...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.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

What to Do with Too Much

That time of the season has arrived.
Sooner or later in a good year a common gardener faces it:
How do you process, how do you accept that there is more out there than you can possibly use.
Do you give it away?
Do you chide yourself for planting too much in the first place?
Do you let it go to seed in the hopes that it will re-seed itself and produce volunteer offspring the next year?
The way we face the dilemma tells us more about ourselves than we realize.

Early morning today dawned bright and beautiful outside--much more so than within, and so I waited to do my garden tending until I took a bike ride along my favorite river trail.

And the river, too, was bright and beautiful...and very still. 
 I saw two fishermen in the water. 
Two fishermen like statues.  Armpit deep.  Holding poles.  Silent as monks.
And I thought about gathering.
I thought how commercial fishermen haul in nets--even back to ancient times.
The sweat and the strain, the need for much more than enough,
because more than enough is the only way to sustain the "industry" of it.
Then I thought of the two old men I saw fishing.
One fish at a time.
What different modes of approach for the same activity.
And it felt like I touched something sacred there.
We know so well what to do in a dark place: we turn our eyes to whatever bright spot (no matter how dim) we can find.  But what do we do when we stand in the brilliance?
We know what to do in our poverty. We cry our need out to our Maker. 
Our instinct informs us.
It is our excess, our more than enough that gets us into trouble.
We forget the best things to do with that.
So today, after considering the shelf of canned goods and seeing it well-stocked, after visiting the garden and hauling in yet another basket of diverse veggies, I packed a bag for a friend...a friend who offers hospitality to so many others, who has, in fact, committed herself to that as a ministry.
At one time, I did make an industry of it all--taking my jars of pickled treasure to market and selling them.  It was not my calling.
I fish with a pole.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Evening in the Garden

The garden is a lot of work.
Don't forget to take the occasional stroll just to appreciate its beauty, too.

chive blooms

purple kholrabi

bee-teasing perennial

orange zinnia

ripe tomato behind the yellow ghost of another tomato blossom

dill blooms

sleepy squash blossom

lettuce gone to seed

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How Much Is Too Much?

It's a question every gardener learns to ask carefully; and an answer he or she learns to apply wisely over the seasons.  For while the garden looks rather full and verdant here in mid-August...


it was far less so in July...

...and even less impressive in June...
So when the seed packet or the seedling container's little tag advises you of the space requirements for that particular plant, don't just frown and say "You've got to be kidding me!"
They're not kidding you!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sabbath Rest: on Becoming a Well--Watered Garden

A God-pleasing fast isn't necessarily about avoiding food...

“...this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.

Family home in Jamaica

7  Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
Sunburst in Anchorage, Alaska
8  “Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind.
9 Then when you call, the LORD will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.
“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
Blanket squares made for an African charity
10 Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
11 The LORD will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring. --Isaiah 58:6-11

Friday, August 16, 2013

Too Many Cucumbers

Maybe it's because I was getting desperate.  Maybe it's because I've known summers when hardly a handful of cucumbers grew all summer long, so I felt responsible to make full use of every cucumber in this season's BUMPER crop.
In any case, recent events gave me the material for yet another blog post following one of this year's themes: processing the EPIC fail.
The progression began with my sharing with a friend how I'd left Hubby sitting by the firepit all alone one evening until nearly full dark, all while I canned yet another pickle recipe. Meanwhile, more cucumbers sat in water in the refrigerator waiting for me to work some kind of magic on them, too.  Frankly, I was running out of ideas for what to do with them.
My friend asked, "Have you made a cucumber face mask yet?"
"No!" I said, excitedly.

So I went online and found myself a reputable-source recipe and set out to make myself a magnificent summer facial.  Oh, I had to make a few adjustments to the recipe, but nothing major.  I had to leave out the vitamin E oil--although I did pop a vitamin E capsule and squeeze  its oil into the concoction.  And I had to leave out the aloe vera gel--we used it all up during that community sunburn we earned the day the family did that 4-hour float trip down the river.  But otherwise, I had everything I needed!
Quickly I scanned the ingredient list, dumping all into the blender as I read: 1 peeled cucumber, 1 cup of Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon of raw honey, (I even had raw honey!) that squirt of vitamin E...
Whir. Whir.
At this point, I began to notice a problem.  I glanced back at the instructions.  "Thick and creamy." Yeah, that's what I thought it said.
I had a very thin cucumber bisque at best.  WHAT HAPPENED?
I went back to the recipe.  Alright, I admit when that long paragraph about the benefits of each ingredient started rolling along, I checked out. 
I'm already all in.  I don't need convincing.  I can skip this part.
But, maybe I should have read what followed that paragraph.  Guess I'll read it now, I decided.
I was only supposed to use 2 tablespoons of the cucumber puree after juicing it. 
Hmmm...so not the whole cucumber in the blender...hmmm...
Time for  some hot tea while I devised some sort of back-up plan.
I sloshed the runny stuff around and thought:  milk bath.  Why not just make it a milk bath?  The yogurt certainly offered milk bath benefits. The honey and cucumber couldn't hurt!  I'd make it a little more complex by adding a cup of Epsom salts and still have my beauty treatment...of a sort.
I did go ahead and mix up the sugar scrub recommended for use before the cucumber mask.  I wasn't able to "mess it up" seeing it was so very simple. 
1 T sugar.
1 T raw honey.
1 T olive oil.
Mix and scrub on the face. 
That part went exceptionally well.
So did the hour of solitude, just me and my milky bath, with the scent of fresh cucumber wafting over to meet the "ocean breeze" oil in my little burner.
As for the rest of my excess cucumbers, maybe I'll just follow the advice of one of my young friends:  eat 'em raw like apples!
Not a bad plan.  Apparently, they're pretty nutritious.
Bonus blog link:
Happy munching!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Kicking It Up a Notch

As I begin anew with this blog, I find myself wanting to approach it with some sort of underlying theme, beyond what it took for a theme before now, that is.
 Part of why I look for a new theme--in fact, part of why I took that "fallow year" at all--is that I'd run out of new ideas to share.
In a garden, the first season is always exciting.
On the canning shelf, the look is more decorative than functional that first season.  But give the venture a few years of production, and that same storage area is three jars deep, two jars high and spread over multiple shelves.  Back jars rotate to the front or years could pass before a jar's seal gets popped!

In the garden blog's early days, my youngest son was small enough to enjoy playing "walk the plank" around the garden.  Now, he's almost taller than me and much too suave for those games! But, while some things change--the size of this particular garden has doubled between its first season and now--some things nonetheless stay redundantly the same.  How many times should I describe my escapades making salsa?

 It is simply the nature of gardening, that it should be repetitive.  Late winter with its little seed pots of starter mix on a chilly windowsill. Spring and the smell of soil again; the first plantings going into the ground, the extra protection against hungry rodents.  Early summer, with fresh salads, each day offering yet another "salad ingredient" to come through the back door, and the braiding of onions and garlic, the broccoli and cabbage offering their yield.  Deep summer with hours spent at the canner and the tang of vinegar and the steam and the bowls of scraps on their way to the compost bin. And then autumn, with the planting of the last round of cool things--spinach and radishes and snow peas; a few more salads, the apples and the pumpkins an the winter squash, the spices and the chilly morning waterings.
For me, the return of each season is like the first reaching for the old favorite t-shirt in the spring or first slipping into that favorite sweat shirt come autumn. For anyone who might come alongside me in the blogosphere, however, the redundancy is probably less nostalgic. "Too repetitive" would be a kinder review.
So I let it rest.

Now, as I consider sharing this side of my life again, I find an idea sprouting--if you'll pardon the pun.  I realize that much of this blog's previous focus has been on basic creating--in preserving, in herb-work and such.  Maybe it is time to start another chapter. Maybe it is time to look at the consuming side of things for a while.  Maybe it is time to "advance" a bit. Work with more challenging techniques; even layer the creative aspects, using something already "made" to make something more. And maybe it's time to look at the things that simply don't work like they should and reveal the results.  Highly fruitful adaptation often springs from an initial failure.

For instance, almost exactly two years ago, I spent a day making herb vinegars.
 I know because I blogged about it: 

Earlier this summer, I made herb oils instead of vinegars, using lavender and rosemary.  Now those oils sit in little jars, waiting to go into the bath tub or to be dribbled over a dish of fresh potpourri. But in the spirit of the "new theme" I'm going to take some of that oil and make something more of it. I am going to try the scented oil candles I found here:

 Here you see the results.  All is well, as long as only look at this one captured moment in time.
 I got all my supplies together--including baking soda in case things didn't go so well--and tried to duplicate the instructions in her post.  But while the rosemary cinnamon oil put off a great aroma, I had some trouble getting the wick to stay wrapped on the paper clip.  No.  I had a LOT of trouble getting the wick to stay wrapped on the paper clip. What's more, the paper clip didn't quite fit, either falling into the jar or snapping with a ping off it. When I finally did get the wick burning, I still had trouble, for I couldn't figuring out how to raise the wick without knocking it all into the oil again, which gave me shuddering visions of the start of a wonderful smelling flash fire. 
Yes, maybe a focus on the results of failed attempts at novel ideas wasn't such a bad theme to address, too.

So the rosemary cinnamon oil went back into a storage jar until some other soaking-bath night, and I'll start over again with this blog post.
Let's pretend I just started to make this zucchini basil quiche with the plan to discuss consuming without waste.  Rarely does a zucchini grow to the "exact" size you need when shredding it for a recipe like zucchini cake or zucchini bread. I had a half cup of leftover shredded zucchini when I made my last round of zucchini bread.  And, I have basil galore right now.  So rather than making a classic spinach quiche, I adapted a standard quiche recipe to include this shredded zucchini.

At least I have past experience to assure me: this makes for a yummy quiche to consume! I'd say one failed attempt at something new per day will probably suffice...

Happy trial and error!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sabbath Rest: A Day at the River

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit."
--Jeremiah 17:7-8


Monday, August 5, 2013

Brining "Lite" with Cucumber Chunks

This  has been the Year of the Cucumber in my garden.  Quarts and quarts of cucumbers, such that I'm running out of ideas for ways to use them.  (For instance, look for a post on cucumber face masks sometime soon.)  With so many of them on hand, the shelf of staple dill pickles, bread and butter pickles and sweet pickle relish was quickly restocked, and yet the blooms keep coming and the bees keep buzzing.  So I'm going outside the box a little and trying some new things.
 While the pickle relish was cooling on the kitchen windowsill alongside the ripening tomatoes, I put a bowl of cucumber chunks on the following three-day brining and seasoning process. 

Chunk the cucumbers. (I goofed right off the bat because I didn't use a "clear pickling container" for the first phase of the process.  They brined just fine anyway.) Dissolve 1 1/2 cups of canning salt in 4 quarts of water and pour it over the veggies.  Cover this container after weighting down the cucumbers into the water.  Let it stand in a cool place for 36 hours.  (I call this brine "lite" because a true brine involves fermentation, bubbles and scum over the course of four weeks.)
Drain off the brine water and discard, then rinse the cucumbers and drain again. Now pour a quart of vinegar over the cucumbers in a pot and add water enough to cover.  Simmer the vinegar and cucumbers for 10 minutes, then drain and discard the liquid again. 

Next, combine 2 cups of sugar, 5 cups of vinegar, and 3 cups of water in the saucepot. (The cucumbers are draining to the side.) Put 2 tablespoons of pickling spice on a square of cheesecloth and tie it up with twine--also known as a spice bag, Add this to the pot and simmer 10 minutes.  Put the cucumbers back in the pickling container and pour the vinegar mixture--along with the spice bag--over the cucumbers.  Once again, cover and let stand for 24 hours. 
Drain again, but reserve the liquid this time. Add 2 to 3 more cups of sugar, depending on your taste preference, to the liquid, bring to a boil, pour over the cucumbers, cover, let stand 24 hours...you know the drill.
The big day! Fill the canner and set it over the burner. Pitch the spice bag (I wring mine out over the bowl because I hate to waste flavor.) Take the liquid--after removing the cucumbers--and bring it to a boil one last time. Meanwhile pack the pickle chunks in hot jars. If you are like me, you're recycling jars by now, so check your rings for rust and count out your caps for this round of canning.
 Pour the liquid over the pickles, leaving 1/4 inch head space.

Wipe the rims and remove air bubbles by running a spatula around the inside of the jar.
Adjust the caps and process in the boiling water for 15 minutes. If you have a sharpie, you can label the tops of the caps with the type of pickle and the date preserved. I find it easier than putting a label on the jar.  No glue to clean off when the jar is empty, just toss the lid in the trash and wash the ring and jar.

This time around, I had extra vinegar mixture leftover, so I made a bonus bowl of cucumber vinegar salad.  Who wants to waste a precious drop of that liquid after all the time and effort invested in it! 
Happy mini-brining!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Farmer's Market Day

...which is one of those times you can carry around a small cabbage and not draw a single inquiring glance.

Today was the day for bargains.  Much of what I buy supplements my backyard garden's produce, so I watch for that weekend in the season when the prices drop and the volume goes up significantly.  Green beans and corn, for instance, form a large part of the veggie stock in my freezer, and they are a very affordable option if I wait for the season's bumper crop to hit the market stands.  Timing is crucial, however, because that season of cheap but plentiful supply doesn't last all that long.

Time management is also crucial when you opt for this method due to the work load involved in buying and "putting up" the goods in large quantities. A standard home kitchen only allows so much pickling and canning and blanching work to happen on any given day.  And of course, there's the prep work. Also time consuming. 

Youngest son, who is my corn shucker par excellence, walked in from football practice as I was trimming the green beans for blanching.  He took one look at the corn pile and exclaimed, "Three dozen?  Seriously?"  (He's not really a farm boy.)

"And so now you understand why when someone is unhappy about something they say, 'aw, shucks'," I responded.

But a day's promise of hard labor isn't the only thing you can pick up at a farmer's market.  As I've blogged before, you can also find other fare if your city market is a diverse one.  I stopped at the Amish stand and got us our traditional fruit turnovers. Hubby wanted cherry, but I wanted a strawberry rhubarb.  Unfortunately, the only one left was in the "damaged" pile.  Cheaper, but damaged.
The young Amish boy behind the table said, "It just means it got squished a little."

"Or got dropped and kicked across the causeway," said the woman shopping next to me. (It had rained, and many puddles were strewn along either side of the market.)
"Or got licked once or twice by one of the market dogs," I joined in the joke. (Many little dogs wearing bandanas come to the market, just because they can.)
The young Amish boy looked appalled.  We explained we were only teasing.

Handmade soaps, jewelry, loose teas, wooden bowls, cakes and cookies to support a local brownie troupe, farm fresh eggs--with mother-chicken caged on display, tarn necklaces (that's t-shirt yarn) and super-soft floppy hats of felted yarn: the likes of all these are available at my town's farm market.  And while I don't frequent these booths regularly--I'm pretty consistent with my canning/freezing focus--I do occasionally "splurge" on something extra.  For instance, today, I stopped at the wool booth.  I bought some chocolate brown wool roving from this fellow's last shearing as well as some caramel-colored roving from one of his barn-mates who was an actual prize-winner.  I know because I was shown the pic of him sporting his blue ribbon. As sporadic a spinner as I am, the wool should last me until the winter woolen festival next February.
Yes, shopping the produce section of a grocery store may have its perks, but nothing quite equals a morning out under the sky...carrying a cabbage and munching on squished pastry.