Overambitious underachiever

I did it!  I officially finished my first year of grad school.  Monday, my first day off, was full-on relaxation day: had lunch at the food carts downtown, sat in the sun reading a trashy magazine for an hour, saw a movie, went to happy hour.  Tuesday, I ran approximately twelve thousand errands, did as much laundry as I possibly could, and that was basically it.  So by today, Wednesday, I was already beginning to feel this sensation of panic – “It’s been two days and I haven’t done anything in the yard or kitchen OH MY GOD SUMMER IS ALMOST OVER AND I AM WASTING IT”.  So, as is totally typical of me, I decided to do a week’s worth of projects in one day.  Project goals for the seven hours between dropping family off and picking them up:

  • Pickled asparagus
  • strawberry freezer jam
  • first attempt at homemade yogurt
  • first attempt at homemade white wine vinegar
  • first attempt at rhubarb drinking vinegar

Amazingly, I actually accomplished almost all this, plus I did some unexpected things, and nothing was an abysmal failure!  Although I would not be me if I had done everything according to plan…

I started with the asparagus pickling.  Part of the reason nothing every really works quite right for me is that I never do the same thing twice.  I really liked the pickled asparagus I made last summer, even though the recipe kind of bewildered me, so I decided I’d try it again and try not to screw it up this time.

Again, as last year, I bought the asparagus weeks ago, but at least this time there was no mold, it was actually really sturdy and pretty.  I felt sad salting it.

One of the reasons I don’t can or pickle as much as I’d like is that my canner is HUGE and just waiting for the water to boil takes more time than I usually want to devote.  I’m hoping to experiment this summer with some different equipment.  I saw this post about small batch canning the other day, and now I really want an asparagus pot, but for today I just ended up using a stockpot, which is really only slightly smaller than my canner. I definitely think it cut down on the timesuck though.

Of course, my canning rack didn’t fit in there, so I stole this awesome idea from Northwest Edible Life, and because my stockpot was pretty skinny I only needed to use a couple of random rings I had laying around.  Ingenuity!

So, of course, as the jars were sterilizing I started to put together the pickling liquid, and had nothing I was supposed to have, apart from the vinegar and sugar.  I used the same black mustard seed as last year instead of regular mustard seed, because it turned out fine.  Frustratingly, I could never find dill seed to use last year, found the unopened jar a week later, and then couldn’t find it again this year.  And totally forgot to buy an onion for it.  So…I ended up using the black mustard seed and then randomly throwing in some white peppercorns and juniper berries?  Because…they were the size and shape of what I wanted?  That truly was the extent of my reasoning.

I had counted out thirty asparagus and chopped them so they’d fit into the jar, and that was what I salted.  I packed them all in to the jar, poured the pickling liquid in, and was feeling all pleased…until I remembered that I had a whole other jar that was supposed to be full of asparagus.  So, in true half-assed fashion, I just snapped off the very ends of the chopped parts and dumped them into the jar, which actually filled it up.  So maybe…I just don’t know.  Is it supposed to be each asparagus cut in half or something?  I still find it bewildering.  And, I poured in the liquid and it came up only half way.  Again. Just like last year.  So, I processed it, and now I have one beautiful asparagus pickle jar, and one half full of weird choppy bits jar.  I will use them in salads I think.

I’ll leave my other adventures for tomorrow, but I have to say that I feel really happy and proud to be failing in my kitchen again.  My goal for the summer is to work on being more realistic about what I can do during the schoolyear, and to practice skills.  I want to get more into small-batch processing, and I’m working a lot from this book Make the Butter, Buy the Bread which I wish I’d written, about what is easy and worth it to make at home and what you should just admit is easier to pick up at the New Seasons.  I may have made several discoveries about that today…which I will share with you soon!

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.

millions of peaches

Finally, finally, the time has come to discuss the peach fiasco.  Things got a little crazy there for awhile.  I had to spend really an unfortunate amount of time studying for finals and the GRE.  It’s real life, you know? Sometimes you have the time and energy to do cool stuff, and sometimes all you can do is try desperately to remember the formula for the circumference of a circle.

So, a couple months ago I was getting my haircut and this lady walked in and gave my stylist this giant jar of peaches.  I was instantly transported to my youth and eating those little slices of peaches in tin cans and I thought, Heeeeyyyy.  I could do that.  Then two weeks ago a U-Pick farm I “like” on Facebook mentioned that they had Early Red Haven peaches opening the next day.  I actually had two free days in a row, one on which to pick, one on which to process, and it seemed perfect, so I headed out to Sauvie Island Farms, armed with a giant red tub, a camera, sunscreen, and about 1 oz of water, which I later regretted immensely.

I actually picked seven pounds of green beans first, thinking I’d freeze them in our brand new (to us) chest freezer, huzzah!  The picking was so easy and fast and satisfying, I was totally feeling smug, which should always be a sign of imminent danger.

The lady had warned me of two things: first, that these peaches, although technically freestone, were actually pretty clingy and were better for eating than for canning.  I am a stubborn woman, and I find it very difficult once I am excited about something to switch directions, so I plowed on ahead.  Second, the peaches had already been pretty well picked out on the north side, so keep to the south, but there should be plenty.

Because I am a giant freak who ignores all advice, I hit the north side first. As I approached, the aroma of peaches was heavy in the air, and the trees all appeared to have tons of fruit on them. But as I got closer, I realized that it was, literally, all rotten.  The trees were loaded down with juicy ripe fruit…that was all covered in mold.  I meandered down toward the south side after all, smashing spoiled fruit under my feet the whole way.  Finally, at the very last row, there were trees that still had a small amount of decent fruit on them, and I picked it all.  I actually was going to jokingly post on Facebook the next day, “Hey don’t go out to Sauvie to pick peaches, I got it all, ha ha ha” and then Sauvie posted that they were out of peaches, and I actually felt kind of guilty.

As I mentioned I was surprised and disappointed to find that I’d only picked sixteen pounds of peaches.  I’ve had this idea of putting up everything while it’s fresh and not buying any non-local produce throughout the winter, and sixteen pounds of peaches was not going to help that much.  But my god, I am glad now I did not have twenty-five pounds of peaches.

The next day I put together this absolutely, in hindsight, ridiculous list of eleven things I wanted to do with the green beans and peaches and a schedule of how I might overlap projects so that I could get them all done in four hours.  I have no idea what I was thinking.

The very first step in the entire process was to dismember the peaches.  All my reference materials said that I should blanch them first and the skin would just slip right off.  The lady at the farm had said the skin was easy to peel, so as you might expect, I ignored the advice and just sat down and started peeling.  About ten minutes and two peaches out of sixty in, I realized that I was being a jackass and started blanching them.  Peach tip #1: blanch them.

Once they were skinned it was time to get the pit out.  This lady was not lying when she said they would not split cleanly in half.  I mean, the peach itself did, but then trying to get the pit out was just impossible.  I thought I’d try sliding it out with a spoon, a la avocado, but it just resulted in a smashed peach.  I couldn’t think of any other way to pit them, so I just started slicing off chunks all around and putting them into one vat of acidulated water, and then leaving a bunch of flesh on the pit and dumping that thing into another vat of acidulated water.  This entire process of breaking down the peaches probably took me 2 1/2 of the 4 hours I had to do stuff in.  Time management is not one of my skills.

Early Red Haven: not a freestone peach

I had, cleverly I thought, had all the canning supplies going on the stove for the entire time, so when I was done, it was go time.  I had to make the simple syrup, which took only a few seconds, but other than that I was ready.  I chose to use an ultra-light syrup and raw pack, because I just really hate the idea of taking these perfect fruits and then cooking them and drowning them in table sugar. Peaches in jars, syrup over the peaches, lids and bands on, and into the canner they went.  It was miraculously smooth.  Now it was time to work on the jam.

It seemed that the only way to get the remaining flesh of the pits was just to basically smush it off.  I really, really hate wasting food, so I wanted to put every teeny last bit to use.  I set my station up again.  Pit bowl, mush bowl, and a bowl for juice, and spent the next half hour squishing peaches over the juice bowl so that even the juice could be used.  Once I finally had extracted every single possible bit of usable material from those peaches, I set about making this peach rosemary jam.

Okay.  Jam mix is bubbling away on the stove, using the best bits of the mush.  Now to use the true dregs of the pulp to make fruit leather.  (Seriously?  Why did I think I was capable of doing all this in one day???) According to my book, it needs to be cooked on the stove first, then strained so that it will…I don’t know.  Make a better fruit leather.  So, now I have a giant canner on the stove with the peaches in it.  A saucepan with jam mix in it next to it.  And a dutch oven full of proto fruit leather behind that.  Everything in my house is sticky.  There are dishes piled upon dishes upon dishes.  Every time I take a step I slide on slimy peach skin.  I am miserable and totally unable to comprehend how I will ever make sense of this chaos.

The jam recipe says that it should thicken in 7 – 15 minutes.  45 minutes later, I am staring at it in mild panic, as it appears to be getting, if anything, more watery.  I need to leave the house to pick up my child pretty much now.  My husband is going to hate me when he gets home and sees the mess.

Shit.  I forgot to feed the chickens.  That’s why they are screaming at me.  Shit, shit, shit.

So out the door I jog, fill up the feeder with food, and I notice, Oh my God they are out of water too and it’s like, eighty degrees outside.  It’s bad enough to half-ass jam, but these are living creatures, and I am a bad human being.  So I fill up their water bucket, and as I walk back the house, the timer goes off and I break into a run.

And I fall over.  This, truly, is the pinnacle of my entire experience.  The timer is still going off, and I am laying on the ground, winded, with dirt on my face where I literally slid face first across the lawn.  I just curled up in the fetal position and stayed there, for three minutes.  I heard the timer go off three times.

Finally I hobble inside and finish up everything.  Peaches are canned.  They float, just like everyone said they would.  I really do not care.  Jam is still watery so I just can it anyway and hope for the best.  The fruit leather mix is done cooking but there is no way I have time to strain it, so I just leave it on the stove, where I will find it the next day, having turned a truly horrible shade of brown.  I leave the piles of dishes and the peach skins on the floor and I just walk away.

I did manage to make some tasty fruit leather the next day, and I have no idea really how the peaches or the jam turned out because I won’t open them until later, but I think they’ll be fine.  Also, I had simple syrup left over and some pretty rosemary, so I just put the rosemary into it and I think it will be fun for making cocktails or something. But oh my god, I have to admit this whole debacle was pretty draining.  I ended up with four jars of peaches, two of jam, and two of simple syrup, plus a sheet of fruit leather, and some very happy chickens when they were given all the pits.  The peach juice is in the fridge still, two weeks later, and I am really hoping for popsicles, but I keep forgetting.  Overall, I’m just not sure that was totally worth dirtying every dish in my house and making my husband clean them all, four hours of my life that could have been spent drinking mimosas on a patio, and sustaining an injury.

I suppose the lesson learned, which I learn ALL THE DAMN TIME, is not to be so ambitious.  And also, use walking feet, and perhaps, clean as you go.

pickling, my way


Asparagus season is long gone.  But about two, maybe even three weeks ago, the farmer’s market still had the last few asparaguses (asparagi?) and I decided it would be worth it to try to pickle a few and have them for the winter.  We try pretty hard to eat seasonally appropriate produce anyway, but asparagus is one thing that I just refuse to eat out of season.  I am not paying $5 a pound for some woody green grossness from Mexico.  And canned asparagus?  Frozen asparagus?  Those are abominations.  But I will eat just about anything pickled.

So, this pickling event was an exercise in how many ways I could possibly be half-assed.  Or you could call it an adventure, depends on how you look at it.  I am looking at it as an adventure until I poison my family.

I was going off this recipe from a local farmer’s market.  I liked it because it was only supposed to make a few jars and I didn’t want to spend fifty dollars on asparagus, and realistically?  How many jars of pickled asparagus can one family eat?

First off, as I said, this asparagus was at least two weeks old when I finally got around to doing this.  Probably half of it was floppy, and there was even some mold.  Moldy asparagus went into the compost, floppy but not yummy looking went to the chickens.  Depressing.  I hate that I wasted asparagus.  Also, I can’t help but fear that some of the mold from the asparagus got into the ones I canned and is now breeding there, waiting to poison and kill us all.

I followed the directions, salted the asparagus and waited, and this is when things really started to get half-assed.  White vinegar?  Had less than half a cup left from making surface cleaner, so out I ran to get some new vinegar.  Returned to discover that I was also completely out of apple cider vinegar.  Dammit.  I am a vinegar loving girl, so we had multiple varieties.  I remembered that to pickle it needed to be over 5%.  Balsamic seemed too heavy, red wine and sherry were 4%, leaving malt and white wine as my options.  White wine sounded better, so I went with that. Moving on…salt, check. Sugar, check. Mustard seed, check…..oh wait.  Is Indian brown mustard seed the same thing as mustard seed?  No.  Weeellll, I’ll use it anyway.  Dill seed?  Apparently, not available anywhere, so I just skipped it completely, hoping that the fresh dill springs I was adding would make it dilly enough.  Onion?  Okay, the white onion in the fridge that’s been sprouting a giant green stalk for who knows how long – rotten in the inside, of course.  So I guess I’ll use the half red onion in the crisper drawer.  (Thus turning everything a lovely shade of pink.)

This is my life.

So when the jars were sterilized, the asparagus had brined for a couple hours and I had boiled the vinegar mix for one minute exactly, it was time to fill the jars.  I reached into the fridge and pulled out the dill, which was, of course, as old as the asparagus but had not held up as well.  It was crispy.  I decided, hey, that’s what water is for.  It will rehydrate.  It’s the same as using dried dill.

I carefully packed the asparagus, tips up, into the first jar until there was no more room. Then I went to ladle the hot vinegar in.  But the recipe doesn’t say anything about whether the onions are actually supposed to go into the jars, or whether it was just in there to flavor the vinegar?  Since the jar was pretty full and the onions didn’t seem to want to go through the funnel, I decided to just put the vinegar liquid in.  Filled it up, screwed on the lid, and into the canner it went.  Perfect.

Of course, until I did the second jar.  I could tell immediately that there was not nearly enough vinegar to fill the jar up.  I ladled it all in and it came, maybe, to a third of the way up.  I decided to just put all all the onions in then to take up some space, but the jar was so full of asparagus that I spent a good long while shoving the onions in with a chopstick.  I finally got them in and the vinegar had risen by maybe an inch.  Once again, dammit.  I screwed the lid on and realized I’d just have to eat these sooner rather than later, but put then in the canner anyway.  Why?  I don’t know.  It’s not like they’d process properly, but this is the way my brain works.  I put the jar in there and it actually bobbed tragically about, mocking me.

Processed the jars and took them out.  I have to admit, one of my favorite things about canning is actually my pretty canning labels and getting to write in my best cursive in my grey sharpie on them.  As I applied the label to the unfortunate second jar, I noticed the fluid inside now appeared to be halfway up…definitely more than there had been.  Under closer inspection I realized that, as a final show of how truly half-assed I am, I hadn’t even screwed the damn ring on properly and water had leaked in.  I truly am a failure.

On the upside, the asparagus is actually really, really delicious.  Obviously I can’t keep the half full one because we’d all die, so I’m going to use it in a recipe later this week.  I think as long as it hasn’t been infected by mold the other one will keep and I’ll open it mid-winter when a little bit of spring will be much needed. And I will continue to pickle and can and jam and otherwise preserve and try hard to laugh at myself rather than getting discouraged.

The End of the Strawberry Onslaught

With many jars of jam put up, popsicles in the freezer, and tubs of strawberries offered and ignored on a group camping trip, it was time to put the little sweeties to good use, lest I feel guilty for wasting such a beautiful (and not free) bounty.  I didn’t want to make more jam because that seemed redundant, and I didn’t want to simply freeze them because, honestly, frozen things languish in my freezer for years while I stare at them with increasing hatred in my eyes, knowing that one day they’ll be chucked in the trash and I’ll feel like a failure.

So…what to do with pounds of strawberries before they turn into an unrecognizable mush?  Fruit leather!  A quick Google turned up a variety of similar recipes, and as usual, I kind of sloshed them all together according to whimsy and proximity to ingredients.  I love me the flavor combo of strawberries and basil, so I decided to go for broke and put some herb in there, despite the concern that crazy Hazel would notice and refuse to eat it.

First up, glorious, gorgeous fresh strawberries.  How many of these went straight into my mouth rather into the bowl, we will never know:

I mean, really…could you resist this?  None of that starchy white core here.  I don’t care what anyone else says, Hoods are the most delectable strawberry of all time.

Next up I cooked the strawberries up with a random amount of water because some recipes didn’t tell how much to use, and some did as a proportion to the amount of strawberries, but I forgot to measure the berries.  Very typical.  Got the camera nice and steamy, hiding my shoddy photography skills.

And into the blender it goes.  Careful not to let it explode sugary goo all over me. Note realistic drip of strawberry juice down the blender.  Cooking is never clean in my kitchen.  At least not when it’s done by me.

Add the basil last so it doesn’t get totally dismembered in there and give it a whirl in the blender and a good stir.

Into a 170 degree oven it goes, looking not unlike a pizza.

And, voila! Some amount of hours later, it comes out as fruit leather!  Magic!

I’d like to be able to tell you how long this transformation took but the truth is, I’m not really sure.  I put it in at about…2 pm, maybe?  And it was in there all day.  But our stove is kind of unnerving, and we didn’t want to die in our sleep, so we turned it off when we went to bed at about 11.  By that point it was actually looking pretty good already, and by the next day it was basically done.  One little part was a little sticky so I cut off the done parts and put the other bits back in and it was done in about 2 hours. So somewhere between 9 and 11 hours, roughly.

Overall, this was a total success.  I luuuuurve it.  I can definitely identify the basil flavor in it, it tastes way more pure and real than store-bought fruit leathers, and it has a great crunchy texture going for it.  I thought it’d be kind of a fruit roll-up, but it’s really more a fruit jerky, which makes sense. And best of all, crazy picky weirdo kid loves it too.  I have no idea if I actually saved any money over the store-bought stuff, but it was easy enough, and I know exactly what it is made out of, as opposed to the innocent sounding but potentially misleading “organic natural strawberry flavor” that is in the one we normally buy.

Next up: who wants to stay inside and made homemade laundry soap on the first beautiful sunny day in weeks? I do, I do!

Balsamic Strawberry Jam Fail – Half-Ass Indeed

I suppose it’s only fitting that for my inaugural post about being a half-assed urban homesteader I should write about a failure.

On Sunday, my girl and my guy and I went strawberry pickin’.  I suppose that’s yet another indication of my failings as a homesteader.  I have a grand total of about six strawberry plants, which were given to me by a kind neighbor after I allowed the pernicious creeping buttercup to totally invade my old strawberry patch.  But let’s be honest…even at my potential zenith of strawberry production there is basically no chance I’ll ever have enough to do something like make jam.  At any rate.

We picked some strawberries.  Quite a fair amount in fact.  I learned some valuable strawberry pickin’ lessons too.  (Pick under-ripe rather than over-ripe, because a night out on the stove ripened those suckers right up.) The goal was strawberry balsamic jam, an idea inspired largely by various meals I’ve had over the years but made possible by a recipe in my Ball book of preserving or whatever it’s called.

I’ve made jam once previously and it turned out, if I do say so myself, pretty stellar.  And I felt that this jam was going to go well also.  For once, instead of frantically trying to cram many hours worth of work into a very brief time period, I allowed myself a full afternoon.  I assembled my mise en place, if you will, with all the equipment I thought I needed at hand.  I turned on Radiolab.

I followed the instructions to a tee, TO A TEE I TELL YOU.  Even though I thought I might use 4 full tablespoons of balsamic instead of the 3 to 1 of lemon the recipe called for, I thought better of it, checked the fridge, and lo and behold there was even a fresh lemon for my one tablespoon.  I tasted the protojam.  It tasted absolutely delicious.

Oh…I am just now remembering the one thing I didn’t do…I didn’t skim the foam off.  Does that matter?

Well, whatever…the thing seemed perfect, so I was surprised, and frankly, a little disappointed when I opened the first jar this morning and discovered that what I put up was more of a…strawberry sauce with chunks in it than a jam.  It’s totally delicious, so I’m not devastated.  But it’s too much of a failure to give as gifts, and also my strangely picky girl told me, “I don’t like strawberry jam” when she saw it.  Which is an outright lie!  It looks as though I will be making some 3 year old friendly jam soon and eating weird strawberry sauce on my own (store-bought, because I am half-assed like that) bread for the next few years of my life.

*Pictures of failed jam to come.  For now, revel in the beauty of fresh strawberries, all dressed up and ready for disappointment.