Friday, September 20, 2013

2013 Harvest: Apple Season, Sauce Edition

This is the start to a series I am doing about our harvest and preservation for this year. It is as much to show you all what can be easily grown/raised (seriously I am embarrassed to show you my garden, it is a nightmare, I bet our yields would triple if I would just weed and feed the damn thing anytime after July 1st), preserved, and as a record to show myself that, eventually, we WILL get to the point of only buying dry goods and milk. It is still a long way off, but this years yields will be a great starting point.I will cover what we grow, barter for, and what we are happily the recipients of when others have surplus, but not today, today is about apples, specifically applesauce.




 Apple season is in full swing, it has been for about a month.

DOT is an excellent apple picking helper.
the shiver that went with this face was priceless



My tables are covered in baskets of produce, but we are interested in the ones of apples. The crock pots bubbling, bowls of discard and my making 9 quarts of apple sauce, at least, a day for the last week can attest, apple season has been good this year. And it is a beautiful thing, friends. My storage and canning room shelves are filling and filling. I officially ran out of space yesterday, though things have been getting stacked rather precariously for about a week now. It's wonderful. To know we have stores of food to eat, that aside from sugar, salt, lemon, and lids, cost us nothing. We have been very fortunate to have friends and neighbors randomly drop off or invite us to pick their surplus, to which I promptly reply, "what are you doing right now? Tomorrow? Would you mind if you came home and it was all gone?" with a smile. When my father call and asks, "How many ___ do you want?" I reply, "as many as you want to bring me." Because, to be honest, replying "All of them" is just too greedy for my tongue, but it is how I feel. Those surpluses I will discuss later, this post is about applesauce.

We have 5 apple trees on the property, and no, I have no idea what kinds they are except two are eating apples (they have feet), one is a cooking apple (its fruit are kind of width wise oval roundy shaped), one dropped its apples the first week of August when we were gone so aside from knowing they were red we know nothing else (and I am sick over the waste), and the 5th is a crab apple with three different varieties, two of which are fantastic sauce apples. So I have been saucing my little heart out. I figured out, easy applesauce is the best way to do it. I have been coring and peeling all my adult life to make applesauce, but no more. I recently had someone tell me THE way to make apple sauce, I was skeptical, but I am a believer now.

 First, you collect your apples. It REALLY helps when you have an adorable helper. DOT has been an excellent helper this harvest season. He was the breakthrough mind who convinced me that green tomato salsa verde and green tomato relish would be in our pantry when, trying to help, he broke two tomato vines down and then picked every single tomato, of which NONE were even close to ripe, and then was so proud of himself I just said "ok, lets use these! Thank you so much! What a big helper!" and then I proceeded to ask him not to pick anything without me telling him to. He was so proud, and the green tomato concoctions turned out wonderful, but that's another day.

So you pick (up) your apples. We wait till they fall because, well, picking is tedious and I got started a bit late so many many usable ripe apples were already on the ground before I started. (The "bad" ones are being fed to the ducks, chickens and geese, I cant wait to see if it will impact the flavor of the meat when we take them to butcher at the end of the month. Plus, I think they might get a little drunk off the fermented ones, good for them.)

I keep thinking if we had started earlier we would have apple juice and cider and I could start apple cider vinegar and... oh well, next year. So, you pick, then you wash, and try not to lose your mind over the bounty that you have so stupidly squandered in the past. Hindsight and all that.

Anyway, easy applesauce, you wash the apples, and in my case since the apples I sauce are on average the size of a golf ball, I cut them in half, bigger apples, smaller chunks. The only reason I halve them is to check for bugs and badspots, and you would be surprised how quickly one gets over the sight of fruit worms crawling on their hands, since we don't spray our trees, nor does anyone else we get fruit from, it happens fairly frequently. The ick factor is still pretty high, but the freak out reaction evaporates.

So, halve them, or quarter for larger apples, and treat for browning. I just filled up one side of the sink and poured some lemon juice in it. I'm sure there is a proper proportion, but I haven't looked up.

Then from sink into big ass pot, or on occasion, two big ass pots, yes I have run two large batches at once, it was very labor intensive, for about 40 minutes, otherwise, it just made me wish our basement stove was hooked up so I could put more pots on at once... I may have a problem, I know.
You toss your halved, treated apples in a pot with a bit of water and cook the firmness right out. Once the water boils it takes about 20-30 minutes to soften them. Make a note to enjoy the smell. Applesauce in the making is a delightful scent and a strong sense memory for me. I very clearly remember helping my paternal grandmother make apple sauce often during my childhood and teen years. And the smell of cooking apples makes me think of her every time, it is welcome every time. I hope my children, and one day, long, long from now, I will make applesauce with my grandchildren too.

Once the apples are cooked into submission, in small batches( I use a two cup measuring cup for each batch) run your softened apples through a food mill. I have two, one hand crank stainless steel bowl version, which was a gift, and I can't stand using it, and this one that was handed down to me from Mr. T's maternal grandmother to me. It was her mothers before that. So, I love it all the more for the history and use it every chance I get, also, its way easier to degunk between batches than that bowl contraption.

This is the part the boys love watching, because, well, it's messy and cool and hey! warm apple sauce within spooning distance.

Then return your brand new sauce to the stove, add some lemon juice, again, I just wing it, and if you want sweetened now is the time to add your sugar, we don't because I like tart applesauce and if it is essentially naked it is easier to use in other things later, like apple butter, which is a later post.

Bring to boil and pour it into hot sterile jars, lid em, process water bath 20 minutes, quarts or pints.

Then start all over and do it again tomorrow! No seriously. Do it till you run out of quart jars (it's happened twice already), then start on some pints, and even single servings if you have a surplus of jelly jars (Mr. T happened to bring home two dozen 1/2 pints and also a laundry basket over flowing with wide mouth pints, 7 dozen to be exact, from work Monday night this week saying "Darren found 'em on the side of the road, he knows you can things so... here you go." Seriously love my husband and Darren a little too, even though we've never met.)
The color variation from batch to batch is fun.
My second batch was made of red crab apples, most were sadly lost to the ground as I was not in full preservation mode when they fell.
I was in, "get the kids to school and fill out paperwork, don't forget anything" mode.
The third row from the left is the red crab batch and its a little rose colored.





the count is 56 quarts, 8 pints, and 30, 1/2 pints canned for the season

And then when you feel you have enough. You sit back, enjoy the view of your full shelves, promise some to friends and family, specifically those who gave you jars, and then resolve to make LOTS and lots of apple butter. Of course, that comes after vowing to make up the amount to replace the jars you promise to others, but apple butter is a must with the rest of the apples that haven't fallen yet. Many different kinds and decadent flavors, because, we both know the apples are there, and you are going to sauce them, its just too fun and easy not too.

Apple season is far from over and I'm sure more sauce will be sauced this season, but I feel comfortable with our more than jar a week store. I still have the cooking apples to make pie filling out of ...and dumplings to bake, and to store the eating apples...apple season is a wonderful time of the year... Pear season is too, and don'tcha know, they happen at the same time. We aren't fortunate to have a pear tree yet, but we know the owners of three, and they are very very generous. We are quite fortunate in our family, friends, and neighbors as well a terribly lucky with our crops this year.

Happy Friday! I hope your harvest season, and end of summer, are treating you well!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

I got a new tattoo...

 In May my dear friend, Michelle, came up to visit for the weekend and we got tattoos. She got a laurel wreath around the Greek numerals for 13.1 miles to commemorate her first half marathon. Yes, she does half marathons, and Warrior Dash, and triathlons, and she's a smoker.

Yes, she makes me feel like a lazy ass, but she is incredible and inspiring, and I could probably do those things too, if I got up and out and did them, but I don't... Anyway. She got a beautiful, simple, elegant, and totally significant sign of achievement and I got...a spastic, pink haired, green polk-a-doted, electrocuted looking unicorn, with a gold tooth.

Yes. I. Did. And I love it. Every time I look at it, I smile.

It is silly, and weird, and wonderful, and nothing less than exactly what I wanted.

It took no time at all, hurt less than I expected for the underarm, and makes my day better each time I see it.

I could not have asked for more.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The thrill of a new roof.

 So in May, after much deliberation and cray cray saving, we dove feet first into our roof repair, extension, and our first contractor paying renovation. We were told it would take ten days. A month and a half, no more wood burning fire place, a cars worth of cash, and a stupid amount of rain and hiccups later, we have a covered porch, new soffats, and a no longer leaky roof. Huzzah!
Please enjoy the highlights.
 The first two are before pictures.
 Work begins.
 They stripped the old shingles in 2 hours with 4 guys, it was spectacular.

 
 Initially we were going to keep the wood burner chimney. However as soon as we opened it up we realized it was a totally wacky size and not at all safe. So, we made the quick decision to nix the fireplace and eventually swap it for a gas version that vents out the side of the house.



 And after all the headache, and stress, and fun too, we have a BEAUTIFUL 500 sq ft covered porch that we use constantly. It was exactly what I envisioned when we purchased this house and I could not be happier with it. No more leaky roof. No more beautiful, but rather unusable, frying pan of a deck. And most importantly, a beautiful space for the family to use, and we do, all the time. 
It's wondrous how much better a junky morning is with a cup of coffee on the deck.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

A conversation on a Saturday morning.

*open scene* 
Me drinking coffee, leisurely, on the couch reading a historical romance novel about an English Duke and a Colonial merchants daughter, while Mr. T sleeps and all three boys playing together upstairs.
"Mom, did you get the Halloween decorations out yet?" MAT

"No bud, I'll get them out on Tuesday." Me.
 
 "Soooo, that isn't a toy bat on my floor?" MAT

"Get you brothers out and everyone wash hands! It didn't bite anyone, anyone touch it?" Me, said as I race up the stairs. 
"Don't worry mom, I touched it, it's dead." RAT
"Wash hands, right now, HOT water and lots of soap!" Me, as I disposed of the poor brown bat.
  
*end scene*
P.S. It was in fact dead, but didn't look crunched by Morgan or Watermelon, cause of death unknown, also, point of entry unknown. Now I have terrible visions of bats living in the attic cause I don't know where it came from.
So this is my life. It is wonderful, often gross, and never ever dull.
(I will try to post more tidbits like this on the regular. Loads has happened over the last 11 months and I hope to tell the tales to you all and resume regular posts, but it's me, so let's hope for more posts than once a year. And no, no new babies, though I could have made a whole new one in the time I've been gone. Happy Saturday!)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Hi There!

So no we aren't dead here at Little Squidgen Home, we've just been....doing stuff....for months and months. Nice to see you again.
Everyone is well and happy, just busy. Mr. T has been working like a madman for months and months and that has required the rest of us to as well. So here's a catch up.
We have a mini van, that I have a love hate relationship. Love the space and comfort. Hate the color and the fact that it is a mini van. Oh well, it is what it is, it runs and the dvd player has its uses...like when I went camping to see Mumford and Sons in August. It was so hot that my friend, who went with me since Mr. T doesn't care for awesomeness, and I took a couple hours in the middle of the afternoon and watched Willow in the air conditioning. Don't judge me, it was really hot and the music wasn't starting yet...plus it is a great film, and Mad Martigan (Val Kilmer) is hot.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to February/March-ish. the bulk of the family had birthdays. Mr. T and I both turned 30. So far, no complaints. Life happened.

I started writing a book. Yes. That's right, that's where I have been during my free moments for the past many many moons. I have been writing, just not here on the blog. The book is a romance...I hesitate to call it a "romance novel" because I tend to think them "sexy-smutty" with all the throbbing members and such, and this isn't that...per-say. Though not to disparage the genera, because my Kindle is filled with romance novels. I do love them, this just isn't exactly that. It is dirty, language wise, because my characters have foul mouths and use swear words too often, much like myself, and alot of the characters are loosely based on people I know and stories from my past. And there is a sexy element because most love stories, at some point, go there. But it is mostly about friendship, tough choices, lasting love and mostly, adventure. So there you go. I am almost finished and then we will see if I actually do anything with it when its done...maybe a self-publish of Amazon.com or something. So there's that.

The garden was sorely neglected this year, I was writing, and DOT was not in the slightest helpful or cooperative when out of doors. So rather than be upset with the toddler for being a distraction and nuisance, I opted to forget the garden for a season. Of course the weather being completely impossible helped this decision too.

Oh and I have lost 54 pounds since November of 2011, there's that too. I am now the size I was my senior year of high school, but with larger, albeit saggier, boobs, and a considerably larger amount of stretch marks. Yay for new clothes, boo for getting rid of non-fitting favorites. All in all I feel better about me and that is really all I can ask for. Mr. T has decided to join in and he is resting at 207 lbs currently, this is significant because he has been 235 or there abouts for....like fifteen years. So big things on the getting fit front.

Oh and we built a massive 500 sq foot deck (Hence Mr. T working like a madman. Overtime has been very good to us)...and replaced a set of doors...and painted some rooms...and are now working on the last of the upstairs bedroom renovations.

So yeah. Busy. Here are some pictures of stuff.


Eventually the front and side here will be covered with a porch, next year hopefully.

new patio doors



 And we tried to have a photo shoot of the boys, and you all know how that went, but here they are anyway.



So that's where we are. I know I missed a lot, but nothing of any real import. We are healthy, and happy, and enjoying our time together. I hope this finds the rest of you the same.

Oh! And I have green hair. There's that too.


Monday, January 30, 2012

That man of mine...

He is always telling me he is not a carpenter, but he could easily fool me. He may not be a carpenter, but whatever he is, he surely is pretty fantastic. This whole project took two days and only cost us the price of hinges for the cabinets (and someday a couple quarts of stain). The wood is all reclaimed pine from the ceiling of my parents former "palace", so it was totally free AND we get to conserve some memories in the process. Plus this wood is really beautiful, the richness and diversity of the color is really lovely. Mr. T took about 2 hours planing all the boards on day one and did ALL of the construction on day two.

I was just intending to dry fit the electronics and dvd's in the cabinets to be sure there was enough space and that just rolled over into trying out the books too and then it was full so we decided we would stain it another day...possibly never. Still lots of things to do on "finishing" this room, but one step closer, I'll take it. It is only about 8 inches deep, perfect for DVD, VHS ( yes we still use those, yes we do) and most book storage, a bit wider than 7 feet, and about 8 feet tall. It is MASSIVE and STILL, we got back about 6 square feet of floor space after taking out the old tv stand and floor speakers. The room seems massive and it doesnt make that wall seem quite so ridiculously tall. Not to mention it was a total distraction for a few days, that was desperately needed. Winning all around.

The funny thing is, I was expecting a cheese press and aging cave (old fridge brought in from the garage really not as fancy as it sounds) so the cheddar making can commence, but this was the chosen project instead. No complaints. This was super fun.

In other news, we are awaiting some test results from a procedure MAT had done last week, hence the necessary distraction. Fingers crossed for good news and more on that later. Happy Monday!

A completely frivolous, yet totally worthy, way to spend $10 a week

I am cheap. I admit it. The only thing I buy new are hair dye, underwear, jeans, and flip flops. The hair dye is a every few months thing and I always do it myself. Undergarments are self explanatory, NO ONE wants skivvies that have been all up in anyone else's bits. Jean are a once every two or three... or 6 years, expense. I only buy them on sale and REFUSE to spend more than $35 a pair. I REFUSE. And flip flops, well, those last me about 3 years a pair and I buy the less than $5 ones. Most everything else we buy second hand.
So when I say I am spending $10 a week on something totally frivolous, has no useful purpose, and expires readily, you know it HAS to be something worthy. I assure you it is.

Earlier this week during my trip to the grocery, I passed the floral department, as always. I like to take a leisurely stroll through and smell the flowers and let the boys look at the balloons and gift baskets. As I was nearing the end, I saw a display with beautiful flowers and they were marked down to $3 a bunch. I thought to myself, "well, I can reasonably spend $6 on two bunches, I am saving $7 on milk this week. No one else buys me flowers, sorry Mr. T, but you don't. I like flowers, they make me happy, and it is January it will be months before our start to do anything again. And I  LIKE flowers."

Decidedly, I picked out two bunches, a white one and a red one, and brought them home with the rest of my goodies. Mr.T gave me a funny look when I brought them in and I gave him a "go ahead, say something about me buying myself flowers, I DARE you" face and he smiled and said they looked nice. He also had the good sense not to ask how much they cost, even though they were not expensive, it is still a frivolous item. He's rather smart that one.

They have been on the table for nearly a week now and I cannot say that they have worked miracles or been particularly useful. What I can say that they have done is made me stop, take a deep breath and smile, nearly every time I walk past. They have lightened my mood more than once. I find MAT and RAT admiring them often and on a few occasions stems have been plucked from the vase and presented to me by my boys with declarations of " I love you Mom" and "you're the BEST, mom."

For that I have decided that between $5 and $10 of our weekly grocery budget will now go to buying fresh flowers, when we cannot grow our own. There is just something uplifting in the brightness and beauty they bring. I like those two things in my home that is often too filled with noise, wrestling, and arguing.
Seriously, tranquility and beauty in such a simple package.