Friday, November 8, 2019

Salsa Verde Schools Me

The kids had off school due to elections, the sun was shining, and a real freeze was bearing down on us.  Clearly time to put the garden to bed.

When we were done stripping the tomato jungle that afternoon, I had a heaping dishpan full of little green tomatoes as well as a basket of bell peppers and a handful of berries.   

So I recalled a conversation with a market farmer back before life took a turn into crazy with sports; I was listing all the problems I had experienced with canning salsa and declaring that was IT, no more canned salsa, when she said simply that she'd never had a problem with tomatillo salsa, salsa verde.  Then she said she uses Marisa's recipe from Preserving by the Pint, which I already own and love. I use green tomatoes and tomatillos pretty much interchangeably - my research tells me they are cousins, and I know from experience they have a very similar flavor and texture.

Now staring down the heap of green tomatoes in my kitchen, I plunged in.  First I recruited Ben to take my Visa (no cash, wanted the points, knew the standholders and guessed they'd be ok with it) and go back to market for me to get cilantro, garlic, onions, and poblanos. Then on the way to pick up Genevieve from a friend's house, I stopped at the Latino market and got 20 limes for $2. I know that canning recipes specify bottled lime juice for the acid predictability, but I couldn't bear to drive further to a grocery store and buy plastic packaging with my lime juice. Marisa's recipe did not have cilantro in it, and I do love cilantro in salsa verde, so I grabbed a recipe online from Montana Homesteader. 
Photos with  me in them taken by Ben - good job, buddy!

I used a red poblano to make a batch of Marisa's salsa verde. Then I made the rest of the tomatoes into Montana's recipe with green poblanos, running the food processor like a crazy woman and getting Phoebe to pull some stems off tomatoes. 

I sent Ben to the basement for more wide-mouth pints; he came back with a measly one jar.  Certain he just wasn't looking, I sent Genevieve down (all the while pushing buttons and heating up leftover supper and watching the boiling water vat on the stove), and she came up totally empty-handed.  People, I used up all my wide-mouth pints! I thought I was over-supplied with jars! I finished up the canning with half-pints. 

The first canner-load had a jar bust in it, and I thought darkly of the salsa curse, but the rest of the jars sealed beautifully.

And then I snapped back to reality: I had not measured the lime juice, nor had I used bottled lime juice, and I had canned it in a water-bath.  Botulism visions danced in my head! I was so angry at myself for not doing more research, for not measuring the lime juice. I can low-acid foods in my pressure canner to negate botulism!  Why oh why didn't I find a salsa verde recipe that was pressure canned?  I decided I had to freeze my beautiful salsa verde, treat it like fresh, not canned, food.

But first, I talked to Rebecca, who listened to my woes and recriminations and seemed not all worried about it ("Are you sure it's a low-acid salsa? Green tomatoes are tart!"), but shrugged and said, why don't you pressure can it if you're worried?  The heavens opened and a light of reason shone on my head.  So I carefully broke the seal on all my salsa verde jars and pressure-canned their butts.

Here are my take-away thoughts:
find a salsa verde recipe before next fall  that uses cilantro and the pressure canner and not lots of lime juice to keep botulism fears away. Roast or grill the poblanos for a hit of smoky flavor.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Our Family Trip to Seattle and ONP

Back in June, we went on a family trip that we had been anticipating for a long time.  My husband and I had been saving money for years, funneling money into a savings account whenever we could, sometimes only $50 a month, sometimes nothing for a while. We wanted to take this trip before Genevieve started a job (that could happen very soon, friends! she just turned 14!) and after Phoebe was independent of diapers and naps and strollers and such. This summer was that perfect window.  Let's look at our trip through the thrift lens.

We chose Olympic National Park just west of Seattle because it looked like "Acadia of the west" according to my husband, and last summer, we had a super-successful family trip to Acadia in Maine. Our family does well with a location that allows slowing down and deep playing and gets us out in nature, so we lean towards national and state parks for vacations right now.

The kids adored flying on a big airplane to get to Seattle (my husband and I tried not to dwell on the environmental cost of the flying).  We booked our flights months ahead of time on Spirit Airlines - we only paid for two checked bags.  We did not pick our seats or take carry-ons.  Instead, we each had a personal item - a backpack filled with snacks and entertainment - and I chose all Air BnB houses in Washington that had washing machines so we could take limited clothing and shoes in our two checked bags. We flew out on a Tuesday, and home on a Wednesday, the cheapest days to fly, and the Wednesday happened to be July Fourth, so we got a free, beautiful fireworks show when our plane took off from Seattle at 10pm. It was perhaps not the smartest choice to fly a red-eye flight against the time change from West to East Coast, but we suffered through the first day back with coffee and early bedtimes, and then we were fine.

Because my husband travels a lot for work, he had saved up his rental car points.  We were able to rent a car in Seattle for 10 days for a little over a hundred bucks. Before we rented the car, we got around Seattle by bus and by Uber, which thrilled the kids.

We chose our activities in Seattle and Olympic National Park carefully, considering what really sounded fun and interesting to us. Some of the activities cost a lot of money, but that's what the savings were for!  We went on the Great Wheel of Seattle and on an under-the-streets walking tour; we explored the Klondike Gold Rush Museum (a national park - free!), and watched boats and migrating salmon at the Ballard Locks (also free!). We stayed with dear friends in Seattle, such a treat. We had to take a ferry to continue our drive to ONP and thoroughly enjoyed the wind, the wake, the novelty of the ferry from top to bottom. We loved the Forks Timber Museum and Makah Museum, but eschewed the (expensive) hot springs at Sol Duc for looking like a regular old swimming pool. We hiked and hiked and hiked - stopping to play in the water, pose in the trees, and just generally luxuriate in the crisp air and gorgeous sky and mountain views.

I had done some brainstorming ahead of time for meals that I could easily source from any grocery store that would be nourishing, cheap, and relatively easy to make, especially with the unknown kitchens in the AirBnBs I had booked.

This is what I did:
Breakfast 1: eggs, toast with butter/honey, fried mushrooms or oranges, coffee, milk
Breakfast 2: peanut butter/honey toast, bananas, coffee, milk
(We rotated between these two breakfasts)
Lunches: all eaten on the go from our backpacks around Seattle or ONP: bread, cheese, sardines (sometimes), pickles, granola bars, apples, seltzer
Dinner 1: jarred spaghetti sauce, spaghetti, steamed fresh broccoli
Dinner 2: grilled salmon with lemon, baked potatoes + butter, lettuce + croutons + olive oil & balsamic
Dinner 3: grilled kielbasa, pierogies sauteed with onion, (frozen) peas
Dinner 4: pasta + canned white beans + frozen spinach + garlic, roasted fresh cauliflower
Dinner 5: grocery store fried chicken, mashed fresh potatoes, sauteed fresh (local!) spinach with lemon + butter

We did eat four meals out when it was otherwise not possible to cook (travel days) or there was a really cool local place we wanted to try, and we also had some ice cream snacks and espresso and such along the way.
Fun with pipe-cleaners while we wait for food; the backpacks eased the tedium at other times, not just the flights

We ate every last scrap except a half-jar of peanut butter before we boarded the plane, and the security people threw our peanut butter away because it was classified as a liquid and thus illegal to take on the plane. Peanut butter as a liquid!
My plane buddy after the red-eye flight, 3:30am in our bodies when the plane landed.

Overall, this trip was a huge success. We did not actually use all of our vacation savings, and we have immediately started building it up again.  I was worried that Phoebe was still too little to benefit much from the trip, but oh my goodness, if you ask her, she will still tell you about the Great Wheel over the ocean and about nurse logs in the Hoh Rainforest and when she rode in the canoe with Mommy and Daddy while Genevieve and Ben had a kayak.  She was perfectly behaved and occupied on the 6-hour flights (another worry of mine), and occasionally she and I stayed at the AirBnB in the afternoon so she could catch up on her naps and mama could, whew, do her introverted thing. Now that I've actually sorted through my photos, I'm going to make a photo book to go with the travel journal we kept - using a coupon for a free book, of course!

Monday, October 28, 2019


I don't care for perfectly matching fabrics, nor do I like totally random; I like to see the fabric all speaking the same language, I'm looking for the theme.  Look at my patchwork here:  to me, all these fabrics have something to say in dark, bold colors.
Utensil/straw rolls made for J

 I literally lay fabrics next to each other to see if they speak the same language.  Their message surprises me constantly!  Like a chorus, maybe, where the different parts create harmony as well as dissonance in service of the whole song.
Hotpads made for my friends R & P

 I know some patchworkers use viewing tools and computer programs to match the fabric to their liking:  good for them, not for me.  I prefer fast and loose with a whiff of mystery:  how will it turn out?  Not always to my liking, but always interesting.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

What I Did Yesterday

Friends! I was swept under the tide of big kids' activities this fall, and I dropped everything I could to keep my nose above the water.  For me, that meant keeping up with the laundry, good food, and bills/paperwork, and everything else had to wait. I'm eager to get back to you!  

Last week, Phoebe and I picked out a custom blend of apples to make applesauce: Fuji, Grimes Golden, Gold Rush, and Smokehouse. Twenty bucks for two bushels of apples, a good price.  I really should have read my canning notebook more closely, though, because I would have met my applesauce goal with 1 1/2 bushels.  In the spring sometime, I take inventory of the preserved food in freezer and cupboard, and then I set some targets for the year's preserving.  

So I stashed the apples in the basement until I could clear a day to make applesauce.  Phoebe was keen to help, hooray, so I planned for a day when she did not have preschool, but her help couldn't extend much beyond washing jars.  Hot apples in a food mill are too much for a four-year-old.  

I made a grand total of 33 quarts of applesauce yesterday.  Oh, I was tired! I did not do laundry, go food shopping, or editing.  I stood in the kitchen and canned.  But the resulting applesauce, from those four kinds of apples, is so delicious: deeply rich apple flavor with no sugar needed, thanks to the sweet Fujis.  And now my canning goals for the year are all crossed off.  

Putting some tomato-canning photos in here as well!

Here's my list from this year, basically in chronological order: 
7 half-pints strawberry freezer jam
18 pints frozen blueberries
13 pints frozen sour cherries
25 pints frozen corn
17 pints dilly beans
3 quarts frozen green beans
8 pints pickled red beets
9 pints bread & butter pickles
3 half-pints blueberry syrup
5 half-pints pickle relish
10 pints 7-day sweet pickles
5 half-pints duck sauce
2 quarts frozen grape pie filling
3 quarts grape juice
4 half-pints spiced grape butter
21 pints pizza sauce
14 quarts tomato soup
28 quarts whole tomatoes
7 half-pints pimentos
3 half-pints peach jam
33 quarts applesauce

And I'm back on the laundry today, with a grocery shop planned as well. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Red Sundress, Almost Kitschy

This is a summer work dress: cool and breezy in 100% cotton, printed and dark enough to look decent through splashes and dirt from canning and gardening, and not restrictive at all for lifting and bending and wrangling and the full workout. I love it!

The bandanna fabric could be cutesy and kitschy; I sort of itched to pair it with rick rack or calico or even some crocheted lace.  But no: cute is not my look.  But still: I wanted just a little pizzazz somewhere.

  Look closely at the yoke in the front:  I hand-sewed running stitches in black and white perle cotton around some of the circles and squares!  Subtle and happy. 

Also, inside the dress, I made the channel for the drawstring out of striped blue cotton and finished the hem in light blue bias tape.  I really need a little fizz somewhere in my clothes, a little patchwork effect if you will.

I used this dress pattern seven years ago, the second dress I ever made for myself.  This time around, I did not widen the bodice, and I'm really pleased with the fit.  I wish I had made the red dress a touch longer.  Also, I have to say I no longer own that plaid sundress because the fabric turned out to be part polyester as plaids often can be, and I really cannot abide that wrapped-in-plastic feeling in the summer.

Genevieve took these photos of me as I ripped the unholy mess of cucumbers out of my raised beds.  That was extremely satisfying. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Summer of the Cucumbers

I have accidentally not blogged since June! Hello! How is your summer going now that it is ending? Mine was really nice and I have no reason for the lack of blogging except perhaps I was buried under a heap of cucumbers?

My family loves kosher dills/fermented cukes/sour pickles so much, and I had a hard time finding good pickling cukes, so I decided to use my raised bed space for cucumbers instead of green beans this year. I have tried cucumbers maybe once or twice before and got basically nothing: the vines wilted or the leaves got powdery or something ate everything.

Well. I planted the whole packet of Parisian Pickling Cucumbers, timing them to be ready once we got home from our big Seattle trip (there's a post!) and figuring that I'd only get a handful anyway if I was lucky.  Well no.  Turns out, this is The Summer When All the Cucumbers Grow.  All my friends who planted cucumbers are overflowing and pickling and laughing in disbelief.

As a cucumber novice, I am not very good at getting the buggers at the little pickling size I wanted. Overnight, they grew six inches into logs!  Which were bitter and seedy and tossed on the compost pile.

I made gallons and gallons of fermented cukes (method below).  I also made two batches of bread and butter pickles from the Mennonite Community Cookbook, as well as 7-Day-Sweets, a childhood favorite that involved pouring boiling water over the cukes several days in a row to make them crisp.  Why does this work?  I don't know, but it does.

I made pickle relish, fridge pickles, and salad after salad.  Because I planted so many plants close together and did not water them regularly, but regularly let some of them get too big, I had to deal with bitter cucumbers.  I tried cutting off the stem end and then rubbing it on the cut end until a bitter white foam came out.  I tried salting sliced cukes and then rinsing them.  My best success was slicing cukes and soaking them in salted ice water for about an hour, then draining and rinsing.

Last week, the cucumber plants finally showed signs of slowing down, so I yanked them out.  I still have over 1 1/2 gallons of fermented dills in the fridge, plus fridge pickles, and a crisper drawer full of cucumbers.  On my to-do list:  "decide what to do with cukes."  I guess we will eat pickles for every meal this winter?

Did you plant cucumbers this year and get a roaring crop? Or is something else bursting from your garden?

Fermented Dill Pickles

In a half gallon glass jar, combine:
1 Tbsp. fine sea salt (not iodized)
1 quart room temperature non-chlorinated water
1 Tbsp. dill seeds
1 tsp. dill weed
1-2 garlic cloves, sliced

Stir and/or set aside until salt is dissolved.

Wash and trim ends from small pickling cucumbers - I usually kept them under 4" and a thumb-size diameter. Drop them into the brine, shaking and pushing to fill up the jar but making sure they can all be submerged. May need to add a little more water and salt.   Keep the pickles submerged under brine by filling a smaller jar with water and capping it and setting it in the jar on top of the pickles.
Set jar in room temperature for 48 hours.  Should see foam and bubbling action.  Scrape off the foam before capping and storing in fridge. Keeps indefinitely in fridge. Sometimes I use a cup or so of the brine in a new jar of fermented dills. If you have fresh dill, use 2 heads or so in place of the dried stuff.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Bag Lady

Here is a vintage apron that a child-who-shall-not-be-named got silver paint and tacky substances on.  To be fair, the apron was given to this child in desperation that clothing not be ruined in experiments that parents generally despaired of, but still.  I salvaged some unstained parts, including the pocket, and made it into a produce bag for my market cart. I have a lot of pretty bias tape, and I've been using it on purpose recently I guess so I can feel free to find more at the thrift store. That's a weird little mind trap!

I did a sewing-for-massage trade with a friend (so wonderful!).  The piece she asked me to resize was from Nepal and when the scraps where tumbled on my floor, I suddenly saw a bag to make.  The solid colors are so great and strong together, and that pretty ruffle is just right.  I actually used the scraps entirely to make this bag.  Satisfying.

The last bag ushers in a new era: an e-reader.  Oh my.  I do adore books, but I could not picture fitting enough books in my luggage and carry-on to keep me happy for an upcoming trip.  Obviously an e-reader is the way to take 40 books along, most for me but a few for my husband and kids just in case.  I only bought two with a coupon that came with the e-reader.  The rest are free downloads, mostly old books whose copyright has expired and have been digitized for such a time as this. Here is the helpful article that led me to books I wanted to read.

The e-reader seems sturdy enough, but I still feel pretty protective towards any screens I have purchased (and let me tell you, it has been a new phone and a new iPad recently, too, and I am sick of it). So I made a little padded bag - sturdy upholstery fabric on the outside, batting scraps in the middle, and lined with a flannel shirt scrap from my husband - with the pocket positioned to hold the charger.  I'm very pleased with it. 


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