Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tutorial: Homemade Pumpkin Puree

I'm often asked questions relating to preparing fresh garden produce and the number one question I get this time of year is how to prepare pumpkins. And this year is no exception! (Keep those questions coming...) Though I admit over the years making pumpkin puree has been an economical effort to conserve our resources it has morphed into a food necessity. Honestly, it tastes amazing and knowing it came from your garden brings it all to another level.

One of the pumpkins this year came courtesy from one of Fiona's friends birthday parties. The pumpkin lovingly came home with gems, jewels, and a sticker face. It was darling, however, several weeks later (and with Fiona's permission) I started the process to turn a birthday party favor/decoration into food for Thanksgiving dinner.

After cleaning the pumpkin off, I popped the stem off with my hands and placed it into the microwave for two minutes. Wait...yes. I did say the microwave. This quick step makes the outer skin easier to slice into. After the pumpkin's ride on the turntable in the microwave, I removed it and sliced it in half.

After slicing it in half, I scooped out the pulp and seeds into a bowl. The pumpkin seeds can be removed, cleaned and roasted which we've often done in the past. However, this time I simply gave the seeds and pulp to my lovely urban ladies who gobbled this delicious treat up. (Note: The little Ziploc bag of gems and jack o' lantern face in the corner)

After removing the gunk out of the pumpkin you have two beautiful pumpkin halves ready to make their way to the awaiting pre-heated oven at 350 degrees.

Place the two pumpkin halves on a cookie sheet face down and place just about 1/4 inch of water in the bottom of the pan. The pumpkins will cook for about one hour give or take depending on the size of your pumpkin. The outer layer will start to brown/blacken which is a sign that it is done and you can pull the pumpkin out of the oven.

Let the pumpkins cool as it may difficult and dangerous to pull the skin off too early due to the heat and/or steam. After cooling, you can easily pull the skin off with your fingers. The chickens never seem to interested in cooked pumpkin skins so I remove this from the "meat' of the pumpkin and dispose it in my compost bin.

Next take the pumpkin and place in a large bowl and mash with a large spoon. The consistency will be similar to smooth mashed potatoes. Some people prefer to place the pumpkin and mix it in a blender until smooth. However, I prefer to skip having to wash all the intricate parts of my blender for this simple task. (Seriously...why bother?) After the pumpkin is mashed I let it cool a bit more (usually around 30 minutes). I then start spooning the pumpkin goodness into quart size freezer Ziploc bags. I use a small kitchen scale and put 16 oz into each bag which is also 2 cups. Again, you are welcome to use a measure cup, but I prefer using my kitchen scale. Most recipes using pumpkins call for one can (16 oz) or 2 cups, so this is a great standard for storing your pumpkin. After putting 16 oz. into the Ziploc, I squeeze the air out a bit and seal it up.

Tip #1: Be sure to use freezer bags as other regular brands of storage can cause freezer burn or leave the pumpkin tasting like everything else in your freezer. Yuck!

Tip #2: Label each bag with a Sharpie. It is important that you use the older items in your refrigerator so you don't waste food.

And there you have it! I use my pumpkin for pies, muffins, and bread throughout the year. Remember last year when there was a shortage of pumpkin? I didn't worry because I had a surplus in my freezer straight from my yard into my freezer. Oh the goodness...

From inside the Little Blue Bungalow,
Katie Jean 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Gardening 101: Opportunities/Successes List

Most of you know I love to garden. It is not just a hobby, but a passion...something I love to share. I believe gardening is a dying art. I chose not to let this art die away, but share my passion and spirit for growing your own garden in your back yard for profit, sustainability and pride.

One of the biggest tips I can share with my new gardeners is to clear your garden at the end of the season. It is easy when the weather is bleak, cold and rainy here in the Pacific Northwest to forget about your garden beds, but it is a necessary evil to clear your beds of weeds so they don't have a chance to spread roots and seeds over the winter months. 

After the weeds are cleared this is the time of year to make a list...and that is not a list of who is naughty or nice. Ah! What I'm referring to is making a list of your yearly garden successes and opportunities for next year. No, this is not the time to make yourself look like the Gardener of the Year, instead, these lists will help you prioritize and make progress towards that award next year. Well, at least we can all hope. (Ahem...)

For example, here are my lists this year:

Garden Opportunities:
  • Small Green Bean Harvest North Side; Clear more strawberries, crowded out beans
  • Small pumpkin harvest; Establish a stronger gate so chickens don't eat sprouts.
  • Corn = EPIC Fail; Even though I used a Pacific Northwest I got one stalk and two ears of corn...seriously. After years of trying to produce corn here, this Iowa girl is vowing to not to plant next year.
  • Blueberries continue to have a low harvest; research new varieties and possible organic solutions. We currently have two plants and for our family's needs I believe we need at least six.
  • 1st harvest of radishes were amazing. 2nd and 3rd planting of radishes were tough possibly due to the lack of rain, possibly water them to increase production and taste.
  • Lack any fruit trees on our property. Tore down three overgrown privacy trees and 1 rhododendron bush to re purpose an area on our property for fruit trees. We planted two semi-dwarf apple trees last weekend. I need to rethink other areas of our property to increase our fruit and vegetable yield. Though we'd love to live on a farm, the housing market does not make that a smart financial decision to leave our home. The Little Blue Bungalow will continue to be home for many years to come so we need to maximize what property we do have. 

  • Harvested 42 Delicata Squash and 1 Butternut Squash. I thought I planted 4 plant starts of Delicata Squash and 4 plant starts of Butternut Squash. I think I need to make sure I label my seed starts better as clearly there was an error somewhere.

Yearly Garden Successes:
  • Impressive Tomato Harvest; harvested over 170 lbs of tomatoes. I will continue to have 5 plants as the weather was unseasonable making the tomato harvest truly EPIC. If the weather is normal next year, we'll need the 5 plants to sustain our family's needs.
  • Red Potatoes had impressive 60 lb harvest, however we only planted one variety. Will try a Yukon Gold Variety next year in addition to the red potatoes.

  • Organic Beets and Organic Carrots placed 1st at Evergreen State Fair. Organic Beets took best Division in the Organic category. (Ironic that I don't even eat beets...but hey, apparently they are impressive.)
  • Sold enough tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, eggs, and squash to pay for a Great Wolf Adventure for our family this October. We just begun to sell some of our chicken poop (or "goodness" as I like to refer to it) as well so that is another avenue for our little chicken operation. 
  • Soil improved greatly in the main garden behind the garden. Attribute that to great compost and a winter cover crop that we tilled in the soil in early March. (I will talk about cover crops in my next edition.)
  • Shared produce including, potatoes, carrots, raspberries, beets and eggs for the Garden City Grange Display at Evergreen State Fair which took 2nd place for presentation. Super proud garden moment!

  • Great raspberry and strawberry harvest. Attribute the strawberry success to chickens aerating and forging in the strawberries each October to February. Planning on extending raspberry bed from off shoots in the spring and re-home or sell the remaining starts.
  • Re-homed a couple roses to the Little Blue Bungalow. The rose bushes are all well-established and produced amazing flowers. In addition, I re-homed several of my plant starts to friends this spring including hostas, blue flag, sedum, and daisies,to name a few.
As you can see, these lists are a great way for every garden whether experienced or beginner to start prioritizing and planning their garden for next year. Many of my listed items are tangible changes and don't require a lot of money, but instead time to plan and organize what will go into the garden next year. Each year I learn from mistakes and successes, but it is important I write them out so I can devise a plan to tackle next year's work.

Feel free to glean from my successes and "opportunities", but it important for you to write your own. Sometimes you might not have an answer to why something didn't work, but if you write it down you then can ask a gardening friend, master gardener, or someone like me who loves to share their passion of gardening.

Stay tuned for my next edition of Gardening 101 where I'll share how to plant a winter cover crop. Happy gardening...

From inside the Little Blue Bungalow,
Katie Jean

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

From inside the Little Blue Bungalow,
Katie Jean 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Practical Gardening Tips 101

It really is not a mystery that I love to write, but it is a mystery why I've been absent from my blog. Nevertheless, it is time to dig-in and start blogging about the happenings at the Little Blue Bungalow once again.

The work I do in my gardens throughout the year isn't magical (even though I image it in my mind), but really the work I do is practical.  It really is not a mystery and should be shared. It dawned me as I stood in line to turn in my open class vegetables at the fair this year...that gardening is a dying art. I literally was the youngest participant there by at least 30 years. I was shocked! If our generation doesn't embrace the art of gardening we will begin to become more distant from where our food grows and miss out on the garden goodness. We need to teach our children and those around us on how to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. No matter how big your yard is, a garden can enrich your family's life and provide you with super nutrients that will help you live healthier and ease your pocketbook.

Gardening is my passion. If I could spend every day in the garden digging in the dirt, growing new life, enriching the soil...I think I'd fulfill who I was created to be. But as much as I LOVE to garden I love to share the knowledge I've gained through gardening. No, I'm not a master gardener, but I have experience around a pitch fork and growing organic goodness for my family, friends and neighbors consumption for nearly 27 years. (Don't try and figure out the math...I'm 37 years old.) I'm thrifty, resourceful and can help you attain a garden that may not live up to Martha Stewart's standards, but provide your family with fresh food and enjoyment.

Gardening to me is a year round activity. Yes, year round! Now, you may be thinking, "That is great KJ, but how do I do it?"  I have your answer...I want to take the mystery out of gardening and bring you weekly tips that will help you improve or start your own garden. Stop by my blog every Tuesday and I'll share a practical gardening tip that you can put into practice in your own backyard farm. Join me on this journey as we learn together and grow our gardens. Be also on the lookout for some basic gardening classes at the Garden City Grange in Snohomish, WA as well as onsite at The Little Blue Bungalow throughout the year.

From inside The Little Blue Bungalow,
Katie Jean

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Now and Then

Our family participating in the Yankee Doodle Dash in Everett, WA today (7/4/12) and then (7/4/09).
From inside the little blue bungalow, Katie Jean

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Drew was overjoyed to help Fiona work on her first ever Science Project...every engineer's dream to help his daughter grasp electro magnets. (Wink.)

From inside the little blue bungalow,
Katie Jean

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Like a Fish Out of Water

Crab fishing. I guess I shouldn't have been the least bit surprised when I heard the words come out of my husband's mouth last night. say I wasn't a bit shocked would be a farce. Did Drew just announce to the family we were going crabbin' this weekend? Yes. He. Did.

Living with my husband is an adventure. He is an explorer, a life-long learner, a seeker of life. Though I think I'd rather be one to sit and enjoy my garden with a cup of tea (of course!), Drew wants to experience life first hand. What is it like to view the mountain from that park, stand where his Irish ancestors farmed, run with the bulls (no, we haven't done this...but DON'T mention it to him!), eat the bazaar, etc.?

Drew's ideas are amazing, fun and full of wonder. Just living with him is my adventure, to partake in his excitement for life. He has instilled this in our children to want to experience everything and so I'm grateful. However, I admit sometimes I'm the dream crusher when I convince him it may just be too dangerous for the kids to experience this or that. But, mostly he has researched and romanticized whatever the new idea is that as a wife and friend I couldn't say no to his enchantment with whatever he has "dreamed" up to do.

But...crab fishing? Honestly, I kinda' feel like a fish out of water. What in the world are two Midwesterns going crab fishing with their kids? But, it's too late. The kids are on board. Drew is researching where to buy or rent a crab pot. (Huh?)  And...the family calendar clearly says Crab Fishing for Saturday, June 30. I guess there is no turning back but to experience life to it's fullest...head on...even if it means crab fishing.

So here's to crab fishin'... And don't worry when I told Drew I didn't have any idea how to crab fish, he said, "No problem. There are lots of youtube videos and books about the subject."

Of course there are. So here's to a week of reading up about crab fishing...because there will be a sign on our door on Saturday morning saying "Gone Crab Fishin".

From inside the little blue bungalow,
Katie Jean