Friday, May 23, 2014

When I left you last ...

Well, once again, it's been a while.

When I was last here we we're experimenting with a wheat free lifestyle (failed), Andrew was barely sleeping (he at least naps consistently now, and I have hope the future brings a night of sleep), I was obsessing over my weight (which has now, over years of dieting, crept to its highest ever. Like, really high. And I'm kinda over caring. I like food. I like wine. I should hike more often. But I'm totally over hating my body and I'm super over dieting).

Mostly things have stayed the same. I have renewed my interest in frugality (while eating some humble pie on my previous insistence that anyone can eat real food on a budget if only they try hard enough - cause, um, we're trying pretty hard and have had to give up a lot).

I did learn to knit, finally! I've completed 3.5 sweaters, 3 more planned before Christmas, along with a handful of hats and one pair of socks, whose sizes do not match. I kind of of love it and am so very glad I've finally got the hang of it!

I'm off facebook again, which is sort of what has led me back here once again, as a way to keep in touch with family and far away friends.  I have no idea if my link up from here to facebook is still working so if you've found me here via there say hello so I know it's working, please!

We are still computer-less which does make blogging and picturing (hence today's picture-less post) a tad more difficult!

The garden is growing. The kids are growing. Life is pretty good.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Apple Salsa

We live nestled in between several apple orchards. We planted two five-in-one dwarf apple trees three years ago. Those trees are not yet producing and in the 4 years that we have lived here now, three of those years have had late frosts that wrecked havoc on our local orchards. This year was a good year for apples, yet the prices have definitely crept up over the years - they are averaging about 30 cents more a pound now.

We have been incredibly blessed this year by my husbands coworkers, who ended up with a large surplus of plums, pears, apples and grapes that they have very, very generously shared with us.
I have been working on processing apples for several weeks and am just now nearing the end (with the mad thought to maybe get just a few more, because I am sort of in love with canning apple pie filling!)

Not having to pay a premium (or, um, at all!) for these fruits means that I have been free to experiment with things I normally would not make. I hope to share a couple of those with you over the next few days, but the one I am most excited about it is the apple salsa.

I adapted this recipe from the apple and tomato chutney in the Ball Complete Book of Preserving. I believe it to be safe since I eliminated some lower acid ingredients and increased the vinegar. Please be aware however that it is NOT a tested recipe.

Also, maybe someday I will remember to take process pictures. And also take pictures with my camera instead of phone. I was going to pull the jars up from my basement to get pictures of all of them, but I currently have a squirrel (possibly) down there while I await the return of The Menfolk to check and see if he's gone!

Apple Salsa
yields about 7 pints

2 cups white vinegar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
6 cups peeled, cored and chopped apples
8 cups peeled, cored and chopped tomatoes
1.5 cups chopped red onion
1.5 cups chopped red peppers
2 jalapenos, chopped (if you want less heat, seed and de-vein)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 cups brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon

1. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine vinegar and apples. I pour the vinegar in and add the apples as they are chopped to prevent browning. Add tomatoes, brown sugar, onions, red peppers, jalapenos, garlic, salt and cinnamon. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and boil gently to thicken slightly, about 10 minutes.

2. Ladle hot salsa into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch head space. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed by adding more salsa.

3. Process for 10 minutes in boiling water bath.

Notes: This does make a thin sauced salsa. The I removed a total of 7 cups of fruit (2 cups tomatoes, 1 cup raisins and 2 cups chopped cucumber) and increased the vinegar by a cup. I would think you could certainly safely add the 2 cups of tomatoes back in and reduce the vinegar back down by a cup if you'd like. I prefer to err on the side of caution when changing canning recipes and I don't mind the additional vinegar, I simply drained a little off at serving time.

So far I have only eaten this piled on some toasted thick sourdough bread (and untoasted, but toasted is better) but I'm excited to see how else this lovely little sweet and spicy salsa can be used. I'm thinking some cinnamon tortilla chips would be delicious!

Monday, September 9, 2013

We are the destroyers of things

Today I had planned on doing a wrap up post on the Cost of Preserving that I've neglected to follow up on (yet again). But last night the charging pin on my chromebook broke off (this has happened to a previous laptop as well). So instead I am typing gingerly on my ipad that has a shattered screen.

We break things in this house. This house that we were told was "virtually indestructible" - yeah, we are doing a pretty good job of putting in a few dents and scratches.

We break laptops and iPads and printers and wiis. We break hinges off of cabinets, baseboards clean off, crack the glass on the woodstove, put holes in walls and rip carpet. We lose garden tools to the elements, and toys and athletic nets as well. We put holes in jeans, snags in sweaters and tears in blankets and sheets. Our vehicles are crumbling, and we are on our second weed whacker and lawn mower in four years. The second lawn mower is on its second season and undergoing continuous repairs. We are good at shattering dishes, especially those of the vintage variety and on the first day of school a backpack strap snapped before the bus came.

I don't know if we are especially talented at being destroyers or if this is all just a 'pleasant' side effect of living with three boys spanning ages 2-15. The two year old may be responsible for most of the technology related incidents.

At any rate, just as I thought I'd be blogging just a little more, it may continue to be a tad sporadic until I can get some of these devices repaired or replaced. Well, repaired at least. Of course, on higher priority on the repair list would be the woodstove since winter is coming, and a trumpet that may have been waiting in the repair shop for close to three months.

Some days I get more than a little frustrated and angry at our destructive tendencies, but I also realize that many (not all) of the damages are not created out of pure neglect but out of the process of living and using. I imagine that it will often be part of our lives, since even when my boys are grown and gone, I hope to have grandchildren someday running around the house, maybe breaking a thing or two as well.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Leaving Facebook

It may have been a week ago today, or close enough I suppose, that I finally deactivated my Facebook. I've talked about doing it for a long time and finally took the plunge.

Originally my plan was to get through today. Through the rush of food preservation last weekend (some very generous friends gave us lots and lots of pears, apples and plums!). Through the beginning of school for my husband and two older children this past week. Yet here I am, when my self imposed restriction is up, and I'm thinking I just may stretch this a little longer. A few days? A week? A month? I don't know.
What I do know is that after getting though that first day (where I nearly signed on in the first hour!) I'm rather enjoying this little hiatus. 

I'd like to say I'm suddenly super productive, that all my produce is put up, I'm spending all day out doors alternating between playing with the kids and knitting or reading, that I'm offline completely - but none of that is true (clearly). 

What is happening is that in those pockets of time I spent on facebook (5 minutes over coffee that often turned into an hour, 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there, 45 minutes or more after the kids are in bed), I am doing just a little more. Picking up a sweater and knitting a row or two. Getting an extra load of laundry put away. Really participating in my day without being distracted by conversations in groups. 

Sometimes I think maybe I could just be facebook free, indefinitely. But I know that's silly. Because, the truth is I really enjoy social media. I've made some real friends over the last almost decade I've spent in online groups. There are several people I already really miss. Oddly enough, there are a few real life, close by friends that I mainly communicate with online as well. Also, my father happens to be one of 12 children and facebook as allowed us a place to all stay connected and up on each others lives and THAT has been really indescribably wonderful. So, I know that eventually I will be back. Because I do believe there is far more good than bad in social media. 

In the meantime, however long that may be, you can still find me here and there online. I am still on pinterest, instagram, tumblr, ravelry and hopefully here much more often. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

thirty days

When Colin was an infant, he had terrible stomach issues. He seemed to always be in pain. My husband would bicycle Colins little legs and rub his tiny belly in attempts to help him move the bubbles along.

Then, it stopped. At about a year he was just fine. Sometime between 5 and 6, the problems came back. And got worse and worse and worse. We thought perhaps it was a nervous stomach. He can be a nervous child. The doctor and the specialist (who ran no tests) told us he had to use the bathroom more. No. By the time we got to the specialist he was almost 8. He knew if he had to use the bathroom. We knew this was not the issue.

I had done research nearly a decade ago, when a friends son was diagnosed with aspergers. I read about the affects of gluten and casein on some children. I've spent a lot of time over the last 10 years reading about food and nutrition and food politics. My thoughts and my practices have evolved over time. It started with needing to be thrifty. I dabbled in vegetarianism, I learned to cook from scratch. I learned to bake  bread. I turned to local foods, whole foods. I stopped being afraid of fat. I learned to embrace animal proteins. I've read a LOT about food.

We do not have a perfect diet. I try to keep to 80/20. Sometimes we're closer to 60/40. Sometimes we're more 90/10. It works itself out. 

It is not easy adapting your family's diet. Especially when your family is not totally on board. Especially when your family loves their Western diet. Sure, they'll eat my homemade bread, but they love their boxed cereal and Doritos as well.

Over the course of many years, I've recommended a gluten free/wheat free diet to many people. I've read over and over again the signs and symptoms of allergies. I know for myself how incredibly amazing I felt when I stopped eating wheat. But, you know, we didn't NEED to cut out wheat or gluten. We don't have a history of celiacs or autism. 

Yet, my 'healthy' middle son kept having stomach aches. They got worse and worse and worse until some days he was afraid to go to school. I had wondered for years if perhaps it could be gluten. But honestly, selfishly, I didn't want that to be it.

We went back to the doctor. This time, we had a doctor who believed us. He ordered immediate testing for crohns and celiacs. Both tests came back negative. He was 'diagnosed' with IBS.

I have a hard time swallowing that some people can just have ongoing intestinal issues with no cause. That their bodies just aren't working. Especially a 9 year old child. So, I did more reading. Turns out, the a huge amount of people with IBS symptoms find almost full relief following a gluten free diet. I knew this, I think, all along. But the idea of giving up my beloved homemade bread, of no more pasta . . . well, it's sad.

So, for the past 6 weeks Colin and I have been starting the path of gluten free living. We've done, um, not great. We've avoided the obvious (mostly). We've had a few accidental slips and a few on purpose slips. But even without perfection, Colin has admitted he feels better and can tell when he's had too much of the wrong foods.

It has not been easy. He's almost 10. He has friends, he goes places and does things without me. I can't be hovering all the time to tell him what he can and can not eat. He will need to learn to advocate for himself. He will need to learn if he chooses foods that make him feel bad, that he's going to feel bad!

My husband, who is normally very skeptical of my nutritional ideas, is even on board. He's already seen the difference in Colin. However, he does not want to give up his bread (I could never get him off white bread even) or his pancakes. He is not into substitutes. He is not into going gluten free with us. Luckily, because we are not dealing with celiacs, the cross contamination is not a huge concern for me.

I read that after cutting out an offending food for thirty days, that when you reintroduce it, if you are intolerant, you should have an immediate reaction. Apparently over time your body gets somewhat tolerant and if you are eating it everyday, then it can take up to 72 hours for a reaction, which can make it hard to pinpoint which food is causing the issue.

For the most part (my husbands bread and pancakes aside) we are doing a strict 30 day gluten and wheat free diet, in and out of our home. I will be hovering. I will be reminding. We will be concentrating mostly on foods that are naturally gluten free and treating bread-like concoctions as treats. We are purposely doing this in July, because we are all home and because there is so much fresh produce it should help ease the transition. 

The truth is that I know I feel better without wheat. I have my suspicions that my 2 year old and 14 year old will also benefit. The more I read, the more I see possible symptoms in them. I highly suspect my husband would benefit as well, but I've learned that you do not mess with this mans food. Ok, I've sort of learned. I may or may not have put flax seeds in his pancakes this winter. That did not go over well. At all.

I expect this will be difficult. I expect there will be sadness and feelings of loss. I expect this can be expensive and we have a tiny food budget. I expect a lot of reminding. A lot of exasperation. A lot of wanting to throw in the towel.

I also expect it will get easier. I expect we will feel better. That in time, it will be normal.

I should note that as I was proofreading this Colin asked if he could have a cookie that his dad had brought home from work a few days ago. I said yes without thinking. It might be a long month.

Monday, July 1, 2013

:garden notes:

Well, I've never been accused of being punctual.

Garden notes, just a little late.

Watch the garden grow! See the last post here.

Week of June 20th

So much in progress. Finally getting around to permanent paths!

Pea mess and the in between spring and summer crops. Lettuce is going, eggplant and peppers are coming

Scarlet Runners, hopefully next year I'll have a whole trellised arbor of them in the side yard 

So few of my original broccolis and cabbages took, that I filled in the space with bush beans. Behind that, a tiny potato patch. 

Starting to corral the tomato jungle. Next time the rain stops, concentrated efforts!

Side bed. Working on prettying the front part - decided to scrap popcorn in the back. It's the squash, sunflower and pole bean patch. Only the sunflowers have failed to sprout. Bummer. 

Week of June 27th

Side bed, sans stubborn sunflowers

Tiny garden

beans, broccoli, potatoes

I pulled out the strawberry bed, it was sloppy and the bugs got more berries than I did. We'll try again in a few years. Now its the broccoli and cabbage bed.  

Chard, peas, runner beans

Three years ago I planted blueberry bushes. Do you see them? Yeah, me either. Which is why I picked the ones in buckets up half price at the hardware store, instead of reordering from my local nursery. 

Itty bitty potato patch. Just for fun, we'll get the bulk of ours from the community garden. 

It has just rained and rained and rained here. It's raining as I type this. I suppose it beats the drought of last year, but plants need sun as well as water!

None of my sunflowers have made it. I think they were eaten by the ant invasion that seems to be happening.

I did a lousy job trellising my peas this year. They are usually one of my best crops and I was just sloppy. So now I've got floppy, broken and tangled stalks. I'm gonna harvest of them for a little while longer then pull them and try again in the fall. My beautiful community garden will help fill in the gaps.

Every year I try so hard to be organized with companion and succession planting. This year was better than most, yet I've already thrown my plans into the wind and I'm back to winging it.

My peppers are tiny. I'm a little worried. They are also one of my best crops, but not this year. I'm hoping a good week or two of sunshine will help. I've added some Epsom salts and I've been adding fish emulsion to help too. I've never fertilized anything other than compost - but our compost pile is on hiatus while we build a new spot for it.

The garden never seems to be picture perfect. There's always weeds and overgrown grass and something in progress. Maybe someday.

Monday, June 24, 2013


Today I am:
trying to enjoy this summer heat instead of complaining about it. If not enjoy, at the very least gracefully survive it.

wondering just how it is that my sweet littlest boy turned two this weekend

loving the start of the 'lazy' days and late nights that summer brings

making some iced coffee by the half gallon to keep in the fridge

chasing my neighbors sheep out of my garden, again. And

thinking of ways to have a peaceful conversation with him about this

enjoying the slow start to the crazy summer canning

debating whether or not to clean the leftover birthday celebration mess in the house or get in the garden before it gets too hot (pretty sure garden will win, yet again)