Welcome All! I'm a dreamer, I hope you are too! A Posse ad Esse, or From possibility to reality, is a general state of mind. I hope you'll share your possibilities with me as I will with you. Namaste~

May 31, 2011

Freezing Fresh Asparagus

We recently decided to make a trip around the corner (Not literally, but darn near...) to our local U-pick-it farm, Day Farms in West Layton, UT to pick ourselves a few pounds of fresh asparagus to put up for this year.

Of course we always eat some of it fresh in the spring as well, but asparagus is one of those very short season crops that we really enjoy having at other times of the year. We can either pay the price, both in dollars and in "food miles", to get it all year long, or we can take a little bit of time when that crop is in season here to not only enjoy it fresh but put some up for later. So that's what that afternoon was about.

After the trip to the farm, where we picked six pounds of asparagus - which cost us a mere $9.00 by the way - we brought it home and immediately soaked it in cool water to let any dirt fall from it and to make sure the spears stayed fully hydrated and crisp while we prepped for freezing them.

The first thing we did was to prep a few pound at a time by trimming off the ends of the shoots. After that we needed to blanch the asparagus in a boiling water bath.

NOTE: If your processing quite a few pounds of asparagus, or any other food for that matter, it can be tempting to try to use a big pot and do a lot at one time. Don't. You'll cool the water off too much and won't get a good blanch. Also, it's easier to work with smaller batches, a pound or two max, at a time.

Blanch your spears of asparagus for between two and four minutes depending on the thickness; ours were all a medium size so we went for two minutes.

After the blanch, you'll need to immediately place them into a cold ice bath to shock them and stop the cooking immediately. Leave them in here for a few minutes until they are completely cool. Usually the time between batches is perfect.

This next step isn't necessarily "in the book" but it's one we took anyway. We laid the spears out on a wire rack to let then drop dry a little. Isn't the color Amazing?! The reason we took this step was because we will be freezing them and excess water will only add ice and too much ice can cause damage to the end product.

After they've dried a bit, we laid them out on a parchment lined cookie sheet in one layer and placed them in the freezer. We've found that it's better to freeze our vegetables this way rather than to bag them first and then freeze because it sort of coats the product in an individual ice shield and allows you to remove what you need later one at a time rather than having one big lump of whatever it is.

After the spears are just frozen through, we separated them out into individual spears and vac-packed them in our new kitchen tool for this year. (We allow ourselves one handy time saver or food prep item per year generally.) We packed them in to groups of 30/pk to allow for five so per family member per meal and a possibility of a couple of left overs for lunch for me the next day.

We packed up 8 or 9 bags of these and will probably try for some more this weekend. Of course, there's other things to do with asparagus too... like pickles and soup...
Stay tuned!


May 24, 2011

Rainy day musing

The weather this spring in Utah has been the wettest on record, cooler than usual and seems to just keep going on and on... It's easy, as a gardener, to get disgruntled and wish for the warm summer weather, and for the sake of our farmers I guess I do. I thought it wouldn't hurt though to just kind of accept it for today. It will move on when it's time to move on whether we like it or not. Such is life.
For my gardener freinds:

Rain falls gently on hail beaten earth.
Gardens rise slow in the long, cool spring.
Relish the moment,
blistering summer will shock us awake soon.

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May 18, 2011

UT Natural Meat

Last Friday afternoon A~ and I needed to head into Salt Lake for some errands and scheduled a part of the trip to stop by what turns out to be one of our areas only small farms that sells locally raised pastured meat in smaller quantities.

As we spent some time earlier this year tring to find as good source for better quality, more sustainable meat, I thought we were in luck with our local butchers. Wrong! Dons meats, the one in Syracuse at least, was a total flake. He told me that they would be able to order meat in for me from a local producer and that he also brought it in from time to time to just be able to sell it. I've checked with him a number of times, and told him what we'd like to buy but never managed to have him have any on stock but for the first time I was in there. I wonder if I wasn't duped that time and just told it was local.

Of course there's really only one way to make ABSOLUTELY sure that the meat you get is actually a locally grown and pastured product. Go to the farm! So we did.

UT Natural Meat is located on the WEST side off the valley on a pretty modest piece of land, no sprawling pastoral hills our anything like that, but they're average people that care about their animals and about the food that they will one day bring to their and their customers tables.

We had a great time at the farm talking with Kristen and briefly with her husband Shayne in between his caring for a sow pig that had just birthed the night before. It was readily apparent to both of us that they are very interested in making their small farm a local source for grass-fed, hormone free meats. She even had a table full of all the "required reading" for any aspiring localvore like _Omnivores Dillema_, _Everything I want to Do is Illegal_ and videos like Food inc for example.

No doubt though, one of the best parts of the day was getting to see the piglets prancing around their spacious new digs. This is the part of visiting and making an effort to get to know the people that produce your food that cannot be beaten.

At the end of the day, we brought home a couple of Corriante (a heritage breed of cattle) beef roasts, some ground beef for the periodic recipies that we use it in, and a few packages of pork chops. It wasn't a huge order, but that was part of our attraction to this farm. We wanted to get a good sample of what the product that they offer is like without having to invest hundreds of dollars in it. The other reason was that we really don't eat a ton of beef or pork at our house. A~ is largely vegetarian and our kids are picky about meat. Mostly because they don't like the heavily fatted nature of traditional meat. Hopefully this will help with that too.

If your in the General Salt Lake City area, I definitely recommend you check out UT Natural meat. Very Nice people running a small operation and trying to make a good go of it. As for the product, I have great hopes but have not yet had opportunity to cook any. As soon as I do trust me you'll be first to know!
Local First..

May 8, 2011

Growing healthy soil with a pitchfork.

When we go about building the soil in our gardens, it's easy to think that we can just add amendments, till really well and fertilize as needed; that's been much of the standard thinking for many many years. It will grow plants, and it does work. The problem is that in our changing world, and by changing world I mean increasing fuel and food costs not to mention the increasing price of those very fertilizers and amendments we've depended on as demand for them increases, that same way of gardening will, and is, beginning to yield diminishing returns on the bottom line.

The way I like to combat this is to spend a good deal of my early season time in my garden working on "Growing my Soil" before I work on growing my plants and my main weapon is to add lots and lots of organic material throughout the year, and primarily in the fall. The complimentary component to adding to the beds in the fall, is turning those beds over in the spring.

This gives a pretty good idea of what I'm talking about. In the foreground you can see the remains of the broken down grass,leaves and compost that was added last fall and some earlier this spring (About a month and a half ago.) and the rich soil laying underneath it after it's been turned with my trusty pitchfork. You might think immediately, "How does laying a bunch of layers of organic material over the top of your bed help the soil underneath it?" but I have another secret weapon that helps me to drag all that organic goodness down into the soil...

Worms... and lots of them! Where there is lots of organic material, there will be lots of worms, it's just a matter of fact. And keep in mind, I added this garden bed as a "lasagna garden" only two seasons ago, prior to that there was nothing here but some unhealthy grass. As earthworms feed many species move to the surface to have access to the rich matter found there. A they burrow back down into the soil they bring some of that material with them. They also excrete their castings (manure) into the soil, something often called black gold for it's nutrient rich qualities. A study by the New Mexico Extension Service found that earthworm castings" often contain 5-11 times more nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium as the surrounding soils"

In addition to helping to incorporate nutrients into the soil, worms also serve a valuable purpose in helping to aerate the soil as well. If you look at the picture above, you can see one of the larger worm tunnels bored right through the soil. This helps to connect the sub-surface parts of the garden bed to the air above and bring needed air to the roots of the developing plants. It also makes for great little waterways for moisture to make its way deeper into the soil. Nurturing this web-of-life in your garden beds is a fundamental idea behind organic gardening and is one of the most effective ways of moving beyond chemical additives and fertilizers. Besides, it's cheap!

OK, so you get that I love my gardens earthworms right, but surely there must be more to turning the garden over that just turning in organic material and finding lots of worms? Definitely.

By taking the time to physically turn my soil over, I have a one on one opportunity, so to speak, to take a look at the garden in general. One of the things I am able to take care of at that time is to find weed stock below the surface and remove them before they become a problem. The photo above looks like just a single stray root under the soil.

After breaking up the soil though, I found it to be a network of rhizomous roots from our most noxious local weed, Field Bind Weed. These roots, as you can tell if you look closely at their tips, will throw off tens of side shoots and more rootstock that I'll have to deal with later. Now's the best time to take care of it.

The finished garden bed after being turned over with a fork. Much like discing a field, the soil has been turned and incorporated with itself and is ready for any tillage that it might need.

And finally, the tilled garden bed, ready for planting. It might look like I didn't till it well enough but I left it a bit chunky on purpose. When you till a garden, or a field for that matter, you don't want to till it to the point that it looks like soft fluffy potting soil with no real character to it. Doing that will, over time, break down what is called the "tilth" of the soil, which is to say its actual structure. If you picture a glass of sand, you can imagine how there is very little air space between the grains, that's because the grains are so small. The extreme example of that idea is clay, which has particles so small that they bond almost at a molecular level which is what makes it so hard to work with. Now imagine a glass of various sized pieces of soil; there's a lot more room for air, water and roots to move through it. That's the idea here. Besides, most of the rock looking objects in this photo are actually just dried soil clods that will, after watering and mulching, soften and break back down into the bed. Also, I wouldn't want to go overboard and drive off or kill off all those lovely little helpers I have in the garden beds would I?

Best of luck working your gardens this season and remember, "Grow the soil and the plants will come!"