Preserving the Harvest: Peas

One of the biggest factors that allows us to forgo takeaway so often during the very busy school year is the amount of produce we are able to put up during the late summer months.  While having a baby has definitely altered the shape of our days (and the amount of spare time I have), we are still going strong, preserving vegetables for the upcoming winter months.  I’ve posted previously about preserving green beans and zucchini and summer squash, but one of Jason’s favorite vegetables is peas.

Materials:

Quart Freezer Bags

Fresh-picked peas (you want these shucked immediately after picking or the pods get gummy and hard to manage)

Large pot for blanching (with large metal sieve, if possible)

Colander

Bowl or clean sink full of ice water

Cookie Sheets

Clean, absorbent dish towels

Before starting, make sure you have enough space for two cookie sheets in your freezer, as you need to flash freeze peas BEFORE placing them into bags.

  1. Pick your peas on a day when you have enough time to process them start to finish.  Pick the pods, shuck the peas, and get started preserving.  If you must, I’ve found that shucked peas are okay in the fridge, covered, for 24 hours before processing.

    Fresh Peas from the Garden!

    Fresh Peas from the Garden!

  2. Bring your water to a rolling boil.  Meanwhile, prepare your blanching sieve and pans (cover with a fresh dishtowel).

    Prepared materials.

    Prepared materials.

  3. Blanch peas (this is where I use the metal sieve) for 2 – 3 minutes, until the color changes to a rich green.
    Fresh Peas

    Unblanched Peas

    Blanched Peas

    Blanched Peas

  4. Place blanched peas in an ice water bath to cool.  I usually just lower them into ice water in a pot while still in the sieve, so I don’t have to strain ice out of them before drying.  Leave in ice water until peas are cool (3 – 5 minutes).
  5. Transfer peas from the water bath to dry dishtowels, then roll peas on dishtowels into logs to hurry along this process.

    Peas, rolled into a dishtowel to remove water.

    Peas, rolled into a dishtowel to remove water.

  6. When dry, spread the peas on a clean, dry dishtowel on a cookie sheet.Toweled Peas
  7. Place in freezer until frozen solid (6 – 12 hours).

    Frozen Peas

  8. Loosen peas and transfer into freezer bags.

    Loosened peas.

    Loosened peas.

  9. Remove air from bag and place in freezer.

    Peas, ready for the freezer!

    Peas, ready for the freezer!

These peas can be used in cooking all winter long, steamed or placed in the microwave and served plain.

Enjoy!  I know we will!

Five for Friday

It’s been one of those weeks… I stripped our cloth diapers not once but twice; had to spend a whole day at work (blah – it’s summer!); because I went to work and A went to daycare, she was up five times on Wednesday night because she didn’t want the bottle and reverse cycled.  But A is down for a late afternoon nap and the weekend is almost here.  Here are five things I loved about today!

  1. The Weather: It’s a beautiful seventy-six degrees with a sharp breeze.  A & I spent the morning running errands and going on a coffee date with friends and then came home for a long nap.  After the nap, we went for a beautiful outdoor walk.  Hooray for a lovely, humidity free day and a super-happy, well rested baby!

    The well-rested baby in full-on crawler mode!

    The well-rested baby in full-on crawler mode!  She also stood up in her crib yesterday.  Slow down, A!

  2. My friend Lacey just had a little girl two weeks ago, so A manned her highchair, while I baked a batch of Joy the Baker’s Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies.  You’ve got to love a good excuse to bake!

    Best. Cookies. Ever.

  3. I mentioned this above in my mini rant, but after boiling and stripping with RLR the cloth diapers once again smell good as new.  As easy as the disposables were over vacation, I’m glad to have A back in her earth friendly option!  They also give her a little more padding now that she’s starting to pull up on things.
  4. The chicks are almost ready to head outside!  I know the blog has been really chicken light these days, but our little ones are just about ready to head to the hoop house – and isn’t this Mystery Chick cute?

    These are our little ones from Murray McMurray this year... including the "mystery" rooster who has a nice pair of bell bottoms!

    These are our little ones from Murray McMurray this year… including the “mystery” rooster who has a nice pair of bell bottoms!  Can you spot him?

  5. Pizza on the grill!  I just made the crust (bread flour, beer, yeast and salt) and I’m looking forward to a nice evening meal with Jason when he gets home.

    Gratuitous Rooster in Repose Shot... What chickens do on a warm, breezy day...

    Gratuitous Rooster in Repose Shot… What chickens do on a warm, breezy day…

And a final, just to be thankful thought, I made it all the way through the first week of T25 and feel great!  Looking forward to writing Monday’s post already.

We also have a garden... which Jason pretty much takes care of.  Even I'm shocked by how much we planted and how well it is doing given the fact that I spend my days chasing A instead of weeding.

We also have a garden… which Jason pretty much takes care of. Even I’m shocked by how much we planted and how well it is doing given the fact that I spend my days chasing A instead of weeding.

Have a great weekend!

Traveling with Tiny – Summer Vacation Essentials for Mama & Baby

We are getting ready to embark on our first real family vacation later this week, and since we’ve never traveled with A before (beyond my commute to work), I thought I’d do a pre-trip post with our plan, followed by a post-trip round-up of what worked, what didn’t and what failed so epically I probably won’t want to speak of it.  My family lives about eight hours away in Vermont, and we’re going to do the trip in one shot, leaving super early (around A’s last night time feed – 3:30 a.m.) and hopefully stopping for her morning feed (7 a.m.) before what usually is a 2 – 3 hour nap, which should land us somewhere an hour or two from home right around the time for a leisurely late morning breakfast.  Fingers crossed.  (Feel free to cackle at our naivete at this point).

I’ve scoured the internet for tips, suggestions and ideas, and below you’ll find what we’re hoping to be our magic mix of A products will be:

Traveling with Tiny - Summer Vacation Essentials for Mama & Baby

We’re bringing a mix of her favorite toys that don’t take up a TON of space.  This includes her beloved JellyCat (which might be the best stuffed animal ever, given its multitude of limbs and tail for sucking and chewing; her Wubba (which she has never liked to use as a paci but loves to cuddle); a brand new Taggie blanket (because she is tag-obsessed!); some of our favorite Boynton books; and the Melissa and Doug bugs my mom got her on her last visit – cute easy and super portable.
We plan to dress her in these sweet Carter’s jammies, which we got for a steal ($1.50 on sale with a great JC Penny’s $10 off anything coupon) a week ago.  They’re soft and comfortable and make for easy diaper changes.
And speaking of diapers, this is the first time A will go cloth-free since she was four days old . After a ton of research and a good coupon, we ordered a month long, size three bundle from The Honest Company.  We’re hoping to make it to Vermont, poo-splosion free, though we might still choose to cover the Honest Co. diaper with a Thirsties Wrap… just in case.  I’m hoping to do a review of our experience with Honest once she’s worn them for a full ten days.  Though, don’t worry, we’ll be back in cloth as soon as we get home!
For Mama, we’re packing the ever reliable Zipper Bag from 31 that we usually use for daycare (I’ll pack my own handbag for non-baby essentials).  I’m also bringing along the Chewbeads necklaces that Jason got Amelia and I for Valentine’s Day because now that she’s teething (she has FOUR teeth sprouting as we speak), they are a lifesaver for both nursing and entertaining her) and her Ergo pack, so we can get her in and out of her car seat easily.  Finally, we’re packing one of her favorite snacks – Plum’s Organic Puffs which are awesome when Mama and Daddy are eating in a restaurant and A needs a bit more than what we can feed her off our plates.  Puffs aren’t an everyday food, but they’re a great treat for highchair time.  Note: We don’t feed her anything in her car seat.  I realize it’s a personal choice, but we don’t want to risk choking!

This kiddo is ready for her first vacation!

This kiddo is ready for her first vacation!

What are your tiny travel essentials?

Meal Planning Sunday

I have one more week of classes before two days of faculty meetings and then… summer vacation!  In my last post, I talked briefly about a back injury that is still clinging, nearly a week later.  So I do my physical therapy stretches, and Jason does all of the in and out crib lifting of Baby A, and we wait.  Hopefully, by next week, I’ll be able to tackle the flower beds.  On top of all this, though, is the nagging reminder that 90% of this injury is the lack of core work I’ve been doing since A arrived.  I’m hoping that over the next twelve weeks, I can eat healthily and exercise my way back to an injury free self, just in time for fall classes to start.

As a new mom, it’s really important to me that I teach A to respect her body, rather than spend her time wishing she could look like someone else.  And the only way to teach her that respect is to set a good example though healthy, sustainable diet and exercise and a positive outlook.  Sometimes this is easier said than done, especially when even though I’m back to my pre-baby weight, things haven’t quite settled back where they used to be.  I’m hoping to use this injury as a way of being thankful for what I have: good health, a happy, healthy baby, and plenty of time to get myself into shape over the next few weeks.  And what’s one way of holding ourselves accountable?  Meal planning.

I’ve been an avid meal planner for most of my adult life because I hate extra trips to the grocery store.  And now, with a seven month old in tow, they’re even more complicated to plan and execute.  And although takeout pizza still happens (more regularly than I’d like to admit), hopefully by owning my meal planning, I’ll be more likely to get into the kitchen and cook with the last of last year’s garden produce before this year’s garden starts ramping up.

Sunday:

Steak on the Grill/Asparagus (Fresh & Local)/Local Potatoes Roasted with Olive Oil, Herbs & Garlic

Monday:

Grilled Chicken (Mom’s Secret Recipe) with last year’s Green Beans and Wild Rice

Tuesday:

Chicken Sausage Pasta (Organic Chicken Sausage Sauteed with Summer Squash and Zucchini over Angel Hair Pasta with a bit of Parmesan and Mustard)

Wednesday:

Taco Salad Bowls (Grass Fed Beef/Homemade Seasoning/Diced Veggies over Salad Greens)

Thursday:

Pork Loin with Roasted Potatoes and Carrots

Friday:

Burgers and Sweet Potato Fries (Grass Fed Beef with Veggie Trimmings on Sandwich Flats with Homemade Sweet Potato “Fries” Roasted in the Oven and Home-Canned Pickles)

Saturday:

Plan & Shop for Next Week

What are you planning for this week?

Simplifying Summer

I love this time of year.  The air is crisp in the morning, the garden is tilled and awaiting our seedlings, and the chicks will be on their way from Murray McMurray early next week.  But this year has been a bit more challenging than previous years.  Jason’s dad passed away unexpectedly from pancreatic cancer within weeks of a diagnosis, leaving our young family in a tailspin, complicated by our hectic work schedules, a back injury (mine), and seven month old A, who is a constant delight.

So now that my grading is finally wrapped up, and I only have two weeks left of work obligations, I feel like I can finally focus my attention on… everything else.  It’s hard to say where this blog is going.  As a new (if not excessively young) Mom, I am overwhelmed by just how many “firsts” A can rake up in a week, by how challenging some things have been, and by the overwhelming sense that even my best efforts may not, sometimes, be enough.  I’m looking forward to talking about how well cloth diapering has gone (nothing but cloth since her fourth day of life!), and how her first round of disposable wearing (during an upcoming trip home to see my family) will go.  We ordered a bundle from Honest Co., and I’m eager to see if they really hold up to the recommendations we received.  I want to talk about feeding solids – and what a strange, emotional, complicated task feeding a baby really is.  I look forward to covering this year’s adventures in chickens, though, admittedly, the chickens get a lot less attention these days.  And, the garden – how our plan to pare back and focus only on the essentials pans out.

I can’t promise daily writing, but I am hoping for a few posts weekly, perhaps following formats that I’ve liked on other blogs.  So please come back – hopefully new things will be springing up soon!

Easter Ideas

Easter Ideas
I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about A’s first Easter, and how we can create family traditions, while also not going too overboard since the holiday should be a mix of honoring the holiday, welcoming the spring season (if the snow ever melts), and delight in the magic of a tradition my husband and I loved as children.
Above is a small sampling of things we’ve thought about putting in A’s basket (including the sweet little basket we ordered at half price from JoAnn Fabric when they had their $1 shipping sale on St. Patrick’s Day.  We’re hoping to strike a balance between useful (bibs, bath spout cover, and bathing suit) and whimsical (both stuffed animals are from JellyCat – a brand that I can’t recommend highly enough).  And the stuffed animals go along with a book my mom sent A from her own childhood: The Golden Egg Book by the same author who wrote Goodnight, Moon.  In the story, a lonely bunny finds and egg that hatches into a friendly little duckling.  I love the idea of having these to friends to help A understand the themes and ideas as we read it together for years to come.
I’m hoping to have a post up about planting soon, but with more than 36” of snow still on the ground, we’ve put off planting until this coming weekend.
What ideas do you have for your little one’s Easter basket, and what holiday traditions do you look forward to at this time of year?

Cloth Diapering Essentials

We have been cloth diapering since three days after we brought A home from the hospital, and so far it has been everything we hoped it would be.  She has had few, if any, rashes; we’re not contributing excess trash to the landfill; and – above all – we’re saving money.  Here’s a quick list of our essential products to precede a post on how we’ve set up her cloth diapering station in her bedroom and another post on cloth diapering and daycare (yes, our provider uses prefolds and seems to like them!).
Cloth Diapering Essentials

Cloth-eez Prefold Diapers from Green Mountain Diaper

These are the cadillac of prefold diapers, made from 100% cotton twill.  Although I always thought we’d move to BumGenius or another one size pocket option as A got older, we are so happy with prefolds, that we just ordered a bale of medium for the next several months of diapering.

Cloth-eez Workhorse Diapers from Green Mountain Diaper

These are similar to the prefolds, above, but instead of folding them, you just fasten them around baby and secure with a snappi (they are fitted and you order them by size).  They are our go-to diaper for car rides, naps, and bedtime because they do such a good job of containing moisture and keeping it further away from our precious girl.  We also ordered eight more of these for the next few months.

Peri Bottles

I got this idea from another cloth diapering mom.  We really didn’t want to use chemical-laden wipes on A, particularly given their propensity for containing aloe (which I’m allergic to).  Instead, we fill a peri bottle up with water and use it to wet the homemade cotton flannel wipes that I made myself.  So far this system has worked great!  And the bottle makes bringing water with us on the go even easier!

Kanga Care Wet Bag

We ordered a few different kinds of wet bags, but by far, this type is our favorite.  They are small enough for her daycare bag, but large enough to contain a day’s worth of diapers.  We usually air dry them, but they can also go in our dryer on low heat if we’re running late and need one (they dry in about ten minutes).  Hands down, this is our favorite wet bag!

31 Gifts Utility Tote – Our Daycare Diaper Bag

I received this gem for Christmas from Jason’s cousin, and it has been a great daycare cloth diapering bag.  Every morning, I am able to stack eight lined prefolds into the bottom with a pile of cloth wipes, a wet bag, and a few extra Thirsties covers, and A is good for the day.  The outer pockets easily hold her peri bottle of water, change of clothes, mason jar full of (so far unused) pacifiers, and the variety of other things she needs.  I snap a small cooler of frozen milk right onto the handles and we’re good to go!

Thirsties Duo Wrap Snap

These are the only brand of wraps we’ve used since retiring some (great) bummis that we were loaned by friends during A’s newborn days.  They fit her as soon as she was about ten days old and size one is still going strong at almost four months.  We might need to size up to size two sooner than later, but the quality is excellent!

BabyLegs Newborn Leg Warmers Organic Over the Rainbow

A has a huge wardrobe thanks to generous family members and a mom who loves a good sale, but these are her dad’s go to choice for bottom wear.  While I love a good pair of jeggings on her (I NEVER thought I would have said that pre-baby), he loves the ease of BabyLegs.  She grew out of the newborn size within a few weeks, but the one-size-fits-all model look like they’ll last us a good long time.  Super cute and so easy!

Amazon.com: JJ Cole Caprice Diaper Bag, Silver Drop: Baby
Jason bought this bag for me as a pre-baby gift, and it has been a great cloth diapering diaper bag.  Although it is a bit ungainly (doesn’t stay on my arm with the smaller straps), I love the look, and it came with a great pair of hooks that attach to our stroller.  All and all, the size is excellent given the added bulk of the diapers, and I can’t complain too much given all of the organizational possibilities it provides.
Snappies are used to secure prefolds in either a specific fold or to hold the workhorse diapers together.  They work great and protect baby from the pokes and prods of a safety pin.

Amazon.com: Earth Mama Angel Baby Angel Baby Bottom Balm, 2-Ounce Jar:…
This product is excellent for diaper rash without containing the aloe that I am so allergic to.  We’ve had no rash that this ointment doesn’t immediately eradicate.  It’s also been great for mom’s minor cuts and scrapes and it smells fantastic!
Our Collection of Homemmade Cotton Flannel Wipes

Our Collection of Homemade Cotton Flannel Wipes

As I said before, we just ordered a bale of medium Green Mountain Prefolds (24 flats and 8 fitteds) and are slowly building a stash of Thirsties Duo snap covers.  But if you have any questions about cloth diapering, I’d be happy to answer them!  Do you cloth?  Are you thinking about trying it?  I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Valentine’s Day

I’ve always loved Valentine’s Day and the opportunity it provides for reflecting on the blessing of my loved ones, but this year leaves  me even more thankful for my wonderful husband who is such a fantastic father and partner and our sweet, beautiful daughter.  I hope you are spending the day with loved ones!

DSC_0057

Trellising Tomatoes and Increasing Yield

Last summer, we were plagued by heavy rains and blight so bad that we lost more than 75% of our tomato crop.  And though we always grow a lot of tomatoes, and 25% of a 60 plant crop was still enough to get us through the winter in pizza sauce (a staple at our house), I spent the last year purchasing crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and tomato sauce from the grocery store in quantities that I wasn’t particularly comfortable with.

Our Current Garden
July 29, 2012

One of the easiest ways for us to be self-reliant is by putting up our own tomato products.  While tomatoes aren’t necessarily as easy to grow in the far north as they are in the south, we’ve discovered a few tricks that have helped us with this year’s crop.

2012 Tomato Crop

We usually start big.  Tomatoes are a huge part of our diet, and we don’t fool around with them.  This year, I planted seventy-two tomato seeds under a growing light about eight weeks before planting, and at this time, we currently have 68 plants thriving in our garden.  Since we are so far north, and larger tomatoes take more days to develop, we usually grow a mixture of cherry and plum-sized tomatoes (about 70% of our crop) and one larger variety that will thrive some years and really struggle in others.  This year’s Constoluto Genovese heirloom variety from Park seed is growing like a weed, despite the fact that the fruit are also ENORMOUS.  We’re just hoping that the growing season is long enough that I can bring in the bulk of these beauties.

Constoluto Genovese Heirloom Tomatoes

While cherry and plum tomatoes are not your traditional sauce tomatoes, I’ve found that all tomatoes can go into sauce after a whirl through the food processor (skin and seeds intact) and a few hours on the stove top.  This flexibility has given me a lot of room to play with different types of tomatoes in my sauce and has made for a lot more variety and better taste.

Orange Paruche Hybrid cherry tomatoes ripen almost three weeks before all of our other tomatoes and make a delightfully sweet (and orange!) pizza sauce.

If you want to grow this many tomatoes, you need a system.  For years, both Jason and I used cages.  And cages are great if you want to grow five or six tomatoes.  But cages tend toward weakness, plants usually need additional support, and I don’t want to be worried about my crop 24/7.  So last year, we started switching over to welded wire fence as a support.  I carefully wove the plants through the fencing, and they did okay, but that weaving caused quite a bit of leaf damage and may have later contributed to the blight (since the plants were already a bit stressed.

This year, I’m using a mixture of cable ties and string to gently train the plants onto the fences, then marveling as they weave themselves between the wires.  The cable ties (smallest I can find) run about $1.99/100 and we’ve gone through about four packages this summer. My only advice is that if a large wind/thunder storm is predicted in your area, try to get out beforehand and secure your plants if you’ve been letting them go a bit too long (they need to be re-secured about once a week in June and once every 2 -3 weeks in July and August with careful monitoring for heavy fruit that might be weighing down the plant).

Cable ties secure plants firmly to the wire when they are already in close proximity.

String or twine can be used for added support in situations where plants are too far from the fencing to use cable ties. We just use a basic twine.

The added benefits of this system are that it gives us a solid wall between our squash plants and the rest of the garden and it allows us a nice pathway to bring the hose through when we’re watering our beans and peas in the small secondary garden that we put in last year.  And while welded wire did have a substantial upfront cost, it was comparable to buying 72 tomato cages and will likely last for years without all of that tomato cage hassle!

Row between the tomatoes. Each row of tomatoes is 25′ long, and this year, we’ve planted five rows of tomatoes.

How do you support your tomatoes?