Category Archives: Garden

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


Homemade Frozen Potato Hashbrown Recipe

I’ve actually been very busy with making things for Christmas, finishing up 2012 quilt orders and traveling all across creation for the holidays.  While in Western Massachusetts visiting some old friends, we were told to make a pilgrimage to The Barn in Greenfield, which is a surplus grocery store, aka, my DREAMland. I have actually had dreams about surplus grocery stores. Essentially, they buy dinged, dented and about-to-expire products and sell them at wholesale prices.  Since organic foods are more expensive, they are way more likely to not sell at the regular store and end up in these bargain stores. Basically, a hippie paradise.

Among other things (like pounds of brussel sprouts, my favorite food) we got 50 pounds of organic potatoes for $6. I had to really talk Matt into it, and convinced him by saying we could make our own frozen hashbrowns and then have hashbrowns every time we open the freezer, just like that! I was pretty proud of myself until I was dragging the 50 lb box to the house through the foot of snow and ice all hungover from a 13 hour drive. “Whose dumb idea was this!” I grumbled.

But now our freezer is full of hashbrowns, so I’m happy again.  We couldn’t find a recipe we liked anywhere, so we made up our own process and it worked great. Here it is! You’ll need:

Food Processor or grater and very strong arms and lots of patience
Potato Frozen Hashbrown Recipe

You have to cook potatoes before you can freeze them or they get ruined in the freezer.  A lot of places recommend boiling or pre-frying potatoes.  Both seemed like too much work and too much mess.

We quartered the taters.
Potato Frozen Hashbrown Recipe
Then ran them through the food processor which has a grater accessory and does a great job. I got a little carried away and grated this many in about 4 minutes but luckily nothing caught on fire.
Potato Frozen Hashbrown Recipe
One reason we wanted to prepare them in bulk in advance is because I don’t enjoy cleaning out the food processor after every little cooking job. It is sooo much more convenient to do a few months worth at once and freeze it!

Anywho, then we put the potatoes on a cookie pan about 1-2 inches deep. Since you are not trying for crispy perfection at this stage, it doesn’t matter how deep they are in my opinion. I drizzle a layer of oil across the top of the taters.
Potato Frozen Hashbrown Recipe
And popped them in the oven at 350 for 15 minutes, then flipped them and cooked them for another 20 minutes or until they are starting to brown and crisp up at the top and bottom.
Potato Frozen Hashbrown Recipe
I then let them cool on the counter. When they were cool, I layered them in a long flat storage container with freezer paper to keep them from sticking together in one giant mega-wad of hashbrown. After they were frozen over night, we packed them into gallon zip lock bags, because I needed my giant tupperware to put homemade pasta in.
Potato Frozen Hashbrown Recipe
When you want them, just pull them out of the bag and toss them, frozen into some cooking oil with whatever spices you like, or make hashbrown casserole, or other amazing things. We have used them a few times and had delicious results, though I am of the persuasion that anything with potatoes is probably going to be delicious.

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…

Wednesday In Progress

Today in the sewing world I am working on a back for my Sampler Quilt. Here’s what I have so far:

Back of Sew Happy Geek Sample Quilt
Sew Happy Geek Quilt Along - Top is finishedI think what will happen to it is that I will make the left white part smaller, and more white and then more strips of small boxes on the right.  I am waiting because I’ll be keeping this quilt so there’s no rush, except there is a rush, because I love being DONE with quilts. I want to get some quilty energy back before I just cobble something together. I was thinking, looking at this picture, “Am I picking this design because it is the fastest thing I can think of, or because it is what I want on my bed?”

I am reminded of this quote from this hilarious essay on the SAT I read today:

You spend a whole semester studying for some test, and then you rush it because you just want five extra minutes to relax. That’s how my brain works. It’s not a perfect organ.

So, I’m leaving town for a week, and then I’ll come back and maybe totally change this design. Any thoughts?

Other things I am working on include re-taking some photos of my quilts I finished in drearier weather. It’s 85 degrees in March and I will take any excuse to go outside. I know my photos of my quilts are never great, and I think it hurts my sales in my Etsy shop, as well as it’s nice for me to have a quality picture record of quilts I make….but lordy, lordy, I don’t enjoy taking photographs of quilts, and I really don’t enjoy editing photos of quilts. I enjoy making quilts. That’s why I make them.

But, I re-took pictures and sloppily edited them for my Steampunk Octopus quilts, because I love them. They have glow in the dark stitching!

Steampunk Octopus Quilt

I think this guy looks particularly menacing here:

Steampunk Octopus Quilt

See what the other quilters are doing over at Freshly Pieced! 

How to Keep Track of Your Seeds and Garden Schemes

July 2011 022
June 2011 042

The sunflower above grew from our bird feeder and was a big success with neighborhood birds and squirrels.

I am by no means any kind of expert gardener, but I am a robust amateur. I just got back from a trip to Florida which got me itchin’ for SUMMERTIME. (and, incidentally, itchin’ from a lot of fire ant bites, but that’s another story).

I just put in our order for 2012 seeds, which is pretty small since I save a lot of our seeds. However, there are a few things that I want to try new varieties of (like a more disease resistant cucumber) and a few things I have never tried (Red Hopi Amaranth!) and some stuff that is too fun to resist (Rainbow Beets) and stuff I ate too much of so it never seeded (Kale, basil, lettuce).

Our garden plan this year is kind of insane (though it has six fewer habanero plants than last year!),  Our neighbors already think we are crazy survivalists — (but without the guns, which makes us hippies, I think?) Not that they are complaining when I bring my ho-made ketchup to the barbecues.

I save my seeds in old envelopes and tuck them into a 3 ring binder with plastic insert sheets:

Garden Planning Notebook

These are also handy for tucking in last year’s seed catalogs, fact sheets from your extension office, and your mad scribblings/garden journal notes.

There may be a better way to do this, since, ahh, my binder doesn’t actually close, but it is definitely better than my previous method of 3-4 randomly hidden buckets full of seed packs and scattered notes on the garden in every reusable shopping bag and inside whatever book I was reading when I planted the raspberries, etc.

How do you sort and store your seeds?

Garden Planning

Garden Planning

Quilt Party!

I have been busy as a bee with my quilts lately.

I have three full-size quilt tops that are all pressed and needing to be basted so I can quilt them.  I usually don’t mind the basting process, but it’s too mucky and cold out to baste on the deck, and these are all too big for my bedroom basting system, which means that basting will involve some micro-level scrubbing of the kitchen floor. Because sometimes quilting involves scrubbing the kitchen floor. Does anyone want a tutorial or pictures showing this quilting process?

It also involves a lot of this, my old frenemy, the piles of threads and scrips and scraps left after squaring up my quilt blocks. I used the method for half-square triangle where you get 8 hst’s per block. It seems so fast, but I feel like I spend more time squaring up afterwards.

Squaring scraps

This pile is probably about 1/100th of what I created in the last few weeks. I’ve heard of people composting their 100% cotton scraps in their garden. But, my environmental engineer husband will probably tell me that even the 100% cotton has chemicals in it that will poison our tomatoes and basically murder us and whatnot. Ok, fine, I won’t compost my cotton scraps.  Five years of being together has made our conversations very efficient.

UPDATE: I confirmed Matt’s opinion with him and he said, “Oh, we could compost it for the flower beds, but I don’t want to eat fabric dye and bleach. Then again, I don’t know that it would bio-accumulate in the vegetables.”

Anyway, if anyone else composts their fabric scraps for a veggie garden, let me know if you’ve grown a second head or if your skin is taking on Amy Butler patterns or anything.

My old fat cat boss has been helping me with my layout of my gray and yellow quilt. As have my daydreams of gardening. I think we’re going to add a couple hundred square feet to the garden this year. We’ll see if we still think that when I’m turning over dirt in a few months.

The yellow and gray quilt is now taunting me from the wall. I ran out of my bolt of Kona PFD white, needing only another fat quarter to finish the back for this dang quilt. I bought another bolt half-off from Jo-Anns, but they have the slowest shipping in the world. It is probably coming from Siberia on a donkey or something.

Gray and Yellow pinwheel quilt

For more quilts in progress, check out Freshly Pieced!