This is what it looks like.


Nine months ago I wrote here that I would keep you all informed about what it looks like to be a grad student, mom of a 4 year old, good friend, wife, half-assed homesteader and blogger.  Well apparently what it looks like is nine months of silence.  The truth is that for the last nine months I have not made all my own bread.  I have not made any bread.  I didn’t run out to my garden and pick fresh kale for a salad from under a cover of snow.  I did not once make toothpaste.

What did I do instead?  I taught kids where their food comes and how to grow their own.


I taught my daughter how to write her name.  I went on dates with my husband, and went out dancing until really late at night with friends.


I spent Christmas in Arkansas with my grandmother and Spring Break in Palm Springs, laying in the sun drinking mojitos.


I got a tattoo of a hazelnut.  I wrote a thesis proposal.  Obviously, I got an iPhone and got addicted to Hipstamatic.

What else did I do?  I ate that failed strawberry balsamic jam on toast every other day or so, and a couple of months ago I started eating eggs in the morning from my chicken friends.  I watched with pride and wonder as my apple trees bloomed profusely for the first time since I planted them four years ago, and as those beautiful flowers swelled into the delicate tiny green apples out there now, just tinged with rose. I also watched as the peach tree I planted last year withered and nearly died, and as my quince tree developed a rust that will almost certainly pass over to the apple trees that I am so proud of.  A month ago I planted an entire vegetable garden in one day, a week ago I freed my strawberry plants from the clutches of those evil creeping buttercups again (just like last year), and just today I looked outside and noticed the teeniest hints of green all in a row – the carrots that my daughter helped me sow are coming up, finally.

What didn’t I do?  I didn’t write about it. Mainly, because I was writing a thesis proposal and extra writing suddenly seemed a lot less fun than it normally does.  I suppose I am the half-assed blogger as well, which I was well-prepared for.  But I love that today is the day that I finally decided to devote a few minutes to writing.  Today, I used my first harvest of this spring – rhubarb.  A rhubarb crumble is cooling on the stove right now, of course with  one quarter rhubarb from my garden and three quarters from the market.  Who would I be if I grew enough of any one thing to do anything with it?  The crumble is to be shared tomorrow at a potluck, with all the friends and colleagues I’ve developed relationships with during the last year – a celebration of having come so far together.  And a celebration of it being over!  I have one more week of classes, a final, and then I’m done with my first year of grad school.  Three weeks later, I start the second part of my program.  Not much of a break.

I am absolutely certain that over the summer, and over the next year, my half-assed homesteading will continue.  Soon I’ll be harvesting snap peas and strawberries, then will come the inevitable deluge of zucchini, and with any luck in a few months I’ll have more apples than I’ll know what to do with.  I’m sure I’ll make some cheese here and there, and I have been thinking I really miss sewing lately and I’d love to try to make a dress for my daughter.  My fingers are crossed that I’ll have the time and the inclination to share those adventures here, but if the airwaves go silent for awhile again, it’s probably because I’m too busy sitting outside in the sun with my friends and family, trying to figure out how to use up all that zucchini.

The Half-Assed Harvest

My goal, for some far off point in my future life, is to be one of those super productive gardeners who has something going all year, and can trudge out through the snow to pick something fresh for dinner.  Unfortunately, that’s not yet a reality.  So a couple of weeks ago, with the start of my first term of grad school looming terrifyingly ahead, I realized it was time to assess just how pathetic my garden was this year, and to try to salvage and preserve the last dregs of produce out there.

Tomatoes:  I have had the same tomato strategy for the last ten years or so, and it always works out very well throughout the season, but at the end of the year I always have tons of tomatoes left over that I never get around to using or putting up, and I was determined this year not to let that happen.  I grow five plants: an early variety, a delicious heirloom I’ve never tried, a plum, a Green Zebra because I love it, and Sungold because it is amazing.  This year I used most of my remaining Early Girls to make a tomato sauce that I froze.  I grew something that was yellow and super sweet and tasty, I don’t remember what it was called, and those I blanched and skinned, then froze whole along with the Green Zebras. The Sungolds I am eating off the vine still. And then there are the plums.

I thought I would oven dry them.  It’s becoming apparent to me that I need a dehydrator because all my dried stuff is just turning out super janky.  I halved them, and put them in the oven for a few hours, then it was time for dinner so I had to take them out. I repeated that process, slooooooooowly drying them out over a period of maybe a week?  Just leaving them in the oven and turning it on to dry them some more whenever I remembered to.  Until yesterday, when I turned the oven to 350 to preheat for a carrot cake (from a box) and about fifteen minutes later my husband came in and said, “Why does it smell like burning tomatoes?”.  Dammit. So, I’m not sure if they are usable or not.  They are kind of black in some parts, but they seem dried out?  Typical half-assedness.

Eggplants:  Even more half-assedness!  I grew two eggplants, one had a bunch of really pretty little streaky purple and white guys and the other grew one big regular dark purple eggplant.  Yep.  One eggplant.  I decided I would do this thing where you preserve eggplant in olive oil with some of them and make baba ganoush to freeze with the rest.  I didn’t have all the ingredients for the baba ganoush, so I put the ones for that on the counter with the plan of purchasing the ingredients the next day and making it then.  The eggplants are still sitting on the counter.  The ones I was going to preserve in oil were sliced and salted and sat in a colander over a bowl on the stove to drain their excess liquid.  The next afternoon, I found that my awesome husband had, without asking, dumped them into the compost.  So, basically my entire eggplant harvest was a bust.

Carrots:  I know real gardeners grow some carrots and then harvest them and then grow some more all summer. I sowed two lines of carrots, ignored them all summer, and then dug them up the other day.  But what a bunch of carrots!  How can your heart not be warmed by these little straggly knobby guys who were out there fighting for their lives in my unamended, rocky soil?  There were like, eight carrots, so I’m just eating them.  Sadly, they’re not even all that sweet because they are ancient at this point, and also they are so knobbly that it is impossible to wash them really well so there is a definite grit factor, but I don’t care because I love them.

Peppers:  I grew a red bell, a little hot thing, and anaheims.  I have never had success with bells.  I grow them every year, and every year they suck.  This year was no exception.  They grow all distorted, and different parts of the pepper ripen at different rates, and they are just generally pointless.  Of course, the little super hot looking guys grew great, because I don’t even like them, I just grow them for my husband.  Harvest day I decided I’d oven dry them, but I didn’t want to do it with my kid in the house because I was afraid they’d exude a toxic gas that would kill us all.  I was going to buy gloves the next day too, because hot peppers make my hands hurt for days. I forgot to buy gloves, and all those lovely peppers are still sitting on the plant.  The anaheims also grew way better than expected, but they never developed any heat at all.  So we basically used them as green peppers throughout the season, and then I did a quick pickle with the end of season harvest.

Zucchini:  Ugh.  We know all about zucchini.  Let’s not even talk about it anymore.

Acorn squash:  My first time growing winter squash and it did really well!  I am harvesting it for actual use right now and really happy about it.

Broccoli:  Most people grow broccoli only in spring and fall, but I grow it straight through and just hack pieces off periodically when it looks like it’s about to bolt.  It’s a really weird, nontraditional way of doing it, but it works for me.  I did hack a bunch off that day and it’s sitting in the fridge right now waiting for my husband to make this awesome Nigel Slater (my boyfriend) lamb and broccoli stir-fry (scroll down).  Suck it aphids, I had a productive broccoli season anyway.

Kale:  Why in the hell do I even grow this stuff?  And why does it mock me by growing better than anything else?  It’s out there, right now, the stuff I planted in March.  It’s full and lush and dark green, calling to me about how nutritious it is.  And I just hate it.  I tried this kale and ricotta salata salad recipe, thinking, If I just smother it in cheese I will like it.  But I still didn’t.  The stuff is nearly as tall as I am right now, never bolted, and looks like it will grow into a tree by the end of winter.

Cabbage:  Wow.  I really dropped the ball on this one.  I had four beautiful cabbages out there and I just ignored them completely until they got all weird and cracked and eventually stuff started growing out of the middle of them?   I don’t even know what that is?  And I like cabbage, a lot.  It makes me sad to think of all the okonomiyakis we could have made if I hadn’t flaked.

Radishes:  Look at this thing!  What the hell is this?  I’ve never really grown radishes before, and I know they are quick and should be sown and harvested multiple times, but I thought I’d try my carrot strategy out on them.  Yeah.  It doesn’t work.  I went out to harvest them and realized that the poor things had gotten so big that they’d heaved themselves out of the ground.  I think they were trying to walk away.  Inedible.  Next year I’ll know.

Cucumbers:  So, I planted these cucumber seeds and forgot about them and then one day I was like, Holy crap!  Look, there’s cucumbers over there!  We harvested a couple, but I could never really wrap my brain around the variety.  The internet said they were supposed to get like 8″ long, but whenever they got more than 4″ or so they’d start cracking and turn yellow and get all weird.  So we just kept harvesting these teeny ones, but eventually we sort of forgot they were back there.  I was hoping there’d be at least a couple I could pickle on harvest day but there weren’t.

Raspberries:  This is the saddest.  I have an absolutely enormous patch of Autumn Gold raspberries, and they produce twice.  We really made the most of our first raspberry time, my little lady would run out and pick them every day and come inside with raspberry smeared all over her face and I felt like a good mom.  The second time, I knew they were coming on, but I kind of forgot about them and the other day I looked and they had all just shriveled into nothing and I felt like a total failure.

So, this is where I am.  The garden is basically dead to me right now, until I get news that a frost is coming at which I point I will run out and salvage everything one last time.  I found an amazing recipe for pasta with a green tomato sauce that I’ll make.  I’d link to it but this is the one case in which the internet is failing me, but if you are interested let me know and I’ll put it up.

I’m somewhat satisfied with what I accomplished as the half-assed homesteader over the summer.  If I look at it as a lifelong process of building skills and knowledge, I feel like I took some good steps.  And now it’s fall, and I’m in school an insane amount, and I have to look at this as a good thing, a challenge.  It’s easy (?) to run a cool productive household during the summer when you don’t have a job.  Now we get to see how it works when you have 21 credits of grad school, a 3 year old to raise, a family to feed well, friends to see, and volunteer work.  Oh, and a blog!  I’ll keep you posted, or at least I’ll try.

When the garden gives too much zucchini…

…you make zucchini bread.  And attempt and fail (twice) to make zucchini chips.  And make the zucchini ricotta spread until all your friends are sick of it.  AND YET THERE IS MORE ZUCCHINI.

I’ve grown zucchini every year I’ve ever had a garden.  That’s the majority of the last thirteen years or something like that.  So you’d think I’d know by now how many plants will produce too much zucchini for my family to eat.  Do you know how many plants that is?  It’s one.  One plant will just about do us.  Maybe two if we want zucchini coming out of our ears.  So how many zucchini plants do you think I planted this year?

Five.  Yes, that’s right.  Five zucchini plants.

See, I have a tiny gardener who likes to help me.  She especially likes to sow seeds.  And even though I have never had a zucchini seed fail to sprout, I still have this method instilled in me, from my days of professional propagation, of oversowing.  No good propagator would ever sow less than three seeds. And I feel like I have to pass this down to my daughter.  This is valuable gardening information!  This is the sort of information that gets passed from generation to generation in a gardening family!  So, we planted two or three seeds in each spot, I’m not sure how many, but eventually we ended up with five absolutely enormous zucchini plants, and I just didn’t have the heart to thin them.  I know that goes against all professionalism, thus making my earlier insistance on oversowing seem ridiculous, but…that’s me.  Half-assed overachiever.  Even I don’t understand my own brain.

So that’s how I ended up harvesting thirteen pounds of zucchini in one day a few weeks ago.  They sat on my counter and I stared at them until one day I decided it was zucchini day.  First up, I read this post about zucchini chips, and I thought that sounded fantastic.  But I don’t have a dehydrator.  That’s okay, I thought.  I’ll just slice them up with a mandolin and put them on various flat surfaces into the oven and the lowest temp and see what happens.  These beautiful zucchinis went in looking like this:

Unfortunately, they came out looking like this:

We had to use the oven later that night and I thought I’d just take them out for a few hours then put them back in, but when I took them out it was obvious immediately that they were an abysmal failure.  I didn’t use anything to prevent them from sticking, and so….they stuck.  I mean, really really stuck.  On the upside, they immediately disintegrated when immersed in hot water so they did not turn into a cleaning debacle.

I actually tried the zucchini chips again a week later, and once again they were totally unsuccessful.  I actually put them on aluminum foil, but they still stuck.  Interestingly, I didn’t use a mandolin this time, and I used two different size.  The larger slices, which were also mostly thinner, just shrank down and died.  But the smaller and thicker slices actually kind of started to work, but there were so few of them that I just ate them out of the oven.  They were delightful and I still think I might give this a third try if I am feeling ambitious someday soon, since my garden is still producing an abundance of zucchini.

But anyway.  Back to the zucchini bread.  I thought I’d make six loaves at once and freeze five of them in my completely awesome chest freezer.  (You may remember some of this debacle from Facebook.)  I dropped my kid off at school and stopped at the store on the way home to get some dish soap, and while I was there I picked up ingredients, and was feeling all smug that for once I remembered to do something like that in advance.  I got home, was actually knee deep in ingredient assembling when I realized that I did not have a smidge of brown sugar.  So out I ran to the store, with my table covered in half-assembled zucchini bread ingredients.  I came back home, turned on Radiolab, my eternal homemaking partner, and set up this wonderful streamlined system of zucchini bread production.  After the third one I kind of thought…Hm.  Did I leave something out of that one? But I had no idea what it would have been, so I continued.  At the end I was astonished and proud to have six lovely zucchini breads to put into the oven.  An hour later I pulled out this:

But also this:

For comparison:

One of these things is not like the other.

I obviously left out either the baking soda or baking powder of the sad one.  But that’s okay!  Five out of six is not bad, for me, frankly. One of them collapsed coming out of the loaf pan too, but it still tasted delicious.  The other ones all went into the freezer so that I will have ready to bring summery desserts for mid-winter dinners.  Overall, this was a successful project!  I mean, I know making zucchini bread is not a particularly demanding venture, but I grew something, I made something with it, and I saved it for later, and I think that is cool.

I’m still planning on making a zucchini quiche to freeze for the winter also, and I might do some zucchini pickles too.  I mean, this zucchini just keeps going!  And then, of course, I somehow planted four acorn squash plants too, so will I be failing at making acorn squash chips in a couple months?  We’ll see…

*and in case you missed it on Facebook, after I made a colossal mess making the zucchini bread, I realized I had forgotten to buy dish soap the first two times I’d gone to the store and I had to go to the store AGAIN for dish soap.

ain’t no party like a half-ass party

I have found, much to my satisfaction, that as I’ve gotten older I have become a much happier hostess.  As my poor husband and best friends can attest, entertaining at my house used to be a very sad, stressful affair, where I anguished over every detail of the planning and would basically curl up into the fetal position about ten minutes before the event, terrified that either nobody would come or everybody would come. There was much cleaning and cooking and scurrying about the house muttering to myself about place settings.  These days, I’ve (pretty much) learned to actually take the advice that moms throughout the ages have given to their daughters: if people are judging you on something stupid like how dirty your floor is, they aren’t your friends anyway.  Especially now that entertaining involves hordes of small children coming over, I really don’t even bother cleaning or planning that much.  I just want to hang out with my friends, not lie to them about what day to day life is like.  Having said all that, I am still the weirdest half-assed overachiever ever, so a typical get together for me is as follows.

Yesterday I had a “happy hour playdate”, in which I provided some drinks and snacks and over the course of a few hours some lovely moms brought their hooligans over and we let them wrassle around in the backyard while we drank wine in the sun.  It was pretty glorious, if I do say so myself. When I hatched this scheme I envisioned myself having basically all the preparation done by the middle of the week, because I knew that I’d have my little lady with me all day Thursday and Friday and I wanted to actually hang out with her rather than deposit her in front of the TV while I frantically finished up the food.  Of course, that’s never how my life happens.  I did manage to keep my stuff on the fairly simple side for once, instead of hollowing out grapes and filling them with blue cheese or something equally ridiculous (sorry to the person who had to help me with that in 2005.)  I was planning to make a zucchini ricotta spread, to get rid of zucchini.  Bake some no-knead bread to go with it.  A big plate of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.  And deviled eggs.

I have a cheese making set that my ever-supportive husband got me for Christmas and only used once and I have been really wanting to use again, so I thought I’d make the mozzarella and the ricotta, but in a rare show of common sense I decided to only make one and chose ricotta because last time I made mozz and it was not especially successful.  I thought I’d have a relaxing Wednesday and make the cheese, but somehow it didn’t happen that way and I found myself at 9 pm on Wednesday night realizing that it was now or never.  So, glass of wine in hand, I dumped a gallon of milk into my dutch oven and hoped for the best.

The directions made it seem like it would be pretty quick, the milk just had to come to 180 to 185 degrees and as soon as the curds separated from the why, I was to take it off the heat.  I was supposed to make sure there was no “milky whey”. Curds started forming pretty quickly, but after the first few the whole process seemed to sort of stagnate.  I was kind of hoping that at 180 it was just going to suddenly clump up and the endpoint would be obvious, but at 185 it looked…basically the same as it did at 85.

At this point it was probably 10 pm, and I was beginning to hate the cheese and my life. My husband had long since gone to bed and it was just me, my wine, some semi-clumpy milk and Facebook.  (I did think to make the dough for my no-knead bread during this time, feeling all smug about my late-night tipsy multitasking.)  I noted that the directions said to make sure not to let it scorch so I started stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan a little more vigorously, but still the clumps were starting to get a little brown.  And still, the whey still appeared milky to me.  I just thought there would be a clear distinction – clear liquid vs. clumps, but no.  Eventually, knowing that it still had to sit for 15 to 30 minutes after I took it off the heat, I just gave up and dumped it into my cheesecloth.  About 15 minutes later, it looked like this:

And it tasted like…solid, chewy milk.  It had the right texture and everything, but it was just basically flavorless.  I put it into the fridge and went to bed.

I had planned to make the zucchini spread the next day, and also to bake the bread.  Neither of those things happened because it was the best day ever and it was NONSTOP FUN ALL DAY.

Friday morning we had plans, so at noon I had three hours to bake the bread, make the zucchini spread, the tomato salad, and the deviled eggs, plus try to make my house somewhat presentable.

The no-knead bread is supposed to sit for eighteen hours, then get punched and sit for another two.  Eighteen hours after I made the dough, I was sitting under the stars at a farm with grilled corn, a beer, and some sweet friends.  I eventually punched it roundabout 40 hours after I started it.  I tasted it and it had a slightly tangy flavor, but other than that it seemed okay so I decided to go for it.  I didn’t have time to let it sit for two hours and then bake for 45 minutes so it sat for an hour instead.  This is why I love no-knead bread: the end result was just a kind of sourdough version of the regular bread with a more open crumb.  Genius! Homemade bread = success!

The ricotta came out of the fridge to go into the zucchini spread and had a really weird gummy texture, but I zipped the whole thing up in the food processor and it was delicious!  Homegrown zucchini + homemade ricotta = spread = success again!

Oh right, and somewhere in here during the week, I hardboiled a dozen eggs.  I literally don’t even remember when.  It was sometime during the day, and I didn’t have time to ice them down, so I just stuck them in a bowl of cold water into the fridge for, I don’t know at least three days?  Where they were still waiting for me Friday afternoon.   When I got chickens I had this great idea that deviled eggs was going to be my Signature Dish.  I was going to collect deviled egg dishes and everything.  Then I realized that hardboiling super fresh eggs actually kind of sucks.  I still do it, but I’m a little less enthusiastic about it.  I remember peeling Easter eggs when I was a kid and how it was really satisfying to see if you could get the whole shell off in just a couple pieces.  Fresh hardboiled egg shells come off in thousands of pieces. It is so time-consuming and tedious, and the eggs always look like a fifteen year old’s acne-scarred face.  They are not pretty.  I thought I’d make them more appealing by at least piping the filling out of a pastry bag, but I didn’t mash the yolks enough and a big yolk clod clogged up the bag and I ended up with a yolk volcano out of the top of the bag and all over my hands.  The first one was all twisty and lovely, but the rest were dumped in with a teaspoon as usual. But, hey they were delicious so whatev.  And!  This time I fancied ’em all up with some edible flowers.  Backyard eggs + homegrown edible flowers = success!

Finally, there is pretty much no way you can screw up a giant plate of backyard tomatoes with mozzarella and basil.  I mean…I ran out of the olive oil I was going to drizzle over it, but it still was pretty much heavenly.  And purdy too!  4 variety tomato platter = total success!

So, overall, even a half-assed party can be a success.  I invited some people I liked, made some food I was proud of, and allowed myself to relax once they got here.  I never did get to pick up the house at all though, so there were literally peas and Joe’s O’s all over the floor, and one 4 year old was overhead exclaiming, “There are a lot of dead plants in the front yard.”  True.  So true.  But the food was good, right?

you win some, you lose some

That’s really what this whole endeavor is about for me, actually.  My successes keep me from being too disheartened from my failures.  And amazingly, one of my consistent successes lately has been bread. Until today.

I have always been intrigued by this idea of baking all of one’s own bread.  I’m not sure why but there is a whole lot of emotion tied up in homemade bread for me.  It just seems so rustic, and lovely, and…unattainable.  Only fancy people bake bread at all, I thought.  And only REALLY fancy people bake all their own bread, every week.  The concept seemed truly laughable.

People:  I now bake all my own bread.

I know that I am late to the table on this whole No-Knead phenomenon.  Everyone’s been doing it for ages.  Well, I haven’t.  I’ve been doing it for a month and I am ecstatic.  I, in all my half-assedness, am capable of baking bread for my family every week.  And, oooohhh, this bread.  Not only is it easy, even fun, to make, but it truly rivals a five dollar loaf from a fancy bakery.  I won’t give you the directions, because it’s not my recipe, but I advise you, if you have any bread-making aspirations at all to follow the link and give it a go.

For me, I tend to mix up the dough on a Sunday night.  It literally takes all of two minutes, and you get this nice shaggy dough.  Everyone says shaggy…the recipe says shaggy, blogs all say shaggy.  You know why?  Because the dough is shaggy.  I just can’t think how else to describe it.

I leave it overnight, go off to school in the morning, come home for lunch and do the rest.  This is where I’m probably losing some of you, because you have full time jobs and are not home all afternoon on a Monday.  Do it on Saturday night, then.  In three weeks I’ll be back to my regular life and that’s what I’ll be doing and it will be fine.  I promise.

When I get home for lunch, my dough looks like this:

Yes.  These are two different bowls.  They are two different batches.

Dump the sticky mess out, move it around, let it rest, move it around some more, let it rest for two hours, preheat your oven and dutch oven, dump it in.  That’s it.  It actually even sounds more complicated that it is.  I would say it’s a total active time of maybe five minutes.  And here is the glorious part…it emerges looking like this:

The crust shatters as you bite into it. The crumb is perfect, with big airy holes just right for butter to ooze into.  And I have never, not once, screwed this up.  It must be foolproof.

I made a batch today.  When it was done, I made pita bread.  It did not go as well.  Not a surprise.

It’s yet another victim of my “I can make that better for cheaper” problem.  To be fair, we really do not have access to good pita around here.  So it was worth a go.  The only problem is that…they didn’t rise.  The recipe I was going off of included pictures of giant ballooning pitas in the oven.  I thought it would be really fun for my kid to watch them swell up in a matter of minutes, but as we stood there, staring into a 400 degree oven and sweating, she started asking, “What are they supposed to be doing?” Because, they were basically doing nothing.  Out of the eight I made, two had pathetic tiny bubbles off to the side, but certainly none of them expanded to the extent that I was expecting.

Those are some flaccid pita breads.

Happily, although they were limp, they were also fluffy and moist and flavorful,  words I would never apply to the stale, dry cardboard we get from the store.  So ultimately, it was worth it, if not a total success.  And I’m not disheartened because tomorrow morning we’ll have that beautiful loaf of fresh bread and I will remember that I am capable of magic sometimes.  The magic didn’t happen right away this time, but it doesn’t mean it won’t in the future.

why it’s worth it

Yesterday I processed sixteen pounds of peaches.  It really doesn’t sound like that much.  When I weighed out, I was disappointed.  I was hoping I’d picked twenty pounds or more.  In retrospect, if I had had twenty five pounds of peaches to deal with yesterday, I might have had a mental breakdown, so it would appear that I lucked out.  As I limped out of the house on the way to pick up my kid from school, I thought to myself, Who am I kidding with this stuff?  Why can I not just be a normal human being who buys the overpriced jam with mysterious ingredients and doesn’t think, I could make this better for cheaper?

Is all this even worth it?

Then last night as I uploaded pictures of the peach fiasco, I came upon this picture that I had taken just yesterday morning.  This is what we had for breakfast:

Fresh eggs from the chickens.  Homemade bread.  Homemade jam with strawberries we picked together.  And blueberries from the back yard.

Before you go getting all worried that I might not be as half-assed as I claim to be, I’ll just clarify.  When I gathered those eggs, there were nine in the laying basket because I hadn’t had time to bring eggs in for three days.  The bread was stale and could probably knock a person out cold if used as a weapon.  The jam is not really jam.  I like to call it “preserves” because it didn’t gel and is instead kind of a chunky strawberry syrup.  And half the blueberries are from the yard, but the other half are from the farmer’s market because usually berries don’t actually make it the hundred feet from the bush to the kitchen.

Despite all those caveats, I still feel pretty good that this is what I gave my kid for breakfast, and that she takes it for granted that this is the food we eat.  Also, it was delicious.  I think that sticky arms, a slight limp, and a kitchen that looks like a bomb went off in it are small prices to pay for the privilege of eating so well. So, once my peach leather has dehydrated, we’ll find out what a person can do with sixteen pounds of peaches, four hours, too much ambition and too little common sense.  In the meantime, as I try to complete the seven other things that were on my to-do list yesterday that didn’t get done, I will probably find myself asking myself at least once if it’s really worth it, and I will picture this:  a three year old with sleepy eyes and tousled hair, hands sticky with jam, face smeared with blueberries, shouting “Mama I love breakfast!” Yes, it is definitely worth it.

Popsicles: I’m not always a failure

While I frequently achieve less-than-successful results with my projects, I do also succeed with some regularity.  Good thing too, otherwise I would probably get depressed and give up completely.  One of my favorite projects is popsicle making, because it is pretty much foolproof.  It’s almost always delicious, is a great way to use up leftover things from other cooking projects, and my 3 year old loves the results.

I have two sets of popsicle molds, both wedding gifts from years ago, but often both of the sets are fully in use.  When that happens, I use a method I found in a Highlights magazine that works really well and also uses up some random stuff I have around the house.  I have a giant box of tiny paper Dixie cups (for making baking soda volcanoes, obviously) that I use, and while Highlights suggests that you use actual craft/popsicle sticks, I find that we almost always have multiple packages of cheap wooden chopsticks from takeout Chinese or sushi, so I just snap those in half.  Pour popsicle liquid (juice, etc – more on that to come) into the paper cup, put it in the freezer for an hour, then stick your chopstick half into the somewhat solidified popsicle and leave it until you are ready for it. When it’s popsicle time, you just peel the paper away and voila – homemade popsicle.

I really like doing this because I can experiment with flavors that you don’t see in stores, each popsicle can be customized, and I don’t use any extra sugar (usually) so it’s pretty dang pure.

A few weeks ago I had almost an entire can of coconut milk left over from a curry that only used a teeny bit, and I know from experience that though I might have the best of intentions, that leftover coconut milk will almost certainly sit in my fridge until it is unusable.  So, I busted out my Dixie cups.  In one I mixed the coconut milk with some lime juice and zest from a random lime I happened to have in the fridge. In the other I mixed it with some canned pineapple juice that Leo uses in cocktails sometimes.  We debated trying to make some fruity cocktail popsicle, perhaps with a rum float.  The decision at the time was no, but I’ve actually been regretting that ever since, and I think boozy popsicles are going to happen in this household pretty soon.

Then I made my failed strawberry jam.  The recipe called for eight cups of strawberries, to be crushed down to five cups, but I wasn’t paying attention and enthusiastically crushed waaaaaay too many strawberries, so I decided to make some super chunky popsicles with the leftovers.  It ended up enough to make several popsicles – one each of strawberry with: lavender, balsamic, chocolate, heavy cream swirled through, thyme, basil, and vanilla.  They were absolutely beautiful and smelled like summer.

On a lovely, warm summer evening after dinner on the patio, we decided it was popsicle time.  Hazel chose strawberry thyme, and chose for Leo coconut lime.  In the end we all ended up sharing, and I was pleased that Hazel actually preferred the coconut one – it’s always satisfying to see her palate expanding, and I didn’t think there was a thing in the world she would choose over strawberries.

Both popsicles were total successes, although I might blend up the strawberries if I do it again instead of just crushing them…not a complaint, just an improvement.

And I still have huge tubs of strawberries from our picking adventure.  Next up – strawberry basil fruit leather!