saying yes

I know by the day lilies that these photos are from early July.  aside from that, they just as well could have been from tonight.  Claire has been asking, almost daily, if we can have a fire and roast marshmallows after dinner and, almost daily, we've been finding excuses to say no.  silly, silly us.

so we said yes tonight.  in fact, we said 'great idea!'.  we had a little fire and roasted marshmallows until the bats came out and then we watched the bats and she threw handfuls of leaves in the flickering flames.

we intend to have fires regularly, but often the lack of dry kindling, or uncooperative weather, or general grumpiness and forgetfulness seem to get in the way and muck up the plans.  so here's to un-mucking.  here's to saying yes more often, to many things.  especially if it seems like no big deal to me yet such a big deal to her.  it could be she's just trying to help me slow down and enjoy myself.  here's to remembering that there is a lot of fun to be had right in the back yard.  here's to these delicious in-between days as summer packs his bag and autumn comes whispering in.

and by the way- that little chair.  a friend gave that to Claire and I love it.  it makes me think of my childhood and for some reason it makes me picture my dad in cut off denim shorts and big brown sunglasses, very likely sitting in a very similar (except for the size, obviously) chair in our backyard.


kitchen witchery

calendula, clover
the st. john's wort turns a brilliant ruby-red when infused~ it's so pretty!
we were able to harvest enough of our own elderberries for a quart of tincture and a batch or two of elderberry syrup before leaving for vacation and having a lot of them go to the birds.  luckily I was able to grab enough from the farm for an extra batch of syrup- we use it heavily during cold and flu season!
calendula, holy basil, yarrow, lemon balm
some of the tincture jars (I don't keep them in the windowsill, they are stored away in the pantry)
I've made our elderberry syrup for the last few years, but this year I've been getting into making tinctures, drying herbs for teas and such, and other things as well.  we've got a half gallon jar full of red clover blossoms and one full of usnea.  there is calendula infusing in oil as well as some dried.  dried comfrey and dried red raspberry leaves.  and currently swimming in 100 proof vodka, on their way to becoming tinctures, are elderberries, tulsi, lemon balm, st. john's wort (I debated between infusing it in an oil for topical use instead, but then decided it will be even more happy-making if needed to fight winter blahs given that it came from the meadow behind the house in Maine.... happy memories, happy medicine), nettles, and yarrow.  I plan to mix and tincture a couple blends.  one for digestion, an immune blend, and a heart blend.  also planning to infuse some comfrey and plantain in oil, and dig up some roots pretty soon.  in a way I feel like all of this information, all of these books read and herb conferences attended over the years, where I've excitedly taken notes and come home with good intentions of regular medicine making....... it's all ripened to the point where I just have to do it.  maybe I needed I new little project, maybe the plants were calling my name a bit louder..... who knows.  next up, I think, are some salves and some fun and yummy medicine balls.

such fun, this medicine making.  especially when you realize how much good medicine is right outside the back door.



straw flowers and Maine seaweed treasures
a henna design for the little one

trying to keep a running list of things harvested, and preserved.  some fall by the wayside, but mostly, I'm keeping up

art class planning (school is back in session!)
yesterday's canning (roasted tomatoes and pickled peppers), my current read, and this morning's hot drink
breakfast :: fried egg sandwich with baby greens and dried tomatoes

school is back in session here in Western NC and so I'm back to work teaching after school art classes five days a week.  truly, I feel very lucky to have landed in this job.  it allows me to work with the school calendar, continue to enjoy my (our) slow mornings, have ample time to get into other projects, and I get to bring Claire with me.  when I started, 4 years ago, she was just a wee 20 month old and I admit it wasn't always easy trying to help kids thread needles and load brushes with paint as she grabbed at my shirt to nurse, or followed me around begging to be picked up.  my how time flies.

the first weeks back to work always have me realizing a particularly strong feeling of gratitude for this little life we've created.  for this home and for the time we three get to spend together.  I recognize that we are lucky.  at least, I feel lucky.  papa works 24 hour shifts, but his days off outnumber his days on and we've grown accustomed to the flow of it all.  our schedules, and the fact that I can bring her to work with me, make homeschooling an easy choice for us.  she is five and a half.  and so here we are, in her kindergarten year.  for this year, and very likely beyond, I know we'll hover on the loose, 'unschooling' end of the spectrum.  we'll continue to read a ton with her and learn about plants and explore nature.  we'll pick a theme or two each month and see what we can learn.  I want to do things like make a papier mache milky way and learn about different cultures and have fun making food from and listening to music from many different countries.  as with everything, we shall see.


the shift

while it's true that some days do still feel downright summery, the balance between the waning summer days and the coming fall days seems to be starting to tip in autumn's favor.  refreshingly cool evenings and mornings, reduced midday humidity, apples dripping off of trees here and there (though not at our house- the squirrels got ALL of ours!).....

in the garden, the shift is more than obvious.  the garlic, (NINE pounds of it!) is all cured and ready for storage (some we will keep as is, some will be vinegar cured or dried, and some we will use as seed garlic in October), the butternuts and winter luxury pumpkins are all picked and cured, and just a few "big Max" pumpkins remain in the beds.  the butternuts and pumpkins did alright this year, but several of the plants produced just one fruit each, and I'd like to think 2 or 3 is a reasonable expectation.  still, these will last us quite a while.

we've planted fall peas and greens, cabbages and turnips, beets and carrots....

the row of jalapeƱos and serranos patiently await pickling and hot-saucing...

looking thorough some thai basil and globe amaranth to the bean teepee, still producing

there is a new round of baby cucumbers coming in, along with some okra and tomatillos...

the echinacea that volunteered in the middle of the garden is thriving and spreading vigorously.  it seems to want to sow itself all over my yard and I'm okay with that.  the black-eyed susan follows it, not wishing to be left behind.

the little bugger below caused a stir the other day when papa brushed up against him while pruning a grapevine.  luckily, he didn't actually get stung.  turns out this fella, the saddleback caterpillar, is one of the most venomous caterpillars in North America, and it's stings can lead to a whole host of ugly complications.  according to one website, "The venom itself can cause a systemic condition called erucism or acute urticaria, for which severe symptoms may include migraines, gastrointestinal symptoms, asthma complications, anaphylactic shock, rupturing of erythrocytes, and hemorrhaging".

well then.  at least we now know to give them plenty of space should we see another one.

our little pond is looking good, and it turns out that while we were away one of the fish had a baby.  there is now a 2 inch long grey goldfish swimming alongside the others.  the resident frog hasn't been spotted in a while, but I'm hoping he/she will be back.


kitchen fun and preservation

the pantry is filling up~ tucked away unseen are several jars of salsa and curried zucchini pickles, along with this year's maple syrup and the remaining couple gallons of last year's honey

easy and yummy:  fermented carrots

I saved the wild Maine blueberries to make a special, extra happy batch of jam

another batch of dilly beans and some pickled beets

jersey fresh tomatoes from our dear farmer friend ~ enough to make a double batch of salsa, a big caprese salad, and a half dozen jars of tomato sauce (our own tomatoes have done poorly this year but are hanging in there and we're picking a bit each day)

salsa in the making

okra from the farm I've worked at this summer~ our own was planted a bit late and is just now getting ready to fruit

also, tomatoes and sunflowers.  not a bad compensation for a bit of summer work

more tomatoes from the farm :: several quarts of whole tomatoes, many many dried tomatoes, another batch of salsa, and coming soon several pints of roasted whole tomatoes

more dilly beans and pickled okra

homemade bhindi masala :: all produce (minus the ginger) from our backyard and the farm!

our kitchen has been a busy place these days.  a hot, sticky, sweaty, busy place.  recently Mike put a small fan in there, on top of the fridge, and that makes a world of difference in keeping the kitchen feeling inhabitable during processing and canning.  why it took several years of late summer canning for us to think of that, I do not know.  I just know I'm glad we (he) finally did!

the pantry is filling up more than ever with different jams and pickled beans, okra and zucchini, salsa, sauce, tomatoes, honey and maple syrup.  there are several bags each of kale and blueberries in the freezer.  when we got back home from vacation I was worried our beans had had it, but after some coaxing and tending (and bean beetle annihilation) they have come back for an encore, and the bush beans are just getting going.  and so, it looks like we will have plenty of dilly beans after all.  my farm gig this summer has proven to be quite handy and I'm bringing home loads of tomatoes and okra (and flowers!) whenever I'm out there.  our own tomatoes (though they do seem to be coming back a bit now) have done quite poorly this year, so we've been very thankful to still be able to put away so many tomatoes in so many ways.  new this year to us are dried tomatoes and whole roasted, canned tomatoes.  next on the list is the peppers.  we'll make big batches of our roasted jalapeƱo and serrano hot sauce, and this year we'll pickle a bunch of peppers as well, inspired by Lisa and Steve.  as for cucumbers, we're not big fans of processed cucumber pickles, fancying the crunchy refrigerator pickles instead, so most of our cukes went to refrigerator pickle land and jars of those are currently taking up quite a bit of room in the fridge.  we've got a new crop of cucumbers on their way (they're finger sized right now) and maybe we'll process some of those as bread and butter pickles or something like that.  if you've got a (not too too sweet) recipe you love for those, please do share.  I'm also planning to grab a basket of peaches at the market this Saturday, because I need to get some more of Ashley's amazing peach-lavender butter on these pantry shelves- YUM!

I'd love to hear about some of your own favorite food preservation methods, recipes, etc.  anyone using their dehydrator in interesting ways?  I've only used mine for a few fruits and tomatoes, but would love to hear other ideas.