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Winter Gardening Alternative

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My garden here in Houston has been pretty much saturated by the constant repetition of wet winter storms over the past several weeks. Last week had the additional challenge of a “hard” freeze. I happened to be out of town so my wife and youngest son covered the sensitive shrubs and trees. Thanks Hun!

I laughed a little when my wife said it was very cold! Why? I spent last week in North Dakota! According to the locals it wasn’t too bad. Several mornings up north it was only -18F and it never hit double digits on the plus side! For this Houston boy that is cold!

I went out to “wade” through the garden and found a few sections with standing water. The strawberries and sugar snap peas are doing well! I fed the bees- filled the feeder and ducked back inside. Inside I decided to learn more about my sourdough bread making.

The gardening alternative;

I made two loaves but went with the slower process of creating a sponge and letting it sit overnight. The sit and rise process for the loaves was another 3 plus hours. The results? Mixed! I cooked each loaf separately. The first loaf was pretty dark! Oops, the recipe called for 425, I read 475! That explains it! The second loaf looks great. Taste? More like sourdough. When I go with the quicker method and use yeast, the sourdough flavor just doesn’t come through as well.

The second loaf.

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The first loaf still made some great French Toast!

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On a grumpy note. My wife’s “pet” squirrels are eating my strawberries before they are fully ripened! Something bad needs to happen to those tree rats! My wife would prefer that our cats chase them out but I may need to employ alternate means.

TTFN
Bishop

Winter Chill

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We have had a good stretch of what we call cold here in Houston. Lows in the mid 30’s F. The bees are staying warm in the hive and only venture out when the sun warms the hive. The damn weeds don’t seem mind the weather and even if I don’t want to, I know I have to keep the attack up!

Mornings are spent enjoying my coffee, watching the flames in the fireplace and experimenting with sourdough bread making. Today, at least from appearance sake, I have a success. Some of my less aesthetic looking loaves have tasted great! The sourdough aroma is awesome!

I use my bread machine for the heavy lifting. It seems to work well most of the time. The only variable is the dough consistency. I am learning to better gauge the liquids needed. The base recipe is close to the right volumes but if it errs, it is a bit dry! I have learned to resist the temptation of adding too much. I have learned to add just teaspoons of water and do it slowly!

Recipe
1/3 cup warm water
1 1/4 cup sourdough starter
3 cups of all purpose flour – sub a cup of whole wheat if you choose
1 tbsp sugar or honey
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil – I use butter cut into small chunks
2 tsp dry active yeast

Put machine on dough cycle. When complete dump out onto a greased smooth surface and stretch it out. I watched a few videos on how to fold and shape the dough – that is up to you. I made a nice elongated loaf. Let rise for an hour or so, score the loaf and bake 35 minutes or more at 400 degrees F until done. Thump it and if it sounds hollow you are there. I also put a pan of water in the oven for steam.

Before;

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After;

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The garden still calls to me! Lots and lots of strawberry blossoms and berries are developing. The 100 new strawberry plants are looking great, sending out new leaves and looking very healthy. Carrots are fattening up, beets are building roots and the snap peas are blossoming!

TTFN
Bishop

Honey Sweetened Meyer Lemon Jam – A Sensuous Kitchen Experience

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The title….The title is an apt description of the jam making experience but I will keep the blog descriptors “G” rated. What was actually going through my mind – is open for interpretation. I found this recipe in the same place I found the Meyer Lemon Curd recipe in the “Food in Jars” blog I mentioned in the post published on December 27th…..wait, wasn’t that yesterday? Life has given me lemons, more correctly, Meyer Lemons, and lemonade is not high on my list. Three alternatives made to date; 1. Limoncello – still a few weeks from completion, 2. Meyer Lemon Curd – a double batch, and now 3. Honey Sweetened Meyer Lemon Jam. Three decadent treats and the decadence is not restricted to flavors.

I will attempt to recreate the “cooking” experience as safely as I can. It has been a nasty, drizzly and cool day here in the Houston area. I stepped outside into the drizzle and hand selected 5, plump Meyer Lemons for the primary ingredient! Don’t try to read my mind, I will tell you that Led Zeppelin lyrics did not pop into my head until just a moment ago, so lets put that one to rest. I also used local honey…not mine but very similar in flavor.

The first non-cooking thought that hit me while stirring the batch was triggered by the aromas caressing my nose…. it was the mix of honey and, what must have been the volatile oils from the Meyer Lemon peels. The aromas were like the spring blossom time for citrus, most notably, from a midnight ride many years ago on my motorcycle down Sunset Blvd. The trip started on the UCLA campus and ended at Will Rogers Beach in Santa Monica. I have written in the past about the intoxicating scent of those Sunset Boulevard citrus blossoms on that cool and clear night. Just an amazing memory of the scents burned into my memories. My passenger that night I’m sure has similar memories of that scent filled ride, along the sweeping turns, cool and scent filled night leading down to the beach. Mmmmm – great memories triggered by the aromas buried in my gray matter.

As I was day dreaming and replaying that ride down the windy Boulevard the aromas coming off the batch of jam began to change. My first impression was that of a citrusy – Jasmine perfume scent. I had some, uh hum…. interesting thoughts….if a women was wearing a scent like this, the temptation to nibble and nuzzle her neck would have been overpowering. Plucked from somewhere deep in my memory banks was a connecting thought….pair this perfume aroma with the fresh scent of Herbal Essence shampoo and the beast within would have been testing the chains! – Careful Bishop…. I wondered if it was just my maleness fueling the thoughts when my wife popped into the kitchen and noted the perfume like aroma coming off the pot on the stove. She provided confirmation that my olfactory sensors were correct. Her comment pulled me back to the task at hand…..Jam!

The boiling process went on longer than the recipe called for. In hindsight, based on how thickly the jam set up, 15 minutes of boiling is probably correct time. I went well beyond that based on my sense of the thickening. During that time the aroma changed from arousing….(can I use that word?) to something very pleasant. The new aroma made me think more about hot, buttered and toasted sourdough bread lathered with this jam…I am very basic in my desires! I went from carnal to primal over the course of about 25 minutes.

I wound up with almost two pints of jam, probably a little darker in color than expected. If I had cut off the boiling time at 15 minute’s it may have been several shades lighter. I am assuming some “carmelization” took place. The jam is very well set and very tasty. I have many more lemons to pick so my next batch may be a little different….in results, but I hope that some same memories are triggered, memories that still make me smile. My lemons could not have been any fresher, once picked they were washed and in the boiling/simmering pot in less than 8 minutes….that may help explain the abundance of volatile lemon oils in the kitchen. Note to self……lets go ultra fresh again.

Honey Sweetened Meyer Lemon Jam

Yield: 3 to 4 half pints, plus a little for your morning yogurt

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds meyer lemons
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 cups honey

Instructions

  1. Wash the lemons and place them in a saucepan that can hold them in a single layer. Cover them with the water and bring to a boil.
  2. Once the water is bubbling, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the lemons for 25 minutes, until the skins are tender but still hold together.
  3. Remove the pot from the heat and let the lemons cool completely.
  4. Place the lemons in a blender carafe and add two cups of the cooking water.
  5. Blend at low speed to break up the lemons. Take care not to puree them entirely smooth.
  6. Pour the lemon mix into a low, wide pan and add two cups of honey (choose something mild in flavor so that it doesn’t overpower the lemons).
  7. Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce to medium-high.
  8. Cook, stirring regularly, until the jam thickens and sheets off the back of your spoon or spatula. You can tell it’s nearly completion when it hisses and spits when you stir. My batch took all of 15 minutes of vigorous boiling to achieve set, but times will vary.
  9. When jam is finished cooking, remove pot from heat.
  10. Funnel jam into prepared jars. Wipe rims, apply lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath canner for ten minutes.
  11. When time is up, remove jars from canner and let them cool on a folded kitchen towel.

By on February 19, 2014 in jams, jellies, marmalades

 

My little dwarf Meyer Lemon tree on an earlier day.

My little dwarf Meyer Lemon tree on an earlier day.

In a few more weeks I should see my bees working the Lemon blossoms....Mmmmm so good!

In a few more weeks I should see my bees working the Lemon blossoms….Mmmmm so good!

TTFN

Bishop

Meyer Lemon Curd – So Damn Good

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I apologize if the curse word that shocked movie audiences in 1939, Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) to Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) still offends….. I resisted using language from the “Thug Kitchen” a fun and irreverent look at eating healthier. Here is the trailer for the book…..be prepared – it is not G Rated!!!!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ar7g_26QWu0      I thought the trailer was a joke…..it is tongue in cheek and the book is very real and has some great recipes!

Back to the curd…..It really is that good! I made a double batch. A doubled batch yields a little more than couple of pints and includes 12 egg yolks, two sticks of butter, two cups of sugar and –  Oh yeah lemon zest and lemon juice! I processed two of the 8 ounce jars in a boiling water bath so I could ship one of the jars to my great grandson up in Wyoming. Unfortunately, processing changes the color just a bit and the texture is not near as silky smooth as the fresh stuff! Given a spoon and left alone for a short time I could finish a jar on my own!

Yum - A plate of Lemon zest, 12 egg yolks, two sticks of butter, two cups of sugar and one generous cup of lemon juice. In the background is my sourdough starter bubbling away.

Yum – A plate of Lemon zest, 12 egg yolks, two sticks of butter, two cups of sugar and one generous cup of lemon juice. In the background is my sourdough starter bubbling away.

Do you think the lemon zest looks like shredded cheddar? My daughter Ashleigh did! We had a good laugh!

The patience in cooking was rewarded with a silky smooth and decadent lemon curd. Before dropping the utensils used in the process into the sink, I had to play Momma kitty and lick everything clean…..Yes I know, some may say bad form, but frankly, I don’t give a damn!

Ready to ladle into the hot and sterile jars.

Ready to ladle into the hot and sterile jars. My canning funnel has been well used!

 

Trying my best to not make a mess!

Trying my best to not make a mess!

Meyer Lemon Curd – USE MEYER LEMONS!

Yield: 2 half pints – single recipe

Ingredients

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 Meyer lemons, juiced (you should get a generous 1/2 cup. Make sure to strain it, to ensure you get all the seeds)
  • zest from the juiced lemons
  • 1 stick of butter, cut into chunks

Instructions

  1. In a small, heavy bottom pot over medium heat, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar.
  2. Add the lemon juice and zest and switch to stirring with a wooden spoon, so as not to aerate the curd.
  3. Stir continually for 10-15 minutes, adjusting the heat as you go to ensure that it does not boil.
  4. Your curd is done when it has thickened and coats the back of the spoon.
  5. When you determine that it’s finished, drop in the butter and stir until melted.
  6. Position a fine mesh sieve over a glass or stainless steel bowl and pour the curd through it, to remove any bits of cooked egg. Whisk in the zest.
  7. Pour the curd into two prepared half pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. If you want to process them for shelf stability, process them in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes (start the time when the water returns to a boil).
  8. According to So Easy to Preserve, it is best to process only in half-pint jars or smaller, as they allow better heat infiltration.
  9. Eat on toast, stirred into plain yogurt or straight from the jar with a spoon.

Here is the link to the recipe – http://foodinjars.com/2010/01/meyer-lemon-curd/

A very good canning blog by Marisa McClellan. Check her stuff out

TTFN

Bishop

 

Rainy Day Garden Blog

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We had a rainy and stormy night last night. The thunder was the booming and it was the rolling type followed by the sound of heavy rain drumming rain on the roof. The last 24 hours brought 2.76 inches of rain in my neighborhood and as much as 3.64 a few miles away. As I write the sound of rain beating down of the roof is accelerating again…. Gotta love it!

Too wet to have coffee with the bees but I am enjoying my coffee. I am kinda sorta having coffee with my oldest daughter and her husband – they are out in Camarillo California to be precise, but with me in spirit. They sent the family a gift pack the past several Christmas’s from Harry & David, well known for their pears, but this pack had a 12 ounce package of coffee beans. The Northwest blend flavored – Hazlenut, Praline and Cinnamon. So, Melissa and Tayna….here’s to you! I am also snacking on my homemade sourdough bread, 30 minutes out of the oven…..still warm enough to melt the butter under a layer of my Serrano pepper and peach preserve.

Fresh and warm sourdough - Yum - I love making bread but even more so...... eating it!

Fresh and warm sourdough – Yum – I love making bread but even more so…… eating it!

I did check on the bees and the garden yesterday and they are busy buzzing away and gathering pollen. The strawberries are kicking out blossoms like crazy and I noticed a handful of blossoms on the sugar snap peas. I suspect I will be picking some snap peas well before New Years Eve. The carrot seeds sprinkled a few weeks ago are coming up nicely and should be ready to thin in another few weeks….I say should….seems like I have good intentions and always wind up with crowded carrots!

I will be picking my lemons this week and I need to decide how to reward my self, hmmmm – Lemon Curd is high on the list and may also be compatible with making Limoncello. How about both! Claire from “Promenade Plantings” gave the best advice for using lemon curd – open jar, insert spoon, pull out a heaping spoonful and insert into your mouth and let your taste buds celebrate….She said something like that

  • 1.5 Liters of Everclear – available in Texas
  • 14 Lemons
  • 1.5 Liters of water
  • 2.333333333333333333 pounds of sugar

Peel lemons taking care to not use the white portion of the peel…..just the yellow.

Place peels and Everclear in glass jars, seal tightly and place in a dark cool place for two weeks.

Mix sugar and water – heat and stir until dissolved. Let sit for an hour or so.

Drain lemon peels from the jars and mix with sugar water. Make a calculation a head of time in order to have on hand enough bottles to accommodate the new volumes.

Be patient and allow the bottled Linoncello to sit for a full month in a dark and cool place.

Store in the freezer and enjoy shots….I am looking forward to the fruits of my labors.

TTFN

Bishop.

Having My Morning Coffee With The Bees

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Took my little Nikon J1 camera out to the hive in the backyard to enjoy the nice morning, to also savor a good cup of coffee and share some time with the Bees. I could spend hours watching them come and go. I am easily entertained! The is something in bloom nearby that has the workers loading up on a nice yellow colored pollen. They are also draining a quart of sugar water in less than a day and a half. I am hoping to have a nice enough day on Sunday to take a look at the inside workings and to see how well they have recovered since the stormy upset this past summer.

I headed out to the backyard on a very nice and pleasant morning. I made a good cup of coffee and went out to drink coffee with the bees. I love watching them come and go, busy with the chores needing to be done to support the hive. Enjoy the slow motion show captured Saturday morning. Watch early on in the video for the clumsy bee that head butts the hive. Look closely and you will see a few bees with pollen laden legs.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/yyfgp1h2zpphttb/SLO%20MO%20BEES.wmv?dl=0

 

Coming and going....busy little bees

Coming and going….busy little bees

I have the restricted entrance opening now to keep the toads and mice out. They seem to be thriving!

I took my leaf vac/chipper over to the next door neighbor’s yard and picked up several loads of fallen leaves for my garden and compost bins. Another neighbor stopped by with her two year old son….he calls me Mr. Bishop. They followed me over to the garden and I let him pull a carrot  up and pick a lemon. Simple things can bring so much joy to little kids. I just love it. Hopefully, making some good memories for both Mom and son.

Strawberries are beginning to heavily bloom and we have seen them ripening…may be a banner year for my strawberries and jam making!

 

TTFN

Bishop

 

Garden Fall Clean-up

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Conducted some overdue fall garden cleanup chores yesterday, November 29th. Still warm enough that I wore shorts, T-shirt and Crocs. Sweated my butt off. Warm enough that the bees were zooming and returning to the hive loaded with bright yellow pollen.

I cut back to the ground the dense forest of Asparagus ferns – found a few new spears hiding- they made a nice snack. The indications are good for the spring. Looks like I may have a great harvest. I trimmed the dead and dying leaves from the banana trees an as always, the never ending chore of keeping the weeds in check, not eliminate, just keeping them in check.

I will spend some time over the Christmas holiday season to getting a big pickup truck load of well rotted horse manure to mix with my compost. I need to turn over my large compost pile to free up some space for leaf gathering. I am wanting/needing to fill the 64 cu/ft bin to the top. I love using shredded leaf mulch spread two to three inches deep. It smothers the pesky weeds pretty well and the asparagus has no trouble pushing through.

Snap peas are really slow this year but the carrots are looking good. Beets are developing nicely along with the radishes. Nobody eats them but they grow so well that they boost my gardening ego.

Strawberries – I have a handful of plants setting fruit now. If I can remember to mark them I can propagate the daughters with the same early trait. That still requires me to remember and the discipline to follow through! I may develop a new strain!!!! If only I could remember which strain they came from, Chandler or Sweet Charlie are my most commonly planted varieties. DNA testing maybe?

Lemon harvest starts in two weeks, although I have pulled a few for cooking purposes already. I layered some sliced lemons on top of fresh caught flounder, thanks to fisherman son Benjamin! He just recently bought a boat so the fresh fish count may increase! Flounder, Speckled Trout and Redfish – Yum!

Off to California now for work and a visit with my mom and family!

TTFN
Bishop

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Sunset near Mom’s place – if I get lucky I can add to my sunset portfolio.

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