The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. ~ Psalm 16:6 nasb

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

August at Home

August 23.

Kind of a random post here, mostly to share pictures.  :)

Here's more spaghetti sauce I canned the day before.

Here's my lunch.  I sauteed green and red peppers from my garden along with some chopped mushrooms, and put them on my raw salad.  I topped it all with freshly chopped parsley from my garden.  Yum.

Right after dinner, we decided to go to Weigand Riverfront Park to check out the river, since we had had about three straight days of heavy rain.  The river had been very low, which was a concern to us.  You see, Thomas would be baptized there tomorrow, and we needed the water level to be at least a few feet deep--which it was, barely, when we checked it out a week ago.  Now we were concerned that the park would be closed due to flooding!

Here's what it looked like:

Well, we needed more water, and the Lord certainly provided it!

Back home, a spectacular sunset sang praises to the Lord along with us.

Can't wait for Thomas' special day tomorrow!

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Tomato Preserves Using Agar Instead of Pectin

This summer's garden held a new variety of tomato for me:  Summer Peach.  An online friend suggested I make tomato preserves with them.  I was intrigued, so I took her recipe, researched other recipes online, and came up with my own version, using agar powder instead of pectin to thicken the preserves.  I get to add much less sugar that way!

The taste of the tomato comes out really nicely on my tongue, with a hint of sweetness afterwards.  This would be good on some toast with cream cheese!

Tomato Preserves
Yield:  8 to 9 half-pints

About six cups prepared tomatoes (cored, peeled, loosely seeded, diced)
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind (I love my microplane grater!)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups cane juice crystals (you may use white sugar, and adjust to your taste)
2 tablespoons agar powder
thinly sliced lemons from a couple lemons (make sure you seed them!!)

water bath canner
half pint jars

While your canner pot is heating up, and after you've prepared your jars, seals, and lids, bring the prepared tomatoes to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently to avoid sticking and burning.  Let simmer about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

Measure about six cups into another saucepan (I started with a little more than six cups and used the whole thing).  Add the lemon rind, lemon juice, and cinnamon, and stir until it's thoroughly combined.  While this is heating up to another boil, add the cane juice crystals and bring to a full boil.

At this point, I put a small plate and spoon in the freezer in preparation for testing the thickness of the preserves.

Now it's time to stir in the agar.  If you remember, you need to sprinkle just a little bit, whisk it in, sprinkle, whisk, until it's all stirred in.  You can start your 20-minute timer now!  And keep stirring the whole time.  This helps the agar to not settle on the bottom, which it will if you don't stir.

Lemon slices:  If you don't mind them dissolving in the preserves, leaving the rinds to "prettify" in the jars, add them once you incorporate the agar.  Otherwise, add them in at the end (although you will have to make sure the preserves are still at a simmer to maintain correct temperature for canning).

After about 15 minutes of stirring, test the preserves for thickness.  Take your teaspoon/plate from the freezer, scoop a bit of preserves from your pot and put them on the plate, then put the plate back in the freezer.  After a minute or two, take the plate out, and swipe your finger through the preserves.  Is it nicely jelled?  Great and you're ready to go.  Not jelled enough?  Add only a little bit more agar to your pot, whisking it in as before, and wait a few minutes and test again.  Avoid the temptation to add too much agar, since it thickens as it cools!!

When your preserves are at the desired thickness, and your canning pot water is at a good boil, follow typical water-bath-canning procedures and fill half-pint jars with 1/4-inch headspace, wipe rims, place seals on top, screw bands down to fingertip-tight, and place in canner.  Once all jars are in the canner, put the lid on the canning pot, make sure the water is at a good rolling boil, replace the lid and time for 20 minutes.

At the end of the 20 minutes, turn off the burner, take off the lid, and let the pot sit for five minutes.  Then, remove the jars to a cooling rack free from drafts and let cool overnight.  After 24 hours, check the seals, remove the bands, wipe down (or gently wash) the jars, label, and store.  Refrigerate any unsealed jars; use within a week or two.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Football Jewelry and Football Injury

August 20.

Fernando, assistant coach for the Crusaders, and Thomas, nose tackle for the same, came home from practice with two things.  Here was the first:

Thomas had rolled his ankle while practicing at the field, and it swelled up, massively, with bruising.  Yuck.  The first game was just on the horizon.

Here was the second:

Laura, the wife of head Coach B, gave me a gift.  The card read, Welcome to the Coaches' Wives Club!  So sweet.  I wear the charm on my heart necklace now so the chains don't get tangled.

Just a few hours after Thomas got home, the bruising had spread.  Poor kid.  He's eating one of my chocolate chip cookies, though, so he wasn't too terribly distraught.  :)

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August in My Vegetable Garden

August 18.

Whew.  I had just gotten a hold on canning all those tomatoes awaiting me after my trip to Lake Bonaparte.  Now it was time to bring my camera along on another harvest day, just a few days after the last one, it seemed.

The new basil plants I had purchased seemed to be doing okay, although they did show signs of the basil downy mildew that plagued my last batch of plants.

My squash plants were a little yellow still, but green at the ends, and the fruit was growing nicely.

There were little sweet red Fiesta peppers growing all over my two little plants!

And the Giant Marconi sweet green peppers were prolific!  I had never harvested so many in the three years I have been growing them.  I really love this pepper variety!

My three parsley plants were growing like bushes, and I harvested some to chop up and freeze.  Looks like I would have to do it again soon!

Some of my heirloom tomato plants were at least seven feet tall!  Standing there, I could barely see the roof of my house beyond the plants.

 Big Boy tomatoes.

Garden overview.

And, here's what I harvested this day:

And a quick follow-up, a few days later.  My peppers looked like this:

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Hello Tomatoes!

August 14-17.

Back home from the Lake, my vegetable garden greeted me with a massive Come harvest me now!!  Here's what I picked.

August 14.

I just jumped right back into real life, and started canning.  I started with spaghetti sauce.  I really meant to can just plain tomatoes, but really, the sauce wasn't too hard to make, and with Thomas' daily football practice, and games starting at the end of the month, it would be so nice and easy to simply open a few cans of sauce to go with our pasta on Pasta Day (Friday).

August 15.

Fernando put in a special request for salsa, which takes me all day since I hand-chop everything.  But, in the end, it was so satisfactory to see 14 pints of homemade salsa, with ingredients mostly from my garden, sitting on my counter to enjoy throughout the winter.  Yum!

August 17.

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August 12.

An overcast day greeted me for my last few hours on Lake Bonaparte.  I still wanted to spend a few minutes at the dock, sitting quietly, contemplating, watching.  This is my goodbye ritual, and it will never change.

This time, the "real world" pushed into my thoughts--Fernando's continued search for employment, our finances running out, healthcare issues (good ol' state of Illinois--'nuff said)...  It was all there waiting for me.  I turned those thoughts aside for a few more minutes, because I had to look out from the dock, watch, and remember the scene.

The sun peeked out momentarily, then was gone.  I didn't know when I'd be back to see this sight.  I still don't know today (I'm posting this in October!).  At the time, it was quite possibly my last time in a real long time.  So I continued to sit.

And then I began the journey home.

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

On the Water

August 11.

My last full day on the Lake was a warm one, and everyone wanted to be out on the water.  So that's what we did.  We spent the first part of the afternoon at Winter Bay (Military Bay), cooking hotdogs over an open fire, then lazing on the boat or floating in the water.

Char kicks up her feet.

Mom and Dad enjoying time together on the pontoon boat.

Matt almost gives me a smile.

A turkey vulture overhead.

After a long while, and who cared what time it was, we decided to boat out to the deep part of the Lake, near the rope swing (no longer there due to tree breakage) at Round Island.

Our boating companions.

Everyone took turns jumping in.

I thought it'd be nice to step down the ladder and get in.  I set my camera down, clipped my hair up, and stepped on the first rung.  As I turned around, I felt myself slipping so I let myself go--aaaa!!  Once I was fully in the water, I hollered, "I didn't mean to do that!!!"  Everyone laughed.  I climbed right back out for just a second, enough time to slip off my ring (loose anyways and there was no way I wanted to lose it) and give it to Mom, then back in again I went.

We floated for a while, then got back on the boat for a lazy ride back home.

We spotted the loon!!

A great day.  No more, no less.  :)

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