Trash Find: Porcelain Utility Sink

Last week, on my return trip from ferrying Miss Thistle to school, my eagle-eye, always trained to the curbside, spied a huuuuuge sink sitting lonesomely by the side of the road. As I was just a minute from home, and had blown past the sink a tad fast, I stopped in our driveway to regroup and consider the possibilities. I had viewed the sink at about 50 miles per hour, but it looked like a perfect fit for our needs. Just the week before, Mr. Thistle and I had discussed our desire for a utility sink in the garage for all our messy-project shenanigans, which include, but are not limited to everything from cleaning paint brushes and washing foraged walnuts to scrubbing down muddy children, messy pet supplies, and even our own garden-filthy selves from time to time.

Now, I personally believe that if you put something out there into the Universe, you will soon receive an answer if you are paying attention. Take my utility sink: I expressed a desire to acquire one, and lo and behold, one week later I had one, and it was totally free! It required only my own brute strength and my vehicle to get it home.

Speaking of that … After a moment of driveway reflection, and a quick parley with Mr. Thistle, I decided the sink was absolutely worth a second look. On my way back out, I pulled in next to Madame Porcelain Sink and eyed her up. Yup, she was a beauty! She was huge, pristine, and very heavy. I gave the house a quick glance, and noted that it was clean and tidy, and remembered seeing the homeowners in their yard. They were an older couple, and the sink had been wheeled to the curb on a little cart. I erased any notions of tapping on the door to see if anyone could help me load ‘er up, and determined that I could do this.

As Little Thistle snoozed peacefully in his car seat, his powerhouse puny mama somehow hefted that beast of a sink into the back of the vehicle. If there was anyone watching (sure hope not) they probably had a decent laugh, especially during the muttered pep-talk portion of the exercise. When I brought the sink back home and watched Mr. Thistle heave it out of the back, I wondered how it was that I managed to lift it in to begin with. I guess when you really want something, you make it happen!

 

Lest you think this is my first trash find, gentle reader, I tell you nay, it is not. As I gaze around my house, I see many a lovely trash find, and I am not sure anyone would know these items were rescued curbside or otherwise, because they are perfectly nice! There’s the solid wood, vintage coffee table where Miss Thistle sits to color and host her tea parties; the set of school chairs sized just right for little ones; the woven baskets I use to corral all sorts of items; the discarded bone china found in a trash box on the sidewalk … the list goes on and on! That’s just a sampling, and doesn’t even include the myriad other objects that we use and love that were secondhand freebies (more on those another time).

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We are in the process of making some modifications to Miss Thistle’s play table: a trash-picked coffee table that once sported weird fold-up sides and ugly hardware. Mr. Thistle custom-cut wood disks to fill the spaces where the sides were removed. After some wood stain, it will be good as new! 

I think there are manifold benefits to keeping your eyes (and your mind) open to trash and curbside finds.

First, and most obvious, you are rescuing items that are perfectly serviceable, yet inexplicably doomed to the landfill. Many people set items out on the curb because they simply do not have the time, desire, or resources to deal with them any longer. I think many people hope that someone will come along and rescue the item in question. I know that we have placed unwanted goods on our front lawn, hoping someone else will find and enjoy them … they always disappear, much to our delight! It’s always helpful if the item is marked “free,” but I don’t limit myself in this regard. If an interesting piece is obviously in a trash heap, I will avail myself of it after a quick appraisal. I do not take things that are not obvious discards, though we have been known to politely inquire if we have questions about the availability of an item! For example, Mr. Thistle is currently stalking observing an apparently-unused antenna. He threatens to someday knock on the door and inquire … he’s on his own for that one!

Second, by snapping up trash finds, we are short-circuiting the vicious consumer cycle, which is incredibly wasteful (not to mention expensive!). If I had purchased a new utility sink, it would likely be made of plastic, and by purchasing it, I would trigger the demand for the production of more new plastic sinks. By using an existing sink, my impact on that chain of events is reduced, and I do not send any manufacturers the signal to “make more! make more!”

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Trash-picked basket: Dinosaurs not included.

Third: Quality. Not only would I have to shell out my well-guarded cash when buying new, but I would likely receive an inferior product in return. This sink has already passed the test of time, as it looks like it dates to roughly the late 1940s – 1960s. Guess what … it is still in great shape!

Fourth, I support the idea of a sharing economy, where goods are freely offered and requested, per our needs. This relates to point number one, and is supported by the well-known phrase, “One (wo)man’s trash is another (wo)man’s treasure.” By offering the things we no longer need, we can bless someone else, rather than simply relegating them to the dump. This generosity is returned to us in many ways in the form of healthier, more loving communities; neighborly relationships; better allocation and preservation of our resources; less waste to pollute our world; and personal satisfaction, to name just a few benefits.

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Does this look like trash to you?

Finally, trash finds are frugal! You can’t beat “free” for a price. Take my porcelain sink as an example yet again: If I were to visit my local home improvement store to procure a utility sink, I would spend upwards of $100-$150 for a plastic (polypropylene) or composite model. A similarly-styled vitreous sink would run me a cool $900-$1000. Yes, that’s right … $1,000 (Kohler brand; sold at Lowe’s). By picking up free or discarded items, I keep my cash in my bank account, and can use it for experiences that bring us joy, necessities, or savings.

And so, I am pretty dang pleased with my new (old) sink. I’ll continue to share my trash finds as they crop up, and I would love to hear about the awesome things that YOU have found in the garbage as well!

With Peace,

Jennie

PS – As I was reviewing this post before publishing, it occurred to me that this sink is my SECOND trash-picked porcelain / vitreous sink. The other one is a lovely, white corner model, circa 1950s. People! These sinks are not trash! 🙂

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Preserving our Harvest

Rambling Preamble: I wrote this post over a month ago, and never bothered to hit “publish” … ack! I figured the post still had merit, tardiness notwithstanding, so here ’tis, in all its late-coming glory. Maybe next time I won’t be quite so lackadaisical, although I’m not promising anything. 

Our garden overfloweth! This is a fantastic situation, in my opinion, but I have to work hard to keep up with our veggies. Of late, I have been pickling, canning, freezing, and drying in order to preserve the bounty our garden is providing. Of course, we are also eating what we can while it is fresh, but there are only so many beans that one can handle on any given day. Here’s what’s up!

Pickled Gingery Beets

Using beautiful, striped chioggia beets from the garden, I whipped up some ginger-flavored pickled beets. I followed the recipe as given in the Food in Jars cookbook, with one alteration: After reading many pickled beets recipes, I noticed that the processing time for hot-water bath canning was 30 minutes, as opposed to the 10 minutes listed in the recipe. Therefore, I decided that this processing time might be an error, and decided to ere on the side of caution by processing 30 minutes. The beets took on a lovely pink color during processing, and happily, all jars sealed. We have an abundance of beets, so I will likely repeat this recipe again in the coming week. I’m still trying to recall why I planted five rows of beets at once. I’ll say it once more: Five rows of beets. I mean, I love beets, but …

 

Pickled Dill Beans

Bush beans are a gift that keeps on giving! The other day, Mr. Thistle graciously harvested six pounds of tri-color bush beans, all whilst ham-radioing. Four pounds of those beans were cut, blanched, and frozen, but I took the other two pounds and prepared a small batch of Pickled Dill Beans. I patently refuse to call these beans as they are oft known: “Dilly Beans.” Something about that nickname irritates me, so I tend to avoid it. Pickled Dill Beans it is! Once again, I utilized a recipe from Food in Jars.   I had to run out and purchase dill seed before beginning, however, because I didn’t have enough seed on my flowering dill plants, and the recipe noted that the dill weed portion would not be a tasty substitute (slimy = not pleasant). This leads me to the following tangential musing: Why, oh why, did it ever become a thing (if one can really call it a thing) to call someone a dill-weed and have it be insulting? Mysteries abound.

Pickled Red Cabbage

I used a riff on an old Eastern European traditional recipe to prepare some pickled red cabbage with the red cabbages from our garden. The process involved lightly salting the shredded cabbage and letting it sit, and a day later heating it up with all kinds of spices, and canning it. Smelled great! It’s in the root cellar for a wintry day.

 

Fermented Pepper Sauce

Our pepper plants really showed up this year. Holla. We typically have good luck with hot peppers, aside from the Carolina Reapers we tried to germinate last year. Even with a grow-lamp we didn’t have any luck with those, although we wouldn’t be opposed to trying again, since Mr. Thistle has a taste for spicy-blow-your-face-off peppers. For my hot pepper ferment, I combined a healthy number of habaneros, Hinklehatz, and Thai chiles. I chopped all of these in the food processor with four cloves of garlic, and packed them into a quart-size mason jar. Right now they are happily fizzing away on my counter, and all I need to do is remember to give them a decent stir each day with a clean spoon. The scent of the fermenting peppers is tantalizing, and we are excited to taste the resulting sauce in a few weeks!

 

Pickled Jalapeños 

Lots of pickling going on around here, eh? I harvested a nice pile of jalapeños and rendered them into twelve jars of pickled jalapeños. These are a pantry staple for us, so I would be devastated, distraught, and otherwise desolate if I didn’t take care of this little task. Jalapeños are such an easy and quick pickle, so I was glad to get some put away. Again, Food in Jars has a good recipe for pickled jalapeños.

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Nectarines

Finally! A non-pickled item! (I swear we do not eat that much pickled stuff). I canned about 18 pounds of fresh, local nectarines. The nice thing about nectarines is that you can put them up with the skins on: no peeling required! The one annoyance was that while these were free stones, the pits split very easily, so I ended up treating them like clingstones anyway. It’s my understanding that our early spring cold spell had something to do with it. I referred to my Ball Complete Book of Canning for this preparation, and followed the instructions for substituting nectarines for peaches. I opted to do a hot-pack, but I still ended up with a bit of float. What’s the deal? If anyone has any suggestions, let me know!

 

Miscellaneous Summer Food

I have been freezing some sweet corn and drying some hot peppers from the garden when there are any left over. It’s hard to believe that the summer bounty is winding down, so we are enjoying while it lasts. Before you know it, all we’ll be hearing about is pumpkin-spiced-everything. Update: One month later this prophesy has come true …

What Else?

I have spent most of my summer garden energy focusing on edibles. I have, of late, noticed that some of my flower beds are … well … a little less than lovely. There are a number of weeds plants out of place present in my front flower garden, which makes me wonder if I may be attracting whispers from the neighbors as they make their daily perambulations. If I were them, I would probably look askance too  … just sayin’ …

How is your summer winding down? Have you preserved anything this year?

With Peace,

Jennie

The Eagle Has Landed

Actually … two of them have! We had a rare treat today, right in our own (almost) backyard. A pair of bald eagles decided to touch down and spend some time in our neighborhood this afternoon, and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to see them. Although eagles are not uncommon in our area, we aren’t often treated to an up-close-and-personal look!

As I was on my way to retrieve Miss Thistle from school, I noticed that our next door neighbor, who had left his house just a moment before, had pulled to the side of the road and was excitedly flapping his hands around and searching for his camera. Then I saw another neighbor running across her front lawn with her phone … what was going on? Witnesses to a car accident? Stampede? Celebrity sighting? Clown convention? A quick look into the freshly-cut farm field in front of me yielded the answer: A majestic pair of eagles, looking just as majestic as you might imagine eagles should. Despite the fact that they were busily shredding up what appeared to be a bit of carrion, they appeared quite dignified, and maybe just a bit menacing. What I ascertained from viewing the eagles up close is that these creatures are massive. I was duly impressed by the sight and started fishing for my own photographic device in order to document this momentous occasion, since eagle-spotting is definitely one of those ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ deals.

I will confess that all of my shots were totally lame and mediocre, so here’s the best of the bunch. I didn’t want to sidle right up to my subjects, and there is only so much an iPhone can do at a distance. Excuses, excuses. It won’t be in National Geographic anytime soon, but I’m pleased to be able to prove that I saw what I saw!

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Confirmed eagle sighting. Photograph? Check!

Throughout the afternoon, I continued to see the eagles soaring and gliding over the house. The day was hot and brilliant, with nary a cloud, so spotting my birds of interest was rather simple, not to mention exhilarating. I’m easy to please 🙂

In other avian news, our great horned owls have returned and keep me company all through the night, as I wake to care for Little Thistle during the wee hours. Their hooting is a welcome overnight soundtrack, and I look forward to it with relish. I feel deeply honored that the owls have chosen to nest on and around our property, and I listen for their territorial hooting at every chance I get.

I am equally honored by today’s eagle spotting. How fortunate am I that I got to see them on this beautiful late-summer afternoon?

Have you spotted any creatures of interest lately? I’d love to hear what you are seeing!

With Peace,

Jennie

Post About Nothing: Summer Edition

Summer … the dog days … there’s something in the air that gives me an interesting problem: I have so much I want to say; so many thoughts swirling around and mingling in my brain; myriad intersections of topics; soapbox rants; discussions; updates … and what happens? I don’t write a thing. Apparently I just talk a whole lot instead. My mama told me just this afternoon that I basically never stop talking, and that there is a near-constant stream of words. When I imposed a brief (and very difficult) vow of silence on her, in petty retribution, she told me I should probably start speaking again before my brain exploded (Note: paraphrase. Also: love you, mama!).

Faux-monastic vows of silence aside, our days have felt crammed with summer day camp, sticky fingers, unexpected mud baths, meals to be prepared and cleaned up after, cats who need thorough brushing, cats who think it’s funny to sneak upstairs and hide under the couch while we turn the house upside down, zucchini gone rogue … you see the picture, I am sure.

Thus, I present a random mishmash of what’s rattling around upstairs, to clear the dewy, summer cobwebs. Reader, ye be warned.

Zucchini: Let’s Start Here

Whether you call it Zucchini, Courgette, or Marrow, the humble squash is such a grand gift, and I mean that sincerely. The plants yield up so much summer goodness, providing us with one squash after another until we think we simply cannot stand it. We bake, we freeze, we make soup, casserole, and vegetable medley. Still, they lurk … in the countertop and in the garden. Overnight they double, nay, triple in size, leaving us scratching our heads and swearing ‘I just checked it yesterday!’ Oh, crazy zucchini, … I love you.

Tomato, To-mah-to

In keeping with the produce theme, I have to say that my tomatoes are really unattractive this year. It’s a good thing that I am happy to eat ugly produce because … woof. Luckily, it’s not just me. I have heard from a number of sources that tomatoes are being high-maintenance divas this year. On the flip side, my pepper plants are knocking it out of the park. Jalapeños, habaneros, Hinklehatz, Thai chiles, and sweet bell peppers are all looking mighty fine … To be fair, the tomatoes I have gotten thus far have been sizable and tasty. One picked the other day, which looked like a freak vegetable contestant, weighed in at 2.5 pounds.

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Hi, I’m a fairly ugly tomato.

Insect Insanity

I was talking to Mr. Thistle the other night, and remarked that I had reached my saturation point with the summer insect parade. “When did this happen?” he queried, remembering my former days marked by stalwart tolerance and mutual respect of insect life. No more, gentle reader. My karma has really taken a beating over the last few weeks, as I have, without too much remorse, squashed all manner of annoying insects, from whining mosquitoes to hectoring flies. I am normally a live-and-let-live kind of girl, but there is something primal released when I see, say, a mosquito, hovering in the vicinity of Little Thistle. I am no longer a zen master, nay, but rather a stealthy flailing assassin, violently brandishing my (new! leather! German!) flyswatter. Mosquitoes suck. (Insert chortle here).

Little Thistle: Gone Mobile

Speaking of Little Thistle, following the grand tradition established by his big sister, at a mere six months, our dear Little Thistle has become fully baby-mobile and now perambulates around the house with joyful abandon, like a giddy inchworm. Yet again, Mr. Thistle and I have realized how un-baby-proof our home is. Fun times (and stairway gates) ahead! Little Thistle may also be commended for the recent acquisition of four lovely teeth!

Ice Cream Churn

I made ice cream in my six-years-ago-Costco-impulse-buy ice cream churn. (I now stay far away from the housewares aisles, in case you were wondering. They always have something I ‘need’). I had used the appliance before, but had not released its full churning potential. I would hate (and yet … love) to make a resolution to use it more often, but that seems like a slippery and oh-so-delicious slope towards there being more of me to love. We are having a party this weekend, hence my ice cream making extravaganza. I prepared two recipes: 1) Blueberry Goat Cheese and 2) Brown Sugar ice cream, both from the fabulous Joy Wilson of Joy the Baker. Both recipes can be found in her book, Homemade Decadence. Highly recommend.

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The only photo I took of the Blueberry Goat Cheese ice cream. Don’t believe this questionable picture: It’s actually a very pretty hue of purple, IRL.

Five Years 

The abovementioned party in question is the celebration of Miss Thistle’s fifth (!) birthday. How this has occurred is beyond all possible limits of the imagination. Dear Reader, it is simply not feasible that she has already reached five years of age. She was just born! (She wasn’t). I am still in my twenties! (I’m not). I am coping with this effrontery by doing very reasonable things, like making everything from scratch including ice cream, bagels, and quite possibly beignets. Miss Thistle requested a breakfast party (my favorite meal, bless her heart) so I figured it was a good excuse to make all manner of tasty breakfast vittles. (Hi, yes, I know it’s spelled ‘victuals.’ Don’t judge me or my folksy alter-ego).

Cats on the Loose

Our little band of felines has been unusually out-setting these past few days. Though they are usually well-behaved and politely adhere to their designated house boundaries (who am I kidding … they’re cats), the kitties have been developing a pattern of escapism that leads them on merry, roving explorations of all corners of The Thistle Field. Miss Thistle has no small role in this, seeing as she has been leaving the door open with regularity, causing me to bite back and subsequently swallow the oft-cited phrase “Were you born in a barn?” (She wasn’t).

This Has Really Gone Off the Rails

As is often the case, I have devolved into rambling, and shall thus conclude. I am sure I will have something substantive to share in the near future, so until then … keep summering on!

What’s going on where you are? Is anyone else feeling as bug-phobic as I am this year? Haaaaalp!

With Peace,

Jennie

Stuff I’ve Made Recently, and a Bunch of Glass Jars

Whoa. Hey. It’s been a while. … And, that’s a real thriller of a post title up there (☝🏼️) if I’ve ever seen one. At least you know what you are in for. It’s been a busy few weeks here at the Thistle Field! I’ve been canning, fermenting, freezing, baking, and deeply contemplating all the many possible uses for zucchini. My freezer is nearly full, which I find a little startling, since July isn’t even over yet. We are eating sweet corn, peaches, lettuce, and fresh beans like true summer fanatics. Pies, cobblers, vegetable chowders, and huge salads are what’s up.

So, here’s a little run-down of what’s going on!

We harvested the onions! Honestly, I wasn’t ready for them. I usually expect my onions to be ready for harvest sometime during the last week of July. These onions were about two weeks early, but the tops fell over, and that was that. Onions … they want what they want. The weather has been vacillating wildly between sun and thunderstorms, so I’ve got our curing operation set up in the basement. The basement smells totally great. 🙂

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I’ll spare you the ubiquitous Presidents of the United States song … Heaven knows it gets sung here every time a peach appears. (You’re singing it now … aren’t you?)

Peaches are happening! So far, it’s clingstones, but my sources tell me that as of tomorrow, freestone peaches will be available. Using the persnickety clingstones, I have made a scrumptious peach salsa from the Food in Jars cookbook, and several baked goods (hello, peach crisp!). The peach salsa is awesome, and I wanted to basically take a bath in it while it was cooking, as the smell was unreal. I used red onions, garlic, and jalapeño peppers from our own garden, and some lovely local peaches.

I have harvested the gooseberries! One evening, I looked out and saw a squirrel sitting in the gooseberry bush all sassy-like, munching away. Miss Thistle and I dashed right out with our basket and stripped every gooseberry off that bush. I froze two quarts of gooseberries in glass jars (#zerowaste), and the rest are destined for tomorrow’s pie. The flavor is great, but topping and tailing every berry is labor-intensive, to put it kindly. If anyone has any gooseberry-grooming tips, I’m all ears.

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I love saying the word ‘gooseberry’ …

Oh, and speaking of ears, I am making a concerted effort to put away corn while it is at its peak! Every few days I roll up to a local farm stand for a dozen ears of sweet corn, since it is one thing I am not super enthusiastic about growing in our own garden. I prefer to dedicate my space to plants that will give intense yields, and corn just isn’t it! It’s affordable to purchase, and I don’t have to give over garden real estate for a sometimes-finicky crop.

One word: Zucchini. Zucchini everything! We have enjoyed zucchini gratin (recipe by the fabulous Ina Garten), zucchini muffins, sautéed breakfast zucchini with eggs all ways, oven roasted zucchini with eggplant, goat cheese pasta tossed with zucchini and other fresh veg, zucchini soup … and, of course, I froze a whole bunch of requisite zucchini hockey pucks in half-cup portions for zee future. I was ridiculously pleased with my foresight in making sure I used a measuring cup that would create hockey pucks just the right size to drop into quart jars. Huzzah for that providential brain-wave!

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These zucchini muffins were not long for this world …

Bush beans! We have purple, yellow, and green beans for harvest right now. I blanched and froze a nice batch (in glass jars), and have been using smaller yields in things like the aforementioned vegetable soup. I planted more beans in the beds where I recently harvested the cabbage, and they are growing nicely. My pole beans are flowering, and I plan to let many of the climbing beans dry on the vine for dried beans after taking a few fresh harvests.

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Beautiful bush beans. Or, as Mr. Thistle would say, ‘I absolutely abhor alliteration!’

Sunflowers! The birds very kindly scattered seed in just the right spot, creating a sightly and productive sunflower patch. I’ll share some of the provender with our feathered friends, but I hope to harvest a few of the heads. We have been enjoying our platform bird feeder and the cardinals, chickadees, doves, blue jays, sparrows, wrens, and finches that visit.

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Favorite flower? I think so.

The pepper plants are also looking exceptional this season. We are growing several types of sweet bell peppers, and plenty of hot peppers to suit our hot-headed taste! The Habaneros, Hinklehatz, and Thai chiles are loaded with peppers. A sampling of the Hinklehatz this past weekend made us sweat, which is exactly the point.

I am transitioning the garden to its second season. As I take each harvest, I am refilling the space with something else. I take into account the remaining length of the season, and what we will want to eat. Everything we won’t eat fresh gets packed into a glass jar, whether it is canned, pickled, fermented, or frozen. By doing so, our garden yields a zero-waste food supply. Spent plants are composted, and will nourish next year’s garden.

Speaking of those glass jars … my stash has increased! I was running dangerously low. I’m talking panic-inducingly low. I took a little poll, and within a few days, increased my holdings by quite a bit! My mama, grandma, and mother-in-law were all happy to part with excess jars, and I was happy to take them off their hands! Now I feel much more glass-secure, and summer can proceed as previously scheduled. Phew.

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A small fraction of the largesse …

As is often the case, this post was all about food. Though food preparation and preservation is, indeed, a significant part of my life, we have been busy in many other ways as well, from family gatherings to wedding parties with dear friends, and everything else in between. I am dubbing this coming week “Baseball Week” since we are invited to several baseball games. In thinking of that, I realized that I have never paid to attend any of the many baseball games I have enjoyed throughout my life … there’s a frugal win for sure! At the last ball game we attended, Miss Thistle caught a patently unattractive promotional t-shirt, which is now Mr. Thistle’s yard-work shirt. Yard clothes: Don’t buy them … they will come to you.

And with that, I bid you adieu until next time. But I must ask: Are you summering well? What activities are defining your warm-weather months?

With Peace,

Jennie

Blueberry Picking!

The mercury hit at least 93 degrees today, so naturally the only sensible thing to do was go blueberry picking at midday. Naturally.

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Lovely blueberries …

Miss Thistle, Little Thistle and I headed to Media, Pennsylvania today to check out Indian Orchards, an organic orchard with pick-your-own options. Specifically, we were after organic blueberries, freshly picked. Sure, I could buy organic blueberries at the store, but that’s not any fun, plus they come in a horrid plastic clamshell. We have our own blueberry bushes here at The Thistle Field (also organic), but they aren’t yet producing at a rate that is high enough to satiate our outlandish desire for fresh blueberries. So, we plotted a few destinations in the area, packed up the car with snacks and our refillable water bottles, and headed out.

We enjoyed a pleasant drive with very little traffic on the way to the orchard, and Miss Thistle kept asking me how I was going to find it if I hadn’t been there before. I’m happy to report, that was no trouble at all. When we arrived, charmingly imperfect, hand-lettered signs (not pictured below) directed us down a bumpy lane to the orchard. I had brought my market basket and some smaller containers, but was happy to use the orchard’s picking basket offered by the cashier. The basket had a little cloth tent over the top to keep our berries in the shade, which was essential on a day like today.

We walked to the blueberry bushes, which were shrouded under a huge canopy of green netting. I had done a bit of pre-reading about the orchard, and had learned that some of their berry bushes are over 70 years old! The blueberries were hanging on the bushes in tantalizing, ripe clumps, and we got to work right away. The blueberry bushes were positively loaded with berries, and we filled our containers with ease. Well, maybe that’s being generous to call it ‘ease’ … after all, it was over 90 degrees and I was holding a nearly 20-pound baby. But, the plentiful berries meant we could camp out at a single spot for quite a lot of picking before moving on to the next location.

After a while, sweat was running down my back in serious, no-nonsense rivulets. Little Thistle was experimenting with the fun game of repeatedly taking off his sun hat and throwing it. My thigh muscles started to complain, workout-style, from all the squats and lunges involved. Miss Thistle declared herself hungry and started to nibble the wares in our basket. We had filled six berry boxes, and I figured that would be enough for one day, so we headed back to the orchard farm stand to settle up and return the basket.

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Miss Thistle hard at work …

As we trucked home with our berries, I felt a sense of satisfaction that came close to what I feel when we harvest the food we have grown ourselves. No, we didn’t grow these berries, but we did pick them, and the experience was authentic and fulfilling. I am looking forward to the day when our berry bushes are as benevolent as the bushes at Indian Orchards. Until then, I would not hesitate to return … we had an excellent time!

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Little Thistle examines the blueberry bushes and / or crams leaves in his mouth …

I was equally satisfied that the experience generated no trash, and no plastic packaging. Sure, we had to drive a little, but we combined other errands with our trip, and I think it was educational for Miss Thistle to see how orcharding is done. Plus, I am happy to support an orchard that is growing organically. I know that running an orchard is tough business, and the threat of pests is no joke.

Have you ever gone berry picking? Do you have a favorite orchard? I wish I knew of more organic orchards, but I am happy to have discovered this little gem.

With Peace,

Jennie

We’re Eating … Rhubarb Pie and Homemade Pizza

It’s Saturday! I think Saturdays are lovely days here at the Thistle Field, as we often spend the day working hard on all things home and garden related. I typically do quite a lot of cooking, which is not unusual on any day, but on weekends I tend to make special extras that don’t make the cut during the week.

This morning began with a hearty breakfast of an omelette filled with mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, and local goat cheese from Linden Dale Farm, served alongside a wheat baguette and black raspberries. I had been to the farmer’s market yesterday, and bought a nice jar of chèvre, among other delicious items.

Tangentially, I appreciate that Linden Dale offers their chèvre packed in glass. (Thank you!) I try to avoid plastics in my zero-waste quest, and I am also attempting a completely plastic-free July, per the Plastic-Free July challenge. At first blush, this sounded like a very easy challenge, but I was shocked by how much single-use plastic I saw at the farmer’s market. I was prepared with my cloth bags and my basket, as always, but everyone offered me a plastic sack for my purchases. I politely refused them (as always).

Many products were packed in plastics. I cannot see the need to bag, wrap, or package fresh produce, for example. I saw breads wrapped in plastic bags, but I chose a baguette that did not have a plastic wrap. I like to make my own bread, but every once in a while I buy some. Obviously, making your own is the easiest way to avoid the  issue, but I was glad to find some sans-bag. I also bought freshly-ground horseradish packed in a glass jar, milk in glass jars, half a dozen ears of corn, shiitake and cremini mushrooms, a big head of leaf lettuce, a hot soft pretzel for hungry Miss Thistle, and a dog treat for a special furry guy. That basket was heavy! Little Thistle provided some counterweight on my left arm as we hustled and heaved that market basket back to the car, but it’s clear that I need some strength-training. Whew!

But, back to today … After our hearty breakfast, we headed out to do battle with our thistles. Thanks to our recent due diligence, we are keeping pace with those buggers this year. But, all it takes is one week of slacking and they pull into the lead. Stay strong, Thistle Family! Stay strong. Eyes on the prize.

I harvested several heads of cabbage from the garden, which were shortly thereafter rendered into the latest batch of sauerkraut fermenting in the kitchen. Just for funsies, I mixed red and green cabbage in this batch. It should be a pretty pink color when it finishes. I spent part of the morning (and part of the afternoon) whining about the last batch of sauerkraut, which I woefully neglected on its last day of fermenting. I had been keeping an eagle eye on it, but then Thursday happened. The brine level in the crock had dipped a bit low, but the situation was still fixable. But what did I do? Distractedly, I forgot to take off all of the top layer of cabbage that had been (accidentally) exposed to the air, (boo! hiss!) and got some of the exposed cabbage into the jar I was packing. Such a bummer, and I know better. The anaerobic environment is everything.  You had better believe I made sure this new batch had a deep covering of brine! Oh, beautiful jar of kraut, I am sorry for what I did to you! Onward and upward …

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Cabbage and rhubarb from the garden …

Tomorrow I will cut more cabbage to pack my biggest fermenting crock for yet another batch of kraut, and I also plan to try an Eastern European recipe for pickled, spiced cabbage, which gets canned on Day Two of the process. It sounds like something that will be delicious in the winter months!

Finally, moving on to that rhubarb! I harvested two pounds of rhubarb from the garden, and made a crumb-top rhubarb pie using this recipe. I added a sprinkle of cinnamon to the rhubarb filling, and I am glad I did! The pie smelled amazing as it baked, and the sweet-tangy taste explosion of the rhubarb filling was perfection.

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Pie!!!

As a child, Mr. Thistle had an unfortunate run-in with a stringy rhubarb pie, and had been an avowed hater of rhubarb since that day. He has since changed his mind about rhubarb, thanks to our Earl Gray rhubarb jam, but I’ll admit that I was a tad nervous about the pie. I didn’t want to trigger some visceral memory of that two-decades-ago pie that turned him on rhubarb, but luckily all was well! The pie was decidedly not stringy, and the bottom crust was deliciously buttery, while the crumb topping added some nice crunch thanks to the almond meal. I’ll likely put this recipe on repeat since we have very enthusiastic rhubarb plants.

Dinner-time rolled around and I hadn’t even given it a thought. My goat-cheese obsessed brain turned to pizza, and I whipped up a quick tried-and-true pizza dough. I topped it with chèvre, shiitake and cremini mushrooms, grated Parmesan, flaked red pepper, and Kalamata olives. Insane! It was so good. More please.

So, that’s one day of culinary adventures and misadventures (I’m looking at you, kraut) in the books. I likely won’t bake any desserts tomorrow, seeing as we have a pie from today, and a chocolate cake from yesterday on hand. What can I say, sometimes I just go hog-wild. Or maybe just hog …

Do you love rhubarb, or are you cautiously suspicious like Mr. Thistle? Do you grow your own? If you don’t, I can certainly recommend it! It’s a fairly foolproof plant (stalks only, people) that provides robust flavor for very little effort on the part of the grower.

With Peace,

Jennie

Jam Session

Predictably, given my love of puns, this post isn’t about rocking out, but actually about … jam. Woo! It’s the time of year where I can or freeze something just about every day, so jam sessions are taking place more and more often.

The other day, I turned a quart of sweet cherries into eight little jars of cherry compote, following a recipe from the Food in Jars cookbook. David Lebovitz also has a recipe I would love to try, and he offers some excellent suggestions on how to enjoy it.

With two little helpers, it can sometimes be difficult to get things completed in one session. I pitted the sweet cherries in the morning, refrigerated them, and made the compote later in the evening. I totally licked the spoon, and I can tell you that it will be very tasty in the cold winter months! (Or, you know, next week …).

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Cherry compote in the works: sweet cherries, lemon peel, and sugar …

The next day, I turned out some lovely jars of black raspberry jam (my fave!), also using a recipe from Food in Jars / Preserving by the Pint. It’s a nice, simple jam, and I am always glad to have some in the pantry. I especially enjoy this jam spread on a thick slice of rosemary olive oil bread … it’s toast nirvana.

Over the past few weeks, lots of fruit has made its way to the freezer and into our pie-holes. The frozen fruit, including black raspberries, cherries, and currants, will be great for smoothies, and for near-future canning when I have the opportunity. I put it all away in glass jars to keep this effort zero-waste, and to package our food safely without the use of plastic. I hope to go cherry picking before the season runs out! I have visions of an Independence Day cherry pie …

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::angels singing::

Today I picked over four pounds of black raspberries! I froze many of them, saved some for fresh eating (only as many as would be needed for breakfast), and made a no-recipe fresh raspberry vinaigrette for our dinner salad. The berry season is short, so I am trying to get the most out of it. Berries are expensive, and of questionable flavor and quality at other times of the year, so I hope to store enough in various ways now that I can avoid the temptation for off-season berries later. As I was picking the delicate berries today, I kept hearing Ron Finley say, “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.” Truth.

In other news, the excessive number of cabbages I planted are ready for harvest. Yesterday I harvested a beautiful four-pound red cabbage. I only had a few minutes, so I quickly quartered, cored, and shredded the cabbage, layering it in my big bowl with salt, as per fermenting guru Sandor Katz. Then I massaged it, packed it into a one-gallon fermenting crock, dropped the weights in on it, and covered it with a towel. I’m happy to report that it’s fermenting nicely. Hopefully I’ll have some lovely pink kraut in just a short while. There’s nothing like the flavor of homemade sauerkraut!

Of course, there will be more kraut to come, since I have about twenty more heads of cabbage lurking in the garden. We will eat some fresh, and I also intend to make some traditional pickled cabbage. Then, I’ll fill that part of the garden with bush beans to help bring nitrogen back to the soil after the heavy feeding habit of the cabbage. I’ll plant more cabbage for fall harvest, which I will likely root-cellar.

The garden, the house, and the Little Thistles are keeping me hopping. Summertime means more laundry, more baths, more digging / harvesting / watering / weed-pulling, and so on. There is a push to preserve food as it is ready for harvest, and the window of opportunity is often very short. Our hard work now will result in nutritious food to help feed us throughout the year, but slacking off can trigger a garden apocalypse. Trust me, I’ve tried it! 🙂

What is your favorite summer fruit? Right now I am throwing my allegiance to black raspberries, but ask in a few weeks and I might say ‘peaches.’ There are so many delicious things to enjoy in the summer!

With Peace,

Jennie

Farm Tour, Fresh Cherries, and Other Fun Things

Today we took advantage of the opportunity to tour some local farms, which was offered by Oasis at Bird-in-Hand, one of my favorite places to shop. The farms on the tour are organic properties where the hard-working farmers produce healthy, delicious, organic food to be sold by Oasis at their store and farmer’s market stands, through their CSA program, and through other grocers and vendors.

We buy a number of items at Oasis weekly, so I was excited to accept the open invitation for customers to take a self-guided tour of select properties to see their farms and meet and talk with the farmers. I fancy myself a micro-farmer here at The Thistle Field, and I’m no stranger to farms, having grown up literally surrounded by them, but I was happy to visit the properties and glean ideas and information from the people who are managing the production of the dairy, eggs, and other items we enjoy.

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One of the lovely ladies who produces the milk we drink …

I usually roll up to Oasis about once a week to procure four dozen eggs, yogurt, milk, and cottage cheese, among other sundry items, so meeting the dairy farmers was very interesting to me. One of the farmers we met produces the raw milk sold at the store. He showed us some of his calves, one of which was born on Monday. She was still wobbly-legged, and totally cute.

Another farmer on the tour produces the pasteurized milk, while yet another farming couple supplies certified organic vegetables from their beautiful fields. At each stop, there were fun surprises like samples, pony cart rides, and even the opportunity to take home a free veggie. (Full disclosure: The yellow squash I selected has already been cooked and served. It was delish). I was surprised the farm had so many ripe squash already, but Ruth, the proprietress, explained that she had been working with covered tunnels while the weather was still cold, so she had a good edge on the season.

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Little friends. Photo c/o my friend, N; watercolor effect added by me.

Conveniently, two of the stops were right by my weekly shopping haunts, so I was able to combine farm-touring and grocery procurement. Woot! Miss Thistle had lots of fun too. I’m not sure how interested in the mechanics of agriculture she was, but several of the farms had nice play-sets, and one had a trampoline, so that was a win in her book. An added bonus was that we ran into some of her little besties, so she had a blast playing with them at the various stops.

In other news, cherries are ripe and in season! (But whew, the price! Totally worth it). Perfectly ripe cherries are a distinct pleasure, and we ate $8.99 worth of that distinct pleasure today. I grow a lot of things, but I don’t have cherries, so I was willing to spend out for these lovelies.  I thought they might last a little longer than one afternoon, but that’s cool.

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Fresh cherries, very shortly thereafter devoured …

Around The Thistle Field, garden mulching continued, and Mr. Thistle repurposed some old bricks to create splash-pads under our rain chains. Hopefully we won’t have as much wash-out when it deluges.

I have harvested the currants, and they are shiny, red, and beautiful. The birds agree! The gooseberries are very nearly ripe, so they are next on the list. It’s also time to harvest and freeze some kale to be enjoyed in the winter months. I noticed that the jalapeños and habaneros have started to produce, so I’m pumped about that as well. I love my spicy peppers …

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Currants from the yard …

Finally, the sunset this evening was a knockout! Lovely, no?

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The riotously pink and purple sunset, slightly subdued by watercolor …

How are you spending your summer days?

With Peace,

Jennie

Suburban Homestead Update: June

June is the month when all manner of craziness breaks forth in the garden. Warm temperatures, rain, and plenty of sunshine encourage the plantings to do it up right. Here’s a glimpse at what’s happening at The Thistle Field:

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Little Thistle and I survey the kingdom …

The pumpkins, zucchini, summer squash, luffa, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, et al. are coming up nicely. These Eight-Ball Zucchini are looking quite lovely, just outside the front door. (I love planting food in my front yard!)

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The berry bushes are wowing us this year. So far, I have harvested nearly 40 pounds of strawberries. That may or may not sound like a lot to you, but we feel very happy to be pulling in this harvest! We’ve been eating a lot of strawberries, and preserving them in various ways. One freezer is loaded with jar after jar of frozen berries.

Check out the currants, blueberries, and blackberries! Why, hello, lovelies!

I am excited about the gooseberries. The bush is loaded with tart, green globes, and I am plotting how we will enjoy them.

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The raspberries are full and leafy. We have red, golden, and black raspberries. It’s the black raspberries that make me giddy. I’ll be making a double-sized order of black raspberry jam, because we ran out early last year and that was sad.

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Elder flowers! I am in awe of the elderberry bush. It is a native plant associated with much folklore, and it has magnificent healing powers. We rely on homemade elderberry syrup when faced with colds, flu, or allergies.

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Even though the bush beans and pole beans went in a little late, they are doing well. I have planted about five different varieties this year.

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The onions are doing well, but their leaves are a bit worse for the wear due to some recent storms with heavy winds. I depend on these 200-some red, white, and yellow onions, so I am hoping they keep doing their onion thing.

Due to the sudden and rather intense heat, the remaining broccoli rabe bolted. I’ll cut it down and let it try again for a second cutting. We continue to enjoy turnips, and the radishes are ready, but I am still waiting for the beets.

Cabbages! The leaves are huge and cool to the touch. Perfect round heads are forming, and I am anticipating these beauties. The Early Jersey Wakefield cabbages have formed cone-heads and are looking great.

The tomatoes are flourishing, as is the kale, but as for the Brussels sprouts … To whomever is munching on them: Cut it out!

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Oh, and here’s my latest kitchen experiment: Homemade apple cider vinegar. I wanted to get the most out of my produce, so I saved our apple cores and peels in the freezer, and then set about crafting my own vinegar. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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What’s happening where you are? What summer delicacies do you await with anticipation?

With Peace,

Jennie