Once, Twice, Three Times Asparagus

This was dinner tonight - the finale of an asparagus packed day.

Spring has come incredibly early to Wisconsin this year. All kinds of records are being broken, and even though it may be a sign of climate change it's hard to dislike such an early spring. I'm still on a tight budget, but I splurged on this bundle of asparagus at the market on Saturday. $4 seems like a steal for the joy this vegetable brings. The flavor and texture of fresh local asparagus is out of this world - even better since I stay away from unseasonal vegetables all winter and this is the first real substantial crisp vegetable of spring - it's the stuff February dreams are made of.

I'm leaving early tomorrow morning for a 3 day business trip, so today I decided I needed to eat the asparagus before the day was out. It was sold to me as a pound, but a very heavy pound. I was home alone for much of the day, and with no one to help me, it would take three meals to eat this sucker. I was glad to do it.

Breakfast started with two of my chicken's eggs, local cheddar, and asparagus in a simple omelet. I just love how dark yellow the eggs are..... I've been feeding the girls weeds from the garden to give them the nutrients they need to make their beautiful dark yolks. I'm getting way more eggs than I can eat now and they make wonderful gifts for friends and family.

No doubt about it, I am not the world's greatest omelet maker. As usual, this one was not extremely aesthetically pleasing, but the flavors were just perfect. I had it with toast and apple butter. I'm almost done with the last jar of apple butter... it will be missed.

Lunch was leftover chicken noodle soup (made Friday night) with fresh asparagus added as the soup reheated on the stove. I'm at the tail end of a medium-bad head cold, so on Friday I pulled the chicken broth I made from my dear little Puff out of the freezer and cooked it with some onion, noodles, and leftover chicken meat seasoned simply with salt, pepper, and basil. The asparagus added just the right touch...... I think it makes a quite a pretty picture too. Thank you again, Puff.

Here's dinner before it hit the grill. Willow Creek Farms pork chops wrapped in bacon from the same farm, and asparagus. Stanley was the grill master for this meal, and it turned out just perfect. We grilled the asparagus for just a few minutes and added some butter at the table. That was all it needed. Something as delectable as fresh spring asparagus really doesn't need any fancy flavors - it's better without them.

A few garden and chicken pics, just to keep you updated.

This row of peas I planted two weeks ago has broken ground! We had some much needed rain over the weekend, causing everything (including the weeds) to pop. The potatoes still haven't shown themselves, but I bet they will sometime this week. I think I found some carrots that have germinated, as well as a lot of salad greens and beets.

The peach tree is just finishing its bloom. It's hard to say, but hopefully we'll get peaches this year, and hopefully no one will steal most of them like they did last year!

This little cherry tree on Ben and Erica's garden plot is also just finishing it's bloom. Mmmmm.... I can't wait for cherries!

What's up, chicken butt? I've been letting the girls out to free range in the backyard in the afternoons. They love it! Blondie (pictured above) makes a bee line for the pile of leaves and other yard waste in the back of the yard. She could scratch and peck at things in this pile for hours. Seeing her little fluffy butt bobbing up and down as she pecks is just about the cutest thing ever.

I find myself being mooned quite a bit when the girls free range. Here's Red Hen showing off her derriere.

The Welsummer still hasn't regrown all of her feather's from the winter pecking she experienced. It's not getting worse, and it doesn't seem to bother her, so I don't worry too much.

Cute chickens hunting and pecking.

Here's one of the Black Copper Marans. They seem really fluffy this spring. They look great!

Where's the Wheaten Marans? She left on Sunday to her new home. It may be my imagination, but I feel like the five other girls are relieved. There was still a little pecking going on, and now they can relax and know that it will stop.

I'm getting plenty of eggs with just five hens. Here are the first four today - the other Black Copper Marans was laying hers when I took this picture. Maybe they aren't as dark and unusual as the Wheaten Marans', but they are beautiful nonetheless. The two lightest ones come from my two Sussex: Red Hen and Blondie. The medium brown one is from the Welsummer, and the darkest shiny one is from the Black Coppers.
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My Family Makes Delicious Food

These deviled eggs were my contribution to a family potluck held yesterday evening. They were made with my lovely chicken's eggs. The yolks were mashed with mayonnaise and seasoned very simply with salt, pepper, and dried dill. I'm still trying to use up the leftover ham from Easter, so I added some slivers of ham on top and then sprinkled a little dill and fresh ground pepper on top. The garnish is onion tops from volunteers in my backyard garden. These eggs are so good that I really don't need to do much to them to end up with a delicious dish, but the dill and ham added a really nice touch.

My two brothers, sister-in-law, mom, and step-father all gathered for a "Garden Summit" and to enjoy some delicious spring food. We all share the gardening at the plot across from my brother Ben and sister in law Erica's house on East Main Street, and we decided this year to have a formal gathering to start the planning for the garden.

I won't go into the details of the garden plan here, but it was definitely a productive conversation. Tomatoes, peppers, spinach, green beans, beets, carrots, peas, broccoli, summer squash, melons, basil, potatoes, tomatillos, cabbage...... if all goes well we'll have all of these and more in good quantities.

This is my other contribution to the potluck. Powerkraut sauerkraut from Viroqua, mixed with some local sunflower oil, basil (frozen from last year), dried dill, salt, and pepper. It made a nice salad and a good compliment to the rest of the meal.

Erica my sister-in-law was responsible for dessert and she made these beautiful rhubarb crumbles using fresh rhubarb from the garden. It's really early to be cutting rhubarb, but the warm weather we've enjoyed this spring has brought on a lot of things early. I can't complain! I love how she baked them in individual ramekins - I've got to get some of these! We had them with a big dollop of Sassy Cow vanilla ice cream. Yum!

Erica also made a delicious rhubarb syrup (stewed rhubarb with sugar, strained through cheese cloth) which she mixed with seltzer water and gin to make these beautiful rhubarb spritzers. Is there anything better to do on a warm April afternoon than sit in the back yard drinking rhubarb spritzer? I think not.

Dave contributed the meat (as usual). He smoked this nice looking chuck roast. He's a master at seasoning meat, and this roast was no exception.

I'm disappointed that I forgot to take a close-up of Mom's contributions - a lovely green salad and freshly made whole-wheat biscuits. The biscuits were simply gorgeous and delicious. My Mom is probably the best baker of simple fare that I know. She makes bread, muffins, biscuits, and pie crusts that are out of this world, and she makes it look so easy! We ate the biscuits with homemade grape jelly from last year's concord grapes.

My brother Ben sauteed up some onions and we were good to go. Chuck roast, green salad, fresh biscuits, deviled eggs, sauerkraut, sauteed onions, and rhubarb crumble..... a wonderful meal. It was also the first meal I've eaten outside this year - the first of many!
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First Plantings, Abundant Eggs, & BBQ to Die For

Yes, the asparagus has broken ground. Winter is over. These last few weeks have given me that feeling of joy that only someone who has just gotten through a long Wisconsin winter can feel. It's really impossible to be in a bad mood when I can go outside in a t-shirt and not get cold!

This other first harbinger of spring, rhubarb, is almost ready to pick. I still have some strawberries frozen from last year - I'll have to make pie!

Planting has begun in earnest. This weekend my Mom and I spent a good chunk of time planting things - most notably lots of potatoes.

These are seed potatoes - 3lb of Red Norland and All Blue. I cut the up on Saturday night into chucks with at least an eye each.....

I let them sit out overnight to dry, and we planted on Sunday.

Six neat rows of potatoes - 3 red and 3 blue. We'll mound them up higher as they go. This is the plot I grew corn and beans in last year......this year potatoes and possibly a large late spinach crop. I have to apologize for the lack of planting pictures - I forgot the camera and I had to come back to take pictures after the fact.

In the newly dug bed behind the potatoes we planted a long row of peas (on the left side) and carrots (on the right.) The soil here is sandy and full of little rocks - good for root crops I think. We'll put up a trellis for the peas next weekend.

I also planted these two misshapen little beds thickly with a mix of mesculun salad mix, arugula, red Russian kale, and spinach. I'll cut these all as babies for salad - hopefully soon!

There's a possibility that these three beds in front of potato patch (on East Main) are up for grabs. The man who has planted them the past few years is moving..... this would just about double the space and would be awesome, but the plan is to ask around and see if any other neighbors want to use them. You can't be too greedy with prime garden space in the city..... as much as I might like to be.

My brother and sister in law's garden is slowly being planted. My brother already put in some peas (by the fence in the foreground), and also some lettuce, spinach, and arugula.

Sunday we planted a few rows of beets, Swiss chard, and spinach in this bed. If all goes well in just a month or so we'll have more greens than we know what to do with.

Many of the weeds we pulled as we prepped our beds went to these deserving ladies. You can see them gobbling up a few dandelion greens I pulled for them today. They are finally all through their winter molt - I got 6 eggs today, leaving no doubt that they are all laying again!

There were three when I cleaned the coop this morning, and then late this afternoon I found these beauties. In just a few weeks I've gone from not enough eggs to way more eggs than I know what to do with!

I won't be getting the big dark wheaten marans eggs too much longer. With the move coming up, the ladies will be moving to a new. smaller coop, and I just don't trust the wheaten to not bully them too much. I found a good home for her with a lady in Middleton..... she (and her eggs) will be missed.

Oh, and one more random thing before I go......

I will have more rib posts this summer I'm sure..... today was the test run. These Willow Creek Farms St. Lois style ribs are readily available at the Co-op. I dry rubbed them and marinated for about 24 hours, and then today we slow roasted them on the grill and slathered them with home made apple butter BBQ sauce.....

I'm not a big rib person, but these ribs were frickin' delicious! This type of BBQ will definitely happen again - I'll be sure to take many pics when it does.
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Easter Foraging and Good Luck

As I posted last week, I've been in a state of forced frugality this spring. Somehow despite all that I put this beautiful meal onto the table tonight. A perfect Easter dinner of baked ham glazed with apple butter, foraged spring salad, garden corn from the freezer, and mashed potatoes. The best part is I didn't have to shop for even one ingredient here..... it was all either foraged, procured for free by good luck, or a staple I already had in the pantry.

The star of this meal was this 9lb ham. It's organic "pit style" ham, from Black Earth Meats. No, this is not a cheap piece of meat, and it certainly would have been out of my meager budget. Believe it or not, a customer at the Co-op picked this up off the shelf and dropped it, breaking the seal and allowing the ham to touch the ground. We couldn't sell it. No one else working at the time wanted it (I have no idea why....) so I took it home. Good luck indeed.

Pit ham is short for "partially internally trimmed," which basically means it has the bone and some of the internal fat trimmed off.

The package didn't tell me if it was fully cooked or not, so I assumed that it was not (better safe than sorry). I placed it in a large Pyrex dish in a 350 degree oven with a few cups of water and covered with aluminum foil.

Three hours later the internal temp was up to 140 and it was ready to glaze.

I know pork with apple butter has been an overused flavor combo with me this winter, but it's just so darn good I couldn't help but do it again. (plus I still have a fair amount of home-made apple butter to use up.) I mixed the apple butter with a little apple cider vinegar and slathered it as evenly as I could over the ham.

While I was glazing the ham I turned the oven up to 425. When I put it back in I lowered the temp to 325 (this is what the Joy of Cooking told me to do, and The Joy of Cooking knows a heck of a lot more about cooking ham than I do.)

This picture appeared in my post last week: Jerusalem artichokes (aka sunchokes) that I dug up while cleaning out an old garden bed last weekend. They must have been planted by someone originally, but they've now taken over a large portion of the community garden space that I share with my family. They've been overwintered: enduring under the snow and ice for 6 months and they're still as crisp and sweet as ever.

Here they are cleaned and ready to peel.

I wouldn't usually peel Jerusalem artichokes, but these were pretty knotty and dirty. I peeled them, and the chickens were happy to gobble up the skins.

I sliced the Jerusalem artichokes thinly and tossed it with these spring delights: watercress and dandelion greens foraged this morning from a nearby park. I was hoping to find a lot of watercress in a spring I had spotted a few months ago. I was disappointed to find just a little bit of cress, so I took all I could without harming the plantings. I dug a bunch of fresh woodland dandelion greens to make up the bulk of my salad greens. I really love both the spicy watercress flavor and the bitter dandelions. Sharp, strong flavors of spring. My first green salad of the season.

The crisp sweet Jerusalem artichokes were a perfect compliment to the bitter dandelion greens and the spicy cress. Lots of good nutrition in this salad too..... food for the body and the soul. I dressed it super simply with apple cider vinegar, local sunflower oil, salt and pepper.

The ham turned out just beautifully. I cooked it with the glaze for about a half hour and it was done. Perfectly apple buttery, juicy, and sweet. I'm not usually one to bake a ham, but I have to admit that this one was delicious.

We paired the ham and the salad with home grown sweet corn frozen from last summer (steamed and mixed with butter, salt, and pepper), and Stanley's famous mashed potatoes. Dave came over and shared this Easter dinner with us...... all and all an extremely rewarding meal. Funny how rich I can feel without spending any money.

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