Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hey Sunflower Girl!

Seven years ago I was finishing up divorce documents.  My attorney told me that if I wanted to legally change my name, we could include my name change with my papers.  "So," I asked him, "I can change my name back to my maiden name?"  He laughed and said, "you can change your name to whatever you want." 

Whatever I want.  I liked the sound of that.  I was starting a new chapter in my life and a new name seemed like a good way to start.  What name fit who I was now?

I came up with the name Sunflower. 

I live in the beautiful desert of Utah.  It is hot here in the summers.  Uncomfortably hot.  The soil where I live is actually rock with a little bit of sand.  We have long periods of drought. Water is rationed every summer.  Yet, in these adverse conditions, these beautiful sunflowers dot the landscape.  They can blossom in these conditions because they have roots that go down deep and seek for water.  Yes.  I had been through my emotional desert and had the strong roots of friends, family, spirituality, and a sense of self that allowed me to flourish in adverse conditions.  Sunflower it was.  Until I spoke with my sister.

"Don'tcha think that changing your name to Sunflower might hurt Mom and Dad's feelings?"  Oh yeah.  History.  Heritage.  Not to mention that I actually like the name they chose.   I didn't change my name to Sunflower.  But I let the wild sunflower seeds bloom in my yard along with a few hybrid varieties.

A couple of years after my divorce I began dating my current husband.  He sent a bouquet of sunflowers to my office.  He's a keeper.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Home-Canning: The Best Salsa Recipe Ever

My husband is a treat hoarder.  He can be seen around the house with a box of cookies or bag of Doritos that he hid away from the rest of the family.  One year I gave out jars of my homemade salsa to friends for Christmas.  That's the year he also became a salsa hoarder.  He's okay if I give away homemade jams or jellies, but was dismayed at losing a single jar of salsa.  He's taken to hiding his personal stash.  Yes.  This recipe is just that good.

This salsa recipe came from my mother's friend Eva to my mom.  My mom taught me to write the name of the friend who gave the recipe on the top corner of the recipe card.  That way, each time I cooked the recipe I could have nice thoughts about that friend.  So, today I thought about Eva, and my mother, and I made a half batch of the best salsa ever.

This recipe is great for the summer garden.  It takes only a few ingredients.
  • 1/2 bushel (about 26.5 pounds) skinned and chopped tomatoes 
  • 3/4 to 1 cup of canning salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup vinegar (white or apple cider)
  • 5 large yellow onions
  • 5 large bell peppers
  • 20-27 small or 10-12 large jalapeño peppers
Makes 14+ pints of salsa

Step 1:  Skinning tomatoes
Wash the tomatoes.  Discard any with significant scarring or other blemishes.  Your salsa's only as good as your ingredients.  So, if you don't garden, you may want to go to a Farmer's market or store that offers vine-ripened tomatoes.  To skin tomatoes, you'll use two pots.  One is filled with ice water and the other is on the stove full of water heated to a rolling boil.  With a large slotted spoon, place six tomatoes into the boiling water.  As soon as they are in the water, you'll want to work just as quickly at removing them.  In the order they were placed, spoon the tomatoes out of the boiling water and place them into the container of ice water.  Repeat until the ice water bowl is full.  Take the iced tomatoes out and with a paring knife cut off the stem end.  Cut the tomato in half.  With the knife, the peel should easily pull off the tomato half.  I then cut the half into half and into small pieces and place them in a colander to drain.

Step 2:  Thicken salsa
Place drained tomatoes, canning salt, sugar, and vinegar into a non-reactive (enameled) large roasting pan.  I put the roasting pan across two burners, with both burners on low to medium heat. 

Step 3:  Prepare the onions and peppers
For this recipe you will be working with a large quantity of spicy ingredients.  You probably know your tolerance for working with spicy peppers or onions.  If you have any cuts on your hands or are prone to rubbing your eyes, you may want to wear rubber gloves when working with these ingredients.  I have a friend who uses goggles when cutting large quantities.  I haven't splurged on the goggles, yet.  Instead, I do a little cathartic crying during the onion cutting. 

Prepare vegetables for grinding.  Remove onion ends and peeling.  Remove stems from green peppers and jalapeños.  Grind the onions and peppers.  (I use a Vitamix blender.  However, a food process, hand grinder, or even finely chopping the ingredients work well.)

Note:  The jalapeño peppers are what add the spiciness to this salsa.  You may want to add less peppers than listed and then taste the salsa before adding more. 

Step 4:  Continue to thicken salsa
Add the onion and pepper mixture to the tomato mixture on the stove.  Continue to slowly cook the mixture until it is to the desired consistency.  Stir occasionally.  

Step 5:  Prepare canning supplies
Wash canning lids and rings.  Place them in sets in a pot of water placed on low heat.  Keep at a simmer.  Wash canning jars and place them in an oven set at 150 degrees.  Fill water bath canner halfway with water; bring to a boil.  Fill tea kettle with water, set to boil. 

Step 6:  Fill jars
Using a funnel, fill heating canning jar with heated salsa.  Leave 1/4" head space between top of glass jar and salsa.  Slide plastic knife down inside of jar to remove air bubbles.  Wipe off jar top.  Take jar ring and lid from simmering water and hand tighten on jar.  Place jar in wire rack placed in up position in canner.  When canner is filled (no jars touching) lower jars into boiling water.  Cover jars with 1-2 inches of water.  To speed process, I add the boiling water from tea kettle. 

Step 7:  Process salsa
Bring water bath canner to boil with lid on.  Once water is at a rolling boil begin timing.  Salsa takes 15 minutes to process at low altitude.  However, additional time is needed for the salsa to be processed depending on the altitude you are at.   For example, in my location in Utah, I need to add 10 minutes, and will process/boil the salsa for 25 minutes.

Step 8:  Sealing jars
Once time is completed for canning, carefully remove the jars from the canner.  (Point the canner's lid away from you so you don't get burned by the steam.)  With your jar holder remove the jars and place on a heat resistant surface.  Leave space between the jars.  You will hear the jars pop as they seal.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Shopping Finds for the Hipster Chicken Keeper

Recently the online media has focused attention on hipster chicken keepers.  Whether blaming the plight of homeless chickens on the backyard chicken keeping trend, or NPR's defending the chicken keepers and blaming community rooster regulations -- being an urban or suburban chicken keeper has now come with a label.  Since I am a suburban chicken keeper, I have now also become a trendy hipster.  (Well, I do like shopping at vintage stores, and have a thing for mason jars.)  I figure instead of refuting or defending the label -- I decided to acknowledge it exists.  In my case, I can see how it may even be a wee bit warranted in that I love the new chicken accessories popping up.  Just like most of my interests, there's shopping to be done.   Here are a few of my favorite finds.

Ceramic Egg Cartons $12 from Anthropologie.  They stack, come in cute colors, and can be safely cleaned and reused.  Want!
William Sonomas's Egg Run Holder will keep your fresh eggs arranged by age.  Brilliant!  $29.95

Nothing says, I'm a modern hipster chicken keeper like the Egg Hanging Planter from Urban Outfitters.  With its retro feel, you can call your friends over for a Mad Men party and serve up some deviled eggs with this beauty hanging in the background.  (As you all probably know, it's those wicked chickens who lay deviled eggs.)  $34.
Chicken keeping can also be an excuse to buy shoes.  Although my closest feedstore has some practical rubber boots, you should see the selection at Nordstroms.  I resisted showing you the studded Valentinos which even I couldn't imagine wearing to the coop.  Instead, here's a flowered pair that are just calling to be worn while pushing the tractor coop to another section of the yard.  For $69.95 you can purchase the 'Margo' boot.
For those real splurges for $3,300 at Sundance Catalog, you can purchase this 30" x 30" painting "Morning View" by artist and sustainable living author Katherine Dunn.