Sunday, August 12, 2018

Canning: banana butter, jam & vinegar

Lemon and mint vinegar, mixed berry jam, banana butter & blueberry honey jam

I've done a little canning this week, nothing crazy, and wanted to record some of the recipes used to make things easier on myself next season.  I didn't get very many berries picked this year so had to work with what I had on hand.

The lemon mint vinegar came from the Ball book.  I started it steeping late last month.  It tastes just ok.  The lemon flavor is very good but the mint is kind of odd.  We'll try it this winter and maybe at some point I'll just do a lemon white wine vinegar. 

The mixed berry jam with pectin came from the Ball website.  I used blueberries, blackberries and red currants in this one.  It set up wonderfully.  (4 cups crushed berries, 4.5 tbsp pectin, 3 cups sugar).  Made a half batch, so 2 jelly jars.

The recipe for the blueberry jam with honey and nutmeg came from my copy of The Complete Guide to Small Batch Preserving.  It is also just ok.  I mean, it's a great blueberry jam but I just don't taste the honey.  Or the nutmeg. made 2 jelly jars of this.

And here's the winner:

This is the best surprise since making tomato jelly.  Oh my goodness.  Banana butter!  I was staring at a bunch of 5 bananas that had gotten shoved to the back of the refrigerator and were starting to brown and wanted to do something different. Wow! Where has this been all my life?!  It tastes like banana pudding.  Which, when put on a peanut butter sandwich or warm toast... well... heaven.

The recipe is here on the Kraft Sure Jell website. 4 cups mashed bananas, 1/2 cup lemon juice, 1 tsp produce protector, 1 box liquid pectin, 6 cups sugar.  We had 5 bananas so I made a half batch; 2 1/2 jelly jars.  Two and a half jelly jars of this bliss.  They won't last long around this house.

Up for this week: I still need to can the garlic that's curing in the garage.  We'll see what other trouble we can get into. A blueberry basil vinegar, maybe.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

A Cat in the Hat Birthday

The little man turned three a week ago.  We had a great little party with family, friends, cake and balloons.  He LOVES a Canadian PBS series called The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That.  Basically it's a nature education series and it's absolutely awesome.  Click here to watch "Show me the honey" where kids learn all about honey bees.

When I asked him what he wanted on his cake of course it was Cat in the Hat.  However (are you paying attention PBS?) no one actually sells toys or cake sets for this cartoon.  My husband and I decided to forge ahead and make one anyway.  I baked and iced the cake and he sketched out the cutouts for the Cat, Nick, Sally & Fish on card stock.  Then I laminated them using using a hot iron and photo sleeves.

The cake before the little man and his cousins totally destroyed it.  

He came downstairs, saw the cake, gasped and yelled "MAMA I NEED A FORK!!!"

Sally and Nick.

Balloons and streamers.  It was awesome.

The weather was wonderful and we spend the day surrounded by friends and family.  We set up a canopy in the back yard and put our old tent up in the corner of the garden for the kids to play in.  They were in and out of the house the whole time and had a ton of fun.

This guy was on a sugar high for about three days.  

Monday, August 6, 2018

Tiny lives, tiny dramas

There are so many things going on outside our door; tiny lives that I'm sure are filled with their own beauty and drama. It's a good reminder to slow down and stop to really look at what's all around me.

The bantam roosters from this spring are all grown up.  That beautiful orange booted one will get to stay here because he's an adorable gentleman but the black and white one will not.  He's just an ass; abuses the hens, picks fights with Nigel (who outweighs him by 10 lbs) and gives me the evil eye on a daily basis.  He's making everyone else out there miserable and he's smaller than a grapefruit.  

The south-bound end of a north-bound chicken.

This little lady has wedged herself under the nest boxes in an effort to be a mama again.  She's sitting on two eggs and both of the babies seem to be alive and well (there were originally 9 under her but none of the others were developing).  When they get close to hatching I'll call around to the TSC's near us and see what kind of baby chicks they have, buy a couple and slip them under her.  I did this last year, almost a year ago to the day and she was the best mom ever to those babies. She's worth her weight in gold to me.

But there are other small creatures around here too.

Like this little slug crawling over the garden hose.  Where is it going and why?

If you look closely, you can see the Tiger Swallowtail butterflies on the tigerlilly flowers.  How perfect is that? They love these flowers and there are anywhere from 2 to 4 of the butterflies on the flowers at any time.  They're so docile that the little man and I can catch them in his bug house just by herding them into it with our hands while they're eating.  His favorite part is letting them go.

This little one didn't have such good luck.  I found it one morning, dead in a bowl of bubble soap that we had left outside while playing.  I think it is a Red Spotted Purple butterfly - the scales fell off the upper wings but I pinned it to dry anyway and will frame it.

Back in May I gathered praying mantis egg cases and put them in the garden for some organic pest control.  They hatched, and how.  There are mantises all over the place.  They're about 3 inches long now and a blend in with the plants perfectly.  They're absolutely fearless; the tigers of the garden.

This one is staring straight at me - probably trying to decide if I'm edible.

And here's one who has already caught dinner.  It's holding a (headless) cricket *shudder*. Everyone has to eat.

Pollinators are in love with the Anise Hyssop.  It's re-seeding itself every year and we're so glad - it's absolutely covered with insects when it's blooming.  The plant smells like black licorice.  I wonder of it tastes special to the insects too.  They really do seem to like it.

This summer has brought with it a whole new world of insect discovery.  My husband and the little man found this bug in the kid's wagon.  It had the shape of a stink bug, sort of, but also reminded me of a carrion insect.  Turns out it's a baby stink bug - the nymph stage - and will be lime green when grown up.  So many changes to go through and why? For what purpose? Who knew?

Bee.  My sweet Bee rarely even comes in the house anymore.  Maybe once a day to hit up the little man for some cat treats and then she's right back out the door again.  She used to at least come home at night to sleep but no more.  I suspect she sleeps in the shed.  The neighbors leave cat food in their barn so she might be sleeping next door, although she really doesn't like their cats (who are elderly and one with a lazy eye).  No idea what she does or where she goes during the day.  It would be really fun to strap a tiny camera to her head and find out but we don't have that kind of free time. The little man had a birthday last weekend and Bee brought 2 dead voles and a rabbit to the party. So she's hunting and having fun anyway.  She likes to lay on my chest and swing in the hammock in the evening and there's always a soft bed and cat food in the house if she wants it. 

A small look at the millions of lives being lived right outside our door.


Friday, July 27, 2018

Canning days are here again

Bonus points if you can read that title and not automatically think of this song.

I've been curled up with the Ball Blue Book these past few summer nights.  Exciting reading, I know, but there are some great things happening right now that we want to enjoy come winter.  Plus, of course, scoring blue ribbons at the local fair.

My canning buddy with his busy bee.

For the first time I'm putting up a flavored vinegar.  This one is mint and lemon in white wine vinegar. We really like salads and thanks to Jamie Oliver we most often make our own dressings.  This seems like it would be good over sturdy greens in winter. 

Our wild blackberries are going crazy this year.  There are so many of them out there and not nearly enough time to pick them all.  Hopefully I'll can some jam and freeze a quart more for the winter.  The flavor of the berries varies from patch to patch: the ones behind the chicken run are very tart and the ones by the shed super sweet.  No idea why.  Soil, maybe? Chicken poo? Who knows.

Last year I canned blueberry syrup for our pancakes and it was a huge hit.  This year I did another batch of blueberry and also some blackberry syrup.  Here the cooked berries are draining overnight.  The blueberries made a purple juice while the blackberries are more of a maroon. We weren't thinking of this use for the brackets when we went with open shelving (um, more like they were cheap) but dang, look at that! Perfect!

The Ball Book had a recipe for blueberry syrup and I just substituted blackberries with the second batch.  Substituting anything while canning is pretty frowned upon for food safety reasons but I can't imagine the acidity levels are that different.  Cutting the Ball Book recipe in half results in 4 jelly jars of syrup for each batch.  The blackberry syrup is very good - nor overly sweet at all and still managed to keep its fruit flavor.  Besides pancakes I'd like to put these over coffee cakes this winter and maybe scones.

We have a busy weekend ahead of us but here's hoping to get some more jars put up next week: at least some jars of garlic and some mixed berry jam.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A week in pictures & garlic harvest

A beautiful blue jay feather. This is the second one we've found this week.

Relaxing in the hammock with the baby.

A evening with the family at the lake.

A mostly vegetarian meal from the garden.  We're getting zucchini and potatoes now and it's really exciting.  You know it's a good dinner when a toddler nabs a bite while you're taking a picture.  

A grey sky after some much needed rain.  We got an entire night of storms and the rain barrel system on the chicken coop hit it out of the ballpark.  I had let it go empty before the storm to see how it would work and it was totally full the next day.  And the coop has a tiny roof! Maybe 9 x 5 feet? Now that I see how well it's working it makes me regret not taking advantage of this resource earlier.

I was able to find transplants on clearance this week, a flat for $10.  Some got planted in the garden. Not shown: cucumber, pepper, tomato and herb transplants.

The rest my helper and I planted up in pots on the porch.

Some sweet zinnias in the garden.  I pulled the rest of the fava plants and would like to get a second round of bush beans planted tomorrow along with the cucumbers.

Cannas and winter squash.  You can see how much Japanese Beetle damage we're getting - the edges of the canna leaves are brown and tattered.

I love these tiger lilies.

The sunflowers are beautiful too.  In this picture he's bothering Bee, who is in one of her favorite napping spots.

The quail pen is being totally overtaken by winter squash.  This should look really fun in another month.

The wild blackberries are coming on.  I've put about a quart in the freezer and would like to can some blackberry pancake syrup this week. Maybe blueberry syrup too if there's time to pick berries at my parent's house.  That was a really nice treat for us last winter.

I can't seem to find on the blog when I planted garlic last fall.  Anyway, it's ready to be pulled and cured so I did that this evening.


Here's what I ended up with.  File this under "free food" since it was planted entirely with the cloves that were leftover after I put up last year's harvest by canning the garlic.

None of them are very big, but it's a ton of garlic.  Enough to can a couple of pints for the house, give away and re-plant this fall.  I wonder how long we can continue re-planting from the same original batch? Free garlic every year? Count me in.  Most of the stuff in the stores is imported from China.  No thanks.

Well, that's it.  It's been a wonderful week.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Settling into our new normal

It finally feels like things are getting back to normal around here.  A busy, messy, wonderful whirlwind of life that's our new every day.  The baby is doing wonderfully.  Maybe it's because we've done this once before but it seems like he's so easy to take care of.  It feels like we're starting to find our footing again.  

There's been so much going on over the last week.  

First, a HUGE thank you to Marlene over at Poppy Patchwork!  

This sweet package of gifts came the day before we went to the hospital, sent all the way from England. I was so excited and touched to receive it in the mail.  Look at the cute fabric for the little bag! And the tea towel! She even included a pattern and an example of French seaming for me - it makes me want to get my sewing machine out again.  Marlene: THANK YOU!  I have a little surprise to send back your way and I'm going to stop over and leave a note in the comments - I'm not sure about the return address on the package and want to check it with you.

When you visit Marlene's blog be sure to notice that she and I have matching cats.  Bee has a twin.  How funny is that?  In Bee news: the oddest thing happened while we were at the hospital - Bee lost her voice.  I have no idea what happened (when you Google this it could be anything from a virus to rabies, yay) but she sounds like she smokes about three packs a day.  She has lost her "meow" or, as the little man says "Bee lost her me-mowl. Is lost out in the grass." which is so funny I make him tell this to everyone.  We talk about how she looks for her "me-mowl" when she goes outside in the morning.  So far it's still missing.

Well, what else is new? The little man is thrilled to be a big brother but it's a huge adjustment and we're trying to spend as much one on one time with him as possible.  Of course, as a mom, it never feels like I'm doing enough.  There's been lots of "stirring it up" in the kitchen.

He wanted pancakes for dinner.  With sprinkles.  It was like eating sugar topped with more sugar but who cares, once in a while won't hurt anyone.

I did sneak some blueberries into the batch just on principal. 

Sigh.  It's totally worth the mess. Over the last couple of days we've made pancakes, play dough,  apple cake, flat breads and pizza crust together.  We're now completely out of flour. 

Our little town had a big festival for the holiday weekend complete with a car show.  The baby rode in a carrier and we all went downtown to check out the classic cars and eat ice cream.  It was really nice to get out as a family.

I've also had some time to myself this week and have been working every day to slowly dig the garden out of neglect.

There's food in here, promise.

Tada!  The same spot after weeding.  Hello, herbs! You can't really tell from the picture, but that sage plant is a good foot and a half wide.  And the lemongrass is huge.


Parts of the garden are either done for the season already (snow peas, lettuce) and are being pulled out or they're so hopeless that they're being replaced (this deer-eaten chard).  I'm hoping to make it to a greenhouse tomorrow and find some transplants to fill in the gaps. 

The weeds are being carried over to the poultry yard where they're being gone through and eaten by the birds.  Another problem in the garden is that it's being attacked by Japanese Beetles.  We had zero last week and now they're everywhere.  I want to remember when this happened so that next year I can get traps out in time.  They're really chewing up the cannas.  I'm feeding probably a couple hundred of them to the poultry every day.  It's SO gross but the birds, especially the geese, love them.

Well, enough for tonight,  Time to try and get a little rest before the baby wakes up.  He's been wide awake in the middle of the night the past couple of days, which is adorable but tiring.