...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sabbath Rest--Meditations on an Empyt Jar

Some things are lovely for a season, but then they are gone.

Other things are lovely seasonally...but for most of each year, that loveliness is hidden away.

Some things are lovely longer because they are displayed together in appealing collage, but you must go to some effort to see them and be enriched by them.

But some things--like glass canning jars with broken rims--aren't lovely at all. They can't hold a seal. They've utterly lost their purpose.


...someone gets creative.

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time [are] not worthy [to be compared] with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Romans 8:18

Corrie ten Boom, in her devotional Each New Day tells this story:
I once saw a church that was really no more than a ceiling--here it was canvas, there it was metal. The people told me that once they had a beautiful brick church, but they were in a country where Christianity was not allowed, and someone burned down the church.
I told them I was sorry they had lost their building, but they smiled. "God does not make mistakes. Some time ago," they said, "there was an earthquake on a Sunday morning. A thousand people were under this ceiling. Had we been in a brick building, many would have been injured, but this ceiling just quaked along with the earthquake and no one was hurt."
O Lord, thank you that Your side of the embroidery of our life is always perfect. This is such a comfort when our side is sometimes so mixed up.

By the time we are even a short way into adulthood, we see that how we are "recycled" is a great mystery. I've also used the cracked jar for catching squash bugs. Did that jar wonder at its purpose as I filled it with soapy water, carried it to the garden, and started dumping bugs into it? Does it mind it's purpose being humbled like that? Is it only happy as a vase in a summer window, thinking it is only valuable when it supports great beauty? Or does it grump at being anything other than a canning jar, refusing to release its original purpose and fixating on its cracked rim as the ruin of all its value?

More importantly, do I see whcih of those jars...is me?

To-Do List for the Late Summer Garden Calendar

When the "real" cucumber leaves start looking like the "fake" ones on the fall wreathes at Hobby Lobby...

When the mums start pushing through the baby's breath...

When your garden gloves start to look like this on their best days...

...it's time for the late summer garden calendar check!

Once again with a nod to the Country Living Gardening Basics garden guide, here's the to-do list for the care and maintenance of your late summer garden:

Hoe to keep the weeds down

Lift onions whose tops have dies down

Watch for signs of water stress and water regularly

Summer-prune any fruit trees

Thin fall vegetable seedlings (or plant ones that are hardy late in the season)

Harvest tender herb leaves and plant/transplant into pots those moving indoors

Fertilize tomatoes regularly

Tidy up strawberries after fruiting

Top-dress fruit and vegetables with a fast-acting fertilizer to give them a boost

Remove yellowing leaves and prune non-producing side shoots from tomato plants

Sow fall salad crops

As always, happy gardening!

Kitchen Pilgrimage--Pamela's Plans for Zucchini

This month's kitchen pilgrimage takes us off our blog-beaten path to the kitchen of naturopath Pamela Reilly. You can learn about her at her website, or you can scroll down to link directly to her blog. In any case, you'll find some innovative ways to use the bushels of zucchini that come out of the garden this time of year. (Yep, you can do more than just freeze stacks and stacks of zucchini bread.)


It's that time of year when people are begging their friends and family to take excess zucchini off their hands. Zucchini is far more versatile than people realize and has many more uses than the old stand-by of zucchini bread!Nutritionally, zucchini is a great source of fiber and has significant amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium,Vitamin A, lutein, Vitamin C ... and is a fair source of Omega 3 fatty acids!

So what do you do when you have zucchini coming out of your ears? Try the following ideas that are a bit off the beaten path:

1) Make zucchini slaw

2) Combine with nut meal, cooked beans & spices to make veggie burgers

3) Slice, coat with sunflower seed meal combined with spices, and saute. I've seen some huge zucchini this year which make great "zucchini burgers" when sliced, spiced & sauteed

4) Use to make zucchini hummus (combine with garlic, coconut oil and anything else you can imagine!)

5) Add to smoothies ... zucchini "stretches" smoothies so you don't need to add as many sugar-filled fruits

6) Shred and add to casseroles, soups, stews, etc. ... your family will never know!

7) Slice and make zucchini sandwich appetizers. Fill with thick hummus, almond butter blended with cayenne powder, organic cheese slices, Greek yogurt blended with fresh herbs, etc., etc.

8) Slice and sautee in butter for a quick & easy veggie side dish

9) Slice thinly and substitute for lasagna noodles and other noodles. This may sound strange, but it works really well and effectively eliminates the carbs from high-carbohydrate pasta dishes

10) Slice bigger ones into 2-3" logs, hollow out the center, stuff and bake using your favorite stuffed pepper recipe. Works great! Finely chop what you dug out of the center and use in casseroles as a low-calorie filler.

What's your favorite use?

If you'd like to read more of Pamela's blog, you'll find her here:


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Recipe Pilgrimage: to Texas for Tomato Jam

Looking for a jar of something different to add to your canning shelf? You might try Paula's recipe for tomato jam.

The first time we visited Paula, she taught us how to make meringue.

The second time, she showed us her Texas garden. This year of drought, Paula said, has decimated her garden, but her recipe file is none the worse for wear! A sudden catastrophic illness in my extended family has kept me from blogging for a while here, but Paula's recipe gives me an easy way to get back in the blogging business.

Happy jam-making!

Chipotle Tomato Jam - Yummy!
by Paula's Parties 'n such

Don't let the title fool you. This spread is great on everything from glazed ham to biscuits to crackers, and even sliced fresh tomatoes! Three kinds of peppers give this "jam" a unique character.

I could give you the small recipe, but I think you'll wish you had made a larger batch. So, here it is........

TIP: I PUT MY PEPPER AND ONION IN THE FOOD PROCESSOR. It doesn't effect the appearance at all.

2 16 oz cans of diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
4 cups finely chopped green pepper
2 cups finely chopped onion, red or white is fine
4 tablespoons ketchup
10 drops Tabasco
3 tablespoons chipotle sauce (from canned chipotle peppers)
2 tablespoons black pepper

Stir all ingredients together in a large heavy saucepan. Cook at a simmer for 2 hours, stirring often to prevent sticking. Continue simmering until "jam" is very thick. That's it!

Cool completely, if you plan to store in refrigerator. Pack into airtight containers and chill. Will keep for 2 to 3 weeks only.

My method includes processing in a water bath which allows me to have jars of goodness on my pantry shelves at all times. Using sterile jars and seals, pack hot jam into jars leaving 1" headspace. Process according to the directions for your area.

Monday, August 8, 2011

How Old Is Too Old?

Guess where I am. I'm starting my afternoon attending a lecture on the many uses of gourds, followed by the performance of a pack of chihuahuas, perusing a soybean mural and finishing up with a party for Smokey the Bear's birthday. Figured it out yet? Why, I'm at the State Fair, of course.

Last year, I strolled through a white, beadboard-walled basement with its ancient cement floors in a Pavillion that displayed contest-winning jellies and relishes, lofty cakes and elaborate pies. But if I were to want to put the peach jelly I made yesterday up for the judging, it wouldn't go on display until next summer.

With flowers, it is easy to tell what is still fresh and what is not...same with newly canned goods. But if you've been canning with me since last summer, you may be a little unsure of the quality of those last few jars left from the summer of 2010...or maybe even from the summer before that.

Fortunately, there are indicators as to the quality of your home canned foods.

Indicators that your food is spoiled include the following: broken seals, seepage of contents, mold, gassiness, fermentation, yeast growth, slime, cloudiness, spurting liquid and disagreeable odors.

If you do suspect low-acid foods like meats, poultry, seafoods, even low-acid tomato products have spoiled, you should take care to prevent botulin from being available to either humans or animals. Detoxifying involves boiling the jar (along with its contents) under water for 30 minutes, then discard everything from the boiling pan. A solution of 1 part bleach to 5 parts water should be used to clean all surfaces that the suspect product has touched, letting the cleaning solution stand for 5 minutes before rinsing. Finally, dispose of any dishclothes and sponges used.

These precautions are far more likely to be necessary for the pressure cooker canner who is canning meats and low-acid vegetables, but every canner needs to be aware of them. The old saying, "better safe than sorry" absolutely applies in the world of home canning!

Happy canning!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sabbath Rest: Iris and the Prayer Shawl

Just this week I finished the summer prayer shawl I was making, so I searched about for a book of new patterns to inspire the next one I might make. In the book, Prayer Shawl Companion, the following side feature was told by Janie Rupright, out of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Whether you're a textile artist or not, the story is precious:

Our pastor officiated at a funeral for a lady who had a beautiful garden filled with irises and lilies. She had loved those flowers, and it was mentioned in the service that she would be tending to them in heaven. As these words were spoken, a woman began to sob loudly. Afterward, a gentleman came up to the pastor and apologized for his wife, who had broken down. He explained that their daughter had recently given birth to premature twin girls--Iris and Lily. Iris was still in critical condition, but Lily had passed away. Our pastor gave the man and his wife, the twins' grandparents, a baby shawl that had been made by our Prayer Shawl Ministry, explaining the intent of the shawl ministry as he did. The babies' grandmother just hugged the shawl. She said that it was the color of the babies' nursery, and that they would take it to the hospital that afternoon. She was very, very touched, as were the babies' parents. The shawl remained either in or over Iris's incubator for the remainder of her hospital stay.

Iris survived, and her parents, in their thank you note, spoke of the comfort they found in that shawl they received. If you knit or crochet and have never made a prayer shawl, you don't know what a beautiful thing you're missing! Not only do you feel a sweetness as you work, but the recipient will draw upon that same source of peace and comfort when you put the shawl in his or her hands.

The same book speaks to how you can design a worship environment for yourself any time you create something for someone as a ministry. Not only do you gather your supplies, but also a scented candle, a favorite CD of meditative music, maybe a favorite drink, and a journal and pen. Begin your work time by sitting quietly for a few minutes to relax and center yourself. Light your candle, open the journal and record the date, then as you knit or crochet, pause to jot down reflections that come to you as you work. You might include these insights or prayers in a note to the recipient. If you are part of shawl being co-knit, your reflections will join the collective journal to be given to the shawl recipient. As you create the shawl, begin to visualize times you have found comfort when you were enfolded in a favorite blanket or in the arms of a person who cares for you. Pray the memories into the work, along with thoughts appropriate to the shawl--whether for peace, strength, hope, comfort, healing, etc. If the shawl is for a friend, embellish it with beads and charms that symbolize a common interest--like gardening or the sea. If the recipient is Catholic, put 10 beads on each side of the shawl so the wearer can say a few decades of the rosary.

If, on the other hand, you don't have a specific theme or person in mind as you make the shawl, then here is a beautiful breath prayer to use while making a shawl in a knit 3, pearl 3 pattern. Pray the following with each stitch group:

Know God, know Christ, know the Spirit,

Praise God, praise Christ, praise the Spirit.--Catherine Foster, Northmoro, MA

You can come up with your own breath prayers based on the patterns of the work as you knit or crochet. My hope is you'll have the opportunity to make something special for someone someday--a sketch, a piece of pottery, a wreath, a photo album...or maybe a prayer shawl. Creating something as a ministry is a wonderful gift to give to yourself!

Playing in the Dirt...

...or, just a little game for you repeat gardeners who keep tabs on the quality of your soil. This quiz comes from one of our state's fine state parks. Answer the questions from the first pic before looking at the key below it.

Happy soil improvements!

Friday, August 5, 2011

What's It Worth to You?

Who isn't familiar with the idea "if you can't do 100% then don't even try..."

Well, You need to forget that saying--or at least modify the definition of 100%--when it comes to backyard urban gardening. True, yesterday I was swept away with visions of permaculture: its sprawling urban forests, replete with fruits and nuts, mushrooms and goats, and of course chickens everywhere! But my reality is that my HOA does not permit small farm animals, in fact, I just might be pushing the limits by having a modest little compost heap in the corner of myback fencing. Does that mean I abandon all endeavors at self-sustaining urban farming? My answer would be "Absolutely not!"

Even a modest little plot like mine can offer what I'd call enhancements--both to taste and nutrition. Ingenuity and creativity make it possible to bridge those gaps between the kitchen whose pantry is filled with nothing but what's processed and packaged and the one whose pantry holds an active butter churn, meat grinder and pressure cooker. Case in point: the salsa ingredients shown above. So what if your garden doesn't produce enough fresh tomatoes to make a full batch of salsa, take what you do have garden-fresh and supplement with diced canned tomatoes. So what if you don't have time or space to have fresh-from-the-garden herbs on hand for that salsa, mixes--both for salsa and pickles--offer a pleasing blend of flavors, and a quick and easy prep time with only vinegar needed to complete your ingredients list.

Can you still taste that homemade, fresh-tomato difference? My family says yes.

Hint about canning tomato recipes other than salsa though--many experts recommend you add a teaspoon of lemon juice to each jar if your recipe doesn't involve vinegar. Tomatoes overall have been bred to be less acidic than they were years ago when your grandmother canned them, making spoilage an issue. This step isn't necessary, however, if you are making freezer sauces. Also, you'll need to allow extra time with the waterbath canner. Tomato recipes generally require twice as much time in the canner as many pickle recipes do.

Happy supplementing!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What in the World is Permaculture?

Alright...if I should need some inspiration as I discover squash borers kill a couple of my squash plants "overnight" (No pictures. It's just too depressing!) I need only meet up with some of these people to renew my vision! Hope you enjoy the story as much as I did!


Monday, August 1, 2011

Waste Not, Want Not...

Mmmm....look tasty?
It does to my friend, Mr. Compost Heap. Lots of his favorite kitchen scraps are available this time of year as garden vegetables are prepped for canning and freezing. I must, however, always remember when feeding him that he needs a balanced diet just like I do. He needs both carbon and nitrogen in his diet. Straw or hedge clippings make a good first course, followed by veggie waste and leaves, then some bush and tree prunings, and topped off with an accelerator for dessert. Don't get too concerned about the accelerator if you're feeding one of these guys, too. Cheap nitrogen-rich fertilizer works just as well. If you really want to pamper him, keep him watered in dry weather and covered with an old tarp or carpet to retain the moist, hot conditions that help him achieve his prime health.

What to feed him:
Soft prunings and hedge clippings, fallen leaves and flowers, straw and sawdust, torn newspaper and fiber egg boxes, tea leaves, coffee grounds, egg shells...see how versatile his tastes are?
What NOT to feed him: animal remains, unless you just like keeping a preserve for mice, rats and raccoons, cooked and greasy food, grass clippings unless just a thin layer--and certainly not after applying any type of herbicide, woody material unless shredded--gives him indigestion, badly diseased plants or ones infested with worms and nematodes.
(List compliments of Gardening Basics by Country Living.)

It feels good--in a recycling sort of way--knowing you're making better use of those scraps than just poking them down the garbage disposal, even if you don't have a hog to feed. However, don't feel bad if you composting efforts don't yield rich loamy stuff that fluffs in you hands. Maureen Gilmer in The Small Budget Gardener says this about her composting efforts:
I hate to admit it but I am a compost failure. In all my years of gardening I have never once created and maintained a functional compost pile. Perhaps it was due to the dry climate where I live or the fact that I just don't have enough stuff to feed it. More often than not I put what I could compost directly into my awful clay-and-rocks soil to keep it from cementing back together again. During those years of failure it was not a total loss because that heap consumed tons of leaves and rotten fruit and garden refuse. And maybe I'd get a few shovels full of the good stuff now and then. Its value was that I had some place to put all that excess organic matter from the garden and kitchen to avoid placing an added burden on the landfill. So if you aren't successful at composting, or if your yields, like mine, are too small to seemingly make much difference, just keep on gardening and composting, it all works out in the end.

Happy composting!