Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Too Busy to Post Anything

Close Up of my Christmas Tree

As you may have noticed, I have been way too busy and preoccupied with other happenings in my life for the past several weeks to keep up with posting photos and stories in my blogs. I miss writing to you, and I miss the interaction with my readers.

Life has been moving so fast for me lately, that I have been struggling to keep up with it in "real time" and have not had the time or energy to process it, reflect on it or write about it.

So I just wanted to check in to let you all know that I am still alive and still here. I will do a "catch up" post soon and then hopefully get back to more frequent and "newsy" blogging.

As you can see from the photo above, I did manage to get and decorate my Christmas tree, so there has been some joy and some holiday spirit around here in between all of the chaos.

For now, I wish you all a very Happy Winter Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season's Greetings, Happy Hannakah, Kwanzaa and/or whatever winter holidays you celebrate!

I leave you with this photo of hot cocoa adorned with a homemade (I bought it at our Xmas Bazaar) marshmallow to keep you warm and cozy on these cold winter nights.

Love to you all,
Farmer Jen

Hot Cocoa with Red Sugared Homemade Marshmallow

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Some Days are Like This

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween Jack-o-Lanterns

Scary Toothy Grin in the dark

Not So Scary in the Light

This is just a quick post to show off our pumpkin carving talents to make this year's Jack-o-Lanterns for Halloween.

First off, we went out and bought field pumpkins because we only grew sweet pie pumpkins this year in our gardens, which are way better for making pies than for carving into jack-o-lanterns. Since Bob really wanted to grow his own pumpkin and make it grow really, really big, I have saved some seeds from these field pumpkins and we will plant them next spring to see if Bob can nurture "the Great Pumpkin" in his garden for his 2010 Halloween jack-o-lantern.

So on to the pumpkin carving. We gathered in my kitchen the night before Halloween, carved designs into our pumpkins, drank hot spiced apple cider and ate Halloween candy. (we don't get many trick-or-treaters around here, so we didn't need to leave much candy for them!)

First up is Bob's fancy design showing off his knife skills (a very sharp knife!) especially around the eyes & eyebrow areas:

Next is Jack's toothless design that seems to have some anxiety and stress going on. Great expression on that one! Kind of disturbing too. Bob mentioned that this face reminded him of someone he knows.

Then there is mine. Sort of cat-like, but with more teeth than one would expect for a cat. The guys said mine was the scariest face. (my pumpkin, not my own face...at least I think that's what they meant!)

Here's the full family trio of scary jack-o-lanterns, lit up and slightly out of focus.

Great fun and great family time. I love pumpkins.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Halloween and got only treats and no tricks this year.

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Curious Cat

Louie Watching TV

Early this past summer I noticed a stray cat hanging around my place. It's not unusual to see visiting kitties out here in the country, some belong to neighbors, some are strays looking for a handout. This cat kept his distance, but seemed to want to come closer and be friends. Friends with me and also friends with my outside cat who spends his days safely outside in the large enclosed "patio" that we built for him years ago.

Unfortunately, since this new cat was obviously an intact male, and I mean obviously, he stressed my outside kitty who is also a male, although neutered and quite friendly. My boy was so upset by this stray cat intruder that he didn't want to eat his food, which is a huge sign that something is really wrong for this particular cat. He always wants to eat his food!

So I checked with my neighbors to see if anyone was missing a cat, and no surprise, that nobody claimed him. One neighbor who has many outside cats told me that this kitty had been "beaten up" by some of her male cats and he looked it too. He had some scars and cuts around his ears and a hurt paw.

I informed our local no-kill shelter about the cat and asked that they take him and get him neutered and adopted out to a good home. They cared, but had too many cats to deal with at that time. So I was on my own if I wanted to take care of this cat and also get him far away from my kitty so that he would relax and eat again.

I made friends with the stray cat by feeding him and day by day he got closer and closer and let me pet him a little bit. I took him to my vet and had him neutered and tested for all the normal cat diseases. He got his basic vaccinations since I doubted he'd ever had any. The vet told me that he was between 12 and 18 months old at the time, which would put his approximate birthday around March 1, 2008, a pisces kitty.

I named him Louie. And then I did my best to convince Hardware Bob that he needed a young cat companion to liven up his house with youthful cat antics. Somehow my convincing worked and now Louie and Bob are best of friends.

Bob sent me the photo above of Louie watching a movie about sled dogs. I just had to share it with you all. It cracked me up with its great amount of cuteness!

So, everyone, please meet our new, and youngest, kitty Louie Blue. (he has light blue eyes)

Louie Blue

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Monday, October 19, 2009

Gala Apple Harvest

Beautiful Gala Apples

I have several apple trees. One of my apple trees is a "triple graft" that grows 3 different kinds of apples on one main rootstock. This is nice because we only had to dig one hole to plant this tree, but we get a variety of apples. Gala, Jonagold and Mutsu apples are all on this one tree.

The Gala apple blossoms are the pollinators for the other two varieties, and the Gala apples ripen earlier than the other two. Usually I can pick ripe Galas in late August, but this year everything was wacko and delayed a bit. I didn't get to harvest these nice eating apples until about the second week in September.

They were numerous for my small tree, but smaller in size than they have been in the past. All of my apples were small this year. Again, I think it was our crazy weather, especially the extended heat wave we had. I probably should have watered my fruit trees a bit more deeply and more often to help compensate for the extra hot weather. But I didn't.

Anyway, my Gala apples make very good fresh eating apples for snacks and they also add a nice sweet flavor to apple crisps and pies. They are softer than the more common pie apples like Granny Smiths or Golden Delicious, so they do break down more when cooked, but they are still very tasty. I've been snacking on them when I want something sweet instead of grabbing a cookie or some candy. (not that I keep any of those things around my house, mind you)

Gala Apples up close ~ you can almost just reach out and grab one!

Happy Autumn!

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bountiful Basil

Big Basket o' Basil

Since we were due for our first big winter rainstorm this morning, I decided yesterday that I'd better harvest as much of my remaining sweet basil as I could before the heavy rains hit. I didn't want the heavy rains and wind to damage the leaves or slam the overly tall plants into the mud. One plant has already sort of uprooted itself due to being top heavy.

I have three basil plant clumps still growing nicely in my lower garden. One is much bigger than the others. Eventually I will pull them all out of the ground as the really cold weather comes in, but for now I will leave them to produce more leaves, even if at a slower pace than they did during summer.

The photo above shows the huge amount of basil that I harvested from just my one larger plant yesterday. The basket was crammed full of leaves and stems and was quite heavy. As I came in from my garden last evening just as it was getting dark outside, I wondered where I planned to place all of this basil that I just harvested while it dries. I couldn't hang it outside on the porch as I usually do during fair weather, because it would just get drenched with rain and blown away with the wind.

So I spread it all out on a clean sheet on top of my massage table. That table is 72 inches long by 30 inches wide and I completely covered it in basil sprigs:

Basil on my Massage Table

All that basil was pretty bushy and thick, creating some depth:

Basil~ relaxed & ready for a massage

I let the basil cuttings rest and relax overnight. Then today I created several bunches tied with twine to hang up to dry. Usually I hang them from my herb drying line on my porch, but in wet weather I must improvise:

Basil Drying Hanger ~ one of two

This window is near my woodstove that I use for heating the house in cold weather. A good location for drying herbs.

Well, it has rained all day here and is still storming as I type this. I can hear the wind blowing things around out there. More of the same is predicted for tomorrow. We can use the water, but I'd rather get it a little at a time instead of all at once like this. The ground is slippery with mud and there are many puddles out there that I must watch out for while working outside. Life in the mountains. Never boring.

How's the weather where you are today?

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Small Peach Harvest

Juicy Sweet Elberta Peaches

As with all of my fruit harvests this summer, my peach harvest was on the small side. My tiny Elberta peach tree is 9 years old, but still only gives me a few peaches each year. This year she grew 12 beautiful juicy peaches, but the birds got to at least 3 of them before I discovered that they were ripe. So I harvested 9 delicious peaches this year from my itty bitty tree. I ate every one of them fresh and "out of hand".

Elberta peaches are my favorite peach by far. They are free stone peaches with dark yellow flesh when ripe, and the outside has a nice tart slightly fuzzy peel that usually has a bit of a red blush.

As a young kid I remember eating my fill of peaches in late summer from the Elberta peach tree my Mom had planted in our backyard. Those peaches were huge and so juicy that when I bit into one, it would dribble juice down my chin and sometimes onto my shirt! I remember the whole sensory experience like it was yesterday. The sunshine warm freshly picked peach, fuzzy in my hand. The soft yet firm flesh giving way to my bite. The juice sweet and tangy at the same time squirting all over me. I loved it. And still do. Every time I eat a home grown Elberta peach those sweet childhood memories of my Mom and her peaches come flooding back to me. We had so many peaches that my Mom made pies, froze some sliced peaches for later eating and gave many away to friends and neighbors. Her tree would bear so heavily some years that the branches would break under the weight if not propped up to support them.

Since then, all other peaches that come my way are measured by those big juicy Elberta memories. Rarely have I found one that could compete.

My peach growing goal is to match that peach production memory of my childhood. Each year I will try my best. Those are wonderful peaches, and wonderful memories that I will keep with me always.

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Monday, September 28, 2009

Garden Tomatoes Summer 2009

Tomato Harvest Basket

As most of my blogging friends and faithful readers already know, my summer tomato harvest was very poor this year. None of my tomato plants thrived. Sure, they grew from little seeds in their recycled yogurt cups filled with good soil into healthy seedlings that I set out in my raised bed garden in late Spring. The summer weather got a late start, staying colder than usual through May. Then the really, really hot weather kicked in with a vengeance. It stayed unusually hot for an extended period of time. So hot and for so long that my tomato plants stopped producing flowers and fruit for several weeks.

The plants were stressed out from the heat. They also had tough competition for water and soil nutrients this year due to the more prolific than usual weeds that quickly covered every portion of my garden bed. The heat helped the weeds grow very tall and very quickly this year. I guess the weed seeds, grasses mostly, entered the garden with my homemade compost that I had worked into the soil at the beginning of the planting season. Usually the weeds are much fewer and a lot less fierce. I blame the heat and just generally weird weather we've had here this year.

I probably should have watered more often and more deeply. I probably should have amended the soil earlier and more often with more compost. But I didn't. The extended heat stressed me out too. I just did not have the energy this summer to devote enough time and muscle power to my gardens.

So the summer growing season is over. My garden is full of plant remnants. Most of them are brown or turning brown now. Some fruits still cling to the vines adding much needed color. The green stuff that is still alive out there is not being very productive.

So my thoughts are already turning to how I can do it better next year. For now, here are a few photos of some of my sad little tomato harvest.

The first little sweet gems I picked this year ~ Red Peacevine Cherry Tomatoes

The first Luther Burbank Red Slicing Tomato ~ about 1/2 the size it should be.

Yellow Slicing Tomato #1 ~ also smaller than it should be

Now for some "artsy" nighttime tomato shots taken on my front porch railing:

Peacevine Red Cherry Tomatoes

Roma Tomatoes ~ smaller than normal and not juicy enough

My first ever Thessaloniki tomato

First Thessaloniki ~ sliced open to taste it and to collect the seeds

I will write more about the Thessaloniki tomatoes in a future post.

I am sadly disappointed with this year's tomato production. I am used to getting pounds and pounds of tomatoes from my small garden. One year, that little garden produced 96 pounds of tomatoes for me, mostly Romas. I canned, froze, dried and sauced until I was exhausted, but I loved my tomato bounty. I guess every year can't be that abundant. Maybe my garden soil is just a bit tired, like me.

All of the above tomatoes are heirloom open pollinated varieties. None are hybrids. This means that planting seeds from these tomatoes will give me the same type of tomatoes next year. Hopefully in a more productive way.

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Bowl of Sunshine

Sunshine Yellow Meyer Lemons

Look at my bowl full of sunshine! Those are some beautiful home grown Meyer Lemons.

No, I didn't grow them here at Mountain Harvest Basket. It's difficult to grow citrus up here in the mountains. These lemons were a gift to me from Jack who brought them back from Los Angeles a week ago. His sister has a bountiful lemon tree at her house near the ocean, and she gave him a big carton full of lemons to bring home.

This is the second bunch of lemons he has brought me this summer. We have squeezed some directly into tea and on shrimp salad and grilled salmon. We have also made a few batches of fresh lemonade to quench our summer thirst. Very good lemonade! I like to make Greek salad dressing using fresh lemon juice in place of vinegar when making vinaigrette. Using the best dark olive oil I can, of course.

I used some of these juicy lemons to make a lemon meringue pie earlier in the summer. We gave some away to friends and family. We had so many lemons that we had to start squeezing a whole bunch at once before they spoiled so that we could save the juice for later use by freezing it. I have some more squeezing to do here soon. The juice freezes well and will be a welcome treat during the fall and winter months. The tart citrus flavor adds a "brightness" to so many savory and sweet dishes.

I just wanted to share some of my sunshine with you today. When life gives you lemons...☺

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Plum Harvest

Late Santa Rosa Plums

This is just a quick post to show you my small, but delicious plum harvest. Just one small basket full. My Late Santa Rosa Plum tree usually has a bigger harvest than this, and usually they are ready earlier in the summer. This year probably due to our weird extended hot weather, the plum harvest was pretty small and their ripening was delayed until August.

I picked this basket of plums, which is the entire tree harvest, one afternoon in early August. They are very juicy, tangy and tasty. Just how I like them!

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Clever Sun Tea Idea

Sun Tea Concentrate ~ One Quart Jar

I brew tea in a jar placed in the sun - sun tea - to make and enjoy iced tea all year around. I especially like to make and drink it during the warm summer months. I usually fill a 1/2 gallon mason jar with cool water and add about 4 tea bags or maybe less depending on how strong the tea is naturally. I use different kinds of black, green and herbal teas as my mood dictates.

I place the lidded jar outside to sit in the hot sun for 2-4 hours, again depending on how hot the weather is and also how strong the tea bags are. When the tea reaches the color I desire, I bring in the jar of tea, remove the bags and chill it in my refrigerator to enjoy later over ice. I've been making my sun tea this way for years and years. It works very well. It tastes good, it's easy, it's natural and it's inexpensive.

Being that it was such an uncomplicated process, I never thought about making any improvements to the method.

Well a few weeks ago I learned about another way of making sun tea from Sue of Country Pleasures. She read a post about this method in another blog that she likes to read. So the knowledge continues to get passed on and on from one blogger to the next. I love that!

What they recommended was to make a strong tea concentrate using a smaller jar, like a quart sized canning jar, so that it will take up less room in your summertime fridge. This makes sense to me because during my garden harvest season my refrigerator is always crammed full of produce, jars of water and tea, juice and fruit. There's not much room in there usually.

I took a clean quart sized canning jar filled with cool water and added twice as many tea bags as you would normally put in a quart of water. Then I capped the jar and set it in the sun for awhile to brew up very strong. When it was a very dark colored tea, I brought it inside, removed the tea bags and placed the jar in my fridge. I now had a very strong tea concentrate with which to make my ice tea.

When I desire a fresh glass of ice tea, I add ice cubes to my tall glass and then pour in some of the strong tea concentrate until it fills the glass about 1/4 to 1/3 full. I then fill the glass the rest of the way with cold water from a jug in my fridge. Stir to mix. Add some lemon if I feel fancy, and enjoy my nice cool fresh iced tea.

I thought that brewing the tea concentrate extra strong like that would make the tea taste bitter, but it did not do that. It was very tasty, and that small one quart jar of concentrate lasts for quite awhile in my refrigerator. It takes up less space which I appreciate this time of year.

So I am passing this good idea on to you. Try it. You'll like it.

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Canning & Jamming!

Sunny Apricot Jam ~ 10 Half Pints

Started out looking like apricot soup:

Apricot Jam in Cookpot

My apricot tree did not have even one apricot on it this year. My plum tree had a few beautiful plums, but only enough to enjoy eating fresh. So in my dual effort to clean out my freezers (all 3 of them), and in order for me to even out the "jam vs Jen" score started by that strawberry jam incident last June, I used some frozen fruit to make a couple of batches of jam.

I made one batch of apricot jam and one batch of plum jam. Both fruits were gathered from local trees, pitted and frozen either last year or the year prior. They kept remarkably well in my freezer. Their colors and taste were still quite fresh. When cooked down with the sugar (I don't use added pectin in my jam) both fruits tasted great.

I had an abundance of apricot jam this time. See the photos above. The recipe makes about 8 half pints, but this batch produced 10 half pints for me. I had only prepared 8 jars, so I poured the rest into a pint jar and kept it in the fridge to use now rather than later.

My plum jam, shown below, made exactly 8 half pint jars. One of which did not seal correctly. First time that's ever happened to me in my canning experience. So I placed that jar of tangy plum jam into the fridge next to the apricot jam. Both jams make great PB&J sandwiches, especially on my homemade bread.

Bright and Tangy Plum Jam ~ 8 Half Pints

Here are the plums simmering with the sugar in the cookpot. Sort of looks like plum stew at this point.

Plum Jam in Cookpot

One of my new canning tools that makes fishing the lids out of the hot water in the canner a lot easier, is this nifty lid rack show below:

Canning Lid Rack

Using this rack, I just lower the whole thing filled with washed & rinsed canning lids into the hot water inside the canner to sterilize the lids and keep them warm until I need them. Then I lift the whole thing out and place it on the kitchen counter while I work quickly to fill the hot jars with jam and place a lid and ring on each one. Before I had this rack, I'd have to fish out each lid separately either with tongs or the little magnet tool that worked well, but had a handle that was way too short. Kept burning my fingers. This rack is way better. You can buy it at Lehman's, along with many other nifty things.

So now I have plenty of jam around here for awhile. I may make more before the summer is over. I still have more frozen fruit in my freezers. Nice to enjoy the fruity tastes all during winter.

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Garden Garlic

Garlic Braid

I grow garlic every year. I plant it in the Fall and harvest it the next Summer. I tried growing garlic bought from a seed company the first year, but found that not only was it very expensive, it did not grow well in my garden. So the next year I bought a handful of ordinary garlic from the supermarket for about 50 cents, took it home, separated it into "toes" (leaving the paper skin on each toe), and planted it in my garden pointy side up about 1 inch deep in the soil. I watered it as I would any garden veggie until the Winter rains came. Then I pretty much ignored it and left it to grow on its own until the warmer weather came back the next Spring and Summer.

When the garlic tops (leaves) started to turn brown in late May or early June, I test-dug one bulb to check for size, and then harvested all of the bulbs over the next day or two. I washed each bulb with cold water and veggie scrub brush, leaving the long stem and leaves intact. I then braided the garlic as best I could to hang over my kitchen sink in front of the window to dry and to be handy when I needed it for cooking. I made sure that I reserved 3 or 4 nice looking heads for planting next season's crop.

I have been growing and harvesting my homegrown garlic in this way for the past 10 years. Each year I use some of the garlic that I harvested in the Summer to start my new crop in the Fall. It works very well, and I have been very happy with the results. Some years have been better than others. Other years have had odd weather and small bulbs resulting. Some years have had huge bulbs produced. One year I had an invading gopher (yes, in my raised bed!) and had to dig up my half grown garlic bulbs and transplant them into another raised bed to finish out the growing season while we repaired the hole in the original raised bed. That was fun. Not.

Anyway, until this past year I usually planted the same type of garlic each year. Descendents from that original handful that I purchased at the local market. The common California White, a softneck variety of garlic. I live fairly close to the Garlic Capitol of the World, Gilroy, CA where there are fields upon fields of CA White garlic growing prolifically. I am sure there are other types grown too, but the most common one we see in the markets is CA White softneck.

I have always enjoyed my homegrown CA White. It has a medium-strong garlicky flavor that I used in a variety of dishes. It keeps very well hanging in braids in my kitchen for months after I harvest it in Summer. It is easy to peel once it has dried a bit.

This photo below and the photo of the garlic braid at the top of this post is from my current crop of CA White softneck garlic. I think it is beautiful. I love looking at it, and enjoy having it decorate my kitchen.

California White Garlic

Last Fall, inspired by my local organic farm store's variety of garlic that they had for sale and also by two of my favorite blogging friends, Farmgirl_dk from Critter Farm and frugalmom from Fancyin' the Farm Life and both of their garlic gardening adventures, I decided to try growing a few different types of garlic along with my favorite CA White. I chose about 4 varieties from the farm store. I don't even remember their names. One was purple. One was reddish brown. Another was tan. At least two of them were hardneck varieties. One was the standard CA White like the one I had already grown. I thought I'd compare store-bought to my own homegrown garlic descendents as far as growing and bulb production.

So I planted my usual 5 or 6 rows of garlic, some of the new varieties along with my CA White, each row having about 7 or 8 plants. They all sprouted and grew through the Winter months. This photo shows how my garlic bed looked in late Spring:

Garlic Growing

That's broccoli, lettuces, chard and bok choy you see growing in between the garlic rows. I find that the close proximity of the garlic helps repel the bugs and slugs from my tender greens.

I found that my homegrown CA White garlic descendents grew much bigger and stronger than the store bought CA White, by the way. I have a theory that has proven true with many crops in my garden. My theory is that plants adapt to their local environment, the weather, the soil, the air, the gardener's vibes, and whatever else affects plant growth. I have noticed that each succeeding generation of plants grown from seeds (or in this case, bulbs) from a homegrown plant, is bigger, stronger and produces better than new seeds just being introduced to my garden environment (like from purchased seed packets). This works best with open pollinated varieties as opposed to hybrid plants.

Continuing on my garlic growing adventure, I read all about the phenomenon of garlic scapes on Fancyin' the Farmlife, and then I ran out to my garden with my camera and found these odd looking spiral flower stalks on every hardneck variety garlic plant.

Garlic Scapes in the Garden

I had never grown hardnecks before, only the softneck CA White. This was a new, exciting and weird happening for me and my garden. Apparently, only the hardnecks send up scapes as the weather warms in late Spring/early Summer. The scape is a flower stalk (you can see the flower bud in the photo). It is recommended that the gardener prune off the scapes to allow more nutrition to be available for the garlic bulb's growth. So I did that:

Severed Garlic Scapes

The scapes tasted like "green garlic" and were quite good. I understand that they make a lovely pesto sauce. I used them in my normal cooking as I would any garlic. I chopped them up small and put them in soups, stir fries, stews, eggplant parmesan etc.

And they added delicious flavor to my homemade pizza!

Mushroom Pizza

Homemade Pizza! Yum!

Garlic is good! Plant your own this Fall.

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bread & Butter Pickles

Homemade Bread & Butter Pickles

Last Friday's visit to our local organic farm store netted me about 4 1/2 pounds of cucumbers. I chose small ones with pickling in mind.

I like making these bread & butter pickles, but my own garden cucumbers are a long way from producing so far this year. Seems like my summer crops all got delayed for some reason. Weeds, probably. I feel confident that I will have my own cukes this summer, but it will be awhile yet. So I took advantage of the fresh organic cukes I found in the farm store this week and made some pickles yesterday.

Last August I was lucky enough to have a large crop of cucumbers in my garden, so I turned 6 1/2 pounds of them into bread & butter pickles

Maybe next month I can make another batch from my own garden, but at least for now, we have 5 new pints of freshly made B&B sweet pickles!

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Snow Peas

3lbs of freshly picked Snow Peas!

My snow peas did well this year. Long cool lead in to summer's hot weather made for great growing conditions for snow peas in my garden. The photo above shows 3 pounds of snow peas, the last harvest for the season which happened a couple of weeks ago. Overall this season, I have harvested over 5 pounds of fresh from the garden snow peas. That's a lot for my small raised bed garden.

Delightfully sweet and crunchy raw as snacks or in salads or sandwiches. I've added them to stir fries and steamed veggies. I've given away several 1/2 pound bags to friends. And I still have a bunch in my fridge. I may blanch and freeze them to use a little at a time in stir fries or soups. I don't want them to spoil and I just can't eat them fast enough!

One of my favorite ways to eat snow peas is in a simple Asian inspired stir fry that I call simply Shrimp & Snow Peas.

Shrimp & Snow Peas

Frozen Shrimp (from Trader Joes) + Fresh Snow Peas + Canned Water Chestnuts

Stir fried in a little olive oil , soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, black pepper, garlic, lemon, and a pinch of corn starch to thicken the sauce. Eaten over a nice warm bed of steamed white rice makes a very tasty and satisfying dinner. It's good even without the water chestnuts. Just shrimp and snow peas.

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jam & Bread

Homemade Raisin Bread (left) & Wheat Bread (right) Sandwich Loaves

I finally created a couple of wheat sandwich loaves that were tall enough to produce decent sized sandwich slices. I made one a plain wheat bread and one I turned into cinnamon raisin bread. This was my first time making the raisin bread and I didn't quite get the raisins and cinnamon to produce the nice spiral swirl effect I was aiming for. See the photo below.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread Sliced ~ raisins slightly misaligned

It still tasted good though, even if the raisins were sort of all clumped together in places. Next time I will make a few adjustments to my swirl technique.

Remember that Homemade Strawberry Jam?

I had to make some sandwich bread so that I could eat some of my homemade strawberry jam that gave me so much trouble last weekend. I've been looking at the jars sitting on my kitchen counter all week admiring the deep rich red color. Tonight was the first time I tried some of this particular batch.

It was very good!

Almond Butter & Strawberry Jam on Raisin Bread = Dinner

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Really Bad Day in the Kitchen

I have had my own kitchen for over 30 years now. I have cooked, baked, roasted, stir-fried, sauteed, canned & preserved all sorts of things. I am an experienced cook. I have had my share of kitchen mishaps and disasters over the years. That comes with the territory. Mistakes help you gain experience.

I have burned things, under-cooked things, had things stick to the pan. I've even had things catch on fire! Once, a very long time ago, the kitchen faucet even "exploded" all over me drenching me completely. Those last two were both during dinner parties that I was hosting!

None of those "disasters" can compare to the stupid, stupid mistake I made in my kitchen today. None of those previous mishaps made anywhere near the mess or calamity that I managed to pull off today.

I am so frickin' pissed right now! I am so mad that I feel like crying (for the past hour) but can't even relax enough to allow the tears to flow.

What the hell happened, you might ask? OK, I will tell you.

Remember that beautiful flat of organic strawberries that I wrote about in my last post? Well, I made that nice Shiny Red Pie and ate most of it myself, and then decided to save out enough strawberries to make a batch of strawberry jam. I love strawberry jam and so does my family, so I put aside about 5 or 6 pint baskets worth and waited until today when I finally had time to devote to the cooking and canning process. Fresh berries don't keep very long and I really didn't want to freeze them, so I had to make time in my day to make the jam and get it canned properly. I also wanted to enjoy the creative process.

Ok, so I carefully wash and hull 6 pints of strawberries. I realize I don't have enough sugar for the recipe, so off to the local market I go to buy a 5lb bag. Paid way too much for it, but hey, it's convenient to buy it here so close to home. Back home, I locate my half pint canning jars and a bunch of brand new lids and rims. I wash the whole case of them, even though I will only need 8 or 9 jars for the recipe.

Great, now I have everything I need. Finally. All organized and ready to go. Strawberries, washed and hulled. Check. Sugar, measured out and ready to pour into the cook pot. Check. Jars, lids, rims all washed and sterilized, ready and waiting in the preheated canner full of hot water.
Again, check.

I mash the strawberries with the sugar in the cook pot. I heat them gently until the sugar dissolves. I turn up the heat like the recipe says and insert the jelly thermometer to watch for the proper gel temperature. Up here at 3000 ft altitude, that would be 214 degrees F.

Now all I need to do is wait and stir, wait and stir, until the gel point temp is reached. I've made jam before. I've made lots of jam and many kinds of jam before. Strawberry, blackberry, peach, plum, apricot...even apple jelly. I've made jam. I know how to do it. Really don't even need to look at the recipe anymore, but I do so out of insecurity and...anal-ness.

It's taking awhile to boil and get any reading on the thermometer that is anywhere near 200 degrees. So I remember that I always seem to have the flame too low when I make jam not wanting to scorch the bottom or ruin the batch. So I turn up the flame, and I put the lid on the pot.

Fine. I stand there for a minute or so and then decide to leave the kitchen and go outside for a minute. Just a minute. One, maybe two minutes tops.

Huge mistake! Gigantic, stupid, huge mistake!! Don't ever do this. Don't ever, EVER do this.

I really was only gone for about two minutes. When I re-entered my kitchen the jam pot was fully boiling over and streaming red, gooey, sticky jam all down the pot, all over the stove and all down inside and under my stove top!

It was a big f*cking mess!! I have never, ever made that big of a mess in my kitchen before. There was partially cooked jam everywhere. I moved the cook pot of jam, now only half full. (Crap!) off of the stove. I also moved the very heavy and very hot canner full of sterilized jars and boiling water off of the stove. Removed the burners and then mopped up the thick sticky red mess from the top of the stove with a sponge and a wet dish towel. I was dripping sticky syrup all over the place. Then when I had removed enough of the jam from the stove top to allow me to lift the top and check to see if the pilot light was still lit (it was) I could then see where the rest of my pot of half cooked jam landed. It filled the depressions under the burners with about a half inch of red goo. I sopped that up with the sponge and rag, but it was no easy job. I had to climb halfway inside my stovetop to reach the mess and clean it without burning myself on the pilot flame or without making further mess. It was a crappy job, and I was so angry at myself for allowing it to happen in the first place.

I finally got it cleaned up enough to turn my attention back to my jam pot to see if I could salvage my beloved strawberry jam and all of the work that had gone into it. I wiped down the outside of the pot and put it back on the flame. Put the canner back on the fire too. I salvaged only about 1/2 of the recipe. That is actually what am I pissed off about the most. The mess was bad and unfortunate, but messes happen sometimes. I am really upset that I wasted half of my jam recipe. Those wonderful berries don't come along everyday.

So I finished cooking what was left of my jam as if nothing bad had happened. I turned up the flame to get it to the correct gelling temperature and then I filled the jars and processed them in my water bath canner for 10 minutes. (10 minutes because I live at 3000 ft, sea level would only require 5 minutes)

I lost over half of my beautiful deep red strawberry jam to that overflow spill and to my stupid lack of attention. I am still really pissed.

Oddly, in the middle of me cleaning up the sticky mess, I was composing this blog post in my head. I couldn't wait to tell you all about it. You people keep me sane. Thanks.

Here's a photo of my stupid 4 jars of organic homemade strawberry jam.

Organic Strawberry Jam

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