Sunday, June 29, 2014

Recipe: Crock-Pot Reduced-Sugar Plum Jam

Gonna have to wait for Part 2 of the "Crazy Chicken Lady" Saga.  I'm just evil that way!

Instead, I wanna switch gears and yak a bit about my garden.  More specifically, my Santa Rosa Plum tree.

You see, with our complete-and-utter lack of Winter, the fruit trees seem to have gotten confused and the plums were early this year.


And abundant...
Day #1 of harvesting
Day #2
Day #3 (I think?!)
Day "Gawd-Only-Knows!"
Stop the Madness!!!

And that's not even all of 'em!  We got a LOT of plums this year is what I'm sayin'!

Oh, and my last CSA Delivery?  They sent me even MORE plums ("Oh sh*t!").  Although, honestly, *my* plums were way bigger and tastier - HA!

I pawned some of my plums off on neighbors and friends.  Even tried a "Who Wants Plums?!" post on Facebook (got one or two takers).  Then I contemplated looking up local food-kitchens to see who would take some of my harvest (and/or was gonna put a post out on Freecycle)...

In the end, I decided that I'd try some kind of "easy" method of preserving them.  Added bonus: Since I've got so damned many plums, I figured I could make up Baby-Jars of jam and slap pretty labels on 'em, then give them away as Christmas Gifts to my colleagues...

Soooo...  The biggest challenge with *my* plums is that they are not freestone.  I think I've yammered about that before but the general gist is: Stonefruits (such as peaches, plums and apricots) can be "freestone" (where the pit isn't really "attached" to the inside of the fruit, and therefore it's easy to slice 'em in half and pop-out the pit), or "cling" (which is the exact opposite - the pit is super-glued to the inside of the fruits' flesh).  Santa Rosa Plums fall into the latter category, and they are a PITA to de-pit!

I did buy a plum-pitter, but my fruits were too big and juicy.  Attempts at using the pitter resulted in plum-juice squirting all over hell and creation...

Not a real time-saver.

So then I consulted The Great Oracle, Google, again.  I stumbled onto a couple-three different recipes for Plum-Butter made in the Crock-Pot.  The only site that I bookmarked was this one - and I didn't really follow-it to the letter (but it gave me a starting point, right?)

My Main Objective was to find a way to convert plums to something jam-like (or "Plum-Butter"-like, or "Plum Spread"-like), without having to scrub plum-juice off the ceiling!

And I made this three separate times - and got three completely-different results!  I'll tell you the differences, below.

What follows is my Best-Guess/Guideline for how to make it - and have it taste AWESOME!

But first a couple of caveats: 

1 - This is not going to be a chunky jam.  It's almost closer to "jelly" - except that it's not clear. It does have fruit-bits in it.  They're just not chunky-fruit-bits.  Think Smuckers-Jam consistency.  This is a cook-the-hell-out-of-it kinda jam - so it's not gonna have that "fresh-picked" flavor (like freezer jams).  Regardless, it it still *quite* tasty. 

2 - This is not a "quick and easy" jam.  It's fairly labor-intensive and takes a fair amount of time, but it doesn't require you to stand over a hot stove for an extended period of time (much appreciated, right now, 'cause our temps are in the 90's!).

3. Honestly, this recipe is PERFECT for a "Work-At-Home" kinda person (like me!) 'cause it helps to be nearby, but it doesn't require a lot of ongoing "hands-on" kinda tending...  If you're chained to your desk for 8+ hours/day (but can take breaks throughout the day), then this is the PERFECT recipe for you!

QT's Crock-Pot Reduced-Sugar Plum-Jam
Yield: appx 12 x 4oz. jars of jam

  • 30 plums (appx 4#), blanched and peeled (Count your plums before you start!)
  • 2 - 2-1/2 C Splenda
  • 1 - 1-1/2 C Granulated Sugar
  • 4 - 5 TBS powdered pectin
  • 2 TBS Lemon Juice
  • 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/8 - 1/4 tsp Almond Extract
  1. Prepare a large dutch oven with appx 3" of lightly boiling water, and a large bowl filled with ice-water. Blanch your plums (appx 4-5 at a time) by plunking them into the boiling water for appx 30-60 seconds (til the skins start to peel), then dunk them immediately in the ice-water (to stop the "cooking").  Peel the now-loose-skins off the plums.  Don't freak-out if you don't get ALL of the skins off - just bear-in-mind that the skin is what provides the "tartness" (so the more skin you leave-on, the more sweetener you'll need).
  2. Put the naked plums into your crock pot (mine is a 4-quart model and 30 plums is about as much as it can comfortably hold). Cover and cook on high for appx 2-3 hours.
  3. At the 2-3 hour mark, the plums will still be round and recognizable, but mushy as all get-out.  Grab a slotted/holey serving spoon and a regular (metal) tablespoon and start scooping the plums, one at a time.  Use the tablespoon + slotted spoon to gooze-out the soft bits (back into the crock-pot) and remove the pit.  Repeat this for all of the plums and confirm that you got ALL of the pits!

    You may find that there's still a lot of fruit attached to the pits.  If you want to preserve as much fruit as you can, place the pits in a metal sieve/strainer and use your spoon to squish-'em up against the mesh and release all of the fruit gooze.

    Note: I did try a food-mill on my first-pass, but the pits actually jammed-it-up (no pun intended!).  The wire-mesh strainer actually worked better for me.
  4. Now you have a decision to make.  You can go with the Lazy-Method and return everything to the crock-pot to cook, uncovered, for another 4-6 hours.  Or you can transfer everything to your dutch-oven, on the stove-top, to continue cooking everything down (You're gonna have to "finish" on the stove-top, regardless...)
  5. Now you want to cook everything down 'til it's reduced to about half the volume you started with.  Crock-pot, uncovered, takes awhile.  Stove-top is faster - just make sure it's a low, rolling boil, and you stir frequently because you don't want it to burn and/or stick to the pot.
  6. After everything's been reduced by half, it's time for the Stove-Top.  Pour everything into your dutch-oven (if you chose the "Lazy Method!"), and stir in your cinnamon, lemon juice, and almond extract (they won't make a HUGE difference in the flavor, but I suspect it would be "lacking something" if you don't include them!).  Then give it a taste to get a rough idea of how much sweetener you think you'll need.
  7. Mix up your dry ingredients (Splenda + Sugar + Pectin) in a dry bowl.  I started out with the "lower" numbers (2 C Splenda + 1 C Sugar + 4 TBS Pectin), then stirred it in.  Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly.  Give it a taste and adjust if it needs more sweetener.
  8. If it needs more sweetener, check for "set" before adding it:  Scoop up a teaspoonful of jam and put it on a plate in the fridge for 5 mins.  If it "sets-up," you're good.  If not, add another TBS of Pectin when you add more sweetener (you *can* add pectin w/o add'l sweetener, but it tends to clump-up).
  9. Once it's confirmed to "set" properly and it tastes as sweet as you  like, transfer the jam into sterilized jam jars.  Clean the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a water-bath for 6 minutes...
  10. Confirm that the lids sealed properly, let 'em rest overnight, and you're all done!  Hey-oh!!!
Okaaaaaayyyy...  How 'bout some pictures?!

Rinsed 'n Ready!

Blanching Stations
Boiling water to the right, Bowl of ice water to the left

Nekkid Plums in the Crock Pot

Count your Plum Pits, and squish 'em thru a strainer!
(All present and accounted-for!)

This is what it looks like at the 2-3 hour point.
Lower-half: Already pitted
Upper-half: Pending pitting!
Cooking Down ("Lazy Method!")
It looks the same if you do it on the stove-top.  Just faster!

All Done!

Okay, additional Blah-Blah-Blahs!  

The first batch I made ended up being "Plum Sauce."  I did NOT blanch and peel the plums for the first batch, so that batch came-out SUPER tart!  I didn't do a water-bath-processing for that batch (I decided to toss it into the freezer), but - regardless - I think it's too tart for a shmear-on-bread kinda jam.  I'll use Batch #1 as a Plum-Sauce for chicken breasts or pork chops (and I bet it's DEEEE-LISH!).

Batch #2 was made using the "Lazy Method" - probably close to 10-hours in the crock pot (and one final hour on the Stove-top).  I was surprised that this method required the most added sweetener (since the plums were SUPER-ripe!).  It yieleded *exactly* 12 x 4 oz. jars.

Batch #3 was made using the Stove-Top Method (but the 1st two hours were in the crock-pot).  Those were fresher-plums (picked early this morning, and plunked into the crock-pot by 10am).  I thought the fresher batch would be more tart (for some reason), but that did NOT prove to be the case, so I cut-back to the "lower" estimates for sweeteners on that batch.

Batch #3 - even though I started out with the same qty of plums - yielded the most jam: 12 x 4 oz. jars PLUS another (appx) 10 oz on top of that (which I put in a plastic bin in the fridge - think I'll serve it over ice cream!).

Okay then!  If you've got a bumper-crop of plums, then I suggest you make yourself a couple-three batches of jam!



Saturday, June 28, 2014

Just call me the Crazy Chicken Lady (Part 1)

Ooh.  I'm back!

I'm gonna get all Rambly on ya!  You have been warned!

Annnnnd, I am blogging on my severely anemic Netbook, so I'll probably have to post pictures later (when I'm on my laptop).  Not sure if I'll post and update - or just keep it sitting in drafts - or just post crappy, unedited phone pics.  Who knows?!  

Plus - I've got TWO things to post about!  So that might result in two (or more!) new posts! 


(Yes!  Srsly!!)

First up:  CHICKENS!

I know I've blathered-on about liking my fresh, organic produce.  I belong to a CSA, and we've got a pretty-stinkin'-awesome Farmer's Market, on Sundays year-round, just down the street from my house.

Lately, I have been REALLY enjoying Farm-Fresh Eggs.  Good-Friend-P had 4 chickens (two of which were ostensibly "mine"), so I used to get my eggs from her.  Now she's down to two hens - and they're not as productive anymore.  So I've been getting my eggs from the weekly farmer's market.

Then I got the Wild-@$$ed idea that I oughtta get chickens of my own.  Yes, we can own chickens in suburban San Jose.  I think we are limited to 6 "small animals" (so 3 dogs + 3 chickens).  Hens only.  And the coop has to be situated at least 20 feet from the nearest residence...

The thing is, I didn't want your plain ol' "garden variety" chicken.  No sirree!  I wanted "Exotic" chickens!  And (here we go with rambling and reminiscing!) we used to have chickens when I was younger.  

(Odd, how I have so many memories associated with chickens! lol)

Back when I was 13 or 14, Dad and I got "exiled" to mom's recently-inherited Utah home.  Long, boring story, but we spent two years living in my grandparents' teeny little 2BR/1BA house on one acre of land (surrounded by 18 acres of pasture - which was bequeathed to my uncles).  We had barns and sheds and even an outhouse! (although, thankfully, the house *did* have indoor plumbing!).  Anyway, Dad and I had loads of fun "Playing Farmer" on mom's inheritance.  We had dogs, goats, ducks, geese, a horse (much to my mother's dismay), an FFA steer (briefly), and a whooooole lot of chickens.

Now I am 100% San Francisco Bay Area Native - born-n-raised - so my Farm-Sense was somewhat lacking.  We had found a local chicken-farm - with all kinds of exotic breeds - and dad would take me there to pick out chickens.  I, being the complete-and-utter-noob, was drawn to the "pretty ones."  And the "pretty ones," generally-speaking, were roosters!  So our "farmyard" consisted of the aforementioned menagerie, as well as a WHOLE LOTTA frustrated roosters!

(in retrospect, I'm sure the guys at the chicken farm must've LOVED us - since we took all of the roosters off their hands!).

Anyway, we had White Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, Easter-Eggers, and a whole slew of Banties (Bantam Game-Cocks, Mille Fleurs, Cochins, and probably a bunch more that I can't recall offhand).  There was one breed that I always wanted, but we could never find: Polish.

So, since I got this wild idea - NOW (Jeez, almost 40 years later?! I feel like such a Geezer!) - By Gawd, I am gonna GET my Polish Chicken!

Polish Chickens come in Bantam and Standard sizes.  I figure, since we want eggs worth eating, Standard was the way to go.  

Okay, gonna condense a lot of Rambly-Blah-Blah-Blahs here and say that I found a "somewhat local" hatchery, online, that carried my much-coveted Polish chickens (specifically, White-Crested Black Polish).
C'mon...  Tell me that isn't a cool-lookin' chicken!!

I ordered my Polish hen (lays white eggs), an Ameracauna (lays green eggs), and something else (can't recall - but it laid brown eggs).  I figured I was being all "Scientifical" about it - buying hens that laid different colored eggs so I could tell Who's-Who, right?  And Good-Friend-P also wanted two baby-chicks, so I added hers to my order as well...

I placed my order back in March, and got an Auto-Responder email that said that they'd ship my day-old chicks in --- MID-JUNE 


I briefly considered cancelling my order but then realized that I totally wasn't ready (what-with not owning a chicken-coop and all that), so I let it ride...

So then I surfed online and found a reasonably-priced chicken coop on  Not gonna bother linking b/c they don't carry the same coop anymore.  So I got my coop (it was surprisingly easy to assemble, actually).  I also "beefed it up" a bit by adding hasps (and padlocks) to deter raccoons and opossums (which we do have in our 'hood), and stapled hardware mesh to the bottom (again, critter-deterrents).

My coop, before I added hasps and locks and turned it into Fort Knox!

Then I waited for my chicks' arrival.  I even cleared a space in the TiKi-ShAcK for a temporary box-brooder...

Ya know what?!  I'm gonna be a total bee-atch and say that this seems like a good "stopping point!"  HA!  How Rude?!

To Be Continued........

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Whoa... Another post?! Recipe: Smoked Whole Chicken

Warning: This may be a wee bit rambly(Surprise!!!)  But useful, if you're interested in smoking/BBQ...

So I've been having a serious hankerin' for some GOOD smokey BBQ.

Hubs has offered to take me out for a belated B-Day Dinner and, when we go, it will be Trail Dust BBQ (bestest Q around here - IMHO).  But I'm not quite ready to call-in my rain-check, just yet.

Nope.  This past week, I decided to throw a chicken into the smoker, and I figured I'd share it here - because it is actually surprisingly easy to smoke a whole chicken!  Yeah, a bit of prep-work, but all things considered, it's *almost* a Set-It-N-Forget-It kinda venture...

This, coming from a person who was AFRAID to BBQ chicken - ever since the "Rocky The Range Chicken Incident".  Many years ago, mom bought a brandy-new gas grill with electric rotisserie.  I offered to cook and I ran over to the local gourmet grocery where I procured a rather expensive range-raised "Rocky" chicken.  I lovingly tended to Rocky for at least an hour, brushing him tenderly with BBQ chicken-marinade as he spun gently over the flames.  I had to leave Rocky unattended for THREE minutes - to run to the bathroom.  When I returned, Rocky was completely engulfed in flames (the rotisserie motor melted as Rocky was immolated).  Yeah, I was traumatized!

Well, last year, I got a Groupon deal for a BBQ class held at one of the local BBQ/Patio Stores.  The instructor was Big Ed of Big Ed's Buzzard BBQ in Santa Clara.  This was the Real-Deal BBQ: Shmokin'!

Ed gave an awesome (and entertaining) presentation; he covered all KINDS of smoking (ribs, chicken, brisket, tri-tip, pork roasts, fish, and even veggies!); answered all of our questions; *and* there was BBQ served for lunch (that, alone, was worth the price of admission!).  So if you're in the Bay Area and you ever see a Groupon for Big Ed's BBQ Class, I highly recommend it (and no, I get no spliff for saying so!)

I'd brought along a pencil and a composition book and took copious notes during the class.  Then I promptly moved my notebook to a Super-Secret/Super-Safe Location - Grrrr! (I hate when I do that!).

It's been hiding in that Super-Secret/Super-Safe location for almost a year now - but I did stumble onto it when I was shuffling some crap around on my desk - Yay!!  Then I quickly scanned it to a PDF (all twelve pages' worth of notes).  My PDF won't help anybody but me (my handwriting makes me think I should have been an MD!), but the point is: I found my notes - Yay - and I was able to smoke a chicken!

Here is what I did:

First off, I bought a fresh Foster Farm's Chicken.  I suspect FF is a California thing, but I'm sure other states have something similar.  Big Ed highly recommended Foster Farms because the chickens were *alive* the day before they arrive in the stores.  I'm thinkin' that's pretty fresh! (although I'll avoid commenting on "Factory Farming" - at this point. Obviously fresh, organic, range-fed purchased directly from the farmer would be better - but I digress....)

Okay. Got a Foster Farms 6# fresh bird.  Rinsed him twice under cold, running water.

First off, I brined him.
- 1 gallon of water
- 1/4 cup sea salt (or kosher salt)
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- Ed's recipe calls for 8 oz of apple or cranberry juice.  I had neither so I dumped in a 12 oz. bottle of hard cider, and cut back about a cup of water.
- I also added a couple-three generous shakes of BBQ rub (probably a tablespoon or so)

Mix everything up in a bowl (I used a smallish bowl w/32 oz. water for the initial mixing, then added water - as needed) - make sure you get all of the sugar and salt dissolved at the small-bowl stage.  Then pour the mixed brine into a 2-gallon zipper bag, along with the rest of the water.  Add the chicken.  I find it helps to put the whole thing in a big dutch oven (and use a clip to "tie" the top corners of the bag together so it doesn't spring a leak and gooze nastiness all over the fridge) (yes, zipper bags *can* leak!).  Slide it into the fridge and let it soak.

Ed suggested brining for one hour per pound, and cooking within an hour (my bird soaked for just under 5 hours - I was *hungry!*).  If you brine overnight, or wait too long - after brining - to cook the bird, it tends to come out too salty.

Once you are done with the brine, dump it out.  Do not attempt to re-use it for anything else.

Next, I injected the bird.  I loosened the skin on the breast so I wouldn't have to inject through the skin (holes = places for the marinade to ooze out).  I used Creole Butter that I bought from Amazon.  They also have other flavors (Lemon Butter is quite tasty).

Notes on injecting marinades:

  • First, pour what you think you're gonna use into a separate container.  You'll use the injector needle to suck-up the marinade and you don't want to contaminate the jar-full of marinade. 
  • Second, make sure that any herbs/spices are well-mixed before you start trying to suck-it-up into the injector.  If you're making an injection marinade from scratch, make sure the herbs are crushed into teensy bits - otherwise, you'll jam up the injector.
  • Injecting the breast: Lay the bird on it's back (breast-side up), and work the injector under the loosened skin.  I managed 4 injections, per side, using only 2 holes, per side.  So left side, up toward the top of the breast, one hole and inject, then pull the needle almost all the way out, point it in a different location and inject again.  Repeat on the lower half of the breast.  Then do the same thing on the other side of the breast.  Total of 4 holes, 8 injections.  Then smooth the chicken-skin back down over the breast...
  • Then I squoze a couple more injections into the legs and thighs (don't bother with the wings).
  • Sorry, I didn't take exact measurements for the injector amts.  I think the syringe that came with the marinade holds something like 2 oz.  I probably used 4-5 "full" syringes, total (with the majority going to the breast zone).  You'll see, as you inject the bird, that the breast will "plump up."  If you inject too much, it will find a way to gooze out.  This definitely isn't a "science!"
I'm guessing there are probably YouTube videos on "how to inject" - and they're probably more useful than my instructions (and *definitely* more usable than my scribbly notes - which made PERFECT sense to me!)

Okay, so the bird is injected.  You can either roast him on his back in the smoker or stand him up.  I've got one of those beer-can-roaster stands (but I chose to skip the beer-can).  If you use a vertical roaster, spray it with oil before you shove it up his butt ;-)  It will make removal *much* easier!

I find it helps to twist the wing tips back behind the bird.  Keeps him as one solid unit, while cooking, so no black wing-tips.  Plus, he looks funny as hell!

Jes' chillin' before grillin'!
"You missed a spot!"

So yeah, after you've got him perched most-jauntily on his grilling stand, hit him with a light coating of Olive Oil (I used a spray-can of EVOO), then rub him oh so gently with BBQ Rub.  I used Bad Byron's Butt Rub from Amazon.  I've mixed-up some home-made rubs, in the past, but I find BB's Butt Rub to be tasty and simple (and yes, if you use any of my Amazon links, I *might* get a wee bit of spliff - although I haven't seen a penny, yet!)

I don't think it's *really* cheating to use a Tried-And-True BBQ Rub

Oops.  Let me back-up just a little.  About half an hour before I'm ready to start cooking, I like to soak my wood chunks in water (more smoke, less flame) - for, say, 15-20 minutes.  So before I injected, oiled and rubbed the bird, I grabbed a few chunks (and a lot of crumblies) of Applewood, put 'em in a disposable aluminum steamer-pan, and filled it with water...  Then I wrapped the big chunks in heavy-duty aluminum foil, and poked a few holes in the foil-wraps.  The crumbly bits were put into a smoker box.  About 15 minutes before the bird goes in (so right around "rub-time"), plug in the smoker and place the foil-wrapped wood-chunks between the electric heating elements, then balance the smoker box  full of wet-wood crumblies on top of that.  Let it heat up and start smokin'...

Smoker assembly: Mine is a cheesy-cheap Brinkmann P.O.S. Electric smoker, but it suits my needs just fine!  Bottom section is full of lava rock. The electric heating element sits on top of that.  The big wet-wood chunks are placed around the heating elements - but try not to have the aluminum foil touch the electric heating elements.  The smoker box got perched on top of all of that (and it doesn't matter if the smoker box touches the heating elements - at least I don't think so!).  Center cylinder is where the cooking racks and water pan go.  Water pan on the lower-supports (helps keeps the chicken moist).  I filled it with mostly water, a chunked-up onion, a sprig or two of fresh rosemary, and some pomegranate juice.  You can pretty-much dump whatever you want into the water pan.  IMHO, it imparts very little flavor on the bird...

Grilling rack(s) go above that (inside of the main cylinder).  I was only cooking the one bird, so I only used one rack in the lower position (directly above the water pan).  Additional food-safety note: If you're cooking multiple kinds of meat, do NOT cook chicken ABOVE something else.  

Then there's a lid that goes on top of the whole mess...

Once the smoker is heated-up and begins to smoke, place your bird in the cooker.  I had inserted a digital thermometer into the chicken thigh (from the butt-side, careful not to touch bone, nor the "injection zone."). 

This is the (mostly) Set-It-And-Forget-It part.  The thermometer receiver can be programmed to whatever your preferences are.  Chicken's default is 180* (I think), but I was able to tweak it down to 165* (per Big Ed's recommendation - the chicken continues to cook after it's taken out of the smoker).

Anyway, this is the part where I got to laze, with a cocktail, at the TiKi BaR and wait for my dinner to be done!

Once chicken reaches temp, you can remove him from the smoker, but wrap him in aluminum foil (and ideally, a towel), and let him rest for about 15-30 minutes.  Temp will continue to rise, and all of the juices should settle.

During cooking, you do have to keep one eye on the smoker to make sure that it's still smoking pretty-well for about the first hour to hour-and-a-half.  You don't want it BILLOWING, but you do want a nice steady stream of smoke (unfortunately, this picture doesn't show the smoke very well!).  After 90 minutes, additional smoke is unnecessary - the meat will take up all the flavor during the first hour to 90 minutes.  If, during the first 90 minutes, the smoker stops smoking, open the door and add more wood...

Two hours later, the thermometer beeped and I opened the lid to discover this tasty beast!

Those tanning beds'll kill ya!

Dinner was DELICIOUS!

The skin was just slightly crispy and the meat was tender and M-O-I-S-T!  Truly sublime!  That jar, in the background, is full of Trail Dust BBQ Sauce and, as you can see, my stash is getting dangerously low (another good reason to celebrate my B-Day at my favorite Q Joint!).

Final BBQ/Smoking Footnotes:
- One invaluable tool I've found is BBQ gloves.  You can grab the meat without getting burned (it was invaluable when I had to pull the rack out of chicken's butt!)
-Types of wood:  
  - Chicken works best with fruitwoods, and I am partial to Applewood.  
  - Pork is also best with fruitwood.  
  - Beef is better with Oak, Alder or Hickory
  - Fish is best with Cherry (or I'm partial to cedar-planked on the grill)
  - Ed doesn't use mesquite and, honestly, neither do I.  Too hot and "strong" in flavor
  - You can mix-up your woods, 50/50 if you like (50% Applewood, 50% Hickory)
-Aluminum Pans are VERY useful, when smoking.  I buy mine at a local restaurant supply store for appx $0.50 apiece.  They're nice and deep, easy for transporting messy food, and recyclable when you're done!
-Nitrile gloves are also quite handy ("handy" "gloves" Get it?!! bwahahaha!) during Chicken or Pork prep.  Thankfully, I've got CASES of these gloves lying around - leftover reminders of my Psoriasis/Eczema Days (which, for now are GONE - Glory Freaking Hallelujah!  More on that later...).  Anyway, food-safety cannot be downplayed when you are playing with a smoker.  Smokers, by nature, tend to cook Low 'n Slow, and if done improperly, you are inviting nasty stomach bugs!  Be safe!
-Lastly (unrelated to chicken-smoking) - Ed confirmed that Spreckles' the Fair Pig (actually *any* home-raised pork) is too lean for smoking.  My earlier endeavor into making pulled-pork out of Spreckles was a big-fat fail!  But I'm glad it wasn't "me" - it was just the fact that home-raised pork is too lean!

Okay, I think that's rambly enough!  If you've got a smoker, I would encourage you to give this recipe a try!  It was surprisingly easy and EXTREMELY delicious!



Saturday, June 7, 2014

Yup. Still alive. How 'bout a Garden Update?

Rats.  I don't seem to be getting Traffic Reports for the blog anymore (probably because I haven't posted a damned thing for months ???  No clue!).  I *am* on Pinterest though, and I get notifications when my pins get shared.  That's another good way to "gauge" what folks are interested in, when they 'interact' with me.

It still feels like I'm more of a Foodie Blogger - since those are the posts (and pins) that seem to get the most traffic.  But I'm trying my damndest to be a Garden Blogger too!

I'm also a lazy blogger - but you already knew that! - so my latest update is an edited Copy/Paste of an email I sent to my Garden Coach at Indie-Farms.  If you're an SF Bay Area Gardener who needs help and/or ideas, check 'em out!  


Hydro-Lime is doing *quite* well - in spite of two pump fubars!

The first occurred while we were out of town for a long-weekend.  One of the emitters escaped the hydroton and proceeded to dump nutes all over the ground (the weeds were most appreciative!).  Pump ran dry and died - Grrr!

Quick run to Home Depot to pick up a "lesser" pump (orig pump was 250 GPH, HD pump was 150 GPH).  The HD pump kinda sucked eggs.  I removed the 2GPH emitter-doohickeys at the end of the drip-lines so that the nutes could actually circulate.  Seemed "okay" - but I didn't trust it.  So I ordered a replacement 250GPH pump from Amazon.

Long story short: I'm keeping the cheesy HD pump as a back-up and I'm back to using the new 250 GPH pump - sans emitter-doohickeys.  Once again, one of the drip-lines escaped - but I noticed it during TiKi TiMe and was able to prevent another disaster.  And now I've tied everything together with twine so the drip lines can't escape.  Not very "elegant" - but it seems to be working!

Hydro-Lime tree looks *very* happy with lots of baby limes - Mmmmm!  It's putting out new growth, as well.  Nice and GREEN.  Me = Happy!

I think I may have some "challenges" when the tree gets bigger (although it is a dwarf variety).  Not sure how I'll support it as it grows - right now, it's just got the same bamboo stake that it came with.  I guess I'll burn that bridge when I get there...

What else is cool:  I've got an AeroGarden - growing culinary herbs - over the kitchen sink.  Well, the AeroGarden has it's own on-board system that tells me to change the nutes every two weeks.  I'm using that as my "clock" (calendar?) to tell me when to change-out the solution in the Hydro-Lime.  And the old solution gets recycled by watering my other patio planters.  Win-Win!

Couple of random Hydro-Lime Progress Pics (sorry, I don't have the energy nor attention span to crop 'em and pretty 'em up!)

I also had a crazy idea about building a hydroponic strawberry planter - but I never got past "Gee, that's an interesting idea" stage!  I'm okay with experimenting with my hydro-lime, for now...


Raised beds: Doing okay.  I'm only using 2 of the beds, this year.  The third (Former-Finny-Farm) is a giant compost pile - soon to be a Chicken Playground (let *them* turn my compost, right?!).  The other two beds have Artie the Artichoke, squashes, pumpkins, corn, beans and melons (Three Sisters Planting!).  Plus maybe a volunteer tomato (or two), and 3 volunteer sunflowers.  

Oh, and "Surprise Potatoes!"  All winter, I was tossing old squishy potatoes out into the garden beds (mostly in the Compost Bed).  Many have grown and I have to be careful when digging because We've Got Spuds!

Anyhoooo...  Veggie vines are growing quite nicely.  I've seen some blossoms - but no fruit yet.

Random Garden Pics:
 Raised beds - before weeding (back in April)

 Tomatillo blossoms
 Artie lost his head!
Artie's bed with "Three Sisters" planting of squash, beans and corn

Patio 'Maters:  So I had to limit myself to 6 'Mater Plants this year (:::GASP:::).  I've got them in my Grow-Box Self Watering Planters.  Plants look PHENOMENAL!!!  This year, I opted for the "Organic" Mulch-Mats (Jobe's Organic Fertilizer - Meh!).  I used fresh organic potting soil (can't remember which brand - but NOT Home-Depot, k?!), and amended with Worm Poop before planting.

Maters are as tall as me now.  Of course, I had to raise the planters to keep 'em out of dogs' reach (damned omnivores!).  I've seen quite a few flowers, and - yay Stupice! - I've even got a few baby maters!

Random Mater Pictures:
 Transplant Day - April 19

 May 10 - Lookin' good...

 May 17 - Flowers! :-D

 May 17 - They're growing quickly (and I have to keep weaving them back into the cage/supports!)

 May 21 (I'm starting to regret not setting-up my Plant-Cam!)

 June 5 - as tall as me now!

  First 'Maters!  Stupice variety

CHICKENS (Compost-Turners):

Ooh!  I forgot to tell my Bloggie Buddies!  I'm getting chickens!

Due to arrive June 16.  Pretty excited about that!  I think they'll live in my studio for the first few weeks.  Originally, I thought I could keep 'em in the greenhouse but - SUMMER WEATHER! - Yeah, it gets well over 100* in the greenhouse during the day.  Not too eager for "roasted chicken!"  Studio is insulated, and I think I'll re-purpose one of my seedling heat mats to keep the chickies warm 'til they feather-out.

Random Chicken Pics:
 My (empty) chicken coop!  I fear it may be a bit too small for 3 hens (although I did select smallish breeds).

 Not my chicken! This is an Ameracauna Hen, they lay green eggs (srsly!)
Ameracaunas aren't too "uniform" in appearance.  I have no idea if this is what my hen is gonna look like!

 Golden Buff Hen.  Lays brown eggs (again, not my chicken!)

White Crested Black Polish (you *know* I'm gonna name her Tina Turner!).  Lays white eggs.  
And no, not my chicken!

My chickens are coming from a hatchery in Modesto, CA.  I suspect they are still "eggs" right now - but due to hatch soon!

And I really-really-really hope I don't end up with any "Surprise!" Roosters.  We can't have roosters in San Jose, so cross your fingers, k?!


Gonna have a bumper-crop of Santa Rosa Plums.  I'd say in a matter of days. I'm good for a couple of jamming sessions...  Maybe a pie or cobbler or two - but I'm gonna have WAY more plums than I-know-what-to-do-with! (My inner Grammar Nazi just cringed!). I'll probably look into the local food-bank(s) - although I have a sneaking suspicion that they do not take backyard produce.  If not, there's always neighbors, Facebook and Freecycle!

 Feb 16 - Plum Blossoms

 April 29

 June 5 - there's gonna be a LOT of plums!

June 5 - I think about another week 'til harvest time!

I think Satsuma Plum Tree will be bearing fruit for the first time.  Not "insane" like Santa Rosa, though.  I love Satsuma Plums (deep purple flesh, all the way through - goozy and juicy so you look like a vampire after eating 'em!)

These Satsuma babies are about the size of cherries!

White Peaches will also be INSANE this year.  And possibly early - not sure.  I culled a lot of babies, but not nearly enough.  Gonna be LOTS of smallish peaches.  I may need to prop-up some of the heavier branches so I don't have another disaster this year.

Yellow Peaches (later harvest).  Not a HUGE harvest - of course, I thought that last year (and I recall that I *literally* had nightmares over the quantity of peaches I harvested, last summer!).  Bigger fruits on the Yellow Tree, and hopefully not *quite* as abundant as last year!

Peachy Peaches:
 Feb 16 - Peach Blossoms + Bonus Pollinator (on the right)

 March 28 - Baby White Peaches (Early Bearer)

 April 16 - White Peaches comin' along...

 June 5 - White peaches still have a few weeks to go...
June 5 - Yellow Peaches (Later harvest - probably late July-ish)

No cherries this year - Boo! (But I heard it's a crappy cherry year - all around).

CITRUS (Other):

Mandarin and Dirty Lime look like sh*t.  Dirty Lime does have some fruit, but it does NOT look happy.  Mandarin looks like it's barely clinging to life (this, in spite of using my leftover nutes for watering, AND amending with a boatload of worm-poop!).  Oh, and they were both potted-up, late last year, with fresh potting mix.  

A buddy of mine (who used to live in Vegas), told me that they used to amend their citrus trees with Chelated Iron.  No clue if that's organic or not (I'm guessing "not") - but I'm getting desperate - so I ordered a jug from Amazon.  I'll mix up a weak batch and try a soil-soak.  Not sure I want to do foliar application since I *do* have fruit on the lime tree.  But the leaves are looking very sickly and yellow, and I've gotta do *something!*

Fussy Dirty Citrus Pics, taken June 5 (I'm almost embarrassed to post these!  But maybe I'll get some killer "After" shots if I can ever solve my chlorosis woes!)

 Dirty Lime does have some fruit...

 I'm pretty sure Bearss Limes aren't supposed to have variegated leaves!

Sicky Mandarin

Allllrighty then!  How's that for a Garden Update?  I'm not even gonna waste your time with my usual "blah-blah-gonna-post-more-often" crap.  I'll post when I can!  

Happy Gardening!!!


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