Saturday, September 25, 2010

I Love Kindergarten

My daughter started kindergarten this fall. In the months, ok years, leading up to the first day of school, we consistently butted heads. I wouldn't necessarily call her strong willed but she is just as stubborn as her mom and dad.

And then kindergarten started. She has been such a joy and so much more easy going. She has some doctor appointments on Monday and we get to spend the entire day together. I am so excited!

Easy as Pie (and Jam)

I have a four day weekend and lots to do. I have grapes, apples, frozen peaches, frozen raspberries, red peppers, jalapeno peppers and tomatoes. My house is hot and humid from the canner boiling pretty much non stop the last two days.

I mentioned my activities on Facebook earlier today and my friend, Holly asked for my apple pie filling recipe. The recipe calls for ClearGel which my mother-in-law buys in bulk online and shares. I think this came from her USDA canning guide.

Here you go!

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Last spring I decided to go back to school, again, and work on a doctorate degree. Lately, I've been doubting that decision. I seem to be surrounded by very academic people, people with doctorate degrees that seem really smart. I listen to them and think, am I really smart enough to do this? What if I'm not? Can I really put together a valid, meaningful research project that adds to a body of knowledge? What if I just don't have the time or desire to do what it takes to research, write and defend a dissertation?

Tonight, I read this on one of the blogs I subscribe:

You can either do what makes you happy, or do what keeps you comfortable.

It was exactly the kick in the pants I needed.

If I don't do this, the world will not end. If I don't do this, our family will not starve. If I don't do this, our kids will still have two parents with three advanced degrees, and hopefully, grow up to see the value of higher education. If I don't do this, I will remain comfortable.

If I do continue, I will be challenged. I will be forced to consider other perspectives. I will have to stretch. And, I will be happy. Being in school, learning new things, and learning to look at things through different lenses make me happy. Yes, I am a dork. But at least I'm a happy dork.

So what if I don't sound as smart as the others I'm around? I'm a bit rusty with the school and theory stuff. And, the last thing I ever want anyone to do is compare themselves to me and think, "Gosh, I can't do that because I'm not as smart."
So what if I join the 50% of people who start but don't finish a doctorate degree? My family won't starve. I'll still be employable. I'll still be able to do work I enjoy. I'll have a broad range of knowledge, I just won't have the research experience and the credential. It will be ok and I will be a better, happier person for it.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What's in Your Basket - 8/23/2010

This week's CSA baskets include lots of yummy tomatoes and peppers for salsa, canned tomatoes and jam!

Roma tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes
Cucumbers - The last of the season
Zucchini - The last of the season
Jalapeno peppers
Green peppers
Red peppers
Yellow banana peppers
Red cabbage - They are super small this year but at least the cabbage worms left them alone!
Sun pickles
Peach jam
Sicilian tomato jam


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hot Damn

My husband always says I pick the hottest days of the year to can and make jam. Most years, he's right. This year, not so much. This past week was pretty moderate for August in northern Illinois, which was a good thing. It seems like all sorts of stuff was ready to be put up.

This past week I've made five batches of Peach Jam, two batches of Hot Pepper Jam and one batch of a new one-Sicilian Tomato Jam. Bad things have happened in my process. I ran out of Peach Schnapps to add to my Peach Jam. But good things have happened, too. I threw in some Amaretto instead. YUM! I thought I found my new favorite jam recipe.

At least until I tried the Sicilian Tomato Jam. I can't wait to try this yummy, savory spread on a fresh baguette. And, for my cherry tomato plants to ripen more fruit so I can make more.

Hot Pepper Jam is one of my most popular. My sister- and mother-in-laws asked for the recipe this year. Apparently everyone's pepper plants have been very prolific. My go to recipe comes from the Jam Lady Cookbook. I got the recipe from my friend Lori, the source of most of my really good savory recipes.

Hot 3-Pepper Jam

4 cups sugar
1 cup, chopped, seeded sweet green peppers
1 cup, chopped, unseeded jalapeno peppers
1 cup white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
½ cup, chopped, fresh, seeded problano peppers
½ cup lemon juice
2-3 ounce packages of liquid pectin (6 ounces total)
1 slice onion (or equivalent amount of chopped garlic)
½ teaspoon butter (to reduce foaming)

I usually use whatever peppers I have on hand. If I have sweet peppers, I use them. If not, I just make sure that my total pepper amount is 2 1/2 cups. Put the peppers in the blender or food processor with the vinegar and lemon juice. Process until only smaller bits remain.

Put the puree in a heavy pot with the sugar and butter. It will start out a pretty, grassy green. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil for one minute. A rolling boil won't stop when you stir. Add the liquid pectin and return to a rolling boil for one minute. As it cooks, the color will darken and mute.

Ladle into sterile jars and process in a boiling water bath for ten minutes.
My sister likes her Hot Pepper Jam to be orange/red so I added a few drops of red food coloring to one batch before putting it in the jars.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Back to School 14


For fourteen years my college roomie, Jill, and I have been hosting the Back to School Party.  It started as a huge party at a cabin in the woods in Kirkland, Illinois.  There was always a fire, a hot tub, cigars, a keg, tons of food, tents and random people sleeping everywhere.

Over the years we've calmed down. We can no longer drain a keg, cigars make the next morning even more painful, the fire is smaller, if at all, and there are no random people sleeping anywhere. The location has moved from Kirkland to Amboy to Ashton to Michigan. There aren't as many big people but there are several little people running around.  And our core group remains.

Each year we gather.  We eat.  We drink.  We laugh.  And, we remember why the tenth floor of Wright Hall 10 was the best.

It had something to do with Cory falling in Fell Hall then again on Fell Avenue and having to be carried down stairs during a fire alarm.

It had something to do with Cathy falling into a man hole.

It had something to do with mud sliding in the front of Wright after the tornado tore through town.

It had something to do with our awesome loft.

It had something to do with backpacks full of beer, Cherry Street, Smalls and after hours.

It definitely had something to do with some great, mostly small town kids getting stuck on the same quiet floor on the edge of campus playing asshole and bullshit when it was too cold to walk to parties (while Jill cheated).

I love you guys! 

Jill called me after the BTSP this year for my salsa recipe.  This is my sneaky way of getting all my BTSP BFFs to read my tribute!  The recipe is below.  I'd love to hear your best memories of Wright 10 in the comments.

Black Bean Salsa

1 can whole kernel sweet corn, drained
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2-3 small jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
1 bunch/ container cherry tomatoes, chopped
2-3 avacados, chopped, tossed with lemon juice to prevent browning

Combine all the above ingredients except the avocados in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, mix the dressing ingredients below.

1/3 cup fresh lime juice (2 limes)
1-2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil

Mix into the large bowl. Fold in avocados. Chill then serve with corn chips. Or eat it with a spoon.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sweet Corn Snob

I am a sweet corn snob.  My non farm friends just don't get it.  I refuse to eat corn more than 4 hours out of the field.  The sugars start to covert to starch within a few hours and it simply is just not as good. I'm also lucky that I have an endless supply (as long as the raccoons and the puppy stay out of it).

If you can't eat it all or have to much it is really easy to freeze.  Simply shuck the corn taking special care to remove all the silks.  Bring a large pot to a boil and boil the ears for four minutes.  Remove from the water and immediately plunge into ice cold water to stop the cooking.  Slice the kernels from the ears and place in freezer bags.

Sun Pickles

My friend Lori shared her Sun Pickles last summer.  They were so good that I doubt I will ever process another jar of pickles in a hot water bath EVER AGAIN!

6 1/2 cups water
3 1/4 cups white vinegar
dill, garlic and jalapeno pepper slices
2/3 cup canning salt
Rye bread

Mix water, vinegar and salt.  Bring to a boil.  Pack cucumbers sliced the way you like them, dill, two cloves of garlic per quart jar, and one head of dill per quart jar.  Fill with vinegar mixture.  Top with a slice of rye bread.  Seal jars and place in the sun for three days.  Refrigerate after bringing inside./

You can vary the spices any way you like.  I LOVE the jalapeno peppers.  They give the cukes a great bite.

Italian Garden Salad

My mother-in-law shared this recipe with me last summer and I fell in love. It's a great way to use almost everything in your basket.

8 oz. Uncooked spaghetti
1 cup cut fresh green beans

6 T canola oil
3 T sugar
2 T white wine or balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 t salt
1 t dried parsley flakes*
1 t dried basil*
½ t dried oregano
¼ t onion powder

2 cups cooked, cubed chicken
1 med. Green bell pepper, julienned
4 oz. Colby-Monterrey Jack cheese, cubed
1 med. Zucchini sliced
1 small yellow summer squash, sliced
8 cherry tomatoes, sliced
1 small red onion, halved, sliced

Shredded Parmesan cheese, optional

Cook spaghetti according to package directions, adding green beans during the last four minutes of cooking.

Meanwhile in a large bowl, combine the dressing ingredients. Add the chicken, pepper, Colby-Monterrey Jack cheese, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, and onion.

Drain spaghetti and beans; rinse in cold water. Add to the other ingredients and toss to coat. Refrigerate until chilled. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese if desired.

*Substitute fresh for dry herbs using a one to three ratio. For every teaspoon of dried herbs, use 3 teaspoons of fresh herbs.

This Week's Basket: 7/26/2010

This week's basket may include:

- Potatoes: Red and Yukon Gold
- Onions: Red, Sweet and Yellow
- Kohlrabi
- Beans: Green and Yellow
- Baby Carrots: The first!
- Peppers: Green and Jalapeno
- Cucumbers
- Zucchini
- Herbs: Basil, Oregano and Parsley
- Swiss Chard
- Beets: The first!

- Sweet Corn
- Garlic, Dill, Jalapeno Sun Pickles: These need to be refridgerated; Discard the rye bread on top upon opening
- Jam

Friday, July 16, 2010

10 Reasons Why I Love Michigan

10.  Cherries - The sweet were delicious this year and I brought home eight pounds of sour to make jam.

9.    Camping - I grew up doing it and I love showing my kids that they can have fun without the creature comforts they are so used to.

8.   St. Joseph - My college roommate introduced me to this amazing beach town that isn't close but isn't too far away.  Silver Beach is great for kids.  They just added a carousel and a play fountain across from one of the best pizza places EVER.

7.   Oval Beach - The kids and I discovered this beach in Sagatuck last year.  It has great sand, a concession stand and showers.

6.   Wineries - We love visiting the Michigan wineries, sampling and bringing home a bottle or ten.  For some reason, wine is so much better when you know where it came from and have a story to go with it.  Some of our favorite: Tabor Hill, Karma Vista, Lemon Creek, and 45.

5.   Winery Dogs - We visited two of the wineries with the kids this trip.  (I know, mom of the year.)  They had the opportunity to sample some great cherry, peach, raspberry and grape juice and meet three winery dogs.  They were a great distraction while the parents were hard at work deciding which varieties would be coming home.

4.  Family - I have a whole bunch of second cousins living on the Leelanau Peninsula.  Up until last year, I hadn't seen them since I was a teenager.  It was so nice to meet them as adults, catch up with them this year and watch our kids play together, just like we did when we were little.

3.  Fishtown - I spent way too many summer vacation wandering around Fishtown trying to decide where to spend my money.  It is a bunch of shops located on piers along the channel that connects Lake Leelanau to Lake Michigan.  Fishtown is home to the Carlson Fish.  Before leaving for home this trip, I was asked to get smoked whitefish for my husband who couldn't join us this year.

2.  North Bar Lake - I was introduced to this Lake this year.  It is a really, really deep, sandy lake in the middle of the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes fed by a very shallow, sandy channel from Lake Michigan.  The kids played in the lake and the channel for two afternoons.  What was even better was the Lake Michigan beach.  The water was crystal clear, the bottom was sandy, and the sand bar wasn't too far out.  It is my new favorite place in the Leelanau Peninsula.

1.  The final reason I love Michigan - I get to watch my kids jump in the waves, hunt for petosky stones, roast marshmallows, hike in the woods, climb the dunes, and enjoy summer; just like I did when I was a kid.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Beans, Beans, and More Beans

When we left for vacation last week the yellow wax beans were just starting to mature and the green beans were just starting to flower.  When we returned Sunday afternoon, the plants were loaded!  I spent an hour picking a bushel basket full of green and yellow beans yesterday.  This week's CSA baskets will have enough to eat and to freeze for the winter.  Here are directions on how to freeze beans: Daves Garden.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Swiss Chard

This is my first season growing Swiss Chard.  So far the bugs have liked it, ALOT.  I included a young, uneaten bunch in my CSA basket this week.  Since I'm new to it, too, I figured I should give my families a couple recipe ideas.  I have not tested these recipes, merely selected to share them because I would like to! 

Simply Recipes - Swiss Chard Recipe
Earth Eats - Swiss Chard with Toasted Cashews

What's in Your Basket

This week's basket includes the following:

Salad Greens - Bibb lettuce (darker green), Ruby lettuce (Red) and Summer Crisp lettuce (light green).


Green Onions

Squash - The first of the season!

Radishes - To prepare radishes, wipe clean and trim off the stem end and tip. The peppery flavor is most concentrated in the skin and so this can be peeled or cut off if the radishes are too pungent. For added crispness soak in iced water for an hour before use.

Swiss Chard - The first of the season!

Everything in the basket has been rinsed once. It should all be washed again before eating. Please rinse the plastic bags and containers and return them with the basket at your next delivery.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

This produce week's basket includes the following:

Salad Greens - Spinach, Bibb lettuce (darker green), Ruby lettuce (Red) and Summer Crisp lettuce (light green).


Green Onions


Radishes - To prepare radishes, wipe clean and trim off the stem end and tip. The peppery flavor is most concentrated in the skin and so this can be peeled or cut off if the radishes are too pungent. For added crispness soak in iced water for an hour before use.

Everything in the basket has been rinsed once. It should all be washed again before eating. Please rinse the plastic bags and containers and return them with the basket at your next delivery.

Freezing Rhubarb

Select tender stems. Wash and cut into 1-inch pieces. Discard damaged or blemished stems.

Dry Pack: Pack rhubarb into plastic freezer bags or vacuum package. Seal, label, and freeze.

Sugar Pack: Mix 1 part sugar to 4 parts rhubarb. Allow to stand until sugar is dissolved. Pack rhubarb into can-or-freeze jars or plastic freezer boxes. Seal, label, and freeze.

Syrup Pack: Prepare a heavy syrup. Pack rhubarb into can-or-freeze jars or plastic freezer boxes. Ladle syrup over rhubarb, leaving ½- inch headspace. Seal, label, and freeze.

Stewed: Stew or steam rhubarb according to your favorite recipe; sweeten to taste. Cool. Pack same as syrup pack.

Taken from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving.

Rhubarb Bread

2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups sugar
½ cup applesauce
½ cup oil
4 tablespoons sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup chopped nuts

4 cups flour
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Sift flour, soda and salt together. Add sugar, eggs, oil, applesauce and sour cream. Fold in nuts and rhubarb. Pour into two greased bread pans. Cut sugar and cinnamon into butter into crumbly. Sprinkle with topping. Bake at 350° for 60 minutes. This recipe makes two loaves.

June 13: Garden Update

This weekend brought a lot of rain, a lot of weeds and a lot of garden progress. This coming week will be full of weeding and mulching to cut down on future weeding. I don't think I'll be watering anytime soon.

The potatoes are starting to flower. They need to be weeded and hilled with straw this week. If they aren't hilled the potatoes will form above ground, have a green color from exposure to the sun and be poisonous.
There were some germination issues with the sugar snap peas so they are a bit behind. They are just starting to flower.

The yellow wax beans are on the verge of flowering. The green beans also had to be replanted so they are a couple weeks behind.

The strawberries were plentiful this year and should be done this week. Each year I contemplate tearing them out. They always surprise me and making me change my mind.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Who I am.

A few weeks ago we had a staff development day in our college. As part of the day, we were asked to take a strengths inventory based on the books Strength Finders 2.0 and Strengths Based Leadership and attend a workshop. The idea is to find out what you are good at and develop those strengths rather than working to develop the areas in which you fall short.

My strengths were:

  1. Positivity: I generally have a positive outlook on life and look for the best in people.
  2. Includer: I enjoy meeting new people and am quick to include them in the groups I am part of.
  3. Achiever: I am quick to act, like to feel engaged in my activities, focus on processes and like to accomplish things. I am a list person. I have eleven years worth of notebooks to prove it.
  4. Competition: I like to win in situations that are important to me. No surprise here.
  5. Futuristic: I am a goal setter and love to talk with visionary people.
I love personality profiles like this. I've done DISC and Myers-Briggs and going through this exercise was just as interesting. How could a quick inventory do such a good job at describing me?

It was even more interesting when a friend described who she was on her blog this week and asked who 'we' were.

Too often I tie my answer to that question to the roles I am playing at the moment. Just look at my blog header. So I am going to use what I learned from Strength Finders and answer her question without thinking about the roles I am currently playing. My roles are not what define me. It's who I am at my core that defines me and those attributes shine through in all of the roles I play.

am happy.
like to try and succeed at new things.
like making people feel more comfortable in any given situation.
am always looking to the future.
like to control what I can.
always try to find the bright spot.
am structured.
am versatile.
am a life-long learner.
am creative.
am emotional.
am a builder.
am a good listener.
am faithful.

The second part of my friend's post described what she wasn't. In concert with Strength Finders, I am not going to focus on what I'm not. That list is way too long and it will make me feel bad about myself and quite overwhelmed. I know I am far from perfect so I'll just try harder to build on what I am.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Garden Progress

It seems like just last week the garden looked like this.

Pretty hairy and pretty scary.  It gave me nightmares.  Then things finally started to come up and I could weed without disturbing ungerminated seeds.

And, now I finally have a clean garden with plants I can row.  I am finally at peace.

Rhubarb Butter Crunch

Church recipe books are one of the best things about living in a rural area. All the country cooks (a.k.a. Church Basement Ladies) submit their best recipes. I received this cookbook from my husband's great aunt as a wedding shower gift.

I discovered one my favorite springtime recipes inside. I've been known to eat the entire baking dish of this delectable dessert. I hope you enjoy it just as much as I do.

Monday, May 17, 2010

10 Random Things

I haven't been posting regularly but I have been busy! Here are ten random things I've been up to:

10. Hauling kids to basketball, dance and soccer.
9. Starting a new job! Hooray!
8. Avoiding the gail force winds that blow through my yard. When will the wind stop blowing?
7. Running.
6. Cooking a meal at Ronald McDonald House Charities. It is such a great place!
5. Mowing the lawn. It started a month early this season. YUCK!
4. Training (ok mostly yelling) at the puppy. I need professional help. For the puppy, not me.
3. Planting seeds in my basement. Veggies and flowers.
2. Not cleaning my house. I need professional help here, too.
1. Applying to grad school. I will start working on my doctoral degree in the fall. YIKES!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pizza Night

My Friday nights as a kid were spent watching Dallas and eating popcorn with my family. It was a family ritual that I remember almost as well as Christmas Eve, Christmas morning and Easter morning.

When I had kids, I decided I wanted to do something similar. Unfortunately, and much to my husband's chagrin, Dallas reruns are hard to find.

So I decided that I would try my best to make homemade pizza on Friday nights. Do I do it every Friday? No, but I probably make it more Fridays than not.

Recently my husband's cousins and their significant others came to the farm to visit on a Friday. It was suggested that we order pizza. On a Friday night. Those words were like a knife straight through my heart.

Even though I would be feeding 15, I decided to make my pizza rather than take the easier, cleaner way out. And, it was a success! So much that cousin Mandy asked for the recipe so they could recreate it at home. What a great compliment!

So here goes!

My 'go to' dough recipe is from my KitchenAid mixer cookbook. If you don't have one of these it's not the end of the world, but you should really get one. It is amazing!

If you don't have a mixer, combine all the ingredients in a bowl, then turn the dough out onto the counter and knead it until smooth and elastic.

If you do have a mixer, add the water, yeast, salt and oil and let it sit for a minute. I never measure the water temperature. I just run the tap nice and hot and add it to the bowl. My mother-in-law, the home economics teacher, is probably cringing.

Sometimes I add a tablespoon or two of honey, sometimes I don't. Just depends on how sweet I'm feeling.

Next add 2.5 cups of flour and mix on 2 for about a minute. Slowly add .5 cup of flour at a time, up to 3.5 cups, and until the dough clings to the hook and cleans the side of the bowl.

Sometimes I add a cup of wheat flour. It gives the dough a nutty taste and makes me feel healthier.

Form the dough into a disk. Drizzle olive oil in the bottom of the bowl, put the dough in the bowl then turn it over to coat both sides with oil. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and put in a draft free place to rise for an hour.

The dough should double in size.

Punch it down. If you are making the dough for the night before, put in the fridge. A few hours before you want to use it the next day, take it out and let it rise again until double, then punch it down again.

If you are ready to make the pizza, slide your pizza stone into the oven and preheat it to 450 degrees.

Divide the dough and form a disc. Roll it out to about 1/8 inch thick.

It absolutely does not have to be a perfect circle.

Take your pizza stone out of the oven and sprinkle corn meal on top to prevent the dough from sticking.

One of my many secrets is to use tomatoes rather than tomato sauce. I prefer tomatoes from my garden that I have canned, but alas, I used them up at the cousin party. Walmart tomatoes also do the trick.

Spread the tomatoes and as little juice as possible over the crust. Sprinkle the tomatoes with Italian Seasoning, then have some fun. I put all sorts of stuff on pizza: garlic, pepperonis, sausage (browned before), bacon, prosciutto, blue cheese, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, brie, whatever you think sounds good. Finish it with some fresh ground pepper and oregano on top.

I made this pizza last Saturday. I didn't realize until I got to the cheese part that I only had 2 cups of mozzarella left. Cheddar worked just as well.

This week's crust turned out super crisp. Every week is different.

I didn't have too many complaints!

Monday, March 22, 2010

One Year Annivesary!

I can't believe I've had a blog for a year! Where did the time go?

Last year about this time I started with posts about starting seeds (I did this, this morning) and raking rocks (I did this, this afternoon). A lot of details have changed in my life but the broad strokes are the same. Will I be able to say the same next March?

Monday, March 15, 2010

March Can Jam: Raspberry Garlic Jam

When I first discovered the ingredient of the month I didn't know what to think. Heck, I didn't even know what an allium was.

But once I found out, I was really excited. I've wanted to make garlic jelly for a long time. Since I don't grow it (I finally am this season!), I never had a reason to. Now I finally do! And, I found a recipe with wine. Oh how I love to add liquor to my jam!

The first step is roasting the garlic. This was super easy. Cut the head off, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, enclose in foil and roast!

The next step was making the juice for the jam. This was also super easy. Squeeze the garlic out of the skin and into a sauce pan. Add the wine, water, more vinegar and pepper. Bring to a boil and let steep. Then drain over cheese cloth.

While the garlic juice is draining, mash the raspberries and put three cups of the puree into your jam pot. My jam is not garlicky enough. Next time I'm only using two cup of raspberries.

Then measure two cups of the garlic juice. If you don't have two cups, add enough wine to get there. Next time I plan to make a double batch of the garlic juice and use three cups.
Combine the garlic juice, pectin and a bit of butter with the raspberries and bring to a boil. Add the sugar, return to a boil and boil for one minute.

Pour into jars and process. Voila! Isn't it gorgeous!

Recipe adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and the Ball pectin berry jam instructions.
3 medium heads of garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, crushed
3 cups red raspberry puree
1 pouch pectin
7 cups sugar

Cut the tops off the garlic, place each in a separate square of aluminum foil. Top each head with one teaspoon of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Roast at 425 for 45 - 60 minutes or until soft and golden.

Squeeze the garlic out of the skin into a saucepan. Add the wine, water, balsamic vinegar and peppercorns. Bring to a boil for five minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and let steep for 15 minutes. Drain through dampened cheesecloth, undisturbed for a half hour. Measure two cups of the liquid. If there isn't two cups, add enough wine to make two cups.

Mash the raspberries with a potato masher. Measure three cups into a large stockpot. Add the garlic liquid, a teaspoon of butter to reduce foaming and the pectin. Bring to a rolling boil. Add the sugar. Bring to a rolling boil for one minute.

Remove from heat, put in jars and process for 10 minutes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

February Can Jam: Carrot Rhubarb Jam

I was a little skeptical when I read the February ingredient. I had no idea what to do with carrots.

I found a carrot jam recipe with brandy and almonds. I'm known for adding liquor to jam so I thought about it. That is until I cleaned our my freezer and found loads of diced rhubarb from the past two seasons and a recipe for carrot rhubarb jam.

It smelled really good cooking and they're very pretty but I'm not sure what to expect. The recipe didn't call for sugar, just one small cup of honey. It also didn't call for any lemon juice. Not wanting anyone to get sick, I added a couple tablespoons just in case. It was chunkier than any jam I've ever made, more like a chunky salsa consistency.
Carrot Rhubarb Jam
Adapted from

3 cups carrots, grated
6 cups rhubarb, diced
3 oranges, juice and grated rind
1 cup honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
Pour boiling water over rhubarb.Let stand for 10 minutes. Drain. This reduces objectionable oxalic acid. Mix all ingredients and let stand overnight. Next morning, bring to slow boil. Cook only until rhubarb is transparent and mixture thickened. Pour into hot sterilized jars. Seal.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Thoughts on Pollan and King Corn

A few months ago I was introduced to Michael Pollan - not the man, just his writing.

I was reading one of my favorite blogs and was shocked and disheartened by some of the conclusions the author was drawing about farming, specifically corn farming, from her research on whole foods and healthy eating.

Her post reviewing the movie King Corn and introducing me to Pollan inspired some dialogue and caused me to dig into a genre of writing I otherwise would have never exposed myself to.

Here are my thoughts on The Omnivore's Dilemma as well as the movie King Corn:

1. Pollan is a brilliant writer.

His ability to give corn anthropomorphic qualities as he weaves his tale of corn domination is second to none. But let's be real. Hybrid corn came about to raise yields to feed the masses, increase consistency and improve farm profitability. Food is a necessity and there are a lot of hungry people in our world. Corn is an efficient source of food energy, it can be stored and transported long distances without spoiling and there are many ways it can be used in the food we eat. By including corn in livestock feed rations we are increasing the availability of quality protein sources.

2. People should be more conscious of what they eat.

This includes reading labels and a balanced understanding how their food is produced. How does this happen? We desperately need to start placing more value on the life skills classes and lessons taught in our schools. This includes home economics and agriculture classes. The lessons I learned in my ag classes, I carry with me to this day: how plants grow, how animals grow, how to work hard, responsibility, and leadership. The Ag in the Classroom program is a great way to integrate these important lessons into science classes but we can't only rely on science classes. How do we do this in urban areas? Check out the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.

This is also a matter of personal choice. Once people have a balanced understanding of how their food is produced, let them make their own decisions.

I do not buy organic produce at the grocery store. I understand integrated pest management (IPM) and how overuse of pesticide affects the bottom line. As a farmer, I trust the produce farmers to make good IPM decisions and the government regulations that are in place to protect against those who don't. Same goes for antibiotic use in livestock.

In my own garden, I avoid pesticides. Mainly because I don't want to go into the house and wash my produce before snacking on it in the yard.

I also buy local when it's in season and available - that's only five months at best in the Midwest. And, I would rather the people I know benefit from my purchase. These are choices I'm happy I have the freedom to make.

3. We all need to look at the bigger picture.

We are a food insecure nation and world. There are too many people who can't afford enough food or simply don't have access to it. Before we begin a campaign to raise food prices so people eat less, let's improve people's ability to get healthy food.

Obesity and the diseases that accompany it are also part of the bigger picture. Why are people obese? We eat too much and move too little. I love Michelle's Obama's new Let's Move initiative. And, I love what she said, "Our kids did not do this to themselves..." We need to be parents. We need to say "NO" to all the snacking, turn off the televisions and game systems and encourage our kids to get outside and move.

I understand there are environmental concerns. We can always do better. Locally, I am not alarmed. Because of the efficiency of hybrid corn, fertilizer and pesticides, we can produce more corn using less fertilizer and nitrogen than ever before. And, advances in technology and practices are continuously being made. We know that we must be good stewards of the land we farm, with no exceptions. Our kids and grand kids will one day rely on the very same land to make a living and a life.

I am concerned about the conflicting, agenda based science that is out there. I am also concerned with people's ability to discern science from opinion. No wonder there is so much confusion.

4. The Farm Bureau advocates for farmers.

Just like a union. And, because so many people are so far removed from the farm is it crucial that this grassroots organization continue to be a strong link and source of information to those making policy decisions in our capital cities. The Farm Bureau absolutely represents our family's farming operation.

5. I believe in personal responsibility.

I recently did The Quantum Cleanse. I had to give up gluten for two weeks. I read every label before eating. Even with the High Fructose Corn Syrup, I eat loads more gluten than corn. Is this the government's fault or some evil wheat plant's? No. It's my fault for not choosing to eat a more balanced diet. Something that I will strive to change since my return to normal eating.

6. Agarian romaticism is alive and thriving. Thank you Mike Wilson for naming it for me.

This theme was challenging for me to wrap my head around. Why in the world would anyone want to return to the labor intensive, low yielding ways of the past?

Then it occurred to me. People are so far removed from their farming roots that's all they remember or have read about in children's story books. They want to return to their fairytale version of farming and the perceived simplicity that comes with it, not the reality of modern farming that feeds our world.

They also want to feel connected to their food, just like we do. We know where our meat comes from - it's the farm down the road. We know what it takes to grow the lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, etc. we eat. We plant, nurture and harvest it. I fed my family a balanced diet of mostly whole foods before ever reading Pollan or seeing King Corn, because that is what most farm families do.

People also want to feel connected to their neighbors. Our community may not look like it did 50 years ago but it still a agriculture based community with businesses that support a strong farming industry. It is a community where everyone knows your name, cares about your well-being and helps out others in need.

Pollan was an interesting, compelling read. The young men in King Corn were endearing. I don't disagree with the underlying theme: People need to eat better. I just disagree with how they get there.

The Quantum Cleanse

Completing the Quantum Cleanse was on my 35 things to do before I turn 35 list. Last weekend I wrapped up my version of the cleanse, returned to normal eating and took inventory of what I learned from the experience.

The cleanse requires that you give up five things: Alcohol, Caffeine, Sugar, Gluten, Animal Products for three weeks. I didn't think I would be able to do it all at once so I added one category each week spending only one week without all five.
Here's what I learned:

#1 - I have an enormous amount of self-control when I set a goal.

#2 - I eat an enormous amount of gluten.

#3 - I love cheese. I could probably be a vegetarian but never a vegan.

#4 - I'm not a big dessert person. Not eating sugar didn't bother me too much.

#5 - I need to moderate everything that I eat and drink. I overindulge way too much. Once I start it's hard too stop. I need to set rules for my eating and drinking.

#6 - I will not be returning to my morning coffee or rekindling my love affair with Diet Pepsi. I am just fine drinking my decaf green tea in the morning.

#7 - I will probably do the cleanse again this summer. This time I will do it the right way instead of my version.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Jan. 31 - Feb. 6 Menu

Alcohol, Caffine, Sugar, Gluten Free Week for me so the rest of the family gets to eat from the freezer,

Sunday: Chicken Rice Soup

Monday: Baked Ziti

Tuesday: Chicken Enchiladas

Wednesday: Swedish Meatballs

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: Homemade Pizza

Saturday: Leftovers

Alcohol, Caffine, Sugar, Gluten, Animal Free Week so more freezer eating for the family

Sunday: Lemon Garlic Tilapia with Baked Garlic Rice

Monday: Mexican Casserole

Tuesday: Baked Ziti

Wednesday: Vegetable Pad Thai

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: Homemade Pizza

Saturday: Leftovers

Key Lime Pie Martini Jam

I've never worked with limes. I've never made a marmalade. And, although I've added vanilla, schnapps's and chambord to certain fruit jam recipes, I've never created my own recipe. From scratch. How hard could it really be? Twice as much fruit as sugar, boil until you reach the gel point, do the plate test, can...

Little did I know the secret to my jam would be in how I prepared the juice.

I started with a bowl of key limes.

And made juice. I decided to try slicing the limes thinly while removing the seeds, just like this recipe described. This worked famously.

Next, I boiled the slices with five cups of water for about 30 minutes. After letting it cool a bit, I tasted it. The juice was extremely bitter and pithy tasting.

So I started over. This time I sliced all the rinds off the limes.

Cooked the fruit with another five cups of water to extract the juice.

Then, I tasted the juice. Much better. So I made a key lime pie martini. Once I had my drink to taste the jam against, I was good to go!

Key Lime Pie Martini Jam

2 cups of key lime juice

3 cups of pineapple juice

3 cups of sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1/4 cup triple sec

1/2 cup citrus or vanilla vodka

Mix fruit juices and sugar in a large pot and bring to a boil until gel point is reached. Remove from the heat. Add the vanilla, triple sec, and vodka. Pour into jars and seal in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

I've been enjoying the jam on homemade bread since Sunday. It is a touch bitter but it's growing on me. I think I may try mixing it with cream cheese and eating it with graham crackers.