Sunday, October 7, 2012

Gratitude

Temperatures have finally begun to cool and we sigh a breath of relief.  The growing season is almost done which means our canning and preserving will now drop down to only small amounts each week.
I cannot tell you how grateful I am though, that while there was so much work to do, each and every day, we now have so much more in our larder.  But even more, I have learned so much more this year about canning and preserving that it shocks me to think back to even four years ago.  We have tried so many new things this year, so many new recipes.  I'm just so glad that I have posted these here so that in several years from now I can retry these again later.  
Next year we will not be canning or preserving to the extent we did this year as next year we will be moving. Whether it is due to a military Permanent Change of station (PCS) or retirement.  My husbands time of 20 years of serving his country in the US Army is about up and it's time for us to begin the life we really want.
However this blog will continue!  No worries, I am not throwing in the towel!
So now, that all being said, I continue with my State of the Union...oops, I mean Garden address. 
First and foremost, my God, what a busy day.  My husband and I got two quarts of Coleslaw and three pints and two half pints of Black Bean and Corn, Tomato Salsa done.  The coleslaw looks a tad bit different than the traditional coleslaw but only because we used purple cabbage instead of white.  Hey, we had to use what we had on hand and there is no way we can eat through a whole head of cabbage in one week without preserving some of it.

Salads with loads of purple cabbage will be the norm for us this week, along with an experimental loaf of no knead rosemary bread.  For the no knead bread check out Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  This whole idea has saved us loads of $$$ as we no longer purchase grocery store artisan bread. 
 The salsa we decided last minute to make simply because currently we have one more pint of peach tomato salsa, and we have our corn tomato salsa (which was awesome by the way!) but we had no really super spicy salsas for this year (and I really see no reason to purchase something that I know I can make at home).
Since it was so chilly out today we decided some of our tomato plants have outlived their usefulness so we picked off whatever green tomatoes were left, along with whatever slightly ripe tomatoes we had, some jalapenos, a lone habenero, a few bell peppers from the garden, some corn and some black beans I cooked up this morning and voila.  A perfect spicy salsa, ready to be served with chips, eggs or a burrito later on this year!  YUM!
Next job.  More herb butter.  I have been rushing as of late to get as many of these put away as I can.  Recently, while working on one thing or another I had a thought.  Wouldn't sun dried tomato and basil butter taste really good?  So I tried it!  And you know what? It does taste awesome!
Zesty, tasty, tomato & basil.  
Had to try some on some french bread of course!
Next, I really needed a break from the muggy heat of the kitchen, as we were not only canning but also blanching broccoli to be both dried and frozen for later so I took a walk through our modest garden.
Things are starting to calm down a bit and most of our tomatoes seem to be nearing their end.  The eggplants keep producing flowers but there are no longer any actual fruits on them.  Next weekend those will be pulled up along with a few more of our tomato plants.  Oddly enough, we have one lone tomato plant which seems to have it's seasons all mixed up.  All summer long this plant BARELY produced one single tomato and yet now, at the very end of the season it has produced massive amounts of tomatoes.  I can't wait to see how they taste!Our bed full of carrots, salsify, mixed greens and a few unknown brassicas are still hanging around and the carrots and salsify seem to be liking the cooler nights we've been having.  I am really looking forward to tasting the salsify.  I've never tried that one before!
I'm beginning to think our winter crookneck will be providing only one more large fruit.  All the other female flowers have fallen off.  Still what we currently have on here is pretty impressive, considering that these were actually free since we received a squash last year from our CSA share. And then we discovered we had stowaways in our yard this year.  Its the gift that just keeps on giving.
I did just discover something that I found really quite interesting if you have a dehydrator.  You cannot safely can winter squash.(this includes pumpkins guys!)  It is too dense so the squash will never fully reach the temperature inside the jar to kill any botulism spores.  That's BAD.
You CAN however dehydrate your squash for use later.
See the video here for details on that!
I did have one further surprise while walking around and enjoying the Autumn air.  We have MORE poblanos! A week ago we removed all the poblanos, brought them over to my husbands coworker and thoroughly enjoyed plateful after plateful of chile rellenos.  These peppers so far have been pretty small but where they lack size, they make up for it in taste!! Next year we will most definitely be growing these!

One other tidbit that I just realized while talking with my husband!  We have planted Ostrich ferns all over our front area near our carport.  I have no idea if this idea will work or not.  It was my one last attempt at getting something to grow there.  The very cool thing with Ostrich ferns is that during the spring months, for a pretty short period of time they will produce fiddlehead ferns.  I have only had these maybe twice in my entire life but each time they were delicious.  The taste is somewhat similar to asparagus. 
I would post a picture but there really isn't much to see yet.  The plants are all still very small. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Eulogy for my dear friend of 18 years

Today I said goodbye to a dear friend of mine.  Eighteen years ago we found her in a humane society office outside of Junction City, Kansas.  She was tiny, very young, maybe only a few weeks old, gray colored with white paws that looked as if she had dipped each one in flour.  It looked like she had mittens on her paws.
So, we brought her home and named her Mittens.
She and I became good friends as I learned her meows, what her favorite foods were, and some of her little quirks that, of course, we all have.  We moved from house to house around Kansas because the military kept putting us in older housing and then would require us to move.  She began to really hate the sound of packing paper and tape.
I still recall to this day, when I came home after visiting my husband during his mid tour leave in Hawaii, I was tired, jet lagged and worn down.  Yet after saying goodbye to my husband and knowing that I wouldn't see him for another 6 months, that it was back to the everyday loneliness, I didn't cry.  That is until Mittens greeted me at the front door of my apartment style military house, meowing excitedly because she was glad to see me.
During so many deployments and separations, Mittens, my cat and best friend, was there for me.  Greeting me at the front door at the end of the day.
When we lived in Honolulu, Hawaii she absolutely loved geckos and absolutely hated centipedes.  She was our early warning system for centipedes because she would meow incessantly that there was something not good there.  We used to draw pictures of geckos and stick them up on wall because we were entertained by watching her meow non stop at this thing on the wall that she wanted to play with sooo bad.
Then we moved to Upstate New York.  The North Country.  We didn't have geckos but we did have snow and boy did we have a lot of it.  She loved snow and would meow excitedly anytime it snowed out.  We used to call it her gecko meow.  Soon that turned into her snow meow.
She didn't exactly like it when I threw her out into the snow numerous times, but she loved it afterwards when there was tons of melting snow all over the floors that she could lick.  It was always a challenge to keep her away from the snow down stairs in the foyer because that snow was thick with salt from the sidewalks and driveways. I still thank God, that I had Mittens here in New York.  She made the non stop deployments bare able. On summer evenings Mittens and I would sit out on our balcony where I had start working with plants and herbs and she would enjoy chasing moths or butterflies in the safety of all the plants.  Or other times she would just simply lie down during hot summer nights, swatting her tail in agitation because she was too warm and we had no AC.
I could barely keep catnip growing out there because she ate it down to nothing.  She always loved catnip.  Even as of last night.

Fast forward several years.  We moved to Anchorage, Alaska.  I remember when she arrived that she looked like a passenger that was jet lagged, tired, and really was not happy as she had obviously been sitting in her own urine for the past 10 hours of flying time.  Still though, got her home, bathed her, let her explore and then take a nap and she was fine.  In Anchorage we had our son, which was, I think, the one thing in her life she hated the most.  She always hated babies and children so a screeching baby in her home 24/7.  Well that started aging her and fast.
It was only when she was diagnosed with Renal Kidney Failure around four years ago that showed that time was catching up with her.  She was growing older.  She was still my friend, she still cuddled with me in bed in the mornings, she still liked to nap on my lap when I was reading but she was moving a bit slower.

The past six months she has visibly been deteriorating.  She would throw up several times a week. Urinate in odd places (usually on my husbands shoes much to his annoyance).  She had arthritis in her front paws and every so often she would cough in a very odd way.  As if she couldn't catch her breath.
This morning, I woke up, said a quick prayer to God to please show me something that said I was making the right decision.  Then moved onto today's tasks.
She started crying downstairs this morning, asking my husband and I to come downstairs.  Obviously her paws were hurting her and she couldn't bear the thought of climbing all the stairs.  I think that was pretty obvious.

Thankfully, once the veterinarian, finally saw us.  She quickly gave Mittens the shot to make her sleepy.  To this day I will be wondering which way to take the following events.
After the vet left to give us a few last moments with Mittens she, in a burst of energy and youth that I have not seen from her in a very long time, climbed up my chest and gave me a bear hug, her back claws digging into my shirt at my stomach.  I barely noticed it as I was overcome by the gesture and from the grief of saying goodbye to my friend.  I know I will wonder in the future as I do now.  Was she climbing up to give me a hug to say "Thank you dear friend for releasing me" or "I am so scared, please comfort me as I have comforted you over the years"?
I will never know.
All I know now is that while I sit here with my laptop in my lap, my husband plays his game on his PS3, I keep hearing the oddest noise near my right ear, right where Mittens used to lay when she was napping.  I keep hearing a very quiet sigh, as if she were still behind me, taking a nap.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

30 Day Challenge ~ Crossing the finish line

We did it.  We finished our September challenge!  And since we did not spend a single dollar during the last weekend of September (other than gas and eating out because we did not know we'd be away from home so long on Sunday) we finished the month spending a grand total of....$53.83 at local grocery stores and $432.52 at local farms, farmers markets, dairys and chicken or beef producers. 
Total for a family of three for 30 days: $486.35
Had we removed some of the items that we purchased to help us stock up for the winter, this final number would have been more near $350.00.
Some people claim that "But It costs so much to eat healthy!"  Well here you go.  It cost us $486.35 for the entire month and we were eating pretty darn healthy and we were stocking up our larder for the winter!  Fresh produce, straight from the farm, fresh milk straight from the dairy, fresh delicious eggs with buttery orange yolks, wonderful, tasty pasture raised chickens and hormone and antibiotic free Angus pastured beef.   
Keep in mind now, our grocery store budget pretty much only allowed us paper products (think paper towels, toilet paper, tissue), ziploc bags, an odd purchase here or there (like the time we forgot to get Kale at the farmers market), and of course, I grabbed a bag of peppermint patties. We did start this challenge with a few extra items already in our pantry.  Basic things like flour, cornmeal, bisquick, and beans.  In our freezer we had frozen meats along with many of the fruits and vegetables that I have put away through the summer.  So we did already have a larder stocked up to pick from.
That made things a bit simpler, financially. But really, anyone can do this.  What I learned this past month is this just takes discipline, which I think most of us really lack. After all, it's much easier to say "It costs too much to eat healthy" and then pop in your tv dinner into the microwave or oven than to figure out which items you have in your pantry, plan out your meals for a week according to what you do have, and then cook that dinner every night. 
If you are a full time working Mom such as myself, you might even have the extra task of preparing some ingredients a day or several days ahead of time because you will not be home to work on it. You just have to be ready prepare things ahead of time.

Now that we enter the month of October we will be entering a different phase altogether. 
Many might not be aware but September was Preparedness Month.  I didn't actually know this until mid September.  Oops, my bad.
So, as we proceed through October we have decided to spend a bit more of our time educating ourselves on emergency preparedness.  We have decided to make October our preparedness month. 
As our garden begins to fall asleep for the winter I will explore a bit more on what it takes to be prepared and what kind of emergencies to be prepared for. 
Also, stay tuned because I will be adding one neat little tidbit.  A frugal little trick called buying your coffee in bulk and then roasting it yourself.  You'll never return to Folgers! I promise!
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