Strawberry Jam or Strawberry Sauce?

A couple of weeks ago I made strawberry jam. Last year we had so much rain the strawberries weren’t abundant. And late frosts effected the peach crop, so I didn’t make peach jam either. We actually bought jam! This year the strawberries were lovely and I got a flat at the Farmers Market.

I’ve been making jam for fifty years. We had four children so I made a lot of jam. Back in the day we covered the jam with parafin wax. Occasionally a jar would get moldy under the wax and have to be discarded. Now they are put through a boiling water bath in the canning kettle for ten minutes. These jars can stay on the shelf for a couple of years.

I did two big batches of jam. Eight pints the first time. Six pints and two half pints the second time. The second batch didn’t jell. I had used SureJell and actually followed the directions to the letter.  So I reprocessed the second batch and added another packet of SureJell. They jelled a little, but not as much as they should have for jam that wouldn’t run off your toast.

I left the jars on the counter for several days as I debated about processing for a third time. I didn’t want concrete jam, so ultimately decided I would call it Strawberry Sauce and use it on ice cream when we have company.

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And in between batches of jam I was able to get my Working Writers Forum submission ready to send out. The meeting is tonight. I can’t wait to hear the always constructive critiques.

Market Paella

Last weekend the husband and I helped set up at the Farmer’s Market again. We’d had lots of rainy Saturdays, but Memorial Day Saturday had blue skies and sun. I was able to take lots of photos that I can use in the weekly MailChimp market reminder.

The chef demo was a market paella (vegetarian) made by Taylor Hale. He walked around to the vendors and collected vegetables. He made the stock from vegetable leaves and spent time prepping the veggies. The only things he brought with him were rice, spices and water.

The kettle in the back left of the photo above is the stock he made on site from vegetable leaves. I was inspired by this as I often think I’m going to use the leaves I cut from my Hakuri turnips or beets, etc. but they usually go into the compost. Now I am throwing all those things in the stock pot with some onions and maybe some leftover vegetables in the fridge and making vegetable stock.

 

I asked Taylor about what kind of rice he used and I took a photo of the bag. It’s available on Amazon. He said Bomba was an alternative paella rice. His seasoning is his own concoction. It’s called Mo’ Spanish and is available on his website as is the recipe for the green sauce he added to the samples being handed out. I bought some Mo’ Spanish and made some paella with Arborio rice which was the closest I could come with what I had in the pantry. Later in the week I made a double batch of hummus (1 can chickpeas and 1 can Cannellini beans) and used some Mo’ Spanish. The hummus was terrific.

Later in the week I made a double batch of hummus (1 can chickpeas and 1 can Cannellini beans) and used some Mo’ Spanish. The hummus was terrific and a lovely protein substitute for meat.

The market is a welcoming place for neighbors and friends to meet. Dogs, and children of all ages, are welcome.

My Characters Shout at 4 A.M.

I had my alarm set for 6. Plenty of time to jump in the shower and put on my yoga clothes for my 7 a.m. class. Perhaps even time to read the local paper or take a quick turn around the garden to see what’s blooming.

But at 4 a.m. the characters in my novel started shouting at me. At 4:30 I gave up and got on my computer. They wanted to tell me a couple of ways my novel could end, and I knew if I didn’t start getting documenting them, the story lines might evaporate. That’s happened before although who knows if those brilliant ideas in the middle of the night are all that brilliant in the light of day.

Now that I have several pages of notes, I’m hoping Yvie, Lissa and Dez will let me sleep until at least ten of six in the morning. Does Dez really need to die? Probably, but won’t Lissa be devastated? Depends on the scenes to be written before those things happen – or not. I’m not planning on writing The French Lieutenant’s Woman with three different endings.

I promised to submit something to my Writers Forum for June 6 so I need to pull together 15 – 25 pages. At this point, the scenes don’t flow seamlessly. This is the first draft, after all.

Note: I didn’t have a picture to go with this blog post, so will use one from my garden. That’s a yellow achillea and a purple ground cover geranium. Notice the three leaf clover that should have been pulled, but it adds a different green to the photo.

 

 

My Garden and Writing Process Evolves

Last Sunday was a beautiful day. Saturday’s rains had blown through and my gardens are lush and blooming. I took my iPhone with its wonderful camera out to take some photos. The back yard looks like a park. Although we live in a neighborhood and have houses on three sides of us, the garden I have created over the last ten years now gives us a sense of restful privacy.

None of this was here eleven years ago this August when we moved in. I found a photo I took of the back of the house when we bought it. We had a double lot (almost 2/3 of an acre0, seven wonderful old maple trees and a little landscaping in the front that had been planted through landscaping cloth. I spent many hours removing that.

And this was the shed.

To my gardener’s eye the property was a blank canvas, but it needed some definition and I knew that we needed some place to put compost heaps, unused pots, garden stuff that you don’t need right now, but might in the future. Things you don’t want to see. I installed sheets of wood lattice attached to 4×4 pressure treated posts across the back of the property about 10 feet from the property line. Eight of them. I staggered them to create the beginnings of paths. Along the property line between us and the neighbors I installed three more. One property line has a privacy fence as the next door house was fairly close to our property line and it looked like their backyard was a big chunk of our back yard.

By the shed I installed white plastic lattice to make the shed took more important. We put window boxes on the shed and painted them yellow. This is what it looked like four years later. Unfortunately that gorgeous Golden Shower pillar rose never looked this good again. I’m now trying some alternatives.

A year after we bought the house we did renovations and added a deck out the back of where we had installed french doors flanking the fireplace. Now I could think about some landscaping.

The next year we added benches around the deck, and two years ago some railings by the steps. This is what the back of the house looks like now.

I’m thinking that my gardening process is not unlike my writing process. I spend time in the garden looking at it and thinking, visualizing. Then I plant and sometimes it’s successful and sometimes not. I move things around. A small decorative maple now happily located near the deck was moved three times. It will stay where it is.

I continue to work on book three in the Caribbean series. I spend a lot of time thinking about the characters and the story which is FINALLY revealing itself to me. I had to make a time line because I knew scenes were out of sequence. The story takes place in the summer of 2004 and thanks to the internet I could print out a calendar of those months and even find out when the moon was full. That full moon is important in making one of the bush medicine potions that is part of the plot. What the heck did writers do before Google?

At any rate, my garden evolves as does the story I am writing. The garden will never be finished. I am hopeful the novel will.

 

 

Away to the Mountains

Last week my husband and I traveled to Kalispell, Montana where my son and daughter-in-law live. We had two days with them and then we all drove to Spokane for the graduation of our oldest granddaughter from Eastern Washington University. She now has a Masters Degree in Occupational Therapy.  She has two practicums to complete before she can sit for her board exams late this fall. We are so proud of her accomplishment.

The day after we arrived both my son and d-i-l were working so my husband and I went to the movies to see The Zookeeper’s Wife. It was excellent. This is the view from the parking lot at the movie theater. Being in Montana always forces me to raise my eyes to the purple mountains’ majesty.

The graduation was a chance to see some family members. My son, who lives in Aspen, brought his father (my ex) and my daughter-in-law’s mother also came from Ohio. We had two days in Spokane with no rain. My oldest son (father of the graduate) is standing with his hand on his wife’s shoulder. My second son is second from the right. I have tall, blonde sons. 6’4″ and 6’3″.

The graduate’s sister (on the right)  is just completing her Sophmore year at Gonzaga. She’ll be in Florence, Itlay in the fall for her semester abroad. One of those sunny days we were on campus and all the kids were out soaking up the sunshine.

It was nice to get some of the family together. My older brother in California keeps talking about planning a family reunion, but I don’t know how we could possibly get everyone together. It’s a big expense for children and grandchildren, not to mention trying to coordinate schedules.

While in Kalispell we discovered the morel mushrooms had come up in the front yard. We found enough to put in our morning eggs which came from the homestead chickens. Yum!

My Montana son is a builder and this chicken coop is bear proof!

When I got home the backyard was looking like a park. Azaleas and iris blooming and the trees have leaves. The pathetic looking “grass” of February has greened and the bald spots where we put grass seed have sprouted. A lot of our yard is wire grass and lawn ivy, but when it’s green I can pretend it’s lovely turf. Most of the “helicopters” are off the maple trees and we took the tarps off the deck yesterday. It still needs to be cleaned. That’s a next week project.

Tomorrow is the Green Thumb Plant and Garden Treasures Sale at the Woman’s Club. I’ll take some photos. I dug some plants for the sale yesterday. Now I just have to figure out how to get a Victorian plant stand to the club. Somebody will love it and figure out what to do with it. The closest I came was putting empty terracotta pots on it. It needs some love and a couple of cans of black spray paint.

I love visiting with my children and watching my grandchildren grow into adulthood, but after a week away, it was good to get home and sleep in our own bed.

A Busy Weekend

Next year will be the 20th year of the St. Michaels Farmers Market. It was started by a couple of women who then helped start other farmers markets in the area. They called them Fresh Farm Markets and the parent organization provided insurance, organizational help, etc. Fresh Farm Markets are now primarily on the Western Shore (Annapolis, DC, etc.) and this is the last year they will be the umbrella organization for the St. Michaels market. We are in transition this year but have wonderful vendors with terrific products. It’s fun getting to know the farmers.

I volunteered to help get out the weekly market reminders on MailChimp. It was something I knew how to do and enjoy. And my husband and I have been volunteering some Saturdays to help with market set-up. We are scheduled to do that again this weekend. Last Saturday was rainy and I woke up this morning at 3:30 to the sound of rain. It seems to have moved off for now, but even if it rains, people come prepared.

By the time we got to the market at 7:30 it was 65 degrees and not raining. The market was bustling by the time I left at 10. I’d walked over to the Community Garden to take a look at a bed nobody wanted. I’ll weed it this weekend and plant some blue hubbard squash I raised from seed. The beds at the Community Garden are 14 feet long so the plants will have plenty of room to run.

Last week at the Farmers Market I bought a loaf of low gluten bread. What a treat. We don’t keep bread in the house because my husband has gluten sensitivity. We had the last few pieces last night – toasted and topped with homemade guacamole – while we played rummy.

The town will be chockablock this morning. Besides the Farmers Market, it’s the weekend of the St. Michaels Wine Festival. People who live in town have to put up with more than the usual weekend foot traffic – and some drunken shenanigans. We helped one of the first years of the Wine Festival when it was held at the Maritime Museum grounds. Now it is spread all over town at inside venues and tented spaces.We usually don’t go into town on Wine Festival Weekend unless we need to.

This afternoon we are helping with an event to be held at the Avalon Theatre in Easton. It is a fund raiser for the Talbot Interfaith Shelter. People will gather to sing together, raising positive vibrations in our community for this very good cause. Here’s the link to the inspiration. It gives me chills every time I watch it.

I’ll let you know how it turns out. When I get home I’m working in the garden. I have Amish paste tomato plants to get in the ground and my husband is going to mow at the Community Garden. This is the time of year when sometimes the grass needs to be mowed twice a week.

 

Juggling Writing and the Garden

Being outside is where I want and need to be, but my characters are tugging at me. I still don’t know how this third book in the Caribbean series ends, but I am writing small chapters about things I think need to happen. The flow isn’t there yet, but it seems to be helping me move forward.

Yesterday I printed out all the scenes separately. That will allow me to rearrange them and insert new scenes where I think they should go. I have a board with post-it notes of the scenes on it, but that doesn’t seem to do it for me. I’ll try this and see what happens. It reminds me of my wonderful daughter-in-law who is, among other things, a talented quilter. She puts the pieces of a quilt on her wall and is able to look at it to see if the pieces need to be moved around.

I am 200 pages into this book and it may be 300 or 350 before I get it all down. It won’t be that long when it’s finished because this is a first draft. Then the revision work begins.

Revision in the garden is ongoing. A small maple has grown to the point that things I had planted around it needed to come out. There were two Limelight hydrangeas near the deck that always got taller than a wanted and blocked the view to other parts of the garden. One of them was destroyed when we dug it, but the other one was moved to another spot where it is leafing out nicely. My spring and fall blooming iris have made their spring appearance.

I am also potting up volunteers and divisions for the plant sale at a Green Thumb meeting at the St. Michaels Woman’s Club the second week in May. I noticed a small Shademaster locust near the mother tree in the back. It is about the size as the one I brought home from that same plant sale eight years ago. It is now 20 feet tall. A fast grower.