Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Preserving the Garden Bounty

Last week was my best cycling week to date. I covered 503 miles, meeting some really nice people, eating some really delicious pancakes, and laughing over the antics of some really cute puppies (are there any other kind of puppies?). I traded in the road bike for my heavier hybrid on two of the days, mostly because I was too lazy to change out the road bike's front tire that was showing some splits in the rubber, but the two days on the hybrid were awesome. Because it is a heavier bike, I can't go as fast. Being forced to slow down was good as this has been my goal for the last two years. I find myself falling back into the mindset of needing to keep the speed up, so riding the hybrid forced me to just settle in and let the miles slowly pass by. The two days on the hybrid are two of my favorite rides so far this summer.

Now, only two weeks of my summer self-contained ride remain. Two weeks. I try not to think about being nearly finished, inching closer to having to return to work. To help with this, I've been immersing myself in fun projects. I made a wind chime out of Grey Goose bottles for a friend. Out of the 16 bottles she gave me to work with, I managed to get 5 with clean cuts. The rest ended up with cracks running up or down from the score, making them throwaways. From the discards, I played a bit with cutting some rings and firing them in the new microwave kiln I purchased, but that was a total fail. The bottle's glass is so thick there's no way to melt it down in the little kiln I bought. The glass broke inside the kiln and left a brown ring on the kiln base. The wind chime I managed to put together is kind of cool. My friend's reaction when I sent her a picture of it was, "Gorgeous!"

I also turned my attention to making refrigerator pickles out of the cucumbers piled high on the kitchen island. I've been going on the idea that my family doesn't like pickles. Every time I buy them, they sit in the fridge and end up being thrown out two years after they were opened. Then, Funny Delightful Son informed me the other day that he, in fact, does like pickles and doesn't know why I don't buy them. So I searched for an easy recipe, one that didn't involve water baths or pressure cookers. I found a simple one and set to work. Most of the cukes are now pickles. This morning, I cracked open a jar of pickles to try them. Let's just say I had a tough time not sitting down and eating the entire jar right then and there. Not quite the reaction from Funny Delightful Son, though. He tried one and said, "Too sweet." What?!? So it looks like I'll be eating the pickles all by myself.

With still more cucumbers on my kitchen island, I decided to try a recipe for cucumber ginger jelly. The reviews of the recipe raved about how delicious the jelly is with cream cheese on crackers, so being the cream cheese lover that I am, I had to see if the reviews were true. When the process was over, and the jelly in the jars, I swiped a finger through what remained in the pot. The slight ginger pop along with the soothing cucumber create a very tasty combination, the kind that makes one say, "Ohhhhh, that's good." I encouraged Funny Delightful Son and his girlfriend to taste the jelly. Both looked at me like I was asking them to suck on lemons. That look vanished, however, as soon as the jelly crossed their lips. Both smiled, enjoying the surprise that is cucumber ginger jelly. Then, Lovely Beautiful Daughter and her boyfriend sampled the jelly. They, too, exclaimed over the deliciousness. When I offered them a jar of the jelly to take home with them, the boyfriend was quick to take the jar. I'm thinking another round of cucumber ginger jelly might be in order.

With the cucumbers taken care of, I turned my attention to the basil. This is the first summer I put the basil in one of the raised beds rather than in a pot. I'm glad I made the change. I've never had such beautiful basil plants before. Like last year and the year before, I'll dry some of it, but I also wanted to do something more with the leaves. I found a pesto recipe and got to work. Funny Delightful Son sat at the bar, watching me try to figure out the food processor, mostly laughing at my inability to put the lid on correctly, and Angel Baby came down to watch after getting a whiff of the pine nuts roasting on the stove. When I removed the lid after combining all the ingredients, both boys tested the concoction and approved. We ended up making pesto-mozzarella grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, and I had plenty of pesto left to put into an ice cube tray for freezing and using later. I'm already thinking about a noodle, roasted tomato and mushroom, pesto dish for dinner tomorrow.

I'm pretty happy with figuring out what to do with the cucumbers. I really didn't want them to just end up in the compost box. I want to preserve what I grow, and I am getting much better at it, but I still have a lot to learn. With the tomatoes starting to ripen, I'll be busy preserving them in a variety of ways, hopefully putting different kinds of sauces in our freezer. Who knows, maybe one cold winter day, we'll be eating chili made from my garden tomatoes along with crackers spread with cream cheese and cucumber jelly.


Cathy said...

The freezer is a simple way to preserve. I tend to make several batches of pesto in the summer (but I cheat and swap out ingredients...cashews instead of pricey pine nuts, nutritional yeast instead of cheese [a swap from my vegan days] and sometimes adding kale or spinach to the basil to bulk it up). I like to freeze bigger batches in zip lock bags...enough to be the base of a homemade pizza in winter time.

One of my fave summertime uses for pesto? Pesto pasta with pan fried zucchini slices and tomatoes from the garden...and goat cheese. Yes!

and that cuc-ginger jelly sounds AMAZING. If you make more, please reserve a small jar for me. I'll think of something to barter with. Maybe a ball of frozen homemade pizza dough? Or, some acorn squash (when there are done on the vine...)

JK said...

Great ideas. I'm so new at this I don't think about swapping out ingredients. Makes complete sense, though.

I am definitely making more cuc-ginger jelly. I have a fresh batch of cucumbers with more to be picked in the next few days. I will put your name on a jar or two. :) I also made chile pepper jelly today if you'd like a jar of it.

More pesto in order, too. The basil this year is awesome and I don't want to lose it.

Cathy said...

Are you growing carrots? You can make carrot top pesto too...

JK said...

I did, but they've mostly run their course. I have just a few left that I thought I'd let go all summer to see just how big they might get. :)