Sunday, August 30, 2009

Happy Anniversary . . . To Us!

Tomorrow, August 31st, is our wedding anniversary. How many years, you may ask? Forty-six. Oh. My. Gawd. That simply cannot be, because neither of us is that OLD.

We were married for eight years before our daughter was born so we used to get lots of questions such as "Are you going to have children?" or "When are you going to start your family?" Roy, who was already a grade school teacher, would either reply, "I don't like children," or "We want to make sure the marriage is going to last before bring kids into it."

Well, at this point in time, I think we can be fairly sure the marriage is going to last.

We were married at a candlelit ceremony at 7 o'clock in the evening. August 31st in Illinois corn country? We wanted to insure it be as cool as possible so opted for the early evening time. Was it cool? 'Course not. The church was not air-conditioned; fortunately, the reception hall was.

The groom almost didn't show up in time for the wedding. One of the guests was a Japanese guy Roy had gotten to know when they both lived with Roy's older brother in California a couple of years earlier. Tommy flew in from Canada especially for the wedding. He had heard lots of tales from Roy and his brother about the family acreage Roy grew up on which was an hour's drive from where we got married. True to form, and having absolutely no concept of time (some things never change), Roy decided to take Tommy on a little impromptu ride that afternoon (yes, the afternoon of the wedding) to tour the family property. They were having such a great adventure that neither one of them kept track of the passage of time and there was a question for a while whether the groom would be present for the wedding ceremony.

Turns out he had more time than anyone thought. The florist that provided our flowers had seven weddings that day, and ours was the last. We had to delay the start of the ceremony for twenty minutes until the flowers finally were delivered. Just a little glitch.

We've got no big plans for the celebration of the day tomorrow. Gonna set off early in the morning, take a lovely drive to a funky restaurant we love and treat ourselves to a leisurely, big breakfast. We're taking a couple of folding camp chairs and some reading material and are going to look for a sunny spot by the shore of an inland lake and relax, read and enjoy the water. We may bring the canoe with and go for a paddle if we feel ambitious. Otherwise, it'll be a laid-back, take-it-easy day.

Sounds good to me for two people who've been hitched for gettin' darn close to half a century.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

How To Eat A Whole Pie In One Sitting

Nah, I'm not really gonna show pictures of me eating a whole pie . . . but if it were this pie, I know I could do it.

It's refreshingly light and yummy and sooo good. If any of you still have access to fresh blueberries from your garden, or wild ones you can pick, or (what the heck) buy in the store, you should give Freshy's Blueberry Pie a try.

I got the recipe from a gal I worked with about (oh, dear!) forty-some years ago. (Ya know, I don't have a problem with my chronological age - I suppose 'cause I don't feel any different than I did in my thirties - but when I mention something that happened thirty-five or forty years ago, and I was already an adult at the time . . . well, that just cannot be. But it is . . . gulp. Sigh.)

Back to the pie.

I asked my co-worker who "Freshy" was. She replied that she had no idea; it was just the name of the recipe when she got it. So there you go.

Let's get to it.

Start with a baked and cooled pie shell.

In a saucepan, combine 3/4 cup sugar, 2-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Blend in 2/3 cup water and 1 cup fresh blueberries.

Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly until very thick.

Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons butter and 1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice. Put mixture (still in saucepan) in refrigerator for about 20 minutes to cool.

Then add 2 cups fresh blueberries, mix gently to blend well and back into the refrig it goes for about one hour.

Beat one cup whipping cream until it starts to thicken. Add 2 tablespoons powdered sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Continue whipping cream until very stiff.

Spread one-half of whipped cream over bottom of pie shell. Top with berry filling from refrigerator.

Garnish around the edge with the remaining whipped cream and put back in refrig to chill for one to two hours before cutting and serving.

What a small, little slice.

It will disappear in a few seconds flat.

But what's to stop me from having another small slice?

(Too bad nobody's here to chronicle me eating a whole pie.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Rainy Day

We woke to a lovely, steady rain falling this morning. Looks like it may be an all-day-er.

I know you can't see the rain falling but, trust me, it's coming down steadily. Our full-out greenery is starting to look a little blowsy now . . . not very tidy but rather tired. Won't be but a couple more weeks before the leaves start turning color in earnest and slipping from the trees.

This is the second morning in a row that we've made a small fire in the wood stove. Yesterday, it was downright chilly in the house as the temps have been dropping into the 40s at night. Today it didn't feel so cool, but the rain just seemed to call for a bit of snap, crackle and pop cheeriness.

But this is all good. It's been an intense summer, and we've been lacking moisture for quite a while. I tried to pull some weeds in the garden yesterday, and it was as if they were embedded in well set up concrete.

I pushed yesterday afternoon to get beans picked to send home with my daughter and also got a few blueberries from our domestic bushes. Only got about three cups but enough, I think, to make a very special pie. Check back tomorrow as I plan on posting pics along with the recipe.

Now somebody convince me I really shouldn't go out into the rain to do those town errands I was going to do very first thing this morning. What? Did I hear you say I should stay home and bake oatmeal cookies instead? Well, okay. It was a difficult decision on my part, but because you suggested it, I'll do it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Feeble Cry From The Harvest Time Homestead

Help! I have reached a point in my life when I want to slow down, stop being so busy.

No, wait, that's not correct. It's not that I want to stop having full days but rather I want to change what it is I spend my time doing with my days. Or perhaps (pant-pant, puff-puff) I'm just ready for summer to be over.

When I have to divide my day's hours between outside time and inside time, I can't get the "necessaries" done and still have time for much of any relaxing. And typically, in the summer even in regard to the necessary things, inside time gets short changed. By a lot.

For instance, my house looks grittier and grimier than I like it to be, and although what we eat may be very healthy, I yearn for something other than a big salad, fresh berries or quick egg meals (I miss puttering in the kitchen concocting a great meal . . . while sipping a glass of wine), and I just can't find more than a few minutes now and then to read or do any handwork. Oh, and also I find it hard to spend time at the computer blogging.

Well, summer is on the way out. As soon as the sun goes down these late afternoons, you can actually feel the nip of fall in the air.

The above are our pair of Shetland geese. The pure white is the male while Mrs. is the gray and white. We've had Shetland and American Buff geese but recently made the decision to let go all of the American Buffs. We've found them to be really big geese that eat a lot of grain (tons!) in the winter time. They're also very clumsy and tend to barrel over and through anything in their path. Unfortunately, we lost two goslings this summer, both by being stepped on by these big honkers. We considered putting the three adult geese we had in the freezer . . . but simply don't have the room. So we offered them (alive, that is) to our daughter and she took them. She now has quite the poultry yard menagerie of geese, chickens, ducks and one very handsome tom turkey. (She really should be called Poultry Mama rather than Chicken Mama.)

I've already started garden clean-up which feels pretty darn good. Partly because some crops did so poorly this year that it's clear there's no hope in waiting for harvest, and partly because some crops have run their natural course. I'm more than ready to start putting the garden to bed for the winter.

Beans, raspberries and blueberries are being harvested and processed regularly right now. The yellow beans came in first and I have all of them I want in the freezer so our daughter is happy to get those still coming in. Even though I might wish for a heartier breakfast, I'm still enjoying the fresh berries in cream or milk each day. I've frozen or preserved just about all the berries we need for our year's supply so much of the harvest now is being given away.

Whine time. (Wine? Did somebody say wine?) Well, here I am again at the end of the day and I want desperately to go spend some time in my quilt studio, or maybe just sit and read for an hour or so (or here's an idea . . . why don't I vacuum? . . . or not), but the hour is too late for that and I still need to take a shower to get the raspberry juice off my arms and the dirt off my knees.

Yup, gotta do some reorganizing of priorities as far as what I do during the day. I have a great solution that would work for me. (Understand it is TOTALLY UNREALISTIC . . . and ain't never gonna happen, but I just know it would work.) If I could have one week of summer alternating with one week of winter year 'round, my life would be much better balanced. And I'd be happy, happy, happy. (Told ya it was totally unrealistic.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Waiting . . .

Waiting and ready to go.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

This Speaks To Me

A couple of years ago, my daughter gave me a birthday card. I cut off the front of it, framed it and it hangs in my quilting studio.

The picture shows a woman of what age? Well, past child-rearing age anyway. She's sitting on a park bench with her head tilted up, eyes closed, coat thrown back off her shoulders to better soak up the sun's warmth. She is tranquil, she is in no hurry, she is (momentarily at least) free of responsibility.

The inscription below the photograph reads:

Life does not begin
at the moment of conception or
at the moment of birth.
It begins when the kids leave home
and the dog dies.

Author Unknown

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Teeny-Tiny Surprise

Actually, it was four teeny-tiny surprises. Roy went out to do afternoon chores in the poultry yard and it wasn't but a couple of minutes before he stuck his head in the back door calling me to bring my camera and come see something.

This is a mama bantam hen with four little chicks that can't be more than a day or so old. They are seriously about two inches high. And the puzzling thing is we have no idea where this hen was when she sat on the eggs for three weeks! We know she wasn't in the hen house so we're thinking she must have made a nest in the nearby woods. This is the third batch of chicks our hens have hatched out themselves this year. Way to go, girls!

We did a little wood splitting this morning and stacked more wood in the shed. I put some time in on some much needed clean-up in the garden. Pulled the last of the pea vines and checked the beans. My yellow Rocdors will be ready for a first picking tomorrow but the green E-Z Picks are about three or four days behind.

We had fresh broccoli from the garden last night . . . well, Roy did. I found a small, green worm in mine and that was the end of it for me. (Shudder.) We struggle year after year to grow worm-free broccoli, but most years fall sadly short of the goal. Back to the drawing boards. Again.

Harvested a few more cherry tomatoes. Very tasty they are, but the skins are tough. They haven't been able to grow fast enough because of cool temps.

When I pulled the 4 x 8' bed of beets a couple of weeks ago, I left a few scragglers that were very small thinking I'd clean the bed and throw them to the poultry later. Seems I never got around to doing that and today I noticed that those little guys have sized up quite a bit! There are enough of them to store a bag full in the refrig and eat up fresh.

The sweet peppers are getting nice size on them. Now if we can just keep them warm enough so they have a chance to turn red, I'll have a nice bunch for stuffed peppers for the freezer. (We both really prefer the taste of the peppers after they turn red.)

Found another slicing cuc to have with dinner tonight. When I think of the tons of them I had last year, this year's harvest has been paltry indeed. But so it goes . . . we just didn't get enough warmth this summer.

Darn good thing I didn't plant those ten acres of corn this year, eh? (Don't take me seriously. I can't grow corn up here . . . and don't have a ten acre field to do it in.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

We've Been Blighted

As in many other gardens across the country, our potatoes have been hit by the potato blight.

This year I planted four rows of red potatoes and two rows of white. All of the reds, except for two plants, show severe signs of the blight. Only one plant of all the white potatoes so far looks to be infected.

I decided to go the route of cutting off all the infected plants at ground level and burning them. Hopefully, this will keep the fungus from spreading to the still healthy plants in the patch.

If the fungus has already reached the tubers below the soil, we're in trouble. We'll know by the appearance of the potatoes when we dig them. If they're deformed, discolored and just plain yucky looking, they'll be inedible. Or they may look okay but will be very poor keepers.

The above potatoes were dug yesterday after we removed the plants. They look really good, but obviously haven't had time for the skins to "harden" enough for good storage.

The biggest potato weighed in at 1 pound 4 ounces. The mug I put in the shot for comparison is 4" across and 3-1/2" high. Pretty nice looking sample of taters, I would say. We're keeping our fingers crossed for what we'll find when we dig the main crop in about a month.

P.S. Obviously, I'm still having trouble with my blog format. I can get a post up but the form is not right, and I know it makes it hard to read. Sorry . . . hopefully I can get it straightened out soon.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

If I Could Change One Thing About Myself

I had a real dud of a day today. My brain didn't want to function correctly, I had no energy, and I had to push myself to do anything at all. I suspect my general funk was caused by a conglomerate of many little things that have been weighing on me.

I knew there had to be a more productive way to handle my ouchie-grouchy feelings so as I stumbled through the day, I tried to do some self-analyzing. Just what could I do to change my outlook and move on to a "better place?" (Tra-la. Tra-la. Tra-la.)

From inside my head came a little voice (actually it was kind of an accusatory voice, but that was in keeping with the day) that asked the question, "If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?”

Well, shoot, I can answer that. It may sound petty and vain (oh, what the heck), but I think the one thing that would be the most "freeing" for me would be to magically become thin and stay that way for the rest of my life without having to constantly limit the things I eat. YES!

I love to cook, I love to eat, I truly enjoy food. But ever since I was a teen, I've always had to monitor what I put into my mouth. Therefore, eating (and to some extent cooking) has become quilt-ridden and carries a negative connotation for me. I'm constantly having to either deny myself (which is a negative) or feel guilty (a negative again) in regards to how much or what I eat. (Yes,indeedy -do, I seriously could sit down and eat a whole pie for lunch and thoroughly relish it if it weren't for knowing I'd have to beat myself with a large stick afterwards.)

I have a slow metabolism (sometimes I think it's dead) and although I've always worked hard physically and remained active, I have a propensity to pack on pounds quickly if I don't keep my guard up. It's a real drag. (SOMEthing's dragging, I can attest to that!)

Even though I'm not obese or even fat, I easily could be. It's a fact that I feel physically better if I'm twenty pounds lighter than I usually am. Because I'm short, those extra pounds don't ride easily on my frame, and I have to wear clothes that camouflage the extra bulges and bumps. It's so much easier to find clothes that look good on me when I'm thin. Oh, I know exactly what I have to do to drop those twenty pounds in short order. It would happen; there's no question about it. But there goes just about my total enjoyment of eating and cooking. In steps denial to the nth degree. (And I become a big,ol' cranky crab. Or a crabby crank.)

Well. You can't have it both ways, Mama Pea. Make up your mind. Do you want that svelte figure that enables you to wear just about any kind of clothes and look and feel physically better, or do you want to savor homemade pudding, lasagna and garlic-cheese bread (oh heaven's, I make a good garlic-cheese bread!), succulent sandwiches on homemade bread slathered with mayo, waffles with maple syrup and luscious cream soups? Huh? Huh? What's your choice?

If I could change one thing about myself, what would it be? Yeah, I'd like to be thin without having to be irritable with denial or feeling depressed with guilt.

Okay, snap out of it. Back to reality. We're talking fantasy here. No fairy godmother with a magic wand full of pixie dust is going to come by, bonk me on the head and grant my wish to magically change one thing about myself. (The very concept would be downright scary and if it were possible, I sure would want to spend a LOT of time thinking about it in order to make the wisest decision possible.)

What a nutsy tangent I got off on tonight. Okay, I've bared my screwed-up soul . . . now how about you, dear reader? If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Monday, August 17, 2009

First Cuc and More Canning

Stand back, folks, I don't want anybody to get hurt by this gigantus cucumber rolling on them!

Our very first cucumber of the season of pickable size . . . well, close to pickable size, anyway. (And it's about time. Talk about slow this year.) Oh, and yes, I grew that watermelon you can see in the upper left hand corner of the picture. (That's why it has a label on it saying Hidalgo, Texas.)

Back on the canning front, I did manage to get a batch of pickled beets put up last week. Eight pints are socked away for winter usage. (A grilled cheese sandwich for lunch on a cold winter's day with a few slices of pickled beets on the side . . .mmm , yum!) I would have liked to do another batch of pickled beets but the rest of our crop is already frozen, ready to be heated up and served with butter, salt and pepper. Hot, buttered beets taste SO good to me in the cold months.

Here are the pickled beets, fresh out of the canner, cooling on the counter. Confession: I've already opened one jar. I couldn't help it. I'm constantly searching for a pickled beet recipe that is juuust a little better than the one I have . . . and I'm pleased to report this one is the best I've come across. (Thanks to my good friend J for sharing!)

Have you ever saved the juice in the jar when the last of the beets have been eaten? Roy and I both enjoy hard boiled eggs for lunch (or a snack) now and then so it's fun to boil an egg, peel it and drop it into the remaining beet juice to marinate for a day or so before fishing it out and partaking of a . . . pink pickled egg! It just adds a little different flavor to a hard boiled egg.

Well, it's certainly not winter time yet but I'm at a complete loss as to what to fix for dinner tonight so I think I'll go with the ol' grilled cheese sandwich, a small tossed salad from the garden, and some colorful pickled beets on the side. Would you like some onions on your grilled cheese sandwich or no?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dry It -- You'll Like It!

My apologies to Gen Macmaniman for stealing the title of her book for the title of this post. Her book, published in 1973, was the first book on dehydrating we purchased. It was this book that started me on the road of experimentation with drying (not always successfully!) foods.

Recently I've noticed a few people posting about dehydrating their garden harvests. As Martha would say, "It's a good thing!" We've got two food dehydrators and have used both of them quite a bit over the years. You can't refute the fact that dehydrated foods (if dried and stored properly) have a long self life, aren't dependent on any energy source (once dehydrated) and take up much less space than any other method of food storage.

I haven't used our dehydrator yet this year but plan to dry most, if not all, of our onion crop when it's ready. (We just don't have a good place to dry our whole onions sufficiently. By the time we harvest them up here, the weather has turned cool and damp. We need an upstairs spare bedroom where we could lay them out on the floor. Or an upstairs spare room of any kind!)

Above we have dried onions, strawberries and zucchini chips, all from last year.

The onions reconstitute beautifully when tossed in soups or stews.

Isn't the color of the strawberries beautiful? That's their true color, the picture hasn't been touched up. I must be truthful here and admit the strawberries were a pain to do. I didn't have those plastic sheet thingies to spread over the racks of the dehydrator (I do now!) so the sliced strawberries stuck to the racks and I totally lost some of them that way. 'Course, the racks were a MESS to clean, too. But, oh, are the dried berries nice. I mix them in our gorp (trail mix) and in our homemade granola. Very flavorful. And they still smell just like fresh strawberries. I would have dried a quantity this year (all we have left is what you see in the jar --- but that is a 1/2 gallon jar) if our strawberry harvest hadn't turned out to be about half of what we had expected. Next year I'll get more put by this way. I hope.

I think I stumbled onto the idea of the zucchini chips several years ago when I was trying to use up overgrown zucchinis. (Nobody else has ever had that dilemma, right?) I slice big zuccs (3" in diameter or larger because the slices really shrink in dehydration) about 1/8" thick, sprinkle a mixture of garlic salt, dill weed, black pepper, and paprika on one side of the slices. You could make just about any kind of seasoning mixture you wanted. What about a little ground hot pepper? Chunky kosher salt? Oregano? Hmmm, I wonder what a little soy sauce sprinkled on would do? The slices come out very crunchy, like a chip, and make a good dipper if your dip mixture isn't too thick. I've had several people say I should market them, they're so good.

There are a whole bunch of informational books out there on dehydrating, and I should probably really study the ins and outs of preserving more of our food this way.

I have some extra blueberries right now but I'm a little skittish about trying them again. The first time they went from soft and definitely not dry enough to dark blue pellets with the consistency of gravel. But I think I am going to try raspberries this year for the first time. I imagine a dried raspberry would be really good as an addition to our granola.

Oh, lots one could do if one only had about twelve more hours in each day.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I Could Tell You Where I Went This Morning . . .

But if I did, my daughter would kill me.

Wild blueberries grow in our area but you have to know where to find them. And once you've staked out a good wild blueberry picking area, the location is guarded with great secrecy. These family plots (family plots? Doesn't that refer to . . . oh, never mind) are handed down from generation to generation and are greatly prized. Sometimes in-laws aren't even told of the locations. (Well, what if the marriage didn't last? You might end up with somebody outside the family moving in on your territory, for heaven's sake.)

Although we've lived here for thirty-six years now, alas and alack, we've never had a family blueberry picking spot. It's really sad.

That is until . . . dum-da-dum-dum . . . this year. My daughter has been scouting out this particular area for months now and a couple of weeks ago . . . YES! She declared it was indeed going to offer up a fair amount of wild blueberries for the picking. And she's sure no one else knows about the location!

So we made plans early in the week that this morning would be the date for Mom and Pop to arrive at Chicken Mama's house with bowls and buckets in hand.

We arrived at the appointed time and were immediately blindfolded, bound and gagged and tossed into the back of Chicken Mama and Chainsaw Tommy's pick-up truck. (She still feels a little shakey, you see, about finally finding her very own spot. Remember, she grew up with parents who never did manage to secure a wild blueberry plot for the family. Sigh. We fell so short in so many areas.) We were then driven around for about 45 minutes, frequently going in circles I'm sure, to sufficiently confuse us.

When we finally reached the destination, we had no idea where we were but were given our buckets and told to go pick.

Here's Chicken Mama, happy as could be, gathering those tiny, treasured berries.

Chainsaw Tommy filling his bowl. (But, wait, is he putting berries in . . . or taking them out?)

I may look happy here but I was pretty cranky. The mosquitoes were out in full force and I tend to attract any biting insect within a ten mile radius of my body.

Here's the Bearded Wonder with his stash. (I've been giving him a particularly hard time lately because of his scruffiness. If I don't corral that man and give him a hair cut and beard trim tomorrow, I'm not taking him out of the house again.)

I gotta give our daughter credit for having sharp enough eyes to spot this location that has lots of wild blueberry plants scattered over quite an area. And it seems we even got there before the bears located the harvest and scarfed them all up. Good thing moose aren't fond of blueberries because there was plenty of evidence of their presence around today. I knelt in more than my share of (thankfully old and dried) moose droppings!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Will My Hygiene Be Questioned?

I'm making a trip to the "big city" tomorrow, and I think I shall be wearing gloves all day.

I have harvest hands. Food processing fingers. Dirty digits. (Gak, that last one doesn't even sound good.)

Every one of my fingernails is stained dark All the cracks and crevices of my fingers up to my third knuckle look as if they're harboring something black and unclean.

About a million years ago (give or take a couple of years), I was an executive secretary to a vice-president of a large company. One autumn, I had spent the whole weekend making and canning applesauce. The following Monday morning, my boss called me into his office to take dictation. (Yes, my children, that was back in ancient times when we operated with a pencil and steno pad and wore panty hose and high heels.)

Mr. S, who usually had his thoughts well organized and gave dictation in an easy flow, seemed to be fumbling over his words that morning, stopping and starting with distracted frequency.

Finally when there occurred an especially long pause, I looked up from my pad on the edge of his desk and found him staring at my hands with an almost repulsed look on his face.

"WHAT in the world did you do to your hands?" he asked.

Yup, harvest hands. Dirty digits. I explained the situation to him, but I had the impression he didn't believe me.