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Monday, June 29, 2015

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday


He looks so cute, but Chaz doesn't seem to like his lion hat/wig. What do you think?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Ginger Apricot Jam

Happy Friday! This week has been light on posts because I have been finishing all the small projects necessary to complete my kitchen upgrade, but good news...IT'S DONE HALLELUJAH!!!  Pictures will be posted very soon.

But, more importantly, the farmer's markets are revving up and last weekend I grabbed some early season apricots. Like figs, I think apricots taste better when they are cooked down a little, but if you're lucky to find a fragrant, beautiful batch of perfectly ripe fresh apricots, eat them right there on the spot!

I've been having fun with Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry by Cathy Barrow lately. To me, this book is Mes Confitures meets Preserving The Harvest and it is chock-full of homemade goodies, to include cheese making and curing meats. Although I do use commercial pectin in many of my homemade preserves, some things just need to shine on their own and believe me, it makes a difference. Most of Cathy Barrow's recipes do not use commercial pectin, which allows the real fruit flavor to come through with only half of the usual amount of sugar. This technique does take more time and practice, but it's worth it.

This recipe is a little take off from her Apricot Jam with Ginger and Rosemary; however, I left out the rosemary as I didn't want it to overwhelm the delicate flavor of the apricots and added a little flavored liqueur. The end result is herbal, fruity, and fresh and perfect with a smear of goat cheese on a cracker.

Ginger Apricot Jam
Recipe Source/Modified: Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry
Makes 4 half pints

3 lbs. fresh, ripe apricots
3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1-2 tablespoons Grand Mariner liqueur (optional)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter

Note: You will need a candy thermometer for this recipe

Cut the apricots in half, pit, slice each half into 3-4 wedges, and place in a large bowl. Stir in sugar, ginger, liqueur, and lemon juice. Stir well for several minutes, until the sugar begins to dissolve: be gentle, so the apricots stay as intact as possible. Cover bowl and refrigerate at least 12 hours, preferably overnight, giving the mixture a stir every now and then.

Pour the apricots and produced syrup into a colander set over a preserving pot, and let drain for a few minutes. Transfer the colander to a bowl to capture any additional syrup.

Set the preserving pot over medium-high heat, clip on the candy thermometer, and bring the syrup to 220°F. Add the apricots and any syrup in the bowl and stir well. Continue to stir as the mixture reaches a boil that won't stir down. Be hyper aware, as this is when the fruit may scorch. Cook the jam at this vigorous boil until the fruit is no longer floating and the foam has dispersed to the edges of the pot. Remove from heat and let cool for 2 minutes.

Check the gel set. If the jam is still very saucy and not set, then return to a boil and cook until it reaches gel stage. Test the set again. Stir in the butter if using.

Ladle jam into prepared half pints, add prepared lids, and process in a BWB for 10 minutes.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

Look at these two; they look like a pair of slippers don't they?

Chaz is the kitteh on the left and Lucy, aka "Miss Thang" is the kitteh on the right. Although they look alike, they are not litter mates and are about 3 or 4 years apart in age. The story behind having two kittehs that look exactly alike goes like this:

When hubs and I first moved up to Virginia, we rented a house. I desperately wanted a cat and asked the owners of the house we were renting if I could get one. They said. "Yes, but please keep it to one cat." So, I went out and got Chaz from the local animal shelter. He was on death row, and was going to be put down some day that week. When I went to the shelter and saw him, we locked eyes and I knew he was the one for me.

So, after about a month of having Chaz, he started pacing around the house like he was looking for something; I just had a hunch that he was lonely. If you've ever had a cat, you know they are happier (for the most part) with other kitties, so I started thinking of how I could get another cat without rental owners knowing. Then it hit me, "I know! We'll get another cat that looks just like Chaz! But it has to be a female, and it has to be a kitten." So that spell was cast.

Two weeks later, we were at Petsmart and saw Miss Thang in one of their adoption windows and we got her on the spot.

We lived in that house for two years and the rental owners NEVER knew we had two cats. They just always assumed that the one we had was very active!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Harvesting Garlic

The day before yesterday, I harvested this year's garlic from one of my front garden beds. According to Landon at Root Mass Farm, you should harvest garlic when it is 40% died off, or just when the tops of the garlic are starting to turn yellow. For me in Virginia, with garlic that was planted the previous October, that's about mid-to-late June.

If you wait any longer than that, the protective papery membrane that covers the garlic head starts to break down and your garlic could start to rot. This year's harvest went MUCH better than last year when the garlic was planted in a back bed that didn't get as much sun. This year it was planted in a front, prime sun-exposure bed and I had many heads that looked more like this than not:

They are not the super huge, baseball-sized heads of garlic that you see grown in California, but more the average-sized heads you see in the grocery store, which is perfect for cooking use. I am guessing my harvest is a mix of Nootka Rose and Inchelium Red that I grew last year, maybe even Italian Softneck...I dunno. I did a stupid thing last year and forgot to label them and now it's a mystery. Whatever they are, they are delicious and powerful!

After harvesting garlic, it needs to cure in order to save for long-term storage. You can use it right away, but if you want some for future use, you need to basically let it dry out. You don't want to wash the dirt off other than knocking off most of the clumps, as introducing water to the heads might make them rot. Landon says to hang your garlic to dry in someplace, well dry, with some airflow. My shed doesn't have any airflow, but it is dry and does the trick. Plus, fresh harvested garlic smells REALLY strong, so unless I start having problems with vampires, I'm not hanging it in my house or garage.

I gathered my garlic in bunches and hung them from twine in our garden shed. They will hang here for about 4-6 weeks and then either be braided or simply cut from their stems and stored someplace dry.

All in all, I got around 50-60 heads of garlic that will keep me happy for then next 10 months, plus give me enough to replant for next year!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Kitchen Upgrade Status: The Final Countdown

First, a little 80's hair band motivational music...

I am merely days away from having my life back. The crown moulding and trim are up on the MDF, everything has been primed and sanded TWICE, caulked, and the doors are down in the basement...just waiting for that very special moment. All this small detail work is killing me. It doesn't sound like much, but it's like trying to walk through mud up to your thighs.

I am two coats of paint away from sanity, actually one since I've put on the first coat since this picture was taken. UGH!

Hey hexagon....octagon...WHATEV...THE LIGHT IS UP! A total pain in the arse, but beautiful.

But once the paint has dried, I'm not ready to open that bottle of Moet Chandon just yet. I still have the following small details to wrap up before I can fully declare victory:

  • Install door hardware and hang doors
  • Touch up paint scuffmarks on ceiling
  • Touch up wall paint
  • Paint window trim and install window apron
  • Hang 2nd ceiling light fixture
  • Fix tiling in cabinet corner


FYI, I won't post again about the kitchen until I'm completely done and can give a final reveal with before and after pics. I am so ready!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Summer Side Dish

So, with our fingerling potatoes roasting in the oven last night, I went outside and picked the first zucchini of the season with about 2 cups of my Mammoth Melting Sugar snap peas. Tucked under one of my tomato plants I spotted one of the first tomatoes of the season; wonderful!

All of this was thrown into a saute pan with some butter, salt, and pepper. It can't get any yummier than this and it's the perfect summer side dish!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

June in the Garden

Ugh, it's been hot. I mean HOT! To add insult to injury, we haven't had much rain at all. The daily storms tease us and dance all around the area, but fail to bring us love. Still, a lot has been going on in the garden:

Yesterday, I plucked my first batch of Russian fingerling potatoes. There's about a pound here and I have 2 more small beds to pick still   These will get roasted tonight with some olive oil, salt & pepper and served with some grilled hamburger patties...maybe a salad too.

Every morning when I go out to water, I pick a handful of these Bristol Black raspberries. None have made it into the house. I have to admit that although they are nice, they taste more like blackberries than raspberries. There are worse problems to have, no?

After the berries, I pick a handful of these Mammoth Melting Sugar snap peas. This makes for a nice breakfast with the raspberries.

I water the tomatoes, which are HUGE already. The bed on the back is my peas, the bed in the middle is mostly Early Girl and the bed closest to the front is my heirloom winter sowed babies. The electrical wire is back up, as the crows are up to their hi-jinks again.

I then give myself a guilt trip because I look at my WAY PAST THEIR PRIME lettuce greens and spinach that have bolted. I love these greens, but they are such a pain to they sit there and taunt me. Does that make me a bad gardner?

This huge, monster volunteer of a vine has taken over my cucumbers. They weren't that happy there anyway. What are you big, monster vine?

Methinks you are some sort of butternut squash...

The garlic is pretty much ready for digging up and drying. I didn't have to buy garlic for cooking until two months ago and this batch looks like it did much better than last year. Ironically, I have butternut squash planned to go in this bed afterwards. LOL!

This has been the first time I have ever grown hollyhocks and I love them. The pink ones are a mix of Outhouse and the black ones are Nigra. The bees love them...and so do the Japanese beetles and hollyhock rust. Sigh.

That's it for this month! All the rest of the perennials I planted are poking know...first they sleep, then they creep, then they leap. I am ready for the leaping!


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