Category Archives: Food

Tomato Canning – My Favorite Tips

As we start getting more tomatoes than we can eat, I sauce them in the food processor and put the sauce in half gallon ice cream containers in the freezer. When we run out of freezer space, it’s time to can! If you’re new to canning tomatoes, here’s the official instructions.

This year we also picked up three boxes of canning tomatoes (read: busted and bruised) at the end of the farmers market for $10.

I DO NOT: take off seeds and skins. I’m sure they’re full of nutrients, but more importantly, I don’t mind a chunky sauce and un-chunking the sauce is a serious amount of work.

I bring the tomato sauce to a simmer and let them simmer till they are reduced by a third to a half. This takes an evening-ish? It makes the whole house and sometimes the yard smell like tomato sauce and heats the kitchen up into a fabulous tomato sauna, which I’m sure is great for my skin.  I add salt and herbs, plus sometimes garlic and onions and oil, though I don’t always bother. Tomatoes are high acid, so you don’t need to pressure can them unless you add a bunch of stuff, so I keep it simple.

Aaaand the last jar cracks. That's cool! #canning #tomatoesWhen it’s time to can, I put the washed jars in the oven at 210 degrees to sanitize them. I used to pre-boil the jars to sanitize them, but this takes FOREVER and is MISERABLE. Most of our canning jars are old vegenaise jars, with some of my Grandma’s jars mixed in and a few new Ball Jars.

I re-use jar lids 2-3 times if they are free of rust, dents, dings, etc. I’ve never had a seal fail on a re-used lid! I spent a lot of time reading about re-using lids before I braved it, and the consensus was either: “No never — you will die if you re-use a lid!” and “Eh, I do it, and I’m alive!” My personality falls into the lazy camp, but you do what you like!

Sometimes the vegenaise/mayo jars crack, but mostly it is the new Ball jars. My grandma’s old jars are totally diesel and amazing.

The last thing is, I am fond of dissolvable labels. Ball makes some – pictured – but they sometimes dissolve in humidity and lose their sticky before you put them on the jar – this is annoying. I want to try out some new brands if anyone has tried others. It’s so lovely when the labels dissolve right off the jar in water.

24 quarts of tomato sauce. Was 25. I like the Ball Dissolvable labels. None of the precious #vegenaise jars cracked!

How to Process Amaranth

We planted Hopi Red  Dye Amaranth this year and last year. It’s SUCH a beautiful plant and probably our most asked about plant. It gets about 6-7 feet tall with no fuss. I think it’s a great plant just as a decorative xeriscaping. But it’s also edible! And hot pink!

Amaranth July 2012

It does however, crowd and re-seed a bit vigorously, but it’s not that hard to pull out or mow when it’s small. You can eat the scarlet leaves raw when it’s small, and eat them cooked as it gets bigger. And of course, hypothetically, you can eat the grain. I got it, in fact, because I liked the idea of growing my own grain and it is supposedly high producing.

However, the grain is a beast to process. Last year we got about a cup out of 2 six foot rows because we got sick of caring about it. We popped that cup of amaranth like popcorn and it was really tasty!

This year, I decided to do another half-hearted attempt. So, when the stalks (which had re-seeded themselves) got so heavy with grain they were all falling over (late July/early August in Ohio) I hacked them down and tossed them on a sheet in the yard, in the sun to dry for a few days, till they were brown and crunchy.

This first stage was easy and necessary, since I had to cut out the amaranth anyway as it had fallen down. For the next step I put on Jared Diamond’s audiobook “Collapse” about societies falling apart because of lack of resources. Which sort of felt appropriate as we went to bizarre measures to get several cups of food. I kept telling Matt, “I’m not sure we’re going to get enough Amaranth to survive the winter? Oh wait, we don’t live in Greenland!”

#Amaranth harvest

Top left – Amaranth seed – black and tiny. Top Right – Green bucket – chaff from after the screen, middle pink – the seed and right pink – chaff from after the fan process. Bottom left photo is the Amaranth after I sheared off the top 5 feet and the Bottom right is the drying process in the yard. All that produced one 48 ounce ice cream container of grain.

SO we laid the sheet out on the kitchen floor and then rubbed the dry amaranth against a window screen to knock the seeds out. We also tried our beer grain grinder for this step, to no effect. No matter, the window screen got er done.

After this stage, we had a mix that was about half chaff and half seed. The chaff isn’t poisonous, but it isn’t appetizing either. The seeds are TINY and the chaff is SMALLER so this is tricky. I had read on-line about trying a flour sifter for the next stage of winnowing out the chaff, but that was a bust.

So, the chaff is really light, and mostly places on line recommend to blow the chaff off the grain, like with your breathing. We tried that last year and after a half hour or so were really dizzy with maybe 1% progress, I decided that I am not actually that crazy.

This year Matt innovated the blowing process and took a small fan on low, and set a bowl in front of it. Then we dumped the seed/chaff mix in front of the fan, into the bowl, thus blowing off a lot of the chaff. Ta-daa! About 5-6 passes in front of the fan got out about 90% of the chaff. All the chaff was now all over the sheet we had laid out. So yay, I have some Amaranth. We just might survive the winter!

I’m not sure why I cared so much about this silly project, except that I REALLY want to make red cornbread (amaranth bread?), and what else was I going to do on a Thursday night?

Mulberry Picking

I adore berries! Mulberries, to me, are the most adult-tasting berry. They aren’t super sweet or super tart, but have a really pleasant mellowness to them. Not as bitter as blackberries can be.

I like them best in sorbets (with a sweetish wine – port, white wine, or cheap country wine of any sort!) or frozen dropped into my cereal bowl. They are also good in yogurt.

I have never canned or baked much with them, because I think you’d have to add so much lemon juice and sugar it wouldn’t have that subtle mulberry taste.
City parks! Matt and the Mulberry bucket.


Saturday morning we went to the park behind my house that is teeming with mulberry bushes. We picked almost 6 pounds! Some folks have these bushy trees in their yards and will roll their eyes at the idea of someone seeking out berries, but for those who enjoy a pleasant morning walk in the woods that ends in a feast of berries, here’s our technique:

Mulberry picking tutorial.I use a queen size sheet and set it under the tree. A really tall tree, we’ll just shake and watch the berries fall into our sheet. And spatter onto our heads and clothes. Wear something you want some purple accents added to! The sheet will also turn pretty purple. Could be an interesting art project!

Mulberry trees are pretty bendy to a point, and if you can reach a branch, pull it down pretty far (again with the sheet underneath to catch the guys) and pick off even more! Mulberries are the bounciest, rollingest berry I have ever picked. They just fly out of my hands. So, the sheet underneath is great.

Then dump the sheet into your bucket and move to the next tree! There are three types of mulberries, red mulberries, which are native, white mulberries, which are non-native, and hybrids of the two. Most are hybrids but we found a few pretty white mulberry trees – pictured in the bottom right of my mosaic. The white ones taste like a mix between a red mulberry and a kleenex, as I saw in one on-line gardening forum. I totally stand behind this assessment, but boy they are the prettiest amethyst color!

Once we’re done (no such thing as having “enough” berries though) I take them home and fill the bucket with water. A lot of the stray leaves and sticks that you get from the tree-shaking method float to the top. Definitely pick through the berries with a careful eye, it doesn’t take that long. Mulberries spoil quickly and are really tender to handling which is why you don’t see them in stores.

I use a colander to pull out a few at time and pick out sticks and leaves. You can leave on the little stems.

More Mulberry
After cleaning, I alternate a layer of berries with freezer paper in between the layers in a long flat tupperware. This way they don’t clump together when they freeze and you can pull out a handful at a time.

Some people freeze berries on cookie sheets and then transfer them into freezer containers after they re frozen to avoid the 5 pound solid frozen berry clump disaster. But my method works for me!


Cherry Blossoms and Other Berries

Kind of cheesy but I think that's ok. There's something endearingly tacky and overwrought about cherry blossoms in real life too.

I’m not sure exactly why I love cherry blossoms, since they are responsible for a terrible, horrible, no good sinus infection I got once while coordinating an event in DC. Luckily I had a good team that took over when I went down. Cherry blossoms 1; Dana 0.

These flowers are cheesy, but I like them. I keep wanting to think of ways to class them up, but maybe they are fine sweet and simple.

Goumi verdict: they are better the older they get.  They grow easy, fix nitrogen, and enough berries on one first year bush for a batch of jelly and a few bowls of cereal.

And in the realm of berries that don’t try to kill me, I got a goumi bush last fall, which apparently is invasive in much of the US! Very frustrating to learn that, but the berries were good and it produced a lot for the first year. They are astringent till the berries sit for a week and suddenly they are very tasty. And pretty silvery leaves, you can see. I made a few jars of jellies with them. I had hoped they would capture more of the sweet tart flavor but they kind of just taste like sugar.

I have been using Pomona’s Pectin to make Jellies recently and am very happy with it! You need wayyyyyy less sugar or even no sugar! I like Pomona’s Pectin because (I love lists!):

1. it’s cheaper – sugar gets expensive when the fruit is free! (and when you buy the organic sugar), and the pectin is about the same price, so that’s not much different.
2. It’s healthier – seriously, some recipes are over half sugar!
3. It preserves the fruit flavor better and
4. It sets more reliably.

In fact, I used pomona’s to make this Rose-Strawberry beauty too! I took roses and soaked them to make a rosewater and made some straight rose jelly as well as some rose-strawberry jam. Sorry for the terrible photography but you can see how rich the color is! I love preserving flowers and berries in this way. Spring time is over so quickly; you just want to capture all the smells and flavors in a jar. Luckily you can! (there’s a pun there!)

Strawberry rose jam aka #rose #berry


The strawberries are pretty much done for the year. Time for raspberries! I need to go mulberry picking too! It’s almost too late for that here, but I’ll be disappointed if I don’t try, since I do love them, especially a mulberry white wine sorbet!#raspberry are my favorite


A Jelly Good Time

Matt and I used the rainy day Saturday to have a day in the kitchen – we haven’t done this in a while. Put on the podcasts and start boiling water. We made an English IPA, some wine from a kit, and dandelion wine from this recipe:

Pick 2 quarts dandelion flowers, remove base, add gallon of boiling water, let sit two days.

Simmer 20 min. Strain out dandelion. Add peel and juice of 4 oranges and 2.5 lb sugar. Cool. Add one tsp yeast nutrient and yeast. Put in fermenter. Use extra liquid to make dandelion orange marmalade.

I had more dandelion mixture than would fit in my one gallon jug, so I used it to make some dandelion-orange marmalade using oranges we had leftover from our trip down South.

Dandelion orange marmalade. Had oranges left from our trip down south.


Then I made some Violet Jelly from this recipe. It hasn’t set yet! Fingers crossed…
Violet jelly, check. Tastes as lovely as it looks.


Deer Repellents

Back in May we had deer issues – not too bad, and I think we nipped their interest in our plants in the bud. (Get it?)

The first night they came in and chomped down several feet of tomatoes and pepper plants. We put out Irish Spring soap all around those plants by taking plastic cups, placing a half-bar of soap inside, and wrapping tulle or pantyhose around the cup. Then we hung the cups UPSIDE DOWN so the soap doesn’t get wet and wash our garden in the rain. The tulle keeps the soap in and lets smell can get out, We hung our fancy contraptions from the tomato cages. Holy cow is that soap smelly.

The next night they avoided the plants with the soap on them and ate down the raspberries and strawberries. Dang it. So we hung more Irish Spring soap, and went to the store to find some deer repellent – which is about $17 a half gallon and consists of water, eggs, garlic, and pepper. Seriously? Seriously.

So we drove right back home to make our own. I blended up an egg, a dried habanero from last year’s garden and a gallon of water and sprinkled it all around the yard from an old laundry detergent bottle.

Delightfully, our neighbors all came out during this strange ritual and asked what we were up to. I asked them to step back a few paces. Luckily, the Irish Spring soap mostly masked the smell of the rotten eggs.

Aaaaaaand it’s been two months and the deer haven’t come back! The Irish Spring is still working, and we’ve re-applied our rotten egg and pepper stew a few times.

However, as of this week, the raccoon are getting into our corn. Seeing as the raccoon actually ate several of the rotten eggs I was planning to make more deer repellent with, and are probably out washing their tiny hands with the Irish Spring right now, I don’t know what to do about it.

Our main solution to that has been to just eat the corn before the raccoon do, which means before the corn is fully ready. It’s still good with butter on it!

July 2012 Garden
Here are some more recipes:

Amaranth is so pretty! Can’t wait to make my red cornbread!

Amaranth July 2012

Note the brown ‘bells’ hanging around – they are full of Irish Spring soap.

July 2012 garden

Preserve Your GreensBlanch and Freeze by WaterPenny

How to Preserve Your Huge Quantities of Greens

Preserve Your GreensBlanch and Freeze by WaterPenny
Salad time!While there is no such thing as too many greens, I have not been able to bring myself to put a dent in all the mustard greens coming out of our garden. I just don’t like it as much as the kale, spinach and chard, which are putting out a serving+ a day of greens, which in addition to the salad for lunch every day, well, we’re just not that healthy around here folks.

I do however love having frozen spinach on hand, and thought maybe I would love having frozen mustard greens too. So, time to preserve our first round of food for the season!

I picked off 75% of the leaves that were on the mustard plants so far, as well as a good bit of our spicy mesclun mix and some kale and spinach.

Slice it up using scissors into our (cool retro – thanks Matt’s Grandma!) salad spinner.
Blanching Mustard Greens
Then into salty boiling water for about a minute.

Blanching Mustard Greens

Then rinse off in the sink with cold water to stop the cooking…no picture of this, too many things happening at once…

And the 4 bowls of greens fit into two sandwich baggies – be sure to squeeze out all the air! Can’t wait for winter soup! The bags will tear apart when we go to pull the frozen greens out in my experience, FYI, so don’t expect to re-use these bags. This is a good use for pre-used bags, if you save your plastic zipper bags. You can also put them in reusable plastic containers to freeze and drop the frozen chunks all into the same gallon ziplock bag/plastic container once they are frozen to use less plastic in your preserving. This is what I normally do, but we’re out of gallon bags.
Mustard for the Freezer

Simultaneous to blanching the mustard greens, I made some pizza – with spinach and herbs from the garden, local cheeses,local Amish flours made into dough in the bread machine, and tofu made in West Virginia. Lord knows where the mushrooms came from – the store! I want to grow our own mushrooms, but that’s for another evening’s project.

One thing about Amish food in Ohio – it’s much cheaper to eat locally than the fancy artisanal farms in California where my brothers live. Not that farmers shouldn’t make a good living, and probably they are still just scraping by even with prices that seem insane to me, but I feel lucky that local cheese and flour from the co-op are actually cheaper than big brand cheese and (pre-made) bread at the grocery! We make all our own bread in the bread machine, which I swear takes only about 3 minutes every other day.  Literally, it is a similar amount of time to what it takes to walk to the bread aisle in the store.
Garden Pizza

Roll On, Ohio!

Woody Guthrie wrote the song “Roll On, Columbia”  in 1941 as an advertisement for hydroelectric power.  As much as I don’t generally like product placement, it’s a fun song to sing about wherever you are.

This weekend I took an urban tour of Ohio, top to bottom, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland. Glancing at facebook this morning, I see that many of my friends were adventuring through dramatic woods, mountains, rock climbing. When did I start going to so many cities? When I was younger I was pretty terrified of cities, and the mix of exhilaration and exploration and “I AM HAVING AN EXPERIENCE HERE, RIGHT NOW” I got when I did nervously wander into Chicago or DC painted all those experiences with a dramatic brush. It was like those memories were put through a fancy cell phone app that makes them prettier and more dramatic than they probably really were, or maybe, a metaphor from the opposite end of the tech spectrum, painted by someone from the Hudson River School.

The other thing about that feeling of exploration, is I often worried if I was really HAVING AN EXPERIENCE and if there was something more definitely an EXPERIENCE that I should be doing so as to be fully experiencing things.

These days though, who can bother, traveling is just balancing my obligations and capacity and going places that have a few interesting things going on, run by busy people who all have their own things happening. And yet, there is a quiet beauty in exploring quiet pockets of places and meeting people who are excited about making things and making things happen.

Cincinnati International Quilt FestivalI ran down to the International Quilt show in Cincinnati, stopping by a fabric lovers heaven at the Fabric Shack in Waynesville, OH. I had heard people rave about the Fabric Shack – which is epic – but I was equally charmed by this quiet little town on a river filled with small businesses. Say what, a healthy historic downtown in a rural area?~!? PLUS they have an annual Sauerkraut Festival. Boom!

Ok, then lots of quilts, meeting quilters, being the youngest person in the room…until I got to the Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild meet up. I learned several new skills and techniques that I will use to make projects that I have had in my mind and not known quite how to do. Dunno if I can express to you how empowering that feeling is?

I hope I passed on a similar feeling of empowerment to at least a few of the folks I trained with in Cleveland at a Anti-Fracking action camp. Here I was among the oldest folks in the room. We talked about messaging, and visions, and solutions to the problems we see. I shared a few things that help me work smarter instead of harder, and they rolled off to do amazing things.

Then Matt and I helped build a few greenhouses in this crazy old church/urban blight spot that is being converted into a lovely 3 acre urban farm. How is this urban farm different from others I’ve been to?

1. You camp inside.

Camping in an old church.
2. They are building up from asphalt instead of soil.

Starting the second greenhouse

3. The whole thing looks like an apocalyptic fever dream…but the good kind. With nice friendly people who like healthy food and healthy communities.
Greenhouses in process

How’s It Growing?

IMG_3587 Hops and Roses

I want to obsess over my yard for a moment.

I have always lived in small towns or rural areas until I moved to Charleston, WV, which at around 50,000 people isn’t that powerful of a city. So, I was wondering if I’d be miserable moving to Columbus, which has over a million people in the metro area. But, I’m not! I love it! We have a tiny house with a south facing yard next to a river. Aaand we are within walking distance to a vegan bakery!

I often say though, you can take a girl out of the country, but you can’t take the trash out of her yard.

We have 11 4×8 foot food-related garden plots this year, separated by scrap wood for walking on. The cats love walking along the wood planks and it keeps them out of the seedlings, sometimes…Three beds are already planted with cold weather plants (lettuce, broccoli raab, garlic, peas, onions, etc.) plus our berries and hops are growing like it’s June. Which, weather-wise, it basically is.

We have 4 sorts of hops – Centennial, Cascade, and uh, two others. Who can remember this crap? We planted them last year. They grew lackluster but put out enough hops for one batch of beer. This year they are growing like crazy and chocking out the old rosebush that puts off one bloom per year.

In the meantime, there is 6 gallons of wine bubbling away in the kitchen. From a kit. We almost got grapes last year, but then we changed our minds. I’m not sad about it.


And our army of seedlings are growing, little by little. Most of these will go out in late April or so.  We started them in the egg trays and cardboard tubes but the cardboard molded. And I was not overwatering! Blergh. Never messing with that again.

I transferred them into plastic pots till I ran out, then used mushroom containers till I ran out, then we remembered seeing a bunch of pots leftover from some University landscaping last summer by the river. They have been quite an eyesore by the river for the last year, but now they are full of seeds at my house.


We have a grow light (read: a shop light) inside but they are so much happier in the sun. I am not so happy dragging them in and out every day, but it’s just part of the routine.  Whenever I get sick of it, I just imagine eating fresh greens…

Black Bean Sweet Potato CHILI

This weekend my elbow was on the Charleston, WV evening news coverage of a zombie parade. It was pretty amazing. More importantly:

Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili

1 can of black beans (because you forgot to soak the dry ones)
stupid fancy local organic soft neck garlic that takes FOREVER to peel.
3 carrots
1 big ol’ Sweet potato
about a pepper worth of sweet peppers frozen in the freezer
Cilantro you froze in july
A jar of tomato sauce you canned
a jar of salsa you canned
some veggie stock (Better than Bullion or BUST!)
tablespoon of cumin
tablespoon of chili powder
some squeezes of lime juice
a couple shakes of TVP (textured vegetable protein)
some leftover Quinoa from yesterday

Optional topping: some vegan sour cream, frozen chives from the garden, tortilla chips.

Saute fresh veggies till soft. Add other ingredients, including salt to taste. Mix and simmer till the sweet potatoes are soft. Throw in the kale roughly chopped.  Eat three bowls. Regret the third. Remember that you could have added some of your chipotle ketchup and regret that too.