Unplanned Food Preservation Day

001Oh, y’all. Oh, my. Food preservation can become a full time job. I am almost dreading tomato season…

We asked for some help last weekend with heavy weeding and some clean-up/fixing of the last ugly spot in our yard which is the side yard by the composter that leads out to the area we store our trash can, recycle bin, and city compost bin. It is a horrible spot we haven’t devoted a lot of time to, and it is also a very muddy area of the house because the neighbor’s gutters are basically draining over to our side of things in that spot. We had a path there that was never great to begin with because of tree-root issues and a lot of mud slung itself over everything. Add in that it is a favorite spot for the dogs to dig holes, and that the previous owners had bolted a set of open shelves to the side of the house and it finally rotted and basically broke and fell apart, but somehow still clung tenaciously and somewhat drunkenly to the siding, and you had one hideous disaster of a side yard. Well! Heidi and Laurel (all of our yard helpers are women – girl power!) made short work of it. There is a pile of debris which will be hauled off soon, the path has been pulled up in spots and some pea-gravel has been raked smooth (update! dogs already dug two holes but it still looks better than it ever has), the ground has been leveled off significantly, and the weeds have been ruthlessly yanked out. The other thing they did was trim our Concord grape vines so you don’t get smacked in the face as you walk by. I asked them not to put the vines in the compost bin because I wanted to harvest the leaves so I could make dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) with them later. I clipped a bunch of leaves and brought them into the house…but then realized I would have to deal with them sooner rather than later because leaves really don’t store well for any length of time. They just dry out and become brittle, brown, and unusable. So I ended up spending a lot of time cleaning, blanching, and trimming them so that I could get them in the freezer. It ended up kicking off a food preservation afternoon and I’m not going to lie. I was pretty exhausted afterwards.

After dealing with the 110 grape leaves* I decided to harvest my escarole because it was starting to reach a point where it was going to spoil out there. So I harvested, cleaned, chopped, blanched, and froze that. Then I spent time harvesting strawberries, by far the least labor intensive thing of the day. I washed and hulled them, then froze them on a tray. Once they were frozen solid I slipped them into a plastic bag. Since I plan to use the berries in some kind of canning project (jam or preserves) I was careful to measure exactly how many pounds I had before freezing them. I was very excited to have two pounds on my hands! One more pound and I’ll be in jam/preserve making business. Next up (soon) will be to harvest beets and purple snow peas. I’ve already decided to preserve the beets, however we will be eating the greens right away. Turns out greens preservation is not my favorite thing. The snow peas… I’m not sure. We might eat them quickly, but I might freeze them for a stir fry later. Depends on what life throws our way…

Blanching grape leaves.

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Trimming grape leaves.

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110 Grape leaves blanched, blotted dry, stems trimmed, and stacked in neat piles by size.

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Harvested escarole.

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Blanching chopped escarole.

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Drying escarole.

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Neat little bags of escarole ready to go into the freezer which will eventually make its way into some soup this winter.

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Weighing strawberries. Two pounds!

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Laying out (washed and hulled) strawberries on a pizza pan to freeze. After the berries freeze transfer them to a freezer bag and label.

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And of course I need to give credit to my trusty kitchen helpers!

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* Sorry no pictures of how I froze the grape leaves! After blanching and trimming the grape leaves I separated them by size. Then I rolled them up tight;y, like a cigar, in stacks of about a dozen. Then I wrap each “cigar” tightly in plastic wrap. I then place the plastic wrapped “cigars” into a freezer bag, push out as much air as I can before sealing it, label it, and finally tuck it into the freezer. There is nothing like using fresh grape leaves for dolmas. They are so much more tender and tasty than the ones you buy that are packed in brine. It was a huge pain in the butt to do, but it is so very worth it! At some point in the future I will post my dolmas recipe which is very simple (olive oil, onion, fresh dill, lemon juice, and a bit of salt) and also gluten free, and vegan.

First time canning solo! Radish Relish.

image_5Monday was our relaxation day this weekend. I decided it was a good day to take a deep breath and do some canning. I’ve canned things before (once I made strawberry rhubarb jam with a friend and last year for my birthday my sister signed us up for a quick canning course at Sur La Table in California), but I’ve never done it by myself. This year I decided I was really going to try to preserve as much as I could from our garden and that means home canning. I have been nervous about doing it on my own, but my first harvest-able crop was at risk of spoiling because I have been putting it off due to nerves. So I took a deep breath and just did it. I am happy to report it seems to have been a success. All seven jars of the radish relish that I made popped and I was ridiculously thrilled. The relish contains: 2 pounds or grated radishes, 2 inches of fresh grated ginger, 1 cup of onions, 2 cups of white distilled vinegar 5% acidity, 1 and 1/2 cups of sugar, 1 tblsp kosher salt, 1 tblsp yellow mustard seed, 1tblsp cumin seed, and 1 tblsp coriander seed. It was really such a thrill to hear and see those pretty little jars filled with pinkish goodness “pop” and I can’t wait to taste this on a grilled hot dog or sausage. The recipe, and instructions for canning, came from the book “Put ‘Em Up!: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook, from Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling,” by Sherri Brooks Vinton.

Weighing radishes on my new scale – 2 pounds exactly!

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The relish boiling on the stove.

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The set up on the stove – the relish boiling next to the canning pot.

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Ladling the relish into jars using the canning funnel.

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Putting the lids on the jars – the final steps before putting the jars in the boiling water to process (thanks Mike, for taking this one!).

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All seven popped and cooling on the counter.

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Gardening & The Yard

This is a cheap post in which I post pictures of what our yard looks like. This is the best it has looked in the three years we have been living here. I’m growing a lot of food again this year and am going to do my best to preserve it so it doesn’t go to waste. My fruit trees, at year three, are really starting to produce too. It’s all very exciting and a little bit intimidating too. We have seen a little aphid problem on one of our cherry trees which is par for the course. We will be picking up some lady bugs as soon as we can get to the store. We are dedicated to being totally organic!

Green beans are beginning to blossom. We also have chard, tomatoes, and onions growing in this bed. image_1

Two more tomato plants as well as some Basil and a few flowers to bring in bees and butterflies that should bloom mid-summer.

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Four pepper plants – two bells, one ancho, and one pepperocini – as well as some California poppies and some rosemary.

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The view standing at the back of the yard.

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Another shot of some of the vegetable beds. The strawberry bed is the one with the gnome sitting in it. Then we have a bed filled with onions, beets, radishes, lettuce, basil, and escarole. In the background are two beds filled with artichokes, potatoes, rhubarb, cucumbers, and butternut squash.

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The view standing on the back deck.

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A close up of a peach growing on one of our peach trees. You can also see another rosemary plant in the background. In the bed that is hard to see we have basil, cilantro, parsley, Russian sage, oregano, and thyme growing. The bed next to it I have given over to flowers; red poppies and some colorful wildflowers whose name escapes me right now…

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Some pretty flowers growing.

image_8Another angle showing the flowers and our fig and pear trees.

image_9My cute doggies checking out the scene through the fence gate. You can see I like to put out things like wind chimes and colorful garden pottery and ornaments. Soon we hope to have strung fairy lights across the whole yard too.

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A close up of the one (out of three ) purple artichoke plants I planted two years ago. This one is still going strong.

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One Speech and One lecture of Note

Well it’s Friday and I made it through this week. It felt like an exceptionally long one and there really is nothing to report of interest except for two videos that crossed my path this week. They aren’t new videos but sometimes social media resurrects things. Sometimes utter shit is resurrected, but in this case these two made me stop and think.

The first is  TED talk from June 2012 given by Amy Cuddy, which discussed body language; specifically how we can reset our own brains using simple two minute “testosterone” postures. Next time you have a big interview to prepare for you might just have an edge. And be forewarned that the story she tells at the end might make you tear up.

The second is a graduation speech given at the 2005 Kenyan College Commencement Ceremony by David Foster Wallace. Mike and felt that this might be worth watching periodically as a reminder. I think everyone can relate.

For me it is even more touching because Dr. Wallace committed suicide; a side effect of his long battle with depression.

We have a lot going on tonight and tomorrow but I am trying to keep Sunday clear of social activities. I’m either going to clean, garden, paint, shop, or do nothing. How’s that for a Sunday plan?

2013 So far … challenges, travel, gardening, shopping local, canning/preserving

photo-7Yeah. I’ve been shitty about posting. In my defense 2013 has kind of been kicking my ass. There are some good things going on….but there have been some challenges too.

Challenging stuff:

My mom got in a very bad car accident, which is bad enough (cracked sternum, 6 cracked ribs, one crushed knee, and a broken foot) but she was also in the middle of packing to move. So my sister and I flew out to Massachusetts to help her and also pack and get her all moved in and unpacked. While we were doing this we were also still working full time remotely. It was pretty intense and also extremely expensive.

I almost burned our house down, with our dogs in it, by leaving a pot boiling on the stove while Mike and I went to a lecture on smart cities. Thankfully everything turned out okay. The house was fine except for some very smelly smoke damage that was not bad enough that we couldn’t clean it ourselves. I don’t make light of how much work it was to get it cleaned and get the smell out but it could have been so much worse. And thankfully we have amazing neighbors and our dogs were fine. Our front door needs to be replaced but the insurance will help pay for it.

Mike finally had hernia surgery and it thankfully went well but it was a lot of painkillers and ice packs and eating in bed. He was a trooper.

I started a running program and fell in love with running….and promptly had my back give out on me and was in some serious pain for three straight weeks. So I think running is off the table for now. I did manage to get through an acupuncture appointment, with Mike holding my hand the entire time, and my needle-phobic self only cried twice. That will clue you in to how much pain I was in…I let someone stick needles in my body which terrifies me. It helped though.

And I had a tense day trying to make sure people I am close to in Boston were okay after the Boston marathon bombing. Thankfully they all were/are fine but it was a tense 24 hours. Even though I thought I had checked in with everyone I felt like I was going to get a phone call that night telling me some bad news (a lot like 9/11) but thankfully everyone was really okay. It was wonderful how everyone seemed to focus on how people pulled together in a crisis and how they all helped each other out under such bad circumstances. I was really proud of Boston and the rest of the country for focusing on the good side of human nature. The man-hunt the next day was insane; it was like some crazy scene out of a Jason Bourne film.

Anyway! Some good things….

I took a recent trip to California and went to some small towns west of Redwood City – Santa Cruz, Capitola, and – my personal favorite of the day – Pescadero. Driving back to Redwood City from Pescadero there is a lot of farmland, which is the picture at the top of this post. We bought local artichokes and locally made chicken/artichoke sausage from Arcangeli Grocery in Pescadero. (Click to check them out; you can order their stuff online.) I also went to the Shipyard Artists Open House and looked at some very cool art. California really has it going on for painting. It was refreshing because I am sorry to say I have not been overly impressed with Portland in that respect. I also ate the second best pizza I have ever had out of a food truck in front of building 101. (The absolute best was at the Brooklyn Flea Market a few years ago – but I mean…New York having good pizza is a given.)

Our back yard is looking the best it has since we moved in. We removed three of the planter beds and are now left with nine, which is a much more sane number. We have been keeping up with the weeding (with help!) and even with back problems I managed to plant some things (radishes, escarole, lettuce, onions, green beans, beets, cilantro, thyme, oregano, chives, and parsley – the chard from last year is in its harvest state, the artichoke plant is going strong, and we had some potatoes pop up from missing a few from last year’s harvest). I’ve decided this is the year I fully can and preserve my harvest. The fruit trees are really beginning to bear fruit and I think it is time to get my tomatoes in. I invested in some canning gear from Miradoor, a local little shop. And I purchased “Canning for a New Generation,” by Lianna Krissoff at our local Powell’s on Hawthorne. I think I am ready to go and this book is so great about breaking down the canning and preserving process in a way that is simple and easily understood (takes a lot of the botulism terror out of it…which is…you know…really nice).

May 15 marks me and Mike’s third year in our house, and May 22 marks our fourth year together as a couple. I am feeling very blessed in life even with the early 2013 challenges.

And for your viewing pleasure…some very cute pictures of our family dogs.

Emmie

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Serena

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My sister’s dog Abbey

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$6 Holiday Wreath

photo(8)Nothing rings in the holiday season like breaking out the hot glue gun! I usually make a wreath every year. I’ve mostly lived in areas where there were plenty of pine boughs to pilfer off the ground after a wind storm. With the ginormous Douglas Fir in our front yard it would be crazy to not use the tremendous amounts of debris it drops everywhere. This year it dropped a ton of pine cones and, after a big windstorm, plenty of pine boughs. Mike was kind enough to collect them for me as he was working to keep the front of our house looking tidy (kind of a constant job – thanks, honey!).

This year I have been trying to be aware of how much crap I seem to be accumulating. I love to wrap presents creatively so I often go a little overboard buying new paper and ribbon each year, but this year I decided to not buy anything and use what we have on hand which, turns out, is plenty. I decided the same rule should apply for the wreath making.

Last year I used some wire I had on hand to form the boughs into a circle form, but it was a little sloppy, frustrating, and way more time consuming than it needed to be. So I bent my rule a little bit and sprung for a grapevine form that cost all of six bucks. The ornaments were left over from a few years ago when I knew Mike and I would be traveling so it wasn’t practical to get a big tree, but I couldn’t bear not having a tree at all so I got a mini-table-top one. I think I paid $4.00 for them at a drugstore back then. The battery operated lights I use each year on my wreaths. So much easier than dealing with a chord! The steps aren’t rocket science. Clip the boughs to a length that seems right don’t skimp on the hot glue when attaching them to the grape-vine form, ditto on the pine cones you arrange on the wreath. Add the lights, attach the ornaments with the wire hooks, and make a bow out of some ribbon you have on hand (for me that was this cute red with green glitter polka-dots that has wire in it so it holds its form nicely that I had on hand). Pictures of the steps below. I have to say this might be my best homemade holiday wreath to date. I know I could have made a swag wreath and that wouldn’t have cost a thing, but I love the round shape a lot. Maybe next year I will do the swag instead. I’m really enjoying not buying things and using my creativity; much more satisfying!

We plan to have a Boxing Day this holiday too – like Canada – and try to really clean things out that we don’t need/aren’t using and giving it away for someone else to get some use out of it. Too much stuff! Sounds like the beginning of a new year’s resolution might be forming…

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Vegan Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Lebanese style)

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We are having our annual holiday potluck at work tomorrow. I usually like to bring a main dish item since most people bring side dishes and desserts. This year I was chatting with someone in our office who is vegan and she mentioned she doesn’t participate since there usually isn’t much she can eat at potlucks. I assured her that there were vegans, vegetarians, and celiacs amongst us and then committed to making something vegan and gluten-free. I have sympathy for people who make food choices and who have food allergies and can never eat at work events and parties. Mike can almost never eat at his work events. Our workplace is pretty great because a lot of people label their potluck dishes so that people with allergies, etc. know what they can and can’t eat.

Last night I made my vegan stuffed cabbage rolls to bring to the party tomorrow. They are all completely prepared. I plan to layer the rolls and sauce in a crock-pot as a way of being able to serve them hot easily. I doubled the recipe so Mike and I could also have them for dinner last night and I managed to take pictures! As usual they are not good pictures, but we all need to get over that one of these days…. And yes, I did eat my cabbage rolls last night with my titanium spork. Yeah, you covet my titanium spork. Recipe is outlined after the pics.

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Rolling

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Arranging

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Saucing (this is a new word)

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Vegan Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Lebanese style)

1 1/2 cups cooked rice (This time I used wild and brown rice, but white is great too.)
1 small package of mushrooms chopped (in a non-vegan version this would be ground lamb)
1 small onion finely diced
3 tblsp fresh mint, chopped
1 tsp allspice
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups tomato puree (I really like the Pomi brand from Italy in the box but any organic – non GMO if you can find it – is good.)
1 head of savoy cabbage (The market didn’t have it so I used what they had. The Savoy is much more pliable and easy to work with though.)
olive oil
salt and pepper

In a large non stick pan saute in olive oil the mushrooms and onion until cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste as well as the allspice and the pinch of cayenne pepper. Add the rice to the mushroom/onion mixture and stir thoroughly over medium heat until all the flavors have melded together. Turn off the heat and stir in the fresh mint. Let this mixture cool in the pan.

Set a large pot on the stove and fill with water. Bring to a boil. While waiting for the water to boil pull the leaves apart from the head of cabbage, trying not to tear them. Blanch each cabbage leaf in the boiling water until pliable. Drain.

In a mixing bowl add the pureed tomatoes and the cinnamon as well as salt and pepper to taste. (Go easy on the cinnamon…you may even want to just try using a 1/2 tsp or a pinch.)

In the bottom of a glass baking dish (like a lasagna size) put a bit of olive oil and a large spoonful of the tomato mixture in the bottom of the dish to coat.

Take a cabbage leaf and lay flat. Cut out the tough, non pliable stem area at the bottom of the leaf. In the center of the leaf put a spoonful of the rice mixture, then roll the leaf up tucking in the sides neatly. Lay the stuffed cabbage roll in the baking dish, folded side down to hold it together. Continue rolling cabbage until the dish is filled.

Pour the tomato sauce over the cabbage rolls. Cover the dish tightly with tinfoil and bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes until the cabbage is tender and the rolls are piping hot.