Garden Notes

August 30, 2013

sunflowers
carrot harvestUntitled
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Sunflowers inside. Cloudy, overcast, rainy weather outside.
Last carrot harvest.
End of the beans and zucchini. Beginning of the tomatoes.
Backyard chickens hanging out in the front yard.

Have a good weekend, and see you in September. :)

Giveaway: Eco-Friendly Lunch Gear from Mighty Nest!

August 28, 2013

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Hello everyone! Today I’m happy to host my first ever giveaway from Mighty Nest! If you’ve read through my FAQ’s, you will already know that I'm picky about who I'll work with on giveaways and sponsored posts (which is why I haven’t done one up until now), but I think Mighty Nest is an awesome resource for folks who want to find natural, organic, and non-toxic products for their home, so I was super excited when they contacted me about reviewing and hosting a giveaway for a few products from their line of reusable lunch gear.

Since Matt and I rarely eat out, we rely on leftovers and pre-prepared meals for lunch while we’re at work, so we are always on the lookout for containers that help make packing our lunches as easy as possible. Unfortunately most of the readily available products we come across are full of toxic ingredients, such as: BPA, PVC, Phthalates, Parabens and more. And even though we do our best to reuse our plastics, the amount of plastic sandwich baggies we go through in a year is cringeworthy.

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That's why I was excited to try out Mighty Nest's reusable sandwich and snack bags. These bags come in a large assortment of cute colors and sizes, and stay closed with a velcro enclosure that's stitched to the inside of the flap. The thing I like best about these is that they're easy to handwash, so I can use them every day without fuss, and without the excessive waste that comes from using plastic baggies.

As for liquids, I like to whip up a large batch of soup on the weekend so we can eat the leftovers for lunch throughout the week. In order to pack up my soups and sauces, I need containers that are 100% leakproof, and it helps if they're microwaveable too. Luckily, Mighty Nest's glasslock bowls stand up to my soup test admirably. Plus, you can microwave them without the lid. You can even freeze food in them, or use them for storing dried ingredients in your pantry.

Out of everything in this bundle, Mighty Nest's reusable cotton produce bags may be my favorite. They're simple and functional, which I love, and they come in a variety of beautiful prints. The carrot print you see on my bags in the photo above immediately caught my eye when I was looking through the products on the site. And not only can you use these produce bags to carry your lunch, but they work great at the farmer's market or the grocery store as well. I even have one hanging from my kitchen shelf for storing apples.

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So, if you're like me, and you like to take your own lunch to work, or if you have kids who are heading back to school this month, check out Mighty Nest's line of reusable lunch gear. And don't forget to enter the giveaway, which includes:


Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: Financial compensation was not received for this post. A sample product was gifted from Mighty Nest to test and review. Opinions expressed here are my own.

Hot Off the Needles

August 26, 2013

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I just finished these, my fifth pair of handknit socks, two nights ago, and just in time for the rain to start pouring. For these, I used the simple ankle socks pattern by Heidi Braacx (again), and modified it based on some really cool handmade socks I saw on Jane Richmond's Instagram feed. When it comes to knitwear, I really love Jane's aesthetic. Her designs appeal to my love of all-things basic, and her Autumn hat is still my #1 go-to. I've knit 8 Autumns so far, and counting...

Afterlight

Unlike Jane's socks, mine hit just above the ankle. I tend to prefer shorter socks most days, but based on what I've seen of her socks, I think I'd really like to make another pair that hits mid-calf. I'm hoping she publishes a pattern for them soon!

Anyway, since my last three knits have been socks, I'm thinking of switching things up for my next project. I've been itching to make myself a slouchy black or charcoal colored beanie, or maybe something bright cranberry red. Choices, choices.

Homemade Sriracha Sauce

August 23, 2013

Sriracha

Sriracha sauce is one of my favorite condiments. I use it to kick up the heat in all sorts of foods, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sometimes even dessert. Seriously, I eat this stuff a lot.

That's why, after running across this recipe for homemade sriracha sauce a few weeks ago, I was immediately compelled to try it myself. Our pepper plants are growing crazy this year, so this is the perfect recipe to use them up. You can use your red jalapenos, fresnos, or even serranos, depending on your spice preference.

Homemade SrirachaSriracha

Just make sure you read through all of the instructions before you start, because although there's very little work involved in the preparation, you'll need to let the mixture ferment on your counter for about a week before it's ready. Still, it's worth the wait. Homemade sriracha tastes even better and brighter than the bottled stuff. Enjoy!

Homemade Sriracha Sauce adapted from Joshua Bousel's recipe at Serious Eats
Makes about 1 ½ cup.

1.5 lbs red jalapenos, fresnos, or serrano chili peppers, washed & stems removed
6 cloves garlic, peeled
4 tablespoons light brown or palm sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
½ cup distilled white vinegar

Homemade Sriracha

Place chiles, garlic, sugar, and salt in a food processor, and pulse until ingredients are finely chopped. Place in a clean jar, and cover with breathable material, such as a cloth or paper towel, and secure with a rubber band. Let jar ferment at room temperature for 5-7 days, stirring once per day.

Transfer mixture into a blender and add the distilled vinegar. Puree mixture until completely smooth (this takes about 3 minutes), and strain into a saucepan using a sieve. Push as much of the pulp through as possible using a spoon or rubber spatula. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until sauce thickens to desired consistency. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Once sauce has cooled, transfer to a clean, airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to six months.

Sriracha

Fun ways to use your homemade sriracha:
-In your bloody mary.
-Add a dollop to mayo for spicy mayo.
-Serve it over your air-popped popcorn.
-Use as a dipping sauce for meats and vegetables.
-In your deviled eggs to make them even more devil-icious.
-Use it to spice up a bowl of ramen or pho (or anything else, for that matter).

Over the Weekend

August 20, 2013

Little Wren had her first bath yesterday. It was traumatizing. For me, not her. #catsPainted the doors over the weekend. I call this color Chicken Makhani, or #2 Pencil. Same diff.
#clackamascountyfair#clackamascountyfair
Little Wren napping after her first bath.
We painted our front and back doors 'yam' from Martha Stewart's color line.
The reptile exhibit at the Clackamas County Fair.

It was over this last weekend that the lateness of the season finally hit me. I was watering my garden, staring blankly at all of my ripening tomatoes, when I realized it was chilly enough outside to warrant a sweater. I hadn't felt that cold since spring.

To tell you the truth, I'm a little anxious about fall this year. Usually end-of-summer/beginning-of-fall is my favorite time of year, but Matt is starting classes again this September, so things are going to change for us, and change is always stressful. In this case, it is the type of stress that is decidedly good and exciting, but I still have little knots in my stomach.

To relax, I've been reading Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, which has completely captivated me. I didn't mean to buy this book (I've got four other books on my reading list), but after I read through the sample on my Kindle, I was inspired to keep going. As an introvert who is also highly sensitive, I've always tried to blend in - often poorly - with the extroverted culture I live in. This puts me at odds with others, and especially myself, and makes me feel like there's something wrong with me. You can imagine how liberating it would be to read a book like this, and to realize there might be a way for introverted people like me to embrace our nature, and to coexist with extroverts without pretending, performing, or sacrificing something of ourselves.

As I read this book, I find myself highlighting furiously because there's so much I can relate to. For starters:

The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice. The same person who finds it difficult to introduce himself to strangers might establish a presence online and then extend these relationships into the real world.

I always found it difficult to participate in class discussions when I was in college. Not because I was shy or wasn't paying attention, but because I needed time to mull things over. There was something about the pressure of in-class discussions that kept me from being able to organize my thoughts, and this was always a source of upset for my professors who wanted me to participate more.

Still, I managed to do well in school because of my written work. Expressing thoughts through writing has always been easier for me than verbal communication, which is a phenomenon that many introverts experience in common. It also explains why I can write this blog, where I have no problem discussing anything that interests me to anyone and everyone (I figure you wouldn't be here unless you were interested in what I had to say), yet I rarely discuss anything that's important to me with people face-to-face unless I feel really comfortable with them first. I tend to be very quiet except with close friends and family.

Anyway, I highly recommend this book to both introverts and extroverts alike. Not only does it debunk some of the stigma attached to the word introvert, but I think it has some really valuable ideas about how we can help balance the scales in society so us introverts have the opportunity to prosper, too, instead of being made to feel like we're doing something wrong.

Dilly Beans

August 15, 2013

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This weekend, as I was gathering my pickling ingredients, I realized this will be my fifth year making dilly beans in a row. And despite the fact that I love these particular pickles, they tend to be a lot of work because of the preparation involved. You have to wash and trim each bean to the right length, which takes a lot of time, and then you have to pack the beans into your jars upright, which takes even more time. Especially because you want to pack those jars nice and tight.

Actually, I should amend that statement to say that I prefer to pack my beans upright. I've seen dilly beans that were trimmed short and tossed in a jar with the brine, and while I can appreciate the appeal to that method, I prefer the clean look of long, upright-standing beans. It's more aesthetically pleasing to me, which means I'm much more likely to eat them, and that's what it's all about, right?

Dilly Beans

Over these last five years, I've experimented with several different methods for preparing my dilly beans, all in an effort to find the perfect balance between sweet, salty, and savory. Finally, the summer before last (summer 2011), I struck gold. The predominant flavor in that batch came from the peppercorns, which, if you're a fan of freshly cracked pepper, you'll very much enjoy. There were other flavors involved, too, such as dill, garlic, mustard seed, and a little spice from the red pepper flakes (or dried chiles), but the peppercorn stole the show in a very good way.

So last year, I set about making a batch of dilly beans in hopes of achieving the same delicious flavor from the previous year's batch. Unfortunately, like gardening, experimenting with pickling spices can be hit and miss sometimes, and I missed my mark. It didn't take long to figure out why, either. It was definitely the celery seeds.

Dilly Beans

While they weren't necessarily bad, they tasted predominantly of sweet celery, which wasn't at all what I was hoping for. So this year, I've decided to omit the celery seeds altogether. And although I've already posted a recipe for dilly beans over at My Own Labels, I've got a slightly different version to share with you here today that involves sugar. To be clear, the addition of sugar doesn't make for a sweet pickle, but it does tend to elevate some of the flavors, especially the peppercorn, just enough to bring out a delicious savory element that isn't otherwise present. Enjoy!

Dilly Beans

Dilly Beans
Adapted from McCormick

You'll need:
8-10 sterilized wide-mouth pint jars, lids, and bands.
5 pounds green beans, washed and trimmed to 4 inches long
1 small white or red onion, sliced
Two heads of garlic, cloves peeled and separated
Whole peppercorns
Whole mustard seeds
Dill, dried or fresh
Pepper flakes or whole dried chiles

Brine:
5 cups water
5 cups distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)
4 tablespoons non-iodized salt
4 tablespoons sugar

Dilly Beans

Directions
Sterilize your jars and lids, and prepare your ingredients.

Divide your onion slices and your garlic cloves evenly between your jars, and place at the bottom. To each jar, add 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, and 1/4 teaspoon dried pepperflakes (or 1-2 whole dried chiles). If you're using dried dill, add about 1/2 teaspoon per jar. If your dill is fresh, add 1-2 heads per jar, depending on your preference.

Pack your jars with your beans, fitting them in as tight as you can over the spices, onion, and garlic. 

Make the brine by combining the water, vinegar, salt and sugar in a large stock pot. Heat over medium-high to high, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a boil. Ladle brine over beans, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Run a thin, non-metallic utensil (like a chopstick) down the inside of the jars to remove air bubbles, and wipe the rims clear with a damp cloth or paper towel. Cover with lids, and secure with bands.

Process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes, making sure the water level is over the jars. Remove jars from water and set on a towel-lined tablecloth. Let cool until room temperature. Remove bands, check seals, and store in a cool, dark place for 1-2 months before eating for best results.

Tips:
-If any of your seals didn't take, you can store those jars in the refrigerator and snack on them periodically to test the progress of the flavor. The'll stay good so long as you've got them refrigerated.
-Using straight beans will help you pack in those beans nice and tight. You can also tilt your jar to the side.
-Make sure your beans are freshly picked. The fresher they are, the tastier and crunchier your dilly beans will be.

Around the House + Weekend Plans

August 9, 2013

Zinnias

Out of all the annuals I planted this year, the zinnias are the only flowers that are flourishing. I planted them along the path up to the front door, so they greet me each time I walk up to the house. I love their color, and plan to buy more seeds for next spring, but I'll need to find a better location. These puppies grow tall! Maybe along a fence line or something.


Shelled Peas

I was afraid that our warm weather would be too much for our peas, but it seems I've found a decently shady spot for them, so they continue to grow. These are the first I've shelled. Usually they don't last long enough, and I eat them as snap peas, but I'm trying give the pods time to mature now.


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My kombucha project (growing a scoby from a bottle of raw store kombucha) is working! I've got a mother developing on the top of my jar, so I'm brewing another batch of tea as I type this to help it grow stronger.


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I picked this season's first ripe cherry tomatoes on Wednesday, and cut them both in half to share with Matt. So sweet and juicy! Can't wait for the larger tomatoes to ripen, too.


Carrot-Beet-Turnip Pickles with Ginger & Dills

This weekend I'll be doing lots of pickling of both the vinegar and fermented varieties. These are my fermenting dills and carrot-beet-ginger pickles that I made a few weeks ago, and I can't stop eating them. I'm hoping to share the recipes for these with you soon.

Have a good weekend!

Traditional Sauerkraut

August 6, 2013

Sauerkraut with Caraway Seeds

Now that I've learned how to make my own sauerkraut, I think it's likely to be a pantry staple in my home from now on. However, unlike most people who make lacto-fermented foods on a regular basis, I don't have a pickling crock (yet), so I've had to make due with stuff that's already in my kitchen. Despite any inconvenience this may pose, I think my initial experiments with wild fermentation have turned out quite well, so I'd like to share my method for those of you who, like me, may not be equipped with all of the tools that are typically called for with this type of recipe.

Traditional Sauerkraut
1 large head green cabbage
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon caraway seeds and/or juniper berries
1 sanitized quart-sized wide-mouth jar

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1. Remove a few outer leaves from your cabbage, rinse, and set aside. Quarter, core, and slice the rest into thin strips.

2. In a large glass or ceramic container, mix the ingredients together and let sit for ten to fifteen minutes.

3. With clean hands, press and knead the cabbage for another five to ten minutes, extracting as much of the liquid from the leaves as you can.

4. Pack the mixture and all of the extracted liquid into your jar, and press down on the cabbage with your hands until the liquid level rises to the top. Using the cabbage leaves you reserved in the beginning, press down on the cabbage to pack it in so that the vegetables are submerged under the brine. You can leave the whole leaf in with the jar to help ensure that the liquid stays above the rest of the vegetables.

5. Cover your jar with a cloth or paper towel, and secure with a rubber band. Set in a cool, dark place for 3-14 days (the warmer the temperature, the faster it will ferment), checking each day for sourness, and to make sure the level of the brine remains above the vegetables. 

6. Once your sauerkraut has reached the level of sourness you prefer, secure it with a lid and band, and place in the refrigerator. The sauerkraut will continue to ferment at a slower pace, and will remain good for several months.


Notes:

-If you want to double or triple the recipe, that's totally fine. Just make sure you use 1 tablespoon of salt per head of cabbage, and figure on 1 quart jar per head as well.

-If you see bubbles and froth, that's totally normal.

-If you see mold develop on the surface, it might still be okay. Assess whether the mold is growing on the vegetables themselves, or just the brine where their air meets the liquid. If it's just on the surface of the brine, you can scoop it out and clean the edges, and the vegetables should remain fine, but I would close the jar with a lid and band and stick it in the refrigerator. If the mold is growing on the vegetables, you'll probably need to discard everything.

-You can use red cabbages in place of green ones, but you might need to expend more energy in kneading the liquid from the leaves. If necessary, you can add a bit of cool water to help raise the liquid levels over the vegetables.