I’ve Moved!

If you’re wondering about the lack of posts around here, it’s because I’ve moved to a new blog home. Same name, new place. I really hope to see you there!

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This Weekend in Pictures

1. made a pint of clarified butter

2. oven-dried three gallons (!!!) of figs that have been languishing in my freezer for two years (!!!)

3. made two pints of chimichurri (one to put in the freezer and one to put on every single thing  I eat for the next week)

4. watched some classic films

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Cucumber Complications and Small Batch Canning

(Psst… I’m no longer updating this blog. If you still want to keep up with me, head over to my new blog. Thanks, and enjoy the recipe!)


So we’ve been having some serious cucumber complications around here. I am not a seasoned gardener to begin with, and I have a total of two tricks up my sleeve as far as plant troubleshooting goes (1. Google, 2. the guy I buy plants from at the farmers market). Naturally, I was so discouraged by the aphid infestation that hit our cucumbers in early June. Dear Lord the aphids. There were grayish brown ones that looked like dirt, clearish yellow ones, and fuzzy white ones (which I think were actually mealybugs). Our main attempts to keep the aphids under control involved squishing the them by hand and washing the leaves almost nightly with Dr. Bronner’s and/or Neem oil. This worked okay.

Still, by the end of June it seemed we were settling into a drought much like the one we had last summer, and the highs were above 100 almost every day. While our peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes don’t seem to mind this too much, the cucumbers were just so sad looking. Plus, we’d only gotten about six pints of pickles out of the lot of them, which broke my pickle-loving heart. We picked the cucumbers as they ripened, but the lack of rain and intense heat severely stunted them, and I was afraid the ones we did have would be too ripe before I got enough to can another proper batch of pickles. To make matters worse, although the plants were blooming and putting out new growth, the tiny cucumbers kept falling off before the reached a couple inches in length. It was, to say the least, depressing.

And then I happened upon this Apartment Therapy post by Marisa McClellan, “Why Small Batch Canning Is Awesome: And What You Need To Get Started.” I realized, of course I don’t have to wait for a “full batch.” I can just weigh what I have and adjust the recipe accordingly. So that’s what I did!

And, as Marisa points out, small batch canning is awesome. For starters, it’s important to can cucumbers fresh if you want crunchy pickles. Furthermore, smaller batches require less preparation, leave less to clean up afterward, and don’t heat the kitchen up as much from processing so many jars. I’ve included the altered recipe below.

Small Batch Hot & Sweet Pickles

2 lbs pickling cucumbers, sliced to desired thickness
1/4 cup canning and pickling salt
3 cups water
1 1/2 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
5 tablespoons chopped garlic
12 dried cayenne peppers, stems removed

3 sterilized pint jars with bands and lids (I like to wash the jars by hand with warm soapy water and then keep them in the oven at around 200º until I’m ready to use them)

Cover cucumbers in pickling salt and water and soak in a large, non-reactive bowl. After two hours, transfer them to a colander and rinse well for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Combine the remaining ingredients (vinegars, sugar, mustard seeds, turmeric, garlic, and peppers) in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and add the cucumbers. Bring to a simmer and remove the saucepan from the heat.

Remove the jars from the oven. Using a slotted spoon, fill each jar with the pickle mixture, dividing them evenly, and enough of the liquid to come within 1/2-inch of the top. With a clean damp towel, wipe the rim and fit with a hot lid. Screw on the metal ring just until the point of resistance is met. Process the jars in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes.

Using tongs, remove the jars, place on a towel, and let cool. Test the seals by allowing the jars to stand at room temperature overnight or until the lids pop. Remove rings and store in a cool dry place for at least 2 weeks before eating.

And, in case anyone is wondering, the heat has finally let up here. It’s not supposed to be above 90 for the next week (in southwest Louisiana!) and it has been raining almost daily. Our cucumbers seem to have bounced back for the time being.

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Homemade Laundry Detergent Revisited

So I made this powdered homemade laundry detergent last summer. It was okay but not great, almost certainly because the soap I used was also just okay but not great. While I had long been used to my laundry not having the “clean” smell that comes from washing with synthetic fragrances, that first batch of powdered detergent made my clothes smell not quite dirty but a little greasy, if that makes sense, and I knew I needed to change something. Washing with hot water seemed to help a bit (maybe because it dissolved the soap flakes better?), but the extra energy used to heat the water, in my mind at least, cancels out the good of making laundry detergent to begin with.

 

Above: I tend to gauge the success of the previous week based on the ratio of comfy to serious clothes. This load of exclusively t-shirts was obviously a good week. Also, I might wear too much purple?

Anyway, despite my being less-than-satisfied with the outcome, I used up that first batch and then, for my second attempt, used peppermint Dr. Bronners as a base for this liquid version. It makes two whole gallons, and at 1/2 cup of soap a load, they last quite a while–I haven’t been mindful enough to figure out just how long, but we wash at least two loads of clothes a week here, and two gallons seems to last at least three months. Not only that, but this detergent also gets my laundry very clean, and it’s much more cost effective than anything I could get at the grocery store, even with the Dr. Bronners, which I’ll admit is not cheap. (I do not, however, mind paying a little extra for Dr. Bronners, and am actually happy to support such a wonderful company. I have a few bars stockpiled, but once I use them up I plan on trying something fancy-smelling from LuSa Organics, another wonderful company I feel great about supporting.) I’ve made the following recipe at least two or three times now, and I am very happy with the results. Please note, however, that both borax and washing soda are harmful when inhaled and can irritate skin, so exercise caution when following this recipe by wearing gloves, opening some windows or turning on a fan, and covering your mouth and nose when pouring.

Liquid Laundry Detergent

1 bar of soap
1 C of borax
1 C of washing soda (in case you’re unfamiliar with washing soda: it’s not the same as baking soda, but Arm & Hammer does make it, and you should be able to find it near other laundry-related things)
a giant pot
a grater
a funnel
a long spoon (I have a wooden spoon devoted solely to detergent-making)
2 empty gallon jugs (I use empty vinegar bottles, which are never in short supply here because we use it for cleaning just about everything.)

Grate the soap into your pot. To measure a gallon, fill one of your gallon jugs with water and pour it in with the soap. Heat until the soap dissolves, then add the borax and washing soda. Bring the mixture to a boil. It might coagulate, but don’t worry if it’s still pretty liquid at this point. Turn off the heat and add another gallon of cold water. Stir well.

Once the mixture has cooled enough to not be dangerous, funnel the detergent into your two containers. An extra set of hands is also helpful here. Over the next day or so, depending on the temperature of your home, the detergent will coagulate a bit. Always be sure to shake it before using, and don’t be alarmed if it’s a little chunky. Use 1/2 C per gallon of laundry.

Have you ever made laundry detergent? Do you have a favorite recipe? Or do you think this is a giant waste of time and store-bought laundry detergent is clearly the way to go? Let me know in the comments!

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Chimichurri!

I have cut out almost all grains, but I still eat the occasional corn tortilla.

If it seems I am devoting a lot of blog space to condiments lately, that’s because I am. The biggest shift in my diet over the past several months is one from variety to quality. For a long time what I loved was trying new dishes, many of which required a ton of ingredients.  More and more I am realizing, however, that I can incorporate something like salad, sweet potatoes, eggs, or salmon (the four of which honestly make up about 75% of my diet) a few times a week and really never get bored with them as long as I vary up condiments and seasonings. That’s where this chimichurri comes in. The following recipe comes from Steak, the Ted Allen Way, and it does seem that steak is the most conventional use for chimichurri. But I have been putting this stuff on everything for the past few days, my favorite being the fried egg pictured above.

Chimichurri

2 jalapeños
2 C cilantro leaves and stems, chopped
2 C parsley leaves and stems, chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed with knife
3 T fresh lime juice, or more to taste (I added more like 1/4 to 1/3 cup)
3 T dry red wine
1 T red wine vinegar
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
sea salt

Roast the jalapeños until charred on all sides. (If you have a gas stove, the easiest way to do this is to turn on a stove eye, stab the jalapeño with a fork or hold it with tongs, and stick it in the flame.) Once they’re charred, put them in a bag or covered bowl to steam and cool while you prepare the rest of the ingredients; then peel, stem, and seed them.

Put the jalapeños, cilantro, parsley, garlic, lime juice, red wine, vinegar, olive oil, and sea salt to taste in a blender or food processor and pulse to blend. If you don’t have one of those, a big bowl and an immersion blender also work (that’s what I did). Taste for salt, adding more if needed, and blend again until smooth.

And now you have a condiment that keeps well in the fridge for at least a week (though you probably can’t keep it around that long), and is good on pretty much anything. Try it in places you’d usually use ketchup, salsa, or pesto, and feel like a superhero because, as Livestrong.com points out, “one tablespoon of chopped raw parsley contains appreciable amounts of calcium, magnesium and phosphorous among other minerals; vitamins A, C and K; and several of the B vitamins.” Furthermore, in another article Livestrong.com explains that a serving of fresh cilantro provides over 100% of the daily recommended vitamin A, 45% of vitamin C,  nearly 400% of vitamin K, as well as 521 mg potassium. Woo hoo!

Disclaimer: Don’t let an aversion to cilantro prevent you from trying this recipe. I do not, in general, like cilantro (in fact I usually hate it, especially in large quantities), but I love this stuff. Also, when it comes to making chimichurri, apparently there are endless variations. This is the only one I’ve had, and it’s not super authentic, so feel free to play around with ingredient combinations and proportions based on what you have in the pantry. Some people use shallots or onions instead of garlic. Others use oregano instead of cilantro, or white vinegar instead of red wine.

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