I planted LOTS of tomatoes this year in our garden with the hope that I would be able to avoid going to a you-pick farm to stock up. Unfortunately, though, we had such extreme heat and drought that my plants simply didn’t put out enough fruit. So off to a You-Pick it was.
I typically wait until the very end of the summer to go crazy picking tomatoes. I usually plan the excursion for Labor Day weekend so I can have the extra time to put process and store the fruit. However, because this summer has been be particularly chaotic, I went ahead and did my crazy-tomato-picking a few weeks ago. Off I went to Larriland Farm , one of our favorite local spots. Within 20 minutes I had picked 120 lbs of tomatoes. I also picked 30 lbs of beets, which I’ll write about later on. But today I show of my beautiful ‘maters.
I did pick more tomatoes than I intended, but I did not go overboard. Because there is no such thing as overboard when it comes to tomatoes, not when store bought tomatoes are so horrid.
As for where we’re going to stash all these ‘maters? We’ll find room for them under the bed or some other corner of our house.
I canned a lot of the tomatoes whole after boiling them and slipping their skins. I also put up a good amount of sauce. We ended up with 60+ quarts worth of tomatoes and/or tomato sauce. That will be good for a year, at least. I am a little nervous about space, though, because it is now looking like my garden-grown tomatoes are recovering from this summer’s heat and preparing to put out a serious wave of fruit….
Other than canning whole/crushed and sauced tomatoes, I borrowed a friends dehydrator and made enough dried tomatoes to fill a gallon container. I think we’ll likely keep drying more, or popping whole tomatoes in the freezer for soups later on …. ‘cuz the growing season ain’t over yet. ; )
Last spring I started teaching canning workshops at Common Good City Farm in Washington, DC. Common Good is a fantastic inner-city garden that focuses on providing food for the surrounding low-income community. In addition to providing produce, they offer nutrition, cooking, gardening, and other healthy living classes free for qualifying residents. The same classes are available to others for a nominal fee. Revenue from the classes/workshops goes back into the Farm so that they can continue to support the needy.
I had been told that about 7 people were to be expected at my workshop last night, but nearly 30 people came. I was amazed and delighted. The more the merrier.
It was evening when we gathered close in the middle of the garden beneath a pavilion that covers the farm’s outdoor kitchen. Together we went through the history of food preservation, basic canning principles and practices, and how to go about canning safely and inexpensively in your own home. I had brought a bunch of items from my own cupboard for folks to taste so the group could get a sense of the variety of things that can be preserved. Apple sauce, pear butter, pickled cauliflower, pepper jelly, tomato sauce. It was all gobbled up.
After reviewing terms and methods of canning, we clustered around the stove and counters and together made peach and pear jam as well as dill pickles. Everyone was engaged, active participants and helpers, and asking fabulous questions. While we waited for water to boil, I sent everyone off to take a quick tour of the garden. At the end of the 2 hour workshop everyone had a packet of information to take home with them, including recipes and resources for them to explore, and an item that they had canned themselves.
I was amazed how people lingered, even as the sun was slipping away, and how they wanted to keep talking about their memories of foods. There were lots of people seeking advise on how to recapture flavors that their grandmas had introduced them to– apple butters and jams. One man had memories of working on an uncle’s farm in South Georgia and eating Chow Chow and pickled watermelon rinds, and wanted to know how to make them for himself. Yet others simply wanted to explore new horizons and learn what to do with peppers or juices or other foods that they love and want to process themselves.
The workshop was supposed to be the last of the season, but it looks like I’ll be back again to keep on canning. : ) I am pleased.
The last time I posted I wrote about summery frozen desserts and garden parties. Now all the trees are bare and we’ve experienced several hard frosts. Granted, we’ve had an unusually early cold season here… but the point remains: I have been a neglectful blogger.
Since I think it would be peculiar to suddenly pick things back up without acknowledging where I’ve been and what’s been going on, I’ll clue you in and catch you up a bit with this quick post.
I got very ill in July and remained unwell for several months. I felt a little guilty that I didn’t give notice or post at least a little bit… but not really. I needed to focus on other things. Thanks to good doctors, good medicine and good people, I have finally started to feel more like myself. Although I must admit that I do feel somewhat changed. I am okay. I am lucky. I am thankful. But I do have chronic illness, and I’m learning how to deal. It’s a process. Good days are becoming more plentiful, but in the past months I have experienced many not-so-good days. It has been, and I suspect will continue to be, a constant battle to find (and maintain) balance and calm.
All things considered, though, I have had some wonderful triumphs over the past months, including completing my training as a residential home inspector and passing the national certifying exam. I am especially proud of this because I am one of the youngest in the field, and one of the only lady-home-inspectors in the region! So a big *whoohoo* for breaking glass ceilings while home inspecting. : )
I’ll fill you in on home improvements and garden updates later on, but that’s the quick lowdown. It’s been a crazy ride, but I’m still hanging on, and I am looking forward sharing stories here again on a more regular basis.
A few weeks ago we hosted a backyard BBQ and I was looking for an easy summery dessert to serve. I didn’t want cake or cookies. Candy was out of the question. I was considering making ice cream, but I wanted something even lighter and more refreshing. After much thought, I found the perfect thing…. a granita.
A granita is a crunchy sorbet, a sweet flavored water ice with a grainy texture. Supposedly granitas are originally from Siciliy, but there are many cultures who claim the first water ices. When deciding upon the flavor of my own granita, I took a quick look around my pantries and in my garden. I had a bag of limes on hand and plenty of lavender …. so lavender-lime it was. The process was easy and the end results were a big, big, big hit. And so I share the recipe (and pictures) with you! Perhaps this will inspire some of your own summer desserts.
First step is to make a lavender simple syrup with 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 cup water, and 3 tablespoons dried or fresh lavender flowers
Lavender? Check! (I used 3 tablespoons of fresh lavender flowers and would recommend using a bit more)
Sugar and water go into a saucepot over medium heat. Add the lavender flowers and simmer all until the liquid is clear and all sugar dissolved. You now have 1 cup of your simple syrup! Set aside to cool, and then chill in the fridge.
Next step: In a separate bowl, squeeze out 2 cups fresh lime juice! To this add 2 tblspns honey, 6 tblspns vodka or tequila, and 2 cups cold water. (I also added a smidgen of orange zest just for an additional yet distinct note of citrus flavor).
Next Step: Mix the simple syrup with the flavored lime-juice water and pour the entire mixture into a ceramic or glass dish. A shallow dish is better than a deep dish. Place uncovered in the freezer for 45 minutes.
Next Step: When you check on the mixture after 45 minutes you should begin to see crystals forming around the edges of the dish. Use a whisk to scrape the crystals and blend the mixture. Check on the mixture every 20 minutes (or so, depending on how fast your freezer works), giving it a good whisking each time. When the mixture consists entirely of light fluffy crystals, you’re done!
If need be, you can leave the granita in the freezer for several days. Serve at your convenience in chilled glasses. Garnish with lavender flowers and enjoy!
Once upon a time I fell in love with a cabinet… and because I asked nicely (and because the people who owned it were living out of state and had placed my friend in charge of clearing out their belongings) it was given to me.
We had the cabinet for many months and were really enjoying it in our dining room, but then my friend wrote me with an anguished plea. She had absatively been given specific permission to pass the cabinet along to me, but one spouse had forgotten this (which happens with altzheimers and/or selective memories) and was now obsessing over its absence. She felt terrible and ridiculous, but could we please, please, please return the cabinet?
And then painted red.
The next step was to create a pattern with some parchment paper….
….and to get started painting!
I bought a quart of the red and a sample of the yellow at Home Depot. My selection was pretty close, but I still mixed my purchased paints with what we had on hand to get things just right. The crackle background, on the other hand, was something of a learning experience. I started with Martha Stewart crackle finish in Oat… but that didn’t work at all, as in… it was total crud that I had to sand off, paint over, and start from square one. After not being able to find another type of crackle medium in the paint aisle, a self-defined “DIY Country Boy Painter” suggested I try a mineral oil rub and a top coat cut with denatured alcohol. The mineral oil would create a slick and slow drying surface, while the denatured alcohol, which evaporates quickly, would cause the top coat the dry, shrink, and crack. I figured I’d give it a go… I already had mineral oil at home and the denatured alcohol was just $6 for a sizable container. And you know what? Thank heavens for DIY Country Boys, because that did the trick!
Once the panels were mounted back onto the unit, I gave the entire thing a good sanding around the edges and corners and brushed the whole thing with a watered down stain to “antique” it further and to sober the red, which was still a bit to “Happy Fire Engine” instead of “Antique Love.”
If you have a superhuman eye for detail, there are five differences between the two units: 1) the top piece of trim on the original (on the right) uses cove molding instead of quarter round; 2) our cabinet is 1″ deeper; 3) the leaves of the plant on the original are more blue-green and less brown-green; 4) the hinges on ours are a bit different, and 5) the vase on the left hand door of our reproduction was bugging me, so after taking this picture I fattened it a bit to match the right door…. so our copy’s got fatter vases.
Here’s a close up of the handles, where you can really see the “wear” I put on it with the sanding and the stain.
And another picture of the the handles that shows the crackle finish. I’m so in love….!
I’m going to rub the whole thingdown with a coat of polyurethane to protect the finish and shine it up a bit, but it’s 99.9% done and I am so proud. This has been one of those projects where we knew we could do it… but we had no idea it would be so… perfect. I’m more than happy to send the original cabinet back now because we have this beautiful piece of furniture that we lovingly made together, something with much more sentimental value.
Cost of project: $80 for wood, hardware, and paint. That price tag includes some of the mistakes we made, so if we were to make more we could probably pare it down to about $50-60, especially since we’ve got plenty of leftover paint.
I don’t think I can be categorized as a morning person since I do not leap out of bed singing and tap dancing, I do not explode with exuberance and chattiness. But I do have a tendency to wake up early. Today, a Sunday, started at 5:00 just because I rolled over and my eyes opened… and once my eyes open… there’s nothing else I can do but get up. So I did.
I washed, dried, and put away the rest of last night’s dishes, fed the chickens, cat, dogs. Checked on the bees and checked on our rain barrels and the new goldfish we added to eat the mosquito larvae. I checked on the garden, pulling weeds as the sun inched upwards. My beans are doing well. My peppers are beginning to fruit. I hope my pumpkins hang in there.
I made coffee. I drink only decaff, but it’s still comforting to have a warm cup in the morning. I sat on the porch and watched the gold finches eat my zinnias. I sat on the couch and watched the dogs chew on rawhide. I folded laundry. I finished pitting the 20 lbs of cherries we picked yesterday and set 10 lbs to boil in sugar for jam. I did an inventory of my empty mason jars, set the chosen ones aside to sanitize, and then I did an inventory of the rest of our canned goods.
We picked too many cherries and we’ll have too much jam, but this is perfect. We’ll give some away, barter some of it, and have it on hand for a few years. We have a tendency to cycle through fruits. Three years ago we did strawberries and we’re just finishing them up. Last year it was blueberries. And although we’ve not made apple butter in almost 4 years… we still seem to always find a jar. This is our year for cherries.
Now I wait quietly for others in the house to stir.
I forgot to tell you that we finished the basement just in time (almost) for a housemate to move in. We’re all getting along very well. It’s nice to share our space. And, best of all, he loves the chickens and the bees and he likes to help me in the garden.
My days have been so very busy with my new job and other adventures and I am sad I have not found the time to share. There have been many good stories– from trips to the emergency room to rescuing wild honeybees from someone’s living room wall, as well as visits to local and rural homesteads, swims in ponds, and a variety of excellent cooking experiments. I hope to be able to share more very soon. Meanwhile, I hope your spring/summer has been off to a great start, too!
I’m now video powered. Enjoy a peak at our hive and our beautiful bees!
Listen to that nerd. “I love my bees.” What a loon.
Here’s a close up picture of a bee’s corbicula, the “saddlebags” I mention. The bees gather particles of pollen all over their bodies when they visit flowers, and then they groom themselves with their hind legs, brushing all the tiny grains of pollen into their corbicula, which are not unlike velcro.
As they groom the pollen into these velcro-like “saddlebags,” the tiny pollen bits get mushed into a single larger grain that we can see with our eyes. The color of the pollen can be different depending on the plant. It’s so neat to see bees fly in with red pollen and orange pollen and yellow pollen. Some people harvest the pollen from the bees and use it for naturopathic treatments. Others use it as a protein supplement.
But the bees really need the pollen the most. After it’s gathered, they then deposit the golden kernels in the hive near their brood. The high protein pollen is the first stuff that gets fed to baby bees when they emerge!