Thursday, July 30, 2015

Testing the canned chicken, and more preserving

I popped open jars of chicken and black beans that I canned last week to make some burritos for dinner today, to test how these products came out.  We had a head-to-head taste test of Emma's favorite commercially canned black beans and my home canned version.

putting the home-canned chicken and beans to the test

I'm happy to say that both the chicken and black beans were a total success!

The beans look exactly like commercially canned beans.  They're fully rehydrated and tender, but not mushy, and have great flavor. In our blind taste test, Emma couldn't tell the difference between the two types of beans, except that she did say the home canned version was a little more creamy. I thought the home version tasted better, with a slightly softer texture and without the very slight metallic taste.

The chicken wasn't mushy at all, which was my main concern.  It's firm and has good flavor, with none of the metallic, weird taste that commercially canned chicken (in metal cans) has.  I don't like commercially canned chicken at all, but this home-canned version is quite good and tastes like chicken.  It's somewhat "brittle" and flaked apart easily, so it's not the same as fresh-cooked.  But it will definitely work great for soup, burritos, chicken salad, etc., which is exactly what I was hoping.

Best of all, I know that there's no extra salt or anything in the jars- just chicken and beans.  I will definitely be canning both these again.  Yay!

My bean and chicken burrito was delicious, seasoned with ground coriander seeds (from the garden!), cumin, turmeric, and smidge of cayenne, topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt, fresh parsley, and a tiny garden tomato.  Yum.  I was going to take a picture, but I forgot... it was too yummy.  Sorry.

Here's my harvest from today- the first two yellow peppers, some parsley, and a tiny tomato. All gone now.  Pretty yummy.

today's harvest

The tomatoes are finally starting to ripen quicker, hooray!  Not too much longer before I have a nice little pile of Amish Paste tomatoes!

Now we're getting there.

In other canning news, I put up some pickled cabbage and carrot slaw yesterday, from this recipe (halved because I only had one four-pound cabbage). With home-grown onion and orange peppers!

Pickled cabbage and carrot slaw

It's not sauerkraut, since it isn't fermented, but just a straight pickle.  It's sweet/sour and crunchy, and I flavored mine with celery seed and caraway seed, since I didn't have the mustard seed the recipe called for.  I had the little bit that was left over in a pastrami and swiss sandwich for lunch yesterday, and it was really, really good.

I also did up some cucumber dill pickles a couple days ago.  I had five smallish cucumbers, and since there was only enough for a single jar I did a refrigerator pickle.  The jar was originally full, but we've been munching on them.  Yum!

Refrigerator dill pickles

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


I finally got my act together and entered some of my work in the county fair this year, for the first time since I have lived here.

Ribbons for my hardanger!

The edelweiss hardanger doily got Judges' Choice! Yay!

The first year of fair-going after I moved here from Friday Harbor was somewhat of a shock.  In Friday Harbor, there is an extremely active textile guild and the fair was the highlight of the year.  The Fiber Arts (knitting, crochet, spinning, weaving, felting/fulling, rug hooking, tatting, etc.) and Textile Arts (sewing, quilting, smocking, embroidery, etc.) entries take up an entire barn, which is one of the biggest display areas of the fair.

Here...not so much.  The entire crochet, embroidery, and knitting display this year was a counter about six feet long and two feet wide.  The quilts are in a different building.  There aren't even weaving or spinning categories at all.

Still, it's fun to have stuff on display and always exciting to win a ribbon!

Powerful mint

As I sat down at my desk this morning with a cup of fresh mint tea, I looked down at my cup and inhaled that fresh mintiness. There were only a few sprigs, the trimmings of the chocolate mint that were escaping the pot, but it was so, so fragrant.

Strong mint

I thought to myself, with an unconscious choice of phrasing but in all seriousness and with deep satisfaction, "The Force is strong with this one."

I am such a nerd.

Monday, July 27, 2015


The first nasturtium flower opened on Sunday!  Nasturtiums always look so cheerful.  These are growing really slowly, and most are nowhere near blooming.  Ah well, I know to plant them earlier next year.

First nasturtium

The Boston Pickling cucumbers are also starting to bloom.  Just one male flower so far, but there are lots more buds coming and I can see at least a couple that are female flowers.

The first Boston Pickling cucumber flower

The pattypan squash, on the other hand, is doing exactly squat.  Oh, it's blooming like crazy, but only sending out male flowers!  I know the squash family tends to start out with only male flowers for a while when they start blooming, but it's been weeks!  I want some squash!  I'm going to try stuffed sauteed flowers with dinner tomorrow unless a female bud shows up.

The pattypan squash is blooming like crazy, but only male flowers...

Emma's Black Magic petunia is doing really well. I bought this under duress, because she wanted it sooo badly, but it's really grown on me.  I like the contrast it brings to the half barrel with the marigolds and bright red penstemon.

Black Magic petunias

The green beans are still pretty small and spindly, but they are starting to flower and produce itty bitty beans!

First green beans!

The Tomato Annex is doing great.

The Tomato Annex

I don't really appreciate the day to day differences until I go back and look at previous pictures, like this one, taken just two weeks ago.  The vines are about two feet taller now, and look at the tomatoes!


We've only harvested five tomatoes so far.  It's been really cool here for the past couple weeks (daytime highs in the 70s and 80s, and a low of 39 is forecast for tonight! Yikes!), but it's supposed to warm up into the 90s again later this week.  The cool weather has slowed down the tomato ripening, but I haven't given up hope yet. 

The hummingbirds continue to swarm my back yard.  I've lost count of how many adults there are, plus the youngsters have started showing up.  There are probably upwards of 15-20 in the general yard area.  This is a female rufous hummingbird, blurry because the picture is heavily zoomed and cropped.  They're so much fun to watch.


As an aside, that's a Hummzinger feeder, and it's the absolute best hummingbird feeder I've ever had.  It doesn't drip and attract ants like the bottle-types do, the bees and wasps can't get to the nectar AT ALL so they have stopped coming around and chasing off the hummers, and it's so easy to clean and fill.

The new feeders were required because I went out to the deck three Saturdays ago and it looked like half the population of a beehive was at my two former feeders- the kind with an inverted bottle and the red and yellow flower ports for the hummers to sip from.  There were probably 500 bees flying around and on the feeders, plus a healthy group of wasps.  The hummers kept trying to come in to feed, but the bees chased them off.  I had to give the bees a (gentle) hose shower to chase them off so I could bring the feeders inside.  I'm all for helping the bees, but this was out of hand.  I want to be able to use the deck too.

I ordered the Hummzinger feeders that morning, received them the following Monday, and the hummers were buzzing around them within 5 minutes after I put them up.  I got two originally, then ordered two more the next day to try and calm down some of the infighting between the hummers.  With four feeders up, it dilutes some of the competition.  Even the rufous hummers will let someone else drink at the same time.  No bees, no wasps, no ants, lots of hummers.  Perfect.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Convenience food

I did up a batch of bean and veggie soup yesterday, with a couple of smoked ham hocks simmered in the chicken broth for flavor.

Canned bean soup

The broth was 8 cups of homemade, frozen chicken stock that needed to be used up since it was almost a year old, plus 8 cups of water.  This had the added benefit of freeing up some space in my freezer!

The great northern white beans were soaked for a couple hours, drained, then simmered with the ham hocks and three bay leaves for half an hour. The goal was to at least partially rehydrate the beans so the jars would keep some free liquid.  I chopped up the small amount of meat off the ham hocks and divided it between the jars, along with the beans and some raw carrots, celery, onion (home grown!), parsley (home grown!), and garlic. 

The soup was pressure canned for 90 minutes, as required for beans and meat in quart jars.  In the future, I think I might can the veggies separately, since processing them that long took away some color and it's likely that they're quite soft.  I'll decide after we try this batch.

Emma and I like soup a lot, especially when it's chilly out, but we don't like commercially canned soup- it's just too salty for us.  Making soup from dehydrated ingredients is good, but does take a little time, especially if we want meat in it.  I'm hoping that having this on hand will be an easy way to have a quick and healthy soup dinner when we're tired and hungry after work/school/swim practice this fall.  Just open a jar, dump it in a pot, heat, and serve.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


Despite having its own giant playground planter, the chocolate mint is still trying to make a break for it.

The chocolate mint trying to make a break for it.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

More canning

I did three more test runs of the pressure canner over the past two days, just getting used to it.  Still no explosions!

Black beans, pinto beans, and carrots.

This is one batch with just black beans (8 pints), one batch with black beans (5 pints) and pinto beans (3 pints), and a partial batch of carrots (6 pint-and-a-half jars).  I could have fit in two more jars of carrots, but that was the end of the five pound bag.

You may notice that the center two rows have white lids rather than the normal metal kind.  Those are Tattler lids, and they are reusable!  I'm very excited about these, because I really hate that you have to throw out the traditional metal lids after only one use.  All the Tattler lids sealed perfectly, and I look forward to reusing them many, many times.

The Tattler lids are pricey to start with (about $10 per dozen) compared to traditional lids (about $3 per dozen), but after I use the Tattlers four times, they're free.

A 15-oz can of  plain, low-sodium, no-icky-additives black beans from my local grocery store costs $1.35 ($1.00 when they're on sale).

Dry black beans were $1.49 per pound, so the cost for one home-canned jar with a Tattler lid is $0.34 for the beans plus two hours of my time and running the stove on medium-low.  Plus, I think my jars have more actual beans in them than the store-bought cans.

I love saving money.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Garden scenes

The onions have finished drying and are ready to store.  The outside layers are all papery, the roots have dried to hard little strings, and the necks aren't juicy.  Ready to trim and stash. 

Onions finished drying and ready to store.

I got a total of 12 pounds of onions from that $1.99 bag of onion sets.  Not a bad return, but I plan on doing better next year. Still, this will last a while.

Onion harvest 2015.  A total of 12 pounds; not bad for a $1.99 bag of sets.

So the onions have left, but the peppers are coming on strong.  There are lots of little ones growing.

Lots of peppers

The sunflower has lost its youthful beauty, but is ripening beautifully into maturity.  It looks like all the flowers were pollinated, and there are plenty of plump seeds forming.  I haven't decided yet if I'll let the birds and squirrels have the seeds, since they were the ones who planted it in the first place, or if I'll keep them for a people-treat.

I'm leaning toward keeping them, since the squirrels are greedy little buggers.

Sunflower seeds

The mint continues to explode with growth.  I've sheared the peppermint and chocolate mint back twice already and it's time to do it again.  The orange mint has quadrupled in size since I planted it a month ago.

Enthusiastic mint

Emma'a first zinnia is open, a very vibrant red.  We can't wait to see what other colors are in the planter.

First zinnia

And my direct-seeded marigolds are blooming.  Every flower is different, all beautiful.

Marigolds from seed

More marigolds from seed

But this remains my favorite.

A perfect marigold.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Pressure canning

Today I did something I've never done before: pressure canning!

When I was a kid, my mom did lots of canning.  Tomatoes, peaches, various pickles, green beans, sauerkraut, ketchup, plums, grape juice, various jams/jellies... lots and lots of canning, though I don't remember her ever canning meat.

Some of that was water bath canning, but she did a lot of pressure canning too.  All low-acid foods (most vegetables and all meats) have to be pressure canned, otherwise the really really bad bacteria can grow in the jars and poison you.  Not something to mess around with.

I lived in fear of the pressure canner when I was little.  It was so scary, with the hissing and the rattling gauge and the steaming.  When I was maybe five or six, I clearly remember my mom very sternly telling me and my sister not to ever EVER touch the canner, because it was very hot and had lots of dangerous pressure built up inside. 

That did it for me.  I can't remember if she actually told me it could explode, or if that was something I inferred on my own, but I've been scared of pressure canners for the past 40 years.

Today I bought one.

New canner

I can do this.  A canner will not defeat me.  There are just so many foods that can only be preserved by pressure canning.  I was going to do a batch of green beans for the inaugural run, but the good brand of chicken was on sale and green beans weren't (plus they were all shrivelled and ratty looking), so I did up some chicken.

I got eight pounds of boneless/skinless, no-salt-added, hormone-free chicken breasts for $12, which was an awesome deal. (Actually, I got 10 pounds for $15, but the other package was stir fry for dinner plus four breasts stored in the freezer.)  Freezer space is at a premium right now, so putting most of this chicken in jars is great.

I cubed up the eight pounds, sauteed it briefly, and put it in pint jars.  One pint jar holds about one pound of meat, and the canner holds eight wide-mouth pint jars, so that worked out well.

Pressure canning chicken

I followed the directions (exactly and nervously), letting it vent steam for ten minutes, then putting on the rocker weight.  After it was up to pressure and the rocker started dancing, it needed to cook for 75 minutes.  That's a long time, but the stove only had to be on #3 (medium low) to keep the pot up to pressure and the rocker jiggling, so it really wasn't a huge energy expenditure.

After the 75 minutes, I moved it off the heat and let it cool down on its own, which took about half an hour.  Then the pressure indicator popped down, no more steam was venting from the rocker, and it was ready to open.

And voila!

Success! Canned chicken!

Shelf-storable chicken!

They were all still boiling inside the jars when I took them out of the canner, which was as it should be, and the lids all sealed in less than five minutes.  Hopefully, this chicken will be great in soup, burritos, chicken salad, casseroles, etc.  Plus, it cuts the prep time since it's already cooked.  No defrosting, just grab a jar off the shelf.

Nothing exploded, no one was maimed, and no jars broke.  It felt very safe.  I feel like a whole world of food preservation has opened.

Next up: canned black beans.  Emma's favorite.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


The flycatchers left the nest today.  We found the first one resting on the step at about 10:30 this morning, having a snooze in the sun.  He/she seemed completely unconcerned that I was there.

Fledgling Pacific-slope flycatcher

At that point the other three were still in the nest.

Fledgling Pacific-slope flycatcher

We had to leave shortly thereafter, and when we got home at 6:30, the nest was empty.  We could hear Mama Bird still chirping in the big tree out front, and little baby peeps coming from the front garden.

We didn't investigate too closely, since we didn't want to scare them.  I'm so proud.

Friday, July 17, 2015

A ripe tomato!

Ta Da!!!

I'm so excited!  We picked the first Black Krim tomato tonight!


Isn't it a beauty.  Not huge, but so flavorful.  We sliced it up and had it with fresh basil and blue cheese crumbles.

Om nom nom. Oh my, that was good.

It was an indication of how much I love Emma, that she got three slices and I got two even though she made fun of me for arranging the plate so fussily and taking a picture. "It's just a tomato, Mom!"  Just a tomato, hmph.  I told her that the first tomato is special, and we don't have to do this every time.

It was SO delicious.

OK, OK, I'll stop now before I start composing poetry to my tomatoes. Sorry.

Also of note recently is the appearance of four baby Pacific-slope flycatchers in the nest on the front porch.  Mama Bird has been flying back and forth constantly for a week or so, and last weekend we saw the tops of fuzzy baby heads for the first time.  Now they're vocal and insistent that Mama Bird bring them food NOW!

Four hungry Pacific-slope flycatcher chicks.

Out in the back yard, Coco the house kitty is thoroughly pleased with the yard.  When we let her out, she runs straight to the shady part of lawn and flops down to survey her domain.

But it's just so comfortable...

So very pleasant...

That there's nothing to do but take a nap.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Jasmine tincture

Last night my jasmine plant was the most flowery it has ever been.  It had nine flowers open!  My room smelled wonderful.

Most floriferous night of jasmine yet.

This morning, as usual, I picked all the flowers and added them to the tincture I have going. I add the flowers the morning after they open, so I can enjoy them inside at night.

Jasmine harvest.

I only leave the flowers in for a day or so, since that's all it takes to extract their fragrance. This group brings the total to 40 flowers.

It's been almost a month now, with a flower or two a day, and you can see how the alcohol has changed from perfectly clear to faintly green.  The scent in the alcohol is still quite faint, but it's definitely recognizable as jasmine now.

Adding to the jasmine tincture.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Tomatoes and rain

A Tomato Watch update:

Getting so close.

The Black Krims are getting soooo close.

A couple Amish Paste tomatoes are distinctly reddish now.

Visibly red

And on the rain barrel front, a weekend of off and on showers and a couple good rains nearly filled them! The storm on Sunday filled a third of all three barrels in 20 minutes!

Nearly full rain barrels!

There's roughly 125 gallons of water stored there.  I haven't had to water anything since last week, but the inaugural watering will probably happen later this week.

I know these barrels won't come close to filling all my garden water needs for a season, especially considering that La Grande typically gets very little rain during the summer to fill the barrels, but every bit helps, right?  That's 125 gallons of water I won't be taking out of the city's municipal drinking water supply.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I may need an intervention

I really need to just stay away from places that sell plants.  Emma and I had a spare half-hour before I dropped her off at her dad's for the evening, so we went to look at the local nursery.  To look.  Just to look.

I should have known better.  They were having a mid-summer sale and several plants followed us home. 

This is a Sungold tomato, a cherry variety.  I justified this because I don't have any cherry tomato plants, plus, look at that beautiful color!  The brightest one is ready to pick, but it won't count as my first tomato because I didn't grow it.

Sungold tomatoes.

Then we saw the flowering shade annuals, and Emma picked a plant.  This is a begonia.  I justify this because the Bacopa I planted in the hanging basket on the front porch isn't flowering- I think it's too shady there.  So the Bacopa will move to the brighter back yard, and the begonia will take its place in the front.  I should be able to overwinter this inside, so we can have it again next year. 


Then, since Emma got to pick a flower we decided that I should too.  The tomato doesn't count as a flower. The tomato is a food plant.  Completely different in our spur of the moment justification scheme.

These are calendulas.  I justify these because they were on sale at 2 for the price of 1, they are pretty, and the bees like them.


Then we saw this hosta.  I've never paid much attention to hostas before, except as very pretty fillers in a shady garden.

Fragrant hosta plant

Don't get me wrong, I love all the variations in size and leaf pattern and would happily put in a garden of predominantly hostas, but they're mainly grown for their leaves, right?


Fragrant hosta

This is one of the dozens of flowers that have bloomed on this plant, and it is FRAGRANT.

I never knew hostas came in fragrant varieties, those with Hosta plantaginea in their ancestry.  It's beautiful.  It's two inches wide and three inches long, and smells like honeysuckle and cocoa butter.

You may have noticed that I very much enjoy fragrant plants.

Monday, July 13, 2015


I also harvested some of the lemon verbena bush yesterday afternoon.  These leaves smell as lemony as a real lemon- I've never grown lemon verbena before and it's amazing.  Emma's in love with this flavor, and we thought it would be fun to make our own lemon extract.

Lemon verbena harvest

We started off with a pile of leaves, which were chopped and loosely stuffed into a pint jar.  After adding enough 190-proof grain alcohol to cover, the 37 grams of leaves filled the jar about 3/4 of the way.

Lemon verbena extract (tincture)

It will live in my cupboard for the next six weeks or so and I'll give it a shake when I think about it, then I'll strain it and we'll see how lemony it is.  Emma's excited for lemon cookies from our garden, in December.

The dehydrator-load of cherries was also done yesterday, and I got them packaged up to store.  Nine fairly full Excalibur trays turned into five full quarts of dried cherries.  These are vacuum sealed and safely stored in the basement.  I still have a bit less than a quart left from last year, so those will be used first.

5 quarts of dried cherries

Last but not least, here's the cucumber salad I made with one of the cucumbers we harvested yesterday.  I used a mandoline to slice the cucumbers extra-thin, but that's not strictly necessary.  It was quick and easy, and so so so yummy.

Quick cucumber salad: 1 medium cucumber, sliced thinly, 1 tablespoon plain greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh lemon balm, 1 teaspoon sugar, a splash of rice vinegar to make a loose dressing.

Quick Cucumber Salad

1 medium cucumber, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon chopped fresh lemon balm
1 teaspoon sugar
a splash of rice vinegar to make a loose dressing

Mix the dressing ingredients together well.  Toss with the cucumbers.  Eat.