Monthly Archives: July 2010

Let the Summer of Canning Begin!

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I mentioned a while back that instead of canning our cherry plums right away, we stuck them in the freezer to wait until canning inspiration hit. Well, we decided that inspiration could wait no longer and it was time to get on it, so 11 jars of cherry plum jam were made last week. Which was just in time, because the nectarines were right behind and 11 jars of nectarine jam were canned. This year, we don’t know why, but our fruit trees are producing like gangbusters. We *almost* feel overwhelmed, almost. Okay, we are overwhelmed with what to do with all this fruit, because just as we finished canning the nectarine jam, ripe peaches started falling off our peach tree.
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On Sunday we put on our walking shoes and filled bags with fruit and headed out to all our friends houses within walking distance for a fruit delivery.
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Back to the nectarine jam. I don’t think we’ve made it before and I’m not really sure why, because it is so delicious! We pitted a whole bunch of nectarines, added sugar, a little honey and let it simmer and reduce down. We don’t add pectin to our jams, we just let the natural pectins and sugar mix together with ample simmering until they work their magic.
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Once the jam gets to this stage above, where not only does it leave a trace behind when you stir it, but that it falls off the spoon just like this: in clumps, then it is ready to can. And can we did.
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I’m thinking that this year, we need a new set of canning label designs, don’t we? I should get started on that.

Meanwhile I hear Scott in the kitchen canning the first of the peaches, I should go help him.

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Filed under in the kitchen, preserving, recipes

Looking for Berries, Berries for Jam

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This afternoon I took our two boys to the pool and my youngest, who is 3 and loves talking to just about anyone, notice that the lady next to us was eating cherries. He went up to her and said, “We have a cherry tree and we ate a lot of cherries. But they are all gone, so now we eat a lot of little plums.” We are indeed eating a lot of plums these days. This is the first significant harvest from our Santa Rosa Weeping plum tree. We’ve had it in the ground maybe four years now? It’s a beautiful tree.

And the blackberries are ripening too! In previous years both the plums and the blackberries were ripe around the 4th of July, but I suppose because of our cold, rainy spring things have been delayed a few weeks. Growing up, even only an hour away from here, we didn’t have any blackberry bushes near our house. However they grew wildly abundant a few hours north on the lake where we used to vacation with my cousins every summer. Somewhere amongst our busy activities of rainbow trout fishing, swimming, row boating, popcicle eating and flip flop wearing lakeside walks, we squeezed in a little blackberry picking. We’d walk out to this one berry lined lane with bags and pick as many as we could, without getting too scratched up.
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Even now, despite the fact that as a grown up I have blackberries growing in my backyard and I have children of my own, sneaking in and out of those thorn filled canes, discovering spiderwebs, and figuring out how to reach that one far berry without getting too bloodied up, brings me straight back to my childhood.

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I wish I could tell you some good solid gardening advice on how to grow blackberries, but I think most of you with blackberry growing experience will agree, we do our best to give these bushes a firm case of tough love. They don’t need anything from us. Once they take hold, they are relentless in their pursuit to take over your entire yard. Many times a year we put on our thickest gloves, muster up our strength and head out to prune those painful canes back to keep them in their place. It’s worth the territorial fight though, not only for their sweet flavor but for the memories they bring back.

If you have small kids or in need of a present for a little one, Jamberryhas long been a favorite of our boys. So much so that it has become memorized and often referred to as we go about our days. This line is shouted from the backseats almost every time we pass a bridge, ‘Under the bridge/And over the dam/Looking for berries/Berries for jam.’

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Sunday Flowers – Pink, Yellow & White

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The Shasta Daisies are finally in bloom!

Join me for Sunday Flowers by posting a picture of what you’ve collected from your yard on your blog and posting a link to it below.

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Our Straw Bed Bales Made the Local News

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We made the local paper this morning! Check it out the story on our straw bale raised bed experiment. Since the photographer came a week ago on Thursday I thought it would be nice to show a few photos from this morning to show how fast everything is growing.
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We are growing all sorts of summer melons in that raised bed and they are doing much better than any other previous year we’ve grown them. In previous years we’ve planted our melons straight into the ground and while we have amended those beds, we specifically built the soil up in this straw bale raised bed to be for melons. What that means is lots and lots of manure, they are heavy feeders.
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Of course the proof is in the pudding and while there are many melons on the vines, none are ripe yet, so we’ll report back when they are ready to pick. But it looks like we will have our fair share of crenshaw melons this year!

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How to Make a Lavendar Wand

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Where we live our lavender is in full bloom and has been for a few weeks. It’s so beautiful and smells so lovely. I love this perennial in my flower bed because it can easily take my bad habits of not watering it enough, a soccer ball hitting it full speed and little boys fall into it and it keeps on producing year after year.

When I was in high school I fell in love with all the romance that Provence became overly famous for at that time and I spent a lot of time reading Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence and copying Sara Midda’s style of watercolors. I also spent a lot of time at this fancy little French boutique where everything cost well above my babysitter’s salary. I especially loved their lavender wands from Provence, but I could never afford them. Yet each time I would wander in, I’d pick one up and smoosh it ever so gently, smell and dream. Having the ‘maker’ in me from an early age I decided to plant some of my own lavender in my parents backyard and figure out how to make my own lavender wands. They take a bit of trickery, but I’ve been making them ever since. Want to see how?
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I start by gathering an odd amount of lavender stems (I think I used 35 stems here) and stripped them off all their leaves. Then I bundled them up and secured them with one of those clear plastic hair bands and tied a thin 1/8″ ribbon around that.
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This next step is important to do right after you cut the lavender while the stems are still filled with moisture. Hold the little bouquet upside down and carefully bend the stems over without them breaking in half. Some will split more that you will like and that is okay, you just don’t want any to break off completely. Then I carefully start weaving the ribbon between the stems.

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This is the tricky part. Those first few rows that you weave might be frusterating because the stems will sort of flopping all over the place. Hold them down firmly and try to keep your patience. After two rows they will be tamed.

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I keep weaving in and out and pull the ribbon firmly and push the weaving up with my fingernail. The stems will shrink a bit as they dry so it’s well advised to keep the ribbon pulled snug, otherwise it gets too loosey goosey over time. I made this one over the course of a couple of days when I had a chance to sit outside on our back porch. It’s a nice lazy afternoon with lemonade kind of project. When I had weaved past all of the blooms, I decoratively wove the ribbon down to a spot where all the stems would tie together nicely (see top photo) and then wrapped the ribbon around the stems  a number of times. I secured this with another clear hair band and then tied a bow around the band to hid it. You may want to put a dab of clear drying glue on the bow to hold it extra firm.

I cut the ends of the stems off to a uniform length and then it was time to put it to good use in a dresser drawer. While making these wands won’t quite replace a South of France vacation at least they make me feel a little bit closer.
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Crawling Vines and Tie Dyed Hula Hoops

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Word to the wise: When planning your summer garden, don’t put the zucchini, which is the first to harvest, in the middle of long creeping vine growing squash. However do we get to them now?
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Our friends Julie & Doug divided up their day lilies a few years ago and gave us some, they finally bloomed yesterday, how pretty! Thanks for sharing guys!
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After saying I’ve been wanting to do this forever, I finally worked up the nerve to tie dye with the boys. It was messier than I ever could have imagined, we tie dyed ourselves essentially, but the results are thrilling! See the little onesies and bloomer pants for the baby? The boys were ecstatic to make their baby sister some colorful clothes.
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We got our first hula hoops yesterday. This has been something that I have been wanting to do forever, but pregnancy slowed me down. However after watching this video I realized I can start hooping on my arms, legs, chest and shoulder (?) for now. It’s harder than it looks, but also so much fun! We are headed down to the Marin County Fair in a bit. I hope you have a very fun Saturday!

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Warming up to Summer Preserving

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We haven’t yet gotten into canning this year. Our cherry plums all ripened on one of the hottest weekends so far, so we gathered them and put them into gallon sized ziplocks to wait for a cooler time to can. But we have been playing around with pickling. We got our first successful cauliflower harvest this year! We’ve tried in the past and either they went straight to bloom or were covered in bugs – yuck! But this year for some reason, Lady Luck was with us in the cauliflower department.

We tend to like everything pickled so we thought we’d give pickled cauliflower a try. We had a few ripe zucchinis too so we threw those in for good measure. It worked out incredibly and now our two boys declare cauliflower their favorite! Any method of preparing veggies that makes them the favorite of a 3 & 5 year old set of boys is welcome in my book. Here is how we did it.

Pickled Cauliflower

For the brine:
4 c. white vinegar
2 c. water
3 T. salt

Into each jar: a heaping Tablespoon of pickling spices (we get ours from Penzeys) & 3 garlic cloves sliced
Blanch the cauliflower by blanching in hot water briefly, lift it out and place it into ice water. Zucchini only needs a 30 second blanch. Place cooled veggies into jars and cover with brine. Refrigerate and enjoy!

The other recipe we tried was for zucchini from a new book called La Cucinathat has become Scott’s new bible. The book is an exhaustive collection of recipes gathered by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina. They traveled all over Italy talking to every nona they could and gathered over 2,000 recipes to create this archive. It is a huge book! Anyway, this recipe for zucchini asks you to slice them and lay them in the sun until dry. We didn’t know exactly how long or how dry they meant so we just left them out until the outside skins were dry – a few hours. Saute them in olive oil. And layer them with chopped mint, raw garlic and a healthy sprinkle of vinegar (they suggest white wine vinegar, we used just plain white vinegar). The immediate results are fairly unimpressive. We had it right afterwards for dinner and weren’t that excited about it. However, the next couple of days I pulled them out of the fridge and had them for lunch and they were incredible. This recipes really does need to sit at least for 24 hours. I look forward to making this again.

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Have you done any summer preserving yet?

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