Saturday at the Farmer’s Market.

Weekends at home this summer have been rare.

We are constantly on the road for weddings, family events, visits with friends, concerts, sporting events, trips to the lake, etc. etc.

So, yesterday when I woke up, in my own bed with no plans until dinner, I was in a great mood. It was a gorgeous, sunny, yet unseasonably cool morning. Adam had some errands he needed to run so I saw the time to myself as a great opportunity to go to the Farmer’s Market in town.

A Farmer’s Market is one of my favorite places. I grew up going with my mom and have tried to make an effort to go when I can since living on my own. I love the spirit of the market. There are families, dogs, amazing produce, baked goods and crafts. You can see some people just enjoying the morning and others clearly doing their shopping for the week.

Even with everything coming out of my garden these days, I wanted to look for fresh eggs and herbs. I also was inspired to try to cook some beets after the Chopping Block class.

So, I made a quick list of things I wanted to look for while there based on items I knew were in season and not in my garden. Making this list I knew I may not be able to find any of these items but I think it helps to have an idea of what to look for.

I actually got to take sweet corn off the list because two friends from college surprised us with a quick visit when they were in town visiting family and ten ears of sweet corn!

I actually got to take sweet corn off the list because two friends from college surprised us with a quick visit when they were in town visiting family and ten ears of sweet corn!

Below are a few other tips I have for a trip to the Farmer Market based on my experiences:

Bring cash and make sure you have small bills. It will be easier on the farmers so they don’t have to make change. They probably are prepared, but if everyone else is paying with twenties this may eventually be hard for them. (More and more Farmer’s Markets are becoming technology friendly and can take credit cards. Many also beginning to accept food assistance stamps or cards, which is awesome.)

BYOB. Bring your own bags. Farmers Markets are a great way to give plastic shopping bags another use or just invest in a few reusable bags before you go. They are for sale everywhere and a lot of grocery stores will knock a little bit off your bill when you use them. (When at the grocery you can also ditch the cart and just load up your bags throughout the store. You get the added bonus of a little arm workout while you shop!)

Cher, in the nineties classic, Clueless, suggests that when at a party to “do a lap before we commit to a location.” The same is true for the Farmers Market. I always take a lap, see what each vendor is offering, maybe price shop a tad, check out quality, and then make a purchase.

I know it seems, like, totally “Saturday Chic” to grab a latte after yoga and hit the Farmer’s Market but having the grande Starbucks in your hand the whole time is annoying for you and the farmers. You will need your hands to touch and smell the produce. To carry your shopping bags. To pay. Not to mention, it can spill. (Remember how I said all of these were based on actual experience…?) Just swing by the drive through on your way home.

I have heard mixed reviews on this one, and I can understand both ways, but I say get there early. I want to make sure that I have the farmer’s best products to choose from. I don’t want the picked through produce. Also, farmers can, and often do, sell out of things. The flip side to this is that at the end of the market some farmers may give you a deal so that they don’t have to take things home. I am bad at finding shoes I like on sale, let alone food. So, that’s your call.

Things won’t look like they do in the store. A good example is tomatoes. Typical grocery store tomatoes are bright red and round. A Farmer’s Market tomato may be short and fat. It may have ripples. It’s because that is how a tomato grows naturally. It will still be great, if not better. Farmers Market produce will also be straight from the ground so don’t be alarmed by roots, stems, or dirt.
Here are some red flags and things to be aware of when picking out produce:
– Tomatoes continue to ripen, even after they are picked. It’s okay to have some green on the top.
– Berries do not continue to ripen after they are picked so pick ones that have full, vibrant color.
– Like I mentioned above: Use your hands and nose. Melons should smell sweet. Herbs should smell fresh and not be brown. Produce should be soft. Pass on wrinkled or squishy items.
– Inspect the produce to ensure there isn’t any mold, decay, or evidence of insects.

Remember, the produce at the market is fresh and should be consumed sooner rather than later! So, get cooking!

And that is what I plan to do with my beets and brown eggs from a young man on the eastern edge of our county.

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Garlic, thyme, and rosemary from a woman who grows her produce on her mother-in-laws property at the northern most part of the county.

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A whole chicken from this passionate guy from northern Indiana who claimed he has perfected chicken in determining the best age and weight it should be.

Pork Chops that were raised in a good friend’s hometown by a family who told me “They all are great!” when I asked for their suggestion for the best cut of the pig.

I also, with the help of the chicken man’s wife, designed a gorgeous summer floral bouquet with flowers from their farm. The colors even match the theme to my brother-in-law’s wedding next weekend!

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So, stay tuned… and in the mean time, find a Farmer’s Market close to you!

Love this info graphic about Farmer's Markets.

Love this info graphic about Farmer’s Markets.

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Ice Cream and Me… “Mint” to Be.

Fun Fact #1: July is National Ice Cream Month.

Fun Fact #2: Indiana is the #2 producer of regular and low fat ice creams in the Nation.

Fun Fact #3: I love making (… and eating) ice cream.

Adam and I received an ice cream maker for our wedding from my cousin. It wasn’t on the registry and it was one of those small appliances I wondered if I would ever use. My mom made ice cream from time to time growing up but, I had never given it a try. I was entertaining taking it back, but something told me just to open the box and take a look at it.

Thank goodness I did.

I now joke that ice cream brought me to life.

… But, there is a little truth to this.

The summer after Adam and I got married there were changes with my role across the nation and because I was not in the position to move, I had to walk away from the company. And work all together.

Jobs in my field and skill-set were nonexistent within an hour drive from our country home, so I was, >gulp< unemployed.

A word I never thought I would be. I graduated on Deans List. I had worked one job, if not two, since I was fifteen. Every day was hard.

You may be thinking, “Are you kidding? No work? Sounds wonderful.”

And it was for… oh, about five days.

I could only apply for jobs so much without going crazy. I had no schedule. No need to get out of gym shorts. No need to turn off The Kardashian’s, even though I had already seen the episode four times. All of my friends were at least an hour away and, weird, at work. Like I should have been. I was pretty pathetic. I even remember one –bad– day wondering if I would ever work again.

Then you realize you have spent a whole day and have not said one word aloud. Then you snap.

And then, I opened the ice cream maker.

It wasn’t the kind with ice and a hand crank that I remembered from childhood. It was sleek and ran electronically. And there were recipes in the manual. A recipe for Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream; Adam’s all-time favorite. I had to make it. (Side note: Who was the genius who put chocolate and peanut butter together? I mean, seriously. Genius.)

I beamed to my mom on the phone about how easy and fun it was to make and how great it turned out. She must have beamed to her girlfriends about how wonderfully domesticated I was becoming (God knows she wasn’t talking about how great I was at my job…) because a couple weeks later I received a late wedding gift from one of her friends who lived in the neighborhood. It was the, then very brand new, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream at Home Cookbook and a check with “For lots and lots of heavy cream!” in the memo.

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Jeni’s Ice Cream originated in my hometown of Columbus. She is now very well known for her unique flavors and fresh ingredients, but when she was just starting out years ago she had one shop (She now has multiple and is expanding like crazy out of Ohio) near my uncle’s house.

He was a bachelor until he married a wonderful woman from England in 2008 and he would often take my little sister and me on “dates.” They were to neat places and are all so memorable. One time we wanted to try sushi, so he took us to his favorite sushi restaurant and ordered a BOAT of sushi for the three of us just so we could try a lot of different rolls. There were also dates to a trendy stone oven pizza place and even fancy steak houses. But one thing was always the same: the night ended with ice cream at Jeni’s.

Jeni’s is a far cry from the typical vanilla. She uses crazy spices like lavender and cayenne. Sounds nuts, I know. But, it’s wonderful! As far as I know, Jeni’s was the first to create the flavor “Salty Carmel.” It was at Jeni’s that I learned I loved bourbon, even though I was well below the drinking age, with her bourbon butter pecan. The warmness of the bourbon mixed with the creamy ice cream and salty nuts. Divine.

The cookbook is beautiful. Playful, rustic photos adorn the colorful pages. The recipes vary in difficulty. I will be honest; the ice creams can be difficult for novice cooks. I made the Salty Carmel ice cream when I got the book and was challenged. I felt like I had fifty things going on. My kitchen was MESS when it was all said and done. But, it was good, so I will still consider it a win.

The sorbets are much simpler. I made her Watermelon and Lemonade Sorbet last summer and the hardest thing about it was cutting the watermelon.

A few days ago, Jeni’s Twitter account began posting about the “Backyard Mint” flavor. Different tweets mentions how it “Has returned!” and that the ice cream in her stores is made with “fresh-picked organic peppermint from Jorgenson Farms.” (Jorgenson Farm’s is just outside Columbus.)

This got me thinking. I have fresh, organic peppermint in my backyard. And I was yet to use my ice cream maker this summer. Perhaps I should give it a try?

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Sure enough, it was in the cookbook so I made plans to get it going after work yesterday.

I will list my take away’s from this creation, but I am not going to list the recipe because:

1. I feel like I am friends with Jeni after eating at her store for nearly a decade and before she made it big. It feels wrong to do it without her permission.
2. I am new to the blogging world and I am not real-life friends with Jeni. I am not sure what copyright laws are out there.
And, 3. You should probably just go buy the book. You won’t regret it.

The process of making the ice cream was pretty easy. I loved tearing into my fresh mint leaves before adding them to the sugar cream mixture. They smelled so strong and vibrant.

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The mint needed to steep in the finished cream for at least four hours. I kept mine in the fridge for about six.

Before bed last night, I strained the mint leaves out, put the flavorful cream into the frozen ice cream bowl and let the machine spin for about fifteen minutes. Then the mixture looked like ice cream and was pulling from the sides of the bowl.

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I slopped the finished product into a container and let it freeze until after dinner tonight.

As Adam and I split the bowl, we both commented on how rich and creamy it was. We loved the light, freshness of the mint.

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I asked him what he thought a good mix in might be for next time. To get ideas going, I said, “Peppermint Patties.” Adam chimed in with “Oreos.” Then, after taking a bite and thinking for a while, it came to me. “Thin Mints.”

Adams face lit up.

Nailed it.

Local Food in the City.

This weekend I left my provincial life in the country for champagne, yachts, stilettos and… um… drag queens.

It was my “Little Sister” from the sorority, Lauren’s, bachelorette party in Chicago. It was a fabulous time. A few of us took Friday off and spent the day on a boat on Lake Michigan. It was so relaxing and the view of the city from the water was outstanding. We spent Saturday shopping, catching up and then hit the town in the evening. Dinner was at a delicious Tequila Bar and followed by a very entertaining drag show.

Babes on a boat for the Bachelorette!

Babes on a boat for the Bachelorette!

It’s always fun to spend a couple days laughing with the girls. (Cocktails at breakfast doesn’t hurt either…)

I started my weekend even earlier and came into the city on Thursday evening to take a cooking class at The Chopping Block, a recreational cooking school that I had been dying to try for a while. I found it while researching culinary school last winter.

For a hot minute I thought culinary school might be my next step. Based on the course catalogs listed for different schools and programs I looked into I decided to pass because it was so similar to the curriculum I had in college. Not to mention I would be a in a WORLD of debt.

I then started looking up cooking workshops and classes to just fine tune my skills and learn more. This is how I came across The Chopping Block’s class calendar. They offer classes every day of the week and each has a specific theme or skill, such as pasta or dessert classes to grilling or knife skills. Throughout the summer a Farmer’s Market Tour was listed for every Thursday.

The description said the class would tour the Lincoln Square Farmer’s Market and purchase items to make an improvisational meal back at the classroom.

It sounded right up my alley. My friend, Stephanie, even eagerly agreed to join me so we made plans to meet at the class. The class was a demonstration class versus a hands on course. (They offer both.) Despite this, I still learned A LOT. You will see this with my “take-away” notes.

On Thursday, the traffic getting into Chicago was horrendous. Like, worse than it has ever been any time I have ever tried to get into the city. So, I arrived thirty minutes after the start of the class (even after giving myself an hour extra).

As I was basically running to the class I was able to notice that Lincoln Square is awesome. It is a neighborhood that further north of the city than I had ever been in my visits to the city. There were plenty of cute coffee shops, restaurants and boutique-y shops. People, with their children and dogs, were out enjoying the night at the farmers market or listening to a couple bands playing on side streets. I really wished I had that hour I had planned for. This place looked like my kind of heaven. I need to go back.

I got to The Chopping Block just as the class was getting back from the market. I was a tad disappointed, but looking at the produce the chef was pulling from their shopping bags I knew it would still be great.

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They found little golden plums, black raspberries, sweet corn, beets, gypsy peppers, knob onions, oyster mushrooms and carrots. The chef reached out to us for ideas for our meal based on the produce from the market and the pork tenderloin that would serve as our protein.

The meal was started with a little “amuse-bouche” of baked polenta with caprese salsa.

Take Away: Amuse-bouche translates to “Mouth Pleaser” and is a small plate before a meal, even an appetizer. You might see them in French restaurants. They are not ordered, but are offered by the chef without a charge to prepare the guest for the meal.

The class decided on ceviche for an appetizer using the mushrooms from the market. We topped the ceviche with fried tortilla strips for a little crunch.

Take Away: Ceviche means to cook, or make soft, with acid. You can actually “cook” things, like shrimp, with citrus, to make a ceviche.

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The mushrooms were perfect. They had just the right amount of tang and the crunch of the tortillas worked great.

Next it was onto the salad. We roasted the whole beets in the oven without any seasoning or marinade.

Take Away: This helps to concentrate the flavor of the beet. They were seasoned once they had cooked.

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The cooked beets were topped with thinly julienned carrots as well as the greens from the carrots and beets. These greens are slightly bitter and full of nutrients. The colors in this salad were spectacular and all the flavors went well together. I need to try cooking beets at home sometime soon.

The main dish was made up of the pork tenderloin and a succotash made of the corn and onions. The pork was marinated in achiote paste, giving it a bit of a Mexican flare. Achiote paste can be found in Latin grocery stores and has an earthy, spice flavor. The succotash was made by caramelizing the onions and corn in a skillet on the stove top.

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Take away: Whenever I cook something in a skillet, I move the food items around with a spatula a lot. To get the veggies, like the corn and the onions for the succotash, to caramelize and to maximize their sweet flavors you should push the vegetables out in the skillet and leave them. Make sure the skillet is warm but won’t burn the vegetables.

Another take away from this step: Extra Virgin Olive Oil has a low smoke point, meaning it should not be used with cooking something. It should just be used for finishing or vinaigrettes. Your mind blown yet? Just wait… When the EVOO gets above 350 degrees, or its smoke point, it loses all the nutrients and creates a carcinogen. Grape seed oil is a better alternative when cooking, grilling or baking over 350 degrees. (Grape seed oil is fortunately not that much more expensive.)

Finally, for dessert we had slightly sweet biscuits with whipped cream and macerated plums and berries. This was phenomenal. I am (weirdly…) not a huge fan of fruit, especially berries, but I finished and loved every bite.

Prepping the sweet biscuits.

Prepping the sweet biscuits.

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After everything was done, we were given the opportunity to shop around a bit. I picked up a bottle of grape seed oil after I learned that I might be giving Adam and me cancer… every day. Stephanie got some fun beer and cocktail items. As the other class participants were leaving, Steph and I got an opportunity to chat with the Chef and the Sous Chef a bit. I asked about the farmers market since I missed that part of the trip. He said that most of the produce in the market is from Illinois, but there are some vendors from Indiana. I also asked about their culinary education because it, in a way, inspired my trip. Both chefs never went to culinary school, but rather, worked in restaurants since they were young and picked up skills along the way.

I had a blast the whole evening. I learned so much, had a fantastic meal and got to catch up over a bottle of wine with a great friend.

With Stephanie and her sister, Jackie, before we dug into our local entrees.

With Stephanie and her sister, Jackie, before we dug into our local entrees.

The Chopping Block Quick Facts:

There are two locations:

Lincoln Square: 4747 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago
Merchandise Mart: The Merchandise Mart Plaza, Suite 107, Chicago

http://www.thechoppingblock.net/

You can register for classes online. It’s a simple process and they charge you then. You cannot cancel once your class is less than a week out, but you can send a friend in your place.

You can purchase wine or beer at the classes or you can bring your own bottles. They are subject to a corking fee.

There are numerous “Boot Camps” that last up to five days. The topics for this cooking boot camps range from cooking basics to cupcakes or even sushi. Other classes last a few hours.

If you are in Chicago but cannot make a class, you can shop in the retail stores at each location. They are great and full of fun cooking tools. It’s really worth checking out.

It’s 95 Degree’s Out and I am Freezing…

For the last week or so we have had HUGE takes from the garden every day. While this is exciting, it’s also a tad overwhelming. I finally had the feeling of, “Oh, geez… How are we ever going to eat all this food?”

The baby shower was great timing last weekend because I was able to use plenty of produce from the garden. I made a big salad with the mixed greens and just had different toppings and dressings so people could make it their own. I also prepared this great cucumber salad we have already made multiple times this summer. It’s really simple to make and only requires a few ingredients. That’s always a win for me.

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Recipe: http://www.takingonmagazines.com/cucumber-salad-from-all-you/

Another recipe that we made for the party is also a go to in the summer is this sautéed zucchini side dish. We have been making this recipe for two years now; I pretty much know it by heart. The flavors go together so well and compliment any meal.

… Sorry no awesome iPhone picture. But, there is one at this link to the recipe: http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/Garden-Zucchini—Corn-Saute

Thanks to the bounty of produce accumulating on my counter top, I decided it was time to do some freezing. Freezing is a great way to preserve fruits and vegetables and is much simpler than canning. Frozen veggies are good for about twelve months.

Or, so I read.

I, of course, had never done this before, but it really didn’t seem too bad.

I started with snap beans because ours were towering and full of peas. I have been picking them for about two weeks. They make great additions to salads and even serve as a great snack with some hummus or without. The flavor of these peas has been incredible.

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After work I spent about thirty minutes picking as many of the larger beans that I could find (…in the massive heat wave that is hitting the Midwest currently) I headed in to get to work in the kitchen.

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I cleaned and snipped the end of the beans with a knife.

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Next, I got everything set up to blanch the beans.

Blanching is when you heat up veggies and then quickly cool them to lock in flavor and nutrients. I actually had not blanched anything since lab courses in college, but it is, fortunately, really easy.

I set a pot on the stove top to bring to a boil, a big bowl full of ice and cold water, and a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. The beans were put in boiling water for two minutes. I then lifted them with a large straining spoon and dunked them into the ice water.

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The instant they hit the water they turned a bight, beautiful green, just like I remembered would happen from that early morning lab. The beans were in the ice water for two minutes as well. I then strained them out and placed them on the cookie sheets. The paper towels quickly absorbed their moisture.

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I repeated the process until my many snap beans were blanched and drying on the cookie sheets. I took another paper towel and pressed it on top of them to pick up any remaining water.

Next, you can put them directly into a ziplock bag to freeze or you can freeze them on the cookie sheets, then put them in ziplock bags after they had frozen. I choose the put them in the freezer on cookie sheets because it will prevent the beans from freezing stuck together.

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I am so looking forward to using a handful of these summer beans throughout the winter in side dishes or stir fry’s.

Next, it was onto the zucchini. I thought I was in the clear with zucchini after the shower. I had sliced the nine zucchini’s I had in my kitchen to serve the crowd. After all that I was certain I wouldn’t have to worry about zucchini for little while.

Silly me…

Today- two days later- there were already six on my counter top.

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You can blanch sliced or diced zucchini and it is great for stews and casseroles, but my poor little refrigerator ice maker needed to play catch up after the ice bath for all the snap beans. Maybe some other day.

Instead, I grated two zucchini’s and portioned them into ½ cup servings.

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I wrapped each portion in saran wrap, put them into a zip lock bag, and placed them in the freezer. (Helpful Tip: Be sure to date and label whatever you freeze. This will help you out nine months from now when you cannot remember what you did today!)

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This grated zucchini will be great for all sorts of baked goods, like zucchini cakes or muffins. I put them in half cup portions to make it easy to add to any batter. I was able to get eight cups out of two zucchini’s.

All in all, not bad and it really didn’t take too long. Now I can combat that feeling of panic that we will never be able to eat everything by knowing we will be eating from this garden all year long.

I already cannot wait to use these frozen items on a day in December, when I am feeling frozen myself, and remember how HOT it was today.

I got a Pickle…!

Last night we hosted a baby shower for a wife of one of Adam’s fraternity brothers. With the help of three of the other wives, it was a great party. It was our first time doing an actual, full meal for thirty people. And FOUR children.

Yep, we are there… I learned that I need to invest in some coloring books and maybe even a little table.

Yeah. So, two milestones this weekend: Big Dinner Party and Entertaining Kids. Thirty really is getting closer and closer.

This morning the dust settled and everyone, including Adam, was gone. He had to run up to Michigan. I had to get dishes done and things to pick up, so I flipped on the TV hoping for a good Real Housewives marathon to serve as background noise.

Turns out it was, apparently, amazing childhood movies of the nineties day. I “watched” a little bit of Home Alone 2, Liar Liar, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Little Rascals.

Man. I love, love, loved Little Rascals as a kid. I HAD to have the pink, Princess Jasmine style PJ’s that the Olsen twins wore in the girl’s sleepover scene. My sister and I wore them proud. At the same time, of course. I even remember a family friend comparing me to Darla. Maybe? A little? Not so sure.

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And even at seven, I thought Porky and Buckwheat were so adorable. I mean, come on. They are precious.

It was funny timing because I actually had that “I Got a Pickle” song stuck in my head this week. I took my first stab at canning, with the help of my Mother-In-Law and Sister-In-Law, and started with pickles.

We planted pickling cucumbers in the spring and had been picking them for a couple weeks. Pickling cucumbers are similar to regular cucumbers. They grow on a vine, but are much shorter, a bit fatter and a much lighter shade of green.

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We finally had about thirty so we were ready for pickles.

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I have never canned before so it was a slight investment to get started. I bought pint sized mason jars, a water bath pot, and a canning kit (… I actually got this at Crate and Barrel on MAJOR sale last Fall) that includes things like a funnel, tongs and a jar lifter. I also picked up pickle canning seasoning packets because a few family friends recommend them and I was trying to make life easy for my first time canning. I chose a dill mix and bread and butter mix.

Nancy, my mother-in-law, and Amanda, my sister-in-law came over after work last Thursday and we got busy. After slicing all the pickles on the mandolin, (Which, I, of course, did not escape without injury. I sliced my thumb. So, be sure to use that safety thing if you use one…) we had to wash the jars then heat them up with boiling water. You can do this two different ways. You can heat them in the water bath pot or you can pour in boiling water and then pour it out. We poured in boiling water.

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When I do this again, I will heat up the jars in the water bath so there are not as many things on the stove, I don’t have another thing to wash, and you have to get the water bath boiling for a later step anyways.

Then we stuffed the jars with the sliced cucumbers and filled them with the seasoning that we mixed and heated up with vinegar for the dills and sugar for the bread and butter pickles. We filled the jars until they had a half inch left until the top. We were sure to wipe the rims and make sure there were not any air pockets in the jars before we put on the heated lids and screw bands.

The BIG water bath pot.

The BIG water bath pot.

The full jars then went into the water bath. Both recipes called for the jars to be submerged in the boiling water for five minutes. When they were done we put them on a cooling rack so they could cool down and seal. We read that you should leave the jars alone for twelve hours.

This was the fun part.

When the jars seal, they make a “pop.” Every pop, the three of us cheered as if we just found out the shoes we loved were on sale.

Dill pickles cooling.

Dill pickles cooling.

A “Little Victory” as Amanda called it each time we heard a pop.

Later that night, I found we had a BIG Victory. Every single one of our jars sealed.

Bread and Butter Pickles

Bread and Butter Pickles

I finally gave a jar of dill pickles a try tonight. Dinner for me was a smorgasbord of left overs, so pickles fit in really well with the random things that made up my meal. I will admit; I was a little hesitant. I really didn’t know what to expect, so I smelled the open jar before I tasted them. They smelled just like dill pickles. I grabbed a couple slices and, sure enough, they tasted just like dill pickles!

The one difference was that they didn’t have that crispy, crunchy texture that pickles from the store have. I love that about pickles, so I reached out and read a few blogs. Sounds like I let my cucumbers get to ripe. A lot of what I read said you need to start with very freshly picked pickles. I had mine saved up so I could do one big canning day.

Lesson learned. Next time I will do the pickles in smaller batches and try to get that crispy, crunch.

Do you have any tips or tricks to get crunchy canned pickles?

The Very Hungry Caterpillar: The Untold Story.

Eric Carle’s “A Very Hungry Caterpillar” was a staple of my childhood. I loved the colorful illustrations and the little holes in the food items that the cute little, green caterpillar ate… but was still hungry.

Well, now that I am older, I know there are always two sides to every story.

And now that I am a gardener, I know that caterpillar was a pain in the ass.

About ten days ago, I noticed that my broccoli leaves had multiple holes in them and were not looking so great.

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I showed the damage to Adam and he noticed tiny, green caterpillars on the leaves. They were so small and nearly the same color green as the leaf so it’s no wonder I missed them at my first glance.

Little Hungry Loopers.

Little Hungry Loopers.

We went inside to determine what they heck was going on. Adam looked up from Google and said, “They are cabbage loopers.”

“Okay, what do they do?” I asked.

“Eat the shit out of your plants,” he bluntly stated as his wide eyes scrolled image after image of damage these little buggers created.

And they did.

umm... YIKES.

umm… YIKES.

The following morning it was ten times worse so I knew something needed to be done. I talked to a couple neighbors and they both (very ominously…) said, “Ohh. You going to need to get some Sevin.”

I looked up Sevin online-which I learned is not spelled like the number- and found plenty of information that made me realize this was not the product I wanted to use.

Directions for application instructed one to wear long sleeves, eye protection and a face mask to prevent breathing in the chemical. It also said to ensure that pets would not come in contact with the plants.

… And I was going to put this on something I was planning on eating? I don’t think so.

(I also read that it kills bees. I like bees. Bees are important… more on that later.)

So then I used searches like “eco-friendly” or “organic” removal/control of loopers.

A site said just to remove the loopers from the leaves and step on them.

Well… this worked for about, oh… let’s see… ten minutes. They blend in with the big green broccoli leaves so well it was like your eyes would play tricks on you. There were tons. Not to mention, it was hot. And the wormies were nasty. This method made Sevin sound pretty good.

Trying to pick off the loopers.  Hard, boring, hot work.

Trying to pick off the loopers. Hard, boring, hot work.

So, back to the search engines. The chemical Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (BTK) was recommended and used by many organic gardeners. Even with the use of BTK the produce is still considered organic.

I had to hunt a bit for this chemical, but finally found it at a home improvement store. It was made by a company called Garden Safe and was even labeled for Organic Gardening. Less than ten bucks later I was on my way home and the looper’s days were numbered.

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The chemical was in concentrate form so I combined with water in a spray bottle. I spritz the solution on to the leaves and their undersides.

That was ten days ago and we have not seen a looper since.

So, in the end of this bedtime story, the very hungry caterpillar died. But, the very savvy gardener was able to pull three great looking broccoli heads from her garden this evening.

An Udderly Fabulous Afternoon at Fair Oaks Farm

So, was anyone else struggling yesterday?

After the long, fun filled, holiday weekend I had a little trouble getting going Monday morning. It was a great weekend though. We had friends over for a big bonfire on the third, spent the day at the lake on the fourth and fifth skiing and boating. Then Saturday, Adam and I had to split forces to make it to our third and fourth wedding of the year. (… Don’t worry; we still have seven more before Christmas.)

Both were beautiful and a lot of fun, but we both thought it was pretty weird to go stag after all these years of weddings with a permanent dance partner.

We were together at a wedding just a couple weeks ago near Chicago. It was a beautiful Roman Catholic Mass full of neat traditions, not to mention a rocking reception where we were able to catch up with a lot of Adam’s fraternity brothers and their wives.

As we headed home down I-65 on Sunday, I commented on all the billboards for Fair Oaks Farms, a relatively big dairy just off the interstate. I have driven back and forth on 65 for years going from Indy to Chicago for work and visiting friends, but had never stopped. Adam had been a couple times when he was younger and suggested that we stop.

With nothing better than laundry to do at home, I happily agreed.

… Plus, one of the billboards said they had ice cream. It’s hard to say “no thanks” to ice cream.

We parked and walked into the building built like a huge barn.

Inside, we paid and the staff member told us the tour would begin in about twenty minutes. In the mean time we looked at all sorts of exhibits with facts about the farm and cows.

This is where I began to learn that I knew absolutely nothing about cows.

My first lesson in Cow 101?

Females are called Heifers. Which, I just thought was what just a cow in general was called. Not to mention, quite an unlady-like nickname.

Adam laughed. I questioned, “So, bulls are the boys? Right?”

“Yep. And steers are boy cows without their balls,” he ever so eloquently put. Thank God he doesn’t do the school field trip tours…

Soon we hopped on to a big cow print bus (Seriously. Cow Print. Awesome.) and headed to the cow stalls. They are at a separate destination for the sake of sanitation. The property is 19,000 acres and began in 1998 thanks to a few dairy farmer families.

The bus ride had a recording playing with information about what we were looking at. The recording drove home their concept of “Cow Comfort.” The stalls are cleaned three times a day. They maintain a seven mile per hour breeze and there are heaters in the winter. They also have veterinarians and animal scientists on staff to make sure the cows are healthy.

Calf's in their pens.  They will move into the larger stalls once they are larger.

Calf’s in their pens. They will move into the larger stalls once they are larger.

What we saw next blew my mind.

The bus stopped and we headed up a flight of stairs to an observation deck. We were overlooking the machine that milks all the cows.

The machine was similar to a carrousel as it spun in a slow circle. The cows were getting on and off this carrousel on their own.

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The guide mentioned that the cows are creatures of habit so they know exactly how to get off the carrousel and want to get on because they want to get milked. Each cow is milked three times a day and they only take five minutes to milk. The machine runs for nearly twenty four hours a day. The guide said that it takes seven hours to milk the whole heard. The hour after the milking is used to clean and sanitize the machine.

Fair Oaks Farms produces 25,000 gallons of milk each day and nearly 99% of it is sold to a major grocery chain in Indiana. The farm obviously also produces a lot of manure, but it’s used to benefit the farm too. The cows waste is turned into energy that powers the whole operation. It’s equivalent to the power needed for 750 homes.

The bus took us back to the attraction area we did a little more exploring. There were a lot of fun rides for young kids, an awesome garden that Adam and I “ohh-ed” and “ahh-ed” over, and even a room where you can see a cow have a calf. There are eighty calf’s born a day! It was really neat to see.

A cow tending to it's just born calf.

A cow tending to it’s just born calf.

The awesome garden and grounds at Fair Oaks.

The awesome garden and grounds at Fair Oaks.

Before we hit the road we stopped by the café and gift shop. They sold all sorts of cow souvenirs, milk, cheese, sandwiches and that homemade ice cream I had been waiting for. We both grabbed a delicious single scoop. Vanilla for the both of us. I wanted to taste the natural cream at it’s most simple state and not covered by mint or crumbled Oreos. (Although, any flavor sounded excellent.)

Next it was onto the cheese. I think if I was asked to select one food that I had to eat everyday for the rest of my life, it would be cheese. I love it. Any kind. Plain, on a sandwich, in a salad, with wine, paired with crackers. It doesn’t matter. Adam picked up some dill flavored cheese cubes and I choose a wedge of aged gouda. The gouda made for a great little appetizer a few nights the following week. I loved it’s creamy, slightly salty texture.

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I really enjoyed our agroturism adventure at Fair Oaks and would love to go back, especially with children. There was so much to learn and lots of interactive activities for little ones. I also loved to see how much care was given to the cows. They have taken great steps to make sure the animals are comfortable and treated well.

… I will also be much more apt to stop there now that I know how fabulous the café is.

The gouda back at home with some moscato from an Indiana winery.

The gouda back at home with some moscato from an Indiana winery.

Fair Oaks Farm Quick Facts:
856 N 600 E
Fair Oaks, IN 47943
(… in simplest terms, halfway between Chicago and Indianapolis on 65)

Make sure you have a little time. The tour is about forty minutes and there is a lot to see. It’s not a place you want to be if you’re in a rush.

The Farm is open seven days a week with shorter hours on Sunday. For more information about hours and admission (and everything else Fair Oaks) visit: http://www.fofarms.com/en/home

If you are in the area and have kids or are a teacher, look into the field trips offered.

They have a “Pig Adventure” opening in August! They will have a similar tour, just with pigs. Wonder if this means there will be bacon in the café? Mmm… bacon.