Thursday, July 29, 2010

In a Pickle

As promised, a brief photo tutorial on how to make pickles, from me, the World's Most Renowned Pickle Making Novice (who has not yet actually EATEN one of her own pickles, so they might taste like burnt dog hair. But at least it will be well-seasoned burnt dog hair with mustard seed and such).

First off, you have to have cucumbers. Which, it has been established, we are officially swamped by. And a recipe. I used a bread & butter pickle recipe from the Joy of Cooking, the greatest cookbook ever.

Cut the cukes into slices, add some sliced onion & green pepper. Cover with some pickling salt, and use highly technical equipment to press down on the veggies while they sit in the fridge overnight.

This is a technique particular to those of Italian descent. It's kinda like a coffee press, except you use beef ravioli. Fancy!

The next morning, your cucumbers are shrunken down a bit and look like pickles!

Note: you are not done at this point. Oh not by a long shot.

After rinsing the salt off of your pickles, gather your canning equipment. This includes jars with lids and bands, which must be washed before using.

You have to keep the jars warm so that they won't crack when you put the hot pickles into them, so I kept mine in the sink in hot water.

Mix the recipe for the sauce/pickle liquid. This recipe calls for cider vinegar, LOTS of sugar (both brown & white), turmeric (which turns everything yellow so wear black clothes), mustard seed, celery seed, and a little cloves or cinammon. I used cloves. You bring this mixture just to a boil, then start adding in your cucumbers. Heat just until it's boiling, then take it off the heat. It looks pretty good at this point, and actually smells like bread & butter pickles. That's a good sign!

Do not yet eat the pickles.

Next you start filling the jars, leaving a bit of room at the top for the vacuum sealing. You have to wipe the tops of the jars really well so that the lids can get a good seal. This is important because otherwise the pickles could develop botulism, and everyone who eats your pickles would die. This generally is not seen in a favorable light, and likely you won't be invited to your next family reunion. Nor asked to cook again. Ever.

Put the lids on, and then put the jars into the canner. This was the one piece of equipment I didn't have, so I did the best I could. Essentially you boil the jars so that the contents get hot enough to (1) seal really well, and (2) kill any remaining bacteria. Because we're at a higher elevation here, I boiled them for 25 minutes.

Pull out the jars and let them rest on a towel. Don't mess with the lids for at least 12 hours, or better for 24. If the lids at that point flex when you push on the top of them, they haven't sealed right, so you have to do the sealing part again.

Fortunately, mine did seal properly. I got 10 jars out of this batch, and will most likely be making more again sometime soon. Very soon. The cucumbers are already growing back!! Where's the Wererabbit when I need him?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Tale of Two (hundred) Veggies

What have we been up to lately, you may ask? Gardening!

Our garden looks lovely, if I do say so myself. It's very lush and full, and it's producing like CRAZY.

Isn't it pretty?

My Aunt Betty gave us some of her corn, fresh off the stalk. Yum. We had some for dinner last night.

We also got our first tomato off of the vines on our porch! Yay!

It's pretty, even if I don't eat tomatoes myself. (Note: I love them in sauces and such, just not by themselves and not raw. Noel will eat them like apples.)

AND. One of the most exciting things is this!

A baby cantaloupe!! Isn't it adorable? We have at least 7 or 8 of them, but this was one of the bigger ones. I did find another that was bigger, but it wasn't easily photographable. I have to pick my way really carefully in order not to squish anything. I'm hoping these will do well and be ready to eat in about 2 weeks or so.

But our biggest crop? Remember last Friday's massive 43 cucumber harvest? Yesterday I went and picked FORTY-SEVEN more. We are DROWNING in cucumbers right now!

Even the kitties are feeling concerned about the sudden influx of cucumbers. Poe investigates a wayward cuke:

Loki goes in for a sniff:

Then attacks the encroaching cucumber hordes! GRRRR!!!!

(No cucumber was harmed in the filming of this post.)

I've started a batch of homemade bread and butter pickles, and will take pictures of that process as it progresses. I've never done it before, so they might end up tasting like burnt dog hair, but we won't know until we try, right?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sayonara & Send Off

Today's the last day of Katie's visit. We've had busy and fun time - we went to the Biltmore Estate last weekend. We toured the house (I posted pics of the house a while back when we went with Mom) and this time decided to explore the grounds a bit more. They have a new area built out of the original horse barn that hosts a living history museum. We saw a blacksmith at work, some bluegrass singers, and a farm where you could go check out animals. I petted the sheep. Of course. They also had some really fab roosters:


We also did some sight-seeing around the area in Tennessee where Noel grew up, and where I snapped this pretty church steeple.

Thing In Sky!

Katie has had an eventful trip. She's learned to sew, crochet, drive a car, and make banana pudding. Oh yeah, and garden!

We've had some success with the cucumbers.

A LOT of success. This was what we picked today alone - a total of FORTY-THREE cucumbers.

We're considering hosting a Cucumber Eating Contest. Otherwise I don't know how we'll get through all of these!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ach! We be flingin' heavy things!

This past weekend we paid a visit to the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games.

There were a few people there.

In fact, there were so many people there, you have to park in a nearby town and they bus you up to the top of the mountain. You could only park on the mountain if you were camping there, and THOUSANDS of people had decided to do so, because there were thousands of tents. And even a few RVs!

Riding a schoolbus up a windy gravel road full of switchbacks? Slightly harrowing.

It was in a gorgeous location though, and the mountains in the background made it feel authentic.

We saw lots of stuff! Katie found out some about her family clan, and they even gave her a free pin.

Also, just so you know, she finished her dress in time to be able to wear it that day. Didn't it turn out nice?

We saw sheep herding, and yes, there was also yarn for sale but I am An Oak and didn't buy any. (Thank you, applause not necessary.)

There were highland dancing competitions:

We particularly enjoyed the heavy athletics, including the hammer throw:

Did I mention the hammer weighs about 50 lbs?

The guy who won this threw it so far that it was coming close to the highland dancing tents. Which would've made for an interesting new sport: Highland Hammer Dodge And McScream-a-thon.

Our favorite though (and probably the hands down favorite of the entire crowd) was the caber toss. This is where a humongous dude, about the size of an industrial refrigerator, picks up and throws a telephone pole end over end.

No really.

These guys were HUGE.

I liked this picture, even though it was a complete accident - I was so focused on the guy to the right, picking up the caber, that I didn't notice the bagpiper had walked into frame. Hey - I'll take it!

This dapper gentleman is the chief of his clan (don't ask me which one - I didn't notice). You can tell because he has 3 feathers in his cap. I met my clan's chief (at the national level) as well. Go Clan McIntosh!

Of course, we had to partake of the oh-so-healthy Scottish food (this is how those refrigerator guys get so big): meat pasties (pronounced paast-ees, not paste-ees like a burlesque dancer, and not pastries, like in France). Pasties are essentially dough, either of the shortbread or puff pastry varieties, stuffed with seasoned meat, potatoes, peas, and gravy. They are GOOD. Noel & Katie had chicken ones, I had beef. Then for dessert, we had a scone with strawberries & cream on top.

Note that no photographs of food were taken. This is because I was busy stuffing my face. Some things will not be sacrificed for journalistic integrity. :)

We even had a celebrity sighting. Heh. Love the tartan vest.

Ach! That twere a fun day!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Kids in Review

So obviously, as you may well imagine, we've been busy here at Chez Cat Box, what with Noel's kids in town, work, visiting family, national holidays, etc. Thus I hope it is with tender heart that you look upon my lack of recent blogs as a testament to my dedication to a satisfying visit for said kids.

But! I decided to take time out of our busy hot dog/movie watching/yarn related adventures to write this morning, so you wouldn't send out the National Guard because you assumed we had fallen into a sinkhole or something.

First of all, we had a nice 4th of July. The town we live in currently, Mars Hill, is tiny and had a darling little celebration at the recreation park, complete with live bluegrass music, the VFW raffling off exciting prizes (gas cans! hair cuts!) and even sack races.

(That's one of Noel's daughters in the turquoise scarf).

They ended the night with an impressive fireworks display, and all-in-all we felt like this was the little slice of Americana that Martha Stewart would love to organize, except the prizes would evolve into organic mushroom farming equipment and antique handmade tobacco baskets. Much less useful than a gas can, I must admit.

We also paid a visit to Marshall, a very small town near Mars Hill (got them straight?) for Friday night bluegrass and dancin'. The kids weren't quite sure what to think at first, so Noel and I got up and cut a rug (and even were applauded!). After that, there was no holding them back (except for Noel's son, who isn't the dancing type, I suppose). The girls had a great time, and even got my mom up there dancing. Here's Noel and Katie:

They had a blast. We were told we simply must come back another time, and we agreed. There was an 82 year old woman sitting beside me who told me we had good dance moves, and I looked down to see that she was wearing tap shoes (used for clogging here, since they make noise). We thought it was fantastic when she got up and danced too. At 82! I hope I have that kind of energy at 72!!

The other 2 kids went back to Virginia last weekend, but Katie opted to stay for another few weeks. She's busy, you see, learning all kinds of handy skills here, like sewing:

(She's making a dress and it's almost finished!). She's also learning to crochet, and she's been a great help in the garden, which is growing very nicely:

We have blooms on our cucumbers and a ton of them on our cantaloupes! And we have baby tomatoes, and impressive basil, and the okra is coming along slowly but surely. It would help if we could get some rain. As it stands, we've been having to water every week, and Katie's been jumping up to help with that. She's embraced the garden with gusto. Literally:

Katie *hearts* dirt. :)

She couldn't go into the house this way though, so Noel rinsed her off. Did I mention we have well water that comes out of the tap cold enough to drink? Heh.

We have a barn (yes, we really do). It's small and dilapidated, but we do have a barn next to our house. And just to add an extra touch of authenticity to it all, a family of stray cats moved into the barn. But they weren't content to live IN the barn. Oh no, they decided that they'd also annex the porch of the house. It was a mom and 4 kittens, although we think one of the kittens didn't make it because it disappeared one day. Very sad. The mom appears to be a manx, because she has no tail. 2 of the kittens also were black & white with no tails, and the other 2 were fuzzy with tails.

Anyway, I just couldn't interrupt them while they were nursing, but afterwards, we started spritzing them with water to keep them off the porch.

I know what you're thinking: But Kelli, you are a cat LOVER. You have 2 cats that are spoiled beyond belief! To wit:

However, it is in part because of these spoiled black kitties that rule the household that we needed to encourage the strays to move on. See, strays have potentially lots of disease problems, fleas, etc. and we don't want those things passed on to our kitties. So as mean at it might sound, we tried to get them to move on. Which they did, after only 2 days of spritzing with the water bottle when they came on the porch. This is much better than the alternatives that are sometimes employed, which I won't get into because they're cruel. At least they can live out their kitty lives in the wild, hunting bugs and mice and sunning themselves. :)

Also, the mom would try to come in the house when we opened the front door. Also, Noel was afraid if I had to stare at those darling little kittens much longer, I would be naming them and taking them to the vet for shots, and then it would be all over.

In other Country Living news, we have squash that was given to us by various sources. Apparently everyone we know is having a bumper crop of squash this year, and we have thus far reaped the benefits. However, I had no idea really what to DO with squash that didn't require breading and frying each individual slice of one. Our landlord came to the rescue with a recipe for Squash Fritters!

They are so healthy.

Can you feel your arteries clogging just LOOKING at this picture? Yeah. They were good.

So that's a not-so-brief update of what's been going on here. I've been doing a lot of writing, as well as working on stuff for my Etsy shop (which I will announce when it's all ready).

Here's your artistic photo for the day: