A few of my favorite things . . . .

I made a goal to post every day just recently, but I have tons of work today (my day job, gardening, canning and being a mom) and I can’t seem to focus enough to write anything coherent. So, I will just leave you with a photograph of my new favorite, best ever, wickedly delicious treat:

retail-chocolate_bourbon-nib-brittle_01

Preserving the Harvest – Pickled Dilly Asparagus Spears

dill asparagus spearsWe’ve got a small asparagus patch at the Land of Fruits and Nuts. Not really enough of a harvest to have to can, but enough to whet my husband’s appetite. So, when it goes on sale during asparagus season, I buy a bunch and make pickled dilly asparagus spears. Now, for me, the cheapest I have found it is $0.99 a pound . . . it may be cheaper in your neck of the woods and it may not.

Dilly asparagus spears are a way to preserve the harvest so to speak without pressure canning. Asparagus is, like most vegetables, a low acid food so to be safe, asparagus must be pressure canned for safe shelf storage unless you add acid and pickle it. And boy is it good with some dill and garlic.

For asparagus speaks, I like the pint and 1/2 jars. Now these are supposed to be processed like quart jars and they are tall, so you have to have a tall pot to cover the tops with an adequate amount of water. But here’s the recipe for a regular pint size jar.

Ingredients

For six (6) wide mouth pint jars, you will need:

10 pounds asparagus
6 large garlic cloves
4 1/2 cups water
4 1/2 cups white distilled vinegar (5%)
6 small hot peppers (optional – I don’t use)
1/2 cup canning salt
3 teaspoons dill seed

Directions

First, wash and rinse canning jars; keep hot until ready to use. Prepare lids according to manufacturer’s directions. You don’t need to sterilize the jars first because you will be processing for at least ten (10) minutes.

Next, start your brine. In a large non-reactive pot, combine water, vinegar, hot peppers (if using), salt and dill seed. Bring to a boil.

While the mixture is coming to a boil, peel and wash garlic cloves. Also wash asparagus. Cut stems from the bottom to leave spears with tips that fit into the canning jar with a little less than 1/2 inch headspace.

When brine is about to boil, place washed, rinsed and warm canning jars on a flat surface on top of a towel. Place a garlic clove at the bottom of each jar. Now, I also add additional dill seed or dill weed to each jar because I love the dill flavor. You can add additional dried spices without upsetting the acidity level or causing problems.

Tightly pack asparagus into jars with the blunt ends down.

Fish out hot peppers if using and place one hot pepper in each jar over asparagus spears. Pour boiling hot pickling brine over spears, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.

Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened, clean towel; apply two-piece metal canning lids.

Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes (adjust for altitude). Process time is for pints or 12 ounces jars. After processing is complete, turn off heat and let sit 5 minutes. Remove from water bath and place on counter on towel. Let cool, undisturbed, for 12 to 24 hours and check for seals.

Allow pickled asparagus to sit in processed jars for 3 to 5 days before eating for best flavor development. They taste good right after, however, as my husband can never wait.

Preserving the Harvest – Raspberry Chocolate Sundae Topper

raspberry chocolateIt is harvest time at here at the farm. Or perhaps I should save summer harvest because it seems like I am harvesting year round. Right now, I’ve got buckets and buckets of blueberries and raspberries. Well, I have buckets as long as I beat out the peahens and the dogs. I didn’t even know dogs would eat blueberries straight off the blueberry bushes until I watched my dogs do it. Silly puppies.

I still have pints of blueberry and raspberry jams from last summer, so I wanted to find some different ways to preserve the berries. For the raspberries, I came across a recipe for a sinful ice cream topper in the Ball preserving book – a chocolate raspberry sundae topper. The recipe calls for:

Ingredients

    • 1/2 cup sifted unsweetened cocoa powder (make sure it is unsweetened)
    • 6 Tbsp Ball® RealFruit™ Classic Pectin
    • 4-1/2 cups crushed red raspberries (measure after crushing)
    • 6-3/4 cups granulated sugar
    • 4 Tbsp. lemon juice
    • 6 (8 oz) half pint glass preserving jars with lids and bands

Directions

So, the first step is to prepare you boiling water canner. This is your large pot with water added. Add a canning rack or a round cake cooling rack to the bottom so the jars are lifted off of the bottom. Fill partway with water. If you have hard water, you can add a splash of white distilled vinegar to keep residue from forming on the jars, or just plan on wiping them off when you are doing. Add the jars to the water and heat to simmering but do not bring to a boil. Keep in mind you are going to want the water to be at least 1 and 1/2 inches over the jars when they are full and being processed.

When the water is hot, scoop a little in a bowl and add the jar lids. Set bands aside.

For the sundae topper, place the cocoa powder and the pectin in a small glass bowl and combine. Set aside. In a non-reactive sauce pan, add the crushed raspberries and lemon juice. Whisk in the pectin/cocoa mixture until dissolved. Bring mixture to boil over high heat.  Add sugar all at once, and return mixture to full roiling boil stirring constantly. Keep a full roiling boil for 1 minute, stirring. At end of minute, remove from heat.  The mixture will be richly, deeply red and glassy.  See the picture of my topper in the pot.

Skim foam off if desired. Let sit 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle into the jars (remove them from the water first and set on counter on top of dish rag or cloth). Leave 1/4 inch headspace. Center lids (warmed in water) on jar and place screw bands, tightening until “finger tip” tight.

Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes (adjust for altitude). Turn off heat and let sit 5 minutes. Remove jars and set on counter top on top of dish rag. Let sit 24 hours and check seal.

If seal is good, label and store. To use, warm and put on ice cream. Or use in a crepe or on pancakes. The topper is sinfully delicious and rich.

The Smart Mama: Preparations Matter in an Emergency ~ Communications Plan

thNews reports of shortages in supplies in advance of the ice storm now hitting the southeast underscore the need to prepare for emergencies in advance – and not 24 hours in advance. Yes, you can plan on being able to go buy food, toilet paper, dog food, formula, shovels, generators, whatever before a storm hits – but what if the stores don’t have the supplies? What if you simply don’t have time? What if you don’t have the money at the time or gas in your car or some other Murphy’s Law situation?

Most survival stories involve planning in advance – the right gear, the right planning, the right training – for the emergency. Of course, stores abound of individuals surviving against incredible odds – but why stake a successful outcome on happenstance? It is easier to plan in advance.  Of course, most plans don’t survive the emergency – but having put some thought into your emergency preparations, you will be much better off and have a higher chance of surviving successfully.

For most families, planning for an emergency is going to involve a family communications plan.  It is highly likely that in the event of an emergency, family members and pets may be scattered.  One or both parents may be at work.  Kids may be at school or at some activity.  A family member may be at church. Whatever.  A family communications plan should involve a discussion about how you will communication and where you will meet.  Where you will meet may vary depending on the hazard.  Cell phones are great – but they may not be available depending on the emergency.  Texts often have an easier time getting through – and kids should be instructed to text (assuming they have phones).  Also, meeting locations should be arranged.  My kids have three bug out locations in the event they are at school and must leave the school in the event of an emergency.  We have prioritized the locations and discussed the locations with my kids.  We’ve also been to the locations from school so that the kids know how to get there.

But talk these preparations out before the emergency.  Talk with your kids about what to do if they can’t reach you after an earthquake or tornado, or where you should plan on meeting.  And discuss how long it may take you to reach that meeting place in the event of a disaster.

So, to develop your emergency family communications plan, the first step is to meet with your family or household members and discuss the plan and options.  Go over how to prepare and respond to the emergencies that are most likely to happen where you live, learn, work and play.

Make a decision and plan on what you will do if the family is separated during an emergency.  Select at least two places to meet, one right near home in case there is a sudden emergency at home, such as a fire, and at least one outside your immediate neighborhood, in case you cannot return home or are asked to evacuate.  If your kids are at school, I would recommend a third that is safe for them and in between their school and your house.  If it is a friend’s house, make sure that friend knows that your kids may stage at the location.

Together, choose an out-of-area emergency contact person. It may be easier to text or call long distance if local phone lines are overloaded or out of service. Everyone should have this person’s emergency contact information in writing or saved on their cell phones, and the contact person should know that he or she may need to act to coordinate.  That person should have some familiarity with your town to assist your children.

You may also want to invest in some handheld two way radios.  They can be useful and easy to use.

If you need to evacuate, decide together where you would go and what route you would take to get there. You may choose to go to a hotel/motel, stay with friends or relatives in a safe location or go to an evacuation shelter if necessary.  But make sure your kids understand what the plan is.

Practice, practice, practice.  It may seem silly, but practice does make perfect. At least drive your planned evacuation route and plot alternate routes on your map in case roads are impassable.

And, of course, plan ahead for your pets. Keep a phone list of pet-friendly hotels/motels and animal shelters that are along your evacuation routes.

 Don’t forget to remind your family members that the American Red Cross has its Safe and Well website to let family and friends know you are safe.  Teach your kids how to use it too.

 

 

TheSmartMama’s Guide to Surviving an Emergency – Packing a Get Home Bag for Work

thTo adequately prepare for an emergency situation, you have to know for what sort of emergency you are preparing.  I live in Southern California, and work outside the home.  The most likely emergency situations I will face are earthquakes and wildfires.  And, it is quite possible that these situations could occur while I am at work and my kids are at home or at school.  I work approximately 25 miles from where my kids go to school and we live.  In the event of a wildfire, I’ll probably be able to go get them – in downtown Los Angeles, I don’t see a wildfire sweeping through.  But in the event of an earthquake, it is quite possible that the freeways and streets will not be driveable, and it is also possible my car could be stuck in its underground garage. So I’m guessing I will be walking home.

My kids have bug out locations – I just need to get to them. So I have a “get home” but out bag at work, designed to allow me to get home safely. Assuming there are no major obstacles, I should be able to get home within 24 hours – probably more like 6 hours. So I have a relatively light “get home” bag designed for the conditions I might face in the event of an earthquake and I am forced to essentially walk home. 

Now, the tendency is to put everything you can think of in a bug out bag so you can live for at least 72 hours outside the house. And that makes for one heavy bag. My plan is to keep it light so I can travel quickly home . . . where we have more emergency supplies.  Hence, this is my “get home” bag and not a complete bug out bag.

So, what do I have. I have comfortable walking shoes – worn in tennis shoes. Yeah, tactical boots would probably be better, but those are in my real bug out bag. I have a pair of leggings, a short sleeve sports shirt, a long sleeve sports shirt and a pull over.  I wear dressier clothes to work but I sure don’t want to walk home in them through some not so nice areas of Los Angeles.  I have an emergency poncho in the unlikely event we have rain here. I have a crushable hat and sunblock (critical in sunny Los Angeles). I have a very small medical kit basically just for bandaging, cleaning, topical antibiotics, and some pain killers.  I have some waterproof matches. I have an emergency whistle. I have a paper map of the area of would most likely be traversing. I have a head lamp, a collapsible tactical baton, clean socks, clean underwear (thanks mom), some wipes, a bottle of water, some jerky, some energy bars, some alcohol based cleaner, a small towel, a rope,  and that is pretty much it.  I also have a multi purpose tool and a tactical knife.  I have 2 survival blankets.  I also have a couple of items I can ditch – neoprene face mask, shoe polish (if I need to travel at night), gloves, extra plastic bags, and warmer jacket. Light enough to make tracks if I need to, and good enough to survive.  All of this is in a comfortable backpack, fitted to me.

Now, this is really just for one person to get home. It isn’t going to support my kids – I have another bug out bag in my vehicle if I need to do that.

TheSmartMama’s Guide to Surviving an Emergency – Turning off the Gas

thSo we have now lived at the Land of Fruits and Nuts for a year.  Moving to the Land of Fruits and Nuts has resulted in a drastic change in my outlook.  Just dealing with the abundant harvest on 6 acres has driven me to learn to preserve the harvest – pickling, canning, dehydrating and more.  Trying to learn to preserve the harvest ultimately lead me in my research to a number of homesteading and doomsday prepping websites.  And that lead me to wanting to be much more self sufficient.

To the consternation of my husband. Who walked into our house after being gone for work for a week to a demand for a solar generator and more ammo.

But, that was somewhere in the middle of my journey and I didn’t blog about it.  I’ve been so caught up in gardening and preserve and chasing crows that I only recently woke up and realized I hadn’t blogged for ages.

Oh well.

Now it is a new year and we just had what I’ve dubbed our survival Santa Christmas. And I thought I would start blogging about my emergency preparedness tactics and tricks in 2014.  Because one of my resolutions for 2014 is to be more prepared for emergency situations.

First things first, I live in earthquake country, and knowing how to turn off your gas supply is critical.  Of course, only turn off the gas at the meter if you smell gas, hear gas leaking or have other signs of a leak, and only if it is safe to do so.  But EVERYBODY in the house should know how to do it, including your kids (of course, if they are old enough).

So, yesterday, on January 1, 2014, I disrupted the Minecraft games to teach my kids (1) where the gas meter is located at our house; and (2) how to turn it off with a wrench.

Many homes  in Southern California (and I presume other areas prone to earthquakes) have natural gas seismic shut-off valves.  These valves automatically shut off the gas service when an earthquake of a sufficient magnitude occurs.   You could also have an excess flow valve – this valve automatically shuts off the gas service when a significant gas leak or overpressure surge occurs at a pipe or appliance located beyond the point where the valve is installed.

If you don’t have such a valve, then you do need to know where your gas meter is located and how to turn off the gas flow in the event of an emergency.   You gas meter may be located in a cabinet, under the house, next to the house or in an underground vault. Go find it.  Then, you will need a 12 inch wrench in your emergency supplies to turn off the gas flow

SafetyMeterhand

 

As you can see from the image, the gas flow is “on” when the valve is in line with the pipe, and it is “off” when the valve is cross wise to the pipe. Keep the wrench with your emergency supplies so you have it ready if you need to turn off the gas.

That’s it. Pretty easy. And  your kids should know how to do it – it may save their lives.

Land of Fruits and Nuts – Day 9 – What the heck am I doing and cookbook porn

942000_10201384548321558_1113451416_nOkay, so today I woke up and wondered what the heck am I doing with 6 acres of land covered with fruit trees and vegetables and other stuff. How am I going to do something with the bounty? The avocados hanging on the trees mock me. We can’t sell them at a Farmer’s Market unless we get a producer’s certificate. Which I want to do, but that is in between the rest of life as if I don’t have enough to do. And while I can give away the bounty, I can’t really give it away fast enough. I can do food swaps, but then again, I will end up taking stuff home. And I can donate it to local food banks, which we are doing some but some of the fruits just don’t travel very well, like loquats and mulberries, and cannot be easily or effectively donated.

Instead of doing anything productive to solve that problem, I spent Day 9 of my journey lusting after cookbooks. Of course, Day 9 was the last official day of the book fair at my kids’ school, so I started off by looking at the cookbooks there. And then poked around Amazon. My wish list now has the following books.

First, I love Nigel Slater’s cookbooks. I started with Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard because it seemed appropriate to have a cookbook subtitled “A cook in the orchard” and fell in love. I bought it at Rolling Greens in Costa Mesa (a wonderful store if you haven’t been) and the woman helping me recommended another book by Nigel Slater, The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater. That I absolutely loved. Loved. Sent it to my mom (who loves English mysteries) for Mother’s Day, and lusted after some of his others:

Given Amazon’s helpful recommendations, I then fell in love with several other cookbooks.

 

My husband is going to be out of town for an important upcoming holiday so he may just end up purchasing some cookbooks for me . . . . .

Land of Fruits and Nuts – Day 8 – Sweet Marmalade

DSC01395I’m still trying to use the oranges that are hanging on – the end of the season’s crop. I’ve got fresh blooms and new fruit starting, but we haven’t harvested all of this year’s crop. Mostly because it is all just a little too overwhelming here on our farm. I mean really, I’m a suburban mom with 2 kids and a full time job. How am I supposed to also be a modern pioneer woman?

In any event, having picked 2 more baskets of oranges in my efforts to tame an unruly orange tree (meaning I was attempting to give it a much needed pruning), I had to figure out what to do with them. My previous marmalade efforts were not much liked by my children or my husband. They didn’t like the bitterness, although I thought the marmalade tasted pretty darn good and very English.

If you didn’t know, marmalade is a fruit preserve made from the juice and peel of citrus fruits. The presence of the fruit peel is what makes it a marmalade, and the white pith and membranes impart the traditional bitter flavor. So, I wanted to make a marmalade with less bitterness than the traditional marmalade – a sweet marmalade.

The problem is that reducing the pith, seeds and membranes means that you are eliminating the parts of the orange that contain pectin – which causes the set (or the gel). You can make up for this by adding store bought pectin. So, I decided to try a sweet marmalade recipe, and found one in 175 Best Jams, Jellies, Marmalades and Other Soft Spreads by Linda J. Amendt which seemed pretty easy.

The recipe calls for 12 to 14 medium Valencia oranges. Now, I don’t know what kind of oranges I have. I know I don’t have navel – navels get their name from the fact that the bloom end looks a lot like a human belly button. The book states that you should not use navel oranges for making marmalade because they become tough when cooked and contain an enzyme that will cause the fruit to turn bitter during storage. However, a couple of recipes I found online say that you can use navel oranges.  I don’t know – but I do know I did NOT use navel oranges.  Although I don’t know what kind of oranges we have, I do know that they taste pretty darn good – and the first rule of preserving is to use good fruit to get good preserves.

So I had 14 oranges. First, I prepared the canning jars and lids. The recipe didn’t say how much it would make, so I prepared 6 1/2 pint jars. If you need a refresher on prepping the jars and water bath, read this post. Then I prepped the fruit, which involved removing only the colored portion of the peel from 6 of the oranges. I used a microzester to do it. Once you do that, you peel all of the oranges, removing the outer with pith. You then cut the fruit sections away from the membrane (remember, we don’t want any bitterness) and also remove any seeds. Discard the pitch, membrane and seeds.

Finely chop the fruit and measure 2 and 2/3 cups.

In your jam pot, put in the chopped fruit, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 1/8 tsp baking soda. Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and gently simmer for 8 minutes. Stir in the orange zest, cover and simmer 3 more minutes.

Slowly add and stir in 5 cups of granulated sugar and 1/2 tsp of unsalted butter (butter is optional – it is supposed to reduce foaming). Increase heat to medium-high and, stirring constantly, bring to a full rolling boil. Stir in 1 pouch of liquid pectin (3 oz). Return to full rolling boil while stirring constantly, and boil 1 minute.

Remove pot from heat and let cool 5 minutes. Remove any foam if necessary. Ladle into prepped jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rims. Add lids and then screw bands (finger tighten). Place jars in water bath, leaving covered by at least 1 inch of water. Cover and bring to boil. Process 4 or 8 ounce jars for 10 minutes and process 1 pint jars for 15 minutes.

Remove jars from water bath and place on wire rack or cloth towel. Let sit without disturbing for 24 hours. Check for a good seal. Remove screw tops and store in cool, dry location.

 

Land of Fruits & Nuts – Day 7 – Taking a Canning Class and More

bigstock-Funny-goat-s-portrait-on-a-gre-41216992Before I get too far along in my adventure here at the Land of Fruits and Nuts, I wanted to share information about a class I took at the Institute of Domestic Technology, rediscovering the future of home economics. I took Foodcrafting 101. We learned a Twenty-One Hour boule recipe (delicious), how to make fresh chevre, handcrafted coarse mustard, and a jam recipe.

The class was held at the historic Zane Grey Estate in Altadena, California. We started by gathering on a lovely screened in porch, munching on handcrafted scones with fresh.

Our leader was Joseph Shuldiner, the Institute Director, LA County Master Food Preserver and author of Pure Vegan.  Every student introduced herself (this particular class was all women) and the groups was quite remarkable. A County Living magazine editor, a modern pioneer woman, 2 professors of physics (one at CalTech, the other at UCLA) and a well known LA food blogger, among other very interesting students.

Then we moved to the kitchen to begin our series of classes, taught by experts. For example, Gloria Putnam taught the cheese module. She has been raising goats and making cheese in Altadena with Mariposa Creamery since 2009. Plus, we got to hear the goats bleating throughout the afternoon and enjoyed their antics through the windows of the kitchen.

We spent the day learning – first doing our bread, then the jam, then the mustard and finally the goat cheese. Along the way we discussed sourcing ingredients and reference books. In between, we had a delicious lunch, made with fresh and local ingredients.

Each crafted item was absolutely delicious. At the end, we nibbled on fresh bread lathered with the leftover fresh goat cheese and the preserves (strawberry rhubarb) at the bottom of the jam pot. I don’t think I have ever had anything more delicious. We were sent home with our bread dough, a jar of our preserves, a take home container of the chevre and a container of mustard.

The Institute has a number of classes, and I plan on taking more. I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

Land of Fruits and Nuts – Day 6 – Loquat Jelly

Three glass mason jars on an isolated backgroundAs I explained in my prior post, I had tons of loquats and wanted to use them for something, anything really. I stumbled across a recipe for loquat jelly, and was determined to make it. The day before (Day 5 if you are keeping track), I made loquat juice by de-seeding the loquats, boiling them in a pot just covered with water, and then straining the pulp and skin out. I ended up with 12 cups of juice.

The approved recipe calls for 4 cups loquat juice and says to “cook juice down until thick and cherry colored” but it isn’t clear whether that 4 cups of juice is before or after cooking it down until it is thick and cherry colored. It does say to cook down and then measure into a saucepot so I have to assume it meant to cook down and then measure 4 cups.  Also, since I didn’t know, I looked at some other recipes available on the web, and they all seemed to call for 4 cups of juice for 4 cups of sugar. Therefore, I tried to cook my juice down until it was thick and cherry colored. I cooked my juice for a long time, and while it got thicker and deeper colored, it never really got thick or cherry colored. I may have just had too much juice, or perhaps I didn’t cook it long enough. I ended up with about 4 and 1/2 cups, so I decided to make the jelly.

The recipe calls for 4 cups loquat juice and 4 cups sugar. You measure juice into a saucepot, add the sugar and still. Boil over high heat until it reaches the gel point, or 200 degrees F.  Of course, make sure your canning jars are ready and your lids are ready.  Pour or ladle jelly into warmed jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Put lids and finger tighten screw caps (after wiping rims as needed).  The process time called for is 5 minutes.

Of course, we had to try the jelly right away, and scooped it out of the saucepot upon cooling. My son absolutely loved it. I think it has too much sugar and overwhelms the relatively delicate taste of the loquats. But it was very satisfying to do something with the fruit.