Tomato Fennel Soup

Who likes fennel?!  Not the seeds, the large, white bulb!  Not being a particular fan of licorice, I can’t say that fennel is on the top of my grocery list–ever–but a few years ago I had some tomato fennel soup that was out-of-this-world good.  And I have been wanting to make it ever since.  This week it finally happened.

We got fennel in our shares ANDDDDD I just happened to order a 20 pound box of Roma tomatoes to process into tomato sauce this week.  I had tomatoes to spare for soup.

This soup is so simple.  Roast veggies. Dump into large pot. Cook 10 minutes more. Blend. Serve.  YUM!  I served this soup with feta cheese and some homemade pesto.  Double YUM! I’m too lazy (read: busy) right now to write up a recipe, but you can sort of make it up as you go.  This was my inspiration, and I adapted it from there.

With fall weather moving in today:  cold, cloudy, drizzly, this was the perfect bright spot in my day.  Go make this soup!

How to make dilly beans

I’ve never made dilly beans before.  In fact, the only pickled thing I’ve made is refrigerator pickles, so this seemed like a step up because of the canning process to make them shelf stable.  But they are really easy to make–I made a batch in about an hour and a half.  Not bad.  And they’re really tasty!  Check out how I made them in the video below:

Lemon basil & lavender shortbread cookies

IMG_6055No video for this recipe, sorry!  I don’t actually have any lemon basil growing in my garden right now–my pesky chickens ate all of my baby basil plants earlier this spring.   So, I can’t make any of these delicious cookies until I can get my hands on some lemon basil.  And I don’t know of a source of lemon basil, so it might be a while before I can make these cookies again.  Which, if I think about it, is probably a good thing because when I first experimented with this recipe I ate the entire batch that afternoon (nearly 2 dozen cookies).  I’m not kidding.  Also I’m not particularly proud to admit that (or am I?).  I’m not into hot dogs, but if there were a shortbread-eating contest, though, I’d definitely be in the running to win.

I made a big batch of these cookies for my friend’s wedding earlier this summer (see my previous post) and somehow I managed not to eat a single cookie before I got to the actual wedding.  How on earth did I manage that?!  I suspect it had something to do with the gobs of cupcakes and icing I had consumed the day I was making literally hundreds of cupcakes and cookies.  Nothing like a little sugar overload to stave of a good shortbread craving…

For this recipe I prefer to use fresh lemon basil.  I use a mortar and pestle to grind the basil into a paste, and use a little bit of sugar as a grinding agent to help break down the basil.  Using fresh basil turns the sugar paste a brilliant green!  Unfortunately, the green color doesn’t hold–it gets diluted as more ingredients are added to the dough.  For the wedding, I only had dried lemon basil.  Honestly, I couldn’t tell a difference in the flavor–so if you happen across lemon basil, buy as much of it as you can and dry it!!  You can then make these cookies all winter long (assuming you have dried lavender flowers).  If you don’t have either of these, then your next best option is lemon-rosemary shortbread cookies, which may just be my second favorite flavor of shortbread.  You can substitute rosemary for the lavender and lemon zest for the lemon basil, but add about 1 teaspoon of lemon juice in addition to the vanilla extract.

Let’s just say that you need to find a way to make these cookies.  Buy yourself a pack of lemon basil seeds and set a pot in your windowsill.  Grow some lemon basil and while you’re at it, get yourself a lavender plant, too.  Besides being beautiful, you can harvest some of the flowers (before they open) to use in cookies, breads, teas, whatever.  And then leave most of the flowers to open because the bees LOVE THEM.  They go completely nuts!  And we all know the bees can use all the help they can get.  So help feed the bees while beautifying your garden!  Win win!

Go make these cookies!  Find the recipe here.

I’m ready for August (I can’t believe I just said that)

This month has been a complete whirlwind and it just about killed me.  Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but I am pretty darn tired on this last day of July.  I was home all of 8 or 9 days this entire month–the rest of the time I was traveling for work, family reunions, and training, with a little bit of fun thrown in here and there.  The good news is I think I will be home for a little while now, which will give me a chance to dig the garden out from the bindweed that has taken over in places (Curses!) and I have plenty of work to do on my storybook and cottage food license before fall.  Oh, and I think I’ll make time to do some canning as well!  And maybe this means more gardening, cooking videos, and blogging.  Hopefully.

And just so you aren’t thinking I’m being whiny about how busy my month was (I’ll admit it, I’m whining), here’s a quick look back at the month that was:

1) Okay, really this happened in late June but it’s part of equation to my hectic month–my friend got married June 30 and wayyyyyyy back in January she asked if I would help her make cupcakes and cookies for the wedding.  “Sure!” I replied eagerly, not thinking about field season when we still had over a foot of snow on the ground.  “That will be fun!”  Fast forward 6 months and I am freaking out because I was in the field in mid-June and I had to leave July 1 for 12 days of field work.  That left me….oh, 5 or 6 days to make 150 cupcakes and 200 shortbread cookies.  It all worked out, but that was a pretty busy 5 or 6 days of work!  I did save a little bit of my sanity by prepping ahead of time.  How?

a) for some of the cupcakes, I mixed together the dry ingredients and put them in my freezer.  When it was time to make the cupcakes, all I had to do was cream the butter, sugar, vanilla, and eggs, and add the dry ingredients.  All the measuring was done ahead of time, which actually saved me quite a bit of time (and washing of measuring utensils).

b) did you know you can make frosting and freeze it, to be thawed later and piped onto cupcakes?  It’s a beautiful thing.

c) same with shortbread cookie dough.  Mix up the dough, shape it into a log and wrap it with plastic wrap or waxed paper.  When it’s time to bake the dough, set it out at room temperature for an hour or so, then slice and bake!  Ta da!  Nearly instant cookies!

How did they turn out?  Pretty amazing, if I do say so myself.  Here are a few of the things I made:

This was honestly a good experience and I’m glad I was able to help make my friend’s wedding day special with some tasty treats.

2) The day after the wedding I left for a 12 day field hitch.  The work was in SE Montana, but the closest town with a hotel was Sheridan, WY.  This was the second summer I worked on this project.  Needless to say, I’m becoming quite familiar with Sheridan.  It’s a quaint little town.  The vegetation surveys I was doing require clipping of vegetation so that annual production can be estimated–this is a coal mine reclamation and essentially they want to know “How is the vegetation doing?”  So we make a list of what’s there and then clip some to take home and weigh later.  Here’s a time-laspe video showing what it’s like to clip.  The plot took about 30 minutes to clip, condensed down to 15 seconds.

3) After I got home from Sheridan I had a few days to do laundry and re-pack my bags for Nebraska, where I attended a family reunion of my hubby’s side of the family.  We loaded up the kayaks and MaeBelle and spent some time on Lake McConaughy, which was wayyyyy more fun than I expected, if I’m being totally honest.  I mean, I’m not hatin’ on Nebraska by any means, but Nebraska in July wasn’t exactly on my bucket list.  We spent most of a Saturday on the water and it was windy that day, which meant big breakers on the beach.  Also lower humidity.  It was a total hoot in the kayaks! MaeBelle had a ball.  And we had Dutch oven cherry cobblers for dessert.  Wins all around!

4) Nebraska was a whirlwind 5 day trip.  We were home for 2 days.  We didn’t even unload the truck completely.  Just did some laundry and bought a few more groceries, then we headed for McCall, Idaho, where I had barre training.  Again, we spent time on the lake in our kayaks.  Fires have erupted in Idaho, and a huge plume of smoke was visible south of town.  We also drove through an active fire area near Riggins. ‘Tis the season for wildfires…but air quality was good in McCall, thankfully, otherwise camping wouldn’t have been nearly as pleasant.  Also, MaeBelle wasn’t feeling well on this trip–maybe she picked up something in Nebraska?  But I can assure you that traveling for 9 hours, then camping for 3 days, then traveling 9 hours home with a dog with diarrhea isn’t nearly as much fun as you might think.IMG_6271IMG_6277

And now I’m back home, picking raspberries and talking to my chickens again.  It’s time to prep my late summer garden plantings (snow peas, beets, spinach) and gear up for canning next month!  Gah!  Fall is just around the corner!  No rest for the weary, but at least I get to sleep in my own bed. Hooray!

How green my garden grows

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I can water my garden from the water hose all summer long, but my garden never looks so green and happy than after a nice rain.  Rain droplets must pick up micronutrients from the atmosphere as they plummet to the earth–I can think of no other reason why a good soaking rain makes my garden so much happier than a good soak from the hose.

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Miss Rhodie–she’s at least 7 years old but she still lays eggs!

The chickens are also loving the yard and the garden.  Surprisingly, they have left most of my veggies alone and so I have not bothered to cover most of my boxes with bird netting.  The other day I harvested some spinach and all of a sudden it was like they discovered the spinach for the first time.  One by one, chickens hopped up into the boxes and began nibbling on spinach leaves.  I didn’t mind–I have so much spinach in the garden I’m willing to share some with the girls if it makes them happy.

I’ve got a terrific idea for using up gobs of rhubarb (and old bread)–I’ve made 2 batches of rhubarb bread pudding this week and it is soooooo good!  I should post a video this weekend.  The only problem is I don’t actually have a recipe with exact amounts and such.  I just throw things in a bowl and it turns out delicious.  I know, that’s not fair if you want to try to make it for yourself.  So I’ll try to come up with some guidance before I make a video.

Summer field work has begun so things will be fairly quiet around this blog for a while.  I’ll post when I can but it will be sporadic at best.  I’m doing lots of stuff, I just don’t have time to write it down!  Be patient with me.  Maybe photos will have to do the bulk of the talking this summer.  So, maybe I’ll do just that to show you what I’ve been up to lately and why I haven’t been posting more videos and recipes!  The reason is both for work and play but sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.  That’s when I know I’m doing something right.  Right?!  Click on a photo and the caption will pop up.  ‘Til next time…

 

What’s the earliest thing you eat from the garden?

My garden has seen the light of day for about 3 weeks now, even less than that if you count me removing the mulch I put down last winter, which I did last weekend.  In the fall I let a lot of things go to seed, specifically carrots and spinach, and they are usually the earliest things to pop up in the garden.  In fact, when I pulled back the mulch, I had tiny leaves of spinach that were actually edible!  I also had a couple of whopper carrots that were edible after surviving the winter.  Very cool.

But what was the first thing I have eaten out of my garden?  My Egyptian walking onions!  They made it through the winter with green tops and you can eat them just like green onions.  I sauteed them with some red cabbage last night for dinner and I put them in my chicken salad today for lunch.  Mmmmmmm!!

But it won’t be long until there’s a lot more early-season goodies to harvest.  Okay, pop quiz!! Can you guess what some of these things are growing in my garden?  If you don’t know just click on the picture and the caption will pop up!  How many of these do you know?

There’s some exciting things happening in my garden.  Get this: my globe artichoke survived its SECOND winter and is putting up new leaves!  I didn’t get around to starting new plants with the seeds I saved from last year (sorry) but I will try to do that this spring and I’ll plant them this fall so they can overwinter next year.  They won’t produce artichokes this year, but that’s okay!

In other exciting news around my little urban farmstead, we have completed the fence around the front yard and the chickens can now roam freely over about 70% of our property now (it’s all they’ll ever get–the last 30% is to be the ‘chicken poop-free zone’).  I’ve got some netting up on the boxes I don’t want them getting in right now (spinach, strawberries) and we’re going to put up another fence across the front to keep them out of the garden area so that once we get the really yummy things going, like tomatoes, peas, and peppers they won’t destroy the garden.  But for now, I don’t mind them poking around in the garden boxes and finding bugs to eat.  I’ve got a bad case of leaf miners, and I’d like the girls to make a dent in the population.  And they can help turn the compost, too.

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Happy girls!

I spent the weekend cleaning up the yard and digging out more plants from mulch and leaves.  This place is starting to green up nicely!  Time to get some more early season goodies planted.  I’d like to start some kale, green onions, celery, and basil.  Lots and lots of basal of all kinds–Genovese basil, purple basil, lemon basil, lime basil…it’s all great stuff!  The gardening bug has finally hit me after a long winter!

Spring is for lemon meringue pie!

I’m back!  I was traveling for work recently and once I got home I got hit with a whirlwind of writing reports, playing birthday dinner hostess, preparing for upcoming field work this summer, and my favorite: doing quality control on data entry into our master database at work (kidding).  And I think spring has FINALLY arrived in Helena–we’ve had 2 nice weekends in a row and I have spent as much time as I can outside working in the yard and garden.  And you know what?  The garden is alive! More on that later…

First things first: my little lemon tree produced 7 lemons this year, a record for me.  For many people growing lemons in a warm climate, this may seem unimpressive, but I was quite pleased to have 7 fully ripe lemons in Montana.  I gave away a couple of lemons to friends and I had 4 left.  What to do with my bounty?  Then one day it hit me: lemon meringue pie!  Of course!  And I can use eggs from my gals, too!  And it was settled.

Meyer lemons are quite a bit smaller than the lemons you find at the grocery store but they have a wonderful flavor.  I ended up using 3 lemons, which means I still have one more–maybe I’ll make some lemon rosemary shortbread cookies.

If you want to watch my kitchen calamities, the video will hit on a couple of good ones. If you just want the darn recipe without any of the monkey business, you can find it here.

 

Egg Salad!

The chickens haven’t slowed down the egg production, but I have managed to get rid of some eggs this week, opening up a shelf I haven’t seen in quite some time.

And then there were those Easter Eggs waiting to be re-purposed.  Nearly 2 dozen of them.  So of course I had to make egg salad this week.  I switch up the ingredients depending on what’s available in my fridge, my garden, or my CSA share.  There’s no real recipe that I follow, just whatever seems like a good idea at the time.  You can catch the experiment in action below:

Naturally dyed Easter eggs!

My chickens are really producing the eggs in quantity these days, so with nearly 8 dozen eggs in the fridge, I decided it was high time for some egg salad!  But also why not dye some of them first and share the experience?  So that’s what I did…

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SO BEAUTIFUL!

And pretty easy to make, you just need a little time and refrigerator space to dedicate to this project.  This is a fun one for the kiddos, too!  I made a video, too!  Check it out below.

 

 

 

Chocolate & red wine cupcakes

I embarked on a cupcake experiment today.  Chocolate and red wine are one of my favorite pairings, and I thought, “Why not fuse the two together into a cupcake?”

Yesh, why not?

Behold!  It is done.

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And I made a video detailing my adventure in the kitchen today.  You can check it out below.  And if you are interested in trying the recipe yourself, you can find it here.