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.

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 – Preserving the Harvest – Day 3 – Elder

fresh elder flowers against a white backgroundSo, my third day of preserving the harvest at the Land of Fruits and Nuts found me too exhausted to think of canning. For the record, for the past two days, I’d been canning after the kiddos went to sleep, which meant that I was up pretty late.  Plus, I had to tend to the garden in the morning. After that, I had to coach volleyball practice. Then I wandered about the property checking out what was blooming, what was about to bloom, etc. Also had to figure out if we were going to meet the fire clearance requirements or if we had more brush clearing to do.

So, instead of tackling a new canning project, I decided to take stock and look through my cookbooks to discover some new recipes. I also want to prep for a class I was taking the following day on Elderflowers as part of the Wildcrafted Medicine series launched by the fabulous Rebecca Altman and Emily Ho.

So first, checking out my cookbooks led to shopping on Amazon for new books on canning and preservation. I picked out several for Mother’s Day (as a hint to my husband) and will post as I try some of the recipes.

After that, I started reading the information on the Elderflowers class and making sure I was prepared. As I was researching proper identification, it dawned on me that we may have Elder trees at the Land of Fruits and Nuts. The flowers looked vaguely familiar, as if I had just walked by them. But I, quite mistakenly, thought that Elder trees (and flowers and berries) were limited to England, Scotland and the like. I associate Elder with Celtic traditions, priestesses, the Lady of the Lake and, of course, Harry Potter. The thought that I might have Elder trees had never even crossed my mind. And I was off and running down the hill to check it out.

Lo and behold, the Land of Fruits and Nuts has at least 7 mature Elder trees. Apparently, we have Mexican or Blue Elder, although looking at references there is some dispute as to the taxonomy. Oh well. Doesn’t matter much to me – we have loads of the flowers (which smell like summer and magic to me).

Elderflowers can be used to make herbal effusions, elder cordial and a host of other products. I can’t even tell you how excited I was to find so many mature trees present at the Land of Fruits and Nuts. Elderflowers are mysterious and magical to me – growing my own, harvesting them and making a medicinal elixir is an act of defiance against conventional medicine. Off to do some more research!

 

Land of Fruits and Nuts – Preserving the Harvest – Day 2 – Orange & Whiskey Marmalade

Calamondin Citrus OrangesSo, having successfully made and canned strawberry jam (see my blog post on Day 1), I was ready to move on and try something to preserve the actual harvest. And boy do we have oranges. There are many mature orange trees on the Land of Fruits and Nuts. I don’t know what kind of oranges, but we have tons. And I was told you must remove all the fruit from the tree each spring so I figured I would tackle one tree, harvest the fruit and do some pruning. And then can the harvest.

Well, the harvest netted bags and bags of oranges – most of which were taken by a friend to be donated to a food bank. But I kept some of the oranges to try my hand at making marmalade.

I really wanted to make a whiskey marmalade. I have quite a fondness for whiskey – American whiskey to be frank. My current favorite is Leopold Bros. Georgia Peach Whiskey (YUM!) (although I am also stuck on Apple Pie Moonshine). I wanted to mellow out the marmalade with whiskey but I couldn’t find a recipe designed for whiskey until I hit upon one in Preserve It!.  The recipe was for “Clementine and Whiskey Marmalade” and while I don’t know whether or not I had clementines, I just used the oranges I had picked. I am pretty sure that they were NOT clementines.

It came out okay, but I found the recipe instructions to be a bit confusing and incomplete. For example, if you read the recipe literally, it doesn’t tell you to put the lids on until after you have processed the jars in the water bath. That would be a complete and utter disaster! Also, you are supposed to juice the oranges before cutting the peel, and then use water to cover the orange pieces. Seems to me you should use the juice and I’m going to try that. In any event, here is the recipe:

  • 2 lbs (900 g) organic clementines, scrubbed, rinsed, halved, seeds removed
  • juice of 2 large lemons
  • 4 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 to 2 tbsp whiskey (I used Leopold Bros. Georgia Peach)
  1. Prepare your jars for water bath canning. I made 4 1/2 pint jars with this recipe. The recipe says it makes about 3 medium jars or 2 and 1/4 pounds. If you need help on prepping, see my Day 1 post.
  2. Either juice the clementines and then shred the skins with a sharp knife or put in food processor and chop until shredded but not mush. I started by juicing and making nice slivers with my sharp knife, but quickly gave up and stuck in the food processor.
  3. Place chopped fruit in a preserving pan and add 3 cups of water, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook gently until rind has softened (30 minutes or more). Next time I am going to use any juice (assuming I juice first as opposed to using the food processor).
  4. Add lemon juice and sugar. Cook over low heat, continuously stirring, until sugar is dissolved.
  5. Turn the heat up to bring to a boil. Keep at rolling boil, stirring constantly, until gel point is reached. This took my stovetop FOREVER – really, 40 minutes I think.
  6. Take off of heat and stir in whiskey. I added 2 to 3 tbsp, but hey, that’s me!
  7. Place into prepared jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Add lids (that have been properly warmed) and screw tops (finger tighten). Place and process in water bath for 5 minutes. Remove and place on towel. Let sit for 24 hours and check seal.

This is a more traditional marmalade as my mom says, with the bitterness of the orange present. I am going to try adding whiskey to a sweet marmalade for my next batch of oranges. I only have 6 more trees at least to depopulate of fruit – lots of opportunities for experimenting.

 

 

Wild Edibles – Foraging for Dinner

SAMSUNGSo the other night I didn’t have any veggies or greens to add to our dinner. I had fruit and I had potatoes, but nothing green and bright. So I did a quick foraging expedition in our backyard – choosing both some so called weeds and some components from the garden. And I thought I would share what I found in early April in Los Angeles near the coast.

First, I found tons and tons of Tropaeolum, commonly known as Nasturtium, a flowering plant. It is a “weed” in our yard – that is, it is growing everywhere and I didn’t cultivate it.  

The genus Tropaeolum contains several popular garden plants, including T. majus, T. peregrinum and T. speciosum.  I specifically found T. majus, which is also known as garden nasturtium, Indian cress or monks cress.   For T. majus, the leaves and flowers can be eaten.  Even the fruit is edible and is used as a caper substitute by some. 

I’ve eaten the flower petals and the young leaves.  The flowers and young leaves have peppery taste with a very faint bitter note at the end. I haven’t collected the fruit ~ but this year, I am going to try. T. majus is growing rampant in my yard – it really is like kudzu.

In any event, the flower petals added a nice peppery note to the salad. It seems the most common use of T. majus is to use them to add color and some peppery notes to a salad.  But if you want to try a nice recipe with it, I found this recipe for Nasturtium Leaf Pesto at RootSimple (I met one of the authors this weekend ~ more to come).  Also, Miche Barcher has a very interesting recipe for Nasturtium Goat Cheese Ice Cream in her book Cooking with Flowers I am going to try tomorrow.

I also collected dandelion greens, some blueberries from our blueberry plants, a handful of French sorrel and a leaf from my tree collard.  The French sorrel added a lemony note.  Dandelion greens taste different depending on when you harvest them. I’ve always been told to harvest the greens before the plant blooms – if you wait too long, they are bitter. To be honest, I still find the young greens have a bitter note – but if you shred/tear into a salad with other components, the bitterness is welcome.  So, I took the greens and the fruit and rinsed, shredded as appropriate, added a dash of sea salt and served with Blood Orange Olive Oil and Georgia Peach Balsamic Vinegar, it was delicious.