April 25, 2011

Independence Day Update, 4/25/11

We participate in Sharon Astyk’s Independence Days Challenge.  Even though she isn’t posting these updates in a while, I really like the format for a weekly review. 

The weather in our area has been sunny and warm.  Easter was a beautiful day, though pretty hot in the afternoon. 

In the garden, the bearded and Dutch irises are blooming, the clematis is just starting to flower, and the scilla bloomed perfect shades of blues and purples.  The prize for most beautiful and fragrant, though, goes to one of the most diminutive flowers in our gardens—the sweet Lily of the Valley.  I remember when I was in the Ukraine how the boys would bring us bouquets of the flowers that were the diameter of a saucer.  Absolutely gorgeous!  My sweet neighbor who passed a few years ago gave us most of the plants, and I will always think of his kindness when I see those flowers. 

The plum trees are loaded with plums this year, which makes me quite happy.  If they survive the birds and squirrels, there is a chance that we’ll have enough to make jelly this year.  Plum jelly is one of my favorites, and I always think of my grandmother and grandfather when I eat it.  They had huge plum trees in their back yard, and plum jelly was one of their specialties.

Likewise, the blueberries are covered in flowers this year.  If you look closely you can see the start of small berries.  Again, if we can keep the squirrels and birds off, there is a chance we’ll have blueberry jam from our own shrubs.  Of course, it will be very tempting to go out to the shrubs and eat our fill!

Hubby has been doing lots of research on how to prepare bamboo shoots.  We have what we call our “Bamboo Forest” in the back yard, and it is a grove of bamboo that was planted approximately 50 years ago by the original owner of the home.  Our daughter and her friends love weaving their way through the canes and exploring the grove.  The birds perform what we call a “Bird Show” nightly as they fly in flocks around and around the trees and swoop in dramatically to the bamboo.  We use the bamboo for trellises and teepees in the gardens, and it would be nice to also enjoy it as part of our meal. 

Many of the seeds that I planted last week are already starting to sprout and show growth.  How I will look forward to our first cucumber, tomato, or squash!

Plant— Tomatoes, second wave of cucumbers, green bean pole beans, lima beans, daylilies and surprise lilies

Harvest—Asparagus, green onions, spinach, romaine, pea sprouts, broccoli leaves, radishes, bok choy leaves.  The family went on Good Friday to pick strawberries at Rutherford’s Farm in Maryville.  We’ll make at least one more trip so that we have enough jam to give away as gifts this Christmas.

Preserve—I froze some of the leftover sausage and ham from Easter lunch.  I made 2 batches of the traditional strawberry jam recipe—1 with Sure-jel and 1 with Ball pectin.  I made another couple of batches with the Ball no sugar needed pectin.  I hadn’t used this pectin before.  You add 4 cups of crushed berries with 1 cup of non-sweetened apple or grape juice and the pectin to your pot.  You can sweeten it with 0-3 cups of sugar, or you can use honey or artificial sweetener.  I made one batch using 1 cup of sugar and another batch using 3 cups of sugar.  We liked the 1 cup batch the best.  In total I made 8 pints, 8 half pints, and 4 twelve ounce jars of jam. 

Waste Not/Reduce Waste— The rain barrel was full after the rain, and I’ll be hand watering instead of using the hose.  We continue to compost and recycle as usual.  Hubby signed us up for the new, free curbside recycling program in Knoxville.  He is in the process of figuring out the details of the TVA audit so that we can have one on my dad’s home. 

At the church Easter egg hunt on Saturday, along with our donations of Yummy Earth Organic lollipops (a good choice when there are folks with food allergies) and some of the free-after-coupon candies, we used some of the leftovers from our daughter’s birthday party for treats for the kids.  We had approximately 20 treat bags leftover at her party, and I was so happy that the contents went to use!

Want Not/Prep/Storage—Hubby has been researching building designs for the chicken coop.  We’ll build it this fall and get chickens early next year.  I’m so looking forward to harvesting our first eggs, though at this point it is more than a year away! 

Want not, that is an interesting category for me this week.  I’ve had a serious case of the “I wants”.   If I had an extra $1000 on hand, I would have spent it in its entirety this week.  Hubby was really great about reminding me of our long term goals and why we are budgeting the way that we are right now, but I still found it hard.  Ever have a week like that?

Building Community Food Systems—It was so good to be at a farmers market last week.  Daughter and I made our way to the Harvest Town Farmers Market on Thursday.  She had won a free ice cream from Cruze Dairy Farm and was thrilled with that!  I picked up grits and fresh buttermilk at the market.  Also, we bought berries at Rutherford’s as mentioned above.

I was so proud of the youth of the church this week.  On Friday many of the youth with parent chaperones took part in what was called a 30 hour famine.  They tried to better understand what it would be like to be homeless.  They had 2 former homeless people from the community come and talk with the group.  They slept outside with makeshift shelters on the ground.  They didn’t eat anything but water and broth for 30 hours.  When talking with many of them at the Easter egg hunt, I could see a new sense of awareness in their eyes.  The little things that we all take for granted were very much appreciated by them—a warm place to sleep out of the elements, a soft place to rest your head, a full belly, modern conveniences, a hot shower.  They realized that even with the difficulties that they faced during the project it paled in comparison to what the homeless in our community face daily.  It is such a blessing to watch these teens blossom into young adults and community members.

Eat the Food—The cabbage rolls from Easter dinner were really fabulous this year.  If you are local and happen to make it to the Harvest Town Farmers Market, I highly recommend you pick up some grits.  They were some of the best I’ve ever eaten—really fabulous.  We’ve enjoyed having so many fresh strawberries in the house and of course tasting the jam hasn’t been too much of a chore either. 

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