Why Garden Weekends: Money

Okay, so… I had full intentions of doing “Why Garden Wednesday’s” all through the month of February to inspire you to start a backyard/balcony/windowsill garden this spring.

But, Wednesday came and went without a blog. I had been on the road for work, we had a major snow storm (again…), and I just wanted to spend sometime with this cute kid.

Sleep dude.

Sleepy dude.

Can you blame me?

Instead, welcome to “Why Garden Weekends!”

Spring is coming, even though it sure doesn’t seem like it in the Midwest, and every weekend in February I will be posting reasons on why YOU should start a garden.

So, without further adieu, Numero Uno, a reason top of mind for everyone: Money.

Last fall, I wrote as I reflected on the summer’s garden that gardening has definitely saved Adam and me a little cash. Thanks to the garden, I do not buy as a much at the grocery store and we are far less likely to go out to eat than we had been in the past. This is because we had so much food of our own to eat!

I have been seeking out garden workshops around Indiana to try to gain more knowledge and skill. At a program last September, put on by Purdue Extension, I picked up a flyer illustrating the benefits of gardening and the numbers listed for dollars saved. It’s impressive!

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Home gardening gives you a 1:25 cost benefit.

This means, if you were to spend $50 on seeds you could produce over $1,200 of food.

Here’s a break down of a few items from our garden explaining what we pay and what we could be paying if we were to purchase them at a store.

Organic, Pasture raised Eggs:

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Store Price: $3.50 per dozen

The chicks were $1 each and its $11 for feed every month. We get around 11 dozen eggs a month from our five hens. So, our eggs are about a $1.00 a dozen.

Organic Tomatoes:

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Store Price: $3.00 per pound

One tomato plant can give you around fifteen pounds of tomatoes. You could buy a tomato plant for about $2.50. We started our tomatoes from seeds and were able to get twenty plants of various varieties about six bucks. So, a pound of our backyard tomatoes were a whopping two cents.

Organic Zucchini:

I thought this was a funny picture from last summer.  Zucc's the size of wine bottles!

I thought this was a funny picture from last summer. Zucc’s the size of wine bottles!

Store Price: $3.00 per Pound

A packet of zucchini seeds is about $2.00. You could get about 10-15 zucchini plants per packet. Zucchini plants are like weeds. They just keep coming! We would get one zucchini from each plant about every day last summer. A typical plant will give you around nine pounds of zucchini each season.

We had six zucchini plants last summer making a pound of our zucchini about four cents.

Organic Cucumbers:

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Store Price: $2.00 per pound

A packet of cucumber seeds is about $1 and could give you thirty plants. We planted four cucumber plants and got about three pounds of cucumbers per week per plant when we were harvesting, making well over thirty pounds of cucumber for the season. Our cucumbers were less than three cents a pound.

Organic carrots:

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Store Price: $3.00 per pound

You have to sow carrot seeds directly into the ground. A packet of seeds is about $2.00 and you could yield at least thirty pounds of carrots from one packet.

We plan to plant many more carrot seeds next year. The taste of a backyard carrot versus a carrot from a bag of baby carrots in the store is amazingly different. It has so much more depth of flavor and at six cents a pound, why not?

When I start to add in our entire garden’s lettuce, broccoli plans, snap peas, strawberries, herbs, peppers, and more the savings really start to add up.

Money savings is one of the big reasons I enjoy sharing our garden stories. There are so many people in America struggling to feed their families, let alone feed their families well. Gardens help make this possible. The knowledge just needs to be shared. There are many groups around the nation such as Farm to School and Extension offices working to inform people the benefits of gardening and teach the skills needed.

Community and Urban Gardens are popping up in cities everywhere. And, SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan, participants can purchase seeds or plants from any SNAP retailer or Farmers Market. This is awesome because the participants can use the seeds to grow food that they normally couldn’t purchase… in large quantities, too!

Still not convinced a backyard garden is worth it? Tune is next weekend and we will talk about your health.

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Merry Christmas!

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Happy Holiday’s!

We have had a ball celebrating the season with our first live Christmas Tree… ever!

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It’s beautiful. We found it thanks to the Indiana Christmas Tree Growers Association: http://www.indianachristmastree.com/

They sort all the Christmas Tree farms in the state by county, tree height and tree type. Our tree came from a farm the county just south of ours.

The association also has a bunch of tips for selecting a tree and caring for it throughout the Holiday Season.

Enjoy your time around your tree with family and friends! I will be back on Bloom by the weekend because we celebrated another big holiday this week: Adam’s Birthday!

The 2013 Trost Christmas Card!

The 2013 Trost Christmas Card!

Root Loot

During our visit to my parent’s home in Michigan earlier this month, my mom took Adam and me to Holland’s Farmer’s Market. Holland is about twenty five minutes away from my parent’s house and is a really neat little town.

The Farmer's Market/dish crew.... got to love family dinners.

The Farmer’s Market/dish crew…. got to love family dinners.

Holland is home to Hope College, where my little brother is a freshman and a strong backstroker on the swim team. The community plays up the connection to the country, Holland. It is decorated with traditional windmills and hosts a Tulip Festival each spring. There are also a bunch cute boutiques and unique restaurants that I cannot wait to check out on a future visit.

But, it is clear the town value’s the farmers market. A whole street is set up for the market which is open twice a week from May to December.

And even during the first weekend in December, the market was full of produce, baked goods and beautiful Christmas décor.

One vendor was offering a deal where you could fill a large department store bag full of any root vegetables of your choice. Adam and I took him up on this offer and filled our bag with Red, Yukon and Sweet Potatoes, lots of carrots, yellow and red onions, beets, and a celery root.

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The following are recipes showing what we did with some of these great root vegetables.

Homemade Terra Chips:

I love Terra Chips. If I buy a bag, it rarely makes it into my home unopened because I always seem to “need a snack” on my drive home.

But, I hate how they are so expensive.

So, using some of my beets, sweet potatoes, and Yukon potatoes from the Holland Farmer’s Market, I decided to make my own.

They were great and really easy. The beet chips were sweet and balanced the more savory flavors of the potatoes.
I loved having them around as a snack. Can’t beat getting a serving of vegetables but feeling like you are eating chips. (And saving you the $8 Terra bag…!)

The colors were amazing!

The colors were amazing!

Ingredients:

3 medium beets
1 large sweet potato
3 medium Yukon Potatoes
Olive Oil

Preheat Oven to 400 degrees.

Slice all veggies ¼ inch thick. I used my mandolin. Toss sliced vegetables with oil.

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Lay vegetables on a large cookie sheet.

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Bake for thirty minutes and place on a cooling rack. Chips will continue to harden as they cool.

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Consume within 48 hours.

Turning up the Beet on Risotto:

I recently was asked what my favorite thing to cook is. And honestly, I was stumped. I love to cook. Eggs, dessert, breads, vegetables, large roasts, soups, stir fry’s, homemade pizza… I could go on and on.

Then, it came to me at work when I was assisting a chef at my Alma Mater: I love to cook risotto.

I came to this discovery while cooking risotto for eighty sorority women. Even though the muscles in my shoulders burned from stirring the massive amount of Arborio rice, I knew this was my love.

It’s great anytime of year, but there is just something so cozy about it when it’s chilly outside. It is also so versatile. Risotto prep starts the same every time, but you can add all sorts of ingredients towards the end to make it your own. My mom often adds parmesan and scallops. That evening on campus we added coconut milk and toasted coconut flakes to the risotto as it served as an accompanist to some island style chicken.

I was searching for something to do with our farmer’s market beets other than roasting them and through my searching, found that goat cheese pairs great with the sweetness in the beets. Inspired by my risotto at the sorority, I thought it could be a great combination.

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And it was.

Ingredients:

3 medium beets
1 shallot, chopped
1 Tablespoon of butter
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
1 cup of Arborio rice
6 cups of chicken stock (… It may take less. I have found with any risotto recipe that I use far more broth than is called for. It is just a lot easier to be prepared and have more ready. I can easily use any leftover broth with something else. Also, for this, we actually used our turkey stock…worked just fine!)
4 ounce log of goat cheese
Salt and Pepper
Fresh Chives for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse any dirt off beets, pat dry. Roast Beets for 40 minutes. Easy way to do this is just place on a sheet of foil. Doesn’t hurt to drizzle a little olive oil on the beets. Once complete, let cool and remove skin. Cut into ½ inch pieces.

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Heat up stock in a sauce pan. You want the stock just to steam, not boil.

In a large, high sided skillet (We have found our wok works better than a skillet… I had forgotten about this when I made this risotto.) heat olive oil on medium high heat. Add the shallots and cook for about three minutes. You don’t want them to brown. Add the rice and stir to coat in the oil.

Reduce heat to medium and add a half cup of stock, stir until absorbed. Continue with a half cup of stock at a time until rice is cooked through.

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Remove from heat and stir in beets, butter, and goat cheese. Top with chopped chives.

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Roasted Whole Chicken and Root Vegetables:

So, the oddball in out root loot was the celery root.

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I had never cooked or had one, so we decided if there ever was a good time to give it a try, this was it.

It is a weird looking vegetable. And, really, not all that pretty. But, I read that what it lacks in looks, it makes up in flavor.

I also read online to prep it you need to remove the skin. I used a vegetable peeler and it worked okay. The skin is a bit thicker than anything on a carrot.

We had just had fifty of our free range chickens processed and we were eager to give them a try. We decided to roast one of the birds so it just made sense to roast some veggies as well. Using a few other of the root vegetables on hand we made a great meal when a couple friends were joining us for dinner.

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken (Ours are about six pounds… Chickens at the store are typically smaller than this.)
1 Onion cut into 1/2 inch pieces (We used a yellow onion, but I wish I had grabbed a red one instead. It would have added great color.)
5 Carrots cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 Celery Root, cut into ½ inch pieces
Salt and Pepper
Juice of one lemon
Red Pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 425.

Rub salt and pepper onto chicken. Place on baking sheet and cook for twenty minutes.

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While cooking, season vegetables with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and lemon juice. Toss to coat.

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Add vegetables to baking sheet, turning to coat in the chicken drippings.

Continue to roast until vegetables are tender and the chicken is reaches at least 165 degrees internally and the juices run clear. (Should be about forty more minutes.)

Let chicken rest about five to ten minutes before serving.

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Pairs well with an oakey Chardonnay... and fun friends.

Pairs well with an oakey Chardonnay… and fun friends.

Savory Sweet Potato Fries:

Sweet potatoes seem to be all the rage these days. They are even showing up on menu at fast food restaurants!

But, I can’t knock them. They are full of nutritional benefits. For starters? They are a great source of Vitamin C, which is great this time of year because it helps ward off the cold and flu viruses. And another reason to eat sweet potatoes this time of year is because they are full of Vitamin D. Which, most popularly, we get from sunlight. Which, also happens to be in short supply as we near the Winter Solstice.

So, all those (self diagnosed…) Seasonal Affective Depression Disorder sufferers out there? Sweet Potatoes are for you us.

I think sweet potatoes already are pretty sweet, so I wasn’t looking to jazz mine up with brown sugar like they are traditionally done. So, I went the savory route with these fries based on a recipe from the Williams Sonoma blog and they were spot on.

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Ingredients:

About 2 large sweet potatoes cut into batons about ½ inch thick
2 Tablespoons of grape seed oil
Salt and Pepper
3 Tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of parsley, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place sweet potato batons on baking sheet with oil, salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Make sure the potatoes are spread out so that they cook evenly.

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Roast for about twenty five to thirty minutes, stirring halfway through. You want the potatoes to be tender and a little browned.

While roasting, combine parmesan, parsley and garlic in a bowl.

Add the warm fries, toss gently to coat. Serve right away.

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End of the Season and So Much More

Autumn became a little aggressive last couple weeks bringing blustery wind, biting cold, and even flurries. Yuck.

This made me very glad that Adam and I had taken advantage of the sunshine the weekend before last and cleaned up the garden for the end of the season.

We tore out the remaining plants and tilled up the garden beds. All the herbs were pulled from their pots and composted; after trimming pieces we could still use.

Cleaning up a garden at the end of the season helps to make planting easier in the spring. You want to wait until the first frost, so that plants don’t grow back after removing them and trimming them back.

After a day of putting the garden to bed, I looked out at the empty piece of land.

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It was hard to imagine that just a couple months ago that same spot was booming with life and vibrancy.

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This brought on a little reflection.

The garden has given Adam and I so much more than produce. It has helped us grow. Learn. Expand who we are as individuals and together.

I read something somewhere that you should take time each day for your mind, body and soul.

And that is exactly what we did- without even knowing it- through this summer’s garden.

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Mind

Outside of a pathetic attempt at green beans and a couple cherry tomato plants, Adam and I had never gardened before this summer. We learned so much.

We learned how things grow. How to take care of plants. The benefits of eating food from a backyard garden.

This learning made us want to know more.

We were open to new concepts. Tried new things. Created new recipes with our veggies.

We read. We researched. We attended conferences. We listened to old pros. We Googled and Youtubed.

As a strong, yet apathic student in my younger years, I don’t know if I have been so interested, engaged and excited about learning ever.

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Body

First? The injuries.

Two bee stings. A sliced thumb when making cucumbers. One very, very bad sunburn when I thought it would be a good idea to pull weeds in a bikini top. And an unfortunate canning incident where boiling water poured down my right hand, branding the outline of my claddagh ring to my finger.

Don’t worry… Adam happened to make it out unscathed.

Second: A lot of people ask if we were doing it for the health benefits.

And I would be lying if I said, “No.” And we did see them.

We weren’t doing 4,000 calorie burning Cross Fit workouts, but we were outside and moving.

We didn’t feel like we were on a diet, but we were eating more vegetables than we had in the past.

I didn’t lose any noticeable weight, but I also didn’t gain any.

However, one thing that is fatter is our wallets. Grocery lists were shorter than ever. We also used to eat out at least once a week, but since June, we have maybe been out to eat just a handful of times.

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Soul

Tonight, I told Adam I was writing this post and asked him what he would say the garden gave us. Without hesitation, he said, “It has changed who we are.”

I smiled, because I couldn’t agree more.

As an individual, I felt like I gained a stronger definition of myself.

Ten months ago I was a young woman who worked hard trying to develop her career and liked to be with her friends. You might have gotten “shopping” out of me if you asked about my hobbies.

Kind of superficial. Very on the surface. Pretty boring.

Now, not only do I love working hard, being with my friends, and shopping, but I can go so much deeper than that.

There is so much more that makes me… me.

I love to spend time in the garden, getting dirt under my nails. I giggle with I have a gaggle of hens following me around the yard. I get so excited create something delicious with the fresh food from the backyard and share it with my friends and family. I like to learn more about local food growers, sustainable and self-sufficient living. I seek out hyper local restaurants and opportunities to share this new found passion.

I looked at Adam, who clearly was thinking of nearly the same things I was, and said, “But you know what was so great about all of this? What was at the core of everything? We did it together.”

Adam lit up and nodded.

Hours were spent working alongside each other outside in the garden with no other distractions. We laughed remembering the chicks when they were clumsy, little fluff balls that could entertain us more than any episode of Big Bang Theory. And the evenings in early June spent in the garden together catching up and checking out the changes in the growing plants with a glass of wine are memories that we both will carry with us for the rest of our lives.

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I don’t think we needed it, but the garden did make us closer. It made us stronger. It made us better.

And we both cannot wait to see what next year will bring.

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Keeping Vampires Away

Happy Halloween!

This Halloween is the first Holiday that I really put up decorations since Adam and I got married two and a half years ago. We were in the process of building our home and lot of things were in boxes, not just decorations. It always seemed like too much energy to sort through everything and put them up in a place that was always temporary.

It’s fun to get a little festive.

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… haha, ignore the fact that I am still in the market for some new knobs.

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Something we also did recently that fits in with Halloween festivities, thanks to some old folklore, was plant garlic.

Let me rephrase that, we planted one hundred cloves of garlic.

Anyone we tell this to responds with something along the lines of, “Good God. Are you guys trying to keep vampires away?!”

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Well, fortunately, we have not been too concerned about the threat of vampires. (… Phew!) But, it still made me curious to see where this connection between vampires and garlic was made.

Turns out it goes back far in history, but was made popular by the novel “Dracula” in the late 1800s when characters wore garlic around their necks to protect themselves from vampires.

The theory was used in real life as well and was based on the idea that vampires are symbolic of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes suck blood and spread diseases. One of the common diseases spread by mosquitoes is Malaria. Victims of malaria appear to be drained and suffer from anemia, much like eerie Dracula stories describe victims of vampire bites.

Garlic is often associated with longevity, good health and also happens to be a mosquito repellent!

This is why garlic would be worn, hung, or rubbed on doors, windows, chimneys, and keyholes… People felt as though they needed to repel vampires.

Like I mentioned, vampires have not been too much of a concern, but it could be because I cook with garlic nearly every evening.

Okay, so maybe it’s not the best thing to have on a first date, but it is so versatile. Garlic goes well in almost any dish. Asian. Mexican. Italian. You name it. Not to mention, Adam and I think it is delish.

I love this quote about garlic.

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SO TRUE.

Thanks to our passion for garlic (… and five years together, making garlic breath a non-issue) we decided to plant the hard-neck garlic variety in the backyard. Hard-neck garlic grows best in cooler climates and it is also what I am most familiar cooking with.

When planting garlic, you want to plant in the fall so that the roots can develop before the winter. Plant only the large, plump cloves. The small inner gloves will likely not develop correctly.

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Make sure your garlic bed will receive good sun and water.

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Create three inch deep holes spaced eight inches apart and place the flat end of the clove down, pointy tip up, in the hole.

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Cover the cloves with two inches of loose soil then about four inches of straw. The straw will help prevent damage from frost and cold weather to your growing bulbs. The straw will be pulled away in the spring.

In the spring, we will also thin the garlic and pull out every other when they begin to look like scallions. The bulbs will likely be harvested in late summer.

So, yes, it sounds crazy to plant one hundred cloves, but we will likely only get fifty bulbs. Which I am pretty confident we will be able to use.

And, if not?

We will use them to keep the vampires (and pesky mosquitoes) away.

Post done...!  Time to go hang with some "Party Bones."

Post done…! Time to go hang with some “Party Bones.”

Happy Fall, Ya’ll!

Unlike much of the rest of the world, I have not fully come to terms with the fact that it is Fall.

Now, before you choke on your Pumpkin Spice Latte, let me say that I do love Fall.

I love all of the seasons. And, yes, Fall is wonderful. Football, chili, over-sized sweaters, colorful leaves… Love it.

But, let me also remind you that, in Indiana, it was a muggy, eighty degrees all last week.

Not exactly the kind of weather that makes you want to carve pumpkins or pick apples (… or have a PSL, for that matter), but it is time to welcome Autumn with open arms and give it a try.

Recently, my parents were visiting and I was trying to figure out how to entertain the Ex-Chicago Yuppies in the country. I thought about the little apple orchard I drive passed nearly every day that is just around the corner from our home, but have never been to. So, I suggested a trip to the apple orchard.

They took me to pick apples as a kid so I thought what better way to kick off fall and return the favor.

Some fun shots from a trip to an orchard just outside of Chicago in 1991.  My little sister couldn't have been much more than a month or two old.

Some fun shots from a trip to an orchard just outside of Chicago in 1991. My little sister couldn’t have been much more than a month or two old.

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We took the whopping two minute drive to Farlow’s Orchard, drove up a gravel driveway past rows and rows of apple trees to a small barn with open doors.

Inside it looked like a basic gift shop. There were lots of different varieties of apples around the room that you could buy as a bushel, peck, or individually. There was also a cooler full of ciders and many apple desserts like apple dumplings or caramel covered apples.

We were greeted by an older man in bib overalls. He explained they don’t have a “You-Pick” operation to preserve the orchard. He mentioned that Farlow’s is the oldest apple orchard in the state of Indiana. The orchard was created by his wife’s family three generations ago.

I knew I wanted to make something with the apples and had recently scanned through the Canning for a New Generation book. There was a recipe for applesauce that had caught my attention in the “Fall” chapter.

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I asked which apple was good for making apple sauce. He said lots of them were, but his wife’s favorite for apple sauce is the Cortland variety.

Good enough for me. A woman who grew up on an apple orchard and continued to live there well into adulthood? She probably knows what’s best.

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My dad treated me to my apples and got himself an Apple Slush, basically an apple Slurpie.

“Mmm, that’s good,” he said offering me a sip. It was.

He thought for a moment. “A suggestion?” the marketing extraordinaire questioned the orchard owner, “A little caramel in here would really just make it incredible.”

“They sell pretty well enough on their own,” the orchard owner bluntly replied.

Welcome to the country, Dad. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Another thing that clearly had not broken was the cash register. It looked like it was at least a hundred years old. It was a huge machine covered in ornate designs and complete with a big hand crank. The owner said he tried to use a computer once, but this worked better.

Again, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I took this mind set home with me and prepared to make applesauce. After cutting, boiling and mashing the apples I pushed them through an old, aluminum sieve with a wooden mortar that belonged to Adam’s grandmother.

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Adam found it in his childhood home after his parents moved out and had to hang onto it. It had still not been used since it was in our possession so I decided to give it a try.

Oh my gosh. I discovered muscles in my forearms that I didn’t even know existed. It was crazy, hard work. But, with my peck of apples (… Minus a few for snacking.) I made two jars of apple sauce.

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Here is what I did:

Get about about six pounds of apples (Not as many as you would think once you weigh them.)

Core apples, cut into 1-inch chunks

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Add to a pot with about 1 ½ cups water

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Heat on high, bring to a boil and stir occasionally. As the apples cook down, the peels will separate from the apple. Cook for about forty minutes.

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Pass through a food mill (or sieve). I had the puree fall onto a deep cookie sheet. You can use a bowl as well.

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Bring puree to a boil for five minutes.

Can, if you would like. I did not, just because I didn’t make that much. If you were to water bath can apple sauce, process the jar in the boiling water for fifteen minutes.

The apples and applesauce were a perfect first taste of fall.

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Now, time for chili… And maybe even a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Egg-citing News!

Yesterday was a Big Day!

I retrieved the first egg from the chicken coop!

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We had been told that it would take five to six months for our birds to begin laying eggs. We brought the few days old chicks home on Mother’s Day, so I knew it was just a matter of time. Adam had also recently switched the birds from Chick Starter Feed to Layer Feed supplemented with oyster shell.

I came home from work and opened up the coop to let the chickens run free in the yard. Side note: We used to let them roam all day, but one day two didn’t come home. (… Can’t help but wonder if a predator was involved somehow.) They still have a fenced in area off their coop they can run in during the day.

Many of the chickens ran out to explore, but one hen hung back. I peered beyond the doorway of the coop to the three roosts Adam had built and sure enough there was a small brown egg. I was excited and kind of in disbelief.

As I stepped into the coop to investigate, it was almost like the hen knew what I was about to do. They normally scoot out of the way of our feet, but she stood her ground.

I felt bad. Was this her showing maternal instinct? I reasoned with my commiserating, female emotion: She didn’t have this maternal instinct thing all worked out. Otherwise, she would have been sitting on this egg. Plus, it wouldn’t matter how long she sat on that egg. She wouldn’t be getting a baby. There was no chicken hanky panky going on.

Shoeing her away with my hands, I made it to the roost and picked up the small, fragile egg. It was a lot smaller than I was expecting, but I read this would be the case in the beginning.

Tiny Egg... Going to need ten of these to make anything...

Tiny Egg… Going to need ten of these to make anything…

I couldn’t help but beam with a little pride as I carried the first of many eggs back up to the house. Once in the kitchen I placed it in a little ceramic egg holder I purchased at Anthropologie right after we got the chicks last spring in anticipation for this moment.

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I laughed.

It was like I had been nesting.

In fact, the whole process of raising a chick to lay eggs seemed a little bit like pregnancy.

The excitement when you first get the chicks.

Seeing them grow bigger and bigger every day.

Getting fun accessories like the egg holder or asking everyone you know to save you their egg cartons because their “coming.”

Then it comes and it’s a lot smaller than you thought it was going to be.

But, it’s wonderful. And fun!

And then you start thinking of all that it could become…

An omlet?

A frittata?

Quiche?

… The possibilities are endless.

Below are some fun shots of the grown ladies. We have seven.

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Yes, You Can Can!

Can we talk about how it is almost October?

Where has September gone!?

My September, so far, can be summed up pretty quickly: Work and canning.

I recently told a few women at work that I needed to get some canning done over the weekend. They stared at me with blank faces.

“Claire, don’t take this the wrong way,” one of the ladies started, “You just don’t…hmm? How should I say this? You don’t seem like the kind of girl who would be into canning.”

Another chimmed in, “Yeah. I would never think you raised chickens or had a garden.”

The first lady continued, “You’re just really domestic. It’s just you don’t look like a girl who would do that. You are young and… pretty.”

Embarrassment burned in my cheeks and with a little laugh, I quickly changed the subject.

I got back to my office and began to question everything.

… Do I come off as a young and dainty ditz who only cares about my appearance?

What does someone with chickens look like?

… Okay, stereo-typically speaking, probably not like me in my business casual attire. Sure.

What does someone who cans look like?

That’s when it hit me.

Those women were imagining their grandmothers.

Those middle age women may have never canned because they didn’t have to. Their grandmothers, before food processing reached its prevalence, had to.

While canning today is not mandatory, it sure is rewarding. Not to mention, fun!

I recently purchased Linana Krissoff’s, Canning for a New Generation. The tips, recipes and photos all looked great. Plus, it just seemed appropriate… 😉

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It’s a great resource for newbie canners.

There are also tons of other great resources all over the internet, but be cautious in your searches. Anyone can write a blog (… this can be a positive thing too. I am living proof!) and canning incorrectly can potentially be dangerous as botulism can live and grow in improperly processed cans. Eek!

That being said, don’t be too scared to can at home. Just do your homework and study up.

I had never canned anything before this summer and would suggest checking out Ball Jar’s website or the USDA’s recommendations found here: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html

Here are a few other good things I picked up from my rookie canning adventures:

Make sure you have all the tools you need. I have a canning kit that has a jar lifter, a funnel, a magnetic lid lifter, and a jar wrench. These kits are sold at any kitchen or home improvement stores. This time of year is a great time to get a canning kit on sale. I got ours a year ago at an end of season sale at a major discount.

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The funnel is great for keeping products in the jar and off the rims.

The funnel is great for keeping products in the jar and off the rims.

The magnet helps place the lids onto the jars without using your fingers.

The magnet helps place the lids onto the jars without using your fingers.

Tongs are key when canning.  It helps in placing jars into the water bath and removing them at the end of processing.

Tongs are key when canning. It helps in placing jars into the water bath and removing them at the end of processing.

I also use water bath, which is a huge pot. It can take some time to bring to a boil, so plan accordingly.

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Be sure you are working with clean jars. I always inspect the jars before sterilizing them in the water bath for chips that could prevent the lids from sealing.

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Jars and rings can be reused, lids cannot. Ball sell’s lids individually so you don’t have to invest in new jars every year.

There are a lot of seasoning packets that make creating different flavors of pickles, salsas, and sauces easy. They also include cooking times for the product you are creating so it takes out a lot of the guess work. I used these often, but did manage to create a handful of batches from scratch.

Once canning is complete, let jars sit. I leave ours alone on a cooling rack for twelve hours just to ensure they seal correctly.

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Finally, be certain to do a victory dance for every “Pop!” you hear indicating the jar has sealed…!

Bonus Tip from Adam: Be prepared for a lot of dishes.

… I laughed when he told me to add this. It’s funny and true. We did it 100% without a dishwasher because our house is new and we don’t have power in our island yet. If we can do it, you can do it. (Although, I am sure a dishwasher helps.)

Even with the many rounds of dishes, canning is so gratifying.

I look at our dining room table, covered in Ball jars and smile.

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The sauces and salsa’s made from our garden ingredients will be welcome in the winter when a fresh, flavorful tomato is hard to come by. I also can’t help but wonder if this will help keep our grocery bills down.

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Don’t be scared or intimated.

Break down the stereotype.

You can can!

... And can in Charlotte York style!

… And can in Charlotte York style!

Sunday Funday.

Happy First Football Sunday!

… Or Merry Christmas, if you are speaking with my husband.

Adam looks forward to this day all year long.

With harvest picking up, Sunday’s are his only day to relax and not worry (…too much) about work.

Adam and I have established a little bit of a tradition for early Sunday afternoon football games that date back to my first apartment in Indianapolis. It’s fabulous. We take our time waking up, make brunch, throw something in the crock pot for an early dinner after the game, all while drinking Bloody Mary’s.

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Adam has spent the last few years trying to perfect the Bloody Mary.

And he really has done some research. He has befriended bartenders and expert tailgaters at football games and NASCAR races. (AKA all the professionals in this field.)

Ingredients have included everything from Pepper and Bacon vodka, pickle juice, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, pickled okra, bacon and many others.

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PS- it’s been a really hard job being the taste tester for all these cocktails…

Adam’s grandmother recently shared her recipe for tomato juice with me after seeing how tomatoes were taking over my counter tops. While reading through the ingredients, I thought how it would make a great Bloody Mary base.

When I shared this with Adam, his passion for the perfect Bloody Mary came to life and he instantly got to work canning his own Bloody Mary mix.

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Here is what he did:

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Ingredients:

Approximately 20 Tomatoes (Adam used a few different kinds, including Roma and Beefsteak)
Two cloves garlic, minced
Two yellow onions, minced
Three ribs celery, chopped
1 Bell pepper, chopped
1 Poblano pepper, chopped (Any spicy pepper, like a jalapeno, would work)
1/3 cup prepared horseradish (Not horseradish sauce)
1 ½ teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon Tobasco (Any red pepper sauce could work)
¼ cup sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
½ tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon celery salt

Heat tomatoes in boiling water for about three minutes. Place immediately into ice water bath. Core, skin and cut tomatoes into wedges.

Add all ingredients, including blanched tomatoes, to a large stock pot. Cook over medium heat. Simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Vegetables should cook down and turn to juice.

Strain (we used a mesh strainer), pushing out as much juice as possible. After straining, return juice to the pot and bring strained tomato juice to a boil.

Put juice into 1-quart jars. (Make sure jars are clean and sanitized before processing begins. Ensure all lids are clean and unused.)
Process in boiling water bath with a half inch of water over the top of the sealed jar for forty minutes.

Remove from water bath and place on cooling rack for at least four hours. Make sure each jar seals. If jar does not seal, consume the mix in the next three days.

Today we tried to Bloody Mary mix for the first time. We mixed in about a shot glass of vodka and a splash of spicy pickle juice.

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Perfectionist Adam said he liked them, but he still needed to work on it as he dug through the fridge for more Tobasco.

... annoying photographer.  I know...

… annoying photographer. I know…

I, however, thought they were great. I loved the fresh flavor. It didn’t taste watered down or too salty. The pickle juice was perfect. There was enough spice to keep it interesting. Perfect.

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And the Colts won! So, who knows?! Maybe this Bloody also has a splash of luck.

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A Corny Post.

I first visited the home Adam grew up in about five years ago. We were about to go on a canoe trip and he needed to pick up some of his camping supplies. While there, he also decided to change the oil in his truck.

(… I have said it before and I will say it again: The guy is handy.)

It was pre smart phones so I got bored rather quickly. While he was elbow deep in his truck, I decided to walk around. His childhood home was surrounded by fields that are farmed each year rotating between soybeans and corn. That year it was corn. We were there in late August and the corn was as tall as Adam.

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As I walked towards the edge of the driveway and up to the start of the corn field, I remember being so surprised. Each stalk only had one ear, maybe two, of corn.

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Really? That’s it?

As a Midwestern girl, born and raised, I have driven on highways surrounded by corn fields all my life. I could have sworn there were at least six ears to a stalk.

I walked back into the garage and squatted down to Adam’s level.

“Hey Bud. Random question… Are there really only one or two ears of corn on a corn stalk?” I asked.

Adam slid out from under his truck with a confused look on his face.

“Well, I thought there would be, like, six or seven ears. The corn out there only has one.” I tried to explain, what apparently was, a weird question.

“Yep. Just one. Sometimes two. Depends.”

Hmm, I thought looking back at the field.

Field corn surrounding our new home.  (And the chickens.  Arn't they cute?!)

Field corn surrounding our new home. (And the chickens. Arn’t they cute?!)

Now I was the confused one. “It seems kind of inefficient. It’s just, a stalk takes up a lot of space. And you only get one ear?”

“Yep,” Adam said, sliding back under the truck.

Still looking out at the corn, still perplexed, I asked another question: “So, when can we eat it?”

Adam laughed.

“Babe. We won’t eat that. That’s not sweet corn. It’s field corn. Sweet corn is a different kind of plant. It’s mainly grown in the south.”

Umm. What?

All these years of driving around Illinois, Indiana and Ohio I thought I was looking at what would wind up at a picnic and here I am, at twenty-one years old, learning all this?

Later, I shared my newfound knowledge with my east coast raised father. In his mid fifties, he had the same reaction to the news that corn stalks only have one or two ears: “Really? Never knew that. That seems inefficient.”

That’s what I am saying..!

However, he was in on the sweet corn versus field corn thing…

And while Indiana is home to acres of field corn that will eventually become oils or ethanol, many farmers and home gardeners in Indiana do grow sweet corn.

However, this year, Adam and I were not one of them.

Sweet corn is a little challenging to grow. Its success relies on the amount of rain during the growing season and the amount of attention the grower is able to give it. Two things we couldn’t guarantee at the beginning of the summer.

But, it was okay. We also knew we wouldn’t be without corn. Everyone around us grows sweet corn. It pops up on every other corner within ten miles of our home at temporary farm stands throughout the late summer.

Fortunaly, rain was not an issue this summer. Everyone who grew sweet corn had success. Many of Adam’s clients grew sweet corn and he would receive ears of it by the bushel every day. Free of charge.

We couldn’t eat it fast enough so we decided to freeze it. Freezing any vegetable, especially corn, is a great way to lock in fresh, natural flavor.

Here is how we did it:

Note: You want to either eat or process corn as soon as possible. The longer ears of corn sit untouched the more nutrients and flavor are lost.

Step One: Shuck all the corn. Pull all greens and silks from the ears.

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Step Two: Get set up. Bring a pot to a boil and get a bowl of ice and water ready. We actually used a clean cooler filled with ice water because we were working with so much corn.

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Step Three: Boil corn for about five minutes.

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Step Four: Remove corn from boiling water and immediately place into ice water. This will stop the cooking process and ensure all the sweet corn flavor that you know and love will remain with the corn.

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Step Five: Remove corn from ice water after about five minutes. Remove kernels from corn cob.

There are a lot of neat gadgets out there to make the removal of corn kernels easy, but a knife works just fine. What we did here was turn a small bowl upside down and place in the center a large skillet. Running the knife along the cob as it’s held on top of the small bowl, the kernels will fall into the skillet making collecting the kernels (and clean up) easy.

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Step Six: Place corn onto baking sheets and freeze. Once frozen, use a spatula to remove corn from baking sheet and fill into freezer bags, squeezing out as much air as possible. Keep in the freezer for up to a year.

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The flavor of sweet corn frozen at home is so much sweeter and authentic than corn from major frozen vegetable companies. This is because those companies remove so much of the corn’s natural sugars in their processing as it can make their continually used equipment very sticky. Not to mention, they would have to get the corn frozen much more quickly than they do. Otherwise, they are going to go into whiskey making business fast.

But there are some businesses trying to break the traditional manufactured sweet corn mold.

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet two incredibly inspiring Indiana entrepreneurs who are trying to bring the “Home-Preserved” fresh flavor of sweet corn to the commercial market. I even got to tour their brand new processing facility.

Working the big hair net on the tour... Looking good, right?!

Working the big hair net on the tour… Looking good, right?!

Through their new business, Husk, they are purchasing sweet corn straight from farmers just around the corner from their processing plant. With a little creativity (Example of this? French friers full of boiling water versus oil to cook the many corn cobs received every day.) and a ton of motivation they are changing the frozen corn market in Indiana.

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Since their inception at the start of this year’s sweet corn season, they have cut and frozen 60,000 pounds of sweet corn. Check them out: http://huskfoods.com/

And, Hoosiers, If you can’t find their product at your favorite grocery store, request it!