So…As always, it’s been busy. So busy that I never seem to have time to write. Seems to be the story of my life — which is fine. Busy can be a beautiful story, a fulfilling story…and a tired one too! I have spent years with young children, and now my “baby” is going to be twelve in a little over thirty days. I just can’t believe it — how did that happen!? A friend once told me “Don’t blink – they grow so fast!” She wasn’t kidding…

In the season of life I’ve been in for the past 16 going-on 17 years, there has been a lot of “stuff” going on in my kitchen…I have done everything from attempting pastries and candy-making, cake decorating, elaborate ethnic meals, plain ol’ standby meals, creative breakfasts, healthful eating. I have a plethora of cookbooks and I’m a fan of cooking magazines as well (if you don’t believe me, see my earlier post “Books versus Magazines…” http://wp.me/p32HQ0-6b). Needless to say, there is always something going on in the kitchen.

This month I am starting my bulk canning to take advantage of summer’s bounty and to gear up for winter. I am also attempting a few new things. So, here’s what I’ve been up to:

* Canned mojito mint simple syrup — so I can enjoy a real mojito all year long without having to wait until mint is flourishing again (as only mint can)…[Question: Is it pretentious to bring your own mint to a bar?? Don’t judge…]

If you’ve never canned anything before and want to learn, there are a few great sites I love. First, the Living Homegrown podcast is amazing! Theresa Loe is the¬†founder of Living Homegrown’s blog and podcast, as well as the Co-Executive Producer and Canning Expert on the national PBS television¬†series, “Growing A Greener World”. You can find her at (http://www.livinghomegrown.com/). The Ball company has been providing canning equipment and advice to home canners since its founding in 1880. You can find advice and recipes at their site: (http://www.ball.com/na). You will hear a LOT from new and seasoned canners alike about the USDA safety standards. You can access their Complete Guide to Home Canning files here: (http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html). This is a treasure trove of information that will help you get started. Just a quick FYI about that — I live in Amish country, where some people put up food by methods no longer approved for food safety. If you are starting canning, I suggest you start by following the guidelines and learning the science behind them before you go rogue. Lastly, any cooperative extention office and/or website should also be able to give you assistance – and maybe even offer instruction. I got my start through Penn State’s local cooperative extention office. I am so appreciative for the tried and true canning methods that they teach.

* Canned crushed tomatoes with fresh romas from my own garden. I consider this quite an accomplishment. I usually stock up on crushed tomatoes when they’re on sale anyway, but we had a bountiful year growing these (first time ever too), so I am pleased to offer my family something entirely homemade – with the side benefit of knowing exactly what went into the canning jar.

* Canned seasoned tomato sauce. When I say we had romas, oh boy did we! I am still not close to finished picking them either. God is always good!

* Started kombucha. If you’ve never tried it, it is a fermented drink that you make with tea and a culture called a SCOBY. This is entirely uncharted territory for me by the way. A generous soul from our church offered a SCOBY and I was really blessed to accept. I’d heard about and tried bottled kombucha from the store, but I always feel that if I can make something, it’s better to try. That way you know exactly what you’re getting. And kombucha is great in that you can use the SCOBY again. And then grow it enough to share. I’m almost finished finally with my first batch. I don’t know if the cupboard I kept it in was too warm – we had quite a humid week when I started. But it smells and looks about what it should look like based on what I’ve tried. This website (http://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/category/kombucha/) offers some great information for beginners. The generous woman who offered the SCOBY offered this link for those of us trying it: (http://avivaromm.com/fermentationist?inf_contact_key=58b8ec11beca2a3d6c8da61e96c1b45477c928134406c8f23359394e1234f251). I haven’t had a chance to listen to this talk yet, but she raved about the speaker so I’m psyched to hear it!

* Began a sourdough starter from scratch. Yeah, you can buy them. But as I said – I believe in trying to make what I can. This is, like a SCOBY, one of those recyclable foods you can make and then use/give away. I have been anxious to try this, and so far it’s working. I used King Arthur organic flour just so it would be more healthful (read: non-GMO crap), but you can use what you have. I don’t always buy organic due to price, but I should. Some things that are happening in the food industry quite frankly scare me (okay, terrify!), so I’m still moving toward better choices for my family. And myself of course. I’m on Day 2 of this project. The recipe I have takes 5 days. It is pretty cool – I already have small bubbles and a slightly tangy smell to the starter, which is a good thing. So I’m on the right track with this too. (Yay me!)

I may not be as far ahead in my canning game as some people; but with the busy-ness of my season in life, I feel like I’m at least progressing. And any step forward is one step closer to success. It’s only when you cease to move ahead that you have failed.

If you’ve never tried any of these things – go play in your kitchen and take advantage of summer’s bounty!

~Mary

seasoned tomato sauce