Celebrating What You Can Control

I have been gone a couple of weeks perking on a couple things I can NOT control. Even went to far as to draft a post on this line of thought. I wanted to share it, but feared internet trolls would make an example of me because my opinion was contrary to theirs. Well today that stops. I am going to write about things I can control and things in my life that may be helpful, bring a smile to your face or give you some input or insight. So I am back on track and writing again.

Summer is coming to an end and for the first year in memory I have not put a single thing by for the winter or to share with others. This is not me. I have been canning, freezing and drying food for as long as I can remember. In a normal life, in a normal year my freezer would be full of things I had froze for the long winter months. I would have ran the dehydrator for hours to save our special recipe fruit, leathers or jerky. I would have canned something to use as gifts for friends during the holiday season. Living in this apartment made any of this seem impossible. Enough of that woe is me. It might not be easy or “normal” but anything was possible.

Muscadine & Scuppernongs

Last week at my favorite roadside market got in their first batches of grapes. They stopped me in my tracks because they almost looked like a miniature plum. I asked the owner what you did with the grapes and was told most people make wine but that some people also made jelly with it. I was game for the jelly, not giving a lot of thought about how I might do that. I bought two quarts of grapes, one dark and one light. I tasted my first grape as I put them in the car to take home. The skin is tough, seriously tough. I think even more so than the Concord grape I grew up with. It was clearly one of those grapes you were supposed to squeeze the grape out of the skin into your mouth.

I got home and asked Google about my new grape purchase. I learned North Carolina has tons of grapes. They even have a state grape. It is a grape that has two names Muscadine when it is ripe to the reddish purple stage and Scuppernongs when it still yellow. Never heard of it? Neither had I. The mother vine here in North Carolina is estimated to be over 400 years old. It is an indigenous grape that grows quite well here and resistant to pests. There are several wineries across the state that use this type of grapes to make wines. I am going to have to make a roadtrip to do some up close and personal investigation into that. Of course, I was able to find a recipe for small batch Scuppernongs jelly on the internet and I was off and running.

I apologize for not taking pictures throughout the process. It wasn’t on my radar as I was making the jelly that I would blog about this. One of the things I learned online is that you slit the skin when cooking down the grapes so that they would not explode as you cooked the raw grapes to extract the juices. I also spent some serious time thinking about all the canning supplies I had in storage back in Montana that I did not want or need to duplicate. I did not mind buying jars but the tools I was going need would require some serious workaround hacks. I found some old fashion methods to help me and some inventive hacks to make my jelly.

I got some good old-fashion muslin to drain my cooked grapes in to separate the pulp for the the juice. I put two layers of muslin in my colander for spaghetti and rinsing fruits and veggies and poured my cooked grapes in it it over a bowl. I allowed it to sit overnight so that I was able to get two cups of juice the next day for my jam. Problem one solved.

I got jars and lids at my local discount store. I was perfectly okay with that. I always seem to be buying some jars each year to replace what I give away or the customize the size for what I am canning at the time.

7-4oz jars fit perfectly in the bottom of my crab pot.

My next problem was the hot water bath to properly sterilize my jars and then cook them for sealing once they were filled with jelly. I have perfectly size pots for just that along with a couple of funnels with marks for proper head room when filling them and jar lifting tongs for working with the hot jars. I did not want to duplicate what I already owned. I found the perfect hack, a crab cooking pot. I now live close to the coast and could use something like that. I had nothing for cooking crab back in Montana. No big call for cooking fresh crabs there. The insert to put in and pull crabs out of hot water was perfect for getting my new jars in and out of the hot water. I put the jars and lids in the bottom of the strainer pot and let them boil to sterilize them. I would later put the jars of jelly with seals back in that same sieved pot insert and use it to immerse the jars in the water bath for my final step. It was a hack but it worked.

For such small jars I could use plain old steak tongs to pull out my finished jelly jars.

I have now nested and completed a ritual that is part of the changing seasons for me. It makes the fact that after 11 weeks in the temporary quarters while our new house is puttering along with construction, but we are still without an end date not so overwhelming. I have a collection of little jars of bright fuchsia jelly that looks like jewels to share with others. I have a wonderful sense of accomplishment. I am ready for fall, whatever it looks like in North Carolina.

This doesn’t capture the jewel fuschia color of this jelly, but it is there.

Precious Eggs

chick-webAs fall progresses here in southwest Montana our  egg production has reached new lows.   Our flock is the smallest each year at this time.   Chickens ability to lay eggs is directly related to the number of hours of light, aka length of days.       This can often be compounded by a fall molt.

Egg farmers today often light their chicken barns to ensure that they lay regardless of what is happening in nature.  I raise my chickens more naturally and work with what light nature sends my way.  I allow the natural rhythm of the seasons of life to cause my chickens to slow down and even take a break from laying eggs.

Molting is that time when chickens decided that their feathers must be replaced.  For my birds  it  is usually happens during the fall and winter months.   It seems to be one of those things that is counter intuitive to mother nature.    Why would birds naturally lose all their feathers when it is getting colder out??  Who knows but molts traditionally occur in fall and winter.

With a small flock then compound in the shortening days and the loss of feathers eggs become a precious commodity.

Long Nights

This morning the dog starting making noises and I turned over in bed to discover it was after 7!  Now this is unusual for me as I am a morning person, and by 7 I am often already at my desk and got at least an hour under my belt.   Not this year!

I not sure why, but this year my body wants to sleep until the sun comes up.   Last year a friend blogged about her body wanting to hibernate each fall.     It was a fun read, but I could not get my head around it.    Suddenly this is happening to me.   My body no longer wants to keep its circadian rhythm.  If it doesn’t get light outside until after 7 it is staying deep sleep. Mind you we have a dark bedroom so there are no hints in our little sleeping den about what is going on in the outer world.

I am not sure what is going on, but I am hoping my body wills soon return to normal or I may have to get out that alarm clock.

Apples and Fall

When we lived in Minnesota, this was the time of the year that we would head from the city down to the country of apple orchards near Red Wing and Lake Peppin.   There you could find all sorts of apple varieties and it would be the time of year that we canned, dried and made lots of desserts with apples.   With my bag of apples that I got two weeks ago I have been using some in tried and true receipes and looking for a new one to use as well.

Here is a new one that we are going to save as part of our permanent collection.   I found it on the blog Hungry Rabbit NYC.  Of course I made a few changes to suit what I had in my cupboard and my taste.  I highly recommend it to you.

Caramelized Apple Gingerbread

recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, with additional adaptations by Hungry Rabbit NYC, and now a few by me!
yield: 9 servings

Apple Topping
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup  dark brown sugar
2 apples medium, peeled, halved, cored, and sliced thin

2-1/4 cups  all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, I use Penzey’s Cinnamon because it has a great mix of four different types of cinnamon.
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon Dutch-process coco powder
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter , melted, cooled to room temperature
4 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup unsulphured molasses
3/4 cup (5-1/4 ounces) granulated white sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
2 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely grated ( I use ginger in the tube from Gourmet Garden.   Find it in your grocer’s produce section.)
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cup of Sun-maid Fruit Bits (It contains diced raisins, apricots, apples, and more)
1/2 chopped crystalized ginger (You want this to be moist, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces and tossed in sugar.  I like Penzey’s it is perfect out of the bag)


Apple Topping
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter in a glass 9 by 9-inch baking pan. Use your fingers and spread melted butter into pan and on sides; add brown sugar, stir with fork to moisten in butter and spread brown sugar evenly over pan bottom. Arrange apple slices, overlapping slightly upon brown sugar mixture. Set aside

1. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and cocoa in medium bowl. Set aside

2. Beat butter, oil, molasses, and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Beat in egg and fresh ginger until incorporated. Gradually add buttermilk until combined.

3. Add dry ingredients to liquid; beat on medium speed until batter barely combines with a few white streaks of flour. Using a rubber spatula, add dried fruits and ginger until evenly distributed. Pour batter over apple slices.

4. Bake until top springs back when lightly touched, and edges have pulled away from the pan sides, 45-55 minutes. At 6,000 feet it cooked it for 65 minutes and we used the toothpick test, as the edges never pulled from the sides.  Set pan on wire cake rack and let cool for 15 minutes.  Run a knife around the edges and  invert onto serving plate, and let cool for another 30 minutes. Cut into squares, and serve.  Be decadent add some sweetened whipped cream.

Rush, Rush, Rush


John painting house trim.


When nice weather arrives in Montana we all rush out and start doing all those things we postpone during the winter.

Starting in spring and all summer long we fill the long days with as many  fun activities as we can fit in. BBQ with friends.  We spend time hiking, walking and running.    We pick another ghost town or two from the book and get out and visit it to poke around.   That alpine visa with wildflowers calls our name.   If you are a horse person, that horse is fat and sassy and a good mountain ride is good for both of you.   Fly fishing is calling you and you listen and head out with your pole.    We sit on the deck and watch the beautiful sunsets.  We lay out on the hammock and watch the stars above.   The list is endless and keeps us going all summer.

Now it is fall and that honey do list looks awful long and the nice days are short.   Now is the time that we rush, rush, rush to get as many done as possible before the snow arrives for good.   We still have a little painting to get done on the house, cheatgrass to spray before there is snow cover and our list goes on an on.

I hope all of us remember to not spend every minute but to also enjoy the days of fall as well.

Labor Day Weekend

Labor day is the holiday that is often thought of as the final weekend of the summer. I am not sure why that is so as the autumnal equinox won’t happen for another 3 weeks.  So many of us look forward to summer, why do we want to let go of it before we must?

Many kids have just returned to school or will Tuesday right after Labor day.   Maybe the fact that they are no longer on school break is why we think summer is over.

There will be no more 3 day weekends where we can enjoy a camping trip or an afternoon  picnic. The fact that this the last of the three major summer holidays may be  why we think is not only the last holiday, but also the beginning of fall.

All I can say is enjoy Labor Day weekend,  it is one of the last of the summer, but the not the last!

Frost Warning

Well tonight is the first frost warning of the season.  The Midwest girl in me just insists that August isn’t time for the end of  summer, and I am not going to call it quits.  My flowers are just coming into their own and some are just getting ready to bloom for the first time. I have not yet got one ripe tomato off my plants and they are full of many possibilities. So I got tarps out  for my flower gardens, covered my tomato pots with garbage bags, and thrown towels over my deck planters.  I ran a little short on tarps so I have a few feet of my flower wall that is going to risk the elements.   It looks a little trashy but for the night it is worth it to keep the summer going a little longer.  Keep your fingers crossed that this clear high altitude night doesn’t get as cool as predicted.