Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Garden of Sorts

Starting a garden from scratch is hard, especially when you find that your yard is made of rocks and debris!  #selfindulgentblogpost  (Actually, all my future blog posts are going to be self indulgent journaling.)

I moved mid August.  The sewer line needed to be repaired so it went from a house with dead grass & bare patches, to having dead grass, bare areas & a large section the plumbers managed to make sure was 90% covered with various sizes of rocks when they filled it in...

Good news though! The plumbers cut through the electrical supply to the garage, so it was re-dug and the electrician did a much better job of making sure some dirt ended up on the surface at the end :)  

The only real life in the backyard is a lilac, a couple large trees and two sad little landscape trees that I planted my flowers in front of.

The previous occupant was a bachelor who didn't care two whits about a yard, so I've been scurrying to get some stuff in the ground before rainy season (and while perennials on are end of season sales). I also stubbornly carted some plants in pots from my old place, and took cuttings from a few things in the interest of being thrifty.

panorama! the left used to be all dead grass, now it's also bare!

Side note - did you know you can use honey for some cuttings??? I used to have all the supplies for the proper propagation of plants but this time I was winging it.  I only got a chance to try it on sage.  Maybe sage is amazingly hardy no matter what, but this method had the cuttings sprouting new leaves within a couple of weeks, before I even had a chance to move and put it in my new garden.

I'm OK with my beginning herb garden, which has catnip, cat mint, chives, marjoram, cuban oregano (a new to me herb), oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme a not-pleased-to -be-transplanted anise hyssop - with some ginger mint tucked safely in a pot.

The new perennial garden is another matter.  The holes I dug were basically shovels full of rocks & chunks of metal, glass, plastic... my favorite finds so far have been a rusted pair of scissors and a kid's plastic shovel.  Update: today I found Barbie's left leg and a rusty utility knife blade.

I have seeded the ground with grass seed and it's growing in as best as it can, considering I keep walking on it.  I'm feel pretty determined to spend at least 15 minutes outside enjoying the yard instead of doing yardwork before rainy season arrives!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Spiced Blueberry and Plum Jam

I moved to Tacoma, WA this month, and found there's an amazing place near me called Charlotte's Blueberry Park.  It's land that was donated to the city, and has volunteer cared for fields full of five types of blueberries, free to pick.  I went with my sister, then briefly again with my boyfriend, and ended up with about a kilogram of berries, most of which I tossed in the freezer. 

My boyfriend seemed to really get a kick out of loopy me picking berries on 4 hours of sleep (moving always = plumbing and electric emergencies for me, and this time was no exception). My only blueberry picking experiences have been with puny bushes no higher than my waist, so these giant fields have been fun to explore.
courtesy of the boyfriend
I was all excited to make blueberry lemon scones with the fresh berries!  And then I figured out my post move pantry is missing baking soda, baking powder, and salt. 

I'd finally bought my first plums of the season, 5 whole plums that I shoved directly into the fridge, along with strawberries and raspberries I bought to also shove in the fridge, expecting them to probably sit there and die a painful death of neglect before putting out into yard waste...

I had already googled plum and ginger jam, but found I scarcely had a pound of plums, so found a myriad of plum/berry jam recipes. Although I'm nervous to improvise too much as a beginner...just kidding.  I double checked what other herbs/spices went with my ingredients and added rosemary. (Cause I managed to build and stock a raised herb bed before I'd lived in my new place two weeks, you gotta have priorities!)

18 oz blueberries
14 oz red plums
1.75 cups sugar
1.5 tablespoons lime juice
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
Sprig of fresh rosemary
Plum seed kernels

I chopped up the plums & macerated the fruit for two hours ( didn't have the patience to wait overnight!) cooked, then water bath canned the jam.

SO... I'd never heard of using the kernels in stone fruit, but one of the recipes I saw involved smashing the pits open to get them, so I looked into it a bit, and added some to each jar.  I use a big metal meat tenderizer which crushed them a lot and scared a cat in the process, so hopefully they actually do impart a lovely almond scent/flavor to the jam.

The recipe made not nearly enough 2 pints.  The kitchen smelled delicious while it was cooking too.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Canning Fever

I canned once....  Five years ago I tried making peach jam.  It didn't gel and left me with 4 pints of  peach ice cream topping.... Last month I still had the jar I didn't give away and while I swear I packed it for my move earlier this month, now that I'm unpacked it's nowhere to be found.

After asking my boyfriend to make pickles in my presence for the third year in a row so I watch pressure canning occur, another year/season is quickly going by while he MAKES THEM WITHOUT ME.  *cough* I decided I should just dip my toes in with water bath canning.  My tomato plants are producing more tomatoes than I can eat, so I browsed around and decided to make Thomas Keller's tomato jam recipe  and water bath canned it.

I admit it, it wasn't too scary.  Next time I make tomato based things though, I'm going to use some of these tips so I don't have to cook all that water out.  I halved the sugar - reviews are right that it's too sweet, it was still too sweet when cooked down so I threw in a can of organic diced tomatoes and therefore more lime.  I also ignored the amounts for spices and did what I wanted - the cook in me rebels at following recipes, but I'm going to have to make sure I don't let that lead to altering the pH of any recipes.

So now I have 4 pert little jars of spicy tomato jam sitting on my counter. And since it made sense to make half pints instead of pints and only have pint jars on hand.. it meant I had to go buy half pint jars, and while I was at it 24 more pint jars, and 12 quart jars.. ahh overkill!

Now I was about to plunge into onion marmalade but after reading article after article about it, the safe route for that is pressure canning. This means I'm negotiating with my boyfriend to show me how to use his pressure cooker tomorrow night, because I do better on new things with a lesson from somebody who knows what they're doing.

While I wait I got antsy, so I'm about to delve into some fruit jam.  This is mainly a self motivational post - I've taken up several new hobbies in the last few years and have been busy, but I want a way to keep track of my experiments and it's a good reason to start blogging again.