August 31, 2009

Goodbye Summer

Yah, I know summer's not officially over until September 22nd this year, but most of us mark the end on Sept. 1st , or the first day of school, or Labor Day weekend, whichever comes first. I remember when we were kids, you always started school after Labor Day and you were done by Memorial Day. Now kids go back to school so early in August, that if I was a kid, I'd feel robbed!

All around our garden and yard there are signs that autumn is approaching. This big sunflower is quickly turning into a bird feeder! It measures a full foot across, with some of the kernels not yet turned, some looking like the familiar sunflower seed, and some have already been plucked out. I cut it off and I'm drying it on the deck so I can take it down to church as part of the fall decorations I plan to work on this week. The kids always like having things they can touch and explore, which I like better than having a group of "DON'T TOUCH" decorations that torment them! Last fall it was a regular site to see gourds and pumpkins being hauled around church by little ones!

And now for the purple hyacinth beans! My vine is so pretty right now and a little hummingbird has been visiting every day - such an amazing bird. How are your vines doing? If you got some of my seeds to plant this year, this is an official plea to send your photos to me. I have hopes of posting photos of these beautiful vines growing in different states, all having come from last year's plant - so please, pretty please, send your photos?!!

August 26, 2009

Cabbage in the Freezer?

Here's part of our cabbage patch harvest. They weighed from 5 to 7.5 pounds each! (If you look closely at the left side of the picture you can see the snout of a curious cat too.) These cabbages have been out in the garden the longest, and they are apparently the best for storing since they've hardened off, or firmed up due to the length time in the garden. The one red cabbage is in newspaper since we plan to try and keep that one for a while, in an extra refrigerator in our garage. Cabbages like to be kept cool and moist and are supposed to last a couple of months that way. That will be the first part of our experiment with keeping cabbage.

The next experiment is freezing the cabbage, and it's dedicated to Christy, who commented after my last post that she had a cabbage that needed tending! According to the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, cabbage can be successfully frozen in either wedges or coarse shred. I have no use for wedges, so ours will be shredded.

This is the blanching process - 3 minutes for wedges and 1.5 minutes for shredded. Blanching just means dropping raw veggies into boiling water and letting them go for the allotted time - you don't wait for the water to come back to a boil before you start your timer. This kills enzymes in the veggies that will contribute to their spoiling more quickly. The tool you see in the picture is called a spider, and we have one for sale in our General Store, under the Kitchen Gadgets category.

I drained it on kitchen towels, and let it cool a bit before packing it into quart sized freezer bags. My smallest cabbage, after trimming, yielded three quart bags.

I'll use this cabbage in our favorite version of vegetable soup, which I just discovered I've never posted before. That will come this winter! Frozen cabbage will also be great for stir-fry, braised cabbage (we recently discovered this treat at an Ethiopian restaurant), and good old Irish Colcannon, which is mashed potatoes, cabbage, onion and bacon mixed up into a fantastic dish we've made for St. Patrick's Day. I'm sure if I "google" cabbage recipes, we can come up with a whole new batch of possibilities too. I will tell you that the Ball preserving book did have a recipe for "Freezer Slaw" which initially intrigued me, but that sucker had 2 CUPS of sugar in it for 2 pounds of cabbage - that is a boat load of sugar if you ask me! Kind of defeats the purpose of growing and eating a healthy cruciferous veggie doesn't it?!!

While I was stinking up the house and blanching cabbage, I also blanched some whole leaves that I'll be using in a recipe for stuffed cabbage rolls tonight. They only need about a minute or so, since what you're trying to do is just soften them enough that they can be stuffed and rolled up without cracking. I don't think I'll have the time or energy to get that recipe posted tonight, but hopefully tomorrow. You can always click on the "Garden of Recipes" tab to get to the recipe page.

P.S. DH harvested another 20 green peppers last night, so I'll be back to the slicing, dicing and freezing routine today too. I'd say I'm definitely in a "productive" line of work these days!

August 23, 2009

Kitchen Canning Chaos

It's definitely been chaotic in the kitchen around here, with canning jars, lids, rings, sticky blobs on the floor, and a huge steaming pot of water making a giant mess in the kitchen, but the results are fantastic! This picture shows off the beautiful hot pepper jelly we made over the weekend. I love the warm color and the suspended bits of pepper. They just beg for this appetizer to be made...

Cream cheese and hot pepper jelly on crackers is probably not the classiest appetizer to ever hit a Midwestern table, but it's definitely one of my favorite decadent treats! I've intended to make my own pepper jelly for the longest time, and finally decided that since I had all the trappings of canning laying around the kitchen anyway, this was the weekend to get it done! And I love the gorgeous little jalapenos we grew this year. Should be a wonderful addition to our Mexican dishes this winter. They freeze very well and very easily, just like the method I used for the green peppers.

The reason that the canning equipment was out in the first place, was so that we could turn this pretty rhubarb and these crushed, deep red strawberries, into...

...luscious, tart, strawberry-rhubarb jam! Yummy, yummy. My rhubarb has two harvest times, one in the spring and one in the late summer. I used some of what I harvested to make a rhubarb crisp for the freezer. That will go to our next church luncheon - fast food can be a good thing! The organic strawberries (frozen), were purchased from our food buying club and came in a large quantity, so making jam was a great use for some of them. I canned some of this jam in jars for Christmas gifts by using the holiday lids and rings, so that puts me a little ahead of that game as well. I sometimes question whether or not people really want this stuff at Christmas, but I always love receiving it from other people, so I go by that measure. There's that old saying about gift giving, "give something you'd like to receive yourself", which of course could be taken to an extreme, but it works pretty well!

Next chaotic activity in the kitchen - slicing and freezing cabbage. Another first!

August 21, 2009

Slice, Dice, and Freeze

There's just no more putting it off, it's time to start processing and getting some more things in the freezer. We decided to take one item at a time and finish it out in the garden. Lord willing this weekend we'll finish up with the myriads of Brussels sprouts out there and get them frozen.

Today I tried something new, which is making and freezing stewed tomatoes. There's a recipe in the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. The recipe is actually for canning the stewed tomatoes, but I chose freezing instead. I have these great freezer containers that are just the right size when I need tomatoes for a recipe of spaghetti sauce, chili, or stew. I added a hot pepper, plus more onion, green pepper, and celery than the recipe specified, but ONLY because I was freezing instead of canning. If I had been canning I would have followed their recipe to the letter. When you home can high acid foods (tomatoes) with low acid foods (celery, onion, peppers), you have to be very careful that the acidity level is adequate for long term storage. That's why canning things like stewed tomatoes and salsa has to be a more exact science.

I also engaged in slicing loads of green peppers. I diced a few, but mostly sliced them for things like stir-fry, Pad Thai, and fajitas. The Ball Blue Book says that there is no need to blanch these before freezing, so there couldn't be anything simpler. I put them on a cookie sheet that is lined with lightly sprayed wax paper. From experience, I know that frozen veggies can stick like crazy! We use lots of peppers when we have them, but the price per pound of these babies in the grocery store is absolutely outrageous. We have plenty more out in the garden and I'm really hoping they will keep us supplied for a good long while.

And finally, I would like to report that there is a STINKING SNAKE out there in that garden, and I really don't appreciate it's being there this time of the summer and slowing me down when there is so much to do! Every time I have to go out there now, it requires a lengthy ritual of beating on the gathering bowl, clanking the fence, stamping the ground, and any other noises I can think of before I'm able to gingerly get in there and grab what I need. What an inconsiderate, slithering devil!

August 19, 2009

Back to School

Was it really 14 years ago that she went off to her first day of kindergarten - really? Really? It is so cliche, but it truly doesn't seem possible. Wearing a jumper I sewed for her and decked out with her Pocahontas backpack, she very happily skipped out the door, and we walked her up the street to school. What a moment in time.

And today, she headed out in her car - for the beginning of her junior year of college. Unbelievable. If you have little ones still in your home, cherish, cherish, cherish the moments. Parenting little kids can be so overwhelming that you forget to enjoy the thrill of it all! But the good news is that parenting a mostly grown child is thrilling as well. Watching the adults that they become is just fascinating. Oh, and you should also cherish the relatively small investment of getting them back to school when they're little. Rather than a new back pack this year, she needed to be set up for an apartment, the usual new fall clothes, and last but not least, 4 new tires for her car - ouch! She's worth every cent though - every last cent!

We also stocked her car with a load of fresh garden veggies since she'll be cooking for herself this year. We picked a true peck of peppers last night! Check the recipe page for a stuffed peppers recipe and picture in the near future - tonight? I also plan to make pepper jelly this year, so this gorgeous load of peppers will certainly not go to waste. The other things we picked last night included rhubarb, carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes - loads of them. DD made her version of bruschetta last night and I know that salsa making is just around the corner. Happy Days!

August 14, 2009

Remembering Julia Child on TV

All of the hype that's been generated by the Julie and Julia movie is just fascinating to me! And for once, it's good hype! It's one of those movies that just seeps into your brain more and more after you've seen it - the food, the relationship between Julia Child and her husband, and the work and determination that it took to see her cookbook dream come to fruition. If you're lucky like me and you're old enough to have seen her older shows on television, you get the bonus of a fond walk down memory lane. I remember my dad watching the old shows with me too. He was very much caught up in the gourmet cooking trend of the time, and he loved to pick a fancy menu from a magazine and follow it down to the letter for important guests. My mom loves to recount serving a gourmet meal to my dad's boss in our small eat-in kitchen in Illinois, right on the Formica and chrome kitchen table, and using some S&H Green stamp dishes! So, even before Julie in the movie, people were not letting their lack of "proper" accoutrements deter them from diving into the joys of fine cuisine.

My husband told me that "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" is a best seller once again. I searched today and found that it's sold out at several book stores near us and the waiting list at the library is quite long already. I did find another gem on the library shelf though - "Julia's Casual Dinners", from 1999. I must say that the pictures remind me more of the 70's-in particular the olive green dishes that I remember her using on her show.

Some of the classic olive green dishes are shown here, and isn't it fascinating that this table full of food is considered a "fast" dinner!! Here's her menu for " A Fast Fish Dinner" - cold beet and cucumber soup, fingers of buttered pumpernickel bread, monkfish tails en piperade, fresh tomato fondue (optional), saute of zucchini, French bread, cream cheese and lemon flan, cherries, grapes, tangerines or berries in season - Holy Cow! And here we are in the 30-minute meal world! I am truly beginning to believe that we need to backpedal a bit here and re-examine our focus when it comes to family, home and food. One of the nicest surprises in this book is the way that Julia "lectures" about the importance of food and cooking - really eye opening.

There is also the classic Julia humor in this volume - unintended as it may sometimes be! Here she calls a meal "UFO's in Wine", and the unidentified flying objects she speaks of are small game birds - ha!! It took me right back to the show, and the many times that she seemed to crack herself up with her own humor! What a character. She caused a revolution in this country's cooking once, and given the huge buzz going on right now, you can 't help but wonder if she's about to do it again!

August 12, 2009

What a Beautiful Season

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven..."
Eccl. 3:1

This is the first part of one of our daughter's favorite passages in the Bible. It's been meaningful to her in all of our moving around years - and WOW, has she had to deal with us moving around! And now this verse resonates in all the new experiences she's known in the past several years. She's had such a summer of growing and changing, and in all the good and the hard parts, she knows that God has a reason and a plan for it all. As you wait for all the good things you hope for in your children's lives, this is a welcome comfort for parents!

In the literal sense of a beautiful season, the flowers and vegetables at our house are just delightful right now. Above in the vase are some obvious flowers, along with the purple flowers, called Phlox, which have the most amazing scent. Isn't it great that there is no such thing as "clashing colors" when you put flowers together in a vase? I have the desire to have a much bigger cutting garden, but I guess this is not the season for that!

Speaking of beautiful...these are heirloom "Black Krim" tomatoes.

Have you ever?! If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can see the features more clearly. The olive highlights and the black streaks are so unique, and it truly has a unique flavor as well. We ate quite the plateful last night!

This is one more newly ripened heirloom, called "Delicious".

The plant itself is enormous and bushy, and DH found these very ripe tomatoes buried inside! I liked this one especially because the skin just pulled right off, without any blanching needed - you can see a peeled section in the picture and the deep red of the flesh. I think this will be perfect for salsa and pasta sauce, since you have a much better end product when you peel the tomatoes for these two things.

Judging by the number of cars we saw on the road this weekend, squeezing in one last camping trip or excursion, I'd say that lots of us are sensing the beginning of the end of summer. What a beautiful season it's been!

August 10, 2009

Tomato Celebration

Here are a few of the heirloom tomatoes we've picked and enjoyed in the past couple of weeks. They are worthy of a celebration!

These are "Durzba" tomatoes, and you can see that they have ripened in quite a variety of sizes. These are said to have distinctive 'shoulders', which is the ribbing around the top of the tomato.

These are the "Bloody Butcher" tomatoes, awful name, but so much flavor in a little tomato. These are consistently about 2-3 inches in size, and it's vine is a true tomato machine!

These are some of the "Italian" heirloom tomatoes. They have such an interesting pointed shape, they are so meaty, with nearly no core and they're BIG! Most are softball sized!

And last but not least are these heirloom yellow pear tomatoes. These are growing prolifically in clumps of 10-15 fruits, and they're wonderful!

We had a great weekend helping our daughter get moved into her new apartment for the coming fall semester. Along with the moving and outfitting the kitchen, we met some of her friends, who were charming, and got to visit one of their new favorite restaurants, which is Ethiopian. Oh my it was fantastic! We've enjoyed African cuisine from Ethiopia, Erritrea, and Zimbabwe - in Washington D.C., Colorado, Maine, and South Dakota!! I urge you to try it out if you ever get the chance. It's very entertaining to eat this way too, as you use the wonderful spongy pancakes served with the food as your utensils. Everyone tears off a piece of the amazing bread and uses it to scoop up one of several savory choices on the communal plate. Great way to eat and fosters true companionship!

As I blogged last week, we took some of these lovely tomatoes up to our daughter this weekend. We took her and one of her roomates to see "Julie and Julia", which is a great movie, and our daughter was inspired by a scene in which Julie made fresh tomato bruschetta. She made it for Sunday afternoon lunch and she and her friends lapped up every last bite! I've put a bruschetta recipe on the recipe page of this blog which is just a guide, but if you don't know the pleasure of this simple treat, go there and try it out. You'll be celebrating tomatoes too!

August 6, 2009

Garden Comfort

Growing and harvesting your own vegetables, fruit, and flowers has got to be one of the most satisfying works on earth. It gives such great reward - everything from fresh air and exercise, to healthy food, plus a real sense of comfort. I actually had an endorphin rush when DH brought this little beauty in from the garden! This amazing vegetable looks like someone took a set of watercolors to it - exquisite.

This is an heirloom Turks Cap squash that has been growing vertically on our newly installed garden trellises. It has some brothers and sisters still on the vine, and some are bigger than this one, which is the size of a small cantaloupe - exciting!

It's also comforting to harvest a crop of something like these onions, that can be preserved and enjoyed for a while to come. We're debating about whether or not to chop and freeze our onions, or try to keep them in a more old fashioned way, such as braiding them and keeping them in a cool dry spot. We'll see. As quickly as we go through onions around here, it may not be much of a problem anyway!

These onions are drying on our deck until "the dirt on them has dried out", according to one of our gardening resource books, The Garden Primer.

It's also very comforting to take a load of freshly picked, organic produce to our baby, who is out on her own, but still our baby. This all came from our garden last night - we've got a huge flat Dutch cabbage, a huge red cabbage, yellow and red tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, and two kinds of potatoes to take up to her. We'll be helping her move into her apartment for the coming fall semester, and who wouldn't want to have a little comfort from home to help get that refrigerator stocked?!

August 5, 2009

North Slope Scenery

My little sister is way cooler than me - way cooler! This is what she saw this week, out her office window on the North Slope of Alaska.
This is a beautiful caribou, or what her girls called a "boo" when they were little! Her girls were fortunate enough to be raised in this beautiful part of our country, and now my sister and her husband have moved back there to resume life the "Alaska way". Do note that there is green in this picture too! It does indeed get very green there in the summer. The daylight is so long in the summer months, that things actually grow profusely there. When we visited a number of years back, I can remember being blown away by the enormous size and intense color of the most common flowers, like zinnias - amazing!

My sister works on the Slope, but they live near Anchorage, and now that they're going to be gardening up there too, I look forward to seeing what adventures they have. I think they should do an Alaska garden blog, don't you? Or maybe I'll do one for both of us and call it "Gardening from the Heartland, to the Hinterland"!

August 4, 2009

Pickle Night

Combine 8 lbs. of heirloom Japanese Climbing cucumbers, circa 1892 variety...

...with 4 lbs. of heirloom Bianca di Maggio white onions, all cut thin on a handy tool called a mandolin...

...and you end up with this year's supply of Bread and Butter pickles! We canned 13 pints, which should be enough to last the year, provided that we don't give away too many and that DD doesn't raid our shelves too many times when she's home from school!

Here's the link to last year's pickle making blog entry, which has a few more pictures of the process. I always use the Bread and Butter pickle recipe in the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. It's a very good resource and well worth the inexpensive price. It was so nice to have DH helping me with these pickles this year. In just one evening we got so much done, and the kitchen was even clean at the end - woohoo! We just left the canning supplies stacked up in the kitchen because - those tomatoes, well, I can see lots of red all the way from the kitchen window!

August 3, 2009

Sunflower Mystery's the first cheerful girl, a dwarf sunflower, and...

...her twin sister???

Same packet of seeds, same planting day, and they're growing about 4 feet apart in the same planting bed out front. So the mystery is why in the world are they so very different from one another? Even the foliage is different. The first pictured sunflower has a rather spindly look to the stem and leaves, and the second one is very full and lush looking, and even has two baby sunflower shoots coming along the sides of the big one. The two flowers are the same height, and they both opened at the same time, but that's where the similarities end. Maybe we should chalk this up to a super cheap package of seeds from the local dime store! Truthfully I love them both and can't wait to see how they look with their seeds all nicely formed!

When I went out to take these flower pictures this morning, I wasn't quite sure what kind of damage I would find, since we finally had rain early this morning - along with thunder, lightening, and a little hail - ugh. But at least everything got a good drink, and all predictions say that the moisture coupled with the hot temperatures this week will cause our tomatoes to lose their minds and ripen in droves! The Omaha paper had an article this weekend about the slow ripening of tomatoes all over this region, but the spell may be broken now. I have the feeling that the canning frenzy is about to start. We begin with pickles tonight and I predict it's going to be non-stop for a while. Good stuff ahead!

August 2, 2009

Iowa Field Trip

On a whim, we took off for a little trip to find something we had heard about many times, but never located. It's called Freedom Rock and this website gives the background on it. Here's a little bit of information.

"Every year, for the last nine years, a talented artist, Ray (Bubba) Sorensen II, has done a Memorial Day tribute to our servicemen and servicewomen, both past and present, with a stirring tableau painted on a large granite boulder which stands next to Highway 25. The huge granite boulder came out of the nearby Schillberg Rock Quarry and it weighs approx. 56 ton (50.8Mg) and is 12 ft (3.7m) high."

I took a lot of pictures and have to say that it was an inspiring little gem to find in the middle of nowhere - proving that there is a vein of patriotism in this country that runs deep and should be a source of comfort for all of us.

We personally know soldiers who have served, some in our own family, and we know those who are soon being sent to serve. We keep them in our prayers and strongly feel that all of us should thank them for their service. We'll likely never know the extent of their sacrifice.