Thursday, May 31, 2012

from the kitchen, from the garden

This morning, I decided to post a little update of the things that are happening in the kitchen and the garden.  Those 2 spaces seem to be consuming the bulk of my time and attention lately so it's only fitting that I share what's happening there.  

We opened our first jar of pickled asparagus yesterday.  I was a bit concerned that between the blanching, packing them in hot liquid, and the hot water bath, the asparagus would be on the limp side, but they were surprisingly crisp still...and sour.  Or in the words of Philip, "these are SO sour but I can't stop eating them!  So we cleaned out nearly an entire jar in one evening.  I think that's the way the pickles will go this season so I need to make sure I have plenty of pints of various ones to last us through the winter!

Elizabeth is famous in our house for asking for sections of navel oranges, sucking the juice out of them, and leaving a good bit of the pulp, as well as the pith and peels, of course.  After seeing this recipe on Pinterest for an orange vinegar cleaner, I decided that would be a good use for her leftovers.  I only needed the wedges of 1 large navel orange to fill a pint jar, then I covered it with white vinegar.  It's been sitting for almost 2 weeks, and I'll probably strain it later this week to use as a rinse aid in our dishwasher.

Also in jars right now: kombucha  I harvested the first of our kombucha a few weeks ago and it was an instant hit around here.  Paul and I drink it plain, but the kids like it mixed with about a half cup of juice per quart and left in the fridge for 48 hours.  The orange juice blend on the left wasn't as good (it tasted a bit like spoiled orange juice) as the cranberry grape and pomegranate that we've made.  The tart juices are a wonderful compliment for the kombucha's flavor.

In the garden, things are really starting to develop toward a harvest.  The lettuce is getting huge so I planted more in a small space that was leftover beside it.

Our first Cherokee Purple tomato arrived and is being watched daily.  I can't wait to eat that little guy.  I can taste it already!

The cherry tomatoes are starting to bear as well.  I counted 10 baby tomatoes on one plant this morning.

I haven't seen a cucumber yet, but now that I see the curly little tendrils, I know that cucumber season isn't too far off.  The boys are already asking when we can have cucumbers from our garden with oil and vinegar.  Soon, I hope!

The zucchini is starting to flower and bear quite a few little zukes.  As is typical with the zucchini, it looks like we will have plenty to eat. (And pickle, perhaps?  I found a recipe so we shall see!)

The garden peas are running right up the teepee.  I'm not sure when we'll start to see some pea pods, but the plants look great so I'm confident they'll show up eventually.

Hopefully I'm not boring anyone with my long-winded discourse on the goings-on around here.  This is just such an exciting time of year!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Yarn Along and a finished Habitat

For this week's Yarn Along, I'm working on new projects and new books.  How exciting!  I borrowed 2 books from the library to get some new ideas on canning, as if the 3 new books I've read recently weren't enough.  The Joy of Pickling is fascinating because it's as much about food fermentation as pickling.  I can't say that I've gotten too many new ideas from the other book, although I haven't thoroughly looked through the recipes quite yet.

The new knitting project that I started this week is a scarf for Paul for Christmas.  The pattern is Mr. Rochester's Scarf, free on ravelry, and the yarn is Cascade's Eco Duo, a super-soft blend of alpaca and merino.  I really like the subtle pattern in the scarf.  It's an enjoyable knit: not too complicated, yet not boring. And the subtle color variation between brown and gray in the colorway is lovely.  I hope it will be a nice soft scarf for Paul next winter.

I finished the Habitat hat that I was working on for the last few weeks.  It's going to be her Christmas stocking hat this year so Finn was selected as my model.

This hat took the longest ever to knit!  So many cables going this way and that way.  I love the finished look though, and I hope Elizabeth will too.  The color is her favorite and Malabrigo is always so soft and cozy to wear.

(Ever the willing model, this is the face I got when I asked him to let me photograph the front.)

Happy Yarn Along day to everyone participating!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

a weekend with family

We spent our holiday weekend in southern IL visiting Paul's dad and siblings.  We only made a quick trip so we just took Finn with us for the visit.  He enjoyed his time with family, especially helping with the wildlife-feeding chores.

We were lucky enough to see a bit of that wildlife while we were out there as well.  These 3 baby birds were alternately squawking for food and sleeping peacefully.

Baby birds are so ugly in a cute sort of way with their awkward tufts of feathers and giant gaping beaks.

We also received several visits from the backyard raccoon.  He was cute and not at all bothered by our (distant) presence in the backyard.

You can see his home in the hole of the tree on the left in the picture below. His little face was so adorable to watch while he peeked out of his hole.

Finn jaunted around a local park to run off some of his abundant energy.

He especially enjoyed having so many family members willing to take turns playing with him.

Once Finn tuckered out, we headed home for a rest.

And while he rested, several of us ambled through the Whiteside Garden Ramble.

Dr. Whiteside purchased this 5 acre farm back in the 1960s and developed it into a personal botanical garden.  With trees, shrubs, and flowers from all over the world, the ramble is truly a work of art...and this was the last annual ramble that is planned.

We had a lovely, albeit brief, weekend in Illinois, and we're already making plans to return with all of the kids, maybe with a side trip to Chicago.  Big thanks to Paul's family for a relaxing and enjoyable holiday weekend.

Friday, May 25, 2012

{this moment} - ballroom dancing

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single double photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. See Soulemama to play along.

PS. Would you like a choice of a free cloth art caddy or children's apron? Of course you would!  Head over to my friend Jenni's blog for a giveaway going on right now for her etsy shop, Joyful Gifts.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Yarn Along

For this week's Yarn Along, I'm working on the same hat that I started a couple of weeks ago.  I haven't worked on it much on the weekends at all, what with all that canning, but I have chipped away at it here and there during the week.  It's probably the slowest hat I've ever knit since I have to pay so much attention to the pattern.  Every single row is different!  For those who are curious, the pattern is Habitat, being knit in Bobby Blue Malabrigo Worsted.

I also recently started reading Little House in the Suburbs.  Such an inspiring, and at the same time daunting, read!  I hope to put one (or more) of the chapters on chickens, goats, or bees into practice at some point, but for now, the chapters on gardening, canning, soap- and detergent-making, and handmade gifts are inspiring on the smaller scale.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

canning beyond jam

I tend to not be a half-way kind of person.  Once I get into something, I dive headlong into every facet of the experience.  Thus, canning has become my new obsession.  I've always canned several jars of jam each spring and summer, and last summer I even canned quite a few quarts and pints of tomatoes.  This summer, I've decided that I want to can as much food as I think we'll possibly use over the fall, winter and early next spring.  I started with strawberry jam, 3 different varieties, and strawberry lemonade concentrate, and now that the strawberry season is winding down, I'm moving on to other canning.  My first non-jam canning of the season were these lovely pickled red onions.  They are so wonderfully delicious that I could eat the entire jar by myself.  Fortunately, half of my kids love them so I'm saved from my own compulsion.  They are particularly tasty alongside grilled veggies.  I also canned a few jars of pickled asparagus, which we have yet to try, but aren't they pretty!

Another of my canning experiments involved the first of the summer peaches at the farmer's market, which I found last week and couldn't resist buying a few pounds.  They are the smaller, harder-to-remove-from-the-pit variety, but I wrangled 10 or so and simmered them in a small crock pot with sugar, lemon juice, and nutmeg for about 24 hours until I had peach butter.

When I began thinking that I would try to can a great deal this summer, I knew that I would probably need a pressure canner.  I grew up around them so I don't have the fear of them that many modern canners seem to have.  Paul and I decided to use some of our tax money this year to buy this one.  I also thought it might be useful to have a stainless steel funnel to replace my many-years-old-and-slightly-melted-in-one-spot plastic one so I showed him a link of the one I wanted, maybe as a birthday present--hint, hint.  As Mother's Day drew near, he remembered that I wanted a stainless steel funnel, but in true Paul fashion, couldn't remember which one exactly, so he decided to buy every size funnel that is sold on Amazon.

Occasionally, this kind of behavior gets him into trouble as I wonder how he could possibly spend $40 when I just needed a (singular, 1) funnel, but I laughed and tried to think of how I might use 5 funnels and believe it or not, I've already used all but 1 of them.  And it's barely been a week since Mother's Day!  The filtered funnel can be used as a second canning funnel, once the filter is removed, and it's also great for filtering the strands from the kombucha that tend to offend my children when they are drinking it.

He also bought me Canning for a New Generation to go with my funnels and then Food in Jars came home with him a few days after Mother's Day once it finally arrived in bookstores.  Both of these books are excellent.  Food in Jars is a also wonderful blog and contains the recipes for both the pickled red onions and pickled asparagus in my photos above.  Next up, I plan to take the kids cherry picking in the next couple of weeks and try out a few of the cherry recipes in these books.  (Holiday Cherries from Canning for a New Generation sounds particularly delightful.)

One last little experiment that has been successful in the last week, homemade dishwasher detergent.  I've never been particularly impressed with "green" dishwasher detergent alternatives, nor did I like the borax recipe that I tried in the past.  This recipe has no borax, only baking soda, citric acid, and salt with a vinegar rinse.  We've had sparkling dishes with no residue every time we've used this, which has been for about a week now.  I also had a fancy jar to keep it in, which makes me happy.  I found this plastic scoop in the nether-regions of my utensil drawer, and although it's not very pretty, it does get the job done.  Maybe one day I'll find an excuse to get this one. (And Paul, if you're reading this, these pretty scoops in a variety of sizes are another instance where I might just forgive your propensity to forget exactly which one I wanted.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

garden update

Our garden is humming right along enjoying the warmth of the sun and several days of rain we've had over the last week.  The tomato plants are getting quite large and have many buds all over them.

The yellow squash and zucchini plants are continuing to grow like weeds and are starting to fill in nicely.  You can see in this photo and the one above that Paul filled my garden rows with landscape paper and mulch to keep the weeds and grass from growing between the rows.  It's much nicer to walk around in the garden now.  We'll trim the landscape paper so it's not sticking up so high as soon as the weeds along the edges of the beds die out.

The beets are as large as they've ever been.  So far the plastic over the fence seems to be helping keep out the rodents.  I may actually get some beets from the garden this year after all!

The garden peas are growing quickly as well.  About half of them are already reaching their tendrils around the second string.  I hope to start seeing some pea pods before too long.

The lettuce, well, at least the lettuce that wasn't nibbled by the garden pests, has gotten almost big enough to steal a few pieces.  The plants that were nibbled even look like they might try to come back.

The wild blackberries on our back fence are producing in full force again.  We mostly just have green and slightly red berries so far.  I'll bet that 2 more weeks and we'll see a few black ones on the bushes (if I can get to them before Finn does).

How is your garden growing?

Friday, May 18, 2012

{this moment} - looking at bird eggs

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. See Soulemama to play along.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

homeschooling in spring

Homeschooling has been a hit or miss kind of activity around here lately.  (It's a good thing that learning happens whether we make time for specific instruction or not!)  Volunteering has gotten in the way; swim lessons have gotten in the way; life in general has gotten in the way.

Over the last few days, however, we decided to make a bit of time to learn about ladybugs.  We've read our couple of books over and over until Finn is pretty handy with the life cycle terms and body part terms.

We've also made good use of these little ladybug life cycle stamps I picked up a while back.  Everything is more fun with stamps, no?

The coloring occasionally gets in the way of more stamping, so he tends to rush through that part.

His writing has been largely getting easier to read, even if the lines are more of a suggestion than a guide.  He's also started writing for the fun of it, which can be very tricky when he insists, "no, I want YOU to read it, Mama!"

And much of his education this spring has happened right here.  He's always so willing to help plant, water (or drown, as the case may be), and check up on our little plantlings.  The acorn squash and butternut squash he planted "all by himself" and are his favorites to examine each day.

Occasionally we'll evening find something other than plant life in the garden so we'll pause to study what we think is happening.  This spider came a bit too close to the new beet seedlings, which if you've followed our garden saga you'll know is dangerous territory.  "Mama! He's trying to be the next aminal to eat our beets!" (I'll be sad when aminal is no longer part of his vocabulary.)

His reading is still coming along as well.  He found a set of books at the library that he really enjoys reading.  They are Primary Phonics readers by Educators Publishing Service.  We get 2 new books on our bi-weekly trips to the library then try to read them 2-3 times each before returning them.

He's really responded to these sweet little animal stories.  They make him laugh, and they are the perfect level for his reading right now.  Although some days he'll read almost the whole book in one sitting, most days it's more like 5 pages.

What's happening in your homeschooling world this spring?