Around the Kitchen


Have you ever stepped outside, especially if you live near woodlands, and considered the variety of edible foods that may exist there?  This is something we have tried to become more in-tune to since moving to Red Gate Farm.  This year, we really became curious about the bounty of mushrooms we found everywhere we looked, it seemed.  S is always fair game to experiment and sample things.  Mushrooms, of course, can be dangerous if you go about it wrong, so we knew we had to be careful.

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Did you know most edible mushrooms were determined to be so over the years by men brave enough to sample, wait a few days, and see how their bodies reacted?  Now, of course, we have more elaborate tests available to determine toxins and such, but there is still a great deal of information that has just been taught to the next generation for many years.  As it turns out, there really isn’t even one “best” reference book you can purchase to help you, as there are just too many mushrooms, and more importantly, too many “look-alike” mushrooms.  The more experienced mushroom hunters will tell you to get several books so you can cross-reference and compare.  So, that’s what we did.  S, being the adventurous sort, was willing to taste the possible good ones, to help us learn, since many of the toxic ones have a spicy or bitter flavor (though certainly not all!)

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Some mushrooms are widespread, while others are very regional.  And they can grow almost anywhere!  Lawns, forest floors, dead tree stumps, live trees, mud bogs, leaf litter, animal manure, you name it.  Thankfully, those who have gone before us have taken many excellent notes and recorded their findings in the many books and resource science available.

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Giant Morels! An expensive delicacy in most of the U.S., and valued at roughly $40/lb, yet they grow right in our backyard!

We have had a great time this year learning about our mushrooms.  We have oysters, hen of the woods, chicken of the woods, pheasant backs (which taste like watermelon!), truffles, and the much-sought-after and valuable morel mushroom, among others.

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Pheasant Backs….although edible, these were a bit old and tough. We will try to find them younger next year.  These are easily identified by, interestingly, their watermelon flavor!

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Hen of the Woods Mushroom. We found this one a bit late, so it was tough, but we did enjoy a few meals from it!

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A large winter oyster mushroom. This one is now cleaned, dehydrated, and waiting for the next stew I cook up!

We are still in the early phase of learning about our mushrooms, but it is eye-opening, indeed, just how much food is available in nature.  Mushrooms are barely the tip of the iceberg of the bounty we can find if we but look around.

We occasionally get asked the question, “Since brown eggs cost more at the grocer, are they more nutritious?” The answer is “NO!” Commercial egg producers often try to set apart eggs with labels like “free-range” or “cage-free” by having brown egg laying hens. They look different, so, to the average consumer, they must be different, right? It’s just a brilliant marketing ploy, and nothing more.

I was making deviled eggs the other day, and thought it was a good example. Notice in my photo, I have all sorts of colored eggs….brown, white, cream, tan, green, bluish, speckled, you name it! The color is only tinting and only on the outside of the shell. In fact, if you scrub, most of the tint will come off! Once peeled, you can’t tell the difference. Even the yolks look the same. The grey on the outer edge of my yolks simply means I steamed them a bit too long.

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Now, I should mention that there ARE differences in the make-up of different type of poultry eggs.  For example, a duck egg is well known for being better for baking, while a turkey egg has a milder flavor.  Like chickens, however, the differences in nutritional content have nothing to do with color of these birds or their eggs, but everything to do with diet and management factors.  In fact, to my knowledge all turkey eggs are the same color, as those birds haven’t been so carefully selected for egg tint like chickens have.

So there you have it. An egg is only as nutritious as the hen’s diet. If you want more nutritious eggs, buy from a pastured poultry supplier….whether it be chicken, duck, turkey, or whatever.  Even in winter, we give our hens leafy green hay to keep up their chlorophyll intake, which contributes to those nice looking yolks and healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

If there is a creek to be found, our boys will likely find it.  It just happens that our property has several spots where the boys can easily climb down the trails and play in the mud.  During a recent adventure, they discovered more than water and mud.

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JR came home, asking if I would cook his find up for dinner.  I politely declined.  My adventurous side has its limits.  I don’t even like lobster that much.  Crayfish, or “crawdad’s” as we like to say, are a little too cock-roach looking to me.  S, on the other hand, was willing, and told JR that if he could catch at least 10 or so, he would cook them up for dinner.  To JR’s dismay, this one little guy was the only one found that day, so he eventually released it.  Now he is busy planning his next crayfish hunt.

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After we ran out of outdoor projects that could be accomplished in the frigid temperatures, we decided to bump one of our summer projects up–a complete kitchen renovation.  This is something I have longed to do for YEARS.  I can’t really say why, but I have hated our kitchen since we bought this farm.  It just seemed claustrophobic, dark, and cramped.  There were center dividers on every cabinet front that I constantly banged my knuckles on, there was no storage space for a family of 7, the oversized fridge stuck out into the middle of it, and we were always getting in each other’s way.  Although S was perfectly fine with the current kitchen, he wasn’t opposed to pleasing me (he likes his home-cooked dinners after all!), so he agreed, and our kitchen planning began.

HOLY SMOKES!  Do you have ANY idea how much new cabinets cost today?  Yeah, neither did we!  And the quoted prices were based on the idea that we were doing the work ourselves.  Our dreams of that perfect kitchen got smaller and simpler each time we got a new quote.  YOWSERS!  I could buy a small house for some of the quality kitchen basics I wanted.  Dreams of wood trimmed counter tops, under cabinet lighting, custom-fit utensil trays, and other non-necessities quickly got discarded so I could get my slide-out pot and pan drawers, hidden waste cans, and dairy/egg cupboard.

Finally, we settled for the most basic, inexpensive kitchen we could, yet that would still provide me with the essentials I had deemed priorities.  We aren’t finished quite yet, as it has to be done in stages, but I am LOVING the results so far!  We are still waiting on the new counter tops and the flooring, so I will have actual before and after pics later, but here’s a taste of what we have so far:

First, we had to move some old cabinets out, which meant stashing our food in another cabinet that could stay a little longer.  When children help with this job, the result is something like this.

First, we had to move some old cabinets out, which meant stashing our food in another cabinet that could stay a little longer. When children help with this job, the result is something like this.

Then, a dividing wall gets evaluated for tear down and kitchen expansion.

Then, a dividing wall got evaluated for tear down and kitchen expansion.

Kids come in handy when it comes to the destruction part!

Kids came in handy when it came to the destruction part!

Everybody had a part.

Everybody had a part.

Wall is down and pantry gone!

Wall is down and pantry gone!

Kitchen is one big room now.

Kitchen is one big room now.

The rest of the cabinets were removed, and plumbing connections redone and cleaned up.

The rest of the cabinets were removed, and plumbing connections redone and cleaned up.

Linoleum removed from floor and glue scraped up.

Linoleum removed from floor and glue scraped up.

New cabinets arrived and got stored in the living room.

New cabinets arrived and got stored in the living room.

New cabinets begin to get installed as walls are painted.

New cabinets begin to get installed as walls are painted.

In addition, S did some rewiring to set up new outlets and light switches for me, and current light fixtures were switched to LED.  As soon as we get the new floor and counter tops installed, I will show you the final result.  Let’s just say I can’t wait!

Christmas season is upon us, and we are in full swing around here.  The tree is up and decorated, signs of Christmas are scattered around the house, most of the presents are purchased and wrapped, the stockings are hung, and the children were finally old enough to help with a lot of it this year.  Today, it flurried outside, so we spent some time together baking and decorating gingerbread cookies.  Ahhhhh, Christmas.  My favorite season of the year!

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In a large family like ours, we have a lot of trash.  Most folks are surprised at the fact that we don’t have that much that goes into a “trash” bag, headed for the landfill, however, what we do have a lot of is the different TYPES of trash.  To avoid filling up landfills–all part of our belief in being stewards of our land–we try to send as little waste as possible to the dump.  Thus, we recycle whatever we can.  Over the years, we have a found a balance by sorting our trash into about 4 different piles: recycle (we can mix all our glass, plastic, cardboard, aluminum, etc. into one bin), paper for recycling or scrap use, paper with personal info for burning, and actual trash (anything that doesn’t fit into the other categories).  Our collection area is our pantry, which is not very large–equivalent to a standard bedroom closet.  With the kiddos “help,” I was finding the floor of my pantry constantly covered in trash due to an inefficient system of grocery sacks hanging on hooks that either dumped or from the kids getting confused which bag was for which trash, or whatever the reason.  I went searching for a better option.  I needed something that would fit into a tiny space, had 4 bins, and was simple and efficient.  I think I’ve found the answer!

Rubbermaid’s 2-in-1 Recycler.  rubbermaid

It’s quite a handy little sorter, actually, and very practical.  First, I took the 4 bins and put photos on each so even the littlest children knew what type of waste went in which bin.

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Since the top two are just papers, I don’t worry about a bag.  If the scrap paper bin gets full, the handy handle allows it to simply be carried to the burn pile or the recycle bin outside.  Likewise, the handle on the other  “burn” paper bin allows the personal papers to be hauled to the fire pit.  The entire paper container simply lifts off the trash bin below it.  Of course, the fact that the bin just nests onto the lower bin means it would knock off pretty easily if bumped, but situated in a closet like ours, out of the way of traffic, it shouldn’t be getting bumped hard regularly.

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I do put a bag in the bottom bins for recycle and trash, which can be wet or messy.  It holds a standard 12-18 gallon bag.  When full, this bin simply slides forward, out of the 3-sided backing section of the contraption.  You don’t even have to lift the top bin off.  The rest of the time, a gentle pull on the handle or step on the foot ledge tips the trash bin forward to deposit trash into it.

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I’m loving these new bins.  They seem to be perfectly suited to our needs.  Although they don’t hold a whole lot, who really wants trash sitting around their house for several days anyway?  The trash and recycle bins will easily fit our entire household trash for a day or two, and the small size makes it very simple for the child responsible for trash duty.  So far, I highly recommend them!

….when you have an awesome neighbor with a huge one?

We have a retired neighbor that has a passion for growing fruits and vegetables.  Every year, he plants a massive garden.  It’s just him and his wife, though, they can’t use it all, and they hate seeing it go to waste.  This year, he discovered that our family would always take excess garden-fresh food!  Although he isn’t into organics like we are, he had decided not to use any sprays this year.  I’m not sure what changed his mind, as I know he always used Seven-dust in the past.  In addition, his sister grows corn and his brother grows blueberries, and when gathering for us, he asked about their chemical use.  What a blessing, as it turns out, that none of them used chemicals of any type this year!

In any case, he invited the kids over to do some picking in his garden.

M and A picking blackberries with the neighbor.

M and A picking blackberries with the neighbor.

R was too busy eating a popsicle the neighbor gave her to pick berries at first.

R was too busy eating a popsicle the neighbor gave her to pick berries at first.

JR hunting for the perfectly ripe, not too sour, blackberries.

JR hunting for the perfectly ripe, not too sour, blackberries.

R finally decided to ask me to finish her popsicle so she could join in the fun of picking berries.  It didn't matter if they were ripe, unripe, black, red, or green--they all went straight into her mouth!

R finally decided to ask me to finish her popsicle so she could join in the fun of picking berries. It didn’t matter if they were ripe, unripe, black, red, or green–they all went straight into her mouth!

N decided to jump to the other side to find as many as possible before the other kiddos made it over there.

N decided to jump to the other side to find as many as possible before the other kiddos made it over there.

JR found the blueberry patch, and picked anything that was even remotely ripe.  He loves berries!

JR found the blueberry patch, and picked anything that was even remotely ripe. He loves berries!

The neighbor showing the kiddos his other veggies in the garden, and how to pick the ripe ones.

The neighbor showing the kiddos his other veggies in the garden, and how to pick the ripe ones.

After almost 2 hours of picking, we came home totally loaded with buckets of blackberries, blueberries, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, corn, cucumbers, and green beans.

After almost 2 hours of picking, we came home totally loaded with buckets of blackberries, blueberries, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, corn, cucumbers, and green beans.

We added all this bounty to some of the harvest from our garden, and have been eating like royalty lately (that is, assuming royalty eats veggies!).  I told S on the phone tonight that it really is a blessing that is forcing us to eat healthy.  In his absence, my days are often full of stress and hard labor, and I am exhausted by dinner time.  It is so tempting, far too often, to gather the kiddos into the van and take them to a local diner for dinner.  No cooking, no clean-up afterward, just sit and be served.  Alas, I also hate seeing food go to waste.  With the bounty of fresh food growing in our garden and the bucket loads our neighbor keeps bringing us, it is forcing me to find a little more energy most evenings to make a good dinner.  Buttered sweet corn, steamed green beans, kholrabi hash browns, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, fresh salad, grass-fed beef in some form, blackberry popsicles, blueberry and kefir smoothies…..I admit, I have no guilt about what I’m feeding my family these days!

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