Archive | June 2012

Altered Digital Paper With Content Aware Healing Brush

With a forecast high today of 99 degrees I think we can officially say the dog days of summer have finally arrived.  It’s too hot to do much outside in the garden, and I don’t really feel much like heating up the kitchen with any cooking projects so I am planning to do a bit of catching up on my scrapbooking.

This latest layout was prompted by a little “emergency” with the little one this week.  The seat of his tiny two-wheeler broke off!  I am not really sure what happened, but as he was getting just a bit too big for the wee bicycle it would have required more of an overhaul than was prudent.

Now that in and of itself wasn’t much of an emergency.  He certainly loves to ride his bike, but because he has a couple of other riding toys at his disposal we could have made do for a little while.  The real problem was the fact that I, after several years of my own personal strike against most forms of exercise, have recently taken up running again.  After several years of too many good excuses not to don the gear necessary for the sweaty task, I suddenly find myself inexplicably drawn to the pavement.  Perhaps this is due in part to the fact that my little one can now ride along with me, thus removing one of my many excuses NOT to participate in said activity.

The emergency you see, is that my running is contingent upon the mobility of my littlest one and, since I finally have the desire to run, the replacement bike was as much for me as it was for him!

I snapped these photos the night we picked up his bike and immediately started working on the layout.  This one, like most, took a while to create since I am still somewhat new to digital scrapbooking.  But I am happy with the results and even more happy that I learned something very useful in the process: how to alter digital paper using the content aware healing brush.

I love the digital paper from Katie Pertiet’s Home and Garden Kit that I used for the background.  I wanted to use it for both pages, but it would have looked silly if both pages had tape in exactly the same places.  I fiddled around with some ideas as to how to change the second page and then it dawned on me that if I used the content aware healing brush I could remove the tape and other distinctive markings so that they looked like two completely different papers.  Joy!

Here’s the finished spread.

I could continue to tinker with this layout, but every day it seems he does something so adorable that I quickly snatch my camera so I can attempt to capture the moment.  With so many photos I find I must keep pressing on.  Next up, the incredibly adorable snapshot of him playing with a tiny grasshopper…

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Blossom End Rot

It’s a fabulously beautiful and breeze 74 degrees and my morning stroll through the garden with my little one was pure delight!  My sweet boy was already busy catching and drowning cucumber beetles when, with cup of coffee in hand, I joined him.  It’s unclear if his motivation to help keep these nuisance bugs from damaging our plants is because he enjoys the sheer challenge of it, or as is more likely the case, because I pay him a penny for each bug he drowns.  Either way, he’s happy and I’m happy!  I’m planning a special outing to the Dollar Store so he can spend his hard earned coins on a special treasure.

We have a few cherry tomatoes that are almost ready to be picked, and we found our first two green beans and a few more sugar peas that were ready for havesting.  Though not enough for a meal, I’ll make some yogurt dip and we’ll make a little snack out of them.

Unfortunately, I also found one of my beefsteak tomatoes had succumbed to blossom end rot.  I am not sure at this point if it’s a watering problem or a calcium deficiency.  I lost a lot of my tomatoes to this problem last year and I am determined to try to prevent the big losses this year by being proactive.  Yesterday I sprayed all of my tomato plants with a calcium chloride solution and I plan to continue spaying them every week or two throughout the growing season.

I purchased the calcium chloride from Amazon since I couldn’t find it in local stores.  Per some instructions I found at Walter Reeves website, I mixed two tablespoons with some water in a gallon milk jug and used this to fill my spay bottle I purchased at a dollar store.

I think it’s been a few weeks since I applied some Tomato-Tone so I’ll put down some more this week.  That seemed to help stop the blossom rot problem last year.  Realizing I can’t keep up with when I apply various fertilizers, etc., I recently created a spreadsheet to log my garden activities.  My hope is that it will not only help me to know when to my fertilizer applications are due, but also to help me figure out what’s working and not working with my plants.  It’s finally dawned on me that there’s a whole lot more to successfully growing your own food than popping some plants in the ground and watering them every once in a while.  Each day posses new challenges and opportunities to learn, but the delicious rewards are so worth the effort!

June 24 Garden Update

With so much happening in the garden every day, I have wanted to write this post for a couple of weeks.  But alas there’s just been too many other things to tend to.  So if you’ll indulge me, I’ve much catching up to do.  (I will, however, try to be pithy.)  😉

As the spring harvest begins to wind down, signs of the promise of the summer harvest are everywhere in my garden!  I discovered this lovely eggplant blossom and had to try to capture its beauty.  This is my first attempt at growing eggplant and this particular plant has nearly a dozen blossoms!  Looks like I’ll need to start digging around for some recipes since I’ve rarely cooked with it before.

Temperature are rising, but this salad mix lettuce is looking pretty good.  However, something is eating another variety I have planted.  I am new to the whole “bug detector” job, but I think it could be earwigs so I am planning to set some beer traps to see if my hunch is right.  Earwigs are attracted to the scent of beer so by burying some tuna cans so the rim is soil level and filling with beer I am hoping to catch and drown the little buggers!

There are just so many “firsts” in the garden this year since I added so many new raised beds.  This edamame is another example of something I’ve never grown before.  After planting just about everything I could think to plant this spring I still had room to grow more.  So, inspired by my daughter’s recent love affair with the nutty and buttery tasting beans, I decided it would be the perfect solution to my vacancy problem.

Our very first ripe tomato was ravaged by a critter, but happily this little guy came off the vine unscathed.

The sight of this little golden gem makes my mouth water as I reminisce about baked brie topped with Yellow Pear Tomato Preserves from last summer’s harvest.  I’ll be filling lots of mason jars with these beauties.

This brussel sprout plant along with two others ended up in my garden on a whim.  I am not really what sure what possessed me to hand over the cold, hard cash for these Brussel sprout plants that day in the garden center.  I still shudder thinking about the little green gag balls that haunted me so as a child.  I suppose I could blame the Food Network stars for making them actually look tasty after tossing them with olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper and slow roasting them in the oven.  I suppose curiosity has gotten the better of me.

There are lots of “firsts” in this bed as well.  My original intention was to fill it with asparagus, but the garden center ran out of asparagus crowns before I realized I didn’t buy enough.  So I filled the balance of the bed with swiss chard, eggplant, nasturtium, and some cosmos.  Next spring I plan to fill the whole bed with asparagus.

Roma tomatoes and marigolds grace this all-important bed.  Romas are my favorite for canning and salsa making, as well as “sun-dried” tomatoes in my dehydrator.  The plants are loaded with blossoms and the tomatoes are starting to form.  Though the marigolds are supposed to help attract beneficial bugs while repelling the bad, I think their vibrant blossoms make the tomato bed look beautiful!

The very first of the sugar pea harvest.

Though this next bed is mainly a pepper bed, I have some sugar peas and cucumber plants climbing the trellis.  The pretty, tall, and spindly plant in the middle of the bed is an unusual variety of mint I found at the nursery.  I thought it would make a pretty centerpiece to the bed.

This next photo takes in a good portion of our raised beds though there much more to see to the right, outside the scope of the photo.  The bed in the foreground is home to cucumbers climbing the trellis, as well as lemon grass, nasturtium, tomatillo plants, a few different pepper plants, and brussel sprout plants.  Oh, and a lonely cosmos plant that survived my son’s wild weeding frenzy.  He plucked out the pretty little plants thinking they were weeds.  An honest mistake considering they had not yet blossomed.

You can catch a glimpse of our strawberry patch if you look at the bottom right of this next photo.  The long bed to the left may be the most interesting, and perhaps most doomed-to-failure bed that I devised.  All along the north side of this 4’x12′ bed are electrical conduit trellises.  My “brilliant plan” for this bed was to grow a variety of space intensive plants vertically, thereby preserving valuable growing room and allowing us to grow things we might not otherwise grow.  Now lest you think that I came up with this brilliant idea on my own, I cannot take credit.  The idea came from other more experienced gardeners and my square foot gardening book.

I have a couple zucchini plants at the far end of bed next to the trellis.  Then all along the length of the rest of the trellis, and growing like gangbusters, I have cantaloupe, watermelon, and pumpkin.  Brilliant, right?

Mind you, I knew the odds of success were stacked against me when I decided to try this.  I doubt seriously that my netting will withstand the weight of the heavier fruits as they grow.   Though I have seen photos of the fruit that were just dangling precariously from their stems, other folks devised little hammocks made from old pantyhose and T-shirts.  I figured, what the heck!  What can it hurt to try?

Thus far, all is well.  It’s the next part of my brilliant scheme that has me concerned.  While developing my planting map this spring I had the most brilliant idea of all!  Why not fill the balance of this long bed with some other vertically inclined plants such as corn and sunflowers?  Not only would there not be any competition for sunlight, but because of the location of this bed in relation to the others I thought it would be somewhat visually appealing as well.  Add to all this some bean and corn companion planting, with the beans providing the corn nitrogen while happily climbing up the stalks, all the while bearing fruit for our family dining pleasure.  Is there no end to my brilliance?

Um… There’s one tiny little problem with this plan.  If you’re a little quicker on the uptake than I am you’ve already deduced that these plants grow big and TALL!  I have allowed myself zero access to the trellised climbers from the front of the bed!  When the mammoth fruits begins to make their debut I’ll only be able to work from behind the trellis.  Um…. duh!  I can see it now.  My neighbors will think I’m finally totally off my rocker as they watch as I appear to hug my plants through the trellising in an effort to train the long vines up the netting and away from the corn and sunflowers.  Hopefully they are not nearly as interested in capturing interesting moments on their cameras as I am!

Rounding out my garden tour is my beloved herb garden.  This shot takes in at least four different varieties of my most favored herb: basil!  I’ve lost count, but I have at least seven different varieties growing throughout my garden.

This Thai basil is one of my favorites for making jelly.

In this area of the herb garden I have some sage, thyme, marigolds, shallots, parsley, leeks, lemon balm, and, just for a fun, a petunia.  The pretty pink petunia was leftover from my container gardens so I decided it would add a nice color pop to the herb bed.

Here’s what one of the herb beds looks like from atop the deck.

I planted lots of nasturtium this year and their vibrantly colored blossoms are starting to appear all over the garden.  These plants are not only beautiful, they are also edible and functional!  Stay tuned for a post devoted to these versatile beauties.

And last but not least, a tiny radish blossom.

I hope you enjoyed taking a tour of my June garden.  Feel free to leave me your thoughts or suggestions about what you’ve learned from your gardening experiences.  I’d love to hear from you!  Hopefully I’ll be a little more diligent with my garden updates going forward so there’s not quite as much to read… or write!

Dehydrated Kiwi

I am a bit of a gadget geek.  Having the right tool for the job is essential, and I find that to be especially true in the kitchen.  I have all sorts of super cool tools to assist in my culinary endeavors.  Sometimes, when I acquire an exciting new tool, I wonder how I ever got along without it.  That is precisely the case with my dehydrator.

It’s still a bit of a novelty to me as I’ve only had it for about a year.  I am still discovering new things to do with it all the time.  I use it weekly to make yogurt and when I find a fabulous price on produce or have a bumper crop from the garden, my dehydrator will soon be humming away.

One of my favorite things about my dehydrator is the ability to dry healthy foods to take along while traveling.  I am not much of a fast food fan, unless of course we’re talking about Chick-fil-A.  That is another story altogether.  Mmmmm… just thinking about that fabulously fried chicken sandwich with extra pickles and a side of waffle fries makes my mouth water.

But I digress.  Airport food, fast food, and vending machine foods just aren’t my thing.  So when I travel I make darn sure I have some good and healthy, travel friendly snacks to munch on.  And, because I am a bit of a cheapskate, ahem, I mean because I am frugal and eating out can pinch the pocketbook, dehydrating my own food is the perfect solution.   So with a trip to the beach and four days of road travel just on the horizon, I have been busy making snacks for our family vacation.

I’ve recently fallen in love with kiwi.  I don’t know why, but I never really used to care for the fuzzy little fruit.  But now I just can’t seem to get enough of it.  Since eating it fresh while on the road would be a bit problematic, I decided now would be a good time to try dehydrating it.  It must be kiwi season because I am finding loads of it at the grocery that’s perfectly ripe and delightfully sweet and juicy.

The process of preparing the kiwi was pretty fast compared to some other fruits I’ve dried.  It was simply a matter of washing, peeling, slicing and then dropping the slices into a Fruit Fresh water bath.  Lemon juice, ascorbic acid, citric acid and sodium metabisulfite solutions are also acceptable pretreatments to use when drying fruit. Though it’s not required, pretreating helps keep the fruit from browning during the drying process.  Just mix a couple tablespoons of any of these ingredients to a big bowl of water and soak your fruit for a few minutes before putting them on your drying trays.  There’s some great information on drying fruits at the Colorado State University Extension web site.

Peeled and sliced, here are my kiwi slices taking a little dip before heading to the dryer.

Then onto the drying tray and into the dehydrator set to 120 degrees.

I don’t remember how long they were in the dehydrator, but if I had to guess I’d say about 7-8 hours.

Wow! The resulting flavor of the dried fruit is fantastic!  The first bite was like a little flavor bomb going off in my mouth!  The concentrated flavor of the chewy morsel had me digging in for bite after yummy bite.  I knew immediately that I had not made nearly enough for the trip.  This jar will be long gone before we ever pull out of the driveway and head to the beach.  Who am I kidding, this jar is going to be long gone before I even finish writing this post!

Strawberry-Kiwi Jam

I am such a sucker for a produce sale.  I eagerly scan the couponing blogs each weekend to see what’s going to be on sale the upcoming week.  I am not so fanatical in the winter, but in the summer I get almost giddy when I see the prices drop on some of my favorite fruits and veggies.

This “sickness” didn’t really begin until I acquired my dehydrator and I learned to water bath can.  Ever since then I look for new uses and recipes for these produce loss leaders.   I buy copious amounts of the sale items and then preserve them for gift-giving and our pantry stash.

Happily strawberries and kiwi, two of my favorite fruits, were on sale this week so I grabbed lots of both.  My plan was to make strawberry jam and dehydrate the kiwis, which not something I had yet tried.  More on that in another post.

I was able to make a batch of strawberry jam as well as a big Mason jar full of dehydrated kiwi (delicious!) and still had plenty of leftover fruit.  I poked around on the Internet and found a recipe for Strawberry-Kiwi Jam that looked interesting.  Since I recently made a batch of candied ginger, I was able to make the Strawberry-Kiwi Jam immediately after finishing the strawberry jam.  More bang for my mess-making buck!

The players in this recipe:

Everything but the sugar went into a large pot to boil.

Once it was at a full rolling boil I added the sugar.

Looking fabulous after returning to a boil.

I processed 7 jars of the gorgeous jam!

The jam is so utterly spectacular that I am not sure any of it will end up in a single gift basket this year.  I still have time to take advantage of the strawberry and kiwi sales so I’ll be certainly making more.  Hopefully my family and friends will miss this one blog post so they aren’t disappointed when neither the first nor the second batch of this incredible jam ends up in their Christmas gift baskets.  Shhhhh…. I won’t tell if you don’t.

Ingredients

    • 3 cups crushed strawberries
    • 3 kiwi fruits, peeled and diced
    • 1 tablespoon minced crystallized ginger
    • 1 (1 3/4 ounce) packages powdered pectin
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 5 cups sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon butter

Directions

  1. Hull the strawberries and crush them one layer at a time (I usually do this with a potato masher in an 8×8 baking dish in about 3 batches.) Peel and dice the kiwi fruits.
  2. Combine the crushed strawberries, diced kiwi, crystallized ginger, powdered pectin and lemon juice in a large stockpot.
  3. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add sugar and butter, stirring until dissolved. Return to a rolling boil and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  4. Remove from heat and ladle the hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps.
  5. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner (adjust for altitude).

Candied Ginger & Ginger Syrup

I am head over heals in love with one of my most recent kitchen concoctions: Lavender, Ginger and Mint Iced Tea.   After my morning pot of coffee has been drained, I pour the first of many glasses of this delightfully refreshing tea and continue drinking it all day long.

I admit it.  I am an addict.

And as a full blown, can’t-help-myself addict with but one, smallish newly-added-this-year lemon balm plant,  I promptly dashed out to the garden center to buy 3 more of the necessary plants for the tea.  There were no problems in the mint department, however.  I planted chocolate mint a couple years ago and it’s growing like gangbusters.  And, having recently acquired 1/2 pound of dried culinary lavender buds from Amazon, I was in business there too.

But there were big problems in the ginger syrup department.  I was down to my last little bit and the Mason jar housing the luscious liquid was cracked!  Eek!  I had a full blown ginger syrup emergency on my hands!

Fortunately, I was prepared for just such an emergency.  I had just a bit of raw ginger left in the freezer and, though I’ve never tried making the candy and syrup with anything other than fresh, I decided I’d give it a try.  Once I cleaned up the sticky mess in the fridge I located my usual recipe for candied ginger and ginger syrup and got busy.

I peeled the ginger and was somewhat concerned with the uglyish color of the root.  I figured the worst case scenario would be that I would have to toss the candied ginger pieces, but that the syrup would probably be okay so I went forward.

I added the ginger pieces and some water to a pot and put them on the stove to boil.

I was happy to see my ginger slices lose their ugly grayish hue shortly after bringing them to a boil.  Maybe the candy would be fine after all!

I boiled, simmered and drained the slices twice and then added equal parts sugar and water to the pot along with a pinch of salt.  Since I didn’t have the full pound of ginger on hand that the recipe called for, I only used a cup of each of sugar and water for this batch.  I turned up the heat and, using a candy thermometer I cooked it until it reached 225F.

I poured the contents of the pot into a colander lined saucepan to separate the candy from the syrup.  It was evening when I started the project so I allowed it to drain until morning.

Bright and early the next morning with a steaming cup of coffee to get me going, I dumped the candied slices in a bowl…

and then tossed them with some sugar.  Once they were evenly coated with sugar I decided to put them into the dehydrator.  They were still too sticky to be stored away and I figured the dehydrator would be more efficient than air drying them.

The syrup went into a new, uncracked Mason jar and then into the fridge.

Just enough syrup to feed my addiction for a little while longer.  I’ve already been to the grocery and stocked up on lots more ginger root.  Next time I’ll make a much bigger batch, but for now all is well.  I am well supplied with syrup and I have some candied ginger to munch on during my long drive to the beach next month.

Candied Ginger from David Lebovitz

Adapted from Ready For Dessert (Ten Speed)

You don’t need a candy thermometer to make this. Simply keep an eye on the pot and when the liquid is the consistency of thin honey, it’s done and ready to go.

1 pound (500g) fresh ginger, peeled
4 cups (800g) sugar, plus additional sugar for coating the ginger slices, if desired
4 cups (1l) water
pinch of salt

1. Slice the ginger as thinly as possible. It can’t be too thin, so use a sharp knife.

2. Put the ginger slices in a non-reactive pot, add enough water to cover the ginger, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let ginger simmer for ten minutes. Drain, and repeat, simmering the ginger slices one more time.

3. Mix the sugar and 4 cups (1l) water in the pot, along with a pinch of salt and the ginger slices, and cook until the temperature reaches 225F (106C.)

4. Remove from heat and let stand for at least an hour, although I often let it sit overnight. Or if you want to coat the slices with sugar, drain very well while the ginger is hot, so the syrup will drain away better.

5. Store ginger slices in its syrup, or toss the drained slices in granulated sugar. Shake off excess sugar, and spread the ginger slices on a cooling rack overnight, until they’re somewhat dry. The sugar can be reused in a batter or ice cream base, or for another purpose.

Storage: The ginger, packed in its syrup, can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one year. If you’re concerned with it crystallizing, add a tablespoon or two of corn syrup or glucose to the sugar syrup at the beginning of step #3. If tossed in sugar, the pieces can be stored at room temperature for a few months.

Thai Basil Jelly

Last summer I planted the largest garden I’ve ever had.  We were blessed to have an abundant harvest despite the fact that many of our plants suffered from a number of ailments due in great part to my inexperience as a gardener.  It was the summer I learned to water bath can.  Between the produce sales and bountiful harvest from our garden, I spent many happy hours preserving summertime in mason jars.

This year, having more than doubled the size of our garden, I sometimes I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.  But the elation I feel as we begin to enjoy the fruits of our labor and anticipate the coming hot weather fruits and veggies quickly wipes out any sense of doubt I feel.  Many of the plants are blossoming and showing signs of a much more plentiful harvest than last year.

As I wait for summer’s bounty, I decided to kick off the summer canning season by making some jelly.  One of my favorite things to preserve are herbs, and I especially enjoy capturing their distinctive flavors in jelly.  There’s nothing like opening a jar of herb jelly in the dead of winter and smearing the fabulous summer flavors on a cream cheese laden cracker or enjoying an herb jelly filled thumbprint cookie.

Basil is hands down my favorite herb as evidenced by more than half a dozen different varieties I am currently growing in my garden.  You could say I have a bit of a basil obsession.  I have a compulsion to buy every new variety I stumble upon in the garden centers.  Thai basil or Asian basil is one of my favorite varieties to preserve as jelly.  A few months ago I tried using some Thai basil jelly in a lemon thumbprint cookie and the results were so spectacular that I’ve made the recipe at least three times already.  The unique anise flavor of the basil pairs beautifully with the buttery lemon cookie.

My last lonely jar of Thai Basil Jelly was destined for yet another batch of some Lemon and Basil Thumbprint cookies.  Happily, there was just enough in the garden ready to be harvested to make another batch of jelly!

First, I gathered the herbs and washed them thoroughly.

I removed the stems the blossoming tops of the plant and measured out 2 cups.

All the leaves went into a large pot with 4 cups of water.

I brought it up to a boil and then allow everything to steep for 10 minutes.

Next it’s time to remove the basil leaves from the liquid.  I really love this straining spoon I found at Bed Bath and Beyond.

I strained out the rest of the tiny bits using my fine mesh strainer.

I then measured out 3 2/3 c. of the liquid, added it back to the pot and stirred in the pectin.

At this point I added a bit of green food color and the sugar.

With everything in the pot, I brought the mixture up to boiling again and let it go for 1 minute.  I removed it from the heat and skimmed off the foam.

After I ladled the jelly into the jars, wiped the rims and added the lids and bands, they went into the boiling water bath to process for 15 minutes.

The resulting six and a half, half pints.

Happiness in jars!  I can sleep a little easier now that I know my stash has been replenished!  Now it’s time to make some Lemon & Thai Basil Thumbprint Cookies…

Basil Jelly

Ingredients

  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 package (1-3/4 ounces) powdered fruit pectin
  • 3 drops green food coloring, optional
  • 5 cups sugar

Directions

In a large saucepan, bring water and basil to a boil. Remove from the heat; cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Strain and discard basil. Return 3-2/3 cups liquid to the pan. Stir in pectin and food coloring if desired. Return to a rolling boil over high heat. Stir in the sugar. Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat; skim off foam.  Carefully ladle hot mixture into hot half-pint jars, leaving 1/4-in. headspace. Remove air bubbles, wipe rims and adjust lids. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner.
Yield: 6 half-pints.