Mainstay Gatherings

Imperfect Pickles

There is a tendency in life (and certainly online) to show only the perfect.  Unfortunately, a beautiful picture is just that – beautiful, but only a picture.  It doesn’t always tell the whole story.  When I started this blog, the purpose wasn’t to show off a perfect life, but rather, a real one.


There are always going to be moments when things don’t go our way, aren’t what we hoped for, and we feel frustration for all the imperfections of the things we can’t control.

A nice little example is my effort with pickles this year… I kept waiting this summer to share my newest amazing fantastic pickle-findings with you, but after three botched attempts, I need to chalk this one up to failure.  Cucumbers have a very short growing season and I missed it.  This is not to say that there are no pickles.  I made loads of them.  They taste okay, but they didn’t turn out how I wanted them to.  Some were too big and are floating around in the jars.  Some turned out a bit wrinkly.  Some didn’t seal correctly.  The funny part is that I couldn’t let it go.  I tried the damn thing three times!!  At some point in time, Albert Einstein described insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.  This pickle effort could possibly be described as cuckoo, crazy, or possibly insane.

When do you decide you have had enough?  How do you move past hurdles when it becomes clear that success is not within your grasp?  How do you know when to change gears?  At some point mid-August, I had to admit defeat in the 2013 pickle category and it didn’t feel good.  But, that’s the truth.  My message today is:

Know that you aren’t the only one to get frustrated.

Know that you aren’t the only one who fails.

We all do.


We just usually don’t like to admit it, and we certainly don’t want to broadcast it to the world or Facebook.  So, without further ado, here are some photos of imperfect pickles.  I will try again next year.  Or I won’t.  We’ll see how I’m feeling about it next summer.

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Artichoke Spinach Lasagna

So our family is going through this kindergarten transition very well, but there are some signs of stress.  My baby is becoming a young man and I feel so, so proud of him.  The day feels long without him and even though I was ready to sell him to a band of gypsies by the end of this summer, I miss him.

So, when I feel a little out of control, I either make lists or I make food to freeze.  I guess the idea is that even if I don’t know what is coming around the bend, at least there will be food to eat in the freezer.  I am someone who does not love to cook.  But, I do like projects.  So I enjoy cooking recipes in large batches and then breaking them down and freezing them in sizes that make sense for different sized gatherings.  Then, on any given day (when things get even crazier than they are today), I have a bunch of homemade meals ready to thaw in my freezer.  We have our standbys, our favorites and these meals are fabulous because they make the house smell wonderful and like someone has been cooking all day.  But, it wasn’t me… at least not that day.

So for the last three days, since Sam started Kindergarten, we have been cooking nonstop.  I have FILLED, and I mean FILLED our freezer.  Mission accomplished.  This mama is feeling the intensity of big changes in our family…

This recipe is adapted from an Artichoke Spinach Lasagna I found on  Double the below quantities to make enough to freeze.  Not only is this a great method of cooking for busy families, but it is great to have some meals available to share with friends or for impromptu entertaining.

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Artichoke Spinach Lasagna

yield: 8 servings

olive oil cooking spray

9 uncooked lasagna noodles (I prefer no-cook Barilla)

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 (14.5 ounce) can vegetable or chicken broth

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 (14 ounce) can marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry

1 (28 ounce) jar tomato sauce

salt & pepper to taste

3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

1 (4 ounce) package herb and garlic feta, crumbled

(double or triple for freezing of multiple future meals)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring a lage pot of lightly salted water to boil.  Add noodles and cook for 8-10 minutes or until al dente; drain.  (Or skip this step if using no-boil lasagna noodles).

Spray a large skillet with cooking spray and heat on medium high.  Saute onion and garlic for 3 minutes, or until onion is tender-crisp.  Stir in broth and rosemary; bring to a boil.  Stir in artichoke hearts and spinach; reduce heat, cover and simmer 5 minutes.  Stir in tomato sauce.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spread 1/4 of the artichoke mixture in the bottom of the prepared baking dish; top with 3 noodles.  Sprinkle 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese over noodles.  Repeat layers two more times, ending with the artichoke mixture and mozzarella cheese.  Sprinkle crumbled feta on top.

Bake, covered, for 40 minutes.  Uncover, and bake 15 minutes more, or until hot and bubbly.  Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.

Enjoy tonight or 3 months from now!


Side note:  Another important thing I want to mention is how happy it makes me that Muir Glen brand of tomatoes has decided to get rid of the BPA in their cans.  Tomatoes are notoriously difficult to deal with for corporations because of their high acidity.  They lead the industry in their choice to take the chemical of BPA out of their canned goods.  More and more companies are trying to get with the program, but for now, I trust and applaud Muir Glen for making the choice to help us keep our families safe from chemicals in our food.  Just FYI, the way you can tell if your cans are free of BPA (when talking about tomatoes only) is the copper lining color that you see below.  Thanks, Muir Glen!


Slow Roasted Tomatoes

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Some days there just aren’t enough hours in the day.  And some weeks there just aren’t enough hours to make tomato sauce… So what does one do when the tomatoes are ripe and abundant in the garden, but you don’t have enough time to can or eat them all before they go bad?  The answer?  You make slow roasted tomatoes.  “Notes on Dinner” has done a lovely job outlining how to slow roast tomatoes.  Her recipe is based on a menu item at a fantastic local restaurant’s menu.  Vios Cafe is a wonderful restaurant in Seattle and is extremely family-friendly with an entire area devoted to kid play.  One can enjoy a glass of wine, while eating delicious food, and everyone is happy.  But, until you are able to make it to Vios, cook yourself up some of their slow roasted tomatoes.

I must admit that I am never patient enough to truly slow roast, although I know they are delicious.  I typically cook the tomatoes on 350 degrees for an hour or two depending on the size of the tomatoes.  Add a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper and whatever other herbs or flavors you wish, you let the tomatoes caramelize on the pan.  You will end up with a flavor that you won’t believe.  The already deliciously fresh tomatoes become even more full flavored and amazing.  After tasting these, you really won’t need much inspiration for what to do with them.  Spooning them off the pan and straight into your mouth is one very good idea, but here are a few others if you need some encouragement.

  1. Roasted Tomato Tartine
  2. Shaved Fennel, Roasted Tomato & Pistachio Salad
  3. Roasted Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart

Roasted tomatoes are wonderful to have around.  We will use them in soups, pasta sauces, on pizzas, in salads, and on antipasti platters.  Roasted tomatoes have a rich, sweet, concentrated flavor.  They are fantastic…  Enjoy!!

Dill Green Beans


Pickled beans have always been a favorite of mine.  I remember once when I was about 12, we went to a silent auction and the only thing I wanted to bid on, besides a flourescent pink ski parka, were the pickled green beans.  I remember savoring that jar of beans.  Weird how those memories can stay with you.  Anyway, since then I have been pickling my own green beans and am excited to share my favorite recipe with you!  This recipe comes from one of my favorite canning books, Tart and Sweet: 101 Canning and Pickling Recipes for the Modern Kitchen by Kelly Geary and Jessie Knadler.  I have mentioned this book before, because it is one of my favorites for a quick and dirty lesson on canning and the recipes included both capture the traditional as well as the innovative.


Since time is short and summer is busy, we’re going to get right down to it today.  We grew green beans in our garden again this year.  They are doing well, but I did need to supplement with more beans from the store.  If you have never pickled, this is an excellent recipe to begin your canning adventure with.  It is incredibly easy and the only part that takes any time at all is trimming the beans.  It is so easy and you will be very happy once you have tried this project… Your bloody mary recipe will thank you as well.

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Dilly Beans

yield: approximately 4 pint (500 mL) jars

4 cups white vinegar

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

2 cups water

3 tablespoons kosher salt

4 pounds green beans, trimmed to fit in jars

Per Jar:

3 dill sprigs or 1 dill head

2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon yellow mustard seed

1/2 teaspoon brown mustard seed

1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns

Prepare canning water, jars, and lids.

In a large steel saucepan, combine vinegar, water and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve salt.

Place dill, garlic, mustard seeds, and peppercorns in each hot jar.  Pack the beans in tightly.

Pour boiling brine over the beans, leaving 1/2 inch headspace and making sure the beans are covered in liquid.  Check for air bubbles, wipe the rims, and seal.

Process for 10 minutes in water bath, adjusting for elevation.




A few more tips:  Remember that canning is about preserving great produce, so can with the best ingredients you can find.  When packing jars for pickling, pack the jars as tightly as possible, without bruising produce, as the liquid will make everything float and ingredients will shift around.  Canning, especially if you are just beginning, is always more fun with a friend or two.  Use this project as the excuse to get together with a like-minded friend!  The act of having a project to do together always takes away the guilt I feel when just getting together with someone for coffee and a much-needed catch up.  That may not be your hang up, but it is one of mine.

Happy Pickling!

Author Note:  You might notice that one of these jars has carrots in it.  That is another quick tip.  If you have extra jars all ready to go, give your fridge a quick look to see if anything else in there could stand to be pickled!  Fun way to experiment with new combinations.  Also, this project happened in a post-bedtime burst of productivity, so the photos are not perfect.  These projects happen when they can happen in my life, so that’s the way it goes!  Hope it still inspires you to create!

Apricot Jam (3 intriguing ways!)


So, (surprise, surprise) things don’t seem to be slowing down around here!  Despite the fact it is summer, we just seem to have more things we want to see, do, and eat!  We were at the farmer’s market last Sunday and I noticed that apricots are in season.  For some reason I thought it would be later!  Well, the guy said it was time, so we bought 25 pounds of apricots.  As I look back at the blog though, this is the exact same time as last year.  I posted Apricot Rosemary Jam on July 25th, so I guess we are right on schedule!  Between the time we bought them and when we made the jam, we ate a whole lot of apricots and also took out the pits… and were left with approximately 12 pounds of apricots.  So, we made four small batches of jam!


As pleased as I was with the interesting herbal quality of the Apricot Rosemary Jam, I wanted to try something new this year.  One of my other favorites from last year was the Heirloom Tomato Basil Jam, but I didn’t love how long that recipe took to make.  So, this year, I decided to try Apricot-Basil Jam to try to get the best of both worlds.  As I mentioned in last year’s post, apricot jam is one of my favorites because it retains so much brightness in the flavor.  It is also very, very easy.  The prep is simple and quick and those are all important elements for those of us who enjoy preserving, but don’t have loads of time.  This is a fruit worth preserving!


I also happened upon a great magazine this summer that I want to share with you.  Better Homes and Gardens produces some Special Interest Publications that seem to be seasonal in nature.  I saw that this year they have a Canning: preserving, freezing, drying edition of their magazine this summer (supposed to be displayed until September 9th and is $9.99).  It is a great guide to the basics of preserving.  The magazine is affordable and contains so much great information as well as both traditional and innovative recipes.  If you are curious about preserving food and want to learn more, but don’t feel like buying a bunch of books, this would be a great first step in learning more!  As I was flipping through the magazine I saw that they created some fantastic variations to try.  They were making peach jam and some of their variations were quite nice: cardamom-peach, sweet basil-peach, bourbon-peach, and chipotle-peach – intriguing, no?  Based on their great ideas, I decided to follow their example and try some of these variations for our apricot jams.

Without further ado, Apricot Jam 2013!

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Apricot Jam

yield: makes 7 half pints

6 cups (3 lbs) apricots (halved and pitted)

6 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Mash apricots, not necessary for them to all be the same size.  Place apricots, water, and sugar in a non-reactive pot and bring to a boil.  Stir fruit mixture regularly.  Cook for about 15-20 minutes, until fruit thickens and runs slowly and thickly off back of spoon.  Remove pot from heat.

Ladle jam into half-pint jars.  Wipe rims of jars with wet paper towel, apply lids and rings and process in your boiling water canner for 5 minutes.

Remove jars from pot.  Let cool.  After about 20 minutes, turn jars upside-down to disperse fruit.  When jars are cool enough to handle, test seals.  If seals are good, store jars in a cool, dark place.  If any of the jars did not seal, place those jars in the fridge and use within a month or two.

apricot jam with cream cheese on crackers (clockwise: apricot-rye whiskey, chipotle-apricot, sweet basil-apricot)


Sweet Basil-Apricot Jam:  Prepare as directed, except stir in 1 cup chopped fresh basil after skimming off foam.

Apricot-Rye Whiskey Jam:  Prepare as directed, except stir in 1/2 cup whiskey with the sugar, apricots, lemon juice and water.

Chipotle-Apricot Jam:  Prepare as directed, except stir in 2 tablespoons of finely chopped chipotle chile peppers in adobo sauce with the sugar, apricots, lemon juice and water.


Classic Raspberry Freezer Jam


We made strawberry jam a few weeks ago and now it is time for raspberry.  Raspberry freezer jam is my absolute favorite.  It captures sunshine and summer for me all in one sweet bite.  Raspberries can be quite maddening, as their shelf life is so very short.  They are wonderful to eat that first day and I always find myself saving them, only to be disappointed that they don’t look quite as plump or luscious the next day.  With this in mind, I love to make loads of raspberry freezer jam in the summer and imagine grey February skies brightened by the spreading of this yummy goodness on my English muffin come winter.


The process is almost exactly the same as with the strawberry jam.  I like to make no-cook freezer jam, as I feel that the freshness of the berries is maintained better than with cooked jam methods.  And, as I mentioned with the strawberry freezer jam, there is quite a lot of sugar in these recipes.  I guess I am one that tries to enjoy small amounts of the good stuff and not worry too much about it.  If you are interested in low sugar options, you will want to research low or no sugar needed recipes, as changing the amount in this recipe will result in your jam not setting properly.

Another fun thing about freezer jam is that it is a great activity to do with the kids!  There is no heat involved, so there is no risk of burning, as with other types of jams.  The skills involved are measuring, pouring, mashing and stirring.  The boys had a great time running the show and I loved that I could take the backseat on this project!  Taste testing is always the final treat!

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Classic Raspberry Freezer Jam


2 cups crushed raspberries

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

4 cups sugar

1 pouch liquid pectin (Certo)

zest of one lemon

Wash and rinse plastic containers with tight fitting lids.  Use 1 to 2 cup size containers.

Crush berries.  Sieve 1/2 of the pulp to remove some seeds, if desired. (I omit this step, as I don’t mind the seeds)

Measure exact amount of prepared fruit into a large bowl.

Measure exact amount of sugar into a separate bowl.  Stir sugar into prepared fruit.  Mix well.  Let stand 10 minutes; stir occasionally.  Stir pectin into lemon juice in a small bowl.  Stir pectin mixture into prepared fruit mixture.  Stir constantly until sugar is completely dissolved and no longer grainy, about 3 minutes.  (A few sugar crystals may remain.)

Mix in lemon zest.

Pour into prepared containers, leaving 1/2 inch space at top of container for expansion during freezing; cover.

Let stand at room temperature 24 hours until set.  Refrigerate up to 3 weeks.  Or store in freezer for up to 1 year.  Thaw in refrigerator.