#Gardening and #Raspberries

We’re getting a steady influx of vegetables these days, but nothing much to preserve yet. There are a few tomatoes ripening on the kitchen windowsill.firsttomatoes Last night I grilled zucchini and green peppers. Cucumbers are trickling in, but not enough to turn into pickles and relish. Usually this waiting period occurs in late June, but here in western Pennsylvania, we’re about three later with everything.

raspberriesI did manage to pick more than a quart of raspberries this past week and made my very first batch of jam. Two cups of raspberries made two 1/2 pints of jam. I bought six quarts of blueberries from a local farmer this past week and froze four of the quarts. One quart I used to make three 1/2 pints of jam. Raspberries and blueberries generally follow the same recipe so I made the jam all at the same time.blueberries

I searched the Internet for recipes with low or no sugar added. My husband and I prefer the tartness of fruit without the added sweeteners. I finally settled on Ball’s recipe using their pectin calculator.

I used Ball’s RealFruit Low or No-Sugar Needed Pectin. Basically for two cups of berries, the recipe calls for 1/3 cup unsweetened fruit juice or water. I used apple juice. 1 1/2 TBSP pectin, and 3 tsp bottled lemon juice. Two cups of berries equals two 1/2 pints.

First I carefully washed and picked through the berries. Then I put them in a shallow, rectangular dish and mashed them with my bean masher.RaspberryMash I could have mixed the raspberries and blueberries into one jam, but since this was our first raspberry crop, we wanted those in their own jam.

From there, I put them into a large container and added the other ingredients. I also added 1/4 tsp butter to each pot to alleviate foaming. All the while, the 1/2 pint jars were boiling in the canner, and the lids and bands were simmering in a pot.

blueberryboilI brought each pot of berries to a boil and let them boil hard for one minute. The mixture must be stirred constantly to avoid sticking. Then I removed them from the heat and ladled into hot, sterilized jars. Processing time is ten minutes for altitudes under 1,000 feet. Since we’re at 1,100, I always add five minutes to the processing time when I’m canning.

I had a bit too much of the blueberry mixture, so I put that in a glass container and stuck in the refrigerator, where it will last approximately three weeks. The blueberry jam tastes wonderful and it set up perfectly. I look forward to opening one of the jars of raspberries very soon.jars

What’s growing in your garden these days?

Click on cover for Amazon page

Click on cover for Amazon page

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Florida Fiction with P.C. Zick – Location, Location, Location

P. C. Zick:

Here’s an essay on why I write about Florida, which includes Francis Guenette’s lovely review of Trails in the Sand.

Originally posted on disappearinginplainsight:

Florida Setting 1

I have been fortune enough to be featured on P.C. Zick’s, no less than four times! An incredibly generous blogger, P.C. does interviews with authors on Wednesday and features her book review of that author’s work on Friday. A great double whammy for readers who want to get to know a knew author. It gives me great pleasure to feature P.C.’s guest post on why she writes Florida fiction as part of the Location, Location, Location series.

Take it away, P.C.

Florida Setting 5

The landscape, the climate, the wildlife, the people —these are all the reasons I set my novels in Florida.

For thirty years, the humidity of the Sunshine State seeped under my skin and into my blood. Even though I moved away four years ago, it haunts my fiction. And I’d not have it any other way.

When my first husband suggested we move to Florida from Michigan in 1980…

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#Garden – Pea Time

June Garden 2014

June Garden 2014

I decided to take a break from my job today to give a brief update on the garden now that we’ve moved into summer here in western Pennsylvania.

The spinach has gone to seed, but we put up a few bags and ate quite a few meals of the fresh stuff. The raspberry bushes are alive with small white berries and the bees are buzzing around the blossoms. I watch daily for the first sign of red. I’m ready to pick and preserve–and of course, slip a few in my mouth.

The news this week involves peas. We’d been snacking on peas for the past week. I put some in a tuna macaroni salad, and we’ve been eating them raw. Late yesterday, Robert went out to pick and he came back in with a grocery bag packed with them plus enough for us to have large servings for our supper–we’d had a late lunch, so we made peas our evening meal. Tonight I’ll be blanching and freezing. Mid June Peas 2014

Peas should be blanched in boiling water for two minutes and then submerged in ice cold water for another two minutes. They should be a wonderful bright green and ready for putting in freezer bags for winter consumption. Peas hold up well for freezing, perhaps the best vegetable of all for preserving this way.

So it’s back to work. I’m in the process of getting three books ready for publication. I participated in a Romance in a Month class and really did finish a draft of a book. It’s shorter than my previous novels so I should be able to publish Behind the Altar by September. 64

NATIVE_WEBNative Lands is next in my Florida Fiction Series. I started this novel in 2006, and then left it for a few years. I’ve been working on it since 2013 and it heads to my editor in July. I hope to have it published by October.

And finally, the third book, Odyssey to Myself, is a collection of travel essays I’ve been working on in my spare time for the past year. It covers a decade in my life when my world tilted. As I struggled to adjust, I traveled: Morocco, Italy, Panama, and Chile. There was a trip down Route 66 in between. Most of the essays were already written and published in various places. I’m just writing the transitions and pulling into one cohesive whole. I hope to publish this one before summer ends.NewKindleJune5

I’ve been busy. I imagine things to pick up with the garden with the ripening of twenty tomato plants. I’m excited to make Italian sauce and salsa since we didn’t make any last year, partly because the tomatoes didn’t perform as well and partially because I wasn’t performing at all.

What a difference a year makes. I’ve never felt better, and when I look out at the garden, it reflects my feeling of health and well-being. We’re eating broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce almost every night. Thanks, Robert, for a job well done!

What’s growing in your area right now? I haven’t been out to a Farmer’s Market yet, but I bet they’re bursting with local food.

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Author Wednesday – Christoph Fischer

P. C. Zick:

I’m reblogging this from my writing site because of the importance of the topic. I know many of us are faced with friends and relatives headed on the Alzheimers journey, either as the patient or the caregiver.

Originally posted on Writing Whims:

???????????????????????????????Welcome to Author Wednesday. Today I welcome back Christoph Fischer for a guest post about his latest release A Time to Let Go. Christoph’s three other novels are set in Eastern Europe during the years of the Great Wars, and offer glimpses into what it was like for people of all gender, religion (or lack thereof), cultural heritage, and sexual preferences. The Three Nations Trilogy (The Luck of the Weissensteiners, Sebastian, and Black Eagle Inn) provide an excellent overview of life before, during, and after war.

However, his latest book A Time to Let Go takes a different path. Set in contemporary times in England, the book explores the life of one family as they deal with the onset of Alzheimers of Biddy, the mother and wife of the Korhonen family. In this guest post, Christoph writes about how and why this story was written. Please…

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#Maya Angelou – Aspire to her Greatness

Maya Angelou at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993

Maya Angelou at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993

We lost a great one yesterday with the passing of Maya Angelou. But thank goodness she passed through this life and graced us with her presence.

I loved turning my students onto the poetry of Ms. Angelou. When she was called upon to write and recite a poem for Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993, she had less than three months to write a poem on command for a world debut. As a writer, I can’t imagine the pressure that must have been, but Ms. Angelou did it. All she ever wanted was to be a blessing in this lifetime. She far exceed her own expectations.

The poem she created for the nation, On the Pulse of Morning, is chilling in its preciseness of language, thrilling in its dramatic contrasts, and loving in its portrayal of hope for our nation.

To me the final verses of the poem are the most powerful. I loved reading this aloud to teenagers who, despite themselves, could not help but be inspired by this great woman’s words. I read an interview after the inauguration where she said she was disappointed in the poem. Please rest easy, Ms. Angelou, there is no disappointment in these words of encouragement.

Excerpted from On the Pulse of Morning (final verses):

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

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#Gardening – Spring Means #Spinach

Spinach ready to pick

Spinach ready to pick

This warm and wet spring weather means lots of big leaves on the spinach plants. It also means we’ll have it longer before it goes to seed, if the heat of summer stays away for a few weeks.

Robert picks the spinach after it’s been watered or after a good rain. . .after it’s had time to dry. He then puts it into dry plastic bags and stores in the refrigerator until I can find the time to start cleaning, blanching, and freezing. He actually does the washing part while I chop, blanch, and bag. The other night we managed to put up eighteen bags containing two servings each.

spinach1

blanch for two minutes

We’ve been eating it every other day in various forms: raw in wraps and salads, sauteed briefly in olive oil, garlic, and silvered almonds, in lasagna, omelets and just plain steamed.

Medical News Today reports the breakdown of what is contained in one cup of raw spinach: It “contains 27 calories, 0.86 grams of protein, 30 milligrams of calcium, 0.81 grams of iron, 24 milligrams of magnesium, 167 milligrams of potassium, 2813 IUs of Vitamin A and 58 micrograms of folate.”

bags ready for freezer

bags ready for freezer

We might get one more big picking before it’s done. But that’s thirty-eight meals of spinach for the winter and a few more meals with fresh spinach before the season ends. Then we’ll start on the peas, which are now climbing their chicken wire fence and reaching for the sun.

I’d love to hear from you on what’s going on in your garden or what you’re eating from the local farmer’s markets. Ours, filled with lots of local food grown in western Pennsylvania, are just opening for the season.

 

Click on cover to purchase

Click on cover to purchase

Our book From Seed to Table provides lots of gardening tips and recipes. Here are the steps I follow for blanching and freezing bags of spinach (in two-serving bags):

Blanching and freezing spinach

Note: The blanching steps below may be followed for most vegetables with variation in the time the vegetable is in the boiling water. The recipe below preserves as much of the vitamins and taste as possible. Our frozen spinach is green and tastes “almost” like we’d just picked it.

  • Wash the leaves – Put the leaves in a sink of cold water and carefully wash off all dirt and grass. Put in colander to drain.
  • Chop the leaves – I didn’t do this last year, and I was sorry. While the spinach tasted great, it was a bit stringy. I chopped them into about 1-inch squares.
  • Blanch – Bring a big pot of water to boil and place one colander full of leaves into the water for two minutes.
  • Ice water bath – Submerge in ice water for another two minutes.
  • Place in colander in a large bowl or pot and let drain for a few minutes.
  • Put into freezer bag that is labeled and dated.

One colander full equals two servings and fits perfectly into a freezer sandwich bag. It’s fine if some water is in the bag – it’s probably better for the spinach.


 

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Plant a Tree for the Future

Originally posted on What's Green with Betsy?!?:


The social, aesthetic, and environmental benefits of trees are numerous.  They manufacture oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide.  They provide shade in summer and windbreak in winter.  The beauty and serenity of trees have been shown to help hospital patients recover more quickly. Trees reduce crime in low-income urban areas and increase property values.   Trees help us save energy and improve air quality, conserve water and provide homes to wildlife.   Large and majestic trees are an important part of the community.

According to American Forests, the national urban tree deficit now stands at more than 634 million trees.  Unprecedented environmental stresses are making it more difficult for trees to grow and flourish in today’s world.  Because trees sequester carbon and offset our carbon footprint, or the amount of energy a person consumes in their day-to-day activities, it is more important than ever to plant trees.  The average person produces 26 tons…

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#Civil War – Battle at Seven Pines, 1862

Currier & Ives depiction of the Battle of Seven Pines

This excerpt from Civil War Journal of a Confederate Soldier – the memoir of my great grandfather – shows firsthand the horrors of war. There are no winners here at Seven Pines (Fair Oaks), Virginia.

May 31 – Orders came for us to report to General Kearney at Seven Pines Tavern. Without delay, we were on the move. Before we reached the stage road, one of those sudden storms peculiar to the south burst upon us without warning. The sky grew dark. Then quickly came sheets of livid flame, followed by deafening crashes of thunder. In another moment, sluices of water began to pour. Darkness became so intense that nothing could be seen except by the blinding, hissing, crackling flashes of lightning. The scene was one of terrific grandeur, but exposed to its fury as we were, it was not pleasant. Some gained the partial shelter of the trees. Others could not make head against the flood and were forced to stand and take it where they were. In half an hour, this cloudburst was a thing of the past. The only evidence that it had been was the distant detonation of thunder and the lake of muddy water in which we stood over our shoe tops.

As soon as the storm swept by, we marched away in pursuit of orders. Then there broke upon our ears rapid explosions of thunder that we knew too well were not from heaven, followed by an unsteady roll that we knew was not the reverberation of thunder along the clouds. To our experienced ears, it was the sound of deadly strife.

Then came fugitives from the front, saying that Casey’s division which was in the advance had been surprised at Fair Oaks station and “All cut to pieces.” As with increased pace and quickened pulse we pushed forward, the number of fugitives increased and all had the same cry. “We’re all cut to pieces.” To say that our little band felt no misgivings in the face of this wild rout would not be true. Thoughts of Bull Run forced themselves upon us, but when did the 2nd Michigan fail to report wherever they were ordered. Straining toward the front, we met the lion-hearted, firm and true General Heintzelman at a point where the swamp and creek came close together within forty rods. This hair-lipped old general demanded, “What are these and where are you going?” Being told that we were two companies of the 2nd Michigan going to report to General Kearney, he ordered, “Deploy across this muck and stop these stragglers or kill them.” Instantly, the movement was begun at double quick and in another moment, we were facing the mob of excited, terrified men, some hatless, from they knew not what, while the spent balls from the enemy was stimulating their speed.

To stay this tide was to us a harder task than to fight the enemy. They were our friends, and we did not want to hurt them. By the sounds from the front, we knew that our men who had not been stampeded were bravely holding the rebels in check. These men must be made to turn and help them. At first, it required rough treatment and some received wounds here that had escaped unscathed at the front, but when the tide was once stayed, a peremptory order to “Fall in,” enforced by the point of the bayonet, backed by a loaded musket was obeyed without resistance. Each had his story to tell, to which we would not listen. Officers and men alike insisted that “We’re all cut to pieces” and “I am the only man left of my regiment.”

Officers and men resorted to various subterfuges and tricks to get past our line. Two men carrying their brave and esteemed captain, with both legs tied up with handkerchiefs, were stopped to examine the captain’s wounds. When the bandages were removed, no wounds were to be found. Men with heads, bodies, legs, and arms tied up were detected in the cheat and put into the ranks. A colonel of a New York regiment with two men carrying him desired to push through. We sent the men to the ranks, but passed the colonel. He was dead-drunk. We dumped his carcass on the ground in the swamp as of no use. One by one, seven color bearers drifted back to us with their colors and the declaration that they alone had escaped with the colors, the others were “all cut to pieces.” The phrase “cut to pieces” became a joke and many an officer in splendid uniform was asked to take off his clothes and show where he was cut. Some officers were indignant that their rank was not respected, and that private soldiers dared to prevent their passing, but a look into the muzzle of a loaded musket with a resolute eye behind it inclined them to waive their rights for this once. By stationing the various regimental colors in different parts of the field, and directing the men to assemble around their own colors, we rallied seven good-sized regiments of live men that were not “cut to pieces.” We kept our line all night, part of the men sleeping at a time. Our duty had been a very unpleasant one, but we were assured that it was very important.

June 1 – Early in the morning we joined our regiment on the battlefield. Seven companies of the regiment were in the thickest of the fight and lost heavily in killed and wounded, and Colonel Poe had his horse shot under him. Richardson’s division was already pushing the enemy, and long before noon, the lost ground was regained. This two-day battle was called by both names – Fair Oaks and Seven Pines, the fighting being done between a railroad station of the former name and a country tavern of the latter. (The aggregate loss to Union and Confederate – killed 3,690, wounded 7,524, prisoners 2,322.)

[Fair Oaks or Seven Pines, May 31-June 1, 1862 with the total killed, wounded, or captured now recorded as 13,736.]

From Civil War Trust:

The Battle of Seven Pines
Fair Oaks
May 31, 1862 – June 1, 1862

On May 31, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston attempted to overwhelm two Federal corps that appeared isolated south of the Chickahominy River. The Confederate assaults, though not well coordinated, succeeded in driving back the IV Corps and inflicting heavy casualties. Reinforcements arrived, and both sides fed more and more troops into the action. Supported by the III Corps and Sedgwick’s division of Sumner’s II Corps (that crossed the rain-swollen river on Grapevine Bridge), the Federal position was finally stabilized. Gen. Johnston was seriously wounded during the action, and command of the Confederate army devolved temporarily to Maj. Gen. G.W. Smith. On June 1, the Confederates renewed their assaults against the Federals who had brought up more reinforcements but made little headway. Both sides claimed victory.  Confederate brigadier Robert H. Hatton was killed.

Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier is available on Kindle and in paperback. Click on the image to visit the Amazon page.

Click on cover for Amazon page

Click on cover for Amazon page

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Asparagus – First Vegetable of Spring

 

First Asparagus of 2014 Season

First Asparagus of 2014 Season

We had a real treat last night. We ate the most delicious steamed asparagus–picked fresh from our garden only moments before.

Robert planted the asparagus crowns in a bed at the end of our garden two years ago.

Asparagus 2013

Asparagus 2013

This makes its third season and the first one for harvesting. For the best results, it’s good not to harvest until the third year. Also, be sure to plant them with forethought because asparagus is a perennial, and the same planting can last for twenty years or more without doing much but covering them with straw over the winter.

Purple asparagus

Purple asparagus

Asparagus is rich in all the B vitamins, Vitamin C, calcium, and iron. It’s also chock full of anti-oxidants and provides digestive support. What’s not to love? I thought I loved everything about asparagus until I ate it the other night fresh from the garden. As with all vegetables, nothing beats a newly harvested crop. There’s none of the bitterness that sometimes comes with older asparagus. Ours actually tasted sweet.

Here’s the one problem as I see it. It will produce more and more each week for about six to seven weeks. That means we need to eat it often, and I need to become proficient in finding and making different recipes. Steamed is great, but perhaps it will lose its novelty after the fifth night in a row. I’ve yet to find a good way to preserve it as I can do with the spinach about to be picked as I write this post.

Spinach ready to pick

Spinach ready to pick

However, I will search for preserving techniques for asparagus and welcome suggestions from you. One of my friends told me about asparagus guacamole–I actually thought she had her “a” vegetables confused. I looked it up online, and it’s the same recipe as with avocados, except substituting asparagus that’s put through a food processor. That will probably be one of the first recipes I’ll try.

What about it? Any ideas to share about the harvesting and preparing of asparagus? This is my first season with this vegetable, and I’m a little giddy to think of having so much to eat for the next few weeks.

Click on cover for Amazon page

Click on cover for Amazon page

 

From Seed to Table – Growing, Harvesting, Cooking, and Preserving Food  provides lots of tips and recipes for vegetable gardening.

 

 

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#Kayaking – Sign of Spring

Raccoon Lake in western Pennsylvania

Raccoon Lake in western Pennsylvania

We brought the kayaks down from their storage place, where they hang all winter upside down under a second-story balcony. Before we could load them up in the truck, we had to remove the very large nest taking up residence in one of them. I felt badly about that, but we have some robins that set up shop in some very strange places around our house.

We live about twenty minutes from Raccoon Creek State Park, but for some reason we’ve spent very little time there. We’ve never been on Raccoon Lake which is created from the water dammed on Traverse Creek. Raccoon Creek doesn’t even touch the lake but travels on the outskirts of the park. We had an adventure on Raccoon Creek several years ago when our kayaks capsized after ramming into a large tree downed over the creek where it runs its fastest.

The cruise on Raccoon Lake this past weekend didn’t bring any adventures, except when my kayak banged up against what I thought was a rock as we approached the end of the lake and shallow, muddy water.

“It’s not a rock,” my husband said. “I saw it raise it’s head. It’s a turtle.”

Sure enough, the red, green and brown shell looked ancient and massive–two feet long at least. I didn’t have my good camera, so this is all I could manage to shoot of the creature in Raccoon Lake. It’s an outline at best.

freshwater turtle

freshwater turtle

I’m guessing it’s a snapping turtle because I couldn’t really get a clear view either with my naked eye or through my camera lens. When my kayak nudged him, I worried it might wake the sleeping giant, but it just swam away from me leaving me intact in the kayak.

We also saw an osprey guarding its nest. I will never again leave my good camera with zoom lens at home for even the shortest of nature explorations. My little pocket camera couldn’t zoom far enough to capture the osprey standing on a branch high above the banks. I didn’t even try to pull the camera out of the ziplock baggie. In a way, there was relief in not worrying about capturing the moment. I could just enjoy the majesty of this bird and rejoice in its population resurgence in western Pennsylvania.

The warm spring day makes me yearn for more lovely days when the trees are green and flowers bloom along the shore. We plan to spend more time in this lovely spot in our backyard. After all, the day we found our house four years ago, we were on our way to the Wildflower Preserve within the park. I haven’t been back since 2010, but this is the year to explore nearer to home.

Eastern Painted Turtle sunning

 

Raccoon Lake in Raccoon Creek State Park

Raccoon Lake in Raccoon Creek State Park

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