Thursday, June 27, 2013

Foraging: Red Huckleberries!

Red Huckleberries are slowly starting to ripen in our area. Red Huckleberries, while abundant in the Pacific Northwest, are a pain to pick because the berries are tiny and the entire bush moves when you pluck just one. But the effort is well worth the reward. We only learned about these babies in the middle of its season last summer, but are ahead of the game this year so will be taking full advantage of the entire picking season!

We enjoy eating these little red gems just plain on cereal, granola, or sprinkled into salads. But local experts have many more clever recipes that use red huckleberries. The berries are a bit on the tart side, but juicy and slightly sweet, making it perfect for jams as well. And, boy, are they delicious any way you eat them!  

Unable to wait a minute longer, we picked a modest 4 oz. at the park down the street from our house last night in the last few minutes of sunset, deciding to save more serious picking for the next few weekends. If we can get to them before the bears do! 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Squares

Peanut Butter, Oatmeal, and Chocolate are all popular foods with the husband. And I am a big fan of anything that is a salty-sweet combo...a major exception to the fact that I have more of a salt-tooth than a sweet-tooth. So, peanut buttery-oatmealy-chocolatey treats are sure not to last too long in our house. Which is probably why I don't make these kinds of things very often. Plus, I am not a baker.

But, I did put these Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars together in about ten minutes, with only ingredients I happened to have in the pantry, and had time to wash and put away all the ingredients and baking things while it sat in the oven. They are not too sweet, dense and hearty, and very filling as a snack or dessert, or grab n go breakfast. And, since this recipe does not contain any oil, butter or eggs, the "worst" ingredient in here is brown sugar, or chocolate chips if you choose to add them. So, an overall winner recipe in my mind!

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Squares (or Bars)

This recipe makes an 8"x8" pan's worth. I won't bother to list how many servings that is, but if you cut your squares small, probably around nine or twelve total servings. If you have at least two people around and it lasts you more than two days I will have to seriously judge you.

You will need:

3/4 cup peanut butter (I use either Trader Joe's or Skippy Natural chunky)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp real vanilla extract
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup flour (whole wheat or unbleached all-purpose flour work fine)
pinch salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup milk (we use skim)
Optional mix-ins: 1/3 cup chocolate chips, 1/3 cup chopped roasted peanuts, or three tablespoons of each!

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cream brown sugar and peanut butter together with a hand mixer for about 2 minutes or until well combined. Add vanilla extract, mix for another minute or so. Add remaining listed dry ingredients through milk, and mix again until the dough is crumbly and well combined. Add milk, mix again until the dough gets sticky.  Fold in the mix-ins. Scoop the dough together, and dump it all into an 8"x8" pyrex dish, press down evenly. Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool completely, then cut into bars or squares. They will be cookie-like on the outside, and chewy soft in the middle. Store in an airtight container at room temp, or freeze for later. Enjoy!

Monday, June 17, 2013

summer's first strawberries

The little strawberry patch has been thriving at our new place, and the first berries ripened over the weekend. We picked nine strawberries and found them to be so precious a treasure that we ate them right away, savoring them to the last juicy bite. There might have been a couple more berries, but, alas, it looks like we had to share them with birds and other creatures. This is definitely one drawback to pesticide-free, organic gardening, but it's a price we're willing to pay for what we get out of it.

We'll have more strawberries ripening soon, and I can't help but remember how impatient I was last year when we put this patch in, picking off the blooms that first year and urging the plant to hurry up and grow! And now I think this was so worth waiting for. Look at how gorgeous our berries are!

I've been amazed over the years at how easy it is to grow and care for strawberries, and how sustainable a crop it is since it expands and produces more all on its own. You won't get a yield the first year, but the following year you will have several berries and be amazed! We started our patch with five June-bearing plants last year, deliberately picking a mix of two different varieties that do well in the state of Washington, and now we're seeing pretty decent results, with having put in very little weeding or maintenance the past year. At only 2 feet by 8 feet, this a small strawberry patch by most standards, in a sunny but otherwise unused spot along the side of the house. It will yield enough for us to enjoy in-season, but not enough to can or freeze or do anything. So we're starting to scout out a little more space in unused corners of our yard, to put in a new patch, and hopefully, double our yield in two years. Maybe then we will have enough to make jam, and freeze for our smoothies, desserts, and whatever else we do to enjoy these babies through the rest of the and until the following June when we will see them again. This is too precious, too sustainable, and too easy a fruit to grow to ignore its potential!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Red Russian Kale, oh the possibilities!

I planted a new variety of kale in my little garden this year. Red Kale. Red Russian Kale, to be exact. It is much more tender and delicate than the Dwarf Blue variety we planted for the second time this year. I had only planted one row, as I do with most new seeds but, after having cooked a few meals with it this week, I am so happy with the results and am kicking myself for not having more available right now!

Red Russian Kale Omelet

With that said, I am savoring every bite of what we have available to harvest now...we put it on grits for dinner the other night, alongside caramelized onions, and a fried egg on top. And, filled it into omelets for breakfast this morning with roasted garlic, a bit of thyme, and shaved asiago cheese. Tasty.

Red Russian Kale
This Red Russian variety - according to my research - tends to develop more flavor after frost (and freezes well, as all Kale does), so I think I will plant a few more rows in mid-to-late summer so we can continue savoring this tasty green treat through the winter months.