Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Spring and Summer of Preserving: April - July 2015, a picture gallery

First thing to harvest in the spring as
always are dandelions
for jelly and, this year, MEAD!
These garden beds were totally FREE!
I built them with my own two hands from the scraps of other projects,
and lined the bottoms with hardware cloth left over from my father,
and the soil came from our neighbors compost pile.
Of course the three more I build  after this I bought the lumber new.
April and May were spent mostly building things, weeding flower beds, and planting late spring veggies.
My sad little broccoli.
The main head was smaller than the
side shoots I cut a month later.
I was very unimpressed.

June brought strawberries, rhubarb, beets (grown for me by my dad), and black raspberries. Store bought sweet cherries also made an appearance for preserving because they were such a great deal this year.

The first strawberries of the year were
delicious and only lasted about 2 hours with
the boys here.

Rhubarb cobbler was really big here this year, everyone
but RAT really enjoys it.
My rhubarb, of which I have 6 plants, went crazy this year.
I gave away two plants to neighbors,
3 gallons to friends and family and still froze over 4 gallons. 

Oh, and I used it here.
And here, Rhu-berry Jam, or strawberry rhubarb jam.
In total, I made and canned 14 pints of this yumminess.
(MAT was a big helper with the stirring, the for-e-ver stirring.)

Then came the beets.
Last year my father started growing these for me.
This year, I brought home 30-ish pounds worth,
or a keg tub full.

I scrubbed and scrubbed and trimmed and trimmed.
About an hour later I had a big ole bucket of beets to roast and can,
and an old wash tub of tops to blanch and freeze.
I also found a recipe for Beet Wine that
 uses the reserved cooking liquid...but more on that later.

Beets and Rhu-berry Jam

Then the black raspberries came on, and it was a glorious season. Unfortunately, when we were digging out dirt to put in our pool, I didn't mention the pool yet, but we have one...where was I? Oh, right, When we were removing fill, Mr. T thought MY black raspberry patch looked like a great place to dump 1 ton of fill. So MY raspberries were shit this season. Thankfully my parents had an abundance of raspberries free for the picking, so the boys and I made the trip and made off like bandits.

Just about 2 gallons of black raspberries picked by MAT and myself one mild June morning.
This made 8 pints of jam and 8 pints of black raspberry syrup, which is SINFULLY good.

About two days after the raspberry picking, sweet cherries went on sale at the grocery, so I bought 25 lbs. I made sweet pie filling, danish sauce, and syrup.

I have made a lot of syrups this season, partially because MAT, being 10, has found a love of making pancakes, which I wholeheartedly support, because he's better at it than I am. And partially because I have found a love of mixing homemade syrups with Seltzer water.

Also, have lovely syrups to drizzle over things encourages me to bake things, like this poundcake.

The syrups were fresh off the stove and absolutely the best breakfast we had all summer...I mean...yes we had cake for breakfast, and we don't regret it. Sometimes, moms and sons need cake for breakfast.

It was SO good.
Yes, I did lick the plate and spoons after I snapped this photo.

Then it was July, and it brought the heat and stopped the rains, which started in April and fell nearly every day, yes, really, for months. But it did stop, finally.

One particularly lovely morning, before it climbed above 80, while my kiddos still slept, before I drank coffee, I threw on my long sleeves, jeans, big boots, and hosed myself down with bug spray. I grabbed my baskets and went off to forage. I have been learning a lot about wild edibles over the last several months and have been paying closer attention to what grows on our property and the unsprayed local roadways. Staghorn Sumac grows with abundance EVERYWHERE around here. It lines the roadway both north and south of our property as well as growing along our own tree lines.
I picked about a half bushel all together. Slowly dehydrated it over several days. Then pulled the berries off and stored them in 3 quart jars. I plan on using them for spice and flavoring various dishes. Wild foraging is a new passion of mine.
It's totally free food! 

Oh, and I made sumac-ade, or cold sumac tea, or Indiana lemonade. Whatever you call it, it was sour and tasty...and I am totally making mead out of it too.  Just soak the berries in cold water overnight...or three days because you forgot about it, strain out the tree bits and you have this lovely pink sour yumminess that is great with a dollop of honey, then ice, on a hot day.

One day, about midmonth, my "Naked Neighbors" (my 60+ gardening wiz neighbors down the road, who garden only in bathing suits, and call on me to garden sit or take extra homegrown goodness often. They are a hoot! and very generous. I keep them stocked with honey.) called and told me they had two rows of beans that needed picking, so I went and picked all the beans. It was very appreciated because our beans did diddly squat this season. 

DOT is a VERY helpful garden helper this year. Really.
He truly helps with every task. He's growing SO fast. 
And that concludes our preserving from April-July 2015.

Sorry it was fast and dirty. Maybe next year I will be on it and be able to get you the individual play by play.

And now, before I return to my  very abundant apples and Naked Neighbor pears (also, silly style abundant this season) I leave you with some gratuitous kiddo photos. Because they grew a lot in the time I've been away, and they have new tricks!

MAT, at 10 and 1/2, cooks a variety of delicious things including eggs, pancakes, grilled cheese, soup, and spaghetti.
RAT sticks to only breakfast classics.

And DOT, Mr. T, and I, reap all the benefits.

Be prepared, apple, pear, and honey harvest posts are coming.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Don't call it a comeback...

Really, just don't.
I'm not sure what this is.
I'm... dipping my toes, testing the water, absolutely NOT diving in head first.
No guarantees, no promises, no expectations.

If you are still here and a subscriber, thank you.
I didn't mean to be away so long.
I don't even know why I was.
There weren't any life changing things.
No catastrophe that kept me away or off the interweb entirely.

I just...haven't been here.

I retreated into many many spectacularly good, and bad, books. Which isn't a bad thing on its own, but what I was doing was avoidance of reality, for no particular reason.

I read, did the absolute bare minimum of housework, fed my family far too much easy junk food, and abandoned my writing.

In June, when school let out, and the boys were home, I realized how much I had checked out as a parent. How much I was not being the parent I wanted to be. How much I wasnt being the me I wanted to be. And that sucks. So I worked on myself all summer. Reconnecting with my kids and husband. Reconnecting to my inner Ma Ingles. Reconnecting to the frugal, involved, do it myself woman I was and want to be, always.

I am going to try to blog regularly and write regularly, again. To finish my forgotten and abandoned writing, crafting, cooking things regularly. I have been working all summer to grow, make or preserve as much food for my family as I can.
I haven't done much of any of that in, oh, almost two years, and I am looking to remedy that and get back.

But don't call it a comeback, because, well, I've been known to be full of empty promises before...

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.