Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Annual Reward: Blueberry Edition

The abundance of fruit that comes along with summer makes me so happy.  With each crop that comes in, I indulge as thoroughly as possible.  If I can pick it myself, that makes it even better!  I was sad that it was looking like I was going to miss the blueberry crop this year.  The farms that I knew about were having so many pickers come during the week that they were closed on the weekend so the berries could ripen.  I was determined to pick blueberries, so I scoured the internet looking for other options.  That was how I found Silkey Gardens.  I am so glad I did!

I put a last minute call out for a blueberry picking companion that was willing to get up and out the door before 7am on a Saturday and Tessa answered the call!  We could not have asked for more perfect picking conditions.  The weather has been unseasonably cool and the morning we went, it was sunny but still chilly enough for hoodies and tennis shoes.  Probably because of the chilly temperature, there were absolutely no bugs bothering us.  The farm was only open for 3 hours and we were there for 2-1/2 of them and I could have stayed for so much longer!

I stuck to the blueberry patch, filled with blueberry bushes some of which were 60 years old.  I got over 10 pounds of berries which wasn't too hard because the picking was super easy.  Tessa divided her time between blueberries and raspberries and got a nice haul of each. We also made a stop in Northfield to visit the farmers market, coffee shop and a yarn store.  All in all, we had a pretty fantastic last minute day trip and ended up with plenty of berries to keep us busy for a large part of the weekend.

With my haul, I made a half batch of blueberry lemongrass syrup (recipe from Tart and Sweet).  I think my syrup turned out to be more of a jelly/sauce.  I tasted the warm sauce and found that the lemongrass was pretty subtle.  I hope the lemongrass becomes more evident when the sauce is cooled.

I also made a double batch of No-Sugar Blueberry Orange Jam from Gourmet Preserves.  Woooeeee! This is tart jam.  It is made with orange juice concentrate, orange zest, sliced oranges and blueberries so it is no wonder it is tart.  I just wasn't expecting it to be THAT tart.  I am hoping this one mellows out as it sits.  Yes, that is right, I am hoping one preserve gets stronger and one gets weaker as it sits.  That will happen, right?

In addition to putting a bunch of those blueberries in jars, I also put a bunch in my belly!

I put some in the dehydrator and some in the freezer, as well.  I haven't decided if the dried ones were worth it yet.  The texture turned out a bit funky (below photo shows them in the midst of the dehydration process).

Jars full of fruit are satisfying, kind of like a new pen, but tastier.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Foraging for Mulberries

On a lunchtime walk with a coworker, we came upon some squishy ground and a lightbulb immediately went off.  I looked up and sure enough: MULBERRIES!  This tree is on public property, so I made a mental note to swing on by when I had a container with me.

That Friday, I left work and it was beautiful outside.  A quick call to Sarah, an invite for spontaneous fun, a stop by the bathroom to wash out lunch containers and we were on our way (by bike!) to get some mulberries.

The tree is pretty tall, so we could only reach a small amount of them.  Picking mulberries is tricky!  For everyone one that you get in your container 3 or 4 fall on the ground.  I know the trick is to lay out a tarp under the tree, but spontaneous pickers don't tend to carry around large tarps :)

We did get enough for a few servings of granola, yogurt and mulberries.

I hope to catch that tree at the right time next year so I can do the tarp/tree shaking harvest method and get a better yield.  I love free fruit!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

More Tales of Woe

My summer bucket list has taken a back seat as I start week 7 of recovering from whatever it was that took me down during my horrible vacation week.  The last month or so has consisted almost entirely of resting/tending to my body, going to doctor appointments, working and doing what is minimally necessary to keep my life going.  In the last month I have visited my primary care doctor, my acupuncturist (numerous times), an allergist and a dermatologist.  I am throwing everything I can at this illness! I am happy to report that I have seen steady improvement over the last week, so I am really hopeful that I am going to be back to my old self very soon.  Today is the first day I have felt vibrant, alive and relatively comfortable in my body in far too long!  It was glorious, productive and extremely restorative.

In addition to my health problems, we also had a scary health situation with Tchazo.  Apparently, I needed to add some more stress to my life because being swollen, covered in rashes and itching like mad 24-7 isn't enough stress!

Two weeks ago, after spending some time in the backyard with us, we noticed Tchazo was acting strangely.  He was falling down a lot, having trouble standing back up on his own and one of his feet was swollen.  We thought he might have gotten it stuck somewhere and hurt it, but it didn't seem broken.  We thought maybe he had encountered a bug/bee, but we couldn't find a sting or a bite.  We decided to let him rest through the night and planned to see what it looked like in the morning before making any decisions.  By the morning, it had swelled to 3 times the size of his other feet and had become red and nasty looking.  Paul took him to the vet, thus beginning what was to be a full week of almost daily vet visits, lots and lots of drugs and tests, a plethora of blood/pus drainage and necrosis.

In the end, the vet was pretty confident that he had been bitten by a poisonous spider.  I didn't even know we had poisonous spiders in Minnesota!

Paul has been an excellent nurse to Tchazo.  Tchazo's foot had a sizable patch of necrosis which the vet had to cut away.  The wound was too large to stitch closed, so Paul was taught how to perform sterile wound care and bandage changes.

I think Tchazo knows Paul is helping him out because he is very patient during the daily bandaging sessions.  We have been taking pictures of his wound to monitor it and make sure there is no infection.  I am sparing you those pictures (and the pictures of my rashes, too!).  So far he is healing on his own, which means we can avoid surgery.  Considering his other health issues, surgery might not have been a viable option for him anyway, so we are really relieved his foot is healing.  There were a few days where his system was so overrun with toxins from the bite that he wasn't moving, drinking, eating or really able to do anything other than lay there in glassy-eyed misery.  I know people always say that cats are the ones with 9 lives but I am starting to think that this dog of ours was blessed with that same quality!

It feel like I have been that person who always seems to have a dramatic story to tell lately.  In addition to the major stories I've shared with you here, there have been some more minor incidences as well.  Like that night last week when I was home by myself trying to fall asleep and heard a strange noise.  When I got up to look outside, I saw a strange man crouching down in my fenced in backyard.  For the record, a call to Paul who was 20-30 minutes away yielded a response time 45 minutes faster than a call to the police did.  Yep, the police took 1 hour and 15 minutes to get here and when they did, they didn't even look around my yard beyond skimming with a flashlight from their car.  After I originally saw Intruder Man, he disappeared, leaving the gate open so I knew I hadn't imagined it.  After about 30 minutes, he came back and was walking around the yard.  When Paul pulled up, Intruder Man walked out of the yard towards the car.  Paul confronted him and questioned him.  His story was that he was "waiting for somebody" and he willingly obliged Paul's aggressive order to vacate the premise.  Good luck resting well after that!

Then, there was that other night where I was having trouble sleeping because I had read a gruesome description of civil war amputations right before trying to fall asleep and it was haunting my dreams.  In my half asleep state of mind, I kept becoming aware of sirens and then drifting out of it again, only to awake to more sirens.  This was the first night in many weeks that we had turned off the air conditioning and I was thinking, "Man!  It is so much louder when we have the windows open.  I don't remember there being this many sirens usually."  That cycle continued for a while longer before I realized that the sirens were all stopping close to our house.  When I got up to look out front, I realized that someone else was having a far worse night than I was.

The street was closed and full of emergency vehicles.  A shop on the block had caught on fire.  The firefighters were using axes to break the windows and saws (for what, I am not sure), which was a surreal thing to see and hear at 1:30 AM and also served as further fuel for my gruesome civil war dreams.

And then, on Paul's birthday, we came home after having been gone all day.  While unlocking the door, we heard Tchazo making non-Tchazo type shrieking barks.  We were freaked out thinking that Tchazo, who was already wounded, had had something else horrible happen to him while we were gone.  It took us a minute to find him once we got inside.  He had managed to lock himself in the bathroom and was totally scared out of his mind.  He must have gone into the bathroom and in the process of turning around, his giant cone must have snagged the door and closed it.  He, having not had bathroom issues since he was a puppy, was so scared that he peed and then managed to knock down everything in the bathroom that wasn't secured into place in his frantic twirling about.  After we cleaned up the mess and calmed him down, we had a laugh about the ridiculousness of this scenario!

I am a frequent listener of The Moth podcast, which ends with a sign-off to the effect of, "May you have a story-worthy week."  After the last few months, I am not sure that is a very nice thing to wish for someone!  At this point, I would cherish a humdrum, uneventful, story-free week!

I've been away from the blog for a while and for the most part, have been laying low, trying to get better.  I have managed a few fun events here and there, so I am going to try to catch up on those posts this week.  Paul had a birthday!  I picked and preserved over 10 pounds of blueberries! I got a new camera!  More to come...sans woes.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Annual Reward: Strawberry Edition

I really, really held out a long time for local, organic strawberries this year.  The strawberry season, much like everything else this year, is about 2-3 weeks behind schedule.  I knew what berries I wanted and that they were worth waiting for so I resisted the ones at the farmers market (surprisingly, the ones at the farmers market were all sprayed) and the grocery store.  The reason for my selectiveness: the strawberries from Sam Kedem's are like none other.  This was my third year going to the same farm because if you've found the best strawberries, you don't need to go anywhere else!  

Jamie and I were early birds!  We were in the field the moment it opened (actually a few minutes earlier, because nobody stopped us and we were raring to go!).

Our timing was pretty good.  There were not too many green berries and plenty of red ones.   Since we got such an early start, we were able to head out as the farm was getting really busy and the sun was getting really intense.

Buying produce from the farm store and watching some chickens rounds out the experience and makes it well worth the 45 minute drive.  Who am I kidding?  I would make the drive just for the berries!

In past years, I have traditionally baked something with my strawberries.  As I have mentioned, this year I have limitations on my diet (no wheat flour, very limited sugar), so I opted for preserving by drying and freezing and I plan to eat them out of hand like a maniac this week.  

I am not too sad about the lack of a baked good this year (well, yes I am) because dried strawberries are divine when rehydrated in a batch of winter oatmeal.  These berries are super flavorful to begin with, so dehydrating and rehydrating them results in an intense toasty strawberry flavor.

Hooray for strawberry season!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Dehydrated Watermelon

Around my region, it is still a bit too early for locally grown melons.  But, when Paul's mom passed on a supermarket one that was leftover from a party, I was happy to have it.  It was a taste of what is yet to come later this summer.

Paul is not a fan of watermelon, so I knew it would be on me to figure out how to use it before it spoiled.  I cut up half of it for my lunches last week and then put the other half in the dehydrator.

Oh my!  I wasn't sure how it would turn out since watermelon is mostly water, but it was amazing!  I removed the rind and sliced the watermelon about 1/4" thick.  I dried it without adding anything but I later read that some people like to salt the watermelon before they dry it for a salty sweet treat.

The end result was a cross between a fruit leather and a watermelon chip.  And, the watermelon candy!

For health reasons I am limiting my diet right now and processed sugars are one of the things I am cutting down to almost nothing.  This watermelon has been satisfying my sugar cravings all week long.  I will most certainly be making more of this ASAP!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Pops at the Bandshell

We've been fortunate lately to have had a string of perfect summer evenings.  Including the night I met up with the Wagners to share a picnic and listen to the Minnesota Pops Orchestra perform at the Lake Harriet Bandshell.

Simon and Jerri

Mark and Zoe

This guy was really trying to fight his way over to our blanket.  Word on the street was that our picnic looked pretty good to him.  He is right.  It was a good picnic.

We were not alone!  Many, many people spent the gorgeous evening at Lake Harriet.

Simon has become much more alert and giggly since I last saw him!  (Thanks for the picture, Jerri!)

I am loving all of the summer fun the Twin Cities have to offer.  Keep it coming, Minneapolis!

P.S. Paul and I think it would be a fine idea to try this with our next dog.  That looks like fun!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Pride 2013

It is definitely time to unseat that last post.  I'm still suffering from ridiculous skin issues, but nevertheless, my weekend was of the seize-the-summer sort.  It included my first ever Pride parade!  I don't know why I've waited so long, but I am glad I didn't miss the chance to be present for this one.

My friend Sarah lives on the parade route and was kind enough to host a brunch/pride parade party.

We leaned out of her windows and watched the parade action from our bird's eye view.

Do you see that rainbow dog?

Sarah's brunch was a feast for the eyes and the taste buds.  I am not drinking right now or else you know I would have joined her for a glass of that fabulous looking sangria.  Thanks for hosting, Sarah!

Confetti and Savage Aural Hotbed....yes, please!

There was a canine guest in attendance.  I'll never stop being amused by dogs that can lay down with their back legs flat on the ground.

This parade is a long one, involving many community groups, companies, bars, politicians and organizations.  This year's event was especially energized by all of the recent progress towards equal rights for same sex couples.  The beginning of the parade even included a marriage proposal!

And, of course, people were strutting (or rolling) their stuff!

Great music and dancing and happiness was plentiful!

In May, Minnesota became the 12th state to legalize gay marriage and on August 1st, same sex marriages will begin being performed in the state.  About damn time!
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