Monday, December 23, 2019

Herb Your Holiday Turkey

It is the day before Christmas, I am trying to wrap presents and bake cookies, but here I am compelled to share this blog. Tomorrow starts the marathon cooking, which leads me to the point of this blog.

I want to share this simple recipe to brine your Christmas turkey, or next year's Thanksgiving turkey, or any bird for that matter. For years I have been buying turkey brine mixes in specialty stores. Brine is known to enhance holiday poultry, making it moist and juice. The defrosted bird should be soaked in the brine for at least 24 hours.

I knew full well this was something I could whip up in my kitchen for a lot less money with fresh, organic ingredients, that for the most part, were growing in my back yard. I am all about being responsible for my own needs and knowing where my food comes from. This was screaming, "Do it yourself!"

To prepare an authentic product, I took a measured amount of commercial brine mix, a series of colanders and strainers to sift out and measure the ingredients, a good pair of reading glasses, and began to calculate the percentages of the individual ingredients. What I discovered was that it was a whole lot of salt and very little seasoning. Thinking there were large quantities of delicious herbs in my garden, I upped the ante with the good things to flavor the brine.

This is only a suggestion for ingredients. If you're growing some delicious herbs in your garden, consider making your own recipe.

Turkey Brine Mix

For birds sixteen pounds or less, combine 2 cups of brine mix with 1 gallon of water. Over sixteen pounds, use 3 cups of brine salt with enough water to cover the bird.  The herb mix is only a suggestion and can be adjusted to taste. In addition, wine or juices such as orange or lemon, can be substituted for part of the water. Sometimes we also add chopped tangerine or orange peels that we collect from the fruit in our yard.

In a large bowl, combine the ingredients and store in an airtight container. Like any other herb mix, try to use it within 6 months to a year.

2 cups kosher or coarse salt
1 tablespoon raisins or chopped dried fruit
2 teaspoons juniper berries (most specialty stores have these)
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon minced, dehydrated garlic
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried sage

-Combine mix with a quart of water the day before you are planning to prepare the brine to hydrate the dried ingredients and infuse the water. Refrigerate. If you are using fresh herbs, triple the amount of the dried herbs. 
-Twenty-four hours before cooking, add additional water and soak the bird. Make sure the brine covers the entire bird.
-The day of preparation, drain and rinse the bird thoroughly to remove the brine. Prepare as planned.

Two important things to remember: Your defrosted turkey needs to stay cold! No shortcuts here. To avoid food poisoning, keep your bird surrounded by ice or at the very least, temperatures between 40 and 42 degrees. In the past we have been very creative. Quite a few times we had to use a scrubbed-clean laundry sink. We immersed our brine bucket with bird into the ice filled sink, making sure the temperature of the brine stayed cold. We replaced the melting ice as needed. Another time we were in snow country, and determined the space between our exterior cellar door and the basement itself, easily provided a constant temperature below 40 degrees. It was protected from animals and stayed cold.

The second consideration is to make sure the container you brine your turkey in is a food safe container. Picking up a five gallon plastic bucket at the hardware store won't work. Find a container especially for food products. Try your local restaurant supply store. 

                                 Image result for roasted turkey 

And this is your end product--along with many side dishes that will leave your stomach extended and provide enough leftovers to feed the family the rest of the week. From this one bird we make hot turkey sandwiches, turkey pot pie, turkey salad, and finally, turkey soup from the carcass. A moist, juicy bird warrants a repeat performance!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Mother Nature's Big Mistake

I don't often think of Mother Nature as making any mistakes, but when scorpions were allowed to exists on this planet, that was her big one. I would sooner consider that extraterrestrials (yes, I believe in ETs) in the pre-human time of existence, had been experimenting with life forms and during one grave mistake, crossed a demon from hell with an insect and thus, we were blessed with scorpions.

Why Arizona? Who knows. I understand other states and countries harbor them as well as those of us in the desert who seem to have an abundance of these nasty creatures.

So let's think about this from Mother Nature's point of view. What can scorpions do for us? For starters, they eat crickets and other insects. But my chickens can do that. I don't see any benefits yet. In fact, I can't think of anything else a scorpion can do for me except for causing terror, pain, suffering and in some cases, horrific medical expenses.

On this beautiful, spring morning in March, I am starting my day by making my bed and tidying up. Bed made, I grab the satin throw pillows I stacked on the chair next to my bed. When I grab the pillow I see what appears to be a peculiar gold wad of threads on the underside of the pillow.  All the bells and sirens go off in my head and I feel my skin begin to crawl. Can't be, I am thinking. It's only March. I grab my reading glasses trying to deny the horror that is unfolding.

But first, just in case, the pillow is removed from the house.

And yes, it is a scorpion. A healthy adult that chose to take a nap between my satin pillows in my bedroom, next to my bed. I begin my assault by capturing the beast under one of my canning jars. I am so unnerved by these creatures, I can't even step on them. Do you know mother scorpion carries
her babies on her back? Imagine stepping on one of these and having a bazillion more scatter around your feet. Uh, uh. Not me.

So here is my dilemma. We are a pesticide/herbicide free home. We are fighting cancer in this family and toxins are not allowed in the mix. Natural pesticides are used in the gardens with companion planting to avoid an outbreak of insects. Vegetable crops are rotated regularly encouraging plant-specific pests to go elsewhere. This year I am experimenting with growing my own tobacco to use as an insecticide. It kills humans, why not insects?

But I break my own rules this morning. While under glass I saturate the scorpion with a pesticide specifically designed for his/her demise. Two hours later he is still alive. I have doubts that a professional can rid me of this hard-shelled nightmare. My neighbor offers to come over and spray around the perimeter of the house and the baseboards in my bedroom. I can feel my lungs solidify with the thought of poisonous spray in my sleeping quarters. Hmmm, painful scorpion sting, cancer or respiratory failure? So hard to choose.

I take my neighbor up on his offer. My sweet little dogs, sleep on the floor and after all, I have to protect my family. What irritates me the most is that these devils are so sneaky. Bark scorpions, the most poisonous in the world, are nearly invisible when on a neutral colored floor. You could be minding your own business walking barefoot through your house and you get nailed.  They have greeted me at 3 a.m. during a bathroom visit. My neighbor got her sting reaching into her laundry basket. A dear friend thought she was picking up a rubber band near her desk and it turned out to be a scorpion. That doesn't happen with rattlesnakes, Gila monsters or tarantulas. You can see them coming and walk the other way. But a scorpion, well, it's always an alarming surprise.

 My mind wanders to last summer at our farm in Wisconsin. I was eaten alive by mosquitoes, charged by deer flies, startled by giant spiders that came out of nowhere, horrified by ticks, threatened by ground bees that hated me, and I won't even get into the Elder bugs, wasps, hornets, Asian ladybugs, and Japanese beetles. All of them, even the ticks, seem rather tame compared to a scorpion.

Image result for elder box bug
Boxelder Bug
Image result for ground bee
Ground Nesting Bee
Asian Lady Beetles
Asian Ladybugs. Cute but their bite hurts!
This morning the predicted high temperature in Wisconsin today is 8 degrees. I am not sure my country neighbors would agree with me that there is a benefit to their miserable weather.  As they battle ice and snow, our warm, spring sun shines through my bedroom window where I continue to watch the scorpion outside, dying from his poison cocktail. Apparently, scorpions prefer 120 degrees to 8 and thus I am cursed with their presence in Arizona.

Now that my Monday morning threat is contained and my blood pressure has returned to a normal reading, I can think clearly.  This event is telling me that we need to be grateful for whatever we have and wherever we are. If it is snowing in Wisconsin, it's not a welcoming environment for scorpions.  If I'm battling demon life forms in Arizona, I am doing it on a warm, sunny day. If Mother Nature or extraterrestrials had been perfect, we wouldn't know what to appreciate in this life. And that may be my only genuine benefit from an encounter with a scorpion.