Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Freezing in the Summer

Ryan's mom and step-dad Gene have an amazing garden this year. Ryan and I chalk that up to their use of compost, to which we often contribute. Whatever the reasons for their success, we luckily reap the benefits. Recently, Ryan and his mom picked a bunch of green beans out of the garden. I froze some last year, sans blanching, and was told that was not a good idea.  This year, I resolved to correctly engage in the bean-freezing process. Join me for the photo montage, will you...?

After washing, we removed the ends and stems.
Ryan is a snapper. I am a knife-wielder. 

Hot water blanch for 3 minutes.

Ice water blanch for three minutes.

Dry, place in freezer bags (I would love to know of any non-plastic alternatives to this!), remove all air and into the freezer you go!

This winter, perhaps we will be able to enjoy the spoils of a summer garden - complete with properly blanched green beans!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

we be jammin' (adventures in canning...)

Over the 4th of July weekend, Ryan and I not only got to spend some quality time with our families, but we also bravely faced spiders, mosquitoes and thorns for a couple hours to get a few gallons of fresh, hand-picked wild raspberries. Last year we froze what we picked and gave some to Ryan's aunt Deb to make jelly. Although all of the jelly offerings Ryan's family has shared over the years have been nothing less than delectable, Ryan and I are both jam lovers. We like the seeds. So this year, I decided to try my hand at my own seedy (yet classy) raspberry jam.

For Christmas, Ryan's mom gave me some canning supplies as well as the Blue Book -- THE book for canning, freezing and drying.  I referenced the Blue Book for raspberry jam. The berry to sugar ratio was insane! (9 cups berries to 6 cups sugar) I decided to take things into my own hands and use a 6.5 cups berries to 2 cups sugar ratio. Traditionalists might get their hackles up at this and say something such as "But how will you know that it will set if you don't follow the recipe exactly?!?!" Answer: faith. And willingness to participate in some trial and error.

Check out this big pot o' hand-picked wild raspberries!

And in goes a more 'acceptable' amount of organic, natural sugar.

Steamy, jammy goodness. That set up just fine, thank you.

 Through the funnel and into the jelly (JAM) jar...

A delightful hot water bath.

The finished product! Delicious, if I do say so myself. And amazingly seedy. Come on over and try some!!

Overall, our first jammin' experience seems to have gone well. I guess the true test will be when we open a jar months from now. I think the most rewarding part of the whole weekend was getting to hear stories from Ryan's grandpa Mills. He happens to be the only grandparent either of us have between us. He spontaneously started telling us stories about when he and Ryan's grandma started dating. It was unexpected, but definitely wonderful. Hopefully we will get to hear even more another day on the Rochester farm...

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I Wana Shipshewana!

It has become a yearly ritual to visit Shipshewana every Memorial Day. Shipshewana is actually a gorgeous area of farmland in northern Indiana and is known for being in "the heart of Amish country." 

Ryan and I go to the world-famous Shipshewana flea market.  We find quite a few treasures. And I tend to use my father's training a la Juarez to make some good deals. 

We have spent the night twice in Shipshewana. It is almost an indescribable experience. It is calm, small, and quiet - except for the clomping of the carriage horses' hooves. 

Amish cooking is also an experience. Noodles, amazing pies, mashed potatoes... 
The Blue Gate Restaurant is a few blocks away from the flea market and has the most excellent banana cream pie I've ever had. Another thing I think is so commendable about Blue Gate is that they make an effort to use local foods for their menu offerings.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention one of the best reasons to go to Shipshewana. JOJO's Pretzels. 

They are so amazingly delicious. I never really knew what their secret to deliciousness was. This year, the pretzels we got were so fresh, we had to wait a few minutes for them to be ready. And it was thus that the secret was revealed:

 Is that not achingly delicious-looking? Also a reason to probably indulge just once a year. 

Next on the agenda for this Hoosier-in-Training: Berry Picking. I plan to do more than just freeze 'em this time around. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Farm Fresh

The bounty has begun!

The first offerings from Ryan's Grandpa Mills' farm included some fresh, hand-picked radishes

and asparagus!

Ryan and I grilled half of the asparagus during our Memorial Day camp-out. We had the other half roasted in the oven and served with Annie's mac n' cheese. I will let you in on a little secret: If you forgo the milk and butter and use two tablespoons of Greek style plain yogurt, you will have the Best. Mac 'n' chee. From a box. Ever.

As life tends to do, we got too busy to get up to the secret stash of morels. Sad, but like a true Cubs fan, I say unto you: "We'll get 'em next year."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Country Friendly

2496 E CR 125 N...

Just a few years ago, this combination of letters and numbers completely threw me. It seemed strange. A modified GPS configuration? Jargon? Actually, maybe a bit of both. The above is actually an address - they way addresses are written in the country roads of rural, northcentral Indiana. Allow me to translate: 2469 East County Road 125 North. The actual road is County Road 125 North. The address is 2496 East.

I have the unique opportunity of working out in the country. In the middle of farmland.

[The barn - it shares the parking lot with my office]

This entails a lot of flora and fauna - which can be beautiful both right out my office window and on the drive over.

[Lilac tree right out the front door of my office - it smells divine walking into work!]

[One of my favorite views driving to work...]

Driving on backcountry roads took some getting used to. I share the road with tractors and birds...

[A turkey vulture! One of five that I actually caught on camera.]

 well as the deer (my biggest fear is too much "sharing" with these creatures!) and having little room for two vehicles passing each other on opposite sides. However, what is peculiar about passing other vehicles on country roads is what my everlovin' informed me as being country friendly. Whether you know them, see them regularly, recognize them or not, the folks driving country roads almost always wave a friendly hello to each other. At first I thought this was just something farm or country folks did - until I tried it myself. I admit I had to practice. You have to get the 'wave' right or sometimes it won't work. But when it does -- I essentially feel that the world itself is wishing me a good day. I can't help but smile when everyone I pass appears genuinely happy to see me.

Another thing I have noticed about driving in small-town Indiana is that there are a ton of four-way stops. This does not bother me, but rather fascinates me due to the friendliness with which people approach the courtesy of allowing others to go first. I have been given the "go-ahead" nod or wave several times at a four-way stop. As a former city-dweller who has handled her share of traffic, this was bizarre behavior. But it is so nice! One of my 2009 resolutions was to try to be the first person to wave on another at a four-way stop. It's tough - because most everyone at least seems to be trying to be first as well. It is small, and maybe silly, but every time I get to let another person go first at the stop, I feel really pleased -- like I've let a little joy into the world.

On the agenda this upcoming Sunday is going to our undisclosed, secret morel hunting location. It has been both rainy and warm - perfect conditions for those fun guys. Pictures will be forthcoming.

P.S. - This blog has been brought to you by my new-to-me iBook G4. Oh my goodness how I enjoy it!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Bring on Spring!

After the harshest, longest winter I have ever endured, I am so much more than happy to welcome spring. Having lived most of my life in New Mexico and Washington state, I never really had to *deal* with winter. However, the 2008-2009 season in Indiana has officially created a wise winter driver out of me. Having lived in mostly metropolitan areas, I used to bemoan driving a stick in traffic. Now that I have a rural commute, driving a stick is a true fortunate experience in the winter!

This will be my fourth spring in Indiana. What I am looking forward to most is the following:

Morel hunting!

(cross your fingers. Ryan -- a.k.a my everlovin'/the farmboy -- and I found three bags' worth last year, this year could be a bust...)

Berry picking!

(strawberries, blueberries and raspberries)


(don't know what we're going to have yet - garlic, herbs and chiles have been mentioned)

This year will be even more fun because we were generously given canning equipment and we bought a food dehydrator. Last year, through the farms and gardens of our families, Ryan and I did not have to go to the grocery store for more than a few things here and there for about six months! This year, the plan is to freeze, can and dry even more and see how we can last. I am really excited to try all kinds of what we have dubbed suburban homesteading.

Spring also means that I don't have to wait very long for Farmer's Markets.

I have one within walking distance of my apartment and one on the way to work.

Local Food and Local Farms

I am a big proponent of the idea that people should try to eat and support local agriculture. Check out American Farmland Trust above and the 100-mile diet.

One more thing I really want to share: I said in my last post that I might not talk about my time in St. Louis because it wasn't pretty. I have to admit that it was quite difficult at times, but after publishing my first blog, my first follower was a friend I made in St. Louis, and the second comment on my blog was from another friend I made in St. Louis. I am humbled that despite my harsh words, the goodness that was part of my St. Louis experience became clear to me. Thank you, my St. Louis posse, for reminding me that I had the amazing experience of learning about new cultures, laughing 'til I cried, and got through it with you being there for me!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What it's all about

Have you ever noticed snippets of time or moments of events unfold and wondered, "Whose life is that?!" I have had several of these moments lately and the truth is: it’s my life, dammit. I have been living in Indiana since November 2005 under semi-traumatic circumstances and strangely/luckily, wonderful and amazing things have happened to keep me here. In the past few weeks, I have heard myself say things such as, "Oh, the red-winged blackbird is back – Spring is here!" and "I totally saw turkey vultures mating on top of an old barn today." Who is this person?!?!?!?! Well, y’all: ‘tis I. My farm-boy (one of the main reasons I have stayed here) has informed me that I am becoming more Hoosier every day. While this may come across as satirical and tongue-in-cheek (and it may be at times) I want to use this blog to chronicle my evolution into a Hoosier. I have become much more ecologically- and self-sufficiency-minded since living here and while I lament that my friends don’t seem interested in coming to visit me out in rural, northcentral Indiana, I appreciate the really cool things I have done and learned and am planning to try even more.

I have to thank both my everlovin’ (the farm-boy) for suggesting I do a blog about this very concept, and my dear friend Kathleen who has been a sublime inspiration to me through her own blog and told me just today that perhaps I should go for it. (I follow Kathleen’s blog – just a small town girl – here. Take a look!!) Earth Day seems like the perfect inaugural posting, anyway!

I lived in St. Louis for a couple years, which I might or might not talk about (it was not pretty) and people in St. Louis use the word "hoosier" as an insult. I endeavor to triumph over this insult, stand tall (or as tall as my short self can be) and embrace & nurture the Hoosier I am becoming. I am.