Apple Harvest Day

We bumped the wagon haphazardly over the irrigation ditches to get to the next row of apple trees. Many were long picked over but there were still a few varietals heavy with fruit. Old to ancient apple trees lined many acres in perfect rows.

We are in the planning stages of our new farm. Where do we want to put the fruit trees? We will set up a separate area for them instead of just throwing them into the yard. In past houses, if they survived, they were in the middle of garden beds and mowing paths.

Ayla tried to take a bite of apple and smiled that huge, jack o’lantern grin. She opted for a stick instead. Maryjane picked out a white, Lumina pumpkin (our family favorite), and helped me harvest apples as Emily snapped photos.

My granddaughters are so beautiful!

Third Street Apples is a real treat. Pick all the apples you wish and then pay per pound less than sale priced grocery store apples shipped in from Venezuela (or wherever). Support local farms and have a ball doing it! Maryjane sat in the grass watching a ladybug crawl around the top of her apple.

I filled my apron with apples, so Maryjane gathered her shirt and did the same. That child is efficient, for when she poured her apples into the basket, it overflowed! I have a lot of apples to process now. I am not very good at making pies, I am afraid. A farmgirl skill I need to perfect, but I can make one, or maybe a tart. I will can apple sauce (see my recipe here), but I am the only one who likes apple sauce so maybe I will juice some as well. Oh! I can make apple wine, or freeze some apples. I will decide what to do soon, but in the meantime, I had a lovely day at a local farm with my granddaughters and my daughter making memories.

And in a few years, the children will be harvesting from our own family orchard. What is your favorite thing to do with apples?

The Very Fancy French Cheese Cave (cheese recipes and homesteading lists)

My fancy, French cheese cave arrived today. Well, it’s a mini fridge, but it will work the same!

The cheese cave does not take up much space. It has shelves built in. At the very, very lowest setting, the mini fridge will be around 55 degrees. Which just so happens to be perfect for aging cheese.

Use a laser thermometer to check temps often. I turned the dial down a little further.

One must take care to keep a drip pan under the tiny freezer compartment, because it will not get cold enough to stay frozen, so it will drip. That moisture is just the right amount of humidity to age cheese.

Once a week, wipe down shelves with soapy water, taking care to leave no residue that could permeate the cheese. Mold will start having a party, because that is what mold does when it is given ample amounts of cheese and temperate weather. Never mind it, it will not hurt you. Just wipe off mold from aging cheese with salt water (1/2 lb sea salt to 1/2 gallon hot water until dissolved. Keep in refrigerator.) Turn the cheeses over once a week.

Make sure to label the cheese. They all do begin to look amazingly alike after awhile. This one is a Parmesan cheese I made that will be ready next year on my birthday in April. It is already almost three months old and is getting a nice layer of olive oil to keep it from drying out.

I have a hard Italian cheese in the press. A woman reached out to me on Facebook and offered me my dear, dear departed friend and farmgirl business pal, Nancy’s cheese press! Lots of homestead memories right there sitting on the counter. The cheese will go into a brine this evening (same sea salt recipe as above) and then dry for a few days, then go into a red wine bath for another day or two, then will age for three weeks. (for a trip down memory lane, click here) (for the Italian cheese recipe that is no longer in the new additions of Home Cheesemaking, click here)

The soft cheeses, like Chevre, stay in the regular refrigerator and should be eaten in about a week. The cheese cave is for cheese that is aged longer than a week, typically 3 weeks to 9 months. (to learn how to make soft goat cheese, click here)

Even though we just moved onto our new homestead a month ago and are missing key elements to a self sustaining homestead (like goats, sheep, and gardens), there are still plenty of ways to homestead without a homestead while getting a homestead set up! The gal down the street sells me her milk that I make cheese out of. I purchase beautiful yarns (or use what I have!) and am getting ready to crochet some beautiful pieces for fall. I can tend to my chickens, pray that my farm dog will like goats, get the goat fencing put up, break down a processed chicken for supper, and make kombucha and other delicious additions to a healthy, happy homestead. Which now has a very fancy French cheese cave.

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(Note: this particular mini fridge has ended up staying at around 44 degrees. So, I have been experimenting with using it as a cave with ice packs and that seems to be keeping it closer to temperature.)

The Lost Bottle of Chokecherry Wine

I came across it while moving. It was hiding amongst the vinegar bottles that look the same. A precious bottle of sparkling, party dress red colored Chokecherry wine.

My blog post on How to Make Chokecherry Wine from nearly five years ago has been my overwhelmingly most popular article. It has had well over five thousand views. I haven’t seen any chokecherries growing in southern Colorado so haven’t made any since. It was fun to open that old memory filled bottle.

Back in my kitchen in Kiowa, about five years ago this week, I poured the half gallon jars of dark, tart chokecherries into a large pot. My tiny one and a half year old granddaughter, Maryjane, had assisted me in picking the chokecherries from the numerous bushes around our old rented farmhouse.

I poured a little wine into a glass so I could see the color. The red had tiny glimmers of orange, denoting age. The aroma was of summer berries. Hints of strawberry came through the chokecherry in the flavor with just a hint of bitter and sweet. And it was hot! I don’t mean temperature, I mean alcohol! I don’t have anything to test it with, but Doug said it was probably the same as rum or other spirits.

In two ounces of chokecherry wine, I added 3 ounces of cold white wine, and 2 ounces of fresh apple cider. It was a delicious fall cocktail. It was quite fun finding the lost bottle of chokecherry wine. I hope you are busy preserving. This weekend I think I will try my hand at making apple wine!

An Epiphany for Change (is there any real food out there anymore?)

An epiphany.  How many times do we hear things, read things, learn things before we finally GET IT?

“I’m so glad I’m not an addict,” I say to my husband, laughing, “I have zero self control!”  We were out again.  Out to eat even though we had food at home, we didn’t have the money to be eating out, and I knew damn well that I would feel terrible after eating at a restaurant.  And yet, every couple of days I get to craving something and give in.  Oh, it’s never fresh salad or anything like that.

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“What if,” I ventured, “all of the preservatives and chemicals and refined oils in the food are actually addictive and that is why we keep having to eat out even though we don’t really want to?”  I didn’t need an answer.  We already knew.  I am an addict.  And it started long before I ever heard of a GMO or MSG or chemical food.

I casually looked at the ingredients of the bag of organic, gluten free, healthy chips that I packed into Doug’s lunch.  And there, quietly hidden among the organic ingredients with asterisks by them, were two ingredients.  Natural flavors and citric acid.  Natural flavors is a chemical creation with derivatives of MSG and GMO ingredients.  Citric acid is GMO black mold grown on GMO corn.

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The epiphany and mild panic ensued and I realized that the reason that I cannot feel satiated with simple foods is because I have been fed chemical stuff my whole life!  Ever since the marketing folks convinced grandma and mama that convenience was their birthright, we have been subtly poisoned.

Now, I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, or anything, and I certainly don’t want to scare you, but folks, we are being poisoned.  Snacks, treats, oils, restaurant foods, it’s in my chicken’s food…everywhere we are being given doses of chemicals created to keep us coming back.  You can’t go to your friend’s house for dinner or a coffee shop for a latte without consuming these things.  Consider the extreme rates of cancers and of all the other diseases out there, and well, it’s just no wonder.

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I worry most for my grandchildren and children who would have no idea how to give up these things.  How can most people afford to grow all of their own food or cook all of their own food?  How do you give up the societal pressures of food as pleasure and company?

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Obama wrote into law that Monsanto cannot be sued.  Then Dow quietly bought Monsanto, disassembled it and GMO’s masquerade everywhere without accountability.  History tells us that unsustainable entities cannot survive but who will die first, them or us?  No better time to be getting yourself some heirloom seeds, a pressure canner, a couple of chickens, and a how-to make your own bread book.  Because what is worse than ignorance?  Complacency.

 

Our 30 Day Real Food Challenge’s Epic Failure

I told you about a month ago that we were going to embark on a journey of real food.  It sounded absolutely ridiculous that we were perhaps eating more lab created food then natural food.  But we somehow did invite the world of marketing into our pantry and seems we have a lot of boxes, bags, and frozen this and that.  Organic, but still super processed and lots of questionable ingredients.

I have gained five pounds so far.  Oh no, not from the real food, but because not two days in I defiantly remarked, “You can’t tell me what to do!”  To myself.  I instantly became all bent out of shape about having to cook three meals a day and everything from scratch.  I would spend the day baking bread, scones, looking at cracker recipes, mess up my kitchen, and then make Doug take me out to dinner.  We have been out a record amount of times this month.  

Doug had the idea in his head that we were going to have something like smoothies for breakfast, salads for lunch, and Buddha bowls for dinner.  Doesn’t that sound amazing?  Delicious, fresh, easy?  I can feel my stomach growling.  Sooo boring.

Let’s say I want tacos.  Well, I have to make the tortillas.  No problem.  Now, real meat or lab created veggie meat?  Okay, cheese or no cheese?  Lord, by the time I am done worrying about all this real food I am down at the Mexican restaurant slurping down a margarita.  I am a rather difficult housewife, it seems.

I am rereading, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  The author and her family embark on a journey of not just real food, but local food as well.  I stood in front of my impressive old pantry shelf filled with jars of staples and realized that not a single thing on it was produced locally.  I also have so many rogue ingredients from trying (or intending to try) one recipe.  I have so many things going rancid.  And nothing in my house is local save for what is now coming up in the garden and the eggs from the coop.

It is certainly difficult to rewire the brain.  Simplifying my recipes is the answer I am sure.  Local food.  Organic food.  In its original form.  Without all the overthinking.  But trying to figure out what to eat without the helpful addition of boxes, bags, and this and that, is actually rather difficult.  I had no idea we were so dependent.  Throw in moral dilemmas of meat or no meat and a tired housewife and you have yourself a predicament and an extra five pounds.

My friend laughs because I am actually a lot better at being healthy when I am not planning.  So, perhaps we are better if we just take one meal at a time.  One little change at a time.  One local food in, one box out.  One more walk around the lake.  We’re doing fine.

Tea Time (and brewing and blending the perfect tea)

Tea has been a long standing tradition in every culture around the world.  Many times the teas were medicinal, other times sacred.  Mostly shared in moments of friendship or sometimes as a break from the day.  From Japanese tea ceremonies to 4:00 tea time, tea is a lovely custom.

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Despite my family being on American soil for three to four hundred years now, our European DNA hasn’t altered much.  For me, 4:00 and 8:00 are automatically timed within me to make a spot of tea.  Sharing tea is wonderful if I have someone over.  My mother always drinks tea in lovely tea cups throughout the day.  I do as well.  My daughters followed suit.  The cup is important.  Drinks taste different in varying cups and always taste better shared.

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This is my new tea set.  I love Japanese gardens and I adore ponds of koi.  This sweet set reminds me of our travels to gardens and it reminds me to take a moment to breathe.  In this set, you put the loose tea in the pot, let steep, then pour through the strainer into the pitcher and serve in tiny cups.  This tea pot calls for Genmaicha tea.  It is a fragrant green tea with toasted rice.

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I was given my first tea set when I was ten years old for Christmas from my Grandma and Grandpa.  A miniature tea set with espresso-sized cups with pink rose buds.  I had a Tuesday Tea Party where I was allowed to invite a friend over and my mother made us tea with real sugar cubes and small snacks.

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One of my favorite teas is a good black tea like Earl Grey or Assam, with agave and cream.  Or maybe brewed with honey and orange peel instead.

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Use 1 teaspoon of loose tea per cup of near boiling water and steep for 4 minutes.  You can use dried herbs like mint, roses, or yarrow.  I grow my own jasmine as a houseplant and it is lovely as tea.  Combine herbs and teas and enjoy to your heart’s content.  Tea is low in caffeine, filled with antioxidants and health benefits, and is good for the spirit.  It makes you slow down, breathe, and take a moment to be present.

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Two Pressure Canners (and inventorying the freezer and root cellar)

When I closed my shops, everything went into my basement.  I am slowly swimming my way out of it.  I set up a homestead shelf in the root cellar and organized the things I had brought home from my not-so-popular homestead shop.  With this lifestyle, I will use them or use them up at some point.  Soap making supplies, extra boxes of canning supplies, cheese presses, and loads of candles are carefully organized on shelves so that I can see what I have.  I now have two canners and two pressure canners, which really came in handy yesterday.

Now is a good time to empty your freezer and take stock of what you have and what has been lingering for years and what needs to be replenished this gardening season.  Out went several bags of way-too-spicy peppers and half opened this and thats.  Into the ginormous soup pot went all the frozen veggies and odds and ends that I had saved; wilted celery, a few carrots, ends of onions, and all the bags of frozen veggies I thought we would eat; eggplant, Brussels sprouts, green peppers.  Some things are better fresh.  Some herbs and salt and pepper and two hours of simmering later, I had a beautiful vegetable broth waiting to be canned.

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20 pint jars of aromatic liquid were put up.  Usually I would take all day to wait for the canner to come to pressure, can the jars, wait for the pressure to come down, and then do it all again.  With two canners, it was done so fast that I am looking forward to canning season!  I really boosted my production while saving time with just one more pot.  The extra six cups of broth from the pot went into the fridge to use in recipes this week.  A pressure canner fits 10 pint jars or 9 quart jars.  I never freeze broth.  It takes up too much room and I will never remember to take it out in time for supper.

This is a great time to start your canning.  Get some stocks and beans done now on rainy days and before the rush of summer veggies and fruits.  While you are at it, take stock of your root cellar items too.  Start eating some of those canned foods and make room for new ones.  A full cellar is a thing of great comfort and joy!  And it turns out, a second canner is too.

How to Make Broth (and for the record, we have thus far failed at eating roosters and Bob is quite safe here.)

How to Can Beans

How to Make Dandelion Wine (and any other you can think of!)

“Honey, you want to harvest these dandelions before I mow?” my husband called out.  Why, I didn’t even know the dandelions were here yet, and there they were in lovely carpets of gold; their lion manes of spring feeding the bees and dotting the yard with color.  I love dandelions.

Using my thumbnail, I simply pop off the tops of the flowers.  Like a little bee myself, I flit from flower to flower.  I filled a quart jar and a half and still left some in the garden beds for the honey gatherers.  The next thing you want to do is to pour the golden flowers into a paper bag and leave it on the porch on its side.  This allows the stragglers to escape.  No one wants ant wine.

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Wine is, in its essence, fermented sweet tea or juice with yeast that feeds off the sugars turning it into a delightful and medicinal drink.

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Bring flowers, one peeled orange, and 16 cups (1 gallon) of water to boil.  Turn off heat and cover with lid and let sit for 15 minutes.

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Strain into a gallon container used for wine making.  Leave a few inches headspace. You will have some tea left over.  Add 4 cups of sugar (I prefer organic, unbleached, raw sugar) and 2 cups of brown sugar (molasses is what makes it brown).  Stir to dissolve.

Dandelions taste particularly good with orange and caramel notes.  I like to add orange extract and butterscotch extracts when making dandelion jelly.  In this case, we are using fresh orange and brown sugar to create those notes.

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Let cool to 90 degrees then add 1/4 teaspoon of white wine yeast.  Stir.  Replace lid and carboy.  Pour a smidge of vodka into carboy to specified lines.  Let sit in a cool corner and bubble away.  It will bubble (the yeast is eating the sugar) for 10 days to 3 weeks depending on what kind of wine you are making.

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When the bubbling stops then it is time to siphon the wine (all but the bottom 1/2 inch of sediment) into super clean bottles.  Place in root cellar for 6 months to a year or more.

You can use any fruit or herb to make wine.  If there is enough juice and sugars in the fruit (like in grapes) then you just add yeast to the juice.  Most things will be made into a strong tea like the above recipe as well as my chokecherry wine and rosehip/lavender mead.  Have fun and experiment.  Use 4-8 cups of sugar.  Use 1/4 or 1/5 of a teaspoon of wine yeast, red or white.

My chokecherry wine was pretty dang strong after a year, but after two years, lord it was smooth, and I highly wished that I hadn’t given away all of the bottles!

30 Days of Real Food (and the science of food)

I wonder when we as a whole forgot how to eat?  I doubt my Depression-era great-grandmas ever had to overthink it; what do we have to eat?  Women all over the world wake up in villages and towns and prepare food every day dictated by culture and availability.  The women in Okinawa make sushi and rice dishes, in Sardinia pasta is being made, in India a curry can be found, in America (and probably other places), we don’t know what the hell we are eating.  Most of us have lost any cultural identity we had and foods are so prevalent, shipped in from everywhere, that we haven’t an inkling of seasonality or even health.  It is incredible that we have forgotten how and what to eat.  Convenience and big companies dominate.

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You can find a fad a minute and I trust none of them.  Keto?  Come on.  Extreme veganism?  Not healthy or realistic.  Paleo?  Don’t get me started.  I might be a housewife, but I do research like a University professor.  I want to know what we should eat, why, when, how, and I desperately want to stop overthinking it.  My theory (which is not a new one) is that we are dying and sick from sedentary lifestyles, stress, loneliness, and chemicals.  Aka: fake food.

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Doug and I decided that in May we would do a 30 day Real Food challenge.  Is that the most ridiculous thing you have ever heard?  Can you imagine great-grandma saying something like, “You guys eat fake food?”  It sounds like a sci-fi movie.  Most of the food that we eat is indeed chemically altered and processed.  For example, my day yesterday: coffee (real!), cereal, almond milk, a cookie, a previously frozen breakfast sandwich at the book store, 3 dates (real!), and a breakfast bar.  I did make a mean Shepherd’s Pie from my daughter, Emily’s recipe.  Instead of lamb, as she called for, I used Beyond Meat crumbles.  Delicious, convincing, but my intuition screams that these new fangled veggie meats are not what they seem.  And they are, in a nutshell, chemically altered.

30 days of Real Food.  Which means, no eating out, and I need to conquer my lack of creativity in the realm of lunches.  Cookies are not lunch, y’all.

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While I figure all that out, I have two great books to share with you.  One is called, 100 Million Years of Food by Stephen Le.  It studies the eating habits from then to now and how in each area of the world, our enzymes and needs changed.  Much of his research comes out as, damned if you do, damned if you don’t, but it is fascinating information.  Yes meat will make you stronger, more fertile, and fast, but you will also peak and die early.  Yes, being vegetarian extends lifespan but at the expense of energy and nutrient deficiency.  Yes, dairy makes you grow strong and tall, but also increases the risk of hip fractures.  (Incidentally there are only a few places in the world that the people developed the enzymes to process dairy; Nordic, Celtic, and some African regions.)  Fruit is good for you unless you eat too much, then you increase your risk of Pancreatic cancer.  The whole book is like that but I enjoy the research and the ideas it triggers within myself.

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The second book is called, The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.  You all know I wanted to attend cooking school, and I have even toured a few, but let’s be honest, I probably won’t work in a restaurant, I just want to be a better cook.  I saved roughly $9000 by purchasing this book!  It is the science and exact how-to’s and why’s of cooking.  Love it.  I can’t wait to cook my way through it, not unlike the popular blog, book, and film, Julia and Julia.  I will have to, for the first time in my life, actually follow the recipe.  But there is no chemically altered food found here.

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Along with our food ideas, we are also walking 3+ miles a day around the lake in the evenings, completing the exercise stations at the lake on the weekends, and incorporating yoga into our routine.  Our hope is, not only weight loss, but more vitality, energy, strength, and overall health, as well as a shift in our thinking so that we can sustain a healthy lifestyle.  Perhaps you would like to join in on the challenge!

Making Your Own Chili Powder and Cornmeal (from seed to plant to pantry)

Drying staples is a way to preserve the harvest and has been done, presumably, since the beginning of time.  Come autumn, at just about the moment that I think I cannot possibly water one more plant or can one more thing, frost is at the doorstep.  I gather in baskets the remaining produce and carry it to the still-warm kitchen.  There will be peppers.  And there will be corn that I purposely left too long on the stalk.

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The corn came in a humble seed package at the farmer’s market.  Aztec blue corn.  I love crowing Indian corn and usually it is for popcorn, but this one is specifically for, essentially, growing blue corn meal.  I pulled the husks over their heads, removed most of the silk, and hung them up to dry on a hook in the kitchen.

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If you have been following me for any number of years y’all know that my heart belongs to New Mexico.  The terroir is so familiar to me that I can identify a New Mexican wine or chile in a blind taste test.  My friend brought me back two large ristras from Taos, New Mexico to adorn our front porch when we first moved in.

I learned that the winds out here are fierce in the spring and Mother Nature likes to trim trees and clear out debris (like lawn chairs and stuff).  She got a hold of my ristras and shook ’em like nobody’s business.  Now, I have had a notoriously difficult time of growing peppers over the years.  But there in my paths, window boxes, and in rogue spots of the garden amongst herbs and zucchini were thriving pepper plants that she had planted from seed.  “Show off,” I muttered under my breath.  I sit there tending to each seed with exact care, squinting to read the backs of seed packets, and still failing and there goes Mother Earth, flinging seeds into the barren soil seven weeks before the last frost and coming out with amazing results.  I could learn a thing or two from her.

But then happy day, I am growing New Mexican chilies!  It turns out that this very spot of land that I reside on is nearly exactly like the land in New Mexico.  The same altitude, the same soil, the same elements of the places there I love.  Not like the farmlands just east of me, nor like the dusty plains west of me.  Right here, I have a little New Mexico-in-Colorado oasis.

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I am getting better at growing peppers and last year I brought in quite a few.  Last year was not a good growing year though.  In the spring the temperatures rose to a hundred degrees and hovered there straight through till frost.  The inconsistent watering didn’t help, and I got some kind of rot on the bottom of the peppers.  But I still managed to save some.  They sat on my cutting board on the kitchen counter up until yesterday.  They had all turned a lovely, passionate red and were dry.  Once chilies are dried, they lose that volatile oil that burns the heck out of your skin when you touch them, but still take care not to get the chili powder in your face or under your nails.

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Chop off the very top stem and using a sharp paring knife pull out the seeds.  Keep these because we are planting them in a few months!

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Throw the chilies in a food processor, coffee grinder, or other grinding mechanism.  I used the grain pitcher with my Vitamix.  I like my chili powder nice and fine.

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Normally I keep the New Mexican chile separate from the others but some of them had rotted so I didn’t have a lot.  I blended the Pueblo chilies with poblanos and the red chilies from New Mexico.  The taste is spectacular.  Hints of tomato and earth, smoky, not too hot, and better because it was from my own garden.  I sprinkle it on potatoes and everything else under the sun.

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As for the corn, use your fingernail to easily dislodge each kernel, taking care not to pull too much chaff in with it.  I put the seeds in a strainer with bigger holes.  As you shake, blow gently on the kernels and the chaff will blow out.  Place corn in blender or food processor and grind to a fine powder.  That earthy, corn flavor is great.  I used it in my pizza crust last night blended with regular flour.  Save one ear for planting this year!

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Growing, harvesting, drying, grinding, cooking with, saving seeds, planting- all these beautiful, ancient practices connect us with our ancestors and help us feel connected to the earth and our food.  Soon we will be in the garden again!