Friday, August 31, 2012

How To Sterilize Jars

An essential part of home preservation and canning is being sure to sterilize canning jars. You never know what kind of germies might be in there that could make your carefully-crafted pickles, jams, or preserves turn  into mold-ridden stomachaches (or worse!) waiting to happen. Sterilizing is the process of killing harmful bacteria that can accumulate in jars and on lids. This happens by heating jars/lids to a minimum of 175 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes. Sterilizing gives you a "blank slate" for your canning creations and eliminates most bacterial risks for contamination.

Some sources say that if you are pressure-canning an item or processing in a hot water-bath canner for more than 15 minutes, there is no need to sterilize jars; however, I feel very strongly that you should sterilize anyway. It only takes a few minutes and gives you hot jars needed for many hot-packed canning recipes (ie - recipes that require hot liquid/preserves be poured into hot jars to prevent jar breakage).

There are a couple methods to sterilizing your jars. My preferred method is in the oven, just because I feel it's less messy (and safer/less likely to burn my arms and hands) than other methods.

How to Sterilize Jars in the Oven
Place clean jars and lids in a baking dish or carefully on a baking tray (I use an old enamelwear roasting pan because I can slide it in and out of the oven easily without worrying about the jars falling out. I place the lids in the upside-down lid of the roaster). Put them in a 200 degree Fahrenheit oven for 15 minutes. If you aren't quite ready to fill your jars, turn the oven down to "warm" or to it's lowest setting and let jars/lids sit until you are ready. Not only does this sterilize your jars, but it softens the rubber on canning lids to create a better seal when processing jars. The oven method eliminates having to pull jars full of boiling water out of the hot water-bath canner and allows for many jars to be sterilized at once.

How to Sterilize Jars in Hot Water
Place clean jars in a canning rack, then add about 1-inch to 2-inches of hot water to each jar (this keeps jars from floating once they hit the water). Carefully lower canning rack into the canner filled with enough boiling water to cover jars by at least one inch. Boil jars for 15 minutes. Remove jars/rack from canner and dump hot water back into canner from jars. Place jars upside-down on a fresh towel to drain out remaining water.

In the meantime, put lids in a small pot and cover with water (overlapping is fine, but don't stack them right on top of each other). Boil for 5 minutes. Remove lids with a lid lifter.

How to Sterilize Jars in the Dishwasher
If your jars haven't been recently washed, place jars and lids in the dishwasher and clean according to your dishwasher's instructions. Remove hot jars/lids from dishwasher and use immediately.

If your jars and lids are clean, sterilize them using an Express Glass or Sanitize setting on your dishwasher (no soap necessary). Remove hot jars/lids from dishwasher and use immediately.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Helpful Tip: Storing Peanut Butter

If you buy natural peanut butter, you probably suffer from the affliction of "oh-dang-my-pb-is-all-dried-out." It's very scientific and leads to increased cortisol levels and hunger pangs. Stirring your peanut butter regularly avoids this predicament, but somehow the little bit in the bottom grooves of the container always get missed.

Today's helpful tip comes from my friend and fellow blogger, Daniel B. over on FUSSYlittleBLOG. In his house, they store all-natural peanut butter upside-down, so that the peanut oil gathers on the bottom of the container. Pulling the oil back up is much easier that forcing it down. This works for any nut butter. Just stir away!

Image via Wikipedia

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Join the Locavore Challenge

This September, NOFA-NY will be running its 3rd Locavore Challenge. I'm participating - are you? It's not so much a challenge as a guide to adding more local foods to your diet throughout September with a big potluck celebration at the end of the month. Here's an example of some of the "challenges."

While this challenge is geared towards New Yorkers (the state, not the city, though NYC is included of course!), anyone could easily join in on the fun. For more details, click here, and sign-up right over here. I'll be sharing tips for a locavore diet throughout September, and I hope you'll add a comment on your tips, too!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hurricane Irene: One Year Later

A year ago today, everything changed for my small little section of the world. Hurricane Irene ripped through the Northeast, bringing with it historic flooding (the worst flooding in half of a millennium, since records of such things began). And then just went it seemed to be over, Tropical Storm Lee came charging through.

The swollen Batavia Kill swept away part of this house on Monday Aug. 29, 2011,  in Windham, NY, as a result of rain from Tropical Storm Irene  Eric Lenseth lived in the house, and got his aunt Anne Brabazon out before this two story  section was swept away.  (Philip Kamrass / Times Union) Photo: Philip Kamrass / AL

A new modular home overlooks the now placid Batavia Kill, which swept away part of the house formerly there in August 2011 when it became swollen as a result of heavy rains from Tropical Storm Irene. The new home is seen on Tuesday Aug. 21, 2012 in Windham, NY. (Philip Kamrass / Times Union) Photo: Philip Kamrass / AL

For our farm, few things are different that they were on August 27, 2011. We lost several trees and parts of the orchard, and the barn, which experienced flooding, is a little worse-for-wear. Christmas ornaments and some appliances and tools in the basement are ruined, but generally our lives are unchanged. For residents just a short drive away from us, everything is completely different.

Take a short drive just ten minutes from my house, and it's like driving into a war zone. Homes are demolished. Trees are uprooted, their canopies scattered across roads. Pavement and bridges washed away. Fields of grass and corn ruined, and livestock expired in barnyards. Storybook villages and Main Streets all but wiped off the map completely. The National Guard patrols the area relentlessly. There was no way in, no way out for weeks.

Natasha Shuster, co owner of the Catskill Mountain Country Store, cleans up from the damage caused by Hurricane Irene, on Monday Aug. 29, 2011,  in Windham, NY.  Two cars ended up in the shattered parking area in front of the store. (Philip Kamrass / Times Union) Photo: Philip Kamrass / AL

Drew Schuster tends to flowers outside of his restored Catskill Mountain Country Store, damaged by the swollen Batavia Kill in August 2011 as a result of heavy rains from Tropical Storm Irene, on Tuesday Aug. 21, 2012 in Windham, NY. Two cars sank into the formerly shattered parking area where he now stands.  (Philip Kamrass / Times Union) Photo: Philip Kamrass / AL

Just a few miles and a few feet in elevation made all the difference. It could have been us, the only saving grace being that we live on a hill and not a floodplain. It's hard to forget that, as I drive my usual roads and still see houses completely shifted off their foundations, chicken coops and small barns tumbled on their roofs like children's toys, and cornfields still recovering from the inches (feet) of river muck that ruined the previous year's crop.

No house number could be found for this house on Main St., but the house is next door to 14450 Main St. in Prattsville seen here  on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011.   Many of the homes in the town were badly damaged by Tropical Storm Irene and the flooding it brought.  (Paul Buckowski / Times Union) Photo: Paul Buckowski / 00014963A

A new house on Main Street was built by volunteers and with grants and donations for Virginia Kennedy, after it was torn off its foundation by floodwaters caused by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, on Thursday Aug. 23, 2012 in Prattsville, NY. She said the old foundation was filled in, and the new house was built on a slab some five feet higher than her previous home. The building next door is #14450. (Philip Kamrass / Times Union) Photo: Philip Kamrass / 00018994A

But all hope wasn't lost. These little towns have recovered remarkably in just a year. The face might change but the soul is the same. Families, farms, and businesses are slowly-but-surely reclaiming what they can from Mother Nature and working to build a new normal. The wounds heal, but the scars remain. This won't be the last time my morceau du monde experiences flooding, but there is comfort in knowing that the sun will come out again.

A view of a condemned home at 14602 Main St. in Prattsville on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011. Many of the homes in the town were badly damaged by Tropical Storm Irene and the flooding it brought.  (Paul Buckowski / Times Union) Photo: Paul Buckowski / 00014963A

14602 Main Street, a three story home, which sustained heavy damage from floodwaters caused by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011,  was formerly on this lot, on Thursday Aug. 23, 2012 in Prattsville, NY. (Philip Kamrass / Times Union) Photo: Philip Kamrass / 00018994A

Much of the sunshine in the past year has been in the form of kindness. Kindness from neighbors and kindness from strangers. Throngs of people descended on these damaged towns to clean the wreckage and rebuild what they can. Donations of food and supplies came from near and far. Aesop wrote, "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." Hurricane Irene proved that to be true. I don't think anyone will ever forget the incredibly kindness shown to the storm-ridden. There was no looting. There was no violence. Just people helping people to make things better. We all have a choice as to how we act in a time of distress - sometimes it takes a crisis to prove the kindness we all innately possess.

Video of the storm, it's aftermath, and what these towns look like a year later is available here.

Images courtesy of the Times Union

Friday, August 24, 2012

Where I Get My Groceries

Today, I’m doing a multi-post series chronicling how I actually eat (everything from what I typical feed my family during the day to how I maintain a garden). You can read more on From Scratch Club and Eat Local.

I thought I would talk about the places that I shop and source from. Even though I live in a small town (population: 377), I have a bevy of options when it comes to groceries.

In the warmer months (and with stuff that can be over-wintered), I love “shopping” in my backyard. Having sustenance from one’s own efforts is a luxury I wish more people had. I’m talking about my garden over on the Eat Local blog.

I get a lot of produce and cheeses from Mildred’s, which is run by Jessica. It’s right in town and I try to go over once a week. Some of the items I buy at Mildred’s include cheese, berries, tomatoes, onion, potatoes, seeds and plants. I even get my Christmas tree, topsoil, and mulch here. Jessica is great and I know I can shoot her a message on Facebook anytime and she’ll do her best to accommodate my requests.

Echo Pond Farm
My neighbors own Echo Pond Farm and run a small farm stand at the end of their driveway. I get delicious sweet corn, peppers, squash, grapes, and pumpkins. I have great neighbors who are always happy to help me with gardening advice, and even gave the kids a giant pumpkin last year for Halloween (same neighbor with the great homebrewing advice!). It’s great to see much of what I eat grown just up the road, too.

I get my spices and many baking supplies here (and sometimes junky stuff like candy and chips and such). Rice, pasta, local honey are also available. They now offer freshly milled local flour – score!


I run here to get milk and ice cream as needed, and that’s about it (and my favorite flavor of ice cream, Dark Chocolate, just won the top prize at the 2012 World Dairy Expo!)

I get deli items and meats here, especially sustainably-raised beef from just up the road. Local sausages are available, as is the most delicious hamburger, named after our town.

I don’t buy much pre-packaged food, but I do still buy “essentials” (vinegars, oil, salt, baking products, hummus, milk, any prescriptions (when needed)) from my local grocery store (Hannaford). They also have racecar shopping carts, which make the kids super-happy.

Other Items
Since I also do a lot of home preservation (aka: Canning and “putting up”), I can typically turn to my pantry to find lots of jams, jellies, sauces, relishes, and other items to build meals from.

If I’m in that neck of the woods, I’ll stop into the Fresh Market or Honest Weight Food Co-Op for gourmet or specialty items. I try to hit up the farmers market when I can, but because I can get most of what I need locally or from my own backyard, I don’t need to visit as often as others might. Sometimes I'll hit-up the little liquor store in town or grab take-out from the small restaurants in town.

Where do you grocery shop? Are you a “one-stop-shopper” or do you go to several smaller markets? Share your “shopping strategy” in the comments, if you’d like!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Help Me Pick Paint Colors!

I've been planning on painting the farmhouse for a while now. When we first bought the house, the paint was in good shape, I just wasn't crazy about the colors (the green felt dated and the white-on-white main field and trim caused a lot of the Victorian detail to get lost). Now, the paint is really chipping off and the house looks a little, well, dumpy. The last time the house was painted was probably 20 years ago, so I'm hoping that with good preparation and quality paint, this paint job will last another 20.

 Here, you can see some of the details on the house... I'm also working on new landscaping, so stay tuned!

The front of the house... I'm hoping to put a front porch on the house in the next few years.

The roof is dark green, which kind of limits the colors we can use on the house. But that's okay, since I really wanted to include some green on the house, anyway. I've tested a bunch of colors on the house and I think I've finally narrow the choices down... but I need help! Here are the three color schemes I've decided on - would you be so kind as to help me choose one? Thanks!

So, here's how the palettes work: The upper left color is the main color on the house. The upper right color is the primary trim color (mostly on the window trims and shakes in the gables). The bottom left color is the secondary trim color, going on window details and other architectural trim. The bottom right color is the accent for the Victorian arches in the gables, the doors, window boxes, and some detail around the bay window. (Heads up: The colors read a bit darker on the screen than in real life).

Option One:

Option Two:

Option Three:

Whaddya think? The colors definitely read differently here than on the house, but I think you'll get the gist. As excited as I am to paint the house, I'm not looking forward to the grunt work. Thanks for your help with the colors, and if you have other ideas, please share!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cocktail Tumblers

I couldn't leave you with all those cocktail recipes without something pretty to drink them from! Behold... cocktail tumblers (more encompassing than "cocktail glasses!").

Other options: Take a trip to a local thrift store or second-hand shop and see what you can find! Buying previously-loved items keeps them out of landfills, reduces our carbon footprint, and helps foster a sustainable lifestyle. Or save your wine bottles, cut with a glass cuter to desired height, and sand the rough edges for homemade glass tumblers.

And, of course, a few more cocktail and drink recipes to fill those tumblers!

Herbal Digestive // Sweet Savannah Sipper // Positano Peach // Watermelon Julep // Rosie Collins // Spicy Margarita // Hot Toddy // Tea Toddy // Hot Gin Toddy // Hot Run Toddy // Ginger Toddy // Grape Expectations // Teapot Dick // Late Night Oil // The Chapman // Mulled Cider // Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezey Refresher // Strawberry Pucker // Red, White, and Blue Rickey // Melon Daquiri

The above tumblers fit at least one of the Sustainable Living credos: Either it is made from organic, all-natural, and/or sustainable materials; is an American company; is made in America; is made my individual artisans or craftspeople; or donates regularly through a charitable giving program.