My Garden Thief!

Who stole my sunflowers?

You can see one of our Italian honeybees right in the middle of this beautiful sunflower. Sunflowers are so pretty, aren't they?

You can see one of our Italian honeybees right in the middle of this beautiful sunflower. Sunflowers are so pretty, aren’t they?

I had six beautiful large heads of sunflowers growing in my orchard.  The bees were enjoying them, I was enjoying them, and I had the perfect recipe lined up to use the seeds. Then, one night, the largest sunflower disappeared.

Harrumph…  🙁

Well, I never…

Do you see something missing here?

Hmmmm…   something seems to be missing.

Do you see how it looks like the top of the stalk has been chewed off?  That was the first piece of evidence I saw.

who stole my sunflowers 4Then, throughout the orchard in no less than six separate spots, I found piles of cracked seeds. Strange that the thief would move from spot to spot to eat the seeds, but then (of course) there may have been more than one culprit!

It’s a real shame because I have a really neat recipe I couldn’t wait to try out using the sunflower seeds.  I was going to use the honey from my beehive, with ground almond flour from my almond trees, along with chopped toasted almonds, dehydrated apricots and cherries from my orchard.

I was going to use egg whites from my neighbor’s chickens (we will be getting ours next year) and some pine nuts from, well, pine trees!  We are surrounded by Sugar Pines and if we can get to the cones before the squirrels do, the nuts are mighty fine!

I found this recipe many years ago when our homestead was just a dream.   I didn’t write down the name of the book, so I can’t give credit to anyone.  Sorry.  Then, in my shortsightedness I didn’t write down specific amounts either – just ingredients.  What was I thinking? So, this recipe will have to end up as another one of my experiments. Apparently, however, the base of the bar was to be made with frothy egg whites into which almond flour is folded, then poured into the base of a rimmed cookie sheet and baked  for some amount of time. I would assume about 8-10 minutes – just to get it to set.  A mixture of chopped dried fruits, seeds (my missing sunflower seeds), chopped nuts and honey is spread on the base, then baked for another amount of time until done.

Doesn’t that sound good?  The best part is that I will be able to produce every single ingredient called for in these delicious (I think) and nutritious bars!  I may even add pumpkin seeds to the mix.  For a different variety, wouldn’t dried apple and pear chunks be good with toasted walnuts?  Maybe even acorn flour!  Yum.  I can’t wait to try this, but alas, I have no sunflower seeds.

Speaking of squirrels…who stole my sunflowers 8

I think this may have been our thief.  We have lots of them in our trees.  In fact, our neighbor lady (who recently moved) fed them!  I know this isn’t a great picture, but the silly things won’t stay still for a photo!  😉


However, this may have been the culprit…

Steller's Jay

Did this Steller’s Jay eat my sunflowers?

The Blue Jays have been hanging around a lot lately.  We have had a terrible drought here in California and it seems our bee waterer may be one of the only sources of water around for all the forest critters to slake their thirst. Sometimes they go through more than a gallon of water every day!

Nonetheless, I would assume the bird would have just landed on the stalk, eaten the seeds and dropped the shells below the plant.  Besides, chewing the entire seed head off the stalk would have been difficult for a Steller’s Jay. Since there are no shells directly below the plant, and Jays don’t have teeth, I don’t think the culprit was the Jay.

Yeah - right outside my window! Sneaky little thief!

Yeah – right outside my window! Sneaky little thief!

The evidence speaks for itself –

Mr and Mrs Squirrel enjoy sunflower seeds!

I am glad that right now I don’t have to feed myself and my family completely on what my dear hubby and I grow and raise here on our fledgling homestead. I would like to be food self-sufficient soon, however, and if TEOTWAWKI happens (as many people think it will) we will need to protect our food sources more carefully.  So, the squirrels gave us a valuable lesson today. (Um – thank you?)  We need to protect our permanent garden much better than we have protected the temporary garden we have set up in our orchard.

If we plan to be self-sufficient when it comes to fruits and vegetables, nuts and herbs, we must build our permanent vegetable garden like a fortress and reinforce our orchard!  The garden will have metal fencing at least 7 feet high (so my tall hubby Ray can walk upright in the garden) with a metal roof (chicken wire?) over the top, and at least 1 foot deep into the ground to prevent tunneling critters.  This should keep out the squirrels and Jays.  It sounds like a lot of work, but I believe at this point it will be an absolute necessity!

Especially after we found jack rabbits in our compost pile!

How do you keep critters out of your vegetables?


Eating Sprouted Acorns

Eating malted acorns

I have read that if you wait until spring to collect sprouting acorns, you never have to worry about worms in the nut meat !

The first week of March we traveled up to our future homestead to install yet another water storage tank.  While removing the forest duff where we were installing the tank, I noticed that most of the acorns still on the ground were starting to germinate!

Hmmm………  I remembered somewhere back in the recesses of my brain that when seeds germinate, the starches turn to sugar.  When a brewer makes beer, he sometimes uses malted barley (which is sprouted barley) because the grain would have a higher sugar content to turn into alcohol. So, it would make sense that if I gathered sprouted acorns in the spring, they would be sweeter than the whole, just dropped acorns in the fall, and it would be easier to get the remaining tannins out of the acorn.

eating sprouted acorns

Don’t worry, there were plenty left for the squirrels, deer and turkey!


I did some research and found that when sprouting occurs, chemical changes naturally take place so that some enzymes convert carbohydrates into simple sugars.  The complex proteins within the seed are converted into simple amino acids and most of the available fats turn into fatty acids.  This makes the nutrition within the seed more readily available for digestion.

I also found this:  “Germination caused a decrease in the protein, carbohydrate and starch; it increased sugar content, and had varied effects on the lipids contents of the dry samples. The anti-nutritional factor-tannin concentration was decreased.”

Eating "Malted" AcornsI figured it wouldn’t hurt to try, so I gathered several pounds of the sprouting acorn nuts and brought them back to our current home in the Sacramento Valley.   I decided to use the boiling water method of tannin extraction, using larger pieces of the acorn.

The first thing I noticed was that it was much easier to remove the acorn meat from it’s shell!  The acorns shells had (usually) three splits at the small end, where the future root was protruding from the shell. Just a little bit of pressure on the acorn shell along one of these fissures with pliers would crack the acorn shell in half.  In fact, I was able to get a lot of the acorn nut meats out of the shell whole and intact – which was nearly impossible to do with newly fallen acorns.

"malting" acorns to eat

The testa (papery skin) is easily removed with a slotted spoon when using the boiling method to extract tannin.

I decided to try boiling the acorns for 15 minutes at a time, transferring back and forth to fresh boiling water, and see how many water changes it would take to get fairly clear water – which is supposed to indicate that most of the tannin had been boiled out.   Knowing that my oak is a species of red oak (I figured this out when I read that white oak acorns germinate as soon as they fall to the ground and red oaks wait until early spring) and the fact that red oak carries more tannin than white oak; I didn’t start tasting the acorns until after the fourth boiling.  Ick.  Then the fifth.  Nope.  Sixth.  Maybe, but no.  Seventh.  Much better.  I boiled for the eighth time, just to make sure.  Success.

One experiment with removing the tannin from acorns that I have been toying with is using pH testing strips.  Since Tannin is an acidic agent, I thought it would follow that the acorn nuts themselves would become less acidic as the tannin was leached out.  So I bought some pH test strips from an aquarium supply store to check out the acidity level of the water after each boil, to see if, indeed, the acid levels dropped.  I think it worked.  As you can see from the picture below, the color of the water from each successive boil turned from bright yellow to orange, indicating that the level of acidity had decreased.  I plan to experiment with this method using several techniques of leaching the acorns including the cold water leach method and the combination of cold water/hot water leach, along with the hot water method as above.  According to my palate – the acorns didn’t taste very palatable until the pH had reached about 7, which is neutral. The eighth boiling showed a red color on the test strips (sorry, that one isn’t in the picture), which apparently was an indication that the water was no longer acidic, so I assumed no longer had any tannin. 🙂

leaching tannin from sprouted acorns

The bright yellow color on the bottom of the test strip on the left showed that the water from the first boiling was very acidic, with the seventh boiling on the right being orange, which is neutral, indicating that as the tannin is leached from the acorns, they become less acidic!

After I had some leached acorns I had to decide what I would do with them next.  Since I had leached the tannin using the hot water method, I knew that they would lend themselves to a recipe that was not flour.  If you would like to make acorn flour, cold leaching is best for this because the oils have not been cooked out and the resulting cake, cookie or pastry would be less crumbly.  Baked goods made from flour using hot processed acorns tends to have no structure and fall apart.  So, I thought I would candy them using a recipe I have for candied walnuts!

Candied Acorn Nuts

Yes, I know, taking a natural good-for-you nut and coating it with sugar is counter-intuitive, but it sure is good!  🙂

These were pretty good!  But – next time I won’t add so much cinnamon.  You see, many plants contain tannin naturally, the most famous being grapes!  The tannin in the grapes added to the tannin in the oak barrels is what gives red wine it’s astringent, tannin flavor.  Another food stuff that includes tannin is cinnamon.  When I ate an acorn after the eighth boil, I did not taste any tannin.  In fact, the acorn was almost sweet.  However, after roasting the acorn, I could taste just a hint of tannin. I knew that roasting acorns will tend to bring out any tannin flavor left in the acorn, which is why I boiled once more, after I no longer tasted tannin.  Then, after they were candied, even through the sweet of the sugar, I could taste a stronger tannin flavor – presumably because of the cinnamon.

Will you have to boil your acorns eight times?  I don’t know.  Each oak tree is different.  Some people only have to boil once.  You never know until you try!

Will I make candied acorns again?  You betcha – just not with so much cinnamon.   In fact, I’m thinking of making some caramel acorn and popcorn next!  Anybody want some?


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Almond Milk Frozen Yogurt #1

Frozen Yogurt from Almond Milk

Some of my Christmas gifts – a fermentation crock and a jerky maker – guarded by Santa!

My family knows me well.  For Christmas I was given:  1.  A Fermentation Crock (olives and pickles – yummm), 2. A Jerky Gun (it makes jerky with hamburger), and 3.  A Yogurt Maker.  I made some yogurt right away with cow’s milk and words cannot describe how delicious it is!  Fresh and creamy!  I added in some fresh fruit and chopped walnuts and it makes the      Best.      Breakfast.     Ever!

Then my mind started wandering, then wondering (stand back, this could get ugly) about making yogurt with almond milk.  I argued with myself and said: “self – cow’s milk is yummy, you aren’t lactose intolerant, and almond milk can get expensive!  Why bother?”  Then I answered,” because I can!” 🙂

Besides, it’s not really the almond milk yogurt I’m after, it’s freezing the almond milk yogurt into almond milk frozen yogurt!  Why?  Because when we move up to the homestead with the nearest grocery store 30 miles down the mountain, I would prefer to travel to said store only once per month.  Since fresh milk doesn’t usually last that long, I would like to develop an alternative substance – perhaps almond milk – that I can craft into a yummy frozen yogurt concoction.

That sounds reasonable………….. right?

So, I did some research on the internet and indeed I found some recipes for frozen almond milk yogurt!  I read through a dozen or so recipes and decided to start out with the easiest one. I also did a bit of research trying to educate myself on how yogurt is made and what components are necessary to make “yogurt” and found out that all you need is milk of some kind that has “sugar” in it, and bacteria that “eats” the sugar and turns the sugars into acid, which is what gives you the tangy taste and a thick product!

In cow’s milk, the sugar is lactose and the bacteria turns the lactose into lactic acid.  However, almond milk does not have lactose, nor does it have enough “natural” sugar, and so it is necessary to add sugar.  I chose to use honey.

The bacteria is available in several different forms.  The easiest to use, of course, is a couple of tablespoons of already cultured yogurt.  You can also buy freeze-dried cultures or refrigerated live cultures.  These can be bought through retail outlets as actual supplements or in prepared packages made just for culturing yogurt.  You can choose, but I found that the supplements aren’t very expensive if you do a little shopping.

So, I decided to do my first experiments with a recipe I found here:  simply because it sounded like the easiest and there was nothing that I didn’t already have in my cupboard (no guar gum, arrowroot powder, agar agar, xanthem gum, etc.).

Making Almond Milk

First things first – make some almond milk. I use a 1 cup almonds to 2 cups water ratio.

I quickly made some almond milk (easy to do, just click here for instructions) and heated it carefully over a double boiler with the honey and cornstarch until the mixture reached 180 degrees.  Getting the mixture to 180 degrees over a double boiler takes quite a while, so start this process early in the day!  Then the batch needs to cool down to 100 to 110 degrees, which also takes forever!  Once the batch is cooled, it is innoculated with the bacteria.  For my first batch I

Making Frozen Yogurt with Almond milk

The almond milk must get to at least 180 degrees to kill off all the “bad” bacteria.

decided to try a freeze dried concoction sold as a dietary supplement (in capsule form) with:  Lactobacillus acidophilus, Streptococcus thermophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidus.  After innoculation, I added the mixture to my new yogurt maker and set the timer to 10 hours.  After 10 hours (it was 12 o’clock at night, ugghhh!), I put the mixture into the refrigerator to cool down.

The next morning I was so excited to taste my new almond milk yogurt!  I pulled it out from the refrigerator and I was a bit disappointed to see that it wasn’t very thick.  I went ahead and poured off the whey and put it through the yogurt strainer to thicken it, and it did thicken a bit more.  Then I tasted it.

Have you ever made chicken gravy when you know you don’t really have enough drippings but make the gravy anyway and then add in too much cornstarch or flour?

Well, that’s how it tasted.  Very cornstarchy. Very bland.  And not much tang – at all.

Making Frozen Yogurt from Almond Milk

Second batch – this time I used store bought dairy yogurt – plain. I used Fage because I find it has the least amount of preservatives of the brands that I could choose from.

I figured there may have been a problem with the freeze dried stuff and decided to try it with a couple tablespoons of store bought plain yogurt.  That’s how I made my first batch of cow’s milk yogurt and it was yummy.  So, I repeated the recipe (but with the store bought yogurt) and tried it again.  Hmmmmm………

This time it had a bit more tang, but still had a pretty heavy cornstarch aftertaste.  I still wanted to see how it would freeze up and thought to myself, “what kind of flavoring would cut the bland taste of cornstarch?”  Lemons!!!  I have been making my own lemon extract (for instructions on making your own extracts, click here) for a couple of months now and so I added 1 teaspoon of lemon extract and then tasted it.  Meh.

Home made Almond Frozen Yogurt

Flavoring the Almond Yogurt with home-made lemon extract and fresh lemon zest, before freezing.

Not enough lemon.  I added another teaspoon along with some lemon zest.  Better!

Using my KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment, I froze the almond yogurt.  The result?  Interesting.  Not bad, but not really good either.  Lemony and could use a touch of sweetener, but that cornstarch flavor just seems to hang on the tongue.

So, on to batch #3.  I am determined to get this right!  This time I tried using the same recipe, but instead of 1/2 cup of cornstarch, I used 2 tablespoons.  Instead of the freeze dried bacteria or the fresh dairy yogurt to innoculate it, I went to my local health food store and found some refrigerated live bacteria!  It really wasn’t that expensive and the bottle is good for 1-1/2 years – as long as it is kept refrigerated.

Almond Frozen Yogurt Recipe

The yogurt got thick enough, even with less cornstarch. I just can’t seem to get past that cornstarch taste that hangs on, well after you have had a bite!

The result?  Well, better than experiment #2, but nothing to write home about.  It still got fairly thick, even with less cornstarch, and even thicker when I drained it for a couple hours in the refrigerator.  But, it was still missing that “tang” you are supposed to taste in yogurt. And I still tasted cornstarch.

So, I did some more research.  Two things I think I am doing wrong.  1.  I have been stirring the mixture as it is incubating in my yogurt maker.  Apparently that’s a no-no.  Oops.  2.  I should not use honey.  Natural honey carries it’s own set of bacteria that may not be such a good thing to incubate.  Apparently some people have gotten very sick after eating yogurt made with raw honey.

Also, as I was re-thinking these experiments, I realized that maybe I don’t need the cornstarch at all!  The only reason for the cornstarch is for thickening up the yogurt to make the texture more like cow’s milk yogurt.  Cow’s milk has casein, a protein lacking in almond milk, that helps to thicken up the cow’s milk yogurt.  That is why people put corn starch, gelatin, agar-agar, arrowroot powder, etc., in the nondairy milk – to thicken it up!  But if I am just going to freeze the almond milk yogurt, do I really have to have it thick before I do that?  Possibly not.  Also, the frozen yogurt gets really hard in the freezer – hard as a rock!  I wonder if using a gelatin would soften it but give it body as well? Or, could I use my mixer to beat the yogurt into a froth and forgo the KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment and instead just put the mixture straight into the freezer?  What do you think?

Frozen Yogurt from Almonds

This certainly looks good. And a first bite isn’t bad – it’s just that the cornstarch taste lingers on the tongue. I suppose in a pinch, on a very hot summer day, this might be considered almost tasty.


And so the experiments and the research continue!  🙂

Stay tuned for the next chapter of “Almond Milk Frozen Yogurt”, due next week!






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Acorn Flour Banana Bread

This post has taken me a while to write.  Let me explain.  Some of you may have already read about my experiments cooking with acorn flour.  At first I tried making noodles, but that is still a work in progress with a lot more experimentation to come.

acorn flour cookies

Success! These cookies are really good. REALLY GOOD!

Then I tried making cookies.  One recipe, chocolate chip cookies, was excellent!  The cookies were gone in 24 hours, which, in my household (with a husband, 3 grown boys and 4 grandchildren) means this is a “keeper” recipe.  The other cookie, a shortbread recipe, was awful, but let’s not talk about that one.  You can read about it by clicking the link at the bottom of this post.

Lately I have been experimenting with banana nut bread made with acorn flour.  Since acorn flour is made from – well – acorns, which is a tree nut, I thought I would try using an almond flour recipe but substitute acorn flour.  Sounds simple enough, right?

Well……………, not really.

Here’s the scoop.  I bought one of those E-Books from Amazon about cooking with almond flour called Fast And Easy Almond Flour Recipes.  This book has a recipe called Almond Flour Bread with a Pinch of Cinnamon.  The ingredients looked simple enough and  are very similar to the Banana Nut Bread recipe that I have always used, so I decided this was the one I would use to adapt to acorn flour.

Bread made from Acorn Flour

2 cups of acorn flour – ready to be made into bread.

So, instead of the 2 cups of almond flour called for in the recipe, I added 2 cups of acorn flour.  Acorn flour is quite a bit darker than most other flours, and initially that was the only difference I noticed when I was making the bread.  I was so smug when I popped it into the oven, but 55 minutes later I wasn’t so sure!  The toothpick came out clean, but the bread didn’t rise at all.  Nope.  This (ahem) bread was actually a little concave in the middle.  Well, I thought to myself, not everything has to look good.  Right?  As long as it tastes good, that’s what matters………right?   🙂

I put the bread, still in the loaf pan, on a cooling rack.  I had some errands to run in town, so I left the house for just a couple of hours but then would come back home and cook dinner.  I was planning on accompanying our pork chop and green bean dinner with the bread.

Well, that didn’t happen.  When I tried to take the bread out of the pan, I realized that what I had created was a flat, four cornered hockey puck.  My hubby (bless his heart) tried the bread anyway and said that, on the whole, the taste wasn’t bad!  Unfortunately, human teeth were never meant to eat hockey pucks. Epic Fail! 🙁

So, what went wrong.  Hmmmmm…  I do know that from my cooking experiments so far, acorn flour seems to have a lot less moisture in it than the almond flour.  Probably a lot less oils also.  That may have something to do with the leaching process to get all the tannin out.

Banana Bread using Acorn Flour

The second attempt at banana nut bread – a bit sweeter, a bit lighter.

It also is a bit denser. Cup for cup, it weighs a bit more than wheat flour does.  And it is a lot less sweet than the almond flour.  So, I decided to try adding a bit more baking soda (to help it rise), and instead of four whole eggs, I used three whole eggs with 2 whipped egg whites (also to help it rise and for more moisture), omit the sugar and use honey instead (a different type of sweetness and – more moisture).

The result?  Success!  The bread was done sooner than the original recipe said it would be – at about 45 minutes!  I’m glad I checked it early!  As you can see from the picture below – the bread didn’t rise all that much – but it did rise!

And it tasted really good.

And we could actually eat it!

The bread was very much like the banana nut bread I usually make, just a bit denser, more like a brownie. I tried toasting it under the broiler today and added a touch of butter and it was delicious!

Banana Nut Bread from Acorn Flour

Success! Banana nut bread made with acorn flour!

Here is the final recipe I came up with:

2 cups of acorn flour – ground as fine as you can get it!

3 whole eggs

2 egg whites, whipped to a fairly stiff froth

1/4 cup olive oil

3/4 cup honey

3/4 cup banana puree

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F.  Lightly grease a loaf pan.

In a large bowl, combine the acorn flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.  In another bowl combine the whole eggs, oil, honey, banana puree and vanilla.  Pour the wet mixture into the dry and stir until you have a smooth batter.  Add the nuts. Whip the egg whites until they are foamy – carefully fold into batter.  Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

Bake at 45-55 minutes until bread is golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.  🙂

I think my next experiment will be with a similar recipe, except this time I am going to add applesauce instead of the bananas, and apple chunks and raisins instead of the nuts, to see if this will make a good muffin. Perhaps I will swap out some of the cinnamon and instead use cardamom – one of my new favorite spices! Here’s to hoping I don’t make miniature hockey pucks!  Stay tuned!

Here are my previous posts on cooking with acorns – Eating Acorns;  Eating Acorns, Round 2; and Acorn Flour Cookies.


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