December 27, 2010

Book Review: The Ball Complete of Home Preserving

Last summer I purchased the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. WOW! What a FABULOUS book. I absolutely love it and have already tried 1/2 dozen recipes from it, including cranapple butter, cranberry raspberry preserves, autumn pear jam, pear mincemeat, peaches in syrup, grape jelly, and probably a few more. The recipes have been on the sweet side (but I plan to adjust that going forward with a different pectin - future blog posting!), but wow, this book just seems to have a TON of recipes in it that I want to try. Every chapter had multiple recipes that looked really tasty and inspiring to me.

Going forward, I'm going to try to be better about taking pictures while making these recipes, as well as showing you the final output, and giving you some tips for ways to use up what you preserve. It's an area I struggle with and want to explore more.

Recipes are included for soft spreads, fruits, salsas, pickles, and more. There is definitely more of a focus on the water bath canning side than the pressure canning side, so it's a great book for a beginner. So far the recipes have proven fairly accurate for volume and timing.

In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to consider buying this book if you are looking for a fairly comprehensive canning guide with safe recipes and a wide variety of choices.

I'm including a link below so it's easy for you to find.

December 24, 2010

Counting down the hours to Christmas

I love Christmas, even though it is just my husband and me. I pretty much already know what my presents are (since hubby has completely run out of ideas for what to get me after 20 years of marriage - I have almost literally everything I want - so I give him a pretty specific wish list). Still those presents are just waiting for me and I am excited to get them... :)

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!!! :)

December 23, 2010

And Then They Tell Two Friends... (A/K/A Teaching Kids How To Count)

I have a certified backyard habitat, which means I like to try to attract birds and butterflies and I try to tolerate the other critters we get in the yard. We put up several bird feeders and a heated birdbath for our feathered friends, which we are particularly careful about filling during the winter. Recently I tried out a Kaytee sock filled with nyger seed for the goldfinches. I had previously offered the seed in a regular thistle feeder, which got some traffic. Wow, those socks are AWESOME (except for the serious drawback that for some reason they seem to drop a bunch of seed at about the halfway point - need to figure out what is causing that).

Remember that old commercial about how "they'll tell two friends and then they'll tell two friends and so on..."? :)

December 22, 2010

Christmas Cookies - My favorite kind of gluttony

My friend and I are gluttons for punishment. Every year, we get together for a Christmas Cookie Baking Marathon. OK, so we are gluttons for cookies too. ;) We basically cook nonstop for about 12 hours and end up with roughly 10-15 kinds of cookies.

We've been doing this for several years. But the rewards of the filled trays as I give them to neighbors or take them to work, just seem worth it. How can you resist this sugary, spicey, chocolatey goodness???

Next year, I'll document the process and post some of the recipes.

December 20, 2010

My Goals for 2011

I have a number of goals for 2011:

- Become generally more self sufficient by making a greater effort to widen my skillset and learn more about any areas that would make my life easier if any type of disaster were to strike.

- Expand my efforts at gardening to include more four season gardening, following the awesome Elliott Coleman's (Four Season Harvesting) guidelines. This includes growing more plants from seeds (in the past it has only been a small percentage of my garden) and trying to get an earlier start on the season.

- Be better about preserving that harvest via canning, freezing, drying, and generally USING what I grow. I plan to regularly try new ingredients and new recipes and will share the results here. In addition, I am employing more Once a Month Cooking (OAMC) techniques in my cooking and will share those efforts as well. Finally, I also am planning mini challenges for myself for each month to learn new skills, create my own products to eliminate convenience products, and incorporate frugality into my daily life.

- Incorporate healthier eating habits into my life following the South Beach Diet eating program.

- Be a better steward of the earth's resources by actively seeking out organic and locally grown ingredients. However, I struggle with this in trying to balance the financial aspect of these options. I plan to share the results my efforts here.

- Be a better steward of MY resources by actively looking for ways to save money and reduce our debt and generally live a more frugal and simplified life.

- Organize my crafting, cooking, and gardening efforts to be more efficient and effective in what I do. One of my goals is to be less couch potato-esque!

- Document my efforts in achieving these goals with photographs and journaling. This requires that I learn more about how to operate my camera!

Hopefully sage wisdom will follow...

Somebody out there said the internet is littered with abandoned blogs... They're likely right. And yet, here I go, embarking on a blog of my own. And I'm not even quite sure what the focus of this blog will be, as I suspect I will delve into many different areas.

I am a mostly organic herb and vegetable gardener. I love to cook (especially with herbs!) and want to be better about preserving the harvest I grow. In addition, my yard is a National Wildlife Federation and Windstar certified backyard habitat. I welcome the little birds and butterflies and critters (despite the impact on my gardens - I try to plant enough to share). I grow many natives, but also include non-invasive non natives in my yard. Pictures of my zone 5 small suburban garden and the creatures that visit it are likely to be a regular feature of this blog (like the gorgeous monarch above that stopped by my vernonia (ironweed) plant for a visit this past summer).

I am hoping to become a little more self sufficient. I'm not big on the whole peak oil fanaticism or overly concerned about the end of days scenarios that float around. My basic philosophy is to live life one day at a time and treat each day as though it were my last in general. However, that said, I volunteered with American Red Cross disaster services for 10 years and I have seen first hand the devastating impact of natural and manmade disasters on people's lives. In particular I have seen the difference between those who had some resources and preparations done and those who didn't, in terms of their success in rebuilding their lives.

I adore reading books and expect to include book reviews here related to all the different topics I am interested in (becoming self sufficient, gardening, cooking, canning and preserving, crafting, herbal medicine, home improvement DIY projects, field guides, self improvement, etc.).

Bottom line? You never know what I might write about, but I hope to be educational, informative, and entertaining. Fasten your seat belts! It's going to be a bumpy ride! :)