Monthly Archives: October 2008


Halloween costumes

For some reason, our city declared last night to be trick-or-treat night so we headed out to family members’ houses in full dress.  As usual, the kids had a good time.  We always dump the candy they “earn” into a community pot.  That is partly payment for my transport costs!  They were paid well for dressing up – family is so good about that!  Abigail was authentic right down to her pink leather cowgirl boots.  I didn’t have a thermal detonator for Isaac so I shoved a cayenne pepper in his pocket and told him to make the best of it.  Anyhow, today in school, they dress again and have a Halloween parade.  No doubt, they will be fully sugared after school today too.

Halloween costumes

In one of their bags, they each got little video games.  They were drawn to that above all else last night.  It was pretty funny seeing a cowgirl and a storm-trooper playing video games.

Halloween costumes

Today is report card day so assuming things look good, we’re going to Hibachi, a Japanese restaurant where the chef cooks at the table.  It’s a tradition and about the only time we go out to eat any more.  Of course, it is worth the wait!

Halloween video games

Halloween loot


Chow Chow

Green tomatoes

I used to turn my nose up at just about anything vegetable related, but especially things like chow chow and relish – stuff whose components cannot be easily identified.  Here I am a bunch of years later wondering why in the world I was so silly.  We had a ton of green tomatoes left in the garden when we decided to put it to bed for the winter.

Cutting up Green tomatoes

I am not one to just dump the free food so we carried every green tomato into the kitchen.  Thanks to the folks at Texas A & M University, we found a way to use them without my having to give myself some sort of tomato facial or make a tomato+Mt Dew sport drink.


1 peck (12 pounds) green tomatoes
8 large onions
10 green bell peppers
3 tablespoons salt
6 hot peppers (chopped)
1 quart vinegar
1 tablespoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cloves
3 tablespoons dry mustard
Few bay leaves
1 3/4 cups sugar
cup horseradish (optional)

Cooking chow chow

CHOP tomatoes, onions and peppers together and cover with the salt; let stand overnight. Drain, add the hot peppers, vinegar, spices (tied in cheese-cloth bag) and sugar; allow to boil slowly until tender (about 15 minutes). Add horseradish. Pack into sterilized Kerr jars to within inch of top. Put on cap, screw band FIRMLY TIGHT. Process in Boiling Water Bath 10 minutes.

Canned chow chow

Of course, chow chow is one of those mystery foods where you can really put just about anything into it.  I have seen it with cabbage before and I suppose you could shred squash or pumpkins too.  Anyhow, we made several jars of the stuff and it is really really good!




My Mom sent me a link to this cool site where you can desgin your own jack-o-lantern.  We virtually carved several options and settled on our favorites.  Wait, that sounds like we actually put some real planning into our pumpkin carving.  Ha!  We did do some virtual carving but then we just went to town on the orange gourds!

We decided that we have a new appreciation for our parents.  I cut the lids out and the kids reached into the pumpkins.  Isaac very nearly threw up on the spot.  Abigail held her supper a little better, but still wanted a pair of plastic gloves.

carving jack-o-lantern

Like our parents, we just decided to reach in and pull the seeds (which we roasted…yum!) and goop ourselves.  I have never been queasy about things but somehow, we made a couple of kids who gag at the sight or smell of anything and everything.  It was actually pretty hilarious.

carving jack-o-lanterns

Anyhow, the kids carved their own pumpkins with those amazing tools they sell for carving pumpkins.  Who knew that one could actually carve a pumpkin without danger of amputation! Anyhow, they did a heck of a job.  After carving, we set the pumpkins outside so they can draw the proper number of fruit flies before trick-or-treaters arrive.

We’re all ready for Halloween!

Destination Unknown

Plane contrails

I remember my Grandpa (who was born in 1914) talking about the first time he saw a car and a plane overhead. He had (and still has) all sorts of great stories of life in the early 1900s. It was such a different world compared to the one we live in now. I know that he wondered where life would take him when he was younger. He no doubt had some dreams of things to come. I am sure he had no idea that there would ever be contrails from so many jets crossing the sky overhead. He had no idea that the world population would grow from under 2 billion in 1920 to over 6 billion now and that food would be scarce in many places and maybe even here in the near future. I wonder how life will change in the coming years for my family and beyond. I cannot imagine how life will be. With global warming and the economic crisis, will life become more technologically advanced or will we revert to a more simple life?  Will we come out of it and just keep on doing what we are doing now?  In some ways, I get a bit panicky when I think about what is coming, but then I think of all that my Grandpa has experienced.  He survived.  He is generally happy and well-adjusted.  He has some great memories of times long ago.  We’ll be alright whatever comes.  I can’t imagine the stories I will have to tell!

This sucks

Vacuum sealing a jar

I talked a little about drying beans the other day but I didn’t tell you what we do with the beans once they are dried.  Actually, we dehydrate and dry all sorts of things actually and this applies to everything we do.  As I have said before, I get hair-brained ideas fairly regularly.  I wanted to be able to vacuum seal stuff in jars but I couldn’t see spending the money to get one of the fancy vacuum sealers.  Foodsaver makes attachments for their powered products to evacuate the air from mason jars so I decided to give that a try with a modification of how the air gets removed.  I needed something that sucks!

Vacuum sealing a jar with a brake bleeder

I can’t take sole credit for these ideas but I can’t remember where I saw a similar discussion on the idea.  Anyhow, a brake bleeder sucks just fine and, in fact, even has a vacuum guage on it to tell how much it sucks.  My first plan was to integrate the brake bleeder with the mason jar sealer.  Although I wouldn’t want to hand pump a brake bleeder all day long, I can pull a vacuum of 20 inches of Hg in about 30 seconds.  The mason jar sealer works perfectly for that.

Vacuum sealing a jar with an hvac pump

Moving on to bigger and better, Harbor Freight (a cheap tool supplier) has a vacuum pump for evacuating hvac systems.  You simply hook it up to your air compressor and it will draw around 28 inches of Hg.  I couldn’t make it work as well with the jar sealer for some reason though I didn’t try too hard either.  You can (as I did) fashion some sort of a cup-like end for a piece of hose.  You could use a stout film canister or a small piece of tupperware or somehting similar.

Vacuum sealing a jar with an hvac pump

Punch a hole in the lid of the jar and put a piece of duct sealing tape (the shiny silver stuff, not regular duct tape) on the lid leaving the hole exposed.  Hold the cup over the hole and tape and start the vacuum.  When you are finished, slide the cup off across the tape sealing the hole.  The vacuum will further hold the tape in place providing a great seal.

Vacuum sealing a jar with an hvac pump

With a little effort, you could probably use the hvac pump with the jar sealer too so it is worth a try.  My “cup” solution works for things like large pickle jars or other containers that aren’t mason jar sized.

Vacuum sealing a jar with an hvac pump

A traditional vacuum cleaner will not pull sufficient vacuum for this to work by the way.  You’ll need something designed to draw (from what I have read) somewhere around 15-25 inches of Hg to be sufficient.  Also, this is not a replacement for canning stuff that should be canned.  We only store dehydrated stuff this way.  Anyhow, it’s a pretty cool option for storing garden stuff and it can be pretty cheap depending on the junk you have laying around your workshop.

Roasted seeds

Huge Sunflower

We planted sunflowers this year as an experiment but, as usual, I had no idea what to do with them come harvest time.  After some searching, we found how simple it is to roast sunflower seeds.  The National Sunflower Association provides a simple recipe  We added 2 quarts of water and 1/4 cup of salt to a regular sauce pan.  Boiling Sunflower Seeds

We then added enough seeds to make the pan full but not in danger of overflowing.  Once boiling, we covered it and lowered the heat and simmered it for 2 hours.  I stirred it every now and then just to make sure nothing was missing out on the salty fun!  Afterwards, I heated the oven to 300 deg F and spread the seeds on a few cookie sheets.

Roasting Sunflower Seeds

The recipe says to bake for 30 minutes but it took much longer than that for ours to be dried and roasted.  Just keep an eye on it after 45 minutes of so.  We checked back every 15 or so minutes until they were done.  Don’t try to pile the seeds on too thick.  A single layer is necessary (don’t ask me how I know) for good roasting.  Once you finish the roast, let the seeds cool for half an hour before you pour them into a moisture and mouse proof container.

Roasted Sunflower Seeds

Some folks separate the seeds from the shells when they eat them.  Personally, I just eat the whole thing.  I have no trouble with fiber…that’s all I’ll say.  Emily is a separator.  She doesn’t appear to be ready for the Majors yet as her seed spit is not yet up to par.  We have a bunch of seeds though so I suppose she will have more time to practice!

Planting Garlic

Metechi Garlic

I planted garlic this weekend. Last year I ordered several types of garlic from Seed Savers Exchange.  We planted Music, Shvelisi (Chesnok red), and German Extra Hardy.  They all grew well but only the Music really appealed to us flavor-wise.  I saved 5 heads of it from this summer’s harvest and replanted the cloves from those heads.  I also ordered some new varieties from The Garlic Store.  We planted Metechi and Romanian Red garlic in addition to the Music.  All together, we planted almost 70 cloves of garlic this year.  That is an increase of around 10-20 from last year.

Metechi Garlic - separating cloves

So, in case you don’t know how to plant garlic, I’ll describe.  Garlic comes in heads that contain 4-12 cloves.  I dig a hole about 2-3 inches deep, spaced every 6-12 inches.  At the garden (i.e. not before) I separate the cloves of garlic and place them pointy end up in the bottom of the hole.  I replace the dirt and move on.  Typically, garlic is planted in the fall, usually around Columbus day.  Through the fall and winter, the garlic forms roots from the cloves and begins to form a new head.  Some folks plant garlic in the early spring but it just seems easier to me to plant them in the fall and forget about it.  My garlic is all hard-neck which means that each clove will send up a hard stalk in the spring that will persist until
Hole for Garlic - separating cloves
harvest (I am sure there are other differences between hard and soft-neck also).  We harvest in July when the leaves from the hard stalks start to wither and turn brown.  We carefully dig the garlic and hang it to dry in the shed (leave the dirt still attached).   Once it dries for 4-6 weeks, we trim the leaves and roots and store in onion sacks in the cellar.  Easy-schmeesy!

Planting Garlic

We use a ton of garlic in canning and cooking so it is likely that we will use every bit of this garlic.  Once you try fresh garlic in things, it is hard to beat.  The stuff is simple to grow and fairly cheap to get started.  It’s easy to save heads for the next season so your investment can be a one time deal if you find types you like.  There are several places that sell garlic but they usually sell out early so start looking in July or August.  What we plant is organic but that’s up to you.  Garlic is sterile and will not cross pollinate so you can plant different varieties side by side.

My first time…

Knifty knitter loom

They say you never forget your first time…knitting.  This weekend will forever be in my memory.  This special time of my life was beyond my expectation.  Why do people have such a hard time talking to the kids about…knitting?

So I was inspired by the folks at Children in the Corn to try this form of loom knitting.  I have never been one to have enough patience to sit down and do stuff like this so their mention of knocking out a hat in an evening was appealing.  I have never heard of Knifty Knitter looms so I wandered out to our local junk retailer and bought the cheapest one they had.  There are a variety of looms for making all sorts of things but I wanted to ease into this.  My wife accuses me of too often jumping into things with both feet so I decided to honor her and only spend $4 on this newest hobby (if it becomes that).  So, the cheapest loom that the junk retailer had was the flower loom.  The package assured me that I could make all sorts of things besides flowers so I figured I was set for life.  Never mind the pink loom or the purple hook.  I was about to be a knitter.

Knifty knitter loom knitting

What I didn’t know was that the only pattern that came with the loom was for flowers.  A quick internet search turned up the only other pattern for that loom – the friendze scarf.  Cool…I have a daughter…she’ll dig a friendze scarf knitted by her Dad on a pink loom.  This isn’t wierd at all.  Sure enough, Abigail loved the first scarf I knitted.  She danced around as I worked on the first one.  She sang and laughted and giggled and hung around while I worked.  She even said she loved me for knitting her a scarf.  She took it to school to show her friends and teacher.  I really like knitting now…that’s the easiest $4 I ever spent!

I learned a few things along the way…superglue every other peg into the loom if you never plan to make flowers.  The pegs are designed to pull out for flowers but are a real pain for scarves.

Work around the loom clockwise but wrap the thread around individual pegs counter clockwise. If you don’t, you’ll gnaw off your own arm and beat yourself senseless with it…trust me on this one lefty.

Single color yarn is more difficult to work with than variegated.  Both are cool though.

Friendze scarf

Get more looms.  My daughter liked the first two scarves but I think she is ready for something cooler and bigger now.  These things are so simple to use that I will likely buy more and make more stuff.  I need to wear a winter hat in the cold as I have no hair to protect my noggin.  I tend to go through knit hats like I change underwear…at least once a month.  Being able to knit my own in an hour or so sounds pretty good to me.

If you buy a pink loom, don’t let your son catch you using it.  My boy doesn’t know why he teases me but he knows it’s funny.  That’s all I will say about that.

Special times…I will never forget my first time…knitting.  Now that I have done it, I can’t get enough.  I want to knit all the time – in the car, watching tv, outside in the woods, while other people watch.  I am a knit-o-maniac!

A hard lesson in science

Ice frozen to her lip

We were planting garlic and messing with the bees this weekend when Abigail hollered at me. She and Isaac have this strange love of sucking on ice cubes. I don’t really get it but then, I am an adult. Anyhow, Abigail had gotten an ice cube stuck to her upper lip. I would have been surprised but apparently this sort of thing runs in the family. When Emily was a kid, someone dared her to stick her tongue to a fence post. Not one to pass up a dare, she grabbed the fence and puckered up. Needless to say, she found herself stuck to the fence, tongue frozen in place. Abigail fared better than her mother in freeing herself, however. She wasn’t terribly impressed with my finding humor in her predicament, but I think she learned a lesson in how ice works and how warm water is a great antidote. I love the opportunity to laugh a little at my kids and to teach them a little too!

End of the Summer Garden

Tomato and pepper harvest

We wrapped up the summer garden last weekend. Mentally, we checked out of it a few weeks ago, completely exhausted from canning and drying and pickling and cooking. Gardening and canning is exhausting work though we both really enjoy it (don’t ask us now, ask us in February) and it gives us a lot of time to work together towards a common goal, chat about the day or the future or our dreams. It provides us with fantastic nutrition and exercise. We have no fear of a vitamin D deficiency in the summer sun. It’s just the right thing for us to do.

It is equally good to put the summer garden to rest though. We get to take a break and enjoy a bit of the work that we’ve done.

Hobbit feet?

I don’t suppose to have any real idea of our ancestors who really survived on the land, but I think I feel a small bit of the relief of having food put up, of the rest of fall and winter, and the simple joy of seeing stuff transition from seed to seed.

Dried black bean seed pods

Ok, enough pondering life. We gathered a bunch of cayenne and jalapeno peppers (will they ever end?!), black beans, green peppers and tomatoes (those are 6 gallon buckets in the first pic) at the close of the garden.  We actually picked several crops of black beans that had dried on the vine over the course of the summer. Anyone pulling up the plants early to harvest dried beans is missing a huge second or third crop.

Mo with beans

Anyhow, Emily spent a good part of one evening shelling the last crop of black beans. Mo, our cat loved the seed pods. He chased them all over the place. We dry the beans on a clothes drying rack covered with cotton fabric which is held in place with clothes pins. The cool thing is that the entire rack folds down almost flat and is easy to store.

Drying black beans

It’s also a lot cheaper than some of the fancier racks and the cotton fabric can be washed unlike some of the window screen versions that some folks have made.

Anyhow, we are done with our summer garden.  We are planting garlic tomorrow but that is fairly low key compared to everything else.  ‘Tis good to have a break!