Thursday, June 30, 2011

hippychicks' rainwater universe is alive!!! now if only for a few drops...

it's alive!!!!!!!

hippychick's rainwater system is up and ready for the drops to fall
just a short bit of chat before i need to run about this thursday morn

  • 305 gallon tank - located on the west side of the house
  • 1000 gallon tank - located on the north side of the garage
  • both tanks will be used for garden only
  • both tanks are filtered using a duel method
    • the old feed bag on the end of the feeder pipe tool
      • yes seriously
    • a 16" screened sieve that securely sits in the top of the tank
      • this screen is far finer than the feed bag
    • the bottom spigot is where i will attach a hose to draw for daily use
    • the spigot to the left is the overflow 
      • follow the plumbing to the top and you will see how this keeps water from flowing over the top of the tank
      • i will attach a hose to each overflow spigot and feed it to water trees
        • which means i have some trench digging to do so as to keep it from freezing in the winter
          • though i will probably need to drain the tanks for part of the winter - i have not fully figured that out yet. 
    well i have to run but i will be back to explain and blather on some more.  cheers!  this has been a long time coming.  

    Monday, June 27, 2011

    bread - it ain't brain surgery or is it?

    so finally finally finally i feel that i have grasped the art of a good loaf of homemade bread.  nope, correction correction, a most excellent loaf of homemade bread.

    i have been struggling for years to find the perfect balance of flour; which flour, rye, white, wheat, whole wheat, spelt, etc. to water; filtered or straight from the tap to yeast; pad or dried or starter which is a whole other art unto itself to sugar; to use sugar or not to use sugar that is the question and salt; some folk believe salt an absolute yes and others claim it may deactivate the yeast process.  add oil? add butter?  there are so many variations of bread doughs out there it can prove a bit overwhelming.

    and then there is the art of learning your own oven so that one can begin to understand the proper baking temperature and baking time.

    on top of that there is the option of the old stand by metal baking pan, the cast iron pot or the artisan clay cooking molds.   and the final question, should one add a small bowl of water in the oven to create proper humidity leading to that classic artisan wood fired crusty crust. 

     all this i have considered and experimented with and fudged with in search of beautiful rising dough with good crumb, fine flavor and a lovely crusty crust.  and many, many, many times i have failed.  you would think baking a good loaf (not even an excellent loaf) would be a simple process and for some i am sure it is.

    for me, crafting a good loaf has been an ongoing challenge littered with failures.  granted i eat the failures and they are not terrible but they are not great either.  they might be too doughy inside or too dense or even brick like.  they might be blessed with good flavor and bad texture.  the misfit combinations are many.

    well, fingers crossed, i have made a breakthrough and it all started with the purchase of a proper sourdough starter.  i have in the past attempted to make my own sourdough starter, some would do well for a while and then suddenly go nutty while some would never really pick up at all.  others would look good in the jar but not prove strong enough to give rise to a mound of dough.  so i figured i would  give the real stuff a try, follow the directions to a 'T' (ahem, not really but 90% mostly) and hope for better bread.

    i bought my starter from cultures for health, a very informative and well stocked collection of culture and ferment goods.  i went with the basic san francisco sourdough starter.  i have followed the directions mostly.

    when i say mostly - i mean that i used rye flour as a replacement feeder rather than white flour when i had exhausted my white flour stores.  i had the rye on hand and enjoy the sour-ish flavor it gives to bread so i figured it could fill the feeding bill until i could go out and pick up more white flour to continue the early growth process.

    i am using bob's red mill bread flour with fantastic results.

    i fed my starter as prescribed in the directions thinking i would not see big bubbles for a few days but no, no, no, i saw bubbles on day two.  i would imagine this is due to our hot summer temperatures creating an ideal incubation environment for the starter.  even with the a.c. on this house hovers in the low 80˚F range.  i set the a.c. for 82˚F which is comfortable enough for our living.  regardless of the quick growth, i fed the starter as instructed again with superb results.

    then when the starter was ready for splitting and the first loaf was in the waiting for making, i went back to the cultures for health side to view several of their many super helpful instructional videos relative to making sourdough bread.  after watching i went for it and walla! fantastic bread.

    i have now made three very successful loaves with the fourth in the rise stage as i type.  i have even swapped them up a bit adding herbs and spices, playing with a rye flour bread vs. white flour bread and cooking loaves in the old stand by metal pans and in my cast iron pot.

    i make my best effort to stick to the ratios of flour to water to starter to salt and find the closer i am to their suggested ratios, the better the loaf is.  so for now, i am sticking with this process and i am happy for it.

    i find it thrilling to finally finally finally have the where with all to craft my own mighty fine loaf of bread in the comfort of my own home sweet home.

    oh and here's the next dream - my own wood fired out of doors stove.

    the folks over at fast grow the weeds made their own wood fired stove and she is a real beauty.  i am inspired!

    she has even shared the process for building the masonry oven - most excellent.

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011

    walkin' the fence - talk

    yes indeed folks - the time has at long last arrived - hippychick is going to fix that darn fence.
    and by fix i mean start replacing panels bit by bit as money allows.  it is the only way.  if i wait until i have all the money to fix the fence all at once it will never get fixed, it will simply fall over.  and we are very close to the falling over stage as it is.

    just look at the lovely work the ants have sculpted from the runner boards - brilliant!

    i plan to pick up the first sixteen panels today.  they will require priming and painting prior to installation or possibly a simple sealing natural stain.  i have not decided yet, i'll be investigating options in the next few days.  anyway the zen of the painting process will give me a bit of time to figure out the best way to piece by piece, break down the old fence before installing the new.

    overall, the new fence will require twenty two panels as i live on a corner lot.  i think the twenty two also include my cutting one down for the making of gates.  i have not priced replacing the back and side yard fences yet.  i'm considering asking the neighbors if they wish to split the cost but not quite yet as the manual labor plate is plenty full up.

    where am i purchasing the fence panels from?
    the price is right and they are currently on sale
    the material is pressure treated pine
    the pickets are a bit further apart from one another than i would like but i'm thinking that i might install a thin vertical piece between pickets after all is installed.  time will tell

    the old supporting uprights look to be in fine shape.  i'll need to make sure they are spaced properly and you all know the probability of that don't you?  uh, huh.  there's a good bit of cleaning up to do around the fence line as well.  a pesky batch of johnson grass has invaded the garden path.  and unlike other plants and seeds wilted by our just darn awful heat, johnson grass seems to thrive.  oh goody!  so i'll do my best to rip up the grass as best as i am able before setting in the new panels.

    once it's complete it will be lovely i am sure.
    anything worth while requires a whole lot of sweat and a fair amount of hard work.

    baby steps, baby steps
    here we go!
    i am not sure that i have any idea what i am doing

    fixin' that fence!

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    hippychick's midsummer bounty - summer veggie soup v.2

    beautiful basil in the morning sun

    color beyond that which i imagined - how lovely to see the fresh and mighty power of homegrown goodies

    so what to do with it all?  well today produces a second batch of summer veggie soup easy to serve both hot or chilled - your choice. this round more simple to prepare than the last.

    summer veggie soup v.2

    • collect your veggies and rough chop them into healthy chunks
      • use what you have
      • i don't peel my veggies - i know they are organic
        • if you are not sure of where your veggies come from, you might wish to peel them
    • fine chop a small butternut squash - this will impart amazing flavor to the soup
      • cut them up smaller so that they will cook at the same rate as the more water filled soft veggies like summer squash and eggyplant
    • fine chop an onion, pepper and garlic
    • throw it all in a pot
    • add one quart of stewed maters
      • i am using my own canned maters from 2o1o
    • add enough water to just below the top of your veggies in the pot
    • place the heat on medium high
    • heat until the pot reaches a slow but steady simmer
    • spice it up as you like
      • my stewed maters were already spiced so i'm adding none outside of a good dollop of fresh made pesto
    • simmer for 10 minutes
    • cover the pot with a well fitting cover
    • turn the stove burner off
    • allow the pot to set a good hour covered - DO NOT PEEK - for a good hour so that the pot can cook itself
      • this allows the veggies to steam through, keeping your veggies firm and fresh. 
    test the goods after one hour.  they should be done.  
    • if not return the pot to a simmer and complete the cooking process or return the pot to a simmer, cover and turn the heat off for a second steaming through. i prefer turning the heat off method myself.  I find the flavors nicer and the firmness of the veggies more delightful.  
    serve hot or chilled.  enjoy!

    -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -
    more of today's going ons 

    i did a good bit of cooking this morning.  i try to do the meat of the cooking if there is any to be done in the morning when it's cool.  in addition, i've been mixing up a number of meals and sides that require no cooking at all which is nice in this hot spell of a summer.
    • hijiki salad
      • mix up water, rice wine vinegar, maple syrup, hot chili sesame oil, lemon juice, add in the dried hijiki seaweed then add fresh chopped cucumber and chopped fresh cabbage.  make enough of the liquid mixture to fully hydrate the hijiki. it's usually a 3 liquid to 1 hijiki ratio but can be as great at a 4:1 ratio.  chill for several hours - i let it sit overnight so that all flavors mingle then enjoy!
    • cracked bulgur wheat and tomato salad
      • hydrate your cracked wheat & bulgur wheat.  they require a 2:1 ratio water to grain.  you could do it the slow way (i use the slow method myself) - set things out in a bowl overnight or you could bring the necessary amount of water to a boil, turn off the heat, add the wheat, cover and let set for 20 minutes.  once your grains are hydrated chop fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and herbs.  use as much as you wish.  mix in your veggies with add a good dash of lemon juice.  some folk like a good dash of olive oil too.  i add a small bit of salt and pepper and often chopped garlic.  spice it up as you wish.  today has a good amount of finely chopped basil freshly cut from the garden this morning.  it's good to allow the salad to set overnight so that all flavors mix.  if you find the salad too dry, add just a bit of water or veggie juice to soften it up. if you find the mixture too wet, you could add a bit more of bulgur wheat and let it set for a good 30 minutes to soften in the juice.  chill and enjoy!
    • baked another squash based quick bread
      • this time with zucchini, home fermented almond milk, drunken figs harvested and prepped here at home, corn meal, fine semolina flour, finely chopped ginger, fresh organic eggs from the backyard ladies, coconut oil and maple syrup gifted to me from a far away friend, baking soda and baking powder.
      • i did not measure - i used the amount of zucchini as my base measure and fudged it from there.  i do a lot of cooking this way.  not really helpful for the sharing of recipes i know, sorry.  
      • it turned out great!  
      • some hints - find yourself a good cornbread recipe. substitute almond milk for milk, substitute zucchini for corn, substitute, figs and maple syrup for sugar, substitute coconut oil for oil and follow the rest.  experimenting is fun.  see what you come up with.
    • began to clean out the garage
      • oh boy this baby is dusty.  i did get a good bit in order but there is even more to do.  this could be a longer term project.  
    • watered and fed the creatures
    • added water to the fishy ponds
    • mowed the back lawn a bit 
      • this is a very small patch of grass - so not a very impressive task
    • cleaned up the tin shed coop which is now serving as a storage shed - why not?
    • swept the walkways about the place
      • with a free roaming rooster, the walk ways get a bit mussed up regularly
     that's pretty much it if you don't count feeding the various cultures i have going in the kitchen which is quite a number as of late
    • kombucha - 2 varied batches
    • san fransisco sour dough
    • milk kefir
    • water kefir
    • ginger beer
    it is time to start a few fresh batches of kraut.  if not this week, next for sure.

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    dry as a bone with wind and heat a plenty

    we are set and ready for fire.
    this place is matchbox.
    this place being central texas.

    we have been in extreme drought conditions for a good while now.
    burn bans are in effect.
    water conservation matters.
    we are feeling the effects of no rain in a deep hard way.

    we pray for droplets to fall from the sky sometime soon
    real soon

    until then we keep our fingers crossed
    and watch
    fire watch activity site.

    this is a very interesting site.  it shows fires that are newly active (red) and those that have been burning for more than a few days (yellow).  you can move your cursor over the fire icon and it will give you information about the county where the fire is, on which day the fire was first reported and it's current state of containment.  it does not give all the details but it sure helps to have one site where a whole number of folk are sharing information.

    it's good to see fire folk, nature conservation folk and police folk all working together on this one.  i think it will prove quite helpful in the big picture the of who, what, where and how long questions given a fire can instigate enough chaos all on it's own. better for those who are fighting it to be coming from a similar brain trust.

    the fact is that there will be more fires
    let's hope the fires are small,
    the wind takes a break when a new fire breaks out
    that all those fighting to contain the burn remain safe and healthy.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011

    fruits of a summer harvest - what to do with all that squash!

    quick breads made from lots and lots of squash, home cooked applesauce, ripe and mushy bananas, organic carob chips, chipped almonds, goji berries, farm fresh eggs, organic flour, baking soda and baking powder - yummy! - time to set some aside for freezing so that we might enjoy these lovelies all through the year.

    looking for the recipe - click here!

    Friday, June 17, 2011

    update - applemaplenanazookeeni waits a day

    hold your hats!  the applemaplenanazookeeni bread eggstravaganza is on hold for one day.  no need to worry, it's just that i got sidetracked out in the yard today and the cooking went by the wayside.

    hippychick's new fishy pond
    what could have distracted me so? our new fishyfishyfishfish containerpond.  nothing too fancy.  i converted a 100 gallon stock tank into a fish pond, added two types of lilies, a zebra rush and five ah ah ah, five lovely golden fish.  though most are orange, one is white and one is white with an orange cap.  we call her/him matchstick. 
    here fishy fishy
    a calm cool spot for relaxing with the fishies - side note - the kitties love to set upon the tree stump and view the fishies too - hey kitties need peace and a serene setting too - just as long as they keep their fishing paws out...

    it is dinner time and there is a beautiful fresh tomato and feta cheese sandwich calling.  oh hello there! 

    first and last - neither could be sweeter

    hippychick's first honey for 2011 - a sweet dark comb

    the last of the spring 2o11 beets - oh shall ye roast til thy sweet fruit bleeds beauty
    today's list:
    • feed the bees - 
      • i have been on a regular feeding schedule for five weeks now. i use a top feeder. i supply them with a 2-1 sugar water solution. they have been eating it dry relative to my bi-weekly checks. i may need to peek in weekly if our dry spells continue. 
      • report - both hives going strong, population growth is good, they are working all frames and no signs of pesky pests.  i spotted a good deal of capped honey in the hive but I am leaving it for my sweet bees. they need it more than i in these hard dry times.
      • note - the above honey was harvested from bits of comb that the bees built on their own between frames rather than on the frames - a.k.a. - a sweet mess for this keeper to clean and claim.
    •  find a use for the extra veggies, nanas and eggs hanging about
      • apple/nana/maple/zookeeni breads are in the works
        • keep some for eating
        • place the extra in the freezer and try to forget it's there - this stuff is dangerously good.  
        • i use the following recipe as a guide but i change a good bit about the recipe
          • replacing applesauce for the oil
          • use 4 cups of zucchini
          • i use at least one banana per loaf
          • replacing real maple syrup for the brown sugar
          • cutting the sugar down to 1/2 cup.
          • i add carob chips to a the loaf
          • up the flour just a bit to balance out the additional squash
          • i may add pepita, almonds and/or sunflower seeds
            • i have options as i am making a huge batch!
              • at least four loaves 
          • lastly watch the cooking time - i find it takes less time than printed.  of course that will depend upon your own oven and altitude.
            • my standard sized loaves were hot and ready at 35 minutes - the larger super size loaves took 40 minutes
      • roast up squash, eggyplant and beets for dining and snacking
      • make up a chopped tomato salad with bulgar wheat, lemon juice and finely chopped herbs
      • boiled up some eggs for snacking
    •  refresh the home brewed kombucha crocks
      • it's been a while since i've brewed in the two gallon home crocks.  i've simply been stealing from my commercial kitchen batch for home use but this does not offer me much room for experimentation sooooooooo... the home brew re-begins.
      • today's experimental batch is pomegranate booch with red hibiscus.  it should be sweet and sparkly and take a short week to brew due to the high temperatures and summer heat. *booch brews faster in the warmer months.
    • filter out the first batch of water kefir & begin second batch
      • i've bottled the first batch in old grolsh bottles.  i'll give it a few days to achieve secondary ferment before setting it in the fridge to cool.  i have no idea what to expect.
      • the second batch is seasoned with raisins, fresh ginger and lemon
      • i'm pondering the next - hmmmm
    • head up to the local garden center in elgin town (bloomers) to investigate plants for a small container pond.  
      • with lack of rain and deadly dry drought conditions the froggies and creatures need all the help they can get.  i have several water troughs not in use that could easily convert to container ponds.  i will be curious to see what the options are.
    • that's all for now folks - have a great day.

    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    hippychick's probiotic universe is growing!

    newsflash! hippychick has now added water kefir to the hippychick home brewing universe.  
    this in keeping with my probiotic healthy for you beverage bent.  in fact, i started my very first batch just yesterday thanks to a good friend's gift of a jar of healthy water kefir grains.

    yes and no.  they are not grains in the way of wheat and/or rice.  they look a bit more like itty globules.  they are jelly-ish when fully hydrated but they grown and multiply in a grain like shape.  
    take a look at the jar on the left.  those bits setting on the bottom of the jar are the water kefir grains.  they work the culture/probiotic magic in water similar to the way milk kefir grains transform milk to a sparkly probiotic beverage, similar to the process a kombucha mother promotes in a sweet tea mixture.  the grains, like a mother are a living symbotic culture/colony of yeast and bacteria.  
    note: the jar on the right is basic black tea.  i will add 3/4 cup of sugar to this tea once it's fully brewed.  i will use it to refresh my continuous brew kombucha once the sugar is dissolved, easy enough done simply by give the sugar in the tea a good stir.

    what is water kefir?  
    why drink it?  
    probiotics are good for you.  they are good for your gut.  they help your digestive system and they help you to better absorb beneficial enzymes, vitamins and minerals. 

    how long does it take to make?
    well that depends upon your taste.  24 hours - 48 hours - 72 hours if you're adventurous.  most folk harvest every 24 - 48 hours.

    i'm still reading and learning bits about water kefir myself so i'm going to turn you on to several of the sites i've been looking at.  

    i would love to hear from folks who already brew or have experience brewing water kefir.  please feel free to share your adventure.  

    water kefir links -
    dom's kefir faq site - a bevvy of information about kefir and other great ferments!
    the nourished kitchen - water kefir, a quick tutorial
    (red)ifing reality - what is water kefir and how to make it
    delores sanches-penalver - water kefir - a great and helpful pdf

    i am sure you can find bits about water kefir on youtube and such.  i found the above a very helpful introduction.  


    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    curry it up! summer veggie soup

    for those of you who follow me on facebook, it's no news to you the summer volunteering i've been doing at several of the local organic farms.

    up... oh... 
    just a moment here for a digression and a bit of background, an apology and a sure fire plan of action.

    for those of you who do not follow me on facebook (fyi - no big deal, some do, some do not) my apologies, it seems i have for many months now replaced my blogging efforts with fb postings.  

    i admittedly had fallen into (may still be in but i'm fighting it) a blogging rut.  i was seduced by the short bits of information here and there format rather than an all out narrative, recount, blather and/or whatever else you might call my style of knocking out computer keys at this particular site.  in addition, i was in a place where i did not feel that which i was inclined to say was all that interesting.  writers block?  bloggers block?  just needed some space for a while?  i'm not quite sure.  in truth, i think it's been a bit of each. 

    regardless, i'm snapping out.  i do warn you, the writing may be clunky for the while it takes me to re-discover the groove.  but i snap back pretty quickly so hang on folks here we go!  for those who do follow my fb adventures,  (again, not important if you do or do not) never fear, i am still a fb addict and will be balancing my blather both here and there.  okey doke,  back to the blather blather and a forward march to the adventures of the curry it up summer veggie soup.

    enough already!  get on with it!  (i warned you)

    i figured since my travel plans for the summer were looking comparably light, i might explore options for additional farm training and/or lessons toward further sustainable growth outside of my own property line.  i wanted to learn more about farming on a bigger scale.  i also thought it a viable way to live the dream without all of the debt, responsibility and worry.  a good path toward exploring whether the idea of someday taking on the debt, responsibility and worry was a good idea, a possible option or a crazy, what are you thinking hallucination.  

    anyway, i got in touch with two local austin farms - green gate farm and johnson's backyard garden to inquire about volunteering myself and my skills toward their ventures.  i called these two farms because they each had listed volunteering opportunities on their sites and so probably had some type of outsider integration system in play or at least they were thinking about it.  i was not interested in playing guinea pig.  i was not interested in labor without lesson. i was interested in a healthy dose of hard work for a healthy dose of experiential knowledge and maybe a few fresh veggies to take home at the end of the day.

    both farms have proved welcoming and kind.  both farms offer up veggie goods to you at the end of the day.  their process varies but the rewards are equally sweet at each location.  the work varies from tough to easier and laid back to damn oh damn what the heck have i signed up for.  the latter driven primarily by the summer temperatures around these parts.  i'm talking our now daily regular three digit hellfire furnace sweat at eight o'clock in the morning days.  in addition to the heat, the often times lack of shade out in the fields can also prove tricky so you have to dress right and keep hydrated.  you hear that hippychick, you have to keep hydrated.  yeah, yeah.  

    just this past week, i paid a very heavy price for not drinking more often than the brain triggered me to drink.  i suffered a nasty bout of heat exhaustion.  i was down for the count a good four days and i mean down for the count.  i was in bed, period.  i did not eat, i had a most upset stomach, horrible headaches, i felt bad.  don't do it!

    another note - when i say dress right i mean dress to protect yourself from the sun.  wear a hat, cover your arms and back, wear shoes that will last you a bunch of hours in dirt and mud and if you're really smart, bring gardening gloves.  they prove most helpful when you're harvesting crops like okra and maters - itchy, itchy crops.  i've not been that smart yet, but i will be.  hey, it's all a learning process right?  oh yes indeed it is.  

    so i've been volunteering on farms, bringing home some great organic veggies for the efforts and enjoying great meals at home with my sweetheart. 

    there's much more to tell, but what you do say we get to the curry it up! summer veggie soup first?  ok, i thought you might like that.

    what you see here are the fresh garden ingredients minus just a few.  some are from my own garden and others from the volunteering efforts.  everything is raised organic and you can't beat that!

    ingredients:  a mix of your favorite summer veggies - the following is what i used today
    • summer squash - 4 itty ones in my case
    • eggplant - 3 slender medium sized
    • onion - 2 small
    • okra - 2 good hand fulls
    • sweet peppers - 2
    • mildly hot pepper - 1
    • tomatoes - fresh - 3 medium
    • basil - a good bunch
    • red lentils - 1.5 cup dry -they will cook in the process
    • white kidney beans - 1 cup dry
      • i soaked and cooked from dry before adding to the mix 
      • you could used canned beans
        • if so rinse and drain before added them to the mix
    • sweet white wine - 1 pint optional
    • broth - 1 quart veggie or chicken 
    • salt
    • pepper
    • curry powder - 2 tablespoons
      • less if you wish 
      • or cut all together and substitute as your taste prefers
    • water to thin the mix as it cooks as the beans, lentils and okra will thicken the batch up over time

    • get your big soup pot out
    • rough chop the veggies if you like them chunky like me
    • place your onions and peppers in the pot with a bit of butter and/or oil and slowly cook until just soft
    • add the sweet white wine
    • add the other veggies
    • add the broth
    • stir and bring to a simmer
    • once you reach a simmer, add the red lentils and the beans
    • simmer for 10 minutes
    • cover the pot
    • turn off the heat and let the pot sit until the lentils are tender
      • you've got enough heat in the pot to finish the cooking process
      • this will help to keep your veggies from going to mush
      • and you never know, they might be cooked through - if so, you're done! 
      • it also helps to save energy and cool your kitchen down faster - aha!
    •  note: if you find the mixture is thickening add water 1 pint at a time
    • once the lentils are cooked, enjoy!
    you've got yourself a fine pot of curry it up! summer veggie soup.  serve the soup hot or cold.  if you're pot's big enough, you might call a friend over and give it a share.  i bet it's good with a nice cold glass of beer or a not so fine (cheep cheep) simple summer white wine.

    in fact, i have got to tend my own pot now.  i will be back soon.  cheers!