Day 4: I can, therefore I am

Over the past few years, Darrell and I have developed a growing concern about what we eat, where it comes from and what happens between the time something’s picked to when it shows up on our plates. Let’s just say when people decided ignorance is bliss, they were probably thinking of the food industry.

The more we read, the more we question; the more we question, the less we like the answers. We’ve signed up for the second year to participate in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), where we receive organic produce from a local farm on a weekly basis, so we know where our vegetables come from and how they’re grown.

The only problem, of course, is that for two people, we sometimes receive more than we can consume before it goes bad. So earlier this week, I sent my mom a simple, though random, request: Can you teach me how to can? 

She agreed to show me the ropes today, so after an awesome breakfast at home, I headed out to the Covington Ranch.

Every summer for as long as I can remember, my mom has been canning the vegetables she gathers from her garden for use year round. Many of my summer mornings were spent cutting green beans, shucking corn or picking tomatoes; many summer afternoons were spent perched on the kitchen counter while mom pulled boiling hot canning jars from her pressure cooker.

It was such a common scene around our house that it became one of those things you just assume everyone does. Doesn’t everyone eat dinner together as a family? Doesn’t everyone eat vegetables from a garden? Doesn’t everyone have to spend hours picking said vegetables from said garden? I was, admittedly, much less enthusiastic about the picking than the eating, but I digress.

Recipe card

And this is one of the good-condition ones.

As an adult, I realize the garden we had growing up was significantly larger than the average person’s entire yard (this became blatantly obvious the first time my now husband referred to it as a farm). I realize that there are a lot of people for whom a family recipe is more likely read from the wax-coated back panel of a Kraft box than from a handwritten note card.

I’m lucky. I have a strong family rich with great cooks. I asked my mom today when she learned to can, and she answered it was around the time we moved into the house where they still live today, when I was two years old. My dad’s mother, a strong-willed, devoutly religious woman who I’ll always remember as the maker of the worlds best mashed potatoes (and pretty much everything else) taught her. That was 25 years ago, and she’s been doing it the same way ever since.

But today, as we were canning, my maternal grandmother stopped by to say hello. Immediately, because of the purpose of today as a lesson, the two of them began discussing their own tricks. Some of what my grandmother had to say confirmed what my mom had learned from my paternal grandmother, some of it conflicted, but all of it was shared in a comfortable and casual discussion about this singularly unifying practice of preparing food for storage.

It’s a grace and flexibility I admire in my mom. She always seems to know what matters and what doesn’t, never letting a small conflict ruffle her feathers. We continued on with the day, spending time outside to check the garden, feed the fish in the pond and even managed to add a few jars of pickled peppers to the day’s accomplishments. When it was finally time to head home, the canning jars were still too hot to take with me … a perfect reason to come back and do it all again next week.

A few hours later, I received a brief but validating text message from my mom:

All of the jars sealed! Good job!

It’s 2013 and we can text each other congratulations for a job well done, even if that job was a more than 100-year-old tradition.

It’s funny. Something I never really thought much about as a child I realize now I was lucky to experience. I had healthful meals, painstakingly prepared by a mother who really did know best. You never have to wonder where your food comes from when you plant it, pick it and prepare it yourself, and I’m glad to say I’ll be able to do the same for my children.

They say you grow into your mother … I suppose in this sense, I’m glad they’re right.

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Chicken Noodle Blah

All right, it’s official – I need to get some damn patience.

 These are the egg noodles I made today to go into my chicken noodle soup.

And this is my chicken noodle soup.

Notice how there are noodles in there that don’t quite match the size and shape of those above?

Yeah, that’s because I didn’t make them in time to let them dry. And when I tried to add them because I was getting hungry – you guessed it – they fell apart. So, I removed the few noodles I put in, threw in some Udon noodles, and voilà, mediocre chicken noodle soup.

I know what you’re thinking. “Hey, that looks like it’s cooking in a Crock Pot, why didn’t you start the noodles right away if that soup has been cooking all day?” You’re right, that would have been plenty of time. But I got carried away doing other things and didn’t start the stupid things until 4:00 pm. So, when I got impatient around 5:30 pm and thought they’d be dry enough to add, I threw them in.

Fail.

Now, I know getting this flustered over soup is kind of ridiculous, but there’s something so disheartening about screwing up something you know how to do well. You know when you’re a little kid in the spelling bee and you get really excited because you know how to spell your word, and you can barely hold it in long enough for your teacher to finish, but when the letters come rushing out they’re all mixed up? It sort of feels like that.

No? I’m the only one who remembers that feeling? Hmm, maybe I would have benefited from some more patience back then, too. Anyway…

Changing the subject Moving along to end on a more positive note, Darrell and I went to the Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo last weekend. It was cold, packed and an absolute madhouse, but also kind of awesome.

(insert cheesy, gushy husband-wife caption here)

Neither of us had ever been, even though I grew up in the Tri-State, so it was a fun way to kick off the holiday season for the two of us. Don’t judge me. I didn’t ask anyone to take the picture for us, at least.

And besides, he pretended the soup was delicious, so he deserves a picture post.