Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Three Days to Sweet, Sweet Goodness: The Making of Pickled Watermelon Rind

Last December I received a very special gift from one of my dearest neighbors. (Oh, who am I kidding? She runs laps around the others even though I have a lot of wonderful neighbors. She’s just that good.)

Anyway, the gift was a home-canned jar of pickled watermelon rind. As traditional and old-fashioned as this might seem to some, this happened to be the first time I’d heard of it, much less tried it. In flavor and texture, it was very close to cinnamon apples. And it was delicious! As this is not the kind of food one can order at any ol’ restaurant, or find at most grocery stores—and I have a general interest in canning—I decided then and there to whip up a batch this summer.

Favorite Neighbor (FN), kindly read me her recipe over the phone, which I blended with the recipe from a traditional Kerr booklet. There were a few points that the recipes differed from each other. FN prepares hers over a period of three days, and uses spice oils instead of the actual spice. Every other recipe I have found is prepared over two days and uses the actual spices, but also a brine solution for one phase of the preparation.

I opted to use the actual spices, but prepare the rind over three days. Using the oils seemed a bit like cheating to me, but I really liked the texture of her rind. If I’d have used a salt water solution it would have made the pickles a bit too mushy for my taste.

I’m allergic to raw melons, so it’s been years since I’d shopped for watermelon. In the intervening decade a lot seems to have changed on the watermelon front. For example, several stores only carried seedless watermelon. That might have been fine, but the melons were half the size I needed for the same price, so I would have spent twice as much to get my rind. After finally finding a seeded variety and cutting it open, I realized that this particular melon (dark green flesh and negligible stripes) had almost no rind to speak of. Since I bought the melon for the rind, this kinda sucked.


Beware of new varieties of watermelon that might not give you the rind you need.

I went to several other grocery stores before I found a traditional melon with the pale green and off-white stripes. And bought two, to make two batches.

Pickled Watermelon Rind

1 large watermelon
Approximately 2 quarts of water, or enough to cover rind
8 cups sugar
4 cups vinegar
1 cup water
8 t cloves
16 sticks cinnamon
Optional: Red or green food coloring as desired
Sterilized Kerr pint jars and lids

Day 1:

Rind the watermelon. Peel and remove all green and pink portions from the rind. A Chore Boy scrubber can be helpful in removing pink flesh, though I ended up scraping the rind with a spoon, which worked fine as well. Cut in 1" cubes and place in large stove-proof kettle. Pour boiling water over rind until covered, and parboil until it can be pierced with a fork. Drain and return rind to kettle.


Make a syrup of sugar, vinegar and water. Prepare a cheesecloth bundle of crushed cinnamon sticks and cloves*. Heat the syrup and spices to a boil, and pour over rind. Let stand in refrigerator overnight.


Day 2:

Drain off syrup and reserve. Reheat to boiling and pour over rind again. Let stand overnight in refrigerator.


Day 3:

Heat the syrup and rind together. If food coloring is desired, add a few minutes before boiling time is up. Discard spice bag at end of boil or just before adding food coloring.

Pack boiling hot into sterilized Kerr jars to within 1/2" of top. Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Yield: 6-9 pints.


The day I went to the grocery store to buy pint jars (quart jars seemed too big, jelly jars too small...), I found an old man (80s?) studying the back of a package of pickling spice. He had decided to make pickled okra like his wife used to make, but when she died the recipes were lost. He’d been given a lot of okra, and had been asking for advice from friends, so he was going to try making it. Good for him, I say! And God rest her soul, but boo on wife who didn’t bother to write her recipes down. Anyway, I mentioned that I was going to make pickled watermelon rind. OMG. His eyes actually twinkled as he remembered his mother making it when he was young. He recounted how she would get upset if he threw his rind away after eating a slice of melon. It was like I had opened up a door to a long forgotten but cherished memory.


A jar from my first-but-definitely-not-last Pickled Watermelon Rind.

Lastly, a few weeks before I gathered my ingredients, I received a call from my uncle who now relies upon me for all things culinary. Not that I’m an expert, mind you. But using the power of Google I can find recipes using the wonky ingredients he has found at the market (which I then read to him over the phone), and often have a local-to-me source for wonky ingredients that he is looking for. This particular phone call had to do with the latter, and his search for something called... pickled watermelon rind... and had I ever heard of it? Well, yes! I knew exactly where my favorite store stocked it on their shelves (above the canning jars next to the capers), but told him that I would be making my own batch in sometime in August. As I promised him that day, I have set a jar aside to give him when he visits in a few weeks.

*As I was preparing this recipe and comparing FN’s to others, I ran across a version on the Martha Stewart site. In typical MS way, their recipe actually specified the exact dimensions to cut the cheesecloth and length of kitchen twine. And apparently to do this properly I am to dampen the cheesecloth, squeeze it dry, then fill it with the prescribed spices. In other words, I experienced yet-another MS inspired eye-roll/sigh moment.
Found Time, Used Wisely



A pause between out-of-town meetings results in a rare indulgence, and a repeat.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Two Thoughts

Intolerance is often an effortless way to think.

Doing what’s right rarely is.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sisterly Bonding

Ideally, I think sisterly bonding should occur in the preteen years in an abandoned hobo’s shack down next to the tracks. Bonding ritual should include matches, a candle, locks of human hair, and a photo of the heart throb du jour, cut from the pages of the latest teen ’zine. In my case this would have been Lief Garrett - see video of favorite song below.






Oh, my preteen self thought he was so misunderstood...


But in my case, when dealing with a sister that was a decade older, it has taken many more decades and the onslaught of “very adult” obligations to truly form a bond.

Though I do not relish what we will face together, I am so glad I have her to face it with me.
Pumpkin Blossoms



Plenty of them, but still no sign of the actual pumpkins.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The State of Education

A few days ago I had an opportunity to hang out in a local coffee shop for an hour or so while I waited for a business meeting to end. I simply sipped coffee, knit on my sister’s birthday sock, and people watched. It was rare and luxurious!

I expected to see some of the town’s more colorful characters walk past. I did not expect to catch a glimpse of the underbelly of education today.

There are times I come face-to-face with my old-fogeyness, and I’m afraid this might have been one of them. Because, you see, in my day there was no such thing as online distance learning. When someone wanted to take a course from a college that wasn’t next door, they either moved near to where the college was, or took a correspondence course. Today not so much. Today there are many colleges, universities and even lower grade schools that promote the idea of getting a degree in your pajamas. But I’d never given much thought to what that experience is like for the instructors. Until that day.

As I sat near the front windows, a woman walked in (snuck in more like it) with a large laptop to use the coffee shop’s wifi. She did not bother to actually buy anything, which is why I accuse her a sneaking in. She stayed for about half an hour, tapping away on her laptop and reading I-have-no-idea-what. That in and of itself isn’t unusual. Pretty typical coffee shop behavior actually. Except for the non-customer wifi stealing bit. But what got me was the large sticker on her laptop: Insight Schools.

Insight Schools is an online school for lower grades taught by “experienced state-certified teachers that know how to inspire,” as their web site promotes. I gathered that this person—this wifi thief that didn’t bother to bring papers, briefcase, or even a protective sleeve for said laptop—was one of those “experienced state-certified teachers that know how to inspire.” I wasn’t inspired. In fact, she seemed to me to just be putting in her time, and not approaching her role in a professional or focused way.

At the same time that woman #1 was typing and reading, a second woman walked in to join a third woman already seated at a table. It turns out woman #2 was an administrator for a regional community college who was meeting one of the school’s newest adjunct instructors. They discussed lesson plans, smoking policies, grading software, room assignments for the once-a-week face-to-face class, and preferred contact methods between students and the instructor. And I gotta say, the very idea that the new instructor orientation for a college would take place in a coffee shop many miles away from the actual brick-and-mortar school seemed... well... less-than-professional too.

Oh, and while woman #3 had bought a coffee, woman #2 didn’t bother.

Sigh...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Craziness, and the Final Landscaping Push of 2010

I’m not sure if it’s simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time, or if it has more to do with my family’s crime-reporting hyper-reflex (which seems to be lacking in many people), but it happened again.

Regular readers may recall this post back in February, 2010 when my husband happened to catch on-camera an out-of-control slide of an SUV on our icy residential street, the subsequent crash into our neighbor’s mailbox, and the driver departing the scene without so much as a sheepish “sorry”. In that case he had been taking photos at the time, and just so happened to have caught the action, along with a pristine view of the license plate.* Well, it happened again.

We had just returned home from dinner Sunday evening. I had gotten out of the car and headed straight for our yard recycling bags to haul them to the curb for Monday morning’s pickup. I was on bag #2 when I heard an engine revving and then the sound of tires squealing. I looked up in time to see a red sports car approaching the T intersection from the side street. It did not stop, but attempted to go as fast as possible through a left turn. The driver didn’t make it, and instead hopped the curb, ending up with all four tires in my neighbor’s lawn. He continued to accelerate and didn’t stop until the next intersection about a block away.

I had had my phone on my hip, so as soon as I saw the accident happening I got the phone out and tried to navigate to the camera as quickly as possible to get a picture of the plates.

He had gotten out of his vehicle and was inspecting the front end for damage as I jogged up the street toward him with phone/camera in hand.

The driver spotted he and hollered “I’m fine!”.

I hollered back, “I want your plates,” which were temporary, btw.

The driver immediately got back in his car and took off.

As Michael described it, the sound of that car had brought neighbors out onto their lawns like spiders after kerosene is poured down a spider hole. And yet, no one else called the police. Not even the people who owned the property that was damaged and witnessed the entire event. Though they sure wanted me to call the police.

When the officer arrived I gave him laser prints of the car at various stages of the incident, which he was able to use to find and issue citations to the driver within minutes.

And did I mention that the property that was damaged Sunday night was the same property that received damage in the February incident?

Crazy!

Now onto fun stuff of a different sort: landscaping.

Earlier on Sunday we did our final landscaping push for the year, not counting irises, tulips, and anything magical that catches our eyes. It turned out that we didn’t come home with quite as much as I’d planned. We had three areas we were attempting to address.

The first was an evergreen bush to hide our composter, and we did bring something home for it: a bayberry. It should be quite fragrant in the right conditions, and add to the spa-like retreat we are creating in that part of the yard.

The second was an evergreen to hide the gas meter. That turned out to be super-tough. There are lots of small evergreens, but they often don’t give the height we need. There are lots of larger evergreens. They would simply be too large to be practical. That bush will have to wait until fall when the nursery gets a new shipment of stock in. We have hope.

The third was a large evergreen to fill a hole in our privacy screen. Until that morning we were absolutely certain we wanted a Golden Dawn Redwood as seen here. That was, until I spotted the bit about it being deciduous. The needle drop would kind of make it useless as a year-round privacy screen. So instead, we opted for a Riverside Serbian Spruce. The only hiccup in our plan is that it is balled, burlapped, and planted in the ground, so we only have visitation rights to it until October when the nursery will release it to us. Otherwise, transplant shock might be too much.

In the meantime, here is a photo we took during our Tuesday visitation when we returned to the nursery to cherry pick from their latest shipments of iris rhizomes:



* The winter driver was caught and ticketed for many things, including driving without insurance.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

SUCCESS!!

Some of you may recall my July 15 post where I puzzled over the identity of one of my houseplants.

Here’s a more recent shot to refresh your memory:



I have been on a casual hunt in the tropicals section of various nurseries and garden centers to locate one with a label. Surprisingly I have had no success with that route. In fact, today I went to the nursery where I’m 99% sure I purchased mine (I bought all the plants for the light well of my former office space at one time from one place, and this is where this lived), and not only didn’t they have anything like it in stock today, but the owners couldn’t figure out what it was nor did they ever think they’d seem one before. The blossom is similar to a mandevilla, but those are vining plants at this is clearly not.

Michael had seen a ton in Dubai, but when he entered key words into the Google search engine, he only came up with posts puzzling over the name for these plants.

Well honey, this afternoon I found it! I googled with just the right search words, and low and behold it is an Adenium, more commonly known as a Desert Rose.

Here’s a blog post with lots of different photos of that plant.

I feel so much better now!

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Welcome Break

Yes, the heat wave finally broke! Yippee!! And just in time, too. At the end of July we mapped out our weekend plans for the month of August, and we had this Saturday reserved for going to Powell Gardens to research evergreen options in our final “planting sweep” of 2010. I’m not including various bulbs, rhizomes and perennial plants. Rather I mean larger trees and bushes that we need to solve sight-line problems on our property. So doggedly determined are we to solve these issues ASAP, we would have visited Powell even if it had been 100°. But thank goodness it wasn’t!

We took a lot of images of trees, shrubs, groundcovers, etc., as well as photos of their tags. Unfortunately we later discovered that many of the tags turned out to be for plants other than the ones we were interested in, which caused us much confusion at the garden store on Sunday. More on that in a later post. But so much for that. Here’s one image whose sole purpose is to be pretty:

Friday, August 13, 2010

Projectile



Another day of record-breaking temps. I got up at 4:30 a.m. to see the Perseid meteor shower, and it was (still? already?) a freaking 84°. I saw an awesome 1 meteor. There may have been more, but the neighbor’s mature tree was blocking a large part of the northeast sky.

The heat wave was supposed to end tonight, but now the National Weather Service has extended the heat warning through tomorrow night.

...sigh...

On the plus side, work and other distractions have been keeping me from some last minute seam fixes on my winter quilt. But yesterday I kicked enough things off my task list to justify an afternoon off today.

It just so happens that my craft room is the coldest room in the house.

The seams are now fixed, so I’m ready to buy and sew on the border fabric. I may have a winter quilt this winter yet! If there is ever winter again, that is.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Stick a Fork in Me. I’m Done!



Thursday’s temps were another record-breaker. One or two more days of this left to go. Until then, you’ll find me in a sweat-stained stupor trying very hard to wake up in next week.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Four Random Thoughts

Today was the hottest day of the year. Until tomorrow, when it will be the hottest day of the year. Until the day after that, when it will be the hottest day of the year.

I’ve started putting up my Roma tomatoes toward a kick-ass homemade spaghetti sauce, but the Romas are coming in too slowly to do the cooking all at once. My freezer runneth over with small batches.

As parental units age (and ergo, unscheduled trips to the hospital become more frequent), it becomes even more critical to always have a small project like a sock on hand at all times.

My first-ever attempt at brewing a California Common was ready for drinking today. Turns out that I make a kick-ass California Common.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Preparing to Put the Pin in Summer

It’s August. I have no idea how that happened. It seems like I blink, and another month has shot past. With Labor Day only a month away now, I am faced with the harsh reality that the summer is almost over. It’s time to re-assess. Have I accomplished all the most important things that needed to be done by summer’s end?

This is especially critical since fall will be broken up by travel, and once that’s over we’re on the slide into winter. Given everything, there’s not a lot of wiggle room.

For anyone who is in my neck of the woods right now, and has felt all three digits in actual temperature—I am so not complaining about summer coming to an end. In that sense, I am past ready. But there are loose ends. For example:

I plan to begin hand-quilting my new winter quilt in October during “Me Week”. But I still need to correct some seam errors, purchase and attach a border, etc. To-do: August.

After receiving a wonderful jar of the first-ever pickled watermelon rind I’d ever tasted, courtesy of my favorite neighbor, I decided to try whipping up a batch myself. To-do: August.

My Romas will not wait for ripening until it’s convenient to can. To-do: August.

The yard is in desperate need of re-seeding, especially areas that we converted from old planting beds. And there’s still a lot of soil preparation that has to happen beforehand. To-do: August.

My Saaz and Cascade hops are almost ready to be harvested, but I have no oast to properly dry them in. To-do: early-early August.

My eldest sister’s birthday is fast approaching and I only have about 2" of one sock completed. To-do: August.

The list is much longer than this, of course. But I think you get the idea. With the help of a write-on/wipe-off calendar board, and several different task calendaring systems, I just might get through this.

If not, I’ll have all winter to make my plans for what to accomplish in the summer of 2011.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

A-R Skills, Properly Applied—or I’ve got Brewing in the Bag

Things have gotten crazy around here. I mean, I’ve always been one to really throw myself into endeavors. But jeez, maybe I’ve finally gone too far?

There is so much on the horizon when it comes to the kitchen garden. Take a look at this pie pumpkin vine. Other than the fact that it hasn’t shown signs of actually bearing fruit (cause a: planted several months too early; cause b: my skills set needs to be extended to cross-pollinating plants), it holds all the promise of a bumper crop.



And look at my Roma tomatoes:



That’s just one plant. I have a whole ’nother Roma. All these tomatoes will be processed into jars of tomato sauce and spaghetti sauce. Which means I’ve got many hours of kitchen work ahead of me. The first batch is in the oven being roasted as I speak.

The beer-making has gotten especially crazy around here. A few days ago I picked up my share of a bulk order of brewing grains:



Of that pallet that you see being unwrapped, five 25kg bags belong to me.

Things have gotten so complex that I had to put the details on an Excel spreadsheet just to keep track of what days what things needed to be brewed, racked, or bottled. Plus it allows me to see that I’m short a few pieces of equipment. For example, based on this chart I’ll need five fermentation buckets on the 7th & 8th of August. Since I only own two, this translates into a trip to the homebrew shop in the very near future.



I have this “thing” about mise en place, and the brewing kitchen is no different. I come back from the homebrew shop with stacks of various specialty grains that, combined with base malts, will eventually become five+ different batches of beer. Eventually I’ll find a place in the basement to properly store my base malt bags, but in the meantime they and the piles of specialty grain are piled in the dining room. I asked some of my fellow brewers how they keep things sorted, but I have come to the conclusion that “planning” and “organization” isn’t generally typical behavior of the homebrewer. Time to develop a solution tailored to a crafty homebrewer such as myself: session grain bags.

I knew I wanted all-cotton grain bags, but I didn’t have much of a plan or vision beyond that. When I walked into my local Hancock’s and discovered a table of 100% cotton batik fabric, the question of what I would use was answered resoundingly.



What I bought probably seemed really odd to the clerk: 1 yard each of about ten different bolts of fabric. She asked what I was planning to make.

...um...

Am I honest? Or do I tell a plausible-but-simpler lie?

I chose the honest route, even though it required a heck of a lot of explanation. She declared I would have the best-looking grain bags out there. Maybe she’s right. But on the other hand, I doubt having project grain bags is common, ya know?

I knew I wanted to use the entire yard of fabric, and that I should probably plan on cutting it in half along its width. But what about a closure option? Right at the point that I was mulling this over, the Angry Chicken posted a video tutorial on making fabric snack bags. Her closure method seemed perfect.



I don’t own a serger, so I went with a rolled hem.



The finished and filled bags were additionally closed with rockin’ binder clips, and labeled with manila string tags. Here’s three ready for brew day:



The above bags contain the grain for a porter, saison, and an IPA.

At this point you may be asking yourself why I would bother with making session bags? Let’s examine the contents of the brownish bag on the far left. That’s the porter.

The grain bill (weight and variety of grains required to make a batch of beer) for this recipe includes seven - seven different malts at a total weight of 18.25 lbs. So not only do I have to weigh out a significant quantity of base malt out of my in-house store, but I also have six varieties of other grains in small quantities that all come from the homebrew shop in 1# bags even though most of the specialty grain additions are in fractions of pounds. And did I mention that my most accurate scale will only weigh 4# at a time? It’s a huge production.

Then add to that the complexity of coming home with enough specialty malts to make 4-6 different styles of beer which each call for their own specialty grains though they make overlap with the other styles and two may end up splitting a single 1# bag of Vienna malt... To say it’s confusing is putting it mildly.

For any homebrewers that may be reading this, rest assured I am not putting them in the session bags pre-ground. We own our own grinder, and have it hooked up to the drill so it’s a super-fast task on brew day. But having the grains already weighed and centralized means that I simply need to pour the contents of that one bag into the hopper as we go.