Monday, September 30, 2013

September Coffee Talk

If we were having coffee today, I'd ask you if you could believe today is the last day of September already? I can't! This month has flown by in a flurry of canning and gardening, that's for sure. The end of summer is always so bittersweet for me. I mourn the lazy, hot days of summer but I'm secretly excited to see canning season come to an end. It's so exhausting, and while I love cracking open a jar of our homemade salsa in January, I won't miss the late nights hovering over simmering pans and boiling canners.

If we were having coffee today, I'd tell you how I absolutely adore this time of year. The air is so crisp and clean, and I will use any bit of coolness in the air as an excuse to wear my brown riding boots and layer on a cozy cardigan. Even if I end up sweating an hour later.

If we were having coffee today, I'd tell you how I am overcome by the desire to feather our little nest in preparation for winter. Yesterday I had all the windows open and cleaned the house from top to bottom. And then I made a huge batch of Ina's Stuffed Cabbage, followed by a pear tart with homemade caramel sauce. It was exhausting, but it felt so good to sit down at the end of the day and know that we could start the week with yummy food in the fridge, clean clothes in our closets, and a nice clean house. It felt very Laura Ingalls Wilder-ish and wifey. I kind of loved it.

Speaking of homemade caramel sauce, I might have gained five pounds last night just by licking the spoon. I used this recipe by Ree Drummond and used whipping cream instead of half and half because it's what I had on hand. And why not? It was insanely good.

If we were having coffee today, I'd tell you how nervous I was to start the 31 Day series tomorrow. It's hard and scary and weird to share so much of myself with an internet full of strangers, and I'm worried that I'm setting myself up for failure and that no one will read it or that everyone will think it's dumb. Writing for 31 days is going to be hard, and I'm hoping it's going to be the good kind, the push myself farther than I thought I could kind of hard. Hopefully not the what were you thinking, that was a terrible idea kind of hard.

If we were having cofee today, I'd give you a big slice of that pear tart with caramel sauce. Because I really need to get this stuff out of the house before it disappears from the refrigerator, one huge spoonful at a time.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Preserving the Harvest :: Marinara

There's something about the start of fall that makes me yearn for the coziness of gooey, cheesey baked pasta. A hearty lasagna with chunks of spicy sausage, stuffed shells with an earthy mix of ricotta and sauteed Swiss chard, or even a weeknight baked ravioli. I call this hibernation food. It's great, stick-to-your-ribs, warm you from the inside out food. Perfect after a day of raking leaves. This might also be why I gain 10 pounds every winter. What can I say, I'm a Wisconsin girl that loves her cheese and pasta. But I digress...

While it's easy to open a jar of your favorite storebought pasta sauce for these dishes, starting them off with homemade marinara makes them extra special. I don't know about you, but I don't have the time to stand at the stove making a big batch of sauce every time the yearn for pasta hits. Enter home-canned marinara.

As I mentioned before, I have been working on perfecting a cannable marinara recipe for a couple years now. While I also like to freeze marinara, I don't always remember to thaw it in time and there's something really special about seeing the pretty jars all lined up in the basement.

After making another big batch Sunday, I can confirm it's the tastiest marinara  that's come out of my kitchen in a long time. I hope you like it as much as we do.

A note on the tomatoes - feel free to use whatever kinds you have/prefer. I like plum/Roma tomatoes, but rarely get 12 pounds at a time, so I use a mix of whatever we harvest from the garden. Also, please refrain from adding onions or garlic to the sauce. Adding too much from the allium family brings the pH of the sauce to a questionable zone for safe canning practices. I like to saute a few cloves of garlic in olive oil, then add the sauce to the pan to simmer for a bit before serving.


12 pounds tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil, rough chopped
1 tablespoon red chili flakes (optional)
6 tablespoons bottled lemon juice

Over medium-high heat, add tomatoes, salt, vinegar, sugar, and dried herbs to a large nonreactive pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
Continue to cook, breaking the tomatoes down with a wooden spoon, until the sauce is nice and thick. This can take 2 to 3 hours.
While sauce is simmering, sterilize canning jars in a large pot of boiling water. Set aside. Fill a large canning pot with water and bring to boil.
Once sauce has thickened, add fresh basil. Briefly blend sauce with immersion blender. Raise temperature to a boil. Meanwhile, add new canning lids to a pot of simmering water to prepare for canning.
Add 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice to each pint canning jar. Ladle hot sauce into canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe rims with a clean, damp cloth, then add lids and bands. Process in hot water bath for 20 minutes.
Remove jars from hot water bath and let cool.

Yield:  About 6 pints

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sick Day Essentials

Folks, I have been laid out hard by a nasty head cold. No fun at all. I was hoping to start transitioning the house over to fallI and log some major kitchen hours. Instead, I was laid up on the couch for most of the weekend. Unfortunately, I don't have a zillion hours of sick time at work so I've been trying to power through the days and crash pretty quickly when I get home.

I tend to get sick a lot when I'm under stress, so I have my healing regiment down to a science.

This tea is a standby - always with a healthy drizzle of local honey and a fresh lemon slice.

I'm a firm believer that tea always tastes better when sipped out of a pretty mug. I have this one (the "C") from Anthropologie, which is no longer available, but this one and this one are pretty sweet, too. 
As soon as I get home from work, I have been changing into my comfies (yoga pants + old Green Bay Packers hoodie) and warm slippers.

And while I have not been feeling up to spending much time in the kitchen, takeout Tom Kha with chicken (extra spicy, please!) from my favorite Thai restaurant is the perfect get-better soup.

I'm hoping to be back tomorrow with my marinara recipe (safe for canning). Stay tuned!

Friday, September 13, 2013


   This has been a week of getting back into the groove. We were out of town for the Labor Day weekend, and it is taking me forever to get back into a routine and catch up on my sleep. Who am I kidding? I am so not caught up on my sleep yet. I am obviously not as young as I used to be. Things like staying up until all hours dancing and singing at a music festival for three days straight is not something I can do anymore without suffering the consequences for days, no, WEEKS on end.
 When we got back from our weekend away, this is what was waiting for us. So grateful for the food our garden provides, but a little bit overwhelmed, too.
I obviously needed a LOT of coffee to get through that pile of vegetable goodness. Thank goodness Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back. Iced, of course, because it was still 90 degrees outside..   
  These beauties were destined for the food dehydrator. But I had to look at them for a solid 5 minutes first. They were just so pretty. Is that weird?

Tomatoes, sliced and ready for the food dehydrator. This takes forever, people. Seriously, I'm talking 36 hours forever. But the results are so worth it.  

Lots more tomatoes were made into marinara and canned. I have been tinkering with my recipe for years. I think I finally nailed it. Which means you'll be seeing it here soon. I wouldn't hold out on you.

Capped off the week with my third Stitch Fix shipment. The first one was ok, the second one, terrible (I sent everything back). This one? Nailed it. I kept every single piece.
This was kind of a tough week. I'm really looking forward to having zero plans this weekend. Hopefully Ryan and I can just chill and recharge our batteries a little bit.
I decided to link up with jeannett at I always enjoy her roundup of Instagram photos. It's such a great way to celebrate the beauty in the everyday. Head on over there to see what everyone else is up to on Insta-Friday!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Menu Planning

Aside from canning, one thing I found critical when dealing with a massive influx of veggies from the garden is to plan the heck out of our menu. If I get lazy with menu planning, we end up sacrificing too much of our hard-earned work to the compost pile.

Our schedule has been really out of whack since getting back from our road trip. As a result, we've been eating way too much junk and the dining room table is absolutely heaving with produce that needs our attention. I just know that working a few veggie-heavy meals into the rotation will really help us get back on track with both healthy eating and managing our harvest a little more reasonably.

Tonight we have plans for dinner, so let's start with tomorrow:

Friday:  Tomato, Chard, & Bacon Tart and Zucchini Garlic Soup
Saturday:  Stir Fry with Chicken Thighs, Mushrooms, Onions, & Broccoli
Sunday:  Roast Beef, Mashed Red Potatoes, Cucumber, Red Onion, & Tomato Salad
Monday:  Chef Salads
Tuesday:  Italian Beef Sandwiches with Provolone & Homemade Marinara, Big Salad 
Wednesday:  Leftovers
Thursday:  Grilled Chicken Salads
Friday:  Grilled Brats, Sauerkraut, Veggies & Dip
Saturday:  Pizza Date
Sunday:  Meatloaf, Roasted Red Potatoes, Big Salad

Of course, things will probably change, shift around, and go by the wayside. But having a plan like this means my grocery shopping is pretty minimal and I can use up a lot of those wonderful veggies!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

I have been in quite the funk for the better part of a year now. I have found myself questioning who I am, what I'm doing, who I want to be, and if any of my dreams for myself are even possible. I've been filled with self-doubt, and looking back, I realize I have been filled with a lot of pain, too.

You see, Ryan and I have been trying to get pregnant since August 2012. I hoped it would happen right away, and I think Ryan was just a little bit afraid it would. It consumed me - I thought about very little else. I was so focused on getting pregnant that I didn't even put up Christmas decorations last year. Months went by and nothing happened. I was crushed each month, and felt like such a failure. More time, and a couple visits to the doctor, and it turns out this whole becoming parents thing is going to be a little bit harder than we originally thought. Not impossible, but obviously it wasn't going to be the easy thing I spent 15 years of my life trying to prevent.

I spent the spring and summer (hell, the whole year, really) feeling pretty sorry for myself - I was supposed to be a momma already, and here I wasn't even pregnant yet. I was so sad, and so focused on what my life was missing that I completely lost sight everything I have. I have an incredible husband who loves me despite all my sortcomings. I have a beautiful home and a yard with flowers and a vegetable garden filled with a bounty that, given the right attention, will nourish us throughout the weeks and months to come.   

It took me a long time to realize that I have a lot to be thankful for. I was chatting with a very dear friend a couple weeks ago, and was lamenting (and let's be honest, whining a bit) to her about how frustrated I was with this fertility business and how nothing was going according to plan. She said what a sweet, unexepected gift this year must have been for Ryan and I, then, to have been able to spend together before we become parents. At first I scoffed a bit - how could it be a gift? She doesn't want kids, she couldn't possibly understand. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this friend, who is always so honest with me, was also so very right.

We went on a wonderful vacation to Mexico in the spring, saw lots of great music, had lazy afternoons at the Terrace, wandered hand in hand at the Art Fair on the Square sipping Summer Shandy, browsing our favorite artists, had lazy lunches that turned into afternoon cocktails and early dinners, went camping, went on a crazy roadtrip to Ohio to see my favorite band of all time. We've had a blissful, happy year, and while some of it was clouded by my fertility-related frustration and sadness, we really did have a wonderful time. I feel so guilty for not embracing it more fully, and for tarnishing so much of the good with my disdain for what it wasn't instead of what it was.

I keep thinking about what my friend said, and I've come to realize that I need to cherish these moments as gifts, and (try to) accept what comes for us with grace. I have a good life. It's not fair to my husband or to our marriage to keep wishing it away and waiting for something better to come along. Especially when I can't be sure it will ever come along. Because what we have right now is really pretty great.

I know I won't do this perfectly, but I'm really going to try.