Thursday, September 11, 2014

Preserve the Harvest : Tomato Jam

Somehow I've completely neglected to mention my tomatoes - I have a ton! Its been one of the best tomato summers in years (if you discount the enormous spiders lurking among the vines waiting for me to get close enough to jump on me and eat me alive! Side effect of an unusually wet summer. M will be doing all the harvesting!). When we have a harvest this special, I like to make something a few notches fancier than plain old tomato sauce. This year - Tomato Jam. Tomato jam has a complex layering of sweet, savory, and spicy flavors that when paired with some goat cheese on a cracker really hits the spot when your winter menu's repetitive lack of zip is almost too much to bear. M's lovely aunts serves this as part of their fantastic Thanksgiving appetizer spread. Every year I dream about it, finally I stopped dreaming and looked up the recipe. 

This recipe is a slight adaptation from the Viking Easy Winter Tomato Jam recipe. I've adapted it to use fresh tomatoes, and to make a full dozen 1/2 pint jars.
Tomato Jam
6 pounds paste tomatoes
a few splashes olive oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh ginger
6 cloves chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
the juice of one lemon
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cumin
4 cinnamon sticks
salt and pepper to taste

First wash, seed, and skin the tomatoes, place in a large stock pot. Then peel and chop the ginger and garlic. I like to chop the red pepper flakes into this mix, so you are less likely to get a full flake of heat in one bite. Coat a medium sauté pan with a few splashes of olive oil then toast the garlic/ginger/red pepper combination unit fragrant and a bit browned.
Add the toasted aromatics to the tomatoes. Then add all of the lemon juice, brown sugar, cumin and cinnamon sticks to the tomatoes and cook on medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer.
(Hmmmm...its apparent that I've left a pretty big hole in the visual instructions here, sorry) Simmer 3-4 hours or until reduced by about 1/2. At this point I remove the cinnamon sticks and use the hand blender to puree into a smooth sauce texture. Alternately, you could just break up the big chunks of tomato with a wooden spoon for a more textured end result. Can or freeze as you would tomato sauce. Makes 12 half pint jars. 
I find one 1/2 pint jar of Tomato Jam, paired with a sleeve of water crackers, and 1/2 a log of chèvre serves 4 as a small gathering appetizer. Its also the perfect size for M and I to house in one sitting after the kids have gone to bed. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly : Chrysalis

When we last met our monarch caterpillar was munching away on fresh milkweed. Less than 24 hours after we found him he started wandering restlessly around his jar. We cut some sticks and put them in the jar so he would have a sturdy place to make the chrysalis. Silly us, naturally he was more concerned about safety than sturdiness. He chose the curled edge of a milkweed leaf instead. It makes perfect sense, but makes photographing with any consistency of format difficult, as the lush green leaf becomes crispier and more curled by the hour. Up to this point, all my caterpillar rearing information came from a book, which stressed the importance of the caterpillar becoming securely attached to his silk mat for a successful chrysalis. I didn't want to move him until the chrysalis was fully formed. I needn't have worried, a few seconds on the inter web tells me you can tape (that's right, TAPE) a chrysalis to just about anything!
He hung upside down overnight looking more or less like a wilting caterpillar, then with in a few hours turned into a chrysalis with the remnants of caterpillar feet.
Then a fully formed chrysalis, at which point I cut away the stem and unused leaves of the milkweed, and hung the whole thing from a pipe cleaner suspended over a big glass vase, so we could really examine it. 
We had read about the jewel like spots on the chrysalis. Reading and seeing are two very different things. Trust me, it is beautiful. There is an open V shape at the top in crisp black, with what looks like a line of gold leaf on top of it. There are gold flecks in an inverted U on one side.
...and at the bottom of the other making it look like it has eyes on the bottom. Based on our observations this is the important side. See that small black dot at in the center just under the first crease where the chrysalis tapers to a point?
See that spot now. After 10 days the butterfly started to separate from the skin of the chrysalis. The streaks of black grew from that point until the whole thing was black.
Then, bam. On the 12th day of chrysalis we went off to pick J up at school one day, and when we got back we had a butterfly. That's right he hatched (the proper term is eclose) If you care to follow me on instagram, and risk hiving to look at knitting and sewing photos too, you'll get advanced notice of this sort of thing. My inter web monarch information source of choice says a butterfly that hatches in the afternoon and safely be released the following day. Fingers crossed that they are right. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Thrill of the Hunt

the hunt for monarch butterflies.

Linking up with Soule Mama's This Moment.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly : Caterpillar

While in the pasture last week my little eagle eyed thing finder found a preying mantis (which he is a bit shy of as they have a tendency to land on his head), and a monarch caterpillar.
"How could he not?" you say. "That thing is enormous!" you think. Let me remind you what the pasture looks like. Yes, it's an impossibly plump, brightly patterned needle, but its still a pretty big haystack.
This is not our first monarch caterpillar. After finding our last caterpillar without much effort, I naively thought I could find a chrysalis in the wild just as easily. Two years later, I'm still looking. After a few second of moral debate in my head, we took this on home with us. He's already been to Philadelphia once, and he is in a jar on our kitchen table as we speak!
More of our Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly

Monday, August 25, 2014

Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly : Mating

This is a story of nothing to do. No where to go, no place to be, nothing to be pick up, or dropped off, no errands to run. Just a day to be, and see, and enjoy each other's company. My favorite kind of day. Its no surprise that on just such a day we saw lots of butterflies.

I have given a great amount of thought to how exactly I could chase down a monarch caterpillar, and more still to how I could find another egg. On the day last year when we so naively walked up into the pasture and quickly found what I am fairly certain was a monarch egg on the underside of a leaf (was it really an egg?? All indications are that it was, except that it was June and that seems early. Why didn't I save it?!?) it all seemed so easy. But the results can not be replicated. I have been hatching a plan to follow a female butterfly, and not let her out of my sight until I am sure she has laid some eggs. It would seem that finding a butterfly on a broody day would be a whole lot easier than looking for a pin head in a pasture.
We (me, the kids, and my father too) saw our first monarch on the farm around August 1st. It seems a bit late, but then it's been on the cool side this year, and Mexico isn't getting any closer, so there are plenty of reasons they would be a little late. Since then we've seen a handful fluttering around. One day last week we caught a glimpse of a female. In my quest to put each of the Monarch's significant milestones right under my my kids little noses so they can't help but learn something whether they realize it or not, I went to get my camera so we could chase it. By the time I came back out of the house, there were two...attached. That's right. Mating Monarchs!
The butterflies continued in this way for over an hour-ish. Sometimes standing still, usually on a thistle flower, and sometimes flying between thistle plants, but always attached, and the male (shown more upright) was feeding the entire time.
Finally the two separated, and we stalked the female for another hour or two, but then lost track of them, so we never actually got to follow the female up into the milkweed in the hope of her laying eggs. How do I know this is a female? It doesn't have the little black dashes on the top of its wings that the male has. Want to know as much as this braggy betty about butterflies? Go to the library where they give knowledge away for free. My favorite kid friendly monarch reference says that the female can mate with several males before laying her eggs so I'm gonna assume that takes some time.
Here we are one tiny step closer to first hand experience with the Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly, but with no caterpillar or egg. The kids seem to enjoy the hunt, and they sure look cute when they declare their independence from the confines of the yard and start heading up the hill into the pasture. Tomorrow I'll show you what they found.