I’ve been wanting to start canning for several years, but this August was when I finally took the plunge. My recent interest in canning began in 2009, when my friend Julie and I bought a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) share at a local farm. Suddenly I was getting all sorts of exciting, fresh fruits and vegetables, and sometimes at a rate faster than I could use them. It was a different experience than shopping at the Arlington Courthouse farmer’s market, where it was easier to make sure to only buy what I would absolutely be using over the next few years.

I was familiar with the idea of canning well before then, mind you. My mother has made and then canned her homemade preserves every year for as long as I can remember, and it’s always a joy to open up a jar and dive into those delicious tastes of summer no matter what it’s like outside. My grandfather on her side of the family was also into canning, using the jars to hold his applesauce, tomato sauce, and green beans.

Butternut Squash ChutneyWhen Charlie and I moved to Takoma, some sort of switch finally flipped in the back of my head, and I took the plunge: I bought a pressure cooker that could be used for canning, as well as some supplies, and checked books out of the library on how to can.

Since then I’ve made quite a few batches of tomato sauce (each batch tasting slightly different than the one before), hot pickles, pickled okra, and most recently—my favorite—butternut squash chutney, which with its cinnamon and cardamom and cumin flavors just screams autumn to me.

I can see why people do it. Not just because of being able to preserve an excess of produce, but because of getting the pride and joy in grabbing a taste and smell of a specific seasonal food and getting to halt it until later, and inevitably share it with someone else. There’s a great article on NPR right now about a woman who decided to make and can blackberry jam for everyone at her upcoming wedding. Reading the article, not only did I understand her happiness in doing so, but it brought back my own memories of picking blackberries for my mom in exchange for both blackberry preserves and pie.

I’m already plotting out my next canning ideas, as well as planning on making some more butternut squash chutney (it’s amazing as a condiment on sandwiches!) quite soon. And if I run out of room in the pantry? Well, half the fun is giving the finished jars to other people. I don’t think that’ll be a problem either.

Slightly Burnt Out

I’m not sure how I can be burnt out from doing too much while not really accomplishing anything, but I’ve come to the grim conclusion that it seems to be my life these days. It has been nice to check some items off of the list, though, and move closer to getting other things completed. (Although even things that take up time can still be sad to see go away.)

I did have the last of my “lap swimming class” through Arlington last night, which I’d signed up for primarily because the rec center near my office was overrun with kids camp all summer long. It was strange (to me), though, in that we started with nine people and by the end would have anywhere from two to four people show up. Last night was just me and one other guy. I admit it, I missed two classes (one due to work, one due to sickness) but it was more than just that in terms of absences. The instructor had even said early on that adult swim classes had a steep attrition rate but this was a little out of control. On the bright side, we each had an entire lane to ourselves, how nice is that? The final two weeks we were told to “just go and swim as much as you can without stopping” and I was pleased with the end results: 34 laps in 35 minutes last week, and 39 laps in 40 minutes this week. Nice steady pace with no burning desire to stop. It’ll be nice to have Monday nights back, but I will miss having my own lap lane ready and waiting for me.

Over for SPX, the Ignatz Ballot is out in the wild, and the jury this year did a fantastic job. I’ve been very slowly lining up presenters, so hopefully I can get that done in the next week or two with lots of time to spare. It’s hard to believe the show is just a month away (yikes) but I’m whittling away at my remaining parts, which feels good.

On the downside, though, my home has lately been looking like a disaster area in various stages of disrepair. I’d hoped to really roll up my sleeves and get rid of stuff a couple of weekends ago but it just didn’t happen. I think I’m going to have to just draw up a schedule for myself even if it’s as simple as, “Tackle these two shelves this weekend” so it doesn’t look quite so daunting. (Once I get rid of some things, I will then have room for the other things scattered around my home.) Doubly so for if/when Charlie and I get a place together, this is a process that needs to be taken care of.

Alternately, gods of the lottery system, the Virginia Lottery is at something hugely ridiculous right now like $252 million. I know that supposedly more money brings more problems, but I am willing to give that a shot and see what happens. Then I can spend my days doing research on important things. Like if squirrels can really talk out of their butts or not.

I thought Mark Trail was all about animal facts?

While I’m at it, I need to figure out something else to do with the never-ending supply of peaches from my CSA. I love peaches but I am starting to burn out on them. I cannot eat them fast enough. (Well, I suppose I could but it would be fairly disastrous.) Maybe I should make some sort of smallish peach cobbler? I suppose there are worse fates in life.

Oh, and if the heat could drop about 10 degrees I’d be appreciative. I’d like the option to run after work instead of having to get up super-early to avoid melting.

Hardware Store Trips

In the past four days I’ve made three trips to local hardware stores. In retrospect I am sure at least one of them could have been avoided.

Herb Garden [365portraits: 179]On Friday, I went to McLean Hardware and picked up some cute little black metal pots to plant the basil and parsley plants that I received from my CSA. They didn’t have any bags of rocks to put in the bottom (since there’s no drainage) but I figured I could find those anywhere. (A co-worker suggested styrofoam packing peanuts, but I ran a test on them and as it turns out, yes, water does melt them like I’d thought.) But I had the pots and they looked pretty cute, and also fit on my narrow windowsill.

It wasn’t until I was getting ready to leave work that I went to raid my bag of potting soil that I keep in the office and discovered that I’d used it up and forgotten. Whoops. So, on Sunday, I headed over to Cherrydale Hardware and got not only some dirt but also a bag of small stones for the bottoms of the pots. (It’s amazing how hard it is to find lots of little rocks when you need them.) I’d never been to Cherrydale Hardware before, although it’s just a few minutes drive away from me, but I love it already. Small hardware stores are just so nice; it’s probably just as well that I don’t own property or I’d have to take out a second mortgage to afford everything I’d want to buy. And hey, look how good the herbs now are on the windowsill! (I also had a dill plant but I gave it to my mom, since I’m not a big dill fan and she had expressed interest.)

And today? Another trip to McLean Hardware when I discovered that after buying a combination lock a month ago, I have forgotten the combination. Brilliantly, I wrote it down exactly zero places. With the new one, it’s now recorded in two different locations. The frustrating thing is that I remember looking at the combination for the other lock and thinking, “Wow, what an easy combination to remember!” Apparently, not that easy. I thought I remembered two of the three numbers, but all attempts to use those to get it open have failed so far.

Hopefully now that I’ve bought two different locks, the two padlocks that have gone missing in action in my home will finally show up. Argh. Oh well, at least the local hardware store got some more business from me. And now I have a lock to use tonight at the pool for my first lap swimming class. (While Fairfax County uses coin-operated lockers, I have been told that Arlington County pools use padlocks.)

CSA Week 1

Last week was my first CSA delivery! Kale, spring onions, asparagus, and strawberries.

CSA: Week 1

Tragically, my drop-off day is Wednesday, when I normally have spinning class. (Although last week, more importantly, I had a friend’s birthday dinner and ate quite well that Wednesday.) So on Thursday, I sauteed the spring onions, then added in some cider vinegar, dried cranberries, garlic, sugar, and salt. After a few minutes, in went the kale and I cooked it down.

Sweet and Sour Kale

It was a pretty tasty dish, and while most would use it as a side, it was dinner on Thursday night. Then on Friday, I took the rest of the kale and brought it into lunch along with the asparagus, which I roasted in the oven with just a touch of parmesan cheese, in one of my bento boxes.

Bento Lunch -- 2009-06-04

The strawberries were snacked on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Duh. Very tasty too. Can’t wait to see what this week’s food adventure will be!

Getting Far Too Excited

I am definitely getting excited about my upcoming community-supported agriculture share. Perhaps a little too excited. But what can I say? I love the idea of having fresh vegetables delivered automatically every week. I love that the money is going to a local business. And I love getting their newsletter with random little tidbits like this:

We are currently planting herbs in the green house and this year will have an eco-friendly and unique way to send you fresh herbs. All the herbs you receive will be in a bio-degradable earth friendly container which, with a little extra care, will allow you to keep growing the herbs!

Seriously, how cute is that?

Thanks to their newsletter archive online, I know that last year’s first shipment had asparagus, strawberries, kale, spring onions, and basil. 2007’s didn’t have basil or asparagus, but did have mint sprigs. What will 2009 hold? Well, aside from a lot of eating, of course.

Also, I went for a second swim this morning with Julie and Laura. They start their swim class next Monday, and I’ve got an 8:30am meeting then, so Mondays with them will be out for a while. This time I used an extra pair of Julie’s goggles and yes, I am sold. I will buy a pair ASAP. (Plus I still need to get my information from the eye doctor so that I can order a pair of prescription goggles.) And my strained tendon has stopped being even a tiny bit sore, which is a big relief. Good, good times on that front.

The first shipment last year

Things I’m Excited About (Which Make Me Old)

Seriously, every time I turn around lately I am coming to the horrible conclusion that I am turning into someone old. As in, a friend’s parents from back when I was a kid. (My parents were always pretty young and fun even as adults.) Latest signs pointing towards this include getting excited about the following:

1. Filling Out a CSA Application
Seriously, when you are getting excited about having produce delivered to you every week from a local farm? You are old. But at the same time the idea of getting my half-share of produce? Pretty exciting! Supposedly I will hear back within 72 hours. I’m hoping this particular CSA is not full, especially since they actually will deliver the share to your office, and how fantastic is that? (It’s partially what stopped me from trying a CSA last year, because there were none with drop points near the office and scrambling to pick one up on the way home would be difficult at best.) All sorts of vegetables, here I come.

2. Recognizing Interstitial Songs On NPR
At first I was going to try and justify this one as not making me old. “It was ‘New York City Boy’ by the Pet Shop Boys!” the voice in my head said. “That doesn’t make you old!” Except first, I suspect it does. And second, and more importantly, I was listening to Marketplace on NPR. That makes me old. Very very old.

3. Warmth
Ok, that doesn’t sound unreasonable. But it’s very, very cold here in DC, and as you may have heard there’s a big Presidential Inauguration coming up shortly. And despite all the neat concerts and parades and events and everything else, all I can think of is things like, “How will I stay warm? Should I just stay inside and watch on tv? Perhaps I can cook a pot roast.” Oh dear. When did this happen? Right now the plan is to layer a great deal, but still. The thought of indoors is there.

4. Doing Nothing
I have absolutely nothing scheduled for the weekend of the 24th. I cannot wait. As great as it is to visit friends, or have them visit you, or have all sorts of exciting plans (and don’t get me wrong, I’ve really enjoyed the past few weekends) it will be fairly fantastic to have no one in town or any plans to do anything major league. I am hoping to sit down and read some books.

Oh look! I’m an old man. Sweet!