Pickled Crack Vegetables

A couple of years ago, I was at my local farmer’s market and found myself standing in front of a large display of pickled things – there were cucumber pickles, pickled asparagus, canned fruit, jams, and many other things, including a tasty looking jar of pickled mixed vegetables. Not looking at the price, I grabbed the jar of pickled vegetables, along with a few other fresh things, paid, and took everything home. As I normally do on weekends, I made myself a sandwich for lunch and then I cracked opened the jar of pickles and put a few on the side of my plate. As soon as I started in on the pickles I exclaimed “Holy crap, these are really good!” and then promptly ate the rest of the jar of pickles. The next weekend, I went back and bought another jar. But this time was a bit different – I didn’t pick up anything else. I brought the jar to the register and the clerk told me it would be $6! SIX DOLLARS. FOR ONE PINT SIZED JAR OF PICKLED VEGETABLES. But they were so good. And I had too much pride to put the jar back at that point, so I paid and took the pickles home. And ate the whole jar in one sitting. This continued on for a few more weeks until one Saturday I sent my husband out by himself to the market with a list. Of course the list included a jar of pickles. So about an hour later he comes home with the jar of pickles in his hand, looks at me and says “You know these are $6 a jar, right? SIX DOLLARS A JAR?!! That’s like a third of our grocery budget going towards your expensive pickle habit!”. Maybe those weren’t the exact words, but I do remember the shame I felt. It was time for a change but I couldn’t give up the pickles, I was addicted! And that is how they became known around our house as pickled crack vegetables.

So once my shameful secret was out, I needed to find some way of satisfying my addiction, but also not spending a third of our grocery budget on pickles. Now I’m definitely someone who wants to support our local farmers, but six dollars for a jar of pickles is a bit ridiculous. And honestly, isn’t saving money the point of preserving your own food? Also, I can somewhat justify replicating the recipe because I still buy a lot of produce from them throughout the year. My apologies if I have offended anyone – I had to do what I had to do.

Now let’s talk about the crack pickles themselves. It’s a really classic basic recipe that you can simply customize to fit your own tastes. You should have a basic knowledge of canning before you begin, but a beginner could easily make this recipe as well. I always use the same vegetables (carrots, beans & cauliflower) but you could mix it up if you want (onions, peppers, peas, beets, etc). What really makes the recipe is the seasoning – I like to keep it really simple so I use fresh garlic, fresh dill, black peppercorns and dry dill seed. The only other ingredients you’ll need besides this and the vegetables are pickling vinegar and pickling salt.

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Pickled Crack Vegetables Recipe

Ingredients
– Approximately 2 cups of each fresh vegetable – I use cauliflower, green beans, and carrots, just make sure they are the freshest vegetables you can find (I’ve used grocery store vegetables before, no big deal!)
– Fresh garlic cloves, skins removed (amount will depend on how much you like garlic – I usually put in 2-3 cloves per jar)
– Fresh dill – approximately one sprig per jar
– Black peppercorns and dill seed (approximately 1/2 teaspoon each per jar)
– 2 1/2 cups of pickling vinegar
– 2 1/2 cups of tap water
– 1/4 cup pickling salt (I use kosher)

Instructions
1. Sterilize all your jars, lids and utensils (I do this in the dishwasher or you can do it in a pot of boiling water).
2. Prepare your boiling water bath.
3. Prepare your vegetables by washing them, removing the ends and any bruises or deformities, and cutting them into manageable pieces.
4. Bring your vinegar, water and salt to a boil in a non-reactive pot and simmer while you prepare the jars.
5. Put your herbs and spices in to the sterilized jars and then add your vegetables.
6. Ladle the hot liquid in to the jars leaving approximately 1/2 inch of head space.
7. Wipe the jar rims with a wet paper towel and add lids (do not over-tighten)
8. Carefully lower the jars in to the boiling water bath and process for 10-15 minutes depending on the size of your jars.
9. Carefully remove the jars, being careful not to tip them, and place on a dish towel on a flat surface. After a couple of hours, check to make sure all of your jars have sealed (I love waiting to hear that popping sound!). Do not disturb the sealed jars for 24 hours. If any jars did not seal, put them in the fridge and eat within a couple of weeks.
10. Enjoy your crack pickles! You should eat them within a year but they probably won’t last that long since they are so good!

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My favorite thing about this recipe is that it is so classic and easy. As much as I love experimenting with different hot peppers and spices in my canning, I really love that classic pickled taste.

Casual Fridays Part 4

I don’t know about you, but this has been a long week and I think it is safe to say that I miss the days of sleeping in and not having to leave my house. But I am excited to work on a few projects this weekend and I have picked up a bit of inspiration online here and there throughout the week:

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1. I love this woven circle mat tutorial via A Beautiful Mess and I have added it on to my projects list. And is something I would actually make! I can just imagine the possibilities with this.

2. Planning on paper via Uppercase. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling somewhat uninspired and unmotivated this week – I think it has to do with coming out of vacation mode, as well as the terrible weather we’ve been experiencing the last couple of weeks. I really want to sit down and make a planned out schedule of my personal monthly goals, as well as for my upcoming gardening season (seed starting dates, transplant dates, etc), so I’m going to put all of my pretty stationary to use and actually accomplish a plan for my future accomplishments (if that makes sense). There is just something about putting it down on paper that makes the process so much more inspiring for me.

3. Seamwork Magazine Issue 2 has come out this week! The best part is that I finally broke down and bought myself an iPad (RIP to my poor 6 year old Macbook), so I’m totally in to reading magazines online and watching knitting tutorial videos on my lap while I have a set of needles in my hands. Anyway, this magazine is a wonderful read for the sewer as it teaches lots of various techniques I would not have even considered before – plus the photography is beautiful.

4. Jerrica Dishcloth via Knit Picks for the 52 weeks of free dishcloth patterns. This looks like a totally quick and easy knit, plus I need new dishcloths so why not make some. I’m going to keep my eye out for some inexpensive cotton yarn.

5. Caramelized onion & goat cheese tart via Go Make Me looks really good! And simple. I think I need something delicious, new, and simple to make this weekend!

I’ve got a few really good posts planned for next week so be sure to come back and check them out. In the meantime, I hope everyone has a wonderful and restful weekend – stay warm!

The Big Seed List 2015

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Words cannot express how excited I get over picking out new seeds. I am also thrilled to be writing about my garden again. I know it is still months away from thawing out, but this is the time of year I can actually imagine it existing again – I haven’t seen anything resembling a garden in my yard since some time in early November. I guess November wasn’t that long ago, but it feels like its been a year, especially when the really cold weather hit.

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Before I get too deep into things here, I must say that I do not need any new seeds. I have more seeds in my collection than I could probably ever plant (especially tomatoes), but that isn’t going to stop me from acquiring more. I always plant the tried and true, but I also love to experiment and grow new things – it is just part of what keeps me coming back, even if the experiments fail. I’m sure lots of people can relate to this. And because I need to further justify my purchasing more seeds, I usually end up giving away seeds to friends and family. Still don’t need new seeds, whatever.

I usually casually start the process of selecting seeds for the next growing season at the end of the last gardening season – making notes of things that worked well, seeds that may need to be replenished, or things that I’d love to try. Thankfully I was ahead of the ball last year because I took the initiative to go through my three binders of seeds (yes, three), and toss any seeds that I was never going to plant again or that may not be viable anymore (this means old seed or seed that may not be very old, but that is past its prime – we’ll talk about seed viability on another day). I was hoping that by sorting through my seeds, I would miraculously be left with a reasonable amount of varieties, thereby making it easier for me to select what I would be planting. Hahaha! That didn’t happen. I still have like 30 varieties of tomatoes and no where near the room to grow them. Is that stopping me from buying more tomato seeds? No. I’m a gardener, I want to grow all of the everything.

Anyway, this year was actually pretty easy when it came to selecting which types of vegetables I wanted to grow. I knew that I didn’t want to grow eggplant because I failed hard at it the last four seasons (last year was the biggest success year with one eggplant being about the side of a halloween-sized candy bar – if you can call that success?). I might come back to eggplant another year, but thankfully we have a good local grower so I’ll just continue buying them from someone else and save myself the disappointment. Then there are the brassicas. Kale is in – I always seem to have good success with kale and it is something I can easily grow in the community allotment (no one wants to steal kale and it doesn’t mind being neglected), but anything else in that family is out. It’s not like I can’t grow it – I did have a little bit of success last year with cauliflower. But the caterpillars love to slither their tiny green bodies over the brassicas and munch holes through the leaves. Then lay their disgusting eggs all over it. And then I eat the eggs and caterpillars grow inside of my stomach (maybe). Anyway, no brassicas, besides kale.

Alright, now let’s talk about what I will be growing. The ultimate list will be at the bottom of this post, but I wanted to elaborate on some of the selections so I’ll go in to more detail now.

Tomatoes: My favorite things to grow are tomatoes. Growing them in my climate is a bit of a risk. I usually stick with the smaller varieties of tomatoes because I know I’ll have at least some success with them. The larger varieties are usually out for me, which does make it slightly easier to select varieties for growing (don’t get me wrong, there are like 1 million smaller varieties to choose from, but subtract that from the 2 million larger varieties and it does make a bit of a difference). So first I make cuts from the seeds I already own – if there is a variety that I just didn’t like the taste of last year, it gets thrown in the “NO” pile, same thing if it was just a crappy plant (blight, unhealthy plant, etc). Sorry rejects. Everything else goes in the “MAYBE” pile and then I divide those seeds into categories based on color. If there is only one variety per color category, that tomato gets the privilege of growing in my garden. If there are more than one variety per color category, I must make hard decisions. Do I grow all of those varieties? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I usually have a really hard time with the green tomato varieties because those are my favorite taste-wise, so I more often than not, end up growing all of them. When it comes to selecting new varieties I always select varieties that I have not planted before – this year I am really into dwarf tomatoes (which is good because they are very small plants, hence dwarf variety). I’ve also selected a few varieties that I like the look of (a yellow/blue variety, yes please!). And then I end up cursing myself when it comes time to plant them in the garden because I’ve grown 30 tomato plants and comfortably have room for 20. Off to the garden centre to buy more pots!

Peppers: If you’ve been reading the blog since last growing season, you’ll know that I only really got into growing hot peppers about a year ago. I’d grown them a little before that, but my season is short and cold, so they are not exactly an ideal candidate for me. But last year was the first full growing season with my greenhouse, so my ability to successfully grow peppers increased significantly. Choosing pepper varieties was actually a lot easier than the tomatoes. I knew which ones I wanted to grow from the seed I already had and I had a better idea of what I was looking for in a hot pepper (I like the milder hot peppers and my husband like the really, really hot ones). I knew that I wanted a few sweet pepper varieties as well, so that was fairly simple. I also knew that I wanted to grow every type of habanero pepper I could get my hands on. I think growing hot peppers is my new thing.

Squash: This was sort of easy, sort of hard. Easy because I was and wasn’t restricted with space. I knew I wanted to grow a few of the larger vine pumpkins in my alley in the raised compost bed (formerly Sod Mountain) – space isn’t really a concern here, it is out of the way and not technically in my yard (the parking space and compost bins are on our property, but are not actually in the fenced in portion of our yard). It is risky growing things in this area because of pests of the animal and human variety, but I have been growing raspberries in the alley for several years and I haven’t gotten any horrible diseases yet, so whatever. The main thing will be actually remembering to water the plants back there (out of sight, out of mind?). When it comes to actual yard space, maybe I don’t have the most room for squash, so I try to select my varieties based on size. I have quite a few compact bush-type squash, so that works well for my raised beds or larger pots. I do grow a few of the larger varieties vertically so that also helps with the space issue. I have plans to build some raised beds in the front yard for growing vegetables, which will expand my options for growing space, but I don’t have an actual timeline on that project so for now I’m just planning for the space I have. The point is, I am going to start quite a few squash plants in the house and I may or may not have space for them.

Flowers: For a few years I actually believed that planting flowers was a waste of perfecting good vegetable growing space. Oh how wrong I was. Planting flowers that will attract beneficial insects is probably just as important as planting vegetables to ensure a thriving and healthy garden. And it is so easy. I’ve gotten in to the habit the last few years of sticking random marigolds in to my raised beds, but last year I did the same with zinnias (which are now my favorite). I don’t have a ton of flowers on my wishlist, but the few that I do have are ones that will provide a bit of extra color throughout the growing season, as well as attract the little bees and butterflies that I love seeing in my garden.

And lastly, I always try to plant something completely new-to-me each year, so this year I’ve chosen cow peas, fava beans, orach, mexican sour gherkins, sorrel, and shisho.

The Big Seed List 2015:

Tomatoes:
Blue Gold Berries (indeterminate)
Purple Bumble Bee (indeterminate)
Sunrise Bumble Bee (indeterminate)
Blue Beauty (indeterminate)
Golden Bison (determinate)
Andrina (dwarf)
Hahms Gelbe (dwarf)
Ditmarsher (determinate – hanging basket variety)
Lime Green Salad (dwarf)
Koralik (determinate)
Pearly Pink Orange (dwarf, hanging basket variety)
Yellow Pygmy (dwarf)

Peppers:
Hot:
Lemon Drop
Fish
Chocolate Habanero
Italian Pepperoncini
Purple Jalapeno
Tabasco
Pimiento De Padron
Trinidad Scorpion

Sweet:
Mini Chocolate Bell
Mini Yellow Bell
Tequilla Sunrise
Oda Pepper

Squash:
Crookneck Early GoldenĀ  (summer)
Marina Di Chioggia Pumpkin (winter)
Jarrahdale Pumpkin (winter)
Thai Kang Kob Pumpkin (winter)
White Acorn Squash (winter)
Zucchini-Lungo Bianco Squash (summer)
Patisson Panache Blanc Et Vert Scallop Squash (summer)
Patisson Strie Melange Squash (summer)
Lemon Squash (summer)

Other:
Scarlet Kale
Meraviglia Di Venezia Bean
Alaska Garden Pea
Blauwschokkers Pea
Holstein cowpea
Lady cowpea
Extra Precoce A Grano Violetto Fava Bean
Mexican Sour Gherkin Cucumber
Dragon’s Egg Cucumber
Orach
Shisho
Bloody Dock Red Sorrel

Flowers:
Queen Lime Red Zinnia
Royal Purple Zinnia
Morning Dew Pansy (edible)
Mary Helen Marigold

Okay now to go burn my seed catalogs before I start to add things on to my seed order.

Seed sources: Tatiana’s Tomatobase (Canada), Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (USA), Heritage Harvest Seed (Canada), West Coast Seeds (Canada)

And Just Like That, It’s 2015

The beginning of a new year is not as big a deal to me as it is to a lot of people – I’m not one to make resolutions and I’m not one to even really celebrate the day. My idea of a perfect New Years is staying inside, eating way too much Chinese food, and watching a movie (I’m an introvert, can you tell?!).

Looking back on the year, it was pretty decent – I really can’t complain. A lot was accomplished in the home, in the garden, and at my full-time job. I even made quite a few apron sales (on my Etsy store and outside of it) and I learned a lot of new knitting skills.

Back to resolutions – I actually like the idea of setting simple and attainable goals for the year. So I’ve put together a few of my ideas for 2015 – maybe a bit ambitious, but that’s just me:

– Finish knitting my sweater and then take on a more difficult knitting project. I think this is a very achievable goal as I’m well on my way to completing the first part of it fairly early in the year. I’m not sure what the more difficult project will be yet because I’m going to focus on finishing my current project (I’m thinking cable knitting), but I’ll keep you updated! I would really love to learn to crochet but I think that might be a goal for next year – I’d like to get a few more difficult knitting projects under my belt first, so I’ll try not to get ahead of myself with learning a new fiber craft until I can knit in my sleep.

– Learn how to mount insects. I’ve had quite a fascination with mounted insects for several years (I credit my husband for his childhood entomology collection first catching my attention – which we keep on our walls) and I have purchased a few specimens in the last few years to add to our collection, but I’d really love to learn how to pin and mount my own. Luckily it is a fairly inexpensive hobby so that is a plus! Also, I’d love to learn more about the specific insects and be able to have that knowledge for myself. A few people I’ve told this too have responded with “gross”, but as long as it isn’t gigantic spiders, I think bugs are pretty neat.

– Carve my own wooden spoon. This is something I’ve wanted to do for several years and I think this is finally the year to take the plunge. Again, a fairly inexpensive hobby, but I need to make sure I have the right hand protection because those knives can be sharp!

– Be more active in our Mycological Society. I’m sure the word “NERD” comes to mind, but we really did enjoy doing a couple of foraging excursions last year with the society and would like to do even more this coming year. Maybe we’ll finally find a real morel mushroom ourselves!

– Be more diligent about saving money. We made the decision about 6 months or so ago that we wanted to pay down our mortgage a lot sooner than we’d anticipated – and that means increasing the payments significantly at renewal time (which came up for renewal on December 31st). When we bought our home we were really young – it made sense at the time to purchase a home because rent for our previous basement suite was around the same amount as a mortgage payment (we bought our home in 2004. In about 2007 or so home prices skyrocketed so we’re lucky we bought at a time when they houses were very affordable). Anyway, at that time my partner was in school and I was working retail, so our mortgage payments were very low because it was what we could comfortably afford. When we renewed five years ago, we increased the payments a bit more since we were in a better financial position. But since five years ago, our position has improved quite a bit more and we’re able to comfortably afford higher payments in order to get rid of our mortgage faster. Long story, but the point is that since we’ll be putting quite a bit more money towards the mortgage, it is more important than ever to cut back on unnecessary spending and build up a bit of an emergency fund. Money stuff is not very exciting, but unfortunately it is part of being a responsible adult.

– Try more new recipes. This one won’t be hard at all because I love cooking and I also love experimenting with new recipes. But you probably know how it is – you work full time during the week and then you just want to make the quick and easy standbys when you get home (usually tacos or BLTs for us). I’ve already tackled some daunting recipes over the holiday break, but I’m really looking forward to making this a regular thing.

– Continue with my blog. These last few months of blogging have been mostly positive for me. It is amazing to me that anyone reads this, and unbelievably flattering when people tell me in person that they’ve been reading – and I’m very grateful. I started my blog as a bit of a creative outlet for myself, as well as a place where I could document my gardening progress. Things have evolved and expanded and I am comfortable where things are. I hope to continue blogging 1-2 times a week, but I also want to ensure I’m putting out quality posts that I can stand behind (I don’t like reading sponsored posts on blogs or reading blog entries that feel forced or “blogging for the sake of blogging”, if you know what I mean), so as long as I am writing posts that interest me and fulfill my need for a creative outlet, I will continue on.

Those are the major things but there are still things that are transferring over from last year, like completing the powder room (yes, still working on it) and continuing to make our yard completely lawn-free. I also have a few goals for the garden, but I’ll save those for another post! What are some of your big goals for 2015?

I’m wishing all of my readers a wonderful 2015 and thank you for a great 2014!