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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Nothing Beats A Homegrown Tomato

This past weekend, we canned tomatoes for the very first time.  And not only that, they were tomatoes we grew ourselves!!

"Two Socks" recently adopted us and she keeps a close eye on the garden for us!

Aren't all those fresh veggies just gorgeous?!!

We were going to attempt this on Saturday, but after spending the entire morning taking our three ring circus (aka the three canine furry kids) to the vet – the puppy for the first time (oy vey!) – we were too exhausted to start in the afternoon.

It's hard to find good help! :)
So on Sunday we dove in.  First I washed all the tomatoes and weighed them in batches.  I’m REALLY glad I thought to do that.  Since we've never done this before, I realized that would be a good way to help us track how many jars we will need in future endeavors.  It’s tough to gauge that when you’re a newbie.  While I had plenty of jars washed and ready to go, I didn’t want to heat more of the dome lids that we would need.  Maybe they’d be fine, but I just have this thing in my head that I don’t want to repeatedly heat the lids before they actually get used in the full canning process.

We ended up with 30.5 pounds of tomatoes!  And that's not counting all I’ve been eating in the last week or so.  They are so gorgeous and I’d forgotten how INCREDIBLE a homegrown tomato tastes.  They actually have flavor, unlike those you buy at the grocery store. 
Next, we boiled a pot of water on the stove to blanch the tomatoes for about 30 seconds.  The skins on these are a little thick, so sometimes it took maybe 15 seconds more.  We did this in small batches. 

We had a cooler of ice water ready and once the tomatoes came out of the boiling water, they went immediately into the ice bath.  We discovered that if we left them in there a few minutes to really cool them down all the way through the skins really slid off very easily. 

I sliced them horizontally and scooped out most of the seeds. I then cut them up into chunks.

Once they were all diced, we put about ¼ of them into our big enamel stock pot and mashed them with a potato masher while bringing them to a boil to create some good juice for the whole batch.  Once they came to a boil and the juices were released, we added the rest and brought them to a boil.

Now here’s where we hit a snag.  It was 103 degrees plus really high humidity outside…in other words, miserable.  We thought about setting up our outdoor cooker at the end of the house covered by trees, but that would also mean carting pans, jars, etc., etc., back and forth.  So we started the water bath canner on the stove inside.  That just didn’t work.  After about 45 minutes, the water still wasn’t boiling!  We were getting frustrated.  The tomatoes were ready to go and so were the jars and lids.  I finally put the lid on the tomatoes and turned the heat off.  I didn’t want to turn them into sauce!  We gave up and quickly set up the outdoor propane cooker.  I swear, in addition to the larger burner/flames, I think the 100+ temps fired that sucker right up and in 10 minutes or less the canner was at a full rolling boil (granted the water was at least very hot from its eternity on the indoor stove).  We actually got two pots going and were finally in business!  So lesson learned, you just can’t beat the little portable propane two burner outdoor cooker when it comes to canning.  Someday, we plan to have a nice deck that is covered.  Ideally, it would be great to have a covered carport with an outdoor kitchen set up – counters, water, etc.  But honestly I’ll take any space that’s covered to keep that brutal sun off our heads. 
We ended up with 15 pints of diced tomatoes (in their own juice) and two pints of just juice.

One of our favorite parts of canning is hearing the lids “ping” after they come out of the canner and cool down.  We always joke that “another jar got its wings”.  J
In addition, we put 11 pounds of home-grown tomatillos into the freezer in bags of one pound each.  Making verde sauce or canning those was just too much to tackle in one day and I had read you can just freeze them whole.  I think what I’ll do is thaw them out as needed and make fresh batches of verde sauce when we need it.  I can even make a batch on a weekend and use it for a meal during the week.

With the next batch of tomatoes, I’m planning to make rosemary basil “sun dried” tomatoes in our dehydrator.  Tomatoes are quartered (or cut into sixths or eighths, depending on the size of the tomato), then marinated in olive oil, smashed garlic, fresh basil and rosemary and salt and then dehydrated.  Don’t those sound DIVINE?!   Stay tuned…I’ll let you know how those turn out.

Until next time, worms rock.

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Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fences and yogurt

Missed Friday’s Fancy because I was sick.  L   But I’m better now.  And never fear, I’ll include a few pics here.  J

I feel like we had a pretty industrious weekend.  We got our backyard fence started!  Yay!  It’s going to take a while. The ground is super hard right now…oh if we could get some rain.  It’s been hotter than blazes, but not as bad as last year, we have to keep reminding ourselves!  Anyway, I digress - back to the fence.  So the first 8 ft. section is up.  We made a modification to the design as we started working on it this weekend.  Instead of a two rail, it’s going to be a three rail, because it’s also going to be 6 ft. tall (another modification).  We found this great roll of fence at the Tractor Supply Store last year that was 5 ft. tall (needed it in the back yard of the rental house because there was only a three ft. tall split rail between our furry babies and a nasty, very dog-aggressive Rottweiler next door).  It was great.  Taller than 4 ft., but not extra tall 6 ft.  Well, we can’t find 5 ft. tall fence to save our lives now!  So, we’d rather go taller than shorter because deer and our darling puppy when he’s full grown will be able to clear a 4 ft. fence EASILY.  And a 6 ft. fence is really better around the garden and orchard.  And that’s the master plan: eventually the backyard, front yard, garden, chicken/duck runs and orchard will all be fenced and connected with gates. 
We’re using treated 4x4 posts and treated 2x4 rails with wire fencing.  The wood will all be stained cedar for color and as a protective sealant. 

Here’s a pic of our first 8 ft. section (minus the fencing yet) and post for the first gate.

Here’s an example of what it will basically look like.

It was so hot out this weekend, it made it difficult to work outside for too long a period.  We’re hoping to find a 5 in. auger that we can use on our neighbors’ tractor to dig the holes in the near future.  They have an auger now, but it’s a large one…too big for 4x4 posts.  It would be good to have the smaller one around, then either one of us will have it available in the future.
On Saturday, I also made my first ever yogurt start from an awesome starter called Viili.  I learned about it from Cousin Jammie – thanks Jammes!  I ordered it from Cultures for Health (www.culturesforhealth.com).  Great website – lots of really cool info!  This yogurt culture is super cool because it’s mesophilic – meaning it thrives at room temperature instead of needed constant heat.   And you can use your current batch to yogurt to create the next indefinitely with a little care.  So on Sunday, I made my first batch of homemade yogurt.  I only sampled a little taste before I put it in the refrigerator last night before bedtime.  But it was smooth and creamy and mild.  Homemade mozzarella on tap soon - mozzarella/ricotta kit arrived just this morning from http://www.cheesemaking.com/. This is going to be awesome!

I’ve been making smoothies every night and putting them in the freezer for the next work day.  (Why didn't I ever think of putting them in the freezer before?!)  I started getting hungry mid-morning which usually led to me eating junk and/or candy to tide me over til lunch.  So now I’m making a smoothie with frozen and fresh fruit, yogurt, a little milk, a touch of honey, protein powder and some ground flax.  If I took them out of my insulated lunch bag, they would probably be thawed and drinkable by mid-morning.  But I kind of like eating them with a spoon like a fruity ice cream treat.  J  Plus, they take me longer to eat, so it really fills me up.  Now I’ll be able to use my homemade yogurt!
On tap this week – we’re hoping to make a little progress on the fence each day…it may be only getting one hole dug or a post set or rails installed, but something.  And next weekend we have GOT to get our first batch of verde enchilada sauce made from our tomatillos and can some diced tomatoes!

Isn’t this one of the prettiest tomatoes you’ve ever seen?!

 Until next time, worms rock.
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Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Soap Box Time

I have a few grumbles to get off my chest this morning…

It’s so disheartening to see how we seem to have lost our way in this country.  My current disquiet stems from the wet carpet we found in the house last night.  (We had a VERY brief, but intense rain storm yesterday evening.)  We started investigating, at 9:00 p.m. of course, and can only figure that the vent stacks above the furnace/air conditioner and hot water heater on the roof must be leaking.  They probably weren't sealed on the roof.  Also discovered a lot of water between two storm windows in another room, so we’re guessing the outside windows probably aren’t even caulked either. 
Guess that’s what one should expect with a brand new house, right.  NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Why don’t we (in general) build anything with pride anymore???  We don’t learn trades or crafts?  We want everything fast, cheap and easy, no matter the ultimate price (which we can’t see in the short term, so we don’t even consider it at all). 

No one learns to build and create something that will last a lifetime anymore.  Because that’s hard.  It’s too much work.  You get dirty.  Instead, stuff gets slapped together and then they move on to the next customer.  What do they care that the dishwasher wasn’t installed properly and leaked water all underneath the new kitchen cabinets?  Or that those windows leak water into the house.  Or that the plumber’s putty is all coming out from around the drains in the sinks.  Or that they forgot to install entire electrical outlets.  Or that the linoleum is loose and therefore bunches and tears when you try to move furniture and appliances around.  Or that they ripped the linoleum while building the house but just sort of glued it back down (that’s the ONLY place where the linoleum is glued down, by the way).  Just slap some paint or sheetrock over it and no one will ever know, right?  Why is that the standard now, instead of doing things right?  Why does it just BARELY meet minimum code instead of done right and exceed minimum code?  And we’ve seen this in every house we’ve lived in.  Doesn’t matter who built it or where it is. 

So if that wasn’t enough to be on my soapbox about, this morning as we’re driving to work, on the way to drop hubby off (at least we can carpool into the big mean city – YAY!), we drive right by the county’s office for public assistance, and see two women and six kids piling out of a brand new Lincoln Navigator.  Now perhaps shame on me for jumping to conclusions, but we see this over and over and over again - this was not an isolated observation.  People in line using their food stamp debit cards to buy food and then paying cash in a separate purchase for their beer, cigarettes, etc. that can’t be purchased with the card.  Where I come from, you make a choice between spending the money you earn to buy food for your family or spending it on the likes of beer and cigarettes.  And why do many of them have thousands of dollars in tattoos and iphones and new(er) cars?  Where I come from, you have to make a choice between cell phones/tattoos/entertainment and paying your own rent – not expecting someone else to pay the rent for you.
I’m sorry if I offend anyone’s charitable sensibilities.  We give plenty and often to a variety of charities.   But I don’t appreciate being among the only 50% in this country that are paying all the bills while the other 50% pay none of them.  And before long folks, if we don’t do something different, those of us paying all the bills will be in the minority.  We personally went through two job losses due to layoffs and many other horrible, financial pitfalls in the last two years.  But we never stopped paying taxes through all that.  We never stopped paying for our own groceries and rent.  We buckled down, pared down and got through it somehow (and are GRATEFUL to both be gainfully employed again!!!!!!!).  I never even sought or received any kind of assistance while I was putting myself through school as a single mom.  Probably could have qualified.  But didn’t try.  I worked full-time, went to school part-time, raised my son, kept a roof over our heads and food on our table.  It wasn’t easy, but it was definitely doable.

We’re headed in a bad direction these days.  Makes me want to be more self-sufficient than ever.  The more we can do for ourselves, provide for ourselves, the better off I feel we’ll be.  Because the gravy train is going to crash sooner or later.  Our economy, our national debt, our sense of entitlement, our laziness is going to catch up. 

Okay then.  I’m done.  Just had to get that out.  Will return to our regularly scheduled homesteading adventure tales next time.  ;)

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"The path to our destination is not always a straight one. We go down the wrong road, we get lost, we turn back. Maybe it doesn't matter which road we embark on. Maybe what matters is that we embark." ~ Barbara Hall

Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Friday's Fancy, June 8

Yay!! Another pumpkin!!

Wednesday's harvest

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"The path to our destination is not always a straight one. We go down the wrong road, we get lost, we turn back. Maybe it doesn't matter which road we embark on. Maybe what matters is that we embark." ~ Barbara Hall

Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Friday's Fancy

I'm starting something new on my blog.  I've seen several blogs that have Wordless Wednesdays with just pictures.  I'm going to try a "Friday Fancy" and post my favorite shots...maybe from the last week, maybe older.  It will probably not be completely "wordless" as I may have captions.  But you get my drift.  :D

We planted this geranium in memory of our dear Sassy right after she passed in February 2011.  It survived the winter and came back strong this spring, blooming for the first time this year on our 7th anniversary!!  Thank you Sassy girl, we miss you too!!!!

Corn progress!

Pie pumpkin

Beautiful pumpkin is growing every day - just don't remember which variety this is.  I LOVE pumpkins!!!

Our baby boy!

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"The path to our destination is not always a straight one. We go down the wrong road, we get lost, we turn back. Maybe it doesn't matter which road we embark on. Maybe what matters is that we embark."    ~ Barbara Hall

Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved.