Pear Hopes, Dreams, Failures

Other than the sliding of the keys across the table from previous owners to us, the happiest moment of closing on our house to me was when the previous owners told us that the beautiful flowering tree in the backyard was a pear tree.

Such a stunning tree.

I love pears.  LOVE them.

Oh, the plans I had for my juicy pears the moment I found out they were mine!  Thoughts of fresh pear juice dripping down my hands while chomping down on pear after pear, thoughts of freezing pear sauce and canning pear butter, thoughts of pear brandy, pears in my salads, pear tarts, pear cobbler, poached pears, pears with ice cream, pears in my oatmeal, pears and gorgonzola, ginger-pear this, pear-walnut that….my heart leaps & flips & breakdances at the thoughts.

The most adorable little pear babies started popping up all over that gorgeous tree of hope &  dreams.

But seriously, how cute are those?

And then this awful summer weather came.  And everything struggled to survive.  Nonetheless, the stalwart pear tree laughed in the face of the drought and produced an overwhelming abundance of pears.  Though Willa did her darndest to chase them out, the squirrels flocked to the tree, and who could blame them?  It was HOT and DRY and they need food too.  And anyway, we’re down with sharing the wealth and could never–even with all of my drool-inducing pear plans–use up all that fruit (especially the ones at the top of the tree, out of reach even to Lanny on the ladder with our telescoping fruit picker pole!). So we waited with bated breath for them to ripen.

Before we knew it, at least 100 pears had fallen to the ground and a city of bees came to feast.  I was so discouraged.  Got stung on the bottom of my foot.  Became even more discouraged.

Then I read that pears often ripen better off the tree than on.  So I bucked up and started picking.  And picking.  And picking.

First harvest.

I stuck them in the fridge in paper bags.  And waited.  And waited.  And they didn’t ripen.

We lost another 100 (at the VERY least) to the ground and the bees.  And then went for a second round of picking.  At this point, we decided that the weather had thrown off the pears a bit this year–possibly stunted their growth– and also accepted the fact that we’re learning.  And we’ll do better next year.

The second harvest piled up on the table.

The pears are now hanging out outside of the fridge in paper bags accompanied by some apples and bananas to help speed up their ripening.  I’m worried we won’t get many to ripen properly, but there’s nothing I can do right now but incessantly read advice online and wait.

I really want that pear butter to happen.

As we wait and hope, does anyone have any helpful pear tips for us–for this year or the years to come?

Post by Amanda

Saturday Mornings

This morning, I watered the garden thoroughly, weeded, added to and turned the compost, played with Willa, harvested tomatoes, pruned the tomato plants, took out the recycling, unloaded and loaded the dishwasher, made myself a breakfast of 3 fried eggs, a side of black beans, a Black Zebra tomato, toast with some melted cheddar and a cup of pour over decaf coffee, then assisted my lovely wife in canning 2 quarts of tomatoes all before 10 am.  What are some productive things y’all do that makes you feel like champions of life?ImagePost by Lanny

The Wall

We haven’t been very good at house progress posts lately.  In reality, for the past number of weeks, we haven’t really done a whole lot by way of improving the house.  But there is a lot of progress we just haven’t posted about.

The most obvious thing that comes to mind is the kitchen wall madness that we started attacking mere hours after the house was ours, and completed within a matter of weeks.

Oh, the wall.  The printed panel wall.  Here’s what it looked like when we bought the place:

Again, this is a photo from the listing (i.e. THOSE UGLY THINGS ARE NOT OURS).

As if regular crappy wood paneling wasn’t enough, this paneling actually had a floral & stripe pattern printed right onto it.  That’s right: combo perma-wallpaper and crappy paneling (CPWCP).  YIKES.

After busting through the door for the first time after closing, we went straight to ripping up the carpet (as you probably remember).  Once we were assured that there actually were hardwood floors in the living room, office, and hallway, Lanny started hacking at the wall.  He revealed this nightmare lurking behind the CPWCP:

Which means we went straight from CPWCP (below, right) to the heaven-help-us-crazy-kitschy-actual-wallpaper (below, left).

Coffee carafes, coffee grinders, tea cups, baskets of fruit, flower arrangements, single pieces of assorted fruits, decorative bowls, pots of honey, radishes, MY GOD WHAT WASN’T ON THAT WALLPAPER?  Lanny was temporarily rendered insane by the wallpaper and wanted to keep it.  Some of our friends were infected by that awful virus as well.  And while I can find this type of kitschy crap charming sometimes, this wall in my house in my kitchen that already has nasty linoleum floors that need to be replaced, outdated honey oak cabinets, blue?green?grey? formica countertops, and old appliances is just not the place for it.

My parents and sister came for a visit shortly after we moved in, and thank goodness for that.  Aside from some major landscaping accomplishments (post on that yet to come) and various other projects, they helped us tackle that wall.  One wall.  So much work.  So Much Worth It.

Late one night, I reached my limit with the darn thing, and just started ripping off the paper.  (anyone ever read The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman? Yeah.)  Mom joined me.

Photo Credit: Rebekah Zimmerman

GREAT NEWS! It started coming off really easily just by ripping it off without any treatment!  Photo Credit: Rebekah Zimmerman

ZEN MOMENT                                                                                                                                               Photo Credit: Rebekah Zimmerman

We just kept ripping and ripping and ripping. I was on large duty. Mom was on detail.               Photo Credit: Rebekah Zimmerman

Considering the horror stories I had read online about wallpaper removal, I guess we had it pretty easy.  But.  It was a pain, for sure.  And once we were done removing all the little bits of paper, we were left with a pretty sad wall.  And this is where it really pays off to have a Won’t Stop Until It’s Perfect Dad.  My dad sanded and spackled the heck outta that wall.  If it were up to Lanny and me, we would’ve done minimal prepping and painted the wall just to get it over with already.  But my Dad didn’t stop until that sucker was smooth as  glass.  It was an amazing feat of patience I will never know personally.

AND SO ANYWAY.  Then we could paint.  And here it is now, in all of its non-CPWCP and de-kitschified glory.

Color: Behr, Fashion Grey

I like to arrange little vignettes on the table that nod to the wall’s previous manifestations (you know, in a pretty–not nightmarish–way).

The End.

Post by Amanda

Fed by Our Garden

A few of the lovely things we’ve been eating from our garden:

Chard

Arugula & Lettuces

Sunstart Tomato

Jalapenos &
Cherokee Chocolate, Sunstart, & Clear Pink Early Tomatoes

Carolina Gold, Cherokee Chocolate, & Clear Pink Early Tomatoes
Mint & Basil

As you can see, the past few weeks have been delicious.

Post by Amanda

Hard-Boiled Eggs in the Oven: IT WORKS!

I know this is starting to look an awful lot like a food blog, but I just have to post this really quickly.  I promise we’ll get some other non-food posts up soon.

A bit of personal history:

I spent 3 months living & studying in Germany in the Summer of 2005.  It was definitely one of the greatest experiences in my life, and I think about it at least a couple of times a week, every week.  Something is always reminding me of my time there.  As a vegetarian in a country where the traditional food culture is centered a great deal around meats, I certainly “missed out” on a lot of food experiences that my fellow student travelers enjoyed, but I have no complaints at all.  Though I was eating mostly bread, cheese, tangy veggies, eggs, chocolate, fresh fruit, and beer(!), I somehow managed to lose weight on that trip which surprises me to this day.  Bread, butter, cheese, repeat.  Over & over.  My best guess is that the combination of fresh, not-so-processed ingredients and all the walking I did just ended up being fewer calories than what my body was used to.  But really, it still baffles me.  I mean, Kaffee und Kuchen!  I digress.

The point is, my brother and I spent 6 weeks living and working in Weimar in this lovely guest house.  And it was there that I first saw “hard-boiled eggs” prepared in an oven.  Hard & soft-boiled eggs are a staple in the German diet (at least in the state of Thuringia), and when there were lots of guests to feed, the amazing women who ran the former artist villa would prepare ooooodles of eggs in the oven.  I had never seen this before, and until recently when I ran across it again on pinterest, I had forgotten about it.

Riding on the coat tails of my rush of productivity after canning yesterday, I decided to try it out.  And guess what?  It’s awesome.

Here’s what you need:

  • A dozen (or more!) eggs
  • An oven, preheated to 325-350, depending on  your oven
  • Some sort of baking tray/pan.  I used a standard dozen cupcake tin.
  • A large bowl of ice water
  • A container with a lid

And it’s as simple as this:

1. Place your eggs on your tray.  I covered mine in tin foil because umm well, it’s a little rusty and I didn’t want you to see that, but now I’ve told you.  You definitely don’t have to waste the foil if you take better care of your baking equipment than I do.

Using a cupcake or muffin tin just prevents the eggs from rolling around, but I’m pretty sure you could just place the eggs right on the rack or in a pan for the same results.

2. Place in oven once it’s fully preheated.

3. Go do something else for 25-30 minutes!  And don’t worry!

4.Take out your eggies.  They will have little brown speckles on them.  This is normal.

 5. Plunge eggs into the ice water bath with tongs and let cool for a bit.  I guess 10 minutes is the suggested time, but I did less and it was fine.

6. Peel your perfect little eggs, and store in a closed container in the fridge for easy access!

PERFECT.

I used a plastic freezer storage container to keep the rest of the eggs in the fridge. (Please excuse the blurry photo.)

This method of “hard boiling” eggs is awesome.  Yes, it technically takes longer than boiling them in water on the stove top.  But.  I always break at least one egg in that stupid boiling water.  I never know how long to keep them in there, or if it’s better to keep the water boiling or cover the pot and let the eggs simmer.  And they are always such a pain in the butt to peel which leaves me with ugly, gouged eggs. 

So this method definitely wins for our house.  Perfect eggs every time, no fussing with boiling water, easy peeling, and wonderful for making a bunch of eggs at once.  I think we’ll do this once a week or so, as Lanny loves hard-boiled eggs as a quick & easy protein-filled snack, and having a container of them ready in the fridge makes it really easy to bulk up sandwiches, wraps, rice dishes, and basically everything we make.  I’m not a huge fan of eggs in general (and yolks in particular), but especially right now when we’re trying to cut back on our intake of processed soy products, this is a great easy access go-to to have in the fridge.  Officially recommended.

Post by Amanda

Jalapeños en Escabeche

So!  With all of the lovely house things happening, I have yet to do one of my most beloved summer activities: canning.  Putting up the harvest for the winter months has become so dear to me.  I come from a long line of food preservers; however, I sadly learned precious little about food preservation from my Mennonite grandmothers.  My sadness over that missed opportunity kept me from canning for a while until I decided to just teach myself a few years back.  I’m still a newbie who gets scared and stressed about the whole process, but it has come to mean so much to me that I’m determined to stick with it, learn from my mistakes, and power through.  The connection I feel to my ancestors, the farm, and food when I’m canning is a feeling that is otherwise hard to come by in my modern American life, and I refuse to give that up just because canning takes time and is much less convenient than buying commercially canned goods.

Since our jalapeño plant was bursting with gorgeous dark green peppers, I decided to try my hand at a favorite Mexican condiment: Jalapeños en Escabeche.  A staple on the Mexican table, these pickled Jalepeños are usually joined by onions, carrots, garlic, and herbs in the jar.  Sometimes cauliflower.  And I LOVE cauliflower.  So after some recipe research, we settled on a game plan, harvested what we could from our garden, and made a quick trip to the farmers’ market for the rest.

Pretty, pretty plant!

Here’s the basics (slightly adapted from here):

Jalapeños en Escabeche 

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb jalapeño peppers (we got 15.9 oz from the garden!  success!)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium white onions, thickly chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and thickly sliced diagonally
  • florets from half a cauliflower
  • 1.5 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 5 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp pickling salt
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 springs fresh oregano
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 Tbsp sugar

From our garden: jalapeños and herbs
From the Farmers’ Market: garlic, onions, carrots
From the grocery: vinegar, olive oil, pickling salt, sugar, bay leaves, cauliflower

Steps:

1 Wash peppers, leaving the stems intact. Cut an X into each pepper so the brine will penetrate and do its pickling magic.

I realize now that these X’s are usually cut in the tips of the peppers, but oh well…

2 Heat oil in a large pot. Add the peppers, onions, carrots, cauliflower, and garlic. Heat over medium for 10 minutes, occasionally turning.

3 Add the vinegar, salt, sugar, and herbs and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Peppers need to be fully cooked for safety in this recipe.  They’re cooked when they are a dull, olive color like below.

4 Pack veggies into 5 pint-sized sterilized jars. Top with the brine, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace, and seal. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Filling jars.

The aroma is invigorating.

Lanny always does the honors of making sure all the air bubbles are released before we put the lids on.

Sitting in a quiet corner of the counter to cool for 24 hours.

I’m a little less than excited about how mushy this recipe appears to be as I love a good toothy escabeche, but we’ll see how it goes.  There was about a half a pint extra which we sampled instead of canning.  It’s obviously not pickled yet, but Oh My Is it Delicious.  I also sampled a raw jalapeño when we were picking them this morning and WOWZA are these peppers ever spicy.  Jalapeños can vary greatly in spiciness levels, but usually tend to be a bit on the milder side.  Well with the crazy heat we’ve had this year, these suckers are HOT.  My lips are still tingling.

I’ll be sure to report back when we break open a jar of these this winter after coming in from shoveling piles of snow off the driveway!

Post by Amanda

Just a Simple Workbench: a Lesson in Home Renovation

What I originally thought would be a 30 minute project actually transformed into a 2 week long venture in the basement.  Thus illustrating the point: when you start a home project, be prepared to get more than you bargained for.

I received a vise to use for woodworking projects and set about to attach it to the countertop of the already existing workbench in the basement.  I quickly realized the countertop was actually a thin piece of particle board attached to a solid frame and would not stand up to the stress of long term use.

The before view of our shop.

The answer seemed simple enough.  Go down to the local Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, and purchase an appropriately sized board that would be far more durable.  I found an old slab of butcher block that was a bit larger than needed, but I thought I could simply cut it down to size.  When I came home, I began to remove the old wood surface but then realized I would need to also remove the back pegboard to get to the last nails holding the surface down.  So, I was prying the pegboard back when mouse droppings began to roll out from behind it.  I opened it up to reveal this:

Ew.

It seemed the little fella passed away some time ago, so I wasn’t worried about an ongoing problem, but I still had to clean it all out.  Buried under the rubbish was also an x-rated 8mm film reel and a flyer for it, a relic from the early 70s it seemed.  It too was discarded among all the other mouse droppings and nest scraps.  But not before Amanda ran upstairs to get us these “sanitation masks.”

Dad supervised.

Once I had swept up the area, it was clear that some deeper sanitation was required.  I cut and threw away sections of the old wood frame and applied vinegar and KilZ to areas that were obviously nasty.

At this point, it was clear to me that the frame would have to be rebuilt as well.  After a long dismantling period, I salvaged the bulk of the wood and nails from the existing bench.  At this point, I decided to rebuild the frame larger to accomodate the larger sized butcher block surface. But not before accidentally breaking a light bulb, adding broken glass to the list of clean up duties.

Exactly like the old frame only slightly bigger

The completed bench minus the vise

So, all of this over two weeks was for this:

And that’s why when you start a simple thirty minute project, don’t be shocked when two weeks of your life fly by before it’s finished.

Post by Lanny