Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Eating in season.

Yesterday one of my husband's coworkers asked "Is canning season over"? After some thought we realized that canning season is never really over. It changes and often seems to slow down but with our seasonal eating and careful shopping there is always something on the "to do" list.

There are many websites that will help you discover what is in season in your area.  Epicurious has a great interactive map that will show you what is in season in your area along with shopping tips and recipes. http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/seasonalcooking/farmtotable/seasonalingredientmap
Eat the Seasons at http://www.eattheseasons.com/ includes meat and seafood.

Shopping and eating locally and seasonally means that we are able to save money, support our local providers and have very tasty food. When we come across something we enjoy at a good price we buy in bulk, prepare, preserve and stock our pantry. After a day of work we are able to come home and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

What do we can? Fruits, vegetables and several home made "fast foods". Fast food? Here a few main dish examples: Black and Anasazi Bean Chili, Taco meat, Italian meatballs, Deviled Ham (usually after a mid winter feast), Sloppy Joe filling, several kinds of soup (based on home made chicken or beef broth) and an assortment of sweet/savory condiments. All this activity helps us eat healthy, local, nutrient dense food and keep our costs down. (meat products, food with meat in addition and low acid foods must be pressure canned)

How much does all this canning cost? When we decided to start canning and preserving our food we knew that we would have to continue to be thrifty. Thrift does not mean doing with out. It means being creative. As one friend said "Sometimes it's the joy of the hunt". Yes, we are hunter gatherers, only our territory has expanded. Now we hunt thrift stores, Craigslist and garage sales. We have found our equipment at all these places. When people realize you are canning and preserving food you may become the recipient of housecleaning. We have received jars and canners when someone has downsized, found steam juicers and canning kettles at thrift stores and on Craigslist.

When you decide to start canning you will find that there is information everywhere.  Practical information and best safety practices can be found at your local Cooperative Extension Office. http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/ There are many books about canning. One of the best and recommended by the USDA is The Ball Blue Book which should be available at your local bookstore and online. Be sure to get the most recent publication.http://www.freshpreservingstore.com/blue-book-guide-to-preserving/shop/229696/

"Will canning take over my life?" It does not need to. In winter we spend 2 or 3 hours, twice a month and enjoy the results for several weeks. In peak harvest season things get a bit more intense with the kettles simmering throughout the week.

Canning and preserving food has become an important part of our life. My husband has worked hard and received his "Master Food Preserver" certification through WSU Cooperative Extension and is teaching others how to preserve food at local farm stores and super markets. He is a great teacher who loves sharing the joy of really good, local food.

When it's cold, rainy and dark I go to the pantry and pop open a jar of lovingly preserved produce.  It's like opening a bottle of sunshine. All those rich summers flavors come rushing in and the dark of winter recedes.

Happy canning!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Aromatherapy: handle with care

Aromatherapy, the use of essential plant oils for health care and pleasure is an increasingly popular technique in alternative and complimentary health care. As a certifed Aromatherapist I have used and enjoyed essential oils for several years and taught classes on the safest, best practices.

There are many books available and more places than I can count in the world wide web with information on aromatherapy. Some are good sources but others are very inconsistent with safe and best practices. The text that I have used for my classes and have found to be very practical is "Aromatherapy for Bodyworkers" by Jade Shutes and Christina Weaver.

This text is not just for bodyworkers (massage therapists, reflexologists, etc) but for anyone interested in the science of aromatherapy.

You also need to carefully consider what brand of EO you purchase. Look for cold expressed, or steam distilled Essential Oils - not fragrance oils. Also consider the source. Does the label tell country of origin? Is it organic? Due to possible pollution of the soil and water in many parts of the world this is needed information.  There are many honest purveyors of essential oils but you do need to do your part in researching the product you pay for.

One source you should consider staying away from is Young Living. These oils are widely available and sale people are everywhere but the founder of the company has a very unsavory reputation and the quality of the product is in doubt. From more information, please go to http://www.aromaticsage.com/GYRDT.html
Take time to be an educated consumer.

What Essential Oils should you have? We keep Lavender, Tea Tree, Rose Geranium, and Eucalyptus on hand. Lavender and Tea Tree EO's can be applied neat and are kept in the kitchen for quick a. pplication to cuts and burns. They are also great for cleaning because they are both anti funal and anti bacterial. Rose Geranium is analgesic, antiseptic and helpful as an anti depressant. All Essential Oils with the exception of Lavender and Tea Tree must be mixed with a carrier oil: olive oil, jojoba, walnut, etc... Each oil has it's own helpful quality. I generally use olive oil because good quality is usually readily available and I like the anti inflammatory properties. As you study individual EO's you will decide which to keep in your personal kit.

What are good, safe sources of EO's. Locally I recommend Mountain Rose Herbs http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/. Your local Fred Meyer and Wild Oats has a "natural" or "health" department where some EO's are available. Ask questions and do your research before buying as EO's of good quality can seem expensive. It is good to know that a little bit will go a long way.

As with all natural products Essential Oils have a shelf life limit. The general rule is 2 years. After that time the oils may still smell good but have lost some of their medicinal properties.

Can you make your own Essential Oils? The quick answer is "yes", but... you need the proper equipment.
A great tutorial is available here. http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Essential-Oils

We make infused lavender and calendula oils for salves and infused vinegars for cleaning and cooking. http://youtu.be/e095va7iAX0

Interested in learning more about the sense of smell? Read here: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1423672?uid=3739856&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21102773113577

The history of Aromatherapy:  http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/treatment/aromatherapy

René-Maurice Gattefossé is considered the founder of modern Aromatherapy. His text "The First Book on Aromatherapy" has been translated to English and is available at

Essential oils are a pleasure to use and can be helpful in maintaining your optimum health. The more knowledge you have the better off you will be. The continuing study of Aromatherapy and Herbalism can part of a happy, healthy life.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cast Iron Love Affair

 I, as many others did, grew up in the 50's. My mother hated cooking and was not particularly good at it. Her apple pie was great but we ate a lot of boiled beans with catsup and fried meat. Fried to shoe leather actually. I remember one year, I must have been five years old, that it seemed all we ate was fried venison and boiled beans. I couldn't eat either of those things for years.

Early on she cooked in cast iron pans, with lots of complaining as to the weight. In the 60's she got cast aluminum and was thrilled that they were so light. Near the turn of the century I learned that aluminum might be a contributor to Alzheimer's disease though now that theory is in doubt. http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/guide/understanding-alzheimers-disease-basics When I became her care giver I got rid of those aluminum pans and transitioned back to cast iron and have never been sorry.

Most of the pans we have were acquired at thrift stores and some of them were in a very bad state. Rusty and dirty, pretty ugly but under the grunge the pans were still good. Sarah at  Frugal By Choice Blogspot has a wonderful tutorial on refurbishing and caring for cast iron.  

Image from Frugal By Choice
We, husband actually, have successfully used her methods and we are happy with our "nonstick" cast iron and use it all the time. Yes, I am developing great upper body strength hefting these babies around but they are so reliable and cook so beautifully that I doubt I would ever trade them in on the "next new thing".

Thanks, Sarah, for sharing your expertise on cast iron care.

If you see a rusty cast iron pan and it calls to you don't hesitate. Grab it, take it home, and give it a good cleaning and conditioning. It really is a kitchen work horse and will be in your service for years. You may even need to put it in your will!

Friday, October 11, 2013

What's Cooking?

Another crispy fall morning here in the Pacific NW. A good day for a big pot of soup.

One of our favorite recipes is based on the Hearty Black Bean Soup in the Fix It and Forget It Cookbook. http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fix-it-and-forget-it-cookbook-phyllis-pellman-good/1019601848?ean=9781561486854

I double the recipe and cook it on the stove in our 5 quart cast iron Dutch Oven from Lodge Cast Iron. http://www.lodgemfg.com/ We have a hearty dinner with Blue Cornbread and husband (Master Food Preserver Eric Tworivers) pressure cans the rest to stock our pantry shelves.

Black beans are highly nutritious. High in fiber - one cup of black beans provides 4 grams of soluble fiber - are high in antioxidants and phytonutrients and 15 grams of protein.  http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=2  They can be the base for several, hearty, healthy recipes.

As to the cast iron, Lodge is an amazing company, founded in 1896 in South Pittsburg, Tennessee and still going strong.

Over the years we have collected several pieces at thrift stores that are in everyday use. From tiny skillets just right for an egg; to a big, two burner griddle we use and love them.

Someday I hope to find a cast iron, stove top waffle maker.
They are scarce so if you know of one for sale, please let me know! This tool weighs a ton so I will not be shopping on Amazon for one.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Comfort Food with a Kick

Last week I made a reduced Balsamic Glaze to use in cooking. http://www.mountainmamacooks.com/2011/07/how-to-make-reduced-balsamic-glaze/

Today I will put it to use for Balsamic-Glazed Root Vegetables. http://www.thenovicechefblog.com/2013/02/the-roots-balsamic-roasted-root-vegetables/  I made only a half the recipe because this is a test run to see if we "really, really" like it.

Fresh from the oven.
Snapshot by Me

We plan to serve it with crispy, fried talapia. Seems that they will be complimentary.

We are pretty much eating out of our pantry this month as we prepare for the big move. I'm getting anxious. I want to plant the garlic for next spring and get the winter veg into the ground! Soon, I know.
Everything happens in it's own time for a reason and ,generally, waiting makes the result much sweeter. So I'm learning about patience, again. One of the hardest lessons and one I seem to revisit frequently.

As we come into the dark time of the year our body seems to crave the foods that store the energy of the sun and the warmth of summer soil. What is your favorite fall vegetable recipe?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Knitting: Kinder, Gentler Lingerie

I learned to knit when I was 5 years old. My father's cousins wife taught me because I was unhappy that I was "too young" to start school with the rest of the children in our small ranching community. After many years absence, partly due to a 4H leader who didn't understand left handed knitters, I returned to the pleasure of knitting. Socks, scarves, hats, all the regular things. Then I discovered a series of wonderful free patterns - the internet is an amazing source - and embarked on...lingerie knitting.
The Bra and  Tap Panty Ensemble available at http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEsummer04/PATT1930.html are designed by Karen Stockton .

This summer I found two cones of all cotton yarn at a thrift shop. Super soft and pearly looking they are perfect for this kind of project.

The other completed project was a free pattern when I found it but it is now included in a book of patterns which are at a very reasonable price.  The French Lace Camisole pattern was easy to follow and a very satisfying "first try" at lace trim. You can find it with other all cotton projects at http://tahkistacycharles.com/t/pattern_books_single?products_id=169&pattern_id=174#pattern

It's amazing what can  be done with two sticks and a big piece of string!

Knitting can be creative, satisfying and it's a great survival skill. We won't be cold as long as we can get our hands on fiber and as to that we have further plans involving a Turkish drop spindle and the three weaving looms that some how have come to our home. Oh, and plans for a couple of Angora bunnies once we are settled in the new house.

What are you knitting today?