When preserving feels like a crime

I am growing way more food than is possible for a small family to eat at one time.   I did this with the full anticipation that I would be “putting up” some of the food for later in the year when we don’t have these in fresh supply on the Almostima ‘farmette’.  

So often we let food rot because we optimistically think we’ll get around to eating it while it’s still good — but life gets in the way.  I’m determined not to let that happen this year.  I know that a fresh tomato or a fresh cucumber is amazing — but there’s only so much of it I can have in one sitting, and one of my plants just exploded with tomatoes.  I’ve already had salad, salsa and bruscetta a few days in a row, and I know many of these will meet a sad fate if I don’t use them now.  (Keep in mind I have 7 other tomato plants that are still largely green.) 

Cucumbers are a trickier item.  I planted a ton of them because I so enjoyed making (and eating) relish last year and wanted to make a lot more pickles this time around, that I was calculating for a big  so that I could eat both fresh cukes and pickles down the road.  But, the plants are under-performing.  The thing is, I crave pickles more than cucumbers, so I went ahead and prioritized the pickling, hoping that more cukes will come my way as the season progresses.  My parents were a little offended that I used two of the cucumbers they gave me from their plants for relish.  Sorry, but I already ate a half-dozen fresh cukes from their plants, and those hot dogs aren’t gonna dress themselves. 🙂

I love how excited Max gets to go produce picking with me in the yard every day.  How many 2 year olds know the word ‘basil?’  I also love that he will eat way more tomatoes directly from the plant than he will if I just put it on his dinner plate.  I remember once last season he commented that  tomato I gave him was too cold to eat — because he was used to tomatoes that had been warmed by the sun on the plant.

Here’s what I’m enjoying preserving:

  • Pickling green beans — love them on their own as  a snack or on sandwiches in place of regular pickles.  Would also be good in a bloody mary, but haven’t actually tried that yet.
  • dehydrating green beans (will put in soups in the winter)
  • dehydrating tomatoes – trying this tonight for the first time.
  • the aforementioned relish (YUM!)
  • fermented israeli-style pickles.  (don’t have a batch ready yet, but will post more on that in a few days/week when I can comment on whether it worked)
  • plum bbq sauce
  • Haven’t done too much jamming lately – but that’s always fun
  • Still to come: tomato sauce!

 Here’s the thing:  preserving, at least as a beginner, requires faith.  I could eat this fresh, nutritious cucumber now, when it’s a known quantity, or I could undertake a complicated process so that I could enjoy it in a different form sometime down the road.  But what if I screw it up?  What if the process fails?  I will have wasted this gift for the sake of imitating something I could have bought at the store for a couple of bucks.  But if I don’t get to eat it and it rots, it’s equally wasted.  Also, let’s face it, our taste buds get bored! 

So, hopefully I’ll master these pickling/preserving techniques and this won’t be such a leap of faith next year.

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Eating Crow (and it tastes like chicken)

Some of you might remember a post of mine about firing the maid and doing my own cleaning.  I was young and idealistic, looking forward to rolling up my sleaves and giving my floors some elbow grease and home made cleaners to get the job done in a cost-effective manner.  Not sure how many months its been, but I’m crying uncle.  Cleaning service will be starting again next week. Sigh.

I admit it.  I couldn’t keep up.  If I can’t make it happen when I’m at home with the baby, I have no shot of keeping it up later.  Might as well throw in the towel and have a cleaner place to live while I’m at home, right? 

In other news:

Popsicles: I just made raspberry popsicles!  I put a pint of raspberries, a couple of tablespoons of sugar, lime juice, and a little water in the food processor.  Then I put it through a strainer and then into popsicle molds.  It’s freezing now.  I’ll see if Max wants to partake tonight. (I’ll add pictures if he does)

Fruit Leather:  My friend Emily came over last night with a batch of pureed apricots from her tree.  We put it on parchment paper in my food dehydrator and it’s looking promising — though it’s taking much longer than the 5-10 hour estimate in her recipe.  Thanks, Emily for participating in my homemade mishugas! (that’s yiddish for craziness)

Now, I know aspects of this post seem silly.  I caved and hired a cleaning service, which is objectively expensive, but I consider my victories to be pospicles and fruit leather — which, in actuality, save very little money in the family budget.   Maybe it comes down to the commitment aspect of it.  If I go 6 more months and don’t make another popsicle, no one will notice or care. (well, maybe Max would care).  But if I go 6 months without addressing the cleaning situation, then Child Protective Services gets called.  What I’m really saying is, someone please tell me it’s ok!!!

Where Do You Find the Time?

A friend of mine’s mother had a saying: men spend their money where their heart is, and women spend their time where their heart is.

Back in the old days, we used to use this rationale to measure whether the guys we were dating actually liked us, or were stringing us along and should be ditched.  Today I think more about the other side of that equation, women spending their time where their heart is.

I often get asked where I find the time to do the ‘green’ things I do.  The thing is, I think so much of this stuff is more about the mind set you are in.  Many women don’t think anything of spending 30 minutes every morning styling their hair and putting on makeup.   Waiting 30 minutes for a table at Chillis.  Catching up on the latest season of Real Housewives of East Tulsa.  I don’t mean to be pejorative, because we all have our guilty pleasures, or something we do to relax.  But so much of  the ‘crazy’ things I do, doesn’t actually take any meaningful amount of time.

  • It takes 30 more seconds to dump my veggie scraps into compost than it would to dump it in the trash. 
  • When I grow sprouts, it takes running the jar under cold water twice a day (or when I think of it) – 10 seconds.   
  • Planting my seedlings outside tonight: 10 minutes for 4 basil seedlings and 7 tomato plants (which I got tired of looking at under the grow lights, so hopefully they survive out there).   
  • Making muffins so my boy has breakfast for the week – 20-30 minutes. 
  • Banana chips: 60 seconds it took me to slice them, and the dehydrator did the rest. (BTW, I thought I wasn’t a fan, but Max had to fight me for his share of the last batch…). 
  • Making my own cleaning products, takes basically same amount of time as opening a bottle from the store. 
  • Making bread just takes 2 minutes to throw the ingredients into a bowl – then let the yeast do the work for 12-18 hrs.  Then, just being around to turn the dough out onto a cutting board (30 seconds), preheat the oven (30 minutes), and bake the bread (45 min) — and it’s not like I’m watching the bread through the window, I do other stuff while that’s going on.

These things make me happy and I think they make my home a better place for my family.  I don’t mind spending this time, it’s how I show my love.

Radish Snack and New Toy

I have been snacking on radishes from our front yard raised bed.  This gives me a lot of joy and feels like quite the triumph because radishes were low on my list of things I thought we should grow.  For one thing, we rarely ever buy them.  When we did buy them, I’d often forget to use most of them and they’d get all rubbery or slimey in the veggie drawer.  They are also quite inexpensive to buy, so I really didn’t know if it would be worth the trouble.  What sold me on giving it a try is 1) they are very quick to mature – about 4-6 weeks.  2) I saw a variety mix and I was tickled at the idea of having different color radishes for the hell of it.  (yeah, it doesn’t take much to amuse me) 

I am so glad I went for it because I just think they are beautiful!  Yesterday, I made a little snack of thinly sliced radishes with a little rock salt from hawaii that I picked up when we were visiting there last year. 

On to the new toy:

Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted a food dehydrator.  I remember a friend having one at home and snacking on apple chips, which I thought were about the yummiest thing ever.

As time went on, I talked myself out of having one.  The primary reasons were: it’s too much counter space, and surely the novelty of this would quickly wear off and I’d be stuck with junk.  Also, it appeared that dehydrators were a bit pricy and it would take a whole lot of dried apples to make that investment pay off.

Well, last year my love affair with this concept re-kindled.  Yes, it’s still too much counter space.  Yes, the chance of the novelty wearing off (like the Jack LaLane juicer may he and it rest in peace) is still very much a real possibility.  But I figured if I can capitalize on other people’s impulse purchases and find a barely used one on craigslist, it may be worth the experiment anyway.  Last week I picked up a $20 still in its original package never been used Ronco food dehydrator — just like my childhood friend had.  (Ah, nostalgia).

That night I dehydrated some of my homegrown herbs (parsley, oregano, and thyme).  We have a ton of Parsley and thyme and the oregano was left over from too much that I had snipped for our lasagne dinner.  I’ve actually been worried that the parsley would go to seed if I didn’t harvest more of it, so it’s a perfect excuse.  I also dehydrated a little bit of garlic as I have seen a few recipes for dehydrated garlic (as opposed to garlic salt or garlic powder) and was curious.

When it was done, I stuffed the contents in a jar (but didn’t crush them all the way) and let J. smell it.  He said that’s what italian seasonings are supposed to taste like!  Tonight we’re going to blend it with the spice grinder and rub it on a whole chicken that we’ll roast.  When Max goes down for his nap, I’ll try my hand at banana chips.  (I’m not a fan but maybe Max will be).  It also occurred to me that radish chips would make an excellent snacking chip — but I’m not sure any will last long enough to make it into the dehydrator.

Now, I still have a bunch of dried herbs in my pantry (which taste like nothing and I paid a small fortune for).  Trying to figure out what to use those for… maybe roasted potatoes.  Maybe confetti.

She Wore Lemon…

Ah, that brings me back.  I may not have mentioned it in a few years, but I’m a massive U2 fan (hence the Lemon title).   This year, I’ll literally be a “massive” U2 fan.  We have tickets to the U2 concert coming up and they are 3 days past my due date.  Yes, I’m planning to hold her in so I can go.

Anyhoo, our tiny little meyer lemon tree has produced a nice batch of lemons.  We use them in soda, iced tea, gin & tonics (none for me), etc.  One of the things I’ve wanted to do was to try my hand at preserved lemons.  But somehow, I felt it was too indulgent to do it with our relatively small crop.  However, tonight J. encouraged me to clean up the remainder of the crop to do with it whatever my heart desired.

It took me all of 2 seconds to jump on it and make preserved lemons tonight.  I plan on using them in middle eastern dishes, or with seafood, cous cous, who knows.  It’s so easy!  I used this recipe.  Now, the month-long wait to use it.

P.S., I enjoy the irony of using a “no preservatives” label on my recycled jar. for my preserved lemon.  It’s just so beautifully yellow… not sure the picture captures it.

P.P.S.  If any of you locals have an abundance of citrus — or any other crop for that matter, drop me a line and let’s see if we can hook up a marmalade/jam exchange or something.

Springing into Spring

Tonight we almost went out to dinner, but Max was having a mini-fit.  So, rather than subjecting the restaurant (and us) to a public tantrum, we went straight home.  My initial panic was that I remembered the fridge looking sort of empty as we hadn’t planned to eat at home tonight.  I told J. in a panic — but we have no food in the house.  He reminded me of a few things we had on hand that Max could eat, and if we had to, we’d make do with Mac & Cheese.

As we pulled up to the driveway, I realized how silly I’d been.  Sure, my fridge may look like a collection of condiments, but the front yard is our other fridge!  Even though it was still lightly raining, I popped outside and picked a handful of radishes, a Max-size serving of fresh peas, a few snow peas and spinach.  Yes, we did eat pot-stickers from the freezer — one of the few processed foods I haven’t let go of, but all in all, we all got our veggies in.  The radishes tasted amazing!  Almost sweet.  I’ll definitely be enjoying this crop and planting more as they only take 5 weeks or so to mature.

I Do By Myself!

That’s a phrase heard around our house a lot.  Usually uttered by our two year old.  He is fiercely independent.  Wonder where he gets this from?

Today I planted our next batch of lettuce and arugula seedlings.  We got a ton of use out of the last crop from the Fall.  Yesterday I transplanted a few pole bean plants and pickling cucumbers into one of our new raised beds in the front yard.  (pictures coming soon).

I’m exhausted, but can’t seem to nap.  Figured I shouldn’t waste Max’s epic nap, so I’ve been cleaning.  I had to research how to approach mopping our engineered hard wood floor.  Wouldn’t you know, the first few hits that I found recommended to use whatever cleaning product the manufacturer recommends.  Well, I didn’t install these floors myself, so who the hell knows what the manufacturer recommends.  And, I’d bet you $4 that the manufacturer stands to make some money off of whatever they recommend.

In the end, I settled on a solution that was 1 to 4 ratio of vinegar to hot water & a little essential oil with orange sent.  I don’t think the orange came through, because I smell mostly vinegar.  So, next time I’ll use more.  I’m thinking that I’ll try more vinegar next time because I do see a little bit of streaking — so maybe it didn’t cut grease well enough with this diluted recipe.

Then, I finished off our Meyer’s all purpose cleaner and took the opportunity to make a fresh batch of all-purpose cleaner myself.  I used a 1 to 1 ratio of water to vinegar with more orange oil.  This actually smelled like orange.  And it worked amazingly well.

While I’m even more tired now, it feels good to know that I don’t have to worry about Max making contact with toxic products that don’t even work all that well …  (the spray I made cleaned up things that Meyer’s didn’t).  Also, from a cost perspective, I am pretty sure we paid something like $6.99 for the Meyer’s spray.  The batch I made up was pennies because we get our vinegar in bulk at costco for like $5-6 (if memory serves).

One thing that is kind of a bummer about no longer using the cleaning service is that I don’t feel like there’s ever a time when the whole house is clean.  We triage different areas based on our tolerance level, but there’s no coming home to a totally clean house.  Oh well. Trade offs.

Who fired the maid?

When a friend of mine used to walk into her messy apartment, she used to say, “who fired the maid?” This was in jest, of course, because she didn’t have a maid.

We, on the other hand, had been having a cleaning service come in twice a month for the last couple of years. It seemed like quite the luxury, but not without its annoyances.

For one, they weren’t terribly consistent on when they arrived. Two, you feel like you have to leave your house when they are there so that you aren’t in their way. Three, you have to rush to clean up before they come so they can actually find your floors and such to clean. Four, it freaked out the cat … and a few times we thought she ran away. Five, I asked them to use green cleaners, and I think they nodded and smiled but didn’t really do it because the place always smelled way too chemically when we got home. Six, they would always put stuff away in random places (likely because we weren’t too great at cleaning up the clutter in the first place).

Well, one of the new years resolution was to cut back on expenses. So, I fired the maids. 😦 I figured this was an opportunity to turn a new leaf and A) actually clean things myself and B) venture into the green cleaning products.

First, I made my own laundry detergent. Which I LOVE! Here’s the recipe:
– 3 cups of borax
– 2 cups of grated bar soap. (I did mine with lavender scented soap in the food process with the shredding attachment. I didn’t smell the lavendar after all was mixed up, so next time I’ll use cheaper, all natural soap)
– 2 cups of baking soda (arm & hammer)
– 2 cups of washing soda (arm & hammer)

Mix these together and you are D-O-N-E. Use 2 tablespoons per load. Clothes come out just as clean as with store bought fancy shmancy detergent. (I read online that if you use the basic bar soap like Kirk’s Castile soap, the cost of the detergent comes out to about a penny a load)

Then, I made floor cleaner! We have a swiffer, and we have a regular mop. But I couldn’t find the swiffer sheet — and I don’t think they work all that well anyway, so we went with the sponge mop approach.

The recipe:
– mix 1/3 cup of Borax, 1/3 cup of baking soda with one gallon of warm water. Add one tablespoon of liquid dishwashing detergent and 2 tablespoons of white vinegar. I added a few drops of lavendar essential oils, but I think next time I’d like to try orange or lemon.

And then! I actually cleaned the floors!

I realized that what I always really looked forward to the maids for was having that clean the kitchen floor. It gets pretty grimy with all the foot traffic and cooking that goes on in there. So, if that was my big incentive for house cleaning service, that amounts to a monthly saving of roughly $230. Not too shabby.

I’m an Italian Grandmother

It’s official. I’m an italian grandmother because tonight I made my own pasta and topped it off with pesto made from basil from the backyard.  I also repurposed raw hamburger patties and made them into meatballs for the pasta.  This dish was amazingly delicious and definitely worth the extra effort.  I can’t say that I’d made it on a random weeknight, but definitely a keeper.

Lady Marmalade

Since Max had taken a liking to oranges (both eating and throwing around the room with much glee) we stalked up at the farmer’s market.  Then a mere minutes after we got home, Mother-in-Law dropped off a sac of oranges from a friend’s tree.  When life gives you oranges, you make orange marmalade.  I’m on hour 4.5 of marmalade drama.  I may have permanently damaged my glass-top range due to an unfortunate boiling-over situation. 

 I’m not sure if the marmalade will harden.  If it doesn’t, it will be used as an orange sauce for something like duck, or as a topping for ice cream.

Oh, and did I mention I have 8 jars of this stuff? Oy.

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