Thursday, August 30, 2007


While no weekend activities can compete with Lucia's canning extravaganza (61 pounds of tomatoes - utterly insane), I have a few recommendations from the past week.
  1. Fish fry at Avenue Bar. I went there for fish during Lent last year, and we went back last Friday for the benefit of a friendly visitor from the South. They offer boiled and fried options, with the fried cod having won multiple "best of" awards. The reputation is deserved. The atmosphere is appropriately Wisconsin supperclub kitschy, as well. There is always a crowd on weekend - make reservations or go early.
  2. Community gardens. Saturday morning, I rode my bike 20 miles on the annual Bike Tour of Community Gardens sponsored by the Community Action Coalition. This summer's Wednesday Latino Garden program took place in the Marlborough Park garden. That's where the tour ended up this year, so it was exciting to join in. The gardens are beautiful, and there is a real sense of community there. No matter where you live in Madison, there is one near your house. Go take a stroll through sometime before harvest ends. You'll see people from many different countries, vegetables you've never heard of before, and kids who don't have a lot of access to open space running around and doing manual labor with their families or playing with their friends. Fabulous. As a bonus, I got to ride my bike next to Mayor Dave and translate for him at our Evenstart garden. He is Midwestern nice, as advertised.
  3. Orton Park Festival. Yet another Eastside festival with the usual assortment of food, beer, good music, and fabulous people-watching. The performance by Cycropia aerial dance theater was ... interesting. There were a few numbers, particularly an athletic throwing-about on trapeze by two men that was amazing. But, there was also much birds-on-stilts 'BRAWKKING' during the ten-minute breaks between each number, much blocking of views by annoying children or their kneeling parents, and some less impressive acts. On balance, I feel that the experience would be better in a theater with proper sightlines, lighting, and equipment and without the abrupt juxtaposition of Interpretive Art to beer-and-blues-bands. There is only one more festival left this year - the Willy Street Fair September 15-16. I will have attended all of the festivals except the Atwood one this year. Next year I will get my act together and bat 1.000.
  4. Mirror Lake State Park. Due to planning negligence on my part, backpacking adventures were cancelled this weekend. We went hiking as a sad substitute. We eschewed perennial favorite, and probably very crowded, Devil's Lake for its near neighbor Mirror Lake. Mirror Lake has some nice hiking/skiing/mountain biking trails, a tannin-filled lake, and apparently a lot of camping spaces. It lacked the physical challenge of lugging up Devil's Lake bluffs, as well as the views verging on grandeur, but it was a lovely, pleasant place to hike for an afternoon. Also, it's close by and I think we ran into maybe two people on the trails the whole time, rather than playing dodge-hiker like you do on weekends at Devil's Lake.
  5. Jada's Soul Food. I had a meeting off of South Park Street last night, and a couple of people mentioned this place. I'd heard glowing reviews before and felt not at all like cooking, so I stopped by on my way home to get takeout. The place is not fancy - a few fold-out tables and chairs covered with plastic tablecloths ala church dinner, a pool table with "No Profanity" and "No Gambling" signs displayed by the cue rack, and some, well, soulful music on the CD player. The man who took my order was incredibly polite. It took 15 minutes to cook the chicken, but OMG was it worth it. I'm a notorious chicken-avoider, but I wasn't quite up for catfish or chitlins yet. (If I'm going to eat meat, it's got to be on par with bacon or it ain't worth it.) Enter the best chicken I've ever had. Seriously. Still blazing hot when I got home, I devoured it. Fabulous batter, juicy, juicy, juicy on the inside. The mac-and-cheese side was also excellent, though it got to be a little rich at the end. This may have been due to my general excessive fullness. The greens were OK, but bland. Throw some bacon fat in there and you'd have yourself some mean greens. The next time I have a rich food/grease craving/bad day, I'm going here. And only eating half of my meal at a sitting so I don't spend the rest of the night in a digestive stupor. Yummm!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Canning Chronicles - Pressure Canning

As mentioned last week, I bought a pressure canner at Farm and Fleet. So this weekend I was going to get down to business and use it!

The problem was I only had about 10 tomatoes from my own 3 tomato plants:

August 2007 201
My backup, Rick's garden, was hit hard by the heavy rains and resulting tomato splitting. This meant not much of a harvest there.

I found a pick your own vegetables farm:

Rick and I went together. It was AMAZING! There is no reason to feel guilty ever again that I don't grow enough of my own vegetables. In fact, there was a lot of guilt about the amount of veggies going bad in the field.

I had a great time. Rick had a great time. Possibly too much of a good time. The receipt says we bought:
August 2007 176
Tomatoes: 61 lbs, Cabbage 12 lbs, Cucumbers 6 lbs, Hot peppers 6lbs, 4 eggplants, 1 Bittermelon (anyone know what this is or what to do with it???) and then something I can't identify on the receipt: HOTY 11.3 lbs.

Besides being a bear to carry up the stairs into the kitchen (why can't I figure out how to make the dogs into pack animals?), ummm, what in the world was I thinking... 61lbs of tomatoes!

Rick and I spent Saturday evening doing the exact same thing over and over and over:
1) wash tomatoes
2) blanch tomatoes in boiling water
3) plunge tomatoes into ice water (note for you want to be canners: you need a lot of ice. If you run out of ice, those frozen ice packs do just fine. If those all get defrosted on you, then feel free to use the multicolored plastic ice that came with your summer cocktail mixing set.)
4) peel tomatoes and core them
5) chop tomatoes
6) cook tomatoes into a sauce

Some pictures from our processing night:
August 2007 179August 2007 185
August 2007 194August 2007 187

Sunday - ah, the easy part, right? canning.
Here is what I did - (after going to Farm and Fleet to get 2 more cases of jars, 5 gallons of cider vinegar, a Tide sized box of canning salt, mustard seed and dill seed)
1) start sterilizing jars in dishwasher
2) start huge vat of boiling water
3) clean cucumbers for pickles (those buggers get real dirty)
4) set all clean cans out on "canning station" table
4.5) feel good about how beautiful everything is in my kitchen
5) start heating up all the tomato sauces, salsas and stewed tomatoes from yesterday
5.5) remember that I have two cantelope that MUST be "processed" somehow today
6) get a bit overwhelmed at number of things on the counter!
7) cut cantelope, spread on baking sheet and put in freezer
8) cut up all the cucumbers, stuff into jars
8.5) get distressed about number of jars of cucumbers. There are two more jars than planned for! I fear some cucumbers aren't going to make it into the promised land of pickledom.

August 2007 196August 2007 198
August 2007 197

Once the cantelope departed into the freezer, and the sauces were boiling it was time to get started. Soon, the table of clean jars turned into this:
August 2007 205
Notice that George and Deuce have morphed into vigilant jar herding dogs. They have rounded these all up into a tight pack. Only one was lost in the night to a poor seal.

At this point in the evening I am very proud of myself. and exhausted.

The most beautiful picture and yet the most depressing still awaits. The remaining bounty:
August 2007 200

this is all still sitting on my table. I was too tired to do anything with them...oh, and my original tomatoes on the porch are still out there too! eek.

The final haul:
6 P and 1 Q of dill pickles
3 Q of spaghetti sauce
9 P of salsa (4 mild and 5 spicy)-all yellow
8 Q of stewed tomatoes (and 1 pint of lonely leftovers from each pot :)
3 Ziploc bags of frozen cantelope

The casualties: 1 broken glass jar, 1 quart jar of pickles had to be thrown away (lack of dill seed, never doing that again!),

Leftovers: more salt and cider vinegar than I know what to do with, all those vegetables on the table, hot peppers (Rick is going to make a sauce of some sort. I was pretty exasperated as he picked 6 lbs of tiny little hot peppers, I wasn't going to delve too far into what his plans were for them), and then of course the mysterious 11lbs of HOTY.

Final call- Fun, very fun. But could be enhanced by breaking it out over a couple more days, and including wine and some friends to entertain me.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Canning - it is the hippest old woman thing to do since knitting

I couldn't have written the canning post half as good as 11Frogs. It was a masterpiece.
However, I will tell you that I spent the week telling everyone at my customer site about how I was canning this weekend and would be doing it next weekend too. They were a bit surprised I think. (I am a real ball buster at work...)

I also experienced this bizarre high all week from the knowledge that I stored food for the winter. My insides get all squishy and I get a little wild eyed thinking about what I will do with my pressure canner this weekend. I may or may not be a giant squirrel.

I even woke up in the middle of the night in my hotel room this week worried that because I put oil in my recipe my canning would be ruined (as I read another recipe that strongly warned against it). But, I looked up the recipe and it said oil so I am fine.

Domesticity is cool. If the country's infrastructure is destroyed I feel confident that I can live off the land. (with the help of a close by Farm and Fleet store).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Kind of exactly the opposite of roaming

More like very tightly gripping the very essence of home and this moment of summer, grinding it all up, boiling the hell out of it, and sealing it in a jar to enjoy next winter. Or next Tuesday, as the case may be. Ni modo. The moral of the story is: We took up canning, and it's awesome.

Two weeks ago when I went home to meet the babies, I helped my aunt (the one who has a garden measuring in acres and can feed 200+ people with no problem) can salsa and pickles. I also snapped a five gallon bucket of beans - the big ones for garlic-pickled beans (yum!) and the small ones for canning. Lessons:

  1. My aunt is goddess-like in the food realm and makes the best refrigerator pickles EVER.
  2. The canning process itself is very easy. Basically, you just boil some jars of food.
  3. Getting food ready to put in the jars is a whole lotta work and a ginormous pain in the ass.
I came back on a mission, and the Universe supported me. Jars at Goodwill for 15 and 25 cents apiece. A tomato U-pick scheduled at our CSA farm for this week. And the clincher: while waiting for my laundry to dry one morning last week, I gaze across the mounds of stuff in the basement and, alas, in the distance I see a ray of light shining down upon my neighbor's canning kettle ripe for the borrowing. Clearly, this was meant to be.

And so Saturday morning found Wintergypsy and I foraging tomatoes, hot peppers, a buttload of basil, tomatillos, and a stray eggplant and squash or two from our CSA farm and the quickly overgrowing garden from the program I volunteered at this summer. Lucia foraged from her and a friend's backyard and the farmers' market.

This was my starting supply o' produce. Ridiculous.

Sunday morning, we each slaved over our respective stoves. I made tomato salsa, green tomatillo salsa, and spaghetti sauce. This took me about four hours of chopping and boiling. Lucia make spaghetti sauce and cherry tomato salsa. Wintergypsy made tomato salsa, spaghetti sauce, and some pesto (for eating/freezing, not canning). Spaghetti sauce takes FOREVER to cook down.

We then gathered at my house to encase the food in jars. In typical Lucia fashion, there was none of this halfway, try-it-out, used, borrowed b.s. for her. Oh, no, she took the Farm & Fleet canning section by storm and bought a canning kettle, pressure canner, and sundry jars, lids and canning tools. The lil' magnet jobby-do for picking the lids out of the boiling water was the cutest.

We sanitized (well, mostly) jars and lids, heated our food back up, and popped several batches in the canner. 15-20 minutes for salsas, 30-35 minutes for spaghetti sauce. With our expected organizational glitches in the timing of the various heatings and fillings and sanitizing, particularly the "sanitize" cycle on my dishwasher, this took us nearly 4 hours.

After the ladies left, I proceeded to make a buttload of pesto. The limiting reagent turned out to be the cheese.
2-1/2 hours later - a full 11 hours after I started cooking - I had a bowl full of green gold. And that was without the several hours of work the ladies saved me earlier by picking all my basil off the plants for me. Yeesh.

It may not look like much, but the final results of all our efforts looked like a masterpiece to me:

And my reward meal of sweet cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and pesto, which was so summerly sublime I almost cried.

Lucia is making the leap from water bath canning into pressure canning this weekend. The adventure continues ...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sweet Corn

It was raining. It was muddy. It was 58 degrees. It was not enough to stop four girls from getting their fill of sweet corn and cheap beer.

Once again, the Sun Prairie Sweet Corn Festival proved worth the drive (especially since it's so much closer for me in my new house). Who doesn't love getting their own corn, having it hand rolled in butter my teenage girls, and salting it from a giant tree of salt shakers?

Since I didn't get any pictures (if I had, I'm not sure anyone would've felt they missed out), so in memory, here are some shots from last year:

This time, however, we did add a stop to a local Sun Prairie dive on the way out of town. Can't recall the name of the bar, but they had a rockin' jukebox and made great Old Fashions. Mmmmm, Brandy....

Monday, August 13, 2007

a blog for Kitty to check out

I have decided that when I feel like crap I will find something on the internet that makes me laugh.

for instance this morning, when I am so sick I am taking a sick day and missing a flight to my second home, and yet staying awake (albeit moaning audibly) for two work calls. The first one at 730am, the jerks organizing the call never gave any call in info and then didn't bother calling me either. then, my 8am with a customer... it is 30 minutes later and still no call despite emails and VMs. sigh.

So, I found the blog above. It reminds me very strongly of Kitty, in fact, I think that she needs to get on the website redesign, as her current one is not at all "her".

The line that made me laugh:
So, there I was, bored with nothing to do when a guy sits next to me and busts out a portable DVD player. I couldn’t see what movie he put into the player, but I knew one thing: Someone sits next to me with a portable DVD player, then I hope they want some company, cuz I’m watching what they’re watching.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Canoe Trip, cont.

More pictures from the Great Wisconsin River Canoe Trip of 2007.

The whole crew, sans moi. Funny how disposable cameras don't come with little timers.

You can't get much more relaxed than this.

Cherry pit spitting contest, featuring Honeyweiss.


We fought the sun, and the sun won.

There are also several hilarious pictures of the Divine Miss M in various states of undress mid-river, but one mustn't post photos of one's female friends in their skivvies on the Internet, however amusing they may be.