The Half-Assed Homesteader

Overambitious underachiever June 14, 2012

Filed under: pickling,Preserving,Uncategorized — halfasshomesteader @ 6:02 am
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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!

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This is what it looks like. June 1, 2012

Filed under: baking,fruit,Growing,Uncategorized,vegetables — halfasshomesteader @ 5:38 am
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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.

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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.

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

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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.