It has been a tough year, winter over stayed its welcome by several months. In the past it would have been fine. I would have enjoyed the extended ski season and not fretted about my garden. This year was different – I am rehabbing from microfracture repair and in May at  the one year mark of my surgery I was just regaining full strength. But muscle strength was not the issue – I am still working on rebuilding sports confidence and I still have a long way to go before I am back. As a result of the confidence issues, alpine skiing and climbing  has just not been on the menu – yet. Instead of heading to the mountain I waited for spring to arrive so I could get back to one of my other loves – one that does not currently scare the crap out of me – gardening.

It was a cruel for spring to pass me by – the first set of seeds I planted in early spring were lost – to snow – in Portland – in March. WTF. The second set shivered in the ground and finally germinated – two months later. There is a silver lining – as small as it is – I did learn that containers help – they keep the soil warmer. Next year – more things in containers.

The farmers market appears to have suffered as much as me. Greens were really it until the last two weeks. June strawberries were late to the party, it is almost July and the strawberries are just arriving.

To make matters worse – it appears that asparagus opted not to stick around. The sign at the local farmer’s market noted – last weekend for asparagus. That just added insult to injury. With a heavy sigh – I grabbed four pounds and got to work . One of the reasons why I started canning – it extends the season.

Normally when I pickle asparagus I like a little thicker stalk – but given the grower’s “end of life” notice I could not be picky so the pictures here are all  skinny stalks. If you have never had pickled asparagus they pair well with thinly sliced ham – skinny stalks are not so good for that. However, these puppies look like they would be smashing in a bloody mary.

Recipe adapted from “Put ’em Up!” by Sheri Brooks Vinton- makes about 4 pints

4 # asparagus – washed and cut to fit jars

4 cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup water

2 TBS sugar (I used evaporated cane juice)

1/4 cup salt

4 garlic cloves

1 TBS each of mustard seed (I used brown mustard seed) and celery seed

1 tsp of peppercorns

Tightly pack the asparagus into pint (or pint equivalent) jars.* Bring the vinegar, water, salt and sugar to a boil and split the remaining ingredients among your jars. Pour boiling brine into the jars leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe rims clean, cap and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner – turn off stove and leave jars in hot water for another 5 minutes.  Let cool completely and check for seal.

*Note: I ran out of brine and had to quickly make more to fill my jars – lesson learned there is always room for more asparagus in your jar.

It has been a long time since I visited this blog and even longer since I actually posted. I have so many drafts sitting in the folder but none seemed worthy of the time and effort it would take to finish them up. I was doing food challenges but not taking pictures, instead I greedily ate up the duck ham, the carolina style pork and the bacon without taking a moment to record the steps it took to make them.  I would get the stray request to approve a comment, see someone else’s fabulous post, look at my pile of drafts and feel guilty.

  

Spring has now arrived in the pacific northwest and canning season is about to start – this blog started as a canning blog so it seemed like the right time to examine whether I wanted to continue. The answer was yes, but differently.

In the past year, I have learned that I have to limit fruits and sugars in my diet if I want to be healthy. I also learned that to feel really good I need to eat less factory oils (yes canola I am talking about you), grains and dairy and more pasture raised meat and vegetables. As a result of new food choices, I began to learn more about our food system, and the impact on the health and well-being of all of us. I recovered from two surgeries and returned to crossfit. I started curing meats as a result of Mrs. Wheelbarrow and the Yummy Mummy’s brilliant Charcuteapalooza challenge.  Finally, I took the plunge and removed the dog mudpit  lawn from our yard, creating more garden beds. I started canning because I was bored and stuck at home following knee surgery – I am now healed and have so much more in my life than canning.

Living a good life: eating well and sustainably, helping fight food insecurity, being active – that is my life. This blog is an extension of my life and a window into my world and needs to reflect that. Today I tended a garden that feeds me, my poppy broke out of its pod and we harvested our first strawberry. These simple things are worth celebrating.

As this challenge progresses you will quickly learn that I have two styles of cooking – very simple or extremely fussy.  For me there is no middle ground – I either need to be fed quickly (and therefore the meal will take less than 20 minutes) or I have all day to muck around in the kitchen. 

For some odd reason I seem to be picking our mid-week meals to blog about for the early part of this challenge.  This means simple dinners that I come up with by looking at what is in our fridge (as my husband asks … so what’s for dinner – do you have a plan??).  My game plan in these situations is always the same:  meat + vegetables + something interesting  = the meal.

"braising greens"

This meal follows that game plan – meat and vegetables, with oil and nuts (which were the “something interesting” for this meal).  Personally, I was quite excited to find the “braising greens” mixture at New Seasons, which are a blend of locally sourced kale, chard and other unidentified greens.  Like the mustard greens of last week – they were cooked up with a small amount of bacon.  I use locally sourced nitrate free bacon because it is less processed than regular bacon.    I use the “fact” that the bacon is nitrate free to justify having it in my paleo eating plan – but in all honesty I have what is probably an unhealthy obsession with bacon, which brings to mind this video…

Enough already about my addiction favorite food and on to this meal.  We cooked some pork brats (made fresh) with onions from Hermiston, OR and farmhouse ale brewed by my husband.  The greens were cooked with bacon and garlic and topped with locally grown hazelnuts. 

Simmering brats, onions and beer

Recipe for the Brats (greens recipe is basically the same as week one):

Heat olive oil on med-low in a cast iron skillet, add brats and beer (covering the brats).  Top with sliced onions and turn the heat to low.  Cook until beer is evaporated and brats are cooked all the way through (15-20 minutes).

This year I signed up for Urban Hennery’s Dark Days Challenge where you commit to eat at least one meal a week from SOLE (Sustainable Organic Local Ethical) ingredients from December 1 – April 15.  For this challenge I am following the standard rules – using a 150 mile radius for the definition of local and not worrying about SOLE for items like spices and oils. 

The only “twist” I am adding is that I am doing this challenge Paleo.  Paleo isn’t difficult – basically you eat meat and vegetables with a little bit of fruit and nuts/seeds.  To get the full benefit you should focus on high quality foods; grass-fed beef, free range organic chickens and eggs, lots (and I mean lots) of organic vegetables.  Eating paleo also means no gluten and other grains, dairy, legumes and sugar (ok I am making a small exception for the chutney I put up this summer that has small amounts of sugar in it).  I know this may put me at odds with some of the vegetarians out there and while I appreciate the moral arguments for moving to a plant-based diet, a vegetarian diet does not work for my body.   After gall bladder disease caused by gluten intolerance and post knee surgery inflammation issues – I had to find a different way.    If you want more information about paleo eating I suggest checking out Robb Wolf and the folks over at Whole Nine

With my ground rules out-of-the-way …. here’s how I hope to manage this challenge – first resource New Seasons Markets, a Portland treasure, which lets you know where your food is from.  We also have a  freezer full of grass-fed beef from the folks at Bald Hill Farms.   Finally, we have some stuff preserved and in cold storage from the summer – but the summer of 2010 in Portland wasn’t much of a summer so I will be getting creative with locally grown greens and adding cold frames to our vegetable garden as this challenge progresses (just waiting until we get enough daylight to actually grow something).  I can guarantee you will see at least one (if not more than one) recipe involving green tomato chutney because well … my tomatoes never ripened so we have lots of it.

On to week one of the challenge…for dinner we grilled up some flat-iron steaks  and made a saute of mustard greens (locally grown) and shallots (from our garden) with local nitrate free bacon.  The meal was finished off with some Hood River pears.

Flat iron steak - grass fed

Not much to this recipe – season the steak with salt/pepper and grill until your desired doneness is reached.  While steak is resting – heat up some olive oil in the same skillet, add in chopped bacon slices and cook until almost done, add in chopped shallots, wait 30 seconds and then the chopped greens.  Be careful – I had some flames shooting as the water on the greens hit the oil.  Also – this part goes fast – it doesn’t take long until the greens are just wilted – you do not want your greens cooked to the point of being gooey.  Remove from the pan and plate with the steak.  For two of us I used two small steaks, a full bunch of mustard greens, two slices of bacon and one shallot.

Lots of greens with just a touch of bacon to go with the steak

I am so ready for the November elections an impending zombie attack. 

I may not have canned enough this summer to make it all the way through the winter (thanks for nothing ’10 Portland summer) but I do have enough stocked up to survive a significant siege by brain eating zombies.  

So what’s on the menu if you find yourself at our house helping barricade doors during a night of the living dead? 

1 & 1/2 pints apple sauce

5  pints of green tomato chutney

1 pint of spicy peach chutney

4  pints corn relish

4  pints tarragon beans

4 pints dill pickles

4  pints bread and butter pickles

2 pints plum sauce

1 pint pickled peppers

1 & 1/2 pints peach rum jam

2 pints fig port jam

2 pints apples chile ginger preserves

1 & 1/2 pints plum jam

2 & 1/2 pints blackberry jam

1/2 pint jalapeno jelly

1 pint cherry black pepper jam

1 pint current jelly

1 pint spicy tomato jam

2 pints cherry port sauce

4 pints apricot/blackberry jam

1 & 1/2 pints sweet tomato jam

3 & 1/2 pints salsa verde