Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Packing Pickles

One of the things I like about making dill pickles is packing the cucumbers into the jars.  Its like Tetris.  Tetris with cucumbers.  I find it satisfying.

(Other things that I like about canning pickles are:
#1 How little prep work is involved compared to making, say, jelly or apple pie filling,
#2 How delicious and crisp these pickles are,
#3 That everything is local--save the vinegar,
#4 That I haven't bought pickles in, oh, I don't know, three, maybe four years.)

This year we had an itty-bitty canning mis-hap when processing our pickles.  One of the jars broke clean off at the bottom.  The brine drained right out into the hot water bath.  Those pickles though were packed so well that even without the bottom of the jar they stayed in place.  I was pretty impressed with that.
I mean, I would have preferred to eat those particular pickles, but if the jar had to break at least it illustrated my awesome pickle packing skills...

Friday, September 25, 2015

Homegrown Happenings in Our Kitchen

We've been out of town every weekend for, well, too long.  We've been having fun, but oh, that garden has been growing without us.  We're making a concerted effort to catch up with it this week--and will actually be home for the weekend. That should help.
On Wednesday we froze 15 cups of corn--and I ate another cup or so.  We use Matt's grandmother's recipe for freezing it.   It makes the best corn I've ever had.   The corn is collectively grown at our community garden.  It really saves us on growing space at home to know we have this perk through our involvement with the community garden to bank on.  Matt and I were team leaders for the corn this year.  We organized planted it and now we get to eat it, too.  Happy day!
On Thursday we made some roasted tomatillo salsa.  We've got a beautiful crop of tomatillos this year--purple, yellow, and green.  The purples are just splendid--and purple all the way through, too.  We're small-batching it as they're ripe and so I think we ended up with five half-pints of of which we ate promptly.  We actually got is spicy this year, too!  Tomatillos are so sweet that we'd never put in enough peppers to make the heat come through.  I like it hot!  This year we added three cayenne peppers, three habanero peppers, and one Tabasco pepper.  Its perfectly zippy, I think.  Some bites more than others!
The habanero pepper was grown by our friend Mary, who kindly gifted us some surplus produce from her garden.  We didn't grow habaneros this year.  The rest came from our garden though.
We made a fantastic peanut butter stir-fry on Thursday as well.  Matt bottled beer  (another project we were behind on) and I prepped dinner.  Every single vegetable in it was homegrown--onions, green, red, and orange peppers, cabbage, zucchini.  It was quite delicious.  We hadn't had a peanuty stir-fry in a while.  Plus, vegetables really do taste best when they were picked that very day.  It makes me happy.
Next up, apple pie filling!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

My First and Only Venutre in Quilt Making - and a Bonus Tie-Dye Quilt

"My" quilt.
Many of my friends and relatives--including my mother and grandmother--are quilters.  I like to sew, too, but I like to sew clothing--dresses most notably.  At the insistence of my mother, though, I finally consenting to trying my hand at quilting.
Its not for me.  Not really.  Or, at least big ol' bed-sized quilts are not for me.  I've made a couple quilted wallets and potholders, etc. so far with enjoyment, but oh, scale matters to me apparently.
Bed quilts are too big and involve too much math for my liking.  Cutting was the worst on account of all the measuring and precision.  So much measuring!  For someone who does poorly with math this was a real challenge for me.  With dress-making I just slap down a paper pattern piece and cut around it.  Boom!  Done!  With the quilt top I had to measure and cut a lot.  A lot more than I found enjoyable.  I only want to sew if its enjoyable.  And cheap, too, while I am at it.
I really like the swirly pattern of the quilting.  On the darker blocks its not so noticeable, but it really shines through on those gold blocks.
So, my mom took pity on me and finished the quilt once I'd gotten the top done.  Maybe she perceived that was the only way it was really going to ever get completed.  She might have been right, too.  As such, to say it is "my" quilt is really a stretch.  Its got more of my mom in it than it does me.  The fabric all came from her stash (except the backing fabric which she picked up on sale because she knew I'd love the feathers--and I do).  She sandwiched the batting and had it quilted by a local woman who specializes in such things.  So, yeah, I just helped pick out the colors and made the top.  That is it.  The rest is all Mamma.  It turned out great though.  Teamwork makes the dream work.
In addition to all the help with "my" quilt my mom also put the finishing touches on a beautiful tie-dye quilt she made for Matt and me as a wedding gift.  At the time only the top was complete, but she got it all finished in time for it to be a first anniversary present, too.  (Presented alongside "my" quilt.)
You can see this String Cheese Incident-themed shirt in its previous life in the 6th photo here.
The really neat thing about the wedding quilt is that my mom made the squares from Matt's old tie-dye shirts (well, a couple were just shirt that never sold, but the majority were ones Matt wore holes in).  The black contrasting fabric really highlights the rainbow colors.  Its beautiful.  I didn't take a photo of it, I guess, but the backing for the tie-dye quilt is a big sheet that Matt tie-dyed for that purpose--part of the reason my mom didn't have it completely finished in time for the wedding.  She needed Matt's help on that last bit!
That bottom right (yellow) shirt was actually one of mine.
Huzzah for new quilts.  They are most certainly works of art, labors of love, and true of treasures.  They will be cherished and keep us cozy for decades and decades to come.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Skulking Around in the Woods and Other Minnesota Adventures

Car Scrabble
We drove to Minnesota for the weekend, Matt, his brothers, and myself.  It was pretty crazy, really, but worthwhile.  1,430-ish miles in three days--and one of those three days we were just playing golf, birding, and hanging out.  So, yeah, long driving days with a sweet outdoors family day sandwiched in there in the middle.  It was worth it.  (Plus, it was Matt's birthday on Saturday, too.)
Friday night campfire at the farm
I am a silver-lining type person.  A seeker of the lemonade stand when life is sending us lemons.  That sort of thing.  Matt's family must be, too.  When Matt's youngest uncle died in an automobile accident nine years ago a new tradition was born--The Kim Knaack Memorial Golf Tournament.  The funds from the golf entry fees, silent auction, and raffle go to buy music equipment and instruments for the area high school.  Kim was very musically talented.  Or so I am told.
The birthday boy
I wish I'd know him better--I only joined the family ten years ago and so think I only met him once.  In any case, I can tell that his legacy is pretty great, even if I didn't get the chance to know him better in the flesh.  He brings his family together--from near and far--for at least one day of celebration and fun together each year.  He has helped connect countless instruments, music stands, pieces of sheet music, etc. to the budding musicians from his area.  If he had to go earlier than his family would have like I am so impressed with what they've all done with it.  They found a silver lining.  What good folks.  I love them so much.
Lyle's cannon "starting pistol"
Even though an unexpected death started it all the day really is filled with happiness, with life!  Smiles abound on the greens and in the clubhouse.  Stories and laughs go back and forth every which way.  Photos are snapped.  Kids wiz around on golf carts with their dads.  New family babies are snuggled and passed around.  Food and drink flow freely.  Goodwill and community spirit is fostered.  Golf is played.
And Beth skulks around in the forest stalking birds.  I don't care to golf, but I do care for the forest surrounding the golf course.  This is the first year the tournament has been held in the fall.  As such, the birding wasn't nearly as good this year--only birds I can see in Montana, nothing flashy and exotic like that Cape May Warbler or the Rose-breasted Grosbeak I saw last time we went.
I did scare the crap out of a family friend though, moving quietly in the woods as I were.  I was trying to get to hole 5 where the birding had been tremendous last time.  I couldn't get my bearings in the trees and so was popping out onto the trail to check things out.  As I was making my way out of the brush towards the trail here comes Lynnette in her golf cart.  I thought she saw me coming because she slowed to a stop close by.  She hadn't though.  Not at all.  She was just stopping to light a cigarette thinking she was all alone out on the far end of the course.  When I called out "Hey," as I emerged from the trees she about jumped out of her skin.  She'd been focused on the cigarette and didn't see me at all.  Ooops.  I felt bad for giving her such a shock, but it was also pretty funny, I gotta say.
Another thing that was different about the autumn woods was that while there may have been fewer pretty birds there was an absolute abundance of acorns.  Acorns and cockleburs.  The squirrels were busy in the trees--hollering at me when I stopped too near to watch/listen to a Hairy Woodpecker working over a dead tree.  I managed to ruin a pair of leggings with the cockleburs (which to be more accurate were actually a mixture of common cockleburs and these smaller burs similar in shape and size to a watermelon seed).  I was picking them off at first, but after a while I gave up.  They were everywhere!  Everywhere!  Even after spending an hour sitting on a rock in the Clearwater River picking them off my leggings there were still hundreds of them.  The ones I picked off left pointy bits embedded in the fabric.  I really like those leggings though--so I may invest a bit more time in salvaging them from their prickly fate.
It was at this point I realized I should just give up on the burs.
The Clearwater River really is clear.
Birding was still quite nice, if not quite what I might have hoped.  There were dozens of Cedar Waxwings gorging themselves on Mountain Ash berries.  There was also several Northern Flickers and Mourning Doves, as well as a Hairy Woodpecker, an Osprey, a Bald Eagle, and a pair of American Goldfinches. (Super exciting aside:  We saw four bears from the farmyard of Matt's grandma's place.  I saw the four shapes--three smaller and one bigger--running across a fallowed/already harvest field.  They ran in a strange loping, undulating way that made me immediately rule out dogs.  As quickly as the appeared they disappeared into a field of corn.  It was very unexpected and really made up for the lacking birds.)
I'd never seen soybeans growing before.
There were signs of Autumn everywhere.
It wasn't just poor, startled Lynnette who didn't know I was in the woods, apparently.  I think those menfolk stepping off the fairway to relieve themselves in the trees didn't know I was in there either....but, I didn't see anything.  I could have, but I didn't.
They are quite a bunch, those Minnesota relations of mine.  Generous and funny.  Coarse and down-to-earth.  Smart and sassy.  Talented and strange.  Profane and kind.  Sarcastic and playful.  Skillful and open.  And fun.  SO much fun.
Even with a bum foot Chris won the Closest-to-the-Cooler contest.
We don't get to see them often enough, but oh, when we do....its quite a time.
Team Roger-Matt-Adam-and-Ryan scored four under par, which they were pleased with.  They also won some money in the random prize drawings.  Matt won the 50/50 drawing, too.
Since it was Matt's birthday the whole group at the bar after the tournament sang to him, to his slight embarrassment, I think.  We had cupcakes and opened presents.  He spent the whole day with his family, reconnecting with cousins he hadn't see in a decade or more, and enjoying the sunshine.  I think its safe to say he had a good day. I think it is equally safe to say it was a fantastic trip all around.
Matt and Khloe battling it out in the last minutes of the silent auction.
Plus, nothing makes a long drive pass faster than good company--and good tunes.  I was absolutely thrilled to roadtrip with my "brothers."  It was awesome.  Well, the drive back home might have been a little less than awesome, but still, totally worthwhile.
A short time with family is better than none at all.