Thursday, April 28, 2011

Got Ramps?

We do!  Lots of them.  I've really been on a ramp kick the past couple of weeks and have been trying out some new ways to use them.

Ramps, ramsons, wild garlic, wild leek, spring onion...whatever you want to call them, I love 'em!  I'm just reclusive enough to not care too much if they are stinky.  LOL

If you've never had them before, I would describe them as having a sweet garlic flavor that kind of hangs around for a long time.  Maybe wait until the weekend to give them a try...

I cook with a lot of garlic and onions anyway, so their pungent, garlicky odor doesn't phase me. 

Members of the allium family are good for you!  They have antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties.  They're good for your heart health, help regulate blood glucose, are high in vitamin C and may even reduce your risk of cancer. 

Did you know that an irrational fear of garlic is called alliumphobia.  My mom has that...seriously. 

OK, before you all start to think I'm crazy, let me get on with the recipes.  Some of these are downright gourmet!

Save your root tips - plant your own patch!
My favorite way to eat them is fried up with bacon and potatoes, eggs on the side.  I've been tossing a few in omelets and wraps.  Slice some up and toss into your salad, accompanied by your favorite vinaigrette dressing.  They are often eaten as "spring tonic" greens, either sauteed in butter or doused with a little vinegar.  Most commonly, around here anyway, they are served up on the side with brown beans and cornbread.

If you don't have a secret patch of your own, tucked away in the Appalachian foothills, you'll often find them being sold by roadside or in your local farmer's market. 

I want to try all of these recipes I found, so I dug up a huge bag full.  They can also be frozen for later use if you happen to get tired of eating them every day for a month...

Last night I made Wild Garlic Focaccia.  I came across this recipe on Eat Weeds, which is a foraging blog from the UK.  They have ramps there too, but they call them ramsons.

This bread smells wonderful as it is baking.  I couldn't get past my awkward discomfort with the metric system and wasn't really confident in my conversions.  (Dry grams, liquid measure?  Who knows?)  So I just went with the general recipe for focaccia in my good ol' Betty Crocker cookbook, then prepared the topping as given in the Eat Weeds version of the recipe.  Rather than brushing my dough with the olive oil, I just tossed my sliced ramps in it and let them sit a bit while the dough was rising, then proceeded with the topping. 

The parmesan and the ramps go very well together.  Grated parmesan works well for this.  I didn't have any sea salt on hand, then forgot that I at least had kosher salt, but ended up using regular table salt instead.  This worked out fine too.

As I have time, probably on Friday, I am going to try Eat Weeds recipe for Pickled Wild Garlic.  Some other recipes that sounded good to me were Wild Garlic Pesto, Wild Garlic Soup and Wild Garlic Risotto - all found on another UK blog called Growing Wild.  I would have spent more time surfing, but unfortunately I've still got chickens to put up for the freezer!

If ramps aren't your thing, do go ahead and make the focaccia.  I promise you, you'll not regret it.  Other good toppings to try would be caramelized onions, olives or sauteed mushrooms.

Yellow Morel (Morchella Species)

Speaking of mushrooms, I did get back out to hunt morels this past Monday.  I should have been home doing any number of productive things, but the woods were calling to me and after last weekend's heavy rains, I just knew my yellow morels would have to be up.

I went by myself and spent about four hours hiking and listening to the sound of recent rainfall cascading down numerous rocky streams.  The day was sunny, but not too warm and the breeze was heavenly and fresh after the cleansing rains.  It was a very rejuvenating time and I thoroughly enjoyed my peace and quiet (having dropped my daughter off at Nana's earlier).  My husband was on a business trip for the day, so I didn't have to hurry at all.  It was such a nice day...and I really needed it!

I came home with 26 morels, almost all yellows.  Not a bad haul.  Some were quite big!  I like the yellows better than the blacks because they have more substance to them.  They don't fall apart in your mesh bag if you run them into too many multiflora briers.

Most of these are large enough that I can try out a stuffed morel recipe I've been holding on to for awhile.  It has cream cheese in it.  Perhaps I'll post that one too, if I do end up making it...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bun Buns (Video)

Ok, we can't control ourselves.

We've been taking a little peek at the baby bunnies every day now. 

Today their eyes are open.  Time to fence the strawberries!  They'll be out and about very soon...

We put some straw over the nest to help conceal it a little better.  How convenient for the mama bunny to put her nest right beside the swing set. 

My daughter is convinced that the mama rabbit is the Easter Bunny herself and that she brought these cute babies just for her.

The mama doesn't seem to mind if we pet them a little bit.  The babies protest a little bit, squirming and popping around, the ones on top trying to displace their litter mates from the warm, cozy spot on the bottom.

It's hard to believe for all the rain we've had that they somehow stay warm and dry in their bed.

Here's a short video of the cuteness.  Ava can hardly contain herself.  She has really enjoyed this experience.  And so have I!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

So, you can dye brown eggs afterall...

Normally I'll pick up two 18-packs of the old store-bought white eggs for Easter.  This year I have eggs coming out my ears as my thirty laying hens have started picking up the pace.  A quick search on turned up evidence that you indeed can dye your own homegrown brown eggs and that the results are wonderful!

I used three dye tablets for each cup and increased the white vinegar to equal about half of the liquid.  I think now that two tablets would have been enough.  It helps to let the eggs sit just a bit longer, for a couple of minutes or so.

Brown eggs will render a variety of deep, jewel tones.  Very pretty!  I especially like the varying shades of emerald, sapphire and violet.  Yellow will come out a beautiful, glowing shade of goldenrod.  Red comes out a warm, dark coral.  Depending on how long you leave them in the cup and how light or dark your brown eggs were to begin with, you will get a much greater variety of colors than you would with the plain white eggs.

Another benefit is that eggs from your own chickens, which are fed much better than factory-farm chickens, will have harder shells and be less likely to crack when your young children drop them quickly and unceremoniously into the cup.

I had quite a surplus of eggs this time and held back several dozen for a couple weeks on purpose to let them age so they'd peel easier.  We did up eight dozen eggs altogether.  Can you believe the kids actually got tired of dyeing eggs?  They told me they needed to take a break.  Sounds like work, huh?

I hope you all have a wonderful Easter Sunday with your loved ones and may you rejoice every day in the new life we have in Christ Jesus, who loved us and gave himself for us.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter Bunnies!!

I think we've had maybe four or five dry days this spring.  Finally a sunny day coincided with my husband being off from work and he finally got around to mowing our "hay field".  Look at what he found!

Right beside my daughter's swing set, as he made a pass close to it, he noticed a squirming pile of fuzz. 

The nest was fortunately beneath ground level and safe from the mower passing over it.  It is only about five inches in width.

I can't help it, I had to have a little peek!  Carefully, I pushed back the surrounding fuzz...

Is that not the cutest thing you've ever seen?  And just in time for Easter!  I counted at least five.  I didn't want to disturb them too much, so I snapped a couple quick shots and covered them back up.

Are those not the most adorable little ears?
We had a baby wild rabbit when we were children that my uncle had slightly injured while running the weed-eater.  My mom bottle fed it and it survived.  I've never seen a rabbit's nest before though.

This reveals that my dog is a lot lazier than we thought she was.  They were hidden right under her nose!  We'll be letting the dog out the back door for awhile, so that these darling babies can grow up to eat my garden.  Ha.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

2011 Morel Hunting - Solitary Excursion

I probably should have stayed home and mowed the lawn...or planted my blueberries and raspberries...or painted my hive ware...or cleaned out the chicken coop.  I could have picked any number of necessary things to do on this rare, sunny, spring day.

With free babysitting lined up for the day, I simply couldn't pass up an opportunity to get out in the woods and hunt the morels.  They're only here for a couple of weeks.  My to-do list will probably still be here months from now.

Black Morel (Morchella elata)
I'd had a dentist appointment early in the afternoon.  They tortured me of course, had blood flying everywhere and then tried to drown me.  My contacts were really bothering me after all of that.  I had put on makeup since I had to go into town and normally wouldn't have done so just to go into the woods.  The irritation in one eye made it really hard to see straight, but I still managed to turn up a few morels; twenty, mostly black.

This is the spot where I found the majority of them.  Almost all of the trees in this area were tulip poplars.  Many of the black morels I found were snuggled up close to the base of the trees at the bottom of this northwest facing slope.  The ground was evenly moist from the run-off of recent rains.  The location receives good, filtered, late afternoon sunshine.

The woods were so quiet and peaceful yesterday.  I really needed a day like this; alone and unhurried.  I spent about three hours exploring new trails.  I kept an easy pace, stopping here and there to check out a few promising spots.  Judging from the time it took me to get back, I think I only went out about three miles.

I'm not afraid to go out here by myself.  I never see a soul.  On Saturdays, you'll hear a few four-wheelers go by on the main road, but they never venture into the deep woods which are only passable on foot.  At this high elevation, I get good cellphone reception everywhere I go.

I did find a handful of dried up oyster mushrooms on a fallen tree.  They were too old and tough to bother collecting.

Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) - top view
Oyster mushrooms are almost as tasty as morels.  They are easier to find, having a longer growing season (spring and fall).  You can tell them apart from other shelf mushrooms by their straight, continuous gills and short neck.  Follow the link above to get a more detailed description of them.  There are a lot off good pictures there as well.

Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) - bottom view
I followed the ridge all the way out to its end.  I don't get to explore much when I bring someone with me.

I thought this exposed rocky shelf was interesting.  The boulders were as big as a row of townhouses.  No mushrooms out here though, as the woods turned mainly to oak and black pine.  You will not find morels there.  Trees are the best way to judge a potential spot.

Here's a cluster of Devil's Urns I found.  They come up just before the morels.  I always see a few.

The Devil's Urn (Urnula craterium)
I found a snail crawling on the bottom of this dry, woody shelf  fungi.  I thought he made for a neat picture.  :)

On my way back out, I found a solitary yellow morel just emerging in my favorite patch.  I had scanned the area lightly on my way in and missed it.  When these are up, they are everywhere.  I can't wait to come back for them in a few days and hopefully get a bag full!

Yellow Morel (Morchella species)
This was the day's take.  Not a lot to brag about, but better than coming home empty handed.  The black morels had been up for awhile and were very dry and brittle.  I tried hard not to beat them up as I was hiking, but they did suffer a little.  I think I will dehydrate these and powder them to use in mushroom soup.

2 small yellows and 18 black morels
I've got about twenty chickens to process on Thursday.  Rain is predicted for most of the week, which in this case is a good thing.  Friday will be my next trip out.

Friday, April 15, 2011

2011 Morel Hunting - First Day Out

The reward of our efforts.

I have a new morel hunting buddy this year.  This was Ava's first trip out here since the first time she tagged along at 7 months in-utero.  (Yes, I am that driven to hunt these elusive mushrooms!)

For an almost-4-year-old, she did great.  Really, she is inexhaustible anyway.  We found plenty of adventure and she kept herself entertained for a two-and-a-half hour hike in the woods.  We didn't travel fast.  We took our time and took everything in.

Ava stoops to check out some tadpoles.

I caved in and brought Boogie with us because she whimpered so pathetically as we loaded up the car.  On such a pristine spring day, I found it really difficult to deny her a good walk.  It was a little too hard to manage the dog AND Ava and they kept tripping me and over each other, so the dog will have to stay home next time.  It's really hard to keep your eyes peeled for mushrooms when the dog is dragging you down a hill!

"Boogie" (aka. Sierra)

There is one spot my father-in-law, Chuck, had hunted for years that used to turn up bags full of black morels for us.  We've not found anything there the past three years, almost as if it were dried up in honor of his passing.

I have to check it though, every year, just to be sure.  Shortly after we set out on the trail, I found one small black morel (Morchella elata) right in the middle of the path, an usual spot to find one and not where we had found them before.  Surely this was a sign, I thought!

Perhaps these sneaky mushrooms decided to humor me a bit and allow a few to be found by Chuck's granddaughter.

They're sneaky!  Can you spot the mushroom?

We only turned up a total of twelve mushrooms.  All but the first one I found were half-frees (Morchella semilibera).  Ava single-handedly found and picked her first morel mushroom on her Pappy Chuck's favorite spot.  He would have liked that.

I wasn't surprised that she has the 'eye'.  This kid doesn't miss a beat.  Along with her first mushroom, she also filled her bag with every little flower in sight.  She would stop to pick them all and if she thought I was going on even a few steps ahead of her, she would holler for me to stop.  I took it as an opportunity to scour the hillsides for any signs of mushrooms.

We came back out of that trail, satisfied that we hadn't been skunked on our first trip out.  After stopping by the car for a drink of water, we took out over another trail.

Now this patch we visited was my find.  For years now it has been my go-to spot where I can count on finding a nice haul of yellow morels (Morchella esculenta).  It's a little early for the yellows yet, but sometimes I stumble across small patches of the black morels (and hey--out here anything is possible).  It's a pleasant hike and there's a really interesting abandoned home site to explore.  I knew Ava would at least find a lot of daffodils to pick, so we went anyway.

The old road turning off the trail was steeper than ever, badly washed out by this year's heavy rains.  The dog dragged me down this one as well.  At least if I break my leg, we are high enough upon the mountain that I do get cellphone reception...

A washed out dirt road.

We mostly just poked around and explored a little.  Ava got tired of the dog getting in her way and insisted we tie Boogie to a tree for a while.  That made it a lot easier on me to handle the camera.  I got a few good shots anyway.

Ava stopping for a quick drink.

Ava checks out the moss on this old, weathered foundation stone.

Two large trees trying to occupy the same space.  This proximity is unusual for trees this size.
Relics of an old homestead.

The rusty remains of an old wrought-iron bed.

The spring from which this farm family drew their water.

An ancient English Ivy vine climbs a large tree.  The base of the vine is 5 inches in diameter.

Ava checks out the foundation of a dilapidated barn.  I love these hand-cut stones.  What I wouldn't give to haul some of them home with me!

There were many daffodils to be picked and enjoyed.

A large grove of pawpaw trees just beginning to bloom.

These Donaghho jars are collectible antiques.  The bottom is busted out on this one.  I like leaving it where it lies.  Then I know no one else has been here.

All in all it was a good trip.  We found a few mushrooms, just enough to keep us coming back. 

I'll go back in a few days by myself to scout for some new patches.  There should be black morels all over the place here in a couple of days.  We've certainly had the rain for it.

I know my yellow morel patch will begin popping closer to the end of the month and I'll take Ava back out to that one.  It's easy for her to get to and I know she'll really have a good time when everywhere she looks she'll see mushrooms.

Her Pappy Chuck passed away when she was only 15 months old.  In a way, I feel like she will get to know him better, traversing the trails that he laid down many miles on himself.  He and I dug up and brought home starts from many of the perennial flowers from that old homestead.  Now Ava can explore it and pick those same magical flowers.

Ava spies some daffodils blooming.  I like to imagine the farm wife who planted these and what her life was like living upon this mountain.

A rusty fence outlines the abandoned home site.  These hills were once grassy pastures, now overgrown.

Ava certainly is enjoying the day.

On the many trips out here that I made with my father-in-law, he was always recounting stories.  He'd tell me how he had found his patches of morels, hiking this old right-of-way in the last daylight hours after he'd get home from work in the coal mines.  He'd tell me stories of similar adventures; hiking, hunting and fishing with my husband and my brother-in-law when they were young boys.

Several times he impressed upon me the importance of not running it in the ground when it comes to introducing young children to the great outdoors.  He said, "when they start to complain, turn around and go home.  If you make them miserable, they'll never want to come back.  You have to keep it fun."

I'm so glad my little buddy didn't complain after the first twenty minutes.  I'm glad I got to share this special adventure with her.

An adventurous little soul, Ava is my new mushroom hunting buddy.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I've A Feeling We're Not In Kansas Anymore...

Wow.  How about this weird weather?

Sunday was in the 80's and muggy.  Monday we were under Tornado Watch and the wind picked up my chicken tractor and tried to blow my dinner away.  Today, Tuesday, it's in the mid-forties and I've had to fire up the woodstove one...more...time (crossin' my fingers.)

Here's the meaties hanging out after I got the chicken tractor set back up.  A little bit redneck, but it does the job.  It takes two of us to move this tractor (not really happy with the design, but I'll have to work on that next year.)  I had the tarp covering it all the way across the top and had it attached so well with bungees that the wind picked it up and tossed it like a frisbee.  It's over 100 pounds!

I couldn't flip it back over or move it by myself, so I had to completely disassemble it and reassemble it. 

The birds didn't go anywhere.  They just sat huddled around the feeder looking a little stunned.  It took me two hours to put everything back together and round up all 36 chickens.  (You don't want to chase them too hard or give them a heart attack.)

Cornish X are tasty, but they're rather unnatural and not very chicken-like in their mannerisms.  This will probably be the last year I raise them for the freezer.  I want to work on developing a good dual-purpose homestead flock next year, possibly Light Sussex or Black Copper Marans.

Anyhow, while I'm bemoaning my bad luck with the weather, check out my swamp. This is my garden today, April 12, 2011.

And THIS is my garden last year, April 7, 2010...

I am so far behind right now.  I've just had to toss my ag extension garden calendar.  It's giving me nervous fits.  No tilling until the swamp dries out.  The only things I have planted right now are peas, onions (in a raised bed) and a little bit of spinach that was left over from my winter low tunnel experiment.  The renegade chickens ate all of my early lettuce.  Their days are numbered...

This is my lilac bush last year, same date as above.

This year, a week later than that, it still has not yet bloomed.

I am so ready for sunshine, warm breezes and flowers.  Where did spring go?

We've had a lot of unsettled weather this spring and a lot of high winds and a few tornado watches.  My neighbor, Charlie, got tired of picking up all the branches on his maple trees, so he hired some fellas to come give them a drastic haircut.  They'll eventually bush back up again, but they really do look funny right now!

Sorry for the low quality of these pictures.  There was a drizzly rain all day and I didn't want to get my good camera wet, so I took my pocket-sized point-and-click with me instead.  Such a dismal day as it was, there wasn't much the good camera could have done to make it look any better anyway.  :P