Monday, August 31, 2009

Adventures in food preservation

Some of you know, others of you are not going to be surprised to learn, that I am one of a slightly contrary personality. Thus, I am prone to making decisions based on 'bucking the system' rather than any other reason. Some of the decisions have landed me in hot water....... Others have blessed me beyond comprehension. Those of you that know my hubby, know that marrying him turned out to be a decision falling in this second category. Another of these decisions was to run as fast as I could from that freakishly happy yellow smiling bouncy ball......

A couple of years ago I decided to start transitioning towards being two things: being much more self-reliant in feeding my family and to eat more seasonably/locally. After all, I reasoned, I'm a college educated idiot, errr I mean horticulturist, and I can grow anything. Right?!?! Hee hee hee.... I realized quickly, that the latter was not going to be possible without learning A LOT of the former!!! And so I set out to learn the art of food preservation.

And let's be clear about one thing; It is an art form. It is not for the faint of heart. I have not had anything spoil or make anybody sick, but I have made a couple of things that, as my mother would say "Taste like butt"!! I have also made a very impressive disaster of my kitchen on a fairly regular basis, as I am not an organized nor a neat cook by nature.

My food drying experiences have not just haven't been good experiences. Someday I'll revisit that. But not in the near future, as my ego just can't take that.

However, canning did come to me fairly easily and I LOVE IT!!!! Although to be honest I come from 'Mormon stock' (as someone once put it) and spent many a hot summer and fall day with my depression-era British grandmother, canning everything she saw fit to consume. On that same note, though, I should tell you that like every bratty (insert ungrateful) child, I did NOT pay attention..... Thus my canning 'adventures' as a grown-up!!!

This year, as the season progresses I will post some of my favorite and/or new recipes for you to contemplate. I have also decided, I think, that this will be my last year using store-bought pectin. I believe that making your own jams and stuff, using this pectin, is better than buying commercial. However, through some research I think I've decided to go the agar route in the future. If any of you out there have tried this and have tips that you'd be willing to share I would be an incredibly thankful Manic Girlie Farmer! Thanks in advance!!!!

Your favorite farmer,

Raspberry Jalapeno Jam

It's berry season. I LOVE berry season!!!! Ok, so strawberry season is over, but Raspberries, Blackberries and Huckleberries, etc. are all in season. Berry season in my house means one thing: JAM. And boy, do we go through a lot. I have a 13 year old son who eats a PB&J sandwich (along with everything else he can get his hands on) every single day!! It's my mom's fault, I'm sure of it. She hooked him on freezer jam when he was 7 or 8 and he's eaten a sandwich a day since then.

This year I decided to make a couple of new jams, along with my old stand-bys..... I don't really care for spicy food, but the following recipe caught me by surprise. It's wonderful!!!

4 3/4 C. crushed Red Raspberries
1/4 C. finely chopped deribbed, seeded, jalapeno peppers
1 T. lemon juice
1 pkg. regular powdered fruit pectin
7 C. granulated sugar, divided
1/2 tsp. unsalted butter (optional)

*Combine raspberries, peppers and lemon juice in stockpot.
*Combine pectin and 1/4 C. sugar is separate bowl, stir into berry/pepper mixture, add butter.
*Stirring constantly, bring to boil, add remaining sugar, return to full rolling boil & boil for 1 continuous minute.
*Remove from heat, skim foam, let set for 5 minutes.
*Pour into hot jars with 1/4" head space. Remove air bubbles, wipe rim & threads clean. Put on lids and bands.
*Put jars in water bath canner, cover with at least 1" water, process at gentle boil: 4-8 oz jars for 10 minutes, pint jars for 15 minutes. Adjust for altitude if needed.
*Cool jars on wire rack or cloth towel for 24 hours, check seals, identify & store.

Viola! Wonderfully sweet and spicy jam. I have made this recipe exactly like this and the flavor is excellent with very little heat. I have also made this recipe, seeding the peppers but careful to leave as much ribbing as possible. This results in a MUCH spicier jam, good for giving to hot-headed friends for Christmas... As always, remember to wear protective gloves while preparing your peppers. or OUCH!!

I have also made this recipe by substituting blackberries for the raspberries and cutting the sugar slightly. If you like blackberries, it is wonderful!!


Monday, July 20, 2009

The joys of farmer laundry.......

I have consistently recurring eczema. Have had since I was a teenager. It runs in my family. Last year I got a pretty bad outbreak on the palms of my hands. Then I got a yeast-type fungal infection in the same location. Yeah, imagine that. If you know anything about skin problems you'll know that you typically treat eczema with steroids (which exacerbate fungal infections) and treat fungal infections with other stuff (that inflames eczema). So I found myself in a serious lose-lose scenario. Insert rolling eyes here.....

Anyway, after a while I started doing some research on homeopathic eczema remedies and found myself reading more and more about eczema being caused by hidden skin and/or food allergies. Seemed to me that the easiest first step would be to try a different laundry soap. But which one? I did a little more reading and found some recipes to do it at home. Turns out it's sooo much easier than I thought AND it's really inexpensive.

By popular demand I am posting my recipe for homemade laundry soap. I will explain the use of vinegar afterwards. If you have any questions you can e-mail me or post a comment! :0)

Laundry soap recipe:
1 quart (4 C.) water
2 C. grated bar soap
2 C. Borax
2 C. Washing Soda

*You will need a pretty big pan.
*Bring water to a boil.
*Add finely grated bar soap. Stir until bar soap is melted. You can leave the stove burner on low if you want while the soap is melting. Shut heat off completely.
*Add Borax and Washing Soda. Stir until all is dissolved. Or at least pretty close.
*Add 2 gallons of water, stir until well mixed. In my experience it works better to add hot water rather than cold. Hot water from the tap works well for me.
*Put into final, covered, container.
*Use between 1/4 C. (city-folk dose) and !/2 C. (farmer dose) per load.

Notes to help you: I usually double this recipe. Doubled, it makes enough laundry soap to last my family of 4-5 approximately 5.5 months. I recruited family members to give me their old liquid laundry detergent containers (with the pour spout) to store my laundry soap in. Rinse them really well if you're trying this because of skin allergies.... Gallon sized vinegar bottles work well too! You can use whatever type of bar soap you want. The options that were given to me were: Fels-Naptha, Ivory soap, Sunlight bar soap, Kirk's Hardwater Castile and Zote. I, personally, have not had good luck with Ivory and have had the BEST luck with Fels-Naptha. Here is the Boise area I have had a hard time locating Fels-Naptha and Washing Soda. I did finally find a consistent supply at Fred Meyer, in the laundry aisle. Also, my friend tried to use beauty bars, like 'Dove' once with disastrous results.....

Oh, and if the load of laundry is particularly nasty, I add 2 T. or so of Baking Soda.

I also quit using all fabric softeners. No 'Downy' in the washer or sheets in the dryer. Instead I use 1/2 C. or so of plain ol' white vinegar in my washer. I'm lucky enough to have a front loading washer with a 'fabric softener' dispenser and so I just put my vinegar in there. My friend uses it in a downy ball, though, and it works great for her too. It really does a great job! I have very thick, very coarse, VERY prone-to-static hair and vinegar keeps the static to a bare minimum. It does as good a job as 'Downy' or 'Bounce' ever did. Remember, too, that vinegar is naturally anti-microbial. I don't use bleach anymore, except in dire occasions, and my whites are bright as ever. Vinegar is my new hero, it's super cheap and super natural!

Also, depending on my mood, I sometimes scent my laundry soap and/or vinegar with essential oils. And it varies with the season..... This time of year, during the summer, mint is my scent of choice. I like earthy or 'baking' type scents in the fall and winter, cinnamon or cloves or whatever. And in the spring I LOVE citrus scents, lemon or grapefruit. I use 10-15 drops of oil per gallon of laundry soap or vinegar. If you want to get fancy: I keep a gallon of vinegar scented with lavender for sheets and stuff....

As a final note: Vinegar, with or without essential oil, in a spray bottle makes a great non-chemical option to 'Febreeze'. I have three huge water dogs (that spend a lot of time indoors), two teenagers and the hubby and I both work outdoors. Vinegar spray does a great job of getting rid of yukky smells...... I just spray it on soft surfaces and as it dries the vinegar smell disappears with the yukky wet-dog-smell (or whatever) and I am left with the softest scent of whatever I scented the vinegar with.....

The secret benefit to making your own laundry supplies is the knowledge that there is one less thing in the world that you are reliant upon the corporate machine for. That alone, makes me smile every time I load my washing machine! ;0)

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Plant-Geek and the Camera....

I recently stole an idea from a family member & made the mid-year resolution to spend one afternoon (1-2 hours) a week with my camera **Thanks Sandy!!**. Sounds easy, but turns out it's harder than I expected. There's always so much to do..... blah, blah, blah....

This week I believe I have found the key to accomplishing this task. For you see, I spend many of my Monday mornings in a pensive or broody mood. I'm not really sure why. Maybe it's just because it's Monday... Maybe it's because my weekends are pretty hairy... Maybe it's because it's my first piece of solitude in a good couple of days... Whatever the reason, it's my typical mood for a good couple of hours. Today it occurred to me to try and lift the mood by doing something just for me for a couple of hours. Then, of course, what to do...... what to do......

AAHH HHAAHH!!!! I'll go play with my camera!!!!! YAY! My husband gave me an incredible camera for Christmas last year. It's an Olympus E-510. It's this cool little D-SLR. To be honest, I'm still learning how to use the damn thing! Besides taking pictures of my kids, my favorite thing to do with it is to play with the macro-photo settings and take plant geek pictures. I even bought a set of Promaster magnifying filters for it.

Here are a few of the pictures that I took today. I'll include what type of flower they are and any goofy things I know about them.....

This first one's a Hollyhock, no surprise there. I know, I know it's such an old fuddy duddy in the horticulture world. But I just love these flowers. They're big and bold, they feed pollinators prolifically, they're so tropical feeling and they plant themselves. I do rip out a lot of seedlings of these little guys every year, but I don't mind that! I get to be surprised this time of year when the buds start to open and I get to see what colors they've been hiding. For you see, my hollyhocks are heirloom varieties and open pollinate. I started with three colors: white, pastel pink and a really dark purple/black. This year so far I've been treated to a white and a magenta pink. Last year I had a couple of peach ones and a really red one. Stunning.

This second one is bright, bright, bright, bright, bright. It's a Moonbeam Yarrow. Yarrow is native for us, as many of you might know. But if you put it in your flower beds it will often take over and crowd out many other plants. This is a nice compromise. This hybrid yarrow hasn't moved from it's original spot in my yard. The foliage is bigger and gray-er and the flowers are lemon yellow. It's my intention to move a couple of dark purple flowering salvias over here this fall. I think that will just be beautiful!! Yarrow is fantastic for that hot, hot, hot space that you don't really want to water much. Also, deer and other wildlife don't eat it. Hardy everywhere!!

I HEART Columbine! Don't you? We used to eat the native variety of this species when we were kids. I have the greatest memories of my sister and I sucking out the little honey ends in the mountains of Atlanta (ID). This one seeds a little, but not bad. It prefers a mostly sunny position with some afternoon shade. The afternoon shade is what will give you a prolific blooming season. Too much shade, though, and it will grow too tall and fall over when the flowers start to appear. If anyone has a yellow/red native one or a yellow or blue columbine, I have a couple extra that I would swap!!

I just love taking pictures. Hopefully I'll be able to keep this weekly thing going & then I can show you the silly things I think are important! ;)

*jenn ;)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hit By A Farm by Catherine Friend

Many of you know that I can be rather broody at times. Ever the internalist, one day I was arguing with myself as to whether I really was answering my calling.... Anyway, I happened to be in a thrift store (my version of retail therapy) and ran across this book. It had never been read. I remember thinking that I would probably never get time to read it either (remember, broody mood), but with a title like that (and for only $0.49) I thought "What the hay, maybe someday".
Then we got all this rain........ I spent a lot of it being productive, but then decided God was giving me a vacation. So, I picked up the last book I had bought. "....a thoroughly engaging romp for all." That was the first review I read about this book before I started it. Hhhmmm, what an interesting thing to say. I wondered if it was really a compliment. I still don't know, but it was definitely accurate.

This book had me laughing out loud, then smiling sheepishly, then giggling like a little girl, then sobbing with compassion and empathy, then back to laughing out loud, rolling my eyes, etc., etc. What a great read!! This book WAS definitely engaging from the first page to the last page.... I even read the acknowledgements.

Catherine Friend is a children's book writer by trade. Her style of writing spoke to me. Does that make me a child???? Well, anyway.... Catherine and her long-time partner decide to buy some land and start a farm. Not just any farm, a sheep farm. Whew....enough said! I have never raised sheep, but have heard the stories..... Thanks to this book, I can now say that I don't raise sheep because of my 'educated opinion'. Ha!!

The book is written in short chapter style. Each chapter is a "story" about an event on their farm. Catherine writes of the first 4 years on this farm and the joys and sorrows that went with it... Sheep, Llamas, chickens, geese, ducks, dogs, grapes, tractors.... this book has it all.
I have many a conversation with my customers about our farm. Lots of these conversations include a little giggle about the "romanticising" of small acreage farming. It really is hard to explain to people that next to parenting, this is the most heart-breaking yet elating job I have ever had. The valleys and peaks are ginormous. Ms. Friend does a great job of guiding the reader through her sorrows and celebrations.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves the idea of farming or who grew up on a farm, but left with good reasons. It's a crack-up!! It's a quick read, probably even a beach read. Watch out 'Egg Girls' you may be getting this book for Christmas!
Finally though, I think it bears mentioning that this book helped me reaffirm that I love what I do, even if I'm not always good at it. Ms. Friend shares her biggest mistakes and sorrows. That's tough. She made me believe, again, that all things will turn out just fine. Thanks Catherine.

;) jenn

P.S. I just found out that the same author has written a book called The Compassionate Carnivore. Anyone read it? Can I borrow it? Maybe the library'll have it!!

What's all the buzz about?

It's everywhere. Fliers on my rig, billboards, e-mails, facebook postings; I mean it's EVERYWHERE. And, in my opinion, for good reason. I am totally on board with this concept. Actually, I think I was raised to be on-board with this concept. Except that my poor dad had no idea this was a 'concept'; it's just the way things are done.

That sums up my take on the eat local movement. DUH..... it's just the way it's done -- or should be done. The frustrating thing about this movement is that many people have always eaten/shopped this way. Those who stuck by the 'old ways' haven't gotten credit for it either. So, I'm giving them their due now. My grandmother always told me that she thought there was something odd about eating things like fresh grapes in the dead of winter. As a child I thought she was just cheap. But as a teenager this mantra snuck in & took hold. For there is something creepy about the American NEED to be able to eat whatever, whenever.... just 'cause.

So, as promised, in this post I'll give you a few places to check out. And of course, as you've all gotten to know, I'll include my ever-prolific opinions along the way....

The first site I'll start with is new to me. I got the referral from a county extension agent in Canyon County, Ariel Agenbroad. The site is called and it is pretty cool. They have a lot of informational pages. They even have a "15 Step Guide to Becoming a Locavore". Brilliant!! i may just distribute that one. Lots of information that's presented in a non-pretentious way. The only bummer is that it is not a local site. It's also a pretty young site. Their building a great network and eventually it will be phenomenal.

The second site you might check out is This is a great organization for those of you who live IN Boise. They're very pro-active, out-going and lovable people. They are organized and efficient in their outreach. I really like this group. My only grievance with this site is that they are VERY limited in their range. The focus of this group is heavy on the shopper side, light on the eater side. They limit their functions and business members to those in Boise. Fantastic concept, but it's pretty hard to get Boise raised beef or poultry because technically it's illegal to have them in city limits. And those that do manage to keep their livestock in town barely have enough to feed their family... Catch my drift?

Next check out This is a fantastic site for farm hook-ups! You can search for public markets, CSA's, farms, etc. There are newsletters that will let you know what is happening in your area too; new farms, events, etc. You can search for specific products or just for farms in a radius from your home/work. Again, my only bummer is that it is not a local site. But this is my favorite national site, by far. You can even rate the farm you buy from or visited. And trust me, farmers love to have their ego's stroked by eaters!!! You can find my farm here: is a site run by our own Idaho Department of Agriculture. I like the people in this office. Their hearts and intentions are the purest! The site will help you find what's in season now and where you can most-likely get it. There are great recipes to help you with your garden over-load, too. I do wish that the Dept. of Ag kept it a little more updated, but they're under a budget crunch too.... so, I'm 'being happy with what I can get'!

Finally, my favorite site is Rural Roots is a fantastic organization based in Moscow, ID. They really do a superb job of connecting eaters to producers, but also in connecting producers with producers. They support small-farm ag in a way and on a level that no one else does. They're always available for referrals and questions. They organize fantastic workshops and put out really great written materials. They even help us little guys keep an eye on the government and they're ever-wayward ideas. This is just a really lovely organization. Their outreach is great. THEY'RE JUST STINKIN' AWESOME!!!! My farmer friend, Mary, turned me on to them and I owe her for that. My only wish would be that they have a searchable internet database for eaters to find us, but I think I heard a rumor that that is coming... I'll let you know when I know more!


Sunday, June 14, 2009

It's not too late!

Good morning! I wanted to write quickly this morning and remind everyone that it is not too late! It's not too late to grow a garden this year. Most of what most of us eat and enjoy growing are warm season varieties: peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, melons, etc. All of these things thrive when it gets hot. So actually, planting now is not a bad idea. It's cool enough still that your plants will adjust to their new homes easily. The hot weather that they thrive in is still to come, so no problems there! And the added benefit is that most reputable nurseries (see locally owned & operated) are looking to clearance out their veggies.

I say: Plant on!!! Get out there & score some great deals on veggie starts or put your seeds in the ground (cucumbers, squash, melons, etc.). Don't give up because you think you missed your window.

And this goes double for those of you that wanted to put in container gardens. Because your soil will warm quickly and your ecosystem is much more manipulable, you've got time.... But get on it! There is nothing in the world like eating the fruits of YOUR labor!

Of course, if you don't get it done or don't want to get it done, there are plenty of local farmers around to help you feed your family the best tasting pesticide-free, low-carbon footprint veggies, meats and dairy this season!

My next post will delve into the websites and organizations around that can help you locate conscientious, local farmers/producers.

See you next time,


**top pic is of a blossom off of one of my Blue Hubbard Squash plants. The second pic is of our first cucumber this season... early little guy! Tasted Great!!!!!!