Wednesday, September 26, 2012

So, What's Cookin' or Brewing or Fermenting?

I am learning so much right now and happy that I can absorb information, albeit slowly and in bits after multiple exposures.  My short-term memory problems are alive and well.  I have found that I can, however, learn new information as long as I revisit, review, reread, and do it hands on style.

I created a log of what is going on in my kitchen.  It is a 3-ring binder containing notebook paper and some of my knitting patterns in sheet protectors that I want to, and need to, knit.  Totally not related but didn't have another binder so there it is.  I have some recipes I printed out or created in the front pocket and the manual for my dehydrator in the rear pocket.  I should transfer them to sheet protectors as they keep falling out every time I pick up the binder.  Note to self: put stuff in sheet protectors.

Whenever I start a new batch of something I create a page with the name of the brew/ferment/starter and what sized container it is in. I record the date, what ingredients I used to start the batch and maybe the date when it needs to be checked.  I then create a label on medical tape (because that is all I could find) and stick it to the cloth cover.  It might say "KT Honey" or "Vinegar Scoby KT" or "BG KT Sugar".  Not terribly scientific but it is working fairly well. 

When I add anything to the batch I record exactly what and the date.  I try to take notes on flavors, textures, what is used to cover (plastic wrap, cloth, jar lid), and any changes I see.  If the batch gets anything I don't want in it like mold or fruit flies it gets thrown away and the pages is marked "Done" with final notes. It isn't all about successes.  It is about learning at this stage and I am having a blast.  Now for some updates on some of my current projects.

Ginger Bug

My ginger bug came to life when I dumped 1/4 cup of sugar instead of the usual 2 teaspoons along with the daily 2 teaspoons of fresh ginger.  But the biggest change was replacing the plastic lid with a cloth cover so the mixture could breathe and be exposed to yeast and bacteria (the good kind). I also switched to grating the ginger from chopping.  Huge difference.  Crazy activity, and finally, YES, finally I have ginger bug.

Ginger bug started (not much life)
The sediment on the bottom of the jar is the Ginger Bug

I am studying the making of Ginger Beer, different recipes, trying to wrap my head around the process.  It is fairly complicated and it could be dangerous (exploding jars), so I want to be very careful and probably place my brew in a plastic bucket with a lid and possibly keep it wrapped in towels.  Just possibly and most probably that is what I will do.

First Times

Sauerkraut (left) and encurtido (right)
After discovering that fermented vegetables contain wonderful, healthful probiotics I wanted to give it a try.  And since my boys are adventurous I knew it wouldn't go to waste.  All I have to do is tell them that it is really healthy for them and they are game to give it a try.

Sauerkraut is simply sliced organic green cabbage sprinkled with salt, pounded for as long as I could handle it (using the wooden part of my ricer I might add), place in hermetic jar, add more brine to cover cabbage and leave for a minimum of 4 weeks.

The encurtido was going to be fermented but I have a missionary friend who lives in Honduras who shared with me their encurtido recipe so I couldn't resist.  When I read vinegar and sugar I was hooked.  I love sweet pickle relish, anything with vinegar and sugar in it, really.  So I chopped up red onions, carrots, peeled a bunch of my home grown garlic (which are very small but perfect for this recipe because you put them in whole), a huge hot and sweet pepper, fresh oregano and some red pepper flakes (because I didn't have any jalapenos.  I tasted it the next day and Yum!  I tasted it on Day 2 and it has some fire and even more flavor.  I am going to love this stuff.

Fermenting garlic
My fermenting garlic after a week.  I actually used one of the cloves from the smaller jar last night in our stir fry veggies.  FYI: those are really big cloves of garlic.  I bought 10 heads of garlic from one of the organic farm vendors at the Chester Sunday Market in Chester, Connecticut.  Last Sunday I bought 2 more just to have some fresh around.  They were hardneck garlic; the variety name eludes me.

Kombucha with baby scoby
My first batch of Kombucha was ready on Tuesday.  I took the scoby mother and baby and started a new batch of Kombucha.  I then let my children taste Kombucha for the very first time.  This stuff was not sweet at all.  The two that tried it absolutely loved it and wanted more (which they didn't get because you start out drinking Kombucha very slowly and carefully as it can cause some problems as the body starts to detox).

At the same time I started a new batch with my Blue-Green algae Kombucha (store-bought KT which formed a scoby here at home).  We'll see how well is works.  I will not be adding blue-green algae to the subsequent batches.

I am hoping that next week I will be able to brew a 5 liter batch.  Just hoping!

Seed Preservation and Sharing

Fermenting cucumber and tomato seeds for preservation

I have been collecting seeds from my heirloom vegetables, mostly lettuce right now.  Lots and lots of lettuce.  However, I decided to start fermenting some Suyo Long cucumber and Yellow Pear Cherry Tomato seeds since they are part of a swap.  Just take the seeds out of the vegetable, place in a glass or jar, cover with a little water, cover container with plastic wrap and let nature do her thing.  The top gets moldy and the fermenting process removes that gel substance on those seeds which prevent germination.  When they are finish fermenting I will rinse them in a strainer and allow to dry on a dinner plate.  Placed in a paper envelope and marked with variety and date they are ready to save for next year or share as I am doing.  I have two people waiting for seeds.

The littlest pumpkin

The pumpkin vine died before this little guy (above) could ripen.  It was still partially green when I picked it and brought it in.  A few days ago I noticed a little black mildew on the outside so I decided to process it.  Wash outside with water, rubbing away any dirt and/or mildew.  Cut in half.  Scoop out seeds and stringy part.  Place each half face down in a baking dish with about 1/2" of water and bake at 350 degrees F for about an hour or until pumpkin is tender.  Scoop flesh out, puree and either freeze or use in the recipe of your choice.  This little baby sugar pumpkin produced exactly 1 cup of puree.  I intended to freeze it and use it with other pumpkin I process in the future but I got it in my head that I wanted to try pumpkin pancakes and I just happened to find an amazingly delicious whole wheat pumpkin pancake recipe.  In the place of the applesauce I just added another egg.  I also added a few more pumpkin pie type spices such as ginger and cloves, just a teensy bit.  As I always do with pancake recipes, I started with beating the eggs until foamy.  This makes for a very light and fluffy pancake.  The rest was as directed in the recipe.  I should have taken some pictures but the boys literally stood by the stove and ate each huge pancake as it came out of the pan.  Served with organic butter and maple syrup, these were heavenly.

That's all for today.  Hope you have something awesome cooking, brewing or fermenting in your kitchen!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Joys of Homemade Vinegar -- It's Just Peachy, or Pear-y, or Apple-y

Pear Vinegar

Why Homemade Vinegar?


I have already shared a little bit about my accidental venture into vinegar making, pear vinegar to be exact.  I shall recap:

Pear tree gives me bumper crop of pears, I have never canned before so I am scrambling to learn the ins and outs of pear butter, pear jam, pear sauce.  I am on my last few ounces of apple cider vinegar which I use for a lot of foods and for health reasons.  Ladies and gentlemen: ACV is excellent for maintaining urinary tract health.  It is good for controlling candida yeast overgrowth.  It can even help with fighting infections.

So I am running out of my organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar, I have a ton of pears and I wonder, just wonder how difficult can it be to turn these pears into vinegar.  But I don't want to spare pears to make vinegar.  Heading to the internet, where we know everything is true and free, I find a few posts on how to make homemade vinegar.  One appeals to me because it is so simple.  I love simple!

Peelings, cores, jar, a little water, splash of previous batch of vinegar and a few weeks.  The result is homemade vinegar.  I can do this!

What I Did -- Making my First Pear Vinegar


My first venture into canning is pear sauce.  Really easy, no pectin, all goes well.  I am peeling, coring, and into 1/2 gallon mason jars go the peelings and cores, even the stems, as I prepare my pears for saucing.  I only fill halfway at this point leaving room for fresh pear scraps (the introduction of fresh scraps gives the ferment more sugar). Over the next week I continue to process pears.  I add peels and cores to each of the several jars I have started, make sure there is more water than fruit and then just cover with paper towels.  I hadn't discovered the wonders of flour sack towels yet, and I actually had a roll of paper towels, scrounged around for a few rubber bands (not an easy task in my house because they are never in the drawer where they belong).  I placed these in the corner of my cabinets between my coffee maker and stove.  Nice and warm.

I reread the directions for making vinegar at least three to four more times because nothing gets into my memory easily.  I took a butter knife and poked the fruit down once a day and watched it bubble, begin to smell like alcohol and eventually start to get a vinegary smell.  I love that smell!

I ended up with five 1/2 gallon containers of vinegar ferment, all in different stages.

Step by Step 


1.  Prepare your container by washing, rinsing, rinsing some more and allowing it to air dry.

2.  Place fruit peelings and cores in your container, until about half full.  Add water to about 1" above fruit. If you will not have additional scraps fill the container to just below the shoulder ensuring that the water is at least 1" above the fruit.  Do not overfill container.

3.  Pour 1-2 tablespoons of an unfiltered vinegar such as Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar ensuring that some of the "mother" is included.  Stir the vinegar into the fruit scraps.

4.  Cover with cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter secured with a rubber band.

Pear scraps Day 1
5.  Place in warm place for fermenting.

6.  Using knife push fruit back down into liquid and give it a gentle stir.

Fruit will rise above liquid as it ferments
Push fruit back down daily
7.  Add fresh fruit scraps every day or so for up to a week (optional).

8.  Strain contents of jar returning the liquid to the jar (optional).  Compost, ferment a second time, or feed strained fruit to livestock.
Strain fruit from liquid

9.  Cover jar and allow to ferment a few more weeks.  You might get a surprise scoby (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) growing on top of your fruit and liquid.
Strained and ready for second ferment

Scoby forming on top of fruit and liquid (I left this batch with fruit the entire 4-5 weeks)

10.  Strain again and place vinegar in sealed containers.  Use as you would apple cider vinegar.

I will share with you some of the little tricks and observations I made during this accidental kitchen adventure:

  • Do not overfill the containers.  The fruit will rise up above the liquid level and make your covering a fruit fly magnet.  
  • Adding an unfiltered vinegar definitely speeds up the process.  You do NOT need 1/4 cup.  A tablespoon or two is plenty for 1/2 gallon.
  • Strain your fruit out after you smell vinegar, about 1-2 weeks or somewhere in between.  Not necessary but makes it easier.  If you do this with two containers you can combine them.  
  • You can grow a scoby.  Yes, my vinegars grew scobys.  I read that these can then be added to fruit juice to start new vinegar ferments.  This is on my list of things to try since I have vinegar scobys in my fridge right now (with a few chunks of pear and liquid to keep them fed).
  • I kept my vinegar ferments away from my other ferments such as Kombucha and Ginger Bug.  I read that the different organisms can interfere with one another (though I have no way to know for sure).
  • Vinegar making is so simple even I could do it on the fly while in the midst of other projects.  You can, too!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

If It's on the Internet it Must Be True!

I have been doing a lot of research on fermenting lately.  All of it online.  I do not own a single book with information on making Kombucha, Water Kefir, Ginger Beer, fermented garlic, and so on.  So as do most people on this planet I head to my favorite search engine and look it up.  But mine isn't Google.  

Some of you know that Google "cooperated" with the FDA and disabled AdWords for many sellers of supplements a couple of weeks ago.  The FDA did not have a warrant or a court order.  They just decided that Americans are too stupid to know that if a supplement says it cures cancer that it might not cure cancer.  Heck, chemo says it cures cancer and most of us know that it actually causes cancer.  But I digress.

That was the last straw.  I broke up with Google, deleted my Google + account and went on with my life.  But not before finding an amazing search engine that supposedly keeps the user's identity secret.  Okay, pineapple cures cancer and keeps your identity secret.  Maybe it does but I'm skeptical.  

IXQuick Search Engine is still my favorite new search engine.  It seems cleaner, doesn't give you Wikipedia as the first result every time and when you click on a result it always opens in a new tab.  Woohoo!  I can take off into the Interwebs and my original search is always right there where I left it.
And if IXQuick really does keep my identity a secret and doesn't track me all over the Interwebs, all the better.

The Real Scoop on Ginger Bug

What IS the real scoop on making your own Ginger Bug? Heck if I know.  I have spent day after day after day reading different recipes, methods, add yeast, don't add yeast, tightly cover, don't tightly cover, shake it up, leave it alone.  My head is spinning and my ginger bug is still not a bug.  What it did end up being was a delicious cup of ginger beer for my 16 year old son.  I gave it to him over ice and he moaned with pleasure as he drank it all up in one swig.

So I am taking a different tack on my ginger bug.  I will let you know if it works in a week or so.  

Fermented Garlic

I started my first vegetable ferment this morning.  But not after some serious frustration.  I wanted to peel my several pounds of garlic.  So as directed on multiple sites I put it in a low oven and waited until the skins split.  I took it out, peeled the first clove and it had cooked the garlic a little.  The smaller cloves were still crunchy but a more translucent instead of opaque.  I was not happy.  I read about soaking overnight in water, peeling and then allowing them to dry out for house, oven peeling, peeling in two mixing bowls with a manly strength (which I do not posses -- neither do I possess two mixing bowls of the same size and shape), and finally using a dehydrator.  After what I consider a failure with the oven method the idea of the dehydrator popped into my head.  I had read it (on the Internet, of course) and had forgotten it until that very moment.  So in the dehydrator on the lowest setting it went.  Voila! Perfect.  The peelings dry up, crack open and peel right off.

 Internet Rumors, Lies, and Ignorance (which is not bliss)

We all know that if it is on the internet it is true, right?  We also know that everything on the internet is public domain, right?

WRONG!  Copyrights are alive and well on the internet.  Never, ever, copy a graphic, photo, story, article, anything without express permission of the owner.  

Did you also know that if you see a hand-crafted garment, piece of jewelry, knitted design, and other such delights that those are instantly copyrighted by their designers as soon as they are made?  Yep.

So, to recap:
  1. If it is on the internet it might be a bunch of bull----- err baloney.
  2. Everything on the internet is NOT free.  Someone wrote it, designed it, photographed it, painted it, drew it, recorded it and owns it.
  3. You are responsible for checking the truth of what you see on Facebook before passing it along.  You are responsible for getting permission, checking facts, and giving credit while you are on the internet.  
Notice the watermark. Protection from Internet Picture Thieves.
I hope you have a wonderful evening in cyberspace, the amazing world called the Internet.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Kitchen Chemistry

Several weeks ago, one of my Facebook friends suggested I try fermenting.  With my yogurt-making and garden, she figured it would be something I could do and even enjoy.

What she didn't know was that when I was a kid I loved pretending to be a chemist.  I would line up wooden blocks, write made-up ingredient names on them, gather some bowls, spoons and other utensils and play chemistry.  My brother was the one who actually got a chemistry set, but I did my darnedest to make my own.

When I got a little older my sister and I would go into the kitchen and mix a little bit of this and a little bit of that pretending that we were creating some amazing mixture.  I honestly don't remember if we were pretending to cook or pretending to conduct science experiments.  All I know is that we made a mighty mess and had the time of our lives.

So it is no surprise that today, and for the last 30 or so years, I have been enjoying cooking but with a twist.  I always want to know why certain ingredients behave the way they do.  I want to know what makes yeast make the bread rise.  I want to understand the science behind cooking.  This understanding has served me well.  When I know why I feel that I have a better chance of success.

Unplanned, but extremely welcomed, my Bartlett pear tree had a bumper crop this year.  For years I tried to find out how to prune a pear tree, when to harvest the fruit from a pear tree.  Somehow I never found the information I needed.  This year, however, I found information explaining that pears must be picked while unripe and allowed to ripen off of the tree.  Time to experiment: I picked three pears and placed them on my kitchen windowsill.  I checked them every day, giving them a little squeeze.  Hard as rocks.  Then, six days later, I squeezed one of the pears and it gave.  It was no longer hard as a rock.  I knew from experience that the peels on these pears were really tough and not tasty so I peeled one of the pears, cut a piece off and took a bite.  Oh my!  It was amazingly sweet and delicious.  I then called the boys into the kitchen and insisted that each of them taste this pear.  They all agreed that it was the best pear they had ever eaten.  We ate the other two within a few minutes.

Out the door I go to pick a bowlful of pears from the tree.  Six days later they were ripe.  We ate these pears but my 12 year old picked a bunch of them for the next batch to ripen.

At the same time all of this is happening I am running out of apple cider vinegar, the organic, unfiltered, unpasteurized kind that has all of the probiotics and healthy stuff still in it.  I am peeling all of these pears and after a little searching online realize that pear vinegar is made from the peels and cores of pears.  So while we can eat the sweet part the rest can be used to make vinegar. Sounds easy.

Pear Vinegar

I take a 1/2 gallon Ball jar, fill it about halfway with peelings and cores, pour enough of our well water to fill the jar 3/4ths of the way, then finally put in a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar with a little bit of the mother to give the mixture a good start (I read that you should add 1/4 cup ACV but I only had a few tablespoons left and didn't want to spare it).  I covered the jar with a paper towel held on by a rubber band. I read that it is good to add peelings and cores daily for a week or so to feed the fermenting mixture. 

Within a couple of days I could smell alcohol.  A week after that I could already smell vinegar.  Yippee!

Pear vinegar with scoby forming
Two weeks later I get a huge surprise: a scoby is forming on each of the four jars I have going.  One of the jars has a lot of the fruit mixed in with the scoby so I decided to strain out the fruit, scrape as much of the mother as I could and add it back in afterwards to see if a new scoby will form.

Strained pear vinegar



After starting my four jars of pear vinegar I was hooked and wanted to learn to ferment more stuff.  My Facebook friend offered me some water kefir grains but she is housebound right now and couldn't get them to the post office. Water kefir is on hold.  How about Kombucha?  I encountered the same issue: no one close by seemed to have a scoby to share.  I read that you could grown your own scoby for Kombucha from a bottle of raw Kombucha purchased at a healthfood store.

Kombucha is a fermented drink made from black tea, sugar and a scoby.  The scoby contains all of these wonderful bacteria and yeast which make the black tea and sugar become this fizzy drink full of healthy organisms.

We do not have many healthfood stores here in Connecticut and only one Whole Foods Market and one Trader Joe's,  neither of which is close to my house.  So I swung by the healthfood store in Middletown and bought the only Kombucha they had, a green one.  Not ideal, but why not?  I got it home, put it in a jar, fed it 1/4 cup of sugar and stirred it up.  Next, I covered it with a cloth and left it alone.  Of course, I peeked an awful lot.  I want to see it change.  It is that chemistry thing I have going on.

After 2 weeks (not 2.5 weeks) here is what I have:

I know that doesn't look terribly appetizing, but that is a scoby floating on top of that blue-green algae infused Kombucha.  Oh, scoby is an acronym for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast.  Sounds delightful, doesn't it? Like freshly made pancakes and real maple syrup, right? No?

What scientists are beginning to figure out, and many Mother Earth News types have known for 40+ years, is that our bodies need bacteria and yeast to be healthy.  But we need the right kinds of bacteria and yeast.  Most of us have too much of the wrong kinds, the malevolent kinds, and are not terribly healthy as a result.  Some scientists believe that our immune system is really centralized in the gut which means those yogurt-eating, Kombucha-drinking, ACV-loving people have been doing something right all along.  The rest of us just made fun of them for wearing Birkenstocks and eating whole wheat bread while meditating.  Now we are not terribly healthy and they are out hiking the Adirondacks while we spend thousands of dollars on doctors bills and pharmaceuticals.

Kombucha starter - showing life

Okay, back to fermenting.  I had an appointment in Glastonbury where there just happens to be a Whole Foods Market.  I knew one was there but I never knew where it was.  My gps drove me right past it last Friday.  Couldn't miss it.  Yippee!  After my appointment I went inside Whole Foods.  Oh, I love that store.  And the people are so nice there.  I wanted to stay just to absorb the positive energy I felt there -- maybe it was just the absence of pesticides and chemicals.  Who knows.  I grabbed two bottles of Raw Kombucha and two bags of organic blue corn tortilla chips (the boys favorite) and headed home.

I then poured the contents of each bottle into a jar, added 1/4 cup of organic sugar in one and 1/4 cup honey in the other, and covered each with a cloth.  That was last Friday.  I can just see the beginnings of a scoby forming, or what I hope is a scoby.  Need to be patient.  


Ginger Bug

Ginger Bug on Day 4
Then my friend shared a recipe for homemade Ginger Ale and I knew I had to make this.  But you need something called "Ginger Bug" first.  Okay, next project: Jar with 3 cups of water, 3 teaspoons diced fresh ginger (I used organic), and 3 teaspoons sugar (again, I used organic).  Shake bottle up.  Each day add 2 teaspoons fresh diced ginger and 2 teaspoons sugar, shake and allow to ferment.  

I am on Day 4 and you can see the bubbles indicating fermentation.  I wish I could share the smell of this mixture with you.  Suffice it to say, it is delightful.

A week or so more and I will have my Ginger Bug and can start my first batch of Ginger Ale.  That will require its very own blog post when it is time.

The boys will be thrilled!

Yogurt made from probiotic capsule




Although I typically made yogurt from either my last batch or a store-bought organic yogurt, yesterday I decided to try something I had been wanting to try for a long time: make yogurt using a probiotic capsule.  My son has a bottle of probiotics that he had to take when he was on antibiotics for Lyme disease.  There are a few left in the bottle and I wondered how well this mega probiotic would culture.

I stirred in one capsule of probiotic powder into 3 pints of organic milk and placed it on my slow cooker base allowing it to culture overnight.  Today I had a bowlful of amazing yogurt that tastes completely different than my usual.

Blueberry yogurt
I then made a pint of blueberry yogurt with my new homemade yogurt, frozen wild blueberries, raw honey and homemade vanilla extract.  It actually made more than a pint but I ate the rest for a snack.  This yogurt is delicious.


Sourdough Starter

Sourdough starter Day 4
My last science experiment is another attempt to make a sourdough starter, this time from wild yeast instead of store-bought yeast following the directions on Starting a starter, Mike's Old Way.  I mixed 50g of whole wheat flour and 50g of water and allowed them to do their thing.  Each day I add the same to 100g of the starter mix (just throw away the rest).  It is getting more and more active each day. 

When it doubles in size after "feeding" I know it is ready to try out in a recipe.

I am thrilled to be exploring my chemist side daily.  Eventually, my hope is that I will have a huge variety of fermented foods, lots of probiotics for me and the boys, and eventually to share with my pregnant daughter (after she has the baby).  I'll let you know how these experiments turn out.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Going to the Grocery Store

After going geocaching yesterday we needed to head to a larger, nearby town to buy organic potatoes, onions and eggs.  As all of my trips to any store are, this was a back road trip that took about 10 minutes.  It was supposed to take 10 minutes.  This was an exploring day, however, so the trip was very slow with a lot of stops.  My 16 year old took a lot of really interesting photos.  Enjoy.

This cemetery was a small triangular piece of land surrounded by three roads.

Monument dated 1891 but most cemeteries in this area have headstones from the 1700's

Lake Hayward Farm cattle

Lake Hayward Farm Stand

Gorgeous clearing that is most likely a hay field

Lake Hayward Farm and my car 

Lake Hayward Farm
Inside the farm stand

Heading down the hill towards Lake Hayward

The closest ID I could make was a Salt Marsh Moth caterpillar 


As most things do, it just popped into my head today that I wanted to try geocaching.  The weather has turned cooler, was just lovely today, with a high of 68 degrees Farenheit.  I knew I wanted to get out of the house and do something new and different.  I also really wanted to get some exercise. 

I started out by searching for geocaching gps units.  When I saw the price I knew that wasn't going to work for us.  I then asked my 19 year old son, "I wonder if I can use my Droid as a geocaching gps unit?"  He thought it was a good possibility so I did a search on my phone for geocaching apps.  There were two, one that was free and one that was $9.95.  I figured the $10 one must be superior, have special features and the free one must be inferior.  Then I checked the reviews and the free app seemed to be more popular.  In a few minutes it was downloaded and opened up.  I needed to log in.  Hmmm, okay, headed to and created an account.  Then I logged in with my free app.  I used the website to locate geocache sites within a few miles of my home then found them on my phone (it was faster to do the initial searches on my laptop but you can certainly use your smartphone to locate geocaches).  I chose one in a nearby state park.  I knew most of the trails at the park, this one was located on a green trail (which means easy to hike), and I knew it shouldn't be too strenuous.

Now to get the boys out the door.  For some reason they didn't seem terribly excited about geocaching.  I would have absolutely loved this activity when I was their ages -- modern treasure hunting.  But an hour or two later and they actually, mostly had shoes on and water to drink.  I say mostly because one of my teenagers actually walked out the door in his socks without his shoes.  Some days . . .

A five minute drive and we had arrived at the state park.  A little walk across the road brought us to the trail.  Because we had brought my camera and because I was trying to learn foraging for wild edibles the walk wasn't quick.  We stopped a lot to take photos of mushrooms.  The boys really started to get into photographing the scenery, the odd phenomena, strange rock formations, odd growths, and spider webs.  After about 25 minutes we arrived at a place in the trail where we needed to head north according to my smartphone app.  Time to go off trail.  The geocaching app showed that the geocache was 33 meters to the north.  My 16 year old headed uphill, into the woods following the compass provided with the app.  We had switched from map to compass view when we left the trail.

After less than a minute my boys announced that they had found it in a grotto, and there it was, an ammo box clearly marked.  I stopped the boys from grabbing the box and diving in, insisting that we chronicle this moment, our very first geocache, with photos.  So my 19 year old started snapping shots.

Finally, it was time to open the box.  My 16 year old had the honors while we other two looked on.  What a fun experience.  The first item was a character flashlight, then came a McDonald's Beanie Baby, vintage salt shaker in the form of a rooster, an ethernet cable, swizzle stick, rubber penguin key chain, the log book, pens, a box with some kind of spell contained, and instructions for geocaching.

It took us a long time to choose what we wanted.  Strangely enough my son chose a glow stick that no longer glowed.  We left a Red Rose Tea figurine.  The rules are that you leave something of equal or greater value than what you remove from the box.  

Seeing the different types of treasure within the box gave me a better idea of what we might leave in the future.

I wrote in the log book provided, recording my geocache username and the names my boys chose to use.  We then closed up the box and replaced it in the exact same place we found it.

When I got home I logged in our visit.  That updated the website to show a visit to that geocache today. 

There are so many geocache sites within 5-10 miles of our home that it will take us weeks, if not months, to visit them all.  I figure this will be a great Saturday activity for our family and look forward to more of these delightful treasure hunts.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I Love to Say Yes!

I am a parent.  I am a mom.  I have six children, four of which are adults.  When my kids were little I said, "No!" an awful lot.  I feel bad sometimes when I think about how often I said those words.  But I do admit that my kids are not spoiled, do not feel entitled, and know how to work. 

Now that we are all older I have discovered how much I love to say "Yes!" 

My 16-year-old asked me again tonight if he could get his learner's permit.  I responded, "Yes! As soon as you have a job and have enough money to pay the $60 fee" the State of Connecticut requires from its young people if they ever want to even learn to drive. 

My 12-year-old asked me if he can get on the computer.  "Yes! As soon as you finish your homework."

My 19-year-old asked me if he can get the parts to fix the other computer.  "Yes! As soon as you have a job and can pay for them."

I love saying "Yes!"

Parents should all say "Yes!" a lot more.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fruit of My Labors

I know, two posts in one day but I had a rough week and just didn't have the energy so I'm catching up!

Yesterday I uploaded a phone picture to Facebook of the three sugar pumpkins I harvested this year. Here are a couple of better quality shots.  First the pumpkin vines got hit with powdery mildew.  I attempted to deal with that but it took off.  The worst was the squash vine borers.  They found my squash and pumpkins and did too much damage to support more pumpkins, and the last and smallest pumpkin didn't even have time to complete ripening on the vine before the vine died.  But I have three organic sugar pumpkins I didn't have at the beginning of the summer.  So no complaints.

 The largest pumpkin has the name of my adopted grandson.  As I described in an early blog post I scratched his name with a nail.  The pumpkin then creates a scar over the damage resulting in a really fun effect.

 I was surprised at the size of Joey's pumpkin.  It is huge in the world of sugar pumpkins.  I can't wait to weigh it.  I can't wait to make pumpkin pies!

Today's harvest -- Suyo long cukes and cherry tomatoes
After taking photos of my deck garden I headed out to the backyard garden beds to harvest cucumbers and tomatoes.  Lots and lots of cherry tomatoes.  Usually I eat what I find but every week or so I go out and gather all that I can. There were several bunches with green tomatoes on them still which I left to ripen.

These little tomatoes are so flavorful but not sweet.  I can taste the goodness, the healthfulness contained within.

And I have been ecstatic with the Suyo long cucumbers.  My vines are covered in cukes right now.  I used to buy the hothouse cucumbers from the grocery store because I prefer not peeling.  The largest Suyo long I have harvested so far was about 17" long.  Believe it or not there were only a handful of fully formed seeds in that one.

Next year I will definitely grow some pickling cukes for my pickle-loving sons.

 To harvest seeds from one of these cukes I will need to leave it on the vine, allow it to turn yellow, and then scoop the seeds out and ferment them for a few days.  I am not looking forward to doing this because it will signify the end of fresh cucumbers for the year. 

The summer growing season draws to a close an end. 

Hurricane Isaac in Connecticut

This past week we have had the warm, humid air and rains from the remains of Hurricane Isaac.  While this bad boy devastated parts of Mississippi and Louisiana it brought much-needed rains to other parts of the country including New England.

It rained so much that I had to assist many of my deck containers with drainage, even turning some pots on their sides for a bit.  

What this did, though, was inspire much growth, insane germination rates, and pests to all visit my fall container garden.

Let's see how the garden looked last week:

And now let's see how it looks today:

Three of my kitties decided to pose for me this morning.  They were so cooperative that I had to include them in my pics today.

Boots with broccoli and bok choi
Left to right: Aichi cabbage, spinach, bok choi and red leaf lettuce
Aichi cabbage and broccoli
Red leaf lettuce seedlings
Jalapeno peppers with aphids
Tomatoes and cukes on left and lettuce going to seed on right