August 31, 2009

Now and later: an adventure in food preservation

Posted in Daily life, Food tagged , , , , , , , , , at 10:28 pm by Lauren

“So when can I have some of those peaches?”

Allen is referring to the three cans of peaches I put up in a simple syrup yesterday. I give him a look and say, “Later.”

He is not happy with this answer. “I can’t have any peaches now because we made them to eat later, when I can’t have peaches. But I can’t have peaches now! Because they’re all for later, when I can’t have peaches! Get it? It doesn’t make any sense! When can I have some?”

(I checked this quote with Allen – to ensure accuracy – and he laughed and said, “Yeah, that’s pretty good.”)

I agreed that he could have some peaches if he’d consider letting me buy 15 pounds of peaches at the farmers market on Friday after tasting the peaches and deciding that they were so delicious that we should have more, to eat later, when we can’t have peaches.

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All of this is to say that I did some food preserving yesterday, after being inspired by Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where she not only talked about end of harvest canning, but brought up the point that local farmers have to live in December on what they earn in August (which, since I like the idea of having local organic food available to me, seemed like a good basis for a sort of humanitarian effort). I bought The Busy Person’s Guide to Preserving Food at Home, read it end to end, made a list of things I could possible can, freeze, or dehydrate, obsessed about dehydrators online (fruit leather!), and ultimately decided to either freeze or can (least materials required) whatever I found at the farmers market that looked good.

With this all in mind, I trekked to the Ballston Farmers’ Market on Friday with Stephanie and the girls. I picked up two containers of okra (some of it four inches long!), seven beets, huge red tomatoes, and quite a few fragrant peaches. I brought it all home and poured over my preserving book again. It took me two days before I actually got around to preserving it (by which point Trouble had impressed his teeth into two of the peaches and attacked the okra), and in that time I read and reread the recipes and information on preserving tomatoes and peaches. (In the meantime, I hid the produce.)

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Finally, I’d decided all their fates. Canning in a simple syrup for the peaches. Kingsolver’s recipe (from the book) for spaghetti sauce (which appealed because it called for nutmeg, honey, cinnamon, and lemon peel along with the traditional oregano, thyme, parsley, etc). For the beets, I decided to make a delicious beet puree soup from Cooking Light and freeze it. With the okra, I chose a repeat of a summer vegetable salad (also from Cooking Light). Of course these latter two recipes necessitated another trip to the (this time Columbia Pike) farmers market to pick up additional vegetables. The only things I could not find locally were green onions and lemons, so I cheated and picked those up at the grocery store. And thus I started my project.

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I found everything I needed for canning at Ayer’s, a “variety store” and hardware on Washington Boulevard across from Lost Dog and Stray Cat. I prepared all the mason jars and their lids. Then I pureed the tomatoes and combined the 15 or so ingredients for the tomato sauce. I eventually got around to reading the next part of the recipe: let sauce simmer and boil down 2 to 3 hours. Okay, on to the peaches then!

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The peaches had softened a bit in the two days they waited for me to can them, and they were looking a little worse for wear. I blanched them and tossed them in cold water to peel off the skin. Then I cut away any bruises because my book said to use unblemished fruit (and that was the best I was going to do). I ate the parts that Trouble had munched on. (Don’t judge!) I packed the good slices into the jars and covered them with a medium simple syrup.

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Eventually the peaches came out and the spaghetti sauce boiled down. I hot packed the spaghetti sauce, and it made five jars! But since the pot I was using as my canner would only take four at a time, I decided that the fifth jar would go into the fridge for use in the next couple weeks. I’ll let you know how it is. (The burns on my tongue suggest that it’s good, but I’ll need to test it some more.) Behold my bounty!

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Not being one to stop while I am ahead, I started the beet soup while the spaghetti sauce jars were processing in the boiling water. The pictures I took of it don’t do the rich magenta color justice.

So now the all-important question: would I do it again? I think so. Maybe next weekend. With more peaches.

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But you can’t have any. Not until later when you can’t have peaches.

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August 21, 2009

White ribbon at the county fair

Posted in Cross Stitching tagged , , , , at 1:18 pm by Lauren

Cate and I went to the Arlington County Fair last night, and I’ve given the whole story away in the title of this post already! Cate kindly indulged me by going to see the needlearts competitive exhibits first so that I could see my cross stitch piece.

The needlearts competitive exhibits have grown so much in relation to past years, that where they once needed just one or two tables, they now take up two thirds of the width of the gym. For this reason, I didn’t see my stitching right away, and my paranoia set in – mainly that someone had stolen my cross stitch. But it came into view soon, and I saw the white ribbon on it, and I had to get a little closer to see that a white ribbon is third place. There it is!

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I would be lying if I didn’t admit a little disappointment, as I had dreams of the blue ribbons and then the champion and reserve champion ribbons that blue ribbon winners can win and further the grand champion ribbons those winners can move on to…but a ribbon is better than no ribbon, even if it is third place out of three! (This is actually just the kind of experience I need to have more in order to tamp down my competitive side a bit.) The judges wrote some positive comments on my tag: “Nice stitching, especially the basket [which was eyelet and satin stitched to look like a basket]. Was the antiqued look intentional?” (And yes, it was. That comment made me wonder if perhaps they weren’t familiar with overdyed linen or variegated flosses; none of the other entries had either.) The feedback actually made me more excited than the ribbon because I hadn’t realized that we would get any!

We spent a long time looking at the other stitched pieces on the table (including the other needlearts: knitting, quilting, etc). Unfortunately, we never found the blue ribbon winner in the class I was entered in (cross stitch, framed picture). The two in the picture with mine were entered in different classes. We did see the second place (red ribbon) winner, and it was a different style of cross stitch and framing than I do, which also in a way made me feel good about my white ribbon. It was a winter scene, the fabric almost entirely filled with stitching, framed with a mat under glass.

There was less competition in the other classes of cross stitch – less than three entrants, I mean! – I actually don’t remember any other red or white ribbons (which probably also means I should enter a wider variety of pieces next year). Cate and I actually met one of the other entrants and chatted with her for a bit; she had entered items in about five different classes, and she had many blue ribbons and a purple (champion or reserve champion, indicating the best of the cross stitch category) to show for it. Again, I was somewhat soothed by the fact that her pieces weren’t the style (like the red ribbon winner in my class) that I would choose to stitch. Chaqu’un a son gout. The exception to this is actually in my picture above: I love the dandelion piece, and I actually recognize the designer to be The Drawn Thread, whose pieces I have stitched before. The verse reads: “With locks of gold today, Tomorrow silver gray, Then blossom bald behold, Man, thy fortune told (the dandelion)”

After our long foray into the needle arts, we inspected some of the other divisions, wandered around the exhibit hall, and finally ended the night with purchases of local honey and a couple of snowcones.

August 20, 2009

Prettier stitches…

Posted in Cross Stitching tagged , , , at 1:23 pm by Lauren

…than the ones in my rear end.

Here is my piece for the Arlington County Fair:

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This is “Beyond My Heart,” from the Loose Feathers series (#32) by Blackbird Designs. I made some substitutions in colors, mainly the yellow and the red, I think, but I can’t find where I put the leftover pieces of thread right now. Once I do, I’ll try to remember to update this with the color substitutions.

I hung it and “Be My Love” on my wall o’ stitching. The close-up of my arrangement looks like this:

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But I still have plenty of room on the wall, so I’d better keep stitching:

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I am working on several other pieces, but I’ve put them aside while I work on Caroline’s pieces. I’ve finished just the center area of Moira Blackburn’s “Pains of Love.”

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The finished piece will read, “Pains of love be sweeter far than all other pleasures are.” (Does that mean poking myself with a needle while stitching pieces for others?)

August 15, 2009

When you can eat again, we’ll have a party!

Posted in Cross Stitching, Food tagged , , , , , at 7:37 pm by Lauren

I am eating this delicious organic corn chipotle bisque (or whatever fancy name it has) that looks suspiciously like gruel and pondering how I’m going to feel tomorrow when the liquid vicodin runs out, WHICH IT WILL. (Ominous music plays on in the background…)

Between my trip to Texas last week and my laid-in state this week, I’ve managed to finish reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (though not before I let an ice pack melt all over it and ruin it for anyone else who might want to read that copy). So all I can think of is fresh produce (particularly heirloom tomatoes) and grass-fed meats, and all I can actually eat is my gruel (which again, does taste good). I’m having all these fantasies about the farmer’s market and pick-your-own fruit farms and canning and preserving some produce for the winter. If anybody has any guidance there, please do let me know!

Speaking of produce, next week is the Arlington County Fair, and I plan on entering a piece of my cross stitch. I have this feeling that I’ve always wanted to enter something in the county fair, though I suspect the longing actually came from reading Charlotte’s Web as a child. And now, at 28 years old, I am fulfilling a dream, if a strangely quaint one. I will let you know how it goes.

I’m working on several stitching projects, which laying around on the couch helps quite a bit too. Right now the priorities are Caroline’s projects – her Christmas stocking and her birth sampler. The Christmas stocking is going incredibly quickly. I finished Katie’s in three months, but I’ve got at least half of Caroline’s done in just the month that I’ve had the materials. You’ve got to love teachers’ summers! And now, back to it…

August 14, 2009

No more tonsils, no more strep

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:23 pm by Lauren

Allen has this thing about Bill Murray. I don’t know what it is about Bill Murray movies, but I don’t quite connect with him, and I don’t think it’s the liquid vicodin.

So, here at Chez Streptococcus, I am finally strep-free and tonsil-free! On Wednesday morning, I went to the hospital at 6:30 am for my tonsillectomy. By 1:20, I was back home sipping that hydrocodone (the hard stuff) and bubble gum-flavored antibiotics (the not so hard stuff). Then I slept and slept, waking up only for medications until 10:30 the next morning.

I spent most of Thursday awake actually, which probably contributed to spending most of today asleep. I figure I have about two more days of liquid vicodin/hydrocodone, which will work out well since I do have to leave the house a couple of times on Monday. And in the meantime, I just plan on relaxing at home with my cats, fielding a few phone calls, and eating soup and ice cream.