Monday, March 30, 2009

Caramel Strawberry Jam - NOT a recipe

Well, it is a recipe. Sort of. That I messed up. :-(
I wasn't meant to be caramel strawberry jam. It was meant to be my very first batch of real strawberry jam. Made from local (greenhouse) strawberries from the farmstand down the road, made without added chemicals like CERTO, or organic pectin (since I didn't have any).
And I messed it up. Turned my head for a second, and......Hello caramel strawberry jam!

Well, the good news is....I learned from it. Plus it actually tastes ok. Not great, kind of difficult to get out of the jar, lol, but that's alright. It still works on my breakfast and on the waffles we made the other day.

I started out with about a gallon of strawberries from the local "Bush n'Vine" farmstand. I cleaned them and cut them into chunks. Then I weighed them and luckily (!) ended up with roughly 1000 g (35 ounces, or 2.2 lbs) of strawberries.
In a generous bowl, I added 1000g of sugar (4.3 cups), and the juice from one lemon.

I mixed all of this well, covered with plastic wrap, and let sit for 24 hours. By that time, the berries had released a lot of juice.

I poured all of this into a thick-bottom pot and warmed to a boil with close supervision (obviously, this should read meticulous since my level of supervision was not enough!). I used a skimmer to skim off the foam every now and then and a brush dipped in water to clean the sugar crystals off the sides.

So the recipe says to look for the jam "jellying up" or forming a skin on top - that's how you know it is done. Or you can do the "jelly test" on a clean, cool plate to see if your jam jellies or not.

This is where I lapsed. All of a sudden I started smelling caramel or toffee (which I love) and by the time I figured out that it was the jam......ah well.

I then continued by pouring the jam into cleaned, sterilized (in oven) glassjars. I let the jam cool and then tightly screwed on sterilized lids. Since I was planning on eating this jam within 2 months, I did not go through the canning process, but instead I am keeping it in the fridge.
Yes, I know....there are no pictures of the final product. I was too disappointed to take some. My dear fiance claimed it tasted just fine, and I felt a little better after that, but still.....

So, time for was your first foray into jam or jelly making? Was it a complete success, or utter failure? Care to share with me some of the possible mistakes I might make next time? :-)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Grow, grow, grow!

Yeay - the gardening season has finally arrived to my little corner of the world!
(insert me doing a crazy little dance

This is our second year gardening here in the Carolinas, and as you may know from my previous post about gardening (read it here), we have decided to expand our existing vegetable garden, and also create a whole new section, aptly named the Lakeside Vegetable Garden.

So what's in the ground already?
Well, I planted peas a few weeks ago, and they are already peeking up quite well. I am considering doing another planting next to them, along the fence as well, since I luv peas. The idea is that they will use the chain-link fence to climb on and maybe even shade some of the lettuce that soon will be joining the fun. The peas are called "Tall Telephone" from Pinetree Gardens. Height can reach 6 ft, which is great since that's how tall the fence is! :-)


I've also planted spinach, Long-standing Bloomsdale variety, which is curly-leafed and developed to resist bolting and hot weather (which we will have soon enough). I'm hoping to harvest most of this before the real heat hits us.

Here is a picture from my onion patch that I planted in the fall of last year. There are four kinds of garlic and four kinds of shallots, red and yellow onions. I'm not quite sure if they are ready yet, the tops are only a little brown, so I figured I'd wait another week or so and see what happens.
They did not grow as large as I expected, so my harvest may not be that great. I've sprayed them once with fish emulsion/kelp and maybe should have done some more of that. Any suggestions?

I also have a small kitchen herb garden where my chamomille, sorrel, rosemary, oregano and chocolate mint (yum!) over-wintered. They have now been joined by a red sorrel (very pretty!) and a lively and bushy chervil plant. Both were gifts from my friends at Tega Hills Greenhouses - they grow lettuce hydroponically and also grow micro greens for restaurants in the area.

Inside, the seeds are sprouting.

I planted six kinds of lettuce (you'd think I love lettuce, which isn't entirely true. I like lettuce, but it's been a rocky kind of romance - too many bitter tasting store-bought (and non-organic!) varieties in my past. There is Slo-bolt loose leaf lettuce, Thai Oakleaf, 2 kinds of Bibb lettuce, and a romaine mix and a looseleaf mix. The lettuce came in quickly but then became really tall and spindly, which was because of a lack of light (Thanks wvfarmgirl!). My live-in handyman quickly pulled together a shelf and some fluorescent lights, including some handy wiring, and we now have our very own grow-lights. TADA! Exciting!

The newly planted seeds get to sit on top of the top shelf so that they get some bottom heat from the growlights. This has worked out very well for the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, bok choi and chard that I planted next.
The lettuce was transplanted this past weekend, and should be ready to go out in the garden in another week or two.

The tomatoes and peppers are peeking up, except for some of the hot peppers, but I've had issues with them taking a while to germinate before as well. I'm keeping the faith. They will come in when they feel like it.

This year, more than ever, it feels important to me to grow and eat my own food. Maybe it's because of all the scary food recalls, the cost of food or just in general the economical downturn. Whatever it might be, I know it makes me feel so at peace - digging in my garden, planting seeds and making them grow.
Thanks to all my online friends in the blogger world for their tips and suggestions on what to grow and how to do it. You guys are the best!
I wish you a peaceful gardening season!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wedding Stuff Part 1 - Knitting

It's Christmas in March!
Look at what arrived in the mail just the other day....a new set of interchangeable circular knitting needles and some new yarn! I'm as excited as a child on Christmas morning!

I've had the book Fitted Knits by Stefanie Japel for a few months now. I picked it up at my local used/new bookstore for a few dollars less. I was very excited to find it there!!!

I've been knitting on and off since I was a teenager (waaay back when), but other
than 2 sweaters (part of the 80s glitter/glam, pouffy type knitted sweater), it's been mainly scarves and other straight, rectangular and, let's face it, "easy" knitting projects. I'm a much better crafter with other things than I am at knitting!

My mom knits. my grandmother knits, my aunt knits (more on her in a later post as I am currently knitting a project with her yarn, spun by her, from her sheep. How neat is that?).
They are all great knitters. Socks, complicated patterns, baby sweaters, caps etc. I finally
started wanting to knit something other than a straight rectangle, and I've since had my grandmother teach me to knit socks (which I still have not actually done!), started (almost finished) on a baby sweater (yep, the baby is way too big for the sweater by now) and now I'm ready for the big time. I think. I hope.
See, I have chosen to knit myself a little bolero type sweater for our wedding this fall. It's going to be here at home, in the backyard. We're planning a laid back ceremony, and I'm not wearing a big, fancy dress. I've already found a nice and simple dress (yes, it's white) and I wanted to add some color to it by knitting this bolero. We picked the colors of apple green and dark brown, so that is what my sweater is going to be. Green for the body and brown for the ribbing/collar. It's labeled as one of the easy projects, so I should be able to finish in....oh, 7 months.

I have
until October to finish it. But I promised myself I couldn't start until I finished my other 2 knitting projects - the scarf from my aunt's wool and the baby sweater. Sigh.....such temptation.
So - how about you - do you also have unfinished knitting or crafting business laying around?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

If you plant snowpeas....

....does that mean it might snow soon after you do so? :-)

I certainly hope the little guys survive and start poking up sometime soon. We got snowed on by Mother Nature (after getting about 7 inches of much-needed rain, yeay!) in the storm that pulled up from the south/south-west
and then continued on north. It started snowing on Saturday evening, and continued throughout the night.

Naturally me and Kane had to go out and investigate (while Sean was snuggling in bed with Stars and Stripes). Everything gets to be so pretty when it snows. I find small little details that I long to take better pictures of, the mist rising off the lake, the morning sun setting the clouds on fire.... I think I need to go visit Kim over at Inadvertent Farmer and learn some more about photography. :-) Or my dad. My dad is an excellent photographer, his specialty being nature and especially birds. The family just came back from a trip to South Africa where they spent a week at a safari lodge. I'm expecting a photobook very soon!

Anyways, here are some pictures as far away from what Southern Africa is like as possible. Kane and I had fun - if you got some of this weather - we hope you did too!

Here is Kane chasing a mouse under the He would jump up like foxes do, then bury his nose into the snow, supposedly to get a good sniff, and then he'd mow the snow over with his nose. Crazy guy! But it looked hilarious.All of Kane's toys were frozen, which means his teeth wouldn't get stuck in them. A great opportunity to play some more, mom!

Our house was just re-stained in a solid, darker color. In anticipation of our "at home" wedding that will take place on October 10 in the backyard. I can't wait to marry Sean - he's such a wonderful man, he makes me feel wonderful and he makes me smile every day. I'm truly a lucky woman for having him in my life. Thanks Steph! Kane is going to walk me down the "aisle." (all together now....."awwwwwww......") We have lots to do before then, but we feel better spending the money on our own home improvements in this kind of economy. More on wedding plans in future posts, I'm sure....
Last year's crepe myrtle berries.
Dripping from a missing drain onto the patio created this master-piece. Only in nature...

Early morning lake ice.

Snow on my garden fence-post.