Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sweet harvest pickles

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about making sweet pickles using my late mother-in-law's recipe, and discovering midway through that I didn't have quite enough sugar. I went ahead with them anyway, reasoning that, with the vinegar undiluted, it probably doesn't matter how much sugar I use as far as preserving them.

As it turned out, I rather liked them better a little less sweet (they're still plenty sweet). Then, in a comment, Ashley (aka Michigan Matron) asked me to share the recipe, and I meant to do so a little sooner than this.

I intend to make another batch myself, with some of my bounty from a recent trip to the Midtown Farmers Market, our local urban community market. I'll probably reduce the sugar again, even though I've restocked the pantry, just because I like them better that way. And I may include some carrots in the mix, reducing the cucumbers a little to keep the quantities the same, just because I like to experiment, and the additional color sounds appealing to me.

This recipe is the original, with my variations in parentheses, so you can choose the way you prefer to make them. Enjoy!

Ruth's Refrigerator Pickles (makes 3 pints)

7 cups sliced cucumbers, unpeeled (or 6 cups cucumbers and one cup thinly sliced carrots)
1 cup sliced onion
1 cup sliced green pepper (I used mostly red bell peppers, for the color)
1 Tblsp salt
1 tsp celery seed (I used Simply Organic's all-purpose seasoning, which includes celery seed)
1 tsp mustard seed.
—Combine all of these, stirring so that salt and spices get thoroughly mixed with the vegetables, and let stand one hour. (I put it in a large stoneware bowl and cover it with a plate.)

Boil together:
2 c. sugar (I used 1&1/2 cups)
1 c. white vinegar
—Stir to dissolve sugar. Let mixture cool a little. Put cured vegetables in pint jars, pour in vinegar-and-sugar syrup; wipe edges clean and screw on bands and lids. Or use any jars and lids you have. Refrigerate.

You can eat them as soon as they're cold, and they'll keep for months in the refrigerator. Make some now and you'll have a nice homemade condiment to bring to those holiday gatherings.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Flowers in the House, a little late

I've been meaning to join the monthly Flowers in the House blog tour, but I haven't quite got the hang of when to expect it (it looks like it may be the last Monday of the month?), so after admiring the many lovely contributions this afternoon while at the coffee shop, I hurried home to gather a couple of bouquets and jump in.

Except first I had to run to the co-op to pick up some things for dinner, and then feed the pets, and then get the rice started and the squash in the oven ...

Hence, my rather meager contribution. I hope to do better next time, except late October in Minnesota is not a particularly bountiful time for fresh local flowers, but, who knows? We may be enjoying a lingering mild autumn at this time next month.

The orange impatiens are trimmings from my kitchen window baskets, which were in need of a bit of rejuvenation since their midsummer peak. I had considered simply pulling them out altogether, since I don't think impatiens tolerate any frost at all, but then I realized we may yet get that lingering mild autumn and perhaps they'll perk up a bit, so I trimmed them back to encourage them to give it the old college try. The ivy cuttings are from the window baskets, too.

And when I saw someone else's lavender in the bathroom (so sorry, now I can't find which one that was!), I thought it was such a lovely idea that I would just be a shameless copycat and do the same! My lavender is the English Munstead variety, which might survive our Minnesota winters, and I dearly hope it does because I would love to keep it going for many years.

So, that's my small and hasty contribution to Flowers in the House! Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sharon and Craig Plant a Tree

I had begun this with a lead about how we have a custom of planting at least one tree at each house where we have lived since we bought our first house together in 1987, but it got to be too long, so I am saving that story for future zine. I like to draw trees, anyway, so I will look forward to crafting that one.

For this, I will just tell you about the tree we planted on Tuesday (which turns out to be kind of long anyway). We wanted a small tree to shade the patio but not the flower gardens in the backyard, and to avoid interfering with the power lines that reach diagonally across the yard, as well. After considering the various small trees that would be suitable for this site, I settled upon the ornamental crabapple Prairie Fire for its many fine qualities, especially disease resistance, since many of the crabapple trees around here were losing their leaves prematurely this summer due to something or other. My neighbor kindly pointed this out to me when I mentioned that we wanted to plant an ornamental crab, and since I really didn't know what was afflicting the other trees, I looked for one with resistance to as many diseases as possible.

But I also wanted a tree with a spreading, rounded form (the traditional apple-tree shape), that got to be about 20-25 feet high and wide, and had small persistent fruit that the birds could enjoy but that wouldn't drop in the yard and on the patio. I found a handy chart in an article offered by the University of Colorado Extension Service, and from that selected Prairie Fire.
The view from the home office window, where I'm writing this blog post

Our venerable local institution, Bachman's garden center, has always had a place in my heart because my grandmother loved Bachman's and was a loyal customer. For most things, I will go to our local independent garden center, Mother Earth Gardens; but for trees and sometimes shrubs, I like to go to Bachman's. And wouldn't you know they had a tree sale going on, which included free delivery. So, after calling to make sure they had the tree I wanted in stock, off I went to select a handsomely formed specimen and arrange delivery.

I think I mentioned that one of the reasons I like the flowering crab is because birds enjoy the fruit, especially in winter when other foods are scarce. Well, a similarly named crab (prairie something-or-other), is noted for its sterile flowers; it doesn't form fruit. I remarked, while my salesperson was writing up my order, that I thought a crabapple tree with no crabapples seemed kind of pointless to me, and another employee said it was to avoid the mess, especially from all the birds that eat the fruit and leave their droppings behind. So, apparently some people dislike the very bird-attracting qualities that's always one of the factors I consider when selecting a tree or shrub. Who cares if the birds poop on the patio? I have a hose and I'm not afraid to use it!

Future patio shade

The tree came on Tuesday, which was an especially blustery day. Craig was working at home, nursing a cold, and I headed off to an appointment and some errands shortly after the tree was placed in our backyard by a nice man driving Bachman's iconic purple delivery van. As I was heading out to the garage, the tree in its large pot was knocked over by the wind and I figured I may as well leave it lying on the ground, rather than set it up to be knocked over again.

When I got home in the afternoon, it was propped up at an angle, leaning against a bench. Craig reported that he had set it back up several times and was just trying to keep it from lying on the ground, possibly breaking some of the branches. We agreed that we really should plant the tree soon, so it wouldn't get knocked over anymore.

We proceeded to do so right after supper, but this time of year it gets dark quickly, which is why I don't have any photos of the tree planting in progress. The ground was so dry and hard from the long stretch of dry weather we've had since the middle of summer (after a summer that started out with much flooding!), that it took extra effort and lots of water to soften the ground enough to dig a decent hole. Then we discovered we had dug a little too deep and had to backfill a bit (planting a tree too deep dooms it to failure).

When we finally got it planted it was quite dark out. I set the sprinkler on low for a couple of hours to soak the ground all around the root zone.

The wind howled that night, but our newly planted tree just swayed and shook its branches, proving itself a tough little tree and seeming to be happy to have its roots underground at last. We'll get a load of woodchips soon to spread around the base, as well.

I turned on the sprinkler today again, since our recent rains have been rather scant, and soon after I sat down to write this, I heard a bit of commotion coming from the backyard. I looked out the window, and there, frolicking in the sprinkler and perched in the branches of our newly planted tree, were about a dozen sparrows, a couple of house finches, a goldfinch, and a cardinal!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Clouds and critters

Lately I've been a little obsessed with clouds: noticing them, enthralled by their many moods and textures, wanting to photograph them. So I've been trying to remember to take my camera with me when I head out on my bike, just in case I get an opportunity to take an interesting photo of clouds. But clouds alone, no matter how billowing and layered, don't really make for an interesting photo without something else in the foreground or at the edges, to frame it and provide a bit of punctuation, don't you think?

Well, I also like the geometry of powerlines, especially when birds gather on them, and there are always a lot of pigeons on the powerlines over Minnehaha Creek near Hiawatha Avenue, right where the parkway bridge crosses over. But powerlines, even those with birds on them, could use a little something more, too, I think.

So what a perfect pairing, I say.

Noticing the restless skies when I got ready to take the bike on some errands in the Nokomis area today, which would take me over the aforementioned bridge, I actually remembered to bring the camera with me.

At one point, I was standing just under a light pole to the west of the creek, and I kept hearing a squirrel scolding me from above, so I looked up and turned my camera on him, and he continued to stare me down and scold! I guess he didn't approve of me standing right there.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Not-so-sweet pickles

Many years ago, when my mother-in-law, Ruth Cox, was still living, I brought her some cucumbers from my garden and she made them into crisp, sweet, refrigerator pickles, and they were yummy. I've since learned that it must have been a tradition from the Scandinavian side of the family; I've had similar sweet cucumber pickles at the Swedish Institute, served alongside Swedish meatballs and potatoes, and at the Minnesota History Center on Sittende Mai, or Norwegian Independence Day.

I asked for the recipe and made them a couple of times since. I enjoy bringing them to my sister-in-law's house during the holidays—bringing something made from her mother's recipe feels just so, you know, nostalgic and all that, and they do complement the array of foods, both traditional and new, that other family members bring to share.

So when two of our neighbors gifted us with cucumbers from their gardens, I naturally pulled out Ruth's refrigerator pickle recipe again. Reminded that the recipe includes onions and bell peppers, I happily traipsed off to the Midtown Farmers' Market to add to the bounty.

But it didn't occur to me to check my supply of sugar before starting, and when the vegetables had had their hour or so with the salt and spices and were ready to be bottled up with the vinegar-and-sugar syrup, I found that I was a half cup shy of the two cups of sugar it called for, to be dissolved into one cup of white vinegar and poured over the cucumber medley.

I spent some time searching for the sugar bowl, hoping it had a half cup of sugar in it, only to finally discover that it had been washed and returned to the buffet some time ago. So I went ahead and made the pickles with what I had, reasoning that the amount of sugar probably isn't essential for preserving the pickles, since the vinegar is undiluted and the jars are stored in the refrigerator.

And when I sampled them after they had chilled an hour or so, I discovered that I rather like them a little less sweet. They're still sweet, but now they have a bit more tartness as well. I'm pretty sure Ruth wouldn't mind. Don't all hand-me-down recipes evolve a little from one generation to the next?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pardon me while I indulge in a little shameless self-promo

So, as some of you already know, I have this Etsy shop under the name Arty Didact (see link at right; or just click on the name, since I turned it into a link too), a name I coined kind of on the fly when I was marketing some dice games I invented back when I was homeschooling my kids and I wanted to find a game that used multiplication in scoring, and I couldn't find one, so I got some dice and made one up. Since unschoolers are really autodidacts, the "arty" play on words seemed to fit, so I set up the shop without spending too much time thinking about the name. If I wanted to be taken just a little bit more seriously as an artist, I probably should have set it up in my name instead, but due to some odd bit of probably false humility, I felt uncomfortable using my own name as my shop name.

Speaking of false humility, I'm also rather ambivalent about promoting myself, and am not particularly comfortable with churning out the hype and doing the whole rah rah look at my stuff! spiel. I just like to create unique and useful objects that are attractive or at least interesting, and put them out there and see if anybody besides me values them. And sometimes somebody does value them enough to buy them and, really, I couldn't be more thrilled.

So when I learned that the HandmadeMN Etsy street team, of which I am a member, was looking for people to offer items to give away as a way of promoting both the team and participants' shops, I thought, um, yeah, OK, sure. Why not?

So, if you'd like a chance to get this useful and attractive little zipper pouch, click on over to here and follow the instructions, OK? I'll even cover the shipping cost if you win it, so what have you got to lose?

With that kind of enthusiasm, you're probably wondering why I didn't go into marketing, aren't you?

Friday, September 2, 2011

My walk to the mailbox

I don't walk the dog nearly as often as I should, but when I have something to mail that doesn't require a trip to the post office, I enjoy walking to the mailbox about a quarter mile away, taking a mini tour of my neighborhood, and marking the progress of my neighbors' gardens over the course of the season. I often think I should have taken my camera with me, but I never think of it before I head out the door. So this time, I went back on my bicycle and photographed a few of the vignettes that caught my eye this time around.

A few days ago this beautiful new retro-style bicycle showed up locked to the stop sign on the corner. First it had paper covering the fenders and chain guard, but today it was uncovered. Perhaps it is somebody's surprise gift and they haven't shown up to claim it yet. Anyway, I thought I had better take a picture soon, since it wasn't likely to stay there much longer, and, sure enough, when I came home this afternoon after riding my bike to the coffee shop to do some proofreading, it was gone.

Just a few steps before I reach the mailbox, I pass this charming garden on 42nd Ave., with its pensive gargoyle sitting on the porch. When I went back to take a couple of pictures today, a man pulled up in front and I asked if it was his house. No, it belongs to his friends, whom he was visiting, but he said he would pass along my complements on their garden. I was a little embarrassed to be caught photographing the house, but he didn't seem to think it all that odd, so I guess it's OK.

This grapevine, which I assume to be our native riverbank grape, has climbed right over the top of the  privacy fence to show off the way its red stems match the fence's red paint (in truth, it didn't look quite that red to me when I saw it, but I was pleased that the photo turned out to enhance the color without me having to tinker with it.). Soon the birds and squirrels will likely feast on the grapes.

And here's my destination. I kind of wish the homeowner on this corner would plant something to decorate the mailbox, but at least the house is occupied. Last winter it was empty and no one was shoveling the walk for a while, so it became impossible to even get to the mailbox. Maybe once the new owners are all settled in they'll get around to planting a mailbox garden. Do you think?