Preserving the Bounty

I’ve been doing a lot of reading (and a little bit of buying) on canning and the preservation of fresh foods, particularly produce. I’ve got canning jars sitting in the back of my car — and was super excited to find that they more often are sold with cool silver lids these days rather than the outdated brassy ones! I guess design and aesthetics interest me more than I’d like to admit… 😉 Still, the idea of canning (especially when it entails the use of a pressure cooker — which I don’t have, and are generally pretty pricey…and, can they really explode like in Breakfast at Tiffany’s?!?!) was slightly intimidating.

So, how excited and serendipitous was it that my Nourished Kitchen newsletter today contained a Preserve The Harvest Challenge?! Pretty durn excited, I’ll tell ya.

The challenge is as follows:

In the month of August, we’re setting aside our pressure canners and we’ll be preserving the bounty of the summer season naturally while optimizing the nutrition of the foods we put up for winter. Over the course of 5 weeks we’ll cover sun-drying, oil curing, freezing, fermentation and salt-curing – traditional techniques that optimize nutrition and don’t heat up the kitchen like canning. Plus we’ll have some great prizes for participants! You’ll receive an email once a week covering a specific technique for traditional methods of preserving the harvest. So sign up, share it with a friend and hit up the farmers market! Who’ll preserve the most?

Last year, my family put up enough of summer’s bounty (without canning and its resultant nutrient loss) to last us until April! So let’s learn the lost art of traditional food preservation this August – filling our pantries, cellars and freezers with the rich fruits and vegetables of summer all prepared through time-honored techniques.

So, not only do I get classes on the different methods of preserving foods, I have an EXCUSE for shopping at the farmers’ market — actually, a guilt factor! Awesome!! 😉

I’ll let ya know how it goes. Oh, and I WILL do some canning. For now, we’re focusing on preparing for our annual garage sale, which will be this Friday and Saturday. Less than a month to go before summer school’s over! Lots goin’ on.

Organic Follow-Up

Back in May, Dave and I started to make some strides in our attempt to go organic in our eating. Here it is, almost 2 months later, so I thought I’d update ya on how it’s gone. You’re welcome. 😉

Anyhoo, for real, I think we’ve done pretty well. We’re eating several all-organic meals a week, at least one meatless dinner (at times lunches and breakfasts, too), and most of our other meals include some organic ingredients or from-the-garden goodies. As you saw in my last post our lettuce has been growing like nuts (or would it be…like weeds? Not sure how fast nuts grow…), so we’ve been using a lot of that, as well as our parsley, rosemary and basil. I’ve turned to shopping pretty much 90% at Hannaford, which isn’t always cost-effective, but it definitely helps me make better organic choices. However, I don’t want it to sound like it’s been expensive — I still grab the occasional “less dirty” foods from Aldi (and on sale at Hannaford), and we are incredibly conscientious about what we’re buying. It’s been, overall, wonderful.

We’ve been to several farmers markets, but honestly I’d LOVE to utilize them more. The summer’s just gotten away from me! I’m also doing more research on investing in a CSA for next year, especially for our local meats and poultry.

HOWEVER, what I’ve REALLY been doing a lot of research in is the rest of greendom — figuring out how to lessen our footprint, bulk up our health quotient, and get into the green habit for our future kiddies. So, while I feel like it’s a slow process, I’m truly enjoying learning new ways to live greener.

Some future goals? Oh, of course, you know I’ll share them — and get back to you when we haven’t accomplished them completely, hee hee:
– Future renovation projects will be green-minded: For example, low- or no-VOC stain when we refinish/have our floors refinished (and using natural fiber throw rugs when it’s done).
– Collect rainwater for garden watering.
– Think through the stuff we grow in the garden next year — and start canning for winter. (This Irish girl is GOING to grow potatoes. Stubborn? Yes.)
– Finish up replacing our windows — BUT finding creative ways to use the leftover window frames. I’ve got ideas a-flowin’! Can’t wait.
– Antiquing, antiquing, antiquing. Oh, and Salvation Army & Craigslist searching. 😀
– Buying eco-friendly cleaning products or making our own.
– Purchasing sustainable clothes — and other fabrics.
– I’ve gotta learn how to eco-design.
– Buying a hybrid after one of our cars kick the bucket.
– Hand-wash more often
– Soooo many more…

What are we already doing?
– From Day One here at the Crooked House, Dave used energy efficient lightbulbs. Check!
– We’re using more eco-friendly bath supplies, a low-flow toilet and showerhead, and are going to get into the habit of flushing less (don’t make me explain further — just #1, though). Check!
– Saving up for Energy Star appliances, when it’s time to replace what we’ve got now. Oh, and before that day comes, we only wash a full load — and I’m trying to use the clothesline as much as possible.
– While it’s gotten a little water-logged lately, I’m hoping to amend my compost pile to be used in next year’s planting. Check!
– Boy, do we have a lot of hand-me-downs, whether we like ’em or not. Check!
– Water filter + stainless steel water bottles = Check!
– Growing our own salads (among other things)! Check!

Hey. BTW. “B” (as I call him, along with Boo) eats organic — and he LOVES it. When we gave him the new organic crunchies, he turned his nose up at the old wet stuff — which was organic, too. Let’s hope the kids follow suit! 🙂

Inspiration to Plant

Last weekend, Dave and I went to our good friends’, Breelynd and Brandon, house for a surprise-ish birthday party for Bree. While we had a blast eating incredible food, enjoying a local keg, and sucking at a very fun lawn game (what was it, German?), what I left excited about (other than how we somehow are ALWAYS excited and chatty after leaving Bree and Brandon — everyone should have friends like that in their lives) was the inspiration I gleaned from Bree’s extraordinary landscaping.

I didn’t take any pictures, since I thought it might be creepy and more than weird to be snapping shots of her, um, plants, in the midst of such a cool shindig. However, I will show you some of the goodies I was stirred into buying.

Until this point in my life, I have intermittent experience with flowers. As a child, my mother always encouraged us to help her with weeding and planting, so many of the flowers and plants that she bought hold a solid, unwavering place in my heart. I see them and I’m brought back to simplicity and fun and love; it’s wonderful. So, several of these plants elicit similar feelings. As I grew older, I became selfish with my time and my thoughts and wouldn’t consider such things as plants; college, bills, friends, love, jobs all came first. But, now I have Dave, who makes me feel as secure as, somehow, the plants do, and a house that may need a lot more time and energy but that we love, and it deserves some landscaping that shows we love it. And let it be known that I know very little about the plants themselves, beyond the simple task of actually digging and covering and watering.

In a weird way, some of the plants accomplish giving me that wonderful feeling along with a somber clouded feeling. While I love the Silver Mound Artemisia that I recall my grandmother lovingly tending and my young feet always wanting to gently graze, it also reminds me of her last days as, essentially, a shut-in within a sterile assisted living facility, unable to tend a garden or even go to the bathroom on her own. It reminds me that she’s gone, and it hurts. Planting it seemed like saying a prayer, although I’m not a “prayer person” – or perhaps more like acknowledging that I still think of her daily and carry her lessons (and, at times, her attitude and stubbornness) with me.

It looks spiky, but I SWEAR it’s soooo soft!

Similarly, the Dusty Miller brings me great joy paired with serious sadness. Mom used them a lot at the house and, while it’s never been said, I assume they were one of Dad’s favorites. It could have been just a budget that we had or the fact that Mom liked them, but we always used the extras, along with a few geraniums to brighten up his headstone. To see them alive is like seeing his spirit, which I don’t remember much at all, still well and alive around us.

Then there are just the fun ones that were either inspired by Bree’s gardens and foundation plantings and even her hanging planters, or by the heirloom gardens that I see at the Cooperstown Farmers Museum or other living history locales (Gen. Herkimer Home, Upper Canada Village, Orchard House, etc). The romantic timelessness leaves you feeling relaxed and ready to create. Anything. It’s like stepping into Jane Austen or Louisa May Alcott’s timeless shoes.

Oh, and we can’t forget the front of the house! Our house is north-facing, so with the addition of a huge old tree right in front of it, it’s hard to grow much around the foundation. When we first arrived, I added a hydrangea plant (‘cuz I loves ’em!) on the opposite side of the tree so that it gets sun, a partial shade bush, and a few chicks-and-hens that my mother gave me. Otherwise, we’ve got a hosta trio which doesn’t work since the East side gets some sun…aaaaand that’s about it. They look like “Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Baby Bear.”

So, hopefully it works — I transplanted the baby and the mama together to appear to be one larger plant (still not as huge as the papa, but it’s better) with three fern plants in between. When they grow more, it should create a much more pleasing ground cover. I’m excited to see what next year brings!

The east side of the house gets some good morning sun, but a little shade from the porch. Last year, I just threw a few annuals there. THIS time, I decided to FINALLY put in a boxwood bush along with a few dramatic friends.

Mind you, I haven’t finished buying (I know, it’s already July, I’m behind) — I still have some potted planting that I’d like to do. But, for now, I can feel better about some of my surroundings. My goal for next year is to continue this trend, including some more old-fashioned type plants (thinkin’ phlox) to our side of the garage and more planter groupings on/near the porch.

And, while we’re at it, I thought I’d give an update on our garden and my beautiful rose plant. As you can see, the left side of the garden gets the most sun, and clearly the tomatoes are taking over. I staked them not too long ago (they had already gotten naughtily overgrown, or else I’d have used trellises or cages) so that the lettuces could keep going strong. By the way, we haven’t bought bagged lettuce in a couple of weeks, they’ve been doing that well! (We eat salad with pretty much every dinner, so that’s saying something.) The romaine is perfect and incredible, and the mesculin mix is delish! Obviously, the basil has been flowering and I haven’t done a good enough job to keep it short and squat with large leaves, but we’re using it and its taste hasn’t been changed — gotta work on those better next year.

Oh! Here’s a cheesecake shot of some gorgeous bulbous growths (that sounds disgusting) that our pepper and tomato plants are showing. Awesome! I’m just glad we’ve grown ANYTHING since our neighbor insisted that her three attempts failed. 🙂 Whew!

Here’s my yellow rose plant, which I didn’t think would do much of anything this year — but, as you can see, it bloomed! (Actually, we’ve seen a few blooms — this was quite a hot day, so it’s a little wilted, but happy nonetheless.)