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Bonus to frozen tomatoes

Posted August 24, 2016 By Ruth

When I remember to pull them out of the freezer far enough in advance to actually thaw all the way before trying to cook them down I’m able to drain off a TON of clear liquid!  That ought to help with the cook down time quite a bit!

BTW, this now makes 8.5 gallon ziplocks cooked down.  There’s at least that many still in the freezer, and a ton of tomatoes still on the plants in various stages of ripeness!

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Doctors

Posted August 21, 2016 By Ruth

Speaking of my hands, as I was last post, reminded me that I hadn’t updated.

So, first off, the symptoms in my hands: General joint soreness and stiffness in basically every joint of the hand and wrist.  Stabbing burning pains in the thumb knuckle closest to the palm of the hand (technically the middle joint of the thumb).  This is the same for BOTH hands, though my left is worse, possibly because the pain is worse when I’m attempting to do things requiring either fine motor control and/or extended hand-strength grip and I tend to be right handed and so hold things with my left.  I’ve recently noticed some issues with extension of the pointer finger (right hand), notably when I’m typing.  Its really obvious when I’m typing and I’m constantly struggling to hit certain keys anyway.

So, I have now seen a total of four doctors (besides my primary care doc) in an attempt to figure out whats going on with my hands.

The first was a hand & nerve reconstruction specialist, back in 2009, who told me it wasn’t ligament or tendon damage, and since my bloodwork was normal it wasn’t rheumatoid.  He said it was probably the sort of thing that happens when you abuse your joints the way I have.  Basically mild arthritis.

The second doctor was the first rheumatologist (2015).  Who decided that even though my bloodwork was normal, once they compared xrays to the 2009 ones he decided that there was signs of bone erosion (which means rheumatoid) in most of the joints of both hands.  But then declined to discuss it.

The second rheumatologist did more bloodwork, said there’s no way its rheumatoid, your blood work is to normal.  It’s probably the sort of thing that happens when you abuse your joints.  I’ll send you to an ortho hand specialist, maybe he can find something that’ll help you.

The ortho specialist looked at everything, poked at my hands in various spots, asked me more questions.  He said there’s some mild arthritis buildup in the joint at the base of the thumb (this joint is basically at the wrist, in case you were curious), but nothing that would explain my symptoms.  But gosh, it sure sounds like rheumatoid, are they SURE you’re not rheumatoid?  After some additional discussion he prescribed some braces that support the thumb joints on the theory that it wouldn’t hurt and might help.

So thats where things currently stand.  Two votes for “the sort of thing that happens when you abuse your joints” and two votes for “are they sure you’re not rheumatoid?”.  Sigh.  I’ve got an appointment to see the rheumatologist in another 6 months, just to make sure nothing changes.  The braces do seem to help, at least a little, with the pain in my thumb joint, so I guess thats not a waste.  It’d probably help if I wore them more, but I’m still getting used to them.

As for my ankles.  The orthotics, once I got used to them, made a significant difference in the amount of pain I was in.  I’m not going to say I was pain free (cause I wasn’t) but the difference was night and day.  For the first two months.  Three months after getting the orthotics I realized the pain in my ankles was increasing again.  Three months is an awfully short period of time to have worn out the orthotics, especially since I’m rotating between two pairs.  In addition I started having issues with my left knee (which is the weak one anyway due to prior issues).  When I started wearing a support brace on that knee, stabilizing it, I found myself rolling my left foot/ankle outwards.  All of which makes me suspect that I need higher arch supports.  I have an appointment this week with the ankle specialist, so we’ll see what he says.

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Ketchup

Posted August 20, 2016 By Ruth

Since I have an abundance of tomatoes this year I thought I’d try my hand at making ketchup, especially since Husband eats it by the trailer load.  The recipe I used is in THIS cookbook.  Btw, if you’re looking for a series of decent cookbooks for yourself or for giving, I have really liked these America’s Test Kitchen books, at least the ones I’ve picked up so far (I understand the pressure cooking one isn’t so great, but the others I’ve picked up I’ve liked).

The final step of the recipe is to smush the puree through a fine mesh strainer.  I got about halfway through that when it occurred to me that the food mill might have been a better option for my hands (the left hand in particular, which was holding the strainer, was really unhappy with me), but even after switching over my hands were still very unhappy.  I still hurt this morning.  After I griped about it on Facebook my mother offered to buy us a crank food strainer as an anniversary gift.  I won’t be doing ketchup again till that arrives.

Simmering down it didn’t smell all that great to me, but I don’t eat ketchup anyway (and absolutely can’t stand the smell of cloves).  Husband, on the other hand, eats ketchup on damn near everything, and thought it smelled divine.  Final results: he says it needs to be a bit sweeter (easy enough), and, as much as he loves the Black Plums and their smoky flavor in the ketchup, he’s missing that acid bite of the usual tomatoes (he said he’d absolutely eat it as it is though, so it must not be too far off!).  So next batch I’ll add in some of the Blue Berries (maybe 1/4 of the tomatoes?), and see how that goes.

 

Update: after the ketchup sat for a while, and was then properly shook up before he put it on his burger last night, he now says not to change a thing and its perfect the way it is.  I’ll take it!

 

Note: all Amazon links go to Amazon via my Amazon Affiliates account.  If you buy something on Amazon after clicking through one of the above links I might earn a few pennies.

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Garden update

Posted August 19, 2016 By Ruth

Buena Mulata peppers:

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They started as these spindly little plants that could barely hold themselves up and turned into this!  And covered in peppers too.  For anyone else growing these my husband says that if they’re less than fully ripe they taste very “green” (and not in a good way), but as long as they’re fully ripe they’re both very hot and very tasty.

The Chocolate Habaneros are happy this year too:

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Usually these plants get barely a foot high for me (if that tall, often they’re less than a foot), but this year, they’re huge, the tallest are pushing two feet!  I assume thanks to the heat, since hot peppers are considered a hot climate plant.  They’re covered in very large habaneros too.

Some more pictures of the Blue Berries tomatoes:

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Their final color is determined by how much sunlight they get, so that red one is mostly shaded while the darker ones in the bottom photo are mostly in the sun.  What I find amusing is that a not insignificant number of them are coming in yellow and blue instead of red and blue:

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The farm that produces this particular hybrid also has a Golden Berries tomato, and clearly they’re related!

I brought some of the Black Plum tomatoes into work with me to share with a couple co-workers.  I might have converted them.  One asked me to tell him when I’m starting my seedlings in the spring, he’ll pay me the same fee he pays to buy his usual plants at the store.  The other asked me where I get my seeds from.

The Black Plums are still our favorite of all the tomatoes.  As cool as the White Cherrys and the Blue Berries are I don’t know that I’ll bother to grow them again next year.  The Black Icicles I might though.  The flavor is similar to the Black Plums, though higher acid, and as a paste tomato they’ll help thicken the tomato sauce up with less simmering.

BTW, I’ve weighed a few of the gallon ziplocks and so far they’re all coming in at over 4lbs each.  I’ve lost track of how many are in the freezer.  Tomatoes aren’t halfway done yet.  I’ve cooked up 4.5 ziplocks worth of tomatoes so far…..

I picked three watermelons last weekend, and took one, and a bunch of mixed tomatoes, over to my north side neighbor (the one who’s husband died), since I remembered that she liked watermelon.  She was delighted, and came over Wednesday to admire my garden and tell me that the watermelon was one of the better ones she’s ever had (there’s a reason I grow them!).

I picked another cantaloupe Wednesday, and will hopefully be picking two more today (if not I’ll have to see if I can chicken wire those tires for the night).

I treated all the peppers for caterpillars again.  Though the worst by far is the paprika peppers.  I’m not actually sure I’m getting any paprikas this year, every time I check the plants I end up pitching more peppers for ‘pillar damage!

Last weekend I spooked an itsy bitsy (barely big enough to be out of the nest) bunny out from under the cantaloupe vines (sigh).  Gosh they’re adorable at that stage.  Especially when they’re so spooked that they trip themselves and literally end up tumbling ass over ears in their panic.  I so wished I could have caught it on video.  Then I went back inside and got my bottle of repellent and re-treated the entire garden…..

One of my hibiscus is blooming.

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This is the one next to the rain barrels, and so it gets more water than my other ones.  The others do have buds on them though, so they’ll be along eventually!

Sunflowers are also going strong:

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I am, overall, quite happy with my garden this year!
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All good

Posted August 17, 2016 By Ruth

We made it through the storms yesterday with no major damage here.  There’s a Facebook photo circulating of what looks like a funnel cloud on the west end of the lake I live near, and news reports of a funnel cloud further north of that, but no reports of actual tornado touch down that I can find.

Yesterday, since I made it home from work before the storms hit I ran out to the garden and snatched as many of the ripe tomatoes as I could before the storms hit.  In the 10 minutes or so I was out there the sky went from blue and sunny with some pretty white clouds, to dark and nasty with black clouds.  So I gave up and went back in.  I still picked another 3 gallon ziplocks worth of tomatoes though before giving up:

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I was worried the winds would knock over the tomatoes (the storm Saturday knocked a couple over though they were salvageable with only minor damage).  A check this morning and the garden doesn’t look seriously worse for wear, though I’ll need to do some new tying down of cages as some are leaning hard.

At one point the water was coming down so hard and heavy that the water shooting out the downspouts was shooting OVER the rain barrels (which were over-flowing anyway, guess I need to redo those overflow pipes so at least that water will be directed where I want better in heavy rain like this).

Today looks to be a very nice day, weather wise, so hopefully I can catch up on some of the yard and garden work I’ve been putting off!

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We’ve had a painfully hot and dry summer this year.  The region (a lot of it technically a flood zone and/or with high water table) has been pushing drought.  Water restrictions have been popping up, and at least one area announced that if we didn’t get rain soon they were going to run out of water in their reservoir.

Normally we have a soaking wet spring, that only marginally dries out for the early summer.  I might have to start watering in July, and almost definitely will by mid-August, but rarely earlier than that.  Last summer was a bit screwy that way too, but not this bad.

This year?  If it wasn’t for the rain barrels and the soaker hoses my garden would either be D-E-D dead or we’d have one hell of a water bill from all the running of the sprinkler.

So now it’s mid-August.  EVERYONE I talked to said they figured our chances of serious rain in August is pretty darn small.  Maybe in September.

But apparently mother nature isn’t done screwing with us.

Saturday evening a line of thunderstorms roared through.  No actual tornadoes that I’m aware of, but plenty of damage without them.  Plus at least an inch of rain.

Here’s today’s radar weather map as of 8:30am:

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We’ve had a nice little sprinkle of rain this morning.  But they’re talking violent thunderstorms and even possibly tornadoes for later today.

We lost power here Saturday evening for a couple hours, but were lucky and got power back before bedtime.  An awful lot of folks didn’t.

Looking at this and I’m seriously considering telling Husband we’re buying a generator today, my work has a bunch……..

(yes, we need a generator regardless, but for various reasons we’ve let it sink down the “really ought to buy now” list……)

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Harvest basket

Posted August 13, 2016 By Ruth

One of the downsides to this year’s bountiful garden is my ability to harvest it easily.  I’ve generally used one of the kitchen strainer baskets to hold stuff as I wander around the garden picking.  It was handy for a few reasons, including the ability to plop it into the sink to rinse everything.  Previous years this has generally worked fine for most of the garden.

This year?  Not so much.

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Yesterday I picked two strainer fulls of tomatoes and left more on the vines that I could have picked but would be ok for another couple days.

So earlier this week I went looking at various options and ideas for harvesting baskets.  Found lots of:

Expensive.

Really big gaps that my little tomatoes would fall out of.

Awkward to use.

Tiny.

Expensive.

Ran across this one, which struck me as really cool, but gosh, do I really have to spend $50?  I’m sure it’s worth it, but money…….

The more I looked at that last one the more I thought I could build something comparable.  I’d have to go buy some cedar board, but I already have 1/2″ hardware cloth left over from another project……

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Bonus: mine has feet to hold the contents out of the dirt!

The mesh and staples used to hold it on will probably eventually deteriorate, but the wood is cedar and the screws are exterior grade, so at whatever point the mesh dies I can reuse the frame.

Of course, it won’t fit in the sink, but I can rinse stuff off with the hose if need be and not worry about it!

It holds just, you know, one or two tomatoes…..

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Interior dimensions are approx 5.5″ deep, 8″ wide, 16.6″ long

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If you’re on Facebook you may have seen a viral post back in June.  It was from a lady who was attempting to revitalize her small town school library (actually two schools sharing the building).  I don’t have a link to the original Facebook post, but you can go here and see the text.  Go read, I’ll wait.

If you follow up on the newer posts (and I recommend it) the internet responded in style.  They found themselves inundated with more books than they ever hoped to get.  So many infact that they have been able to send off duplicates to neighboring schools.

Two days ago the most recent update was posted.

The public school board wants to censor the library.  They want only “approved” books to be available to kids.

Never mind that telling a child that she’s “not allowed” to read X or Y book is the best way to ENSURE that she reads it.

Never mind that these children are very likely already exposed to those “forbidden” concepts on the TV, in the news, in music, in movies.

Never mind that its far better to teach children how to handle things than it is to try to shelter them.

And to top it off, the public school’s board wants to quadruple the rent of the charter school who’s renting the unused portion of the building.

The original post went viral and the internet responded in style.  Lets make this one go viral too, and maybe we can encourage the school board to forget this stupidity.

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Canning tomato sauce, research and frustration

Posted August 12, 2016 By Ruth

Ever since I started making our own tomato sauce I’ve wanted to can it instead of freezing it (like I do).  And yes, technically you can, safely, can tomato puree.  But the approved as safe recipes all tell you to add extra acid to the mix for safety.  Since part of why we like our homemade sauce is the low acid this didn’t appeal to me.  What I’ve never quite understood is why they tell you to add acid to the pressure canned version too.  After all the whole point of the pressure canner is to do LOW acid stuff.

So this week I emailed the National Center for Home Food Preservation to find out WHY they tell you to add acid to the pressure canned version.  The response was that the listed pressure canner version is just the equivalent of the water bath method (for folks who prefer to pressure can), not a low acid, safe from botulism, method.  Personally if I can safely water bath can it I’m going to do that rather than haul out the pressure canner, but ok, I can see that.

But there’s an approved spaghetti sauce recipe, with very similar proportions, for pressure canning with no added acid.  Is there any reason why I can’t just use those times to pressure can a low acid tomato puree?

The response had two parts, the first stated that since that hadn’t been tested with pure tomato puree she couldn’t say that was safe (which I can understand, after all, if she agrees with me that it’s safe and I do something stupid with it and get sick, or die, from botulism, she doesn’t want to get sued).  But she should have just left it there.  The next part stated that most likely the tomato puree is going to be thicker than the spaghetti sauce so THATS why its not safe, cause the thicker the sauce the harder it is to get the heat to the center of the jar right.

Look, the tomato sauce (which is pure tomato puree if you follow the instructions) recipe calls for 28 pounds of tomatoes to make 9 pints of sauce.  That’s just about 3.11 pounds of tomatoes per pint of finished sauce.

The spaghetti sauce recipe calls for 30 pounds of tomatoes, plus other stuff, to make 9 pints of sauce.  That’s 3.33 pounds of tomatoes, plus other things, per pint of finished sauce.

I highly doubt that the tomato puree is going to end up thicker than the spaghetti sauce……

I haven’t decided if I’m going to try canning my sauce or not this year (though I’m highly tempted).  But I really dislike being given stupid reasons for why I shouldn’t do something…….

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Pools and hot tubs and choices

Posted August 9, 2016 By Ruth

When we bought our house Husband was delighted that it came with an (above ground) pool.  He used to love swimming as a kid and was delighted at the prospect of being able to do so at home.  Personally I’ve never been much of a swimmer.  I can keep my head above water and work my way from point A to B, but thats about all I can claim.  And I’ve never been much for floating around on a pool floaty either.

Reality of course quickly turned into him swimming a few times in the summer and that was it.  Its not a heated pool so its not useable once winter sets in.

Lack of maintenance on our part has resulted in the pool not being useable these last couple years.  The pool needs a new liner (the old one is so far beyond repairable its not funny), Husband says he’s not sure the filter’s 100%, and with us not getting the liner repaired right, the more I look at the whole thing the more I think its going to take more work just to get the new liner in than he thinks.

Course, getting everything fixed is likely to be several hundred $.  And money, while not tight, hasn’t been plentiful either.  What we have had to spare has been going to far more important projects (like the whole deck problem last fall).

This past year (as I’ve griped on more than a few occasions) has seen an increase in my joint problems.  Heat application helps with quite a bit of the pain and stiffness.

Enter my Inlaws.  Several years ago they got lucky in a lottery draw done by a local pool & spa place and won a 6 person hot tub.  It was installed in their front porch, used several times by the entire family during that first year.  And is now just gathering dust and piles of stuff without having been used since.

I’ve been trying to convince Husband that what we really need to do is pull down the remains of the pool, pour a slab, and convince his parents to give us the hot tub (not likely to be an issue, when taken into consideration with some other things).

Course, getting it from there to here, and then properly installed here, might be a bit interesting.  But I don’t see how it could be THAT much more costly than fixing the pool.  We could toss a tent of some kind over it for the first winter, and next  year I could build my ideal greenhouse on the slab, surrounding the hot tub, to make it better for winter use AND a place to grow my seedlings in the spring.  Perfect!

Husband, of course, isn’t quite convinced……..

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