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

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Summer Wedding

We went to an outdoor wedding today!  You'd think that on August 23 we'd be sweltering in the heat, but it was a perfect day--sunny, a bit breezy, and cooling off enough in the evening to justify putting on a  shrug.  Bride was beautiful, groom was handsome--two young people in love.

Who did we run into but my little "sister's" son!  Hugs and a picture, of course!

There were waterfalls at one end of this wedding venue (the Wedding Canyon), and the scene made the perfect backdrop for beautiful pictures.  I set everything up and handed Thomas the camera!  He did a great job, and our kissing picture is now an 8x10 hanging in a beautiful frame in our bedroom.

I love having a great camera to capture scenes like this.  We were behind the bride and groom, so I caught this image which I love--the birdseed flying, and everyone smiling and taking pictures as the bride and groom take their leave.

Happy wedding!

Back to life,

Visit my photography blog
Visit my photography website

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Garden Harvest -- Canning and Fermenting

August 22.

The harvest in the garden is in full swing now, with tomatoes growing like gangbusters and the string beans popping out beans like mad.  And my carrots--I've picked a few now, and some are long and thick, some stubby--are growing beautifully, too!  It was time to do some canning and fermenting.

In the back:  red spaghetti sauce, yellow tomato salsa.
In the front:  fermenting carrots, green beans, and garlic.

I can my tomatoes, sauce, and salsa according to the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  It's an essential book in my (much smaller now) home library, and I use it extensively, while modifying recipes for our family's tastes and health.  Canning is a great way to preserve the food you've so diligently grown over spring and summer!

But fermenting, you ask?  Well, it was new to me, too.  But a visit to my friend Becki's home to learn about it prompted me to experiment with fermenting this summer.  Needless to say, I was hooked, as you'll see in this post.

First, a trip to the garden to see what the yield would be this week...

Ohhh, those carrots!

This spider found a meal...

I had a very nice harvest this week, and even though I just finished canning tomatoes (sauce and salsa), I'd be back at it soon!

Fermenting.  Google it and you will find this simple definition:

At its basis, most lacto-fermented foods are nothing more than whole, chopped, sliced or grated vegetables placed in a brine of salt and water for a period of time at room temperature to let the beneficial bacteria develop.

Those beneficial bacteria are essential for gut health, and you can find them in foods which contain active live cultures--many brands of yogurt, for instance.  Another benefit of fermented vegetables is the higher nutrient content:  since you're not heating them up (as in water-bath or pressure canning), they retain more of their nutrients.  They are also crunchy when you eat them, and so they taste fresher.  A smaller side benefit is the fact that you're not heating up your kitchen in the middle of summer (usually) with a huge pot of water boiling on the stove; plus, it's less time-consuming.  Just make your brine, cut up veggies, put them in jars, cover with the brine, seal, check after 3-5 days, then shelf-store them.  And that's another benefit--it takes less time than canning!

Why brine?  Salt is essential for the fermentation process, simple enough.  Plus, the type of jar you use is important--some kind of lock must be in place so that oxygen can't get into the jar (which would cause bad bacteria to grow and thus spoil the food).  Also, as the fermentation process occurs, gas must also be allowed to escape (if it doesn't, you'll end up with an exploding jar).  There are specialized jars available, such as the ones at Pickl-It, that you may use.  Some people use regular canning jars, which must be "burped" to let gas escape or they will explode.

My friend Becki highly recommended Fido jars.  It's pronounced fee-doh, and they are high-quality jars with rubber rings and seals.  I would not trust knock-offs or other glass jars for fear of ring failure or low quality glass (many are manufactured in China).  The best out there are Bormioli-Rocco Fido jars, and I found the best price here at Sur la Table, which offers free shipping on orders over $75.  It's worth the investment if you can't find a Sur la Table store near you!  They also offer replacement gaskets (the rubber rings used around the lids) when they wear out.  I've also recently found some Fido jars at The Container Store.  Another note--they're made in Italy, so they're metric measurements--1/4 liter jars, 3/4 liter, one liter, etc.

I helped Becki with fermenting her jalapenos, and armed with hands-on experience and lots of reading and research and advice and much trepidation, I was ready to try my own hand at it.  Becki advised me to use a 2.5% brine solution, so I did.  There is a helpful web page that explains the salt-to-water ratio, and has the original brine chart from which I copied this one (credit goes to that site, Pickl-It, for the chart).

I highlighted the line showing the 2.5% brine measurements so you can see the amounts.  Why grams?  Well, that was what the chart was in, and I was too lazy to convert to ounces.  And, measuring in grams is more precise than in ounces.  :)

You'll need a weight scale that can convert to grams.  Being a former homeschooler, I actually have a plug-in weight scale with grams and ounces--and I didn't sell it!  Woot!!  Since measurements by weight are much more accurate than measurements by volume (cup, teaspoon, etc.), and since the amount of salt in your brine needs to be accurate, please find a way to weigh your salt!

Speaking of salt, it should also be high quality.  I use Real Salt by Redmond.  You can purchase it here through Amazon, or at least click the link to see what it looks like.  I purchase mine through our food buying co-op, since those are the best prices I've found.  Any high quality sea salt is great, though.

Weigh out your salt and measure out your water.  It's okay to prepare more brine than you think you'll need, since you can store the extra in your fridge for a week or two.  And since it's not a whole lot of salt, don't be sad if you have to toss what's left, either.

Once you measure your salt and water, simply dissolve the salt in the water in a saucepan (heat and stir until the salt is dissolved).  With Real Salt, I found that there is a small amount of little pink "dust" on the bottom of the pan; this doesn't dissolve, and I stir it into the brine as I pour the brine over my veggies.  After the salt is dissolved in the brine, let the brine cool to room temperature before using it.

Tip from Becki here:  To use the brine right away, dissolve the salt in a small portion of the water (which will also help with less water evaporating) in your saucepan.  Once the salt is dissolved, pour the concentrated solution into the rest of the room-temperature water, making sure to scrape it all out and whisking to incorporate the brine with the rest of the water.  Now you have a cooled-off brine which is ready to use immediately!

Cut up your veggies.  You can ferment salsa (I haven't tried this yet), but for beginners like me, stick with crunchy veggies--carrots, jalapenos, green beans, etc.--first.

Make sure you wash/dry your Fido jars, and put the gaskets around the lid.  Make sure the tab on the gasket is not even with the locking mechanism, or it may be difficult to remove the ring when you're finished with the jar.

Add any herbs/spices to the bottom of your Fido jars.  You don't have to do this, and the herbs can be either fresh or dried.  I've used both fresh (cilantro), and dried (dill), with great success.  There are no set quantities of how much or little to use--throw some in and experiment!  Smaller jars, use less, obviously, and it's an art to get it to your liking.  Better not enough at first, than too much.  I used about a teaspoon of dill in my 3/4-liter jars (Fido jars from Italy are in liters, of course!).

Gently pack (don't cram) your veggies up to about the shoulder area--where the jar starts sloping toward the top.  Then, pour brine over until the veggies are covered.  I've read that you should weigh down your veggies so they're underneath the brine, but the whole point of using Fido jars is to keep out oxygen, so it's not necessary in my experience.  Err on the side of caution if you're leery, though.  Once your veggies are covered, wipe the rims of the jars and carefully seal them.

Place the jars on a rimmed cookie sheet (jelly roll pan) or other rimmed pan, and leave on the counter for 3-5 days.  The pan will catch any seeping or oozing, which is normal as oxygen is escaping.  If you've crammed veggies in, or poured brine too close to the lid, you'll have more seeping.  After 3-5 days, the seeping will stop; wipe down your jars and label with with their contents, the date you sealed them, then the date four weeks from the seal date.  That's when they'll be ready to open and eat.  They will store longer than that (some say months, UPDATE--some of mine have been stored three months so far and I'm still munching away), but the earliest you should try them is four weeks (28 days) from sealing.

During the fermenting process, you may notice the liquid turning white and cloudy--that's normal.  Abnormal things to look for:  mold, scummy stuff, bad smell.  When in doubt, throw it out.

That's pretty much it.  I've typed a lot of information here, but it may not address every issue and you need to do your own research and try at your own risk.

I loved fermenting so much I immediately made some more!


These fermented green beans have been on my bomb shelter shelf for about five months.  You can see they've changed color slightly, losing their bright green.  You can also see the brine is a bit cloudy--that is normal and good!

I added some fresh English thyme from my garden to this batch of green beans, and since the jar has been sitting for some time, the thyme is very flavorful.  (Boy, all that time-thyme!!)

The longer I let the ferment sit, the less crunchy the veggies are.  These green beans had the tiniest bit of crunch, and were almost like steamed beans--just perfect.  Don't forget, you can also drink the brine!  it's filled with all those awesome probiotics!

Once you've opened your jar, you must store any leftovers in the fridge!  This is because you've allowed oxygen into your jar, and that will be the start of mold and going bad.  Also, I transfer my veggies to a canning jar or other glass container, since I discovered that the rubber rings can collect mold as they sit in the fridge.

Enjoy your fermenting adventures!

Back to life,

Visit my photography blog
Visit my photography website

Monday, August 17, 2015

New Every Morning, Part Ten

The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 NASB

Read previous segments here:

The Beginning
The Injury
The Furnace
The Waiting
The House
The Phone Call
The Truck
The Car

The Business

With the settlement we received back in January, Fernando and I knew we could survive for a little while, paying for the basics plus our new modified mortgage.  But Fernando needed to work.  We both felt that given that no other work was promising on the horizon, Fernando should start repairing amplifiers on his own.  Yes--Fernando was ready to start his own business.

This is an amplifier.  (It's all knobs and switches to me...)

He started looking on eBay and Craigslist for pieces of equipment he could us to repair amplifiers--components of electronic equipment used in satellite news gathering trucks and satellite earth stations, in the broadcast communications industry.  This equipment--oscilloscopes, multimeters, and other things which I can't remember but could probably spell--can be costly, to say the least, and that was a major concern to us.  We had a set amount we could spend on getting this thing off the ground.

Miraculously--and we're no longer surprised by this--Fernando found and purchased several pieces of equipment for much less than what he thought he would have to spend.  In fact, he was able to purchase most everything he needed.  Doors continued to open, and we stepped through them for Fernando to go into business for himself.

Fernando hired lawyers, created an LLC, and put up a website.  Some work came in, and his truck operation with Arctek was billed and paid through Fernando's new company.  There was something special about receiving a check made out to Soto Satellite Repair & Services!

A colleague in the industry, who has had his own business for decades, came alongside Fernando over the summer to offer advice and even some work.  We were on our way!
Fernando's logo, which he created himself!

Part Eleven is now waiting for you to read.

Back to life,

Visit my photography blog
Visit my photography website

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Three Cheese Enchiladas

If there's a recipe title on the photo above, you'll know I updated the picture.  As I type this right now, there's nothing but a little watermark on the bottom.  Oh, well.

Life has been busy, good, hard, and stressful, all rolled into one.  More on that soon, I promise--I seem to blog in spurts, catching up by posting in bunches when the urge rises in my heart.  Aside from that, I'm just blogging through my photos, and these two yummy pictures popped up next.  I'm sure you just want the recipe, so here it is.  I'll blog in depth in another post.

Three Cheese Enchiladas

16 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided (I've used Colby Jack, too--just as yummy)
16 oz. shredded mild cheddar cheese, divided
8-oz. package cream cheese
2 1/2 cups salsa or picante sauce, divided
2-3 green bell peppers, cored and diced
1/2 cup sliced green onions
2 1/2 teaspoons cumin
~20 corn tortillas, or ~16 flour tortillas
toppings:  shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, sliced olives, sour cream, etc.

Combine about 3/4 of each Monterey Jack and cheddar, all the cream cheese, half the salsa, the green pepper, onions, and the cumin.  Mix well.  Spoon about 1/4 cup of this cheese mixture down the center of each tortilla; use less if you're using corn tortillas--they're smaller!  Fold tortilla up (or roll if corn tortillas) and arrange in a 13x9 baking pan.  Spoon remaining salsa over the enchiladas, and sprinkle the remaining Monterey and cheddar over that.  Bake at 350F until crisped up and cheese is all melted and crispy on the edges.  Serve with toppings--whichever ones work for you!

Back to life,

Visit my photography blog
Visit my photography website

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Carrot, a Butterfly, and Dinner with Friends

August 8.

I wandered out into my garden to take some macro pictures for you, and started with the carrots, because they're growing!!!  Look at that carrot--isn't it beautiful?

As I rounded the corner of the strawberry bed, this beautiful butterfly landed in the dirt.  What a great photo opportunity--and I promptly forgot about the rest of the garden.  Such is my aging mind!

A little later, my "big sister" Lori came by, and we chatted for so long that I invited her and her hubby to stay for dinner.  She ran home and got her chicken and other yummies, and we grilled the meat.  Lori made sangria with fruit from her son Bryan's Wisconsin farm.

Food and drink--no pictures of us or our friends!  We had a wonderful time catching up, eating on the patio and enjoying the beautiful summer evening together.

Back to life,

Visit my photography blog
Visit my photography website

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Arboretum Sunset

August 7.

Fernando and I decided to take a quick sunset trip to the Arboretum, since they're open to dusk--which, technically, would be after the sun fully sets.  Which is good for me, and all photographers at the Arboretum.

After we arrived, I realized I didn't know exactly where would be a good place to set up my tripod for pictures.  I figured since the sun sets in the west, we'd go to the west side.

I had to get really creative with perspective, so I ended up setting up in a parking lot at the prairie station.  I set up low and angled up to capture just the shadows of the trees.  It worked pretty well, though I'm sure the sky was more spectacular elsewhere.  But it was okay--I as there and I got to breathe in another sunset experience.

The clouds seems to outline one tree in particular, so I turned my camera vertically and took the below image, which is my favorite from the night.

I was running out of time, plus we forgot the bug spray--ugh.  At my back was this really cool circular cloud over the trees.

God's peace fills my spirit as I watch the sky change from moment to moment; I know He set the sun in its place, and He is in control.  This knowledge is peace to me.

Back to life,

Visit my photography blog
Visit my photography website

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Another Day, Another Lake

August 1 meant one more month until autumn--for September is an autumn month to me, even if it's still warm out.  And it meant one more month until my birthday month and our anniversary month!

This August 1st also meant a trip into Wisconsin!  I had a family portrait session at a client's lake house, and they invited Fernando and me up for the weekend.  In just a little over two hours, we were at their house and Lauderdale Lake!

The view from their front yard.

Steve and Stephanie took us out on their pontoon boat for a tour of the lake--there are actually three connected lakes--and to scout out possible locations for a portrait session.  We had so much fun talking and enjoying the scenery that we decided to just do portraits in their yard.  Fernando posed for me while the family changed clothes, and I got some good ideas for different spots to shoot in.

The C. family portraits will be put up on my photography website soon; for now, suffice it to say the camera went away and we enjoyed a great meal grilled by Steve, and an evening filled with laughter and fun.  We went back out for a midnight swim; Stephanie and I stayed on the boat while Steve and son Ryan and Fernando went for a swim in one of the bays.

We didn't get to bed until 2:00am!  After a lazy morning and yummy breakfast made by Stephanie, Fernando and I took off for home, making sure we purchased a case of Spotted Cow (Wisconsin brew; we loved our initiation to this flavorful brew!) before crossing the border.

As soon as we pulled into our driveway, I grabbed my camera and started snapping this thunderhead that was looming toward us.  Most of the rain missed us, but the clouds were an impressive sight!

Mammatus clouds as the storm approached.

Back to life,

Visit my photography blog
Visit my photography website

Monday, August 10, 2015

Late July in My Garden

Late July, and time to pick some more tomatoes!  They produced late this year, but I was thankful for whatever I could get.

Water drops on sage.

My Garden Peach tomato plants--both of them--produced prolifically, and I have enjoyed searching for the fuzzy yellow heirloom tomatoes on the plants!  I want to try making yellow tomato salsa this year, using only these delicious tomatoes.

After picking tomatoes and waering everything, I took my deck shot.  You can tell it's morning, because the sun cast my shadow onto the strawberry plants.  :)

Time for a bug break.  One of the guys alerted me to the presence of this cicada on our front walk.

The next day, I tackled the garlic.  It had been ready before we left for vacation, but I didn't have any time.  It's hard on my back, to be on my hands and knees digging this stuff up, but boy, is it worth it!  I usually have garlic to last me an entire year.  I couldn't wait to see what this year's crop would look like.

One section dug up.

Fernando lent his assistance in the middle bed, digging things up with a shovel and helping me sift through the dirt for the fragrant bulbs hidden inside.

Two sections dug up.

Time for a tomato break.  I picked a few more, and went over to my "dirt pile" in my special place to see what the few plants my friend Becki had given me were doing.  I harvested several jalapenos and two tomatoes, and left one green pepper on the vine to grow some more.

Then it was back to the garlic bed, where I finished off the year's harvest.  Whew!

All the garlic was laid out in the sun to be cured!  What a great feeling.  As I sit here typing and looking at the picture, I notice that I need new mulch in my walkways...  A gardener's work is never done, it seems, until winter finally covers the beds with a blanket of snow and all is forgotten until spring's melt.

Back to life,

Visit my photography blog
Visit my photography website