GARDENING, COOKING AND CANNING IN THE EMPTY NEST

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More than any other marker, starting the garden last weekend made us realize that it has been over a year since we started the blog.  While having a garden is fun, we are not gardeners.  We don’t love the feel of our hands in the dirt nor do we find weeding relaxing and peaceful. interimgarden We love thinking about what we’re going to plant.  We enjoy preparing the garden and planting the plants.  But what we want is the produce.  Pure and simple.   We do the work required.  We till.  We spread “moonure”.  We put the little plants in the ground.  We feed them.  We water them.  We then expect them to hold up their part of the bargain. fennel2 And they’d better produce that produce- there is no spot in the garden next year for the ingrates.  That’s the kind of gardeners we are.

that's as big as it ever got

that’s as big as it ever got

In the last four years, we have cooked Sunday dinner together almost every Sunday.  Over time, we have become good cooks.  But we will never cross over and become great cooks.   We know this because we both have great cooks in our families.  Sandy is one of six-the other five are exceptional cooks.  Denise’s brother, too, is an exceptional cook.  Every one of them can move around the kitchen with ease, have a conversation, drink a glass of wine and voila, dinner looks like a pictorial essay from the cookbooks on our shelves.  We still stutter step through every recipe. img_0056_0016 We move well in the kitchen, but we are always moving back to the recipe. “How many tablespoons?” “How much oil?” “What does that recipe say?”   We are not discouraged by this.  Almost everything we’ve made is good-some dishes and desserts have been exceptional.  But if something goes wrong, we find another recipe.  We have no interest in trying it again.  We’ve also come to realize that we will always cook at a pace reminiscent of cooking dinner, under the gun, on school nights. gardensalad We’ve learned to move slower, but we still seem to exhale when we sit down to eat and not a minute before.  We have no intention of quitting Sunday dinners.  We love them, especially now that we are stepping it up a notch with the Ad Hoc cookbook.  There is no doubt that two good cooks will someday become two really good cooks, but exceptional we will never be.

chicken potpie

chicken potpie

On our way to Trader Joes last Sunday, we started talking about how different canning has been for us than cooking Sunday dinner or planting the garden.  Neither of us remember when we first started thinking about it.   Canning has become what we do.  When we can, we move around the kitchen with ease.  We have conversations.  We don’t drink wine, too many sharp knives and boiling water.  Our hands pucker from cutting 10 pounds of lemons. IMG_0682 They turn red from blanching and chopping 25 pounds of tomatoes.  We have blisters from from small mishaps with boiling water.  sandyspic14 024We tweak with confidence and instinctively know how something will taste if we add this spice instead of the one called for in the recipe.  This we love.  This is hard work and effortless at the same time. IMG_0530 We get better every time we can.  If something goes wrong, we don’t look for another recipe or pick a new plant, we try again.  And we keep trying until we succeed.   We’re good at this and, we know, we will get better.   That feels really good.

winter canning, jars ready for summer canning

winter canning, jars ready for summer canning

As the nests emptied, we knew we needed to find something to propel us forward.  We loved the new relationships we were forging with our children.  But you do miss having your children in the house and it’s heavy sometimes.  Moving on, moving forward, who knows what to call it.  It seemed as if we had not prepared ourselves as well as we had prepared them.  Perhaps empty nest is one of those life experiences for which there is no preparation.  But for us, it may just be that the search for peace and purpose in the empty nest ends in a big black graniteware canning pot.

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THE MENU:  BURGERS ON THE GRILL – WE’RE MAKING STRAWBERRY PRESERVES

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We picked 32 pounds of strawberries Saturday. IMG_1221 It was muddy, ankle deep muddy but once we remember how much fun walking through mud is when you’re little, we stepped right in.  IMG_1232 Sunday we canned 28 jars of preserves and jam.  These were new recipes and we won’t know until tomorrow if we have jam, syrup, or cement so we won’t share the recipes until we open the jars.

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looks like a little chicken

looks like a little chicken

strawberry shortcake for dessert

strawberry shortcake for dessert

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18 Responses to GARDENING, COOKING AND CANNING IN THE EMPTY NEST

  1. TBM says:

    No matter what, you can cook better than me. Even Miles, my dog, turns his nose up at my “creations.” I’m like you with gardening. I love fresh veggies but hate the gardening process. why does dirt have to feel so dirty?

  2. likeitiz says:

    You have started the process again! How fun! Must be good. I can smell the strawberries from here. BTW, how much sugar do you put? I found some blueberry jam at our farmer’s market that boasts to only have 3% sugar in their jam. It was very good, with just enough tartness at the edge.

  3. we did 1.5 cups to 16 cups of berries and it was perfect-most of the recipes called for far more sugar. you can taste the strawberries and the sugar just provided the chemistry to release the juices. one batch is more like syrup-banana splits on the horizon.

  4. I think I garden like you – not for the love of it, but for the end result. The gardening part is a necessary evil.

  5. lillianccc says:

    I think baking for me is what cooking is like for you both. I can make good things happen but every step of the way involves me jumping back to the recipe book or else frantically looking up something online because I don’t understand the directions. Although I’m in no way near a good cook, I don’t measure anything and often just go by ear (or is it by hand? you know what I mean). But regardless of what medium we feel most comfortable in, working with food is just a great experience overall.

  6. it is. we think it’s because it is a connection to the past-something that humans have always done. food is nourishment, comfort, pleasure, survival, a sense of community. i think that’s why we are drawn to it.

  7. Great pictures for pinning ladies, I always love your food shots and know that summer holds many treats in store.

  8. Karen says:

    Oh my goodness that is a lot of strawberries! Our Ohio berries won’t be ready to pick for a few weeks yet. I’m ready to get started again. Thanks for the delightful look into your lives.

  9. Carrie says:

    Beautiful work ladies-I wish I likes to garden-I fell like I should-but it seems like a chore! So I go to our local farmstand a support many of our local farmers here in the Northwest Corner of Connecticut.

  10. snati001 says:

    I always love reading your stories and insights. They way that you guys garden looks so fun. I wouldn’t call myself a green thumb since I can’t keep plants long, though my dad is awesome at gardening. The backyard is somewhat a “man cave” for him where he can spend time with his trees and plants. I hope I can get better at gardening someday, but in the meantime I can get free produce from my dad and find inspiration from blogs like yours! 🙂

  11. we love your site as well. our garden is on probation now that we’ve found the produce auction!

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