Why yes, yes I can!

I started canning the summer after I got married.  I had been on a mission to learn how to really cook food and somehow, canning my garden’s bounty seemed to fit into this.  That first year really all I canned was salsa, tomato sauce and tomatoes.  The tomato sauce was a disaster; thin as water and over seasoned.  The tomatoes were so insanely time consuming and I hardly got any jars for all the work I put in.  The salsa was edible, though.  That salsa was what told me the next year to go back to the farm stand and get more tomatoes and try again.  2008’s harvest left me with a freezer that was stocked, shelves filled with my home canned goodies and confidence.
I didn’t can a darn thing in 2009 under the misconception that I wouldn’t be able to do anything with a newborn.  He was colicky for sure, but I just didn’t know yet how to manage my time.  Last year, I did everything I could, and was really proud of myself.  I didn’t meet my goals for the year, but I still enjoyed opening my cabinets and seeing the product of my work.  This year, I made my canning goal list out before Sylvia was born and with my guide to the Ohio produce availability, marked out my plan on my calendar and made my plan.  I’ve managed to pass my goals in everything and I even learned how to operate a pressure canner without terror.  The only left for me to do is figure out how much Sylvia likes applesauce and work accordingly.
I can for several reasons, not the least of which being that I know exactly what is going in my family’s bodies.  I know where all my food came from since I either picked it myself or know the growers.  The food is fresh when it goes in those sparkling clean jars made from glass… no chance of BPA there!  Every year, I reuse what I had from prior years and add to the stash as needed.  I recycle my jar lids (and the rings as needed).  It would be a lie to say that I don’t get sad as I watch my stash slowly dwindle through the winter and early spring.  I love that my grocery bills are low through the winter because when I need diced tomatoes, just head to the basement and draw on what I’ve already done.
Prices around here have gone up dramatically.  Even store brand canned corn is over a dollar a can and it’s rarely on sale.  Last week, canned tomatoes were on sale for 69 cents.  Regularly, that brand of tomatoes sells for $1.19.  I bought a bushel of tomatoes for 10 dollars and 36 pints of tomatoes.  This breaks down to 28 cents a pint.  And I didn’t clip one coupon.  My pickled peppers? 19 cents a pint.  By taking the time and the effort over the summer to save money, I can then take that money I would have spent on canned goods and put it into buying more organic and natural products for my family. 

I can because I save money.  I can because I like to use a skill I possess.  I can because it’s healthy for my family.  But most of all, I can because I feel like I get to do a little something extra for my family with each jar that I put on the shelves in the basement.  I love to make peanut butter sandwiches with my own jelly.  I love to know that when I feed people I actually did it all by myself, standing in the heat of my kitchen, scrounging up those precious nap times so I could be productive.  Last week was hard, but I know that come January when I still have shelves full of the summer’s produce, I won’t begrudge one bit the tomato stained finger nails and late nights.  Instead, I will open each jar and savor the moment as I remember this summer and all I learned about myself.

A Peck of Pickled Peppers

 As I mentioned in my last post, I had some hopes to get peppers and tomatoes done in the next few weeks. That was Monday morning’s ideal. By yesterday afternoon, I was just hoping to get through the next hour in one piece. Since Monday afternoon, 3 bushels of tomatoes and 2 pecks of peppers have made their way through my kitchen to either be canned or froze.  Both of my kids decided to make this the week they didn’t want to have any independent play time, so I did what I could during the day and wound up working until 11 or 12 every night.  Eh.  I only lost about a peck worth of tomatoes because I didn’t get them peeled and diced soon enough.  I am only 1 person, so I let it go.
As crazy as the week was, I have to say that I am finally getting to see how much fun Liam and I will be able to have next year with our garden.  He was very interested in all the vegetables that came into our kitchen, going so far as to choose some of the peppers we picked up for freezing.  He wanted very badly to help me, so when I did the canned peppers, I told him to get a chair and dig in.  He was thrilled and actually wound up being a great help for a dozen pints.  Pickled peppers turned out to be the easiest thing I’ve canned next to peaches.  The longest part for me was the slicing of all the peppers, once that was over with, Liam and I packed the jars and I sent him off to play while I poured in the hot liquid and processed them.  18 pints of pickled peppers from 1 peck of sweet banana peppers; bring Peter Piper!
Pickled Pepper Rings
  • Peppers of your choice (I used sweet bananas in most of my jars, but I did throw a few hot ones in for Matt’s sake.)
  • Minced garlic
  • Salt
  • Water
  • White vinegar

Boil equal parts water and white vinegar.  Slice up the peppers into rings and pack them tightly into sterilized pint jars.  Add 1 tsp. of minced garlic and a scant 1/2 tsp. salt to each jar.  Pour the boiling liquid over the peppers, leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Wipe the rims and screw the caps and rings on tightly.  Process for 10 minutes.  Allow jars to rest until cool and store in a cool, dark place until ready to use.  Pepper rings should be refrigerated after they are opened, if you have any left in the jar, that is!  We use our rings on pizzas, in pasta salads and sandwiches and just for snacking.  Enjoy!

Bagels and the week in review!

It’s been busy around here!  I learned how to make amazing chocolate pudding, a necessity in my opinion.  I won’t be sharing the recipe since I wrote it and a few changes on a scrap of paper, but didn’t credit the original source.  Just believe me when I tell you it’s heavenly!

Yesterday, I canned my first batch of corn.  It took me most of the day since I had to work around naps and meals and train track building.  And I was nervous about using a pressure cooker all by myself.  As luck would have it when I placed a paniced phone call to my friend about how to close the lid, she was a few blocks away and dropped by to walk me through the process until I got the cooker up to the right pressure.  Even after her help, I was still paranoid about the steam, so I did let the cooker cool down to a far lower temperature than was strictly necessary.  However, in the end, I had 20 neatly packed pints of corn to add to the shelves in my store room.

Since the pressure cooker heated up my kitchen as much as it did, I went ahead and made a batch of Michael Symon’s spicy ketchup.  I didn’t read the directions right and wound up doubling it, so I tried canning it in a hot water bath.  I’m excited to open those little jars, but need to remember to buy some reusable lids for my small jars since I only have wide mouth jar lids.  The small lids will come in handy when I start cracking open my jams, too!
And while I was at it, I went ahead and made a batch of bagels.  I love these bagels so much.  I’ve played around a little with the flavors, but I just keep coming back to the plain ones.  If you like a bagel with a hard crust on it, you’ll want to do an egg wash before you bake them, but I don’t.  These are so easy for Liam to eat and we go through a batch a few days.  
Simple Bread Machine Bagels
  • 1 c. warm water
  • 3 c. flour
  • 2 Tbsp. white sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/4 tsp. yeast
  • 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
Combine the first 5 ingredients in the pan of your bread maker and process on the dough cycle.  (If you don’t have a bread maker, mix these ingredients well and knead for 10 minutes.  Allow to rise for 1 hour.)  Remove the dough from the pan and divide until 8-12 balls.  Flatten each ball and poke a large hole in the center.  Shape into the general bagel shape and place on a dry silpat.  Cover and rise for 30-60 minutes.  

Boil a pan of water and add the brown sugar to it.  (The brown sugar can be interchanged with Malt Syrup if you’d like.  It’s purpose is to give the bagels that nice golden color we’re all used to, so if you don’t want to add the sweetener, you don’t have to; the bagels will still be wonderful.)  Boil each bagel for 1 minute, flipping halfway through.  Drain them on a towel before placing them on a buttered baking sheet.  Bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees.  Keep in an airtight container for up to 1 week… if they last that long!

Blackberry Vanilla Jam

In college, in my Organic Chemistry lab, I neglected to waft during an experiment and sniffed instead.  It was a long time before I was able to smell again.  These days, my nose is very appreciative of the scents that surround me: clean diapers dried in the sun, freshly cut cantaloupe, and the smell of my babies after a bath.  This summer, I had determined to make 12 jars of jam.  I passed that goal easily with the strawberries a few months ago, but when I got my hands on a flat of blackberries, I had to make more.  I didn’t freeze as many as I had planned to, but I’d have to say that the 22 jars of jam in my canning cellar will just open up the door for me to learn how to make scones and sweet cream biscuits.  I promised Matt a batch of this jam from Crunchy Chicken’s Kitchen.  For some reason while I was waiting for that jam to jell, I suddenly remembered the smell of a blackberry lotion I had bought while on our honeymoon.  I played around with the flavor until I found what I was looking for.  Today, I used up the last drops of our store-bought jam from this past winter and I can’t tell you how excited I am to crack into my neat stash the next time I make Liam and I pb&j sandwiches for lunch!
Blackberry Vanilla Jam
  • 6 2/3 cups blackberries puree (after running them through a food mill on fine)
  • 8 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. Vanilla extract
  • 7 1/2 Tbsp. Ball Classic Pectin

Once the berries have been run through the food mill, put them in a medium sized non-reactive and heat through.  Gradually add in the pectin and bring to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.  Then pour in the sugar and vanilla.  Return the jam to a boil and cook for 1 minute.  Then, remove from the heat and  pour jam into hot half pint/pint jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. 

Laundry Day

I just finished folding a load of laundry and have another one in the wash and a load of diapers waiting for me to get to them to fold and put away.  In a house where there are 2 small children, one of whom seems to go through clothes like water, laundry is a nearly endless task.  I’ve tried to cut down on laundry over the years, but when it comes down to it, it’s just easier to do the laundry than spend time trying to keep everyone spotless.  It’s not a huge deal to me as I really don’t mind doing laundry and there are few things (like we talked about Abbie) that give me more pleasure than a tidy linen closet.  I’ve noticed since adding another child in diapers to my home, though, that my water consumption has gone up.  Since I don’t water our plants (we don’t have a garden this year and what plants we do have are a lost cause) and I’ve learned to take my showers in 7 minutes or less, I decided that the greater water usage is excusable considering that I’m not throwing diapers in a landfill on a daily basis. 
Growing up, I don’t really remember using our dryer for much, except for my father’s police uniforms.  As soon as the weather was pleasant in the spring all the way until it was just too cold out in the Fall, we hung our laundry outside on the line.  Even in the winter, we air dried in the basement.  I can remember running outside when a summer storm threatened and folding laundry straight off the line in the evenings when everything was dry.  I had a small line put up at our other house, but it wasn’t fantastic and I hated using it.  In the end, I wasn’t as committed to line drying as I thought I was.  When we moved here, I realized that our backyard is large enough to hold a good sized laundry line, plus a garden and a swing set and there’s still room let over to play catch or football or even badminton. 
My goal for this summer was to get a line up and being used regularly for all our laundry.  As each week of the summer has ticked by, I still did not have my line, until the power went out 2 weeks ago.  The heat was just unbearable that week.  My husband came home from work that day as his office was out and since his work is done on the computer, he was just sitting there twiddling his thumbs.  Turns out, there was a breaker that blew North of town and we were out of power for almost 6 hours.  Instead of sitting here, melting, we packed the kids up and headed to Amish Country where, in the irony of ironies, they had power and therefore cool homes.  Once we were there, we decided to stop at Lehmans General Store.  And as luck would have it, they had whole laundry line kits that would give me 7 whole lines of fresh air drying!  The next day, Matt dug and cemented the holes for the poles and on Tuesday, I started doing laundry.  

I just love hanging my laundry outside in the sunshine.  For one thing, they smell amazing!  The diapers are easily bleached out in case of random stains.  And I haven’t used my dryer in two weeks.  Considering that our electricity bills are higher since we’re trying to keep the house cool, I’m excited to see what a difference it makes.  Liam prefers to spend his day running around outside, and so I just pack everything up and we head out while I’m hanging laundry and then when it’s dry, I bring it all back up to the patio and fold it while he plays and Sylvia watches.  I will say that with my clothes, I hang them inside out so that the sun doesn’t bleach any of the colors.  And I’m also not into the whole neighborhood seeing my unders, so they air dry in the basement on a rack.  I’m anxious to see how little I can use the dryer and for how long.  Of course, there will be days when it rains and I have to bring the laundry in.   I’m also considering setting up a system in the basement, but haven’t worked that out yet.  But until those decisions are made, I’m enjoying the smell of sunshine on everything I wash!

30 year goals

Turning 30 is one of those things that everyone seems to dread.  I didn’t really so much until a few weeks ago.  Suddenly, our house was far too cluttered and I wasn’t productive enough.  I really wanted some inspiration and motivation, so I decided it was time to get some fire.  A few of my friends have spent their birthdays at the spa or going on vacation or getting a new look or running a marathon.  None of these things are for me considering that I’ve got two small children that I can’t be away from and I really dislike running.  Instead, I decided to give myself a new, creative challenge for the year: quilting.
I like to sew and I think it would be fair to say that the main reason why I like to sew is because I love fabric.  I love the patterns and the colors and the textures.  So for my birthday, we took a trip to Amish Country so I could purchase fabric for my very first quilt.  I chose a simple pattern that was on display since it looked fairly forgiving and then got down to the business of choosing my materials.  I could have stayed in that shop for a week and still not seen everything they had to offer, but alas, Liam was with us and not nearly as enamored as I was with the options.

In the end, I settled on a brown fabric for the focus and then 5 others to coordinate.  I’m so excited about this new project!  I’ve already cut 24 of the squares that will become part of a large patch.  Today during the kids’ naps I started on the other parts of the large patch. It’s a simple pattern (according to the description!) and I actually feel confident that I can do this!  I’ll be posting some updates to the quilt and then any of my other projects if they strike me as interesting enough to post.  See, I’m not all food!