Shaking Up Friday Night Pizza Night: Slow-Cooker Pork Tacos

So this Friday we got crazy and took a turn from our long-standing pizza night tradition: Phil made pork tacos, a request from Max. Not only did we break with our end-of-the-workweek tradition, but Phil fooled around with the recipe. We have been using this recipe for Citrus Pulled Pork Tacos for a while, even pulling it out when friends are over because it’s so delicious and super-simple. But Phil shook things up by adding orange juice and cumin, and it was even better than usual.

And, not to get too insane, but I tried something I’d read about recently: Using raw collard leaves as a wrap. I planted collard when some of the summer vegetables were finished, and the plants are at a nice size now. I loved the collard instead of traditional taco shells; I doubt I’ll go back.

Here’s Phil’s amended recipe. (Be sure to make the slaw on the link above; it’s fabulous on the tacos or on the side.)

Pork Tacos

2-3 pound boneless pork roast
3 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. granulated garlic
1 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. cumin (or more)
The zest of 2 lines
2 or so tablespoons olive oil
1 – 2 cups orange juice
Taco shells of your choice — or collard leaves!

Combine the dry ingredients and zest to make a rub. Rub this on the pork roast; you might not use all the rub. Sear the pork roast in a saute pan lightly covered in olive oil; brown all sides. Once the meat is browned, put it in the slow cooker and pour on the orange juice and any remaining rub. Add enough water to cover the roast completely. Cook on high for about six hours in the slow cooker; the meat will tear apart easily with two forks when it’s ready.

Serve the shredded meat with taco shells (or collard leaves!) and whatever toppings you like on tacos: shredded cheese, sour cream, hot sauce, lettuce, diced tomatoes, black beans — you name it.

Try shaking up your own traditions this week!

Egg Gathering Gets Real

Here’s our morning routine with the girls: We go let them out of their coop and into the yard, we check the nesting boxes for eggs, and we refill their water and food. Since the egg production has been getting more regular, I’ve started noting eggs on the calendar. We’re still getting some soft, often open, “practice” eggs around the yard, and I’ve been noting those also. So Sunday through Friday of this week the girls have given us a dozen real eggs and six starter eggs.

I was interested this morning to see how they’d round out the week. Would we get one, two, or — did we dare hope for it? — three eggs? When I unlocked the coop so Sylvie could let the ducks out, I saw through the hardware-cloth window something odd in the back corner.

What the…? Eggs? A nest of eggs?? Max tore himself away from Minecraft to see the nest. An excited Sylvia was given a basket and sent on a foraging mission. She yelled out the count as she carefully lay the eggs in her basket. “One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. SIX EGGS!” I was sure she’d break them on her way out jumping up and down.

Six beautiful, pristine, unfertilized eggs that some poor duck was gathering and hoping to make into ducklings. Some day, I’ll give that misguided gal a pamphlet or stare at the floor while I explain the facts of life to her — how if there are four ducks and they’re all females, there will be no ducklings, no matter how long she sits on the eggs.

This morning we had omelets for breakfast, and toasted the girls.

It’s Beginning to Feel a Lot Like the Summer’s Over…

I was recently reading to Sylvia Little House in the Big Woods, my favorite of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. If you remember this one, it starts out with all the autumn food preparation for the winter: fat pumpkins lining the attic that the girls used as tables and chairs during play time; dried herbs hung upside down and stored for cooking and medicines; hog slaughtering day and the special, pioneer-era treats for kids (an inflated bladder to bat around like a balloon! a pig tail cooked on a stick! headcheese!).

While Phil has not built a smokehouse in the backyard (yet), I realized our routine has evolved to preserve as much as we can while spring and summer are in full swing, so that we start the winter with a full freezer and pantry shelves.

A couple of things that happened this year:

  • Freezing tomatoes in gallon bags
  • Making lots of jams and jellies for ourselves and to give as gifts
  • Trying to store a winter’s worth of pesto (should we run out of the basil and sorrel pesto that’s frozen, we’ll make it from chard and kale, which will grow through the winter)
  • Freezing stock for winter soups
  • Saving heirloom tomato seeds using Margaret Roach’s method; I recently learned you really should store and reuse heirloom seeds so that over the years the seeds can strengthen and adapt to your environment
  • Putting up other treats like bread and butter pickles, watermelon rind pickles, green tomato relish, and marinara sauce

And now, we’re off to see what the ducks have given us…

60-Second Craft: Tile Coasters

I love these.

My friend Martha and I went to the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore this weekend, and I picked up some stone tiles for about 20 cents each.

Enter some cork protective pads from the picture-hanging area at Lowe’s. These set me back about $1.18 for 12 corks, or enough to make three coasters. So about 40 cents a coaster.

This is where it gets tricky. Open the package, and stick one of the corks on each corner of the bottom side of the tile.

Go reward yourself for work well done.

The Egg Diaries

It’s been a couple of weeks here on the farm, with one or two ducks actually laying real eggs in the coop’s nesting boxes. Very exciting. I’m thinking we don’t need Christmas around here any more because I wake up every morning with this delightful anticipation. I’ll let you know by January if it’s still here.

The last three out of four mornings we’ve woken up to two eggs. Very exciting. (I’m not saying “eggs-citing”; just not gonna do it.) What cracks (oh, another pun!) me up is how they’re laid. When my brother-in-law built the coop, following a drawing in a book, he crafted four nesting boxes on the side. The ducks could each step into their own nesting box and lay an egg in privacy, and come morning, we’d lift the lid and rob their eggs. As nature intended. Instead, when we’ve found two eggs, they’ve both been in the same box. The other three apparently are being utilized as outhouses.

We’ve been finding fewer soft-shelled “practice eggs” around the yard. Sunday there was one by the side garden. Yesterday there was one under the picnic table. But it looks like one of the ducks who was practicing around the yard has gotten herself together and is now laying full-on eggs in the coop.

While most of the eggs are the size of chicken eggs, we got one petite egg last week. We also got a heavy, bulky egg that made me wonder if a goose snuck into the coop in the middle of the night. When I cracked that egg to make a frittata this week, we got a surprise: a double yolk. Cool!

Two interesting egg factoids I’d learned from other poultry-raising friends (neither of which I’ve researched, but they seem viable…):

  • You want to have a male in the group. This means the eggs will be fertilized–although won’t grow into poultry unless incubated. The fertilized eggs apparently keep longer than non-fertilized eggs like what we’ve got. I haven’t yet decided we need a male, although it could make things interesting. This friend has about two dozen birds on her mini-farm, so keeping up with egg production is probably more of an issue for her family than it is for ours.
  • While my tendency is to immediately wash the eggs when I find them, another friend (with three chickens in her backyard flock) said that apparently washing them removes a protective layer from the shell. So I’m instead supposed to store them and wash them when I use them.

I could ramble on about my excitement over eggs, and these backyard eggs in particular. But it’s almost time to see if the girls have left us any gifts. So instead, let me leave you with this picture of quail eggs we had one night at dinner; the eggs are like little works of art. Quail, huh? That might make a nice backyard addition…

Uncle Brent’s Patented Moon Smoothie

When I was at my brother’s house a few weeks ago, he excitedly introduced us to his favorite breakfast, which is now in my rotation. Sylvia loves these, too — just like she loved the Mean Green juice when Brent talked me into a juice fast. It’s pretty much just fruits and vegetables for breakfast, but tastes more decadent.

Uncle Brent’s Patented Moon Smoothie

2 peeled, frozen bananas, cut into chunks
2 cups cold water
A big handful of greens, chopped into large chunks*
1 Tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. cinnamon
Some sweetener (a tiny scoop of stevia, a package of Splenda, a tsp. or so of honey, etc.)
4 cups ice

Put everything but the ice in a blender and blend until smooth. Then add the ice cubes a couple at a time to thicken the smoothie. Fight Sylvia, moon smoothie junkie, for the biggest glass.

* If you use mild greens like chard or spinach, you can use a really big handful. Stronger-tasting greens like kale will flavor the smoothie, so you have to go a little lighter unless you like the tast of a chocolate-kale smoothie.

Freezing Tomatoes

We don’t have a bumper crop of tomatoes, but we have more than we can keep up with. So I haven’t had marathon canning sessions, but have periodically put up salsa or tomato sauce for next winter as the pile has increased. This weekend I knew I had to deal with the tomatoes before we started losing some, so I went to bed Saturday night planning to can tomatoes first thing Sunday morning. When I got up, however, I simply couldn’t bring myself to spend a chunk of time prepping them, and then another hour-plus processing them in a hot water canner. So I spent five minutes prepping them to freeze, and now we have another gallon Ziploc bag of tomatoes waiting for next winter.

To freeze tomatoes: Cut out the stem end, as well as any blemishes (such as slight brown spots that are starting). Don’t worry about imperfections on the skin because you’ll be peeling them later. Freeze the tomatoes on a tray; they shouldn’t be touching. In several hours when they’ve frozen to hard balls of summer goodness, put them in a zipper bag in the freezer.

To use frozen tomatoes: Take out the tomatoes you need and run them under warm water for about 15 seconds. The skin will peel right off. Then chop up the still-frozen tomatoes and use them in whatever’s for dinner: soup, stew, risotto. I like chopping them frozen because the pieces unfreeze quickly, and I can chop them quickly and evenly. In recipes, the chopped frozen tomatoes act just like canned chopped tomatoes.

Aesthetically, I like having jewel-toned jars of frozen tomatoes lining our shelves in the basement. Practically, I liked having the extra hour on a Sunday morning to read the paper.

If you are thinking of canning tomatoes, I love this tutorial at Prudent Baby.