Starting the Seedlings

I vowed to start earlier this year–no dragging my little feet, making excuses, or just not doing it.  So this past weekend JGL graciously installed my grow lamp in the basement, and after procuring some fresh potting soil I began pulling out my trusty seed starting supplies:  pots, tray, soil, seeds and popsicle sticks.  There are several varieties of tomatoes, jalapenos, and the seeds I saved from the super hot peppers.  We’re about a month and a half ahead of schedule, compared to last year, and I’m really hoping that it will pay off in terms of helping the seedlings get bigger and stronger so we’ll get fruit out of them sooner.

 

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Catching Up

I feel like there’s so much to post–all of the awesome New Englandy things I experienced and was inspired by during my last travel trip, the gorgeous fall weather we’ve been having here in VA, and the local apples that were phenomenal this weekend, and the like.  But as we sit here in front of the first fire of the fall, I figured I’d start with dinner tonight–turkey sausage, pasta and (probably) the last tomatoes of the season.

I whipped this together in between grinding our own hamburger and making a couple of different casseroles for later this week.  I used fresh late season tomatoes and some beautiful basil combined with some turkey sausage–it was savory and perfect for the cool weather, but it still had the bright, fresh flavors that we’ve grown accustom to this summer.  The end result was delicious, and probably will have JGL and I jockeying for who will get the leftovers tomorrow.

Turkey Sausage with Pasta and Tomatoes
 
2 Turkey Sausage Links, casings removed
1 Tablespoon whole wheat flour
White wine
Lemon Juice
Tomatoes
Basil
Salt and pepper to taste
Pasta
 
Before starting with sauce, bring a pot of water to a boil, add pasta.  Take sausage and brown in pan.  Once cooked through, work flour into sausage and let the fat get absorbed by flour.  While the sausage cooks, dice tomatoes and cut basil into ribbons.  Add about a 1/4 cup of wine and about a 1/4 cup of lemon juice into sausage mixture and let get thick.  Drain pasta, but leave a little bit of pasta water in the bottom of the pan;  add to sausage mixture and stir.  Just before serving, add the tomatoes and basil and salt and pepper to taste.  

Slowly but surely…

…we’re finally starting to get a haul of veggies!  The tomatoes are finally ripening, I have two cucumbers on the vine up front, and the rogue pumpkin patch is starting to show off as well.  Work and such has been (and will be) nutty, but we’re hoping to get out and can some of the tomatoes, and start some pre-fall weeding so it won’t be quite so bad in the next few months.  Better late than never!

Tomato-Basil Jam

My hands currently look like serial killer hands–my nails and cuticles are stained a nasty shade of deep purple/red and no matter how much I scrub or wash my hands, it’s sticking.  I know it makes me look gross, but I’m kind of digging it.  Why, you might ask?

Because these are preservers hands, and they make me feel like I’m really accomplishing something for my family.   I’m watching my store of jams, jellies, fruits and veggies just get more robust downstairs, and I’m thrilled because I already know that come the middle of winter when all I can think about is when the first seed catalog of the season will get here, I can crack open a can of cherries, or fresh peaches, or thaw out some beans and I can be automatically transporting to the middle of summer.  It’s not out of necessity that we can, but how can you not get a little excited about providing something local, healthy, and cheap for your family?

Last night I finished up the last bit of the cherries and made cherry jam, and then with the benevolent gift of tomatoes from the across the street neighbors I tried my hand at some tomato-basil jam that I’ve been eyeing up since we picked up the canning magazine during our vacation.

And let me tell you, folks, this stuff is DANGEROUS.  There was just a smidge left in the pan after I filled the jars, and JGL and I were pushing and shoving each other out of the way to try to sop up the last, sweet bite with our bread.  The jam is very sweet, really showcasing the fruity aspect of the tomatoes, but the basil really helps to remind you that this is a sweet and savory treat.  I’m really envisioning us either pouring this over a block of cream cheese and enjoying with crackers, or using as a base for a mid-winter crostini.  I’m also envisioning another batch being put in smaller jars for holiday gifts (sorry for the spoiler, y’all!)  When I do this recipe again, I’m going to extend the cooking time on the last boil to help reduce the mixture down and reduce the moisture content–this first batch was a bit loose, and I think a firmer set will really help the texture.

I really hope you’ll try your hand at this gorgeous and different jam–it’s so easy, and so incredibly delicious!

Tomato-Basil Jam
Adapted from BH&G Canning Magazine, page 27
 
2 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled
1/4 cup lemon juice (I substituted a 1/4 cup Veritas Chardonay for the juice)
3 TBS Snipped fresh basil
3 cups sugar
1 package powdered fruit pectin for lower sugar recipes
  • Seed, core and finely chop tomatoes (I just crushed them with my hands).
  • Take half of the tomatoes (about 3 1/2 cups) and bring to boil in a heavy pot.
  • Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes
  • Add remainder of tomatoes, wine and basil to the pot, stir together mixture.
  • In a small bowl combine 1/4 cup sugar and the packet of pectin.
  • Stir into mixture, and bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly
  • Add remaining sugar and return to a rolling boil
  • Boil hard for 1 minute, reduce heat and allow mixture to reduce to desired consistency
  • Remove from heat, and ladle into hot jars with a 1/4 headspace.
  • Process jars in boiling water for 5 minutes.
  • Makes about 5 half-pints (mine last night made about 6)

The Tomato Forest

Earlier this summer we managed to get our hands on about 50 free tomato plants.  JGL tilled up the back with the compost that we’ve been brewing since December, and we’ve been letting them do their thing, and on all accounts they seem to be doing well.  As the compost started to do its thing, we noticed that several of the pumpkin and gourd seeds that made their way in had survived and sprouted.  We now not only have a tomato forest, but a pretty sizable pumpkin patch as well.

I’ve let the pumpkins and gourds be because I’m wondering if they’ll control the weeds and provide the tomatoes with shade and protection–I’m very much hoping this will be a happy accident, and one that will grace our doorstep with a magnificent fall display!

Food Joy

I don’t hide the fact, and neither does JGL, that we’re full-fledged bona fide Weight Watchers.  I’ve been at goal for a little over four years, and JGL is slowly but surely smashing through his small goals and can see marked progress with how he feels and looks–if he’s not at goal by the end of the year, I’ll be shocked.  I love the meetings, JGL…he indulges me.  The past few weeks, though, our fellow WW’s seem almost bitter about being on WW, and not really embracing the fact that they’re enrolled in a program that is a full lifestyle change, and is still pretty damn delicious.  A few weeks ago there was a rant about butter.  Yup, butter.  And granted, I get it–this time of year there are super sized ice cream delights partnered with deliciously fatty barbecue fare, and I even saw a 24 pack of variety beer labeled as a Summer Survival pack–and it looked AMAZING.  If you’re watching your weight, this time of year can be almost more tricky than the holidays.

And again, I get it–been there, done that, and have been very angry that I have to be really careful of what I put in my mouth while others keep their slim waistlines just by existing.  But JGL and I both agreed after today’s meeting that this time of year for us is not filled with that awful dread that comes with food you know is not good for you, or the frustration for lack of choices that taste good–for us, summer is pure food joy.  Currently sitting in our kitchen is a 1/2 peck of peaches, blackberries, fresh hickory peach salsa I whipped up, and cherry and heirloom tomatoes.  And cherries, glorious cherries that were on super sale!  And with the exception of the salsa, all of these gorgeous goodies are, wait for it, 0 points plus (the salsa by itself is about 1 points plus per serving since the only thing that has points in it is olive oil).

I’m obviously obsessed about food, how it gets to my table, and how I can make it better.  I’m not sure if the reason the collective “we” is so frustrated because we as the average every day Americans have very much lost touch with the basic fact that food is fuel, and the fact that it tastes good at all is very much an added bonus.   I am so grateful not only for Weight Watchers and how it gave me my health back, but for all of the fresh, local and delicious food sources that we have here in our own back yard, and just down the road at the Farmer’s Market.   I guess I get frustrated because I want others to have a positive experience with programs like WW, and I hate hearing that folks are frustrated with their food choices when such amazing options are truly in their back yard.

That’s the brain food I’ve been chewing on today–I’d love to hear any thoughts if you’re mentally chewing on something similar!

Back at the Homestead…

I’m always amazed at what a difference a week makes in July.  When I left, the tomatoes barely had flower buds on them, and now, now they look like this

The weather right now is also helping our plants just leap out of the ground–it’s hot, hot, hot, and humid, meaning lots of heat and sun during the day, and good old fashion rains at night.  I just finished watering the whole kitchen garden and then some, I’m hoping to see some massive progress with these tomatoes and beans over the next few weeks.  There doesn’t seem to be the blossom rot that there was last year (knockonwood!), so heres to hoping that adding all those egg shells to the soil when we first dug up the kitchen garden helped to give all these plants the calcium that they needed.

In other gardening news, the flowers are just popping out front, and I’m really pleased how everything is finally starting to fill in and look.  I’m really proud of how all of our hard work is starting to pay off, and I hope the neighbors are happier now that things are looking better.

As JGL and I both dive head first into work this week, I know we’re excited to get some time together this weekend.  Aaand a certain husband promised a trip to the farmers market after WW on Saturday…get excited!

 

Tomato flowers and beans galore

We just returned from a glorious weekend in Lexington (and a HUGE thanks to the T family for taking us in yet again–we soo love visiting with you all!), and I was thrilled upon our return today to see that not only had our tomato plants up front had started to flower, but our green beans and burgundy beans had long, slender fruit hanging from the plants.  I’m thinking that by the end of the week we’ll be able to have a delicious and fresh beans for dinner.

 

 

A Change of Plans

I had resigned myself to the fact that the back garden just wasn’t going to do anything this year.  Take a year off, and we would tackle it full force next season–seemed like a good plan just a month ago.

And yet this morning I find myself with 50 plus free tomato plants and a husband determined to till the rest of the back forty with the hope of copious amounts of canned tomatoes whispering sweetly in his dreams.

And we’re back in the game?  (the game!)

More once our forest of tomatoes are planted….

Marigold Pairing

The other day our sweet across the street neighbors invited us over to take a peek at their gardens in the back.  They are certainly accomplished gardeners, and have been incredibly helpful in establishing some of our gardens.  Rusty was most proud, though, of his tomatoes, which much to my disbelief were almost as tall as I am and had several green tomatoes clinging to the vine.

Ours are not looking this good.

JGL immediately noticed that the plants were also free of those pesky little holes from where bugs and other critters nibble, and when he asked how they prevented that, Rusty pointed to the base of the plant and simply said, “Marigolds.”  For every plant there was a companion Marigold, which apparently helps prevents the bugs, deer, and other unmentionable critters from feasting on a harvest.

Considering that I remembered that a flat of 6 marigold plants were on sale for 99 cents a piece, let’s just say all of our plants are snuggling up close to a friend right about now.