Friday, August 23, 2013

Adventures in Canning

Previous canning experiences for Mckay and I were much like our gardening experience. We'd seen/helped our parents can things before when we were children, but had never actually done it ourselves before.

We got a lot of tomatoes from our garden this year, so I figured I'd try to can some of them. I talked to several friends who had done it, read books and felt like I could try it out. I borrowed a water-bath canner from our wonderful friends and set out one afternoon to can some tomatoes.
It took way longer than it should have (mostly due to me checking and double checking every little step to make sure I didn't mess things up), but I came away with two beautiful quart jars of tomatoes. I was so proud of myself. This was on Monday of last week. 

That night, we decided on a whim to join some friends for apple picking. A family from church has 12 apple trees that were ready to pick and they invited us over to pick some apples and make apple cider. I thought we'd come home with a box of apples for pie making and a bit of cider. I WAAAAYYY underestimated. We worked several hours that night and made 13 gallons of apple cider using this family's cider press. AFTER making the cider, we still had 10 or so big boxes full of apples between the 3 families who picked apples that night. While the other wives and I were cider-making and talking, we decided that we could make some apple sauce and pie filling with all the extra apples. Having just successfully canned my tomatoes that day, I was totally on board with more canning.

So we made an afternoon of it. On Tuesday, we met at one house and we peeled, cut, cooked and canned apples. For five hours.  ...  Our 6 children ran around the house entertaining themselves while 3 beginner canners worked and worked and worked.
And after that tiring, long day we hadn't even canned any apple pie filling yet! Knowing that Mckay would fire me if I came home with only applesauce and no apple pie fixings, we planned to meet together again two days later for more canning. We all thought it would be best to take a mental health day in between canning days. After 5 more hours of canning on Thursday, we were exhausted but oh so proud of our hard work.
In all, we canned roughly 28 quarts of apple cider, 18 quarts of pie filling, and close to 30 jars (both big and small) of applesauce. Every single jar sealed and not one of them broke. I'm told that's rare among so many jars.

 And after we were done with all our canning, there were still five boxes of apples leftover.

I took some home with me and made apple turnovers on Friday.
They were yummy.

By Saturday I had more ripe tomatoes so I canned two more jars.

And then I made two apple pies; One for us to eat and one for a friend who just had a baby.

And then I rested for a few days and tried to clean up the tsunami left behind in our kitchen.

 We divided 80 or so jars between our three families, so here are my canning spoils from the week:
9 quarts of cider, 8 quarts of pie filling, 5 pints and 1 quart of applesauce, and 4 quarts of tomatoes.

 Mckay said that our finished product picture should look like this:
because we still have apples leftover!!

And after taking this picture I found 3 more jars of applesauce on the counter. There are apples all over my house!!

In all seriousness, it was a super busy week, but a very rewarding week. I had a crash course in canning that will pay off hugely when we get to eat yummy food all winter. I'm not nearly as scared of canning as I was before and I'm happy that I learned a new skill. Maybe next near I'll try pressure canning.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Gardening

One of my goals for this year was to plant a garden. As a kid, I would help my dad in the garden, but haven't really done any gardening on my own since. I thought it would be a fun family activity and a great way for the boys to see where we get our food. We wanted to start small this year to see if we could get the hang of it.

We started our garden earlier this year in May. We bought some garden soil.

Then we built and filled in our 4x4 garden box and started planting.

Dallin and Connor loved digging in the dirt.
A few days later, we decided that one little 4x4 garden box was not enough for all the things we wanted to plant. So we tore it up and started over. We were able to successfully transplant all of the plants that we had already planted, even some of the "from seed" plants that had begun to sprout tiny leaves. 

We added 2 more 4x4 boxes, lots of water, sunshine and a few of months. And here is the finished product!
I'm surprised at how easy it was to grow a garden.  Every thing we planted took off and grew like crazy with very little effort on our part. There was a big start up cost, so it certainly wasn't cheaper than just buying the produce at the store, but there will be less to buy for a garden next year.

 We grew cantaloupe (below) and strawberries (not pictured) from seed. 
Dallin and Connor got little seed starter kits for Easter so they could each grow their favorite fruit. (Can you guess which fruit goes with which boy?) The strawberry plants were too small to produce anything this year, but we've gotten several cantaloupes from the garden so far. Dallin is so excited because he LOVES cantaloupe. Also in this cantaloupe/strawberry bed are some cucumber plants.


This bed has carrots (front of the picture) with green beans and snap peas behind them. We also planted lettuce here which has already run its course and been replaced with a second lettuce crop.


The third box has mostly tomatoes in it. It makes me so happy to be able to go outside and pick tomatoes for my dinner when ever I want to. I'm the only tomato eater in our house so I get them all! I'm also going to make pasta sauce and such with the tomatoes so everyone else in the family will appreciate them. Next to the tomatoes are bell peppers (which didn't produce much) and cilantro (which REALLY didn't produce much, but now we know to NOT grow that next year).

 Perhaps our favorite plant of all in the garden is the Thai basil plant.
It's a little different from traditional Italian basil. The leaves are smaller and have a slightly different taste, but it still works in cooking Italian food and makes our Thai dishes taste perfectly delicious. It grows beautiful purple flowers on it. We've been pinching the flowers back to promote more leaf growth, but I think it would make a beautiful "flower" bush in a yard.

 We gotten a lot more food from our garden than what is pictured below, but this is what was available at the moment and I want you to see what we've grown.
There are usually a lot more tomatoes ripe at once, but I had just canned a bunch of them. More about our adventures in canning in another post...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Butterfly

A few weeks ago, we found two caterpillars eating the leafy green carrot tops in our garden. So we put them in an open jar so the boys could see them. Dallin and Connor liked watching the caterpillars.

The next day, I went outside and found that one of the caterpillars found his way out, but the other one had made a chrysalis.
I guess we caught him at just the right time, eating his last big meal of carrot tops before metamorphosis.

Now this was turning into a fun little science lesson. Not only did we get to see the caterpillar, we would get to watch his whole life cycle.
Pretty cool!

We checked on our caterpillar every day for almost two weeks. One evening when I looked at the jar, the chrysalis looked brown and shriveled. I figured that meant he would be coming out soon. I showed Mckay, who pointed out to me that it was probably shriveled because there was a spider in the jar sucking the life out of him.

NOOO!!!

My conversation with the boys then changed from the life cycle to the Circle of Life: that some animals live so they can be eaten by other animals.


But the next day, I saw a butterfly sitting in the jar!
He survived the spider attack!

 Dallin was so excited to see our pet butterfly.

We let him out of the jar and he made his way to the grass.
I'm pretty sure this is a black swallowtail butterfly. The coloring looks right, plus the caterpillars are known for eating carrot leaves.

His left upper wing was a little crumpled, so he couldn't really fly.
He would just "jump" all over the yard.

I figured that since he was freshly hatched, he needed some time to stretch out his wings. We took advantage of his flightless state and gently held him.

The boys were smitten.

The day after our butterfly emerged, he was still in our yard. His wing was still crumpled, still not flying. I began to wonder if he injured his wing trying to climb out of the jar, or if it was the spider trying to eat him that hurt the wing. Feeling somewhat responsible for this poor creature's injury, I got a little dish of sugar water and some cut grapes to feed him.

The butterfly didn't really touch the food (that I saw) but I think he was warming up to us being around. He would walk onto our hands to let us gently move him away from danger (i.e. Connor).

Four days after he emerged from the jar, the butterfly was gone from our yard. I'm not sure what happened to him. I like to think he finally figured out how to work his wings, not that he was eaten by a bird or something.

Either way, it was a fun little experiment watching our hungry caterpillar turn into a beautiful butterfly.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Grandpa

My Dad came to visit us this week. He had a one day business trip to Indiana, and his travel plans worked out just right that he could see us for a little bit. He came to our house Wednesday evening.
Dallin and Connor were SOOOO excited to see him. As soon as grandpa walked through our door, Dallin dragged him down the hall to show off his room, then went straight for the legos. Dallin had been asking all day if grandpa would "play lego game?" with him.

Connor and Dallin spent about 2 hours straight being tickled and wrestled by grandpa. And they loved every second of it.

Dallin has recently learned that our last name is Easton, so he asked if this was Grandpa Easton. When I told him it was Grandpa Crapo, him and Connor walked around the rest of the night saying "Capo. Capo. Capo." The boys definitely love their Grandpa.

(Connor has been sitting on my lap the whole time I've been writing this post, pointing at all the pictures and saying, "Grandpa Capo! Grandpa Capo!")

 After we put the kids in bed, dad and I ate some dessert.
I made a blueberry pie. I've never made one before, but it was a delicious experiment.

Dad had to leave first thing in the morning for his meeting, so we ate breakfast with him before he left.
We had pancakes with fresh blueberry syrup. And another piece of blueberry pie. 

That's the best way to start a morning: pancakes, pie and Grandpa.

Friday, August 2, 2013

July wrap-up

July is over, August is here. Tme for a wrap-up of July pictures from the Easton home:

Right before the 4th of July, we talked about freedom and Independence Day for family home evening. We showed the boys our American flag and had them draw their own picture of it. Connor looked at the flag for a second, then started drawing several long red stripes.
Coincidence? 
Maybe, but these lines seemed very deliberate compared to his normal scribbles. We were amazed.
***

One day, Dallin was being too quiet while I was washing dishes, so I went to check on him and found him climbing into my bed. He said, "I go sleep." I figured he would pretend to snore under the blanket for a second then move on. I came back a few minutes later and found him completely asleep.
I'm now sure why he was holding pencils.
***

 I got some cool craft foam stickers to give as prizes to my piano students. Dallin and Connor wanted one too, of course, so I let them each choose one. Dallin took a LOOOOONG time deciding. He kept changing his mind, so he just sat by the box of stickers trying to choose.
This was after about 10 minutes. He looks so sad in this picture because he really wanted a sticker, he just couldn't decide which one! Connor, on the other hand, took the first sticker on top and had ripped it into tiny pieces within 90 seconds. 
***

 Dallin is becoming more independent. He likes to pick out his own clothes each day. 
Notice his big boy underwear. Dallin is now potty trained! (That probably deserves a whole blog post of it's own...)

 He also likes to dress himself, although he isn't always successful at getting his pants on the right way.
He's mad because I told him his pants were backwards and he's insisting that they aren't.
***

Connor is growing up too. He can count! Well, he can recite numbers, usually in order with no set starting place. His favorite time to count is when he's about to run and jump on something. He says "1,2,3 go!" which is usually shortened to "3 go!", and then he runs and jumps onto the couch. In this video, he's trying to count Mancala game pieces. If you listen closely right at the beginning, you can hear him say "7, 8, 9, 10,...3"
video
Dallin, not to be outdone by his younger brother, counts into the teens and even 20s.

Indiana has had weird weather this month. It started with cool 70s, rainy weather. (We wore jackets while watching fireworks this year.) Then it got really hot in the upper 90s for a week or two, then ended with mid 70s. Not a typical July for the hot, humid mid-west! It's been a nice break for our air conditioner. We've had it on for a grand total of 10 days this whole year! We've enjoyed the mild weather because it has meant more outside time...
...even if that means we have to wear jackets to enjoy popsicles and homemade ice cream outside.