Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Too Many Pickles?

In my quest to eat locally, I am starting to go a bit overboard with the home canning. So far this year I have canned strawberry-rhubarb jam, blackberry jam, banana pepper relish, salsa, and now...more pickles than we could ever eat.

Ranch Foods Direct (2901 N. El Paso St., Colorado Springs) hosted a free pickling class on Saturday taught by Rachel Zimmerman. Rachel was the youngest of 10 children, and one of her earliest memories is sitting on a stool as a toddler, entrusted with the responsibility of placing the peach halves into the bottom of gallon jars; her little hands were the only ones that fit. In class, we made a batch of dill pickles, and I was eager to volunteer as her assistant so I could get hands-on experience.

Her recipe comes from a vintage Kerr canning book, no longer in print.

Dill Pickles - Fresh Kosher Style

36 to 36 cucumbers, 3-4 inches long
3 cups vinegar
3 cups water
6 tablespoons pickling salt
Fresh or dried dill
Mustard Seed

Wash the cucumbers. Make a brine of the vinegar, water and salt. Bring to boil. Place a generous layer of dill, 1/2 to 1 clove of garlic (sliced) and 1/2 tablespoon of mustard seed in bottom of each clean quart jar. Pack the cucumbers into the jars. When the jars are half filled with cucumbers add another layer of dill and complete the packing of the jars. Fill the jars to within 1/2 inch of the top with the boiling brine. Put cap on jars, screwing the band firmly tight. Process 15 minutes* in boiling water bath. Pickles will shrivel some after processing. They will later plump in sealed jar.

*Add 1 minute processing time for each 1000 feet elevation above 1000 feet. For Colorado Springs residents, this would be 21 minutes processing time.

Rachel showed us a couple of variations to this recipe. You can add a layer of cherry or grape leaves in the top of the jar to add crispness (that's right, just go pluck a few leaves off your cherry tree or grape vine). Another option is to add some sliced fresh ginger root for a spicier flavor. I did both of these variations in my pickles.

This is only one of the boxes of cucumbers, washed and ready to go with a bowl of fresh dill.

Now, you may be wondering why I made so many pickles for a small family of 3. First of all, I had no idea how many cucumbers were in each 25 pound box being sold at the farmers' market. I went up to one stand, and they were selling the most beautiful, small cucumbers for $20/box. The neighboring farmer may have overheard our conversation because when I approached, she said they were selling cucumbers for $20 as well but she would give me a box for $15. I paid for my cukes before realizing that this farm stand was selling larger ones, and I really wanted small ones so I could can them whole. Too embarassed to "return" my produce, I went back to the first stand and bought another box. I thought, maybe I'll get a couple dozen quarts out of this and I'll have enough for Christmas stocking stuffers. A whopping 38 quarts later, I still had half a box to go...I called my neighbor and begged her to take them off my hands. I didn't care if she threw them away, as long as they were out of my sight! (She made bread and butter pickles).

These are a bit shriveled and will plump up later.

Thanks, mom, for coming to help out when I realized I was in over my head! Poor Baby would have been rather neglected otherwise. I can't taste the pickles for 6-8 weeks, so let's just hope that they're delicious...or I'll have a bunch of unlucky Christmas gift recipients!

Since this is my first year doing pickles, the start-up costs are a bit higher than they'll likely be next year (for example, I will not have to buy the jars again, only lids). Also, I'm including the cost of all 50 pounds of cucumbers even though I only used about 37 pounds.

  • 38 new wide-mouth quart jars (on sale for $11/12 jars): $34.83
  • Cucumbers (50 pounds): $35.00
  • Pickling Salt: $1.29
  • Fresh dill ($2 each, 3 bunches): $6.00
  • Apple Cider Vinegar ($4.39 each, 2 gallons): $8.78
  • Mustard Seed (estimated, I lost the reciept): $5.00
  • Fresh ginger root ($3.99/lb, 0.5 pounds): $2.00
  • Garlic (homegrown): FREE
  • Cherry leaves (homegrown): FREE
Total cost per quart: $2.44

I believe that store-bought pickles are about $3 -$4 for a 24-ounce jar. The lowest sale price that I've seen for pickle spears is $2.50 each. Since a quart jar is 32 ounces, that would cost approximately $3.33 per quart. So, I saved a little bit of money and now have a year's supply of locally grown, mostly organic pickles (I did not buy organic vinegar or mustard seed). Next year, I'll save even more when I recycle those canning jars. Maybe it was worth it to completely trash my kitchen for a day?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Local Restaurant: Bird Dog BBQ

Hopefully, most of you are already aware of this AMAZING restaurant. Just in case someone out there has never tried it, I thought I'd do my best to spread the word! Bird Dog BBQ has two locations: one in the King Soopers shopping center on Stetson Hills and Powers, and another in the Shops at Briargate. Nick and I go here occasionally, but it's been a while, so I was surprised to see the stickers on their door celebrating their title as "Best BBQ Colorado Springs" in 2007, 2008, and 2009 (awarded by the readers of The Gazette).

I'm not a huge BBQ fan, in general -- usually every item on the plate is slathered in the same super-sweet sauce -- but I will never tire of Bird Dog. I stopped by to pick up lunch for my in-laws who were visiting today, and I ordered just the simple pork BBQ sandwich ($4.45). I love how they serve the BBQ sauce on the side, so you can determine how much to add and whether you want mild or spicy. Of course, you can't beat their BBQ beans, coleslaw, texas toast, and other sides (although I've never tried the fried okra). Nick always orders their "Doghouse" meal ($8.25), which sounds a bit ridiculous: an open-faced sandwich featuring brisket or pork and hot link polish sausage covered in beans and cheese. Yum!

Oh, and they also offer catering!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Farmers' Market Find: Basil and Purple Potatoes

I forgot to mention the best finds from the farmers' market this week! Here ya go:

I've been waiting all summer for some decent basil. I refuse to buy the little $3 plastic container of 5 shrimpy basil leaves at King Soopers. Last year, I came home from the very last day of the summer's farmers' markets with two HUGE bunches of fresh basil. They were gorgeous! I left them in the fridge for a weekend away, intending to make pesto when I got home, only to come back to a brown slimy mess. I read that basil and other fresh herbs are in season in August in Colorado Springs, so I've been scouring every market stand for the last few weeks. One farmer mentioned that all of his basil was destroyed by hail this year. Finally, this week, one stand had some beautiful basil. I bought two bunches ($2 each) and stocked my freezer with some bright green pesto. If you read as many cooking magazines as I do, you already know to freeze pesto in ice cube trays, then pop the cubes out into freezer bags so you can remove as much or as little as you'd like throughout the winter.

Have you ever had a purple potato? I hadn't! Maybe it was blue. Whatever the color, it was definitely tasty! I bought a basket of six large potatoes (russet potato size) for $3. I was surprised to find that the inside is just as colorful as the skin! Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable Miracle mentions that these blue potatoes contain the same antioxidants that give blueberries their claim to fame as a Superfood in addition to the typical potassium and whatnot found in a regular potato.

I made my mom's "Tortilla de Patatas" recipe from her time living in Spain. It's not an exact science: dice one large potato, cook it in vegetable oil in an 8" skillet, then drain off the oil. Crack 6 eggs into a bowl, stir with a fork, then add the potato and some salt and stir. Pour it all back into your skillet and cook until done (like a frittata). Baby is eating her third serving as I type this! Thanks for the recipe, mom!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Farmers' Market Challenges

You know how I'm trying to shop locally as much as I can, visiting farmers' markets every week? Well, it can be a bit overwhelming elbowing my way through the crowded market, balancing boxes of tomatoes on top of the baby stroller, making quick purchasing decisions. I've made some mistakes, so I thought I'd pass on a few tips I've learned in case it's helpful to anyone:
  • Not all produce sold at a farmers' market is locally grown. Sure, some markets (in other cites, and I believe the Tejon market in the Springs) have regulations requiring all products to be locally grown and possibly organic, but every market I've been to in Colorado Springs has had no such rules. Most stands have a variety of produce with signs indicating whether it's "homegrown" or from Colorado (or a specific region, such as Pueblo or Rocky Ford). If the sign doesn't specifically indicate its origin, then you can bet it's from California or further. One exception is if the stand has a large sign showing the name and location of the farm, with the assumption that every item sold there is homegrown.
  • Don't be afraid to inspect the produce. Last week, I was excited to find Rocky Ford cantaloupes for $1 at one stand, while every other stand charged $1.50-$2. I paid a couple bucks and then went to choose my melons, only to find that every single one had soft spots; obviously, this was an assortment of "seconds". Many stands sell "seconds" for cheaper than perfect produce, but do not indicate why it is cheaper on their signs.
  • Along those same lines, don't assume that there will be any consistency from week to week. Last week, I bought a 20 pound box of the most beautiful tomatoes I've ever seen for $15. Well, I botched the tomato sauce I tried to make, so I went straight back to that stand today to buy another box. Today, I discovered after buying them that the tomatoes were not quite ripe and not nearly as perfect. They'll still work, but I may have shopped around more at the other stands if I had taken the time to inspect the tomatoes before paying. I was too chicken to try to return them, too.
Does anyone else have tips about finding good deals at farmers' markets? Or a favorite market in Colorado Springs? I would love to hear it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

And the Winner Is...

The winner of the notNeutral Season Tree Wall Decal from All Modern Baby is....

jessica said...

okay so maybe I found a way to squeeze into my next post for tomorrow.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hiking at Florrisant Fossil Beds

First of all, don't forget to enter the All Modern Baby giveaway going on this week! Just leave a comment on Monday's post for a chance to win the cute notNeutral Season Tree Wall Decal - perfect for a child's bedroom or playroom. The deadline to enter is Monday, August 17 at 11:59 p.m.

notNeutral 14432600 - Season Tree Decals - notNeutral 14432600

It turns out that it's nearly impossible to find a stroller-friendly hike in our region. Please let me know if you are aware of one! I did find a hike in Florrisant, about a one-hour drive from my home on the Northeast side of town. Take Hwy 24 west from I-25 past Divide, then turn left on Teller County Road 1. Florrisant Fossil Beds, a national park, is located just a couple miles down this road on the West side of the street.

We were joined by my friend Angie and her beautiful 3-year-old daughter (our photographer was sure to get a close-up of my camera case in the foreground). We decided that it would be best to find a hike that is stroller-friendly. The trails at Florrisant Fossil Beds are all wide, relatively smooth, and have little or no elevation gain, so it was perfect for our kiddos.

We walked the Petrified Forest Loop (1 mile) and the Ponderosa Loop (.5 miles). Dispersed throughout the park are several petrified redwood stumps. In the one pictured above, there are still a couple rusted saw blades stuck into the stump where people once tried to move it. We came across several educational signs describing the prehistoric landscape, animals, and plants. Kids can become a Junior Ranger by following a workbook provided at the Visitor's Center, earning a badge at the end of the program.

Baby fell asleep at the exact same time that she does every day at home.

There is a $3 fee per person (over age 16), but they have No Fee days coming up this weekend, August 15-16. Check out their website for information about guided nature walks and fossil evacuation demonstrations.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Giveaway from All Modern Baby!

All Modern Baby | Modern Baby Furniture, Stokke Strollers, Bugaboo Strollers, & Dwell Baby Bedding
Imagine my delight when I was contacted by the folks at All Modern Baby about hosting a giveaway! I had way too much fun browsing their website trying to decide on an item to give away. Wouldn't this peel-and-stick wall decal look adorable in your child's room? The set includes 44 decals, all made of removable and reusable vinyl. Have fun positioning the layout with your little ones. Just leave a comment below for a chance to win it!

notNeutral 14432600 - Season Tree Decals - notNeutral 14432600

All Modern has a fantastic selection of modern furniture and home accessories from many leading designers. Part of CSN Stores, All Modern is just one of over 200 retail sites that offer a diverse array of products from office furniture by Herman Miller to wall sconces by Murray Feiss. All Modern Baby features really cute and modern nursery furniture, strollers, decor, baby gear, and toys. Their products are unique, high quality, and in many cases, eco-friendly. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Prince Lionheart - Wheely Bug Ladybug Ride-On Toy
Prince Lionheart Wheely Bug Ladybug Ride-On Toy

ecotots - Project Table and Chair Set in Leaf Green
ecotots Project Table and Chair Set in Leaf Green

Koko Company - Zoo Cotton 31" Whale
Koko Company Zoo Cotton 31" Whale

Here is your chance to win the notNeutral Season Tree Decal, worth $54! All you need to do is leave a comment here with your full name. If you are submitting your comment under "anonymous", please also include your email address so that I can notify the winner. Just for fun, if you want you can answer this question in your comment (but you don't have to):

How do you bring a love for nature into the lives of the young people you care about?

For a second entry, spread the word about this giveaway somehow and leave a second comment about what you did (for example, link it in your Facebook status, Twitter, or your own blog).

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This giveaway is open to all residents of the U.S. and Canada and will run from Monday, August 10 through Monday, August 17 at 11:59 p.m. The winner will be chosen using and announced on Tuesday, August 18. Good luck!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Locavore Aspirations

I realize that half of this post is in black text and that November was left off the chart, and I'm sorry, but it's past my bedtime and I'm not a perfectionist!

Starting a couple weeks ago, my grocery shopping errand became a bit more pleasant. I've been able to completely skip the produce department. No, my garden is not quite providing our family with all of our vegetables (nor will it ever). And no, I'm not raising Baby as a carnivore. Instead, I've been shopping with more of a "locavore" attitude: trying to find local sources for some of our food. It turns out that fresh produce is a great place to start. Look at how plentiful the month of August is in Colorado Springs:

Crop Calendar
Chart courtesy of the Colorado Farm and Art Market website.

I've been reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and am feeling inspired to seek out locally grown foods. Those winter fauxmatoes at the grocery store with their hard, pink flesh don't even compare to a fresh red tomatoes picked off the vine this morning. I'm starting to reconnect with the seasons; it sounds obvious, but it's easy to forget that strawberries need to travel quite a distance to arrive in Colorado in January.

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of getting to my point; I've been visiting the farmers' markets every week and I'd love to pass on the treasures I find to you. Maybe I'll share a recipe I've tried using local, seasonal ingredients. I'll pass along the recipes I use for home preserved treats like salsa, jams, and pasta sauce. Or I might just feature a couple of really great deals I found that week. I hope to encourage other Colorado Springs folks to support our local farmers by buying some produce directly. Here is a schedule published by the Gazette.

Homegrown on Tejon
10 a.m.-1 p.m., June 15-Oct. 12
300 block of North Tejon Street
Memorial Park
7 a.m.-1 p.m., June 22-Oct. 5.
Pikes Peak Avenue and Union Boulevard

Fountain Farmers Market
3-7 p.m., June 16-Sept. 29
City Hall, Ohio and Main Streets

Colorado Farm & Art Market
3-7 p.m., June 10-Oct. 7.
America the Beautiful Park, 126 Cimino Drive, 640-6154
Manitou Springs Midweek
4-8 p.m., June 10-Aug. 26.
Soda Springs Park, 1000 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 358-7845
Noon-6 p.m. June 10-Oct. 14.
Sundance Mountain Lodge, 1865 Woodmoor Drive

Memorial Park
7 a.m.-1 p.m., June 22-Oct. 5.
Corner of Pikes Peak Avenue and Union Boulevard

Woodland Park
7 a.m.-1 p.m., June 12-Sept. 25.
The corner of Center and Henrietta streets
woodlandparkfarmersmarket .com, 687-9053 or 689-3133

Colorado Farm & Art Market
9 a.m.-1 p.m., June 13-Oct. 10.
The Margarita at PineCreek, 7350 Pine Creek Road, 640-6154
Doherty High School
7 a.m. to 1 p.m., June 27-Oct. 3
4515 Barnes Road
8 a.m.-1 p.m., June 6-Oct. 10.
481 Colorado 105 (behind Starbucks)
Old Colorado City
7 a.m.-1:30 p.m., June 6-Oct. 31.
24th Street and West Colorado Avenue
8 a.m.-noon, June 13-Sept. 26.
Briargate Parkway and Chapel Hills Drive (Salsa Brava parking lot)
Heritage Farmers' Market
9 a.m.-11:30 a.m. June 13-Sept. 26
East parking lot at Cheyenne Mountain Junior High School
1200 W. Cheyenne Mountain Road

Palmer Lake
10 a.m.- 2 p.m., July 5-Oct. 11
On the lake at the gazebo in Palmer Lake 213-3323

Last week, I came home with a variety of veggies but was really impressed by the Torpedo Pepper Sausage from Torpedo Farms in Pueblo. I grilled them to accompany whole wheat hot dog buns one night, and tossed the leftovers in a Cheesy Sausage Pasta Bake the next day.

Today I discovered some Rocky Ford cantaloupes for $1 each along with the ingredients for a (hopefully delicious) banana pepper relish. I'll give it a try and if it's as good as I hope it is, I'll be sure to pass along the recipe.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Local Restaurant: Heart of Jerusalem Cafe

Added 8/6: I just realized that I forgot to mention the prices...that yummy sandwich was only $5.99! Also, I went back this week and they do have air conditioning. It must have just been broken the first time I went.

I just want to give a quick plug for a local restaurant that we recently discovered. The Heart of Jerusalem Cafe has two locations: one on Austin Bluffs and Barnes and another downtown near Bijou and Cascade. I have to admit, we went on a super-hot day and I wasn't thrilled that they didn't have air conditioning. The food sure made up for it, though! I ordered their Heart of Jerusalem Sandwich. Picture a gyro; you know, pita bread, beef, lamb, lettuce, tomatoes, feta cheese, and tzatziki sauce (called gazaziki sauce here). Now add grilled chicken breast, banana peppers, and hummus. Drooling yet? Now flatten it on a grill (like a panini). Absolute perfection!

They have a variety of Middle Eastern cuisine that I'm sure is just as tasty as the signature sandwich.

Check out their website for a coupon for FREE baklava!

Enjoy! These local mom-and-pop establishments often have such unique flavors. They thrive on happy customers (like me) spreading their name through word-of-mouth. Next time you go out, consider skipping the national chain and try something local!

And please, if any Springs folks have restaurant recommendations, please, please tell me! My favorite hobby is eating out (yes, I think that should count as a hobby) and we're always looking for new places to try.

Pictures courtesy of the Heart of Jerusalem Cafe website.