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.