Tennesseetransitions


Resilience with Oven Canning?
February 10, 2014, 10:23 PM
Filed under: Alternative Energy, Canning, Food Storage, Oven canning, Resilience | Tags: ,

I canned my first jars of green beans when I was 21 years old. Forty years and thousands of jars later, I’ve never poisoned anyone with the foods I’ve put by. I attribute that to the fact that I am a complete NAZI about always, always, always using the safest approved methods for canning fresh foods. Cutting corners during canning is like cutting your own throat. Now, all that said, I want to introduce you to a ‘new’ method of canning I tried recently. It is NOT an extension approved method, but I was so intrigued with the idea I had to at least try it. You can google ‘oven canning’ and find ten sources for it and ten against it. It’s not meant to be used for wet foods, or those with fats in them, only for dry goods.

I like to buy foods in bulk because when I do, I’m supporting a small, locally owned business, packaging is greatly reduced, and because it’s usually more cost efficient to do so, both in terms of price per unit and in terms of environmental impact. The only con is having to store the stuff. I often store bulk items in five gallon food grade buckets, plastic lined tins, or gallon sized jars. My thinking is that by sealing some of those dry goods in smaller containers, (including the bags and boxes of¬† ‘regular sized’ products that I open) I can store them more easily on my pantry shelves and that those sealed jars will be far better at keeping oxygen, moisture and bugs out of the pantry, which are the big threats to any food. Please understand, I’m not depending on this method to make the food safe to eat later, I’m just hoping it will keep the already safe foods that I do keep in my pantry, fresh longer. That’s a big difference from canning fresh foods! This method is being touted as being able to keep food fresh for 10-20 years, but my plans are simply for 1-2 years, just like with my regular canned goods.

This method was just as easy as it looks. I sterilized and dried two dozen jars, set them upright on rimmed cookie sheets, and then filled the jars, leaving 1/2″ headroom. Putting them on cookie sheets keeps them stable while in the oven, catches any spills, and if breakage were to occur, would make it lots easier to clean up. I then placed the cookie sheets with the filled jars in a preheated 200 degree oven for one hour. Just before the hour was up, I simmered my lids and rings in a saucepan of water to sterilize them and to soften the rubber seals. After reading this tip online (and you know, if you read it on the internet it MUST be true ūüėČ ) I sterilized some USED lids that I had saved for a craft project and screwed them down tight with the rings, returning the jars to the oven for another half hour. I let everything cool there overnight, and this morning, voila! All but one jar had sealed, even though I’d used the recycled lids. I love being able to see at a glance what I’ve got stored in the jars! Now I’m planning to use some half-gallon canning jars that were given to me but that were too tall for my canner, to oven-can some whole grain flours, dog biscuits and the freshly ground grits and corn meal that I buy at the Farmer’s Market.

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The news is full of dire weather and climate change forecasts, predictions of food and energy shortages due to the prolonged drought in our western states, and rising prices because of it all. I’m certain our futures will be lived under dramatically changed circumstances and resilience is the key to improving our quality of life, regardless of all that. Using resources I already have on hand to keep food fresher longer (I’d LOVE to get away from a freezer altogether!) is just another form of resilience. And that’s awesome. Next up this summer: using this same technique in my solar oven!

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A Mid-Winter Festival of Bannocks, Roots, Seeds and Groundhogs

groundhog-day-groundhogA little history lesson today dear readers:¬† February 2nd was an important day in the Celtic calendar. This ancient holiday earmarked the midpoint of winter.¬† As winter stores of food began to be used up, Imbolc rituals were performed to ensure sufficient food supplies until the harvest six months later. Imbolc was a feast of purification for the farmers, and the name o√≠melc (“ewe’s milk”) is likely in reference to the beginning of the lambing season, when the ewes came into milk. Imbolc celebrations were marked by bonfires, special foods, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens~ perhaps a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day.¬† One of the special foods that was prepared for the feast was bannocks, or bannock bread. A blogger that I like to follow posted a recipe for these last summer and today was the day I finally tried my hand at it. These little breads were quite good!

Easy Bannocks

  • 1-1/2 cups¬†flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil or melted butter
  • 3/4 cup water

Measure dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Stir to mix.  Pour oil (or melted butter) and water and stir to make a ball.

Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface, and knead gently about 10 times.  Cut the dough ball into 4 equal balls and pat into a flat circles ~ 3/4 to 1 inch thick.

Cook in a greased frying pan over medium heat, allowing about 5-10 minutes for each side. Best when served hot.navajo-fry-bread

This is a perfect recipe to round out a meal that may be a bit on the lean side, and has ingredients that most of us have already on hand. (Other recipes suggest adding a bit of sugar or blueberries to the dough) They were more biscuit like than I imagined them to be, so next time I’m going to flatten them more, cook in less time and I imagine it will make more than four that way too. I’m going to try making them over a fire the next time we go camping! Imagine-hot bread when¬† you’re camping!

To go with our bannocks, I made a¬† stew of sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage and tomatoes simmered in a quart of¬† home-made veggie broth, all of which we’d produced ourselves, so the only thing store-bought was the peanut butter, soy sauce and spices that made this recipe from my favorite old Moosewood cookbook perfect for the affair!

As we ate this ‘root crop’ feast, we were reminded of how concerned over their stored food supplies the ancient Celts must have been at this time of year, hoping the rituals they performed during Imbolc would protect their food and their farmers and¬† see them through ’til spring. We were also very thankful that we live in a time when food supplies are available year ’round.

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To ensure my own crops were ‘sufficient to last until spring’,¬† I decided today was the day I’d go back to my plot at the community garden and dig those parsnips that I’d deliberately left behind, so I could see how they would fare with the minus zero temps we were expecting at the time. The parsnips were crunchy and in good shape!¬† They had actually begun to sprout new green growth underneath that 2″ layer of leaves I’d piled on!

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I found one more Imbolc-like reason to celebrate today:¬† Our annual seed order arrived in the mail AND a local nursery donated lots of seeds to our community garden, so there’s PLENTY to celebrate and look forward to!

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To everything there is a season… and for every purpose under heaven. During these dismal final weeks of winter, I sometimes have to look really hard for those signs, but they’re there! The sun was out just long enough this morning that when Phil the groundhog poked his head out, he saw his own shadow, so, according to the legend, spring will arrive early this year. If that’s not something to celebrate, nothing is! Join me next year for the SECOND ANNUAL IMBOLC FESTIVAL-you’re all invited!

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Frugal Friday-January’s over!!!

I spent most of this week just like last- trying to stay warm. In between times I cooked a fair amount, wrote some long overdue letters (on yard sale stationary and mailed them with ‘salvaged’ stamps~read on!), and did a lot of reading. Not too much excitement when it’s this cold.

Monday: Mailed my annual bundle of used greeting cards to St Jude’s Ranch. Children that live there use the card fronts (if they’re not written on) to recycle into new cards that they then sell to earn money. I wrote here about it last year, but I have a lot of new readers since then, so I thought it might be something they’d like to know about too.¬† Repurposing those cards is even better than recycling them, and makes me even happier when I can mail them for free. Yes, that’s right…this week I mailed the cards and a small package to my daughter, all free, because I keep getting things in the mail that don’t have their stamps canceled! And just to add frosting to the cake, I was even able to reuse the original envelopes that those uncanceled stamps were stuck to, which meant I didn’t have to peel off the stamps, nor buy mailing envelopes!¬† Postage savings: 8 stamps at the new rate of 49 cents each= $3.92 plus whatever new mailers might’ve cost me!

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Tuesday: After reading more than once about how the ongoing drought in California is forcing farmers to reduce their crops this year, and in some cases not plant at all, I decided that it would be prudent of me to increase my supply of almonds, which I truly enjoy eating as a healthy, out of hand snack almost daily. Sure enough, the price has already increased a bit, but not nearly as much as predicted so I stocked up and decided it was time to get out my Seal-A-Meal and vacuum seal them all in order to keep them fresh longer. Nuts will be stay fresh for 6-12 months in the freezer, but by sealing out all the oxygen they’ll last 2-3 years! Perhaps by then the drought will be over and almond growers won’t be forced to pay premium prices for the water their orchards need to survive. That is, if there are any bees left to pollinate them. ¬† Anyway, this sealer came in handy, and I even made up some snack-sized bags to throw in our backpacks when we go hiking or travel. I bought my sealer and several rolls of bagging plastic for $20 at a yard sale, so I know they can be found second-hand, but it seems to me it would be one of those things that could be part of a ‘tool lending library’ since they’re not used every day. Just sayin’…

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Wednesday: Made my second visit to a ‘Discount Grocery Store” near my home. If I’m very careful, I can find some good bargains, but most of their stuff is boxed, convenience type foods, canned goods and snacks, all things that I try to avoid. They did have a small section devoted to some healthier things like name-brand organic products, protein bars and milk shakes, along with many condiments and international style cooking sauces. There were fresh Pepperidge Farms breads and buns for 99 cents, and lots of bulk packages of frozen foods like fish, chicken and burgers too. I didn’t find any out of date items though, so I got a few things that really were rock bottom prices but I’m sure their inventory changes daily and you may not be able to find the same things I did. The point is, there are more and more of these discount stores popping up, and perhaps you might get lucky enough to find one in your town too. They’re certainly worth a try! The first time I visited this little store, it was summer, and they had a fair selection of fresh fruits and vegetables too, but not any this week. I didn’t take a picture, but I was able to buy a Nutella equivalent, Jif brand Hazelnut Butter,¬† for $1.00 a jar! I bought five jars to give to my daughter who loves the stuff, but can’t afford¬† what I thought was normally $3-4 a jar, even though I now see that Amazon is selling it online for $10.00¬† a jar! Savings: $45.00!!! (and now that I see that ridiculous price, I may go back tomorrow to pick up some more jars for her)

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Thursday: Stitched up a long tube of fabric cut from an old curtain, filled it with sand and used it to block the cold air coming into my bathroom from the unheated bedroom connected to it. I could’ve used grits, rice, buckwheat or kitty litter, but sand was what I had on hand. Yeah, I could’ve rolled up a towel too, to stuff underneath the door, but the tube can also be moved around to different doorways and is easier to ‘move out of the way’ when I do want to open the door, and it hangs over the knob when not in use.

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Friday: Found a brand new 3M scrubber in the street when I took my walk. I’ll cut it into 3¬† pieces (sharpening my scissors at the same time) and use them for scrubbing pots and pans. Savings: $2 or so for three scrubbies?

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That’s it folks! I may not have any Frugal Friday tips to share next week IF the weather warms and I get to be outside more. As important as I consider frugality is to our being able to live well on less, living a simple life that focuses on mindful consumerism and built-in resilience is even more so. Reduce, reuse, repurpose THEN recycle is what I strive for in all my buying decisions. For example, before I bought the Jif for my daughter, I called her and made her promise me that she’d wash the plastic jars when they were emptied and use them for storing things around her kitchen and apartment, or at the very least recycle them. Being the good recycling Nazi that I am, I’ll take pictures of the ways she finds to use them and include them in a future post. And as much as I like the convenience of sealing bulk-bought foods in smaller quantities I really HATE using rolls of plastic to do it. So, I’ve decided to try ‘Oven Canning’ to get the same results and I’ll be reporting on that method next week. What are YOU doing to “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without?” Please feel free to post your comments and ideas below, and to share this blog with anyone you think might enjoy it-or not ūüėČ



Frugal Friday- January 24, 2014

With the extreme cold, I’ve found myself staying home more, cooking a lot, and making some minor changes in order to stay warm without having a $400 electric bill. Maybe one of these tips will help you reduce your energy costs and keep your home cozier too!

Monday: It was a¬† pleasant day but I knew the cold was returning that night so I washed the car at the quarter car wash then brought it home to vacuum it. I also spent time in the sunshine, soaking up Vitamin D while cutting back all the frozen and dead leaves from my kale plants and reinstalling the plastic covered hoops that had blown off in the last ‘Polar Vortex’ (which is why they froze to begin with!). My hope is that they will resprout once things begin to warm up again. Gardening is always a learning experience, and this is just part of that. Savings: $2.50 for the vacuum job, and if the kale resprouts, it will seem quite valuable indeed, coming back from the dead and all. At the very least, the knowledge I gain in growing food is always invaluable.

Tuesday: I fixed my own food dehydrator!!! It was no longer putting out any heat, even though the fan was blowing. I took the back of the dryer off, found a loose wire that seemed to lead to a sheared-off doohickey. I called the toll-free number for the manufacturer, where I spoke with their tech guy, who diagnosed it as¬† needing a new thermostat. After trying to find the part online at a cheaper price than the $35 that was quoted me, I bit the bullet and ordered it and was able to install the new part with very little trouble. High Five! The dehydrator now works even better than it did when new so I spent a very cold day drying a bunch of apples that were beginning to shrivel in storage. Now I have a 3 lb coffee can FULL of dried apple slices to use in my daily oatmeal. Dehydrating foods is a practical and easy way to preserve fresh foods for long term storage, and actually retains more vitamins that other preservation methods. They take up much less storage space and weigh a lot less than canned or frozen foods, and if, like me, you have limited storage space, that’s a big plus. Savings: 15 lbs of organic apples=$30. Feeling of self sufficiency and competence: pricelessIMG_0131

Wednesday: The cold sets in…Michael made bread, using bread flour bought in a 25 lb sack for less than $9, 2 teaspoons of yeast bought in one pound foil-packed bags for less than $5 and a tsp of salt. Total cost per loaf: about 25 cents. But wait! The savings continue…while the baking stones preheated, I decided to use that time to bake some white and sweet potatoes on them, along with a pan of Shepherd’s Pie and a tin of egg shells (yes, egg shells are saved year round and dried; after drying them I grind them up for adding to my tomato and pepper planting holes each spring-doing so adds calcium and helps prevent blossom end rot).¬† The Shepherd’s pie and one loaf of bread made 6 servings, which fed us, along with some unexpected overnight company.¬† Then we enjoyed the company, along with the baked potatoes and some chicken and veggie leftovers the next day, finishing the impromptu meal with some summer-canned peaches for dessert. Heating the oven once yielded two loaves of bread, and two large meals. I’m already considering what other things I can cook while next week’s loaves are baking. Spinach lasagne maybe, more potatoes and a pan of macaroni and cheese perhaps? With just a little advance planning, cooking multiple meals offers time and energy savings.

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Thursday: The deep freeze continues…more time spent indoors, playing music, making soup, and dreaming of spring. I don my silk long johns underneath my clothes, and add more quilts to the bed. Heat pumps are notoriously ineffective in this kind of weather and we’ve found that by closing off unused rooms and dressing in layers we stay warmer. I stream free movies and hem pants while drinking herbal tea and staying by the gas stove.

Friday: Zero degrees overnight last night, and I’m feeling like I live in Antarctica instead of Tennessee. Michael dons his long johns. We bring in the old kerosene heater from the shed, and fill it with $4 a gallon fuel. Using it and the gas stove in the living room we stay toasty without having to use the heat pump much at all. Two weeks ago I went shopping for an electric space heater, but the cheapest I found was about $40. Instead, I bought one for six dollars at the thrift store. It’s running on low down in the cellar, keeping our water pipes from freezing.¬† I also installed some more foam insulators behind the wall switches and outlet plates, after buying a package of 14 for less than $2.¬† Savings: $34 on the heater and perhaps hundreds of dollars and much aggravation saved over NOT having frozen or burst water pipes. Feeling cozy: priceless.

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Frugal Friday-November 22nd

You know those thick plastic zippered bags that comforters, mattress pads and the like come in? Do¬† you save them without any idea in this world what use you’ll find for them, simply saving them because they’re ‘too nice to just throw away’? uh huh, me too.

Monday- Gave my youngest daughter my full stash of those bags for her to use for organizing her clothing and personal items. She lives in a studio apartment and has a VERY tiny closet and no other storage. She put her socks in one bag, underwear and bras in another, scarves and mittens in one, and her summer clothes in the others, hanging only her winter clothes in the tiny closet. Flip flops and sandals went in yet another bag. It even solved her important papers and receipts problems that were scattered everywhere BB (before bags)  Cost-$0      Savings-Sanity is priceless

Tuesday-  This idea occurred to me last month when  I was fighting a HERD of fruit flies so I repeated it this week: I run white vinegar through my coffee pot about once a month to remove lime and scale deposits that build up over time. I poured the hot vinegar after it had done its first job of cleaning the pot, down the drains in the kitchen and bathrooms, which is where a lot of the little fruit flies originate, effectively killing two flies birds with one stone.

Wednesday– Darned my socks! Savings: About $2-$4 for a new pair but I really had fun using a lightbulb as a ‘darning egg’ and it made the finished job much neater. I still have two more pairs to darn so I’m saving a fair amount of money and resources by learning this technique.

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Thursday– Repaired my electric stove burner by applying JB Weld (wayyy better than duct tape ;D) to the broken metal bracket that supports the eye from underneath the burner, clamped it with a stiff little clip I’d found out in the alley behind my house a month or so ago and voila! After setting up overnight, it’s good as new.¬† Savings: $14.47 plus shipping from Amazon

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Friday– I like to buy in bulk whenever it’s prudent to do so. It saves me money, trips to the store and excess packaging. We’re blessed in our region to have several places that we can buy in bulk; the Mennonite-owned store in Chuckey sells spices and all manner of staples- I’ve bought oats, rice and dried beans in 25-50 lb sacks, at no extra charge to me, that they simply add to their weekly order. I also buy bulk rice at ‘The Stock Pot”, an Asian market close by, and loose tea by the pound at the Indian foods store. Then of course, Sam’s Clubs and Costcos are located all over the country. I mention this now for this reason: we’re entering the season of ‘large popcorn tins’. I’ve gotten several of them from Freecycle, line them with a plastic bag and fill them with dry goods. They provide rodent proof storage and stack well too.

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I still hope to convey to you that the point of these posts on frugality isn’t JUST about saving money. They’re often about saving our earth’s resources as well, and developing a mindset of making do or repairing, rather than always finding our solutions to life’s little daily issues by ‘buying’ a solution. Developing skills and exercising creativity embolden me to try things I might not’ve even considered in the past. I try to remember: New isn’t necessarily better, nor is more.



Good Investments

Yesterday was our first taste of winter here in NE TN -some of the higher elevations close by had snow flurries and even a bit of sleet! The gray skies and windy conditions forced us to turn on the gas fireplace stove, immediately drawing¬† the cat and dog in close. We picked the remaining tomatoes and then brought the baskets and bins of fresh produce from the porch inside to the pantry to protect it all from tonight’s expected low temperatures. We’ve got two cases of apples to store away, along with onions, grinding corn, butternut and spaghetti squashes, red, yellow and white potatoes and sweet potatoes all cured and waiting for the real cold to move in before we begin eating them daily. You know, when that time that comes after the Farmer’s Market closes next month when there’s very little fresh, local produce available, all these root veggies will be combined with whatever greens and Brassicas we have under the hoops to make lots of great meals. All this food was grown organically on good soil and is full of vitamins and minerals. Soil and compost building is a ‘good investment’ in successful gardening and the resulting fruits and veggies are¬† ‘good investments’ in our health and future well-being.

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Every single person that has seen Michael since he’s undergone his cancer treatments has commented, “Well you look good!” Even though his body’s been completely poisoned with the chemotherapy and ravaged by the radiation, he pulled through easier than many his age do and we are certain it’s because he was always investing in good health, even though all the while that damn tumor was growing undetected. Eating healthful foods and getting exercise every day may in fact be the best investment he’s ever made. This picture was made a week ago.

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I’m glad the government shutdown was discontinued and the debt ceiling raised, but I think we all know it’s temporary. A friend remarked the other day that she has never EVER tended her garden with as much care as she has this year. Why? I think she’s simply being prudent and wise based on her own observations of how precarious our current economic system is. If ever, in the course of our lives, there was a time to plant food and learn a craft or skill, build a pantry and invest one’s money in one’s life, it is now. I recently offered a talented friend use of my washer and dryer twice a month to do her laundry in exchange for giving me advanced bass lessons while her clothes get clean. Michael and I make our ‘mad money’ by playing with a local band. The better musicians we are, the more likely we are to be hired to play. (AND learning to play any instrument is right up there with learning a foreign language and doing brain exercises as ways to keep sharp as we age) Plus, we have so much fun playing music!¬† I consider the trade another ‘good investment’.

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¬†Get to know your neighbors–you’ll need each other as shortages force us to relocalize. Work toward establishing new, more community-based economies.¬† Last week I traded a neighbor some of my fresh organic veggies for a big sack of his pecans. He feels like he got the best end of the bargain, but so do I. That’s what I call win-win. In the business world, networking with others in your line of work is considered important for success. The same holds true in our private lives. Volunteering for your favorite charity, sharing space in the community garden, even joining a church or club are all great ways to network and make friends. Our church community has rallied around us during Michael’s illness and we’ve felt uplifted and empowered by their support. Many studies have proven that a strong social network of friends can stave off depression, dementia and other illnesses. Building those relationships are ‘good investments’ for everyone concerned!

I think by clearly envisioning the joyful, healthy, earth friendly lives we most want and then by making ‘good investments’ during this transition period that we are currently experiencing, we’ll be able to make that vision a reality.

PS I apologize in advance if some the words in this post are highlighted in red and take¬† you to an ad. I have no idea why it’s happening and will try to fix it in future posts.



A Pictoral: How I Spent My Summer Staycation

¬†Yesterday I wrote about what we can do to contribute to making our towns and cities a better place to live. Today is completely different;¬† I wanted to share with¬† you what I’ve been doing to contribute to making my own life and family a better place to live. I’ve been staying close to home this summer, trying to be on hand as a gopher caregiver to my husband while he’s going through his cancer treatments. Normally, our summers are filled with camping, gardening, hiking, and playing with the band…

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But this summer, we only got in a quick trip to Florida back in May…

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And an even quicker trip to Ohio to visit my ‘grandbabies’…

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before he was diagnosed with the Big C. So while Michael goes through the healing process, I’ve been growing and preserving the very best food¬† I can to help him win this fight, because I’m a firm believer in the adage…

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I’ve been whipping up some ‘Farmaceuticals’ for him to eat once he can enjoy food again. Like many of our modern medicines, all of mine come from the Earth. In my kitchen farmacy, I transformed¬† just-picked zucchini…

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into salted, dried chips…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

that are great for munching on right out of the jar

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Cabbage was fermented from this form…

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To this chow chow

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My heirloom Hopi Orange Lima beans started out small…

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Then after the pods were dry…

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I waited until a friend came over ūüėȬ† and while chatting over a cup of tea, I casually set the bowls of beans on the table, and they got shelled out in no time flat! Then the beans were stored in jars until they’re cooked this winter. The fresh beans aren’t nearly as pretty as these dried ones, but they both taste awesome with some of that chow chow on them!

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Recently a friend uttered those three special words we all love to hear: LOCAL, ORGANIC, and FREE. So I picked her concord grapes, and loved transforming them from this…

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To these Christmas gifts jars of jelly. Thank you Sara.

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This month, as the tomatoes have ripened, they’ve gone from the vine right into the jars and will be used in the months ahead as the basis for many pots of soup, pasta sauces, chilis and casseroles. The 50 jars I’ve canned this summer should last a year…IF I only use one jar a week!

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Luckily, onions, potatoes, garlic and winter squashes just needed to be stored away in a dark, dry, rodent- proof place…

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Drying some of the garlic allows me to keep it year round though…

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Old fashioned, plain green beans are Michael’s favorite and recent research shows they can be effective against cancer:

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In addition to all this canning, the freezer’s full of berries, chopped peppers, edamame, peas and pesto, with apples and pecans coming in next month. My young daughter once asked:

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How did you spend YOUR summer staycation?




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