Monday, July 29, 2013

Pickles from start to finish

This year, I decided to expand my canning from tomatoes and jams to pickles. I made a few jars with the cucumbers I managed to grow in the garden, and even made a batch of fermented "new dills", but it was time to expand the operation and make enough to last for a while. Or at least for longer than a week, given my rapid pickle consumption.

Since my own cucumber plants finally declared themselves on vacation, I went to the farmers market and obsessively picked all the little cucumbers from all the produce stands. Yes, I was that obnoxious person rooting through a pile of produce, squeezing each one, and creating a huge traffic jam. Sorry. It had to be done. I ended up with a bowl of mostly small cukes.

I decided to use the recipe for spicy dill pickles from a friend who gave me a jar last year. They are very vinegary, spicy, and in general good for clearing your brain and sinuses. Just what I need with my lunch!

Recipe is as follows:
Brine: 4 cups white vinegar, 2 cups water, 1/4 cup kosher salt.
Per jar: three sprigs dill, 1 grape leaf, three garlic cloves, 1 hot pepper, two tablespoons pickling spice (yellow and brown mustard, dill seed, black peppercorns, allspice, in roughly equal proportions plus some crushed bay leaf)

The process went roughly like this:

The artistic shot. I am not actually using the recipe from this book,
but it's pretty and a really good canning book too.

The stage is set. Yes, that is, in fact, Nick's old burp cloth on the right.
Its super absorbency makes is very nice for wiping jar rims.

My kitchen. The water bath and the brine are heating up.

The jars are packed and ready for brine.

Nice hot bath for 15 minutes.

All ready. 4 jars spicy dill pickles, one jar spicy dill zucchini and one
jar pickled tomatoes.

My pantry. Ready for the zombie apocalypse.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Kostadis took Nick swimming for an hour and then we went out for waffles and pancakes. After the swim, Nick put away 7 dollar pancakes (the regular adult portion is 10), with butter and whipped cream. Then he slept for three hours. I vote for more swimming lessons!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Indoor Agility OMG!!!!

Last weekend Miss P and I went to our very first indoor agility trial. It was at an indoor soccer complex in Livermore.

Now, I am not usually jealous of anything in the midwest, but one thing I hear they have is indoor agility. That is mostly because it's either too cold or too hot to go outside, which I am not jealous of. But the indoor rings! OMG awesome!

Look! I don't have to bring my own tent, and the chairs are already setup.
And there's carpeting!!!

There were a couple of glitches that needed to be worked out, since this was a new venue, like air conditioning. And a couple of dogs ran into that lovely clean plexiglass (they are ok. the glass is ok too), but overall it was a great trial.

View from my seat. 

Polly loved running on fake grass, and her handler actually managed to get her cues out at mostly the right time, so we ended the weekend with 4 Qs with first place.

Polly got ribbons, toys, and a celebratory cheeseburger.

There better be something good in that bag, or not more rear
crosses for you!

The handler got a celebratory beer.


The next day, Polly spend most of the morning doing this.

I tired. I wake up soon.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Friday, July 12, 2013

Roller skates

Nick is working on a new way to break his neck. Or wrists. Or some other body part. Good thing he's well padded with equipment and, well, his own padding helps too.

Ready! Padded in and out.

He then spent the next hour falling on his butt. I thought
he'd be sore (visions of friends learning to snowboard and
being incapacitated for a day afterwards going through my
head) and was about to give him some Tylenol.  However, Kostadis
 wisely pointed out that kids don't break, so we gave him
ice cream instead.

The current level of progress looks kind of like this.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Last week, we had several days in a row of high temperatures (see this post on how much fun that was). The tomatoes thought that was awesome, and all turned red. Together. At once. 

We are happy! Very happy! Happy! Happy! Happy!
If you do not pick us now, we will turn into a horrible stinking mess.
What do you mean, you have other plans? Change them! We are HAPPY!

So this morning, I picked everything that looked like it was about to burst. That came out to 19 lbs.
19 lbs of tomatoes. Three year old child included for scale.
I used to hate making sauce, because it involved having to simmer down the tomatoes for hours, especially if I was using regular varieties instead of paste tomatoes. Now I have a new method, thanks to Cat, which takes a fraction of the time. The key idea was to cook the tomatoes a little first, drain out the released liquid, and only then skin, seed, and turn them into sauce. They require much less cooking that way, which both saves time, and improves flavor.

Wash and roughly chop the tomatoes. Put in pots and simmer until they
release most of their liquid. You are looking for them to become kind of limp,
but not really fully cooked.

Drain the liquid in a colander. This is basically the annoying water
that you have to cook down when you make the sauce. So we just get
rid of it.
The most important part of making tomato sauce is The Machine. The Machine is awesome. It skins and seeds tomatoes in seconds. Before I learned about The Machine (from Cat, of course), I used a regular food mill. It clogged. It was slow. It made me cry. I have no words to describe how much I love The Machine. It changed my life. At least where it comes to tomatoes.
The Machine in action. See, even a three year old can do it! And do it
he did! Video proof.
The stuff that comes out from The Machine basically already looks like sauce. I cook it down just a little, mostly just to heat it through for canning, and then into jars it goes.
Looking saucy!

Turns out 19 lbs of tomatoes (non paste varieties) make three and a half quarts of sauce.
All done! Now let's do that ten times over.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

And so it begins...

The garden is starting to produce.
Note: denial does not work with zucchini. If you pretend you didn't see them, they just get bigger.

Friday, June 28, 2013


On Wednesday, in a fit of greed, I picked 20 pounds of ollaliberries and boysenberries (that's on top of the 12 lbs I picked the week before). Those first 12 lbs went into the freezer in six-cup increments for making pie filling during the winter. That pretty much took up all the freezer space, so I had to do something else useful with this batch.

I gave some to a friend. 

That left 17 lbs.

I made my husband and child eat enormous quantities of them raw.

That left about 14 lbs.

I used some for cobbler and some more for pie. 

That still left about 8 lbs of olallies which I was going to turn into jam. Then, on Thursday the temperature spiked into the 90s, beginning what was promised to be a week-long heat wave. Running the stove in my non-airconditioned house during the day was not going to happen, so jam-making started at 10 in the evening, once the house cooled off a little.

The stage is set.

I was following the Blue Chair Jam cookbook, which says you should always make jam in small batches and never ever double the recipe. 

Here's the first batch going. The color is awesome.

Two batches later, the processed result!

Maybe I should go pick more berries now. Or maybe not...

Monday, June 24, 2013


Released from their flowery home three days later, we now have Russian style lightly salted cucumbers.
They go well with vodka....

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Friday, June 21, 2013


I suppose I could claim that a vase of pickling cucumbers is the traditional Russian table decoration, but in truth I just didn't have a big enough container and had to improvise.

FarmVille 2013

This is our "baby" fig tree. Not a baby any more.
Soon there will be figs. Many, many figs.
Tomatoes. There used to be other things in that planter too, but the tomatoes killed them. Sometimes I see a little wisp of basil or squash poke through the jungle and croak "save meeee!" before being engulfed again.
Almost ready
Peas and carrots
European strawberries (and a random squash)These belong to Nick. He comes out every day and picks all the red ones. 
Blackberries. They are not allowed to expand past the two fence posts. Otherwise they take over the world.
This year we also released FarmVille 2.0, the new planter in the front yard. Currently it's the site of a fierce battle between the resident cucumbers and tomatoes. Other things that were there are casualties of war.
The cucumbers are winning 
Somewhere in there I had some pepper plants too, but they are being used as climbing posts by the cucumbers.
And on the back lawn we have.... A PVC pipe forest. Complete with dog who won't do her weave poles.
She wants some of those tomatoes first!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Berry picking

Our annual pilgrimage to Gizditch Ranch for ollaliberries.

It only looks like he is putting them in his bucket...
Actually he is doing this:
Berry eating is hard work. Time for lunch!
Three hours later, fifteen pounds in the bag, and about a pound in the belly!
Now it's pie and jam time! To be continued...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013