Pancakes for Breakfast

Ends are always beginnings, be it storybooks or seasons. After our blast of early arctic weather for Halloween the days got warm, so warm that we could see family outside in upstate NY in early November and come home to work on the yard in relative comfort. I had not seen my sister and that part of the family in a year due to the pandemic, and those moments are precious. We won’t have another chance to see extended family for a while, given the spiking infection rates, so it was worth the quarantine time to do it.

We came home with bulk vegetables again this year – sweet potatoes, onions, butternut and Hubbard squashes, Crispin apples, which are my favorite. They will store for months as we eat them, and eat them we most definitely will. They, along with deliveries from Misfits Market will be the primary source of our veggies for the winter.

The dehydrator continues to produce apple chips for munching -and we do, in unmeasurable quantities. Given the half bushel of apples that came home with us last week the dehydrator will continue it’s work for a while, but otherwise the preserving is done. I admit a sense of relief about that – I love looking, not to mention eating – at our home-preserved goods, but it’s a huge amount of effort and time that now needs to go to other things.

The cold returns intermittently, even as a few last of the outside things remain to us. Last weekend Eli and I tore out the vegetable garden, planted a full garden bed’s worth of garlic, and put down a layer of insulation and feed for the garden -when Eli cleans out the chicken coop in the fall, that becomes garden soil topping and food for the soil. The ammonia smell has the upside of driving away most of the animals that want to burrow under the fence and eat the garlic as well, so I’m hopeful. A week later no animal yet has braved the smell.

We still have some yard cleanup to do, now that most of the leaves are down, and some last tulip bulbs to plant, but we are mostly done with outdoor work for the winter. Seven trees came down this week, all giant pines that were in the general vicinity of the tree that fell on the house in 2017. More have to come down in the spring, but for now, all the big-budget items are done for the year.

Which is just fine with me.

We have turned our energy inside to insulating windows, and then small indoor projects for the winter. Cleaning, organizing, maybe painting the kitchen. I am looking forward to the quiet of winter. The holidays will be small this year, in more ways than one, but I look forward to them nonetheless – this may be the last year my son is a believer in Santa, and so will relish the moments, while trying to accept that a different kind of holiday magic will take over after that. But first all the things – cutting our tree at the nearby tree farm that once upon a time was our next door neighbor, homemade cookies and peppermint bark, hiding gifts.

And there is always our New Year’s Eve, filled with homemade Chinese dumplings, scallion pancakes, and deliciousness. Everyone pitches in for that meal, and the eating of it is the culmination.

With infections spiking everywhere, we start to make hard decisions about who we can see and how we can spend time. Outdoors, for walks and around the fire pit. But it is going to limit and isolate us to an extent, and there’s no real avoiding that. We are battening down the hatches for a winter as a small group again, and prepping for a likely lockdown. But I’ve learned the key is things to look forward to. Random invented holidays. Tiny surprises. Scavenger hunts. Going for walks with Teddy the dog, who still doesn’t quite get the concept of walking but is trying valiantly.

It doesn’t fix all of the things we’re losing, but it does help.

Now that the cold is here, pancakes and bacon on Sunday mornings are another important tradition to keep. My recipe is an adapted version from Allrecipes.com, and simple as can be. Warm, cozy, and the total effort is maybe 15-20 minutes. You will never need to buy pancake mix again.

Fluffy Sunday Pancakes
3/4 cup milk
1 tbsp vinegar (white is best but rice or cider works just fine)
2 tbsp butter
1 large egg
1 c flour (can supplement up to 1/4 c non-white flour such as wheat, spelt, etc)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
dash of vanilla

Add the vinegar to the milk and let stand for 5 minutes. ‘soured’ milk functions like buttermilk for recipes. After 5 minutes it will be somewhat lumpy on top.

Melt the butter. Add the egg and melted butter to the sour milk mixture, and whisk together thoroughly.

Add the dry ingredients to a bowl and mix well. Add the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly. The mixture can be a little lumpy, but get out any big lumps.

Spoon into a lightly greased or nonstick frying pan on medium heat. When small bubbles appear on the side facing up, flip the pancakes. This should take about a minute, maybe a little less if the pan is good and hot. Cook on side two until both sides are lightly browned.

Keep warm in the oven and repeat until the batter is gone. Makes about 12 medium pancakes.


Warm Things

The snow came to Sithean, more than three inches of it, and stayed as the world succumbed to a deep freeze. When I woke up Saturday morning it was 21 degrees F and the world was coated in an icy white blanket, a cold finale to all the things that grow.

I can only hope that the baby fruit trees survive, since we ran out of time to wrap them in their winter covers. I had expected chilly and a few snow showers this early, but not a freezing snowstorm. They look okay, but time will tell.

We all stayed curled up under blankets for a while, but eventually the need to get things accomplished pulled me from my cozy spot, and I started my final round of food preservation. Kale chips, which are simply washed kale, pulled in bite sized pieces off the stems, tossed in olive oil and salt, and baked for 10 minutes at 350 degrees, are some of my favorite treats. I made that last batch of salsa verde – possibly my best batch to date – and put together a simple chicken broccoli pasta with pumpkin-shaped pasta and then roasted a bunch of root vegetables in balsamic vinegar and olive oil at 400 F for several hours while my amazing husband pulled together a Halloween Scavenger Hunt, since trick-or-treating didn’t fit our risk model this year.

Which is hard, because the kids were pretty sad about it. Still, we counted our blessings and at least managed a quick hello to our amazing nanny/teacher Lauren, who had bags of treats and hugs for the kids.

By this morning, the snow was gone, but the grey skies remained. November, and Daylight Saving time is upon us, and we are in a rush to prepare for the rest of the cold weather – insulating windows, putting cozy flannel sheets on beds, ensuring that the log holder in the living room is well-stocked for fires.

And the season for warm, cozy food is upon us. This morning I tested out Gingerbread Brioche Cinnamon Rolls, and while the dough was far too dense and heavy for me and the kids to really enjoy, the flavors are amazing. If you make it, start with a 1/2 cup flour less than the recipe calls for, and roll the dough thinner.

I’ll be perfecting this one over time.

Sunday dinner is a revisit of Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon. Add to that a little prep work on Italian Pot Roast that I will put in the crock pot tomorrow morning, and thawing some chicken meatballs to go in lemongrass miso broth and we are set for a while. My goal this week is to have enough leftovers to get us through lunches and at least one dinner.

The chill may be creeping into New England, but inside Sithean we are cozy warm.

Letting Go

To everything there is a season is especially true in New England. And the season of gardens and flowers came to an end, simultaneously slowly and abruptly, with the onset of frost and impending snow. I ran out in the early evening after work last night, braving the cold rain to pick the last few pink tomatoes and a couple tomatillos. Everything else is harvested now, and what is left is soon to be gone.

The freeze that is set to follow it will kill all my plants, and then it’s a matter of pulling out the old, and planting some garlic and more bulbs around the yard before the dirt becomes impacted with ice for the season. This too shall pass – more words for gardeners. But there is still one final round of preserving work to do – a few more apple chips, that last batch of salsa verde, and a friend dropped off a garbage bag filled with kale to be turned into kale chips and blanched and frozen. Add to that our final CSA visit tomorrow, and the harvest is complete. I may get inspired to make apple sauce or apple butter, but by Sunday afternoon, what can be done for the season will be.

And while there’s some sadness in letting go, there’s also relief. Another season is past, and what will come next is to be seen. We enter another winter warm, safe and well-fed. A full cord of wood will help keep us cozy, some desperately needed new pipes provide our water and the squashes and preserves are just a tiny bit of the bounty that fills the freezer and pantry. For all that there is so much to worry about, my gratitude for the small things – enough to eat, a warm house, my morning walks, my family – is boundless.

I pray I never lose my ability to be grateful for the basics.

Now it is the tiny respite before the holidays, that few weeks where the doing of things – other than work and school – starts to wind down. This year the holidays will be mellow and quiet for us, and Eli and I will do something we’ve never done, in celebrating Thanksgiving with just the 2 of us while the kids go with their Dad. I love big family gatherings, but I’m truly looking forward to a quiet and lovely meal with my husband. We’ll do the big family things next year. I’ll cook a turkey and all the sides in December, because it wouldn’t be winter without it, but I don’t feel a need to keep everything ‘normal’.

It simply isn’t this year, and that’s okay.

I’ve reached the point where I don’t like where we are with this virus but I’m at peace with it. We’re home. We are creating our new normal, and that includes lots of cooking and doing house projects. Our groceries primarily arrive by delivery and we go out almost not at all, so much so that I recently realized my car inspection sticker had expired…2 months ago. We have almost finished a wide variety of house projects and winter preparations, with only insulating our old, leaky windows for the season left to go.

It’s time to take a breath. Here on the Sithean farmlet, there are of course, endless things to be done. Paint needing touching up. Closets and a chicken coop to be cleaned out. Laundry, cooking, planting the things that need to winter over out of doors.

But as I make my lists I also revel in how much we’ve accomplished.

When I look back on 2020, I will be sad about the virus running unchecked through the country, about 1000 acts of police brutality on protesters, about the housing insecure and the hungry, and that somehow in 2016 we elected a petty narcissist who wanted to tear down democracy and create an alternate sense of truth. My feelings on this are powerful, and I am unapologetic about them. But also I have let go of my anger at those who brought us here – and that, too, is an accomplishment.

I cannot ask for empathy for others who need it if I don’t first give it myself. 2020, then, is a year of evolution. If what we need is a shared reality to bridge our divides, I can either rail against those on the other side of the chasm or I can build bridges. I choose to build.

Tonight we will settle in with homemade pizza, a movie, and probably another fire in the wood stove. We will celebrate another week of hard work gone by and a weekend spent cooking and planting and continue trying, probably unsuccessfully, to teach Teddy the dog what it means to go for a walk (Dear Teddy, it means actually walking, not alternatively pulling my arm out of it’s socket or randomly lying down in the road).

Tomorrow we will celebrate Halloween in whatever way we can that involves no trick-or-treating. And while I don’t know what’s next, where we are is enough right now.

May you be warm and safe on your journey through the rest of this year.

It Will Be So Awful, It Will Be Wonderful: An Homage to Travel and Staying Home

Years ago, as a 20-something, I became obsessed with the idea of saving up for a year off, to travel around the world. I read, and saved and mapped routes and read some more.

Then I met my first husband, and instead of a year off those dollars went into savings for a house. There were trips sure, but there were kids and careers and that year-long trip around the world never happened. But at the time, it was my ultimate dream.

This was the early 2000s, and blogging was just starting up. And I stumbled across a travel writer called ‘Jet City Jimbo’ aka Jim Klima. He and his wife, Sue, went on an an African overland journey with Dragoman, one of the oldest overlanding companies. One of the most compelling installment stories I have ever encountered, it was called ‘It Will Be So Awful, It Will Be Wonderful‘. They spent a month trying to cross Zaire. They had to dig the truck out more than once. Flash floods. New people. It was both epic and amazingly human. The blog posts are sadly long gone, and I am firmly planted in my day to day life now. Still, despite the fact that Jim Klima and I never met, and he died too early of cancer, I owe him a lot. His words held me spellbound, and while I read many other travel blogs and books, only one other writer and book, Jeff Greenwald’s The Size of the World, ever came close to that level of immersive reading.

I didn’t want to just take the trip, I wanted to be that kind of brave and independent and free.

I started thinking about Jim Klima and his writing as we approach late fall here at Sithean. There’s still a bit of basil growing and some tomatoes ripening, but mostly it’s about harvesting everything we can. One or two batches of salsa verde are still waiting to be made, but other than apple chips and some applesauce, the preserving is basically done. Our CSA is winding down it’s last few weeks, and root and cool-weather crops dominate the harvest.

There’s no real travel being planned other than camping, and with infection rates spiking, we expect to turtle up even more. We are far, far from an overland truck in an African desert, but on some level, this is the same. We are deep in a pandemic in a time of political, climate and economic instability. Each of us, because contact is fraught, is traveling with a small group of people into strange places and circumstances we didn’t expect. We all hope that our jobs, pantries and bank accounts are going to protect us, but no one is sure.

Still, this odd time has also allowed Eli and to really consider how we want to live. I still think someday I would like to take that trip around the world, trekking the Dogon Escarpment, seeing the Fjords in Norway, and immersing in various cultures, but I am more focused in how we get, over the next several years, to a point of financial independence that allows us to do that whenever we are ready.

We’ve made some big outlays this year, and the most recent one was one that has been on the dream list for both of us for a long time – a small, tow behind RV. We knew we wanted one, but it keeps us safe and mobile for as long as the pandemic lasts, and long after.

But that, along with the other house maintenance and improvement projects, are investments for us. As we start to look forward to 2021 and onward, the number of things we need to spend money bottoms out. While we are a long way off from financial independence, it’s a place on the horizon. And while our outlays this year have been very large, we know they are for a purpose, setting ourselves up for a longer haul.

There’s awful to the pandemic, in that I miss our people, I miss traveling, and I worry about our kids being isolated. I worry for the world and people around me. But there are so many gifts also – time at home, the joys of watching my kids master sign language in homeschool, the slower pace that our mornings entail, the delicious food that comes out of our kitchen. The views from my morning walks, which never fail to take my breath away.

Tonight, it’s just E and I, and after a hike this afternoon, we will enjoy some homemade baba ganoush, pantzaria salad, made with garlic and beets grown less than 10 miles from home, and a recipe for meatloaf from one of my favorite cookbooks, Cooking From Quilt Country, based on a PBS series with Marcia Adams. The meat, too, is local. I love to roam, but I am also well-planted here, and content to be.

There’s no round the world travel in my future, but there’s a path to the freedom towards it. As we all traverse uncertain times, I hope my fellow travelers – all of you, are finding joy and wonderful in the awful.

And here’s to you, Jim & Sue Klima, for changing my little world.

A Breath in Autumn

It’s hard to believe we’re already well into October. Time seems to be passing so fast these days.

It was down to 37 degrees F two nights ago here and while the garden once again survived, it’s end is near. Yesterday morning I pulled 3 last zucchini, a few tomatoes and enough tomatillos to make another batch of Salsa Verde. The zucchini will be weekend meals and the bigger ones will go into the dehydrator with a little olive oil and salt. The tomatoes, especially the Sungolds, taste of sunshine still, but they won’t keep long unless I dry them. But I’m reluctant, because I want that sense of fresh summer produce to last.

Still, I can’t really complain because Autumn here is profoundly lovely, and truth be told, I’m a little tired of canning and preserving after a couple solid months of it. I am looking forward to the rest that comes with winter.

But first we must prepare for it. A cord of firewood arrived on Wednesday, and I have reluctantly capitulated to the necessity of the central heat on sporadically. We have started to remove air conditioners from windows and insulate them. The kitchen smells of soup and warm, cozy meals.

We celebrated my son’s 8th birthday yesterday, a day of joy and fun for all of us. We worry a lot about family members that are going through some tough times. And I am torn between watching the news and wanting to shut it all off. Of course, I can’t, because this time so much of what I truly believe in, so much of what I am for is at risk. Women’s rights. Equality. Economic security for all of us. Social safety nets. Healthcare.

The things that make strong, open, trusting societies. We’ve lost too much of that here. And all the while, Covid-19 numbers have begun to spike.

We start our final push towards our pre-adoption home inspection this week, we are decluttering still, and with some yard cleanup to do after a windstorm covered the lawn with leaves and pine needles.

I took a couple days off to extend the long weekend, celebrate 8 with my son, and to do all the things that need to be done. But I’m finding that I needed to take it off for other reasons – I’m getting burned out. I needed a couple days where schedules were more lax.

Some of my tired, our tired, because Eli is too, it is our own fault – we’ve done so much this year, too much. But some of it is the endless on button that is 2020, with always more meals to prepare, housework and yard work, schoolwork to help with, all the emotions (theirs and ours) of isolated kids, a job that basically runs 24/7 and and all the other things – chores, family time, etc – there’s this sense of never switching off.

And it’s taking it’s toll. Most of my friends aren’t sleeping that great. I know I’m not. Mental health is a huge thing for all of us, a large bucket encompassing everything from sleep to downtime to connection with others. The knowledge that it’s likely that we’ll still be in a similar situation – maybe a vaccine, but only 50% effective, and lots of people refusing to take it – at this time next year is a challenge to face. I’m profoundly lucky in all of this and my stress is off the charts. I think of those who are facing real challenges and then I feel kind of guilty for being so stressed, but that only makes it worse, not better.

So I’m going with one thing at a time. – one day, one moment, one tidied-up corner of the room, one more day when everyone ate and laughed and hugged. I’m counting my blessings. I’m going for walks. I’m telling people I love them more. Connecting. Letting myself go back to bed.

I can’t control the world around me. Some days I can’t even fully control my emotions. So I remind myself that so far, my track record for getting through tough days is 100%.

And so is yours.

Harvest

Photo by Eli5Stone

I woke up yesterday to a chilly morning, dark and 46 degrees F. It was cold enough Friday night that we brought the lemon tree into the house. Soon enough it will have to live inside again until May, along with the hibiscus trees, but not yet. Please not yet.

The garden seems to know that the end is coming. Pumpkins and squash are ripening faster, ready to be picked and cured for a few weeks – stored in a cool place before eating to let the sugars develop better – and the tomatoes require picking twice a day. Fall raspberries are producing in abundance, and the apple tree needs clearing off.

The dehydrator runs almost nonstop these days, mostly turning our cherry tomatoes into dried ones, to be packed in oil and used on our winter pizzas, pastas, and wherever else I can use them. My neighbors can the bigger tomatoes and the San Marzano tomatoes for me (I grow, they can, which is a fantastic arrangement).

Dehydrating tomatoes is easy – slice in half, coat in olive oil and salt, and pop in the dehydrator. Mine takes about 24 hours to turn into dried tomatoes but every dehydrator works a little differently. As soon as I get the next jar filled with dried tomatoes I’ll switch to making apple chips – adding a little lemon juice before drying keeps them from turning brown, but apples need no other help.

Our weekends are busy beyond compare these days, as we still work on cleaning and organizing on top of preserving, still finishing the projects we started in July and we have also started homeschooling, after determining that remote school wasn’t really going to work out for the kids. There’s more things to do than there is time, so we do as much as we can in priority order, jettisoning the things lower on the priority list for now.

Food preparation on weekends doesn’t get us through the whole week, but it does get us through several days each week. Today I’ll be making a double batch of Chicken Parmesan and thawing sausage for Lentil Sausage Soup. On top of that I’m going to finally make these treats for the kids, preserve some zucchini, which is still, unbelievably, producing in the garden, and start the process of making grape jam. My neighbors have Concord Grape vines, and there were more than they needed this year.

Despite all the things to do, the nonstop motion of our lives is winding down. In just a few more weeks all the preserving will be done. While housework, laundry and errands never end, we are beginning to see the end of the major reorganization and home improvement projects as well. This weekend, as we completely cleaned out and reorganized the living room and hallway closet, I could start to see the the light at the end of the tunnel. Sure, there will always be organizing to do, but the big stuff is getting knocked off. Soon enough, I’ll stop writing blog posts about how much we are doing and focus on one or two things (with recipes) to share again.

Even our newest household member, Teddy, is settling in. Teddy came to us from some family members, and is, even for me, who has never necessarily been a ‘dog person’ a fun addition. That he likes to canoe with us helps a great deal.

Teddy the Canoe Dog

But even despite that, we took the time to have a great dinner last night together, and watch a movie. In a few weeks we’ll take some time to do some fall camping. If the garden doesn’t get cleaned out and readied for the winter until November, and the laundry doesn’t get folded today, oh well.

When there’s everything to do, the best thing you can do is decide to focus on what you can, and avoid any pressure – internal or external – on your priorities. Through all this I try to remember the wise words that we are Human Beings, not Human Doings. And I rest, between whirs of the food processor. I hope you can too.

How Does My Garden Grow – August Bounty

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It’s been a little busy lately.  Late summer is easily the busiest time on the Sithean farmlet, and compounding our usual gardening/preserving/weeding/back-to-schooling of this time of year is some nuances related to the pandemic and some much-needed home maintenance as well as wrapping up our home reorganization as we prepare to adopt.

2020 is turning the year that both everything stopped being normal and we did absolutely everything. 

Just typing that reminds me that I’m tired.   I still watch the world, and there are wildfires and the aftermath of Hurricane Laura and police still detaining and shooting black people without reason and so many things that I see that just seem so wrong, but unlike the world of fear and chaos being painted by some, and not enough help for those in need, still I see hope.  Not Pollyanna-ish hope, but the tiny shoots through cracks in the pavement.   As the pandemic lingers and spins out of control in the US, reality is seeping through to all but the most denial-wracked.   My mostly-white community is awash in Black Lives Matters signs.  Protests continue, and the world is not complacent.  Whatever our new normal will be is not going to be as easy as what came before, but hopefully it will be more fair.  

This week is the first one in a while where we have time and the only pressing projects are cleaning and organization, and food preservation.   Well, and a long -needed hair appointment for me.  While Massachusetts case counts are low, I am scheduling key appointments – physicals, eye doctor appointments and dentist, and just a tiny bit of personal maintenance.  I’ve thought about giving up my hairdresser in favor of home haircuts  and no cost, but landed on keeping it in the budget 2-3 times a year.  

Rain has returned with some regularity to Sithean, for which I am profoundly grateful.  And just in time, because the garden is producing everything, all at once.  The tomatoes are ripening, the raspberries have returned to the vines, and all the pumpkins and squash are growing wherever they can throw out runners.   Which is everywhere.  Yesterday I found a pumpkin growing in the middle of the raspberry patch.  That should be fun to extract.  

This morning I blanched and froze kale, and this afternoon I’m starting another batch of zucchini relish, which fits right into my strategy of mass-produced homemade holiday gifts, making a pot of chili for easy lunches for a few days, and for dinner making a pot of cauliflower curry soup with goat cheese and pomegranate seeds, one of my favorite Halfbakedharvest.com recipes.

We have more basil than we know what to do with, and we’ll be giving away pesto as well as freezing as much as possible.  This year I’m determined to replicate the minestrone soup with pesto I ate one glorious day in Italy in 2004.  I’m going to start with this recipe and see if it needs adjusting.   

Because soup season is coming.  The nights are getting cooler, the geese are beginning to congregate in local fields before they head south, and my weekends are going to be spent in the kitchen.  

Garden season will last about another month, maybe 6 weeks, and at the end, the fruits of our labors will be waiting in bags and jars for us to eat.  

When in Doubt, Make A Plan

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It rained again the other night the tail end of Hurricane Isaias, which means now we have more zucchini the size of baseball bats to harvest from the garden.  Which is okay, because in addition to eating zucchini spiralized and sauteed in a myriad of dishes, zucchini makes amazing relish, and I’ll be making some more this weekend.  With, by the way, my new food processor, which a wonderful friend sent me after reading my last blog post.  What an amazing gift.  I cried.

This is a busy year.   We finished most of the junk removal this week (and by we, I mean Eli) and now it’s on to plumbing and tree removal, and we decided to splurge to have the living room and hallway painted for us in a few weeks, because we were buried in to-dos.  I’ll paint the kitchen myself this winter, but we have a sectional coming in a few weeks for the living room – a splurge because our existing living room layout will not easily accommodate a family bigger than 4 – and we want it done before then.   We don’t usually spend like this, but these are much-needed and budgeted things.

The garden is ripening fast.  I have a Red Kuri squash that’s almost ready to be picked, and pumpkins and squashes coming up fast behind them.  Winter squash storage is going to be a ‘thing’ this year, and a fun problem to solve.

 

 

Home life is somewhat all-absorbing right now, between kids, garden, projects and taking care of the house and yard.

Still, that’s okay, because I’ve been thinking.  Massachusetts Covid-19 cases are already starting to rise.  I have to assume that this is a result of re-opening, and it has already caused some slowing and cutbacks of the re-opening plan.  Plans for returning to school are underway, but it’s unclear what’s happening there too.  I certainly don’t have the ability to see the future.   So we are, in that absence of clear knowledge, making our plans.  Plans for school, plans to add more sustainable resources to our little farmlet, plans for saving, and plans for future fun.

I’m a huge fan of plans.  Do they all work out?  Oh, no, nope, not at all.  They stop, change and adapt.  But plans are a path to getting where you want to be, the project plan component of goal-setting, the process flow to set you on your path.

I’ve ordered some homeschool books, had the kids started listing things they want to learn about and been working with our babysitter to figure out how to keep her as long as we can, both from a financial and time perspective.   While we’re still holding to see if our schools can make something work that doesn’t mean the kids will have a challenging experience, we know that we’re not the experts.  We’ve been working on lists of what the kids might want to learn about (thanks for the idea, Mom!).  And I’ve been soliciting help, most specifically from my ex-husband’s Aunt Mary, who is a retired educator and author who homeschooled her now-grown son.  My older sister and my brother-in-law are also very experienced in this area, as are others.  They can’t do it for us, but they sure can help.   We’re planning and that plan will allow us to be ahead of the curve this fall.

Which brings me to an important point about setting goals and making plans – don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it (and give when it’s needed in return).  When I bought Sithean, I had basically no business buying a 170-year old house in need of tons of maintenance on 1 1/4 acres by myself.  There was so much, from plowing the driveway to tree removal to even basic things I couldn’t do myself, and in most cases didn’t have the budget for.  Once Eli and I met – actually re-met – my life became much easier, but before there was him, there was my neighbors, my parents, my ex and others who just…helped.  I still remember one night when the kids were with their Dad and I was going to do just one small thing to make the house nicer.  The toilet paper holders in the house were silver-painted plastic, and ugly.  I bought nice ones, and towel rods, just to do a little thing – I was on a very tight budget, and this was a splurge.  So off the kids go, and I open up the toilet paper holders and all there was in the box was drywall screws.  Mine were both installed in the side of vanities.  I didn’t have the right hardware, it was 9 pm at night (not my best time anyway, as I’ve mentioned) and I couldn’t even do this one little thing without assistance.

I sat on the bathroom floor and sobbed because I was so overwhelmed.  The next day as I relayed this to my neighbor over wine she said “So why didn’t you call us?  Jay would have come right over to help”.  My ex said “Next time, call me.  I’ll help” and proceeded to install them.  And so on.  And you know what?  Next time, I called.  Not too much, and so many times I returned the favors with another favor, but still – just because it was my goal doesn’t mean others wouldn’t help me to get there (she says, sitting in bed under the gorgeous red ceiling her Mom painted for her and for which I will be eternally grateful).   This was the true beginning of a mutual-help arrangement that my ex and Eli & I have, and I value it so much.

When you set your goals and make the plans to get there know that especially for the big ones, there will be a lot of unknowns about how you get from where you are to where you want to be.  They need patience and periodic revisiting.  I wanted a rose covered garden gate.  So I bought a gate and then 2 years later the rose bushes.  This year, they are starting to climb. I water and fertilize them as they need, tending to my goal every day.   As I walk through it, I stop to see if I can weave the growth through the gate.  In a few years, I will have a rose-covered garden gate.   Was this practical?  No.  Could that money have gone elsewhere?  Sure.  But every time I walk through the butterfly gate I’m happy.  Every, every time.

That too, has value.

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In the background is one of our less-than-mentally -gifted hens, who still gets confused about how to go back in the coop. Every single time.

Start with ‘this is what I want’ and then figure out what it will take to get there.  Do not be disheartened if you can’t right then and there.  That’s okay.  Take a step.  Then another.   Even if you get somewhere you didn’t quite expect when you started,  it will be closer to where you need to be.

And then, as you find yourself weaving rose canes (did you know the branches of a rose are called canes?  I didn’t either) through your proverbial garden gate one summer, you will think “I’m here”.  And the joy and gratitude will flow like a river.

Christmas In August

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As it rolls into late summer, and we begin to harvest more and more from the garden (translation: the zucchini is becoming unmanageable and we start to consider leaving bags on our neighbor’s doorknobs, and running away before they can catch us doing it and try to give it all back), our thoughts turn to the winter holidays.   No, it’s not that we don’t have enough to do – there is always way too much to do – but because this is exactly the time to get the winter holidays under control, or at least something resembling under control.

And this means I’ve been dicing a LOT of oversized zucchini.  I mean, a lot.  Because I do’t have a food processor. Yet.  It’s on my list but it will show up in my life when it does, and I’m in no hurry to shell out $200 for a good one, so instead I mince.  This is a fair bit of work but kind of mindless and I don’t really mind it.

More concerning is that the zucchini plants keep producing and if I take my eyes away for even 5 minutes they grow to the size of my leg.  If I left them there they would probably grow to the size of Godzilla, develop Artificial Intelligence and take over the world.

I pick them to save all of us from that fate.  You are welcome.

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But back to Christmas and getting that sorted.   The monster zucchini and endless chopping is a key component.

‘Sorted’ has multiple parts.  The first is budgetary – we’ve done varying degrees of spending on holidays, but we’ve really been working to ratchet it down, both for our immediate family and those around us.  Which means a lot of what we do is homemade.  This year, Eli will be making some gifts with his woodworking skills, and we as a family always do food gifts.  Baked goods, for sure, along with our ubiquitous Peppermint Bark, but there is always food in jars to accompany, along with a handmade tag by my husband.  Last year we made infinity jars of Salsa Verde, this year it’s masses of Zucchini Relish.

Here we come full circle to the dicing effort.

By my estimates, we need 16 jars of the stuff and some to keep, but maybe more.  I can make 3-4 jars at a time, and each batch takes about 24 hours, because the onions and zucchini bits need to brine in salt overnight.  So for right now, each day I make a batch of relish, and then chop the onion and zucchini for the next batch.

Once the 16 – or 20 – or something jars are canned and ready next week, they will be stored for the holidays, which is when everyone wants sweet pickle relish, right?  I mean, what’s December without that.  But seriously though, this stuff is really amazing, and a complete labor of love.

And then, we will set aside the jars in a cool dark place (translation: box in closet) until it is time to line them up, apply tags and add them to boxes of cookies to share.  But the effort will have been expended in August, also the planning.  There’s no need to think of what to get the people we love, because it’s there, complete and ready.

 

Zucchini Relish to Eat and Share
Makes 3 pints

8 cups zucchini, finely chopped or shredded
4 cups finely chopped or shredded onions (yellow or red)
1 tablespoon of salt

Combine zucchini, onions and salt in a bowl.  Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Rinse and the zucchini and onion mixture, then add to a large stock pot.

Add:
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups vinegar
2 1/2 tsp ground tumeric
3/4 tsp ground pepper
1 tablespoon of mustard seeds (any color)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 red pepper, finely diced
1 jalepeno pepper finely diced

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Bring the zucchini mixture to a boil for 5 minutes, and then turn off heat and let sit for about 15 minutes, which will allow the relish to thicken.  If you have hand-chopped the ingredients, use an immersion blender to process the mixture, leaving a fair amount of chunks.  Return relish to a boil and prepare your jars.

Here’s how I do the jars: I fill our water bath canner (this is an old enamel pot, but calling it my water bath canner is both accurate and sounds nicer than ‘old soup pot’) with water, and put it on to heat, immersing pint jars and rings. Wash the rubber lids separately, and don’t boil those.

Bring everything to a boil, and then when you are ready to can, pull out the jars onto a waiting towel.  Use a towel you don’t mind getting stained or dirty for this.

Fill the jars most of the way, leaving about 1/2 inch at the top.  Wipe off the rims with a wet towel and place the lids and rings on.  Be careful, because the jars will be pretty hot between the boiling and the relish.  Using a jar lifter or pair of tongs, place the lidded pints in the boiling water bath, making sure there’s enough water to cover them completely.

Boil for 10 minutes, remove the jars and set them aside to cool.  Once they are cool, remove the rings and lightly test the lids to make sure they have sealed by pulling on them just a little tiny bit.

Store in a cool place without the rings over the lids.

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How Does My Garden Grow – July 2020

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Spaghetti Squash

I figured I had better get motivated and publish this post before you know, July ends.  Which it’s going to, very shortly.  Which brings me to – holy heck this year is traversing it’s portfolio of months fast.  Except the back half of March, which lasted 3 years, I feel like every month of 2020 is lasting about 6 minutes.

I admit it, other than watering and checking in on the plants (okay tomatoes, RIPEN!) I’ve been ignoring the garden.  I did get a little weeding in the trench bed done last weekend, but between the fact that it’s been well over 90 degrees on the weekends, the work we’re still doing on the house and some commitments, the garden has mostly had to tend itself lately.  Which means it’s very weedy, but doing just fine.

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Birdhouse Gourd

But it’s gone completely insane.  In a good way.  The squashes and pumpkins are trailing everywhere, despite my efforts to make them stay up and orderly in their spaces.  Our zucchinis are regularly growing into things that could more accurately be described as baseball bats, and those are in the process of mostly becoming Zucchini Relish for holiday giving – it’s a bit of work, but this stuff is really delicious! And when we’re done with that, anything we don’t immediately eat we’ll shred and freeze the rest for baking.

Pumpkins and butternut squash, as well as one Red Kuri squash are also thriving.  From a curcurbita perspective, the garden is the most healthy and productive it has ever been.  The Rouge Vif D’Etampes pumpkins, lovely Cinderella pumpkins that are gorgeous to display and eat – I have at least 4 growing healthily on the vines that I can count.   I’ve always felt lucky to get even one.  This year is a squash year for sure.

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While my Son’s Jack Be Little pumpkin plant looks healthy it still doesn’t have any tiny pumpkins yet, but there’s time for that.

But I am still waiting on the first ripe tomato.  Yellow tomato flowers and green ones abound.  But for Sungolds and slicing tomatoes, along with the San Marzanos that feed my desire to make sauce – messy and time consuming, but so delicious in the winter when it’s cold and dark and nothing is growing – I continue to wait, making my pesto, watering my flowers, and dreaming of red and gold.

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