Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Grandma Wolff

I wrote this for a church service given by our Women's Spirituality Group, when we were asked to honor our ancestors, to introduce member of our congregation to someone important to us.  I thought you might enjoy meeting my Grandma Wolff through these words.

I want to introduce you to my Grandma Wolff.  She was born Helen Kathryn Ploch around 1883 and married my grandfather, Charlie Wolff, in 1907.   Grandma had four pregnancies, the first, a boy, was stillborn, then came my mother, then she miscarried (another boy), and completed the family with my Aunt Ruthie.

Grandpa was in love with my grandma throughout their whole marriage, or so I was told.  She was beautiful and had long black hair.  During the '20s she decided to have it bobbed cut short to the neck in back, what was called a shingle and when Grandpa saw her, he cried out, My God, my God, woman, what have you done?  And then he sat down and cried real tears.

Grandpa died on my sixth birthday, and Grandma was not in a financial position to live alone.  So she spent half her time with us and half with my Aunt Ruthie's family.  We argued over who got Grandma for Christmas.  We loved having her with us.  If there was friction with her daughters, we never saw it.  I remember the three of them canning and making soap and stuffing sausage in the summer kitchen.  I loved the sound of their laughter and the occasional argument as they worked together.

Being close to Grandma was a treat.   I loved how she smelled, and the sound of her voice so soft and gentle.  She liked to dress up and had several sets of matching earrings and broaches, just costume jewelry, but always in good taste.  I have some of her jewelry, as well as a tiny tray for trinkets that sat on her dresser.  It has a picture in the bottom of it of Starved Rock, which is where she and Grandpa went on their honeymoon.  I didn't care about getting anything else, because none of the other things reminded me of her the way the small tray and the earrings and broaches did.

I remember the feel of her hands stroking my forehead as I lay with my head in her lap.  I would take hold of her hand, feeling the paper thin skin, and Id push on the veins on the back of her hand and watch them pop back up, quite fascinated by it.  Now I look down at my hands and see the same thing on my own.

My kids don't have any real memories of my grandmother, although both were born before she died in 1967.   To them, she is a flat person in a frame on a wall, and the memories of her are all second hand.

My mother was the last of her generation, and now that she is gone, my cousins and siblings and I are all that stand between our children and death.  I know that my life is dwindling down, and I'm okay with that.  I've had a good life, and Grandma Wolff was a big part of that. 

Although I'm not looking forward to death, I can accept it.  But there is one thing that bothers me.  When I am gone, who will remember my Grandma Wolff?

August 24, 2008

Monday, September 19, 2011

My new salsa recipe

The garden is overflowing with tomatoes and hot peppers.  So that means it's time to be making and canning salsa.  I have three different recipes that I have made in the past.  Yesterday I decided to combine the best of all three and crank up the hot peppers, since I like may salsa pretty hot.

Here's the finished product.

Here's how to make it.


This makes eight quarts, seven to preserve for later and one for right away.  You will also have about a quart and a half of spicy tomato juice.

I started with 24 lbs. of heirloom tomatoes, many different colors and types.  I measured as I worked so that I could keep my proportions if the recipe turned out well.  All who have tasted it have given it high marks.  So anyway, my 24 lbs. of tomatoes yielded 36 cups of peeled and diced tomatoes, after draining.

Set up your work space – wash ten quart jars with hot soapy water and set aside.  Get out your cold pack canner and fill about a third full with water.  Place your lids and rings in a pan large enough to hold all of them with at least an inch of water over the top of them.

Wash and dry your funnel, jar lifter and lid magnet.  You can buy these items in a kit if you don't already have them. They come in a kit with all three pieces, and some have a fourth piece for making sure you have all of the air bubbles out of the jar before sealing.  Ball Utensil Set For Preserving And Canning - 4 Piece is available at Kmart.  Meijer's has a lot of canning supplies and they probably have them there as well.

Put a large pan of water on stove and bring to a boil.  Place a large bowl of ice water on the counter near the pan of boiling water, along with a slotted spoon.  You will need a very sharp paring knife and a medium bowl for the peels, cores and any bad spots you cut out of the tomatoes.  Also, I keep a small bucket nearby to dump the bowls of peels into.  Set a two-cup glass measuring cup in your work area.

Set a large strainer over a stock pot to strain the tomato pieces, especially if you are using tomatoes other than paste tomatoes, since they are a little too juicy.  I like my salsa to be pretty chunky, so I drained mine.   I'll tell you what to do with that juice at the end of this recipe.

Lastly, put an extra large stockpot on the stove for cooking your salsa before bottling it.  It should be about a three gallon pot, must be at least 2-1/2 gallons to hold everything.  If you don't have one that big, then use two.  But put everything into a large pan (a clean plastic dishpan will work) so that the ingredients are well distributed before putting into the two separate pots.

Okay, so let's begin.  Wash and drain your tomatoes as you go - I put about a fourth of them at a time into a sink of water, then take a few at a time out of the water to drain.

Your water is boiling on the stove.  Get the timer out, since you don't want mushy tomatoes, and you only need them in the boiling water for one minute to loosen the skins.  It's worth the bother, since it is hard to estimate one minute when you are working on so many things at once!  Put about six to eight tomatoes into the boiling water and set your timer for one minute.  When it beeps, put the tomatoes directly into the ice water, put another set of tomatoes into the boiling water, them start peeling the ones from the ice water.  I chop them very roughly once peeled and put directly into the two-cup measure.  When the measuring cup is full, I put the tomatoes into the strainer to drain a bit.  I also write down on a paper that I have now done two cups.

Unless you can work a lot faster than I can, you will have to turn down the boiling water every now and then to catch up, and to put more tomatoes into the wash water in the sink, to empty the bowl with peels into the bucket, and all that stuff.

Once the tomatoes have drained a bit, they go into your cooking pot.  I measure again, since that is the final measure.  You will always lose a little due to the draining.  So keep track of the number of cups you scoop out of the drainer and put into the pot.  For my recipe, and to get the same proportions, you will need 36 cups of drained tomato chunks going into the pot.

Once the tomatoes are in the pot, you need to add the following:
  • ¼ C. sea salt
  • 2 T. chili powder (a good brand – if you are using discount chili powder, then you probably need to double this amount)
  • 2 T. toasted and ground cumin.  I think it is worth the extra bother to toast the seeds in an iron skillet until turning color, and then grind yourself.  Much more flavor than store bought cumin powder.
  • 6 C. onions, chopped
  • 10 large cloves garlic, crushed or chopped
  • 1½ C. jalapenos and/or serranos (Serranos are a little hotter.)  I remove some of the seeds and ribs, but not all, since I like my salsa pretty hot.
  • 2 to 3 T. Thai hot chilies (these really crank up the heat!!)
  • 3 golden cayenne peppers (pretty hot, too!)  These are added mostly because they add some bright color.  If you can't find them, just do a few extra Thai hots.
  • 2 C. chopped cilantro, lightly packed.  I cut off the stems from the bottom of the bunch, but do not worry about the rest of the stems.  They add flavor, just make sure they are chopped up pretty good.
 Okay, the hard part is done.  Bring the whole thing up to a boil.  While doing that, get your pan of lids and rings boiling, and put some hot water into your prepared jars, so that you are not putting boiling hot liquid into a very cold jar. 

Once the salsa is boiling, take out a spoonful and let cool a bit to taste.  Some people like to add some cider vinegar to it, but I didn't think it needed it.  This is your last chance to fiddle with the recipe – add a little salt, maybe you want to kick it up a notch with some more hot peppers.

Now put your canner onto the stove to begin heating and start bottling your salsa.  Use the funnel so that you keep the neck of the jar as clean as possible.  Fill to about a quarter to half inch from the top.  Set your funnel into the next jar, then wipe the rim of the jar you just filled with a clean paper towel, use your magnet to lift out a lid and a rim, put on the filled jar and tighten down pretty hard.  Then use your jar lifter to set the filled jar into the canner.  Proceed with the next six jars, then make sure that all of the jars are completely covered with water.  As soon as the canner water boils, put on the lid, turn your heat down a bit and process for 35 minutes.

Now you have that extra quart of salsa and the tomato juice to think about.  Put the tomato juice into the pot with the remaining salsa and bring all back up to a boil.  Put the funnel into a clean jar and put a small sieve into the funnel.  Now ladle out the hot mixture into the funnel and fill the jar with tomato juice that is now nice and spicy.  As you collect the remaining salsa in the sieve, put that into one of the two remaining jars.  You should end up with about a quart and a half of juice and a full quart of salsa.  I add a little of the hot tomato juice to the jar of salsa to make sure it has enough juice, and then cap it.  It will probably seal without canning it, but this is the one you want to put in your fridge to eat right away.

I am on a low carb diet.  Two options for dippers – the easiest is good old pork rinds.  The other is to get low carb wraps, cut them into eighths, spray with some olive oil and sprinkle some salt on them.  Then toast in oven until crunchy.  They are a bit of a bother, but pretty darned good for very few carbs!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Why is a Monsanto lobbyist serving as the FDA's Food Safety Czar?

To my readers ~

I do not usually get into politics, but this is the politics of food.  I am hoping you will read and act.

While factory farm operators are getting away with serious food safety violations, raw milk dairy farmers and distributors across the country have been subjected to armed raids and hauled away in handcuffs.

Not surprisingly, the person responsible for prioritizing armed raids on small dairies over holding agribusiness accountable is a former Monsanto attorney and chief super lobbyist. Monsanto's Michael Taylor is the second highest-ranking official at the FDA, and as Food Safety Czar is responsible for implementing the day-to-day policies that govern the food safety laws for the U.S.

Ask President Obama to fire FDA Food Safety Czar and former Monsanto lobbyist Michael Taylor. Click here to sign the petition.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why I'm tired . . .

It's Labor Day today.  It wasn't a holiday for me.  I didn't even think about it, realized I had scheduled Kayla to come in today and thought I should call her to see whether she really wanted to be here.  About that time, she pulled in, and we got to work.  I had already started a pot of soup and was working on a new batch of sourdough rye bread.  My very dense and sour rye bread has finally taken off - I'm getting a lot of orders for it, in fact I made a dozen loaves last week and they are all gone but one. Most of the people who buy it at my booth at the market have European accents.  It's not for the Wonder Bread crowd.

Beef soup

Sourdough rye- first rise

I sent Kayla down to the garden to pick tomatoes so that I could get on with my canning.  The jars were running through the dishwasher while I was doing bread and soup.  I also had an order for 12 bunches of basil, any type, so Kayla got those ready.

Many kinds of basil - sweet, Thai, cinnamon, purple, lemon . . .

While the pressure cooker was doing its thing, I went down to the garden and dug potatoes.  One of my customers at the market just loves a French potato called La Ratte.  It is a small fingerling, and the French insist it is the tastiest potato in the world.

La Ratte fingerling potatoes
The weather is magnificent today!  Finally the heat wave has broken.  High today was around 65ยบ, and it is quite windy.  What better day to hang out the sheets?  So I threw them in the machine while I was waiting on the pressure cooker to complete the first load.

Sheets drying on the line
Kayla asked about these wrinkled little peppers in the garden, because I had given her some of them.  What should she do with them?  I told her I was going to start some fermenting this afternoon, so she could help me, and write down the recipe to do her own.

Pepperoncini fermenting in Suze Goldberg jar
Between canning and bread making, I picked up eggs and then went down to the garden for a few more pepperoncini so that I had enough to fill a half gallon jar. I picked while the last batch of jars was cooling in the pressure cooker.  By the time I got back from the garden, they were ready to remove.  I love to listen to the jar lids ping when they seal.

Tomatoes and beans ready for winter meals
Then I checked my orders for market baskets and Kayla went down to the garden to get some kale, chard and collards which we will need for tomorrow's deliveries
Kale, collards and chard sitting in ice water
It's 6:30 now.  Time to stop.  I haven't eaten since breakfast, and I'm hungry.  So I spent Labor Day laboring, but it was all enjoyable, and I am going to crawl into a bed with fresh sheets that smell like the great outdoors, to dream of eating tomato soup on a cold winter's day, or snacking on sharp and vinegar-y pepperoncini.  It really doesn't get any better than this.