This blog post is going to be a lot about * me, and I.* (**dreaded personal pronouns) I am not entirely comfortable with that, but it is a personal blog, after all. Plus, I have had some little victories lately and I want to celebrate them.
WordPress notified me the other day of my second blogging anniversary! I began blogging in 2014 with the onset of maple sap season. It’s that time of year again and we have thus far gathered about 30 gallons of sap. In 2014 we managed to make quite a bit of syrup. Not so much in 2015, and despite our best efforts we had some crystallization of the syrup after we decanted. We’re curious about what this year’s kooky weather patterns will do to us, but so far so good. The temperatures over the weekend were well above average, day and night. The week before that we were way below average and very snowy. Now we are settling into a more typical pattern for this time of year: above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. This is most conducive to sap flow.
I have worked these past two years to improve my photography and better understand my camera. When I look at my photo of sap from 2014,
and the one from this year,
I am encouraged. I have done a lot of reading and experimentation, taken some tutorials and a class, and think it has all helped. It’s far easier these days for me to get the shot I want. I still have to take a lot of exposures, and there are still times when I goof and forget stuff, but I’ve graduated to full manual mode and the histogram is my friend. When I forget to properly set my ISO and white balance, I can usually “fix it in post” which is Adobe Lightroom.
Last year one of my “promises” was that I would knit a sweater. I did not get to that sweater in 2015. This was mostly due to needing to complete a huge cable knit throw that I started way back in 2013.
I often struggle with following through on personal projects so it was kind of thrilling to be able to finally give the throw to my mom as a gift.
The sweater is proving to be a challenge, but I’m enjoying learning how to shape a garment while knitting in the round. Again, I had to do a lot of research to familiarize myself with various terms and techniques, but it’s going OK. It’s got a head-hole and armholes and they are in more or less the right spots, so I’m pleased.
Another milestone: I was recently very honored and excited to be contacted by the Granville Garden Club about some photos I took for my post Day of the Daffodil. They asked permission to use some of them on their web page and very kindly offered to link to my blog. P&P has gotten several referrals from their site, which is great because gardeners are generally really nice folks.
Finally, here are a few photos from a class I took during which we hiked in local parks and just shot pictures of whatever.
When last I left off, I was bound for the “haunted inn with the cats” to seek another clue in what I can only call an impromptu Saturday morning adventure. While waiting in line at an ATM, I spied a note tied to a climbing vine on a building. Really. Yielding to temptation I opened it, read it, and off I went, leaving all my (relatively dull) errands to wait.
The Inn is actually famous. Many rock-steady, sensible folks claim to have had ghostly encounters there. Spirits of the dearly departed, both human and feline, are said to patrol the halls and gardens. The gardens are labyrinthine and filled with statues and fountains so finding the next clue might prove quite a task, but I was up to it.
Ironically, I did not have to look too hard at all. I was hoping for an opportunity to roam in the gardens, but instead found the red string on a sign post right out by the street. Another note! This one made reference to the location of a frozen custard shop that, incidentally, does make the dreamiest custard ever. Who could be behind these notes, though? My husband would worry that it was something clandestine and sinister, but I think mischievous middle-schoolers or sorority sisters are more likely. Also, local merchants have been known to secret little gifts around town on special occasions, and post hints on their Facebook pages. If you’re an early riser with your eyes open, you might just find one.
Well, I think I’ll drag this out a little longer, and move on now to the other news. We named the kitten. She is Katie. And of course, no cat has just one name. She is “Katie, Katie Sweet P’tatie”, “Kater Tater”, “Tater-Bug” “Katie-Kitty”, “Princess Puffy Pants”, “Katers”, and “Katie Scarlett” after the heroine of Gone With The Wind. She shares many personality traits with that Katie. Did you know that Scarlett’s first name was Katie? Only her father, Gerald O’Hara called her that.
We also had our first snow. So glad I got this picture because in an hour the sun was out and the snow just melted away. Photography certainly teaches you to seize the moment.
The other week on Saturday I was passing through an alley by one of the older buildings in town. The building’s wall has ancient ivy climbing up its whitewashed brick and it is home to many noisy birds. I was surveying it to see if I could see a nest when I spied a folded piece of paper tied with green yarn to one of its lower branches. Several other people passed but not one of them noticed it. It looked to me like the paper had been purposely placed there, but why? I debated for a few moments before removing it and unfolding it. I tried to be somewhat casual about it, as though people left folded papers in climbing vines all the time. For all I knew, and for all anyone else was paying attention, they did, and I was the last to know about it.
It was a note! Here is what it (partly) said. The first sentence ( cropped out of the photo) was a stern request to leave the note exactly as I found it. The next sentence was a clue describing a location where another note could be found, tied with a blue string to a certain landmark. The last sentence is pictured. It pretty well described my circumstances. I did indeed just happen along, and I did want to start the adventure from the beginning. And even if I didn’t know exactly where the haunted inn with the cats was (I did) I would totally want to go there anyhow. Because, well…. ghosts and cats. So I carefully re-folded the note, returned it to the ivy and went to find a red string.
Look for my next post to see what was at the Inn. 🙂
Wow, its so September already that back to school supplies are off the shelves and Halloween is up, with all it’s pumpkins, skeletons and scarecrows. August was super busy with all the canning I did and family visits. I barely looked up from the jam pot. I’ve found I really love stirring jam and watching it simmer down. It’s very therapeutic! Who knew?
The other night, when the house was quiet and I was pondering dinner, I decided to experiment and create a variation on a favorite recipe from “50 Things to Grill in Foil”, a small pamphlet published by Food Network Magazine. Food Network’s version consists of shrimp, garlic, butter, lemon, parsley and a pinch of hot pepper flakes. I was kind of bored with that and I had been given some beautiful cilantro by a friend at work so I substituted it for the parsley. Then I upped the game by using a fresh red Serrano pepper from my garden in place of the crushed red pepper flakes and some lime juice and zest instead of the lemon. The result was quite zingy and had a definite southeast Asian flavor profile. I ate it without accompaniment but it would have been excellent over rice or ramen noodles.
Shrimp Baked in Foil with Lime and Cilantro
4-6 large shrimp (16/20 count), rinsed, peeled and deveined
1 Tbsp salted butter
1/4 C chopped cilantro, leaves and stems, loosely packed
1 Serrano pepper, halved, seeded and diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 tsp lime zest+juice of 1/2 lime
pinch of fine sea salt
Layer the ingredients on a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil sufficiently large to fold in thirds over them. Crimp the foil to create a tight seam on the sides and top. Place on a baking sheet and bake on the center rack in a 425º oven for about 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand for about 5 minutes. Mind the steam when you open the packet and expect some liquid to have been released by the ingredients. It makes a lovely broth for dipping bread. Enjoy in a shallow bowl.
Notes: Feel completely free to adjust the amounts of ingredients to suit your taste. Also, you may leave the shells on the shrimp if desired, and peel them at table. Many feel the shells impart excellent flavor. I’m just too impatient to peel my shrimp at dinner. Also, this will increase cooking time by 2-3 minutes.
New Baby Kitty!
Oh, and on a completely side note, we got a kitten. She just had her first vet appointment and is doing fine. She’s a very good jumper and climber and is quite vocal.
It’s August (!!) and gardens and fields are overflowing with produce. Today’s Farmer’s Market was swarming even though the Market Master had only just rung the opening bell. Vendors baskets were stacked high, but not for long. As I stood in line to pay for some Kirby cucumbers I watched people snatching green beans by the huge handful from a bin beside me until it was nearly empty. My own little tub of dirt has already yielded a few tomatoes and the basil is thriving. Our CSA share is also generous, and I’m now having to scramble to use all of it. This is our third year with a farm-share, and I feel like I finally have some good resources for making sure our fruits and vegetables don’t go to waste. Our farmers work really hard to grow food for us and it kills me when it spoils before we can eat it. This post is about tools and skills that have helped me immensely in my quest to eat local and make the best use of our CSA and Farmers Market purchases.
Steam and Drama
My canning odyssey started last summer when my husband surprised me with 25 pounds of rapidly ripening peaches. When we had eaten our fill and shared all we could we were still left with a lot of fruit, and it was dead ripe. I had no choice but to bust out the Ball Blue Book and put them up. Long story short, I had every burner on my range going–one pot for the water to scald the skins off the peaches, one giant, scary boiling water bath for the jars, one sauce pan to simmer the jar lids and one to boil the syrup for the peaches. It was a hot night in August and I was a sweaty, cranky, jittery mess. My beige suede clogs have permanent blue stains from peach peels falling upon them. The yield was just 5 quarts, but the seal on one blew out so we refrigerated it immediately and kept it as our personal stock. The verdict? Totally. Worth. It. My mom got a jar as a Christmas gift and enjoyed it so much that she decided to gift me with a Ball Auto Canner in the hopes that all the steam and drama of last summer would not put me off canning again. I have also been exploring small batch canning using Marisa McClellan’s book Preserving by the Pint as my guide.
The Ball Auto-Canner
(Note: I have not been compensated in any way by the manufacturers of this product, nor is this an endorsement. It’s an account of my personal experience with it and a summary of the reviews I have read, in my own words. The Auto-Canner is fairly new to the market and I hope to give information to other home canners who are curious about it.)
The Auto Canning System is innovative in that it employs water, steam and pressure in a closed system to reach the temperatures necessary for successful water bath canning without the large amounts of water and energy. It should be noted that this device is NOT A PRESSURE CANNER. You cannot preserve low acid foods using the Auto Canning System, (which I will refer to from now on as the ACS). While I am pleased and impressed with my ACS thus far, it has some pros and some cons.
Pros and Cons
I consider the small amount of water required by the ACS to be a huge positive, and not just because it conserves a resource. It takes far less time to sterilize jars and process the food. The sterilization/pre-heating cycle is around 12 minutes and the processing times for the recipes I have tried were around 25-35 minutes. It is also not necessary to simmer the jar lids in a separate pot. That’s one less thing on the stove. The unit does vent some steam but the kitchen stays cool so, yay!
One possible drawback to the ACS is its size. It’s as tall and wide as the biggest canning pot, but with a relatively small capacity (6 half pint or 4 pint or 3 quart jars at a time). If you are a longtime canner who puts up a lot of food for your family every year, the ACS is probably not the best fit. If you are an apartment dweller with little storage or counter space, it might not suit you either. It’s a good fit for my experience level and small household. I was able to carve out a place to store it in my laundry room.
The ACS comes with a really nice jar lifter and metal rack (canning necessities) and a cookbook with recipes and meal planning guides. The book has lots of information on water-bath canning. The manufacturer strongly recommends that you only use the recipes they have developed, tested and published in their book and online. I totally get it because it’s a food safety thing, but I noticed in a lot of the product reviews people seemed disappointed in the number of recipes available. I am too, a little. (I mentioned before that I have this absolutely wonderful book on small batch canning and I had hoped I could make some of the recipes using the ACS, but alas…. More on that later.)
That being said, I have tried two recipes so far; one from the book that shipped with the unit (Bread and Butter Pickles) and one from the Ball Canning website (Blueberry Jam, reduced sugar version). The pickles are still curing, so I’ll have to get back to you on those, but the jars sealed with no issues, and that is great. I used the amount of cucumbers the recipe called for and had too many by far, and ran a little short on the brine. This may be due to my inexperience, and haphazard jar packing. The Blueberry jam recipe called for what I thought was a lot of pectin, and the set was a bit firm, but the jam was still spreadable and had good flavor and color. Next I’m hoping to try the Applesauce, Pears or Dilly Beans.
One last thing about the ACS that is a con is its cost. At about $300, it’s a big investment and you will have to carefully consider if it is the right tool for the job. I was lucky to get mine as a gift. A few online reviewers also got theirs as wedding and holiday gifts. It’s not something I would just go out and buy to experiment with canning. Many people probably already have tools in their kitchen that they could use to start canning, and decide later whether to buy more.
For me, intolerant of heat, and scared of 16 quarts of water at a rolling boil, the ACS was a great gift. I’m hugely thankful for it. It is my hope the manufacturer publishes more recipes. Maybe the author of the lovely book I’m going to talk about next will team up with them!
Preserving by the Pint
Preserving by the Pint, by Marisa McClellan, is my current favorite cookbook. I’ve read it cover to cover and I love both the recipes and the photography. It makes canning approachable and glamorous. I’ve tried two recipes and have had success with both. “Zucchini Butter with Fresh Thyme” is a delicious spread made with that ubiquitous summer squash. It does not need water-bath processing and can be jarred and stored in the fridge for about a week. “Dilled Carrot Spears” allowed me the opportunity to try out some small batch canning in my stock pot. They are delicious and pretty too.
I had a couple of large, beautiful bunches of carrots from my CSA farmer–more than I could eat out of hand and I don’t love cooked carrots so these crunchy pickles were an ideal solution. I also appreciate the section with detailed information about the author’s favorite canning tools and what the reader can find in their own kitchen inventory to get started with water-bath canning. The recipes are very hip and a great reminder that pickles aren’t just cucumbers and jams aren’t just for toast.
A couple of other books that I love and think are must-haves are the Ball Blue Book, published by the Ball Corporation and Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison. Vegetable Literacy is another book I have read cover to cover and re-read portions of often. It lists many familiar vegetables and a few unfamiliar ones by their botanical families and provides both information and recipes for each. My favorite is the Garlic Scape and Walnut Pesto. I make it each spring and sneak spoonfuls of it from its container in the fridge when no one is looking. The Blue Book Guide to Preserving covers everything from water bath canning and pressure canning (very different) to freezing and dehydrating. It’s inexpensive and well worth the read when you’re ready to try canning or any other method of preserving your garden bounty. I relied on it when I canned (those peaches) for the first time ever and it did not let me down.
The town of Granville Ohio boasts of having a mile-long Fourth of July Parade, which is interesting because the parade route along the main street is surely not a mile. About an hour before the parade steps off, the town shuts down and good luck to anyone trying to park, or make their way by auto to the float staging area. It’s quite a thing. Big city gridlock has nothing on it, believe me. The morning is a cacophony of sights and sounds. As always, the American Legionnaires lead the way with the colors. As always they are greeted with applause. Spectators shout their “Thank You”s to the veterans who follow. These pictures are of the things that made me smile the most. 🙂
A couple of weeks ago I had some time on my hands when I got home from work so I decided to grab my camera and photograph my favorite tree. This tree, which grows in a neighbor’s field, is a dogwood that stands by itself in the center of a gentle slope. It has been there for years, since before I lived here. The farmer who used to pasture his cows there left it for some reason. It’s small so I doubt it provides much shade. I think he just liked it. Those cows are gone, but the tree remains. It happened to be in full bloom on this day so I wanted to get my photo before the blossoms disappeared. Photography makes one aware of how quickly things transform. A garden is never the same from one day to the next, nor a flowering tree. Light changes by the moment. You become very mindful of the passage of time.
On the way down to the field, our little blind cat tagged along. She’s very old, but has a great appetite and likes the stimulation of a walk in the grass. For her safety, we don’t leave her unsupervised outdoors, but like a kitten with her mom-cat she will follow closely at our heels. She tires easily so we make frequent stops. I use that time to snap some photos from her cat’s eye point of view, among the dandelion fuzz.
Funny, how some people try to eradicate the dandelion. Fortunes are made waging war against these edible plants. People dump all kinds of chemicals on their lawns and kill them with fire. Neighbors feud over them, one claiming the other’s seeds have drifted and fouled their pristine landscaping. I find it all ridiculous considering how pretty and useful dandelions can be, and how they obviously are not going anywhere. Whatever, Suburbia.
Yesterday was the first day of the Granville Farmer’s Market, and unlike last year I was there when the market master rang the opening bell, and I was in time for the asparagus. I’m also really enjoying my new “Nifty Fifty” lens and getting some practice creating the sharp focus and the bokeh where I want them. There’s a fine line between a shallow depth of field that tells a story and a picture that is murky and blurry. Also, since I was loaded down with bags of goodies, I was shooting one-handed and trying to avoid camera shake. Here are the ones I’m happiest with, and isn’t the Market a pretty place? The vendors really brought it this year.