Saturday, May 14

The secret garden

About one year ago this time, I discovered my interest in foraging. As most things go, this too has come full circle; and again, I foraged violets for jam! However, since last year, some things have changed. For instance, last year when I foraged violets, it was one of my first foraging experiences ever (at least in an intentional way). Since then, I have foraged many meals, and have come to appreciate the seasons much more. When you are eating off the land (even if for just small things like violets and dandelions), you have to be in tune with the seasons. It is a beautiful thing.
Also, last year when foraging violets, I was with my friends Beth, Alicia and Neal. Since, Beth has graduated and moved home. Thursday, I foraged with Jill, and now we are nearing graduation, and though we will be in the garden unit through the summer, come fall the garden unit will lose its walls. By that, I simply mean that Jill and I will be moving to new quarters. This is not to say that the garden unit will be no longer. As time has progressed, I realize that the garden unit is more than an apartment (gosh, this sounds cheesy); and more like a state of being.

Also, since last year, we have shifted our dependence on packaged foods, to a homemade lifestyle. Last year when we made violet jam, we used packaged pectin. This year, we are trying something new: using our home-canned pectin from last fall! Not to worry, this doesn’t change the process too much. In fact, if anything, making jam becomes a stress-free process that can be appreciated more deeply.
Violets, collected
As opposed to packaged pectin, homemade pectin (which can be sourced from many different sources, including sour apples) takes a while to cook and reach its jelling point. The best description of a jelly test for using homemade pectin comes from Euell Gibbons, in his book Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962):

“Do you know how to make the jelly test? It is more easily done than described, but roughly, it goes like this: After the jelly is boiling hard, use the cooking spoon with which you are stirring it. Take up a little of the mix and wave the spoon around, over the kettle until the juice cools slightly. Then pout it back into the pot. If it runs off like water, the jelly is nowhere near ready. If it drips off the edge of the spoon in two places, it is approaching the jelly point. When the last two drops run together, sheet off the spoon and seem to break at the edge of the spoon then they drop, snatch the jelly from the fire.” 
--Euell Gibbons, Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962)

Practice makes perfect! But, let me tell you, this is a much more relaxed approach to jelly than when using packaged pectin, which requires immaculate timing and perfect attention to detail.
Using the same recipe for violet jam as before, simply replace the store-bought pectin with 1 cup of homemade pectin. Then, using the drip test for jelly, cook the ingredients over medium heat until you reach the jelly-point. Finally, fill your jelly jars and can in a hot water bath. The violets add such a subtle flavor, and the color is sure to liven any meal! We really love of jam on homemade biscuits or a loaf of homemade bread. Not to mention, the process of picking violets for jam is absolutely delightful!
In the field of the secret garden

Wednesday, May 11

Smells of summer in the springtime

Citrus season, that so refreshingly lands in the middle of winter and brings a bit of fun to the cold months, is coming to a close. Jill and I have talked about preserving citrus from the wintertime, so as to have fresh fruits all summer long, for quite some time now. Today, we put our words to action. Jill picked up 6 pounds of lemons from Woodman's grocery store; and needless to say, she received some weird looks! Now, our apartment smells like it was cleaned from head to toe, and feels like the sun is warming my skin (it is almost ten p.m. and the sun is definitely not warming my skin...!).
Here is what our lemons will yielded (we are utilizing all parts of the lemons): Lemonade concentrate, lemon juice ("straight-up," says Jill!), and dried lemon zest for future cooking adventures.

Lemonade Concentrate
7-10 lemons
2 1/2 cups of sugar

1. Using a fine grater, zest four of the lemons (but we zested all of them, and will dry the remaining zest for making tea and other tasty treats!) and set aside. Meanwhile, bring about 5 cups of water to a boil. When the water is boiling, plop in your naked lemons, for one minute. This helps to get all of the juice from the fruit! After one minute, carefully remove the lemons and save the water; the water will be used later. 
2. Cut the lemons in half, and squeeze 2 cups of lemon juice. Don't worry about the pulp! It adds fiber and tastiness! Compost the post-juiced lemon. 
3. Bring 2 cups of the lemon-infused water to a boil, and add the sugar and the zest from four lemons. Boil slowly. Add two cups of lemon juice and again, bring to a boil. Strain through a cheesecloth at this time, if you would like (we didn't!). 

For canning:
Pour into hot, sterilized jars. Process in hot water bath. Save till a hot summer day!

To reconstitute:
One part concentrate plus three to four parts water, to your taste! A refreshing treat for any hot day. 
For dried lemon zest, use either a fine grater or a potato peeler to shave off the very outer peel of the lemon. Then, spread evenly on a cookie sheet in a thin layer and allow to dry for several days, until completely dry. Then, you can store it indefinitely! It will hold flavor for longer, if stored in the fridge. You can use your lemon zest in teas or in baking. We are excited to use it in quick breads and with our sun-tea. 

In other news of late, we have been crafting many, many things. Today, I made some more scrubbies, a jar-lid pincushion, and a coin purse. I also darned a pair of socks, baked a loaf of bread and took a final exam... quite a busy day! 
 Scrubbies made with repurposed citrus mesh bags! 
 A jar-lid pincushion from some old clothes!
A coin purse from an old shirt and some extra canvas and a vintage zipper! 

The garden unit has been busy all day, in case you couldn't tell. And it was just the loveliest of days. Two more days, and classes will be complete and then one week till graduation... how time flies when you are having fun! 

Happy crafting and canning! 

Tuesday, May 10

Spring lovely

Some images that brightened by day, taken by my beautiful friend, Beth.
Sure to brighten your day as well; from her freshly planted herb garden!

Happy spring (I can't stop being happy its spring!)

Sunday, May 8

Spring crafting

We are crafting like mad women, these days. Jill is busy knitting stuffed animals and children's toys, which are delightful! Meanwhile I have been busy making dish scrubbies (inspired by the Lefort Homestead upcycling ideas!) for the craft stand.

It is beautiful in Milwaukee these days, and we are looking forward to some foraging this week. The dandelions and violets are in full bloom, and not to fear, we will surely be making jams throughout the week. Today, am writing from Alterra, while I am working on some final school work and Jill is knitting a zebra hand puppet (which she has whipped out in 24 hours... incredible!). The sun is shining and we are happy as could be.
Not too much else to share, but I will leave you with this image of Jill's latest play thing; a little knitted birdie!
Happy mother's day!

Monday, May 2

A birthday month

It is quite amazing how quickly April has flown by, and this weekend we were greeted with May! And it was quite a delightful surprise to not have April showers for a short while. However, looking back at April, it was such a wonderful month, filled with plenty of cheer. One of the many sources of cheer, was the many, many birthdays of so many friends and family; including Jill's and my birthdays!
Flowers that brightened the rainiest of days

The final birthday of the month, was miss Mara's birthday on Friday, which chimed in a weekend full of festivities. Perhaps I have not mentioned Mara's name so frequently in my previous posts, but Mara is one of my dearest friends. And as with the previous birthdays throughout April, what is a birthday without a cake?
Photo courtesy of Closet Cooking
Mara and I have, for quite some time, considered Guinness to be our spirit drink. That is, when sharing a drink, we often turn to Guinness. Besides the fact that it is quite delicious, this is also the drink that we shared in the airport, for our first airport drink (perhaps this seems as silly as could be, but it is wonderful to have a spirit drink!) together. None-the-less, when I stumbled upon this recipe for Guinness Chocolate Cheesecake, I simply could not pass it up; and thank goodness I didn't! It turned out quite delectable, to say the least.
Bridget enjoying the cheesecake!
Beyond birthdays, Jill and I gardened plenty. On Saturday, after visiting the Washington Park Senior Center's rummage sale, Jill and I stopped by the garden to plant some bulbs from Jill's friend Dolores. We also planted some lovely flower seeds in our perennial bed! It was so wonderful to get outside for the day, and it is always a delight to garden. Our efforts were also appreciated by a woman from the neighboring church (the community of which we are becoming friends with, as they are often there while we are in the garden!), and she gifted two dinners from the barbeque they were having, to Jill and I! What a delightful surprise. 
Jill and the garden
So far, we have planted hostas, chives, hollyhocks and elephant ears. The hostas and hollyhocks were gifted from Jill's grandpa and the chives are from mine! The elephant ears are from Dolores. The rest is seeded with lovely flowers, which surely have enjoyed the rain and sun as of late. 
A well earned dinner!
Happy growing, celebrating and eating!