Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Guess What!

Guess what Dear Readers??!! I’m writing a book! (Okay, if you know me very well, you know I’m always writing a book, but this is different!) This book is based on this blog! I’ve finally wrestled all (okay some) of the information down into a manageable format and I’m getting mighty close to having it ready for my Beta Readers. (Note: If you’re local and you’d like to be a Beta Reader for me, shoot me an e-mail.)

What’s a Beta Reader you ask? I didn’t know myself the first time I stumbled across the term since the only Betas I know wind up floating dead in my youngest son’s fish bowl a few months after we buy them. Well, a Beta Reader is a person who agrees to read a book when an author has done all she can do with it but before she’s taken the next step to actually publishing it. Beta Readers must be brave and, more importantly, have time on their hands. They read for content and flow and accuracy. They make notes and offer feedback about the scope, format, and content of the book. Some Beta Readers (but not all) catch grammar mistakes and typos. Basically, they tell the author what they like and don’t like about the book. They give an opinion on what works and what doesn’t.

There’s no pay offered (since most authors have no money), but there is extreme gratitude offered. In my case this gratitude will come in the form of homemade applesauce, fresh eggs (if my new girls ever start laying), a free copy of the book when it’s published, and probably some lovely wine and snacks during the final focus group.

I’m hoping to have my manuscript ready for Beta Readers by September 12. That’s a completely unrealistic goal, but I’m setting it anyway. I like a good challenge (as you’ll discover if you read my new book!). That said, I must take a breather from this blog. But don’t despair Dear Reader because while I may be taking a breather from creating new content, I will be posting a chapter from the book each week. That way you can be a virtual Beta Reader. And, if you’re so inclined, you can offer your own edits, thoughts, etc. You can post them in the comment section for all the world to see, or if you’d rather, you can e-mail them to me directly. I’ll post a link to do this at the end of each chapter, along with a few questions to get your editing juices going. Look for the first post this Wednesday!

Want to be one of my Beta Readers? Live nearby? (this is required so that I can ply you with wine at our final focus group) Let me know and I'll send you all the juicy details!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

My Quest for the Perfect Pickle

Pickles have always been my nemesis. The first year I learned to can, I put up nearly 15 quarts of pickles. They were “bread and butter” pickles which makes absolutely no sense to me because why would pickles be associated with bread and butter? Once upon a time did people eat butter and pickle sandwiches? All that aside, bread and butter is not sweet and sweet is what these pickles were, plus mealy and more of a brown color than green. I worried with every bite that they’d gone bad. I had a new baby at the time and like most new parents I was stricken with a paranoia that everything was out to kill me or my babe. So I placed the jars in a neat row above the bulkhead in my kitchen and they stayed there for nearly five years until we moved. They looked really nice up there and people often commented on how clever and quaint I was to can pickles. Luckily, no one ever asked to taste those pickles.

In our tiny kitchen at our next house there was no bulkhead so when I finally came across the jars (packed by the movers three to a box with insane amounts of paper and bubble wrap), I promptly opened them up and dumped their contents in the compost bin.

I took another shot at pickles a few years later and created beautiful dill pickles that were so bitter they left an aftertaste that didn’t go away until hours after I’d dumped the last jar in the compost. The next year I tried a new recipe and the pickles turned a completely unappetizing watery brown color which was fine since they had no taste at all. So the next year I went out and bought a kit. (Yes, they do make pickle kits.) The pickles looked gorgeous, but once again they were mealy and super sweet. I didn’t dump those jars and pulled them out on occasion to make egg salad, but they certainly weren’t the pickles I’d been dreaming of. (Yes, some people do dream of perfect pickles.) I’m fairly sure I still have one of those jars in the back of my cabinet.

I moved on to sun pickles, refrigerator dills, and sweet pickles marinated in an old fashioned crock to mediocre results. A few years ago I tried using the recipe out of the Ball Jar cookbook which is my go-to cookbook for all my canning adventures. The pickles turned out so salty they became a family joke. My oldest son was about 14 at the time which is just the right age to eat something for the sole purpose of freaking out the people around you. He ate several to prove he could, but then decided he liked them. “They’re so bad, they’re actually kind of addictive,” he said. I decided he had a salt deficiency and finally hung up my pickle hat. (No, there is no such thing as a pickle hat.) I was really good at applesauce, salsa, pizza sauce, pepper jelly, and tomato-basil soup. Who needs homemade pickles?

My decision to quit pickle-making was affirmed when I discovered the pickle stand at Eastern Market. Oh, those pickles! Sweet-hot, Garlic-dill, JalapeƱo, so many wonderful crispy delicious pickles! Never mind that they cost $8 a quart and I had to drive nearly 30 minutes to reach the stand which was only open on Fridays. Problem solved.

And then this summer a new pickle stand opened at Central Market, the market I frequent weekly. Lancaster Pickles makes delicious, fresh pickles and gives free samples. The owners were friendly and fun to talk to. One day while making my purchase of fresh garlic-dills and Sweet horseradish chips, I shared my pickle problem with them. I told them of my salty, bitter, mushy attempts. Kate, one of the owners (and a serious pickle master. And Yes, there are such things as pickle masters.) asked me a few questions and then gave me a five minute tutorial on how to make crispy, delicious pickles.

I hurried home, picked my cucumber vines clean and set to work. And guess what! YES! Finally – crispy, delicious, perfect pickles! Now, before I share the secret with all of you, you must promise me that you’ll stop by the Lancaster Pickle stand at Central Market. Say hi to Kate – she is my hero.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Excuses, excuses.....

It’s Friday and I still haven’t written my post for this week. Here’s why…

My tomatoes have been stricken by the blight…..

And then I found this nasty guy (girl) covered in eggs ready to eat what’s left of them.
 So I’m canning as fast as I possibly can.

The Japanese beetles haven’t let up….

Even though the Assasin bugs are out in force. 
(Assasin bugs might look nasty but they are one of your best allies in the war on Japanese beetles.)

The cucumbers are growing prolifically and I’ve finally found a way to make crisp pickles after nearly 20 years of trying! (Hoping to post about that next week!)
This morning I found this Siamese cucumber.

Everything seems to be ready at once in the garden. The potatoes are ready to come out of the ground.

The carrots should have come out a few weeks ago!

And I have more beans than I know what to do with.

So please forgive me for being a slacker blogger. If your garden is anything like mine, you don’t have time to be reading my silly blog anyway! 

Friday, August 1, 2014


Today’s camp was a compromise. First we went for a hike and a picnic around Lake Redman and then we went to the movies, and finished with a hilarious game of ping pong (in which the camp director was pinged and ponged as she sat nearby writing this). See? Everybody gets what they want. 

I must confess that I'd hoped for more participation and more nature in our week, but I'm learning that as my kids get older, they find spending time with Mom and the natural world less magical and more of an ordeal they must endure if they want a ride to their friend's house. I know we are incredibly lucky to live on our beautiful hillside, but sometimes I think my kids take this privilege for granted. For instance, we have three horses that spend most of their days as lawn ornaments because my children have no interest in riding. Yet, thousands of kids squander every birthday wish and falling star hoping for a horse of their own. I worry that until my kids no longer have constant access to woods and fresh air and animals they won’t appreciate what they have. But maybe that’s the way it’s always been.

Enough parental angst, back to camp.