Freezers are the New Toilet Paper

First it was toilet paper. Then we went through stages of shortages: baking supplies, yeast, eventually canning lids, and even compost bins.

After a long wait and diligent searches, I now have a pretty good supply of canning lids. I canned chicken broth yesterday, and I didn’t even worry about having enough lids.

I found a compost bin, FREE, on curbside, last summer. Talk about luck! We’ve had to bungie the top down to keep the raccoons out, but heck, that’s a small price to pay to have found an actual replacement bin for the one that broke.

Last weekend, I saw a (cue the ominous music) small puddle under one of our chest freezers. After further review, Chuck and I concurred that the freezer was, in fact, dead. We moved as much as we could into the refrigerator/freezer in the kitchen and the smaller chest freezer. Then, we called Robin. She said yes, of course, we could bring over a few things to keep in her freezer for a little while.

In the meantime, we reflected. We decided an upright freezer might meet our needs better, so we did our homework the way we always did: online. We made notes of stores that claimed to have something we liked in our price range and in stock, and then we hit the road to make our purchase – or so we thought.

The web sites for Lowe’s and Home Depot did not correspond with the inventory. Two other stores had such convoluted and complicated web sites that we said nope, not going to even go there. With aching knees and sore feet and major disappointments, we were close to losing hope. And then the smart phone apps (search for: Upright Freezers Near Me) found a store name we didn’t recognize. Grand Appliance. Non-descript, but if they had the inventory, we were willing to buy. We followed my phone’s navigator to get there, rejoiced that they were still open, and to make a long story short, found what we needed and ordered it!!

We’re expecting a delivery within two weeks, as opposed to September and October as suggested elsewhere. They’ll take the old defunct appliance with them. After that, we’ll relieve Robin’s freezer and repack our new one! And that, my friends, is a relief.

Toilet paper. Yeast. Compost bins. Freezers. What’s next? I don’t really want to know. Readers, any predictions for the next shortage?

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So Many Berries!

The original post title was “Too Many Berries,” but I decided that there can never be too many fresh berries in June or July. Or in August, for that matter. We buy strawberries or blueberries at the farmers’ market, barter for cherries from a neighbor, and pick raspberries in our own backyard. Our backyard isn’t big, but we’ve devoted about 15 square feet behind the garage to a raspberry patch. It’s a good year for my raspberries; we pick almost every night, and we’ve even had enough to share with Petunia and Robin, our mothers.

Most days Chuck and I add berries to our breakfast cereal. Amigo likes yogurt parfaits with vanilla yogurt, berries, and granola. I made vanilla ice cream last week to go with berries and a bit of whipped cream. We’re currently out of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream; that should tell you something about how often we’re eating berries with our dessert.

I froze 3 containers of strawberries. I’ll be able to use those in midwinter when we’re craving the taste of really fresh fruit. I made strawberry jam AND strawberry jelly. The mush left over from the jelly making process is in the freezer; it’ll add a nice pink tint and a hint of strawberry flavor to one batch of our annual applesauce.

I also froze a small container of raspberries. I’ll freeze blueberries when they come into season in Michigan and we’re drowning in delicious U.P. (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, hey) flavor. Meanwhile, we need a few more options.

Despite the heat (88 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit today, ugh), I’m baking angel food cake. With or without whipped cream, that will taste delicious with any kind of berries from the backyard or the neighbors or the market. I plan to make lemonade tomorrow, too. The juice from the bowl of strawberries or raspberries will be an awesome addition to the plain lemon drink.

That’ll take care of a few more berries, but I could use more ideas. Feel free to suggest ideas that also incorporate rhubarb. I gave away two plants, and I still have too much rhubarb. Good thing it’s delicious!

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Rhubarb-Pineapple Cobbler

The rhubarb is in season, to put it mildly. I put a batch in the freezer today and made a cobbler with rhubarb and a can of pineapple tidbits. It pays to keep a full pantry; I had the pineapple on hand already. Two confessions: I made half the recipe, and I don’t know the source. I had this in a file folder.

4 cups frozen or fresh rhubarb, thawed, drained. 4 cups cubed pineapple (about 2 20 ounce cans). 2 cups sugar, divided. 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or your favorite alternative: mine is whole wheat pastry flour). 1 1/2 cups butter (3 sticks), cubed.

Directions: preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine rhubarb, pineapple, and 1/2 cup sugar in a medium saucepan on medium high heat. Let simmer until juices are released and a syrup forms. Pour into buttered, 2 quart casserole dish. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine flour, remaining sugar, and butter, Mix with hands until the butter forms coarse crumbs. Distribute crumbs evenly over rhubarb mixture. Bake for 40 minutes or until bubbling and browned on top. Serve warm. Excellent with ice cream on top!

My family’s review: awesome! They’re not (quite) tired of rhubarb – yet.

When you strained the pineapple, I hope you saved the juice. I plan to make a sweet and sour sauce that incorporates rhubarb concentrate and pineapple juice, among other ingredients. If it works, I’ll share!

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Canning Lids – Still a Shortage

First it was toilet paper. Then flour and yeast were scarce. Seeds! Gardening supplies! And eventually, canning lids.

I don’t need jars – I have more than plenty. I don’t need the rings that hold the lid in place; I reuse those, and I have two heaping boxes full of regular and wide mouth sizes.

But lids. Lids – the one-use-only component of a canning project – I still can’t find those.

Chuck saw a few boxes at the grocery store in November – wide mouth size – so he bought them all and wrapped them up for a Christmas gift. Yay! I use wide mouth for pickles, applesauce, and more.

But regular size? The smaller and more common lid size? The one I’ll need for jellies and jams, apple butter, and just about anything that goes in a half pint jar? I have plenty of jars. Plenty of rings. But I only have a few tiny boxes of lids.

I’ve put the word out. I have friends and extended family members searching their basements in case they might have some to spare. I keep checking all of my main sources: Fleet Farm, all of the hardware stores, grocery store aisles, and more. I’ve stopped making in person trips and started looking online as though I were ordering online to pick up in store. No luck – yet.

I managed to pick up a few odd sets, older or fancy colors, from garage sales last fall. Some sealed; some didn’t. My success ratio was okay – a little more than half were successful. But the rubber ring on a canning lid can dry out over the years, so there’s no guarantee of a good seal.

Now that I’ve vented, I will keep calm and carry on. I’ll keep checking my favorite stores, and I’ll hit the garage sale circuit with a vengeance come summer. Maybe some of last year’s cooks new to canning will have decided it’s too much work, and they’ll sell their supplies.

I can only hope – there must be a source out there somewhere.

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TP, Compost Bins; try Canning Lids

The search for a new compost bin was successful in an unexpected way. Instead of spending lots of money to replace my broken tumbler, I got a stationary bin for — free. Free, free, free. Yes, you heard me, free. I was driving home from buying tomatoes for salsa, and I saw a big hulking black thing on curbside. I couldn’t stop then, but I made mental note of the location. The next day, Chuck and I drove the van over to that spot, and found the big hulking black plastic object with a new sign on it: FREE COMPOSTER. I looked it over. It was dirty (um, no problem), but all the parts were there, so we loaded it up in the minivan and brought it home. I’ve hosed it out a few times, and it will replace the collapsing composter of doom. What a deal!

Last time Chuck and Amigo went grocery shopping, I put canning lids, regular size on the list. They came home with two boxes of exactly what I needed. Good thing, too, because now – less than two weeks later – the store shelves are empty of canning lids. Friends elsewhere in the state have complained that they can’t even find jars to buy. I’m lucky; I have a very good supply of jars, and a fair amount of lids. I hope to buy more lids as I dive into the Tomato Crazy and Applesauce Season. I’ll keep my eyes wide open for unusual sources of lids for my canning jars. So far, my online searches have suggested a few I hadn’t considered.

So, readers, if you’re running low on lids for canning, either regular or wide mouth size, where do you go? Brick and mortar or online, I’ll take your suggestions.

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(Farm) Market Day?

One loss I’m feeling deeply is the lack of local farm markets. My downtown farm market usually starts at the end of June on Saturdays. The main street of our fair city closes, and the vendors fill several blocks. It’s a wonderful atmosphere; live music, the smell of egg rolls cooking and corn roasting, and all the produce that’s in season. Not this year, thanks to Covid19.

Thanks to Covid19, our downtown farm market will start two weeks later than usual and support about one third of the usual vendors. Live music will not be allowed, and prepared foods will no longer be available. I’ll go, and I’ll buy veggies and fruits to freeze and to can for the winter, but it won’t be the same. Not by a long shot.

Today I drove past Festival Foods, the store that hosts my favorite midweek market in their parking lot on Wednesday mornings. As I got closer, I saw – could it be – a tent! A white canvas top with a point in the middle! Maybe the market was back! Maybe…maybe…nope. Just a fireworks stand. Sigh.

Fortunately, Chuck’s mother, Robin, called and told us of a farmer selling fresh strawberries from the back of his truck. She’d bought some herself, and said they were delicious. I didn’t drive there immediately (it was noon), but I may try tomorrow. Maybe the strawberries will be there again, ready for me. That may be the solution this year: without the usual market, I need to find the independent sellers. It’ll be a little more work, but I can still fill our freezer for the winter.

Readers, is your local farmers’ market still going on this year? If not, what are you doing to get fresh produce for your family?

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Corona Cooking – at home, of course

Our menus are looking more and more like midwinter comfort food or even dorm cafeteria food. Tonight it was baked macaroni and cheese – from scratch, of course. I have a sizable stockpile of various pastas, and we always have cheese. Throw in a cup of frozen peas, reach for the closest Italian season, and there it is. Comfort food, Wisconsin style.

Like a good pantry prepper, we have canned tuna. I’ve made tuna casserole recently (pasta, tuna, yada, yada, yada), and tuna salad would only work for Chuck and me. Amigo doesn’t go for cold. I got creative with the English muffins in the refrigerator, topped them with tuna and (or course) cheese, and ta-da! Tuna melts.

Last night I pulled together paninis. Sandwich ingredients, grilled with my cast iron press, and then – soup, of course. An ultimate comfort food, but instead of made from scratch, I’d picked it up at a local restaurant. Soup and sandwiches! Simple, but satisfying.

Then there was the shredded pork on a bun – with my own homemade rhubarb barbecue sauce. It makes a big batch; I put half away in the freezer for another day.

It’s not restaurant quality. It’s not even Master Chef style. But comfort is in short supply these days, and I can cook up darn good comfort in the form of lunch and supper.

Readers, what are you cooking these days?

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Random Thoughts of – spring?

Someone called me the Compost Lady recently, and I realized I hadn’t written as ComposterMom in ages. A lot of my shorter posts end up on Facebook. I’m on the computer all day at work, so I don’t automatically pick it up when I come home. I need to be offline for a while every evening.

But anyway, random thoughts.

Shopko is bankrupt and going out of business. Their clearance and liquidation sales are disappointing a lot of people. I haven’t even stopped in to check it out, to be honest. They’re at the point where the liquidation company, not the Shopko corporation itself, is running the show, and shoppers can tell. Discounts are weak, inventory isn’t very high quality, and there are more complaints than deals. We did get lucky with the smaller Shopko Express’ clearance. They transferred most of their inventory to other stores before the ax fell, but they couldn’t do that with their liquor stock. We picked up wine and specialty beers for pretty darn cheap. And that was all.

Meanwhile, we reminisced about the irony that is our kitchen. We bought some very high quality pots and pans and other equipment dirt cheap from not one but three high end kitchen stores that were going out of business. One was in Green Bay, one in my little burgh, and one in Rochester, Minnesota (we were there for a barbershop chorus competition). Those were small shops, not corporate entities, and the owners were interacting with customers as they made deals.

Oh, what a difference! Cast iron cleaning tools, towels, scrubbing cloths, and the best, a really nice wok. The Wire Whisk had used the wok for cooking classes, so we made an offer. The owner accepted the offer and reluctantly let it go. She talked about cooking classes, gave me good advice about seasoning it, and I think she shed a tear or two as I left with this wonderful piece of cookware in my arms. I hope she knew we’d treat it well – literally and figuratively speaking.

Meanwhile, we are appreciating the newly remodeled kitchen and especially the storage space. The pantry cabinet has so much room it feels like a luxury. We have cupboard space for basic everyday goodies, and we have room to stock up when there’s a sale. I haven’t reached prepper stockpile level (yet), but it makes more room for my own canned goods, too. No longer do we have to trek down the basement for a new jar of jam or pickles.

So on we go, my friends and family. It’s a crazy world out there, and I hear there’s a possibility of another late snowstorm next week. I hope the forecasters are wrong, but you know the saying – whether the weather, we’ll weather the weather.

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The Year Without a Canning Season

It started with kitchen construction. It ended with a brain aneurysm treatment. It makes sense; I didn’t can very much last summer. I’m still a little bummed.

With a major kitchen remodel in progress, I got up by 7:00 every morning even after school let out in June. I moved both vehicles out of the driveway so the carpenters could pull in. Then I would start my coffee, watch the morning news, and all the rest. I didn’t make jams or jellies because I didn’t have a stove in June and July. One result: rhubarb takes up much too much space in the freezer this year. I must find a way to use it up. Maybe in May. But anyway, no stove? No canning in early summer.

Later on I went under – not under the knife, but under a catheter. Part I: cerebral angiogram to determine the size of the aneurysm. The nurse wore Crocs with the Swedish Chef on them. How awesome is that? But I digress.

You can guess what followed – an overnight in the hospital after a three hour surgery to line the aneurysm so it will not get bigger. I had this done on a Thursday, and then headed off to school meetings the following Monday. And yes, I was tired.

But back to canning. In between the two events, I managed to can a batch of sweet bread and butter pickles and a batch of kinda-meh dill pickles. I put up one batch of tomato sauce – only one batch, and it shows. We opened a jar of store-bought tomato sauce last night. I used commercially canned tomatoes last time I made chili. All the homemade ketchup, the last jar of enchilada sauce – it’s all gone.

I’m a little sad looking at all the empty spots on the shelves that usually overflow with the goodies from the garden and the farmers’ market. Next June, I’m going to start canning like crazy. Canning like crazy and loving it, too!

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Cooking without a Kitchen – still

Monday was a Planned-overs type of day. Planned overs are like leftovers, but cooked on purpose. In this Era of No Kitchen, we are cooking planned overs at least once a week so we have something decent that can be reheated in the microwave.

So, Monday. Burgers were on the menu. Side dishes, cooked on the coals in foil, were potatoes – diced reds and fingerlings with Scarborough Fair seasoning (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme) and green & yellow zucchini squash with onion, salt, and pepper. These turned out very well.

Ah, the planned overs. We had a pound of French Onion bratwurst from the local meat market, and brats are always better on the grill, so I jabbed them with a fork and cooked them on the top rack. Someone recently suggested cooking bacon on the grill, so I tried it. As I pushed the burgers out of the flames so they wouldn’t get charred, I wondered if Someone had cooked bacon on a gas grill, not charcoal. The bacon smelled good, as bacon does, but it had a definite char look to it. I tried a piece on a BLT, and it tasted like bacon. Okay, it was okay, but I don’t think I’ll try that trick again.

Monday, as you see, was an adventure. I didn’t take any pictures because I was too busy moving bacon around to prevent total burn-to-a-crisp status. The veggies were a hit, the burgers were delicious (Amigo had two), and the bacon and brats went into the meat drawer for later.

Tuesday, I learned how to bake a pot pie in the toaster oven. Here I am, in my 50s, and I’ve never used a toaster oven. Now I can cross “Toaster Oven Use” off my bucket list.

Tuesday night I decided to do an experiment with the multitude of green onions in my garden. I pulled up several. Okay, if I’m honest about it, I pulled up a lot. I cleaned them up in the bathtub – no sink, remember – and packed the green tops into a crock pot set on low. I left it on Keep Warm overnight. In the morning, I removed the green tops, added the white bulbs sliced small, and seasoned the onion broth with a little salt and pepper and garlic.

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