Summer’s End–Family, Community, and Canning.

School started this week, and for the first time, its arrival felt bittersweet. Usually, by this time, I feel like I will sell my soul to their teachers in exchange for removing the Heathens from my home for a few hours a day. August means we’ve devolved into who-looked-at-who the wrong way, which in turn, ends up being a crossover between “Who Moved My Cheese?” and The Hunger Games.  This year, however, summer seemed to fly by at a too-rapid pace. It doesn’t help that G-Man is a junior, Bear is a freshman, and Bean is in (gulp!) first grade. I wish I had a few more days at the pool or the camp, but in the end, the promise of less than 100-degree heat means that I’ll get over it quickly. So, the summer recap:

We had our epic family reunion with my 80-plus cousins who are just as zany as we are, fun days at the Gulf and the camp, questionable fishing, and general mayhem:

There was some knitting, which I will post about tomorrow:

I smoked and cooked at bit (including hosting 4th of July for our neighborhood, and tackling fresh pasta):

But, if I had to sum up this summer, I would call it The Summer of Canning. We spent the spring installing and planting several raised beds in our postage stamp-sized back yard. We hope to adopt a year-round gardening plan down the road, but ultimately, I think the Husband and I feel called to find a balance between the frantic digital pace of modern daily life, and the skills, traditions, and values that we internalized from our parents and grandparents.

We want to raise well-balanced, knowledgeable kids that have adequate life skills by graduation, or at least some exposure to many things and the attitude that they can figure crap out if they try. This isn’t just about gardening. G-Man must have changed tires on the family car six times this summer as we dealt with failing tires and those pesky nails the contractors down the road kept dropping. He also has a bank account, and I’ll send that kid to the Kroger at the drop of at hat, which means he now knows where to find vinegar and pectin, and the difference between a poblano and a banana pepper. G-Man and Bear can cook a meal, bake a mean cookie, and follow a recipe while adapting if needed. As such, the garden is another extension of our desire for fresh produce and deliciousness, while modelling life skills that might keep our kids from being left for zombie bait in the event of a Walking Dead scenario. Kidding…Kidding…

But, with that garden, came the dilemma of keeping up with it. I swore to the Husband that I would not let his efforts go to waste. I’ve written about canning before, but this behemoth was beyond my ability to manage, or at least my available time. But then, the blessing came. My neighbor had never canned and wanted to learn, so I did a quick recipe with her (that she brought over) so she could get the basics. One thing led to another. Before long, we transformed into a well-oiled operation of shared labor and shared bounty. We worked side-by-side each week, harvesting, prepping, and putting up recipe after recipe. We fought the bugs, the heat, our restless kids, and the burn of hot peppers from forgotten gloves. As the days blended together, we visited, shared stories and memories, and ended up with overflowing pantries of salsa, jalapeno jelly, serrano jelly, pickled peppers and onions, cucumber relish, pickles, spicy tomato jam, pickled jalapenos, and more.


We even put together and vacuum-sealed bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers for fall and winter entertaining. A full pantry and freezer soothes my soul and makes me feel more connected to the strong women in my family tree. That was something I didn’t expect, but I’ll take any day.

Over these intense kitchen sessions, I noted to my neighbor that I can now see why chores like canning, quilting, butchering, and harvesting historically often turned into group events. People helped their neighbors or friends with these labor-intensive activities not only to share the load, but also to connect in a way we now have lost, and which we often miss in our disconnected, overworked, digital lives. (and yes, I get the irony of saying that on my digital blog, but I do believe we can all find a better balance between the power of the internet to connect and educate us, and the temptation for it to consume us at the expense of genuine experiences). Whether we were enveloped by steam from the canner, or got lost in the hours of chopping 12 pounds of tomatoes at a time, we strengthened our bonds as both friends and neighbors in a way that made me feel closer to her, and my family’s history and traditions.

So, as I come to summer’s end, I still feel like it flew by, but as I reflect, I also think of it as time of connecting with family and neighbors, cultivating skills, and transitioning from the tragedy of losing my father to letting the light back in. That, if anything, was probably the best takeaway of all.

But you know what’s even better about summer’s end? I can now plan the Halloween decorations and party. Mwhahahah!

Friday Eating and Reading (As I Army-Crawl Across the School Year Finish Line)

It’s Friday, and I am still in the trenches of what we call the May Gauntlet around here. This month consists of three of my family of five’s birthdays, Mother’s Day, another trip to Science Olympiad Nationals for the Hubs and Bear after winning State, Confirmations, graduations, finals for G-Man, driving test for G-man, and yet another week-long business trip for the Hubs. I am, in a word, overdone.

Meanwhile, I’ve been sneaking in crafting, reading, and knitting time in at every possible moment, lest I allow my “End-of-the-year-and-I’m-over-it attitude” to spew out all over innocent bystanders. While I know I will probably want to let my kids run away and join a circus within two weeks of summer vacation, the prospect of a break from carpool lines, packing lunches, the daily uniform search/6 a.m. emergency washing panic, and unplanned trips to the school because I forgot it was our snack day (again), is the only thing separating me from insanity.

Anyway, here’s a few things I have been really into this week:

I just finished The Wishing Thread by Lisa Van Allen. Magic realism and knitting? Sign me up. I am a big fan of Sarah Addison Allen, so this seemed right up my alley. Overall, it’s a cute book, and one that I enjoyed. The narrative of the family ties, local lore, the subtle magic, and hope all made this a nice, pleasant read. If you just want a light, feel-good read similar to Addison Allen’s works, this is a good option.

I love Rick Bragg, who, among his numerous writing accolades, also has his essays featured in Southern Living every month. I’m only about a quarter of the way through this, but I am so totally in love with it. His writing brings to life the essence of the times and influences that defined my grandparents and parents (both good and bad). I started this on Mother’s Day morning, and it felt like a bittersweet balm on my soul. It reminds me of cooking with my mom, and all the stories she would tell of our grandparents and cousins, and the recipes that were simply learned by doing. I still suck at this whole grief thing, especially since I got the grief sandwich going on, but this book reminds me that the stories and traditions mean they will always be with me.

This orzo salad from Food Network definitely wins our dang tasty seal of approval. While I skip the red onion because picky eaters gonna pick, the recipe is perfect for a cool summer side dish (very important when we will reach nearly 100 degrees next week). A couple of notes on this one–I just mix the whole shebang together rather than this pointless staging. You would have to mix it before serving anyway, and artistic efforts are lost on The Heathens. Also, I have a possibly controversial view on pasta salad recipes. I always make 1.5 times of the dressing that any pasta salad recipe calls for, if not 2 times because they always end up drier than I want if I follow the recipe. Thus far, my over-doing-it on pasta salad sauce (for creamy-type sauces) hasn’t steered me wrong. You could also add rotisserie chicken to this for a complete meal, but if so, I would definitely double the sauce just to be safe. No one ever said “My Pasta Salad is too creamy.”  If they did, you should seriously side-eye them.

Time to fortify myself for the last week of school. That means whiskey, in case you didn’t know.

Community Cookbook Throwback Thursday–“Carrot Fritters”

**If this is your first visit, here’s the intro to my CCTT project.**

So, this week’s CCTT recipe comes from Talk About Good! which was published by the Junior League of Lafayette in 1967. Since it’s original publication, it has undergone 31 additional printings, with nearly 800,000 copies sold. This was another book I remember from Mom’s collection, and I managed to snag it at a local bookstore, giving me hope that I can recover some of that history. It definitely embodies the time period, with recipes that are staples, as well as curiosities that definitely show their age. In these recipes, I am learning more about my Mom and grandmothers, because they showcase a generation on a bridge. The rise of processed foods clearly has an impact, yet I can still see the traditions that stood the test of time. For example, my mom was convinced margarine was way better for you, but Hamburger Helper was for sad people who just didn’t know any better. In essence, she was a total purist with a blind spot for convenience foods that made life easier (I’m looking at you, canned biscuits). On to the matter at hand…

The devil-cold I thought I beat last week came raging back this week with the vengeance that only a secondary infection can bring, so I selected an easy recipe for this week. That’s also the reason I’m a day late with this post. Give me a demerit, with a chaser of decongestant, please. And alllllll the whiskey.

These “Carrot Fritters” were submitted by Mrs. Avery G. Landry and Ida Moran. The Heathen’s like carrots, and the husband can put a serious hurting on a traditional carrot soufflé, so I figured this was a safe bet for continuing to ease them into the prospect of regular kitchen experimentation.

The verdict? See the notes.

**Remember, I will copy the recipe exactly as written and provide my own notes, alterations,  and observations after**

Carrot Fritters

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Ingredients

  • 1-pound bag of carrots
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 cup milk (scant)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. butter
  • 1 egg

Procedure

  1. Boil scraped carrots until very tender. Chop hot carrots with dough blender until smooth, adding sugar and butter while still warm. Add egg and vanilla, blend in flour and baking powder and mix with a spoon. Add scant amount of milk, so that batter has consistency to be dropped by spoonfuls into hot cooking oil (this is not deep fat frying). Browning takes about 5 minutes.

My Notes

  • Ok, so to make this recipe clear, you want to cook your chopped carrots until tender (scraped just means peeled, but I don’t peel my carrots, so take that for what it’s worth). After that, I streamlined the recipe as follows:
  • After reading the recipe, I decided the food processor was the tool for the job. I put the butter and sugar in the Cuisinart, then added the cooked and drained carrots. I pulsed it briefly, then left it alone for about 5 minutes to cool off. (I did not want the egg to scramble in the hot mixture)
  • Next, I added the egg and vanilla, pulsed about three times, then added the flour and baking powder, and pulsed a couple of more times. Finally I added the milk a few tablespoons at a time (to be careful), but I ended up using all the milk. The result is a batter on the thicker side, and is cross between a fritter and a thick pancake.
  • I used a pretty large non-stick skillet and about a 1/3 to 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, which I heated on med-high heat. I dropped about an ice cream scoop-size spoonful of batter into the oil and browned the fritters on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side.
  • These definitely taste like carrot soufflé fried like a pancake or fritter, which my husband loved. If you like carrot soufflé, you will love them.
  • The sugar content in these makes them brown fast and easily burn. You have to keep an eye on them and cook them at a slightly lower temp than you would cook traditional pancakes or fritters.
  • I thought they were a little too sweet, but everyone else loved them. Next time, I would add a pinch of salt to balance the sugar content, and I would try them with brown sugar instead of granulated to add a depth of flavor.
  • Finally, this recipe made about 5 decent-sized fritters for our family of 5, but they are so rich, this was PLENTY. I was worried, but one per person is a safe bet.
  • If you try a CCTT recipe, let me know! Also, if you have a vintage recipe to share, let me know too!