Friday, September 9, 2011

drying herbs on coat hangers

What do you do when your herbs really need to be harvested and you have no use for them fresh?

You dry them.

On coat hangers. Yes, coat hangers.

And where do you hang them to dry? Where else? The closet. Next to the ironing board and some jackets.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

one woman's trash is another woman's...compost

Because of our summer of abundant produce, we have been able to put away a lot of food for winter. However, doing so requires prepping veggies, and often a ton of veggie "waste" is leftover. Stuff like carrot peels, pepper cores, and the occasional bruised tomato. For a long time we've wanted to start a compost pile to help reclaim the nutrients from this "waste" to use as natural fertilizer for our garden next year. We had wanted to build one with reclaimed wooden pallets, but with no way to get pallets from Mark's work back to our house, we had put the project off. After seeing a post on Young House Love about being able to do small-scale composting in a rubbermaid tub, we decided to just jump in and make a few for ourselves. 

We started by drilling small holes in the bottom of the tubs for drainage purposes. The compost needs to be watered, but you don't want it to collect water, so the holes allow water to drain and air to get in. After doing that, we decided the holes weren't quite bit enough to allow that movement, so we drilled some bigger ones.

We were ready to start filling it up, so we got it to its designated coordinates - under one of the trees in the back yard. Compost when done properly doesn't have odors or attract rodents, but since bugs are a natural part of the breaking down, most people don't put compost bins on their back porch. This place is still accessible to us, so we put it where it should work out nicely.

Compost bins are made by layering "browns" and "greens." Browns are things like shredded (non-glossy) paper, cardboard, lint, egg shells, and dead plants. Greens are vegetable and fruit waste and live plants. When we did the composting, I had recently had a fit of shredding of old files, so we were lucky to have a bunch of shredded paper to start out.

Some of our shrubs and plants had to be trimmed, so we had some of those to add as well.

Then the fun part. Adding in the food "waste" - here we have a couple of almost moldy peaches and some onion scraps.

Next we have some brown paper and some grass clippings.

 Then some soil (from an overturned tomato bucket that the wind blew off our deck) and more plant clippings.

Once it was all compacted in, we added some water.
And did the same thing with a second tub.

We've been adding bags of kitchen scraps to it and trying to balance it out with the browns as well. Definitely no eggs, dairy, meat, or grease, which are usually the culprits when someone has compost that stinks.
If you're interested in composting, you should also check out this helpful guide from Mother Earth News. Composting is almost like using a replicator on a star ship. All we do is take matter and let it break down and "reorganize" itself into fertilizer to help us grow more food next year!

Monday, September 5, 2011

tomatoes. the exciting conclusion!

This is it. The end of the line on the 40 lbs. of organic tomatoes. Crushed/whole tomatoes. Cut them up, cook them down. Simple as that!

We did quarts for these instead of pints. I can't wait to dump a jar into a pot of chili this winter!

I've been talking for awhile now about running out of room to store our ever-expanding collection of preserved foods. The day after the tomato extravaganza, a caravan of family from up north arrived here at Starbase 107, and my grandpa brought down two cabinets which my grandma used to store her jars of food. I'm really excited to store food I canned in her jars in her cabinets, especially with the one cabinet's dark doors (cool and dark are the optimal conditions for storage). We had to move quickly to get jars into the cabinet to make room for 10 people to sit down to dinner in our dining room, so I didn't get to take photos of each tomato product as it filled up the first shelf. 

But full the first shelf is.

I wonder if we can get this cabinet full by the end of the season! We've still got a lot of good canning season left. I'd like to do more whole fruit, and make applesauce when it gets to be fall. 

Coming up in the next week, Stone garden-related adventures (i.e. planting some fall seeds, creating a backyard compost pile, and drying herbs in a closet with coat hangers...)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

tomato or tomahto? either way, it's sauce time.

We decided to don our crazy hats and make a double batch of pizza sauce and a full batch of tomato sauce. The salsa took up the morning, but these sauces took up the majority of the rest of the day between the cook time and processing time, plus the two hours (yes, TWO hours) I spent processing tomatoes through the food mill. Good thing we're dedicated for a lot of reasons to this canning thing. This tomato day was almost enough for us to just throw up our sticky red hands and be done with it. I'm sure we'll be happy though to grab a jar of pizza sauce for homemade pizza nights this winter. It's my goal to preserve as many tomato things as possible so as to lessen the blow when the good fresh tomatoes are no longer available in the store.

Tomatoes like this:
Out comes the trusty dutch oven, ready to sit on the stove for hours.

After it cooks, it goes down through the food mill to remove the seeds and skins.

Ah, clean jars. I will never get sick of taking photos of ball jars. 

Warm up the sauce, and get it into hot jars with some bottled lemon juice.

After the spaghetti sauce was underway, we cut tomatoes for pizza sauce. The Ball Blue Book recipe wanted you to quarter tomatoes and run them raw through the food mill. Which I did. And it took me forever. Until Mark got home from picking up our quarter of a cow from Weatherbury Farms (yes, that's right) and helped me use a bigger food mill blade and then he did three times more in 15 minutes than I managed to do in almost 2 hours.

Real kitchen photo time. This is only a fraction of the mess in the kitchen on tomato day. I didn't take photos of the floor or the legs of the island. Too embarrassing.

You end up with a lot of tomato puree to cook down.

Process process and process some more. We ended up with about 20 or so jars? Maybe 25? I've blocked it out already. 

Final tomato post to come and the big reveal of the new shelves.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

attack of the killer tomatoes: salsa edition

We had the opportunity to buy bulk organic tomatoes from our CSA and jumped at the chance, now that August's best veggie is streaming in. We spent an entire 14-hour day canning salsa, tomato sauce, and pizza sauce, and finished them off with whole tomatoes the following day. We did so much I'm going to break it down into several posts.

Thanks to Joni for sharing her family's recipe for salsa. We followed their recipe with the addition of cilantro, which is one of our favorite herbs and happened to come in that week's CSA. (Following our use it up or put it up philosophy, we have tried to use everything we possibly can from the CSA and not waste anything.)

Commence chopping. Oh, the chopping. We chopped and chopped and chopped all day. (Though always wear gloves when chopping hot peppers if you have an issue with rubbing your eyes, like I do. I've suffered hot pepper eye too many times - now I'm extra careful.)

Bloody looking tomato hands, all day. I swear I found tomato guts everywhere the next day.

We made a double batch of salsa, which is why there are two almost identical prep bowls side by side.

Because we did so many tomato products over the course of that day, they were all stored together, so the final photos won't be revealed until you see the other things we made. Stay tuned!