Saturday, September 6, 2014

E A T : Roasted Tomato Pasta Sauce

The smell of tomatoes cooking in the kitchen always stirs up a longing in me. It brings me back to the basement kitchen of my youth, the extra kitchen that my grandma Bernadine had built in her home so she could can and preserve to her heart's content without having to dirty her upstairs kitchen. My grandmother barely got to enjoy the space in  her home before breast cancer claimed her life in 1985, but the kitchen has been loved and used by my own parents. My Mom spent hours canning peaches in syrup. She has stewed countless tomatoes, made many batches of salsa, dried many fruits and vegetables, and frozen green beans, asparagus, and peas so we could enjoy them for the winter. She made pickles and jam. She froze strawberries and raspberries. My whole family would freeze a huge batch of sweet corn every year in July or August, which brought us all into the canning kitchen together. My brother and I would shuck and remove the silk from the corn outdoors, he would carry it downstairs in batches, and Mom would cook it, while Dad removed the corn from the ear, and eventually my brother and I stuffed it into freezer bags so we could preserve the harvest all year long.

When I was in college I 'remodeled' the canning kitchen, painting the cupboards and walls white, scraping off the old linoleum, and imagining my grandmother within its walls.

Despite the fact I've had the pleasure of knowing and loving my maternal grandma Pearl my whole life, there has always been a part of me that laments the fact that I never got to know my grandma Bernadine. Was she the constant flurry of activity that my parents always tell me about? Did she laugh easily and yell at the top of her lungs like the rest of the Kruses?

I have little glimpses of her, snippets and relics of her life. A recipe clipped from the newspaper with her handwritten notes, pieces of notebook paper where she scrawled a cake or frosting recipe from someone at church. I'm told that my grandmother baked a cake every weekend. And now I cook with an apron made from seed sacks that she packed away for some purpose unknown. I cook with an assortment of jars, mostly my Mom's, but some grandma Bernadine's. These are ultimately just things, but there is something about these relics that makes them special to me. This is why I am preoccupied with the old so much more than the new; this is why I love objects that have stories to tell.

So many people's eyebrows raise in surprise when I tell them I like to can. Some remark that it is interesting that someone so young is interested in a tradition so antiquated. Some tell me that it is too much work. I will agree that it does take time, but I submit that it is time well spent. In all of our pushing forward to accomplish our goals and create our own traditions, it is easy to look back and think that people in my grandmother's generation had more time. After all, they didn't have cell phones to distract them, social media accounts to update, computers everywhere, and countless episodes to catch up on at the DVR. My grandmother worked in her home, so some might say that she had more time to do these things. I reject that line of thinking. The list of tasks that my grandma faced daily was large, and at times I am sure it felt insurmountable. She was the caretaker of the home, the woman who got things done. She had hundreds of chickens. Eggs to wash, pack, and sell. Huge amounts of laundry to do, food to make, and gatherings to cook for, children to raise, and a husband to care for. She wasn't all that different from the busiest woman today.

While it is easier and definitely less time consuming to buy a can of Prego from the grocery store, what story does that can tell? The only story that Prego tells is what the advertising and marketing firms want us to see. When I pull a jar off of the shelf that was crafted by my own hands, it tells a real story. The story begins with me putting the tomato seed in the soil to nurturing the plant, to gifting some of these plants to my parents, and then I inevitably end up with more fresh tomatoes than I can eat from my parents' and my own garden. So I take the few hours to make those tomatoes into something that tastes wonderful and I spoon them into jars and preserve them for all of the months were I don't have access to tomatoes like that. Through this ritual, the act of fellowship and thanksgiving that happens around my table transforms. My act of thankfulness in consuming the food is transformed. It isn't just the freshness, the satisfaction of the work that went into the fruit, or even the knowledge that everything in that jar is whole and fresh. It is the passing down of a tradition--a turning over of ourselves and our trust to the earth, seeing the provision, picking the fruit, and making something beautiful and nourishing from it. And the ability to put this on the table and fellowship over a meal is filled with layers of meaning. To some, it's just dinner. But our food tells layers of stories about us and where we come from.

Because my mother took the time to pass on this tradition of canning to me, I have the ability to partake in this act of Thanksgiving for what has been provided by God for myself and my own family. I have the privilege of participating in a moment that draws me inward toward this human experience of grateful storytelling. And when I'm handling the old mason jars, wearing my seed-sack apron, and putting the summer's gifts on the shelf for those cold winter nights, I am able to know a small part of the grandmother that I never got to know, and that is beautiful.

Roasted Tomato Pasta Sauce
makes 5 quarts or 10 pints

This recipe was adapted from various sources by my Mother, and passed on to me.

10-15 lbs ripe tomatoes, any variety
4 green bell peppers
4 red onions
3-4 heads of garlic
Salt & pepper
Good quality olive oil
Fresh herbs (I used basil, German thyme, lemon thyme, winter savory, hot and spicy oregano, and Italian parsley)

Coat baking sheets with olive oil. It may be necessary for you to do the roasting in two batches, depending upon the size of your oven.

Wash and halve the tomatoes, coring them. Put them cut side down on baking sheets. If using cherry tomatoes, put them on the sheet whole.

Quarter onions, cut the green peppers into eighths, and remove skins from whole garlic cloves. Place on cookie sheets with tomatoes. Coat everything with a healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with salt (I used coarse kosher) and freshly ground black pepper. Add herbs. Toss to coat. Roast in a 350 degree pan for one hour. Return to the oven and rotate. Roast for another hour, or until juices that have run out of the tomatoes are beginning to caramelize and tomatoes are beginning to look charred and wrinkled.

Allow tomato mixture to cool, and then scoop into the bowl of a food processor or blender, skins and all! Pulse until desired consistency is reached.

Pack into sterilized jars, leaving at least 1/4 headspace. Process in a boiling water bath for 35 to 40 minutes, or can in the oven as described below. Remove jars and cool. Check for seal after 24 hours. Lids should not flex up and down when center is pressed.

This is a very flexible recipe. Switch up the amount of tomatoes vs. peppers and onions, use other varieties of peppers and onions or other herbs and seasonings if you want to. Some flavor ideas: replace the salt with hickory smoked salt, or toss in a couple of teaspoons of crushed red pepper. Add zucchini or other vegetables to give the sauce extra flavor. 

Oven Canning
This is how I can all of my salsa and stewed tomatoes. This is a recipe from an old church cookbook, and I want to clearly disclaim that oven canning is actually a rather controversial way of canning. There is a lot of debate about whether this really kills all of the bacteria, and there is some danger of breaking jars due to the dry heat of an oven. HOWEVER, I have canned this way and never had trouble and never have I broken a jar, while I've boiling water canned and broken several jars. I've done a lot of reading, and due to the temperature I use and the manner in which I pack the jars, I feel that it is safe for me.

Place jars on a cookie sheet in COLD oven. Set oven temperature to 275 degrees, and leave the oven on for one hour. Turn oven off and leave jars in oven until COMPLETELY COOL without opening the door. It is ideal to do this and leave the jars in the oven overnight. Check for seals when removed from the oven. Lids should not flex up and down when center is pressed. If you have any jars that did not seal, place sauce in the fridge and use immediately, or freeze.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

S H O O T: Evan + Lindsay + Little Babe

Two of my very best friends, Lindsay and Evan, are due to have their first child soon and I'm excited to share some of her maternity images from a little over a month ago. I don't shoot maternity sessions very often, but the few that I have shot have been a blast.

Lindsay is the most beautiful and radiant pregnant woman. I seriously hope I look like her someday! :) And Linds, I just know you're going to be an amazing Mom.

You two are going to be incredible parents.

Lindsay, you're so gorgeous!!

One of my very favorite things about getting to spend time with Lindsay and Evan and getting to photograph them was to capture the way that Evan looks at Lindsay. It is so perfect and so sweet. You can just tell how much he adores her and their little girl already. Ev, you're going to be such a great Dad!

This silhouette below is so simple and yet is has to be one of my very favorite images I've ever taken.

Linds and Evan, I'm so excited for you and to meet your little baby girl! Thank you for letting me in on this beautiful moment in your life. It was truly an honor.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

project life 2014: week 35

Week 35 is actually my week one of project life 2014. It was a great week to start out. I know I'm really going to enjoy this project for the rest of the year.

I'm doing my weeks from Monday through Sunday because I like to keep the weekend together. 

This week: August 25-August 31

This week was special for a couple of reasons. First of all, I got a fitbit over the weekend and decided that I needed to take it for a spin the first week and get at least 10,000 steps per day. When I'm not shooting, it seems like I spend most of my time at my desk, so the only way that it is realistically going to happen for me is if I go out to the trail with Ayron before he goes to work. I was up Monday through Friday at 5:45am and at a bit more of a leisurely time on the weekend and I knocked it out of the park! Here were my step totals:

Monday: 10,942
Tuesday: 10,272
Wednesday: 10,237
Thursday: 11,671
Friday: 15,278
Saturday: 11,013
Sunday: 13,948

I decided to document this for my project life with my middle row, taking a photo of my feet at a different spot on the trail each day. Monday through Thursday, this was on a wonderful trail near my home, and Friday through Sunday, it was in my hometown in Iowa. The fitbit combined with my documentation motivated me so much! What a blast. 

It's a shame that you can't see the starry sky in the photograph better. It is tough to get pictures of these with their shiny pages!

I love using instagram to capture small moments throughout the week as well, and I love that I can transfer my instagram photos into this book. It motivates me to utilize the medium more and inspires me to look at the world differently. 

materials used
Seafoam core kit.
Pocket pages cards & stickers.
Avery labels.
Photos taken with an LG G2 & Nikon D700.

Thanks for stopping by, friends!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

project life 2014: garden

I love this project. 

Before I even decided to do the seasonal spreads to get my Project Life album started, I knew I wanted to do a spread documenting my garden from beginning to at its height, when I'm harvesting from it and canning and making things. 

I love how the second row across both spreads tells the story of my tomato plants from seed to fruit. 

Gardening is one of my greatest joys each year. 

materials used
Pocket pages cards & stickers.
Avery labels.
Photos taken with an LG G2 and Nikon D700.
Seed packets from my garden this year.

Thanks for stopping by, friends!

Monday, September 1, 2014

project life 2014: summer spread

Just a warning, there will be several project life posts in short succession on here, mostly because I'm trying to get into a rhythm with this project and have to squeeze these posts in!

Because I started my project life in the middle of 2014, I've missed documenting over half of the year. I figured I had a couple of options. I thought I could go back and do monthly spreads, but I honestly thought I'd be stretching for quality material. I also could have just started where I wanted and left the rest out. I opted instead to do three seasonal spreads, since I'm starting my project life just in time for fall. 

Summer 2014 has been a blast for us. I've done so much cooking and gardening, I've tried making new things, and I've started to become a morning person, getting up before 6:00am to go on long walks. This spread really visually represents how this summer has felt to me. I'm so grateful.

materials used
Seafoam core kit.
Photos taken with an LG G2 & Nikon D700.

Thanks for stopping by, friends!