Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bloom Where You're Planted

Today we planted flowers and seeds, far earlier than I ever have in my life.

 We also made silly faces.

We planted some pansies from Sarah's mom as well as arugula and basil seeds.  The basil will live inside until the night temps come up.  The arugula can probably handle it outside.

We haven't yet planted in our garden, as the soil needs some love.  It's odd to be getting our garden on so early.  Still, I want to make the best of whatever comes my way.  And if that means arugula salad from my own garden in April, well, so be it.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Monkey See

I was making a new spring wreath for our door yesterday.  Ellis decided to take some pictures.  I imagine that he notices me often photographing my arts and crafts and wanted to do the same.  He did pretty well.

I took this one of Winnie, because it was funny.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

My Can Plan

So Food In Jars linked to this awesome Can Plan post by Apartment Farm.  It got me all up in a tizzy about making my own Can Plan.  Last year's was on, like, the back of a receipt or something.

Still, even with a crummy Can Plan, we put up 36 quarts of tomatoes, a boat load of jam, tomatillo and peach salsa in unknown but plentiful quantities, chow chow relish, endless refrigerator pickles, 4 pints of canned pickles (that are gross), 2 quarts of asparagus, and some dilly beans.  We are out of tomatillo salsa, down to our last 9 quarts of tomatoes and our last few half-pints of jam.  We have plentiful chow-chow relish, peach salsa, and, of course, pickles.

This year, there will be more tomatoes.  I'm also going to work on tomato sauce.  My hippie friends and I are going to try to pull off a group canning extravaganza of tomato sauce a la this.

We will also need MORE JAM.  I had no idea my child was such a jam-a-holic.  In our effort to drastically reduce sugar intake, though, I think he sees jam as his last, best hope of something sweet.  We put up strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry, blueberry-basil, sour cherry, peach, peach-lavander, and cranberry apple jam last year.  We'll repeat all of those this year in greater quantities and will also hopefully add more variety to the mix.  And with this crazy weather, well, strawberry jam might be right around the corner.

I'm working on my Can Plan for this year.  I am a bit troubled that many of these things won't be canned, exactly.  I might need a new name.  Like Preservation Something, but better than that.  Before this new inspiration, my can plan was still a bit low-tech.

Now I have a spreadsheet.  That will basically guarantee success, right?

We're hoping to grow more of our own this year, hit some more u-pick opportunities, and see where that takes us.

In preparation for our garden, we received our seed order today from Renee's Garden.

(P.S.  I really wish I'd gotten around to taking pictures this morning, before we lost the light.  Please enjoy my gloomy Chicago pictures as evidence that the climate isn't totally shot to you-know-where.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Stitch In Time

I've been working on repairing a crocheted afghan for a friend of mine.

It's a really beautiful basic granny square piece made by my friend's grandmother.

Unfortunately, it's coming undone.  A lot.

It feels good to put the pieces back together again.

As I'm working on it, I'm getting some ideas for art pieces based on repairs and putting things back together again.

Monday, March 26, 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I'm waiting for two things in the mail today.  One is Ellis' school placement letter for next year.  I won't go into the whole can of worms that is the Chicago Public Schools, except to say that it's utterly crazy-making.  The other is my seed order from Renee's Garden.

This year, I'm working toward growing as much of our produce as I can.  Last year, I planted a lot but had very disappointing yields.  We had just moved in, so I didn't know that my neighbor was a vertical gardener.  Her plants ended up blocking my plant's sun.  Last year was also a tough year weather-wise.  We did manage a very hearty cherry tomato plant, marjoram, chives, eggplant, and basil.  Our cucumbers tomatillos, and tomatoes, however, were very disappointing.  I also have a chard plant that somehow survived the winter.

For this year, I've redesigned my garden layout to account for the ways in which my sunlight will change as my neighbor's garden reaches to the sky.  I'll be using lots of containers as well as planting up on our deck.  I'll also be starting a lot from seed, including radishes, lettuces, cucumbers, beans, carrots, and herbs.  This has never been my forte.  I'm hoping, though, that by direct-sowing what I can, I'll have more luck and heartier plants.  I've never been able to get the hang of starting seeds indoors.  And as for what I can't direct-sow or start inside, I'll be buying seedlings.  That includes tomatoes and tomatillos, primarily.  I'm also doing garlic, which I guess I can just buy at the grocery store and plant.

Last year we had a CSA, which we loved.  However, we have decided to try to grow what we can and do the Farmer's Market for the rest.  I still ended up buying quite a lot from the market to fill in the CSA gaps.  Although I loved supporting a local farmer in that way, we just can't justify the expense for our family this year.

Sorry I don't have pics today.  But take my word for it, my empty garden plot isn't very inspiring.  I promise seed pics eventually!

Food Swappin' and Rainy Days

The past few days have been rainy.  Today we're back to sunny and beautiful.  I ordered my seeds for my garden.  I made four quarts of gnocchi to swap with friends at our Food Swap.  It's a variation on the Soup Swap.  We are swapping freezer meals of various kinds.  We're not totally sure how it's going to go, but we're hopeful.

I am still trying to get back into the swing of things.

(Case in point, here's yesterday's post, which I found unposted this morning.  Blargh!)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Leap of Faith

My life feels kind of like this right now:

We've all been so sick off and on for the past almost two months.  I can barely get a handle on anything these days.  I am beginning to feel really depleted.

However, in the midst of all of this illness, some things are happening that I'm really excited about.  I'm planning a Mama's Art Retreat for myself and some close artistic and crafty mama friends.  I've always wanted to attend Squam or ArtFest, but the way our lives are right now, I can't really justify the expense.  Every year I watch amazing women on the blogs I follow head out for these retreats and I always feel a sense of longing.

Okay.  Let's be honest.  I feel jealous.  Which frankly is the exact wrong response. Shouldn't I feel happy for them?  Shouldn't I relish creativity in any form for any person?  As it turns out, I'm human and imperfect.  I feel jealous.  I want to go, too.

So after years of jealousy and guilt and shame about feeling jealous, I thought, why don't I just plan my own?  Now, I have dreams like that all the time.  Most of the time, they just stay in my head.  This time, I was able to make it happen, thanks in large part to am amazing and supportive community of friends.

I don't know how it's going to go.  It's a real leap of faith for me.  Planning things like this isn't my forte.  I don't handle the stress of being in charge or responsible very well.  But so far, so good.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Welcome, Spring!

I have to confess, Spring is not usually my favorite season.  It is generally too windy and too rainy.  I prefer Summer.  However, now that it's been 80 degrees for over a week, I may have to reevaluate my stance on Spring.

We have a lovely Chicago-style back deck with a scenic view of the alley as far as the eye can see.

But soon we'll have some leaves to look at, and to keep the neighbors from looking at us.

We've been logging some serious deck time.  And I'm thinking gardening is on the horizon.

It's even Springy inside.  Here is the view from my sewing space.  Note the green grass and blinding sunlight.

It's the next best thing to being outside.  It also gave me a great view of my cat falling out of the window.  Somebody left the screen up (Ellis) and somebody else opened the window and didn't notice the screen was up (me) and Josie thought, well, why not?  She was fine, by the way.

On the thrifting front, my friend Erin and I did a little St. Patrick's Day shopping.  For $12 total, I scored new tap shoes for Ellis ($25 from the non-thrift store), shorts for Ellis, a vintage muffin tin for our mud kitchen, some vintage thread and a doily, some books, an enamelware pan, and some kitchen utensils.  All in all, a very good day.

Isn't that sewing book gorgeous?  And that serving spoon with the flowers?  Sigh.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sick + Spontaneous Summer = Skipping Blogging

I can't believe I've missed like 9 days of blogging!  We've been sick.  Ellis had a spectacular double ear infection, double eye infection.

I've had a lingering virus I just can't shake.  Add to that freakishly awesome "Winter" weather in Chicago (days upon days of 70's and 80's) and it was a recipe for not blogging.

I'm putting my nose back to the grindstone and resolving daily blogging for 9 days as penance.  It is, after all, Lent.

Meanwhile, I have gotten some new work done.

I finished some knitting, but can't mail it until the plague clears.  Hate to send pathogens across state lines.

Did some more work on an older piece in progress.

I made some reusable snack bags (after majorly messing up some curtains).  They seem good.

And in celebration of the earliest summer on record (and surely also of the coming apocalypse of which we will not speak), I made some pickles in March.  They aren't local or organic, but when I saw them at the market for 49 cents a pound, well, I couldn't resist.

I used a very basic brine, last Summer's ends of pickling spices, and some very ordinary cucumbers, dill and garlic for some easy peasey refrigerator pickles.  I sliced the cukes very thin so they'd be ready fast, before the summer gave way to normal temperatures.  We've already eaten one jar.  I can't wait until bizarro Summer is over and real Summer begins!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chili Rocks!

So, I made some truly kick-ass ordinary chili tonight.  It was a version of truly regular mid-western chili.  But it was yummy.  And the kids ate like 3 bowls each.

Jen's Ordinary But Yummy Chili

2-3 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil, grass fed butter, lard or bacon grease
1 lb. ground beef, browned
1/4-1/2 onion, chopped small
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped small
1 TBS. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
(Optional: cayenne, crushed red pepper or other more spicy items)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3 cans or pints beans, such as kidney, black, pinto, or cannellini
canned tomatoes, either 1 quart home-canned or 1-2 cans from the store
6 cups water or broth

Sautee onions and garlic in Olive Oil or other fat.  Add meat and spices and sautee until aromatic, about 1-2 minutes.  Add beans and tomatoes and sautee another minute or two.  Add water or broth.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and simmer for at least 1 hour, or until everything is delicious.

This is a really basic recipe.  It would be yummy to add any chopped veggies at the sautee stage.  In particular, carrots, zucchini, peppers, and celery would be great.  I'd also recommend ramping up the heat if you aren't cooking for picky 3 and 4 year olds.  For my purposes, though, the plainer the better.

Top with sour cream, shredded cheese, salsa and/or chopped scallions.

I'm happy to report that in this meal, the ground beef was grass fed, humanely raised and local (from Wallace Farms), the beans, tomatoes, and salsa were all home-canned, and the cumin was purchased in bulk.  Also, the garlic and onion were purchased from a local, independent grocery store that has recently added some awesome solar panels.  The sour cream was from Whole Foods, but organic, grass fed and cream line.  However, the brown rice we served it over was from Trader Joe's, though it was organic.

We are really looking for ways to feed ourselves in the most healthy, most sustainable, and most affordable ways.  This is a tricky balance, one we're still working on.