Firing up the Ironheart: The first woodstove meal of the year

Beef stew with Guinness

It’s official, Ironheart weather is here (that’s woodstove weather, if you’re not familiar with this particular British export). We’ve had a couple of burns already this year, and yesterday I cooked our first meal of the season in the stove.

Jamie Oliver’s Beef & Alew Stew, which lends itself beautifully to a slow cook in the Ironheart, stretched over about three hours. A 350-degree conventional oven works fine too (and is what Oliver created his recipe for).

The recipe calls for stout or Guinness, and I’ve always used Guinness and love its particular flavour. The only modification I make is to add some spuds, as I can’t imagine a beef stew without potatoes (though Oliver seems particularly inclined to beef stews which include everything but).

Yesterday’s burn only used one log and kept this dish near the low end of the “Very Hot” range on our dial for the period required to cook this dish.

Wood burning season means that hanging out in front of the woodstove once again becomes a favoured activity, and no one does this better than our dog, Reggie.

Dog lying in front of woodstove

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Storing hay and wood

Woodshed addition to chicken coop

There are always outdoor projects on the go here, some bigger in nature, most smaller. Last year, looking for a quick way to store hay for the winter (we don’t have a barn or outbuildings apart from our small chicken coop), my husband put together a pyramid haystack. The very definition of a quick project.

It was a nice little project that quickly provided us with dry hay storage (not to mention a useful prop for our younger son’s games with friends, resulting in a misshapen stack the following spring!).

Pyramid haystack

This year my husband was keen to create a more permanent storage space for hay, as well as somewhere to stack some of our outdoor firewood (we have plenty in the house and the garage). He spent this past summer considering the best and simplest way to build onto our chicken coop, and in the early fall we finally got to work. The chickens were always nearby and curious.

Chickens inspecting wooden frame

As with many of our projects, leftover wood from other projects, scrap wood and scavenged items were predominantly used. We even picked up some free wood pallets that are serving as the base underneath the firewood section. New items that had to be purchased: screws and three sheets of galvanized metal roofing.

Dog inspecting building project

It’s a project that my husband and I mainly did together, but it was helpful to call in our much taller teenager when we hit the roofing stage.

Father and son roofing a small woodshed

A section of page wire fencing from one our scrap piles was pressed into use to separate the hay storage from the wood.

Securing woodshed roof

Our younger son had his own project on the go just feet away on the final day of the main construction phase, one of those blessedly sunny late fall days.

Young boy fixing toy vehicles

Rooster inspecting work on hay storage and wood shed

We had to call it done when we ran out of wood. We still need to make a door for the hay storage and some kind of coverage for the wood storage, but for now we’ll likely make do with tarps as we need to move onto other more urgent jobs before the snow flies.

Chickens inspecting new hay and wood shed

I don’t think the chickens will mind if things remain open for inspection a little while longer.

Getting a closer look

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Filed under Farm life, The joy of recycling

Mist rolling in

There is no denying that fall is here. Nights are comfortable for sleeping, the leaves of plants left in the garden are curling up, geese squawk their way overhead in ragged lines, and a stroll down into our valley in the evening is noticeably chill. For a dog, it’s a great time to pick up on scents that linger in the air.

Black lab watching the mist roll in

Geese in a line

Black dog on a grassy path

Dog sniffing the air at dusk

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Harvest time

Our year in the garden is coming to a close, but there are still treats to be had. Some things that we put a lot of effort into came to nothing (sweet potatoes), while others that we put next to no effort or absolutely no effort into have been late in the season successes (wild raspberries, radicchio). Some old stand-bys did very well (garlic, rhubarb, lettuces), some were decent in their output but far from stellar (carrots), while others never took off (my chard never happened, in spite of repeated sowings, which is downright weird for me). Locally, green tomatoes seemed to be a major trend this summer, and that’s fine by me (we love green tomato chutney as well as just allowing the fruit to continue ripening indoors).

The sweet potatoes were a huge disappointment. My husband lovingly prepared beds that would keep our plants coddled and warm (they love the heat) and did everything by the book, but some critters decimated our crop. Not to be deterred, he has plans to keep several plants indoors over the winter and to keep trying.

The raspberries were a big surprise (we’ve had none the last two years) and there are more waiting to be picked in the next couple of days. We’ve made quite a few coffee cakes with raspberries, stirred them into yogurt and enjoyed them on crepes.

Radicchio blew me away. I’d totally forgotten that I even planted any, and just recently came across several in my front garden (a small space dominated by our happy rhubarb and a variety of lettuces, and usually with a few bean plants winding their way up posts). They are absolutely perfect. Keen to try something new, I found the idea for an incredibly simple but delicious sandwich that my husband and I have enjoyed for lunch during the week a couple of times. Highly recommended.

Halloumi, Radicchio and Tomato Sandwich

Fry halloumi slices in a little olive oil till both sides are nicely golden. Toast bread, slather on mayo, and then pile on radicchio, tomato slices and halloumi. Enjoy!

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A quick fix up for the school year

Mirror frame recovered with National Geographic cover images

The blur of summer is about to terminate at the return to school and I’ve barely had a moment to record the season in even the smallest way here.

We’ve got baby chicks growing, we’re figuring out how to have more success in the garden next year (the main ingredient that we’ve been missing is time), we’re stumbling over late in the season surprises like raspberries and making the most of them, and we’re fitting in end of summer treats and chores.

My husband and I found ourselves with two successive days when the boys were with their grandparents, and we decided to take one evening to enjoy a quiet meal together and tackle a project that we’ve talked about for ages but not done anything about. Our boys share a very small, very plain bathroom, and its main mirror was in need of a new coat of paint or something to fix it up. We knew the space (which benefits from a blue and green checkerboard floor, one colour chosen by each son when we built the house) needed an injection of fun.

My husband had the idea of using covers from National Geographic magazines to transform the mirror, which turned out brilliantly I think. I chose the covers, concentrating on issues that we’d really enjoyed reading together in recent years, and suggested placement, while my husband tinkered and did the painstaking work of trimming and adhering the strips to the mirror frame (which had a metallic-type finish to begin with that was peeling badly). We used several coats of mod podge. My favourite ‘in’ joke is the cover about ‘the new science of the teenage brain’ which is featured on the left side of the frame (our boys are 16 and 11).

Some finishing touches are still needed, including using a razor to take of the residue on the glass from the painters tape that adorned it for several months after my husband first gave the frame a new undercoat. But it’s up on the wall and instantly brings to life this small space. I’m hoping it will make them smile and look closer on the school mornings that will start next week.

Mirror frame recovered in National Geographic covers

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Baby chicks at the feeding rock

Our week-old Ameraucauna chicks have been venturing out with the flock and visiting the feeding rock. In order to keep the adult birds from eating the chicks’ feed, my husband used an old plastic cake dome and base for a makeshift feeder. Today was all about exploring it and figuring it out.

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Garlic scapes

Garlic scapes in late June

If there is one thing that I hope to do in the garden each year, it’s to learn more about the plants we grow and how to make the most of them. A pretty universal aim for any gardener, especially one as new to growing food as I still am. Hardneck garlic has been an easy crop to master and become self sufficient in, in part thanks to a friend who gifted us with a starter crop of a variety that does well in our area. This year we’ll be able to return the favour by sharing some of our harvest with friends who are establishing their garden anew after losing their home to a fire last year.

When I planted our garlic that first year, I was focused solely on the bulbs that would result, not giving any thought to the scapes or flower heads that they put up before maturing. I learned enough that first season to know I should remove the scapes in order to allow the plants to maximize the energy they had to put into growing the bulb. Sadly, I didn’t know enough to keep the scapes and use them in the kitchen. Now, I now better!

More specifically, now I know to make garlic scape pesto and to pickle some of the scapes for a treat long after harvest season is over.

Garlic scapes, parmesan cheese and walnuts in mixer bowl

I’m a big fan of pesto and have done my fare share of experimenting with flavours; chard is probably my favourite, both for flavour and because I can easily grow enough to make plenty. Garlic scape pesto is, as you might expect, pretty seriously garlicky, so it’s best enjoyed as a companion ingredient in a larger dish or meal. It can be prepared very similarly to classic Pesto Genovese with basil and pine nuts, but it’s easy to substitute other nuts and to swap out other ingredients.

Garlic scape pesto in mixer bowl

The pesto pictured here used the following ingredients in these very approximate amounts:

1 cup garlic scapes
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Splash lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

The ingredients were tossed into the bowl of my cuisinart and quickly combined. I was then stuck, as I hadn’t noticed that the button which is used to release the lid had gone missing. My 16-year old came to the rescue with a typical MacGyver move, pictured here (and it works a treat):

Cuisinart lid with stick

I prepared seven jars of pesto for freezing with most of the scapes (from roughly 120 garlic plants), but reserved a small batch for pickling.

Jars of garlic scape pesto

The recipe for pickling garlic scapes on Foodie with Family is exactly what I was looking for, so I followed the method and ingredients exactly. It’s been far too hot for canning, so I was completely on board with a method of preservation that didn’t require that step.

Ingredients for pickling garlic scapes

The cleaned and de-blemished scapes are coiled in a sterile jar, black peppercorn, mustard seed, coriander seed and hot pepper flakes are sprinkled over them, and a solution of apple cider vinegar, water, kosher salt and sugar is heated and then poured over the scapes.

Garlic scapes coiled in a jar

Six weeks later, the pickled scapes are ready to be used as a garnish; I can’t wait to try them on pizza, as suggested on Foodie with Family. Apparently they will keep in the refrigerator for up to eight months using this method. Sounds good to me!

Jar of pickled garlic scapes

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Walking on eggshells

Chicken eggs in garden shoes

Our youngest is responsible for letting our chickens out of the coop every morning, checking that they have fresh water and perhaps a bit of corn or something from the garden, and tucking them up again at night. He also tries to remember to check the coop for eggs.

One morning recently I could hear a funny knocking at the mudroom door, and found youngest son with his hands full of eggs. “I forgot the basket”, he said. “Quick, I’ve got eggs balanced on my feet in my boots too, and I’m trying not to break them as I walk!” Amazingly, not a single egg was broken.

It was time to head off for school and, pressed for time, he did the only thing that made sense to him – he tucked the eggs into my gardening shoes until I could deal with them after the run to school.

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Celebrating summer

Chocolate roulade with strawberry decoration

School’s out and today we celebrated the start of summer with friends. The younger kids played outside for hours (water play was definitely a major feature), the big kids set up on the kitchen island with several board games, and the adults chatted on the porch. There was loads of fresh fruit, especially strawberries, and a chocolate roulade, courtesy of our teenager.

Chocolate roulade is a tasty treat that just happens to be gluten-free as it doesn’t include flour of any kind in the ingredient list. My fearless teenager, who is always happy to tackle baking that involves a tricky step or two, has been making this particular recipe for several years. Today, he proudly showed me how tidy he has become in separating eggs:

Egg yolks and whites in separate bowls

He loves the old-fashioned hand mixer that I picked up for a few dollars at a flea market years ago.

Teen baking in the kitchen

The chocolate sheet cake before rolling:

Chocolate roulade in the pan

Today we took turns whipping the cream and I spread it on the cake. He took the honours of rolling (it’s actually more like folding):

Teen rolling chocolate roulade

Transferring roulade to a plate

A lovely treat that’s really quite light and a perfect companion for fresh fruit. There are many recipes for chocolate roulade easily available on the internet:

This one, from the BBC, is very close to the one my son makes.
This one, from the UK’s Sam Stern, is a nice variation.

Chocolate roulade

Here’s a sneak peek of something we’ll be doing this summer now that we’ve added a zipline from the treehouse platform (normally with a helmet and footwear more appropriate than wellies!).

Kid on zipline

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Cooking with chives

Purple chive blossoms in June

Such a common site in a garden, but so undeniably pretty: chives in blossom. It’s hard not to love chives – they are unbelievably easy to grow, easy to look after, and they tend to keep coming back each year. So lovely to look at, and such a fresh flavour for so many dishes. My garlic chives are particularly abundant at the moment, and it suddenly occurred to me that I’ve never made use of the blossoms. That left me feeling very thick for a moment, and then I got looking for ideas.

Fowering chives in the garden

The internet, as ever, obliged with quite a few delicious-sounding recipes making use of chive blossoms, and I settled on Chive Blossom and Lemon Pasta in a heartbeat.

Pasta with chive blossoms and parmesan cheese

Chive Blossom and Lemon Pasta
, original recipe from Foodie Reflections

Pick a nice selection of chive blossoms, snipping them off right at the base of the blossom; soak them in water to get rid of any visitors or dirt, then rinse. Roughly chop any other fresh herbs that you have to hand and wish to include (I used some garlic chives and fresh oregano from my garden). Throw on some water to boil and settle on a pasta shape (I had a smaller penne-type pasta to hand). Grate a generous amount of parmesan cheese. When the pasta is ready, toss in the cheese, a very generous splash of lemon juice, about a tablespoon of good olive oil, as well as freshly ground salt and pepper. Mix in the blossoms last and eat. What a fast and rewarding dish.

Chive blossoms in water

Infusing vinegar with chive blossoms also looked like a good plan, so I rinsed another collection of blossoms and followed the directions for a small test batch of Chive Blossom Vinegar from Leite’s Culinaria. You need only two items: chive blossoms and either champagne or white wine vinegar (I had the latter on hand).

Chive blossoms in glass bottle

My modest little batch was poured into a clean bottle that originally held cream. Once the warmed vinegar was poured over the blossoms, I put on the plastic airtight lid and placed the jar on the top shelve of my pantry where I knew it would be guaranteed a dark spot.

Chive vinegar infusion

Only four days later, my infusion was already a deep lavender. I’ll be straining it in another day or so, and then thinking about the best use for it. I’m rather glad that I’ve woken up to the full potential of this lovely herb. If you’ve been creative with chives, their blossoms or other herbs, I’d love to know about it.

Purple tinted vinegar infused with chive blossoms

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