Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The worst part of spring

Well, it's here. The worst part of spring has arrived. No, not the rain - that never left. And not the allergies - there are pills for that. The worst part of spring is the reemergence of bugs.

First, at dinnertime, I discovered a spider hanging from the ceiling in the living room. Fortunately it was small and easily dispatched with a tissue. Next, as I was supervising the bunnies during their time out this evening, I noticed a moth outside on my window. This was particularly disheartening as I hate moths perhaps more than any other bug both for their ability to fly and their propensity for disappearing, putting you on edge for hours or days and then reappearing the minute you finally drop your guard. But the last straw, the one that prompted this post, was the discovery five minutes ago - most unpleasant - of a huge, ugly (is there any other kind) beetle creeping it's way up the door frame at the entrance to the kitchen. Indoors, I should clarify.

As much as I did not want to have to deal with it, I could hardly leave it until morning when someone else might be able to get rid of it - it has been my experience that bugs almost never stay put for long and even the slowest moving insects can cover considerable ground if left unguarded for long. Then you have to search the entire house until you find it or risk the chance that it could crawl into your room at night and creep with it's gross little legs all over you. (Or, at least, that is what I always fear will happen.) But back to the task at hand. As soon as I cleared Kita and Maggie out of the immediate area (lest the bug should decide to jump from the door frame - an inanimate object able to withstand disinfecting agents - to one of the animals, which are considerably harder to disinfect) I armed myself with paper towels and set about dispatching the beetle. I used two paper towels, folded into fourths, so that I would have a thick enough wad of material between my hand and the bug that I would not be able to feel (that was the hope, anyway) the crunch that beetles tend to make when they are squashed. I always find that particularly nauseating.

So as much as I dislike the months of cold, wet weather that comes with living in this part of the country, I will admit that it seems a more than fair trade if it means that I don't have to see hide nor hair (well, you know what I mean) of bugs during the winter. And here's something I've always wondered: why couldn't bugs look like little bunnies, say, with wings or antennae rather than the way they do? I'm convinced that, were they to look more like bunnies, a vastly smaller number of them would find themselves on the wrong side of flyswatters, tissues, and shoes. Don't you think?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Veggie Pot Pie, Take 2

Here we go, attempt number two. This is the new recipe:

Veggie Pot Pie

4 large potatoes
6 large carrots
1 cup of peas
2 recipes of white gravy (recipe in previous post)
olive oil
Italian seasoning
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed

Cut the potatoes into small chunks, and the carrots into slices. Pour some olive oil onto a baking sheet with raised sides. Add the potatoes and carrots, sprinkle with salt, pepper and Italian seasonings and toss to coat. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees until fork tender (20-30 minutes). In the meantime, make the gravy. When the potatoes and carrots are done, toss them with the peas and gravy and pour into a deep dish casserole style dish. Cover with the puff pastry, poke some fork holes in the pastry to let steam vent, and fold the edges of the pastry over on itself if it overlaps the edge of the dish. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown. Serve warm.

Alright, now for the notes. About the gravy: be warned - it takes a LONG time to cook. Once you add the milk, it takes forever to heat up to boiling over low heat. And a few things I didn't bother to do when making the gravy: I didn't wait for the flour and butter mixture to get bubbly before adding the milk. I also didn't take the pan off the heat before adding the milk - I just poured the milk in while it was still on the stove. And I definitely didn't bother to stir it constantly - I just stirred it occasionally as I was moving around the kitchen getting other stuff ready, and it didn't seem to have any ill effects from my lack of constant attention.

And as for the pot pie: this version turned out considerably better than the last one did. It was actually pretty good. It could still use some tweaking, though. Roasting the potatoes and carrots before hand added flavor/seasoning to the final dish and softened the veggies up before cooking. The carrots were still a bit on the hard side but definitely not crunchy this time. I think I also could have increased the amount of all the veggies to add even more bulk to the pot pie. Another potato or two, 3-4 more carrots and increase the peas to 1 1/2 cups to 2 cups (depending, I suppose, on how much you like peas.) The gravy amount was pretty perfect this time, but it could still use more seasoning. And a note on seasoning: I tend to be something of a wimp when it comes to lots of spice, hence my lack of large amounts of herbs/spices. I do like the combination of herbs in the Italian seasoning mix so next time I make this recipe I'll up the amount of herbs (I didn't measure anything, just threw on what seemed to look good) and also the salt and pepper. I like to use sea salt because I think you get more flavor for less salt, plus it's tastier (to me, at least.) And lastly, the puff pastry. I didn't roll it out any thinner, just put it on top and folded over the edges (I wanted to keep it think and puffy.) I think that covers it... so, enjoy.

Veggie Pot Pie, Take 1

A week or two ago I had a craving for a veggie pot pie but was unable to find the right recipe so I figured I'd try to make my own. Here's what I came up with:

Veggie Pot Pie

4 large potatoes
3 large carrots
1 cup of peas
1 recipe of white gravy (follows)
1 teaspoon of Italian seasonings
1 sheet of puff pastry

Cut the potatoes into small chunks and boil in water until fork tender. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the carrots into slices. Make up a batch of white gravy and add the potatoes, carrots, peas and Italian seasonings. Mix well so that the gravy coats everything evenly. Pour into a lasagna style dish and cover with puff pastry. Bake for about 30 minutes until puff pastry looks cooked. Serve warm.

White Gravy Recipe

2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 cup milk

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Blend in the flour, salt and pepper with a whisk. Cook over low heat, stirring until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat. Stir in the milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for one minute.

Okay, so there were several problems with this recipe. First, do NOT use a lasagna dish - it's much too large and shallow, and the puff pastry has too much trouble covering it all. Second, the carrots really need to be cooked or softened before baking, they don't get soft enough in the oven. Third, there wasn't really enough gravy. Fourth, the puff pastry didn't get as golden as I had hoped it would. Fifth, it definitely needs more seasoning and finally sixth, it perhaps wasn't enough food for four people, two of which are guys with large appetites. So tonight, I made a second attempt at this recipe and the revisions and notes can be found under Veggie Pot Pie, Take 2. See you there!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Snow much for that

It's March, which means spring is just around the corner and we can finally look forward to some sun. And hopefully, soon, all this snow will melt and we will be able to see the ground again. I'm not even sure if I remember what the ground actually looks like any more. This was, after all, a particularly snowy winter. There were several "Winter Storm 2010!" and "Arctic Blast 2011!" storms, according to the weather forecasters. What actually happened was (at least here on the Unfarm) a total accumulation of about 1/4 of an inch of snow. On many occasions there were days and days of wet, with no freezing temperatures, and then freezing temperatures but not a cloud in the sky. The two key elements to snow just couldn't seem to get together at the same time, hence: no snow. This is disappointing for several reasons: 1) I love snow and my snowshoes aren't much good in the rain 2) Kita loves snow, and I love to see him happy and comfortable (he is fairly hot with his thick winter coat) and finally, 3) if I am going to have to deal with the inconvenience of freezing temperatures - which tend to make all the animal chores twice as difficult - I should at least get the snow.

When it gets to freezing or below all the hoses freeze and are - as such - unavailable for doing animal chores like washing the duck tarp and diapers every day. And even if I could manage to get the hose thawed out, I wouldn't be able to use it at the risk of making an ice slick all down the driveway. (Which, I am embarrassed to admit, happened twice this winter, although the second time was not my fault.) In order to keep the driveway clear and still get the duck stuff clean I had to haul buckets of water over to the side yard every morning to wash off the tarp and diapers.

The rabbit litter boxes couldn't be cleaned while the temperature remained below freezing, but fortunately I have a large enough stockpile of litter boxes that I could allow the dirty ones to stack up until the temperature rose high enough to clean them all. The chickens sat around, rather dejectedly, in part because they were cold and in part because the ground was too frozen for them to dig for bugs in. And as for the ducks, there were several occasions when their ponds froze over completely and often on those days, after eating breakfast on the back deck, Minna would turn around and come back in - giving up on going outside entirely. And as Maggie generally goes wherever Minna does, I would suit them both up with fresh diapers and herd them back into the bunny room where they spend their indoor time.

So, after a depressingly gray winter, with almost none of the snow that was predicted, I hope that next winter the forecast is for 60 degrees and sunny the whole time. Then, with the accuracy of the weather forecasts so far, I think we will finally see some snow.