Come in, look around. Let me know what you think! Comments are always welcome and encouraged.

Monday, August 15, 2011

mango magma

This picture doesn't really show how pretty it is.
I have no photography skills.
A few weeks ago I got my creative juices flowing and created (all by myself..for real) a recipe for a chunky, spicy mango salsa I have lovingly named "Mango Magma". Its great as a glaze for meats like pork chops and chicken and also great on a buttered biscuit. Its great on a blue corn tortilla chip and I bet it would be great in tofu stir-fry. In fact, I imagine it would be great on anything, its that, well, great.

I kind of just starting chopping and stirring and did my best to keep track of the amounts of all the ingredients as I was going but I cannot absolutely promise you that yours will turn out exactly the same as mine did. I'm not perfect. I make mistakes. Hard to believe I know... For me, the recipe made 3, 1/2 pint jars with a bit left over to enjoy immediately.


Ingredients (to the best of my memory):
2 ripe mangoes, peeled and diced to 1/2" or so
Juice of one lime (no seeds)
2/3 cup sugar
*4 tbs white vinegar (cider vinegar would be fine too)
2 jalapenos chopped (with or without seeds depending how hot you want it)
1/4 cup red bell pepper chopped
1, 1/2 tsp salt
1 c water

In a stainless steel pan add the diced mangoes, water, sugar and chiles and bring to boil. Your mangoes will soften and begin to form a thick sauce.  Let the mixture boil gently for about 10 minutes so that it thickens and becomes jam-like. You don't have to be precise here. You don't have to worry about the salsa "setting up", so you can cook it until it forms the consistency that you want. Add the lime juice and vinegar and salt and simmer lightly for another 5 minutes and remove from heat, remembering to turn off the burner. :) 

If you plan to process your "magma" in canning jars you will need about three, 1/2 pint jars with rings and lids and sterilize them before hand just as you would for other canning projects. Ladle the hot salsa into hot jars leaving about 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe the rim clean and center hot lids on jars. Screw on the rings and adjust until fit is tight but not forced. Process the closed jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes (longer for higher altitudes). Then remove the jars and cool completely before handling. Check the lids for seals after 24 hours. Lid should not pop up and down when center is pressed. If you plan to use up the salsa within a few weeks you can skip this step and just store it in the fridge in a tightly closed container, which will be good for a couple weeks.

You can play with the recipe just as I did. A little red onion would be a great addition but I didn't have any at the time.

*If you are going to add any other ingredients like a little red onion, increase the amount of vinegar to 1/4 cup or so. The USDA suggests that when adding non-acidic foods to canning recipes you must also increase the accidity level in order help prevent spoilage in home canned food. Always err on the side of food safety. If the seal is popped, or it looks, smells, or tastes even a tiny bit "off", chuck it.

So what is your favorite kind of salsa? Are you a traditional tomato salsa person or do you like things funky?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

the notebook

yes, those are my feet. This photo is of bad quality
because my cat chewed through my iphone cord.
I had to get very creative in order to get this photo
on here. Thanks Kitty Cat.
You have good weeks and you have bad ones. I will be filing this one in the "bad" cabinet. There were a handful of not-so-great things that occurred this week (arguments with family members, grandma's 2x broken leg, not-so-great work news, loss of one of my beehives to probable colony collapse disorder, etc.,) but rather than dwell on those, I would like to recap all of the good things I accomplished this week.

Overall I am pretty happy with the garden. despite all of the sun gold tomatoes that I planted disappearing, I do have some really nice black cherry tomatoes that taste good. In my desperate attempt to hold onto summer for as long as possible, I decided to slow roast two pints in the oven with garlic, basil and olive oil and bag them up for the freezer. I tasted one and it was delicious. Then I tasted another, and another. Boy those tomatoes shrunk in the oven. Doesn't look like I have two pints worth now, but come January, I can pull out a bag and toss them into some soup or pasta and be reminded of summer and that the sun really does exist.

So far I have picked 5 beautiful eggplants. Some went into curry, some will be dehydrated for later. I also threw lots of hot peppers and Anaheim chiles into the dehydrator. I'd love to make a batch of jalapeno jelly but I always have the best intentions.....

The apricots I got from Traverse City went into 6, 1/4 pint jars of apricot butter. It was my first time making that and I am pretty happy with the result.

Greg and I bottled up 31 pounds of honey one of our healthy hives. It might be wishful thinking but I am hoping that is less than half of the harvest we expect to get this season.

Despite being really excited about something that was supposed to happen for me at work, and then finding out its really not great after all, I did get to do something cool. I attended a workshop that taught us how to use interior design samples in craft projects. I made a notebook out of wallpaper scraps and fabric scraps. I also got to loot a warehouse full of said samples. The the backseat of my rogue is full of unique fabric. Once I learn how to sew, I might open an etsy shop and sell handbags made from reclaimed window curtains. Best intentions......

 IDK. I plan on filling my reclaimed wallpaper notebook with all the goals I really wish to fulfill in the short and long term. First for the short term- I want to go to Australia in the year of my 30th birthday (2012=soon). First for the long term- I want to figure out how to be my own boss or just retire early and move to some tropical country where the cost of living is cheap. Its hard to get yourself out of a rut. I've been more than a little displeased with certain areas of my life lately and maybe writing down my goals and mapping out how to obtain them will help me cope. Maybe I need a big change, maybe I just need a therapist.

If you could retire early and move anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

summer won't slip away from me this time....

I got a wonderful but brief visit from Greg last week. We went to Traverse City for a mini-vacation. Its a really beautiful place. It was my first time there but Greg's aunt and uncle have a home there and we were fortunate that they invited us to visit during the Traverse City Film Festival. The Michael Moore one.
We caught a few documentaries and spent the rest of our time there soaking in the scenery. I don't know how many hours we spent sitting on the beach just relaxing. It was wonderful. I think we both needed the R&R. I can't wait to go back.
I wasn't aware of this but northwest Michigan is famous for their cherries. We came home with sweet and sour cherries as well as the best apricots I've ever eaten. The sours are in the freezer, the sweets were cooked down and canned and the apricots are awaiting a delicious fate that will be shared in a later post. Below are just a few pictures of the amazing scenery.

Sleeping Bear Dunes. We were too scared to go all the way down. There weren't any helicopters available to lift us back up.

Greg and his Aunt Kit strolling along a trail at the park

Still Sleeping Bear and still beautiful

Greg's Aunt Kit again showing us the view

I really love this picture. It only captures just a tiny bit of all the fun we had. Sitting next to Greg is his uncle Ron, showing off his bag of dog poop.  Love responsible pet owners :)


"secret beach"

Sunday, July 24, 2011

made me some black raspberry syrup

homemade soda using black raspberry syrup and sparkling water
Last summer was my first shot at making home made jelly when I helped Greg preserve a batch of wild grapes. He was on a bike ride when he discovered tons of wild grapes growing on trees right along the trail he was riding on. He stuffed his backpack full of tiny little grapes and rode home with them. The idea of making jelly never interested me much (1: I don't really eat jelly. I'm more of a butter girl and 2: I always thought it was too time consuming and technically difficult for me) but the idea of Greg gathering berries on the road side as people drove past, gawking and giving him weird looks and then carefully putting them all in his backpack and riding all the home with them  strapped to his back just makes me smile. So when he asked me if I wanted to help him make wild grape jelly I just couldn't say no. I was intrigued by all the work he put into getting them. I mean, do you know how many tiny little wild grapes it takes to make just a few jars of jelly? A whole backpack full.

Anyway, That was the day I learned that jam and jelly making was not only easy, it was fun. I've made (and helped make) several batches since then.  I've made elderberry, concord grape, dandelion, and even wild violet jelly among others. My problem is that I like making jam and jelly much more than I like eating it and my family and friends no longer appreciate my jam gift giving as an alternative to real gifts. My cheapness wasn't fooling anyone.  So this year, instead of wasting all the wonderful wild berries I have access to, I have gotten the brilliant idea to make several batches of berry syrups. They can be used for all sorts of things; Flavoring drinks like lemonade, iced tea, and sparkling water, drizzling over pancakes, waffles and ice cream, even as base for sauces in savory dishes like chicken and pork. Its satisfies my canning itch and also happens to be useful rather than wasteful. Great!

The last few weeks I have been picking lots of wild black raspberries and made several jars of syrup. In one small batch I threw in a couple split vanilla beans to infuse into the berries while they were cooking. I later found that the vanilla was almost overpowering so next time I'll just use one or maybe even a half a bean. Black raspberries have such a wonderful tart, almost wine-like taste that its kind of a shame to hide it behind too much vanilla which is exactly what I did. Lesson learned.

The recipe I used for the black raspberry syrup was similar to the one at Food In Jars and that can be found here. I made two batches and modified it slightly when I added vanilla to one batch and a bit less lemon juice in the other. Just didn't have enough fresh juice so I only used about two tablespoons of that. I did follow her advice when she suggested adding vinegar to the strained berry seeds to make a berry infused vinegar. You also do not have to process or "can" the syrup if you you aren't ready for that commitment. The syrup can be stored in any container in your fridge for a month. You can also do this with any other fruit I'd imagine. Recipes are out there I bet.
this is the syrup boiling down after the seeds have been strained

pouring into jars
two batches plus two jars of raspberry vineger, which will make some kick ass vinegrette I think.
2-3 tbs syrup + 6 oz sparkling water or club soda = happiness!
Now this is the math I'm good at.
There are now lots of ripe blackberries out there. Unlike black raspberries, blackberry thorns are the approximate size of machetes so I am still contemplating risking my life to get enough berries to make a few, seemingly small, jars of syrup. Not only do I have to wear long pants and sleeves in this 90 degree weather to get to them but I also have to fight off crow-sized mosquitoes as well. For some reason, blackberry syrup doesn't seem so great at this moment in time.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

i suck

I fell off the blog writing wagon. Summer has been hectic. Greg moved to Nebraska to farm much to my despair, I took a week off work to help him, then I came back and went to a week-long training for work, came back again a week later for a huge conference that my office hosted, moved out of my apartment, went back to Nebraska for the fourth of July and now I am trying to catch my breath before I head up to Michigan with Greg for a much needed break. I've done plenty of blog worthy activities-just haven't had time to write about them. This post is a desperate attempt at getting this darn thing updated. After this post I will try harder to get more regular posts up with recipes, how-to's and my usual musings and rambles but I am also going to try to enjoy my summer a little bit. 


The garden has been doing okay despite the late and rainy start. My snow peas were basically a bust. It was too wet early on and got too warm too quickly for them to produce more than an few handfuls of pea pods, which I ate immediately after picking. My radishes were ready about the time I went to Nebraska with Greg and the ones I did pull up early enough were really peppery and bitter. I don't know if it was the seed stock, the weather, or me just getting to them too late but they sucked.

garden pot at my parents' house
a couple of my zucchini

my fancy expensive organic heirloom squash...doing nothing

my one and only lonely patty pan

There are dozens-I mean DOZENS- of cherry tomato plants that were planted and there are several varieties. Black ones, green ones, yellow ones, striped ones etc., and it seems like its taking forever for the fruit to ripen. But when the do-we will probably drown in them. In addition to the cherries, there are several other tomato varieties I tried out this year. Amish paste, Mr. Stripey (really, that's the name) Cherokee Purple, Brandywine. We haven't gotten a single ripe tomato from those plants either but there are lots of flowers and green tomatoes.

My heirloom patty pan and round squash aren't producing well. The plants are small and stunted and have hardly produced any female flowers (the ones that produce the fruit) so I have harvested one tiny patty pan and no round zucchini. Those of you that read this and are in my zucchini contest should know that my mom's zucchini has so far produced over a dozen zuccs and there is no end in site. I have been trying to think up some creative ways to use them up so they don't go to waste. I've even tossed around the idea to pickle and can some of them. I've picked 6 off of my plant so far but I'm not too upset because they would probably go to waste anyway, what with my mother's zucchini glut and all. I've heard from a few of you that your zucchini isn't doing so hot either. I think its just that we went from extreme rain to extreme heat and hardly any rain too quickly and its stressed the plants. We can try again next year!

My eggplants look good, despite that only 4 of the dozen or so seedlings I planted survived. They are all beginning to flower so maybe I will have me some eggplant parm in a few weeks? I guess 6 plants is enough. Just like zucchini, you can only eat so much before you get bored with it. My herbs all look good except for the peppermint. I have no idea what's wrong with it. Its leggy and sparse and looks like it is in desperate need...... of more of something. I was hoping to dry lots of it for tea but I don't think that is going to happen. Ironically, mints are notorious for going crazy and taking over your lawn. My luck.

The most exciting thing about my gardening endeavors this year is that my mini watermelons are doing fantastic! There will be some ripe ones in the next week or two and the plants are loaded with them. My only fear is that they will all be ripe at the same time and I will have to find homes for most of them so they won't go to waste rather than eating them here and there as they ripen. My cantaloupes are also doing pretty well. The fruit seem to double in size every day!
the day I discovered the plants had fruit
2 days later
two days after that. I swear my hands are much daintier and feminine than what this picture shows.


The bees are awesome. All three hives are doing well. One is doing even better than the other two and the colony has filled an entire honey super (medium sized box) with honey. I think there will be a lot more honey to harvest this year than last and I am excited. Greg is coming back for a short time late next week and we will do a complete inspection together and probably harvest a good portion of the honey. Now the struggle will be how I am going to get my hands on all the jars needed to fill with honey. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a little bit. I can probably come up with enough jars, but nonetheless there will be a lot more honey than last year. The extra wax will be saved and used for candles, lip balm, homemade furniture polish, etc., for winter projects.

this is the healthiest of the three hives. I went out one hot day to watch them and this is what I found. I panicked and thought that they were swarming. Turns out they do this a lot when its hot. They fan the hive and spread out to cool off.

two honey supers on top. The unpainted one is full of honey and they are working on filling up the other one. Yea! Pay no attention to the straw mess. Its a mulching job in progress to keep the weeds down. Bees don't like lawn mowers.
 In a day or so I plan to put a post up about my raspberry canning projects. So now that we're caught up, how are your gardens doing?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

cows, bees and pickled asparagus

I've done a terrible job keeping the blog up to date the last few weeks. My excuse is a combo of being busy or lazy; neither of which are conducive to writing. Anyway, I'm here now so that's the important part, right?

Last week I went with Greg to Nebraska to help him move and settle into the farm life. Even though it was really hard knowing that I have to continue on without him until we figure out the next step, I really had a good time out there.  Greg took me to a cattle auction where he will soon be buying his first herd, I got to ride on a big tractor, saw an enormous wind farm (see pics below), went four-wheeling and even "helped" mend fences. I was probably more of a pain in the a** than a help but I learned a lot and Greg looks good holding a chainsaw :). Now that I am home and alone I am trying to keep myself as busy as possible until I get to see him again in a few weeks.Every time I start missing him, which is pretty much every ten minutes, I think about how brave he is to quit a well paying but soul-sucking job to do something he is passionate about and I am extremely proud and happy for him.
found this cow walking down a dirt road. She wasn't very chatty. See the turbines in the background? So many more than the four here in bg.

The weather is finally shaping up so I finally got stuff planted. The zucchinis and pattypan squash are coming up, the tomatoes are slowly growing and the radishes are almost ready to yank. Unfortunately, the terrible May weather took its toll on my carrots, spinach and beets. Hardly any came up. My lovely heirloom eggplants also look pretty pathetic. Ironically, the non organic, non heirloom serrano peppers we bought at home depot have peppers already.
yep, this is of the sideways growing variety. Old computer + new camera = major headache
The bees are doing FANTASTIC! Two of the three have honey supers on them now that the raspberries are flowering. I did an inspection yesterday and am happy to report that all three queens are thriving and there are more bees in the hives than I ever saw last year. I am amazed by the difference. We'll never go back to the place we got them in 2010. Too many things went wrong to blame it on bad luck.
if anyone knows why my pictures show up fine on my computer but load sideways on blogger, please let me know. This is embarrassing and annoying.
Tonight I made my second batch of asparagus. For the first batch I used a recipe from Food In Jars but it turned out a little weird. I didn't like the clove/anise taste so I modified it the second time around (skipping the pickling spice and using garlic, peppercorns and mustard seed only) and added Greg's dried cayenne peppers to make it spicier. 
why does technology hate me?
I will be moving out of my apartment soon but haven't found a place yet. Nothing like waiting until last minute to induce a nervous breakdown. Oh well. Probably anything is better than listening to my upstairs neighbor learn how to play the guitar. I'm thinking about buying him professional lessons if he promises to NEVER play at his apartment until I love out.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

lots going on!

Lately I've been finding it hard to find the time to get some blogging done because its been so nice outside. I've been busy with the bees and garden, busy with work and busy worrying about what the next few months are going to do to me. I have to move out of my apartment. Soon.  The floors are rotting in both the kitchen and the bathroom and the maintenance people come and go as they please, leaving things messy or broken. I fought with the management enough to get May and June's rent free but I have to be out by July 1.  In other news, A few weeks ago Greg decided that he will be moving to Nebraska to help his family farm. They own a lot of land and need the help. This is something Greg has wanted to do since the day I met him so I can be nothing but supportive. Still, Its going to be really hard on me. Unfortunately neither one of us are in the financial position for me to be able to quit my job and relocate out to Nebraska (where jobs are few and far between) anytime soon.  We will have to take it a day at a time and just see what happens.

I might not be doing the greatest but at least the bees are doing well! Here are the rest of the pictures of installing the packages.

Sorry, Cody. I didn't get any good pictures of you helping out. I will have to get those from your mom.

took this a few days later on the beehive at on my grandparent's property. The bees were busy collecting from pear blossoms. 
I am happy to say that the bees are doing great! All the queens are laying eggs and in a few weeks the populations in each of the three hives will have doubled.  I am really hopeful that even though we did not have last year's hives survive the winter, we will still get more honey than we did last year. Even though Greg won't be around as much to help me, I will probably be constantly calling him for advice and to give him updates.

Since the weather has been worm and dryer the past two weeks I have been able to get a lot of my veggies planted. The radishes are already popping up and the carrots and green onions will be (hopefully) making their appearances soon. My heirloom zucchini and scallopini squash are planted as well as beans, peas, cilantro, broccoli, eggplant, golden beets and a few tomatoes. Greg's Thai basil (seeds saved from last year's plants) are also in the ground. I can't wait to be eating dinner entirely from food grown at home. 

My aunt and mom arranged a fantastic plant swap and today I brought home bee balm, sedum, and several other bee friendly plants.  After the swap and a fantastic lunch with my mom, aunt Sandy, my sister Sara and her munchkin, Trevor, Greg and I visited a local greenhouse and brought home some Serrano and jalapeno peppers and some herbs; lemon balm, thyme, sage, globe basil and peppermint. I hope to be able make teas out of the lemon balm and peppermint and dry the other herbs for later use.

My sister, Leeanna, and I planting kohlrabi in the Konrad Family Garden
  Greg's 31st birthday was over two weeks ago and I just got around to giving him his gift. It's not that I forgot, I just wanted to make sure I got him something he would really like.
Its a meat grinder attachment for his kitchenaid mixer. See the smile on his face? He loved it. I also got him a sausage stuffer (insert giggle here) and a book titled "MEAT book" which is all about raising, butchering and cooking ethically raised livestock.

 The present works really well. Last evening, we enjoyed home ground hamburgers. Tonight Greg roasted a whole chicken and made a delicious gravy recipe from the "MEAT book".

Along with...

Asparagus. We picked it ourselves from my Grandparents' enormous patch. Sauteed it up with some green onions (past their prime) salt, pepper and olive oil. Nothing better.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

the bees have arrived!

They're here! We picked up our bees last Tuesday. We ordered them from a new place. Although we had quite an interesting experience in Waldo last year, we decided that since we had a string of bad luck with them that may or may not have been coincidences ( lazy bees, lost a queen, had a swarm, a wax moth infestation and finally, frozen bees) it was a good idea to try a new source this go round.

Beekeepers tend to be strange folks. I guess people who willing open up a box full of thousands of stinging angry bees and poke around inside of it have to be a little crazy, and I guess Greg and I fall under that category but still, it seems like every time we have a run in with professional beekeepers they always seem a bit off. We drove two hours to eastern Ohio to pick up our bees. The bee farm was out in the country and as we were searching for the right place we saw a flock of white doves walking around in the road. Like the doves you release at weddings, those white doves. Not something you typically see at the bird feeder. The doves didn't seem to mind that we were about to run over them and they slowly strutted into a driveway next to the road.

The driveway happened to have the same address as the one listed on our order form for our bees.
It didn't take me too long to figure out that these doves must have been some kind of side project that the bee farmers were doing. We parked the car next to a big barn which happened to have even more white doves hanging out inside.This was our first indication that we were in the right place. Like I said, beekeepers are weird. Nice, but weird.

pallets of bee packages. Hundreds of thousands of bees. You can't see it really well but there are tons of loose bees flying around. Often times during shipping packages break open.

We went into a little shop next to the dove barn to tell them we were here to pick up our bees. Inside there was this wall covered with articles, pictures and newspaper clippings all about bees. Like a huge scrapbook.

I bet this tiny girl knows more about beekeeping than I do.
I don't know who she belonged to but with all those bees flying around, I was nervous.
She's carrying an empty bee box, but still. There were TONS of bees flying around.
The bee farmer man putting our queen in the package.

Marking the queen. We decided to pay a few extra bucks to easily find the queen this year.
Last year we were never able to spot her. Maybe we had such a bad year because we didn't even have queens? When I asked the gentleman if it was okay to take pictures he said sure and that he hoped he didn't accidentally let the queen fly away because he would be embarrassed. Sure enough, he accidentally let her go and it took about five minutes of him dancing around trying to catch her again. Free entertainment I guess.

wall o' bees

We added a hive to our little apiary for 2011. This is the new one. Its wax treated and unpainted. Ordered from the same crazy bee farmers.

This creepy beehive rocking chair caught my eye. Yup, beekeepers are weird.

the rogue loaded up and ready to go.

I guess the bee farmers were into turkeys too.

A lot of loose bees flying around the INSIDE of the car on the way home. This happened last year too. Guess you can't avoid it. I was much calmer about it this time around.
 I will post the pictures of hiving the bees this weekend. Its bedtime.  Did I tell you that Greg and I have an apprentice this year? My cousin Cody is in high school and he is doing his 4-H project on beekeeping. I think he will be a lot of help to us this year. I hope we do a good enough job teaching him so that he will want to get his own hive next year!