In a Pickle

August 17, 2014

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I made one rule regarding pickles this year: only make as many pints and quarts of pickles as I have jars. In past years, I've gone to the store and bought cases and cases of new jars, but after 5 years of summer pickle sessions, I think there's enough in rotation (jars of pickles going out as gifts and empties being returned) that I shouldn't have to buy more. Especially during the pickling season when they're the most expensive. It's more fun that way. And cheaper!

I've also made another rule regarding my dill cucumbers: They must be whole! It seems like every time I make a jar of dill pickles where the cucumbers are cut in spears, the pickles get soggy and mushy. The flavor is good, but the texture leaves much to be desired. If I leave the cucumbers whole, however, with just the ends removed, they seem to retain a better, more crunchy texture.

Along with my vinegar brine'd dills, dilly beans and bread and butters, I'm experimenting with lacto-fermented dill pickles again. Last year's attempt at fermented dills went horribly awry, but I think that's because it was too hot, and because I was gone for most of the week they were sitting out on the counter. I've decided to give it another shot this year, though. The kitchen seems generally cooler, so it seems like they'll ferment at a steadier pace, and I'll be here to watch them in case something seems off.

Any pickling rules of thumb you'd like to share?

Forest Adventures

August 2, 2014

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Suddenly it's August! I haven't abandoned this little internet space of mine, I promise. It's just that summer has been so full, and although I've been writing and reading like crazy, most of my writing has been accomplished in a casual spiral notebook that I keep in my backpack and take with me wherever I go. And really, most of my efforts have gone into simply recalling events from the day rather than anything profound or thoughtful. I'm giving myself a break from thinking too hard.

But if you want to know what I've been up to, I've been spending a lot of time playing outside. Mostly in the forest. Last weekend, Matt and I drove out to his parent's house, and trekked a mile or so down through the forest to the creek where we set up camp. We got there early on Friday (though not early enough), and left late Saturday evening so Matt could get back in time to turn in an assignment for class.

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The camp we chose had been used before by Matt's family, but it must've been years since they were there last because everything was overgrown. We had to start from scratch, digging out a new fire pit, collecting firewood (note to self: take a hand saw next time rather than a hatchet), and generally getting things ready so we wouldn't have to scramble in the dark. When we were done, we went out to the creek and swam around for a few hours, trying to ignore the crawdads and the nibbly bottom-feeder fish that were just a little too curious about our feet and legs.

By five o'clock, we were exhausted and ready for dinner, so we got a fire going and made some grub. I've never done the camp cooking thing before, but it was fun, and the hot food was delicious. I made hot cocoa, but I was especially fond of hot tea, and would've drank gobs of it had it not been for the fact that we FORGOT TOILET PAPER.

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We slept roughly in a two-person tent. Actually, I was almost sure I wouldn't fall asleep at all, but the next thing I knew it was light outside the birds were chirping. After breakfast, Matt and I dug out my Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast book and trudged around the forest identifying (and eating) berries. Don't worry, we only ate the ones we knew were safe: the red huckleberries, thimbleberries and salal berries. Everything else I just took pictures of so I could try to identify later. Speaking of which, any idea about these orange-red berries with the lily-like leaves, these white berries or these Oregon-grape-like berries?

Needless to say, we'll be going back out there again and often. As often as possible, really, nd maybe next time we'll bring a fishing pole.

Last Week

July 24, 2014

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This time last week I was house-sitting for my dad and step-mom while they were on vacation. I know they hesitate to ask me to take so much time out of my life to act as caretaker while they're away, but they needn't worry. I enjoy spending time amongst the trees, the animals of all shapes and sizes, and the river that flows along their property. I like the routine of the morning and evening chore list: wake up, feed the koi, release the felines, throw hay to the horses, take Jake the Dog for a long walk...

I like the quiet. Once the chores are done, there is seemingly endless amounts of time to read, write, and work on craft projects down on the shady deck near the river. There's also plenty of time to stare off into space through the overhead tree leaves until sleep overtakes you, or one of the aforementioned felines comes to nibble at your toes.

And because last week was so hot, I spent a good portion of time dipping my feet (and then shins, and then waist, and then neck) in the icy cold river until my body could tolerate the temperature. The flow of the water is too strong for swimming though I am a strong swimmer, but the strength of the current gives the effect of movement anyway. It was a refreshing way to start each day.

The time spent away was exactly what I needed. It was energizing to spend so much time outside, and made me feel a little more grounded. Suddenly my little daily irritants aren't bothering me so much anymore, and the difficulties of June aren't making me feel so resentful. Life moves forward, people change... some things are hard, but they feel less acute with time.

This weekend, Matt and I are off to explore the forest where his parents and grandparents live (AKA 'the McCoy compound'). Matt says there's a creek down in the canyon that spreads out into a decent swimming hole, so he's going to take me there tomorrow. We're bringing along our tent and sleeping bags to sleep under the stars. It'll be my first "camping" trip in a long while, but I imagine we'll be back as often as possible until the weather starts to turn. There are less than two solid months of summer left this year, and I plan to spend as much of it outside as possible before hunkering down for the late fall/early winter.

Orange-Infused Gin and Honey Simple Syrup

July 19, 2014

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A couple weeks ago, I put together a post for work about infused gins paired with infused honey simple-syrups for a twist on the classic Bee's Knees cocktail. Of the two gin infusions I tried (orange and lavender), the orange-infused gin was my favorite. It was also the easiest to prepare, so I thought I'd share it with you here in case you're looking for a fun weekend project.

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To make, just peel an orange. Remove as much of the white pith from the peel as you can with a paring knife, and cut the peel into strips. Place in a bottle or jar and cover with gin. Let sit overnight.

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Place the remaining orange pulp in a small saucepan with:
  • 1 cup honey
  • ¾ cup cane sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • A vanilla bean might be awesome here too

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Mash the mixture with a potato masher. When mixture starts to boil, reduce heat and let simmer for another 5 minutes. Strain into a clean glass jar, and bring to room temperature. Cover and store in the refrigerator.

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Once the gin is infused and the syrup is cool, you can make yourself an orange-infused Bee's Knees cocktail. Just pour 2 ounces gin, 1 ounce infused syrup (or to taste), a squeeze of fresh lemon juice (optional) and some ice to your a cocktail shaker. Shake well, pour into a cocktail glass, and enjoy!

For details on the lavender-infused version, check out the Evermine Blog.

I hope you all have a lovely weekend. <3

On Pinterest

July 12, 2014

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Something I've noticed over the past year or so is this phenomenon where people credit Pinterest for all the neat things they find on the internet.

Don't get me wrong, I love Pinterest. I'm an enthusiastic, active user, but I don't give credit to it as an original source for anything. Maybe that's because I started blogging (on various platforms) long before its existence and widespread popularity, but sourcing Pinterest seems to make as much sense as sourcing Google for something you might find on Wikipedia or the Weather Channel.

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For me, Pinterest is the online equivalent of tearing out blurbs and images from your favorite magazines and newspaper to collect and refer back to. It's an inspiration board, but it's even more awesome because you get to share it and show people your own personal style and interests. I'm all for sharing free information and being as open and helpful to my peers as possible, but there is something about this trend that seems a little too generic to me. Why is everyone suddenly oblivious to the origins of publication, however informal they may be? Am I missing something?

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For instance, I recently found this article in the Phoenix New Times titled Make Your Own Chai Tea Concentrate, Thanks to Pinterest by Laura Gill wherein she writes an article about the struggles of finding the perfect chai concentrate, and jests about how a "Pinterest User" saves the day:

"Oh, I love how Pinterest always comes to the rescue... It knows when I have a problem even before I do!"

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The "Pinterest recipe" Ms. Gill is referring to here is a post from my blog for Spiced Chai Concentrate published back in August 2011 (you knew that was coming, right?), and remains one of my most popular recipe posts of all time. And, aside from the fact that it's a damn tasty recipe, the reason it has gone viral over everything else I've ever published continues to mystify me.

After all, the images aren't that pretty, and the recipe isn't even originally mine. I merely adapted it from the Tasty Kitchen Blog and posted my version so I could share the deliciousness with anyone who might be interested.

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But that brings to mind an interesting point. Whenever you see a recipe post on the internet these days, it's usually an adaptation or modification from some other source. Most people are good enough to list their sources, but over time you start to see the same recipe done over and over again, and the list of sources becomes piled so high that it's difficult (and maybe unnecessary) to locate the original. Maybe this Pinterest issue is merely the next step in letting go of our need to give (and take) credit because credit due has become too convoluted, a natural result of the rapid speed information is passed on the internet.

Thoughts?

In Retrograde

July 1, 2014

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I don’t know if it’s because Mercury is in retrograde, or if it’s all just a crazy coincidence, but June was tough on me this year. And not just me – most of my friends and family have been dealing with their own never ending pile of problems and daily mishaps, which isn’t all that abnormal except for the severity and frequency of such happenings.

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When it comes to stress that builds and builds like this, you have to find a way to cope. For me, I was really hoping my trip to the beach would help restore my sense of balance, but our weekend vacation wasn’t nearly long enough. Especially for all the big plans I had in mind: knitting and campfires in the sand, a long walk to the jetty, a good thrifting session in the little beach town we were passing through… so much to do, so little time.

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On the bright side, the company was good, and we did manage a nighttime walk under an incredible blanket of stars. It might’ve been the best stargazing visibility I’ve ever had at the beach despite the artificial light sources nearby. The Oregon Coast is beautiful, even when the sun goes down.

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Returning home was hard, and events ensued that were even harder, but I feel a little closer to my friends and family now because of it. And ultimately, home is my favorite place in the world to be, so I’m making the best of it, and hoping desperately for a more relaxing month ahead.

Anyone else have a crazy June? Mercury is officially out of retrograde starting tomorrow (July 2), so who knows? Maybe things will suddenly improve. ;-)

Final Days of Spring

June 13, 2014

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Today is chilly enough to pull the covers over my legs and wrap a shawl around my shoulders. It's chilly enough for hot coffee and a warm bowl of soup, but it's still not so uncomfortable that I would dare shut my window. The fresh air feels too nice in the lungs and on the tip of the nose.

Since re-arranging the bedroom a few months back, the corner of our bed nearest the window has become my favorite place to work. Often the cats will hop up and snuggle in for warmth, Wren burrowed somewhere beneath the covers, and Berger at my feet. We can stay like this for hours, especially on cool days like today.

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It's hard to believe it'll be 90°F in just one week according to the forecast. I'm not a warm weather person, so I'm glad to retreat to the beach for the weekend where it'll stay nice and cool and windy. I'm already looking forward to the salty air and wind burnt cheeks. Maybe we can even start a campfire and roast some s'mores.

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These are some images from last summer's beach trip to Beverly Beach. We stayed in an amazing cabin with two small loft areas for sleeping accessible by ladders. The place was made with rich, cool wood, and felt like a treehouse. Plus, it had access to two trails that led to two very different beach experiences.

The first day we were there, we went down the left trail where all the people and the surfers hang. It was nice in its own way, but Matt and I were much more interested in exploring the trail on the right that led to the tide pools. That trail led us to some of the most amazing beach sites I've ever seen, including the family of seals you see in the top two beach images. Their coats blended so well with the surrounding rocks that we weren't aware of them until we were almost standing on top of them.

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Beverly Beach now ranks as one of my favorite beach locations of all-time, and I'm anxious to go back someday, but that's not where we're going this next weekend. This upcoming beach trip will be a whole new adventure, and I'm so looking forward to it. It will be the first of (hopefully) many summer adventures to come this year.

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Are you looking forward to any adventures this summer?