate how much money I save by avoiding the stores for my produce purchases.  You can assume that, had I instead purchased all of this produce at a farmers' market, I would still be in the black, but not by quite as much.  So, even if you don't garden or don't garden extensively, you can still save money by buying direct from the producer.

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