Monday, October 31, 2011


It was a full and wonderful weekend!

:: We enjoyed the last of the fresh summer tomatoes.

:: Spent a day working out on the farm.  The sky, the sun, the trees, the fields - it was all just perfect.

:: Ate lots of delicious food in celebration of my good friend's marriage.  I love that chocolate and celebrations generally go together.  Yum.

:: Watched this adorable baby (and another not pictured) running around all weekend.  So cute and such a handful!  Way to go, moms, you're rock stars.

:: Loved and celebrated this friend as she became a wife.

:: Talked with old friends not seen in a while and made some new ones.

:: Started some more Christmas knitting.  I'm making progress!  And I chose thick yarns to speed the process along.

:: Looking at the state of our house after this weekend and building motivation for some serious cleaning.

:: So thankful for the fullness, joy and beauty in this life.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

on the book stack

Once again I have maxed out my library card with 5 books.  Actually, Canning and Preserving didn't come in until after I had checked out my 5 so I had to make the difficult choice of which one to return in exchange for it.  So then, let's start with -

Canning and Preserving with Ashley English.  I've heard so much about this book for quite a while now; I follow her blog and I did what I could to finally track down this copy of her book on canning.  It is quite a pretty book.  Most of the pages are taken up with explaining exactly how to can in a thorough, step-by-step way.  Of all of the reading I have done on canning, I'd say that this book has the best total-beginner friendly introduction to the whole process.  That said, I'd already gathered all of this information from reading so many other sources.  Her recipes are mostly the standard ones that you'd want to know at the beginning and then she has a few with a more creative flare.  If you have never canned before and want great instructions (with pictures!), this is the book for you.

While I'm at it, I'll let you know about the other preserving book I have at the moment - Well-Preserved by Eugenia Bone.  In contrast to Ashely's book, this one is mostly recipes and all of them are on the more unusual side.  This book also includes recipes that incorporate the preserves into a meal.  My husband and I were salivating just looking at the pictures.  Not only that, Eugenia provides recipes that would be difficult to find elsewhere such as how to can tuna, process marinated baby artichokes and cure bacon in your apartment (I'm so going to try this).  She also knows how to put the beginning canner at ease.  The book starts by addressing my greatest fears about canning.  She writes, "I think the reason more people don't can is ultimately that they're scare of botulism poisoning.  Understandable.  But if you educate yourself on the simple science underlying safe canning, it will put those fears in perspective and open the door to really cool cooking experiences."  She goes on to explain that science and then at the beginning of every recipe (all of which she has carefully tested), she explains why it is "safe" to process it the way that she calls for.  Very reassuring; I'm inspired!

The Vouge Knitting book is an encyclopedia of stitches to help me come up with my own designs.  Once you know how to construct a certain garment, you can make it your own by playing with different stitch patterns, which I plan on doing just as soon as I learn how to construct more types of garments.  In the mean time, I'll stick to embellishing socks, mittens, fingerless gloves, and scarfs.  Last-Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson is to help me with my long Christmas list!  I like her other book, More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts, so I'm hopeful to find a few things that work in this one too.  We'll see!

I haven't read Slow Food yet, but the foreward is by Alice Waters so I anticipate good things.  I follow Slow Food USA on facebook and use their Chicago-specific website for some resources.  I'm all for the mission of Slow Food, so I'm excited to see what this book has to say.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

dear 'anonymous'

[see comments in previous post]

(ahem).  I made you some cookies.

They'll be waiting for you when you get home from work ... well, most of them anyway.

{These totally delicious cookies are from a recipe in the American Classics cookbook put out by Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen - Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies - oh yeah.}

plans for today ...

... out of doors today seems not so pleasant.

... this spot on the couch might be just right for accomplishing the day - add slippers and tea.

... finally got my hands on Ashley English's book!  I haven't even opened it yet, but I'm thrilled with anticipation.   Reading these preserving books at the end of fall might have been a bad idea, though, because it tempts me to just go to the grocery store and buy out of season just so I can try the recipes!  We'll see ...

... Christmas presents!!  Half-way done with present number one (out of ... sigh, 10?)  After this, I'm turning to Last-Minute Knitted Gifts.  If you'd like to know what it is that I'm knitting, you can check my projects page on Ravelry.

... there may need to be some baking today to warm up the house.

... packing for a good friend's wedding this weekend!!!

... dinner plans?  hmmn.  I'll think while I'm knitting.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

more adventures in preserving


I don't even like pears all that much, but I must say that after cutting up so many of them I have become convinced that they are a sexy fruit - not the pears just sitting on the counter, but once you cut them open.  Additionally, they smell delicious while cooking! 



Drying herbs is simple and rewarding.  I don't know why it took me until the end of the season to try it!  I started drying a bit of thyme from the plant I keep on my windowsill.  Freshly-dried herbs look and smell so wonderful - I finally understand why cookbooks tell you to throw away your spices after one year.  A small amount of these herbs makes a huge difference in a recipe!  And, while the spices are drying, they make for some rustic decoration.  I do dry stems in paper bags as well though, and I think that method works better - it's just not as pretty.  Herbs should be considered a gateway drug into growing and preserving.  As long as you have a big enough pot (with proper drainage), some sun, and sufficient watering, you can grow herbs.  Thyme and rosemary are my two of choice.  Love them!  But grow something that you would like to use fresh in the kitchen.  Drying is just about as simple.  Cut, clean and dry some stems, bunch and hang or simply put loosely in a paper bag, leave out of direct sun for a week or two, then pull the leaves off and store!

In the future ... well, I've been reading Well Preserved by Eugenia Bone and learning of some exciting possibilities!  More on that later :-)

Friday, October 21, 2011

{this moment}


A Friday ritual. A single photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember ~ SouleMama.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

on the book stack

Armed with a library card last week, I promptly checked out my maximum number of books, which you see pictured here.  Sadly, my local branch doesn't have many books on the shelves and the enormous library downtown (which is totally awesome!!) is so massive that it's difficult to browse the shelves.  They've also sorted their books according to the Library of Congress, which makes no sense to me and means that I have to travel between the 4th and 6th floors to find the books I'm looking for.  I'm sure I'll learn, but in the mean time, I actually had trouble finding 5 books that I wanted - a very strange problem for me.

Cider by Proulx and Nichols was quite a useful book.  I read it before we made our hard cider.  In some ways though, it offers way more detail than you actually want unless you're brewing cider for real - as in, multiple gallons.  The back part of the book also strictly warns you about the penalties of attempting to distill any kind of alcohol from cider and even stays that it's not trying to encourage it, but then goes on to tell you how apple jack and apple brandy are made.  I'm not particularly tempted, however;  $10,000 and up to 5 years in prison just doesn't seem worth it.

A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove - it looked interesting and I have not read it.  I will likely return it without reading it but I picked it up because it talks about the history of women and what their life was like in relation to the hearth.

Easy, Green Living by Renee Loux.  I read this cover to cover over a year ago now and would consider it my primary education in environmental and other types of toxins and pollutants.  She also lists quite a few resources and ideas to reduce your exposure to such things and to protect the environment.  I do believe that we are responsible for our impact on this world and this books helps explain how the choices you make will either help or harm.  I make better decisions now, I think.  I got it out this time though, to help me modify some of the suggestions in Home Comforts, which extols the virtues of chlorine bleach.  I'm still undecided what role bleach will play in our life but it will likely be just a very, very small one.

Small Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard - I put this book to relatively good use just the other day.  Honestly, it wasn't quite the book I was looking for.  I was searching everywhere to get a hold of Ashley English's Homemade Living: Canning and Preserving, but the copy at my branch was checked out ... as were all 4 of the copies at Harold Washington (the big library) and they were also checked out at almost every other branch as well!  But I needed to get those apples into cans, so this is what I came up with.  Not bad.  Not as instructive as this beginner would have liked.

Another self-sufficiency book.  This book, Self-Sufficiency in the 21st Century, was clearly inspired by the same book that originally inspired me to start working in that direction - The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It, by John Seymour.  I was actually trying to check this book out of the library, but when I got to the self it had apparently already been taken, so I took the above book instead.  It's cool and tells you how to make your own energy and grow wildlife refuges and build eco-houses partially underground.  But John Seymour's book does most of that as well - with pretty drawings.  I'd still say that if you're looking for a book that will inspire you to live more in touch with the land and do your best to move towards self-sufficiency, The Self-Sufficient Life is what you're looking for.

I realize that Home Comforts is not in the picture, but that doesn't mean that I haven't been reading it!  I'm maybe close to halfway through now.  Just the other day I was getting ready to do laundry and thought to just read the chapters on laundry before I start ... 2 hours later, I actually started sorting my laundry.  Although that's an absurd amount of reading for just laundry, it covered absolutely everything I'd want to know (except in relation to the environment, hence Easy, Green Living) and I believe that my clothes and such came out much cleaner this time around.  Now I feel that if or when we get new clothes, I will be able to make the look good and last for much longer.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

when life gives you apples {part 2}

Following closely on the heels of the apple cider, was...

Apple Project #2: Apple Butter

Last year, when we came home from a weekend trip to Wisconsin with a bushel of apples, my list of what can be done with them grew from "apple crisp" to include, "apple cider, applesauce, and apple butter."  As I wrote before, apple cider is not the easiest thing to do with apples.  However, it's possible to just boil quartered apples with some spices and get apple cider that way as well.  Applesauce is also a great thing, but I don't like eating it.  I think I'm just confused as to what to do with it besides eat it plain - just ... a bowl of applesauce ... But then there's apple butter.  My first time making or eating this great stuff was last year.  Delicious!  Need something to go on your bread?  Apple butter.  Ran out of syrup?  Apple butter.  Oatmeal getting a little boring?  Apple butter.  You could probably put it in yogurt too but I haven't tried that yet.

So when it came around to dealing with another huge batch of apples this year, we made apple butter.  The thing that makes this apple butter very special, however, is that we canned it!!  Yes.  My first-ever attempt at this type of home preservation.

I have to admit that I made my way through rather nervously.  You can't read a canning guide without being warned constantly about the possibility of accidentally poisoning anyone who eats what you made.  From what I've read, though, it's best to follow a proven and up-to-date recipe, especially when it comes to processing times.  The USDA has an excellent guide with basic recipes that I found helpful and reassuring.  All of my jars made a nice 'pop' while cooling and I have tested all the seals to make sure they're good, so I would say we were successful.  I still have a whole bunch of apples left and I came home with almost as many pears from the farmers market, so there will be more preserving in this kitchen in the next few days!  Also, having a helping hand really makes things go better, especially if those hands are your loving husband's.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Prairie Path Garden Plot #204

{the end}

With temperatures now dropping below 50, I'm sure a hard frost is just around the corner.  But for plot #204, the season has already come to an end.  Living in Chicago and keeping a little garden plot 25 minutes away just doesn't work out very well.  This weekend, we will likely be pulling up all of our lovely plants and putting the bed to rest before the snow.

These pictures are from a few weeks ago.  I stopped by when I was in the area last week to see what, if anything, was happening and it's now much more brown than green.  The tomato plants are still making a riot scene of the back half of the garden though.  We may need some clippers to help us clear them out when the time comes.  I wasn't expecting to find more than a few little tomatoes hanging on to brown branches, so I was rather surprised with our final harvest.

And yes, that is a cowboy hat - it was in the trunk for whatever reason and proved to be just what I needed.  A rather motley looking harvest and I doubt if some of those tomatoes will ripen, although they're currently wrapped in newspaper on the counter, so we'll see!

These last few weeks may have been the strangest in terms of produce.  Somehow we're still getting a few tomatoes and eggplants but we're also getting huge pumpkins and other winter squash - apples and pears but still peaches.  The markets these days still manage to have almost everything in this strange overlap of cooler but not too cold days.

Now that the growing season is almost over, I find myself thinking of what we'll do next year.  For one, we'll need to get more fruit.  We've been seriously deprived this summer (due to budget, not nature) and I'm not sure yet what concessions I'll make to get some over the winter.  Likely I'll allow California to be considered "local" until spring brings us food again.  And what will we do for growing anything of our own?  We're connected to a few people who started a community garden up the street from us.  It has promise!  For now though, I will content myself with the last tomatoes, some big pumpkins and more apples and pears than I currently know what to do with and start my reading and planning and dreaming once again. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

when life gives you apples {part 1}

We now have home internet!  Ideally this means that posting will not be such a challenge now.

On to the excitement at hand ...

Last week I wrote about our lovely time apple picking.  If you haven't gone yet, you really must go this weekend.  Fall is so much better when you have more apples than you know what to do with.  Take this also as a warning that there may be quite a few apples posts in the next few days!

Apple project #1: Brew hard apple cider

Originally, we were going to make our own cider and then ferment it, but as the moment approached and I looked into how to make cider, we decided to take an easier route.  Making small batches of apples into cider involves shredding apples in a food processor and then putting them in cheese cloth, pressing them under some kind of weight for a while and catching the runoff.  While this is do-able, it was 7:30 pm on a Thursday night and I didn't want the kitchen to become a huge, sticky mess.  Maybe once we get some kind of backyard with a hose ... but in the mean time, Whole Foods sells these glass jugs of unfiltered apple juice (basically, cider without any spices) which are basically ready to go.  It's great!  Add some sugar, pour in some yeast and put an air lock on the thing - wait for a long time - end up with hard apple cider!


This is not something to try if you need immediate gratification.  We mixed everything in, finally got the cork to stay in to our liking and then we watched it for a few minutes.  Nothing happened.  Then we worried about it, watched it a little bit more and then realized that there's nothing we can do about it, so we went to bed. 
The trouble is, we will probably have to wait a few months before we can actually try it.  Yes, months.  I think we'll need to hide it in our pantry so that we can forget about it and not be tempted to try it any time soon!  Our first foray into the world of home brewing - exciting and anti-climactic but hopefully tasty a therefore successful.  I'll let you know.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

in the back seat

I am, in fact, a fruit courier.  Part of being the manager of a very tiny sometimes-we-have-no-farmer farmers market is that I must purchase and transport produce every week.  Almost every Friday since the beginning of the season and every Saturday, my back seat is stuffed with rather large amounts of farm produce.


People carry many stranger things in their cars, I'm sure, but it does feel a little odd to look back and see 10 pumpkins just sitting there happily.  I'm glad for it though, and it makes a truly lovely display when it all gets out on the table.  Fruits and vegetables are just so beautiful!  No matter what I order for a market, I always seem to have complementing colors.

In other totally unrelated news - I now have a Chicago Public Library card!  So excited.  Apparently they're on to me though, because I'm limited to 5 items at a time for the first month.  Hmmm.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

autumn treasure: apples

Although it has been unseasonably warm this past week, my internal clock is telling me that I should be eating all things apple right now.  Growing up in suburban - on the edge of rural - Massachusetts, I remember going apple picking almost every fall - Honeypot Orchards (I think it was called) or some other family-type establishment.  People would travel to our area just to see the amazing fall foliage and pick our apples.  We even grew up singing the Johnny Appleseed prayer, "O the Lord is good to me and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need like the sun and the rain and the apple seed.  The Lord is good to me."  Apple orchards, to my mind, are grassy, hilly, not very crowded and you can buy apple cider and maybe another apple product or two from a quaint but functional farm building.  You park on the grass, you pick apples and then you pay for your bags.  Lovely.

Last weekend we attempted some apple picking with a few friends.  A rather long journey out to farm country brought us to this less-than-idyllic sight:

We didn't end up with apples that day. [Long story short - there were so many people there that while we were waiting in line to get in to pick apples, we were told that we were no longer guaranteed that there were apples on the trees, so we'd have to pick them out of bins.  We said no to that.]   But the weather was beautiful and we had wonderful company.  Still, our desire for apples, and lots of them, was as of yet unfulfilled.  This weekend, we had equally beautiful weather and headed out once again in search of a different orchard experience.  We picked one that advertised "no corn maze or hay rides or entrance fees" as well as "heirloom apples."  We were not disappointed!

Braeburns, Blushing Golden, Jonathan, windfall McIntosh, heirloom Snow and Spitzenburg.  *sigh* There is something just so wonderful about apples.  The trees carry a kind of history with them.  It takes quite a while for an orchard to come into full production - many, many years.  In that way, planting an orchard is different than planting a garden.  When you plant small fruit trees, you are committing to care for that land for most of your lifetime (or hoping that someone else will if you must leave). 

This orchard that we visited was clearly a family operation.  One part of the barn is devoted to World War II models and collector's items that I assumed belong to the elderly gentleman who ran the counter, who I would also assume has owned this land for much or all of his life.  If (or maybe when) we find the right land for homesteading, I hope it already has a few fruit trees.  This is quite a lot to hope for, but part of me just doesn't want to wait so long to get a full harvest of fruit!  We shall see, for that's still somewhere in the future.  For now, I will content myself to imagine and romanticize the past of the family orchards where we gather our apples for crisps, cider, jams and delicious snacking.  Apples, above all other seasonal treats, allow me to welcome autumn with open arms.