January 31, 2021

Vegetable soup ala the Ball Book

Vegetable soup is a staple in the country pantry. In my grandmother's house, leftover veggies were never discarded. Dropped into the massive chest freezer in the "old kitchen" and forgotten, yes. But tossed out - never. Every fall Mam would dig all the leftover bits of vegetables out of the freezer and make a huge vat of vegetable soup to can. I can't speak for other family members, but I always thought it was pretty cool to come from work and open my mailbox to find a quart of home-canned soup waiting for me. 

I've made a lot of vegetable soup in my life but I've always frozen it. Until recently, I didn't own a pressure canner. Having worked outside the home since I was sixteen, I needed to take the quick route to get food into the pantry and that's freezing it. My time is spent differently now and my priorities have settled more on a home-based lifestyle. 

The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and Canning is an invaluable resource. I do wish I'd gotten the spiral-bound version, though. I'm not in the affiliate program so don't be afraid to click the link to Amazon and check it out. It has recipes and canning times for a lot of foods. If one is going to can, one should READ the book and learn. 

Yesterday was the day I decided to make vegetable soup. I used the Ball Book recipe as my guide, but I did add a few extras. I had a beef shoulder that I cooked in the Instant Pot and shredded to add to the soup. I also dumped in a twelve-ounce can of V8 juice to pump up the flavor. Same with the four cubes of beef bouillon I tossed into the mix. The soup was a great way to use up quite a few little baggies of leftover veggies. 

The soup made and into the jars, the canning process took a couple of hours. The canner has to come up to pressure in a particular order, then process at the correct pressure for ninety minutes (for this soup), and then bleed off pressure slowly. I ended up with seven quarts of soup, which is what my canner holds for one processing. I used one wide-mouth jar with a Tattler lid and six regular jars with the standard Ball lids. All six of the Ball lids have sealed and I'll find out about the Tattler lid after twenty-four hours are up and I can remove the ring. The was no siphoning from any of the jars so I'm pretty sure the Tattler sealed, too. 

It was a good day's work. I had time to take Deuce on a walk while the soup simmered. I also finished the powdered spinach and tossed a load of laundry in the washer, not to mention composing three blogs. Yes, there is always something to do here at the manor, and I love it. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

January 30, 2021

Yes, he's going to eat spinach


The spousal unit hates spinach. To him, it's nothing more than a slimy mess. His aversion to cooked spinach carries over to fresh spinach in salads, too. There is no accounting for personal tastes in food, so instead of arguing with him about it, I've generally just not served spinach to him. It's not difficult to add spinach to only one salad, but I confess I've been annoyed when doing it. But I may have it upon a solution. 

Transitioning into a home-based lifestyle means learning some new things. YouTube is a wealth of information. We've enjoyed watching Living Traditions Homestead for a little over a year, and it's led to finding and watching a raft of homesteading, gardening, and food preserving channels. One that crossed my path is The Purposeful Pantry. The host is keen on dehydrating and she does some interesting things. When she dehydrated spinach down to a powder, I took notes. 

Spinach powder. How interesting. I bet a tablespoon of spinach powder in soups and stews will go totally unnoticed by Himself. Same for in a quiche. I deemed it worth a try and got two pounds of organic spinach at Sam's Club for under $5 and set to work. Last evening I washed and drained all of it, and then spread it out on my dehydrator trays, set the machine on high, and went to bed. This morning I had five trays of really crunchy spinach leaves. 

Next step - I put the leaves in a bowl and manually crushed them until they were a bit finer. Then I used my coffee grinder to make a powder. The net result is about three-quarters of a half-pint jar of powder. I added one moisture removing packet and set the jar in the pantry. I'll need to give the jar a shake every day for the next week or so to make sure the packet is doing its job, but that's it. A simple way to get the vitamins and minerals in spinach into our diet. Bonus fact - it takes up virtually no room on the shelf and none in the freezer. 

I'm calling this adventure a success!

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

January 24, 2021

The sap is rising

January is historically our coldest month here on the manor. Being in the Mid-Atlantic region, you could say our "cold" is relative. We rarely dip below 0F, but the low 20sF is not uncommon in January. With that said I do remember January of 1994 with no fondness. It got to -22F (yes, minus) and I had to walk in and out my lane due to the ice. To drive it risked an unfortunate encounter with the creek, as in it's difficult to stop on ice especially if your Blazer is pointed downhill! But anyway...

It's the third Sunday in January and the temperatures are hovering exactly where they should, dipping into the upper teens overnight and rising to the thirties or forties during the day. Today it's right around the freezing mark, but we have a front moving in that could bring us snow later tomorrow. Cold or not, Deuce and I went out to do a perimeter check of the property and we found good news! The tips of the maple trees are starting to show red. And not just one or two maples - all of them.

While that's definitely good - and appreciated - news, we still have the rest of January, February, and March to slog through. February is a wet month, and March is wet and windy. I could spend the afternoon going around picking up downed sticks and building a brush pile to burn, but it's still too early and too cold for that. 

And so I sit in my warm sunroom office and write. From my vantage point, the far hillside has taken on a pink blush. I even used the binoculars for a closer look. Spring is coming. Now we wait to see how fast she will arrive. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

January 20, 2021

Lemon Drop Jelly -this is getting out of hand

 Today was another one of those days when I "worked at home" for the day job. I actually did get a few things done and I kept up on emails, so that was all to the good. I also did a load of laundry, took the dog for a windy - and short - walk, and I made a small batch of Lemon Drop Jelly. (Page 77 in one of the Ball books.) I also used the Tattler lids again. I think they're perfect for these types of projects. 

I like lemon, but Himself does not, so I halved everything but the pectin in the recipe. I'm quite sure that jelly is well set. 

I don't plan to make an abundance of jelly. Jellies and jams are high in sugar, ergo carbs, and we're trying to limit our carb consumption. I did invest in a jelly bag, something they didn't have when I was a girl first learning how to make jelly. My great-grandmother used a clean feed sack as a jelly bag. Of course, when she was making jelly it was a large batch requiring more than two cups of juice.

Seeing my pantry shelves filled with jars of homemade food is very satisfying. It feels proactive and productive to know we can weather a few storms. Not that we've had enough snow this winter to worry us, but you never know.

Some dark, snowy night Himself might decide the only thing between him and total starvation is an English muffin with cream cheese and lemon jelly. 

Nope. Never happen. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

January 17, 2021

Caramel Apple Jam

 Now more than ever before I'm excited to try new things within the scope of a home-based lifestyle. Making jams and jelly, canning, dehydrating, making powders - none of it is anything new, but I've not had the time to practice such arts. Now I do. 

Yesterday, I made Caramel Apple Jam. I saw the recipe on YouTube and it looked both easy and delicious. I should have taken photos of each step, but suffice it to say our house was in disarray. Himself chose the same time I did for a project, that being cleaning out the cabinet dedicated to his "stuff."

I found this to be a simple recipe.

6 cups diced apples (I shredded mine and so doubled the pectin)
1/2 cup water
1 package of powdered pectin
2.5 cups white sugar
2.5 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Prepare jars. (Ask Google if you don't know how to do this.)
Prepare the apples, add to a large pot, add the water. 
Bring to a hard boil, then add the pectin. Stir until well incorporated.
Add sugar and spices, and bring to a hard rolling boil.
Maintain the hard rolling boil for a full minute. 
Remove from heat and jar. 
Process jars in a water bath for ten minutes.

This is not a how-to. I'm not going into the specifics of canning. You can find instructions everywhere, although I suggest the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  

The major new thing with this batch of jam was that I used Tattler canning lids for the first time. They've been around for decades, but I only recently learned about them. I like the idea they can be used up to ten times, unlike the standard Ball lids which are to be used once and discarded. Also, using them for jams and jellies isn't much of a risk. If a seal would happen to fail, I wouldn't lose much product. I will stick with Ball for soups, pickles, tomato products - anything in a large jar. 

So now I have twelve little four-ounce jars of jam good for on toast, pancakes, or even vanilla ice cream. It was a good morning's work!

I may try Lemon Drop Jelly next even though Himself gives anything lemon a thumbs down. It sounds good to me.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor


January 15, 2021

Red sky at morning, January 15, 2021

A few weeks ago I commented on a lovely sunrise. This morning's puts that one to shame. I happened to glance out a north-facing window and noted how red the clouds looked, then grabbed my phone and stepped out on the office porch, which is on the south side of the house. It was spectacular! I even managed to shoot a very short video of it. 

Questioning Himself provided a bit more information. He tuned in to the Weather Channel, and sure enough, we have precipitation headed our way. It could be rain or it could be snow. It's the middle of January so it could go either way in our local climate. 

The lovely sky faded to shades of gray, and it's been windy all day, so much so the dog is not going to get much of a walk. Even he doesn't need to be outside in the wind. 

And so I sip coffee laced with my homemade coffee liquor and write and wait to see what may come. It's a good way to spend the afternoon. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

January 14, 2021

A photo worthy dinner

Himself is a good cook when he applies himself to the task. He'd rather I did everything, but that won't fly, not with me. One of his "specialties" is chicken parmesan. He does a great job with chicken parm. 

Pictures do not lie. This chicken parm was as good as it looks. 

I must confess that while I enjoy some of the YouTube channels, a lot of them are lacking. I'm fond of Living Traditions Homestead, This Farm Wife, The Purposeful Pantry, Sutton's Daze, and a few others. The spousal unit's taste runs to cooking and baking channels. He delights in showing me something new and saying, and I quote, "WE should make that."

We. Right. WE all know what WE means.

Suffice it to say, the lady of the house didn't fall for that old ploy. He fixed the chicken parm based on a YouTube video by "Chef John" and it was delicious. 

I'll get chicken out of the freezer any time he says he'll fix this dish. Better yet, I'll see if I can convince him to make enough for three dinners and freeze two. 

Good plan.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor 

January 11, 2021

A last kiss of sun

When I first moved to Holly Tree Manor, my father was alive. I worked side-by-side with him and my grandfather to clear enough trees to build a house. One evening, as Dad and I were still on the property tending to a burn, he said we should cut down a swath just wide enough so that I could enjoy the sunsets. 

I didn't like that idea at the time and have since regretted it. My view of the sunset is through the trees and not a wide-open vista. But I see enough to appreciate the beautiful colors especially as it becomes dark enough to see stars above the bands of color. 

But there is beauty before the actual sunset. I get to observe my world as the sun dips below the tree line and then the mountain. I see the precursor of what is to come. 

Dad, we were both right. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

January 10, 2021

So I'm obsessing over it


I'm obsessing a bit over how healthy the celery and green onions are in the greenhouse. We've had night after night after night of temps down to 20F, and even one night that dipped into the teens. We've had three frost-covered mornings in a row, and yet the celery and onions are doing fine. 

The celery actually needs to be harvested at this point. That may be the end of it, but I plan to cut it and dehydrate it. I've found The Purposeful Pantry on YouTube and the content creator has a lot, and I mean A LOT, of dehydrating tips.  I need to dehydrate the green onions, too, and I'm very sure that will end them and I'll have to start over. That's all part of gardening, though. It will give me the opportunity to restore the soil in that grow bag so it's not a bad thing. 

We made a quick trip to Lowe's earlier today so I could get potting soil, vermiculite, and cow manure. I already have a scoop of screened garden soil that was purchased last summer. The weatherman says tomorrow will be about 50F and if it happens, I'm going to mix up enough of the elements to get a few of the grow bags filled. I might even sow some radish seeds in one

The season is coming. I can feel it. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

January 9, 2021

Christmas cards, a lovely tradition

In early December, I bemoaned the lack of Christmas card greetings. Himself, ever sanguine about life, opined that 2020 was perhaps not a good year for so many people. I certainly understand that, but 2020 showed us exactly why the sending and receiving of Christmas cards is more than an empty tradition. 

I frequently refer to my family by generation. My grandparents were Gen1, and my parents part of Gen2. I and my cousins are Gen3. By the end of 2020, we've reached into Gen6. I've got to keep track of them somehow! 

Beyond family are scattered friends. We stay in touch via email and text, but a Christmas card from them touches me in a deeper way. It confirms I'm not alone in remembering tradition, and people. 

The year 2020 was difficult on relationships. Yes, some deepened due to the sheer determination of those involved, but other relationships suffered. Absence does not always make the heart grow fonder. With that in mind, I sent out cards to the far reaches to tell people I remembered them, that I think of them even if an email doesn't get sent. It also made me aware of how remiss I've been in calling some of them. 

Today is January 9th, and the Christmas cards are still arriving. I consider each one a blessing from someone I treasure. Long live the Christmas card tradition. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

January 2, 2021

The bathroom closet

Everyone has that one closet they’d like to throw a grenade into. Well, maybe not a grenade, but you get the idea. It’s that one space in the house you can’t seem to control. In our little house, it’s the bathroom closet.

I think it was intended to be a linen closet, but our little house is a little house. Storage is at a premium so it doesn’t matter what some architect designed it to be. It is what it is and that’s the bathroom closet. Over the course of the last years, it has accumulated all matter of non-essential *stuff*. For whatever reason, I took a fit and started to organize the plastic bin that holds my razors, facial wipes, Q-tips, and other small, loose things. That led to pulling everything off the shelf to wipe it down, which in turn led to re-stacking the sheets, towels, and kitchen cloths.

No, I don’t have room for kitchen cloths in my kitchen. I have too many because I like to have a full washer load of things when I run the washer. When I wash the kitchen towels, that’s all that goes in the washer with hot water and a bit of bleach. But I digress…

Himself came to see what the commotion in the bathroom was all about and we ended up sorting out our first aid shelf. All-in-all we went from having so little room on the shelves that things fell off to having empty space.

We’re taking bets on how long it will last.

We agreed we need to get busy on a couple of other closets, and not so we can buy new things and fill up the empty space again. We’ve reached the age where we know life needs to be simpler. It’s one of the things living debt-free has taught us. We have come to understand the difference between an actual need and a mere want. It’s an important distinction.

 Here at Holly Tree Manor, we’ve been blessed with an abundance of many things. As we discarded expired cough meds, pain relievers, and various lotions and potions, our discussion centered around our need to be more intentional in our purchases and the recognition we sometimes fall short. Sometimes we forget to ask ourselves what do we truly need before we open our wallets.

What do we truly need? That’s a question that needs to be asked and answered every day.

  The Lady of Holly Tree Manor