Thursday, April 26, 2012

Splendid Spinach

The abundance of the garden is upon us, at least where the greens are concerned. We have lots of lettuces and spinach. From three seed packs, we have enough to feed our family and many more. I've been giving away bags to fellow moms in my son's preschool class, friends, and family. My favorite way to eat the lettuces is topped with cucumbers and tomatoes (definitely wishing those were in season now) and dressed with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and agave nectar. We're still perfecting our washing technique (Ashley has complained, rightly so, about the sandy and gritty salads we've had the past two nights). Tonight I dunked the leaves several times in a sinkful of water before using my salad spinner to whip away the remaining water.

Although lettuces are more limited to salads (unless you want to grill the greens), spinach is more versatile. Ashley made an omelet Sunday morning with spinach and cheese; I use it regularly for the boys' smoothies; and the spinach-stuffed chicken breasts I made a while back were yummy. 

Of course, harvesting the spinach is favorite pastime of our younger son (sometimes he gets overly zealous in his plucking). 

My by-far favorite way to use spinach right now is for Spinach-Basil Pesto. My boys LOVE pesto on their pasta (they'd rather have that as a topper than traditional marinara). They won't eat mac-n-cheese or mashed potatoes but they eat pesto. Go figure. 

I adapted a Southern Living recipe for Basil Pesto to make one that is more nutritious. Enjoy!

Spinach-Basil Pesto
2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
4 cups loosely packed fresh spinach leaves
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 c pecans or pine nuts
4 garlic cloves
1/3 cup cold water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
*Process all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. 
Pesto lasts for a while in the refrigerator and freezes wonderfully. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Puffed-Oven Pancake: A Favorite Way to Use Eggs

The girls are averaging around 4 eggs a day since arriving a week ago. We're not a "hot breakfast every morning" kind of family (usually just on the weekends) so we're not eating all of these eggs every day. I do like to cook and bake; however, and one of my favorite ways to use up eggs is to make a Puffed-Oven Pancake (or German Pancake or Dutch Baby, depending on the recipe name). My go-to recipe is in my Better Homes & Gardens plaid cookbook, 12th edition, page 129. 

Puffed Oven Pancake
2 T butter
3 eggs
1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c milk
1/4 t salt

Preheat oven to 400 F. Place butter in 10-inch oven-proof skillet and place in oven until butter melts. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, use a wire whisk to beat eggs until combined, then add flour, milk and salt. Beat until mixture is smooth. Immediately pour into hot skillet. Bake 20-25 minutes until puffed and well-browned. 

Then, take the pancake out of the pan, dust with powdered sugar and top with fresh fruit. It's strawberry time around here so we've been eating our's with strawberries. Another favorite is peaches with blueberries. You can be proper and cut it up with a fork but I like to roll mine up (notice how this picture is of my partially eaten pancake--ha!). 

My cousin, her husband and twin girls visited us this past weekend and I made 3 pancakes for us to enjoy (usually my family eats 2). Nine eggs gobbled up just like that and I wasn't slaving over a griddle and missing out on eating with the family. Yum!

And because we recently celebrated Easter, I wanted to share another egg creation...this Rice Krispy treat egg Ashley made. We made the rice krispy treats the usual way (marshmallows, rice krispies, butter in the microwave) and then sprayed Pam inside one of the boys large plastic eggs. Ashley braved the stickiness and stuffed the egg full and then we popped out 6 of these delicious treats!

Note: All the recipes I feature on the Okra Hill Farm blog are listed on the Favorite Recipes page. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Our Girls Arrive!

Two weeks ago I found out we'll have three boys in our family come August. I was tickled with the news because I think mamas of all boys are neat women--and I already know the "boy stuff". And I don't mind being outnumbered by the guys in my house.  But we do have a few girls now around the place, thanks to our new chickens! While the boys and I were in North Carolina visiting my parents, Ashley finished the chicken house and added six lovely ladies. The boys were so excited! It's been a great activity (multiple times a day) to go check on the chickens, give them scraps and just watch their behavior. Today we were especially amused by one taking a dust bath. 

Here's the coop...really it's a house. We think the ladies like their new digs!

Inside they have four boxes for laying and their food. 

And there are roosting poles, including this one that the looney Hamburgs found--that's Zebra and Ladybird. 
 They are overlooking the garden. 
 Other names include Heidi, Penny, Dandelion Rose and Shiny. 
 And they gave us four eggs yesterday! I'll post later about one of the ways I like to use up eggs. 

Do you have chickens? Any tips are welcome!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Growing Along

One of my goals for this blog is to record what we plant in the garden and the results. I realize what would really be helpful is to write down when we planted what, when it first sprouted and then produced food. That's not going to happen with the spring plantings but maybe for the summer garden. 

Lettuces looking lovely. 

 Carrots creeping out on the left (tiny) and spinach sprouting splendidly. 

 Peas popping up.

Onions organizing (left front), potatoes in preparation (left rear) and broccoli bursting up (going with some alliteration here). The funny thing about all that broccoli is Ashley came home a while back and announced he had bought 32 broccoli plants. 32!!! I thought he was joking but he wasn't. We loved our fall/winter broccoli so he wanted to make sure we had more this spring. Probably will have some for giving away!

Our garden has a front fence for looks but Ashley is making use of it by planting blackberry vines (8) and kiwi vines (2, one pictured here in lower right) and they're called Anna Kiwis. How special I am to have kiwis named after me! They'll eventually need to be trained to a trellis or we may just keep them pruned. 

Blackberry blossom. Ashley planted Triple Crown Thornless and Arapaho Thornless varieties. 

Lots of leaves now!

 We also have several blueberry bushes planted around the house...maybe 8? They did great for us last year, provided the boys leave them alone long enough to ripen!

The other day on our local NPR station the Your Day show, sponsored by Clemson University's Extension office, featured a segment about blueberries and how they typically do great in South Carolina. 

Here's to more pretty days where we have low humidity and blue, sunny skies. It won't be long before the humidity will make the outside less pleasant. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Stirring up strawberry jam

Hands down, my favorite jam is strawberry. Although I grew up with a mama who makes wonderful blackberry, grape and peach jams and jellies, I've always loved Mama's strawberry jam the most. On the rare occasions when I've run out of her jam and I've had to buy Smucker's, I'm reminded it's best to wait until I can get back to North Carolina to raid her pantry. Now that I've ventured in the world of canning (pickles, peaches and beets under my belt), I decided to try canning my own strawberry jam this year. 

This particular batch was made with a flat from Florida. It takes about 1 gallon of strawberries to make 8 half-pint jelly jars of jam. 

I followed the directions on the low sugar Sure-Jell package almost to a "T." Chopping my berries, not pureeing them, in my mini Cuisinart. Then I measured them. 
 My kitchen set-up. I wanted to show this because I LOVE my anti-fatigue Gel-Pro knock-off mat (I think I got it at Lowes?). It really makes a difference to stand on these at my stove and sink. In past houses, we had tile kitchen floors. The wood floors in our new house are definitely easier to stand on but the mat makes kitchen work even less tiring. 
 Back to the jam...stirring in the sugar. 
 Flipping the jars upside down for a moment right after filling them to seal. I flip them back over after just a minute.
 And ta-da...done! I did not use the hot-water bath canning method because my mama never uses it (and her mama never used it or her grandma). All of my jars sealed perfectly and the jam tastes delicious (super fresh, thanks to minimal cooking). I'm sure the Ball Canning guide folks would get onto me about this method...but it works for my family. 

We've planted a few strawberry plants at our house. There won't be enough berries for jam-making, just enjoying straight off the plant. 

If we need larger amounts of strawberries, we just head down the road and pick at our local strawberry farm. For $9, the boys are entertained picking (and eating) berries and we go home with a large bucket of strawberries for pies, muffins, and topping a bowl of Cheerios at breakfast. 

What about you? What's your favorite jam or jelly?

Starting in Spring

It seems fitting to begin this new blog about our almost new house and makings of a farm for our family in the season that celebrates new beginnings. Spring has definitely sprung in South Carolina and around our land.

The grass is greening up...

Blooms are appearing on our bushes and loropetalum
 and white loropetalum. 
 Pear tree blossoms.

The garden is planted with lettuce, carrots, spinach, peas, potatoes, onions and broccoli. We had good success with our summer and fall gardens so we'll see how the spring turns out. It all depends on our weather and if we actually get to have a long enough spring season. South Carolina is notorious for jumping straight into summer (we've already had a few days where the temperature has reached the upper 80s).

And our chicken house is almost completed. 

These pictures were taken last week. I need to snap some more to capture our garden's growth.