Stocked for winter, planning for the Spring

 

 

How did your canning go this year?  I had bigger goals, I must admit, but I will tell you that I am still really pleased every time I open the cabinet and see the products of my hard work.  I get a similar feeling when I see the neatly arranged piles of vegetables and fruit I prepared and froze.  This summer, I read through the Little House Series for the first time in year and years.  One thing that struck me was how prepared both the Ingalls and Wilder families were.  I wanted to be that prepared, but maybe another year.  Salt pork isn’t my thing.  I worked like mad over the tomatoes and came away with sauce, salsa and diced tomatoes.  I baked and then froze almost 100 ears of corn.  There are a few bushels of green beans in my freezer as well.  My little boy is loving all the applesauce I made and I’m literally hiding the peaches from him, they’re so wonderful!  I had wanted to do a few tutorials this year, but time got away from me… so they’ll be there for next year.

Next year’s garden isn’t going to be very large considering I’m due right in the middle of the planting season and since we’ve been working on the house so much we haven’t even really talked about the actual site of our future garden.  I think what will wind up happening is that I will plant a few things close to the house and then the kids and I will go up to the farmer’s market and purchase what I need to can.  They provide me with the most beautiful tomatoes every year, so I shouldn’t have any trouble getting what I need.  This upcoming season will teach me how to cooperate with my friends more than ever.  Several of us are all having babies in the late spring and early summer, so I’m looking forward to getting together with our little ones and heating up that canner!

Soup for a dreary day

Today is the first day we really had seasonal weather.  It’s cold, rainy and generally dreary out.  I just wanted to stay inside all day and have been craving hot chocolate since about 9 this morning.  I did brave the elements to make a quick trip to the butcher’s so I could have some chicken for this soup.  I’m glad I did.  This soup was comforting enough to warm us up at supper, but bright enough to cheer us up for the evening’s play time.  I served it with a baguette of multigrain bread and a warm cheese dip.  The Christmas music in the background only made it all the cozier!

 

Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup
  • 1lb bone-less, skin-less chicken breast (If you are using legs/thighs, use about 6 total.)
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 cup orzo
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 4-6 cups water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup parsley, minced
Begin with a stockpot heated to medium heat and add in either a splash of olive oil or a pat of butter.  Add the onions and celery and saute until tender.  Season the chicken on both sides and then place in the pan with the onions and celery.  Sear the chicken on both sides and then add the lemon juice.  Cook for 1 minute to let the juice flash flavor the chicken before adding 4 cups of water.  Cook until the chicken is done through.  Then, remove the chicken and shred or dice it.  Return the chicken to the soup and add the orzo and peas.  When the orzo is done, you may need to add more water depending on how puffy your orzo got.  Do a taste test for flavor and adjust accordingly.  Sprinkle with the parsley right before serving.

I made this cheese dip by making a quick roux out of butter, flour and milk.  Then, I added 2 cups of freshly shredded mozzarella and provolone.  I seasoned it quickly with pepper and smoked paprika.  There are some leftovers, so I’m excited to use it tomorrow on cheese toasts to go with tomato soup!

Homemade Applesauce

Does your toddler love applesauce?  Mine does!  Oh my, I have to actually hide the jar in my fridge or he’ll cry if he doesn’t see it going on his plate.  No joke.  I did some calculations and realized I’d be saving myself a boatload if I just made it at home rather than paying money for someone else to cook and smash apples.  Seriously.  Half a bushel of apples made me roughly 6 quarts/12 pints of applesauce.  I had a fun time making this over the weekend and am looking forward to serving it to a very excited little boy this winter!
Applesauce
  • 1/2 bushel apples – use a variety so you can get lots of different flavors and colors.  For this batch, I used Goldens, Jona-Golds, Macintosh, and a few sad-looking Honeycrisps.
Traditionally, you would peel your apples first and then cook them down into a sauce, but I chose to do the opposite.  I cut the apples into eighths and then threw them stems, cores, peels and all into my crockpot.  I cooked them on high until they were soft (about an hour) and then put them through the Kitchenaid mixer attachment for straining.  Once they were pureed, seed and skin free, I put the sauce back into the crockpot to hold until I was ready to can.  I did it this way so I wasn’t using any of the burners on my gimpy stove.  I have 2 crockpots so I had them both running with batches of apples.  It was fun to see how each batch was effected by the skin color of the apples.  I had one that was reddish, one that was almost brown and another that was almost white!  Once all the sauce was done, I got my jars, rings and lids sterilized and filled them with the hot applesauce.  I filled 5 quart jars and the rest got eaten.  The jars were then processed in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.

Total I now have 18 pints and 5 quarts of applesauce to take us through the winter.  I’m doubtful that it will actually last unless Liam decides that he’s found something else he’s in love with, but I know better for next year.  Next year, I’ll have 2 babies… so maybe I’ll do 2 bushels?

From pickets to paper

This is part of the Healthy Child Blog Carnival– an effort by Healthy Child Healthy World to help inspire a movement to protect children from harmful chemicals
 
When I was in college, I was bold.  I was nervy.  And I carried the banner for every unheard voice I could find.  I stood around with my picket signs and I had “Students for a Free Tibet” on every water bottle, notebook and available surface.  I waded around in creek beds picking up trash and litter.  I passed out information and wanted to talk to those people who could make a change.  Upon graduation, I suddenly found that my time was now spent working, commuting and being with my family.  I no longer had whole weekends to advocate for the animal shelter.  I also found that in my community at that time, there were few opportunities to participate.
A few years ago, I wrote letters to each of the 14 nearby school districts to ask them to revaluate their food choices.  Only one school responded and the letter was rather nasty to tell the truth.  10 years ago, this might not have bothered me, but this time it did.  So I changed my approach and started writing to senators, representatives, heads of school boards, newspaper editors, and the mayor of our town.  

To date, the only real success I have seen was an article in our local paper about a year after my letters began inundating the local offices.  The director mentioned in the article received a phone call from me to follow up with my letter.  I didn’t get to speak with him, but the person who I did talk to was receptive and kind.  I can’t say it was my phone call that made the difference, but it was nice to see someone took all those letters that I’m certain other people submitted and made a choice.

Regardless of whether or not my voice is the one that gets listened to, I will advocate the use of healthy products and local food choices through my own lifestyle.  The best way to do this is to actually feed people a meal and wait for them to love it.  Inevitably, they ask about your ingredients and preparations and you then have an open door to talk about what’s important to you.  Above all else, remember: You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.  A pound cake made of all local ingredients goes a long way when you are trying to convince someone that a 100-mile diet is do-able!

The flavor of Fall

 

I planted my first Sugar baby pie pumpkins this year.  I could hardly wait to see all the little gems that were sure to come off those vines!  Sadly, I only harvested one pumpkin and I sacrificed it to make my dad a pumpkin pie for his birthday.  A good cause, right?  I was content with the thought that I would have to buy my pumpkins again this year and resort to the occasional canned gloop when I saw I sign at the farmer’s market that pumpkins were going to be scarce this year (reason unknown, but it did make me feel better about my less than productive vines) and I was struck with an insane urgency to stock up.  That day, I bought 10 pie pumpkins.  This weekend, I finally finished putting them up for the winter.  I should be sitting back and enjoying my work, but I think I’m going to have to buy more.  Pumpkin seems to be Liam’s new favorite flavor and I’m more than willing to oblige.

My mother used to make her own pumpkin puree by halving the pumpkins, scooping out the seeds and roasting them until tender in a 350 degree oven.  When they were cool enough to handle, she would scoop out the flesh and take it for a spin in the food processor before either baking it into something or freezing it.  I must admit that when I first had my own home and did my baking, I just bought the cans from the supermarket… until I learned that those cans of “pumpkin” aren’t 100% pumpkin, but a mixture of squashes.  Cue my obsession with hoarding pumpkins every Fall.  This year, I tried a new method of handling the pumpkins and I think I’ll be repeating it yearly.  I washed the pumpkins and then cut each one into 8 pieces.  I then removed the seeds and placed the pieces in my crock pot.  When the crock pot was full, I sprinkled a little cinnamon and sugar over the top and then let them cook on low for about 2 hours or until I could pierce the shell with a fork.  Then, I let them cool a bit before scooping out the flesh.  This is where I had some fun.  I chose to puree my pumpkin with an immersion blender.  It worked out well for me this time around because I was still working on the pumpkins tonight after Liam went to bed and it’s so much quieter than any of my other options.  Also, there was only 1 piece to clean up!  I then froze the pumpkin in bags measured out to 2 cups.  2 cups seems to be about the norm for all my recipe requirements.  I actually season the pumpkin once it’s in the batter for whatever I’m working on, but the sugar and cinnamon the pumpkin was baked with helps to soften and tenderize the pumpkin and I like it so much better this way!  For reference, I got 7 2-cup bags of puree from 4 average sized pie pumpkins.  That’s lot of baking potential!

Cheddar-stuffed Burgers

Are your Fall weekends still nice?  Mine are.  The weather has been nice enough out that we could even still eat on the porch if we wanted.  The trees are changing and I love being surrounded by color all the time.  With the weather still like this and dozens of projects to do around the house, it’s nice to still be able to grill out.  My husband is in  charge of the grill.  I also have given him charge of what goes on it.  He saw an idea about cheese-stuffed burgers and after many attemps, has finally mastered it.  So far, the favorite is a simple ground beef burger, stuffed with cheddar cheese and topped classically.  I like it and it was Liam’s first burger.  And now Liam loves burgers.  He’s his father’s son.

After much trial and error, Matt has decided that the best method for making these burgers and not having a huge mess all over your grill is to make 2 separate beef patties, 3oz each.  These are fairly thin patties, but once you add the cheese in the middle and they cook, they are the perfect size for a burger.  In the center of 1 patty, place a piece of cheese, about 2 oz worth and big enough to fill the center of the patty.  Top with the other patty and press the edges together.  Don’t be slack in this step or you will have a very cheesy mess all over your grill.  Finally, grill until they are the doneness you desire.  Top as usual and enjoy this nifty change to your average cook out!

The one in which I divulge my favorite vegetables

I am a vegetable girl.  Generally speaking, I like them best when they are fresh from the garden and raw.  I just need a little salt and we are on our merry way.  And although a dash of salt is my favorite way to enjoy seasoning on these gems of the garden, I’ve also learned to branch out and try new things. Tonight was such a night.  After a rather leisurely day, we decided to spend the afternoon in the apple orchard and take a hayride.  While I was on this hayride, listening to a mother nag and belittle her children for the entire 15 minutes we were together, I began to think of my favorite things.  I tried to order my top 5 favorite vegetables, but just can’t.  So here in no particular order are my top 5:
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumbers
  • Asparagus
  • Green Beans
  • Brussel Sprouts
(I also wanted to include Broccoli, but when it comes down to it, I prefer Green Beans.  Namely raw, so since I’m not a big fan of raw broccoli except for in rare cases, the Bean won.)
While I was on this hayride, it occurred to me that I had some brussel sprouts in the crisper and it’s been a long time since I had them last.  For Thanksgiving last year, my Uncle prepared them, sliced and sauteed with figs.  I was the lucky one who got the leftovers!  The weather  is changing my friends, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner, so I was feeling festive.  I’d have to say this preparation of Brussel sprouts is now in close completion to this one.
  • 1lb fresh brussel sprouts
  • 3-4 slices bacon
  • 1 small onion
  • salt and pepper to taste

Chop the bacon into small pieces and cook in a pan until crisp.  Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain.  Leave the initial drippings in the pan, though.  Quarter or slice the brussel sprouts and dice the onions.  Carefully place them in the pan with the bacon grease, being sure not to splash yourself, and cook.  You’ll need to stir them frequently so they don’t stick and burn to the bottom of the pan.  I cooked mine until the onions were softened, but the sprouts where still slightly crisp and bright green in color.  Toss the finished brussel sprouts and onions with the cooked bacon and season as you see fit with salt and pepper.