Growing Home Again


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Fried Pizza

Who doesn’t like pizza? I’m sure there’s somebody out there that doesn’t like pizza but, in general, most folks at least don’t mind eating pizza.

Next question – who doesn’t like fried foods? I know, we aren’t supposed to but sometimes – it’s tasty. Admit it. Even if you have to admit it to yourself. So why not mix the best of both worlds? FRIED PIZZA!!!!

Before your imagination goes crazy – this does not involve anything deep fried in a stick or covered in batter. Sorry, that’s reserved for your favorite fair.

I came up with this recipe out of desperation actually. I’ve been trying to successfully make pizza crust for years. Many have tried to help me and I’m just jinxed. The pizza crust gods hate me. I’ve managed some passable thin crusts and one time I must’ve sacrificed to the right god and came up with a Chicago style crust which rocked. Everything else is, at best, tasty bread with pizza toppings. Tastes fine but it isn’t PIZZA!

pexels-photo-large.jpgOne day though the culinary gods did finally smile on me, Awen!  My family and I were gluttonously working our way through a local agricultural fair and I bought fried dough for a snack. Deep fried dough covered in “butter” (it isn’t really butter – not by a long shot), cinnamon and sugar. Oh sweet deep fried goodness. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t thoroughly coat one edge in cinnamon and sugar and it was just fried dough. We were also walking by a pizza place and between the smells and the fried dough I came up with an idea – one that could solve my pizza problems. Fried Pizza!

Fried pizza is a comfort food and pretty quick to put together. Make the ingredients from scratch or buy them from the store.

Fried Pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 large ball of pizza dough or bread dough.
  • Crushed Tomatoes, Pizza Sauce, Spaghetti Sauce
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Ricotta Cheese
  • Meatballs
  • Fresh Basil
  • Salt, Pepper, and Pepper Flakes
  • Frying oil – peanut oil, shortening, lard, etc…

Directions
Cover a deep skillet in approximately 3 inches of oil and heat. I don’t actually take the temperature of my oil but use the end of a wooden spoon to check the heat. To check the oil temperature place the end of the spoon in the oil. If bubbles appear on the wood, you’re at heat. If not, let it sit for a while longer and test again. Once you get to heat you need to regulate the heat a bit – smoking oil isn’t a good thing.

Begin by prepping your dough.  I highly recommend making fresh dough. My favorite is a modification of Olive Oil bread found in Zoe Francois’ book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. I just add half a cup of dried Italian herbs to the dough.  Half a recipe of Olive Oil bread is more than sufficient for my family of 4!

Divide up your dough into individual pieces. For my family, I aim for somewhere just shy of a baseball. Stretch, pull and flatten each of the smaller bits of dough into rough circles. When the oil is ready, poke several holes in the dough and gently set into the oil. Fry for 3 to 5 minutes and carefully turn over to fry the other side. You want your crust to be golden brown. Let drain on a paper towel for a few minutes.

The next few steps are up to you – add your toppings! For this recipe, I had leftover goat’s milk mozzarella and ricotta cheese along with meatballs from the night before. As a side note, I highly recommend New England CheeseMaking Co  for all your cheese making needs.  I sliced the meatballs  in half to make them a bit more manageable on the pizza.

Once your pizza is dressed to your liking, place in a 450-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and melted. Remove immediately from the oven and set aside to cool. Top with salt, pepper, pepper flakes and fresh basil!

pizza

Perfect crust pizza!

The pizza crusts can be made well in advance and freeze great. To reheat, thaw crusts overnight and top as normal. Bake in the over at 375 for 15 to 20 minutes.

 

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Fall Garden Prep: About Raised Beds in Two Parts

This last week was a quiet one on the homestead. A week of reflection, contemplation and remembrance.  Samhain has passed and we inch closer and closer to the Winter Solstice. Dark winter descends upon us. I find myself weary. Bone tired. My bed clings to me tighter every morning. The chill in the house doesn’t help either, nor does the ice outside.

The push to get everything ready for winter and early preparation for spring in an attempt to make next year easier than this. I pointed out my grand prep plans to my husband and told him if all goes well I won’t be so tired next year. He knows me well, he laughed a bit and reminded me that I’d find more way to cram another serving of work onto my plate (and probably his plate too). Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. He’s probably right – but don’t tell him I said so. Can’t go setting a precedent!

This past weekend was one of the last few working weekends in the gardens and barn. The main push was to pull up the electric fencing, mow down any out of control grass, build out new garden beds from reclaimed lumber found under the old house deck (FREE LUMBER!!!), and then clean the coop/lay down hot fertilizer in the newly made beds.

For years I have fought against the idea of raised beds in the main garden. Why? Because I have this ideal picture of pretty weed-free rows. Maybe get fancy and create swirls and patterns. Perhaps even rip it all out and plan it according to directional and celestial correlations. A girl can dream!

Every year, like clockwork, I start losing the battle against weeds around mid-August. By September they’ve officially won.  In October I get a new idea and am convinced it’ll work.

Fall of 2015 I did the same thing as every other year. But I gave up a bit on those pretty rows and decided to build out 8, 4×16 raised beds. I had the soil already and plenty of mulch for weed suppression (you’re never going to get away from all weeds – ever!).  I spent the next few months reading up on how to maximize growth in these boxes. I ended up combining a few approaches: Square Foot Gardening  and Back to Eden  as my primary approaches. Both are FANTASTIC approaches to building a successful garden.

STEP 1: Dirt Prep – Both schools of thought depends on creating and maintaining quality soil. I find the additives in Square Foot are difficult to manage on a larger scale which is where Back to Eden comes into play. Back to Eden depends on creating a holistic, garden-wide, healthy ecology. Building on what is already there and using some weed suppexels-photo-139746pression as necessary. For my garden boxes, laying down initial weed suppression isn’t highly optimal as I’ve already spent quite a bit of time and money building my soil up. My approach is to intensively graze my pigs and chickens on the soil I intend to turn into beds. For me, this is more efficient – fewer weeds and breakfast all in one pass!  The pigs root up the weeds from the bottom up and the chicken swoop in and do a final cleanup sweep of pests that I’d rather not have in my garden.

STEP 2: Boxing it in – Once your soil is relatively ready, it’s time to set in your first box or two. I find setting 4 in at once makes the most sense. It’s the start of an organized grid. When constructing the boxes, try to remember that the contents will grow over the years – literally. As you build more soil in the garden boxes the soil level is going to rise, you want to have enough space to build up as your improve your soil.

My boxes are made out of 16-foot deck board that are 1 inch thick and 5 inches tall. The corners are held together by a 8 inch long 1×1 vertical post. For the first year, I only have one layer of boards on the outside. It’s a matter of economics. If you have the resources to build them to their full height in year one – do it! Have the ABILITY to expand is crucial! I can double the height of mine as needed with little effort.

When building your boxes, use whatever resources you have available. While rebuilding our deck this summer we found a treasure trove of old 16 ft deck boards. FREE! We also have cinder blocks and pavers. Use what you have and make it work for you. Raised beds can become quite pricey but don’t need to be! I’ve seen them made from prefab kits, cinder blocks, rocks, corrugated roofing. Look around and get creative!

Another important point is to make sure you can actually reach what’s in the center of the beds. At 4 feet wide I can easily access whatever is in the center as well as I can whatever is on the end. In the distant past, I had 8 foot wide beds wedged in a corner – these weren’t practical at all as I constantly had to step into the beds to get my produce. Compacting all of that lovely soil. Compacting = bad!

Another logistic to consider, how far apart will your beds be from each other? Do you use a wagon in your aisle to collect produce? Do you kneel on the ground when planting? Do you have large tools you want to move? For me, I measured my beds at “butt distance” from each other. I found the person in the house with the widest derriere (ME!!!!) and sat down between rows. Could I comfortably fit? Do what works for you. Add a few more inches if you go the derriere route – they rarely shrink over the years!

Next Monday we’ll discuss filling up those boxes to not waste!


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Blessed Samhain and Happy Halloween!

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May the ancestors deliver blessings on you and yours…
May the new year bear great fruits for you…
May your granted wishes be as many as the seeds in a pomegranate…
May the slide into darkness bring you light…
May the memories of what has been keep you strong for what is to be…
May this Samhain cleanse your heart, your soul, and your mind!

~Author Unknown

Blessed Samhain and Happy Halloween!


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Fall Garden Prep – Part 1

lake-fall

What is fall garden prep? It’s all about doing whatever you can do now so when the snow melts in the spring you have as little to do as possible before seeds and seedlings can go into the ground.

On our homestead, this has traditionally meant pulling out leftover plants, gleaning seeds, and preparing beds with compost and manure. This year those plans stand but we are also including building out more raised beds, filling them, and covering both the beds and the walkways in fresh mulch.

So Step 1a: Start pulling out plants! It’s as easy as it sounds. Walk up to a plant and carefully pull it out of the ground.

I try not to disturb the topsoil and mulch too much – it’s an ecosystem after all. Mother nature in her infinite wisdom has designed this system.

Let’s pause here for a moment. When’s the last time you paused and looked at how Mother Nature builds our planet. Take a walk in the woods – what do you see? Trees, scrubby plants, fallen and rotting timber and leaf litter – everywhere. How do you suppose this all works? The tall trees need food and have deep and penetrating roots. The scrubby plants roots reach out but not so far down. Then there’s the bugs and creepy crawlies. So the leaves fall from the big trees onto the ground. They sit and rot. Bugs walk and munch on them. Worms squirm and then they POOP. Yes, I said it. I have small children. I say POOP a lot. It’s that poop that breaks down the leaves, creates manure that heats the leaf litter and cooks it to compost and then to fresh dirt. There are also the fungi that root in the fallen timber and at the base of standing trees. They all depend on that layering of fresh soil, decomposing organic matter, and fresh leaf litter (plus a bit of straight nitrogen courtesy of herbivores and carnivores).

That’s how nature works. Why not replicate that in your garden? Remember when I spoke about Back to Eden Gardening? Go check it out. The how-to video is legally FREE TO WATCH! Go watch it. You don’t even need to believe in Eden – it’s about how the world  works. How the Mother works.radishes

While you are pulling out those plants – take a look around. Are there any plants you can eat? What about ones for your animals? Set those aside. My goats and pigs LOVE corn stalks. The lettuce and spinach that has bolted – once you take the seeds your goats and pigs won’t turn their noses up at those bitter greens.

The ones that aren’t edible (e.g. nightshade plants) can go into their own pile to be checked for disease and if clean to compost. Everything in your garden can be consumed directly or indirectly. This year’s green bean plant is Grandma’s Green Beans and Ham meal this year and next year’s ham once the piggies finishing processing it for me!

Step 1b: While you are busy pulling out plants, did you miss any possible seed sources? Sure it’s probably frosted a time or ten. But those seeds are built to deal with frost. They are little DNA vaults, waiting for the perfect time to unleash their own brand of chaos in the world. In this instance, the chaos they unleash provides food for us!

Next Fall Garden Prep Post: All about Raised Beds


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Beef and Barley Stew

Fall and winter are the time for stew and soup cooked low and slow. The last of the fresh vegetables grown above and the first of those grown below and newly harvested meat
Yesterday was the day for Beef and Barley Stew. It’s one of my family’s favorites. When my oldest son arrived home from school yesterday he said he wanted to eat the house – it smelled sooooo good! He’s only 5 and I’m happy to say, he already has a good taste in food.

Beef and Barley Stew

Ingredients

  • Knob of butter
  • 3 pounds stew meat or ground beef.
  • 3 cups chopped onions
  • 1 pound mushrooms – cut to roughly the same size as the stew meat.
  • 2-quart beef or chicken broth. May be reduced to 1-quart broth and 1-quart water for homemade broth
  • 2 teaspoons fresh marjoram or savory
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1 cup roughly chopped carrot
  • 3 cups potato or celery root cut to the same size as the mushrooms and stew meat
  • Salt and Pepper as desired
  • Sour Cream
  • Fresh dill

Directions
Begin by chopping all ingredients – it makes life so much easier! Warm a large dutch oven or soup pot to high and sear batches of beef in small batches. You wanted some blackened edges. Set aside once complete. In the same pot add the onion and sabeef-barley-stew-ingredientsuté quickly. Sautéing is what gives the onion and the soup flavor, otherwise, you just have boiled onions! Who wants that? Remove the onions and repeat the same process with the potatoes and carrots. After you have removed the potatoes/celery root and carrots (they won’t be done yet!) add about 1 cup of liquid to the pot to get the burned bits off the bottom. Burned bits = flavor. Add the meat, marjoram or savory, onions, potatoes/celery root, carrots and mushrooms back into the pot. Add the remaining liquid and reduce to LOW heat. Stirring occasionally, let simmer for about an hour. Add the barley and keep at a low simmer for another hour – stirring occasionally. Salt and pepper the stew as desired.

To serve, ladle out stew into separate bowls and top with sour cream and plenty of fresh dill. The dill and the sour cream make the dish! Don’t be stingy!

beef-barley-stew